'Round the Dial: Eat the Rich
Wednesday 09 May @ 11:23:40
by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape." --William S. Burroughs
SONG OF THE WEEK: "Future Generation" --The Auteurs
Hey, what a coincidence meeting you here! You say you thought I'd gone away an' left ya forever?? Hey, it wasn't my idea to tie the 10th Anniversary issue into our official "fare-thee-wells," anyway. Thank Christ I turned down that editing job all those years back. Big thanks to Steve McP. For letting me slide this in late this week. Anyway, there's one more ish to go after this one, then you'll find me skulking around the back alleys, dumpster-diving and chooglin' White Port wine--or maybe somewhere else online ... For now, I've got an important review I've been meaning to get 'round to, so let's quit with all the bitchin' an' moanin' and get on with what really matters--THE MUSIC!!
If there's one specific local musician in particular that I'm disappointed didn't "make it" to the so-called "big time" during my tenure here at Pulse, it's Iron Range-transplant/singer/songwriter/axeman/producer Rich Mattson. I've dragged his albums (first with The Glenrustles, then Ol' Yeller and now onward into solo and other projects) literally across the country (from Minnesota to Indiana to Seattle to Alaska--I think that's even further than the hard-touring man himself has been pushing his own music, hehehe), hosted he and the band on pirate radio stations, played the hell out of his music on said stations and at my DJ gigs, and literally begged record company honchos I know to give his albums a spin. And, of course, I've always supported Mr. Mattson right here in these yellowing ol' pages, too.
The funny thing about it is, Rich doesn't really care if he becomes the next Gene Clark (though the influences are definitely there), and he doesn't even really care if he's the next Jay Farrar or Ryan Adams, either. Rich is one of those guys whose very presence lights up a room, whose smile and live rock 'n' roll antics make you forget for an hour or three that the world outside is a big, fat, floating turd in space. You can catch him around town for yourself, but I guarantee you'll never leave a Rich-included gig without a smile or a great tune bouncing around inside yer skull.
One of my favorite memories of Rich is him playing a New Year's Eve bash at the old Turf Club, back when Rob and Leah were still host/hostess of the upstairs proceedings and the inimitable Dave Weigardt was helming the old Clown Lounge. At exactly midnight, Rich leaped off of the stage and kicked into a vicious, feral version of the Link Wray classic "Rumble." And the boy didn't just play that song, he BECAME the embodiment of rock and roll, ending up writhing on the floor with his guitar in wild, ever-expanding circles, chord wrapping around him like the virtual chains of rock that keep him doing what he does so well. Just don't play Yahtzee with him when yer drinkin'--they don't call the feller "Ol' Four-Roll Rich" for nothin', kid. Ask John Ewing about that 'un ...
Stories like that about Rich abound on the local scene--and the thing is, in the end, he DID "make it." He's still alive and rocking with his band and his brother, Glen (Kingdom Of Ghosts--another excellent local outfit), recording and producing his own music and that of others, and continuing to make the long, dark run betwixt the Twin Cities and his new/old home in a huge, abandoned church (official home of SMA Records and the Flowerpot/Sparta Sound studio--a place all of you musicians should be supporting---find out why Rich-recorded albums sound so fucking GREAT!) back on the Iron Range. He's played countless tours, released about a dozen albums (including five with the 'Rustles and five with Ol' Yeller), made the run down to SXSW since the festival was a shaky-footed lil' baby, and made hundreds of true blue friends across this vast expanse of paved-over wasteland we call a country over the past few decades.
Bottom line is--that IS making it. Being able to look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, knowing in your heart that you never sold out, never gave up, and actually contributed a huge amount of happiness to countless music lovers, beer drinkers, lonesome losers and barroom babes--it's like being Neil Young without having the annoying photographers chasing you to your limo, I guess.
Anyway, that's the conclusion I've come to, especially after hearing this mind-blowing latest solo effort of Rich's--here's a man who truly and honestly loves making music, making friends and helping to populate our horrifyingly, rapidly plasticizing musical scene. So here's to Rich--a guy who I think embodies, physically, mentally, musically, and soul-wise, the spirit of the Twin Town's first musical pioneers--from The Suicide Commandos to The Flamin' Oh's to Soul Asylum, the 'Mats, Hüsker Dü, and a plethora of other inspirational rock heroes. You, sir, are one yourself. And now I'll quit blabbing and get on with reviewing Mr. Mattson's latest release ...
Though Rich calls this a solo effort, he's quick to acknowledge his compatriots in harmony in the liner notes to Inspiral Notebooks. Right off the bat, the title gives away what kind of collection you've got in your sweaty little palms (have you ever seen this guy's hallowed "Book Of Covers"? Yeesh! AND he remembers all the words to his own thousand or so songs!)--these recordings range from some late-night 4-track experimentations to pro-sounding 16-track cuts, and filled out by folks like Son Volt alum Dave Boquist (who plays the hell out of the violin on "Big Mouth"), Glen Mattson (skins on the old Glenrustles chestnut "All Over Me") Brad Nelson (drums on "1990"), former Beatific/current Ol' Yeller axe-man Andy Schultz on "extraneous guitar" and vocals on the track "Greener" and album art (which Rich considers his best album cover ever) by local artist Laura Bennett.
Seeing as how Rich is currently playing in at least three bands, plays dozens of solo gigs (many for good causes or just for the hell of it) and is constantly busy recording at Flowerpot/Sparta Sound, it's amazing he even had the time to release this little nugget. In the package I received from him, there was a three-song sampler of Ol' Yeller's awe-inspiring set at SXSW 2007 (the band played four shows in Texas and one in Kansas), The Minnesota Folk Tour Album (wherein our musical maniac performs old folk and blues tunes with other killer local performers like Baby Grant Johnson and Charlie Parr), an official Bitter Spills album (Rich and Baby Grant, playing bad-ass covers ranging from traditional numbers like "Shenandoah," to The Flamin' Groovies' "Teenage Head" to nuggets by Guy Clark and the like), and a rough, 4-track collection of covers he just had laying around that contains Rich's renditions of such tuneage as Melanie's "Brand New Key" to a couple of Lucinda Williams tracks to some Steve Forbert.
All great stuff--but no time to review it all. It's just amazing the output this one guy has under his belt--fucking amazing. God I love the 'net--I'm way the fuck up here in Alaska, and hearing more local music than most local people--other than the Current, Homegrown, college and public radio, there ain't squat out there--and now there's gonna be one less print copy to read about music in!! Anyway, back to Rich ...
Inspiral Notebooks runs the gamut from fuzzed-out guitar ditties to cry-in-your beer country weepers to inspirational, soul-warming lyrical honesty to frazzled and fried experimentations and pretty much musically covers all of the material I just described a few paragraphs back as closely as anything could. Kicking off with the absolutely sizzling "Runner," which is driven by a Native American/martial beat, white-hot guitars and Rich's insistent vocals, the album immediately sets the pace for the breathless ride the listener is about to embark upon.
"So Many Faces" brings things down a notch, recalling both early Glenrustles work as well as some of the more recent material Ol' Yeller's released. It's a rainy day song, no doubt about it, one where the power goes out and all you have is this album, your battery-powered Walkman and a book to pass the candlelit hours with. The lyrical content is universal, one half of a couple realizing there's just no future for the partnership he's involved in, the other dreaming the night away, to awake to a face that's maybe no longer recognizable at all. Heavy stuff.
"Gotta Move" is a picture-perfect pop nugget, though the lyrics hearken maybe a bit more towards John Fogerty than Alex Chilton. Rich has a way of making that axe of his sing and jangle when he wants to, and this song does an excellent job of catching that spring spirit of just saying fuck it all and hitting the road, while also perfectly capturing parts of Rich's own life over the past year or so. A touching, well-recorded cut that hits with the lyrical force of a young Gene Clark and stays with you long after the disc stops spinning.
"Pig's Feet" is a dirty, low-down blues rumbler that finds Rich channeling both his hero John Fogerty (Sorry, John, but THIS is how you wish you sounded now--and I'm one of your biggest fans, too, but this is the real deal) and late-model blues troubadours like T-Model Ford. The hoodoo-voodoo tinge to this song could actually give you hackles up your back, and Rich proves here that, indeed, white boys can sing the blues, channel the lush, swampy heat-barrage that is the Deep South, and not sound the least bit forced doing it. Brilliant.
"1990" flows out evenly, a mellowed-down, haunting ballad that deals lyrically with aging in a world that's headed quickly and decidedly towards rank-and-file, robotic sameness. Nelson does a fine job here keeping a thrumming back-beat, Rich making his axe speak for him almost as succinctly as his vocals.
"Greener," the track augmented by Andy Schultz, sounds like it could've been an outtake from Ol' Yeller's recent album, Good Luck, and "Mobius Strip" (as its title suggests) sees Rich taking an experimental, Guided-By-Voices-esque stab at psychedelic folk the likes of which Donovan (or Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre) might be as jealous of as he was of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." A gorgeous, melancholy ditty with a grain of die-hard Up North hope buried deep in its' delicious center.
"Halfway Home" is, hands-down, the closest to the raw, live vibe the late Glenrustles put out onstage that you'll find on this album, despite the fact that there's actually a "lost" 'Rustles track here, too.
"Junky From Kentucky" sounds like a blistering, pistol grip-notched cross between Blue Moutain and The Drive-By Truckers, Rich proving he can do up the alt.country groove as easy as--um--breaking a string. Tasty stuff. "All Over Me" is a paranoid, haint-infested moonlight walk through the graveyard of Rich's memories--"Sometimes people step all over me," he states matter-of-factly, but you know by the song's end he'd still give ya the shirt offa his own back.
"Big Mouth," which features talented multi-instrumentalist Dave Boquist's awe-inspiring take on the violin, veers towards the best of the recent, brave recording ventures of Golden Smog, Wilco and The Jayhawks (gorgeous strings mixed with rumbling guitars and a rock/country/rock groove that's both infectious and a pure joy to kick it to), finds Rich digging deep into his own life and history for inspiration and attempting to let some regrets go, musically, anyway.
The album winds up with "Moths In The Moonlight," a track Rich admits in the album's liner notes that he doesn't even remember recording but had tried over the years to spit out live with Ol' Yeller, is a bizarre mish-mash of skronky guitars (Rich calls it "F'd up" in the liner notes), crashing cymbals, a strange, Cure-like ("Killing An Arab"-era Cure, I mean) groove and an urgent drive that proves this guy is far from being done releasing new, original, excellent locally-based albums for a long, long time. It also ends with a bug zapper--proving, if nothing else, that it was indeed recorded in the summer and either in a shed or outdoors. Cool! Real music for real people.
Anyway, if some fat, lazy, money-hungry, Zantz-ish character at a record label who happens to be reading this hoping to see the latest gangsta rap album reviewed here comes across these rantings, let there be no mistake--YOU'RE AN IDIOT!! SIGN THIS GUY!! Hope your pop cigar explodes in yer mouth, ya shit. Inspiral Notebooks is available at your finer local record shops or contact Rich and check out he and his excellent band and back catalog at myspace.com/olyeller. Highly recommended.
That's it for me kiddies--one more week to go, then I'm on to life on the freelance side of things. For now, I've posted a MySpace site where readers can keep in touch at myspace.com/roundthedial, or just type in email@example.com in the MySpace search engine and you'll find me and my latest rants.
Who knows--maybe all this upheaval will be for the good and we can get another local publication up and running to compete with our fellow writers WHO LIVE IN NEW YORK AND L.A.!! By the way--I spent fifteen years on the Twin Cities scene and I'm comin' back in June so if anybody wants to accuse me of not supporting the local scene, then will be the time for the shoot-out at the OK Corral (OK, maybe a local pub)--we'll use those plastic tipped darts and the loser will have to buy a round for the bar and listen to a whole local album of the other's choice. Heheheh.
One last thing--my "shout-outs" last week were cut short, so I'd like to make sure and mention big ups to Steve Birmingham, my former Squealer editor who's also been a Pulse contributor/Austin Chronicle writer/all around music nut since he discovered a metal pan and a wooden spoon, original Squealer editor Paul Bernstein, howwastheshow.com, any bars I may have missed thanking last time (that means I had a REALLY good time at your place, so don't take it personally!) and all the many, many local musicians, record labels and music fans and friends who've kept this beast rolling for ten years. You all rock like Amadeus--diggit! See ya next week, and until then--make yer own damn news.
If you've got questions, insults, personal advice, or job information, send replies to Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. ||