Cream “Fresh Cream” 1966 UK/1967 US. Today, August 19th, is Cream drummer Ginger Baker’s 80th birthday (b. Peter Baker, 1939). Baker is considered to be one of the best rock drummers of all-time, and certainly set some of the rock drummer expectations and stereotypes with his showmanship style and volatile energy. Fresh Cream was the blues-rock trio’s debut LP and is ranked among the top albums ever. Our version is the US release, its track listings differing a bit from the UK original. The US release leads off with the classic “I Feel Free” which hit #17 in the UK and #116 in the US; it does not appear on the UK album. Cream also released “Spoonful,” a cover of the classic blues Willie Dixon penned track which was first recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1960 and is considered one of the greatest songs of all-time and has been inducted int he the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame; “Spoonful” does not appear on the US version, unfortunately. The single that does appear on both versions of Fresh Cream is “Sweet Wine,” written by Cream’s bass guitarist and vocalist Jack Bruce along with Ginger Baker. Baker also wrote the instrumental “Toad,” one of the earliest recorded drum solos in rock history that “paved the way for a decade of heavy-metal drum solos.” (Wiki)
The Lords of the New Church “Like a Virgin” 1985. 12″ single, Illegal Records. Today, August 16th, is Madonna’s birthday (b. 1958) so I’m spinning the best and most irreverent cover of her smash single “Like a Virgin” from 1984. The Lords cover of “Like a Virgin” is fantastically, and purposefully, horrible. Sneering, laughing and belching their way through the pop track, they also manage to make it goth and a bit creepy. The flip side of the 12″ (labelled “Side AA”) has two original Lords tracks: “Method to My Madness” which is a more typical Lords dark goth rocker from 1983, and “Gun Called Justice,” a stark bluesy acoustic track.
Modern English “Ricochet Days” 1984. 4 AD Records. Tonight we’re seeing Modern English perform, along with The Alarm and Gene Loves Jezebel: I’m most interested to see Modern English of the three. We saw them a few years ago on an 80′s retro tour (along with artists like Howard Jones, Men Without Hats, English Beat, etc.) and their music held up well, some 35 years later. Ricochet Days is Modern English’s third album (#93 US charts): new wave synth pop at the height of its popularity though Ricochet Days is not nearly as good as their sophomore release After the Snow (1982) with its smash single “Melt With You.” It’s pretty bland with few stand-out tracks. The instrumentation and melody of “Spinning Me Round” is pleasant but not particularly memorable and “Blue Waves” teases the same flavor as “Melt With You” but is either too close to its melody or is missing that certain je ne sais quoi that made “Melt With You” a hit. The single “Hands Across the Sea,” which went to #91 in the US, is definitely one of the better songs on the record but I really only like about half the song – the chorus – the rest is a bit too Spandau Ballet-smooth for my tastes. The closing track, “Chapter 12,” is also decent and the most danceable on the LP with a pretty good synthpop riff that recalls early Depeche Mode.
CATL. “This Shakin’ House” 2014. CATL. Records. We got another chance to see the most excellent Toronto-based punk-blues, southern-fried Americana rockin’ rhythm and blues duo perform this past weekend at Romanus Records Fest in Indianapolis (we saw them play at the Fest last year and again earlier this year at Boone and Crockett here in Milwaukee). Either Chris Banta or Warner Swopes from Brother O’Brother/Romanus Records snapped this photo of the crowd during catl’s set: we are in the front left hand corner, looking awfully serious LOL.
This Shakin’ House is catl’s fourth release and I believe the first as a bonafide two-piece, with “catl” (aka Jamie Fleming) on guitar and vocals and Sarah Kirkpatrick on vocals and drums (plus some signature corny dad jokes of which she pulled out a couple in Indy). It’s a honky-tonk blues stomping album with some really excellent tracks: my favorites are the Bo-Diddley-esque “Gateway Blues,” the hypnotic Junior Kimbrough-styled “Shakin’ House Blues” that has some great blues harmonica and the floor-shaking “Save Myself.” “Save Myself” is a great example of the comparison I’ve made between Jamie and Jon Spencer – lots of great “YEAH!” lyrical punctuations; I believe catl performed with Spencer recently while he was on tour with his HITMakers.
The Mono Men “Kick Out the Jams” and Girl Trouble “You Got What It Takes” 1996. Gearhead Records. This split 7″ came with an issue of Gearhead Magazine, back in the 90′s when they still did that (other issues included splits by bands like Gas Huffer, Red Aunts and Man or Astroman?). The Mono Men’s cover of MC5′s “Kick Out the Jams” is punked up, less funked-up and a bit more scuzzy than the original. I also prefer it to Girl Trouble’s “You Got What It Takes,” a cover of Dinah Washington’s “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” that doesn’t translate well to the Pacific Northwest garage punk style of Girl Trouble.
Death Valley Girls “Darkness Rains” 2018. Limited edition yellow with red splatter, Suicide Squeeze Records. We picked up what I believe is DVG’s third LP this past weekend at Romanus Records Fest in Indianapolis where they headlined the jam-packed (15 bands!) evening lineup. Hard driving, punkish garage rock with nods to the darkness of goth and touches of neo-psychedelia via organ and lead guitarist Larry Schemel (who on stage was kinda relegated to the background, allowing the Girls to shine up front, mostly with huge smiles on their faces during the entire set).
We were able to grab the set-list, excellently illustrated:
DVG played several tracks from Darkness Rains, many of them my favorite on the album. They led off with “Abre Camino,” an intensely dark and throbbing scorcher that is the first track on Side B. From Darkness Rains also is the high octane rocker “Street Justice,” the hypnotic “More Dead,” “Disaster (Is What We’re After)” which features Iggy Pop eating a hamburger while jamming out to the song’s beat in its video (spoiler: he clearly loves ketchup), and my top track, “Wear Black” upon which lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist Bonnie Bloomgarden pulls out some amazing psychedelic organ.
Stray Cats “Gonna Ball” 1981. I’m spinning Stray Cats’ second album in honor of International Cat Day (not to be confused with National Cat Day, which falls on October 29th in the US – though my cats would argue that all days preceding and in between are Cat Day). Gonna Ball was a big hit in the UK where it was first released and where the Stray Cats were – and still are – hugely popular. In June we got to see them perform at London’s historic Eventim Apollo, formerly known as Hammersmith Odeon/Hammersmith Apollo. A sold out show, it was packed with aging rockabillys, their pompadours a bit thinning though still sprayed up high.
Marah in the Mainsail “Bone Crown” 2017. Last Triumph Records. Now known as Coyote Kid (they very recently changed the band’s name). Coyote Kid was one of our favorite new-to-us artists at last weekend’s Mile of Music festival in Appleton, WI. From Minneapolis, they have a unique mixture of goth, calliope-fun-house, spaghetti westerns, soaring harmonies, gristled melodies and a touch of punk sensibilities. Coyote Kid put on an amazing performance at Houdini Plaza under the scorching sun, ironic as the band’s look and vibe is much better suited to a dark deep forest, or at least a late-night dance floor. I got a chance to chat with a few band members after their set while picking up this LP (their second, another one is due soon under their new name): singer/keyboardist Cassandra Valentine, singer/guitarist Austin Durry and bassist/crazed-hype-man Austin Wilder. Their excellent trombonist John Baumgartner, who adds a soaring excitement to their music, had likely fled the heat by that point – the poor guy was wearing black jeans and a long-sleeved black sweatshirt which probably raised his internal temp to 110 degrees.
Bone Crown is a concept album that tells the story of “The Rise and Fall of the Great Fox King,” and a download of the story’s narration is available from their website. It’s a dark fairy tale – all of the good ones are – with the tracks melding perfectly to one another, cohesive without being repetitive or boring. My favorite tracks after this first listen are “Fox Hole,” “Fisticuffs,” “Everybody Knows,” “The Great Beyond,” and the title track “Bone Crown,” Because Coyote Kid was new to me, I’m not sure of how many of these songs they played at their Mile of Music set but I’m looking forward to seeing them again after getting more familiar with their music – they put on quite a show.
Mutts “Separation Anxiety” 2012. Self-released on colored vinyl. We picked up Mutts’ second full-length LP (they have a couple of older EP’s) at one of their performances at Appleton’s Mile of Music Festival this past weekend. MoM is a 4+day fest in my hometown that is one of my highlights of the year: hundreds and hundreds of free concerts scattered throughout downtown bars, parks, parking lots and even alleys. The Mutts show we caught was at one of my favorite venues, the Fox River House, Appleton’s oldest tavern. The shows are held out back under a beautiful old tree – picturesque but also subject to the whims of the weather. Mostly the weather was perfect this year, warm and sunny, but Wisconsin can be volatile and late afternoon on Saturday a torrential downpour and high winds came pretty much out of nowhere right before the Phillip-Michael Scales (who is BB King’s nephew) and Mutts show (Mutts are Scales’ backup band). Undeterred, we sought shelter in a little alcove by the parking lot, umbrella in hand, and waited out the storm.
Sometimes bad weather puts a literal damper on things but in this case, it created a sense of gleeful solidarity among the audience members who stayed for the show once the festival crew swept away the standing water from the stage and removed all of the hastily thrown down tarps. Scales was great, the Mutts guys providing a solid backing for his “dive bar soul.” Then Mutts hit the stage, raucous, energetic, loud and so much fun! They describe their sound as “grounge” which I’m guessing is lounge-grunge mashup and is fairly accurate; as is the quote from their bio that they sound “like Tom Waits fronting a garage band,” mainly due to singer/keyboardist Mike Maimone’s gravelly vocals and vibe.
Rounding out Mutts’ lineup is guitarist/bassist Bob Buckstaff and drummer Ian Tsan. Tsan is a relatively recent addition to the band, on the LP Separation Anxiety drums are played by Chris Pagnani.
Mutts are from Chicago and have been around for almost exactly 10 years, touring relentlessly these past several months for that anniversary. Weirdly this is only the second time I’ve seen them: the first was a year ago in Indianapolis for the inaugural Romanus Records Festival (which we will be heading to again this upcoming weekend and I think Mutts are on the bill) so I can’t really be certain if their sound has shifted or not. But their live show at MoM was a lot more energetic than their 2012 release so I really need to get on checking out their newer recorded material. I do like Separation Anxiety especially the more upbeat tracks like “Half Mile,” the funky “Apathetic Stars,” and the heavy “Tire Swing Blues” – that one really earns the term “grounge.”
The Stooges “The Stooges” released 50 years ago today, August 5th, 1969. The Stooges’ debut album is, in retrospect, one of the best and most important records released during its era. At the time of its release it was criticized as dumb (well, yes, it is: the lyrics to “No Fun” and “Real Cool Time” should wipe away any doubt about that), musically simple (“stripped-down” is the polite term I think), brutally loud (nothing wrong with that) but it helped usher in punk a few years later as a widespread musical and cultural movement. The Stooges sold moderately well, hitting #106 on the US charts, with two released singles: “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” I don’t think either charted but the former has been recognized as one of the greatest guitar songs ever and the latter is one of my personal all-time favorite tracks and many mainstream music publications agree, listing it as one of the best rock songs ever made – iy id certainly the best non-holiday song to feature sleigh bells (played by John Cale, who also plays viola on the epic dirge “We Will Fall” and mixed the first iteration of the album but Elektra rejected his mix and Iggy Pop and Elektra exec Jac Holzman mixed the final release).