Originally released in 1994 and now rereleased with many tracks rerecorded, Triple 6 Mafia Presents DJ Paul Underground Vol. 16 For Da Summa (Hypnotize Minds; Grade: C) is a bit of old-school, street-level product from an outfit that may be in a precarious commercial position, given Gangsta Boo's exit and Project Pat's incarceration, but is still arguably the city's most dominant musical force. From the use of the original "Triple 6" moniker to the liner notes' photo spread of a young Paul wielding various firearms, DJ Paul Underground hearkens back to the era before the group toned down their sensationalistic content and broke out commercially. But, given the diminishing success of so-called gangsta rap nationwide and the city's recent gunplay tragedies, is this really what Memphis wants to hear right now? Or, with the reports of violent crime on the rise again, is this style of hardcore due for a comeback?
This DJ Paul showcase features vocal assistance from regulars such as Lord Infamous, Project Pat, La Chat, and Crunchy Blac along with newcomer "gun-wavin', misbehavin'" Frayser Boy. Much of the record is a mundane paean to typical Three 6 vices: "Glock In My Draws" is menacingly violent; on "Beatin' These Hoes Down," Lord Infamous proves what a big shot he is by kicking a woman so hard he has to pick her skin off his boots and pushing her head into a wall until "you hear that crackin' sound"; and then there are drug songs like "Where Is Da Bud Part II" and "Twist It, Hit It, Lite It," which aren't at all troubling, just laid-back to a fault.
But amid the standard Three 6 generics, there is some true weirdness that may save the record for nonfans. The heavily pornographic "Still Gettin' My Dick Suck" is pretty offensive but also completely bizarre, Paul chanting the title over a vintage soul sample in which a singer sweetly croons "Been waiting for you all my liii-fe." Other unexpected highlights include an early Prince sample that breaks the monotony of "DJ Paul" a full 3 minutes in and the intentional comedy of Paul "sittin' back watchin' R. Kelly's tape" on the song "King of Kings."
A homemade project recently given proper release by Italy's Hate Records, the Lost Sounds' Outtakes and Demos (Grade: B+) should be available at indie record shops in town and can be had at an unofficial record-release show with Bay Area band Erase Errata on July 14th at the Hi-Tone Café. This collection of extras and early takes from 1999-2001 is certainly not the place to start for one of Memphis' most exciting bands --last year's Black-Wave is a better bet -- but it's still an often-compelling listen on its own terms. The titles tell the story on this assemblage of guitar-and-keyboard-driven screamfests led by dual frontpeople Jay Reatard and Alicja Trout, with the likes of "I Don't Count," "Do You Wanna Kill," and (a personal fave) "Going Home Alone Tonight" conveying the dark, tense tone of the music. An epic, incendiary early take on the Black-Wave standout "1620 Echles St." might be the most powerful track here, with the well-titled new cut "Total Destruction" (which can also be found on Fields and Streams, a new double-disc compilation from the Olympia indie Kill Rock Stars) a close runner-up. The tinkly, wearisome instrumental "Sonic Mathematics" brings up the rear.
If little here displays the fullness and confidence of Black-Wave, that's only to be expected --these are outtakes and demos for a reason. These tracks are rougher than the band's regular releases, which are, in and of themselves, already maybe too raw for most ears. But Black-Wave has grown on me so much over the year since its release that I probably listen to it more now than any other local record from the last couple of years. Perhaps Outtakes and Demos will also reveal hidden pleasures over time.
Okay, so it isn't exactly music, but Just Farr a Laugh: The Greatest Prank Phone Calls Ever! (Failed Pilot; Grade: B) is certainly a more entertaining listen than most local discs. Created by a couple of locals working under the pseudonyms Jude Carmona and Sheraton Giles Palermo, many of these 33 calls are funnier in concept than in execution, mostly due to a lack of interesting participation from the victims. Celebrity calls are generally the weakest of the bunch (especially a couple of grating ones pretending to be Morris Day), though one of the real highlights falls into the category "Christopher Fucking Cross." On that call, Carmona and Palermo pose as the soft-rock superstar and his personal assistant and call Sun Studio to set up an after-hours tour despite the studio's having booked a recording session. The good folks at Sun are polite to a point but take no guff: "We get calls like this all the time, man. You'd have to be John Lennon for me to say yes."
The pair also have great fun with the city's blues scene, calling one Beale Street bar to try and set up a gig for a "Quiet Storm" band called Bedroom ETA and torturing one poor chap who's put a want ad for his blues band in these pages. First, they call as "Barbara," a transplant from San Diego who loves Bonnie Raitt's "stanky old dog" voice and just wants to "make asses shake." Then they call back as Barbara's ex-husband, apologizing for prescription-drug-driven issues. Ten minutes later, you wonder, Why is this guy still on the phone? But the recurring hero of this disc is "Bleachy," a 4'10", 250-pound Big Buford addict who harasses a series of establishments, including T.G.I. Friday's, a Rally's (of course), and, most hilariously, an Army recruiting station (pre-9/11), where Bleachy gets put on a speaker phone and berated by a commanding officer.
Hearkening back to the early days on Beale when outfits like Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers and the Memphis Jug Band produced some of the most exciting music of that era or any other, The Bluff City Backsliders (Yellow Dog Records; Grade: B+) is a bit of an anomaly on the current Memphis blues scene. The Backsliders are an old-fashioned jug band, even if they don't actually use a jug. The eight-piece band melds drums, a couple of guitars, upright bass, piano, banjo, trombone, mandolin, and, occasionally, other instruments into a rootsy acoustic brew that evokes the city's sweet, lazy, jazzy past without coming off as a costume novelty band. Individual players stand out -- especially Mark Lemhouse's slide guitar and Adam Woodard's barrelhouse piano --but the earthy, enjoyable mix is the thing as the band works their way through a series of old-weird-America nuggets, including songs from Charley Patton, Howlin' Wolf, W.C. Handy, and Blind Willie McTell ("Let Me Play With Yo' Yo-Yo," in which Jason Freeman's lascivious vocals and Michael Graber's kazoo work some sweet magic).