A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 18, 2006
In the late summer of 1965, coming back from a vacation in Santa Fe, a haunting, jangly song came over the car radio. The singer sounded like some gruff old drunk, but his words would twist my 11-year-old head off.
“The eastern world it is explodin’/violence flarin’, bullets loadin’/you’re old enough to kill but not for votin’.” By the time he got to the part about hating your next-door neighbor (“but don’t forget to say grace”), I was definitely looking at the radio in a much different way — and probably the whole world.
The song, of course, was Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” It was written by a guy named P.F. Sloan, 20 years old at the time. Sloan was a Los Angeles studio regular who wrote or co-wrote dozens of hits, most notably “Secret Agent Man.” He also penned tunes for The Turtles, The Grass Roots, Herman’s Hermits, and Jan and Dean — including one of my obscure favorites, “(Here They Come) From All Over the World,” the theme song from The TAMI Show, a long-out-of-print concert movie that featured James Brown, The Rolling Stones, and others.
I’m not quite sure what Sloan’s been doing for the past 40 years or so, but he’s just come out with this dandy new solo album, to be released Tuesday, Aug. 22. Sailover includes new songs as well as old, and a slew of guest stars.
I have to confess I like the old songs best. Lucinda Williams helps out on “The Sins of the Family (Fall on the Daughter),” a jaunty little poverty protest that was a minor hit for Sloan in the mid-’60s. Old Rascal Felix Cavaliere sings on Sloan’s Grass Roots hit, “Where Were You When I Needed You,” which sounds even better than the original. And Frank Black pitches in on an obscure Sloan tune “Halloween Mary,” a folk-rocky put-down song.
And yes, there’s “Eve of Destruction,” in which Sloan, Black, and country-rocker Buddy Miller trade verses. Most of the lyrics are still intact (there’s still all that hate in Red China and Selma, Ala.), though Sloan throws a new line “and money corrupts the value of elections” into the “blood’s so mad, feels like coagulatin’ ” verse.
The sad part, of course, is how relevant this song still is. I just wish it could get played on commercial radio as much as it was back in 1965 so it could make its imprint on today’s young minds as it did on mine.
* Goodbye Guitar by Tony Gilkyson. I’ve written before that solo albums by sidemen only prove that most sidemen deserve to remain sidemen. But this album proves there are major exceptions to that rule.
Gilkyson, a former Santa Fean, has been a side musician for most of his career. He took Billy Zoom’s place as the lead guitarist in X. He was a member of the 1980s country rock band Lone Justice. He was the major dude behind Chuck E. Weiss’ band, The G-d Damn Liars, and co-produced two underrated Weiss albums. He played on and produced Eleni Mandell’s best album, Country for True Lovers. And he’s backed his sister, the well-known Eliza Gilkyson.
But forget all that resume stuff. Goodbye Guitar shows that Gilkyson should be considered an artist in his own right.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that all 11 songs on this album are winners.
There’s some outright honky-tonkers like “Wilton Bridge,” “Worthless,” and “Old Cracked Looking Glass” (the latter written by Woody Guthrie), some decent rootsy rockers like “Mojave High” and “Donut and a Dream,” and a good hillbilly stomp in the title cut.
There’s the Euro-noirish “Man About Town,” featuring a sinister French accordion by Van Dyke Parks and background vocals by sister Eliza. Written by his late father, Terry Gilkyson, the lyrics (“Each night a new love, never a true love,”) evoke the same sad spirit as Bing Crosby’s version of “Just a Gigolo.”
But best of all is “My Eyes,” a soulful dirge of self-loathing. “My eyes have seen some glory, diamonds in the rough/but looking in the mirror is getting mighty tough ... my back is bent, my hair is gray, but the worst thing I despise are my eyes,” Gilkyson moans. There’s a pump organ and a ragged-but-right horn section.
I don’t care what he says. Anyone who makes an album like this should be proud to look in the mirror.
* Snake in the Radio by Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands. Like Gilkyson, Pickerel’s mainly been a sideman and behind-the-scenes guy. He was the drummer in the classic Seattle group The Screaming Trees and, briefly, with Nirvana.
His first solo record is on Bloodshot Records, the “insurgent country” label.
Although there are some countryish tunes here (“I’ll Wait,” “Don’t Look Back”), the most interesting tracks go in different directions.
The garage stomp “A Town Too Fast for Your Blues” is tailor-made for a cover by Dead Moon. The mournful “Ask the Wind, Ask the Dust” sounds like something from fellow ex-Tree Mark Lannegan’s song book, as does the electronica-tinged title song, another slow burner.
But Pickerel saved the best for the first. The ultra-hooky opening track, “Forest Fire,” just has to be a huge radio hit in some paralniverse. Plus it has the funniest line in the whole album: “I’m sorry ’bout your turquoise bracelet/In the morning I’ll replace it.”