Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Swamp Dogg returns... again

Everyone has their favorite cult artist- someone they love though they know they'll never make the big time. For me, the list includes Alex Chilton, Terry Allen, Kevin Coyne, Jad Fair and... a certain producer-turned-singer, not to mention noted songwriter (his songs and/or production have found their way to everyone from Tammy Wynette to Jimmy Cliff to the Commodores). Yes, Mr. Jerry Williams has had quite a storied career.

On his own as Swamp Dogg, his career has been full of humorous soul- kinda raunchy and funny but nowhere as dirty as say Millie Jackson (who I miss) not to mention some good socially conscious numbers which still have their share of laffs ("Call Me Nigger," "F*ck the Bomb," "Synthetic World"). And while his albums have had their share of inspired covers ("In the Midnight Hour, " "Sam Stone"), he's now put together a whole album of covers (with one exception): Give Em As Little As You Can...As Often As You Have To...or...A Tribute To Rock 'n' Roll on S-Curve.

The bad news is that when you read the song listing, you see that the choices are... well, kinda obvious: "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Satisfaction," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Great Balls of Fire." But what makes cover versions worthwhile is when they can reimagine and/or transform a song: think of what Hendrix did to Dylan's "Watchtower" or Coltrane doing "My Favorite Things." In cases like that, the artists rethink the song, taking them to places that the original artist hadn't imagined. While Dogg doesn't reach such lofty heights as Jimi or Trane, he does put his stamp on the songs, which is all you could hope for with covers, right?

For Give Em As Little As You Can... (did I also mention that he has great album titles?), Mr. Dogg applies late 70's/early 80's rock movies (flashy guitar solos, vocoder, syndrums) to oldies rock, adding more than a touch of soul as you'd expect. As such, "Ain't That A Shame" is transformed from Fats' gorgeous ease into a soul shout and even some ZZ Top boogie, "Johnny B. Goode" has extended breaks in each line of the verses and P-Funk synth/vocal interludes, "Great Balls of Fire" is slowed down to a sly/strutting pace complete with fuzz guitar, ham-fisted Bob Seger rock moves and chants of "Fir-ah, Fir-ah, Ooo!" (shade of Ohio Players), "Heartbreak Hotel" is as much a tribute to James Brown as it is Elvis, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" is done at an Al Green pace so that you don't even recognize it until a few lines in and "Satisfaction" moves from slow-burn soul to gospel-rock.

Dogg being the soul man that he is, he can't resist sneaking some ringers in too. "I Shot the Sheriff" has a skank mixed with soul-strut and scatting at the end, the Temps' "My Girl" has the famous guitar hook intact but is paced much more slower, sinuously, bending the lyrics in the middle of the lines and hilariously riffing off the words ("what makes that big ol' fool act that way... that sexy, sexy thang... can I get a witness... better keep your dirty hands off my girl...") and Aretha's "I Never Loved A Man" becomes "I Never Loved A Woman" at a faster pace. And then in an immodest touch, he covers his own classic "Total Destruction to Your Mind," this time in a flashy update with some extended jamming at the end.

In all, a fun, very respectable excursion and a nice reworking of some well-worn classics. I'd love to hear him do the same for a country covers album some day (hint, hint).

See the Swamp Dogg homepage (which is a little out of date) and hear some samples from the new album at the Tower Records site (hey, they're still around online!) and read a late 90's PSF interview done by Richie Unterberger and 2007 PopMatters interview by Robin Cook (aka my boo).

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Perfect Sound Forever- Aug/Sept 09 edition now online

In the latest issue of Perfect Sound Forever, you'll find...

Brit-pop out of focus?
"One can picture Blur dressed as pubescent schoolboys in an overexposed black and white pinup, smoking cigarettes in the loo, disinterested with and defeated by life. Picture them being huffed, puffed, blown away, and then run over by the Rolls Royces of Britain's big-bad-wolf band, Oasis."

His late live period
"He seemed so short. And dark—darker than I realized from photographs in magazines and on album covers, with chiseled features and solemn eyes. Because a battery-charged microphone was clipped to the bell of his trumpet, he was, unlike the rest of his seven-piece band, free to wander. Seldom facing the audience, he moved from one side of the stage to the other..."

Composer goes throat singing
"The quick guttural inhaling/exhaling songs of two competing singers meet and match in their games, one following the other like quick birds racing in flight, and end not on a note of triumph, but with the mutual release of laughter. Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis has written several works exploring the interaction of this atavistic style with modern Western
music and recording techniques."

Modernist sampling mystery
"Since the start of his professional career at the end of the '70's, Holger Hiller has been one of the most prolific and underrated avant garde pop artists/composers in Germany. Although his records were released worldwide by the noted British label Mute Records, his music and his personal history remains obscure to this day."

"Hugh Hopper departed this world on June 7, 2009, victim of leukemia, as curiously his previous collaborator, keyboardist Alan Gowen had, almost three decades ago. Hopper was, on his own, a revolutionary bassist and composer who found early exposure in the 1960's but never gained the exposure he really deserved during his lifetime. He still, however, managed to put out an
impressive body of work."

Gospel, country hits & still alive
"... the last remaining country quartet, The Oak Ridge Boys, continue their longstanding tradition of harmony. Since their inception in 1945 as The Georgia Clodhoppers to the present line-up beginning in 1972, Duane Allen, lead; Joe Bonsall, tenor; William Lee Golden, baritone; Richard Sterban, bass – along with multi-talented band members – The Oaks have kept the musical flame burning."

Animal Collective interview
"... Panda Bear's "My Girls"... sounds at once meditative and danceable, like a bridge between Brazilian samba and AR Kane. Both this song and others... owe a considerable debt to "Person Pitch," marking the extent to which Noah Lennox (a.k.a. Panda Bear) has contributed to an album which, finally, seems the definitive statement of the Collective's elaborate pop bent."

Trombonist/composer- interview
"Despite having been thought the jazz trombone phenom of his generation, however, even in his teens, Powell was turning down invitations to join the big bands, Stan Kenton's included. Rather, he earned his master's in composition at North Texas State University, absorbing the canon of modernism under the tutelage of Samuel Adler."

A live remembrance
"Without question, the Replacements, one of the best and most influential post-punk bands of the last twenty-five years, roared their way through the 1980's like kamikazes on stage--loaded on chutzpah, frustration, and beer."

Still looking for Honky Tonk Heaven
"Joe Triplett is, by all accounts, exceedingly modest, which goes some distance to explain why today, only dedicated fans still remember the Rosslyn Mountain Boys. These folks tend to agree that the band should have been known and loved from California to the New York islands, rather than from Gaithersburg, Maryland, to Alexandria, Virginia."

Why she won't go away
"Spears' detractors dismiss her, pointing to the many writers and producers featured on her recordings, an argument infrequently used when evaluating, say, Annie Lennox, another singer with a penchant for electronic enhancement."

Of rockabilly & B-movie obscurity
"Jack Starr and Ron Haydock, speak for everyone who has puts something, anything down fearlessly to posterity, hoping that someone will find it and bring them some immortality, someday. They also speak for those who had no time for that kind of sh-t, and instead focused on getting out as much juice while it lasted."

Mad as hell about prices
"I've been slowly selling off the more opulent pieces in my audio system because, quite frankly, times are tough. It's difficult to put off getting your kids braces when you have a $15,000 analog rig in your living room where everyone can see. Once the economy recovers, I'll rebuild. It will be fun."

The resurrection of...
"... as their reunion gig in 2007 was at a book festival, perhaps these appearances are not out of character for the post-punk minimalist legends. After an exile of some decades, YMG have re-emerged, sort of. Dates are sporadic. Gigs are low-key. New material is absent. This is how they want it."

Inna dancehall style
"The stage name "Yellowman" is a reference to his albinism which set him apart from the rest of Jamaican society and must have been a serious handicap during his childhood... As we'll see, part of what makes his career so vital is that he helped to smooth the transition between the roots era and the new dancehall style."

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