Music » Music Feature

Carpetbaggers, windbreakers, cowboys and milkmen

A quartet of locally tied revisitations

The motto of Atlanta-based indie label Deep Shag is, "We refuse to sit quietly in one section of your CD collection." And a quick glance at the diversity of the company's catalog confirms it. After identifying various out-of-print LPs that fetch high prices in online auctions, label boss Michael Reed officially reissues them as handsomely packaged CDs. One such offering is Frantic Times, a 1984 album from the Frantics, a Canadian comedy quartet whose Python influence is as wide as a Molson truck. Others include Killing Me Night and Day, a collection of early '80s tracks by West Coast metalheads Stress, whose "Burning in Your Fire" belongs in the same bins with Ratt and Poison.

Reed's best seller so far is On the Road with Ellison, an anthology of lecture-circuit soundbites by noted fantasy scribe Harlan Ellison, whose acidic quips include kudos to populist-astronomer Carl Sagan for successfully explaining the cosmos for every "slope-browed, Bible-thumping, no-neck asshole sitting out there in the middle of Decatur, Ga." Originally issued on a private label in 1983 with the optimistic subtitle Volume One (20 years later there's still no sequel), this new edition includes a fresh set of liner notes written by Ellison in the wake of Sept. 11.

More than just a re-issue label, however, Deep Shag also ranks among its artists Fish Karma, the eccentric satirist whose two early-'90s albums combined vicious wit, social satire and some of the most un-musical vocals ever set to music. Lunch with the Devil showcases stinging new material, along with alternate versions of several Karma cult classics. One standout is "An Artist's Lament," originally a jab at coffeehouse beatniks but now revivified as a frontal assault on hardcore punk ("No future! Arrr!"). And anyone who chortles at Karma's "Dio Rocks!" ("There he is on top of the dragon! It's his fifth encore!") had best stay tuned for the CD's hidden track, a sidesplitting backward-masked ode to Satan himself.

-- Gregory Nicoll

Twenty years ago: A powerpop group headed by a duo of distinctive guitarists and writers from the South cranks up with a little help from drummer/producer Mitch Easter, releases a string of increasingly impressive discs to critical acclaim but muted sales, then drifts into solo-album territory and eventually silence, despite two killer band efforts on Atlanta's DB Records in the late '80s. It may sound a bit like the story of North Carolina's dBs, but this time it's the Windbreakers, who originally hailed from Jackson, Miss.

Now gigging and recording again after a decade off, the jangle-pop WBs are still lead by dreamy Bobby Sutliff, whose talents include an uncanny ability to conjure up superb Roger McGuinn-like 12-string guitar licks, and the rougher-edged, more analytical Tim Lee. Time Machine 1982-2002 (Paisley Pop) provides 20 fine slices of the band's craft, including two strong new songs recorded, like their earliest efforts, with power-pop guru Easter. Wistful tales of girls gone by from Sutliff and probing essays from Lee combine with some excellent covers, such as a ragged version of Television's "Glory" that hints at a Southern Neil Young. The same label, Paisley Pop, has also released Lee's first solo outing in a decade, Under the House (in between, he played in local bands Magnapop and the Swimming Pool Q's). It's a low-key, sparse and occasionally moody set concerned with the perceived onset of middle-age.

-- John C. Falstaff

Proudly stamping its cattle-brand on the first generation of English punk music was a one-album wonder called Cowboys International, whose 1979 release, The Original Sin, prefigured an impending transition from the angry chording of the mid-'70s to the astral electronica of the '80s. The Cowboys' fluctuating membership included once-and-future Clash drummer Terry Chimes and Public Image Limited guitarist Keith Levene, but it was under the leadership of multi-instrumentalist Ken Lockie that these influential players kept the sound so human -- and humane -- amid walls of synth-pop and spacey effects. If Joe Strummer had joined Human League, the results could have shared these Cowboys' corral.

The Original Sin ranked high in year-end polls, spawned one minor domestic radio hit (the uncharacteristically somber "Here Comes a Saturday") and quickly became an out-of-print cult favorite. Recognizing an enduring interest in the disc, the now Georgia-based Lockie has privately re-released it as a spruced-up deluxe edition called Cowboys International Revisited, packed with some superb bonus tracks and adorned with poetically nostalgic liner notes from music journalist Russell Hall. It now runs a full hour and boasts a beefed-up mix that better presents its complex sonic textures than the comparatively murky old American vinyl pressing.

Although Revisited retains the 1979 LP's cover art, purists may quibble at the re-sequencing of the songs. A new bonus track, the catchy and briskly danceable "Fixation," now leads the disc. "Pointy Shoes," with its eerie Ennio Morricone-style harmonica riff, was originally the album-opener, yet here it brings up the rear like a well-earned encore, making the overall sequence feel more like the setlist for a reunion concert. In fact, Lockie is completing a new album, which makes Revisited one of those rare re-issues that actually looks forward, suggesting perhaps these Cowboys may soon be back in the saddle again.

-- Gregory Nicoll

Mercilessly heavy and frequently as slow, Athens' Harvey Milk inevitably draws comparisons to the Melvins (Black Sabbath and Jesus Lizard are not out of order either). But its Southern brand of quaalude dirge rock disregards the Melvins' tight, crisp sound, preferring a looser, more distorted approach and subsequently, a more distinctive, soulful sound. Imagine a beer-and-cheese-crusted handlebar moustache partying with a stoned Satan -- that's the sound of Harvey Milk.

Those who miss -- and those who missed out on -- the '93 to '97 heyday of Harvey Milk will be delighted to come across The Singles (Relapse). In fact, many of these songs hark back to the time of the group's first and best recording, My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment Of What My Love Can Be (Yesha) from 1995. Singles like "Yer Mouse Gets My Dander Up," "I Do Not Know How to Live My Life," "Sunshine, Good Times & Fine Wine" and "Women Dig It" exemplify Harvey Milk at its best. Creston Spiers howls with yeti metal furor, Stephen Tanner strums away at his bass like he's hammering his way out of prison and Paul Trudeau punishes his drums with his own, uniquely brilliant sense of timing.

For those of you weren't around, The Singles provides a great introduction to an important band that was ahead of its time. Could this release reawaken the beasts known as Harvey Milk for a long overdue reunion show? The time is certainly right.

-- Omar Khalid

Add a comment