A History of Memphis Garage Rock: The '90s
Now I don't want to dis Sherman Wilmott of Shangri-La Projects too much, because, generally speaking, he's been a mighty force for good in Memphis music. But isn't the title A History of Memphis Garage Rock: The '90s just a little too K-Tel for words? It certainly doesn't prepare the unschooled listener for the sonic horror-show lurking just beneath the liner notes (by Flyer contributor Ross Johnson).
This compilation opens on the rough side, with "Emulsified," a punkabilly Gibson Bros. howler that sounds like the Cramps on a drunken glue-sniffing binge, followed by a loving Jeff Evans & La Fong cover of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" that could have been recorded in a soggy refrigerator box using Thomas Edison's original equipment. It's good stuff, but it pales next to selections by Greg Cartwright and Jack Yarber. With one solo cut each, along with tracks by such Cartwright and/or Yarber projects as the Compulsive Gamblers, the Cool Jerks, and the Oblivians, these guys are the beating heart and moaning soul of this collection. Bolstered by Mr. Quintron's gospel-inspired organ, the Oblivians' "How Long" is one of the most unforgettable tracks ever recorded in a city famous for its unforgettable recordings: an existential scream into the face of the more properly spelled oblivion. Onetime Oblivian Eric Friedl is also well-represented by a riotous cut from his relatively obscure group AAAA New Memphis Legs, which was fronted by James Arthur, formerly of the mighty Texas punkabilly band Fireworks.
With "LTD A Go Go," Impala rounds out the roster of Memphis' certifiable garage-rock heroes. Though pigeonholed as a surf band, Impala's sound is more closely aligned with drag strips, strip joints, and smoky R&B clubs than with sand or sex wax. Jeff Goggins' thundering drum intro combines with John Stivers' slapback-laden Telecaster leads to make "LTD A Go Go" an irresistible shack-shaker filled with tortured organ blasts.
Lorette Velvette has always been a difficult artist to nail down. One minute she's a she-wolf-style blues maven, then she's covering '70s glam. But "Don't Crowd Your Mind," which Velvette cut with husband Alex Greene (of the Reigning Sound), is pure garage and the surprise gem of this collection. When the music stops and Velvette begs, in a raspy whisper, "drive me home," you know what it's all about. The Grundies, on the other hand, were always a novelty band. An arty and inspired novelty band, true enough, but their fusion of Memphis soul and dada is totally comical in the good way. "You Look Good" is great stuff if you like to grin while you're getting down.
The notoriously gloomy Satyrs never recorded another song like the raunchy Tom Waits meets Doo Rag "Johnny Rebel." In fact, Satyrs frontman Jason Paxton has all but disowned the early Loverly release, much to the dismay of everyone who has ever heard this fantastic cut, which sounds so dirty you'll want to take a shower after listening.
Two tracks, one by New Orleans' Royal Pendletons and another by the Pendletons' original drummer, King Louie, may seem misplaced here. But there has been a long-standing bond between the garage scene in Memphis and the Big Easy, and the Pendletons, who have contributed to some fantastic film soundtracks for local sexploitation director Mike McCarthy, are a virtual jukebox of '50s and '60s garage. They also have enough connections in the Bluff City to count as honorary Memphians. Besides, when Mike Hurt growls "I was dealt a losing hand" like some lost rockabilly bodhisattva, you don't care where these guys hang their collective hats.
Though the scene never really blew up, there are some credible reasons to believe that the roots of the current international garage-rock revival can be traced back, at least in part, to what was happening in Memphis in the mid-'90s. In its attempt to be somewhat comprehensive within the space of a single disc, A History of Memphis Garage Rock: The '90s doesn't reflect half of that era's ragged glory. But, if you pop it in your player along with Shangri-La's indie-rock compilation 10 More Years, then press "random all," you can still get a pretty good feel for the overall '90s vibe. Chris Davis
Most of the artists captured on A History of Memphis Garage Rock: The '90s will take the stage Saturday, August 30th, at the Hi-Tone CafÇ for a CD-release party.
Twang on a Wire
(Large River Music)
Singer-songwriter Kate Campbell has churned out six albums over the last eight years, including Monuments, which was released last February. But on this latest album, Campbell covers 13 country hits from the likes of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Donna Fargo, and other cowgirl crooners. All of these songs are from a woman's point of view, but, interestingly, many of them, including Jeanne Pruett's "Honey on His Hands" and Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA," were penned by men.
Shunning the lush countrypolitan arrangements that date such hits as Tanya Tucker's '74 classic "Would You Lay with Me in a Field of Stone" and Tammy Wynette's orchestral "'Til I Can Make It on My Own," Campbell employs a stripped-down approach, allowing her exquisite vocals and the sheer power of the lyrics to carry the album. A savvy alt-country backing band rocks along lazily, perfectly complementing Campbell on obscurities like Parton's "Down from Dover" and Emmylou Harris' "Boulder to Birmingham." Andria Lisle
Kate Campbell will be performing at 9 p.m. on the main stage at the Center for Southern Folklore's Memphis Music and Heritage Festival on Saturday, August 30th (with Vaneese Thomas), and Sunday, August 31st.
La Musica Negra
On their third album, Verbena revel in genre derivation. Their riff-heavy metal-pop borrows generously from a number of disparate influences, from the desert "Strum" und Drang of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age to the grinding friction of early-'90s Seattle grunge, from the peaceful easy feelings of '70s SoCal rock to the cocaine-fueled hedonism of late-'80s L.A. hair-metal.
In these post-Odelay days, however, a plethora of influences is a standard option on even your base-model rock band. What sets Verbena apart is their Southernness: On a musical family tree, their lineage includes Skynyrd and Drivin' N' Cryin'.
What La Musica Negra does not include and what makes the album title especially insulting is any black Southern music. There are general references to the blues, but they're so vague they could come from Eric Clapton as easily as from Robert Johnson.
Some Stax rhythms, Muscle Shoals horns, and maybe some Atlanta bass might have put some thunder into Verbena's dry guitar riffs, lent these songs the earthy urgency they're reaching for, and lived up to the album's title. As it is, La Musica Negra sounds like a big white blank. Stephen Deusner