Music » Record Reviews

The Year in Memphis Music

Local music powered and stomped into a spectacular future.



In the form of Cat Power's The Greatest -- recorded in Memphis with local musicians -- and semi-local-boy Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, Memphis could lay at least partial claim to two of the biggest records of the year -- an underground sensation and a pop smash. But those two mega-events only lead a pack of true-blue local releases and great moments from Memphis music in 2006. We asked our four regular local-music writers to pick out the highlights. Here's what we came up with:


Top 15 Local Records

1. The Service Is Spectacular -- The Secret Service (Peabody Records): If titles such as "Camaro" and "Workin' Too Hard" aren't proof enough, the aural signifiers on this debut album are clear: the drummer counting it off at the top, blues-boogie guitar riffs cranked to 11, the bass player rumbling like a big rig down the interstate, vocals fueled by exaggerated swagger. These are the four corners of a world where durable but mediocre '70s hard rock (think Bachman-Turner Overdrive) is given loving, confident reconstruction. It might sound easy, but it only works with a band that has the chops and sensibility to pull it off, and this one does. Though there are many reasons to like the Secret Service, the band's function as a platform for Steve Selvidge to go apeshit with his guitar is all you really need.

-- Chris Herrington

2. Flip Side Kid -- Jack-O & The Tennessee Tearjerkers (Sympathy for the Record Industry): From the chugging chords that open "Flipside Kid" to the snarling, swinging lyrics of "I Want You," Jack Yarber, aka Jack Oblivian, lays down yet another incredible rock record. "I don't care what they say," he growls on "Golden Age," playing both guitar and drums and pushing "record" on the four-track himself, proving that real rock-and-rollers don't need many creature comforts to survive. Aided by the remarkable revolving cast of characters who make up the Tearjerkers, Yarber makes music because he's gotta do it, and he writes and plays in a feverish, hell-bent style.

-- Andria Lisle

3. Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers -- Lucero (Liberty & Lament/EastWest): On this sixth studio album, Memphis' most durable rock band debuts a sound big enough to fill the arenas they don't yet play: The drums boom; the guitar riffs reach for the rafters; and, in an unexpected twist for what has for years been a four-piece guitar-bass-drums band, rock-and-roll piano comes rising out of the mix (this last courtesy of local sideman/session ace Rick Steff, whose addition as a "fifth" Lucero member turned out to be a masterstroke). The resulting clarity and command of this record surpasses everything else in the band's rich and by-now-bulging catalog. -- CH


4. I'm Your Negative -- River City Tanlines (Dirtnap): Over the last decade, singer and guitar player Alicja Trout has exchanged the sleek black S&M style she cultivated with revisionist new-wavers the Clears for a more casual, less manicured look while becoming the most versatile and prolific female performer in the great-big-boy's club of Memphis rock-and-roll. With I'm Your Negative, she's done that which is nearly impossible: making a nuanced studio recording that loses very little of the sweaty garage-punk energy that made the band's previous recordings so much fun. "Looking for a Line" is a viciously addictive ditty, and it never hurts having John "Bubba" Bonds and Terrence Bishop, Memphis' tightest rock-and-roll rhythm section, keeping your time. -- Chris Davis

5. 12 Songs -- Cory Branan (MADJACK): Some songs on this long, long-delayed second album from the Memphis-bred, now Arkansas-based Branan predate his 2001 debut, The Hell You Say ("Tall Green Grass," "The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis"). But it's great to finally have them on a disc that marks a welcome return of the finest songwriter in recent Memphis music. -- CH

6. Gonerfest 2: Electric Boogaloo CD/DVD -- Various Artists (Goner Records): A sprawling, four-day garage-rock festival gloriously captured for the ages: This is Electric Goneroo. Expect (and get) great performances from the Reigning Sound, Reatards, King Louie Bankston, Persuaders, Final Solutions, and more, plus drunks, blood, chicks, and hot dogs galore. -- AL

7. Makeshift #4 -- Various Artists (Makeshift): Practically an institution within an institution, the local indie-rock sampler Makeshift #4 no doubt benefited from the label's exponentially higher profile this year, but it remains one of Memphis' greatest acts of musical humanitarianism -- a document of our rich underground musical landscape that shows the rest of the world that we are not a three-genre town.

-- Andrew Earles

8. Aristocrunk -- Lord T & Eloise (Young Ave. Records): Comedy rap is not a bad word (or two words), especially when it's this funny. Lord T & Eloise have pulled a musical coup in that their absurdist "aristocrunk" is both clever and wildly popular not to mention constructed with a precision and catchiness that has everyone from casual show-goers to open-minded hip-hop heads nodding in the name of good times. When two guys in powdered wigs rap about class separation in the 1800s and manage to sell out the Hi-Tone for their debut gig, someone's doing something right. -- AE

Clarence Henry
  • Clarence Henry

9. Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger -- James Luther Dickinson (Memphis International): The formal audacity of Dickinson's vision of "roots music" and his penchant for unearthing obscure songwriting gems is no great surprise. What makes Jungle Jim special is the easy intimacy Dickinson coaxes out of a "family band" that includes his sons, Paul Taylor, Amy LaVere, Jim Spake, and others. Recorded on the quick at Dickinson's north Mississippi home studio, the result is a record bursting with music and humor and humanity. -- CH

10. Oxytocin -- Snowglobe (Makeshift): Snowglobe have made the full transition from Memphis' token Neutral Milk Hotel into a band that's able to stand tall on a unique template of psychedelic pop that could, based on chops and hooks, erase most of the faceless dreck clogging up the indie-rock world nationally. Memphis should be proud to have a band far superior to the sycophantically elevated, NPR-ready tedium made by the Decemberists or current-day Flaming Lips. -- AE

11. In the Meantime ... -- Viva L'American Death Ray Music (New York Night Train): Once upon a time, Viva L'American Death Ray Music was a much bigger band with a much shorter name. And even when they bit, they were still pretty cool. But time has passed. The name is longer, the band smaller, the sound is tick tight, and In the Meantime delivers everything you could want from a band that should really consider calling itself the Reader's Digest Complete History of Modern Rock, Condensed. Once you've heard "Same Suit, Different Tie," you'll know exactly what I mean. -- CD

12. Light Up the Bomb -- 8Ball (8Ways Entertainment): It's Orange Mound, y'all: The M Gang's all here for 8Ball's latest solo effort, a Montana Trax-produced blend of gangsta rap and party grooves that threatens to upstage Ridin' High, the long-awaited release by 8Ball & MJG, due next spring. -- AL

13. Crook By Da Book: The Fed Story -- Project Pat (Hypnotize Minds/Columbia): Six little words -- "I ain't goin' back to jail" -- are all you need to know about this joint, the latest from Juicy J's older brother, Patrick Houston. Mixing urban nursery rhymes over a rapid-fire snare beat, ex-con Project Pat is back on top and as full of braggadocio as ever. -- AL

Justin Timberlake
  • Justin Timberlake

14. Evil Army -- Evil Army (Get Revenge): In the late '80s, crossover thrash was one of the more enjoyable and exhilarating offshoots of underground metal. Hardcore grew some hair and the Accused, Hirax, and mid-period D.R.I. happened. Evil Army took this influence, along with early Metallica, Megadeth, and the Misfits, and spat out a circa-2006 update that's no throwback but perhaps the next band after Epoch of Unlight to put Memphis on the metal map. -- AE

15. Residential Llama -- Walkie Talkie (Makeshift): Memphis' Walkie Talkie released Residential Llama, a beautifully crafted collection of wickedly clever pop songs, only to discover there's another band nobody's ever heard of named Walkie Talkie -- and they're awfully territorial about their name. To avoid conflict, our Walkie Talkie is reluctantly going with the name Two-Way Radio. But whatever you call the band, Residential Llama is a collection of lush microsymphonies filled with authentic wit and serious whimsy. -- CD

Personal Bests

Chris Herrington:

1. Clarence Henry at Ponderosa Stomp: The great New Orleans R&B singer (best known for his 1956 hit "Ain't Got No Home") was a colossal charmer during his set on the final night of this relocated-from-New Orleans roots festival.

2. The Drive-By Truckers at the New Daisy: Fifteen years ago, Truckers Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley lived in Memphis, struggling to make their way in the music biz. Five years ago, I saw them test out material from their yet-to-be-released Southern Rock Opera in front of about 15 people at the Hi-Tone Café. So it was a triumphant night for Hood and Cooley when they packed the Daisy this year, a venue Hood worked at during his Memphis stint, dedicating a song to "Big Star, the Grifters, Lucero, and the Memphis tradition of rock-and-roll."

3. "Lived in Bars": Since "mopey, damaged singer-songwriter" is just about my least favorite pop subgenre, I wasn't about to go gaga over the Cat Power record, local connection or not. But the single "Lived in Bars" is lovely, with a dreamy melody and a graceful performance from the Memphis Rhythm Band. And the low-tech, Robert Gordon-directed video, shot at quintessential Midtown dive the Lamplighter, is also entrancing.

4. Justin Timberlake at the New Daisy: The new King of Pop gave local fans a convincing live preview of his then-yet-to-be-released sophomore solo gem, FutureSex/LoveSounds.

Cat Power
  • Cat Power

5. Da Hater: Jason Harris, Whitehaven High School teacher and football coach and member of local hip-hop groups Kontrast and Iron Mic Coalition, went undercover this year as Da Hater, picking apart gangsta rappers, picking on his bandmates, and even dissing his own mother on an all-but-unavailable solo debut. The best -- and certainly funniest -- local record this year that no one heard.

Chris Davis:

1. Tom Waits at The Orpheum: "Singapore," "Invitation to the Blues," "House Where Nobody Lives." Really, that speaks for itself.

2. Eddie Bond at Ponderosa Stomp: Long ago, I'd given up hope that I would ever see a good Eddie Bond show, but after his set at the Gibson, I'm convinced there are only two things standing between the flip-flopping daddy and a major comeback: Deke Dickerson & the Eccophonics aren't his full-time rhythm section and Travis Wammack isn't his regular guitar player. Yes, there were better shows at the Stomp (Syl Johnson, anybody?), but for sheer shock value, Eddie's was extra special.

3. Jim Dickinson's cover of "Truck Driving Man": I suppose I expected an album titled Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger to sound more like Screamin' Jay Hawkins than Willie & Family Live, not that I'm complaining. Actually I am. Dickinson's latest starts as strong as anything he's ever done, the rest is merely good. But his cover of "Truck Driving Man" is so smooth, breezy, and totally free. We wouldn't need truck drivers if New Orleans and Bakersfield were actually as close together as they sound in Jungle Jim's interpretation of this honky-tonk classic.

4. Gonerfest on DVD: I officially became old this year because I really, really, really wanted to go to Gonerfest, but I really, really, really didn't have time for the hangover. Thanks to Chris "Live from Memphis" Reyes and his helpers, I can now get rocked at home, whenever I want, with an ice-cold Geritol.

5. Becc & Hank's "I Hear a Call": Generally speaking, the album Trailer Park Lovin' was a little too "outside the trailer park looking in" for my taste, but "I Hear a Call" is an angelic, existential dose of lonesome country gospel and, for what it's worth, the most beautifully sung song of this year.

Andria Lisle:

1. Ponderosa Stomp: I've attended every Ponderosa Stomp since its inception; never did I figure on less than a six-hour drive to the party. Yet in 2006, the Stomp was in temporary exile in Memphis, with everyone from Scotty Moore, Travis Wammack, and Jerry "the King" Lawler to WEVL and chef Karen Carrier helping the New Orleans contingency feel at home. William Bell was incendiary, Clarence "Frogman" Henry unforgettable. If you missed it, you truly missed out.

2. Cat Power: With the help of Teenie Hodges, Rick Steff, Doug Easley, Susan Marshall, and others, Cat Power got back on her feet in Memphis, recording The Greatest at Ardent and returning -- after losing a few of her nine lives -- to make a music video at the Lamplighter with Robert Gordon and shoot a concert at Young Avenue Deli for cable-TV broadcast.

3. Gonerfest 3: Live eels, foreign garage-rock bands, and stellar performances from River City Tanlines, Rockin' Enocky, and Viva L'American Death Ray Music -- the guys at Goner Records know how to take a nothing weekend and make it seem so worthwhile.

4. Memphis Manatee video (YouTube): Manny the Manatee might be dead, but thanks to this absolutely genius music video created by Joe Sills, his memory will live forever. Local news footage cobbled together with images of Manny partying with Three 6 Mafia, checking out Graceland, and hangin' with Grizz, all unwinding over a soaring power-pop anthem by Blue October, will make you wonder what might've happened had Manny survived. It'll also have you laughing your ass off. Enjoy.

5. Hernando's Hideaway: Some of the greatest nights of my life were spent in this South Memphis honky tonk, dancing to Bubba Feathers or tunes on the jukebox. Imagine my horror, then, when I pulled up to Hernando's a few months back and discovered the business shuttered and the building repainted. R.I.P. to one of the city's greatest treasures, lost in 2006. 

Andrew Earles:1. Dinosaur Jr. at Young Avenue Deli: Being the superfan that I am, it's odd that I was too lazy or broke to travel when the first round of Dinosaur Jr. original-lineup reunion shows was traversing the States. When the band finally hit Memphis in April, the performance lived up to earlier reports and exceeded expectations with an energy and mind-shattering volume that was simply unbelievable for a band whose heyday was in the late '80s.

2. Big Business/Torche at the Hi-Tone: Another absurdly loud and rocking show, though far fewer people saw this one. The two fellows in Big Business are now two-fifths of the Melvins; as this incarnation, they are a bass and drums duo that will reestablish any lost faith in the power of the two-piece. And Torche make extremely catchy avant-metal out of the Melvins blueprint and, as such, are probably the loudest pop band in the world.

3. Backyard Shows: A couple successful shows at Two Chicks and a Broom/Light Years Vintage and lots of shows at multiple locations for the kid-friendly Rock & Romp series: Was 2006 the return of the backyard show? I sure hope so. Since Memphis no longer has a proper winter, we certainly have the weather for it. Laid-back, cheap alcohol, sonics unencumbered by troublesome "acoustics," no smoke clogging up the room, and the ground softer than a club floor in case you need to fall down or become involved in a drunken brawl: There's no more enjoyable road to passing out at 8 p.m.

4. Chopper Girl/Al Kapone/Lord T & Eloise (various performances): There were a lot of hip-hop shows with large crossover audiences this year. This is probably a far-removed result of Hustle & Flow, but harmony is to be enjoyed and applauded.

5. Film Music: The growing prevalence of local music in the Indie Memphis Film Festival, especially more underground examples like Brent Shrewsbury's (silly but fun) Evil Army video.

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