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By Michael Henningsen

OCTOBER 6, 1997: 

Alibi Rating Scale:
!!!!!= Jim Baca
!!!!= Sam Bregman
!!!= David Cargo
!!= David Kirk Anderson
!= Vickie Perea

Note: Joe Diaz and Carlton Pennington, in keeping with their shrewd campaign tactics, chose not to attend the Alibi Rating Scale.

The Blasters American Music (Hightone)

Recorded in a Van Nuys garage with a few room mics and an ancient multitrack, American Music perfectly captured the raw energy and sweaty soul of the Blasters. Only 2,000 copies were released on producer Ronny Weiser's Rollin' Rock label, and all of them were gone within months. Out of print for 17 years, Hightone Records has re-released American Music on CD and double vinyl. The songs have been remastered with the participation of founding Blasters' guitarist Dave Alvin, including six tracks that weren't available on the initial vinyl-only release.

What makes this reissue a "must" isn't that American Music was the best Blasters' record, 1983's Non Fiction was. But it is an important piece of American rock history. An amalgam of R&B, blues, rockabilly, cajun and swing, the Blasters' music defined the roots sound in Los Angeles in the early '80s. Of all the bands playing under the "roots" moniker at the time--and there were many--the Blasters had the important distinction of being the most genuine. Between Phil Alvin's inspired singing, brother Dave's rollicking guitar work and the relentless rhythm section made up of bassist John Bazz and drummer Bill "Buster" Bateman, the Blasters reminded everyone that there was more to the roots thing than simply echoing Gene Vincent, wearing a pompadour and hanging in hip circles. And for their effort, they almost instantly became the L.A. sensation.

The most worthwhile tracks on the reissued American Music record are the title track and "Marie, Marie," both of which are still included in sets by Dave Alvin and the current Blasters lineup. Beyond those two songs and aside from the handy inclusion of the six bonus tracks, the only thing remarkable about the record is the fact that its first life was a flash in the pan that is still burned on the retinas of anyone who heard or saw the band a decade and a half ago in their heyday. That's not to say that the Blasters invented contemporary rockabilly, they just started one hell of a fire under its ass. !!! 1/2

The Cramps Big Beat From Badsville (Epitaph)

"Videodrome" columnist Scott Phillips is probably more qualified to write a review of the Cramps' latest (and their debut for the mightier-by-the-minute Epitaph label) because the Cramps almost have more in common with Russ Meyers' films than they do with just about any band I can think of. Anyway, he's not here, so I'll give it a shot.

The Cramps' music has always been the artistic embodiment of white trash culture and inbred mentality. But it's all part of their charm, which is formidable when one considers that vocalist Lux Interior has consistently been able to pull off his Lizard King shtick in a G-string and stiletto heels or, more admirable yet, wearing nothing but a bottle of red wine. The music, most of which is penned by guitarist/producer Poison Ivy, has long been secondary to the cheap motel mystique the Cramps radiate with such arrogant pride, but there have been gems here and there.

And there are more of them on Big Beat From Badsville than there have been on any Cramps' record since Psychedelic Jungle (excluding live albums and greatest hits compilations). There's nothing you wouldn't expect here, but songs like "It Thing Hard-On," "Sheena's in a Goth Gang" and "Hypno Sex Ray" are kitschy wonders that make the most of Lux Interior's trailer park horror lyrics and not-so-subtle deviant sexual innuendo.

The Cramps don't exactly have a brand new bag, but they have managed to get about as dirty as you can get without actually getting dirty. If you've ever considered bacon grease a viable lubricant for your horizontal liaisons, then Big Beat From Badsville is the soundtrack you've been waiting for. Trashy as a $20 whore. Enjoy! !!! 1/2

--Michael Henningsen

Next Week: Denison-Kimbal Trio and Pizzicato Five

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