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Vista Blue – Stealing Signs

You see the cover art and the title. You see the name of the band. I know what you’re thinking: Vista Blue released a baseball song for opening day again? Well guess what — Mike threw that speedball by you! You were expecting something about the Houston Astros maybe, but you got…a love song! Isn’t that what you wanted in the first place? “Stealing Signs” is the title cut from Vista Blue’s new EP — which Mike and Mark recorded in Nashville this past winter. It’s a vintage Vista Blue blast of power pop influenced pop-punk (or maybe vice versa). The melodies are memorable, the harmonies are on-point, and the baseball metaphor is a brilliant touch. And I always love a pop group that appreciates the value of a nicely executed fadeout ending. Vista Blue knocked this one out of the park! The rest of the EP is a nice hodgepodge of new songs, cover tunes, and previously released songs. “She’s Not the One For You”, which first appeared on the Ramonescore Radio Records Rock Against Cancer compilation, is some buzzing pop-punk to get your toes tapping. You could probably make an argument that this song is the “hit” of the EP, although I’m still partial to “Stealing Signs”. I will ask Nick Spoon for a ruling. “Bryan Funck Ripped Us Off” is a new version of an old Robinsons song. “Saturday Night” was recorded for a Mutant Pop Records tribute album coming soon on Ramonescore Radio Records. I love the cover choice, and I love the version (early Wanna-Bes had to have been an influence on Mike’s songwriting). The original number “I Miss You” is 83 seconds of perfect pop-punk. As everyone east or west of the Rockies knows, “Safari” was originally done by Parasite Diet on its 2017 album Coast To Coast

It never really feels like Major League Baseball opening day if it’s not accompanied by a new EP from Vista Blue. And while there are technically no songs about baseball on Stealing Signs, it still feels good to have this EP on repeat today as I enter the realm of despair, disappointment, and dashed hopes that is another Philadelphia Phillies season. I always feel like I’m being unfaithful to pop-punk Vista Blue when I so heavily praise the band’s more power pop leaning releases. Well on this release, the band is definitely flexing its pop-punk chops — and I love it!

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Vista Blue – “Nobody Told Me It Was Christmas”

Every year I make my most conscious effort to not over-do my Christmas related posts out of consideration for those of you who aren’t into Christmas music (or into Christmas at all). I figure 1 or 2 reviews is alright, and 3 is pushing it. I already hit my quota before Thanksgiving, but the arrival of a new Christmas single from Vista Blue was a total game-changer. I will never pass up the chance to write about Vista Blue. Plus I owe this to Mike since I jinxed LSU’s football season. Quotas be damned! Heck, I just might turn this blog into an international hub for holiday-themed music. You know Groundhog Day is right around the corner! “Nobody Told Me It Was Christmas” is a really neat Christmas song. Written by Rusty Spell, this is not your usual overtly cheerful salute to the season. Depending on how you interpret it, this song could be construed as either funny/ironic or slightly sad. It’s hard to really tell since Mike always sings with such complete sincerity. In typical Vista Blue fashion, this song features memorable lyrics (good job, Rusty!) and melodies that will get in your head before you even know what hit you. The B-side, “I Don’t Wanna Go Anywhere This Christmas”, just might be the definitive Christmas song of 2020. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking that Vista Blue are getting Scroogey on us. This song is very much in the spirit of the season – but with an emphasis on celebrating at home with our loved ones. Ditching the office Christmas party so you can watch Home Alone with your sweetheart is an absolute no-brainer! I especially like the line about extending this practice all the way through New Year’s. I believe I’ve found my personal anthem! This single is a free download from Bandcamp. And if you just still get enough Christmas from Vista Blue, check out the band’s new Christmas collection on Spotify!

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Ralphie’s Red Ryders – You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!

I realize that I may be courting controversy by writing about a Christmas album on the first day of November. To that point, I will say two things. Firstly, we probably deserve a lengthened holiday season in a year as wretched as this one. Secondly, Ralphie’s Red Ryders are not so much a Christmas-themed band as they are a Christmas Story themed band. And A Christmas Story transcends the season in which it is set. A Christmas Story is one of our greatest American films inspired by the writings of one of our greatest American humorists. You may perceive it as the tale of one boy’s yearning for the most awesome Christmas present ever. I prefer to think of it as a story about learning profanity from your father, confronting bullies, honoring triple dog dares, pondering the relative toxicity of Lifebuoy soap, suffering the consequences of not securing your home against the neighbor’s hounds, triumphing over faulty home appliances, and realizing to your bitter disappointment that advertising is everywhere in American society. Exploring a few of the above themes as well as many others from A Christmas Story, You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out! is the 12-song debut album from Ralphie’s Red Ryders – the Hohman, Indiana pop-punk trio that sounds suspiciously and uncannily like F & L favorites Vista Blue. For those of you who choose to keep your Thanksgiving season pure, it does not release digitally until Black Friday. But this OUTLOUD!/Radiant Radish Records split release is available starting today on compact disc. 

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out! brings that signature Vista Blue sound that never leaves me disappointed. It’s buzzing pop-punk with sprinkles of power pop & the Beach Boys. Songs range from the band’s punkiest ever (“Hey Scut, You Suck”, which suitably channels Wimpy era Queers) to one of its poppiest (the sublime “I’m Gonna Get An A+ On My Theme”). Topics cover everything from decoder rings to being overdressed for the cold weather to shopping at Higbee’s to major awards to those darn Bumpus hounds to (of course!) Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifles. For those of you outside of the United States who might have no idea what I’m talking about, this is still as good of an album as Vista Blue has ever made. If you are familiar with the movie, you probably don’t need to be told what the epic closing track “Electric Sex” is about. Suffice it to say that the song is everything I thought it would be and more. It’s… it’s… it’s indescribably beautiful!

When I first discovered that Ralphie’s Red Ryders were recording a full album of songs about A Christmas Story, I knew they were facing a tall order. You could easily write a triple album of Christmas Story themed songs and not run out of quality ideas. It’s probably not possible to make a record like this without infuriating a few diehards because favorite characters or scenes of theirs were left out. But as far as I’m concerned, any unexplored song topics are simply opportunities for Ralphie’s Red Ryders to record again someday. All the absolutely mandatory topics are covered here, and the band’s attention to minutiae (“They Traded Bullfrog”, “I Got A Zeppelin”) is truly commendable. In true Vista Blue Ralphie’s Red Ryders fashion, the lyrics will make you laugh and have you feeling nice and warm on the inside. Neither fans of A Christmas Story nor fans of the band will have any reason to be disappointed. 

If it goes against your deeply held principles to acknowledge anything Christmas related between now and Thanksgiving, check back on the 27th when the digital release of You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out! goes live. Otherwise, put your CD order in now and get a download code right away. And while you’re at it, be sure to check out the new season of Snow In Southtown – the Christmas movie and music obsessed podcast featuring Mike from Vista Blue and his pal Rusty! I don’t know how I went from refusing to turn on the heat to opening my arms to Christmas cheer in a matter of days. Was it Ralphie’s Red Ryders or was it those movies on Lifetime and Hallmark? I don’t know, but clearly I have passed the point of no return! 

 

L.R.

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