Recent releases from North Carolina-based Yep Roc Records are in the Compact Capsules spotlight this week. One of the most prolific labels on the indie scene, Yep Roc continues to dish out goods covering a host of genres in the rock, pop, and roots world. Let’s dig in.
It’s been almost 15 years since North Carolina-based Southern Culture On the Skids, or SCOTS as their fans refer to them, first unleashed their patented brand trashabilly hoodoo rock and roll on the unsuspecting. A mere three-piece with a basic guitar-bass-drums set-up, SCOTS poured Southern culture into its gumbo of sound hammering out butt-shaking doses of swamp, surf, rockabilly and boogie. Renowned for their live shows, it’s hard to believe that the newly released longplayer Doublewide & Live (Yep Roc YEP-2116) is the band’s first full-fledged live recording. The album takes us to an evening in November of 2004 at the band’s long-time and most favorite haunt (and it’s home club, if there is such a beast), Local 506 in Chapel Hill. With the faithful hootin’ and hollerin’ throughout, the trio of guitarist Rick Miller, bee-hive hairdo bassist Mary Huff, and bespectacled and rather nerdy looking drum banger Dave Hartman instantly have all in the room packing up their troubles in the old kit bag and worshipping at the altar of SCOTS. A few drinks probably doesn’t hurt a lick, either. The crowd-pleasers are all here from “Ditch Diggin'” to “Dirt Track Date” to “Liquored Up” to “Mojo Box” to “Banana Pudding”. Consider Doublewide & Live the next best thing to the in-the-flesh SCOTS experience.
With its 2005 release Oceans Apart, Aussie pop vets The Go-Betweens returned to the scene in a strong way. A band begun back in 1978, Oceans Apart marked only the third release from The Go-Betweens since founders Grant McLennan and Robert Forster reunited in 2000 after an 11-year split. If critical acclaim counts for anything, The Go-Betweens were at the top of their game once more. Hoping to capitalize on all the kudos, the band returns to the recording ranks not even a year later with the live DVD/CD retrospective That Striped Sunlight Sound (YEP-2081). Clocking in at over two hours of footage, the DVD is divided between a live band performance from early last August at the Tivoli Club in Brisbane, Australia and an up-close-and-personal visit the following day with band founders McLennan and Forster. Titled “The Acoustic Stories”, the latter it presents McLennan and Forster busking away the afternoon playing acoustic guitars and singing songs while telling The Go-Betweens story. The CD portion of the package presents the audio-only version of the same Tivoli concert performance. For fans of The Go-Betweens, That Striped Sunlight Sound is nothing short of essential goods. For newcomers, I can’t think of a better introduction to one of the great unsung bands of the pop world.
As the story goes, it was a ladies room encounter during a performance by the now defunct Raleigh roots rock band The Backsliders that planted the seed for singers Caitlin Cary, Tonya Lamm, and Lynn Blakey to test the trio waters. Alumni of such bands as Whiskeytown, Hazeldine, Let’s Active, and Glory Fountain, an unplanned after-hours performance to a few scragglers at a Raleigh watering hole not long after was the trio’s first performance in public. So pleased were they with what went down that they decided a record was in order. That was 1999. Dubbing themselves Tres Chicas, five years later came the debut album from the threesome titled Sweetwater. An album which worked the female harmony waters to satisfying proportions, the prevailing feeling in the music world was that because of the ladies’ many commitments, the record was nothing but a one-off to get their ya ya’s out. The fact that here not even two years later comes a sophomore offering from the trio, obviously Tres Chicas has become more than just some fly by night affair. Bloom, Red & the Ordinary Girl (YEP-2099) is the name of this latest and the plain and simple is it is more of the same. In other words, if you dug round one this second go-round should be equally as pleasing. On the flip side, if you missed out on that 2004 debut, Bloom, Red & the Ordinary Girl is as good a place as any to start.
We save the best of the bunch from the Yep Roc concern for last. Like Tres Chicas, The Minus Five also began as a one-off of sorts, in particular a side project for Seattle legend Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Tuatura, REM) to offload a bunch of songs he had been writing/accumulating. To the rescue to help McCaughey make something of his pile of homeless tunes came pals Peter Buck (REM), Ken Stringfellow (Posies) and Jon Auer. In a nutshell, The Minus 5 was born with the official christening being the 1994 debut Old Liquidator (ESD Records). Now some eight or so records what with the latest album called The Gun Album (YEP-2065), McCaughey’s bit of extracurricular band activity is still going strong. Not unlike previous longplayers in the history of The Minus 5, McCaughey is joined by a cast of thousands on The Gun Album. Originals Buck and Stringfellow are on hand once again along with folks like Jeff Tweedy, John Stirratt and Glenn Kotche of Wilco fame, John Wesley Harding, Colin Meloy and John Moen from The Decemberists, and loads more. The results are a record which stylistically is all over the map moving from frantic garage rock to alt-tinged country to Beatles-esque pop. McCaughey’s far from serious songs carrying titles like “Rifle Named Goodbye”, “Aw Shit Man”, “My Life as a Creep”, “Hotel Senator” and “Cigarettes, Coffee and Booze” give a pleasing air of joy and looseness to the whole she-bang. In this crazy, hectic world of ours, we can all you a little Minus 5 in our life with The Gun Album the perfect Rx. Recommended. (Yep Roc Records, PO Box 4821, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-4821, or www.yeproc.com.)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)