Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ronnie Dawson, “Action Packed”

The immortal rockabilly outsider Ronnie Dawson. If you’re not up to speed on “The Blond Bomber,” that’s why I’m here trying to help. I’ll let rock critic Richie Unterberger do the talking, as there’s nothing I could improve upon his prose:

Even those that only saw and heard Dawson once … were unlikely to forget him. There was that unearthly appearance — the shocking-white brush cut, the ghostly pale complexion. And an equally unearthly, high-pitched voice that made it difficult for radio listeners to tell if he was a man or a woman. The actual singles he managed to release were a mixed lot, but “Action Packed” — with its ceaseless exhortations to “HEAR ME?” — has to be one of the 10 best obscure rockabilly treasures of all time. As Chris Dickinson observes in his liner notes to the “Rockin’ Bones” reissue, “It’s hard to argue with Ronnie’s assertion that a car just ain’t fast enough to get him where he’s going.”

Dawson was 19 when “Action Packed” was issued in 1958, but his appearance and voice led some to suspect that he was a good five years younger. … Ronnie was usually a big hit … at the Big D, a kind of Dallas counterpart of the Grand Olde Opry. Big D emcee Johnny Hicks even told the Dallas Morning News in 1996, “He’s the only one that nobody wanted to follow … including Elvis,” adding that Elvis had told Hicks, “Don’t put me too close to that kid.”

OK, then. Give me the downbeat, maestro!

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“The glam rockers and all the other poseur rockers cause problems. They cause problems in rock ‘n’ roll, and I’m here to solve them. … I’ve seen the shit. I’ve pissed the shit. I take the shit, and I’m tired of it. Too many clowns are in charge. It’s time for some heads to roll.”

The Mentors’ frontman El Duce, drunk off his ass and perhaps having flashbacks, from the second issue of the “Answer Me!” zine in 1992. The Mentors was a 1980s-era shock-rock outfit, self-described as the inventor of “rape rock”

El Duce – The Mentors

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Neutral Milk Hotel, “Holland, 1945”

I liked the name before I knew anything about the band.

As a fan of dada and its twisted sister, surrealism, I still consider Neutral Milk Hotel one of the top monikers. It’s better than anything the ’60s could come up with, though I still have a thing for 13th Floor Elevators, because I have this mental picture of the elevator circling the 13th floor like something out of Looney Tunes.

I’m no Elephant 6 sycophant, mind you. Similar to my courtship of The Beta Band and Tortoise, I’ve fallen in and out of casual relations with the likes of the Ruston, La.-founded think tank’s The Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control, but I’ve remained faithful to NMH’s sophomore — and final — release, 1998’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”

Maybe I’m just a sucker for concept albums. While I suspect that the “Aeroplane” concept doesn’t extend much farther than a puberty-borne infatuation with Anne Frank by NMH frontman Jeff Mangum, it’s enough. Melancholy sprinkled with passion turns out to be as volatile a mix as water on a grease fire, and that’s a good thing. “Aeroplane” is so tightly woven, it’s basically the same song played 11 different ways. Even song titles share names.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but after much deliberation, I’ve settled on “Holland, 1945” as the heart of the album, the one song I would not live without.

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EARGGH! is now on Twitter

If my blog was your life, this would be big news. Should you choose to follow me @earmeat, I can promise you I won’t just be posting the same things you’ll find here, meaning I won’t tweet out a stream of ads that just lead back here.


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Simple Minds, “Up On the Catwalk”

1984 was the year the post-punk darlings across The Pond grew up — well, maybe not The Cure who, upon releasing its babbling, tantrum-filled “The Top” that year, would continue to waddle back toward infancy. The Psychedelic Furs came out with “Mirror Moves,” adding a polish to its sneer; Echo & the Bunnymen dabbled in orchestral maneuvers on “Ocean Rain;” The Smiths arrived to fill a college-circuit Elvis niche; and U2 hired Brian Eno to babysit the band in the studio to great effect. Yet, in retrospect, perhaps the finest moment was instigated by the genre-hopping Simple Minds, who on “Sparkle in the Rain” would find its sound, then quickly be eclipsed by U2, whose frontman (future Pope Bono) shared Jim Kerr’s breathy, emotive vocal style.

Rediscovering the album a dozen years or so since I lost my original cassette in 2008, I was blown away by how much is going on in these songs — particularly the first three tracks (and even more specifically, “Up On the Catwalk,” with its mind-sizzling Enoian keyboards) — yet how contemporary and flawless they sound. The band’s previous release, “New Gold Dream,” demonstrated the band’s ability to carve out meaningful soundscapes, but it lacked the energy and swagger that “Sparkle” spills through the speakers.

By 1984, SM was an accomplished band that had dabbled in punk, art rock, synth and disco, and already had six studio albums under its belt, so it makes sense the band should outshine its contemporaries on No. 7. Yet, it’s not the musicianship alone; there is a sense of earnestness here, a Walt Whitman “yawp,” if you will, that is lacking in other releases of the time, as well as any other Simple Minds release. Subsequent albums came off too grandiose; and on prior releases, Kerr either lacked confidence or purposely subdued his vocals.

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Some Ember, “Face of Sand”

I’m comfortable admitting that I went through a brief but intense New Age music phase in the late 1980s. I’ve pretty much dabbled in all the known music-genre religions except for polka. The fact that I was forced to watch “Lawrence Welk” as a child doesn’t count, as I had no say in the matter.

Basically, my New Age experience consisted of Ray Lynch’s “Deep Breakfast” (think Philip Glass over a UFO sound system while recovering from the anal probe); Enya’s “Shepherd Moons”; Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors’ “Bones”; and Tangerine Dream’s “Optical Race.” Besides “Optical Race” being about the worst album with which to break my Tangerine cherry, if I had to sum up these four albums in one word, that word would be “yoga.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Some Ember founder Dylan Travis listens to New Age classics. “Face of Sand” is definitely yoga music, but it’s also got soul. Mixed in with the kitschy, New Agey tribal rhythms and Brendan Perry-like singing are pockets of subtle synth wizardry that would make Youth Lagoon blush. This song got under my skin and stayed there — like a beneficial bacterium.

If you like “Face of Sand,” you can listen to the entire 2012 debut album, “Hotel of Lost Light,” for free below, via Some Ember’s Soundcloud page:

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Danielson, “Smooth Death”

Part choir and part vaudeville act, New Jersey indie rockers Danielson (aka Danielson Famile, Danielson Family) had yet to cross paths with the likes of Sufjan Stevens or Steve Albini when it recorded “Smooth Death,” off its second album, “Tell Another Joke at the Ol’ Choppin’ Block,” in 1997. As far as I’m concerned, “Smooth Death,” is as good as Danielson gets — hell, it’s about as good as pop music ever gets.

Known for dressing up as trees and nurses at sing-a-long-oriented performances, and frontman/genius/cult leader Daniel Smith’s odd, William Blake-ish intensity, Danielson mixes whimsy and fervor like no other. “Smooth Death” is hellfire and brimstone viewed through a Hanna-Barbera filter.

I had a lot of fun creating the accompanying video a couple of years ago:

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Sinead O’Connor, “Troy”

I knew nothing of heartbreak when I felt those first pangs of infatuation rolling up my spine upon seeing the video for “Troy” in 1987. And while it’s fairly obvious that “Troy” is a woman’s angry ode to a cheating lover, I was just attracted to Sinead O’Connor’s intensity — the pure anger, that accusing fuck-the-world glare — no less powerful than Johnny Rotten’s sneer and hundred-yard stare had been for the previous generation. Just being bald alone was a big F-U to the establishment that at the time was pushing bigger and bigger hairdos on all the daytime and late-night soaps. Not to mention that pope thing.

I never knew I had a thing for bald chicks until Sinead. I remember actually being upset when I found out she was letting her hair grow again.

Here is a great live solo acoustic performance of “Troy,” from early in her career.

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“I never really listened to guitar players after Robert Johnson. I listened to horns. I’d tune in Count Basie or somebody like that and sit and try to copy the licks the horns were playing. … That’s where all the good electric guitar players get their ideas. From other types of instruments.”

Robert Lockwood Jr., who was mentored by guitar legend Robert Johnson in the 1930s when Johnson was dating Lockwood’s mom, from Robert Palmer’s 1981 book, “Deep Blues”

Robert Lockwood Jr. – electric guitar

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