Friday, November 17, 2006

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: WATCHING THE MUSIC

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 17, 2006


Here’s a bunch of music DVDs I’ve been enjoying lately, including two from some of my favorite indie record labels and two featuring ascended masters of rock ’n’ roll.

*Bloodied but Unbowed: Bloodshot Records’ Life in the Trenches This is an extensive collection of live performances, music videos, a few interviews, and assorted madness by the Chicago company that invented the concept of “insurgent country.”

Fortunately the DVD doesn’t get hung up on the actual biography of the Bloodshot label. Sticking with the spirit of the company, any commentary about Bloodshot’s history, philosophy, or influence is strictly irreverent and usually drunken.

Among the artists you’ll find here are Ryan Adams, Alejandro Escovedo, Neko Case, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Robbie Fulks, the Old 97’s, Trailer Bride, Kelly Hogan, The Sadies, The Detroit Cobras, and those wascally Waco Brothers.

It wouldn’t be a Bloodshot party without the Wacos. There are three songs by Bloodshot’s flagship of fools, live concert and studio footage, and a bunch of stills — including some photos that look a lot like snapshots I’ve taken at various Waco shows at South by Southwest in Austin through the years.

I have to admit, part of the fun of this DVD for me is that I was at some of these performances, such as those by Jon Langford, The Meat Purveyors, and Paul Burch.

While the live stuff is the best stuff on Bloodied but Unbowed, there are some videos that, to use a Waco Brothers title, are “Out There a Ways.” One-man blues stomper Scott H. Biram has a video for his song “Hit the Road” that includes disturbing footage of auto-accident carnage. And the grainy black-and-white video for The Unholy Trio’s backwoods cover of Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise” could almost be classified as hillbilly soft-core porn.

One of my favorite features here is the Bloodshot tribute on Chic-a-Go-Go, a Chicago dance show modeled after American Bandstand, Soul Train, and the local versions of such shows that used to pop up on Chicago-area TV stations in the ’60s and ’70s and featured lip-syncing bands and dancing teens. Case sings “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” in a foofy blonde wig featuring a band with Sally Timms on electric guitar, and Escovedo lip-syncs Langford’s vocals on “California Blues.”

(Songs from this DVD are available through iTunes and eMusic.)

*Voodoo Rhythm: The Gospel of Primitive Rock ’n’ Roll You’ll never again think of Switzerland in terms of chocolate, cuckoo clocks, army knives, or bankers.

Every so often we Americans need foreigners to remind us how magical but dangerous rock ’n’ roll should be.

One of the craziest messengers of the power of rock ’n’ roll and one of the true modern prophets of rock’s slimy underbelly is a Swiss fanatic who calls himself the Reverend Beat-Man. Not only is he a musician — both a harsh-voiced one-man psychobilly band and leader of a fierce garage group called The Monsters; he’s a record mogul, the founding father of Voodoo Rhythm Records.

“I have to get up in the morning out of the bed and I have to play guitar,” he says in an interview in this film. “I have to go to the office and put out records that nobody buys. I just have to do it. I don’t know why.”

On the DVD you meet not only Beat-Man and his Monsters but a wide array of musical misfits on his label. There’s some country acts — Zeno Tornado and the Louisiana-born DM Bob, who, with his accordion-playing, German girlfriend, Silky, is in a band called The Watzloves. (Silky’s a visual artist who does wonderful work based on carnival freak-show art.)

My favorite new discovery here is King Kahn, a Canadian soul belter who has taken up Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ skull scepter, fronting a noisy, horn-fortified soul/punk band that reminds me a little of The Contortions.

But the most mysterious — and most musical of all — are The Dead Brothers, a “psycho Slavic funeral orchestra.” It’s a group led by a bug-eyed Charlie Manson-looking singer that features accordion, tuba, and sometimes banjo playing spooky acoustic tunes.

My only complaint here is that director Marc Littler should have taken a cue from the Bloodshot DVD: less talk and more music would have been better. But there’s lots to love about the Voodoo Rhythm stable.

*Roy Orbison: In Dreams This is a good little documentary about the life of one of the greatest rock singers of all times. It goes back to Roy’s roots in Wink, Texas, through his rockabilly years at Sun records; his “Only the Lonely”/“Oh Pretty Woman” years of glory in the early ’60s; his lean years — a time of horrible tragedy (his wife died in a motorcycle accident, two of his sons were killed in a fire); his bad career moves (anyone remember the movie The Fastest Guitar Alive?); and his great comeback in the late ’80s, cut short by a fatal heart attack.
I wasn’t ready for the film to end. I was looking for someone to wrap up his life and bemoan the cosmic injustice of his passing. But the interviews — including plenty with Roy and fans from Johnny Cash to David Lynch — are good, and the music is great.


* Johnny Cash at San Quentin Legacy Recordings just released an expanded version of Cash’s second prison album. Along with the two CDs, there’s a DVD of a 1969 documentary about the San Quentin concert.

It’s not a concert film — there’s far too little music, and the sound quality’s pretty awful. Plus there’s an introduction by a guy with a British accent that somehow relates the myth of the cowboy loner to Cash and his prison audience.

However, some of the interviews with the inmates are eye-opening. One death-row resident tells a story of a sexual encounter with a woman who cried rape when her 12-year-old son walked in and found them on the couch. He murdered both of them.

“I don’t know why I done it,” he says.

Just to watch ’em die?

The San Quentin set and the Orbison DVD are available at http://www.legacyrecordings.com.

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