Terry Lee Hale. Bound, Chained, Fettered. Glitterhouse Records

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Texan born, long domiciled in France, Terry lee Hale is a survivor. Throughout four decades of changing fashions and tastes he’s continued to deliver thoughtful and sometimes meaty deliberations on the plight of man. Like his long time associate, Chris Eckman of The Walkabouts, Hale found that Europe was a more fertile territory for his lean tales and dark folk blues than his native land, his albums in the main released via German labels. His last album, The Long Draw, a thought provoking mix of Dylan like rambles and punchy roots rock was one of our favourites of 2013.

Intriguingly, for Bound, Chained, Fettered, Hale sought out the services of a producer, arranger and guitarist who he had long admired and who is, coincidentally,  a Blabber’n’Smoke favourite, Antonio Gramentieri of Sacri Cuori,  Dan Stuart and Hugo Race fame. Hale ventured to North Italy to record the album with Gramentieri in the producer’s chair, the pair recording live for the most part, Hale on acoustic six and 12 string, Dobro and harmonica with Gramentieri providing bass, electric guitar and lap steel. Unlike The Long Draw it’s an uncluttered reflective album, no raging against the political machine here. Instead Hale seems to be musing on life, relationships, aging and death. Gramentieri weaves his magic through the songs, as a player yes, but more importantly in his assemblage of some of his local cohorts (Christian Ravaglioli, keyboards, Franco Neddei, synth and mellotron, Diego Sapignoli, percussion and Franceso Valtieri, sax) whose spare contributions add a fine light and shade to the songs. Gramentieri has a light touch, the arrangements always at the service of the song and Hale is front and centre throughout, his voice up close; rarely has he sounded better.

Aside from The Lowdown, a raunchy blues number that wanders finely into Tom Waits territory with Gramentieri scowling via his guitar parts as Hale wails on harp and a baritone sax parps, the album is a quiet affair. The opening title song finds Hale sounding like Bill Callahan as he recites his words over a distant guitar grumble and dusty Dobro delivering a back porch Don Juan like philosophy. Acorns belies its gentle, almost breezy, delivery with its cryptic words, a broken love affair, a faltering memory clinging to fleetingly recalled events while the following instrumental, Flowers For Claudia, a brief one minute interlude, does seem somewhat elegiac. Age and memory seem to crop up again on Can’t Get Back (Just Like That), Hale’s guitar given just a dusting of guitar, organ and percussion allowing the lyrics to stand tall although the meanings remain vague.  Scientific Rendezvous is more structured with Gramentieri’s guitars and lap steel somewhat menacing as Hale recalls The Walkabouts’ spookier European moments on a song that is again something of an enigma. Here he could be singing about cloning or artificial insemination but the song’s mention of daddies and mommies does seem to relate to birth while the opposite end of the life cycle is the subject of the following song, Signed Blue Angel. Here he has adapted words written by an eight year old grandchild of an old friend on a death. While this might seem cloying it’s surprisingly fresh and direct, a child’s reference to angels and butterflies given a sincere reading and set within an almost Appalachian melody with gliding lap steel and a hint of cowboy balladry. It’s offset by the following stark threnody of Jawbone, an arching summary of the cycle of life and death and dust to dust. An elemental song given some heft from Gramentieri’s atmospheric guitar stylings and Franco Neddei’s muted synth playing it’s spine tingling as Hale balefully repeats the title towards the end. The album ends with another low down blues number, the slow burn of Reminiscent. More full blooded than The Lowdown, Hale picks forcefully, Gramentieri the gut in the bucket as the song slouches along like a grim reaper looking for his target.

Bound, Chained, Fettered is an excellent listen. Its slow groove, Hale’s fine vocals and words and Gramentieiri’s sonic additions all adding up to a chilling and absorbing adventure. It’s available now and Terry Lee Hale is currently touring on the continent, dates here.

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Dan Stuart, Tom Heyman, Fernando Viciconte @ The Fallen Angels Club. Glasgow 25/2/16

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That sardonic grin, the black humour and occasional snarl can only mean one thing, Dan Stuart is back in town. With a new album under his belt, the invigorating slice of punk/garage rampage that is Marlowe’s Revenge, recorded with Mexico’s Twin Tones, Stuart is carousing around the country and further abroad with what he called tonight an old-fashioned variety show. No jugglers or performing animals, no comedians or showgirls but some comedy and political satire was promised. Fancy words for what was in reality Stuart and chums (in this case and for the rest of the UK dates Tom Heyman and Fernando Viciconti) but there was an element of an old fashioned package tour in there, Stuart the MC, providing the introductions (and the comedy) as he goofed about and mugged unashamedly before getting down to business. There were laughs and chortles aplenty, an impression of a besotted fan (with a Cockney accent) who remembered seeing a gig back in ’86, an ongoing argument with his amplification pedal, the occasional (and noisy) plumbing in the venue and his infamous brush with spear guns in an Edinburgh hotel just some of the pearls thrown to the crowd.

For those who want the wasted youthful Stuart from his days in Green On Red or who have honed in on his well publicised meltdown and incarceration in a mental institution prior to his flight to Mexico this larger than life and invigorated presence must have come as a bit of a surprise. For sure Stuart has a chip or two on his shoulder and there’s still an element of danger, of teetering on the edge about him but over the past few years he’s produced an amazing body of work. The sublime Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings record, an EP of home demos and the raw vitality of the new album along with his “false memoir” which is as good a rock’n’roll binge as any published since Ian Hunter’s Diary of A Rock’n’Roll Star. Tonight he appeared fit and limber, racing around the stage, energy in abundance and if there’s a devil on his tail then it’s going to have its work cut out trying to keep up with him.

With the introductions done Stuart introduced Fernando Viciconte on stage. Argentinian born, now domiciled in Portland Oregon, Viciconte has only recently returned to the recording studio after some health problems. Portland buddies, Peter Buck, Paul Brainard and Scott McCaughey are all on his new album, Leave The Radio On and tonight, armed only with his guitar he offered some insights into the album, in particular a moving Kingdom Come. He delved into his Latin roots for a sweetly affecting song sung in Spanish before a muscular reading of True Instigator from his 2011 album of the same name. However his most powerful and moving song was his closing tribute to the late Jimmy Boyers, a stalwart of the Portland music scene who recently passed away. Here Viciconte sang Hank Williams’ Angel of Death imbuing it with a Johnny Cash like gravitas.

Next up Dan Stuart introduced us to Tom Heyman, an SF musician by way of Philadelphia who has a CV to die for (Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovido, Go To Blazes, John Doe) and who recently released the excellent album That Cool Blue Feeling. Stuart’s introduction provided us with one of the lines of the night as he tried to describe Heyman’s music ending with the immortal words, “It’s not fucking Americana!” Perched on a stool and hunched over his acoustic guitar (with a very interesting headstock) Heyman parried Viciconte’s high and lonesome leanings with his bluesy and folky urban cool opening with Time and Money from the new album. Cool and Blue showcased his fine guitar picking on a wistful love note while Always Be Around saw him ringing notes from his instrument. A fine raconteur himself Heyman added to the merriment of the night when he spoke about his shared experience with Stuart, both having played with the mighty Chuck Prophet and both then suffering from PTCD, that is, post traumatic Chuck disorder. Black Mollies sounded like something that Bobbie Gentry might have recorded had she been on steroids and he topped his set with a great delivery of Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks, a song that, to my mind, does touch all the Americana bases (we could argue this all night), whatever it’s a tremendous song. Heyman again closed his set with a cover, a fine and heartfelt rendition of Phil Ochs I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.

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Time then for the ringmaster to jump into the spotlight and with Heyman remaining on stage to add his guitar to Stuart’s the man launched into the aching Over My Shoulder from the new album. The Whores Above was the snarling Stuart beloved of old and was followed by a cover of Lou Reed’s Vicious, Stuart’s riposte to one of the reviews of his latest disc and a riff he defiantly returned to throughout the night with him deriding the reviewer prior to Name Hog. While he and Heyman were able to whip up some fine storms on their guitars there were quieter moments, his emotional scars on show on Why I Ever Married You and there was a tender reading of The Greatest, Stuart’s paean to Mohammed Ali, one of his heroes. Heyman was sterling on guitar throughout, whether punching out taut lines or adding some cutting slide and bottleneck and abiding Stuart’s rather random approach to guitar tuning. And of course, despite his disdain for the rock’n’roll ride, Stuart delivered several songs from his past, songs that once were pulverised by the garage abandon of Green On Red but now sit finely in his canon. Rock’n’Roll Disease, Baby Loves Her Gun, 16 Ways (with Heyman really on the ball here), Gravity Talks and Time Ain’t Nothin were all delivered, the latter less of a punk sneer now, more a reflection on the arrogance of youth. Scattered throughout the set, for some these songs might have been the gravy on the pie and there’s no denying the frisson of hearing Stuart revisit these but overall the new songs show that he still delivers and he does so in spades.

There was another cover to end the night, Fernando bounded back on stage for this “unholy trinity” to delight us with their rendition of The Stones’ Dead Flowers, some of the audience joining in on this song that perhaps, many years ago, set the young Dan Stuart on his wayward path. A fine end to what was a fantastic evening. Mr. Stuart is on the road for several more weeks, the dates are here, if he’s near you then do go and see a man who is rock’n’roll to his fingertips and prepare to be amused, transfixed and mesmerised.

Dan Stuart With Twin Tones. Marlowe’s Revenge. Cadiz Records.

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“He was safe here; this was the place he loved – sanctuary, the paradise of his despair.”
Malcolm Lowry – Under The Volcano.

Malcolm Lowry, author of Under The Volcano, a novel about a drunk and disillusioned ex consul falling apart in Mexico, was an English writer who fled to Oaxaca, Mexico back in the 1930’s following a marital breakup and a spell in New York’s Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital. Dan Stuart, known primarily as the singer of the now lauded Green On Red, trod this self same path around five years ago, rebuilding himself with the assistance of his alter ego, Marlowe Billings, under which name he wrote a “false memoir,” The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings and recorded an album of the same name. Mexico, despite its murderous reputation, appears to have been some kind of salve for the battered and bruised Stuart as he slowly re-entered the music business, however he seems to have been somewhat repelled by the current rules of the game, the sanitisation, the pigeon holing that goes on; he wanted to sound dangerous, to get some revenge on the business that all but chewed him up and spat him out back in the eighties. Holed up like some Graeme Greene character Stuart recorded some songs with a Mexican engineer, Daniel Sanchez Jimenez, who added some rudimentary percussion backing to Stuart’s guitar strums (a little black egg shaker and thumped telephone directory). Some of these songs were released briefly on Stuart’s A Little Guitar EP but he wanted more, some danger, someone to really spark off of.

“In Mexico your wishes have a dream power. When you want to see someone, he turns up.”
William Burroughs – Junky.

Stuart already had a foil, the mercurial Italian band, Sacri Cuori, who are like a dream band from an Alexandro Jodorowsky vision but they were 6,000 miles away. Burroughs’ drug stained quote is apt however as Stuart found a bunch of Mexican upstarts via Google who played scuzzy surf and garage rock, Twin Tones they were called. Contact made, turns out they had some mutual friends including Steve Wynn and Danny Amis from Los Straitjacket, and lo, holy mescalito, a union was formed and thus came about Marlowe’s Revenge.

Bolstered by the retronuevo garage blasts, fuzzed guitar and cheesy organ throbbings of Twin Tones Stuart lets loose his demons here, his voice snarling, sneering, sometimes vulnerable. Hola Guepo (Hello Beautiful) is a blunderbuss slice of 60’s fuzz punk, the guitars snarling like a two headed dog as Stuart pens a poisonous will for his wife singing,” you’ll get my ring, wear it from your neck, try not to choke on it.” He returns to his sense of abandonment on the spectacular guitar blazoned epic Soy Un Hombre, almost spitting out the words, “I’m a man who has always loved you no matter what the world had to say but you decided to leave with another less worthy than me.” There’s despair on the melodrama of Last Blue Day, a song that recalls Loudon Wainwright’s desolate Central Square Song on the opening bars before the band weigh in with a hefty thump sounding like a psychedelic version of The Band, Stuart at the end of his tether, dark thoughts on his mind with this stark image, ” darkness greets me as I open my door the rope on the crossbeam hangs to the floor.”

There’s  bi-polar mood swings throughout the album, rage, despair, defeat and a manic edge to some of his Boho tales of life on the skids, the cannibalistic fantasies of The Whores Above swimming in a scuzzy garage punk morass of guitar and organ mixing up Burroughs, Bukowski and Brion Gyson, an evil laugh from Stuart catching the unhinged joy of narcotic revenge. I‘m All Over You is an amphetamined Dylan sneer,  the tune pummelled into submission by massed handclaps and a stratospheric guitar solo while Name Hog roots itself in a Lou Reed strut as Stuart snarls his contempt of the treadmill rock’n’roll route.

Lest it be thought that these are just the musings of a misanthrope set to a farfisa and tremeloed heaven (or hell) Stuart actually delivers a bona fide (although slightly skewed) love song on the delicious Elena, a twisted Tom Petty like song that some brave radio shows might pick up on while Over My Shoulder is almost tender. Zipolite is a script in waiting, a sonic Mexican riposte to Alex Garland‘s The Beach, the band ominous as waves crash and dogs howl in the mix, this is really quite wonderful. Stuart winds it up with the languid flow of The Knife, a song that allows the band to show their mellow Santos & Johnny side although there’s a hint of menace in the guitars as if they’re being honed to kill; his whispered words recalling Brando’s utterances in Apocalypse Now.

Marlowe’s Revenge is an album that will surely please those who hanker for the unruly days of Green On Red, Stuart teetering on the edge, still sounding dangerous. However, This Dan Stuart is older, maybe wiser, certainly bearing more scars. I’ll leave the last words to his old sparring partner, Chuck Prophet, “It’s like I tell people, mark my words: Dan Stuart will end up in jail or an institution or living above a discotheque in Mexico City still writing real songs and shaking his fist at the world.”

Dan Stuart is embarking on a lengthy European tour including a date in Glasgow on 25th February where he’ll be supported by Tom Heyman (whose album Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed here) and Fernando Viciconte. A compelling performer this is not to be missed. All tour dates here.

And here’s a taste of Twin Tones

Book Review #2. Dan Stuart. Barcelona Blues. Padre Lindo Press.

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Dan Stuart wears an alter ego, Marlowe Billings, in his “false memoir” The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings that relates his formative years and rock’n’roll life before his eventual deliverance to a psychiatric institution. Barcelona Blues, a book of poems by Stuart, ditches this conceit and nakedly opens with an introduction that details his Spanish wife’s infidelity in 2010 which led to another short spell in care before he headed to Barcelona for a prearranged gig in the midst of what he calls “a severe depressive episode.” So far, so fun. In Barcelona Stuart is supposed to play at a testimonial show arranged for a sick member of his wife’s cousin’s band. Paranoid and wasted he describes it as the worst night of his life. He stays on in Barcelona for a time, seeking refuge among Andalusian immigrants and in the red light district while falling for a local femme with whom he has “a short but intense affair.” His introduction ends “these poems are really for her.”

Stuart has written candidly about his marital problems in the sleeve notes for the magisterial reissue album, Arizona: 1993-95. Barcelona Blues catches him with the wounds raw and weeping, seeking solace and anonymity in a Barcelona tourists wouldn’t recognise. The cover features an ugly blackened pig foot that resembles a deformed penis strung on a wire found hanging outside a garage in a gypsy quarter. The poems feature Stuart for the most part in cafes and bars observing life around him, police assaulting suspects, young mothers with push up bras pushing baby strollers, sullen teenagers on the cusp of sensuality, oafish men whose primary pleasure is “futbol.” Odours of food and tobacco are vividly captured and there’s an overall sense of menace with Stuart, the outsider, having to tread carefully amongst these bruised people while frequent use of Spanish colloquialisms reinforce the sense of alienism. When he gets personal he tells us that his anti depressants cause impotence leading him to rely on a “blue pill” while overdoses and domestic violence cloud those he gets close to.

The book is a visceral rush urging the reader to pursue it to the end where Stuart seems to accept the scuzziness around him as preferable to the frigid Catholicism and brutality of the Franco regime While the title recalls Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues Stuart’s poems are not set out in verse form and there is none of Kerouac’s Zen mysticisms here. Instead Stuart captures the documentary style of a Kerouac poem such as Bowery Bums while Hemingway’s poems such as Montparnasse may be another influence. Another Hemingway piece, his recollection of his Paris days in A Moveable Feast might be more apposite to reference while Stuart’s current domicile in Oaxaca, Mexico inevitably leads one to recall Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano. Stuart sets the poems in sections which appear to be named after geographical districts in and around Barcelona although each one can stand separately from the others. As with Beat poetry there is a sense that the words were written to be read aloud and fortunately Stuart has provided an example which you can hear below.

Barcelona Blues is just another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is Dan Stuart these days. His Green On Red days are well documented, thereafter he seems to have had periods of calm and some very turbulent times. His recent reappearances, on record, live and by written word hopefully signal that he is coming to terms with the past and looking to the future.

Book review: Dan Stuart. The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings. Cadiz Music.

Rock autobiographies are big news these days with bookshelves groaning under the weight of confessional (and often redemptive) tomes from almost everyone who’s ever committed music to plastic. We get the up and downs, the trials and tribulations, the dirt is dashed ( after the lawyers are asked) and the reading public have their vicarious thrill. OK, for every dozen ghosted epics there’s a genuine nugget and it’s fair to say that Dylan (as usual) tops the list for critically acclaimed memoires with Chronicles offering a very slight insight into his head. For the most part however it’s the lesser known artists, the cult favourites, who have delivered musings that have opened up the often grimy and dreary life of rock’n’roll with the likes of Luke Haine and Mark E Everett stamping their personalities on their respective tales.

Dan Stuart, Ex Green On Red front man, who has only recently resurfaced after a decade or so of personal turmoil has now put pen to paper with his “false memoir,” The Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings.” Billings is the alter ego adopted by Stuart for his 2011 comeback album of the same name as the book. The album followed a marital and mental breakdown that eventually found Stuart moving to Mexico with the avowed intention to top himself. Instead he found a second wind, recording the album, touring Europe and writing this book.

As Billings, Stuart introduces us to a sun blasted weed smoking minor delinquent who starts a band in the emotional wasteland of Tucson. Snot nosed and foul mouthed, glam rock then punk and Patti Smith fire him up in a milieu reminiscent of the kids in Alex Cox’s Repo Man. Overdoses, petty crime and rude sex only threaten to divert this weird messiah’s collection of disciples until he has a rag tag band that outgrows Tucson’s sin bins and decamps to LA. DIY recordings lead to record deals and label rip offs before Billings and crew set out to conquer the world only to find that the craziness follows them until the band falls apart. Intending to start afresh he’s fucked by legal shenanigans forcing him to retain the band name screwing his pals and hurtling forward into an ever increasing maelstrom of mental indignations. The book ends with Billings in a psychiatric institution.

If the above appears to be a conventional retelling of the Green On Red story then you’d be right apart from the conventional element. Stuart tells the story in short, staccato bites. Each chapter is no more than two or three pages delivered in a hard boiled, almost voyeuristic fashion. Like a fusion of Hemingway, Bukowski and Jim Carroll Stuart is bare boned in his reportage with no shying away from the misogynism of the times while drug fuelled embarrassments are described with a particularly debauched Edinburgh visit detailed. For a “rock” biography there’s little about the music itself within the pages. The set ups, the producers, the screw ups and legal crap are all here but unless you know the band you wouldn’t have a clue as to what they sound like. In addition Stuart (in fine roman a clef fashion) doesn’t name names for the most part but this adds to the attraction of the book as I was scouring album sleeve notes and googling like hell to pin down the cast list.

It’s rough, raw and rude but according to Stuart and others who were there that’s what it was really like. Stuart himself describes the book as “it’s just words and shit” but as a portrayal, not just of Stuart and Green On Red but numerous others in the post punk LA scene , it’s a visceral slice of life, warts and all.

Buy it here

Dan Stuart. Glad Cafe. Glasgow. Thursday 1st May.

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This was a welcome return to Glasgow for one of our more perplexing musicians, Tucson raised and now domiciled in Mexico, Dan Stuart. Last time he played here the audience turnout was pitiful especially coming as it did only a few years after the sell out Green On red Reunion tour. Blame Stuart’s virtual retirement from the business or poor promotion. On this occasion however a packed venue bore testimony to Stuart’s once again rising profile and the sterling work done by promoter Kevin Morris’ The Fallen Angels Club who has astutely used social media and good old fashioned leafleting to ensure healthy turnouts for numerous shows around Glasgow.

With his last new release, The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings now two years old Stuart’s latest recorded offering was the release on Cadiz Music of two albums he recorded way back in the nineties, now repackaged as Arizona 1993-95. For the true fans (including one chap from Croatia) the lure, apart from the show itself, was an opportunity to buy two books written by Stuart. The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings is a warts and all snapshot of his early years (described as a false memoir) while Barcelona Blues is a collection of poems written while in the throes of a marital breakup which saw him decamp to Spain for a period of time. It’s clear Stuart has been in some dark places ( he’s recorded as saying his original intention when going to Mexico was to kill himself following a depressive episode, “my brain broke”) but tonight he seems in fine form, slightly combative on stage with a dismissive attitude towards much of his past works but engaging well with his foil and sparring partner for the evening, guitarist Antonio Gramentieri (from the Italian band, Sacri Couri) while at the end of the evening he was the perfect host patiently greeting the long queue that formed as he signed his CDs and books.

With Stuart singing and playing acoustic guitar and Gramentieri on electric it was a mesmerising show with deadpan humour, occasional menace and some soul baring. Ranging from the bruised tenderness of Why I Married You to the visceral shredding of Jimmy Boy the duo’s range was astounding with Gramentieri colouring in Stuart’s musical palette with bottleneck, reverb and barbed wire shards of noise on some of his solos. While there was a vulnerable air to Stuart as he revisited his darker times his wild and dangerous days of Green On Red were unveiled as he grimaced and roared on epic renditions of Jimmy Boy, That’s What Dreams Were Made For and Sixteen Ways while Clean White Sheets from the Marlowe Billings album had some blistering guitar from Gramentieri. There were several newer songs including Why I married You and the Hollywood Babylon like tale, The Day William Holden Died, which relates the solitary drunken death of Holden, star of The Wild Bunch with Stuart comparing his lifestyle to Holden’s. With the tour posters featuring Hemingway and Barcelona Blues not too far removed from Kerouac’s Book of Blues Stuart certainly relates to these doomed borrachos. His delivery of the Holden song was sublime and when, caught in the moment, he almost stumbled back over the stage riser behind him he quickly quipped “Bill just shoved me” as he recovered his balance.

Antonio Gramentieri was offered an opportunity mid set to play some of his and Sacri Cuori’s music reminding us of the superb soundscapes he can conjure up on six strings.Romantic with liquid notes flowing from his fingers it was all too short before Mr. Stuart came back to tell us a little about his book. Unfortunately there were no readings from the text but he did tantalise the audience talking about some misadventures in Edinburgh many moons ago involving spear guns in a hotel room (for more you’ll need to buy the book). Throughout the show there were humorous asides with the biggest laugh coming as he re tuned his guitar while telling us that Jim Dickinson, legendary Memphis producer thought that “tuning was a decadent practise of European homosexuals.”

Ending with a stomping Hair Of The Dog before an encore (and audience participation on) Little Things In Life we had almost two hours of Dan Stuart’s life given over to us and while it may be a bit melodramatic to say so there was a chance a few years ago that he thought he had no more time to offer. Here’s hoping that it’s not too long before we hear these new songs on a new disc. In the meantime the tour continues on the continent with another old Green On Red buddy, Chris Cacavas joining in some of the dates.

The opening act for the night was American songstress Kathleen Haskell. Ms. Haskell has a keen pedigree having sung with Neil Young while her latest album was produced by none other than Dan Stuart’s old sparring buddy, Chuck Prophet. Armed only with her guitar and a wicked way with some risqué rock’n’roll anecdotes she did a short set with the highlight being the title song of her album Where The Land Meets the Sky, a fine waltz time tune that recalled a chilled out Patsy Cline while the guitar coda was simple but captivating. Like A Pearl Necklace struggled to match the ribald introduction but I’ll Be Your Fool was a sensuous slink and, sitting at the piano for this one, Drama In The Dark proved to be a fine example of LA noir drama.

Dan Stuart/Marlowe Billings website

Kathleen Haskard website

Sacri Cuori website

And here’s some video of Dan and Antonia earlier in the tour.

Dan Stuart. Arizona: 1993-95. Cadiz Music.

Dan Stuart bounced back into view two years ago with his excellent recording, The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings. Long missing from action (apart from some sorties with revived Green On Red and Danny and Dusty line ups) he resurfaced in Oaxaca, Mexico with a tale to tell of suicidal leanings and incarceration in a mental hospital. Since then he’s issued forth from his Mexican bolthole on a few occasions (appearing with Robyn Hitchcock in Norway for example) but otherwise he seems to be living a Lowry like existence down Mexico way.
While the world (or a few of us at least) wait patiently for further musings from Mr. Billings (and Dan promises a “false” memoir in book form sometime soon) Cadiz Records have done us the grand favour of unearthing the two albums Stuart made in his wilderness years following the implosion of Green On Red and compiling them (along with three unreleased songs) into a handsome double pack with liner notes from Stuart and his compadre Al Perry.
Perry co wrote the songs and got equal billing on the first of these albums, Retronuevo, released in 1993. A Tucson musicians’ musician Perry seems to have been landlocked in what Wikipedia insists is “The Old Pueblo” although he’s recorded with scores of Arizona musicians including Rich Hopkins, Giant Sand and the legendary Fish Karma. On Retronuevo he picks up where Chuck Prophet left off as he and Stuart deliver an album that is not a million miles removed from the last couple of GoR albums, Scapegoats and Too Much Fun. Stuart, released from the confines and expectations of Green On Red ( “I was the guy paid to throw up in his shoes” he notes) appears to relax and engage in what he calls the “Tucson tempo, ” as they wallow in a very fine set of songs that are based in the blues and country sounds that permeate the south west. There’s a loose and lazy groove running throughout whether they’re mainlining some grungy blues notes on Daddy’s Girl or Mamacita or sweeping skywards on the sweet pedal steel of Neil Harry on Better Than I Did while Eyes Of A Fool is a brisk return to the early Green on Red garage sound and Little Slant Six is early Beach Boys in the desert instead of on a beach. Stuart and Perry reminisce on the making of the album in the new liner notes recalling that they were both in the throes of trying to save their respective marriages and that drugs were still an item. Despite this the pair managed to record an album that Perry refers to as “not a masterpiece or anything but it’s a lovely snapshot of that time period..in a sense it’s a perfect album because we expressed exactly what was going on in our lives at the time.” Well put and it says it better than anything we could come up with.

Can O’ Worms followed in 1995 and was Stuart’s first solo album although there is a great deal of collaboration with JD Foster who co wrote several songs and plays guitar. Can O’ Worms is a darker affair than Retronuevo with Stuart writing some pretty naked sleeve notes relating to his marital troubles at the time, troubles that seem to have been subsequently resolved but which reappeared and eventually rent his relationship asunder 15 years later leading to his breakdown and eventual emergence as Billings. Indeed he claims that Can O’ Worms and The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings are essentially the same album with the same woman driving him to a dark space which he can only express in his music. Here the template remains the latter Green On Red albums but there’s a bite and bitterness that was lacking in their twilight years along with a decidedly Spanish flavour to several of the pieces. Foster and fellow guitar player John Dee Graham excel throughout and the production by Foster is superb with What A Day in particular standing out as a wearied vocal from Stuart is buttressed by some tender guitar and very fine percussion by Daren Hess. This is a song you can wallow in for a long time and never feel sated, it has a Lou Reed feel to it but with a clear desert air, not the grime of New York. As Stuart says, this is a break up album and we all know that makes for great art (Blood On The Tracks, exhibit one) or so they say. “I was living in Arizona after a very bad time in Madrid, we had been married five years when she ran off with a carpet salesman from Santa Barbera.” This bathetic description of Stuart’s situation at the time drives the album. There are recollections of Spain on La Pasionaria, a deceptively attractive cancion that relates a drug deal carried out in muggling heat while In Madrid appears to be a requiem for the fallen of the Spanish Civil War. Stuart bemoans his lost love on a brace of songs that form the heart of the album. Home After Dark shimmers like a heat haze as he sings “You can call me a liar, go ahead say it to my face. You can set my soul on fire, feel free, put me in my place. Twist the knife in a little deeper, I’m only flesh and bone.” It’s always been an outstanding song but Stuart’s revelations add an insight to the hurt he was feeling at the time adding to the song’s intensity. Who Needs More is surprisingly enough a celebration of love given a fine loose limbed bluesy feel but What A Day returns to the confessional with Stuart sounding weary and broken proclaiming “If I’d known what today would bring, what would I change?…only everything.” He’s pleading here for a return to the happy go lucky feel of Who Needs More but instead he tumbles into the nightmare neon flashing twilight world of Expat Blues with gutbucket guitar and leery saxophone. Filipina Stripper is another trip into the underbelly with Stuart finding succour and danger in New Orleans as the band flail around in Tom Waits style. Going back to the liner notes Stuart describes his ex wife as leaving a lot to be desired but he celebrates her as a muse and her inspiration certainly fills two of the best songs here. Waterfall returns to the chugging majesty of Green On Red at their best while Can’t Get Through is a dreamlike wisp of a song with sweet lap steel and harmonica as Stuart sings in his tenderest voice as he tries to communicate with his lost love. At the end, despite his stories of desperation and despair, Stuart rallies himself on The Greatest where he cites Mohammed Ali and his comebacks as inspiration for his own comeback.

Dust settled, we know now that Stuart and his muse made up and he disappeared from view for a decade and a half until a final separation lead to Marlowe Billings. However, tucked at the end of the Can O’ Worms disc are three songs, previously unreleased, recorded in 1995. With JD Foster back in the producers chair and on guitar along with Daren Hess again on drums these sessions included Joey Burns, Nick Luca, Craig Shumacher and Jud Newcombe. Loosely produced, these songs tumble out rubbing their eyes in the daylight but all three are excellent and for firm fans well worth the price of admission here. South of The Pyrenees recounts again Stuart’s time in Spain and his meeting with his wife while the band hit a loose groove around his vocals. What’s The Use? is as fine a song as Stuart has ever delivered as he ponders on his relationship with his vocals again recalling Lou Reed. The jewel here is the backing with the band coming across like the Rolling Stones in their Fool To Cry period, the Wurlitzer and coiled guitars funky as hell as they slink around Stuart’s extended rap like a New York Van Morrison. Your Arab Friend is a pointed barb at that “carpet salesman” and Stuarts adopts his vintage sneer for a fine put down song while massed guitars ripple behind him and then improvise like a boozy countrified Grateful Dead.

While Can O’ Worms and Retronuevo are not exactly “lost” albums it’s a fair bet that they slipped under the radar of most folk. This package is an excellent opportunity to grab these documents of Dan Stuart’s first curtain call while we wait for his next missive.

Dan Stuart

Cadiz Music