Monday, May 23, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: The Struts - "Everybody Wants"

The Struts
Everybody Wants
(Interscope Records)

Dear God  Thank you
for sweet old grannies,
cuddly little puppies,
tasty peach cobbler,
lazy summer Sundays,
Skittles, rainbows and
The Struts. Amen.

We live in a truly messed-up, stressed-out, dark and angry world — a petri dish of dysfunction where life can often become difficult. Facing such daily dilemmas as breakups, meltdowns, what to wear to prom, which public bathroom to "identify" with, and reaching Level 12 on Immortal Baby Killer XI can certainly be overwhelming, for sure. And with the soundtrack to our fast-paced, fast-food, modern-day lives now seemingly being scored solely by an endless procession of filth-spewing rap goons, beer-guzzling good ol' boys, computer-generated pop tarts, and super-complicated, hyper-sensitive emo brats, it's enough to make ya wanna scream(o). As a result, I personally crave music that beams golden sunshine into my life  music that inspires me to seek intimacy with my girlfriend, as opposed to inspiring me to bury a body. I want songs that make me feel glad to be alive. I want songs that make me wanna sing and dance. Simply put, I want The Struts! (Doesn't everybody?)

The Struts
Arguably the strongest record of the millennium thus far, this debut release from Britain's pop / rock poster boys has passed through the hallowed halls of several less-than-capable European labels since its initial 2014 release. However, it recently found its way across "the pond" and into the seemingly quite capable hands of Interscope Records. And in 2016, Everybody Wants has been expanded, re-packaged and re-released, worldwide.

To merely lump The Struts in with the menagerie of (less effective) recent retro revivalists would be to diminish the band's world-class songwriting, impeccable musicianship and authentic image. Although they're clearly cut from the same stylistic fabric as such iconic artists as Queen, T. Rex, Slade and The Sweet, The Struts "borrow" so much from so many influences, that the end result sounds fresh and unique — especially when placed on today's dry and barren rock landscape. Had Queen's music remained this crisp, I wouldn't have been forced to jump ship following Jazz in '78!

The Struts - "Put Your Money on Me"
(Hear it AND see it NOW on YouTube)

With his powerhouse, Mercury-style vocals and a knack for engaging storytelling, frontman Luke Spiller captivates from start to finish. In fact, Spiller's marvelous appeal — his irresistible charm, honest swagger and delightful r-r-rolled R's oozes from the grooves of this record like super-sweet honey dripping from a sticky-sweet comb, while his co-founding songwriting partner, guitarist Adam Slack brings non-stop Ziggy-caliber cred throughout. Add to the mix, Jed Elliot's skin-tight bass lines and Gethin Davies' rib-cracking drum tracks, indelibly stamped across these Buick-sized sing-alongs, and you've got all the components necessary for a bona fide nut-buster that delivers ALL thriller, and NO filler.

The months surrounding the record's official re-release earlier this spring, found the super-charged singles, "Could Have Been Me" and "Kiss This," both generating significant U.S. radio airplay and garnering impressive Billboard chart stats. However, one could contend that these high-octane earworms aren't necessarily the ultimate picks of this infectious litter. The bass-driven "Dirty Sexy Money," the arena-worthy "These Times are Changing" and the uber-anthemic "Young Stars" are all equally catchy and radio-friendly, while "Mary Go Round" just might be rock's most powerful, well-written breakup ballad ever. And I'll gladly defend that statement to anybody. But for my money, it's the cocky, crunchy, Motown-tinged, "Put Your Money on Me" that shines brightest among this 13-gem treasure chest.

-Christopher Long
(May 2016)

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Friday, May 13, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: M'Lisa Alonso - "M'Lisa Alonso"

M'Lisa Alonso
M'Lisa Alonso
(SoundPlay Records)

As a kid growing up during
the super-soul '70s, I was
mesmerized by the magical
R&B music created by such
iconic artists as Chaka Kahn,
and Patti LaBelle. As result,
my recent discovery of this
nearly-lost treasure from a
decade ago was a total treat.

Stylistically, this self-titled 2007 release from Central Florida singer / songwriter, M'Lisa Alonso, crosses (and bridges) generations. While retro freaks (like myself) who still yearn for the days of Odia Coates might feel as if they're reconnecting musically with an old friend, Alonso's '80s and '90s flava will likely also resonate with Lisa Stansfield and Toni Braxton diehards. Even millennials raised on Alicia Keys will probably sense Alonso's ability to "scratch" their "itch" sufficiently.

Although the hard copy version is long out of print, I managed to locate a physical CD among a mere handful of super-pricey used copies still floating around on Amazon. However, it does remain readily available via iTunes.

Polished, yet (fortunately) not over-produced, this 12-track collection oozes well-crafted, heartfelt songs and countless noteworthy performances. From the unmistakable Fender Rhodes warmth woven into "If She Could Only Say Goodbye" to the completely legit, Barry White-style wah-wah guitar work on "Between Us" to the engaging remake of the Marvin Gaye classic, "What's Going On," this record sounds like sunshine. REAL humans playing REAL instruments — all glossed to perfection by Alonso's gloriously organic, angelic vocals.

M'Lisa Alonso onstage - circa 2008.
But despite the record's overall R&B / pop tastiness and authenticity, it's the gospel gem "I Believe" that shines brightest  serving as the record's crown jewel. I want what's in my heart to flow out like a melody, Alonso sings with undeniable conviction in this four-minute opus. 'Cause I want my life to count for more than just temporary things, she continues — a bold and beautiful objective, to be sure, and one that Alonso accomplishes here quite masterfully.

And it's that honest and pure commitment and dedication to creating the type of songs reflected in "I Believe" that ultimately compelled Alonso to actually abandon her pursuit of personal fame and fortune shortly after the release of this record — just as she was seemingly primed to graduate to major label pop star status. Huh? Who does that? Apparently someone who answers to a very powerful voice   and I don't mean Clive Davis'.

M'Lisa Alonso-Newell (center) leading
Worship at Central Life Church in 2016.
More recently, M'Lisa Alonso-Newell has been bringing her unique and unaffected passion-filled soulfulness on a weekly basis to Central Life — a dual-campus church located in Melbourne and Cocoa, Florida where she now leads the amazing Praise and Worship ministry. Currently back working once again with a chosen few top musicians and producers, she's reportedly gearing up for her full-blown Contemporary Christian debut record — set tentatively for a 2017 release. Simply put, as an admitted slobbering fanboy, I'm psyched!

-Christopher Long
(May 2016)

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016


(By Bryan Dumas)

Longtime "Show Biz Guru"
correspondent, Bryan Dumas,
recently found himself back in
good ol' Dallas, TX. Although
this adventure did not involve
any J.R. sightings or glimpses
of world-famous cheerleaders,
he did get the scoop on 2016's
International Guitar Festival.

Guitar players and music enthusiasts numbering in the thousands converged on Market Hall from April 29th through May 1st for the annual Dallas International Guitar Festival (aka. DGS). Having relocated back this year from Fair Park, the event once again possessed a friendly and familiar feel. And at just $50 for a three-day pass, DGS still offers maximum bang for the buck — especially for old school muzos such as my buddy, Kerry, and myself.

(L) The custom-painted Les Pauls
were beautiful. Regrettably I don't
remember the company name.

(R) I loved the Reso-Phonic guitars,
built by Austin-based, Christian-owned
Republic Company.
Guitar legend Eric Gales kicked-off
the festival's live music showcases
on Friday afternoon.
My festival sidekick, and fellow guitar
enthusiast, Kerry McDonough (L), with
Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford (R).

This year's event was one of the best ever, with near-countless highlights. Seeing Brad Whitford  together again onstage with Derek St. Holmes after too many years was incredible — but to see him wandering the show floor, checking out guitars and talking to fans, was even cooler. Experiencing Eric Gales' performances throughout the weekend was also a thrill — he truly keeps the mantle of Hendrix alive! As a something of a restaurant connoisseur, I've always enjoyed the endless array of amazing eateries that Dallas has to offer — spanning cultures and styles, for sure. But for me, THE #1 highlight this year was seeing Salvation From Sundown. These talented tweenagers actually out rock many of the bands that they emulate — miles ahead of where I was at 13! And if they keep their heads on straight, stay focused, remain grounded, and don't take bad advice from any idiots, they could have quite a bright future ahead.
(L) For a cool $3,500 I could have taken
 home this incredible one-off custom
Bootsy Collins bass built by Corbow.

(R) The tag on this classic says it all.
And at a mere 70K, I shoulda bought two!
As usual, this year's DGS was
about more than just guitars.

(Top) If I'd had a spare 2K, I'd have ridden this
1973 Schwinn all the way back to Shreveport!

(Bottom) I was thrilled to discover this
impressive selection of bootleg vinyl.
When Kerry played this custom, V head
stock Gibson Les Paul, it was love at
first feel - despite the $4,000 price tag.
The Dallas International Guitar Festival gets better each year. The vendors and performers change, while the heart of the musician community continues to flourish. And of course, I'm already jazzed for next year's event.

-Bryan Dumas
(May 2016)

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: Fit for Rivals "Sugar" (EP)

Fit for Rivals
Sugar - EP
(Big3 Records)

Released several months
ago, this dandy little
record only recently
popped up on my radar.
Better late than never.

There I was frying under the Florida sun along with thousands of other sweat-soaked enthusiasts, basking in the sonic deluge of the 23rd annual Earthday Birthday concert held recently in Orlando — a day-long, outdoor rock juggernaut featuring some of the biggest acts in the biz.

As I stood near the front of the Bud Light stage at around noon, I became enthralled instantly by the nasty little collective that had currently commandeered the festivities. Then, I was struck suddenly by a wacky revelation WOW, Joan Jett and Brody Dalle must have had a baby! The love child seemingly born out of this biological breakthrough was frontchick, Renee Phoenix. And her grimy gang of misfits Jacksonville's own, Fit for Rivals. Hmm, I gotta buy this band's record, ASAP!

Fit for Rivals
(Orlando, FL - 4.23.16)
Produced by Stan Martell and Fit for Rivals guitarist, Thomas Amason at Martell Studios in Kingsland, Georgia, Sugar was released in the summer 2015 and is the long-awaited follow-up to the band's 2009 debut, Steady Damage. Boasting ALL thriller, and NO filler, this concise four-song collection kicks me where it counts. In fact, Sugar is so sweet that it's become my current go-to aural pleasure — now living full-time in my car hi-fi, in my laptop iTunes library, and in my smart phone.

"This is the stuff that I've
dreamt about doing as a child.
So to see it all pan out the way
it has been, is spectacular."
-Eli Clark
(Fit for Rivals)

Written by Amason and Phoenix, "Special Kind of Crazy" swings stylistically from elegant to edgy, and is glossed lyrically with gobs of psycho relationship tension. A compelling kick-off, for sure.

Another Amason / Phoenix songwriting collaboration, the alluring "Light That Shines" serves as a slightly "healthier"-sounding, pop-charged love song. Driven by super-crunchy ambient guitar work, colliding with snappy, Killers-style keyboards, this one makes me wanna party like it's 2005, all over again.

Delivering another infectious dose of sizzling, romantic dysfunction, the Phoenix / Dorman Pantfoeder-penned, "Freak Machine," zings nicely, and also was the one tune that thwacked me the hardest when I saw the band live. "1, 2, 3 baby get on your knees. You better never let off. You better do as I please." Pure Shakespeare!

Packing bona fide prizefighter punch, and oozing gloriously buzzing guitar work, "Hit Me" crushes completely with monster-sized riffs pinned against Phoenix's most convincing performance of the set. Holy crap somebody call 911! That little girl has a Marshall stack stuck in her throat!

Fit for Rivals "Hit Me"

In sum, Sugar exceeded my expectations — although, I will say that the record is far more effective and compelling when leaning less on modern pop, and more on Iggy pop. However, Fit for Rivals does continue to spank me unmercifully, like a naughty schoolboy. And if I don't get to see the band perform again live, soon — I may be driven to acts of desperation that probably won't play out too well on the six o'clock news. Just sayin'.

-Christopher Long
(May 2016)

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: Cheap Trick - "Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello"

Cheap Trick
Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello
(Big Machine Records)

In my world, the release
of a new Cheap Trick
record is always a big deal.
Even after nearly 40 years!

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Leonard Geezer, guitarist for the Miami-based super-crunk, power-pop/punk combo, Geezër. During our 30-minute session, the subject of Cheap Trick came up in the conversion, at which time I asked him what he thought about the band's latest record, Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello. "Well, it ain't Heaven Tonight," the veteran musician replied. "But, it's not a bad little rock record." And with that impromptu, 13-word analysis, he'd scripted a perfect, no-nonsense review. However, despite the accuracy of Geezer's concise commentary, this 17th studio offering from the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees does warrant a little closer examination. Let's swoop in and take a looksie!

An impressive body of work!
I first discovered Cheap Trick lurking in the pages of CREEM magazine, back in 1977. At the age of 14, my passion and imagination was captured completely by the band's melodic, guitar-driven ear worms, as well as by their unique rock star-meets-comic strip charisma. Simply put, Cheap Trick was my "Beatles." What I still find most impressive about the band is how they delivered non-stop catchy, crunchy classics consistently throughout each and every record, from their self-titled 1977 debut, through 1994's Woke Up with a Monster. Sadly, the seemingly once unstoppable freight train did finally come to a crashing halt in 1997 with the release of the disappointing Cheap Trick '97, and the dreadful follow-up, Special One in 2003. Argh! C'mon, guys — get happy again! Will ya?

Cheap Trick - 2016
Fortunately, as "they" say, "good things come to those who wait." And in recent years, the band has rebounded nicely with the delightful treasures, Rockford (2006) and The Latest (2009). However, it's Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello that has truly brought Cheap Trick back to their "A-Game."

Fresh and fun, snappy and happy, this 11-song collection represents the band's strongest work since Busted in 1990. Overall, the record dazzles from start-to-finish. The guitars and bass are gloriously blistering, straight-up and in your face — one of Rick Nielsen's and Tom Petersson's all-time crispiest audio snapshots — while Robin Zander once again channels the charming, yet pissed-off 20-something powerhouse that we've not seen much of since One on One. Now, is it a drag that Bun E. Carlos is missing from this little sonic soiree? Absolutely! After all, he d'king of the whole wide world. But, truth be told, Daxx Nielsen is an incredible bad ass, and his drum style complements Cheap Trick songs beautifully. And speaking of songs, most of the selections here are team efforts songwriting collaborations between Nielsen Sr., Petersson, Zander, Nielsen Jr., and producer, Julian Raymond.

Possessing a familiar-feeling "Auf Wiedersehen"-style opening riff, combined with a "Just Got Back"-type snare shuffle, "Heart on the Line" kicks off the record with rib-cracking gusto. In fact, many of the 11 tracks possess a familiar feel. The lead-off single, "No Direction Home," captures the general raw, pop spirit of Next Position Please, while "When I Wake Up Tomorrow" is a near carbon copy of "Say Goodbye" from Cheap Trick 97 and "Blood Red Lips" zings with the same vibe as "When The Lights Are Out" from The Latest. And with just the right added over-the-top, cheesy 80's-style electronic production, "Roll Me" could have easily fit right in on The Doctor  and yes, that is a (big) compliment.

Yes, Cheap Trick plays it safe on record #17. However, by sticking close to "home base," the band delivers a solid winner. In the words of Leonard Geezer, Bang, Zoom, Crazy... Hello certainly ain't Heaven Tonight. But thank goodness, it ain't Special One Pt.II either. Bravo, fellas!

-Christopher Long
(April 2016)

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Friday, April 1, 2016

BRENT JENSEN: Celebrated Author Launches Latest Memoir

Celebrated Author
Launches Latest Memoir

Brent Jensen's knack for
capturing and revealing
his personal "Polaroids"
is so keen — so crisp and
captivating, that I'm often
compelled to reach into
my electronic reading
device and choke him
into unconsciousness.
Yes, that is a compliment.

Although my actual review of Brent Jensen's latest release, All My Favourite People Are Broken, is committed to, I wanted to take a moment and at least apprise Show Biz Guru readers of the book's official April 1, 2016 launch.

One-part transparent geek, and one-part mysterious sage, Jensen hooked me with his engaging 2012 coming-of-age debut, No Sleep 'Til Sudbury. In 2014, the Canadian storyteller took me, along with his countless other drooling disciples on a cross-country U.S. road trip in the pages of his sophomore offering, Leftover People.

Author Brent Jensen making 2013 in-store appearance.
For now, I'll simply say that All My Favourite People Are Broken finds Jensen at the top of his game — packing maximum payoff via yet another riveting, entertaining and often laugh-out-loud hilarious pager-turner. In sum, he continues to deliver the caliber of work that I can only aspire to create. BRAVO!

-Christopher Long
(April 2016)

All My Favourite 
People Are Broken
The latest from author
Brent Jensen
(Get it HERE)

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