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"Dirty Livin' was the first track to really impress me for it was the most on target musically and vocally - nice work from the Coal Bin Bros."
- Ken Pierce for PiercingMetal.com
Read the entire review HERE
"Let's face it - the Coal Bin Bros. just probably drunkenly jam a lot better than most."
- Matt Walters, CEO, Spade Kitty Records
Coal Bin Bros. – Funeral Album – 4.5 stars out of 5
Matt Walters, Spade Kitty Records www.spadekitty.com
When I first heard from Nately V. that the infectious Coal Bin Bros. were embarking on a concept piece for their second album, I'll admit that I had no clue how they could pull it off. Many, many questions immediately sprang to mind. Funeral Album? Who wants to hear an entire album about death? How many songs about cemeteries could they possibly write? How the hell would their wit and mirth be able to wade through such a dark concept? Would my laundry get done in time for dinner?
Well, I'm happy to report that all questions have been answered. The laundry was indeed finished, and PERHAPS more importantly, my initial trepidation has been totally assuaged. The Coal Bin Bros. have absolutely succeeded in doing the only thing they could've done on the heels of their fantastic debut...they have made an overblown, absurd concept album exactly as overblown and absurd as it needed to be, while retaining the charm and wit of the predecessor but discarding the seriousness that weighs down most concept albums.
After the remarkable Barred for Life, it was honestly difficult to imagine where the Bros. could go for their follow-up. Some artists paint themselves into a corner stylistically, to a degree that they find it ultimately difficult to escape the nomenclature and trappings of whatever genre they're packaged into. Conversely, the Bros. had actually painted themselves into a f***ing gigantic field the size of music itself. They had touched all bases thematically, musically, lyrically and comedically on Barred for Life, and unlike a lot of others, the incredible sprawl of the album was actually ameliorated by its ambitious eclecticism. Thankfully, both of these tendencies were each kept in check by the intensely personal charm of their home recordings. And despite its immense scope, Barred for Life managed to sound like it was three friends jamming in your living room as the party wound down. All of us have been there, seven beers too many in, and usually wanting for better music than our drunk pals can summon but I can certainly assure you few of us have been as entertained by the songs on Barred for Life. Let's face it - the Coal Bin Bros. just probably drunkenly jam a lot better than most.
Nonetheless, I digress - after all, the ostensible topic of this essay is the Funeral Album, the sophomore jinx, not freshman folly, of the Coal Bin Bros.. Although the record is actually aided and abetted by more co-writing henchmen than ever - a former member here, a brother of that former member there, an uncle here, a former bandmate there, a cousin of a son-in-law's mother here, a spiderish dude there - it still manages to retain a thematic cohesion, consistency in sound quality and a self-similar tone that was often wanted for on the debut. Most importantly, the three have written interlocking pieces thematically, and occasionally it seems as those former themes are reinforced musically by later songs, at least in typically perverted CBB fashion. The Bros. have actually gotten better at their conjuring - and while there's easily as many instruments as the last album, including all the flutes, acoustic guitars, melodicas, vibraphones, tympanis, contra bassoons and synclaviers that one can expect from a Coal Bin Bros. release (ok, I made a couple of those up), everything sounds snapped into place whereas on Barred for Life the sound occasionally became overtly convoluted. More than anything, it's immediately apparent that there's not only much more space on this album, but it just flat out rocks harder in a lot of spots and has much sharper edges to it, overall.
The Funeral Album, although it is appropriately titled, is not just about death. It's about death, religion and life altogether. And although the tales told lyrically have just as much sarcasm, cunning and wit as before, there's very little pessimism and cynicism I can detect underneath the surface, which is, perhaps, reinforcing the most important aspect of this group. At several points during both albums, the band makes a conscious choice to stay above the fray and always pokes fun rather than digs and cuts. After all, death can be funny, and although there is loss, we learn about life through death, we learn about life and death through religion, and we learn about death and religion in life. These are inherently interwoven aspects of a triangle rife with material for the twisted minds of our three heroes.
One of the most immediate improvements is that the voices have been pushed forward, and the lyrics and vocals are allowed to appropriately take center stage. Nately's lead vocal aerobics, even at their most exacerbated, occasionally will even stylistically (if not quite technically) mimic the vitriolic delivery of Freddie Mercury, but his cuts are more playful and always with a smile rather than a sneer. In contrast, the vocals of JayZeeZee Zippy are plaintive but effective and melodic, and on his leads in songs such as "I'll Be Your Sun" he offers a fitting contrast to Nately's theatrics. Moreover, the blending of their two voices in several songs is as mellifluous as we dare describe, even when Lowenbrau "Holier-than-thou" Matty-O is very occasionally allowed out of his cage vocally. And all your favorite references are here, from the Dirty Livin' of Peter Criss to an offhanded wink to The Beatles. Thankfully the Bros. not only wear their influences on their sleeve....they tend to know exactly what their audience is listening to and laugh with them as the references are dropped.
In terms of the instrumentation, the acoustic guitar shines as the album's centerpiece, a rustic, bright treble to chart the dark waters of the thematic course. It's remarkable how cunning that choice actually was, and emphasizes all that the group again understands about contrast, because it offsets the din of the minors keys and other instruments just enough to keep things melodically very steady. As mentioned previously, it's important to know that while there are just as many instruments as before, the group does dial back the number of instruments per song and uses space and timing much more effectively than their debut.
In terms of the songs themselves, one of the most surprising aspects kicks you in the teeth immediately - the inclusion of an obscure John Entwistle song as a cover version, stunningly sequenced into the leadoff position of the album. It's a risky move - putting a cover not only high up in the sequence but actually leading off this album. However, the group owns the song, and actually makes it sound like one of their own concoctions. Amazingly, the Bros. managed to find the perfect song written by someone else to weave into their piece thematically, and simultaneously pay homage to long underrated songwriting of the bassist. "Ted End" is a choice track extracted from his oft overlooked debut solo LP, originally issued in 1971 to rave reviews but very little commercial fanfare.
Immediately following is the pop sing-a-long of "Say One Thing (Do Another)", and actually opens with the same chord the previous song lands on, which is another pleasant surprise in that the album was very obviously consciously sequenced. As previously mentioned, the themes seem musically reinforced throughout the album, not only lyrically and in terms of overall tone, but also in terms of short melodies that seem to reappear in subsequent songs. This could be that the Bros. are just getting better at being themselves, but there's something just beneath the surface that tells me it's not subconscious. No, this is a calculated move, and once again, a bold and unexpected step forward for a band that had hard shoes to fill after their sensational first album.
Another song worth highlighting is the album centerpiece “Live It Up” which has exactly as many trappings as the longest song on any concept album should have - a preposterous climax and overarching and absurd thematic overtures. I mean this in the best possible way; the song rocks hard and definitely is a fitting hallmark of the entire album. The Bros. reach for it all in this one - and they may just have the whole world in their hands, if not all too briefly.
As I'm typing this, word has come down that our friends are in the process of working on yet another release, entitled Full Contact BINGO. One wonders what the Coal Bin Bros. could possibly have in the works this time. I almost don't want to know - anything this band sets its mind to seems possible, although we can be sure that these three will deliver. One thing is for sure - I'll definitely be listening.
CEO, Spade Kitty Records
March 15, 2008
"...Barred For Life is a tour de force of exuberant eclecticism that doesn't take its self too seriously for its own damn good."
- Matt Walters, CEO, Spade Kitty Records
Coal Bin Bros. – Barred For Life – 4 stars out of 5
Matt Walters, CEO, Spade Kitty Records www.spadekitty.com
Whenever I receive an unsolicited demo in the mail, I have to admit I’m always wary of what’s inside.
I started running Chicago power pop label Spade Kitty Records about 12 years ago, and it was about 7 years before I ever even received anything unsolicited. The very first unsolicited request I was sent ended up being the foundation of an album I ultimately released, so one would think that this would be a great harbinger for future mail. Sadly, it was not the case…
Nonetheless, it was still fun to be allegedly wanted and perhaps even loved. I would get a disc every so often, and it reminded me that at least SOMEONE was paying enough attention to my modest little corner of the internet. Most of the time it was clear that I was getting a form letter, and that I was one of a cast of thousands that had been mailed, but hey, I could pretend that I was the only one. I would listen to each one intently and respond in kind, usually that I had no means for releasing their music.
Nowadays, I get one of these about every two weeks, and I have to say that the initial charm has really worn off. Sometimes, it’s thinly veiled white-power metal. Other times, it’s a wispily recorded Americana concept album. In most cases, I must admit that the quality does in fact suck, and that the execution is mediocre at best. There’s just no better way to put it, and often times some of these bands follow up, and then it’s my task to deliver the honest truth to them…which brings me back to why I’m wary in the first place. Who wants to tell some aspiring band that they don’t in fact have what it takes to be on marginally obscure record label? Not I, my friends….not I.
Now, let me make something clear before we go any further: I am a die-hard fan of the 70s hard rock juggernaut KISS. Yes my friends, I have donned the greasepaint on at least three Halloweens. I have no less than 30 titles in my CD collection with the name KISS somewhere emblazoned on it, lightening bolts and all. I’m probably more familiar with the real names of the four original members of this group than I am the Christian names of most of my extended family.
Why is this relevant, you ask?
Well, I met Coal Bin Bros. co-bandleader Nately through a music forum dedicated to discussing said hard rock band KISS. As soon as he discovered that I ran my own label, he jumped at the opportunity to ask to send me his band’s debut. To this point, Nately and I had enjoyed a friendly relationship on this forum, often finding ourselves on the same rampart defending musical icon Peter Criss when his integrity or musicianship was brought into question. Both of us often wondered together how anyone could assail the man who had delivered us such lyrical feats as rhyming “school again” with “hooligan” in that trademark rasp, but I digress. The point is that we’re both KISS fans, and quite proud of it.
As soon as he fired the demo off, a laundry list of things ran through my head, and my prejudices admittedly got the best of me. Will this be some half-hearted King Diamond remake with an ethereal name? Could it be an homage to the unsung Crazy Nights era, featuring hairy chests and even hairier hair-sprayed hair? Or could this submission be along the lines of some of the most hideous production missteps that our heroes made during its soul-searching 1978-1981 period….a questionably bad power bubblegum collection, a marginal disco foray or a bad would-be Genesis album?
After much reflection, I came to a most interesting conclusion: because this dude was a KISS fan, this disc could contain literally any number of influences presented in any number of different arrangements. I was stumped.
The big day came, and the album finally arrived….Coal Bin Bros. self-recorded debut Barred for Life. Upon opening the package, I was amazed to find a disc that was not packaged to look like any bad metal preconception that I had wondered at. There were no dark purple skies, black imagery or gothic fonts anywhere. In fact, here was a rather colorful package, complete with humorously complex diagrams of who played what and members assigned to a particular color. And the most important feature of the artwork? A quaint photograph of three obviously good friends enjoying a beer together, two in snazzy leisure suits and one in bartender garb cleaning a glass in a self-effacingly serious manner. Everyone looked to be having a grand time, even though the whole thing was obviously a knee-slapping ruse.
For about two weeks prior to listening to this album, I studied the cover and artwork of the album wondering what the music inside contained. No, I'm not someone who does this as some sort of strange obsessive ritual - my main CD player was actually on the fritz for a while and I had to wait to hear the tracks inside. To tell you the truth, I really couldn't tell from appearances, but I decided that no matter what, the cover indicated the most important thing possible - that the members of the band had a ton of fun making this record.
And as it turned out, the fun I supposed that the members had in making this album spills over into the songs in a totally infectious way. I was floored upon hearing the first few tracks on my initial listen – it became clear that Barred For Life is a tour de force of exuberant eclecticism that doesn't take its self too seriously for its own damn good. The music is chiefly acoustic- and piano-driven joke-laden song-stories that emerge from the speakers with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The ditties have just enough great melodies and songwriting to allow each of the tracks to really shine through the quirks of the homemade production, which actually ends up being quite charming, all things considered. No, it's not the best production job, but that's not the point. It’s well-mixed despite it’s lo-fi nature, and even though it’s not mastered this is a professional-enough recording to merit wide release.
Most importantly, there's enough falsettos and bass vocal fills on this record to make you smilingly reach for a bong at all the right times, if you don’t already have a empty shot glass in your hand.
The Coal Bin Bros., Nately (vocals, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, kazoo and keys), Zippy (vocals, whistle, kazoo, xylophone, marimba, keys, violin) and Matty-O (guitar, bass, drums, percussion, vocals), illustrate a wealth of diverse influences that conjure such bands as NRBQ, the Butthole Surfers, Frank Zappa, Tenacious D, They Might Be Giants, and yes, occasionally even KISS. That a band could combine such influences in one release is quite remarkable, and to combine them into an entirely unique, distinctive and mellifluous blend is utterly extraordinary. The Coal Bin Bros. have emerged with a debut album that is not only a cohesive set of songs, but a witty, hallmark sound that will come to define them for subsequent albums.
The most fascinating aspect of Barred for Life is the meticulous arrangement that went into it. No less than 15 instruments are played on the album by these three, and while the technical prowess isn’t virtuoso, it is certainly very good. The Bros. thankfully don’t seemingly fall into the trap of playing an overly complex part on an instrument just for the sake of making it appear on an album. The violin, mandolin, and xylophone are as well-executed and well-conceived as the guitar, bass and piano. Even the more peripheral nuances, such as the bells and whistles (no pun intended) are fitting, welcome accents whenever they are included. The harmonies are well-placed and spot-on even if the voices that sing them aren’t perfect. Again, with music that’s this much fun I sincerely doubt anyone could find fault in the looseness of the execution, which shouldn’t be stifled by a strict sense of musicianship.
If there was one criticism I have of this album, it’s that occasionally the eclecticism became a little too convoluted for its own good and that it could have done with a little more space on some of the tracks. However, it is very rare that the members of the band weren’t judicious in mixing, such that almost every instrument is very clearly audible. Melodies aren’t being lost left and right in a backfired homage to Specter’s wall of sound.
And the bottom line with this album is that were I predisposed to releasing albums the way I used to, by pressing them into compact discs and distributing them through my usual channels, I would have happily requested the right to release this album, especially if this band were a local Chicago act that I could more easily promote. Unfortunately, the current climate of the music industry and the unwillingness of the public to purchase music, combined with a glut of bands competing for the same airspace have made labels like mine nearly obsolete. Again, I digress.
The point is that Barred for Life is a fantastic debut, and it’s a truly unique, eclectic, fun album that I couldn’t stop listening to from the moment it first spun on my CD player. This is what music is supposed to be about, and I must say that the Coal Bin Bros. have hit all the right notes as well - as all the right funny bones - in this foray.
One hopes that the next effort on the docket, their Funeral Album, only continues to impress in the same fashion. Godspeed, boys.
CEO, Spade Kitty Records
May 1st, 2008
Coal Bin Bros. – Barred For Life – 4 stars out of 5
Barred For Life is 40 years behind the times yet progressive enough to be hip.
Wow ! While listening to Coal Bin Bros.' "Barred For Life" CD, I think I experienced a flash back even though I was way too young to drop acid in the late 60s. If this had been an LP without a copyright date, had tamer lyrics and I had purchased it at a local store that still sells LPs, [ yes, those still exist ] I would SWEAR I would be listening to music straight from the late 60s/early 70s. Is that a good thing? To me it is - brings back good memories of my childhood.
It's a VERY creative, folksy sound straight from the Smothers Brothers show, esp. from their own band/variety show skits in between their own performances,and also reminiscent of their musical guests' songs. Coal Bin Bros.' sound would've been perfect for Laugh-In, The Monkees, Banana Splits... also think The King Singers with attitude combined with that sound and you kind of get the picture. The satirical, comical and sometimes political lyrics also remind me of 60s folk music. The somewhat "salty" lyrics though is a reminder of the uncensored times we live in today.
Musically, these multi-talented men sound as expert and flawless as any pro on ALL of the multi-instruments they all play. The sheer variety of instruments, played so well, adds to the flavor of the songs and therefore also adds enjoyment of them; their voices too of course - the harmonies are perfectly blended. Their obvious camaraderie of the band carries over the sound waves and lifts the listeners' spirits. It's impossible to listen to the entire CD without smiling or even laughing more than a few times. A very enjoyable CD indeed - one I highly recommend. Coal Bin Bros. have a Very bright future !
Why didn't I give it 5 stars though ? I'm an ex-Democrat, but have leaned farther to the Right [ Republican ] over the years since the mid 80s, and esp. after 911 - I enjoy and agree with Bill O'Reilly/Fox News programs in genral..etc., but also keep a keen ear open to what the Liberals are saying. Closed minded Conservatives [ unlike myself ] will probably not like some of the CD's songs and unfortunately shun the other songs, but Liberals, esp. Liberal college students, will absolutely go nuts over "Barred For Life". Just my 2 cents that if politics/anti war sentiments were taken out of the lyrics, it would not ostracize any group(s) of people and would reach a much wider audience. All in all, a job WELL done...BRAVO !!!
Excerpts of Reviews of The Coal Bin Bros. on KISS Tribute Albums
Read the whole review here: http://www.musicfromthefaq.info/reviews.php
...One of the most fun songs is the Coal Bin Bros. entry ‘Dirty Sugar’, which melds two Criss songs (Dirty Livin’ & That’s The Kinda Sugar Papa Likes) into one awesomely funky mix, complete with an opening twin kazoo attack (I kid you not!), bells, glockenspiel and some funked up rock and roll guitar. This really is an odd, but inspiring entry. Sounds like there was some serious, yet tongue in cheek, KISS lovin’ going on during the recording of this one.
...After all, how many compilations do you know of that have a twin kazoo attack, huh?
Right on...totally looking forward to hearing out how you put your track together. It's definitely one of the high points on Vol. II. I mean this with the sincerest compliments...I didn't know whether to be scared or laugh after hearing it!
Welcome to the Circus performed by Coal Bin Bros.
The typical sort of insanity that I would expect from these lunatics. A perfect song choice for this eclectic band.
Quite an original choice there. You stayed very true to the original vibe (althought I have a very vivid memory of the song), and the track has been done very "neatly" Mr Nately. Very good vocals
-Loveguns (No last name given)
Covering Sean Delaney's "Welcome to the circus" is just the F-IN' SH*T, THE COOLEST THING IN AGES!!!!!!! Sounds great, too!! If a dead man can smile, I'm sure the great SD is grinning satisfied & amused from ear to ear. CHEERS, GUYS!
Will listen to the rest now...
jeeeesus! kick my ass! not visiting has cost me somewhat I see! I had no idea this project was going on... might have had a go myself (a band I was in when I was about 13 did a really bad version of She!)...
Firstly a belated "alwiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight peepuh!" to all involved. I think biggest marks go to Snr Shaller for that utterly inspired medley and goddamnit if Necrnomicons version of Tomorrow dosent show Tomorrow for the neat little gem it is!
Full marks for the comb and paper on Dirty Sugar and big thumbs up to Ypke for the harmonies on Rock Hard - sounds great!
All in all tons of fun - not surprised its been posted on Pauls site, its a great tribute.... on the ther hand Gene would likely have sued LOL
Whens Vol III due?