In that tipsy-turvy year when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s Come Poop With Me outsold labelmate REM’s latest Best Of by a margin of twenty-to-one in most key retail markets, and the RIAA’s legal staff seemed the only entity who can claim to have made actual musical hay in the bazaar that was the 2003 Record Biz, I merrily continued to seek sonic refuge by burrowing both ears deeply down within the cultural subterrane I might like to call Outsider Music for the In Crowd.
So if you’re up to joining me in taking a dip beneath the r’n’r radar, come read with me as I exhume a mere ten of my Frequently Forgotten Faves from ’03 … and in absolutely no order other than the alphabetical, I must implore, for those keeping score:
JOHNNY DOWD Wire Flowers: More Songs from the Wrong Side of Memphis
Quote: “In the winter of 1996, I retreated into a small room to write and record songs on my four-track,” explains Ithaca, New York’s premier moving man with a six-string. “Many of those recordings found a home on my first album, Wrong Side Of Memphis.” [Required Listening, by the way, everyone!] “The rest are here.
Different versions of some of these songs are on Pictures From Life’s Other Side and The Pawnbroker’s Wife,” Johnny continues in his handy Wire Flowers liners, “but what you’ll find here are the original bad seeds.”
And what stunningly glorious underbrush this is, from the Safe As Milk Beefheart-break of Monkey Run to the Elvis Sun Session-ready I See Horses, the broken Buffalo Springfield Ain’t Got A Dime, clear on up and out towards the inevitable Judgement Day (precisely the kind of anti-Americana which broke the late, extremely great Rank and File up on their third album, I’ll have y’all know).
But then there’s the should’a been Cold Turkey B-side Rockefeller Eyes, the Jandek with a budget (and a libretto) Black Rain, and STILL enough additional raw jewels left over to score David Lynch’s next three films …so long as Rick Rubin promises to produce, that is. I admit, Johnny Dowd seems to end up on my year-end tallies each and every twelve months it seems.
If you’ve ever wondered why, I heartily suggest you give yourself some Wire Flowers today.
JEREMY Pop Dreams
Quoting liner notes again (though this time those of no less an expert on the subject than twistin’ shakin’ Beverly Paterson of Rock Beat International magazine), “The first track on the album, Pop Dreams For You and Me, begins on a rather ghostly note before flexing its muscles into a spinning romp of power pop glory.
Stepping into Byrds territory, Walking With You reels with jingly jangly guitar magic and heaps of sun-kissed melodies you won’t soon forget. Rock solid rhythms pierce The Actor, while Just a Song is speckled with a nice psychedelic motif, due to the snake charming fragrance of some trippy sitar work. Are You Afraid? and What Friends Are For both log in as straight-forward pop pursuits that grip you by the ears right away and demand to be played again and again.
Pop Dreams also includes a bright and bouncy cover of Lennon and McCartney’s Good Night that adds a whole new approach to the original version.” Well, Beverly, what can I possibly add to all that but “Well said, ma’am! I couldn’t have reviewed it better myself …so as you can see, I didn’t,” not to mention, “Jeremy? Yessir, you’ve gone and made your very best album to date.”
And as for the rest of you out there, all I can say is there honestly wasn’t a more purely positive forty-six minutes of word, sound and above all vision put out there in 2003, and you each owe it to yourselves to partake fully this very instant. Close quote.
TOM JONES Mr. Jones
For those wondering what’s been new (pussycat) with Atomic Jones these days — when he’s not jamming da blooz alongside Jeff Beck for Martin Scorsese or belting over Three Dog Night oldies on Good Morning America, that is – here’s a hep little platter that belatedly came my way …wherein Tom’s latest in a long line of contemporary collaborators is none other than Wyclef Jean!
Okay, so often these enforced pair-ups twixt yesterday’s heroes and not-quite-so-oldies but goodies often fall far flat, but Tom’s always had an impeccable ear whenever the need arises to hitch his stalling star upon sympathetic shoulders (eg: Jerry Lee Lewis in ’67; Prince two decades later).
So with a delightfully dub yelp of “one, two, Tom’s coming for you, three four gonna bust through your door, five six you better lock up your chicks, seven eight, before it’s too late,” Messrs. Jones and Jean embark upon three quarter-hours of deadly Diddy-beating, Ron Isley-esque RandB-moderne, and even a Folkways/Smithsonian-sampled lunge at Black Betty that must have Ram Jam, not to mention Leadbelly Himself, doing the funky chicken in their graves.
The main star throughout just has to be Tom’s lyrics, however: this is, I believe, the first time in his illustrious forty-year career he’s helped pen the majority of an album’s tracks, and whether waxing nostalgic on his Joe Meek / Squires daze (“with a mike and a guitar I used to racket on any stage”), bemoaning a fairer sexer’s lack of attention – yeah, right (“I serve you breakfast in bed, but you say that ain’t enough, so I take out the garbage on the weekend”), or simply tipping his pelvic region on behalf of “my people working, waking up at six in the morning, trying to make an honest living ogi ogi ogi ogi oh”) Tom’s sentiments are surprisingly candid and heroically heartfelt to a number.
The guy really should write a book already! Now, this entire jizzle may conclude with a somewhat misguided remix-make of I Who Have Nothing, but hey, that’s what the “skip” button’s for, right? So put down the man’s latest Reloaded hits comp for a little while at least this year and let Mr. Jones in with his load too, alright? Coz… Tom and Wyclef? Why, it’s really not that unusual at all!
THE LAST L.A. Explosion!
When I eventually get to the West Coast chapter of my “Fallen Through The Cracks” tome, more than special mention will certainly be given to the mighty Nolte brothers, Joe, Mike and David, and their criminally under-heard combo The Last who, between roughly 1976 and 79, helped kick-start the entire Los Angeles punk, paisley and/or power pop scene(s) in a way the GoGo’s, Germs, and even Plimsouls can only hope to retrospectively rival.
In this time, and in their prime, The Last only managed to squeeze out one full album (which upon release was stupidly criticized for being “too clean” -sounding to an audience already being weaned for the likes of Black Flag). But listened to today, luvingly restored, remastered and repackaged in all its Living Stereo glory by their veteran mentors at Bomp, L.A. Explosion! provides no less than a 21-track, 57-minute primer for pop-rock’s anti-State of the Art circa Joe’s Garage and TUSK (between sessions for which our heroes snuck in to do their overdubs, just to put everything in its proper hysterical perspective).
Yep, you too can trace this seminal band’s evolution from back-alley Seeds ‘n’ Searchers regurgitators (She Don’t Know Why I’m Here) to pseudo-nouveau surf-rockers (Every Summer Day ….Murry Wilson, where are you?!!) through to their brave, early championing of the SECOND British Invasion (Bombing Of London especially Clashes in a way I’m sure J. Strummer would’ve approved, while Century City Rag – written ‘way back in ’75 after Joe Nolte quit his highschool prog band, I kid you knot! – easily out-Wellers the Jam with one Rickenbacker tied behind its back).
Like their East Coast offspring The Cheepskates, what truly set The Last apart from the pack was always the sheer complexity and inventiveness of its in-house songwriting (ie: This Kind Of Feeling and Someone’s Laughing can stand proudly against ANY Beau Brummels A-side), but while never letting such craft get in the way of having tons-o-laffs in the process, I’m so pleased to report (like the Gene Vincent vs. Doors fistfight which is their bluejean-bottomed take on, you betcha, Be Bop A Lula herein).
Alas, Get The Knack sorta overshadowed L.A. Explosion! upon its original release, then the various Bang(le)s etc. who comprised the Last’s audiences began to form their own bands and, well… at least it’s never too late to marvel anew at the harmony-packed history littering this monumental disc. At last.
JACK PEDLER D.T. Delinquent
It’s taken over a decade since the man first stepped off the drumkit behind some of his home and native Canada’s greatest bands (eg: Teenage Head) and recordings (Red Red The Rocking Horse, for all you seven-inch Seventies collectors), but Jack Pedler has finally, fatefully, fitfully even released his Sgt. Pepper …no, better still, his Who Sell Out …wait a minute, I mean Boulders for the Empty Millennium.
From its initial blast of iron-curtained oompah’s (Wolfgang! Where’s the Jägermeister? howls a lone voice in the sonic wilderness) to the concluding in-the-bagpiped coda of Celtic chaos, we’re careened upon a journey into deepest, dankest Dickensian strum and drang, buoyed with all the pointed hilarity befitting a man of J.P’s learned world-wisdom.
The title track, f’rinstance, takes only minutes to scale the Roger Watery Dark Side of The Wall (WITHOUT requiring any Gerald Scarfe artwork either!), courtesy of the patent Pedler wordplay (“…looking like a comatose mangled mannequin”) while producer Georgie Fab’s always artful cellarful of nice noise churns restlessly beneath it all.
Elsewhere, Blood Sweat and Tears meets Rocky Horror (It’s Not So), our ol’ pal Baby H lifts the oh-so-timely spectre of war pigs everywhere, but our hero Jack nonetheless can still take time out to take a drive — whilst taking a bride! — in the car-tune to end all cartoons, Hot Wire. Whew! So, to quote the master yet again, if ever you should find your laundry in a quandary, metaphorically speaking, what’s the worry?
Just grab your little log, pull yourself alongside the effigy campfire, snuggle up warm as toast, and spend your way outta the hole, dammit, by plunking your big bouncy bucks down for this delicately floured ‘n’ tickled wizard’s brew. Go ahead then. Don’t be ascared! Trust in Jack.
THE PLAYMATES Listen!
Thanks to David Bash and his truly International Pop Overthrow festivals, musical wonders which under abnormal circumstances might go relatively unheard altogether are most thankfully brought straight to the undivided attention of just the kinda people who still believe rock and even roll has the unmitigated ability to amass, amuse, and in the case of this Osaka combo’s 2003 appearance at IPO NYC, absolutely AMAZE.
I admit, it took only three chords of The Playmates’ Hamburg Beatles-tempered set to make me a complete convert for life, and the three of their CD’s I’ve managed to grab so far have barely left the trusty Pig Player ever since.
Interestingly, the most recent of these, Listen!, would have nothing whatsoever to apologize for if, in fact, it WAS named after Billy J. Kramer’s 1963 long-player of the same moniker, as the Mersey beats hard and fast throughout these dozen tracks too (and, like Sir George Martin’s most vital and vintage recordings, the Japanese Listen! is also produced in power-pounding Back to Monaural sound …you better believe it takes a real band to mix down to a single channel these days).
So, where even to begin? Well, howzabout the Pete Ham dates Eric Carmen Sweet Girl, the Substitute-era Who acoustic six-powered In The Dream, the Holland-Dozier-Holland-go-Walking-on-Sunshine Tears Are Fallin’ or even the shimmering Rubinoos-redux of Tale Of Summer? Most aurally astounding of all though must really be the Tokyo City Rollers-fashioned, sleighbell-encrusted Everybody’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Winter, which brings back such fond memories of those chilly ChinniChap egg-noggers from Top Of The Pops past.
No, not since Ron Nasty last helped Utopia deface the music we all know and love has a mere thirty minutes flat so expertly summed up the raw, raucous spirit of p-o-p in all of its sly, innocent and yes, monophonic splendor. In just one more word then? LISTEN!!!
JASON RINGENBERG A Day At The Farm with Farmer Jason
Attention! From the fine folk over at Yep Roc, who’ve also just given us some grand new Fleshtones and Big Sandy releases too, comes an alarmingly disarming charmer which carries the following Parental Advisory: “This CD contains songs that will have you singing along with your kids!” Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the one, the only Farmer Jason.
Now you may remember his previous incarnation as leader of those red-hot Nashville Scorchers who, a few decades ago, helped make Bakersfield safe again for alternative airwaves …and quite some time before Dwight the Yoakam ever squeezed into his first set of designer Levis, by the way. But these days Jason seems rightfully content to traipse the lower quarter before retiring onto the front porch — after the young ones have all been put to bed, that is — to pick the simple joys of life across his very own green acres.
The result is a harrowingly wholesome half-hour which may smack some of uprooting Mister Rogers into the Hee Haw cornfield, but in fact makes quite an airtight case that the REAL future of music with such wit and melody may ultimately rest upon the stages of your neighborhood community centers, pre-schools and library recital halls. Still with me?
Then I suggest you join Farmer J. asap as he takes us all on one family-friendly hayride courtesy of his ever-courageous guitar pickin’ chickens, encountering en route an old cow (who sounds respectfully akin to J.R. Cash), a hog-hog-hog (via a riff fully fit for the Duke of Steve Earle), and a deere (as in John, that is) chug-chuggin’ tractor. We learn about sheep shearing and domesticated animals too – LITERAL pet sounds abound, of course – and even manage to mend to some chores (plantin’ that Corny Corn) before the sun duly sets on Jason and his farm, with the good Lord’s goodnight kisses and a heavenly vocal assist from Tahra Dergee.
You know, not since Jonathan Richman last crawled across the kindergarten floor imploring I’m A Little Dinosaur has listening been so, well, FUNdamental!
SLEEPING GIANT Excerpts from Late Music
You just can’t live in New Jersey without being touched by the knowing shadow of The Smithereens, and their long-sitting drummist Dennis Diken is especially omnipresent to even NON-Jerseyites out there who still find themselves regularly pouring over his digital Beach Boy and Lovin’ Spoonful liner notes.
Personally speaking, when I asked Dennis to submit a track to To M’Lou’s He’s A Rebel: The Gene Pitney Story Retold, not only did a roller-rink-ready version of Only Love Can Break A Heart eventually arrive in the mail, but a Bonus Disc by his and Pete DiBella’s nom-de-disque of the moment Sleeping Giant mysteriously came packaged right alongside same.
Truthfully, listen after listen upon countless listen later, I STILL cannot express fully how recklessly, yet skillfully, the sounds imbedded therein effortlessly leap tall gamuts between the lush, pulsing Anglo-Americana of Walker Brother lineage (The Sun’s Gonna Shine In The Morning), late-Association-style psychedelicacy (Temptation Cake) and, if you can ever imagine such a cocky cross-breeding, Spanky and Our Gang as wrestled mischievously to the studio floor by Lindsey Buckingham (that gem’s known as In Another Life).
Yet the melodic crux of this CD-EP just has to be Fall Into Your Arms, as subtly intense as anything that other great drumming Dennis (as in Wilson) conjured during his Sunflower prime, only to be followed most logically by the high-as-a-llama BRIAN Wilson-worthy Standing In That Line. For those counting, that’s a big five for five, song-wise, and I bet there’s at least another half-dozen Sleeping Giants just waiting to be burned and mailed my way by now too (nudge wink).
You can bet that upon immediate receipt of same, I shall continue to report my full findings to you all, that’s a giant promise.
TRUE LOVE I Was Accident
Now THIS is Power Pop – with the emphasis on the Power. Ray Kubian, Keith Hartel and, yes, the Squirrel, d.b.a. True Love, like to overdrive the guitars, ride the crash cymbals wherever and whenever possible, then go that extra decibel still by layering all with streams of glitter-socking three-part vocal washes which “bap-bap” here, or Flo-and-Eddie there …precisely whatever the true love song in question asks for.
And oh yeah, that’s another thing: the SONGS! Be they big bally ballads (such as Don’t Mean Anything, Service of the Knife, or Throwing Back the Ring, the latter of which drips more heartache ‘n’ harmony than an entire Everlys box set) or ear-wrenching corkers (like Burn Rubber, let alone the sleighbell-and-acoustic-propelled Now, which comes complete with Wall of Spector saxes to boot) these guys always know exactly what to say, and more importantly HOW to say it, in usually three-minutes-twenty or less.
Can you say “lost art,” anyone? Plus lyrically, there’s always lotsa love in these here true stories too (Riot Helmet respectfully stops to nod Smokey Robinson’s way, while The Genius just might be that long-anticipated follow-up to Los Mockers’ Coronation after all). Yet thankfully as well, there’s seldom nary a trace of retro in True Love’s shake appeal, which one listen alone to the fearlessly over-the-board Time Dog mix more than demonstrates.
And, like the above-raved-over Playmates, THIS powerful trio can offer the goods off the stage too, take it from me. Or better still, from yourself someday in a rumpus room or true venue near you. So go check ‘em out, buy three or four Accidents for yourself …and don’t forget to tell the Squirrel that the Pig sentcha, ok?
VARIOUS ARTISTES ALBUzerxQUE Volumes 13, 14, 15
Those not already intimately familiar with the self-styled “Okie musique concrète” of New Mexican Mark Weber may be quite unprepared indeed for the veritable Carnival of Sound he’s assembled with the 50 tracks by the 29 artists on these latest three instalments of the ALBUzerxQUE series.
But those with a very open mind, and ears to match, will find joys aplenty in the (to cite but the most delectably) drunken Dixieland vs. bouncing Brubeck of the Outpost Repertory Jazz Orchestra’s St. James Infirmary, Mitch Rayes’ touching lullaby-from-heck Crushed Little Baby, those legendary Bubbadinos’ quite possibly definitive Paint It, Black and Stefan Dill’s blisteringly alt. Byrds Union County Stomp. But that’s not all, folks!
There’s a searing dollop of vintage Varèse (C. K. Barlow’s Name Day), the semi-electronica update of Dylan’s Cough Song as if, um, sung by Lennon’s Mr. Wok (Dalai Lama Throat Clearings from Lisa Gill), the Bach-meets-Miles Symphonia #9 in F Minor by no less than the Jazz Chamber Ensemble, and even some wholly Fug-calibre paranoic pickin’ from the Zerx master himself, Mr. Weber (as The New York Times may still someday be referring to him as).
Garnish it all most liberally with slices of spoken word beatery, crazed cowboy hop ‘n’ sing-alongs, mutant mariachi, plus fractured flamenco and you have far, FAR more than simply the audio equivalent of the best dern Open Mic in what remains of the civilized world, you bet. Better hurry and sign up soon, though: Last I heard, ALBUzerxQUE’s already up to Volume 17 and counting…