Review & Track Premiere: Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie

Posted in audiObelisk, Reviews on May 25th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

five-horse-johnson-jake-leg-boogie

[Click play above to stream ‘Hard Times’ from Five Horse Johnson’s Jake Leg Boogie, out June 30 on Small Stone Records.]

The world in which Jake Leg Boogie takes place is one of grit, sneak-around-the-back-door blues, cheap hooch and the kind of swagger that can only result from the imbibing thereof. Issued via Small Stone, it is the eighth album from Toledo, Ohio’s Five Horse Johnson and the first since 2013’s The Taking of Black Heart (review here), and though that world might feel like a pipedream compared to some of the grim realities of modern existence, there are few acts who can sell the idea as well as the five-piece. They reunite here with original drummer Tim Gahagan, and after 22 years, their love of heavy rock and blues continues to be the core aspect that defines their work. With the rough-edged vocals of Eric Oblander out front, the riffing of Brad Coffin (also vocals) and Phil Dürr defining the course and the righteous classic rockery of bassist Steve Smith in the rhythm section alongside Gahagan‘s swing and push, Five Horse Johnson are as they should be throughout the 39-minute 10-tracker: Kicking ass, taking names, and fostering no regrets in the process.

Through cuts like “Magic Man,” “Little Lonely” and “Daddy was a Gun,” they weave tales of sleaze and professional-grade troublemaking, starting off with the Southern-style ruckus of the hook of the opening title-track, which is among the shorter songs at 2:40 but gets down to business almost immediately with a bouncing riff, room for a harp solo from Oblander and what sounds like a bit of slide on the guitar. One way or another, Five Horse Johnson are up to no good, and that sounds just about right. “Magic Man” brings together ’70s rock and blues in a fluid push that continues to build momentum from the opener, setting its place in Springfield, Missouri, and no doubt referring to a real-life incident involving some “bad company” that’s probably best not inquired after.

For a lot of what Jake Leg Boogie will do stylistically, the ground is already set. Five Horse Johnson aren’t a band known for nuance so much as getting drunk and still blowing everyone else off the stage, but the stomp and attitude they bring to the material here as “Cryin’ Shame” rears its riff back and lurches it forward again aren’t to be understated, and neither is the quality of songcraft that lies beneath them. Like both “Jake Leg Boogie” and “Magic Man” before it, “Cryin’ Shame” complements its boozery with a righteously and unabashedly welcoming chorus, and even as the opening salvo shifts into the slower-strummed, more-subdued “Ropes and Chains” — acoustics and electrics seeming to run side by side — Five Horse Johnson refresh their audience with an engaging verse/hook interplay before turning just past three minutes into a more boogie-laden instrumental finish to provide transition into the uptempo side A finale, “Hard Times.”

Thus far, the band has worked quickly and efficiently in offering true-to-their-nature heavy blues rock, but “Hard Times” is a standout for its craftsmanship and for the classically motoring riff at its center. It is very, very American. Chevys, whiskey spelled with the extra ‘e’, consciously ogling a lady standing right next to her dude — it’s all right there. “Hard Times” pushes through its four minutes so sure of itself and its place that one almost has trouble believing the lyrics, which of course are about hard times, but as it ends the first half of Jake Leg Boogie, it also marks the shift into the ultra-effective midsection of the album, which continues its up-jumped shuffle with “Smoke Show” before moving into the longest inclusion here, “Little Lonely.”

five horse johnson

It’s worth nothing that “longest” in this context means 4:53. No matter where Five Horse Johnson head on Jake Leg Boogie, they don’t lose sight of the album’s core mission in delivering sans-frills heavy blues. After the scorching leads on “Smoke Show,” “Little Lonely” draws back on the pace somewhat but makes up for it with a sing-along chorus and sleek groove, setting up the faster return of “Overload,” which offers more primo harp from Oblander, and the semi-finale of “Daddy was a Gun” — thereby making the speaker of the song a “son of a gun,” if it’s not obvious. Perhaps the clearest blues preach on offer, “Daddy was a Gun” also speaks to the closeness between Five Horse Johnson and Clutch, with whom Oblander has guested on tour and whose drummer Jean-Paul Gaster sat in on the last Five Horse record.

Still, they retain the consistency of their approach as they move toward the end of the record, which comes with the turn of the appropriately-named “Last Song,” a surprisingly quiet and sentimental short bookend to “Jake Leg Boogie” — the opener and the closer are the only cuts under the three-minute mark — that departs from some of the swagger in favor of an airier atmosphere, still soaked by Southern humidity but with an on-the-porch blues noodling guitar line and a tambourine as its only percussion, it’s a definite change nonetheless, and after all the brash crotchal thrust they’ve brought to bear across Jake Leg Boogie, they end on a note of understatement, as though to reaffirm we-didn’t-mean-no-harm sensibility that’s behind a string of nine liquor store robberies represented by the preceding tracks. “Boys will be boys,” said the cops.

More than two decades on, Five Horse Johnson have little to prove, and Jake Leg Boogie is accordingly less about taking over the world than about the band doing what they’ve always done well in affecting a controlled but still boozy tumult. With the return of Gahagan on drums, and consistency in presentation from working with longtime producer Al Sutton at Rustbelt Studios and cover artist Mark Dancey, the band are very much in form, and the world they create for and through these songs is as inviting as it is raucous.

Five Horse Johnson on Thee Facebooks

Five Horse Johnson website

Small Stone Records on Bandcamp

Small Stone Records on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records website

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Five Horse Johnson to Release Jake Leg Boogie June 30; New Song Streaming

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Some bands, you just know they’re out to make trouble. That’s been Five Horse Johnson‘s game all along. The Midwestern heavy blues rock outfit haven’t had a record out since 2013’s The Taking of Black Heart (review here), and though four years isn’t the longest stretch in the world, it’s certainly been long enough. Jake Leg Boogie is set to hit June 30 via Small Stone, and with preorders up and a new song streaming now, it’s bound to land with some fervent anticipation. I’m not gonna say I’ve heard it yet or anything — actually, I guess I’ll say that I have because I wrote the bio on which the press release below is based — but it smokes. Dudes are long-since established as ace songwriters but they still sound they just bang out tunes for the hell of it to play in dive bars while they get loaded. Call it the best of both worlds.

With the hope that I’ll have more to come before the album’s actually out, here’s the announcement off the PR wire and the stream of the title-track:

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FIVE HORSE JOHNSON: Toledo Blues Riffers To Release Jake Leg Boogie This June Via Small Stone; New Track Streaming + Preorders Available

When FIVE HORSE JOHNSON formed back in 1995, referring to themselves as a “blues band,” a few brows might well have been furrowed. But this is a band that has always understood that the blues isn’t a formula – it’s a way of looking at the world. Their take on the “blooze” is as a dirty, sensual thing, enhanced with a healthy dose of humor.

Now some two decades and seven albums into their career – with eighth Jake Leg Boogie, set to drop late this June on Small Stone – FIVE HORSE JOHNSON has dug out a niche of their own, a genuine love and respect for traditional blues and classic rock leading them to likewise become one of the most loved and respected bands in the heavy rock underground. Always a freight train live, they’ve toured the US (with Clutch and Halfway To Gone) and Europe extensively (including the festival circuit), gathering fans, friends, and drinking partners all over the Western World.

Jake Leg Boogie sees FIVE HORSE JOHNSON going back to its recording roots. Original drummer Tim Gahagan has rejoined, and the results are powerful. Brad Coffin’s guitar has never sounded heavier, his voice never stronger. Eric Oblander’s harp, meanwhile, is as sharp as a tailfin, and his gravelly vocal delivery a growling, howlin’ counterpoint to Coffin’s gruff style. Steve Smith’s bass is a strong backbone, while Phil Dürr’s guitar complements that of Coffin, adding extra edge for good measure. From the slow, bluesy stomp of the title-track, to the dirge vibe of “Daddy Was A Gun” – a story of some weird goings-on in a strange parish – Jake Leg Boogie is pure old-school FIVE HORSE JOHNSON, recorded live, everyone in the same room, with as little overdubbing as possible. Accordingly, it feels lively and loud in the MC5-come-Hendrix vibe of “Hard Times,” the hard-rocking “Magic Man” (a tale of depravity set in the town of Springfield, Missouri), and the near-Texan boogie of “Smoke Show.”

Elaborates Oblander of the release, “Having original drummer Tim back in the band made writing Jake Leg Boogie so much damn fun. It feels like we’re back to Fat Black Pussycat form. This time around we channeled a little more Hendrix and Funkadelic as much as the usual bluesy Aerosmith insanity. All the songs are a bit more stripped down, and have a deep-pocket groove thanks in part to Tim locking it down. Brad had a lot to do with the overall creation of this record. He came up with the concept for the title, and sings more than half the songs this time around. We can’t wait to hit the road with thing and flex these new songs live!”

Jake Leg Boogie was recorded at Rustbelt Studios, with longtime producer Al Sutton (Big Chief, Novadriver, Halfway To Gone, Detroit Cobras) at the production helm, with a definitive nod to Dave Cobb (All Them Witches, Rival Sons). Artwork was provided by noted graphic artist and FIVE HORSE JOHNSON -collaborator Mark Dancey, keeping with a tradition established on 1999’s Fat Black Pussycat.

Jake Leg Boogie will see release via Small Stone Recordings June 30th on CD, limited LP, and digital formats. For preorders, visit the Small Stone Bandcamp page at THIS LOCATION where you can also sample the opening title track.

Jake Leg Boogie Track Listing:
1. Jake Leg Boogie
2. Magic Man
3. Cryin’ Shame
4. Ropes And Chains
5. Hard Times
6. Smoke Show
7. Little Lonely
8. Overload
9. Daddy Was A Gun
10. Last Song

FIVE HORSE JOHNSON is not a band that makes apologies, and compromise is not an option. The truth is, this is hard, heavy, dirty blues rock ‘n’ roll for people who like the sound of an engine roaring or the feeling obtained by following a cold beer with a shot of good whiskey. FIVE HORSE JOHNSON will gladly kick your ass, and then wait for you to say thank you and ask for another. Which you will.

Five Horse Johnson is:
Eric Oblander: vox & harp
Brad Coffin: vox & guitar
Steve Smith: bass
Phil Dürr: guitar
Tim Gahagan: drums & percussion

http://www.facebook.com/Five-Horse-Johnson-official-band-page
http://www.fivehorsejohnson.com
http://www.smallstone.com
http://www.facebook.com/smallstonerecords

Five Horse Johnson, Jake Leg Boogie (2017)

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Buried Treasure: The Midwestern Haul 2013

Posted in Buried Treasure on July 5th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

By the time I was on Route 80 headed back east, I had assembled one of my finest record-shopping hauls to date. I said at the time it was no coincidence I was making a stopover in Toledo on my way out to Days of the Doomed III. Hitting Ramalama Records I regarded as an imperative. Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, was another, and adding Kalamazoo’s Green Light Records to the return voyage after the fest was like a bonus round of flipping through stacks that made the long ride to follow that much closer to tolerable.

All told, it was four separate hauls that made it back in the one full stack above. I haven’t had the chance yet to listen to everything — it last year’s acquisitions are anything to go by, it’s going to take a while — but I’ve had the full pile on my desk for the better part of two weeks now and it’s been a blast to make my way through, one album to the next to the next and so on.

Since I had so much fun buying this stuff, I thought I’d take an opportunity to nerd out and give a rundown of what I ended up with, where and how. Some of this has been reviewed, some not so much, but from Acid Witch to Whaler, it all seemed relevant one way or another. Screw it, I just like talking about buying albums.

As always, click any picture to enlarge. Let’s do this thing:

Ramalama Records — Toledo, OH

My basic plan for Ramalama was to pick up new albums and recent releases. More new stuff than used. Their used section is actually pretty good, for rock and metal both, but I had some CDs I wanted to buy of stuff that had been given to me digitally for review — have I mentioned yet today how much I think that’s horseshit? — and I knew doing it while supporting a place like Ramalama would take some of the sting out. Grabbing the Uncle Acid (review here) and Church of Misery (review here) was kind of a given, and along with the new Kylesa — I’ve been wanting to give a revisit since it was reviewed — and AnciientsHeart of Oak, which I meant to review so hard but was never able to make it happen, I picked up both of the Spitting Fire live albums by High on Fire — which could’ve been one CD so easily it’s almost funny and makes me wonder if there’s some contractual reasoning behind splitting them up — Circle by Amorphis (for whom I’m forever a nerd), and Voivod‘s Target Earth, which seems to be proving a point in how forward the guitars are though I’m not sure what that point might be. Out of the used section, I also managed to find two bootlegs: Demos 84 & 85 from Celtic Frost, which I’m pretty sure is just a crappy rip of Morbid Tales with some early live tracks added, and Clutch, Live 2002 Tour, which seemed like it was all one show until “A Shogun Named Marcus” came on, was twice as loud, and at least six years before 2002. Still cool to get live versions of “Cattle Car” and “Walpole Man” (here  listed as “Warpole”), which were reworked into different songs by the time Blast Tyrant came out, as well as a live version of the Jethro Tull cover “Cross Eyed Mary.” No complaints.

Flat, Black and Circular — Lansing, MI

The Heads’ 1995 debut, Relaxing With… might have been the find of the whole trip. It was released in a limited run 18 years ago (since reissued), but most importantly, the record itself fucking smokes. Killer heavy psych/space rock that even sounds ahead of its time for how it sounds dated. You can’t really see it in the pic above, but at the bottom of the mini-stack is a tin-box version of Dragging Down the Enforcer by Eyehategod offshoot Outlaw Order. I never bought it when it came out and figured if I was ever going to get a copy, this would be the one to get. The Stone Age Complications EP by Queens of the Stone Age and Also Rising by SubArachnoid Space felt like good finds, and I grabbed another Amorphis just in case I wanted to listen on the way home, Iron Monkey and Slough Feg just because I didn’t have them yet and for a heavy ’70s fix, the self-titled Granicus and the second Warhorse album, Red Sea. Hoping for a funk fix, I snagged Fire by Ohio Players, and it’s decent but skirts a line with disco that takes away some of the weight in the rhythm section. Needless to say, I have a copy of Roots by Curtis Mayfield currently on order and am anxiously attending its arrival. Flat, Black and Circular has yet to disappoint in the three or four times I’ve been fortunate enough to peruse its wares, and it was another one I was looking forward to hitting up. There’s always some treasure waiting.

Days of the Doomed III — Cudahy, WI

It might not look like so much, but the thing about it was that a lot of the bands playing the Days of the Doomed fest, I already had their stuff. I had hoped Beelzefuzz would have copies on hand of their forthcoming debut long-player, but no such luck. Still, I managed to do pretty well with what was available. Getting a copy of 2013’s Somnium Excessum directly from Dream Death was an experience that only underscored how lucky I felt to see the band live — they’d only had the vinyl at Roadburn when I asked bassist Rich Freund — and the reissue of The Gates of Slumber‘s 2004 debut, The Awakening, fell easily under the must-buy category. I also happened into a Thirst for Misery demo from Michigan classic metal/heavy rockers The Swill that stood out even before I put it on for its cover photo of a hoodie-wearing stormtrooper hoisting a can of PBR, and was glad to be given a copy of Sleestak‘s new Book of Hours EP, which I’ll be reviewing at some point in the coming weeks. Put those together with the gorgeous layout of Whaler‘s Deep Six and The Gates of Slumber‘s Scion-sponsored Stormcrow EP (which was free), and it was two days’ worth in quantity and quality. That Whaler record is a killer.

Green Light Music and Video — Kalamazoo, MI


The trip out of Wisconsin began sometime around 8:30AM. It was Sunday, and I had 700-plus miles to drive, but how many times a year do I get to pass through Kalamazoo? Right, once. So a stop seemed warranted, and when I walked into Green Light Music and Video and they were playing Queens of the Stone Age‘s Rated R, I knew I was in the right place. They had some choice vinyl and a few snazzy looking turntables, the kind of promo posters I didn’t know record labels still made, and a slew of old stickers — Roadsaw, Core, etc. — that let me know their affiliation to heavy rock was nothing new. An Acid Witch reissue, some Uriah Heep and Nick Cave were decent enough to happen upon — the Uriah Heep especially — and since it was on Man’s Ruin, I got Laced Candy by The Gaza Strippers, though it turned out to be a double. My favorite of the bunch, however, was Live at Colonia Dignidad by Finland’s Opium Warlords. I bought it because the description on the back cover promised a host of contradictions, including, “A celebration of psychosexual isolation” and “Quality time for a suicidal inner-space astrodoomonaut.” Turns out Opium Warlords is a solo-project for Sami “Albert Witchfinder” Hynninen (ex-Reverend Bizarre), and in what I can only assume is deliberate contrast to the whites and pinks of the album art, the music itself is experimental drone-doom, at times vicious and near-unlistenable, at other times minimal and atmospheric. It didn’t make for great driving music, but I dug it anyway, and Green Light made a fitting epilogue to a weekend of CD-buying excess I don’t anticipate being able to match for some time.

Ye olde Googlymaps lists the drive from Wisconsin to my humble river valley at a little over 15 hours with the stop-off in Michigan. I won’t say these records were much comfort to me when I lost over an hour sitting at a dead stop for bridge construction before getting 100 miles eastbound into Pennsylvania, but if anything was going to aid so helpless a situation, they probably would’ve done it.

Thanks for reading and indulging the indulgence.

Ramalama Records

Flat, Black and Circular

Green Light Music & Video

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Travel Day: En Route to Days of the Doomed III

Posted in Features on June 20th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

In a bit of her standard brilliance, The Patient Mrs. asked me the other day why I was planning on making the drive out from New Jersey to Days of the Doomed III all at once. My mind a blank (also standard), I told her it was because I didn’t want to spend the money on a motel. Thus it was that I drove yesterday from home to Toledo, where I am now and stayed last night. Before the room was booked, I had set my GPS to go to Ramalama Records (no coincidence I decided Toledo would be the dividing point of the trip), and even though I plugged in the address of this Best Western in after I had the reservation, it still took me there, so I got to do a 20-minute detour after an eight-hour drive to actually get to the hotel last night, but it could’ve been far worse.

Once here, I quickly discovered just how much the internet connection blows — lots! — and got up two posts before needing to conk out. I’d have done more, but loading images took so long I might as well have drawn them myself and taped them to my laptop screen. First world problems. In any case, I’ll be splitting out of here shortly with nothing more than a cup of water spilled on the floor. Not bad for having been here a whole night.

The plan for the day is this:

Step 1: Coffee. And if possible, blueberry muffin.

Step 2: A victorious return to Ramalama Records (on purpose this time), wherein I shall unearth assorted treasures and make begrudging purchases of albums recently reviewed.

Step 3: Onward to Lansing, MI.

Upon arrival in Lansing, I will find one Postman Dan, a supremely good dude who joined me for the trip out to Wisconsin last year and will again for Days of the Doomed III. Kings Destroy are in Chicago tonight, and the fest pre-show at The Blue Pig has Romero on the bill, whom I’d like to see, but after yesterday and with the drive to Cudahy, WI, to come tomorrow, I think the plate is full enough. Perhaps I’ll feel somewhat less overwhelmed once I complete Step 1.

I put it out on Thee Facebooks the other day, but it’s worth reiterating that barring disaster, I will be live-blogging from Days of the Doomed III on Friday night and all day Saturday. I may or may not get the chance to post again beforehand, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing all the bands, and if you’re going, I’ll be the guy with his face buried inexplicably in his laptop.

Days of the Doomed III Schedule

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Five Horse Johnson, The Taking of Black Heart: Roped In

Posted in Reviews on November 19th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

[NOTE: Five Horse Johnson will play Small Stone’s Obelisk-presented Detroit showcase on Dec. 1 at the Magic Stick, with Halfway to Gone, Sasquatch, Freedom Hawk and Luder. Also note: You should go.]

It has been a quick six years since bluesy Ohio stalwarts Five Horse Johnson released The Mystery Spot. In that time, frontman Eric Oblander toured the world with Clutch during what I’ve come to think of as their “family band” period that also included an organ and was brought in to sing for Sorcen, a partial Necros reunion. Guitarist Phil Dürr (also of Big Chief) joined forces with Luder, Five Horse Johnson’s Small Stone compatriot act which also features label head Scott Hamilton on guitar. And Jean-Paul Gaster, who played drums on The Mystery Spot, also happens to play in Clutch. The ties especially between Five Horse Johnson and Clutch prove pervasive throughout the former’s upcoming seventh album, The Taking of Black Heart. Gaster makes a return appearance on drums for the 11-track outing, and the record was produced in everything but Oblander’s vocals by longtime Clutch engineer J. Robbins at The Magpie Cage in Baltimore. Robbins, also of Jawbox, also contributes organ and percussion throughout The Taking of Black Heart, and Cheap Trick vocalist Robin Zander steps up for a take on Rod Stewart’s “You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want to Discuss It)” that trades off the parenthetical “Discuss” for the more genial “Talk About.” Through several of its tracks, The Taking of Black Heart seems to rely on some consistent lyrical thematic, though if there’s a narrative arc to the tracks, I don’t know what it is. Nonetheless, on opener “The Job,” Oblander mentions his horse, named Mexico, which appears a short time later on the track “Mexico” and tracks like “Black Heart Baby,” “Smash and Grab” and the closing pair of “Shoot My Way Out” and “Die in the River” seem to work in a successive progression toward the unhappy ending of the last cut, and the atmosphere remains relatively close to the Western-style vibing evident on the cover art. So if nothing else, there’s a lot of context behind Five Horse Johnson’s seventh, though the songs themselves arrive with as little pretense as possible, coated in blues influence and driving heavy rock that, unsurprisingly, finds a lot of common ground with latter-day Clutch.

There are, however, numerous distinctions to be pointed out between the two. A huge factor in Five Horse Johnson’s sound is Oblander’s blues harp. Filling the space between verse lines, doing call and response with Dürr and Brad Coffin’s guitars on “Keep on Diggin’,” taking the occasional solo throughout the record, it’s a defining element of what the band does, no less an instrument at play than either of the guitars, Gaster’s drums or Steve Smith’s bass. Another difference is influence. While Gaster is bound to be a consistent element, and his snare work early into “Black Heart Baby” or the later highlight “Hangin’ Tree” (not a Queens of the Stone Age cover) is easily pegged as his style, the songs he’s playing on are more straightforwardly influenced by classic rock. Clutch’s funky guitar progressions are all but absent here, and even when blatant commonalities show up, as they do toward the middle of the record on “Beating in My Hand” – Robbins’ organ helps drive the comparison as well – or the following “Quick on the Trigger,” which treads close in its bounce to “Electric Worry,” the track on Clutch’s 2007 outing, From Beale Street to Oblivion, on which Oblander’s guest appearance led him to tour with the band in the first place, those elements have a different stylistic context. Five Horse Johnson’s blues come stuffed tight into classic rock swagger on The Taking of Black Heart, and in that way, the album makes a solid follow-up to The Mystery Spot, and one can hear that the last six years has furthered the maturity level that that album showed coming off of 2003’s The Last Men on Earth, though were it not for the consistent quality of songwriting I’d be hesitant to even compare the two with so much time having elapsed between them. Nonetheless, “Mexico” and the ultra-catchy “Beating in My Hand” and “Quick on the Trigger” carry the record through its halfway point and Five Horse Johnson offer a new-feeling take on their trademark brashness, sounding all the more dynamic for the realization that you don’t necessarily have to go as hard as possible at all times.

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Buried Treasure: Three States, Three Hauls

Posted in Buried Treasure on June 22nd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Click the image above to bask in the full scale awesomeness that was my Midwestern CD haul. Sure, I wrote a little bit about the driving I did last weekend, and a lot about the Days of the Doomed II (seriously, even I was a little surprised at the length Day One and Day Two reviews), but one thing I didn’t mention was the record shopping I did on the way.

I’ll confess that was on purpose. The three stacks above I felt deserved some special attention. Left to right, there are the hauls from Ramalama Records in Toledo, Ohio, Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, and the fest itself, which took place in Cudahy, Wisconsin. Three states, three stacks — a mini-tour of irresponsible spending that served to remind me of why I went back to work full-time in the first place.

Here’s how it went down:

This was my second visit to Ramalama Records in Toledo, and like the first, I found it to be a haven of heavy wares. Last time when I got there, they were playing YOB, and this tie it was High on Fire‘s Surrounded by Thieves, which once again led me to strike up a conversation with the dude working the counter. They’d reorganized some since the last time I was there, but it seems mostly to have been a move to make room for more vinyl, which now takes up the whole left wall when you walk in. Good stuff. They didn’t have a lot used that I was really looking for — lots of metal, some I had, some I wasn’t interested in — but I took the opportunity on my way to Lansing to stock up on a few recent releases I hadn’t yet gotten physical copies of; the special edition of Candlemass being a highlight as well as new albums from Paradise Lost and Pelican and Solitude Aeturnus‘ recent reissue of their early works. The Diagonal and Spaceboy records were used, and I got some Funkadelic in there because that shit is awesome. Not bad for a way to stretch my legs between I-75 and I-280.

I wanted to make sure I stopped in at Flat, Black and Circular (or just FBC to the natives) before I left Lansing to go to the fest in Wisconsin, so last Friday morning, under the careful navigational guidance of Postman Dan — the unofficial mayor of Lansing, Michigan — I hit it up and found that although it’s got a name that hints at vinyl, it’s also a treasure trove of small, rectangular and plastic. Aside from a silver-backed disc Alice in Chains bootleg, I got the Diwphalanx issue of Church of Misery‘s The Second Coming (a double), as well as the newest Master Musicians of Bukkake, the first Six Organs of Admittance, some live Amebix, Yeti by Amon Düül II, the first Saturnalia Temple — which was a surprise — another Funkadelic album, some Unsane on Man’s Ruin, Monster Magnet‘s Tab 25 on Glitterhouse, which is a perfect complement to Hawkwind‘s In Search of Space, a Greenslade disc at random because I liked the cover (album is proggier than expected, but not bad) and the Satan-loving latest album by Lansing locals Beast in the Field, Lucifer, Bearer of Light. Top it off with Unorthodox and you have one of the finest CD hauls I’ve had in a long time. Lot of great shit to happen into and a lot of records there I’m happy to have adopted.

Once I’d effectively space trucked my way through Chicago’s legendary “make you want to stop and eat dinner here” traffic and actually arrived in Wisconsin, I found Days of the Doomed to be a trove of merch that I didn’t yet own that I should own. From Beelzefuzz — the unfortunates who arrived late having blown their tire and then later gave their stuff away for free (I mistakenly said I bought one; nope) to Sanctus Bellum, who were kind enough to give me a copy of the album to review, to Orodruin, whose Epicurian Mass I already owned (it was Claw Tower I needed) to Earthen Grave, whose CD showed up in the mail when I got back to New Jersey, it was hit or miss as regards the outcome of the purchases, but I can’t argue with new Apostle of Solitude demo material (streaming here) or finally getting the chance to pick up ArgusBoldly Stride the Doomed, or Earthride‘s new reissue of their self-titled EP with tracks from SHoD last year, I mark the whole thing a win. Picking up Orodruin‘s limited version of In Doom and the Blizaro stuff too was a bonus, and discs from Super Invader and their prior incarnation, Bullets for Baby, have given me something to look forward to checking out. Just as soon as I stop listening to that Apostle of Solitude demo. Any day now…

I could go on, but the fact is, I came out of last weekend with so much stuff, I’m going to use it all to make a new podcast over the next couple days, so I’ll have more up about it one way or another and I’m sure that’ll be good times. Stay tuned for more to come.

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Buried Treasure Where I-75 Meets I-280

Posted in Buried Treasure on July 25th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Though we drove through Canada to get to Michigan, the plan for the trip back to New Jersey was to make it happen as quickly and as painlessly as possible. That meant jumping on I-75 and meeting up with I-280 in Toledo, Ohio, and from there, picking up I-80 East, which The Patient Mrs. and I would be on for the next however many hours until we could get off 80 literally 10 minutes from home. Toledo to home on one road. Not an exciting drive, by any stretch of the imagination, but easy enough to navigate.

And wouldn’t you know that in Toledo there resides Ramalama Records, from whose logo alone I knew was someplace I wanted to shop? As The Patient Mrs. and I paid for our breakfast at the newly-remolded Original House of Pancakes and the girl behind the counter asked us what we were doing in town, she recommended Culture Clash, another shop that I probably would have wanted to stop at had the wait at said pancakery been the 20-25 minutes we were quoted and not the 45-50 it was. Nonetheless, arrival back in the valley would just have to wait, because Ramalama wouldn’t.

About a minute after I walked in the shop, the dude working there put on YOB‘s The Great Cessation, and I knew that in the whole stretch of Toledo, Ohio — which, like a lot of Midwestern cities, reminded me viscerally of Rt. 46 in Parsippany, NJ — I was in the right place. The store’s used metal section was more than impressive. There weren’t any discs in it, but the fact alone that they had a spot for Trouble was massively encouraging, and the general vibe was that the place was well organized and reasonably priced. A store like that is always a welcome find, even if I don’t end up buying anything.

That, however, would not be the case at Ramalama. I picked up a slew of goodies from the aforementioned used section, up to and including a copy of the self-titled Sod Hauler EP, which was a surprise, since I wouldn’t necessarily expect to find a Seattle local band’s disc at a store more than halfway across the country. Noosebomb‘s Brain Food for the Braindead, released on Shifty Records, from Akron, made more sense. I grabbed both, as well as the Southern Lord reissue of Burning Witch‘s Crippled Lucifer, just for the hell of it.

I made my way through the alphabet in reverse and was surprised to find both Enslaved and Opeth discs. I didn’t buy them, because I didn’t need to, but usually people who purchase those records do so with the intent of keeping them. It was that kind of store; had me thinking at several intervals, “Who gave this up?” The 2000 Koch reissue of Judas Priest‘s Sad Wings of Destiny sounds poorly remastered, but the original issue Screaming for Vengeance is just right. And in light of their being a band I always kind of overlooked and the swirling rumors of a reunion at next year’s Maryland Deathfest, I snatched the Hydra Head reissue of Cavity‘s Supercollider. I own the original, but figured it was a chance to revisit the record, and seriously, how often do you see a used Cavity CD sitting around?

At that point, I could have wrapped it up and let it stand at that, but honestly, after finding that much good shit, I wanted to support the store, and so I picked up new (unused) copies of The Local Fuzz by The Atomic Bitchwax and the 2011 Heavy Rocks by Boris. I probably could have gotten those discs somewhere else, or online, but for a brick and mortar independent store to be featuring both in its “recent releases” section, and to be playing YOB, and to have the Cavity, the Sod Hauler, the Burning Witch — well, at that point, here, please take more of my money. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

I’d brought more than a handful of discs along for the rides to Detroit and back, but I was more than glad for the additions to the playlist. Cavity tested The Patient Mrs.‘ titular virtue, but Boris was most welcome alongside the Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Buffalo and Dio albums that — along with the Cleveland Indians losing to the Chicago White Sox — provided accompaniment for our long ride home.

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Smoke Theory at the Crossroads

Posted in Reviews on June 9th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

You might not be able to recognize the shape from its use in the cover image above, but SR-420 is a state road in Smoke Theory’s native Ohio that runs south of the rockers’ native Toledo as an offshoot of the Ohio Turnpike/I-80 highway system. I’ve driven past it before and gotten a chuckle from its weedian implications, and no doubt that’s what Smoke Theory had in mind as well in naming their new, self-released platter Junction 420. The disc, housed in a true, old school full jewel case but with inkjet artwork, is seven songs of straightforward, easygoing riff rock, not quite fuzzy in the dual guitars of Chris Graves and Mark Barbour, but not far from it and definitely taking influence from the stoner end of the spectrum. Even before the music starts, the title’s a big clue there.

When last heard from, Smoke Theory offered up their debut in the Blood and Sin EP, the sound of which was hampered by a digital compression that sounded like poor quality MP3s. The seven songs of Junction 420 suffer no such ailments, and while it’s still not the liveliest of productions – they’re DIY’ing it all the way and this is the age of the cheap but lifeless digital recording – everything is clear and gives a definite idea of what Graves, Barbour, bassist Dave Hamblin and drummer Don Hooligan want from the songs. As regards the production sound, Hooligan’s snare sound is bright and forward in the mix, probably more than it needs to be on a song like “Potbelly Parrot,” which otherwise is a highlight of the release, featuring Smoke Theory’s catchiest chorus of “Send me away to the taxidermist/Hang me on your wall/I’ll be satisfied.”

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