March 2019

Liner Notes by Brian Chozick

Menu of this month's listings, stories and columns


Metal is King at Speaking Rock

Hands down the biggest winner at Speaking Rock is ’80s metal, so it is fitting that they’re welcoming Dokken Saturday, March 2. The band hasn’t exactly been prolific but they’re better than most of their contemporaries. At least they’ve had releases in this millennium, with their last coming out in 2012 and entering the Billboard Top 200 on release. Their true claim to fame came in the mid ’80s when metal was king and their singles seemed to be inescapable on rock radio. Then the amps got turned way down in the ’90s, and things have been rocky ever since. They have gone through numerous lineup changes throughout their career with the only constant being the band’s leader and namesake, Don Dokken. They’ve made El Paso a tour stop for many years and always break out the hits, so if your thing is reliving those big hair days, then this show is sure to delight. Since this is an ’80s show be sure to leave the flickering flame app at home and bust out a real Bic for this one.

Bob Mould, “Sunshine Rock,” Merge Records

After his brilliant “Patch the Sky,” it seemed like an eternity waiting for new music from this legend. Actually, it has been a little less than two years and wow, was it worth the wait. Bob Mould got back on the rock horse over a decade ago and left his experiments in a cloud of dust. He has passed the half-century mark, and is inching very close to Social Security, but musically he is “Benjamin Buttoning” it, with each release demonstrating more youthful exuberance than the previous one. “Sunshine Rock” is the latest and with 12 earth scorching tracks he has never ever sounded better, be it Husker Du or Sugar. This one lacks a who’s who of special guests, but in retrospect, those who joined him may have been keeping him down. Every track is worthy of the spotlight and should have its own single release, if singles were still a thing. Oh, how this rocks, slathered with hooks by way of generous guitar riffage, crashing cymbals and some serious pounding on the skins. “Sunshine Rock” is sure to part the clouds on even your gloomiest day. Put it on and be taken to your happy place.

Guster, “Look Alive,” Nettwerk

It is hard to believe that it has been almost a quarter-century since a very quirky trio out of Boston emerged. In 2010 they became a quartet with the addition of Pictures and Sound member Luke Reynolds. They began their career when Dave Matthews could do no wrong and many post-’60s jam bands began to sprout up. Guster was one of them, but they didn’t really fit that category. For one thing their debut clocked in at 44 minutes with 11 songs, not really mathematically fit for extra-long jams. It might have been the unconventional drummer who refused to use sticks and has opted for a bare hands approach on his full-fledged drum kit (we’re not just talking bongos, doumbek, or tabla, but cymbals, snare, and toms all played using his very unique direct approach). Whatever it was, they developed a legion of fans, and they are now on their eighth album, “Look Alive.” The sounds on this one quickly evoke more Beach Boys, Beatles, a few psychedelic flashbacks and much less Grateful Dead. By combining rich harmonies, pop layering and a percussive thread, they create tunes that are instantaneously infectious. This venture also shows their funny bone is still strong despite their growing age, with the inclusion of a very European-themed track, complete with lead vocalist Ryan Miller adopting a faux English accent for “Overexcited.” Don’t get caught sleeping on this one, it is time to “Look Alive.”
Sponge, “Demoed in Detroit,” Cleopatra Records

When an artist plays the record company shuffle, some outcomes can be devastating, from losing rights to your past catalogue, to having your contract fulfilled with endless hits and live collections, to leaving works in limbo — and these are just a few. This can happen with bad contracts as well, but you can count on these happening when you try to jump ship or are thrown overboard. In 1994 Sponge had a wildly successful debut and followed it up with a brilliant but not-so-commercially-fantastic disc, followed by a label splintering. The band then found themselves without a home. They would later take up residency with Beyond Records (another disaster for another day). It was during that hiatus that the material for their latest “Demoed in Detroit” was culled. It becomes a real mystery why this was shelved even after just one listening. This incredible piece of the Sponge catalogue doesn’t stray far from their tried and true, and we wouldn’t want it to. They have also updated it with three fantastic covers and stripped-down versions of their hits “Plowed” and “Molly.” Soak up “Demoed in Detroit” like a sponge.

Collectibles: R.E.M., “R.E.M. at the BBC,” Concord Bicycle Music/Craft Recordings

They broke up shortly after their last release and haven’t put out new music in eight years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re in short supply. Ever since R.E.M. signed up with Concord Bicycle Music, the vaults have been cracked open and they are pulling out some true gems. The latest is “R.E.M. at the BBC.” This massive box of eight CDs and DVDs covers a ton of material, three decades to be exact. The collection bizarrely does not flow chronologically (but I will now), which is probably its only fault. In 1984 their sophomore effort “Reckoning” had just come out and they played an incredibly rock-centric show in none other than Rock City: Nottingham. The next show comes in the form of a double disc from Milton Keynes in 1995, which was part of their “Monster” tour. This was their first after a six-year break. It kicks the door down right away with an electrifying version of “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” The performance platters conclude with the 2004 St. James’ Church outing, highlighted with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke guesting on “E-Bow The Letter.” There are also copious radio session tracks to be heard. “R.E.M. at the BBC” is simply outstanding; now we need R.E.M. back at the studio for some brand new tunes.

Keep an eye out for these
new and upcoming releases:

Buckcherry — “Warpaint”
Craig Finn — “I Need A New War”
Glen Hansard — “This Wild Willing”
Meat Puppets — “Dusty Notes”
Son Volt — “Union”

Brian Chozick is owner of Tumblin’
Dice Music. Drop him a line at

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