TIJUANA HERCULES - Tijuana Hercules (Black Pisces)
HAVE KNEES, WILL TREMBLE - Hipbone Slim And The Knee Tremblers (Voodoo Rhythm)
THE SURFACERS - The Surfacers (Green Cookie)
If not for the invention of the solid-body and hollow body electric guitars by Les Paul or Leo Fender or whoever the hell's taking credit these days, my life would have been a lot more sedate, bereft of many a tormented and sleepless night, a distressed liver, countless destroyed and unrecoverable brain cells still suspended in the thinning ozone above Detroit, and impending tinitus. Fucking A...
But alas, something about about the sound of a plectrum dragged across six steel strings and amplified at 140 decibels has always opened up neurological pathways in my grey matter that I can't seem to control (not that I've ever tried) and despite any real or imagined misgivings about the past, I'm still an easy mark when it comes to a raw tangle of noise.
Although most of the discs dropped at The Bar's doorstep fall decidely into the category of "sonic boom - light fuse and get away" (a beautiful thing, I say), there are still many seeking asylum here who choose to ease back on the histrionics and focus on twang, reverb, and common household items.
History-wise, from what I can gather, singer/guitarist John Forbes is no stranger to the whole scuzz-skronk thing, the hellhound on his trail for nearly 20 years through bands like Phantom 309, Dirt, and Mount Shasta. While I can't pretend to any knowledge regarding any of those line items on his resume, one thing's for sure - Tijuana Hercules' debut album is one of those rare, loose-bolted contraptions designed to be played twice a night and once before breakfast, Forbes' voice possessed of magnificent, sometimes scary intensity. Somewhere Howlin' Wolf is turning in his grave like a gas station rotisserie hot dog.
At least the Wolf won't have to look very far to find Forbes and his running buddies in Tijuana Hercules - Zak Piper (tin cans, tambourines, cowbell, shakers, trumpet, and trombone) and Chad Smith (drums) - since the trio claim Chicago addresses on their census forms. Their take on the blues is full, beer bellied, and gritty, Forbes dipping his boots in Captain Beefheart and Country Dick Montana territory with a vocal delivery that sounds as if it's fuelled by a tumbler of poison.
As a guitarist, Forbes seems to draw inspiration from Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, and Chuck Berry, playing with dogged enthusiasm and robust fervor and, along with the kitchen drawerful of instruments at Piper's disposal, makes "Tijuana Hercules" pulse with backwoods charm. "So Ripped," "Pack It In, Mama!" and "Whales On Every Side" are slicing, grinding party shuffles rife with barrelhouse rhythms and Forbes' primal, sub-glottal grunting and howling.
On several tracks, Piper blows trumpet and trombone like a meth-sniffing bipolar teen who's lost his "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet and while Tijuana Hercules come off all folksy - the CD booklet and rear insert festooned with Forbes' seriously deranged artwork - these guys sound as though their hearts pump pure arsenic, mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
Despite the 1950's JD cover art on Hipbone Slim and The Knee Tremblers' "Have Knees Will Tremble" and their paychecks being cut by the same label as Thee Butchers Orchestra and the flat-out bonkers Reverend Beat-Man and the Un-Believers, these three poms are relatively demure by comparison, a collaborative effort between Sir Bald Diddley (guitar and vox), John "Lard" Gibbs of Kaisers fame (double bass and vox), and double-dipping Milkshake and Headcoat Bruce "Bash" Brand (drums and vox).
More spit than polish, "Have Knees" has a drowsy-eyed, plug in/turn up/roll tape feel to it, almost as if the band is making it up as they go along (that's called a compliment). No big surprise, considering it was recorded at Liam Watson's Toe Rag Studios, THE bastion for all things analog.
But don't mistake "loose" for "incompetent." Besides being a hale and committed vocalist, Diddley's fleet-fingered picking shows he's absorbed the tutelage of Cliff Gallup, James Burton, Scotty Moore, and, well, you can probably add Link Wray (in the "Rumble" influenced tour de force instro "Jostlin'") and Dick Dale to the faculty list as well. Oscillating between precise and durned raw, Diddley deserves reserved seating at Lucifer's dinner table, preferably just off to his right.
Gibbs and Brand are a swinging, jackhammer rhythm section, chugging along like beer-marinated locusts throughout but especially on "Not Enough Happenin'", "Pathfinder," and "Peanuts," never a hair out of place, effortlessly complimenting Diddley's guitar chutzpah without breaking a sweat or a major blood road. And on "What Do You Look Like?", Holly Golightly pulls a trick out of Rachel Nagy's (Detroit Cobras) bag of trick with backing vocals which add a touch of class to the proceedings.
"Have Knees Will Tremble" ought to remind all rockabilly fans that you don't have to pose as a scowling, greasy badass to have fun with the music.
Green Cookie Records out of Thessaloniki, Greece is, seemingly out of nowhere, quickly building quite a name for itself as prime purveyors of international surf/instro/garage hijinx with a roster that includes the Ultra 5, Insect Surfers, Fantomatici, The Star and Key of the Indian Ocean, The Mutants (not the brilliant, irreverent Detroit band of the late 70's/early 80's who infected the Michigan State University campus with the punk rock virus when they played my dorm), The Marshall Plan Kids, and The Moe Greene Specials, whose highly touted, moody and dramatic take on spaghetti western soundtracks I await with baited breath and sweaty palms.
With their eponymous debut album, Argentina's Surfacers serve notice to anyone willing to listen that they've touched down and are ready to kick ass, hang ten, and take names. Oh, and did I mention I have two new guitar heroes? Their names are Matias Torres and Sebastian Marino. These guys are firebrands whose fretwork burns - nay, incinerates - everything in its path, crackling and throbbing with big guitar drama as they romp through 11 tracks filled with enough reverb, vibrato, and whammy abuse to deplete the entire supply of tubes Fender has in stock worldwide at any given time. Both play with gusto, verve, reckless abandon, and little or no regard for the 20 digits the Big Man gave them. Quite simply put, they're animals and more than likely a little loco. Unfortunately, Marino has since left the Surfacers due to the usual; musical and personal acrimony. Shame...
Of course Santiago Urena (bass) and Sebastian Romani (drums) can't be possessed of all their faculties either, somehow managing to keep pace with Torres and Marino on shitstompers like "Indianapolis," "Crushing" (which is just that), "Snackie" (which throws in a pinch of spy for flavor), and the appropriately titled "Annihilator."
But it's not all full speed ahead on "The Surfacers" as the band take a few breathers, to wit: "The Last Wave," "Haitian Eyes," and "The Hidden Man," which all take a momentary respite from the furious double picking (but not the reverb) to dip from secret agent themes and some ethnic Eastern European folk music from countries I can't spell or pronounce, much less actually identify.
Admittedly, there ain't much new to explore when it comes to the genre The Surfacers regard as terra firma but they sure don't let that stand in the way of their enthusiasm with this hammer-down, white-knuckle, teeth-grinding display of guitar-torching brawn which leaves the competition choking in the dust. Perhaps the best thing I've heard all year. - Clark Paull
- Tijuana Hercules
3/4 - Hipbone Slim And The Knee Tremblers
3/4 - The Surfacers
TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR