Sex Clark 5 and Chuck E. Weiss return with top-drawer efforts
Sex Clark 5
(Records to Russia)
A curious thing happened sometime in the early 1980s here in the southern part of the union. Somehow, music opened up dramatically. No longer was the South merely the home of Southern rock legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Marshall Tucker Band. A new Southern rock began to emerge.
The Athens, Ga music scene, which spawned R.E.M.,was the epicenter of this new movement and was influenced by the punk rock DIY ethos in terms of aesthetics. Some point to Memphis legends Big Star as the progenitors of pop music in the South, and that’s a well-worn story which holds a lot of water. Certainly, Chilton and Bell’s Anglophile pop group was a seminal influence.
As a result, though, nearly every city in the region began incubating its own version of the Athens music scene. Mississippi spawned the Windbreakers. North Carolina gave us the dBs and Let’s Active. In Birmingham, the Primitons entered into the pop sweepstakes and over in little Huntsville, a quirky band called the Sex Clark 5 quietly put out a masterpiece of an album called Strum and Drum! and nearly instantly became BBC radio legend John Peel’s newest favorite band.
The Sex Clark 5 have been variously described as sounding somewhat like the Pixies (nope) or even the Kinks (not really), but I would say the band most sounds like whatever song you happen to land on.
On the band’s latest effort, Rembrandt X, SC5 continue the quirky road trip that seems to be the modus operandi of their career. On the cut “California”, shades of mid-period Byrds shine through—not in the use of 12-string guitars, but rather in the very folk-based vocal arrangement.
Many songs in fact evoke the close harmonies of groups like the Byrds or even the first Gene Clark solo record. Other songs like “Nephilim” for all the world remind me of Jackson Browne sideman David Lindley’s ’60s group Kaleidoscope in its use of acoustic instruments and vaguely Middle Eastern melodies.
Sex Clark 5 have likely labored somewhat under the dubious problem of issuing a sterling first album all those years ago—only to be continually reminded of its impact every time a new record is released. Up until now, each new album has been dismissed as inferior to the debut. However, SC5 may have found their sea legs again, as Rembrandt X is a very worthy companion piece and perhaps even surpasses its ancestor in many ways.
And by the way, a band this good only has 145 “likes” on its Facebook page? Go and rectify this situation immediately, readers!
Chuck E. Weiss
Red Beans & Weiss
Los Angles-based singer/songwriter Chuck E. Weiss is back after seven years with the Tom Waits/Johnny Depp executive-produced Red Beans and Weiss. The veteren LA scenster delivers a solid set of his by-now-trademark eccentric melding of R&B, rock, blues, jazz and whatever else seems to come to mind at the time.
For many, Weiss has always been basically a footnote. A reference in a late-’70s soft rock song, itself largely forgotten. Yes, Rickie Lee Jones’ inspiration for”Chuck E.’s In Love” did spring from her involvement with boyfried Tom Waits and friend Weiss, all painted against the background of LA’s seedy Tropicana Hotel, and the influence of each musician on one another is obvious.
But before the age of instant information dissemination, one would have been hard pressed to turn up much on an enigmatic character who has only just released his fifth album in a carreer spanning the better part of 40 years.
Weiss began as a drummer. He recorded and toured during the latter part of the ’60s with Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters and even Roger Miller. The ’70s saw Weiss strike up his association with Waits and Jones after his move from hometown Denver to LA’s infamous Tropicana.
He began cultivating his persona as the cool, hip, beat-poetry-spouting, wig-wearing scenster who released his first album in 1981—then promptly spent the next 11 years playing Monday nights at the Central, the Sunset Strip club that would eventually become Depp’s Viper Room.
Obviously, Weiss has never felt pressed for time, as his sporadic recording carreer can attest, and his style has never really varied much from his original blueprint. However, compared to Waits and Jones, Weiss is probably the most rock and roll of the three in his approach.
He is not necessarily locked into a proto-jazz be-bop style, so the new album is rife with electrified boogie, like “Boston Blackie” and the modern day rockabilly of “Tupelo Joe,” both of which draw upon images pulled from 1940s dime novels and radio shows. Lost Rolling Stones song “Exile on Main St. Blues” is done in the style of classic Chicago blues of the ’50s.
Chuck E. Weiss may not take his career seriously, but he does revere his insprirations and as such is a true original and much-needed purveyor of classic American musical styles, which are fading rather quickly these days.
If it takes an actor like Depp using his celebrity to draw America’s attention to this legend, then I say hats off to Johnny Depp, and here’s hoping Weiss swings his way into more listeners’ hearts.