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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

May 7, 1997
From Rockgod to Redneck

Wammo, Fat Headed Stranger (Mouth Almighty/Mercury 1996) - Heading up Mercury's new Mouth Almighty imprint is Fat Headed Stranger. The product of a 30-something Austinite who acknowledges that he looks "more and more like Gregg Allmann every day," Fat Headed Stranger is an off-the-wall piece with few peers.

Produced by Timbuk 3's Barbara K, Fat Headed Stranger features spoken word performances (ooh, that dreaded phrase) wrapped around jaunty musical interludes. Wammo talks about music, he talks about pop culture, he talks about Charles Bukowski drinking beer, he talks about Batman, he talks about sex. He talks about anything, really, and therein lies much of his appeal.

Wammo has played in numerous alternative bands, including the Asylum Street Spankers, and has strong punk roots. In fact, those punk roots got Wammo fired from at least one DJ gig. As he recalls, "I was playing the B-52's 'Planet Claire.' That's hardly an aggressive song, but the manager came up to me yelling, 'You've got to stop playing this punk rock sh--.' And I was like, 'You want to hear some punk rock?' So I played the Butthole Surfers' 'The Shaw Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave.' The firing was immediate."

Veering from rockgod to redneck, Wammo never slows down. The comparisons are few; Jim Morrison on An American Prayer [Wammo includes a Morrison tribute called "The Walls Smile (for J.D.M.)"], Jim Carroll on 1991's Praying Mantis, Laurie Anderson, and William S. Burrows come to mind. If you want something different (and that's what "alternative" is supposed to mean), go for Fat Headed Stranger.  

Van Morrison Van Morrison, The Healing Game (Polydor 1997) - Like an old friend, Van Morrison never disappoints, even when he doesn't deliver his strongest material. The Healing Game is a workmanlike recording, with occasional bright spots.

Van is joined by such familiar bandmates as Nicky Scott on base, Brian Kennedy on backing vocals, and Matt Holland on trumpet. Also appearing on one song ("Piper at the Gates of Dawn") is Paddy Maloney, who contributes uilleann pipes & whistle. Paddy is a member of the Chieftains, with whom Van made his landmark 1988 album, Irish Heartbeat.

While Van denies that his songs have autobiographical influences, tracks like "This Weight" and "It Once Was My Life" lend themselves to such interpretations.

Also appearing on roughly half the songs is organist and bandmaster, Georgie Fame. All of Van's best recordings in the last decade have featured Georgie Fame, whose influence cannot be underestimated. When Georgie helps Van find his groove on such cuts as "Fire in the Belly" and the title track, The Healing Game really gets rolling. Though it's not as consistent as we've come to expect from Van the Man.  

Mundy Mundy, Jelly Legs (Epic 1997) - Jelly Legs is the major label debut for Mundy, a talented 21-year-old singer/songwriter from Ireland. With slick production work by Youth (formerly of Killing Joke), the 12 songs on Jelly Legs have a solid pop-rock sound.

Mundy is back by Cion O'Callaghan on drums and percussion, Shane Fitzsimons on bass, and Stephen Farrell on guitar. The album is very much the work of a band: Mundy does not overwhelm anybody.

Again, Epic has added one of its wonderful CD extras to Jelly Legs. On Jelly Legs, the focus is on the song, "To You I Bestow," a pretty good rock song.  

Protein Protein, Ever Since I Was a Kid (Work 1997) - The Seattle-based trio of Protein also benefits from Sony's CD extra treatment. With a sound that merges grunge with 80's metal (Ratt and Judas Priest are big influences), Protein can bang heads with the best of them.

The members of Protein grew up in San Rafael (north of San Francisco), and have been playing together for years. Josh Zee contributes vocals and guitars, Dan Thompson plays drums, and Russ Violet handles bass.

The trio enjoyed a (probably) typical Marin County upraising. Josh (whose father is a professional folk musician) remembers one of the turning points of his life. "One day I was over at a friend's house getting stoned -- I was probably about 11 or 12 -- he put on 'Go Down' by AC/DC and turned it up really loud. When I heard Angus Young's guitar sound, that changed my life. To this day, he's my favorite guitar player."

The CD-extra section on Ever Since I Was a Kid is different from Mundy, in that it's really a five-to-seven minute promotional piece for the band. In addition to faux interviews with the band members, the CD-extra section also includes clips from the songs, "Obligations" and "Refrigerator" (inspired by an old episode of Gomer Pyle). If you like your metal with a 90's spin, you'll dig Ever Since I Was a Kid.  

Sabelle Sabelle, Sabelle (Work 1997) - Sabelle is another dance-hall diva, albeit with a difference - the lady favors lions. The CD extra section on Sabelle has two components; a biography, and the video clip for "One O'Clock." This CD-extra section is weak: the bio doesn't have any music, and the video opens with Sabelle brushing her teeth.

Every new release from Sony (that's Columbia, Epic, 550 Music, and Work) is worth a listen and a watch. And they show the way of the future.

-- Randy Krbechek

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