Thursday, April 15, 2010

Roky Erickson Exorcises His Demons One More Time

This week's release of True Love Cast Out All Evil is simply an event to be heralded: a true musical genius given a chance to shine on his own terms after a career spanning decades which included two forced vacations into mental institutions and hundreds of LSD trips--and some timeless music. The teenager who belted out (and wrote) "You're Gonna Miss Me", one of the most ferocious songs ever, is now a senior citizen who has emerged from his long strange trip stronger than dirt. I had written previously about Roky's amazing comeback all but begged a good label to pick him up, and I am so glad Anti stepped up to the plate, and with Roky's help, hit it out of the park! It seems Anti has their shit together---signing up great old farts like Mose Allison, Tom Waits, Betty LaVette and Booker T---folks that still have great music in them. Roky is no exception, and the swell guys at Anti even give you two free mp3s to prove it! You can get them right here.

Now I'll admit the first time I heard "Be and Bring Me Home" it sort of sounded like country Billy Joel with its piano and fake strings, chimes and mandolins. "Suddenly I'm not sick," Roky sings in a moment of self realization on the longest track on the LP. Its an a redemptive anthem, a bit overproduced, but still a powerful song. The other mp3 Anti's giving away is just a scorching rocker that wouldn't have been been out of place on my favorite Roky LP, the one with the Aliens on CBS. "Goodbye Sweet Dreams" could have really been torn up by the Aliens with Billy Miller splashing his autoharp all over it, but this Austin band Okkervill River who back up Roky still get a few points for their performance on this one. Unfortunately, I haven't got a chance to listen to the rest of the LP except for the 30 sec bits on Amazon, but those clips point to a vision that is unique, a voice that has something to say. You stare into Roky's eyes on the cover of his new LP and it's like you are looking into his soul. Even before the 13th Floor Elevators, Roky sang "we sell soul", and now he's doing it again, 45 years later!

It must have been a terrifying experience being subjected to shock treatment and confined to Rusk, and spooky sounding recordings from those years do appear with these newly recorded tunes. "God is Everywhere" indeed! Roky's life has been far from rosy, but the strange beauty of his music still holds its sense of wonder. Soaked in its Texas roots, True Love Cast Out All Evil is a career defining LP and a loud statement that Roky Erickson is the real deal. Roky may have shed his demons but his creative fires are still burning bright.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Rendell Appoints Waitin On A Train To Get the Party Started!

I guess it would be a little too much effort for the fine folks of York to let their best hometown band to play on the stage of the Strand-Capitol, but no less than PA Governor Ed Rendell, or maybe those working for him, has elected Waitin On A Train to open the day long Governor's Arts Awards celebration on April 3rd. Though they didnt quite make it to the stage, they will be playing in front of the Strand in the middle of the closed off N. George St at 3 PM, starting the celebration in which famous Yorkies Del McCoury and Jeff Koons will be feted with awards from Governor Rendell. It's always good to be recognized, and both MCoury and Koons have made lasting contributions to our cultural landscape. It's great that they will be honored, and great that York is also giving its new blood a chance to get the party started. The foot stompin tunes of Waitin On A Train provide the perfect foil for what otherwise may turn into a pretty staid affair, and the lively deep roots driven music is the same stuff Del McCoury cut his teeth on over 60 years ago.

Clustered amongst local artists and vendors, Waitin On A Train will open the arts show with a set that truly speaks of York County's musical roots. The band's sound has been described as "urban hillbilly", but really is rooted in the traditional country string bands that predate modern bluegrass. While Del McCoury has moved to Nashville, and slicked up his sound, his early recordings for the Arhoolie, Revonah, Grassound, and Rounder labels reveal a fevered pitch and intensity that's much like Waitin On A Train's fast-paced old timey sound. Del's great voice and his affable, always smiling nice guy demeanor have served him well, and he relied on many York County musicians for years in an endless string of appearances and recordings. McCoury is a fitting honoree and his body of work, as well as his success, speaks for itself. The York County bluegrass tradition is vast and deep, requiring much more than a single post to cover, but like Del McCoury, Waitin On A Train takes that tradition and puts their own twist on it, and it serves them well.

Anyone from around here knows how tough it is to play original music in just about any local venue, but Waitin On A Train have been doing it for years, and making it look easy as they blend their own great tunes with forgotten classics of a much earlier time. The 3 piece band sure kicks up a racket, occasionally slowing down for a mid tempo ballad, but mostly flying along at a breakneck pace. Even the mournful songs, like "The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea" sound almost celebratory! Stripped down, and revved up, Waitin On A Train embodies the spirit of creativity as they, despite paying homage to an earlier time and sound, can craft songs as timeless and unique as the ones they cover. Take their latest self titled CD on Apple Snitch Records (see pic at left) for example. "You're Killing Me" has been played quite a bit on the Sirius bluegrass channel though it could have just as easy been played on their modern rock or Underground Garage channel. In fact, the Underground Garage DJ, Bill Kelly, has played "Driftin Down" from the In the Path Of Pain CD on his WFMU show, which is all rock and roll!

I can not explain, either, why the radio is not playing the hell out of "The Rocks, Sticks, Snakes and Bones" from their new CD as its simply a classic mountain tune that is begging for a greater audience. Certainly the entire CD with its genre-bending mix of the traditional and contemporary is worth checking out, as are the band's live shows. Thursday gives the band yet another chance to play for one of York's big events, and just maybe this time people will take some notice of what they have in their own backyard. Of course, you are talking about the same town whose newspapers only covered Del McCoury after he moved to Nashville, and whose papers have a strict policy of reviewing no "local" music releases--even if the All Music Guide gives them a 4 star review!

Nevertheless, Waitin On A Train continues to grow its fan base and regularly plays the Northeast corridor. Friday April 16th sees the band at Lancaster's Chameleon Club opening the show for the WXPN showcase of the Launch Music Conference on the main stage. Kind of ironic that the band is doing an XPN showcase, when the station wont even play the band! I guess talking about supporting area bands, and actually doing it, may be two different things. At least WXPN had enough sense to showcase the band at the Chameleon Club, and just maybe they'll have enough sense to broadcast it live and clue their audience in on what they've been missing! Still, the best bet seems to be the free show in downtown York on Thursday. It will be a bright sunny day, and you can hear some bright, sunny songs (that just might have a dark edge). It is certainly a good thing that PA is honoring Del McCoury, and its fitting that Waitin On A Train gets the party going with some mountain music that is reminiscent of the great bands that McCoury has led over the years.