Jack O. & The Tearjerkers
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)
The Tearjerkers' 2001 release Bad Mood Rising was an imperfect marvel. The disc's first two tracks, "White Lie/Black Eye" and "Stupid Cupid," were classic examples of everything punk rock can and should be: unpretentious, ferocious, and, above all, fun. Four years later, the Tearjerkers have released their second Sympathy for the Record Industry recording, Don't Throw Your Love Away. The new release is never as inspired as Bad Mood Rising, but it's a more consistent and confident recording, and Jack Yarber's voice, which moves back and forth between a Dylanesque rasp and a Waitsian growl, has never sounded better.
"Ain't Got No Money," the first track on Don't Throw Your Love Away, opens with a guitar riff that is searing and relentless -- a jam the MC5 might have kicked out if they'd stayed together into the hair-metal '80s. It's followed by "Still Got It Bad for You," a fantastic "Positively Fourth Street"-esque ode to lost love, messy lives, and untunable guitars. By track three, Yarber & Co. are goofing (brilliantly) on "Black Water"-era Doobie Brothers.
Don't Throw Your Love Away is a hodgepodge of sounds and styles -- punk, country, and blues, with regular hat tips to Dylan, the Stones, Iggy Pop, Screaming Jay Hawkins, and (oddly enough) Warren Zevon. The disc's true standout track is "Dope Sniffing Dog," a monster rocker co-written by Yarber and former Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathus. It comes on like a particularly memorable episode of Cops.
More than any recording in recent memory, Don't Throw Your Love Away defines the Memphis garage-rock aesthetic. It's wonderfully sloppy around the edges, and even the most serious tracks are infused with campy elements that are genuinely funny but never turn the songs into novelties: the police sirens mixed into "Dope Sniffing Dog"; the creepshow organs that punctuate the disc's most soulful moments. Don't Throw Your Love Away may not be as inspired as Bad Mood Rising, but it's a better record and certain to be one of the best local releases of 2005.
Think of Tantamount as an audio chill room: a sonic escape from all the noisy garage rock, nü-metal mayhem, and self-important screamo that's been making the rounds. Tantamount moves in sullen fits of guitar mixed with lush, melancholy keyboards and seasoned with electronic burbles and squeaks. Its gorgeous mix of beats -- real and electronic -- drive the disc's melodies to a gently psychedelic place. If you think Shabadoo sounds like no other band to slither out of Memphis, you're absolutely correct.
Shabadoo started out as a one-man band fronted, backed, and centered by Joey Pegram, who made his Memphis debut as the drummer for hippie-punks 611. Pegram also drummed for the Bumnotes, Professor Elixir's Southern Troubadours, and short-lived noise-punks Apocalax. He was a guitar slinger and co-vocalist for the Joint Chiefs until they stripped down to a power trio, and he still plays drums and sings backup for Walkie Talkie. But none of the boisterous music Pegram has made in public compares to the simple and simply wonderful collections of tunes he crafted in private and gave away to friends as Christmas presents. In 2004, Pegram finally drug Shabadoo out of the soft-rock closet.
Tantamount's opening track, "Divisible," an airy, mournful song about letting go of your illusions, floats out of the speakers on an electric cloud of new-age-ish guitars. Lyrically, it's weaker than subsequent tracks, but musically it's a real ear-opener.
Intentionally or not, Pegram's songs are a fine example of how the deeply personal can also be fiercely political. Consider the line "Get up it's time we're on our way/All the wolves are counting sheep" from "Wakey, Wakey!" and "[It was] a brave assault, too bad you missed them all" from "No Duh." The songs are built around domestic themes, but in an age of preemptive warfare they sound downright radical.
Tantamount isn't a rocker by anybody's standards. It's custom-built for "after the rocking," when your head is buzzing, your ears are still ringing, and you're feeling a little lost. ·