Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

SEPTEMBER 8, 1998: 

The Tony Rich Project, Birdseye (LaFace)

The Nineties have brought three new types to the arena of new-jack soul men; there’s hip-hop (D’Angelo), boho (Maxwell), and Babyface. Words, Tony Rich’s Grammy-nominated 1995 debut, was pure Babyface – expertly crafted, but a bit dull. Like ’Face, he’s more of a record-maker than a singer. The “Project” is mostly a one-man outfit – he’s a songwriter, singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist whose compositional skills mask his limited vocal chops. The follow-up, Birdseye, is kinkier, trippier, and more expansive, from the psychedelic sunburst cover to the Princely vocals of “Blue Butterfly.” If D’Angelo is about attitude and Maxwell about groove, then Tony Rich is about songcraft, which means that, musically, he gets over on hooks, but also on lyrical specificity. He doesn’t just want to freak his new lover, he wants to baptize her in a bubble bath and bake her a chocolate cake (take that, Prince), and when she leaves, it’s not his heart that aches; it’s his stomach.

Birdseye jumps out of the gate with aplomb. On the title cut, Rich falls for a honey in an Atlanta nightclub with Halle Berry’s eyes and a habit of folding her laundry in bed. Then, on “Silly Man,” love makes him lose the cool that most modern soul men cling to like life itself. Things flatten out after that. Third cut’s a pro-life (as in anti-suicide) song with Eric Clapton on slide guitar (take that, Babyface), and the rest is pretty ordinary, though Rich does direct his most sentimental love song at his ex-wife.

Rich is honestly quirky in a way that Babyface will never be. Who knows – if he’s able to tap into the physical bliss his music keeps at arm’s length, maybe we’ll be comparing him to Stevie Wonder next time out. – Chris Herrington

Those Legendary Shack-Shakers, Hunkerdown With…

Various Artists, Today’s Top Girl Groups, Vol. I (Spinout)

With rare exception, the current crop of major record-label product is as predictable and obvious as death and taxes (and just about as pleasurable). For a taste outside the mainstream, one must look to the lowly “independent” music companies for sustenance. Don’t expect salvation from some trendy success stories who are taken under the corporate wing and forced to produce cookie-cutter music, as true sanctification comes from real outsiders without connections.

Spinout Records is one of these glorious little outfits, based in Nashville and brought to you by the Angels – Eddie and Melanie Angel, that is. Best known as a masked guitarist for Los Straitjackets, Eddie Angel has impeccable taste in producing what today is called “roots” or “retro” music, and his wife, Melanie, assists in the promotion and packaging of Spinout artists. With eight CDs and 15 singles to their credit over the past four years, Spinout is the little engine that could. (They also offer a lively variety of some No Hit and Flipsville titles from the United Kingdom.)

Two notable recent releases are the second album (Hunkerdown With…) from Kentucky kut-ups Those Legendary Shack-Shakers, and a snappy compilation of modern distaff-led garage bands, Today’s Top Girl Groups, Vol. I.

A marked improvement over their first, self-titled CD from two years ago, Hunkerdown With… finds Those Legendary Shack-Shakers doing what they do best – making feverish animal noises amidst a clattering cacophony that sounds a lot like an old freight train running off the tracks.

Whether they’re identified as punk-a-billy, psychobilly, or just plain spasticbilly, Those Legendary Shack-Shakers jump into the listener’s face with the impact of a headless chicken spurting blood on your finest carpet. You might be shocked at the crudity of the display, but you won’t turn away. These off-balance madmen hold dear what others have discarded, and their whack-off world of inbreeding, booze, and sin is a place for loitering with intent.

Lead reprobate Col. J. D. Wilkes sounds like he’s yelping through six-ply toilet paper wrapped around a greasy comb, and lead guitarist Brian “Bird-Dog” Berryman plays all over the rocky road, even in the ditches. If this music don’t set your ass to twitchin’, then you must already be dead. Hunkerdown With… finds Those Legendary Shack-Shakers earning their title and can best be described as a hoopin’ and hollerin’ good time with some fellas who just ain’t right, bless they pointy little heads.

Today’s Top Girl Groups, Vol. I features 15 bands and 16 songs with the ladies out front and on top. This is probably what the British Invasion would have sounded like had the Beatles’ collective testicles never descended (and some would argue they never did). A truly international effort, the bands included hail from Japan (the Pebbles, the’s), England (the Diaboliks, Holly Golightly), France (the Godzillas), Greece (the Meanie Greenies), Canada (the Girl Bombs), and the good ol’ U.S.A. (Sit N’ Spin, the Neanderdolls, the Bobbyteens, the Prissteens, the Neptunas, the Friggs, the Maybellines, and my favorite girl-group name, Poontwang).

These lively lasses kick, punch, and scream their way into your heart. All of the songs have their own peculiar charm, run around two to three minutes in length, and rock like there’s no tomorrow. Being the horny male that I am, the Godzillas’ coital moaning on “Pass The Hatchet” elicited a particular thrill in my loincloth. One can only hope Volume II is not too far behind. – David D. Duncan

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