Finally, the long-awaited second X Brothers CD "Beyond the Valley of the X" has been released on AHE and is now available on CD Baby. We already knew in advance that it was going to be a mixture of covers and own material so it was always going to be interesting to hear what they came up with.

Well, I've had the CD on repeat play for the best part of the last week and I thought I'd jot down a few of my thoughts on what I think is a great album overall.

Incidentally if you go to the X Brothers CD Baby page, you can check out samples of all the songs on this CD so you can hear for yourself before you buy...

The X Brothers are an interesting band, certainly. Their genesis grew out of the Cult Brothers project circa 1988 which seemed to have a complex raison d'etre - Joe obviously had a large bank of fantastic songs he'd either written, co-written and/or arranged with BOC over the past 16 years when he left in 1986 so why shouldn't he get to play these with another band?

The Cult Brothers' sets around that time were largely BOC affairs - I've heard the odd tape here and there and they're very enjoyable but you can only go so far playing stuff associated with a previous band - plus there were legal disputes with BOC (apparently there were anecdotal tales - almost certainly apocryphal - of fans turning up for Cult Bros gigs thinking it was going to be BOC etc...) and the thing got a bit unpleasant. Anyway, the Cult Brothers seemed to disintegrate some time in 1992 and that would seem to have been that.

Fast forward to 1998 and suddenly we get a new band (well, a new name anyway) and a new CD "Solid Citizens" and the X Brothers were born. Unfortunately, the illness to guitarist Billy Hilfiger and his subsequent death put a downer on the whole project and although things could easily have fizzled out, there were still some glowing embers and these flickered into flame during 2004 when the band came back as a three-piece playing the occasional gig here and there.

Now here we are in 2006 and there's this brand spanking new CD consisting of seven covers and seven "own" compositions. So what's it like?

OK - I'll get this out of the way first - I'm not a fan of the front cover - I like the typography with it's nice spotlight effect on the logo but the colourfully drawn artwork pic seems at odds with that, in my opinion - a nice moody black & white shot of them would have kept up the German expressionist vibe and would have been more my cup of tea... then again, I drink Earl Grey so what do I know?

This Kinks opener is a great way to kick off the CD and features a great vocal performance by Joe Bouchard. Now my audio setup is what is technically known as a load of old bollocks so maybe what I'm going to say is unique to me but I think Joe's vocals should be higher up in the soundscape - the drums seem louder than the vocals to me and occasionally there seems to be a fight for dominance during the course of this CD - I'd like to apply a slight Gaussian Blur filter over the percussion and raise the contrast of the vocals a bit...

But mixing levels apart, this is a great song and a great performance. I'm not sure if it's meant to be a song of celebration, hope or futility but Joe attacks it with passion and it's interesting to hear an American bloke have to sing about a "lorry strike"...

OK, this is the first of the Joe Bouchard songs on this release. It has a great stuttering beat and features a strange underwater guitar solo by Joe.

Lyrically, if you're wondering what themes interest Joe Bouchard these days, there's not so much "flights of black horsemen soaring over churches", "cards sprayed with red" or "motiveless subway murders" - he's stepped away from the dark side that suited the BOC mythos so well - for example, this one's thrust is "Oh woh oh - just gimme the money" - towards the end, there's more than a passing nod to "Money" in that they break into that to finish off... :-)

Joe's site has a page where you can view the lyrics to his songs - it's not currently working as of the time of writing but here's a link to it for when it is: lyrics. That way you can check them out for yourself...

This is a strange one. I don't know what to think about this at all. You'll probably have heard a version of this before on the Brain Surgeon's "Beach Party" LP so this will sound like a cover...

Whereas the tBS is a strange, almost laid back affair, this is more jaunty. It's got a jolly singalong tune: "Come on down, come on down, all your friends will be coming around" etc - you can just picture everyone swaying along to this as they sing the chorus... but then it turns out it's not so jolly after all as Joe bemoans that he's just "pissing away the Summer trying to forget you"... Just a thought - if you're trying to forget her Joe, don't write a song about her and put it on your new CD... :-)

This could almost be a country and western song done with one of those pedal steel wotchamacallits... actually, this could be a TV show theme tune... or an accompaniment to a TV commercial... or on a film soundtrack...

Like I said: I don't know what to make of this one - check it out and see what you think...

This is great. It's a Joe and Patty G song and has been "borrowed" by the X Brothers who have electrificated it to great effect. Joe's vocals on this are superb by the way but let's say a word about Patty's lyrics...

Grab me by the collar - let me be your slave
I'll do anything for you - get down on my knees
Beg scream or say please - whatever you want me to do
I'll do it all for you....

All I can say is: Patty's my kind of girl!! Apparently the duo's acoustic project was going to be called "Driveslaver" at one point, too...
:-)

By the way - when their CD finally does come out, I've got a great idea for the cover!!

This is probably one of the most interesting (and very nearly my favourite) songs - on "Beyond the Valley of the X"...

When I first played the CD, a couple of "obvious" songs stood out for me and which drew my main attention. Is This for Real? wasn't one of those initially but after a few plays I started to notice this song more and more.

It's subtle acoustic verse and the understated chorus just get better and better with each playing. I don't know if they could do justice to this live, but it'd be great to hear they try.

I'll be glad when Joe's lyrics are available on his site - I just can't make out the last bit (it seems that it wasn't for real after all) - I love the way it ends (with a 2006 SWU feel), but what's that last line ??

Joe gets the Hippy Hippy Shake and Twists and Shouts with this rocker by J. Roslie. This is a fun and fast boogie woogie that probably goes down great live but - to me - it seems a strange type of studio song to do on this CD - yes, it shows the range of the band but it seems so different to the other material on this record that for me it almost doesn't seem to fit. It's just a contextual thing, for me. I hated the inclusion of "Betty Lou" on the BOC remaster, for example. I always skip this as it doesn't sound in context with the rest of the record - it always sounds wrong to me. Yet if I had it on a CD amongst a bunch of other BOC fun boogie tune covers, I'd have no problems with it...

I've just done a little experiment - I just put Joe's CD in and played "Psycho" on it's own and it sounded bubblegummylicious - before the end of the song, my toe's were tapping and my fingers were drumming along... nothing wrong with the performance or the song - my review of this song has indicated the fault to lie within me - I'm too intolerant of songs not conforming to my mental pigeon holing filing system... that said, I'll still skip "Betty Lou"...

Now you're talking - sorry, talkin'!! I've already said that I didn't think Psycho fitted in with the other tracks on this CD, but if it was to fit in with anything, it'd fit in with this song's honky-tonk piano style verse...

Deadman Walkin' kicks off though with a great velvet guitar opening riff around which Joe twists some nice lead work... in a live situation, this lead guitar would probably have to be sacrificed which is a big shame. Joe often seems to find himself in three-piece line-ups with the X Brothers and BDS, and it's hard to showcase his lead work throughout a song in a live show other than in the traditional "verse/chorus, verse/chorus, guitar solo" scenario... I've heard the X Brothers live in Florida disk and they have a big sound live but I'd still love to hear them with a rhythm guitar to give Joe more freedom to wail...

This is a great song though and you should check out that CD Baby link at the top of this page to listen to a sample...

Although, I have to confess - I didn't like the "Hey Joe did you see those chicks?" spoken part... I mentally skip that bit...

Weirdly numbered as track 7 on the back cover comes the first of the BOC tunes. I say BOC tune, but of course it's a Joe tune through and through, although apparently the title had a bit of help from Sandy Pearlman.

The problem with putting these tunes on this CD is that you're inevitably going to compare and contrast the BOC ones with these versions. And is it really fair to do that? But then again, like I said, it's going to be inevitable...

Take Hot Rails. I can't help but hear Joe's new version on top of the one that's already been imprinted in my brain cells - indeed my very DNA - for over thirty years. I find the original to be an unsettling ferocious entity, rumbling above and below and speeding along like dynamite - although dynamite doesn't speed intrinsically, basically I believed it when Joe said it could!!

"Hot Rails" on "Beyond the Valley" is a great version - fantastic lead work from Joe including a wah-heated solo and great vocals - but it's not ferocious. Possession - or lack of - ferocity is not a valid criticism, I realise - it's a totally subjective impression based on comparison with a version of the song recorded under different circumstances over three decades ago...

For a valid opinion of this song you'd have to find someone who didn't know the BOC version and see what they made of it - though I think it'd be difficult to find such a person - Hot Rails is such a signature Joe Bouchard song...

And yet, I really like this version - so it's weird, isn't it?

First time I heard this instrumental I thought it was weak and didn't fit with the rest of the tracks - it's like this meandering little tune that doesn't seem to do anything special - it starts, goes along and then finishes... and then finishes again!! Hmmm... I was thinking - it's pleasant enough, but why name your CD after this track? Maybe I'd skip this one on the next play-through... but I never did skip it (I'm a lazy sod/pseud) and a strange thing happened... I'd be pouring out a nice cup of tea (Earl Grey, of course) or walking down the road or even just trying to get to sleep and I'd have this ditty constantly winding it's way through my conscious subconscious... I can't shake it and now I find myself being drawn to play track 9 first before any of the other tracks on this CD...

Check it out on the CDBaby site - but don't just play it once... play it now... then come back an hour later and play it again... and then again just before you go to bed... then try and get to sleep and see how you get on...

Second of the BOC covers - I was never a fan of this song when the Oysters did it (they still do, sometimes) - I always hated those lyrics - they seemed so vapid and trite - they seemed like KISS lyrics yet Meltzer wrote them... that always bugged me - he's smarter than the average bear, so clearly (as usual) I'm missing the plot with this song - I'm outside the box on this one...

Joe's new version on this CD is pretty good, though - if you like the song, you'll like this version - Joe seems to have some sort of interesting gizmo effect on his vocals and there's a great little guitar solo too...

No, not the hit by Peculiar - sorry Petula - Clark, this is a song written by Joe and the only XBro on the credits, Andy Hilfiger. Dunno who's doing the main vocal on this one - maybe it's drummer Jimmy who I believe once sang lead anyway for another band...

This is another "grower" and improves everytime you play it... the lyrics aren't what you might call multi-layered and redolent with hidden depth - basically, it seems to be about going erm downtown in your suit of leather to party all night and I believe there's mention of burning a candle at both ends - a bizarre ritual of some sort? Be careful with that hot wax on your leather suit though...

There is a strange second verse which mentions stuff like "blackened out eyes" in some sort of Hot Rails homage and there's a wonderfully indecipherable rolling prelude to the main chorus which fits it like a glove and helps make the song...

The music on this version has a wonderfully sad musing pensive feel - the first BOC LP is often criticised for the echoey cold distant-almost sound it has but - for me - that's one of it's strengths - it was recorded in a place called the Warehouse and it sounds like it!! But I love it!!

The guitar sound Joe gets with this version harkens back to that initial recording and those early days - after the "spilled three boy's blood" verse, Joe's guitar cries like a plaintive seagull at one point - it's quite remarkable when you consider this guy was restricted to being a bass-player for so many years - but this CD bears testimony to the fact that Joe's definitely a great guitarist - who can also play a mean bass... and keyboards... and who knows, probably drums too (I wouldn't be surprised)...

I'd have double-tracked the main vocal on this one though or added an effect as it's a little shakey in places... but you forgive any little vocal weaknesses when you hear the great guitar work and the almost Spanish-style acoustic guitar running through it... for that reason, this is my favourite BOC interpretation on this CD.

Last of the Cult classics, and complete with DC10 sound effects, this is a bouncy enough version yet is curiously restrained in tone - I'll tell you what - there's a terrific gloopy guitar solo from Joe (what effect is that?) in the middle. I love the engine build up at the end but they do the "swoosh" effect a bit too often though...

Again, how would I view this song if I didn't have the original running through my head at all times? I don't know but I suspect I would love it. It's a fecking great song. Check this version out and see what you think.

This is a fantastic track to end on - a wonderfully evocative drifting swirling track that makes me want to light a joss-stick every time I hear it. They capture the 60s vibe so well with this track that you can't help but think they should explore this area a little more...

Mick and Keith would appreciate this track, no question, and so will you when you hear it.

So there you are - all in all a great CD. I still haven't come to a firm decision over whether I think the X Brothers should be doing covers or not - especially BOC ones - on a studio album. It's hard to develop your own identity if you're doing Blue Oyster Cult songs. There's enough proof on this CD that the X Brothers are good enough to be the X Brothers - rather than the ex-Cult Brothers. And the more covers there are, the less room there is for new material... also the more royalties they have to pay out!!

But the problem I have with maintaining this argument is that the cover versions are excellent so I'm in my usual position of acute bi-polarity: white is black, and black is indeed white after all. I knew it all along....

Anyway, stop reading these pointless ramblings and go and buy this bloody CD now.