Friday, October 07, 2005

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: WHEN COBRAS STRIKE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 7, 2005


Back at the turn of the century (this century) the phrase “garage rock” was thrown around a lot to describe basically any guitar-based, indie-spawned band. Although the label sounded cooler than say “punk” or “alternative,” few of the groups that fell under this umbrella actually sounded like a garage band as I remember them from my misspent youth in the 1960s.

However, one of the neo-garage bands that actually sounds like real garage music is a female-led group The Detroit Cobras whose sex-charged, slightly retro but never campy sound is a high-voltage joy.

Like their previous efforts, The Cobras’ latest CD Baby is full of covers of mostly obscure R&B and ‘60s rock tunes -- and, on this CD, even a gospel tune. It’s a great trick -- pick songs most people haven’t heard and bring them back to life in your own style. Among the songwriters drawn from here are Pops Staples, Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, Allen Toussaint, Hank Ballard and Bobby Womack.

There is one original song here, though “Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat)” has historical antecedents -- Butterbeans & Susie’s “I Want a Hot Dog For My Roll,” Bessie Smith’s “I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl" (she also needed a little hot dog for her roll), and Buck Owens’ “Hot Dog.” Still, hearing Rachel Nagy sing, “It takes a lot of dogs to satisfy a girl like me,” makes the whole concept sound fresh, at least for a moment.

Indeed, The Cobras’ greatest asset is front woman Nagy, whose sultry, husky voice sounds like Chrissy Hynde before she became a vegetarian nag. She can sound rough and raunchy, but she can sound sweet in a soulful way, such as her admirable take on Naomi Neville’s “It’s Raining.”

Just about every cut on Baby is a load of fun, from the goofy “My Baby Loves The Secret Agent,” (Those of My Generation have to remember the mid-’60s secret-agent craze) to the intense “I Wanna Holler (But the Town’s Too Small),” which was a minor hit by Gary U.S. Bonds.

And yes, for all the lust in her heart and bedroom in her voice, Nagy sounds fine singing gospel. “You Don’t Knock” is an irrestible stomper.

Two slight quibbles.

“Cha Cha Twist” was included on The Cobra’s early album Mink Rat or Rabbit. The new version on Baby doesn’t add anything.

Secondly, I’m biased because I so love the original version of “Insane Asylum” by Koko Taylor and Willie Dixon. The Cobras do an OK job on the song, but they don’t come anywhere near the original.

Then again, I’m impressed with a band that would event want to cover “Insane Asylum.”

Also Recommended:

*Dirty Diamonds by Alice Cooper. Auntie Alice has been making me laugh for nearly 35 years now. “I’m a killer and I’m a clown,“ he crooned on an early record. I still chuckle when I think of “The Ballad of Dwight Frye,” where Cooper, in the guise of a mental patient sings about stealing toys from his children, working himself into a frenzy until he finally screams, “Don’t touch me!”

Cooper’s latest album isn’t a great one. With the possible exception of the pensive crime-jazz intro to the title song, He doesn’t break any new ground. Cooper seems a little too comfortable in his lite-metal mode, though “Pretty Ballerina” shows he didn’t get the wimp rock out of his system with “Only Women Bleed” all those years ago.

But the jaded old sap can still make me laugh. First time I popped this CD into my car stereo, I chuckled all the way down Cerrillos Road at the “shock-rock Romeo’s” lyrics like, “The first time I saw her, she said she want to date me/The next time I come back she tried to castrate me ...”

Then there’s “The Saga of Jesse Jane” about a cross-dressing truck driver who gets arrested in Texas. “I drive a truck all night long/Listening to Judy Garland songs ... ” It gets worse from there.

In “Perfect,” he mocks a would-be pop star who thinks she sounds great in the shower, but falls apart at the karaoke bar. Then there’s the middle-age angst of the guy whose “heart is pumping bacon” and drinks “enough coffee to wake the dead” in “Your Own Worst Enemy.”

Cooper might not be cutting edge like he was back in the early ’70s. But if you need a good cheap laff, you can still go ask Alice.


*Driftin’by BigUglyGuysThis is pure, visceral, independent Kansas City biker rock. Chief ugly guy Rio DeGennaro is over 60, but he rocks like a crazed teenager. Backed by a basic guitar/bass/drums unit colored by a greasy sax, DeGennaro sings of boozing, biking and lusting for young girls and their moms like a true believer.

Most of the tunes are just plain fun, but the Uglys get serious on a couple of tunes. “Dreamin’ Part 2” is about a soldier in Iraq missing his lover and afraid he won’t come home. Likewise, “Life Blues” is the song of a man who’s separated from his wife and kids. He misses them and he misses the comfort of his childhood home and the love between his parents.

But DeGenero doesn’t dwell on such misery too. Long the album ends with “Yo Beanhead,” a highly-caffeineated ode to a good cuppa joe.

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