So what if I told you that Judas Priest put out a very good album this year? You might not believe me, and I can think of three good reasons why. First, you might know that K.K. Downing, founding member and half of Priest’s dueling-guitar front line, is no longer with the band. But his longtime six-string partner Glenn Tipton is still squalling away, and the hole in the band has been filled by the 34-year-old Richie Falkner, a guitarist schooled in the church of the Priest and a worthy inheritor of Downing’s position. Next, you may consider Nostradamus, the group’s 2008 conceptual double album, inferior work. It really isn’t — it’s just sprawling, and fans of Judas Priest who prefer the more concentrated attack of the singles balked at the excess. But Redeemer of Souls (that’s the new one) is a sharp return to Priest basics, even if Downing isn’t around to contribute. Finally, you might consider me a chronic grade-inflater who is way too easy to please. And maybe you’ve got a point: I have been known to wave the flag embarrassingly hard for independent bands that show promise. But this is no nascent indie band we’re talking about here. The Metal Gods require no hyperbole or special treatment. Their achievements in headbanging ought to give them the benefit of every doubt.
It’s also commendable, or just pretty cool, that Judas Priest is standing so firmly behind Redeemer of Souls. At the Izod Center on Friday night, you can expect to hear the hits — “Living After Midnight,” “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ ” — but also a healthy sampling of cuts from the new album. The band will also be doing “Victim of Changes,” the 1976 epic that split the difference between progressive rock and the budding New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
Judas Priest was a little too established to fully participate in the NWOBHM, and neither Tipton nor Downing (nor Rob Halford, for that matter) ever tried to disguise their blues influences as many of their younger peers did. In the late ’70s, playing blues-rock was still a commercially sound move. These days, overdriven pentatonic riffs aren’t quite as popular as they used to be. There are still guitarists in the employ of major labels who love to lean on their power, but they’re not rushing to call themselves modern-day bluesmen. JEFF the Brotherhood, a pure-fun heavy rock duo that records for Warner Bros., isn’t called a blues band very often. When siblings Jake (guitar) and Jamin Orrall (drums) play it straight, catchy, rudimentary and heavy, they’re dubbed garage rock; when they stretch out and open up their arrangements, they’re a psychedelic act. It’s all blues, really — blues-rock so elementary that Jake Orrall, an enthusiastic minimalist, dispenses with the high guitar strings and strums the bottom three instead. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, another blues-influenced duo, produced Hypnotic Nights, and steers the Orrall brothers toward a sound that echoes both the Keys and brutal early Weezer. At the Brighton Bar in Long Branch on Saturday, the band will be considerably less constrained by the demands of the studio. They’ll rave up and make a racket.
Chances are, The Strangers, a local band with a run of regional dates on the calendar, will be aiming for a similar combination of rock abandon and blues intensity this weekend. The quartet, which plays at Crossroads in Garwood on Saturday, Champs in Hamilton on Nov. 14 and the Pattenburg House in Asbury (Warren County) on Nov. 30, cites blues-rockers as primary influences: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin. The Strangers haven’t released an EP yet, but the band website features video footage of live cover versions of “Folsom Prison Blues” (substantially punched up) and a Doors song, too. This is an outfit worthy of further investigation.
A very different local act brings its turntables and drum machines to MIXX at the Borgata in Atlantic City on Sunday night. Roseland’s Cash Cash has had a peculiar career trajectory — the outfit started as a punk rock band, moved aggressively into quasi-electronic Metro Station territory, and currently makes pure synthpop akin to Krewella or ZEDD’s recent singles. The group has worked with a procession of showbiz luminaries and sub-luminaries, including the production team of S*A*M and Sluggo, Black Cards singer Bebe Rexha and Goo Goo Dolls frontman John Rzeznik. The Rexha collaboration scored Cash Cash a chart hit; the Rzeznik record was a bit too blatant an attempt to make an Avicii-style beat-and-potatoes crossover smash. The good news is that the streamlined “Surrender,” the latest Cash Cash single, is the most enjoyable thing the band has done since the silly but irresistible “Party in Your Bedroom,” a synth-punk song about webcamming. If it’s a teaser for the next step of the Cash Cash evolution, it promises good things.
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