Ter­rell’s Tune Up

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2016: The ones that got away 17

As is the case every year, there was a lot more note­wor­thy mu­sic re­leased in 2016 than I was able to write about in this col­umn. Here are a few worth­while al­bums re­leased last year: ▼ The Com­mand­ments Ac­cord­ing to SCAC by Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. I’m a rel­a­tive new­comer to the Slim Cessna cult. I didn’t get in­doc­tri­nated into the laws and cus­toms of this Den­ver band un­til 2010, when I re­ceived the bless­ings of their stun­ning al­bum Unen­ti­tled. I’ve been wait­ing five years for a fol­low-up and was be­gin­ning to lose faith. But then, like a thief in the night, a new al­bum ap­peared in Septem­ber — and it didn’t reach my ears un­til a few weeks ago.

This al­bum — 10 rock­ing, roots­driven songs ti­tled “Com­mand­ment 1,” “Com­mand­ment 2,” etc. — like their best work, is a deep dive into the myth and spir­i­tu­al­ity of Cessna and band. As Slim sings on “Com­mand­ment 1, “I have earned, earned the priv­i­lege/The priv­i­lege of com­plaint/My in­dig­nant voice is ma­tur­ing/From a per­cus­sive cough/ Thanks to you and the death’s-head moths/Into a ma­tur­ing rage.” It’s not ex­actly clear what this means, but like the other “com­mand­ments,” it sug­gests in­ner strug­gles un­fold­ing in an in­hos­pitable world. In “Com­mand­ment 6,” the nar­ra­tor is a horse, forced to jump off a div­ing board at some car­ni­val sideshow. But in the Cessna uni­verse, even a horse has spir­i­tual yearn­ings: “I will be a new Greek myth/Archimedes’ Pe­ga­sus /Could a horse be a saint?”

My fa­vorite track here, at least for the mo­ment, is “Com­mand­ment 5,” which opens to the beat of tom-toms and what sounds al­most, but not quite, like Na­tive Amer­i­can chants, and then turns into an ur­gent rhythm with lyrics about a fran­tic car ride and gun­play. “Cock your arms and blindly throw the spent shell,” is the oft-re­peated re­frain.

In all hon­esty, I’m just be­gin­ning to digest the mys­ter­ies of Com­mand­ments. This could take years. Join the Auto Club at www.sca­cun­in­cor­po­rated.com. ▼ Car­rboro by Dex Romwe­ber. Sturdy and de­pend­able, Romwe­ber has once again has made a top-rate al­bum with mem­o­rable songs that rock and de­light. Record­ing this time as a solo artist (as op­posed to The Dex Romwe­ber Duo, as he did on his pre­vi­ous three al­bums with Blood­shot Records), Romwe­ber proves his ver­sa­til­ity with pretty bal­lads that show off his crooner chops (the gor­geous open­ing song, “I Had a Dream,” is prob­a­bly the best ex­am­ple); pi­ano blues (“To­mor­row’s Tak­ing Baby Away” and “Tell Me Why I Do”); crazy surfy in­stru­men­tals (“Mid­night at Vic’s,” “Nightride”); and coun­try/rock­a­billy romps (“Lone­some Train,” “Knock Knock (Who’s That Knockin’ on My Cof­fin Lid Door),” and “I Don’t Know”). Mean­while, the in­tense, mi­nor-key “Where Do You Roam” could al­most be mis­taken for a Nick Cave dirge.

And, as he’s prone to do, Romwe­ber plays a cou­ple of stan­dards in non­stan­dard ways. “My Funny Valen­tine” be­comes an elec­tric or­gan-led rocker with surf drums. And, ac­com­pa­nied by what al­most sounds like a player pi­ano, he per­forms Char­lie Chap­lin’s “Smile” like a mad sci­en­tist would. I can’t help but smile. Check out www.blood­shotrecords.com/artist/ dex-romwe­ber. ▼ Rain Crow by Tony Joe White. To hi­jack a Game

of Thrones catch­phrase, the swamp is dark and full of ter­rors. And few, if any, mu­si­cians tell these tales as con­vinc­ingly as Tony Joe does. “Tell me a swamp story, not like the ones on TV,” White sings in his wiz­ened bari­tone. “I want to hear about the old saw mill, where the woman went crazy.” This al­bum is full of sto­ries of bad winds, chil­dren of the hoodoo, hoochie women, back­woods bayou cross­roads, love gone wrong, and hun­gry ga­tors. Just about every song here has a laid-back — and swampy — groove em­bel­lished with sub­tle psy­che­delic gui­tars. Since his late-’60s “Polk Salad An­nie” hey­day, Tony Joe has only grown leaner, meaner, and spook­ier. Visit www.tonyjoe­white .com be­fore the ga­tors get your granny. ▼ Gon’ Booga­loo by C.W. Stonek­ing. Some­times I think Stonek­ing is the Aus­tralian rein­car­na­tion of Em­mett Miller, that great yo­del­ing Amer­i­can min­strel-show/hokum mas­ter who recorded “Lovesick Blues” years be­fore Hank Wil­liams did. His lat­est al­bum does noth­ing to dis­pel that sus­pi­cion. Armed with his Na­tional gui­tar, bow tie, and a hot lit­tle band, Stonek­ing con­jures up images of se­cret af­ter-hours vaude­ville shows. The lo-fi record­ing adds to Stonek­ing’s an­ti­quated aura. Be­sides the ti­tle song, which sounds like Hank Bal­lard fronting a rock­a­billy band, the best tracks here are “The Zom­bie,” a ca­lypso-fla­vored dance tune, and the sim­ply lovely “On a Desert Isle.” Booga­loo over to www.cw­stonek­ing.com. ▼ Lords & Ladies by The Up­per Crust and The Gran­nies. This is a split al­bum by a hard-rock­ing Bos­ton band that dress up like 18th-cen­tury pow­dered­wigged fops and an in­sane San Fran­cisco punk group that cos­tume them­selves like a night­mare ver­sion of your grand­mother’s bridge club. The two groups toured to­gether last year, which must have been quite a spec­ta­cle.

I’ll ad­mit up­front that I’m bi­ased — I’ve been a Gran­nies fan for a few years now — so when I got this CD I went straight to the Gran­nies’ sec­tion: The last five songs are five strong kicks in the teeth, which I mean in the nicest pos­si­ble way. It’s fu­ri­ous filth that makes you want to joy­fully smash things. That’s es­pe­cially true for the last track, “Sky­lab” — the mu­si­cal equiv­a­lent of be­ing struck by a hunk of burn­ing de­bris fall­ing from space.

The only dis­ap­point­ing thing about the Gran­nies here is that there are only five songs. The Up­per Crust play a more ragged ver­sion of an AC/DC in­spired sound on their al­lot­ted songs — all live record­ings. They ain’t bad. but they ain’t The Gran­nies. I’d trade the Crusts’ five songs for five more Gran­nies tunes any day. Find Lords & Ladies at www.saus­tex.com/ LORDS---LADIES.html.

Rain Crow is full of sto­ries of bad winds, chil­dren of the hoodoo, hoochie women, back­woods bayou cross­roads, love gone wrong, and hun­gry ga­tors.

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club; photo Gary Isaacs

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