On the Record: Brief reviews of Johnny Cash, Pink Sexies, The Vacant, and Joe Lapsley.

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Pink Sexies
Pink Sexies
Wrecked 'Em Wreckords

It's been a good week. Not only did a re-issue of Wrecked 'Em Wreckords eponymous Pink Sexies EP show up in my my mailbox, the eight song epic by my favorite Knoxville punks has been pressed onto sexy pink vinyl. Oh yeah. It made me want to leave the office immediately and buy a gallon of PGA and some strawberry Kool-Aid on the way home.

This is straight up blotto music: smart primitive noise like The Pagans and Pere Ubu used to make. But it's sweatier with plenty of double-feature horrorshow imagery. Like Frankenhookers. Seriously. And when Sexies frontman Hamo Banham lets out a snotty, “Bye-bye zombie baby, bye-bye” it's not hard to imagine Johnny Thunders ooching around in his grave a little.


Do the Dance

“Tease Kiss,” is a grimy wannabe punk standard with David Johansen's lipstick smeared all over it. It's a post-rockabilly strutter about girls (I guess, could be wrong) with dirty minds who can kill you with a little sweet kiss. Gospel, rockabilly and pop art converge in a sticky lo-fi muddle as the Sexies invite us to step back in time to “Do the Dance.” And so it goes.

This was one of my favorite CDs of 2001. It looks a whole lot prettier in pink.

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The Vacant
Kings of Evil
Wrecked 'Em Wreckords


I don't know what Wrecked 'Em recording artists The Vacant mean they say they want to be your “sexual Hitler” but I do understand that this is the sort of lyric that upsets parents so it's probably just Rock-and-Roll or something. The 8-song Kings of Evil 7” is, as the title might suggest, a brief compendium of ugly-spirited noise built to offend and offend again. So it's kind of predictable.

I'd had more than my fill of comic book violence and hardcore sexual imagery and was about to pick up the needle shut everything down when“Memphis Hell” kicked in with its “Hey, Hey, Hey” refrains and snarling metal-remembers-rockabilly belligerence. I was hooked. “Memphis Hell” is a loud profane rant about being condemned to “a city of fucking Hell.” It wants to be an underground anthem and there's no reason it shouldn't be. Think Memphis punks do Escape From New York and you've got it about right. The rest is a foot stomping three chord squall of guitars, campy perversion and dismemberment.

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Johnny Cash
American VI: Ain't No Grave
American

I want to not like this collection. It's tearjerking by design and that makes me suspicious. And what person in their right mind wouldn't be suspicious of a sincere deathbed farewell from the Man in Black himself, carefully assembled over the past six years by surviving interests. But Johnny won't let me not like his latest CD. He's too alive in the songs, too honest. American VI actually sounds like the last record Johnny Cash would have made if he'd consciously known he was assembling his final set. When it's playing I can pretend that's all true even if that's not entirely how things went down.


Ain't No Grave

The lean atmospheric blues of “Ain't No Grave” brings Cash the feeble old man back to his childhood home in Arkansas, just a hop, and a skip away from Memphis. It's the perfect starting point for a self-consciously posthumous recording that ends with a frail and faltering but heartfelt run through “Aloha Oe.” And when Cash raises his voice enough to let you know he means business and tells you frankly that there's no power in this world that can hold his body in the ground you believe him. “Body” is a vague enough noun after all and in this case the proof is right there in the hearing.

American VI is politically prescient with its pair of anti-war songs: Sheryl Crow's ominous "Redemption Day" and the bleak ironic folk of Ed McCurdy's “Strangest Dream.” Cash's haunting take on Tom Paxton's "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" plants a seed of existential doubt and wonder that colors even the most hopeful numbers in this collection. But the best songs assembled here are the misfits: Kris Kristofferson's “For the Good Times,” and the honky tonk classic “Satisfied Mind.” While Kristofferson's tender love song has been given lusher treatments, it's never been more enderaing. Satisfied Mind,” is pure country goodness that also conjures the rhinestone-studded ghost of Porter Wagoner who died in 2007.

American VI is so funereal and self-aware that it wants to be camp. But Cash's spirit won't let it tip over in that direction even when chains start rattling around like the sound effects in A Christmas Carol. And no matter how much I may love the tracks once this disc's no longer in heavy rotation in my car I probably won't ever listen to it front to back again. Take it away "random all."

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Joe Lapsley & the Naughty Bubble Orchestra
Slip: Songs of the Late Imperial Period
Self released


Slip: Songs of the Late Imperial Period
is a twelve track collection of tunes by Neighborhood Texture Jam front man Joe Lapsley. For two very loud decades Lapsley as devoted himself to re-inventing Schoolhouse Rock for grownups. From the glorious ranting of “Rush Limbaugh Evil Blimp” to the anti-consumerist haiku “If I'd wanted a damn pie, I'd have ordered a damn pie” his body work can be broadly defined as whimsical punk rock show tunes that aim to put contemporary culture into historical perspective against a backdrop of scalding guitars and... well... texture..

Slip, Lapsley's second solo album (backed by the Naughty Bubble Orchestra) begins with “Freemont P. Rumper” the story of a self-begotten free marketeer adrift in a world of strip malls and check cashing joints. It moves erratically from noirish ballads to chugging rockabilly leaving no hypocrisy untweaked. Standout tracks include “Crawling from the Wreckage” is a 21st-Century answer to Chuck Berry's hotrod songs and "Frozen Like a Mugshot," the rocked up resume of torture apologist John Yoo, a “tenured professor of skulduggery.”


Borax Factory

Texture Jam fans will want to check out Slip's scary folk remake of the NTJ classic “Borax Factory” which, in spite of being slowed down to a dirge, sounds as good now as it did 20 years ago. Although it may be sacrilege to suggest such a thing, but the new version may even be better than the original if only because of the emphasis it places in the words of what may still be Lapsley's best song. After “Borax Factory” Slip veers sharply from smart rock into smart acoustic folk that mourns failure of the great American project, describing “markets” as a dirty way to “get things done.” In Slips final three songs Lapsley's satirical voice fades away and is replaced by the voice of an older, sadder, angrier man who can barely laugh at himself or anybody else anymore. And as usual he sounds about right.

Slip is available online at CD baby

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