Monday, September 30, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Kings of Leon "Mechanical Bull"

Mechanical Bull
(RCA Records) 

After a three-year 
break, those fun-
loving Followill 
boys are back with 
their latest effort — 
a record that was 
well worth the wait.

I recall first reading about an exciting new southern rock / blues  hybrid from Tennessee in the pages of Rolling Stone back in 2003 — I was intrigued. They were unlike any other band at the time. In fact, Kings of Leon were so cool and unique that I was baffled by how they could have gotten signed at all —  especially given that this was during the height of Britney mania.

Their first three records, Youth & Young Manhood ('03), Aha Shake Heartbreak ('04) and Because of the Times ('07) were rootsy, raw and oozed mystique. But although they were embraced  immediately abroad, Kings of Leon just couldn't seem to sneak into America's rock and roll "champagne room."

I saw Kings of Leon live during the 2005 Aha Shake Heartbreak tour. At the time, the band's chart presence was less than impressive. Hence, I was shocked by the sold-out crowd that night at Orlando's House of Blues. I remember it well — there was me, a creepy-looking guy named Antoine — and 2,998 screaming chicks! Despite the rather alterno sound of their records, live, they were as edgy and high-energy as AC/DC circa 1979. By the encore it was crystal clear to me that these kids were rock stars and it would be just a matter of time before they became huge.

I would wager a guess that it was "do or die" for the Kings by the time they released their fourth record, Only by the Night, in 2008. Frontman Caleb Followill seemingly had been persuaded to hang up his trademark marble-mouth vocal style for one (slightly) more audible. Hmm, add a little enunciation to a fistful of snappy tunes and voilĂ ! — a platinum-seller was born!

Kings of Leon - 2013

Kings of Leon certainly hadn't gone Journey-O-Styxwagon. However, "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody" were monster-sized pop hits. As a result, they finally were discovered by an infinite glut of middle-aged cover bands who systematically bludgeoned those poor songs to death — nearly squelching my passion for the band in the process.

Although 2010's Come Around Sundown failed to deliver any American chart-busting hit singles, it did achieve gold-plus status. And for me, "Mary," "The Immortals" and "Back Down South" were just a few of the glorious moments that helped to create a record even more satisfying than its predecessor. 

One key to the Kings' quality output over the years is that they've been dealing consistently from the same deck. In 2013, the Followill brothers: frontman / guitarist Caleb Followill, drummer Nathan Followill, bassist Jared Followill  and (cousin) guitarist Matthew Followill once again have joined forces with longtime producer / songwriter Angelo Petraglia to create Mechanical Bull — a record that offers the band's signature factory features while also providing that "new car" smell.

"Supersoaker," the radio-friendly lead single, kicks off the record with a southern-fried bang.

Aside from simply being a great rock band, Kings of Leon always has en- gaged fans with compelling lyrics — powerful and personal stories. And in that regard, "Rock City" stands boldly alongside many of the band's most popular staples.


I was running through the
desert - I was looking for drugs.
And I was searching for a 
woman who was willing to love.
(from "Rock City")

In a similar vein as "Red Morning Light" (2003), "Don't Matter" recaptures the raw, nut-busting honesty of the band's first record and serves as one of Bull's shining beacons. Additionally, the Joshua Tree-flavored "Beautiful War" and the recent Starbucks / iTunes freebie, "Temple," are also mighty nuggets.

But Kings of Leon is also a riff-oriented band and the catchy main riff of "Wait for Me" strikes a (very) close resemblance to "Dysfunctional Family" — the 1995 track from Florida's former hardcore kingpins, Dead Serios.

From command and conquer to the subsequent breakup and makeup, much of the band's focus is (as usual) — chicks. And of that ilk, the groovy, bass-driven, guaranteed audience participation sing-along, "Family Tree" and the more subtle and ambient "Comeback Story" represent some of the tastier tracks. 

I am your family tree - I know 
your A to ZThis is a secret 
proposition, lay your hands 
on me. Nothing to talk about 
darling, it's all make-believe. I
see your hands are shaking, but
my heart is breaking me down.
(from "Family Tree")

Despite recent YouTube clips of its member's onstage rock star meltdowns, Mechanical Bull presents Kings of Leon in top-form (at least in the studio) and showcases the band as one that likely still has some tread on its tires.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

THRIFT STORE ADVENTURES (Pt. XIII): 2nd Anniversary Edition

(Pt. XIII)
2nd Anniversary Edition

After two incredible years, my
Thrift Store Adventures series
is still going strong. But before
we join in together on a chorus
of "Happy Birthday," let's take
a look at my latest discoveries.

Today's expedition once again brought me to my favorite haunt — the thrift shop located at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Indian Harbor Beach, FL. Fall was in the air and I was ready to shop 'til I dropped. And as usual, I did not leave disappointed or empty-handed.

I couldn't help but be drawn to 
these stuffed Olsen twins dolls.
After searching for more than 20 
years, finally located the "Spring 
1990" edition of Country Handcrafts.
(My collection is now complete!)
My most recent related post was entitled,
The  "Golden Girls" manning the front counter entertained customers in their typical fashion with an eclectic music mix while offering a delicious assortment of pastries. But with visions of Burger King's original chicken sandwich BOGO deal dancing in my head, I had to fight off the tasty temptations. 

but clearly, that list is still growing. 

I also was delighted to discover an 
array of quality children's DVDs, as 
well as this wholesome family western.

All and all, today brought another fabulous thrifting experience. And as I mentioned, this post commemorates the 2nd anniversary of this compelling, continuing series.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

CONCERT REVIEW: The Safety Fire - Orlando, FL (9.17.13)

The Safety Fire 
Orlando, FL (9.17.13)

When I saw The Safety Fire 
perform at a club in Orlando 
on their first tour in 2012, 
I was less than impressed. 
Actually, I thought that 
they SUCKED!

In 2012 the band was on tour supporting their debut record, Grind the Ocean, as an opening act for Protest the Hero. And pinned against co-opener, Periphery, I perceived The Safety Fire merely as another garden variety, whiplash-speed screamo band with gymnast-like guitar work. But what a difference a year makes. As I recently began scoping out selected advance YouTube cuts from their (then unreleased) 2013 sophomore release, Mouth of Swords, I noticed a distinct musical evolution. Hey, these sound like songs!

Okay, in all fairness, perhaps I should have allowed The Safety Fire defense team an opportunity to fully present their case before passing judgment. But a band's level of suckdom can only truly be measured on stage. So my son and I ventured out again recently see the band when they returned to Orlando — as an opening act for Between the Buried and Me. And this time, The Safety Fire stood out like a rose among thorns. 

Joaquin Ardiles 
Lori Peri
For starters, I was rather surprised to discover bassist Lori Peri and drummer Calvin Smith personally manning the band's merch table — meeting, greeting, taking money, checking off inventory lists — the whole shebang. Not only was I impressed by their grassroots level of dedication, but my son is likely the world's most ardent Safety Fire fan. Hence, for him to walk through the front door of the venue and immediately be face to face with his heroes, had him nearly wetting himself. In short order, we made our way to the stage, as anything less than a front row spot simply would be unacceptable  to my kid.

The paralyzing thump from the sub woofers hidden beneath the Plaza Live stage was powerful enough to render me sterile, when The Safety Fire took the stage at precisely 7:30PM — kicking off its animated, high-energy show with "Yellowism," a golden nugget from Mouth of Swords. In fact, the lion's share of the 30-minute set was culled from the band's latest record. 

Sean McWeeney
Frontman Sean McWeeney (that name kinda makes me giggle) was charismatic and engaging, apprising the early birds that this was only the band's second time performing in Orlando and further commenting that they looked forward to coming back.

Today's metal music genre certainly has "evolved" since the golden era of  British Steel, Lovedrive  and Piece of Mind. Hard-driving, hook-laden bands have all been replaced by a slew of angry prog rockers who use such terms as "percussive mathematics" to define their music. Hence, melody seemingly has become a guilty pleasure that's reserved for only Bieber and Gaga disciples. But sometimes punch and style can be acceptable trade-outs for hooks and melody. And in that regard, The Safety Fire proved to be a monstrous, unified force — a band that I dare say occasionally borders on fun. GASP! The blistering duel guitar work of Joaquin Ardiles and Derya "Dez" Nagle was stunning as they decimated such newer fan faves as "Old Souls" and "Glass Crush," while Calvin Smith punished his kit throughout with machine-like precision.

My son, Jesse Long, with Lori 
and Calvin from The Safety Fire.
However, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This particular show was owned by the headliner, and headliners typically don't afford openers much in terms of stage production. As a result, The Safety Fire set out to rock under minimal lighting — which was particularly amusing because even in the dark, they were still, hands-down, the most engaging and entertaining band of the night.

Within the span of half an hour, I finally was sold on The Safety Fire. Simply put, I'm now a fan. And as the band wrapped up its set with "Huge Hammers" from Grind the Ocean and "Red Hatchet" from Mouth of Swords, it occurred to me that I'd already gotten my money's worth on this show. In fact, it would be anti-climactic for the other bands even to take the stage after them. And in hindsight, I was right.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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Friday, September 20, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Sammy Hagar & Friends

Frontiers Records

What's more frightening 
than Sammy Hagar 
covering "Margaritaville?" 

Nothing — except 
maybe Sammy Hagar 
covering "Margaritaville"
with Toby Keith.

After recently celebrating 40 spectacular, chart-topping, platinum-selling, nut-busting  years in the music biz, Sammy Hagar reached out to an iconic collective to create his latest record. Wow, sounds good, right? Uh, well...

Possessing all of the pizazz and gusto of a Bret Michaels solo release, Sammy Hagar & Friends oozes content that's sure to delight Kenny Chesney fans everywhere.

Joined by blues legend, Taj Mahal, Sammy kicks off  his all-star effort  with "Winding Down" — a track so natural-sounding, that it prompted me to ponder whether authentic blues guys snicker during these types of recording sessions, or do they wait until after cashing the check.

"Not Going Down" reunites Sammy with his former Montrose colleagues, drummer Denny Carmassi  and bassist Bill "The Electric" Church. Vic Johnson provides the grungy and gritty guitar work that makes this one listenable.

It's realistic to expect that a supergroup ensemble will deliver a superstar track. However, the remake of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" also got me thinking — and I can just picture the scene. Journey guitar ace Neal Schon stands in the corner of the control room, sexting pics of his junk to his hot 40-something married girlfriend as former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony leans across the mixing console and whispers in Sammy's ear. "Uh, you know this one sucks, right?" A statement to which Sammy replies, "That's okay, it's kinda bluesy, so it can't be criticized." "Yeah, but it really sucks, Sam," Anthony reiterates. "Aw, don't sweat it, bro," Sammy reassures. "When it gets slammed, we can just say that the critic is a frustrated wannabe who's not sophisticated enough to understand the blues. Trust me, it's worked for Pat Travers for years!" In the meantime, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith is holed up in the studio green room with a compassionate local pastor who reminds him that Jesus paid the price for all sins — even this one.

Layered with accordion, mandolin and lap steel tracks, "Father Sun" inspired me to offer the "Red Rocker" a new pseudo name — Sammy Cougar Hagarcamp. 'Nuff said. And when you see and hear this new name repeated, reprinted and re-Tweeted everywhere (and you will), just remember that you saw it HERE first!

Now THIS was a real Sammy Hagar record!
And be sure that "Knockdown Dragout" IS the exact same track as Sammy's "Mas Tequila" from 1999, but only with slightly revised lyrics woven (again) into Gary Glitter's 1972 anthem, "Rock and Roll." Kid Rock provides a co-lead vocal on this one, which is hard to believe because he's never been known to create any generic, crossbred pabulum in the past.

Then there's the castrated remake of Bob Seger's classic, "Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man." Okay Bob, just relax, click your heels together and repeat after me — There's nothing like a royalty check. There's nothing like a royalty check. There's nothing like a royalty check.

Alrighty — moving on to "Bad on Fords and Chevrolets." Now please excuse my naivetĂ©, but I've just gotta ask — how rocking is a "Red Rocker" record when the most rocking track was co-written and co-performed by the guy from Brooks and Dunn. Anybody? Hello? Is this thing on?

As for the remake of Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville," the duet between Sammy and country superstar Toby Keith certainly is not the worst atrocity of all-time. However, it may  very well be a greater crime against humanity than The Hangover II (or III). And I bet that you didn't think that was possible!

Oh, what evil hath Kenny Chesney wrought upon our once great land? Fortunately only clocking in at 2:43, the tropical-sounding, cheese-flavored, "All We Need is an Island" is a lethal-size dose of aural horse tranquilizer. And not even the supreme, angelic excellence of Nancy Wilson's co-vocal or the guest  percussion work of Mickey Hart can neutralize this potential health hazard.

HOWEVER — "Going Down" is SIMPLY AMAZING! It perfectly showcases Sammy Hagar, Neal Schon, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith as the hard-rocking, guitar-driven supergroup that they are. Written by Don Nix, the best-known version of this true classic is perhaps The Jeff Beck Group's  from 1972. The sheer intensity, fire, passion and energy of  this closing track exemplifies exactly  how awesome the entire record could and should have been.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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Monday, September 16, 2013


Simply Outrageous!

From the backstreets
on Florida's beaches to
center stage at extreme
motor events — from 
the small screen to the 
big screen — from the
wrestling ring to the red
carpet — the creations of
Parker Brothers Concepts
push the envelope and 
raise eyebrows.

Life as the "Show Biz Guru" is rarely boring. I never know from day to day where I'm going to wind up or what fascinating people I'm going to meet.

"Dude, I'm headed to Parker Brothers Concepts at 1:00 this afternoon," engineer Damion Johnson announced in short order upon calling me the other morning. "You wanna come along?"

"Heck yeah!" was my immediate response. "Can I bring my camera?"

"No problem," he assured me. "Those guys are totally cool."

One of their most outrageous creations, 
PBC designed and built THE SHREDDER for 
the 2012 Hollywood premier of BATTLESHIP.
Brothers Marc and Shanon Parker both had relocated from Greenville, South Carolina to Florida's Space Coast by 2005. Sharing a passion for the extreme, they launched their custom vehicle operation, Parker Brothers Concepts, in 2010. With their bold, Dream Big  Build Bigger philosophy, PBC quickly developed an impeccable reputation throughout the industry and in 2012, their reality TV series, Dream Machines debuted on the SyFy Network.

PBC shop foreman Ron Sarnes discussing 
design plans with engineer Damion Johnson.
Dream Machines  gives viewers an up-close and personal behind-the-scenes look at PBC's day-to-day operations — taking fantasy vehicles from TV, movies and comic books and bringing them into the real world. Some of the show's most compelling episodes feature PBC's celebrity clients such as chart-busting rap person 50 Cent and reigning wrestling superstar John Cena.

The future of law enforcement?
Maybe I should re-think my career options.
For a guy like me who grew up in a motorcycle family with an auto-crazed  dad who seemingly was always in the garage tinkering, customizing and restoring, my visit to the PBC facility was an amazing experience. The enormous warehouse looked exactly how I remembered seeing it on TV, and it was packed to the rafters with outrageous creations in various stages of development.

"Our plates are darn 
full, for sure."
-Marc Parker 

With a penchant for big wheels and a goal of becoming Hollywood's "go-to guys," Shanon is the Chief Designer for Parker Brothers Concepts, while Marc is the Engineering Specialist who assumes the rather daunting task of taking Shanon's Turbo Teen-inspired fantasies and making them functional realities — an engaging television dynamic to be sure.

 This sweet little ride was used in the Gumball 3000.
Everyone at PBC was extremely cool, hospitable and gracious. And I got the distinct impression that, as portrayed on Dream Machines, this is a family.

There was a buzz of behind-the-scenes activity during my visit, with most of the staff holed up for a time in a backroom meeting. Yet I was allowed total unsupervised access to the joint. "Take as many pictures as you want," I was told. Wow — extremely cool indeed!

Me with the Parker brothers and 
their infamous "Green Machine."
As Damion and I were leaving, Marc and Shanon managed to squeeze in a few minutes to come out, say "hello" and pose for a few photos. While Marc and I briefly discussed their overwhelming current schedule, he mused that their next project would be a custom-built time machine. Hey, "Never say it can't be done!" 

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)



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Saturday, September 14, 2013

KISS: The Infamous Solo Albums Turn 35

The Infamous Solo 
Albums Turn 35

YIKES! 35 years ago this
week Casablanca Records
released the infamous KISS
solo albums. Just another
milestone anniversary to
help make us KISS freaks
all feel little bit older.

1978 — it seems like just yesterday. I was a starry-eyed 15-year old kid working at the neighborhood record store — living my life according to the ministry of the four Apostles: PeterPaulGene and  Ace. They were unstoppable. They were THE "Hottest Band in the Land." And they were my band.

KISS certainly were on a roll. They were coming off six consecutive platinum-sellers — ALIVEDestroyerRock and Roll OverLove GunALIVE II and Double Platinum. They'd become real-life superheroes and even had a much-talked about TV movie set to air on Halloween night. And on September 18th, Casablanca Records went for broke — releasing an individual solo album from each band member simultaneously. The quadruple-record release exemplified 1970s-style marketing chutzpah on steroids. Unprecedented in the music biz, the endeavor either was a runaway success or an epic failure, depending one's perspective.

Many fans who purchased all four 
solo albums at once took home 
their treasures in a souvenir 
plastic KISS shopping bag.
Given the band's enormous international fanbase and their record label's deep promotional pockets, the notion that each solo record would achieve gold status (500,000 units) was a no-brainer. However, Casablanca president Neil Bogart had greater expectations. Rather than shipping two million units upon release (four instant gold albums) and allowing them to sell off gradually before pressing a second run, Bogart ordered the initial production of five million total units (1.25 million copies each). As a result, even after the holiday shopping season, stores and warehouses still had unsold KISS solo albums piled sky-high. And before long, retail outlets were selling off the surplus records desperately at cut-out prices — from as low as $1.99 each. Bogart's bold vision proved to be a colossal misstep that quickly changed the public perception of KISS' popularity — damage that took the band years to erase. Casablanca seemingly never rebounded from the financial debacle.

For me, September 18, 1978 was like Christmas, New Year's Eve, Halloween and the 4th of July all rolled into one glorious religious rock and roll holiday. I remember Larry, my boss at the record store, positioning the long-awaited solo albums prominently at the top of the "New Release" display bin as I salivated with delight. But I only had enough money to buy two of the four LPs on the first day of release — Paul and Ace. Gene and Peter would have to wait until payday.

Fortunately, Larry had compassion. To make me wait three additional days before hearing the entire set was just plain cruel. So he allowed me to get all four at once, with the understanding that I wouldn't take home Gene and Peter's until payday. A kind and fair deal, to be sure.

The unified solo album covers were amazing and have since become iconic. Set against simple black backgrounds, Eraldo Carugati's portraits of each band member that graced the front of his particular record were so detailed and real-looking that the guys seemingly could have jumped right off their respective cover and engaged in a full-scale ego clash right in my bedroom. Now that would have been truly awesome! But considerably less cool than the covers was the cartoonish color poster included inside each member's album jacket. The complete set interlocked to create a rather silly-looking group mural.

Even as a 15-year old blind follower, I recognized that
the posters included inside the solo album covers were
goofy — cheesier than even the paper "Love Gun." BANG!

So that's the back story. But what about the music? Well, for starters, I believe that the solo albums were a prime example of individual pieces actually being greater than the sum of the parts. And the four records represent some of KISS' all-time best work — a set packed full of musical surprises.
What's KISS without the "Star Child?" ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! In fact, without Paul Stanley, rock and roll itself would have dried up, blown away and ceased to exist years ago. Hence, his solo album not only was the best of the bunch, it's the best KISS album they never released — or at the very least, it was the last great KISS record. (Have ya heard Crazy Nights?)

I attribute most of the action I experienced during high school in the back seat of my dad's Chevette to the hypnotic power of Paul's solo record — on 8-track. From the romantic opening of "Tonight You Belong to Me" to the high-octane energy of "It's Alright" to the power ballad, "Hold Me, Touch Me," this record consistently affected my female teenage companions like an aural roofie. Thanks, dude!

Apparently set on throwing fans a curve ball from the very beginning, KISS' founding co-frontman and bassist opted to switch to guitar for his record. He also utilized the solo op as a means in which to showcase his Beatles-caliber songwriting skill rather than merely a vehicle to further perpetuate his "Demon" persona.

"Tunnel of Love" and "Living in Sin" represent two of the record's close calls — nearly great songs marred by libido-drenched lyrics. However, "See You Tonight," "Man of 1,000 Faces" and "Mr. Make Believe" are chilling examples of Gene's impeccable songwriting talent.

Peter's record has been maligned from the beginning for being the most Un-KISS-like solo record. However, as a bona fide KISS freak, I wasn't surprised by the R&B-flavored set. And be sure that it's not the all-fluff, wimpy record that it's been made out to be. And it actually has stood up quite nicely over the years.

"I'm Gonna Love You," "Hooked on Rock 'n' Roll" and the Sean Delaney-penned, "Rock Me, Baby," are straight-up rockers. And despite the mellow factor, "Easy Thing" and "I Can't Stop the Rain" (Delaney) are tremendously well-written, heartfelt songs.

Ace always was the most mysterious KISS member. I recall reading in Hit Parader back in the day, that Ace's solo record was to be comprised of all instrumentals. Hmm. As a result, I don't think anyone was expecting his to be the one to completely blow up in terms of content AND sales.

Ace's also was the only solo record to have scored a Top 40 hit (the Russ Ballard-penned "New York Groove"). This was particularly perplexing, given that Casablanca reportedly had Billboard in its back pocket at the time. Decades later, Ace's record has maintained its street cred — "Rip it Out," and "Speeding Back to My Baby" remain fan favorites.

Sounding as fresh as the day I carried home that souvenir shopping bag in 1978, the KISS solo records still kill!

I know that a lot of KISS Army members visit this site on a regular basis and I encourage you all to share your own related personal thoughts and experiences as we celebrate this KISStoric occasion.

-Christopher Long
(September 2013)

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