At last, I've managed to get my hands on a copy of Joe Bouchard's latest solo LP, "Tales From The Island", just out in physical format from CD Baby - it's been available in zeros and ones from iTunes for a few weeks now, but I don't do downloads, I'm afraid. I like to hold my music in my hands and look at the sleeve, and stuff like that...
And, after glancing at said cover, you instantly notice something new on the credits here - out of the 15 tracks on this disk, half are written solely by somebody else, namely his neighbour, John Elwood Cook. Is Joe 'doing a John Shirley', I wonder, and starting to outsource the majority of his writing to a third party? The difference between this and BOC's case is that here it's not just the lyrics - it's complete songs!
John Elwood Cook also wrote "Dark Boat" on Joe's 1st solo album and Blue Coupe fans will already have come across his name before as he wrote the words and music to the impressive "You (Like Vampires)" so this was going to be an interesting experiment.
Anyway - what's the LP like? Well, you can actually hear all the tracks on youTube - Joe's posted them on there, and so that's why I've added links to preview each track here also, but I do have mixed feelings about whether this is such a great idea or not...
Put links to several choice tracks, yes - that's probably good marketing practice, I reckon - but the whole LP? I think you need to hold some back to encourage purchase of the record itself...
Anyhoo, without any further ado...
And the Sisters of Mercy have exonerated you
For all the misery that you put me through
And you think you got off light
But Deep inside your heart
There's a 1000 midnights
This is the first of the John Elwood Cook songs, and the first out of two that includes the word "midnight" in the title - make of that what you will...
A great riff inter-twined with some effective slide guitar and a snarling Joe vocal combine for a very strong - dark - opener...
This one sounded pretty damn good the first time I heard it and has got better and better on each successive airing.
In the underbelly of this crusty town
There's a Pub that Never Closes
Wasting away my night in town
At a Pub that Never Closes
A swaggering, rolling beat with buzzsaw guitar overlaid with some sort of lap steel melodic intertwining means that "all night long, you'll sing this song"...
Lyrically, I find it somewhat ambiguous - I can't tell if Joe is singing the praises (literally) of the pub that never closes or warning of the dangers of "wasting your night away" in such a manner.
"Whatever that you do - don't drink and drive!"!!
How very rock'n'roll!!
There was something about her - a true love of mine
A true northern woman - we run out of time
And when it was over we drifted apart
I headed out to the Wild Lands - Get her out of my heart
This is a plaintive, wistfully beautiful song - another John Elwood Cook composition.
Seemingly, he once spent a summer with a true northern woman, after which he finished with her - apparently to go with someone else - and then, when the realisation of what he's lost dawns upon him, he then buggers off to the "Wild lands" to get her out of his soul...
He doesn't say where exactly these "Wild Lands" are - whether they represent an actual geographical location or a state of mind but, wherever they are, I bet they have a large resident population of sad-faced blokes wandering round forlornly smacking their foreheads in penance at their own human frailty...
Just a thought: you don't need to head out to the "Wild Lands" to get her out of your heart - just get yourself on down to "The Pub That Never Closes" (ask Joe for the address) and get half a bottle of Ouzo down your neck... after that, I guarantee you won't give a toss about anything...
Sneaking off to a watering hole - late on a Friday night
Down at the corner bar people say that rock and roll will never die.
Don't know what you're doing here - a feeling you can't describe.
These are the good old days my friend - you keep your dreams alive.
Dunno about this one, to be honest - to my ears, it just doesn't seem to "fit" on this LP - the style is a bit too heavy for my liking...
Lyrically, it tells of a "retro rockstar" who sits around his local corner bar jamming all night. All his money now seems to be gone but playing live music is still deep in his blood and takes him back to the times when he was "a Rock 'n' Roll star"... Sound familiar?
Hmmm... I wonder what Joe's saying here...?
Midnight in river town
The stars fell down
and I'm still wanting you
I'm still wanting you
John Elwood Cook again. In his last song, I didn't know where the Wild Lands where - now I'm asking the same question regarding this "River Town"... New Orleans, maybe? To be honest, I don't even know where/what the "Island" is in "Tales from the Island"...
This a very catchy "ballad" and, again, I want to use the adjective "wistful"... There's this bit near the end which I'm still pondering the significance of:
A bridge stretched out to the water
We stepped off into the sky
When the bridge crossed over
We said our last goodbye
It probably doesn't mean what I originally thought it did, but I think by now we're getting the impression that John Elwood Cook definitely does not do "happy"....
All in all, though, this is a beautiful song and I urge you to check it out..
As the sun sets over the ocean
I'm bidding you farewell
Hope you had a pleasant stay
At the Tropico Motel
This is an interesting one. My first impressions were that it was just a so-so song - I originally thought the vocals were a bit on the light side but the music seemed nice enough...
After two or three plays, however, I found myself actively looking forward to it and the vocals which originally seemed weak to me, I now found to fit the feel of the song perfectly.
Looking at those lyrics, I got to wondering how much was this in anyway based on BOC?
Sitting on a couch I need a getaway
Such a cold and nasty winter - The west is looking great
There's a golden opportunity out in the promised land
You can ride along in our drive-a-way car or cruise in the Chevy van
The Soft White underbelly famously quit a freezing Long Island to head west in a Chevy van (and bikes) to record the "California album", after all... but then again, Joe was still at college at that time so it couldn't really be autobiographical from his point of view...
I was wondering whether "Motel Tropico" might not have been the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard? It's well known that BOC once stayed a while at this "rundown legend"... I spent a month there myself in 1980 and thought it was great - it seemed to specialise in musicians, strange troubled souls... and prostitutes, from what I recall... all gone now, together with it's displaced ghosts...
Whatever the truth of it, and lyrics aside, what I find most notable about "Motel Tropico" is Joe's sumptuous guitar work - including a haunted descending "hook" motif that gets me every time...
I don't think Joe's ever sounded better. I just love this track!!
Avengers chase a killer through the streets
Against an open sky
High upon a ridge they meet
And sheets of bullets fly
Vengeance is complete the Killer dies
A Flatfoot keeps a beat and a mother cries
If "Motel Tropico" is great, then wait til you hear "Perpetrator"!! Keeping up the alternating authorship theme, this is another John Elwood Cook song, and may possibly be the best of the lot.
Joe's been developing a narrative style of vocal delivery - check out "Untamed Youth" off "Tornado on the Tracks", for example... Dunno if he's been listening to people like Johnny Cash - but it's bloody good. And the delivery may be laid back but it's certainly very effective.
This is another beautifully-crafted song - check out Joe's vid:
If the concept still existed, for me this one would be "the single"...
Dark pond murky and deep
A land of make-believe
Pink angels flying high
Under a threatening sky.
A great song - and I have no idea what it's about. Maybe Joe saw a particularly powerful painting which moved him to record the experience in song or maybe he ate some mature Cheddar after midnight...?
Dunno, but there is some beautiful guitar-work in this one as well near the end... to think he spent all those years as just a bassist!!...
This song is also remarkable for the ending. After the aforementioned wonderful guitar fades out, a rather strange lounge-bar style musique section fades up and plays to the end...
Don't get me wrong - it's nice enough - it's just a bit... strange...
In your dark, dark secrets
In your sweet kiss
In your dark, dark secrets
In a world of our own
This was the song I wanted to hear first off this LP - this and the Meltzer one.
Now I'm very aware of the Brain Surgeon's track off "Denial of Death" (2006) called "Dark Secrets" which was written by Albert and Helen Wheels. When I saw them live in London, I remember Albert said about this song "We worked on this for a decade with Helen Robbins but never got the music right... then she passed away - well, we got it right now..."
So I was intrigued when I saw a track called "Your Dark Secrets" on Joe's new CD written by "Helen Wheels and Joe Bouchard". Did Helen write two songs with the same title or is Joe covering the Surgeon's track (which was bloody good, to be honest)?
Neither, as it happens. He's re-purposed the Helen lyric to suit his own very different composition - though some of the lyrics are indeed the same as the tBS effort...
I find this song to be intriguing and just wish I had more of a handle on the meaning. The overall feel of listening to this track is a cloying, claustrophobic sense of fated desperate mourning - a track noir, if you like, and it does indeed feel like it's on a track, a bleak, ponderous journey down into the heart of darkness...
But that's strange - on the face of it, it would seem to be someone professing their burning fixation for somebody else (which should be celebratory) - but is it reciprocated? "I gotta make you mine" would suggest it isn't.. yet...
And what exactly are the "dark secrets"? Answers please on a black-bordered postcard...
My advice, check out this gothic track for yourself and see what you make of it - and then... play it again... and again... and again... and again... and again... and again... and again... and again...
Are you coming? Night is falling
We'll get there by the dawn - Road Trip
Deep in your soul - The road is calling
We'll get there by the dawn - Road Trip
OK - it had to happen - a track I'm not much a fan of. I know Joe sometimes does happy, "party-type" songs and that's fine. You can't have dark and mysterious all the time, I realise.
I read an interview with Eric Bloom who said this about BOC's song base:
"I like to think that we have a little sense of cleverness about our material. You won't find a lot of 'moon in June' or songs about 'my baby left me.'
We have unusual material, and that's why we never made it to the tippy top of this business, because we're not mainstream."
Now obviously - that's BOC - and you're probably thinking why even mention it? And you're probably also thinking that Eric seems to have conveniently forgotten about one or two - or even three!! - songs I could mention off such glittering prizes as "Club Minger" and "The Revolution By Night", but I digress...
But the fact is I came to Joe Bouchard via the BOC connection and to my mind he's at his best when he's dark, enigmatic and mysterious.
Cruisin' down the highway with your mates with a 6-pack in the cooler listening to Montrose is decidely not dark, enigmatic and mysterious.
It's not a bad song - it's OK in it's own style, but to me, this would "fit in" better on an X Brothers record.
I must remark upon the middle 8 bit, though - there's a bit that goes:
B-movie dreams 'bout highway murders and lost legends gone, gone, gone
Space and sound turned around
Shifting connections and endless, restless, all night drives
This seems to be a homage to the part of "Lips in the Hills" that goes:
Up in the sky beyond the chasm
My eyes behold a rare phantasm
The Godless night, the night that I saw
The night that I saw - Lips in the hills
It's a strange section to my ears but maybe serves to add an air of menace to an otherwise pleasant-sounding roadtrip, simply by it's very connotations with the BOC track...
Check it out, anyway and see what you think...
Hapless, bored and obsessive
She was not all that strong
And now Christopher Walken is walkin' her home
Here we hit something very special. Joe's in 'raconteur' style vocal delivery mode once more to great effect and the guitar is very understated but fits the song like a glove.
The chorus is like this menacing sotto voce chant as the guitar trills and flutters almost subliminally in the background as it curls round the edges of phrases, whilst the drum beat sternly propels the whole story relentlessly onward.
I won't tell you how many times I've read over the lyrics to this song, but suffice it to say that it's more than a few, and I still look at this one and have to say "WTF??!!" Why Christopher Walken??
Weird, haunting, this one will get into your matrix...
Yee - hah!!
OK, that's a lie - there are no lyrics to this one - it's a hoedown hornpipe so make your own words up.
Maybe this is a product of all those formative Regal Tones barn-dances they used to hold on their farm back in Clayton back when they were growing up, I dunno.
It's an intriguing choice and treatment, certainly, and serves to illustrate the breadth of styles at Joe's command.
Do I know what to make of it? Nope... Does it fit in here? Weirdly, it sort of does, but I couldn't tell you why...
Up above New Orleans Jesus looked down
Everything beneath him, broken or gone
Then looking North toward Pontchartrain where the silver fish died
Jesus saw the president He was waving goodbye
Goodbye to New Orleans And Jesus in the sky
Bob Dylan eat your heart out!!
Anyone that knows me will tell you I don't like the concept of "ballads" - though when I once heard Joe Bouchard refer to "Astronomy" as a ballad, I decided from that point on not to dismiss the term out of hand.
John Elwood Cook's "Katrina" is seemingly both a very moving tribute to the plight of New Orleans after the cruel redevelopment of the city by the hurricane of that name as well as a warning not to elect a deluded knob for a President...
Elections are pending in the US, so my hope would be that the electorate heed history and don't make the same mistake again. And for those who would criticize me for making a seemingly partisan political comment in a musical article, I reject the idea that it's "political" to not want a dick running your country. Surely that's just practical common sense, whetever party you - and they - belong to?
Anyway, "Katrina" as a song has got the lot - wailing harmonicas, lonely trumpets, plinking banjos - if you were a musician, it'd start to annoy you how many instruments this guy can play!!
It's a painfully beautiful song and I hope it gets wider exposure than just the BOC and Joe Bouchard fan base...
What news do you bring? Drivin' down from Baton Rouge
The storm kinda eats a hole in your soul.
What news do you bring?
She went down in the deluge
She went down in the deluge
And I lost control.
This great thrusting, staccato, breathless offering is the last of the John Elwood Cook songs. Joe wails as much as his guitar on this one, with the vocal seemingly recorded over a bad line from Baton Rouge...
Again, more references to water and wild elements in the lyrics, and Louisiana name-checks - right or wrong, you start to build up a mental picture of this mysterious John Elwood Cook...
You sort of get the impression that JEC is a former southern gentleman who spends a lot of his waking hours missing his old home, pouring over old address books at once redolent names now forgotten in timeand standing on storm-tossed headlands staring into the raging winds trying to divine meaning in the elemental chaos...
Or, he might just be a nice old bloke from CT with a great imagination...
Once I was a college boy
With wisdom at my feet
My white collar, it faded blue
And I gave up my seat
The album closer is a stomping Joe/Meltzer composition. I have to admit, after seeing the "re-purposing" of the Helen Wheels lyric in "Dark Secrets", I did wonder whether this might be a similar treatment to Meltzer's "Heart of Stone" lyrics, but no, this is all new!
Here's what Joe Bouchard says about it:
The lyrics for the Richard Meltzer and Helen Wheels songs date back several decades. They were hiding away in a box in my attic. The same box that I found Angel's Well by Jim Carroll. I'm a pack rat, never throw out anything.
I can remember looking at the Meltzer lyric years ago and saying "That's a pretty good lyric, but I don't want to do it. It's an old person's song" Well, guess what happened?
I changed just a few lines like, it was originally "The days are gone but the years remain" to "The years are gone but the days remain" Ironic? I also changed "I hitched a ride to "New Orleans" to I hitched a ride to "New York".
Little things like that. I actually did hitch a ride to NY in the 70s.
Joe's put a vid clip up on the yoob so you can check it out for yourself:
BTW: he actually seems to have hitched a ride to Morning Dove in the song (wherever the hell that is), and not NY...
This is a wonderfully relentless track to end on - almost a 'punk' style verse (forgive me!) - sort of The Ramones meet The Hives meet Joe Bouchard - and a catchy chorus you'll find yourself singing as you gaze out the window waiting for the kettle to boil... great stuff!!
So there you have it - all in all, a very impressive solo CD.
The John Elwood Cook 'experiment' is a resounding success - it doesn't mean Joe is running out of songs or inspiration, it's just like adding another string to his bow.
Y'know, we're very fortunate nowadays to have both Bouchards currently busy creating and putting out new music in these days of a creatively stagnant BOC - Joe is clearly the flag-bearer with his various solo projects, X Brothers as well as Blue Coupe, and it's up to us to support him.
Yes, it's very easy to hear all the 'Tales From The Island' tracks on youTube for free, Joe's even created a playlist so you don't have to individually select them, but forget that, show your appreciation by heading over to CD Baby and buy your own bloody copy.
Also - in the manner of that Amazon technique that says "people who liked this, also liked that...", I should mention that Spectra Records has re-released a "deluxe edition" of Joe's first solo CD, "Jukebox in My Head", which includes three bonus remixes and a new cover (when the CD vesion comes out). If you haven't heard "Haunted Dance Floor" yet, you are missing out, big time!! Go get it from iTunes!!