Tag «acoustic»

Album Review: Chris Fox – “Portly Formed” EP

The cover of Chris Fox’s 6-song EP shows a penciled sketch of a guy – presumably Fox – from the neck down without a shirt on. The guy is overweight, the EP is titled Portly Formed, and the songs are all covers of Fat Wreck Chords songs. Portly…Fat…get it?

I must confess that I listen to Fat bands more than bands on other labels (for no good reason other than that’s what I’m most familiar with) and so when this EP was “recommended” to me, it took all of two seconds to decide to download it.

Good Riddance’s “Stand”, known to punk fans from Physical Fatness Fat Music Volume 3, leads off the album. This was a compilation-only song during a time when many of us listened to these compilations like it was the radio, because the real radio sucked, and music wasn’t abundantly free on the Internet like it is today. Nostalgia abounds listening to this song. Fox’s voice doesn’t have the power of Russ Rankin’s, and it doesn’t take long to realize we’re not listening to a high-budget production, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Stand” is a great song.

The Swingin’ Utters are represented here with their upbeat feel-good tune “Glad”. This is the moment of the EP when one realizes that some of these stripped down “acoustic” versions of punk songs aren’t really all that different from their original versions (after all, The Utters do use acoustic guitar more than a lot of punk bands, though not in the original version of this song). There are no drums here, and Fox’s vocals have less of an edge than Peebucks, but the tempo and the feel are nearly identical.

Fox makes use of a trumpet and trombone in “10 West”, a song first released back in 2003 by the Mad Caddies who also sport a horn section of only trumpet and trombone. Here “10 West” is recorded sans drums, of course, (although, for the record, if we define “acoustic” as unplugged and unaltered, then the drums are generally the only actual acoustic instrument in a punk band) and the guitar part isn’t strictly a ska feel like the Caddies’ version. But again, like the Utters song, this arrangement isn’t terribly different from the original recording.

Somewhat later Fat releases are represented with tracks 4 and 5, first with Dead To Me’s great tune “California Sun”, followed by the Feel Good Moment of the EP with “Pacific Standard Time” from No Use For a Name’s 2008 and final studio album. Like most of the EP, Fox doesn’t alter the mood of any given song. He begins the latter mellow, the most mellow moment of the EP, before opening it up big; fans of NUFAN’s version will feel the entire band even without it there.

The original Fat band closes out Portly Formed. From Lagwagon’s 1997 friends-themed album Fox cheats and merges two songs into one – “Smile”, which most people think is really called “I Hate My Friends”, and “To All My Friends”, featuring the final guitar solo almost identical to Double Plaidinum’s (what a shame Fox couldn’t have snuck some of “Making Friends” into this medley, as well).

Portly Formed will not go down in history as one of the great treasures of acoustic punk rock, but it is a lot of fun, especially if you’re an unabashed Fat-o-phile like me.

3.5/5 Stars

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Paper Rifles announce pre-sale of new EP

Acclaimed Edinburgh based acoustic punk Paper Rifles has just announced the pre-sale of his brand new four track EP, And Then Came The Tourists, on Scottish punk label Struck Dum.

While the actual  7” EP isn’t until April 9th, the pre-sale includes a track off the EP, an extra 10 tracks of bonus songs to immediately download, and a chance of winning the test press of the EP.

You can hear more and advance order the EP here.

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Album Review: MxPx – “Acoustic Collection”

MxPx has been a prominent player in the punk scene since the mid-nineties. In recent years, however, they have slowed down. Guitarist Tom Wisniewski and drummer Yuri Ruley have retired from touring full-time in order to be family men and take day jobs. They remain in the band to record and perform the occasional weekend show, but, when MxPx goes on a tour of any length, most of the band is unrecognizable.

This is common. Musicians leave their bands for a variety of reasons, but the arrival of babies and the need for a steady income are two of the bigger ones. Remaining members are left to pursue side projects to fill the time between sporadic appearances that keep the premium brand name relevant.

Frontman Mike Herrera must have seen this decrease in MxPx activity coming. Despite numerous side projects – The Cootees, Arthur, and currently Tumbledown – Herrera has increasingly been performing as a solo act. Soloing has gone well for him, and has included a stint on the Vans Warped Tour Acoustic Basement in 2014, as well as three digitally-released live albums. These performances include a mixture of MxPx and Tumbledown songs with the occasional cover.

In 2014, MxPx released Acoustic Collection, an album of twelve stripped down and, in some instances, transformed MxPx songs. This is not an acoustic album of their greatest hits – you won’t find “Chick Magnet” or “Responsibility” here – but included are fan favorites “Doing Time,” “Tomorrow’s Another Day,” “Secret Weapon” and “Punk Rawk Show.”

That said, this feels more like Mike Herrera’s first studio solo album, rather than a full-band effort. Tom Wisniewski is listed in the credits only as “additional vocals on Punk Rawk Show,” while Yuri Ruley shares that credit, and is also one of three listed under “Percussion,” – Bradley Miranda is listed for “Drum Set.” That the songs were all previously recorded as MxPx songs helps distinguish it from a Mike Herrera solo album.

Since 2009’s laudable Left Coast Punk EP, MxPx has been mostly DIY, recording in Herrera’s own Monkey Trench Studio, and releasing music on their own label, Rock City Recording Company. As producer, Herrera resists the temptation to overdub out-of-place extra instruments, as so many punk rockers like to do with their solo albums. There are no violins, cellos, flutes, accordions, or harmonicas here. Keys are listed for one track, but they are barely noticeable in “Buildings Tumble.” Even the auxiliary percussion is used sparingly; the shakers in “Doing Time” are audible without being distracting. And while Herrera went overboard harmonizing with himself on Plans Within Plans, the band’s last full-length album, here he lets the melodies speak for themselves, with vocal harmonies limited to three tunes performed by “Agent M” Emily Whitehurst (formerly of Tsunami Bomb), who had previously lent her voice to the band’s On The Cover II.

Surprises include new and additional lyrics on the final refrain of “Doing Time,” as well as the transformation of “Drowning” from possibly the fastest song on 2007’s Secret Weapon to the slowest here, and, at the conclusion, the most laid back rendition one could imagine of “Punk Rawk Show,” the band’s long-time anthem.

This album is particularly refreshing after the band’s only other official acoustic release, the mediocre AC/EP. And, because this is a full-length, it serves like a retrospective of MxPx’s career, including songs from their most recent album and spanning all the way back to 1995’s Teenage Politics.

Acoustic Collection really showcases the strength of Mike Herrera’s song-writing ability. While fans will take the full band any day of the week, they will also delight in the latest effort from MxPx, still kicking since 1992.

4/5 Stars – Listen below. (more…)

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