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Record Roundup with Successful Failures, Bulletproof Belv, and Lowlight
By Bob Makin
originally published: 09/24/2019
For more than a dozen years on half a dozen full-length albums, The Successful Failures have been a great, ragged, edgy mix of indie power pop and American-inspired roots rock. The 11-song “Saratoga,” their seventh collection on singer-songwriter-guitarist-keyboardist Mick Chorba’s own FDR Label, starts right off with that signature sound on the opening “Because We’re Ghosts.” The rollicking rumble ‘n’ ramble is a prime example of the band’s patented mix of The Beatles, The Replacements, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and The Rolling Stones.
On the single “Love You So,” Chorba & Co. — bassist-vocalist Ron Bechamps, drummer Rob Martin, lead guitarist Pete Smith and former guitarist-keyboardist-vocalist Greg Potter — take the sentiments of the same-titled jazz standard, sprinkle them with Beatlesque charm and spike them with a Replacements edge. Subsequently, the raucous rocker, “The Ocean and the Stars,” seems inspired by “Blonde on Blonde”-era Bob Dylan and early Tom Petty.
Next up are two tracks that pay homage to Knoxville, Tenn., the Chesterfield-based band’s home away from home. The three bits of “Knoxville Suite” are all about self-realization. In “Oh Dear Mother,” a mom realizes, “Oh crap, motherhood isn’t what I thought it was!” Then “Giving Back the Awards” shifts to a narrator, perhaps a decorated veteran, who also realizes that everything they thought was important doesn’t really matter. The Lennonesque suite closes on a more romantic note with “In this World,” a realization that nothing much matters unless shared with a significant other. The suite includes a particularly impressive bass performance by Ron.
“No White Knight in Knoxville,” the latest of the album’s three singles, continues the salute to the southern city, as well as self-realization, taking its inspiration from the signature of a “Dear Abbey” letter that Mick’s wife cut out for him. Following several Successful Failures songs inspired by news stories or literature, “No White Knight in Knoxville” is about the protagonist finding peace within and appreciating a regular-guy reality by accepting that his ordinary life is balanced by fresh food markets and Taco Bells.
Mid-way through “Saratoga” comes a previous single, “Disgruntled Bankers,” a Makin Waves Song of the Week that recalls The Replacements’ masterpiece “Here Comes a Regular” with a similar forlorn longing.
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Mick has such a great penchant for The Replacements that FDR released a 2001 compilation tribute album to them, “Left of the Dial,” featuring 24 contributing acts, so it’s no surprise “Saratoga” features the Replacementsesque “Oh Diane.” The tasty track also features sweet Keith Richards-like guitar playing.
“Saratoga” also includes:
* The funky, bluesy yet poppy swamp rock of “Ruby Ruby,” which recalls Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Radiators and early ‘70s Stones, especially great Mick Taylor-like slide guitar playing
* The psychedelic pop of “Already in Two”
* The rootsy Beatles-meet-The Stones pop of “Everywhere She Goes It’s Raining”
* And the closing bluesy garage-rocker “Where Were You,” which sounds like a cross between the Stones’ early days and the most upbeat tracks on their masterpiece, “Exile on Main Street.”
Saratoga” is available digitally, on CD and via 12” vinyl and can be heard live Sept. 25, The Asbury hotel, Asbury Park; Sept. 27, Human Village Brewing Co., Pitman, and Oct. 4, Tirnanog, Trenton.
Prolific Asbury Park rapper Bulletproof Belv is back with his third full-length album in only 19 months following last year’s “With or Without You” and 2017’s “11:11 Wishful Thinking.” Much more sexually graphic and violent than its predecessors – as well as other more positive and uplifting Asbury area rap -- “Everything Earned” features just Belv and his producer El Trapo Cheese without any of the guest appearances that powered the first two albums.
The eight-song collection kicks off with the quasi title track, “Earned It,” an examination of how faith without works is dead that features great wordplay in the chorus, “Everything earned from the cradle to the urn, I earned it.” The sequel to Belv’s 2017 local hit, “Dark City Lights,” is a Makin Waves Song of the Week.
Whereas “Earned It” is a sequel to “Dark City Lights,” the closing “Insane Wave” is a sequel to the opener, as well as the 2018 single, “Wave Runner,” feat. platinum-selling North Jersey rapper Fetty Wap. All three look at the mean streets of and around Asbury’s Bangs Avenue, where Belv was raised and shot twice at close range, yet survived, hence, Bulletproof. Like “Wave Runner,” “Insane Wave” is dedicated to Wave Runners – or Born Gettas – a group of rappers consisting of family and close friends with whom Belv collaborates and utilizes as a sounding board.
A 10-year window into their rough ‘n’ tumble lives offers a glimpse at their often violent adventures with “10 Summers 10 Winters.” That’s followed by “We Just,” a chronicle of sex buddies who scam for money. It’s interesting how the couple in this track are “just fucking,” whereas a little later on, Belv expresses heartache in “Loved and Lost,” a powerful breakup song.
“Everything Earned” also includes:
“Build Another,” a look at how Belv remains connected to the community in which he was raised
“Scream,” an expression of a desire to perform, particularly once again at such high profile venues as Asbury Lanes and House of Independents
“Far Away,” a play on the Michael Corleone line from “The Godfather” – “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” – which Belv inverts by keeping his enemies as far away as possible because they can be so violent.
Look for Belv to announce live shows. Until then, enjoy “Everything Earned” and its bleak and broken landscape that depicts what life is like for most of Asbury Park rather than the La La Land of the well-enforced waterfront.
From the first seconds of the Phil Spector-meets-Brian Wilson-like symphonic surf-rock of the opening “Give it a Minute,” Lowlighthad my full attention with their new LP, “Endless Bummer.” Complete with a sweet slack key-like steel guitar that follows a great childlike choir at the end of the track, “Give It a Minute” is a Makin Waves Song of the Week.
The 10-track album doesn’t let up for a minute offering haunting slide-oriented guitar sounds by Derril Sellers, who also produced, recorded and mixed in his home studio in South Bound Brook; alternatingly eerie and pretty keyboard riffs by Dana Sellers, Derril’s wife and longtime band mate, and tight-as-funk rhythms by drummer Colin Ryan and bassist Rey Rivera. On top of it all are passionate vocal performances and stories by singer-songwriter-rhythm guitarist Renee Maskin.
“Horsefoot” is an excellent example of wonderfully haunting guitar and eerie keyboard sounds. The pining guitar is like a ghost who wanders and creeps along creaking walls and floors captured by Dana’s keyboards. Renee’s vocals float above it all until it comes to an unsettlingly abrupt end.
"Every Time” features a great accordion-like sound, as well as warped keys that seem like a Wurlitzer turned upside down. Both compliment more impressive slide playing by Derril wrapping around a tale about a series of one-night stands.
The guitar work on “Coastlines” and “Locals Only” also is extremely impressive. On the latter, Derril’s guitar sounds like a whip-poor-will in a weeping willow.
The energetic “Burkhalter” showcases the band’s polyrhythms, a strong vocal performance by Renee, and Dana’s inventive keyboard parts, particularly an exotic, hypnotic intro. “Clotheslines” is an all-too-brief acoustic-driven quasi-title track. “The Unreliable Narrator” is bluesy ode to the jungle and Keith Richards, while “California Blue” is funky fanfare that must’ve been fun for Derril with more Phil Spector-like pop-cestra production.
That brings us to the fascinating, chorally arranged Tom Waits-like closer, “Voyager,” featuring great guest performances on sax and violin, as well as Colin at his best, which is better than most everybody else.
Recently released by Jersey Shore-based Telegraph Hill Records, the album is the band’s second full-length following 2016’s brilliant debut, “Where Do We Go from Here?” and sandwiches last year’s “Born to Run” EP and a live outing. Hear it live Oct. 5, Chubby Pickle, Highlands, and Nov. 22, Pino’s, Highland Park, with San Tropez, The Brixton Riot, and Tom Barrett of Overlake.
All Songs of the Week can be heard at Makin Waves’ Spotify and YouTube playlists.