Monthly Archives: September 2008

BLURTING WITH… Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner

On Nashville, songwriting, and that little ol’
band called Lambchop.

 

BY MICHAEL D. AYERS

 

 

With Lambchop’s 10th album, OH (ohio), due next week from
Merge, we sat down with frontman and songwriter Kurt Wagner a few feet away
from the famous arch that anchors down the north side of Washington
Square Park
in New York City.  His disposition is exactly like what you’d
come to expect from one of the mellower guys from the alt-country/country-soul
scene: he’s polite, unassuming, and soft-spoken, as his fans have come to know
him as.  It could be argued that his laid-back
nature has been a consistent factor in why Lambchop’s flown under the radar for
so long.  Or, on the flipside, why Lambchop
has endured. 

 

 

***

 

BLURT: You’ve been in
Nashville, how
long?

 

I grew up there.  I’ve
been there since the early 60’s.  I moved
away from there for about ten years, but other than that, I’ve been there most
of my life. 

 

 

 

BLURT: Nashville has been looked
at over the years, as such a wide open place for one to turn to country
music.  What over the years, about Nashville, have you found
inspiring?

 

I think part of what we found interesting – when Lambchop
started doing stuff – we were basically all from Nashville. 
Grew up there, lived there.  We
weren’t from somewhere else.  So, we sort
of reflected what it would be like to be a native Nashvillian, playing music,
as opposed to someone who grew up somewhere else, and coming there and doing
it.  We were just sort of reacting to
that.  There was this sort of context
that was unique in a way – you didn’t hear that.  Most of the stuff that was going on in Nashville – there were very few artists that were from Nashville.  White Stripes say they’re from Nashville, but hey, they
just moved there, you know?  Kings of
Leon, they’re from a little town outside of Nashville, and I don’t know how long they’ve
been there.  They could be from somewhere
else.  But we are actually are, and in a
way, I thought that was interesting. 

 

From that notion, we kind of went from that to, “Well, what
is about Nashville?”  We were fascinated with the concept of
country music, and the facilities in which they used to record it.  As I learned more and more about Nashville through other people in the band, there’s a lot
of other things that people don’t associate with Nashville. 
Like, the fact that it was one of the fermenting places of the civil
rights movements.  The lunch counter sit-ins.  The guys from Fisk University,
and how they would come over, and would do this lunch counter thing, and they
became good organizers, and became major forces of the civil rights
movement.  Guys from Nashville, kids from college.  The fact that they have the WLAC there – they
had broadcasts of great, R&B and soul music, coming out of Hillbillytown, U.S.A.  So, I guess, we were being really goofy, and
this was just country music- at least conceptually.  Maybe it doesn’t sound like it, but, then it
just got taken seriously.

 

 

 

BLURT: The more I
talk to people that live there, its much more diverse than the general
consensus is. 

 

Well, it’s become more and more so.  Certainly, in the ‘60s it was not very
diverse, pretty much as you’d expect. 
Southern town, very narrow. 

 

 

BLURT: One of the
things that’s drawn me to your music: the vocal delivery, and the music sounds
so serious.  Except there is so much
absurdity – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.  For example, on the new record, “Of Raymond”
and “National Talk Like A Pirate Day.” It seems like you’ve always liked to
dive into the absurdities of modern American culture.

 

Well, you know, I have this way of writing that ends up being
kind of confusing.  In that lies the absurdity
I think you’re picking up on.  I have
these sort of weird ways of writing, that are logical to me, but are weird in
that I include factual information from experience – that makes sense to me,
but maybe not makes sense to everyone else. 
Or, a lot of times, I go “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about
there, but it felt right.”  Either way,
it ends up cloaking a lot of these sadder, deeper ideas, which I think the
music reinforces as much as anything. 

 

I think that’s a decision the various members of Lambchop
[make] – they hear a song, and they try to figure out from their
perspective.  It’s always funny; they’ll
have completely different notions about what the songs are about.  Or they’ll think it’s about them (laughs). 
I think in a way, that’s kind of cool. 
I look at other people’s work, too, and it doesn’t make sense to
me.  So, I’m like, “why is mine anymore
ridiculous than that?”  I take the
endeavor seriously, it’s just not that important if you get it.

 

 

BLURT: I don’t think
anyone can accuse you of being disingenuous.

 

I really love the act of writing, and I think it’s a really
great way, this great form of expression – it has a lot of possibilities.  It’s just how open you are to trying other
things.  For me, it’s still fun.   

 

WELCOME BACK HONEY Lucinda Williams

On the opening night
of her
Little Honey tour Luce reminds
us of why we loved her in the first place.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

First things first: Little
Honey
, Lucinda Williams’ ninth studio album, out October 14 from Lost Highway, isn’t
a career-maker. She’s already got a career, thank you very much, among the most
celebrated in Americana, and she carved out an iconic spot in music – and
burrowed her way into our hearts – more than a decade ago. The record is,
however, a career-definer, simultaneously
a recapper and recontextualizer of all the things that make her special and
that continue to hold our attention even during the creative fallow periods
that artists must inevitably weather. (There’s a reason we call folks like
Williams “artists” and your Mariah Careys of the world “entertainers”; in the
former’s works we see reflected our own humanity, our weaknesses and strengths,
our joys and tragedies, while in the latter we project whatever ephemeral,
escapist notions that happen to cross our minds on any particular week.)

 

From the album’s opening track, the surging, angular, almost
punk-feeling riff-rocker “Real Love”; through several blues compositions,
including the soulful/sensual “Tears Of Joy,” country-honker “Well Well Well”
and the swampy, slide/harp-fueled “Heavy Blues”; to an out-of-the-blue AC/DC
cover, “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” so outrageous
and so perfect that should Brian Johnson ever fall ill, Angus Young knows who
he can call if he needs a last minute sub: Little
Honey
never falters. It’s exquisitely sequenced and paced to give it a
compelling sense of flow, and it’s performed with an almost swaggering level of
confidence (primarily just Williams and her backing band Buick 6: guitar whiz Doug
Pettibone, bassist David Sutton, drummer Butch Norton and guitarist/keyboardist
Chet Lyster, plus keyboardist Rob Burger and guest vocalists Matthew Sweet,
Susanna Hoffs, Jim Lauderdale, Tim Easton Charlie Louvin and Elvis Costello –
the latter on a bring-down-the house George & Tammy/Conway &
Loretta-styled duet, “Jailhouse Tears”). That confidence extends to Williams’
vocals, too. As a singer, even on her weaker material she rarely disappoints,
but here she seems positively fired up by the opportunity to simply kick out
the jams and let her signature raspy purr/drawl follow the music’s insistent
groove.

 

‘Twas not always the case in recent years. After 1998’s Car
Wheels On A Gravel Road
and 2001’s Essence, both brilliant,
Williams, it seemed, could do no wrong, and for 2003’s World Without Tears nary a critic stood up to call it what it was: lazy and ragged, adrift in
half-formed arrangements and tossed-off vocals, including some of clumsiest
white-girl rapping this side of Deborah Harry. That was followed in 2005 by a
stopgap concert album, Live @ the
Fillmore
, which despite reprising much of her classic material, seemed to
unfold in slow motion, as if through a Quaalude haze; it didn’t pick up any
steam until Disc 2, by which point the listener, too, had been lulled.

 

Then came last year’s West,
and initially Williams seems back on message, purring and growling lustily
against a backdrop of noirish blooze and sensual, folk-pop. The album smoldered,
from the strings-laden, sex + pain = religion “Unsuffer Me” to a moody
meditation on life titled “What If.” But with “smolder” the operative term – there
was nary an uptempo rocker to be found – it never really caught fire and was best
taken in small three-song blocs, lest your eyelids droop over the course of 70 minutes.
Glossy on the surface, unnecessarily fussy, Hal Wilner production-wise,
underneath, West ultimately succumbed to an overdose of torpor. As I
wrote at the time: Lucinda, set an alarm
clock next time you go into the studio.

 

She did just that for Little
Honey
. Welcome back, Luce.

 

 

***

 

So – Little Honey tour opener, September 25, Asheville, NC, the Orange Peel, named earlier this year by Rolling Stone as one of the top five
music clubs in America.
This was to kick off a 27-city run that concludes in mid-November with a
two-night Fillmore stand in San
Francisco. Parked on the side street next to the club
were three massive tour buses, each hauling an equally humongous trailer
housing, presumably, the gear a rock band needs to mount an effective auditorium/theater
tour. Point of fact, the Asheville show was initially slated for the larger,
more formal Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, which has a seating capacity of about
2500, but at the last minute slow ticket sales prompted a move of the show to
the considerably more intimate Orange Peel (cap.: 942). Earlier in the week it
had also been announced that the Knoxville show scheduled for the following
evening at the 1545-seater Tennessee Theatre had been moved to the Bijou (cap.:
750). Lost Highway politely declined to disclose actual ticket counts but did
concede that the situation was disappointing. Offered a spokesman at the label,
“Let’s just say, we would’ve liked the numbers to be a bit higher.”

 

One presumes that neither label nor promoters
needs to worry once the early word on this tour gets out.

 

A lesser artist might have bitched and moaned about the
situation; the change from large auditorium to midsized club undoubtedly forced
some compromises in the staging and lighting, and there were indeed a few glitches,
primarily involving the above-stage screen projections (a good bit of that gear
being transported in the aforementioned trailers probably went unused this
evening, too). Instead, Williams took the challenge as an opportunity to seek
out the silver lining. Let’s face it, no artist wants to be looking out at a
venue that’s only about half-full, so the move from Thomas Wolfe to the Orange
Peel turned out to be a smart one, with the crowd getting an unexpected
up-close-and-personal show and Williams benefiting from a unique brand of
feedback immediacy that just isn’t possible when performing in front of a
seated audience that’s separated from the stage by a large gap or orchestra
pit.

 

A nearly 2 ½ hour show ensued, and by the end the packed
venue had been reduced to aching feet, sore palms, hoarse throats, and
ear-to-ear grins. Williams herself seemed positively thrilled at the response,
chatting with the audience, dancing with the band members, and soaking in the
proverbial tight-but-loose vibe that can be the hallmark of a great concert.

 

The opening act was… drumroll please… Buick 6. Not to be
confused with the British electric blues band Buick 6, but rather the L.A.-based,
electric blues band Buick 6, a/k/a Williams’ backing band: Pettibone, Lyster,
Sutton and Norton. The quartet plowed through a rousing set comprising mostly
instrumentals, the players frequently swapping places and demonstrating an
effortless virtuosity that made it eminently clear this was no mere garden
variety support-the-star ensemble. When Pettibone strapped on a harmonica rack
and used harp lines to sub for the vocals in a cover of Led Zep’s “Black Dog”
the crowd emitted whoops of delight, and the blazing closing number, Neil Young’s
“Cinnamon Girl,” pushed things over the edge to leave the room fully primed for
the headliner.

 

Following a short break the band was right back up there,
smiling broadly at Williams as she walked onstage attired in a gauzy, see-through
white blouse partially opened to reveal a naughty black pushup bra. Positioned
just to the left of her microphone was a music stand bearing pages of lyrics,
and throughout the show Williams made no effort to hide the fact that she had
to consult the sheets for certain songs, at one point even drawing attention to
the stand when she quipped, “I can’t afford those teleprompters!”

 

She needn’t have apologized; such was the sheer viscerality
and seductive grace of her performance. Williams and her band opened with the
same song that opens Little Honey,
“Real Love,” duly setting the pace for a high-energy show that peaked several
times yet managed to reach a higher level at each successive crest. Much of the
first part spotlighted the new album: “Tears Of Joy,” a slow, sexy waltz-time
blues with desire-drenched lyrics letting Williams play the role of honky-tonk
queen; “Jailhouse Tears,” the Costello duet, guitarist Pettibone subbing for
E.C. as the singers swapped lyric one-liners and laid the groundwork for the
song’s eventual arrival at countrypolitan-classic status; “If Wishes Were
Horses,” stately like a Tom Petty southern accent and luminous with brushed
drums, acoustic guitar and Lyster’s piano (“C’mon and give me one more chance,”
pleaded Williams, her voice crackling with emotion); “Little Rock Star,” an
atmospheric, U2-esque waltz-anthem highlighted by Pettibone’s soaring,
arpeggiated licks.

 

Positioned above the stage on both the left and right sides
were the venue’s video screens upon which were projected liquid light-styled
psychedelics. This was all well and good, but cameras also superimposed images
of the band members on the screens, and whether intentional or not, the fact
that the musicians were never fully in focus resulted in a kind of amateurishly
blurry, dawn-of-rock-videos effect better suited for a VH1-Classic flashback
segment than a 2008 concert. Perhaps it will be more convincing on larger
screens later in the tour. At one point the guy standing to my left pointed at
the screens and laughed in my ear, “It’s Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert!”

 

But that was the only technical hitch, and only a couple of
times did Williams and the band even seem to hesitate when going into the next
song (one reckons that they opted for a more fluid setlist when it became clear
that many of the usual staging and lighting cues wouldn’t be utilized). Fans
who wanted their dose of Vintage Lucinda – recall that Little Honey was still almost three weeks away from release, and
local radio was only just now beginning to preview songs from it – were
rewarded by plenty of the good ‘uns. Early in the show there was the always-gorgeous
“Steal Your Love,” from Essence. That
album’s equally timeless “Out Of Touch” proved a mid-set high point, sonically
an uplifting cross between Petty’s “Refugee” and Springsteen” “Promised Land”
and lyrically a meditation upon the psychic ties that can bind us together and
the emotional forces that can pull us apart. “I think this is appropriate for
the times,” Williams said by way of intro, and with one succinct statement she
brilliantly pulled the lens back to transform an intensely personal song into
one with contemporary universal resonance. Essence‘s
title track also sent a collective shudder of delight through the room as Buick
6 rolled the slinkysexycool tune’s hoodoo down and Williams dripped feral desire
in that indelible pumice-scraped voice of hers: “I am waiting…” she moaned,
over and over.

 

Other highlights included bruising, rocking, howling
versions of “Changed the Locks” (from Fillmore),
“Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings” (World Without Tears) and “Joy”  (Car
Wheels
), jokingly intro’d as “a great Bettye LaVette song” (the soul singer
famously covered the Williams composition on her 2005 album “I’ve Got My Own
Hell To Raise”). The latter was dirty blooze/roots rock at it finest,
eventually turning into a Pettibone-Lyster-Williams three-guitar jam session;
when Pettibone served up his second Led Zep nod of the evening by ripping off
metallic “Heartbreaker” riffs, Williams laughed and looked on delightedly.

 

Over two hours elapsed before the band finally left the
stage, but they came back quickly for a four-song encore. The next to last
number was prefaced by a brief political speech from Williams that was
definitely pro-Obama but steered clear of preaching, the singer instead emphasizing
how much is at stake this year and how important it is to get out to vote.
Then, with the musicians easing into a slow, loping groove (it initially fooled
some of us into thinking we were about to get “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten”), they unveiled
a note-perfect cover of “For What It’s Worth,” which is appropriate anytime but
is especially relevant during an election period. Williams’ voice was just as clear
as it had been at the beginning of the show, and she sang the tune with such an
uncommon conviction that the entire crowd sang along with her.

 

One last number and they were outta there: the AC/DC track which
closes the album. An entire room full of people moved in time to the crunching
rhythm, and as the song unfolded it seemed like Williams and her band had long
ago taken its titular manifesto to heart:

 

 

 

Ridin’ down the
highway
Goin’ to a show
Stop in all the byways
Playin’ rock ‘n’ roll
Gettin’ robbed
Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up
Broken boned
Gettin’ had
Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looks…

 

 

Well, maybe it is harder
than it looks from the outside looking in. Tonight, though, Williams made it
look easy. “I love all that shoutin’!” she’d whooped at one point earlier in
the evening, following a particularly raucous crowd response. And whether or
not she realized she’d already won us over and stolen our hearts, the
suggestion was that we’d stolen her heart
as well. I’m betting that as an artist she was pleasantly surprised by the way
the changed-venue events turned out. This evening, everybody was a winner.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Danny Clinch]

 

 

 

 

 

SEPARATED AT BIRTH Ian MacKaye & Ben Kingsley

WWIS? (What Would Ian
Say?) About the Kingsley-Minor Threat vid, that is. So we asked him.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

 

Take one sexy beast, mashup with one minor threat, puree in
a punk rock club, and whattaya get? One of the biggest stirs on the Internet took
place last week when the ever-entertaining Mean
Magazine
posted a video called “Sir Ben Kingsley STOMPS into the shoes of
Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye.” Scores of other websites – including your friendly
neighborhood BLURT – picked up on the 2 ½ minute clip and pretty soon the damn
thing was more viral than a classroom full of first graders.

 

 

It’s not hard to see why. The moment Kingsley steps through onto
the stage of The Viper Room – tellingly, the film shifts from color to black
and white, too – and tosses off his jacket to reveal a white teeshirt-clad
torso, you’re thrust into the middle of a retro hardcore video, Kingsley
punching the air and mouthing (lip-synching, somewhat awkwardly at times) the
lyrics to the song “Minor Threat” while a band churns mightily behind him and
the crowd thrashes, surfs and generally goes apeshit. More than one observer
has described the clip as must-see web TV at its most meta-referential.

 

 

What’s equally interesting is the response from the public
that followed. Music blogs and websites lit up like Main Street at
Christmastime, the response section at the Mean site in particular highlighting
the entire spectrum of opinion ranging from “what’s the point of this” to “this
is awesome” to “copyright infringing… co-opting other people’s hard work and
ethos is wack beyond belief.”

 

 

The latter posting was from someone going by the handle “You
All Suck”; seems there’s always going to be a humorless, politically correct
tightass ready to rain on other folks’ parades at the least little provocation.
(They’re usually too chickenshit to sign their real names to their rantings,
too.)

 

 

A few postings below YAS, however, there was “chrismac,” who
astutely observed, “That is a brilliant mash-up -or treatment or hybrid. And in
the midst of this we get lame and incredibly sad comments like “oooh, copyright
infringement” or Co-opting of other peoples work. Please people. Has the level
of discourse gotten to the point where it is impossible to reference or even
take on other people’s work? With all the pathetic pop culture out there I
found it refreshing to see how Kingsley clearly has absorbed that particular
moment in time – with one of the most interesting bands in hardcore. And by the
way, I saw Minor Threat play dozens of times – and Ben absolutely gets it….
spot on….”

 

 

So the question was duly raised – WWIS?

 

 

What, indeed, Would Ian MacKaye Say? So we decided to ask
him.

 

 

First of all, MacKaye was completely down with the concept
and was briefed beforehand, as he notes in an email. Writes MacKaye, “The
editor of Mean Magazine contacted me
prior to doing the shoot with Kingsley and asked if I would be OK with the
video idea. It struck me as completely absurd, so how could I say no?”

 

 

Clearly a man with a sense of humor AND perspective. We also
asked MacKaye if he had any thoughts on the whole notion of Sir Ben as a likely
punk band frontman too, and the esteemed Sexy
Beast
star’s overall portrayal.

 

 

MacKaye: “I’ve only looked at the video once or twice and
certainly wasn’t judging Kingsley’s ‘front man’ potential, mostly I reckon he
found the idea as unusual as I did and decided to give it a go. The real
creativity in this situation belongs to the people who dreamed up the unlikely
pairing. Clearly it was effective idea, as evidenced by the fact that you are
writing about it.”

 

 

Fair enough. And our hat is off to all concerned. So let’s
give credit where credit is due:

 

 

Video Credits:

 

Directed by Kashy Khaledi
Still Photography by Kurt Iswarienko
Cinematography by Byron Shah
Band portrayed by ANAVAN and Jackson Fledermaus
Styled by Ilaria Urbinati
Hair and Makeup by Lina Hanson
Mean Logo by Casey James
Editing by X1FX

 

 

The big question is – what next?  Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming BLURT
poll where we ask you, gentle readers, what actors you’d like to see portraying
which musical icons in newly-staged video clips. One wag on the BLURT staff has
already proposed a RE-staging of the Kingsley-as-MacKaye video, with possible
actors being Aziz Ansara as Kingsley and John Malkovich as MacKaye, or
possibly Michael Chiklis playing both Kingsley and MacKaye, or maybe even chrome-domed BLURT blogger Hamell On Trial turning the
whole thing into a Shakespearean farce, which would be super-duper meta-meta if
you think about it, so… stay tuned!

 

 

EH, BULLSHIT: The Tao of Tony Clifton

The enigmatic comedian rises again to drop his schlock
on the masses.

BY KENNY
HERZOG

 

I’ve been
warned to use Tony Clifton’s bathroom quickly before he arrives. And as he
barrels into the backstage area at B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill,
cigarette in hand and gruff, curmudgeonly demeanor in tow, you immediately
understand his caretakers’ urgency.

 

But then
you remember Clifton
isn’t real. Until you remember that he sort of is. Or that he is but he isn’t. For
the uninitiated, Clifton
was one of Andy Kafuman’s more beloved and controversial alter egos. His
three-hour-plus stage act was ostensibly a send-up of schlocky, Vegas-style
revues, with Clifton
crooning like Phil Hartman doing Frank Sinatra after 47 glasses of Gentleman
Jim. And since Kaufman’s 1984 passing, the Clifton character (oft-rumored to be
portrayed by Kaufman’s longtime creative partner Bob Zmuda) has been
sporadically resurrected, usually in conjunction with Kaufman-related
anniversaries.

 

But in the
ensuing years, Clifton
has portrayed Kaufman as an adversary, a hack who stole the singer’s routine
and claimed it as his own. Both the ongoing concept behind Clifton and its relentlessly deadpan
execution are meta-satirical and, in their own deliriously lowbrow way, high
art. And it’s subsequently impossible not to respond to his presence with equal
parts bemusement and abject nervousness.

 

A half hour
away from a rare New York set with his new band, the Katrina Kiss-My-Ass
Orchestra, the pink-blazer-sporting, mustachioed anti-icon buries his
considerable girth into the dressing room’s plush, wrap-around couch, cozies up
to Keely–one of three stunning, scantily clad Cliftonettes who joins him for
the interview–and bellows in a Midwestern affect to “fire away!”

 

Despite
his backing band’s nom de lounge,
Clifton denies that this tour has altruistic motives, insisting it’s community
service to spare him from charges of raping an elderly woman in The Big
Easy  (“What does 80-year-old pussy taste
like? Depends!”). “I don’t believe in that stuff,” he says of hurricane relief.
“I think these fuckin’ people should fuckin’ leave that town. I see a homeless
person, I’ll try and run them over.”

 

Clifton strays off topic more
than he comes anywhere near being focused, at this point diverting into a
tangent about people who try to spit-shine his windshield. (“Every fuckin’ time
they do the windows, you see it, they smear it all up. ‘Cause I think they take
their rag, and fuckin’ blow their nose and wipe their ass with it.”) He’s
essentially a bizarre intersection between your scatterbrained, prejudiced
grandfather and a pointedly angry Lenny Bruce.

 

To be
clear though, Clifton
doesn’t think “anything should be illegal,” hence his lament over the erosion
of 42nd Street’s
once-debauched environs. He specifically recalls an old XXX feature titled Black Meat, Asian Treat, in which “a
well-hung black guy” fornicated with “small, tight-pussied little Asian girls,”
with a sentimental glint in his sunglasses-shielded eyes.

 

As for the
performance itself, Clifton
gets agitated at audiences’ limited preconceptions. “People come to the show,
they think it’s gonna be just, ‘Tony, he’s insulting people, he’s pouring water
on people,'” he miffs. “That’s bullshit. We got a big fuckin’ revue… It’s gonna
blow you away.”

 

Such
fearlessness and showmanship was, of course, the M.O. of a certain storied comedian.
And, somewhat surprisingly, Clifton
is willing to talk about the man with whom he is most closely associated. Just
not fondly.

 

“Eh, bullshit,”
he moans. “That’s why we’re doing this fucking thing…  My thing ends May 16, ‘cause that’s the
anniversary of that fuckin’ silly-ass Jew bastard. He rode my coattails… You
look at the old clips of Merv Griffin, Dave Letterman, that is me. It ain’t
that fuck Andy Kaufman. It’s me… You come to my show, you wanna see Andy
Kaufman, you know what you do? You get yourself a flashlight and a shovel.”

 

A bit
riled up over discussing his deceased foe, Clifton emerges from his seat and
beckons the girls back to their dressing room so he can prepare for the show.
He slings his blazer back over his shoulders and fumbles for his lighter. And
while it’s abundantly clear that the man’s aesthetic has developed fashionably
relevant mothballs, his abrasive candor has somehow never circulated out of
style. Clifton
is, at the end of the day, a testament to being yourself, harboring no taboos
and taking no prisoners.

 

Or as he
distills his life philosophy, “If you are in a relationship, and if your
boyfriend or husband is not eating out your pussy, then you fuckin’ leave him.
Vice versa, if your wife or your girlfriend is not swallowing your cum, you get
out of there.”

 

KOAN ALONE Bart Davenport

San Fran indie-popster
enjoys the sound of one geek clapping.

 

By RANDY HARWARD

 

“The way Pete Townshend got tinnitus was not from his loud
amps at his gigs,” says Bart Davenport. Tinnitus-“this fucking ringing in my
ear that happens to me 24 hours a day,” he said about it-is the last thing the
San Francisco singer-songwriter’s music (at least the solo stuff) will give
you. It’s pretty stuff: lush, ambient, trance-inducing and a bunch of the other
adjectives people toss out to describe mellow music. But mellow, while it can’t
kill a fellow, can make your ears ring. Or click, tick, beep or buzz.

 

 

Townshend, says Davenport,
got tinnitus from the studio. “It was actually from hours and hours of wearing
headphones and cranking up the drums, cymbals and guitars in his headphones.”
And that’s how Davenport
himself became afflicted. Well, maybe live shows (especially the ones with his
early-nineties garage blues band The Loved Ones) had something to do with it.
But mainly, it’s from holing up in the studio and cranking up the drums,
cymbals, guitars-even if the ensuing music ain’t exactly analogous to The Who
guitarist’s mighty din.

 

 

Davenport deals in slick, smooth indie pop and soul; placid,
shimmering, immersive songs with backbeat that evoke images of a summit between
The Sea & Cake, Steely Dan, Mercury Rev, Squeeze and Philly soul. While The
Loved Ones dealt in ragged rock and blues, and his trio Honeycut dwelled in
“future funk,” this has been the sound on every “Bart Davenport” album since
2002’s Bart Davenport. And while
critics have eaten it up, all the East
Bay rock hacks want to help spread the
good word about their latent local legend, and music geeks sing Davenport’s praises, his
star has been slow to rise. He nonetheless does have an ardent, if not immense,
fan base.

 

 

“I have fans that love to write me and ask all sorts of
minute details,” he laughs. “Some guy in Texas
needs to know the third chord of a song.”

 

 

Davenport
is that guy, that artist. The one people discover and hold close to their
chests for as long as possible, choosing only the truly worthy among their
friends to hear these gilded, secret songs. It’s not faint praise, but after a
couple of decades and at least eight albums, one starts to wonder if the applause
will get any louder.

 

 

With his fifth album, Palaces,
Davenport’s
label Antenna Farm has hired big-shot music PR firm Press Here Publicity (Rilo
Kiley, White Stripes, Conor Oberst). “That’s kind of a step up,” he says, “to
be workin’ with them.” Fanfare, though, isn’t something he’s counting on.
Although he’s been making music “professionally or semi-professionally” for
over 20 years, and “I’m definitely not trying not to be heard,” Davenport
doesn’t know if widespread fame and acclaim are all that, or even just the bag
of chips. “The solo records are kind of my heart and soul,” he says. “Whatever reaction
they receive, I welcome.”

 

 

Even if it’s the sound of one geek clapping? 

 

 

“It’s really flattering to feel like there’s these two guys
in Stockholm who
just really love the songs and have been trying to push me on all their friends
and all the customers at their indie record store [and are] so passionate about
pushing my stuff and they don’t even know me. It’s specific individuals that
make a difference in my career and my life and what happens to me. I certainly
wouldn’t have toured Spain
all these times if it weren’t for this one guy who heard my first album and
wanted to license it for his label.”

 

 

So, yeah. More than any buzz in his ear, it’s the lone fan
expressing his admiration that keeps Davenport
donning the headphones and crafting platters. “When people with good musical
taste come along and say, ‘I know you’re not a household name but to me you’re
just tops’? That can be more flattering than mass appeal.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Brook Lane]

 

BEERS & POP WITH… Backyard Tire Fire

The pride of Bloomington get their working-class groove
on.

BY ANDY TENNILLE

 

“Yesterday was
pretty damn painful.”

 

Ed Anderson
sighs deeply, his grimace palpable over the thousands of miles of telephone line
separating me from his home in Bloomington,
Illinois. It’s the dog days of
summer, and the 35-year-old frontman for Backyard Tire Fire is lamenting
last night’s stinging loss by the Chicago Cubs at the hands of the St. Louis
Cardinals, the North Sider’s archrivals and perennial nemesis. 

 

“Man, they just
took a beating,” Anderson
says with the familiar disappointment of a life-long fan of baseball’s loveable
losers. “It was one of those days where the Cubs had nothing going, so I decided
I was gonna drink as many Budweisers as I could.”

 

Anderson is a Bud man, the very personification
the folks that famed broadcaster Harry Caray sang about in his 1985 “Cub Fan
Bud Man
” television commercials: beer-drinking, working-class
Midwesterners whose blue-collar work ethic is exceeded only by their
religious-like devotion to their local sports franchises.

 

That same
salt-of-the-earth persona is prevalent throughout the 10 songs Anderson penned for The Places We Lived, Backyard Tire Fire’s new album on Hyena
Records and by far their most ambitious effort to date.  Whether it’s the rollicking rocker “How In The
Hell Did You Get Back Here?” or the menacing, guitar-buzzing “Welcome To The
Factory,” Backyard Tire Fire has retained much of the stripped-down, dive-bar
charm that fans have come to appreciate from the group’s four previous studio
releases, but The Places We Lived also
represents a marked evolution into more melodic pop structures driven by
Anderson’s simple piano playing. Tunes like “The Places We Lived” and “Shoulda’
Shut It” seep with the pop sensibilities of the best of the Beatles, early Wilco
and classic REM whereas slower songs like “Rainy Day Don’t Go Away,”
“Everybody’s Down” and “Time With You” fit comfortably  alongside Randy Newman’s 12 Songs, Paul McCartney’s 1970 solo debut or John Hiatt’s Bring the Family.

 

Beyond their own
headlining shows supporting the release of The
Places We Lived
, Backyard Tire Fire will hit the road this fall with the
likes of Avett Brothers, Ha Ha Tonka, Rose
Hill Drive, Los Lobos and Squirrel Nut Zippers
before joining up with Reverend Horton Heat and Nashville Pussy for a few dates
in December. For all things Backyard Tire Fire, visit www.backyardtirefire.com.

 

***

 

BLURT: Let’s talk about this album. I’ve
really enjoyed spending time with it the last couple weeks and wanted to start
out by saying that it sounds like it’s your most expansive and ambitious album
to date. Would you agree?

 

EA: Well, I
always think that your latest records are your best. You can’t help but believe
that your newest work is the best that you’ve done, ‘cause that’s the idea: you
want to get better as you go along and learn more about yourself, about writing
and about working in the studio. I think it’s most representative of where
we’re at right now.

 

 

BLURT: Set the stage for me about this
record a little bit.

 

EA: That record
was made outside of a contract. The band financed it, and then we shopped it
around for a while before getting hooked up with Hyena Records.  It took several months to get through that
process. I think we recorded it like a year and a half ago, so it’s funny to do
interviews now about the album. I’m trying to put my head back in the space
where it was when we recorded it, ‘cause I’ve probably written two more albums since
this one was recorded.

 

 

BLURT: Is that difficult to do: putting
yourself back in the mind frame of an album you did so long ago?

 

EA: Yeah, it is tough
‘cause I do like to work fast. I record a lot of demos in my basement studio at
home. Most everything that’s on this new record was demoed there. I’ll demo the
stuff as it’s coming, which is cool, ‘cause I like to get it down while it’s
fresh.

 

 

BLURT: This new album seems more
ambitious than your past records for the simple fact that you guys sound more
comfortable in the studio now and open to experimenting a bit more now. I was
listening to the album last night and noticed the vocals on “One Wrong Turn”
and the loop on “Welcome to the Factory” are pretty out there. Are you guys are
getting more comfortable behind the knobs, playing with different sounds?

 

EA: For sure.
You can’t help but learn every time you’re in there, and we’re really lucky
enough to work with a good friend named Tony Sanfilippo who runs an analog
studio here in town called Oxide Lounge
Studios
. I think this is our fourth full length record that we’ve made in
that studio and we’ve done a couple EP’s in there, too, so we’ve got a
comfortable feeling there that allows us to stretch it out and experiment. Like
that loop on “Welcome to the Factory,” the idea for that was to take random,
non-musical objects and make music with them. If you listen to it, it’s like a
drill bit on a brake drum, an empty reel of tape scraped against a goose-necked
mic stand and a few other really weird sounds. We ended up coming up with this
really hypnotic, mechanical kind of feel.

 

I also like to
take things from the lyrics of a song and try and match the sounds to the words
or themes. On “The Places We Live,” I wanted to use the chimes ‘cause I felt
like they sounded like an old-time doorbell. That went thematically with the
whole subject matter of the song and really with the whole record for that
matter.

 

For the vocals
on “One Wrong Turn,” I sang through a table leg. It’s hollow and long and I got
a mic set at one end of it and a mic set by where I was singing into it. Between
the two mics, we got this isolated feeling, which is what the song’s all about.
We did the vocals on “Rainy Day Don’t Go Away” on a $10, piece-of-shit Radio
Shack microphone. We tried a bunch of different mics, but this was the one that
I liked ‘cause it gave the song a weirder, Tom Waits-y feel to it.

 

 

BLURT: It’s interesting that this album
is your most experimental to date, because I’d also say it’s the – and I don’t
want this to carry a negative connotation – but it’s also the poppiest of your
catalogue. It’s certainly the most Beatle-esque album that you guys have ever
done.

 

EA: I don’t
think “pop” is a bad word. I love pop music. I love Cheap Trick, I love Big
Star, and I love the Beatles. There’s definitely a pop element on this record,
and I don’t know if that was by design or anything like that. For the most
part, the songs just come out and they are what they are. This one just happens
to have more piano-driven songs, probably because I just happened to be sitting
at the piano more at that time when I was writing it. This album is more about
the words and the hooks and the tunes than it is about getting your face ripped
off with a guitar solo.

 

 

BLURT: It’s interesting too, ‘cause this
is a peak moment for you guys as a band as far as signing with Hyena, getting
out on the road, and growing your fanbase, but ironically the themes that run
through the album deal a lot with the idea of home.

 

EA: Well, it’s
hard not to think about home when you’re gone. You leave for six weeks or
something like that, and you can’t stop thinking about home sometimes. It’s not
that we don’t love the road, ‘cause we do. We’re road dogs, and I’ve done 200
nights a year for nearly a decade. I’m certainly not afraid of going out there
and traveling and playing and having a good time. I love that stuff, but at the
same time you can’t forget about those people who are waiting for you to come
home.

 

The song “Time
With You” on the record is written from my wife’s perspective and it was based
on a conversation we’d had after I’d been out on the road for six weeks. I was
in Burlington, VT – couldn’t be any farther away from home – and we’re having
this conversation and she’s like, “I just want to spend some time with you, is
that so wrong?” The song just kind of flowed out of that. There’s a very
chaotic section in the middle of the song where I just start hitting really
strange piano notes and play some dissident stuff, which was very
representative of the way I was feeling inside after that conversation. I was
just torn up.

 

Life as a
touring musician is a great thing, but it’ll also beat the living shit out of
you. And it will throw your personal life for a loop as well. We long to be
home when we’re on the road and then when we’re home we want to get back out on
the road. It’s a very strange dichotomy. I don’t really understand it, but it’s
the easiest thing to write about a lot of times ‘cause that’s what we do. I
haven’t written my last road song, I can promise you that.

 

 

BLURT: In an
interview on Chicago NPR
a couple years back, you said that your
songwriting was evolving from autobiographical to a more fictional,
storytelling approach, but a lot of the songs on this record are very intimate
and personal. Can you talk to me a little bit about that evolution and your
feelings towards wanting to write less autobiographically and more fictionally?

 

EA: It’s natural
to write about what’s going on in your life and what you’re going through, but I
think it’s good to take yourself out of your comfort zone as a songwriter.
Writing about something other than you accomplishes that. You can do anything
you want, ‘cause it’s completely fictional. It’s an open canvas. You can have
these characters do or say whatever you want. They don’t have to adhere to your
life or what you’re going through. If you’re able to write about people who
don’t even exist, then it’s limitless: you can do that forever. You can only
write so many songs about how much you love your wife, or how much you miss
being at home or out on the road. I think it’s a good thing for me to do as I
tend to be an introspective songwriter, like the classic tortured artist,
always tormenting himself. So it’s good for me to take a break and try to write
outside of my comfort zone.

 

 

BLURT: You
guys recorded some tunes at Sun Studios recently
. Tell me about that.

 

EA: Man, what an
experience that was. I’m telling you, man. That was like a religious kind of
thing, you know? I’m not a religious person, but that felt like church, it was
just…I had goosebumps. They fed us a bunch of Budweisers, and we were supposed
to do five songs but ended up doing 14. We were there until 2:00 in the
morning. We were supposed to be out of there by 11:00, and they had to throw us
out at 2:00. They loved us, and we loved them. It was amazing. The engineer was
totally cool and it was just…I can’t even describe it. It was an amazing
experience. You think about all the people that played there: Howlin’ Wolf, Ike
Turner, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. You just stand in that room, and you can
feel it. It’s there.

 

 

BLURT: In the video, you can see Roy
Orbison’s picture over your shoulder. Did you pull any covers out or was it just
all your material?

 

EA: Yeah, we
did. They told us going in that one of the five songs we were going to do had
to be a cover of a song that was originally recorded at Sun Studio.  So we did “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby”
by Carl Perkins. Later in the night, we covered “Lawyers Guns and Money.” I’m
glad I can say I covered “Lawyers, Guns and Money” at Sun Studio. (Laughs)

 

The funniest
part about that was that they fed us all these beers, and we’re having the time
of our lives. It wasn’t like they were shoving beers down our throat, but we
drank a lot of beer that night. After we were done recording, we were on cloud
nine, all buzzed and happy. Then they sit us down to do the interviews about
the songs we just recorded. If you see that interview, I’m slurring my words,
my brother’s just staring down at the floor and we’re joking with each other in
between questions. We’re drunk off our asses and just slap happy. It was like
the greatest night of our lives and one of the coolest musical experiences that
I’ve ever had. We’ve played a lot of shows in a lot of places, in pretty much
every state in the lower 48, through Canada, and on cruises, but that
night was something that I will absolutely never, ever forget. It was like a
religious experience.

 

We did 14 songs total,
and they’re all good. I’ve got the mixes. It should surface at some point,
‘cause it was all shot on nice digital video cameras and the audio was all
recorded in the control room. The images look sharp, the audio sounds great, so
at some point, more of that stuff will surface. I don’t know when, but it will.

 

 

BLURT: With your songwriting, typically
do words come first, does the music come first? How does it work for you?

 

EA: It could go
either way. Mostly, I’ll either come up with some progression on the acoustic
guitar or at the piano, and then I’ll kind of piece together a structure to a
song. A lot of times, the progression or the music that I’m coming up with will
make me feel a certain way. I’ll start humming a melody and then maybe like one
line will come – could be in the verse, could be in the chorus – and at that point
it’s off to the races. One line generally sparks the rest of it, but generally
it’s music first for me. But there’s no real right or wrong way to do it.
That’s one of the things I like about my job: I have very few rules that I need
to adhere to. I don’t take orders from anybody. I can write whatever I want to
write whenever I want to write it. It’s pretty cool. My wife will go to work
and come home for lunch and there will be something that’s created that wasn’t
there when she left.

 

 

BLURT: Your new album comes out on vinyl,
which has seen a bit of resurgence of late. Are you a vinylphile?

 

EA: Honestly, I
don’t even fucking buy CDs anymore. Does anybody?

 

 

BLURT: I don’t. It’s either vinyl or
digital now.

 

EA: Yeah, I
don’t even have a CD player here in the house anymore. It’s just a record
player, and I think one of the channels is blown on the receiver so I have to
listen to really old records that are in mono. (Laughs) I can’t wait until I get my copy of the new one on vinyl
though. I’ve never been able to drop the needle on one of my own records
before, so that’ll be really cool: twist up a fatty and listen to my own record
on the turntable. But I’ll only be able to hear half of the album, ‘cause one
of the channels is blown on the receiver. Some of the cool parts are gonna be
gone. Shit, I guess it’s time to get a new receiver. (Laughs)

 

 

BLURT: You guys have expanded from a trio
into a quartet recently. Tell me about your next guitarist and how that
transition has been.

 

EA: His name is
Fish Carpenter, and he played on Barroom
Semantics
, which was our second record. He’s an old friend of ours who runs
the sound at one of the local clubs and plays in a band with the guy that
co-produces all of our stuff and owns the studio. I feel a little bit bad ‘cause
we kind of stole him away from that band. We got their blessings and everything,
but I felt a little bad about stealing him away.

 

He’s a real good
guy and easy to get along with, which is almost as important as being a good
musician, because if you can’t get along with people, I don’t want you involved
in this. We like to play as a trio, but the live show has really evolved with
him and it’s kicking ass. These last couple months, we’ve been rehearsing with
him, playing some gigs and festivals here and there, and watched this trio turn
into a four piece. It’s really sounding good. We wanted to bring him in early
so when the record came out, we had him in place so we can play these songs
more like they are on the record. I’m playing a lot more keys live, because
we’ve got that guitar there and Fish sings good. It’s been fun to watch it
develop. Every gig feels a little more and more natural.

 

 

BLURT: The change makes sense because the
music that you were writing for this record feels more suited to a quartet than
a trio. Will the songs that you’re writing now require another guitarist or is
it back to the old trio format?

 

EA: No, I think
we’re evolving and heading into the direction of having someone else in the
band. I can feel that, ‘cause I’m writing stuff now with Fish in mind: I’m
actually thinking that a guitar part would be really cool working off this
other guitar part. It’s exciting for me as a songwriter because it means I have
another element to work with and write for. So that’s been really fun.

 

 

BLURT: Your records have always been…and
the word isn’t dense…but multi-layered, I guess. It’s not to say that the live
show didn’t deliver on what was represented on the records themselves, but
there was always that dichotomy with you guys as far as very lush sounding
recordings versus more stripped- down, live rock sets.

 

EA: Yeah, a real
loud, raw trio sound with dirty tones was what we’ve been known for as a live
band, but I never felt like we weren’t doing the songs justice. We were just
doing them in a different way: the only way that we could do them, honestly, as
a trio.

 

In the past,
we’ve been a band that did really cool studio stuff and then just adapted it to
the trio in the live setting. Something that maybe wasn’t a big guitar rocker on
an album would turn into one live cause we were a trio and that’s just how it
works. There has always been that division in the past with us. Now, the two
are kind of becoming one, and I think it’s a good thing. There’s an evolution
that’s happening right now with us that’s exciting. The live sound and the
studio sound are getting closer, and I feel a lot more relaxed. I don’t feel
like I have to play as much; I can actually take my hands off the guitar in
certain places and let Fish go for it. I’ve never had that luxury, so it’s
pretty cool.

 

 

OLD RARE NEW The Indie Record Shop


New book shouts it out
loud: Viva la vinyl (and its devotees)!

BY FRED MILLS

 

The Flaming Lips used to have these whacked-out looking
teeshirts featuring a leering Godzilla and bearing the legend, “Your mother’s
not dead, she’s just sleeping.” The same could be said of indie record stores
nowadays: doomsday predictions of their en
masse
demise notwithstanding, by some estimation they’re still thriving.

 

That’s the underlying premise of Old Rare New (Black Dog; www.blackdogonline.com),
edited by Emma Pettit and Nadine Käthe Monem. The 144-page, 9 ½-inch-by-11-inch
combination essay/photo book both mourns the passing of those dusty, musty, hole-in-the-wall
collectors shops no longer with us and celebrates the resilience of those
who’ve hung in there, either by adapting to the vicissitudes of the music
industry (say, establishing a companion online business) or through sheer
bloody-mindedness and the loyalty (or lunacy) of their customer base.

 

In Pettit’s introductory essay, she explains that the book
grew out of a film she and a friend wanted to make about the changing face of
music production and consumption. In the course of their travels they talked to
scores of owners and collectors and accumulated a trove of photos of shops from
across the U.S. and England: spotlighted in the book are images of storefronts
and overflowing LP bins from such eclectic emporiums as Brooklyn’s Marquis
Dance Hall, Manhattan’s Finyl Vinyl, Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart, San
Francisco’s Amoeba, London’s Rock On and others (they even unearthed a
circa-1908 photo of the front window of the Victor shop, complete with a model
of Nipper). The book is also dotted with drool-inducing pics of  vintage record labels, rare LPs and 45s (two
personal faves: a thuggish-looking Guy Warren of Ghana glaring out from the
front of his 1963 album Afro Jazz;
Krautrock kosmiche obscuros Karthago
crack-in-the-cosmic-egg sleeve of their self-titler from ’71). And there’s a
four-page directory of collectors shops in Britain and the U.S that, while
hardly comprehensive – four still-extant such venues not listed came immediately
to mind as I perused it – would still be pretty damn handy for anyone embarking
upon an extended record trawling journey.

 

 The meat of the book,
though, comes from the store owners, deejays, journalists, collectors and
musicians that Pettit solicited to tell their stories.

 

Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley (who, one presumes, wears at
least four of those five hats simultaneously), for example, talks about being
initially smitten by the visual allure of his father’s records – “They seemed
mysterious and important. The coloured labels had me hooked.” – and, later,
when he was old enough to carry cash around 
in his pockets, the thrill of discovering London stores like Beano’s,
Bonaparte’s and Rough Trade. Somehow, Stanley’s essay morphs into a
mini-tutorial on the history of sound recordings, going all the way back to
Edison and his cylinders, stopping to sing the praises of 78 rpm records, and
outlining how the changing needs and desires of consumers (and the
corresponding competition among record labels) gradually led to the creation of
the LP and it’s kid brother, the 45 rpm single. Writes Stanley, “40 years on, [vinyl’s] mystery is
intact, and the act of guiding the needle onto any of them is as close to
religious practice as I’m ever going to get.”

 

 Cat Power’s Chan
Marshall, in a lively Q&A, drops her guard completely when she reminisces
about past record shopping expeditions and some of her most beloved finds; for
anyone reading this article who can help, she’s still looking for a copy of
John Coltrane’s Crescent on vinyl. Devendra
Banhart, Will Oldham, Billy Childish, Joe Boyd, Makota Kawabata and others
offer similar anecdotes – it’s interesting how, practically to a man (and in a
few instances, woman, although Marshall’s the exception rather than the rule
here it seems), each respondent mentions in some context how they just don’t
get no kick from shopping via mouse click and how, eBay’s utility
notwithstanding, people’s ability to go collecting in front of their computer
screens has sorely eroded the social aspects of the hobby.

 

This
in addition to the sensory aspect of crate digging: another recurring theme in
the book is how there’s just something inherently pleasing about holding a
record, turning it over and around and admiring the artwork, engaging in the
physical act of sliding it from its sleeve and placing it on the turntable, and
watching the stylus engage its grooves as the tone arm tracks across the black
(and sometimes white, or red, or multicolored swirl…) vinyl expanse. And
records have also withstood the endurance test. Each time a new technological
wrinkle in music delivery systems comes down the pike early adopters and
doomsday mongers alike smugly announce the demise of vinyl, seemingly oblivious
to the fact that of all the formats
utilized over the years to crank the jams – iPods, CDs and their audiophile
variants (does anyone even remember Super Audio CDs nowadays? those are sooo, like, 2006!), compact cassettes,
etc. – the LP is the only format that’s truly stood the test of time.

 

Vinyl’s
gonna last, and not just on an aesthetic level, either. Long after radiation
from global atomic war has wiped every hard drive clean of its stash of MP3s,
our record collections will still be with us, waiting patiently down in our
darkened basements, perched on their shelves like big black 12″-diameter
cockroaches.

 

This
analog-powered endurance can seem curious on some levels, of course. Vinyl has,
for all intents and purposes, zero portability unless you own a battery powered
phonograph player (and try spinning a platter while taking the subway to work).
It’s inconvenient to the point of being a space hog – what you can physically
shelve against the north-facing wall of a 120-square foot room could probably
be stored, tunes-wise, on a single iPod – not to mention a significant
financial drain if you are in the habit of moving frequently (guess how much
Mayflower charged me to truck my 10,000-plus record collection cross-country in
1992 and then back across in 2001). And to get really good sound out of vinyl
you need to invest in high end audio gear, which can be time consuming and extraordinarily
expensive – and for some, a life-long obsession, a quest for sonic perfection that
may never be attainable.

 

The
convenience factor, however, is actually a non-issue for true vinyl fans. In
fact, one might propose that the absence of convenience and portability is a positive
quality for folks who collect vinyl. That’s something that comes through loud
and clear in the essays collected in Old
Rare New
. Forced to gather in a
static environment – a room of a house – and commune as a group while a record plays
on a stereo (my first one: a drop-down Magnavox, complete with 16, 33, 45 and
78 rpm settings), humans suddenly find themselves with artistic, conversational
and, whether your dance of choice be the pogo or the foxtrot, physical common
ground.

 

This
ain’t your sit-on-subway-with-earbuds-and-vacant-look-on-face method of musical
consumption, in other words. When iPods were first introduced there was a brief
phase where people would greet fellow iPodders by swapping earbuds for a song
or two in order to hear what was in each other’s playlist, but we’ve long
passed novelty status for iPods. They’ve become tools of isolation, not
interaction.

 

The best essay in Old
Rare New
seems to get at the heart of all these matters, and it’s titled,
fittingly enough, “My Life In Record Stores: A Cautionary Tale.” Penned by rock
critic/archivist Byron Coley, it chronicles one man’s journey from wide-eyed
pre-teen to savvy/cynical collector to record store clerk (fun fact: Coley took
Steve Wynn’s place at Rhino in L.A. in the early ‘80s when Wynn left to focus
on his band the Dream Syndicate) to operator of his own business,
Massachusetts’ Ecstatic Yod. While not everyone has immersed themselves so
utterly in vinyl culture as Coley, anyone who’s ever whiled away the hours (and
the paychecks) pawing through the bins of thrift stores, mom ‘n’ pop shops and
businesses catering exclusively to hard-core collectors will get a whiff of
recognition from the piece.

 

“[There are] people who are lifers, committed to independent
music from here to whenever,” writes Coley, and while he’s describing himself
and his professional peer group, he might as well be talking about you or me.
“If they have enough room, this group tends to prefer vinyl. They only turn to
Amazon when all else fails, and they’re more interested in hearing new things
than they are finding stuff they already know.”

 

Coley then pretty much summarizes where we’ve been, how we
got to the current state of affairs, and why those doomsday predictions are way
premature:

 

“There is nothing quite like walking into a strange little
record store, and finding a record you’ve been after for so long, you didn’t
even remember you wanted it until you flipped through the bin and saw it. There
is no similar charge available online, and it can’t be gotten from a CD. There
is something unique to vinyl and little stores and the people who live to
breathe their air. Our numbers may be dwindling (or maybe not), but as long as
there are any of us, independent record stores will never die.”

 

Boy howdy to that. Like the dude said, as long as there are
record collectors (which is to say, forever), there will be a place for record
stores. They might have to upgrade the tech end of their businesses and flog
their wares online in addition to their day-to-day activities in the brick ‘n’
mortar realm. They might have to shove some of the bins aside and make room for
a small performance space in order to attract those types of customers that
need more bang for their sensory experience buck (but who, per what I wrote above,
desperately desire that social element). They might even have to sell
superfluous trinkets, geegaws, rolling papers, teeshirts, even the stray bottle
of bootleg whiskey under the counter, to survive.

 

But don’t even think of counting ‘em out.

 

 

[Note: portions of
this article were excerpted from an earlier original essay about the
demise/resurrection of vinyl penned by yours truly for Stomp & Stammer
magazine.
]

 

 

SPIRIT DREAM Patti Smith

A striking new documentary
arose from unlikely circumstances.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

Patti Smith: Dream of
Life
may indeed be a lovingly photographed tone poem of a film that, for a
documentary, is shockingly active in its pursuit of the present rather than
just its subject’s past. Both sides of Smith are crucial to consider; her rise
from Piss Factory poetess and Mapplethorpe muse to punk doyenne and
post-nuclear age Beat Gen icon; from single Jersey
girl to wife of a legendary equal to widow and beyond; from respected authoress
to earth mother.

 

But that it was patiently and passionately shot across an
eleven year period by a first-time feature director whose usual mien is fast
fashion – by a photographer who knew little of his subject to begin with – is more
fascinating.

 

“Yet as soon as I met her asked if I could film her with no
intention of it being anything but what it was,” says director Steve Sebring
right after a fashion shoot in a voice soft, slow and familiar. “I just wanted
to document her in a cool way.” That he did.

 

Sebring, a 42 year old lensman who shoots lanky models and
petulant actors daily and has done shorts for Coach and DKNY would seem on the
short list of documentarians for Smith; that is, if Smith have ever considered
the idea. “She told me about being approached – big names too – but the first
thing they did was shove a contract in her face,” notes Sebring. That’s not her
style. “And I wasn’t looking to do anything traditional.” That’s not his style.

There was no style to start. In 1995, Sebring showed up at her Detroit home at a time after husband/MC5
guitarist Fred Smith’s passing and that of Patti’s brother Todd and her
keyboardist Richard Sohl. She had toured since the release of Wave in 1979 and was considering doing
shows at the urging of Bob Dylan and new photographs at the provocation of
Michael Stipe.

 

“There was a list of photographers she had to approve
because she doesn’t like to be photographed – Avedon, Lebovitz. But Michael
suggested me. So I showed up, knocked on the door of the little castle-y home
with all this wild ivy grown around it and Patti answered the door in a long
t-shirt and bare feet. I think she forgot about me.

Sebring wasn’t a fawning fan of Smith’s but found himself bonding immediately
with her and totally enraptured with the day’s long coffee talk and chilled-out
recollection of Smith’s life, children and the photos of Burroughs and Ginsberg
that adorn her home. “I didn’t even pick up a camera until the end of the day,
I was so lost in our connection. We bonded.”

 

Next thing you know Sebring’s shooting an Irving Plaza
show in Manhattan (‘She was spitting, angry, on
fire, not the same Patti I met at her house”) and a London gig with Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye
in tow. She had let Sebring in – a rarity amongst those who know and walk
softly within Smith’s inner circle.

 

“Lenny grabbed me in London
and told me, ‘You realize the situation don’t you? No one ever gets in.””

Sebring was humbled. And his future with Smith was set. He just kept showing up
and shooting film footage of her when he could – all self-financed. Smith
allowed Sebring to do this because he never brought up money or future or
rights; never had a goal beyond just capturing Patti Smith, getting to know
Patti Smith. “And now we’re like family, which is why I think the film is so
intimate,” says Sebring, who’s proud of winning 2008’s Sundance Cinematography
Award for his photographic ability to capture Smith as his lens-flaring cinematic
inspirations Welles and Kurosawa did their actors. “To get her in her bedroom
talking, showing me Robert’s [Mapplethorpe’s] ashes; could you image Dylan
doing that?”

 

Usually without a crew save for his own strong back (“a lot
of lugging”), Sebring captured Smith in her rare precious moments – at graves,
at readings, a home. It wasn’t until 2007 when, after he looked at his footage,
that Sebring and Smith formed a company in order to release what he shot
through Palm Pictures.

 

“I’m proud of being her messenger. I want everybody to know
about her if they already don’t. When I started I knew there was a real aura
around her – intimidating yet beautiful. But she knew I just trying to make
some cool art.”

 

When asked if he had to make the film into a short, what
footage could he not live without, Sebring reaffirms the deeply personal nature
of the project.

 

“It’s the beginning of the film where she’s singing ‘Jackson’s
Song’ and standing at Fred’s grave – that was a turning point for her, a new
beginning. Being in the Detroit
house and she’s alone in the space with the bottle where Fred had his last
drink after standing at his grave; as far as this project goes, that was a big,
big thing.

 

“There are shots of Patti where she’s standing at the wall
of the farmhouse where Rimbaud wrote A
Season in Hell
. But… the footage at the Smith house and his grave; there’s
so much of Fred’s spirit in the film it’s haunting.”

 

 

HELTER SKELTER THE MUSICAL Charles Manson

The hills are alive with the sound of The
Family…

BY MIKE
SHANLEY

 

 

 

The ESP-Disk
label has maintained a four-decade reputation as a credible underground label in
part because many of its releases were of dubious quality and would never have
seen the light day otherwise. So along with seminal albums by the Fugs, Albert
Ayler and Pearls Before Swine, there came the awful-yet-fascinating Erica
Pomerance, Cromagnon and MIJ the Yodeling Astrologer. And all these years
later, some of them would fit right in on a playlist with any supposed freak
folk act. Ahead of their time? And how.

 

Then
there’s sweet Charlie Manson, who sings about love and how it will find your
young heart. There was a time, when
lines like that – and a handsomely hirsute face like Michael “Meathead” Stivic
or LA Woman-era Jim Morrison – could woo a young woman’s heart. Good
thing the revolution never came.

 

Sings has been released by several
labels, including ESP and Awareness, an imprint created by Phil Kaufman, the
man to whom Manson passed these recordings when both were in jail.  ESP issued Sings in the early ‘70s under the title LIE after Manson was serving a life sentence; label founder Bernard
Stollman compares its release to Alfred Knopf’s publishing of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. There was a time, he recalls
in the liner notes, that the Manson family trial seemed like little more than a
government plot to discredit the hippie movement. The songs include uncredited
contributions from members of the Manson family, and thereby warrant their
release, he says. All royalties from sales of the record are paid by the label to
the estate of Wojciech Frykowski, an actor and victim in the Polanski murders, whose
family won a civil suit against Manson. So you can listen to the latest
reissue, from the rejuvenated ESP (www.espdisk.com)
with a clear conscience.

 

Still,
that gives no indication about what it sounds like. For the uninitiated “Look
at Your Game Girl,” starts the album with the idea that maybe there was a
sensitive side to Charlie, with its sweet seventh chords and his gentle voice.

 

That
lasts all of 2:01.

 

“Ego”
begins with a sinister strumming, some sloppy hand drums and what sounds like two
voices in his head escaping onto the tape: “It’s inside. It’s in the back. The
front. No, it’s in the back, no it’s in the front….. they shoved it in the
back… all the love in the back.” Any chance of separating the image of this
aspiring folk singer from the guy in jail with swastikas on his forehead ends
with the second track.

 

Some of
the songs, which were recorded in 1967-68, reveal a half-decent songwriter, but
with a total of 26 of them – the original album had 14 – they all get lost in a
sea of banged acoustic guitars and plain melodies. A few things do stand out. The
39-second, chirpy “I’ll Never Say Never to Always,” sung by anonymous females,
was probably meant to sound sweet, but it now evokes images of knife-wielding
chicks. Manson cracks himself up in “Devil Man” after singing, “All we want is
your evil soul,” as if he might not have taken himself too seriously at one
time. A three-minute interview includes the Manson-ism, “I was so smart when I
was a kid, that I learned that I was dumb.”

 

One
tantalizing side note: the song “Cease to Exist” had so impressed Dennis Wilson
(who for a short period had come into Manson’s orbit) that in 1968 he convinced
his fellow Beach Boys to cut a version of it, with him on lead vocals and
retitled “Never Learn Not to Love.” The song appeared on the album 20/20 and as the B-side to “Bluebirds
Over the Mountain.” Significantly, it did not bear Manson’s name; Manson was reportedly paid an undisclosed amount of cash
and Wilson took
the songwriting credit.

 

Cultural
baggage and dubious artistic quality aside, this oddity deserves high marks for its mere existence. And
in the ESP canon, it sounds as oddly entertaining as the Godz’s imitations of
horny felines on “White Cat Heat.”

 

 

 Track
Listing

1      Look at Your Game, Girl 
    (2:01)         
2     Ego     (2:26)
           
3     Mechanical Man    
(3:15)            
4     People Say I’m No Good
    (3:16)         
5     Home Is Where You’re Happy
    (1:26) 
6     Arkansas     (3:02)
           
7     I’ll Never Say Never to Always
    (0:39)  
8     Garbage Dump     (2:32)
           
9     Don’t Do Anything Illegal
    (2:49)          
10     Sick City     (1:31)
           
11     Cease to Exist    
(2:10)            
12     Big Iron Door    
(1:08)            
13     I Once Knew a Man    
(2:31)            
14     Eyes of a Dreamer    
(2:32)            
15     Devil Man     (2:30)
           
16     More You Love    
(1:40)            
17     Two Pair of Shoes    
(1:56)            
18     Maiden with Green Eyes (Remember Me)
    (1:24)            
19     Swamp Girl     (1:57)
           
20     Bet You Think I Care
    (2:11)            
21     Look at Your Game, Girl (Alternate
Version)     (1:45)          
 
22     Interview     (3:15)
           
23     Who to Blame    
(2:26)            
24     True Love You Will Find
    (2:52)          
25     My World     (1:44)
           
26     Invisible Tears    
(1:33)

 

 

[Manson
montage courtesy IrfanView]

 

TEMPTING FATE Dr. Dog

It’s one small step
for mankind, one giant leap for the Philly popsters.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Of all the bands and all the bars and all the bar bands to
be found in the world, few have as much rough luster as the West Philadelphia
quintet Dr. Dog.

 

Terpsichore psychedelic pop with rich barbershop harmonies;
thick mirthful melodies spread thick with sticky rough-hewn rainbow jam; dense
reverberation and noisiness – that’s the Dog. That doesn’t count dreamy singer-songwriters
Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman’s creamy lead vocals and how those sounds act
like icing on an already tasty cake.

 

That’s an easy description of sillier Dog discs like Psychedelic Swamp (2001), Toothbrush (2002) and sturdier rockers Easy Beat (2005) and We All Belong (2007). But with Dr. Dog’s
new CD, Fate the ante has been upped,
the stakes made higher and the chips made more costly with the likes of “The Dearly Departed” and “Is It
Worth My Time?” showing off the Dog’s more woeful, weary side and an
instrumental weightiness surprising but hardly shocking. Plus the whole thing
just shines.

 

“I don’t think we had any real intention to make a weightier
album,” says Leaman, the Dog’s bassist and co-leader. “I suppose those were the
songs we gravitated towards because they were the ones that were working.” That may mean that other songs
weren’t working as well. But if you know anything about Dr. Dog you know that “Working”
seems to be emphasized, because make no mistake – Dr. Dog works hard.

 

Always did.

 

Ever since McMicken and Leaman were part of the nervous Philadelphia pop band,
Raccoon. The frantic-est of Philly’s eccentrics, Raccoon offered a quirky
Talking Heads-like twist to the usual coo of Beatles-like melodies throughout
that band’s initial tenure. There, in Raccoon-land Leaman and McMicken began
their collaboration, even though other friends like Andrew Jones lead the way.

 

“This is the way we’ve always done it,” starts Leaman, by
way of careful explanation. “The bones of any given song are written by just one
of us; the changes, the lyrics, the bulk of the structure. That’s what’s done
before we show the song to each other or the band. The recording of the song,
that’s where the collaboration comes in. All the flesh and all the hair.”

To that end, Leaman readily admits that the Dog is a fleshy being and that
they’ve cared for each other’s extremities as though they’re their own. “It
usually doesn’t matter who wrote it. The songs are Dr. Dog songs.”

 

Even when things aren’t totally hackey-sack smooth between
all members, every song is a Dog. “Don’t kid yourself. The vibe is not always
chill at Dr. Dog central, “says Leaman. “Things can get pretty heated, brutal
and severe.”

 

This goes in stark contrast to what gets said about the Philadelphia band –
patchwork-quilt happy hippie-ness and such – in print and on-line. “I don’t
care how people describe us, but it seems that “hippy” is used as an insult,”
says Leaman. “I don’t find it insulting. Because I really don’t think people
know what they mean.”

 

So then three questions come to mind in describing Dr. Dog’s
potential hippie-ness.

 

BLURT: when was the
last time somebody played hackey-sack?
T.L.: Anytime we’re out of the van, sometimes when we’re really feeling it,
inside the van.

BLURT: When was the
last time Dog smoked strawberry rolled joints

T.L.: Only if we’re
out of watermelon flavored papers

BLURT: When was the
last occasion in which you did mushrooms?

T.L: Last night during
a Ratdog cover band concert I streamed off line.

 

You can’t make that up.

 

The other thing you can’t make up is the wealth of good
feelings that seem to come their way as well as the nice vibes emanating from
each of the Dogs. Seriously, if you get around Zach Miller, Juston Stens or
Sukey Jumps, you just want to say something positive to them. My Morning Jacket
did when they helped push the Dog and their then-new Easy Beat CD when the good Dr. was MMJ’s touring mates. “Those guys
have always helped us out,” notes Leaman. “They showed us how to tour like real
humans.”

 

Even fellow Philly bands showed the Dog camaraderie and
love. And that’s not something all Philadelphia
acts – save for the Roots – are known for. But within Dr. Dog’s circle there
are a bunch of players doing their own thing and hoping for the best for
everybody. “Buried Beds, Hoots and HellMouth, Make a Rising, National Eye – these
bands are all the real deal.” These are some of the better known Philly bands
that Dr. Dog’s befriended throughout their time in. Coming from Philly as I do,
I know few people who don’t dig the Dog and haven’t appreciated all Dog
efforts.

 

That doesn’t mean that all their work sounds the same or
that there’s a necessary connectivity. While Leaman sees and hears no real
intentional connection among all Dr. Dog albums (“Can’t say that there’s a
direction we are headed, or a place we’re coming from”) he will joke about the
band’s karma in relationship to what Fate is and what its endgame became.

 

“None of us has done anything too heinous to anyone else. I
suppose if karma can apply to yourself, I’ve violated myself in unforgivable
ways; done irrefutable damage. And for that I am sorry.” He even tells himself
he’s forgiven and how much he loves himself before our chat’s end. As for the
real formulating behind and between Fate,
the idea at first was but one song – a dizzyingly psychedelic track that got
renamed “The Beach” – that seemed to touch on mortality and the inevitable. “We
had a lot of songs written about things you can’t really put your finger on, things
you know are there, that affect or relate to us but are somehow intangible. Once
we decided on the intangibles, we threw out the songs that didn’t fit.”

 

Fuller than their last two albums (thanks to Dog pal Brendan
Cooney who wrote the strings and horns for all three albums), Fate found their collaboration deeper
than ever before. There’s more nuance and muscle to the lines of harmony,
greater density to the weight of the flourish. For Fate, Dr. Dog wanted strings and horns as more than mere
ornamentation. They wanted integration. “We agreed that the strings and horns would
serve the same purpose as any other instrument, as opposed to sitting on top,”
states Leaman. “In turn, the lines are more nuanced not your typical block
harmonies or instrumentation.”

 

Along with its sense of weight forlorn in its melodies,
there seems to be an image that runs through Fate like rails – the several mentions of trains to be found
throughout the album.

BLURT: What’s with all the train stuff ­
is it sex, is it meant to portray an America gone by, a hard work ethic, some
sense of distance?

T.L.: The train goes
along with the idea of fate. The tracks are endless but the cars can’t waver,
can’t leave the rails. The lines have been laid in advance.

BLURT: Can y’all count
the amount of times you use that particular metaphor?

T.L.: Fifteen.

 

Lyrically, there’s more pragmatic resignation (“Uncovering
the Old”) to be found within Fate‘s
walls along with the woe the Dog has observed in previous efforts. “There has
always been a sense of forlorn in our songs,” notes Leaman, pointing out how
lots of the songs on We All Belong
“Worst Trip,” “Die, Die, Die,” “Ain’t it Strange” – are downers of a the most
lyrical sort.

 

“I think we often try to offset the weight of the lyrics
with a lighter feel musically,” says Leaman, tempting the fates and Fate
itself. “Yes, it can be confusing. But a lot of our feel good songs were
written tip-toed on a stool.”

 

Spoken like a true gentleman on the edge.