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Another piece of jangle-pop prehistory gets released.

Music Review: Little Diesel – No Lie

Maybe you can carry this Wayback Machine business too far? While I was prepping the review for that recent Sneakers reissue, I learned of the existence of a recent exhumed set of tunes predating the material in Nonsequitur of Silence, featuring many of the same parties in a high-school band called Little Diesel. Future dB's Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby & Chris Stamey – along with that other NC power-pop giant Mitch Easter – all had a role in Little Diesel, and the results have been recorded for CD posterity by Telstar Records as No Lie.

Originally recorded by Stamey "in his bedroom" back in 1974/5, the seventeen tracks were cleaned and polished by him in 2006 (to demonstrate the difference, a '74 version of one cut is appended to the disc) – then released with high school yearbook pix of all the players on the label side of the CD. Someone's old girlfriend must be getting misty-eyed, one suspects, but is this teenaged material at all listenable?

Surprisingly, much of it is – though I won't be tossing away my dB's or Let's Active discs any time soon. What we've got here is the work of a brace of enthusiastic high schoolers showing off their smarts with a buncha cool covers (Robert Parker's "Barefootin'," MC5's "American Ruse," Bowie's "Rebel Rebel," and more) and dipping their toes into the act of writing tunes themselves. Holsapple appears to have been the primary creative force behind the band's three original tracks: "Kissy Boys" attempts to mesh several New York Dolls songs ("Private World," "Jet Boy," "Lookin' for a Kiss") in a manner that must've really discombobulated NC teens back in the mid-seventies; Holsapple/Northcott's "Flamingo" is an appealingly adolescent paean to a local drive-in with some Manfred Mannisms inserted into the chorus; "Teenage Heartbreak Lament," the only track featuring Peter's engagingly fallible vocals, sounds like somp'n Head East might've concocted. Yeah, we're in the seventies, alright.

Though Little Diesel has great taste in covers (you just know that the MC5ers who gave us Back in the USA would've been tickled as hell to know that real-life teenagers were recording "Ruse"), on more than occasion (a decidedly unsexy "Barefootin'," a you've-gotta-be-kiddin'-me cover of "Riot in Cell Block No. 9") you can hear the material defeating 'em. Like most young bands, LD frequently shores up its lack of experience with youthful enthusiasm. Lead singer Bob Northcott is an inspired babbler – particularly when it comes to tackling psychedelic poesy like "Pictures of Matchstick Men" – while young Rigby gets a lot out of his small drum kit and electric guitarists Holsapple and Tommy Eshelman (who appears to do the big solos) provide plenty of good garagey noise.

At times, I'm reminded of more willful garage primitives like Thee Headcoats, though here, of course, the low-fi sound is no affectation – just the best these kids could do at the time. "There are some moments," Rigby states in the liner notes, "where the drumming makes me wince," but really he's got nuthin' to be embarrassed about. His work certainly sounds more solid than many sixties garage icons.

Holsapple disappears with the last three re-polished tracks – to be replaced by Stamey and Easter with Chris Chamis on a second set of (barely heard) drums. Perhaps the wildest cover comes from Diesel Version 2.0: a shambolic remake of Kool and the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging" that I never thought I'd hear from this crew. Instead of reiterating the song's basic lyrics umpteen times over its funkbeat, Northcott starts improvising by throwing in the Neil Young slam from "Sweet Home Alabama." The move may not make a lotta sense, but I'm guessin' it drew cheers from the scattered Carolina kids who heard it in one of Diesel's occasional concerts.

All in all, this makes for an amusing musical footnote. But what I'm really waitin' for is a new disc from the revived dB's (I see from the band's website that some tracks from this future release are already cropping up). All this teenaged nostalgia is fine as far as it goes, but in the end, this power pop lover has an ear out for more maturely hooky goods…

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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