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COSMIC, MAN: Dom Mariani & Datura4

We settle in for a fresh convo with Australia’s Dom Mariani on his band’s upcoming April release, West Coast Highway Cosmic. “I’m a classic rock tragic at heart,” confesses Mariani. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. (Above photo: Ben Taylor-Vivian)

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When it comes to music, it’s such a cliché to say about any locale, but we’re gonna say it anyway: there’s just something about Australia. Possibly because of its isolation – remote from everything, getting cultural influences second- and third-hand, having the artifacts but little of the attendant hype to deal with. Possibly it’s simply the independent spirit of the average Australian – the combination of isolation and (though it’s admittedly overstated) a history of penal colonialism contributing to a certain filter, a way of looking at the art of other cultures (particularly American and British) and transforming it into a distinctly Australian vision. Regardless, the rock & roll that’s come out of the island nation has its own special flair, a certain je ne sais quoi that other countries don’t have.

All that speculation serves as a lead-in to the introduction of one Domenic Mariani, a singular figure in Australia’s rock scene for forty years. Lover of melody, shit-hot guitarist and absolutely winsome singer, Mariani has made his mark on the fields of garage rock (the Stems, the Stoneage Hearts, the DomNicks), surf rock (the Majestic Kelp) and, especially, power pop (the DM3, the Someloves, the Summer Suns), gaining diehard fans around the world. His current project, a singular spin on bluesy power rock dubbed Datura4, pays homage to his youthful love of early seventies blues rock and hard rock, emphasizing his expert six-string pyrotechnics without eschewing his traditional, song-based melodic instincts. Joined by guitarist Greg Hitchcock (Kryptonics, You Am I), bassist Stu Loasby (the Majestic Kelp, Jack & the Beanstalk), and drummer Warren Hall (the Drones, Gutterville Splendor Six), Mariani made three richly produced, riff-soaked albums that sound distinguished from his other work, while still being of a piece with it.

Hitchcock has since left and been replaced by keyboardist Bob Patient; the reconstituted quartet returns to the record racks this spring, on April 17, with West Coast Highway Cosmic (Alive Naturalsound), its most varied and accomplished LP thus far. We caught up with Mariani via e-mail to talk about the new Datura4 album and how it fits in with the rest of his career.

BLURT: Congratulations on West Coast Highway Cosmic. The songs are catchier, the riffs are sharper, the vocals as strong as ever. You’ve mentioned not wanting to repeat yourself from album to album. What inspired you to push D4 further than it had gone before?

DOM MARIANI: A couple significant things happened during the sessions for previous album Blessed is the Boogie [2019]. The first was the departure of Greg Hitchcock, which reduced the band to a three-piece for the recording process. The second, and most timely, was hooking up with our keyboard player Bob Patient. We had Bob come in for a session. There was a connection and it really opened up a world of possibilities for us. Greg had been against the idea of keyboards on previous records, and his leaving really freed things up for us to go beyond the two guitars-bass-and-drums thing.

We were chuffed when Bob agreed to join the band. This led to two new songs (“Cat on a Roof” and “Evil People Pt. 2”) being added to the album. Both from a band and a personal songwriting perspective, it’s the best thing that could have happened. West Coast Highway Cosmic is the first full album with Bob, and is just the tip of the iceberg. There was more spontaneity, paired with a “let’s see what happens” kind of approach to the recording. Some of the tunes came from basic grooves that Warren and myself had worked up in the studio. The results are a little more eclectic than on our previous albums.

Though there’s plenty of heavy blues rock, this album really expands the band’s palette. In particular it’s more melodic and psychedelic than before. Did you consciously tap into your past with the Stems/DM3 to add some spice to this record?

If anything, subconsciously. It’s inherent in the way I write. I’m always looking for a good melody or a memorable riff – always striving for the perfect balance/combination in a song. I’m a classic rock tragic at heart.

These are some of the best tracks on the album. Do you have any comments to offer on any of them?

“Give”: I wasn’t sure if this song would work on the album. It was one of the last ones that went down and it came up great. The electric/acoustic guitar, combined with Bob picking up on the main melody line on the Hammond organ, works well to give it a folk/rock feel with a soulful touch.

“West Coast Highway Cosmic”: I’d had the title for a while. The West Coast Highway is a stretch of road that runs along our beaches here, west of Perth, and where one of our recording studios is located. We had the bulk of the song recorded, but I only had the chorus. I kept playing it in my car, heading to and from the studio, and eventually the lyrics came. Bob added some cool Moog to it to take it far and beyond.

“You’re the Only One”: It’s a love song to my wife, and the last song written for the album. I went for a live, stripped-back approach on the instruments and vocals by using and messing around with the natural reverb of the room.

“A Darker Shade of Brown”: That one came out of a groove that Warren and I set up while we were goofing around in the studio – a heavy fuzzed-out blues riff over a funky drum groove, while Bob plays wild organ stabs. I already had the lyrics before the song came about. I read an article once about how they closed down a popular beach due to a mysterious dark algae, or so they said.

Considering how prolific the band has been, is it safe to say that Datura4 is your main project right now? Are DM3, Majestic Kelp, etc. on hold for now?

Both DM3 and The Majestic Kelp have been ongoing projects over the last bunch of years, while Datura4 has become my main songwriting and recording focus. Datura4 has plenty more fuel left in the tank. We toured Europe last October and were very happy with the response. It’s a slightly different audience to, say, DM3 or The Stems, but there’s still a good crossover.

Datura4 seems to have increased your profile in America, where you’re finally getting regular releases. Why do you think that is?

Hooking up with US label Alive Naturalsound records has helped a great deal. We love what Alive stands for, and we’re label mates with some great bands.

After so many years of being known as the power pop ace, are you happy to be flexing your blues rock guitar muscles?

Absolutely! I’ve been a fan of blues and hard rock all my life, and felt the urge to get out there and have some fun with it, do something different. I’ve not turned my back on power pop. In fact, as a lover of pop melody and heavy riffs, I still love that stuff, but for now I’m preferring to mix things up a bit. I don’t want to be stuck on the same bus. I will get back to it one day, maybe on a solo record. I recall quite fondly working with Mitch Easter and talking about our favourite hard rock bands in-between takes, and how he’d seen some of them in the seventies. It made me feel like it wasn’t some guilty pleasure. Anyway, it’s all about songs for me and I don’t care what style it is.

Like America and England, Australia has a legacy of heavy blues rockers from the ‘70s. Which of them particularly inspires D4, and which ones do you think should be better known outside of Australia?

I really like the latter-day Master Apprentices and boogie kings Carson. Both bands had great singers and guitar players. I was fortunate to see The Coloured Balls play a concert when I was sixteen, and snuck in to the Raffles Hotel to see Buffalo and The La De Da’s when I got my driver’s license. Locally we had Sitting Bull, Fatty Lumpkin, and Bakery.

Do you plan on touring here in the States for WCHC?

If the new record does well and there’s enough interest, then sure. We’d love to tour the States, given the opportunity.

***

Watch BLURT for a special track premiere from the new Datura4 album very soon. Meanwhile, here’s some mo’ Mariani for your edification:

https://blurtonline.com/feature/man-popsided-guitar-dom-mariani/ (by Tim Hinely)

https://blurtonline.com/news/premiere-new-datura4-aussie-supergroup-features-stemsdm3you-am-i-members/

https://blurtonline.com/review/dom-mariani-majestic-kelp-hi-seas/ by Michael Toland)

https://blurtonline.com/review/dm3-west-of-anywhere/ MT

https://blurtonline.com/review/datura4-blessed-is-the-boogie/ MT

https://blurtonline.com/review/the-stoneage-hearts-hung-up-on-you/ MT

http://www.citadel-records.com/dom/768/page1.html (liner notes to Mariani’s career retrospective Popsided Guitar 1984-2004), by BLURT editor Fred Mills

YES, WE BELIEVE IN MAGIC: Wild Honey Benefit/Lovin’ Spoonful

Our gal on the ground in L.A. does indeed believe in magic, and she’s got the images from this star-studded benefit for the Autism Think Tank to prove it. Initial details we posted HERE, so check out her photos and observations. Exclusive photos (pictured above: original Spoonful members John Sebastian and Steve Boone) and videos follow the text.

Text & photos By Susan Moll

In conjunction with the Autism Think Tank and the Autism Healthcare Collaborative, the Los Angeles-based Wild Honey Foundation stages yearly tribute concerts at the historic Alex Theatre to raise funding for autism research, education and treatment. Last year’s Wild Honey benefit paid homage to The Kinks Are the Village Preservation Society, and The Band and Buffalo Springfield have also been celebrated in the past. (Follow the above links to our coverage.)

This year’s occasion was dedicated to the Lovin’ Spoonful, beloved sunshine boys of the ‘60s. Their folk-pop sound, admired by Lennon, McCartney and the brothers Davies, was a study in contrast to the pandemonium of the mid- to-late 1960s. As the Spoonful daydreamed, Watts rioted; as they believed in magic, Vietnam War protestors self-immolated. With songs redolent of sunshine and flowers, rain on roofs and summers in the city, the Spoonful served feel-good music to a country and a world desperate for something, anything, to feel good about.

It’s rare that a band shows up to play at its own tribute, and this year’s Wild Honey gathering marked the first time that original members John Sebastian, Steve Boone and Joe Butler appeared onstage together since their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two decades ago.

They maintain it wasn’t an official reunion – an impossibility without Zal Yanovsky, who passed away in 2002 — but a casual regrouping of the Nashville cats. A slideshow of rare images of the band snapped by renowned photographer Henry Diltz preceded the happenings, which lasted for nearly four hours. No one in the Spoonful or the vocalists and instrumentalists of the Wild Honey Orchestra, the collective that backed each of the guest performers, lacked in stamina at any point of the 36-song lollapalooza of a setlist.  Sebastian, Boone and Butler radiated palpable delight in their togetherness.

Sebastian happily regaled the audience with vignettes from throughout the Spoonful’s career, each one more entertaining than the last. In the ‘70s, he lamented that his musical style was no longer in vogue until the Sweathogs barged in. Enter “Welcome Back,” one of many enthusiastic sing-alongs … Sebastian detailed the origins of “Summer in the City,” penned by his brother, Mark, who stood in for Yanofsky … Dave Alvin, who paired with Sebastian for “Night Owl Blues,” first encountered the Spoonful at age nine, when they appeared at the Rose Bowl in nearby Pasadena with Herman’s Hermits. Not only was it the first concert of his life, it was the first time he ever saw anyone play an electric harmonica … Cindy Lee Berryhill gave out “Money” with banjoists Rob Bonfiglio, Jordan Katz and Jason Berk and percussionist Jim Laspesa (Love and Mercy) clacking away on a vintage typewriter… Bonfiglio and better half Carnie Wilson dueted “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind,” the stuff of young boys’ fantasies. So many girls, so little time… Micky Dolenz turned in a sweet rendition of “Daydream” and Claudia Lennear of 20 Feet from Stardom fame lent the evening a soulful touch with “You Baby,” a Ronettes 7-inch as well as a Spoonful hit … Carla Olson, whose next album, Have Harmony Will Travel 2, comes out March 20, was full of fire on “Stories We Could Tell” and “4 Eyes,” performed with Sebastian and Peter Case, respectively. … Case, meanwhile, broke open “Blues in the Bottle” and Steve Stanley stepped away from his duties at the head of the Now Sounds reissue label to contemplate a “Younger Girl” … Marshall Crenshaw channeled hums of the Spoonful with “Rain on the Roof” backed by pedal steel player Dave Pearlman, who’s accompanied the likes of  Dan Fogelberg, Bobby Womack and Phil Everly on tour … Leave it to Mark Eitzel to find a happy band’s saddest song — “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It”–  which he sang with passion and compassion to spare … Durham-based singer/songwriter Skylar Gudasz , who has accompanied Big Star on its Third traveling concert series  , sang “You’re a Big Boy Now.” (Her next album, Cinema, arrives April 17.)

The evening concluded with the entire ensemble gathered onstage for the finale, “Do You Believe in Magic?” It’s guaranteed that everyone did.

Carnie Wilson

Claudia Lennear

Dave Alvin + John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful)

Dave Pearlman

John Sebastian

Dead Rock West

Eleni Mandell

Elliot Easton

Iain Matthews

Jim Laspesa

Joe Butler (Lovin’ Spoonful)

Kathy McCarty (Glass Eye)

Mark Eitzel

Marshall Crenshaw

Micky Dolenz

Nick Guzman

Peter Case

Rob Bonfiglio

Skylar Gudasz

Steve Stanley

Susan Cowsill

Wednesday Week

Rehearsal Footage:

Summer (n The City: Sebastian & Wild Honey Orchestra

Daydream: Mickey Dolenz

4 Eyes: Peter Case & Carla Olson

Susan Cowsill: You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice

Group Encore: Do You Believe In Magic?

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS – Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt. 7

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, HERE for Pt. 2, HERE for Pt. 3,  HERE for Pt. 4, HERE for Pt.5, and HERE for Pt.6. FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text. Pictured above: the eternal Suzi “Can the Can” Quatro, aka Leather Tuscadero – accept no subsitute.

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

For some artists, a lack of evolution leads to a long, slow death (and not the cool Flamin’ Groovies kind). Others, however, find their groove and not only stick to it, but make it sound fresh, over and over again. Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders are one such – the former Lazy Cowgirls leader and his merry crew have stayed in a punk-informed roots rawk lane for over a decade now (longer if you count the last few LPs by the Cowgirls) and have yet to falter. The Past Came Callin’ (Hound Gawd/Rough Trade) maintains the high standard of quality of the quintet’s previous four records, even if its construction is slightly more motley than usual. Though chock full of bristlingly strong new tunes – check “Call You On Sunday Night,” “A New Pair of Eyes” and “The Ballad of Crystal Valladares” for cowpunk done right on – Todd turns his back pages to resurrect some older songs, some going back twenty years.

 

The blazing “Yeah, Ya Had a Bad Night” and “If I Could Only Fly Backwards in Time” and the Cowgirls’ “Somewhere Down the Line” shake off any accumulated rust with ease and sound fresh as daisies. Todd also pulls out some favorites from other folks’ catalogs, including a heartfelt rendition of Stax soul staple William Bell’s “Any Other Way,” an appropriately folky take on the old Texan ballad “Down in Old Boerne” and the acoustically rockin’ “Idle Time,” penned by Sons of Hercules’ Dale Hollon. This typically fine Rankoutsiders album wraps up with “Just Between You & Me” – just Todd, an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and a human soul. 

As one of the few acts that understands how to take inspiration from the sixties without being overtly retro, The Connection has been one of the best power pop/garage rock bands to hit the stage in the last decade. After six albums in eight years, the time has apparently come for the inevitable solo albums. Lead singer Brad Marino weighs in with Extra Credit (Rum Bar), a collaboration with Rum Bar labelmate and Connection bandmate Kris Rodgers and songwriter Michael Chaney. Clearly Marino’s apples don’t fall far from the tree – though perhaps a hair poppier and less aggressive than the Connection’s work, “Don’t Do the Crime,” “What Comes Naturally” and “Fit To Be Tied” would fit right in on one of that band’s better records. (Note: the CD we received lists four bonus tracks on the cover, but they’re not on the actual disk.) Marino’s  songsmithing partner Geoff Palmer, however, adds an 80s punk/pop vibe to his solo debut Pulling Out All the Stops (Rum Bar). Aided by various former and current Connections (including Marino and Chaney), Palmer puts an overt 60s spin on the crunchy sweetness of bands like All and the Descendants with tongue-in-cheek sugarbombs like “Everything is Cool,” “All the Hits” and “I Like Murder Too.” 

Speaking of the sixties, the career of Richard X. Heyman goes back to that decades via still-going New Jersey rockers the Doughboys, so when he draws on that era for inspiration, it’s helpful to remember that he’s a first-gen practitioner. That said, that sound is only as good as its timelessness, and the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist hits that note squarely on his twelfth and latest album Pop Circles (Turn-Up). From the folk-rocking “Upside and Down” and the creamy “As Love Would Have It” to the crystalline jangle pop of “Guess You Had to Be There” and the melodic aggression of “Action Screams Louder Than Words,” Heyman makes the art of catchy power pop seems ridiculously easy. No innovation here, but pushing the envelope isn’t nearly as important on this record as heartfelt craft.

Austin’s intrepid Ugly Beats have similarly never let their sixties obsessions hold them back. On fifth album Stars Align (Get Hip), the quintet pens a typically winsome set of melodic pop rockers that are much Yellow Pills as #Nuggets#, highlighted by the jangling “All In,” chugging “Take Your Time” and hopping “Boy, You’re in Love.”

 

Milwaukee’s Indonesian Junk keeps one foot in street-smart, sleazy glam and the other in bar band power pop on its third LP Spiderbites (Rum Bar), just as it has on its prior albums. While its attitude remains consistent, head Junker Daniel James just keeps getting better as a songwriter, with stronger melodies, more mature construction and a general sense that the sky’s the limit on his talent. Thus the band easily shifts from the Chuck Berry muscle of “Headbanger” to the almost pretty pop rock of “City Lights,” from the desperate punk & roll of “Through the Night” to the moody quasi-ballad “I Could Die,” without sounding like it’s trying too hard. Further proof that IJ is one of the best-kept secrets in rock & roll.

Mining an extremely sweet spot between power pop, roots rock and garage rock, Thee Idylls reiterate the strengths of simplicity: strong songs played without frills and plenty of conviction on their second EP My Fist. My Voice. My Dress. My Letter. (Chicken Ranch). No surprise, really, given that the L.A. foursome is led by John Crooke of long-gone alt.country shouldabeenstars Jolene, but here the singer/songwriter sounds refreshed, if not galvanized, by his years out of the spotlight. “A Picture Made” would have ruled college radio three decades ago, “Of California” hard-drives itself into the set-closing slot of any well-heeled rock & roll band, and “My Camera” merely stands as excellent. When this band gets around to a full-length LP, it’ll no doubt be a stone killer. (Note: the EP will be available in January on digital formats and as an extremely limited 10-inch. Ed note: And a lathe-cut 10-inch as that. Better order fast, as I did.]

It’s fair to slap a “garage rock” label on Cromm Fallon. After all, his solo debut Electric Bloom (Rum Bar) is full of sixties-style bon-bons like the rocking “East Bay” and “Out of Control” and the jangly “Scars From You,” and sweet bites they are, too. But the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (who also works with the Van der Rohe and the Laissez Faires) has reaches beyond his Nuggets collection for rackety pop soul (“The Next One”), brooding acid balladry (“No Sleep”), introspective folk rock (“Death Room”), dreamy psych pop (“Electric Change”) and lumering proto-metal (“Hired Suicide”). Boasting a knack for strong melodies and a straightforward vocal style that works whatever direction he wanders, Fallon comes up with a strong debut with loads of promise of future glories. 

Sounding as if the Replacements hit Hootenanny and quit evolving, Boston’s legendary Dogmatics return from self-imposed limbo with She’s the One (Rum Bar) – their first new music in (wait for it) thirty years. Featuring timeless rock & roll nuggets like “I Love Rock and Roll” (not the Arrows tune Joan Jett made famous), “The Ballad of Wilbur Ross” and the title track, not to mention snappy takes on Richie Parsons’ “Summertime” and the Reducers’ “Black Plastic Shoes,” the EP showcases a band that’s none the worse for wear after so much time away. Labelmates The Gotham Rockets hail from a different scene entirely – led by singer/guitarist Matt Langone and drummer Mighty Joe Vincent, the quartet’s soaked in the NYC garage rock scene going back decades. But the four songs on Blast Off (Rum Bar) evince the same love of rock & roll of many eras, from the fifties (dig Steve Greenfield’s sizzlin’ sax) to the eighties (the cool power pop of “What’s Done is Done”). Besides, how could anyone resist a line like “My love is strong – it’s been known to change the weather?”

Denver’s Fast Eddy celebrate that point when power poppers jumped into the action rock pool, adopting turbocharged Big Rawk flash and sneering attitude while keeping the foundation of pop melody and creamy harmonies intact. (Cf. Biters, the Greatest Hits, Wyldlife, etc.) Produced by Biters’ Tuk Smith, Toofer One (Boulevard Trash/Spaghetty Town), the quartet’s latest 7-inch is rich with all the virtues listed above – “Hurricane Alley” and “Milwaukee” present high craft attacked with rock & roll abandon, while “Lost” updates Chuck Berry for a post-punk rock world. The U.K.’s Los Pepes count as fellow travelers on their latest album Positive Negative (Gods Candy/Spaghetty Town), pumping up tuneful confections like “Let Me Tell You Something,” “Think Back” and “Ain’t Life Easy” with enough energy to light up an underground cavern, and just enough attitude to be dangerous. Is it punk? Is it power pop? Is it action rock? All of the above, and all blitz.

Melbourne’s Baby 8 keep the same faith, with a sweet ‘n’ crunchy melange of punk, power pop, hard rock and psychedelia on its debut We Hate Each Other, But We Hate You More# (Kasumuen). That the band can move so easily between the candy-coated pop of “Hypodermic” to the sneering butt rock of “Night Wants to Kill” without whiplash shows off a subtly high caliber of songcraft and a personality that imprints no matter what the template.   

A longtime associate of “Medway sound” mavens Billy Childish and Holly Golightly, prolific rocker Dan Melchior inaugurates his Band with ’Outside In’ (Midnight Cruiser). Though still a good fit in whatever low-fi, garage rocking genre Childish developed way back when, Melchior incorporates such arty flavors as postpunk and #motorik# into his punkabilly racket, allowing him to stretch out on tunes like the mantra-minded “Brownsville,” “Chinese Wine” and the groovy title track without slipping into jam band territory. “Pheasant Plucker,” a catchy version of the standard “Rye Whiskey” and a delightful take on Mose Allison’s “Your Mind is On Vacation” fulfill the basic rock requirements as well. 

Blurt’s covered the ever-prolific Left Lane Cruiser a few times before, for good reason: the weed-obsessed Indiana outfit rarely falters. #Shake and Bake (Alive), the group’s tenth record, finds the (once again) trio in fine form. Led, as always, by Freddy J IV’s gritty voice and dirty slide guitar, the band puts the pedal to the boogie with a set of raw-boned rock & roll rattlers. Blues is the flour, punk is the butter and “Two Dollar Elvis,” “Breaking You Down” and “Sweat Love to Shine” are the tasty biscuits. 

Led by the Gotohells’ Edo McGrady,  Cheap Gunslingers crank up the punk & roll on their self-titled debut LP (Rum Bar). Though originally intended to feature vanished performance artist Melissa DuCasse as part of the lineup, the trio sounds enthusiastic and confident here, putting three or four chords to good use on sneering, catchy blasters like “Record Store” and the self-explanatory “Three Chords” – not to mention the outlaw country outlier “Water Table Line.” Cheap and easy pleasures, maybe, but oh-so-satisfying.

 

The unrepentant snotrockets in Nottingham’s Hip Priests keep the throttle stuck on “full” for their fourth LP Stand For Nothing (Gods Candy/Ghost Highway/Digital Warfare). Wielding a blunt instrument perfected from bits of punk and hard rock, the quintet eschews prisoners on slam rock anthems “Cheers to Me,” “Losers of the Faith” (heh) and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Leper” with so much fury you’d swear they were from Scandinavia.

 

Southern California’s legendary Dickies appear and disappear at will, but they’re never gone for good. Still led by singer Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee, the quintet rears its crazy-eyed head for a quick two-song single (Slope). Side A takes on “I Dig Go-Go Girls,” a Cheap Trick outtake circa that band’s first album. It’s presented fairly faithfully to the Trick’s patented hard pop style, complete with an attempt by guest vocalist Monkey (from the Adicts) at Robin Zander’s vocal acrobatics. The flip side fares better, as “The Dreaded Pigasaurus,” a new original, boasts such a catchy melody and dollop of sheer silliness, it’s worth the price of admission alone.  

New music from the gleefully-rocking Giuda is always a good thing, and new single “Overdrive” b/w “Lunar Eye” (Rise Above) is no different. The Italian combo’s giddy glam rock vision has expanded to include more straightforward hard rock of late, but that doesn’t mean they’ve forgone their singalong hooks, as both these songs prove. Very few modern acts capture the original seventies spirit of glam without carbon copying – that Giuda does it so effortlessly makes them ingenious as well as pure fun. Unlike Giuda, Suzi Quatro was doing the glam rock thing in the beginning. The Detroit-bred/German-dwelling singer/songwriter/bassist sounds no worse for nearly fifty years of wear, however, on No Control (Steamhammer/SPV). Some odd diversions (like the Latin pop of “Love Isn’t Fair”) aside, the songs rock like mothers – check out “Macho Man,” “Easy Pickin’s” and the magnificent pener “No Soul/No Control” to hear a pioneer casually show up her progeny. 

“Heartland punk” is not a thing some of us thought would ever happen, but there’s more attitudinal crossover between Bruce Springsteen and the Clash that one might think. Add some of that good old fashioned Midwestern melody and you’ve got a band like Mono in Stereo. Following its 2015 debut Long For Yesterday, the Rockford, IL quartet returns with Can’t Stop the Bleeding (Rum Bar), five slices of tuneful rock/punk with hearts on sleeves. “The Conversation,” “Different Kind of Man” and the title track will make fast friends with fans of acts like the Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, the Junk Monkeys and Rum Bar compadres Nato Coles and The Right Here. 

Nat Freedberg is hardly a household name, but surely he qualifies as some sort of underground rock legend by now, at least in the Northeast. Having led the Flies, the Titanics and the Upper Crust, Freedberg (who released the fine solo LP #Better Late Than Never# earlier this year) unveils his new combo Freeloader with The Path of Least Resistance  (Rum Bar). Leaving aside his punk and power pop leanings, the Boston rawk stalwart leans into no-bullshit hard rock, like the Crust without the theatrical trappings. (Well, except for the ridiculous “The Highland Fling.”) Though #Path# could use some of the Crust’s over-the-top energy, solid riffs abound (cf. “The Thing to Do” and “Back of the Line”), and Freedberg’s wry sense of humor shines on “Halfway Decent” and “Ten Songs Make An Album.” If you’ve ever wanted to know what Bon Scott would sound like covering the Four Seasons, check out Freeloader’s cover of “Rag Doll.” 

 

Butt rockin’ has long been the sole province of Canadian fistpumper Danko Jones, as evidenced on A Rock Supreme (M-Theory Audio). Jones and his rhythm section bring a certain sophistication to their ninth album, letting a little musical variety into the trio’s previously hermetically sealed world – cf. the smooth dynamic shifts of “Dance Dance Dance.” But musical development has never been the highest of priorities for Jones, and that’s just fine. Fancy intervals and jazz scales would only get in the way of the earthy riffery and singalong choruses of “Lipstick City” and “Fists Up High.” When you can sing “All I want to do is play my guitar and rock ‘n’ roll” with this much sincerity, you don’t need to “improve.” 

Back in its eighties L.A. heyday, Junkyard never quite fit into its Aquanet-misted surroundings. [I saw ’em twice back in the day and they kicked ass! – Ed.] Neither as glitter-sexed as Poison, nor as gutter-desperate as Guns ‘N Roses, the Texas/California hybrid (featuring former axeslingers from Minor Threat and the Big Boys) was too riddled with street punk and Southern rock to fit comfortably on the late 80s version of Headbanger’s Ball. Thus the quintet’s first two albums for Geffen never quite caught on, and the third was never released at all. Until now, that is. Only 27 years late, Old Habits Die Hard (Acetate) finally rears its denim-wrapped head. (Some of these songs appeared on the band’s self-released odds ‘n’ sods collections Joker and XXX.) Traces of both punk and the blues line the borders of hard rockers “I Come Crawling” and “Take Me Home,” while “Hangin’ Around” could slip into the setlist of your average alt.country bar band and no one would know the difference. The ballad “Tried & True” sounds genuinely heartbroken and soulful, unlike the efforts by most of their peers, and “Pushed You Too Far” is the kind of catchy, exciting anthem that should’ve put them over. Had Old Habits Die Hard come out when it was supposed to, it…probably would’ve been buried alive by the Alternative Nation. But who knows? Maybe it would’ve kept the band from being unfairly labeled a hair metal footnote.  

Speaking of folks mislabeled due to proximity (deliberate and otherwise) to headbangers with bigger video budgets than guitar amps, legendary rocker and Sunset Strip influencer Michael Monroe returns with One Man Gang (Silver Lining Music), his fifth solo record since the second dissolution of his seminal band Hanoi Rocks. With his international band (guitarists Steve Conte and Rich Jones, bassist Sami Yaffa, drummer Karl Rockfist) still in tow, Monroe maintains the quality of his previous records, almost effortlessly blasting out anthem after anthem, mining his past experience while still facing the future with youthful enthusiasm. “Black Ties and Red Tape” and the title track rip with punk rock fury, while “Wasted Years” and “Last Train to Tokyo” boast melodies that’ll stay with you long after the spinning (or streaming) ends. Monroe has been on a consistent roll in the last decade, and it’s nice to hear it continuing. 

Anyone who can simultaneously represent both the Australian and Detroit wings of Rock & Roll Headquarters is all right with us, and the ever-rocking Deniz Tek fits that bill. (At this point, his history is too long and complex to go into here. Google his website and read his journal entries if you want to know.) Joined once again by the Godoy boys – bassist Art and drummer Steve, his go-to rhythm section for a quarter century – on Fast Freight (Career) the erstwhile Radio Birdman leader stays true to the stripped-down, fuss-less aesthetic he’s favored since he started pumping out solo records: guitar, bass and drums, with no-nonsense vocals and basic riff-rock, all recorded live and direct. “Out of the Mood” and “When the Trouble Comes” don’t mess around, and if the sense of ambition that’s been evident on other recent releases is muted, it’s replaced by the confidence of a musician who knows how to maximize that at what he’s best.

Veteran British rocker Dave Kusworth keeps on keepin’ on, surviving the loss of his brother-in-arms Nikki Sudden and his own bad habits. This is in part due to the support of Spanish rock & roll true believers Los Tupper, who back the Birmingham-ite on Cinderella’s Shoes (Sunthunder), the pairing’s second full-length collaboration. Tupper’s love of the Faces and the Stones matches Kusworth’s own, so they’re perfect for lending the perfect amount of grease to rockers “Black Lace & Silver” and “Nothing (Lil’ Miss Conscience)” and delicate soul to ballads “Maide Vale Girl” and “Broken Dishes.” Feeling himself on solid ground, the man himself turns a set of tunes that won’t rewrite the R&R rulebook, but keep the faith as well anyone working this groove, including the Glimmer Twins themselves. Kusworth almost feels like a man out of time here, but anyone craving that certain mix of grit ‘n’ sentiment that used to animate rock & roll will be happy to step into the wayback machine. 

Rock isn’t (only) about mining past glories, of course – fans’ fixation on the music of their youth is what’s contributed to its fall from popular grace in the first place. So it’s imperative to hail bands like The Black Tones, who pull from the past while making music of the now. The Seattle duo’s debut LP Cobain and Cornbread (self-released) works basic blues rock, not unlike the early years of the Black Keys. But instead of sounding like they discovered some blues records and borrowed the vibe, guitarist/harmonica player/singer Eva Walker and drummer Cedric David come on like the blues have been in their blood since birth, allowing them to write songs that carry familiar riffology, but without directly ripping off the past masters. Thus “Plaid Pants,” “Ghetto Spaceship” and the mighty “The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)” stand as modern, not retro, rock & roll, made by young musicians using the tools they have to make a noise that lives in the present. The band nods more directly to tradition with the harp ‘n’ voice take on the gospel tune “Rivers of Jordan,” but go farther afield on the banjo-driven “Striped Walls” and the all-out goofy “Mama, There’s a Spider in My Room.” Old school rock fans will glom onto the pair’s easy familiarity with the classic rock format, but the Tones aren’t interested in reviving anything – they’re ready to move on from tradition, even as they strategically utilize its contrivances.

.  Check out some choice audio and video from the folks featured in this report!

 

Baby 8 – We Hate Each Other But We Hate You More Bandcamp:

https://kasumuen.bandcamp.com/album/we-hate-each-other-but-we-hate-you-more

 

The Black Tones – Cobain and Cornbread Bandcamp:

https://theblacktones.bandcamp.com/album/cobain-cornbread

 

Cheap Gunslingers – s/t Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cheap-gunslingers

 

Cromm Fallon – Electric Bloom:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/electric-bloom

 

The Dickies – “I Dig Go-Go Girls” teaser:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfA8xE9uDtQ

 

The Dogmatics – She’s the One Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/shes-the-one

 

Fast Eddy – Toofer One Bandcamp:

https://fasteddy.bandcamp.com/album/toofer-one

 

Freeloader – Path of Least Resistance Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-path-of-least-resistance

 

Giuda – “Overdrive” Soundcloud:

https://soundcloud.com/burgerrecords/giuda-overdrive

 

The Gotham Rockets – Blast Off Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/blast-off

 

Richard X. Heyman – “Guess You Had to Be There”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh1bxBD4YFg

 

The Hip Priests – Stand For Nothing Bandcamp:

https://thehippriests1.bandcamp.com/album/stand-for-nothing-album

 

Thee Idylls – “A Picture Made”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzRZ_nuEcFU&feature=emb_logo

 

Indonesian Junk – Spiderbites Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/spiderbites

 

Danko Jones – “Fists Up High”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Csj3FpCc_jk

 

Dave Kusworth & Los Tupper – Cinderella’s Shoes Bandcamp:

https://lostupper.bandcamp.com/album/cinderella-s-shoes

 

Left Lane Cruiser – “Shake and Bake”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFEjsAJLWSM

 

Brad Marino – Extra Credit Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/extra-credit

 

Dan Melchior Band – Outside In Bandcamp:

https://midnightcruiserrecords.bandcamp.com/album/outside-in

 

Mono in Stereo – Can’t Stop the Bleeding Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cant-stop-the-bleeding

 

Michael Monroe – “Last Train to Tokyo”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZegMf2p1J4

 

Geoff Palmer – Pulling Out All the Stops Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pulling-out-all-the-stops

 

Los Pepes – Positive Negative Bandcamp:

https://lospepes.bandcamp.com/album/positive-negative

 

Suzi Quatro – “No Soul/No Control”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjySKeelK3s

 

The Ugly Beats – Stars Align Bandcamp:

https://gethiprecordings.bandcamp.com/album/stars-align

 

PLOWING FORWARD IN 2020: Love Tractor

Next weekend, January 17 & 18, it’s gonna be an Athens-Georgia sonic love fest, featuring  the Tractor gang (above, wayyyyy back in the day) plus OH-OK and Magnapop. If those names don’t resonate with ya, you have clearly found the wrong music website.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON

There hasn’t been much good news ushering in 2020, far from it.   But in the spirit of finding joy where it resides – here’s something fab for Love Tractor fans.  The new year is bringing not only just better sounding Love Tractor recordings, but new music too.    And to celebrate, the band is playing two shows – Friday Jan 17th at the 40-Watt Club in Athens with OH-OK opening, and Saturday January 18th in Atlanta with Magnapop opening that show.

I reached out to Love Tractor guitarists Mark Cline and Mike Richmond to preview the shows and releases – not to mention to add some crucial, and resonant, context to this beloved Georgia outfit’s colorful legacy.

———————

Love Tractor is back from a long breather (pictured above is guitarist Mark Cline) doing live shows, restoring their back catalogue for new vinyl and digital re-release. And if that’s not enough for fans, get ready for new music from the band as early as this spring. (Below: guitarist Mike Richmond)

BLURT: Tell me about the upcoming re-issue of the first Love Tractor LP, originally released in 1982:

Mark Cline:  We just finished reconstructing the album as the ¼” masters were a mess.  Tracks were missing or corrupted so it forced us to go back to the 2-inch 16-track masters and remix the entire album. The record sounds great. Dave Barbe and Bill Berry chaperoned the remixing process, and Jeff Calder (from the Swimming Pool Q’s) was key in locating the tapes and having them digitized.

We tried our hardest to remain true to the original Bruce Baxter mixes, but the 1st remixed record has a lot more power to it.  Someone in the studio, perhaps Bill (Berry) said when listening back to the remix that “it’s like cotton has been taken out of my ears.”

Mike Richmond:    Mark, Army (Armistead Wellford, pictured below), and I were joined by Doug Stanley, Kevin Dunn, Bill Berry, and Mike Mills in the studio for this.  It came out really nice and we were able to make slight improvements while staying true to the original.  I think the plan is to re-issue record one in April of 2020 and then follow up with Around the Bend, Til The Cows Come Home EP, This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship, Themes From Venus, and The Sky at Night.  We also have a recording of new material in the works.

Mark Cline:  We did three additional enhanced mixes for Record Store Day.  We have new material which we have started recording so those songs will be coming out as digital singles in-between the rereleases. At least that is the plan as of today, might change tomorrow.

Part of the beauty of Love Tractor music is how melodic and simple it sounds – but I know it is very complex from a player’s point of view.  How do you get ready for these live shows, since you aren’t doing many per year at this point?  

Mike Richmond:  Love Tractor songs are deceptively difficult to play.  I have to really stay on top of it by rehearsing several times a week.  We live in different states (Georgia, Virginia, New York) so it is not easy for us to rehearse or perform. We all have to do this on our own and then a few days before we perform, we get together as a whole unit and go through the songs.

Mark Cline:  For me, more than the other guys, when performing, I’m shocked at the level of precision the songs require and how many of my parts are quite difficult to play.

So, the music is dense, and you’ve added players for live shows – tell me about that.

Mark Cline:  The auxiliary players in some cases are for large shows, so we can perform the albums as they were recorded.  Love Tractor has been since 1986 a 5 piece band, Doug Stanley from The Glands was officially inducted into the band in the ’90’s, Doug is a brilliant musician, he is absolutely on the same wave-length as me, Mike and Army and in my opinion he really shaped the sound of The Sky at Night.   Joe Rowe is an amazing drummer (also PRS’ new beat man). For the really big shows, if they are available, we like to add the Late B P Helium (Elephant Six Collective) and Jay Gonzalez (Drive by Truckers) and Kevin Dunn from the great seminal Atlanta band The Fans— it fills out the sound. The decision is artistic.

Right now, we are playing as a five piece, but one never knows who will be joining us on stage.   (Ed. note, if you want to catch original Love Tractor drummer Bill Berry with the band, he’s prone to get up on stage at the Athens shows – visual evidence in below 2017 photo, below, where he’s pictured on the left – but you never know.)

Mike Richmond:  Initially we had everyone that played in the WE LOVE TRACTOR tribute band.  Jay Gonzalez (Drive by Truckers), Bryan Poole (Of Montreal), Doug Stanley (Glands), Joe Rowe (Glands), and then we added our long-time friends Kevin Dunn (The Fans), and Bill Berry (REM).  It was great playing with all those guys on-stage.   Nowadays the performing band is Army Wellford, Mark Cline, myself, Doug Stanley, Joe Rowe on drums.  I have nothing but fondness for all the people that have played with Love Tractor.

What surprises you most about playing these songs live again?

Mike Richmond:   It is pleasantly surprising that I never get tired of these songs.  That don’t seem dated to me but evergreen.

Mark Cline:  How fresh and timeless they sound – in some cases I realize what influenced a particular song (“Paint Your Face” and “Stand in a Corner” — in my opinion, which was influenced by Neu!).

What can fans expect from these two upcoming shows in Athens and Atlanta?

Mark Cline:  We have been attempting to perform the albums in chronological order. Thus, the first few shows were exclusively our first album, then we added material from the second album and the EP.  These next two shows we will begin performing a few songs from This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship, Themes From Venus and The Sky at Night.

I’ve heard of people flying in from different parts to catch a show, and for my part, I met a fan who drove from New Jersey.  Any surprise there for the band about fan loyalty?

Mike Richmond:  I was almost entirely unaware of what fans would think of us now or if we would even have any fans at all.  So the response has been great.  With the rise of social media, I get a sense that people are very receptive to the idea of seeing LT live, some of whom were too young to see us in the ’80s.  It could literally feed the band in the sense that we could release new material or tour.  That almost depends solely on fan support.

Mark Cline:    The response has been great!  We really want to give a great performance, it is also interesting for us as artists to revisit certain songs.   Now of course they want us to tour, but we don’t have an “organization” (managers, agents, office) in place to really make touring happen.  So right now, we are limited to where and when we can play.

****

All the new music and reissues will have a new home – Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records or HHBTM.  Check out its home and impressive roster here:  https://www.hhbtm.com/bands/

 

******

So, fans – now’s your chance with two shows coming up:   

1) Friday January 17th, 2020 Love Tractor, at the 40Watt Club in Athens, GA.   It’s a co-bill with OH-OK playing first, featuring original members Lynda Stipe and Linda Hopper, a band who got their big break when R.E.M., the band her brother happened to be lead singer for, needed an opening band in a pinch.  (One of those Wiki factoids so good I don’t care if it’s true.) Playing with a full band tonight so the rock starts early.

2) Next show is the next night in Atlanta, at The Vista Room, Saturday January 18th, 2020, with co-billed Magnapop opening. Also featuring Linda Hopper on vocals, there’s Ruthie Morris on guitar, Shannon Mulvaney bass, and David McNair on drums.  Magnapop doesn’t fuck around so get there early, don’t miss ‘em – and you are welcome!

Ye Olde Editor Side Note: a legendary party – statutory restrictions prevent me from detailed disclosure –  in Chapel Hill that had brought R.E.M. and a bunch of their pals to the NC college town on the group’s initial non-Georgia mini-tour. That entourage included the lovely Ms. Hopper, who confided to aforementioned editor that she had a band percolating herself. That prediction came true. They were a delightful combo. She’s pictured more recently below in John Boydston’s photos of Magnapop from not all that long ago.

 

 

25 Pieces of Christmas Music to Actually Enjoy in 2019

 

Guarantee: No Mariah Carey fans were harmed during the making of this column. Check out some cool videos at the bottom, too. And yes, the photo above was grabbed off the web. Meanwhile, below, Jason Gross, a longtime BLURT contributor, is also the editor/publisher/majordomo of Perfect Sound Forever, the internet’s greatest-ever music magazine. Yeah, he was and always will be an early adopter. Accept no substitutes. Listen to his picks on Spotify right HERE. 

BY JASON GROSS

But first, a standalone single pick from the editor:

Let’s get into it, kids. Tell the parents to let you stay up late tonight. Ranging from classical to mash-up to indie to country to ‘hood pop’ to boy band to folk to art rock, there was plenty of variety and quality in 2019 Xmas music to choose from.  As for the controversy over John Legend’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” aren’t there more important, substantial things to get pissed over? Yes, there are.

  1. The 5 Browns Christmas With the 5 Browns (Steinway and Sons) In theory, this sibling group of Mormons sounds like they’d be the Osmonds of the classical world. But by taking tried and true holiday classics that even non-classical slobs like me know well (especially “The Nutcracker Suite”) and arranging them for a bunch of pianos (presumably Steinway’s), they craft a lovely album you can enjoy with your parents, grandparents, etc.
  2. Amerigo Gazaway “Notorious B.I.G. – Christmas Time In Crooklyn” (Bandcamp) The great mash-up master takes Biggie’s “Juicy” and layers it on top of holiday schmaltz, creating something hip, nostalgic, old-school and new at the same time. Also see his holiday album remixes.
  3. Big Stick Sauced Up Santa (Fortes Music) John Gill is a raunchy never-say-die indie artist who once howled about hot rods over womping drum beats but here grumbles like Tom Waits and adds on a kiddie choir. Modern Family‘s patriarch Jay Pritchett once marveled that Waits’ voice could be beautiful and horrible at the same time. Ditto for Gill. End result: the unlikeliest children’s record in recent memory.
  4. Bleached “Single Bells” (Amazon) Courtesy of the elves at the online giant, a joyous indie/grrl stomp in honor of Santa.
  5. Wade Bowen Twelve Twenty-Five (Bowen Sounds) Technically, it’s a country Xmas party (you can tell by the twang of the guitars and voice) but it’s almost as much of a soul Xmas, which definitely ain’t a bad thing. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” does right by Darlene Love and you can more easily stand to hear his version of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” than Mariah’s by now.
  6. Molly Burch “Last Christmas” (Captured Tracks) Her whole Christmas Album is sweet and low-key but this is a particular highlight, especially with its goofy, funny video.
  7. Ceraadi “Christmas With You” (Roc Nation) This L.A. ‘hood pop’ group (yep, that’s a thing) imagines Xmas as a time for twerking in the kitchen and drinking games. Definitely a better time than the holiday office party you’ll be forced to go to.
  8. Judy Collins & Jonas Fjeld “Bury Me With My Guitar On” (Wildflowers) Courtesy of the folkie legend, Chatham County Line and Norwegian singer/songwriter Fjeld comes this high-stepping country/bluegrass tune with some fatalism for the holiday.
  9. Lucy Dacus “Last Christmas” (Merge) By now, the Wham song is such a standard that even cover songs of it are standard for this time of year, so give the normally-downbeat Dacus credit for revving it up to indie rock speed, adding in a moshing finale.
  10. The Flaming Lips “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” (Warner Bros) Leave it to these lovable Midwest space cadets who graced us with cult film Christmas On Mars to remake the song that Bing/Bowie made (in)famous and mash it up with another Xmas classic. Maybe it’s their bizarre/perverse sense of humor that made them dress up like Hindu gods there.
  11. Rob Halford Celestial (Legacy) Just in case you haven’t been keeping track, this is actually the 2nd holiday album from the Judas Priest frontman- first was 2009’s Halford III: Winter Songs. You’ll either head bang or laugh along or annoy the hell out of your friends (or all of the above). You definitely won’t be bored, any way it turns out.  Especially gnarly: “Donner and Blitzen” who sound like rampaging huns and “Deck the Halls” which get a demonish “fa-la-la-la” chorus.
  12. Jonas Brothers “Like It’s Christmas” (Universal) Even if you’re not a fan of the recently-reunited trio of heart-throb brothers, you have to give them their due for pulling off a swinging holiday pop tune that you’d actually wanna hear more than once.
  13. Keb’ Mo’ Moonlight, Mistletoe & You (Concord) Though you’d wish that a holiday album from this noted bluesman was a little less sentimental, he does bring soul to the proceedings (“Better Everyday”), makes a blues standard like “Please Come Home For Christmas” upbeat and gets the music downhome now and then (“Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” Merry, Merry Christmas”). Plus, you just can’t argue with “Christmas Is Annoying.”
  14. Los Lobos Llego Navidad (Rhino) Christmas en español! This great roots rock band hasn’t fully returned to its Spanish roots since 1988’s La Pistola y El Corazón and there hasn’t been a holiday album like this which stood a chance of breaking out to a multicultural audience since the 70’s- not just Jose Felciano but also Fania Records’ wonderful Asalto Navideno collection. And yes, of course we get “Feliz Navidad” but everything else here is a joy too.  I mean, how could you say no to a delightful Tex-Mex tune like “It’s Christmas Time In Texas”?
  15. Kacey Musgraves The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show (MCA Nashville) Probably the only new Xmas special you need to watch this holiday, the show loses some of its silly appeal without the visuals but even then you’ll have no problem digging the bouncy “Ribbons and Bows” finale and a Hawaiian duet with Zooey Deschanel that definitely ain’t trad fare, though it should be. And FYI, it’s actually her 2nd Xmas album after 2016’s A Very Kacey Christmas.
  16. Ne-Yo Another Kind of Christmas (Motown) A nice R&B joint and you gotta love the ladies here- Candice Boyd’s “Carol of the Bells” and Satori’s “Christmas VIbez.” He even does a nice blues turn and doesn’t make you regret he covered “The Christmas Song” (which is a feat by now). But what might be most notable is that it’s one of the few holiday albums not made to be offensive that comes with an explicit song- “Talk About It,” which drops an N-bomb along with ‘shit.’ Cool tune but don’t expect to hear it at family singalongs.
  17. Mark Peters Winterland (Sonic Cathedral) This Brit ambient master is no stranger to the holiday spirit- check out his 2018 take on “Jingle Bells” and 2017’s “Silent Night.” After improving the already-impressive Innerland with a beat-less version, he comes home for the holidays to collect the two aforementioned titles along with his own tune “The Box Of Delights,” which sounds like a music box gone nutty before drifting off blissfully.
  18. A Prog Rock Christmas (Purple Pyramid) Not a new bunch of tunes but a varied collection from the past few decades. It’s as perverse as the Halford album and a lot better than you’d expect. Sure, there’s plenty of over-singing but “Christmas Lights” has drunken Elvis impersonators,  “Carol of the Bells” is something you could almost head bang to, “Fairytale of New York” sounds fine without Shane’s croak, one of the Buggles/Yes guys wisely keeps “Linus and Lucy” (from the Peanuts) in a jazzy tone, a pair of Hawkwind refugees give up a spacey “Silent Night” and you get Malcolm McDowell howling the Grinch song as a wonderful ringer.
  19. The Regrettes “Holiday-ish” (Warner Bros) Though this pop-punk group is turning into much more of the former and much less of the latter, they land in a nice place for an adorable heart-warmer of a jaunty tune with some help from Dylan Minnette (from Netflix’s 13 Reasons).
  20. Josh Rouse “Heartbreak Holiday” (Yep Roc) His Holiday Sounds album is soft rock that isn’t soft in the head. Even if that’s too mellow for your taste, you’ll be hard pressed to deny this catchy little pop song that evokes Nick Lowe and manages to sound cheerful even when he’s taking back his ex-lovers’ presents and wonders if she’s doing the same.
  21. Lionel Scardino “Navidad” (1631 Recordings) Clocking in at a neat 2:22, it doesn’t sound like the Spanish classic but you do get a gentle piano refrain that sounds like snow falling softly outside.
  22. The School Christmas EP (Elefant) This Cardiff band starts with pop-punk and ends up with two pieces of 60’s girl group pop, with three originals clocking in at seven-and-a-half minutes. Sweet and effecting, especially on “It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without You,” which deserves to be a future standard.
  23. Tim Story “Silent Cycles” (Curious Music) This Philly soundtrack composer and Cluster collaborator starts out with looped bits of “Silent Night” and then stretches it out with gentle. shimmering ambient drones and synth-choirs. By the time he reaches an album-length 73-minutes, he’s made the little old carol into something majestic and cosmic.
  24. Sharon Van Etten “Silent Night” (Amazon) Yet another reason Jeff Bezos hopes that you sign up for his music service. This alone might not warrant the monthly fee but this rising indie-folk star turns the standard into a beautifully spooky chant that you should hear at least once.
  25. Rick Wakeman Christmas Portraits (Sony Classical) Granted, this art rock codger and master of excess might be the last person you’d wanna hear Xmas music from, but here, he wisely pares it down to just him tinkling away on a piano, playing the trad pre-Tin Pin Alley Xmas classics. Other than a few fancy flourishes, the result is surprisingly simple and charming. Maybe his label can convince him to lay off the synths in the future.

 

BLURT’S INDELIBLES (THE COLLEGE ROCK CHRONICLES, PT. 11): Hoodoo Gurus

Back to bedrock with stoneage romeos the Hoodoo Gurus. Below, also watch the original video for ’80s mega-hit “I Want You Back,” which boasts the most awesome use of a green screen ever. Spoiler alert: despite the lyrics, that song was NOT about a girl songwriter Dave Faulkner was pining for.

BY FRED MILLS

Ed. note: For this installment of my “College Rock Chronicles” series (previously excavated: features on Big Star, Dumptruck, The Gun Club, Dwight Twilley, Winter HoursGreen On Red, Thomas Anderson, The Sidewinders, Rank And  File, and The Windbreakers) I flash back once again to the mid ’80s and then forward a few years – including to NOW, with a timely announcement of a Fall 2020 U.S. tour by the Wizards of Oz.

***

News Item, December 14, 2019 – Hoodoo Gurus to Tour America (from HoodooGurus.net):

“We are finally coming back to tour the U.S. at the end of next year. About time, I hear you say. The whole tour is being presented by Little Steven’s Underground Garage, the hippest radio station in the world. Amongst many others, the Underground Garage features Count Zaremba’s Crypt, a spooktacular show presented by The Fleshtones’ own, Peter Zaremba, from midnight (ET) every Saturday.

“I know many people are going to be disappointed that their city (or country) will miss out on a Gurus gig this time – and that includes some of our favourite places to play (hello, Atlanta and New Orleans!). We will be coming back again asap with a new album and a much more extensive tour next time. This is just the first step in a much more active touring schedule for the band over the next few years, with visits to many other cities, countries and planets being in our long-term touring schedule. For reasons that are too boring to get into, we have to limit this particular U.S. tour to three weeks, and though we’ve squeezed as many gigs as we can into that time, we are barely scratching the surface. We’ll come back again soon, we promise.”

HOODOO GURUS U.S. TOUR OCT./NOV., 2020

OCTOBER
Fri. 23 Oct. SEATTLE, WA – Tractor Tavern.  Tickets here.
Sat. 24 PORTLAND, OR – Aladdin Theater.  Tickets here.
Sun. 25 SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Slim’s.  Tickets here.
Mon. 26 LOS ANGELES, CA – The Roxy.  Tickets here.
Wed. 28 SOLANA BEACH, CA (San Diego) – Belly Up Tavern.  Tickets here.
Thurs. 29 SALT LAKE CITY, UT – State Room.  Tickets here.
Fri. 30 ASPEN, CO – Belly Up Aspen.  Tickets here.
Sat. 31 DENVER, CO – Bluebird Theater.  Tickets here.

NOVEMBER
Mon. 2 Nov. MILWAUKEE, WI – Shank Hall.  Tickets here.
Tues. 3 CHICAGO, IL – City Winery (U.S. election night).  Tickets here.
Wed. 4 NASHVILLE, TN – Mercy Lounge.  Tickets here.
Fri. 6 NEW YORK CITY, NY – Webster Hall.  Tickets here.
Sat. 7 BOSTON, MA – The Sinclair.  Tickets here.
Sun. 8 PHILADELPHIA, PA – Philly Underground Arts.  Tickets here.
Mon. 9 NORFOLK, VA – The NorVa.  Tickets here.
Wed. 11 WASHINGTON, DC – The Hamilton.  Tickets here.
Thurs. 12 JACKSONVILLE, FL – Private show
Fri. 13 JACKSONVILLE, FL
Sat. 14 CARBORRO, NC – Cats Cradle.  Tickets here.

***

Now, while we’re almost a year away from the tour (you can bet I will find a way to catch it), never let it be said that I pass on a chance to sing the praises of one of my favorite bands. What follows is a retooled republishing of a tribute to the Gurus that I published at Blurt in 2010, which itself was an expanded take on a profile I had written for Harp magazine (BLURT’s predecessor) in 2007 as pare of my ongoing “Indelibles” series.

The occasion of my interview with founder and frontman Dave Faulkner was the overhaul of their extensive back catalog and a DVD career retrospective, Tunnel Vision; in addition, with an impending March trip to Austin for SXSW, expectations in their camp were high for a newly elevated American profile.

Forming in 1981, the Gurus had enjoyed a lengthy and successful career well into the late nineties until Faulkner decided to pull the plug (“I was all written out,” he confessed), only to resume operations in 2004. A new studio album subsequently appeared later that year, and during our conversation Faulkner noted that he’d been writing material for another one and predicted they’d have it out sometime later in 2007. Yet the record failed to materialize – twice, as a projected 2009 release date also came and went when the band reportedly grew unhappy with both the studio they’d worked in and the mixes
they’d gotten.

Luckily, their old friend and noted producer, Ed Stasium, stepped in and agreed to perform some of his mixing wizardry on the tapes. The resulting Purity of Essence, yielded a sparkling set of tunes bearing all the hallmarks of classic Gurus: sleek, hook-filled melodies; propulsive rhythms; heart on sleeve lyrics; terrific singing.

Having seen the Gurus at SXSW in 2007, I witnessed firsthand their enduring prowess as a live act. On 2010’s Purity, though, the band members – Faulkner, guitarist Brad Shepherd, drummer Mark Kingsmill, bassist Rick Grossman – genuinely sounded like they’d been granted a new lease on life. Whatever delays transpired in the making of it ultimately served to make everyone stronger. So, let’s revisit my conversation with Faulkner from 2007 as he recounted the band’s origins and trajectory…

***

Thanksgiving eve, 1984: Your future Harp correspondent is front and center at a packed Charlotte, NC, punk club, literally hanging on to the monitor of Hoodoo Gurus vocalist/guitarist Dave Faulkner. Amid an incessant, hypnotic tribal thud, searing psychedelic guitar riffs and football stadium-worthy chorus chants, Faulkner regales us with quirky lyric narratives about kamikaze pilots, zombie love and south-sea island sacrificial rites. No turkeys, though these Gurus: they rock like rabid wombats. And every last person in the venue is singing along and dancing so hard the room could pass for an MTV video shoot.

Afterwards, as punters clutching copies of the Australian group’s debut album Stoneage Romeos cluster around the band, a girl standing too close to Faulkner’s massive coif of teased-out hair almost sets him on fire when she lights a cigarette. Ah, the perils of the road….

“Oh god …” Dave Faulkner, speaking now from his home in Sydney, has vivid memories of the Gurus’ initial American trek. “We had so much Aqua-Net in our hair on that tour! It just got ridiculous. We were doing shows every night and couldn’t un-tease our hair and wash out all the goo, so it was just a succession of teasing upon teasing. By the time we got to Los Angeles, I think it was L.A. Times critic] Robert Hilburn, in a review, who said something like, ‘Dave Faulkner looks like a tumbleweed landed on his head.’ [laughs] And that’s how it did look! I got to the point at the end of the tour when I said, ‘What the hell am I going to do with it now?’ I thought I was going to have to shave it all off because it was like one huge dreadlock underneath, you know? It was kind of scary.

“But it really was a wonderful period. A lot was happening. People really were into us, and we had some great times even though we were living, er, low to the ground. We had this tour manager who didn’t think he was going to be paid so he stole all our gear in New York! We were playing with the Long Ryders the next night in Boston and had to use their gear.”

***

Within a year the Hoodoo Gurus’ star was in full ascent, the group a mainstay at college radio and on MTV. With the release of 1985’s Mars Needs Guitars the Gurus found themselves touring America once again, this time playing arenas as the Bangles’ opening act. And the band would continue to record and tour successfully for more than a decade, going on hiatus in January 1998 and then reuniting in 2004.

Before all that, however, there was just Faulkner and a long-simmering scheme to bring back “the dumbness of rock,” as he puts it now—the innocence, the naïveté, the joy of early rock ‘n’ roll.

Faulkner got his start in the late ‘70s playing in punk band The Victims (inevitably, he had a punk nickname: “Flick”) in his home town of Perth, located on the remote western edge of Australia. A ’79 pilgrimage to New York City, however, opened his eyes. He was already a fan of the bands dotting the lower Manhattan scene; through a mutual friend he hooked up with dB’s drummer Will Rigby, and the pair made the rounds of clubs, seeing everyone from the Fleshtones, Ramones, Talking Heads and Rigby’s own combo, to such recent Big Apple transplants as the B-52’s and the Cramps.

“I’d say the Cramps and the Fleshtones were the ones that really gave me the desire to do the Hoodoo Gurus,” says Faulkner. “Not that I knew it at the time, of course. But back in Australia a year later, I was seeing the legacy of Radio Birdman and all the so-called ‘Detroit bands.’ There was also this sort of homemade art-rock scene—I called them the suitcase synthesizer bands. But not much in between. And I just wanted to have something a bit more brash, more pop, I guess. In the case of the Hoodoo Gurus, in the early days, the songs had a lot of jokey themes and titles. But I mean, ‘a wop bop a lu bop, a wop bam boom!’ had this exuberance; it didn’t necessarily have to make sense, and it’s still just as exciting and direct today.”

Upon his return from the States, Faulkner briefly joined another punk group, the Manikins, then relocated to Sydney where, in his words, “It felt like a band was forming every week.” A chance meeting with guitarists Kimble Rendall and Rod Radalj at an end-of-1980 New Year’s Eve party led to the formation of Le Hoodoo Gurus, with former Victims drummer James Baker rounding out the roster.

The Gurus were initially conceived as a covers band, but Faulkner’s songwriting gifts quickly became evident. The band soon had a cache of catchy originals and notched a minor hit with their debut 45 “Leilani,” about a grief-stricken young man whose girlfriend gets tossed into an island volcano as a native offering to the gods, and set to an irresistible tribal thump one part Suzi Quatro’s “Can the Can” and several parts Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part 2).”

Turmoil then struck when first Rendall then Radalj quit, the former due to a budding career as a filmmaker, the latter out of frustration with Faulkner’s perceived dominance in the band as frontman and chief songwriter. By this point Faulkner was already convinced that a three-guitar Gurus was too limiting and gimmicky—earlier, they’d landed an actual spot opening for Gary Glitter when he toured Australia, and the consensus among Glitter Band members was that the Gurus needed to beef up their bottom end—so replacing Rendall and Radalj were bassist Clyde Bramley and guitarist Brad Shepherd, both alumni of Radio Birdman offshoot the Hitmen and of bubblegum tribute combo Super K. The band dropped the “Le” from the name and the classic Hoodoo Gurus lineup that would record Stoneage Romeos was in place.

Recorded under the watchful eye of veteran producer-engineer Alan Thorne, Stoneage Romeos, released in the spring of ’84, was an instant hit in its native Australia. And with good reason: Happily plundering trash culture, dropping in a trainspotter’s buffet of classic pop references, and powering along with an insistent—and danceable—turbine-like precision, the album has a seductive timelessness that, even two decades on, still connects with rock ‘n’ roll fans of all stripes. Nowadays, Faulkner’s reluctant to name it among his favorite of the Gurus albums: reminded how one journalist suggested that Romeos, draped in reverb and echo, “sounds like it was recorded in a cave” (in the context of the original review, a positive comment), he complains that the record “is, for me, very antique sounding—we always wanted to ‘make a din’ and some of the rough edges we had live got softened in the studio. What I am happy about it is that it still sounds fresh and lively. And good on the hi-fi.”

That it does: there’s the aforementioned glitter-glam slam of “Leilani”; Brit Invasion jangle, Flamin’ Groovies style, in “I Want You Back”; twisted Cramps psychobilly for “Dig It Up”; and vintage bubblegum pop in the “Hang On Sloopy”-like “My Girl.” It all bursts from the speakers, aglow with an analog warmth that not even contemporary digital reconfiguring can obscure.

As a wordsmith, Faulkner was, by his own admission, very specific with his imagery. On subsequent Gurus albums he’d deliberately move away from tackling quirky lyric topics, but for Romeos his imagination ran wild. For example “Tojo,” on the surface, concerns a girl named Tracy who blows in and out of a guy’s life and leaves him in ruins, but as Faulkner points out, “it’s really a series of very bad puns about a tropical depression,” e.g. Cyclone Tracy, which hit northern Australian city Darwin in 1975 on Christmas Eve. In the case of the heart-on-sleeve sentiments of “My Girl” (boy takes girl to school prom, girl slips outside to snog with a different boy), that song, too, has a double meaning: “It was a love song about love songs, a tribute to all the ‘60s boy-girl love songs, and I felt bad that some people would get quite sad about it —‘That poor guy!’—because it was just a joke!”

If there’s any one track on the record that sums up the Gurus aesthetic at the time, it’s album opener “(Let’s All) Turn On,” a boisterous, Fleshtones-worthy frat-party anthem whose lyrics namecheck all of Faulkner’s musical obsessions in just over three minutes. Sings/speed-raps Faulkner, “Shake Some Action, Psychotic Reaction, No Satisfaction, Sky Pilot, Sky Saxon/ That’s what I like, that’s what I like/ Blitzkrieg Bop to the Jailhouse Rock, Stop Stop Stop At The Hop, do the Bluejean Bop/ That’s what I like, that’s what I like!”

And that’s just the first verse.

“Ah-ha!” Even from half-way around the planet, I can tell Faulkner is grinning on the other end of the telephone line. “There was one review that actually criticized us for that, saying The Fleshtones’ ‘Hall of Fame’ was far cooler in its references. And it definitely is! But we weren’t trying to be the smartest guys on the block. We wrote that song over pizza and a flagon of wine.”

Unlike many of their Australian peers, the Gurus, who were signed to the Big Time label at home, secured a U.S. deal, with A&M, for their album, although a foreshadowing that the liaison wouldn’t last came when A&M insisted on redoing the Romeos cover art. The Australian LP sported a cartoonish nod to the 1966 caveman flick One Million Years B.C., all menacing dinosaurs and Day-Glo colors; in America, consumers got a stylized sleeve featuring arty renditions of the giant reptiles. “Bad coffeetable art, very anonymous and boring,” is Faulkner’s assessment. “On the U.S. tour fans are bringing up the Australian copies for us to sign—they were all getting them on import! Yet at the end of the tour, A&M says to us, ‘Oh well, we don’t really think the cover will affect sales it all.’ Like, when they’re right, they’re right, and when they’re wrong, they’re still right.”

Shortly before the ’84 American tour, drummer James Baker quit the band, replaced with Mark Kingsmill (another former member of the Hitmen), and, as previously noted, the band went down a storm in the U.S. The following year brought Mars Needs Guitars, released here by Big Time-America after a dispute with A&M resulted in the band being dropped by the label. Like its predecessor, the album became a college radio favorite on the strength of tracks such as rousing punk-powerpopper “Like Wow—Wipeout” and psychedelic ballad “Bittersweet,” and in 1986 plans were laid for the Gurus to do a co-headlining tour with another group of up-and-comers, The Bangles. However, just before the tour, the Bangles’ single “Manic Monday” started taking off, eventually reaching number two in the U.S. charts.

“We were like, ‘Well… I guess we won’t be co-headlining after all!’” Faulkner laughs good-naturedly. “So, it was more of a Bangles tour, doing larger and larger venues. But it was amazing—we ended up playing the Greek Theater in L.A. We had a great time, and both bands loved each other as artists, so it wasn’t hard, just fun.”

The Bangles connection extended to the third Gurus LP, 1987’s Blow Your Cool, which featured the four ladies singing on two songs (members of the Dream Syndicate also guested on the album, recorded in L.A.). Faulkner describes the making of the record as a “dark period” and calls its producer Mark Opitz (INXS, Divinyls) a “yuppie wanker, and arsehole” who pitted band members against one another in the studio. And while Blow Your Cool also did well, the strain of recording took its toll on bassist Bramley, who quit before 1989’s Magnum Cum Louder and was replaced by Rick Grossman.

The Faulkner-Shepherd-Kingsmill-Grossman lineup subsequently recorded the albums Kinky, Crank and Blue Cave, although not long after the release of the latter, Faulkner announced that the Gurus would tour through the end of 1997 then disband, a move he says was prompted by a sense that he was “all written out—I didn’t want to go in again and do a half-baked album, so hey, it’s been good, let’s stop it before we become embarrassing.”

Assorted solo projects ensued, then in 2002 a mysterious EP appeared by a band calling themselves the Persian Rugs—the Gurus in disguise, essentially pulling a Dukes Of Stratosphear and doing ‘60s-styled garage, pop and psychedelia. This was followed in ’03 by a Persian Rugs full-length, Turkish Delight, and with the old chemistry reestablished, by the following year the group had officially resumed operations under the Hoodoo Gurus banner, resulting in 2004’s Mach Schau.

“The Persian Rugs was me doing a complete ‘60s revival sort of thing,” explains Faulkner. “Also, in a funny way, it was my own sort of version of retaliating at all the critics who always harped on the Gurus’ ‘60s influences: ‘You want to hear what I do when I do ‘60s? Here it is!’ But I also had a whole lot of songs after the Gurus broke up, and though I rehearsed them with different musicians, they just couldn’t seem to get the flavor of what I was trying to do. It became obvious to me that there was only one band that could play these songs the way I wanted to hear them. So Mach Schau, far from us coming back and being ‘middle aged’ and writing for an older fan base, we just wanted to make a hard rocking record that out-did anything we’d ever done. We really blew a gasket on that one—it’s our Presence, like Led Zeppelin.”

***

Following the release of Mach Schau, in 2005 the Australian division of EMI Records reissued expanded/remastered editions of all the Hoodoo Gurus albums; also released was Tunnel Vision, a two-DVD set compiling every Gurus video, a wealth of never-before-seen live material and a smartly-done retrospective documentary, Be My Guru. The band subsequently struck a deal with New York label Virtual, which is distributed through Ryko, to restore their back catalog to print in the U.S.; the initial brace of releases, Stoneage Romeos and the Tunnel Vision DVD, hit stores in October. Still a significant draw in their home country (in 2005 the Gurus co-headlined the annual Big Day Out festival with Metallica and the Strokes), they hope to capitalize upon that American profile-boost by coming to the States in March for South By Southwest. And plans are in place to make a new Gurus album, but Faulkner says he needs more time to write new songs so they’ve postponed what would have been January recording sessions until May or June.

Absent from these shores since 1995, in spirit the Gurus never really went away. You can still catch the occasional video clip on VH1-Classic, and enlightened deejays at community and college radio stations are known to cue up a Gurus track from time to time as well. “I Want You Back” in particular hasn’t lost any of its jangly lustre—and the video for the song, which features the Gurus in all their teased-hair, Aqua-Netted glory performing while Claymation dinosaurs frolic around them, still exudes a quirky, primitive charm.

Noting that “I Want You Back” was the track that introduced the Gurus to America, I can’t resist asking Faulkner if the song, with its lyrics about a breakup and the messy aftermath (“It’s not that she’s gone away/ It’s the things I hear she has got to say/ About me—and about my friends…”), was about a particular girl who dumped him?

“No, and, ah, I don’t really want to go into it,” says Faulkner, adding, “but it’s definitely true.” He pauses for a moment, then emits a self-conscious chuckle, as if he feels foolish for coming across so cryptic. “Well… okay. I guess I can finally talk about that.

“Basically, when [co-founder] Rod Radalj left the Gurus he was very dismissive of us, trying to move on and kind of burn everything behind him: ‘Oh, it’s not worth staying in that band. They’re terrible!’ So, I basically turned that emotion around: ‘Here’s this guy who ditched us and he’s acting like the spurned lover!’ It was me saying, ‘You’ll regret it.’”

Yet with its jangly melody, soaring vocal harmonies and overall yearning vibe, “I Want You Back” has all the earmarks of classic guy-girl pop.

“Well, yeah, I just turned all that stuff into a relationship song.” Faulkner says. “I don’t know why people don’t realize that it’s an anger song. You’re right, they think it’s a longing song. But it’s not a song about ‘I wish you’d come back,’ but—‘You’ll wish you were back!’”

 

Slaying the Sacred Cows, Pt. 1: Neil Young’s “Harvest”

OK, Boomers: Ever wondered why Saint Neil’s biggest-selling album is also his sloppiest, least engaging one? Screw the music biz-approved “Heart of Gold” narrative, let’s dig a bit deeper. From the editor’s deep archives, originally published in the 2004 rock-writing anthology Kill Your Idols: A New Generation of Rock Writers Reconsiders the Classics (edited by Jim DeRogatis and Carmel Carrillo, published by Barricade Books). First installment of our new series, “Slaying the Sacred Cows” – step back, it might get bloody.

BY FRED MILLS

Let’s start with a selected time-line:

10 Bazillion B.C. – 1969: God creates the cosmos; Jesus dies for Mankind’s sins; McDonald’s serves its first cheeseburger; Charles Manson kills off the hippie dream; and Neil Young is inducted into the superstar club by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

1970:  The perennially-waffling Young can’t decide which he prefers, being a hippie poet laureate or the “Y” at the ass-end of “CSN&Y.” He does decide that LA sucks, however, and he moves up north to a ranch.

1971: Thanks to a nasty back and spinal injury Young spends much of the year in bed and popping pain pills but still manages to assemble his fourth solo album.

February 1972: Harvest is issued by Reprise Records. Both the album and the single “Heart of Gold” shoot to the top of the charts.

1973 – 2003: The music world is overrun by simpering singer-songwriters obsessed with the D chord and first-person pronouns

2004: Charles Manson is denied parole once again.

***

Calling Harvest a lesser Neil Young effort isn’t that much of a stretch. Hell, a preliminary warning to that effect appeared shortly after the album’s release when critic John Mendelssohn, in the March 30, 1972, Rolling Stone, submitted a dryly hilarious but pointed assessment of its dubious charms.

Among Mendelssohn’s chief complaints: nearly every song on Harvest bears a “discomfortingly unmistakable resemblance” to earlier Young compositions; the stiff musical performances themselves are “restrained for restraint’s sake, and ultimately monotonous”; the lyrics are oftentimes “flatulent and portentous nonsense” routinely plagued by “rhyme-scheme forced silliness” and offer “few rewards to the ponderer.”

Mendelssohn also concluded that Young’s superstar status ensured his audience “will eagerly gobble up whatever half-assed baloney he pleases to record.” I’m here to tell you his prediction came true, and that – o, the shame! — back in the day I, too, did gobble my share of Youngian half-assedness.

My 17th birthday occurred right after Harvest appeared in stores. Do the math and you’ll quickly realize that, as a baby-boomer, I was primo demographic material for a record such as Harvest. Along with my boomer peers, I kept it in the Top 40 for 25 weeks and made it the best-selling album of 1972. Blame me for its ensuing cultural ubiquity if you wish. But understand that in 1972, for a liberal-minded teenager with inclinations towards hirsute grooming, sucking down doobs and pursuing those elusive young fillies in their peasant dresses, denim jackets and cowgirl (in the sand) boots, falling under the spell of a cultural totem like Harvest was a forgone conclusion.

As Johnny Rogan, in his 2000 critical bio Neil Young: Zero To Sixty, put it, “Young’s name was synonymous with the sound of the moment and he was increasingly perceived by the record-buying public as the hippie troubadour, blessed with a songbook of catchy, carefully crafted compositions and pleasing bittersweet melodies.”

My initial encounter with the album actually left me a tad underwhelmed; in retrospect I should have listened with my head and not my headphones. “Heart of Gold” sounded okay, but it didn’t “rock”; and even the “righteous jam” of “Alabama” paled compared to the similarly-themed and -arranged “Southern Man” from an earlier Young album. I also recall being sorta creeped out by the textured, chalky-grainy feel of the sleeve; give me the faux –leatherette sleeve of Déjà Vu any day. Still – it was Neil, and like most of all the other it-was-Neils who bought Harvest, I accepted it as my duty to embrace the album and proselytize in the name of you-know-who.

Blind faith, of course, always extracts a price.

***********

Several decades’ worth of hindsight and a couple hundred Neil Young bootlegs later, I see Harvest as an unexpected but not altogether unexplainable artistic low sandwiched in between a pair of notable, three-album highs.

The first, which I’ll call the Laurel/Topanga Canyons trilogy (1969’s Neil Young and Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere plus 1970’s After the Gold Rush), has long been acknowledged as one of rock’s most impressive early-career sunbursts. The second, assuming we omit the 1972 film soundtrack Journey Through The Past, is an equally brilliant, but different kind of supernova, a booze- and chemical-fueled one, comprising rolling drunk revue live album Time Fades Away, from 1973; 1974’s moody but epochal On The Beach; and the black hole of nihilism that is Tonight’s The Night, recorded in ’73 but held back for two years. You get rock, you get revolution, you get sex, you get drugs — sometimes all at once, a six-album rollercoaster ride across the counterculture that, listened to now, conjures key moods of the era while still sounding fresh and provocative. Somebody should do a box set.

Leave Harvest out, however. Young biographer Jimmy McDonough, in his 2002 book Shakey, pointed out how much of the album now sounds “heavy – as in turgid,” and that’s as good a description as any. What should have been an engaging, back-to-roots project turned out instead to be a meandering, unfocused affair characterized by plodding-to-the-point-of-anesthetized rhythms, slight (if, on the surface, pleasant) melodies, and a lyrical outlook that could be charitably described as relentlessly narcissistic.

Young himself candidly admitted, speaking to writer Cameron Crowe for a 1979 Rolling Stone profile, how “being laid up in bed [following his back injury] … I became really reclusive. There was a long time when I felt connected with the outer world ‘cause I was still looking. Then you get everything the way you want it. You stop looking out so much and start looking in. And that’s why in my head I felt something change… I was lying on my back a long time. It affected my music. My whole spirit was prone.”

************

The Cliffs Notes version of the making Harvest goes roughly like this:

In the fall of 1970, following a massively successful CSN&Y tour and a breakup with his first wife, Neil bought a ranch so he could get back to the country, get his head together and whatnot. A subsequent back injury incurred while working on the farm, coupled with an aggravated spinal disc problem, forced him to spend a fair amount of time in bed and on heavy pain medication. Wearing an uncomfortable back brace, he went out on a solo tour in late ’70 and early ’71 during which time he premiered a number of new tunes, several of them hinting at Neil’s blossoming romance with actress Carrie Snodgrass.

Shortly after the tour Neil went to Nashville to appear on the Johnny Cash On Campus TV show. While in Nashville he hooked up with local producer and studio operator Elliot Mazer, who rounded up drummer Kenny Buttrey, bassist Tim Drummond and pedal steel player Ben Keith – Neil dubbed ‘em The Stray Gators – and commenced recording sessions for Harvest. Neil returned to Nashville later in the year to cut some more material, holding additional sessions back at his ranch when his ongoing back ailments precluded travel. Also in the Gators: Neil’s old friend and producer Jack Nitzsche, on piano and slide guitar, who’d previously overseen a February recording session in London featuring Neil on piano and backed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Reprise Records initially wanted to release Harvest in time for Christmas. Those plans were scotched while Neil dithered over matters involving the track listing (at the last minute he decided he wanted to include an acoustic song, “The Needle And The Damage Done,” recorded during the earlier solo tour) and sleeve design (a gatefold affair, it featured a fragile and strangely-textured oatmeal paper for both the sleeve and the lyric insert). The album was finally issued the following February.

Harvest, then, represents a mish-mash of material culled from multiple recording sources: Four songs hailed from the Nashville sessions; three were cut at Neil’s ranch; two in London with the orchestra; and the live solo number. Therein lies one of the album’s chief flaws: its maddening lack of consistency.

Now, it should go without saying that Neil Young is among a select few artists – Dylan, in particular – who’s frequently revered for his very inconsistency. Fans have come to accept, for example, that the cost of getting a Freedom or a Ragged Glory is having to sit through a Landing On Water or a Life first. Critics, for their part, cite Neil’s damn-the-marketplace approach to record-making as evidence of a fearless, uncompromising muse constantly shifting gears in a quest for new artistic strategies.

I’m not so sure any of that applies to Harvest. Bloody-mindedness is one thing, but Percodan-fueled indecision is another matter entirely. Not even counting some of the problems (plodding tempos, overly reined-in performances, etc.) ticked off above, Harvest’s internal inconsistency makes for a bumpy, at times downright jarring, ride. One minute we’re in mellow-yellow lalaland (“Heart Of Gold”) then the next we’re tossing back shots and getting rowdy with the crew out in Neil’s barn (“Are You Ready For The Country?”); the reflective mood of “Old Man” is abruptly shattered by the orchestral bombast of “There’s A World”; and so forth.

Need I add that the actual sound quality of Harvest, is equally schizophrenic? One challenge for Neil, Mazer and Nitzsche was to make the Nashville, London and ranch material all synch up sonically, but if it crossed their minds at all they were still too lazy to put forth much effort. A striking example of this is when the audience claps at the conclusion of “Needle And The Damage”: instead of a fade-out, or the applause being cut entirely, a sudden edit boots the listener headfirst into the opening chords of “Words.” While I have no doubt the effect was intentional, it just comes across as sloppy.

What really bugs me about the album is what it could have been. “Country-rock Neil,” maybe, comprising an entire set of the Nashville material, and there are a number of viable contenders in circulation as bootlegged outtakes, notably the woozy “Bad Fog of Loneliness” and the sweet “Dance Dance Dance.” Perhaps by keeping the overall vibe consistent with what Young presumably intended as a laid-back, autumnal theme, some of Harvest’s performance flaws wouldn’t have been as glaring. (In effect Neil attempted to right his own wrong some 20 years later by reconvening the Stray Gators and creating Harvest Moon, a vastly superior and more aesthetically pleasing effort than its namesake.)

I’d personally vote for “Jamming-in-the-barn-Neil”:  Take slide-guit rocker “Are You Ready For The Country?”, gospel-blooze “Alabama” and the complete 16-minute version of “Words” (which would later surface on Journey Through The Past) then throw in a couple more tight-but-loose honky-tonkers and you’d have a – umm, well, you’d probably have a studio variation on what Time Fades Away, recorded on tour in early ’73 with the Stray Gators, sounds like. But you get the point.

**********

In one sense, lyric analysis is a sucker’s game. One can take words and lines out of context to back up or illustrate practically any claim, pro or con. But some of the sitting ducks that Neil floats out onto the Harvest pond are too irresistible not to take a pull or two at ‘em.

As right-on as the sentiments expressed in “Alabama” are (yes, slavery and racism are bad!), the metaphor “your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch/ and a wheel on the track” seems slightly askew; shouldn’t that second wheel be on the road, since ditches are usually found beside roads and not tracks? (Is that a railroad track?) Of course, “road” doesn’t rhyme with the word “back” in the couplet that precedes it, so… The famous titular metaphor in “Heart of Gold” fares somewhat better; it’s kinda romantic-sounding, and it’s also gussied all nice and purty in burnished acoustic guitar chords, sweetly humming pedal steel and a subtly yearning bassline. But try popping the line on a gal at a bar sometime: “Hi. Looking at you makes me realize I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold for a long time.” Don’t forget to duck; she’s either gonna take a swing at you or beer will squirt from her nose from the laughter.

What about that nifty little simile bobbing politely there in the middle of “Old Man”? It goes, “love lost, such a cost/ give me things that don’t get lost/ like a coin that won’t get tossed/ rolling home to you.” I think I catch part of Neil’s drift; he’s talking about needing stability in life and love, right? But the whole coin thing eludes me. Does he mean the untossed coin is desirable because it’s safe in your pocket and won’t get lost, or is he saying an untossed coin is cool because the coin (representing Neil, who presumably doesn’t like making his decisions based on a coin toss) is free to roll on home? Oy. My head is hurting. Maybe he should have used “stone” in place of “coin” – then he could rhyme it with “home.” But I digress… I must admit I am attached to the simile in “The Needle and The Damage Done,” the tagline “every junkie’s like a setting sun.” Far from being a lazy rhyme (“sun” with “done”) or uneven imagery (one critic huffed that setting suns are beautiful whereas junkies most assuredly are not), it seems pretty dead-on, as anyone who has ever observed a junkie nodding out with his eyelids gradually shutting – or, in the large sense, watched a junkie’s spirit slowly close down — knows.

While I’m giving Neil some due here, let me also say that my favorite song on the album also seems to have the strongest, or “least flawed,” lyrics. For Harvest to be considered such a classic singer-songwriter album it’s remarkably devoid of epiphanies or universal truths. I’m sorry, but “Heart of Gold”’s tagline “and I’m getting old” won’t cut it, and I defy anyone to make sense – literal, poetic, cosmic or otherwise — of “words between the lines of age,” from “Words.” (Jack Nitzsche famously pilloried that song’s lyrics as “dumb.”) But Neil partly redeems himself in “Are You Ready For The Country?” It’s worth pointing out that to this day the song gets routinely misconstrued as Neil’s announcing his “new” country-rock direction. Blame lazy reviewers, who just looked at the song title, or country king Waylon Jennings, who covered the song, or Neil himself, who frequently whips it out at the annual Farm Aid concert. In fact, it’s so clearly a song about war (Vietnam was still raging in ’72), with direct references to the Left, the Right, the domino theory of Southeast Asia, dying for God and Country, etc., that it’s hard to fathom how anyone could get it wrong. While not as potent as “Ohio,” it’s still a compact, uncluttered anti-war number, a tale about a kid, about to ship out, talking first to a preacher (who lets him know that God will be on his side) and then to the hangman (who tells him unequivocably, “It’s time to die”).

Some have cited “A Man Needs A Maid” as an example of Neil being on top of his game. Admittedly it does carry a certain emotional heft, particularly at the end when Neil sings in a tiny, plaintive voice, “When will I see you again?” It’s a wonderful, nakedly vulnerable moment. But the whole housekeeper imagery, even as a metaphor for Neil’s insecurity and neediness, strikes me as slightly banal. I’m no poet, but maybe he could have considered some other lyrical options: “Hmm, lessee… ‘a man needs a – a- a- a- mechanic and, uh… someone to keep my gears turning and my motor running…’ Naw, naw…. howzabout – ‘a beekeeper, someone to keep my hive warm, bring me sweet nectar and buzz around all day…’ Yeah, that works.” Hey, it could have happened!

Earlier I called Harvest “relentlessly narcissistic.” Writing from one’s own point of view certainly isn’t a crime; part of any good songwriter’s appeal is how he translates his interior life to the lyric sheet. That said, methinks the man’s ego doth runneth over on Harvest. I ran the lyrics though my trusty old Schlock-O-Meter and arrived at some telling stats: “I” and “my” are the first words of three songs; “I,” “my” and “I’m” appear in the first line of three other songs; and in still three others, “I” is prominently positioned as a line’s first word. That’s nine out of ten songs. Even after giving byes to “Alabama” and “Are You Ready for The Country” for being political and not personal screeds we’re still left with a whopping 70% of Harvest being an exercise in solipsism, not storytelling.

The last thing I want to touch on might best be addressed in a court of law, but here goes anyway: Can Neil Young be sued for what he spawned with Harvest? Seriously. That album gave every half-assed folkie on the planet license to whine. All these years later we’re still knee-deep in legions of groveling, simpering, me-fixated singer-songwriters whose sole stock in trade basically boils down to this: “I got up today/ I fixed a cup of coffee/ Looked around/ And saw you were gone/ My heart was heavy/ So I wrote this song about you/ It kinda made me feel better….” Your honor, we’re willing to stipulate lifetime probation for Mr. Young, but absolutely no charity concerts in lieu of his community service.

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It’s interesting to note that Harvest was recently the sole focus of an entire book, published in 2003 as part of part of Continuum’s “33 1/3” series in which classic records are dissected but otherwise praised by virtue of inclusion in the series. Author Sam Inglis does a fine job and he claims to love the album, although one wonders how loyal to Harvest he truly is given that he voices many reservations similar to those expressed above yet rarely offers any evidence to the contrary. (A probing of Tonight’s The Night would have made for far better reading.) If the best defense one can mount of a record comes across that conflicted, why bother in the first place?

So if Harvest’s faults are so glaring, if critics routinely savage the album — or, in the case of Inglis, damn it with faint praise — and if its creator even tries to atone for his lapse by redoing it years later, what accounts for the fact that it continues to sell bucketloads? (Fun Fact #1: Harvest was the first album in Young’s back catalog to be reissued on CD, while last year it also became the first Young title to be sonically overhauled – by Young and producer Mazer, no less — for the DVD-A format.) As recently as last year Aimee Mann, a gifted songwriter who’s hardly your garden variety mainstream Best Buy-shopping schmuck, was talking to Entertainment Weekly about essential records to own. Gushed Mann, of Harvest, “My babysitter brought this over one night when I was a kid and I was fascinated. It had such a haunting and mournful quality.” Mann should know better, but I’m not going to launch an ad hominem argument this late in the essay. I’m also somewhat tempted to take the easy way out and play the baby-boomer ’72 nostalgia card and be done with the matter. (Fun Fact #2: In August of 2003, a second-stringer named Josh Rouse issued an album of half-baked lite-rock entitled 1972.) But maybe the noble approach is to simply call Harvest’s enduring appeal a mystery, throw up my arms and say, beats the hell out of me.

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Besides, I have a story to finish.

Back in the summer of ‘72 I’d become deeply smitten by a hippie-chick type who I privately referred to as my “Cinnamon Girl.” After finally screwing up the courage to ask her if she wanted to go out some night and smoke some dope, I rushed out and bought a second copy of Harvest, this one on 8-track tape (for the car, natch). I mean, how could these sensitive, tuneful songs about maids and men, about weekends and words – about hearts of gold! – fail to get me to first… second…. third base… oh wow…

Somewhere in between the mellow notion of Harvest as an album and the theoretically sure-fire “Heart of Gold,” however, my Cinnamon Girl turned into the Cynical Girl. I sensed I might be losing ground when she mocked my air-piano playing during “Maid.” Thirty seconds into “HOG” she complained, “Gawd, he is soo whiny sounding… you don’t have Deep Purple In Rock do ya,” and summarily ejected the 8-track. That’s when I deduced that tonight was not gonna be the, uh, night. With no Purp on hand, I shoved in Wheels Of Fire instead and fired up another joint. I think we both passed out during the drum solo in “Toad.”

For a long time afterwards, I held a grudge against Neil for delaying the loss of my virginity by at least six months. (That’s an eternity in teenage time.) I eventually got over it, though, and Neil is still my favorite all-time artist. Picks to click: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Sleeps With Angels, and the 1991 tour with Sonic Youth as the opening act.

To this day, however, I can’t pick up a copy of a Harvest and touch that textured sleeve without cringing.

The BLURT Zine Roundup (Fall/Winter 2019 Edition)

Support your local fanzine and the bands it covers…. Plus, your local independent printer and/or copy shop!

BY TIM “INK-STAINED FINGERS” HINELY

 Big Stir magazine (#4)

This terrific little mag is relatively new on the zine scene. Editors Rex and Christina (they run the Big Stir records label and are in the band The Armoires…in addition to all of that I think they probably have real jobs, too!) popped out 3 quick issues and here’s #4. This ish is color/glossy all the way through and just has a real cool look to it (thanks to main artist Joseph Champniss) and has interview with Russ Tolman/Steve Wynn (they ask each other questions), plus Nelson Bragg, Kimberly Rew, Matthew Seligman, Robbie Rist and plenty more. Oh, and not just music…there’s recipes in this baby, too! You won’t not like it. You just won’t (in fact you’ll probably love it!).  www.bigstirrecords.com

The Big Takeover (#84)

You can count on Jack Rabid’s Big Takeover mag like clockwork, every June and December (like daylight savings time…which was just last night, well the end of it anyway).  Bob Mould is the cover star for this ish (and the interview with him is excellent) and in addition to that you’ve got long interviews with The Beths, Joe Jackson, The Cyrkle, Chip Kinman, Bev Davis, plus part 2 of both The Alvvays and Walter Lure interviews. There’s also the usual short takes of lotsa other bands and a boatload of reviews (yup, boatload…think The Love Boat). At 152 pages it’ll keep you occupied for a good long while.     www.bigtakeover.com

Dynamite Hemorrhage (#7)

Former Superdope editor Jay Hinman is back and D.H. is still going strong (thankfully). This one is another half-sized one and, like I said about the previous issue, it looks fantastic (clean layout). In this ish he has interviews with Neutrals’ Sofie Herner plus the late Mike Atta from the Middle Class, Bridget Hayden, the Ex-Lion Tamers and a terrific overview of every issue of Forced Exposure (???!!!). There’s plenty of reviews, too.  Jay’s still got the enthusiasm of his 20-year-old self.   Believe it. www.dynamitehemorrhage.com

Incremental Decrepitude (#6)

 Mr. Dave Brushback is back. I wish he’d publish more often but he runs on this own schedule, we call it Brushback time. You probably remember Dave from the mags Run It and Brushback as well as others. This one is another pocked-sized ish. He’s got interviews with Rob Noyes, Richie Records and Stefan of C/Site Recordings. There’s also record, show and zine reviews so he packs a lot in to not a ton of pages.  I’ve always liked Dave’s writing style (he doesn’t mince words). Could be gone but still write to him to find out. Rock_in_my_shoes@yahoo.com

Own the Whole World (#17)

I could swear that Arizonan (ex-Ohioan) Bob Forward had a new ish out of O.T.W.W. (#18?)  but I’m not finding it, I know he is working on a new one so be on the lookout.    ubgun12@yahoo.com

Skill Shot (#53)

This is Gordon Gordon’s pinball zine out of Seattle (he used to do the great punk mag WDC Period years ago). It’s thin and glossy and covers the Seattle pinball scene like a blanket. Lots of fun and interesting graphics and very small type. Plus go to his site as it has a pinball map plus a link to a calendar, his blog and his podcast well. Also, how to order back issues.     www.skill-shot.com

Ugly Things (#51)

This the latest one from Mike Stax and his crew but there’s probably gonna be a new one out any day/week. Mike’s been putting these things out at such a rapid rate it’s hard to keep up. This ish of the mag that features “ugly sounds from past dimensions” has Randy Holden from Blue Cheer plus Wally Bryson (from The Choir), Night Shadows, Lenny Kaye, Peter Laughner and too much more, really. At 160 pages it’s a garage rock bible Read and then read again (I’m still finishing up issues #’s 48-50…slow reader here and lots to consume).   www.ugly-things.com

Vulcher (#5)

Yes! The Vulcher crew are back and I can only assume that issue #6 is around the corner.  Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy run the show with a long list of contributors (including yours truly). They all kick out the jams here and inside there’s contributions from Byron Coley, Rich & Melanie Coffee, Eric Friedl, Bob Forward, Shane Ringo and like 100 more. Eddie does a piece on Exek and Cropped Out festival while I chipped in with a piece on the Vulgar Boatmen. There’s also a Bob Bert interview and tons more.  Thick as a brick, this one is essential reading. www.vulcherfanzine.bigcartel.com

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Tim Hinely knows a thing or two about fanzine publishing, as rumors have it that he has put out legendary ‘zine Dagger since, apparently, the Watergate impeachment era. Maybe even the Andrew Johnson trial. “I just might cover this one, too,” muses Hinely, “although, if that Sarah Records label reunion tour actually happens, all bets are off.”

NOTHING TRICKY ABOUT THIS SONIC PITCH, JUST A SCORCHING… Fastball

Beloved Austin power pop trio whiffs their indie-rock competition with a new record, and our correspondent ventures into the bullpen to learn what went into it. Full access at their Facebook page, natch, and national tourdates will kick off in December.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s been just two years since the Austin-based rockers Fastball last released an LP. Clearly, they still had plenty more to say.

The Help Machine, Fastball’s seventh studio album since starting in the mid-1990s, sounds just as powerful as their 1996 debut, brimming with addictive hooks, taut power chords and a steady rhythm section. The band even brought along Southern California legend Steve Berlin (sax player for Los Lobos and The Blasters) to produce the record.

Though he’s best known as bassist/vocalist for the band, Tony Scalzo actually switched to keyboards and guitar for this outing. Scalzo spoke with Blurt recently about that decision, working with Berlin, and the band’s newfound – and fruitful – burst of creativity.

BLURT: The Help Machine comes not that long after your last LP. Did you guys just go through a fairly prolific period or were many of these songs originally meant for the last album?

TONY SCALZO: As songwriters, both Miles and myself have been generally prolific throughout even the “dry” periods of Fastball’s existence. We both put out solo albums in between releases of Fastball albums. Plus, there were two releases by The Small Stars, an interesting band Miles fronted for a few years. Speaking for myself, I’m always writing and composing. I had a band for four years with my friend, Kevin McKinney called Wrenfro. We performed mostly original music every week for three years at a now defunct club in Austin called, Strange Brew. When we released Step Into Light in 2017, I stepped away from that to focus on Fastball full-time. None of these new songs were written for Step Into Light, though some were written away from Fastball. Two of mine, “Doesn’t It Make You Feel Small” and “Girl You Pretended To Be”, were written while I was doing the Wrenfro thing and were performed live with other people before Fastball heard them.

How did you connect with Steve Berlin for this one?

Our manager brought up his name to produced and we jumped on it. I’ve been a fan of his work for years. Used to see Steve perform with The Blasters in the early ‘80s. Saw him a bunch in Los Lobos and was well aware of his production skills. I loved working with him and was kind of in awe of his focus on the project and his musical imagination. He came up with many ideas for parts I don’t think we could’ve come up with on our own. To my initial disappointment, he never busted out the sax, but as the project started taking shape, I realized there was no place for it.

What was the reasoning behind your decision not to play bass on this one?

I didn’t play bass on the record because Bruce Hughes was available. He has more imagination and way better chops than I do. I don’t see myself as a bassist.

Can you talk a little bit about the title track?

Miles wrote “Help Machine” and, in my opinion, it’s the kind of title that can be interpreted loosely. Song starts with lyrics that evoke a telephone help line or a 12-step meeting. Loosely. It’s very dreamlike and I think the songs provides all the information necessary.

You opted to put this one out on your own label? Why go that route vs. using a traditional record label again?

Fastball has been virtually independent since we left Hollywood Records after Harsh Light Of Day in 2001. Even while signed to Ryko it felt like an indie label because our A&R rep was our friend, Rob Seidenberg, who originally signed us to Hollywood when he was there. I see absolutely no reason to be on a major label. Nobody tells us what to do and we owe no money. It’s all us. As far as getting our music noticed, I think we do pretty well. Energy keeps building at a nice, consistent pace and I see much improvement. We just needed a bit of time to adjust to the way the modern industry works.

The band has been around long enough to experience the music business at two different extremes – when they spent a lot of money signing bands and where they are at now. Do you think it’s easier or harder now for new bands to get noticed?

Quick success is hard to adjust to and we had difficulty realizing just who we were as a band after All The Pain in 1998. We were so busy touring we never worked on improving any aspect of our band/live show. But since we never got huge that seemed to put us in a place where we just kept going because it was the best vehicle for all three of us to get records made and go out and play. I think if we sold twice as many records as we did, we may have imploded. All the weird things that happen with fame…yada yada.

You’ve already announced some new dates – do you plan on adding more and touring for much of the next few months? 

Yes, we have future dates into 2020, we will probably do something that resembles a proper tour in the new year.

What’s next for the band? 

We will continue to make records and play live all over the world at our own pace.

 

 

 

INDIE FILM FESTIVAL WRAP-UP: 2nd Annual Film Fest 919, Chapel Hill, NC

Scroll to the bottom to view the 1st Annual Matti Awards, aka our resident “Movie Thoughts” film critic Daniel Matti, “The Matties”

BY DANIEL MATTI

Last weekend (Oct. 9-13) the 2nd annual Film Fest 919 – so named for the local area code – took over Chapel Hill, NC, and was welcomed with many moviegoers, as the seats were filled with area cinephiles to see the new and upcoming films that will shake the Academy Awards and box offices this holiday season. Movies like Parasite, which received the Audience Award for most popular movie during the festival, were screened a couple times to sold out theaters.

Also, there were events, such as the one featuring Lynn Roth, director of Shepherd : Story of a Jewish Dog, who was there during the screening of her fantastic movie and who did a Q&A.

 

Anthony McCarten (below) received the inaugural Distinguished Screenwriter Award.

An encore screening of Rocketman, which screened at the 1st annual Film Fest 919, was greeted with a special appearance of Ray Williams, CEO of Liberty Records, who went on to discover Elton John. Folks were also given a special presentation by four-time Academy Award-winning special effects supervisor and Director of Weta Digital, Joe Letteri. He showed the crowd behind the scenes looks as such films as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, and the Planet of the Apes trilogy.

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Top Films by Matti

-Parasite

A lot has been said about this movie. It’s hard to find a review about this movie that has something negative about it. I honestly haven’t seen one yet. That’s not what this review is going to be either. I honestly could go on and on about how stunning Parasite is but I will not bore you with my love for it I will pretty much just say, see it for yourself. If you like movies that will spin you around slap you in the face while someone else is fluffing a pillow to help you relax just to pull it out from underneath you; Parasite is the movie for you. Inexplicably beauty is one thing that Bong Joon Ho is known for, especially for his work in Memories of Murder, The Host, or Snowpiercer and Parasite is no difference other than its Bong Joon Ho at peak director level. No other film in, oh I don’t maybe 5 years has shook me this hard. Congratulations to the 92nd Foreign Film winner, even though the Oscars aren’t until February.

Release Date: In NYC/LA now. Early/Late November everywhere else

-Jojo Rabbit

From the brilliant mind of Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, What We Do In the Shadows) comes one of the most hilarious movies in quite some time. Jojo Betzler (Roman Davis) wants to be a Nazi soldier more than anything in the world and his imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi). Well from that alone it’s a doozy of a story to think about releasing in a hate filled time such as now. Taika calls it an anti-hate film and it is just that. As Jojo finds his mother Rosie Betzler (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish Girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in the walls of their home, Jojo tries to understand more than just what he sees in his world and decides to be more passionate. Surpringlsy filled with more belly laughs than most “laugh out loud” comedies that are pumped out normally, this has compassion and heart that most comedies lack.

Release Date: Theatrically released on October 18

– Shepherd: The Story of a Jewish Dog

Based upon the award-winning and bestselling Israeli novel, “The Jewish Dog” by Asher Kravitz the film, directed by extremely talented Lynn Roth, has a dog as one of its main characters. Right from the get-go I knew I was in for a teary filled film that was going to win over every inch of my soul as soon as I sunk into my seat. As Kaleb, a loved German shepherd is separated from his Jewish Family we follow him as he is pushed to becoming a SS Officer’s companion and attack dog to help search out Jews for concentration camps. Through the love and feeling that the dog was once shown, he knows that this is not who he is and wants to be. This is one for the whole family and really anyone who needs a good cry.

Release Date: Theatrically and VOD early 2020

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All Around the World

-The Chambermaid

Mexico’s entry into the 92nd Academy Awards is a sure impressive film from Lila Avilés especially since it’s her first feature film. The Chambermaid tells the story of Eve (Gabriela Cartol), who is a hard working employee at one of Mexico’s luxurious hotel as she embarks on her journey the self-discovery and what is next in her life. She decides to take classes for the GED program through the hotel, which I want to point out that is amazing a job has this kind of program. With glorious colors on the screen the camera guides you through the many floors of the hotel and the problems that arise with the different occupants that fill the rooms.

Release Date: DVD release on Oct. 22 and will run on Starz starting Nov. 1.

-Beanpole

Kantemir Balagov’s movie Beanpole was a tough pill to swallow. The biggest slow burn of the festival but proved itself to be a film that would be an extremely impressive entry into the 92nd Academy Awards on behalf of Russia. The real impressive part was when I found out that Kantemir Balagov is only 23 years old. Beanpole is about Leningrad during World War II and follows two main characters as they try to rebuild their lives as they are surrounded around devastating results the war has left on the city and their personal lives. Iya(Viktoria Miroshnichenko ) is left with Masha’s(Vasilisa Perelygina ) 3 year old son as she goes into world and comes back to discover that her son is accidently killed by Iya during an unfortunate accident that leaves chills down your spine throughout the whole film.

Release Date: TBD on theatrical US release. Now currently streaming on Mubi

-Chicuarotes

Anything with Gael García Bernal attached to it is an absolute must-see for me and this film did not disappoint and was also fortunate enough to find out this was the US debut of the film. Chicuarotes, which has two meanings 1) hot pepper, and 2) stubborn or nasty and is how the people from the area of San Gregorio Atlapulco identify as. Through the eyes of Cagalera (Benny Emmanuel) and his friend Moloteco (Gabriel Carbajal) as they get into all kinds of trouble and eventually have to get out of the worst kind of scenario they could put them in, kidnapping the local butcher’s child. Holding him for a petty ransom just so they could try and escape San Gregorio in hopes of a better life. With dark comedy infused with violent situations involving family and street life the film was overall a view that Gael García Bernal that has been pretty common in his films, see Y Tu Mamá También if you haven’t.

Release Date: TBD

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For the Film Geeks

If you like pretty cinematography and sound design and won’t stop talking about how good it looks or sounds aka some of my favorite films to talk about

-Greener Grass

Imagine walking into Pleasantville and eating too much acid, this was what Greener Grass felt like. From Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe and the brilliant directorial debut comes a story about Jill and Lisa, respectively played by the directors and writers of the film, comes a story that is so bizarre some people not enjoy but for others, they will love. Blending SNL, Tim and Eric, and Upright Citizens Brigade(who Jocelyn and Dawn are alumni of) style comedy it follows the story of a serial killer that terrorizes the town while the most bizarre things you can think of happens. Make sure to bring enough pool water to drink while you watch.

Release Date: In select theaters and VOD on October 18th

-In Fabric

What if a dress could kill you slowly? Would you continue to wear it because it made you feel good? Would you try and return it to the retail store from which you purchased it from? Yeah this went too far but from the mind Peter Strickland far is not far enough. Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays a recently divorcee who is looking to get back into the dating pool and tries to spice things up by purchasing a new dress from the hot discount clothing store, Dentley and Soper. I don’t want to spoil too much of this movie because this movie is a total mindfuck of a movie. Cavern of Anti-Matter blessed with some of the best score music since Good Time and the sound design; well let’s just say Peter Strickland has his finger on the pulse of knowing a good sound designer. See Berberian Sound Studio if you haven’t.

Release Date: Limited Theatrical run on December 6th

-Waves

This was one of my most anticipated films of Film Fest 919 and I wasn’t disappointed, I was just disappointed at the way the movie was marketed in the trailer. After knowing nothing but a trailer, which the trailer doesn’t spoil much, it just made me confused on what the actual film was supposed to be about. Overall the film leaves you feeling extremely nauseous to your stomach through the vile acts that Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) does throughout the film. I honestly don’t want to spoil too much here either because this is one of those films I feel like it’s absolutely necessary to go in as blindly as possible. Just imagine listening to 23 year olds IPod while a Harmony Korine film plays in the background and you have nailed the overall tone of Waves.

Release Date: Theatrical release on November 15

-Honey Boy

Following the early years of Shia LaBeouf, from the words of Shia LaBeouf comes a film that stings. Full of heart filled scenes from both Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges who play an older and younger Otis Lort (respectively Shia LaBeouf). Shia wrote the story while he was in a rehabilitation facility and you can really tell that he took the time to write the film about his life. If you have tear ducts that aren’t strong, I would highly recommend some tissues while watching.

Release Date: theatrical release on November 8

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Just in Time for the Holidays

Movies that you can bring the whole family and all agree that at the end of the movie, it was a good movie. Except your Uncle Frank. He still thinks Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a good movie.

-Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton is pretty much a household name at this point in time. Most people have known him from his roles as a character in one of Wes Anderson’s films, The Narrator in Fight Club, or Derek Vinyard in American History X. Many don’t know him as a director or a writer but that changes now as Edward is set to release his adaptation of Motherless Brooklyn later this year. Based on the novel Jonathan Lethem, the story follows Lionel, a private investigator with Tourette’s syndrome and the hunt to find the killer who murdered his mentor, played by Bruce Willis, in the 1950’s. With Edward directing, writing, and producing the film it feels like any film that he has starred in before but it is the cast around him that really pulls the best out of him. Michael K. Williams plays Wynton Marsalis who is a famous trumpet player, especially during 50’s NYC; the movie is full of high fueled jazz and scenes that give the astonishing look of NYC in its prime.

Release Date: theatrically released on November 1

-Ford vs. Ferrari

Faster and faster is the speed of Ford vs. Ferrari which clocks in at a cool 152 minutes. Leaving the theater you won’t even realize you were in a seat that long since the intensity of Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) hits the screen at the acceleration in which the story takes place. In 1963 Enzo Ferrari was approached by the Ford Motor Company for a buyout and was turned down when Fiat got word and intervened. When Henry Ford II gets word that the deal was turned down his next big plan is to take down Ferrari down in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race in Le Mans, France that is a 24 hour race through the countryside that your car must perform without mechanical failure. Ferrari had won 5 years in a row. With James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line) in the directing chair, the high speed races and intensity that he brought out in the actors will leave your palms sweaty.

Release Date: theatrically released on November 15

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Criminal Justice Unit

-The Report

The extremely heavy docudrama following Daniel J. Jones and the  Senate Intelligence Committee as they investigated the use of torture by the CIA following the September 11th attacks seems like it might be a bore since a lot of it is about how a once a nearly 7,000 page report came to fruition but it is quite the opposite. Adam Driver plays Daniel J. Jones and Annette Bening plays Dianne Feinstein and as you watch their back and forth from each scene they share you dive deeper into the real life scenarios that were behind the curtains from America’s public eye. With a cast that runs deep of stars including Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall and Corey Stall the pace is nothing but a car chase scene short of a thriller.

Release Date: theatrically released on November 15. Streaming on Amazon Prime begins on November 29

-Just Mercy

“This is about all of us” is the tagline from the movie and it fully immerses you into thinking so. Following the true story of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) who was wrongfully accused of killing Rhonda Morrison, and attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) who comes to defend his innonce after Walter was wrongfully imprisoned.

Release Date: theatrically released on December 25

-Clemency

Alfre Woodard needs to win an Oscar for a performance so strong that it feels like you are in the room of every scene with her through the tension and pain that is endured by her character. Alfre Woodard plays Warden Bernadine Williams, a death row warden who suffers from her own demons, her failing marriage, and the inevitable thought of having to put people through their last moments.

Release Date: theatrically released on December 27

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Netflix and Chill

These are films that are coming into a theater near you before their wide release on Netflix.

-Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach is releasing his newest film in a limited release on November 6th and on Netflix on December. I was fortunate enough to see it apart of the Film Fest 919 as the opening film. With a packed house and actress Martha Kelly there in attendance the film had overall positive reviews. I am one to agree with the chatter that was heard amongst the crowd while leaving. The story of a marriage that is at the end of its course, Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) go through the horrible tribulations of what it is to get a divorce. Through powerful back and forth monologues by the story’s main characters, certain scenes feel like a little bit longer than necessary but fulfills a story that has it’s up’s and down’s.

Release Date: limited theatrical release on November 6, 2019, followed by digital streaming on December 6, 2019, by Netflix.

-The Two Popes

From double Academy Award–nominated and double BAFTA-winning screenwriter, Anthony McCarten comes the new biographical-comedy about Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who becomes the future Pope Francis. From the beginning it feels like it will be a very mundane story but instantly becomes very lovable because of the almost Armando Iannucci style back and forth, tongue in cheek delivered dialogue from the two juggernaut actors.

Release Date: limited release in the United States on 27 November 2019, followed by digital streaming on 20 December 2019, by Netflix.

-The King

Before I entered the theatre to see The King, I checked the runtime to see what I was getting myself into and I accidently saw a review that deemed it almost a Game of Thrones rip-off. Well I’m here to tell you that is not what you are in for. The King doesn’t feel like a slow-burn period piece film that is typically associated with the genre. With huge performances from Timothee Chalamet (King Henry V), Joel Edgerton (Falstaff), and Ben Mendelsohn(King Henry IV), the film immerses you into the period of the Hundred Years’ War with France. For some of these actors including Robert Pattinson and Joel Edgerton this is not the first time they have worked with director, writer, producer, David Michôd, who is also known for his work on The Rover and Animal Kingdom. With glorious dialogue and stunning set decoration the film will guide you through this savage story of King Henry’s reign from the beginning.

Release Date: scheduled to be released on October 11 in a limited theatrical run before digital streaming on November 1, 2019, by Netflix

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The Matti & BLURT Ratings (aka The Matties) (pictured above: film critic Daniel Matti and editor Jojo Mills)

  1. Parasite (10/10)
  2. JoJo Rabbit (9/10)
  3. Shepherd : The Story of a Jewish Dog (9/10)
  4. Greener Grass (9/10)
  5. Clemency (9/10)
  6. In Fabric (9/10)
  7. Ford vs. Ferrari (8/10)
  8. Just Mercy (8/10)
  9. The Two Popes (8/10
  10. Beanpole (8/10)
  11. Chicuarotes (8/10
  12. Motherless Brooklyn (8/10)
  13. Honey Boy (8/10)
  14. Waves (8/10)
  15. The Chambermaid (7/10)
  16. The Report (7/10)
  17. Marriage Story (7/10
  18. The King (7/10)