Thursday, January 30, 2014

Heavy Glow's "Pearls and Swine and Everything Fine"

Upon spinning the new full-length by this trio, whose debut single rather underimpressed me by being long on vox and short on the rifferama that their name led me to expect, I'm transported back in time to the moment when the hard rock aesthetic that's endured the last 40 years or so was born. I'm talking about the time in between Eric Clapton's discovery of the by-now-heartbeat-familiar sound of Gibson-through-Marshall and his subsequent, shall we say, simplification of blues riffage in Cream, through the moment when Tony Iommi introduced the "Devil's interval" to rockaroll in a form that was nicked, to these ears, from the Yardbirds' "Ever Since the World Began." We're talking vintage '68-'70 here.

Cut to the chase: If you dig just-barely-pre-metal hard rock in the vein of Blue Cheer, Cactus, Mountain, Humble Pie, and Mark II Deep Purple, turn off your 'puter and go get this sizzlin' slab right now. True, Heavy Glow frontman-guitarist Jared Mullins doesn't have the tortured tonsils we've come to expect from singers of this ilk, but on the ten tracks contained herein, he and bassist Joe Brooks tickle your cochlea with familiar saturated tones while wrapping their strings around riffage harvested from those time-honored blues boxes, while a cat who goes by the handle St. Judas provides the percussive power.

If heavy blues-based jams infused with melody make you happy, Pearls and Swine and Everything Fine will do the job nicely. Try the concise blast of "Look What You're Doing To Me," on which Mullins employs the filthiest, nastiest fuzztone I've heard in many moons, or the lysergically-laced slow drag "Hello September," which hits like vintage Robin Trower, except Mullins' fretwork is both subtler and more intense (at different times) than Trower's ever was. "Got My Eye On You" is a stunning surprise -- a full-on, funky R&B romp worthy of Shuggie Otis. The closing "Headhunter" neatly encapsulates all the band's strengths -- lumbering like a wooly mammoth, illuminated by laser-focused fretwork from Mullins. Heavy Glow lives up to their name, making music as incandescent as it is sonically dense.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

For Mick Farren

This lit Brit fought the law and won,
Prepared the ground for punk, if not exactly predicting it,
And forecast our current dystopian nightmare
From the vantage point of a writer of pulp fiction,
Dug beneath the surface of the absurdities around us
To find the patterns underneath
(Scratch a jaded punk anarchist and find a disillusioned hippie utopian),
Came to America to escape Thatcher and went home to get medical care,
And died with his boots on, in front of a rock 'n' roll band.
We should all do so well.
Rest easy in your Dorsington grave, for you rode with Lemmy.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Young Mothers' "A Mother's Work Is Never Done"

Genre-ification is death. Like Oliver Lake's musical omnivore, I want all my food on the same plate. For my two cents, all record stores should categorize their music the way Waterloo in Austin does: alphabetically. (Although they do ghettoize "world music.")

But imagine, if you will, a group of "jazz" musicians who grew up in the hip-hop era and have fingers in several rockaroll pies, performing together in a situation where they can use all the materials that they bring to the table at will. Better still, don't imagine it. The Young Mothers will be at the Crown and Harp on Greenville next Thursday (January 16th), and you can hear them there.

I got a taste of their upcoming album via the estimable Oak Cliff-based percussion whiz Stefan Gonzalez (Yells At Eels/Akkolyte/Unconscious Collective). He's in the group, along with a couple of Houstonites, a couple of Austinites (one transplanted from Norway), and a ringer from the fertile Chicago jazz scene (the briskly swinging Frank Rosaly). The band is the brainchild of bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, who seems to be everywhere these days (notably on last year's collaboration between the free jazz trio The Thing and dance music chanteuse Neneh Cherry) and composed most of the pieces on their debut. (There's also a film noir-ish cover of a Benjamin Britten piece, and an anthemic reading of an Ugandan folk melody.)

The album explodes out of the gate with "The 'Wood," in which dope hip-hop beats rub up against atonal freeblow squiggles, highlighted by multi-reedman Jason Jackson's blistering overblown overtones. "Mole'" hits like a Pharaoh Sanders samba -- this is levitation music, good for dancing on your feet as well as in your head, propelled by guest artists Mars Williams on soprano and Bob Hofnar's Sharrockian chaos-steel guitar. "Wells, the original" is an agreeable Zorn-esque collision of surf music, electronic static, Nine Inch Nails and Led Zeppelin. "Virgoan Ways" is less intense but equally multi-leveled, with a beguiling modal melody that unfolds slowly after a pensive vibraphone-percussion interlude.

A Mother's Work Is Never Done sounds like an early candidate for my end-of-2014 top ten list, and this show has the markings of an event of the season. You can't hear this much music for a five spot just anywhere.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Nick Girgenti, 1969-2013

My friend Nick Girgenti died in his sleep two days after Christmas. He was 44.

Nick was born on Long Island and moved to Texas with his family when he was just a kid, but he still had the Lawn Guyland accent, even though he went to high school in Richardson. I figured out why when I heard his mom's voice on his answering machine.

We met in the spring of 1998, when I was trying to make a blues band with Hosea Robinson and Mitchell Hill. Hosea said he knew a bass player, a guy he worked with. That was Nick. Later on I found out that he'd never played bass before -- he was a guitar player -- and his favorite bands were the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Pearl Jam (the last probably a result of being stationed at McChord Air Force Base near Seattle when he was an in the Air Force -- something else we had in common).

I'd had a drunk driving charge in February '98, so I was on probation then. It was ironic that I wound up in a band with a bunch of guys that worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons the way Hosea, Nick, and Armando Natera (who replaced Mitch as the drummer in the Midnight Believers) did. It was an odd fit in more ways than one, but I'm glad Nick was there to keep the peace between Hosea and me when we butted heads.

I'm also glad Nick was there to keep me motivated a couple of bands later, when I was frustrated enough to quit playing, but he kept having ideas for bands that we could play in together. First we were going to make an alt-country band with his buddy Frank Logan. He gave me his copy of Wilco's Being There, which will ever remind me of Nick and the hours we spent sweating it out in the crummy rehearsal spot off Lancaster. (His wife Angie -- who carried amplifiers for our band before they were married; I told him, "Son, that's a keeper, there" -- informs me that he recently pronounced Wilco "the best band of our generation." No argument here.) I still remember a couple of Nick's songs from that band; I usually don't remember material for that long after the fact. Anyway, that venture ended when Nick hurt his back rescuing an inmate who was being beaten down by two other inmates. He didn't always talk about it, but I knew he had a high-stress career.

Then there was the band where Nick and I were both going to sing -- a mark of true desperation. By this time, our chops were so rusty that our hands hurt when we had to make barre chords. Around that time, my middle daughter came to live with me, and we started recruiting her friends to play with us. One of them wanted to be a singer but couldn't sing in key. We tried transposing keys, and had convinced ourselves that things were sounding better, enough to try recording some songs. When we heard the results, there was a lot of awkward silence, then we didn't speak to each other for six months.

When I got fired from RadioShack and was trying to sell myself to the local alt-weekly as a freelance music journo, some of the first stories I pitched to the editor were bands I'd heard about via Nick (Woodeye, the Hochimen); I knew beans about local rock music. He stayed in my corner, too. When I had to sell all of my musical equipment, he let me borrow a guitar and amp for a couple of years worth of gigs.

We stayed in touch, sporadically. I knew Nick had a couple of bands that played in the Stockyards, but I hadn't seen him in awhile when he hit me up last summer to see if he and Angie could go to the Fort Worth Weekly music awards ceremony, where I was being recognized. I told him it wasn't a public event, but I had a plus one, so he wound up being my ride that day. It kind of made sense for him to be there, since I couldn't have done a lot of the stuff I was being recognized for if not for him. We laughed a lot about old times, and talked about getting together with Armando to listen to some of our old recordings with Hosea. We figured it'd be after the first of the year. You just never know how much time you have left on the clock.

Hundreds of people attended Nick's memorial service at Greenwood. They spilled over from one chapel into another; some of the folks had to watch on CCTV. You got the feeling he was the glue that held a lot of groups of people together. I just remember a big-hearted kid who loved to make people laugh, and loved to play music. Who made the best peace, and never forgot a friend.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Sonic's Rendezvous Band: An addendum

Nothing makes an obscuro music geek happy like validation, so I was happy beyond all reason when a muso bud of mine, a young cat who leads a funk band and whose tastes generally run toward prog and technical metal, told me how much he digs Sonic's Rendezvous Band -- which, if not my favorite band of all ti-i-ime, is definitely up there in my personal pantheon. I wrote an oral history of SRB that wound up getting excerpted in the liner notes to Easy Action's 2006 SRB box set, but it occurred to me that I've never actually written about SRB's music. So, here's a little addendum to rectify that.

1) The Band. Fred "Sonic" Smith had only started to come into his own towards the end of the MC5's trajectory, writing half of the songs on High Time (the first Five LP to feature individual songwriting credits) and playing plenty of chugging, Chuck Berry-influenced lead (as well as showcasing his 16th-note prowess on "Gotta Keep Movin'). He had a couple of false starts as a bandleader with Ascension (featuring his Five-mates Dennis Thompson and Michael Davis) and the earliest incarnations of SRB (with bassist Ron Cooke and a revolving door of drummers). In 1975, he teamed up with ex-Rationals frontman Scott Morgan and ex-Stooges drummer Scott "Rock Action" Asheton. Ex-Up bassist Gary Rasmussen replaced Cooke the following year.

Morgan was a dynamic, soulful singer in the classic Detroit mode, not as raspy as Bob Seger or as histrionic as Mitch Ryder and more reserved onstage than the MC5's Rob Tyner, but maybe more expressive than all of them. (For proof, see the versions of Dr. John's "Glowin'" and Mike d'Abo's "Handbags and Gladrags" on the Rationals' self-titled LP.) It would have made sense for Morgan to do all the singing, but instead, Smith sang all of his own songs in a baritone bellow (probably figuring that it made no sense to try and cater to the marketplace, since having former members of the Five and Stooges in the lineup mitigated against a major label recording contract in the mid-'70s). He'd also developed dramatically as a guitarist, with a thick, midrange-heavy tone and a staccato attack that he'd picked up from listening to jazz saxophonists. In the engine room, Rasmussen was solid and supportive and Asheton, while not as exploratory as he'd been in his Stooges Funhouse days, was relentless and powerful.

They started off heavy on Chuck Berry-isms and Morgan originals, but gradually over the years, Fred's confidence grew, and his compositions became more numerous than Morgan's in their set lists. Their finest hour was probably 1978, when the best onstage balance existed between Smith and Morgan's songs and vocals.

2) The Songs.

American Boy (Smith, ‘80)
Asteroid B-612 (Morgan, ’76)
China Fields (Smith, ’80)
Chungo of the Asphalt Jungle (Cooke, ’75)
City Slang (Smith, ’77)
Clock With No Hands (Smith, ‘79 – “It’s Alright,” fast)
Cool Breeze (Morgan, ’71 – Guardian Angel)
Dangerous (Morgan, ’76)
Detroit Tango (Smith, ’75 – same as “Hearts”)
Do It Again (Smith, ’75)
Earthy (Morgan, ’75)
Electrophonic Tonic (Morgan, ’76)
Getting There Is Half the Fun (Morgan, ’77)
Goin’ Bye (Smith, ’75)
Gone With the Dogs (Smith, ’78)
Hard Stoppin’ (Smith, ’76)
Hearts (Smith, ’75 – same as “Detroit Tango”)
Heaven (Morgan, ‘79)
Irish Girl (Morgan, ’76)
It’s Alright (Smith, ’75 – “Clock With No Hands,” slow)
Keep On Hustlin’ (Morgan, ’75)
Love and Learn (Morgan, ’78)
Mystically Yours (Morgan, ’75)
So Sincerely Yours (Smith, ‘78)
Song L (Smith, ’76)
Soul Mover (Morgan, ’72 – Guardian Angel)
Space Age Blues (Cooke, ’75)
Step By Step (Smith, ’77)
Succeed (Morgan, ’76)
Sweet Nothing (Smith, ’78)
Take A Look (Morgan, ’72 – Guardian Angel)
Thrill (Morgan,’78
You’re So Great (Smith, ‘79)
NOTE: Fred “Sonic” Smith wrote 16 songs (including two that were retitled), Scott Morgan wrote 15, and original bassist Ron Cooke wrote two (which were dropped when Gary Rasmussen replaced him in mid-’76). Of these 33 songs, three were carryovers from Guardian Angel/Lightnin', ten were introduced in ’75, seven in ’76, three in ’77, five in ’78, three in ’79, and two in ‘80. All songs were sung by their authors.

COVERS - All sung by Morgan except as noted
Empty Heart (Jagger/Richard, MC5)
Flight 505 (Jagger/Richard – Rasmussen sings)
Heart of Stone (Jagger/Richard – Smith sings)
Heavy Makes You Happy (Bloom/Barry, Guardian Angel)
Hijackin’ Love (Taylor, Guardian Angel)
I Believe To My Soul (Charles, MC5)
Let the Kids Dance (McDaniel)
Like A Rolling Stone (Dylan)
Part Time Love (Hammond, Rationals)
Party Lights (Clark – Smith sings)
Promised Land (Berry)
Roberta (Smith/Vincent)
Sweet Little 16 (Berry – Smith sings)
NOTE: This list is limited to recordings I've heard; there were probably others. For instance, Morgan remembers Smith singing a song from the first Who album.

3) Discographical note. Fortunately, while they only recorded two songs in the studio, and only released one of those at the time, SRB was well documented via basement demos, soundboard and audience recordings.

The most comprehensive collection is the six-CD Sonic's Rendezvous Band box set on Easy Action, which includes four complete shows (one each from '75 and '76 and two from '78, including the one from the Second Chance that was previously released on Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts as Sweet Nothing), as well as the studio recordings of "City Slang" and "Electrophonic Tonic," and a generous selection of other recordings, in good quality. (Among the most interesting are "American Boy," a 17-minute opus from 1980 that features Smith soloing on saxophone, and a raucous live version of Claudine Clark's "Party Lights" that includes examples of his low-grade humor. Good liner notes, too.) Easy Action also released The Second Chance, a complete '77 performance from that venue spread across two CDs. Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts also had City Slang, a good cross-section of the band's repertoire not included on Sweet Nothing. (All but Morgan's "Heaven" and a 1999 remix of "City Slang" are included on the box set.) The CD of Sweet Nothing included a bonus track which, in the manner of the times, is preceded by ten minutes of dead air after the end of the "last" song -- a 1980 sound check recording of a Smith instrumental, "China Fields."

For vinyl lovers, there are three long-playing artifacts available, all of which include versions of "City Slang," "Love and Learn," "Song L," and "Sweet Nothing." The vinyl Sweet Nothing omits a crucial song (Morgan's "Getting There Is Half the Fun") from the '78 Second Chance show, but also a duff cover (Smith singing the Stones' "Heart of Stone"). The '78 "Masonic Auditorium" show from the box set (which Easy Action subsequently learned was from another venue) is out as a standalone artifact on Bomp. And Devil's Jukebox in the UK has released Too Much Crank, culled from the last disc of the box set. While omitting "American Boy" due to length, it does have the studio versions of "City Slang" and "Electrophonic Tonic," plus a couple of other essential tracks ("Clock With No Hands" and "You're So Great") that make it my pick of the available vinyl options.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Brokegrove Lads

I asked for a musical project that would fit into my current schedule (which allows basically no time for being in a band) and for my sins, they gave me one. Brokegrove Lads is an improvisational psychedelic rock project with Terry Valderas (ESP, Gideons, Parasite Lost) on drums, Robert Kramer (ESP, Gumshoe, Tabula Rasa) on bass, and Matt Hickey (Fellow Americans, Joe and the Sonic Dirt From Madagascar, HIO) on guitar and vox. And, of course, your humble chronicler o' events on guitar.

Originally, this was supposed to be a Hawkwind/Pink Fairies tribute band (Ladbroke Grove is the area in London where the 'Wind, Fairies, Deviants, and later, the Clash germinated), with Hickey as stand-up singer. Instead, we elected to go into the studio and record a bunch of jams, which could be cut and pasted together like a Faust record. (Kind of like PFFFFT! without pissing off an actual audience.) We did the deed on Boxing Day, at Eagle Audio in Fort Worth, with the estimable Britt Robisheaux manning the desk. A five hour session yielded an hour and 20 minutes worth of music, of which I'd estimate about an hour's worth is usable. Now it's up to Hickey to write lyrics and add vocals to a couple of the pieces, and Terry to mix the tracks. I do believe that the results will be available via some digital outlet sooner than later.