Various Artists: Greetings from Area Code 207, Vol. 1

Digging roots

Charlie Gaylord gathers homegrown talent

For Greetings from Area Code 207, a new compilation disc featuring 19 area artists [this originally ran in the fall of 2000], Charlie Gaylord sheepishly admits that there wasn’t exactly an open casting call. “It was a bunch of people that I knew and liked,” he says. “I had a list of people I wanted on it, and after my list there wasn’t any room left, really.”

He also openly admits that he had the idea for the CD well before it became a benefit effort for the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center, whose restoration efforts will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from CD sales. “I took the idea from the Homegrown ’CLZ thing,” he says, referring to the run of four CDs featuring local talent released by the now-defunct WCLZ — and no, the all-sports ’CLZ doesn’t count. “They really did a lot for local music. I wanted to keep that tradition going.” So, he pitched the idea of a Homegrown-esque album, with himself as producer, to just about every radio station in town. They all said, “No thanks.”

Then he went to ’MPG, one of the last vestiges of local radio playing local bands. Surely they would be up for the idea. Nah. “They were planning on doing something similar,” says Gaylord, “so they declined.”

However, their loss turned into the St. Lawrence effort’s gain, as St. Lawrence head Deirdre Nice happens to have a show at ’MPG, and “the idea just came up” when Gaylord remembered the successful fundraising effort he participated in with Diesel Doug and the Long Haul Truckers — he plays guitar — at the Portland Yacht Services Building last February. “They helped me out because I didn’t have any money to put into it,” he says, so, paradoxically, those who would eventually benefit started out as benefactors.

But, as it turned out, Gaylord didn’t need much by way of cash. Matt Robbins (King Memphis-track 16) and Pip Walter (The Piners-track 6) donated as much time as anybody needed at their Cape Elizabeth studio, the Track Farm. The bands all donated their songs, and when it came time for mastering the effort, none other than Bob Ludwig and his Gateway mastering took time off from the digital re-mastering of Frampton Comes Alive to polish up the 72 minutes of music Gaylord had put together. So “money wasn’t a real big factor,” he says.

To top things off, the Skinny will be donating their club for the big release party this Saturday that will feature just about every band from the album. Twelve of them, in fact, in an alt-country celebration that will be a blur of 20-minute electric and acoustic sets by Diesel Doug and the Muddy Marsh Ramblers, the Piners and Jerks of Grass, even folksy crooner Carol Noonan, of Knots and Crosses fame.

Of course, if you’re a fan at all of roots music, you won’t care at all about any of that. This is one of the best discs released anywhere, by anybody, this year.

There are some things the discerning fan will recognize. Slaid Cleaves released the opening track, “Last of the V-8s,” on his 1997 Rounder album No Angel Knows, but the choice is a great one, featuring his mellow alto voice, along with Gurf Morlix and Donald Lindley, early Lucinda Williams band members. “Eighteen Wheels of Love” is certainly a Diesel Doug favorite. Included here is a live version, recorded this summer at the Stone Coast Brewery by Lance Vardis’s magic recording truck. And Cindy Bullens’s “Tell Me This Ain’t Love” is a track off her 1993 Blue Lobster CD Action, Action, Action, but, hey, she’s been on the Today show and Conan, so Gaylord was lucky to get anything out of her.

What really stand out, however, are the unreleased gems Gaylord has uncovered. He finally coerced the Jerks into the studio, and with success. Their “Highway Paved with Pain” is resplendent with what makes the Jerks great. Jason Phelps’s high lonesome vocals are backed by solid harmonies, their instruments are apparently played at double-time, and they’re never going to be mistaken for rock stars: They include three tries at getting the song started, and finish up with the phone ringing in the background.

Gaylord has also captured the first Muddy Marsh Ramblers tune, Scott Conley’s wistful “Timberline,” and Jenny Jumpstart’s recording debut, a haunting rendition of Diesel Doug’s “Circles.”

Then there are the coming attractions. The Troubles weigh in with the only pop/rock song on the album, “Get the Money Up,” to be featured on their upcoming Here We Go Again sophomore release. With a mid-’80s Mark Knopfler sensibility, and Joe Brien’s driving vocals, they prove again they’re the best smokey, mean, dirty bar band in town, even if they don’t want to be.

The Piners have some new things in the works as well, with a new album to be released early next year. Word is, “Take the Wheel,” track 6 here, will be the first single. It’s a slow, soulful number, and when guys hear Boo Cowie crooning that she’s “on the prowl for a man who can growl and keep me just a little insane,” they’ll be lining up outside her door.

The album ends with yet another unreleased track, a 1992 demo from Manny Verzosa, “Texas Lasts Forever.” One of the first to pick up the alt-country torch in Portland, Verzosa’s music was saddly never released; he met an untimely end in a tour bus accident with his band the Silos in ’93. It’s a poignant song that drives home the lonesome undercurrent that runs through the entire disc. A fitting close to a memorable album.

Murcielago: Murcielago

Hammers of the gods

Murcielago unleash some heavy guitars

Maybe you’ve still got a decent sound system in your car, or a weighty receiver you can still dust off from time to time. If so, there’s a chance you can fully appreciate the long-awaited Murcielago record. It’s got the gravity of a mid-sized planet.

The self-titled work, caught up for a bit in the dying gasps of the label system, certainly quells any fears fans might have had that the four-piece wouldn’t be able to live up to their transcendent live shows. The resonant vibrations of every tube in every amp these guys employ is translated wonderfully, avoiding that digitized chill that can pervade metal of a certain vintage and instead settling into a loud rock that wraps you in its warm embrace just as it’s beating you about the head and neck.

Benny Grotto, down at Mad Oak Studios in Mass., and Jim Begley at the Studio have done masterful work in capturing this sort of fire and brimstone without shaving off the edges or pumping too much air into the vocals. Neil Collins (Lincolnville, Eldemur Krimm) may be draped in reverb, but it’s still possible to make out just about every lyric, and what might be a gimmick—keeping guitarist Ian Ross always in the right channel, Matthew Robbins (King Memphis) always in the left—ends up being a splendid trick for keeping them straight and helping the listener appreciate fully their artful interplay.

There’s plenty of Kyuss and ZZ Top and Judas Priest here, maybe some 6gig, but with Jack Bruce’s recent passing, it’s hard not to hear a ton of Cream, even if it’s just because there’s a bass player doing most of the singing. It’s the same raw punch, the same joy in a riff well executed. “Money” is particularly playful, with guitars and Brian Chaloux’s (Pigboat) snare firing things up, then letting Collins go a capella: “I once had recourse, for every single slight / It’s not that I need you around, it’s that I can’t keep you in my life.”

The solo late should catch attention, with Robbins throwing out slight staccato strums, supporting the Ross lead beautifully in a desperate and crushing run: “I’ve lost all reason; I’ve come undone.” And then Robbins just takes over as they swap roles. At times it’s like they’re playing tennis.

It’s also something of a treat to hear Robbins sing on “Fairlane Swain,” a seven-minute opus of stoner rock. It’s crunchy in the open, with three-note riffs dominating, and then comes Robbins with a sneering and caustic high-end delivery that’s the height of bitterness: “Heavy metal parking lot, just a dimebag of shitpot / My mom told me not to hang around with this lot.” There may even be a reference to “fat chicks” in there.

For the chorus, Robbins rides the two syllables of “fairlane” for a few measures, then let’s a guitar peal fill in for “swain” like he’s turning his back on the song entirely. Jesus, these guys have chops.

Like any good arena-rock band, though, Murcielago have a sensitive side, too. “Cheebahawk” finds Collins getting all kinds of touchy-feely at the two-minute mark—“every time you run around, I am senseless to the sound / Of the breaking of my heart… and I know you’re not my love”—making the hard charge of the guitars firing back seem like a slap in the face. And the one-minute-long “Smoke Season” is an acoustic palate-cleanser, with Collins moving over to guitar to show they could probably pull off one of those overall-wearing stringband albums if they really wanted to.

It’s clear, though, that this is exactly what they want to be doing. While these guys have been around too long for this to signal some kind of a trend, it sure is nice to hear a completely unapologetic rock band rip through some interesting material. Maybe it’ll catch on.