TER­RELL’S TUNE-UP

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - Steve Ter­rell

The other AAA Here’s an in­no­va­tive Den­ver band that’s been around for years and years. I should have been lis­ten­ing to these mu­si­cians for years and years, but some­how they es­caped my at­ten­tion un­til a cou­ple of months ago.

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is of­ten billed as a “coun­try gothic” band (what­ever that is). Led by Cessna, who shares vo­cal du­ties with side­kick Jay Munly, the Auto Club of­ten takes the view­point of sin­ners in the hands of an an­gry God. But on its new al­bum, Un­en­ti­tled, which some crit­ics say is the group’s most ac­ces­si­ble, many songs are so up­beat and happy-sound­ing that I re­ally don’t think the “gothic” la­bel does the band jus­tice.

True, Auto Club has that banjo-apoca­lypse vibe of fel­low Coloradans 16 Horse­power go­ing full force on the first song, “Three Blood­hounds Two Shep­herds One Fila Brasileiro.” This is a ter­ri­fy­ing tale that deals with blood­hounds be­ing set loose on some hap­less tar­get, per­haps an es­caped pris­oner. It takes me back to House of Freaks’ “When the Ham­mer Came Down.” The nar­ra­tor of that tune, run­ning from blood­hounds — though we’re never told ex­actly why — could al­most be the vic­tim in Cessna’s song.

How­ever, the next tune, “The Un­balled Bal­lad of the New Folk Singer,” takes off with an eye-open­ing, fran­tic, al­most ’ 90s ska-like beat. The mu­sic is fierce and thun­der­ing and, no, not very “coun­try” (though I can imag­ine a band like the Leg­endary Shack Shak­ers do­ing some­thing like this). The fol­low­ing song, “Thy Will Be Done,” gets back to the banjo with an al­most raga-like melody and some oth­er­worldly whis­tle in­stru­ment I have yet to iden­tify. I’m not quite sure why, but when I hear this song I want to mix in some Tu­van throat singers. Some­how they’d just fit in.

That old-time re­li­gion — back­woods hell­fire style — is a ma­jor theme with the Auto Club. The first three min­utes or so of “A Smash­ing In­dict­ment of Char­ac­ter” has an up­beat­sanc­ti­fied rhythm, the kind Paul Si­mon em­ployed on songs like “Gone at Last.” But some sub­se­quent tunes get darker and spook­ier. The seven-minute “Hal­lelu­jah Any­way” is a twisted tale of an ar­ranged wed­ding. But even bet­ter is the clos­ing song, “United Brethren,” an emo­tional tune about a preacher los­ing his con­gre­ga­tion to an­other church — just as his great-grand­fa­ther had ex­pe­ri­enced. It’s not a prob­lem most of us will ever face, but as Munly pleads at the end of the song, “Lord have mercy upon us” in his lone­some tenor with just an au­to­harp be­hind him, only the most hard-hearted hea­then would be un­moved.

“My peo­ple al­ways been United Brethren. Cess­nas al­ways does as told,” Slim sings at the out­set of the tune. This free-spir­ited record proves that’s prob­a­bly not true. Check out www.slim­cess­nasauto­club.com.

So ya wanna talk about coun­try rock ... also rec­om­mended:

▼ Whitey Mor­gan & the 78’s. Hands down, this record, re­leased late last year, is the most “pure” coun­try al­bum Blood­shot Records has put out since ... well, since the lat­est Wayne Han­cock al­bum a cou­ple of years ago.

Mor­gan, whose real name is Eric Allen, is a Flint, Michi­gan, na­tive, but he’s got a voice that’s bound to re­mind you of a young Way­lon Jen­nings, or — I al­most hes­i­tate to say it — Hank Wil­liams Jr., back in the days when Bo­ce­phus was good, be­fore he be­came such a car­i­ca­ture of him­self. I was hooked from the first track, “Bad News,” a John D. Lou­d­er­milk tune cov­ered some 40 years ago by Johnny Cash and, be­lieve it or not, for­mer Los An­ge­les Ram Roo­sevelt Grier, who sang it on some TV va­ri­ety show (I for­get which one) in the late ’60s.

Whitey salutes his mu­si­cal heroes like Ge­orge Jones in “Turn Up the Bot­tle” (the rest of the re­frain be­ing, “and turn up the Jones”). And he does a rowdy cover of “Where Do Ya Want It?” — Dale Wat­son’s tale of Billy Joe Shaver’s Waco shoot­ing in­ci­dent.

While Mor­gan is good at do­ing other peo­ple’s songs (there are Johnny Pay­check and Hank Cochran songs here, too), he is a de­cent song­writer him­self. “Buick City,” a fast-paced tune about his home­town’s eco­nomic woes, is a high­light. It’s a nice lit­tle il­lus­tra­tion of how times have changed. In the early ’ 60s, Mel Til­lis wrote and Bobby Bare sang “Detroit City,” about a lone­some South­erner who moves to Michi­gan for eco­nomic rea­sons. In “Buick City” Mor­gan yearns to go to greener pas­tures in the South — Austin, Texas, to be ex­act.

▼ Sun­downer by Ed­die Spaghetti. Un­like Mor­gan, no­body would be likely to mis­take Mrs. Spaghetti’s baby boy for Way­lon or Bo­ce­phus or David Al­lan Coe. But Ed­die, who’s best known as the lead singer of Su­per­suck­ers, has al­ways had an spe­cial place in his heart for coun­try mu­sic. You could sense a coun­try/rock­a­billy vibe in some of Su­per­suck­ers’ records even be­fore the group made a stab at coun­try rock in Must’ve

Been High in the late ’ 90s. And Ed­die’s solo records, in­clud­ing this one, have been full of fun coun­try tunes.

Here he sings Johnny Cash’s “What Do I Care?” Steve Earle’s “If You Fall in Love,” and a bet­terthan-it-should-be take on “Al­ways on My Mind.” (Wil­lie Nel­son had a hit with it, and Elvis sang it be­fore Wil­lie.) And there’s some coun­tri­fied punk rock here — Spaghetti ver­sions of the Dwarves’ “Ev­ery­body’s Girl” and the Lee Harvey Oswald Band’s “Je­sus Never Lived on Mars.”

My fa­vorites on Sun­downer are “Party Dolls and Wine” (a coun­try-rock take on a Dean Martin tune) and Del Reeves’ twang-heavy truck­driver hit “Girl on the Bill­board.”

The Whitey Mor­gan and the Ed­die Spaghetti al­bums are from Blood­shot Records; see www.blood­shotrecords.com.

Hear some of these songs on the ra­dio:

I play stuff like this all the time on The Santa Fe

Opry, the coun­try mu­sic Nashville does not want you to hear, 10 p.m. on Fri­day. And don’t for­get

Ter­rell’s Sound World, freeform weirdo ra­dio, same time on Sun­day, both on KSFR-FM 101.1. It’s stream­ing and scream­ing on the web at www.ksfr.org .

Watch that plate, the Big En­chi­lada is hot: “Sounds from the Wild,” a dan­ger­ous new episode of the Big En­chi­lada is al­most done. Hear my fa­vorite mu­sic on your iPod or on your com­puter. Check out my grow­ing list of pod­casts at www.bi­gen­chi­ladapod­cast.com.

Slim Cessna

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