THESE REVIEWS WERE ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY ME FOR ROCKABILLY MAGAZINE #49. SADLY, ROCKABILLY MAGAZINE HAS GIVEN UP THE GHOST. (It may return in online-only form.):
Demon Boogie Fever (Brain Drain
North Carolina's Tremors are lurching into their own.
True, previous discs "Scourge of the South" and Invasion of the Saucermen" already distinguished the slapped-up/stripped-down trio from bop contemporaries: the former reveling in hectic and gruesomely-technicolored fracture, the latter venturing into B-monster macabre.
It may be difficult to make 'old' sound new. But the Tremors did it, with stark and freakish hillbilly terror.
New CD "Demon Boogie Fever" passes by its predecessors, careening into a tilted romp 'n' stitch dimension not found on conventional maps. Sure, the basic sound is more pronounced traditional hillbilly than before. But it's what they do with that past -- twisting and contorting it into a strange new creature of unspeakable visage -- that accounts for its wonder.
"One of the things that really makes the Tremors different from a lot of our contemporaries is our unpolished, rural sound," says guitarist/yelper Jimmy Tremor. "It seems to become more rural with each record.
"We listen to a lot of primitive small label rockabilly, hillbilly/country from the late 40's and 50's and it's just so genuine & heart-felt that you can't help being influenced by it and wanting to play music that resembles it. The cover shot of us in the cornfield was just kind of the icing on the cake."
Tremors inimitable material, unsurprisingly, is the snarling/writhing product of combined effort.
"Usually, Slim or I come in to practice with the basic idea of a song," Jimmy says. "In some cases the songs are fully written, sometimes they need to be fleshed out. but every song is different in it's creation, and that of course, adds to it's personality.
"'Sweet Lovin' Man' originated from a loose jam while we were rehearsing. With 'Devil's Eyes' and 'Late Night Drive-In Monster Show' from 'Invasion.' Slim wrote the words and I wrote the music. Sometimes we'll add phrases to the other's song. but by the time that everyone's worked out their part and the arrangement is set, it really a band collaboration and reflects our unique stance as a band. That's why we always credit our tunes as group collaborations.
"Most of the covers that we put on records are songs that we've been playing since we started the band seven years ago. We learned tons of authentic rockabilly tunes to play long gigs and really immersed ourselves in it. But we worked up 'I Got It' and 'Big City' just for the record though.
"The covers that make it to a record are the ones that are closest to the songs we write ourselves, or songs we feel that we pull off a decent slant on. Some of them are songs that i wish that i had written myself (especially 'Drive-In' by Mack Vickery from the 'Uranium Rock' EP)
"I guess what it all comes down to is that we choose covers by how well they fit in with our identity as a band.
"We've been really lucky to have been able to work with someone like Steve Graham at Steve's House of Funk as our recording engineer/co-producer for so long. He worked with us on the 'Uranium Rock' EP and 'Invasion of the Saucermen,' previously. He really knows how to get the sound we're looking for. He's like a fourth band member in the studio. He's changed buildings since 'Invasion,' and I think the smaller room in the new studio really works better for the rockabilly sound. The whole band feels that this is our best sounding record to date.
"When i was calling around to get the mechanical rights for the cover songs, I called Knox Publishing concerning 'Rock Boppin Baby". The man who answered the phone said they didn't handle it there, but was curious about which song I was interested in. When I told him, he said, "That's an old song. I played on that".
It turns out that I was talking to with Roland Janes. I couldn't believe it. He seemed like a very nice, humble guy who had no idea of how extremely important his music really is."
"Before the Rooster Crows" (HKM)
"Oh, it's over, and it's not coming back," John Mellencamp recently told USA Today, of rock'n'roll. "The music is now fifth or sixth generation, and the farther you get away from the original, the worse it gets."
The pop notable hailed early Beatles, Stones, and Dylan, asserting that just as once-famous big band leaders are today largely forgotten, so eventually would be most rock'n'rollers.
England's Steve Hooker has been at rock'n'roll for decades -- he's gigged and recorded with pegged personages like Robert Gordon, Wilko Johnson, Boz Boorer, Johnny Thunders, and Levi Dexter. I emailed him for his thoughts on Mellencamp's bleak prediction.
"You caught me at a good and bad time," Steve responded. "I was just about to go to the studio to record with Levi Dexter, feeling unprepared and crazy!"
All such aside, though, he had at hand a ready idea-arsenal:
"[Mellencamp is] wrong in the first instance," he began. "Because of the Internet and other modern recourses people today are far more aware of the origins of roots music than they were in the 50's and 60's - I doubt if many teenagers over here knew the Beatles and the Stones were covering Arthur Alexander or that Dylan dug Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps any more than some American kids realized Pat Boone had pissed Little Richard off big time!
"Conversely - the problem I have with this authenticity obsession is that just like the song says 'you gotta move' - Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent didn't want to play beaten up old blues men's boxes - they wanted space rocket Fender fucking Stratocasters - even Bruce Sprinsteen didn't want to be the next Bob Dylan - he wanted to mix it up and be Mitch Ryder and Gary U.S. Bonds as well and he was!
"John wouldn't get that in the same way as I do - I can go out of an afternoon, sit in a bar and talk to ordinary people about this stuff and I can tell you their taste and knowledge is in advance of newspaper writers and media personalities."
His latest is what we'd expect from the RockabillyBlues/SoulMan. From the gut, thoroughly genuine. A corrupting beat-trove of slide-guitared dirty fun. The way taboo rock'n'roll (in its varied and thorny/horny countenances) sounded in its early years. And the way that, Mellencamp's dismalness to one side, it can still come over.
"I can't play in any other way than what's true to me," Steve wrote. "I guess this type of rhythm 'n' blues hybrid music became 'Mid Atlantic' when I was a kid - I can't and don't want to play or sing anything except what is deep inside of me - for instance I don't often refer to cars, automobiles or motorcycles except in passing because I don't have a drivers licence. I wouldn't sing that I was born Mississippi - but I might write about a girl in Tennessee or Las Vegas because I just spoke to her by email. It's all around us."
Sterling recommendations are "40 Dollar Picture (In a Priceless Golden Frame)," "Jeannie With the Dark Blue Eyes," and "Sugar Devil." (The video for this last, on Youtube, features Bernie Dexter.) The songs bounce and drive, crazily cool, sliding and swaying wonderfully in straight-on and rough-grained rock'n'roll rudeness. Bluesy harmonica swipes pack out the rollicking blast.
Special guests on some tracks include longtime Hooker pals Boz Boorer, Wilko Johnson, and Levi Dexter. Other familiar names joining Steve on "Before the Rooster Crows" are bassist Terry and drummer Eddie, who also helped out with Steve's earlier "Stagger Lee Is Back" and "Boptown."
Too, previous line-up the S.T.s are featured on "Motorcycle Ditch," and Rizlaz men Tetsuji and Hiroshi also pop in.
Think of basic, guitar-led romps of the sort the Rolling Stones gave up, back in the day. Or early Faces.
Steve agrees with that assessment. "I think we all drink from the same well. Obviously the Stones draw on the whole history of American music and growing up in the fifties with the development of television. I was influenced by the same things."
Steve digs that it isn't only the raucous sound but the brash attitude, the way our music makes you live and love and yell and dance and feel -- inside and out -- that won't ever go away. Can't ever go away.
Hell, he won't let it.
Tennessee Stomp (Hobolight)
HC's blooming anti-Industry bootstrapism -- entailing self-recording /booking/
everything -- grows organically from the band's above-all calling: taking rock'n'roll (in all of its sundry aspects, including honky tonk and punk) to barrooms full of hoarse-throated, mug-waving true believers. And now, the group is even better than before. Take that, Handlebar.
Recommended "Tennessee Stomp," "The Ballad of Psycho Steve"
Eddie Clendening featuring the Modern Sounds
"is...Knockin' At Your Heart" (Ventrella)
A lean and hungry cat -- trim sports jacket, trucker sideburns, talent in wicked abundance -- snaps open like a hipster's jacknife. Slicing off echoey slabs of flair is Chicago's uber versatile roots spellcasters Modern Sounds. If not royalty reborn, Mr. Eddie heads the shadow line.
Recommended "Long Tall Lou (from Louisville)," "Respectfully, Miss Brooks"
"Bound For Nowhere" (self)
A finer runway showcase for Karling's purring pouts and creamily sleek Grand Ol' Girlisms couldn't be designed. The tunes are skin-fitting, the players -- including Joel Morin, Joey Altruda, Wally Hersom, and Jeremy Wakefield -- steady and calculating. CMT should trashcan the prefab 10-gallon pop ooze and exalt this unabashed real country.
Recommended "My New Man," "Cowboy In Red"
The Chop Tops
"Deadly Love" (Swillbilly)
No surprise that these three cruel cats drew impressive fan numbers at Viva. As grit-stocked punk pools tilted outlook with country/ska/blues/verboten Sun psalmizings, pomaded thugs furiously kick-dance on a switchblade's razor: fists curled, 'fuck-you' eyes aflame.
Recommended "Hard Luck," "Nothing For Something"
Cry of the Wild Guitar (self)
Before broaching this all-instrumental picker's holiday, understand that there are no genre distinctions impervious to muse's free beckonings. Jimmi roams expansively, as naturally expressive within and attuned to twanged roots tips as more radical, provocative inclinations. Such is our reward.
Recommended "Cat Man Blues," "Funk Juice Part 2"
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch)
Clap hands, bend knees, and know that it's good to breathe. Raise dust 'round the porch to these upturned hearts anthemizing a jump-down, turn-around people -- and that's all of us, this being a chunk of America's heart. Yesterday/today seamlessness locates actualization via banjos, fiddles, leg percussion, and "computer hard drive 'triangle.'" Humanity steps it down.
Recommended "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine," "Cornbread and Butterbeans"
Truly Lover Trio
Suavity, enthrallingly gentle melodicism, implicit ebbulliance -- these rank prominently among TTT's identifiers. Affectionate and winsome nods to the Wink Troubador elevate Bullesye tall o'er less graceful and clambering roarers. Refinement, it seems, offers a strength not accessible to unthinkingly cacophonous cut outs.
Recommended "Twice Sorry," "You"
Kings of Nuthin'
"Old Habits die hard" (Sailor's Grave)
Having crossed the line between college kicks and bill-paying proposition, the Kings articulate matters that require living. Amid raucous-as-ever, punk-splayed and hyper-sudsy r&b (still the group's finest weapon) are a mature-perspectived can't-go-home essay, an aware, seasoned blast at the corporate music industry that routinely crushes musicians, and a markedly pensive piano/violin/cello moment in which strained-angst throat pipes nod toward Tom Waits.
Recommended "The List," "Congratulations"
"Police State" (Hazard Hill)
Laced up, splenetic and politically aware trio agitpunk, cut in 2006. (A congratulatory review of the latest Howitzer disc appeared earlier in these pages.) "They took our freedom with the Patriot Act...One world run by corporate greed" is, sadly, no less relevant in the Obama years as the Bush ones. Boots on!
Recommended "Inciting a Riot," "Some Gave All"
Hot Rod Hillbillies
"You Wanna Race" (HRHB)
Galloping down into town from the highest ridge is fatal thunder: The Xavier Ortiz Gang rides again. At the Lone Star string-strangler's elbow, their Colt's spitting flames, are Tony Slash, David Cisneros, Al Martinez, Dave Irish. As always, it's a crashing bar-chord hoedown. There'll be one helluva pit down at the old corral tonight...
Recommended "Good, Bad, Ugly," "Probation"
Enjoy This Boogie! (Goofin)
New film Deuce of Spades features this resurrected 80s Fin 'billy phenom in its soundtrack -- which handily recommends the cinema. Smoothly-phrased, bouncing bop with swing in its light step. Sonorous harmonies glide on melodic breezes. Smoldering. Surefootedness bespeaks rockers of letters.
Recommended "Boogieman," "Keep Up the Beat"
The Whiskey Daredevils
"Introducing..." (Drink N Drive)
Too rarely does one encounter players so enjoying their work. Atomic blast country-rock'n'roll plows recklessly into pixilated cheer. Superior songcraft, from unreined, flashing neon muse.
Recommended "West Akron Shakedown," "Me and My Black Eye"
Gino and the Lone Gunmen
s/t (Caspian See)
It is in its original moments (which predominate, 8 to 2) that this rollicking set shines coolest: envigorating neo-rockabilly that swings with bouyant jive. Gino Meregillano's assured voice and crazy-legged Gretsch sweep up to dizzying Everycat Acme. And Jonny Bowler (Guana Batz, Buzz Campbell Band) and Hal Smith (New Eldorado Jazz Band, Carl Sonny Leyland Trio) are the roundhouse rhythm team that will not be denied. Grab her tight -- gotta move.
Recommended: "Carolina Shag," "I Need A Drink," "North Park Swing," "Rockabilly Girl"
Shivers (Crazy Times)
Some communicate intensity with hurtling desperation. But that acute quality is here cultivated and polished to high, tasteful gleam with nuance, lilt, and matured measure. As diverse tempos are ushered, Miss Black Vargas offers dulcimer tones and assured deploy most crowning.
Recommended "La Chica Alborotada," "He Ain't Mine No More"
"For Rockabilly Fans Only - The Lost Tapes" (Turkey Mountain)
Fever-shaker Billy's pegged bonafides as 2nd Wave neo-rockabilly master, long since established, are reasserted by red-hot early 80s (plus one 2006) studio and live cuts. Additional attractions include Danny Gatton, Dave Elliot, Bob Newcaster, Evan Johns, Johnny Castle, and Pete Ragusa. Legends out loud.
Recommended "Not Enough Rock'n'Roll," "Heart Beatin' Woman"
"10 Year Old Zombie" (Nacional)
This is the same Senor Flavio who fronted million-sellers Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Hailed today as a founder of the Latin Alternative movement, he works his guitar like a shiv, deftly opening and laying exposed psycho, surf, and even relaxed ballads. Hip in espanol. Multi-hued, variously textured, important.
Recommended "Muertos Vivos," "Mandragula"
The Sun Sessions
Honesty breathes fully in this vintage-tailored "Honky-Tonk Rockabilly" newly cut on historic Union Ave. It hooks immediately. Marty's deep, life-lined everyman voice and hand-tooled guitar feel like old friends.
Recommended "Find Me a Woman," "I Got a Dog"
"Wasting Time" (Stomp)
Such is the crackling furnace psycho blast of Canada's Creepshow that one might never suspect fetching frontwoman Sarah harbors a suppler side. Oh, but she does. Often acoustic and sweepingly luxuriant, in an affable, elbow-caressing fashion. Velvety expressiveness. We are pleased.
Recommended "Drags Me Down," "These Are the Days"
"1,000,000 Delinquents" (Space Hearse)
Even amid vaunted psycho nobility, the Morticians shone eerily on Rockin' Raven's 2007 "God Save the King" comp. Digging and throwing spades-full of ground-glass resting soil, adorning the seething pile with strangled haranguings, they flail and twist in bimstone bacchanalia.
Recommended ""Trash Devil Rock," "Roll them Bones"
Country Boy (Get Hip)
Mother Tammy and son Shin (aided by father Tetsuya on "wood bass" and Ta-Bo on drums) recreating
Lorie and Larry may fill seats, but miles and miles of jaw-dropping picking ala Joe M. from 11 year-old Shin helps keep them that way. All hands involved kick in their own jaunty right.
Recommended "Just Because," "The Rockin' Gypsy"
Viktor Huganet and his band
Come Back Train" (Big Beat)
Twanging guitar-led trio neo-rockabilly at a roof-shaking extreme. The massive, downfalling platinum quiff is not the only tip France's Viktor has copped from early-80s Brian S. The solos, the songs, the brash swagger -- all echo the S. Cat in his salad days. But what might otherwise seem rote derivation then skyrockets with its own personality.
Recommended "School of Rock'n'Roll," "Rock Around With Ollie Vee"
The King Baker's Combo
"The Crest Sessions" (Crazy Times)
Covers account for all but one of these 15, revealing affinities for genre salad days austerity and Teddy Boy cheek. Individuality flashes between familiar postures, particularly in the soloing of picker Jim Berrehouc.
Recommended "King Baker's Boogie," "Blue Blue Day"
Hard Fall Hearts
To All Believers (Double Barrel)
Claims to sound association with The Rev, Living End, and Tiger Army are validated the moment this disc is spun. Those who missed the HFH's debut (present writer included) can now join the unabashed ferment. Nimble and bracing, its head-thrown-back punk/rockabilly recalls, too, the Strays. This will be a frequent choice.
Recommended "Someone In My Head," "Stay"
The Boppin' Gliesers
"Gliese Attack" (Crazy Times)
Sideburns beyond the stars. Fractured aliens ripped up planet after spinning planet, as this Paris trio blasted out frenzy sufficient to forestall even the most hideous intersteller conquest scheme. The Gliesers succeeded, which is why you are reading these words.
Recommended "Jenny Beauty Jenny," "If I Rock the Blues"
"Zombie Nation" (Stomp)
These Canadian risen remind a bit of of Zombie Ghost Train. Their often hyper, calcium-splintering works boast similarly shadowy funeral parlor vibes. But there are also individual zestfulness and eviable ardor.
Recommended "We Gotta Go," "Zombie Nation"
Morry Sochat & the Special 20s
"Eatin' Dirt" (Galaxie)
Postwar Chicago blues included full drums and liberated fervor to rival ambient city noise. Said exultant raucousness is reposited here. Morry et al sway, rock, bump, holler, and seethe with visceral vim. Jagged blues strikes where you live.
Recommended "Empty Pockets," "Riot Up In Here"
"New Day" (Apocalyptic Productions)
Chris excels at alluringly tuneful neo-rockabilly. And in simplicity breathes strength. Elevated by crack playing, infectious arrangements sweep with bubbling purposefulness. Powerful, to be sure, but never at good humor's expense.
Recommended "Dig the Wig," "Die Eine"
Skye Paige and the Original Recipe
"Whole Lotta Woman" (self)
Knuckly, balled-fist hooks are thrown at runaround tomcats, to confident honky tonk. This is the gut-level, good-sounding stand-up woman revenge road previously taken to reward by rockin' country queens of bouffant and claw.
Recommended "Paint the Town Red," "Stick a Fork In Me I'm Done"
Crazy Rocket Fuel
"Vol. One" (self)
Four clawing kittens gone bad. Perpetual rockabilly gyration. Hip-swinging, fist-throwing.
Recommended "Tacheedah Bound," "(Who My) Baby Daddy"
Better Off Dead
"Girls Guns and Money" (Garageland)
Rockin' blues of infectious, loose-limbed timbre is an ensemble proposition. (It takes a group to raise a ruckus.) Each player knows the score, slicing hip meat on the smoker. Guitarist/singer VD King, though, is the good-foot master of ceremony, penning all but one here, giving up bluesy conversational vocals reminding of "Full House"-era Peter Wolf.
Recommended "Back To Memphis," "500 Miles"
Standard and Poor
What's In the Big Black Bag? (Unrepentant)
While S and P locate resounding moments in pile-up chorded moss-gathering (with occasional Johnny echoes -- Thunders, Ramone, and Rotten), spiky directors to new relevance loom, too. Especially when underlining the meretricious hate-church/$ nexus.
Recommended "I Wanna Go Back," "Religious Right"
The Running Kind
"The Girl For All the World" (Bossanova Music)
For all the primitivist luster on deck -- reflective, sure-picked six-string, jaunty hardwood rhythms, assertive keys, promenading pedal steel -- it's when satin-voiced Leslie Ann Bosson takes wing to higher ranges that majesty doffs its cloak. This is how you keep them down on the farm.
Recommended "Two Roads," "I Still Love You (Like I Loved You Before )"
He's the Hero
EP (Blue Duck)
Discerning appreciators of melodies within acerbic guitar punk will hurriedly note that 1) said tunefulness rides high on the arm of gravelly explosivo, and 2) economy is the keyword here. Meaning no unnecessary notes. Each punctures.
Recommended "Sirens," "Villains"
Assurance welcomes. Impressive singer/songwriter Jarrett is oh-so-smooth when appropriate, tough as the hard life when such is summoned. Strutting through newly wrought blues, country, and jazz gems, stellar players hip to the tip roll each arrangement homeward in Cadillac style. Major labels used to sound this good. Sometimes.
Recommended "Love Slave," "Mean-Hearted Woman"
"Night At the McPike Mansion" (Brown Bag Propaganda)
Clever angle: gnashing psycho perpatrators join cruel forces to fuel restoration of historic and reputedly haunted Illinois manse. 19 participants, including the Koffin Kats, Psycho Charger, the Outsiders, Stellar Corpses, Lugosi's Morphine, and the Henchmen. (For another prize moment in rockers-as-philanthopists lampooning, see the McClaren-era New York Dolls' 1975 'benefit for Euthanasia.') Scowled paeans and distemperous schizzing guitars abound, as do water-torture rhythms. Chain-dragging ghosts, hatchet-hefting psychos -- we're all Frankies.
"Elvis Tribute" (Big Beat)
Eight US/English/French acts caught at 2007's Rock Brune Festival in France. Maybe no one can touch The King's rock'n'roll magic -- or could such idealistic fatalism wrongly condemn as superfluous all post-Union Ave efforts? CD/DVD set commemorates only-in-America icon Elvis' 75th birthday, this anniversary observed by a French label. American labels, where were you?
Recommended "Devil In Disguise" (Robert Gordon/Red Hot), "A Fool Such As Il" (Little Tony and Friends)
Back In the Day: 1998
"Train Kept A-Rollin'" (Flying Fish/Rounder)
The erstwhile Burnette Trio six-string sensation roared anew from the Pantheon. A host of talented admirers including Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas, Mavis Staples, Kim Wilson, and Rocky and Billy Burnette helped Paul re-establish himself as raw cat royalty. And the Tele screamed.
Recoomended "She's Hot," "Train Kept A-Rollin'"