Friday, April 30, 2010

The John Henrys — White Linen
The John Henrys first came to my attention a few years back when I saw the Ottawa band open for The Sadies at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern, and I was immediately impressed. 
I've seen the talented quintet a couple of more times since, and enjoyed its Sweet As The Grain sophomore album.
This third LP, which came out in Canada last month via Linus Entertainment and will be released in the U.S. on Aug. 31, draws from the same Americana, rock and influences as its predecessor. The band had a larger budget and recorded 17 songs over seven months before winnowing the final product down to 11, which is divided into two sides like a vinyl LP. The first five songs are supposed to be the city side, while the country is represented by the final six tracks.
"Little One" opens the album and probably sounds more like Tom Petty than anything on the last Heartbreakers record — voice, guitars, organ ... everything. And there's nothing wrong with that, coming from a Petty fan.
"Hit The Floor" and "Empty Pockets" are pretty straight-ahead, mid-tempo rock tunes. There's some extra jangle to the guitars on "Peace Of Mind," and lots of pedal steel on "Good Man," but "Stars Align" may be the most country-leaning song on the album. Organ is most prominent on the title track and White Linen ends with the acoustic "Patriot Song," about the 1838 Upper Canada rebellions.
The John Henrys are in the midst of a Canadian tour with labelmates Madison Violet and, in the past, have accompanied the similarly minded Sadies, Elliott Brood and Cuff The Duke. I have a strong hunch that the songs on White Linen will draw me in more when I hear them performed on stage, so I'll be on the lookout for future Toronto shows. For now, I'll give White Linen a 6/10.
Listen for yourself here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gogol Bordello — Trans-Continental Hustle
Gogol Bordello keeps getting more attention without pandering to mainstream tastes, and two of the latest ears the New York City-based group made stand up belong to record executive and mega-successful producer Rick Rubin, who was at the studio controls for this record and released it on Tuesday through his American Recordings label.
The band's fifth studio album, the follow-up to 2007's Super Taranta! (and last year's Live From Axis Mundi DVD), opens with lead single "Pala Tute." It's an effervescent track and continues the expansion of the gypsy punk sound that Gogol Bordello first made a name for itself with. 
The nine-piece band fronted by Eugene Hutz is exploring the world musically and makes audible stops in eastern Europe, Brazil, Jamaica, the U.S. and elsewhere on this 13-track record. "Sun Is On My Side" and "When Universes Collide" both start with gentle acoustic guitar before they gradually pick up, while "Immigraniada (We Comin' Rougher)" is essentially a punk song with a great guitar tone and angry, sloganeering lyrics.
Reggae is thrown into the mix on "Raise The Knowledge" and "Last One Goes The Hope" on the second half of the album, which is where things particularly pick up steam for me. "In The Meantime In Pernambuco" dares you not to dance, and that's a challenge you're bound to lose.
The socio-political card is thrown down hard on the final two songs, "Break The Spell" (about discrimination against the Roma people) and the title track, which promotes racial cross-pollination.
I was a bit concerned that Rubin would temper Gogol Bordello's all-over-the-map approach to its music, but Hutz and his cohorts were given the freedom to roam like the people who are still commonly (though ignorantly) referred to as gypsies.
The Sadies' Darker Circles excels on disc and stage
The Sadies' Darker Circles won't be released until May 18 (through Outside Music in Canada and Yep Roc elsewhere), but the Toronto quartet launched the album with an April 26 performance at the intimate Rivoli.
The Sadies are my favourite local band and I've seen them dozens of times, to the point where they've likely surpassed The Lowest Of The Low as the group I've witnessed the most in my life. I'll add to the total on May 22, when the band plays Toronto's Lee's Palace, where the guys and many of their musical friends recorded Live In Concert — Volume 1. And I don't think I've ever been disappointed.
This was the case again at Monday's too-short showcase, where The Sadies played 20 minutes of material from Darker Circles before ending with crowd favourite "Tiger Tiger," which came complete with Travis and Dallas Good simultaneously playing Travis' guitar. 

I'm sure I've heard a few of the songs from the new album mixed in with older cuts at Sadies shows I've attended over the past few months, but this was the first time they were put out there on their own. And they passed the audition with flying colours.
"They just keep getting better," a friend standing beside me at the show rightly observed. "It's really not fair."
Darker Circles follows a similar path as its predecessor, 2007's New Seasons, and again was produced by Jayhawks member Gary Louris. The Sadies effortlessly blend their and psychedelic rock influences and focus on complete compositions, as the album-closing 'Ten More Songs" is the only instrumental on the 11-track record.

Neither Dallas nor Travis are classic crooners, but their voices fit the material and their intricate yet powerful guitar licks play off each other so cohesively that you'd swear the two of them shared bloodlines even if you didn't know they were brothers. Upright bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky are as solid as ever on the back line to complete the package.
Darker Circles may take a few more listens before it impacts me the same as some of The Sadies' earlier albums, but it has a place in my top 10 of 2010 list so far.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Library Voices — Denim On Denim
Library Voices have followed their 2008 Hunting Ghosts (& Other Collected Shorts) with a very accomplished 12-track debut album that was produced by the band and Orion Paradis. 
Andy Shauf and members of Woodpigeon, Rah Rah, Sylvie and Northcote contributed to the worthy cause.
This eight-piece collective is full of classic pop influences, but there's more than enough modern indie pop in the grooves to keep hipsters happy. "Model City" and "Balloon Menageries" are the only two songs that didn't do much for me, but everything else is bursting with goodness that at times may remind you of fellow Canucks The New Pornographers and Hidden Cameras. It's not just mindless fun either, as the lyrics are literate and intelligent.
Denim On Denim has just moved up to a prominent spot on my list of possible Polaris Music Prize first-ballot candidates.
This Regina group should inspire as much local pride as its football team that can't keep track of how many players it has on the field during the last play of the Grey Cup.
The Slackers — The Great Rock-Steady Swindle

It doesn't seem like The Slackers have been around for 19 years and a dozen studio albums, but they have. 
And with this latest effort, the New York City group's sense of humour shows up in the album title — which now has added significance with former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren's recent passing. More importantly, the group still has a great musical formula that blends elements of ska, rock-steady, reggae, dub, soul, old-time R&B, garage rock and classic pop — and the musical chops to deliver it all. Singer/keyboardist Vic Ruggiero calls the group's sound "Jamaican Rock n Roll," and I'm good with that.
The sextet that make folks sweat at its performances recorded the album in Berlin, Germany, with Ruggiero producing and all the members sharing in the songwriting. There's also a dark, keyboard-driven instrumental cover of Bill Withers' 1971 hit, "Ain't No Sunshine."
"Mr. Tragedy" opens with a spoof of The Specials' version of "Enjoy Yourself," and uses some of the Muzak-like elements found on that recently reunited British group's second album.  Sixties rock and soul come together on "Sabina," dub echo infuses "Cheated," while rock-steady mixes with vintage pop on "Daddy." 
"Bo Evil" is full of raw R&B and "Thank You" is a soul stomper. For those who prefer purer reggae, "Tool Shed," "Don't Look Back" and "The TV Dinner Song" fit the bill.
Things end with "The Same Everyday," which has a lyrical theme revolving around boredom but, ironically, is the bounciest and most danceable song of the 15 on the album.
The Great Rock-Steady Swindle isn't my favourite Slackers album, but I'll keep listening to their records as long as Hellcat keeps releasing them because they're just so hard to resist. And the band is even better live.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Good News For Subhumans Fans
Vancouver punk band The Subhumans has re-recorded its 1980 Incorrect Thoughts debut album and released it under the title Same Thoughts Different Day through Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label.
The Subhumans originally broke up in 1982, but reformed in 2005 as Subhumans Canada. It planned to reissue Incorrect Thoughts because of fan demand, but there was a snag in that plan.
The Subhumans' original label (Friends Records) was long out of business and the band had no written record of its agreement with the company. A San Francisco label called CD Presents, which is now also defunct, released what the Subhumans claim was an altered and aesthetically inferior version of the album in the mid-'80s. 
The head of CD Presents claimed ownership of Incorrect Thoughts, but the band says it's unaware of any legal basis for it and that no documentation to support it was ever presented to it. Here's a brief synopsis from the liner notes for Same Thoughts Different Day:
"The band had never had any business dealings with CD Presents. None of the members of the band had ever authorized the release. We were never contacted by CD Presents; no royalties were ever paid to us, and we have never received an accounting of the quantities manufactured or sold."
In order to avoid a legal battle over Incorrect Thoughts, singer Brian "Wimpy" Goble, guitarist Mike "Normal" Graham, bassist Gerry "Useless" Hannah and non-original band member and drummer Jon Card recorded new versions of the album's songs at the Hive Studios in Burnaby, B.C. in 2008 and 2009. The group also re-recorded two songs that originally appeared on an obscure compilation and four others that it played but never recorded back in the old days. All of them have been assembled and released on the 20-track Same Thoughts Different Day.
"We had a lot of fun making this new album and we think it turned out really well," the band wrote in the liner notes. "In fact, re-recording these songs ended up providing us with an opportunity to improve on some of the things that we were never that happy with on the original recordings."
I'm happy to report that the album sounds great and the songs still sound fresh. Some of the snarl and menace from the original "Slave To My Dick" may be missing, but perhaps that comes with the penis emancipation that may have occurred over the past 30 years.
If you want to relive the glory days of Vancouver's early punk scene, or hear some of the best songs to emerge from it for the first time, pick up a copy of Same Thoughts Different Day. It's available on CD, as a digital download and as a double-vinyl LP set that comes with a digital download card.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Yankee Stadium doesn't drop the ball
There was no more fabled stadium in all of professional sports than Yankee Stadium, the ball park dubbed "The House That Ruth Built" when it opened in 1923.

But all good things must come to an end, it seems, and that time came for Yankee Stadium after the close of the 2008 Major League Baseball season. But right beside it across Babe Ruth Plaza at the corner of East 161st Street and River Avenue in the New York City borough of The Bronx sits new Yankee Stadium, which seems poised to carry on its predecessor's proud tradition far into the 21st century and make it an important stop for those taking New York City breaks

The new stadium incorporates many of the design elements from the old park, but adds all of the modern amenities that fans have come to expect these days. The outfield dimensions, including the short porch in right field that's a magnet for home runs, are also similar.

History was further acknowledged by moving Monument Park across the street just beyond the centre field fence, giving fans the chance to pay their respects and see plaques dedicated to some of the greatest players in history — including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

There's also a Yankees Museum on the lower level that displays a wide range of memorabilia and uses a tribute of Don Larsen pitching his 1956 perfect game to catcher Yogi Berra as its centrepiece. Another Yankees catcher, the late Thurman Munson, has his clubhouse locker on display.

The seven-storey Great Hall features large banners featuring photos of past and present Yankee stars, and there's no shortage of places to purchase souvenirs and memorabilia.

There are also lots of dining options, including NYY Steak, a Hard Rock Cafe, the Audi Yankees Club, the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, 25 fixed concession stands and 112 moveable ones serving hot dogs, French fries, pizza, sandwiches, nachos, burritos, chicken fingers, Philly cheese steaks, sausages, hamburgers, barbecue, noodles, sushi, cookies and ice cream. 

There's also a martini bar and three Beers Of The World concessions offering regional brews from North America and Europe. You may want to eat before you go to the stadium, however, as the food and drink prices are the highest I've ever seen at a ball park. 

Bruce Willis, Paul Simon and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani didn't seem to mind, however, as they attended the same Yankees-Red Sox game as I did last August and were shown on the huge video screen on the centre field scoreboard. Smaller scoreboards are on each side of the main one, and there are even smaller manually operated ones located in the outfield fences.

I could see the entire field well from my grandstand seat in the upper deck along the left field line that had a $20 face value, but I had to pay more than twice that to a ticket broker to get into the sold-out game against the Yankees' arch-rivals.
Yankee Stadium seats 51,000 people, about 4,000 fewer than the original held. But with the price the team charges for many of them (as well as for all of the luxury suites), there's no need to be concerned about a loss of revenues driving club owner George Steinbrenner to the poor house. 

New York's Citi Field suitable for kings and Queens

The New York Mets have definitely underachieved on the diamond over the past few years, but the team did a great job with Citi Field, its new stadium that opened last season.
The ball park was built to replace nearby Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park in the borough of Queens, and any New York City breaks should definitely include a visit here for baseball fans.
Citi Field seats 42,000 fans and has an exterior look similar to old Ebbets Field, which was the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers before the team moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. 

The stadium's most notable feature is the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which acts as the entrance to the park. It features photos, videos, a statue and a quotation from the player who broke Major League Baseball's colour barrier when he played for the Dodgers in 1947. It's a very nice touch and another posthumous honour for the man whose uniform number has been retired by the league. 

An excellent souvenir store can be accessed from the rotunda before making your way to your seats, and a Mets Hall of Fame & Museum has opened adjacent to the rotunda this year.

I paid $19 for an upper deck seat along the first base line for a weekday game against the St. Louis Cardinals last August, and it offered a good vantage point of the entire field, as well as Flushing Bay and the East River to the north and the numerous planes that were noisily taking off and landing at nearby Laguardia Airport throughout the game.

A giant apple with a Mets logo on it lights up and rises out of the centre field area where there are no seats, and an impressive opposite field shot by David Wright gave me a chance to see it in action in the first inning as the Mets jumped out to an early lead on the way to a 9-0 win.

I appreciated the brick wall behind the plate, similar to the stadiums in Philadelphia and Baltimore and the fact that the dimensions and wall heights weren't uniform in the outfield. Some lucky fans can sit at ground level behind a screen that forms part of the outfield fence in right field near the bullpens in a section called Mo's Zone.

There's a good selection of souvenirs and food available from vending stands throughout the stadium. If you're able to afford a classier dining experience, the 350-seat Acela Club offers a full view of the field from its location behind the left field foul pole. Other higher end eating options are also available beyond fast food hot dogs, sausages, nachos, ice cream, hamburgers, French fries, seafood, pizza, pasta, barbecue and Japanese offerings for us plain folk.

Big Apple Brews is unfortunately the only place for commoners to order microbrews, but at least it's conveniently located by the Mets 2K Sports Fan Fest if you want to enjoy a beer while your kids play. The Fan Fest area is very well done and includes a mini wiffleball field replica of Citi Field, a batting cage, a dunk tank, video game kiosks and other attractions.
Another welcomed aspect was lots of open areas where fans who didn't wish to stay in their seats can easily stand and get a good view of the field. A large video scoreboard in centre field offers player information and replays, as well as sometimes annoying ads that have come to be part of the modern baseball experience. 

Tennis fans will appreciate that the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the home of the annual U.S. Open tournament, is located across the street — making it entirely possible to see a unique tennis-baseball double-header while the grand slam event is on.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Jetset Motel — Jetset Motel
I'd seen the name Jetset Motel in local concert listings for a while, but didn't know anything about the band or its music until being sent an online advance copy of its self-titled debut that will go on sale on April 20.
The 10-track album is a happy discovery, full of well-written and played rootsy guitar rock played by four Newfoundlanders now living in Toronto and influenced by the likes of Gram Parsons, Neil Young and Wilco. The record was mixed by Laurence Currie, whose studio resume also includes the names Holy Fuck, Wintersleep, The Cliks and In Flight Safety.
Lead singer David Picco and Jimmy Rose's guitars intertwine seemingly effortlessly, while bassist Sheldon Kelly and drummer Dennis Keough are no slouches either.
Backing harmonies add a pop dimension to the big guitar sound found in opener "I Guess You Know By Now," while there's a little more jangle in "Way It's Been."
You can hear some steel guitar in the rollicking country rocker "Late In The Early Morning," tasteful organ in the mid-tempo "Pass By Slow," and Picco cuts loose on the harmonica in "Goin' Down The Road."
The six-and-a-half-minute closing track, "You Are Only Listening (To Your Heart Start Up Again)," revolves around acoustic guitar for the first half before feedback and squealing electric guitar comes in Velvet Underground-style to take things home.
Jetset Motel offered a lot more than I was expecting. I'll give it an 8/10.
Jetset Motel will be launched with an April 22 performance at Toronto's Dakota Tavern, while more Ontario shows are scheduled for May and June. You can also hear the band's music in the CBC television series, Republic Of Doyle.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Acoustic Superchunk and a D.O.A. sing-along
A special screening of Canadian writer/director Matt Bissonnette's Passenger Side was held at Toronto's The Royal cinema on Wednesday night.
It was special not only because it's a fine film that I can identify with, but because Bissonnette (who's married to actress Molly Parker) was in attendance. So was the movie's music consultant, Mac McCaughan, the main man for indie rock bands Superchunk and Portastatic and the co-founder of Merge Records. The two men discussed the use of music in Passenger Side with Now magazine editor/publisher Michael Hollett, and then took questions from the audience.
Then came the moment that drew many of the people in the crowd (including Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew and Fucked Up's Damian Abraham, who were sitting together) out on a rainy night to spend $20 or $25 for admission and more at the concession stand — which on this occasion was selling Mill Street Organic Lager and wine. I told you it was special.
Oh yeah... back to that moment I mentioned in the last paragraph. What was it? A rare acoustic performance by McCaughan and Superchunk/Portastatic bandmate Jim Wilbur. Well, it wasn't totally acoustic, since Wilbur kept switching between acoustic guitar and electric bass. But it was totally special.
I saw a full-on Superchunk performance at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas last month. It was great, but it was only 25 minutes. We got a full hour on Wednesday.
The set began with a pleasant surprise, and McCaughan's acknowledgment of Canadian content regulations, as the two musicians covered Vancouver power pop/punk band Pointed Sticks' 1979 single, "Out Of Luck."
McCaughan and Wilbur then dug into the Superchunk catalogue for "Cool," "Detroit Has A Skyline," "1000 Pounds" and a new song titled "Everything At Once" that worked really well despite McCaughan's concerns because it was the first time he'd performed it in this format.
The duo then changed gears, and jokingly chided with each other as they did throughout the set, to play two Portastatic tunes: "A Cunning Latch" and "Song For A Clock." 

Bissonnette was in the front row, organic lager in hand, leading the cheers as McCaughan and Wilbur offered up more Superchunk songs. The two men seemed to grow more comfortable with each number, and things kept getting better as they blew through "I Guess I Remembered It Wrong" and "Throwing Things," which was probably the most aggressively played song of the night.
It was then cover time again, as McCaughan sang what he said was the first Lemonheads song he ever heard: "Hate Your Friends." Sticking with interpretations, with a sing-along twist, the crowd enthusiastically shouted the title of D.O.A.'s "Fuck You" in all the right places. It was slower than the original, and McCaughan kidded that punk rock was painful to play and listen to without drums, but Joey "Shithead" Keithley probably would have been pleased with the version.
D.O.A. ("Fucked Up Ronnie") and SNFU ("Cannibal Cafe") are both represented in Passenger Side, and McCaughan said that they're two of the best bands he's ever seen. He obviously has a soft spot for Canadian acts, as Asexuals, Leonard Cohen, Islands, The Nils and Chad VanGaalen also have their songs used in the movie.
Portastatic favourites "Noisy Night" and "San Andreas" were meant to close the night, but a standing ovation and crowd calls for more prompted McCaughan and Wilbur to return to the stage for a fine cover of The Go-Betweens' "Rock And Roll Friend" and an energetic, set-ending "Fishing" that featured a surprisingly big bottom end sound from the duelling Gibson guitars.
The gracious Bissonnette, McCaughan and Wilbur spent time talking to audience members (including Drew and Abraham) when everything was over, which capped off a fine evening of triple-headed entertainment.
Passenger Side will open in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver on April 23, and will hopefully move into wider Canadian release after that. It was just picked up by a U.S. distributor and will hit American theatres in the fall.
Superchunk should release its first new studio album in nine years in the coming months.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Drive-By Truckers show is a big to-do

Toronto's Lee's Palace was the fourth stop on the Drive-By Truckers' tour in support of its new album, The Big To-Do, but the Athens, Georgia-based band seemed right at home.
"No wonder The Rolling Stones keep coming back here," singer/guitarist Patterson Hood told the packed house as the southern rock band returned for its encore on Tuesday night, saying the group had spent a couple of days in Canada's largest city leading up to the gig. 
The Truckers' stay will continue today with a free in-store performance at 5 p.m. at Sonic Boom (a non-perishable food item donation for the Daily Bread Food Bank is requested) and another show with opener Langhorne Slim at Lee's tonight.
The large crowd at Tuesday night's show made the Truckers feel at ease and gave warm receptions to the songs in the first part of the set that was packed with The Big To-Do material that patrons still might not be too familiar with.
Things got off to a solid start with "Drag The Lake Charlie," and five of the next seven songs were from the new album. It might actually have been six, as there was a cut sung by bassist Shonna Tucker that I couldn't make out because her voice was somewhat drowned out. 
The same thing happened later in the show during Tucker's second time in the spotlight. I don't mind her songs on the Truckers' recordings, and there was nothing wrong with them musically last night, but I'm not sure if her voice can carry them on a stage shared with her bass, three guitarists, a drummer and a keyboard player.
Hood and fellow singer/guitarist Mike Cooley essentially alternated and took turns on lead vocals for each song during the set, which early on was highlighted by "Gravity's Gone" and "Girls Who Smoke." 
Things slowed down a bit and John Neff moved from guitar to pedal steel for "72 (This Highway's Mean)," and stayed there for "My Sweet Annette," "Love Like This" and "Feb 14."
Hood's storytelling abilities were on full display during "18 Wheels Of Love," Jay Gonzalez was given a piano solo during "Self Destructive Zones" and "Steve McQueen" was given the extended treatment. "Hell No, I Ain't Happy" had the audience singing along to the chorus and ended the group's 100-minute set.
The encore began with another new song, "The Fourth Night Of My Drinking," as the band members continued to pass around the large bottle of Jack Daniels they'd been sharing all night. "Marry Me," "Dead, Drunk And Naked,"  "Guitar Man Upstairs" and "Lookout Mountain" closed things out.
The Truckers had ended their set in New York City last week with a cover of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died," and I was hoping to hear the group's version at Lee's. It wasn't to be, but by no means did I leave the show disappointed.
It was good to witness a full show after catching just three songs during a short set at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas last month.

Here's the set list for the April 6 Drive-By Truckers show at Lee's Palace:

"Drag The Lake Charlie" 
"Get Downtown" 
Shonna Tucker song
"This Fucking Job" 
"Gravity's Gone"
"Daddy Learned To Fly" 
"Birthday Boy" 
"Girls Who Smoke" 
"3 Dimes Down"
"Ronnie And Neil"
"72 (This Highway's Mean)"
"My Sweet Annette"
"Love Like This"
"Feb 14"
"18 Wheels Of Love"
"Self Destructive Zones"
"Steve McQueen"
Shonna Tucker song
"Hell No, I Ain't Happy"
"The Fourth Night Of My Drinking" 
"Marry Me"
"Dead, Drunk And Naked"
"Guitar Man Upstairs"
"Lookout Mountain" 

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion — Dirty Shirt Rock N' Roll: The First Ten Years
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's name wasn't overhyped when the band hit the music scene in 1992 with its self-titled debut album after the demise of Spencer's previous band, Pussy Galore.
The singing and guitar-playing Spencer teamed up with fellow guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins to create a pioneering scuzzy mix of loud blues, punk and soulful rock-and-roll  that didn't need a bass to shake up a room. And while the band experimented with that formula a bit over the years through working with the likes of Dan The Automator and Beck, that original sound stayed with the band through the first 10 years of its career that are documented on this newly released Majordomo Records compilation.
Spencer chose and sequenced the album's 22 tracks to give a good overview of what his group was all about. It begins with a Rufus Thomas hook-up on "Chicken Dog" and ends with the single edit of "She Said" from Plastic Fang, the group's final album under its original name. There's a good cross-section of material in between.
The psychedelic "Magical Colors" is probably the gentlest and most melodic song on the record, and features Spencer singing more than growling. Incorporating a string section works surprisingly well on the multi-parted "Bellbottoms." There's a vicious live recording of "Fuck Shit Up" and a primitive "Water Main." Organ looms large on "Afro," while "Feeling Of Love" features some wailing harmonica.
Then there are the collaborations: Dub Narcotic Sound System on the greasy "Love Ain't On The Run;" Spencer's wife and Boss Hog bandmate Christina Martinez singing on "Blues X Man;" Money Mark playing organ on the primarily instrumental "Buscemi;" R.L. Burnside singing and playing guitar on his "Shake 'Em On Down;" Luther, Cody and Jim Dickinson going to "Hell;" Dan The Automator scratching on "Talk About The Blues;" "Flavor" remixed by Beck, Mario Caldato Jr. and Beastie Boy Mike D; and Andre Williams getting down and dirty as only he can on "Lap Dance."
This album isn't great from start to finish, but there are enough high points to keep your attention, and Mike Edison's liner notes help set the stage to create the right mental imagery for those of us who've never seen the band on stage.
Dirty Shirt Rock N' Roll: The First Ten Years is kicking off a campaign that will see all of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's albums reissued in remastered form with rare and unreleased bonus tracks, new liner notes and photos. All titles will also be available digitally, some for the first time.
Heavy Trash is still my favourite Spencer band, but the Blues Explosion will always be his most influential.

The Von Drats — Dratsylvania
If you believe this band's bio, it formed in Dratsylvania and relocated to Toronto in 2005. I don't believe it, but I'm not going to argue with a sextet wherein all of the members wear make-up to resemble creepy skeleton-like creatures and share the same last name like The Ramones. And besides, after listening to this self-produced debut album that was just released by Stereo Dynamite, I'm just happy that The Von Drats are part of my city.
This is primarily an instrumental album driven by Dave Von Drat's Farfisa organ (and I'm a total sucker for the Farfisa) and the twin guitars of Steve and Trevor Von Drat. Drummer Leonard Von Drat makes himself particularly conspicuous on a few tracks, including the bouncy, fun and only mildly spooky "Cemetary Stomp."
The opening title track and its closing reprise go heavy on scary sound effects, but most of the other cuts rely on the group's instrumental prowess to impress with an approach that features lots of surf elements, doses of reverb, dollops of horror punk and large helpings of vintage garage rock.
The title gets mentioned a couple of times in "Los Tigres Del Nortes," and there are actual lyrics to "Catch Fire" and "Torso Alley," a song about an axe murderer. A few more numbers with singing would have been appreciated to break things up a bit more, but perhaps we'll hear those on album two.
The Von Drats' music isn't particularly original, but the group is quite good at what it does.
I'm surprised and disappointed that I haven't yet got around to seeing the band perform, but hopefully that will change soon. Dratsylvania seems like a place I wouldn't mind spending some time in.