Turn up that Noise

An eclectic survey of recent recordings.

Stephen Grimstead, Editor

Andy Tanas, Memphis Boy vs. The 8-Track From Hell


With the release of his impressive homemade demo tape, multifaceted Andy Tanas (he plays or programs almost every sound on the demo) emerges from the analog 8-track cassette beast's lair victorious, having tamed the monster skillfully.

Actually, Tanas isn't exactly new to the methods of handling and creating music. Not long after graduating from high school in the '70s, he left Memphis to work live sound on the road for assorted bands (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker, others), later playing for awhile with the Shawn Lane-era Black Oak Arkansas and Swiss hard-rockers Krokus. After a period of hanging and gigging in L.A., he moved back to Memphis in 1993. Since that time he's been writing original country rock tunes at his home in Bartlett (juggling these interests with the mandatory day job, of course).

Memphis Boy puts a new wrinkle or two on country rock's haggard face, due greatly to Tanas' strong lyrics and impassioned, unique vocal delivery. A natural way with melody completes the package, as the Cajun-infused stomper "Just Another Heartache" demonstrates (fiddle player John Albertson tosses the cayenne into the gumbo here). "Typical Male" is a virtual signed-and-notarized confession of guilt, in which the song's character gleefully owns up to his tomcatting ways. Compositionally, "Choosing A Lover" is perhaps the boldest tune on the tape, with Tanas departing somewhat from the commerce-friendly structure of Memphis Boy's other songs. This one addresses the weird, desperate, rather sad process by which strangers in our world attempt to get together for a little casual sex, and Tanas' singing nearly goes over the top, throwing the emotion meter just a bit into the red (if I can say that without coming off like a trout on ice). As is often the case on his demo, simplicity serves him well on the moving "Crying Angel," a bullseye-of-a-song about young lovers and the healing power of nocturnal car rides down Dixie backroads -- you can almost smell the night.

Andy Tanas seems to harbor an abiding respect for the storytelling tradition, and he's an able practitioner of that style of songwriting.

I know how hard it is to produce decent sonics on equipment like the units Tanas is presently using -- I congratulate him on his achievement. I'm sure he worked long and hard on this tape (which is available at several record stores around town), and I think he can wear his (home) studio tan proudly. -- Stephen Grimstead

(Note to the great unsigned masses: Whether you record in a pro studio or at home, if you live in or near Memphis and you're marketing your music without the benefit of association with a record label, we want to hear your stuff. Send your self-released CD, tape, or vinyl, along with a black-and-white photo of the band/artist and some written info to: The Memphis Flyer, 460 Tennessee Street, Memphis, TN 38103. On the bottom left-hand side of the envelope write the words "unsigned music." From time to time we will devote the review column to these recordings, although merely getting your music to us does not guarantee a review. -- S.G.)

Wayne Horvitz & Zony Mash, Cold Spell (Knitting Factory Works)

ONE MANHATTAN CLUB HAS BEcome inextricably associated with a wildly varied, yet oddly cohesive collection of experimentally inclined players and composers -- a revolving crowd of artists sometimes known as "downtown" musicians, or, more often these days, "Knitting Factory" bands.

In the future, people will speak of today's trenchant Knitting Factory scene with the sort of language reserved for reference to thoroughly established musicological categories like "psychedelia," "punk," or "bebop." But for now, it's our good fortune to observe the phenomenon as it evolves in real time, and few are more firmly located in the thick of it than Wayne Horvitz (who, incidentally, was the first artist to perform at the Knitting Factory in the late '80s). Having involved himself through the years with numerous musicians and projects -- perhaps most notably Naked City, with sax titan John Zorn -- Horvitz and his new band Zony Mash have now released Cold Spell , a first-rate CD of avant-funk/acid jazz/cocktail/rock, for the club's Knitting Factory Works label.

Horvitz's classic Hammond B-3 tones juxtapose effectively with the record's not-so-classic tunes -- 11 waifs ranging in style from something resembling straight-ahead jazz to exotica to Booker T-ish soulfunk to cheerful, unabashed goofiness. The straightforward, dry production puts you right in the room with the stripped-down combo of drums, bass, guitar, and organ.

Crazy, inventive, contagious -- well-prepared food for thought and a dance party for the butt. -- S.G.

(Catch Horvitz at Barristers on April 19th.)

Tarnation, Mirador (Reprise)

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, THE members of this San Francisco-based band must have spent at least some of their formative years listening closely to the soundtrack of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. But somewhere along the way they must also have picked up on the Shirelles and surf music, because their third release is a quirky but very listenable jumble of all these musical trajectories.

Mirador, to my ears, could easily be subtitled The Shangri-Las Sing High Lonesome, although there's only one female vocalist featured here. Paula Frazer, Tarnation's founder and singer-songwriter, has a voice that possesses the wonderful lilt and brassiness found in the best of the '60s girl groups. Marrying her vocals with the spaghetti-western ambience of this release makes for some unforgettable listening.

On the best track, "There's Someone," Hammond organ and "Secret Agent Man" riffs mix it up with prairie yodels, while the ballad "Destiny" features Spanish trimmings and Frazer's heartbreaking Connie Francis swoon. The rolling acoustic "Is She Lonesome Now" offers some Jimmie Dale Gilmore-style harmonies -- melancholy stuff -- while the stately instrumental "Idly" is drenched with organ and cathedral-chime guitar work. Spoons that mimic the clickety-clack of a passing train, eerie band saws, and guitars that masquerade as train whistles are just a few of the unique sounds that appear. However, a few experimental touches do fall flat, as on the grating number "Christine," which sounds like a Marty Robbins 45 that's been left out in the sun too long and then played at 33 rpm.

Lyrically, too, Tarnation is fairly undistinguished, but all is forgiven in the light of such pop jewels as "Little Black Egg," which feels like a record that Buddy Holly might have cut with Ronnie Spector. Add to this the wonderful Watusi western atmosphere that pervades the whole album, and Mirador is not to be missed. -- Lisa Lumb

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