Category Archives: Review

Book Review: Jason Molina: Riding with the Ghost – Erin Osmon

For those who know the name Jason Molina, there is a certain unspoken agreement that his talents were plucked from his adoring fans far too soon.

As many know, he was a musical genius who succumbed to an addiction he could never overcome and in turn put down his guitar and great talent in order to hold on to a bottle.

I call myself a fan, but a Molina novice at best.  I openly admit that I am one of those late fans who never got to see him play live and grew to appreciate his entire catalog after his passing.  I can not say I have ever quite heard music like what Molina created.

I didn’t know the whole story of a man who got his start less than an hour from where I live.  I knew he was with Secretly Canadian and knew how he passed, but I knew nothing in between.

It only seems fitting to have someone collect all the memories, both good and bad, and put them into a book for all inquiring minds like mine.  This biography, to be released by Rowman & Littlefield on May 15th, was full of memories and folklore about a mysterious individual who took his music far past any boundaries ever set prior and in doing so did it his way.

Jason Molina: Riding with the Ghost, written by Erin Osmon, pretty much answered questions about Molnia’s life that some of me never wanted to know.  From tales of his youth in a trailer park Lorain, OH to memories in recording studios and overseas, this family-authorized book really covered it all.

Family, friends, bandmates, and even tourmates all provided insight to the life of Molina.  Where most of the book spoke on Molina’s journeys from Songs: Ohia to Magnolia Electric Company and even his solo work and impromptu sessions, the book also brought to light family tensions, failed relationships, depression, and of course the demise of greatness.

Molina’s college days and the years shortly after were probably my favorite recollections to read.  Obviously, the toughest parts to read were about his separation from his wife and an attempt at recovery through bandmates and the very label he helped get their start.

It was interesting to learn how Molina formulated his albums in homes and studios alone and with others.  I was also fascinated learning about his life outside of the music including living conditions and places of employment.

Reading how Molina got material released by Secretly Canadian seemed like something that would have happened in a comedy movie, but it was all true.  He was the stepping stone of a label that may not have gotten their start had they never connected.

Molina’s humor style as told by others made me laugh more than once.  His approach with his bands though seemed rather repressed at times, especially when he would up and leave without communicating properly to those involved.

The book obviously was not all fun and games.  Reading about uncomfortable obsessions and how they were put to song made me realize the inventiveness Molina’s mysterious mind carried.  The self-sabotaging of a musical career as told in detail, really opened my eyes and held my interest to the point I couldn’t put down the book.  The marriage that never ended in divorce was painful to absorb but the love that remained was inspiring.

The last few chapters were very difficult for me to read as I lost an uncle to alcoholism earlier this year.  The stories of the support Molina received by loved ones and all of the chances given to him that were eventually passed upon just reminded me of what addiction can do to someone.  Reading about the deterioration of a proud man who kept too many secrets just hit too close to home for me.

Overall, the book carried a life-spanning account of a musician from his young days on Lake Erie to his final days secluded in a room slowly drowning his life away.  The emotions were really felt through this book from those who were stunned at his approach to making music to finding out their friend was no more.

My only small distress with this book is at times it seemed the author had a synonym book handy that was used frequently.  Perhaps it was I, the reader, who needs to dip deeper in to a more prolific writing style, but in the first chapter alone, Molina’s father was referenced as a “patriarch” and the term “spinning platters” was used over playing records.

Eventually I was able to get in tune with Osmon’s style, but there were times I just felt some of the vocabulary used was just too much and interfered with the story-telling.  One thing Osmon did well was put all of the memories and stories together in a chronological order making it easy to set down the book and pick it up again without losing your spot.

The copy that I read was not the final copy but one provided to me early on my the publisher, so there is a chance things will be changed.  I will tell you this, the chapters at times were long, but they were read through quickly as the memories were so well put together.

Fans of Molina will appreciate this book due to all of the content Osmon was able to hunt down over the span of three years.  There were so many angles of Molina’s life put down in this book and I am sure it was not easy for Osmon to capture it all, yet she did it well.

As an added bonus to die-hard Molina fans, Secretly Canadian is releasing a limited-edition bundle of the book with a LP pressing of a 1994 Jason Molina WOBC radio session at Oberlin College.  Where I failed to pre-order my copy in time before it sold out, I did get to listen to the performance and I can tell you it is beautiful and will haunt you, but not in a scary way.  Molina even back in 1994 was so laid back and happy to be sharing his songs with others.  Personally speaking, I think had I heard that session live back then on the radio, I would have been a changed man.

Jason Molina: Riding with the Ghost is available for pre-order through Rowman & Littlefield, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and other fine retailers.

Concert Review: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes / Masked Intruder / Pears – House of Blues – Cleveland, OH – 04/12/2017

It’s not every day that you hear a cover band sold out a venue on a Wednesday, but that is exactly what happened last night at the House of Blues in Cleveland.

This honestly wasn’t a fluke though seeing how said covers band was none other than punk rock supergroup Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

If I am not mistaken, the last time the Gimmes even played Cleveland was back in 2003 at the Warped Tour, so this was a pretty big deal to all of the Gimmes fans out there.  Needless to say, I was pretty stoked myself to see they were coming back to my hometown with special guests Pears and Masked Intruder.

The Gimmes roster consists of Spike Slawson (Uke Hunt / Swingin Utters), Joey Cape (Lagwagon), Fat Mike (NOFX), Chris Shiflett (No Use For A Name / Foo Fighters), and Dave Raun (Lagwagon).  They have been covering various tunes for over 20 years now and do not take themselves very seriously at all.  The result is an overdose of fun covers of songs with a punk edge that in incredibly addicting  They have 8 covers albums out now featuring all sorts of genres of music and were bold enough to just release a “Greatestest Hits” album.

The one ever so slight downfall with this leg of the tour was that Fat Mike was not playing due to scheduling conflicts, but Jay Bentley from Bad Religion was filling in on bass duties, so there were no complaints from me.  Chris Shiflett also was not playing this stretch of shows, but his brother and Face To Face guitarist, Scott Shiflett was filling in.  If you notice the photo of the flier above, you’ll see that they even took the liberty of photoshopping Jay and Scott in appropriately.

The House of Blues slowly filled up before the show started with big thanks to the Cavs and Indians games both going on at the same time making for parking to be a pricey nightmare.  People of all ages even including some kids with their punk rock folks were hanging about.  I really liked seeing such a variety of fans.

New Orleans hardcore punkers Pears started the night off with a pretty insane set.  Sadly, I think less than 10 people were really into them and the rest were just trying to get their place in the pit for the other bands on the bill.  Those Pears fans did sing along to every single song and had a hell of a time.  Vocalist Zach Quinn noticed this and at one time jumped out into the crowd to hang out with his fans.

I am not sure the crowd really was digging what Pears were playing as many seemed to just observe and take in their set, but when the band played a cover of “Judy is a Punk”, the place erupted.  Playing a few songs off last year’s Green Star as well as some from their debut Go To Prison, I really dug what I heard and was reminded that I really need to listen to them more.

Masked Intruder took stage with Officer Bradford, but there was a noticeable inconsistency.  Red was missing.  Apparently Red was serving time for picking pockets, but  Big Luke Ferguson from Lipstick Homicide was filling in on drumming duties.  Jarret Nathen from Pears actually filled in for one song too.

Blowing through songs like “I Fought the Law”, “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone Tonight”, and “Saturday Night Alone”, the crowd was robbed of all of their attention by the masked musicians and were perfectly ok with it.

Blue at one point instructed the crowd put their hands up in the air and then the band proceeded to played “Stick Em Up”.  There is nothing quite like a sing along with plenty of profanity.

Officer Bradford did his thing throughout the set and at the end pulled a Har Mar Superstar and shed his uniform to reveal a singlet that showed off all of his manly curves.  His stage charisma is like Ben Carr from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in a sense,  but far crazier.

Between the dance party going on in the pit with fans and Green,  Officer Bradford dancing with the kids who were lucky enough to stand on the backside of the crowd barriers, and even a “literal” gracious mention by Blue to some “Grilled Cheese Sandwiches” place, the band kept the Cleveland crowd wanting much, much more once they finished off their final song of the night, “I Don’t Want to Say Goodbye to You Tonight”.

As this was my first time seeing Masked Intruder after missing countless opportunities before, I was impressed.  The Daft Punk of pop punk were hilarious throughout and sounded pretty great live.

The Gimmes took the stage just around 10pm to a packed house and started playing “Summertime” with Spike running onto the stage dressed to impress.  From there, it was an all out party with the band dipping into their huge catalog of covers.

I was so stoked to hear “Jolene” and “Rocket Man” as well as “End of the Road” all in one night.  The band looked comfortable playing on stage and were just having as much fun as possible.

The Gimmies rocked out their version of the Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” with the crowd singing along loudly.  They also gave Barry Manilow props for announcing to the world the truth before playing “Mandy”.

Cape and Shiflett basically manned the sides of the stage throughout the show.  Cape at times would just vanish leaving Spike to ask if anyone had seen him while Shiflett was just rocking out and having a good ol’ time with Bentley.

At one point during the set, Spike started rambling off a story about another venue in Cleveland he played at with another one of his bands where a awfully friendly man offered to pleasure him out front.  He was quick to admit it was Now That’s Class.

Bentley had me cracking up tons during the set.  When it was not his turn to play, he would pretend to start playing, hesitate, make faces, and then jump into action.  You could tell he really was enjoying the night.  At one point when Spike was shamelessly putting in a plug for Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits album that just came out, a fan in the front row held up the LP and Bentley took it from him.  The fan thought he was just going to hold it up for all to see, which he did, but then put it on the drum stage and left it there until after the set.  He eventually gave it back, but not before Bentley told the fan he would have to buy another copy.

As a special treat, Spike performed a couple of times with a plugged-in ukulele including a song from his other band Uke-Hunt as well as an amazing, intimate cover of Madonna’s “Crazy For You” and also “I Believe I can Fly” with Shiflett playing a Hawaiian riff with eventually the rest of the band kicking in.

With plenty of comedic banter between the bunch, they interacted with the crowd frequently, cracked jokes, and bashed current events just making for just a fun set.  It was like NOFX, but far less wasted.

After leaving the stage only to come back for a four song encore, the band called it a night, but not before thanking the crowd and handing off picks, drumsticks, and setlists to a few lucky fans.

I have to admit, I was kind of worried before the show after hearing that their Pittsburgh show had a shorter set the night before, but the Gimmes played for almost 2 hours.  The full setlist is listed below.

It was a  solid night for punk rock tunes with friends and fans alike thanks to a trio of Fat Wreck Chords bands.  It was my first time seeing all three bands, and I was thoroughly entertained.

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes Set List:
“Summertime”
“Jet Plane”
“Julio”
“Who Put the Bomp”
“Science Fiction”
“Ghost Riders”
“Sloop John B”
“Danny’s Song”
“Country Roads”
“Jolene”
“Crazy For You”
“I Believe I Can Fly”
“Mandy”
“Isn’t She Lovely”
“Over the Rainbow”
“Rocket Man”
“Straight Up”
“Different Drum”
Spike playing the Uke
“All My Lovin'”
“I Will Survive”
“Sweet Caroline”
“End of the Road”

Click on a photo below to open the slideshow:

Album Review: The Flatliners – Inviting Light

I consider myself a pretty big Flatliners fan and have been for most of their career.

The Toronto foursome caught my attention with their debut – even if it was just speedy, loud ska tunes.  It was their followup, The Great Awake, however, that blew me away.

The Flatliners have a punk rock style that is so addictive to me.  They have been playing for almost 15 years now without a single change up in members.  I have seen them live on multiple occasions, including in 2011 at SXSW just before the Ben Weasel blowout.  To this day, Cavalcade remains one of my top albums.

Last week, the band dropped their fifth full-length release on Rise Records.  Having heard a couple songs beforehand, I was pretty damn excited to get my hands on a copy.  Since then, I have listened to it dozens of times and each listen just gets better for me.

Inviting Light has Cresswell singing way more than screaming throughout, and it is extremely likable.  I was set back a little as I was expecting the band to unleash just like some of their older material, but the more I absorbed this release, the more I appreciated how much the band has matured.

Opening track “Mammals” slowly emerged into a pretty catchy track.  Cresswell and crew took it easy but had no problem creating a song that begged to be sung along with.  “Hang My Head” followed sounding more like a well-defined rock tune with a punk edge.  This song in particular got stuck in my head the moment I heard it and I was totally ok with that.

“Indoors” was another track that was more drawn-out without the band’s style jumping ship completely.  The Flatliners if anything, showcased their musical talent to the fullest on this track that seemed to revolve around insecurities and support.  I especially loved Ramirez’s drumming throughout.

I adored “Unconditional Love” as it was to me a spaghetti-western punk rock song.  It moseyed along, but was so impactful especially with Cresswell’s bellowing voice at times.

I found myself getting into “Infinite Wisdom” immediately with Cresswell’s singing style hitting lows and highs in a single breath.  The energy in this song alone had me nodding my head to the beat instantly.

“Chameleon Skin” had Cresswell singing and wailing about adapting to surroundings through others.  The song slowly built up into a great tune that clearly was far-fetched from a traditional Flatliners song, and honestly, I loved it.

Inviting Light is not quite like previous Flatliners albums, but that is not really anything that should be concerning at all given the talent that fills this tenured act.

A couple years back, Cresswell teamed up with Joey Cape for a One Week Records album and I seriously think he took to heart what he learned about himself playing with Cape and propelled that in the creation of Inviting Light.  If you call yourself a Flatliners fan and have not heard that One Week Records album, prepared to be pleasantly shocked, it is outstanding.

Back to this album – If you are sitting there questioning yourself whether or not to listen to Inviting Light, recall what happened to Rise Against over time.  I am not making any immediate comparisons between the two bands by the way, but styles change by decision and not force, and sometimes there is nothing at all wrong with that.

The Flatliners have not sold out, they found a new niche and are going with it.  Think about it, they could still be pushing out ska jams, right?

Album Review: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits

A few weeks back, I found a photo of myself from when I was working in shipping and receiving at some internet company.

I was about 21 years old at the time and looked ever so thrilled in the picture.  The photo showed me working hard while I rocked a backwards hat as well as a Me First and the Gimme Gimmes shirt, a shirt that I basically wore in the late 90s until it fell apart.  That was almost 20 years ago.

Where am I going with this you ask?

Well, clearly I was a fan back then, and I still am today.  Ever since I heard the Gimmes play “Country Roads” on a Fat Wreck comp, I fell in love.  There was just something so appealing about hearing a song my parents listened to in the 70s altered to my standards.

For those of you who live under a rock, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes consist of Joey Cape, Chris Shiflett, Dave Raun, some guy who calls himself Fat Mike, and good ol’ Spike Slawson.  They have been taking overplayed and classic tunes and covering them the only way they know how to.  The result is catchy, likable, and just downright fun.  i should probably add that they have been doing this since 1995.

Over the years, they have tackled adult contemporary, Motown, show tunes, country, and even Japanese pop songs just to name off a few genres.  I guess you could say they are not the gimmicky type.  Hell, they have 7 studio albums under their belts released on Fat Wreck Chords.  Clearly they are pretty damn important in the punk cover band scene.

To showcase their accomplishments (and squeeze you out of your hard earned cheddar), they are about to drop a greatest hits album on April 7th full of renditions of songs cleverly titled Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits.

Featuring 17 memorable covers, the Gimmes threw together the best of the best for all to hear in one collective listen.  I am sure it was tough for the Gimmes to pick the right songs for this “greatestest” hits album, but I think they did a pretty good job.

Starting with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, the album spans the Gimme’s eclectic taste in covers.  It was great to hear “Straight Up” and “Jolene” and of course “I Believe I Can Fly”.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t stoked to hear “Desperado” as well as “End of the Road”.  I adore the Gimme’s take on these two originally over-played-as-hell songs.

As an added bonus, a few non-album tracks that I have not heard in a long time appeared.  “City of New Orleans” off of Willie, a Fat Mail Order limited edition EP, was an excellent surprise to hear.  The Del Shannon classic “Hats Off to Larry”, originally on the Live Fat, Die Young: Fat Music Vol. V, was the other.

The one track missing that I felt should have been on this greatest hits was the Gimme’s version of “Rocket Man” by Sir Elton John.  Luckily, I have Have A Ball in my collection and can listen to it whenever I please, but for those out there that are just discovering this punk rock cover band, that is one song I know they would enjoy.

To be honest, I was really hoping for the band to have a new album full of covers, but I will take this “greatestest” hits release over nothing.  I hope one day they decide to cover 90s hip hop songs in the key of punk rock, I seriously think that would be amazing and I know they could pull it off.

What I’m trying to say is simple:  Long live the Gimmes.  They are the best cover band of my time.

In support of this release, Me First are touring and have been since February.  I can not even tell you the last time I have seen these guys tour, so make sure you go see them live.  It is going to be an all out blast.  Give them your money.  All of it.  Being in a cover band can’t pay that much, can it?

Tour Dates:

04/11/17 Pittsburgh, PA at The Rex *
04/12/17 Cleveland, OH at House of Blues *
04/13/17 Chicago, IL at Concord *
04/14/17 Detroit, MI at Majestic *
04/15/17 Toronto, ON Canada at Phoenix Theatre *
04/16/17 Montreal, QC Canada at Club Soda *
04/19/17 Boston, MA at Royale *
04/20/17 Philadelphia, PA at Union Transfer *
04/21/17 Baltimore, MD at Baltimore Soundstage *
04/22/17 Asbury Park, NJ at Stone Pony *
04/23/17 New York City, NY at Webster Hall *
05/02/17 Portland, OR at Wonder Ballroom ^
05/03/17 Vancouver, BC Canada at Commodore ^
05/04/17 Seattle, WA at Showbox ^
05/05/17 Boise, ID at The Olympic ^
05/06/17 Salt Lake City, UT at The Depot ^
05/07/17 Denver, CO at Summit Music Hall ^
05/10/17 Scottsdale, AZ at Pub Rock ^
05/11/17 San Diego, CA at House of Blues ^
05/12/17 Santa Ana, CA at The Observatory ^
05/13/17 Los Angeles, CA at The Fonda ^
05/14/17 Berkeley, CA at The UC Theatre ^
05/27/17 Las Vegas, NV at Punk Rock Bowling
06/09/17 Interlaken, Switzerland at Greenfield Festival
06/11/17 Milano, Italy at Carroponte w/ Descendents *
06/14/17 Attnang-Puchheim, Austria at EQUALITY Festival
06/15/17 Nickelsdorf , Austria at Nova Rock Festival
06/16/17 Bischofsmais, Germany at Rock The Hill
06/17/17 Bischofsmais, Germany at Rock The Hill
06/23/17 Neuhausen ob Eck, Germany at Southside Festival
06/23/17 Scheessel, Germany at Hurricane Festival
06/24/17 Neuhausen ob Eck, Germany at Southside Festival
06/24/17 Scheessel, Germany at Hurricane Festival
06/25/17 Scheessel, Germany at Hurricane Festival
06/25/17 Neuhausen ob Eck, Germany at Southside Festival
07/01/17 Würzburg/Giebelstadt , Germany at Flugplatz Mission Ready Festival

* = w/ PEARS & MASKED INTRUDER
^ = w/ Together Pangea

Album Review: Bad Luck Jonathan – Bad Luck Jonathan

Bad Luck Jonathan is the band your father probably told you about that never actually existed.

Sounding like they are straight out of the 70s, this Jon Langford project carries the fuzz, the soul, and plenty of the mean deviation of a progressive space rock act that could fool any naive music listener into thinking that this band is an obscure band from the past.

For those who have not heard of the name Langford, you should probably stop what you are doing and go check out a few songs from  his first band, The Meckons, a punk band that took root 40 years ago.  The dude is a fricking legend, but be forewarned, Bad Luck Johnathan is a lot more astray from what Langford once started with and mind you, the Meckons were all over the place.

I should probably mention that Bad Luck Jonathan is not just Langford though.  Former Whiskeytown guitarist, Phil Wandscher and Martin Billheimer joined forces with Langford along with the Waco Brother’s very own Joe Camarillo and Alan Doughty (who also happened to be in Jesus Jones).  It’s been said they came together on an island off the coast of the Pacific Northwest in very specific circumstances.

Realizing they were on to something good, the band, with help from Cleveland’s very own Blue Arrow Records, dropped a spacey, sludge rock self-titled album.  That descriptor alone right there just sounds bad ass.  Well, so is the album.

Album opener “3 Eyed Piranaha” was a space rock blues jam that pretty much opened the gates of what was to come on this album.  It was like listening to Mike Watt, Suicidal Tendencies, Beck, and Stevie Ray Vaughn all smashed together.  It was beautiful.

“Bad Luck Jonathan” carried a very Doors-y feel at the beginning, but went the path of Bowie and beyond.  “Strong Engine” was a mysterious sounding track with some catchy guitar lines backed by smooth bass playing that erupted halfway into a full-fetched jam.

“Clowntown Collapse” closed the album down with a distortion-driven almost cowpunk sounding track that I really got a kick out of.  I could only imagine this song being played live in a dark, small venue, especially by the end when Langford commented into the mic, “that was great” as the song ended.

Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, I can tell you this is not just some quickly thrown together album.  Personally, by the end, I was hoping for more as it was a hell of a listen.  There is a lot of talent thrown into these six tracks and I’ve personally listened to it over a few times now as it carries a unique sound I am really digging.

The LP version of this album was pressed by Gotta Grove Records and looks killer thanks to the red opaque color of the wax.

If you want to snag a copy, head over to Blue Arrow Records.

I got a kick while reading an interview with Lone Star Music Magazine and felt the need to share.  Langford joked about working with Blue Arrow by saying, “we made an album that’s coming out on Blue Arrow Records in Cleveland; their only other artist is Jonathan Richman, so they only work with artists with Jonathan in their name.”

Langford is a trip, and judging by the video below, so are his live performances.  I really need to check these guys out live next time they roll through Cleveland.