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Local Music

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Homegrown Cassettes Cassette tapes. As the Ann Arbor mu sic scène enters the late 2Oth century, a number of local musical outflts (the ones who don't completely spit in the face of historical tides by puttitng out vinyl 45s) have two choices when it comes to releasing music to the public. The first is shelling out tons of cash and putting out a CD. This is the obvious choice, especially if you want commercial air play of course. But, my favorite remains the cassette tape. Any band with access to a two-track basement recording studio, a color copying machine and a few bucks for blank tapes can be a star, andor at least have their artistic visión tossed out to the world at large. While any form of artistic democracy is a roll of the dice, there are scores of tapes which have emerged lately that cry out for re-release on CD. Maybe it's because I spent a week in Memphis a few months back, but the self ütled tape release from Lady Sunshine and the X Band is pure Memphis r & b heaven that sounds perfect right next to old Stax and Hi 45s from the 1960s. Fronted by Lady Sunshine, one of the most amazing soul singers to emerge from Michigan since Aretha Franklin, the six-piece soul and blues outfit really knows how to burn it up. From the kick off tune "One More Wrong Step," which is a mix of Otis ReddingCarla Thomas with a cookin' horn section, to the James Brown cover of "Sex Machine," Ms. Sunshine and the boys sure know how to seduce and slap an audience up side the head. Lady Sunshine probably owes as much to the Chicago's Koko Taylor or New Orleans' Irma Thomas (or the above mentioned Lady Soul from Detroit) as anyone else, but with her sweet and gritty voice and a band like this, all you can do is smile and make plans to see them live. The one original here, "Ugly Man," isn't too strong, but other than that, this sounds like the real stuff to me. If the new tape from Simple Marine Life, "Chum,"doesn'tblowyourbrairisoutwithits power, passion and tensión then you better listen again. It's your two-guitarbassvocal traditional setup, this is true. And there's a grunge-ish sonic splash and rumble in how the guitars soar and drone too. But even though Dinosaur Jr. and Smashing Pumpkins get mentioned by the band as influences, and there's only four origináis here, you have more than enough évidence of a major band in the beginning phase of important and uniquely original work. Simple Marine Life cries out for afull-length release, it's true. But in the meantime, if guitar trancedances like Trip" and "Crash" don't move you, then you'd better think about checking yourself back into the rest home. IVe been listening to Ken Cormier's "God Damn Doghouse" for weeks and I haven't been able to define my reactions into words until now. Free association: goofy, quirky, literate, more in tune with the power of sounds than meaning of words (sometimes), real 1990s folk music, anti-intellectual, Alex Chilton-ish, performance spaceart gallery chic, anti-improvisational, ghetto rap rhythm slumming, Captain Beefheart-ish, never take yourself too seriously, show biz-next stop Hollywood, garage band anti-art sensibilities, Zappa Zappa Zappa with three chords, moving at times annoying at others, the Comedy Channel, buy-this-guy-a-guitartuner, Night Time is death poetry meets Native-American chantingdance music on Mars, what does this guy want to do: write smart ass joke-tunes, listen to the sounds the human voice can créate or capture the glory of the human heart (or all three?), are there serious drugs at work here or just amazingly near death levéis of caffeine most likely brought to us by way too much coffee (?), do we have an artist here who is only passing through Ann ArborYpsi on his way to New York, LA, London, Paris, is this the first stage of a new form of musical expression, doesn't Ken Cormier make you want to send a copy of "God Damn Doghouse" toyour grandparents who go to the Ark every week (ust to piss them off), is "Cigarettes & Wine" a tip of the hat to Buddy Holly, and what are we to make of all of this? I love this cassette, but it may be up to the next generation ta sort out and map the zillions of things going on here. Amazing, amazing, amazing. If it were not for cassettes, John Hammink's second release, "4," would not have seen the light of day. Under the group name of Mr. Chaos, Mr. Hammink gives us a more electrified example of his artistic visión than we got from his earlier, more folky, low-key "NightTrainTo Murmansk. "This time there 's a band, and on the eight tunes here sometimes the additional sounds make Hammink's origináis shine and at other times, they muddy things up. The best feature is the voice: easy going, smooth and quirky. It's your Celtic European folk music from midwestern America that takes a twisted turn down a grim city street. Or it's folk from soul with a rock and roll heart. Either way, Hammink's music is anything but chaotic. Instead it's introspective, warm, focused and poetic. While tracks like "Parallel Streets," with an offbeat drum machine, freeform jazz slummings and new age dance overtones fail terribly, most, like the perfect "Looking Backwards" - a 9 am watercolor still life of Michigan Avenue that is as optimistic and fresh as any "folk" music you're going to hear - are tiny, wellcrafted gems. As always, yours truly can be reached at: AGENDA, The View From Nowhere, 220 S. Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 or e-mail to ALANNARBOR@AOL.COM. Wïltiam Shea's monthty column of music reviews will be back in the Maren issue!


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