Thursday, November 29, 2012

MGK Shoots and Scores!

Machine Gun Kelly. Lace Up!
Bad Boy and Interscope Records, 2012.
MGK:  or

Machine Gun Kelly was born Richard Colson Baker in Houston, Texas. MGK traveled with his missionary parents until he landed in the Shaker Heights High School.  His stage name comes from his rapid-fire lyrical presence, and was inspired by the criminal George “Machine Gun” Kelly of the early 20th century. Lace Up is MGK’s first studio album, but he has put out four mixtapes since 2006, and appeared in numerous recordings as a feature.  In 2009, MGK became the first Caucasian rapper to win amateur night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Most of MGK’s work has been recorded in his home studio named The Rage Cage, and he tends to be known for his manic production style, recording Lace Up--the 2010 mixtape by the same title--in just three months. One thing to be aware of with MGK’s discography is the potential for confusion between his identically named mixtape and record album; it is the 2010 mixtape that includes hometown anthem “Cleveland” that is played at home Cavalier’s games. MGK very much works in the rap/hip-hop style of forming artistic works with extensive collaborative networks. This album, while limited in instrumental musicians, is filled with creative talent from the executive producer Sean “Diddy” Combs to relative newcomer Southside.

Lace Up! surely benefited from both the experience of the other parties involved in MGK’s first album, and the mixtapes put out previously by MGK, and because of these factors, the album is a far more polished album than most first attempts, and considerably more publicized album, as well. Lace Up! is a high-energy, endlessly danceable album with good sampling in many of the tracks, although sampling on the album verges on being an overused trick in this case. While the mix tape version was solid, I would have loved to see the song “Cleveland” polished and put onto MGK’s first album, but I am will not hold that against Lace Up! and instead just hope that it makes its way onto a later album.

While not an album with seamless transitions between songs, there is a distinct cohesion in Lace Up! Unlike albums where one song flows without a pause into the next one, MGK does have a slight breath after each song, not unlike breaks between movements of a symphony. Within the songs, the flavor changes slightly to reflect the songs before and after it, while still maintaining the individual flavor of each track; that is a level of skill not seen in many initial albums, and definitely a tribute to the production team as a whole. The album also heavily utilizes old school scratching as a musical technique, and has authentic feeling thanks in part to such attention to detail. It also reminds one of some of the hip-hop and rap artists who have managed to make national popular spotlights shine on them, like the Beastie Boys, Kid Rock, and Run DMC. If Lace Up! is any indication, it is not at all unimaginable that MGK may be bound for similar fame.

Across the album, the themes cover those familiar to the genre, but running on the mild side of the gamut--fame, drugs, shootings, reputation, love of music, and flight--but the album thankfully never really crosses the line into cop-killer styles. There’s also a reasonable amount of reflection and introspection on this album, which, in my opinion, is what really makes an album like this stand out as a positive experience and not just enjoyable.  “All We Have,” especially, is both moving and beautiful, although it is not a typical rap or hip-hop song by any means. Overall, Lace Up! is not only a good example of this genre of music for those who already enjoy it, but also serves as a great introduction to the genre for those that aren’t fans, or have bought into the negative media image of rap.  I heartily recommend this album as a great place to start a serious discussion on music, media, and social problems of the inner city and poverty or just as good background music to get through a sluggish day.

Personnel: Bass- J Brownz; Composer- Klaus Badlet, Kenneth Bartolomei, Adrian Broekhuyse, M. De Geoij, Brian "DJ Frequency" Fryzel, L. Gerrard, Juaquin Malphurs, A. Masone, Raz Nitzan, Armin van Buuren, Ester Dean, Michael "Silent Mike" Brascom, Rami Eadeh, Briton "Woodro Skillson" Ewart, Irvin Whitlow; Engineer- Justin Sampson, Aubry "Big Juice" Delaine, Phil Schlemmer, Machine Gun Kelly, Frequency, Slim Gudz; Executive Producer- Machine Gun Kelly, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, Harve Pierre, James McMillan; Guitar- J Brownz, Synyster Gates; Mixing- Leslie Brathwaite, Kevin "KD" Davis, Steve "Rock Star" Dickey, Fabian Marasciullo, Manny Marroquin, Ben Schigel; Piano- Mat Musto; Producer- Machine Gun Kelly, Anna Yvette, Michael "Silent Mike" Brascom, Rami Eadeh, Briton "Woodro Skillson" Ewart, Irvin Whitlow, Frequency, Slim Gudz, Jon "JRB" Bishop, Boi-1DA, Drumma Boy, GB Hitz, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Alex Kickdrum, Alex Da Kid, Southside, SykSense; Vocals- Machine Gun Kelly, Anna Yvette, M. Shadows

Tracks: Save Me (featuring M. Shadows, Synyster Gates), What I Do (featuring Bun B, Dub-O), Wild Boy (featuring Wacka Flocka Flame), Lace Up (featuring Lil Jon), Stereo (featuring Fitts of the Kickdrums), All We Have (featuring Anna Yvette), See My Tears, D3mons (featuring DMX), Edge of Destruction (featuring Tech N9ne, Twista), Runnin’ (featuring Planet VI), Invincible (featuring Ester Dean), On My Way, End of the Road (featuring blackbear), Half Naked & Almost Famous, Hold On (Shut Up) (featuring Young Jeezy), Warning Shot (featuring Cassie)

Lisa Regula Meyer

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Punk Still Sounds Good

Skychief.  Autoexciter.
Blimp/Love Muffin Records, 2009.  
Skychief: or

Yes, this is an “older” album (but I listen to stuff from the 1920s, so “old” is relative).  But Skychief is a fine band, and they haven’t gotten nearly as much press as they should (not that this review will help much).  Coming out of Akron in 2000, they’ve only put out two releases, and this is their second.  They’ve gotten a bit of airplay locally, but never really broken through to a national audience.  I suppose it’s because they follow in the punk tradition, and other styles have overwhelmed the popular imagination.  But damn, these guys sound good.

They’re pretty straightforward, all about guitars and a strong beat.  The singing is secondary (although they come up with some pretty good harmonies), as is clarity of production.  However, since when did any of that matter in punk?  “10 Hours” opens the album, and it sets the tone--fast, loud, and snotty--and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Songs are short and simple, but with more complexity in the guitar-playing than you would have found in similar bands in 1979. Taffi and Disco Steve come up with some nice guitar solos.  By track 3, “1000 Orchards,” they’ve slowed down to mid-fast tempo, but seldom slower than that.  "Naughty is Nice" even takes me back further than punk, to the old garage bands of the 60s, and wouldn't have been out of place on a Standells album. You may hear a touch of Akron bands from the past, Bizarros, the Dead Boys, and others from elsewhere such as Social Distortion, since they clearly follow in steps of their predecessors, but somebody needs to keep it going.  And who better, since Skychief knows how to do it right?

Personnel:  Taffi (guitar, vocals), Disco Steve (guitar, vocals), Ric Nimrod (bass), Smitty (drums).
Tracks:  10 Hours, Upside Down, 1000 Orchards, Michelle 3, Way In, On the Cross, Windows, Feels Like June, Naughty is Nice, Darkside, Feeling Low, Seeds.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Veteran Soul Man Scores Big

Eddie LeVert.  I Still Have It.
Eddie LeVert, 2012.  Available on CD-R through  
Eddie LeVert:

It’s hard to believe that this is LeVert’s first “solo” album.  Working for decades with the O’Jays, and then for too short a time with his sons in LeVert, the Canton native is finally on his own.  Well, not exactly.  He still tours with the O’Jays.  My guess is that this album was something he needed to do, whether as an artist, or to prove something to himself.  Whatever his motivation, the result is a truly fine album of old-style Philly soul music, complete with early 1970s grooves, wah-wah, and heavy on the keyboards.

Eddie’s voice is still excellent, a little raspier perhaps than in his early days, sometimes even growly, but it gives him an air of authority that a younger man couldn’t pull off, much like older blues singers.  The opening couple of tracks are killers.  The mid-tempo burner, “Last Man Standing,” shows him at his most powerful, with heartfelt lyrics and memorable, catchy hooks (You can also catch the video on his web page).  “Get Over It” continues the groove, but with a love theme.  LeVert does some Edwin Starr-style grunting, and the song builds nicely to a climax that makes it perfect for a single.  After these, many of his songs are slower love ballads, awash with keyboards, echo, synths, and background vocalists.  Each one is a gem.  These are interspersed with more mid-tempo tunes, such as “Don’t Get Much Better” and “Don’t Lie to Me.”  He uses just about every musical trick in the book, and it never gets tiring.  “Hate’n” is the sole high-energy tune, and it’s a fine one, with riffs reminiscent of early Jackson 5.

LeVert surrounds himself with excellent musicians and backup singers.  He seems to rely on the singers a tad much, although they are really good, so it’s hard to complain.  I wish I knew who they were.  The unfortunate thing about the release at this point is that releases the physical product as a CD-R with a generic cover that is worthless in terms of information.  The lack of notes is infuriating, however, a little homework tells us that the the songs were all written and produced by Eddie, and was mixed by Tom Moulton, a veteran producer.  Get the music any way you can.  If you love 70s-style soul, you’re likely to love this album.

Performers:  Eddie LeVert, with accompanying musicians and singers.
Tracks:  Last Man Standing, Get Over It, Lonely, Blown Away, I Like the Way You Move, What If, Don’t Get Much Better, All About Me and You, I Don’t Want to be the One, Don’t Lie to Me, Hate’n, You’re Always There.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Oooh, Shiny!

The Chromes.  The Chromes.
Love Muffin Records, 2012.  The Chromes:, or

If you wear your influences on your sleeve, you had better be good at what you do.  Nobody wants to hear watered-down, cheap imitations.  Fortunately, in their debut EP, the Chromes can be confident that they have done a fine job of making rock ‘n’ roll.  Recorded in the Buddha Basement in Brunswick (aka, Brian Hager’s house), the band shows off a variety of styles with considerable flair, all in a 1970s vein (with most of the tunes written by Hager), and the result is a fun album that’s worth multiple listens.  And with only five songs, that doesn’t take long.

It was easy to spot the stuff they love and listen to.  “Back of My Hand” could be straight out of the Cars songbook, to the point of using Ocasek’s familiar time stops, but there are some other, less obvious things going on as well, so it isn’t simply an imitation.  The same thing happens with “Little Evil,” where the ghost of Marc Bolan rose from my car speakers, and I was tempted to start singing the lyrics to “Bang a Gong.”  But I also heard some Stones in there, especially on the guitar solo.  “Talk that Walk” is half Aerosmith, half AC/DC, but it’s also a good tune.  

Regardless of the shameless imitation/homage to great 70s bands, they pull it off remarkably well.  The group plays impeccably, and Hager’s guitar shows flashes of brilliance in the solos.  Great stuff!  The only drawback is Hager’s vocals, which sound a bit too rough and raspy (although they fit “Little Evil” quite well).  Perhaps that’s just a miking problem.  In any case, the package is a good one (including the cover), and fans of the bands mentioned above should enjoy this thoroughly.  You can also catch Hager in some of his other bands, including Vanity Crash.

Personnel:  Brian Hager (vocals, guitar), Alex Ambrose (drums, vocals), Chip Ficyk (bass, vocals).
Tracks:  Back of My Hand, Little Evil, Talk that Walk, Nothing to Lose, Situation.

The Grand Wazoo