Tag Archives: cowpunk

Under The Radar: Venus Throw

As soon as I saw this cover I knew I had to buy the CD.

When I first heard the title track, I was wondering if Venus Throw was one of my favorite cowpunk bands performing under an alias. Damned if Bruce Smith’s voice didn’t call to mind E*I*E*I*O, Jason and the Scorchers and The Accelerators. All the songs were written by Smith, who also handled guitar and bass duties; Johanna Boulden played keyboards and Herbie Gimmel manned the drums.

The title track is a greasy, garagey tribute to its title, even bastardizing a bit of the “Peter Gunn” theme in the mix. That same pulsating downbeat is used to great effect in “Black Cherry Blues“, so guttural in tone that it sounds like the woofers in your cabinet are already blown out. (Attention kids – woofers are part of real speakers.) Love the humor in “Ten Horn Devil” as well; these guys have that roadhouse roots rock thing down. Swamp rock? Noirbilly?

Walk Dumaine” is a more kinetic paced rocker, but even that is ambling compared to the Webb Wilder meets Jerry Lee Lewis vibe of “Get Hot Or Get Gone“, a perfect closer that leaves you wanting more (and by “more” I mean “hit the repeat button while you Google for other albums”).

Film Noir is a tight and rocking appetizer, but now I have to get my hands on a copy of Raised Right, Gone Wrong, which came out last year after an apparent eight year hiatus.  The band is now completely different except for Smith; Dirk Laguna is now on bass, with Eddie Brown on drums and Bill Motley on keyboards.

If it’s as good as this one, it’s another reward for my incessant tangent tracking and blind faith purchasing. Once again, how could I not buy a CD with a cover like that? Both covers were illustrated by Robert Ullman and I hope he and the band signed on for life.

Drop a mere fin for this great EP on CD Baby or Amazon.

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Top Ten Albums of 2010 – #6

The words “country blues” get thrown around a lot; I do it myself when describing music from Steve Earle to the apex of the Rolling Stones catalogue (Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, Beggars Banquet, Sticky  Fingers). But my god, when the form gets attacked by a band featuring a singer with the pipes of Teal Collins and a guitarist with the amazing chops of Josh Zee, the phrase redefines itself. This is flat-out goosebump material. I don’t recall witnessing Janis Joplin jamming with Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but I imagine it might have gone down something like this:

Video: “Love Me Like A Man

The Mother Truckers are an incendiary band from Austin who just keep getting better and better. Last year “Dynamite” was my favorite song of the year, and there were three or four on Van Tour that could have made my top ten this year (if I didn’t concede the whole thing to Ce Lo Green). I mean, listen to this guy shred and this girl wail!

Video: “Dynamite

Van Tour, their fourth release, is a concept album of sorts; on the surface there are surreal songs about aliens and invasions, but it’s just a framework for honky tonk cowpunk, roots rock stompers and a master class in getting your jaw to drop. The Mother Truckers ferociously blend Americana, Patsy Cline and classic fingerpicking roadhouse hoedown with the force of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Rolling Stones. But when Collins wants to get all sweet’n’low, she can simmer a ballad or blues song as well as just about anyone (listen to “Keep It Simple” – it  made my spine sweat!) And if Zee didn’t just launch himself onto your short list of great guitar players, well…

This is first-rate chops-meets-attitude. Van Tour might be their best yet.

Listen to clips on Amazon

Video: “Alien Girl” from Van Tour

The Mother Truckers on MySpace

Zep-KISSing “Hot Legs” and making it sound legit.

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New Album! Jet Black Berries

When I moved from Syracuse to Rochester in the early 80s, I still made several trips back down the Thruway to catch some of the great bands toiling away in that urban wasteland. In retrospect, I’m sure a lot of towns had their own burgeoning scene that was being ignored while A&R people tripped all over each other to mine places like Athens and Seattle.

And like many cities, there were shitty cover bands pulling big crowds while the true artists creating their own path struggled to fill the other clubs. At least some of those underappreciated artists broke out and made careers; the cover bands either faded away or are still playing Journey and Van Halen covers for gas money on weekends.

In Rochester, it wasn’t much different, and the coolest band haunting the boards was New Math. Their dark, swirling mix of psychedelia and punk sprang from influences like the Velvet Underground (whose didn’t?) and they issued a couple of singles and shared bills and tours with some of the hippest bands of the era. But after struggling through a few years, they changed their sound, renamed themselves the Jet Black Berries and in 1984 wound up getting signed by Enigma Records and releasing three albums. Breaking up in 1988, the core of the band continued on through regional projects; original lead singer Kevin Patrick ironically became an A&R man.

The current lineup features drummer Roy Stein, bassist Gary Trainer, guitarist Chris Yockel, singer Johnny Cummings and keyboardist Mark Schwartz. Pulled together for a reunion in 2008, they floored the audience – and themselves – and decided to give it another whirl. Now a new album, their first in twenty-two years, is available: Postmodern Ghosts.

Yeah, there’s some reanimation – “They Walk Among You”, “Ominous”, “American Survival”, “Pipes of Pan”…so what? Neither New Math nor the Jet Black Berries were household names; those of us familiar with the earlier versions will enjoy the songs as much as new listeners. Apparently the first single, “God With a Gun”, is already making waves despite the lack of a cohesive corporate promotion.

More proof that sometimes good stuff just resonates.

Jet Black Berries on MySpace

Listen to samples of Postmodern Ghosts.

New Math’s Wake The Dead.

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Frontier Records Celebrates 30 Years

One of my favorite bands – ever – is the cowpunk group E.I.E.I.O., and their first two killer albums bore the signature flag logo of Frontier Records. Little did I know at the time that the label originated primarily as a punk provider, as some of my favorite indie bands like The Pontiac Brothers, The Long Ryders and Thin White Rope would soon share that imprimatur. Now the little label that could turns 30 – an incredible achievement in a waning industry.

From the press release:

Frontier Records, the independent Los Angeles-based record label founded in 1980 by Lisa Fancher, and Part Time Punks, a weekly club that focuses on obscure and classic music from 1978 to present, will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the seminal Los Angeles label with a massive blow-out show in Echo Park on Sunday, November 7 at the Echoplex.  

Confirmed acts include O.C. hardcore legends The Adolescents, a rare one-off performance from the reunited Middle Class, a solo set from guitarist Rikk Agnew, original L.A. ’77 punk band Flyboys and the drunken rock stylings of The Pontiac Brothers.  The Master of Ceremonies for the evening will be Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris. Additional Frontier bands are soon to be confirmed and will be announced in the coming weeks.

Frontier Records was founded in Los Angeles, CA, in 1980 by Lisa Fancher and was one of the first independent labels to document the nascent L.A. and O.C. hard-core punk rock scenes before branching out into other scenes and sounds such as the so-called “Paisley Underground” and (always) guitar-based bands along with genres such as goth, alternative country, pop and more.

Bands releasing records on Frontier include: Circle Jerks, Adolescents, The Weirdos, TSOL, China White, Redd Kross, Thin White Rope, Heatmiser, Young Fresh Fellows, Christian Death, Dharma Bums, American Music Club, The Long Ryders, The Three O’Clock, The Pontiac Brothers, Naked Prey, Flop and many more. The label’s 100th release will be a reissue of the 1979 compilation Yes L.A.

Who says chicks don’t rock? Good on yer, Lisa!

Frontier Records homepage

Frontier Records Wiki page

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Under The Radar: The Ditchdiggers

Another treasure unearthed ten years ago during another late-night “sounds like” tangent. This time I was trying to find bands who would mix up a little country and rockabilly with a punk edge and sense of humor. And with pun fully intended…bingo! From a June 2000 column…

Have to admit that the name Ditchdiggers attracted me immediately, plus record titles like Cow Patty Bingo and Light And Salvation always get my attention, too. This is absolute kick-ass yee-hah music that lives down the block from the Beat Farmers and Jason And The Scorchers.

Bingo is a little more countrified, with guest Debbie Gitlins’ fiddle lighting up tracks like “Grandpa” and the band amping up the Hank Williams classic “You Win Again” (they perform a similar amphetamine cover of “Amazing Grace” on Salvation). “Belle Air” rocks like an old Outlaws record, if the Outlaws were cool and sang about cows instead of green grass and high tides forever (which, of course, was a cap tip to the Stones, but I digress.). “I Don’t Want To Know” is a killer track, and “The Bottle” satisfies my craving for a BBB (Bad Behavior Ballad) on every record with a twang.

“Daddy Made A Farmer”, from Salvation, was the track I first heard; I loved it because it truly is the perfect Green Acres theme song (“Daddy made a farmer/out of that city girl“). This more recent record is fuller sounding and has great guitar playing that will melt the dance floor. Favorites include motor-biking psychobilly like “Big Bad Baby”, the Stonesy “One More Town” and the bent note country blues of “Backyard Girl”.

How can you not like a band that has songs like “Mudflap Cutie” and “Flatbed Love”? This ain’t yo’ mamma’s hoedown – The Ditchdiggers put the “punk” back in “cowpunk.

Chris Gray, Vocals
Lars Nagel, Rhythm Guitar
Bryan Stuart, Lead Guitar
John Paul Stout, Bass
Mack Blauvelt, Drums

Never got their third album, but go to their MySpace site for a surprise.

Listen to Cow Patty Bingo songs on CD BABY

Listen to Light and Salvation songs on CD BABY

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