New CDs by JJ Rassler, Mach Bell,
Jon Macey, and Willie Loco
Do they still cut it?
I realized recently that we have had some new CD's from old friends. When I say old friends I don't mean they have been around since say 1978 no, these four people have been around since 1975 and earlier.
Can you believe it ? One is almost afraid to listen. Are they still vital? Still creative and imaginative? Are they burnouts?
People have always complained about the mix on the 1978 DMZ album but it has been tacitly acknowledged as a classic example of Boston punk.
Now in 2003 JJ fronts the Downbeat Five . Do I need to say anything here about this great CD? Please let me. What a group sound. Now these are not symphonic musicians. They just sound ferocious. It sounds like they are being whipped and threatened to play… play…PLAY. Then Jen will come in with her gravel voice and not too long after raise the volume and kick it into overdrive. 14 songs strong and not a clunker in the bunch.
J.J. is the master mind here. 30 years into his career he pulls out a absolute classic. It sounds as raw as the DMZ record. Live, they are smoking. How can you not love this whole Downbeat 5 phenomenon?
They just released the old Thundertrain LP on CD. All the DJ are playing "Hot ForTeacher" just like they did in 1977.
Mach Bell just put out his new CD with Last Man Standing. He has updated his metal sound.The songwriting here is very good and Mach cowrote everything. He actually only wrote one Thundertrain song.
The chiming intro to Turnaround is a real winner as is its chorus. Don't Look Down is a catchy song about a tightrope walker.
Funk #5 is a hysterical James Brown tribute with a laundry list of James Brown expletives like "Fine the drummer five bucks" which is done over a jerky Zeppelin style riff. Nice.
The heavy repetitive riff in Got What You Want hooked me.
Mach has come out fighting. Voice in great shape. Good songs. Count him in.
Fox Pass had one ot the first singles on the Boston punk scene in 1976 : Prized Possession/ I Believed. These were well crafted songs not punk thrashings. After Fox Pass Jon excelled in songwriting with Tom Dickie and the Desires.
Jon has released some things as Macy's Parade. The new Cd Actuality in Process is under his name only. This is a generous helping of 15 well written and finely recorded songs. The recording alone must have taken a year. The arrangements are complicated, the instruments are clear as a bell and the 12-string guitar is to die for. The only ones to get this 12-string sound since the Byrds would be Rain Parade or Tom Petty. Jon has some of his old Fox Pass buddies John Jules and Michael Roy on board and they are superb.
I could go on and on about the songwriting. After all he has been through to write 15 songs with compelling lyrics, melodies and hooks is a career triumph for Jon. Tempos are slow ( as was the Fox Pass single) and you have to concentrate to let the music reveal itself. This is not background music. A real epic by Jon.
OK, where do we start? Our Alpha punk put out Kerouac / Mass Ave in 1977. It was a DIY piece of plastic that set the mark. I sent away for my copy and got a handmade collage on the cover from Willie who didn't know me at the time. Now in 2003 Willie has put out a DIY CD with the Boom Boom Band and with hand drawn art and lettering.
It has four songs. Tinkling piano begins Ogalala then the Boom Booms crash in just like the old days and it sounds fine. Willie doing his ga ga talk and vocal inflections. Loosigian doin his guitar swoops. Next is AAWW an old song which was originally recorded with another line up. O Daddy O has great lyrics. Ocean's Condo #3 gets into a 1960's sounding jam.
When I pumped up the volume I liked the CD even better. It has all the Willie earmarks. All the idiosyncratic stylings we have come to love. It has energy. Willie is no burnout ...he is red hot...still.
So. there was no reason to be fearful. Talk about being vital, almost all of these songs are newly written. But why is Willie doing a DIY CD at this point? All these new releases are good. The Downbeat 5 is getting airplay but the rest aren't . Why?
To be this good after this amount of time you have to be driven, self motivated , have a foundation of creativity and you must love it. After 25 years you can't fake it. If you don't believe and live the dream you fall by the wayside. This is an answer to Johnny Angel's essay.
Even when there is no money coming in and no big fame coming your way you still do it. Why? Because it's what you DO.
I have become selfish. Even though the CD's here may not reach the millions, I have them. As long as I have music that I love I'm happy. I gave up on mainstream radio...a long time ago. Chain record stores are useless. Now it's self owned stores, web site sales and buying the record at the gigs.
That's where we stand today. Not far from where we started in 1975.
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