Alias Wayne – FAVS – Album Review
I mean…straight-up, a greatest hits record is an excellent way to make a first impression. Welcome to our pages Alias Wayne! Any band or artist that wants to start out an album with an idea & performance as strong as you’ll find FAVS opens with, is welcome here any ol’ time, yessiree. Feel free to quote me.
We all love a good cover song, don’t we? And with mash-ups being all the rage right now, running rampantly throughout the internet music-community online…the idea that the first track on FAVS by Alias Wayne seamlessly brings together two classic cuts into one fabulously unique tune, should be a solid advantage for this band in having “Gimme What It’s Worth” as the gateway into this record. I know it caught my attention immediately, that’s for sure…as a critic/reviewer/music-lover, it’s the kind of beginning that instantly snaps your attention into place, and makes you realize you better have your game real sharp; I might have been lucky with knowing the two tracks they’ve fused together to create this opener, but who knows what’s to come afterwards right? Considering how different-but-recognizable this combination of covers is on “Gimme What It’s Worth” becomes, I can’t guarantee I’m gonna be able to identify everything that Alias Wayne does if they keep this up…but I think…if I’m not mistaken, the vast majority of this record is built of originals outside of a couple key tracks on FAVS. I think? Listening to the extremely clever way “Gimme What It’s Worth” transitions between the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” had me grinning instantly and reaching right over to my stereo to turn this right up to the rafters…it’s exceptional in every conceivable way you can think of, and the overall flow…just how remarkably fluid it is and how it ties together two monumental hit songs without a hitch or a hiccup along the way, speaks volumes on behalf of what Alias Wayne is clearly capable of. Not only does this band have great taste in music outside of their own, as indicated by their choice of covers, but the way they’ve treated this material with such an incredibly rad approach to blending two massively significant hits together…like…c’mon…this is an award-worthy cover. You kids out there loving how easy it is to mash-up two songs with the same beats per minute by sliding two tracks over-top of each other can certainly take some notes here in listening to “Gimme What It’s Worth” – this is what a real mash-up IS, created from the ground up, with innovation and skill. Such a smooth start as Alias Wayne slides right into this cut, putting impressive instrumentation like the harmonica, violin, and stellar guitar harmonics into the mix as shifts between the original hooks & melodies of the two songs fused together…you can’t help but notice how flawlessly this all comes out, right off the bat.
As for “Ring Of Fire” – that’s probably a tougher call to make in terms of the ol’ public reaction, or in terms of making the impact that the previous cut made with its innovative start to the beginning of FAVS. It’s a much harder song to do something that hasn’t already been done…a factor that will continually work against any artist/band likely to cover it in the years to follow; and then of course, whenever someone does get bold enough to make moves on the Cash classic, you get the wrath of criticism in many cases as a result of even trying. I’m definitely not opposed to what’s being laid down here by Alias Wayne in this cover of “Ring Of Fire,” and I’d be comfortable saying this is pretty much right there on par with most I’ve heard, or better…I felt like they were able to beat the odds a bit here and bring just enough of a new idea to it to make it stand out. I like the loose approach that’s applied to the beginning…Ranzel gives the vocals a real swagger/jazzy style to them that admittedly, does give this version a bit of an updated spin in this Pop/Folk variation…more than enough to make the difference and get people paying attention as they listen and realize what song it is they’re actually listening to. The violins and the instrumental sections probably held the most magic for my ears…but don’t get me wrong, I’m sure not complaining here. I’ll admit, I’ve never been fully enamored with the original to begin with, so that’s a factor most likely – but I do think Alias Wayne has tapped into an approach that’ll gain the approval of the majority of listeners out there. Oddly enough, it’s almost like the vocals bring an Elvis-style of cool into a Johnny Cash cut…which sounds like a strange concept, but it actually works.
“Wayfarer” is the only tune that comes directly from front-man Ranzel X Kendrick’s solo-record called Texas Cactus, released last year…other than that, all these tunes from FAVS come from three EPs put out over 2019-2020 with his band in Alias Wayne. From what I can see online, what I can hear in the music, and especially in the spectacular background vocals you’ll find throughout this whole lineup of songs, Ranzel’s got the good fortune of playing with many passionate, highly skilled musicians. You can definitely hear it in the results…the lineup of songs on FAVS is as tight as tight can be. “Wayfarer” included in that assessment…it’s another highlight for those same very background vocals I was referring to as being so inviting and exciting to listen to – and all-around, it’s a fantastically well-written tune that generates its captivating pull through genuinely interesting songwriting & sound. A very unassuming style of tune in the sense that, you might not even realize just how addictive this track really can be until you realize you’re on your fifth or sixth time spinning it straight. There’s just such a naturally cool sound to the vibes being created on “Wayfarer” that allow the looseness to become the main feature; it’s all truly impressive, because that same very looseness is executed with astoundingly tight professionalism, but you’ll get what I mean when you hear it. “Wayfarer” explores in sound, the same wanderer’s spirit that’s referenced in the lyrics; it plays like it’s drifting along from town to town in search of ears to call home. What’s truly incredible though, about “Wayfarer” certainly, and true of all the tunes you’ll find in the lineup of FAVS, is that the attention to the details is impeccable & never once wavers. What will often seem like fairly bare-bones ingredients will reveal so much more depth through its layers of instrumentation & vocals when you’re really listening closely. Alias Wayne is givin’ ya everything you need & more to keep you fully engaged with smart compositions & musicianship – and it’s not that it sounds effortless…you can HEAR how flawless every moment truly is…it’s just the natural result of a whole crew of talent that understands the endgame & the goals, and possesses the means to get there.
Even a song like “Color Of Blues” hits the mark for me – and I’m usually fairly resistant to most things Blues-related. But like…LISTEN to the personality & character in the vocals, piano, guitar, bass-lines, drums…I mean…it’s ALL there, right on the surface, comin’ atcha from every angle, as natural as can be, designed to be enjoyed with a cold tall one or two. They bring you right into the ABCs of Blues here on one hand, but on the other, you really can’t help but admire the exceptional amount of inviting sound at work here…Alias Wayne has just enough of an Alt-spin on just about everything to make it stand out for one reason or another, but even here in more traditional confines, still expresses music with full creativity, passion, artistic integrity, and a whole lot of fun in the process. Probably one of my favorites on the album for the way the guitar & piano interact…and the rhythm section sure don’t let ya down none either, you feel me? Style for miles to be found on “Color Of Blues” for sure. Alias Wayne might not exactly be reinventing the wheel here, but that’s not the necessary requirement for a song to exist – sometimes you just wanna get right into the groove, feel the vibe, and translate that on to everyone you can. I’d imagine that’s likely the goal for a track like “Color Of Blues,” and I’d consider it a mission accomplished in-full – it’s just about one of the easiest cuts to get into on this album, as a listener, OR as a player from the sounds of things. Alias Wayne makes the genre fun for everyone on “Color Of Blues.”
“People Get Ready” was a track I recognized immediately…I’m sure there are quite likely a few versions of this tune out there, but as far as I know, this is from the one & only Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions. Ranzel & his crew of incredible talent surrounding him get a golden version of this tune recorded…as far as my ears are concerned, they got all the sweetness & soul we’re all looking for in this song perfectly intact on the Alias Wayne cover of “People Get Ready.” Like much of what this record sounds like, it’s brilliantly organic…so well-performed that it’s unmistakably played by seriously talented professionals, but so humbly played that it’s like every moment you hear is one you happened to crack open a door to the studio and had the chance to witness the natural process of the band at work. So you get these moments that are like…quite honestly, built & designed to be listened to & rounded-out with impeccable attention to detail, but everything feels so organic & natural that it’ll knock your freakin’ socks off…or at least it should. After touring through this record many times, and as much as I loved a great many of the tunes I didn’t recognize – I’d also be a fool to not point out “People Get Ready” as one of the most significant highlights you’ll find in the set-list of FAVS too. I mean, if there’s a flaw to be found, I’m sure not hearing it where I’m sitting…where I’m at, is happily listening to a moment in time that’s meaningful, sincere, and stunningly well-suited to the style & sound of Alias Wayne. Guitar solos and harmonies are outstanding in every way…all-in-all, you gotta hear a cover like this come back to ya as a band or an artist and recognize you nailed it as tight as tight can be…they’ve got an absolutely wonderful, charming, and sweet, and soulful take on “People Get Ready” to truly be proud of.
Man…this record has sure kept me on my toes though – I feel like a cover tune I should know could show up at any moment! I’m thinking…”Radiation Town” is an original…or at least, as far as I can tell. It’s one of two tracks that make an appearance from the Firebrand EP – and the amount of personality, insight, character, and wisdom this cut has…is seriously impressive, and a whole lotta fun to listen to as well! I mean…good lord…the execution here is just spectacular, full-stop. The hardest knock you could ever make against a track like this is that it likely would have been an instant chart-topper a couple decades back or so, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a solid sound that’s tried, tested, and true enough to thrive in the era we’re livin’ in now either – it certainly does. Funny though…you really gotta listen to this cut to actually ‘get it’ and come to a full understanding of what’s being communicated here – which is a pretty insightful song on the effects of climate and what’s happening in the environment – but it’s all masked under the surface of a such undeniably fun, charismatic, and neon-shades-level of cool, that most listeners would likely miss a lot of its sentiment & messages at first in exchange for the entertainment. Having read a few of the online reviews of Alias Wayne out there on the previous EPs where these songs have come from, I can see a couple moments where the subtext of this very song flew straight over a couple of heads out there…and honestly, I don’t even blame’em for it – I blame Alias Wayne for creating such a powerful groove here with such a remarkably expressive performance that you can barely take your ears off it all! When they hit the main hooks of the chorus, you gotta admit, they’re not too far removed from the chilled-out loose grooves & soulful charm of something like Dave Matthews Band at their catchiest…”Radiation Town” is a whole lot of fun, sure – but it’s equally serious in terms of what the lyricism is communicating & the level of badass instrumentation ripping along here.
Gonna go with declaring “Love Child” an original too…which again, I think should probably be the standard assumption when listening to most records, but the power of those first tracks on FAVS and the effect it leaves on the mind of a music-critic has kept me listening with supreme focus, looking for & listening to anything/everything I think I can identify. “Love Child” just sounds fantastic…that’s what I’ve identified here. It took me forever to think about what it was I was hearing in Alias Wayne, and what the overall combination sounded like to me on “Love Child” for some kind of comparison…but I think I’ve finally got it figured out, and I’m going with Sparklehorse-meets-Cracker, which is definitely A-OK with yours truly writing this review right here. That should give you another indication of the range of sound on this record though…if I was talking about “Radiation Town” in some sort of comparison from just moments beforehand, I’d imagine you’d have to go with something like The Lovin’ Spoonful or the aforementioned Dave Matthew Band thing I came to personally… but that’s quite a long stretch away from a Sparklehorse-meets-Cracker-type tune, you dig? You might even substitute Sparklehorse for Grandaddy…and I’m cool with that too…consider either of those comparisons representative of the artistic dimension to the depth of the melody in these songs & structures by Alias Wayne, and consider the quirky charm & personality in the lyrics, vocals, and sound to come from the whole Cracker part of this comparison. “Love Child” comes out with a gentle swing & sweetness to it, sung more or less in a duet or sorts, or at least with more noticeable involvement in the pairing of vocals & parts required; it’s a pretty even split, and a highly effective one. There is an abundance of wealth when it comes to great material on this record, and a large part of what makes FAVS so incredible is the flow of the songs as it plays…none of these tunes seem to have to remotely fight us for our attention – we give it to them, and willingly…because what you’ll find in the lineup of this record simply leaves nothing else to be desired.
Here’s the thing folks…I don’t know everything that’s out there by Alias Wayne, and I’ve only got a little experience with one of its main members, Ranzel X Kendrick’s music through reviewing songs he’s put out like “Crazy Love” and “Seguin Son Of A Gun” in the past. I suppose what I’m getting at, in listening to “Good Times” at this point in the review…is that, I’m not sure exactly WHAT I was expecting…but there’s not a doubt in my mind that this has completely exceeded whatever my wildest hopes could have possibly been. That’s not to say the standards were low by any measure either – I can tell you this fact with wholehearted honesty; I just look at the title for “Seguin Son Of A Gun” and I can remember exactly how it sounds, even with it being probably more than a year & a half since likely even hearing it last. So believe me, I know Ranzel’s more than capable of making memorable music – but…I mean…good lord, I just can’t even begin to explain how impressed I’ve been with FAVS. Specifically, regardless of whether you think the subject, theme, or concept on any one song is any better than the other, it doesn’t change the immaculate results you’ll hear from the microphone to the music on this album. “Good Times” is an exemplary example of how the natural sound of Alias Wayne is 100% more than enough…the effort is there, the passion is there, the sincerity is there…and as a result, the organic dedication & focus that’s occurring through the pure love of the craft, is producing knock out results, even in the most subtle of settings like this cut right here. “Good Times” is exactly what its title implies it’ll be…it’s the very audible definition of sound that makes you wanna sit right down & pull up a chair.
I’ve been listening to so much music by bands like Golden Smog and School Friends lately, that sliding into this record has been extremely easy for me personally – but I’d fully suspect the same for all of you regardless of whether or not you’ve recognized any name I’ve mentioned in comparison to Alias Wayne. Listening to a song like “Caveman Jack” – like…there’s just so much personality in the music, lyrics, vocals, and melody of this cut that, even as chilled-out & playful as it is, it should actually freakin’ blow your mind to hear this come out so spectacularly memorable. I maintain that Ranzel is a dead-ringer for David Lowery of Cracker…but as a huge fan of that guy’s sound, consider one of X Kendrick’s as well. The way he’ll charm ya on “Caveman Jack,” with even a hint of laughter in his voice as he sings this one, cannot be understated – it’s everything. If you were to ask me earlier this week whether or not I’d be digging on a song about the stone age of mankind, I’d probably have laughed myself a little – it definitely wasn’t what I expected. Smartly written, you can definitely hear exactly how “Caveman Jack” contains lyricism that still fully applies to today…the idea of men being more than a bit Neanderthal in their thinking & relations to the other sex…Alias Wayne has put that into cleverly fun & unique context here. Played like it’s an aside in a musical where Alias Wayne has your complete undivided attention, telling you a tale directly as you sit in the audience & listen, “Caveman Jack” is character in music incarnate.
If you can listen to a track like “Nobody But Me” and the incredible trombones & trumpets in the mix – (I’m never 100% sure on which one is which…I think this one’s a trombone, but there could be both…anyhow…whatever it is I’m hearing is amazing…) along with the piano, incredibly smooth bass-lines, and comforting melodic swagger this song has, and somehow not come to the conclusion that you wanna at least spin this track for the next half-hour straight, then I’m not so sure we can be friends. Drawing on the low-key spirit & vibes of the Blues in a more classic pre-Rock fashion here, Alias Wayne plays “Nobody But Me” with brilliant subtlety and stylistic sound through & through. Outstanding ideas, colorful musicianship, including an upright bass in the mix for ya, and the relentlessly natural cool coming from Ranzel on the mic…FAVS has played like the lineup of greatest hits it genuinely contains. Tracks like “Nobody But Me” might not be the first stand out tune for people in the initial spin through the set-list, or even the second or third…but by the end of giving this whole record the attention it deserves, you realize that songs like this one are every bit as crucial to the strength of the entire lineup.
I wouldn’t tell ya “Real World” has dropped in quality, and ultimately, I wouldn’t tell ya it’s not just as flawlessly assembled, performed, and produced as the rest of the songs you’ll find on this record. Style-wise…yeah…you know, it’s hard to describe…I suppose it’s only by comparison to the rest of the amazing material found throughout this record that I had my moments in questioning whether or not this last track quite hit the same high standard at times. Ranzel’s got a kind of Lee Roth sound to his voice on this last cut…which is…let’s say…probably not an advantage with my own personal taste by any stretch of the imagination…but I never really felt like “Real World” gave me any kind of justifiable reason to complain either, you feelin’ me? I think to a degree, the more noticeably amped-up energy at the end here creates that illusion of a finale…and one that’s likely to fully satisfy listeners out there that have been riding with this record from the start to finish. Are there better songs on FAVS? Sure! It’s only natural that we’ll all have our own FAVS from FAVS…that’s just who we are and how we listen and what makes this good ol’ world go round…”Real World” stands just as much of a chance of making an impact on listening ears out there as any other track on this record would. The quality never drops of the musicianship, songwriting, vocals, production never dips for even a remote second on FAVS – so it really does just come down to your own personal taste & what you like most. I like “Real World” – but it’s not likely gonna hold a candle to “Good Times,” “Radiation Town,” or most cuts on this album for me…but it verifiably might for YOU – you get what I’m saying? Lyrically, that’s where “Real World” excels big time. With a bit more grit, edge, and distortion, you could hear how it could easily be morphed into a massive Foo Fighters style rock song…whereas as it stands now, probably puts it closer to something like a Van Halen cross with The Boss…which hey, by any measure of music’s popularity, sure ain’t bad either, right? So ignore me if you think I’m being critical at the end here – I’m really not – I’m simply highlighting the fact that different strokes for different folks are what have always made this world go round. Alias Wayne has left me with nothing to complain about, so don’t get it twisted – every hand involved with this record from in behind the scenes to the front of the studio boards deserves a massive high-five for the effort put into the lineup on FAVS. To be clear – to say I’m impressed wouldn’t cover half of how I feel (hence all these words) – I genuinely think Alias Wayne has one of the most engaging records of 2020 with the music you’ll find throughout FAVS, and I’d imagine you’ll all feel exactly the same as I do.
The lineup of FAVS contains cuts from the FAUX PAS, SNAFU, and Firebrand EPs by Alias Wayne – check those all out for yourself at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7EVKLQcMwy3l5IZcQKpTCY
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