NAILED TO THE CROSS: LOADED SKULL: COLD AUGUST NIGHT - Sacred Cowboys (Savage Beat)
We're entering the Golden Age of Gary Gray, with last year's "Cold Harvest" re-badging of the Sacred Cowboys' "Things To Come" on Bang! and another disc of archival material by Gray's seminal punks The Reals and The Negatives also in the racks. This double CD package couples the 1983 "Nailed To The Cross" six-tracker with the "We Love You...Of Course We Do" covers record, a snarly Triple R live-to-air and five demos and/or new recordings, at least two of which are by the 2006 line-up.
Whatever you thought about the (toothless) chainsaw schtick, there was a black heart beating inside the collective chest of the Sacred Cowboys that begged to be cut out with a scalpel and flushed down a drain before the beast had a chance to propagate. A Melbourne supergroup of sorts, the Cowboys began life in a different branch of the inner-city nursery for fun covers bands as their Sydney counterparts the Beasts of Bourbon - and won the race to end up in rehab.
Various incarnations have surfaced since the first dissolution in the mid-'80s and another may soon rise from the dead when frontman Gary Gray visits from France. Until then, you can make do with this truly raucous collection if you want to know what the fuss was all about.
While the "Nothing Grows In Texas" single is a bona fide classic and the best-known cut here, the "Nailed To The Cross" EP showed what made the band distinctive. The sharp grooves and simple patterns of the engine room seemed at odds with the guitar lines - there are even echoes of the first Tom Verlaine solo record in Terry Doolan's spidery fretwork. The rhythms run in and out of the keyboards, while Gray's deathly invocations suggest a psychosis best left undiagnosed. "Nailed To The Cross" and "Pay For It In The Next Life" sound especially damaged.
Gray aside, an armful of luminaries from influential bands passed through the Cowboy ranks in the '80s, ex-Models Andrew Ferrie and Johnny Crash among them, but any comparisons even to the admittedly edgy early line-up of that band are spurious.
The live-to-air on disc two has a certain swagger and charm, even in its slightly ropey moments. Nothing matches the studio cut of "Is Nothing Sacred?" whose fevered vocal and manic instrumental energy matches anything The Moodists or Nick Cave and Co dished up. The live version goes close and so does the off-the-wall take on Beefheart's (already off-the-wall) "Click Clack".
The contemporary studio tracks ("Black City 2006" and "The Absolute") show Ye Old Psycho and his current playmates (Spencer P Jones among them) still have lots to offer. - The Barman
COLD HARVEST - Sacred Cowboys (Bang! Records/Fuse Music)
What's essentially the core of the impossible-to-find "Things To Come" album from 1996 has been re-issued, re-tracked and improved (with the addition of two re-recorded songs) by Spain's best Australian rock and roll label Bang! Records. More reason to shell out Euros (or if you're in Australia, order a copy via your local outlet through distributors Fuse.)
The Cowboys' cover of "I Am The Walrus" made it onto the "Things To Come" and "Trouble From Providence" albums in different versions and I'm happy passing on a third. Also MIA is "Outlaw Blues", with "Trouble From Providence" revived. The other substitution is a new version of "Bangkok". I always liked the single from '83 best but this take works well, nonetheless.
With the six-minutes plus "Walrus" buried and the running order reconfigured, this seems a tighter album and the mastering sounds great. The latter is more often than not an advantage of re-birthing old CDs in this latter day digital age.
There's not a lot to say about this album that TJ Honeysuckle hasn't already. It swaggers and rocks like a bad tempered old hombre with a serious attitude problem. Much of it's in the engine room where the Sacred Cowboys of old (and the contemporary version that played shows in Victoria in 2006) had/has a distinct advantage over most comers. The men don't know but the bass players and drummers understand.
If you have the original album you'll want this for the two "new" songs and the fact that it sounds great. If you don't have"Things To Come", educate yourself.
- The Barman
Bang!’s continued mission to release the best in Australian rock carries on. Why does it take the Spanish to do this, anyway? That’s a strictly rhetorical question, by the way- I don’t really care, as long as they keep it coming.
There are plenty of legendary/apocryphal stories floating round about this outfit- a loose grouping whose main constants over the past fifteen years or so have been frontman Garry Gray & bass player Nick Rieschbieth. They sowed their evil seed throughout the pubs and clubs of early 80s Melbourne, and became huge in their chosen stalking grounds. Their confrontational style and no-bullshit ethic is still discussed in dingy bars where old gig goers of a certain vintage gather, and they also still inspire many lesser imitators. Don’t believe me? Track down a copy of their first single, “Nothing Grows In Texas” sometime, and get back to me sometime if it doesn’t still put a crick your neck.
Anyway, this collection has been lurking offshore like an imcoming tsunami for some time now and doesn’t disappoint at all. Included here are tracks stretching back to 1996, as well as several new things recorded in Melbourne during a lightning quick blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mini tour late in 2006.
The band as represented here includes players and stayers like Mark Ferrie, Spencer P. Jones & Penny Ikinger. SPJ & Penny in particular are hugely distinctive presences here. Interestingly, you can see the bare bones of what would become Penny’s “Electra” playing style emerging here, too.
None of the material from the band’s classic rock cover phase in their midlife period is represented- this is their own solid, muscular rock, in the vein of their late 80s Citadel outing, “Trouble From Providence”, but thicker and darker. In fact the sole cover here is an amped up, amphetamined up, re-reworking of their white label single “Bangkok”.
Garry’s voice swings easily from snarling to caressing – he has a snake oil seller’s charm at times, a cursing preacher’s tone at others. Lyrically the songs are as dense, cryptic and obtuse as ever. But then Gray was never afraid to get poetic or polysyllabic whenever he felt like it. “Things To Come” has echoes of the Flaming Groovies’ “Slow Death” about it- “ I told this to a doctor, then I told a priest/The doc gave me a shot, the priest said go in peace my son”. “Drop By Drop” contains direct quotes from both the Stooges and Gray’s first outfit, the Negatives, and both are equally valid in context. A different writer could probably bang on a bit about the subtly evident TS Eliot & JG Ballard influences present in some of the lyrics, but don’t expect that from me.
It’s probably not fair to call this a return to form, when, despite trials, tribulations and relocations, they never lost it. But it’s more than fair to call it a welcome return to the fray. - TJ Honeysuckle
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