Sorry, kiddies—we have no punk/alternative/emo/ska/hip-hop/electronic or any other modish modern music for you. Instead, here's 16 servings of time-tested roots music—pure as a mountain dawn, wild as a boar hog in season, tuff as a T-bone from Denny's, and as real as a kick in the pants.
OC is internationally known for its MTV-friendly bands. But this CD proves we're also a stronghold for roots music. You'd be hard-pressed to find another county in the Yew-Ess-Ay that could offer up such a wide variety of superb artists and divergent styles as you'll hear on Roots Canal—volume four of fine free music from your friends at OC Weekly. Blues, jump, rockabilly, surf, country, reggae, gospel, and good old-fashioned rock & roll—it's all here, performed by locals (well, we're temporarily annexing Downey so we can put Dave Alvin on here; you'd do it, too, if you could) ranging from the world-famous to the should-be-world-famous.
All the usual rules apply: find the ad on page 33, rip out the coupon, take it to one of the better retail stores you see listed there, and claim your free, no-purchase-necessary CD. Then bring it home, jam the sucker into the stereo, and prepare to dance and grin like an idjit and get all wibbly because this music is gonna make you feel real purty inside—guaranteed!
1 >Dave Alvin, "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down." Alvin seizes this old bluegrass chestnut (a track from his new Hightone CD Public Domain) by the gooters and somehow turns a shitkicking Appalachian hillbilly romp into low-down Chicago blues la Muddy Waters. He's abetted in no small order by Joe Terry's pounding piano, John "Juke" Logan's wailing harp, and Bobby Lloyd Hicks' frenetic drum shuffle.
2 >Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, "Night Tide." You gotta love this tune's unconventional pop melody and chord progression, which subvert the Rules of Rockabilly without losing any essential twangwang. You also gotta love Sandy's poetic use of imagery to convey the fact that he's about to go out and get drunk. Sweet vocals, too, which is only to be expected of everyone's favorite croonin' Anaheimian.
3 >The Bleeders, "Two Lane Blacktop." This is fulla snarly guitar-punk attitude, like Link Wray and Davie Allan after an aggressive snort of bad meth or after listening to Led Zeppelin II over and over all night while working on a car engine. The riff is relentless, and the gearhead-boner thing is very OC, the kind of song you want playing on the stereo when your 'rod sails airborne off Ortega Highway.
4 >Bourbon Jones, "Faith." Jesus is coming, and from the sound of things, when he gets here he's gonna pitch one hell of a party. Long Beach's Bourbon boys come on like the Reverend Gary Davis turned way up past 11. Get healed!
5 >Freddie Brooks, "Fun to Visit." Mr. Brooks apparently owns an impressive assortment of dildos, ticklers and other such vulgar provisions, and he's clearly very proud of his collection. You'll be proud of Brooks, too, when you hear his jazzy, clever harp lines set off by Jeff Ross' Willie Johnson-esque guitar work and a rhythm section that swings like Cheeta partying at Hef's pad.
6 >The Dibs, "The Gaps." This sucker drips with so much raw passion and urgency it almost hurts to listen. Chris Hanlin (who also fronts Bourbon Jones) sings like his gizzards might pop out of his mouth at any second, even as the vibe of the track is so world-weary you just know it had to be recorded on a gray, rainy, hungover Sunday. Rock & roll personified!
7 >Chris Gaffney, "King of the Blues." Anyone who thinks contemporary country is fully composed of either embarrassing hat acts or retro-by-the-numbers trend monkeys needs to get hip to the Gaff. This track was recorded live at the Swallow's Inn in Capistrano and features a typically perfect Gaffnian combination of gorgeous vocals, literate songwriting and blue-collar ethos.
8 >The James Harman Band, "Annalee." This Texas-style blues romp was recorded in 1988, when the band was known as Those Dangerous Gentlemens. Harman and his all-star backing band (Kid Ramos, Gene Taylor, Stephen Hodges and Willie Campbell) kick serious ass on this track, proving that Harman is OC's best-known and most-respected blues artist for good reason.
9 >King Arthur, "Ten Thousand Warriors." The King hails from Trinidad originally, and his roots in calypso are very much in evidence on this buoyant, chipper little ditty about . . . um, I dunno. I have no idea what the deal is with all these warriors coming down, or why they've come bearing helmets and spears. But it's still a great song, and I particularly love the little dance-hall breaks.
10 >Mama's Boys, "Whiskey in My Eye." In which Slim Harpo and John Lee Hooker duke it out for supremacy while the Yardbirds referee. They call themselves Mama's Boys, but they play like sons of Mike Tyson. When I was a teenager, I once put a four-way hit of windowpane LSD in my eye and got a really wild buzz, but I haven't tried the whiskey thing yet. If it makes these guys sound this great, though, I'm going for it.
11 >Kid Ramos, "Cold Chicken and Beer." How did Albert Collins manage to come back from the dead and play on this tune? It ain't the Iceman, it's Kid Ramos, who can invoke the sound, style and spirit of virtually any great blues guitarist you can name. Here, he jumps it up with a snazzy, jazzy instrumental, featuring a tight-assed horn section and Dave Mathews (no, not that one) making like Jimmy McGriff on the B3.
12 >Rascalin & the Roots Rockers, "Lyin' Eyes." Melodic roots-reggae, masterfully arranged and executed by San Clemente-based Rascalin's 12-piece band. Horns punch smartly, guitars chunk insistently, voices harmonize sweetly, and percussion and bass carve a well-deep groove. It all skanks my pickle quite nicely, thank you.
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13 >Lee Rocker, "Love Me Good." Bass-humping Rocker serves up a rollicking live track that's one part Tex-Mex, one part rockabilly and one part Marshall Crenshaw-like pop, accented by a swell guitar solo courtesy of Adrian DeMain. Bonus: unlike another former, more famous Stray Cat, Rocker does not bear a disturbing resemblance to Angela Lansbury.
14 >Rod & the Pistons, "Dashed Upon the Rocks." A beautiful minor-key blues ballad channeling the spirits of both Carlos Santana (with its fat, ethereal guitar tones) and Janis Joplin (with its final, climactic, bone-chilling vocal scream). Rod and all them Frias brothers deserve far wider recognition in local blues circles—here's all the proof you need.
15 >The Torquays, "Trilobite." Why do I get a mental image of Herman Munster on a longboard whenever I hear this tune? Incredibly, the Torquays have been together since surf rock first burst on the scene nearly 40 years ago, and they remain a big part of OC's musical history and heritage. "Trilobite" is a typically rockin', tuneful and to-the-point offering.
16 >Billy Zoom, "Crazy Crazy Lovin'." A great way to close things out: X's Billy Zoom, tearing it up on a classic Joe Carroll rockabilly number that he recorded back in 1975, several years before anyone thought 'billy was cool again. Was Zoom the best singer in X, even though he didn't sing in the band? And what will it take to make him record more solo records this ragin'?