Another dip into the local-music CD pile turns up a few choice gems, along with a half-baked surprise or two
California may be changing before our eyes.
No, it isn’t likely we’ll be singing the “Horst Wessel Lied” at Luger point while stiff-arm saluting our beloved bear flag every morning come October 8, as some of a certain Austrian weightlifter’s more paranoid detractors might suggest.
But our sleepy old capital of California, that live-and-let-live, somewhat tolerant semi-paradise that some of us have grown to love, may be giving way to an army of Hummer-driving Bill O’Reilly clones this fall. The last time this bunch kicked out the jams to celebrate a political victory was in Florida almost three years ago, in a huge stomping bash that culminated with Wayne Newton warbling his 1963 smash hit “Danke Schön” to a swaggering mass of out-of-state congressional staffers who had trekked down to southern Florida to make sure that votes either were or were not counted, depending on whose account you read. “A Brooks Brothers riot,” the press labeled their activities at the time.
Now, whether we’ll be hearing “Danke Schön” in Sacramento during what may prove to be a very special Oktoberfest remains to be seen. If der Österreichisch Gewichteheber gets the nod to replace the current governor, chances are that Newton, Las Vegas’ infamous “Midnight Idol,” will be setting a new entertainment tone here in Sacramento soon afterward.
But, Newton be damned, we have our own culture here. Even if it seems to get forced under the radar by whatever junk—influenced by American Idol-style karaoke and Fred “Panty Sniffer” Durst-style nu-metal poop—the big entertainment keiretsu are foisting this week. People continue to make records, even if they have very little hope of getting any kind of big push. Some of those records are well-produced and well-packaged; others are more roughly hewn, either sonically or graphically, or both.
What follows are a few of the locally produced CDs that have come across this desk recently.
What Reality Replacement Unit, the full-length debut of Citrus Heights jam band Eye Scream Headache, could benefit from most is a serious remix. The 14-song CD (well, 11 tracks, two short interludes and an instrumental tag at the end) starts off sounding like it might be headed in a prog-rock direction, but it swerves into 420 territory midway through the first song and stays there throughout the rest of the record. There’s even a song titled “Carolina 4/20,” which might be nice—the opening track, “Falling Down,” erupts into a decent late-1960s Dead-style jam for a moment—but the blunted production, all muffled bass and drums mixed up front, with everything else (banjos, horns, guitars and keyboards) fading in and out of the mix like stoners meandering in and out of the kitchen to nick from a pan of brownies practically renders this mess unlistenable. That’s too bad; when a song opens with a bubbling bong, which is then used as a key percussion element (“Knife”), you know what you’re listening to is baked. But a decent mix and a producer’s judgment calls might help. When a band can’t decide if it wants to sound like Phish, Marshall Tucker, Nektar or whatever, someone who knows how to sequence those various strands into a coherent whole can really improve a project like this. (Blue Son Records, P.O. Box 4371, Citrus Heights, CA 95621.)
One thing Nate “Snakeboy” Shiner’s album Now and Then doesn’t do is veer all over the stylistic map; this is, straight up, blues, blues and mo’ blues. What’s here is a collection of studio and live recordings—12 of the 17 tracks here are originals—featuring Shiner on lap steel, guitar, harp, keyboards and vocals. The live tracks tend to have a funky, loose groove, and Shiner is a fine guitar player. The recordings range from some circa-1976 sides cut at Army Street Studios with Andy Samuels and Ray Copeland also on guitars, Jim Monroe on keyboards and local painter Anthony Montanino on drums, to much more recent stuff, some of it recorded in area watering holes. Too bad for local blues fans that Shiner has moved to Norman, Okla. (Blue Line Records, snakeboyshiner@ hotmail.com.)
Another local blues personality with a new record is Ray “Catfish” Copeland, whose band Catfish and the Crawdaddies recently released Venus Blues—an album titled in memoriam to Copeland’s late wife, Venus Montana. Copeland’s stylistic range is much broader than Shiner’s, even though most of it is rooted in blues styles. From the poignant title cut, on which Stan Powell’s harmonica mimics an Italianate accordion, to such shuffles as the Bo Diddley-esque “Crawdaddy Crawdaddy,” this is a nice example of what happens when a pretty-good bar band masters the recording process. And drummer and keyboard player Phil Minas contributed a few tunes here, as did Powell and Copeland. (CFish Records, P.O. Box 189118, Sacramento, CA 95818-9118.)
Republican political operatives will be delighted to know that Arnold Schwarzenegger gets name-checked in the third song of War Danzon by Santa Cruz Gospel Choir, a project by local singer-songwriter Lee Bob Watson of Jackpot (and formerly of Grub Dog and the Amazing Sweethearts)—but don’t expect KFBK to start playing “Fuckin Sexy” anytime soon. Though Watson’s latest CD comes in a simple, red slipcase that looks like it came right off a Kinko’s copier, the music inside is anything but homemade. Watson’s twanging, neo-American-roots take on English glam rock recalls everything that was great about the 1970s, when months-long drug-fueled recording-studio binges resulted in some truly memorable albums, the kind that took a long time for a listener to wrap his or her mind around. Watson seems to have a fine Bowie fixation mixed up with an Exile on Main Street approach to debauchery, and he even squeezes in some fine political material, from full-on band assaults like “Air Strike Remedy” to the stripped-down piano lament “Protest Song.” If I had to pick one unheralded smart cookie out of a city full of pretty smart musical cookies, it’d probably be this guy. Check this record out. (Brahma Records, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Careful readers will recognize the name Tim White from the pages of SN&R as someone who covers the paper’s gallery beat. He’s also an accomplished musician, as a member of Baby Grand and the Sutters 4. With Chris Harvey, Mark Miller and Summer Harrison, White’s also a member of the Alkali Flats, who have a new record out titled Killing Time. If folk music has a long tradition of chronicling sad, painful death and sad, boring life, this collection of 10 folk standards is no exception. If the Folksmen of A Mighty Wind fame hailed from Midtown Sacramento, they might sound something like this. The Flats tackle such cheerful, well-known old songs as the Blue Sky Boys’ “Banks of the Ohio,” the 1959 Lefty Frizzell hit “The Long Black Veil” and the Louvin Brothers’ “Great Atomic Power,” along with John Stewart’s “Saint of San Joaquin,” Rick Nelson’s “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” and others, and give them a warm, front-room reading. The wrinkled harmonies of Billy Rose and Lee David’s 1926 composition “Tonight You Belong to Me” are particularly inebriated. And the linoleum-cut printed cover looks pretty cool, too. (Lucky Shot Records, email@example.com.)
But such Bolshevik conceits as folk-music revivalism may not be very welcome in a cultural milieu defined by the cigar-smoking, Hummer-driving politicos who will be invading Sacramento as part of Team Planet Hollywood. In fact, a cursory swing through Internet discussion boards that trade in political chatter will reveal their no-nonsense (make that zero-tolerance) approach toward anything remotely smacking of the common person picking up a battered Martin dreadnaught and singing public-domain folk songs about taking back the power from the big mean robber barons who have beaten down all the working stiffs into indentured servitude.
So, what can we expect? According to my Republican cousins, the coming thing, aside from Newton’s jam-kicking-out performances, is business jazz, or bizjazz for short. As their extensive libraries of CDs—many of them on the GRP label and some of them featuring the finest musicians who’ve ever played in the NBA—can attest, bizjazz combines an upbeat approach to music, which parallels attacking complex social problems by cutting taxes, with a clean Teutonic approach to rhythm and texture that appears to be drawn from the same aesthetic standards that govern fine luxury-sedan design.
On a local level, North Star appears to have a grasp of these aesthetic parameters; its five-song CD Smooth Ride Home is, apparently, the product of a one-man band named Joe Atilano. As the CD’s liner notes put it, “Smooth Jazz: The best way to describe my style of music. Whether you’re at home relaxing or on the move, the music will definitely capture your attention.” Yep. And though this may be the garage-band equivalent of technically sophisticated smooth jazz, some of which sound as harmonically complex as old Steely Dan rhythm tracks, Atilano does get his groove on. (North Star, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As the victors often say, get used to it. You’ll be hearing a lot more of it, and smelling a lot more cigar smoke, as fall turns to winter and then to springtime.
Springtime for, well, you know who.