Frontier Ruckus

Musical oddities twang relentless. Miniature concerti on the strings of the holler. Multiple musicians stretch lyrics taut over the bones of memory and loss and hope. Minor keys, major melodies.

A quavering voice driving earnestly before the musical buzz of flexing hardware and jangly picking.

The Orion Songbook by Frontier RuckusFrontier Ruckus is perpendicular to bluegrass; somehow, they cross it at right angles, leaving no doubt that either you are on the train or you have missed it until it next passes your station. Which it will, so pay attention.

Blown to Smithereens

I had forgotten how very much I like jumping up and down to nearly everything The Smithereens have done. Pure simple crunchy rock, the way folks did it way back in the 60s.

Watching Pat DiNizio play the guitar, it doesn’t even look like he’s trying, belying the enormous sounds that result. Though so many of the songs have desperately sad lyrics, Pat always sounds so hopeful, as if somehow, some way, it’s all gonna be okay.

 Maybe I won't be afraid to love somebody new Maybe I can open up my heart Then I won't drown in my own tears

(The chorus of ‘Drown in My Own Tears’)

See? It has a happy ending. (Okay, you probably have to hear the song to get the feel.)

Okay, how about this, then?

 Now she held a bass guitar and she was playin' in a band And she stood just like Bill Wyman; now I am her biggest fan

(from ‘Behind a Wall of Sleep’)

Quite a few of their hits open with a very Beatle-esque guitar riff. DiNizio makes no secret of his love for the Fab Four’s music—Smithereens have covered the Beatles’ entire first album. The riff in Only a Memory sounds like the riff from I Want to Tell You but phrased a little differently. The similarities are clearly homage, not theft.

Two special favorites from Blown to SmithereensBehind a Wall of Sleep and Drown in My Own Tears. ‘Drown’ hit the radio at a time when I thought I would do exactly that; ah, the happy memories of being a teenager. (Isn’t it wonderful that we only suffer through that age once?) And ‘Sleep’—how can I not love a song about a beautiful bass-playing girl?

This is happy music, despite the lyrics. I can’t not have fun listening to Blown to Smithereens (usually, just a little too loud.)

The City is a Washing Machine

Or so says Marvelous Toy.

I think this has always been my theme song (one of them, at least) and I just had to wait 40 years for someone to write it. More assertive than folk, less aggressive than rock, more intelligent than pop. Retrobilly, maybe.

The City is a Washing Machine opens with acoustic guitar, a vigorously thumped kick drum, and vocals, eventually we get organ and other stuff (the happy click of drumsticks, for instance, and piano) but it’s far into the song, the last word of the chorus in fact, before I hear a bass. And that’s very minimalist cool. As is the ending: an unfinished line, both lyrically and musically. Witty. I like witty.

 I know how my life began and I know how it will end; I will be searching for a word that rhymes with 'dying' as I lay dying

Every instrument is played with panache, and some, in addition, with a pick. jordan hudock, ny lee, cody hudock (look; two folks with the same last name) and franck fiser (they’re listed on their MySpace page in lower case, and with my ‘no period after the ‘D’ in Joel D Canfield, please’ affectation, who am I to correct them?) are having fun.

Let’s all buy their album so they feel obligated to tour. Los Angeles is too far to drive. Though, Marvelous Toy just might be worth it.

Jordan was kind enough to send a copy of their press kit which you can grab and read if you like. It suits their music, it does.

(See also Waiting for the Fire, much more complex than your average retrobilly song; earnest, passionate, and stupendous fun to sing along with.)

Yes Buggles Drama

Buggles central characters Trevor Horn, vocalist, and Geoff Downes, keyboard player, were recording next door to Chris Squire, Steve Howe, and Alan White while they were recording the beginnings of the Yes album Drama. Horn and Downes were invited to fill the gaps left by Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, who were busy elsewhere.

As much as I love Yes, oddly enough Drama is one of my favorites. The Buggles brought just enough difference to spark some amazing stuff.

(Inspired by a discussion The Tribe Nez Built with Bonnie, Bill, Tom, ps and Betsy at

Journey Down the Nile

Proving once again that it’s not just a river in Egypt, J. D. Souther’s Journey Down the Nile is my new intentional earworm.

I think it’s a samba. I’ve forgotten most of the little I ever knew about Latin rhythm, but I think it’s a samba. With little machine-gun drum fills and a bass that knows how to samba. Or whichever dance it is. Apparently the horn section was recorded live, sliding in behind the languid vocals and wrapping around the piano which, like the bass, dances to whatever Latin rhythm that is. The trumpet solo defies the subtlety of the other instruments, blaring over the top, holding one long wavering note while they all change chords underneath. It’s one of those little musical witticisms I love.

Lyrically, there’s some kind of social commentary in there, but I’ll be hanged if it’s surfaced yet. The wit overshadows the message, but Joel David doesn’t care any more than John David did.