Round the Dial
Wednesday 19 March @ 12:56:57
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You know, if God showed up tomorrow and said, ‘What do you want to do,’ yeah, if he said, ‘Do you want to be President?’ No. ‘Do you want to be in politics?’ No. ‘What do you want?’ I want to be a rhythm guitar player.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Land Of Used To Be”
& Ethan Johns
As the dogs of war tear inexorably toward their prey, as rosy-cheeked children beg in the streets for peace, as the factory belts and trucks, trains, and products roll steadily, uniformly towards their deadlines, warehouses, and store shelves, and as the country prepares for its greatest inner turmoil since Vietnam, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we’re still damn lucky just to be able to wake up every morning to power, phones, food, smokes, booze, free, citizen-run newspapers, and, hands down, the best fuckin’ music in the world.
And if you’re reading this column, that’s probably the reason you tuned in—to hear about music, to escape the ridiculous Republican rhetoric, the hopeless hippie idealism, and the brutish, dull, American middle-class ignorance that’s running rampant through the airwaves, satellites and print journalism of this fine country these days. Well, sorry, I blew that hope right out of the water for ya in the first few words of this week’s installment of RTD, folks. I promise, I’m not going to make a habit of using this space as a springboard for my own political leanings, to take party sides, or to waste your time and mine trying to make some bloated, over-wrought statement about how FUCKING INSANE the world is.
But after watching both Damien: Omen 2 and The Clash’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on the tube last night, I just hadda vent—if there’s ever been an appropriate time in our respective generations (those who saw firsthand the madness of ‘Nam, those—including myself—in the middle who frittered and wasted away our college years while Reagan and papa Bush set this whole dastardly deed into motion during the ’80s, and those just coming up, some of whom have already put both previous gens to shame by offering themselves up as human shields at Iraqi power plants, dams, and hospitals) to use whatever talents you’ve been blessed with in whatever mediums you can possibly use them to offset the roiling forces of chaos which threaten the very foundation of our country—and world peace overall—that time is now.
That doesn’t mean every singer/songwriter needs to write a “John Walker’s Blues,” or that every college kid should give up their education and move to a foreign land to take bullets for oil, or that every music writer should abandon their calling and suddenly become a political commentator. It does mean, though, that whatever path you choose, you’ll ultimately be responsible and held accountable for what you did—or didn’t—do to make things better. So while I won’t harp on and on every week about the sorry state of this here rock we’re spinnin’ around on, neither will I bury my head in the sand and pretend like this is 1985 and that what style of clothes the latest hit-maker is wearing this week, or who’s fucking who, or what horrendous, bland piece of shit musical sub-genre struck the public’s fancy on a particular day is more important than the loss of freedom, liberty, and ultimately, human life.
Now, let me tell you kids a story about a very powerful, very confused king whose subjects were all addicted to sugar. They used sugar in everything—their clothing, their household items, even to run their vehicles. One day, the very last sugar mine in the land ran dry, and the only sugar left in the whole world was buried under the sand in the land of another very confused king....just kidding. You can read all about that one on the front page of your daily papers. I’m just here to tellya about these here records...
Personnel: Jay Farrar, vocals, electric and acoustic guitar, piano, pedal reed organ / Tom Ray, bass / Jon Wurster, drums, percussion / Matt Pence, drums / Steve Drozd, piano.
Track Listing: Greenwich Time / Damn Shame (Memphis Mix) / Station To Station / Kind Of Madness / Dues
Former Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt singer/songwriter/guitarist Jay Farrar throws out an EP of songs he’s been playing live for some time now (plus a remix of a track, “Damn Shame,” from his debut solo album, Sebastopol), presumably to keep material-hungry fans happy while he plots a U.S. tour and puts the final touches on the score for an upcoming indie film, “The Slaughter Rule.” While there’s no doubt that these are some really good tunes here (other than the absolutely-butchered “Memphis Mix” of “Damn Shame,” which for some idiotic reason—please tell me, Tom Rothrock—features a drum machine), there’s never been a better example of an EP released that I can honestly say is for “fans only.” I am one, which is why I went out and spent my own hard-earned duckets on this batch—and I’m not sorry I did, but then I’m an insane, completist record nut who has a big thing for Jay Farrar’s music. Casual Farrar fans (or broke Farrar fans, of which I’m sure there are far more) should wait for his next full-length or his upcoming live show (Sat., March 22, at First Ave. with opener Brian Henneman) to make the decision about whether or not to pick this one up. On the other hand, four new Farrar tunes are worth a hundred times—nay, a thousand times—what twelve or thirteen new songs by just about any other national artist around today are. Final conclusion: half of a good album, can’t wait for the next full-length from Jay.
Soundtrack From the film “The Slaughter Rule”
Score by Jay Farrar
Film by Cowboy Pictures
Personnel: Jay Farrar (score, one song) / Vic Chesnutt / Freakwater / Wylie And The Wild West / Blood Oranges / Ryan Adams / Speedy West And Jimmy Bryant / Neko Case And Her Boyfriends / Jimmie Dale Gilmore And The Flatlanders / Malcom Holcombe Group / Uncle Tupelo / Pernice Brothers
Wow. I haven’t seen the film yet (though I hear good things), but damned if the personnel list on this soundtrack doesn’t look just like a mix tape I’d make—as I’m sure some of those affected by my predeliction for passing out unasked-for mixes would testify. I said in my above review of Jay Farrar’s latest EP that I couldn’t wait for his next full-length album, and although he only includes one song with lyrics here, the 10 instrumentals he uses as score material for this flick prove that he’s definitely not lost his muse. When a word guy like Farrar can mold, meld, and craft soul-stirring musical stories without uttering a single syllable, you get a pretty good idea that there’s a lot more beneath the surface. Granted, he’s among some pretty heavy company here—particularly Vic Chesnutt, The Flatlanders, and the Pernice Brothers (formerly Scud Mountain Boys)—but I find myself re-mixing this album on my burner, dumping all the vocal tracks and splicing together the Farrar-penned score tracks, and guess what? Mix Jay’s one vocal track on this collection (“Gather,” a fantastic, come-together tune-of-the-times he’s been playing live for a few years now) plus the four new songs on the thirdshiftgrottoslack EP, and I’ve got my new Farrar album. As for the rest of the material, you simply can’t go wrong with a roster of talent this huge.
Chesnutt, whose long-awaited New West Records debut Silver Lake comes out later this month, offers up “Rank Stranger,” a haunting, echo-laden slice of Deep Southern angst. Freakwater delivers a heart-rending take on The Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming,” and Jay’s inclusion of an Acuff-Rose classic should come as no surprise to longtime fans of his work. Wylie and The Wild West’s “Odessa Yodel” is just that, a softly-strummed, high-lonesome yodel that comes from the heart of the old West rather than the green and white peaks of Switzerland. Blood Oranges’ “Gathering Flowers For The Master’s Bouquet” is probably the most gorgeous slice of true-blue, pioneer-spirit Americana on this collection, with singer Cheri Knight and axeman Mark Spencer (who also tours and plays guitar with Farrar these days) laying down a spine-tingling, goosebump-raising spiritual that you just know must’ve brought a wistful smile to the usually-stoic Farrar’s face.
The one track on here that absolutely, positively does NOT fit is Ryan Adams’ rather worn-out “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)”—no offense to Adams, Farrar, or the fine folks at Bloodshot, but Jesus Christ, wouldn’t “My Winding Wheel,” “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” or even “Don’t Ask For The Water” (all from the Bloodshot release Heartbreaker) have been so much sweeter? Ah well, ‘tis not for me to question, only to point out the obvious, I guess. Despite that minor glitch, Farrar gets his groove back in a hurry with Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant’s soothing, pedal-steel-driven number, “West Of Samoa,” and things just get better and better from there. Neko Case’s “Porchlight” is so ethereal, so lonely, so soaring one could close one’s eyes and imagine a movie all one’s own, while the incomparable Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s classic “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” is re-cut with The Flatlanders and includes spooky theramin and a triple-pickin’ attack that’d most likely cause the late A.P. Carter to pick the bottle over the bible once and for all and disappear into the hills and hollers of them yonder blue mountains for good.
Malcom Holcombe’s “Killing The Blues” evokes images of a dusty, heart-break roadhouse performance rolled out over silvery slide guitar and the gut-bucket voice of a man who’s pulled his last short straw and is on his way out—killing the blues the only way he knows how: by playing the living shit outta ‘em. Uncle Tupelo fans will be thrilled at the inclusion here of that late, venerated band’s reading of Gram Parsons’ “Blue Eyes,” which was previously available only on an out-of-print EP, and it’s sure nice to hear Farrar’s voice one more time as the album winds down, even if it’s not one of his originals.
The soundtrack ends with Joe Pernice’s absolutely shimmering “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?”—and whether the movie uses it as the sun rises over a swinging victim of the hangman, as the moon slides behind a cloud over a craggy desert mountain, or as a single tear rolls down a time-worn face, there’s no doubt that this song is a true spiritual; “chuch” (NOTE TO EDITOR: “Chuch” is spelled exactly how I want it spelled—it’s the RIGHT way to say “Church” when yer talkin’ music!!) in the truest sense of the word. If this movie is even half as good as its soundtrack, it better win a whole passel of stuffy film-industry awards. And Bloodshot should get huge kudos for releasing what this writer feels is the best movie soundtrack he’s heard since “Midnight Cowboy.” As for Farrar, between the score and the artist picks, “The Slaughter Rule” proves once and for all that he’s a true musical genius of our time. Yes, Jay, there’ll be plenty of stars in your crown, brother.
Next week: More reviews, rants, and rock n’ roll!! And make sure and stop by Twin Cities Leather & Boot (570 N. Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, 651-917-8100) this Saturday afternoon (3/22) between 3 and 4 p.m. for a very special in-store performance by John Ewing & Steve Brantseg of The Blue Violets. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to find out where all the stars in your crown have gone, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com.