Various Artists
American Rumble Volume One

Cashing in on the second coming of rockabilly, American Rumble is a neobilly primer, a must-have for any real gone guy or dynamite doll who wants to be in the know. Featuring over two dozen acts from across the continent, the compilation captures the wide array of the scene's flavors, from the western-swing stylings of the Ray Condo Band (complete with wax crackle) to the speed-belt psychobilly sounds of the Phantom Rockers, the weak-in-the-knees crooning of the Rattled Roosters, and the dust-bowl beats of the Hyperions.

Better yet, American Rumble will keep you in bobby socks and butch wax without losing sight of the calendar year. In “My Baby Moved,” the Hillbilly Hellcats give the traditional I-lost-my-baby theme a modern-day twist when girlfriend gives up cruisin' not for a boy, but for vegetarian meals in a tie-dye bus. The Immaculate Daughters of Elvis add a bit of irreverence with “Elvis Don't Come Back From the Grave,” while the Boilermakers rail against a sadistic ex who works at the “Pussycat Laundromat.”

Ultimately, though, the kitsch is overshadowed by real talent. L.A.'s Roadhouse Rockers frontman Tony Balbinot (collaborating with S.F. guitarist Tim Ferris) could easily become the next Chris Isaak — if he weren't so damn cool; Georgia's Hillbilly Frankenstein is a quartet (sounds like an octet) fronted by Esta Hill, an angel-voiced gal who gives the greaser lads a run for their money; and Phantom 306 couldn't be any sexier if it were a quartet of James Deans backed by Jerry Lee Lewis. The one true failing of American Rumble is that it doesn't feature any San Francisco bands — now how can that be?

The American Rumble showcase happens Thurs, Dec. 21, at the DNA Lounge in S.F.; call 626-1409.

— Silke Tudor

Lee Perry
Super Ape Inna Jungle

The beauty of dub music lies in its inherent naivetŽ: Even the simple combination of swaths of space echo, low-fi production, and garbled, madcap verses often does the trick. While many dub addicts have embraced this formula to impressive effect, few have reached the state of nirvana Lee “Scratch” Perry inhabits. From his long-standing obsession with Michael Jackson to his psychedelic cover art, the father of dub suffers (enjoys?) a reputation as an oblivious eccentric. The recurring lyric of Super Ape Inna Jungle doesn't help: “I am not a human being/ I am a machine being/ I am not a human being/ I'm a computer being.”

Whether one credits his out-there image to too many bong hits or clever media manipulation, it's obvious that Perry's peculiarities have allowed him a flexibility and longevity that most of his contemporaries could only dream of. His attempts to tackle jungle, the U.K.'s latest techno offshoot, shouldn't raise an eyebrow: It's less an effort to seize a passing trend than to inflict his whacked dub vision on another musical realm. Rather than submit to jungle's typically flawless production, Perry makes the bass-heavy music conform to his crude aesthetic standards. Here, dub and jungle battle in a head-spinning blend of ballistic rhythms, sloppy effects, and Perry's throw-away “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do's.” For remix assistance, Perry brings in unknowns Douggie Digital and Juggler and his peer-in-dementia, Mad Professor. Anyone with the slightest bit of production finesse would have realized that Super Ape is an utter mess, and no one but this master of fortunate accidents could still make it sound compelling.

— Aidin Vaziri

Tales of Brown Dragon

Dieselhed is one of those “wacky” San Francisco bands. You know, prone to bizarre onstage antics, '70s-esque anthems with lots of grandiose instrumental flourishes, and lyrics that are equal parts complicated narrative and pure dada. Mysteriously invoking a hoedown stomp, Dieselhed has a bunch of nutty fans who dance around maniacally and spook bystanders, a spectacle second only to the inevitable groupie floor show. Unsurprisingly, Tales of the Brown Dragon is a good time, and this is why: The maniac sing-along words to “Brown Dragon” remind me of campfire retreats I never went to. And the song opens and closes with what sounds like samples from an early Marx Brothers movie theme. … The downtempo minor-key “M&M” recalls spooky, ghost-town spaghetti-western music. … Whoever's singing “The Wedding Song” sounds like Tom Petty, circa 1983. … Tales should be a concept album, and probably is. … Weirdo reverbed “bonus trax” at the end of the CD. … The Dieselhed formula — quiet instrumental, two-part harmony buildup, big vocal explosion, tactful build-down, rinse and repeat if necessary — stays reasonably fresh through repeated listens. … Cranking up Tales, I burned through an entire sinkful of dishes in 20 minutes flat. There is even the sound of someone washing dishes framing one song. Mere coincidence, or something more? As for my criticisms, well, I've never been much of a groupie, and sometimes the attempted musical epiphanies thud rather than float. But if I weren't drawn to perverted stadium rock and cryptic references, I wouldn't be a Diesel-head in the first place.

Dieselhed plays Sun, Dec. 31, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.
— Josh Wilson

Reggie Workman
Cerebral Caverns
(Postcards Inc.)

With even Young Lions like Joshua Redman begrudgingly accepting the influence of John Coltrane's more difficult music (and Branford Marsalis rendering an eerily disimpassioned account of “A Love Supreme” on a recent benefit CD), one finds an increasing interest in modal music, sheets of sound, Elvin Jones-like polyrhythms, and other approaches that might have struck one as daring circa 1961. And why not? Innovation is bred in bone, and Doc Cheatam and Benny Carter still sound better than good at a combined age approaching 200 years.

Still, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that fuck-you, and one finds oneself wishing for an interiorization of Coltrane's quest, a repetitive nonimitative, pants-kick. Which turns us to former Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman, whose searching solo works sound less like Trane than any of his other former sidemen, and who has been collaborating with a group of “young” players so long that they've entered middle age. And in the case of multireedsman Sam Rivers, then some (he semiretired in Florida a couple of years ago). Particularly in Rivers' flute work, one marvels how the notes can sound so thick and come so quick. Pardon my excitement. Though the CD circulates the sidemen from track to track, and in different arrangements, the sound is remarkably coherent thanks to Workman's catholic philosophy and no overarching pressure to sound “jazz-y.” Meanwhile, Geri Allen finally loosens up and plays the freeist (i.e., most interestingly) that she has in years, and drummers Gerry Hemmingway and Al Foster span the history of the music's traditions (one piece features Tapan Modak's tablas, as well). Workman should set up his own school.

— D. Strauss

Dick Curless
Traveling Through

Maine is better known for horror writers than country singers, but Dick Curless, “The Baron of Country Music,” is a Maine boy who shot to the top of the country charts in 1965 with “Tombstone Every Mile.” The song about an icy stretch of road in the Hainsville Woods eventually became an international hit and a truck-drivin' standard. Curless was also a featured member of the Buck Owens All American Music Show for years, but frequent struggles with alcohol marred his search for stardom. After nearly every hit-supporting tour, it was back to another VA hospital for rest and rehab.

On Traveling Through, a bout with cancer has reduced his voice to an almost ghostly shadow of the deep, window-rattling baritone that could slide up the scale to a brokenhearted yodel when necessary. But it can still capture a sense of naked pain and regret that lifts Curless' performance on this, his final album, recorded a few months before his death last May, to transcendental levels.

Backed by a group of young pickers who embroider each tune with crisp, subtle licks, Curless takes us for a last, lonesome walk down life's blue highways. The tunes are divided between country blues and spirituals, which Curless delivers in a brittle, understated whisper that only magnifies their fatalism. The set closes with “I Don't Have a Memory Without Her” and “Since I Met You Jesus,” two swan songs that give us a bittersweet glimpse of the old Curless. As his voice dips down to the bottom of his register only to soar up into a tear-choked wail, the ache in his soul is contagious.

— j. poet

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