You don’t need me to tell you that collaborations are what’s hot these days. From Gnarls Barkley (Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse) to Peeping Tom (Mike Patton and a cast of unlikely characters), artists have found it necessary to create their own genre-bending mash-ups like never before. Such unbridled (and seemingly unsupervised) creativity can have mixed results. Enter Jon Spencer (of Blues Explosion, Boss Hog and most recently Heavy Trash) and Luther and Cody Dickinson (the masterminds behind North Mississippi Allstars).
Now, don’t assume Spencer Dickinson is the product of Jon and the Dickinsons trying to keep up with Joneses. In fact, Spencer Dickinson preceded Gnarls Barkley’s inception by some six years. Since then, the reputation of the session (which was only released in Japan) has grown to mythical proportions thanks to rampant piracy and incessant fanboy chatter. This remastered version, which includes seven unreleased tracks, should appease our domestic listeners.
So what results from paring Jon Spencer’s New York City bravado with the Dickinsons’ Dirty South jam-band cred? A cobbled together mixtape that defies the notion of “an album.” The first twelve tracks are in the same order as the initial Japanese release, but their arrangement makes the album’s peaks and valleys incongruous and uncomfortable. Spencer expertly channels Jimi Hendrix’s meandering guitar on “Flood (The Awful Truth, The Living End),” but its crescendo-less structure and truncated ending make for a weird transition into “Away Baby’s” Beggars Banquet-era Stones evocation. An evocation of an older version of Mick and the boys (circa Tattoo You) appears later, on the previously unavailable “True.” Boasting handclaps and honky-tonk piano, the song is quite possibly the best of the bonus tracks. And that’s saying something.
Not content to bundle the original release with a bunch of underwhelming odds and sods, Yep Roc has unearthed material that just might supersede the forerunner. While Spencer’s lifeless vocal performance on the title track turns an otherwise forgettable bouncy country tune into the disc’s nadir, his unrestrained virility makes the Eddie Cochran worship on “Love Without a Smile” sublime. Whereas the instrumental “Primitive” (from the original release) is tiresome, the bonus instrumental “Appalachia” is a mandolin-laced exhibition in fluidity. Such duality abounds on the expanded The Man Who Lives for Love.
“That’s a Drag” and “Sat Morn Cartoons” could both be confused for Blues Explosion outtakes and “Body (My Only Friend)” is akin to Spencer’s work in Heavy Trash, but “Why!?” sounds like a lo-fi Sly & The Family Stone. And with “(Chug Chug) It’s Not OK,” it’s obvious Spencer Dickinson could teach the Eagles of Death Metal something about crotch-thrusting pop rock. “Book of Sorrow,” which sees Spencer playing call-and-response with himself for what seems like hours, is the most irksome of the original tracks. The Dickinson brothers’ most obvious contribution comes in the form of percussion — their bass-heavy drums reminded me that I do, in fact, own a subwoofer.
All of which is pretty indicative of the album’s haphazard nature. Coincidentally, I recently read that the members of Led Zeppelin had denied repeated pleas from Apple to release their catalog on iTunes, insisting that their songs should be experienced within the confines of the songs that flank it. The members of Spencer Dickinson won’t have the same problem; their “album” almost encourages you to skip around. A sign of the times, I suppose.
Band/label: http://www.yeproc.com/Audio samples: http://www.yeproc.com/artist_info.php?artistId=10902