Mike Peters and Captain Sensible of Dead Men Walking. Photo Credit: 2015 Paul Pedersen
A ragged crew of rock n roll survivors have joined forces, forming a formidable new band that is currently plundering stages all across the west coast of the USA. This legendary band of brothers made up of Mike Peters, Slim Jim Phantom, Captain Sensible and Chris Cheney (all with impressive rock lineage and a back catalog full of hits) arrive under the cover of darkness and deliver a well executed blend of punk, rock, glam, & rockabilly to the delight of anyone who relishes the sound of guitar riffs, soaring choruses and a thundering rhythm section, before disappearing without a trace leaving only a ringing in your ears and the feeling that you’ve just witnessed something rare and special.
The rock n roll outfit in question is the brainchild of Alarm front man Mike Peters. Roughly a decade ago Mike gathered together like minded members of other bands to form the side project Dead Men Walking. The Dead Men have included many alumni in it’s rotating rouster including Kirk Brandon (Spear of Destiny), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Pete Wylie (The Mighty Wah!), Billy Duffy (The Cult), Brian Setzer (Stray Cats), Lemmy (Motorhead), Topper Headon (The Clash), Bruce Watson (Big Country) and Mick Jones (The Clash) but it seems the cement has finally dried on the lineup which now features, Mike, Slim Jim, Chris and The Captain as a classic lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drum configuration.
With such a classic instrumentation in place, the band also features vocal talents from all four members. The chemistry between the players is palpable both on their newly recorded release, “Easy Piracy” as well as on stage. All four singers trade lead vocals on the exceptional track list that makes Easy Piracy an instant classic that will easily become your summer 2015 soundtrack. I bought the CD at the band’s live in store appearance at Ameoba records in SF last week, just before catching their full live show at Brick & Mortar Music Hall. I’ve had the CD on repeat ever since and have decided to give Easy Piracy a track by track review to spread the word about this epic new music.
“Rock and Roll Kills” is the first cut and it is an instant classic. It boasts a killer guitar lead executed by the inimitable Chris Cheney and a rockabilly swagger. All 4 singers chime along to the catchy lyrics which include lines like, “TV, Cigarettes, sleeping pills, Rock and roll don’t quite pay my bills, hello Cleveland! Kill or be killed…” This tune has such a classic sounds that it feels like the song has always existed in the ether waiting for a worthy band to pluck it from the collective consciousness. It’s three chord rock at its finest and it’s instantly accessible as a mission statement for the rest of the album.
“Damned Damned Damned” follows up and destroys with it’s raw punk energy and gives you a clear picture of what the band is all about. This song careens through two minutes and 11 seconds of glorious punk rock and has already become a live favorite.
“The Weather Song” The third track on Easy Piracy is possibly my favorite track. A clever message in the lyrics and exceptional drumming from Slim Jim Phantom.This song simply rocks and the cacophony of layered vocals, drums and lead guitar at the end of the tune really turns up the excitement and gives you a glimpse at what this band is capable of.
“Deadman Blues”is Mike Peters delivering a moody, bluesy number with heavy bass and a sturdy drum backbone. Melodically and lyrically it is classic Mike Peters, but the backing band is dare I say, better than The Alarm! I think the overall vibe and quality of the playing on this CD is what is impressing me the most. Dead Men Walking have that X factor that really makes the music on this CD ascend to another level. I think the addition of Chris Cheney’s excellent lead guitar playing has something to do with it, but it’s also the fact that it feels like the members of this band wrote this record for each other. Each talented player letting the collective talents of the band lift them up to bring out their individual best.
“Whatever Turns You On (Will Turn On You)” At this point as a listener you are well into the CD and it would be easy for your ear to get fatigued by a lessor band, but the Dead Men turn it up a notch with “Whatever Turns You On (Will Turn On You)”. Another Mike Peters lead vocal, but this time Mike seems to be channeling a light dusting of Bob Dylan in his delivery. His expert phrasing certainly does the trick and elevates this tune into a really special track. The lyrics are great and this is an exceptional number on an excedingly exceptional recording.
“Song for Eddie” starts with a classic bass intro and when the band kicks in, it’s non-stop fun for another two minutes and 32 seconds. This is a Slim Jim Phantom number and you can feel his rockabilly roots in his vocal performance. It features a great chorus and a solid arrangement cementing the Dead Men Walking sound.
“Easy Piracy” Just when you thought you had this band figured out, along comes the title track, “Easy Piracy”. I think Chris Cheney takes over lead vocal duties on this one which gives the song a different feel…but different in a great way. It begins with a familiar loose guitar shuffle along with a groovy drum beat keeping it all together. The song evokes life on a pirate ship…a pirate ship that happens to be crewed by punks, rocker boys, glam rockers and rockabilly greasers. This song sports my favorite chorus on the CD and the melody will seep in deep causing you to sing this one long after the CD has stopped playing.
“Doctor Henry” Eight tracks in and this CD is still going strong. To be honest there is not a stinker on the CD and there are 15 tracks! “Doctor Henry” has a bit of an early “Kinks” feel to it. It sounds like The Kinks if the Kinks lived on that afore mentioned pirate ship with all those tattooed rockers I mentioned. Captain Sensible sings this one and the song contains some great slide guitar work by Chris Cheney and some vintage staccato folk punk arrangements that reminded me of something that could have felt at home on The Alarm’s Declaration album.
“When The Boats Came In” Chris Cheney takes on the lead vocals again, usurping “The Weather Song” as my favorite track on the CD. Everything about this song speaks to me as a listener. The production, the vocal delivery, the lyrics, THE EPIC GUITAR SOLO and the hooks! The beautiful arrangement and the softer melodic feel of this one really cuts through the rest of the tracks and is a high water mark on an album full of high water marks. For an album to deliver such a diamond nine tracks in to the proceedings is somewhat unprecedented. At this point I am in awe of the craft, talent and execution that The Dead Men posses. It was at this point in my listening experience that Dead Men Walking became my new favorite band. I’m hooked. I’m in. Done.
“The Devils Music” This is a MP tune I think. I have been an Alarm fan for so long now that I can recognize his unique style anywhere. It’s a good album track. It pales a little but only because it follows “When The Boats Came In.” This song seems to serve as a return to the harder edge Dead Men Walking sound and has a lot of great moments.
“The Crossroads” This song kills. Another MP lead vocal and a real rockabilly/blues feel. It harnesses the old rock n roll legend of meeting the devil at the crossroads and is a worthy rock composition to re-visit that classic story. The Dead Men honor their lineage with this one and deliver another classic tune.
“Forgotten Saints” Some day I may start a Dead Men Walking tribute band and I’ll call that band “Forgotten Saints”. This song is another mission statement and revisits those rocker boys, punks and rockabillys who crew the pirate ship invoked by the song “Easy Piracy”. It’s a cool idea for a song to talk about “Rock n rollers, forgotten saints with diamonds, skulls and chains…” It’s a song about an uprising for “tattooed girls and zoot suit boys, punk rockers heads of state…” Its a play on “When The Saints Come Marching In” done in a blues-rock shuffle with an excellent descending guitar/bass walk down hook that is absolutely devilish.
“What If” is another surprise from a band full of surprises. This number is light, fluffy and defies gravity. This tune is full of hooks and it is a really nice departure in sound for this band. It has a bit of a psychedelic furs vibe. This song would have had serious hit potential if it had come out in the late 80’s or early 90’s. It’s quietly one of my favorite songs that completely snuck up on me.
“Out On The Edge” Here we have another MP vocal that features a moody glam rock undercurrent and a really unique song structure. Dare I say Velvet Underground-esque? This song took repeated listenings for me to get 100% on board, but now, a week into listening to Easy Piracy on repeat, I love this late track list gem. Dead Men Walking have a real command of many different styles and they incorporate them all under the umbrella of rock ‘n roll, so the album sounds completely cohesive while not sounding tired.
“Love of My Life” This mostly acoustic track is a definite departure from the rest of the album. It has a bit of a lulliby feel which sounds a little out of place on a rock record. At first it may seem jarring, but again, with repeated listens it starts to make sense while feeling a little unfinished. The song ends a little too abruptly making me feel as if the song idea was never quite fleshed out to completion. Buy hey, if that is my only gripe on a 15 track album, I’d say Dead Men Walking have knocked it out of the park. This record is as good as it gets.
Dead Men Walking have somehow managed to capture lightning in a bottle and they have become the caretakers of a piece of rock n roll history that they were all a part of initially. It’s refreshing to hear such class, competency and sheer fun return to the music. “Easy Piracy” is a return to form for each member of the band while managing to stay fresh and inspired and relevant. The thing that makes a good band great (outside of top shelf material and talent) is chemistry and this band has the je ne sais quoi that gives their live shows the extra sparkle and shimmer that most bands lack. All members are seasoned rock veterans who have spent more time in tour buses and on stage than you’ve spent binge watching your favorite shows on netflix – and that kind of experience and command of the stage is refreshing and inspiring. Their rock and roll swagger harkens back to a time when rock music was a secret between the bands and the audiences who attended their shows. This band plays the kind of rock that changes your life and makes you want to pick up a guitar and teach yourself 3 chords so that you can someday join the fun. I highly recommend “Easy Piracy” to anyone who loves rock ‘n roll. So climb aboard with the Dead Men….you will not be disappointed.
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