Saturday, November 26, 2016

A bumper crop from Saustex

Right after I announced on social media that for the next year, I'm going to forego buying music so we can make regular contributions to social justice organizations (and subscribe to a real newspaper), Hickoids frontman/Saustex Records honcho Jeff Smith hit me up to let me know he had some music he thought I might dig. The package arrived today -- as fortune would have it, on the same date when Jeff's pal and longtime Hickoids guitarist Davey Jones checked out last year, from lung cancer. So it was with mixed emotions that I dug into the stack.

Jones, originally from Philly, got to Austin as quickly as he could via Little Rock and Fort Hood. A beloved character with his own distinctive, jumble-sale scarecrow look, and a great player with a sprawling, lysergic punk style, he logged time with outfits as diverse as the punk Ideals and the bluesy Big Foot Chester, as well as OG cowpunks the Hickoids (whom he named). The Out of Towners, a Hickoids EP, is his last recorded work, cut in Austin during his final illness and comprised of six covers of songs by Texas artists including Roky Erickson, Willie Nelson, the Dicks (of whom Davey was once a member), and Doug Sahm. "You just can't live in Texas / If you don't have a lot of soul," Jeff sings on Sahm's "At the Crossroads," before the guitars take the tune out with a proper rave-up. Davey sure did. Light up them strings on the astral plane, man. Adios.

In a just universe, Black Oak Arkansas' Jim "Dandy" Mangrum would be receiving royalities from David Lee Roth for his stage persona. And who could forget BOA's appearance on TV's In Concert, with Tommy Aldridge's barehanded drum solo and the two semi-hollow Gibsons being smashed together for a finale? Showmen supreme, these cats were. Mutants of the Monster is, of all things, a BOA tribute album, lovingly co-produced by Joecephus & the George Jonestown Massacre frontman Joey Killingsworth and drummer/studio owner Dik LeDoux. The players include musos from BOA's spiritual children Nashville Pussy, the Butthole Surfers, Honky, and the Supersuckers, not to mention BOA members Rickie Lee Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson, and yes, even Jim Dandy Himself. The sound is all rough 'n' raunchy vocalismo and rolling, roiling heavy psych guitars, enough to make me understand a little better why a bud from up North once made a pilgrimage to Black Oak to hear BOA throw down on home turf.

"Costume rockers" The Upper Crust and The Grannies are like opposite sides of the same two-headed coin. The proper Bostonians in the former built their whole band around the concept of AC/DC's "Big Balls": scabrous hard rock with lyrics that take the POV of 18th century aristos. The Bay Area's Grannies are just your garden variety superannuated cross-dressing punk rockers. Both bands recently graced the stage at the original Fred's Texas Cafe here, on a bill (opened by Pat Todd and the Rank Outsiders!) that a friend whose opinion I respect said was the best she's ever seen. On their split album Lords and Ladies, minus the visuals, they prove themselves to be as strong on rockaroll fundamentals like relentless energy and clangorous rifferama as they are on shtick. But cake is always better with frosting than without, yes?

It's hard to believe that Churchwood -- an avant-blues outfit with literate lyrics roughly declaimed by Notre Dame Ph.D. and former Leroi Brother Joe Doerr -- are up to their fourth album, but with Hex City, that's indeed the case. The band -- here augmented by a horn section and backing singers -- crackles with R&B energy like Beefheart's Magic Band circa Shiny Beast, the guitars jousting contrapuntally while the rhythm section chugs along with cool assurance. "One Big White Nightmare" isn't the picture of TrumpAmerica one might have expected (too soon); rather, it's an evocation of Moby-Dick -- the Melville one, not the Bonham -- that ends with a reference to Davy Jones of locker (rather than Monkees or Hickoids) fame. And "Hallelujah" isn't the Leonard Cohen (RIP) chestnut, although it does include Doerr's loveliest lines here: "hallelujah, coming through you / just like a stopped clock / reaching through the crush of time / to find that moment when its hands are true." Nice to hear music that operates on so many levels.

Saving the best for last, Grandpa Death Experience is the Amsterdam-based vehicle for SoCal expat Ron Goudie, who in another life co-founded Enigma Records and produced artists including Stryper, GWAR, and Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper. Their promo pic has a sleazy, Turbonegro-like vibe (those crazy Euros and their WW2 fixation!), and like Oslo's princes of darkness, GDE synthesizes a whole bunch of hard rock and garage rock influences into something undeniably original, with Goudie's distressed vocals -- imagine a defeated-sounding Waylon Jennings after wa-a-ay too many Pall Malls and whiskey shots -- riding on top of the mix. His songcraft is just skewed enough that I know I'll be finding new things here for months.

Saustex is a label with a highly idiosyncratic vision, whose website is often a season or two out of date (Jeff Smith's a busy guy). Hit up to stay current with their useful email updates.


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