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Tag: gun club band

A Brilliant, Starkly Smoldering Album From Guitarslinger Phil Gammage

Phil Gammage is one of the great polymath guitarists in New York. He got his start as a hotshot lead player with second-gen CBGB band Certain General while still in his teens,. But the native Texan always stayed in touch with his Americana roots. Over the years, he’s gone deep into Chicago blues, hard country and even spare dustbowl folk. On the mic, he’s a crooner with a noir streak. In the years before the lockdown, he could be found at small venues across Manhattan, and he’s back at a favorite haunt, 11th Street Bar in the East Village tonight, June 22 at 8:30 PM.

His latest album Nowhere to Somewhere – streaming at Bandcamp – is his strongest and most diverse release in a long and underrated career. The level of songcraft matches the vast stylistic range in Gammage’s bag of riffs. He opens with Walk in the Sun,-a dirty bumpa-bumpa blues, Hound Dog Taylor mixed with Sleepy LaBeef and a little peak-era mid-80s Gun Club.

Gammage switches to acoustic twelve-string for Between the Tracks, then adds simmering electric layers and spare piano for a distantly menacing Dream Syndicate ambience. Greg Holt’s violin swirls over Michael Fox’s lithe drums and Brian Karp’s low-key bass in Voice on the Phone, a tasty mashup of 70s Stylistics soul and early 50s pre-rockabilly.

Gammage reinvents the Appalachian gothic ballad Alone and Forsaken as spare Mark Sinnis-style cemetery and western with funeral-parlor organ lurking in the background. Then he picks up the pace with What Would I Do, blending slurry blues riffs, sophisticated countrypolitan phrasing and spare, incisive Chicago blues.

Gammage works a warmly familiar four-chord front-porch folk progression in Come on Lightning, Holt’s violin weaving and dancing overhead. He returns to Nashville gothic for the gloomy electric Hank Williams shuffle Just Another Traveling Man, the ghost choir of Michele Butler and Joe Nieves lingering in the background.

It’s impossible to think of a more creepy, lurid, Lynchian cover of Night Life than the spare, sepulchral one here. Next, Gammage mashes up classic Carl Perkins rockabilly and a little southern-fried mid-80s boogie in Never Ending Setting Sun.

He works terse contrasts between acoustic and electric, major and minor in the nocturnally swaying Shadow Road. So Long and Goodbye, the closing cut, is the closest thing to 21st century Americana here. Like so many albums that came out in the musical dead zone that was the fall and winter of 2021, this one pretty much sank without a trace, which is too bad because it’s a clinic in purist guitar. Fans of Eric Ambel, Steve Wynn and the edgy first wave of Americana bands from the 80s like the Long Ryders will love this.

A Couple of Crazed Vinyl Curios From the 80s

One of the 80s bands whose concerts were most widely chronicled by field recordings was the Gun Club. Which makes sense: when they were at the top of their game, they were one of the era’s most unpredictably explosive live acts. Frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce went to the great whiskey bar in the sky in 1996, but the group remain a foundational influence on the scores of gutter blues bands who’ve followed in their wake.

What’s new is that there’s a Gun Club reissue, two choice tracks just out as a 45 RPM vinyl single ,from the band’s 1984 album Miami. With its layers of trebly Telecaster, the stomping Fire of Love – a Jody Reynolds cover – still sizzles. The flip side, Bad Indian is even treblier and closer to straight-up garage rock.

For Gun Club diehards, there’s also a new vinyl album, Soulsuckers on Parade, streaming at Spotify. In this off-the-cuff, live-in-the-studio 1984 session, Pierce is backed by most of the Blasters – guitarist Dave Alvin, pianist Gene Taylor and drummer Bill Bateman, plus Green on Red bassist Jack Waterson. This stuff has been circulating in the cassette underground and then on the web for close to forty years.

Side A is the haphazard seventeen-minute jam Walking Down the Street Doing My Thing, which comes across as a Stooges ripoff, right down to Pierce’s X-rated trash-talking, the “take it down you-all” and the tinkling piano. It’s impossible to think that Pierce hadn’t heard the Metallic KO album and thought to himself, “I can do this too.” The Violent Femmes’ first album and the Doors are also obvious reference points.

The B-side has two blues tunes, the second being two takes of Willie Nelson’s Not Supposed to Be That Way. For someone who was as sloshed as Alvin has admitted to being here, he fires off some memorably unhinged Chicago blues riffage in each of them. It’s a tantalizing hint of the talent that could have made him one of the greatest lead guitarists of his era if he’d stuck with it instead of going the singer-songwriter route. Pierce, who sounds wall-hugging drunk, has the nerve to harsh on his bandmates for emulating a Detroit sound. There are also a couple of throwaway rock covers here as well.

Slashing, Fearlessly Populist Classic Detroit-Style Rock from Sulfur City

Sulfur City evoke the hard-charging, uncompromising Murder City garage-punk intensity of Radio Birdman and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, with elements of retro soul, psychedelia, a little funk and a fearlessly populist political sensibility. But they’re not from Detroit or Australia: they hail from Sudbury, in northeast Ontario. Their album Talking Loud is streaming at Soundcloud. And it’s one of the best four-on-the-floor rock records of the year.

The opening track, Whispers, is anything but. It’s basically a frenetic one-chord minor-key jam over a stomping hardcore punk pulse. The way frontwoman Lori Paradis bends her notes with just a hint of plaintive angst, she sounds a lot like the Passengers’ Angie Pepper with a slightly lower voice. Keith Breit’s organ interlude midway through is unexpected, and wouldn’t be out of place in the Radio Birdman songbook either.

The defiant War Going On, with its funky, organ-fueled sway, connects the dots between the grotesqueness of consumer capitalism and combat – is the reference to “plastic-wrapped people” a dis, or a grisly image of battlefield casualties?

Pockets is a sort of mashup of Bo Diddley, Rare Earth and the MC5 at their most populist and confrontational, with a snide gospel interlude. With its smoky organ, Ride With Me has a Sticky Fingers latin soul groove. It ‘s hard to figure out whether Paradis’ vengeful wail in Don’t Lie to Me is channeling the wrath of an abused woman, or if this is an S&M anthem. Jesse Lagace’s eerie slide guitar bends and warps through the gritty boogie backdrop of Sold, revisiting an ages-old, devilishly bluesy theme.

Highways, a ghoulabilly shuffle, keeps the lurid intensity going up to a tumbling, bluesy piano solo straight out of the Pip Hoyle playbook. With its intertwining minor-key guitar leads, the ominously elegaic murder ballad Johnny could be an outtake from Radios Appear with a woman out in front of the band. The album’s most epic track, One Day in June is a brisk noir blues in 6/8, fueled by Lagace’s slide guitar and Paradis’ grim, Patti Smith-ish vocals. It’s an apt post-election anthem: “We tell ourselves it’ll be ok, this too shall pass, everything must change,” Paradis intones. “The end of November and the leaves have all gone, and the air is cold and the snow’s about to fall, standing with my palms raised up to the sky.”

By contrast, Raise Hammer is a sarcastic Celtic punk number with layers of gritty open-tuned guitars and a carnivalesque organ solo. The album winds up with You Don’t Know Me, a gutter blues shuffle in an early 80s Gun Club vein. Lots of flavors and plenty of tunefulness from a group with great influences that seems to be on the verge of similar greatness.

Singles for 12/18

These things accumulate like dust bunnies around here. Imagine if dust bunnies could talk. What would they say?

Birmingham, Alabama trio Wray’s Bad Heart is Jesus & Mary Chain x Lost Patrol with a little dreampop swirl mixed in with the postpunk growl and the reverb-iced surf catchiness (via youtube).

Black Light White Light’s Running sounds like peak-era 90s Wilco doing paisley underground, with an echoey Rickenbacker jangle, a little glam and a LONG stoner outro (via last.fm – don’t worry, this is their free page, you don’t have to pay to hear it).

Tori Vasquez will bring you back into focus with the uneasy southwestern gothic folk of Wear You Thin (youtube). And here’s Pale Green Stars doing Lesson 27 (via Reverbnation): slide guitar swamp rock straight out of the Gun Club songbook circa 1985, an unrepentant reflection on a stoner past complete with a sweetly sarcastic verse from a famous hymn.

Stonesy Stoner Songs and a Bowery Electric Show from 7horse

7horse are a surreal stoner bar band – imagine a more trad version of the Black Keys after a couple bong hits of good hash. This band’s music is less stoned than it is high. They’re at Bowery Electric on July 9 at 7:30ish for $12.

Their new album Songs for a Voodoo Wedding is streaming at the band’s site. The opening track, Carousel Bar works an open-tuned Stonesy riff for all it’s worth – the bass doesn’t even come in until after the first chorus. “Had a ringside seat, was all you could eat, but you never got out of the car,” lead singer Phil Leavitt reminds, “I could sit right here for a hundred years rolling in the Carousel Bar.” That pretty much explains what this band is all about.

Meth Lab Zoso Sticker is another open-tuned, Stonesy, more or less one-chord jam, this one a slide-driven blues with an even stranger lyric. Flying High (With No ID) reaches for a Sticky Fingers-era take on oldschool soul, an uneasily amusing scenario about a guy who seems to be tripping in the airport and then on the flight. Imagine being on acid and having to deal with Homeland Security – it would be impossible not to have a laughing fit.

Headhunter Blues centers around a funny lyrical riff from baseball slang, and a romping post Chuck Berry tune that could be the Bottle Rockets (or the Stones, for that matter) with no bass. Long Way has a restless, minor-key, vintage Stooges menace, both musically and lyrically. Please Come On Home has a darkly shuffling hillbilly boogie vibe that recalls bands like the Gun Club and the Sideshow Tragedy. The funniest and also the most punk song here is I Know the Meaning of Rock N Roll: it’s totally mid-70s Detroit.

On the 4th of July brings back a Stonesy pulse: it seems to be a sly, surreal swipe at patriotism. So Old Fashioned blends LES punk blues with catchy Dolls glam, a shout-out to an “ancient recipe” that never fails to hit the spot. Some MF seems to be a spoof of hip-hop; the album’s longest track, Before the Flood strings together a bunch of old blues aphorisms over a skeletal Smokestack Lightning-style vamp. The final cut is the oldtimey A Friend in Weed, which is kind of obvious, but also unquestionably true. Most of these songs don’t reference anything after about 1973: aside from the strange absence of bass in places, this album could have been made then and would have earned the band plenty of road gigs or a maybe even a spot opening for somebody like Bob Seger or REO Speedwagon back when both of those acts were actually pretty decent.

Gord Downie & the Sadies Conquering the Bowery

[Thanks to Bowery Ballroom’s smart, energetic house manager, Amanda, who took the extra effort to make sure that this review happened]

Canadian crooner Gord Downie told the crowd at Bowery Ballroom last night that his show with the Sadies was their second gig “with lights and a soundcheck,” but the chemistry and energy was through the roof. Airing out most of the songs on their brilliant new album, Gord Downie, the Sadies & the Conquering Sun, they veered from surreal, sunburnt southwestern gothic rock, to hypnotic psychedelia, to the richly jangly, Americana-tinged rock that the Sadies have honed to a knife’s edge over more than a decade.

Has there ever been another rock brother combo as spectacularly true to their name as guitarists Travis and Dallas Good? Ray and Dave Davies, maybe, in a completely different idiom. Travis played deliciously clanging, ringing lines – and a sizzling electrified bluegrass solo toward the end of Los Angeles Times, a swaying Highway 61 revisitation. Dallas played slinky paisley underground leads, searingly high, sustained, reverb-drenched ambience and the occasional descent into frenetic, low-register roar on a couple of Telecasters. Their bassist stuck with a simple, muscular, low pulse in an attempt to cut through the mix over drummer Mike Belitsky’s artful shuffles and counterintuitive rolls across the toms, nonchalantly reasserting himself as one of the half-dozen best drummers in rock. He’s Keith Moon without the wrestlemania persona and more swing.

They opened with a couple of deliciously ringing spaghetti western-tinged numbers, Crater, then the album’s title track, the latter with the first of Dallas Good’s keening, paint-peeling leads. A little afterward, they gave the Who’s So Sad About Us an energetic workout that recalled the Jam’s version, but more elegantly. Later on in the set they did a stinging version of the Gun Club’s Goodbye Johnny, a strikingly apt choice of cover considering the resemblance between that band and this project, and encored with a frenetic, furiously riffing, extended take of Iggy Pop’s I Got a Right, Dallas Good firing off acidic layers of Ron Asheton sustain in place of James Williamson’s proto-glam attack on the original.

But it was the originals that resonated the most. Reaching up from his ominous baritone with an unrestrained angst, Downie completely sold the crowd on Budget Shoes, a grim, metaphorically loaded narrative about two desperados making their way across a desert “valley of ghosts.” The sardonic One Good Fast Job went down into snarling swamp rock; a little later, Downie dedicated the antiwar anthem Demand Destruction to antinuclear heroine Dr. Helen Caldicott – it sounded like the Who covering the Pogues. Devil Enough morphed electric bluegrass into Blonde on Blonde clang, while I’m Free, Dissaray Me went off into lingering Brian Jonestown Massacre-style psychedelia, a vivid contrast between the two guitarists’ styles. They wound up the set by stretching out the low-key soul ballad Saved into a similarly psychedelic anthem with several playful false endings.

Watching Downie strain to talk to the audience between songs was almost comical: as fans of his long-running band the Tragically Hip know, he’s actually a very articulate guy. As a diversion, he’d swing a big yellow spotlight from the back of the stage like a yo-yo in reverse. How he managed not to burn the skin off his fingers – those things get HOT – was the mystery of the night.

Downie and the Sadies continue their American tour with stops at Lincoln Hall in Chicago on May 10 and then at the Magic Stick in Detroit on May 11. Then the Sadies are at Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland on May 17 – if you’re there and this is your thing, don’t miss them.

Eerie Jagged Noir Blues from Austin’s Sideshow Tragedy

Sometimes it boils down to cred. The presence of Dimestore Dance Band’s noir gypsy guitar mastermind Jack Martin on Austin band the Sideshow Tragedy‘s album Persona instantly makes it worth a listen – it’s up at their Bandcamp page. For anybody who likes the idea of the Black Keys but finds them impossibly tame, the Sideshow Tragedy will not disappoint: they are the real deal. They’re upstairs at Bowery Electric, guessing at around 10 PM on May 15 and then at Zirzamin at 10 on May 17. If dark twisted surreal country blues is your thing, this will hook you up for the duration. Frontman/guitarist Nathan Singleton took the entire blues dictionary, distilled it, lined it up down the bar and then did shots of it until he had the whole thing in his system. And then recorded this album, for the most part just with drummer Jeremy Harrell. It’s like the Gun Club, but more raw, or like Dylan at his most haphazard and interesting – and funny. Singleton’s wry sense of humor is a welcome change from all dese wotbo blueschillun who done take da blues so serious, uh huh – there’s none of that blackface BS here.

Another cool thing about this record is that aside from Martin’s jagged guitar on the haunting, Otis Rush-influenced fifth track, The Bet, the rest of the album is all Singleton. He’s a one-man blues army, sometimes wailing with a slide, sometimes fingerpicking, sometimes slashing and roaring as he builds a doomed, menacing ambience. The album’s opening track, AM in Chicago sets the tone, an evil, reverb-drenched roadhouse vamp over tumbling drums: “A structure fire in the tower of song, a prisoner’s wish before he’s gone.” That the Leonard Cohen reference isn’t absurdly out of place speaks for itself.

“If you won’t believe me, I’ll keep telling you lies,” Singleton smirks over tasty layers of steady, shuffling slide guitar on Gasoline, then adds a sly, funky edge that reminds of Jon Spencer on the pulsing Something to Do. If there’s anything here you could call a hit single, it’s the wickedly catchy Satellite, bringing in a rare, upbeat major-key vibe.

Vasseline is a swirling, Steve Wynn style desert rock stomp. The title track, a snide portrait of a status-grubbing groupie type, opens with bit of feedback, early 70s stoner metal throuth the prism of punk, and then goes scampering. The exasperated I’m Gonna Be Your Man has distant echoes of the early Yardbirds and cool reverb on the vocals and the drums. The album winds up with the menacingly swaying Long Way Down, a hypnotic Howlin’ Wolf style groove, resonator guitar carrying the brooding tune over a wash of eerie distortion.

Smart, Edgy Swamp Rock and Country Blues from Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs – that’s retro rock icon Holly Golightly and Lawyer Dave – careen through the same swampy, loosely wired, punked-out country blues muck as the Gun Club and Knoxville Girls. This primitive, sometimes feral, lo-fi stuff is great fun. Most of the songs on thei duo’s new album Sunday Run Me Over are originals, although they also do a surprisingly elegant, slightly noir-tinged version of the Davis Sisters’ 1953 country classic I’ve Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know About Him, along with an amusingly sarcastic cover of Hard to Be Humble, Mac Davis’ dubious attempt to write an outlaw country song. And the best song here is We Need a Whole Lot Less of Jesus and a Lot More Rock N Roll, an offhandedly savage reworking of the Ramey Family’s country gospel standard We Need a Whole Lot More Jesus. And as funny and vicious as it is – you see, they’re running out of cash up in heaven, which is why the church needs so much of it – the music is good too, with resonator guitar and fiddle adding to the rustic mix.

Several tracks, starting with the opening one, Goddamn Holy Roll, have a Mississippi hill country tinge, plus tasty, echoey slide guitar leads and exuberant guy/girl vocals. This particular one’s basically a one-chord jam, but they make it interesting. They Say takes a Fred McDowell style oldtime delta blues riff, stomps on it and rocks it out. Tank takes that hill country vibe and adds layers after tasty layer of guitar: lots of open-tuned slide work, and even a repeater-box track pulsing distantly in the mix. Likewise, they build Goodnight from a stripped-down, pissed-off, minor-key country waltz to a big anthem with layer after layer of swaying, clanging, ringing guitar lines.

Holly’s coy vocals take on a bit of an Amy Allison tinge on the country song Turn Around, while Hand in Hand blends Knoxville Girls-style swampy reverb rock with a slow Stonesy sway. They folow that with The Future’s Here, a surreal, absolutely spot-on early 50s-style hillbilly boogie with futuristic lyrics.The final track is the dirty, bluesy, JSBX-ish This Shit Is Gold; there’s also the lighthearted singalong One for the Road, an Irish-flavored drinking song with banjo. The album is out on Oct 9 from Transdreamer; the band is at Rock Shop tonight, Oct 6 at 10 for $10 and then at the big room at the Rockwood on the 8th at 9:30 for an extra two bucks.