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Music Review: The BellRays – Hard, Sweet and Sticky

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Time flies. It's hard to believe the BellRays have been a fixture on the indie scene for 18 years. During that time, they’ve even released a Christmas EP (sample song: "All I Want to Do Is Shag for Christmas"), so you know they’ve paid their dues and then some. Led by the husband and wife team of vocalist Lisa Kekaula and guitarist/bassist Bob Venuum, this Riverside, California based band has transcended the mere “indie” label and veered closer to mainstream viability with their newest CD.

 

Hard, Sweet and Sticky is the BellRays' first release for Anodyne Records. They've often been pegged as a punk band, but they sound more hard rock or thrash to me.  It’s hard to pinpoint a genre on the BellRays. Punk, thrash, rock, gospel, soul, jazz — it’s all here. The mixture makes for a raucous soul-rock sound. Sure, there are bands with twinges of R & B and funk entrenched in their sound, but not the all-out bluster found on Hard, Sweet and Sticky. A vocalist can make a good band great and a great band unique, and as always, Kekaula’s stunning and versatile voice adapts easily to any genre, whether it’s a soulful ballad or thrash rocker.

According to my iTunes screen, Hard, Sweet and Sticky is an R & B album. Songs like  "The Same Way" bear that out. Sounding like a lost pop-soul gem from the 70s polished to a  2008 sheen, this slice of smooth R & B begins the album in a mellow grove. But don’t let that fool ya. The BellRays rock better than a lot of so called  metal dudes. "Infection" counters this laidback sound, with Vennum's guitar outdoing stoner rock at its own game as Kekaula wails I’m just a junkie and I can't be free / as long as you keep infecting me."

"Coming Down" incorporates the same hypnotic, psych era guitar. The wildest rocker, “Psychotic Hate Man” careens like a speeding car.  But for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The pace mellows on the jazz-influenced  “Blue Against the Sky” and the pensive “The Fire Next Time.”

While past releases like Let It Blast and The Red, White and Black combined elements in a free-form, hardcore base, Hard Sweet and Sticky is much more palatable to the casual listener.

Of course,  a more accessible sound also means more user friendly subject matter.  There’s no They Glued Your Head On Upside-Down  or  Stupid F***ing People on this CD. But the BellRays haven’t sold out or mellowed out. Far from it, they can still kick ass with the best of ‘em.

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