Thursday, May 31, 2007

Review of Tim Armstrong's Solo Record

Tim Armstrong "A Poet's Life" (Hellcat Records)

Billed as Tim Armstrong's solo album but could more aptly be titled Tim Armstrong with the Aggrolites (since the band accompanies Tim on all the songs). This album goes beyond treading through the ska-tinged punk rock Rancid has made their reputation playing since the 90's. Some reviews I have read on "A Poet's Life" have said this is an ode to Tim's heroes -- Jamaican rocksteady singers like Desmond Decker and Alton Ellis. I would digress and think this is modern blistering party reggae.

Tim Armstrong does what he does best with his slurring life lessons mixed with street poetry like Jim Carroll (their vocal styling are also quite similar). The Aggrolites know their music and sort of follow Tim with the heavy reggae beat they are known for. There are a couple of songs here that bring back the gritty intensity of "Dirty Reggae" the Aggrolites' debut album. Tim throws some curveballs and includes a couple of love songs alongside his usual observations, which is not on par for most Rancid songs.

The opening numbers prove right away teaming up the Aggrolites with Tim Armstrong is the perfect combination. The catchiest song on the album "Into Action" is an intense melding of reggae and punk rock that harkens back to the days of two tone. Also the guest female vocals of Skye Sweetnam (a Canadian pop singer) and the guitar's surfy guitar melody are two components that remind me of the Selector.

"Translator" is a mellow love tune where Tim repeats "I only wanted what was best for you." Jesse Wagner adds some sweet vocal harmonies alongside Tim's tender chorus statement. This track has a menacing trombone combined with a hurried ukulele rhythm. "Take This City" shows you why without a doubt why the Aggrolites are on the top of their game churning out blazing reggae anthems that sound like the modern day version of Lee Perry's studio band the Upsetters. Tim Armstrong does what he does best on "Inner City Violence" but even in this mellow mood his lyrical melodies still shine through even when singing about political atrocities. "Oh No" is a track that has heavy percussion melodies strung throughout which sets the post apocalyptic mood.

My two favorite tracks on the album are the ones towards the end. "Lady Demeter" is another love song that avoids clich├ęs and sticks to straight story telling pulling no punches. The harmonica melody strings throughout the song complimenting Tim's voice throughout the chorus. "Among the Dead" demonstrates the secret to why the Aggrolites are so good (reggae is all about rhythm). Also this song contains a personal history of Tim's past from Op Ivy to Rancid. The album ends with the dubby instrumental "Cold Blooded."

One of the highlights of the CD package is the inclusion of a booklet of lyrics and a DVD. The DVD has videos from all the songs on the album. . The majority of the videos are shot in Cali but there are a couple shot in varying locations such as Vegas and Japan. The videos are grainy low quality B&W shot in that Hellcat sorta way. But in some ways the videos each have some sort of story of their own they illustrate.

Overall this album has mostly positives. My only gripe is 10 songs almost seems like it's not enough. Reggae and punk have gone together since the 70's and this album is an example how two worlds can meet and create something new and exciting.

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