No Thanks!: The ’70s Punk Rebellion
For a genre so reliant on the primal roar of electric guitar, punk rock is still given short shrift by tons of so-called “serious” guitarists. Well, that’s their loss because by ignoring punk’s many impassioned and creative players, they’re simply ignoring the very lifeblood that makes rock guitar, well, rock.
Covering the period from 1973 to 1980, No Thanks!: The ’70s Punk Rebellion is a four-CD box set that sports a photo-packed 114-page booklet, as well as thorough track info and thoughtful essays that describe punk’s ability to empower those who were disaffected by the current state of their hallowed rock and roll.
All of the usual suspects are lined up: the Ramones, the Clash, and Iggy &the Stooges to name a few—but one of No Thanks’ best feats is taking punk out of its ever-narrowing box and highlighting the artists whose music was born out of punk’s bitch-slapping of the music industry.
Thus artists like Nick Lowe, the Pretenders, Elvis Costello &the Attractions, the Cure, Blondie, and Talking Heads are dutifully represented. No Thanks’ producer, Gary Stewart, does cop to the fact that the Sex Pistols are conspicuously absent, however. “We tried our best, it just didn’t work out,” he explains.
Still, that in no way diminishes No Thanks’ impact. And guitar highlights abound throughout the set’s 100 tracks. Dig the knuckle-dragging genius of Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, and the fuzzy trash of the Dead Kennedy’s East Bay Ray—both proving that New York and the U.K. didn’t have sole ownership of punk guitar heroes. The Damned’s Brian James’ fuzzy riffing on “New Rose” and “Neat, Neat, Neat” help both tracks simply explode from the speakers, with James’ tone sporting copious amounts of raunch. The list of cool guitar goes on and on—the Cramps’ Poison Ivy’s trem-soaked twang on “Human Fly,” Johnny Thunders’ tortured bends on “You Can’t Put Your Arms Round a Memory,” to name only two.
Snobs be warned. The mark of a great player is passion, originality, and their capacity to touch the listener—by whatever means necessary—via their instrument. And just as with jazzbos, rock cats, and every other type of musician under the sun, punk rock has its own stable of stylists that inspire millions to pick up an instrument and rage. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Rhino.
Dreamer or Believer
Subtitled 1982-2002, 20 Years of Acoustic Music, Harvey Reid’s latest release is a magnificent overview of a life spent exploring plucked-string magic. The 40 selections on this two-disc set are precisely divided between instrumentals (disc 1) and songs (disc 2). Some tracks are compiled from earlier albums, while others are previously unreleased. Playing various combinations of 6- and 12-string guitar, slide, autoharp, bouzouki, mandolin, mandocello, 6-string banjo, and lap steel, Reid is captivating on three levels: First, his relaxed, yet articulate technique allows him to make even the most challenging pieces sound graceful and dynamic. Second, his tone is unfailingly ripe and ringing. Finally, his repertoire is vast, as this album contains fiddle tunes, Civil War songs, gospel hymns and spirituals, ragtime fingerpicking, bluegrass flatpicking, traditional Appalachian and Celtic ballads, country blues, and even a Bach minuet.
Detail freaks will dig how Reid lists the instruments, tunings, and picking techniques he uses for each track, as well as when and where it was recorded. Best of all, there are numerous examples of Reid’s partial capo innovations (including his multiple and “minus” capo techniques, which he explains in the liner notes). Exquisite sounds from a masterful picker. Woodpecker.
Dead Man Shake
Come Feel Me Tremble
On Dead Man Shake, indie god Paul Westerberg revives his sweaty, beer-soaked nom de plume for a set of ragged tracks that intersect his own righteous tunes with old country and blues standards. To put it bluntly, Dead Man Shake sounds like a rock record should sound—
swampy, loose, and absolutely brimming with raunchy guitar tones and elegantly unrefined playing.
But it’s not like when you pop in Westerberg’s new “proper” solo release, Come Feel Me Tremble, you are greeted with the polar opposite of his bluesy alter-ego. In fact, Tremble shares Dead Man Shake’s propensity for guitar tones that leap from the stereo’s speakers and head right for your jugular. The difference lies in Tremble’s more pointed and melodic songwriting—tunes that prove once and for all why Westerberg is considered one of the most gifted rock and roll songwriters of the post-punk generation. Fat Possum/Vagrant.
Reverend Charlie Jackson
God’s Got It
Subtitled The Legendary Booker and Jackson Singles, this CD contains 18 tracks transferred from 45-rpm vinyl singles (whose master tapes have vanished) cut in the ’70s by Reverend Charlie Jackson. A Fender Mustang-toting Baptist minister, Jackson picks bluesy lines ` la Lightnin’ Hopkins and sings with the feral intensity of Howlin’ Wolf. “The Goodness of God” was recorded during a church service, so Jackson’s distorted riffs and wild exhortations are accompanied by much sanctified shouting and communal call-and-response. Other songs—such as the tremolo-laden “I Gave It All I Had” and the ferocious “Fix It Jesus”—are performances Jackson recorded live in the studio backed by hand-clapping singers. In several instances, another vocalist takes the lead as Jackson strums churning grooves worthy of Pop Staples. When Laura Davis moans “I Am Thinking of a Friend” over the Reverend’s subtly throbbing riffs, she obliterates the distinction between a blues lament and a gospel hymn. Have mercy! CaseQuarter.
Untune the Sky
Touch-guitarist Trey Gunn successfully emerges from the shadow of high-profile King Crimson cohorts Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew on this engaging and musically varied CD/DVD retrospective. Gunn chose the material—which includes selections and alternate mixes from his six previous albums, a live cut, and an unreleased track—by sifting through piles of recordings and deciding which pieces most excited him, rather than those he felt might be considered his best by others. Gunn plays 8-, 10-, and 12-string Warr touch guitars through a huge arsenal of processors, as well as a Roland GR-30 synth, and comes up with an astonishing variety of tasteful tones and textures.
The music ranges from high-voltage prog workouts, to polyrhythmic world/jazz fusions, to introspective new age musings. Fans of David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, Tony Levin, and (of course) King Crimson will find lots to like here—but the music has its own distinct personality. Disc Two of the set (not available at review time) is a DVD featuring live performances, interviews with Gunn and members of the Trey Gunn Band, and video montages created by Gunn and his new multimedia production company, 7 Directions. InsideOut.
Talk about a sonic experiment gone horribly right, check out this supernatural melding of genres from Mylab. Just what Mylab is—a band, a collective, a troupe of musical performance artists, a secret society—I’m not exactly sure. All I know is that their debut album is the most imaginative collage of groove, melody, harmony, and texture I’ve heard in a long time. Fingersnaps, banjos, drum loops, horn sections, Dobros, vocal samples, and acoustic and electric guitars (courtesy of Bill Frisell and Timothy Young) bounce off each other in a vivid, phantasmagorical dance throughout this musical dream diary. My favorite texture is the recurring mono synth of keyboardist Wayne Horvitz (who, along with percussionist and soundsmith Tucker Martine, leads Mylab), a rad sound that suggests modern electronica as much as it does vintage video games such as Asteroids and Defender. It’s heavenly, hyper-stereophonic mixes like Mylab that keep high-end headphone manufacturers in business. Terminus.