Tag Archives: Consumable Online

Life’ll Kill Ya

It was on another long car trip this week that I slipped some Warren Zevon into the player, this time Genius, the collection issued in 2002. I knew every song, of course, and sang along loudly as I navigated the car through The Berkshires at night, my warble interrupted only by the occasional smack of a huge bug against the windshield and fenders. (I don’t know what flies around there at night, but I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving a convertible.)

Of course, no single disc could contain Zevon’s genius, and is the case with most veteran artists, seeing a show or listening to a collection always leaves you wanting more. So when I got home, I made a beeline for this one.

I really, really miss Warren Zevon. I can only imagine what he’d be writing about these days.

From Consumable Online, February 2000…

Some see the glass as half-empty, while others see the glass as half-full. Warren Zevon sees the glass as broken – some of the contents spilled all over his pants, and the rest rolling around on the floor.

With superb backing from longtime ace Jorge Calderon and drummer Winston Watson, Zevon continues to avoid the “big sound” for a more stripped down folk’n’roll approach. Naturally, focus then shifts to voice and words, where Zevon is king. “I can saw a woman in two/ but you won’t want to look in the box when I do,” he says in the Springsteen-ish “For My Next Trick I’ll Need A Volunteer,” which features Chuck Prophet on guitar. Taking the theme of “life sucks, then you die” to a new level, he explores the frailty of human existence and the quest for some sort of spiritual affirmation…which of course he’s skeptical about. And, just for good measure, some songs about S&M and the self-inflicted demise of Elvis Presley.

Having suffered the slings and arrows of a professional musician, Zevon’s weather-beaten attitude could be self-righteous or pastoral. Instead, underneath the surface of the crusty observer, you know he’s got it figured out; life’s too short to let the posturing and bullshit cramp our style.

You know I hate it when you put your hand inside my head/ and switch all my priorities around,” he says in “I’ll Slow You Down,” a tale as applicable to religious uncertainty as it is to relationship angst. Maybe we can settle for a simple “don’t let us get sick/don’t let us get old/don’t let us get stupid, alright?” Even the record’s lone cover, Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life Again” at first seems an odd choice, but in the context of these takes on the inevitable, it’s an ironic inclusion.

You can dream the American Dream,” Zevon says, “but you sleep with the lights on/and wake up with a scream.” Acerbic and clever as ever, Warren Zevon remains a unique treasure among American songwriters.

Listen to clips and purchase here.

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Ramblerin’ Gamblerin’ Man

It’s never a bad day to pimp Ben Vaughn.

Fourteen years ago this Friday, I felt the same way. Lots of people were going the indie route and recording in their home studio. Not many were doing it in their car. (Recording, I mean…I’m sure lots of people were “doing it” in a car. Some things never change.)

Here we go, from April Fools’ Day in 1997, and I was most certainly not pulling anyone’s leg. Still not. Get your Vaughn on.

If it sounds good in a car, why not record it in a car?” – Ben Vaughn, 1996

Probably the only people not shocked to hear that Ben Vaughn recorded his new CD inside his 1965 Rambler American (“the Fender Telecaster of cars“, says Ben) are his fans; they know that Ben is capable of just about anything. So what to do after less accessible side projects like Cubist Blues (recorded with Alex Chilton and Alan Vega) and the pairing with Kim Fowley? Vaughn uses his zaniest concept to date to create his best record since Dressed In Black.

Two songs are co-written with Bill Lloyd, and they’re both killer. The opening track “7 Days Without Love” rocks, complete with feet slapping on the car’s floorboard. “Boomerang” combines Vaughn’s megaphone-induced vocal with an instrumental punch straight out of the Sir Douglas Quintet. (I’d believe they were actually on the track but I know he couldn’t have fit them in the car). “Rock is Dead” is an example of Vaughn’s wit, an ode to the future when there’s “a blank space on your TV/where the music channel used to be” and “abandoned tour buses scattered across the hills“.

Outside of the sitar solo on “Levitation”, the stripped-down arrangements force Vaughn’s songs to be judged on their own merits. One listen to a simple melody like “Song For You” and those who are not Ben fans may be quickly converted. A Vaughn album is always a mix of surf, pop, country, rockabilly and anything else he can get his hands on. Rambler 65 is no different, with pop oddities like “Perpetual Motion Machine” (suggesting his work for TV’s “Third Rock From The Sun“) countered with bluesy wisps like “Beautiful Self Destruction”. An actual Rambler ad is even tossed in just to keep you honest.

Vaughn claims he was able to record the record in six afternoons because “everything was a first take because I just wanted to get the hell out of the car!” Cramming a small mixing board, effects pedals, a turntable, mikes and a reel-to-reel inside a car with the windows rolled up is about as intimate as you can get. And while recording in a car has other drawbacks besides leg room, Vaughn made the best of them. With airplanes flying overhead every so often, he finally gave up avoiding them and included one as the intro to “The Only Way To Fly”. Typical Vaughn, using whatever is necessary to deliver the goods, and it works.

And yes, there’s an engine solo

Ramblerin' Gamblerin' Man?

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Blast From The Past: The Faces

Although I much prefer to promote the original albums and the full box set, as well as just about all of the non-Rod solo efforts (McLagan’s work, in particular, is stellar and underpublicized), when this best-of came out it was a step in the right direction. (Not a First Step, mind you.). Later, the box set I pined for finally came out under the title Five Guys Walk Into a Bar…

So as I’m ramping up to full warp party speed for Thursday, I need to blast some music. And if you think rock, party and alcohol, you think of one band – The Faces. Now allow me to send you back in time – twelve years for the review in Consumable Online, and four decades for the music itself.

Long before Rod The Mod became a balladeer (and I mean that in a bad way) and Ronnie Wood traded anorexic guitar poses with his evil twin Keith Richards, they were two-fifths of The Faces, a group that was either the best band in the world or the drunkest band…or maybe both (it depends upon whether The Kinks were playing that night). First formed as a group of jilted musical lovers, three Steve Marriott-less Small Faces absorbed two Jeff Beck Group castoffs and caroused their way to rock and roll history.

I tell you this because I was there. If you had to rely on the printed word, or the record racks, or (gulp!) the airwaves, you’d never know. Rhino Records bellied-up to the bar on your behalf with a single disc “best of” collection, and they’ve even thrown in a previously unreleased song to sweeten the pot. Dave Marsh, God bless him, scribed the reverential liner notes and throws his hat in the ring on their behalf. But for me, it’s bittersweet — a dynamic, earth-shattering, genuine slice of rock and roll’s foundation gets another breath of life…but it’s a nineteen track CD, not a three or four disc box set.

That said, this collection is a credible addition even if you have some or all of the Faces titles, and if you have not dipped your toe in these beer-soaked waters yet, it’s a good place to start. With any collection, you’re going to get the obvious must-have’s and agonize over the why-couldn’t-they-fit-that-in-too’s, but it’s hard to argue with the selection Good Boys offers. Rightfully grabbing the lion’s share from A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse, the midsection of this chronologically organized platter gives us the band at their rollicking best. The 1-2-3 punch of “Miss Judy’s Farm,” “You’re So Rude” and “Too Bad” is as balls to the wall powerful now as then, as is the classic “Stay With Me”, the definitive Wood/Stewart romp.

The three cuts from the embryonic First Step are solid (and one is an alternate version), and only “Memphis” from Long Player or “My Fault” from Ooh La La are missed in these circumstances. Including the final two singles “Pool Hall Richard” and “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything,” is a no-brainer, and the sweet and pretty “Open To Ideas” is a perfect coda to this too-short journey.

Who knows if the rumors of Rod hoarding his “better material” were really true, but it’s interesting to think how much longer The Faces would have stuck it out if they got more credit and had more hits. (One thing for certain — if Rod tried to stick “D’ya Think I’m Sexy” on a Faces album he’d have gotten his ass…er, arse…kicked!) Even though they were staples of the Faces repertoire, many recognizable songs like “I Know I’m Losing You” and “True Blue” could not be included here because they were from Rod’s “solo” career. But what about the outtakes, the live cuts, the BBC sessions?

Ahh….there I go again talking about box sets instead of thanking Rhino for letting all the Replacements and Black Crowes fans see where the roots of their trees lie. And I’ll admit it: when I think of all the old bands getting together for the bucks after years away from the limelight (do we really need more Journey and Styx songs?), a small but hopeful flame burns in my heart that one day these lads will rise again as well.

Unfortunately, Ronnie Lane’s recent tragic death from MS rules out reuniting the original lineup; the closest thing we’ve gotten to that was Stewart’s Unplugged performance. But if the other four were ever up for it, hell – I’ll scour every corner bar looking for Tetsu Yamauchi. And if I can’t find him, I’ll get a rooster haircut, some velvet pants and a glass of bourbon and play the damn bass myself.

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Under The Radar: Tommy Womack

It’s about this time every year that I post something about Tommy Womack, and damn it, I’m going to keep doing it every year until people wise up and recognize this great American treasure. Forgive me if you are already on board, but if you are, please link this to one friend tonight.

The review I’m reposting below will celebrate its twelfth birthday on Thursday, and you’ll see that even then I’m referring to “faithful Consumable readers” just like I occasionally now defer to “regular Prescriptioneers”. In other words, I’m a loyal drum beater if you have a drum worth beating. Tommy Womack did then, and still does.

So go listen to his new efforts with Will Kimbrough in Daddy, by all means. But don’t forget Tommy’s excellent solo albums and other projects. People with talent and a wicked sense of humor deserve our attention and support. In a perfect world, there would be a double bill of Tommy Womack and Todd Snider playing your town and mine.

Faithful Consumable readers will remember my “how the Hell did I miss this” review of Tommy Womack’s last record Positively Na Na; I was overjoyed to stumble across one of the most uncompromisingly original songwriters currently competing for our ears. Womack’s back with a new record, and I’m back to tell you to get your ass to the store now, because he’s at it again.

Who else could open a record by sandwiching a rollicking double-time swamp blues song between a snippet of psychotic poetry and a thirty-second faux-folk song called “Christian Rocker?” But when he gets down to business, it’s incredible songs like “The Urge To Call,” where his sharp storytelling is matched sonically by an infectious combination of organ and dobro. Or the searing slide guitar, sword fighting with Womack’s emotive vocal on “I Don’t Have A Gun” (“I’m so glad I don’t have a gun/on a night like this/I’d use one…”). In a better world, a song like “She Likes To Talk” would be a hit single. And give the man bonus points for covering a Kinks song, and “Berkeley Mews” at that.

Lyrics aside, Tommy Womack flat out rocks. “Telling You What You Want To Hear” builds from the ground up like the bastard son of “Honky Tonk Women” that it is (right down to the cowbell). The all-star stable of players is once again all over this record, featuring killer guitarists like George Bradfute and Dan Baird and especially fellow Bis-Quits axeman Will Kimbrough. Not that Womack is a slouch (his slide playing is incredible!), but Kimbrough plays some of the filthiest lead guitar solos I have ever heard, and his work on “Dreams And Golden Rivers” is top shelf stuff.

Womack’s way with words extends beyond songs. His novel about life in the rock and roll trenches (“Cheese Chronicles“) is an underground classic, and according to his website, he’s hard at work on the follow-up, “Jesus Has Left The Building.” Nashville has a rep for wearing down willing talent and molding it into cookie-cutter Hat Music, but Tommy Womack just continues to sit at the bar, too cool to even bother flipping the bird.

It’s time you pull up a stool and join his army.

Listen to clips here.

Tommy Womack website

Who's your Daddy? Will and Tommy are...

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Blast From The Past – Bobby Gaylor

My mind often plays connect-the-dots.

I was reading emails from friends about the recent Alejandro Escovedo concert with Hamell On Trial as an opener – a perfect pairing that I sadly missed – and the reviewer mentioned how he had met Escovedo in Austin while both were clerks ar Waterloo Records. Hamell, a native of upstate New York, eventually migrated there when starting his solo career, a decision that led to his explosion onto the alternative scene and his initial major label deal.

Ed Hamell is a literate and wordy guy, so I found myself referring to him when I’d come across similar artists, or at least those who would issue combinations of spoken word and music. And while dwelling on that memory, I remembered Bobby Gaylor‘s song “Suicide“, which caused quite a stir upon its release…although many people misinterpreted the point of the song in their “Born In The USA” kinda way.

Video: “Suicide

So thanks to my random and erratic brain synapses, here’s my ten-year old review of Gaylor’s Fuzzatonic Scream album, which originally ran in Consumable Online

If you have had a radio on these past couple of months, you’ve probably heard “Suicide”, the arresting spoken-word track that has polarized the listening audience. No, it’s not a pro-suicide song, although it wouldn’t be the first time that dimwitted people have rallied against a song or poem without comprehending it. But it does cleverly begin with an off-the-cuff attitude that hooks your sick sense of humor, before spinning on a dime midway through to head towards its very anti-suicide coda — “Hey, you were born – finish what you started!” Whether it’s the overwhelming majority of people who are moved by the track or the 10% or so who are offended, the phone lights up whenever the track airs.

Bobby Gaylor’s phrasing and Boston accent will remind you of Denis Leary, although his comic story style owes more to performers like Ed Hamell and monologists like Eric Bogosian than any stand-up comic (well, this side of Chris Rush, anyway.) His skewed reality is not so different from ours, but few people have the ability to tell as colorful of a story while still remaining believable. If you have that one friend who can make any situation or story sound funny, or scary, or important, well, that’s Bobby Gaylor in a nutshell.

What is unusual is the musical accompaniment; one is more used to hearing laughter or silence rather than music.  Occasionally it works wonders;  “Suicide” plays like an alternative folk song, “Animals” would play well on The Discovery Channel, and “Tommy The Frog Killer” has a pulsing Euro-sound rolling underneath like an independent film. Which makes sense of course, since soundtrack composer and musician/engineer Marc Bonilla provide the “score” to Gaylor’s tales. Not all stories are funny – although “Hit A Guy With My Car” is morbidly hilarious – but they’re all compelling with or without the music. Masturbation, families, animals, violence, and the artlessness of smelt fishing all get a turn under his microscope.

“Suicide” will no doubt grab your attention, and may indeed change your life, but Gaylor is no one-trick pony. And for those who can’t handle the truth, yes, the radio-edit version of “Suicide” is included as well as the full-blown rant.

Listen to clips at Amazon.

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Blast From The Past: John Hiatt

I’ve been a John Hiatt fan ever since I saw the cover of Slug Line in a record store in 1979. The oddball facial expression on the cover – gaunt, haunted, intense – was only outdone by the song titles. “Sharon’s Got A Drug Store”, “The Negroes Were Dancing”, “The Night That Kenny Died”…how could I not put this on the turntable?  The beauty of working in a record store was the ability to move from piqued interest to playing it on the store sound system in under thirty seconds).

What happened next was, to pinch a line from Casablanca, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship“. I’ve remained a fan thirty years and counting, have seen him in concert dozens of times both solo and with his various bands, and have had his wonderful songs help me celebrate and ponder and grieve and reflect. Although (unlike most fans) I prefer the early albums, the ones whose songs he doesn’t play anymore, there isn’t a record he’s released that I don’t enjoy and savor at some level, and having a tune of his pop out of the speakers always brings a smile to my face.

I’m sure I’ll write a lot more about Mr. Hiatt over time, but I just wanted to set the stage for this first recollection, because only after knowing what he had been through to get there can one appreciate why Hiatt chose to release a record like this at the time.

Here’s my original 1997 review from Consumable Online:

John Hiatt’s life has taken him down some dark roads, the results of which have been captured in many powerful and emotional songs. The earnest pain in such classics as “Have A Little Faith In Me” can only come from that deep well, Hiatt salving his wounds in song and allowing us to voyeuristically share his bared soul. His long and mostly under appreciated career has seen him progress from Midwestern folkie to New Wave “angry young man” (many at the time foresaw him as the American answer to Elvis Costello) acoustic troubadour and everything in between. Even long time die hard fans knew that no matter how good each successive record was, radio didn’t have time for people like John Hiatt, and hoped that the label would somehow give him another shot at the brass ring.

1987 and Bring The Family changed all that, a bonafide bottom-of-the-ninth game winning home run for Hiatt. Newly remarried and finally sober, BTF combined the anguish of a tortured past with the joy of a man finding peace within himself and struck a chord with everyone. His voice had evolved into a unique bluesy timbre; his guitar playing more assured and strident, his songs capturing slices of life we take for granted yet can’t seem to put into words. The world was let in on this great secret that only his fans and peers knew about – John Hiatt was one hell of a songwriter. Subsequent records sealed the deal.

With Little Head, a relaxed and confident Hiatt has probably released his most comfortable – dare I say “fun“? – record, and ironically is suffering a critical backlash because it isn’t stuffed with angst-ridden masterpieces. Imagine the irony of toiling for twenty plus years, finally getting the respect and credibility you deserve, and then having your own “high bar” used against you! As if there aren’t great songs here…check out the lyrics of “Graduated” or the sweetness of “Far As We Go” and “Runaway” and name three people who could write like that. Didn’t think so.

Those surprised by the bawdy humor of the title track must not know Hiatt very well; “Since His Penis Came Between Us” was a staple of his live shows for years. Okay, so it isn’t poetry – so what?

Video: “Since His Penis Came Between Us”

No, there isn’t a “She Loves The Jerk” or “Angel Eyes” or “Faith” on Little Head, but they would seem out-of-place if they were. This record gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “greasy”; thick with Memphis soul and lathered with funk. Hiatt drops numerous audio tips of his cap to the 1970’s, from the Barry White-ish intro to “After All This Time” to the send-Zevon-a-dollar rip of “Werewolves Of London” in “Sure Pinocchio”. All those Spinners and Del-Fonics and War records John heard on the radio have come back out years later in “My Sweet Girl” and “Woman Sawed In Half”.

Dave Immergluck’s mastery of the stringed instrument supports this stylish mix with a sonic potpourri; cat-like moans, fat greasy gee-tars and lilting mandolins among the stew’s best features. “Pirate Radio” is a radio hit that never will be for self-explanatory reasons; ditto “Sure Pinocchio” and its horn-powered killer refrain. But Hiatt fans are used to savoring his best moments away from the airwaves, and thankfully there are enough fans to allow him to indulge his muse. This is Capitol’s first shot at marketing John, a marriage he seems to feel positive about because they want to promote his career, not just his record. We’ll see – Hiatt seems to last two to three records at each label, but each time he leaves there’s a bidding war. He’s gone through a few bands also, but seems to have settled on a musical soul mate in Davey Faragher, bassist and co-producer.

Little Head is the sound of John Hiatt enjoying this moment in his life, cruising down the road in that big-ass pink Cadillac, smiling and waving and hoping you can wave back. Let this one grow on you and reap the rewards.

The official John Hiatt website

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Under The Radar: Rex Daisy

Another one from the pile that I haven’t played in years.

Rex Daisy was one of those bands who fell between the cracks for most people. Here’s the original review as it ran in Consumable Online almost thirteen years ago.

Here’s a band that’s been through the grist mill – signed, ignored and dropped before the record ever came out on the major label. Whether their carefree attitude stems from natural forces or the skid marks on their backs, Rex Daisy is daring you to like them.

Boasting a tasteless green and yellow package and a blue plastic interior (was there a sale on ink?), the package for the Guys And Dolls CD is saved by a clever cartoon cover. The rest of the booklet features, among other things, a goofy group photo, a collage of faces floating in a bed of flowers and a photo of a wedding – with two of the three band members in drag. But I’m a reviewer, I can get past this.

The initial slap of “Stooge”, the opener, is punchy enough with an infectious chorus, but my antennae are up – is this another Refreshments record where there’s one formula alterna-pop tune and the rest is bar band filler? Maybe so –  “Brand New Friend” (after the Eels, the second best toy piano intro I’ve heard in a while) and the older “Stuck On You” follow, and I’m not in wow mode yet.

Then it comes on like a tidal wave. “OK, Casey” is  everything a pop tune should be, great harmonies, good hooks, sing-along chorus. Bingo. Then the Gin Blossoms-ish “Changin’ Yer Mind” kicks the tempo up a notch. Merseybeat and Cheap Trick cross-pollinate with the rollicking “Bottom O’ The World” before the Byrds-like “The Last Pufferbird” (no pun), another strong track. Another favorite is the bluesy ballad “Distance” with its lonesome guitar and desperate vocal.

Ten songs would have been fine, but tacked on the end is their serious take of the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme (from the previously issued Pravda samplers) and a second version of the song 2:15, sung in Spanish for all you romantics out there. No extra charge.

I’m glad I got past the initial roadblocks and gave the disk a chance – the middle four songs are outstanding, and two or three others have grown on me as well. So forget the warning signs and dive in. For three guys trying to look goofy and out of place, there’s a good pop heart beating underneath. Besides, the Presidents of the United States of America have that Three Stooges schtick down pat.

Rex Daisynot dead, just resting” on MySpace.

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