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The Next Last Big Thing
By Bill Ketzer

Throwdown

Vendetta (Trustkill)

From 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.

Mark Tolstrup

Root Magic

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 these cuts.

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.

Root Magic should convince blueshounds that Tolstrup has been digging in the right places.

—Glenn Weiser

The Visible Men

Love:30 (Leisure King)

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.

—David Greenberger

 


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