SOUNDS FROM THE OTHER SIDE - Tumbleweed (Shock)
The portents were good. A reformed band, firing live and determined not to be a heritage act. Old burned bridges rebuilt. New songs. Reunited with the producer of their best-sounding work and taking the time to make sure they hit the mark in the studio.
And they did. Make no mistake. This is Tumbleweed's best moment since 1995's "Galactanphonic" and it might even eclipse it. Paul McKercher's chunky production gives full scope to the trademark fuzzy guitars and the swing is back in the big bottom end. The songs are keepers and the performances are on the money.
"Surrender to the years," Richie Lewis intones on opening shot "Mandelbrot" and when he and the band hits the change-up you know there's not a chance in hell of that happening. There's more life in this album than a dozen soul revival breakfasts in uptown Harlem. The guitars of Lenny Curley and Paul Hausmeister spark off each other with an effortless ease that's startling on the edgy "Wildfire" or the swampy "Queen Of Voodoo."
The matter-of-fact single, "Night Owl", returns Tumbleweed to the melodic territory they staked out so well just before the tidal wave of grunge rolled in and brought with it all sorts of mediocrity.
On that front, the term Stoner Rock has always sat uncomfortably on Tumbleweed's collective shoulders (although legend has it their consumption of sacramental herbs would have put the MC5's share-house population to shame.) Stoner infers aimless sludginess, whereas this is music straight out of a '60s garage in the American Midwest. With the notable exception of "Drop In The Ocean" - a whimsical drifter on pop's high plains that stands apart from the rest that faintly recalls Died Pretty - these are straight-up Rock Action.
There's a generous 13 songs and no filler. Closer "ESP" pushes "Sounds" towards prog rock with its expansive feel, space guitars and Richie's trippy vocal. High octane chords keep it anchored to earth for seven minutes of max volume joy.
Many old or reformed bands strive to recapture the spirit pif their youth while trying to forget they're nearing qualification for seniors insurance. Tumbleweed show they've forgotten more than you ever learned. This is worth the fuss.- The Barman
THE WATERFRONT YEARS 1991-93 - Tumbleweed (Aztec Music)
It's such an obvious idea that it's a wonder no-one issued this before. Thumbs up to Aztec for giving Wollongong's finest "the treatment" with a lavish double CD set covering all their early singles and EPs, along with their self-titled debut LP and the "Daddy Long Legs" CD single. It coincides with the band's reformation and return to bursts of gigging so it's all the more timely.
The tale of how a bunch of hairy, hash-happy kids from an industrial city off most peoples' beaten tracks and shared stages with some of the world's most famous acts is worth recalling. With roots in '60s freaks The Unheard and the Detroit-inspired Proton Energy Pills, Tumbleweed were the epitome of a local band catching the bus at the right time. Taken under the wing of the happening Sydney label Waterfront, discovered by Mudhoney's Mark Arm, signed by Atlantic and then Polydor, they should have been bigger than Soundgarden or the truly snore-inducing Pearl Jam. Alas, it was not to be, collapsing in more than a little acrimony, but for a while the 'Weed carried a lot of peoples' hopes, especially in their home city.
Your definition of what Tumbleweed were/are may vary with the term Stoner coming to mind. For mine, that's an inadequate and ordinary label, and Tumbleweed are simply riff-heavy rock and roll, with a rhythm section grounded in something more dynamic and bluesy than straight-up 4/4 or boogie. They swing. Richie Lewis has a soulful voice and guitarists Paul Hausmesiter and Lenny Curley a fine command of fuzz.
There are some wonderful moments on disc one, most of them thinly or non-disguised odes to girls, grass ("Stoned") or both ("Sundial.") If you missed the fact that these guys had a grounding in the '60s, you'll have it underlined by listening to the tracks from the "Sundial" EP - four of them relatively obscure garage covers. The primo, Mark Arm-produced "Captain's Log" single kicks off the collection for fans of the low-end distorto stuff.
While many will say Tumbleweed went on to top their first album with "Galactaphonic", the freshness still makes it a worthwhile trip. Why the parent label declined to release it Stateside remains a mystery but it found an enthusiastic welcome on Waterfront in Australia, selling 20,000 copies. Try moving that many physical albums these days.
If there's a fault it's in the sometimes thin production. There was a strong desire for the band to cross-over and break out in the US, and compromise was didn't sit well with all members. The two-part "Dandylion" is weirded-out enough to have thrown even relatively enlightened radio programmers off the track. The melody line on "God" shows the 'Weed could have out-Nirvana'd Kurt and the boys, given the right airplay.
The fact Tumbleweed covered Zappa's "Trouble Every Day" on the "Daddy Long Legs" single was something I'd long forgotten. The (non-drugging) Frank was always a favourite for kids who pulled far too many bongs in the garage so it was not only an apt choice, but a song Tumbleweed made their own over nearly eight minutes.
It seems redundant to mention the magnificent Aztec packaging yet again but it would be criminal not to. It rounds off a release that you need to make yours even if you have all the original vinyl and CD-EPs. The Weed is the word! - The Barman
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