Friday, June 29, 2007

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: BACK TO THE GARAGE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 29, 2007


The modern-day garage band refuses to die. In fact, some garage bands from the distant past refuse to die as well.

Here’s a look at some recent noise coming out of the allegorical garage.

*Hentch-Forth.Five by The Hentchmen. The Hentchmen is a Detroit band that arose in the mid-’90s steeped in the noble tradition of Michigan bands of previous eras such as The Stooges, ? and the Mysterians, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, and Amboy Dukes.

As documented on the 2001 compilation The Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit, bands like The Hentchmen, The Dirtbombs, The Von Bondies, and The Detroit Cobras got back to rock ’n’ roll basics in a most delicious way. However only one of the Sympathetic Sounds bands actually made it big — The White Stripes, a duo well on its way to glory when that compilation was released.

On Hentch-Forth.Five, originally released in 1998, The Hentchmen, led by Farfisa fiend John Hentch (aka John Szymanski, aka Johnny Volare), had a bass player named Jack White who went on to become singer and guitarist for The White Stripes. Detroit’s Italy Records has remastered the album, originally released on vinyl only, and rereleased it last week — on the same day The White Stripes’ new album, Icky Thump, was released. That’s a complete coincidence I’m sure, and if you don’t believe that, you’re probably one of those evil cynics who believe that campaign contributions to politicians are somehow connected to government policies favorable to the contributor.

But no matter what marketing forces might be behind it, I’m glad they made this album available again.

It starts off with a hopped-up guitar rocker called “Some Other Guy,” in which White and Hentch harmonize like the early Beatles. You can almost envision a John Lennon-like toilet seat around White’s neck as he wails.

And the music doesn’t let up. From there it goes into a song called “Psycho Daisies,” an obscure Yardbirds tune that namechecks American locales. Sample lyrics: “Down in Mississippi I’m told is nice/ But all the meals there, they come with rice.” There are actually two versions of this on the new version of the album, the “extended version” being one second longer than the shorter one.

The Hentchmen, who celebrate their 15th anniversary this Halloween, haven’t released a new album in about three years. Hope they’ve got more coming.

This record is available at the usual online sources. I downloaded my copy from eMusic.

* Los Valientes Del Mondo Nuevo by The Black Lips. I used to fantasize about recording a live album from the Spiral Staircase club in Juárez, Mexico. These Georgia rockers had a similar idea. They went and recorded a live album in a bar in Tijuana.

The Black Lips should team up with the San Diego group Deadbolt, whose 1996 album Tijuana Hit Squad might be a secret spiritual antecedent of this record.

Calling their sound “flower punk” (anyone remember the Frank Zappa song of that name?), the Lips are just a good, basic, primitive, lo-fi, minimalist rock ’n’ roll group with grimy echoes of “Psychotic Reaction” and the Blues Magoos. The Lips is basically a guitar group, colored sometimes by electric piano and harmonica.

The Lips get almost pretty on the early-’50s-sounding “Dirty Hands,” then recall the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” on “Buried Alive,” which features a Middle Eastern-sounding guitar riff. The unison singing on “Fairy Stories” (“... my daddy has a gun ... ” ) reminds me of an even sloppier version of The Dead Milkmen. “Hippie Hippie Hoorah” is a slow-burning teaser that sounds as if it’s on the verge of exploding but never quite does.

Atmosphere is everything. On Los Valientes, you can hear the crowd going crazy, throwing bottles, heckling in two languages. Now and then stray mariachi music wafts through the proceedings. The liner notes describe the band meeting a “nylon-suit-clad mexi-sexual drug dealer” in the bathroom and local prostitutes performing lascivious acts onstage as the band plays.

Can’t wait for the DVD.

* The Remains. This is a bonus-fortified reissue of a 1966 album by a Boston band that never quite hit despite touring with The Beatles, having a major-label contract, and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and Hullabaloo.

Barry Tashian, the singer in The Remains — not to be confused with the tacky local band The Charred Remains — went on to a respectable post-Remains career. He played on Gram Parsons’ first solo album and played for most of the ’80s with Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. He’s made several bluegrass-flavored albums with his wife, Holly.

According to their Web site, “The Tashians are available for all types of concerts, music camps, church services, workshops and festivals worldwide.” That’s a long way from the proverbial garage, but it beats the proverbial carwash.

The group, initially known as Barry & The Remains, wasn’t quite ready for music camp, but back in the ’60s it didn’t seem as wild and uninhibited as some of its proto-punk contemporaries like The Seeds, The Standells, etc. It’s not just the dorky suit and ties, as seen in The Remains CD booklet. The group’s sound was milder and a little slicker too.

The producer on several of the tracks is Nashville’s Billy Shirell, who is far better known for his work with George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

Still, there are some cool tracks here. One of my favorites is the first, “Heart,” a Petula Clark song (!) that starts out slow before it unleashes the rock. There are also fine covers of Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekend” and Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” and original rockers like “Why Do I Cry” and “Time of Day,” which has an irresistible fuzztone.

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