As we entered the Newport Blues Cafe after Day 1 of the Newport Folk Festival, a three-piece rock band was tearing up the venue. Their rock ‘n roll was loud and blistering. After each of the four songs they would play, they finished with stoic, business-like expressions, acting like they’ve been here before and done it all. My friend asked me, “Do you know who they are?” I reply, “I know this band”, but I couldn’t place the name. Fortunately, the frontman uttered in a deadpan voice, “We’re Ron Gallo, and we’re happy to be here”. Of course, this is Ron Gallo, the former member of Toy Soldiers!
Over the next two days, I would frequently run into Gallo, learning that the Philadelphia native now East Nashville resident was an easy-going, bright twentysomething with a lot to say and share. Their debut album was going to be recorded soon, and there was anticipation and nervousness in Gallo’s voice as we spoke. Could Heavy Meta be his breakthrough? Could it build on the hype that was growing for Gallo through the blogosphere? Now that the album is officially out, it is the year’s second record that has us emphatically exclaiming, “F*ck yeah!” (Priests’ debut album was the first).
Heavy Meta is everything we expected from Gallo and more. It is an homage to the classic rock, garage rock, and glam rock that flooded airwaves in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young, T. Rex The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, John Lennon – their influences are notable throughout the album. Yet there is also a modernity to the LP, as Gallo takes a page out of Ty Segall’s playbook and create an album that is unrelenting in its energy and many surprises. The biggest surprise of all is Gallo’s songwriting, which often gets overlooked during his boisterous live shows.
Take the album’s opener, “Young Lady, You’re Scaring Me”, for instance. The guitar riffs are heavy, the rhythms are unpretentiously old-school, and the song as a whole is a hair-waving rocker. Through this wave of noise, Gallo shares a whimsical but creepy storyline of a woman with whom he fell in love. The subject is like the female version of Norman Bates, and there is no escape. The light-hearted storytelling and all-out rocking approach are further evidenced on the “love song”, “Put The Kids To Bed”, as Gallo sings over top the roaring wall of sound:
When we were young we said one day
You and I, we’re gonna share a grave
I didn’t know it would come so soon
Gallo, however, uses his sharp tongue to tackle serious and relevant issues of the day. The gritty, psychedelic “Kill The Medicine Man” is an attack on the privatization, profiteering, and over medication that currently underpins America’s health care practices. On the groovy, garage-rocker, “Poor Traits of the Artist”, Gallo reflects on the battle to stay true to himself or go after the cheap dollar and success. A similar message is shared on The Strokes-esque, “Please Yourself”. The slow-burning, southern rocker, “Why Do You Have Kids?”, meanwhile, addresses the falling apart of the family and how violence and lack of success are passed on from one generation to the next.
While the album is filled with memorable moments, two songs stand out in its creativity and intelligence. The dark, eclectic number, “Black Market Eyes” channels Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and the spatial, gritty soundscape perfectly complements Gallo’s fantasy of a woman who has sold (or lost) her soul.
She wanders into the ground
Thinks herself down and down
Hits the wall at the bottom of it all
Then knocks and turns around
The cinematic and psychedelic “Don’t Mind The Lion” offers an image of a modern-day Joan of Arc arriving to save the day. She is the hero and the anti-hero, but exactly who is she saving? The impression is that she has come back for a loved one, yet the song feels like one last goodbye before her inevitable ending. The instrumentation is stellar with Gallo extending himself on guitar while Joe Bisirri and Dylan Sevey show restraint to maintain the song’s mysteriousness.
“Do you know who they are?” It’s a question that I won’t forget. It’s likely a question that will be asked in the coming days and weeks following the release of Heavy Meta. But in creating a record that simply is outstanding from start to finish both musically and lyrically, fans will flock to Ron Gallo and his band. They already are. And pretty soon, people will be doing what we are – telling everyone they know about “Ron f*cking Gallo!”
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