'Round the Dial: One with the freaks
Wednesday 24 January @ 13:20:15
by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I think people have had too much to think, and ought to flex their magic muscles. It takes awhile to get oriented to what I do, but people seem to hear it if they give it a chance. I'd just never want to do what everybody else did. I'd be contributing to the sameness of everything."- Don "Captain Beefheart" Van Vliet
SONG OF THE WEEK: "Garage Band '69"- Stan Ridgway
This one's going out to that elite and, inexorably, sadly disappearing corner of the rock 'n' roll world, those gifted but often misunderstood (and, more often than not, underrated) musicians and artists I call the Beautiful Freaks. And the list doesn't just include such obvious and dated artists as the above-quoted Mr. Beefheart, either.
Last week I mentioned the fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking story of Texas singer/songwriter Roky Erickson, and that set off a flurry of conversation via the web and in person about how I, myself, hadn't exactly been exposing a bevy of experimental, different, challenging music over the past few months myself.
Oh, sure, there was that mention of (another Texan ... hmmm) Bruce Hughes' (and more coming in the future on this cat, as well) modern, ongoing experimental and truly original musical inspirations, and I always try to throw credit out to those producers (Ed Ackerson, Mark Stockert, Tom Herbers) and artists (Matthew Ryan- check out his Living Room Sessions sometime- Vic Chesnutt, the late Wesley Willis, Ween, etc.) who do continue to pound at the walls of convention and ever-more irritating conformity that's consuming this nation like a hungry beast.
OK, OK, I'll get off my soapbox (but it's so FUN up here and heat rises ...) and get on with this week's reviews- these artists all come from different parts of the country, make sounds that are decidedly original and rarely resemble each other's, and mainly share the common trait of staying true to their own inimitable, unchained individual takes/attacks on the art of sound. Here, then, are some of today's true, one-of-a-kind Beautiful Freaks ...
Paranoid Larry & His Imaginary Band
Are You Following Me?
Prove It Music
At first listen, the legendary (close listeners to NPR's Air America may have caught him live, and he's attracted quite a following among writers and critics who keep a keen ear to the underground) Larry sounds like he could be a kindred spirit to local acoustic ranter Judd Hermmann, but a few spins of Are You Following Me? proves that this feller shares none of Judd's inherent, thin-skinned anger, though he does a fine job of matching that equally quirky singer/songwriter lyrically.
Another local connection on this disc are the distinct, pop-a-licious keyboard additions of former The Odd/King Of France/Tulip Sweet co-founder/producer/all-around-music nut Tom Siler. It's good to hear Tom here, enjoying the infectious, musically-complex trip that Larry takes him and the rest of his varied and talent-rich pool of contributors on- a list that includes several of the world-famous Roches and guitarist Ross Bonadonna.
Though the musical styles here run the gamut from barn-dance boogie to space-rock to reggae to Irish balladry, Larry himself actually has a serious, intelligent and fresh take on such subjects as homelessness (he's constantly disappearing between albums and has made a veritable career out of worrying his friends, colleagues, and band mates- though he swears he always thinks he'll "Be right back"). Quirks aside, there's a lot of quality listening material here among the musical merriness and mental monkeyshines.
Opener "You Can't Search Me" (which you can watch a wonderful and awe-inspiring video of merely by inserting this disc in your computer) is Larry's modern take on the Dead Kennedy's take on "I Fought The Law (And I Won)," which finds our bearded, wild-eyed protagonist howling lines like, "It's all in their game to intimidate / And all it takes is a word from the top / And marshal law is locked in place ... I've had it up to here / They're playin' us with our fear ... ain't this the Land Of The Free ... this is the land where you can't search me ..." as he removes layer after layer of clothing and finally heads off into the bushes wearing nothing but heart-printed boxers.
It's not all political commentary and lamentations about lost personal freedoms here, though- Larry pulls off a fine James McMurtry-style bitter relationship ballad with "My Girlfriend's Cat," lays down a tasteful, quasi-spiritual number with "No Room At The Inn," and pumps out some fine barroom boogie-woogie with the hilarious and catchy "Grey Headed Woman." There's really not a stinker in the batch here, and wherever Larry is, I hope he's working on a new batch of songs.
You can catch up on Larry's in-depth story and find previous material at paranoidlarry.com - take a chance on some tasty new tunes and learn something about one of America's true musical pioneers!
Reverend Poor Child
Jack Nobody Does More Songs Of The Weird
Richard Olson, aka Reverend Po' Child, first entered my life as a shadowy figure standing behind me at my DJ booth in a local pub, asking if I had any of his music. "Ummm- no, don't think so, man ..." I stuttered. "I could always bring a copy home and check it out, maybe download it," I suggested. He cackled and tossed a copy of JNDMSOTW in front of me, then danced his way to Zappa's "You Are What You Is" back towards the bar.
In the following weeks, I spent a few dark Alaskan nights absorbing The Reverend's Zappa-meets-The Swingin' Liquor Pigs' sound: an honest, homespun lyricism and delightful musical mish-mash. This particular release, indie all the way and Alaskan from the inside out, once and for all proves several old adages true- time spent alone creates a mixture of genius and madness, never judge a book (or a musician) by its (or his or her) cover, and "It really does sound better louder" among them.
Recorded mid-fi for the most part and with an ace gang of pickin' and grinnin' partners (including Steve Field on lead guitar, Frank Delapp on axe and a couple of drummers- including The Reverend's 12-year old son Homer), the album features not only Poor Child's dogs but a whole team of huskies howlin' and yelpin' through the chorus of album opener "Ballad Of Yukon Pete."
Admittedly, The Reverend's vocal abilities are sometimes an acquired taste- shades of Beefheart, anyone?- but for the most part, Richard holds a steady note and fits in his inspired lyrics, witty asides and genuinely funny reparté with an endearing panache. He's also a multi-talented instrumentalist, contributing slide and regular guitar, mandolin, bass, harmonica and "odd sounds" throughout the proceedings here. And he manages to weave his cosmic-inspired, grand inner symphony expertly into his entertaining and oft-times true-to-life story-songs.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the hobo-style herbal classic-to-be, "Gettin' Sluthered," wherein the lead singer leaps in and out of lively harmonic and barn-yard-inspired guitars with lines like, "What kind of cigarette is this, I said? / He said, it's some of my own special blend- Panama Red, Norwegian Wood, Acapulco Gold, Maui Wowee, Thai Stick, Matanuska Thunderstruck- said he'd even thrown in a little bit of Minnesota Green in there ... well, I looked around and when I opened up my eyes / What was goin' down was a pleasant surprise/Where'd you get this wacky tobacky / He said, you just gotta know where to go, it's real rare / You can't even buy it in stores ... you might try Mexico ..."
Other treats here include the found-sound layered, funky blues nugget "Turn Your Television On," the straight-forward, honky-tonkin' chuggle of "What's Up With That," and the timely, on-the-money live reggae protest ballad "Nature And Iraq," where the good Reverend manages to hermetically seal a deep-seated grain of old-fashioned but quaint hope into a simultaneously melancholy and uplifting crowd-pleaser:
"Iraq is glowing red in flames- and sha na na na na, no, whoa," he cries and shimmers with hope at the same time, "Well, the snow is all around, and trees standin' all around / And trouble's brewin' with mankind / Sha na na, na na no..." What else is there to say at this point?
A rousing hand goes up at the '91 Anchorage Folk Festival, and The Reverend eases off-stage and back to his cabin and his dogs to continue his quest to spread hope, awareness and a proud freak flag to wave over the nation and the people he loves so. Good job, Rev! Check out the man and his fascinating story at www.cdbaby.com/cd/revpoorchild or drop the man himself a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Definitely worth the "trip."
The Hopscotch Boys
Sad And Lonely Eyes
The Hopscotch Boys, a band whose moniker most definitely is misleading at best, are, vibe-wise, a filthy, White Port-stained, Pall Mall-chain-smoking wino standing directly in your path as you hurriedly rush past a local dive and toward a bus stop after work. They're also the physical embodiment of that bald shrink who appears in every cheesy horror film released in the past 20 years- you hear him tell you he only wants to help, then the next thing you know somebody's shoving one of those shock-machine tongue-protectors in your mouth and telling you things will be much better once you wake up.
That being said, musically, this outfit (which carries a local TC connection with the addition of long-time scene supporter/writer/musical madman Jason Josephes, who now splits his time between penning hilariously curmudgeonly blogs and booking for The Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle) presents a delicious conundrum of made-to-be-played-loud guitar skronk, absolutely tribal beats and mind-bending keyboards.
Each tune on this seven-song collection is a different, sometimes dangerous beast of a cut, right from the tripped-out caterwaul of devil-icious opener "Jesus Lips," which immediately calls to mind a plethora of past/current "indie" faves, from Built To Spill to The Pixies to Modest Mouse. Sorry guys- I know it pisses you off to be compared to such obvious sources, but the sound's in there, trust me.
On the other hand, there's a generous helping of Am-Rep-influenced noise-rock layered throughout this EP, along with '60s-garage/punk-inspired keyboards, late '70s UK underground influences (especially on the vocals) and a courageous, daring middle finger poking prominently from the center of each piece.
"Whore's Pearl" is a dreamy, melancholy taste of psychedelic-inspired balladry, bolstered by Nick Cave-ish vocals and an eerie backing track, "Carrie Ann" sounds like a King Missile-ized tribute to the Hollies' classic with a similar title, and the band proves their pop chops during the catchy, radio-friendly chorus, even while destroying any chance of regular commercial airplay by using language that would make the above-mentioned wino cringe before diving into his next bottle of mouthwash.
Is there an accurate, yet under-exposed description for this kind of music? Hmm. Maybe Ween meets the Jesus Lizard in the middle of a church desecration, both thinking they're showing up for paid gigs and ready to drink- and if these guys were there, it would undoubtedly be one helluva hootenanny. Unholy rollin'!
All in all, an eminently interesting listen and a genuine blast of fresh, fiery madness from a gang of musical cohorts who are as good as they are because they probably don't realize how good they actually are. Does that make sense to you? Hmm ... doesn't matter, it probably will to them and this review will fuck up all the cool shit they're doing.
Damn, why can't I leave insanity alone- could it be because I've never felt more at home than among the mad myself? Check out The Hopscotch Boys at myspace.com/hopscotchboys and hear a bit of that ever-beckoning musical state of mind calling on your personal inner antennae. Cool stuff, boys.
That's all the room I've got for this time out, folks. Tune in again next time out for more reviews, some great local stuff as well as a few interesting national surprises. Until we meet again- make yer own damn news.
If you have local news/CD reviews/gigs you'd like to see listed in this column, or you just wonder how I manage to get around so easily during the day without my tin foil, send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com. ||