Friday, January 27, 2012

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: Mark Sultan & Delaney Davidson

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 27 2012

Mark Sultan, a Canadian who has made a living, or at least part of a living, as a one-man band — and sometimes as half of two-man bands such as The King Khan & BBQ Show and, with Bloodshot Bill, as The Ding Dongs — has a pretty strong opinion of one-man bands.

He hates them.

Ranting on his blog last year, Sultan wrote:

“I can see how a one-man-band set-up can leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth. ... I hate one-man bands. Seriously. There are only a couple I like, and those few I do like I like because I don’t consider them one-man bands, but rather musicians who manipulate minimal gear and sounds and transform it and themselves into something special and transcend what they present. ... I don’t like the one-man band as gimmick. Or this fucking community of one-man-band team thought. I hate teams. I hate competition. This is all sports mentality. I hate sports, too.”

Now, I love the raw, stripped-down blues-bash basics of a Bob Log III and O Lendario Chucrobillyman. The one-man format works fine for an artist like Scott H. Biram, boiling down blues and honky-tonk to its basic DNA. There are some European one-manners out there, like King Automatic and Urban Junior, who have taken the form to weird dimensions. And I believe that the ascended master Hasil Adkins knew cosmic truths that most of us lesser mortals will never comprehend.

But on the other hand, I think I know what Sultan is talking about. Like any kind of music, there is definitely some sameness in the sounds produced by the minions of second-rate Bob Logs proliferating at the edges of the garage and roots-rock scenes.

So, it’s fitting that Sultan’s latest work — two new albums released simultaneously late last year — seems to drift further than ever from the typical one-man band sound. On the new albums Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want, he continues to explores his beautiful obsession with doo-wop. Basically, Sultan just does what he’s always done best — melodic (mostly) tunes colored by R & B, rockabilly and primitive rock ’n’ roll.

But the sound, while still a million miles from overproduced, seems fuller than ever. As he’s done on previous albums, Sultan uses guest musicians. On the new records are Sultan’s pals from The Black Lips (with whom Sultan plays in the garage/gospel supergroup The Almighty Defenders) and Dan Kroha of The Gories. And, even more so than past efforts, he’s not above using a few studio tricks to give the tracks a little heft.

A word about formats here: Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want are available only on vinyl and downloads. However, for CD loyalists, there is a 13-tack compilation called Whatever, Whenever. Unfortunately it doesn’t have some of my favorites, like “Blood on Your Hands” (which sounds  like a weird team-up of Danny & The Juniors and The Kingsmen), “Repulse Me, Baby,” which has a little King Khan in it, and “Pancakes,”  which you might mistake for  Sha Na Na making the greatest IHOP commercial in the history of the world.

Other favorites from the new albums include Whatever’s “Just Like Before,” on which Sultan goes right for the doo-wop jugular. It sounds like a lost cousin of some vintage Drifters hit. The rockabilly influences show on “Satisfied and Lazy” (on Whenever), while “Party Crasher” on Whenever gets psychedelic with a droning organ, some “Paint It Black” guitar riffs, and distorted background vocals that may make you think of Dion & The Belmonts interpreting the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Whenever closes with an unexpected twist. The epic eight-minute “For Those Who Don’t Exist” starts out with Sultan strumming a guitar with the tremolo way up and whistling a weird little melody that could almost be a slower version of the Pixies’ “La La Love You.” Then, with clanging railroad-crossing bells apparently warning you, the saxes come in, and it’s a free-jazz odyssey.

What sets Sultan above most slop-rock purveyors is his voice. He has always owed far more to Sam Cooke than to Hasil Adkins. While he messes with several styles, his soaring voice is the thread that holds these two albums together.

Also recommended:

* Bad Luck Man by Delaney Davidson. This New Zealand native reminds me of some ghostly troubadour wandering the Earth searching for shadows.

As was the case with his previous album, Self-Decapitation, Davidson’s music shows traces of blues and hillbilly sounds, a little Gypsy jazz, faint strains of Dixieland, perhaps a touch of tango, and who knows what else.

Every song on Bad Luck Man has its charms, sometimes fully revealing themselves only on a second or third listen. Among the standouts are “Time Has Gone,” the kind of sad waltz Davidson does so well. Organ and horns rise up during the first instrumental break, giving the song a circus-orchestra texture.

The murder ballad “I Told a Secret” is a faster-paced waltz with a droning slide guitar. “I made a promise I would tear out my darlin’s sweet heart,” he sings in the first verse. And, by golly, he keeps that promise.

Davidson goes straight for the blues on “Windy City,” a raucous blues burner that comes late in the album, with chugging harmonica and a low gutter guitar. This tune pays its respects to Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, and other monsters of Chicago blues.

Delaney in Santa Fe
Though most of the songs are originals, Davidson plays some covers. He takes bluesman Abner Jay’s “I’m So Depressed” and makes it rock.

And there’s “I’ve Got the Devil Inside,” written by Davidson’s Voodoo Rhythm crony and touring partner, The Reverend Beat-Man. (The two played together in Santa Fe twice in recent years.) Davidson is backed only by loud drums you might think are a high-school marching band from the netherworld.

But for all the demonic energy, there are also some redemptive moments, the finest being “I Saw the Light From Heaven,” a backwoods gospel tune on which Davidson is accompanied by a lone banjo.

Here's Mark Sultan performing The Rolling Stone's "Out of Time" and his own "I'll Be Lovin' You" from the $ album

And here's Delaney Davidson waltzing with the ladies in Tucson, Ariz. the night before he and Beat-Man played Santa Fe in July, 2010. The song is "Time Has Gone," which is on Bad Luck Man.

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