Ter­rell’s Tune-Up

New al­bums from South­ern Cul­ture on the Skids, John McEuen, and Mose McCor­mack

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South­ern Cul­ture on the Skids have carved out a niche for them­selves as Amer­ica’s pre­mier rock­ing hill­billy/surf/hot-rod and some­times ex­ot­ica band. Their lat­est al­bum, The Elec­tric Pinecones, was ad­ver­tised as the group’s ven­ture into garage rock, folk rock, and psychedelia. In­deed, Rick Miller’s gui­tars are a lit­tle fuzzier on some songs, and there is a weird lit­tle key­board riff on the open­ing song, “Freak Flag.” And it’s true that the song “Wait­ing On You” sounds like it could be a lost gem from a late ’60s Roger Cor­man movie.

But ba­si­cally this al­bum sounds pretty close to rock­ing hill­billy/surf/hot-rod and some­times ex­ot­ica to me — which is a good thing. Miller, Mary Huff, and Dave Hart­man are so good at what they do, it would be a shame to lose them to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion’s sake. I be­lieve all th­ese songs would fit in seam­lessly in a live set with SCOTS’ clas­sic ma­te­rial. “Rice and Beans,” for in­stance, would be a nice side for the band’s “8 Piece Box” (as long as you have their “Banana Pud­ding” for dessert).

One of the stand­outs here is the song “Mid­night Caller,” sung by Huff in the South­ern-soul man­ner she does with songs like Shirley Ellis’ early ’60s hit “The Nitty Gritty.” And speak­ing of fuzz, on “Dirt Road,” Miller bor­rows The Yard­birds’ “Heart Full of Soul” gui­tar riff.

But my fa­vorite ones here are sim­ple coun­try tunes like “Baby I Like You,” and “I Ain’t Gonna Hang Around,” both of which I could imag­ine Buck Owens singing. And this band has rarely sounded pret­tier than they do on “Given to Me,” a coun­try love song fea­tur­ing ir­re­sistible har­monies by Miller and Huff.

This al­bum is named af­ter an old side project in which the SCOTS crew played what Miller de­scribes as “West Coast psych, folk, and coun­try.” Some­times the Pinecones served as South­ern Cul­ture’s open­ing act. I don’t care what they call them­selves, this is a band that con­tin­ues to de­light.

Also rec­om­mended Made in Brook­lyn by John McEuen. He was the tall, dark, and usu­ally silent banjo ace with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Even as that band drifted into light coun­try pop, ev­ery so of­ten a McEuen banjo lick would rise out of the back­ground and re­mind you that this was the group re­spon­si­ble for Will the Cir­cle Be Un­bro­ken and Un­cle Char­lie & His Dog Teddy. McEuen has stayed true to his coun­try/blue­grass roots, and his lat­est al­bum, full of mu­si­cal ti­tan guest stars, sounds like a liv­ing room pick­ing party you wish you’d been in­vited to.

David Bromberg adds his gui­tar and vo­cals all over the place here; John Cowan, for­merly of New Grass Re­vival, sings, as does John Carter Cash ( Johnny and June’s boy). Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) plays banjo while New York folkie Jay Un­gar plays fid­dle and Beat Gen­er­a­tion jazzman David Am­ram plays flute and penny whis­tle.

The first tracks that grabbed me here are two songs writ­ten by the late, lamented War­ren Zevon. One is a lat­ter-day Zevon an­them, “My Dirty Life and Times,” which he wrote while dy­ing of can­cer (“Some days I feel like my shadow’s cast­ing me/Some days the sun don’t shine”). The other is the wicked and won­der­ful “Ex­citable Boy” (“He took lit­tle Suzie to the ju­nior prom, ex­citable boy, they all said/And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home”). With singer Matt Cart­so­nis and Bromberg shar­ing The Elec­tric Pinecones by South­ern Cul­ture on the Skids sounds pretty close to rock­ing hill­billy/surf/hot-rod and some­times ex­ot­ica to me — which is a good thing. lead vo­cal du­ties, it’s amaz­ing how well this works as a blue­grass tune.

Bromberg shines on a fresh acous­tic record­ing of “Mr. Bo­jan­gles.” He played on the orig­i­nal Jerry Jeff Walker ver­sion, while McEuen, of course, played on the hit 1971 sin­gle by the Dirt Band. McEuen him­self takes a rare lead vo­cal role on a laid-back ver­sion of a more un­sung NGDB clas­sic, “Trav­elin’ Mood,” which orig­i­nally was recorded by New Or­leans R&B man Wee Wil­lie Wayne. See McEuen’s web­site at www.john­m­ceuen.com. Buried Trea­sures by Mose McCor­mack. This al­bum is truly full of buried trea­sures. It’s a col­lec­tion of un­earthed songs that go back to 1975, when McCor­mack, as he writes in the CD’s liner notes, “walked into John Wag­ner Pro­duc­tions [in Al­bu­querque] and made a de­posit to record a demo tape for an LA record com­pany.” Thus be­gan a decades-long (and on­go­ing) part­ner­ship be­tween the singer and pro­ducer Wag­ner. The record com­pany in Cal­i­for­nia “didn’t take the bait, but John called me and said let’s search for gold.”

A year later, McCor­mack, an Alabama na­tive who moved to New Mex­ico in the ’70s (he’s been liv­ing in Be­len for the past few years), recorded his de­but al­bum Beans & Make Be­lieve at Wag­ner’s stu­dio. None of the Buried Trea­sures songs are on it. I’m pretty sure that Mose had for­got­ten about th­ese early tunes; I’ve been fol­low­ing his mu­sic since the ’80s and I don’t think I’d heard any of th­ese be­fore.

But I’m glad he fi­nally re­leased them. Like most of his reper­toire, Buried

Trea­sures is mainly good, sim­ple, and pure coun­try mu­sic full of wit and hang­dog hu­mor. And th­ese early tunes show more than a ker­nel of the tal­ent that made lis­ten­ers love McCor­mack’s mu­sic.

My fa­vorites here are the fast-paced, Ca­jun-fla­vored “Long Walk,” with some im­pres­sive steel gui­tar (I sus­pect that’s Augé Hayes) and sweet fid­dle, and “Blue in the Ocean,” the story about “a cow­boy gone to sea.” The most rock­ing num­ber is the last one, “Tell Me Why.” There’s a clas­sic McCor­mack cou­plet here: “Ev­ery­body’s feel­ing para­noid/ Psy­cho patho­log­i­cally a hu­manoid .” Hope­fully th­ese and some of the other nuggets on this record will be­come part of his stage reper­toire.

Dig for Buried Trea­sures at www .newmex­i­cosound.com/prod­uct/ buried-trea­sures. And don’t miss Mose McCor­mack live on the “Santa Fe Opry,” 10 p.m. Fri­day, Jan. 20, on KSFR-101.1 FM or www.ksfr.org.

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