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.