Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Dylan Mass

"I love that album, Shot of Love. There's no production. You're in a room hearing Dylan sing. "

From the lounge, to the parlour, to the front porch to the garage, the character of certain types of music can be defined by the exact location of its making. Hence, calling Bob Dylan and the Band's 1967 demos recorded in the house known as Big Pink in Woodstock, New York The Basement Tapes is both location-specific and descriptive of the music's sound - a loose, spontaneous sound, simultaneously rooted in the past and branching out into unknown directions.

The Multitude of Sins' music comes from the nave. The nave (Latin for “ship”) is the long narrow hall that runs from the entrance to the altar in Gothic-styled churches (see here). The band debuted these five Dylan covers sitting at the front of the nave, seated in a semi-circle with their backs to the audience. They chose these specific songs to carry the congregation through the liturgy of an Anglican Mass (see here). Throughout the service, the band remained obscured, the music supporting the proceedings rather than becoming them.

The music heard from the nave that night had the warmth of Dylan and co.'s basement work but rather than being loose and spontaneous, The Multitude of Sins' were polished and tight. Interestingly, such a unified sound comes from a somewhat peculiar aggregation. Mike Koop (guitar, lead vocals), who leads power-pop band, Kicker, and Lee Charles Garinger (bass) ex-member of glam-rockers, the Harlots, are both holdovers from Winnipeg's underground music scene of the 90's. Larry Campbell* (backing vocals) and Allen Fehr (piano) are lifelong musicians, each having logged over thirty years of session work and hard-gigging. Finally, anchoring this assemblage on the cajón (an amplified wooden box) is Bobby James Hobson, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and long-time drummer/vocalist for dance band Caraballo.

The band's choice of Dylan songs brought to mind the old Columbia slogan, “No one sings Dylan like Dylan”. It is true no one can actually perform quite like Dylan, with his playing and his phrasing. Therefore, each Dylan cover ends up becoming an original of sorts, or as class of '77 punk singer/songwriter Tom Robinson said, "Dylan's songs are not arrangement-dependent; anyone can cover them." Which is not say that covering Dylan was easy, for as Koop uttered when early rehearsals bogged down, "Dylan writes songs with only three chords but he plays them in really odd ways".

The following Dylan songs were played that night. For the two previews, click the play button under the songs, to dowload the entire e.p. scoll down the page.

Lay Down Your Weary Tune
This joyous, almost surrealistic hymn to the music of nature dates from 1964 and is, strangely, an outtake from Dylan's most po-faced album, The Times They-Are-A-Changin'. In this version, the rich backing vocals of the group, in particular, Larry Campbell's, intertwine with Koop's distinctive voice (akin to Dylan's sweeter Nashville Skyline voice) in startling and wonderful ways, creating a country-gospel feel.

Every Grain of Sand
A Dylan Masterpiece, from the imperfect but rewarding Shot of Love album of 1981, which might indeed stand with the works of Rembrandt. Here the band delivers a stirring version, played with fire and subtlety.

Father of Night
Half a song written for an Archibald Mcleish play (if Dylan's autobiography, Chronicles, is to be trusted) subsequently tacked onto the 1970 album New Morning album is here re-arranged and fleshed out into a rollicking country-rock fusion that Gram Parsons might understand.

Pressing On

This slow-burning track originates on one of Dylan’s most reviled albums, 1980's Saved. The M.O.S.' version, partly inspired by John Doe's illuminating if imperfect version from the film, I'm Not There, builds and builds in intensity, all the way reminding of us of how effective a writer of gospel songs Dylan has been.

I Shall be Released
After his mysterious 1966 motorcycle accident Dylan wrote this metaphor of imprisonment and freedom, which has developed into an anthem of near universal resonance. The long-unreleased version that Dylan and the Band recorded in the basement of Big Pink back in '67 is clearly the M.O.S.' model but they bend and shape the song till, ultimately, they fashion a moving version all their own.

The band maintained both their semi-circular placement and their use of intimate settings when they recorded the entire set using just two microphones in the living room of pianist Allen Fehr. So now you can take a seat near the front of the nave, even if you haven’t done so for a long time.

Download the Multitude of Sins - The Dylan Mass

(MRML recommends WinrRAR for unpacking your downloads)

* This, on your left, is Larry Campbell. He is not the same Larry Campbell, on your far right, who played guitar for Dylan from 1998-2004.

Nor, as has been claimed, is he either fellow Winnipegger, Randy Bachman or the King of the Ewok village.

If you enjoy this free digi-e.p., please leave a comment for the band and, if you can, please link to this post so that others may hear as well.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guns, Heroin, Cadillacs etc., etc., etc.

“God’s got an answer in that jukebox,
I pick the wrong song every time.”
Art Bergmann

I turned down a Cadillac ride from Vancouver to Seattle with Art Bergmann and a one-time muse of Guy Maddin. The prospect of a cross-border raid (to which my not-yet-ex was pointedly dis-invited) led by the man who’d screamed out his response to the musical question, “What is your reason for entering the USA?” with the chorus; “Guns and Her-o-i-i-in!” was unnerving. I’m not opposed to celebrity-stalking or name-dropping but the set-up stank. So to avoid becoming an unwitting drug mule or a voyeuristic tag along, I declined.

It was 1991 and it was what must have been, by the standards of Art Bergmann’s career, a good year. In the years previous, the Vancouver punk legend had played with the Schmorgs, the K-Tels, the Young Canadians, Los Popularos and, after giving up the band name Poisoned, he'd put out two solo albums. In 1991 he’d released a stinging, yet wide-appealing, self-titled solo album that got the push from Polygram (even the terrible music store where I worked got a play copy and slick posters). And while those used CD shops of Vancouver (of the type that sprouted up across North America in the 90’s) were full of Art Bergmann play copies that he’d pawned himself, his name was still spoken of reverently in critical circles. While Art sang on "Bound for Vegas" that he was, “a never-was trying to be a has-been on the comeback trail”, he was being lauded as “Canada’s Paul Westerberg”. Art did share a gruff vocal style, an unflinching honesty and a crippling addiction with Westerberg but rather than cleave to a mid-western rock n' roll style, Art adhered to the gutter junkie-poet archetype typified by Lou Reed. Reed's former collaborator, John Cale, even produced Art's solo debut solo –though he supposedly hated the results.

(For more Art history see the sad, yet wonderfully thorough tribute site, For the Love of Art or the new and excellent-looking or even this frequently Googled post of mine.)

Art built a reputation for furious live shows (I saw Poisoned rip through a set at Verna’s a tiny basement club just outside of Winnipeg’s notorious Murder’s Half Acre) where he honed the songs herein. And what songs; “Remember Her Name” with it’s heart-chilling chorus that pays to tribute to Marianne Faithful, the tortured ballad, "Guns and Heroin"and the vindictive pop kiss-off that is, “God's Little Gift” - a song which the mercurial Dylan of '66 might sympathize with.

Irritatingly, the quality of music production declined seriously in the 80's and Art's muse was occasionally bloodied by studio hacks - listen closely and it stops mattering.

So take this ride with Art (the former-muse spoke well of him), and find out how often he chose the exact right song. Guns and Heroin, a compilation of Art's solo material from 1986-1995, is not available in stores at any cost; it exists only in MRML’s hard drive. It was cherry-picked from the following releases: the Poisoned S/T e.p., Crawl With Me, Sexual Roulette, What Fresh Hell is This? and Vultura Freeway.

Download Art Bergmann - Guns and Heroin (1986-1995)

(MRML recommends WinrRAR for unpacking your downloads)

The first two Art Bergmann solo album are available from Itunes, Bearwood Reords is now advertising a forthcoming CD of the demos for the first solo album that Cale supposedly ruined, Other People's Music has a later recording entitled Design Flaw for sale and the K-Tels/Young Canadians compilation No Escape is available Sudden Death Records.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cow-Punk Addendum: Roots Rock Weirdos

“There’s no such thing as cow-punk.”
Did I say that? Yes, though in my defense it was back in 1985. I was a sixteen year-old loitering in the basement of
a sleazeball bar named Wellington’s, after witnessing Soul Asylum play a sweaty, full-bore show. The band had refused to play anything from their first e.p., Say What You Will, instead focusing exclusively on the less thrashy (and perhaps a touch more country) material from the stunning Made to be Broken album. Some fellow-traveler claimed, "Soul Asylum and this band from Edmonton, Jr. Gone Wild, are cow-punk”. I dismissed this possibility out of hand since back in the 80’s I, as narrow-minded music fans will, disavowed all country music.

Soon after the roots-rock sound (one of the more flagrantly critic-created genres) would be in full swing. When faced with an enemy as ugly as soulless and gutless synth-pop, a million bands (often older punks) went back in time. Eighties bands exhumed garage rock, folk-rock and psychedelia with glee. Then of course there was country-rock, which almost every single recording artist of the 60’s claims credit for (by the way it’s all about Buck Owens, the death-deifying Mr. Parsons aside). The less commercial bands (Jason and the Scorchers etc.) got called cow-punk and the ones who made beer commercials (Del Fuegos etc.) got labeled roots-rock. Unfortunately, all of the Bolo tie wearin' twangers got wiped out as the 80‘s bled into the 90’s. However, soon enough Uncle Tupelo managed to steal every ounce of credit leaving those pioneers cruelly empty-handed.

And there, North of all the action, was Mike McDonald, criminally neglected also-ran and linchpin of the Jr. Gone Wild. “They've been called "the Sex Pistols meet Hank Williams." Lead singer and songwriter Mike McDonald once joked that the band had progressed: they were now a cross between the Clash and George Jones” says an article on their thorough (and ten-year old!) web site.

The first album, 1986's Less Art, More Pop, works a punkish R.E.M. angle (though they claimed in old interviews that B.Y.O. Records forced the twee-hippie gear on them). Already Mike and his ever-changing but always talented support cast were writing smart, self-deprecating but ringing songs, such as “Slept all Afternoon" and the hardcore-lengthed (1:19!) yet sparkling, "It Never Changes".

Less Art, More Pop

In between record deals Jr. Gone Wild self-released Folk You a revealing, if artlessly titled, "assemblage of material from various sources, including demo tracks and live songs" (says the band web page). Within the digitized Chromium Dioxide here you will find an archetypal cow-punk double-timer, "Despite the Rain", a pretty ballad "Sleep with a Stranger", the Dylan-esque,"Rhythm of the Rain" plus another of McDonald's hummable jangly-pop numbers, "What's Going On?" (Covered by previous MRML object of obsession, the Doughboys!) which you may listen to right NOW!

Download Folk You

After moving to “rootsy” Canadian indie label Stony Plain for their sadder, wiser second album, Too Dumb To Quit (nice Ramones reference). This incarnation of JGW fell under the infleunce of Neil Young, Bob Dylan and (if McDonald is to be believed) gallons upon gallons of alcohol. The word Mature got hastily thrown around by critics but that can't be a bad thing if it produced sturdy mid-tempo weepers like "Poet's Highway" and full-blooded rockers like “In Contempt of Me".

Too Dumb to Quit

Mike sobered up for what may be their strongest album Simple Little Wish (which like it’s predecessor Pull the Goalie is still available from Stony Plain Records). Then, as is often the case for indie bands who burst out of the gate, things just died out and Jr. disbanded.

So enjoy the songs, even if cow-punk was just a dumb label.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's 11:59

(Picture courtesy of KFTH)

The man referred to as the Curator here at MRML, an old friend now departed, lent me many an unforgettable punk records from his cache back in the early 80's. However, try as he might he never fully sold me on Emergency Broadcast System, the first album by the Detonators.

Led by Bruce Hartnell and Juan Camacho and a host of other members, the Detonators (who were from Eugene, Oregon by way of Redondo Beach, California) plied their gravelly, kinda catchy brand of political punk rock on and off right up until the early 21st century. Their sound combined the grit and force of the early Ruts with the triple-time beats and over-driven guitar of Bad Religion, all fueled by an abiding anger that would destroy the nervous systems of lesser men.

On sixth listen, lo these many years, some of Emergency Broadcast System's primitive power reveals itself. While little of the pop influence so characteristic of SoCal punk exists here, the band does wield this relentless hostility to effective use, especially on tracks like, "Crime and Punishment" and the album's brightest point, the shout-along, "Guitars or Guns".

Download Emergency Broadcast System

By 1985, with straight-up hardcore all but extinct, the Detonators returned, if anything faster, louder, angrier. The album, Just Another Reason, gives no quarter to the trends of 1985, in fact it sounds like 1981 frozen in aspic. (The album still awaits its' promised re-issue from N.F.N. Records.) For proof of the Detonators single-mindedness, circa 1985, check out the ferocious,"Yer Child's War".

Incredibly, the band remained unbowed on 1988's Balls to You, a re-issue of which remains available here.

Then, strangely, the Detonators One Great Moment finally arrived 1991, when they released the cogent, blitzing single, Billion Dollar Nazis. The very Ruts/Clash-like, "11:59" marries rage to reggae to create one bastard of a sound.

As for the other tracks, the Alice Cooper mangling is charming, while "Cloak and Dagger" is a repeat from Emergency Broadcast System and "I Hate the Rich" is not the Dills song but a less distinctive thrasher.

Download Billion Dollar Nazis

The Detonators seem to be in limbo but as they are unkillable, do not turn your back on them.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Dueling Singles

Sloppy Seconds were neighbours to Screeching Weasel geographically (Illinois and Indiana), musically (R-A-M-O-N-E-S), and chronologically (both issued more marginal releases in 1987 followed by a pivotal back-to-basics pop-punk L.P'.s in 1989).

I suspect Screeching Weasel’s “I Wanna be a Homosexual”, written in response to Sloppy Seconds’ “I Don’t Wanna be a Homosexual” at the behest of queer film maker Bruce La Bruce, is now more famous than the song that inspired it. I hate choosing betwixt two smart n' catchy rockers but the edge goes to Sloppy Seconds for the self-mocking subtext ("Why did I write this song?") and another of their sticky choruses that you don’t want to sing out loud, depending on your social circle.

Ben Weasel, however, gets the best line out of either song (“It’s the straight in straight edge, that make me want to drink a beer”) so no disrespect is intended and, depending on who's close by, Screeching Weasel's hook may win in the choruses-to-sing-under-your-breath department anyway.

While Sloppy Second's 1989 album, Destroyed, has surely been re-issued with yet more bonus tracks, posting this long-out-of-print single shouldn’t step on anyone’s toes. The B-side is an otherwise unavailable acoustic version of “Human Waste”. The electric version is fine but as parody of a rock ballad, with a wistfulness beneath the sneering("I Left my heart in San Francisco and my brain in Los Angeles/My heart just made me bitter and my brain just made me dangerous"), it’s in its full glory in stripped-down form. Just about every other track by the band remains in print - so buy some friggin' music!

Download I Don’t Wanna be a Homosexual

Just to keep things balanced, here's the full Pervo-Devo single from 1991, which, as well as "I Wanna Be a Homosexual", has one standard issue Weasel Rant plus a cover of Harlan Howard's, "I Fall to Pieces" (made famous by Patsy Cline), which the boys do their level best to These tracks are available on the entertaining hodge-podge entitled Kill the Musicians, which is available here.

Download Pervo Devo

And just in case you wanted to hear what Metallica sounded like interpreted by some self-professed mid-western junk rockers, here's Sloppy Second's version of "Hit the Lights".

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tradtion IV

So the Doughboys career picked up just as it was winding down. Signed to A & M, the band got a big push for 1993's Crush. It's still the college-rockish sound of Happy Accidents and like that album it also starts with another Kastner classic, "Shine" (co-written with Wiz of Mega City Four).

(A charming fan video mash-up with the George Lucas movie, Willow.)

However after that, things get dodgy. The filler here is particularly egregious with "Fall" sounding like a passing attempt at grunge and "Shitty Song" far surpassing its titular promise. On the plus side, the mid-period Soul Asylum-ish "Fix Me" was another good single and "Tearin' Away" still rocks. The version of Crush below features bonus material, including songs like "Good Cop, Bad Cop", that really should've made the album.

"Turn Me On" is the end of the road. There are still good rockers here, like "My Favorite Martian" and the power-pop songs like "Everything and After" still work. None of that changes the irrefutable fact that by 1996 the Doughboys were done, they'd surrendered their underground followers long ago and the fans they'd gained for "Shine" were ephemeral. Next up Kastner formed All Systems Go with members of Big Drill Car and Cummins formed Bionic.

These two albums remind me of Winnipeg musical fixture Mike Koop (subject of an upcoming Dylan-related post), who has for years harboured an unfinished song titled, "Whatever Happened to Brock Pytel?" It's a pointed question that neither Kastner on these later Doughboys albums or Pytel himself on his one solo album, ever answered.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Traditon III

I bought the Doughboys 1990 album, Happy Accidents, on purple vinyl from SK8, a skate shop which racked a bit of music alongside the decks and wheels.

Days later, I sold it.

With Brock Pytel gone meditating, no follow up to Home Again was even possible. Instead, after starting out with Kastner's finest song yet, "Countdown", this album (and the 1991 follow-up e.p., When Up Turns to Down) headed straight down the college rock boulevard, like R.E.M. with the guitars metaled-up a bit. Gimmicky song titles like, "The Apprenticeship of Lenny Kravitz"and "Intravenus de Milo" cheapen the affair though not as much as the e.p.'s witless and grating cover of the 52's, "Private Idaho".

All slander aside, "What's Going On'" is a bouncy sing-along, "Sorry Wrong Number" is a catchy tune, and, in the cold light of the present, "Sunflower Honey" is not wretched, it's just a happy, jangly pop song - like an old sixties Rascals' single. So, surviving internal division and passing fashions, the Doughboys moved on and the results, while a mixed bag, are better than they first sounded.

Doughboys - Countdown

Download Happy Accidents

Download When Up Turns to Down

Friday, February 6, 2009

Traditon II

I lost my Doughboys T-shirt (bottom left corner of the catalogue), the one I'd bought from the band on their Home Again Tour. It later showed up draped, like a spoil of victory, over the wiry frame of my ex's new fiance.

1989's Home Again is one of those "the road will never end" albums, a musical tour diary that confesses, "I can't wait to get back home again, then leave". For an album likely cobbled together on buses and in basements; it's completely cohesive. It's cohesion is all the more impressive for it also being a true group album, with Kastner and Pytel each contributing four songs while Bondhead and new guitarist Jon Cummins each pitch in a tune. While the sonic blueprint of the Doughboys, the melding of stun-volume guitars to folk-rock melodies, is Kastner's, it is Pytel's developing prowess as a songwriter that dominates the record.

Listen to those mesmerizing vocal arrangements on Pytel's (admittedly lyrically muddled) "White Sister" or the big whoa-oh chorus on "I Won't Write You a Letter (Home Again)", likely the best, most dynamic song the band ever recorded.

A career peak, alas, though John Kastner continued wearing the Doughboys name long after Brock Pytel quit and went to India.

Still want my damn shirt back.

Download Home Again

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tradition I

With first lines of the album, “I’m on way to bigger and better days” it’s clear that the Doughboys (John Kastner on guitar/vocals, Scott McCullough on guitar, Jon Bond Head on bass and Brock Pytel on drums) were going to be a more driven outfit than the Asexuals.
With the 1987 passing of both Minneapolis’ Husker Du and the L.A.’s the Descendants (both of whom honed their maniacal work ethic under the charge of SST Records), it seemed to be Montreal's the Doughboys who were destined to carry on those bands' tradition of melding aggression, distortion and songcraft.
The band (dubbed The Whoa-boys for those relentless whoa-oh sing-alongs) did bear that torch with aplomb. In fairness, with their major label affiliations, Vision Streetwear sponsorship and those damn white-boy dreads, they also furthered the commercialization of North American punk, even hanging on long enough to get a hit single in the grunge era.
1987’s Whatever, however, proved punks of that era who grew out their hair didn’t have to play college-rock or speed metal. This album drives like a hardcore record but it’s swarming with hooky tunes and melodic guitar lines. It’s hit-after-hit and even a certain uniformity of sound can’t slow this fucker down.

Kastner’s song writing is at a peak herein (as heard in such chargers as “Tradition and “I Remember”) but he is not the group's only force to be reckoned with. One of the secrets behind a pop-punk band of depth is the drummer/songwriter a la Tommy Ramone of the Ramones, Grant Hart of Husker Du and Duncan Redmond from Snuff. To prove they’d learned this lesson well, The Doughboys kit-basher was one Brock Pytel, who wrote what may be the album’s most memorable song, the zen-punk, “Holiday” (“There’s no holiday from living there’s no shelter from it all, there’s no escape from dying – no one sees you when you’re standing tall”).

Many people consider the altogther-excellent Whatever the Doughboys most powerful album. They are wrong but easily forgiven.

Download Whatever