Mmmmm, Red Meat!

And the horrors of mortality

There's a long, noble tradition of hillbilly bands siftin' cornpone n'yuk-n'yuks into their shtick along with the expected hot licks and classic tunes, from Lonzo & Oscar to Homer & Jethro, from Red Ingle & his Natural Seven to the Maddox Brothers & Rose. Red Meat, a San Francisco-based group of transplanted Midwestern hicks, is the latest in that lineage. This is a band that raises all manner of honky-tonk shitfire, due in no small part to the audacious stage antics of a singer who calls himself Smelley Kelley and flaps about onstage like a bandy-legged rooster with a coyote nipping at his ass feathers, all the while emitting a yee-haw racket akin to a penful of hogs feeding orgiastically under a full moon.

"People enjoy saying my name," Smelley tells me. "They love to yell out, 'Hey, Smelley!' to see if you answer them, and I always do."

Wotta guy. Kelley and principal songwriter/co-front man Scott Young have been musical partners since high school. It's a yin-yang relationship; by all accounts, Young is pathologically shy while Kelley is about as demure as Yosemite Sam. "I'm the noisiest, but Scott is really the most talented," Kelley allows. "He's from the Ozarks, and he's a man of few words unless he's writing them down. He writes these amazing songs, and I always felt like people needed to hear 'em. I'm always making a lot of noise and making people look, and then Scott lays the shit on 'em."

Red Meat's just-released third album, Alameda County Line, is the latest entry in a growing and impressive catalog. The sound is hardcore honky-tonk and Western swing, with Young's solid songcraft well in evidence on such tunes as "Catfish Fry," "Under the Wrench" and "Lolita," which is about a guy whose relationship ends shortly after getting the girl's name tattooed on his arm and is now searching for a new gal named Lolita so the tat doesn't go to waste. The album's success is aided in no small part by the keen ear of producer Dave Alvin, who keeps the sound clean, simple and roots-conscious.

And just what are those roots? "I was kind of from that first generation that listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd and had long hair," said Smelley, "but would pull out a crowbar and whack you in the fuckin' head if some greezy sumbitch wanted to beat me up for having long hair." I have grave doubts that you could have more fun this week than ingesting a heapin' helpin' of Red Meat on Friday night at Abilene Rose, where they play with Deke Dickerson.

A recent PBS special reunited several British Invasion bands of the early '60s, most of whom sounded sameasiteverwuz but had physically aged so hideously that it was nigh as unendurable as watching the latest Chevy Chase flick. The guy who both looked the scariest and sounded the sweetest was former Animals front man Eric Burdon. Burdon's kisser, once a-twitter with steely Geordie arrogance, now appears to be composed of spongy, yellow tissue, like something you'd liberate from a clogged garbage disposal. A disheveled mop of blue-black-dyed hair serves to set off the pulpous mass that is his mug to grand effect—you just know there are several ounces of pus squinching around in those jowls. I don't want to be too hard on poor old Eric, though, because as I said, he sang rather gloriously. Where other bands—such as the Troggs, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders—stuck to note-for-note renditions of their old hits, Burdon served up adventurous rearrangements of classic material that gave him a chance to strut his still-considerable stuff rather than simply pandering to the bluehair nostalgia jones. The tone of his voice is the same nutshell-hard R&B bark you can hear on records from the time, and like his contemporary, Van Morrison, Burdon really excels at whipping into impromptu, stream-of-consciousness lyrical mantras as weird and personal as they are fun to listen to. Although Burdon's last blush of fame came some 30 years ago, he has retained the authority of his glory days while growing and experimenting as an artist. It's a shame that Burdon is reduced to playing on kitsch oldies bills when he remains perhaps the finest R&B vocalist ever to emerge from the U.K. (Note to Burdon: a few months on the Atkins diet and a bit of a tuck and roll around the edges of that plumped-up puss might do wonders for your career, mate.) Those who check Burdon out Friday night at the Coach House will enjoy a man whose voice still bespeaks priapic boners—even if his mug might leave you contemplating the horror of human mortality.

Chris Calloway, daughter of the late, legendary Cab Calloway, appears Sunday afternoon at Orange Coast College on a show billed as "Cab Calloway's Legacy of Swing." Cab's goily goil is a fine jazz singer with a brassy, passionate delivery and more-than-passable affinity for the type of scat singing at which Daddy excelled, although her style is more modern and updated, naturally. You can be sure that she'll also have many anecdotes to offer about the Hi-De-Ho Man as well, making this a must-attend event for Calloway fans and swing aficionados in general. My guess, though, is that if you shout requests for Brian Setzer songs, she'll probably pounce on your person and bludgeon you gooey with a large chunk of bauxite, so please proceed with caution and show some klass, daddy-os 'n' daddy-ettes.

Red Meat and Deke Dickerson play at the Abilene Rose, 10830 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 963-1700. Fri., 9 p.m. $8; Eric Burdon & the New Animals perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930. Fri., 8 p.m. $19.50; Cab Calloway's Legacy of Swing is playing at Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5880. Sun., 4 p.m. In advance:$29; seniors, $25; at the door: $33.

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