Sunday, August 23, 2015

Movie Review - Straight Outta Compton



I won’t mince words with this review. Straight Outta Compton is a masterpiece. The movie is a perfect portrayal of South Central Los Angeles, California, during the late 80s and early 90s. The film does an exceptional job at paining the all too real picture of what life was like at that time in that area of the world. Police harassment, racial tensions, gang violence, and in some small parts, real people just trying to make a life.

The unnecessary police brutality, the hatred for color, the thoughts that every black man was slinging drugs and carrying pistols was brilliantly captured on this film. At one point, I could feel my own hatred of the police force seething inside of me. During one particularly tense scene I wanted to scream out, “They did nothing wrong!” That’s how powerful Straight Outta Compton is. It took me right back to the days of my teenage years as I watched all of the needless violence spin out of control from the safety of my suburbia. I didn’t live in the places that these young men did, but I felt their pain nonetheless. And I chanted along with their music. I sang “Fuck Tha Police” as loud as I could with the same amount of hatred, but I would never know the same struggles.

Yet, Straight Outta Compton reminded me of that time in life. And it put a lot of the pieces of the puzzle together for me. I never understood the real reason why Ice Cube left the band, and furthermore, why he started to hate on his former rap mates. I never understood why Dre and Easy E had a falling out. And I never knew how early the violence of Suge Knight showed itself. Straight Outta Compton answered all of those questions for me and more.

What was really going on behind the scenes? The metal heads on sunset were having parties for the decade and enjoying every moment of the never ending 80s. Apparently, the same was true for the gangsta rap community, only their parties were bigger and better. Watching Straight Outta Compton showed me that the story of N.W.A. was not much different than many of my other heroes growing up, mainly Motley Crue. Straight Outta Compton could be the other side of The Dirt. Both groups had similar ambitions, similar tensions, and similar problems that led to their downfall and ultimate dismantle. Race was the only difference separating these worlds. And unfortunately, N.W.A. had a much harder struggle due to their skin color.

And while I applaud Dr. Dre and Ice Cube for everything that Straight Outta Compton did contain, I was also a little disappointed by what it did not contain. While there is plenty of coverage for “Straight Outta Compton” and “Fuck The Police,” there is none for “A Bitch Is A Bitch” or “One Less Bitch.” The controversy caused by these songs was almost as grand and there isn’t even a whisper about them in the film. There is no talk of Sinead O’Connor’s rant regarding “One Less Bitch.” No mention of Dr. Dre’s beating oof a female reporter. In the interest of portraying themselves as heroes, the producers conveniently left out the darkest times of their career, and that’s a shame.

The real heroes of the film are the actors themselves. Jason Mitchell (Easy-E), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube), and Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) were simply brilliant in the roles. They had the look, the swagger, and the understanding of what this rap group stood for. And their acting sells the film. You feel their pain, and you understand their joy and ecstasy.

No stranger to playing controversial roles as the villain who sees himself the hero, Paul Giammati’s take on manager Jerry Heller is exceptional. This is an Oscar worthy performance very reminiscent of Giammati’s role as Pig Vomit in Howard Stern’s Private Parts.

R. Marcos Taylor is brilliant as a young and hungry Suge Knight. The former Vegas bodyguard turned record company executive, Taylor shows us how angry and violent Knight was at such a young age. Anything would set him off for any reason, and he wasn’t afraid to pistol whip someone for almost no reason at all. The fear that Dr. Dre felt the longer he was around Knight is clear, and Taylor does some of his best work in helping move that fear along.

Dark, violent, and at times downright scary, Straight Outta Compton is the purest movie about gangsta rap that will ever be made. It magnificently captures the real struggles of the time and what life was really like back then. As the film grows, its characters grow as well and Straight Outta Compton reveals everything, leaving no stone unturned. The film is true to what happened and how it happened, even when everyone involved was wrong. Straight Outta Compton, like N.W.A. themselves, offers no apologies for being real and showing the truth. And that is the biggest reason why this movie is flawless and a true masterpiece. If Straight Outta Compton gets snubbed at the Oscars next year, that will be the biggest crime of the band’s career.

Ryo’s Rating: A

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Review - Tuff Luck: A Documentary About A Band That Almost Made It




Some of the greatest bands in the music industry are ones that most people have never heard of. It’s an unfortunate bi-product of the industry. Only so many bands can get the proper level of promotion. Only certain bands have the magical stroke of luck that pushes them out of obscurity and into notoriety. For every Cinderella, Poison, and Motley Crue, there are the Nitro’s, Slyder’s, and Blackeyed Susan’s of the industry. Sadly, some of the most talented musicians in the world wither away in the realms of “never heard of them.” Tuff Luck is one of those bands and theirs may be the saddest story of an unknown band that shouldn’t be.

Growing up as a youth in the 80s, Tuff Luck would have fit right into my wheelhouse had I ever had the chance to hear their music. Their posters would have graced my bedroom walls right next to KISS, Van Halen, and Poison. Tuff Luck was a hard rocking, hair metal band from South Florida tearing up the scene in the mid-to-late 80s. They had the look. They had the talent. They had the local following. What they lacked was the one lucky break that would have turned their entire career around. Seeing such talent not make it is a true shame.

A lot of bands proclaim the talent that their members possess, but from the clips and audio tracks portrayed in this documentary, it’s clearly obvious that Tuff Luck possessed the talent. They had one of the most amazing guitarists in Dave Scott. I would put him up there with Nuno Bettencourt and Slash. He was light years ahead of CC Deville. Todd Kelly was one of the best drummers of his day, and he would have drummed rings around Fred Coury or Carmine Appice. And he would have smoked Tommy Lee. Then there was the very young, insanely talented, James Marino on bass. He played music with the bass guitar that just wasn’t possible. He would have made Kip Winger look like a fool and he definitely would have given Billy Sheehan a run for his money. Rounding out the band was lead vocalist Kenny Monroe, who had the frontman presence of Bruce Dickinson merged with Brian Johnson. He commanded the audience as soon as he set foot onto the stage.

And yet with all of this talent, with all of the buzz and sold out shows in the South Florida area, Tuff Luck is a story about the band that didn’t make it. Hard times, terrible breaks, and poor decisions just haunted them from the beginning. “Tuff Luck” chronicles the story of the band from their humble beginnings, through their rise to local fame, to their almost superstardom blast off, and then finally through their demise. There’s even a glimpse of their lives now. I must admit that by the end of this documentary I was saddened. Tuff Luck is a band that should be headlining the M3 Festival next year, and instead, they are a band that most people are just hearing now, 20 years after their ending. This is a documentary of what could have happened as well as what didn’t happen, and it sheds light on how much luck needs to accompany talent in order to make it big.

At the end of it all, the band members are grateful for the time and fans they had. They have put that part of their lives behind them and moved on to other careers. They were just one of the unfortunate casualties of the late 80s hard rock scene. Tuff Luck should have been a household name, instead they disintegrated in the wasteland of obscurity.

Without a doubt, “Tuff Luck” is the best rock documentary I have ever seen. It details the incredible journey of an exquisite underdog band that almost made it, and highlights their share of tragedy. There is not a finer rock documentary out there and I implore everyone to see this film. You will not only be thoroughly entertained, but you will also be scrambling to EBay, looking to buy that rare copy of a Tuff Luck bootleg. Yeah, the band is that good.

“Tuff Luck” is available on Amazon and ITunes now. Get some! 

You can also watch it on Amazon Instant Video:   

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Fair Play Fair Pay Act Of 2015



You would think as a lover of music both old and new, and as a writer of a blog that obsesses over music, that I would be all in on the Fair Play Fair Pay act. Not exactly true. I will not say that I am not for it, but I will say that my thoughts on the matter are a little different than what most artists are spouting.

If you are asking what the Fair Play Fair Act is, you are not alone. I only became aware of this act recently due to a plethora of emails flooding my in box. Allow me a moment to break down the act in its simplest terms. In April of this year, congress introduced an act that would force terrestrial radio stations to pay artists every time their music is played over the airwaves. Your local AM/FM station would have to pay an amount that is yet to be determined to artists for playing their songs. For stations that make less than $1M in annual revenue, there would be a cap of $500 per year paid out to the artists. Here is a link to a much more detailed information if you are interested: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1733/text 
As you can imagine, almost all musicians are for this act passing in congress. LA Guns recently released this statement:

“L.A. Guns fully supports the Fair Play Fair Pay legislation that is currently under consideration in Congress. As artists, it’s important to have as much control over our music as possible and to be compensated for our work at all times. The current AM/FM loophole takes advantage of not only bands like ourselves with deep music catalogs, but also up-and-coming artists who are just entering the industry. By forcing radio stations to step up, this bill levels the playing field. So let’s get it passed in Washington and support the next generation of rockers!”

Other artists have also come out over the last few weeks in support of this act. And while I am not against the act of paying artists for their music, I do think that a lot of underlying issues are not going to be resolved by this and that ultimately, it could end up hurting some artists more than it helps.

Let’s take a band like LA Guns for example. How many “regular” radio stations do you hear this band on? In the NY/NJ/PA area that I live in, the answer is simple---none. Okay, maybe once a year, I might hear them on our local rock station, WDHA, but even that is a stretch. I can hear them on satellite radio a lot, most notably on “Hair Nation.” And since satellite radio is a pay service, I am totally on board with the artists getting a cut of that money, even if it is only fractions of a penny per play.

However, when it comes to radio play in general  what these artists are forgetting is that this is an outlet helping to promote their art. What happens if the act passes and then radio stations decide to cut certain artists from their playlists because they don’t want to pay royalties for “borderline” songs?

Again, I am not against musicians being paid for the music they create. That’s why I don’t steal songs online. It’s also why I attend a lot of concerts. I whole heartedly believe artists should be paid. But they also need to recognize how radio is helping to promote their art and make fans aware of these bands in the first place. It’s a lot like social media that way.

I get a mass amount of emails on a daily basis asking me to listen to this band or that band and provide a review, or go see their show, or somehow give a mention on The Rock And Roll Guru. Why? Because these artists need promotion! And I do the best I can, and I try to review/mention/tweet as many as possible, because I would love to see them succeed. But acts like the Fair Play Fair Pay act may actually hurt most of these indie bands. Stations may decide to cut them out completely, not wanting to pay royalties for songs that no one knows. They may even change their entire station format. It has happened before.

Artists should consider the entire landscape instead of painting the radio stations as bullies, who have been getting something for nothing for years. I would also like them to recognize that radio stations help promote who they are and raise awareness of their music, instead of just portraying them as greedy corporations.

Multiple messages from both sides of the argument are getting out as more attention is drawn to this act.

“Music artists, especially in our society, are chronically under compensated for their huge contribution to our culture, except for the fraction of one percent at the top,” said William Hochberg, Partner at Greenberg Glusker, who handles creative legal matters and writes on legal entertainment topics for The Atlantic and WIRED.

The National Association of Broadcasters has fired back at this legislation.

“We think it would be potentially devastating to the economies of a lot of local radio, kill jobs and actually hurt artists in the long run because if you have fewer financial resources, you have less ability to expose new artists,” said Dennis Wharton, NAB’s executive vice president for communications.

And this is exactly what I am concerned about. That there will be less avenues to expose new artists. If radio stations are paying out royalties, they are held to even higher standards of revenue and profit. Program Directors may decide to go with a safe format, playing cookie cutter songs that everyone has heard thousands of times. It could seriously hurt many indie artists.

And then there is this to consider---the hypocritical nature of some of these bands. Certain well known artists have come out and applauded this act demanding fair pay for their songs being played on the radio. Other artists have complained in the past about the royalty rates they currently receive and how their song(s) would have to be played over 25,000 times just to make the same as the sale of one album.

Yet, these same artists have no problem charging $40 for a T-shirt with their name on it (which is essentially free advertising for the band anyway) and high prices to see them in concert (yes, I found a way to tie ticket prices in). Yet, when they are called out on this, they claim “That’s the going rate for a T-shirt. Industry standard.” Well, fractions of a penny for songs is the going rate for your music. Industry standard.

It just annoys me when artists complain about compensation from corporations out of the left side of their mouths, and then gouge fans on T-shirts, concert tickets, fan clubs, and other merchandising out of the right side of their mouths. And all of these bands are guilty of it. Even my favorites. Especially my favorite, I’m a KISS fan for crying out loud!

If you want the public to really feel for your cause, then don’t rape them on prices. I truly believe that the high concert/merchandising prices are leading to more music being “stolen” online, although the execs will claim just the opposite. But, if I am only giving you $25 to see your concert, I have no problem paying another $10 - $15 for a CD of your music. But when I pay $85 to see you in concert, I am less inclined to give you any money for your album. How much is enough? And I think that’s what a lot of these artists don’t get, especially the ones who grew up on tons of royalties. The landscape has changed. The industry is not the same as it used to be. There are no more record company execs swooning over your band, taking you out for expensive dinners, and throwing a huge advancement your way. Those days are gone forever. This is the new medium now.

The bottom line is this; musicians and artists do deserve to get paid for their work. But they also need to remember that there are hundreds of thousands of acts just like them out there. Some of the most talented, incredible bands are ones that almost no one has ever heard of. And getting your name out there is all part of publicity. And publicity is a very important piece in the machine of the music industry. If they aren’t careful, artists are going to be told that they have to pay to get their songs on the radio. I wonder how that would go over.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Pop Evil Debuts "Dead In The Water" From Forthcoming Album Up




Pop Evil has released another new song from their forthcoming LP, “Up.” This could be the best song the band has released from the new LP and my excitement for August 21st has just increased ten-fold. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Pop Evil. Their music is just amazing and I have been on board with this band since their debut, Lipstick On The Mirror. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting most of the band in person and I’ve witnessed several of their live performances. Pop Evil never disappoints and I have a feeling that Up is going to be their best release yet.

POP EVIL will release UP on August 21st via eOne Music. Digital pre-orders are available here and physical pre-orders are available via the band's official website.

You can hear the latest single, “Dead In The Water” at Blabbermouth (www.blabbermouth.net) and Pop Matters (www.popmatters.com). 

Nirvana's Self-Titled Compilation Album Getting The Vinyl Treatment



On August 28, 2015, Nirvana’s self-titled, double platinum-selling (United States) / 7x platinum-selling (Worldwide) posthumous collection Nirvana (UMe) makes its debut on 45rpm double LP, pressed on 200-gram heavy weight vinyl and packaged in a furnace black gatefold sleeve with liner notes and a digital download card for 96kHz 24-bit HD audio; as well as a 33rpm single LP 150-gram standard weight vinyl edition which will feature a download card for 320kbps MP4 audio. Nirvana will also be released as a Blu-Ray Pure Audio in high resolution 96kHz 24-bit and is available in three stereo audio formats: PCM, DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD stereo.

Originally released in 2002, Nirvana features the rare and previously unreleased studio version of “You Know You’re Right,” the last song the band ever recorded, available exclusively  on this compilation. Also among the 14 classics on Nirvana: 1991’s breakthrough “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and fellow Nevermind singles “Come As You Are,” and “In Bloom,” In Utero singles “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Pennyroyal Tea,” as well as deep cuts including “About A Girl” from first album Bleach, “Been A Son” from the Blew EP, the non-LP single “Sliver,” and live acoustic versions of “All Apologies” and David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” from the GRAMMY® winning MTV Unplugged In New York.