HELLHOUND DOWN - The Labor Party (Steel Cage)
The Labor Party come out of the heat and dust of Phoenix, Arizona, like a punk rock 52-wheeler hauling a load of hazardous material with its pilled-up driver forgetting to apply the air brakes. Some praise I know but I'll be fisted by the five effeminate members of the San Francisco 49'ers if this isn't one of the best things to come out of the American South-West since tacky Grand Canyon snow domes and long boring drives in stark, flat countryside.

Fittingly for an outfit with political overtones in their moniker, this is a power trio with the emphasis on power. But it's not Power Without Glory (political novel content for Australian readers) and it's used for punk rock good rather than yacht rock evil. This is the sort of punk rock where the band knows more than one chord and got its chops sorted somewhere other than the Green Day tabs book at Border's in the local mall. In other weords, it sounds real.

Frank Labor is the Parliamentary Leader on sometimes laconic/otherwise gravelly vocals and formidable guitar. Back-pedalling a bit and if Frank's name seems familiar it's because he plays guitar in Jeff Dahl's band. All three Party members, however, have the sort of confident swagger to their playing that stamps them as rock and roll lifers.

Spoeaking of, that's Frank's wife Sharon playing pretty decent bass and contributing occasional sassy backing vox. What do they say about families that play together? Never mind. Furthermore, it's Uncle Fester-visaged Buck Ellis on drums. That's a description safely applied only when he's thousands of miles away, because the guy looks like he played linebacker before he retired to a bar to enjoy himself. Buck anchors that backbeat to the floor in no uncertain style.

With a thematic nod of the head to pulp crime novels of the 1950s and pointed lyrical references to the East Coast's Lower East Side rather than the local casinos and cacti, these lucky 13 songs bound out of the speakers like the Dictators packing heat. Anthemic in the extreme - and just like the 'Tators, the tunes and playing blow away most bands half their age.

Cranky, cranked-up riffs a la Dead Boys, rock solid engine room antics and liberal application of massed singalong choruses are the key to the catchiness. From the opening roar of "We Don't Want To" to the swelling crunch of "Down The Shore" this is an up-tempo, bruising winner on almost every count.

The strategically-placed, bluegrass of "Bootlegger" lets up on the pace near the album mid-point, and it's like the pause at the top of the rise on a Coney Island roller-coaster when you hit the rise just before hurtling down the next descent. A breather is probably in order by then as you've been bounced around by the likes of "Show To Do" and the bristling "Away With Me". The good news is there's plenty more to come with this album finishing as strongly as it started.

"Hellhound Down" is one fun rock and roll party. Score a copy here for the next night-in at your favourite speakeasy. Or I'll send the boys (and girl) around to sort you out.