Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 22

  “If it's too loud, you're too old!” 

It only took a second or two after strolling through the doors of Hastings Music at Fair Plaza, for the strains of “Breed” to stop me in my tracks. Dumbfounded, I idled up to the counter and asked the clerk, “Who is that?” he might as well have responded in gibberish, “Nirvana, they're from Seattle” History in the making, a momentous moment taking shape and there were no copies to be found. Not in any format: cd, cassette, vinyl.......All Sold Out.

To my good fortune, later that same week, my nephew and his homie (who went by the rather unfortunate nickname of N*gger Ray) needed a ride. I didn't dwell long on his hideous sobriquet or its origins as Ray pulled out a cassette and poppedit into the player. “It's Nirvana” he tells me.... Ray's copy was dubbed from a dub (copies of copies were floating around town within days of its release) I quickly arranged to buy a third generation copy for $5, which I received the next day.

“Nevermind” no album info, no tracking order, just Nirvana scrawled on the label in ink. The course of rock and roll changed in September of 1991, although two years later in 'Burque, you wouldn't have know that. Heavy Metal with all its vocal and guitar histrionics was still in full effect, despite “grunge” bands dominating the national charts. All of which justified releasing, “Home Grown” a one-off cd compilation released in 1993 by the combined forces of Senor Buckets, Maloof Distributing and the much lamented Z-Rock 105 FM.

From its humble beginnings as a single rock station in Dallas, Tx., Z Rock (owned by the ABC Radio Network, now Cumulus Media Networks) grew to anchor the network's 24 hour satellite format, also known as “Satellite Music Network” Programming features such as Blistering Leads, Wounded Radio, Back Rockwards, Bad Ass CD Side and Old Stuff For an Hour, kept the dweebs locked in. Loud and obnoxious personalities were the norm, with on air hosts such as Crankin Craig, Sharkman, Dave Bolt, Loud Debi Dowd, Madd Maxx Hammer and Scorchin' Scotty crammin' it down your throat on a daily basis.

Albuquerque's Z-Rock was based in the studio complex at the corner of Edith and Baker Lane NE in the North Valley. At the time I lived at the north end of Edith NE and every so often I would come across some random hesher wearing a black leather jacket in 90+ heat, trudging up Edith towards the station on a pilgrimage to collect some free shit or to loiter at the gate, as if hoping to catch a glimpse of Loud Debi herself.

Z-Rock of course broadcast via satellite from their flagship studios in Dallas, Tx. See race fans, Z-Rock was America's first coast to coast rock network (i.e. radio version of TBS & WGN) marketing nationally for local broadcast with local ads inserted. Z-Rock's network became the template de rigueur for modern over-air broadcast media. So, while these loudmouthed knuckleheads were rebelling against everything we had..... they were also clearing the path for the sanitized, dull as dishwater radio stations that most of us hate so fucking much.

You may recall Z-Rock's slogans “If it's too loud, you're too old!” “Lock it in, and rip your knob off” “Flip us on and flip them off” Even a character on Funky Winkerbean wore a Z-Rock t-shirt and the staff somehow managed to squeeze in several volumes of “Z-Rock Magazine” (I used to get mine at The Sound Warehouse) But alas, the times and demographics, they were-a-changing. Attempts to tweak the format to the rapidly changing music scene ended in failure. In 1996, after ten years, ABC Radio pulled the plug on a great rock radio experience.

Stations that were part of the network (New Mexico had two affiliates that I'm aware of, Albuquerque and Deming) were given the option to adopt the Z-Rock brand and imaging for free. Some stations did and there are still three U.S. stations flying that freak flag high (Chico, Ca., Lexington, Ky. Salt Lake City, Ut.) Z-Rock's spot was filled by the defunct 107.9 The Edge (not to be confused with 104.1 the Edge, an ABQ station that doesn't stray too far from the Z-Rock model) In Deming, KDEM-FM dropped Z-Rock in '96 switching over to an oldies format.

Vinyl and cassette compilations were handy marketing tools and “Home Grown” was one of those collections that rock stations across the country invariably slap together under the pretext of handing out “free stuff” Headbanging like they were fucking immortals, eight motley crews all banging out old school heavy metal beats, updated just enough to draw a few punks and goths into the mix. New trends in music are a way of life. The flow of ideas and influences makes change as inevitable as that old muddy river that keeps on flowing, across this dusty land, like it don't give a shit.

Damage- Kick it Out
Fallout- Shelter
Petting Zoo- Leviathan
Captain Tripps- Live Forever
Conspiracy- The Odyssey
Sly Dog- Naive Little Bitch
Tryax- Crossed Signals
Screamin' Jesse- Scary Monsters
Raging Fury- Traveler in Pain
Enforcer- Cry For the Stranger
Fallout- Drained
Angels in Exile- Eyes to the Sky
The Touch- Looking Back
Angry Babies- God Doesn't Want Your Money
SeventhSign- Beholder
Deceiver- Cutthroat

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 21

“Rain hissed on the freeway. It ate the old warpaths, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating.” Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Mitch Hedberg once said “My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them”
Greetings from the land of the big mañana.... The hissing of summer lawns signals a change in the weather. We've been blessed with a March that came in like a lamb and went out like a.... lamb. April has been borne of the Zephyr. Gentle and serene.

The lack of southwesterly haboobs has given us a much needed respite from the usual sandblasted spring weather pattern. You don't need a weather man to know that even under optimal conditions, New Mexico is dry as a bone. Unlike Californios (or future New Mexicans as they're known in Santa Fe) we figured out (more or less) how to get by on meager rainfall and below average runoffs.

All day I've faced the barren waste without the taste of water... cool, water. The Gaia Theory observes that species thrive which live in harmony with their natural environments, while those that do not are eliminated. Humanity is the dominant species and we're living in disharmony with our environment.

These crackers are making me thirsty. “Hold mighty man, I cry, all this we know. He spreads the burnin' sand with water, he's the devil, not a man” I'm here to tell you now each and ev'ry mother's son, You better learn it fast; you better learn it young, 'Cause, the big monsoon it never comes and It's a hard rain a-never gonna fall

 We Ain't Done Dancin'

Unbeknownst to many, a viable music scene has taken root in Las Cruces and there's talent-a-plenty to be found in “a place hysterically optimistic politicians call, the Borderplex” This movement for the most part revolves around The Doña Ana Music Night Union or DAMN Union, a collective fashioned from the members of Music Night, a weekly happening at The Farm in Las Cruces.

DAMN Union consists of Danny Graves and Aaron Ransbarger, both former members of The Rawdogs, one of the few Las Cruces musical aggregations that aggressively pushed the proverbial envelope beyond the ordinary. The city of the crosses, is for the most part a burg given to the all the comforts of convention. All of which made The Rawdogs stand out like Don Schrader walking down Central Ave. in Albuquerque.

Audra Rodgers, David Tucker, Joe Hecker, Larry Ramos and Neeshia Macanowicz make up the DAMN Union roster on any given night. Singer/Songwriter, Sean Lucy (picture Fast Heart Mart, had he been raised in the desert Southwest instead of Virginia) joins in every now and then. Lucy is a prolific musician with eight albums to his credit (all are available on Bandcamp) Sean Lucy's albums “King Clone Creosote” & “Neon Angel in the Halls of Heartache” combines the musical forces of both Sean Lucy's Family (a collective not unlike the DAMN Union) and those of DAMN Union regulars, Danny Graves, Aaron Ransbarger, Audra Rodgers, Larry Ramos. Duke City drummer Kris Kerby ( I Cum Drums, Tendorizor) took part in the “Neon Angel” sessions.
DAMN Union has two albums out on Bandcamp, Take Me With You (2013) and Blacktoe Sessions (2014) on which they revist two Rawdogs classics, “Say You Mine” (also known as Violent Hand) and “Her Face”, but sadly not their languid yet powerfully ominous signature tune, “Cold Iron”. Aaron Ransbarger, a multi-instrumentalist (as are all the members of DAMN Union) has a singing voice that draws your attention like magnets draw metal flakes. That voice is in full effect on both DAMN Union albums, though the lead vocals interchange between Ransbarger, Danny Graves and Audra Rodgers.

Danny Graves has an album out on Bandcamp as well, “Dan and the Working Band” which he describes as “a mash up of horrible and beautiful emotions.” It's a concept album not unlike Van Dyke Parks' Song Cycle album and much like that 1968 classic, Graves reminds us that “To get the most, one has to listen from start to finish”

I've always said the same about this very podcast. For full effect, listen all the way through. Rustic country and heartland rock, dry as dust vocals infused with a rootsy feel more western than country. Throw in some tunes from Cruces stalwarts such as CW Ayon, The Raggies, Dusty Low and the results are far from your standard ranch stash.

Aaron Ransbarger & the Damn Union Violent Hands (Say You Mine)
Janos- Coyotes
Sean Lucy & the Damn Union- Everybody's Got to Live
Dusty Low- Hey Ya'
Soulshine- Sweetest Thing
CW Ayon- After While
Chicken Lunch- Take Me Back to Lordsburg
Danny Graves & the Damn Union- Ella
Aaron Ransbarger & the Damn Union- Turn Away
Janos- Tom Petty
Sean Lucy & the Damn Union- Bordertown
The Raggies- Mujeres de Juarez Blues
Dan Bern & The Bends- Fiesta Time
Rawdogs- Whiskey
Danny Graves & the Damn Union- Blackbird of Cheyenne
Dusty Low- Dusty Low

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

CW Ayon Blues Redux

Much of what I do is retrospective and with seven well received albums under his belt, it's time to revisit New Mexico's native son,  CW Ayon. If the blues are epitomized by an image of the itinerant musician making his way from one juke joint to another in search of an audience then Coop fits the bill. Keep in mind, unlike many New Mexico musicians who moonlight as musicians while holding down day jobs.... CW Ayon to my knowledge is a full time musician.

Not that he's riding in boxcars or hitching rides in the back of pick-up trucks, come on, it's 2015 a man's gotta have a place to plug in his phone, tablet, laptop etc. A bluesman better have Expedia bookmarked and some plastic handy if he wants to stay on the road. CW stays busy and over the past few years he's expanded his range away our lonely corner of the state, across this great land and beyond. Case in point, Coop just returned from a successful turn at the Terri' Thouars Blues Festival.

If you judge a man by how well he's received when he's far away from home, then without a doubt CW Ayon is the real deal. Here in the sticks of New Mexico we already knew that. Now the world wants in on the fun. The French refer to CW as “Le Chant/harmonica/guitare du Nouveau Mexique” which sounds a lot cooler than “guitar picker” Not Coop's first international foray, three years ago he sallied forth to Australia with Old Gray Mule (CR Humphrey) blues picker extraordinaire out of Lockhart, Tx.   Well, Well, Well.

CW has skillfully crafted a prodigious, yet readily accessible catalog of recorded works. My aim is get ya' up to speed in seven paragraphs. Gone (2009) was recorded in Las Cruces at Nasty Cactus Studios as such it bears a heavy “rock” mix to its advantage. As one overreaching reviewer put it “If the Black Keys and The White Stripes were to have a desert-borne bastard son, he would sound precisely like C.W. Ayon” Boy Howdy! probably not the best way to get that across.

Although, I did like the “speaking in the tongues of Tecate” quip.... that's a keeper. “Gone” is still my favorite CW Ayon album. The urgency of Gone's gritty vocals, gnarly guitar and tub thumping bass drum was what first drew me in. I understand why Coop moved away from this sound It's only logical that his natural progression as a musician was bound to lead him down a different path, musically and spiritually. (that trite comparison to The Black Keys and Jack White can wear thin in a hurry)

Is What It Is (2010) and Ain't No Use in Moving (2011) finds Coop flexing his musical chops while fully embracing the Hill Country blues of Mississippi. This style of blues calls for a more subtle approach, a repetitive cadence building to a near drone, designed with one purpose in mind.... to raise the dead and breath fire into the living. “Didn't move her head, Didn't move her hands, Didn't move her lips... just shook her hips” Please, no walking dead on the dance floor and what'd I tell ya' 'bout snappin' photos in my juke joint goddammit!

This brings us to Lohmador (2012) an album that firmly established CW Ayon as a force in the tight knit community of New Mexico-based musicians. Lohmador is an album of subtle nuances and it would be easy to miss the Native American influences that CW effortlessly throws into the mix. It also serves notice that CW Ayon is in no way a novelty “one man band” Far from it, with Lohmador Coop blazed a trail across the genre strewn landscape of America sewing the seeds of innovation.

The Blues & Native American music are not all that dissimilar and CW continues to work Native influences into his music and live performances. Vincent Craig's classic Rita (aka The Candy Bar song) is part of his repertoire. “She said, you got to steal a candy bar” from his Dine homeland to Alaska, Craig's legend as a comedian/singer/songwriter grew word of mouth. Also known for creating the comic strip super hero “Muttonman” Craig sadly passed away in 2010. Long live the Muttonman.

It all points towards CW Ayon's continuous growth and maturity as a musician. Live at the Rio Grande Theatre (2013) shows CW working his way through a set of album tracks and concert favorites in front of a sedate hometown crowd in Las Cruces, N.M. Whether, it's up close at Sparky's in Hatch, N.M. or at the Terri'Thouars Blues Festival, Coop is so steady and consistent during a performance that it's hard to find fault.... if by happenstance you're looking for any
Setting Son (2014) shows continued progression in a genre that measures progression in generations rather than albums. “Setting Son” features Coop's best vocal work yet.... the vocals flow with an urgent energy that in all seriousness brings to mind a modern-day Robert Johnson. Throw in some vibrant slide guitar and it's easy to see that signing with the Chi-Town label, Solitary Records has had a powerful effect on the finished product.

Enough to Be Proud (2015) still has that new car smell and to be honest I'm still digesting the tracks. I will say this, it's powerful and though not a radical departure from Setting Son, it does have a self propellant, kinetic drive that pulls you from one track to another with ease and comfort. CW's vocals lack the concise clarity of Setting Son but that's offset by his superb playing. Blues for the people, by the champion of the people and just like that chicken wing, it ain't nothing but good.

CW Ayon's music is available on CD Baby, Bandcamp, Solitary Records, YouTube and Frogtoons....

Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 20

                                     “Pull me down, I'm lifting off the ground into space”

Anne Tkach died in a tragic house fire in Webster Groves, MO. April 9th, 2015. The cause of the fire is currently under investigation. Unless you followed Albuquerque's music scene through the mid to late 1990s you're probably not familiar with Anne and her prolific musical legacy.  I didn't know Anne, though I was fortunate enough to have caught a couple of Hazeldine's live performances before their local concerts grew sparse.

One could be excused for not noticing Anne playing bass on stage during her days with Hazeldine. Tonya Lamm's achingly endearing vocals and Shawn Barton's seductive radiance got all the attention. Even Jeffrey Richards had a je ne sais quoi about him. Not that Anne wasn't beautiful nor lacking in stage presence (a friend of her's Ryan Adams, wrote this on Facebook about her: "I'll never forget watching Anne Tkach play bass for Magic City, duck walking across the stage, putting her foot on the monitor, playing the most badass bass lines in the world, all while wearing a dress”

Anne was a consummate professional musician with a distinctive style of her own. This becomes readily apparent as you listen to the extensive catalog of recordings she participated in. Anne could hold her own regardless of genre (case in point; check out her work with Magic City, available on YouTube)  A native of Webster Groves in the St. Louis area,  Anne followed the trail west to Albuquerque, where she became part of a band that many local music aficionados consider the best to ever come out of these here parts.

Hazeldine in all likelihood was named after Hazeldine Ave. which runs from Broadway to I-25, picks up on the eastside, cuts off again at Roosevelt Park, runs past CNM then dead ends at University Ave.  I don't know the story behind the origins of the band's name (they were originally called Blister) an apartment or a practice space perhaps. I always wondered the same about the John Street Rockets.

 Anyhoot.... Hazeldine rose to prominence once a couple of their tunes were included on a pair of Bloodshot Records compilations. This would lead to four outstanding albums  How Bees Fly (Glitterhouse, 1997) Digging You Up (Polydor, 1998 Double Back (Glitterhouse, 2001) Orphans (E-Squared 2002) a sizable national following and serious critical acclaim everywhere (they're still revered in Holland and Germany)

Eventually, Anne returned to Webster Groves, catching on with St. Louis fan favorites Nadine in 2001 (fronted by highly acclaimed St. Louis, singer/songwriter Adam Reichmann). Nadine broke up in 2003 with Anne hooking up with a number of St. Louis based bands: Ransom, Bad Folk, Magic City, The Skekses, Lost Monkey, Sole Loan and most recently Rough Shop.  A former classmate summed it up; “Her versatility as a player was remarkable; that was clear from a single listen to her onstage or from scanning the diverse nature of acts that wanted her membership”

My intention was to try and post a track from as many of the bands Anne was involved in as possible. That proved problematic, for one, there's nary a track online from Nadine during the time she played with them, (Magic City and Rough Shop are well represented) ultimately I chose to post nothing but Hazeldine with the exception of a Rough Shop track on which Anne sings lead vocals. It's at the end, you can jump to it or listen to the entire playlist.... I recommend the latter.
                                                           Anne Tkach, que en paz descanse.                    
Right to Feel
Summer Wine
Whiskey in the Jar
Drive (live)
Fletcher's Bar (live)
Realize (live)
Digging You Up (live)
Married Man (live)
Dear Mama (Rough Shop w/Anne Tkach on vocals)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Dirt City Chronicles podcast episode 19

And the Hits just keep on comin'....  Just before Flake Music segued into The Shins, 'Burque's music scene was caught in a quandary brought about by the numerous stops, starts and near misses that had raised hopes that one day soon a band would bust out of Albuquerque. Only to see those hopes dashed, time and again.  What to do?

The garage band model was out, replaced by visionary bedroom savants armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of the current indie rock scene, working their magic at home before springing their twisted tweaker tunes on the masses.  New was back, because newer is always better, that's the American way.  A new generation of musicians feeding the pipeline, but with more ambition, confidence and intuitive skill. The Libertines upon the scene, thumbing their noses at the kings of corporate cool. Not that anyone of them would have turned down a deal  from a major label.

“Men haunted by a vision of great achievement, who cannot be bothered with conventional success, because they reach for transcendence” It's delusional, I know. It's a New Mexican condition, the desperate need for validation from the rest of the nation. The need to join the major leagues. UNM athletics (men's basketball in particular) pursues this as an act of sheer folly and quixotic madness, resulting in a sense of gratification equivalent to that of drilling a dry hole in Little Texas.

After Nirvana broke, every Seattle band wearing flannel (which is to say most of them) suddenly found themselves entertaining offers from corporate Satan. Why wasn't that happening in Albuquerque? Who would be the first penguin reckless enough to break the ice?

The music industry insiders working the business end, men with nothing creative to offer, yet deemed important to the process  had dropped the ball. The system let everyone down, which is fine because that system is fucked up beyond all recognition now.  Digital downloads (both legal and illegal) having sheared the bolts that held the machinery together, sinking the conventional music industry faster than your hopes for getting laid at your prima's  Quinceañera.    

Say Don't Spray It:
A snarky homage to the music of our homeland    ~ Panza de Leon ~
Nothing if not persistent    ~ Battle Station Zerox ~
Sturm und Drang   ~ Klaus Kinski Kronikles ~
Just a spud boy searching out the meaning of life   ~ Lick ~
“An infinite scream passing through nature, oozing past like an amplified lowrider.  A transcendent soundscape for our angst filled days, exploding with brooding fury and hot buffalo breath passion.   ~ Dirt City Chronicles ~

Ray of Light- Monster Paws
Through One Eye and Out the Other- Your Name in Lights
Dreams- Unit 7 Drain
Field of Fire- The Oktober People
Have You Ever Been Afraid of the Future- Lousy Robot
Everything Is- Sad Baby Wolf
Eye Bear- Gingerbread Patriots
When I Had it All- Monster Paws
Into the Sun- Mondo Vibrations
Cross My Heart and Hope You Die- Lousy Robot
Brighter, Brightest- Your Name in Lights
Takes You Down- Unit 7 Drain
Suicide Shy- The Oktober People
Big Grrr Things- Gingerbread Patriots
Let the Morning Come- Mondo Vibrations
King of Whiskey Throne- Lousy Robot