mean old twisterIt’s hard to imagine Deniz Tek fans being disappointed by his latest release. Radio Birdman fans, maybe not so much.

While Deniz’s last album, “Detroit”, was a brooding, introspective and dark reflection on urban and personal relationship decay, “Mean Old Twister” paints with a broader aural palette. Sax, harmonica and keys are woven into the sound at strategic points, to enhance Tek’s trademark guitar and guitar player’s vocal.

Tek’s solo output has varied from album to album and fan disquiet seemed to be amplified the further he strayed from the Radio Birdman template of doom-laden riffs and dark, mysterious lyrics. The dense and apocalyptic “Outside” is the record that stayed truest to that course. It is killer.

“La Bonne Route” moved into experimental territory, while “Equinox” wrapped itself in dense, layered production and burned brightly. The return to active rock and roll duty that preceded them all, “Take It To The Vertical”, contained some cracking tunes but mystified many with its clean tones and clear production.

There’s the rub when any Radio Birdman alumnus strikes out on their own: The band was always a sum of its parts and expectations weigh heavy when a member dares to push the envelope in his own right. Myself, if I want to hear Birdman, I’ll go back to the original recordings. It's good to hear band members challenging themselevs and their audiences because that's what the band, in its purest form, was all about.

But let's talk about "Mean Old Twister". “They Can’t Take That Away”, “Prison Mouse”, previously-released 45 “Crossroads” and “Burned Black” are the tracks where Birdman devotees will find the most solace. On “Prison Mouse” especially, Tek pulls a sound that typifies gritty high-energy even if the song itself is no great shakes. Too bad the solo wasn’t pushed to the front and amped-up.

For those with open minds, “Table For One” veers into Stonesy country rock territory. It’s a place in which glued-on Keef fan Deniz Tek feels comfortable. “Corner Conversation” plods but is lightened by a dash of dulcimer to be almost elegiac. “New York Confidential” is a lyrically wry co-write with Rob Younger, a reflection on the pre-gentrified Big Apple delivered in Tek’s characteristic deadpan drawl.

“Comanche” is a real blast, an instrumental wave of twang and shimmering keys that’s one of the best things on the record. The production recalls Joe Meek with The Tornadoes and the tune marks the halfway point, if you’re listening on vinyl. Deniz should do a whole album of this stuff with special guests, just to mix it up...

Side two ups the ante in terms of guitars with the next-to-last “Free At Last”, a folk song, the only marked departure. Erik Olson’s tenor sax adds a cool vibe to this one.

The core band is an excellent one: Bob Brown (bass) was on the 1992 “Vertical” comeback tour and Ric Parnell is a wizard on drums. Longtime collaborator Ron Sanchez and Brown engineered at three different US locations while Younger and Wayne Connolly mixed the record. Many hands didn’t spoil this broth; the sound is dry, well rounded and immediate.

It’s available on Career around the world or on Citadel in Australia and comes as a CD or LP with alternative, Tek-painted cover art.


Footnote: Since a few people asked…The Doctor Himself was apparently reluctant to spread the “Mean Old Twister” promotional love our way. Of course, I-94 Bar Records put out the recent release for ex-Radio Birdman member Chris Masuak. Our (unsolicited) review copy came from the US label, Career Records. Are these Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine or does Paranoia Never Sleep? You can draw your own conclusion.

Career Records on the Web