HANG ON…HANG ON...LIVE FROM MELBOURNE - Spencer P. Jones and the Escape Committee (Beast Records)
Coming on the heels of his previous studio effort featuring The Escape Committee ("Fugitive Songs") and the Beasts of Bourbon comeback studio effort ("Little Animals") is this live disc.
Spencer P. Jones spent 2008 with a revised line-up of The Escape Committee featuring guitarist John Nolan (ex-Bored!, Hoss, Powder Monkeys), drummer Cal McAlpine (ex-The Chosen Few), long-serving bassist Helen Cattanach (Dominaros, ex-Moler) and guest keyboardist/backing vocalist/producer Hamish Marr. They recorded what's become Spencer's first live opus and it only enhances his reputation - especially 'round this hazy, drunken, online haunt - as a true National Living Treasure.
"Hang On..Hang On…" features nine classic songs for the world weary and downtrodden, drawn mostly from his Spooky Records catalogue, with one from his latter-day Beasts period/early beginning of his solo career ("Execution Day") and two well chosen covers.
"Hot and Cold" and the Alex Chilton-penned "Underclass" open the album, both delivered by Spencer the only he knows, with John Nolan adding his own unique guitar lines on top of the rock-solid rhythm section pairing of McAlpine and Cattanach.
Through tracks such as the high energy killer "What Is Life In Jail?", "Execution Day'" and "Death Trip USA", Spencer takes us into a slice of the dark, dim, seedy underworld/nightlife that few could ever survive. It's not all dark - it's balanced lyrically by lighter tunes like The Dead Salesmen's "When I'm No Longer Poor", Spencer's "The Bogans" and closer "The Muse" - but it packs a solid punch.
"Hang On…Hang On…" is yet another classy addition to the incredible Spencer P. Jones solo back catalogue. - Simon Li
Raucously rude and liver than your great grandfather will ever be, this bang-up bag of some of Spencer's best-loved tunes dangerously hits the spot - like petrol poured on a barbecue. The ragged two-part vocals just add to the ambience and it's a condemnation of what's going down in Australia these days that once Spence parted ways with Spooky Records, he had to shop the tapes to a canny French label to get them released and there were no takers closer to home.
You can sense heads shaking from the moment that someone suggested Spencer team with ex-Powder Monkey John Nolan on guitar, given their common past affiliation with less than judicious off-field activities, but" Hang On...Hang On..." shows it was a smart musical concept. The pair blend licks like long-lost brothers-in-arms and volume never gets the better of either of them.
Presumably recorded at more than one salubrious Melbourne nightspot, "Hang On...Hang On..." lays out unadorned, rough 'n' ready songs as they're meant to be heard. That's not to infer the band's un-together in any way but to tart up these tunes would have spoiled their essence. All involved know that.
"Execution Day" appears for the 51st time on an album and doesn't lose any of its power. "Death Trip USA" rings with the poignancy that only people who've stared at the abyss and seen friends slip into it can bring and if the cymbals are way too splashy in the mix on "What If Life In Jail?" the rip-roaring take on the tune justifies its place.
Last I heard John and Spencer had parted ways. If that's true then it would have been a lost chance if something documenting the line-up hadn't come out. Grab if from the label and play, very loud.
- The Barman
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FUGITIVE SONGS - Spencer P Jones featuring The Escape Committee (Spooky Records)
Those newspaper features where a bunch of yuppie dilettantes and coat-tugging journalistic whores pick a list of so-called National Living Treasures shit me to tears. Besides the fact most of the spineless turds they nominate have been living off nepotistic arts grants for longer than anyone can remember (something a rock and roller would never do - or maybe only since they drastically tightened access to unemployment benefits), they never mention Spencer P. Jones.
Maybe it's because he's a Kiwi or he's burned up more lives than the Stones have roadies, but while Spencer's making albums as consistently great as this he deserves more substantial public kudos (or you could at least buy him a beer next time you see him at a show.) The guy might take the stage more fried than a barrel-full of The Colonel's original recipe at some shows, but he makes mighty music with an edge that's rare these days.
This is bluesy rock with the smell of cordite not far away. It doesn't bust down any barriers - Spencer's too old a dog to deviate a great deal from the trail he's been forging for a great many years - but so what? "Fugitive Songs" is as fine an effort as anything else in his backpages.Surprisingly, it's the first full album with his longtime band The Escape Committee, who have a degree of warmth and empathy for the songs that most outfits couldn't match. Helen Cattanach (bass) and Andy Moore (drums) lay it down, thick and rich, for Spencer and Phil Gionfriddo to weave guitars over the top.
The band leader slips into the grizzled vocalist role so well (except on "She's Not Kidding 'Round" where Gionfriddo gets to sing) with that tone of resigned worldweariness that's earned, not learned.I caught a few of these songs in a solo set SPJ did in Sydney on the night of GW McLellan's death in May 2006. If "Death Trip USA" seemed a sombre choice for the setlist, it positively drips with dread in its recorded form with some withering guitar. "Thanks" seemed like an improvisation that night as Spence name-checked a list of indulgences, like a crooked pharmacist reading out an illicit shopping list. Apparently not, and this version at least matches and maybe even edges out the one on the new Beasts of Bourbon album for irony and/or self-deprecation.
It's the grind and clang of "Hot + Cold" that'll be most familiar to punters who've caught this combo live. There's some clever tracking with the quietly upbeat "Blow Out the Candles", the open-chord chime and harmonies of "Road Trip" and the breezy cover of John Mayall's "Top of the World" punctuating what might have otherwise been a darker album.
Classy stuff, again. Truly your loss if you don't hook in. - The Barman
IMMOLATION & AMELIORATIONS (1995-2005) - Spencer P. Jones (Spooky Records)
A collection of hitherto unfinished recordings rather than outtakes (there is a difference), "Immolation & Ameliorations" was issued as a vinyl LP by Spanish label Bang! Records. The collection was adjudged too good to forgo an Australian release on CD, hence the silver disc that landed in the mailbox (and one could land in yours if you click on the label link in the title above).
For recordings that sat in Spencer's sock drawer for an indeterminate period over a decade after being recorded by half-a-dozen line-ups, there's a nice thread of continuity running through the collection. The bands range from the one-off teaming - The Beeks - with Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes) and Billy Ficca (Television) in New York City ("People Fuck With Your Head"), to his big band The Last Gasp ("You Let Me Down", "Rumour of Death").
Stripped-down assemblage The Escape Committee is represented as is a coupling with Tex Perkins (on feedback guitar), Brian Hooper and ex-Powdermonkeys drummer Timmy Jack Ray (the frantic opener, "What Is Life In Jail?"). There are even guest spots from half of Mudhoney. It's a star-studded list of drop-ins, drop-outs and dropkicks to be sure, but the real star is Spencer hisself... Some of these songs are re-workings from SPJ's back catalogue which is why they may have missed the cut on previous releases, but don't be deterred by the "treading water" aspect. "Bad Revisited" gets a radical make-over with Renee Geyer adding harmonies and WA rap duo Apex Predator (half of whom is Brian Hooper's son) doing their thing.
"You Let Me Down" employs the big band to great effect and takes on new malevolence (if that's possible). Lee Marvin's "Wandering Star" never sounded like Spencer's (or is it the other way around?) and that's fine by mine. "The Bogans" may be equal parts ironic pisstake and a nostalgic reflection on hooning it up in less complicated times in New Zealand, but it doesn't really matter as it's a cracker tune.
Pride of place should go to the strong re-working of the Velvets' "New Age" - Spencer P. Jones makes a fine Antipodean version of Lou crossed with the Zimm. The guy's a storyteller in the grittiest of traditions and appropriations like this are a reminder of both his influences and how good his own cinematic stuff is. Spencer makes music that is rough, raw and undeniably real. The production sports a few murky points but that shouldn't bother too many.
Chalk up another notable addition to a remarkable back catalogue; drink it down till the next offering comes along. - The Barman
FAIT ACCOMPLI - Spencer P. Jones (Spooky Records)
Quick explanation for the uninitiated: Spencer P. Jones has attained the sort of iconic indie status of Australasian National Living Treasure that might not keep him in the lap of luxury, but will always provide an audience and a special place in its collective musical heart. And while there'sa sympathetic label like Spooky (home to his last three releases), there'll always be an outlet for albums as good as this.
The former Johnnys member (they more or less appropriated cowpunk in Australia in the early '80s - and spawned dozens of impersonators) is now back in the saddle with a reconstituted Beasts of Bourbon. And while we all live in hope of that nasty little aggregation coming up with another long player and something more sustainable than a few warm-up pub dates and festival shows, Spence's own solo efforts with various backing bands shouldn't be disregarded.
The man seems to casually spit out the sort of albums every year or two that most of his contemporaries wish they had in them. This is another of them. "Fait Accompli" finds Jones in characteristic dark, dirty and down mode. Sparse, bluesy tales of too much abuse and too many nights spent in the gutter, looking up at the stars. Three bands provide the backing - Cow Penalty (from the last album, "The Lost Anxiety Tapes"), the US-based Beeks (Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes and Billy Ficca of Television) and Escape Committee (whose ranks include Helen Cattanach from Moler).
The common thread is a greasy appropriation of the blues and the band leader's distinctive drawl and scuzzy lead guitar. "Fait Accompli" is a disc of character and characters. "Mean Arnold" is the psychotic ex-con with a steel plate in his head who's making a beeline for the local radio station, using all means available to secure airplay for his song. It drips in irony with its jaunty backing and black lyrics. You could almost hear Charlie Manson whistling along if he ever makes it out. "Enmore Hotel Blues" is the sordid tale of Jimmy, a dealer and loser who ends up entrapped by the law, delivered in a disembodied tone against a wall of buzzy guitars.
"Muse" is up there with Dylan's "I Don't Believe You" for vindictive lyrical sentiment, albeit to a more dangerous sounding blues beat that the Zimm ever summoned up. Anyone lucky enough to grab a copy of the "Spooky Bootleg Tapes Volume One" (a collection of unheard cuts from Melbourne's musical underbelly) would have already had a taste of "Up For It", the "Waiting For My Man" cop that was put to tape in New York City, naturally enough. It sounds re-mixed here, but still kills. "I Wanna Hand to Hold When I Go To Hell" is the Raw Power Stooges meeting the Beach Boys with no-one getting out in a well enough state to compare notes. "Wherever/Whatever" is a sleazy fast country shuffle, while the lyrically brilliant "When I Write My Book" is clean sounding and surely meritorious of significant radio airtime. The irony within makes this a centrepiece of the album for mine, in an album of highs. Spencer P. Jones wraps his narratives in smokey, rocking clothes. Nothing fancy about the mode of dress, but its simplicity makes "Fait Accompli" a very effective effort. - The Barman
THE LOST ANXIETY TAPES - Spencer P. Jones featuring Cow Penalty (Spooky Records)
Is there a better troubadour in Australia doing this sort of gut-bucket, street level rock and roll than Spencer P. Jones? Methinks not and "The Lost Anxiety Tapes" shows why. Ten slabs of simple, but effective, rock tuneage that push the edges in all sorts of little ways and exhibit not an ounce of fat.
Spencer P. Jones has been bearing musical arms for a wide variety of ventures since arriving in Australia from New Zealand more than two decades ago. From the jokey cowpunk of the Johnnys to the anarchic rock monsterdom of the Beasts of Bourbon (as well as touring band duties for a few people whose names don't get mentioned in this Bar), he's been somewhat of a fixture on the East Coast, all too occasionally putting out music of his own.
Cow Penalty are the stripped down (sans brass), touring version of the big band Spencer used to put down "The Last Gasp" a couple of years ago. Essentially Des Heffner on drums and Matt Heydon on everything else, and augmented by the likes of Steve Hadley on bass and Arnie Daniels on guitar, they provide enough simple embellishment to throw the songs into high relief.
Pretty great batch of songs too. From the positively Bad Seeds plod of "A Light so Dim" (a Black Heart Procession cover - yeah, I'm wondering too) to the sassy, carnivalesque keyboards of "My Week is Better Than Your Year", these are tunes that, although lacking the immediate appeal of the last album, still hold up in their own way. There's an instrumental, "The Spy Who Drugged Me", that showcases Jones' sharp guitarwork, but these are mostly gritty, lyrical road stories, with a down home charm.
Perhaps there's no better moment than "Golddigger", all staccato rhythm and wailing blues harp entwined around sleazy guitar. Certainly the strangest moment is the closing "Dutch Plates", in which Aussie muso meets European border guard whose interest is heightened by the tour van's recent stop off in Amsterdam, all set to a bubbling bassline, martial drumbeat and swirly keyboards, before acrid guitar and saxophone chime in. (I'll bet the body cavity search wasn't anywhere as entertaining.)
A more than worthy effort from a leading member of the Melbourne Music Mafia. This is an offer you can't refuse. - The Barman
THE LAST GASP - Spencer P Jones (Spooky Records)
What a long and interesting ride it's been for onetime cowpunk Spencer P. Jones. His Johnnys were a leader in the temporary flirtation Sydney's rich and varied music scene of the '80s had with a countrified version of punk. Signing to a major label, they failed to crack mainstream success, so Spencer spent much of his time taking the low road with the Beasts of Bourbon and was a founding member of that extraordinary five-headed rock beast. The ride almost proved fatal and the beast was put down in the '90s after an ordinary final album ("Gone"). Work with Paul Kelly, travels through Europe and 1994's solo debut "Rumour of Death" round off the brief pen picture.
"The Last Gasp" is anything but. Assembling a well-known (some might say notorious) nine-piece band - a virtual Melbourne music mafia- and bunkering down with producer Tony Cohen (The Birthday Party, Beasts), Jones has come up with a rich, dark collection of songs. From the Bowie-esque opener "Terrorize Your Friends" (with its "Heroes" keyboards and vocal nod to the Human League) to the rollicking closer "Pretty Neck" (Best lyric: "You sho' got a pretty neck -be a shame to see it get broke"), there's not a bad track to be heard.
The sound of The Last Gasp is big, brassy and sprawling. Keyboard colourings abound, though there are sightings of Spencer's understated guitar (most noticeably on "Your Pretty Face is Going to Waukeegan", which may or may not be an X cover). The tunes are deceptively simple, many drug-stained moments recalling some of the best efforts of the Beasts or some of Iggy's more tolerable solo offerings ("Trick My Boat Wrong" has "New Values" written all over it and the Pop would have loved to have written "What's Got Into Him".) "Time" is a faithful cover of Richard Hell and the Voidoids' song, while "Let Me Put It In" is a lascivious Andre Williams cover (Spencer was part of his backing band for his 2000 Australian tour.)
"Stolen Car Serenade" has a brass arrangement that echoes Ed Kuepper's Yard Goes On Forever ensemble from the late '80s. "Albino Faye" is the twisted ode that should have replaced one of the outtakes quality songs that made it onto "Gone".
Special mention to the engine room of Des Heffner (drums) and ex-Surrealist/Beast Brian Henry Hooper (bass) who provide a superb anchor.
"The Last Gasp" is a welcome return to visibility for Spencer and although touring a 10-piece is a daunting prospect, let's hope this material receives the worldwide exposure it deserves.
- The Barman
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