Saturday, May 13, 2006

SO YOU HAVE BAD TASTE: Leanne Kingwell and Huck Johns are here to cheer you up

I've noticed classic rockers suffer from inferiority complexes, sometimes manifesting in cringing self-marketing. From CD Baby to MySpace homepages to major label debuts, they deliver the complaint that no one does good ol' rock and roll anymore. They anticipate reproof for suggesting others, like them, would still find it enjoyable to listen to.

Not so, not so, because from where I stand it looks different. Musos of all ages do still make good classic rock records. And if these are not written about in favor of the latest ham-and-egger indie-altie acts ferried through arts features sections and music magazines on the Amazonian river of promo, it's not the classic rock 'n' rollers' fault or proof of no audience.

Reality is more complicated than the print media. You can be shunted to the side or completely off the plate over matters as petty as taste. And if you like classic rock, or (some) country (demand a relatively good singer and a delivery that isn't archly self-aware, for instance) and any genres which derive from that root, you will often be assumed to have bad taste, accompanied by the double fault of lack of modernity. Since I've written about music for a couple decades, I've experienced it from the inside.

So if you're a rocker reading this, yeah, I'm telling you you're right when you get the feeling you've been snubbed.

It's not a new phenomenon, though, if it's any consolation. It has a bit to do with social class, too. For example, at newspapers the editors and reporters frequently identify with those who share the cut of their jib, the upper middle class and those aspiring to it. So those knocking it out in the roadhouses are out of luck. Ditto for those drawing good crowds at the county fair or ag festival.

The music writers didn't like covering them at the newspaper in the late Eighties and they like it much less now. There's no going back.

In any case, the lack of magazines like Mojo or Classic Rock in this country (why in the UK?!) can leave the classic rocker feeling neglected and blue. It does me. In this country, that niche is half-heartedly occupied by the guitar magazines which have a more restricted delivery in how the genre is covered. These must cling to questions and answers about the guitar, technical and compositional issues, and inane and deadening variations of the same. While I read them regularly, they leave the general interest reader out.

But back to the classic rockers. Two have relatively new records which probably won't receive much attention this year but which are entirely worthy of your time and ear damage.

First, consider Huck Johns' imaginatively entitled "Huck." Hick, damn Freudian slip, HUCK -- is a soCal/Michigan hybrid and while he professes to be proudly from Detroit, you'll hear some Buckcherry on the record which stems from current accomplices and his current address in LA County. Posed in a strap T ala colleague Kid Rock, brandishing an acoustic guitar and jumping high in front of a corrugated zinc urban-wasteland brand shed on the cover, there's no way to guess that the first single off the platter, "Oh Yeah," carries the rhythm party-stomp of quality AC/DC. Since AC/DC hasn't even done quality AC/DC in the last few years, it's welcome.

Huck also turns out to be a good electric balladeer. "One Good Man" and "Damn Fine Woman," the latter written with Hendrixy weeping guitar, are for those quietly hopeful blue collar couples facing trouble keeping up payments on the pickup trucks. They're corny but most of the music I like a lot is corny. "Kill Everything's" manically desperate vocal is in Robin Zander-style and Bob Seger's "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" -- juiced by a brawling shout -- is ripe for enjoyment on the previously mentioned county fair and ag festival circuit, where Huck, if he gets there (and he should), can act naturally.

Look for Huck displaying his favorite Fleetwood Mac album for the CD art.

Drop your pants, slug
Also made for the hinterlands is Aussie dame Leanne Kingwell who looks like the fresh daughter of the pugs in Rose Tattoo. "Show Ya What" has many choices for singles. Leanne goes to hell where she wrote a book in "Look At My Life" and pistol whips her cheating ex in "Holding Your Gun." She loses a beau to swinging Tommy James and the Shondells chords in "So Long" and bawls emotion as a relationship crashes in "Blind," the latter with bonus tear-jerking organ by Chris Copping of Procol Harum who did it all for a bottle of red wine.

But Kingwell's not done with the undoing of things.

Boogiebilly ranting spills out of "You Stink" boys are mocked at the expense of electric dildos in "My Hero." More bashing about the head is administered for "Drop Your Pants" which ends in fuzz and a grunting sneer. The guitar is filthy and the voice stays sweet as Kingwell's tongue spurts acid imprecations in time to the beat.

Globally, the album is wrought in classic rock 'n' roll combo moves, its guitar tones exceptional within the genre, complimenting and emphasizing whatever Kingwell chooses to deliver. Although it sounds effortless, it's a difficult arrangement to pull off and, in this case, makes "Show Ya What" my favorite hard pop rock LP this year so far.


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