It’s kinda nice when you’re a rock critic and someone sends you an email, out of the blue, asking if they can send you so-and-so’s new release and you reply, “Yeah, sure,” and you hope it’s gonna be good but experience tells you that it probably won’t be and then it is. Good. At this point I should probably mention that it was Green Monkey Records who recently sent NuDisc.net an email asking if they could send us copies of AL BLOCH’s latest two releases, It Was All Once Bright Jewels and Protest Songs. (I should also note that yours truly was once in a band that released a CD on that label.*)
Okay then… So, Al Bloch is who? He’s a bass player and songwriter who was once in the ’90s L.A. band, Wool. He’s Kurt Bloch’s – of Fastbacks and Young Fresh Fellows, most notably – big brother, so he grew up in Seattle. He’s a funny guy who, when propositioned to write some songs again after a coupla decades not writing, took up the challenge and quickly wrote an album’s worth of stuff good enough to record and release. That album, last May’s It Was All Once Bright Jewels, is packed with smart-assed, pithy tunes like “Unemployment Office” and “Cahuenga Pass,” which I can relate to. (If you’ve ever lived in L.A. and had to cross over from Hollywood to “the Valley” then you’ll understand the reference and the dread of such an undertaking.) (Although, in my case, I lived in “the Valley” and usually went in the opposite direction; all the shows were in Hollywood. But then, of course, you did have to come back home [eventually] and so you’d have to leave Hollywood to go back to “the Valley.”) Bloch’s lyrics definitely look at things from a slightly bothered yet resigned viewpoint. I mean, we all have a friend or acquaintance whom “Stay Away from Steve” could be about. Or “Dude, What Were You Thinking?”, which is a funny one about a guy who doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone and ruins everything for everybody. These songs are set among pretty hooky, punk-rocky arrangements of guitar, bass and drums – my favorite! – provided by the Brothers Bloch and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald, and they’re quite catchy ’n’ fun to hear more than once.
The fun continues on Protest Songs, which came out a month or so ago, and is even better. It’s like, all that Al needed was a nudge to start writing again and then the floodgates burst open. Indeed, it is not an album of your typical protest songs – it’s more like the kind of protesting that he voices in the songs mentioned above. I mean, “Bass Solo” isn’t actually a bass solo (like you’d find on a live album, for instance) but a song bitching about how you go to a live show, hear a real crummy bassist playing on stage, then just silently think to yourself “Dear God/Satan/Deity-of-Your-Choice, PLEASE don’t let that guy take a solo!” “You Gotta Have a Plan” opens the CD with sage advice and it’s followed by the 1-2 punch of “Too Nervous” and the chuckler “One Chord Baby,” which includes the couplet: “Mary Lincoln used to say to Abraham/ You can’t save the world but this one chord can!” In fact, that song has a number of good lines in it – as do most of the songs here. (I don’t count the killer UFO cover “This Kid’s,” which earns Al bonus points for not doing the obvious “Doctor, Doctor” or “Rock Bottom”!)
Al Bloch’s not really what you would call a lead singer. He’s more of a guy who writes sharp, short ditties that probably wouldn’t be near as entertaining if someone else sang ’em. As for the production, well, these two albums were both produced by brother Kurt and sound nice ’n’ crisp, which is how scrappy little punk rock releases should sound. So, kudos to Green Monkey for lighting a fire under Al’s ass to get It Was All Once Bright Jewels and Protest Songs written and recorded, to Kurt for his crackling production (and his hotshot guitar playing), and to Al himself for figuring, “Why not?!” – Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Green Monkey GM1068, GM1075, 2020) * Look up Ladies & Gentlemen, Your King County Queens, Green Monkey GM1018, 2013)