by Tom Hallett
This is it, folks! The very last (thank the gods) installment
of March Musical Muck Madness here at Round The Dial, where we've been combing
through stacks and stacks and stacks of (mostly) shitty albums to clear the
decks for a new year, and hopefully, better pickins. In the meantime, here's
the Final Six honorees in our ongoing rock ’n’ roll razzamatazz...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You've got plastic light boxes
that say Radio Shack and Chicken Bicken and Roller Skate World. I don't like
what the light box has done to America at night- turned everybody into a fucking
pinball-machine moth. If they had just outlawed these light boxes, the world
would simply look bigger.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “What A Day (For A Night)”
(Reel Records, 2002)
Yes, folks, it's Zydeco-style roots music played by five white
Wisconsin-ites. Is that a good thing? Well, that depends. If you've never been
to New Orleans and have no idea who people like the late Clifton Chenier were,
you might be thrilled to have this as your first exposure to a time-honored
musical tradition. On the other hand, if you ARE a person like Clifton Chenier,
who laid the groundwork for modern appreciation of the art form, you might think
that this batch of songs, with vocalist Michelle Jerabek's light, airy pipes
layered o'er the top of 'em, are a far cry from what you originally intended
to convey. On the other hand, Clifton reportedly just wanted to play R&B,
so maybe he'd appreciate what these kids are doing. On the other hand (wait,
was that four hands?), if you ignore the Zydeco references and just enjoy this
album's smart pop sensibilities, catchy riffs and rhythms, and that killer voice
I mentioned above, you might think it's a pretty good record. Or maybe I'm just
Days And Counting
(Self Released, 2003)
Hello? Model One? Hey! It's 1998 calling. Yeah, we want our
sound back, dudes. Better Than Ezra don't know what to do without it. What's
that? Harvey Danger is on the other line? Sure, I can hold ...
(Swami Records, 2003)
Finally! An album I can unabashedly say KICKS ASS!! Man, you
guys don't know how long I've been waiting. You can have your White Stripes,
Strokes and Hives, kids, I'll take the jangly, driving rock ’n’
roll assault of Slasher (guitar, vox), Black Velvet (bass, vox), and Tony DiPrima
(drums) over those media darlings anytime. From the in-your-face opening of
"It Meant Nothing" to the power-crunch of "Shut Up And Sit Down"
right through to the staccato rhythms and chunky axe-work of "I Can't Change,"
Shipwrecked is a veritable cornucopia of delightful musical mayhem. I can hear
echoes of a load of great Twin Cities bands in the grooves of this album; The
Glenrustles, Arcwelder, Howlin' Andy Hound, Rank Strangers, The Midnight Evils,
Kingdom Of Ghosts, and The Soviettes all come to mind when I crank this sucker
up. Of course, it all hearkens back to the glory days of Johnny Thunders and
The Dolls, The Heartbreakers, Richard Hell & The Voidoids and early Wire.
Um—that's a good thing, in case ya didn't know it. I LOVE THIS BAND!!
Buy this record and beat your neighbors to the punch at getting the cops called
on you for loud music this weekend. Word.
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Regard The End
(Kimchee Records, 2004)
I won't even get into the cast and crew that make up the band
called Willard Grant Conspiracy, I'll just tip you that there is no Willard
Grant in the band—it's the brainchild of one Robert Fisher, songwriter,
vocalist and guitarist. The main body of the band has at least 11 members, including
folks who play grand piano, melodica, violin, trumpet and mandolin. On top of
that, The Conspiracy managed to score vocal assistance from the likes of Kristin
Hersh, Jes Klein and Blake Hazard. It's a grand undertaking, and surprisingly,
it works. These songs are honest, fresh, tight (yet earthy), catchy, memorable
and meaningful. If you're into The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, Emmylou
Harris, The Waterboys or Throwing Muses, you'll feel right at home among the
soulful grooves of Regard The End. And while the entire album is a meaty, stick-to-your-ribs
batch of true American roots music, I myself just cannot get the song "Soft
Hand" out of my head. It kicks off with a cheesy computerized drum riff,
but then morphs into a sexy, seething, longing, urgent love song that leaves
me with goose bumps and a big fat grin every damn time I play it. Now shut up.
I wanna hear it again.
(Rubric Records, 2004)
I've been a fan of L.A.'s Gingersol since I first heard their
debut EP, 1995's Extended Play. That six-song EP was packed to the rafters with
catchy, dirty pop hooks and lead singer/songwriter Steve Tagliere's ear-pleasing,
half-gruff vocals. Songs like "The Nicest People" (turn out to be
assholes) proved that Steve had an uncanny knack for combining urgent guitar
riffs with heartbreaking lyrics and pounding beats, and I honestly thought Gingersol
would be HUGE by now. The fact that they aren't only goes to prove that, while
the past few weeks of (mostly negative) reviews in this column probably weren't
the most fun stuff I've ever written (or you've ever read), it was all absolutely
necessary. And that more music writers should be doing their jobs—clueing
the public in, to the best of their ability, as to what's crap and what's not.
But I think we all know that's not going to be happening in the major media
anytime soon, so let me go on the record as saying that Gingersol are one of
the finest, smartest, hook-savvy pop/rock bands to come down the line since
Teenage Fan Club. And for me, that's saying a helluva lot. Eastern, the band's
third proper full-length to see release, marks the outfit's move from L.A. to
the East Coast, and finds them expanding on that early sound they forged to
create a mature, gorgeous, dreamy batch of low-key power-pop that should be
pumping its melancholy strains through every radio station, car stereo and Discman
in the country. Don't believe me? Ask anybody who caught the band live in town
a month or so ago, or just head down to your local mom an' pop record store
and give it a spin. Sublime.
Make It Big!
(Aural Fixation, 2003)
You know, I don't even know if I'm supposed to be talking about
this record, and I'm not sure if it's actually been released to the public yet,
but I'm gonna say a few words about it—and it's creator—anyway.
For those of you not aware of the awesome legacy of singer/songwriter/guitarist
par excellence' Curt Almstead, I probably won't be able to fill you in with
the short amount of space I have left here. Suffice to say that he was a driving
force in the Second Wave of Twin Cities rock n' roll that kicked off in the
mid-'70s or so and lasted until the early '80s, when upstarts like The Replacements
(Curt grew up a few houses from the Stinson brothers) and their ilk caught the
indie/punk crowd's fancy. Almstead plays a mean axe, his licks reminiscent of
the best of '50s outlaw rockabilly, in-your-face '60s rock ’n’ roll
and '70s cult pop, and his voice recalls the exuberance and joy of Eddie Cochran
or early-period John Lennon. Which is no big surprise, since Curt has been hosting
and playing First Avenue's annual John Lennon tribute for three decades and
counting. Though most discerning local music fans have probably heard Curt's
early '80s Twin/Tone releases and seen him tearing up area stages over the years,
many may not be aware that he's never stopped writing and recording. Working
with close friends (including ex-Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap) and current/former
bandmates, the wily six-string-slinger has committed dozens of spot-on, hook-a-riffic
rockers to tape in the past decade alone. And I've loved every damn one of 'em.
I'll wait to give this one a proper review once Curt gives me the word; in the
meantime, I urge each and every one of you to, every time you see Curt, give
him shit until he makes sure these songs reach the public ear, where they belong.
That's all she wrote, gang. Tune in again for more reviews,
rants, raves, and raga-riffic ruminations ... Until we meet again—make
yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/CD’s for review,
or you’d just like to admit that you’re the no-good &%$#*@ who
dropped a cigarette in my last beer the other night, send replies to: (temporary