Go To Blazes – Guilty of being on Melrose Place — And Other Crimes
And they tapped into some unlikely sources. Covering a Hank Williams song, for example, almost invariably means Hank the Elder — and yet here is an affecting version of “OD’d in Denver”, Hank Jr.’s lost-love-in-a-lost-weekend lament. “It’s real easy to get hung up on that ‘All My Rowdy Friends’ crap, but he always seemed to get in one good song to redeem even the weakest records,” Heyman says. The GTB version is a bluesy ache, underscored by the organ swells of Jim Duffy and a ravaged vocal, like they had lived it themselves — which they did.
“We ended a pretty frustrating tour in Denver on a bill with the Beat Farmers, a sold-out show,” Heyman recounts. “We played a great set to a packed house, got caught up in the excitement and collectively overdid it.” On the way home, with Country Dick Montana in the back seat and no one in any condition to drive, they got pulled over. “We thought, ‘This is it — we’re going to jail.’ But Dick just said (Heyman puts on a deep, larynx-rumbling drawl), ‘Well, officer, we’re entertainers, you see, a country & western band actually, and we just finished a show and now we’re on our way back to the hotel to go to sleep.’ ”
“He was just so polite,” Warren adds, “plus he had that really cool black hat. I think the hat helped a lot.”
Another pleasant surprise is a jaunty, Joe Flood-fiddle-enlivened version of “Underneath the Bottle”, borrowed from Lou Reed’s Blue Mask LP, which Heyman describes as “something of a comeback album for Lou, with a real stripped-down sound, very truthful and direct. That song reads just like a talking blues or an old country song.”
Elsewhere are straighforward and satisfying takes on a pair of decidedly fringe-dwelling artists, Lee Hazlewood and Kinky Friedman, and a beautiful version of an obscure Gene Clark song, “Out On The Side”, that Warren found on an old import record. “I listened to that song about a hundred times when I first heard it, I was just so blown away,” Warren says. Heyman agrees: “I’ve always been a sucker for pretty songs.”
And No Depression regulars will be quick to recognize Blue Mountain’s “Jimmy Carter”, which GTB slows almost to a dirge, giving it surprising depth. While the original seemed custom-made for an inaugural-party hoedown, the version on And Other Crimes sounds positively forlorn, a survivor of the cruelty and indifference of the administrations that followed Carter’s own. It gains a powerful elegiac quality in the transfer.
But there is an overriding irony in all this. For while And Other Crimes epitomizes the here and now in a recording, you can’t just go out and buy it; it’s trapped in some indie nether region between official releases (the new East Side Digital release Waiting Around for the Crash isn’t due until May). The band, justifiably proud of their bastard child, has independently pressed up a batch and peddles them from the stage at gigs and through the mail; they remain determined not to let it fall through the cracks. Semi-official though it may be, it certainly deserves to be heard, and though I often yearn for similar records — live recording, spare instrumentation, significant covers — by other favorite artists, I suspect that not one in a hundred would sound this good.
So while And Other Crimes searches for its audience (and vice versa), I’m trying to envision some idiot-box contextual contrivance worthy of a GTB soundtrack. Heyman claims he’s already been there. “My sister lives on a ranch in the high desert in Nevada,” he explains. “We like to stop there after a tour, shoot off some firearms, drink some beer….” (The band is pictured doing just that on the new disc’s sleeve.) “And the gas stations there have everything. You can gas up the car, get a case of beer, a bottle of whiskey, boxes of bullets…”
A veritable bad-boy playground, indulgent and a little fantastic — the perfect setting for some jive-ass, faux-outlaw TV show. If there’s any justice, Go To Blazes will be cast as the house band in the local bar, and their soulful caterwauling will mercifully drown out all the inevitably insipid dialogue.