BACK TO MONKEY CITY - Jeff Dahl (Steel Cage)
Punk rock's Mr Consistency is back with another ball-tearer of an album - this is his 24th by his label's count - and not only it's his best-sounding but packed with superb songs to boot. More weathered glam rocker than trebly two-chord stormtrooper these days, Dahl remains an outsider who should be a household name.
Dahl's in that class of punk rockers (Sonny Vincent, Kevin K) who never sold out melody for pure power and if they all have framed photos of J Genzales on their walls, that's fair enough. In each of their cases, the similarities are attitudinal rather than overtly stylistic. In Dah's case, he assimilated the great things from glam rock, put them through a Stooges-primed blender, lived through the LA punk scene and went about doing his own thing. He dried out, did lots of business in Europe in the '80s and even had an Aussie label (Dave Laing's Dogmeat) for a time. If more people liked Real Rock and Roll he'd be playing stadia rather than desert lounges and titty bars.
Apparently about to abandon his Arizona digs for his family address of Hawaii if he hasn't done so already, this was recorded by Dahl at his Cave Creek home studio with the well-established configuration of his Jeff Dahl Band. Grunge by-word Jack Endino was on production duties and manages to roll out a big and beefy sound. If it sounds live it's because it mostly was with very little overdubbing. The playing's sharp and Dahl's interplay with fellow guitarist Frank Labor (from labelmates The Labor Party) is especially good on "Suits My Mood".
The title tune might be one of Dahl's best in years while "I Am A Mess" might be autobiographical in the past sense, it sounds urgent enough to prompt a call to the nearest rehab centre to see if they have a vacancy. "All My Favorite Ramones Are Dead" is up to the task of musically matching its title.
"Salvation, Temptation And Sin" borrows AC/DC's Phil Rudd-powered backbeat while Dahl intones like an Arizonan Damien Lovelock. "This Ain't No Funhouse Baby" and it's melange of lysergic keyboards and vocal coda initially stands out like a red-headed orphan but its quirkiness eventually makes it pretty appealing.
And just when you had him figured, Dahl takes "Dense Pac" off into hardcore territory to give the kids a lesson. They'd do well to take heed.- The Barman
BATTERED STUFF - Jeff Dahl (Steel Cage)
Trebly punk Jeff Dahl in acoustic mode is no surprise to long-term fans. The guy's been churning out a steady stream of low-key, unplugged albums for more than a decade, along with his standard amped-up output.
"Battered Stuff" (subtitled: "One Acoustic Mother") is less a man and his guitar as a band with Dahl playing all the instruments. The arrangements are sparse, the studio sound near and warm. It's dedicated to the late Nikki Sudden and there's more than a passing resemblance to some of his recent albums. "Outta Luck", the ballad that closes this disc, was written for, and influenced by, Sudden.
There's plenty of variety, like the Stonesy ("Exile") swagger of "I Beg Your Pardon", the finger-pluckin' blues of "Sandwich" and the syncopated "Before The Storm". "I Wouldn't Change a Thing" was written for Mrs Dahl and 30 years of marriage. Who says old punks aren't sentimental? Washboard even makes an appearance on the country pisstake "I Ain't Drinkin' Myself No More".
Like many old punks, there's a long and abiding love of glam rock under Jeff Dahl's skin and something like "Vaguely Picasso" with its slippery slide guitar and sassy delivery takes the whole shebang in a "Transformer" direction. Ditto the languid, Ian Hunter-styled stroll of "Califomia Blues", a personal fave. Of course peeling things back to their bones shows that most of these songs would have worked on a Dahl rock and roll opus. He's undeniably a strong songwriter.
Jeff Dahl's '80s solo albums weren't for all tastes with a few deliberately shooting for all the abrasion of fingernails down a chalkboard. He toned down the attack in the '90s and '00s but that hasn't been a bad thing. If you missed out on the fun of stuff like "I'm In Love With The GTOs" back in the '80s or you haven't sampled the more recent wares reviewed on this page, you might be surprised by the broad appeal that lies in "Battered". - The Barman
CURSED, POISONED, CONDEMNED... - Jeff Dahl (Steel Cage)
Jeff Dahl's almost in the class where reviewers use terms like "veteran", "venerable" and "seminal" - all of which are code for "he's been around for a fuck of a long time". There's a degree of comfort in that fact, 'cos to a large degree the guy's output is evidence that the more things change, the more he stays the same.
People who dislike Jeff Dahl (yeah, there are some) point to the lack of production sheen in his records, as well as his reliance on the treble end of the audio spectrum. Me, I reckon the DIY nature of his output over the past decade or more (where he's played most of the instruments himself) carries a certain charm. But I can't say I haven't sometimes wanted to hear him playing off a band, or putting a full-throated Marshall roar under some of his songs.
Those wishes have been granted, with a group of like-minded Arizonans recruited to strum and bang on various instruments and a more varied production palette applied. There's a modicum of extraneous polish, just some broadening of the sonic range and balance as well as acoustic beds, but it's a strong album on all counts.
Fact is, Jeff Dahl walks the line between punk and glam as ably as anyone and better than most, so if that's what you're after then look no further. In fact, "Cursed..." should win back a few people who gave up/moved on after the abrasive attack of "Heartful of Snot". "Cursed..." is no less intense, but more measured. Check the brooding reflection of "Sweet Silence", a companion piece for "Gimme Danger" that builds and powers home on the back of Russ Covner's unrelenting drumming and the twin guitars of Dahl and Frank Labor.
There are ample out-and-out neckbreakers ("Lost My Buzz" and the opener "Lost Faith") and metallic struts ("Cock o' the Walk", "Ya Feel Alright?") to keep old fans happy and a bristling cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What" to win over some new ones, while the lyrical content of "SXSW Whore" should ensure no laminates for Austin's (depending on your outlook) premier music festival/industry circle jerk find their way to the Dahl mailbox. The anthem of a true outsider. Long may he run. - The Barman
STREET FIGHTING REPTILE - Jeff Dahl (Steel Cage Records)
Roaring out of the dusty Arizona desert and blowing smoke like an oil-burning Chevy, transplanted to a Philadelphia label run by the same folks who produce Carbon 14 magazine, comes the King of Glam Punk, Jeff Dahl.
God knows what album this is in the long string of discs carrying his moniker, but it's definitely up there with the best. Gone is the trebly noise-for-annoyance of "Heart Full of Snot" or "French Cough Syrup", and the half-realised stylistic experimentation of "Scratch Up Some Action" (for its faults, still a record with considerable merit and the one that introduced me to Jeff in the '80s). This is the sound of someone who knows what he's shooting for in the studio and hits the mark.
Fear not - Jeff Dahl still has an admirably rough edge, but it's sharpened by his vision of Ian Hunter-meets-the-Stooges, a sort of passionate, logical intersection of punk and embracing of its make-up wearing precursors. After hearing nothing from him since 2000's "Pancacke 31", this had me reaching for the back catalogue.
What you get here is the core band - Jeff on guitar, bass and drums for much of the way - augmented by sassy chick backing vox, guest guitarists and alternate engine rooms. The 440s' Sparkle Plenty and CC Titan help out on vocals and lead guitar, respectively and a handful of other players from bands like the Tempe Tramps and Monstar sit in, too. Despite the personnel musical chairs, it's cohesive and consistent.
"Reptile" is not polished and it's definitely not too flashy. Much of the music from the glam era had a lot of padding but it's not the case here.
The songs are good 'uns too. "The Ballad of Mott - Pt 2" with its catchy guitar figure and (auto?)biographical lyrics says it all - and economically. "Destination Blackout" displays the nice sense of melody behind even Dahl's most raucous songs. I haven't dabbled into the Dahl unplugged arm of his catalogue but "Road to Madrid" is a cool change of pace. Ditto the curiously laidback "Halo Moon". You might scratch your head over the lyrical content of "Tranvestites, Transsexuals And Chicks With Dicks" (where would the early NY '70s scene have been without them?) but it gets along on the back of a ragged singalong chorus that's a winner. "Better Days" is a cool, Stonesy mid-tempo rocker ad while the drums on the closing "Take Your Medication" sound demo-like, who gives a rat's once the riffing and the Coloured Girls-styled harmony kick in?
A leading light in the D.I.Y. stakes (check out his web site and his zine, the always excellent "Sonic Iguana"), this proves that Jeff Dahl still has plenty to say. - The Barman
PANCAKE 31 - Jeff Dahl (Triple X)
Another year, another Jeff Dahl album. They're rolling around annually now, off the production line that is Devil Tree Studio in Arizona, and Real Rock 'n' Roll would be much poorer if that wasn't the case.
"Pancake 31" is truly a solo effort - Jeff plays everything, as well as manning the studio desk - and is in similar style to its predecessor, the glam-flavoured "All Trashed Up", one of 1999's best. With some people, that would be cause for concern. With Jeff Dahl, you're assured there will be no self-indulgent excesses and enough of a sense of humour to keep things on track.
In striving for mid-tempos rather than flat-out pace, and colouring Jeff's customary guitar riffing with occasional rollicking keyboards and multi-tracked vocals, the end result is an album that's well-rounded, goodtime glam-punk rawk for adults.
And, in a fair and just world, just the sort of stuff that should be blaring out of your radio. Till you strike a tune with a title like "Last of the Red Hot Cocksuckers" ("Born to Lose/And Down to Kill") and you know that commercial considerations just can't keep a good punk down. "Raunchy" and "Fun" are taglines that spring to mind.
Even a cursory examination of his back catalogue (or a glance through his excellent Sonic Iguana zine) shows Jeff Dahl was always about more than Hardcore, the category in which he's been lumped. His rock ouevre runs a lot wider, with elements of Britpop, glam, the Dolls, the Stooges and just about anything else that gives The Established Order the finger. This is an album that's two steps removed from the deliberately-grating, slice-your-head-off assault of "Heart Full of Snot" (you can even hear the bass lines.) Mrs Dahl has favourably compared it to 1994's multi-faceted Dahl effort "Leather Frankenstein" - high praise indeed in my books.
"Pancake 31" is an album of many moods. R & B informs the keyboard line in "The Sad Balad of Dagmar Tranquilizer" (ditto another track that doesn;t seem to be listyed) while there's enough irony to fill all the clubs on Sunset in the chugging Dolls swagger of "X Punkrocker". There's a languid ballad driven by a spidery guitar phrase in "All the Wrong Reasons". Then there's the punk urgency of "Girls I Used..." just to remind you that rockin' and riffin' melody is Dahl's stock-in-trade. "Slaughter on Van Buren Avenue" - a 55-second instrumental that closes the album - is a coda that could easily fit as the title tune for some trashy pulp crime telemovie.
Jeff Dahl's status as a fringe dweller means he's under no pressure to deliver anything that doesn't please himself, and for that we should be grateful. Let's hope he keeps churning them out long into the future. The ride's still interesting.
- The Barman
ALL TRASHED UP - Jeff Dahl (Triple X)
More people should know Jeff Dahl. A middleweight contender on the US hardcore scene as part of the Angry Samoans and the Jeff Dahl Band for many years, he re-located from California to a ranch in Arizona, from where he churns out honest, hard rocking punk albums like this, launches occasional live forays into Europe and the Continental USA and edits one of the greatest 'zines in the western world, Sonic Iguana.
Too few people have woken up to the all-too-modest Mr Dahl - if you're one of the ignorant ones, this is a great place to start. "All Trashed Up" is the perfect sort of sharp-edged backbar, rock 'n' roll sleaze to wake up to after a heavy night out...bristling with stripped-down, spiky guitars, an amped and energetic all-girl backline and just enough keyboards to evoke the '70s glam bands Dahl loves so much. It won't cure your hangover, but it might just send you back to where you got it for a hair of the dog and a seat at the bar next to the lady Dahl chats up in "Hey Miss Thing".
As a passionate and tireless advocate for brash and trashy punk and pop and the guy who wrote "I'm in Love With the GTOs", Jeff Dahl has a lot to live up to. This album just about does. And if "Kingdom of Kicks" isn't the bastard child of a "Raw
Power"-era Stooges gang bang, I don't know what is.- The Barman
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