Ter­rell’s Tune-Up

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

New al­bums from Church­wood and Hick­oids

In the not-so-dis­tant past, ev­ery now and then I would en­counter a spe­cial sort of reader who seemed to love to play what I call “stump the critic.” This is the sort of guy — and it would al­ways be a guy — who would go down some list in his head of ob­scure bands and singers un­til he got to ones to which I wasn’t hip.

These days I wouldn’t last long in such a game. It’s true that I don’t like a large per­cent­age of the new crap that’s out there. But it’s also pos­si­ble that there’s an­other fac­tor at work. Maybe I’ve be­come more mu­si­cally con­ser­va­tive in my advanced years and more cyn­i­cal about what con­sti­tutes mu­si­cal in­no­va­tion.

But one thing I can say for my­self: I was a fan of Church­wood be­fore most peo­ple out­side of Austin, which means I’m far cooler than most of those “stump the critic” twits. And Church­wood, as they prove once again with their re­cently re­leased fourth al­bum, Hex City , is a band that all true rock ’n’ roll fans should seek out. Now.

Church­wood is fronted by singer Joe Do­err, an English pro­fes­sor by day, and guitarist Bill An­der­son, who I only re­cently re­al­ized used to play with the acous­tic coun­try/punk group The Meat Pur­vey­ors, who were al­ways one of the highlights of Blood­shot Records’ annual South by South­west party at the Yard Dog Art Gallery. An­der­son and Do­err have been co-con­spir­a­tors for decades in var­i­ous Austin bands.

Some crit­ics — and in fact their own record com­pany, Saus­tex — have called them an avant-garde blues band. There’s a lot of truth in that. You can cer­tainly hear the in­flu­ence of Cap­tain Beef­heart — who put the sounds of Howlin’ Wolf through a Dadaist meat grinder — in Church­wood’s mu­si­cal magic.

But the band goes well be­yond the Cap­tain’s brand of blues. You also can hear echoes of Beef­heart’s pal Frank Zappa in Church­wood’s knack for sud­denly chang­ing time sig­na­tures in the mid­dle of a song. I’ve com­pared them to Pere Ubu. And a cur­rent weird mu­si­cal fan­tasy of mine is pro­duc­ing a split al­bum that would have Church­wood do­ing songs by The Fall on one side and The Fall cov­er­ing Church­wood tunes on the other.

On this al­bum, the band’s ba­sic lineup — which in­cludes guitarist Billysteve Korpi, Adam Ka­han on bass, and drum­mer Julien Peter­son — is for­ti­fied on some songs by a horn sec­tion (The Money Shot Brass) and a pair of fe­male vo­cal­ists called The Nico­tine Choir.

Ev­ery track is filled with in­cred­i­ble blues, funk, and some­times even metal riffs, as if the Dap-Kings were in a vi­cious battle with the But­t­hole Surfers while Do­err plays the role of or­a­cle, un­leash­ing bar­rages of verse. By the ti­tle, you might sus­pect “One Big White Night­mare” is about the 2016 elec­tion. But what I hear is Do­err stand­ing on the side­lines of some pend­ing apoc­a­lypse laugh­ing in­sanely while shooting ar­rows of flam­ing lit­er­ary im­agery: “Haiku: seven­teen syl­la­bles/frame about a doubt with a grim con­clu­sion/ ya­hoo: all the Houy­hnhnms in the world/are get­ting rounded and rid­den into mass delu­sion …”

(Houy­hnhnms? That should get a Swift re­sponse.)

Des­per­ately flee­ing from some crazy un­named trou­ble is a theme that runs through more than one song on Hex City. On the low and slow “Hal­lelu­jah” (no, not the song by Leonard Co­hen, peace be upon him), Do­err sings, “Yeah, we slith­ered out of Dodge in a ’60 El Camino/and we parked be­neath a sy­camore tree/ the ra­dio was play­ing ‘Found My Love in Portofino’ when you en­tered all the terms of my plea. …” A few songs later, on “Chick­a­saw Fire,” he rapidly re­cites, “payin’ no at­ten­tion ’cause I’m jail­house broke/I drive a stolen Cadil­lac and into the smoke/of a Chick­a­saw fire. …”

Hex City it­self is a danger­ous ad­ven­ture. And the ad­ven­ture only deep­ens with ev­ery lis­ten.

Also rec­om­mended:

▼ The Out of Town­ers by Hick­oids. This is a bit­ter­sweet EP by these ven­er­ated Austin cow­punks and Saus­tex Records flag­ship band. It’s a happy oc­ca­sion be­cause this is the first Hick­oids re­lease since 2013’s

Hairy Chafin’ Ape Suit. But it’s also sad be­cause the six tracks on this CD are the last record­ings by the late Davy Jones, the lanky goof­ball guitarist known for his sweet smile, tacky plaid suits, color­ful paint-flecked boots, and cow­boy hats.

Jones, a found­ing Hick­oids mem­ber along with Saus­tex com­man­der Jeff Smith, died of lung can­cer a year ago. In fact, this col­umn is be­ing pub­lished on Nov. 25, the first an­niver­sary of Davy’s death.

The Out of Town­ers is a col­lec­tion of cov­ers of songs writ­ten by some of the band’s fa­vorite song­writ­ers from Texas. It kicks off with a sweet­sound­ing ver­sion of “I Have Al­ways Been Here Be­fore” by the Lone Star State’s fa­vorite psy­che­delic ranger, Roky Erick­son, and in­cludes a blis­ter­ing take on Wil­lie Nel­son’s hit “Night Life” and a more rev­er­ent cover of Doug Sahm’s “At the Cross­roads,” a song best known for the line “you just can’t live in Texas if you ain’t got a whole lot of soul.”

There’s a slow, soul­ful song by Santa Fe res­i­dent Terry Allen called “I Just Left My­self To­day,” (“I didn’t float, I didn’t fly, I did not tran­scend. No I just walked out on me again”) from his clas­sic Lub­bock

on Ev­ery­thing al­bum. And there’s “Dead in a Mo­tel Room,” a dark rocker by the Dicks, an old Austin punk rock band that in­cluded Jones. This one has a har­mon­ica solo by Wal­ter Daniels of Big Foot Ch­ester and Meet Your Death.

One of my fa­vorite tunes here is “Cans,” which was writ­ten by Rich Mi­nus, who is bet­ter known for writ­ing “Laredo Rose,” which was recorded by the Texas Tor­na­dos. Mi­nus died ear­lier this year at the age of seventy-five. “Cans” is the story of a home­less man. I don’t think this band has ever sounded pret­tier.

Learn more about Hick­oids and Church­wood at www.saus­tex.com.

Ev­ery track is filled with in­cred­i­ble blues, funk, and some­times even metal riffs, as if the Dap-Kings were in a vi­cious battle with the But­t­hole Surfers while singer Joe Do­err plays the role of or­a­cle, un­leash­ing bar­rages of verse.

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