Few may have noticed, but history of sorts was made this past March with the release of Now That's What I Call Music! Volume 18. For the first time since Now! Volume 3's triple bang opener of Smash Mouth, Lenny Kravitz, and blink-182 last millennium, an installment of this best-selling various-artists series led off with a bona fide rock track (U2's "Vertigo"). And unlike recent Now! editions, rock and country weren't relegated to the last six selections (as if they were rap's revenge for making Rosa Parks sit at the back of the bus all those years). Does this mean rock could be on the upsurge again? Are rap and country, the two genres that mutually tore asunder the once-popular Top 40 format, now more tolerant of each other because of that damned Nelly and Tim McGraw duet? Or does it mean the industry is so flummoxed about where its next paycheck is coming from that it can't be bothered with test marketing, separating, and second-guessing this stuff anymore? "All of the above," we say, 'cause that's how we've been doing it here with Home Grown all along, mixing genres in the order that they pile up on the desk. In keeping with this spirit of dialogue and diversity, I urge readers of this column to consider all music as part of one big mosaic of fraternity, friendship and brotherhood. Unless, of course, you hear something that truly blows.
If an imaginary installment of Now That's What I Call Local Music! required a hard rocker right out of the gate, we could hardly surpass former Bostonians Super Sternal Notch and their ready-to-rumble disc, Pack a Lunch. In a less jaded time, this could be viewed as a concept album about the fine art of pummeling -- even the cover art is like a Heimlich maneuver poster, except it's a nasty sucker punch that's being administered. And in case you were wondering about the brown bag advisory title track, lead singer Sully thoughtfully warns his prospective punching bag, "Gonna knock you on your ass, pack a lunch you'll be all day." In the LOL tradition of Monster Magnet, with SSN it's possible to bust a gut either laughing or fist pumping furiously to precision chord play. And Sully's killer voice backs up the bullying -- he can go from Chris Cornell gruff to a pinch-nosed Mike Patton in the snap of a rib. This band's knockout hooks are best felt on the bracing opening cut "Vinyl," where Sully is shooting glacial stares at a neighbor who's just asking for it. It's a universal stew, too -- haven't we all, at one time or another, growled domestic gripes like "I'll smash your head on the ice -- it's my yard too"? Or put some jerk in his place by bragging, "I'm the king of leaky lane"? No? What wussies you people are! Special civic pride note: SSN recorded this awesome-sounding platter at Mesa Community College with students touching the console for the first time -- which either shows great patience on the band's part, or a student body too scared shitless to mess up. The band is scheduled to perform with Soul Driver, Split Lid, and The Furnace at the Old Brickhouse Grill on August 26. (www.supersternalnotch.com)
The first recorded evidence of Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers with new bassist Nick Scropos on board, Live at Billy Bob's Texas is a generous duplication of the first half of ¡Americano!, some choice cuts from Honky Tonk Union, four cuts off the Refreshments' debut album, and even the King of the Hill theme gets an airing. That Clyne dispenses with "Bandito" early in the set gamely illustrates how little he relies on old glories to retain a new crowd's interest. They're in his hip pocket in short order, counting off "Mexico" in Spanish with little prodding. (www.azpeacemakers.com)
Remember how old country albums used to veer from songs about drinking to songs about mama and the family Bible, and no one ever noted the connection? What about rap albums -- has no one made the correlation between spliff-hooving gangstas and their rampant paranoia? Sure, smokin' weed and watching your back goes with the territory, but on Nothin but Smoke, "red-eyed, and half fried" Mesa rappers Dub Deuce manage to turn you on and turn on you in the same song. On "Dub Deuce Band," Messrs. Trouble, Kao$ and Playboy promise "I can get you motherfuckas high" one minute, but all too soon, the talk turns to "buryin' niggas where nobody find 'em." It's no less comforting when the Double D's clarify, "You gonna push up some daisies this weekend, but we jus' hypothetically speaking." Each MC here possesses a rapid-fire, 20-syllable-a-second delivery, but the man called Lil Gotti also has a sweet R&B tenor, the kind other rap groups wish they could have in-house so they wouldn't have to keep farming out work to people who can actually carry a tune. (www.hokispokisrecords.com)
"No more listenin' to that bullshit," declares Heat on the fire-raising intro to Fahrenheit, "it's time to take it back to real R&B, let some real niggas in." And that's what the Heat is packing: Boyz II Men quiet storms for the ladies to let their hair down and sip a Hennessey, which rhymes with ecstasy, which stands for . . . "Innermostess Moistness." Of course, this is the song we would pick for our theoretical compilation -- need you ask? What's not to love about a four-way request to love your body down and start "banging that ass like Halle Berry in Monster's Ball"? The album ends with the heartfelt "Scandalous," which actually busts a cheating chickaroo holding hands with someone else at a Circle K, surely a pop first. Despite explicit language throughout, and crafting jams designed for almost certain fornication, each of these four smooth operators thanks God first and foremost in the liner notes. Very smooth indeed!
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Now we turn over the proceedings to the White Demons -- not the ones who control the media, but the ones who hail from Phoenix and play great pile-driving Motor City rock like it's second nature. Other reasons to be cheerful: They got a drummer named Vern and a singer/guitarist, Tony Krank, who plays some forceful slide and yelps like either Chip Z'Nuff or a strangled Merrill Osmond (no slam intended; check out the Provo bros' "Crazy Horses" and be prepared for the irrefutable shock and awe). If that isn't reason enough to wanna check out four leather-jacketed youths, consider that they've got the apathy-anthem department all sewn up with "Say Go" ("Well I guess I'm here to entertain you/Well I guess you're right/And you can just sit and stare, man/This culture's in a rut . . ."). Like most great rock 'n' roll, White Demons have come up with a bumper crop of throwaway statements that sound deep but really are just unaffected ("Eight chairs in your living room and I don't need a mouth to feed," "I've got eyes dripping down my sleeve/You like the way I underachieve," "If you ran my smear campaign, would you turn around and do it again?") Being nonplussed was never such a welcome addition. Check out the White Demons CD release party on August 9 at Gimme Danger at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. (www.whitedemons.com)
Admittedly saddled with a dull name and even duller album art, Poster Wall still manages to hit the nail on the proverbial head where it counts most. One, the band maintains consistent '80s pop guitar hooks on every track, the kind that Heartbreaker Mike Campbell tosses off to make the most forgettable Petty tunes memorable. And two, this song "Springfield" is about an obsessed fan stalking the author of "Jessie's Girl" and star of Baywatch knockoff High Tide. Even though the track fails to deliver a satisfying narrative punch line like "The Fan," it's still a hoot to picture the unleashed terror taking place at a casino or state fair gig near you: "Rick Springfield's getting older/And his fans are getting bolder." (www.posterwall.net)
The Society of Invisibles is 12 rappers and producers who've got more opinions than a jury of yo' peers. Although space prevents us from listing all of them, the coalition includes such notables as Guttamouth (who looks and threatens like an Eye-talian), Judgment (a black guy with a gas mask on his head who claims lyrically to be "Albert Einstein and Joseph Stalin combined"), and The Invisible Man (with a taped-up head and sunglasses like, yep, that guy), who may or may not be rapping behind his bandages but deserves praise just for braving three-digit temperatures in his trench coat and gauze getup. The Society does it old-school all the way, with skits and mostly undetectable samples lifted off scratchy records of different genres. "Watching You" is the logical single, with its R&B extract and its fair warning that the SOI are watching you from their little back-room bunker filled with crumpled paper and album covers tacked on the wall like the set of Hullabaloo (you can see it on the group's video, along with blatant Pabst Blue Ribbon product placement). TSOI's album release party is scheduled for Friday, July 29, at the Old Brickhouse Grill. (www.geistaudio.net)
And since every Now! album seems to end with a wild-card selection -- and since we don't have any country CDs -- how about an Arizonan who specializes in Hawaiian music? Dana "Moon" Kahele goes a great distance to bring the song of the islands to this oceanless oven we call home, in a calm and peaceful singer-songwriter fashion. And being a grandfather, he explains a lot of things on A Walk Across the Ocean, like what the Hawaiian word for gourd plant is, what's on the windward side of Oahu, or what a slack key tune guitar is. If Parrotheads want a legitimate reason to wear loud print silk shirts, they now give a big mahalo to Moon. (www.kkohawaii.com)