Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Panther Burns – Behind the Magnolia Curtain

I pulled out this record after hearing of the tragic demise of Alex Chilton. His production and guitar playing on Behind the Magnolia Curtain helped to highlight this band and push their name into national prominence among the underground hipsters.

Tav Falco had his own unique vision and visage. Looking like a demented Charlie Chaplin (down to the little mustache), he created his own brand of psychobilly (heavy on the “psycho”) mixing chaos and noise with his 50’s-styled numbers to come up with something that was new to the genre. Coming from a visual arts background, he understood the importance of image and style and he combined this with a love of beat poetry, theater, blues, cacophony and even the tango!

Relying more on interpretation rather than song-writing, this album is comprised entirely (or almost entirely – it’s hard to tell as some of the tunes are extremely obscure) of covers of songs taken from numerous sources. But they are all given the Panther Burns trashed-out, trumped-up treatment and come across as their own.

Sounding like an even more twisted take on the Cramps version of “Tear It Up”, “Come On Little Mama” shows the Burns in all of their sloppy glory. Barely holding it together rhythmically, with plenty of shrieks and wails and a mad, off-kilter quality that makes you feel unbalanced just listening to it! Truly wild and it sets the tone for the rest of the record.

The much-covered “She’s The One That’s Got It” follows and churns away in a rockin’ fashion and almost falls apart during the solo but they catch themselves and soldier on. I’d go crazy trying to play with these cats but it’s a transcendent listening experience! “Hey High School Baby” starts as almost a crooning tune but builds and ebbs with the band’s unique dynamics and again they pull themselves out of a nose dive just in time to keep everything together.

A very different type of tune is the old romantic ballad “Brazil”, though it is almost buried under layers of distortion and Falco’s a-rhythmic vocals add a surreal dimension to it (Terry Gilliam should have used this version in his movie!). They move into a (comparatively) traditional blues number with “You’re Undecided”, though the band seems to wonder at times where Tav is going and whether they are continuing the song or not! Hiccupping through the rockabilly of “Ooee Baby”, the group is downright tight here!

It’s tango time with their take on “St. Louis Blues”, which adds yet another level to this bizarre amalgamation of influences! The North Mississippi Fife and Drums Corps starts off the instrumental “Snake Drive” with a cool, bouncy groove and maintaining a coherence behind the guitar freak-outs. Tav returns on vocals for “Blind Man”, which sounds like the Drums Corps are still backing them up and keeping them in time, giving it a marching feel.

Even country music gets mangled with “Where the Rio De Rossa Flows”, though it’s given a rockabilly makeover. The band conjured up a funky r’n’b groove for “Snatch it Back” and gives it a lively interpretation. Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Blues” travels through the swamp lands and is drenched in fuzz and blues licks and among Tav’s screams he incorporates the beginning of Ginsberg’s “Howl”. Another very Cramps-y tune is the wacked-out rockabilly of “Moving On Down the Line” in which it sounds like the Drums Corps are valiantly trying to keep everyone together and not completely succeeding, but still giving it a fun mayhem.
If you like you music slick and sweet, this is definitely not for you! But if you love swampy, noisy madness, find this one – it is my favorite by these reprobates!