John Lee Hooker’s World Today - Hugo Race and Michelangelo Russo (Helixed/ Rough Velvet), Raw - Bob Short (self released) & Let Them…- Meat Cake (Conquest of Noise)

meat cakeOnce upon a time I went to The Big Day Out. I can’t remember which, but the events themselves I always thought were a nuisance which one was obliged to endure in order to see the two or maybe three bands you actually went to 

Anyway, it had dawned on me that “my generation” was utterly reviled by the one coming up. Which is understandable, of course, as every generation has to gain independence and identity, and the quickest route is to revile the old farts. ’Cause of course, we no nuffink. 

Now that I am a card-carrying Old Fart who Shouts At Clouds and Doesn’t Like the Look of Those Teenagers, I have a blessed distance to view the rich landscape of modern music [Barman: insert vomit noise here]. In 1987 Steve Albini made a passing comment: “Pointless teenage thrash bands”.

And I’m sure we’re all familiar with this breed. At the time, there was a glut of unoriginal, yell-y, angry young dudes in garages playing stuff which all sounded much the same, and which would do nothing except annoy the neighbours (“those jerks”) and the parents (“you’re not my parents! I was adopted! My real parents would never do this to me!”) and basically allow the huffy young dill to pass, mercifully, from teenage dickhead to adult-age dickhead and into their mid-20s, when the mortgage, wife and kids tend to take away a dickhead’s energy.

Of course, some of the angry young dudes actually have talent, determination and aren’t actually dickheads. And some of them keep returning to their source… and it isn’t, thank god, as Albini implied, the pointless pap of The Exploited, Discharge and so on.

So to Meat Cake.

Meat Cake are great. Pete Kostic, Keith Hamlyn and Graeme Charles Kent. Wikipedia tell me that drummer Kostic has played in Regurgitator, prolific black metal band Nazxul, Hard-Ons, Front End Loader and Kryptonics. Hamlyn also has form in Midget and Golden Mean, and probably a host of others. Mr Kent also has form; Angelspit and Burners to name two.

The first song is a blistering instrumental - these are difficult to pull off, particularly these days when people really do look for a front person or a bunch of them to provide focus for the music. Ripping rock ’n’ roll has to have a purpose - and I’d argue it’s not always easy to follow the purpose of a series of thunderous instrumentals (as we noticed when we saw Tangled Thoughts of Leaving support Boris the other night). 

But like I say. Meat Cake. Fucking great. Like a bunch of suburban slaves lost their tempers and got back into the garage, but deliberately didn’t want to do pointless songs like ‘I won’t tidy my room’ or fantasies of faux outrage like ‘city baby attacked by rats’. No, these men are raging at the dreadful dullness of suburbia, and doing it a damn sight more eloquently. “Garage Sale Sausage Dog” and “Best Man at My First Wedding” are wry, venomous, lurid, familiar. “Too Many Daves”, well we all have that problem. It’s an Australian suburb thing. Apparently we live in the “first world”. What’s it like..? Meh.

The cover is pinched from one of those ghastly 1960s or ‘70s cookbooks and shows a hugely lurid ham - and if you don’t get what’s coming by now you may as well wear a luminous green halo saying ‘I got no sense of humour, kick me now’. 

Meat Cake are full-on, sometimes deliberately awkward rock’n’roll, and musically they’re almost parodic, but with such power that you can’t help but smile while you’ve got your foot on the accelerator. Six songs, four bottles. I want more and I want to see them.

raw bob shortLet’s go to the release by Bob Short, sometime member of Filth, Blood and Roses, and Dead Rabids. 

“Raw” is the second Bob Short solo LP. It’s just him with his strangulated vocal and what I suppose must be a geetar. I must confess to knowing Bob Short. And liking him. And also, that his initials are BS.

“Raw” is good. It’s really good. Opening with “Waiting for My Man “(oh? by the Velvet Underground. They’re quite interesting, you’d like them. Or maybe you wouldn’t. Oh, well)  

There’s no shortage of gits with geetars ruining quiet Sundays at the pub these days, and with a bit of luck Bob Short will soon be one of them. The difference between most of those ghastly oiks and Short is that Short is actually interesting; for example, there are moments where his voice resembles Rowland S. Howard’s. Then again, it shifts about. 

There’s 10 tracks. I guess I’d better ask the former surly youth WTF(as the young folks say, so I’m told. #despairetc) and will he be paid when he, too, is a git with a geetar on trashing people’s quiet pints on Sunday.

Bob Short: I hope you enjoyed my rejection of the tyranny of tempo. As you suggested, I did a greatest hits but forgot the beat. All the songs are old.  Woke up recorded ten songs. Me and guitar.  Pretty much in the style I'm playing live. I slow down and speed up. I don't keep a consistent tempo. I play the songs like they're stories. I'm not hiding the meaning with a constant bpm. This is an album where I tell you some stories.

RB: Sober?

BS: Sober as a judge.

Hmmmm. More sober than a judge. So, apart from the Velvet Underground medley and the the John Cale closer (Chorale) …  Not Even a Second is the most recent.  I finished my first version of it and released it the day before Bowie died [uh, David Bowie. He was a singer in the 70s].  It was the imaginary story of David Bowie wanting to see Iggy again before he died.  Roles is a Blood and Roses song.  Redemption, Salvation and Perdition were a trilogy of songs I wrote in the 80s.  This is the first time I’ve played them in their imagined order. Only the Good and Edge of Despair are from the country album I did in 87.  Sound of My Broken Heart  was performed with the Dead Rabids.

RB: So, how was it recorded? At a big posh studio..?

BS: You’re shitting me. "Raw" was all recorded and mixed and mastered on home computer in three hours. The guitar and vocals were all triple -racked with different reverb on each track, so that’s three tracks recorded simultaneously.  There are no overdubs.

RB: I suppose that’s why it sounds so immediate and intimate. 

BS: I'm pretty happy for the work to speak for itself. At least, for once, no-one should be able to complain they can't make out the words.

RB: So, will you be paid to ruin peaceful Sunday arvos at the pub?

BS: No one pays me. Anyway, I prefer to play grungy squats and night time bars. I am not a bowlo kind of fellow.  And, thinking back, I only recorded the album because I figured my plane would fall out of the sky on the way to London and I should do another record before that happens. If people like it, I'll shove it out on vinyl where 15 people can buy it.

RB: I like it, Bob. In fact, I’ve just given it 4 bottles on I-94 Bar. I’d buy it and even a couple more for friends. 

BS: Well. I think it's one of my better albums.  But I never really expect anyone to like what I do. I can't get the rules straight.

RB: Promote. Tour. Offend. Possibly not in that order.

BS: Well, I intend to play this album around towns because I only have me and the guitar to worry about.  If I can put a couple of appearances on in any town over a day or two, all I have to do is get there.

RB: You played in London recently. How’d that go? 

BS: The London show went pretty well; I concentrated on Blood and Roses songs, but in this style. 

If you see Bob Short playing in a pub near you, go and see him. Buy him a Jack and Coke. Meanwhile, get his music on Bandcamp.

john lee hooker hugo raceNow to Hugo Race and Michelangelo Russo’s “John Lee Hooker’s World Today”. Now that the reviews are coming in - not so much positive as gobsmacked, and rightly so - I can review this myself. But you do need to know I’ve had this on my hard drive for a while as I was asked to do the LP liner notes - which I could only agree to do after I’d not only heard the album but considered that I could, if you see what I mean. 

Now this Hugo Race guy, he’s been around a while, was hooked on music in his mid-teens and encountered the chaotic underground music-centric share houses in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. But unlike the old farts who couldn’t stick at it and found a job in a bank or a hardware store, or shifting piles of paper from Point A to Point B in Canberra … Hugo Race is not only still sticking at it, he’s been determinedly, doggedly pursuing an adventure. As has his offsider on this occasion, Michelangelo Russo (a noted artist in his own right).

Race’s website describes this new release (is it his second or third release this year..?)… 

Hugo Race and Michelangelo Russo are no strangers to either Hooker or the blues. Hailed as a supreme influence on the music of their band Hugo Race & The True Spirit, Race and Russo’s reimagining of Hooker is simultaneously blues, electronica, avant-garde and ambient, a homage to one of the greats of rock and roll prehistory. Recorded in a single, continuous day and night live session at the Berlin studio of Einsturzende Neubauten engineer Boris Wilsdorf, this is an epic album of sonic sorcery suspended in time and place, looking back through twenty-first century eyes at John Lee Hooker’s delta blues legacy in a swirling mix of analogue grit and deep trance pulses on the 100th anniversary of Hooker’s birth.

Whatever else you may think about Race, he’s persistent, and productive - if you’ve never encountered him, I can only suggest to you - now is the time. If you have … you should already be a fan; either way you at least need to take a listen - it’s not as if there’s a dearth of discs. Especially, you should hear ‘John Lee Hooker’s World Today’. 

And, I’ll say right now I have difficulty with modern blues, especially what’s called “sweet blues”. As in, it doesn’t speak to me. So many bands since Hendrix have incorporated what they seem to think is the blues into their mainstream rock. I’m not sure why, maybe they think it gives their songs cred, or style, or depth. Whatever. 

The majority of AOR has this appalling crud-blues streak. So I wasn’t entirely comfortable when I was asked to listen to ‘John Lee Hooker’s World Today’. I was a bit scared.

But I shouldn’t have been. Race and Russo don’t play the Blues, tho’ they inhabit a blue world. And in that sense Race embodies the blues without … yeah. 

The brief was to go back to Race’s roots, the love he felt for those old records, the crackles, skritches and gasps on the grooves, and … remake the songs in a more modern, more evocative way. Hugo has form here, too; when he does a cover, he makes it leap out, often reimagined if not re-birthed in an almost offhandedly powerful way. 

Make no mistake, Hugo can summon a band and make just as big a racket as Meat Cake (or Bob Short), but in this case Hugo has returned to the garage (well, Wilsdorf’s in Berlin) and created a landscape where Hooker’s itinerancy is not plagued with nostalgia, but presented as it is - the troubadour as troubled observer ("The Motor City Is Burning") upon a dreadful, deceitful modern world. 

The title is “John Lee Hooker’s World Today” because once upon a time Hooker’s songs were fiercely, scary modern - and with Race and Russo, they still are the way forward, narrative haikus, snapshots of the vicious present. While “The Motor City Is Burning” is about the riots in Detroit in 1967, and moves you into a time, a place, a petrol emotion - it may as well be about the modern desolated men blowing their worthless selves to shit and taking love and laughter with them. 

And “John Lee Hooker’s World Today” portrays that desolation, albeit in other ways… and yet we are uplifted, filled with beauty, of love for people, for who we all are, all our faults and failings … truly, ‘“ohn Lee Hooker’s World Today” is one for the ages.

These are the songs:

Hobo Blues/ Love Blues/ Serves You Right to Suffer/ Decoration Day/The World Today/ The Motor City’s Burning/ Country Boy/ When My First Wife Left Me

In eight cuts, Race and Russo get under the skin of Hooker’s actual songs, into the grit and grind of Hooker’s sound, his sensibility, his lone yearning struggle out there on the iron rails, by the crossroads, bumping from town to town, just like Race himself…

I won’t go into each song, however tempted I am - suffice it to say that Hugo and Michelangelo’s interpretation of Hooker is both modern, smart (without being smarmy) and blessedly devoid of those ghastly blues cliches which genuine old farts seem hooked on. 

Take the first track, though. “Hobo Blues” … over nearly ten minutes it opens us up, a vast prairie soundscape. Absolutely has your attention all the way. Russo and Race create an (initially) understated aural landscape, a soundtrack to the reality of the lyrics. I’ll go further and say that Race is one of the very, very few performers I’ve ever heard or seen (out of the thousands…) who focus on the meaning of the song, then (particularly with Russo) create a musical language for it. And… you’re either gonna get this or you won’t. If you’re one of those old-school blues-rock nutters, you may not. 

Doesn’t matter. 

This is fucking genius, and fucking genius doesn’t always gets recognised in its life. Russo’s skill with the effects - it’s clever without being clever. Smart without the smug. “Hobo Blues” is the kind of song which should bring Wim Wenders back into making films again. Remember Ry Cooder’s soundtrack for “Paris, Texas’”? “Hobo Blues” (alone) is far superior - and yeah, they are comparable.

“Love Blues” is magnificent understatement. The building, rising falling throb Russo and Race create here… intersplashed with all the tangled, sparking emotions. 

“I know you’re gonna leave me now … I know you’re gonna leave me crying’” 

I guess we’ve all felt this. Race’s delivery is tense and restrained, emotional without being demonstrative. It’s the single.

Nick Cave obsessives will be aware of his love of Hooker - he’s covered “Serve You Right to Suffer” live - but that’s just a “version”, really. You don’t need to hear that again. Here, Race and Russo really inhabit the song; straight away we again we know we’re somewhere very special indeed. Indeed, in many ways this is the lynchpin of the LP itself, as we turn our frustration at the world and our state upon ourselves - the “you” is as much “us” or “I” as it is someone else.

The USA’s version of ANZAC day is called “Memorial Day”; originally it was “Decoration Day” and veterans of the US Civil War would decorate the graves of the Unionist graves with flowers. Race understands how Hooker is deeply embedded in the life and pulse of his country, and of course… “Decoration Day”, as handled here, resonates powerfully with us, such carefully arranged, delicate sounds, such rich transparent emotions, so fragile you fear the music might melt like tissue paper in hot water or a soap bubble before a child…

“The World Today” itself brings a vivid history into such a sharp perspective; beginning with a reference to the Massachussetts 54th Regiment, one of the first black regiments; makes clear the deeper meaning, the subtext behind Hooker’s lyric - why? because most of Race’s audience won’t be American. The next song is The Motor City’s Burning, about the vile riots in Detroit in 1967 (although there was a nasty one in 1943), and the context could not be more plain. Hooker’s plea for an end to violence, prejudice and bloodshed is given such clarity, compassion, power here … 

It may interest you to know that Hooker wrote four songs about the riots; the others are: “Want Ad Blues”, “Cry Before I Go”, and “Boom Boom Boom Boom”.

“Country Boy” finds us returning to the theme of the hobo - this time, however, we can see shards of Russo and Race here, especially Race, the itinerant musician, troubadour, speaking songs and spreading myths. You may not know the song, it has a circular quality about a lost boy being asked to find a lost boy, lost “out in the world somewhere”.

“When My First Wife Left Me” is such a beautiful, elegant song to end with. The closing line is as poignant as it is revealing… 

You mistreated a good girl for some woman, that she'd turn around and turn her back on you… 

You can’t help but wonder, of course, at the possibility of a concealed autobiographical nature to these songs - but that would be to take the comparison too literally, I think. Race has chosen these songs with care, love and compassion. His conviction, his emotive power comes from not merely being familiar with Hooker, but with the emotions Hooker has aroused, memories and personal echoes which aren’t specific, but even so - pertinent and powerful.

And hey. If you’re in the wrong place, by the by, you’ll use up a box of tissues howling. But just you put it on anyway. It’ll inspire you. Give you pause. Perspective. Strength. 

How often is it that a fucking CD by anyone gave you strength in your day to day? nah, this won’t make it onto FM radio. But fuck ‘em, they can go back to selling soap and headline acts who don’t matter any more, haven’t for decades. And I’m telling you: Springsteen needs to hear Race’n’Russo. 

“John Lee Hooker’s World Today” doesn’t sound like dustbowl blues (however good the Stones’ “Blue and Lonesome” was, it ain’t a patch on the originals, life-changing to so many - ‘Blue and Lonesome’s impact will be small by comparison) but dustsoul blue in the modern world, and boy, do we have so much to be blue about in this vile and ignorant planet.

Like I said, I was fortunate enough to hear this before release. I listened to “John Lee Hooker’s World Today” again today with the deepest of pleasure, knowing that I’ll be putting it on again and again down the years. Magnificent, a mighty achievement. I was trepidatious about hearing this, like I say, the first time I approached it - but it's far, far outstripped anything I could have expected - even from Hugo Race and Michelangelo Russo. Just fucking brilliant.

Hugo Race will tour Australia again after he comes off another lengthy European tour - he’s currently in Greece.

Get on it.

rollingrollingrollingrolling- Meat Cake

rollingrollingrollingrolling- Bob Short

rollingrollingrollingrollingrollingrollingrollingrolling - Hugo Race and Michelangelo Russo

Hugo Race on the Web

Michaelangelo Russo on the Web

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: hugo race, bob short, dead rabids, filth, michaelangelo russo, john lee hooker, meat cake, peter kostic, regurgitator

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