The Truckers would often mop the stage with the blood of their opening acts, but they couldn’t out-muscle Slobberbone. Theirs is a physical brand of Rock ’n Roll, and they could go toe to toe with the heaviest hitters. New West Records released Bees And Seas: The Best Of Slobberbone earlier this year and Patterson Hood nailed it in the liners when he said that “in a perfect world it would be called a Greatest Hits record.” We’re not there yet, and we may never get there. But it won’t be Slobberbone’s fault if we don’t. They did their part, dammit.
Brent Best gives his all, man. Onstage and on paper. He’s as fine a Rock ’n Roll songwriter as you’ll find working today. And many of my favorites of his found their way onto this compilation. I’m also excited to report that there’s a whole side and a half of tunes that I am entirely unfamiliar with. Slobberbone broke up for a bit a while back, and I intended to dole the rest of their catalog out to myself over time as a means of giving myself something to look forward to. That time is now. Some standouts for me are “Tilt-a-Whirl,” “Haze of Drink,” and “Gimme Back My Dog.” The latter song is a favorite of Stephen King’s, and he referenced it in one of his storybooks. Listening to this record makes me miss seeing these guys live, which is something that hasn’t happened for me in well over a decade. I think the band mostly sticks around their home state of Texas these days, but I would be thrilled to be wrong about that. The last time I caught Best live, he was playing with the Drams. The two bands shared a couple of members, but the Drams made more use of keyboards and harmonies than Slobberbone does. Seeing the two groups together would be glorious, but Best is so active and forceful onstage that I’d be concerned for his stamina. And his knees. If you are someone who appreciates bare bones Rock ’n Roll with two guitars, bass, drums, and ten tons of heart, Slobberbone might be your band. You at least owe it to yourself to find out.
I was chagrined to see that little “U” encircled in the dead wax of the second sides of both discs included in this set. But United got another one right. They nailed Daniel Hutchens’s latest release too which we looked at last month so maybe they’ve figured something out. Or maybe they fired or hired a difference maker. Regardless, I’m beyond thankful that they passed on the chance to ruin another great recording. The cover art for this set is by Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson. A download code is included so you can spread the gospel. It’s time to start if you haven’t already. Hallelujah!
The Rolling Stones returned to the stage after a long hiatus back in 1989 for their Steel Wheels Tour. I caught a show in Jacksonville when I was 15 years old and I thought it was pretty great. I was wrong. In retrospect, that tour was kinda clunky and rusty. And it was certainly predicable. Things started to heat up a few years later with the Voodoo Lounge Tour which saw the band mixing up their setlist a little more, and adding some deeper cuts into the performances that really made a huge difference in the audience’s experience. Seeing the band play “Monkey Man” from the seventh row in South Carolina nearly caused me to have an aneurysm. This would have been around 1995. The band also recorded some stripped down studio versions of some tunes and recorded some shows at smaller venues for release on a semi-acoustic album called Stripped. It once was only available on vinyl as an import from Europe, and I whiffed on it. The set costs about $200 American online now. Luckily, they’ve revisited that surprisingly fertile era in the band’s history, and they’ve put out Totally Stripped in a variety of expanded formats (of course), but the only one I was interested in was the double vinyl set (of course) which includes a DVD documenting some of the sessions and shows with all the backstage extras and interviews you’d expect. There’s almost no overlap between the ’95 set and this one. Excite.
I’d kinda sworn new Stones records off a few years ago due to a string of shoddy products I’d received, usually around Record Store Day, but I couldn’t resist this one. It’s mostly fine although there is some obvious distortion in the set’s last song, “Street Fighting Man.” It’s not crowd noise. It’s a defect in the recording (maybe) or the pressing (probably). So, once again, if you are a true blue, dyed in the wool audiophile, you’ll want to pass on this one. This is a shame because many of the performances are zesty. This is the first time, for instance, that I’ve had a recording of Lisa Fischer singing Merry Clayton’s part on “Gimme Shelter.” If you don’t know what that means or what’s involved, you should get YouTube involved right away. (Fischer is also prominently featured in the Twenty Feet From Stardom documentary which I highly recommend.) Other highlights on the set include “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Shine A Light,” and a terrifically Chuck Berry-esque take on “Brown Sugar.” It’s clear by listening that Mick Jagger is working much smaller rooms than the ones I’d seen him in, and Chuck Leavell’s contributions as band director and keyboardist cannot be overstated. It’s a party. Totally worth the trip.
If you’re a big time Stones fan and a vinyl collector, I’d advise you to grab a copy of Totally Stripped. Not having a copy of Stripped has been an itch that I just couldn’t reach to scratch for many long years now. The revamped version is like a sonic back scratcher in that respect. Which is about as much as you can hope for from these guys by now, I’m afraid. Support them. They need the money.
I’d been meaning to get around to Things Fall Apart by the Roots for forever. I’ve always enjoyed their music, especially the record they did with John Legend, but never took the time to dig deeper. Based on what I’d heard previously, I thought that Things Fall Apart was going to be more of a modern Soul record. And it is. Kinda. But its way closer to a straight up Hip-Hop record than I’d anticipated. This turns out to be exactly what I needed at a time like this.
Things Fall Apart made it back onto my radar when I was researching D’Angelo’s history after he surprise released Black Messiah last year. That’s when I learned that the Roots, D’Angelo, and Erykah Badu (amongst others) were wadded up in a collective called the Soulquarians. At this stage of the game, anyone who’s alright with D’Angelo is alright with me so I dove in. And I’m thrilled to have done so. I didn’t realize how badly I’d missed “Message Rap.” I love it when really great beats are built on top of a true foundation. Roots drummer and world-class badass Questlove is alleged to have been the driving force behind the Soulqarians’ most accomplished material, and I always perk up when that man speaks. His musical knowledge is encyclopedic and he’s one of my favorite drummers ever. If he didn’t write the liners included with Things Fall Apart, then someone equally as brilliant did. They’ll provide you with a level commentary on the state of Black culture at the turn of the century, but you could also get that just by listening to the album. The cover art is taken from the Civil Rights Movement, but were it not for the clothing and other aesthetics you could just as easily assume that the photo was taken yesterday. I’m not trying to stir any pots here. I’m assuming that we’re all aware of the fact that things are hot right now with regards to race relations and law enforcement. The idea that the Roots were publicizing that in 1999 can be seen through a million different lenses. The photo was decades old by then, but they felt compelled to use it to promote an album to a Hip-Hop audience that is legendarily forward looking. I’ve never believed that the folks who built the infrastructure to support a movement that would take over the world’s pop culture got the respect they deserved from Hip-Hop fans. If it’s not new, it’s through. But the Roots were simultaneously looking at our past, present, and (unfortunately) our future without blinking. Then, they held a light up to what they saw and put it out there for the rest of us. Boots Riley and the Coup are doing similar work in Oakland right now. The Roots have never been afraid to get their hands dirty, and with Things Fall Apart they found a diamond down there in the muck. Makes me wonder what else is down there…
This album has that gloriously rough, “unfinished” feel that made D’Angelo’s Voodoo so visceral for me. The production is not exactly sparse, but plenty of room is left for the MCs to do their thing over the top of it all and still be heard. The two records were pressed at United, and mine are mostly fine. Things are improving in that regard. I wish the same could be said about the issues being addressed on Things Fall Apart.
Sturgill Simpson made such an amazing Country record that last year’s Grammy board members couldn’t even recognize it for what it was. They nominated him in the Americana category presumably because it had been so long since they heard Real Country. Now, Sturgill’s back with A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. I don’t know where they’re gonna put this one. I expect mass confusion at Grammy Headquarters. Lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Furrowing of brows in vain attempts to comprehend. Or maybe they’ll just retreat, and go back to the crap that they’re most comfortable with. I don’t expect any of it, one way or the other, to affect Simpson’s trajectory at all. The proverbial cat is out of the bag. And it has claws, gang. This guy is the real deal. ‘Bout time.
I’ve owned three copies of Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. They were all pressed at United at varying times, and none were listenable. I am no longer in possession of that recording in any format. Which is a travesty. Sailor’s Guide represents Simpson’s first foray into the arena of the Major Label. Atlantic is historically one of the most reputable in the industry, although I don’t know what that means today. Ray Charles to Led Zeppelin to Sturgill Simpson. They’ve had quite a roster, and that two records that comprise this set are the opposite of defective. They’re well pressed and mostly silent when they should be. The recording sounds loose and organic, just the way I like ‘em. The Dap-King horns are featured prominently throughout which adds a layer of grit and funk to the festivities that takes things down a decidedly different dirt road. It’s not as far out as Simpson has gotten. Check out his theme song to the cancelled Vinyl show for that. But it was enough of a curve that I wasn’t quite sure which way to go with it at first. I brought too many preconceptions to the first listen, and I wound up disoriented and confused as a result. As if I were on the Grammy board. Much of the content on Sailor’s revolves around Simpson’s newborn son. Missives and lessons and advice and the like. Not exactly the subject matter of history’s rockingest recordings. Sturgill don’t care. He’ll plunk a Nirvana cover (“In Bloom”) right down in the middle of a love letter to his infant son, and then move on. If he were following a discernible pattern, you’d expect his next record to be a full throttle Rocker. But it could just as soon be Polka. He’s one of the most interesting and compelling artists working, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is a dense work with a ton of sounds and a lot to work through. These records display a wide soundstage, and plenty of low ends that’s far from muddy. The strings might not be as airy as what you’d expect from a Living Stereo recording, but this ain’t one of those and they work perfectly within the context of this album. A CD is included, and the gatefold packaging is sturdy and fun with plenty of artwork and liners. If the Metamodern vinyl package left you wanting, Sailor’s Guide will restore you. I can’t recommend it enough.
A friend of mine in Nashville turned me onto …Like Clockwork by the Queens of the Stone Age a couple of years ago, and it wound up costing me untold amounts of money which I turned into plane tickets, concert tickets, and records. More recently, he sent me an album called Accelerator by a band called Royal Trux. I’d heard of them, but was entirely unfamiliar with their music. For some reason, I thought that they might have had some type of connection to San Francisco, where I reside, but I was wrong. Looks like the band, basically a duo consisting of Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema, was born closer to Washington DC. Accelerator was released way back in 1998. The band is no longer together, but it looks like the bulk of their catalog is still available on vinyl. Whether or not you care to take advantage of that will likely be determined by your tolerance for and appreciation of chaos and crazy sounds in Rock songs. This ain’t the Beatles we’re talking about…
Looks like Hagerty used to play with Jon Spencer in a band named after a famous Bond girl whose name was a little too pornographic for publication here. If you’re familiar with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, then you may be somewhat more prepared for what’s going on with Accelerator than I was. Seems that the Royal Trux were a noisy lot. They employed copious distortion, high-pitched drones (think of some of the more grating sounds in Public Enemy’s best, most classic work), and layered vocals that sound like they were run through overdriven guitar amps. At least on Accelerator. No idea what the other records sound like, but one of them was made with the help of David Briggs as producer. (Briggs was a long-time collaborator with Neil Young and is featured somewhat prominently in the Leon Russell documentary that was recently released after spending about 40 years in the can. It’s called A Poem Is A Naked Person. I’d watch it if you haven’t.) The Royal Trux members were legendarily proud of their heroin use as it turns out, and what better way to celebrate that than by becoming a Calvin Klein model? That’s what Herrema did. All that to illustrate the idea that these two folks didn’t just wander off the street and into a recording studio to record Accelerator as anonymously as I might have imagined based on the results. These folks were/are well connected in the industry, and if you listen closely to some of the more accessible moments on Accelerator you can start to imagine why. The album closer, “Stevie,” allows a little Soul to sneak through. There’s a guitar solo that clearly required some skill and imagination. The rest of the album isn’t bad if you’re into experimental-sounding Noise Rock. I liked it way better upon second listen, but never warmed up to it much past that. Still, there’s enough going on to let you know that these folks aren’t without talent. I suspect they could have done a little better job of staying in between the lines if they’d wanted to. But if I were a gambling man I’d wager that they’d have found that too boring.
Accelerator presents as a pretty basic vinyl package. A single, well-pressed disc in a glossy cover with some sparse liners and a couple of pictures. If you’re the adventurous type, you might as well jump. I’m sticking with the Queens of the Stone Age.