Local Record Reviews 

Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre, The Family Ghost, and Jim Mize

Local country/punk/speed-metal rockers Joecephus and the George Jonestown Massacre have long treaded the thin line between parody/homage and originality in the band's relatively short but prolific career, which has yielded four full-length studio albums, as well as a slew of smaller releases. But despite a somewhat contentious relationship with certain sects of the local music scene, the band has built a solid fanbase on the strength of nearly constant touring and the relentless effort of founder/frontman Joey "Joecephus" Killingsworth.

On Arockalypse Now, the band succeeds the most when it sticks to fast and furious punk rock, as on the fierce early-album tracks "Getaway," "LoveSong 666," and "Tomorrow." But as the record unfolds, it reveals a group with a scattered identity — between all the frequent musical detours into reggae, outlaw country, grunge, and power ballad territory, I'm just not sure what to think. One thing I know for sure is that I'll never smoke enough weed to get through "Dope Smokin' Song" without wondering if legalization is really such a good idea after all. — J.D. Reager

Grade: C

Memphis is a city short on indie rock groups like the Family Ghost. Whereas many new underground bands in town tend to hone in on a ragged blues and/or garage-rock influences, the Family Ghost has established itself as, arguably and if nothing else, the most fiercely unclassifiable post-punk band in Memphis.

And, without a doubt, there are moments when the Family Ghost absolutely kill on Artifact 2012: The disco-punk "Like Clockwork" is a clear highlight, as is the psychedelic spoken-word offering "Fall Behind." But then there are times when the band makes you wait for it a bit too long. I'm sorry, but in my book, 04:45 into a song is too late to start singing — as is the case with the EP's unfortunately dull opener, "Intro/A Series of False Starts." — JDR

Grade: B-

Originally released in 2001 on the Oxford-based independent Stump Grinder Records, Big Legal Mess (a subsidiary of the powerhouse Oxford semi-major label Fat Possum) re-issued this debut album from Conway, Arkansas, singer-songwriter Jim Mize earlier this year. And thank God for it, because — with all due respect to more polished bands of the genre like Wilco and the Old 97s — this collection of songs holds up over a decade later as not only Mize's best work but one of the finer alt-country/Americana albums in recent memory.

Upon listening, the first thing that stands out about No Tell Motel is Mize's gravelly, Springsteenish voice, which always seems to be straining to hit the next note (in the best possible way). One almost gets the feeling of being yelled at first, because Mize really pushes himself vocally even when the tempo slows down. But after a while the roughness of his delivery becomes a comfort, and it reveals the passion and emotion with which the record was written. The backing musicians on No Tell Motel, which includes Blue Mountain members Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt as well as R.L. Burnside guitarist Kenny Brown, are just as on point and elevate the album even further.

Highlights include the opening track, "Emily Smiles," which has a pop hook powerful enough to stand up to Mize's growl, the organ-based ballad "Let's Go Running," and the honky-tonk rocker "Mary Kenworth," but those are just the tip of the iceberg. No Tell Motel is worth spending some time with, if you haven't already. — JDR

Grade: A


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