Earlier this year saw the release of the debut album from the Reigning Sound, the new project helmed by ex-Oblivian/Compulsive Gambler Greg Cartwright. Now comes the first record from Cartwright's former comrade Jack Yarber's latest band, The Tearjerkers. But if the Reigning Sound's Break Up, Break Down showcased a much mellower version of the Oblivians' and Compulsive Gamblers' punk-fueled garage rock, the Tearjerkers' Bad Mood Rising (Sympathy For the Record Industry; Grade: B+) is closer to the grit and volume of Yarber and Cartwright's earlier bands. The album opens with a one-two punch -- "White Lie, Black Eye" and "Stupid Cupid" -- that confirms the band's greatest strength: a glam-punk take on old-time rock-and-roll that evokes the New York Dolls (especially their second album, In Too Much Too Soon) and does right by the comparison. Joined by drummer Bubba Bonds, bassist Scott Bomar (Impala), guitarist John Whittemore (Neighborhood Texture Jam), Yarber and band don't come off quite as well when they stray far from this formula. The countryish "Bank, Gun, Jail" and acoustic-driven "Devil's Border" are only moderately successful experiments, partly because Yarber's naturally sarcastic and lascivious vocals (much like early Mick Jagger) don't communicate sincerity easily. But on straight rockers like "Head of the Class Clowns" and especially the breakneck "Earthquake Date (Pretty Bad Baby)" they railroad over any and all quibbles.
On With Everything We Got (Soul Is Cheap; Grade: B), their fourth full-length album in their just-over-a-decade existence, punk institution Pezz takes a hard, ambivalent look at their relatively long lifespan. Some songs could be a musical conversation between original members Marv Stockwell and Ceylon Mooney. On "Reflect, Regret, Regress" the band reaches back to the youthful excitement of their early years: "The ashtray reflects the years of pain/Let's smoke another and feel 15 again," Stockwell sings, continuing, "It seems you and I are veterans of a sort Let's go back to where we started and remember one last time." But those sentiments are balanced by the epic "What If Someday Never Comes?," which offers a different judgment on the past: "No matter how I twist my guts and return to places I once played/You can never be there again/There's no such thing as good old days."
Elsewhere, the band focuses its punk and hardcore approach (for the uninitiated, think Hüsker Dü) on more political topics. The short, scorching "Walk the Road" contains some of the record's strongest lyrics, outlining the responsibility and cost of political dissent in deft strokes: "So I got this blank check for freedom/Now it's time to cash it in and pay the price/Paying rent with my resistance/Learn the love of sacrifice." The band is equally realistic about its political struggle on "Loch Nar," which offers the following: "Numbered are your days/Maybe in the millions/But they're numbered just the same."
The record's biggest departure is the straight reggae of "Voices in the Wilderness," a song inspired by Mooney's recent trip to sanction- and bomb-riddled Iraq as part of a humanitarian delegation. The song's power derives from its very artlessness, Mooney communicating his experience in Iraq as directly as possible: "Basra Nejav Mosul our bombs still fly/In Baghdad in hospitals I saw children die/No morphine to muffle their cries."
After a hiatus, the roots-rock ensemble Bumpercrop has returned in force to the local club scene in recent months and now returns with a strong new album, Last Man Standing (Self-released; Grade: B). Produced by Kevin Cubbins, who also helmed debuts from the Star-Crossed Truckers and Cory Branan earlier in the year, the sonic assurance of Last Man Standing improves on an already polished live show. Bumpercrop is led by singer-songwriters Matt Ruhland and Blaine Loyd, whose styles are similar, with Ruhland's songs a little more country and Loyd's a little more college-rock. On the whole, Last Man Standing's lyrics may be a little too vague, but the music kicks consistently. The lyrical abstraction also helps Loyd's traditional story song "Henry Blythe" stand out. Ordinarily I'm wary of these kinds of Americana narratives, which can feel like a rote component of alt-country records, but Bumpercrop makes the form work with a well-crafted, concrete narrative and a track that bounces along with more propulsive sweep than anything else on the record.
Currently one of the city's most enjoyable live bands, The Porch Ghouls don't quite capture the infectious energy of their live set on their eponymous debut, Porch Ghouls (Orange Records; Grade: B-). A 6-song EP for a California record label that has since closed shop, Porch Ghouls, as recorded by garage-rock raconteur Jeffrey Evans, can be rough going sound-wise, but enough of the band's ramshackle energy still comes through to make it worth a listen. The record opens with gutbucket renditions of Hound Dog Taylor's "Give Me Back My Wig" and Willie Dixon's "Spoonful." This is blues stripped down to its barest essentials, music that might emanate from the well-worn lost 78s of some pre-war, front-porch blues band. The record's high point comes when ex-drummer Lady Baltimore takes over vocals for a rousing run-through of Little Richard's "Get Down With It." The sound on this record will be too raw for some listeners, but Porch Ghouls is presumably just a taste of better things ahead for this band.
The recent Rhino Records compilation Chitlin' Circuit Soul sheds new light on the lingering, adult-oriented Southern soul scene. But if you're looking for another first-rate document of this enduring form, then look no further than Barbara Carr's The Best Woman (Ecko Records; Grade: B+). Released by the local soul label Ecko, The Best Woman is strong, consistent old-school soul. Raunchy but never campy, this is the real stuff, best heard on gritty numbers such as the blunt "Same Ole, Same Ole" ("It's the same ole, same ole/Each and every night/You think you're making love/You ain't doing it right"), the philosophical "As Long As You Were Cheating" ("I believe I'd have more fun/If you'd keep on cheating on me"), and the self-explanatory "Hooked On Your Love Bone."
With his relaxed (and relaxing) finger-picked acoustic and warm, gentle delivery, Delta Joe Sanders' blues style owes a great debt to that of the great Mississippi John Hurt. Sanders' Always Go With Your Heart (Twinkle Town Records; Grade: B) is a pleasant, modest little record that adds some fine songwriting (especially "Blues Feels Just Like Me" and "Never Did Like This Place") to this inviting style. And to keep the solo acoustic sound from getting too samey, Sanders adds his own harmonica as well as helping hands from some rather accomplished friends, including Jim Spake, Charlie Wood, Tommy Burroughs, and co-producer Reba Russell.
You can e-mail Chris Herrington at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by CHRIS HERRINGTON
Last Wednesday night at the New Daisy Theater, the local chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) held its fifth annual Urban Music Forum and Showcase, which, outside of spring's Premiere Player Awards, is probably the organization's finest and most visible event.
A gathering place for urban (read: hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues) music movers and shakers and the strivers eager to join their ranks, the Urban Music Forum is both an idea exchange and creative meat market, the have-nots swarming the haves with armloads of demo tapes and CDs in an attempt to catch that elusive big break.
As is the norm, the event was divided into two parts: The "forum" was a panel discussion with major players in the urban music industry, who offered their advice on breaking into the business and took questions from the audience. The panel was moderated this year by Matthew Knowles, the manager for multiplatinum singing group Destiny's Child, which is fronted by his daughter, Beyoncé.
The audience favorite on the panel was returnee Tony Mercedes, a successful producer and A&R man whose advice was refreshingly blunt and to the point. A competitor for panel MVP was Atlanta-based entertainment lawyer Vernon Slaughter, a great addition in that he clearly cared as much about music as art as he did about the business side and had provocative things to say along those lines. Slaughter stated early on that the most misused term in the music business is "artist" and bemoaned that the industry was filled with people entirely in it for the money.
Mercedes provided the clearest and most specific insights before a crowd seemingly focused on obtaining a major-label deal. Mercedes contended that there is too much emphasis on production and not enough on songwriting -- "Give me one good songwriter for five producers," he said. Mercedes also pointedly condemned radio consolidation for making it harder for independent artists to break through and encouraged the crowd to "get out of the music business and get into the business of music." Similarly, local panelist Johnny Phillips of distributor Select-o-Hits encouraged listeners to work their own music rather than waiting around for a major label to pick them up, pointing out that most music starts at the independent level.
Slaughter's comments were the most compelling when it came to the artistic health of hip hop and R&B. Most panelists danced around an audience member who wondered whether the events of September 11th would change the lyrical content of hip hop, reining in the genre's rampant materialism. But Slaughter concurred with the questioner, going so far as to insist that organic, neo-soul artists like D'Angelo, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu were "saving soul music." For his closing comments, Slaughter talked about how the fertile Philly soul scene (Scott, D'Angelo, Bilal) was built on the city's '70s legacy of Gamble and Huff. He implored Memphis to rebuild its own organic soul scene on the roots of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. It remains to be seen if the local scene will heed his call.
Unfortunately, the musical showcase wasn't nearly as compelling as last year's. Unlike last year, performers were drawn from all over the region, not just Memphis. And that may have been a good thing, since the two local acts weren't very memorable. Crooner King Ellis strove too hard for social commentary ("Make some noise for consciousness!") amid his standard lover-man set, and rap duo Backwoodz Rootz tossed raw vocals over strong tracks but seemed pretty generic. The most compelling performer of the night was Mississippi-by-way-of-Nashville rapper Jahn Jahn. Jahn Jahn and crew came out with a disturbingly pathological song, the chorus of which was "Round 'em up/There's gonna be a hanging," but Jahn Jahn's flow was so strong and distinctive that the song couldn't be easily dismissed. The rapper -- a burly kid with a wildly unkempt afro -- then surprised and delighted the audience by changing the mood drastically with a catchy, romantic, and funny song apparently called "Sister Girl," which served as the night's highlight.