An excellent return

Mark Curry’s Hell’s House Band surfaces with a 5-year-old album of classic beautiful-loser rock

A visibly happy Mark Curry, in a shot taken from the video for “Dozen Lies.”

A visibly happy Mark Curry, in a shot taken from the video for “Dozen Lies.”

So, this CD shows up in the mail. The cover is cryptic; it appears to have been sketched on a cocktail napkin—a winking smiley face, with the words “Dozen Lies” written underneath it. It looks like something you might toss without bothering to listen to it.

The cover insert includes a short list of the personnel who make up Hell’s House Band, the artist name listed on the CD’s spine, along with a mention that the CD was recorded in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., followed by this sentence, in quotes: “Yes I do hereby solomnly [sic] swear that I did infact [sic] write most of these songs.”

Signed, Mark Curry.

For any fan of homegrown local talent, that alone was good reason to pop the CD into the player immediately.

Turns out Curry—a genuine product of the same South Sacramento milieu that produced another one of this town’s rock ’n’ roll luminaries, Mike Farrell—never really stopped recording. At one time, he had moved into position to be Sacramento’s next big rocking thing; he’d signed with Virgin Records and released two albums, 1992’s It’s Only Time and 1994’s Let the Wretched Come Home. Although those records managed to showcase Curry’s Marlboro-red voice, his Charles Bukowski-meets-Kurt Cobain persona and his offhand knack for quality songcraft, the singer may have been a bit too, ahem, volatile for the buttoned-down demands of major-label stardom. And when EMI bought Virgin, and Jordan Harris and Jeff Ayeroff—co-presidents of the label’s U.S. division—left that company, Curry lost his champions inside his so-called ticket to the big time.

He soon began bouncing around the country, touching down in Martha’s Vineyard, San Francisco and Maui; where he got stranded after his wallet got stolen while he was swimming. “I been jumpin’ islands and shit,” he said. “But Maui wasn’t a bad place to be stranded. But there’s no shows there—it’s all fuckin’ ukulele music.” Eventually, he landed in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood. “Fuckin’ makin’ records,” he said, “making recordings in my fuckin’ apartment—a box, a recording studio with a futon in it.”

In addition to Hell’s House Band—which includes guitarist Aaron “El Hefe” Abeyeta from NOFX, who’d played with Curry in his old band Crystal Sphere; bassist Kenny Lyon, who played guitar in the Lemonheads and bass on Curry’s It’s Only Time; and drummer Shawn Mitchell, the “M” in Mike Farrell and Lee “Boots” Kinanahan’s late-1980s blues-rock trio FMK—Curry also mixed it up in a few other combos: Gig Butt, the Dimwits, King Shit and Ten Pin Trio. “Which was originally called Pbbbst,” he said of the latter, sounding it out like a fart noise. He also went to Europe with Hot Rod Shopping Cart but got booted off the tour for repetitive inebriated tomfoolery.

What’s surprising is how good a case Dozen Lies—which will be released next week by Hard Soul, a new Los Angeles-based independent label—makes for Curry’s ongoing viability as an artist. The album, recorded in Martha’s Vineyard in 1999, begins with the hammered and bluesified, Tom Waits-fronting-the Replacements squalor of the title track (the album also includes a video for that song), segues into a rock anthem with an irresistible chorus on “How Bout a Few Words” and then goes into a broken-down Wilco channeling Big Star’s Sister Lovers on “Sleeps Quietly.” The remaining 10 songs range from soft and not-so-gently decomposing to hard and blind-drunk raging, but the songs’ internal logic, steeped in a post-White Album sense of classic rock, always shines through. It’s not perfect, and it’s not always pretty, and sometimes it’s a total mess, and the album’s live sound—recorded “hot” sans a lot of compression—may not be tailor-made for album-rock radio, but Dozen Lies serves notice that Curry, one of rock ’n’ roll’s beautiful-loser personas, is back in rare form.

As for the cover of Dozen Lies, blame it on Curry. “That’s my fuckin’ artwork,” he bragged between what sounded like drags of a cigarette. And if you can get past the cocktail-napkin packaging, it’ll be well worth your while.