Saturday , April 20 2024
No Springsteen this week, but plenty of songs to keep your iPod happy...

The Listening Room April 16, 2007: Watermelon Slim & The Workers, Billy Bragg, HellYeah, and Neil Young

Wow, no Springsteen entries this week and yet we all found something to listen to. We've got a smaller group this week than most, but the songs here are all worth hearing. They may not be the best songs ever, they may not even be our favorites, but they kept us entertained last week. You could do worse than to try a few of them out and see what they do for you.

Josh Hathaway "The Wheel Man" from The Wheel Man by Watermelon Slim & The Workers (feat. Magic Slim)

I was really conflicted about which song to write about this week. I spent a ton of time listening to Tom Petty over the weekend as I recovered from sinus hell, and there are some songs from The Rounders' Wish I Had You that I am going to have to talk about soon.

In the end, I had to go with Watermelon Slim & The Workers because their new album, The Wheel Man, is out this week and I've declared it Watermelon Slim week over at Confessions of a Fanboy. I've been listening to the album all day long and I could write about any song on the record. I wrote about ”Black Water,” a couple weeks ago, so I've chosen to write about the new album's title track.

Often when two stars get together for a duet, the idea turns out to be more interesting than the results. “The Wheel Man,” pairing Watermelon Slim with the legendary Magic Slim, is not one of those moments. This is one of those rare occasions when everything works. This is a great song in its own rite and the Slims rise to the level of the song. Magic Slim doesn't go out of his way to overshadow his host, and Watermelon Slim is secure enough in his own talents and generous enough of spirit to allow Magic Slim near equal time. This isn't about oneupmanship, this is about two bluesmen getting together and letting it rip.

“The Wheel Man” is a hell of a way to open a record.

Pico: "Present" from Mirakle by Derek Bailey/Jamaaladeen Tacuma/Calvin Weston.

As the foundation for the deep (or should I say deeply twisted) funk of avant garde heavies like James Blood Ulmer and electric Ornette Coleman, putting Tacuma and Weston together with the godfather of whack jazz guitar was just crazy. Crazy like a fox, that is.

Despite the rhythm section for James Carter's Layin' In The Cut trying their damdest to entice Bailey to groove, Derek listens but gives no ground. Tacuma even uncorks a Sly Stone bass riff at around the three minute mark that any other guitarist would follow like the Pied Piper, but Bailey hardly moves away from his own private storm. And somehow, it works together beautifully.

Musicians who rub up against each other with styles that seem incompatible sometimes create sparks. Bailey, Tacuma and Weston together causes a five alarm fire.

Mat Brewster "Ingrid Bergman" from Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg and Wilco's brilliant interpretation of Woody Guthrie lyrics has been this week's CD-that-plays-in-my-car-for-the-drive-to-work. I love just about every stinking note on that record, but the stand out song this week has been Bragg singing “Ingrid Bergman.”

When I think about Woody Guthrie I think of songs like “This Land Is Your Land” and about his staunch communism, and his politically charged lyrics for the working man. I think about Oklahoma and the hot, dusty road to California. What I don’t think about is sex. Yet here’s Billy Bragg, another very political songwriter, singing words by Woody Guthrie that are so sexually charged and full of innuendo it makes me blush.

With words like “You'd make any mountain quiver/You'd make fire fly from the crater” and “This old mountain it's been waiting/All its life for you to work it/For your hand to touch its hard rock” how can you not giggle with glee?

Michael Jones "Alcohaulin' Ass" from HellYeah by HellYeah.

More often than not HellYeah, a new "super group" built from pieces of Pantera, Mudvayne, and Nothing Face throttle the songs on their debut album at a constant "Spinal Tap on Eleven" decibel level — but there are rare moments, such as this song, where they allow the rock engine they've built to just sit and growl menacingly. I like that about bands that know they can rock your asses off, really.

That's why I've been hitting repeat on this album, and this song in particular, as it is nothing more or less than a bunch of guys celebrating the joy of playing a superbly well-written rock song about drinking and living life to the fullest. "Alcohaulin' Ass," you see, is just flat-out fun to listen to.

Super groups come and go, but if this is what HellYeah is capable of at its beginning… I hope they stick around for a few more rounds at the bar.

Glen Boyd "Ambulance Blues" from On The Beach by Neil Young.

Earlier this week, a guy I work with surprised me with a burnt copy of a 1974 Neil Young show from The Bottom Line. What made this show so special is that it features ultra-rare live versions of nearly all of the songs from On The Beach, which is in my mind the most underated record in Neil Young's entire catalog.

Depending on how you choose to look at it, the three songs comprising that album's original second side are either some of the most depressing, or the most beautiful and austere music Neil — or anyone else for that matter — has ever recorded. All I know for sure, is that whenever I used to play it around my friends (back when it first came out), I'd get lots of concerned looks and comments like "is everything okay, Glen"?

"Ambulance Blues" is the best of the lot and one of Neil's best ever. In it's seven or so minutes, the lyrical ground it covers alone is just staggering. From it's opening line about "back in the old folkie days," we soon find Neil snarling about "all you critics sit alone" with their "stomach pump and hook and ladder dreams." I have no idea what that particular phrase means, but when Neil sings it the words are sheer poetry. Later in the song Neil says something I've always wanted to say to a number of my acquaintances. Namely that "there ain't nothing like the friend, who can tell you that you're just pissing in the wind."

Earlier today, On The Beach kept me company on a particularly brutal drive back to Seattle from Portland, Oregon. And "Ambulance Blues" had me singing out loud in the traffic.


About Josh Hathaway

Check Also

SXSW Film Review: Alt-Rock Documentary ‘I Get Knocked Down’

In Dunstan Bruce's quasi-documentary about his former band, Chumbawamba, he reflects on his life as he's rounding 60.