A longtime sideman and collaborator for local roots-music queen Nancy Apple, Jay Ruffin goes solo this month with Skeleton Key, the first release on Apple's Ringo Records not by Apple herself. Ruffin has recorded solo before, under the name Jay Harrington (Ruffin is his middle name), but with Skeleton Key the ostensible alt-country player has undergone a skillful, convincing makeover as a straight-up rocker, one whose sound bounces agreeably from the vaguely rootsy (think Steve Earle or Tom Petty) to the poppy (Marshall Crenshaw) to slightly harder, more electric stuff ('80s/early-'90s college rock).
The guitars on Skeleton Key cut more than jangle, but it's the songcraft that stands out: Some songs -- "Dirty Little Town," with its background vocals and big guitar solo; "Common Ground," with its growling vocal, blues-rock guitars, and organ fills --fit into the classic-rock vein. But the best-sounding songs --"Run Virginia Run" or the uptempo "Never Be the Same" -- have the pop gallop of vintage Crenshaw. As a transition from alt-country to straight-up rock, Skeleton Key bears some musical resemblance to the Old 97s' breakout albums Fight Songs and Satellite Rides, though Ruffin's lyrics aren't in the same ballpark as Rhett Miller's best.
Ruffin will celebrate the release of Skeleton Key at Paddy's Irish Pub, inside the Edge District's Stop 345 space, Saturday, April 16th. Helping him out will be his all-female backup band, The Luv Muffins.
Were MC5 and Blue Cheer slow? I haven't listened to the former in more than a decade (always preferred the Stooges) and have never owned music by the latter, so my musical memory is a little fuzzy. I only ask because the New Orleans noise-rock duo Blackfire Revelation cite both bands (covering Blue Cheer's "Second Time Around," by far the speediest thing on the record) and come on with such attitude that I was expecting something more chaotic than what their album Gold and Guns on 51 provides. Then again, I also wasn't expecting the chin-up lyrics of the opening "Battle Hymn," which remind me a little of early Hüsker Dü, except Blackfire Revelation never motorvates like the Dü's Metal Circus. The molasses tempos here are enlivened by a bluesy feel likely informed by singer/songwriter John Fields' rural Mississippi roots, and whether MC5 or Blue Cheer ever got this sluggish, the s-l-o-w, sleazy grind of "Preach to the Choir" does remind me of the Stooges' grunge-y "Dirt." "Dirt" I love, but generally loud-and-slow isn't my ideal, which doesn't mean it isn't yours: Bring your earplugs to the Hi-Tone Café Thursday, April 14th, for Blackfire Revelation. -- Chris Herrington
The Fucking Champs have managed to pioneer a hybrid of heavy-metal mayhem and old-school prog that obliterates the sophomoric Dungeons & Dragons quality of the former (in spite of titles like "Thor Is Like Immortal") and the dippy, acid-drenched "spirituality" of the latter. The Champs' songs -- almost exclusively instrumental -- show virtuosity without the embarrassing "Whoa, look what my hands just did!" B.S. that is the signature expression of so many Guitar World virtuosos. They're at the Hi-Tone Café Saturday, April 16th, with another -- very different -- band, Parchman Farm, whose polished vintage sound captures the moment when '60s psych began to morph into the pop metal of the early '70s. Beautiful Byrds-inspired harmonies and dreamy lyrics explode into growling Steppinwolf-ish rockers. It's a refreshing dose of boomer-era radio rock designed for those of us who are sick of the late-night infomercials reminding us (ad nauseum) how great it was. In short: They rool.
Quick hits: Also on Saturday, The Derailers will be at Murphy's. Seeing these shit-hot honky-tonkers in a venue this small is a country-and-western fan's dream come true. (Dale Watson was there only last week. Go, Murphy's!) Drums & Tuba, who are the Saturday-night headliners at the Young Avenue Deli, have gotten too electronic for their own good. But there was a time I might have said that they -- along with Calexico -- were the reigning kings of quirky instrumental post-rock. The Gourds, a sort of punk-influenced answer to Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson, have developed a following among Phish-heads, Panicheads, and Deadheads who haven't come to grips with Jerry's passing. They hit the Hi-Tone on Wednesday, April 20th.