Bentley’s Bandstand: April 2022
By Bill Bentley
The Americans, Stand True. Some bands have the perfect name. Like The Americans. One, it’s a true fact that the group is made up of Americans. But even more importantly, they have a sound that comes right out of the nation’s soul. There are no trickinations or shortcuts taken in making this music. It really does have the feel of the United States. Maybe that’s because the players are totally tapped into what this country was, and even stronger what it still could be. There is such a powerful presence in their songs, with evocative titles like “Born with a Broken Heart,” “The Day I Let You Down,” “Sore Bones” and “What I Would Do.” Singer Patrick Ferris is someone who takes his visions seriously, and never sells them or himself short. The other Americans are right there with him. Whether it’s on stringed instruments that sound like they’ve been played consistently the past hundred years, keyboards with similar mileage on them or just drums that are hit like they’re supposed to be hit, this is a band that has deep roots and righteous pedigrees. Not that dissimilar to what The Band might have sounded like if they’d been made up of Californians and not mostly Canadians. While The Americans have made other albums in the past, it now feels like 2022 could be their year. Buried deep in these songs is a combination of the isolation of the last two years because of the pandemic, as well as the desire to break free of everything: the virus, the loneliness, the lostness we’ve drifted into and, yes, the longing for a new connection with life itself. In their sound is the truth that comes when the world feels like it’s now or never. It might be.
Karen Dalton, In My Own Time. Some might say singer Karen Dalton led a jinxed life, one where hardship and heartache followed her like a devil trying to track her down. Others might say she was blessed with a soul from a world most people would never see, and used what she saw and felt there to create a sound that will not come again. Either way, it’s irrefutable that Dalton lived in a time of her own. The small circle of fans who came to love her infrequent live shows and the two albums released in her lifetime quickly realized there would never be anyone like her again, and hung onto those discs like they were life itself. Light in the Attic Records has recently reissued her IN MY OWN TIME collection as an extra-special 50th Anniversary Edition that must be seen to be believed. To say that it’s got everything is even an understatement. Photos, essays, previously unreleased recordings: it’s all there. Of course, what is most important are the songs themselves. Whether Karen Dalton is covering Dino Valenti, Fred Neil, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Paul Butterfield, George Jones, Leon Payne, Richard Manuel or anyone else, she always makes her soul-deep expression entirely her own. There is no way she could ever do it any different. During her short and star-crossed career, Dalton always colored outside the lines and created a sound that was utterly unlike any other singers. It had an almost open-wound power to it, like the woman was showing feelings to the world that normally weren’t shared. In the end, the world did become too much for her. What could’a been.
Kent “Omar” Dykes and Issa Medrano, Mississippi Hoo Doo Man. Mention the name Omar & the Howlers to anyone who spent the second half of the 1970s in Austin, Texas, and there is no doubt their will be a combination of laughter and looniness that crosses their face. That’s because when that Mississippi band of madmen first hit the club circuit in the Texas capital then, all bets were off and the fun factor got turned up to twelve. Leading the charge in that crew on the bandstand was Omar “Kent” Dykes, a big man who looked even bigger with an electric guitar in his hands, stood up to any and all as he sang his way into the hearts and minds of the nation. This book is a no holds-barred look at Dykes’ many unforgettable songs and the life that went along with them. It is such a knocked-out joy to read and relive for those there that it should come with plate of barbecue and maybe a case of wet-naps, to take care of the tears of laughter that go along with all the memories. There haven’t been many rock & rolling maniacs like the Big O, and that’s okay. Because it gives him an entire landscape to remind everyone what it was like when the living was easy and tomorrow was sure to be as much adventure and fun as today. It’s hard to describe it now, but luckily Kent “Omar” Dykes and Issa Medrano are able to get right up to the line and then some. Wear it out.
Georgia Satellites, Lightnin’ In a Bottle: The Official Live Album. In 1988, before Seattle grunge bands upped the ante and stole the rock & roll hearts of American youth, the Georgia Satellites and some of their Southern brethren jumped up on stages around America and burned the house down. It wouldn’t last much longer, at least not at that level, but before things changed the band recorded this lively night in Cleveland and showed everyone exactly what the Satellites were capable of. It really is a non-stop rockaganza that captures everything great about the chemistry of Dan Baird, Rick Richards, Steve Magellan and Rick Price. And doing it all at such an iconic rock pit as Peabody’s Down Under in the heart of Ohio is the perfect locale. There really haven’t been many bands since this high-water mark of straight-ahead fury which can match such a rocket-fueled rock & roll blast-off. From “Whola Lotta Shakin” to “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” is a tour de force display of four Americans who went for broke with an unrelenting verve. And it’s the Georgia Satellites first ever official live album, even if its 34 years old, which finally gives listeners the chance to hear the supercharged unadulterated zest of what a 2G–BAD (two guitars–bass and drums) outfit is capable of. Turn it up.
Teddy Grossman, Soon Come. When a soul singer this amazing arrives, almost like a hidden secret from some far-off place, it is time to shake off the surprise and find out how it all happened. Teddy Grossman is no stranger to the stage, but on SOON COME it sounds like he put off all these voices around him to zero in on his own, and lets him explore the deepest parts of what it is that makes him so irrefutably great. And make no mistake: he is that great. Being able to sing with such unmistakable spirit isn’t really something that is learned. Rather, it comes from living with a certain eye for what makes humans able to exist on the planet and not look for the ultimate exit ramp. Like all those who attempt to mix music and the great beyond, there are no guarantees. Rather, it comes from a faith that there is something they have to offer that will turn on the lovelights bright and give listeners that extra lift everyone needs to get over to the other side with their hearts intact. As the world traumas start to zero in from the outer regions, there is no alternative than to find a sound which speaks to the eternal. It’s the only solution to what is actually beyond our grasp, something that is available for all to hear. It’s the reason that people like Teddy Grossman have to make music, as well as the reason the world needs to hear it. In the middle of SOON COME is a song titled “Faith.” Which is exactly what the music offers all those who hear: the five-letter word which says it all. Feel and heal.
Son House, Forever On My Mind. American blues titans, first heard in the 1930s around the South, often made their way North and found brand new lives there. Son House was someone who left Mississippi and somehow made his way to Rochester, New York. Once there, he found tough jobs doing everything but playing music, but in 1964 producer-manager Dick Waterman took House into the spotlight at folk clubs and beyond and made sure the world knew what existed in their midst. These songs are from one of those early concerts and show that blues really is that place where time never ends. Son House is a true creator of a musical form that changed the musical world, and to hear the songs today is to know what the history of the blues means. It is the sound of people who sang to survive, not so much for the small fees they earned but rather for the chance they had to express their pain and passion. It is almost a miracle that these tapes from ’64 existed, unabridged from being recorded all those years ago, and that someone like the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Easy Eye Sound would care enough to make sure they are now brought back to life for people to hear. The eight songs present a world from a totally different era, and in so many ways they sound like they’re beamed in from a place few people ever visited. The world that existed then is gone, and isn’t coming back. But the music once made there will live forever, never to be forgotten as long as the sound of Son House and his fellow Mississippi pioneers are heard on albums like this. Top form blues.
Duke Levine, Left to My Own Devices. When the clouds of doubt roll in, leave it to an all-guitar album to burst through and clear the skies for smoother sailing. Duke Levine, to anyone who actively listens to those who call the fredboard home, is a master player. At minimum. A Massachusetts man, he’s performed with a wide-range of front people and also led and recorded with his own band for many years. He’s now onboard for Bonnie Raitts’s national tour and will be criss-crossing America for awhile, but just to make sure he has proof he has not been slacking these past panedemic months Levine has released a new mini-album of flat-out gorgeous instrumentals featuring, well, just him. Starting the set with The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” is about as good an opener as possible. The guitarist explores the classic from its different sides and makes sure all within eartshot hear the greatness. From there Levine travels to traditional land on “Wild Mountain Thyme,” but of course makes the classic all his own. Then it’s off to Janis Ian’s “Better Times Will Come” (yes please!), the gorgeousness of another trad beauty, “Loch Ness” and then circles back to Janis Iandom on her aching calling card, “At Seventeen.” Just to make sure he remains geographically equal, the mini-album gets Southbound with a mind-opening rendition of Freddie Fender’s all-time signature song, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” Why not? As the regulars sometimes yell at the bandstand, “Show ’em what your mama gave you.” This treasure of a guitarist does just that. With six strings.
Rain Perry, A White Album. There might be another song as good as Rain Perry’s “Melody & Jack” on the new A WHITE ALBUM, but you won’t hear one better. It is such a subliminal stunner that there is no way to walk away from it unshaken. And there are a handful of other moments on this new album which will never be forgotten. It is one of those releases that seems to have come from left field, but at the same time features songs that also feel like they’ve been here forever. Perry has the kind of background which cannot be made up. It is so jam-packed with a cast of high-flying adventures and downright outre artistic miracles, it really must be heard to be believed. There are times on A WHITE ALBUM where the whole thing feels like it is making the world tilt in a new direction. These are songs which are perfectly capable of giving life a whole new meaning. People like Rain Perry don’t come around that often. They just don’t. Life doesn’t allow it. But when they do, make sure and don’t miss them because it might be awhile before another one comes along. Perry and producer Mark Hallman have hit on the new zeitgeist, and whether anyone else agrees with them is beside the point. They have found the magic carpet ride into the future, and have departed on that path. And don’t forget: they are taking fellow travelers with them. All it takes is to listen and believe. Fishapods are here.
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, Texas Moon. There are some bands that sound like they’re beaming in from the moon, which is a wonderful place to be. It allows all past and future expectations to be put on hold, and allows listeners to allow their expectations to be pulled open. Khruangbin is an astral aggregation from Houston that began performing with Leon Bridges and immediately hit on a sound that could be from anywhere. Like a place where the Far East collides with the soul of the wide open spaces of Texas, forging a hybrid overhaul of both sides of the planet. The sonics of TEXAS MOON are so rich and sensual that there is no way to really define them. Instead, the five songs on the disc should be seen as an extension of the group’s previous release TEXAS SUN, and appreciated on the cosmic level which brought them into being. Sometimes music has to lead the way on a new journey of discovery, and with someone like Bridges joining forces with Khruangbin the sky literally is the limit. On songs like “Chocolate Hills” and “Father Father,” the feeling of a new era introduces itself, and there is nothing that needs to be said except “Wow!” It might be time to alert the folks at NASA outside Houston that there is a local band ready to ride on a spaceship to the outer zone for a little research and discovery. Monkey nerve liftoff.
Surrender Hill, Just Another Honky Tonk in a Quiet Western Town. Finally, an album that goes to town on the old Cert’s advertisement, “Two mints in one.” JUST ANOTHER HONKY TONK IN A QUIET WESTERN TOWN is actually two albums joined together. The first, JUST ANOTHER HONKY TONK lets the wife/husband duo Afton Seekins and Robin Dean Salmon show their many-splendored talents in playing the music of America that they love so much. Seekins grew up in both an Alaskan fishing village and an Arizona frontier town, while Salmon started out in South Africa before moving to a longhorn ranch in Texas. Yes, a true fact. Between them they came across so many musical signposts along they way it was only natural to ultimately dig deep into the country side of life. Each brings such a wide range of powerful experiences to their current outfit, Surrender Hill, that listening to the new recordings is like walking into a brand new land. There is nothing the duo cannot do when it comes to the roots music of America–and beyond. Each disc of this groundbreaking affair is a mesmerizing achievement on its own, and put together it feels like a musical calling come true, both for the makers and the listener. There is such a feeling of artists coming up with a dream and then going for it that an air of excitement inhabits every song, like Seekins and Salmon held hands and jumped off the cliff together, knowing they’d eventually hit water and come through on the other side. Seriously. It’s no wonder she was once a choreographer in New York and he was a frontman for a rock band in South Africa. That’s where they likelly developed the courage it would take to form Surrender Hill and record a double album of such technicolor scope and emotional range. Never say never.
The Gregg Turner Group, Songs for Sparrow and Hallucinations from Hell: Confessions of an Angry Samoan. Talk about a Gregg-of-all-trades. Gregg Turner runs a rock & roll band named after him that sounds like it aims its arrows and a plethora of points around them at the bulls-eye, still basking in their punk roots but now a little more attuned to the grown-up life that passes for culture in modern America. The group has got a scare factor to it, but. never wallows in the grief. Instead, Turner and band buckle down and try to confront the confusion of what has happened since the heady days when his band the Angry Samoans used to terrorize audiences around America and beyond. There is not an iota of intensity that’s been diluted from those days, even if there are some hidden chords thrown into the mix to keep things moving forward. There’s also a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover, albeit with the perfect edge (“Bad Moon Rising,” naturally) and the gorgeous Roky Erickson-sung nugget “Right Track Now,” written by none other than onetime 13th Floor Elevators’ songscribe (and later co-lead vocalist for San Francisco’s ’60s era wunderband Mother Earth): one Powell St. John. In that musical mix-and-match environment Gregg Turner has pulled off a small miracle. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s also recently written a spread-out autobiography of all that the man has seen and heard in the past, say, 50 years. HALLUCINATIONS FROM HELL: CONFESSIONS OF AN ANGRY SAMOAN is an unbeatable romp through the cultural craziness that’s spewed from the pores of American life as we know it in the era we call our own. It’s such a delightful study of the unexplainable beauty of modernity that there’s no way it can–or should–make complete sense. Instead it’s the truth laid bare, with a small spread of mayo over it so the words even taste–and read–right. Not bad for someone who ended up a tenured mathematics professor at New Mexico Highlands University who received his Ph.D in mathematics from Claremont Graduate University. Of course he did. In his spare time, Gregg Turner surely fills in for Superman and speaks to Roky Erickson on the other side. Two-headed dogs.