Albums reviewed: I’m Coming Home, The Reconciliation, How Do You Plead, Rockabilly Deluxe, Servin’ It Up. Blue Plate Specials, Reach Around Rodeo Clowns, My Darling Clementine, Robert Gordon.
Back in the day, if you wanted to get up close and personal with some good rockabilly, you had to grease up your ducktail, polish your tattoos, pull on your engineer boots and stomp down to your local cut and shoot watering hole. But these days, Lanark records has taken all the hassle out of the equation with one stop shopping that’ll leave you unbloodied. Specializing in rockabilly, the label has a great compendium of rockers, thumpers, rebels, and hell raisers, throwbacks who still believe in the outlaw spirit of rock and roll.
Linda Gail Lewis is at the top of the Lanark heap, pounding out blistering rockabilly and country hot enough to scorch any would -be contenders of any gender.
But the label is no one trick pony. Their mission statement declares their aim is to “bring new music recorded by real people, in a real studio, to the fans of, but not limited to, Rockabilly, Rock and Roll, blues, old school Country and Western, Sixties Pop, British Invasion, Stax’s Soul, Girl Groups, Surf Music, Americana, Folk and Roots music.” That’s a mouthful, a mighty big platter of music for any one label to serve up, but they’ve got the goods to back it up.
If you like your rockabilly served up on thick slices of wry, The Reach Around Rodeo Clowns should be on your plate. Lanark owner/guitarist/producer/ songwriter Quentin Jones heads up this bunch of rowdies in a rockabilly throw down. Brother Wendell takes care of vocals, throwing down a pretty convincing husky Elvis uh-huh chorus on “Bowling Alley Baby,” from their latest, Rockabilly Deluxe.
Quentin is the principal songwriter,contributing 10 tongue in cheek jewels to the production. Sounding like it was cranked out by a one hit wonder ’60s surf band, “Wild, Crazy, And Out Of Control” is made to order for a B movie drive-in festival.
Even though “Paranoid Boy”follows the rockabilly format melodically, the lyrics shunt it right on over into the shockabilly bin,Wendell’s quavering delivery begging for a padded cell to contain it. “I look to the left/I look to the right/ someone’s gonna feel my wrath tonight,” he promises before admitting “I’m confused…and paranoid.”
Once again, “I’m Obsessed” fits neatly into the rockabilly frame, but Quentin’s pen takes this one into straight jacket territory, the stalker panting creepily after confessing he watches from far away but the object of his obsession doesn’t even know he’s there.
“I Used To Be The One” is a real genre bender, a Tex-Mex masterpiece that sounds like Doug Sahm channeling Dave Dudley, mixing truck drivin’, cry-in-your-beer country with Texas guitar twang and south of the border hornery.”I used to be the one that she cheated with,” Wendell sings sorrowfully, “now I’m the one she’s been cheatin’ on.”
The Clowns’ music is a great mix of old style with a new sensibility twisted enough to get everybody within earshot’s panties in a wad in a mighty satisfyin’ manner.
Sounding like Commander Cody fronting the Flaming Groovies, Blue Plate Special’s Serve It Up seems to encompass every genre the label supports. “Whiskey Costs Money” could have been culled from one of the Commander’s loose-limbed dieselbilly jams with Andy Stein’s sax(recreated here by Walter Beier) honkin’ like a demented goose. “Tried to learn how to dance from watchin’ James Brown/ but my feet got all tangled and I landed on the ground,” singer/guitarist Charlie Frey confesses, as the band careens drunkenly around him, Frey tossing out chunks of Chuck Berry to aid his struggling terpsichorean skills.
The band switches gears for some low down, Joe Turner style blues in the “Ain’t Nobody’s Bidness” mode for “Me And My Baby,” Frey augmenting the tune with some B.B. King string-bending action.
“I need a car straight from a Chuck Berry song,” Frey says on “I Need A Car,” putting the coffee colored Cadillac from “Nadine” on his wish list before putting in a tankful of Berry licks to propel the car he needs “that’ll make me feel like breaking the law.”
“She Likes It Like That” is a mind-bending genre twister, like a mashup of Bo Diddley and Eric Burdon’s War translated by the Groovies.
From the title, you’d think “Heartache and Cigarettes” would be a country tune.But it’s just the sort of thing the Flaming Groovies excelled at, stirring up wiggly psychedelic guitar with Little Richard horn charts and Kinks style vocals with rattly rockabilly piano skittering around the edges.
Sounds like Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireball’s ’62 hit “Sugar Shack” is trying to break out of “Louisiana Stomp.” It’s a weird conglomeration of styles, featuring a second line strut that changes up to B.B King- bendin’ blues halfway through before sidling back into Big Easy mode.
Despite the mixed fare, this stuff goes down well. The only problem you’ll have is not being able to put it down once you get a taste of it.
And if CDs don’t trip your trigger, Lanark has a couple of vinylproducts to dazzle you with. My Darling Clementine’s two Eps How Do you Plead /The Reconciliation and Robert Gordon’s I‘m Coming Home are is out on cool blue vinyl.
File under country, it says on the liner notes for My Darling Clementine’s latest Lanark LP, and they ain’t kidding. This stuff is as raw as Carl and Pearl Butler, ringing with the authenticity of George and Tammy. But the kicker is that the duo, Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston King, are a British couple. Released in 2013, the sound is timeless. Dalgleish damn near out Tammy’s Tammy with her vocal on “No Heart In This Heartache,” putting the ache right out there on display alongside her bleeding heart. The record is augmented on keys by the great Geraint Watkins. A fixture on Nick Lowe tours for year, Watkins’ ’04 release, Dial W For Watkins, is one of the most underrated and overlooked releases in decades. Kinky Freidman also puts in an appearance on vocals.
But the vinyl jewel in Lanark’s crown is Gordon’s 2014 release. The former Tuff Darts vocalist linked up with Link Wray, who thought Gordon sounded like the ’50s era Elvis, to do a series of albums in the late ’70s before going solo. Gordon’s work here is muscular, rooted in the lower ranges, often sounding more like Johnny Cash than Elvis, especially on his man in black impression on “Walk Hard.” He summons up Hank Williams’ vocal ghost for “Honky-Tonk Man,” then brings more Elvis than Ricky Nelson to Nelson’s ’59 hit “It’s Late.” Gordon tackles a variety of material here, even going after Little Richards signature classic, “Lucille,” slowing it down quite a bit from Richard’s frenetic pounding to a slower, bluesier version. Johnny Rivers’ “Mountain of Love” gets a note for note cover, Gordon rising to the high spots with ease.
There’s plenty of stuff here as well as in their catalog to keep you busy rockin’ your billy, surfin’ for girl groups and rootin’ for country blues. And if anything else comes to mind, not to worry. By the time you think of it, Lanark’ll have it ready for you in all its scruffy, rootsy glory. Stay tuned.