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1:54 p.m. - March 15, 2006
These Bands - I Dig 'Em - And Why Not?
I’m been listening to a lot of music lately, although that is just like someone else saying, “I’m breathing a lot of air lately.”

I have this massive project (well, many mini-projects) that are stretching out until summer, which has driven me back into the archives and onto the iTunes store and scouring my Christgau books finding some great music for great people.

(Reminds me of an Adam and the Ants song – I’ll paraphrase it - “Smedmusic for great people! Great music for Smedpeople!” Heee!)

Now to me, great music isn’t just what the critics say are great, because I’ve heard a lot of 4 ½ star albums that I thought were just meh. And of course, great music isn’t what’s popular.

Right now, “Sweet Mary” by Wadsworth Mansion is on my iPod. That was a pleasant piece of pop piffle from 1971 that hit #7 on the charts. It was nothing earth shattering, nothing revolutionary and the band soon disappeared. But it’s a great tune, even if it’s a little anachronistic for these current times.

I guess what’s great music to me is hard to pin down. I really enjoy being challenged by Zappa and Beefheart. I really enjoy the brilliance of the Beatles and Beach Boys. I revel in the complexity, and simplicity, and the chameleonic tendencies of the Byrds. I bang my head to metal – I pogo to punk – I can go back to the roots with alt-country, and I act all cool and detached to new wave.

So, I’m kind of a musical mess. But you must have already guessed that.

How am I a mess? Well, I made a list of some bands that are either ultra-obscure (or semi-ultra obscure, how’s that for a qualifier) or that you may just shake your head on “what the hell??” (Liz does that all the time, so it’s no big whoop.)

And here’s the list in no rhyme or reason on what you may not believe is in heavy rotation on the old iPod (besides “C’est La Vie” by Robbie Nevil).

Bread - I riffed pretty hard once on the song “Diary” on these pages. I can’t stand “If” and “Aubrey” is just too, too, too much for me. But, on the whole, Bread is a fairly pleasant group with a rockin’ side that does come out once in a while (“Mother Freedom”, “Truckin’”, “Take Comfort”) and of course there’s the stuff like “Everything I Own”, “Sweet Surrender”, and “It Don’t Matter To Me” which strike right at my pop sensibilities.

Sure it’s dentist office music, music that your mother and grandmother would like. But it’s also well crafted, hummable, and pleasant. So there!

Sometimes I get embarrassed when I say I like them, but I’ve decided to not hide anymore. I like Bread, I really do, and if I’m in a band we may just do “Down On My Knees” or “Mother Freedom”, because we can.

Ed Hall - File under “E” when alphabetizing, mind you, as the name isn’t a person, it’s just a name. Now, I only have TWO songs of theirs on the iPod, but I unearthed them and I’m intrigued.

They were a band from Texas, and have roots with the Butthole Surfers. So you know they’re not exactly mainstream, linear, or sensible. I once bought the “Gloryhole” album (before I knew what a gloryhole was in the vernacular – don’t go there) and was whelmed by most of the cuts, but a couple have stuck with me and have survived on my computer to this day, and now I find myself turning to them more and more.

It’s a bit raucous and non-sensical, but isn’t life like that sometimes. A couple of their later records are still in print, somehow, and I may check them out later. But right now I’m rockin’ to “Buttermilk, Hortense” and “Luke Flukenstock”.

Steely Dan - In reading things around these here parts, some people are a bit wary of Steely Dan. I think the new, current generation isn’t that enamored with them. True, they are a quintessential 70’s band, full of smooth jazzy fusion chops with glossy slick production and lyrics with definite 70’s references.

Add in the fact that radio plays the same three to five songs over and over again one could see where Steely Dan isn’t on the hipsters minds as anything but a relic, a dinosaur.

Well, I ask you to reconsider.

Go deep in the albums. Find cuts like “Kings” or “Your Gold Teeth”. Revel in “Doctor Wu”. Relish “The Caves of Altamira”, “Don’t Take Me Alive” and “Razor Boy”. Yes, you can cringe at “Everyone’s Gone To The Movies” for the subject matter, but “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” that it’s all good stuff.

The guitar work is impeccable. Yes, it’s a lot of jazz guitar, but damn Skunk Baxter, Denny Dias, Eliot Randall and the like can really play. I prefer a lot of things up to “Aja”, which is when they got really cocktail jazz like (and that was a great album too) and mostly stick to the earlier stuff and “Katy Lied”.

Blue Mountain - Husband and wife form band, based in the south, mixing folk, country, blues, and arena rock into a delicious stew. They tour a lot and make some great albums that a few people hear, and they have a decent underground following. Husband and wife split up as does the band. The end.

That’s a shame, because Blue Mountain was a band that was right up there with Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and the Old 97’s, to my ears anyway, as a pinnacle of the alt-country movement. In fact, Cary Hudson, the main songwriter, branched out and explored all kinds of sounds as time went on. Sadly, though, they didn’t get much recognition and are now all-but-forgotten. If you can, find one of their albums, especially “Tales From a Traveler”.

The Association - What, Smed? Are you crazy?

Yeah, a little bit. But I can’t help it.

Sure, “Windy”, “Cherish”, “Never My Love”, and “Along Comes Mary” are the scourge of the grocery store. But just listen to them, seriously. They’re well crafted, impeccably arranged and sung, and have a great hook and melody. Yes, even “Cherish”.

Then there are some of their obscure songs, like “Come On In”, “Goodbye, Columbus” (a theme song to a movie that sounds like a theme song should), “Darlin’ Be Home Soon”, and “Names, Badges, Numbers, Labels”.

And they even changed things up a bit, like on “P. F. Sloan”, “Six Man Band”, and the mind-blowing, can’t-believe-it-hit-the-top-40 “Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies”.

They were square then, and square now. But were they? Then, they played at Monterrey. Now, some regard them highly. I think they’re square, sure, but sometimes square is good.

The Bottle Rockets - Direct from Festus, Missouri, come the Bottle Rockets. Their earlier albums are hilarious, filled with wry cornpone observations and great playing in a punk-alt-country mode.

Whether lusting after “Nancy Sinatra”, complaining about a hill-jack with a “Radar Gun”, watching “Sunday Sports” in boxer shorts, wanting to ask out the “Gas Girl”, or getting stuck in “Indianapolis”, the Bottle Rockets were a great time, all the time.

Haircut 100 - On the surface, they looked like twee dandies with their neat coiffures and sweaters, and the teeny boppers screaming at them while they played “Love Plus One”. But dig deeper on their one album (well, the one they recorded as an intact unit) and you find gems.

Take a listen to “Favourite Shits (Boy Meets Girl)”, the second single. It has a nice funky movement to it, despite its pop sensibilities. Better yet, check out “Love Has Got Me In Triangles”, where bassist Les Nemes really shows his chops. Plus there’s “Fantastic Day”, “Snow Girl”, and “Film Milk”, which demonstrate a great pop song sensibility without being overly sacchariny or cloying.

It’s been a while, and perhaps their reputation has repaired itself, but Haircut 100 is more than just a one-hit pretty boy pop band.

The Laughing Hyenas - Skuzz. That one word describes the Laughing Hyenas. Take an unrelenting rhythm section, with a bassist and drummer set on perma-loud. Take a guitarist, Larissa Strickland, who is content to just wash out riffs and chords like she was spreading chicken feed on the ground. Then there’s the, er, singer, John Brannon.

While the chaos (and it’s great chaos too) is going on behind him, Brannon mewls, howls, whelps and whines in a voice that must be heard to believe. Some of their earlier records find Brannon almost uncontrollably wild, like on “Stain” (“Stain the walls with love” is the lyric – and what a nice thought, eh?). But on “You Can’t Pray a Lie” and “Life of Crime”, Brannon’s vocal hijinx and the bands unrelenting noise finds a great synergy. Again, it must be heard to believed, but somehow it works. It’s dark, bleak, and skuzzy. What more do you want?

Ok, I’ve babbled enough about bands such as this. Ah, well, it’s just a few days before I blow this burgh and hit DC for a conference and meeting some groovy, wonderful, fabulous people from these parts and actually doing some conferencing, too. So I’m in a happy, music mood, and I thought I’d share.

So I did.


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