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Finding our own sounds, and maybe salvation, in new albums from Jeff Riales and Greg Prevost

two men with guitars in a dark room, surrounded by western cowboy themed posters
Aaron Winters
Photo provided
Jed Curran and Jeff Riales play a show at Abilene Bar & Lounge in Rochester.

I look at the venues that have closed, or struggled mightily, since COVID came to town. Anthology, that’s the big one.

Or the large venues that haven’t booked music since COVID. Harro East Ballroom, the German House Theater. The concert offerings at the Auditorium Theatre and the Blue Cross Arena since COVID have been slim to none.

We’re getting out-rocked by our neighbors. By Ithaca. They even get Jonathan Richman, and we don’t.

What’s happening here?

The circumstances are likely different at each address. So, for answers, today we look inward for our salvation. We look at what we’re writing and recording here. In our basements, in our studios. We’re creating our own music.

I hear it in two new local albums.


I look to Jeff Riales for salvation. Riales has a release party for his new album, “Mama Waved at Elvis,” at 4 p.m. Sunday at Johnny’s Irish pub, 1382 Culver Road.

Suggesting that someone is the best songwriter in town depends on what you’re looking for in a song. In listening to “Mama Waved at Elvis,” I think he’s the best we have.

That’s just an opinion.

I was always a big fan of The Chesterfield Kings, the Rochester band that some folks credit with leading the garage-rock revival of the 1980s.

Over time, the band imploded. A lot of them do. Bassist Andy Babiuk went his way, and among other projects, he assembled a new band.

Lead singer Greg Prevost went another way -- deep into the chaos of the past.

His new album is “Vintage Violence: Barbaric, Crude & Primitive 1975-1979.” That says it all. He’ll be with a band for a free show starting at 1 p.m. Saturday at the House of Guitars, 645 Titus Ave.

He’ll have the new album there, as well as his rock and roll autobiography, “On the Street I Met a Dog.”

So here’s your weekend:

Jeff Riales and ‘Mama Waved at Elvis’

Riales’ music is like Riales himself. He’s lived in Rochester for years now, but still retains his Memphis grounding. Relaxed. With stories not in a hurry to get anywhere.

But over the space of a radio-friendly song, they all do get somewhere.

The centerpiece of his new album is the title track, “Mama Waved at Elvis.” It is based on a true story: Riales’ mother recalling how she was sitting in a chair on her front lawn in Memphis, hair up in curlers, when a man drove by in a Cadillac. As he passed her, he waved. She recognized him, of course. There was nothing strange about seeing Elvis in Memphis. She waved back.

End of story? No.

“Sometimes I think, what if things had gone different that day?” Riales sings. Elvis stops. He and Riales’ mother talk. They go out on a date. The relationship blossoms. They marry. “I coulda been known as Elvis’ son,” Riales sings.

Riales would learn to sing from “the king of rock and roll.”

And it’s a relationship that works both ways. Riales’ mother steers Elvis away from his bad habits, including unhealthy food. Fried chicken? Well, that one’s OK. After all, this is Memphis.

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The cover of the "Mama Waved at Elvis" album.

But mostly, Martha Ann would keep Elvis in line. All things could have taken a different path. Maybe we’d have had Elvis for years and years to come, if he’d just had someone chasing him away from the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

But Riales didn’t really need Elvis to teach him how to sing. He has a great voice, unmistakably Southern. And Riales has his wife, Doreen, looking after him. Riales builds these songs like the retired carpenter he is.

Unlike Neil Young, Riales hits the positive notes – and also the thoughtful, difficult notes – on what it is to be a Southern man. He’s always written about what that means; the night the Army rolled into Memphis to quell the riots after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

There is a strong sense of place in this collection of songs. On “Log and a Chain,” Riales celebrates the sound of old-time country and the old-time work ethic of loggers, and the dangers of that work deep in the woods, out of our sight.

“Mississippi Dream” is a gentle reflection on his country heritage. Longing for things lost. Including getting lost himself: “I’m going back to Mississippi, hope there’s no one following me.”

With “Billy Ray and Me,” again built from real life, Riales tells of taking beer, whiskey and a flatbed truck into the woods of Mississippi to set headstones in a remote cemetery by day. And by night, they’ve abandoned the truck for a Chevy Monte Carlo, playing the honky-tonks and beer joints.

Landscape is the dominant imagery. Riales drifts through “Backwater” in a flat-bottom boat, a pole in his hand, “With the steam coming up from an early-morning rain.”

This, like the amusing “Back Porch” is a portrait of an idyllic rural America. Corn whiskey, snuff and a pipe. Grand Ol’ Opry on the radio. The outhouse door needs fixin’ again. The crows are in the fields, eating the corn. “The hound dog fell off the porch again.”

“Sweet Marguerite” is again a portrait drawn from life. Marguerite is Riales’ grandmother, who lived to be 100. “When the church choir sang, she was the first on her feet,” he sings. “She just kept hangin’ on, keeping the angels at bay.”

He watches admiringly as “The Couple Down the Road” grows old together. She’s holding the ladder as he fixes the window. He’s shoveling the driveway in winter, seeding the lawn in the spring. Riales gives the couple no names – he’s watching from a distance. He just gives us an address, 29 Magnolia. In their subtle grace, they are powerful images.

Riales is not simply lyrical country corn. Love is elusive, and sometimes difficult. On “Clear to the Bone,” her “beauty was skin-deep, but her blues went clear to the bone.” In “Better Shade of Blue,” he meets his love in a coffee shop, and by the end, the song comes full circle: He’s sitting in a coffee shop, still thinking of her.

There is the arch warning of “Sharp Knife and a Gun,” and not crossing the line to put those tools to use. “We pray that when it’s over, it’s not your daughter or your son.” In “Long Way to Buffalo,” Riales is a trucker hauling chicken wings, regretting his decision to take the Thruway to Buffalo in a snowstorm.

These songs may seem simple, but they’re actually great, even when the stories don’t really go anywhere, but just paint a scene. As in “I’ve Been Around,” where as Riales notes with bemusement, “there’s a small part of our brain, it’s called common sense.”

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file photo
Greg Prevost of Rochester rock band The Chesterfield Kings.

Greg ‘Stackhouse’ Prevost, “Vintage Violence’

These feral sounds are not dinner music, but once set the table for The Chesterfield Kings. An attitudinal soundtrack from a dank basement. How can this be? It is both awful, but great.

Before he became "Stackhouse,” to separate himself from his Chesterfield Kings years, Prevost was Mr. Electro. Mr. Electro & the Void, Mr. Electro & the Psychedelic Lampshade, Mr. Electro & the Psychedelic Burnouts.

So “Vintage Violence” unfolds in chronological order and Mr. Electro’s relentless sonic attacks. “Put Me to Death” opens with Black Sabbath guitar riffs and death metal vocals …. Oh man, do I wish this came with a lyrics sheet.

But it is not to be. Vocal incoherence is the rule.

By “LSD,” there is still a sense that these guys are picking up their instruments and thinking, “Let’s try this.” The vocals are still Godzilla-influenced.

Yet, you can hear where Prevost is going. From here on, this will be a different animal.

The Kings are slowly emerging, at first as The Cutdowns. But now the band is a disciple of early Rolling Stones. The chaos remains, the distortion remains. Three early Chesterfield Kings tracks (four if you have the CD) close out “Vintage Violence,” before Prevost cuts off this journey at 1979.

Prevost is a longtime archivist of his personal rock and roll ride. As such, the packaging of “Vintage Violence” includes his high-school yearbook photo, set lists, various band publicity shots, blurbs from forgotten rock magazines, a photo of an eight-track tape, a broken guitar pick with the words “Mr. Tomato.” And extensive liner notes explaining himself.

The album-opening “Just like John Cage Blues (Excerpt)” needs some explaining. Noise with no rules attached. This is a three-minute excerpt from a recording that is 20 minutes long. As Prevost writes, with honesty, in the album’s liner notes, “No one reading this could take listening to the whole thing.”

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.