Greetings and Salutations!
2014 marks ELEVEN YEARS OF MIDNIGHT CALLING EZINE!
Take at look at some of the bad videos filmed by yours truly at:
“It’s not about the ‘scene’…”
It’s all about the music!“
Hailing from Tennessee, Fatt Tarr & C-Hubb are the core of the group, with Bigg John assisting. They formed Redneck Souljers in 2009 to acclaim in the hip hop community, and by late 2012 were working on their first CD, ‘”Tiller Gang”. The album has been an underground success, which is no surprise given the level of dedication that the boes give to their music.
I must admit that I am not very familiar with contemporary Hip Hop. Back in the day, I was a big fan of Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy and Run-DMC. PE were true pioneers and delivered a very political, yet cohesive message along with some great sounds. Later I was a fan of Ice Cube, and even appreciated NWA, but Gangsta Rap proceeded to leave me stone cold. Lyrics became more and more stereotypical, disjointed and nonsensical. I’m not from the Hood. When I was growing up, a “drive-by” was hitting a stop sign with a Mountain Dew bottle from a moving vehicle. If we had called our girls a bitch or a ho, it would have been a very short date. Somebody’s daddy would have set us straight. That is, after our faces returned from the next state, where it had been slapped.
My girlfriend’s kids told me about Redneck Souljers, one of their favorite bands. They know I am heavily into music, and that I am intensely proud of my rural roots and Southern culture and history. Recently I had discovered ‘Hick Hop’ and great bands like Moccasin Creek , The Lacs, and The Moonshine Bandits. The guys in Redneck Soldjers have the same fierce pride in Country life as those bands. Redneck Solujers are not strictly ‘Hick Hop’, but are more straight up Rap. Sometimes they even cross over into Trip Hop territory. They are damn GOOD. They have well thought out, melodic, highly crafted lyrics that are also flowing and alliterative, which remind me of Hip Hop bands back in the day.
“I Mow, I Till” was the first Redneck Souljers track I heard, and it blew me away. Catchy and hard-driving, with fast and furious lyrics, there is a touch of auto-tune that accentuates rather than dominates like in a lot of contemporary rap and hip hop. There is some great bass here, and its the perfect song for listening to while rolling to the Back 40 to bust some caps or even just mowing the yard. (Which I do a lot of these day.) “I Mow, I Till” is just sheer joy. It resonates with pride in Country living.
“Down the Road” strikes right at the listener’s soul, with heartfelt, honest lyrics and backing instrumentation that is visceral. Fatt Tarr comes in with the first reflective verse, and then C-Hubb follows up with a strident appeal. The understated banjo gives a traditional flavor, while the slow, staccato percussion and hand clap effects make the listener visualize the slow, hard road the band has had to travel. Sharp guitar and a very evocative chorus round out the song. ‘Down the Road” will run through your head long after the last notes fade away.
The orchestral arrangements on “Get Off My Land” make this outstanding song absolutely epic. Anyone who has ever lived in the Country can relate to this song. Fatt Tarr and C-Hubb’s fine vocals leave no doubt as to their opinions on trespassers. The dogs barking and gunshots in the background lend an excellent touch. Southern rap legend Lil Wyte finishes up with a vengeance.
“Spinnin’ Knots” is a short storytelling interlude in the best Redneck tradition, which makes the listener feel as if they know Fatt Tarr, Bigg John, and C-Hubb. The soft acoustic guitar, fiddle, and languid percussion give a genuine, down-home feel. This is a candid snapshot of the group, sort of a like a reality show on radio.
“Fish in a Barrel” is next, featuring none other than D. Thrash from the Jawga Boyz. There are some awesome rock guitar hooks, and an excellent progressive bass line that adds weight to the track. Percussion is subtle but just the right touch. The chorus is where it all comes together, with superb layering and a feel that is reminiscent of cool Jazz. C-Hubb, Fatt Tarr, D. Thrash do a superb job on the vocals, as usual. “….I’ll blow your ass away/Toss your body in the creek/talk about it over this beat/while your body’s sinking down to where the catfish eat” Ha!
“Long Way Down” is another track with pure visceral punch. “I am so far away from normal…“ I’m right there with you! The acoustic guitar is smooth, but has a cool chop to it that makes it pretty edgy. Percussion is firm and emphatic. The vocals are melodic, sort of trip-hopish, but gripping at the same time. There is a very effective touch of layering here. The female backing vocals on the chorus are wistful, but alluring. One of my favorite lines is “I like country misc, hip-hop, and a little heavy metal”. “Long way Down” is a fine song.
“Mimosa Lullaby” was written as a message for an unborn child. Starting out with very vibrant and full acoustic guitar, the vocals are very sincere and contemplative. Soft, orchestral backing arrangements fade in, adding a sense of unbridled poignancy. This is the shortest song, and without a doubt the most emotional song on the album, but powerful.
“Popcorn’s Song” is classic rap. I was a big fan of Popcorn Sutton, who was an embodiment of Country culture and freedom. (One of my girlfriend’s sons is named Sutton, too.) The operatic arrangements give this track a feeling of sheer grandeur as the percussion beats a high military tattoo. Fatt Tarr’s vocals are furious and aggressive, as a cadence sounds in the background. Then C-Hubb comes in fervently. Bridging the verses are snippets of Popcorn Sutton himself. Tarr and Hubb take the song to the ultimate peak on the third verse. This is a fine tribute to Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, and great rap at the same time.
“Rednecks in the Club” is a biographical chronicle of a wild and crazy night. The arrangements are pure Rap, complex and well constructed. The vocals kick off with C-Hubb, who gives a brisk narrative with a you-had-to-be-there twist (and I’ve been there enough to visualize it!) Then Fatt Tarr takes the helm, driving hard with a hard stop for emphasis. The bass lines are just killer. “Rednecks in the Club” is a fitting finale to a great, solid CD.
A couple of things really stand out on “Tiller Gang”. The production is outstanding. Ed Pryor and The Jokerr have done a phenomenon job. There is some wonderful layering and mixing. Arrangements are tight and right. I’ve already mentioned the quality of the lyrics, but it bears repeating. There is some good word-crafting here, and no sloppiness whatsoever. Sloppiness is one of my pet peeves with music, but Redneck Souljers are STRAC as we used to say in the military.
One of the things which drew me to Hick Hop and then to Redneck Souljers is their raw celebration of rural and Southern culture. Bashing rural Southerners is one of the few acceptable prejudices left. Many affluent, educated people like to look down on anyone who shows any sort of connection or appreciation for rural living, especially in the South. This is no less than Class prejudice.
These Country music elitists look down their noses at bands like The Charlie Daniels Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Hank, Jr., as being music for ignorant white trash. Anyone who does not repudiate and despise Southern history is called a racist. I’m not a Redneck, but I grew up in the country and I know and understand Rednecks. They are more “decent” than any of the aforementioned Cultural snobs. If snooty “progressives” want to put me in the same category because of my appreciation for my Southern roots, then I’ll stand beside Rednecks with PRIDE. While those elitists use terms like Redneck as an insult, Redneck Souljers and others have embraced it. Good for them!
Redneck Souljers sing about things that are part their lives. They sing about things that I did when I was young, some of which I still do. The relevancy is truly refreshing. These guys are clearly fans of classic Country, but they grew up with Hip Hop, too. This is who they are, and this is where their music comes from. You can’t get any more “authentic” than that. Redneck Souljers and bands like them are forging their own cultural identity through their music, and doing all on their own. They are here to stay. Redneck Souljers a voice to young folks in the real country, and some of us old ones, too. But even more, they will appeal to anyone looking to go beyond the same old music conventions. Hell, yeah!
But don’t just take my word for anything. Give the boes a listen! It’s all about the music.
Traditionally many bands have faced the challenge of “sophomore slump”, but this is NOT something Jim Strange and the Proud and the Damned had anything to worry about. “Pox America” takes the Outlaw Gothic sensibilities of their previous album, “Devils Are in Demand” to new heights. Jim Strange and the Proud and the Damned ride again!
“Unless” starts out slow and mean. This reminds me a lot of the Doors on their self-titled LP. which was undoubtedly their best. Guitar and percussion slowly escalate to a devilish crescendo, and then Jim’s brooding, yet fiery vocals kick in. Powerful tribal percussion rolls on, along with guitar blasts that punctuate the lyrics like claymore mines hidden in the trees. “There is no mercy in the world/everyone’s got their cross to bear”. There is a simply fabulous layer of vocals underneath the lead, that sounds sinister and dark. The guitar erupts in a magnificent, extended rock-ish cacophony. “Show no mercy in this land/city burns just as God planned“. The song appears to wind down with an acoustic flourish. But no, not yet! The guitar burns red-hot, along with frantic percussion for another minute. What a great song!
“Devil to Pay” is hard-edged and hypnotic. Acoustic and Metal guitars are combined, and then driving percussion is thrown in. Jim’s vocals are as compelling as an old time Pentecostal preacher. Heavy, but with dark Gothic overtones. Think of ’69 eyes. There is some very reverb here that gives a nice density to the background. “Devil to Pay” will work its way into the listener’s consciousness and remain long after the music has ended. At about 2:20 some truly magnificent, scathing guitar erupts which is truly inspiring.
“Red Nails” gallops like an infernal posse across the Badlands. Fast, furious percussion and rapid-fire guitar range freely alongside Jim’s raging vocals.
“Bad Deeds” is slow and brooding, evoking images of a with low, sort of jangly guitar and inexorable, solid percussion. Excellent, aptly understated keyboards lend an air of menace to the song. With fatalistic vocals buttressed by a slightly discordant chorus, “Bad Deeds” is the quintessential Outlaw Gothic.
“Sick Today” has an anthem-like quality, tempered with choppy guitar weaving through a fuzz-laden grunge sort of soundscape. Strong percussion adds some weight right before a very evocative chorus. Female backing vocals add an edgy layer.
“Gift Giver” blows the the lid off. This is an incredible song. Imagine some dark Chris Connell paired with Soundgarden. The song starts off with some visceral, disquieting acoustic guitar and doom-laden percussion. Jim’s baleful vocals rise like a gibbous moon over an abandoned Boot Hill. The song takes a heavier turn, weighing like Fate itself, with a bit of high strumming that is a perfect counterpoint. At about 3:04, there are shades of Led Zeppelin in their Houses of the Holy days. The song returns to a heavier stratus, and adds a bit of a lonely Chris Isaak kind of sound. Then more gloomy, but suitably heavy guitar, buttressed by solid percussion. Vocals are nicely layers for a sinister touch. “Gift Giver” would be perfect for a John Carpenter soundtrack.
“Carry On” returns to the Outlaw Gothic trail. Percussion and guitar canter along with Jim’s low, menacing vocals. There is some more great “buzz” here that fills the senses, and leaves no space to linger. I like the syncopated percussion, and the faint underlying calliope kind of effect. If Martin Scorsese and Peckinpaw ever did a film, “Carry On” would be a great closing song.
“End of the Trail” is a fitting song for a finale. Deep acoustic guitar and tribal percussion gear the song up, then a glorious burst of electric guitar with a chainsaw echo. This leads into a very edgy segment right before the evocative vocals kick in. Jim’s vocals sound almost medieval, an effect heightened by rhythmic strumming. But then it’s back to the age of Outlaw Goth with a rolling wall of sound that fills the senses and carries to the end. Female backing vocals on the chorus are an exquisite touch.
“Pox America” is superbly produced, and this fine production showcases the sheer musical excellence displayed on the album. Once again, Jim Strange and the Proud and the Damned deliver original, hard-hitting Outlaw Gothic. As the great Josey Wales would have said, there are “words of iron” here. This is a band that is not bound by convention, but has a clear vision of what they want their music to be and pushes the limits until they achieve it. But I have a feeling that the long, hard ride isn’t over. Not at all. You’ll find me high on a ridge, looking out over the Badlands. I’ll have a bottle of Coffin Varnish in my saddlebag, and a Winchester across the saddle horn. I’ll be waiting for the sound of thundering hoofbeats in the twilight. When I hear the faint strains of Outlaw Gothic high on a graveyard wind, I’ll know which way to go…..
I first saw Jonathan Parker and the Bel-Airs at the Pour House in Raleigh, NC and I was immediately glad that we had jumped through all the assorted hoops to go out on a school night. About two songs into their set, my girlfriend turned to me and said “This guy is GOOD.” Bear in mind that she grew up in Harnett County, NC where Country music has always been a big part of people’s lives. Hell, the great Bill Monroe once stayed with her grandparents when he played in nearby Newton Grove. So if she says someone is good, they’re good.
Not long before this we had attended the Hank Williams Tribute Night in Dunn at the Stewart Theater. We saw the renowned Clyde Mattocks playing with the phenomenal Malpass Brothers. At the Pour House we looked at the stage and my girlfriend exclaimed ‘Is that…???” And I said “Yep, that’s Clyde Mattocks all right!”
The first thing I noticed about the band was that they are not pretentious. They’re just down home Country guys playing down home Country music. This is refreshing in an era where you see so many Country bands, even Honky-Tonk bands, with carefully constructed stage personas. I don’t care what they look like. I care what they SOUND like. And when Jonathan Parker and the Bel-Airs take the stage, it’s all about the music. Just as important, they are friendly guys who really appreciate their fans. All their fans, not just ones who fit their “scene”. I’ve had some very negative experiences with local Country bands in this regard, but JP and the Bel-Airs have always made it a point to come over and say “hey”. They are not rich urban cowboys, Country hipsters, or snobby music elitists. Jonathan Parker and the guys have played venues like The Icehouse; The Sundown Saloon, and places where real Country people go who don’t give a hoot about “authenticity” or being seen, but who just want to hear some kick ass, boot-stompin’ Country. I saw them play at the National Hollerin’ Festival at Spivey’s Corner NC, and it doesn’t get any more Country than this!
“They’ll Never Play My Songs in Nashville” is a hard-driving, heavy hitting song in the best Outlaw Country tradition. The song sort of reminds me of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” Even more brutally honest, “They’ll Never Play My Songs in Nashville” takes a shot at the Country Pop establishment with “I’ve seen Country Music take a nosedive in the dirt./they’re scared to write them songs about the whiskey and the hurt.” Now THAT”S the truth! Guitars here are clean and sharp, fast paced, and meshes with the masterful steel pedal in a way that sends chills down your spine. Jonathan’s vocals are low-down with the same kind of dangerous visceral impact as Buddy Miller and Ray Wylie Hubbard. There is some fine harmonizing, and the bass charges alongside, pounding out a rhythm you can feel in your ribcage like a shot of Johnston Country moonshine. This fantastic song is quintessential Jonathan Parker, with all the elements that make his music great. “I guess they done forgot about them outlaws, the ones like Clyde Mattocks and me.” I guess they have, but the rest of us damn sure haven’t forgotten! There is a big dose of Waylon in this song, but its leavened with little thump in the way of Hank Williams, Jr. too. Hank, Jr. isn’t popular these days, but his early stuff was good.
“I’d Have It Made” will get your boots moving. The bass is heavy, yet sharp like a loggers axe, as it rollicks along in true Country fashion. Guitars are deft and clean, with the steel pedal soaring like a vision from Nashville in the glory days. Vocals are strong as usual, with a touch of fine harmonies. I love the little asides, like “Like my daddy used to say…..still does” that brings Johnny Cash to mind. The counter-play between the guitars is great. Yep, this song has some bite to it. The deep guitar flourish at the end is a nice touch.
“I Woke Up This Morning With the Blues” is slow and sad. I’m reminded a little of George Strait. This is the down-home, back-roads kind of hurtin’ song that you can almost see truckers on old Route 51 listening to 40 years ago. The backing vocals are subtle yet crucial here. I hear more than a little Vern Gosdin this song, too.
“Cedartown Georgia” is one of our favorite Waylon tunes. Jonathan and company do it perfect justice. As a matter of fact, Jonathon sounds even meaner than Waylon! And no doubt about it, this is a song filled with fatalism and sheer menace. “I made up my mind what I’m a gonna do/
Eased in the pawnshop and bought a 22″ This is a true-to-life kind of song that has always set classic Country music apart from other genres. Jonathon’s vocals sink to a somebody-done-somebody-wrong (and they’re gonna PAY) kind of growl, while the guitar cuts like a lock-blade knife and the drummer hits the high-hat like a harbinger of doom. “Gonna be a lot of kinfolk squallin’ and a grievin’/cause that Cedartown gal ain’t breathin’ ” Yeah!
“Fly Over You” is another slow number. “I watch from the bar stool and you walk in with him/I don’t know why I came back here again“. Play it loud. Sad, moving, and fatalistic, this song definitely brings some of George Jones’ greatest songs to mind. “With a hand on the Bible, and a knee on the floor“ I can almost taste the whiskey. Jonathan’s vocals, the funereal pace of the bass and percussion, and the languid, yet gripping steel guitar are classic. ‘By the end of the night I’ll be high as a kite/hoping I’ll fly over you.”
“Circles” is a great dance number with awesome pedal guitar, and hard-driving bass. This is a fine duet with Jessica Gardner, which recalls some of the great duets of the Golden Age of Country. The song has the perfect cadence that you can dance to and not lose a grip on your beer. I can feel some strong Merle Haggard and a dash of Tom T. Hall in here somewhere.
“Hobo Willie” is pure Country. From the rousing guitar, dead-on steel guitar and percussion, this is a perfect song for driving the back roads or sitting waiting on sundown. Delightfully bass-driven, this is a fine ballad in the mode of Marty Robbins, with the power of Waylon and the iron-clad conviction of Cash.
“The Encounter” is slower and more introspective. In many ways this song showcases the sheer depth of Jonathan’s vocals. Lyrically the song reminds me of Marty Stuart’s highly crafted works, and Jonathan’s delivery evokes the great Jim Reeves, with a bit of Faron Young thrown in for good measure. As usual, the band keep perfect step.
“The Way Things Used to Be” is magnificent Outlaw Country! From the low-down guitar slide and Jonathan’s “hah” at the start, the guitars weave perfectly around each other, accentuated by a fine segment of steel guitar. The bass provides a cool, but heavy foundation. I hear the same sense of pride as I hear in Johnny Russell’s classic ‘Rednecks ,White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer”, and all the open sincerity of Buck Owens.
Last is a fine galloping rendition of “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang”. Jonathan’s firm baritone is perfect for this rip-roaring, Outlaw finale. I detect some Ferlin Husky here, too, like a trace of oak in fine whiskey. Jonathan combines a touch of regret with defiance and just plain acceptance of a bad situation. I love the bass here, and the low pickin’ on the guitar. There is even a touch of that high lonesome sound in the guitars, and the bass rolls on like a train inexorably heading towards the State Penitentiary and a pitiless destiny. “There ain’t no good in an evil-hearted woman and I ain’t cut out to be no Jesse James.”
I have mentioned a lot of Country musicians here, but these are just to provide reference points. As a certain President once said, “let me make it perfectly clear” that this band is not just rehashing 30 year old music. Their music is all their own. They have built their music on firm Country and Southern foundations, from Hank Williams, Sr. to Skynyrd and beyond. No one sounds like JP and the Bel-Airs. They have brought Country and Honky-Tonk into the 21st century, while leaving all the roots wonderfully intact.
Darkness, fatalism, and religion have always been important elements in Classic Country music. When these are taken out of the music, the result may be more palatable to today’s urban, affluent, and “progressive ears”, but is not true to the spirit of classic Country. Country music always included the cold, hard facts of life: drinking, screwing, cheating, and killing. It wasn’t ironic or snarky. It was reality. You”ll find no artsy-elevator-music-with-a-twang or “Sugartonk” here! Jonathan Parker and the Bel-Airs deliver nothing but bona fide, 190 proof gen-u-ine Country music! Like the original Honky-Tonk artists, Jonathan and the band play it straight up and honest, with chain-whipping, bone-stomping GRIT. Even the sad songs.
Everything on the “They’ll Never Play My Songs in Nashville” is tightly produced and the sound quality is excellent. The band are all seasoned and accomplished musicians. As long as there are bands like Jonathan Parker and the Bel-Airs, Country music is alive and well in NC. They aren’t scared to sing about the “whiskey and the hurt”, and they do it from the heart. We are looking forward to seeing them perform out here in Johnston or Harnett County again: a real Country band in the real Country!
This CD is living proof that trad Goth is not, as some pundits have claimed, dead. With their debut CD Pretentious, Moi? manages to invoke that magical feeling I had back in the late ’80′s to mid ’90s, when you could hear great Goth music in the clubs, and before the tsunami of electro-dance submerged everything. There are elements of nostalgia present, but as more than one reviewer has pointed out, Pretentious, Moi? does not sound dated at all. All the classic elements are here: layered guitar and vocals; dark themes and imagery; and an infectious dance beat. There is a wonderful contemporary feel that is very relevant.
The lyrics are truly magnificent. Melancholic, yet intense; and accessible, yet cryptic, they strike a perfect balance that delightfully avoids the traps that have ensnared so many other lyricists. Unlike a lot of Gothic bands, Pretentious, Moi? provides lyrics that do not spiral into unintelligible, overblown pompousness. Like the works of classic poets, these lyrics have a sense of universality that allows listeners to connect the themes to their own lives.
There is not a weak track on the CD. My current favorites are “Witchhouse”, “Faith and Reason Part Company”; and “Living Dead and Undecided”, but this can change daily. ‘Witchhouse” evokes many an old school Goth night. “Trapped between the crumbling walls/And poisoned answers/upon the stars I wore/But still they whisper“. “Faith and Reason Part Company” is sheer art. It doesn’t fly, it soars. This is sheer aural art that is intense and visceral. “Don’t cry/’t even think of it/Ask When, not why/Try not to notice/I’ll try not to breathe”
“Living, Dead, and Undecided” is an absolute, chilling, masterpiece.
“I’ve seen enough she said
They went to war we went to bed
I’ve seen the future
Let tomorrow be a day to die for
When today is playing dead”
“Had I wanted, I had all I ever needed
Held the future, saw the past
And I know all that we conceded
No opinion, undivided
Living, dead, or undecided”
Pretentious, Moi? merges the lyrical mastery of Queen with the iconic Goth foundations of Ikon and Love Like Blood. Everything is tight and well produced. This album will appeal to old Goths like myself, as well as people who have never heard a Goth track before. When I play this CD at home, the urge to dance is overwhelming, and I seldom resist, beneath the amused, inscrutable gaze of my seven cats. Bravo, Pretentious, Moi!