Best of 2014: Tim Livingston’s Top 10 Albums
By Tim Livingston of WGXC-FM’s “Radio Warfare”
Almost all of my fave albums this year are new releases by old school rockers…
THE BOYS: Punk Rock Menopause
Joey Ramone named them as his favorite band and for obvious reasons, as between 1977-1980 the band released four LPs of punk-driven power-pop, rivaled by few at the time for pure melodic power. This year they returned with their first album as a band since the day, and it is a scorcher! Ringing guitars, booming drums & bass, punk swagger and grit, mixed with pure pop melodies, vocal harmonies and most importantly – great songs. This album picks up right where the Boys left off. Original members Honest John Plain, Casino Steel and Matt Dangerfield deliver the goods with newly minted pop classics like the rumbling “How Hot You Are,” the super-catchy “She’s the Reason” and the very Beatlesque “Baby Bye Bye,” all of which sit nicely alongside straight-up, old-school punk-rockers like “1976” and “Punk Rock Girl.” The whole album is S-O-L-I-D, from the opening riff to the ending notes and is essential for fans of the band, or anyone missing the old-school sound… ALSO OF NOTE: Original Boys bassist Duncan “Kid” Reid (who was not involved in this project) and his solo band Duncan Reid & the Big Headsput out a cracking new power-pop keeper of his own this year, Difficult Second Album, which is well worth checking out.
THE NEW CHRISTS: Incantations
Radio Birdman frontman Rob Younger’s side-project since 1980 returns with a new album of dark, brooding garage rock that sits along the top with the Boys as No. 1 for me this year. A bit more complex and diverse than some of the band’s previous straight-up nuggets-style garage-rock/Detroit-worshiping efforts, this album, however, lacks no power. It’s just a more subtle fury, rather than a head-slamming guitar attack. Oh, there is still plenty of powerful six-string assaults to be had, but presented in a moodier, smoldering context. Sinister yet romantic, Younger has one of the best rock voices out there as his deep, dark pipes snake their way through 11 devastating songs such as the killer opener “Ghostlike,” the surf-guitar-inspired single “Waves Form,” the brilliant “A Window to See” and the goth-tinged “We Are Lovers,” which could have been an ’80s dance-club classic back in the day. A brilliant album from a band whose entire back-catalog is worth searching out.
SONNY VINCENT & SPITE: Spiteful
An unsung hero of the early New Yawk City punk rawk scene, guitarist Sonny Vincent has put out well over 20 albums, including with his early band the Testors, his later incarnation, Shotgun Rationale, and a variety of solo efforts. He is also an underground cult multi-media artist who has lent his guitar skills to the likes of former Velvet Mo Tucker. Sonny is well connected and always seems to have an all-star, underground cast of supporting players lending a hand, but this band, Spite, is a bonafide punk rock supergroup. Rat Scabies (the Damned) on drums, Glenn Matlock (Sex Pistols/Rich Kids/Philistines) on bass and Steve Mackay (Stooges) on the lost rock and roll secret weapon, saxophone (adding a smokey NYC club feel to the proceedings). The band plays like a cohesive, powerhouse, supporting Sonny’s songs of street-level love, loss, hope and despair. Raw, edgy and hard-hitting, the album is true lower east side punk rock in its grittiest form, with charging rockers like “Disinterested,” “Sidewalk Cracks” and the unrelenting “Wait” leading the way, but even slower mid-tempo, heartfelt ballads like “Clouds,” “Beg for Love” and “Not the Same” still cut like a knife with swaggering intensity. A true believer, punk rock original Vincent scores big with this release. Just out in November this was a late addition to my list and by the time you read this may be sitting atop as No. 1.
JAMES WILLIAMSON: Re-Licked
Raw Power-era and since returning Stooges guitarist presents a bunch of songs written by Iggy and him originally intended to be a follow-up to that punk rock blueprint. But that never developed because the record label dropped the band, and the songs only later came out in varying degrees of demos, live recordings and semi-legit releases. So here Williamson re-records the songs using modern technology and sonics, and although Iggy opted to sit it out, the album yields surprising results. Using guest vocalists on each track (Jello Biafra, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Mark Lanegan, etc..), it’s great to hear these songs so well recorded. And taken for what it is, it’s actually is an enjoyable listen. Some of the best cuts feature female vocalists such as the BellRays’ Lisa Kekaula on “Got A Right” and blues artist Carolyn Wonderland on “Open Up and Bleed.” Sure, if Iggy had gone back and sung these songs, it could of possibly been album of the year, but listen with an open mind and enjoy.
THE FAUNTLEROYS: Below the Pink Pony
This 12-inch 45RPM, six-song EP (CD also) is a side-project worked on between the busy schedules of this band of rock n roll notables consisting of troubadour Alejandro Escovedo on bass (!) and some vocals, fabled axe hero Ivan Julian (Voidoids), soul-rocker Nicholas Tremulis and drummer Linda Pitmon (Zuzu’s Petals, Steve Wynn’s Miracle 3). All of the band’s collective influences, including punk, glam, pop, roots and straight-up rock n roll seep in, but it comes across like a cohesive band effort. Hope they can find time to get back in the studio as six tracks only leaves you thirsting for more.
THE REIGNING SOUND: Shattered
Long running garage rocking soul shouters return with an album that is a bit more Stax / Motown than some of their more guitar garage rock-oriented efforts, but this still places band leader Greg Cartwright firmly as one of the U.S.’s premier contemporary songwriters.
STIFF LITTLE FINGERS: No Going Back
Belfast punk legends return with their first effort in 11 years and it is a keeper. Leader Jake Burns and company went the fan fundraising route on this one, and they don’t disappoint the faithful. The band maintains their power and passion, and tracks such as “My Dark Places” and the closing “When We Were Young” earn their place among the best of the band’s earlier catalog.
THE STRYPES: Snapshot
OK, finally a band on my list that has not been at it for decades, but the music does harken back to the day of Maximum R&B as these young Irish lads (teenagers in fact) come off as early blues-rockers in the vein of UK forefathers such as the Pretty Things/early Stones, but with a modern energy and youthful exuberance that seems to come back in vogue every few years in an effort to save music from bland pop mediocrity. Well done!
WILKO JOHNSON & ROGER DALTREY: Going Back Home
And speaking of Maximum Rock N Roll.. kudos to Roger for joining the former Dr. Feelgood guitar legend for this studio album where the respective veterans revisit their roots in smashing fashion.
GHOST WOLVES: Man, Woman, Beast
I’m usually not a fan of the new drums-and-guitar-only blues rock duos sprouting up left and right of late, but this Austin based husband and wife team deliver the swampy blues garage rock goods with a enough punk rock snarl, primal glam-tinged sleaze, fuzzy guitar and cool hooks to keep me going back to for repeated listens.
Rock ‘n’ roll lives, folks! You just need to know where to look for it…