Joe Birardi has been plugging away for several years now in different Ocean County bands, and I’ve mentioned him in this column more than once. His latest live and studio band is River Monsters, and they have a new six-song EP out and show at the Stone Pony on Feb. 24 with special guests NJ Rockhouse, Plug Fiction, David E. Ulrich and night closer, Pathway. The new EP is the latest results of singer/songwriter Joe “Ciid” Birardi and his compatriots. The band was named by Stone Pony promoter, Kyle Brendle, around two years ago, and it’s been that ever since. Birardi likes to call what he does power-pop/hard rock and I think that’s a fitting label for the music that they’ve recently completed and sent to me.
But this CD means much more to Birardi and his friends than most as it also marks a point where he is just getting over a major illness. Birardi is listed as a Stage 4 cancer survivor, and this record was a heavy focus that took Birardi’s mind off physical ailments, and allowed him to get through a very rough period the best way he knew how. And while he is still battling the disease, he’s making progress and getting better every day. Music is his focus, and it’s helped him through some tough times and allowed him to focus on friends and family during all the technical appointments and doctors visits.
The live show is also a high point as it’s the first time Birardi has been able to play a show since he got sick. This CD also features the very last vocal assist from the recently diseased Denny Carmella, a long-time band member and friend of Birardi’s and a co-founder of many musical creations over the last several decades here in New Jersey.
Other contributors of mention include Joey Sinopoli (Carson) and DB Calla and the Forget-Me-Nots, as well as guitarist Bill Tuohy, vocalist Dominick Sangillo, Kevin Losardo — rhythm guitars, Rich Riley — synth guitar, Matt Smith — bass, Gerry Fortrus — drums and Gerry McKittrick on percussion. The disc was engineered and produced by Birardi and recorded in his Toms River studio. Both the new CD and the upcoming show have been getting positive feedback from fans and newbies alike, positioning Birardi and his band for a great start to 2018. Tickets for the next Feb. 24 show have been brisk, and a high turnout is expected for the night.
I should also mention that the River Monsters were recently featured on WRAT where DJs played the band’s first single draft, “Hurry Up ‘N’ Wait,” along with an excellent interview by the one and only Tom Hanley. Also, the group took to the airwaves to play their new CD and discuss musical information about the Stone Pony show on Tuesday, Feb. 20 on Hamilton Radio’s Weiscrackin’ Show with Dave Weiskopf from 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. So, not a bad start for the band this year and we can only hope to hear more in the very near future.
So, let’s take a listen to some of River Monsters new six-song self-titled EP, and I’ll tell you what I think.
First up is “December’s Wish.” Heavy guitars blend with bass and drums as Birardi and crew kick off and dive into the deep end of the rock ‘n’ roll pool. Utilizing a combination of vocal manipulations and studio effects. If you’re into old-school bands like KISS or Humble Pie, you are going to love this song. Birardi mixes up stark, dark verses with upbeat choruses, bridges, and intervals that take the listener along on a journey through pop-rock paradise. The song ends almost as quickly as it starts as Birardi is the master of three and a half minute songs.
Up next is one of the bands best hopes for a single. “Hurry Up ‘N’ Wait” is the perfect pop song. Part Rick Springfield, part The Knack, Birardi’s songwriting skills are all winners here. Chugging guitars race alongside clear bass and drums as Sangillo croons in the vein of Quiet Riot’s late singer, Kevin DuBrow. Backing vocals don’t get too fancy but sound perfect as they sit just under the lead vocals in the catchy chorus. Addressing the age-old issues of relationship woes, Birardi and crew tear into this song with enthusiasm and attitude, creating the perfect pop-rock platform and delivering exceptional, listenable music. The middle-eight lead guitar from Birardi combines all the theatrics of former Ozzy sideman, Brad Gillis, with the pop sensibilities of Doug Fieger from The Knack. I don’t think I’ve heard a pop-rock chorus this addictive in years. Birardi pushes the band but never rushes the song, and it comes out as a natural masterpiece for the group. Another terrific song that is over before you even realize it has started. But that’s the beauty of the replay button, and I used it several times for this tune.
“Best Part” is up next. This song starts out like it may be a slow tempo ballad quickly blows into a bonafide rock tune. Kevin Losardo kicks things off with some excellent 12-string acoustic work as Sangillo explores the relationship avenue once more, pitting the hard-working, middle-class guy against the rich and well to do and their never-ending list of material possessions. Bass and drums nail this song to the proverbial floor as Birardi and Tuohy plow down center-field and deliver the electrical goods. If you were into The Ramones or The Godfathers during the late Eighties, you’ll love this song. It’s a hard-working man’s song of dedication and love, and it’s probably going to be a well-received tune for radio and live performances as well.
One other song I wanted to mention is “Mesmerized.” The song starts off with more of Losardo’s 12-string work under drums and vocals before the band kicks in for a rousing chorus. This is another song where Birardi has excelled at writing compelling music as the chorus just screams at you. Feel-good vibes that remind me of the best of the Eighties. I love how the verses come down before the chorus kicks the song into high gear, melodic and compositionally brilliant, Birardi hits the nail on the head once again. This song forgoes any real over the top guitar gymnastics but makes up for it with an eclectic blend of keyboard work and supportive guitar parts throughout the piece.
I’d love to go through more but were out of time, and you can get more information on the band’s webpage over at 2btbmusic.com. Just go to the page, scroll down and pick the River Monsters page to get details on the music. Birardi and his crew have come up with another beautiful CD, and I think you’ll truly enjoy the band on disk and in person.
And don’t forget the first show back for Birardi and the boys at the world-famous Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Feb. 24 with a special guest MC for the night, who will be provided by the one and only Steve Hook from WRAT.
You can also get show information on Facebook over at facebook.com/River-Monsters-Band.