Bongwater-Double Bummer

February 8, 2012

Bongwater

Double Bummer (Shimmy Disc 1988)

Disc One: http://www.mediafire.com/?o1wtzui2jj1

Disc Two: http://www.mediafire.com/?yyymyjzongu

Sprawling in every postive and negative sense of the word, Bongwater’s Double Bummer embraces excess and melodrama at each and every opportunity. If whittled down to a single album instead of a double LP with a later EP tacked onto it, Double Bummer would be hailed as an eccentric masterpiece instead of a nearly forgotten footnote in the unheralded Shimmy Disc catalog. It’s a symbol of all that was right and wrong with a label that seemingly operated in a cloud of marijuana smoke and never met an oddball it wouldn’t sign. For every stroke of genius like the Boredoms’ Soul Discharge, Ween’s The Pod, Damon and Naomi’s More Sad Hits and Shockabilly record, they released streams of utter shit like King Missle, the Tinklers and Captain Howdy. However, this erratic behavior and dalliances with questionable taste is what made Shimmy Disc and Bongwater so charismatic and intriguing to me during the early 90s.

Bongwater centered around the unlikely duo of Mark Kramer, who played with Shockabilly and Gong and produced Galaxie 500, Low and Half Japanese albums, and Ann Magnuson, a performance artist, singer and actress in such films as Desperately Seeking Susan. The partnerships was especially fruitful at first since Kramer’s drugged sound collages, love of drugged ambiance and knack for whacked guitar meanderings gelled perfectly with Magnuson’s quirky monologues about David Bowie and Iranian country clubs and gorgeous covers of Johnny Cash’s “There You Go” and Mike Nesmith “Just May Be the One” and Roky Erickson’s “You Don’t Love Me Yet.”  The album is a document of two kindred spirits going bonkers in the studio as they attempt to string together such disparate elements as a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” sung in Chinese with slow-motion psychedelic balladry like “Jimmy” where Magnuson channels Grace Slick and absolutely own every single note and becomes larger than life. Not surprising, since Magnuson is a mammoth presence here and effortlessly sheds one persona for another on each song and imbues the album with a theatrical, larger than life aura that propels Double Bummer beyond the stoned, unfocused mish-mash it should have been. Her powerful presence just makes Kramer’s tape loops and sluggish, hallucinogenic instrumentation work as a counterpoint to her fiercely melodramatic turns in the spotlight.

Double Bummer was the apex of their short-lived career because it allowed both members to let their freak flag fly simultaneously where later albums were a tug of war to see which member got the last laugh. Later albums saw Magnuson drink too much of her own Kool-Aid and shift the emphasis onto her increasingly slick, narcissistic  and indulgent point of view while Kramer’s welcome walks on the weird side became less and less prominent. They shaved away all of the lumps, misshapen bits and warts from the surface and the end result sucked the magic from their core. It’s a shame since Double Bummer isn’t quite like anything else I’ve ever heard. Any album that finds a common strain via covers of Gary Glitter, the Beatles, the Fugs, Roky Erickson, Mike Nesmith and Led Zeppelin amidst an eccentric fog of absurd monologues, gorgeous, slow burning guitar solos and an embrace of left-wing politics is alright with me until the day I die.

Marc Ribot-Saints

August 23, 2008

Marc Ribot

Saints (Atlantic 2001)

http://www.mediafire.com/?s5uawdkaipt

As a bored and lonely teenager, I tended to search for any free or all-ages concerts to fill in the many blanks in my life. There was a series of free concerts at Penns Landing in Philadelphia where I got to see Billy Bragg and Roger Mcguinn as well as lesser lights like Suddenly Tammy. I had never heard of T-Bone Burnett since this was before his work with the Coen Brothers on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. However, the concert was free and my dance card was empty, so what the hell. To be honest, Burnett was kind of a drag, but his guitarist had so much charisma and his playing was electrifying and eye-opening to my young soul. His name was Marc Ribot and I did some research and found that he played on one of my favorite albums, Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs. From that moment, I decided that I would always keep an eye out for any record on which he played.

Sadly, my obsession was never fully rewarded as he hadn’t released any solo records at that point. A few years later, I shelled out a bunch of money for Shrek, a Japanese import on John Zorn’s Avant label, and was kind of disappointed. I plowed through Yo! I Killed Your God and Shoe String Symphonettes and I appreciated and enjoyed some of it, but they didn’t inspire me like those life-affirming moments of his live performance. His work was challenging, but it didn’t speak to me. I put my fascination with Ribot on the back burner and this hiatus lasted for many years until I encountered his Saints album in 2001.

Maybe it is due to the fact that most of the album consists of covers of Albert Ayler, the Beatles, Stephen Sondheim, John Lurie and John Zorn, but Saints was an entirely different beast than anything else I had heard him play. Maybe it is because Ribot is the only ingredient here. It is just a brilliant guitarist paying tribute to his favorite compositions while reinventing them in a new light. Saints is such an intimate listen and he creates a noirish atmosphere that is so minimal and moody. In fact, it is one of the few solo guitar records where I really feel every note that the musician is playing. I want to hear every twist and turn he takes with the source material. To be honest, it’s kind of a sensual record to me because he takes his sweet time mining every ounce of emotion from each composition. I love Albert Ayler and his versions of “Saints” and “Witches and Devils” outdo the master as Ribot replaces the fire of the originals with some meditative, expansive shit. I always say this, but I am shocked that more folks haven’t embraced Saints because it is such an evocative piece of work. The man even takes “Happiness is a Warm Gun” into some languorous, meditative place that Lennon and McCartney never intended. Definitely one of the best instrumental albums of the past decade and possibly one of the first records I reach for when I want to zone out and ponder life.