Billy Blastoff

Some Hotshot

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After the untimely demise of Retoff, McKenzie, Butler & Pierce in 1994, Dan McKenzie, David Butler, and Ed Pierce rebounded with the quartet Billy Blastoff, with James Marshall Lehman replacing Bill Retoff on bass (although Retoff did produce the album and release it on his Maize Records label). Other than a cover of their previous aggregate's tough rocker "If I'm Not Your Man," their debut album Some Hotshot is devoid of any of Retoff's wonderful pop songs. Butler ably fills that absence, however, taking the songwriting reins and running with them. He comes up with ten infectiously catchy pop tunes (two -- "Foolish I Know" and the Byrds-savvy "The Other One" -- which had also been recorded by their previous band) that, like Retoff's, find their inspiration in rock world of the 1960s. There are distinct difference in their styles, though, allowing Billy Blastoff to separate themselves in some interesting ways from Retoff, McKenzie, Butler & Pierce. Butler's tunes have a tendency to be wistful and introspective, as well as more stylistically grounded in rock & roll than in folk and pop, although there are certainly hooks galore on the album and McKenzie's sweet, angelic singing throughout the album is a dead ringer for Curt Boettcher's during his late-'60s heyday. On the other hand, Butler takes lead on several songs, and it gives the album the welcome addition of texture. His voice gives songs such as the Moody Blues-ish "Anybody's Hero" and exquisitely brooding "Jealous Mind" a rootsy, grounded quality that plays off the sweeter, more ethereal tendencies in the music. The music itself doesn't shy away from grit. "Firefighters Park" has an almost punk/new wave aggressiveness, albeit with sparkling acoustic guitars and a pop melody. "One More Chance" has great surf/drag-strip guitar and a dual lead vocal that is completely roots rocking, before taking off into a closing instrumental section that is very nearly blues. It is perhaps the finest song on the album and, tellingly, the one that is the most unlike anything by their previous band. And the quartet strikes out in virgin territory as well on "Quiet Man," which boasts chord progressions that are particularly jazzy before settling back into a great British Invasion break in the middle. As for the spacy name and album cover with four men in '50s-era astronaut suits, it is a bit of misdirection. The songs are primarily romantic expressions, particularly emphasizing the difficult side of love, feelings of insecurity, and the moment where you realize you are drifting apart rather than extraterrestrial musings or space-age explorations. The album is the slightest bit inconsistent, but it is barely noticeable and makes only a miniscule dent in the music's enjoyment factor. The best of these songs run neck and neck with Retoff, McKenzie, Butler & Pierce's best tunes.