SONIC REDUCER: Hunting Is Half the Fun






”Sonic Reducer” singles out worthy music and spoken-word recordings that sit
somewhere outside the mainstream. This is not an obscurity contest, however,
and most (but not all) of these recordings did receive a traditional release,
distribution, some attempt at publicity, etc., from some recognizable small- or
mid-sized labels. The point is simply to draw attention to some really good
records from all sorts of genres, eras and formats. Everything in this month’s
column was originally released on CD in the mid- to late-nineties. They may not
be easy to find, but hunting is half the fun.



DANNY FRANKEL, New Thing on Jupiter (1997, WIN Records)

Widely traveled drummer/percussionist Danny Frankel’s New Thing on Jupiter is a minimalist
hep-cat party-starter, perfect background music for an intergalactic beatnik
cocktail lounge. Bongos, optigan, tape loops, autoharp, whistling and a Casio
help spread out the spaced-out vibe. Danny is unique stylist who has toured and
recorded with Jim White, Lou Reed, Rickie Lee Jones, Beck, Marianne Faithful
and many others.

IRA COHEN, The Majoon Traveler (1994,
Sub Rosa import)

World-traveling poet, photographer, publisher and filmmaker
Ira Cohen’s continent hopping spoken word CD of mystical, mythical musing was produced
by the untouchable Algerian mix-master Cheb i Sabbah. Featuring cut-ups of
Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Angus MacLise, the Master Musicians of Joujouka,
Moroccan street recording and other deep thinkers and players. Friend and
contemporary of William S. Burroughs, Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin (who The Majoon Traveler is dedicated to),
Ira is a true original: a brusk, no-bullshit-allowed mystic with a deep,
Jewish-Brooklyn baritone.

LUTHER RUSSELL, Down at Kits (1999,

One-man funk factory Luther Russell drops a mother-lode of
smooth, dubby instrumental funk that mixes up Memphis, New Orleans and
Kingston, cocktail lounges, roadhouses and a touch of sublime muzak. Luther did
the major-label two-step with The Freewheelers in the early 90s, then moved up
to Portland, where he left a huge mark before eventually returning to LA. He
figures hugely in the next record…


FERNANDO, Pacoima (1998, Cravedog)

Born in Argentina, raised in the San Fernando Valley barrio
of Pacoima (home of Ritchie Valens), living in Portland, Fernando Viciconte has
a string of superb releases. Pacoima is really something special: sung entirely in Spanish (except for one track),
it’s a mix of rock en Español, Tex-Mex, Casio-twiddling tangos, gutsy ballads
and Farfisa-driven rockers that could be lost tracks by ? and The Mysterians,
Sam the Sham or the Sir Douglas Quintet. Producer Luther Russell gives it a kinetic, live-wire feel,
and plays most of the instruments, sans some of the guitar, trumpet and pedal

self released)

If Sun Ra’s Arkestra added low-fi FX and dipped into
boogie-woogie and boozy blues along with their outrageous space jazz? Well, actually they did. But Gone
Orchestra do it really well, too. This Portland combo is thick with
iconoclastic personalities and sonic tinkerers, including a few affiliated with
he Smega collective of cultural contrarians. If Duke Ellington was smoking
crack while making records it might come out like this…


CRASH WORSHIP, Triple Mania II (1994,
Charnel House)

In a savvy move, Crash Worship pared their monumental,
primordial percussion assaults down to shorter, digestible pieces, separated everything in the mix
and made a CD of actual song-like material. And they do it with out losing any
of their menace or psychic heavy-osity. The provocative cover is vintage Crash
Worship: art inspired by Henry Darger’s pan-sexual waifs,  rendered in
full-color etched copper plating.


IAN SHOALES, I Gotta Go (1997, 2.13.61)

Tart-tongued, sharp-witted and incredibly verbally agile,
comedic social commentator Ian Shoales sprints through 24 short, tongue
twisting subjects (“Neo-Literacy,” “Boomerville,”
“Elvitude” etc.), all ending with his trademark “I gotta
go.” These 24 tracks were recorded between 1985 and 1995, and reflect the
cultural landscape of the Regan and Clinton eras; we can only imagine what he
would make of the current Bush/Cheney/Carlyle Group-led on-going fiasco. Unlike
many spoken-word recordings, it holds up under repeat listens.

UTAH CAROL, Wonderwheel (1999,
Stomping Ground Publishing)

On Wonderwheel,
the Chicago-based duo of Grant Birkenbeuel and JinJa Davis make tight, deadpan,
insanely catchy folky rock with brief, funky instrumental interludes. Something
eerie and possibly dangerous lies just below the surface, while the top side is
smooth and user friendly. They have since released two more CDs, Comfort for the Traveler in 2002 and Rodeo Queen in 2007. On this first release Utah Carol manage to sound completely original
without actually breaking any tangibly new territory, which is notable into

RUBE WADDELL, Hobo Train (1996,

Junkyard blues, drunken sea-chanteys, depression-era calls
to arms, homemade instruments, debauchery, anarchy and pork-pie hat wearing surrealism. Named
after the legendary early 20th century baseball player, ambulance chaser and
boozer, Hobo Train is the first of
several outlandish CDs this Bay Area  four-hat has released. Rude Waddell
are pretty much the ultimate house-party band. As long as your house has big
holes in the walls, a dirt floor and is well away from any neighbors?


Andre Williams, Knoxville Girls, Dexter Romweber, Botanica,
Preacher Boy and others remake, retool and rethink 14 of Tom Waits’ songs. A trio of ballads by
Carla Bozulich, Sally Norvell and Eleni Mandell anchor the center of the
record. But check Lydia Lunch and Nels Cline sliming their way through
“Heartattack and Vine” and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins completing owning
“Whistlin’ Past The Graveyard” to see why this is a superior


Carl Hanni is a music
writer, music publicist, disc jockey and vinyl archivist living in Tucson, AZ.
He hosts the vinyl-only “Scratchy Record Show” every Tuesday night at the
Red Room in downtown Tucson, and spins records wherever and whenever he
can. He believes that in a better (all analog) world all records would be
released on vinyl, but takes good music from wherever he finds it—even on CD. His
feature piece on legendary bass player/record producer Harvey Brooks will
soon be published in Goldmine.


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