What do you get when you combine country fried rock n’ roll with the manic energy of cowpunk and add in touches of sound collage and generous amounts of mutant guitar noise? If you guessed Roy and the Devil’s Motorcycle, you’re right! And with a sound like that, you might expect these guys to come from some southwestern psych town like Austin, Texas, but these four guys (three of them brothers) come from Switzerland!
Forgotten Million Sellers was the very first release from Voodoo Rhythm Records back in 1997, and is here now, fifteen years later, re-issued in celebration of the release of the band’s third and latest album, Tell It To the People. You know that Forgotten Million Sellers is no standard country rock record from the start, when it begins with what sounds like a needle scraping across a 33 1/3 rpm record playing at 78 rpm, before distorted guitars, rampaging drumming, wailing feedback and hallucinatory voices assault the eardrums. From that noisy beginning, we launch into a collection of raucous tunes that have the frenzied cowpunk energy of bands like Jason and the Scorchers and Chickasaw Mudd Puppies combined with the noise/sound experimentalism of Sonic Youth. Fitting in with the punk ethos, the songs are mostly short (1 ½ – 3 minutes), but can reach some very intense moments with the vocalist screaming and the instruments wailing away like there’s no tomorrow. It only slows down in the middle a bit for a few slightly longer songs (3 – 5 minutes) combining sound collage with some twisted hurtin’ tunes and monstrous bursts of feedback. Crazy stuff! It’s not totally my thing, but I can appreciate what the band was trying to do. I’m just more into the psychedelic trippy side of things than the wild punk kind of sound that imbues these tracks. Man, did I have a smile inducing surprise on the way.
After hearing Forgotten Million Sellers, I dove a little more tentatively into Tell It To the People. My ears were a bit overwhelmed by the relentless sonic battery and boisterous swagger of the previous album. When things on this album started out with noisy feedback squall I thought, ‘here we go again’, but I was totally astonished when Six Pink Cadillac proved to be a druggy acoustic tune, the feedback merely creating an ambient backdrop to the guitars and vocals. Fifteen years on, and things seemed to have changed a bit for the cowpunks from Switzerland! My attention was definitely caught! Second tune, I’m Allright certainly brings back the manic electric energy of Million Sellers, but this time out (as with the entirety of Tell It To the People), the punk attitude has been replaced with more of a wasted hippie aesthetic. I’m Allright comes off sounding like Steve Earle fronting Chrome, and it’s quite cool. But this tune proves to be the loudest song in the set, as the band quickly begins to delve into a unique sort of space/country/rock sound with a distinctly mellow vibe to it. Tunes like the trippy, spaced out Cristina and the droning, echo laden Tears on My Pillow are light years away from the rowdy country punk of Million Sellers. In fact, one of the great standouts of this album is a version of the traditional spiritual Will the Circle Be Unbroken that sounds like Klaus Schulze playing with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; a deep space hymn for the spiritual hippie in all of us. Far out, man! And from the wasted granola munching freak folk of Water Air Food Love to the ambient psychedelic forest journey of Piggy Bank, to the ‘spirit of the 60’s’ country psychedelia of Henry’s Blues, Tell It To the People is an entirely different experience from Million Sellers, and it’s an experience I have to say, I definitely dug. Gram Parsons coined the term ‘Cosmic American Music’, which he used to describe the music on his GP and Grievous Angel albums. As innovative as his music was though, I never honestly got the ‘cosmic’ part of Parsons’ sound. Here, however, on Tell It To the People, ‘Cosmic American Music’ is reborn. Who’d have thought it would come from a group of guys from Switzerland?
Some people may find both of these albums to their taste, and I did enjoy both of them, although the most recent one I enjoyed a lot more. So, if you enjoy your music loud and noisy, with lots of punk spirit, check out Forgotten Million Sellers. But for me, the space cowboy milieu of Tell It To the People is what really hit the spot, and I highly recommend it. Yee-haw!
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald