Next Last Big Thing
Orange County, California, come Throwdown with Vendetta,
their third and probably most mature offering, despite a few
stinkers. This is called metal in some circles, but really,
this is just some decent old-school hardcore by guys who maybe
listened to Pantera a lot in high school. In fact, Adrenaline
PR claims they are indeed “the next Pantera.” And no wonder—singer
Dave Peters sounds exactly like that fiery lycanthrope
Phil Anselmo. People are swallowing it, however, because the
release just broke into the Billboard Top 200, making Throwdown
Trustkill’s highest-charting metal band.
There are some dandies here, especially the high-protein “Shut
You Down” and the utterly devastating “Burn,” but Throwdown
are a perfect example of a band who write almost every song
in the same key, and it can drone. Even “This Is Where It
Ends,” the album’s seismic finale, is diluted by the sneaky
feeling that the CD has been skipping for the past 25 minutes.
Want to know if the freight is truly heavy-duty? Learn the
album’s riffs in standard E tuning. It’s cake to make a heavy
noise when tuned so low that the strings are flapping on the
fretboard like some tattered enemy flag pegged and pressed
into the bloated stomach of a young soldier. When using this
standard, I am only half-convinced that these guys pass constitutional
muster. The truly weak “Annihilation,” with its ridiculous
refrain, “Neeeewww Woooorld Dissssorder!,” leaves me headed
for my Kyuss collection. The pilgrims thought of that phrase
in the 1600s, for God’s sake. Because everyone knows that,
unlike what the high-school history texts impart, the First
Thanksgiving of 1621 was actually crashed by the Indians,
arriving in force after hearing the settlers hunting. The
natives were armed and outnumbered our pilgrims by a 3-to-1
margin, so what choice did the poor bastards have but to offer
up the maize, huh? But you have a choice. Choose wisely.
Even though it’s a long way from upstate New York to the Mississippi
Delta, Glen Falls acoustic slide guitarist Mark Tolstrup’s
second disc, Root Magic, will take you down to deep
blues country faster than would the Starship Enterprise’s
transporter beam. Produced by former Dave Bromberg and Paul
Butterfield Band bass god Tony Markellis and joined by Janis
Joplin alumnus Richard Bell on piano, Dale Haskell on drums,
and Markellis on bass, Tolstrup’s steel-bodied guitar and
earthy baritone vocals affirm that it’s hard to go wrong when
you stay close to the wellsprings of American music. The 14
tracks of his second release feature five originals as well
as covers of Robert Johnson, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Leadbelly,
Bob Dylan, and Hank Williams Sr. in solo, duo and band settings.
The 48-year-old Tolstrup is a solid bluesman who goes for
grit more than flash, his sound being closer to Son House
than to Robert Johnson or contemporary slide wizard John Mooney.
Because the fingerpicking guitar style he favors was designed
to be self-sufficient, he’s at his best when playing solo
or backed only by Markellis’ bass. That’s not to dismiss the
band tracks, though: Bell’s piano and Haskell’s drums lay
down a sinewy groove that is worth a listen even if you wish
Tolstrup had used a sharp-toned electric guitar for some of
First among the more noteworthy tracks is Tolstrup’s self-penned
title song, the lyrics of which start out like a compendium
of voodoo practices, and then, referring to music as well
as botany, advise the listener that “if you want the roots
you got to dig deep in the ground.” “Careless Love,” on the
other hand, is one the oldest and best-known blues songs to
which Tolstrup gives an unusual twist by strumming the rarely
heard tiple, or soprano guitar. In “Motherless Child,” Markellis’
bowed bass adds an aptly somber undertone to the old spiritual.
Magic should convince blueshounds that Tolstrup has been
digging in the right places.
This is the second album by the Visible Men, a keyboard-based
trio from Oregon. Built around the melodies of pianist Dustin
Lanker, Love:30 is a set of 10 nicely crafted vignettes.
Tightly arranged, with roots in everything from progressive-rock
outfits to Brill Building composers, the disc is carried forward
by the punch and propulsion of the rhythm section. In particular,
bassist Dan Schmid has a crisp tone that’s a key melodic foil
to each song’s character. Drummer Jordan Glenn approaches
his kit with an orchestral sensibility, acting like the entire
percussion section of a Broadway pit band. With the soloing
all occurring on keyboards, there’s a sonic link to Canterbury
bands such as Caravan and Hatfield & the North, especially
with the distorted electric piano on “Three.” On “Animal”
there are shades of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, while
other numbers show the band to be on similar terrain as various
contemporary orchestral pop acts (Eric Matthews, Ben Folds).
Lanker’s vocals are blended in with the overall arrangements,
his everyman ease not demanding the spotlight on its own accord,
rather as the vehicle for conveying the songs’ emotional narratives.
The Visible Men themselves are on the cusp of 30, and their
songs are full of fears, regrets and hopes of people approaching
the final decade of the first half of their life.