Empty Pockets * IDIODYSSEY

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 656   By: Robert 'Bo' White

13th March, 2008     0

I haven't heard a disc that sounded this good since Moby Grape's debut in '67. It's an 8th wonder, a sonic time capsule that catapults us back to the future and allows us to regain a step we lost a few years back and recover from the dusty torpor of today's scene with the same 5 bands-in-demand playing original music in rotation, club-to-club, takin' hard hits from sing-a-long karaoke and the best cover bands in the state.

WhewŠ now everybody's doin' it, there's more and more places to hang yer microphones and belch out yer version of Every Rose Has its Thorn or any other turgid hair-metal nonsense from the eighties. It's all too much, brother, especially when the street pub cannibals feed on their young and hiss, "you better figure out your priorities."

Everybody gets a serving.  And no one can make sense of what is true and right or what's just the rantings of a musical snob like yours truly. Snob, indeed - gimme a little Louie Louie with a side of the 13 Floor Elevators and I'll be in rock n' roll heaven - not the Righteous Brothers' version.  Gimme the Beatles' 2nd Album and the gospel of "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah." Gimme music that matters.  Shake it up with Question Mark & the Mysterians or die you sniveling bundts!

The slow dying death of rock n' roll is upon us like junky blood infecting everyone with HIV...just as Burroughs' Naked Lunch reveals an anguished cry for truth to anybody who gives a damn. But few ever understood that dilemma between art and commerce and many hated rock & roll without really listening to it just as people today offhandedly dismiss hip hop or rap.

Rock n' roll is a stubborn 'old tomcat that used up eight of its nine lives; it just may be time for its final burial in some doomed post-apocalyptic trash heap in Cleveland. It is gonna happen sooner or later, better not hedge your bets, buy some stuff on credit and pray for a timely death - it's yer only way out of this cultural purgatory!!

 Except if you're a true believer like me.

Seems every time I lose hope that I'll ever hear great new music, someone arrives on the scene to save the day and renew my spirit.

It's happened in the late nineties with the resurgence of Johnny "Boomer" Krogman and the explosive entrance of Sprout & the Orange.  Stamp'd rocked my world and more recently Maybe August showed me the path to enlightenment. They gave me hope for the future. Rock hasn't died yet, there's nothing quite like it and nothing can replace it.  

John Lennon once said, "There's nothing conceptually better than rock & roll. It was the only thing that could get through to me out of all the things that were happening when I was fifteen. Rock & roll was real."

And so is the music of Empty Pockets. They've been around for several years, releasing a CD every now and again, showing sparks but cooling offŠuntil now. They knocked me out this past summer with a stunning performance at Tittabawassee Park in a benefit organized by the Freeland Athletic Association. It was a lovely summer's day, fresh and warm and fueled by good wine, cheese and an assortment of sweet culinary delights. A good-feeling communal spirit filled the air. And what struck me about Empty Pocket's performance was not just their glorious rock & roll music but the confident, easy manner in which they involved the audience.

To top it off, lead singer Mike McMath completed a painting of a lavender iris on this huge 4ft by 5ft canvas during the performance, never missin' a beat... or a stroke - ooh, baby!  

The release of Idiodyssey signals the renaissance of Empty Pockets, a commitment to quality and craft yet still creating music that is crunchy, melodic and a whole lot of fun.

REM is a minor chord miracle that recalls CSN on Wooden Ships. It's a powerful ballad that is colored in pain, both in its plain spoken lyrics and its sad musical tapestry. The words convey the absolute sorrow experienced in the loss of someone you once loved. The vocal is emotive and soulful and the extended screaming guitar solo in the coda reveals the misery behind the lyrics. This is a brutally honest and frank portrait of a man with a broken heart.


Desperate Soul is a sweet 12 bar blues with nice economical use of the slide that continues the theme introduced by the previous track. But this time the writer acknowledges this is "living hell" and that acceptance is the only way out. By writing the song, he puts the pain outside of himself and loosens its power over his state of mind. The next step is radically accepting the pain and sorrow. Given the current reality of the loss, how could it be otherwise?

Land Down Under is an elegant cover of a great song by Aussie Colin Hay & Men at Work. The first verse is sung acapella and it segues into a guitar-driven up-tempo rocker. The band's singers are gifted with some-kinda wonderful pipes. Great singing is their trademark - especially those tight soaring harmonies. The guitarist Rick Manges really lets loose on this sleeper...covers never sounded so good!

15 minutes is a straight-ahead blues rocker with some fabulous lead singing that recalls Moby Grape on Miller's Blues. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek and decries the discreet charm of the bourgeois dilettante as it pokes fun of the instant gratification of the American Idol, You Tube and Reality TV. Warhol's 15 minutes of fame has turned into a nightmareŠeveryone's got the itch

Breath to Flesh is heavy metal rocker reminiscent of the Troggs' muscular guitar opus Feels Like a Woman. It's a delightful ode to love, sex and sex and a touch of intimacy and, of course, more sex.  It's written from the perspective of the reptilian brain, which goes something like this:
Can I eat it? Can it eat me? Can I have sex with it?

A jagged machine-gun guitar riff, with a little wah-wah for good measure, dominates Shake. This is a great toe-tappin', booty-shakin' dance number that drops names and takes numbers. J-lo? Horney bastards. The middle eight contains a good lovin' bring-sexy-back rap courtesy of Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Cruel Lady is a cool jazz ballad with some tasteful guitar. This guy Manges is a real player, workin' up and down the frets, bending that E-string and pickin' some of the most full-bodied delightful notes since Junior Watson joined the Mighty Flyers.

Hey Carlos is a tribute to Santana and opens with a bass line straight out of the Mann & Weill catalog and segues into the sweetest Spanish guitar work since Carlos blew us away at Woodstock.
Fuse is the final statement of loss and longing, the plaintive sentiment is balanced by the powerful music. A fuse has blown, the wish isn't granted and sometimes he just functions.

Now you know my misery
Now you feel my pain

The squealing full-bodied Hendrix-like guitar at the coda provides the sonic equivalent to the lyrical sentiments of the song - powerful!

This is one of the most open and honest musical statements since Alex Chilton bared his soul on his obscure lo-fidelity masterpiece Flies on Sherbert or when Neil Young blew me away with Prairie Wind.

Kudos to Empty Pockets for creating a disc of "real" songs with great singing and playing and a clean crisp sound compliments of wunderkind producer Rick Armstrong @ Big Bear studios.
Buy this disc and stand up for good music.


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