Steve Wilson. On music.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Men - Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)

The Men are men (well, you never know) from Brooklyn. And unlike your average twenty-somethings from Gotham’s most populous borough they don’t sound like lapsed graduate students trying to justify their career choice to their parents by claiming their new album is a master’s thesis on some obscure aesthetic strategy. Shit, no. They sound like a damned rock band. This is rock as bedrock – elemental, dedicated to the proposition that every dumb ass that queried “is rock dead?” should be hit with a sledgehammer - as if Little Richard could ever die. I’ve heard Leave Home (yes, borrowed from the Ramones, paragons of college rock sophistication). I haven’t heard their earliest music. Their new album Open Your Heart represents gravitation toward what the average rock fan might call listenable. Take that, hipsters! 

But really, they don’t sound like they give two shits. Which always makes for great rock and roll. Ya think the Stones agonized over how Beggars Banquet would be received by an audience taught to anticipate lysergic spew? Hell, no. And by God, Open Your Heart is a sort of Beggars for a generation raised on racket. Oh, I’ve heard little college-rocker journalists bring up Husker Du and Black Flag and SST and Homestead and Dischord labels and whatever else. I guess. But mostly I hear the swirling missionary positions of everyone from the Stooges to Jane’s Addiction (and a certain kinship with Icarus Line). And of course the noise monkey grooving of everyone from Spaceman 3 to Sonic Youth to - I dunno, the Swans? 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Scott Severin & The Milton Burlesque – Birdhouse Obbligato (self-released)

Scott Severin knocked around the New York music scene for years, somehow winding up in Omaha sometime in the past decade. I don’t pretend to know his biography, but if his music is any indication he’s a grown up punk rocker with plenty of Clash, Dylan, Ochs, Waits, Cave, Zevon, Springsteen (his words, actually) in his collection. He recorded a forty-something debut called Unknown Rider upon settling in Omaha, a record I’ve yet to hear. Scott and I were introduced through a mutual friend and I asked him to send a copy of his second release Birdhouse Obbligato when it became available.

Glad I did. Severin’s work honors his mentors and most of it merits same breath mention. “Birdhouse” (the song, but not quite title track) has a Weill-ian menace that reminds me of Steve Wynn’s “My Old Haunts.” Actually, there’s a more general kinship between Severin’s work and Wynn’s. Severin’s delivery has the incantatory rhythms of Allen Ginsberg, but his vocal timbre and range remind me of Eric Anderson (think “I Shall Go Unbounded” more than “Blue River”), something in his enunciation too. “ And “Birdhouse’s” ‘sins that even Satan don’t allow’ suggests Nick Cave’s netherworld.

In the faded romance chronicle of “The Edge is Gone” and on ‘I Won’t Get on the Plane” I hear something of Richard Hell’s Kentucky by way of Lower East Side drawl. “Plane” and “I Don’t Know” would also sound right at home in the revived New York Dolls repertoire, especially the latter with it’s jaded Stones drive. “Even Jesus” links the Christian savior with Everyman, suggesting that like Johnny Thunders “even Jesus was born to lose.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

John Wesley Coleman III - The Last Donkey Show (Goner Records)

The enigma that is John Wesley Coleman III … ah, never mind. Enigma, my ass. I don’t know that much about the guy, that’s all. Let’s see, he’s from Texas. He plays in a band called the Golden Boys – don’t know much about them either. He records for the Memphis mavericks at the Goner Records label and had a previous album on the label called The Bad Lady Goes to Jail. I have it. It’s pretty good. But I don’t remember all that much about it … too. Got it on the shelf, where records that I like go (unlike the ones that suck). But I’m going to remember his new record a lot better. It’s called The Last Donkey Show and I’ll remember it because I like it more. I’ve been listening to it a lot. And because I’m writing this damn review.

Coleman is a rock ‘n’ roll junkman. His mind works like a radio receiver that gets random transmissions from the last five decades of rock and country music. Recorded in Oakland, CA and Coleman’s native Texas, Donkey Show is produced by Greg Ashley of the Gris Gris, who’s worked with bands like the Impediments and is clearly Coleman’s kindred spirit.

Coleman is expressive, poetic in a junkman’s way – mostly he comes up with an idea or an image and lets it roll. It works. “There’s a woman looking for me in the dark; she won’t leave me alone” he sings on “My Grave.” It’s sung to a tune that borrows a tad from Roky Erickson’s “Starry Eyes” with an arrangement that calls to mind the Sir Douglas Quintet, Swingin’ Medallions and the Attractions. Coleman likes the sublime sounds of vintage electric keyboards like the Farfisa and Vox Continental, sounds at once majestic and cheesy. That sound predominates on the title cut and “Virgin Mary Queen.” The former kicks off with a ‘dearly beloved’ organ intro, turning into prom-rock with a Ringo back beat, Coleman singing like a charbroiled Peter Perrett; on “Virgin” Coleman engages his inner Iggy, but mixes him with a touch of Kris Kristofferson. With its Flannery O’Connor ambience “Virgin” sounds like the aural equivalent of a William Eggleston photograph, full of that mysterious mix of the banal and the incredible that characterizes the southern American psychic landscape.