Fire Note Says: Captured Tracks unearths another gem from Martin Newell of Cleaners from Venus.
Album Review: I have to confess, I had no idea that The Brotherhood of Lizards was even a band, let alone a short-lived project featuring Martin Newell of Cleaners From Venus fame! Recently reissued by Captured Tracks (who also did the immaculate Cleaners From Venus reissues) Lizardland collects all of the works the band, which consisted of Martin Newell and Peter Nice (known as Nelson), recorded in a brief 2-year timespan before disbanding in early 1990.
Of the two albums collected on this compilation, Lizardland is the real jewel. It’s a jangly neo-psych masterpiece of the highest order. It deserves to sit up there on the throne next to Underwater Moonlight by The Soft Boys, that’s how good it is. Fans of the Cleaners From Venus won’t be surprised by any of this, Newell isn’t rewriting his formula for catchy pop songs on the album, though the fidelity is upgraded a bit. Tracks like “It Could Have Been Cheryl” and “Dear Anya” would have fit comfortably on any late 80’s era Cleaners album. As a songwriter, Newell follows in the long tradition of English artists such as Davies, Hitchcock, Partridge, and Barrett, he paints quaint pictures with his words, and his melodies seem to be plucked from thin air, sophisticated yet totally mellow, as if you have heard the song your entire life. With the possible exception of his excellent solo album (produced by Andy Partridge), The Greatest Living Englishman, Lizardland might possibly be the best Newell album I have heard.
Even if the Lizardland album alone was the only thing being reissued, this would be an essential purchase, but there is more. Also included is the 9 track cassette only album that Newell and Nelson recorded in late 1988. These tracks are slightly rawer fidelity wise, but only slightly. More acoustic based and subdued, it’s still quite a fantastic listen and definitely interesting to hear that this duo was really on to something special from the get go. It’s great to see a somewhat forgotten chapter of a significant artist’s career finally get it’s due. Long live The Brotherhood of Lizards!
Key Tracks: “April Moon” / “It Could Have Been Cheryl” / “The Dandelion Marine”
Artists With Similar Fire: XTC / The Soft Boys / Guided By Voices
– Reviewed by Kevin Poindexter
Fire Note Says: Aussie country rocker with promise debuts States-side for Bloodshot Records.
Album Review: The second album from Ruby Boots roars out of the gate with “It’s So Cruel,” a cow-punk rocker that recalls the energy of Jason & The Scorchers. But before you get your hopes up, producer Beau Bedford (of The Texas Gentlemen), perhaps eager to display the singer/songwriter’s versatility, offers her up in the big doo-wop wall of sound of “Believe In Heaven,” nostalgic for the early days when Phil Spector was producing girl groups as rock & roll was first finding it’s way into the mainstream. “Don’t Talk About It,” the album’s title track, follows. It’s another ballad with orchestration that draws inspiration from that old school retro-sound.
Ruby Boots (real name, Bex Chilcott) comes from Australia via Nashville and had one previous album on an Aussie imprint before this debut on Bloodshot Records, a journey made by Kasey Chambers and others. Following the first three big production numbers, Boots sounds more at home on “Easy Way Out,” with a chord progression borrowed from the Tom Petty songbook, and the country weeper “Don’t Break My Heart Twice.”
The second half of the album sticks closer to country/rock formulas, with “I’ll Make It Through,” co-written and with harmony vocals by Nikki Lane, “Somebody Else” and “Infatuation,” are set up by punchy rhythms, strong vocal hooks, and solid, rocking guitars and minimal twang. Okay Boots has some twang in her voice on “Infatuation.” On these three, and the closing angry, country kick you to the curb slow burner with bluesy guitar and honky-tonk piano/organ that is “Don’t Give a Damn,” Boots sounds a bit like a young Lucinda Williams as the song heats up like a Rolling Stones’ song.
It’s the nearly a capella, almost hymnic “I Am A Woman,” that exhibits Boots’ voice in all it’s unique purity, in a spiritual song that declares her feminine gifts and her internal strength of being, echoing strength alongside vulnerability. On the whole this is a solid, inviting outing, driven by good songs and equally solid performances. Ruby Boots will be one to watch.
Key Tracks: “It’s So Cruel” / “Easy Way Out” / “Infatution”
Artists With Similar Fire: Nikki Lane / Lone Justice / Lydia Loveless
Ruby Boots Website
Ruby Boots Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Fire Note Says: Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world.
Album Review: No one is ever going to call singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee an under-achiever. His latest release, a 10 song full-length effort, Forest Full of Wolves is his 78th album by his own count. Mallonee spent the 1990s fronting the Athens, GA-band Vigilantes of Love, shuffling from one label to the next, driving a van from coast-to-coast playing every alternative rock/Americana friendly venue who would let them. Hometown friend, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) co-produced one of the band’s early more-acoustic albums, the Killing Floor. The band’s 1999 album, released on three different labels of the course of 18 months, Audible Sigh was produced by Nashville’s favorite side-man Buddy Miller, and includes a guest vocal by Emmylou Harris, as well as some of Mallonee’s best loved songs. Paste Magazine has named him one of the 100 greatest living songwriters.
A rough count, say there were 10 songs per release (usually there were more), puts Mallonee’s songwriting output at nearly 8000, and those are the one’s he’s recorded. Now basic logic would suggest that they can’t all be good, and surely not all of them are memorable, but Mallonee’s work, his actual raison d’’etre, has proven especially consistent over the decades, and in the 2010’s he’s delivered a solid album’s worth of tunes each year, with a noticeable uptick in production values starting with 2011’s The Power & The Glory. Last year’s excellent The Rags of Absence was a case in point, with Mallonee especially attentive to his lead guitar parts.
Forest Full of Wolves continues to chronicle the challenges to working class people and even songwriters, as if Mallonee is creating his own musical version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” for what he calls this “new dark age.” “Greed and fear (have) gained the upper hand,” he sings in “Changing of the Guard,” so he’s “grabbed a guitar & a notebook or two… became a phantom with some conjuring ‘neath the moon.”
Musically, Wolves takes the energy of Rags to the next level, with bigger, noiser guitar tones. Mallonee captures a Neil Young jamming with Crazy Horse in the garage vibe throughout, which is likely a lot harder to pull off since Mallonee’s playing all the instruments. Mid-tempo alternative country rock at it’s most earnest and relevant, and against all odds, Mallonee manages to offer a word of hope. “In the New Dark Age” he sings, borrowing the title from a different song that he recording on 2014’s The Winnowing, “the best thing you can do is fall in love.” Of course, “Love Is Always Risky Currency,” but it’s the best chance any of us have of surviving in this “Forest Full of Wolves.”
Like many artists scrambling to make art in the challenging digital marketplace and survive financially Mallonee has struggled to reach out and connect with Americana fans, break ground with new audiences, even though he’s stayed off the road in recent years. As a fan who first heard the singer songwriter live in the early 90’s, and many times over the years, Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world. It’s artists who wear their passion on their sleeves, who keep pouring out their hearts in songs, that make the music that matters. (One reason to order the hard CD copy of this one, is the cover art produced by another singer songwriter, Chris Taylor, from San Antonio, TX.).
Key Tracks: “In the New Dark Age” / “Voodoo Ink” / “Trimmed & Burning”
Artists With Similar Fire: Neil Young / Bob Dylan / John Prine
Bill Mallonee Website
Bill Mallonee Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb