JAMNATION – Dan McGuire (Prestidigitation Records)
Dan McGuire’s a working-class midwestern (Toledo, Ohio) poet with a distinctive voice — bristles at being compared with the Beats and Bukowski; claims Ohio mill-town bard James Wright, Detroit factory-floor versifier Philip Levine, “Walt Whitman cross-bred with Charles Baudelaire” as kindred spirits and inspirations — and an incisive eye for the details of everyday situations. He’s also a connoisseur of ass-blistering rawk music, and he likes to blend his two passions, which is why you’re reading about him here at the Bar.
So far, he’s recorded two CDs for Smog Veil under the rubric Unknown Instructors (from W.B. Yeats’ “Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors,” he says) wherein he’s flowed his verse over improv wonderment by Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Baiza and the ex-Minutemen/fIREHOSE engine room of Mike Watt and George Hurley, joined on the debut disc "The Way Things Work" by Saccharine frontman Jack Brewer and on the harder-edged follow-up "The Master’s Voice" by Pere Ubu mastermind David Thomas and SST Records graphic artist Raymond Pettibon.
On "Jamnation", released last year on McGuire’s own Prestidigitation label, he’s up to something somewhat different, and the results are even more impressive. Rather than performing with live musos, McGuire has overdubbed his spoken word performances on existing recordings of guitar-driven heavy psychedelia by bands both past and present: ‘70s Americans the JPT Scare Band and Josefus, modern-day Danes Gas Giant and ILD HU (apparently a Gas Giant side project), and Japanese Eternal Elysium. There are some lengthy excursions here — the shortest track is nine minutes long and the longest close to 16 — but they’re episodically eventful enough, even without McGuire’s texts added, that you won’t feel your attention span being taxed.
“[I found] the old bands through a lot of research/looking under unturned stones, the current bands I was hip to through the usual channels,” said McGuire. “Basically, when I heard JPT and Josefus, my first thought was, ‘This is the greatest heaviest shit ever;’ my second thought was, ‘I want to record my poems to this, see if I man enough to keep up.’ I figured if I'm going to do poetry rock I want it to be the full measure, and their stuff just blew me away.” The good news is that the poet was definitely equal to the challenge.
JPT Scare Band, who provide the scorching sonics on the opening “King Rat” and the penultimate track “Time To Cry,” are a Kansas City three-piece who were active between ’73 and ’75, influenced by, but not unduly reverential toward Cream, Hendrix, Grand Funk and Sabbath (perhaps because Scare Band guitarist Terry Swope could wipe the floor with the axemen from all of the aforementioned Bigger Acts, with the possible exception of Jimi). On “King Rat,” the JPT riddim boyzzz lay down the deepest proto-metal pulse imaginable, perfect for head-banging, over which Swope launches McLaughlin Devotion-esque fretboard fireworks and McGuire unleashes an acerbic screed. His declamatory meter matches the music’s flow and his poems seem an organic part of the whole, not an added fillip, so much so that you’ll need to give this disc separate spins to fully absorb all the musical and poetic goings-on.
On “Time To Cry,” Swope lays down cascading sheets of wah-drenched acid-blues fury over Paul Grigsby’s groaning bass groove (when Swope takes his foot off the accelerator for a minute and McGuire uses the opportunity to say his bit, the bassist sounds for all the world like Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady on "Bless Its Pointed Little Head", a good thang in my book) and Jeff Littrell’s Don Brewer-esque thrashing ‘n’ bashing. McGuire has some of his most powerful moments on the CD over the track’s raging climax, finishing strong with the line “At the center/All that remains/Is the hollow core/Resounding silence/Of your heart.”
Denmark’s Gas Giant provide the tribal stomp on “Conga Jam” — highlighted by Stefan Krey’s incandescent shards of lysergic guitar over Pete Hellhammer’s thunderous drumming — providing the perfect backdrop for McGuire’s vividly-rendered working-stiff’s narrative, starting with an aging-stoner-turned-jackhammer-operator’s “sour nostalgia” and ending with somber end-of-the-workday ruminations while the music takes on a martial chug. As the band winds it down, you can feel the fatigue in the anonymous narrator’s muscles, mind, and spirit. I shit you not.
Josefus, responsible for the plodding hipi boogie that is “Dead Man,” coalesced in 1969 around a Houston psychedelic dive called the Love Street Circus and Feelgood Machine; the big bands on their scene were ZZ Top and Bubble Puppy. Singer Pete Bailey has the kind of tonsil-tortured soul-boy pipes that the Jason Lee character in "Almost Famous" was trying to replicate, while guitarist Dave Mitchell has a brittle, Echoplexed sound that’s so much of its time and place you can almost smell the patchouli stank and see the Janis Joplin posters on the wall through the smoky haze. The band’s unhurried extemporization builds the tension as McGuire has his carpe diem moment—a lot less courtly and a hell of a lot more gritty, sweaty, and immediate than Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” to be sure.
Less is known about ILD HU, who provide the backing track to “Poetry Rock Freakout,” although there are apparently Gas Giant musicians involved (including guitarist Krey, from the sound of it). There’s more tribal thump happening here, starting out with monstro fuzz bass machinations, building to a throbbing pulse that’s akin to the ones that propelled the Velvets’ “Sister Ray” or the MC5’s “Black to Comm” but with a deeper groove and Live At Leeds guitar improv events occurring on top. The musicians even get into a variant of the riff from “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath” for a moment before drawing the intensity down. McGuire’s spiel uses some of the same imagery as “The End of the World” from the second Unknown Instructors disc, but winds up leading to a more spiritual place: “To gods, deities, and muses/I offer ambrosia as oblation.” And then later:
Staring out the window at the drunks
Wrenching a fire hydrant until it erupts
And they’re ankle-deep
As all the waters flow
In the gutter and grass
Everything getting what it needs
Japanese stoner rawkers Eternal Elysium, who provided the closing “Green Song,” have been through a myriad of personnel changes since originally forming in ’91, but the power trio’s really just a vehicle for guitarist-singer Yukito Okazaki’s musical visions. In the studio, they’ve worked with Mathias Schneeberger of Obsessed/Brant Bjork & the Operators/Twilight Singers fame. Their track here opens with feedback shrieks before the galloping fuzzed-out riff kicks in and Okazaki essays some muscular guitarissimo that actually sounds like the handiwork of someone who “Smoked jimson weed/Until he went cross-eyed/Permanently.” Over this McGuire tells the story (with the guitarist’s name inserted) of a drug casualty with uncanny psychic abilities, “A human whirligig, furiously pedaling his grown-up tricycle round and round and round the old cul-de-sac, heading somewhere he’ll never get.”
Shrink away from McGuire’s poetry rock if you will, but you’ll be missing out, because I guaran-damn-tee you that this Jamnation disc rocks as hard as anything you’ll hear this (or any) year. Depending on the listener’s inclination, the words the poet speaks can either stand on their own or function as a rhythmic element of the music, which richly deserves to be heard by anyone who’s even remotely into face-melting psych guitar action. Oh yeah, and he’s working on another one now, too. Just in time: I’m ready for mo’.
(McGuire’s website, www.facemop.com, will be e-commerce enabled soon.) - Ken Shimamoto
THE MASTER'S VOICE - Unknown Instructors (Smog Veil)
Cleveland-based Smog Veil Records is releasing some of the most essential music for fans of Rock Action of any label this side of, oh, say Easy Action. Over the past few years, they’ve brought us archival and reunion material from Rocket from the Tombs, as well as the newest work from Pere Ubu and David Thomas; released the New Christs’ “We Got This” Stateside; and later this year, plan to release a collection of material by the late Creem magazine scribe/CLE rawk godfather Peter Laughner that will thankfully supersede the long unavailable Clinton Heylin-compiled “Take the Guitar Player for a Ride” on Tim/Kerr.
More to the point, Frank Mauceri’s plucky little boutique label has also unleashed the Unknown Instructors, an ‘80s SST Records supergroup of sorts, their 2005 release “The Way Things Work” matching the frontline from Saccharine Trust (that’d be Joe Baiza on guitar and Jack Brewer on voxxx) with the engine room from the Minutemen (current Stooge Mike Watt on bass and George Hurley on drums), along with poet Dan McGuire. For sophomore outing “The Master’s Voice”, the basic unit of Baiza, Watt, and Hurley is joined by Rocket From the Tombs/Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas and legendary SST graphic artist Raymond Pettibon as well as McGuire. Any fears of sophomore slump are groundless. If anything, these Instructors have crafted an even more adventuresome movie for your ears this time out.
The Instructors’ thang is “spoken word ‘n’ improv,” and the results are surprisingly compelling, even if, like me, you’re not the kind of person who frequents open mic poetry slams. On “The Way Things Work”, the instrumental trio basically played their classic selves: Baiza’s distinctively dry, vibrato-less chromaticism occasionally veering into Sharrockian atonality, while Watt and Hurley, that most “outside”-thinking of punk riddim sections, locked it in the pocket telepathically. Maybe having Jack Brewer on board reinforced those tendencies. Maybe they were just feeling each other out after not having played together in this configuration before. In any event, on “The Master’s Voice”, the musos don’t necessarily play harder than they did last time out, just with more abandon. Baiza employs more effects here than is his custom to make his guitar buzz like an angry insect, and even layers a few parts – a kind of San Pedran Frippertronics. Beyond that, sonically speaking, the record has more punch and presence than its predecessor, thanks possibly due to the involvement of original SST principal/Rock and the Pop Narcotic scribe Joe Carducci, who produced important records for the Minutemen and Saccharine Trust, among others. Particularly on the tracks that feature Thomas, have Watt and Hurley’s dialogues ever been so precisely recorded? I think not.
Let us speak now of the declaimers of verse. The proximate models here are Kerouac, Bukowski, Beefheart. In terms of the text, there’s nothing here as powerful as McGuire’s appropriately-titled “An Evening In Hell” or as evocative as his ode to Clubland “This Is Where You Find It”/”Lost and Found” from the debut disc, but he’s still doing interesting work. On “End of the World,” the poet’s apocalyptic vision is matched by Baiza’s volcanic intensity, while his “Machine Language” effectively explores the dilemma of a sensitive soul adrift in Dudeland to suitably tension-filled accompaniment. Bassist Watt’s a prolific scribe, as anyone who’s dug his voluminous tour spiels at hootpage.com can attest – a veritable punk Pepys or Proust. Indeed, the boy’s solo work abounds with lit allusions (Dante, Joyce, Richard McKenna’s The Sand Pebbles). That said, his piece here, the stream of consciousness narrative “In Your Town Without You,” is relatively slight, but not so slight as Pettibon’s free-associative indulgence “Twing-Twang.” Thomas’ treated voxxx are more pure sound than signifiers, coming across at different times like a mad muezzin, that “talking” cat from Youtube, or a bizarro simulacrum of a Delta bluesman, but they’re still highly effective at creating a mood of claustrophobic menace. Even Baiza gets a few words in over the orgy of stinkfinger guitar on the closing “Maggot Sludge.”
Overall, a successful marriage of spoken words with challenging sounds. Not everybody’s taste, but Barflys who are hip to Mick Farren’s spoken word pieces (“The Deathray Tapes”, “Dogpoet”), the Bukowski-inspahrd spiel that peppered Wayne Kramer’s Epitaph discs, John Sinclair’s work with the Blues Scholars, and things like the Celibate Rifles’ “Thank You America” are sure to dig this beatnik boogie muchly. – Ken Shimamoto
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