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The Dictators – “Let’s Get the Band Back Together”

How great it is to live in a world in which The Dictators again exist! Having already released the anthem “God Damn New York” back in January, the recently reformed Dictators have returned with another new single that will delight longtime fans along with anyone else who truly “gets” rock and roll. Some of you may recall that Andy Shernoff released “Let’s Get the Band Back Together” as a solo track back in 2012. Well, the song has been properly “Dictatorized” for re-release in 2021! One listen to this song will confirm that The Dictators are in vintage form — rocking as hard as ever and refusing as always to to take themselves seriously. It’s seems corny to call it a “comeback”, so let’s just say that this has been a triumphant return! And would you expect anything less from a band that made one its best albums nearly three decades into its existence? 

It has been a good news/bad news situation with The Dictators lately. While it’s exciting that Andy Shernoff, Ross the Boss, and Scott Kempner (along with old pal Albert Bouchard) rebooted one of the greatest bands of all-time, Kempner is sadly leaving the group due to health reasons. He was a driving force behind the band’s reunion, and to call him a legendary figure in rock and roll is no understatement. While he won’t be on stage when the band returns to live shows, he will forever be a Dictator. 

2021 could end today, and we’d have to call it a good year since it gave us two great Dictators singles! Can we expect more? Stay tuned!

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Goin’ Places – Save The World

Continuing its established pattern of releasing an album every decade, beloved Staten Island pop-punk trio Goin’ Places is back with the wonderful Save The World. Out on Mom’s Basement Records, Save The World is the band’s first album in nine years and just its third album overall. It’s hard to believe that Goin’ Places has now been a band for 20 years. But the numbers sure don’t lie! It’s a tricky proposition for a pop-punk band to “grow up”. One hand, you know you can’t go on forever strictly writing songs about the teenage experience. On the other hand, you risk losing the entire appeal of the band if you “mature” too much. Goin’ Places have navigated this transition brilliantly. 

Save The World is an album guaranteed to satisfy longtime fans. As always, Richie, Victor, and Frank stick close to the Green Day/Queers/MTX playbook with deeper roots in the harmony and melody driven rock and roll of the 1960s. They’ve made a pop-punk record for people who love pop-punk — and you would not expect anything different from Goin’ Places. But that doesn’t mean that Save The World is a total copy of its two predecessors. Lyrically, it’s far more serious and thoughtful than previous albums. This is a record full of songs about getting older, confronting disappointment and failure, reflecting on the past, and figuring out what lies ahead. Some of the album’s finest tracks (“4:04”, “Live Those Times”, “Message In A Dream”) reflect that the band members are in a far different place in life than they were when they made Girl Songwriting 101. Yet even with all of that deeper thinking involved, the songs remain steeped in the trio’s old standbys: catchy melodies, tight harmonies, and Richie and Victor’s likable tag team vocals. Fear not, though: Goin’ Places may have gotten more serious, but they still aren’t taking themselves too seriously. On “This Song Is Not About A Girl”, they have a great time poking fun at themselves and almost every other pop-punk band out there. Meanwhile, “Listen To My Love Song” and “Across The Room” actually are about girls and are absolutely great! Elsewhere the band isn’t above throwing in a couple of crowd-pleasing numbers (“I’m Gonna Steal Your Girlfriend”, “Cell Phone Girl”) that embrace nearly every teenage pop-punk cliché in the book, much to our collective delight. 

Save the World begins with the premise that there’s too much hate and divineness in our world, and that maybe some fun pop songs could bring people together. That’s a cause I can fully endorse, and Goin’ Places are more than up to the task. Save The World, although it features an older, wiser Goin’ Places, is still tremendous fun and a reminder that sometimes great pop is exactly what we need. While these guys were already qualified to write a college course on girl songwriting a couple decades back, now they’ve clearly graduated to teaching the masters class.

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The Dictators – “God Damn New York”

Yeah, that’s right: we’ve got ourselves a brand new Dictators tune! “God Damn New York”, the first new Dictators song in 20 years, features three-quarters of the band’s original lineup (Andy Shernoff on vocals and bass, Ross the Boss on lead guitar, and Scott Kempner on guitar) along with Albert Bouchard (Blue Öyster Cult, Brain Surgeons) on drums. And as you’d expect after a two decade absence, the mighty Dictators have come roaring back with a bona fide anthem! “God Damn New York” is both a love letter to New York and a lamentation on how corporations and billionaire scum have brought ruin to so much of what once made this beloved city so great. I put this song at the same level as more recent Dictators classics like “Who Will Save Rock ‘N’ Roll?” and “Avenue A”. Andy Shernoff has written another perfect song, which absolutely blasts thanks to mixing by the legendary Ed Stasium. This is one of the greatest bands ever in top form. Hail the mighty Dictators! 

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Goin’ Places – Better Things To Do

As I’ve reflected on why there are some pop-punk bands I love and others that do absolutely nothing for me, I’ve become increasingly aware that my favorite pop-punk bands are usually the ones that infuse the formula with bubblegum and ’50s rock and roll influences. Pop-punk, when it’s done right, is one of our purest forms of rock and roll. So when Staten Island’s Goin’ Places sing about “saving the world with rock n roll”, I’m totally feeling it! Goin’ Places have always been upfront about their love for The Queers, Green Day, Mr. T. Experience, etc. But in terms of songwriting and vocal influence, they take just as much from the Beatles and Buddy Holly. The band’s 2002 album Girl Songwriting 101 is a modern classic of pop-punk. The follow-up Relationship Sneakers arrived a decade later. Later this year, the band will release its third album Save The World. New 7″ Better Things To Do, out now on Mom’s Basement Records, features the title track to the new album along with a pair of exclusive songs. Aside from the fact that none of these songs are about girls, this is a vintage Goin’ Places release. It falls into that bubblegum/rock and roll side of ’90s-style pop-punk, with Richie and Victor trading off on lead vocals. “Save the World” is all about how music can bring people together in a world too often marred by hate and general crappiness. Now that’s a cause I can wholeheartedly endorse! “Better Things To Do” is a tongue-in-cheek number about the frustrations of busting your ass to make music that no one seems to care about. A lot of you will surely relate! “Instru Mental”, as you may have surmised, is an instrumental. You don’t hear a lot of pop-punk instrumentals, but I really like this one! 

I’m stoked for the upcoming release of Save The World. Goin’ Places is my kind of pop-punk band. You know who the primary influences are, but the songs also reflect a deeper appreciation for classic pop traditions going back to the ’50s and ’60s. And you always get the sense that these dudes would be fun to hang out with. When I think about some of my favorite pop-punk bands of recent years (Neon Bone, Jagger Holly, The Putz), I consider Goin’ Places to be one of the forerunners to that whole scene. It’s great to have ’em back!

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Sal Cannestra – Plenty Of Music

After fully embracing his sensitive singer/songwriter side on his proper solo debut Easiest Thing To Do in 2017, Sal Cannestra vowed that “the next one will rock”. And on the Pete Donnelly produced Plenty of Music, this New York indie rock and roll lifer delivers on his promise. Cannestra (Sleeper/Serpico, The Gerunds) was most recently heard fronting The Thirteen, a terrific Philly-based pop/rock and roll outfit that released albums in 2008 and 2013. For this particular release, Cannestra recruited a whole bunch of talented friends. Donnelly, in addition to producing, plays bass and keyboards. Peter Santa Maria (The Thirteen, Jukebox Zeros), Jim Balga (Blockhouses), TJ Quatrone (Hurricane Kate, Sleeper/Serpico), and Jason Victor (Dream Syndicate, Matthew Sweet, Skull Practitioners) are also featured players. Here Cannestra explores a great mix of the musical styles he’s been associated with over the past quarter century plus. He tries everything from power pop to indie/alternative rock to ballads to poppy punk. I would describe this overall as a good, honest rock and roll record. If you liked The Thirteen’s Lift-Off!, you will almost certainly find Plenty of Music to be a logical progression from that album. Songs like “Daisy and Dani”, “The Heart Of It”, and “A Little Dumb, A Little Cruel” are punchy pop songs with smart lyrics and great hooks. With its vivid imagery and memorable refrain, “All This Will Be A Park Someday” just might be Cannestra’s crowning songwriting achievement. Elsewhere, tender love songs (“By Any Other Name”), kick-ass rockers (“Listen Up”), and epic ballads (“Soft Sunrise”) fall perfectly into place. 

Plenty of Music manages to be both a satisfying rock record and a quintessential singer/songwriter effort. Cannestra assembled a dream team of backing players, and this album has got the oomph of full band rock and roll. But the songs themselves leave plenty of space for Cannestra to tell stories, impart wisdom, and reflect on his life. If you’ve never heard of Sal Cannestra before, Plenty Of Music will tell you a lot about who he is. All money he makes from this release will be donated to the Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans

-L.R.

https://salcannestra.bandcamp.com/album/plenty-of-music

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The Essentials “Freedom” on Kandy

The Essentials came from Schagticoke, New York, and cut two singles on their own Kandy label in 1969 and 1970. Members were:

Jason Wheeler – lead guitar
Steve Wheeler – rhythm guitar
Jeff Wheeler – bass guitar
Fred “Squeekey” Stay – drums

Jeff Wheeler recalled to Max Waller:

Our ages were 13, 15, 17 and 17 at the time. We played Friday and Saturday nights and threw in a wedding now and then with the old standards on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Even went to Atlantic City and Raleigh, NC. cuz we won a few Battle Of The Bands – the Tea Berry song contest too (we didn’t win that tho). We made 2 45s in 1968. Never made a million but we sold 1000 records for $1 apiece after spending $500 to do it! It was fun.

The Essentials recorded at Vibra-Sound Studio in Schenectady for both their singles. The first was Kandy 101 from 1969. “Oklahoma Blues” has some falsetto vocals about a minute in, but really gets going after the guitar break, with a funky rhythm and chanting. Fred Stay and Steve Wheeler wrote “Oklahoma Blues”. Steve Wheeler wrote “Baby You Get to Me”, which I haven’t heard yet.

Essentials Kandy 45 FreedomTheir second 45, on Kandy 82042 from 1970, had two originals by Squeeky Stay. “Sunshine Baby” is light pop. I prefer “Freedom”, which starts out with wah-wah guitar over drumming and doesn’t let up for three minutes. It’s a styrene 45 and hard to find in fine shape.

Robert Barry Music published all four songs.

Squeeky Stay and Mark Galeo made another single recorded at Vibra-Sound, “Slippin’ Away” / “Mrs. Jones” on Jinhea 100 that I haven’t heard.

Max Waller added, “in 2002 Jeff resided in Poestenskill, NY; Steve was in New Jersey; Jason was reported to be in Texas; and Squeeky Stay had stayed in Schaghticoke.”

Thank you to Max Waller for help with this article.

Anyone have a photo of the Essentials?

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