by Tom Hallett
Hey, hey, ‘Dial-heads! Another week of howlin’ terrestrial havoc and cosmic, pre-Apocalyptic omens gone by—and man, was it ever a doozy!! It can’t just be coincidence that in that very same week our good buddies at the Disney (ABC-TV-Radio/Cap Cities/etc., etc., etc.) Corporation announced their upcoming 50th anniversary plans for this summer, a giant, mysterious fireball “...streaked through the night sky over the Pacific Northwest...” That’s according to actual, real, government-approved news sources, too, folks.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I was washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station...I
couldn't talk back to my boss man. He would bring all these pots back for me
to wash, and I said, 'A wap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom, take 'em out!"
— Little Richard
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Joe’s Head” — Kings of
Yep, last Saturday night, a “...green ball of fire with a long tail”
shot ominously over the heads of early-season pot farmers, mushroom-foraging Hmong
tribesmen, and wine-soaked, pool-side expatriate Californians from Coos Bay, Ore.
to Pasco/Kennewick, Wash., right there by the ol’ Hanford Nuclear Plant.
At press time, officials hadn’t yet collected sufficient data to identify
exactly what caused the phenomenon, but one scientist did dare offer this brilliant
tidbit: “Every once in awhile, a piece of the Moon or Mars breaks off...”
In a related story, a 25-watt refrigerator light bulb apparently reached the end
of its guaranteed 1,000-hour capacity in an employee break room at Euro-Disney.
Disney officials couldn’t be reached for comment, but a source tells the
‘Dial that sabotage hasn’t been ruled out, as the bulb was allegedly
manufactured by GE, owner of rival TV network CBS.
As is usually the case, however, the real truth behind these potentially scandalous
stories lies in the lyrics to a great rock ’n’ roll song. Check out
Drive-By Truckers’ lead singer Patterson Hood’s recent solo album
on New West Records, Killers And Stars. There you’ll find a poignant,
heart-tugging little musical tribute to Disney namesake/founder Walt (who, according
to a long-standing urban legend, was reportedly cryogenically frozen after his
death in the mid-’60s) called “Uncle Disney.” As Patterson once
said in another great tribute song, every goddamn word of it’s true: “When
they thaw out Uncle Disney/Gonna be some changes made/Pointin’ fingers,
askin’ questions/Forty years of decisions made/When they thaw out Uncle
Disney/All his ‘toons gonna be just fine/America’s just a giant theme
park, put on them Mouse ears and get in line/When they thaw out Uncle Disney/Boy
won’t he be surprised/Carton cures for all his cancers/Thunder clouds in
the Florida skies...” Brrr. Shiver. Goose bumps.
Could the real surprise attraction at the Disney 50th anniversary Sale-A-Bration
actually be the unveiling of a revived, reinvigorated, tumor-free Uncle Walt?
And just how pissed off will he be? Will son Roy Disney be invited to the ceremony?
Will Walt go berserk and try to throttle Roy, all past and present living Disney
board members, Michael Eisner and his incoming, hand-picked replacement, Bob Iger?
Will we finally hear sane explanations for why Donald Duck never wore pants; Huey,
Dewey and Louie had two single, white, male uncles but no mothers, aunts, or grandmothers;
and Goofy was a stupid talking dog while Pluto was a stupid silent one? Did the
U.S. government really kidnap and “silence” inventor Gyro Gearloose
after his participation in the Manhattan Project? Will the secret of what Steamboat
Willie was REALLY hauling upriver in that first official episode of Mickey Mouse
be revealed once and for all? And finally, how do Elvis, Geraldo Rivera, Dick
Cheney and prop comedian Carrot Top all fit into this picture? Whew. It’s
enough to make yer head spin like ya just hopped off Magic Mountain, ain’t
For additional info/inspiration, see also: Grickle-Grass, “Disney On Ice,”
Peter Bruntnell, “By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix,” New Signs
Of The Coming Armageddon, by Saul P. Theeryzer, the film Donnie Darko, or any
rerun of the Mickey Mouse Club featuring Annette Funicello. And now, I’ve
gotta go feed a sudden, unhealthy hankerin’ for a heapin’ helpin’
of fresh-squeezed Oregon carrot juice, a hunk of reeking ’Sconi cheese and
a Milky Way Bar....mmmm...
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
(New West Records, 2005)
the debut album by Sarah Lee Guthrie (yes, she’s the granddaughter of
Woody and the daughter of Arlo) and Johnny Lee Irion (pronounced eye-ree-on)
is what you’d call in the biz “a ringer.” In other words,
the musical pedigree of the performer(s), the cast of supporting players (in
this case, Jayhawks members Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, pedal steel whiz Eric
Heywood, Son Volt alum Dave Boquist, Tift Merritt drummer Zeke Hutchins, and
Pete Seeger’s grandson, Tao Rodriguez Seeger), the producers (Louris and
Ed Ackerson), the mixers (Tom Rothrock of Beck and Elliot Smith fame), and,
of course, the appropriately hip label (New West, home to Twin/Tone Records
co-founder Peter Jesperson and a brilliant stable of artists ranging from Slobberbone
to Billy Joe Shaver) should, by all rights, guarantee an insta-classic, loved
by the masses and lauded by the critics.
Sometimes, a combo like this seems like the best idea in the world to those
involved; a grand, karmic collaboration that just had to be preordained by the
gods of rock. And sometimes, despite all of the necessary ingredients and the
best of intentions, the whole thing ends up as an expensive, time-consuming,
polished turd—to wit: Lisa Marie Presley’s debut album, anything
by Julian Lennon and (sorry, gang) even a few of ol’ Arlo’s records
over the years.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with this release. Every star is in alignment;
the songs are instantly memorable, heart-stirring and timeless; the voices,
instruments and production are fine tuned and tight without bearing the burden
of overproduction; and the vibes are all undeniably, unquestioningly, unflinchingly
RIGHT. Sarah Lee and Johnny (life partners with a young child—a great
foundation for sympatico songwriting if there ever was one), who wrote every
song on the record save a reworked cover of Pete Seeger’s “Dr. King,”
have an inherent knack for pinpointing the most elusive and fragile of human
emotions and weaving them into short aural portraits of authentic, universal
And those voices! They’re unique, yet warmly familiar, once recalling
a George Jones/Tammy Wynette duet, next a Gram/Emmlou slink-a-thon, then a Gary
Louris/Karen Grotberg honeyfest. Sublime.
Playing out like a perfectly-stocked pool-hall jukebox in a country/rock roadhouse
somewhere deep in the Delta, Exploration rides a classic, rootsy groove
through 12 cohesive, yet gleefully disparate tracks. Album opener “In
Lieu Of Flowers” tells the tale of a woe-begotten lover who courts a potential
mate with a simple, heartfelt song instead of the traditional practices. You’re
immediately drawn in by the tune’s deceptively simple notes, and then
those voices blend and you’re in the story with them—on a dew-soaked
late-night lawn, heart pounding, crooning under a darkened bedroom window.
“Cease Fire” starts out as a foxy, slow-burning invitation from
one partner to another to “... open up the wine, honey, let it breathe/Pour
yourself a glass and ease on back with me/It’s a Friday night and we’re
all alone ...” But then, out of the blue, this breathy, slightly horny
exhortation to quit bickering and forget the outside world suddenly and subtly
slips into a wonderfully lazy, rollicking train song: “... Cease fire/The
whistle’s blowin’ baby... freight train whistle taught me how to
cry ...” This is a great example of the massive songwriting talent here-
and the fact that this is only the pair’s first album thrills me to no
end. I want YEARS of this stuff!!
“Holdin’ Back,” the album’s most obvious single (although
in the right “market” every song on here is strong enough to be
released as a single somewhere in the world), is a melancholy, insanely catchy,
up-tempo ballad, written and sung by Sarah Lee. It’s indescribably tasty—leaving
the listener with permanent goose flesh and a wobbly belly, and that’s
such a rarity these days I almost don’t want to play this song too much.
It’s too special to burn out. The title track, penned by Johnny, opens
with with sad piano and those brilliantly blended voice-boxes, the song’s
protagonist reverently intoning a desire to just chuck it all and head for the
cosmos: “As I look up at the stars/Exploration on Mars/There’s a
lotta left here to do/People askin’ us for change/People sleepin’
in the streets/Politicians still don’t have a clue/Lookin’ out my
door/At the downtrodden that’s for sure/But they ain’t in their
neck of the woods ...,” then busts into a soaring, glorious country-space-jam:
“... it’s gonna be a nice vacation for us ...”
Sometimes, it’s just one line in a song that morphs it—at least
in your own music fan soul—from a regular, by-the-note country waltz (“It’s
just another day/Tryin’ to get back to you ...”) into a classic
ballad you’ll cherish forever. Such is the case with “Kindness.”
The song sort of washed over me (in a nice, comfy way) at first, until I kenned
the line: “... like a raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth/I sometimes wish
I’d never met you/But it’s all the same, when you’re tryin’
to get back to blue ...” Brilliant! I bet there’s more than a few
flailing folks in faux Nashville who wish they’d written this song; or
any of the nuggets inhabiting Exploration, for that matter.
The album’s centerpiece, Johnny’s adaptation of Pete Seeger’s
“Dr. King,” is a half-spooky, all-inspirational call to spiritual
arms, augmented by shiver-inducing fiddle shrieks (courtesy of either Dave Boquist
or one of the Ungars), perfect harmonies and barrel-house piano. It’s
the real deal, folks, and by all rights should be on the air right now, tucked
between Steve Earle’s “The Revolution Starts Now,” The Creekdippers’
“Portrait Of A Sick America,” and Woody’s “This Land
Is Our Land.” “Mornin’s Over” is a soft, come-hither
Sarah song, evoking images of a dusty, dying love and the promise of a lonely
life to come.
But where, you ask, do you really begin to feel the Gary Louris/Jayhawks influence
on this album? Well, frankly, every good thing about this record I’ve
described positively permeates EVERY Jayhawks album, if’n you ask me,
but that’s just one man’s opinion. A sign of a great producer—especially
one who’s an accomplished musician/recording artist in their own right-—over
just a good one, is when he/she can separate their own style and sound from
that of the artists they’re working for and assist them in achieving their
own vision. Great examples? Rick Rubin. Daniel Lanois. Frank Zappa. Ed Ackerson.
Bingo! Mission accomplished.
Gary and Ed did a smashing job producing this collection of songs, allowing
Sarah Lee and Johnny to impose their own individual styles and imprints on the
work. It’s only when the grand, rousing chords, martial beats and screeching
harmonicas of “Gervais,” a blistering, scathing indictment of segregation
(and pretty much everything else that’s wrong in the world today), come
ripping outta the speakers that you realize that Gary’s been waiting in
the wings all along, ready to take up his axe and help slam another ‘Hawks-ish
classic-to-be home. And boy, do they knock this one outta the ball park, kids.
Put it this way: If this record really was playing on a Delta juke, the local
rednecks would start gettin’ mighty warm under the collar as the story
unfolds and the guitars slash and burn—“Was a battle flag, was a
battle flag, was a battle flag ... we can put it away ...”
I can’t repeat it enough—this is a fucking amazing album—nary
a stinker on it—and any music lover who gives a damn about decent, honest
songwriting, excellent playin’, pickin’ and grinnin’, gorgeous
harmonies, and simple, powerful production should drop their iPods and run willy-nilly
to their nearest record shop. Exploration, by Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny
Irion. If they don’t have it, tell ‘em to order it and file it under
“American Classics.” Too good for this world.
Lost City Angels
(Reybee Productions, 2005)
Boston punk/thrashers Lost City Angels have been making a splash in the hardcore/nu-punk
scene on the East Coast for a couple of years now- opening for the likes of
Social Distortion, The Dropkick Murphys, and Agnostic Front—and with their
Reybee debut, Broken World, they’re poised to bring their screaming, gnashing,
power-chord-laden rock ’n’ roll circus to the masses. Hopefully
(for our sakes), that doesn’t mean MTV sell-out, corporate subsidization,
and eventual obscurity, because I think these guys really have something to
say, and I think they really mean it. With a plethora of fake-ass, frontin’,
faux-punk phonies clogging up the ears and senses of today’s record-buying
youth (is there such a thing anymore, I mean, outside of punk and rap fans?),
it’s always a breath of fresh air to come across a band that blasts their
vitriol straight from their hearts and down your throat. Which Lost City Angels
do quite well, thank you very much. Right from album opener “Liberation”
on through the brilliantly brutal “Pretty War,” (a snarling, gut-bucket
rocker that gleefully, growlingly takes to task the current administration and
the American press’ sickening self-censorship) right on to barn-burners
and belt-boilers like the Clash-y title cut, “Clutching At Shadows,”
“Cuts And Blood,” and “Today’s The Day,” there’s
simply no doubt that these boys (drummer Adam Shaw, guitarist Drew Suxx, bassist
Duggan, guitarist Nick Bacon and vocalist Ron Ragona), silly names aside, are
dead serious about what they do and what they have to say.
Produced by Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie (The Pixies, Radiohead, Hole), the
album may ride just a tad too slick on the ol’ turntable (metaphorically
speaking) for my tastes, but I guess that’s all part of what ya have to
do to get noticed these days. I’m betting that, live, this band would
blow non-believers right through the crowd backwards and out the fucking fire
door of any club in the world. Great shit from Boston—crank it up!!
That’s it for me this week, kids. Tune in again, same time, same space,
for more blithering, blathering and rock ’n’ roll nut-gathering
here at the ‘Dial. Until we meet again—make yer own damn news. ||
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d
like to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to offer your
own explanation for the “Great Green Disney Fireball Incident Of Ought
Five,” send replies to: (temporary e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org.