Monthly Archives: September 2013

THE HANDSOME FAMILY – Wilderness

Album: Wilderness

Artist: Handsome Family

Label: Carrot Top

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Handsome Family

www.carrottoprecords.com

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 Although they’ll never be mistaken for the most upbeat band, suffice it to say the Handsome Family has struck a new high — or, shall we say, low — when it comes to pure melancholia. It says something about the set list when the most energetic entry — “Lizard” — qualifies for that distinction based solely on its pervasive strum. Its terse nature is not only hinted at in the title — a wilderness is generally sparse and barren after all — but also in the understated implications of the song selection itself, i.e. “Flies,” “Frogs,” “Eels,” et al.

 Still, those familiar with this husband-wife duo ought not be surprised; the pair’s fascination with gothic imagery along with murder ballads, harrowing mysteries, and bleak, unfettered narratives has been a constant of their style since very early on. It’s realised here as well in each of these dozen songs, a consistent procession of solemn soliloquies and mournful laments. Nevertheless, however stark and sobering it appears, Wilderness is also striking in any number of ways — from the weeping steel guitar in “Owls” and the high strung harmonies of “Spider,” to the prominent tack piano in “Wildebeest” and the shimmer that surrounds it all round. They sound a cautionary note strongly suggesting the listener ought not be lulled into indifference by somber sentiment. Just as “Gulls” and “Eels” find moments of transcendent beauty, it’s the mark of this record that it’s both sublime and subdued.

 DOWNLOAD: “Gulls,” “Spider,” “Owls”

YELLOWBIRDS – Songs from the Vanished Frontier

Album: Songs from the Vanished Frontier

Artist: Yellowbirds

Label: Royal Potato Family

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Yellowbirds May 28

www.royalpotatofamily.com

BY JOHN SCHACHT

There are records that beg a longer courtship for their full seductive powers to take effect, and they are often the ones whose impact marks us the most. Such is the case with Sam Cohen’s second LP as Yellowbirds, whose warm and rich textures, spectral voices, and existential and lovelorn themes have the power to charm beyond their pop song formats.

In these nine tracks, Yellowbirds branch out sonically from the twang-infused bedroom folk and pop of the band’s well-received 2011 debut, Color. Moving to a fully equipped studio for Vanished Frontier’s recording, the songs emerge significantly more polished —imagine a leap from the Love Language’s analog murk to the Shins sparkling pop, and you’ve got an idea of the production difference.

But where that transition and its surfeit of options submerge too many bands in sonic overload, Yellowbirds instead make judicious use of the new toys at their disposal. That puts the emphasis squarely on Cohen’s sun-dappled songwriting, where it blooms like an evening sky over the Pacific. Succinct pop tracks like “Young Men of Promise” (surely a James Mercer outtake?) and the autumnal, Clientele-like “Julian” work so well because the fundamental elements —strummed acoustic or subtle electric syncopation, robust bass lines, crisp drumming —never get overshadowed, even in the more fully arranged instrumental bridges.

Those tracks contrast wonderfully with the more indie psych fare that recalls Cohen’s previous band, Apollo Sunshine. “The Ceiling,” a hazy five-minute trip, features feedback bursts detonating around Annie Nero’s evocative bass — revelatory throughout the LP — like depth charges above a low-running sub. Cohen’s reverb-laden vocals on “Love Stories” suggest Roy Orbison singing the English Beat’s “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” while the textures on opening track “Stop Tonight” — harp glissandos billowing around baritone guitar lines — read like Jens Lekman’s off-beat R&B pop.

Cohen’s laid-back singing and pleasant alto are the glue holding these styles together, with the additional bonus that they mirror the mysteries-of-love-and-life narratives to a tee. On the elegant processional “For Girls Who Love to Sing,” subtle glitch effects blend with Beachwood Sparks-like guitars-and-harpsichord atmospherics as Cohen questions his relationship luck: “All the gentlemen falling at your feet/Would you break their hearts/let them taste defeat?/How could you love a boy like me? You’re just too pretty.” And on the disc-ending ballad, “What’s Out There,” Cohen croons like a higher register Benji Hughes over the baritone guitar riff and Bacharach-like strings, wondering why he should care about “what’s out there.” The song drifts off beautifully into a dreamy jam, one that serves as its own counter-point to his question.

That song, like many here, works steadily and sure-footedly through its buildup into its slow-burn crescendo. From that standpoint, it’s similar to how repeat plays of Songs From the Vanished Frontier eventually win your heart over so naturally and memorably.

DOWNLOAD: “Stop Tonight” “The Ceiling” “Mean Maybe” “For Girls Who Love to Sing”

THE NATIONAL 9/11/13, Charlotte NC

Dates: September 11, 2013

Location: The Fillmore, Charlotte NC

_MG_8569

BY MERRICK MARQUIE AND RYAN MORRIS

          The National played recently at the Fillmore in Charlotte, NC, as part of their Trouble Will Find Me tour. Opening for them was the Scottish folk band Frightened Rabbit.

          During the nearly two-and-a-half hour long set, lead singer Matt Berninger barely looked at the audience, but still, he had the most profound connection with them. After every song, he would turn around and face the back of the stage, half-stumbling and often taking sips from various solo cups, but he always seemed to get back to the microphone at exactly the perfect time.

          He played to a sold out audience of approx. 2,000, but in spite of this, his tone was extraordinarily intimate. The songs carried an effortless, conversational quality to them, as if Berninger wasn’t even trying; he was just saying what came to mind. And if what came to mind just so happened to be beautiful, so be it.

_MG_8527

_MG_8619

_MG_8541

          Throughout the set, Berninger was always in control, a feat that was all the more impressive given how much wine he was seen to drink. He stumbled on occasion, handed a bottle of red wine to an audience member, and generally just caused antics on stage. It’s little wonder that a picture was later posted to the band’s Facebook page showing a tally of how many microphones and stands Berninger had broken over the course of the tour.

At one point during ‘Squalor Victoria,’ Berninger just knocked the stand completely to the ground, looking like he intended to walk out right then and there, before stooping to pick up the microphone and immediately begin screaming the refrain in what was a dramatic and powerful shift in tone.

          Thanks to Berninger’s persona, though, these acts never seemed sad or malicious; instead, it merely added to the band’s on-stage presence and aura of mystique.

          Berninger’s voice was nearly drowned out by the crowd during the song ‘Fake Empire,’ a classic from their album Boxer which was requested by the audience throughout their night. Its inclusion seemed almost a relief to the crowd as they screamed along “..staying out, super late, tonight!” The intensely personal and often self-deprecating songs were shared with thousands of people as if they were each individually the only person in the room.

_MG_8552

_MG_8674

_MG_8535

The band played four songs for the encore, beginning with ‘Sorrow,’ one of the more popular songs from the band’s previous album High Violet. “You have no idea how hard it is for us to play this song,” said Matt Berninger in reference to ‘Sorrow’ which the band famously played 105 times in a row this past summer during a special six-hour set. The song seemed to have taken on a deeply sad meditation for the band as they dabbled in the dark emotions of the piece.     

          The encore balanced excitement with raw emotional connection: People wanted to rock out with the band to ‘Mr. November,’ and then turn around to chant along in a drunken somnolence to ‘Terrible Love.’ The connection became physical as well as emotional during the latter when Berninger jumped into the crowd with his microphone in tow, continuing to sing even as fans reached out to touch him and pat him on the back.

          The band ended the night with a stripped down version of ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,’ — it brought the set to a relatively quiet conclusion, but still seemed like a perfect fit. Instead of ending the show with a whimper, the song swelled as more and more of the audience joined in, until the roar of the final chorus felt like the loudest part of the night.

          The National are emotional, intense, and all in all an incredible show to behold. As they creep into the Top 50 bands in total tour gross, you should catch them on this tour before they continue to grow.

 _MG_8605

Photos: Merrick Marquie (Permission Courtesy of The National and Grand Stand)

BEACH BOYS – Made In California

Album: Made In California

Artist: Beach Boys

Label: Capitol

Release Date: June 04, 2013

Beach Boys Aug 27

www.universalmusicenterprises.com

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 In the beginning, there were the Beach Boys. Arguably the most influential American band of all time, they elevated pop music from the doldrums inflicted by the greased back, sanitised teen idols who preceded them, and then successfully held their own against the British invaders that sought to overrun the domestic front in the heady days of the early to mid ‘60s. And while their squeaky clean image and celebration of surfing, sports cars, California girls, high school, and all the other idyllic aspects of their teenage years seemed so one-dimensional early on, the genius of Brian Wilson expanded that conceit into realms that were, at the time, otherwise unimaginable.

 Nevertheless, along with their triumphs, the past 50 years have seen their share of stumbles, scandals and tragedies, not the least of which have been the deaths of Dennis and Carl, Brian’s two essential siblings who helped transform the band into the legend it is. Domestic difficulties helped tarnish the group’s reputation, a sad scenario that still weighs heavily on the band’s legacy. Indeed, even as they were still revelling in the afterglow of a tour that reunited all their surviving members, Mike Love, always known to be a contentious character, reclaimed the Beach Boys name as legally his own, and brought the celebration to a close. Today, there are essentially two factions bearing rightful cause to the band’s legacy, the shabbier one helmed by Love and Bruce Johnston, and the other that’s soon to hit the road under the auspices of Brian Wilson with Al Jardine and David Marks in tow.

 Yet for all their woes, Made In California comes across as pure celebration, a fanciful look back at mostly innocent times and an admirable effort to rekindle the lustre that accompanied their initial incarnation. Never mind that these one-time boys of summer are now ageing individuals of 70-something stature, the six-CD set is housed like a high school yearbook that even bears their individual inscriptions. While there’s been no shortage of greatest hits, box sets and archival collections, this may be the most fanciful of all, owing not only to its gorgeous hardbound booklet of photos and commentary, but the fact that it effectively documents every phase of the band’s career, from its earliest, unreleased demos to last year’s still brilliant comeback. Indeed, no collection has ever effectively managed that before.

 Remarkably, the thing that still shines through is Brian’s dedication to a singular purpose, that is, to make music that still emits the effervescent glow of the California sun that radiates from that sacred Pacific shore. That brilliant sheen illuminates the music from start to finish, spanning these six discs and keeping these songs aglow. The image of eternal summers never fades, a theme maintained from the earliest recordings (a remarkably competent early go at “Surfin’) through the various samples from Smile (a stripped down piano version of “Surf’s Up” is especially illuminating) to the band’s last successful collective climb up the charts (the wrongly derided “Kokomo” ) and last year’s crowning comeback (the utterly magnificent “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” a stunning example of Wilson’s idealised “teenage symphonies to God” conceit remaining intact some 50 years on). It’s also a credit to their craft that disc one, with its vast assemblage of early hits — “Don’t Worry Baby,” “In My Room,” “Surfer Girl,” et. al. — remains the most consistently infectious set of all.

 Still, those who already own the superb Good Vibrations box set, released to mark the band’s 30th anniversary, may balk at having to make such a hefty investment once again in order to gather many of the same songs. In terms of rarities and unreleased material, both sets are comparable, and like its predecessor, Made in California saves the bulk of its treasures for its final disc with the usual assortment of a cappella vocal versions, instrumental-only outtakes and radio sessions. Happily, it ups the ante by devoting a good portion of disc five to mostly unreleased live performances, including several songs rarely heard in concert (“Vegetables,” “Friends,” “Wild Honey” etc.)

 Despite the duplications from previous collections and a heavy emphasis on dubious alternate mixes, true devotees will likely still find Made in California an essential acquisition. Basking in the afterglow of a short but stunning reunion, even repetition breeds affection, and the lure of eternal innocence still creates an irresistible impression.

 DOWNLOAD: “Surf’s Up” (1967 version), “Wild Honey” (unreleased live version), “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring” (demo)

 

SWAMP DOGG – Gag a Maggot

Album: Gag A Maggot

Artist: Swamp Dogg

Label: Alive Naturalsound

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Swamp Dogg May 14

(www.aliveenergy.com)

 BY CARL HANNI

 The third of Alive Natural Sound’s releases of southern soul eccentric Swamp Dogg’s early catalogue (following Total Destruction To Your Mind from 1970 and Rat On! from 1971), Gag a Maggot (1973) picks right up where they left off, a wide territory that spans the distance between the surreal and the soulful.

 If you’re unfamiliar with Swamp Dogg (born Jerry Williams Jr.), well here’s your chance to catch up with some of the dynamic early work of one of R&B’s great characters. The beauty of Swamp Dogg is that he scores both coming and going: he’s both a hilariously in-your-face character with a wicked, deeply off-the-wall sense of humor, and a terrific soul singer and songwriter. He also benefited from recording in some of the greatest studios in the south (Capricorn in Macon, Muscle Shoals, etc.), which were stacked with world class house musicians. Gag a Maggot was recorded in Miami, and benefits immeasurably from the smooth, funky guitar playing of Willie Hale, aka Little Beaver, one of the great blues/soul fusion guitar players of the era. The band (Little Beaver, bass player Ron Bogdon, drummer Ivan Olander, some horns and Williams on piano) cooks up tight, tasty southern soul grooves than bridge the gap between gospel, soul and country.

 Gag a Maggot features nine Dogg/Williams originals, several co-written with one S. McKinney, a decent version of “Midnight Hour,” and a throw away version “Honky Tonk Women,” one of two bonus tracks not on the original LP. As always, the songs titles tell a lot of the story: “Wife Sitter,” “Choking to Death (From the Ties that Bind),” “I Couldn’t Pay For What I Got Last Night,” “Plastered to the Wall (Higher Than the Ceiling)” and a live version of his nasty slow blues classic “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe,” the other extra track.  The material flows effortlessly from raunchy to topical to sweet, a nice trick if you can pull it off.

 But seriously, the record is worth the price of admission for the recently penned liner notes alone, both in the insert and the CD sleeve. Williams has not lost a step over the decades since these tracks were cut: “Henry (Stone, southern soul industry maven) wasn’t like other industry heads. He fucked you and made you love it. You’d wake up the next day and ask ‘what was that and what else can I do to contribute to the cause?’ Henry used a condom, some gel and fatback grease. You almost apologized for being unresponsive.”

 Or “I’ve been told that I was light years ahead of myself with my music. Well I’ve finally caught the fuck up. My trip was so long that when I got back, vinyl was back and the president was black. I must have been frozen in ice for several decades. People now telling me how great I am and I’m a genius. Hell I was great back then, but I was the only one who knew it or gave a good goddamn.” Elsewhere he name checks Nixon and Bernie Madoff back to back, and drops something about a ‘faggot great dane.’ Man, this guy just does not have a filter. Which, of course, is a large part of the charm of the persona known as Swamp Dogg, which, one suspects, is essentially a larger version of Jerry Williams, Jr. Whatever it is, it works, and we’re all a little stranger and better off for it.

 DOWNLOAD: “Wife Sitter,” “Why Must We Fall (When We Fall in Love),” “Mighty Mighty Dollar Bill,” “ Choking to Death (From the Ties that Bind).”

SCRUFFY AND THE JANITORS – Pino

Album: Pino

Artist: Scruffy and the Janitors

Label: Janitorial

Release Date: November 06, 2012

SCRUFFYFRONTCOVER

http://www.facebook.com/scruffyandthejanitors

 

 BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

 

What happens when you put The White Stripes, Mudhoney, The Rolling Stones, Skip James, The Sonics Zeppelin and The Ramones in a gunnysack, hang it from a tree then beat it vigorously with a 39 ounce Louisville Slugger?  The remnants that come tumbling to the cold ground are the St. Joseph, Missouri band Scruffy and the Janitors.  Scruffy, a band that takes its name from a seldom used character on Matt Groening’s “Futurama”, are a band with talent way beyond the kitsch that their selection of band name implies.

 

Barely out of their teens, the trio Steven Foster, along with brothers Teriq and Trevin Newton, has put together a debut in Pino that, in only a year or so as a band, is a cohesive offering, and the first big steps toward rock n roll maturity if there is such a thing.

 

“Pino” blows out of the gate with ‘90s alternative scream blues of “PM”; it is a kick in the crotch, rock n roll tantrum awash in a flood of distortion.  “Poor Boy” is the classic blues tale of “I’m broke and can’t get home,”  “Know It All” is a middle finger to an unnamed poser with nothing more to do than run his mouth and pass judgments.  “There’s A Ghost” plays like good old walkin’ blues with just a splash of Nirvana for flavor.  Foster’s “oh oh ohs” on “Plain Jane” are tuned into Joey Ramone’s ghost with precision, making the song come on like the grandson of Danny and the Juniors’ 1950s sock hop pop. 

 

The debut is a demolition set to the beat of ten songs; it is a solid look at what a Scruffy show is all about: it’s scuzzy, distorted, loud, impatient, imperfect racket that, ultimately, becomes a thing of triumph and pleasure.  In all its disheveled wonder and ruckus, a good ear can pull back the layers of Pino to hear the band that resides there: one that is overflowing with potential, music knowledge and talent that is concealed by their youthful appearance.  Pino rings true in a time when, too often, bands play what will sell or what is baptized “cool” by the tastemakers of the music world.  This debut is a nice break from pretension and manufactured posturing; Scruffy play what they love with no apologies or regrets.

 

The boys use all the tools at their disposal.  They kick up the distortion when it is needed (“Post Meridian”, “Know It All”) and break out Teriq’s harmonica skills when a Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers vibe is in order (“Use Me Up”).  Trevin (at 17, the youngest of the group) can work his drum kit with minimalist Meg White simplicity or punish them like a stubborn horse and when Steven needs to be pensive, lamenting the difficulties of the world, he does it superbly, as is the case with “Rosie.” 

 

Not all is perfect with “Pino” however.  The production is dodgy in places but does a good job showing the band in all their garage rock snottiness (it was recorded at home), and the Son House/Jack White fascination is a bit too apparent but hey, they’re young and broke.  Pino is a good first shot, pushing Scruffy and the Janitors near the top of the pile of good bands brewing in St. Joseph right now.  As Scruffy put more performances under their belts, spend more time sharpening their instruments, experience more of life’s trials, and with a professional knob turner in the studio, Scruffy and the Janitors have all the makings for a topnotch rock n roll band.  Hell, they could be one of the best things to come out of St. Joe since Big Chief writing tablets, Walter Cronkite or Aunt Jemima pancake syrup.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Post Meridian”  “Plain Jane”

 

TWO COW GARAGE – Death of the Self-Preservation Society

Album: Death of the Self-Preservation Society

Artist: Two Cow Garage

Label: Last Chance

Release Date: September 10, 2013

Two Cow Garage

www.lastchancerecords.com

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 Besides having possible the best name going for a country punk band, Two Cow Garage has quietly churned out one amazing album after another without getting nearly the amount of attention they deserve. Since their 2003 debut, Please Turn the Gas Back On, this Columbus, OH-based trio, with a few lineup changes over the years, have bounced from one small indie label to the next, living out of a van, while a slew of other bands with a quarter of their talent have managed to pack amphitheaters across the country with dumbed down lyrics and a banjo player or two.

 Death of The Self-Preservation Society, the group sixth album, is easily their best so far and proof that hard work and talent don’t always lead to riches and fame. While The Lumineers are getting Grammy nods by chanting a two-word chorus ad nauseum, Two Cow Garage released one of the best albums of the year and it’s found mainly through their label’s web site and on a card table in the back of the room at the band’s shows. Recalling Dinosaur Jr. on one song and Johnny Cash on the next, Two Cow Garage have managed to mine the best of rock and country and put it through their own bar room filter.  

 With Micah Schnabel’s stunning shot and a beer poetry, delivered via his trademark strained vocals, Death of the Self-Preservation Society boasts some of his best lyrics to date (“I spent my 20’s with a coin slot in my neck/a broken-hearted jukebox just choking out the rent/Now my best bets a lottery ticket and a Pac Man machine,” from “Mantle in ‘56”).

 Tow Cow Garage are the best counter-argument around for anyone who says no one’s making good music any more. You just have to look pretty hard for it.

 DOWNLOAD: “The Little Prince and Johnny Toxic,” “Hey Cinderella” and “My Friend Adam”

RY COODER AND CORRIDOS FAMOSOS — Live in San Francisco

Album: Live in San Francisco

Artist: RY COODER AND CORRIDOS FAMOSOS

Label: Nonesuch

Release Date: September 10, 2013

Ry Cooder

www.nonesuch.com

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 Ry Cooder is one of those lucky few who never had to give up his day job as a much sought after session player in order to pursue a consistent career as a celebrated solo artist. Although he started releasing albums on his own well over 45 years ago, it’s his slew of recent offerings over the last few years that has boosted his reputation as a leading purveyor of world music and traditional fare. Surprisingly though, Cooder’s efforts have never been consolidated into a concert recording, which finds Live at San Francisco finally fitting the bill.

 In truth, the album doesn’t just capture a concert, but rather an entire revue. Guests wander in and out. Singers Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller share the spotlight on a moving version of the venerable standard “The Dark End of the Street.” Accordionist Flaco Jimenez, a long time Cooder collaborator, takes a turn towards south of the border with a lively version of Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi.” Likewise, singer La Banda Juvenil, turns in a stirring Spanish ballad, “Volver Volver.” Still, this Cooder’s show, and the rowdy response of the audience affirms appreciation for his sassy, tongue-in-cheek repartee along with his lively choice of material. Among the highlights — the rocking boogie of “Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile,” the uptown R&B of “Why Don’t You Try Me,” a boisterous “Wooly Bully,” and the Tejano take on a popular outlaw legend, “El Corrido de Jesse James.” It seems to suggest a spontaneous set, especially given the between-song patter. Indeed, it’s that free-flowing vibe that helps make this seem more like an overdue reunion for the home town crowd as much as any attempt at a polished performance.

 Therein lies the charm. Cooder’s journeyman status has finally comes full circle, and he’s sounding more essential than ever.

 DOWNLOAD: “El Corrido de Jesse James.” “Dark End of the Street,” “Do Re Mi”

BITCHIN BAJAS – Bitchtronics

Album: Bitchtronics

Artist: Bitchin Bajas

Label: Drag City

Release Date: July 16, 2013

Bitchin Bajas July 16

http://www.dragcity.com/

 By JENNIFER KELLY

 There’s a Mark Rothko painting I like to look at when I go to the Chicago Art Institute.  It’s large canvas, a square of burnt orange sitting atop a square of yellow, simple enough. Yet if you stare at it long enough, you begin to see striations and gradations in the tone, undercurrents of darker and lighter color, subtle shifts in intensity that seem almost musical.  “Turiya” from Bitchtronics seems to me like an audible variety of the same experience, a monochrome soundscape that opens up in concentrated listening into dense, woozy variegation, the tones and undertones and ghost echoes filling space from edge to edge.  The piece is enveloping, expansive and nowhere near as simple as it first appears.

 Bitchtronics is comprised of four long cuts, each composed out of looped recordings.  None are quite as abstract and meditative as “Turiya,” but they share a certain bedrock stillness, as if the sounds themselves coalesced somehow into silence.  This fourth album for Bitchin Bajas incorporates a somewhat larger palette of sounds.  Founder Cooper Crain, who is in the far more driving Cave, has brought two others into his project lately –Dan Quinlivan (who used to be in Mahjongg) and Rob Frye, who plays a variety of wind instruments.  You can hear bits of flute and the low tones of something reed-ish — a saxophone or clarinet  — fluttering amidst the drones, but these elements are not exactly melodic either, just another variety of long-tone vibration.  

 The briefest of these tracks is “Sun City,” like its brethren rising out of a hazy aura of sustained tones which builds and intensifies over minutes rather than measures.   It’s the tremulous sound of something taking shape, of imminence.  You expect a melody to rise out of it at any moment, and indeed, there’s a slow-shifting organ line that crests the soundwaves about a third of the way through.  Yet the organ line never really subordinates the mass of sound that it emerges from.  The point, the thing to listen to, is the restless interplay of tone which refracts any attempt at melody like a prism glass, into fleeting flashes of color.  Bitchtronics is never about the line that carries you through the song, but rather about the dense subtly shifting bed of tone that stretches from end to end of these enveloping compositions.  

 DOWNLOAD: “Turiya” “Sun City”

THE DIRTBOMBS – Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey

Album: Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey

Artist: Dirtbombs

Label: In The Red

Release Date: September 17, 2013

Dirtbombs Sept 17

www.intheredrecords.com

 BY MICHAEL TOLAND

 Mick Collins has long made his living as an unrepentant rock & roll wildman, a R&B-fueled garage rocker who never met a tune he couldn’t scream into submission. From the Gories to Blacktop to the long-running Dirtbombs, he’s done his best to eschew anything close to the kind of slickness favored by the major labels and record-buying public. The assumption all these decades has been that Collins’ work is as raw as fresh meat because he’s incapable of professionalism (and in the case of the Gories, that may well have been true).

 But anybody who listens closely to Dirtbombs records knows there’s actual craft going on under the red levels, and on Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey Collins lets it show. Allegedly a bubblegum record, in reality this is Collins’ take on psychedelic pop, with twinkling keyboards, polite guitars and a heretofore unimagined Collins croon that could charm the panties off a lesbian punk rocker. Tunes like “Crazy For You,” “It’s Gonna Be Alright” and the acid-pop ballads “Girl On a Carousel” and “No More Rainy Days” could sneak onto a Millennium record and pass. Collins’ doesn’t ignore his R&B roots, however –  “Hey! Cookie,” “Sugar On Top” and “Jump and Shout” roll the pop hooks over a funky backbeat and sexy attitude, while “Sunshine Girl” and “Hot Sour Salty Sweet” kick out the jams in the old style.

 Of course, you never quite know how much irony coats Collins’ creations – “We Come in the Sunshine” manages to both homage Earth Wind & Fire and rather blatantly rip off the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” for an inspired bit of genius/thievery that never makes its intentions clear. But, as with the rest of Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey, it’s fun putting the song on repeat to figure it out.

 DOWNLOAD: “Sunshine Girl,” “Girl On a Carousel,” “We Come in the Sunshine”