Monday, November 22, 2010

Carport Thunder Vol. One

Compilation albums are essentially time capsules, a grab bag of musical styles thrown together for promotional purposes or profit.  An aural snapshot of  a time or place that we look back on fondly (no matter how crappy it really may have been)  Ubik Sound, a label that was more co-op than corporate, released "Carport Thunder Vol. 1" in 1991.  Four of Albuquerque's up and coming bands recorded tracks for the album.   Individually, they were a mixed bag of alt-country rock, jangly folk pop, and frantic post-punk.  Collectively,  they produced a solid album bursting with high energy  American music.   Side One opens with The Ant Farmers and a tale of pick up trucks parked in the yard and the people who borrow them. The Ant Farmers  (Jon Little,vocals  Carl Petersen, vocals-guitar Darrell Sparks, bass & Bill Mudd, drums) effortlessly fused roots rock, alt-country twang and intelligent but slightly twisted lyrics.    Jon ambles in like a bad relative, he needs to drive "The Ford", "I've got the keys to start the thing in the yard", the rhythm section is steady as a heartbeat.  Jon adds "I promise not to wreck it, not take it far"  Carl skillfully jabs with his guitar, as  Jon exclaims "Oh No!..The Ford."  The highlight of any Ant Farmers song was always Carl's unpretentious wit and dry humor, oh hell!, maybe those dents will hammer out.    Sticking with the Ant Farmers; "Stick I Stand" tells an all too familiar story, "Like a stick I will stand, with a rose in my hand"  most of us have been there,  "All the words that I planned, sounded slow, sounded bland, no one else could understand"  fellas, Carl Petersen feels your pain.
The Gutterleaves were the least known of the four bands on this album.  However in Eric Johnson they had a talented musician who was well grounded in American musical tradition.  "Bargain" is a speedy rush of  San Francisco folk rock and strident 60's garage punk, slammed out in under two minutes, it's a lesson in  hipster philosophy 101,  "I look to see where I'm going"....."I look to see where I've always been"  .   Ah! San Francisco, be sure to wear, a cactus flower in your hair.   "At My Home"  is So-Cal cosmic cowpunk at it's very best.   The influence of Stan Ridgway & Wall of Voodoo is apparent. Like so many songs, it's set in a bar, Eric sings that "there's nothing here except this beer and I've got a friend waiting for me at my home." As this slow brooding piece of music unfolds, the singer realizes that the trick is knowing when it's time to go home, call him a cab, it's time.   A Murder of Crows was a vehicle for Junius Kerr to rage against...most anything.  The band was versatile switching from the stray cat strut of "Lonewolf Blues" to the  speedy angst of "I Hate My Guitar" a song that finds Junius actually raging against the machine.  Caleb Miles makes his presence felt, whether it's a ripping blues run, choppy rhythm riffs or slippery solos, he's the gear that turns the wheels. I don't think Caleb hated his guitar at was a love affair...Caleb and his guitar.
The Saddlesores were an alt-country band, tougher and more talented than most bands branded with that label.  Cole Mitchell's easy drawl, powered by Keith Drummond's precise guitar playing and John Hastings appropriately low key drumming, resulted in music that was well conceived and entirely accessible. "Stop Me" gives a tip of the hat to Waylon Jennings & The Waylors, circa 1974.  Cole mournfully sings, "Stop me if this sounds familiar, stop me if you've heard this one before" he wouldn't stop if you asked him to, but coming from him it sounds completely genuine. The birthright of every country singer is the truck driving song.  It gets even better when the truck driver is your mother.  "Mama Had a Peterbuilt"  is the Saddlesores most popular song.   "It was a cold day, sometime in November" a tragic accident has taken Daddy's life "The day they brought what was left of daddy's big rig home." After an appropriate period of mourning, Mama throws off the chains of domestic life. "You see her almost every night hauling freight down ninety nine...Mama had her Peterbuilt just right" That's good for Mama, but those poor boys are gonna starve!   Side Two opens with the Saddlesore's "13 Steps", a dark cloud hangs overhead as Cole sings: "I was sitting down at Rusty's place I had a one too many shots, thinking about tomorrow and all the things that I ain't got." To make a long story short, he meets a girl at the bar takes her back to his motel room, winds up shooting her dead and now he faces; "thirteen steps to heaven and a six foot drop to hell"  gun safety it's no joke,  Any last words?  "The life i lead it ain't too plain, a gun's my only friend, instead of getting me out of trouble it only got me in" Amen!  
The Ant Farmer's contributions to this album were low key melodic gems, made more appealing by their dry humor and tunefulness.  This is especially apparent  on "Elvis Bird" a little ditty about Elvis Presley, your mother and their love child, it rocks along merrily, in contrast to the droll lyrics. Jon sings; "By all means you can't remember everything, run inside and tell your mother, you had an awful dream"  One night down at the end of lonely street "Elvis Presley and your mother had a thing, but the baby turned out bad and went to jail"  It's jailhouse rock for Junior, he's found a new place to dwell "In El Paso, in the prison, in his cell, hubba hubba, come on baby, don't be cruel" He ain't nothing but a hound dog, but his mother still loves him.  On "Fraidy Cat",  The Ant Farmers use  straight forward momentum and unaffectedly emotional singing to spin their yarn.  Jon starts out; "Not a joker, not a king, not a singer, I can sing, but I can't sing the song that you like" Jon's vocals are framed by Carl's melodic guitar playing "Not a sailor, not a saint, not a dreamer, I can dream, but I can't paint the picture that you like" Jon is accompanied by some delightful back-up vocals from Darrell and a call and response chorus with Carl. An intact sense of humor makes  the music, fun, joyous and timeless, allowing for repeated listens.
Eric Johnson, the primary creative force behind The Gutterleaves, was clearly influenced by the cowpunk bands  of the 1980's.   "Let's Take A Walk" a narrative mood piece, reflects Johnson's musical roots, while the lyrics betray his natural hippie nature.  "Let's take a walk, we can hold hands, skip a stone across the river into another land" it only makes sense, the original wave of  California cosmic cowboys were hippies at heart  "Let's pick a flower put it in your hair, lie on our backs in the grass breathing in fresh air" I'm not knocking it, the world would be a better place, if hippies ran it.  The Gutterleaves also eagerly explored a different, more roots oriented musical path. "Llano" is a predictable and corny  narrative about why cowboys shouldn't bone the rancher's daughter.  Stuart Dyson sings with gusto and bravado, "Where a man can be what he wants to be if he has the brains and the balls"  Dyson is now a well known political commentator for KOB-TV. He is known as a savvy observer of New Mexico's unsavory politicos, who seem to have balls to spare, but very little brains.
A Murder of Crows was best taken in two minute bursts of  chaotic fun.  The longer songs often left you waiting in vain for something comprehensible to catch your ear.  However on Carport Thunder they stick to the shorties, "99 Demons" is a blast furnace mix of rockabilly and 1960's folk rock, Junius sings like he's in the midst of a spazz attack;  "I got 99 demons in my head you know they're all after you" In the wretched life of a speed freak this passes for a love song;  "I  could show you something new, I could show my heart to you...say, come on baby"  "Rollin' On" is a rollicking little tune, west coast folk rock from the shadow of the Sandias.  "Brokedown, keeps on rolling, where there is no place to stop" the old ford pick-up is careening down Sandia Crest road "Bad brakes, gears are broken, rolling like a spinning top" When the songs hit their mark, Junius Kerr and A Murder of Crows get by on ease and charm, less so when they don't.  That same year they would release their eponymous debut album, it was an adequate if uncompelling effort.

Eric Johnson and Darrell Sparks