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Winter Warmers

8 Mar

How do you get through the grim winter months? Some folks spend every waking hour round the pub sipping pints, turning eyelids into stormshutters to ward off the nasty weather. Others indulge in copious amounts of retail therapy, running up senseless bills that follow them well into the summer months. Still others, they curl up into little balls, shutting down all social engagement in a kind of deep functional hibernation.

Me, I just rock the fuck out, and that much louder. So here’s a few recent-ish releases that have been getting me through this neverending cold weather that’s been gripping England since I can’t remember:

1. JEX THOTHJex Thoth CD (I Hate Records, 2008) This CD hasn’t really left my radar since it first came out, and seeing as JEX THOTH is all set to release a new mini-LP next month, it’s been getting extra play in this household lately. This is amazing barefooted heaviness that had Julian Cope trotting out all manner of comparisons to PENTAGRAM, BLACK SABBATH, and JEFFERSON AIRPLANE a year ago. But with good reason, too – these guys really do sound like folkies gone electric and then heathen heavyass, in that order. Alot of know-nothings have derided JEX’s voice (it’s not metal enough! it’s not femme enough! it’s not SHUT UP ALREADY) but I fucking love her strident delivery. She means what she sings, and what she sings is right on. At times the whole thing reminds me of a more focused, pagan version of SACRED MIRACLE CAVE, if that means anything to you. The production gives it a humid, undersea cave vibe we all know and love from that first WITCHCRAFT CD, but there’s also something refreshingly modern about this too – like, I might bump into one of these folks hiding behind a standing stone during my next trip to Avebury. One of the best things I’ve heard out of California in recent years.

2. THE REACTIONARIES1979 LP (Water Under The Bridge/45 RPM Records, 2010) Green vinyl issue of a January 1979 practice pad recording that documents the no frills punker action Mike Watt, D. Boon, and George Hurley got up to with singer Martin Tamburovich prior to any MINUTEMEN mustering. Low-fi but still very fine and distinctive suburban punker stuff indeed, sorta like if THE URINALS had a mind to demolish the early CLASH songbook. The developing styles of these individual players bleed through during solos/intros, with the final song, “Tony Gets Wasted In Pedro” pointing directly at THE MINUTEMEN proper.

If that’s not enough, we also get an album side of various one-off aggregations featuring members of SACCHARINE TRUST, THE ZARKONS, RIG, THE RUB, F.Y.P. etc. – not to mention Watt and Hurley themselves – covering the same REACTIONARIES songs with 3 decades hindsight. The excitement these oldsters inject into the songs is totally palpable and infectious, as if everyone’s pleased to be tackling Watt/Boon songs that don’t have madcrazy rhythmic changes laced throughout em. These covers are uniformly great and all a hoot and half, but if a gotta pick one, I’d reckon it’s Jack Brewer who steals the show (as always). His gruff reading of “1979” – wherein he tries to sing all you people think you’re cas/ just cause you heard the clash/ you’ll always be stuck in your time/ wake up to the times! with a straight face – cracks me up bigtime. Kudos to Craig Ibarra for curating this one with so much love.

3. HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOEEverything’s For Sale (Alive Records, 2009) No I do not approve of the let’s-do-it-without-a-bass approach that’s been prevalent ever since THE WHITE STRIPES did whatever they did to make people like em. Though one thing’s certain: if you are a rock duo interested in heavy, primitivist blues rock, do it like HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOE, without any wink-wink irony and with some kickass rhythmic power. Singer/gtrist Aled Clifford’s growl is strong, his riffing nicely loud and crunchy, and the way he integrates slide into his heavy playing reminds me of some of RORY GALLAGHER’s mid-70’s highs. Still, this record feels less than complete. I suppose finding a decent bass player in post-Dr. Who Wales ain’t as easy as when MAN and BUDGIE ruled the Black Mountains, but methinks some fat, low end chooglin’ could do wonders for these obviously talented bros. Any bassists out there wanna give these guys a call?

4. CLAW HAMMERDeep In The Heart of Nowhere! Live in Texas 1995 (Munster Records, 2009) Speaking of SACRED MIRACLE CAVE . . . thank Americentric Europeans for digging this one up. Friggin’ tremendous live set by one of the very greatest bands to emerge from late 80’s, Raji’s-era Los Angeles. Drummer Bobzilla’s hilarious liner notes are alone worth the price of admission, but what you get here is so, so much more. This totally lays to waste their decent but flawed 90’s studio stuff. The sheer relentlessness of these guys’ sonic attack – a twisted, high energy, but still bluesy form of prog/punk – was always guaranteed to turn off the staider elements in the audience. And Jon Wahl’s hair-raising vocal screech wasn’t exactly calculated to reassure anybody. But for those looking for uncommonly inspired musical ideas, wildly impressive chops, and an unhinged emotional flow that spoke of secret knowledge gleaned from chemical explorations of a psychedelic nature – look no further. The clear mix gives every instrument it’s rightful space, and on this night in ’95, CLAW HAMMER was on fire and out for blood. Dallas didn’t have a chance.


Tribute Madness

16 Jun

If you wanna talk lowest common denominator, tribute records just gotta be among the easiest to grok. We’ve all heard great cover tunes in our lives – the glorious JIMI HENDRIX reinvention of BOB DYLAN’s “All Along the Watchtower” immediately comes to mind for me. We know: the right song in the right hands can absolutely slay. And the suits know this too. Like all those remakes of classic films Hollywood churns out these days, tribute records have readymade audiences and built-in sales potential.

When those early tribute records to VELVET UNDERGROUND/KINKS/BYRDS etc. first began appearing on the UK Imaginary Records label in the later 80’s, I found myself curious to find out what kinda of ingenious updates might lay in such grooves. But within a few years, major labels had run this new tribute concept into the ground. Damn near every artist of note saw their catalogue plundered by whatever half-assed pop/rock act was being pushed at the time. By the end of the millennium, somebody with record sales on par with, say, GUNS ‘N’ ROSES could expect to have a half-dozen tribute CDs to their name. And if you were a BEATLES or a BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, god help you – the tribute albums by bluegrass and country artists alone could number in the double digits.

Still, reinterpreting someone else’s work has the potential for great and wonderous things, and I’ve stumbled across more than a few really great tribute recs in my time. In no particular order, I give you my favorites:

ClawhamCLAWHAMMER Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are NOT Devo! (Sympathy For The Record Industry, 1991) What do you get when one of the original Fullerton Kids of the Black Hole hooks up with a DOWN BY LAW gtrist, a deadhead bassist, and the best Keith Moon impostor LA ever gave the world? That’s right, ya get CLAW HAMMER. For once I wholeheartedly agree with what Jay over at Detailed Twang had to say about em: “When Jon Wahl and Chris Bagarozzi played guitar together, I swear to god at times it was like what everyone said Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd were supposed to have sounded like live – unpredictable bits of chaos, pure unbridled energy and extremely amplified sound.” Yep every time I saw these fellas play (a half dozen times at least!) I felt like I was witnessing some beautiful vestige of longgone Hollywood punk rock spirit revealing itself, for the very last time, right there in front of me. But the way CLAW HAMMER rock the fuck outta DEVO’s first and weirdest album, live and unedited in the studio (I’ll give you “Space Junk” now but the whole album demands to be heard) always reminds me of why I dug them Akron spudboys in the first place. I swear: what DEVO sounded like to my 11 year old ears in 1981 is damn near exactly how CLAW HAMMER’s revisitation hit my 21 year old years in 1991. No kidding.

200px-Our_Band_Could_Be_Your_Life_-_A_Tribute_to_D_Boon_and_the_MinutemenVARIOUS ARTISTSOur Band Could Be Your Life (Little Brother Records, 1994) No no my SST Records bias is not getting the best of me here. Yes there’s a busload of NeareSST Relatives on this thing (Joe Baiza, Lou Barlow, VIDA, Joe Boon & Tony Platon, etc.) but there’s also all manner of indie detritus that I wouldn’t normally expect to give a thumbs up to. Clearly, THE MINUTEMEN held magical qualities that transcend space, time, and subculture divisions, ones that everyone from balding BÖC spin-offs (THE BRAIN SURGEONS) to 90’s shimmer/fuzz titans (SEAM, HAZEL) could relate to equally deeply, in turn drawing new and inspired musical ideas out of.

Few bands here attempt to match the Boon/Watt/Hurley rhythm combustion step for step – a wise move too, as damn near no one has ever rocked with such authority upon this Earth. What this comp is really about is the experiments, the polemics, the intimacy, and those wonderful little tunes that San Pedro once gave us. And if you were one of those folks who felt THE MINUTEMEN could improve things by ditching all that ornery ‘n’ jagged jazzfunk, then this rec will be a godsend. Dare I admit that in recent years I’ve listened to this comp more than any actual MINUTEMEN album proper? Not unlike THE MINUTEMEN themselves once did with their brilliant covers of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and STEELY DAN’s “Dr. Wu”, turning the familiar on it’s head – like Tom Watson’s OVERPASS does here with their great version of “Fake Contest” – has helped me rethink damn near all these tracks in new and unexpected ways.

4e93923f8da0cc899325a010.L._AA200_MEDIUM COOLImagination (Rough Trade/New Routes, 1991) This is actually nothing but a quiet, unassuming tribute to 50’s counterculture icon Chet Baker, and many of you will find it too straight-up/EZ for comfort. But since the project was led by ex-PANTHER BURN Ron Miller and most other folks involved (Alex Chilton, Adele Bertei, James White/Chance, and some other ex-CONTORTIONS) have trod crooked paths for longer than many of us have been alive . . . this never feels anything less than totally individual and heartfelt. My hero James White effortlessly takes the cake with his sweetly off-key versions of “Let’s Get Lost” and “Imagination”, proving definitively that his unique talents were otherwise wasted during the 90’s. And though I coulda done without Angel Torsen on the mic, it all helps me better understand the true beauty of Chet Baker in relation to the grim backdrop of America in the 1950’s. John Giorno’s liner notes sum up the context better than I can: “It was before Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl, before there was a possibility of a way out, other than suicide, and before the possibility of Enlightenment. The only way out was booze and sex, and whatever few drugs were available; and music, medium cool and CHET BAKER.”

DSCF2725VARIOUS ARTISTSMatter Dominates Spirit?: A Jim Shepard Tribute (Meta Records, 2001) – The passing of long-time Columbus, OH resident Jim Shepard (VERTICAL SLIT, V-3, LAQUER, EGO SUMMIT, etc.) left an ugly, gaping wound on the face of underground rock that I don’t imagine will ever heal properly. But as tributes go, Charles Cicirella really outdid himself here. This double album, hand painted/crafted with nice inserts (including a lengthly essay by ex-THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS leader Ron House) is about as loving as they come. Though it’s mostly close friends who are tackling Jim’s material (Don Howland, Robert Pollard, Mike Rep, former V-3er Nudge Squidfish etc.), there’s also alot of stray songs/noise/poetry by Jim himself, reminding you of just how diverse his commitment to expressive sonic beauty actual was. This is one guy who lived, created, and died at the edges of that anonymous, lower-middle class life tedium most of us are unwillingly exiled to. The spaces he occupied were ever shrinking, sometimes ugly, but always beautifully vibrant and alive. The note from Jim gracing the back of this record admits to it: “3:53 am 9/11. I’ve headed into The Sniper Zone – Hopefully, I’ll get back safe – J-Man”. Yep anyone who has ever tried to navigate that particular purgatory would do well to dig into Jim’s art. And since my turntable’s not working right now, we’ll end this with Jim and his VERTICAL SLIT doing “All“.