Summer Sunday Flashback Eleven: The Sandinista! Project
Crossing the border to another season, please entertain if you will conjecture of another time, a trip without a passport, through an extended, not-too-sprawling sonic cosmopolis, an uncommonly thoughtful, adventurous tribute album. Two views: the first is my brief Voice piece, the second, from my Nashville Scene writers poll ballot comments on 2007 releases, tours the more flexible, countryoid side of the No Dep frame (but not at great length).
Here’s the Voice bit (the headline wasn’t mine):
A Track-By-Track Clash Tribute That Cuts The Crap
(Originally published in the Village Voice, May 8, 2007)
The Sandinista! Project, commissioned and assembled by long-game rock journalist Jimmy Guterman (The Self-Portrait Project may someday follow) is a two-CD, four-year, complete urban renewal of the Clash’s 36-track, three-LP sonic cosmopolis. Released in late 1980 (when punk could seem as old and established as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, though rather less successful politically), the original Sandinista! implicitly addressed and sometimes sounded stressed by the clash of identity and adaptability. Most of the many various artists on TSP tap into the achievement and potential of this driving, driven undercurrent. The Mekons’ Jon Langford and Sally Timms (with Ship And Pilot) get New Orleans street song “Junco Partner” higher, lighter, and tighter than the Clash can; blue notes are bluer too.
More clearly than ever, these songs embody the risks and payoffs of conflict. On “One More Time/One More Dub,” ex-Voidoid Ivan Julian tilts galaxies of guitar through rippling immersions of Iranian-American chanteuse Haale, as his bass pushes notes almost deeper than feeling, with constant harassment from ex-Lounge Lizard Dougie Bowne’s drums. Julian also plays guitar on “The Call Up,” one of the original set’s strongest tracks. Here, re-tuned voices still keen warnings to “young people down through the ages,” while The Lothars’ ancient Space Age theramins swoop like patrols of lost souls pressed into service over grinding post–Oil Age reggae beats. Project only stumbles when it stays too close to original versions—unlike Wreckless Eric, rattling and wailing, “Stepping out a rhythm that can take the tension on/Stepping in and out of that crooked, crooked beat.” Now I get it!
Here’s the Nashville Scene ballot comment:
archived as part of https:https://thefreelancementalists.blogspot.com/2008/02/don-allred-nashville-scene-country.html
I’ve just gone a little further afield than usual. For instance, The Sandinista! Project: produced by Jimmy Guterman, covers of the
entire 3-LP set on 2 CDs, by Jon Langford & Sally Timms, Katrina of Katrina And The Waves, Wreckless Eric, Camper Van Beethoven, Amy Rigby, Jason Ringenberg & Kristi Rose, Steve Wynn, Willie Nile, Mikey Dread, Sid Griffith’s Coal Porters, Ruby On The Vine (feauturing Myrna Marcarian of Human Switchboard), and a lot of people I never heard of, many of whom also do some startlingly good stuff, so it’s not just Indie Big/Heard Of Name Placebo Effect, I don’t think
(Although some of the no-name people are a little too reverent to the wordiness of the texts or slowness of The Clash’s own performances, so it’s not just lower case no name placebo effect either.) Feeling stuck in the spotlight and the perfectly sealed over image of rebellion,The Clash tried to break on through to the para-punk world, much of it in living color, but they did so with the limited skill sets of themselves and their tiny coterie, for whole teeming subcontinents of soundmasses, dub etc. The Project’s bands wisely delve into one song each. But such rich material, and it’s not just,. maybe not mainly the writing, but the groove too, implied and/or realized, to whatever degree: The Clash’s version of post-punk goes past the bounds of the recent trend, yet loops through the experiments of Wilco and The Mekons, back through the studio-as-instrument stuff to the country and punk phases,
back to Englishmen who were kids in the 60s, and their take on skiffle, ska, various New Orleans (incl urban cajun), and rural parade beats, and yeah nascent hip-hop, dub; but where The Clash’s vocals and production could blur into an atmosphere too thin and thick at the same time, and too tenuous, technically(at least on the original vinyl and cheap speakers), other artists have picked up where they left off, without surpassing the basic strengths of these songs, which are mostly rejuvenated here, and fairly often in a countryoid way. Not just in terms of energy, or different drugs, but the Clashian combination of stylistic elements, with transitions in and between tracks, and the way the album loops back to pick up an earlier approach, and develop it further (true in the original, but this trib makes it clearer to me), and their characteristic combination of seriousness and humor, linear development and dubwise ricochet, kinetic mass and leaves of grass, as honored here in spirit and appropriate adaptation, makes them sound at least as right and ripe for the Double 0s as for the 80s. (Maybe not if this album had come out in the 90s, which seemed like Austin Powers’ preferred memory of the 60s, at least for lucky millions; sucked to be other billions, but
there you go-go.) Example of how one track builds on another: was thinking I’d like to hear more of that bluesy fiddle bouncing along under Jon Langford and Sally Timms’s “Junco Partner.” Which is a much
better track, all the way through, than the perky-on-cue rhythm, I mean “riddim” mocking Strummer’s dry, take-it-or-leave-it emphasis got to be (too conceptual, after more than a few minutes, it seems; we get it already). But in a much quicker already, I’m wanting more from Langford and Timms, cos this new version is so good, that they’ve shown me could be even better.(After writing this, I realized that the point is in the degree of restraint: the sly old partner knows he’ll never get out of his street beat alive). But then the very next track does bring out the fiddle’s blues and fun more, as Jason Ringenberg and Kristi Rose get a lot more subtle than they usually do, by winding with the fiddle, through the long lines of “When Ivan Meets G.I. Joe,” way after the pinball machines have been shut down, no attempt to improveon 80s sound EFX here, just ease us through the shadows, til we reach the international tough guy stuff , on passing posters and screens, and start another turn. (This really seems like the centerpiece of the whole Project, speaking of those time/style loops, even though it’s only Track 4.) Wreckless Eric’s “Crooked Beat” combines modern technology and 25 years of practice for inspired woodshed electronics (which sound Orwellian in Bee Maidens’ “Mensforth Hill”, like what’s probing Winston and Julia’s love nest, back in 1984, but also turns out to be the old man’s story from “Something
About England,” just recognizable as it [life and history] disappear backwards over said hill, sucked in like spaghetti, or like gristle
between teeth, all of which is country enough for me.) The Lothars’ name might come from 60s’ group Lothar And The Hand People, in which Lothar was a theramin, because a whole patrol of are we not theramin keep patrolling “The Call Up, ” which is a bit like Devo’s version of “Workin’ In A Coal Mine” and Neil Young’s Trans, but eerier (and more foregone, far-gone rural-industrial) than either. Speaking of versions, Tim Krekel’s “Version City” is the post-alt.country mainstream-accessible triumph, pop train song with doppler shift horns, like Mr. Krekel, an expert Kentucky-to-Music Row commuter,
probably is familiar with (being, for inst, leader of the Octaves octet, sensibility neighbors of the nascent NRBQ, back when they all started in Louisville), and fans of Tim McGraw’s rusty-vocodered “Fly Away” really really should hear it too. Sally Timms & Jon
Langford return with “Version Pardner,” which seems like mostly acoustic dub, until tape Sallys sally back again, and one of her has
one hand waving free (“He-e-ey,” even if she’s still falling forward and around with that ol’ Partner man again).And that’s just one more upside down moment folded into a bouquet of dub, which is still just trying to take country’s ID crisis on a seismic cruise, oowee baby.
This album doesn’t sustain (or try for) a country-related feel(remember, can’t get too conceptual) all the way through, that’s why
it’s an Honorable Mentions.
(I hadn’t yet started hacking in my other Imaginary Categories, such as Countryoid/Related Top Ten.)