My review for this week is a couple of days late but I've got a good reason. No, the dog did not eat my homework. I don't even have a dog. I have cats. I used to have a dog but that doesn't matter much now. The reason I'm late is because I changed my mind.
Normally, my first impression of any musical act is usually spot on. I go with my gut and I trust my gut. Then came this little band from Phoenix, Arizona, Calabrese and their new album "Born With A Scorpion's Touch". Touted as "one of the underground's biggest bands you've never heard of", they are a punk rock trio made up of the brothers Calabrese; Bobby on Guitar and Vocals, Davey on drums and Jimmy on bass and vocals. I guess that helps the "name the band" process a little easier.
Calabrese blends so-called horror rock and rockabilly which, apparently is sometimes dubbed "gothabilly". This is the first time I've heard this particular moniker and, frankly, I found the music is lacking in the goth category and the chord progression of rockabilly is what most early punk bands were about so it is unnecessary to add the "-abilly". I will not be using the phrase "gothabilly" ever. For me, "gothabilly" is a signal that the fracturing of bands into ridiculously specific sub-genres has finally gone too far.
Calabrese lists their various influences as The Misfits, Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Samhain, The Damned, Danzig, and Ramones. You may notice, as I did, that three of their influences are, in fact, Glenn Danzig. As a fan of all things Danzig I was excited to hear how Calabrese used the influence to create their own unique sound. My first thought upon listening to the album was, "wow, these guys really like Danzig".
The similarities to Danzig are all too apparent in the vocals, using the same sort of baritone crooning style as Glenn. Here's something else I thought of - Calabrese was influenced by Danzig, Danzig's singing style was influenced by Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison of The Doors. Morrison's singing style was influenced by Presley, so it stands to reason that Elvis is the godfather of punk. But I digress.
My first reaction to the record was, "Oh, these guys are trying to create a modern sounding Misfits". As I mentioned, the vocals DO sound like Danzig in tone and phrasing. The lyrics are mostly based on B horror movies and the style is decidedly punk with some metal and surf rock elements thrown in for good measure.
"Eh, it's ok but it's not the Misfits", is what I thought and I left it at that. Then, something strange happened. Later in the day, far removed from their CD, I found myself singing the songs in my head! So, I listened again.
Dammit, these songs are CATCHY. By it's nature, punk is simply early rock and roll stripped down to it's most basic elements and played aggressively. Calabrese sticks with this tradition and generally keeps their songs around the three minute mark. They take three of four chords, play them fast and add some very contagious, melodic lyrics to them. And being brothers must have really helped the band develop their vocal harmonies because they are plentiful and incredibly well done.
"Born With A Scorpion's Touch" kicks off with the blazing "American Rebel Death Riders", a Reverend Horton Heat style tune with scant lyrics and a couple of "whoa"s thrown in for good measure. They follow that with the title track "Born With A Scorpion's Touch" and the very catchy "I Wanna Be A Vigilante". "At Night I Am The Warmest" has a Ramones feel to it. "Ride With The Living Dead" taps into Black Flag. Another track you'll find yourself singing in the shower is the surprisingly upbeat "Only The Dead Know My Name".
In my opinion, the best song on the album is the closing song, "There's An Evil Inside" which is the most rockabilly song of the bunch and is somewhat reminiscent of Volbeat in styling and vocals.
I'm not too proud to admit when I'm wrong and my first impression of this record was wrong, wrong, wrong. After a few listens I realized "Born With A Scorpion's Touch" is, in fact, a very enjoyable album. The songs stick with you whether you want them to or not. It's a toe-tapping, modern punk experience rooted in the origins of the genre. It's light on solos but heavy on guitars and driving bass lines. It's fun and full of catchy rhythms and melodies. It pays homage to the forbearers of horror rock but adds a modern twist. Calabrese is certainly worth your consideration. Give them a listen and then listen again. Like a gothabilly fungus, they'll grow on you. Aaarg, I said gothabilly! Ok, never again.