Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thom Parrott Videos

According to the liner notes from Thom Parrott's album "Everything is Fine" his mother said he was using complete sentences at nine months and began singing soon after that. When asked to define "folk songs" Big Bill Broonzy replied "I reckon all songs are folk songs, I never heard no horses singing any."  And that ain't no horse tale, Thom Parrott is the real thing, the epitome of the singer/songwriter. Thom has been called "Albuquerque's Bob Dylan." he's our connection to the folk music legends of the past. In truth Thom Parrott is an Albuquerque  musical treasure.



Pinkville Helicopter tells the story of Warrant Officer One, Hugh Thompson Jr., who intervened to save Vietnamese civilians at My Lai village. The U.S. military codeword for a Viet Cong stronghold was "Pinkville"  U.S. troops commanded by Capt. Ernest Medina & Lt. William Calley entered My Lai and massacred as many as 504 Vietnamese civilians.

WO1 Thompson a helicopter pilot from an aero-scout team witnessed large numbers of dead and dying civilians as he flew over. When he saw a group of women & children being rounded up for execution,  he landed between them and U.S. soldiers pursuing them.

When Thompson failed to persuade Lt. Calley and others to stop the killing he ordered his gunners to open fire on their fellow soldiers if any more villagers were killed. For his valiant efforts WO1 Thompson received the Distinguished Flying Cross and his crew were awarded Bronze Stars.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Down The Rabbit Hole

"Times were simpler then, where have all the flowers gone and how many roads must a man walk down were the only thoughts that weighed heavy on our minds"

Thom Parrott has been called "Albuquerque's Bob Dylan." the Duke City's link to the "folk boom" of the 1960's. His best known compositions include "The Aberfan Coaltip Tragedy"(which tells the tragic tale of Aberfan in South Wales, where in 1966  a tip of coal waste slid onto the village, killing 144 people including 116 school children) and  "Pinkville Helicopter" (included on the Smithsonian Folkways "Best of Broadside" compilation album) Written by Parrott about the My Lai massacre in the Quang Ngai Province of Vietnam in 1968. "Hole in the Ground" is also set in Vietnam during the war, it tells the story of a ten year boy tricked by U.S. soldiers into betraying his own father.  Another one of his songs, "Teardrops on Tap" was recorded by country singer Randy Rhodes in 1988.

Born in Washington, D.C. Thom began his transformation into a folk troubadour playing with a trio while enrolled at Stetson Univ. in Florida. In 1964 Thom made his way to New York City where he caught the attention of the publishers at Broadside Magazine* (Sis Cunningham & Gordon Friesen) They published several of his songs and were instrumental in having him included on concert bills around the East Village. His appeal was such that he was asked to record for Moses Asch's Folkways Records. (now Smithsonian Folkway) Cashbox Magazine in a review of his first album referred to Thom as "one of the new wunderkind" He became an intergal part of the New York folk scene, appearing at The Newport Folk Festival and at Carnegie Hall.  (*a broadside was a song or poem dealing with a topical issue, usually political. Writers would sell these as a way to make money and stir up controversy)

Thom Parrott

Folk music's days were numbered, between Bob Dylan going electric, Beatlemania and The Summer of Love,  folk's appeal as popular or topical music started to wane. In the early 1970's Thom Parrott moved to New Mexico and became a music teacher at UNM. He taught guitar and harmonica, but it was his jug band class that would have the biggest impact on Albuquerque's music scene. In 1975, Thom & Steve Wilkes formed The Watermelon Mountain Jug Band, Albuquerque's venerable purveyors of traditional American music. (Preceded only by Dick Bill's Sandia Mountain Boys, the Duke City's first hillybilly band) The Watermelon Mountain Jug Band is still around, the band's website proudly describes it as "one of New Mexico's treasured natural resources."

In 1980 he teamed up with Cabin Lance to form Illegal Aliens, the band's first gig at Okie's in Albuquerque featured Thom, Cabin, Ron Hogan & a full troupe of rastafarians. After the show, the reggae faction broke off to form their own band "Strictly Roots."  A very young Caleb Miles came on board to round-out the Illegal Aliens line-up.  (which also featured a revolving cast of drummers including Jim Schwar who along with Thom provided musical accompaniment for Alan Ginsberg during an Albuquerque performance by the beat icon.)

Cabin Lance was as well known around Albuquerque as anyone in those days. Cabin Lance sightings were as common then as Don Schrader sightings are now.  Cabin, an advocate for legalized marijuana and political change, ran for the office of Mayor in 1981, "getting more votes per dollar than any other candidate." The Illegal Aliens would play at  "Smoke in the Mayor" an event held in honor of newly elected Mayor Harry Kinney at Civic Plaza. The following year, a "Smoke In" held at Roosevelt Park, featuring The Illegal Aliens was rudely broken up APD officers. (some on horseback  trampled a couple of attendees)

Caleb Miles

Caleb Miles quit the band in 1982 (after a stint in Sundog, he reunited with Cabin Lance in F.O.R.) and then turned up playing guitar for popular Albuquerque indie roots rock band  A Murder of Crows. Caleb took a circuitous route to Portland, where he played with Lewi Longmire (Apricot Jam) and a band called Kentucky Snakehandlers. Since 2005 he's lived in Nova Scotia, (a place most people know only as home to The Trailer Park Boys) As a solo artist he's recorded three albums,  Brickyard Road in 2006, Memory Well in 2008 and his latest release (just out this month) Strange Weather, a CD release party is scheduled for Dec. 17 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia if you're up that way.

After a disastrous show at Graham Central Station's battle of the bands. Illegal Aliens restructured its line-up with Richard LePage on drums, Rebecca Standifer on vocals, Mike Manthey-bass, Tom Lewis, vocals & guitar, added to the core of Cabin Lance, Thom Parrott & Ron Hogan. The band continued to make a go at it, but essentially faded from the local scene by the mid 1980's. Thom Parrot resurfaced in 2003 with the album "Everything is Fine" backed by Caleb Miles on guitar, Jim Schwar on drums and Bonnie Bluhm, vocals.  Parrot and Schwar also partnered in the band Pssst! and of course made guest appearances on AR & The Ramblin' Rats'  "Going to Kansaquerque"

Cabin Lance, third from left

Cabin Lance also played with F.O.R. and See the Bunnies before forming what was described as "a multi-cultural, bi-lingual musical group"  Los Flaming Cool Arrows, they were a combination of "Norteno, Hispanic folk styles, rock & rancheras"  After that, Cabin recused himself from the public stage and has not been active in music since then.  The most recent news concerning Cabin Lance is a post by Caleb Miles on his website that he's overdubbing instrumental tracks to some of Cabin's vocals, recorded eons ago in Albuquerque. He refers to these recordings as "The Cabin Lance project" no word yet if they'll be made available to the general public. 

"And now our tale is done, And home we steer, a merry crew, Beneath the setting sun"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

AR & The Ramblin' Rats- Going to Kansaquerque

What began as a review of an obscure recording quickly became a quest. The album in question is AR and the Ramblin' Rats' self released "Going to Kansaquerque"  Who is AR? "The answer is as intangible as the wind" unless you know someone who knows.  The search for AR took me down an unexpected path as I followed the trail of musicians that performed on the album (and some that didn't) The album notes gave up a handful of clues. AR has been around the local scene for years, he rarely performs in public, mostly at local coffee houses or The Albuquerque Folk Festival's story telling venue.  On "Going to Kansaquerque" AR is joined by Thom Parrot, Jim Schwar, Fast Heart Mart & Danny Simon. The music is a rhapsodic mix of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs & John Lennon injected with a heavy dose of folk,rock & blues from the 1960's.

Telling a story comes natural to a story teller, AR's mastery of that form is apparent on every song.  The title song "Going to Kansaquerque"  is a shameless throwback that would make any time traveling acidhead from 1967 feel right at home. "I'm going to Kansaquerque, my spirit there to find, come play a song that heals your mind" ...pass the blotter, I think I'm Jerry Garcia.

"Dear Gone Gator" (Rsvp-Pdq) is the skeptically humorous re-telling of the process that led AR to record the album. "I realize you're a superstar, you're busy singing and playing your guitar and I'm just another rookie wannabe... singing to the void in one part harmony" a painful rebuff from an established artist perhaps? "It's hard to play guitar and swing a mop, I'm trying to say in short I'm looking for a shot" Fast Heart Mart adds brilliant backing vocals to the mix. "The major labels sent this back, said get an agent and learn to rap." Martin adds a Yo!, that mockingly sums it all up.  "But before I get too old and die, I thought I ought to give the music biz a try." AR manages to cast aside any bitter feelings as he finishes with a line that almost sounds like a plea  "Rsvp-Pdq I would love to hear from you." 

"Build Silence" opens with a light beater striking a triangle "God's gift is so frail, cool desert morn, great ships of spirits sail past starry shores" the tit-fer continues to ring softly in the background, "I thought I saw him... your desert king" AR's vocals flow with a resounding sense of comfort, "and while my city sleeps, I'm trying to sing" a full rough tone without sounding gravely or rough. "endear the past... succeed you die, make it to last... build silence" the turning of a grogger  punctuates the chorus. Subtle and expressive "Build Silence" is an aural soundscape that leaves you with little doubt of the time and place of its setting.

Guitars slither like  diamondbacks, "The Curtain" is pulled back to reveal that  "Now when I gaze upon the stars at night, I wonder where you are my guiding light." AR draws blood with a razor sharp line that John Lennon would be proud of "If there is a place for those who sleep, I'm certain you must hold a first class seat." perhaps looking to justify his haughtiness AR adds "I just want thee all to see that I belong to royalty, if the curtain brings its just rewards."  

"Lab Rats Cautionary Tale" floats along like some twisted sunny pop song "I go by one rule of thumb, I don't touch them when they're young... though she smells really sweet, it's all jailbait to me." The band breaks into a rocking frat rock groove as Danny Simon takes the lead "I don't know what to do, I don't know what to say"  AR and Danny exchange rapid fire choruses, building to a furious rave-up of pure cheesy delight!  The moral is, maturity makes cheese better and young girls legal.

 "My Foolish Pride" is reminiscent of a Roky Erickson ballad, bereft of any mention of snakes, ghosts or Satan. It's a love song, and a beautiful one at that "Here comes one more love song of two hearts and love gone wrong" AR's voice pulls us along "I may try to hide the darker side, I still have my foolish pride." Love happens, everytime you let your guard down. 

"A Jesus Story" is a dissonant and cynical report of the second coming "News Flash: Jesus Christ was found in Argentina, and jump back... the rapture was a forgerina."  Adding garage punk guitars that sound like The Seeds and rhyming Argentina with forgerina is nothing short of genius!
"The Last Good War" covers life during wartime "We all fought the last good war we went off proud, we came on shore" It does take its toll "One year in and we fought to win, two years in and the thrill ran thin, three years in and I lost a friend,  four years in and we lost some kin"   Hooray for our side!

"Going to Kansaquerque" is a nice diversion from the ordinary, a head first plunge down that ol' rabbit hole. The album is sharply observational, experimental and totally retroactive. In these days of auto tuned madness it gets right to the point without heavy handed studio trickery. It's acerbic and flawed but still a compelling masterpiece that rates as one of the best produced by Albuquerque musicians. Originally released in 2008, it has languished on the shelves at CD Baby & Amazon. Those adventurous few with discerning ears and open minds can get their hard copies or digital downloads at both of those music outlets. 

I'd like to thank Brett Maverick (a.k.a. Capt. America) and Martin Stamper (best known as Fast Heart Mart) for their help in obtaining contact information for AR. After posting this I was contacted by Andy Russ who corrected some of the lyrics that I transcribed (especially on Last Good War, I really biffed it on that one)  Andy also pointed out that it's Danny Simon singing on Lab Rats: Cautionary Tale not Fast Heart Mart or as Andy explained: "Danny, like me, is a “closeted songwriter” who needs the plug and ego-booster more than Martin."  Consider it done.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alaska in Winter Videos





Sunday, November 20, 2011

Alaska in Winter

As I was researching this story I came upon a strange video of Brandon Bethancourt, wrapped in a blanket panhandling along Central Ave. The camera follows his wretched journey as he peers into windows and inventories the contents of a grocery cart. At one point he speaks towards the camera (the video has no audio track) and then hunkers down on the sidewalk.  One commenter remarked: "Come on man, this ain't look real"  I watched it a few times and came to the same conclusion. 

There is a precedent for tomfoolery, Brandon once conducted an entire interview speaking with a Borat accent. If the video was recorded after his recovery, then it's a sardonic, tongue in cheek jab at himself. If it's real, then it's just fucking sad that in this age of interventions, he wasn't yanked off the streets and delivered to Anna Kaseman almost immediately. All conspiracy theories aside, Brandon's chemical slide down a slippery slope was very real.  

Perhaps the plight of Brandon Bethancourt is a cautionary tale. Raised in Santa Fe, he dropped out of school in Albuquerque and headed north to Alaska. In 2004, he channeled his inner Chris McCandless (the subject of the book & movie " Into The Wild")  and spend an Alaskan winter in a cabin, composing and recording music on his laptop. Unlike the wreckless McCandless, Brandon kept a lifeline open to the outside world. 

This spared Brandon the same fate as that ill fated vagabond. McCandless was a self styled survivalist who called himself  Alexander Supertramp. Having cutting off all ties with family & friends, he set out for the Alaskan wilderness to live off the land. Pitifully unprepared, he starved to death in an abandoned bus. Bethancourt would in fact come close to meeting his end much like Chris, just not in the midst of a wilderness.

From this experience he would be born again as Alaska in Winter. Brandon armed with a hard drive loaded with the fruits of his labor, returned  to Santa Fe ready to establish himself as a musician & composer. The music recorded during this period of isolation would eventually take on the same kind mystique as Zac Condon's bedroom recordings (The Joys of Losing Weight) Known as "The Cabin Sessions" their impending release to the public has been rumored for several years.

Bethancourt's first project (pre-Alaska in Winter) was Opion Somnium,  a collective of classically trained musicians from Santa Fe & Albuquerque. Those involved would include a 17 yr. old Zach Condon on trumpet (this was around the time he was recording with Alex Gaziano)  Hilary Bethancourt-melodica (his sister, who he followed to Alaska, to my knowledge he is not directly related to Annie Bethancourt, a Portland based singer-songwriter)  Hari Zisnweski- clarinet (his co-half in the electronic pop duo known as Rap. They opened an Albuquerque show for  Beirut in 2006) Naila Dixon-vocals  Heather Trost- violin (Foma, A Hawk and a Hacksaw) Stefanie Lamm- vocals and Rosina Roibal- viola.
2002's "Ascend and Descend with Feathers in Hand", the first Opion Somnium album was self described as "a very contemplative and depressing album." The music was released on vinyl (in 7" & 12" format) as well as on compact disc. Releasing music on obscure or nearly obsolete formats, would become a trademark for Alaska in Winter (an eccentric indulgence that almost certainly hurt sales)  Opion Somnium also recorded "Operae Spererae/Opus Somniferous" in 2005, a far more appealing collection of experimental and classic music. 

Brandon Bethancourt had a case of wanderlust and like his Santa Fe homeboy, Zach Condon, he went off in search of the lost chord. I don't know if he actually traveled to Europe with Zach, but he does appear to have covered some of the same ground. Soon after,  Bethancourt started working on what would become his breakout album "Dance Party in the Balkans" released in Europe during July of 2007 and credited to Alaska in Winter. (the album was released stateside in March of 2008) The single "Red Dress" with its accompanying video is ethereal electronic pop shrouded in gothic angst, Trent Reznor lite. The similarities to Beirut are both obvious and subtle. (thanks mainly to Zach's trumpet playing) Except  Brandon used electronic dance music as a base where Zach utilized indie rock.

To record and promote his music Brandon had signed with Iain Kirckadly, owner & manager of Regular Beat Records. As Bethancourt toured in support of the album, Kirckadly was cutting his own deals and manipulating Brandon's accounts. Alaska in Winter's music started popping up on screen productions. "Red Dress" was used in an episode of Grey's Anatomy. To the casual observer it appeared that moderate fame & fortune was coming Alaska in Winter's way. That however, wasn't the case. Iain Kirckadly had negotiated a sync license with a film company that allowed him to collect all royalties. 

Brandon was now living  in Berlin, where he started working on the second Alaska in Winter album. The much awaited followup to his debut, "Holiday" was released in November of 2008, in Europe & The U.S.  The overall response by fans and music critics was lukewarm. Bethancourt returned to Santa Fe, having received a mere pittance of what he was owed by Kirckadly and Regular Beat Records. Back in New Mexico, Brandon continued his struggle to obtain compensation from Kirckadly, who simply ignored his e-mails and phone calls.   

In VH1's popular series "Behind the Music" this is the moment when the shit hits the fan. Brandon finished working on Alaska in Winter's third album, "Space Eagle (the motion picture soundtrack)" In February of 2010, it had a limited release (100 copies mastered) in cassette tape format only (it's doubtful that there was an actual movie associated with the music) It was almost the last coherent act by a man sinking into a mire of depression and substance abuse.
With no sustainable income and apparently isolated from friends and family, Brandon's life began to unravel. Unable to pay his utility bills, he soon found himself without electricity and heat. In the grip of addiction, what little money he came upon went to buy drugs. In the dead of an  Albuquerque winter, Brandon was living in near homeless conditions with no food or utilities. Starving to death in the middle of a large American city is unthinkable, Alex Supertramp would have scoffed at such a notion.  

Fans of his music and most of his acquaintances apparently had no idea he had sunk to that level. For most the first news they got of his emaciated condition was a letter posted on his MySpace Music page, outlining his plight and the fact that Iain Kirckadly & Regular Beat Records had still not paid Brandon anything, despite his desperate pleas.  Bethancourt would spend several months in an Albuquerque hospital being treated for severe depression and chemical psychosis.

Upon his release he addressed his situation in an open letter to his fans:

"This is going to be brutally honest but I just want you all to know that it's because of you that I am still here and alive right now....
As some of you know, this past year has been incredibly difficult for me. I've been pouring my blood sweat and tears into this project for the last 3 years only to come to the conclusion that I've gone nowhere with my music "career". I literally can't support myself. I never wished for millions of dollars, fancy cars, or mansions- I had simply hoped that I'd be able to make enough money from my music that I could afford to rent a studio apartment and feed myself- but even that is unrealistic at the moment.
I felt like a failure because I worked so hard for 3 years to "make it" with my music, banging my head into brick walls over and over again- even sacrificing relationships and friendships which I still regret to this day. I got to a point where I thought that I was unsuccessful because I was not making money from my music. That lead to some pretty severe depression which I tried to fix by self medicating myself. I was starving and I couldn't afford heat which lead to health problems, and all I wanted to do was give up. I went years where every single morning I would wake up and have to talk myself out of killing myself"...

He would finish his message with a sense of hope: 

"Life is not worth living unless there is beauty and love within it- and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for opening my eyes and showing me the love and beauty which I was blind to for so long."

Brandon has since continued with his recovery and music. The progess of which he laid out in another letter posted on his My Space Music blog. Brandon Bethancourt is not the first victim of an unscrupulous record company, nor will he be the last.  Since his return to music, Brandon has announced the upcoming releases, "B-Sides & Other Missed Opportunities", "Suicide Prevention Hotline", "Memorex Floppy Disk" (a 7" floppy vinyl disc) and the often rumored "Cabin Sessions"  As he often does, Brandon has posted the cover art  before the music, which we now await. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Death by Misadventure: Nicholas Blossom

Death by Misadventure is how the coroner's report described the death of Brian Jones in 1969. Leave it to the British to get creative in describing an accidental death. On this side of the Atlantic, we would just call it drowning while loaded on pills & booze. 

This is a new feature on Dirt City Chronicles, one that will profile the unfortunate and untimely passing of music celebrities. Some are famous and some obscure, although this story from 2010, really should be sub-titled "Near-Death by Misadventure."  It describes one of the most disturbing types of accidents I've ever heard of.

Nicholas Blossom miraculously survived one of the most horrendous injuries you could imagine. Blossom, is the drummer for Alaska Alaska, an unsigned indie rock band from New York City. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of them, until Mr. Blossom's gruesome accident nobody knew about them.

Nicholas Blossom, a native of Berkeley, Ca. attended college in Indiana and moved to New York City to intern at a recording studio. A multitalented musician, he soon joined a local band, Alaska Alaska. Nothing extraordinary about Nicholas or the band, I can't even tell you what they sound like, since the link to their MySpace Music page is dead. 

On this particular night, Blossom and bandmate Corey Mullee, rode their bikes to an after hours gathering in Chelsea. A rooftop party was in full effect, "We were all on the roof together" said Mullee, "There were a lot of people up there, and we were all drinking." Mullee lost track of Nicholas soon after they arrived.  He tried calling his cell phone but Blossom didn't answer.

At 4 a.m. party-goers noticed Blossom sitting alone on a third floor window ledge. Highly intoxicated and angry, he was screaming "I fucking hate everybody." He then either lost his balance or hurled himself off the ledge, landing head first on a spiked metal fence one floor below.

"We heard screaming, and we thought someone was trying to break in" reported the residents of the apartment adjoining the balcony were Nicholas had landed.

They called the police to report that a distraught man was screaming outside their window. When police arrived they were greeted by the disturbing sight of Nicholas Blossom's head impaled on an iron spike. Though, terrified and besides himself with fear, Blossom was still alive.

Apparently the spike had speared his skin, but had not penetrated his skull. The 21 year old musician was lucky to be alive, the entry point being just an inch from his eye socket. 

Rescuers were forced to use an electric saw with a metal cutting blade to free him from the fence. He was then secured to a stretcher with a foot long section of railing still attached to his scalp. 

"The medics brought him through our window" the apartment residents reported "He was screaming, but he stopped once they got him inside, he just went silent."

Nicholas not only survived the surgery, but he was soon laughing and joking with family in the intensive care unit. "I just want to fucking scream" he moaned.  The prognosis for a full recovery is good given the traumatic force of the injury. 

Most of his family was still in shock and unable to speak, but his mother composed herself and gave a short statement: "The doctor tells us that he was very lucky."  Better lucky than dead, I always say.

Monday, November 14, 2011

That Dirt City Sound, Episode 21

An eclectic mix of blues, jazzy female vocals, live takes, studio recordings. This episode includes:
Bernadette Seacrest singing a couple of songs written by Pat Bova. Ryan McGarvey unplugged at The Loma Colorado Library in Rio Rancho. Classic 70's blues from Lincoln St. Exit. A heavy number by XIT from the album Silent Warrior. Two smokin' tracks from The Memphis P Tails. Some live blues from one man band CW Ayon, Native American reggae music from Native Roots and more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hot Licks

The "Neo-classical metal" guitar style took root in the early 1980's. Most of it's early proponents were classically trained. Yngwie Malmsteen & Jason Becker both studied the works of classic violinist Niccolo Paganini and emulate his style on the guitar. Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne's ill fated, though highly talented guitarist, was a student of this style when not slumming it with the Blizzard of Oz.  It's a mix of classical, jazz fusion and metal guitar, often played with mind boggling speed. The style's signature traits include: high speed scalar, sweep picking, arpeggio sequencing, alternate picking and tapping. It's a style that combines dexterity with a high degree of technical ability and god given talent.  

I won't even pretend to understand any of the techniques or jargon. To the common man (the target audience is mostly male) it's either speed metal or shred, not to be confused with thrash, which is something all together different. In my opinion, wrong as it may be, the genre breaks down into two camps. There's metal (Malmsteen, Steve Vai) and fusion (Joe Satriani, Greg Howe) It's the fork in the road that separates rock guitarists from those more inclined towards jazz and pop. The style can be daunting for the average listener, it's labeled as experimental and yet everything about it sounds vaguely familiar. It's been a longtime since anyone broke new ground, though that's not from a lack of trying.   

Sylvan Albertus is Seven Albatross, a point he gets across emphatically "Quit calling me "them" on the internet!" although the only album he's released as Seven Albatross is "Kill to Ruth." The rest are credited to Sylvan Albertus. He draws his inspiration from the metal side of guitar town. This becomes apparent as you listen to his recordings, "Crow in Cottonwood" (a continuous composition, that runs thirty minutes and is the first of a three part series) Knives of Alena (metal) and "The Elsewhere"  a powerful recording, that masterfully echoes Andy Powell & Ted Turner (not the media magnate) the twin lead guitarists from Wishbone Ash.

All are the work of an introspective man perhaps haunted by his past and now channeling those memories through his music. Not much in the way of biographical information available on Sylvan, unless you want to believe that he got his start playing electric bagpipes at Scottish sex orgies. (Ugh!, give me a second... to clear the image of Fat Bastard naked and sweaty from my mind, thank you!)  If he's from the U.K., it wouldn't make him the first musician from the British Isles to land upon our sandy soils. And if he's not, then his path to Lamy, N.M. took some strange turns.

Seven Albatross- Kill to Ruth   2006  self released

Like a blindman at a Scottish sex orgy, Sylvan finds himself feeling about for the style he would settle into. The album notes on CD Baby caution us that this is a demo recording, nonetheless the production is clear and clean.  As the music flows from one style to another, you start to see that British progressive rock is his anchor.  More specifically bands like King Crimson, Wishbone Ash & Genesis. Sylvan also has an ear for classic fm radio fodder. (the album includes a tasteful instrumental version of "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins)

"Kill to Ruth" and "The Elsewhere" also display the influence of guitarist Buckethead. He's best know for his short stint with Guns & Roses as a replacement for Slash. Buckethead, seemed like a strange choice at first. His talent is undeniable and many would argue that he's a much better guitarist than Slash. It's just that he plays with a KFC bucket on his head! Or to quote Ozzy "I tried out that Buckethead guy. I met with him and asked him to work with me, but only if he got rid of the fucking bucket." Though, given that Slash always wore his trademark hat and hid his face behind a shroud of shaggy hair, it wasn't that radical a change.   

"Kill to Ruth" is  exploratory and experimental, a precursor to Sylvan's strongest album to date, "The Elsewhere" For a demo album that wasn't intended for public release, it's cohesive and highly enjoyable. Digital tracks can be purchased at CD Baby. I've said this before and it bears repeating, the downside to purchasing digital tracks is the lack of  liner notes. It's what I miss most about vinyl albums and compact discs, it's a great source of band or artist info, that is so sadly lacking now. Something for the artists, Amazon, CD Baby & iTunes to keep in mind.  

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

High Tech Adventurer

The New Mexico landscape seems to awaken the muse in some while driving others to the greener grass of Portland or the steamy ambiance of Austin. While artists and writers find New Mexico much to their liking, rock & roll musicians can't leave fast enough. Portland's magnetic appeal has drawn an impressive (in number & talent) roster of Albuquerque's musicians. The Rip City is followed by Austin, Seattle and San Francisco  as favored destinations for Burque's ex-patriots.

The first local band that I recall hitting the Oregon Trail was Treadmill (although Eric McFadden had relocated to San Francisco in 1996) others quickly followed. Apricot Jam (Portland) Henry's Dress (San Francisco) The Shins (Portland)  Alex Rose (Seattle) Frankie Medina (Austin) Soular (Portland) Stoic Frame (Long Beach) and The Eyeliners are just a few that come to mind.  Looking back on that mass migration, with a few note worthy exceptions relocating wasn't a ticket to stardom 

Treadmill certainly fell off the face of the earth after they left and what ever happened to the Gingerbread Patriots? Is it better to be a small fish in a pond that's not infested with sharks? Damn right it is!  Staying close to home also has other advantages. If it doesn't work out you can always go eat at Grandma's or move back into your old room.  Some musicians prefer to stay home, using their surroundings and local culture as a source of inspiration.  They're the ones I admire the most.

In the that region of Southern New Mexico that local folks refers to as "The Bootheel" there lives a world class guitar virtuoso. Funny thing is, he might be better known in Germany than in his home state. Bob Forbes records as RedEyeC, besides the volumes of rock/pop/jazz fusion he's recorded, he's also active on the contemporary Christian music scene. Bob Forbes supports a Christian outreach program, which he calls Forbes' Ministry of Music. 

Don't be fooled by his pastoral lifestyle, Bob Forbes can shred as well as any rock guitarist out there. He's recorded over eight albums of guitar instrumentals, mostly accompanied by producer and keyboardist Pascal Gregory. Don't expect guitar showboating or ludicrous speed metal riffing ala Malmsteen. This is more sedate stuff,  a fusion of pop, rock, jazz & metal with occasional vocals. It's not all sleepy-time guitar and synthesizers for RedEyeC. When called upon Bob is an awesome rock guitarist, throwing fiery guitar solos amid the keyboards and vocals. 

Throughout his musical career, Bob Forbes has stayed contemporary by drawing together diverse modern styles such as electronic pop & neo-classical metal guitar. For this reason, I consider his collaborations with Syntopia Music (German musician & composer Sven Ehlers) to be his best work.  Ehlers, a synth artist, with a worldwide fan base, records with a variety of American artists. Forbes has recorded several tracks with Syntopia Music, three of which were also released in video form. All three feature the very distinct sound of Bob's electric guitar as well as his lyrics and vocals.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Brujeria: División del Norte

The slow drag of grindcore does inspire the arousal of cultist tendencies. It's the articulated cries of sulkers, translated into a dense plodding beat, enunciated through grunts.  By its very nature it's an acquired taste, totally abhorred and adored in equal measures.  While, it's fashionably dark and brooding, it's also a costume that musicians can remove when it suits them.  In the Grindcore or Death Metal genre, image is everything even when it's not genuine. It's sad to say but in the music biz Satanic imagery outsells that of Jesus. Although, outside of Norway, few death metal bands or musicians actually worship Satan or murder anyone. Doing so can wreck or stall your career. Ann Boleyn of Hellion knows how hard it is to get signed by major labels when you come out as a follower of Satan.

Brujeria at it's inception was a collective of SoCal metalheads, and punk rock icon Jello Biafra. Don't believe the nonsense that they were formed in Tijuana, this is straight up Cali grindcore. Brujeria was the side-project of Dino Cazares, then lead guitarist for Los Angeles industrial metal band Fear Factory. The original line-up featured Cazares, Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Billy Gould (bassist for Faith No More), Raymond Herrera (Fear Factory) Pat Hoed (who has been the band's drummer, bass player & back-up singer) he also moonlights as a pro-wrestling announcer and Juan Brujo (John Lepe, vocalist, who became frontman and defacto spokesman for the group.) A rift between Brujo & Cazares in 2005. led to Dino's departure.

The concept or idea for the band came to Cazares following revelations of a death cult operating along the Mexican border.  A group of drug smugglers, practitioners of palo mayombe were carrying out human sacrifices (23 by most accounts) as a way of keeping their shipments safe and their business successful. The cult led by Miami born Adolfo Constanzo was centered around Rancho Santa Elena in Matamoros. Constanzo had worked his way into a local smuggling ring and dazzled them with his knowledge of satanic rituals. He convinced his followers (a motley crew of bi-sexuals, petty thieves, college students & smugglers) that through the ritual killing of rivals they would become bullet proof and invisible to law enforcement.

The members of Brujeria covered their faces like bandidos with openings cut around the mouth. Not because of the extreme criticism leveled at the band since its inception, or the lyrical content of their songs. But, because it allowed them to perform and record with their regular bands without any legal hassles. This approach worked for the band in several ways, just slap a bandanna on that new drummer and you're good to go. Their official back story is that they're Mexican drug lords on the run, and thus can't reveal themselves. Since it's assumed that all band members are Latino, the bandannas were also a ruse to hide the fact that over the years many of the musicians have been British. When conducting interviews, they rarely break out of character or remove the masks. The face coverings, though no longer necessary are still used, since they've become the band's signature trademark. 

Following a pair of singles on his own Alternative Tentacles label, Jello Biafra left the group in 1991. The band's first album "Matando Gueros" was released on Roadrunner Records in 1993. The album and the single are based on the aforementioned Constanzo Cult. The heinous gang from Matamoros had been luring small time Mexican smugglers to their ranch, where they were tortured and killed as part of a palo mayombe ritual. Disturbed that one of his victims had refused to scream while being tortured, Adolfo Costanzo determined that in order to appease the Gods, he would have to sacrifice a white American. 

Mark Kilroy, a pre-med student from Texas picked the wrong night to go bar hopping in Matamoros and by daybreak he was dead and parts of him were brewing in Costanzo's nganga, the traditional cauldron of blood used in palo mayombe rituals. The album was also quite controversial due to the cover photo of a severed head. This ghastly image known as "Coco Loco" would become incorporated into the band's logo and is now prominently featured on the band's website. The "Coco Loco" photo was originally found in the possession of Texas teens suspected in the brutal murder and dismemberment of Mario & Alma Rios in Rosenberg, Tx. The head is believed to be that of Mario Rios. 

"Matando Gueros" was a crude tongue in cheek attempt to satirize the shocking exploits of the Costanzo gang. Most casual listeners assume that the song is a call for jihad against whites. Which truly is ironic since most of the band members are white, a fact that few people knew about when the album was released. Juan Brujo, who sounds like the Spanish version of Lord Humongous grunts the lyrics "Satanas te quida" (Satan protects you) and then makes an obscure reference to L.A.'s Night Stalker  "Estilo Ricky Ramirez" Once the band started touring, the song became a concert favorite and they changed the lyrics to "Estilo Mayate O.J. Simpson" 

Amazingly, Brujeria formed in 1989, had never performed at a public venue until they played  The Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood (1997) The band did not start touring on a large scale until 2003 with their infamous "Mexecutioner Tour" Since then they have toured the world and are wildly popular in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Portugal & Germany. Brujeria has not released an album since 2000, although Shane Embury has assured fans that an album is in the can and awaiting release. Since 2005, the band's line-up consists of  Juan Brujo-vocals, Pat Hoed-vocals, Shane Embury-guitar, Jeffrey Walker-bass, Adrian Erlandsson-drums & Pinche Peach- vocals, samples. 

Brujeria leaves little to the imagination, their songs are as subtle as a sledgehammer to the head. I equate them to luchadores, like any good heel they don their masks and work the crowd. For Brujeria  hate is their Kiss make-up, without it their music goes limp (as shown by their lame cover versions of Macarena & Don Quixote) Their comical attempts to champion the plight of illegal immigrants are pure Cheech & Chong (La Migra, La Ley de Plomo) Throat singers have never been known for the quality of their "singing", but even by these low standards Juan Brujo is terrible! Like most grindcore bands their musicianship is top notch and ultimately that's their only redeeming quality.  

After leaving Brujeria in 2005, Dino Cazares formed Asesino, a band he calls "The New Brujeria." He drives this point home by playing Brujeria's songs in concert along with covers of  Slayer. In 2009 estranged bandmates Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell settled their differences and  announced that Fear Factory had reformed minus Raymond Herrera &  Christian Olde Wolbers, who immediately took court action. Pending resolution of their legal battles, a new Fear Factory album is expected in 2012.