August 02, 2004


Taking the Scenic Route:
Promising labels begin with local focus

While the big music companies bemoan their pending demise due to online file sharing, digital broadcasts, used CD stores, home taping, corporate mergers and warehouses full of weak, overpriced releases, new entrepreneurs are getting into the record-label game, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Here's a look at three promising new players on the garage scene. These labels primarily are documenting their respective local scenes but are slowly spreading out across the country.

* Pro-Vel Records has five releases under its belt, focusing on down-and-dirty rock 'n' roll bands from the Midwest. Its three releases this year are all from bands in the label's home base of St. Louis: Thee Lordly Serpents, The Electric and The Phonocaptors.

Thee Serpents' self-titled release finds them in fine low-fi form, hailing from the snarly side of garage rock that started with the Seeds and winds its way into the 21st century. The Phonocaptors album is Call It What You Want -- OK, we'll call it glam guitars with catchy, tough tunes. The Electric's Degenerotic Dose plugs in with a super-charged heavier sound than their label mates.

The label bowed last year with two releases -- probably the best comp released in 2003, It Came From Uranus, and a white vinyl single from The Bamboo Kids, "Suck the Life Outta Me." In addition to documenting the St. Louis scene, Uranus boasts tracks from up-and-coming bands from all over the Midwest, most notably the Gentleman Callers, who hopefully will have a full-length release out this year.

Established bands like the Mistreaters out of Milwaukee (c'mon -- if issuing a full-length on Estrus Records doesn't constitute established in these circles, what does?) are side-by-side with groups who are getting their first exposure outside of their hometowns. Great band names are attached to the Nuggets descendants that pretty much describe their styles: All-Night Movers, Bitter Pills, Litigators, Reactions and Tomorrow's Caveman. Uranus must have some great, other-wordly scene going.

** Licorice Tree Records is picking up the slack on the fine rock tradition in the great city of Austin, Texas. It makes no bones about it on the various-artists collection, Shakin' in My Boots: A Texas Rock and Roll Compilation. The comp is one of three releases Licorice Tree breaks out of the box with in 2004.

The first, released in June, is the self-titled full-length debut from Thee Fine Lines out of Springfield, Mo. Shakin' in My Boots followed in July. The third will be an EP from Austin's Stepbrothers, a band led by former New Yorker Mike Mariconda, best known as the six-string slinger for the Raunch Hands in the 1980s-early '90s.

It's a straight line -- directly to the Medway in London -- to see where Thee Fine Lines get their sounds from. None other than Mr. Billy Childish, who turned "Louie Louie" into about 20 bands over 85 LPs of distortion-riddled knockoffs, is the Lines' inspiration. Hey, might as well rip off the very best of the rip-off artists. And rip-off is used in the very best, most endearing sense of the term!

Licorice Tree's tasty comp offers up veteran blues-based racketeers like The Crack Pipes and the Hard Feelings, regional favorite punks like the Deadites and White Heat. The gem here is a new band called the Ugly Beats, who cover an obscure-o pebble entitled "I'll Come Again." Can't wait to hear more from these guys and gal.

*** Spoonful Records is out of Cincinnati. The label's origins came when the band The Tough and Lovely needed an outlet for its material, so D-I-Y it was, and a new label was born in late 2003.

The label's site says, "Think Shocking Blue and Shangri-Las," and it's not a bad starting point. Two other releases followed this past February from Thee Shams and The Griefs. Thee Shams have a top-notch CD out on the legendary blues label Fat Possum called Please Yourself. Fans of that will want to hunt down their 45 on Spoonful, which boasts an ace cover of Captain Beefheart's "Plastic Factory" on the B-side. The Griefs are led by Eric Stein, former lead guitarist for the Greenhornes.

Next up for Spoonful is a full-length release from founders The Tough & Lovely on Aug. 31.

So, there you have it -- some new labels starting up, and they don't even need that fancy new FBI stamp that is hogging up space on the back of all the new CDs at your local Meglo-Mart.

-- By Joe Belock

* Shakin' Street is a regular column by writer-at-large Joe Belock, the host of the Three Chord Monte radio show on free-form WFMU-FM in New Jersey.

Posted by medleyville at August 2, 2004 06:01 PM