Last night in the Roundhouse news room, after a long day of covering the Legislature, I was talking to my old friend and fellow newsdog Stuart Dyson and made some reference to a line from "Cocaine Blues" which we both know mainly from Johnny Cash's version on his Folsom Prison album.
Stuart couldn't resist and responded with some other verses from the song. I followed suit as did he, until we'd practically recited the entire song -- albeit not in the correct order. The other reporters in the room, most of which are much younger than Stuart and me, probably just wrote us off as deranged old fools babbling in some secret codger code -- strange talk of "hop joints," smoking pills, and "dirty hacks" who shoot their women down,
But who cares? It's a great old song. Here's how Johnny sung it:
But -- as longtime Throwback Thursday readers probably figured -- Cash wasn't the first to do this song.
"Cocaine Blues" was written in the late 1940s by a western-sing singer named T.J. "Red" Arnall, who recorded it with his band W. A. Nichol's Western Aces. This version is fairly similar to the one Cash would do 20 years later -- but without Johnny's crazy edge (and without referring to the victim in the song as a "bad bitch.")
But the song even pre-dates Red Arnall. And the murdered woman has a name: Little Sadie.
Yes, "Cocaine Blues" basically is a drug-fired rewrite of the old murder ballad "Little Sadie." You can hear that in Doc Watson's version.
And there is another murder ballad that shares a lot of elements with "Little Sadie' and "Cocaine Blues" called "Bad Lee Brown" (not to be confused with "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.")
Here's a version from more than 85 years ago by John Dilleshaw, who was in a band called Seven Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles. (Thanks to Murder Ballad Monday for pointing me to this song.)
In the early '40s Woody Guthrie recorded "Bad Lee Brown" and it sounded a lot more like what would become "Cocaine Blues" -- even though there was no mention of the white powder.
I had this friend named Big Norm back in college. Sometimes he misunderstood lyrics to popular songs. Sometimes I think he did it on purpose. For instance, at the dawn of the disco scourge, Big Norm thought that the spoken refrain of Van McCoy's "Do the Hustle" was "Eat a Hot dog!"
Goofy, I know. But sometimes when I'm craving a good old American frankfurter, deep in my skull I hear Van McCoy's music and Big Norm's voice telling me what to do.
And sometimes I think of some of the great American songs about hot dogs posted below. Except some of these might not actually be about food, per se.
Let's kick it off with a rockabilly classic by one Corky Jones, which was a pseudonym for the one and only Buck Owens. (Back in the '50s, Buck tried to conceal his identity as not to offend his country fans. But by the end of the 80s he re-recorded this song under his own name and made it a title song of one of hi last studio albums.)
In the mid 1920s, Butterbeans & Susie always had hot dogs on their menu.
Bessie Smith had a similar idea a few years later.
Then there was Hasil Adkins
And this song by The Detroit Cobras practically could be the theme song for the American Wiener Institute.
Welcome to the first Big Enchilada podcast episode of 2016. We've all been working hard since the holidays, so let's just take a little break for some music. This is the most rocking show I've done in a while, And it might just be the first show in podcast history to have songs by Dead Moon and Tom Jones in the same episode!
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican January 22, 2015
The life of Jimmy Ellis of Orrville, Alabama, is one of the greatest oddball rock ’n’ roll stories of all time. You probably aren’t familiar with the name of Jimmy Ellis. How about his stage name — Orion? Not familiar with that either? Well, no matter. If you like true-life bizarre tales from the sleazy side of rock, you’ll enjoy the documentary Orion: The Man Who Would Be King. Ellis was born in 1945. He had an amazing gift — a singing voice nearly indistinguishable from that of Elvis Presley. But, as the movie by Jeanie Finlay explains, when Ellis moved to Los Angeles in the early ’70s to pursue a musical career, what he first saw as a blessing turned out to be a curse. No label of any size wanted to sign him precisely because he sounded so much like Elvis. At one point, after Presley died, Ellis released a single called “I’m Not Trying to Be Like Elvis” — but nobody was convinced. It was after this that things started getting strange. A novelist named Gail Brewer-Giorgio had written a book about a Presleyesque singer called Orion who had faked his own death to escape the pressures of fame. She was looking for someone to sing Orion’s parts for a never-made movie version of her book. She met Ellis through a mutual friend. Shelby Singleton got wind of the project and of the amazing singer Ellis. Singleton, a wheeling-dealing huckster on par with Col. Tom Parker himself, had purchased Sun Records — the company that launched Elvis’ career — from Sam Phillips.
You want an album cover with good taste
or one that tastes good?
Singleton first had Ellis record a vocal track over an old Jerry Lee Lewis song, “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and released it as a single by "Jerry Lee Lewis & Friends." Similar duets came out on classic old Sun Records tracks by Carl Perkins and Charlie Rich — tracks that the real Elvis had nothing to do with. The way I see it, Singleton should have been arrested for desecrating historic monuments.
Then Brewer-Giorgio’s Orion came to life. Under Singleton’s direction, Ellis donned gaudy jumpsuits and colorful Lone Ranger-style masks and went on the road. His first album had a cartoon of Orion ascending from a casket, but that tasteful idea went out the window after retailers objected. The album cover lifted text from the Orion novel (the documentary reveals that Brewer-Giorgio never got paid for it). Many gullible Elvis fans actually believed that Orion was the King in disguise. And the Singleton-era incarnation of Sun Records, of course, did nothing to discourage the strange belief. At first Ellis basked in the dedication of his fans, which, according to the film, included a number of attractive females eager to offer themselves to the masked man. But as the record and concert ticket sales declined, he grew tired of the masquerade. In 1983, he tore off his mask, which proved to be a deal-breaker for Singleton. Sun Records dumped him, and Ellis’ career took a nose-dive. After trying a number of different names and personas, Ellis eventually went back to the mask. But the latter-day Orion failed to capture the old fire. Finlay tells the story through interviews with Ellis’ friends, family (including Ellis’ son), side musicians, and others. Brewer-Giorgio gets a lot of time. She spent much of her career writing nonfiction books, pushing the idea that Presley, like her fictional Orion, faked his own death. If Finlay mentions this in the film, I must have missed it when I blinked.
Orion with Kiss
Best of all, there is generous live footage of Ellis/Orion performances. And there is a still photo of Orion with members of KISS. Apparently they performed on the same bill in Europe in the early ’80s. Orion was a man haunted by hucksters. And unfortunately, Finlay engages in a little hucksterism of her own. Near the end of the film, she implies there might be a genetic reason Ellis sounded so much like Presley. Ellis was adopted, you see, and the only name for his father on his birth certificate was “Vernon,” just like … just like ... But mostly, Finlay brings real dignity to the life of a man who previously has been dismissed as merely a weird musical joke. Orion: The Man Who Would Be King opens at the Jean Cocteau Cinema (418 Montezuma Ave., 505-466-5528) on Friday, Jan. 22. Also recommended
There’s another cool music documentary opening in Santa Fe this week — The Winding Stream, directed by Beth Harrington. This one is the story of the Carter Family, that venerated clan from Virginia often credited as the originators of what has come to be known as country music. The bulk of the film focuses on the original group: A.P. Carter, his wife, Sara, and his sister-in-law Maybelle. No, the Carters didn’t invent country music, but they were the first hillbilly vocal group to achieve widespread popularity. And A.P.’s determination to collect and record the songs of the mountains helped ensure the endurance of this music. Making a case for the importance of the Carter Family is not a major undertaking. Just on the strength of their most famous songs — “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” “Wildwood Flower,” and others — their reputation would be set in stone. Harrington’s real task was making them seem human. Sara, the main singer of the original group, had a voice that seemed resigned and weary. Unlike the songs of their chief contemporary, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carters’ tunes rarely, if ever, show any humor. Photos of Sara and A.P. always remind me of Grant Wood’s American Gothic. (Maybelle Carter, who kept performing with her daughters for decades, including a stint with her son-in-law, Johnny Cash, never had a problem seeming warm and human.) Through interviews with various Carter descendants, Harrington brings warmth and depth to those stony icons, A.P. and Sara Carter. And that helps you appreciate the classic songs even more. And the doc is full of wonderful music including archival footage plus more contemporary versions of Carter songs by the likes of George Jones, John Prine, Roseanne Cash, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Grey DeLisle & Murray Hammond and others.
One quibble: There is little footage of the original Carters performing. Harrington tried to bring some of the songs to life by animating still photos. Unfortunately this process looks like some modern-day Clutch Cargo cartoon, more bizarre than illuminating. The Winding Stream opens at The Screen (Santa Fe University of Art & Design, 1600 St. Michael’s Drive, 505-473-6494) on Friday, Jan. 22.
Enjoy some videos: Here is the official trailer for the Orion movie
Here is Jimmy Ellis' best-known pre-Orion hit
Here is the trailer for The Winding Stream
This duet featuring Anita Carter and Hank Williams is in the movie
On this Throwback Thursday I want to just present various versions of a strangely alluring song that I came to through Dion & The Belmonts. The lush harmonies, the greasy sax, the mysterious, almost mystical lyrics of deja vu ("The clothes you're wearing are the clothes you wore / The smile you are smiling you were smiling then, /But I can't remember where or when...") How could anyone resist? It might be the ultimate late 50s/early 60s makeout song. Here is Dion and the boys. Try to disregard the screaming teenage girls.
When I first heard it, there was something about "Where or When" that told me this was older than rock 'n' old. But actually the song is not much more than 20 years older than Dion's version. It was written by that great American songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for a 1937 Broadway production called Babes in Arms. That's a musical that included other Rodgers & Hart classic like "The Lady is a Tramp" and "My Funny Valentine." Actors Ray Heatherton and Mitzi Green sang "Where or When." Here's a recording by Heatherton.
In 1939, Babes in Arms was turned into a Busby Berkely musical starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. (The script was radically rewritten and most the Rodgers & Hart score was tossed -- though "Where and When" survived. Here is a scene where it was sung by Douglas McPhail, Betty Jaynes and Garland -- with some musical criticism by Rooney.
Miss Peggy Lee did a cool, sultry version in 1941. Like the Heatherton version, the vocals don't start until about half way through.) The song became a Rat Pack favorite. Sinatra sang it and so did Sammy. But I dig this swingin' version by Dino on his mid '60 TV show.
If you want to get an accurate portrait of mental health problems and psychiatric institutions, don't go looking at popular songs about the subject.
The following tunes aren't exactly what you'd call enlightened. Most of them are based on cruel stereotypes and weird assumptions about psychological problems.
So if you don't like dark humor, just consider this a historical look at old attitudes.
And please don't call the men with the butterfly nets.
Let's start with a jazzy classic, "Twisted" by Annie Ross, which I first came to by way of Joni Mitchell (whose version on Court & Spark included a cameo from Cheech & Chong.) But I prefer this video of Annie on Playboy's Penthouse backed by Count Basie.
"Insane Asylum" is a classic blues duet of Willie Dixon and Koko Taylor.
Behold a live performance of my very favorite Alice cooper song: "The Ballad of Dwight Fry."
Here's a song my crony Gregg Turner originally performed with The Angry Samoans, This is a more recent version of "I Lost My Mind."
Turner's actually the one who turned me on this next song more than 20 years ago. He said he first heard it done by Elvis Costello. But it was written by country giant Leon Payne, best known for writing "Lost Highway" for Hank Williams. This version is by country singer Eddie Noack.
But the major country classic of craziness is Porter Wagoner's somewhat autobiographical "The Rubber Room."
On his final studio album, 2007's Wagonmaster, Porter revisited his "rubber room" days with this moving song, "Committed to Parkview," which was written by Johnny Cash.
My favorite madhouse music in the realm of hip hop is The Geto Boys' "My Mind's Playing Tricks on Me."
Bo Diddley is CRAZY!
Finally some of you longtime readers probably expected me to include Napoleon XIV's mid '60s smash "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha" in a blog post about loony-bin songs.
But that's just too predictable. Instead, let's flip out and play the flip-side of that hit record, one I've never hear played on the radio. It's called "Aaaaah-aah Yawa em Ekat ot Gnimoc Re'yeht," which is "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha" played backward. Caution: You might hear the voice of Satan in this early example of backward masking.
Fred McDowell, know to the blues and folk worlds as "Mississippi" Fred McDowell (though he was born and he died in Tennessee), had a birthday this week. He would have turned 112 on Tuesday, Jan. 12. (Thanks to Putney on the KUNM Blues Show for reminding us of that fact on his show last night.)
On a 1969 album, McDowell declared, "I do not play no rock 'n' roll." That, of course didn't deter The Rolling Stones from recording McDowell's song "You Got to Move."
But McDowell also did not play no delta blues. Living most of his days in Como, Miss., in the northern part of the state (about 50 miles south of Memphis), he was a purveyor of what is known as the Hill Country blues, a sound later associated with R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill.
I like this description on a site called Hill Country Harmonica:
Hill country blues is NOT the stuff that Muddy Waters took to Chicago. It's the stuff that stayed behind in Mississippi. This may be why Junior Kimbrough's music sounds sadder, and uses fewer chords, than Muddy's: because the lives of its creators were more circumscribed. The hill country elders didn't have the big hits that Muddy, Wolf, Little Walter, B. B. King enjoyed. They didn't have tour buses. They didn't play the Regal and the Apollo. They didn't wear matching suits. They wore truckers' caps and cowboy boots. They stayed home. (Actually, an important correction: R. L. Burnside DID move to Chicago in 1944 and stayed there for about 15 years. He fled back home to the Mississippi hills after his father, two brothers, and uncle were all murdered in Chicago within the span of one year. Hill Country bluesmen were the guys for whom the escape-to-the-promised-land thing just didn't work out.) These men farmed, drove tractors, worked for themselves.
McDowell was old enough to have recorded back in the '20s and early '30s, the era of Robert Johnson, Charley Patton and Son House. But he wasn't. In the '20s, he busked around the streets and Memphis and when he settled down in Como he would play weekend parties and fish fries. But he earned his living as a farmer.
But he didn't record until 1959 when he was "discovered" by Alan Lomax, who released several of his songs on a folk music series on Atlantic Records. A few years later Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records came calling and recorded more of the singing sharecropper. McDowell became a regular in the folk music revival circuit, playing campuses and coffee houses. he was part of the American Folk Blues Festival tour in Europe, which also featured blues titans like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Slim and others.
In 1969, McDowell recorded an album for Capitol Records, I Do Not Play No Rock 'n' Roll. He played electric guitar and was backed by a pretty rockin' no-rock rhythm section. Some purists hated it. I loved it.
By this time he was attracting the attention of rockers like The Stones and Bonnie Raitt, who recorded a medley of his songs "Write Me a Few of Your Lines" and "Kokomo Me Baby."
McDowell wasn't able to enjoy this recognition for long, however. He died of cancer in Memphis in 1972.
But his music lives on. Here are a few for Fred:
This next one is from the American Folk Blues Festival.
McDowell played gospel as well as blues.
This is a song by the original Sonny Boy Williamson. I first heard it by The Grateful Dead, and later Johnny Winter.
I like Fred's version even better than The Stones' ...
There aren't very many wackier than the Marx Brothers, And their classic comedies -- and even their not-so-classic comedies -- were filled with music. Here are some of my favorite songs from those movies.
First from the 1939 film At the Circus
A cowboy song from Go West
A classic tune by Groucho as Captain Spaulding from Animal Crackers
Chico and Harpo get down in The Big Store
And decades before the rock 'n' roll versions, Harpo was playing a serious harp rendition of "Blue Moon.' (another one from At the Circus)
UPDATED 9:10 amThanks to Chuck for pointing out this omission. From Horse Feathers ...
When I was a kid some of my favorite TV commercials were those for Hamm's Beer. I loved the wacky cartoon Hamm's bear and his woodland pals.
This of course was years before I became an actual beer drinker. But maybe there was some kind of insidious subliminal Joe Camel psychology going on here. In my early years of college, I used to buy Hamm's beer to keep around the house. It was cheaper than the more popular beers, so when friends would drop by, they'd go for my roommate's Budweiser, Schlitz or Coors, leaving the Hamm's for me.
But I digress.
The other cool thing I loved about those Hamm's commercials was the music. The song was a pseudo Native American chant, heavy on the tom toms, with lyrics that began:"From the land of sky blue water ..."
Here. Watch one of those ads yourself
But it's only recently that I realized the phrase "From the land of sky blue waters" did not originate with the Minnesota beer company.
It came from a 1909 composition by Charles Wakefield Cadman with lyrics by Nelle Richmond Eberhart. The melody, Cadman said, was based on a song from the Omaha tribe collected by anthropologist Alice Cunningham Fletcher (1838-1923).
Eberhart's words tell of a white woman captured by Indians. I know, I know, it plays upon some sick Caucasian psycho-sexual fantasies common in that era. But one of the captors doesn't want to rape the lightning-eyed beauty. He's in love with her.
From the Land of Sky-blue Water, They brought a captive maid, And her eyes they are lit with lightnings, Her heart is not afraid! But I steal to her lodge at dawning, I woo her with my flute; She is sick for the Sky-blue Water, The captive maid is mute.
Yes, this would make a hell of a beer commercial.
The song has been performed by some of the great artists of the early 20th Century.
Here is a very early operatic version by Romanian-born soprano Alma Gluck. (No, she wasn't a Jonathan Winters character. She was, in fact, the mother of actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.)
The Andrews Sisters made it swing (and added some hazy history about Christopher Columbus)
And finally, here is Harpo Marx with some fake Indian chief doing a strangely alluring version in the 1940 Marx Brothers movie Go West.
Back in 2004 D.J. Danger Mouse remixed instrumental samples from The Beatles' White Album with vocals from Jay-Z's Black Album to create The Grey Album. (Listen to it and/or download for free HERE.)
Here's a promo video for The Grey Album.
For more than a decade there has been all sorts of hand-wringing and belly-aching about the legality of all this. EMI, which holds the copyrights on Beatles songs, threatened legal action against The Grey Album, which provoked Internet backlash resulting in mass free downloading of the album.
And the floodgates were opened. For the past dozen years there have been countless amateur Danger Mouses bringing all sorts of unrelated music together over the Internet. Some of the efforts are better quality than others. But when they're good, they're a lot of fun.
Here is a handful of mash-ups that have made me chuckle.
Let's kick this off with those Fab Metallica Moptops
I always thought the Bee Gees would be a lot more tolerable if they had some AC/DC in them
The Grateful Dead and Notorious B.I.G. share the women and they share the wine.
It's The Sex Pistols, Charlie Brown!
Finally, this one isn't really a mash-up of songs, just a mash-up of different realities.
Sunday, January 3, 2016 KSFR, Santa Fe, N.M. Sundays 10 p.m. to midnight Mountain Time Host: Steve Terrell Webcasting!101.1 FM
email me during the show! terrell(at)ksfr.org
Here's the playlist OPENING THEME: Let It Out (Let it All Hang Out) by The Hombres
Spend the Night by The Sonics
Keep it Out of Sight by King Mud
Drug Mugger by Ty Segall
Price Tag by Sleater-Kinney
Don't Try it by The Devil Dogs
Born Bad by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Bring it on Home by Tom Jones
Downtown by Javier Escovedo
Sixpack by Al Scorch
Turned Out Light by Thee Oh Sees
Eviler by The Grannies
Shiney Hiney by The Fleshtones
When I Was Young by The Ramones
Hey Gyp by Eric Burdon & The Animals
I'm a Full Grown Man by Barrence Whitfield & The Savages
Life Sucking Voodoo Women by Flametrick Subs
Fiesta Trashera by Rolando Bruno
It's a Cold Night for Alligators by Roky Erikson & The Aliens
Family Fun Night by Figures of Light
Angry Little Girl by Sons of Hercules
Just a Little Bit by Jello Biafra & The Raunch and Soul All Stars
Bad Girl by Detroit Cobras
Caught With the Meat in Your Mouth by Dead Boys
My Shadow by Jay Reatard
Taxidermy Porno by Hex Dispensers
Hombre Secreto by The Plugz
Hot Rod Worm by The Slow Poisoner
Marijuana, the Devil's Flower by Holly Golighty & The Brokeoffs
The Cereal Song by The Bicycle Thief
Komondor Tarkin by Kazik & Kwartet ProForma
Afterglow by Miriam
Surf's Up (Solo Version) by The Beach Boys
She Belongs to Me by Bob Dylan
New Year's Eve by Tom Waits CLOSING THEME: Over the Rainbow by Jerry Lee Lewis
OPENING THEME: Buckaroo by Buck Owens
If You Don't Like Hank Williams by Kris Kristofferson
I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow by Townes Van Zandt
Your Cheatin' Heart by Ted Hawkins
Your Cheatin' Heart by Hank Williams
Alone and Forsaken by Social Distortion
Jambalaya by Professor Longhair with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown
White Freight Liner Blues by Joe Ely & Joel Guzman with Ryan Bingham
Sorry You're Sick by Mary Gauthier
Hank Williams You Wrote My Life by Moe Bandy
Dollar Bill Blues by Townes Van Zandt
Angel of Death by Shane MacGowan & The Popes
There Stands the Glass by Ted Hawkins
Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used to Do by Tom Jones
Settin' the Woods On Fire by Hank Williams
May You Never Be Alone by Skeeter Davis & NRBQ
Blaze's Blues by Townes Van Zandt
House of Gold by Willie Nelson
The Car Hank Died in by The Austin Lounge Lizards
Baby by Tina-Marie Hawkins Fowler & Elizabeth Hawkins
Waiting Around to Die by The Goddamn Gallows
I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love With You by Hank Williams & Anita Carter
Ramblin' Man by Steve Young
Katie Belle by Townes Van Zandt
I Think Hank Woulda Done it This Way by The Blue Chieftains
Happy Hour by Ted Hawkins
Honky Tonkin' by The Maddox Brothers & Rose
Buckskin Stallion Blues by Jimmy Dale Gilmore & Mudhoney
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams
You Win Again by Mother Earth
Talking Thunderbird Wine Blues by Townes Van Zandt
The Love That Faded by Bob Dylan
The Lost Ones by Ted Hawkins
Fort Worth Blues by Steve Earle
Nashville Radio by Jon Langford
Did you miss it live? Hear it on Mixcloud in player below
Happy New Year, dear friends! Here is a list of my favorite albums of 2015. This list is in no particular order, but at some point throughout the past year, each one was my number-one favorite for at least a few days.
1)This Is The Sonics . Unlike The Standells, Question Mark and The Mysterians, Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs, and other giants of the garage-rock era of the mid-1960s, The Sonics didn’t get much radio play where I grew up. Thus, I didn’t really get exposed to them until well into my adulthood. And I didn’t become a complete babbling devotee of their cult until just a couple of years ago when I saw The Sonics — with three original members — rage, ravage, and conquer the Ponderosa Stomp festival in New Orleans. This is the band’s first studio album of all-new material in nearly 50 years, and it rocks harder than anything by any young whippersnapper I heard all year.
2) Mutilator Defeated at Last by Thee Oh Sees. John Dwyer is a miserable failure at hiatus. His attempt at putting Thee Oh Sees on the shelf only lasted a few months before he was back with a new line-up, which I begrudgingly have to admit is just as ferocious as the previous incarnation. The sound of Mutilator is unmistakably Oh Sees: rubbery post-psychedelic guitar-based excursions into the unknown with distorted echoes of garage rock, punk, and noise-rock.
3) Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party 2015by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This album, the Blues Explosion’s second since the band’s resurrection with 2012’s Meat + Bone, is a loving song cycle about New York City. In several tunes, the band indulges in a little well-earned nostalgia about the sleazy, crime-ridden era of the ’70s and ’80s, those gritty days when punk rock, hip-hop, and yes, “No Wave” were born. Jon Spencer and the boys are as loud, frantic, and joyful as they were in their mid-’90s heyday.
4)The Ruffian’s Misfortuneby Ray Wylie Hubbard. Once again, Ray Wylie Hubbard has given the world a swampy, blues-soaked collection of tunes in which, in his trademark Okie drawl, he tells stories of sin and salvation; gods and devils; women who light candles to the “Black Madonna;” undertakers who look like crows (“red-eyed and dressed in black”); and hot-wiring cars in Oklahoma.
5) No Cities to Loveby Sleater-Kinney. These women are far better at hiatus than Thee Oh Sees. Sleater-Kinney’s little break lasted about 10 years. They roared back this year, though, with a mighty tour (including a memorable show in Albuquerque in April) and this new album. It’s brash, urgent, and emotional. And they make it seem so easy.
6) Long Lost Suitcase by Tom Jones. No, I’m not being ironic here. In 2015, Tom Jones — the old British pop star who sang “It’s Not Unusual,” the cheesy ’70s TV star and Las Vegas sex symbol at whom grown women threw their underwear — made one of the year’s finest albums. I was drawn in by his haunting cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” but I stayed for his rocking version of Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would,” and Los Lobos’ “Everybody Loves a Train” – not to mention his stark take on one of my favorite early Willie Nelson tunes, “Opportunity to Cry.” I was so impressed, I sought out Jones’ previous albums with producer Ethan Johns — the gospel-drenched Praise & Blame and Spirit in the Room. Jones’ powerful voice is still in impeccable form and his taste in material has never been better.
7) Giving My Bones to the Western Lands by Slackeye Slim. On his latest album, Joe Frankland, aka Slackeye Slim, continues his exploration of the shadows. As usual, many of his songs are frequently cast in an Old West setting, though his themes of sin, redemption, loneliness, desperation, and freedom are universal. Slackeye lived among us in New Mexico for a few months, forming a sinister musical alliance with The Imperial Rooster, an Española band. He’s moved back to Colorado, but promises he won’t be a stranger.
8) Walk on Jindal’s Splinters by Jello Biafra & the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-Stars. This is a live New Orleans concert by former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra that was reportedly done on a dare. Teaming up with a rootsy but raucous band (including a horn section), the West Coast punk-rock icon blasts his way through a bunch of Big Easy R & B classics.
9) Bailazo by Rolando Bruno. This is my choice for world-beat heavyweight champion of 2015. Rolando Bruno’s label, Voodoo Rhythm Records, describes his sound as “Full Blast Psychedelic Latino Cumbia Garage with a very Cheesy Touch of a ’70s Supermarket!!!” Bruno, a former member of the Peruvian garage-punk band Los Peyotes, also throws in Middle Eastern riffs, kung-fu movie soundtrack sounds, and other surprises to create a wacky but very danceable brew.
10)Coulda Shoulda Woulda by Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs. Holly Golightly and her partner “Lawyer Dave” Drake continue their streak of bare-boned funky-clunky country bluesy albums. Golightly is a native Brit, but this is a big sloppy homemade American mess, which of course I mean as a compliment. The whole album is packed with crazy fun.