PLAYING FAVOURITES VOLUME # 1 – Various Artists (Illustrious Artists)
Let’s face it - drummers have the box seat at live gigs. In most bands’ cases, they have the only seat (unless they’re a lounge act or one of those sensitive singer-songwriter set ups where the players straddle stools and croon like hippies). Provided the foldback is good, drummers get to hear and see everything up close and personal, so it follows that they should be adept at spotting talent on their nights off when they’re mixing it with the punters in the crowd.

Cue Russell Hopkinson, Illustrious Artists mogul and timekeeper for You Am I and a plethora of bands before them. He be the compiler of this handy set. Illustrious Artists is a small but growing Aussie label dedicated to bands that Rusty personally likes (naturally enough). Having been on the receiving end of the odd year’s end swap CD-R from Russell, I can vouch that his tastes range well past the straight-up punk of his earlier musical days in Vicious Circle or the downbeat country-tinged rock of his best known antecedent, Citadel Records act The Bamboos. This is indeed Rusty's mix tape. There’s no South American psych here but “Playing Favourites” manages to touch almost every other base, with a leaning towards guitars, be they heavy and hard or de-tuned.

It's a mighty mix of the obscure and the unusual, as well as the better known. Speaking of the latter, Rusty rates the day The Dirtbombs’ contribution arrived in his snail mailbox as one of his personal highlights of 2003. Fair call. Art Punk is a fair summation of “Walk on Jagged Air”, a fair way removed from this killer band’s usual garage-soul fare but worth waiting for. Mick Collins and Co can do no wrong.

On this evidence, neither can City Lights with “Curse on Everyone (Hey Hey Hey)" apparently the lead track on the Sydney band’s forthcoming debut album and it’s a great charge of boisterous guitar pop.

I'd boxed The Pictures, the Melbourne band led by Rusty's You Am I bandmate Davey Lane, as something of a mod/beat outfit. "Heavy Daze" recalls a Lobby Loyde state of mind - very heavy and very '70s. Great stuff.

If you're looking for slickness, go elsewhere. You're probably not so you'll undoubtedly concur that there's a rough but righteous feel to "The Sad Spring Circus", the home-recorded cut by Swedish band Flight 69. "Jesus Caught The 5.19" has a touch of the Reverend Beat Man about it. The band playing it, The Holy Soul, hails form the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby (a place more nondescript than my own 'burb). As the Americans say: Go figure.

Also hewn from homemade stuff is "New Direction" by young Melbourne band Neon and it's hard and heavy with a Scandi kinda bent and a Nirvana overtone. The song was recorded on an eight-track in a spare room. These guys have already won Ivy League label spurs and a Mushroom publishing deal.

Displaced country-tinged scuzz is well-represented with the likes of Brisbane's Mexico City the prime example. That label probably doesn't do justice to the strangely plaintive "You Weren't Kidding". On the other hand "skewed pop" is the appropriate term (just appropriated from the liner notes) for "I Said So", the tuneful contribution from Indianapolis band The Pieces. Treetops provide the most mellow moment with "The Anvil" but it's back to the gritty end of the garage with "Ye Fayre Heir", the '60-ish cut from an Estrus band, The Insomniacs, that I'm more in tune with.

This collection should serve notice that you're going to hear a lot more of Perth band The M16s, whose Asteroid B612 antecedents ("Killer" Ken Watt was a member) and Sonics Rendezvous Band tendencies are on show in "The Shivers and the Shakes". Watch for the forthcoming I-94 Bar feature and an eight-song mini-album on a Sydney label very soon.

The Dirty Knees are reputedly a New York bar band with a Dictators leaning. Maybe so, but to these ears they came across as cousins of The Dynamic Hepnotics (Sydney R & B-sters who cracked it for commercial success in the '80s). "Go Go Children" is an obscure cover and likeable in a cutesy way.

Favourites are easy to develop after a couple of spins. Three of mine are geographically devisors: Firstly, quirky Sydney band The Meek, whose cover of "Leavin' Here" is the first version I've heard to quote the Sabbs' "War Pigs" (no shit). Then there's the raunch of Pinky Tuscadcero, who apparently hail from Victoria (if my fix from the production credits are correct). "T.D.T." is up there with The Meek for offbeat lyrics but it works its way into the brain and stays there. And right up there in the "hit the repeat button" stakes is driving rock-pop tune "Sing Song Sung" from Irish band La Rocca. Hard to shake, easy to shake to, I'd reckon

Like tributes, compilations can be difficult beasts to tame. They're often a good pointer to lots of unheard music, but too much variety can sometimes spoil the broth. Not on this one. Dip in and dig it. - The Barman