Virgil Caine

May 12, 2012

Virgil Caine

s/t (Fulcrum 1971)

http://www.mediafire.com/?bp5l6qqjn81xtj8

Most music junkies eventually fall into the trap of unjustly glorifying obscurity for the sake of diving headlong into something new to them.  It’s understandable since the internet has made it all too easy to paint oneself into a corner when downpours of discographies rain down upon the eager like manna from heaven. I come from the last gasps of a time when neglected classics were unattainable unless you had the good fortune to have an elder sage to take you by the hand and make cassette copies or burn a cd and pay it forward to the next generation. Thankfully, my social circles were populated by a few of these altruistic punks, hippies and burnouts and my eyes were opened to artists like Skip Spence, Ted Lucas and Michael Hurley that expanded my horizons beyond the indie rock cul de sac I inhabited. As I obsessively dug deeper and deeper into the cavalcade of wounded souls that recorded in the 60s and 70s, I found myself falling into the aforementioned trap of blindly embracing the obscure and viewed too many flawed albums through rose-colored glasses. I guess I became so addicted to the initial rush one gets when an album immediately embraces you and shakes your hand like an old friend at first listen. I just wanted all of them to be my companion and spent too much time justifying their faults.

However, I recently discovered Virgil Caine’s s/t debut and it sparked the same sense of awe and familiarity that the aforementioned artists once inspired in me and reminded me why music encompasses so much of my life. It is one of those small, but transcendent moments in life when you stumble upon such greatness and realize that you haven’t heard a damn word about in it’s forty year existence and it was just lying around unloved for so long until now.

There is no one named Virgil Caine in this trio. The name is borrowed from the protagonist in The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” which is fitting since their music is indebted to Dylan and The Band and sometimes reminds me a bit of a loopy, southern gothic cousin to The Velvet Underground’s minus all the pretensions. Honestly, drain all the bombast and grandeur from all three, mix it up in a pot and it kind of sounds like Virgil Caine.

What makes Virgil Caine more than a likable footnote in the annals of 70s folk and private press oddities is the Appalachian drawl and literary knack of guitarist and vocalist Roger Mannon who paints  a southern tableau populated with swamp witches, environmental destruction, small towns where everyone is welcome at the dinner table and mischievous barn cats who raise havoc to a Vaudeville soundtrack.  It’s an absurdist slice of the south depicted in the most endearing way possible as Mannon pays tribute to an America where pagans hide in the shadows and organized religion demands blind allegiance. Yet, Mannon romanticizes the concept of genteel southern hospitality and its genial smile as many of his songs glorify the humility and helping hands that drive the small towns that litter the landscape of his songs.

Just listen to the opener “The Great Lunar Oil Strike, 1976” and you gain immediate entry into Mannon’s sincere, yet tongue in cheek lyrical bent. Centered around a sloppily strummed guitar and messier backbeat, it’s a biting and bitterly sardonic commentary on the oil industry that is eerily prescient of what was to come in the future. It might be the first recorded protest against deep sea drilling and exploitation of the American wilderness by big business. It fittingly ends with the coda”You just can’t see the moon at night” as Mannon describes an America that doomed to be subjugated by its industrial master. It’s as timely today as it was in 1971.

However, my favorite song on Virgil Caine is “Swamp Witch” as Mannon cooks up some imaginary southern mythology about a swamp witch who beckons visitors with promises of armadillo meat and a place to lay your weary head in the mire. Mannon speaks of his desire to learn the voodoo arts, but has his mind torn apart and falls under the spell of this enchantress. These spoken word interludes are always broken up by a bewitching chorus celebrating this swap witch until Mannon jumps back in to depict the swamp an elemental force that has the power to literally rend him limb from limb. It all sounds so sinister if you listen to the lyrics, but the vibe of the song is so relaxing and inviting as if it were a song from a siren itself.

Ultimately, Virgil Caine’s one and only album is one of those rare albums that give birth to its own insular universe populated by a cast of paranoid crackpots, broken hearts, kind souls and simple folks who aim for nothing more than doing right thing in a world full of wrong. I revisit it often since each song is like a vignette that I want to obsessively read over and over again and linger upon each syllable and chorus.

 

Befriend magicistragic on facebook if you would like additional music and youtube clips of blues musicians pouring their hearts out in shoddy surroundings.

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

Lick My Decals Off, Baby (Bizarre/Straight 1970)

http://www.mediafire.com/?mnbxzmulmne

Throughout my life, I have chosen small purgatories instead of making wild leaps. Sometimes it just seemed more prudent to ponder before making an action that may directly impact my path in this wooly wilderness. Please do not typecast me as a 99 pound pantywaist since I’ve also acted rashly to both my benefit and detriment in the realms of love, money, profession and mental well-being. Most of these stationary moments have lasted weeks or maybe months, but there is one in particular that lasted an entire year. I had graduated from my Western Pennsylvania college and decided to take a job as a record store manager and see where my long-term relationship would lead this old sap. I spent most of my days listening to Yes and Neil Young and occasionally laid on the floor while soaking in Everybody Knows This is Knowhere or Yessongs as if they were my current gospel. The other manager used to drive around with a mannequin of skeleton in the backseat of his car and pull a string to make it wave during Halloween, but many times it was in July. He also fantasized about jumping into the trash compactor while setting himself ablaze, so it is pretty certain that this purgatory deviated more towards a personal hell instead of a heaven. However, there was a numb calm to these days spent opening albums and listening to them while folks fawned over Princess Di and her sappy anthem.

During these moments of malaise, I was thoroughly embiggened every time that the truck arrived with the latest batch of cut-out cassettes. For every Front 242 disaster and emasculated Iggy Pop disaster, there was my virgin experience with Skip Spence, Hawkwind, United States of America, Flaming Groovies as well as the album highlighted here–Lick My Decals Off, Baby. My only experience with the Captain was in a vague appreciation of Trout mask replica that never went past second base. It was all maneuvering and weaving and bobbing without pathos. I still like it, but Lick My Decals was dense, but there was a melancholy about its songs that became addictive.

Many may disagree, but Lick My Decals is far superior to anything Captain Beefheart ever recorded. It is a close cousin to Trout Mask Replica and some songs fall victim to the chops and noodling of its predecesor, but this one is really touching if you listen to it as much as I have. “One Rose That I Mean” is one of my favorite tracks as it echoes John Fahey and early Leo Kottke, but there is so much hurt in this instrumental. Its meager crescendos seem crippled by the emotion involved in its creation.

For example, “Petrifed Forest” starts off with a kaleidoscope of stuttering riffs, poetic rants and rhythmic acrobatics, but there is a break in the storm and he gets it suddenly turns into a romantic coda and he makes a cryptic claim that he “only wants to rumble through your petrified forest.” It lasts only twenty seconds, but the complexity suddenly becomes a simple plea for a chance at love with someone who isn’t willing to accept his intentions.

I also love the weird eroticism and playfulness at work on this album. On the title track, the old Captain is kind of a love starved soul that devotes his time to “licking you everywhere it’s pink” and to “lick his decals off, baby.” There is more than a perverse tale at work as the Magic Band drives the song along its own peculiar manner. Yes, the the image of Captain Beefheart licking every inch of you may inspire disgust or an idiosyncratic explosion of the sexual kind, but one must admit that his paean to hedonism is quite an image to have lodged in your noggin.

Overall, Lick My Decals Off, Baby is the last we would see of the unhinged and somewhat insane side of the band before they became a bit more polished and bluesy. More importantly, his later songs fail to touch me like Decals, Mirror Man, Safe as Milk and much of Trout Mask Replica. This is his peak, but his slide is infinitely more entertaining than most musicians’ best compositions.

I’ve been pondering the posting of lists. This will be the first in a series of thematic collections relating to floats my boat. Today’s list was inspired by a humid drive into the barren heart of Delaware County where Peter Jefferies’ depressing Electricity album placed me in one of those pensive moods that went perfectly with the blur of chain restaurants dominating my horizons. Therefore, this led to this list of songs that always make me feel like a maudlin chump. Sorry that these are individual tracks, but I broke it up so you may pick and choose. There will probably be a sequel since I gave up at twenty.

1. Skip Spence-“Broken Heart” from the Oar LP

-he sounds broken down before his life even began. There are many worthy choices on this album, but this captures the weight of love gone wrong.

http://www.mediafire.com/?dxntyjgtxyv

2. Beck-“Lost Cause” from the Sea Change Lp

-he has devoted so much time to being the most wiggity-wack Scientologist in the club that you forget how great he can be without the fixins’. A vivid snapshot of regret, lost friendships and the worry that goes along with new beginnings.

http://www.mediafire.com/?2tst2o2jbts

3. Bread-“Look What You’ve Done” from the On the Waters LP

-a soft-rock classic where the protagonist is pitiful and pissed at the same time. Who knew Bread had such issues with passive aggressive behavior?

http://www.mediafire.com/?nfzg1c4gg91

4. Camper Van Beethoven-“All Her Favorite Fruit” from Key Lime Pie LP

-domesticity gone awry.

http://www.mediafire.com/?r69tkztryc2

5. Codeine-“3 Angels” from the Frigid Stars LP

-I could probably pick any of their songs, but this one crushes you more than the others.

http://www.mediafire.com/?3005tccwn42

6. Galaxie 500-When Will You Come Home” from Peel Sessions

http://www.mediafire.com/?mauo9b1cnem

An old chestnut that deals with those times you miss the company of other humans.

7. Gary Stewart-“She’s Acting Single(I’m Drinking Doubles) from The Essential Gary Stewart

http://www.mediafire.com/?dgibufxxzum

-Oh Gary, lemme give you a big old hug. Nevermind, let’s finish the bottle.

8. Gene Clark-“Life’s Greatest Fool” from the No Other Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?39z1yp4mmog

-an exploration of powerlessness, then hope. Actually, this is kind of uplifting in its own way.

9. Go-Betweens-“Dive For Your Memory” from 16 lovers Lane LP

http://www.mediafire.com/?ify3xjmnyyw

-A man willing to do anything to regain the past. Kind of romantic, but tragic.

10. Graham Nash-“Military Madness” from the Songs For Beginners LP

http://www.mediafire.com/?hiyftjm9pdn

-Sad only because its Vietnam era warnings seem relevant again.

11. The Jayhawks-“Take Me With You When You Go” from Hollywood Town Hall

http://www.mediafire.com/?1tcummrzuyd

-I always imagined this to be about Mark Olson’s worries about his wife’s struggle with Multiple Sclerosis.

12. Kristin Hersh-“Beestung” from Hips and Makers Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?pqdg46mvcky

-I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about, but it seems to deal with her struggles with mental illness and her pleas for a lover to assist her.

13. Lisa Gerrard-“Sanvean” from Live in Dusseldorf bootleg.

http://www.mediafire.com/?ndelmnjn9an

-I hope these are the sounds I hear as my life enters its last minutes.

14. The Magick Heads-“Before We Go Under” from Before We Go Under Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?lmy9qzbtgzo

-A song about drowning from a side project of Robert Scott of The Bats.

15. Michael Hurley-“Sweedeedee” from Armchair Boogie(the best album ever made)

http://www.mediafire.com/?axmtoxymmuc

-another tale of lost love and the attempts to regain it.

16. Mickey Newbury-“The Future’s Not What It Used To Be” from ‘Frisco Mabel Joy

http://www.mediafire.com/?lxmd2y1ddij

-a man discovers that travel and booze won’t solve his problems. Go figure.

17. Peter Jefferies-“Scattered Logic” from the Electricity lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?el1jtm1ej3n

– my favorite song at the moment. A heart-wrenching three minutes.

18. John Cale-“I Keep a Close Watch on My Heart at Night” from Music for a New Society

http://www.mediafire.com/?nxtwsbscisl

-somebody not only broke this dude’s heart, but squashed it into a pulp.

19. Peter Hammill-“Been Alone So Long” from the Nadir’s Big Chance Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?semmnz2ejsd

-This is a close second to the John Cale song in terms of crushing hopelessness. A song about a man who has been isolated so long that he’s forgotten how to relate to humanity.

20. Marc Ribot-“Saints” from the Saints Lp

http://www.mediafire.com/?qbadnytjjdx

-let’s end on a wordless note. His cover of Albert Ayler’s “Saints” is a dark, moody end to this self-indulgence.

Mantler – Sadisfaction

June 19, 2008

Mantler

Sadisfaction (Tomlab 2002)

http://www.mediafire.com/?44kt44de9gz

I’ve always felt that the German Tomlab label doesn’t get the attention it deserves. From the lush glitches of Tujiko Noriko and The Books to the ambient ear candy of Sack and Blumm and Rafael Toral, it boasts more hits than misses. However, the label’s best, yet criminally unheard album is by Canadian Chris Cummings otherwise known as Mantler. If this album was released in the 70s, collectors would hail him as an eccentric loner akin to Skip Spence’s Oar or John Phillips’ Wolf King of LA. Now, it is a few steps below those in quality, but Sadisfaction exists in its own idiosyncratic universe.

On the surface, Sadisfaction is a gloomy, plodding electronic pop album with lots of retro keyboards, but Cummings’ lyrics must document a personal breakdown of some sort. For example, “I’ve Been Destroyed” features a creepy slowed down loop of him singing “I’ve been destroyed and broken down” as he testifies about how he is a masochistic cliche for allowing others to get close to him. The opener “You Were Free” deals with the crushing sadness he feels as he wakes up alone and goes on tear himself up over his tendency to think instead of act. Yeah, it all sounds like a page torn from a teenage diary, but his robotic take on Kraftwerkian soul hearkens back to the the 70s psychedelic soul balladry and Fender Rhodes work on Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone and Frederick Knight’s sadder tunes. However, it is much nerdier and asexual. I guess that is why he has been rejected so much that he has created an album like this. He even reminds me of a sane Gary Wilson on a few times. God, I maybe talking this album up too much because I can see how you may download this and be unimpressed and wonder why I ever described this as robotic soul. Me, I love every narcissistic, paranoid, insecure second.