Cheap Trick

[Full disclosure: I worked on Cheap Trick’s box set and instigated the band’s Steve Albini-produced single on Sub Pop in 1997.–Ira Robbins] At a time when heavy metal had lost its menace and was fading into side-show stupidity, Cheap Trick — a powerhouse that had long been dominating Midwest clubs and bars — blew out…

Trouser Press Books

London, 1972: An ordinary schoolgirl is pulled into the world of a fading rock star and becomes the secret weapon in a plan to revive his career in the time of glam. The mysteries of sex and songwriting, connivance, fame, family and the music business collide to bring her to a life she has never…

Freshies

Before he became Frank Sidebottom, the late Chris Sievey led the Freshies, an ill-fated Manchester diy new wave band – more peppy power pop than punk – that got into the lower rungs of the British charts with a verbosely delightful 1980 single, “I’m in Love With the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout…

Danny & Dusty

A batch of rowdy tunes about drinkin’, lovin’, gamblin’ and losin’, The Lost Weekend was a one-off studio bender by the cream of LA’s cowpunk society. The cast: Dan Stuart and Chris Cacavas of Green on Red, Steve Wynn and Dennis Duck of Dream Syndicate and most of the Long Ryders. Produced by Paul Cutler, The Lost Weekend offers…

Hudson Bell

A Louisiana native based in San Francisco, Hudson Bell began putting his music out on homemade cassettes just before grunge blew the doors off indie rock at the start of the ’90s. His prolific catalog — a meandering, maturing evolution from earnest acoustic music to laconic, extended rock — varies in style and achievement but…

Circuit II

With Arthur Baker producing, this biracial Detroit trio plays a different combination of rock and funk, dodging contemporary stereotypes to forge a blend quite their own. The balance shifts from song to song: electronically syncopated beats share the grooves with rock-inflected guitar. Overlaid tape effects (edits by the Latin Rascals) color some of the tracks…

Chron Gen

This quartet from Hertfordshire, formed in the class of ’77, produced top-notch British punk-core, rippling with strength and clarity. But it took them a long while to get an album out. Played at reasonable speed with a generally high level of comprehensibility, Chronic Generation (originally distributed with a live maxi-single) offers songs about the usual…

Christine Lavin

One of the leading lights in the ’80s folk revival, Christine Lavin applies an incisive, self-aware wit and a confidently absurdist view of modern relationships and life in the big city (New York) to acoustic music. Sung in a clear, sweet voice (think of early Joni Mitchell), her songs address microcosmic issues more than matters…

Jools Holland

Best known now as the host of a long-running music show on British television, the flamboyant pianist — a cigar-chomping hustler able to energize even the most blasé audience — provided much of the zest on Squeeze’s first three albums. For his solo debut, Jools adopted a less contemporary stance, playing old-fashioned bar-room romps with…

Children

Like most jangle-pop with roots in ’60s folk-rock, this New York quartet pins its hopes on enticing vocal harmonies. While the group’s original songs are sturdy and charming,  production on The Children (by Bob Rupe of the Silos) is mediocre: while the male and female voices come through with reasonable clarity, the simply arranged guitars…

Mysteries of Life

After the dissolution of Antenna, Jake Smith took over the bass job in the Indianapolis wing of the Vulgar Boatmen; the elemental intensity of that group’s frugal folk-pop strongly informs the Mysteries of Life, the delightful Bloomington group he and cymbal-shy wife Freda Love Smith (ex-Blake Babies and Antenna) unveiled in 1995. But, to a…

Brandos

A well-groomed quartet operating out of New York, the Brandos mine all the right influences and come up with dramatic, workmanlike melodic rock, occasionally displaying flashes of moral and political conscience, on their first album. Though too much of the band’s material lacks real distinction, Honor Among Thieves is a generally impressive debut, with singer/guitarist/producer…

Edward Rogers

Ed Rogers, a stylish English expat who lives in New York (where we first became friends in the early ’70s), is a prolific exponent of the power pop underground, a knowledgeable fan and scholar who channels his musical devotions into charming original creations that honor, echo – and ultimately expand upon – some of the…

B-Movie

“Nowhere Girl” got these British synth-poppers enough new wave notice in America to warrant a full MTV-era album in 1985, but they really needn’t have bothered. Their one “hit” is a percolating OMD soundalike brought low by the deep and unmusical voice of singer/bassist Steve Hovington.  The rest of Forever Running attempts a collection of…

Icons of Filth

Shouted vocals and midspeed raw guitar punk provide Swansea’s Icons of Filth with their musical formula; generally well-put, lengthy political lyrics convey the band’s activist statements on such topics as class society, vivisection and nuclear war. (“You’re better active today than radioactive tomorrow” may not be catchy, but it is sane.) A far cry from…

Dark

Innocuous, dignified rock from Boston. Mild lyrics, conservative synthesizer and sax make this unobnoxious lounge music for the undiscriminating ’80s humanoid. While there’s nothing horrible going on here, there is simply nothing going on here.

Sunshine Boys

The Sunshine Boys conjured up by Neil Simon couldn’t abide each other, but that is clearly not the case with the Chicago indie-rock supergroup that borrowed the name. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Dag Juhlin (Poi Dog Pondering, Slugs), bassist/singer Jacqueline Schimmel (Big Hello) and drummer/singer Freda Love Smith (Blake Babies, Antenna, Mysteries of Life) exude warmth, cohesion and…

Johnsons

An album containing songs with titles like “Sylvia Plath” and “The Affirmation” doesn’t look promising, but this Philadelphia trio’s record, nicely co-produced by Glenn Morrow (Rage to Live) and John Wicks (Records), easily allays such fears with winning harmony-vocal guitar rock that is disarmingly unpretentious. As it turns out, “Sylvia Plath” is an offbeat fan…

Drop Zone

What is about punk that attracts so many able young practitioners? The four members of Sparta, New Jersey’s Drop Zone — a couple of Murphy brothers, bassist Pat Marach and a guitar-playing singer named Steve who is pictured and listed but didn’t play on the record — were no more than 15 or 16 when…

Jody Grind

With the potent, pliant vocals of Kelly Hogan leaping over slap bass, brush-stick drumming and acoustic guitar, the Jody Grind brought rocked-up energy and attitude to a pre-rock era sound. The Atlanta trio’s debut, One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure, is steeped in a be-bop, swing and jump blues vibe, with credible interpretations of…