Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Talkin' With Lucinda Williams

Part One: Stuck in Limbo

The following is an edited version of an interview conducted with Lucinda Williams shortly after the release of her Rough Trade debut. It was originally published in KCMU's Wire in 1989--that's right, 17 years ago. I've tried to eliminate as much "chaff" from the piece--mine, not hers--as possible. Overall, it was a pleasure to chat with Williams. This was one of my first interviews and she made it easy. I'm grateful for that. I just wish I'd asked more questions about her music rather than its marketing, but I was working as the advertising/promotions coordinator for a local retailer at the time and that's where my head was at.


I met Lucinda Williams when she was in Seattle recently, after playing a short, but excellent set opening up for the Cowboy Junkies (another hard-to-classify band if ever there was one), and these are some of the things we talked about.

First of all, I asked Williams what it was like growing up in Louisiana, in terms of the musical scene there. Basically, it didn't interest her much, she replied, because there weren't any "hip" roots-oriented bands coming up when she was there, such as the Blasters, Los Lobos, and X.

Wire: Is that why you moved to LA, because of bands like that?

Williams: Yeah, pretty--well, because I'd been in Austin [after leaving Louisiana and then, later, New York] for awhile, and I'd pretty much reached my limit there as far as what I could do.

One of the people Williams came in contact with, while in Austin, was Lyle Lovett. I asked her what she thought about the success and acclaim that Lovett has received lately, particularly in light of the fact that he is far from your typical country artist, mixing big band, blues, and other genres into a country-based stew.

Williams: That whole country/Nashville thing is pretty hard to figure out. I mean, I don't know--it's kind of a whole political thing. It's like, if you get signed out of Nashville or something... [Her voice trails off as she tries to find the right words.] The whole thing is like, if you get signed out of Nashville, then LA won't touch you.

Wire: Really?

Williams: You get stuck in these things, see? And that's why even when I was working with Pete Anderson [Short Sharp Shocked] he really, really insisted on me getting sucked into the Nashville 'thing,' because his experience had been with other artists...

[Those sessions were eventually scrapped, and Williams and Gurf Morlix ended up producing the latest album--more cheaply, too.]

Wire: He produced Dwight Yoakum?

Williams: Yeah, and Dwight got signed out of LA, and there's all this animosity, unfortunately, between Nashville and LA. It's really stupid.

Wire: That's weird.

Williams: So, if you get signed out of LA, Nashville goes, 'Oh well, you're an LA act.' And vice versa. So, before I had done this other demo where I got stuck in between, LA said, 'Well, it's a little too country and western; take it to Nashville.' Then they did, and Nashville said, 'Well, it kinda falls in the cracks between country and AOR...'

Wire: When was this?

Williams: Well, I was like stuck in limbo. This is like--I don't know--five or six years ago, like right after I moved to LA. So I'd just gone through this whole metamorphosis thing of like, 'Where am I supposed to be, what am I supposed to do,' and all this.

Wire: That's really--I think it seems unfair that an artist would have to question doing what they want to do.

Williams: But I mean, I can't explain the whole Lyle Lovett thing; I don't really understand. I guess with a lot of artists it's like, you know... The problem is, the question is: Where do you sign someone who doesn't really fit in either place? So sometimes I think they just make room for them, they just create a niche there. And I think that's kind of what they did with him. Even though he's not really country... I don't know, it's a mystery to me--the whole thing. None of it really makes much sense.

Click here for part two.

Endnote: Image from the AMG.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Girls Rock

There are some things you can't cover up / With lipstick and powder / Well, I heard you mention my name / Can't you talk any louder?
-- Nick Lowe, "Girls Talk"

Girlschool, The Very Best of Girlschool, Sanctuary

I've been in love with Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett for awhile now, so it was inevitable that I'd get around to Girlschool (1978-1992). Granted, there's a fine line between hard rock and heavy metal. Much as I may dig Ms. Jett, I was never a big fan of sexed-up ex-bandmate Lita Ford. Except for "Kiss Me Deadly" (Ford's take on Generation X), that metal chick thing wasn't for me. Jett only looked metal, but she was--and is--straight-up rock and roll. Her covers make that clear: "Woolly Bully," "Hanky Panky," et al. ("I love rock and roll" indeed.) I put off listening to Girlschool as I assumed they were metal. But I was curious, especially after reading Lemmy's great auto-bio White Line Fever, in which he had nothing but nice things to say about the female foursome.

To judge by The Very Best, Girlschool had more of a hard rock thing going on--with a glam-rock edge to it, much like Quatro (aka "Leather Tuscadero"), Jett, and the Runaways. This collection, for instance, contains a fun cover of Gary Glitter's "I'm the Leader of the Gang" featuring the man himself (although more people are probably familiar with Jett's romping-stomping Glitter re-do, "Do You Wanna Touch?"). In Joe Geesin's liner notes, he also mentions that Slade's Noddy Holder and Jimmy Lea produced their fourth album, 1983's Play Dirty, which features T-Rex's "20th Century Boy." In addition, they tackled Sweet's "Fox on the Run" for 1988's Take a Bite, but it is, unfortunately, a no-show.

To be fair, Girlschool's love of the guitar solo could be considered a metal trait, and there are a few solos here. They're not bad, but I wouldn't miss 'em if they went away. The British quartet's look, on the other hand--much like Motörhead and the Ramones--straddled that other fine line between hard rock and punk. (Okay, they had a thing for spandex, but dig those leather jackets.) Naturally, their musicianship was superior to that of the teenaged Runaways, but nor were they as hard or as fast as Lemmy's crew. (If it sounds like I'm knocking the Runaways, I am, but there'll always be a place in my heart for "Cherry Bomb.") And speaking of Lemmy, he once dated the Runaways' Vickie Blue, so it's all relative with these rockin' combos, although he was pretty bummed when she left him for a woman...and just as bummed when she married a man. But I digress!

While I realize it isn't fair to judge a band's career based on a "best of," it's all I've got at the moment, so I'll just say that fans of any of the artists I've mentioned would do wise to check it out. At the very least, Motörhead aficionados may want to give a listen as the disc features "Please Don't Touch," an appealing collaboration between the two, appropriately released as Headgirl. According to Geesin, the track hit the top five in the UK. Girlschool recorded Motörhead's "Bomber" for the B-side (Motörhead, in turn, covered "Emergency"), while Take a Bite features the Lemmy co-written "Head Over Heels." Alas, neither number is featured on The Very Best of Girlschool. Nor is their version of ZZ Top's "Tush," from 1981's Hit and Run. Clearly, a two-CD set would have served Girlschool better, but for now, this will do.

You stick around long enough / And I'll give you some lip /
And it'll stick.
-- Suzi Quatro, "Lipstick"

Endnote: I suppose I'm expected to say something about Glitter's sex crimes, but I'd rather not. Anyone can Google all the unsavory details. It's sad and it's sordid, but I'm all about the Glam and I'd prefer to remember the tight-trousered one for ravers like "Rock & Roll, Pt. Two." Girlschool and Runaways images from the AMG. Quatro lyrics from Oldies Lyrics, Lowe lyrics from memory.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Review: A Cowboy in Seattle

Mark Pickerel and
His Praying Hands,
Snake in the Radio,
Bloodshot Records

Though I did write about the Detroit Cobras last year, I was surprised to find this CD in my mailbox. I didn't know I was on the Bloodshot mailing list...

That said, it was a nice surprise. Best known as the drummer in the Screaming Trees, Pickerel isn't as distinctive a vocalist as frequent co-conspirator Mark Lanegan (he's played on several of the other Mark's recordings), but he has a pleasant style, i.e. a pleasing voice combined with solid compositional skills. Like Lanegan, he seems to have taken a great deal of inspiration from Lee "A Cowboy in Sweden" Hazlewood, and there's nothing wrong with that--Hazlewood never goes out of style. Also, he can't be accused of trying too hard, a common problem with solo albums from longtime sidemen-turned-frontmen. In other words, this is a low-key effort, and I fear some listeners may dismiss it as boring. I'd beg to differ with that asssessment, but Pickerel is definitely taking a chance by playing his cards so close to his chest (as it were).

For the most part, these 11 tunes are relaxed, mid-tempo toe-tappers. Words like understated and tasteful also spring to mind, but Pickerel never crosses over into adult contemporary territory--which is to say, I doubt Leeza Gibbons will be praising his soothing soft-rock tendencies anytime soon. Barry Manilow, Michael Bublé, and the rest of those snoozers have nothing to fear.

And don't let appearances fool you. Despite that youthful visage, Pickerel has the well-worn voice of an old soul, like Jim Morrison if he'd lived to see 40 (or, naturally enough, Mr. Hazlewood, but in a slightly higher register). I don't mean to suggest, however, that this record sounds anything like the Doors. Far from it. There's more of an alt-country/folk-rock thing going on, which makes sense, since this is a Bloodshot release. Produced by Steve Fisk (the Screaming Trees, Nirvana, Low, etc.), who tickles the ivories on several tracks, Snake in the Radio is a promising debut.

Side note: While working at Cellophane Square in the University District (1988-1992), I ran into Pickerel from time to time.
I don't think I ever told him I was a big 'Trees fan--I was never much for the suck-up--but I was, and we always had a friendly chat whenever he dropped by. Many of the musicians involved in/around the grunge scene back then--like Lanegan and Kurt Cobain--weren't quite so open. Pickerel definitely stood out from that crowd (as did Soundgarden's Kim Thayil). I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that he'd eventually move away from it--and back to Ellensberg? I mean, I'm just speculating here.

Over the past year, I've seen him around Seattle quite often--
at a Roq La Rue opening, at a SIFF screening of Be Here to Love Me, etc.--but I've never said anything. I doubt he remembers me,
and it's not as if I got to know him very well. I don't even recall what we used to talk about, just that he was, at the time, one of
the friendliest musicians in Seattle. So, would I have written
about this record if I didn't like it? The short answer is: No.

Note: Joined by Calvin Johnson, Pickerel is featured on the Hazlewood tribute Total Lee!, which I reviewed for the AMG. 1/19/07 update: In the latest Seattle Weekly, Brian Barr compares Pickerel's music to David Lynch's films, specifically Blue Velvet. Well, at the screening of Inland Empire two nights ago (with director in attendance), who happened to be sitting a few seats away? Why, Mark Pickerel, of course! Image from Bloodshot.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

This Must Be the Place,
or the View From Google

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round.
-- Talking Heads,
"This Must Be the Place"


Every other month I take a trip over to Google to see where my reviews are ending up. Some of the more interesting sites are listed below. This time my full name garnered 110,000 hits (Kathy Fennessy garnered 29,200). This may be the last time I post my findings as these lists all look the same. Clearly, I need to start doing different kinds of writing
to start showing up in different kinds of search results!

Over-long AMG bio of the Scientists

Amazon review of Born Into Brothels

The Big Cartoon Database:
Amazon review of Tales From Avonlea - Comp First Season

Amazon review of Morrissey - Who Put the M in Manchester?

[A Beth Ditto favorite! According to a recent Stranger
interview, she plays it daily. For inspiration, natch.]

AMG review of Giant Sand - Cover Magazine

Monsters & Critics:
Amazon review of Da Ali G Show - The Complete First Season

NFC (Nirvana Fan Club) Board:
AMG review of The Beasts of Bourbon - The Axeman's Jazz

[Featuring Kim Salmon of the Scientists.]

Amazon review of Scratch

TSADP (Texas Students Against the Death Penalty):
Amazon review of Redemption - The Stan "Tookie" Williams Story

[I'm proud to be associated with this site. They also feature
Jeff Shannon's reviews of Capote and Dead Man Walking.]

In my heart is a place called swampland
Nine parts water, one part sand.
-- The Scientists, "Swampland"


Note: The Scientists album cover from NKVD Records. Talking Heads lyrics from Lyrics Freak and Scientists lyrics from Gullbuy.

Friday, February 10, 2006

André 3000 Says
Happy Valentine's Day

And there's so much fuss about Santa Claus
But see Cupid will

not be defeated.
Happy Valentine's Day,

every day the 14th!
-- Outkast, Speaker-
boxxx/The Love Below

These are some of the reviews I'm working on for this month.

Amazon: The Newsroom - The Complete Second Season [two-disc set] (clever Canadian sitcom verité, but not as funny
as that first amazing season), New York Doll (moving portrait of
the late Arthur "Killer" Kane, bass player for the New York Dolls),
Sugarcubes - The DVD (crude, but fun), Yellowcard - Lights and Sounds (slick LA-by-way-of-FL pop-punk), The Chess Players (entertaining historical allegory from the legendary Satyajit Ray),
Tristram Shandy - A Cock and Bull Story
(Michael Winterbottom's
amusingly digressive take on the famously digressive novel), Rhett Miller - The Believer (third solo effort from the Old 97's front
man), and Who's That Girl (Yes! The infamous Madonna debac-
le; co-written by Newsroom creator Ken Finkleman).

Siffblog: Darwin's Nightmare (harrowing, Oscar-nominated
documentary about the deleterious effects of globalization on
Tanzania--and by extension, the entire Third World), Who
Gets to Call It Art?
(lively documentary about Met curat-
or Henry Geldzahler, Andy Warhol pal and all-around
modern art proponent), and Sophie Scholl - The Fin-
al Days
(heartbreaking tribute to the anti-Nazi
heroine, another deserving Oscar nominee).

Endnote: Outkast image from the AMG, which notes that
they have a record coming out this year. According to the latest
, "Idlewild, a musical set in a speakeasy in the South in the
'30s, sees André 3000 portraying piano player Percival and Big
Boi as singing club manager Rooster. The two have to see off gang-
sters who want to take their club over, with dancing." About the
soundtrack, set for release in April: " 'There's a lot of piano play-
ing, a lot of ragtime, Cab Calloway, Jelly Roll (Morton),' says Big
Boi, who promises a 1930s flavour and lots of surprises. 'It's a
very mature album, it's rapping and everything else.' "

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Reviews: From New Or-
leans to Charleston (by
Way of Bologna)

Belong, October Lan-
guage, Carpark Records

Recorded in pre-Katrina New
Orleans, October Language
is instrumental rock in the vein of Pelican, but not as metallic.
Moody, but not spooky. Mellow, but (definitely) not new age.

When it comes to music san vocals, I like jazz—especially
Miles Davis and John Coltrane—and soundtracks—especially
Henry Mancini and Ennio Morricone—but I've never gotten
into Tortoise-style post-rock. Not bad, just not my thing.

Extra credit for the Out Hud-esque titles: "I Nev-
er Lose. Never Really," "I'm Too Sleepy...Shall We
Swim?," "The Door Opens the Other Way," etc.

Dévics, Push the Heart, Filter US Recordings

This Italian-based duo (of expatriate Los Angelenos) has listened
to a few Beth Orton records in their time. This isn't to suggest that
Sara Lov and Dustin O'Hallaran are ripping her off—their third CD
isn't particularly "folktronic"—but their gentle songs are based
around piano lines and Lov's whispery voice, which has a slight
Ortonish catch to it. According to the press notes, Dévics will
be providing the music for Sofia Coppolla's upcoming Marie An-
, which looks like a bit of a trainwreck—and I loved her
first two features—but it's sure to have a lovely soundtrack.

The Films, S/T EP, Filter US Recordings

This funny-haired foursome formed in Denver, Colorado before
relocating to Charleston, South Carolina. Apparently, they have-
n't read the alternative rock rule book which requires that bands
instead move to Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Seattle,
Chicago, or Chapel Hill—so good for them. And good for us that
this three-song EP makes for such an enjoyable listen. A bit on
the familiar side, I suppose, but it's catchy, energetic stuff. Not
quite garage and not quite power-pop, but somewhere in be-
tween (chiming guitars, what sounds like farfisa, etc.). I like it.

***** ***** **** **** **** **** **** **** **** *****

Note: Photograph of Dévics CD/T-shirt/poster designer
Francesca Montanari from their official website. Incidentally,
without the accent over the "e," Devics is a "rare disorder which
resembles multiple sclerosis," according to the Mayo Clinic (I
discovered this when I Googled the band name). So if you're a
fellow journalist, blogger, et al: Be kind and remember the accent!