Hi Alerts. Conjure Time. Twenty Stone Blatt Records

Let’s take a trip…………………….to Sunset Strip, to fuzzed out guitar, to wild and wailing harmonica, to beauty and beast boy/girl singing. Conjure up Sky Saxon or Kim Fowley subverting the peace and love vibes of the blissed out California sixties with their mondo wackiness, add some later essence of X and possibly Sonic Youth and you have the recipe for Conjure Time. The Hi Alerts are essentially a car crash collision of two Glasgow bands, The Primevals, swamp rock garage band par exemplar and Los Tentakills, purveyors of weird and witchy psychedelic trips. The resulting mash up is an album that should please fans of both bands with The Primevals’ Martyn Rodger’s guitar assaults adding plenty of heft to the lysergic leanings of the usual Los Tentakills affairs.
With Rhod Burnett pounding the drums and Ady Gillespie laying down a solid bass, Rodger and Al Hotchkiss flail away on guitars creating a fine Pebble dashed bedrock for singers, Michael Rooney and Celina Oxymandias. It’s tempting to call them a wigged out Sonny & Cher but in reality the pair of them are reminiscent of John Doe and Exene Cervenka tardised back a decade to the sixties and fronting a twisted Hollywood’s director’s idea of a way out combo, perhaps waiting in the wings of Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls.
Folk who recognise the name checks above will already be forming sounds in their head as to how Conjure Time sounds. If you’re not familiar with them then suffice to say that Conjure Time is packed with songs that are undeniably retro but which howl to be heard in the present time. The opening song Four Walls is an incredible guitar warped groove, Broken Heart is Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood (or George Jones and Tammy Wynette) punked up. Stop Messing With My Mind is a sonic guitar mind melt while Straight Ahead To My Soul wrenches the ghosts of the MC5 and forces them to party with Sonic Youth when they were Geffen bigwigs circa Goo. Losing Streak is one of the songs that most recalls the heyday of X with Rooney and Ozymandias in perfect twisted tandem. Catastrophe is a mighty showcase for the duelling guitars here with wah wah and screaming solos battling it out for supremacy over the funkiest background here. They close the album with Twisted In The End, a fuzz fuelled diatribe that again brings us back to the essence of X although it’s much more frantic than anything that combo ever laid down on record with a veritable wall of sound towards the end. Magnificent.

Buy it here

Johnny Dowd

The Dark Bard. That’s what one of the comments on our review of Johnny Dowd’s splendid album That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse called the man. The commentator seems deeply immersed in Dowd’s music, witness his website here so  the Dark Bard it is. Anyhow, the DB himself was kind enough to take some time out from his preparations for his UK and European dates later this month to answer a few questions we winged over to him.

The new album, That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse is pretty much a solo effort with you recording all of the instruments yourself, something you haven’t done since your debut, Wrong Side Of Memphis. Was there any particular reason for this?

There were reasons for this–financial and artistic–but mostly it just happened that way—one thing lead to another and presto chango the album was done—might have sounded better with a real drummer who wasn’t a machine-I hope this answers your question

I read that the title is lifted from a line in Johnny Guitar Watson’s Gangster of Love song where he’s baiting the sheriff. Is this a favourite song of yours?

I love that song, I even like the Steve Miller version–Johnny Guitar Watson is MONSTER talent, better than The Beatles

A lot of the album sounds electronic but the sleeve only credits guitar bass and keyboards. I presume a lot of the sounds came from a synthesizer or some such keyboard, can you tell us a bit about the equipment?

What you say is true. Matt Saccuccimorano mixed the record and put voodoo on the basic tracks–thus a guitar might end up sounding synth like–and of course I ran the bass, guitar and drum thru various mind altering pedals –so what might have begun as a Howling Wolfish tune became more King Crimsonish

White Dolemite is a fine and funky piece of braggadocio with references to hot pants and spanking. I take it it’s a tribute of sorts to the Blaxploitation movie Dolemite.

Absolutely —Rudy Ray Moore is a genius

Although you’ve stamped your authority on all of the songs it seems to me that at times you’re almost blatantly referencing influences, sixties TV themes in Cadillac Hearse, Iggy Pop on The Devil Don’t Bother Me for example. Am I making this up or do you have specific sounds, songs or genres in mind when you wrote these?

Now Paul, I’m not sure if blatantly is the way I would describe it but anyway–maybe I am being too sensitive —I don’t have anything much in mind when I am writing the songs but it’s true when I listen back the ghosts of all my influences is there—I don’t really hear the Iggy thang on Devil but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there–it’s not really important what my intention was because I don’t know or have forgotten–the train left the station without me
Why? is a glorious song that sounds cosmic and cornball at the same time. With some great absurdist lyrics ” somewhere in Oklahoma, just a few miles from the beach, stood a cowboy with a surfboard and unto me he began to preach…..” and with Anna Coogan’s lovely refrains it’s like The Man who Fell To Earth remade by David Lynch. Can you describe how a song like this comes together, where you get the idea and lyrics from?

Yea–Anna is killing on that song–she was a real important cog [along with Matt] in the machine–that song is probably as close to an autobiographical song as I will ever write–the last verse [about the spaceman] is a feeling that has haunted me whole life–I can’t describe any better than I did in the song

Can I ask about the hero of your last album, Do The Gargon. Is he still around or have you laid him to rest?

Gargon is retired and living in Key West Fla
You’re coming to Europe in April. What can we expect to hear and see?

I will be touring with Mic Edmondson on guitar and his wife [and my sister] will be doing the tour managing–Mic and i have been playing on and off for about 25 years so we have some good chemistry–I’ll have my drum machines, synths, and guitars–we will be playing mostly new arrangements of songs off the new record pus a bunch of golden oldies. A few covers [Louie Louie etc]—poems, stories—pretty much a free form wtf kinda show–plus my friend Mark Lotterman will doing the opening slot and there is not a finer singer-songwriter performer out there–! Hope to see you soon Paul—thanks -Johnny

Tour dates.

2015.04.09 Krefeld (DE) @ Kulturrampe
2015.04.10 Eeklo (BE) @ N9
2015.04.11 Nottingham (UK) @ Guitar Bar
2015.04.12 London (UK) @ The Islington
2015.04.13 Eye (UK) @ The Bank Eye
2015.04.14 Brighton (UK) @ Prince Albert
2015.04.15 Leicester (UK) @ The Musician
2015.04.16 Lille (FR) @ La Peniche
2015.04.17 Eindhoven (NL) @ Blue Collar Hotel
2015.04.18 Rotterdam (NL) @ V11
2015.04.20 Zurich (CH) @ El Lokal
2015.04.21 Frankfurt (DE) @ Dreikoningskeller
2015.04.22 Norderstedt (DE) @ Harksheide
2015.04.23 Amsterdam (NL) @ Paradiso Upstairs
2015.04.24 Zeist (NL) @ De Peppel
2015.04.25 Hengelo (NL) @ Heartland Festival

And here’s an oldie that is too good not to revisit.

Sergeant Buzfuz. Balloons For Thin Linda. Blang Records

Sergeant Buzfuz are a South London based vehicle for singer and songwriter Joe Murphy’s agit folk pop and social commentary songs which they deliver in an attractive faux naive folky style. Deceptively simple, down to the cartoon rendering of the band on the album cover and the band name, there’s a temptation to dismiss this as almost a novelty item. Dig deeper however and there’s plenty of evidence that Balloons For Thin Linda is a well thought out, well crafted (and subversive) album.
The basic band (William Barr on mandolin, Ian Button, drums, Eilish McCracken, fiddle, flute and whistle and Murphy on vocals and guitar) are fleshed out with bass, violin, cello and accordion offering the opportunity for the song arrangements to accommodate some baroque stylings which at times are reminiscent of the ornamented musings of late sixties/early seventies folk rock. Meanwhile Murphy’s deadpan descriptions and his vocal delivery recall predecessors as varied as Alan Hull of Lindisfarne, Robyn Hitchcock and Ray Davies, the latter most pertinent as the album purports to be an aural tour of London territories and Davies is of course the rock poet laureate of London. However, with the exception of S6 Girls (weirdly enough the song that most approximates early seventies Kinks) which describes a girls night out in Sheffield (Murphy’s home town) it’s hard to pin down this supposed concept on listening. Never mind, the album works without a detailed knowledge of the difference between Kensington and The Elephant and Castle and it’s best perhaps just to sit back and enjoy the songs and this is where the album gets interesting.
While the band deliver some fine songs such as the driving Robyn Hitchcock like Gold Feelings and the Irish strains of Molly’s Bar the meat is in Murphy’s acute observations of modern ills with the deceptively attractive Move, Carmelita seeming to be about a trafficked woman, held in a soundproofed room for men’s pleasuring. Infinite Kingdom Of Dirt tears down the idolatry of monarchy and the imperial delusions thrown at us by the media as wounded soldiers are cast aside and civilian deaths in the Middle East are ignored. The title song concerns a mentally ill woman wondering the halls of Harrods with the music meandering between a false jollity and a darker hopelessness. It’s a yin/yan thing perhaps. Enjoy the music but read the words and it’s to their credit that Sergeant Buzfuz are putting these songs about. Do have a listen.


And just to prove that Sergeant Buzfuz have a sense of humour

Johnny Dowd. That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse. Mother Jinx Records

A scrofulous screaming desert storm of guitar noise and a forlorn saloon bar piano are the first sounds you will encounter on That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse, the latest album from Ithaca’s Johnny Dowd. Amid this maelstrom he gravely intones
“That’s your wife on the back of my horse. That’s my hand in your pocket. Around my neck is your mother’s locket. Your sisters will dance at my wake. Your brother will blow out the candles on my birthday cake. That’s your wife on the back of my horse.”
Sounding like the late William Burroughs howling in an electric dust storm Dowd immediately stakes his claim to be one of the most left field candidates in the field of Americana with this opening gambit. It might scare some folk away but for those who stay the course the album is a hell of a ride.
Dowd recorded most of the album himself playing guitar, bass and keyboards with an electronic drum kit and the whole was then mixed and produced by “voodooman” Matt Saccuccimorano. The end result is a gripping kaleidoscope of thrills that mixes Southern Gothic with synth sounds that fart and burp. Tales of the devil bump up against gangster braggadocio and cosmic weirdness. Listening to the album cinema references kept coming to mind, Repo Man, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Wise Blood, all mutated and mashed in Dowd’s leering imagination. As on his last Album, Do The Gargon, Dowd adopts various musical styles, sixties TV cop themes in Cadillac Hearse and Iggy Pop’s The Passenger on The Devil Don’t Bother Me while Words are Birds is reminiscent of Snakefinger’s work with the Residents. This might all sound on paper a bit of a mess but Dowd has a firm hand on the tiller, his voice and drawl, deranged, modified, discombobulated throughout, cuts through and is immediately recognisable.
The lyrics for the title song are inspired by the boasting of Johnny Guitar Watson on Gangster of Love where he baits a sheriff saying, by the way, that’s your wife on the back of my horse. This cocksure bravado is revisited on the buzzed up funk of White Dolemite, a nod to a Blaxploitation movie from the seventies which gets down and dirty with Anna Coogan singing hot pants, he needs a spanking throughout as Dowd lists his love powers and is then updated on the rap of My Old Flame. Coogan turns up again on Poor, But Proud, a defiant rail against poverty and aging. Delving into the South The Devil Don’t Bother Me is an awesome mix of Teutonic synth discipline and Baptist hell fearing belief while Empty Purse is a nightmarish whirligig fairground ride of a song that again reminds one of a cinematic equivalent, in black and white, the carousel out of control in Hitchcock’s Stranger On A Train or the scenes where Janet Leigh is drugged in Welles’ Touch Of Evil. Whatever, it is scary. Akin to this is the voodoo soaked tale of Female Jesus who makes her living on her back and who used to play in a punk rock band, a succubus to avoid surely but the song sucks one in.
In the midst of all of this musical mayhem there’s an absolute nugget of a song that encapsulates the album. Why is, on the face of it, a lonesome love story that is played relatively straight as far as the rest of the songs go with a regular rhythm, country guitar stylings and a male female call and response. However the routine breakup stuff soon swoops into alien territory with the lyrics and the music climbing into cosmic consciousness. Ana Coogan appears again and her vocals are sublime as she pits her disembodied self against Dowd’s cowboy spaceman on what is the best song I’ve heard this year.
That’s Your Wife On The Back Of My Horse is available now and Dowd has a short tour in April and May, dates here.