Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Mama Kangaroos Make Good

Sorry guys, another belated post--but better late than nada, here's the lowdown on the Mama Kangaroo cd release celebration held in Philadelphia last week at the sumptuous new World Cafe Live complex, adjacent to NPR's WXPN studios. First off, the actual CD "Mama Kangaroos: Philly Women Sing Captain Beefheart" has been 4 years in the making and is the brainchild of Michael Villers, a local Philadelphian fixture in the progressive music scene there, and it is finished but not yet in releasable (ie manufactured, with full cover art) form, but should be soon, through Michael's label Genus Records. I'd heard about this album awhile back through the Beefheart chat group and was intrigued to ponder the notion of specifically female artistes interpreting the music of Don Van Vliet, as Don was always one to underscore his (at least in his eyes) absolute connection to the female head and heart, ie, "Women understand my music, man!"

Anyway my old friend Deerfrance touted me on it (she was John Cale's backup singer and released a fine album in her own right last year) and another old friend Essra Mohawk (former Bizarre Straight recording artist and songwriter supreme) played on it, and I have to say, the advance copy sent me by Michael really knocked me out. The variety of interpretations on the cd, from drum and bass versions to old timey to camp cabaret to bloozy rawk 'n roll, is stunning, and what a pleasure to hear women's voices in all their glory ring some new changes on the already decidedly twisted Beefheartian songbook. It is a really wonderful record, with twenty different female-fronted ensembles driving the engine of difference, and it gets better and better on repeated listenings, I couldn't cite a favorite track but Sweetie's electro jungle-style version of "Where There's Woman" is a revelation; Jane Gilday's haunting "Sugarbowl" takes one deep into the dappled hills of Appalachian country; and Kiss Kiss Kill Kill's thriftshop Manhattan Transfer-esque take on "Lick My Decals Off Baby" is a hoot and a holler (not unakin to the GTO's "Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes")...would also like to mention Janet Bressler's soulful "I'm Glad", Essra Mohawk's
kicking "Party of Special Things to Do", Global Transmission's mesmeric triphop "Witch Doctor Life", Thorazine's punk-thrash "Frying Pan"...hell, they're all good!

So Michael asked if I would play as a special guest at their record release party, which is why I schlepped down to Philly last week with Deerfrance and her boyfriend Paul and had the most delightful evening, enjoying several superlative acts from the "Mama Kangaroos" album strut their stuff-- including the aforementioned Kiss Kiss Kill Kill. a thoroughly charming concatenation of eccentric frou-frou girls 'n boys fronted by 2 front-women who were ringers for Edith Head and Betty Page, respectively; Mia Johnson, a fierce bluesy mama indeed with a sizzling male slide guitarist who did an excellent "Crazy Little Thing"; and Jane Gilday, a revelation on treated guitar and cracked, gnarly voice who in a way, to me, embodied something perhaps closest to the spirit of Van Vliet's music-- not so much in form but in depth of content with her gender-bending original songs (I confess I sat in with Jane on National steel, alongside Deerfrance on backup harmonies and Paul on oddball percussion). I played solo acoustic to a very appreciative crowd and was gratified to see so many old faces from shows I've done over the years in Philadelphia coming back to say hi, it 's stuff like that that makes it all worthwhile (including seeing my childhood friend Bruce Waltuck in the audience, who I last saw in November 1980 when he turned up at the Venue in London to see me play with Beefheart!) I missed the last act as it was already 1am and time to get back to Manhattan, which is long enough of a drive, not to mention that Deerfrance and Paul live in Montauk which is another 2-3 hours from my place...and needless to say we got thoroughly lost in the byzantine maze of Philly's suburban environs, trying to find Route 95, so lost that I didn't barge in on Caroline until around 4am (she slept through my noisy entrance, lucky for me!)

All in all, a great night out of Manhattan. World Cafe Live is really a spectacular joint, lots of good musicians coming through to play there from all over the globe, the food is pretty decent ('cept they stop serving too early)--and I'm scheduled to return, to play the big room (this party was upstairs in the cafe) on April 21st with Gods and Monsters in tow. Now off to Austin on Friday for South by Southwest, we play The Drink on 6th on Saturday night, see ya soon I hope...



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