Monday, February 28, 2011

Scott Walker: Yes and No

Enigmatic pop icon: Yes!

Asshat Wisconsin governor: NO!

Mo' Apollo 18

Oh yeah, this is going to be good. Both intense and dynamically varied.

[PV] Apollo18 - Iridescent Clouds from Ha S Lee on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Apollo 18

HIO is playing with this two-year-old Korean experimental psych band at 1919 Hemphill on Sunday, March 17th. They're in Texas and surrounding states for two weeks around SXSW time. Sound more than a bit like Boris to me in this clip, but I need to investigate them further.

Stoogeaphilia/The Bipolar Express/Darstar @ Doublewide (Dallas), 3.12.2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Allen Lowe’s “Blues and the Empirical Truth”

If living well is the best revenge, then making a great jazz album can’t be far behind. Just ask saxophonist-guitarist-composer Allen Lowe, whose last recording, 1997’s double CD Jews In Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation, was a response to his inability to get a jazz gig in Portland, Maine, where he currently resides. According to Lowe’s lengthy, informative, and hilarious liner notes to his new triple CD Blues and the Empirical Truth, his latest work was inspired, at least in part, by a young drummer who insulted him and challenged him to a fight after being lambasted via email for missing a rehearsal. (For what it’s worth, the specific tune occasioned by this encounter, “Old Man Blues,” is the best modern day evocation of Jelly Roll Morton since Mingus paid tribute via “My Jelly Roll Soul” and Air revived “King Porter Stomp.”)

I’ll call Lowe, for want of a better term, a maximalist – not just because he produces such sprawling, epic musical statements on his own, but because of the protean work he’s done as an author, historian, archivist, and sound restoration engineer whose work covers the whole length and breadth of recorded American music (four books, two of them unpublished, one accompanied by a nine CD set, another by a 36 CD set, and a more recently compiled 36 CD set with 80,000 words of notes) – all, he emphasizes, without any institutional aid or funding. He’s a great thinker about music whose insights often swim against the tide of conventional wisdom. His own music restores my hope in the continuing vitality of jazz in the 21st century – not just in Europe or historic centers like Chicago and New York, but even in American backwaters (where, Lowe the historian would likely point out, the unprecedented availability of recorded sound via the internet makes easily accessible the latest developments from the music’s far-flung outposts).

Lowe’s performed sporadically over the years, in between spells working as a teacher, music journalist, playwright, and arts administrator, among other day gigs. Originally a self-admitted “bebop nazi,” he expanded his vision in the ‘80s enough to work alongside such forward-looking lights of the new music as Julius Hemphill, Don Byron, David Murray, and Roswell Rudd. He was introduced to Rudd, the Yale-educated Dixieland trombonist who made his name in the ‘60s playing free jazz with Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, and John Tchicai, via writer Francis Davis, who’d found Rudd working in a Catskill resort band. (Lowe and Rudd are the subjects of consecutive chapters in Davis’ worthwhile anthology Bebop and Nothingness, through which your humble chronicler o’ events first became aware of Lowe.)

Rudd’s probably the best known of Lowe’s collaborators on Blues and the Empirical Truth. Another is Matthew Shipp, the brilliant pianist who made his name in the ‘90s playing in what seems in retrospect to have been the last great free jazz band, with saxophonist David S. Ware and bassist William Parker. Shipp previously appeared on Jews In Hell, as did avant-guitarist/Tom Waits sideman Marc Ribot, who’s also present here. One difference is that for BATET, Lowe actually traveled to Brooklyn to record with Rudd, Shipp, and Ribot (unlike the earlier release, where he dueted with Shipp on one tune and the pianist and guitarist performed solo interpretations of Lowe’s tunes).

One of BATET’s most sublime pleasures is listening to Lowe, Rudd, and Shipp intertwining their sounds, often with the leader on guitar -- on which he’s wont to push the tonal envelope in the manner of Joe Morris, one of Captain Beefheart’s guitarists, or that guy down the hall from you in college who sort of knew how to play and sort of didn’t -- and Shipp on Farfisa organ, that signifier of ‘60s garage-rock cheese, which he uses to evoke the sound of the church on “Manhattan Moan” and “Ras Speaks 1” (both vehicles for Rudd’s muted growls and speech-inflected lines), or Sun Ra on the Albert Ayler-inspired “The Lost.” The shade of Thelonious Monk is present in the melody of “Entrance No Exit” (reminiscent of “Ask Me Now”) and in Shipp’s Monkian spareness on “Blue Interlude 1” (where Lowe flutters, Bird-like), while “Blue Interlude 2” has some marvelously intimate muted playing from Rudd, where you can hear the saliva in the mouthpiece.

As for Ribot, he conjures freewheeling solos from thin air and sculpts the notes until they form things of rough beauty. On “Blue Like Me,” he explodes out of the gate in a blaze of brawny atonality, like early Blood Ulmer splicing genes with a battalion of lower Manhattan “No Wave” guys. On the first version of “No 5 No Flats No Sharps Blues” – several of Lowe’s tunes appear in multiple versions which are different enough to justify their inclusion -- he gets further down in the alley than you’ve ever imagined him, then goes all the way off, with a searing intensity that will make you sit up in sheer astonishment. The second version is more slinky, sexy, and groove-oriented.

None of the above is intended as a slight to Lowe’s Maine-based musicians. The rhythm section of Jessie Hautala and Jake Millet on electric bass and drums respectively is particularly meritorious, inasmuch as their instrumentation is bound to piss off the acoustic jazz purists, while listeners with an ear for black street music will delight in the way they lock it in the pocket on “Huh/Sublime and Funky Love Pt. 1.”

Instead of playing one of those kits like Denardo Coleman uses, Millet uses floppy discs and pushes buttons, rather than striking pads, to get his sounds; that said, his beats are live-sounding and responsive, once you get used to their electronic timbre. On “I Hate Blues,” an oblique homage to obscuro NYC punk band the Mad (anybody else remember Screaming Mad George?), he works his virtual kick drum as furiously as Stefan Gonzalez going all Gene Krupa-on-steroids on Yells At Eels’ “Document for Toshinori Kondo.” It’s an impressive feat, enough to make all but the most doctrinaire neo-cons reconsider what “really playing” means. His “cymbal” work is also noteworthy.

To these feedback-scorched, guitar-centric ears, the big news here is Berklee-schooled axe-slinger Ray Suhy. While I’m not generally a fan of jazz guitarists’ dry, muted sounds and absence of vocalized effects, this Suhy guy is definitely Something Entahrly Other, from his reverbed-out surf/Morricone tone on “Twilight at Terezin” to the skronky storm he churns up on “Pauli Murray, at the Back of the Bus, Suddenly Realizes She Has the Blues” (titled after a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and precursor of Rosa Parks). There’s a lot of Sonny Sharrock in Suhy’s voice: his slide on “The Children of Ella Mae Wiggins” sounds like an unholy amalgam of Sonny and Billy Gibbons, while the net effect of “Blues In Shreds” is something like Last Exit if only Sharrock was going completely apeshit. All in all, Suhy’s contributions constitute a mighty impressive debut.

As a saxophonist, the leader’s playing is exploratory, but with an awareness of tradition, as though he breathed in the entire history of blues and jazz (which I suppose, in a way, he has) and is now blowing it out through the bell of his horn. Lowe burns with incandescent fire on uptempo numbers, cries the blues a la Ornette on “(Bull Connor Sees) Darkies on the Delta,” flexes his muscles to show off his range and fluidity on “No More Blues (the Sins of the Mother),” and even comes across like one of those freedom-drunk, fire-breathing ‘60s guys on “Pete Brown’s Blues,” “In a Harlem Ashram,” and “One Trane Running.” (No slouch, either, is Texas-born altoist Spike Sikes, who plays Pharaoh Sanders to Lowe’s Trane on “Elvis Died With His Sins Intact.” I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention pianist-academic-Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter, who tickles the ivories in an exemplary manner on three tracks.)

Lowe’s always a composer first, and plays through “actual chord changes” like those on the Ellingtonian “In Da Sunshine of Your Love” or “My Confession: Ode to Doris Day (The Last Embrace)” with lyrical elegance and grace. His tunes almost always come with a back story, with titular or musical allusions to jazz and Civil Rights pioneers, Richard Hell, Richard Strauss, the Carter Family, minstrel shows, the Regular Old Baptists – he avers that he listens to nothing but gospel music – Salvation Army bands, an obscure post-Beat poet, and the Velvet Underground, to say nothing of the album’s Oliver Nelson-inspired title.

BATET only includes a couple of vocal features. On the slow shuffle “Carnovsky’s Blues/The Whores’ Dance,” the terrifying slavery-days narrative “Cold Bed Blues,” and the ominously relentless “Blood on the Mirror,” engineer Todd Hutchisen intones Lowe’s lyrics like Colonel Bruce Hampton singing from the bottom of the ocean, which is actually an improvement on the author’s sub-Lou Reed croak on Jews In Hell. No one does all things equally well.

There’s much to be amazed by in this cornucopia of sounds. I know I’ll still be digesting this by summer, which makes BATET an early candidate for my record of the year. And again, hearing this outpouring gives me hope. If creativity this robust can survive and thrive in the Maine woods, who knows what other pockets of thrilling, individuated compositional and improvisational excellence are lurking out there in the backwater burgs of America? (Or, if a masterpiece drops in the woods, does anybody hear? Visit for the answers to this and many other questions.)

ADDENDUM: Official release will be on July 26th via Music & Arts Programs of America. You can preorder now via Amazon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My scrawl in the FW Weekly

A review I penned of the new, self-titled CD by Magnus is in this week's paper and online now.

"Time/Peace: The Rascals' Greatest Hits"

Although I've never owned a copy of this, every song is imprinted on my DNA -- not from airplay on oldies radio, but from growing up on Long Island in the '60s. As I've written elsewhere, in my German-Irish-Italian Catholic 'hood, first the Four Seasons, then these guys, then the Vanilla Fudge were all more popular than the Beatles, because they were _Italian_. It seemed kinda odd, in the Seasons' case, that Frankie Valli could "Walk Like A Man," sing like a woman, and still get the guys hangin' out in front of the deli so worked up: "'Oo the fahhhck are these _faggots_ from England wit' no collars on dere jackets? SEASONS!"

The Young Rascals might have appeared on Ed Sullivan wearing ridiculous Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, but if you closed your eyes, they sounded like kindred spirits of Wilson Pickett, the Isley Brothers, Ray Charles, James Brown, and a strain of urban black masculinity the living incarnation of which scared the absolute living shit out of the slightly older guys in my neighborhood, although they liked their music fine. It puzzled me that not only did the kids I grew up with love this music, but so did my cousins from Hawaii, whose taste generally ran to the Banana Splits and the Osmonds. Maybe it was because the Rascals had played in the Islands.

Sure, in the fullness of time, "In the Midnight Hour" (bane of Jimi Hendrix's existence during his apprenticeship as a chitlin' circuit sideman) and "Mustang Sally" have risen to near the top of my list of "songs I never want to have to hear or play again" (the result of years of playing in shitty bar bands), but I still have to admit that the Rascals did justice to the Wicked Pickett's originals, in the same way the Rationals and Vagrants did to Otis Redding's "Respect" before Aretha got hold of it and made it hers forever.

That brand of "blue-eyed soul" also manifested itself in contemporary hits like the Soul Survivors' "Expressway To Your Heart" (around which we contrived an elaborate mythology that involved two bands' vehicles colliding on the Long Island Expressway and the survivors joining forces to form a new group) and perhaps reached its fullest flowering circa '70 with Detroit's Rare Earth, who were actually signed to a Motown subsidiary, but whose psychedelic soul trappings couldn't hide their lounge-act roots.

The Rascals had a bloodline, Felix Cavaliere and Dino Danelli having played in Joey Dee & the Starlighters of "Peppermint Twist" fame. Felix was among the era's greatest soul shouters of European ancestry and a whiz on the Hammond B-3 to boot, making that instrument a sine qua non of Long Island bands through the end of the '60s. Dino Danelli was excitement personified behind the traps, forcing Gene Krupa and Louis Bellson-loving parents to have to admit that maybe these Rascals had something going for them after all. (When I saw ex-Blondie drummer Clem Burke playing in the Magic Christian with ex-Flamin' Groovie Cyril Jordan at SXSW a couple of years ago, I walked up to him afterward and said, "Dino Danelli lives!" I _think_ he got the compliment.)

Eddie Brigati shook a mean maraca and tambourine, danced up a storm, and was probably a really nice guy, and Canadian Gene Cornish, in spite of playing an unfashionable hollowbody guitar in a time when everyone else was moving to Les Pauls and Strats, was the first guy I ever heard play sliding barre chords and make them _snarl_ the way he did on the Rascals' signature cover of the Olympics' "Good Lovin'" and their even-better revenge fantasy "You Better Run" (on which Felix's anguished cry of "MERCY!" is worth whatever you have to pay to hear it).

After their initial splash, their sound got softer, but never weak. "I've Been Lonely Too Long" skirted Motown territory, while their biggest hit, 1967's "Groovin'," was the most idyllic R&B since the Drifters' roof and boardwalk and a precursor to Sly's "Hot Fun" and War's "All Day Music." For all its goofy cod-psych sound effects, "It's Wonderful" could have been penned by Bob Gaudio for the Seasons circa "Let's Hang On." The only non-snazz aspect of Time/Peace is that it doesn't include their brotherhood anthem "People Got To Be Free," released later and a big hit in the summer of '68, when the decade took a turn to the dark side.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Kinks @ The Rainbow, 1972

Unbelievably good live show plus interviews from the Muswell Hillbillies era.

2.19.2011, Arlington

1) Set and setting. The Sunshine Bar, located right next door to Caves Lounge on Division Street in Arlington (they share a parking lot, even), is a tiny dive bar the size of your ass pocket that occasionally books bands. I first set foot in there to see The Great Tyrant play a couple of years ago. Matt Day, the preacher's kid who used to barback at the Wreck Room (R.I.P.), runs the place now and he's become the perfect host in the same way that the Moon's Chris Maunder is. The Shine has the same neighborhood bar-cum-clubhouse vibe as El Wreck had. When we got there, the pool tables were still in place and musos were expressing trepidation at having to move the heavy-as-hell suckers (reminding me of the time we had to move a Hammond B-3 with a Leslie _over the bar_ at a place called the Showbar in Albany, NY). Matt arrived and recruited three of the regs who got up from their drinks and did the heavy lifting before returning to their spots. The crowd was great and enthusiastic. There's nothing like playing on the floor of a dive bar where the folks are right there in front of you while you're up. I'm convinced it makes bands play harder. It did us, anyway.

2) Magnus. We'd been talking about doing this gig forever until Ben Schultz from Magnus finally put it together. They'd just gotten their CDs mastered and I was fortunate to get one of the few copies he had on hand. When I got home, the Italian kid had emailed, suggesting that if I "happened" to have a copy of the Magnus CD and wanted to review it, that would be fine, so I said sure. Never say never again, James Bond. Ben, Andrew Tipps, and Kenneth Thompson sounded great, their sound well-balanced and powerful.

3) Convoy and the Cattlemen. I'd heard of these guys 'n' gals from Justin Workman, a 20something Arlington resident I work with who digs Dylan, the Jam, and blues as much as he does the Strokes and the White Stripes. He described 'em as "punk guys doing country," and I understand that they'll play all night if you let 'em, a la Brave Combo or Eleven Hundred Springs. They all live in the 'hood around the Shine, and they were kind enough to provide the PA for the evening. While still a teen, frontguy Convoy Cabriolet used to play in a punk band that often gigged at Spider Babies in Dallas when Richard's wife Elle Hurley was running it, and some of his Cattlemen play in House Harkonen. The Cattlemen's instrumentation includes fiddle and lap steel, and they play good old honky-tonk country (Hank Williams to his mother: "People don't go to honky-tonks to listen to music; people go to honky-tonks to _fight_") while costumed in the height of Wild West fashion in the manner of Spindrift. They're all tremendous.

4) A dream. I told Teague about a dream I'd had wherein we were playing a benefit at Lola's, he'd left the stage to get a drink, the other guitarist (not Richard -- in fact, no one I'd ever seen before in my life) needed a pick, and when I went to get one out of my pocket, I couldn't get my hand out, then when Jon returned to the stage, I called "Dirt" and the PA started playing Journey; we'd screwed around too long and lost our slot. Strange.

5) The li'l Stoogeband. I was a little anxious about what kind of crowd we'd draw, since there were more good shows going on in the Metromess than on any single weekend night in recent memory -- a good thing, but without all the musos that usually come to see us, would there be anyone in the house? I needn't have worried; lots of friends showed up, and about 60 percent of the folks present were probably house crowd, but thankfully the Shine regs liked us fine and were very demonstrative about it, always a plus as I noted earlier. I'd just gotten my varsity amp back from wizard o' circuits/Barrel Delux guitarist James Atkinson (who played with Richard in the Waves and Thing-Fish back in the day), and it was singing real pretty, and LOUD. Plus, Hembree was playing through Kenneth Thompson's big rig. Maybe we overdid it a little, as I learned later that we were overpowering the PA, so Ray's voxxx weren't optimally audible, and my ears are still ringing over 24 hours later. (Might be time for me 'n' my sweetie to invest in plugs.) In lieu of payment, we had very generous comps (free drafts and $2 you-call-its), which resulted in a very _well-oiled_ Stoogeband. We had a couple of good wrecks (on "1970" and "Search and Destroy," of all songs), but as I told Ben Schultz later, as long as you start and end together, no one cares. All in all, I'd say we played better at Lola's back in January, but we had bigger fun at the Shine. Next: Doublewide in Dallas on March 12th with The Bipolar Express and Darstar, as Stoogeaphilia's "Glacier Tour" of the Metromess continues.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stoogeaphilia/Convoy & the Cattlemen/Magnus pics @

My sweetie posted some of her pics of the li'l Stoogeband, awesome Arlington cowpunks Convoy & the Cattlemen, and the stupendously heavy Magnus (taken during last night's Sunshine Bar extravaganza) on her photo blog. Click on 'em to make 'em big and leave her a comment, why doncha?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Owl and the Octopus - "Canto #1"

T. Horn's latest musical creation sounded a lot like Boris ca. Flood before his latest set of overdubs. Now it's a little more like LSD March. Dig it!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Iggy had nothing on John Lennon

Before "All You Need Is Love," there was this (from The New Vulgate #85):

I remember one gig the Beatles had at the Cavern. It was just after they got Brian Epstein as their manager. Everyone in Liverpool knew that Epstein was gay, and some kid in the audience screamed, "John Lennon's a fucking queer!" And John -- who never worse his glasses on stage -- put his guitar down and went into the crowd, shouting "Who said that?" So this kid says, "I fucking did." John went after him and BAM, gave him the Liverpool kiss, sticking the nut on him -- twice! And the kid went down in a mass of blood, snot and teeth. Then John got back on the stage. "Anybody else?" he asked.

(Lemmy Kilmister, White Line Fever, Citadel)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Waldos’ “Rent Party”

Walter Lure’s a guy who always gets short shrift in the annals of rockaroll. While he didn’t have the name recognition that ex-New York Dolls Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan or Television refugee Richard Hell did when he joined the Heartbreakers in ’75, “Waldo” wound up doing half of the singing, songwriting, and lead guitar playing in the band’s mature (post-Hell) incarnation. His ebullient bark, no-frills toonage, chunky chording and ragged-but-right solo action take a back seat to no one.

While I grew up on Long Island, an hour outside New York City (everybody on the Island says that they’re “20 minutes from the city,” which is bullshit – Brooklyn is “20 minutes from the city”), I didn’t “get” punk until I moved to Texas and got to see and hear the Nervebreakers, the Huns, and the Big Boys. When I was working at Record Town in Austin’s Dobie Mall (a UT dormitory with built-in shopping center), the Heartbreakers’ Live At Max’s Kansas City was a favorite in-store spin. Sure, those guys weren’t really part of the “new breed thang” that was punk; rather, their sound was a harder-edged refinement of the Dolls’ blend of Brit Invasion R&B, Brill Building pop, and wiseass Noo Yawk attitude. The rough, raucous Live At Max’s is a better way to hear them than their musically-great-but-sonically-challenged studio album L.A.M.F., and a big part of its appeal is Lure’s lovable-lug/hail fellow well met persona – the perfect foil to Johnny’s iconically out-of-control dissolution.

Post-Heartbreakers, Lure worked as a stockbroker on Wall Street – as he told an interviewer for the UK-based Uber Rock website, “One of the main reasons I probably survived was the fact that I had to go out and get a job to survive” – and his death was erroneously reported in the wake of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. At Johnny Ramone’s request, he contributed guitar to three latter-day Ramones albums (Subterranean Jungle, Too Tough To Die, and Animal Boy), and he fronted his own band playing mostly Heartbreakers repertoire with a revolving cast of personnel as the Hurricanes and the Heroes before settling on the Waldos rubric in the mid-‘80s.

The Waldos released an album, Rent Party, on Sympathy for the Record Industry in 1994. These days the CD goes for big bucks online, and I recently discovered that SFTRI had the decency to reissue it on vinyl (with new cover art) back in 2009. Produced by Dictators mastermind Andy Shernoff, Rent Party includes Lure originals old and new, including “Flight,” his one vocal feature from the Hell-era Heartbreakers; a previously-unreleased Jerry Nolan song, “Countdown Love;” and covers that include Gary U.S. Bonds’ “Seven Day Weekend” (a Dolls/Heartbreakers favorite), Ray Charles’ “Busted” (kind of ironic in light of Waldo’s checkered past), and Claudine Clark’s “Party Lights” (also covered to good effect by Sonic’s Rendezvous Band). It’s a solid slab of rock that cements Lure’s credentials as one of the most consistently entertaining musos to emerge from the ‘70s New York punk claque.

As my pal Geoff Ginsberg points out in his All Music Guide review, there’s an undertone of tragedy lurking beneath the surface of Rent Party’s good-time ambience. Walter Lure’s a survivor in the truest sense of the word; his rock ‘n’ roll past is littered with fallen comrades: Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, original Waldos drummer Charlie Sox, bassist/mainstay Tony Coiro, and saxophonist Jamey Heath. He recently resumed touring and released a good live CD that includes Rent Party songs alongside Heartbreakers classics. Long may he run.

(For further Lure archaeology, read this interview from the Greek blog White Trash Soul.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tim Berne's "INSOMNIA"

Tim Berne's musical career has had an unusual trajectory. A jazz fan from upstate New York who made pilgrimages to hear the early '70s greats, he started playing saxophone while in college and moved to New York City in 1974 to study with Julius Hemphill, the brilliant Fort Worth expat who encouraged him to compose before he had even mastered the fundamentals of his instrument.

"Of course, everyone I listened to had their own sound," Berne told The Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson in a 2009 interview, adding, "Another thing I thought was normal was that everyone wrote music. It didn’t really occur to me there were sidemen. Everybody I listened to was a bandleader. Most of my role models were composers: Julius, Roscoe [Mitchell], Braxton, eventually Henry Threadgill. So I started writing music almost immediately."

He commenced his recording career in 1979 and has been quite prolific, releasing two albums on Columbia and numerous ones on his own Empire and Screwgun labels. Now Clean Feed has released his INSOMNIA, an octet recording from 1997 that has the feel of a masterpiece. An ensemble that includes violin, cello, and 12-string guitar alongside bass, drums, ex-Hemphill collaborator Baikida Carroll's trumpet, Chris Speed's clarinet, and the leader's alto and baritone saxes performs two half-hour-long pieces that wend their way through myriad shifting moods and rhythms with multiple contrapuntal melodic lines. The net effect is something like Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time meets Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

"The Proposal"'s opening pastoral section gives way to a bold and bracing extemporization from Carroll, then the strings have an impressionistic interlude, joined and eventually supplanted by the woodwinds before an ensemble passage with percussion that's reminiscent of Varese via Zappa circa Burnt Weenie Sandwich. The guitar and bass play cat-and-mouse with the drums, culminating in the echolalic aural equivalent of a fever dream. The ensemble essays an angular melody, gradually building to a complexity that evokes the bustle of a busy urban center, then retreating to long tones that stream like rays of light through cathedral windows. The closing section is quiet and ruminative; all in all, it's quite a journey.

"oPEN, cOMA" takes form tentatively, with randomized harmonics and percussive sounds from the guitar which are soon juxtaposed with a somber melody played by bowed strings. Tension builds as the drums enter, the reverberations from splattering cymbals bouncing off of scraped strings. Speed's clarinet flutters and soars over an increasingly somber and elegiac soundscape, then Carroll's trumpet and Erik Friedlander's cello intertwine searching lines. The ensemble takes up a slow but inexorable, syncopated groove behind a relentless Berne bari solo, with drummer Jim Black playing orchestrally, like Tony Williams on Dolphy's Out To Lunch, then Black closes out the piece with a clattering but precisely controlled solo. When the music stops, you expect to hear more. It's hard to believe this session went unreleased for so long, but it's an unexpected pleasure to have it available at last.

Monday, February 14, 2011


The summer I was 15, a slightly younger kid who lived down the street from me used to go out on his parents' pool deck every afternoon and play the riff from "Smoke On the Water" (the first-thing-everybody-used-to-learn-on-guitar in between "Sunshine of Your Love" and, I dunno, maybe "Enter Sandman") over and over again for hours. One afternoon, I went and knocked on his door and offered to teach him the entahr song if he could get his parents to buy him a Fender Telecaster (which I figured I'd then be able to borrow from him).

Somehow my ploy worked, and he called me up a few days later to tell me that his mother had bought him the guitar. I went over to his house and played it for a bit, then told him that I'd come over the following day and show him the rest of the song.

Unfortunately, that night, he was reading the owner's manual for the Tele and got to the part about removing the cover from the bridge pickup -- a simple matter of popping off the metal cover. Not understanding the difference between the pickups, he took a screwdriver and tried to remove the cover from the neck pickup, which was bolted to the scratch plate, and wound up destroying the guitar. He called me up the next day and told me about it. I never did teach him the rest of the song, but at least he stopped going out on his parents' pool deck and playing every afternoon. The neighbors should have thanked me.

Blaze's "25 Years Later"

Perhaps it seems hard to believe in an era when commercial R&B has deteriorated to the status of disposable noise for dancing and romancing, but time was when R&B artists on big labels had hits with songs that weighed in lyrically on social issues o' the day -- specifically, the self-determination struggles of the '60s and the disillusionment of same in the '70s.

The litany signifies: Sam Cooke singing "A Change Is Gonna Come;" the masterwork of Curtis Mayfield, both with the Impressions and on solo albums like Curtis and Superfly; the string of funk-infused singles Norman Whitfield produced for the Dennis Edwards/Eddie Kendricks-fronted Temptations; Marvin Gaye's What's Going On; Stevie Wonder's albums from Music of My Mind through Songs In the Key of Life; some of Gamble & Huff's early '70s work with the O'Jays. After that, hip-hop picked up the gauntlet, starting with Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" and Public Enemy's entahr body of work, before gangsta rap and conspicuous consumption overtook social commentary as that music's topic o' the day.

To these feedback-scorched ears, it seems as though Blaze's album 25 Years Later, released on Motown in 1990, a year after founder Berry Gordy had sold the label, was the last great moment of conscious R&B, and the last great Motown album to stand alongside Stevie 'n' Marvin's long-form masterworks. Blaze was a trio of New Jerseyites -- Josh Milan, Kevin Hedge, and Chris Herbert. Milan and Hedge enjoyed some success as DJs and producers in the '80s before adding Herbert to the lineup and signing to Motown in '89, and they continued working together as house music producers after Blaze was dropped from Motown in the wake of 25 Years Later's commercial failure.

The record was a concept piece, depicting the last day in the life of a fictitious black nationalist leader called Shaheed Muhammad (not to be confused with the DJ/producer from A Tribe Called Quest). The music's redolent of '70s soul on the cusp of the disco era: Curtis Mayfield's fingerprints are all over "Get Up" and "Lover Man;" the single "So Special" sounds like an O'Jays hit, and "All That I Should Know" could be a Talking Book outtake. Sure, Brit acts the Brand New Heavies and Soul II Soul were mining the same motherlode around the same time, but neither as effectively as Blaze. Don't take my word for it; listen.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Stick Men With Ray Guns

Click here for some classic Texas punk, fronted by doomed bad boy Bobby Soxx.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The New Vulgate

Wouldn't you know, ex-SST Records insider and Rock and the Pop Narcotic scribe Joe Carducci is out there in the blogosphere with The New Vulgate, a compendium of original and found artifacts on a variety of subjects including politics, culcha, and (of course) music that he co-edits with Chris Collins. See Issue #75 (you gotta scroll down) for typically insightful commentary on Saint Vitus, or Issue #78 (ditto) for "Pirates - Yankees Game 7, October 1969," a rumination on, among other things, the Italo-American immigrant experience, Alzheimer's, and an iconic ballgame. Once you do, you're gonna want to send them an email at newvulgate[at] with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. Scrawl like this is too good to miss.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New Fumes' "Bump and Assassination"

New Fumes is the latest project of Daniel Huffman, who started his musical journey in the mid-'90s as a member of Comet, a Mesquite-based space-rock unit that had their records produced by ex-Mercury Rev guy David Baker before imploding on the road, and indeed, they were kindred spirits of the Rev and their brother band, the Flaming Lips. As a matter of fact, Daniel has actually toured as an auxiliary member of the Lips (and Polyphonic Spree), and he opened the show for them at the Palladium in Dallas last week.

I first encountered Daniel when he was playing with Ghostcar, the improv outfit he founded before it evolved into a sort of battle of wills between itinerant trumpeter Karl Poetschke and force-of-nature drummer Clay Stinnett. He was also a member of local art-rock supergroup Day of the Double Agent before that band disintegrated in welters of acrimony. I've even had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Daniel when he sat in with PFFFFT! one night at the Fairmount, coaxing symphonies of sound out of his guitar and pedalboard. These days, he makes music with his laptop under the New Fumes moniker, and he just released Bump and Assassination on the estimable Dallas store Good Records' imprint, in a limited edition of 500 vinyl-LPs-with-CDs, adorned with artwork by Nevada Hill.

Bump and Assassination is a thrilling roller coaster ride of hallucinatory ambience, shimmering textures, jarring dance beats, and incandescent anthems, reminiscent of both the more "out there" moments on the last Flaming Lips album Embryonic and, closer to home, Blixaboy's Kliks and Politiks release from last year. The upful "Intrusion" radiates enough warmth and joy to help heat your house on a freezing cold winter morning. "Holding Up the Mirrors" and "Folding Time" channel Syd Barrett through Wayne Coyne. The tripartite "Say What You Think" conjures stately cathedrals of sound, then splinters them and sends the dust arcing off into outer space. Overall, the album is a splendid example of modern psychedelia, and it's a gas to finally hear Daniel's musical visions so beautifully realized. Best of all, he's planning some Fort Worth shows soon.

New Fumes- "Teeth of the Sun" from daniel huffman on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Mostly Other People Do the Killing's "The Coimbra Concert"

First impression: "Oh, wow. The cover to this looks like an homage to Keith Jarrett's ECM classic The Koln Concert. That must have been a lucky shot." Then I realize that this band -- an "inside/outside" jazz outfit with an alt-rock name -- doesn't have a piano player. And the photos on the inside of the CD sleeve show all of the band members similarly slouched behind the silhouette of a grand pianner (saxophonist Jon Irabagon looks like he's falling asleep eating a salad).

Looking at their back catalog, I find artwork that doffs its lid to classic Blue Note (Art Blakey's A Night In Tunisia), Atlantic (Ornette's This Is Our Music), and Impulse (Roy Haynes' Out of the Afternoon) album covers, and I begin to understand that these conservatory-trained, award-winning jazzbos wouldn't dream of ejecting a listener from a concert for coughing or throat-clearing. There's far too much humor and, dare I say, _fun_ in their music for that. If this seems antithetical to a jazz record released in 2011, perhaps it's indicative of how badly a group like MOPDtK, which doesn't take itself too damned seriously, could be _just what the doctor ordered_ for the music as it eases into the 21st century's second decade.

Which is not to imply that they're nothing but clowns and goofballs. On the contrary, these guys have chops to spare, and a practical knowledge of jazz's historical arc that's extensive enough for them to reference everything from New Orleans group improvisation to bebop (see below) to Ornette to the AACM (dig Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans' unaccompanied extemporizations), not to mention Raymond Scott and Spike Jones. While the band is a compositional vehicle for bassist Moppa Elliott, their ebullient, freewheeling approach often interpolates other material into a performance; familiar themes like Dizzy's aforementioned "A Night In Tunisia" (performed at the speed of sound!), Miles' '47 "Milestones," and Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train" occasionally rear their, um, heads. ("In fact," claim the liner notes, "every note and sound on this recording is a reference to some other recording or performance, real or imaginary." Hmmm.)

This live-recorded double CD, their first for Portuguese li'l-indie-that-could Clean Feed, makes a strong case for the continuing vitality of acoustic jazz. More to the point, if you're a fan of the music, it'll put a smile on your face.

A little blasphemy can be good for the soul

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Darrin Kobetich - "On A Cold Winter's Morning"

Something good had to come out of the recent shitstorm of ice 'n' snow here in the Fort. This track by master guitarist Darrin Kobetich just might be it.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Vagrants’ “I Can’t Make A Friend”

A lot of folks today probably don’t remember, but back in the ‘70s, Leslie West – still treading the boards 40 years later -- really was one of the best ‘Meercun rock guitarists. A fat Jewish kid from Forest Hills, Queens, he had a voice like a Mississippi bluesman and one of the most distinctive guitar tones of the era: just roll all the treble off your amp and try hitting the string with the edge of the pick just so to get that squealing harmonic.

He got famous playing in Mountain with Cream’s producer Felix Pappalardi (who’d employed Les on a session with obscuro Boston outfit Jolliver Arkansaw that included future Fort Worthian and Juke Jumper Jim Colegrove) playing yin to his yang on bass and vox. Their televised performance at the Cincinnati Pop Festival, while not as iconic as the Stooges’ or Alice Cooper’s, was still a potent signifier for my 13-year-old self. He was even invited to join the Who back around the Who’s Next time, and damned if you can’t hear his influence on Townshend’s lead in the live version of “Baby Don’t Do It” they released as the B-side of “Join Together.” (A studio version with West actually playing lead appeared as a bonus track on the ‘90s CD of Who’s Next.)

Before that, Les (b. 1945) had started his career with the Vagrants, who all went to the same high school as the future Ramones did. As much as I love Scott Morgan, I’ve gotta admit that the Vagrants’ West-sung, Pappalardi-produced cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect” (which I first heard on Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets compilation back in ‘72) cuts the Rationals’, which appeared around the same time in ’66, all to heck. Both of those versions predated Aretha Franklin’s, and while she was a Detroit gal, the Vagrants were on the same label as she was (well, its Atco subsidiary anyway), so you decide who influenced whom.

Speaking of influence, Joe Carducci, who wasn’t there but whom I trust implicitly, claimed in Rock and the Pop Narcotic that it was seeing the Vagrants that inspahrd Long Island bar band the Pigeons to go heavy, and as the Vanilla Fudge, those ex-Pigeons would teach their ’69 opening act Led Zep a thing or two about the uses of dynamics and bombast. And indeed, the Vagrants’ live-with-feedback-and-Whoesque-autodestruction-finale version of “Theme from Exodus” is legendary, although sadly unrecorded.

The Vagrants’ total recorded output consisted of just six singles: one released on the tee-tiny Southern Sound label in ‘65, two for folkie label Vanguard in ’66, and three for Atco in ’67-’68. All but the first were compiled by Arista as The Great Lost Vagrants Album in ’86, when nobody cared. An ’88 reissue, Distortion Records’ Blue Album, included all six singles plus an 18-minute live version of Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Now Light In the Attic, praiseworthy for releasing the Monks’ oeuvre back in the ‘90s, has released all the Vagrants’ studio tracks on vinyl as I Can’t Make A Friend 1965-1968.

The Southern Sound single, "Oh Those Eyes," immortalized in Youtubedom as a result of its appearance in a cheesy beach party B-movie called Disk-O-Tek Holiday, sounds like the Ventures backing the Zombies, with an uncharacteristically treble-happy solo from Leslie.

"I Can't Make a Friend," included on numerous sub-Nuggets garage compilations, was co-written by Vagrants organist Jay Storch and Trade Martin, whose 2010 single "We've Got To Stop the Mosque At Ground Zero" was hailed as "the worst song in the history of recorded music" on In spite of that association, it's not bad at all -- an archetypal garage pounder.

By '67, the Vagrants had gone psychedelic, in the manner of contemporaries like the Frost and SRC, and you can hear Les' guitar getting more hard-edged, although the vocal sound (with the less-individuated Peter Sabatino singing lead, as he did on every side they cut save "Respect") was still harmony-laden, with Storch's storming Hammond B-3 a key element of the sound, as it was for loads of bands in those days when the Young Rascals ruled the Long Island scene. It's noteworthy that Les was still playing the Vagrants' "Beside the Sea" when he appeared at Woodstock with Mountain in '69.

Besides being great on its own terms, this release puts Leslie's later accomplishments in context, the same way the Barons tracks on the Fort Worth Teen Scene comps do for John Nitzinger or the early Bob Seger singles on Cameo-Parkway (which deserve to be compiled, too, dammit) do for his later work. I'll be real happy to have this example of the Lawn Guyland rockaroll aesthetic around to slap on in between spins of Leslie West/Mountain and Climbing! So there.


Reading Nervebreaker Mike Haskins' story about how he came to own a Les Paul formerly owned by Quicksilver Messenger Service's Gary Duncan got me thinking about axes I used to own but foolishly let get away for one reason or another.

The first electric guitar I ever owned (visible in my profile pic) was a Silvertone 1478, built by Harmony around 1965. My parents bought it for my 15th birthday for $50 along with a shitty 5W Tempo solid-state amp, another $50. You could talk into the pickups and get signal. It had a wide, clunky neck, was strung with Black Diamond strings (the worst), and had a vibrato tailpiece that gave you _almost_ a half-step if you really jacked it. It got easier to play when I finally figured out that you could put lighter strings on it, and it was the guitar I was playing when the B.B. King epiphany described in the blues post below took place. I dropped it on its neck and broke the headstock off it when I'd had it for about a year, which paved the way for...

A '68 Gibson SG Special, which I bought from We Buy Guitars on 48th Street in Manhattan because it looked just like the one Pete Townshend played at Woodstock, down to having had the Bigsby tailpiece replaced with a stop tailpiece. It had a defective neck pickup, which is probably the reason why to this day I go for a midrange-heavy tone, no matter what I'm playing. (I didn't know about replacing pickups back then; by this time the Tempo amp had given way to a 15W solid-state and then a 60W piggyback Univox amp.) I played it in the first good band I was ever in, my freshman year of college, but it was destroyed when I took it to Drome Sound in Albany to get the bridge replaced and the guy wound up sinking the holes so that the strings were no longer straight down the neck. In despair, I traded it for...

A stock CBS Fender Strat on which some 15-year-old girl had sanded down all the frets individually with a nail file. This proved to be completely unplayable. I may have bought another stock CBS Strat off the shelf (for $350, with a tobacco sunburst finish) around this time; indicative of my state of mind back then, the chronology isn't entirely clear to me. I do know that by the end of that summer, I had traded the tobacco sunburst Strat to a friend of mine in exchange for...

A Gibson ES-330, like B.B. King's guitar but with P-90s instead of humbuckers. He had broken the headstock off it and his father had repaired it with road tar or something. I played that my third (and last) semester of college with my roommate and a drummer who looked like he was about 12 years old. We used to set up our shit on the quad and play until we heard police sirens. After that, I dropped out, moved back in with my parents, resumed working at the hipi rekkid store where I'd worked through high school, and began an acquisition mania that included:

1) a 25th Anniversary black Les Paul, which I bought off the rack for $350;
2) a Gibson SG 200 with the skinny single-coil pickups, offset like a Les Paul Recording; and
3) a single-cutaway Guild hollowbody with f-holes and a single ceramic pickup by the neck; all of which I traded in (under extreme suspicion by the guys in the store) for...

A stock blonde CBS Telecaster with a maple neck, which I took with me, along with an off-the-shelf CBS Super Reverb, when I moved to Texas in the summer of '78. In no time at all, I sold the Tele and bought a '71 SG Standard with humbuckers and a lyre tailpiece from Dan Walls for $275. I sold the Super Reverb to get a friend's girlfriend out of jail, and wound up buying a reverb-less tweed Deluxe from Tim Flynn. This was my favorite amp of all time, which my late ex-brother-in-law destroyed while he was in Korea and he was going to electronics school.

When I was getting divorced in '93, I sold the SG for what I'd paid for it (stupid). A couple of months later, I saw the same model/year guitar at Craig's Music in Weatherford for $2500. We live, we learn. It was followed, when I started playing with people again ca. '95, by a series of Peaveys and Squiers that continues to this day (plus a nice Epiphone Sheraton I got on "permanent loan" from John Frum, bless him); I play what I can afford. I did own a boss '95 reissue Twin when I was playing in blues bands in the late '90s, but I sold it to Jeremy Diaz when I got shitcanned from RadioShack in 2002.

I'm doing some guitar maintenance for a fella I know right now and it occurs to me that he has the exact same electrics I do (well, he has a nice American Tele while I have a battered Korean one) except his have all their parts intact. Perhaps after James is done working on my current Twin, I'll have to start treating my equipment better. Perhaps not.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Midwest 45s

Wow! Here's a veritable treasure trove of classic soul, funk, and gospel 45s from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Dig it! Thanks 'n' a tip o' the fedora to John Holbrook for sharing the link.

Friday, February 04, 2011


Someone whose opinion I respect wrote that list-making is "a nine-year-old girl's way of looking at the world," but I don't care. I'm really a nine-year-old girl trapped inside a 53-year-old man's body. Just finished reading Francis Davis' The History of the Blues, which got me thankin' about the music I always seem to wind up going back to.

1) John Lee Hooker, I'm John Lee Hooker. As Davis points out, Hooker would record for anybody that paid up front, and he was kind of underwhelming when I finally got to see him live in the late '70s, but he's one of The Guys -- his archetypal boogies and monochordal drones really signify. My favorite records of his are the ones he cut solo for Vee Jay, all included here, which I originally owned on a $1.99 Everest "Archive of Jazz and Folk Music" release.

2) Muddy Waters, AKA McKinley Morganfield. Muddy was another iconic voice and presence; when I first heard his music, it felt like it came from another planet. He was also a classic bandleader, and I was fortunate to see the last of his great bands (Jerry Portnoy/Pinetop Perkins/Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson/Bob Margolin/Calvin Jones/Willie "Big Eyes" Smith) live three times. I've owned these sides in a few different forms, but this is my favorite: a vinyl 2LP that I found in a bargain bin in Albany. Great memory of this record: Listening to "Hoochie Coochie Man" through my college band's PA, with the Voice of the Theater speakers aimed out the window of my dorm room. These days, I listen to Alan Lomax's plantation recordings more, but this is some of the greatest music on Earth and I wouldn't want to have to live without it.

3) Howlin' Wolf, Howlin' Wolf/Moanin' In the Moonlight. Reading Wolf's bio and seeing a documentary about him a couple of years ago made him one of my all-time idols. (He did his night school homework off the bandstand, and actually paid unemployment insurance on his band boys.) This release is one of the few improvements the CD era brought to the blues canon, combining as it does the "rocking chair" album that influenced the '60s white blues claque so profoundly, and the (better, IMO) album that was the first music of his I heard (reissued as Evil in the early '70s). These days I listen to his Memphis/Sun stuff more (it's a little more raw, which I now see as an advantage), but his Chicago/Chess sides had Hubert Sumlin, whose electric picking possesses a certain delicacy that makes it instantly recognizable.

4) B.B. King, Live At the Regal. I probably listen to this less than anything else here -- its chitlin circuit showbiz veneer makes it almost more interesting as a sociological document than music -- but back when I was trying to unlock the secrets of the guitar, practicing the same lick over and over for hours at a time, this was an important touchstone. I'll never forget the first epiphany I ever experienced as a muso, when I was playing in my parents' basement and all of a sudden it felt like somebody else had taken over and I could actually play a lick that swung the way B.B. did. The two younger cats that used to sit outside and listen to me practice heard it too. "Who was that playing your guitar before?" they wanted to know.

5) Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues. The first blues LP recorded as such (rather than just compiling a bunch of singles), this was the sound of relatively young (30s-ish) West Side bloods adding some "Brand New Bag" JB funk to their blues. The sound they make is brash, tough, and sassy, but also a lot sparser than other contemporary bands -- a plus, IMO. Buddy Guy has never sounded so pared-down fundamental. This was the template for the band I had with Hosea Robinson back in '98.

6) Little Walter, Hate To See You Go. An integral part of the soundtrack to my very dissolute third and final semester of college, when Bruce Wade was schooling me on musical structure. After bolting Muddy's band, the harp virtuoso purveyed a brand of small-band jump-blues that seemed more modern but hasn't stood the test of time as well, although it's been muy influential over the years. The cover pic of Walter's knife-scarred face gave an inkling that the men who made this music lived lives of real danger. The Blues World of Little Walter includes the original recording of "Rollin' and Tumblin'," Muddy's "headhunters" fronted by Walter and Baby Face Leroy playing and singing like the fate of the world depends on it.

7) Otis Rush, Original Cobra Recordings. St. Lester waxed rhapsodic on this release in the Village Voice, and with good reason. Rush's vocals were apocalyptic, his guitar taut and tense, and these sides proof positive (as if any more were needed) that the 45 rpm single was the perfect medium for this music.

8) Robert Nighthawk, Live On Maxwell Street. A '64 recording by a singer and slide guitarist who never stayed in Chicago long enough to make a big recording impact, this is the sound of electrified country blues at its most primal.

9) Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings. When this appeared on CD in 1990, it became a top seller, emblematic of the post-SRV revival that (as Davis notes) for the most part just robbed the blues of its existential dread and made it The Music of Beer. That dread is amply present in Johnson's music, the final flowering of the Mississippi country blues, and its subsequent influence on rock is really beside the point. I spent a lot of time the last year or two I was in the Air Force trying to learn how to play an approximation of Johnson's style. Almost as good (and chilling) is the music of Skip James (my favorite is the post-rediscovery She Lyin').

10) R.L. Burnside, A Ass Pocket of Whiskey. In retrospect, the voyeuristic exoticism of the whole Fat Possum "these guys are really primitive (and _drunk_)" shtick seemed patronizing and almost like a new form of minstrelsy, but when it appeared, this collaboration between an "authentic" Mississippi bluesman and, um, Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion hit pretty hard and reminded me more than a little of Captain Beefheart's Strictly Personal, which these days I'll reach for (or Son House) in its stead.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Mark Growden's "Lose Me In the Sand"

Was it really only eight years ago that Mark Growden played the Wreck Room (R.I.P.) here in Fort Worth? He says he was only there twice, and I missed the show that Phil Fagan and Billy Wilson filmed when he opened for Woodeye, so it must have been just one night with his trio -- which he finished off by playing accordion while standing on the bar -- that I’m remembering, but that night still resonates for me like few other musical experiences in my life.

Mark disappeared from the boards for a few years after that, wrestling some personal demons and forsaking music in favor of painting for a time. Thankfully, he returned to performing, fit and healthy, toward the ass-end of the Millennial decade, released an album (Saint Judas) that was a catalog of signature strengths, and crisscrossed the country relentlessly -- an internet-enabled, cellphone-wielding modern-day troubadour -- building an audience base as he went, working mostly solo but also forging connections with sympathetic ensembles in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tucson, and New Orleans.

He recorded Lose Me In the Sand last spring with his Tucson band, setting aside his other instruments and accompanying himself on the banjo exclusively. Listening to this record is a different experience for these feedback-scorched ears than any of his previous releases, since I’ve had the opportunity to become familiar with this material through hearing Mark perform the songs live a half dozen times, including once in my backyard on a friend’s birthday. The first thing that struck me was the richness (not slickness) of the instrumental arrangements, in contrast to the stark (but full) solo treatments to which I’d become accustomed. I was pleased to hear that Mark’s bringing the band along when he takes Lose Me on the road in February.

This music sounds “old” in the same way people used to say the Band did on their eponymous second album. Indeed, the sound of Lose Me is redolent of American folklore in a way that’s evocative but not idiomatic. Thus, on “You Ain’t Never Been Loved,” a gender-shifted reimagining of Aretha Franklin’s debut hit that opens the album, the back porch string-band accompaniment rubs up against a scorching amplified blues harp. A Growden original like the lively bluegrass romp “Settle In a Little While” – which my sweetie and I knew from live performances as “the stuttering song” -- sounds like an authentic Appalachian artifact. “Takin’ My Time,” with its stop-and-start rhythm, creaking fiddle, and sing-along chorus, has the cadence of a field holler or prison worksong.

As always, Growden sings with physical power, emotive force, and visceral impact in a voice equally tinged with desire and regret (and occasionally, more than a dash of humor). When he covers other songwriters’ material, he manages to recontextualize it and make it his own, banishing the spectre of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘80s video from the Boss’ “I’m On Fire,” and juxtaposing the National Anthem and Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” with surprising results. When he’s at his very best – as he is on “Killing Time,” inspired by the dying Northern California logging town where he grew up – Mark Growden reminds us that here in the 21st century’s second decade, we’re a lot closer to the “old, weird America” than we might like to think.

(He'll be at the Kessler Theater for their first anniversary on March 18th. Don't worry, I'll remind you.)

My scrawl on the I-94 Bar

A review I penned of Decline of the Reptiles' 13 Songs for the Rodeo Girls is online now.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Last Eaton Lake Tonics shows

Tony Ferraro sends:

Fort Worth/Denton, TX rock n' roll outfit Eaton Lake Tonics has disbanded after 1,240+ beers, 20 some-odd hissy fits, 6 years, 4 LPs, 2 EPs, 0 deaths and 200+ live performances.

Styled as a "A Self-Contained Paper Scissors Rock and Roll Unit", the band has chosen to end the impetus of their collaborative project officially this week.

The band's ultimate personnel (and survived acts) are:

Tony Ferraro (Fate Lions, Matthew & The Arrogant Sea, Ryan Thomas Becker Band)
Ryan Thomas Becker (RTB2, Slow Burners)
David Howard (formerly of M&tAS)
& Jonathan Losasso (M&tAS)

The members will remain active in the aforementioned bands (and more) in the DFW area.

The final 2 Eaton Lake Tonics shows will be:

- February 26 @ Hailey's in Denton
- Date TBA @ 35 Conferette in Denton (March 10-13)

Future: The principal songwriter, Tony Ferraro, has and will remain a prolific writing force. He will soon be entering the studio for a solo release on his own Rancho Folly label. Also, Ryan & Jonathan are slated to be on future records and live performances, as well as other friends/guests.