HANK SHIZZOE 6/13, FITZGERALD’S I was suckered in by the guitar-playing garden gnome on the cover of Swiss guitarist Hank Shizzoe’s Low Budget, but after repeated listening I have to admit there’s nothing remotely as clever about his friendly and reverent blues rock. In fact, his version of Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues” sounds more like he’s covering the Black Crowes covering the Stones covering Johnson, and his “Stagger Lee” is so laid-back it makes Dave Matthews sound like Howlin’ Wolf.
TICKLEPENNY, ANGRY JOHNNY & THE KILLBILLIES 6/13, LOUNGE AX If Steeleye Span represents the noble superego of folk rock, Chicago’s Ticklepenny is its feral id, joyously sloppy and obviously familiar with the Shane MacGowan school of drunken Irish bastardy. Massachusetts’s Angry Johnny & the Killbillies serve up flashy, trashy, country-fried rockabilly on all the great themes–drag racing, car crashes, whiskey, roadkill, prison, Lucifer, and lots and lots o’ death (their Hankenstein includes two ditties about chain-saw murders and a third in which the narrator fantasizes about “flirting with all the boys” dressed in his murdered girlfriend’s skin). For at least one night Lounge Ax gets a break from all those experimental-music geeks who don’t buy enough beer.
PLASTICS HI-FI 6/14, LOUNGE AX The thing that Plastics Hi-Fi understand is that these days, psychedelia is more about equipment and record collections than drugs. That’s what keeps these chronic reconstructionists from ever spinning out into the 20-minute wah-wah wankfests, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop drum solos, and cosmic poetry that made things like Iron Butterfly Live so much fun. It also means they’re probably too self-conscious to ever really, uh, break on through, but moments of derivative loveliness do abound on their EP Sonic Vacation (Squared Circle).
STEELEYE SPAN 6/14, OLD TOWN SCHOOL OF FOLK MUSIC Following the incestuous history and multiple personnel changes of this grand old flagship of English folk rock is happy busywork for obsessive chroniclers; what the rest of us need to know is that founding member Maddy Prior is the only folk-rock singer who could ever give Sandy Denny of Steeleye Span’s parent band (and only real competitor) Fairport Convention a run for her money. Luckily, for the first time in 20 years Prior’s got a band and a collection of tunes–traditionals and originals–worthy of her voice. And though Steeleye’s new album, Time (Shanachie), can get overbearing in that windswept romantic kind of way, original vocalist Gay Woods has returned, and her harmonies with Prior could raise goose bumps on Stonehenge.
ELEVATOR TO HELL 6/16, EMPTY BOTTLE There’s a lot to like about this New Brunswick trio’s Parts 1-3 (Sub Pop), its first album and EP rolled into one CD. The 27 tracks fluctuate between gentle, introspective indie pop and enough guitar ripping and fuzzy synth groans and creaks to keep things from getting revolting. But I think to really get the full story you have to look at bandleader Rick White’s grim and spindly comics, so I hope they bring some.
MY LIFE WITH THE THRILL KILL KULT 6/17, METRO Just a few years ago, these perpetual dance-mix generators were all the rage with the 99th Floor crowd, but on the new A Crime for All Seasons (Red Ant), their beats sound flabby and their fuzz guitar and snarling vocals about as menacing as Al Jourgensen’s laundry. If they were smart they’d put themselves on ice and wait for their retro chic to become retro chic again so they could have a “triumphant comeback” at the House of Blues, but I bet they didn’t invest well.
RICKIE LEE JONES 6/18, METRO So this is where all the substances that Plastics Hi-Fi should have been abusing went: friendly beatnik troubadour Rickie Lee Jones, taking a tip from Suzanne Vega, has resurfaced with Ghostyhead, a nightmarish trip-hop melange of offbeat beats, hissing and whispering samples, demon-child-like scatting, and lyrics that would make Syd Barrett cringe (“She’s a down girl / The acid’s eating out her mind / The altered universe, step right up / Door swings both ways and now tattooed children, two-legged potions / Follow us while lightning bugs circle overhead”). I’m still trying to figure out if this is a great record or a complete train wreck.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult photo by Thomas O’Donell.