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DO THE ARCHITECTURAL WATUSI DVD/Blu-Ray Music Reviews

JAMES WILLIAMSON: RE-LICKED

(LEOPARD LADY RECORDS; 2014)

Re-Licked_Cover

By 1972, the Stooges were collapsing in upon themselves; the band were two years removed from their second album, FUNHOUSE; they were dropped by their record label, Elektra, and bassist Dave Alexander and guitarist Ron Asheton were gone. James Williamson was the new hot-shot guitar-slinger but, without a record company to back them, Iggy Stooge (now Iggy Pop), drummer Scott Asheton and Williamson were on the verge of packing it in. Then, David Bowie stepped in, convincing his management team, MainMan, to take a flyer on the down-and-nearly-out Detroit bad boys and securing a record deal with Columbia; with Bowie taking a hand in the studio and Ron back in the fold (as a rather disgruntled bass player), the group gave us the seminal 1973 album, RAW POWER. Iggy and Williamson had been writing and demoing material for their next record but, not seeing the kind of return they were expecting, Columbia dropped the band. Williamson and Pop released the KILL CITY album, a live record (METALLIC KO), as well as a couple of EPs of demos before Iggy, with Bowie’s help, went on to a long and erratic solo career. Over the years, other demos have cropped up on various bootlegs. Williamson was said to have been in retirement when the Stooges came calling again, in 2009, after the death of Ron Asheton; in 2014, with the band on hiatus following Scott Asheton’s death, Williamson decided it was time to give those now-ancient songs a proper unveiling. Though Iggy declined to participate on the project, he did give James his approval to re-record the tunes, utilizing a core group of Cat Power’s Gregg Foreman on keyboards, Primal Scream’s Simone Marie Butler on bass and uber-drummer Michael Urbano, as well as the Stooges’ touring band and a string of punk and alt-rock heavy-hitters to bring Iggy’s lyrics to life. Forty years in the making, RE-LICKED is the result.

James Williamson; Alison Mosshart; James Williamson (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)
James Williamson; Alison Mosshart; James Williamson (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

If I were going to fire an opening salvo across the bow of the enemy, I think that shot would probably be loaded with the demented warble of activist and former Dead Kennedys vocalist, Jello Biafra; apparently Williamson thought the same thing with Biafra’s frantic howl leading the charge on “Head On the Curve.” The tune kinda has a “Stooges meets the MC5 at a mixer hosted by the New York Dolls” vibe, with Foreman’s barely-controlled tack piano coda, massive fuzzed-out bass from Simone (with additional low-end from Mark Culbertson’s contra bass) and – of course – Williamson’s typical slash-and-burn guitar. “Open Up and Bleed” is a sweltering, stormy Blues track. It features an inventive lead from Williamson, alongside another nice solo, as well as some minor key piano from Stooges drummer Toby Dammit; the real highlight comes from the throat of under-rated Blues wailer, Carolyn Wonderland, who also adds a dose of her unique guitar sound. Primal Scream vocalist (and former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer) Bobby Gillespie offers his usual ragged, snotty voice to “Scene of the Crime,” a loud, sloppy piece of raunch with the tack piano (provided by Butler) and lo-fi rhythm section (Butler again, with Urbano banging away on the drums) that was the hallmark of RAW POWER. Steve Mackay offers some sludgy sax work, while James adds a stinging solo. While the majority of the songs here are Pop/Williamson compositions, “She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” was co-written by Iggy and original Stooges guitarist, Ron Asheton. The tune is a jazzy blast of swampy Doors Style rock and roll, with Manzarek-like keyboards from Foreman and Ariel Pink, ably abetted by Petra Haden, offers up a weird James Brown meets Jim Morrison vocal scat, as Dammit and bassist Mike Watt add a perverse rhythmic swing to the proceedings. There’s also a skronking kind of sax solo from Mackay that is of a variety that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Mothers album. On what is probably the best track on the album, “’Til the End of the Night,” Alison Mosshart’s (of the Kills and the Dead Weather) atmospheric moaning is delivered over Williamson’s sparse acoustic and Urbano’s heavy, orchestral percussion. The tension builds to about the 3:15 mark when everything explodes, collapsing into a jagged electric solo before reverting back to form for the final minute or so.

James Williamson (photo credit: HEATHER HARRIS)
James Williamson (photo credit: HEATHER HARRIS)

Iggy’s “I Got a Right” crashes Stooges punk into Mother’s Finest rockin’ soul with vocals from the wildly talented Lisa Kekaula (of the Bellrays) wailing away over the Dammit/Watt rhythm section, Petra Haden’s oddly non-verbal backing vocals and a full horn section that includes Allison Gomer, Steffan Kuehn and Aaron Lington. Of course, the master of ceremony holds court with another dose of raunchy rock guitar on a song that woulda made Wendy O and the Plasmatics smile. “Pin Point Eyes” has a dirty, 1920s bawdy house feel, with Foreman’s ragtimey piano and the same horn section as “I Got a Right” dominating the rhythm. The Icarus Line’s Joe Cardamone’s vocals fall somewhere between Berlin-era Iggy and Johnny Thunders’ drugged-addled slurs. All of this, along with a rather restrained solo from James makes the track one of my favorites… this is the type of thing that I think Stiv Bator would be doing if he’d stuck around. The magnificent Alison Mosshart returns for “Wild Love” and she brings Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Queens of the Stone Age… you get the idea… the guy’s got quite a pedigree!) along for the ride. With a butt-load of snarling guitars and the retro sound of Urbano’s drums and Butler’s bass, it’s a love song, Stooges style, and may just be the closest approximation to the band’s first Williamson era. There’s kind of an abstract Bowie-ness to “Rubber Leg.” The stomping rocker features a nifty, gravelly vocal from Little Caesar’s Ron Young amid a miasma of sound with Rolling Stones-like backing vocals and a weird, distorted sax from Steve Mackay that’s buried deep in the mix, coming up for air on an odd Farfisa run from Foreman; the whole thing is very noisy and quite disjointed and… I like it! “I’m Sick of You” is an archaic, American Gothic tune for the first half, with moody guitars and keyboards oozing underneath atmospheric vocals from the Orwells’ Mario Cuomo. It turns into a classic Stooges blast of intensity, with Williamson’s massive power-riffing tolling the death-knell of a broken relationship.

Lisa Kekaula; James Williamson; Mark Lanegan (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)
Lisa Kekaula; James Williamson; Mark Lanegan (photo credits: HEATHER HARRIS)

Now… with apologies to the Chairman of the Board (c’mon… you all know who Im talking about) and lyricist Paul Anka, there’s this: “And now, the end is near. Bonus tracks? We’ve got a few, but then again too few not to mention.” Carolyn Wonderland returns on vocals and guitar a funky blast of punk (or, is that a punky blast of funk?) called “Gimme Some Skin,” the first of six CD bonus cuts. Buoying Carolyn’s soulful voice are ragged, frenzied guitar blasts from both she and Williamson, as well as a wicked harmonica run from Walter Daniels and some James Chance post-punk sax bleats from Mackay. The first of two takes of “Cock In My Pocket” features typically raunchy Iggy lyrics, delivered with throat-throttling fervor by former Hellacoptors and current Imperial State Electric singer Nicke Andersson. The track also highlights some brilliant baritone sax from Aaron Lington. Another welcome return is featured on “Heavy Liquid.” Lisa Kekaula’s Paul Stanley-like howls carry the wicked Detroit-centric melding of the Stooges with the MC5, Death, Alice Cooper and Mitch Ryder over a muddy RAW POWER sound, with trashy horns from Kuehn, Lington and Gomer. Expanding the rock and roll pool to more of a world stage, the underlying riff is quite reminiscent of Budgie’s “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” and about half-a-dozen other hard rock classics, not to mention a bit of Devo and a sniff of Talking Heads. Other than lead singer Shea Roberts and guitarist Jesse Nichols, the Richmond Sluts (Chris B, Justin Lynn, John Tyree) seem to be relegated to the role of vocal support on “Wet My Bed,” with James, Simone, Gregg and Michael doing all of the heavy lifting, instrumentally. The arrangement works really well, with a shambolic free-for-all that sounds like the Dolls channeling Chuck Berry at a ROCKY HORROR SHOW revival; Williamson does his best Johnny Thunders doing his best Chuck and Foreman offers up a great tribute to the late, great Johnnie Johnson (the TRUE King of Rock and Roll)… this one’s a lot of fun. There’s not a lot difference between the first and second versions of “Cock In My Pocket,” other than the punkier voice of Gary Floyd, giving this version a Handsome Dick Manitoba/Dictators vibe. An alternate version of “Rubber Leg” sounds closer to RAW POWER than the regular album version, especially with the Iggy-cum-Joey Ramone yelps of JG Thirlwell, the alter-ego of the extreme artist known as Foetus. RE-LICKED is essential listening for rockers the world over, reminding us all why we started listening to rock and roll in the first place. The album is available in two physical formats: The first is a vinyl version with the first ten cuts… no bonus tracks, but it does come with a CD version that does feature all sixteen tunes; the second version is a standard release of the sixteen track CD. Both versions feature a cool “Making of… ” feature on a bonus DVD, a very nice addition to the entire experience.

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DO THE ARCHITECTURAL WATUSI Music Reviews

PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS

(CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

psych-out christmas cover

I can’t listen to Christmas songs anymore. Not the cutesy ones like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “The Christmas Song” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; not the Carols heard in church like “Noel” or “Away In a Manger.” I just can’t do it! I ain’t no Scrooge… I’ve done my share of caroling and was even a member of my church choir (okay, so I was asked to leave because I started singing the Hoyt Axton song when we did “Joy To the World”), but it just is not happening for me anymore. Why? It mostly stems from the absolute mindless inundation of the “holiday spirit” from, basically, the end of September through New Year’s Day. As an example, I was shopping for Halloween candy (something I usually put off ’til the last minute, but in an odd act of responsibility, I was about three weeks early) in a large box store (the Mart with all the Wals… you know the one) and, walking past one of those goofy inspirational music kiosks, I heard – I kid you not! – “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Seriously? Christmas songs the first week of October? You can understand, then, my trepidation regarding this new holiday offering.

Iggy Pop (photo credit: JEAN-PAUL GOUDE)
Iggy Pop (photo credit: JEAN-PAUL GOUDE)

But… guess what? I like it! I really like it! It isn’t as dark and menacing as, say, CLAWS (the twisted 1980 macabre masterpiece by Morgan Fisher’s Hybrid Kids) or anything produced by that stable of demented kiddies over at Disney, but it does have an underlying sense of… let’s call it familial claustrophobia, shall we? The songs are fairly standard Christmas fare, but tweaked just enough to give the listener a rather ominous vibe. The set starts off with a piece of warm and fuzzy lunacy, the opening track from Len Maxwell’s 1964 bizarro A MERRY MONSTER CHRISTMAS album. From there, we’re treated to some of today’s best psychedelic and space rock bands (with a few surprises tossed into the mix) waxing musical over the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ or the birth of Sol (for the pagans among us) or over that jolly elf favored by capitalists the world over, Santa (that last one, I suppose, works for everyone else, too). Anyway, I suppose that’s my lummoxed way of saying that you don’t have to celebrate the Christ Mass to enjoy this record… just grab your favorite – uh – whatever and give her/him/it a big ol’ smooch under the mistlethumb and dance like you’re in the mud at Woodstock!

Quintron and Miss Pussycat (uncredited photo)
Quintron and Miss Pussycat (uncredited photo)

Elephant Stone’s version of the Beatles’ “Christmas Time (Is Here Again)” is as trippily poppy as you would expect from such a high-end pairing. We are off to a great start here! “It’s Christmas Day” by the Cosmonauts is an odd jangle-pop thingy, kinda like an utterly drunken Tom Petty fronting the Byrds… so, it’s got that goin’ for it. The first “traditional” Christmas hymn follows. However, “Silent Night,” as performed by synth-puppet show duo, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, is anything but traditional. The beloved tune (in instrumental form) is hardly recognizable and is more psychotic (in a bossa nova sort of way) than psychedelic. I’m not too sure that this one belongs on a compilation like PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS, but I’m glad it is… I would have hated to miss hearing it! Hailing from Sweden (where we swiped a lot of their Solstice “rituals” and turned ’em into our Christmas “traditions”) is Dark Horses, weighing in with “Jul Song,” an original that totally oozes psychedelia, from the guitars to the vocals to the (if not indecipherable) vaguely incomprehensible lyrics. It could be that the meaning was lost in translation, but it really doesn’t matter; the beauty of the piece as a whole makes it a favorite.

Sleepy Sun (Photo credit: CHLOE AFTEL)
Sleepy Sun (Photo credit: CHLOE AFTEL)

Sleepy Sun’s take on “What Child Is This,” with its creeping bass line and minimal, plodding instrumentation and “sold-my-soul-to-Satan” type vocals from Bret Constantino, introduces a new kind of not-unwanted menace to the proceedings and, when the guitar duo of Evan Reiss and Matt Holliman kick in, they drive the tune to new psychedelic heights. A cover of Suicide’s “No More Christmas Blues” from the Vacant Lots is over almost before you know it. It offers a bouncy little synth riff and an airily (or is that “eerily?”) tripped out vocal. It’s a fun track (but then, aren’t all Suicide tunes?) but pales in comparison to the surrounding offerings from Sleepy Sun and Sons of Hippies. It’s somewhat fitting that, regardless of the apparent thematic disconnect (although, as is pointed out in the press release, Christmas is indeed “the season of loving”), these Hippies should cover a song by a group of Zombies. Hippies front-woman Katherine Kelly sums up the song best: “’Time of the Season’ was fun to cover. We replaced the organ parts on the original Zombies version with layers of distorted guitar leads and gave the drums an eerie, echoed intro. The PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS compilation is unique and spooky and we wanted to be part of that vibe.” Sons of Hippies aren’t currently one of my favorite bands for nothing and this spectacularly atmospheric cover is just more evidentiary proof of that statement (double negatives aside).

Eli Cook (photo credit: REED RADCLIFFE)
Eli Cook (photo credit: REED RADCLIFFE)

With “Santa Claus,” the Fuzztones offer the first dose of overtly “traditional garage psychedelia,” with the obligatory farfisa organ, the dirty guitar sound (you know what I mean, like it’s being played through a blown amp) and a vocal that sounds like it was recorded with 1960s studio equipment. In short, all of these aspects make “Santa Claus” another favorite. Eli Cook”s “Christmas Tears” has a great bluesy stroll vibe, with Cook doing an awesome approximation of Hendrix channeling the great bluesmen of the past, both vocally and on guitar. The song also features a piano part that would have made Johnnie Johnson (the REAL “King of Rock and Roll”) proud. The Movements’ take on “Little Drummer Boy” is all swirling guitars and synths and a disjointed, ethereal vocal from David Henricksson. The one thing the song doesn’t have is… drums! Which just makes the thing all the more spooky and enjoyable. Quintron and Miss Pussycat are back (the only act to appear twice) with a more traditional vibe (or, at least, a more recognizable one) on “Jingle Bell Rock,” which clocks in at just under a minute-and-a-half. Candy Store take on Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” with their version of “Frosty the Snowman,” from a 1969 album called TURNED ON CHRISTMAS. The similarities between this anonymous studio concoction and Ronnie and the other girls is amazing, but then that’s what these “knock-off” acts were supposed to do – sound as much like the originals as possible so the record label (in this case, Decca) wouldn’t have to pay licensing fees to someone else. Anyway, it’s still a fun song.

Psychic Ills (publicity photo)
Psychic Ills (publicity photo)

Psychic Ills’ “Run Rudolph Run,” while remaining relatively true to Chuck Berry’s 1959 classic (even the vocal phrasing sounds like Chuck), muddies and sludges things up with enough over-modulated surf guitar to make Dick Dale blush. Tres Warren, the Ills’ guitarist and vocalist says of this recording: “I always liked ‘Run Rudolph Run’ because it was a song that I’d actually want to listen to regardless of what time of year it is, and Chuck Berry is as mythical as Santa Claus in my mind.” Somewhere, Don Ho is frolicking in his grave, listening to the echo-laden Hawaiian Christmas offering from Dead Meadow, “Mele Kalikimaka.” The band’s laconic approach is perfectly attuned to the odd vibe of this collection. The only thing missing is a ukelele! Another bizarre track from 1969 follows. It’s “Here Comes Santa Claus” (though it’s listed as “Jingle Bells” on this record and on the original, MERRY CHRISTMAS PSYCHEDELIC SOUND) by Korean instrumental gods, He 5. It’s really rather indescribable, which – I guess – is the entire point of PSYCH-OUT CHRISTMAS. After doing some checking, I did find this band’s version of “Jingle Bells” (the whole of their above named album is available on YouTube) and it is AWESOME! At a smidge under twelve-and-a-half minutes long, the traditional song morphs into “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” including a lengthy drum solo before shifting again to the Stones’ “Paint It Black” and then back to “Jingle Bells.” Probably the strangest, creepiest track on this entire compilation is the last, a fairly literal take on “White Christmas” by everyone’s favorite (latter day) Stooge, Iggy Pop. Mister Osterberg’s nearly gutteral baritone and morose, funereal reading of the Irving Berlin classic is sure to keep the kiddies up, fearing ghosties and hobgoblins will be coming down the chimney instead of the dude with the bag of toys. Ah, yeah… I guess Christmas music ain’t so bad after all.