Friday, September 29, 2006

Additional Supplement to Soledad Brothers

The Crutch shut down before it could present this playlist done by Soledad Brothers' drummer, Ben Swank. We now offer it here, at Monte's Gauntlet (thanks to Chad for hosting the tracks), as a special supplement. One note: the title of the playlist was created by Swank as well.

"10 Songs To Groove To On a Pain Killer Cocktail After Being Administered a Particularly Nasty Beating From Overzealous Security Goons"

Lightnin' Hopkins - Black Ghost
Geeshie Wiley - Last Kind Word Blues
Skip James - Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues
Abner Jay - Cocaine Blues
Alexander Spence - Little Hands
Bill Fay - Scream in the Ears
13th Floor Elevators - Slip Inside This House
The Outsiders - Misfit
Mammatus - Dragon of the Deep: Part 2
Black Sabbath - all of Volume 4 (Monte chose "Changes")

Soledad Brothers - The Hardest Walk (Alive)

The Onion AV Club
Onion Rating: B+

“Detroit's Soledad Brothers started life as one of those bluesy guitar-and-drum duos that seem to spring up like weeds in local garage-rock scenes, and though they've since added another guitarist and the occasional guest player, Soledad Brothers still cling to the raw, rootsy sound that stripped-down duos do best.”

* In one sentence, they give not only the history, but also an update as to what they are now and a clue as to what the band sounds like.

“The Soledads grapple with self-consciousness, and overcome it whenever they slip music past their own heads and into their bones.”

* Simple and direct conclusion.

Quality brief review. It’s nice when writers are forced to be economical and brief with their thoughts – most of the time, it turns out for the best. They do a good job of running through the release they’re reviewing, but I would always like to see some talk about past releases, especially when you’re talking about a band that has had four previous albums. However, space was obviously limited – no harm done to the reader.

Review Rating: 83%


The Washington Post
Writer: Mark Jenkins

“The band's new album, "The Hardest Walk," features four players -- only three officially Soledad sibs -- and a style that employs the blues as a foundation rather than as a straitjacket.”

* Wonderful statement that tells the reader which way the band goes in this subgenre that has a 50% success (or failure) rate.

“The brief "White Jazz" suggests that the band has even been listening to Albert Ayler, or at least the first MC5 album.”

* Offshoot information or insight is always appreciated by a knowledgeable reader and music fan.

It’s a preview review for a concert, so it’s short, but it does its job and would intrigue anyone who didn’t know the band – maybe even enough to put them in line at the concert.

Review Rating: 74%


Rolling Stone
Writer: Lauren Gitlin
RS Rating: 3 stars

“At their best, Soledad Brothers recall the Rolling Stones when Mick and Keith were fresh-faced bluesheads in the mid-Sixties: The prolific Detroit foursome kicks out solid, harmonica-laced blues riffs without sounding derivative or cheesily nostalgic.”

* I like the reference, and we kind of get the idea, but this misplaces the band, and isn’t very accurate, as the Soledad Brothers’ diversity in sound is more late 60s, early 70s Stones (especially Exile era).

“Meet the Motor City's newest hitmakers.”

* Again, we get the point, but the band isn’t new, and if you want to introduce them as “hitmakers,” do a longer review on them.

Big and bold, but brief and no support for the statements. What’s really sad (for RS) is that I must say it’s good to see Rolling Stone show some support for such an unknown band. So, in that sense, this review is wonderful.

Review Rating: 65%


Conclusion From Reviews:
This is an album to pick up – everyone is satisfied with it or raving about it. However, as stated, it would be nice to hear about who the Soledad Brothers are and what they have done until now. They’re said to be bluesy, but not completely, offering a variety of sounds and styles.

The Soledad Brothers started as a duo known as Henry & June, who had one release (Goin’ Back to Memphis) and consisted of Johnny Walker (singer/guitar) and Ben Swank (percussion). They added Oliver Henry around 2002 as an official third Soledad Brother. Several unofficial Soledad Brothers have contributed to the albums, including Meg White (White Stripes), Patrick Pantano (The Dirtbombs), Mr. David Viner, and currently, multi-instrumentalist, Dechman. Interesting tidbits related to these guys: Johnny Walker is rumored to have taught Jack White how to play slide guitar, Ben Swank has a song named after him – “Been Swank” by The Von Bondies, and Oliver Henry was once Brian Olive from The Greenhornes – and was dismissed from the band after an on-stage brawl with lead singer Craig Fox.

Gossip aside, Soledad Brothers got much buzz early on due to some touring with The White Stripes, as well as their debut album’s liner notes being written by MC5 manager, John Sinclair. They’ve also played as a back up band for Mr. David Viner. Starting with two phenomenal and practically overlooked albums on Estrus (Soledad Brothers, Steal Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit to Move), they moved on to Dim Mak for a live album, and then to Sanctuary with their fourth, Voice of Treason, before releasing The Hardest Walk on Alive here in 2006.

Found Soledad Brothers Tracks:
Downtown Paranoia Blues (The Hardest Walk)
The Elucidator (Voice of Treason)
Break ‘Em On Down (Steal Your Soul…)
Front St. Front (Soledad Brothers)

Additional Listening:
Henry and June – Goin’ Back to Memphis
Mr. David Viner – Sally Jay

Good Feeling
Handle Song

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ben Kweller - Ben Kweller (ATO)
Writer: Aaron McMullan

“Ben Kweller opens with "Run", which you'll remember from a couple paragraphs ago, and what "Run" does is it makes a couple things clear with regards what a fella can expect over the duration of the album, thematically and musically. With regards the former, themes of running. That's what we're talking about. Running.”

* It takes the writer too long to get to this. He mentions masturbating in his teens (contrasting his experiences with Kweller’s, who was touring the world at 15), when in fact, he’s still jerking off – this time, with his writing. Get to the point.

“Ben Kweller's songs, you can find out if folks've heard them by taking a stool sample. They cluster and bunch and swell in every corner of a person's being, traces of them skit about the gastrointestinal tract for months afterwards. Special kindsa songs, y'unnerstann, they'll do that.”

* If you’re trying to compliment someone’s music, don’t use shit as an analogy.

This review is way too long, completely self-involved, and a poor attempt at being clever. It’s not worth wading through this review to get information.

Review Rating: 12%


Drowned in Sound
Writer: Ben Marwood
Drowned in Sound Rating: 7

“Harking back to the days of Sha Sha’s ‘Lizzy’, ‘In Other Words’ and ‘Falling’, Ben Kweller is tender, fragile and devoted. Gone are the grunge-pop moments, the raw recordings and the fuzzy distortion - in many ways it's all for the best. This is Kweller’s most complete-sounding long-player yet, a fully-formed entity whereas his previous outings skipped playfully from one feel to the next.”

* A firm statement here in the second paragraph, but it’s exactly what’s said in the first paragraph.

“If there’s a criticism to be made of Ben Kweller, it's that it might be a little too straightforward in places, maybe even a little samey. A high percentage of its eleven songs are ballads or just slower numbers, rarely deviating from the path they initially set out on. The new, ‘mature’ sound is a pleasant addition to the Kweller arsenal, but after a while you yearn for a twist to the standard time signatures or a satisfied yell, something – anything - to show us that Kweller has mellowed because he wants to, and not because he’s forgotten how to do anything else.”

* Yes, criticism is needed. If it sounds redundant, how can this effort be considered mature? It’s a quality criticism, but it sounds reluctant, as if the writer doesn’t want to offend a friend. He actually bunks the criticism in the next paragraph, stating Kweller succeeds with the final track on the album.

“How this album is perceived will doubtless vary from person to person, depending on which of Kweller’s qualities you most admire, but – personal preferences aside – you’d be hard pushed to argue that Ben Kweller is anything other than a beautiful, touching collection of songs, and one which marks an important rite of passage in one man’s career, even if it doesn’t always feel like his best work.”

* This is a good wrap.

It’s an average review. It’s shaky – tip-toeing around real criticism because the writer really wants to like this record. In the end, even as a fan, it’s apparent that this release has been a disappointment. That should’ve been explored more.

Review Rating: 53%


I Am Fuel, You Are Friends
Writer: Heather Browne

“The songs consistently have these great builds and breaks that make me want to dance around and airdrum on things. There's also that effect where I found myself somehow singing along on the choruses the very first time I listened to it. It's got a recognizable quality even if you've never heard him before, but it's eminently fresh.”

* Though it sounds like she’s talking about a distant album that I’ll never hear (“these great builds…”), the final line of this paragraph is the point she needs to get across.

“As we've discussed before, Ben Kweller plays all of the instruments on this album and wrote all of the songs. That's pretty impressive once you hear the variety of instruments he uses, and to such competent effect.”

* Good side information that hasn’t popped up in any other reviews. Writers forget to mention things like this when they’re too busy talking about themselves.

Not a bad review, but she uses a tone that pushes the reader away from the feelings she’s trying to describe. It’s too personal of a review, mainly because there’s no depth to it – it’s all surface shine. It’s missing a conclusion, which tears this review down, as it will any review. Never skimp on the conclusion.

Review Rating: 46%


You Ain’t No Picasso

“’s refreshing to hear someone with such a young voice reflect on their own life through meetings with old high school classmates and cross-country journeys. It’s like a “quarter-life-crisis,” but without the self-indulgent label.

It’s funny how many superficial judgements you can make about the new Ben Kweller album before you’re wrong.”

* Outside of “judgments” being misspelled, these statements are not only misleading, but they are also not supported. The writer refers to maturity, but the two situations mentioned are not signs of maturity. Who’s making the judgments? The writer assumes the readers are going to make superficial judgments?

Short review, but nothing really to read. Serves as a base to put up an MP3.

Review Rating: 35%


Conclusion From Reviews:
It sounds like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. That’s basically it.


The writers attempt to claim there is maturity on this album, but it says more about the age of the writers than it does about Ben Kweller’s album. While the music shows Kweller’s seasoned comfort with pop, and his proven ability to hone that craft (in comparison to his first album, Sha Sha), the album displays someone definitely going through their “quarter life crisis.” The NEXT album will be the true reflection upon this time, while this album documents the time. To anyone past the age of 25, the lyrics on the album will sound somewhat young and borderline silly. However, Kweller has been that growing boy throughout his career, and while he has become mannish musically, lyrically he still has a couple years to go before becoming a man.

Out of Kweller’s releases, Monte would recommend On My Way (ATO), as it contains a rawness not found on their other two releases, while still leaning on pop.

Found Ben Kweller Tracks:
1. Run
2. Nothing Happening
3. Sundress
4. I Gotta Move
5. Thirteen
6. Penny on the Train Track
7. I Don't Know Why
8. Magic
9. Red Eye
10. Until I Die
11. This Is War

The Rules (off of On My Way)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Black Keys - Magic Potion (Nonesuch)

Pop Matters
Writer: Jason MacNeil

“The comparisons to a certain Meg and Jack have been in abundance since the Black Keys started, but whereas the White Stripes seem to go for big rock bombast, the Black Keys rely on a steady, surefire groove that hits you in the gut.”

* The word “seem” shows the writer isn’t familiar with the subject. Therefore, he shouldn’t be using the comparison. The point is lost in his ignorance. However, since he went into it…

“Although some people will be pissed off that the Black Keys haven’t expanded on their sound by adding a bassist, a keyboardist, or zither player, Auerbach and Carney have not strayed from the plot they started with The Big Come Up.”

* Yes, people want growth and progression out of artists by the time they reach their fourth album. Unlike the aforementioned White Stripes, who have expanded their sound with their limitations as a duo, The Black Keys have, according to the reviewer, rehashed the same “blues rock” that they started with.

The review is just a rundown of what the writer thinks he hears on each song, with no real insight on the type of music being produced for the mass of white kids that don’t know anyone else on the Keys’ former label, Fat Possum (i.e. Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside).

Review Rating: 52%


My Old Kentucky Blog

“It's right in line with Keys' albums of the past and just as good. It's do-it-yourself-lo-fi-hard-driving-blues-rock.”

* Direct statements and informative.

It’s a short informative review and has the basics. There’s no journey into meaning or songs. It’s just a fan telling other fans. It does its job.

Review Rating: 76%


The Onion AV Club
Writer: Keith Phipps

“That's disappointing only because they've played this sort of music before. Then again, they've rarely played it better.”

* Contradiction. The criticism is lost. Is it disappointing because it’s the same old Black Keys? Or is it fulfilling because they’ve gotten better?

“Earlier this year, The Black Keys released the EP Chulahoma, which ended with a phone message of praise from Junior Kimbrough's wife. Magic Potion plays like the album-length thank-you for that encouragement.”

* Although a good segue, he leaves his point to be qualified by Junior Kimbrough’s wife. I’m sure it was a great compliment to The Black Keys, but it means nothing in a critique besides it being an interesting side note.

Not a bad review. Well-written and short. However, there’s confusion as to whether he likes it because he’s a fan or if he’d recommend it to the reader (as opposed to other releases that are said to sound similar).

Review Rating: 68%


Writer: Jason Crock

“They whip up everything they can between just the two of them, Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney, but what they work up this time isn't a sweat-- it's restraint. On Magic Potion, the pleasures are coyer and the variations much more subtle from riff to riff, song to song. In other words, it's not the record I want to hear from the Black Keys.”

* Who gives a shit what YOU want to hear? Get over yourself and think of the overall audience…who you’re supposed to be writing for.

Magic Potion is a record where overwhelming competence meets measured restraint, but for me, sacrilege trumps sincerity, and I'd rather hear tuneful blasphemy than a tasteful snoozer of an album. Shit, give me Blueshammer any day.”

* If the writer doesn’t write with only himself in mind, this is an acceptable conclusion to the review.

Too many words for what he wanted to say. The uncertainty in the writer’s voice and his lack of perspective on blues gives the reader the idea that he was assigned this review. He wants to hear a pop version of blues, and The Black Keys are somehow not that. Too many assumptions, all the focus is on himself, and an unavoidable contradiction takes away any credibility from this review, even though the 6.0 rating sounds objective.

Review Rating: 46%


Conclusion From Reviews:
Judging by the reviews, there is no depth, no thought-provoking ideas, and no ground breaking elements on this release. If you’re already a fan of The Black Keys, you will like this album. If you’re not, the consensus is that Magic Potion doesn’t divert from the Keys’ sound, so you probably won’t be a fan after this one either. For those being introduced, there is nothing on which to base a decision to go and listen. The reviewers failed to entice or repel. You’re on your own. You’ll just have to sample and decide for yourself.

Contemporary blues rock is alive in the independent world, but for whatever reason, people only hear about The Black Keys and The White Stripes, the latter of which is always mistakenly placed in this subgenre because they occasionally record a bluesy track, while the former focuses primarily on the blues. For example, it would be like paralleling John Mayall to Led Zeppelin. Most blues-based rock outfits tend to do better in Europe than in the U.S., but it does not mean there is a shortage of them in North America.

Some other contemporary blues rock counterparts include T. Model Ford, Pearlene, Skip Jensen, and Soledad Brothers. The aforementioned R.L. Burnside would definitely be in this category, but he sadly passed last year. Mr. Airplane Man and the Porch Ghouls can be placed here as well, but Mr. Airplane Man’s latest effort shows a departure from their first three releases and the Porch Ghouls are now defunct.

Found Black Keys Tracks:
Black Door
The Flame
Strange Desire
Give Your Heart Away
Your Touch

Additional Listening:
Mr. Airplane Man - Uptight
White Stripes - Stop Breaking Down
Porch Ghouls - Girl on the Road (Ford Fairlane)
Soledad Brothers - Break'em On Down
Skip Jensen - Abscond
R.L. Burnside - Snake Drive

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Monte's Mission Statement

Something needed to be done. With the abundance of music blogs, webzines, and magazines, someone had to step in and act as a check and balance. You have the mainstream whores at big-name magazines, the disgruntled nerds at dominating webzines, and a countless number of bloggers posing as pseudo-intellectual writers, attempting to inform a public that is looking for guidance in the technologically advanced independent music maze that has blossomed in the last few years. They’re falling short of succeeding.

As a reader, who do you turn to? As a music fan, who can you trust? You visit seven websites a day, can’t rely on $5 magazines, and grow tiresome of the sarcastic tone that has flooded the arena of music criticism. People are cutting down artists that haven’t even grown legs, covering only select pieces of the independent realm, and offering misleading information and ignorant perspectives. It’s out of control.

In a democratic society, the press is supposed to be one of the balances, but like our mainstream news media, our music related press is relying on sensational reporting, while failing to properly inform the public. Nothing can stop it, but we can help check it. We will be the committee that oversees the reviewers. We will act as watchdogs and hold them accountable. We will be a starting point and supplement for you.

It is time for the entire field to go through Monte’s Gauntlet.