JEPP – Jepp


The 1990s were a great time for discovering new music.  Back in those days, there were hundreds of great albums in the bargain bins of London’s independent record shops and at record fairs.  Sometimes they’d be familiar after reading reviews, but mostly cheap albums were purchased because they looked interesting, or somehow seemed right – like they were produced by someone interesting or had decent guests, you know the sort of thing…  If you’re someone who has obsessively bought albums, you’ve certainly gone through similar rituals yourself.

This self titled album by Jepp received a favourable review in the UK’s Mojo Magazine at the time of its original release, a review which compared her to Rickie Lee Jones.  The reviewer also said that Jepp had a voice which would be an acquired taste.  It sounded like something worth hearing…and sure enough, with a lack of promotion, one appeared in a record fair bargain bin not long after.

There are flashes of music recalling Rickie Lee on this debut, but quite why the reviewer seemed so keen to draw comparisons is a bit odd, since there’s a far stronger one:  Jepp’s voluminous, vibrato filled vocal style owes a great debt to Grace Slick (albeit Grace bellowing rather loudly). ‘Bowling Night’ gets things underway with a marriage of 90’s style fuzz bass and 60’s style vibraphone.  The song is a snapshot of a life, a mother, her migraines and a job she hated.  Jepp’s voice soars to attention-grabbing levels, becomes absorbing and by the end of this, you’ll know whether you love her or hate her – it’s really that instant.  ‘Superglue Low’ has a more blues-rock feel, but as with most of the music on this album, it’s not quite so simple.  Over the low-tuned rhythms, Jepp’s voice is softer than on the opener, less impassioned, but often retaining a sharpness. Lyrically, it sounds like specific storytelling, but the messages seem fairly oblique.

‘Parsons Green’ is much gentler and it’s slightly jazzy acoustic work provides a nice contrast to the fuller sounding previous tracks.  One of the albums strongest moments, Jepp’s voice remains soft and intriguing; the vibes return and some soaring guitar work adds colour.  ‘Go Home Early’ makes great use of string sounds, a solid but simple drum rhythm and more vibraphones – and Jepp’s voice wanders into Grace Slick territory.  By this point, it becomes clear that the album’s great appeal and longevity lies in the care that’s gone into the arrangements and songcraft.  Jepp’s music has so many layers, its retro charm becomes enticing.  The haunting ‘Tiny Dancer’ pushes Jepp’s voice to its most extreme.  The Grace Slick-isms are at their most blatant with forced vibrato; the music is at its most spiky, altogether creating a slightly unsettling atmosphere. ‘The Guy I Like’ pulls together fuzzy electric guitar, great use of marimba and neo-calypso stylings, which at the outset make it sound like an aggressive cousin to Rickie Lee Jones’s ‘Ghetto of My Mind’ (so maybe that’s why that magazine review picked her as an obvious reference point?).  Again the musical layers are appealing – unlike lots of other tracks, the guitar is heavily featured.

Another softer track ‘Las Vegas’ sees the acoustic side of Jepp’s work make a return.  It resembles some of the quieter moments from Bree Sharp’s ‘More B.S.’ album (although Jepp’s debut was recorded some years before), while the acoustic jangle intro of ‘Orbit’ pulls us into album’s most accessible track – Jepp’s voice isn’t quite as hard here and it’s musically simpler.  It’s not without those layers, though, as electric guitars are used to created fuzz (but always sparingly) and beneath everything, the sound of the vibraphone provides a much welcome addition (if you find yourself really getting  into this album, you’ll understand that the vibraphones are key in giving it most of its retro coolness).

Many of those London record stores and their bargain bins are long gone; the record fairs gather dust and attract only the most faithful, but this Jepp album still shines.  It’s been many years since that very first listen, but in all honesty, it’s lost none of that spark.  It’s still unconventionally beautiful and surprisingly demanding on the listener for a singer-songwriter album in the pop/rock vein.  On the whole, this seems to be an album which has been largely overlooked. There’s very little about it, or Sara Jepp (or even her second album ‘7:11’) on the internet.  If you find a copy, do yourselves a favour and pick it up.  Provided Jepp’s quirky voice doesn’t turn you off – or else you aren’t too quick to write her off as an Alanis impersonator (as some, indeed, have in an amazing display of knee-jerk opinions, never taking time to spot that sixties coolness) – there are some great songs to be heard.

February 2010







In 1993, as Grunge was beginning to fade a little, Green Apple Quick Step (presumably named after The Byrds song of the same name) released their debut album ‘Wonderful Virus’. It achieved moderate success, but musically its post-grunge approach was a little dull aside from a couple of tracks.

In 1995, they released their second album, ‘Reloaded’, produced by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard. Somewhere between the two albums, the bands songwriting moved away from their grungy earlier style and introduced a few more power pop influences. The variety of styles on this second album came as a huge surprise after ‘Wonderful Virus’ and as a result, ‘Reloaded’ became an album which was rarely far from my CD player for the next couple of years. The album finds GAQS stretching out and experimenting; a handful of tracks are fantastic and some of the musical ideas are interesting. Naturally, a couple of tracks miss the mark, but generally speaking, the fact that ‘Reloaded’ is a world away from the safe and formulaic nature of their debut should be applauded.

Things begin slowly with ‘Hotel Wisconsin’, a largely instrumental track. There’s plenty of atmosphere here with the organ sounds and reverbed guitars. It’s a far cry from the GAQS you knew from previously. The rhythmic pattern of the song never shifts far from Ty Willman’s organ, to the point where most of the lead guitar work is very low in the mix. It’s an interesting start to the album, incorporating a lot of moods you’d be unlikely to associate with a Seattle based band (except for maybe Screaming Trees). They change musical stance for the next couple of tracks: ‘Ed #5’ is a slab of fuzzy retro rock, heavy on the pedals and phasers and during the punky-edged ‘No Favors’, bassist Mari Ann Braden takes lead vocals for a track which has more in common with early L7 and Hole than GAQS’s more usual post-grunge and power pop. As a stand-alone track, its attitude and energy work very well, but as part of ‘Reloaded’ it feels very misplaced.

At three songs in, you may be forgiven for thinking this is a little directionless. After all, at this point, you’d be right…but you’ve got to give them credit for trying new things. ‘T.V. Girl’ offers the first truly great moment from ‘Reloaded’, with its mid-paced, guitar driven pop-rock. Ty Willman’s voice is at its strongest and has a passionate quality and once Mari Ann joins the chorus for harmony vocals, you get to hear the real potential behind GAQS, not heard much before now. ‘Alligator’ features another of Willman’s best vocal performances, with its mid-paced broodiness; it’s one of the key tracks for spotting how much the band has matured since their formulaic debut. The percussion-less ‘Underwater’ returns to a more atmospheric style with acoustic guitars accompanied by organ sounds; the song itself tinged with sadness and Willman’s voice being well suited to the more wistful nature of the material. The soft ‘Lazy’ works excellently, once again the call-and-response style vocals between Ty Willman and Mari Ann Braden providing its best feature.

The album’s best known cut ‘Dizzy’ (as featured in the movie The Basketball Diaries) is one of the album’s more positive moments. As far as this style of nineties power pop is concerned, this is a near-perfect example, with its great rhythm guitars and infectious chorus. Mari Ann’s backing vocals add something here – the combination of male and female voices matched with the feel-good nature of the song should have made this a sure fire hit. ‘Tangled’ has an interesting slightly retro edge – the ringing guitars occasionally have an Allman Brothers tone, even if the musical style doesn’t have anything else in common with Southern Rock. Despite the good arrangement, the song isn’t as memorable as it should be.

This album may arrive with a bunch of ideas and influences and seemingly no idea of which direction to go, but it certainly provides more than enough entertainment once it finds its feet. However, the momentum doesn’t last, as it ends in a rather disinterested fashion: ‘Space Cocksucker’ is a woozy funk based instrumental with the focus on rhythm guitar, punctuated by keyboard sounds; this is definitely filler material and ‘Halloween’ is an okay piece of jangle pop (largely based around a simple arrangement played by guitarists Steve Ross and Danny K) which features a good vocal but not much else.

It may feel rather hit and miss, but I love this album. Its relative lack of success – given its more commercial moments – is surprising and, as such, it’s unlikely to ever be thought of as more than a footnote in the Seattle family tree. The band recorded a follow-up three years later entitled ‘New Disaster’, which remains unreleased on a physical format apart from one track, ‘Kid’, appearing on the I Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack. (However, part of the album can be heard courtesy of a legal stream via MySpace)

After the break-up of GAQS, Ty Willman went on to work with Devilhead (a band featuring Brian Wood of Hater and John McBain of Monster Magnet, Hater and Wellwater Conspiracy). He would also work with MariAnn Braden and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready in a short-lived project, $10,000 Gold Chain. Steve Ross, meanwhile, joined punk band The Briefs, under the pseudonym Steve E Nix. As of March 2010, Willman made a return playing Green Apple Quick Step songs. He hopes that one day the much sought-after third GAQS album will get a proper release.


Read the interview with Willman here.
Listen to the online stream of ‘New Disaster’ here.


March 2010


Although he’d been previously known for his work with Joshua and Shout in the late 80s, I was a little late in discovering Ken Tamplin, first hearing a track by him on a record company CD sampler in the early part of 1994. After hearing that track (‘Dancing on a Volcano’, from the ‘Tamplin’ LP), I knew I had to hear more of his stuff. Later that same year, a friend lent me a copy of this Magdallan album.He originally lent it to me thinking I’d like it, since he thought the first track was a bit prog-metal influenced.  He hadn’t remembered Ken Tamplin was the band’s vocalist!

Of course I liked it – but not for the “prog metal” reasons my friend thought I would [aside from its general speed and a slightly edgy, metallic guitar riff, I’m not even sure why he thought it was prog metal. It’s likely he confused them with Magellan].In fact, my liking of this album had nothing to do with that first track; I found its full-on bombast a bit of a turn off. I was, however, more than impressed by the band for various other reasons.  Firstly there was that Ken Tamplin connection (this album gave me a proper introduction to his work and I continued to buy his albums for a good few years afterwards), but also I liked the other band members: I’d been familiar with Lanny Cordola and Ken Mary previously, as they’d been members of House of Lords, a band whose first couple of albums I’d rather liked.  So, since Magdallan featured a few musicians I was potentially interested in, I’m not sure how this album had managed to slip under my radar for a couple of years…

If I’m honest, I still don’t like that opening track, ‘End of the Ages’, much at all. While Ken Tamplin’s voice is strong, the band spends the best part of the track trying to outplay each other at full pelt.While the level of musicianship should be respected, the approach taken seems to be at the expense of the song.While some of Lanny Cordola’s guitar solos here are very good, when they’re combined with the fast rhythm section, it becomes very tiring.As a track, it’s far too demanding on the listener.Hats off to Brian Bromberg, though, for a jaw-dropping bassline.

With that out the way, the rest of ‘Big Bang’ is fantastic.  If you’re looking for huge melodic rock: look no further!‘Radio Bikini’ (not sure why they chose that name) is the stuff that late 80s rock radio was made of.  It couples a huge chorus with a mid-paced rock riff, topped off with the kind of huge harmony vocals which would make Mutt Lange proud.  ‘Shake’ opts for a funkier edge, led by bass player Brian Bromberg, whose work here is inspired, since it has a huge presence and manages to firmly stay within the hard rock parameters despite showing a strong funk influence, rather like the work of Marcel Jacob (sadly missed).

‘Wounded Hearts’, a big Whitesnake style ballad, feels much simpler again.  It features another top vocal performance from Tamplin.Also less demanding is ‘Love To The Rescue’, a pumping hard rock workout; once again, Cordola grabs an opportunity to really show some chops in the guitar solo department, although unlike most of ‘The End of the Ages’, he’s a bit more restrained. The title cut has a confident swagger and, once again, the multi layered vocals are used to fantastic effect.  Bromberg’s bass work goes for a funky edge again here and Lanny turns in an off-kilter guitar solo which raises a smile.  This would have been the ultimate attention grabber before the horns were laid on!  The Led Zeppelin inspired, acoustic blues stomp of ‘Old Hard Line’ captures the whole band on top form.Tamplin’s blues rock vocal style is faultless, Ken Mary settles into an understated drum groove, Bromberg’s bass playing has warmth, but it’s Lanny who stands out the most: his acoustic work is second to none – really stylish.  A few bluesy vibes carry over to ‘Dome of the Rock’, but, this time, the band return to full-on rock mode.  Bromberg’s contribution is superb, his busy bass runs lying behind a decent riff laid down by Lanny.Multi-layer vocals are the icing on the cake – somewhere between Queen circa 1974 and early Journey, they turn a decent rock tune into a pomp fan’s dream.  Choirs of vocals swamp ‘House of Dreams’, the album’s ultimate lighters-in-the-air big hair rock moment.As with ‘Wounded Hearts’, the slower pace allows Ken Tamplin’s vocal to really shine.

Dozens of sampled voices played through a keyboard (a la ‘Leave It’ by Yes) kick off ‘Cry Just a Little’ before things settle into a standard rock groove.Again, the backing vocals are huge and is in good company with the rest of the album.  Lanny throws in a really metallic guitar solo – and not to be outdone, Bromberg’s bass playing is really complex throught.  Musically, this is quite demanding on the listener, but by this point of the album it shouldn’t be a mystery why these musicians are so well respected by melodic rock fans.

If you’ve never heard ‘Big Bang’ you’ll probably have half an idea what an album featuring Ken Tamplin backed by most of House of Lords could sound like.If you like your melodic rock to be larger than life and well produced (allegedly this cost about a quarter of a million dollars to make), then you’ll love this.

March 2010


MIND FUNK – Mind Funk

Mind Funk were initially a supergroup, of sorts. Except none of the band members were particularly famous. Vocalist Pat Dubar had previously been a member of Uniform Choice; Reed St Mark had drummed with Celtic Frost; Louis Svitek and John Monte had both previously been with thrash/punk outfit M.O.D. and Jason Coppola had previously worked with Chemical Waste.

The music on ‘Mind Funk’ doesn’t really fit in with the musicians’ previous careers. It’s largely made up of punchy hard rock with occasional funk metal influences. The album was released with a lot of hype: the band graced the pages of all the metal magazines and even gave an interview on British television (as part of the classic Raw Power programme). However, none of the press hype translated into album sales.

John Monte’s bass playing is the main driving force behind Mind Funk. His style is energetic and often takes the lead, but never at the expense of what are generally melodic metal songs. For ‘Big House Burning’, Mind Funk demonstrate what they’re best at, as Monte’s funky bass collides with a relentless guitar riff, with a slightly old school style edge. The sheer energy here should have made this track an MTV rock favourite.‘Ride & Drive’ (incidentally the first Mind Funk track I heard, as it was featured on a free cassette with Metal Hammer in May 1991), sounds like a cross between a sleazy 80s band and something a bit funky, though never in a Chili Peppers sense.  Dubar’s vocal isn’t great and musically it feels a little muddled with the only redeeming feature is a scorching guitar solo.

‘Sweet Sister Blue’ provides the album with something gentler. It’s essentially acoustic based rock, but with a quirky time signature.  Although Mind Funk have moments where they sound great playing their hybrid of metal, funk and 80s style hard rock, here they sound far more at ease.  Pat Dubar is in fine voice – occasionally reminiscent of Mike Patton – and the fusion of acoustic and electric guitars provide an excellent backdrop.  The bluesy electric guitar leads are great, but it’s the Spanish guitar solo which provides the real element of surprise and shows imagination.

The rest of the album has its moments: ‘Sugar Ain’t So Sweet’ packs a hard punch with Reed St Mark’s drumming driving the band forward; ‘Blood Runs Red’ and ‘Touch You’ turn up the funky elements and although Monte’s bass is still upfront, ‘Innocent’ has a no-nonsense hard rock approach.  In fact, the only time the album really misfires is on the slower, slightly dirgy ‘Fire’, where the band sound fine but there’s no real energy.

Following the release of the album, Mind Funk were dropped by Epic Records.Reed St Mark and Jason Coppola left the band.Ex-Nirvana and Soundgarden man Jason Everman became their full-time guitarist.They released a second album (‘Dropped’) which eschewed the main elements which made the debut enjoyable and, as such, was little more than a grungy piece of boredom.  A third release, ‘The People Who Fell From The Sky’, was different again: With only Dubar and Svitek remaining from the original line-up (Everman too had since upped and gone), they became a Kyuss style stoner rock band. While more enjoyable than ‘Dropped’, the album had little in common with the original Mind Funk.  After their split, Pat Dubar became a core member of Corporate Avenger and Louis Svitek worked on and off as Minstry’s live guitarist (as he had previously, between Mind Funk projects).

Since Mind Funk’s first album had received such great press, I’m still not sure why their future wasn’t wide open.  Their relative failure was possibly due to their brand of funk-tinged hard rock coming along a little too late, hence their desperately changing styles to fit in with more popular sub-genres over their next two releases.  It doesn’t really matter though: just listen to ‘Big House Burning’ and take yourselves back in time.

[Mind Funk’s debut album was reissued in January 2010 by Cherry Red Records with three bonus tracks.]

February 2010

MANOWAR – The Triumph of Steel

Sometime around 2001, I found a website which claimed to be “the future of heavy metal”.  In the twenty-first century, the very notion of calling metal ‘heavy’ metal was at complete odds with any kind of “future”. The website also had a logo which dripped blood. After I stopped laughing, I realised that these guys weren’t being ironic. They were still partying like it was 1982 and incapable of forward thinking. They probably loved this album by Manowar and were probably even naive enough to take it completely seriously.

As tight as they are musically, there’s no way Manowar aren’t playing their audience, with tongues firmly in-cheek.  ‘The Triumph of Steel’ – their sixth studio album – was released in 1992, in the middle of a very exciting time for alternative rock and metal. With that, they were outsiders – even more so than usual. With Soundgarden and Pearl Jam appearing regularly in Kerrang!, it was hardly likely Joey DeMaio and his gang were ever likely to be cover stars, with their battle songs and grimacing rock faces.

The album was released over a decade into the band’s career, so surely by then, their testosterone driven, Thor-hammered schtick should’ve worn a little thin?

They’ve thought of that.

In a move far braver than most weaklings would even consider, the album opens with a 28 minute epic ‘Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy In Eight Parts’. It takes their fascination with mythology and gods to whole new levels of pompousness. Over the course of nearly half an hour, Manowar churn out lyrics inspired by Homer’s ‘Iliad’, where the best bits are coupled with monster-sized guitar riffs, but there’s a lot of padding.  At worst, there are bits which sound like horrible musical theatre (think Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of “Sparticus”, but even worse) and surely the four-and-a-half minute drum solo could’ve been edited out? Overall, while Manowar deserve points for pushing their brand of battle metal to new extremes, at almost half an hour, it was bound to fall on its arse somewhere.  Realistically, the best parts of ‘Achilles’ could have created a career-defining, brilliant ten-minuter.

The second half of the album returns to more tried and tested formulas, with Manowar tackling standard length tunes.  ‘Metal Warriors’ begins with the claim that ‘Every one of us has heard the call / Brothers of True Metal, proud and standing tall’. I’m still laughing inside, whenever I think about it. Musically though, it pays homage to everything that’s decent about old-school metal, so despite being ridiculous in the extreme, that’s just enough to make it stand up.  ‘Ride The Dragon’ ploughs ahead, 80s metal style, with double bass drumming (courtesy of Kenny Earl “Rhino” Edwards…not to be confused with Status Quo man, Rhino Edwards) and some flat-out hysterical lyrics: ‘Demon’s blood and dragon fire, falling on my wings / Racing to the battle in the sky / Ancient gods are calling me, I hear them when they sing / Of all the heroes who wait for me to die / Beneath the cloak of magic, I’ll meet them in the air / I am invisible, I move without a sound / They look but cannot find me, they think that I’m not there / With a spell I send them crashing to the ground’… Death to false metal, indeed!

Both ‘The Demon’s Whip’ and ‘Cherokee Horse of the Spirits’ are stomping, slower numbers – the former, rather worryingly, seems to have been recorded without any bass (maybe Joey DeMaio was off having an Ægirian sized piss) – but on the plus side, finds space enough for a belting guitar solo. By this point, though, things are in danger of flagging, with most of the material feeling like an afterthought to fill the second half of the disc.

Most of you will be approaching this album knowingly. Despite a reasonable amount of musical prowess, Manowar remain big, brash and dumb. But then, since Manowar once featured Ross “The Boss” Friedman of Detroit garage punks The Dictators, they’re almost certainly having good-natured fun at the expense of eighties style metal.

Just don’t tell those guys at that website.

January 2010