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30 October 2010

Eugene Chadbourne - 'Country Music in the World of Islam' (Fundamental)

This is a collaboration between Chadbourne, the Sun City Girls and Elliot Sharp -- and you could probably include Matt Groening in there too, as Akbar and Jeff are spilling all over this record. As a band, well, Chadbourne and Sun City Girls work together brilliantly. Who else is so attuned to Chadbourne's rambling sensibility? And the title is apt for describing the contents. The songs blend together into two side-long suites, much like his performance style. I saw Chadbourne live once, but on record I don't have to endure the rather brutal odor that emanated from the stage. If only I could have seen this lineup! Rick Bishops's guitar playing is great with Chadbourne's style, and the goofy songs fit right in with the Dante's Disneyland mentality. I actually rate this over all those great Shockabilly records, maybe cause I like things sharp and not so echoey. Not that this record will be that much of a departure for Shockabilly fans. This is 1990, made nine years into the Reagan revolution, and understandably the songs burst with batshit insane conspiracy theories, social commentary on 80s issues, and timeless cleverness like 'Big John Loves His Dick'. 'Castro's Surgery is a Mystery' is maybe the pinnacle of this madness, a good dose of Horse Cock Phepner-style lyrical musings overlaid with the most sinister (yet stupid) sampled voice. You can't go too far into a Chadbourne record without hearing some cover versions, so you get Gram Parsons 'Luxury Liner', 'I Wouldn't Live in New York City' by Buck Owens, and the jazz standard 'I Cover the Waterfront'. The latter is done in a dirgy 80s' indie rock way, overlaid with braying farmyard animals, obtuse keyboard interference and several overdubbed layers of Chadbourne arguing with himself. And every once in awhile a really sweet harmony is reached with Charles Gocher, and some bittersweet sentimentality leaks through (despite the radio voice talking overtop). All throughout the record, of course, there's plucking and scrambling galore - banjo in particular works well with the usual Bishopisms. Everyone has a strong free improv sensibility that's really unique when pushed against these bouncy, brightly delivered songs. The middle of the record gets into more ballady tunes, with 'I'm Not You' and 'He Was a Boy' taking the humour down a notch; the band really gets cooking at the end of 'Boy' and Gocher in particular responds well and holds things just on the verge of pure chaos. 'Hippies and Cops' has a real alternarock edge not just because of the conflict described in the lyrics, but due to the deep fuzz guitars and basses. They're mixed low but it's still pleasantly tongue in cheek - 'The List is Too Long' gets into more metal-influenced rock with noodly solos that are probably Chadbourne, but it's actually hard to tell. I'm reminded of late 80s SST experimentalists, and the rock is brought back as an intro to the last tune, 'Don't Burn the Flag, Let's Burn the Bush'. Certainly flag-burning was all the rage in 1990 and the topical nature of this is not lost on me, but who knew what would happen a decade later in American politics! I'm sorry this wasn't revived for the dark part of the 00s, because when you sing 'The president oughta be in jail' it feels even more relevant when applied to the son. Though this is an unusually straightforward tune for Chadbourne it's charming, my own political sympathies notwithstanding - you can only imagine a frustrated 80s Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg (RIP, by the way!) happy to see some flame still burning.

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