Texas Cannonballs

cannonballs

Texas Cannonballs

Texas Cannonballs

Rock ’n’ Roll Saves Production, 2013

texascannonballs.blogspot.com

To order CDs, contact danherbert40@me.com

Unite Hector Watt, a veteran of Austin’s Solid Senders, the band that perhaps sounded the most like the Fabulous Thunderbirds that was not the Fabulous Thunderbirds; Chris Ruest, who has been quietly building a reputation as one of the toughest blues guitar players on either side of the Atlantic; and the truly legendary Preston Hubbard, whose résumé includes Roomful of Blues, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Nick Curran’s Nite Lifes, Los Carnales, and many other projects elevated by his low frequency work; and you have the core of Texas Cannonballs. Despite possessing the makings of a top-flight blues outfit, and although they share their name with a well-known, late-period album by Freddie King, the Cannonballs’ new project is cut from a pattern of dangerous rock ‘n’ roll.

The riddle at first seems insoluble. Why would three players of such esteem turn away from the blues? To Watt, who shares guitar and vocal duties with Ruest, the answer is a simple desire to change things up a bit. “A 100 percent blues album was out of the question. It’s been done over and over, time and time before,” he told Ellie Rumbold of forfolkssake.com. And while a blues recording from these musicians could hardly have disappointed, we can be grateful for the Cannonballs’ decision to move in another direction. Their self-titled début delivers thirteen songs that emerge hard-edged from the speakers, glinting like switchblades under streetlamps.

With the exception of the two numbers by Jerry McCain–an unhinged, Cramps-worthy take on “I Want Somebody To Love” that ups the ante on the original, and a blistering “Geronimo Rock”–that set the table for the rest of the set, Ruest and Watt split the songwriting more or less equally. The album opens with Watt’s “Fly Away,” a swampy track with a loping, soulful groove, and stinging lead guitars. His “Hard Way,” an infectious, bouncing roots-rocker co-written with Lou Ann Barton, feels rowdy as a lost McCain tune and recalls the Stones at their Chuck Berry-inspired best. Along the same lines is “Me and the Devil,” a swaggering number enhanced by Temple Ray’s backing vocals. “Texas Tumbleweed” features prominent slide guitars straight out of Mick Taylor-era Stones (“All Down The Line”), and sounds like something Doug Sahm might have cooked up with one of Alejandro Escovedo’s old bands (Rank and File or True Believers, take your pick). “King of the Jungle” rides a chunky, push-pull rhythm, very vaguely reminiscent of “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” and has a great lyric; I can’t decide whether the guitars or the vocal have more snap and snarl. Also snarling is the ominous “King of the Blues,” an oily, garage blues worthy of Iggy and the Stooges. The prisoner’s lament “Dreaming” closes out the program with a quiet, acoustic arrangement that blends Stones-y country elements with notes of Johnny Thunders’s occasional ballads.

Ruest proves to be no slouch in the Stones department, with his amazing “One Slip” showing off some of the chunkiest Keith-inspired riffs on record. He also contributes “Blew My Head,” a slinky, riff-based rocker à la the T-Birds’ “Powerful Stuff,” but with a distinctly darker mood. Just as complex is “Nobody Cares About Me,” a chugging, R&B-inflected rocker, downshifts into a minor key, complete with spooky, raked chords, for the choruses. His “I Was Wrong,” another minor number, is the closest thing to a pure blues among the original compositions. Its feel shifts dramatically from stop-time verses to a shuffle feel during the choruses and the dynamic solo break. Neither of these songs would sound out of place on a record by the mighty Paladins.

I have dropped a lot of names during the course of this recap, solely in the interest of providing some kind of frame of reference–signposts marking the general territories in which Texas Cannonballs work. The Cannonballs have in fact made something quite original of familiar materials. Think of the Flamin’ Groovies jamming with Omar and the Howlers, and you might come close to the soundscape they have created. It is raw yet sleek, with an underlying sense of menace and drive rarely heard since Exile On Main Street, and unrelentingly cool.

TOM HYSLOP

The CD for this review was kindly provided by the band’s management.

(Note: Jim Starboard drummed on the CD; the band’s Facebook page indicates Hugo Devier is the regular drummer. Also, the printed CD cover lists the first four tracks incorrectly. #4 and #1 are reversed, as are #2 and #3.)

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The One and Only Nick Curran • 1977-2012

It is 6 October, one year since we lost Nick Curran, unquestionably one of the greatest of all time. In his memory, I present a couple of songs I recorded when Nick was touring with his band The Nite Lifes (Preston Hubbard and Damien Llanes). Enjoy!

True Love is Hard to Find – 2004-03-28, Appleton, WI: https://www.dropbox.com/s/a5343mjvov6ayn1/1-10%20True%20Love%20Is%20Hard%20To%20Find.mp3?dl=0

Midnight – 2004-06-29, Madison, WI:  https://www.dropbox.com/s/7cbvs8thxlmskda/2-05%20Midnight.mp3?dl=0

This one is from the last show I saw Nick play, this time with the all-star rock group Sorrow Jets. Here is Nick’s take on a Johnny Thunders classic (note my t-shirt in the photo below) .

Pirate Love – 2011-03-07, Green Bay, WI: https://www.dropbox.com/s/4pn0wocj7cvyjcp/10%20Pirate%20Love.mp3?dl=0

Keep Nick’s memory alive with T-shirts and patches available from Antone’s Record Shop – details here: https://rockmrtom.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/nick-curran-benefit-merchandise/

Nick Curran: Never forgotten!with nick

The SniFFs – Barrio Element

Barrio Element

The SniFFs

Barrio Element

2013

http://www.reverbnation.com/thesniffs

Austin’s The SniFFs belong with those of us who enjoy nearly every sort of music, so long as it’s good. They describe their sound as “a little Dallas smut, a dash of swamp air, and a mojo hand”; a vodka martini made with whiskey in a crankcase, stirred with Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders; and, less metaphorically, as inspired by ’70s rock, avant-garde pop, and low-down blues/R&B. Pretty close to the truth on all counts, I’d say. On their nine-song début Barrio Element, a bracing and fast-paced set that will find you pressing the Repeat button, the SniFFs–Mike Parent (guitar and vocals), Rafa Ibarra II (bass), and THE Nick Curran (percussion, occasional guitar, and production), with drums on this project by Charlie Jones–divide their attention between punk-inflected rave-ups and grimy, working-class rockers, delivered with palpable energy, attitude, and melody.

“Gaston Ave. Street Habit” has a post-punk-circa-1980 edge. Denny Freeman’s electric piano adds bit of Stooges flavor to an arrangement dominated by jackhammer drumming and Parent’s slide guitar. It may be more the tonal quality of Parent’s voice than any glam or punk sound inherent in the song, but “Surveil” for some reason strikes me as Bowie-esque, or like something out of the Generation X songbook, though it’s closer to something The Clash might have written at some point later in their evolution. “Scraps Of Town” fits in this sonic grouping as well, with brutal rhythm guitar as metallic as vintage Gang of Four, and skanky, semi-funk breakdowns and a wild, extended outro guitar solo, both of which could have been inspired by either Talking Heads or Richard Hell’s Voidoids.

A few outliers spice up the playlist immeasurably. The Latin-tinged “Ray Rey” shares a groove, vaguely, with The Champs’ “Tequila,” but would be very much at home on a Cramps or Johnny Thunders album (or possibly even an old ZZ Top record: that’s some dirty lead guitar!). Parent’s vocal is outstanding. “Chainsaws ‘n’ Psycho Swamps” is a rockabilly/trash madman: “Mystery Train” crossed with “Surfin’ Bird.” The hidden track at the end of the disc is a completely reimagined “Wicked Game,” its tempo bumped up significantly, and the moody sultriness of Chris Isaak’s original version transformed into pure power pop with a punk edge, à la Buzzcocks.

Closer to the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, “82” is a perfect little mid-tempo tune from somewhere out of time, loaded with Stones-y swagger and choice lines like “there’s a poster of Sheena Easton and it looks like you/Back in ’82.” The lead guitar’s gritty fills and melodic solo demonstrate Curran’s previously unrecorded familiarity with both Keith’s Chuck Berry-isms and Ronnie’s faux pedal steel bends (“Beast Of Burden,” anyone?). “Waiting For The Law” fits into the same rootsy category, with a yearning vocal and catchy shifts in dynamics. “Phone Booth” has more country-fried guitar, overlaid on a galloping, highly melodic framework reminiscent of Marshall Crenshaw’s perfect pop songs. I’m reminded, too, of Alejandro Escovedo’s work during his Rank And File period. That’s good stuff indeed. “Just gimme some fiction/I don’t wanna hear about no real life” is such a wonderful rock ‘n’ roll line, it’s a wonder no one sang it until now.

The AE reference makes a lot of sense, given the breadth of his musical interests, many of which are shared by The SniFFs: pure rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock, roots rock, and solid pop songwriting. If you dig any or all of those styles, or if you trust that anything Nick Curran took part in is worth hearing, you ought to be checking out Barrio Element.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this CD from Antone’s Record Shop, online:

http://antonesrecordshop.com/content/search.php?name=snIFFs