Mining the mother lode of Missoula’s new music releases

Keeping abreast of digital developments on the Missoula music scene can be trickier than you’d think—especially when a couple of these Sneaky Petes seem content to put out compact discs for friends and immediate family while hiding their lights under the proverbial bushel basket as far as the broader music-buying public is concerned. The jig is up, modest CD burners among you; when our musical Mossad tracks you down, you’re bad and city-wide.

Bob Wire and the Fencemenders.
Waiting for Dark self-released

Ordinarily there wouldn’t be too much to say about a CD that’s roughly one-third originals to two-thirds honky-tonk and country standards (“Cry Cry Cry,” “Six Days on the Road,” “Crying Time”). But then, ordinarily you wouldn’t be holding the inaugural Bob Wire CD in your hands wondering why you didn’t know that some of the originals included herein were really original with them, and can just anybody pick up a guitar and start penning little gems after a lifetime of exposure to honky-tonk and scratchy AM radio? The covers are watertight and often personalized with milder specimens of Bob’s famous two- and three-word substitutions, but the instant familiarity of “Going-Away Tears” and “Pretty City” and the familiar Bo Diddley tumble of “Teenage Suicide,” help the originals steal the show. Such a seamless fit with the standards! And what girl wouldn’t love to have her charms compared to those of a fresh fruit salad? Nice going, fellas.

John Floridis
The Dance of Apollo self-released

Apollo’s the black Lab, see, and don’t worry—he ate a lot of Milk Bones during the cover shoot. Reading the liner notes in a John Floridis CD is a great way to coast into the songs themselves, which have fireworks aplenty but also benefit from the little associative signposts Floridis includes to let you know what he hoped to evoke with a particular title, or what inspired him to write a particular piece, or just to tip you off that the titles don’t mean anything at all. The Dance of Apollo is an all-instrumental compilation of new tunes and re-recorded versions of songs from past releases. Floridis once told me that lyrics and vocals were of secondary concern to him; listen to the often explosively beautiful playing on these 16 tracks and you will rather helplessly feel compelled to agree.

Cash for Junkers
Genuine Junk self-released

Like their fencemendin’ cousins on t’other side of the gospel tracks, Cash For Junkers don’t appear to go in much for tightly-puckered recordings that, how shall I put this, might set you up for a shock if you took a liking to the CD before seeing them play live. Not quite as plank-floor roomy sounding as the Bob Wire album, Genuine Junk nonetheless finds C4J demonstrating commendable restraint when it comes to the studio spit ’n’ shine that might ironically have dulled the rambling jug-band charm of a group less resolute about resisting the many glossy temptations of a modern digital studio. Clever arrangements, a horsey cut-up or two (love that listless little croak of the rooster on “Hot Rod Boogie”), and damn, those shoutalong vocals—is this love, baby, or is it corn-fusion?

Richard Rose
Radiate self-released

Man-Child? Great Herbie Hancock album. Feets Don’t Fail Me Now? One of his worst. It’s rare that I find a place in my heart for anything, however competent or even downright good, when it’s laid over the tepid lock-step of a stock disco beat or a drum machine set for “same canned beat ad nauseam,” the dull trudge that can rub out dynamic and delicacy as surely as fungus can rub out a vineyard. We’ve come a long way, thankfully; parts of Radiate—essentially keyboardist/composer Richard Rose’s one-man project—suffer from the mild stiffness common to music with pre-programmed drum tracks, but there are also surprising moments—tabla bottoms, a believable sitar sound—and at least one thrilling one: “Reincarnation,” an echoic, Methenian guitar excursion over a constantly shifting percussion foundation with lots of simulated rim-shots and bellwork on the cymbals. Rose constructed the track from a recovered tape of a now-deceased friend playing this solo and put the percussion and synth effects under it—and those three minutes alone make this CD worth tracking down.

Alan Lane and Frank Chiaverini
Western Tracks Northwest Music/self-released

Definitely the pleasant surprise of this bunch (come on, you never doubted Bob Wire and C4J, did you?). Lane has a guitar, a warm baritone with the slightest Leon Redbone cleft in one far corner of it, and good taste in traditionals and covers that range from Buffy St. Marie (“Piney Wood Hills”) to Woody Guthrie (“Dead or Alive”) to Leadbelly (“Cowboy on the Western Plains”). The silent Chiaverini assists him ably on bass, banjo, mandolin, octave mandolin, washboard, 12-string guitar, cardboard box and a National Tri-Cone borrowed from one Wanda Sidmore, who is credited with ownership on every track the thing appears on. It’s easy to imagine this twosome sitting in front of a grange or county store up there in Troy, playing and chuckling and whiling away a July evening that gets darker and cooler much faster than it does down here. Western Tracks is honest and plainspoken. Highly recommended.

Big Sky Mudflaps & Friends
Armchair Cabaret Live Spud Records/self-released

Now here’s a strange little oddment: a live Mudflaps broadcast recorded before a studio audience at KUFM on April 1, 1995 and released last year with no fanfare whatsoever. Not just any live performance, though: an honest-to-goodness radio show with great tunes, fake promotional spots and left-leaning humor out the wazoo. And that studio audience? Man, are they digging it. Most of the humor here tends to be of the Rocky Mountain Logging & Ballet mold—that is to say, it’s inventive but it occasionally threatens to implode under the weigh of its own self-satisfied cleverness—but Armchair Cabaret is still a motherlode of NPR-approved humor with a thick enough vein of Missouliana running through it to produce some unqualified diamonds. Too many comedic and musical highlights to even get into here. Definitely worth picking up.

Gothic self-released

Gothic, my butt! It’s wikkid sikk with a couple Ks too many, but if this CD is gothic, I’m Tipper Gore. Gothic just delivers more proof that unalloyed heavy metal lives on in rural America and will continue to rise up in malarial waves every so often to scour the markets of the cities clean of inferior amalgams. Punk-metal crossover, rap-metal, thrash-funk—you name it, real metal will smoke it on the highway. Praise Halford we’ve still got rural radicals like Chris La Tray and Lazerwolfs ready to put the Dio back in “radio” and protect the American metal heritage of pounding 4/4 riffage, stygian lyrics and the dream of the ideal sexually accommodating woman who also lives in an ice cave with an albino wolf and several lesser familiars and … oh, wait. This song about the “Gothic Girlfriend” is the joke behind the album title. Hence all the pictures on the cover and inside the CD. Whose girlfriend is that, anyway? Man, this stuff slays now!

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