Thursday, January 19, 2017

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Pinecones, McEuen & Mose

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 20, 2017

Southern Culture on the Skids have carved out a niche for themselves as America’s premier rocking hillbilly/surf/hot-rod and sometimes exotica band. Their latest album, The Electric Pinecones, was advertised as the group’s venture into garage rock, folk rock, and psychedelia. Indeed, Rick Miller’s guitars are a little fuzzier on some songs, and there is a weird little keyboard riff on the opening song, “Freak Flag.” And it’s true that the song “Waiting On You” sounds like it could be a lost gem from a late ’60s Roger Corman movie.

But basically this album sounds pretty close to rocking hillbilly/surf/hot-rod and sometimes exotica to me — which is a good thing. Miller, Mary Huff, and Dave Hartman are so good at what they do, it would be a shame to lose them to experimentation for experimentation’s sake.

I believe all these songs would fit in seamlessly in a live set with SCOTS’ classic material. “Rice and Beans,” for instance, would be a nice side for the band’s “8 Piece Box” (as long as you have their “Banana Pudding” for dessert).

Southern Culture on the Skids
SCOTS, all psychedelc in Portland, 2014
One of the standouts here is the song “Midnight Caller,” sung by Huff in the Southern-soul manner she does with songs like Shirley Ellis’ early ’60s hit “The Nitty Gritty.” And speaking of fuzz, on “Dirt Road,” Miller borrows The Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul” guitar riff.

But my favorite ones here are simple country tunes like “Baby I Like You,” and “I Ain’t Gonna Hang Around,” both of which I could imagine Buck Owens singing.

And this band has rarely sounded prettier than they do on “Given to Me,” a country love song featuring irresistible harmonies by Miller and Huff.

This album is named after an old side project in which the SCOTS crew played what Miller describes as “West Coast psych, folk, and country.” Sometimes the Pinecones served as Southern Culture’s opening act.

I don’t care what they call themselves, this is a band that continues to delight.

Also recommended:

* Made in Brooklyn by John McEuen. He was the tall, dark, and usually silent banjo ace with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Even as that band drifted into light country pop, every so often a McEuen banjo lick would rise out of the background and remind you that this was the group responsible for Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy. 

McEuen has stayed true to his country/bluegrass roots, and his latest album, full of musical titan guest stars, sounds like a living room picking party you wish you’d been invited to.

David Bromberg adds his guitar and vocals all over the place here; John Cowan, formerly of New Grass Revival, sings, as does John Carter Cash ( Johnny and June’s boy). Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) plays banjo while New York folkie Jay Ungar plays fiddle and Beat Generation jazzman David Amram plays flute and penny whistle.

The first tracks that grabbed me here are two songs written by the late, lamented Warren Zevon. One is a latter-day Zevon anthem, “My Dirty Life and Times,” which he wrote while dying of cancer (“Some days I feel like my shadow’s casting me/Some days the sun don’t shine”). The other is the wicked and wonderful “Excitable Boy” (“He took little Suzie to the junior prom, excitable boy, they all said/And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home”). With singer Matt Cartsonis and Bromberg sharing lead vocal duties, it’s amazing how well this works as a bluegrass tune.

Bromberg shines on a fresh acoustic recording of “Mr. Bojangles.” He played on the original Jerry Jeff Walker version, while McEuen, of course, played on the hit 1971 single by the Dirt Band. McEuen himself takes a rare lead vocal role on a laid-back version of a more unsung NGDB classic, “Travelin’ Mood,” which originally was recorded by New Orleans R&B man Wee Willie Wayne.


* Buried Treasures by Mose McCormack. This album is truly full of buried treasures. It’s a
collection of unearthed songs that go back to 1975, when McCormack, as he writes in the CD’s liner notes, “walked into John Wagner Productions [in Albuquerque] and made a deposit to record a demo tape for an LA record company.”

Thus began a decades-long (and ongoing) partnership between the singer and producer Wagner. The record company in California “didn’t take the bait, but John called me and said let’s search for gold.”

A year later, McCormack, an Alabama native who moved to New Mexico in the ’70s (he’s been living in Belen for the past few years), recorded his debut album Beans & Make Believe at Wagner’s studio. None of the Buried Treasures songs are on it. I’m pretty sure that Mose had forgotten about these early tunes; I’ve been following his music since the ’80s and I don’t think I’d heard any of these before.

But I’m glad he finally released them. Like most of his repertoire, Buried Treasures is mainly good, simple, and pure country music full of wit and hangdog humor. And these early tunes show more than a kernel of the talent that made listeners love McCormack’s music.

My favorites here are the fast-paced, Cajun-flavored “Long Walk,” with some impressive steel guitar (I suspect that’s AugĂ© Hayes) and sweet fiddle, and “Blue in the Ocean,” the story about “a cowboy gone to sea.”

The most rocking number is the last one, “Tell Me Why.” There’s a classic McCormack couplet here: “Everybody’s feeling paranoid/Psychopathologically a humanoid.” Hopefully these and some of the other nuggets on this record will become part of his stage repertoire.

And -- if the predicted snow doesn't make the road between Santa Fe and Belen too crazy -- don’t miss Mose McCormack live on the Santa Fe Opry, 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, on KSFR-101.1 FM or www.ksfr.org.

Let's have some videos!

Let's start with that real purdy Southern Culture on the Skids tune I keep mooning over



Here's some Excitable John



This is a sampler from Mose McCormack's Buried Treasures



And here is one of my favorite Mose songs from a few years ago


THROWBACK THURSDAY: This Train is Bound for Glory

When President Obama gave his farewell speech last week, I was impressed by the fact that the song that played onstage was one of the most powerful and inspirational Bruce Springsteen songs ever written: "The Land of Hope and Dreams."

Even though it was just a recording, it hit me far harder than Obama's speech.

What gives the song its power how it draws from an old American spiritual. Well not that old. It had had to come after the coming of the railroad. The entire second part of the song is a re-write of the song "This Train."

It's generally agreed that the first recorded version was made in 1922 under the title of "Dis Train" by the Florida Normal And Industrial Institute Quartette.



Sister Roseta Tharpe had something of a hit with "This Train in the 1930s. But it the '50s, she recorded it with an electric guitar. Here's a live version from 1964 with blues pianist Otis Spann. (Unfortunately, she's not playing guitar.)



It's one of those songs that found devotees among white hillbillies as well as Black gospel singers. Here are the Delmore Brothers:



The train pulled into Jamaica where Bunny Wailer got on board. This was the closing song on Bunny's Blackheart Man, (still the greatest reggae album ever recorded.)



Jazz priestess Alice Coltrane took the train into the cosmos. To the moon, Alice!

 

But getting back to Springsteen ...

The original song seems to be about who is excluded from the Gospel Train.  Depending on who's singing it, this train don't carry no gamblers or midnight ramblers or liars or crap-shooters or whiskey drinkers. Even Bunny Wailer's train -- while surely having at least one car reserved for ganja smokers -- "only carries the children of Jah."

But Springsteen turns it around and lifts these severe restrictions. The train  in his song is for the rest of us:

This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls
I said, this train dreams will not be thwarted
This train faith will be rewarded
This train hear the steel wheels singin'
This train bells of freedom ringin'

This is a message we all may need to hear in the not so distant future. We're all in this together.




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

WACKY WEDNESDAY: The Circus is Leaving Town



It's been about 20 years since I've been to a circus, so I can't really say I'm a huge aficionado.

Still, I felt ad last week when I read that The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was calling it quits. The final show will be in May.

Now I don't want to get into any arguments with animal-rights advocates. You guys won this one. Go preach on another soap box. Shoo!

I have fond memories of the circus. On the night when President Kennedy gave his televised speech about the Cuban missile crisis, Oct. 22, 1962, my grandmother was very upset and to a lesser extenr so was my mom. Pending Doomsday does that to people. I was only 9 years old and wasn't sure what was going on. But the family had tickets to the circus -- probably Ringling Brothers -- and dammit, we were going! So we did. And somehow, watching the spectacular that night I had a feeling that things were going to be OK.

I love circus posters, surreal circus imagery. Yes I love clowns. I love women in skimpy sequined dresses flying through the air with the greatest of ease. even though the circus showed a world of colorful wonderment, there always seemed to be an undercurrent of sadness surrounding the circus -- clowns who secretly wept, acrobats who might be hiding secrets, ringmasters running a circus of crime ...

So here's a musical tribute to a strange and seedy American art form (though the circus didn't originate in these United States and a high number of performers are from other countries.)

Goodbye Greatest Show on Earth!

Here's a pop song from the early '60s, "Goodbye Cruel World" by James Darren



Here's a goofy jug-band circus by Jim Kweskin's and crew



Bruce Springsteen told a cool circus story in his early years.



"When the Circus Comes to Town" is a sad tune tune by Los Lobos



And I would have loved to have seen the circus Tom Waits talks about here,



Finally, Graham Parker sings a classic circus tune called "The Man on the Flying Trapeze."



Goodbye Ringling Brothers ...








Sunday, January 15, 2017

TERRELL'S SOUND WORLD PLAYLIST




Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
Webcasting!
10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres
Goin' Down by Dinosaur Jr.
Goo Goo Muck by The Cramps
Orgasms by The Sex Organs
How to Fake a Lunar Landing by Alien Space KItchen
Too Much of You by Thee Fine Lines
War Going On by Sulphur City
Little Miss Hard of Hearing by The Mobbs
Hard Working Man by Jonah Gold & His Silver Apples
Broken Arms by Mark Sultan

Book of Alpha by Satan & The Deciples 
Starry Eyes by Roky Erikson with Lou Ann Barton
Kremlin Dogs by Gregg Turner
Froggy by The A-Bones
Sunglasses After Dark by Archie & The Bunkers
Tip Toe Through the Tulips by Bernadette Seacrest & Kris Dale
Dragnet for Jesus by Sister Wynona Carr

Cheap Thrills by Ruben & The Jets
You Don't Love Me by The Dustaphonics
Red Sun by Jerry J. Nixon
Let Me Spend the Night by The Devils
Problematic by Hank Haint
Too Much at Steak by Wet Blankets
Whiskey Wagon by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages
Cock in Pocket by The Stooges
Big Road by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Big Green and Yeller by Seasick Steve

Heaven on Their Minds by Murray Head
Back When Dogs Could Talk by Wayne Kramer
Disciplinary Action by James Chance & The Distortions
Mighty Man by James Legg
(All You Have to Do is) Die by Rev. Tom Frost
Pennyroyal Tea by Nirvana
Before the Next Teardrop Falls by Big John Hamilton
CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis

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Friday, January 13, 2017

THE SANTA FE OPRY PLAYLIST



Friday, Jan. 13, 2017
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
Webcasting!
10 p.m. to midnight Fridays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Buckaroo by Buck Owens
Bears in Them Woods by Nancy Apple
Georgia on a Fast Train by Billy Joe Shaver
I Have a Ball by The Ex-Husbands
Be My Ball and Chain by Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay
I Like You by Southern Culture on the Skids
You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast by Buddy & Julie Miller
Love Must Have Psssed Me By by Rosie Flores with Bobby Vee
To Sam by Mose McCormack
Sputnik Monroe by Otis Gibbs

Carny Folk by The Saucer Men
Sweet Baby of Mine by The Satellites
Railroad of Sin by Sturgil Simpson
Four Years of Chances by Margo Price
It'll Be Me by Janis Martin
This Lonely Bed by The Garnet Hearts
Diesel Drinkin' Daddy by Jason Lee Williams
I Don't Know by Dex Romweber
Inside View by Dale Watson

Stephen Foster Tribute
Nelly Bly by Grandpa Jones
Camptown Races by Spike Jones & His City Slickers
Oh Susana by Ronny Elliott
Hard Times Come Around No More by Kate & Anna McGarrigle
Wildebeest by The Handsome Family

Hard Times by Martha Fields
Get on the Floor by C.W. Stoneking
I Used to Love Her by Washboard Hank
Dancing With the Women at the Bar by Whiskeytown
I'll Stand in Line by Miss Leslie
Deliah by David Bromberg
My Eyes by Tony Gilkyson
Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning by Willie Nelson
CLOSING THEME: Comin' Down by The Meat Puppets


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Thursday, January 12, 2017

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Celebrating Stephen Foster

One of this nation's greatest songwriters, Stephen Foster, died 153 years ago tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 13, 1864).

His contributions to American song are almost too many to mention.

"Old Kentucky Home"
"Beautiful Dreamer"
"Camptown Races."

If you don't know these songs ... well, just keep reading,

Quoting myself here from  a 2004 Tune-up reviewing a disappointing Foster tribute album, fortified by a couple of other sources:

Though many of Foster’s best-known songs deal with the antebellum South, Foster was born near Pittsburgh, Pa. In 1826. 

He is recognized as America’s first professional songwriter. But despite writing some songs still being sung 150 years later, his final days were spent in poverty, alcoholism and despair. At the age of 37 he committed suicide by slashing his own throat. 

So that would make him the Kurt Cobain of his era. But before that, he was Elvis Presley. 

Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and those who loved them were drawn to the wild and mysterious music called rhythm & blues and mutated it in a new style called rock ‘n’ roll. Likewise, many white musicians in Foster’s era were drawn to the African-American music of their era, turning it into blackface minstrel music. [the tribute album] Beautiful Dreamer’s liner notes describes this music as “the rowdy, racist and first uniquely American form of popular entertainment.” 

Several music historians have noted the sociological similarities between rock and minstrelsy. 

Writer/historian Ken Emerson noted in a PBS documentary on Foster "... it goes all the way back to blackface and minstrelsy before the Civil War. And so in a way rock and roll led me to a long, tortuous path to Stephen Foster because that's where really this interplay and intermix of black and white culture that so defines American music to this day really began."

... Foster as a youth ate up the minstrel songs. While his songs were grounded in European styles, the minstrel element is what made Foster’s music unique and powerful. 

Despite his minstrel-show roots and demeaning racial slurs in some of the songs, Foster had the respect of black abolition leader Frederick Douglass. Said Fred:

"Considering the use that has been made of them, that we have allies in the Ethiopian songs... `Old Kentucky Home, and `Uncle Ned,' can make the heart sad as well as merry, and can call forth a tear as well as a smile. They awaken the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish."

And later, W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” would write, “The well of sorrow from which Negro music is drawn is also a well of mystery....I suspect that Stephen Foster owed something to this well, this mystery, this sorrow.” 

Perhaps Roger Miller said it best in this long out-of-print song. "I think Stephen ws ahead of his time, that's all I've got to say."



And in their song "Wildebeest,” The Handsome Family sang of Foster's lonesome death in a flop-house on the Bowery. (“He smashed his head on the sink in the bitter fever of gin/A wildebeest gone crazy with thirst pulled down as he tried to drink”).



"And the oceans they feed the sky and the sky feeds the earth
And Stephen Foster’s beautiful ghost lay down to feed a song
To feed ten thousand songs echoing cross the wild plains ..."
And finally, The Squirrel Nut Zippers' wonderful tribute "Ghost of Stephen Foster." (Thanks John W. pn Google Plus!)


And here's a Spotify list with Foster songs performed by some of my favorite artists, plus a couple of songs about the songwriter.




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

WACKY WEDNESDAY: Satan & Deciples



Perhaps demonic forces led me to this Louisiana band I stumbled across while screwing around on YouTube a couple of weeks ago.

But if that's true, I'm glad they did.

The name of the group is "Satan & Deciples." Apparently they released only one album, 1969's Underground. At first I thought this was just some screwball pyschedelic era psuedo-cosmic garage music, some Dixie-fried version of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The "Satanism" here is purely jive, despite some heavy theology in their song "Satan's First Theme."

"Now there's a book they call The Bible.
I ought to sue the writers for slander and liable ..."

Then I learned that there was a secret celebrity among the Deciples. The back cover of the 2012 CD release says:
Too bad Doug Sahm didn't join his pal Freddy Fender in Satan & Desciples

"This cult 1969 rlease is thought to have been masterminded by hip Latino rockabilly guitarist Freddy Fender. Despite their best efforts to sound sinister , and the sleeve's claim that the band [is] "unbelievable, individual, idealistic," their sole album stands as one of the goofiest garage releases of the period."
And I actually found a little more information from a folklore blog, the University of North Carolina's Field Trip South, which is dedicated to exploring the university's Southern Folklore Collection. (pretty highfalutin for a bunch of dumb-ass Devil songs, no?)  From the Halloween Eve 2013 post:

Just this morning, preservation audio engineer Brian Paulson digitized the Goldband Records master tape of Satan and the Deciples ... in the Goldband Recording Corporation Collection... , as part of our current digitization project, "From the Piedmont to the Swamplands: Preserving Southern Traditional Music."  ...
Not much is known about Satan and the Deciples (aka Satan and Satin’s Roses, aka Satin and the Deciples). The theory we agreed upon in the Rivers Studio accepts that the band rose out of the swamps around Lake Charles, called from eternal slumber to terrorize the honky-tonks of East Texas like so many of the undead. Other more likely theories suggest the band was a novelty project made up of a crew of local bar band musicians that liked scary movies. Considering the Deciples featured one Baldemar Huerta (aka Freddy Fender who co-wrote both tracks on this tape) on lead guitar, the latter theory is more plausible. 
And I found this review on the Bad Cat Records site

1969’s “Underground” is one of those album’s most folks will find thoroughly appalling.  Lyrically, musically, thematically, and sonically it’s hard to argue the point.  To be honest, a bunch of 5th graders could have probably come up with something at least as good.  ... Overlooking the obvious characteristics, this is one strange effort.  About half of the collection recalled Sam the Sham and Pharohs-styled garage rock (had they been forced to play with one arm behind their backs).  With his sing/song vocals on tracks like the crazed ‘Devil Time‘ and ‘Satan On Universe’ the anonymous lead singer sounded like Sam Samudio, or Root Boy Slim after soaking in warm Budweiser for a week. Exemplified by material like ‘Satan’s First Theme’, ‘Ensane’ (sic) and the seemingly endless ‘Book of Alpha’ (and you thought high school science class dragged on), the predominant satanic theme was about as ominous and threatening as a teletubby. Maybe it was just me, but backing vocals that included the phrase ‘he’s the booger man’ didn’t really serve to frighten the listener. 


So have fun, Booger Man. Here are a few songs, and if you want this music for your own, get it on on Amazon (I did!)

This one must be the Deciples'  "Hey Hey, We're the Monkees." It's called "Satan's First Theme"



Here's the "Mummy's Curse," (Mummies are like that, yeah they are!)



And what the heck, here's the whole album!





Sunday, January 08, 2017

TERRELL'S SOUND WORLD PLAYLIST




Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
Webcasting!
10 p.m. to midnight Sundays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres
Big Beat Strong by The Woggles
Madhouse by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages
Ain't Gobba Save Me by Mad Pilot
Black by The Sex Organs
Wigs Wigs by King Salami & The Cumberland 3
Something Better by The Turncoats
Evil Hoodoo by The Seeds
Johnny Voodoo by Empress of Fur
Don't Fuck Around With Love by Bernadette Seacrest & Kris Dale

You Can Be a Fascist by Playboy Manbaby
Repo Man by Iggy Pop
Boom Boom by The Animals
Trudie Trudie by The Gears
Dirty Li'l Dog by Pussycat & The Dirty Johnsons
Kicked Out Kicked In by Dead Moon
Ensane by Satan & Deciples
Mask Search by The Fall

Trouble of the World by Dex Romweber
Last Kind Words by Dex Romweber Duo with Jack White
Skylab by The Grannies
Commandment 5 by Slim Cessna's Auto Club
Hallelujah by Churchwood
Mess in Your Mind by Becky Lee & Drunkfoot
You Better Run by Roy & The Devil's Motorcycle
One Ugly Child by Thee Headcoats
Ocean of Love by The King Khan & BBQ Show

The Gypsy by Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs
Campanas del Mission by De Los Muertos
Shotgun John by Hundred Year Flood
I Have Always Been Here Before by Hickoids
Burn the Flames by Roky Erikson
Silver Moon by Rev. Tom Frost
CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis

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Friday, January 06, 2017

THE SANTA FE OPRY PLAYLIST



Friday, Jan. 6, 2017
KSFR, Santa Fe, NM
Webcasting!
10 p.m. to midnight Fridays Mountain Time
Host: Steve Terrell 101.1 FM
Email me during the show! terrel(at)ksfr.org

Here's my playlist :

OPENING THEME: Buckaroo by Buck Owens
Winterlude by Bob Dylan
Shakn' All Over by Eilen Jewell
The Guitar by Sierra Hull & Justin Moses (with Mac Wiseman)
Good Luck Charm by C.W. Stoneking
Fools Fall in Love by Katy Moffatt
Open Up You Heart by Buck Owens
I Am Therefore I Drink by Jim Stringer
Hoochie Woman by Tony Joe White
Polk Salad Annie by Sleepy LaBeef

I Push Right Over by Rosie Flores
Little Bells by Rosie Flores & The Pine Valley Cosmonauts
Southern White Lies by Martha Fields
Kitty Kat Scratch by Suzette Lawrence
Dog Day Blues by Wayne Hancock
I'm Gonna Miss You by Mose McCormack
Grandma's Behind the Wheel by Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

Commandment 10 by Slim Cessna's Auto Club
John Hardy by Cedar Hill Refugees
Rough and Tumble Guy by Webb Wilder
True Religion by Scott H. Biram
Tall Tall Trees by Roger Miller
Garden of Joy by Maria Muldaur
Big Rock Candy Mountain by Chris Thomas King
Evenin' Breeze by Dan Hicks & The Hot Licks
Banjo Picking Girl by Hazel & Alice

Snowflake by Jim Reeves
Cold, Cold World by Blaze Foley
I Had a Dream by Dex Romweber
Two Angels by Pdter Case with David Perales
Once in a Very Blue Moon by Nanci Griffith
CLOSING THEME: Comin' Down by The Meat Puppets


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Subscribe to The Big Enchilada Podcast! CLICK HERE
Steve Terrell is proud to report to the monthly Freeform American Roots Radio list

Thursday, January 05, 2017

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: The Ones That Got Away Last Year

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 6, 2017

As is the case every year, there was a lot more noteworthy music released in 2016 than I was able to write about in this column. Here are a few worthwhile albums released last year:

* The Commandments According to SCAC by Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. I’m a relative newcomer to the Slim Cessna cult. I didn’t get indoctrinated into the laws and customs of this Denver band until 2010, when I received the blessings of their stunning album Unentitled. I’ve been waiting five years for a follow-up and was beginning to lose faith. But then, like a thief in the night, a new album appeared in September — and it didn’t reach my ears until a few weeks ago.

This album — 10 rocking, roots-driven songs titled “Commandment 1,” “Commandment 2,” etc. — like their best work, is a deep dive into the myth and spirituality of Cessna and band. As Slim sings on “Commandment 1, “I have earned, earned the privilege/The privilege of complaint/My indignant voice is maturing/From a percussive cough/Thanks to you and the death’s-head moths/Into a maturing rage.”

It’s not exactly clear what this means, but like the other “commandments,” it suggests inner struggles unfolding in an inhospitable world. In “Commandment 6,” the narrator is a horse, forced to jump off a diving board at some carnival sideshow. But in the Cessna universe, even a horse has spiritual yearnings: “I will be a new Greek myth/Archimedes’ Pegasus /Could a horse be a saint?”

My favorite track here, at least for the moment, is “Commandment 5,” which opens to the beat of tom-toms and what sounds almost, but not quite, like Native American chants, and then turns into an urgent rhythm with lyrics about a frantic car ride and gunplay. “Cock your arms and blindly throw the spent shell,” is the oft-repeated refrain.

In all honesty, I’m just beginning to digest the mysteries of Commandments. This could take years.

Carrboro by Dex Romweber. Sturdy and dependable, Romweber has once again has made a top-
rate album with memorable songs that rock and delight.

Recording this time as a solo artist (as opposed to The Dex Romweber Duo, as he did on his previous three albums with Bloodshot Records), Romweber proves his versatility with pretty ballads that show off his crooner chops (the gorgeous opening song, “I Had a Dream,” is probably the best example); piano blues (“Tomorrow’s Taking Baby Away” and “Tell Me Why I Do”); crazy surfy instrumentals (“Midnight at Vic’s,” “Nightride”); and country/rockabilly romps (“Lonesome Train,”  “Knock Knock (Who’s That Knockin’ on My Coffin Lid Door),” and “I Don’t Know”). Meanwhile, the intense, minor-key “Where Do You Roam” could almost be mistaken for a Nick Cave dirge.

And, as he’s prone to do, Romweber plays a couple of standards in nonstandard ways. “My Funny Valentine” becomes an electric organ-led rocker with surf drums. And, accompanied by what almost sounds like a player piano, he performs Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” like a mad scientist would. I can’t help but smile.

* Rain Crow by Tony Joe White. To hijack a Game of Thrones catchphrase, the swamp is dark and full of terrors. And few, if any, musicians tell these tales as convincingly as Tony Joe does.

“Tell me a swamp story, not like the ones on TV,” White sings in his wizened baritone. “I want to hear about the old saw mill, where the woman went crazy.”

This album is full of stories of bad winds, children of the hoodoo, hoochie women, backwoods bayou crossroads, love gone wrong, and hungry gators. Just about every song here has a laid-back — and swampy — groove embellished with subtle psychedelic guitars.

Since his late-’60s “Polk Salad Annie” heyday, Tony Joe has only grown leaner, meaner, and spookier.


* Gon’ Boogaloo  by C.W. Stoneking. Sometimes I think Stoneking is the Australian reincarnation of Emmett Miller, that great yodeling American minstrel-show/hokum master who recorded “Lovesick Blues” years before Hank Williams did. His latest album does nothing to dispel that suspicion.

Armed with his National guitar, bow tie, and a hot little band, Stoneking conjures up images of secret after-hours vaudeville shows. The lo-fi recording adds to Stoneking’s antiquated aura.

Besides the title song, which sounds like Hank Ballard fronting a rockabilly band, the best tracks here are “The Zombie,” a calypso-flavored dance tune, and the simply lovely “On a Desert Isle.”

* Lords & Ladies by The Upper Crust and The Grannies. This is a split album by a hard-rocking Boston band that dress up like 18th-century powdered-wigged fops and an insane San Francisco punk group that costume themselves like a nightmare version of your grandmother’s bridge club. The two groups toured together last year, which must have been quite a spectacle.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased — I’ve been a Grannies fan for a few years now — so when I got this CD I went straight to the Grannies’ section.

Those last five songs are five strong kicks in the teeth, which I mean in the nicest possible way. It’s furious filth that makes you want to joyfully smash things. That’s especially true for the last track, “Skylab," the musical equivalent of being struck by a hunk of burning debris falling from space.

The only disappointing thing about the Grannies here is that there are only five songs. The Upper Crust play a more ragged version of an AC/DC inspired sound on their allotted songs — all live recordings. They ain’t bad. but they ain’t The Grannies. I’d trade the Crusts’ five songs for five more Grannies tunes any day.

IMG_4025
The gators won't get these Grannies

Video Time!

Though this live on the radio SCAC video is labeled "4th Commandment," it's actually the 5th.



Here's Dex Romweber singing "Trouble of the World."



Tony Joe White singing "Hoochie Woman" live on the radio



Here's C.W. Stoneking doing my favorite tune from the new album



Make way for The Grannies. Watch out for flying space debris!



And here is The Upper Crust