WHERE THE ACTION IS: A TRIBUTE TO RADIO BIRDMAN - Various Artists (Living Eyes Records)
If a band's influence is to be measured by the imitators it inspires, Radio Birdman's time is finally here. This is the third tribute disc to the Radios (if you count both volumes of "Flattery") in less than three years and is from Italy. This one is brought to us by Rockerilla (and sometime I-94 Bar) scribe Roberto Calabro, on his brand spankin' new label Living Eyes. And an enjoyable descent into the maelstrom it is, too.
Few of the bands here will be familar to ears outside southern Europe. The Loose and Sonic Assassin are known to the Barman, the latter none the least for acting as backing band for the Deniz Tek-Scott Morgan guitar fest that rocked its way through the Continent in 2001. The Loose delivered a derivative but charged album of Detroitarama a few years ago that marked them as worthy of more attention. So it's with an open mind that we approached this disc.
First things first and it must be said that rock and roll is not the best-funded form of culture in Italy (or most places) so the production values range from pretty good to fairly ordinary. The other thing that needs to be said is that English is not the most-spoken tongue where these guys hail from either, so some weird and wonderful interpretations of Birdman's sometimes obscure lyrics result. That said, the spirit that imbued the original songs shines through and, with the occasional lapse, the bands don't get too reverential either.
Milan four-piece Crummy Stuff kick off with a rocking "Do the Pop" that doesn't stray far from the original. The wonderfully-named Men of Mistery deliver a trimmed-down "Monday Morning Gunk" (sans the intro) but steer away from accusations of copyism with a tasty lead (by either Mr Toy or McChicken - their names might be straight out of a McHappy meal but they CAN play) that should have been longer. Alley Gators don't let the pace flag with a "Burned My Eye" that clocks in at 70sec. Seeing these guys have a track on a GG Allin tribute album in their discography it shouldn't surprise that Nervous Nick's vocals border on hardcore.
From here, things get weird: Killer Klown's take on "Aloha Steve & Danno" features off-the-wall vocals with idiosyncratic lyrics, edgy guitar and an omniprescent organ that's way up in the mix. (Not as bent as the Bon Fuhrer and their vacuum cleaner versuion of "New Race" on Flattery volume one but you get the drift.) The Loose's "Anglo Girl Desire" rocks out but suffers from a dry drum sound and weedy guitar. Sonic Assassin's snotty "Love Kills" is probably the best thing here: primeval guitar from Stefano Constantini that snakes its way into the song on the back of acoustic backing and a busy engine room. Meat for Dogs manage to notch a world first by introducing a modicum of trumpet into "Time to Fall". The Drastics shout/sing "Murder City Nights" with rehearsal room ambience.
Viola Lee Band's "Snake" hits the spot in a quirky way: Choppy surf twang guitar meets quavering vocals to produce something unique. Sartana throw away the script, too, for a soaring "Cryin' Sun" that's all buzzing guitars and improvised middle eight. Thee STP might just be the most prolific band here with a slew of singles and two full albums to their credit, and do justice to "New Race". The live version of "Hangin' On" by the Temporal Sluts might lack the same menacing edge Chris Masuak's uncoiling lead break gave to the original but still sends sparks flying, especially as the outro kicks in. Full marks to drummer Tony Tornaghi who nailed his part with aplomb.
All in all, a pretty enjoyable romp and al packaged up very nicely with a spiffin' Pedro cartoon of the band (although J. Kannis appears to be sitting in for Ron Keeley behind the traps) and liner notes by Mr Steve McGarrett himself. - The Barman
(To grab a copy, drop Rob a line.)
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