Thursday, April 14, 2022

GUNSHY "Mayday"


(c) 2022 Lion's Pride Music

  1. N862B
  2. Ticket 2 Heaven
  3. You Take My Heart
  4. Last Chance
  5. Fool
  6. Sometimes
  7. Superstition
  8. Love Is A Game
  9. Sherry's On Fire
  10. Music Man
  11. Friends and Lovers
  12. Why (Bonus Track)
John Luke--Lead, Backing Vocals
Patrick Reilly--Keys, Backing Vocals
Steve DiBiasi--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Mark Levin--Bass, Backing Vocals
Max Zach--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Jamie St. James--Backing Vocals
Tommy Thayer--Backing Vocals
Todd Jensen--Backing Vocals
Scott Reese--Backing Vocals
Terrie Carlos--Backing Vocals on "Superstition" and "Music Man"
Phyliss Balie--Backing Vocals on "Superstition" and "Music Man"

There are a lot of labels that are doing the whole "look who we found" thing, releasing albums by bands that practically nobody has heard of, and many by bands that, well, probably shouldn't have been heard of, to be candid.  Occasionally, however, a lost and forgotten band pops up that really grabs my attention.  Gunshy's only album (that I am aware of), Mayday, is one that really and truly should have been heard.  As a result, these guys get added to my "Right Sound, Wrong Time" files, as Gunshy is a band that woulda, coulda, shoulda been huge had they just struck at the right time.  Mayday dropped about 5 or 6 years too late, releasing in 1995 on the tiny, independent Long Island Records label, virtually guaranteeing that nobody heard the excellent late 80s hard radio rock this band churns out on this release.  Japan's Pony Canyon label re-released in in 1996, but again, most people probably missed it.  Now, remastered and repackaged with a bonus track, Mayday is finally available to a wider audience with Lion's Pride's 2022 release.  

At times, Gunshy reminds me of a cross between the gritty, blue collar hard rock of Tesla combined with a more polished, more melodic band such as Danger Danger, or maybe a bit harder band like Baton Rouge.  Of course, on "Superstition", comparisons to Extreme are going to be drawn, but more on that in a minute.  Lead vocalist John Luke has a definite Jon Bon Jovi quality to his vocal delivery style, or maybe more of an Eric Martin (Mr. Big), but he also throws in that Jeff Keith grit from time to time, as well.  It really depends upon the songs, which we'll dive into now.

The album kicks off with, you guessed it, an intro.  This one is of some communication between a pilot (presumable a fighter pilot based upon the album cover) and an air traffic control tower.  It's short, it's not musical at all, and it serves no real purpose, but it's not a major distraction, I suppose.  This bleeds directly into "Ticket 2 Heaven" (I'll touch on that "bleeding into" part later), a song which, structurally, reminds me a lot of Great Radio Controversy era Tesla, especially in the way the chorus is put together.  An excellent guitar solo from DiBiasi (one of numerous such solos on the record) tears across the track following the second chorus, and it is immediately apparent this band had a lot going for it!

"You Take My Heart" has an interesting percussion build to start the track before a very Top Gun sounding (trust me, you'll know what I mean when you hear it) guitar line weaves its way into the song along with a supporting bed of keys.  The track develops into more of a melodic hard rock number from this point with the song definitely something in the Danger Danger vein, stylistically.  "Last Chance" continues in this vein, incorporating a very 80s guitar line and keyboard style into a mainstream rock radio-styled song that sits somewhere between ballad and mid-tempo rocker.  Three songs in, it becomes extremely obvious that these guys are simply too late to the party, as they have all the songwriting skills and musical chops to have competed with so many of the bands that found their way onto 80s rock radio and MTV, and likely not just Headbanger's Ball.  I think these guys could have transcended and made some inroads into the Top 40. 

"Fool" again wends its way into second-album Tesla territory, again primarily in the way the chorus is structured and the delivery style of Luke.  That being said, the guitar solo is more "Hollywood hair" styled than anything you typically hear from Tesla, but I think once you hear the chorus section and then compare it to something like "Makin' Magic". "Flight To Nowhere", or "Lady Luck", you will know exactly what I am referring to.

The only true ballad of the album hits next, and its pretty good.  The keys, in the form of electric piano, play a predominant role here, and Luke fluctuates his delivery style and range quite a bit here, adding an element of angst to the track.  The solo from DiBiasi is a big string-bender, packing quite the emotional wallop, and the big harmony vocals coming out of that solo are exceptional.  I get the feeling the band was steered in this direction by a label exec somewhere, and then the album just broke too late to get the big airplay this song would likely have garnered a few years earlier.  Who knows.  I could see 18 year old me slow dancing with my prom date to this song, but 25 year old me...which I would have been when the album originally came out....had moved on from the big Monster ballads for the most part, as had most of the music world.

Throughout the years, I have heard bands cover a wide variety of songs and styles, but to the best of my knowledge, I hadn't heard anyone tackle Stevie Wonder...until now.  A couple of oddly paired sound effects (a glass breaking and a baby crying) kick the song off and the musical talent of the guys becomes apparent immediately. Not only does Gunshy take on the R&B legend, they cover one of his more well-known songs, "Superstition".  I remember first hearing this song as a kid in the mid-70s as it appeared on Sesame Street, of all things, and it is a track that has stuck with me for nostalgic reasons, seemingly forever.  So hearing a band that is far more my style than Stevie Wonder tackle the track was something pretty wild to me!   As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, you could consider that a band such as Extreme might take on a funky track such as this, complete with a horn section (I'm assuming handled by the keys, as no brass section was credited here), but to say that Gunshy nails this song would be an understatement.  Luke's vocals take on a sassy quality that suits the music perfectly here, and it is obvious he is having a blast on this outside-the-box track.  Once again, the guitar acrobatics of DiBiasi are simply off the charts as he blazes through an incredible fret run, but the rest of the band deserves some serious credit for the funkafied delivery here!  The bass is a lot of fun here, and Zach's percussion work is absolutely spot-on!  I know there are going to be people who don't like this, but if I'm being honest, I hit repeat pretty much every time this track comes on my player.  Tight, bright, performances from the band, and some killer female backing vocals create a really, really fun track that jumps out from the very first listen.

Luke slips back into a Bon Jovi-esque delivery style on "Love Is A Game", which is another well-written tune that is definitely straight out of the 80s with its keyboard build at the start and the sharp, snappy snare line and a truly 80s guitar line bringing the track to full life.  Again, Danger Danger is a good style comparison, and I can't say enough about how well the backing vocals are done here, and really throughout the record.  DiBiasi gives the listener a lesson on tapping during his extended solo run our of the second chorus, leading into a vocal bridge that starts off rather starkly only to build in intensity until the chorus hits again.

For my money, "Sherry's On Fire" may be the standout track on the entire album (although "Superstition" and "Ticket 2 Heaven" are both big for me, as well).  A big, catchy chorus, understated supporting keyboards, and a ripping guitar solo all combine with the big, arena-filling drums here to deliver a track that absolutely would have found radio play in 1989.   An ode to the stripper the singer is apparently infatuated with, this has Headbanger's Ball video spray-painted all over it!  Did I mention how catchy this is?  Wow!  The gang vocals on the chorus are stacked to perfection, and the song just absolutely grabs the listener in a big way.  Yet another track that I find myself repeating with great frequency.  You can hear it below.

"Music Man" is a bit of a miss for me, as the band seems to be going for a Mr. Big, "To Be With You", vibe, especially on the first verse which is just Luke's vocals and Levin's bass accompanied very starkly by what sounds like some electronic percussion (it just doesn't sound to me like an actual high-hat).  To be fair, I don't hate the song, and it is performed very well, with some solid female backing vocals and yet another big, melodic solo from DiBiasi, but it feels like an obvious grab at something that worked for another band in another time.  Let's be fair, this type of song was never going to be played in 1995, so maybe the band should be given some grace and chalk it up to the guys paying homage to a band they looked up to.  I don't skip the song, but I don't seek it out, either.

"Friends And Lovers" wraps the original album in up-tempo, punchy fashion, with a catchy tune that may not be overly deep or original, but is still a fun listen.  The chorus is catchy as heck, and again, with everybody in the band singing back-ups, the harmony vocals are one of the high points here (and throughout the entire album).  DiBiasi continues to treat every song here as his own personal guitar clinic, and I have to wonder just how popular he (and the rest of Gunshy) could have been had they caught on just a few short years earlier.  The extra urgency added to the drums as the band runs through the last chorus section here is a nice touch, and the original Mayday comes to a close.

On this reissue, Lion's Pride has unearthed a new track in "Why", which is the hardest-hitting, most metal song on the record.  Obviously still in demo form here, this is a seriously aggressive rocker that I have to think was intended for a follow-up release.  Luke's vocals are FAR lower in register here than anywhere on Mayday, and he uses a rough, raspy delivery that borders on bellowing at times, especially in the verse sections.  On the chorus, you can hear some of the more melodic, hair metal style he used on the main tracks of Mayday, but here, this is a much darker, angrier sounding song than the good-time, hard-rocking party music the first 11 tracks delivered.  This is metal, plain and simple.  The guitars are edgy and aggressive, while still flashy during the solo section, and the drums are basically beat to death during the track.  I would hear the entire demo the band put together for this second record (if such a thing exists), as I really dig what the guys were doing here, although I suspect a lot of people will skip it or drop it from their own personal rip.  "Why" truly sounds like a song from a different band in a lot of ways. 

Pulling out all the stops, even on production, the band enlisted the help of Pat Regan, who has worked with such well-known acts as KISS, Keel, Mr. Big, Quiet Riot, Deep Purple, and even Weird Al Yankovic!  The result is a very professional sounding record, smooth and polished, with a solid voice given to every instrument in the mix.  My one complaint on the production would be that the jet sounds were left under the mix for a bit too long as the intro concluded and "Ticket 2 Heaven" kicked off.  It made the beginning of "Ticket..." sound a bit rough to me, and it is corrected well before any vocals kick in, but had this been the 80s, and if radio gave a damn about melodic rock, I think this little production hiccup would have killed "Ticket..." as far as a single release goes.  Again, very minor and maybe not even something most people would note.

I honestly don't know enough about them to know a real backstory here, whether they were just kids in the mid-to-late-80s or if they slogged it out in the club scene for several years, only to get blindsided by grunge.  I do know that they had some fairly big-name supporters, with both Jamie St. James and Tommie Thayer of Black N Blue making appearances in the backing vocals section, along with Todd Jensen (I'm assuming this is the Todd Jensen who played bass for Doro and Harlow in the 90s).  I make this assumption as Mr. Regan, who produced the album, also worked with Doro.  (Incidentally, Jensen played on the metal goddesses' album, Doro, which was produced by not only Regan, but also Tommy Thayer...and Gene Simmons.  But I digress...) 

Overall, I was extremely impressed by this release, and I find myself playing it frequently.  The songwriting is excellent, the vocals...both lead and harmony/backing...are top-notch, and the musicians are impressive.  DiBiasi was a massive guitar talent who seemingly poured everything he had into this album, pulling out all of his tricks and leaving nothing behind.  If this was out in1989, Gunshy would have been a big-time player, I have little doubt.  Definitely an album worth adding to your collection!

Rating: A excellent and very crankable 8.5!

Sunday, April 3, 2022

DIRTBAG REPUBLIC "Tear Down Your Idols"


(c) 2022 Shock Records/Vanity Music

  1. Main Objective
  2. Skinny
  3. Wannabees
  4. Days Are Gone
  5. Don't Answer To No One
  6. Tear Down Your Idols
  7. Sorry
  8. Did All I Could
  9. Superficial
  10. When I Was Young
  11. Turn Back Fast
Sandy Hazzard--Lead Vocals
Mick Wood--Lead Guitars
Mike Federici--Guitars
Dave Worden--Bass
Ed Nijjer--Drums, Percussion

Sometimes you can pop in an album and just hear the filth.  You can smell the sludge.  You swear you can see the sleaze and slime and sweat just boil out of the speakers.  Pretty is not a word you would ever use.  Never.  And the latest from Dirtbag Republic is one of those albums.  Simply put, there is nothing "pretty" about the record, Tear Down Your Idols.  This is gutter rock, plain and simple.  From the moment the first chords of "Main Objective" hit, it is apparent this isn't something polished or shiny, but it is kick ass.  Punky, sleazy, and chock full of angsty attitude, the track has the balls to declare that "as long as I'm alive, Rock and Roll will never die"...and you believe it!   Wood's guitar work is catchy as heck, and Hazzard's raspy snarl fits the attitude of the track perfectly.  No, it may never be mainstream, it may never be popular, but it is going to be honest as long as Dirtbag Republic has something to say about it, and they say it fast and loud right out of the gate. 

"Skinny", believe it or not, is a song about eating disorders.  Yep, you read that right...anorexia nervosa, to be specific (which is somehow rhymed with the word "closer" in the chorus.  Trust me...they make it work).  Hazzard sings about a formerly beautiful girl who subsists on a steady stream of diet pills from her medicine cabinet in an effort to remain lithe, with the guitats of Wood and Federici chewing away any excess fat the song may have had, and the tight rhythm section of Worden and Nijjer keeping things grinding along at a frantic clip.

"Wannabees" has a bit of a Faster Pussycat feel to the guitar line (think their sleazier stuff from the debut record), with Hazzard howling about rock n roll being his addiction/conviction on a rollicking track that features one of Wood's catchiest, if relatively-speaking, simplest solos.  Check out the boys below...

Three consecutive tracks sum up the feel of the record for me, as they encompass everything that Dirtbag Republic does so weill.  "Days Are Gone", is a tribute to the early lifestyle of a younger Hazzard, who snarls about doing drugs at 13, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, and carrying on with his punk friends' antics in days that are long gone.  You get the feeling he isn't necessarily glamorizing the days so much as he's pining for the simplicity of a younger, simpler time when he could just be a kid and dream of being a rockstar by emulating his heroes.   "Days Are Gone" is definitely one of the best tracks on the record for me, from the catchy rhythm to the easily followed chorus and the nostalgic bent of the lyrics.  There's just something about this song that makes me smile and hit repeat a couple of times before moving on...and eventually moving back!

"Don't Answer To No One" drops a barroom piano into the gritty mix to embellish the sound of the raucous rock n roll romp and is definitely one of the contenders for top track of the record, along with "Days Are Gone".  Wood unleashes a phenomenal solo here, and that uncredited piano really bolsters the fun attitude of the track.

The album's title track, "Tear Down Your Idols" hits next, and the bouncy fun of "Don't Answer To No One" is replaced by a stark sneer as Hazzard pokes fun at fans who tear apart bands they supposedly love until this hit the big time.  The band then points that same snarky finger at the bands that do everything they can to milk a bit more cash out of those same fans, who hang on a bit...or a decade...too long, doing whatever they deem necessary to remain relevant instead of remaining true to themselves and the music.  Punkish and starkly honest, "Tear Down Your Idols" can make just about anyone really take a look at themselves and analyze if they are being honest and true with themselves.

There is really nothing I can find to complain about on this album, and the rest of the record bleeds great track into great track.  "Sorry" finds Wood absolutely melting down on his solo, ripping into a his lead with a vicious assault that is amazing to hear.  "Did All I Could" pushes everyone else aside long enough to give the bass a bit of a run of its own for a few minutes, but also finds that Dogs D'Amour-ish piano jumping back into the fray on a song that feels like it wants to get emotional, but does so while continuously punching you in the face with its raunch-and-roll attack.  "Superficial" carries on in much the same vein, amping up the rock n roll energy of days gone by, with Wood bringing to mind what Chuck Berry might have done on guitar had he been bending strings in 2022 instead of 1962 with one of the catchiest riffs and hooks on the album.  "When I Was Young" is probably my least favorite track on the album, which is an odd statement to make, as I actually like the track.  It just stands off a bit from the rest of the material here, at least for me, but I would never dream of skipping it, even if it meant getting to the kick-ass closer, "Turn Back Fast" just a tiny bit quicker!  Once again, Dirtbag Republic proves they as much about the riff as the anything, and Wood tears into a nasty one here, and this aggressive rocker is the perfect wrap on an absolutely killer record that I keep finding myself drawn back to time and time again.  

In the end, Tear Down Your Idols is all about rock n' roll, plain and simple, gritty and grimy, down and dirty.  Big hooks, catchy riffs, and gritty vocals litter the landscape of an album that just never lets off the gas and punches forward track after track.  For me, this is likely the best album by Dirtbag Republic, and I have liked everything they have done in the past.  If you are a fan of sleazy, punky rock, whether it be the previously mentioned Dogs D'Amour, relative unknowns such as Crank County Daredevils, modern sleaze rockers like Hardcore Superstar, or even Hazzard's work on Doll Hazzard , which he assembled with Chris Damien Doll of Suicide Bombers, you are going to find something to sink your teeth into on Tear Down Your Idols.  This is definitely an album you should be adding to your collection, and one I am glad has found its way into my own player repeatedly.

Rating:  Crank this to an excellent 8.5!