Back To Garage Rockin': This Is The Sonics
In the 1960s, a quintet of young men from Tacoma, Washington, released three albums that gave the band a mostly local following, but never gave them huge recognition. Those original three albums are long out of print, but the CD era not only put the titles back in circulation, they gave the band new fans. The familiar lineup disbanded in 1967, as war, college, and the working world called them to other things. Starting in 2007, they came back to the music, and have stayed with it. All five members of the best-known incarnation of Sonics are still living, and three of them, including lead vocalist and keyboardist Gerry Roslie, tour as do two other old band members. Guitarist Larry Parypa and saxophonist Rob Lind also still tour and record with the band, while Andy Parypa and Bob Bennett still support their old band mates in their own ways. The current incarnation of the band includes onetime Kingsmen bassist and occasional lead vocalist Freddie Dennis and drummer Dusty Watson, who's played in a variety of bands from surf to punk. This was the band on the 2015 ReVox release This Is The Sonics.
This Is The Sonics marks the first new all-studio release from this band's key players since Introducing The Sonics in 1967 (Roslie himself, though, recorded a Sonics album with other players in 1980). The 2015 album sounds as though these recordings had been left over from the 1960s. Further, this album was recorded in mono, and its 32-minute duration was typical of the length of album releases in the 1960s. Roslie's vocals sound no different here than they did half a century ago. Some have compared Roslie to Little Richard in terms of energy and style, while I also liken Roslie's vocals to a more intense version of John Fogerty (Roslie, by the way, came before anyone had ever heard of Fogerty as a member of either the Golliwogs or of the band they became - Creedence Clearwater Revival). The same holds for Dennis when he does the lead vocals, which sound very much like Roslie's. The Sonics also stick to the formula that got them their following - a mix of originals and covers, all done in a high-powered style. Album producer Jim Diamond, whose credits include works by the White Stripes, lets this quintet show that, even though everybody except Watson is in their seventies, they remain a sound force.
The album begins with a cover of the Ray Charles song I Don't Need No Doctor. The track sets the heated pace that the entire album contains. The vocals wail the tale of a man who needs desperately to get back to his woman as the band plays thunderously. Lind, Parypa, and Watson have a rousing introduction on a cover of Bo Diddley's You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover that complements the roar of the vocals that follow. Fans of the Marty Robbins original might be hard-pressed to recognize the cover of Sugaree here. The Sonics bring a feverish passion to the tale of a couple who keep in touch while separated. Other covers include songs by The Kinks (The Hard Way), Eddie Holland (Leaving Here), Hank Ballard & The Midnighters (Look At Little Sister), and Hoodoo Gurus (Be A Woman).
The album also has some originals, mostly written by Lind. These tracks complement the covers very well - simple, direct, and dangerously fun. The first of those is Bad Betty, a song about a spolied girl with a hot car who should never be trusted to treat it right. I Got Your Number is the song of an even worse woman - one seemingly in league with Lucifer. If any one song on this collection embodies the spirit of garage rock here, it's the album's penultimate track, Save The Planet. It's a Lind composition that doesn't advocate environmental conscientiousness for any noble reason. Earth, they state, is the planet that has the beer.
The Sonics have been long considered pioneers of garage rock, and they're a band that has stuck to the style that earned them notice. This Is The Sonics rocks even harder than some of their material from the sixties. Some have contended that this release rocks harder than most rock albums of this era. Nobody would be able to tell that the Sonics who worked together in the 1960s had spent most of their adult lives apart. They have found any garage suits them fine, as long as they can crank up the sound and remind listeners what they do when they rock the house.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give This Is The Sonics four stars. Garage jam! Crank up the speakers!
(Author's note: I wish to acknowledge and thank Dave Swanson for his review of this title on Diffuser.fm, which contains a wealth of information about the songs not included on the CD or its packaging. His fact-checking helped me write a more thorough review.)