Sunday, March 24, 2019

The World Has Seen It Before: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Reaches

The new album from Reaches, Wherever The Internet Goes, Sorrow Follows, out next Friday on We Be Friends, is full of energy. The tunes here on this record, from musician Justin Randel, straddle the boundaries between techno-pop and electronica.

The supple (and wonderfully-titled) "Take Me To The Beginning of Time" sees Randel ride a keyboard hook that's part Eighties New Wave and part rave comedown, while "GCI" goes even further back, to the sort of material that once showed up on Mute Records some three or so decades ago. Elsewhere, "The World Has Seen It Before" is all bright surfaces, the washes of keyboards carrying the tune forward with a nice bit of energy.

The music of Reaches seems derivative in spots but Justin Randel at least believes in this sort of thing, and that's enough to give this a reason to exist. What's interesting here is not necessarily the hooks, such as they are, but how Randel appropriates from the past to offer up something in 2019 that feels a bit futuristic in spots.

Wherever The Internet Goes, Sorrow Follows is out on Friday via We Be Friends Records.

[Photo: Lily Lake]

Saturday, March 23, 2019

To The Landing: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Typical Sisters (Ohmme)

The music of Typical Sisters is the kind of thing that blends the best of a few genres with the sort of ease that makes reviewers fumble around for descriptions. And while I suppose that the music on the band's new album, Hungry Ghost, out as of yesterday via Outside in Music, could be called jazz, it's also much more than that.

The players here -- guitarist Gregory Uhlmann, bassist Clark Sommers, and drummer Matt Carroll -- imbue each tune here with a lot of melodic invention, and a good deal of improvisational fire. While the title cut is bass-driven in spots, the elegantly propulsive "To The Landing" features a neat interplay between Uhlmann and Carroll, drummer on that superb Ohmme album from last year. The "dialogue" between the two is catchy, as is "Goner", a spry ramble with showcase-moments for each musician here. At their best here, like on closer "Young and Foolish", or the lovely and spacious "Benjamin", this trio touches at something beautiful, music that's appealing to both the heart and the intellect. In that sense, the tunes here are very jazzy indeed, with flashes of the sort of thing that made so many people devotees of the ECM label artists.

Hungry Ghost is out now via Outside in Music.

More details on Typical Sisters via the band's official website, or their official Facebook page.

[Photo: Maren Celest]

Friday, March 22, 2019

Man And His Panic: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Bill MacKay

The new album from Bill MacKay, Forest Fire, out today on Drag City, is a record full of beautiful music. The guitar-playing of MacKay is remarkably nimble and the tunes themselves are tuneful and lovely. This is simple music that contains real richness and depth.

"Pre-California" sees Bill MacKay open this release with a plucked run through near-blues-forms, while the lighter "Birds of May" is pure folk-y goodness. At times on Forest Fire, a listener can detect traces of earlier pioneers like Bert Jansch and Richard Thompson here in the playing, with MacKay imbuing this with enough flashes of originality to make the material feel entirely new. "Man and His Panic" finds MacKay taking things down a bit, while "Welcome" is spry inventiveness. The best number here, the epic "Dragon Country", is a neat blend of blues hooks and vaguely fusion-y bursts of tonal color.

Forest Fire reveals Bill MacKay to be one of the most expressive guitarists active today, with lots and lots of this record straddling a few genres with ease. Bill MacKay's playing gets equal attention here as does his voice, maybe more, and a listener feels that something timeless is at work here, even as one detects the points of inspiration from various genres that MacKay's drawing from.

Forest Fire is out today via Drag City.

[Photo: William Keihn]

Heads Up About The Power-Pop Of Chicago's The Embryos

The Embryos are from the Chicago area but a quick listen to their tunes and you would think you were hearing Scottish legends Teenage Fanclub. The band has just dropped a new EP on Bandcamp and it's excellent.

"Wasting All Your Time" sounds just like the Fannies, while "Playin' Hooky" reveals debts owed to Alex Chilton and Big Star. My favorite song on this EP, though, is the punchy "Half a Wolf", a rocker that echoes Jason Falkner's best material.

More details on The Embryos can be found on the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited Bandcamp pic]

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Oracle Speaks: A Brief Review Of The Debut Album From Sweden's Second Oracle

The music of Sweden's Second Oracle is like something from a dream. Or a nightmare (in spots, at least). The players here conjure up something mythic and mystical, and it's something that pre-dates rock-and-roll entirely. The band's debut album, Second Oracle, drops on Lazy Octopus Records tomorrow and it's easily one of this week's most stunning releases.

Opener "The Oracle Speaks" begins things with the otherworldly vocals of the group taking center-stage, and that brief cut segues directly into the stately "Of The Fall Of The Swift Ships", an epic-length organ workout that's equal parts "No Quarter" and something from a classic British folk-rock record. The music whipped up here by these four musicians -- Josefina Pukitis, Karin Enqvist, Lisa Isaksson. and Rebecka Rolfart -- is otherworldly and nearly impossible to adequately describe. "Akta Min Aura" feels a tiny bit like Nineties-era Dead Can Dance, as do parts of "Seabird's Lament", but that's still not a great description, and the longer, more elegant "New Child, New Prophecy" chugs past on the back of an insistent flute-figure, and a nearly catchy melodic hook. The long closer "Caravan of Hope" is similarly inscrutable, flashes of stuff as dissimilar as early Doors and Current 93 zipping by.

Second Oracle by Second Oracle is haunting, and it's also the sort of thing that's easy to love if it speaks to you as it did me. I can't quite pin down why I found this so affecting, but there's something primal here that suggests a real pureness of purpose that I appreciated in this modern era.

Second Oracle is out tomorrow via Lazy Octopus Records. More details on Second Oracle via the group's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited picture from the Second Oracle FB page]

A Quick Review Of The New EP From Modern Nature (Woods, Beak, Sunwatchers, Ex-Ultimate Painting)

Jack Cooper has re-surfaced. The musician who was half of Ultimate Painting is now back with a new project, Modern Nature, and the band's debut EP, Nature, drops on Bella Union on Friday. The music here is remarkably removed from that of his earlier band, and it's also bravely iconoclastic.

Opener "Nature" rides a spry hook over terrain best described as folk-rock, while the elegant "Flats" betrays debts owed to Robert Wyatt and Mark Hollis. Elsewhere, "Blackwaterside" offers up a ramble that's similar in some weird way to bits and pieces of old Ultimate Painting sides, even as the epic 11-minute closer here, "Supernature", blends flashes of free jazz with hints of prog in the service of the sort of material that far too bands are willing to risk making these days.

Modern Nature are taking a lot of chances here on Nature, and for that reason alone they should be applauded. That the music works, sounding organic throughout this debut EP, is also reason to praise what's here too. The players on Nature -- Jack Cooper, Will Young of Beak, and Aaron Neveu of Woods, with Jeff Tobias of Sunwatchers on saxophone -- are taking some risks on this EP and an attentive listener should find lots to get lost in here in these grooves. Hopefully a longer release is in the cards in the future.

Nature by Modern Nature is out on Friday via Bella Union.

[Photo: James Sharp]

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Everything For You: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Lambchop

Lambchop operate in a space not occupied by many other musicians these days. The band, fronted by Kurt Wagner, and joined here in 2019 by, among others, Matthew McCaughan, brother of Merge honcho Mac McCaughan, is making making that is so unique that one is starved for easy comparison-points. Their newest album, This (is what I wanted to tell you), drops on Friday and it's a beautiful, if inscrutable, record.

"The New Isn't So You Anymore" sounds like some recent Lambchop releases, even as Wagner's treated vocals remain things of odd beauty, while the more direct "Everything For You" nods in the direction of turn-of-the-century Radiohead. "The Lasting Last of You" goes even further back, to the seminal releases from the late Mark Hollis and Talk Talk for inspiration, even as Wagner's lyrics here veer into the direction of stuff penned by the criminally-underrated F.M. Cornog of label-mates East River Pipe. This (is what I wanted to tell you) is a concise record full of epic-length tunes, with only the fine closer "Flower" clocking in under the three-minute mark, and that one sits nicely next to the percolating title cut, and the elegiac "The December-ish You", a piano-driven excursion.

Lambchop continue to push the envelope of what constitutes indie-pop, pulling in instrumentation from other genres as necessary to pepper this material. Kurt Wagner has a knack for melody, but he's also the best artist this side of Eighties-era Blue Nile at creating this sort of material, music that rolls and ebbs and which contains reserves of checked emotion.

This (is what I wanted to tell you) is out on Friday via Merge Records.

More details via the official website for Lambchop, or via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Steve Gullick]

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Radiate: A Quick Review Of Album Number Two From Ex Hex

Ex Hex are back with a rockin' new album. It's Real drops on Merge Records on Friday and it's such a thorough riff-monster that I'm sorta expecting this one to go through the roof like Pyromania or something. While other bands might dabble in Eighties-style hooks ironically, Ex Hex -- Mary Timony, Betsy Wright, and Laura Harris -- grab this stuff and run with it wholeheartedly.

Lead single "Tough Enough" sounds like the sort of thing that might play under a training montage in a Karate Kid or Rocky sequel, while the brisk "Rainbow Shiner" stomps with a real Dio-worthy sense of how to structure a jam. It's a song that's nearly elegant in its melding of a few disparate styles...and it reminds me of "The Last in Line" just enough to make me entirely love it. Elsewhere, "Cosmic Cave" bops with a mix of abandon and New Wave intent, while the more supple "Radiate" serves up the kind of power-pop one once could easily find on the airwaves of college radio some decades ago. This is not to imply that Ex Hex are buried in Eighties references here but, rather to suggest that they are writing material that sits nicely next to classic compositions from artists as disparate as Tommy Keene and Joan Jett.

It's Real, engineered by J. Robbins (Jawbox), sees this trio really take command of whatever genre this is going to be called in the future by other music writers. It's punchy, and thoroughly catchy, blending, with a real ease, swatches of punk and hair metal. If Ex Hex are breaking any new ground here, it's ground of territory they've sort of discovered and claimed as their own.

It's Real is likely going to be the most listenable thing released in 2019, and I would not trust any music fan who didn't find something to love here. It's Real is out on Friday via Merge Records.

More details on Ex Hex via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Ex Hex at Black Cat in 2018 by me]

More Than I Do: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Sleeper

Dateline 8 September 1996: Sebadoh and Elliott Smith are playing the "new" 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. (Seeing as how the club had only been open about nine months, it really was "new" then.) Not too far away, Britpop darlings Sleeper are playing the "old" Black Cat club (the one that seemed smaller, about half-a-block down 14th Street from the current location).

I chose to see Sleeper instead of Sebadoh and Smith, forgoing the hip American ticket that night in favor of the chance to see one of my then-favorite U.K. acts here on these shores. Sleeper burned through most of their first two albums in the course of delivering what I'd rank right up there with one of the best concerts I've ever seen in this city. And I saw Loop and Nirvana in 1990, and The Pixies and Happy Mondays in 1989, so...

Sleeper went on to release a third album the next year, the underrated Pleased To Meet Me, and Britpop tottered on, with this fan obsessing over Kenickie and theaudience in the next few years after that. Still, Sleeper were remarkably good back then, which makes it more shocking to report how wonderful they still sound now in 2019. Here with a reunion record no one asked for (and even fewer people expected), Sleeper are dropping The Modern Age via their own Gorsky Records label this Friday.

The line-up this time around features three original members -- Louise Wenner on vocals, Jon Stewart on guitars, and Andy Maclure on drums -- and one new player -- Kieron Pepper from The Prodigy on bass -- but the group sounds nearly the same as they did in 1996. Opener "Paradise Waiting" echoes "She's A Good Girl" but with more punch, while lead single "Look At You Now" recalls, despite some sleek production effects, the louder songs on the band's fine debut LP from so many decades ago. Wenner, one of the best front-persons in rock ever, leads this material into a few new places, while offering up the very kind of thing that made The It Girl such an essential record back in '96.

And while lots and lots of The Modern Age has more heft than the band's last official release, I found myself drawn more to the mid-tempo selections here like "Car Into The Sea", one of Wenner's finest vocal performances, I think, and "More Than I Do", a languid ramble that seems of a piece with "What Do I Do Now?" but with a far bigger pay-off in sonic terms. Still, even with numbers like those, and the odd-but-lovely closer "Big Black Sun", fans of this band are going to line up here for tracks that sound a whole lot like the sort of thing that propelled this band to popularity in the first place. So rest assured that "The Sun Also Rises", "Cellophane", and especially "Dig" can safely sit next to lots of the best stuff from Smart.

The Modern Age works very, very well. It's the rare reunion album that actually feels necessary. So much of what's here is more urgent than what was on Pleased To Meet Me and a fan could be forgiven for wishing that this had been the band's third album, and not their fourth, some 22 years removed from their last public offering. Produced by Stephen Street, The Modern Age roars and soars where necessary, reminding again just what a fantastic singer and songwriter Louise Wenner is, especially when fronting a tight outfit like this one.

The Modern Age is out on Friday via the band's own label, Gorsky Records.

More details on Sleeper via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited photo from the band's official Facebook page]

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vaporwave Headache: A Brief Review Of The New Album From USA/Mexico (ex-Butthole Surfers)

It's been two years since the last USA/Mexico record and, if anything, the band's sound has gotten even more unremittingly punishing. Which is another way of saying that I *loved* Matamoros, out Friday on one-time Homestead Records honcho Gerard Cosloy's 12XU label.

"Matamoros" kicks off with the pummeling title cut, a rager that sounds like an argument being held in the apartment next door, and the dude-half of the equation is cranking an old scratchy Aerosmith record -- at the wrong speed -- in an attempt to drown out the yelling. Elsewhere, the wonderfully-titled "Eric Carr T-Shirt" nods in the direction of drummer King Coffey's Butthole Surfers stuff, while the brisk "Vaporwave Headache" is nearly hardcore in its deliberateness. Coffey, along with Craig Clouse and Nate Cross, sees USA/Mexico as a weapon and, thankfully, there remains something uncompromising here about the group's "music"; if you don't get it, you're just (rightfully) left in the dust. George Disher of Spray Paint shows up here, as does Kevin Whitley of Cherubs, the band responsible for the song "Shoofly" covered with some zeal here on this record.

Matamoros closes with the side-length "Anxious Whitley", a 17-minute epic that feels like the band's shoving you in front of tracks, the tune itself the train barreling forward onto you with unforgiving power. It's an admirably courageous thing to release in 2019, a throwback to stuff on 12XU label owner Gerard Cosloy's old Homestead Records, and a reminder of the sort of genuinely dangerous bands he signed back in the Eighties.

Stubbornly old-fashioned, bludgeoning and brilliant in its intentional stupidity, Matamoros is even better than the last USA/Mexico album. It is out on Friday via the 12XU label.

More details on USA/Mexico via what may be the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional picture]

Sunday, March 17, 2019

TRACK FEATURE: Forces Of Nature By Maryjo Mattea

Maryjo Mattea is making the kind of alt-rock that I like a whole lot. If there's something here in her music that harks back to stuff like Belly and Letters To Cleo, that's a huge compliment as far as I'm concerned. Maryjo has been playing around D.C. and her brand of music is yet another flavor to a scene here in the nation's capital that is wonderfully diverse and consistently interesting.

"Forces of Nature" is charming, chiming, and winsome. A listener hears this and thinks back to stuff like "Bright as Yellow" from The Innocence Mission. And I realize that that might not be the most perfect comparison to make given the heft here in Maryjo Mattea's tune, but it was the first thing this aging indie-rock fan thought of. She's assisted in delivering this one by Scott Manley on drums, Joshua Hunter on additional guitar, and Eamonn Donnelly on bass. The players anchor this cut that succeeds mainly because of Maryjo's soaring vocals.

More details on Maryjo Mattea via her official website, or her official Facebook page. Check out those sites for news on her upcoming gigs this month in D.C.

[Photo: Cina Nguyen]

My Interview With Anthony Reynolds, Author Of Cries And Whispers, A New Book On Japan

Anthony Reynolds was the front-man of the band Jack, one of the real treasures of the old Too Pure Records label. He's also an author, and his new book, Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 looks at the solo careers of the members of Japan. Seeing as how I came in on Gone To Earth from David Sylvian in 1986 and worked my way backward to Japan, and forward through a succession of solo releases from Sylvian, Mick Karn, Richard Barbieri, and Steve Jansen, this book is something I was eager to see. I have the eBook version and I can tell you just from reading that that it's an impressive piece of work.

Before you run off and order Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 here, I urge you to read this interview I recently conducted with Anthony Reynolds. For anyone else who's a fan of this material, the book is sure to be of appeal, as is this brief interview with the author.

Glenn, kenixfan: What made you interested in Japan? Were you a fan of the band when they were still active?

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: I was aware of Japan before I got into them but I was 11 when they split up and I wasn’t a fan then. I think I was into Madness and comics in 1982 both of which were much more visible and available in Wales. Japan were kind of mysterious, rarely on TV, so it seemed certainly not particularly popular where I lived. They were probably seen as a bit ‘elitist’ if i think back, a bit rarefied for the working class environment I lived in. But in time that became part of their appeal to me. In fact, I had friends who had big brothers who had the most exotic collections of something called "12 inches"! What were these strange, beautiful objects? I remember vividly flipping through such a collection and getting to the 12" of "Ghosts" and the big brother saying in his strong Cardiff accent, "That’s a bloody good song that is". That really stayed with me. How a song like that could infiltrate the deepest recesses of the ghetto... Eventually, in 1985 my cousin gave me a tape of Tin Drum. I was listening to the likes of the Thompson Twins, Nik Kershaw, and Howard Jones at the time as I was 14, and they suddenly seemed like cartoons next to Japan.

Glenn, kenixfan: It might not be a popular opinion, and I may be saying this because I really followed these musicians’ work quite a bit during the era covered in the book, but I’ve always felt that Japan was the rare band where the individual solo projects were far more interesting, innovative, and risky than the music made in the original band. What do you think about that idea?

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: Japan were a band and as such there were compromises to be made despite what Sylvian may have tried to dictate. All that talent and ego in one room...! So by default, the solo works may have been allowed to be a bit more unedited, a bit more indulgent. And also, those solo works -- especially Mick Karn’s Titles album -- were in some part a reaction to being in Japan. So I guess by default those solo works would seem more personal, or interesting and ‘risky’... But I actually prefer the boundaries that are inherent in a band such as Japan. I think constraints and boundaries can sometimes -- especially in pop music -- work to the music’s advantage. And someone may be a great instrumentalist when part of a group but when left alone, their work can lack focus. When I hear some of the ex-members' of Japan’s solo work, especially the instrumental stuff, it sometimes sounds to me less like true instrumental music but more like music without a singer. If I imagine Sylvian singing it, it becomes much more palatable and complete. Similarly, when I saw Sylvian do his "Slow Fire" tour in 1995, which was just him with guitar and piano, I felt it wore a bit thin after a while, and I missed the band arrangements. But as I say, this may be just my taste and I still haven’t worked out where taste comes from...

Glenn, kenixfan: Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 does a good job at balancing things, necessarily shedding a bright light on David Sylvian’s solo career while not neglecting the many efforts made by Mick Karn and Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri as solo artists. Was that an easy thing to do, given how prolific Sylvian was following the dissolution of Japan?

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 isn’t a biography of Sylvian; it’s an account of what all the ex-members of Japan did when that group split up. That was my remit. As a writer and researcher I have a particular tenacity and a fondness for trying to shine a light into dark musical corners. I get pleasure from focusing on the most obscure release or live appearance. If you think of just one day in the life of your subject, and if you could get enough detail on just that day, how it would be a book in itself. Of course, that’s easier said than done and, in real terms, because Sylvian’s albums were more popular, there is more press available on them, so it was hard to write as much about Jansen and Barbieri’s Worlds in a Small Room as it was about Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees. But my starting point, my approach, was to treat both equally.

I feel that just as much effort went into Karn’s Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters as it did into Gone To Earth. It’s just that the former wasn’t as popular as the latter. But that’s almost irrelevant to me as I’m writing primarily about the work and how it was conceived and made, and not how it was received by the public. So, no, attempting to cover all releases wasn’t an issue for me in terms of attitude, just in finding enough material.

Glenn, kenixfan: Having written about Japan more than once now, how do you, as a fan, feel about Rain Tree Crow, the "reunion" album from 1991? Perhaps unfairly marketed at the time as a "Japan reunion record", it feels stronger to me when viewed as a one-off that doesn’t attempt to be a Japan record; it sounds a bit like any number of projects from each member, only they’re all together this time.

ANTHONY REYNOLDS: The Rain Tree Crow album is tied to a period of my life. As I said earlier, I was too young to appreciate Japan first time around, but by 1991, being 19 I was more ‘awake’ and was buying the NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds, every week. So I was able to actively ‘take part’ in its release at the time, checking chart positions, listening to radio interviews, and so on...all the joys of being a fan! Rain Tree Crow was a worthy effort but it always felt a bit unfinished to me, the sound of a band finding their feet again. Unlike Sylvian's stuff, I wasn’t very taken with the instrumental pieces on it so in this regard it feels uneven... Also, Mick seems to be absenting himself from his playing almost, and I wanted to hear more of his ‘flamboyance’. It’s as if he’s treading on eggshells which, if you read the book you’ll see that he was in a way. It has some gorgeous, fully realized pieces on it for sure, like "Pocket Full of Change", but other tracks just never did much for me.

I want to thank Anthony Reynolds for his time today, and urge you to order his new album, A Painter's Life, here, and play some of his music via the Bandcamp link below.

Cries and Whispers 1983-1991 is up for order now here.

[Photo of David Sylvian by Tony Barratt; Photo of Barbieri and Jansen by Tim Goodyer]

Saturday, March 16, 2019

An Early Review Of Boy Howdy! The Story Of Creem Magazine, The New Documentary From Scott Crawford, Director Of Salad Days

Scott Crawford, director of 2014's Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90), has done something remarkable in his new feature, Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine: he's documented the heart and soul that sustained a magazine famed for its irreverence. Who would've thought that behind that famed periodical there was a story with such richness?

The magazine was so much more than the home of writers like Lester Bangs, but, of course, for those looking for all the Lester Bangs stuff, a lot of it's here. And while there's a case to be made for letting Lester dominate a narrative of Creem, Scott Crawford, wisely to my mind, doesn't do that. Instead, Crawford favors a holistic approach that takes in the environment of Detroit and the whole music scene there in order to chronicle the point in time, and place, that birthed the magazine.

And while the brief Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine is indeed the inside scoop on that mag and the shenanigans behind its issues' creation every month, it's also a crash course in Detroit rock-and-roll. Scott Crawford here turns his eye towards the Detroit scene with as much affection, and reverence, as he did the D.C. scene in Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) a few years ago. Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, The Stooges, The MC5, and, of course, Kiss, all feature prominently here, with Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine making a concise case for the importance of that fertile era between the psychedelic Sixties and the first wave of American punk. This documentary reminds over and over again that the Seventies were not all James Taylor and disco, and that real counter-culture music was being made on these shores then, and being written about, and championed, by the writers and staff of Creem magazine.

Necessarily, there's a lot on publisher Barry Kramer and writer Lester Bangs here, including the pair's hi-jinks, and Lester's feuds with Kramer and editor Dave Marsh. Director Cameron Crowe may very well have the best quote in Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine (not counting the wonderful one Legs McNeil has about Dave Marsh), when he says that Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh got to argue about "why and how to love the thing they love." I think that's significant as there was a lot of love behind the pages of Creem back then. With Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone the nearest competition, Kramer and his crew, up in their commune in Michigan for a time, were doing whatever the hell they were doing out of love for the tunes, not necessarily to be political, or get closer to the mainstream.

And, in terms of how Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine works as a rock documentary, the film delivers generously in terms of giving the viewers what they want, which is lots and lots of expertly-chosen talking heads bits, with Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. serving up some of the best, more personal anecdotes in the film. And beyond those, there are dozens of sequences here where even a casual fan of the era will find lots to smile about, with stories of artists from Iggy Pop, to Lou Reed, to Joan Jett peppering the narrative.

Still, acknowledging that things have changed for the better, Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine goes to great lengths to allow Jaan Uhelszki, Creem co-founder and writer, and Susan Whitall, editor and writer, among others, to offer up some thoughts on the kind of misogyny that regrettably fueled the pieces in the magazine back then. While it was a boys' club at times, it was also a product of its era, and, as such, given to silliness. That boys' club vibe gave birth to stuff like Stars' Cars, or the Boy Howdy! beer-ads, both covered here in the film, even if those features usually ran alongside genuinely fine pieces of music journalism.


Ultimately Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine is both a concise history of a magazine that miraculously challenged mainstream music publications in the lean years between the dissolution of The Beatles and the rise of MTV, and a story of the late Barry Kramer and his family, and how they corralled some disparate, unhinged talents in order to produce a monthly love letter to rock-and-roll. At its very best, Scott Crawford's film works in a similar way, a mix of nostalgia and scrutiny here serving the material well. Given some of the things in the magazine back then, it would have been impossible to look at Creem in 2019 without acknowledging the puerile ugliness that showed up in the pages at times.

Still, for a rag that was made by the "bozos on the bus", to quote Lester Bangs via Jaan Uhelszki, Creem did something remarkable every month. Kramer and his crew, as this film shows, pioneered a way of looking at rock, and writing about it, that seemed revolutionary at the time, and it was an approach that was thoroughly in debt to the same scene and attitude that birthed Wayne Kramer and The MC5, for example. And, taking all of that into account, Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine gets the tone right, and tells the story with an admirable brevity, the insights flying so fast here that the film is an absolute blast from start to finish.

For more details on Boy Howdy! The Story of Creem Magazine, visit www.CreemMag.com, or the official Facebook page for the film.

[Photos: Top picture of Barry Kramer, Dave Marsh, and Lester Bangs by Charles Auringer; other photos credited to original photographers]