by Tom Hallett
R.I.P. Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist, first-class freak, and political/cultural realist, 1937-2005. May the road rise to you.
Howdy, howdy, howdy! Hola! Hey-hey-hey, hi there, howareya, howareya, howareya? Welcome to RTD, your tantalizing, titillatin’, feedback-makin’, rock n’ roll reviewing machine ... click ... machine... click ... machine ... POW!! Sorry, gotta do that once in awhile, the damn thing gets stuck. It matters not, however, because this week’s batch of smooth, soul-warming, ear-soothing record reviews are hot off the griddle an’ jes’ about ready to go ...
*I SEE YOUR “SIR,” SIR, AND RAISE YOU ONE DIESEL ENGINE ...
OF THE WEEK: "How long could we maintain, I wondered. How long before
one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? What will he think then?
This same lonely desert was the last known home to the Manson Family. Would
he make that connection when my attorney started screaming about bats and huge
manta rays coming down on the car? If so, well, we'll just have to cut his head
off and bury him somewhere. Jesus, did I say that, or just think it?"
— Hunter S. Thompson
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Train In Vain”
— The Clash / Annie Lennox
R.I.P. Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist, first-class
freak, and political/cultural realist, 1937-2005. May the road rise to you.
But first, I just gotta give a big shout-out to one John Graham Mellor, one
of the greatest rock ’n’ rollers of all time. Though he passed away
in 2002, he left behind a massive legacy—one that encompasses much more
than the honest, rough-hewn punk/reggae sounds he was known and loved for. Mellor
also helped to (along with several key band-mates) steer some of the late ’70s/early
’80s rock audience away from the self-serving, overblown, over-produced
clap-trap they were wallowing in long enough to recognize that music could (as
it had in the ’60s) actually help to change the world. And that you didn’t
need the likes of Phil Collins, Lionel Ritchie and Bob Geldof to do it, either.
He helped shine a gigantic klieg light on such important matters as social inequalities,
labor issues, political injustices and human rights. He could also rock like
almost no other—righteously and ferociously—or throw down a bittersweet
love ballad that’d jes’ about bust yer heart in two. His voice was
certainly responsible for cheering on some very famous protests and rallies
the world over, and was most likely responsible for more than one tender moment
that may have led to some of you being born. And on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2005,
his homeland of England finally started to recognize some of his many contributions
by naming a working 1965 diesel locomotive after him. Run by the Cotswold Rail
company out of Bristol, this massive engine will chuff hither and yon for years
to come, Mellor’s stage name proudly emblazoned upon its hot metal plates:
The Strummer Special. And you just know that any rail-ridin’ beast named
after a co-founder of The Clash ain’t gonna be no train in vain, pal.
Methinks Mr. Strummer would far have preferred this hearty, tireless symbol
of the working class as a reward for his efforts than, say, some outdated, moronic
status builder like membership in the British Knighthood. So you can keep your
“Sir,” sirs, I’d rather hang out with the engineer any day.
Hey, Joe—we miss you, man. Blow that lonesome whistle fer us one more
(Recommended listening: The Clash, Self-Titled/The Clash, London
Calling/Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros, Rock Art And The X-Ray Style/J.S.
& The Mescaleros, Global A-Go-Go/J.S. & The Mescaleros, Streetcore.
Recommended reading: “Joe Strummer & The Legend Of The Clash,”
by Kris Needs/”Redemption Song: The Ballad Of Joe Strummer,” by
And now on to our regularly scheduled CD reviews ...
Sings: The Who Sell Out
(Bar None Records, 2005)
Who’s fourth album proper, released in 1967, found the band moving far
past their early, R&B single phase and on into the lengthier and decidedly
more psychedelic songwriting portion of their career. Though this album had
several radio hits (“I Can See For Miles” went to the Top 10, and
“Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand” and “I Can’t Reach You”
both received respectable amounts of air-play), it’s probably best known
as a “musician’s” album. That is, your favorite artists probably
site this release as their favorite in the entire Who canon. And for good reason—originally
conceived of and recorded as Pete Townshend’s first tentative stab at
penning a rock opera, the album is chock full of complicated musicianship, cutting-edge
mixing and recording technology, and fantastic, imaginative songwriting. It
also went on to shape and influence the musical talents of rockers, mods, punks
and fringe artists the world over, which is exactly why you’re getting
this version of it.
Initially inspired by ex-Minuteman/fIREHOSE bass-man Mike Watt (who’s
now thumpin’ away with the re-formed Iggy & The Stooges), this project
brings a groundbreaking piece of work into the ‘Oughts with the appropriate
amounts of respect, style and rock ’n’ roll silliness. Which is
a perfect combo, when you consider that Townshend & Co. originally intended
the record to be a tongue-in-cheek tribute to old-fashioned pirate radio (for
those who may not be aware of it, England only had one radio station for many
years, the government-controlled BBC Radio-1, and as a result many of that era’s
edgier rock ’n’ roll singles were first broken over the ‘waves
by pirate radio stations located on ships floating just off of the coast of
Britain), and that nearly every word of it (sadly) still rings true today, especially
here in America. With its clever, faux adverts (Heinz Baked Beans, Odorono deodorant,
BBC-Radio) and kitschy artwork, Sell Out really is, and deservedly so,
an undeniable classic.
Watt (who wrote the excellent liner notes accompanying this package), along
with the late, great singer/guitarist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley, co-founded
the Minutemen, an early ’80s working man’s punk outfit who built
their rep with nonstop touring and vicious, bitingly honest political diatribes.
The band was the perfect U.S. counterpart to the early Who (albeit 20 years
and several musical revolutions later), and Watt does a fine job of tying together
the appropriate shreds, as evidenced by such passages as: “Why did me
and d.boon like The Who Sell Out so much? Well, it was cuz that was a
record that said to us a band could do anything they want and still sound like
it was them, they weren’t tied to any kind of a sound or gimmick ... we
found that idea again when punk came to us—it was more of a state of mind
than a sound or a style.”
Petra Haden, who was the first person Watt thought of when considering a reinterpretation
of the album, is quite the accomplished artist in her own right. The daughter
of famed jazz bassist Charlie Haden and a former member of That Dog, she’s
a true multi-instrumentalist with an amazing command of the violin, the trumpet,
the mandolin and various keyboards. Which makes this effort—a completely
a cappella reading of an album that’s so absolutely chock full of sounds
both electric and human that it’d take a mighty modern band to recreate
even a portion of it, let alone one small girl with her voice alone—all
the more amazing. But guess what? She does it! The whole damn thing—ads
and all! And Watt must be mighty proud. Well, he IS—as his final thoughts
in the liner notes prove: “When she finally finished and played it for
me in person ... well ... WOW! Much respect to her. My weird idea had been spring-boarded
into a crafted work. I love it ... love her. You’re amazing, Pet.”
If you’re a longtime Who fan, you’re probably already on your way
to your local mom ’n’ pop to pick up this release. If you’re
not, but are curious, I’d suggest picking up the 1995 re-issue of The
Who Sell Out (with bonus cuts, alternate ads and outtakes) before digging
into this one. Then play ‘em both, back-to-back, for as many days as it
takes you to “get it.” You’ll be glad you did. Me, I’m
as blown away as Watt, and hoping to hear lots more from Petra in the future.
Killer stuff. And now I’m off for more of them good ol’ Heinz Baked
Upgrade For Nothing
Local singer/songwriter/axeman John Evans lays down a batch of deceptively simple—yet
soul-warming—country-rock-inflected ditties on this,The Mercuries’
debut album. Longtime live local faves, this outfit is known for delivering
a solid, working-stiff set of tunes onstage, but this release gives us a chance
to sort of sit back and enjoy Evans’ excellent song-crafting talents.
From the lilting, half-buzzed shuffle of album opener “Saturday Or Sunday”
to the plaintive, hopeful vibes of “I’m Living Again” right
on through the record’s one cover (Freddie Fender’s “Wasted
Days And Wasted Nights”) to the final cut, a heartbroken slice of real
life called “Stranded On Leave,” Evans proves that sometimes the
best subject matter is universal and the best person to interpret said subjects
is a regular Joe—or, in this case, John. A fine, homespun effort that
recalls such varied luminaries of the field as Steve Earle, John Prine or Dave
Alvin. Hmm. A staunch family guy who writes and plays first-class barroom boozers?
Why not? At least this cat will remember the words. As he says in his PR kit—“I
had a dream recently. Liz Phair sang one of my songs, start to finish, in the
kitchen of a Thai restaurant. It made me feel so confident about my song. When
it ended, she asked me to play her a few more, but I told her, ‘Not right
now. I have to get back to my table. I left my wife with the kids.” True,
honest music from a true, honest guy that’s honestly and truly worth a
That’s it for this time out, gang. Tune in again, same time, same space,
for more ‘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 share your
treasured recipe for Funky Mushroom Pie, send replies to: (temporary e-mail)