Tuesday, April 30, 2024

With Anniversary, Adeem The Artist Adds More Challenging & Authentic Anthems To Their Already Compelling Country-Folk Catalog


Anniversary. 12 tracks. By Adeem The Artist. Four Quarters/Thirty Tigers. Out everywhere on 5/3/2024.

On the first Friday in May 2024, the skilled and spicy Knoxville songwriter known as Adeem The Artist brings us Anniversary, their follow-up album to the break-out sensation White Trash Revelry. 

Produced by the multi-talented Butch Walker (who has worked with Taylor Swift, Frank Turner, Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Pink), the record wraps a plurality of plaintively honest stories in addictive hooks at the intersection of country, rock, and folk. The rowdy full-band set includes several of Adeem's peers, including Jessye DeSilva on keys, Aaron Lee Tasjan on guitar, and Katie Pruitt on background vocals, among others. 

A catchy contrast to Adeem’s stripped-down live solo shows, Anniversary is all bold reach, with a bare and broken heart to balance bristling hooks, where they remain a complicated queer voice in a bustling and bursting Americana scene. Time and again, Adeem’s politics and pansexuality will push the most ostensibly inclusive festival-undercard to face lavender frills and lyrical thrills that reside far past comfy categories in scuffed boots and brown Carhartts.  

While words like queer, nonbinary, and pansexual can sometimes feel like they got crammed into the artist’s bio like boxes to check for us allies with rainbow stickers on their laptops, Adeem’s genius is far past cookie-cutter Pride marketing. And with each new album, we have such tender refrains that talk about what that “nonbinary country singer” tag actually means in terms of specific songs. From the sweetly homoerotic single “One Night Stand” to the neurodivergent kink of “Nancy” to the confessional therapy of “Wounded Astronaut,” the careful listener easily learns that there are no adequate boxes or cubby-holes for Adeem at all, but a wild and honest and occasionally hilarious odyssey through myriad complexities of intimacy and joy in human and romantic relations. 

For the serious fan who has studied their bio, meditated on their lyrics, or checked out Adeem’s extensive “pre-Adeem” back catalog on their Bandcamp, we know that Adeem The Artist is a profoundly theological writer exploring both existential and eternal themes in four-minute packets of profundity and sacrilegious hymnody. Sometimes, that pairs as an almost-parody with the churchy obsession of the afterlife, such as with earlier earworms “Going to Heaven” and “Going to Hell.” Occasionally, it deals in the more tragic and gothic aspects of southern religion, as with “Baptized in Well Spirits” or “Heritage of Arrogance.” 

In the dedication section of the Anniversary liner notes, Adeem writes: “I want to thank the Unseen Magic that in my youth I named ‘God’ for sustaining me and filling my heart with gratitude and sorrow in equal measure so that I remain steadfast in my commitment to pleasure & justice.”  

On this new set, “Nightmare” tickles my theological itch with a prickly take-down of contemporary Christianity, with its internal predilection for abusive pastors and external obsession with right-wing politics. But after listening to the holy hooks and rapturous refrains of “Nightmare” multiple times, it leaves the listener with the discomforting task of reading it multiple ways. 

Is the speaker or singer inside the faith and suddenly waking up to the hypocrisy? Or is this song also about the inclusive churches getting picketed (or worse) for being inclusive? In this stunning song, the perspectives seem to change with each stanza, but the yearning defiance remains. Left theologians and political commentators more astute and faithful than me have reminded us that “What Would Jesus Do” has long left the building for an altar call to political warfare. This song abides in the uncomfortable inversion of our summer camp sentimental memories with the fiery insistence: “Don’t do us like Jesus.” That is, don’t crucify folks! In the victim-complex olympics of the most persecuted then persecuting the also-persecuted, this prayer for actual religious freedom and true tolerance is almost too much to bear. But being such a great song, we will sit with its seeming contradictions and learn to sing along.

As we in the “cast iron fansexual” universe (yes, that is what one of our online fan groups is actually called, a nod to their 2021 burner of an album Cast Iron Pansexual) already know, Adeem acknowledges a deep debt as a songwriter to the canon of John Prine. When touring behind Revelry and opening shows for the likes of Jason Isbell and the Mountain Goats, they often included a cover of “Lake Marie.” So it was of little surprise to me at all, that one Adeem’s most anthemic and addictive of the new tracks is “Plot of Land,” which really feels l ike a 21st century update of “Spanish Pipe Dream,” with shades of “Paradise” too. While staggering real estate prices make this back-to-the-earth dream unfortunately as unlikely in reality as “Run This Town” was for politics on the last album, Adeem’s unwavering and often utopian topic choices continue to embed their work in a hopeful (despite ourselves) south and often the rural south, even when certain forces would seek to chase us all away.

Thus the haunted closing track--“White Mule, Black Man”--mixes song and spoken word, connecting the Knoxville legend of the “white mule curse” of the late 19th century, with the murder of Maurice Mays and the Knoxville race riots of 1919. This song is not unlike “The Money Grows On Trees” (about the rural weed wars of the 1990s) which closes out the recent Willi Carlisle set, and I would love to see more of these deep takes on our complicated history find their way into the contemporary folk and country canon. These are not anthems, but they are not “skip tracks” either. They are semi-spoken stories that will stick with you for a considerable amount of time. 

Fans of raw, unfiltered and sometimes snarky and self-deprecating Adeem, don’t let the superb production of Anniversary throw you off. This isn’t really a “pop country” album by any means, if simply for its gnarled and authentic narratives. I don’t think Adeem could “sell out” if they tried, for they are too real, for their topics like themselves are too thorny and delicate and diverse. But with the sweetness of the sounds on this polished set, all deeply anchored by Adeem’s solid lyrics and longing croons, that means that if we know what’s good, we will pull up a chair and a beverage and the good headphones or speakers and linger with this one for a while, a long and lovely while. - Andrew/Sunfrog 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

My Chill Bumps Have Chill Bumps: Tyler Childers at the Bridgestone Arena


[Photo by Brittany Monroe]

What do I mean when I say that listening to music with intention is my spiritual practice. There’s the solo walking revelation with your favorite songs or the Friday new releases & the good headphones. Then there’s that kind of musical encounter that merges the magical & meaningful in such a mass cultural & communal way as to transform an arena into a living room & a church and a barn and the back pasture, or at least that’s the case when Kentucky’s Tyler Childers & his band the Food Stamps take over the Bridgestone Arena.

On one of the fan pages, someone juxtaposed images of Tyler at the OG Basement not that long ago, & now he is selling out the same room that the likes of arch-classics like The Who, Roger Waters, Bob Seger, U2, or The Eagles have sold out. Other country artists, as well as indie, pop, hip-hop, jam-bands, and gospel greats have filled the hockey arena too, but there’s something special & dare I say humble about this particular Appalachian singer’s sudden rise to the ranks of those that sell out arenas.

In a town like Nashville, turning the arena into a “church” of sorts isn’t any kind of stretch. Plenty of praise-&-worship tours have set down in this very room. But if you just listen closely to the far ranging lyrics of Tyler’s universe, which feels like misty mountain & crunchy creek & holler, or if you just allow the trippy videos or between song snippets wash over you, we might notice how interspiritual & multicolored & sometimes simply sexy or wild & rowdy all these tracks actually are.

It’s some psychedelic hillbilly reincarnation meets old-school Pentecostal hoedown revival, where not just the piercing lyrics pull you in with all the people singing along, but it’s also each instrument tugging at your entire body, from bass & drums to fiddle & keys, to invoke every “wow” or “hallelujah” your heart could muster. From the familiar singalong lyrics of  “Shake the Frost” or “Follow You to Virgie” or “Lady May” to the sanctified funky of “Triune God” or coke & booze fueled confessions of “Whitehouse Road,” it’s an all-encompassing sonic envelope of the real. Even the instrumental jams of “Two Coats” & “Cluck Ol’ Hen” bring you inside the fire where your true heart burns. 

How do I know that this is a spiritual practice?! Well in this case the signal is strong & the vibes visionary, like from the homey lamps & vintage television that decorate the stage, broadcasting at the frequency of love & fellowship, if not a little bad boy rebellion. The signal sucks you in, singing along. Then, your pins & needles have pins & needles. Your chill bumps have chill bumps. Your entire body is a vibrating, teary-eyed & foot-stomping mess of gratitude.

These songs are part of your story & your very soul & everyone around you tonight seems to feel the same.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

The Layabouts - from the Detroit archives


listen to the Layabouts' 1985 album No Masters -


listen to the Layabouts' 2000 album Workers of the World Relax -


Article originally published in Babyfish (lost its momma) #2, Autumn 1988, long out of print.
After many breakups and reunions, Detroit’s Layabouts played what looks like (could it be?) their final finale, this past summer at the Anarchist Gathering in Toronto. 
[Editor's note: the Layabouts would continue to get back together and break up countless times over the coming decades. The last time I saw them as a full band was at a Fifth Estate 50th anniversary show in Detroit in 2015.] 
In early September [1988], Sunfrog interviewed Layabouts Ralph & Alan Franklin. What follows here is part history and reflection -- and a Babyfist tribute to one of the greatest Detroit bands ever. . . . 
Welcome to Detroit’s Corridor, the concrete domain of the “world’s laziest band” -- the Layabouts. For something like eight years, this group has provided “world beat” boogie and anarchist politics for the thriving radical community that lives in this neighborhood.
It was not always a huge dance party of popularity for this bunch practicing their “principled laziness.” The Layabouts began as a basement cover band, thrashing through songs by the Beatles, Sex Pistols, Clash, David Bowie, and the Tom Robinson Band. The two folks who remained a constant part of the Layabouts through many lineup changes were brothers, Alan and Ralph Franklin. They now laugh about the early basement days, jamming with Stephen Goodfellow, almost proud of how bad they were. The early shows were more of the same.
“‘Anarchy in the UK’ used to be our evening closer and usually by the end of the evening, we and everybody we were playing for were so drunk that it was literal anarchy. If there are any taped versions of that song around, they should be hidden away forever,” Alan recalls.
The Layabouts had their beginnings in a barrage of “loud and not particularly good thrashing rock.”
As the Layabouts were starting up in the early 1980s, Alan and Ralph were part of a group of people in the community who started up the Grinning Duck Club. The Duck Club was an alternative art space where homespun music, theater, and politics could flourish. Ralph remembers the Duck Club as an “explicitly anti-authoritarian” space where “for all its ups and downs and hard times and people arguing, it said, for the community, ‘You can do all this stuff. You don’t need experts. You don’t need stars.’”
The Duck Club was the site of many satirical and political theater pieces, a weekend conference on the nuclear crisis, and shows by bands such Layabouts, DOA, Private Angst, The Sun Messengers, and The Buzzards. As the Duck Club closed, it spun off into other spaces such as the Freezer Theater and the Uncooperative. The Uncooperative was run by Private Angst and the Layabouts and shared by the Fifth Estate
Over the next few years, the Layabouts began to write many of their own songs, some which showed up on the 1986 album No Masters and were in the band’s set all the way up to their last show at the 1988 Anarchist Gathering in Toronto. The oldest of these songs is “Governments Lie,” which started as an instrumental derived from a funk riff the band heard on the funk radio station that Stephen was listening to at the time. 
The lyrics were written around the fall of 1982, when Israel invaded Beirut--which inspired the line, “With Reagan and Begin at Sabra and Shatilla/the State is God and the State is a killer.”  
Alan also remembers other lyrical inspirations.
“‘Fuckalot’ as you can imagine was written after fucking. It was when my partner and I had been going through some strains, and the strains had been having an affect on our sex life. So finally, we got it straightened out, and we made love. I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t we do this all the time?’”
“I’m Tired” was written during a “flurry of creativity” where the first four verses were quite a whine about the misery of everyday life and the last long verse was an angry rant. The rant at the end was inspired by listening to Crass. While Alan found the words of the Crass songs “largely unintelligible,” “the anger really fired me up.”
“I think a lot of people can identify with the complaints in the earlier verses, because a lot of people feel that about their lives. They feel, ‘I’m sick of everything. Even the things that are supposed to give me pleasure, I’m sick of.’ But I think a lot of people feel that without realizing why they feel it. The last verse was an attempt to make connections between why people feel that in their lives and what’s happening to the world around them--this incredible devastation of the world on every level. And the kinds of anxiety and despair it provides in people’s everyday lives. One of the things that always impressed me about the Fifth Estate and Anarchist Print Co-op in years past was that the people who were involved in those projects were heavily influenced by a group of European theoreticians who called themselves the Situationists. One of their big things was the critique of everyday life. They were really down leftism that only saw issues like imperialism and exploitation and didn’t deal with the boredom and frustration of people’s daily lives. I guess for me, a sub-title for ‘I’m Tired’ is ‘The Critique of Everyday Life’--trying to make a linkage between why the world is in such a mess and why our lives are in such a mess.”
Words like the ones for “I’m Tired” represented a certain period of lyric writing for Alan. “One of the things that I tried to do then that I try not to do so much now, is when I wrote songs then, I usually tried to include a complete critique of the modern world. The problem with that is songs ended up very wordy.”
Ralph stressed that while some people in the band would come forth with a lyrical or musical idea to start the songwriting process, writing a Layabouts song was always a collective and collaborative process. Songs rarely ended up the way that they began. And Ralph feels strongly that what made the Layabouts good was the diversity in the band, which allowed for always changing music.
The song “7 Minutes” evolved from an end of a practice jam, like many of the Layabouts’ songs.
Whether the issue [was] how to do songs or what gigs to play, if any one member had a strong objection to doing something, it was not done.  This aspect of the collective process meant that things were not “all roses.”
The band was once offered a chance to play at the annual Unity In The Community festival on Detroit’s southwest side, a big event in the Latino community. There was one stipulation in the offer and that was that the band not play “Fuckalot” for that [particular] show. After a long discussion, the band decided not to engage  in self-censorship and they never did the show.
One of the most memorable Layabout shows was when they played in the street before the October 4th, 1987 rally to: “Stop U.S. Intervention in Central America & End Apartheid in Southern Africa.” We got down in the street to the sound of freedom’s beat like never before.  It was an incredible high, but the Layabouts show that day was laden with controversy. 
The band was originally scheduled to play at the post-march rally, but because of their anarchist bent were moved to the pre-march rally. They were told not to “make any unauthorized speeches,” but as Ralph remembers, “We said ‘fuck it’ and we did make an unauthorized speech. And they (the march organizers) were very upset about it.” The ‘speech’ came during the song “Governments Lie.” The band referred to the city government officials who voted for the trash incinerator. “These people are going to lie to you.” The politicians are going to say they support freedom in South Africa while the companies and banks involved in building and financing the world’s largest trash incinerator also finance apartheid. Governments Lie. And I’m not talking about some of them. I mean every single one of them. 
But there is hope yet.
The Layabouts represent the hope coming from this community. They represent countless benefits to stop the incinerator, fight against slumlords, support nuclear disarmament, create anarchy, and celebrate community in the [Cxxx] Corridor. Those benefits at the Survival Gatherings, Dallys in the Alley, and the Michigan Peace March Festival are among the band’s favorite shows.
The band in its members represents the hope of breaking down barriers of race, age, gender, and background. The last incarnation of the Layabouts ranged in age from 19 to 40 plus. The band has represented Latin, African, and European heritage--a diversity which carries over into the Layabouts sound.
The Layabouts are the hope that unlike the prevailing idea that success as a band is defined by profits and major label exposure, a band can be immensely popular while engaging in intentional resistance to commercial principles. These “Lazy”-bouts never wanted the band to become “a job.”
They were always fortunate to have friends like Greg Gordon (of Private Angst) who worked in the studio where the band recorded their self-made anti-authoritarian classic No Masters. And friends who put up the bucks to make the album a reality.
Now, after all these years, it seems the Layabouts as a band are over. But the words, songs, and endless hours of sweat-soaked frantic dancing will always be with us. Alan says it was always 50% audience anyhow, so those of us who were the audience must carry on: Resist apartheid, war, and the cops--and keep fucking......
We can be sure that the people who sang those songs will continue in their lives to do the same. - Sunfrog
Detroit, Babyfish #2, Autumn 1988

Friday, April 5, 2024

Wordban'd Creates Collages of Language & Noise - from the Detroit archives

While aspiring young scribes forming poetry bands has become a fashion trend in recent years, few -- if any -- have created a more astute and lyrically passionate fusion of words and music than Mick Vranich and Wordban’d.

Vranich, a Detroit poet poet, musician, and social activist, has been creating his brand of dissident discourse since 1964. During the 1980s, he published two volumes of verse, Radnik Pisar and Boxer’s Break. The notion of poetry as music has always figured into his work.

Wordban’d is most easily understood as an ensemble driven by equal parts spoken word and hybrid rock-n-roll, which creates collages of language and noise. Beyond the primacy of the words, their musical credentials are viscerally evident. Detroit poet George Tysh observes: “Although not in the blues tradition, the band’s music owes much to those roots. In fact, Vranich lays down his poetry vocals like a postmodern John Lee Hooker, talking over two electric basses and percussion and wiring a guitar commentary in counterpoint to his own language.” 

Since Vranich and conga player Bill Gross formed Wordban’d in 1988, they’ve traveled frequently to New York and Chicago on self-produced tours while donating innumerable hours to benefit gigs, raising precious bucks for a host of ecological and indigenous organizations. In 1993 alone, they have organized four benefit concerts ffor imprisoned indigenous activist Leonard Peltier. 

Complementing Vranich’s vocals and guitar playing with dissonant grit, Dean Western wields his bass as a “conduit” of clamor--he is a metaphysician of funk. Western is a veteran of the bands Private Angst, Kuru, Sublime, and Junk Face, just to name a few. 

Gross rounds out Wordban’d and provides much of its depth. As a percussionist, he’s worked the musical gamut, from bluesy bar bands to the world-beat-boogie of the Layabouts. With congas, as opposed to a full drum kit, he provides a luminous versatility which feeds the tribal quality of Vranich’s writing.

The band’s rooted connections to the Corridor neighborhood of Detroit enhances their sonic tremor. “We’ve found when we take this out of town,” explains Western, “that it really does sound like Detroit.” 

Wordban’d negotiates an earthy and eclectic thread of rock-n-roll poetics, political advocacy, and primal mysticism. They regularly lead listeners to discover “what connects your voice to your heart.” (“Facing the Altar”)

With Wordban’d, Vranich is city poet as jazzy MC, owing more to the MC5 than MC Hammer. Vranich hones an urban verisimilitude. 

“They say some music can create a smell.” Wordban’d does. Wordban’d’s brand of performance poetry as music is a peculiar Motown incense, something like sage and sweetgrass momentarily suppressing the incinerator’s stink. Wordban’d uses this aroma in reconstructing rock-n-roll as shamanic ritual. Or as Vranich puts it in his song-poem “Move on the Machine”: “They sing all night/a circle of voices/around the drum.”

Wordban’d breaks down the space between performance and life to discover what breathes through their “Cloak of Skin.” What resounds long after the music stops is their credo, which amounts to a clarion charge: “Don’t kill everything so soon.” Amen. - Andy “Sunfrog” Smith, in Detroit’s Metro Times, 1993 (?)


Listen here:

Stream Teacher On The Radio | Listen to Mick Vranich & Wordban'd - Cloak of Skin playlist online for free on SoundCloud

Cassette recording from my personal collection. 

Shared for archival, educational, & entertainment purposes only.

Ripped from original 31-year-old cassette to Audacity via a Nakamichi tape deck & a Behringer desktop mixer & RCA-to-USB converter.

Mick Vranich (1946-2010) - Voice & Guitar

Bill Gross - Congas

Dean Western - Bass

Charles Smith - Fretless Bass

Recorded & mixed at Woodshed Studios, Detroit

Engineer - Tim Pak

Cover painting - Sherry Hendrick (RIP) 

In Detroit, an international center of poetry where powerful verse is so often heard in the context of idiosyncratic musical accompaniment, Mick Vranich has long been a leading light. His verse is hard, lean, beautifully musical and, always, precisely registered. 

With the formation of WORDBAN’D, Mick has taken his verse another step further. The musical settings he has fashioned with his own muscular yet sensitive guitar, Bill Gross’s soulfully exact conga drums, and the dual bass team presently featured in the ensemble, fill in another-dimension behind the poems, re-placing his verse for us back where it came from -- the music pulsing through his blood, nerves, & flesh, which has always been echoed in the lines & syntax of his poems. 

Now it’s all right here in our ears -- in our own music & bone -- the perfect complete wedding of form & content. Mick Vranich is the bomb.  -John Sinclair, New Orleans, September 27, 1992 

That’s no Rust Belt Buzzsaw. That’s no A-bomb your Mama. That’s Mick Vranich tearing out of Detroit. Laying down the truth like a poem. That drone in the back is WORDBAN’D, like Motown in reverse. 

-Bob Holman

The sacred fires burn in the makeshift altars in that huge backyard where the tribes gather, in the land of the Tombstone Sky, where the Big D connects with the sweatlodges of Norther California. The elders have given their blessings. Our hearts were at once and instantly connected and rooted in the oral tradition. A tradition we are familiar with through the chicano(a) poets. Mick has been a huge inspiration and influence on our work. He is our mentor, a veterano who taught us not to fear but respect the silence between the thunder and the lightning. Cloak of Skin represents a beautiful triumph and continuum of the word! His voice will not allow us to forget the things Mother Earth has taught us. We love this warrior, indeed you will too. To all our relations y que viva la raza. . . .Ho!

-Richard Montoya, Culture Clash, October 5, 1992 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Poem for John Sinclair


John Sinclair is dead
Long live John Sinclair 

My life would have been so much easier
so much more legal
so much safer
so much more boring 

if at 20 years old 
I had not met John Sinclair
discovered the MC5 & the 
White Panthers & bought Guitar Army

My life might have stayed 
inside the lines 
under the radar
between the orange cones of convention

but I discovered a poet 
who finally led me to Memphis & Mississippi
I discovered a revolutionary rock promoter
who repped for bands that would 

rip up bogus contract of our complicity
tear down the walls of our segregation
take off the clothes of our alienation &
shout spit prophecies all night long

hard months now because first Rodriguez 
then Wayne Kramer & now John Sinclair each of them 
one by one shattering our assumptions breathing our Detroit
now they gone no matter how far they traveled the globe

I am so grateful that I decided to visit John in the Corridor
during the summer of 2022 because I knew then it might be
the last time that I saw him I did not say it then but secretly
I had to think it seeing how much he was struggling that day

Knowing all the years he spent in New Orleans I wore
my sky blue Jazz Fest t-shirt as I just attended my first one
& he said “You went to Jazz Fest?” I was excited but then 
he said “I fucking hate Jazz Fest” that was how John was

he refused to agree that the MC5 invented punk rock
because he said that was the Stooges because that word
punk to John was pejorative it was not a compliment
to be called a punk said John & he didn’t care how many

punk fans loved to claim the MC5 even more than 
the Sex Pistols & Ramones as our very beginnings
the roots of screaming guitars & moshing bodies 
John didn’t care what punk rock scholar said what

he didn’t care that we were anarchists when he talked
about what a great influence the communists & the 
Nation of Islam were on him & when he went to the prison
on jacked-up pot charges he had so much time on his hands

to read & to study & as an independent poet-scholar
who was still brilliant no matter how much weed he smoked
he reminded & taught us that we need to read we needed
to study until we understood & he didn’t care for pleasing

the enemy or catering to any critics for because inside
John’s revolutionary heart there were the voices of the 
prisoners & the ancestors & his teachers were the ones
who remind us to never give up or give in & always

always give everything 
for the people for the people
John Sinclair gave everything 
for the people 

on Cherokee land

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Dog's Body & the sweaty chuggy "Cookeville sound"


Y'all, this new The Dog’s Body album is everything. 

And today, “everything” means Cookeville post-hardcore post-Americana post-whatever-you-think-genre-is in this post-genre mosh-pit. I could call it punk or post-punk, but what we know is that it is very real, very hooky, very hard, very honest, and very local.

When I say this is local, that is not to say it is provincial or prude or should not blow up literally everywhere. This is local as in regionally rooted so deep, so strong insofar that front-person and writer Blake Marlow (formerly of Commander Keen) has mud all over his toes. This is local as in the cassette case has an ironic (or not ironic, you decide) image of the massive metal cross that presides over our entire conservative college town.

This is local as in lyrically-anchored in Tennessee dirt with sweaty swirls of God, Satan, the SEC, ghosts, sinkholes, natural disasters, DUIs, cigarettes, outlaws, cops, booze, meat, & good ol' Rocky Top, all here to rock yer homegrown Appalachian gothic bones. Being a band from Cookeville is its own thing, that we cannot compare to all you Nashville, Knoxville, Asheville types. Going back to epic gloomy Hellbender or math-psych Glomus or Poet’s during its punk period or to Blake’s brief venue Gnarlington Cemetery, we might even say there is a Cookeville “sound,” and that sound is chuggy, soggy, and nasty; that is, this record is as muddy as our hiking trails after an April downpour.

Title track “Salt Pile” sets the tone with the big metaphors, images of hot fires and the cold earth, searing symbols that will carry this tight and tenacious set. “Deep and Wide” wrestles with God, at first the obvious, if domesticated God, that we learned about in church, and then, the wild God that floods our riverbeds. The song also references the man-made God of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the dams and floods and reservoirs that created underwater ghost towns. 

“Power Lines” is a haunted-house hymn, praying to get back from the east coast or west coast before we die, because we need our “body back home in Tennessee.” “Killing a Sacred Hog” runs the roads full throttle but after all the horror-flick holy flames returns to its pastoral homeplace, at times problematic as that place might be. As earthy as all these light vs. dark gothic shades might be, they shimmer inside a wall of sound that actually achieves lift-off with every song, because the guitars, bass, and drums are unrelentingly euphoric throughout. 

I don’t want to say that “Tune Up Game” is about Blake Marlow’s alma-mater and former employer, for full disclosure’s sake my current employer, the college of the aforementioned college town. But the opening stanza does refer to a “sacrifice” game where an OVC team gets demolished by an SEC team for a mere paycheck. The song goes on to conflate God and the devil, Tennessee and the USA. This is one I don’t want to show my own local students to analyze and my hyperbole would only ruin what’s beneath my interpretation, a ridiculously addictive rock song to which we should all scream along.  

The relentless combinations of joy and insanity are packed into a mere seven tracks that are over too soon but leave plenty of time to listen again. And again. And again.

The Dog’s Body are:
Blake Marlow - Guitar/Vox
Aaron Phillips - Lead Guitar
Tommy Judd - Bass
Zach Ramsey - Drums

Salt Pile by The Dog’s Body is out everywhere on 4/5/2024, with a local release party in a DIY venue that night, as it should be. 

You can check out a video for "Tune Up Game" here:

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Under Water Rain Journal - from the Detroit archives


LISTEN to Under Water Rain's 1988 demo album:


Under Water Rain were Joe, Brian, Bonnie, and Sally.

Under Water Rain - 

Rain Journal by Sunfrog

Babyfish (lost its momma) # 1 - 1988 

May 1987

My favorite band and good friends looked at their future like a pile of ashes. On the brink of breaking up, a pile of anger and passion pumped through the veins of the Hamtramck Pub. Field by this gig and the souls left in the rubble of the Pub parking lot, Under Water Rain decided this band was too important to end. The Man Who Collected Time offered them some more.

July 1987 

The summer heat produced the band’s birthday concert with Gangster Fun. The hats and eyes huddled beer glasses until the lock was broken to dancing on the floor. The corner had been turned. The summer brought communal participation. Standing on the break water of a Great Lake, we saw the edge of the universe. The Big Hands in the sky turned up the amplification. The beach became electrified and our electricity had found the beach. Standing beneath a concrete overpass next to a murky city river, we brought out the paint and destroyed nazi graffiti with color and light. Richard Brautigan sent us fishing. We got high and we resisted the terrorist television reign of Oliver North. I made my salad art in the humid and steamy kitchen of the Inn Season Cafe.

August 1987

Under Water Rain went into Tempermill Studio to record seven songs with Dave Feeny (of the Orange Roughies) producing. They laid down now Rain classics “Always Darkest,” “My Two Heads,” “Phinster,” “Theme for a Dying Planet,” and “Bikes.” They added the slow, tortured psychedelia  of “We’re Waiting” and “Drowning on Land.” The result was a grand demo tape which has yet to reap any label interest but still serves as the booming weed which tangles your mind into the garden. The garden includes my ever matty and nasty hair. A gig with SST’s Always August proves to be a great night and moment for the Rain. Joe is in top poetic form and August chooses to flower their own noise jazz Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Minutemen organism after the Water. The percussionist for Always August was on two peace marches with me and shared a jail cell with me in Washington, DC. We had told the Department of Energy to stop testing nuclear weapons. Bands like Under Water Rain and Always August are part of the godhead and true department of energy. The previous Friday, the band had opened for the Roughies and had the chance to turn on some new minds.

November 1987  

My autumn was spent in academic exile at Antioch College. I was depressed. I had been cut off from my family. I could not stand the loneliness and my lack of educational motivation. I dropped out of college before the end of the semester. Zero credits but home with my friends and loved ones. I went on a reckless pilgrimage to discover Detroit. I had lived in the suburbs for five years and finally found spiritual and cultural liberation in the city. I met the men of the street. And the concrete spirit began to poison and save my veins. The city screams and so I began to scream with it. Joe often ventured to scream with me and explore the city with me. Under Water Rain began more and more to let me share the stage for powerful hard rock poetry. 

My first Friday home, the band played the “new” Community Concert Series at the Paradigm Center for the Arts. It was mass counterculture celebration. Rain were the final band and some tie-dyed deadheads got turned on to them for the first time. I was very turned on. They had added percussion on a freight train version of the self-pity-mindfuck “Drowning on Land.” “Lame Deer’s Song” pays homage to Joe’s own saint, a Native American named John Fire Lame Deer. His book Seeker of Visions is Joe’s “spiritual manifesto” of sorts. The song creates a mythical clash between the sacred truth of Lame Deer and the obscene lying of Oliver North. Joe and Lame Deer sing to the US military’s media death monster, “Would you lie to me?”

During the mind blast section of “Man Who Collected Time,” I took my place in the forest of sound. I wrapped myself in wire and read a poem about the takeover of Detroit by apples pummeling from the sky. Apples in the street. Apples stopping the cars. Dogs vomiting apples. I had been christened “Apple Andy.”

December 1987 

I started the night with wine and other mind-altering substances at the Peterboro Gallery, enjoying mass explosions of abstract social paint. I rode the bus to Royal Oak and walked to the Under Rain Den on Altadena. In the smoky basement rehearsal, I really began to trip out. The chairs and people, we all became unbelievably alive. A community spirit became present. I felt the power of being a part of a vital hip enclave. I had Beat visions skipping through my head. The night first enclosed me in the band’s newest assault, “The Eleventh Hour.” The song written by the band’s drummer Brian Ferriby is about coming down from a ten hour experience, when you just want that drugged out feeling to get the hell out of your body. You want to be normal again. It is getting close to the eleventh hour and “how long will it take for the milk to sour.” I was high. I saw Sara and her friends and presented her with a written testimony of my love. We embraced and soon her and friends left. I dove back into my world of incense and cigarettes. My milk would sour at the gig. We were playing the Hamtramck Pub. The club is now 21-and-over, and they tried to keep me out. The whole place had a creepy aura of trying to be elite and adult but really being nothing but ageist closed minded shit.

After a few great songs where the band’s sincerity merged with me on a cosmic level, a drunk man came forward and began to harass Bonnie and Sally. The set and my high lost their steam as the fish of my dreams began to fight being sucked up by this awful monster. As the band ended its set, Rod said in his true drunk asshole state, “Sometimes we have real music here.” Implying only the worst. I was a pissed screaming demon. I told the band to refuse Rod’s stupid money. I advocated to never play there again and only play places where the value is community not money--people and music not alcohol and profit. You need to play for our people not a bunch of bar-heads who don’t give a shit about you. I pledged to organize a gig where the guitars could rage in the proper spiritual context. 

January 23, 1987

A month of planning, organization, work, and publicity brought us a night at the Mansion Gallery. The Mansion is a four floor cultural center and gallery, blossoming with color and sound. The Earth Community Cultural Center Gallery, the righteous child of the rainbow community in Detroit. An old stone house just off Woodward, with Jim Allen’s famous vegetarian kitchen. We brought in about 100 of our closest relations and we had a reunion hoedown. The people’s motive of Under Water Rain became incarnation as the stage was filled with no less than six guest performers throughout the night. I read poetry, a sister sang “White Rabbit.” People danced and met nirvana. Joe kicked in with an acapella litany: “It starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes and aeroplanes, and Lenny Bruce is not afraid . . . .” And then an unashamed call to action with “A Theme for a Dying Planet.” Tonight we were playing for our people. There was no age limit on who could come, and it was in a historical home, not a corner bar. It the spirit of communal partying.

This was the night of honor. The band is clear they would much rather prefer to play community-based shows, be it the benefit for a high school conference on Central America and the Draft, the Community Concert Series, or the Mansion.

Joe testifies: “When people are getting together and rallying around something there is more strength. We are a tonic for the troops, for the people working for the community, working for the better. People need a rallying point. They need a kick in the butt. They need to dance and sing.”

Why are people who congregate at these community-based events more receptive to your music? “Those people get into us because we get into them. I care about them. The Community Concert Series and The Mansion are great for creating a whole artist’s community. People can relate to ‘Theme for a Dying Planet.’ Bar owners are ultimately out to make a profit. We want to inform, entertain, and create a community feeling.”

The band laced our own songs with familiar covers: “Paint It Black” and “Got To Get Out of This Place” and the whole spirit reached orgasm during “Gloria.” The all-out-community-free-for-all as Scott’s harmonica wailed and rainbows drummed. The stage became ours, and the folks dance, from room to room. Bonnie and Sally began to move. Joe reflects this easily as their best show ever. “Don’t Expect Miracles” bounded like ballet leaps for the boogie children. Rain’s dance turn was a welcome surprise shot of love. “Welcome to my house . . .” Alas, they closed with “Bikes.” Joe’s voice rattled and fried. So we rode our ten speeds in the snow. Summer rain is not that far away.


Under Water Rain play music which is grounded in the guitars of Bonnie Shanburn. Bonnie plays with a sense of humble concentration, deification, and meditation. The work of Bonnie and her soul sister Sally Still are the quiet and loud foundation of this band. The mysticism of this band is centered in their balance, their harmony of male and female, dark and light, sun and moon, fear and love, anger and affection. Lead guitar is virtually egoless and karmically sends the band in the limitless universe of sound. This is no mambo jumbo hippie philosophy. This is foundation and strength. 

Under Water Rain are also embarrassingly human. The honest ownership of their own insecurity and feeling can often offend, frighten, or disarm. Joe is everyone’s shy brother. He lived a sheltered life with most of us under the repression of high school unpopularity. Shy kids with glasses do not become rock singers. Or they do. Music changed Joe’s life, and being the singer and brilliant songwriter-lyricist in this band is his way of offering sacred testimony to the force which changed his life.

“Music has saved people. It is salvation. It is not a ‘religious’ thing, but it is definitely my salvation,” Joe says from the gut. It is complete hope for all of us to break out of the fear and lies of this society. 

It should be stated that despite certain values gains from the culture and examples of the 60s rock rainbow revolution, Under Water Rain draw their fuel and energy from the present day. This band stands strongly against fashion revival for the sake of fashion. Rain music asserts itself in their early punk rant “Change Your Mind” that Nicaragua, El Salvador, and homelessness have left the Reagan men with bloody hands and that while they may “say that might is right, there is always room to change your mind.”

Joe was changed by The Clash, and the band was motivated by the 80s punk and new wave movements, and the example of bands like Husker Du, The Meat Puppets, and R.E.M.. It was only after total immersion in the 80s scene that we discovered some roots from Bob Dylan, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, Led Zeppelin, and our Detroit mentors John Sinclair and the MC5.

Sinclair said so well that rock music needs to be integrated with the community it comes from and is played for. Under Water Rain are working for those values. And Joe feels some bands in Detroit today have reached that point and into the beyond. The most obvious examples on the Corridor and political cutting edge are the Layabouts and the Blanks, who Joe cites as two of his favorite Detroit bands. Joe also digs the Orange Roughies and the Colors who have both been successful in the community.

Joe also likes jazz player John Coltrane, author Kurt Vonnegut, and singer Marvin Gaye. He is currently listening heavily to the Tall Dwarfs and the Throwing Muses. 

The center for it all in Under Water Rain stems back to the “balance of it all” concept, which can be understood through division. Of a lot of good and a lot of bad. How to live with what Joe calls “being depressed and hating myself,” the dark side. He says great things can happen when you are depressed, and they can pull you out. He said the music and the band walk the line of feeling good and feeling bad, which is what the song “To Heal Yourself” is all about. 

Joe, what are you you rallying for? “People getting fed, educated, and seeing some of the statues kicked down. The economic system needs to change and liberate us all from the corporate mind.” He says it all stems back to the teaching of Native Americans. “Ultimate respect for the children of God, and the children include, sand, trees, and rocks.”