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    • February 13, 2014 2:12 AM CST
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      As some of you know, one of my duties as a mild-mannered newspaper reporters is doing a weekly rock 'n' roll column for Pasatiempo, the arts and entertainment magazine of The Santa Fe New Mexican. In fact, I recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of Terrell's Tune-up

      Here are a few recent columns. I'll update below if anyone is interested. 

      And you can find 'em all at my music blog

      A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
      Feb. 7, 2014

      Has Les Claypool “gone country”? Not exactly. His new album, Four Foot Shack, credited to Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, could almost be mistaken for “Primus Unplugged,” except for the fact that Claypool’s usual sidemen have been replaced here by guitarist Bryan Kehoe. The group even plays a couple of acoustic takes on Primus classics: “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” and “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.”

      Like Primus, Duo de Twang features Claypool’s bass as basically a lead instrument. Kehoe, reportedly an old high school buddy of Claypool’s, plays a lot of slide guitar. The only percussion is what Claypool calls a “mini-tambourine-doohickey” played via a foot pedal.

      The duo originally formed to play the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco. They definitely lived up to the “hardly strictly” part and then decided to make this album and do a small tour. (Alas, the closest they’re coming to New Mexico is Austin, during next month’s South by Southwest festival, and Snowmass, Colorado, in June.)

      Too be sure, it’s obvious that Claypool likes country from 40 or 50 years ago. On this album you’ll find covers of Johnny Horton’s 1959 hit “The Ballad of New Orleans” (Claypool takes it, as Horton might have said, to places where a rabbit wouldn’t go) and Jerry Reed’s 1970 swamp-country masterpiece about a one-armed Cajun alligator hunter, “Amos Moses.” This is the second time Claypool has recorded “Amos.” Primus also took a crack at it on the 1998 CD Rhinoplasty.

      While the Horton and Reed songs were big hits, Claypool also plows more obscure country-music ground. The duo does a version of “The Bridge Came Tumblin’ Down,” originally performed by Canadian country star “Stompin’” Tom Connors, who died last year at 77. The song has a good basic Johnny Cash chunka-chunka beat, with Kehoe doing some of his best slide work on the cut.

      In many ways, Duo de Twang’s relation to country music is similar to what you hear on Merles Just Want to Have Fun, the album that Bryan & The Haggards and Eugene Chadbourne released last year. Both groups use C&W as a jumping-off place — before they jump into the sonic abyss.

      But no, even with these songs, you’re never going to see Duo de Twang on the Grand Ole Opry. And you especially aren’t going to hear Claypool’s “Red State Girl,” a near-metallic-sounding ditty about a woman with breast implants made of recycled bottles who “wants to grow up to be Sarah Palin” and is fortunate enough to meet a young man with a tattoo of the Budweiser frogs (as well as a naked picture of the former Alaska governor, or so Claypool says).

      As Claypool has shown with Primus and his many side projects, he loves wacky covers of a wide variety of songs, and despite the band’s name, most of the covers on this record are not from the world of country. On Four Foot Shack, he and Kehoe do a suave remake of the iconic surf instrumental “Pipe Line” (including “la la la” vocals on the bridge, where they sound like some lost battalion of the Russian army). The Duo makes Alice in Chains’ nightmarish “Man in the Box” even more nightmarish (with bluegrass mandolin). And the Bee Gees’ disco landmark “Stayin’ Alive” is transformed into an alien hoedown.

      I still believe that Claypool’s most satisfying album is Primus’ Pork Soda, released more than 20 years ago. But even though this one doesn’t reach that level, it’s a doggone fun record. I hope that some staunch fans of acoustic roots music open their ears to it.

      Also recommended:

      * Spanish Asshole Magnet by Billy Joe Winghead. No, Billy Joe Winghead is not a person. It’s a band name, like Jethro Tull. Fronted by singer John (not Jono) Manson, the band, from my hometown of Oklahoma City, plays raw, obscene, metal-edged scuzz rock. I hear echoes of The Dictators, Joan Jett, Nashville Pussy, and The Hickoids (hey, they’re on The Hickoids’ label, Saustex) but definitely not Jethro Tull.

      Did I mention obscene? Yes, nearly every song is packed with lewd language that unfortunately will limit radio play. Too bad. There are lots of rocking and frequently catchy tunes here. The title song is a tale of decadence and perversion that name-checks Frankie Goes to Hollywood and lifts a riff from the Hendrix song the title parodies.

      Songs like “Dayglo Blacklite,” “Devil’s Advocate,” and “Gravedigger” are hard-punching rockers, the latter with a melody inspired by The Runaways’ signature song “Cherry Bomb.” Meanwhile the ferocious “Okie, Arkie and Tex” sounds like a grittier version of Guns N’ Roses before that band sunk beneath our wisdom like a stone. Billy Joe proves they can actually play it pretty on “Lana Don’t Go,” which has musical allusions to The Shangri-Las, Phil Spector, and other ’60s teen-drama rock.

      Billy Joe also does a version of “Planet of the Apes” by garage-punk idols The Mummies. The band does it justice, but it’s only the second-most-remarkable cover on this album.

      Without a doubt, the highlight here is the inspired medley of Broadway showtunes — I’m not kidding — that Billy Joe calls “Springtime for Argentina.” Yes, this is a combination of “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ The Producers and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita. It’s a magical Okie punk-rock ode to a dictator and the wife of a dictator. The track becomes even more demented when you watch the video. It’s a crazed fascist puppet show that shouldn’t be missed.

      This is followed by a slow, dreamy, synthy song called “With a Hate Like Mine.” After so much breakneck craziness from the previous songs, it might seem at first as if Billy Joe just ran out of steam. But as the six-minute song drones on with its iggly-squiggly computer effects and smoky atmospherics, it seems to transport a listener to a distant crazy dimension.

      Enjoy some videos:

      A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
      Jan. 31, 2014

      When you think of country-folk songwriters from Texas, you probably think of pickers and singers like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Flatlanders and Terry Allen. Not to mention Willie and Waylon and the boys.

      Here's a couple of younger singer-songwriters from the Lone Star state whose music definitely is informed by all those greats, even though they don't sound much like your stereotypical Texas troubadours. Both these guys started out as "one-man bands," both are in their late 30s and I suspect they share a lot of the same fans. But they don't sound much like your typical one-man bands either. And come to think of it, they don't sound much like each other.

      * There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely by Possessed by Paul James. Though he frequently sings like a man possessed, this singer's name isn't "Paul James." It's Konrad Wert, a preacher's son born and raised in a Mennonite family in Immokalee, Fla. “Paul James” is a combination of his father’s and grandfather’s names. Wert's day job is being a special education teacher in an elementary school.

      Jeopardizing forever his standing with one-man band purists (I suppose there are some of those out there) Wert on this album is joined by by an ad hoc band on some cuts, including a couple of Texas heavyweights -- steel guitarist Lloyd Maines and harmonica honker Walter Daniels. Fortunately, the extra musicians only enhance and don't clutter Wert's sound.

      Possessed fans immediately will know this record, released late last year on the Hillgrass Bluebilly label,  is a Possessed by Paul James album by the opening notes of the first song, "Hurricane." It's Wert's fiddle, screeching, but not quite abrasive, soon followed by foot-stomping and a stand-up bass, drums and well as excited yelps by Wert, perhaps an invocation to the swamp demons who haunt his music.

      Wert's on the fiddle on the next tune, "Songs We Used to Sing," as well. It's upbeat with just a hint of pop in the melody, though you're not likely to hear this on commercial radio. Drummer Cary Ozanian gets a good workout on this one.

      On "Heavy," Wert ditches the band and switches to banjo. "Oh this life can get heavy," he sings in the refrain. The words seem to underscore the pressure that seems to propel his soaring vocals. "Dragons," also featuring Wert on banjo, is a shambling roadhouse blues. Wert roars and growls as Daniels blows sweet riffs on his harmonica. (Wert cleverly sneaks the titles of some his earlier albums in some of the lyrics on these two. His previous record Feed the Family is referenced in the first verse of "Heavy," while in the song "Dragons" Wert sings, "You've left me Cold and Blind," a sly wink to the title of his 2008 album.)

      The title song, preceded by a minute-long fiddle solo, features an even more-intense-than-usual Wert stomping, fiddling and pleading for love, even though he sees some rough times "when we cry ourselves to sleep." The darkest song here undoubtedly is the slow, minor-key "Pills Beneath Her Pillow." It's about reckless and weary lovers. The woman keeps pills under her pillow, while the man keeps guns under his.. Wert in the chorus sings "Everyone is searching for love, everyone is fighting for love, everyone is killing for love and baby, oh, I'm dying tonight ..."

      My favorite song on There Will Nights at the moment is a lighter piece, a sweet love/lust tune called "38 Year Old Cocktail Waitress." With some honky-tonk steel from Maines, Wert sings, "On the golf course road down in Mexico, she's my beauty queen / She wears a pink bikini, drinks an appletini, oh she's quite the scene.

      * Nothin' But Blood by Scott H. Biram. Now I doubt that Biram would ever sing the praises of a woman who drinks appletinis. He seems like he'd be more attracted to straight-whiskey types. In fact, "Only Whiskey" is the name of one of the rowdiest tunes on, this new album by gruff-voiced Biram. "Only whiskey can sleep in my bed," he growls over his distorted electric guitar. (The album is scheduled for release next week by Chicago's Bloodshot Records.)

      Like the best of Biram's works, there are plenty of rip-roaring, blues-soaked, booze-fired songs on Nothin' But Blood. "Alcohol Blues," (an old Mance Lipscomb tune) with a guitar hook similar to that in Cream's version of "Crossroads" and a string of obscenities I won't even try to sneak past the editors, definitely is one. And "Around the Bend" and " Church Point Girls" might just be the first recorded one-man metal band tunes in human history. Biram on "Bend" even manages a pretty good parody of the lizard-demon voice you hear in so many death-metal bands.

      While Biram sings lustily of drinking, drugging, sex and sin, there are plenty of salvation songs on Nothin' But Blood as well. "Gotta Get to Heaven" is a happy song about a guy who apparently has wrestled with his sinful ways and won. Plus, tacked on at the end of the album are three "gospel bonus tracks" including oft-covered classics like "Amazing Grace" (featuring Biram's harmonica and ambient rain sounds) a rousing "John the Revelator" and one called "When I Die," which is credited to Biram, though it sounds as if it could be a hymn from deep within the foggy realm of American folk traditions.

      Speaking of cover songs Biram, performs more of them than usual on this record. Besides the ones mentioned above, he does versions of folk gems like "Jack of Diamonds," I'm Troubled," (which is credited to Doc Watson, though it sounds much older), and Willie Dixon's "Backdoor Man," which is closer to Howlin' Wolf's version than the one by The Doors.

      Biram at Corazon, Santa Fe 2011

      While Biram is known best for his rambunctious and sometimes raunchy material, he also is quite capable of slow, pretty acoustic songs as well. He's proved that before, of course on songs like "Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue" from Something's Wrong / Lost Forever (2009) and "Broke Ass" from 2011's Bad Ingredients. On the new album "Never Comin' Home" is a sturdy country weeper, while the minor-key "Slow and Easy" is slow, though the narrator, drinking his wine to get "that same old high" sounds anything but at ease.

      But the real standout is one called "Nam Weed." It's a story of a Vietnam vet pining about the good old boys back during the war. "Long time, back in Vietnam / I had some friends that could give a damn / They'd roll 'em up and smoke 'em down / Good weed back in Vietnam ..." Here in the USA, however, the nostalgic narrator is doing time for some unspecified crime. "All my friends were over there," he laments.

      Both Biram and Possessed by Paul James show that, in case anyone forgot, singer-songwriters don’t have to sound self-absorbed and that folksingers don’t have to be self-righteous And both of them also prove that Texas hasn’t stopped making top-notch troubadours.

      Here's a couple of videos:


      A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
      Jan. 24, 2014

      Every year about this time I like to look back at some of the albums that I meant to review in this column over the past year but somehow never got around to it. There’s some good stuff here that doesn’t deserve to get left behind.

      The Big Dream by David Lynch. Back when I was becoming a fanatic for David Lynch films like Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, not to mention his pioneering TV series Twin Peaks, I never imagined that one day I’d be listening to his music. But there were hints even then that he would be responsible for some intense, crazy sounds. Julee Cruise’s mysterious and hauntingly beautiful 1989 debut, Floating Into the Night, is made up of songs composed by Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch’s soundtrack meister at the time, and lyrics by Lynch. But Lynch didn’t do a solo album until Crazy Clown Time in 2011. Though not quite as striking as that album, The Big Dream is a continuation of the shadowy, surreal electro/clunky techno of Crazy Clown Time. If anything, the new work shows more of a country influence. No, you won’t mistake it for Willie or Waylon, but Lynch’s Montana drawl makes him sound like some lost cowboy in the Black Lodge. You have to give him credit. He is one of the few performers I know who can make a lyric like “I went down to the ice-cream store” (in “We Rolled Together”) sound sinister. And, hey, Dylan completists, Lynch does a cover of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown.” It’s not hard to see how this song, based on a real murder/suicide on a South Dakota farm, would appeal to Lynch.

      All Our Forts Are With You by Wild Billy Chyldish & The CTMF. Billy Chyldish, formerly Billy Childish, formerly Steven John Hamper, proves that there’s a thin line between angry young man and grumpy old coot. The songs on this album, according to the Damaged Goods label’s website, have lyrics that go back to 1977, when Billy, then working as an apprentice stonemason in England’s Chatham dockyards, first decided that he wanted to be in a punk band. Many of the songs here seem to be dealing with the death of punk as opposed to its birth. “Three punk rockers, but the punks are dead,” Chyldish snarls in the opening song, “The Headless Flowerpot Girl.” There are songs blasting “The Second Generation Punks” as well as “The Musical Rogues,” which include Nick Cave and The Pogues. (Hey, lighten up, Billy, I like those guys!) And in the title song, Chyldish sings, “I knew you, baby, when you didn’t know punk. … I knew you baby, before the lies of coke.” In addition to the punk-history songs, Chyldish pays tribute to some spiritual mentors. “On Moonlit Heath”has lyrics by British poet A.E. Housman. Even better is a garage-rock attack on Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You.”

      * All That Glitters by Pietra Wexstun & Hecate’s Angels. The third album by Hecate’s Angels is the most down-to-earth CD Pietra Wexstun has ever done — it’s not as otherworldly as Saints and Scoundrels (2004) and especially Hidden Persuader (2001). The emphasis here is on Wexstun’s warm vocals. (Unlike those previous albums, none of the 11 songs on Glitters are instrumentals.) When I say “down-to earth,” I’m speaking relatively. There are plenty of spooky atmospherics, mysterioso lyrics, and outright weirdness here. It’s easy to imagine strange little movies in your mind when listening to her songs. “When The Boys Come Out to Play,” with its ghostly background choruses, ominous melody, and what sounds like a sample of some radio preacher ranting in the background, could almost be the girl cousin of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Wexstun goes from bossa nova (“Dragging Me Down”) to white funk in “She Done Him Right (Mae West Sutra).” On “Lonesome Stranger” she makes a hammer dulcimer sound like a Martian lyre. My favorite is the opening song, “Take It Away,” which might be described as “rock noir.” I bet Wexstun’s husband, Stan Ridgway (who plays guitar on the album), wishes he’d written this tune.

      * Rock Them Back to Hell by Left Lane Cruiser. This is a two-man trash/blues/stompband from Indiana. Like the Black Keys before them, singer/guitarist Frederick Joe Evans IV and drummer/ harmonica honker Brenn Beck have worshipped at the altar of Mississippi hill-country bluesmen like T. Model Ford and R.L. Burnside. Unlike The Black Keys, Cruiser has retained its primitive raunch. Yet the band is not afraid to play it pretty every so often, such as on the sweet and soulful “Coley.”

      * Stiff Upper Lip and Trousers to Match by The Mobbs. “Blast Off!!!” — the raucous first track on this album — immediately reminded me of The Hives at the height of their glory. That is, if The Hives had thick Northampton accents. Yes, the guitar/bass/drums garage/punk attack is nothing new. But these guys play it with enthusiasm and humor. They’ve got some fine songs, “The Devil Writhed In,” “Crule Britannia” (is this a nod to the Bonzo Dog Band?), and “A Damned Good Thrashing!” among them.

      The Beautiful Old: Turn of the Century Songs by various artists. This collection, with musical production by Gabriel Rhodes, consists of covers of great old parlor songs from America and the British Isles. The best of these are “The Band Played On”sung by Richard Thompson and Christine Collister. (How could anyone not love this tale of Casey and his strawberry blonde?); “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” by Graham Parker (I still like the version in the Popeye cartoon best, but Parker does a decent job. I never knew this song had so many verses.); and “After the Ball” by Dave Davies (the ex-Kink captures the heartache at the center of this song). By the way, Garth Hudson, former keyboardist of The Band, plays on all three of these plus several more on the album.

      Reverse Shark Attack by Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin. If last year’s Segall album, Sleeper, was a little too soft and introspective for fans of his usual hopped-up lo-fi garage squall, this might be the perfect antidote. Originally released in 2009, the album was rereleased by the In the Red label early last year. With bassist/vocalist Cronin, Segall rips through eight songs with joyful fury. About half are less than two minutes long, but the final track, the title song, is a 10-minute adventure that alternates between quiet, loud, and louder. And if you missed my recent blog post about it, here’s some good news for local Segall fans. He’s playing at High Mayhem in Santa Fe on March 18 and at Albuquerque’s Launchpad the following night.

    • February 28, 2014 11:10 AM CST
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      Having an adventurous spirit, when I get promo CDs from artists I’ve never heard of at KSFR-FM, if it looks interesting, I’ll consider playing a track on my radio show without listening to it first. But before I do this, I always check the credits to make sure there are no cellos. Seriously, with few exceptions, few instruments sap the rock ’n’ roll out of a song faster than a dreary cello.

      So imagine my surprise when I popped Wheel of Talent, the new CD by The Fleshtones, into my car stereo only to strings — a cello and a violin, to be exact — on the very first song.


      Actually, the strings on “Available,” which pop up later in the album on “How to Say Goodbye,” turned out to be more of a slight misstep, perhaps a jarring texture, than a deal-breaker. Wheel of Talent, produced by Detroit’s Jim Diamond, shouldn’t be seen as The Fleshtones’ attempt to channel Mantovani.

      Elsewhere on the album you’ll find a ton of The Fleshtones’ trademark garage-forged “Super Rock.” It’s a high-octane noise that they’ve been pounding out for decades. Queens natives Peter Zaremba (vocals, keyboards, harmonica) and Keith Streng (vocals, guitar) formed the band in 1976, playing a pumped-up hybrid of garage rock, punk, New Wave, and soul.

      Despite Zaremba’s stint hosting an alt-rock show on MTV in the ’80s, Super Rock never got to be super famous. As they sing on the frantic, autobiographical “It Is as It Was” on this album, “We didn’t have a whole a lot of money/But we did what we wanted to.”

      I love the classic Fleshtones sound, so my favorites here are hard-driving tunes like “What You’re Talking About,” “Roofarama,” and “Veo La Luz,” in which The Fleshtones go bilingual — it’s got a fuzz-heavy guitar (with a riff right out of The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul”) and Spanish lyrics. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an outtake from their 2012 EP en Español, Quatro x Quatro.

      (This song has apparently been in the band’s repertoire for a long time. Fooling around on YouTube recently, I stumbled across a 1988 live performance of the Fleshtones performing the English-language version, “I See the Light,” originally done in the ’60s by The Music Explosion.)

      “Hipster Heaven” is a good-natured, fast-rocking poke at one of The Fleshtones’ favorite targets in recent years, the contemporary hipster (this one’s got “a new tattoo and money from home”). There’s even a decent tribute to The Ramones here with “Remember the Ramones.” (“You don’t know what it means/To hit the Bowery and make the Scene/For a rock ’n’ roller and a kid from Queens.”)

      But, getting back to those cello songs, it’s obvious on Wheel of Talent that The Fleshtones are trying to stretch beyond their garage/punk roots. Recorded in Spain by renowned Spanish garage-punk producer Jorge Explosion, the strings on “Available” and “How to Say Goodbye” give those tunes a definite retro pop sheen. The former sounds like a rocking Fleshtones tune with some weird strings joining in, but the latter sounds like something that might have appeared on AM radio in the late ’70s (though it also reminds me a little of The Decemberists).

      There are other tracks that also seem to be aiming for richer textures. For instance, on the classy “For a Smile,” guest vocalist Mary Huff (from Southern Culture on the Skids) sounds a little like Jackie De Shannon. “Tear for Tear” is a slightly jittery stab at the greasy early ’60 teen-pop sound. It made me think of Gene McDaniels’ “Tower of Strength.” And surprisingly good is the horn-fortified, soulful “What I’ve Done Before,” on which The Fleshtones sound closer to Van Morrison than they’ve ever come before.

      Once I got (almost) used to the idea of The Fleshtones with strings and came to an uneasy peace with those songs, the only other track that bothered me was “The Right Girl,” which is sung in a phony British accent. If you’d told me that David Bowie was doing guest vocals here, I’d probably buy that story. Instead, I suspect this is some kind of in-joke among the band. But I don’t get it.

      All in all, Wheel of Talent is a good album with a few bugs in it. It’s good to see The Fleshtones still willing to experiment. But next time, I hope they forget the fake English accents and the cello.

      Also Recommended:

      * Todo Roto by Wau y Los Arrrghs!!! Listening to The Fleshtones singing “Veo La Luz” made me hungry for some of the real stuff. Fortunately, the premier Spanish-language garage rockers of this era, Wau y Los Arrrghs!!!, released a new album not too many months ago. It’s produced by Jorge Explosion, who also produced The Fleshtones’ sessions in Spain. But no, Mr. Explosion didn’t bring in a string section for Todo Roto.

      Led by singer Juanito Wau, this is a fuzz ’n’ Farfisa band (or it that a Vox organ?) that never lets up. Each song, it seems, rocks harder than the last one. Even the ones that start off slow tunes like “No Me Veras Caer” are permanently scarred by Wau’s crazy screams.

      While Wau, naturally, is the focus of most of the tunes, his Arrrghs are a tight little unit. On the instrumental “Rescate Griego” they prove they could even be a pretty exciting surf band on their own.

      * Records to Ruin Any Party Vol. 4 by various Voodoo Rhythm artists. I first heard Wau y Los Cantan en Español, which was released on my favorite Swiss label — and in fact, one of my favorite labels anywhere, Voodoo Rhythm.
      Arrrghs!!! on their first album,

      How can you describe a Voodoo Rhythm collection to someone unfamiliar with the artists? Here, verbatim, is how label owner “Beat-Man” Zellar (better known as “Rev. Beat-Man”) explains it in his promo one-sheet. “This compilation may contains Dirty Words and way too Loud Guitars Trash Blues Garage Punk, overdriven Boogie Blues Folk and Weimer Republic 1920s Jazz Cajun and Pure Snotty One Man Band Trash Punk.”

      Got that? The English is broken but the spirit is clear.

      The sampler features label stalwarts like those German blues punks The Juke Joint Pimps, the Swiss garageman Roy and The Devil’s Motorcycle, New Zealand songwriter Delaney Davidson, and not one but two bands — The Monsters and Die Zorros — involving Beat-Man himself.

      Among the artists on this collection that I’d never heard of before were Becky Lee and Drunkfoot, a one-woman band from Arizona that performs a slow, sad, pretty love song called “Old Fashioned Man”; The New Primitives, a South African garage band; and Heart Attack Alley, a New Zealand group whose sound might be described as neo-skiffle.

      Voodoo Rhythm proves once again to be a virtual United Nations of trash rock. Which is why I love them.

      Blog Bonus: Here's some videos:

      First, a recent live clip from The Fleshtones

      Here's that old clip of "I See the Light" in English

      Here's a live clip of Wau y Los Arrrghs!!!

      And here's Becky Lee & Drunkfoot

    • March 21, 2014 11:02 AM CDT
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      A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
      March 21, 2014

      Note to loyal blog readers: This column is based on the blogging I did at SXSW last week (and early this week). 

      For all of my fabulous snapshots of SXSW and other musical shows I saw in Texas last week CLICK HERE

      I had just sat down to blog about what a fun evening of rock ’n’ roll I’d had on the opening day of the South by Southwest music festival on March 12 — all the great music I heard, all the cool people I saw, and all the friends I got to hang out with — when I got a Facebook message from my brother in Santa Fe. He had news of a bizarre tragedy at SXSW and wanted to know if I was OK.

      It seems that a car that was the subject of a police pursuit plowed into a crowd in front of The Mohawk near 9th and Red River Streets. At that point, two people had died and five more were critically injured. By Monday morning, one of those five had died from injuries she’d sustained in the incident. A couple of dozen people injured by that driver were transported to hospitals that night.

      I’ve heard grumbling for years about how the festival has grown too big and how the streets of Austin can’t handle the traffic, the crowds, and the insanity. You can’t blame the festival organizers for the alleged actions of the defendant, Rashad Owens, an aspiring rapper and music producer, who reportedly had a gig on the festival’s last night. According to police he was fleeing from a DWI checkpoint, may have been intoxicated, and had outstanding arrest warrants.

      But this is a music column, not an op-ed piece, and I did hear lots of great music at the festival and at the unofficial events that surrounded SXSW.


      There were a couple of singers I hadn’t planned on seeing who I saw at my very first SXSW in 1995. One was Lucinda Williams, who played a brief set at the Austin Music Awards. Accompanied by her own guitar and a lead guitarist, Williams played mostly old songs like “Passionate Kisses,” “Lake Charles,” and “Drunken Angel.” She was wonderful.

      Another unexpected pleasure was Howe Gelb, who I’d caught two or three times before with his old group Giant Sand. I stumbled into the Continental Club, where he was playing with a trio. On his quieter songs, he sounded like Marty Robbins after a three-week peyote trip. But Gelb can also tear loose on electric guitar with the same weird vision and fire that made me love Giant Sand to begin with.

      And of course, I didn’t miss The Waco Brothers playing at the annual Bloodshot Records party at the Yard Dog Gallery. The original “insurgent country” band did some of my favorites, including “See Willie Fly By” and “Plenty Tuff Union Made.” They also did their covers of Johnny Cash’s “Big River” (which Jon Langford introduced as “Hotel California” by The Eagles), “I Fought the Law,” and a rousing (and I suspect spontaneous) “Hey! Bo Diddley.”

      Smitty of The Hickoids gets ready for
      his next dental appointment

      I caught the classic Texas cowpunk crazies, The Hickoids (which includes longtime Santa Fe musician Tom Trusnovic), twice this year — at an east Austin joint called The White Horse, right after they were inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame, and later at the Triple Crown, a bar in San Marcos. As usual, they lean on the punk much heavier than the cow, but their raunchy tunes never fail to delight.

      Barrence Whitfield and the Savages performed a set at C-Boy’s Heart & Soul that was sheer intensity. Playing lots of stuff from his latest, Dig Thy Savage Soul, Whitfield raised the energy level several notches. Guitarist (and Taos resident) Peter Greenberg’s fingers were bleeding well before he left the stage.

      Possessed by Paul James, the musical superhero whose secret identity is mild-mannered teacher Konrad Wert, played at the off-the-beaten-track Austin Moose Lodge, at a showcase by the small but impressive Hillgrass Bluebilly Records. Wert was in his one-man-band mode, playing a small arsenal of stringed instruments and using his trademark stomp-box — which is basically a wooden board that is miked — as percussion. All that, and his voice. When Wert gets to wailing, sometimes it seems as if he really is possessed.

      Bobby Patterson

      Veteran Dallas soul man Bobby Patterson, who was celebrating his 70th birthday that night, performed at C-Boy’s. Never very famous as a performer, Patterson is known mainly as a producer and a DJ. He produced records for Little Johnny Taylor, Fontella Bass, and Chuck Jackson. He was backed by a band that included a horn section, and at one point he was joined onstage by Whitfield.

      I first latched onto The Grannies two years ago at SXSW. Appearing in colorful wigs, horrible frocks, and muumuus, the band just tore up the Triple Crown. They attacked the music with humor as much as fury. Singer Wizard Sleeves was wearing some kind of flesh-colored body suit, and guitarist Sluggo ended his set with a classic-rock guitar smashing demonstration.

      Sluggo of The Grannies

      Playing at the Moose Lodge show were several bands new to me, including The Pine Hill Haints, an acoustic group (with a washtub bass) from Alabama who describe their sound as “Alabama ghost music.” Peewee Moore, a Tennessee-born songwriter, also played with an acoustic band, though his honky-tonk sound would work with a full country band — fiddle, steel, drums etc. (Apparently Moore has played the Cowgirl BBQ in Santa Fe. I hope he comes back so I can catch him again.) The Rock Bottom String Band is a gaggle of countrified hippie kids who play a variety of instruments and sing with so much enthusiasm it was impossible not to get into the spirit.

      Left Lane Cruiser has a raw slide-guitar-based sound you might call “damaged blues.” The group’s bass player also made crazy noises on a bizarre homemade instrument fashioned from an old skateboard and a beer bottle on a couple of songs. It’s a type of diddley bow he calls “skidley bow.” Playing harmonica on the band’s first song was  J.D. Wilkes from The Legendary Shack Shakers. Wilkes made a similar cameo earlier in the evening with The Pine Hill Haints.

      Col. Wilkes with Pine Hill Haints at The Moose Lodge

      The Woggles, who played at C-Boy’s, is a neo-garage band that’s been around several years. You can hear a little Count Five in The Woggles’ guitar and see a little Paul Revere & The Raiders in their moves. But mostly I heard echoes of Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels in The Woggles’ music.

      A Pony Named Olga, who played at the Triple Crown, is a high-energy psychobilly trio from Berlin (they call themselves “country-punk and polkabilly”), featuring an electric guitarist/singer, a doghouse bassist, and a drummer. They have the basics of psychobilly down pat, but they also have a few unusual melodies and chord changes that bring a twist to that sound.

      And then there are The Beaumonts, a tight little honky-tonk band from Lubbock led by singer Troy Wayne Delco. They play sweet country music with foul-mouthed lyrics about sex, drugs, getting drunk, and more sex. But that’s not all. They also have a song called “Toby Keith,” in which they declare that the jingoistic country star is the “ugliest woman I swear I’ve ever seen.”

    • April 2, 2014 2:24 AM CDT
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      A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
      March 21, 2014

      I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that “Drive-By Buddy,” the first song on Underneath the Rainbow, the new album by The Black Lips, has a hint of country twang. After all, the Lips, garage-punks or “flower-punks” (their own label) that they are, covered Willie & Waylon’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” a few years ago.

      No, this isn’t a country or “alt-country” album, by any means. In fact, on closer listen, the guitar riff of “Drive-By Buddy” sounds a lot like George Harrison playing “Honey Don’t” or other Carl Perkins songs in those early Beatles years. (I read another review that compared it with the guitar riff of The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.” That works, too.)

      But the Southern roots of the Georgia-based Lips are much more apparent here than on previous efforts. When they sing “we’re hanging on a broken T-Bird hood” in the refrain, it sounds like good redneck fun — probably more than it would be in real life.

      You can hear these roots in the bouncy “Justice After All,” with its Neil Young guitar hook, and you can even hear it in the jittery mutated early rock ’n’ roll sound of “Dorner Party,” which is about spree-killer rogue cop Christopher Dorner.

      You can especially hear the South in the slow, menacing “Boys in the Wood,” a song Lynyrd Skynyrd might have done had Ronnie Van Zandt survived that plane crash. The lyrics tell of moonshine, mayhem, vehicle theft, and a harrowing backwoods world that’s part Deliverance and part Thunder Road.

       “His ghost lives in the trailer/It was his foster home/Pall Malls and an inhaler/His girl’s nagging on the phone/The pain his body’s feeling/Will leave you accident prone/Cause the car he was stealing/Drove to the unknown.”

      Another cool thing: The Black Lips’ official video, full of violence, sex, and debauchery, is actually worthy of the song. Check it out below.

      While this is not a concept album by any means, there does seem to be a common thread running through several tunes — jail and running from the police. “Waiting,” for instance, has a verse about getting paranoid about cops while driving on the interstate. “Smiling” deals directly with a night singer Jared Swilley spent in the slammer. If somebody ever makes a punk-rock version of The Dukes of Hazzard, they’ll have to get The Black Lips to do the soundtrack.

      Some say that Underneath the Rainbow is the most polished Black Lips album to date. Actually, I think some people said the same thing about their previous album, the Mark Ronson-produced Arabia Mountain.

      Truth is, you can detect some not-so-subtle touches by Patrick Carney, the drummer of The Black Keys, who produced most of the tracks here. For example, the electro bass sound on “Dandelion Dust,” a hard-edged boogie, is right out of The Black Keys playbook. Other tunes were produced by Tom Brenneck, the guitarist for Sharon Jones’ Dap-Kings and the New York Afrobeat group The Budos Band.

      “Polished” is a relative thing. For the most part, The Black Lips, except for a few moments when they get sucked in too far into the Black Keys dimension, retain the slop, fury, and dumb jokes that made me love them in the first place.

      They prove this with the scary-sounding “Do the Vibrate,” complete with wolf howls and an almost metallic “Rock Lobster” guitar riff. Beneath the threatening atmospherics, the song is actually about an alternative use for cellphones.

      Also recommended:

      Buy Before You Die byFigures of Light. As an old rocker myself, it’s always enjoyable to see a band that faded away decades ago get a second breath and start rocking again. That’s definitely the story of Figures of Light, a pre-punk group that never came anywhere close to achieving the fame of The Stooges or The Velvet Underground, but they were right there in New York City in the early’ 70s, smashing TV sets onstage and cranking out raw, screeching, feedback-filled guitar rampage with sardonic, angsty lyrics.

      The Figures hung up their rock ’n’ roll shoes before the end of the Me Decade. But they rose again in 2008, when they were rediscovered and reconstituted by Norton Records. Singer Wheeler Winston Dixon and guitarist Michael Downey made a couple of fine albums with Norton (Smash Hits and Drop Dead), keeping their basic rough-edged sound, but apparently that only whetted their appetites.

      In the past year or so they’ve self-released several EPs of new material, including one of my favorite FOL follies, a “country” song (though actally they don't even sound as "country" as The Black Lips) called “Too Many Bills, Not Enough Thrills” as well as a compilation called Lost and Found, which included rarities, remixes, and even a screaming death-metal cover of their first “smash hit,” “It’s Lame,” by a band called Belladonna & The Decimators.

      But Buy Before You Die is definitely the best thing Dixon and Downey have done since Drop Dead. It’s only seven songs long, but every one of them is a doozy.

      All the selections are sandwiched between songs lampooning mindless consumerism: the title song (”You’re buying this, you’re buying that/You’re getting stupid, dumb, and fat.”) and “A Word from Our Sponsor,” a phony ad in which the band plays a Velvet-like musical backdrop as Dixon shills for some unspecified surreal, horrible-sounding food product (ingredients include rabid squirrel meat, dehydrated cow’s head, old coffee filters, toothpaste, and insect repellent).

      Maybe that’s how the narrator of “Swollen Colon Lament,” another song here, ended up with his condition.

      While the above-mentioned songs feature the basic up-tempo minimalist guitar rock the Figures do so well — as does the rockabilly-influenced “Pauline” — some of tracks here are, well, pretty. “Killers From Space” has breezy, jazzy chords. “The Winter of Our Discontent” is slow minor-key number with a spooky tremolo guitar. And “Streets of Rain” is a minor-key dirge with strong bass and lyrics about hopelessness.

      I hope Dixon and Downey keep at it, because they’re only getting more interesting. .

      Enjoy some videos

    • June 13, 2014 2:56 AM CDT
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      A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
      June 13, 2014

      Chances are, unless you live in New York or unless you religiously listen to my radio show, Terrell’s Sound World (which, by the way, you should), you haven’t heard of The Electric Mess. Actually, if not for the glory of the internet — and, specifically, my favorite musical community of recent years, The GaragePunk Hideout — I wouldn’t have heard of this Mess either.

      But, by golly, if you like wild, frantic, high-energy rock ’n’ roll, you really need to acquaint yourself with this New York band. The group’s third album, House on Fire, is as good a place as any to start. All 13 tracks are full of fire and craziness. The sound is not drastically different from the band’s first two albums (its self-titled debut from 2009 and 2012’s Falling off the Face of the Earth). But that’s a good thing. If you like this one, you’ll want to seek out those first two.

      Fronted by singer Chip Fontaine (real name Esther Crow), the group has a sound rooted in 1960s garage rock but not shackled in nostalgia. True, The Mess is a guitar-based band that features an electric organ (Oweinama Biu), but you won’t get the idea that the musicians are trying to sound like Question Mark & The Mysterians or The Standells (though, at least in their early days, they were known to cover “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”).

      Fontaine/Crow’s voice reminds me a little of Joan Jett’s. (Here’s a fantasy: a Jett/Crow duet on The Replacements’ “Androgynous.”) House on Fire’s highlights include the opening song, a crazed little rouser called “Better to Be Lucky Than Good,” which could be a grandchild of The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.” (One recurring lyric: “They did it all for the white light.”) This is followed by the album’s title song, in which the speed is just as breakneck and intense.

      “She Got Fangs,” which starts out with a throbbing bass line from Derek Davidson, is a hoodoo-heavy song about vampires: “Vampire woman, can’t you see/What your hunger does to me?” I’m not sure what Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” has to do with any of this, but it’s there, courtesy of guitarist Dan Crow (Esther’s husband), during one of the song’s instrumental breaks.

      Then there’s “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave” (the title is from a classic John Belushi Saturday Night Live skit), which is about folks who always wear out their welcomes. And even fiercer is “Leavin’ Me Hangin’,” a song in which the singer expresses displeasure at being stood up. In the middle of the song is a weird spoken-word segment:

      “Girl, you ain’t no Queen of Sheba, and I ain’t no piece of liver, but you never deliver. Man’s ego is like a fragile bird, but you step on that bird’s wings one too many times, and he turns into an evil hawk with red fiery eyes, on the hunt for you girl. ’Cause you’re my bird of prey, and this is what I have to say.” 

      This is followed by a 10-second (yeah, I timed it) scream as the band goes into overdrive.

      The final track, “Every Girl Deserves a Song,” starts off fast but then, after a minute or so, slows down into a wah-wah-enhanced groove. (Am I crazy, or do I hear a faint echo of The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” in here?) “Why don’t you bring some Percocets just to help me cool my jets,” Crow sings. No, you can’t exactly call this song mellow, but after the pace of the first dozen songs, The Electric Mess deserve to cool their jets a little.

      Now go get yourself a copy of this album. And tell at least five of your friends. Next time I review an Electric Mess album, I don’t want to talk about how undeservedly obscure this band is.

      Also recommended:

      * Drop by Thee Oh Sees. I was just beginning to come to terms with last year’s announcement by Thee Oh Sees frontman and resident wizard John Dwyer that his prolific band was going on “indefinite hiatus.” The group’s album Floating Coffin, you might recall, was my pick for the best of 2013, and its Albuquerque show last fall was one of my favorite concerts of the year.

      Now here comes a new album by Thee Oh Sees. And no, it’s not an odds ’n’ sods collection of old tapes, demos, and stuff from long-forgotten tribute albums. It’s actually a new album. That’s the good news.

      The bad news is that the band we came to know and love as Thee Oh Sees — vocalist and keyboardist Brigid Dawson, bassist Petey Dammit, and drummer Mike Shoun — seems to be, well, on indefinite hiatus. Dwyer moved from the group’s home base of San Francisco to Los Angeles. I think some of the other Oh Sees scattered as well.

      But more good news. Even without the old lineup, Drop is a pretty decent album. Although not as overtly powerful as the magical Floating Coffin, it still has several mighty examples of Dwyer’s fuzzed-out, rubbery psychedelic excursions.

      He saved his best for the first three tracks: “Penetrating Eye,” “Encrypted Bounce,” and “Savage Victory,” which make up nearly half the album. These could almost pass for outtakes from Coffin, or perhaps Carrion Crawler/The Dream (2011). One could make that argument for the garagey “Camera (Queer Sound)” as well.

      While this is clearly Dwyer’s show, he’s aided on Drop by Chris Woodhouse — a longtime associate of the band — on bass, drums, and Mellotron and Mikal Cronin on alto sax. Cronin is best known as a guitarist (if you saw Ty Segall at High Mayhem a few weeks ago, you saw Cronin). There’s also someone called Casafis on sax.

      Unfortunately, after such an auspicious beginning, the album ends with a three-song fizzle. “King’s Nose” sounds like an attempt to channel Electric Light Orchestra. “Transparent World” is plodding and over-synthy. And the closing number, “The Lens,” is uninspired wimp rock. Come on, Dwyer, lose the damned Mellotron!

      Although Drop is a welcome addition, I’m not sure what the future of Thee Oh Sees is. Dwyer recently released an electronic album called Hubba Bubba under the name of Damaged Bug.

      But he’s one prolific guy, so Oh Sees fans shouldn’t abandon hope.

      Here's some videos from these bands

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