Baron Dave Romm's Recommended Music Page 5

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Page 5 of archived music reviews originally run on Bartcop-E.
More recent reviews added to the end of the page.


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Dementia Track '07

Worm Quartet, Eric Coleman and so on and so forth

I have seen none of the major movies nominated by the Academy of Arts and Sciences. I won't be watching the presentation tonight, and by the time you read this I will have further ignored the winners. Viewership continues to crumble. The Academy has decades of history to prove why it's irrelevant: As time recedes, we can see that the winners (and even the nominees) were the wrong choice. The Awards are just for show, to get a brief box-office boost. Not, in itself, a bad thing. But if you want to proclaim yourself to be all about "arts and science" then you would do well to make your decisions based on artistic merit and technological accomplishment.

Publicity stunts get boring after a while.


A Retrospective

These reviews are repeats, culled from columns past and edited/updated as need be, regarding artists who will be at Marscon this weekend, March 2-4. I've recommended the great Luke Ski many times, and talked about the Marscon Fundraiser CD last week. Luke will be emceeing the Dementia Track and having a grand ol' time.


Worm Quartet's first AND latest CD (as of 2006) is Sumophobia Alpha 2 Ex Super Championship Turbo Edition. Shoebox calls it Sumophobia A2EXSCTE but I prefer the more descriptive Sumophobia Alpha. By any name is a rerelease of older but remastered material material plus new stuff. Worth every acronym. Heck, it was worth the extra penny to buy it directly from him at Marscon. 72:44 of impure bliss, plus space between tracks.

The only real problem I have with Sumophobia Alpha is that I can't play a lot of my favorite cuts on the radio without bleeping. I'll get around to eviscerating the material for the sphincter conservatives, but out of the box I was reduced to playing Russian McDonald's Commercial in which, if there are Naughty Words, they are in Russian. Worm Quartet is in the proud, if grungy, tradition of anti-establishment young rebels: Scatological, insulting of celebrities, self-deprecating, off the wall and usually makes you laugh even when you don't think you should. The music sounds almost childish but isn't; his use of looping and rhythm machines masks some nice tunes. He sings songs of procreation, coffee, not giving a sh*t about your website, hair on the soap, William Shatner, carbonated hamsters, being a hopeless romantic and hamsters again.

What separates Shoebox from all the other smartass college kids who never grew up is his use of language. He has the astonishing ability to juxtapose ideas and concepts that have never even contemplated being on the same planet together, much less in the same line of lyric. Sure, anyone can write a song about vampire penguins but it takes special talent to make a spatula into a phallic symbol. Only Shoebox can sing his songs; when other people want to sound like WQ, they bring in Shoebox to provide their Inner Voice (the most requested song on the Dr. Demento show in 2005). Imagine if a kid in Tom Lehrer's college math class crammed for finals by immersing himself in Italo Calvino, Weird Al Yankovic and the Sex Pistols. Okay don't, see if I care.

Sumophobia Alpha is highly recommended if you liked any other Worm Quartet CD. If you've never heard WQ, this is a pretty good overview, with early songs and recent songs and a wide range of material to choose from.

Flex Your Nipples - Live, is a full-scale Worm Quartet DVD. (Go to the Worm Quartet main page, click on Buy Stuff; ShoEboX is so retro, he used frames.) I picked it up at Marscon, and have been dipping in it ever since. It's got a full Worm Quartet concert, with commentary but not a subtitle track in Portuguese, and a bunch of other stuff I'm not going to get to in this lifetime. It looks like a basement tape but the sound is surprisingly good and it's very well edited so you don't have to wait around for the sound checks. An excellent addition to any Worm Quartet collection. Heck, if you're the type who prefers concert films to the audio alone you might want to start with this DVD.

Worm Quartet's latest CD, Mental Notes, is available in pre-order and I hope to pick up a copy at the con.


Eric Coleman released his first full CD at age 44, so I like him already. Some See The Glass Half Empty is a pretty good debut. His solo guitar work derives from folk, though he regrets not being a metalhead in his most played song, Bang My Bald Spot, which I heard him perform at Marscon. He is exactly like that. He copes with aging in Low Self Esteem Talking Blues and Trophy Wife. I like his commentary on commercialism in Golden Age of Silicon, out just in time to be a commentary on wardrobe malfunctions. I know too many really good musicians who spent years before releasing a CD that fell flat. Many amateur musicians are great in a circle of friends but their studio albums don't capture their high points. Some See The Glass Half Empty is much better than many 25-year freshmen CDs. It's not a great album, but it has several good songs with a point of view based on long experience.

Since then, Eric has spent a great deal of time touring and refining his act. He has great rapport with the audience, and the concert is frequently interactive. I expect his Marscon appearance to be fun.


A word about The Gothsicles. I'm not really a fan of mosh pit music so didn't pick up their CD. But I've got to give props to the video that accompanies their live performance. Computer-generated video, lovingly crafted by geeks with too much time on their hands. Watching the images as they flash by helps those of us who can't really catch the lyrics as they get screamed. If you like this kind of music, go for The Gothsicles. If not, see if you can catch one of their concerts. You might acquire the taste.


I hear a lot of music. Not all of it is to my taste. Now, I'd like to think that I can tell the difference between something that others might like but I don't and a real piece of crap. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Like The Gothsicles, Art Paul definitely falls into the category of acquired taste that I haven't acquired yet. You might. No promises. He has several CDs out, including a Tribute Album to which I contributed. Here are my updated comments on his Best Of CD.

Art Schlosser belongs to that group of people who believe that if you keep plugging away, you'll eventually succeed. No matter what. And he may be right. I wish him luck. The Best of Art Schlosser was compiled by The Great Luke Ski, so on his recommendation Art and I traded CDs. He's a very persistent guy. (You can stop sending me e-mails asking when I'm going to review your CD now, Art.)

The CD is nearly 74 minutes comprising 54 songs. He sort of sounds like The Sex Pistols without the punk, Emo Phillips without the jokes or a kid brother who desperately wants something. I started off listened to a few cuts at a time, and I think I've got the gist of his musicianship. He has great titles and good concepts, then beats them to death by repetition. Probably the best way to survive as a street musician. Have a Peanut Butter Sandwich is most of the lyrics of that song, and it became #1 on Dr. Demento's Funny Five back in 2001. I listened to Are You Gullible? and The One Chord Song and I Don't Want To Find Waldo and a few others. It took me a while before I could listen to The Shortest Song I Ever Wrote, This One's Even Shorter, Another Star Trek Sequel Blues, Kermit the Frog Aftershave or Santa is Elvis. Worth a coin or two as you pass by on the street.

The Best of Art Paul, in a cardboard sleeve, is the perfect gift to give a tween boy, especially if you tell him never to play it around you. It has that sense of pre-adolescent humor and an infectious enthusiasm that transcends any lack of talent. I'm glad this CD is part of my collection because I like weird things, and I'll probably slip in some cuts over the air now and then. But listen before you decide for yourself.

Art Paul will be performing at Marscon 2007. I look forward to meeting him but, during his concert, I'll probably watch audience reaction more than listen to the music. Still, live performance is a different art form than recorded music. I might get caught up in the experience.


Ookla the Mok are the Musician Guests of Honor at Marscon. They've remained on the periphery of my consciousness; I only have one of their CDs, Super Secret, and a few other scattered cuts. OtM is heavy on the comic references, which can is fun if you follow the field. They'll fit into Marscon well.


Marscon Artists' Recommendation

Dementia musicians & listeners on their pick of musicians

A short column this week, as I'm off in the wilds of Bloomington Minnesota for Marscon 2007, the only convention with a Dementia track. As long as I'm surrounded by musicians who know other strange musicians, I might as well tap their fevered brains and besotted ears. Thanks all!


Eric Coleman

One of my favorite songwriters is a guy named Paul K. One of my favorites to the point that, when there was no website about him I made my own. The current version. His website.

I once described Paul as if Lou Reed had grown up reading Raymond Chandler rather than William Burroughs. His music runs the gamut from punky rock and roll to blues to folk to pretty much anything else he feels like tossing into the mix. His music is about redemption. He was a junkie back in the 80s and much of what he has written about the crawl back up to a real life. His most recent music is more political and his semi-regular update on the email list that I run is always worth a read. I don't get into goofy fanboy mode much, but I always do with Paul.


Quickshots

I buttonholed several people at Marscon. They (for the most part) named their favorite weird artist/group of those who weren't at the con.

ShoEboX of Worm Quartet: Possible Oscar.

Pheonix (DJ on Dementia Radio): David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.

Art Paul Schlosser: The Trenchcoat Club, Victoria Williams

Eric Heideman: The Decemberists, Barenaked Ladies, "mutant folk" eg The Roches, Lou & Peter Berryman.

Adam English (of Ookla the Mok, Musician Guest of Honor at Marscon 2007): Jonathan Coulton. "He's so good, I probably shouldn't have told you about him."

Ed Eastman: Alex Beaton, easpcially the CD Daft Ditties.

Rob McClude (Marscon sales table): Metallica, Black Sabbath

Dana Wolfe: Tom Smith

Emi Briet: Throwing Toasters, Lemon Demon

Earl Luckes (Nick Atoms, etc): Queen's Flash Gordon Soundtrack;, Lalo Schifrin's Dirty Harry Anthology; Ennio Morricone's, Once Upon A Time In The West; Peter Wyngarde's, When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head

the great Luke Ski: Consortium of Genius, Throwing Toasters, Boogie Knights, Lemon Demon, Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm, Positive Attitude


Demented Music 2007 I

Worm Quartet, Art Paul Schlosser, Carrie Dahlby

Marscon is the only sf convention that has a Dementia Music track. Other conventions make space for music, but Marscon reserves the Main Stage during most of the con for the musicians that aren't quite filk and not quite folk. These are people who, for the most part, grew up listening to Dr. Demento and wanting to be Weird Al Yankovic. Dementia is a self-defined category which, very loosely, means, "the kind of music Dr. Demento would play". A very broad category, to be sure.

At this year's Marscon, I picked up several CDs, many of which were published in time for the con; counting the CDs promised through the mail, I've acquired more music at Marscon 2007 than any other con. This week and next will cover some of my new haul.


Mental Notes

Shoebox of Worm Quartet
-=ShoEboX=- of Worm Quartet
Marscon Main Stage w/ Stargate

Worm Quartet has long been a favorite (and a friend), and Mental Notes stretches his musical legs.

Shoebox... excuse me, ShoEboX... um, -=ShoEboX=- (whew it's hard to keep up) specializes in rhetorical undeconstructionism. Smashing words and concepts together in the mosh-pit of despair is an enormous amount of fun, but a little goes a long way and Shoe... er, -=ShoEboX=- properly limits examples to just as much as we can stand. The remarkable thing is that all the logorrhea are so different from each other. In this case, Adventures In Creative Nostril-Swallowing (A Tribute To Plants That Suck):

Are you gargling your xylophone at the masturbating burrito parade?
Oh no! This paste is NEAT!
The poodle of harm
is destroying your arm
while the toastlord chisels
panties into clichés.

Rhyme! Meter! Poetry! Ogden Nash would be proud (though probably a bit disgusted).

Further, I detect the semi-subtle influence of the great Luke Ski on several tracks (and he capitalizes the name properly). A few times, some of the lyrics were more than dysfunctional words playing in the same psychodrama, they were actual pop references in the tgLS mode of summing up an opus and extracting relevance to the song. Consider this snippet from I'm Not A Girl:

I'm not a girl (I'm not a girl)
I'm not a girl (I'm not a girl)
I'm bitchy but it isn't PMS
Not a teardrop did I show, when they drowned DiCaprio
I was still thinking 'bout Kate Winslet's breasts

More than just expert vocabulary-scarring, this demonstrates an understanding of the art.

I very much enjoyed the a cappella rendition of You Will Go To The Moon, the paean to his wife's naughty bits in I've Got A Wife and Ed Meese. Even the outtakes in the hidden cut were fun.

The album artwork by Andy Hopp is splendid. I like the visual puns front and back, and the notepad theme inside. Many of the Dementia artists have learned a trick or two about marketing.

Mental Notes is R-rated for language, but nothing a kid in High School hasn't heard from their parents. Highly recommended, whether this is your first Worm Quartet CD and want to check out why Dr. Demento plays his stuff all the time or whether you have his other CDs and want to add to your collection.

-=ShoEboX=-'s wife -=Kim=-... er, Kim, makes nifty buttons and necklaces.


Words of Cheese and Other Parrot Trees

Art Paul Schlosser
Art Paul Schlosser, at large
as Cheesehead Buddy Holly

Art Paul Schlosser is an acquired taste, and I may have finally jumped the shark been bitten. At least for live performances. Art Paul is a street musician, a fixture in Madison Wisconsin. The very aspects that make his recorded music difficult to take in large quantities make him so much fun to watch: His fearlessness, the utter lack of professionalism, the well-honed "put a quarter in my hat"-tested schtick. I didn't know what to expect meeting him in person, but he is, as we say in the Upper Midwest, a hoot. His concert at Marscon had people laughing out loud, singing along and playing kazoos. With a few props and boundless energy, Art Paul kept us all going.

His latest CD features cheese. And parodies (aka parrot trees) of songs done ala fromage. A Wisconsin specialty, but life experience for all. (A Cheese That's Real) Not Fade Away requires the costume in the picture above (or at least the chapeau). Beatles, Mamas & Papas, The Doors are all churned. I'm a Cheese Head takes on The Monkees:

I thought cheese was only true in dairyland
And for someone else but not for me
Hunger was out to get me
That's the way it seemed
Disappointment haunted all my dreams
Then they gave some cheese, now I'm a cheesehead...

Art Paul also ranges beyond dairyland to other topics, notably Christmas. I haven't actually heard the whole thing yet, so I'm going to stop here.

You can download songs and order CDs through the links on Art Paul Schlosser's MySpace Page. I can't, in good conscience, give an unsliced recommendation to any of his music, but after seeing him live I'm getting into it. If you happen to be walking down State Street in Madison, look for the guy with the cheesehead and throw a few coins his way.


Happy Ranch

Carrie Dahlby
Carrie Dahlby, Marscon Main Stage

Anther pleasant surprise was Carrie Dahlby. She's a frequent collaborator with the great Luke Ski. They duet the original Star Wars plot to the songs from a different movie in Grease Wars and she's the main vocalist as Vader Boy. Her first solo album is Happy Ranch, and it's a successful outing.

Many of the cuts are little snippets she sings to her cat, Buffy Kitty, including one sung into her cell phone. These are fun, and may start a rush of feline serenades. Or ringtones. You have been warned.

All good Dementia artists have an ear for parody (even when they don't want to call it filk). Carrie has an excellent ear for music, an eye for subject matter and fungible hair for live performances. Steely Dan songs are parodied with Any Watcher Dude about the Watcher on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Reelin' In The Grease (Stowin' Away The Pounds) adds extra calories. Type Two Diabetes spins from Gilbert & Sullivan while What's Wrong With This Song advances a Sweetwater tune. I've never seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but it's a favorite among some, and Hedwig Robinson parodies a Simon and Garfunkel tune originally for a completely different movie.

D was her contribution to the Art Paul Schlosser Tribute album (to which I also kicked in). Carrie's voice is sufficiently different than Art Paul's that even those few who are familiar with the original will barely recognize it as a cover. A marvelous piece of work.

Any musician that has her father playing bass and guitar has a few licks of her own. I Really Did Go To School Naked is a bit of subversion that I like to spread around. She gets Luke Ski and many others to help her with UR about "a mysterious skin blemish". Fight Club! The Musical jabs at a number of songs along the way.

While very different, if you like the great Luke Ski you'll like Carrie Dahlby. Several songs will get airplay and I didn't have to bleep anything! Happy Ranch is highly recommended.


Pictures by Baron Dave from the Marcon 2007 Galleries.


Quickshots

After I wrote last week's column and sent it off, I got more favorites from various musicians and attendees at Marscon.

Rob McClude (Marscon sales table): Metallica, Black Sabbath

Dana Wolfe: Tom Smith

Emi Briet: Throwing Toasters, Lemon Demon

Earl Luckes (Nick Atoms, etc): Queen's Flash Gordon Soundtrack;, Lalo Schifrin's Dirty Harry Anthology; Ennio Morricone's, Once Upon A Time In The West; Peter Wyngarde's, When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head

the great Luke Ski: Consortium of Genius, Throwing Toasters, Boogie Knights, Lemon Demon, Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm, Positive Attitude


Demented Music 2007 II

Carla Ulbrich, Eric Coleman, DJ Particle

Marscon is the only sf convention that has a Dementia Music track. Other conventions make space for music, but Marscon reserves the Main Stage during most of the con for the musicians that aren't quite filk and not quite folk. These are people who, for the most part, grew up listening to Dr. Demento and wanting to be Weird Al Yankovic. Dementia is a self-defined category which, very loosely, means, "the kind of music Dr. Demento would play". A very broad category, to be sure.

At this year's Marscon, I picked up several CDs, many of which were published in time for the con; counting the CDs promised through the mail, I've acquired more music at Marscon 2007 than any other con. Last week covered three artists, and there may be more to come.


Carla Ulbrich

Carla Ulbrich
Carla Ulbrich on the Main Stage at Marscon 2007

Carla Ulbrich only has three CDs and a two-song EP, but songs of hers pop up on various compilations, so I know there's more in her. Nonetheless, I'll only talk about the CDs.

her fabulous debut, from 1999, is a strong first effort, pink and cuddly. Nicely produced, with good arrangements, strong singing and a lyric sheet. Topics range from boyfriends to food to songwriting to tv shows. She has an expressive southern twang that gives her music a coy innocence over hardass lyrics.

Her most famous song is What If Your Girlfriend Was Gone:

I was just wondering hypothetically
What would you do? theoretically
If something should happen accidentally or medically
What if your girlfriend was gone?

This song and its parody have been on Dr. Demento, leading her to write a third version, What If I Only Have One Good Song? Bouncy country riffs for a potential boyfriend.

Fame, such as it is, hasn't scratched her cynical side. When informed that she wasn't allowed to have a bad day because she was a "hero", she responded with Not Your Jesus:

So you think you wanna own a little piece of me
You want something to hold onto
You want my autograph you want my photograph
You wanna live by my philosophy well
Living on a pedestal Is no longer my ambition
It's not like I can rise above the human condition
 
But you think I'm some kinda hero
You think I have all the answers
but if you knew the mistakes that I have paid for you'd see
I'm not your Jesus I'm not your savior

I'm also fond of Boy Wonder, about a young genius who desires normalcy. Not enough folk singers realize that they have Nothing To Say, and Carla gets a good song out of it too! The way to her heart is through her stomach in Toasted Chicken Sandwich.

her fabulous debut is more country than filk or dementia, and yet remains above the fray, looking at life from an unexpected angle. Her debut is still her strongest CD, and highly recommended.

Professional Smart Aleck is her second CD, a live album (more on that later). No longer pink and cuddly, she's in college now, at Carla U,. She instructs audience in elocution with A Name is a Name (My Name is Carla while discussing The Teachers At Clempson and The Wedgie. She can tell you How To Build A Log Cabin (for Dummies) or why Therapy Works and asks performers Would You Rather Be Paid?:

"Well you get to drink for free," they said.
I don't think they'll ever get the joke
I have tried but I could never swallow
Fifty dollars worth of Diet Coke
 
It's like the gods have spoken
"So you are making this your trade?
Would you like to be listened to
Or would you rather be paid?"

The CD is definitely a sophomore outing, but with the accumulation of four years of experience, and it pays off. She repeats a few songs from her first CD, with a hidden track of outtakes to poke fun at herself. I can't recommend Professional Smart Aleck to start off your Carla Ulbrich collection, but if you like her debut this is worthwhile picking up.

People write about what they know, and unfortunately Carla spent some time in a hospital. At least she got an album out of it: Sick Humor: The Lighter Side of Illness. Many of the songs are parodies, covers of rock songs, and so she gets close to filk. The music arrangements are good, and she's lost much of her South Carolina twang. You can feel that she's annoyed with the time spent battling illness, but she still looks at life a little cockeyed.

She parodies Personality, by Lloyd Price with Sittin' in the Waiting Room:

Over and over
I make an appointment with you
Over and over
You're not sure what to do
Over and over
You refer me to somebody new
So over and over
I'm sittin' in the waiting room
 
I'm at the rheumatologist
Nephrologist
Immunologist
Oncologist
Radiologist
Hematologist
They really need some new magazines in here
So over and over
I wish I'd brought something to do
'Cause I'm here over and over
Sittin' in the waiting room

She's On the Commode Again as Patient 2946065 and asks, after losing too much weight, What If Your Butt Was Gone (the parody of What If Your Girlfriend Was Gone mentioned above).

The songs are well done and the observations are personal and incisive. Perhaps a bit more than we wanted to know, but we can all relate to being poked and prodded and pilled. The subject matter is handled with gentle humor, not rage against the machine. Sick Humor is another successful Carla Ulbrich outing, and recommended.

And a quick comment on the EP If I Had The Copyright (The "F" Word Song) (click to load the mostly worksafe video of concert footage of second version). The song itself is fun and wouldn't make a sailor blush. The first cut is the full, unbleeped, version. The second cut is a raw recording of a live concert, but much more fun to listen to. Perhaps someday Carla will collect all her wandering songs into one CD, but until then we'll take what she dollops out. She's fun in concert, and available.


Eric Comes Alive - Windycon 2006

Eric Coleman
Eric Coleman, during Smackdown

Semi-disclaimer: Eric Coleman doesn't really deserve this rant, as he freely admits he pressed this CD to have something new for Marscon. Tough. It's my soapbox.

Back In The Day, a band's second album (or thereabouts) would be full of lamentation about being on the road or having to pay too much in taxes or how hard it was dealing with fans or somesuch. You write what you know, and touring is hard work. Of course, back then a vinyl recording too a lot of initial capital and the investment was beyond most individual artists. Nowadays, almost anyone can record a concert off the soundboard and press a few CDS to see how sales go. All too often, an artist's sophomore CD is of a live concert and without the years of Spinal Tap-like touring being them, the concert album disappoints.

Eric gives a good concert. But you have to be there. He bounces off people he knows in the audience, and they request songs and make jokes. His second CD (no Eric, I'm not counting your EP) is Eric Comes Alive - Windycon 2006. A faithful recording of the whole thing, including banter. Having been to several of Eric's concerts, I felt at home. I've even played a cut on the air, a bit of banter about LiveJournal of which we are both members. I'm glad I have this CD, but I can't recommend it to anyone who hadn't seen him in concert or isn't a fan of his first CD, Some See The Glass Half Empty.

I understand the economics of touring and needing to have new material at sales tables when you revisit a venue. And something is better than nothing. Still, I prefer the route taken by the great Luke Ski. In between major released, he repackages old material, adds some new stuff and picks the best example of live performances.

So, Eric, I hope you don't mind that this rant lands on you, and will take the plug of your first CD as offering. But you have more stuff, you can come out with a new CD, dammitalltoheck.


Oh Dear FSM... Not Another One

DJ Particle
DJ Particle, during Smackdown

On the other hand, we have DJ Particle with her sophomore effort, Oh Dear FSM... Not Another One. She describes herself as a "RIAAcidal Lesbian Parodist" and goes from there. She has lots of energy and it can be fun listening to her dander on the Dementia Radio Shoutcast. On the other hand, it can be grating to hear her try to sing. Her vocal range, alas, is exceeded by her enthusiasm.

On the other hand, her enthusiasm in infectious, and she's enough of a geek to get good sounds out of her looping and sampling. When it works, it works. Her live screed against Windows Vista is fun, especially for us Mac guys. The two hidden tracks are part of the "RIAAdical" biz on file sharing. The techno sampling is not to my taste, but it might be to yours.

Her filk of a filk, I Stole This Song, fits nicely in this theme, and with one bleep is playable on the air. She has a song about Leela of Futurama (with another about a Dr. Who Leela) and samples Bush to urge impeachment before Next Election Day.

Dj Particle's performance at the Smackdown was pretty good. She bopped around to The Home Coming Queen's Got A Gun to mention next year's Musician Guests of Honor, Hot Waffles. She hit all the notes and chewed the scenery. Perhaps a live concert CD would be good for her, if she selected the cuts to show off her talent.

I'm glad I have DJ Particle's two CDs in my collection, since I never know quite when I'll need something more off the track than usual. But I rarely play them and they're not on my iPod. You might like her stuff more than I do. 'Ya Never Know.


Pictures by Baron Davef rom the Marscon 2007 Galleries.


Kacey Jones

Nipples To The Wind


The Early CDs

The Wronged Woman has long been a theme in Country and Western, going back at least to Frankie and Johnny, with roots in Greek Tragedy and Shakespeare and other high falutin' book learnin'. Tammy Wynette sacrifices her pride to Stand By Your Man and and Kitty Wells blames men for her failures in It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Women and Barbara Mandrell feels bad while she cheats and Kay Frances insists You Make Me Puke and the road goes ever onward.

Meanwhile, Kacey Jones is has a grand ol' time makin' fun of her own failures and be mean to her exes.

Men Are Some Of My Favorite People is the earliest album available. (She released Born to Burn earlier, as Ethel & the Shameless Hussies.) By now she's a seasoned performer and the CD is a live concert with many of the songs that are her standards and are repeated one or more times on subsequent albums. A couple of songs will serve as examples of her self-deprecation and her ability to wield the rapier.

A Woman's Mantra
 
They say that it's a man's world, and I believe it's true
because we mention man or men in many things we do
Like when we feel romantic, we get a manicure
And the menace of menstruation makes us feel like manure.

 
Why Can't They Send 'Em All?
 
Betty's ex keeps swearin' that
The check is in the mail
Linda's boyfriend sends her postcards
From the county jail
We girls compared our notes and wrote it
On the bathroom wall
If they can send one man to the moon
Why can't they send 'em all?

The tracks include many of the spoken intros. Jones loves to banter with the audience, and gains energy from them, but doesn't let the audience take over the songs. This is fairly rare, and serves her well on this and her later live album.

Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, Of Dead is a more commercial attempt at mainstream country, and succeeds with some nice production and an eye on her image, though it's her shortest CD and the one she writes the fewest songs for. She snags Delbert McClinton for the duet You're The Reason Or Kids Are Ugly and channels Kinky Friedman for her version of Geography. She'll get local airplay during the holiday season with Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis though she may not get the card.

In her first two CDs, Kacey Jones connects with a live audience and taps into the rich history of Country and Western music. A strong start.


The Sweet Potato Queen Pair

Never Wear Panties To A Party is a more risque outing. The lyrics don't appear on the insert but you can buy a Pink Party Panty with the album title emblazoned on the front. She's hitting her stride with the country rock outing. The title song is fun and unabashed advice. (Though presumably she'll make an exception if you wear the panties she sells.) After a one night stand, Carol King asked Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Kacey's earthy answer is the bouncy ditty, I Thought He Was Mr. Right (but he left). For some reason the torch song about watching a former lover's trysts, Just To Torture Myself, gets an "organic jailhouse version" which features some blistering guitar blues. We Need The Wood comes in two versions: G and PG. No, it's not as dirty as it sounds. She gives advice to a guy with a martyr complex, "Get off the cross, honey we need the wood." What makes it PG? "Shit happens."

Jones comes to grip with her inner and outer Sweet Potato Queen with "I Wanna Be A Sweet Potato Queen" and the rousing Mississippi march on St. Patrick's Day, "The SPQ Parade Anthem" Unbeknownst to many of us, The Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love (print and audio), cookbook, fat-ass book, parade, etc are a bit of a phenomena.

The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Box of Music has Jones leaping on the bandwagon in a big-ass way: 73 minutes of music spread over 21 tracks. Most of the songs are about hedonism and engorged body parts, and often both. It's difficult to pick out a few favorites, since I'm smitten with most of the songs. "Sweet Potato Queens love Lolling In The Tub" (to the tune of Bringing in the Sheaves), about taking a looong bath. The bonus version has a Naughty Word, but is almost work safe anyway. How Far Can We Go Crazy is more rousing hard rock than country, but is also about lolling about in the tub. Then there's a terrific Grrrl Power anthem:

Women Are The Rhythm Of The World
 
Women are the rhythm Of the world (x4)
Sisters, mothers, daughters, wives
Girlfriends, best friends, friends for life
Women are the rhythm Of the world (x4)
Rock the cradle, rock the system, rock the world, rock-a-bye
Filling what is empty, women hold half the sky

She gives more advice reggae-style with We All Need to Get Laid, when a friend doesn't have enough nookie. The rock admonition to men Show Up Naked, Bring Beer because men are easy to please is echoed with a reprise of Never Wear Panties to a Party while she looks really hot in This Dress and brags about her breast enlargement in How Do You Like These Babies Now? It's not that easy, guys, since she has two different versions of a song that tells girls to hold off while leading them on, Never Give 'em Any. Doesn't seem fair.


Nipples To The Wind

Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay Or Dead -- Live!, her second live album in six releases, shows Kacey Jones at work. The first twenty-two tracks comprise eleven songs and their introductions. While the intros are brief, to the point, get the audience laughing and segue nicely into the song. Jones gives a great concert, feeding off the energy of the crowd but not letting them spoil the song for the CD. She hates going to the laundromat so laments I'm Down to My Christmas Underwear. This is now added to my Christmas cycle of songs (which I usually play in July.)

She gets serious about a relationship, since without love We're All in This Alone. Without love, you might as well get Dressin' Up for the Pizza Man. With a much older love, she's Waitin' for the Guy to Die. What she really loves is safety of and nostalgia for My Own Bed.

"Nipples To The Wind, let the fun begin, nothing to defend, just nipples to the wind. chin up, chest out, that's what we're talkin' about..." Another bawdy, in-your-face anthem from Kacey Jones serves as the title track to the CD. Several of the songs are from Nipples To The Wind, "An original sassy comedy" as two women play an assortment of characters. This is another very strong outing for Jones, empowering women while laughing at herself along the way. She reprises Women Are the Rhythm of the World, A Woman's Mantra and But I'm Not Bitter among others, and picks up men Down At The Piggly Wiggly and wears This Dress...

Of course, I was smitten with Monkee Man, a love paean to Peter Tork. Ah, a Sweet Potato Queen who shares my musical taste. Clocking in at over an hour, this CD excites your fiddly bits even as it's work safe (depending on where you work). Like all the CDs I got directly from her, this one was autographed.

The personal touches are like the intros to the live albums: An extra that brings you closer to the artist. Kacey Jones draws you into her sensuous world and makes you want more. Most of her albums a stuffed with music, though many of the cuts are repeats or slightly raunchier versions.


Recommendation for an iPod worthy singer

All six Kacey Jones CDs are strong outings with and very iPw. I'm going to do something very rare and recommend a live album as the first one to get. Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay Or Dead -- Live! It has many of her best songs performed well. Like Carla Ulbrich who I talked about a while ago, Jones belongs in that glorious category of sassy women singer-songwriters who won't take shit and don't mind poking fun at themselves either. The next one to get (or if you get two) is Nipples To The Wind, then fill in your Kacey Jones collection. I still have one more left to go!


Michael Johnathon

Thoreau and the Woods


Folksinger - Treehugger

Disclaimer: Michael Johnathon is from the same part of the country where I grew up -- the Hudson Valley area of NY -- and we have a mutual friend in Pete Seeger. But we never met and I hadn't heard of him until these CDs came my way. I wound up in Minneapolis, he found a home in Kentucky. Neither of us quite left that area of the country, that curve of New England from Boston to New York that encompasses the Berkshires, the Catskills and the lower Hudson, which avoids the megalopolis to the south as well as the mountains and seacoast to the north. His songs remind me of Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School of Art.

Johnathon is quite active, and the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour is now also on tv, he has a live webcast, blog, and more! The liner notes say he has "nine released albums and two books ", but I can only comment on the three CDs I have.


Walden: The Earth Song Collection

Walden: The Earth Song Collection is a fine CD and fitting tribute to Henry David Thoreau. The first song comes from a two act, four character play Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau:

The truth I have learned is so simple
The best things in life are still free
But we're lost in a swirl of confusion and pain
Our lives are reflections of all that we gain
Count up the cost and all that remains
Is the lovely, and the simple and free

Still, the songs I like best remind me of the gentle hills and bucolic yet close-to-civilization to be found in the foothills of the Catskills. In The Woods has some marvelous harmonies and nostalgic instrumental breaks as well as colorful lyrics:

There's a moment that'll take your breath away
In the woods, in the woods
The crimson canvas at the sunset of the day
In the woods, in the woods
 
Cathedral hallways of winter pine
In the woods, in the woods
Starry skies and Northern Lights
in the woods, in the woods
 
Blazing skies and October trees
You can fly on autumn leaves
Flying high in the sky
In the woods, in the woods

Similarly, The Cabin, "the music from a chimney fire fills the air again" and imagery. I never lived in a cabin in the wood, but I knew a lot of people who did.

There are too many people in the world for everyone to go live alone in the wilderness, so Thoreau's lifestyle makes lousy urban planning. Still, simplifying your life and keeping an eye on what's important are useful ways to structure your life. The collective nostalgia for places and times we never experienced are, nonetheless, home to many. Walden: The Earth Song Collection is an album about the home you never had, but remember. The songs are iPod worthy (iPw) and the CD is Highly Recommended.


Evening Song

Evening Song isn't about Thoreau or the Catskills, but the writer and the mountains lurk in the background. Even on a red-eye flight going from coast to coast is cause to reminisce about the Americana one passes while traveling alone. "I saw America late one night" along Blue Highways. Many of the songs are about being alone and trying not to be. Evening songs. His dealings with women run the gamut, when she leaves by the Nighttime Star and loves him as she and the family sings a Sunday Song and he frees her to stay as her love brings out his Spirit:

In the darkness of my soul
Lives you my love
A spirit with no place to go
But you my love
 
Can you feel the dark at night
I do my love
It burns through me like a red hot knife
Like you my love
 
I must sing an evening song
To you my love
And if you choose not to sing along
Farewell my love

The Troubadour wonders where the time has gone. He bemoans the destruction caused by the Master of War who are away from the fighting; a live cover of the Dylan song.

Evening Song is, perhaps, the strongest of these three albums, which is saying a lot. Johnathon orchestrates the music with 18 of his friends. The sound is lush and inviting; acoustic country folk at its finest. Highly Recommended and well iPw.


Live

When Michael Johnathon puts out a Live album, he doesn't play around. And this is Volume 2 of The Best of WoodSongs! The picture of Michael Johnson and the FolkBoy Orchestra with Irish songstress Maura O'Connell shows eight people. As with most live albums, it was probably a great concert. The CD avoids most of the common mistakes of live albums, and produces a strong, tight effort.

Wings of Change establishes that "The only part of life that will ever stay the same is: everything will change." When it does, we might die from those mistakes that never go away in The World We Made. He covers Dylan's Knockin' On Heaven's Door and sings of women who leave and women who wait. The longest song, and the saddest, is Chimney and the Grave, a duet with O'Connell as parents are ripped apart after the death of their child:

She, spoken: You dare ask me why, why our chimney stands in the field, smug with answers, long after the house has fallen down. My god. As it is written, the very rocks will cry out. And they do. Deafening, penetrating our sky, that same sad sky that fell down weeping the night our boy died, and the night we buried him.

The wrenching imagery continues, with somber mandolin and cello in the background. Eventually a song rises from the ashes of despair, but it's too late for the marriage. Not a song I can listen to a lot.

Live is the earliest of the three CDs, I think. Johnathon is very busy touring and promoting acoustic folk music, appearing on various NPR shows and such. While it has many strong songs and terrific performances, this isn't the CD to start off with, though you'll want to add it to your collection if you like either of the two above.


The Folk Process 2007 I

Isabelle Delage, Don McLean, The Old Ceremony


"Americana" or "Folk" or "Other"

The range of music between "Easy Listening" and "Dementia" is wide. I have many CDs that don't necessarily fall into clusters. I like to review related CDs in any one column, but sometimes worthy music isn't related to much other worthy music. At least, given my collection. Much of the music I've acquired recently has been from disparate sources. Many artists have been around for a few years and are feeling their oats with self-published CDs, giving concerts and/or trying to get radio airplay.

The ability of the masses to hear recorded music is less than a century old. The Edison Phonograph dates back to 1878, but it was developed to transcribe telegraph signals. Decades passed before the sound quality reached any sort of decent fidelity, and as long for the price to drop to where recordings were affordable for the masses. The first commercial radio stations were in the early 1920s, and they were live. Post-WWII brought tape to record for the radio, and the LP for home listening.

In the same time period between the Edison Phonograph and the LP -- roughly 60 years -- is roughly the same time between the LP and the iTunes store. Listening to digital music on an iPod is easy, cheap, and personal, with a selection that would have been unimaginable in Edison's time. I daresay that most iPods have more different pieces of music on them than someone in the 1920s heard in their entire lifetime.

What we gain in flexibility and variety, we've lost in sound quality. Too many get the majority of their music via a medium-quality mp3 using a poor quality audio bud. Better than a transistor radio in the 50s, not nearly as good as a high quality stereo system of the 80s. This is terrific for walking down the street and not bothering anyone, but not so good for the audiophile who likes to use their ears to the fullest. Maybe all those loud concerts and stereos, maybe it's trying to listen to the radio in a very loud car, but somehow convenience has replaced audio quality. Maybe this is the Revenge of MTV, where "seeing" a rock song while hearing the music over cheap tv speakers was as good or better than a true audiophile experience.

Forgive another discourse on technological change. I'm working to justify CD-quality sound (which isn't all that high a spec) over downloading a file, and help sell some CDs. I have a good computer sound system and a mid-range stereo, and my stereo is much better sound. Much music is iPw: iPod worthy. And much is also worth a true listen, as close to a live performance as you'll get without being there.

Still, I expect the fallout from the rise of digital distribution will be a concomitant emphasis on live music. You hear the shadow of sound through ear buds, then want to hear The Real Thing. Here are three CDs that both deserve listening in good stereos and who tour enough that you might have the chance to see them.


Isabelle Delage

The Inundation by Isabelle Delage is one of the reasons I became a music reviewer. The Inundation is such a wonderful album that we should be shouting about it from the rooftops. We'll have to make due with spreading the word on the internet.

Isabelle writes songs of such personal intensity that I have no problem using her first name even though we've never met. The opening cut, "Mary's Rainbow", is beautiful and sad and hard to write about because I keep tearing up, so I'll use her words from the lyric booklet: "This is a fantasy song which came to me when I was reading about autism, deafness and a condition called synethsesia, a crossing of two or more senses in which a person 'sees' as bursts and twirls of color." A simple song, with guitar and backing vocals guiding you through Mary's senses as she waits for her father to return from war.

She put off writing songs for twenty years to raise a family. They are lucky to have her, and now so are we. Isabelle is all grown up now, and writes songs for grownups. In "I Never Knew", she tells of her discoveries, over time, about death, heartache and having children.

And nobody told me that a newborn baby
Would smell as sweet as hay
And melt my heart clear away
A tiny fist wrapped around my finder
Trusting me to know
The things it needs to live and grow
The journey from life to death runs through the death of her younger sister as a young woman, to the breast cancer death of an old friend. She has one song in French, her native language, which is conveniently translated in the booklet.

She also does something neat that I haven't seen in a long time. "Small Things" is the song she has on a radio sampler, and her CD version is longer... and better, with an ending coda in Swahili. A three language album! A simple arrangement, beautifully sung and played.

It's your turn now to take a bow
You have done all humanity proud
And though you think you work in the shadows
You are one of the world's greatest heroes
The Inundation is a remarkable first album, thirty years in the making. I'm tempted to say that you need a few miles under your belt before you can appreciate the journey, but joy and pain are universal for any age. Highly recommended. More than iPw (iPod worthy), these songs deserve a good listen to.


Don McLean

For most of us, the last time we thought about Don McLean was when Madonna covered "American Pie". Fortunately for us (and him), he's been touring and writing... and being written about. I hadn't realized he was the subject of "Killing Me Softly With His Song": Why wasn't I informed? In 2004 after 40 years in the business he was inaugurated into the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters' Hall of Fame. And sometimes he just likes to sing.

The Western Album, from 2003, is sandwiched in between 2002's You've Got to Share: Songs for Children and 2005's Christmastime. He's been stretching his musical chops. While he won't make you forget about Ledbelly or Garth Brooks, he does a very nice job covering old Western favorites ranging from Gene Autry to Tom Lehrer.

He does a nice swing version of "I've Got Spurs (That Jingle)", though I still have never encountered the song that says "oh ain't you glad you're single". Trouble with women is further explored in Woody Guthrie's "Philadelphea Lawyer" (spelled that way, for some reason). The loneliness of the "Blue Prairie" is heard as he and his saddle pals sing along the trail. His chorus nearly yodels in "Song of the Bandit" and kids have fun singing along with "I'm An Old Cowhand".

"Lyndon Has A Bear Hug On Dallas" is about loving Texas and a road named after LBJ that goes around the city. More overtly political is Tom Lehrer's "The Wild West Is Where I Wanna Be" about atomic testing in the western desert. Still fun.

I bet Don McLean concerts are great. He has a wealth of material to choose from, his own and a wide repertoire. The Western Album probably isn't on his A List anymore, but it's recommended for fans of the genre and for those who want to keep up with a favorite artist with some iPw tunes.


The Old Ceremony

Our One Mistake by The Old Ceremony is the most recent release by a band recommended by a friend in the Carolinas. Django Haskins, lead singer and songwriter, says the group "draws their water from a deep well of music". The songs are good, but don't expect worldbeat; mostly straightforward American folk, with some interesting arrangements and the occasional song in Chinese. The Old Ceremony has a lush, folk, jazzy sound, like a big band backing up a Bob Dylan who can sing.

"Believer" is insistent jazzy funk with rap rhythmic lyrics, urging a woman to "make me a believer". Micky Dolenz, eat your heart out. "Poison Pen" urges us to take responsibility for our actions, citing The Declaration of Independence and such, admonishing our collective failure to live up to those ideals.

And the laws of this world
Were not handed down to men
They were written by our own hands
They were written by our own hands
They were written by our own hands with a poison pen.

"Radio Religion" is sort of the opposite of "American Pie", as the singer discovers the wide world opening up on the radio. The day the music music lived! "A love has turned to anger, all the gentleness has gone, baby, What Is Going On?" A mournful breakup, such plaintively.

They do a lot of live concerts, and their lush sound must be hard to reproduce. The eight people listed in the credits fill up a stage. But when it works, it's a full sound, and the lyrics are good enough to justify the effort. Recommended, and I hope to hear them in concert someday.


The Folk Process 2007 II

3 Pints Gone, Chris Stuart & Backcountry, Steve Kilpatrick

"Celtic" or "Country" or "Odd"

Music is everywhere. Despite the rise of low-quality mp3s available on the internet and DVDs replacing MTV for watching recorded music, that 20th Century idea of listening to a high-quality sound recording is still the baseline for audio. As I talked about last week, easily affordable recorded music has been at hand for little more than a century.

Here are three CDs from disparate sources: One was handed to me after I saw them in concert, one was sent at my request when I heard a track on a sampler album, and one came out of the blue from someone who thought I was weird enough to appreciate it. While each of these will have to fall into a marketing category to be placed in the proper record store shelf, all of them stretch the boundaries of their genre.


3 Pints Gone

Auld Lang Syne: The New Favorites of 3 Pints Gone is the result of remixing old tracks, producing live tracks, and some new releases. I know 3 Pints Gone, based in Wisconsin, from their concerts and filking at Minneapolis science fiction conventions, such as this one from the 2007 Convergence, which also served as a release party for the new CD. They've always given a fun, high-energy, half-drunken concert, and it's about time they produced an album that takes advantage of their experience and craft.

As you might expect from the name, 3 Pints Gone will be in the Irish/Celtic section, with heavy emphasis on drinking songs. *hic* Renaissance Festivals are their natural habitat. While there are live cuts on the CD, this is not a concert album, with the majority of the songs being remixes of previous releases. Which needed the remixing. The group has four other CDs, but this is the one to get.

The title song, "Auld Lang Syne", is giving a spirited celtic treatment, very different from the dewy-eyed New Year's ballad. 3 Pints Gone does very well with non-traditional covers of traditional songs; at least I haven't encountered them arranged quite this way. "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye", the anti-war song which I mostly know as Steeleye Span's "Fighting for Strangers", gets a good a cappella rendition. "Away Rio" keeps its sea chanty roots. A woman dressing as a man to be a sailor looking for her impressed love is a common theme in celtic songlore, and "Willie Taylor" is a upbeat version of a downbeat song.

A more recent song is based on a true story. As British forces were being evacuated from Dunkirk in June 1940, the 51st Highland Division was fighting a rear-guard holding action at St. Valery, waiting for an evacuation order that never came. The Dunkirk retreat was a strategic and PR success, but those that didn't make it out did not share in the glory.

When I returned at the end of the war,
From the Stalag where I'd been confined,
I read of the battles the allies had fought,
Stalingrad, Alamein, and the Rhine.
And with pride in their hearts people spoke of Dunkirk
Where defeat had become victory
But nobody mentioned that Highland Division.
They'd never heard of St.Valery
An understated, emotional ballad.

Many of their songs about war or coming home from war, far more than drinking songs. All songs have been honed by experience and many have wonderful harmonies. 3 Pints Gone has been around for a while, and Auld Lang Syne squeezes every drop out of them. If you like traditional Celtic songs in the Tommy Makem/Irish Rovers style, then you'll like how 3 Pints Gone builds on traditional arrangements for their versions. Recommended, with many of the 21 cuts being iPw. If you like this CD, you can fill in your collection with the others, but you'll like their concerts better.


Chris Stuart & Backcountry

Mojave River by Chris Stuart and Backcountry could be filed under Bluegrass or Americana, but for the moment it's in my Country section. The harmonies and the driving banjo are the deciding factor. Sounding like The Rooftop Singers on a country station, all the songs are well done and, like 3 Pints Gone, show their traditional roots while bold arrangements make unique versions.

The CD opens with a rousing rendition of Townes Van Zandt's Dollar Bill Blues (the only song they didn't write), which sets the tone. The tale of drink, gambling and whoring will keep your toes a-tappin' with several good lead breaks letting the band members strut their stuff. He's an outlaw, but she's an outlaw too, and she teaches him "love is a poor man's pride" when she leaves him high and dry in the desert, the dry "Mojave River" as metaphor for lost love. Much of their lyrics are metaphor and/or allusion, with almost ethereal harmonies. "Rider On This Train" is a slow, sad and luminescent ballad of man who lost everything when his woman died, sort of a New Country take on "Oh My Darling Clementine".

A little girl doesn't understand death in "Don't Throw Mama's Flowers Away", a bittersweet bluegrass take. I'm not entirely sure what "Sin Stealer" is about, but I'm going to hazard a guess that it's about a guy who feels so down he doesn't want to be forgiven, preferring to wallow in his many vices than be forgiven by G_d. I can relate.

"Buttermilk Pie" is frisky and silly. "The Jealous Crow" desires the beauty of a young woman. "Time Was" is a country reminiscence of times that have passed on.

Mojave River is an excellent original country album, crafted finely enough for traditionalists and complex enough for those (like me) who only wade into New Country waters. Recommended for any who appreciate the genre, with several iPw songs.


Steve Kilpatrick

Westside Crop Circles by Steve Kilpatrick is not a new CD and I'm not sure of it's availability, but I'm going to talk about it anyway. Self published, so if you ask nicely maybe he'll burn you a copy. It's an odd, jazzy affair that sends some reviewers into a tizzy of scarlet prose. Me? I liked it.

"Brothers-in-Law" could fit in a Country format or New Age, with the earthy subject matter of him preferring his sister's first husband more than the current one. "Conjugal Visit" is all about the preparation for one; a country theme, I suppose, with electric guitar and a driving beat, though I doubt many Country stations would agree. I like "Rough & Tough", an odd little arrangement of an odd little song:

She's lying on the bed rolling side to side
Soon enough of her eyes will open wide
None have ever earned a love more divine
but something in the air tells me that it's time
She's rough and tough and hard to diaper
Her flying hostile feet kick out at the air
Gnarled fists glance off everywhere
The other end of the kid is taken care of in "Adjustments", about breast feeding (from a woman's POV, though Steve sings it). Meanwhile, "Me & The Bank" co-own the car, women coast to coast burst into tears when "Bruno the Neighborhood Lovegod" gets married, she runs off leaving "Me & Oprah, My Pajamas and the Pain" and a "Worried Mind" insists that God broke into his place and stole his stuff including the porn.

Musically, Westside Crop Circles is hard to place, though the country and folk influences are evident. I'll probably put in in my Filk/Weird Music section, though it isn't filk or Dementia Music in the Weird Al/great Luke Ski sense of the term. Kilpatrick isn't writing jokes or parodies, he's creating odd situations and looking at them from a skewed perspective. If he were a comedian, he'd be Stan Laurel. If he were a crop circle, he'd be an unusual sighting in the west side burbs.

Too good to be placed in my weasely Acquired Tastes category, I still can't give Westside Crop Circles an unqualified recommendation. If you, too, look at the tilted world, then you will appreciate Steve's view of life as it marches by without understanding. I suspect that many of my readers fall into this vortex, and want to point out one of the eddies in your stream of consciousness.


The Folk Process 2007 III

Hanukkah, Hebrew Scripture, Chanukah


Judaica: "Folk" or "Children's" or "Classical"

Jewish music goes through the folk process as well, as my people mix and match with the various cultures of the world. In The Folk Process I and The Folk Process II I reviewed newer releases updating various traditions. Here are three recent albums from very different perspectives, all shining light on aspects of Judaism.


Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah by The Klezmatics is an odd duck. Guthrie himself was as nomadic as an Ashkenazi Jew, eventually marrying and settling down n New York City, where he was exposed to Coney Island's Jewish community through his mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt, a Yiddish poet. By this time in his life, Guthrie was famous but starting to show signs of Huntington's Chorea, the disease that eventually killed him. He wrote the lyrics to several songs (credited to 1949) which were lost for many years, until his daughter Nora Guthrie discovered them in 1998 and asked the Klezmatics to write new music.

Woody Guthrie didn't get it. The songs in Happy Joyous Hanukkah owe more to his Okie folk background than any Jewish tradition. He spells "Hanuka" many different ways, which is fine for a non-English word, and never quite seems to understand the holiday except through Christian eyes. The klezmer music is good and the album is fun, but never rises above a series of minor songs written by an important historical figure. An example of the miss is the first song, "Honeyky Hanuka":

It's Honeyky Hanukah, shaky my hand,
My candles are burning all over this land,
To light the dark road for the man passing by,
It's Honeyky Hanukah time.
No. The Hanukkah candles are very specifically not to be used for illumination. They are a commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Guthrie is misapplying Christian concepts of light to The Festival of Lights.

Still, the lyrics are catchy and the music is bouncy. "Happy Joyous Hanuka" is a catchy counting song (going up to nine, alas). "Hanuka Bell" captures the Yiddish experience of immigrants to New York City in the early part of the 20th century, surviving and thriving in a new world, telling the children, "don't be sad no more" Not a Hanuka message, but good klezmer blues. "The Many and the Few" is a gospel dirge, music by Guthrie, telling the historical story of Hanukkah. He gets it mostly right, though it sounds more like an Irish ballad than traditional Hebrew tune. There are a few instrumentals, nice dance tunes, and the CD ends with another song with music as well as lyrics by Guthrie. "Hanuka Dance" is an example of Guthrie at his best as a folk singer entertaining children. It's a slow, sad, swirling dance, a catchy tune and you can almost see the parents kvell while watching their children:

Tippy tap toe! Happy Hanukah!
Round you go! My little latke!
On your toes! Happy Hanuka!
And around and around you go!
 
Clap your hands! Happy Hanuka!
Clap clap hands! My little shtroodler!
On your toes! Happy Hanuka!
And around and around you go!

The Klezmatics try very hard, but they can't bring Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah into Jewish canon. The CD is more for collectors of Guthrie's work than it is for those wanting good holiday songs. Still, even mediocre Woody Guthrie is better than most folk, and a few of the songs apply to the holiday and the Klezmatics are good as always. I'm not going to give it a blanket recommendation, and it will always be associated with novelty holiday songs more than religious holiday songs, but it's a worthy effort to capture a bit of history and some of the songs are iPw.


Songs From the Hebrew Scriptures

Why Not Sea Monsters? feels a little like Veggie Tales done right; if you're going to have kids music from a religious perspective, be up front about it. The CD comes with a booklet of "lyrics & chords" which includes the Biblical verse that keys off each song. The lyrics are whimsical enough for the kids while sticking close enough to scripture for the rabbis among us.

From Daniel 6:22, "My God sent his angel and hut the lion's mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him, and also before you." comes the song "Here, Kitty, Kitty"

Here kitty kitty
Won't you come kitty kitty
I am not afraid no I am not afraid
And you'd hear him sing
Here kitty kitty
Won't you come kitty kitty do
'cause the Lord is with me and the Lord is with you
A song children will understand and adults will appreciate.

Similarly, Genesis 12-13, "Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak' but he said, 'O my Lord, please send someone else.'" slips into "Moses Thought It Odd":

Moses saw God in a burning bush
He thought it odd, that he saw God
In a burning bush, in a burning bush
 
Remove your shoes, you're on holy landing
Moses did, but he had no understanding
Of why that shrub was so demanding
Jews are more about questions than answers, and the song hits all the right notes. Light rock with a tinge of calypso, the music adds to the air of wonder and confusion that characterizes Moses at this point in his spiritual journey.

Most of the songs are in the country folk style, suitable for kids and done well enough for their parents. Other themes handled include "Make That Two" about Noah's ark and "Why Not a Spark?" about God asking questions and deciding to create the world in six days and rest on the seventh.

Why Not Sea Monsters? takes passages from the Hebrew scriptures, which are also the basis of Christian and Muslim scritpure, and the songs appeal across religious lines. There is a second one, Songs from the New Testament which I haven't heard but is probably in the same vein. Recommended, especially for parents of younger kids who want to teach them a little Bible while they're bouncing to the songs. Not so much iPw as worthy of playing in a car during a long trip so everyone can sing along.


A Klezmer "Nutcracker" for Chanukah

The Golden Dreydl is by longtime friend Ellen Kushner and music by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra. Kushner tells an original story of a child celebrating Chanukah with a great klezmer background. Shirim recorded klezmer arrangements of The Nutcracker earlier, and this is further delving into The Nutcracker music as inspired by Kushner's story.

One continuous story of Sarah is divided into 17 tracks. The search for the Golden Dreydl takes her riding camels and underground with demons and to mountains with a fool and... well, I don't want to give it away. I don't know if it would make a ballet like the Tchaikovsky, but works well as an audio tale.

Unlike Woody Guthrie, Ellen Kushner has a firm grasp of Judaism and the traditions of Chanukah. Like Why Not Sea Monsters?, she spins a story that works for children as well as adults. if you're interested in audio book style readings with good music in the background, or if you want to add another holiday CD to your collection, The Golden Dreydl is recommended.


Power Salad I

Chris Mezzolesta mugs his way through comedy music

Read the review, hear the music! New Shockwave Radio Theater interview with Power Salad


An Introduction

I have the great Luke Ski to thank for bringing Power Salad to Marscon and therefore giving me the chance to see Chris Mezzolesta on stage. I'd heard a few of his songs scattered amid various compilation CDs.

Last year, I saw him in concert at Marscon and picked up a CD. This year I completed my collection, or at least picked up all the CDs he had at the con. His new CDs include a Marscon 2007 live album, which uses some of my pictures!

Since Marscon, I've listened to them all and done a phone interview and made a Shockwave Radio podcast of our talk plus some Power Salad music. Here they are, all at once.


Force Doesn't Work On A Crustacean

Power Salad
Chris Mezzolesta of Power Salad
Marscon, Bloomington, MN, March 2, 2008CE

Force Doesn't Work On A Crustacean, from 1999, is a very strong album. A decade is a long time in the comedy music biz, and several songs have stood the test of time. Roric LaLeech (Craig Marks) writes many of the songs and provides the divine spark of madness for the group. Chris Mezzolesta plays all the instruments and does all the voices (with a few exceptions noted in the credits). Performing live, Chris bounces around like a maniac, mugging to a taped music track, bopping into and out of the audience or playing one of the more portable instruments.

Power Salad songs are funny in a devilish way. Deceptively simple, engaging, and adult without being dirty. Co-dependency is tuneful ditty about enabling, and being enabled. Chris thinks back to when he was young, and remembers his soft pet: "I'd rather have the flu, but I've got you, You're A Kinkajou". Hard to get out of your head.

Power Salad's sense of history and fun leads to an old-timer's first person recounting of his reaction to Orson Welles' 1938 broadcast of "War of the Worlds" in Panic Broadcast done to a post-techno alarm. Many of us remember the commercial that Katie's Dream is based on. Even if you weren't around for the inspiration, the song is weird and haunting, and has become a favorite at live shows.

Playing weddings and bar mitzvahs provided fodder for the infectious klezmer of a woman's descent into insanity, With Sparklers All Around Her. (We discuss this in the podcast.) And to show he has the chops, Chris adds a surf instrumental, Theme From Ralph-Man, which is not particularly funny but is quite danceable, especially if you're on the beach.

You get points from Chris if you know where the phrase Force Doesn't Work On A Crustacean comes from. I had to look it up, and I won't give it away here. Suffice it to say that the album is highly recommended. The music is terrific, the arrangements strong, the lyrics tell wonderful stories and Chris Mezzolesta is an inspired performer. This is not "filk" in the sense of parodies and humor directed at science fiction fans, but we fen appreciate oddity well done, and so will you.


The White-Out Album

Power Salad
Chris Mezzolesta of Power Salad
Marscon, Bloomington, MN, March 2, 2008CE

The White-Out Album starts off with a dead-on parody of Randy Newman songs for Disney. (Newman was nominated for fifteen Academy Awards before he won for If I Didn't Have You from Monster's Inc.) Disney perfectly captures Newman's style and skewers the industry at the same time. Having mugged Disney, he turns his attention to Time-Warner with a parody (actual filk?). Primus' My Name is Mud, becomes, with proper voice and with perfect beat, My Name Is Fudd. He does a faithful update of the Ogden Edsl Dementia classic, Dead Puppies.

Power Salad's musical range is demonstrated over several songs. Hot Dogs In The Sink is a strange Hip-Hop about a messy apartment. Ville de Veal is sort of techno doo-wop about a restaurant where "people change but never will; never seen a Happy Meal". If you've ever thought your girlfriend was rather loose, Laurie Laurie is a 50s rocker for you. On the other end of the dating spectrum, Grunge Rock uses cartoon sound effects to help a geek explain why he is Just Lucky I Guess. Still, you need disco to tell your girlfriend to "Say No More, you annoy the hell out of me".

The White-Out Album is another great comedy album, accessible to a wide audience due to the covers and parodies while keeping the weirdness and original composition. Highly recommended.


Power Salad 3: Sweat Equity

Power Salad
Chris Mezzolesta of Power Salad
Marscon, Bloomington, MN, March 2, 2008CE

Power Salad 3: Sweat Equity is another musically strong, lyrically delicious CD. My Cat Is Afraid Of The Vacuum Cleaner breaks all the rules of songwriting. What is the cat thinking about when attacked by the vacuum cleaner? Structurally, as Chris Mezzolesta puts it, the song is "A". It has become the iconic Power Salad song, reaching #3 on the Dr. Demento Show Funny 25 for 2006 and used on several compilation CDs.

When Power Salad does a parody, they not only riff off the music and make puns on the lyrics, they update the subject matter of the song. Little Hybrid has much of the Beach Boy's Little Deuce Coupe (among other influences), and brings sporty cars into the 21st Century. They don't delve into the political arena very much, but one of the most astute observations on political discourse today is the techno radio call in A Question And An Observation.

Some laid-back jazz forms the bed for the yuppie in the rat race who is surprised I Saw The Coelacanths. Fans of Barnes and Barnes or Renaldo and the Loaf will recognize the style while being sick from eating Cookies. Pomegranate Blues is a fine lick. Sport Coat University's Fight Song has rousing clothes puns.

Power Salad 3: Sweat Equity demonstrates range and maturity without losing the childlike innocence or eclectic weirdness of previous albums. Again, highly recommended.


There's More!

Next Week: The rest of the Power Salad CDs. Great stuff all around.


Power Salad II

and the great Luke Ski

Read the review, hear the music! Shockwave Radio Theater interview with Power Salad


A further Introduction

I have the great Luke Ski to thank for bringing Power Salad to Marscon and therefore giving me the chance to see Chris Mezzolesta on stage. I'd heard a few of his songs scattered amid various compilation CDs. Last week, I reviewed the first three Power Salad CDs. What comes around goes around: Today I'll be talking about a Power Salad CD recorded at Marscon 2007 and the most recent original album by the great Luke Ski.


Warts and All

Power Salad
Chris Mezzolesta of Power Salad
Marscon, Bloomington, MN, March 4, 2007CE
used on the back cover of the CD Power Salad Live: Warts 'N' All

Power Salad Live: Warts 'N' All is a live album, and it helps a great deal to have been in the audience. Which I was. Chris Mezzolesta gives great performances, as he maniacally bops all over the stage, morphing into characters by facial expression more than the minimal costume changes and different instruments he picks up.

The really fun parts of a Power Salad concert are impossible to capture in an audio recording -- indeed, hard to capture in a video -- and Warts 'N' All doesn't try. The CD faithfully captures Chris' vocals, but you don't get the energy from the audience or the physical presence of any of Chris' characters. The photo montage on the back of the CD brings you a little closer to his worlds, but only a little.

The great Luke Ski gets to introduce the set, and Chris Mezzolesta introduces many of the songs. Chris is a professional voice actor, among other weird things to be, and his vocals are all top notch. The Marscon engineering isn't perfect and live performances are always subject to the vicissitudes of chance (hence "warts and all"). From a purely audio perspective, all the songs are done better on the studio CDs. He does good version of many favorites: Co-Dependency (the reason I got my first Power Salad CD), My Cat Is Afraid Of The Vacuum Cleaner, Katie's Dream and others.

The reason to get the CD if you weren't there is to catch the concert banter, and and the one song which isn't on any CD: the untitled final cut. Chris, more than most Dementia Music Artists, is an historian and connoisseur of novelty songs from the pre-Cr. Demento era. "Wild Man" Fischer is the subject of the documentary Derailroaded and Chris honors him with a raw version of Merry Go Round.

Power Salad Live: Warts 'N' All is a good collection, but not the first Power Salad CD to get unless you prefer live albums. Recommended for fans and for collectors of Marscon Merch.


Cinnamony Sea Anemone

Power Salad
Chris Mezzolesta of Power Salad
Marscon, Bloomington, MN, March 2, 2008CE

Cinnamony Sea Anemone was released at Marscon 2008, and Chris Mezzolesta performed several of the songs. As usual, Power Salad songs are a great mix of musical styles and odd subject matter. Most of the songs are original, with a cover and a few filk-like parodies.

Time becomes unravelled to a reggae beat in It's Tuesday But It Feels Like A Monday. Chris channels Ken Nordine's Word Jazz to lead a focus group questionnaire of a TV program called Mr. McPoodle. Modern communications are interrupted during the power ballad Hello I've Got To Take This. A Tom Petty song is used to comment on Barbie and similar dolls for which a father can't say no to his daughter in She Wants An American Girl.

Chris' appreciation of obscure pre-Dr. Demento music surfaces with his cover of Elephant Boy, on one of his favorite albums The Cheerful Insanity of Giles Giles and Fripp. (We talk about this in the podcast.) The CD stomps its way through German techno, David Bowie, power politics and tv dinners.

Cinnamony Sea Anemone is another great album from Power Salad, and is highly recommended. Heck, it even has the song length in the track listings! If you've never heard Power Salad and want to get your feet wet, I recommend either this one, his latest, and work your way backwards when (not if) you find you like it... or start with his first, Force Doesn't Work On A Crustacean and work your way forward.


BACONspiracy

the great Luke Ski and Chris Mezzolesa
the great Luke Ski and Chris Mezzolesta of Power Salad
Marscon, Bloomington, MN, March 3, 2008CE

Even when the great Luke Ski panders to his audience, he comes up with a worthy CD.

BACONspiracy (hereafter simply Baconspiracy) is the most recent full-length original CD from the great Luke Ski. To satisfy ever-hungrier fans, he has several compilation/reissues/live performance CDs since this one was issued last summer. I may get to those eventually, but for the moment I'm going to stick with this one.

The great Luke Ski has few peers at promoting Dementia Music while tirelessly promoting himself. He, and a few others, have taken novelty songs from the parodies of Weird Al Yankovic into the 21st Century, using rap and hip-hop to skewer popular culture. Baconspiracy is chock full of original songs, guest artists, comedy routines with music beds and banter between some very strange people. The songs are largely rap that I'm not familiar with; it's always strange to hear something on the radio and realize the lyrics aren't nearly as funny as the version I'm used to...

He has several songs about himself and his place in music history. the great Luke Ski is described in the liner notes (which you're not supposed to read before listening to the CD; sorry) as "An original rap song, in which the artist satirizes himself." Meanwhile, Dementia Revolution pictures from Marscon 2008 start here) is "An original rap song about the history of novelty music" which, annoyingly, doesn't mention Shockwave Radio. Humph. Not like I haven't been writing audio comedy, playing strange music and promoting many of these artists for thirty years... but I digress.

Several of the songs were on previous mini-releases, and were played on Dr. Demento even before the CD came out, and have been about in the Dementia Music community for many months. For the rest of us, having all the new hits on one CD, in CD-quality sound, is a relief. I Love You, TiVo is a nice doo-wop song about a technology that didn't exist just a few years ago. You Don't Know Jack, about Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean fame. MC Freberg, "a tribute to Stan Freberg... satirizing many well known rap artists" is fun but missed just a little. Perhaps it's because it's hard to imagine a Stan Freberg song longer than 10 minutes (he was mostly out on 45s), and perhaps it's because I don't know the rap stuff. If you're coming from the other direction -- into rap but unfamiliar with Freberg -- you might like it more. Similarly, I'm not a big fan of The Family Guy so you might like Gettin' gittity Wit It, a parody of a Will Smith song, more than me.

Luke takes another turn at one of my favorite of his songs: It's A Fanboy Christmas II: The Wrath of Claus. Nearly 12 minutes of parody snippets from recent Christmas movie to traditional X-Mas songs.

It's a fanboy Christmas
Through Narnia's Grand Canyon
The Doctor and Mal Reynolds are snuggling their Companions
And who's that dressed as Santa
It's merry Mr. Worf (Ho Ho!)
But he don't need no elves in green
'Cause he's got a Red Dwarf

I love the delicious double-take on entirely different "companions" that slips by so fast, and rhyming "Worf" with "Dwarf" that mushes together entirely different science fiction tv series, and the "green elves/red dwarf" color twist. Not all the references fit into the lyrics so tightly, but like the first version, it all slips by so quickly that if you don't get one reference you'll chuckle at the next. Weird Al does this with polkas; Luke Ski does it with Christmas music. Parts are brilliant, and I'll leave it to the listener to decide which parts.

There are five spoken bits, recorded at a con room party. These mainly work if you know the people involved (as you should, if you're listening) and get caught up in their banter. Non-bantering guest artists include The Gothsicles (who do an energetic if short version of House Party At Arkham Asylum) and Carrie Dahlby (who helps out with UR and on One Night In Quark's Bar). Another rap song gets morphed to It Takes Who, about the aforementioned The Doctor and companions.

In case you were confused as to why the Fat Boys got fat, or you just want a song about your favorite food, then Luke sizzles up some BACON! for you. And just in case you were confused as to his place in history, Luke ends with My Name Is Not Merv Griffin.

Baconspiracy is highly recommended, especially for fans of the great Luke Ski. He is entirely too modest about his own efforts, and there is dissonance between the egomaniacal persona of his stage identity and the shy self-effacing nice guy behind the music. We can but sit back and enjoy. If the rhymes seem forced and the interstitials seem largely in-jokes, there's still no one you'd rather sling pop references or clown with other Dementia Music artists. For the latest in parody music this side of downloads from The FuMP, you should be grabbing anything produced by Luke, including and beyond BACONspiracy.


Paul and Storm

Stretching the bounds of music on talk radio

Shockwave Radio Theater podcasts

Read the review, hear the music! Shockwave Radio Theater interview with Paul and Storm.


Da Vinci's Notebook --> Paul & Storm

Da Vinci's Notebook was a four-man a cappella singing group, with such songs as Enormous Penis and Internet Porn. They were around for ten years or more, but remained under my radar since they were largely local to the Washington DC area. I may have to go back to fill in.

Paul Sabourin and Greg "Storm" DiCostanzo were two members of Da Vinci's Notebook who branched out on their own, finally wending their way to Marscon where I had a chance to hear them in concert and snap up all three of their CDs.

Onstage, Paul & Storm wore no costumes and didn't bounce around. They concentrated on their vocal harmonies, which are spectacular, and their humor, which is hysterically funny. I got no pictures of them on stage because they weren't visually interesting. I did manage to capture several of the Demented Musicians laughing uproariously at Paul & Storm, which you can see in my Marscon 2008 photos.

To a great extent, the two male vocalists sound like They Might Be Giants as tempered by the odd viewpoint and innocently sung repartee of The Prince Myshkins. Their musical craft is carefully honed around their humor. Or else it's the other way around.


Opening Band

The later albums of many a band is all about the trials and tribulations of... being in a band. Whether it's the Beatles paying the Taxman or Willie Nelson feeling lonely On The Road Again, songwriters sing about what they know, and after a while what they know is the downside to being a performer. Paul and Storm spent a decade as part of Da Vinci's Notebook and know the drill. And they know how to pander to their audience and to radio djs.

Opening Band is, fittingly, their first CD as Paul and Storm. They take on, among other things, Randy Newman, Jimmy Buffett, Cheetos, cookie dough, Schoolhouse Rock, country music and read people their Miranda rights in close harmony. I just love The Miranda Lullabye the familiar (and legally required) rights as read to arrestees, done in gentle two-part harmony. The Ballad of Eddie Praeger takes on a slightly lower topic: A urinal cake under an, er, withering cascade.

Most commercials are short, and Paul and Storm get to the nub of the pitch very quickly in their series of Rejected Commercial Jingles. Example, one for Cheetos: "If you want to turn your daddy parts orange, eat some Cheetos and watch some porn." Oh, why were these rejected? They'd make the Superbowl so much more entertaining!

Of course, they take on themselves. (lyrics to Opening Band: Opening Band performance on YouTube: Buy the song)

We are the opening band
We are here to do five or six or seven songs
"Don't go too long, and get the hell off the stage"
We are the opening band
We're probably not the band you came to see tonight
But it's alright, 'cause soon we'll go away
Kicking Randy Newman around is a major trope, it seems, when he finally won an Oscar (for Seabiscuit) after being nominated fifteen times. Familiarity breeds contempt, or at least parody. Power Salad has a Randy Newman song, while Paul and Storm have several in a series. Using the basic Newman style over and over, they provide the movie theme song to Seabiscuit ("Nobody believed that he could win"), The Lord of the Rings ("Nobody believed that he could win"), The Passion of the Chr... well, you get the idea.

They spread the egoboo around. Paul and Storm owe a lot to a radio program originating in Indianapolis, The Bob and Tom Show. While B&T haven't been around as long as Shockwave Radio Theater, they do have the advantage of a news director and a budget. As a DJ, I really hate to talk over music, but the format seems to work for them. (More on the new director in their next CD.) Paul and Storm present several songs, including the Randy Newman riffs, in two versions: On Air and Studio. The banter and laughter before and during the songs annoys me after the first time, so I'm grateful for the pure version (ie the cut I will air).

And then it gets stranger. Some of the cuts are presented a second (or third) time... with commentary! Paul & Storm get into the genesis of Seabiscuit and others. Commentary tracks for movies are great; commentaries for audio tracks harkens back to The Album Of The Soundtrack Of The Trailer Of The Film Of Monty Python And The Holy Grail wherein John Cleese talks over his narration in the film.

And then it gets stranger. The final cut is a commentary on a commentary! They talk over their comments about Shake Machine, giving us a tour of their thought processes as they dissected the song.

A lot of Opening Band is funny once, at least to my taste. However, the CD has more than an hour of audio, and the original cuts are well worth the price. All Paul and Storm cuts are under a Creative Commons license, which means no DRM. You can buy Paul and Storm CDs or download the songs individually. If you agree with my taste, you'll simply get all three CDs. If you want to dip your toes in the water, pick a song or three to sample.


News To Us

News To Us comes in at an hour and ten minutes. Several of the cuts are live from The Bob and Tom Show, as in their first CD, and probably work best if you're a fan of that nationally syndicated show, and some of the cuts are the a cappella harmony by The BarryTones. They make no bones about their attraction to the news director Kristi, and comment on the news as a quartet.

Back in the 90s, when the web was making audio distribution easy, too many idiots thought "political satire" was making scatological songs about Bill Clinton, and hate radio just fueled the sphincter conservatives. Paul and Storm manage to avoid the worst aspects of low political humor. Indeed, even their dirty songs work by euphemism, suggestion and well-placed beeps and I can play them on the air. They don't have the knowledgeable sneer of Tom Lehrer or the hipper-than-thou attitude of The Capitol Steps, but their targets are skewered just as keenly... and in harmony.

The first cut is Bob and Tom introducing The BarryTones' Musical Summary of the News of the Week which is mostly the banter and the group hitting on Kristi Lee, but includes some great Barbershop. There follows RIP Don Knotts, 28 seconds of the theme to The Andy Griffith Show whistled in a minor key, followed by more news in harmony. Barry Bonds Press Conference - The Musical is excellent doo-wop about a continuing item. Various religions and cultural practices are not exempt from their wide-eyed innocent gaze:

The Easter Song

Easter time is here again
And it's the day we celebrate
The morning that the Easter Bunny rises from the grave
And if he sees his shadow then it's six more winter
If he doesn't see it, everyone gets Cadbury Creme Eggs
And he never sees his shadow, thank the Lord

Moses and the Hebrews never celebrated Easter
They were busy building pyramids and matzoh for the Greeks
So that night they set the Pharaoh's clocks ahead one hour
And they all escaped, and that's why we put colored eggs in baskets
With jellybeans and neon plastic grass

Plus there was that final supper with the twelve Apostles
But the word in Aramaic for apostles is apeeps
And that is how they got the name for those marshmallow treats
So every time you eat those little yellow chicks and bunnies
You actually are swallowing Apostles

So that's the Easter story
Even though we didn't mention
Anything about the burning bush
Or chocolate-covered Popes
You might want to do a bit more research on the details
'cause in truth I mostly slept my way through Sunday school
But at least I'm pretty sure that's how it goes
Sorry to quote the whole thing, but the lyrics alone are only half the fun. I just love the purity of their singing and the tightness of the arrangements, all to great effect.

News To Me has an astonishing number of worthy cuts, and I'll just stop on a few more favorites. Ten-Fingered Johnny (in two versions: On Air and Studio), an Irish cautionary ditty about explosives. The protagonist is as stupidly optimistic as Worm Quartet's Frank's Not In The Band Anymore. Mel Gibson is an easy target, but works in their sure hands. George Mason is a patriotic fife and drum, in two versions, about the historical figure and the basketball underdog. I tend to think in segues, and immediately after another Worm Quartet Song, I'm Gonna Procreate will follow Mother's Day Song, done Barbershop in the style of the traditional M-O-T-H-E-R.

Of the three albums reviewed here, News To Me is probably the most accessible and the one to get... if you're only getting one. Again, you can listen to and/or buy individual Paul & Storm songs. But wait until you read about the third CD...


Gumbo Pants

As I review several CDs by the same group, I have less and less to say. You have either figured out who they are or not, and I can just comment on individual songs. i hope you've figured out Paul and Storm by now. Their most recent CD (as of this writing) is Gumbo Pants. As a concession to 21st Century distribution, or something, there are no On Air versions of songs (which doesn't bother me at all), the CD packaging is cheaper (but still nice) and the disk only has 46 minutes of audio. More conceptual humor, in the guise of one-sentence songs and Rejected Commercials. Most of the 30 cuts go by quick. Just the thing to spice up a Shuffle playlist... heck, you could fill up an iPod with little bits from They Might Be Giants's Apollo 18 or the Resident's The Commercial Album or random Worm Quartet bitlets and never have a coherent thought again!

Still, most of the songs feet at least one foot on the ground. You might convince a child that his almost born sibling will be A Better Version of You. You might convince a potential mate that you want to get Extremely Old With You. You might wonder why people eat at Olive Garden. Or a potential mate may wonder why people don't eat Gumbo Pants.

Loads of fun from top to bottom, Gumbo Pants is probably the one to get for younger proto-dementoids. Extremely tight musicianship and a deft lyrical sense without the adult stuff from previous albums, and only one outtake from the radio show. As above, you can listen to and/or buy individual Paul & Storm songs but get the "If" songs bundle and the One-Sentence Songs bundle rather than blow a buck on 14 second cuts. And if you only listen to music on computer/iPod/mp3 player, the "Gimme Everything" Super-Special is well worth it. The Super-Special even includes songs not yet on any CD.


Campaign and Suffering

The latest from The Capitol Steps, and Earth Day thoughts

Shockwave Radio Theater podcasts
Note: I recently updated the directory structure, so links to individual podcasts may not work
but all the podcasts are still available.

Avoid iWeb '08!
The component of Apple's iLife '08 is seriously broken. It generates code that does not work. iWeb has broken html as well as iTunes. Do not use!
If you're having problems with Shockwave podcasts, and didn't get the latest one, with Paul and Storm, let me know.


The Capitol Steps

The Capitol Steps have been poking fun at politicians for a long time, and try to be very timely. The advantage of seeing them live is that they'll grab the most recent headlines and wrestle them to the ground. The disadvantage of listening to their recorded music is that some of the funniest bits are already hopelessly dated. Their latest CD came out this week, so I better review it now.

I highly recommend that you go to The Capitol Steps site and download songs as they get posted. The ephemeral humor should be appreciated while still fresh. For longer-lasting joy, they have CDs.


Campaign and Suffering

Campaign and Suffering is their 28th album, just out in April '08, tackling the presidential campaign head on. The live concerts from "late 2007 and early 2008" include audience reactions to their on-stage mugging. They are supremely talented wordsmiths and excellent singers. Sometimes you can just let the songs wash over you. That is, if you can stop chuckling.

Some of the songs from four month ago just don't work anymore. 76 Unknowns about all the people vying for president, or their songs about Romney and Thompson, were fun when televised debates in both parties had a dozen or more people on stage. Now that it's down to Obama, Clinton and McCain, the talk of Huckabee or Kucinich is just so pre-Super Tuesday.

Still, when they hit a universal truth, or at least one that will continue beyond the attention span of the conservative news media, they hit hard. Buy, Buy American Pie (to the tune of American Pie) is about the outsourcing of jobs to China complete with the lack of government regulations that makes their food and toys less than safe.

Now when you Buy, Buy An American Pie
You're grandma didn't bake it, it was made in Shanghai
Where they engineered the apples to be juicy not dry
But the crust is made of cardboard and lye
Don't feed it to your dog he might die.

Ten Pills and You're Fine (to the tune of The Circles of Your Mind) takes on the ever-popular topic of our over-medicated society.

And, of course, Lirty Dies, the people in the news told in spoonerisms. Most of their albums/live performances have one. Perhaps the later examples aren't as wildly funny as the earlier ones; I suspect all the obvious "flips" were used, and Mark Tilford hates to repeat himself. Still, the antics of Rill o"Bielly (who works on Box as a Fraudcaster), Harris Pilton (who is fich and ramous for crashing her flotch at everyone), and the Spale of Eliot Titzer (who was hangin' the bookers).

I have several Capitol Steps tapes/CDs, and even the offerings from the 80s are funny if you have a good memory. Campaign and Punishment is highly recommended, at least for a while.


Earth Day

Earth Day 2008 is April 22nd, and you can join in one of their Worldwide Events. Some of them have already happened, and more will be happening over the long term. Protecting the planet transcends politics or religion, and we should all get on this pro-life platform.

ClimateProgress.org, my brother's blog, will spend all week focusing on The Solutions To Global Warming.

Joe's Top 10 global Warming stories of 2007. Already a bit dated.


A few quick Earth Day links

Consensus on Global Warming. When anyone tries to claim "There is no consensus on global warming", they are lying. Point them to this site.

Climate alarm: Disasters increase as climate change bites. And the flip side to the deniers, those who don't live in the world that god made, are the ever-growing number of alarmists, now that we have much more data. This PDF claims, "Disasters increase as climate change bites". A new study by Oxfam Nov. 2007 includes this summary (p. 2):

At the same time as climate hazards are growing in number, more people are being affected by them because of poverty, powerlessness, population growth, and the movement and displacement of people to marginal areas. The total number of natural disasters has quadrupled in the last two decades -- most of them floods, cyclones, and storms. Over the same period the number of people affected by disasters has increased from around 174 million to an average of over 250 million a year. Small- and medium-scale disasters are occurring more frequently than the kind of large-scale disasters that hit the headlines.

On-line petitions may not do a lot, but large numbers might make a few fence-sitters make up their mind, so sign The Sky Belongs To All Of Us.


Conservative "Morals of Convenience"

I'm not going to go into the long list of literally dirty stories about conservatives screwing up the environment in the name of "morality". That will come later. I just want to point out that their "objective" reality is rather "relative", and they pick and choose which moral standards to hold, and have you conform to a completely different standard. Sad, really.

Take a look at The World's Worst Polluted Places, a PDF from The Blacksmith Institute issued Sept. 2007. None of the places are in the US. They are in places like Sumgayit Azerbaijan, and the pollution was caused by ""Dated technologies, a lack of pollution controls and improper disposal of industrial waste" and Linfen China, where "Expanding and unregulated industry based on local coal and other resources has resulted in the worst air quality in China". In other words, the Republican insistence on deregulation and misuse of "personal accountability" is the cause of disasters, not their solution.

On this Earth Day, let's pull together to show the radicals that the adults are in charge again.


All Of My Heroes Are Villains

Continuing efforts by Beth Kinderman, DJ Particle and the Marscon Dementia Track Fundraiser

Shockwave Radio Theater podcasts
Note: I'm updating the directory structure, so
if you're having problems with Shockwave podcasts let me know.


Marscon CDs

These are some of the CDs I picked up at Marscon 2008, a local Minneapolis science fiction convention with a large number of musicians performing and selling merch. As I've said before, talking about CDs of your friends can be tricky. I shall bull on.


All of My Heroes Are Villains

Beth Kinderman at Marscon
Beth Kinderman
Marscon, February 29, 2008CE

When I first heard Beth Kinderman at last year's Marscon, two things were apparent: 1) She was good but not great and 2) She would be getting better. Both these are still true. She keeps pushing herself, and it's paid off. Many of her songs are available on various EPs and demos as solos. Having the songs available meant that I could air a few cuts and talk her up (I'm thanked in the credits), but it's her fearless desire to perform live that is honing her talents. Every time I see her, she's improved. With help from audio engineers and musician friends, she took the plunge with a commercial CD.

All Of My Heroes Are Villains is Beth Kinderman's first full length CD. She went all out, and picked up some accomplished musicians for her backing band, the Player Characters. She writes from a personal Point Of View, usually (but not necessarily) her own, and usually introspective. She has a way with a haunting tune that stays in your head, even as the lyrics are complex and deserve more than one listen.

The title track tells of a 16 year old watching a Hannibal Lecter movie on tv:

Hannibal Lecter
brilliant & dignified
more real than fiction could be
I was rooting for you from the beginning
what does that say about me?

She grows up faster than her boyfriend and tells him so, and excises her guild in Redeemer, learning "I've learned when you calculate the price of every sentence soon you don't open up your mouth at all". He doesn't care about her, yet she stays with him, distancing herself emotionally but not physically, because "second best is better than to stay alone inside" as he's just a Distraction.

For the Science Fiction fans, comprising her main audience, she offers the Serenity inspired Valley and the bonus track Zombies.

All of My Heroes Are Villains is a worthy album, but it won't be her best. While all the songs are strong, not everything works. The band isn't completely tight, and sometimes the sort of jazz-inspired-punk guitar doesn't seem to fit. (Sorry Dave.) Clearly, Beth is a work in progress. And one that's good to watch. The CD is recommended for all those who like introspective folk/rock with some catchy hooks and poignant lyrics.


But Wait, There's More!

DJ Particle at Marscon
DJ Particle
Marscon, March 2, 2008CE

When we last left Dementia Radio emcee and "RIAA-dical Lesbian Parodist" DJ Particle, she had released her second CD Oh Dear FSM... Not Another One, at last year's Marscon. I commented, "Her vocal range, alas, is exceeded by her enthusiasm." She vastly improved the former at, alas, the expense of the latter.

But Wait, There's More! is structured as a series of related parodies, like a set list for a radio show, complete with spoken introductions couched as "Infomercials", hence the title of the CD. The sets are the Food Group (2 songs), Political Group (3), DDR 10th Anniversary (2), Travel (2), Dr. Who's 30th Anniversary (2) and the closing sales pitch with audience participation (2)... plus two bonus tracks.

As always, she pulls the music from the originals, karaoke versions and public MIDI and remixes/mashups them with parody lyrics. Whether you like the parodies depends not only on how well you like the original music, but on how much you appreciate (or want to hear denigrate) the subject. Predictably, my favorite track is 88 Songs About 44 Companions, even though I'm not a Dr. Who fan and don't know most of the people in the song. This is another song that I have (at least) two parodies of and not the original. She does a fairly straightforward version of The Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun which electrified the Marscon 2007 audience (including me) when she performed it near the end of the con.

DJ Particle's previous CDs were an acquired taste as she fearlessly put herself center stage. But Wait, There's More! is an attempt to broaden her audience, and to an extent it works: without descending into mainstream, she covers topics with a more sure voice and without using Naughty Language. Still, sometimes I missed the sheer exuberance that comes from knowing you're appealing to a few people you know will like what you do. If you liked her previous CDs, you'll like this one. If you don't have the other two and want to sample this side of Dementia music, this is probably the CD to get. Otherwise, listen to her Saturday shoutcast Revenge on Dementia Radio and decide for yourself.


The MarsCon 2008 Dementia Track Fund Raiser CD

Marscon 2007 Smackdown
Dementia Track Artists
Marscon, March 3, 2007

I'm really not going to say a lot about the two CD set of The MarsCon 2008 Dementia Track Fund Raiser CD. It's a charity thing. Most of the tracks are live performances from Marscon 2007, poorly engineered, with banter and mistakes and all. Almost all the songs are done better by the artists themselves on their CDs.

The reason to get the CDs is to encourage them to do it again.

I was in the audience for perhaps half of the performances captured on these disks. (I think the picture above was taken during Don't Download This Song, track 18.) The great Luke Ski does yeoman's work making dementia music possible at conventions. What Dr. Demento is to funny music on the national level, what Shockwave Radio is to weirdness in the Twin Cities and science fiction fandom, Luke is to this range of filking. (And not everyone agrees that it's "filk", but we will ignore them for the nonce.) Only a few of the musicians are professionals, and even the pros aren't making Weird Al money, and convention transportation fundraisers have a long and honorable history in science fiction fandom. The TransAtlantic Fan Fun was started in 1953... and contributors didn't get a wire recording!

It might be too late to appreciate the 2008 fundraiser, though I suspect Luke will simply take any further sales and add them to the 2009 effort. If you're going to get these disks, it would be as 1) a collector: Some of these musicians will be the Captain Beefheart of 2060, and these discs will (maybe) command a premium, and 2) as a sampler of a rather wide range of talent. The bonus tracks are professional mastered: Nun Fight from Paul & Storm and The Yolk's On You from the Hot Waffles.

As either a collector or a contributor, you'll pull a few iPod worthy songs and stash the CDs, and feel good about it. Especially if you come to any of the numerous conventions they play at, or see the artists in concert. I can't recommend The MarsCon 2008 Dementia Track Fund Raiser on its merits, but I am glad I have them. Bragging rights, doncha know. Neener neener.


Live vs. Recorded

Teresa Chandler, Art Paul Schlosser, Eric Coleman

Shockwave Radio Theater podcasts


Live Performance vs. Recorded Music

Live performance is a different art form than recorded music. The necessary skills overlap, but they are not the same and require different investments by the listener as well as different performance values by the artist.

Usually it's tricky to talk about CDs from people I know. In this case, it's a plus. I know all three of these midwestern artists, and have seen them off stage and on, and have heard their music on stage and off.


Druthers

Teresa Chandler at Applecon, April 12, 2008
Teresa Chandler at Applecon
April 12, 2008CE

Wisconsinite Teresa Chandler has been floating around for a long time. Mostly, I've seen her play in music circles and in solo concerts. All fairly informal: Teresa and guitar. In person, she's a friendly act, playing big band torch standards with some of her original compositions. She has a powerful voice with a wide coloratura range, and the emotion she belts out can surprise you. She would occasionally talk about her album. I finally acquired her CD, and was never more surprised. Pleasantly.

Druthers is Teresa Chandler's CD from 1989. You immediately step back into a different era with the disclaimer, "Where's the long box? Watermelon, banasas and CDs don't need exessive packaging. Neither do our landfills." Remember that controversy? I hope you don't: The good guys won and CDs were sold just in crystal cases. Now, you can go even greener and download the songs as mp3s. No physical entity whatsoever. But I digress.

Druthers is listed as "Jazz", not "Folk", and the cuts range from Country Swing to Bluesy Torch songs. She has an excellent band which creates a lush sound with violin, piano, bass, percussion, sax and backing vocals. A lounge lizard without the smoke.

Dark Road is a smooth jazzy torch song, reminiscent of Peggy Lee's "Fever", about a lost love:

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night
I wake up in a cold sweat, I wake up in a fright
I wake up wondering what I'm living for
And it feels like old man death is scratchin' at my door
 
And there I go
All alone
Where nobody knows
Down that dark, dark road

Highway Song could have climbed the Country charts with its pedal steel guitar, banjo and "hit the road again" theme. She leaves the city for her home in the country because she's "rather be where eagles are still flying , where my neighbors are my friends" in the country rock title track Druthers. She gets into full blues swing mode with Crazy Blues, "When you're gone away this long I don'e get the blues. I get crazy."

In person, Teresa Chandler is shy and soft spoken. Alone with a guitar she's an experienced performer who knows how to use her voice. On the CD, she's a presence. Druthers is highly recommended. It's a bargain at CDBaby or through the iTunes store.


Untitled I & II

Art Paul Schlosser, Marscon 2008
Art Paul Schlosser
Marscon, March 2 2008CE

Almost the exact opposite of Teresa Chandler (soft spoken in person who gives gentle concerts with a terrific CD) is Art Paul Schlosser (an amazing guy to talk to and to watch in concert with CDs that are an acquired taste). Art Paul is a street musician in Madison Wisconsin. In person he is, as we say in the Midwest, "a hoot". Really, he has to be seen to be belived. Dr. Demento occasionally plays one of his cuts, and he's definitely within the Dementia Music fold, but that is no substitute for the real Art Paul. He's a solo act, weilding guitar and sometimes kazoo, who gets the audience involved. Hard, but not impossible, to do on CD.

Untitled I & II comprise 37 cuts from 2001 releases. As described by Art Paul"It's a cross between Spoken Word,Comedy,Punk & Folk" I'm not going to pretend to have listened to all of them, that's not how to enjoy an Art Paul CD. You dip in, sample from the expressive song titles, and if you don't like one you move on.

Let's start with the first cut, A Poet I Am

I am a clown
A painter
A mayor of a town
Or a deer.
The second cut, Colors By Voice is even harder to describe. He introduces the song, "just imagine if you can't see what color looks like what it would be if I describe it as voices" and then sings
I think yellow-yellow would sound like this
And orange-orange would be kind of like this
And red-red would be like this
It would be kind like this you know
Simply reading the lyrics cannot do justice to the cut. You have to visualize from his vocals, which might help or might confuse, but will get you thinking, maybe.

Other songs include, Kiss Me Darling (I've Got AIDS), Confessions of a Pinball Adict [sic], Ban the Klan, This Brain I've Got and ending with the spoken About Things:

Now because I have runned out of things to say
I'll say alot of things And in speaking of things
I thought I'd speak about things
What kind of things will I talk about ?
That's a thing of a question And when you question things do they answer ?
What kind of answers to things give you ?
Talking about giving things
I gave this thing to my girlfriend and she hasn't spoken to me since

As with the other Art Paul Schlosser CDs I've talked about, I can't give Untitled I & II an unqualified recommendation. He's an acquired taste that, after seeing him live, I have acquired. He has zillions of CDs each with dozens of short bits. He even has a Tribute Album to which I contributed a cut. This collection of early works is a good introduction of Art Paul, if you've never heard him and want to sample. He has 24 CDs available on iTunes, if you just want to try a few downloads. Enjoy.


I Had To Suffer For My Art, Now It's Your Turn

Eric Coleman at Tillie's Bean, June 22, 2007CE
Eric Coleman at Tillie's Bean, June 22 2007CE

Eric Coleman is in the middle. (Yes Eric, a Free Straight Line.) He says he's as much of a stand up comic as a musician, often using his songs as outlines on which to hang extraneous one-liners.

First, the downside: His songs aren't quite the pyrotechnic logorrhea of other Dementia Music artists; unfairly compare How Can I Miss You? with Worm Quartet's Great Idea For A Song. He's not trying to write novelty songs. He writes personal songs with strong hooks which don't quite resolve to the listener's experience; unfairly compare Woman I Want with... well, I can't quite think of a good parallel at the moment, so point to Eric. He hasn't quite worked up to being "a hoot" in person and his CDs reflect musicianship that is still growing. He hasn't written the definitive Eric Coleman song yet.

The upside: His world is full of wonder and lost innocence. When you get caught up in the ride, your journey pleasantly observes the obstructions while skirting around the rocky parts. As a computer geek by profession, he navigates the web and environs with ease. As someone who's lived a full life with more to come, he taps into his own well of hurt and strength. He's self-deprecating and fearless and is better every time I see him.

I Had To Suffer For My Art, Now It's Your Turn is his "second full length CD" and third one (at least) overall. It's the strongest of the three I have, both lyrically and musically. The latter is helped by having Andy Anda accompany thim on fiddle on a few tunes. Andy is a wonderful fiddle player and inveterate punster, so if you have a chance to see him with Eric, so much the better. My favorite cut is Perfect Moments, which has Andy playing a dark violin:

To my surprise, you slip off your clothes
A splash of water as in you go
Full on your back, while the stars shine
A warm night, the water is fine
A warm night, the water is fine
 
Live for perfect moments
Breath for perfect moments
Eric updates WYSIWYG, a slightly cockeyed take on what used to be called "computer dating" and is now called "the internet".

I Had To Suffer For My Art, Now It's Your Turn is recommended for those who like personal folk music with a perspective that's 21st Century without being so hip it'll be out of date by tomorrow. The CD doesn't capture the stand up comedy part, which should really be experienced live. If you're in the Iowa area, drop by one of his concerts/open mike/convention gigs and prepare to listen for a few songs to get into the rhythm of the evening. You'll find several iPw (iPod worthy) songs and spend a relaxing evening.


All pictures by Baron Dave


Independent Music From Seattle '08

Ol' Cheeky Bastards, 24-Hour Church of Beer, Howlin' Houndog

Shockwave Radio Theater podcasts


Vagrant Records: An Indie Label

Our old friends at Vagrant Records keep at it. They're an independent record label out of Seattle, WA. Their catalog is small compared to the majors, but growing. Not everything they produce is to my taste, but even the stuff I don't like is well done. Here are three new releases I like.


Bag O' Tricks

Ol' Cheeky Bastards may be all three or none, but their blend of musical styles works very well. I tend to lump them in with the Blues musicians, though their web site calls it "Okie Punk" and I'm not going to argue. They feel like old friends who had been playing half-assed as a garage band for years, then went to a Grateful Dead concert and decided they wanted to play real music and have spent years rehearsing and having fun. A few cuts would need editing for airplay. Relaxed and tight, I'd like to see them in concert, and they play a lot in the San Francisco/Anaheim area.

Bag O' Tricks features dobro, 12-string, piano, bagpipe, electric pipe, Pennywhistle, bodran and some nice vocal work. The songs are listed as "Inspired by the original" and/or "rewritten and bastardized", with three from The Pogues. One of my favorites is the song that pops up automatically on their MySpace page. Church of the Holy Spook is a reverently rockabilly variation:

My father was a sinner
My mother was a saint
I ruined my life by alcohol
Rock and roll's gonna crucify me.
 
I left you all alone now
I never looked back
The old folks at the home now
will end up with a shack
 
Give me the Church of the Holy Spook
Church of the Holy Spook
Church of the Holy Spook
It's good enough for me.

The CD opens with the new country version of the Faces Borstal Boys "See the years roll on by, such a senseless waste of time, What a way to reform". Bottle of Smoke would be straight blues except for the jangling electric instrumentation. I'm not going to try to reproduce some of the angry lyrics but you can read them here.. Ladies & Gentleman is western blues honky tonk, "Come on sweetheart, you're looking so good, it's time to go." A good closing song.

This CD pushes all the right buttons for me: covers of songs they love dearly; American music with a dash o' Celtic, nice instrumentation (and no drums), good vocals. Maybe they are old, cheeky and bastards. Highly recommended with several iPod worthy (iPw) songs.


Sacrelicious

When we last left the 24-Hour Church of Beer they were without a hyphen. Their new CD, Sacrelicious, sometimes has a hyphen and sometimes doesn't. Sheesh, it's like they were drinking all day or something.

Their MySpace page has the hyphen: 24-Hour Church of Beer, in which they claim to be a power trio from "Canada's stunning Georgia Straight" with a wide range of influences. I hear mostly fuzzy thrash with a strong melodic sense, and lyrics full of goth and politics. Less beer than their first CD, though drink (and smoke) is an element in several songs. They stretch their musical legs.

They do well with Weasel about, yes you guessed it, George W. Bush. A country swing ditty:

Weasel in the White House throwing stones
Sorry 'bout your luck with your Savings & Loans
Screw all the fuckers from the Skull and Bones
To hell with them all - let's get stoned.
They probably won't play this in Crawford.

Politics comes back in the country rock, "Watch out for the government of Vampires". Pleasantly pessimistic music; annoyed but not angry.

In a bit of a departure, they channel pretentious art rock ala Yes or Genesis in the nearly-psychedelic Icy Flow:
Stranger from 10,000 years
With his wisdom disappears
10,000 leagues beneath the sea
left all his works for all to see. Yeah, drunken frat boys singing about Atlantis. Mostly works.

"The Freak from down the way" is an acid-dropping superfreak. Cleanly played funk about a girl you might want to know, if you're into strange stuff.

A worthy second CD from a group which is tighter and more sure of itself and its audience. A good beat, tuneful songs, clear lyrics, Recommended if you liked their first CD or if you appreciate this range of fuzzy hard rock done well. Sacrelicious is good party CD that will go with beer and dancing.


Loud & Live (in the studio)

When we last checked in with Howlin' Houndog, he was with the Infamous Loosers. In Loud and Live, he fronts several lineups. All are rocking, hard driving blues, as he draws on songs by Leadbelly, Lou Reed, Roger Miller and more.

Howlin' Houndog, one of the nom-de-guerres of Vagrant Record's Erik 4-A, has a Wolfman Jack raspy voice, and knows how to use it. He picks great songs and wrings the blues right out; the other side of Leadbelly, just this side of Dave van Ronk

I don't really have a lot to say about this CD. Look at the song list. You either like blues rock or you don't. Howlin' Hounddog is a particularly good practitioner of the art, and if this is your thing you will do well to add him to your collection. If it isn't your thing and want to dip into the genre, Loud and Live (in the studio) will be a good introduction. The whole CD is iPw.


Those Darn Accordions

Fresh Squoze Music

Shockwave Radio Theater podcasts


Squeezing The Rock

For the most part, throughout the history of recorded music, musicians were serious artists and/or shameless panderers to popular taste except for the comedy acts. Orchestras had "unusual instrumentation" (eg Haydn's Farewell). Dance bands had "novelty numbers" such as Glenn Miller's Pennsylvania 6-5000. I've written a lot about comedy and comedy music, often called "Demented Music", as in "the kind of music you'd hear on the Dr. Demento Show". Demented Music artists develop a comedy persona, and never get serious. Well, hardly ever.

Dance bands, in particular polka bands, often struck a happy medium. The music was interactive with the dancers, and the musicians were likely rather tipsy. Musicians who were clearly enjoying themselves are more fun to dance to than a regimented band.

Those Darn Accordions come from a long tradition of people making serious music while having fun. They do rock and roll, among other things. They slip in rap and yodeling and tv theme songs and novelty numbers. They are musically tight with some fine vocal harmonies. The accordions are the lead instruments and usually sound like electric organs. Most everybody sings and the two female vocalists add a layer of sound not usually heard from straight polka bands. But let's get down to it, shall we? I don't have all their CDs, but I can recommend these four.


No Strings Attached

Those Darn Accordions first CD is No Strings Attached, from 1996 which skirts close to a true Dementia Music CD (or cassette, showing how quickly technology has changed music). They owe a lot to Weird Al Yankovic, who made accordions hip in the 80s as long as you loved your material.

The first cut is a nearly-Weird Al rock pean to Mothra; not the movie, watching the movie. Heavy on the drums, accordion and backing vocals, the song is about looking for the singing pixies from the film. Accordion players are Behind the Bellows; danceable driving rock. A former "straight arrow" confesses that Them Hippies Was Right. (And about time, too.) Almost rap.

The Hotsy Totsy Girl is a straightforward rock and roll polka, except for the yodeling. Less successful is their cover of the Baba O'Riley. Accordion instead of keyboard/fiddle almost works, and the vocal stylings prevent it from being a mere recapitulation, but it just made me appreciate The Who more. The version probably works really well in concert. They get funk with Citizen Contraire, and admit they faked the Loch Ness Monster on their Deathbed Confession. They get annoyed at their billing on the vaudeville circuit and won't be Following the Puppets anymore.

Weird Al makes an appearance on the answering machine in the bouncy novelty song The Happy House, which is a bar. For some reason, everyone wants to cover Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, correctly figuring that the song is a parody of itself and incorrectly figuring that they cane squeeze even more parody from their version. After the original and the Chantmania version, everyone else should stick to doing it in concert.

Weird Al completists will need this CD, Dementia Musicians will want to flesh out their collection, polka djs will slip in a few tracks. Not quite as danceable as Jimmy Sturr, not quite as conceptually odd as Brave Combo, Those Darn Accordions have made a fine CD with No Strings Attached. They demonstrate a wide range of style and subject matter. Recommended and iPod worthy (iPw).


Clownhead

Clownhead is darker, with more rap influence. They Came For Accordions; the aliens that is. Cool jazz rock, almost techno rap, it'll get all six of your toes tapping. My favorite cut on the CD is the bouncy pop Hippy With A Banjo:

Oh have mercy on me
I gotta run it's a hippy with a banjo
It's like torture to me
Kinda like a skeeter in your ear when you camp-o
He's so simple and free
He's gonna play the damn thing anywhere he can so
Please have mercy on me
I gotta run it's a hippy with a banjo

They do a nice cover of Low Rider, where the accordions add to the samba beat. They return to accordion roots with the mariachi Tex-Mex Mucho De Nada about a lost love followed by the instrumental tango Lapis Lazuli. Switching accordion cultures back to Wisconsin Poles is the hearty wish for the First Bratwurst of Summer, accompanies by beer.

I still haven't made up my mind about Clownhead, a dark art rock song about a clown reeling under insults. "Nobody's laughing now." I expect this from Renaldo and the Loaf or maybe Barnes and Barnes. I dunno. Maybe they had too many brats and beer.

I also like Dude, another rap-influenced driving rock dance number with very nice harmonies. A lovable loser is urged to come home and cheer up.

Clownhead stretches the boundaries of accordion music without straying too far from tight danceable music. Another recommended CD with lots of iPw cuts.


Amped

Amped is a 6-cut EP that isn't listed on their web site and even the CD Universe page only lists four songs, so I'll zip through it quickly.

They return to their clown obsession with Serious World, a blues rocker:

But where do you go for kicks in a serious world?
What do you do for laughs in a serious world?
I try to be a sensible guy
But I'm coming off a beautiful high
And I feel like a clown going down
In A serious World

As a student, he didn't pay attention in shop class, but now he's a working in construction the teacher gets Mr. Slagle's Revenge. The accordions are okay in a faithful 60s rock cover of Magic Carpet Ride. Few bands would even try to cover Making Our Dreams Come True (Theme from Laverne and Shirley) but the two women evoke the proper Milwaukee stubbornness and the instrumentation is faithful to the original while different enough to justify the update.

Still, my favorite cut (of the six) is Meaning of Life, a polka that ponders the imponderable:

What is the meaning of life?
Did you ever stop to ponder that question in your head?
What is the meaning of life?
Just gettin' up and doin' stuff and goin' back to bed

Amped is available for $8.95 but all six songs are available through their store for $0.99. Meaning of Life is a good introduction to Those Darn Accordions. If you like that one, get more.


Squeeze Machine

Their latest release, 2007's Squeeze Machine, is their most ambitious and most successful CD. Steam Punk is a genre that goes back to Jules Verne -- science fiction/fantasy in a world where the steam engine is common -- and is getting a resurgence now as writers don't want to be bothered with quantum physics. The CD is in a cardboard case with a lyric booklet insert: A long way from a cassette.

This Song is a bouncy Beatles-inspired pop tune about a bouncy Beatles-inspired pop hit:

This song's got money written all over it
C'mon and sing along, little children
this song's got money written all over it
Ain't gonna quite 'till it rolls in
Roll on, roll on, c'mon, c'mon
Please please me oh yeah and buy this song

Grabbing another culture that uses them, they use zydeco to Blame It On Those Darn Accordions. Ever think about buying a bicycle built for two? Better listen to the country Tandem Bike. Getting back to important subjects, Glass of Beer Polka is a fun dance number.

They show their blues rock roots with Bob and the Office People. Not as angry as Worm Quartet's Strap On Brain or as sick as The Smothers Brothers Mediocre Fred, Bob isn't quite fit for the corporate world, so embezzles money and leaves for warmer climes. It's Now Or Never is a fine Italian tango and they do a fine version with the Elvis lyrics and an Italian operatic chorus. The singer gets jealous of Larry's Wonderful Life, a sweetly sick song about a stalker.

Squeeze Machine is another strong album by a group with many strengths. Those Darn Accordions deserve a few bytes on your iPod, if not the full CDs in your collection. All the songs are available as single cuts from the Those Darn Accordions store. Recommended for those who like good, danceable rock from a variety of musical traditions with a sense of humor in song selection and lyrics. They have a nice mix of covers and originals. Spend a few bucks on some of the individual cuts, then order the CDs for the higher quality audio and lyric sheets.


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