Music

Off the Beaten Track with Mary Leary: Music Reviews & Musings

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Katy Goodman

HUNX AND HIS PUNX: Too Young to be in Love (Hardly Art)  –  LA SERA: Never Come Around (Hardly Art)  – DIRTY BEACHES: Badlands (Zoo Music)  – THE WITCHES: A Haunted Person’s Guide to The Witches (Alive Records)  – THE CLUTTERS: Breaking Bones (Chicken Ranch) –  THE FLAMIN’ GROOVIES: Groovies Greatest Grooves (Rhino/Warner Bros.)

Anyone who’s been around me for long knows what happens when something strikes me as funny: A big, full laugh that can swell into… um… paragraphs of laughter (if life happened in paragraphs; which it doesn’t, unless you have my brain). I haven’t been laughing like that a lot, last few months – my dad died a few weeks ago after being in a drawn-out, protracted state of misery. And Carlo Dimaggio, a cool local biker and band-hand – you know, the type whose absence leaves a big hole – died suddenly, of a heart attack, about a week before my dad passed. One of my best friends here is moving to France – which is great for her, but I already miss her… anyway, a lot of doom ‘n’ gloom have come a-knockin’ in these parts. These parts have felt confusing and exhausting; not very fun.

Anyway, as is generally the case, promos, and promotional emails, continue to flurry across my consciousness. One that kept flitting in and away from my befuddled psyche was about a band called Hunx and His Punx. If my car were running (another sad story) I might have checked H&HP out in time to see them at the Tin Can Ale House. But the car won’t be running for another month, I’m just now getting back to a tighter new-release-coverage schedule, and I didn’t check H&HP out… until yesterday, when I finally just shot over to You Tube for a quick skinny: thence the guffaws.

I also wanted to jump up and cheer, because for all the groups hammering away at the ‘50s/’60s bubblegum/sorta garage/girl group thing, here’s an artist that finally gets the absurdity inherent in so many of these sounds (and their original presentations). (Happy Birthday gets it, but subsumes the fun, for the most part, in snarkiness.)

Annoyed as I can be by categorical thinking (“It takes a young queen to really have fun with retro fluff”), maybe it takes a young queen (nee Seth Bogart) to really have fun with retro fluff:

“Gimmie Gimmie Back Your Love” isn’t on Hunx’s latest, but, no matter: Bogart and his over-made-up posse are producing a stream of “product” that’s in equally questionable taste: finally, someone’s making the videos we apparently can’t expect from John Waters any more. And Fred Schneider had better look to his guns. And Pee-Wee Herman had better… keep bein’ Pee-Wee. There are so many fun things to say about H&HP.

If you were to peruse some of the reviews I’ve done of “retro”-inspired musicians, I could start to come off pretty mean. But here’s the thing: why would I want to listen to something that sounds like Doris Day now if I’ve never wanted to listen to something as bland and predictable as Doris Day? However, all the new “retro”-pop isn’t THAT bad. As a matter of fact, I saw Katy Goodman’s newer project (the older one being Vivian Girls) perform last year. And if her airy soprano hadn’t been drowned out by over-amped instruments, I probably would have enjoyed La Sera more. It certainly wasn’t intolerable: some honest-to-god riffs poked through the din, and Goodman has a sense of humor – I mean, she’s not as ridikulous as H&HP, but then, few are.

Here’s the very tolerable title track from La Sera’s latest:

What I want to know is: How did Goodman round up the last set of losers who left me cryin’ by the phone?

Same night I saw La Sera, I was rather blown away by Dirty Beaches, a usually-solo artist who managed to climb under the wall of sound that’s becoming de rigueur for a lot of the “retro”s with handy songwriting and charisma:

IMO, “True Blue” is good enough to inspire a new Twin Peaks so there’d be an excuse for Alex Zhang Hungtai (DB’s) to star in it, or at least appear in a roadhouse, for no apparent reason, and perform that song over and over again. As it happens, a recent Pitchfork interview with Hungtai reveals that Lynch’s Lost Highway has been an inspiration. Well, I could of told ‘em that… the thing that’s rather amazing about Hungtai is his ability to grasp the essentials of rock-about-alienation, or just loneliness (Link Wray, Elvis Presley), and make you want to join him in that space.

Before it became pop-pop-popular to do the retro rag, two Detroit-based guitarists and songsmiths, Troy Gregory and John Nash — often with Jim Diamond at the mixing board — took short, extended, or permanent breaks from projects including Flotsam and Jetsam, the Swans, Mick Collins and the Dirtbombs, and Electric Six to be the Witches. Which meant waves and waves of ‘60s-inspired guitar jangle, siphoned through all sorts of juicy psychedelic, pre-punk, and garage influences. A Haunted Person’s Guide to… compiles highlights from the Witches’ four or five spirited, scattershot full-lengths. It’s a fab idea. The compilation showcases tunes that would segue with some of the best by the Flamin’ Groovies and Teenage Fanclub. If you don’t want to check the whole thing, strong suggestions (for those who crave fierce, sinewy sounds) include “Down on Ugly Street,” “Lost with the Real Gone,” “People What’s Wrong with You,” and “She’s Got Some Kind of Thing.”

My only regret is that The Witches aren’t driving into my town any time in the near future. Well, it’s not my only regret, but it can take a lifetime to gather enough material for a decent novel.

Recently discovered (by me; hey, I can’t be everywhere) is another group for whom rock ‘n’ roll (yes, I’ll breathe those sweet, dirty words) is in no way retro, but a living, breathing thing – that is, when the Clutters get their hands (and Farfisa-ish keyboards, slammin’ drums, and judicious and/or passionate guitars) on it.

Now we’re cookin’!

I have all kinds of memories about my father; some not so great. But one that I like is about the way he’d start banging his hand on the steering wheel when a really tight rock number happened to come over an AM radio station. I’m pretty sure he’d have responded to this Freddie Cannon song that was ravaged by the Flamin’ Groovies, a band for which I’d love to find a theme that would excuse my throwing an entire installment in its direction. Well, as Elaine Stritch says, “I’m still here” — and while we’re here, there’s hope:

I’m raising another “Robin’s Egg” (those malted-milk ball candies I can never resist digging into before Easter) to redemption, resurrection, and all that other new-life stuff – hey, it’s spring, after all. And no wonder I was so goofy when I started this installment – I’d just downed a handful of those suckers.

www.hardlyart.com
http://dirtybeaches.blogspot.com/
www.alive-totalenergy.com
www.chickenranchrecords.com
www.flamin-groovy.com
www.cyriljordan.com

~Photo of Katy Goodman is by Mary Leary~

Mary Leary is a poet and spoken word/music/performance artist who has been obsessed with sound for as long as she can remember. She edited and published one of the first New Wave 'zines, (the) Infiltrator (Washington, D.C.), and helped introduce New Wave and other alternatives through her radio shows at WGTB FM (Georgetown U.). Her poetry has been featured in numerous publications and at many venues, including KPBS FM and La Mama La Galleria, and in anthologies including: Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita, Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend: Women Writers on Baseball, The Unbearables, A Joyous Season, and The 2008 San Diego Poetry Annual. Her poetry is featured online at Creekwalker.com, The Melic Review, Gypsy 3, and ALittlePoetry.com. You can see her 2008 third-prize winning poem at Bookhabit.com. A poetry chapbook, Pretty Scary Jack O'Lanterns, is available through http://www.breadandlightning.net. Her short-short story collection, Cher Wolfe and Other Stories, is available on Amazon. Upcoming work includes a poem in A Walk In The Clouds, an anthology about the Obama election, and in The 2009 San Diego Poetry Annual. Her music journalism is featured at Daggerzine.com and at the San Diego Reader site, among others.

14 Comments

  1. george d. herron

    April 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Those sweet, dirty words indeed – the 1st two are funny, the Witches n Clutters r great, but the Groovies still kick everyone else’s ass around the block!

  2. brandi robbins

    April 25, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Rock ON! Nothing else to say!

  3. Jimmyjramone

    April 25, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    People will probably 4get Hunx in a few yrs but the Clutters rock & the Groovies ROAR – oh, yeah, & the Witches are bewitching

  4. Alain R.

    April 26, 2011 at 12:49 am

    This is funny and fun and yes, the rock ROCKS. Sorry to hear about your father – Alain.

  5. Harpo

    April 26, 2011 at 8:09 am

    great stuff as always, mary- you continue to help us all find some gems in all th drivel thats curned out these days.. hadnt heard of any of these bands [ecvept th Groovies, of course!]

  6. laurie gennaro

    April 26, 2011 at 9:06 am

    These shorter blogs are easier to fit in, Mary – this one’s a lot of fun, enjoyed it – thanks! Keep em comin!

  7. liz

    April 26, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Mary…Another wonderfully written piece. You’ve managed to alchemize grief into a poignant & funny work….(I’m so sorry about your Dad, not to mention other departures.)
    Thanks for The Clutters & The Witches, & reminding me of the great Flamin’ Groovies!

    Hang in there 🙂

  8. derek humphrey

    April 26, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I like the Witches an how it goes with the Groovies – great stuff

  9. Mary

    April 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Aw, thanks, Harpo & Liz – you say the nicest things.

  10. leticia

    April 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Ive never heard of the flaming groovies – that is some hot s…t – hunx made me laugh – good stuff 🙂

  11. liz

    April 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    And another (nice) thing, Mary. I always come back & read your pieces, because they’re so rich. This time I concentrated on Katy Goodman (was a beeg fan of Vivian Girls, & Hunx & the Punx. It’s not unlike finding new treasures in a poem…& it makes me look oh so musically smartypants 😉

  12. Jen Dumanis

    April 27, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Lots of fun through and through – sorry to hear about the deaths, but you know how to get back on your feet – and help me stay on mine…

  13. Susan S.

    April 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I really enjoyed that. Thanks.

  14. Adrian Vasquez

    April 30, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Clutter, Grooovies, Witches! Now that would be a show. Rock on!!

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