Friday, May 13, 2011

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: Farmageddon is Upon Us!

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
 May 13, 2011

One of my favorite record companies — one that I hadn’t even heard of until a few weeks ago — came into being because a music fan in Montana got sick of having to drive hundreds of miles just to see the bands he liked.

Farmageddon Records is the brainchild of Darren Dorlarque, a Bozeman guy who loves alt-country, “underground” country, whatever you call it (just please don’t call it “Americana”) and took it upon himself to start booking shows in Big Sky Country for bands he liked. There were some quasi-famous folks like Wayne “The Train” Hancock, but mostly they were artists that few had ever heard of. With a growing stable of under-appreciated 21st-century hillbilly singers from all over the country, a record company seemed like the next logical step. And thus, Farmageddon was born.

A wonderful introduction to the Farmageddon universe is a new compilation called Danielle Colby Presents the Music of Farmageddon Records. Fans of the History Channel show American Pickers should recognize Colby. She runs the Antique Archaeology store in the series, which features a couple of her friends going around the country  finding antiques and collectibles. She’s also a former roller-derby girl and a burlesque dancer, but that’s another story. The important thing is she has great taste in music.

Like lots of the independent labels I love, there’s a family feel with Dorlarque’s rogues’ gallery. Check the credits and you’ll see members of various Farmageddon bands playing on one another’s tracks.

Much of the music on the compilation could be classified as country punk. There’s The Goddamn Gallows from Michigan, whose “Broken Man” features a twitchy repeated blues lick and distorted vocals. High Lonesome, a Milwaukee band, does a fierce minor-key stomper called “Headhunter.” Black-Eyed Vermillion, from Austin, almost reminded  me of The Waco Brothers with the sing-along chorus on their song  “Fare Thee Long.” But frontman Gary Lindsey’s vocal chords are far more shredded than Waco’s Jon Langford’s ever will be.

There is also lots of good retro-style country here. Jayke Orvis sings a snazzy little tune called “Thunderbolts and Lightning” that has a rockabilly rhythm (and a cool doghouse bass) as well as a banjo. Orvis, for the record, was the very first to record a record for Farmageddon.

Walker & The Texas Dangers, who indeed hail from the Lone Star State, have obviously listened to a lot of Wayne the Train. Their song “Love My Baby” contains the lyrics “No, we don’t make love, we don’t call it that/It’s such a euphemism for a violent act.” Meanwhile, “Delia Rose,” by a Kansas group called The Calamity Cubes, has a Dixieland feel with a muted trumpet and banjo.

Of the 14 artists on this collection, I was familiar with only one. That’s Graham Lindsey, not to be confused with Sen. Lindsey Graham. This one’s a country-flavored singer-songwriter from Wisconsin. I reviewed his first solo record, Famous Anonymous Wilderness, in this column in 2004.

As a pre-teen Lindsey was a member of a grade-school punk rockers called Old Skull, which somehow got a recording contract. They were great, if your idea of great is a bunch of 9-year-olds screaming about the C.I.A. Lindsey is much better as a solo artist. His song here, “Big Dark World of Hate and Lies” is stripped-down country — fiddle, bass, and acoustic guitar. It sounds like some long-lost Hank Williams tune.

Lindsey also is a member of The Perreze Farm, which does a catchy little fiddle-driven tune called “Lay Me Down.”

But for my money, the star of this record is a singer named  Rachel Brooke. On the compilation, she does a rocking tune called “Mean Kind of Blues” which sounds like classic outlaw country — I can easily imagine Waylon Jennings doing this song — except for the addition of loud, distorted guitars that add a weird counterpoint to Brooke’s yodeling.

Brooke is kind of like the Wednesday Addams of country music. Her voice is sweet, almost cute. On most songs, the accompaniment is spare and simple — mostly just her guitar. But listen to the lyrics on some of the songs on her recently released Farmageddon album Down in the Barnyard, and you’ll realize she’s got a twisted, evil side.

The song  “The Barnyard” is the tale of a jealous, murderous lass who tells in graphic detail how she takes revenge on her boyfriend and best friend. Then there’s “Me and Rose Connelly.” Fans of old murder ballads will recognize Rose’s name as the tragic victim of the song “Down in the Willow Garden.” That song is told from the perspective of the murderer. Brooke sings it as a girlhood friend of the victim.

Even creepier is “The Legend of Morrow Road,” a haunting, seven-minute song done as an acoustic dirge with fake record scratches. It’s the story, apparently derived from a Michigan folk tale, of a woman who gets pregnant by a man (not her husband) and then disappears without a trace — except her ghost is occasionally seen down on Morrow Road.

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