MAMMA DIDN'T WANT ANY FRUIT - Screamin' Stevie (TurkeyNeck)
Brisbane institution Screamin' Stevie announces the opening title track of his fourth album in as many years with a trademark "Heeyyyy." There's a blues-rock vibe running through this album that'll hit the spot with old fans and pique the interest of the curious potential new ones.
Going out under his own name after his old band jumped ship midway through recording, the cape-wearying, keyboard playing Stevie's mixing it with an expanded mix of a stellar local players and sounding remarkably fresh.
Stevie's yowling vocal and keyboards rightly occupy centre-stage in Brian Mann's mighty production. The chunky bottom end gives a solid foundation, especially on the rumbling male-female blues duet "I Don't Want You No More" where roaring harmonica punches through the middle.
(The female backing vocals are a feature of "Mamma Didn't Want Any Fruit" and the album credits aren't clear, but presumably Brodie-Ann Wright from Brisbane band Felinedown is one of them.)
Stevie plants his flag as a committed old-time rocker (a familiar theme) on "Dynosaur" and "Playing Rock 'n' Roll", while "Parking Lot" references the "Exile" Stones in the guitar department while telling a story about parents abandoning their offspring. As a great man once said: You gotta write about something.
"Funny Feeling" is a good song in search of an ending. Spoiler: It doesn't find one. "Clean" is heart-felt pop, simple and effective.
"You Can Run" switches the mood to tripped-out lounge rock in a way that'd do Dave Graney proud. Obviously committed to tape live, there's a call-and-response "hey", with soulful chick vocals wrapping themselves around wandering keyboards. The song shudders to a stop before being resurrected to feature a guitar part worth bottling. It all falls apart again. Oddly, it all makes perfect sense. - The Barman
SHE JUST LIKES TO DANCE - Screamin' Stevie's Australia (TurkeyNeck)
A few people have a problem with Screamin' Stevie's brand of idiosyncratic garage-soul - and that's fine. You can't please all of the people all of the time and Stevie ain't no choirboy. But it's the fact that sometimes (vocally) this Brisbane veteran can't carry a melody to save his life that's at the heart of his artfulness. Putting this quirkiness to one side, most of "She Just Likes To Dance" is poppy garage prime-time.
And a return to form (see earlier reviews) with better songs: The title track, for example, is as good as anything Stevie's done in his own right or with The Hekawis, with up-front organ and a singalong chorus that kills. "Burlesque Baby" swings on Rustle Smith's adept drumming and Stevie's swirling keys while "Tikki Head" is one playful nose full of snot.
"Alice P.Tokias" abounds in local references and some awkward rhymes but that's, in part, why it has has a charm of its own. Swelling organ carries "Flowers For The Dead" oh so well,while "A Bridge Too Far" sounds like it staggered straight out of Laurel Canyon in 1967 with a head full of acid. CheckoutJack Mulrooney's snaking bass-line anchoring full-blown harp and spacey guitar.
Of course, Screamin' Stevie's Australia (the band) is a good 'un. They've been with their frontman for a while. Mulrooney and Smith are a vibrant rhythm section with warmth and pop smarts and Brian Mann (Headstones, Screaming Triibesmen) is a guitarist whose skilful playing is always interesting.
Mann's thoughtful and uncluttered production is top shelf. THere are only 10 songs on "She Likes To Dance" so they don't outstay their welcome. You'd do to lay out your own welcome mat. - The Barman
JUST WANT TO BE FRIENDS - Screamin' Stevie's Australia (TurkeyNeck)
One man's Mantovani is another man's "Theme From M*A*S*H*" so I just want it known that Bob Short's review below is a tad harsh. "Just Want To Be Friends" isn't as good as "Four Flights Up" but it ain't a pile of steaming donkey turd either.
Screamin' Stevie's history in the Hekawis stands for itself but you can understand people thinking his vocal is an acquired taste. It's a plaintive, sometimes off-key instrument that ranges from a quaver to a growl - and not much inbetween. At times it's a downer but it's that "I've been kicked in the guts again and I don't feel fine" thing that imparts character.
Australia are/were Stevie's second band, growing separately from parallel recording sessions with The Credit Union. They're working from a mixed palette of songs with a fair pedigree (The Girlies, Ed Kuepper) but the songs aren't as strong as some prior Stevie outings.
"12 Hours A Day" is a classic opener, with Screamin' Stevie's bawling vocal, a scarifying Brian Mann lead-break and swirling mix of keyboards and backing vocals nailing a quasi-Doors-meets-the-Music-Machine feel. "Rock 'n' Soul" is more of the same, but the placement of the mid-tempo title track and the dragging stab at soul, "You Know That I Love You", early in the running order puts a bigger dampener on this party than the arrival a carload of bored cops after the booze ran out at 8.30.
"Twisted Twist" swings into the commercial zone with female backing vocals and cool organ prominent. Then the record lurches into "Long Gone", a muddy mess that sounds like two bands playing different songs - badly. "Done Me Wrong" sounds like "Strange Day" Doors after Jimbo checked out - leaving a pilled-up Manzarek to cover the vocal. Weird, maaaaan.- The Barman
I approached this disc with a certain amount of apprehension. Screamin’ Stevie’s Australia? What kind of a name for a band is that? I expected some kind of pub rock crap as I pressed play. Instead, I got a Wolfman Jack impersonation and a mod/garage opener called “12 Hours A Day”. It wasn’t bad. There was some nice fuzz guitar and organ. Screamin’ Stevie isn’t nearly a good a vocalist as he thinks he is. I mean, he doesn’t deserve a band to be named after him especially when the band is so much better than him. Still, if the standard had floated around the level of the opening track, they may have scraped a four star review. It would have been a real scrape but it could have been possible.
Unfortunately, things began to slip from there. “Rock n Soul” takes a nosedive into the 12-bar chug of Oz Rock. “She just wants to be friends” is a hideous soul-tinged ballad that does little besides revealing Stevie to be no Otis Redding. As he mangles notes relentlessly it becomes apparent that he isn’t even an Otis elevator. Frankly, the slower the songs get, the more flat and turgid the vocals become. By the fourth song, “You Know That I Love You”, the band has gone from slow to slower to get out and push. Stevie screams in the hope of hitting a note but this tyre’s gone and the wheel’s riding the rim.
“I Like It” returns to a garage theme and things pick up. Despite disc information to the contrary, “Twisted Twist” follows suite but the engineer has given up on Stevie. The vocals are so treated by this point that it sounds like when a cassette tape gets stretched. “Long Gone” is a fairly decent stab at garage rock but really, this shouldn’t have been an album. It should have been an EP. Its early promise is destroyed quickly as familiarity breeds contempt faster than rabbits on Viagra.
Finally, I have come to realise why this band is called Screamin’ Stevie’s Australia. This album is like walking into a gronk pub in the sticks on a Sunday afternoon. This band is setting up in the corner and before they’ve even got the PA up, they’ve been through five schooners a piece and nothing is going to stop them now. They start off fine but they drink another schooner between each song because I guess the pub is paying them in beer. Two songs in and the singer turns all sentimental on you and grabs a couple of beers to wash away the tears. You can smell his breath two suburbs over.
By the time we reach closing song “Done Me Wrong”, the band can no longer see the floor, let alone their instruments. It is a lame and unforgivable closing effort.
Let me give this to you in a language you’ll understand Stevie. Mate. You’re fine on the rock stuff but you really couldn’t hold a fucking note if your life depended on it. Drop the fucking ballads and stop making a cunt out of yourself. I’m not saying you guys can’t play because you can. I don’t often advocate the responsible service of alcohol but, in your case, I’ll make an exception. Show a bit of respect for yourself and your audience and only take half a dozen slabs of beer in with you next time you go the studio. Some backing vocals might also cover some of the more outlandish vocal atrocities too. I wish you luck with your future endeavours. - Bob Short
FOUR FLIGHTS UP - Screamin' Stevie And The Credit Union (TurkeyNeck)
Shoot me with a ball of my own shit if Brisbane-via-Melbourne-and-back-to-Brisbane's Hekawis weren't the best and most ignored garage rock band on the Australian continent. Irreverent, off-beat and driven by Screamin' Stevie's quirky keyboards and down-home vocals, they churned out a slew of inspired singles and albums while almost no-one was looking. Let's hope Screamin' Stevie's new band The Credit Union and their debut album don't suffer the same fate.
A good half of these songs featured on past Hekawis records but don't hold that against them. Stevie writes a great beat-psych tune and is obviously reluctant to let the best ones go. Self-produced with the assistance of Brad Davies, "Four Flights Up" resonates with a "don't fuck with it if it ain't broke" ethos that lays down an uncluttered soundscape with a beefy bottom end. Screamin' Stevie handles most of the vocals and his organ's mixed up front. Anthony Lay sings two songs and he and Bruce Graham turn in some ace guitar.
"In The Band" is back in what I'm guessing is its third recorded guise, and while it's slicker than any that have gone before it retains the hand-made charm and offbeat paranoiac streak ("Don't smoke marijuana/In the band") that's always made it memorable.
Speaking of, drugs play a lyrical role in the acid-infused opener "4 Flights Up" which is an almost perfect mix of Stevie's drawl, poppy backing vox, greasy harp and meaty wah-wah. Handclaps and swirly organ cut through the re-made "Tribute To Dell" to give it a special groove. Stevie's vocal twists it just nicely to take it out.
By contrast, "If You Don't Care" and Anthony Lay's mellow vocal renders a straight-up pop song with loads of naive charm. Proof, if it were needed, that this Credit Union builds its rating with the markets on a diversified investment portfolio.
If there's a pattern of my-baby-don't-love-me songs, "Black Negro" breaks the mould with a string of tributes to rock and roll's inventors. There's a delight in Stevie's opening "Heeeey! Allright!!" that's born of the sheer delight of preaching a righteous rock and roll sermon with couplets like ""And you want to know what turns me on/"Well it's Rufus Thomas singing 'I'm Walking The Dog' ", delivered in a growl that keep things firmly anchored to the garage floor.
The smooth Lay vocal and restrained piano backing on "Still Life" had me doing a double-take three-quarters of the way through and wondering if the fucking Whitlams had invaded the studio during mastering. This one I initially avoided but it's grown to the point that I like it - even if it could easily slip onto commercial radio playlists in most capital cities (till the programmers realised it wasn't on a major and wasn't accompanied by a salad bowl full of coke.) An oddity for sure but also a grower. Most of the material is firmly rooted in the garage and owes more to The Seeds than Sinatra.
This album finishes on a strong note: "What The New Breed Say" is a Question Mark and the Mysterians-inspired rocker while the closer "Who Told All The Lies?" is a drawn-out, psych pop piece with groovy piano and lyrical curve balls.
Did I mention Bruce Graham's lead guitarwork throughout is worth bottling?
Accessible, rockin and still quirky. Contender for Aussie album of the year. - The Barman
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