Admittedly, singer/songwriter/guitarist/percussionist/comedian Mojo Nixon never had an abundance of talent. Still, he had enough communicable enthusiasm and compositional wit to pull off a career with 10 albums—one more rockin’ than the next—what with members of The Beat Farmers, X, Dream Syndicate, Dash Rip Rock, Del-Lords and, especially his partner-in-musical-mayhem: Vocalist Skid Roper (he sings lead on a cover version of Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida”) who also plays washboard, banjo, mandolin, maracas, harmonica, kick box, harp, bells and tambourine. Mojo Manifesto: The Original Album Collection (Manifesto Records) has 147 remastered songs, one crazy collection of oddball videos on DVD and a 40-page book. He once wanted to be Richard Pryor and still feels that he’s like “Richard Pryor’s stupid cousin if he was white and played in a rockabilly band.” He calls his music “psychobilly.”
Mojo—now a semi-retired 60something from North Carolina—has a way with song titles. Here’s my Top 10 Mojo Song Titles. 1) “Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant With My Two-Headed Love Child,” 2) “Don Henley Must Die,” 3) “I Don’t Want No Cybersex,” 4) “I’m Living With A Three-Foot Anti-Christ,” 5) “I Ain’t Gonna Piss In No Jar,” 6) “I’m Gonna Dig Up Howlin’ Wolf,” 7) “She’s Vibrator-Dependent,” 8) “Took Out The Trash And Never Came Back,” 9) “Tie My Pecker To My Leg,” 10) “Bring Me The Head Of David Geffen.”
Yeah, that Mojo is a real corker, alright. He's hilarious. He rocks like a bitch. And this box is wildly entertaining on numerous levels.
From her 1994 role as the titular character of Always…Patsy Cline, Mandy Barnett, 44, has always had that palpably evident tear in her vocals. Her eighth album isn’t due until later this summer but one track has been released and it’s a good-enough-to-cry-over version of one of Kris Kristofferson’s greatest songs, “Help Me Make It Through The Night.” Kris is in an exclusive club. He’s one of only a handful of Greatest Living American Songwriters left. And when Mandy wraps her vocal cords to quiver out every last iota of emotion on such an unforgettable line as “let the devil take tomorrow/’cause tonight I need a friend,” it’s about as sublime a moment as country music can possibly produce.
Sammi Smith won two Grammys for her 1970 version. Kris wrote it after reading a famous 1966 Esquire article by Gay Telese where Frank Sinatra is quoted as saying that he believes in “booze, broads or a bible…whatever helps me make it through the night.” The song, covered by dozens of stars, is now owned by Mandy Barnett. It’s hers.
Hard to imagine another album like singer/songwriter Dana Sandler’s self-released debut I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The title comes from a book of poetry and art created by Jewish children in the Terezin concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic where almost 144,000 prisoners lived. Most of them died. There were 15,000+ children. Less than 100 of the children survived. This tear-jerker of an album is dedicated to Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Friedl was a teacher and also suffered at the camp. Yet right under the noses of her Nazi captors, she secretly held art classes, collecting over 4,500 poems and drawings by the children that she stuffed into two suitcases before she was discovered and shipped off to Auschwitz, the most infamous of the camps, where she died. Yet the suitcases survived. They were found when Terezin was liberated. The original book filled with art and poems came out in 1959.
Sandler wrote mournful melodies to the poems and sings them passionately yet without excess melodrama. Her voice is clear and without quiver. You can hear every word as piano/bass/percussion/trumpet/flugelhorn/sax/clarinet are artfully arranged. The children’s lyrics will break your heart. The title track was written by Pavel Friedmann, who died in the camps but who became posthumously famous like Anne Frank for writing these very words: “For seven weeks I’ve lived here penned up inside this ghetto but I have found what I love here/the dandelions call to me/and the white chestnut branches in the court/only I never saw another butterfly.”
The various artists on Hillbilly Boogie and Jive Volume #3 (Atomicat Records) run the gamut from the “Oklahoma Stomp” of Spade Cooley (whose career was cut short in 1961 when he was convicted of murdering his wife after) and the “Green Tree Boogie” of the pre-rock’n’roll Bill Haley & His Comets to Jerry Irby & His Texas Ranchers, Billy Jack Wills & His Western Swing Band, guitarist/producer Chet Atkins, Art Gunn & His Arizona Playboys, Johnny Taylor’s Riders Of The Rio Grande, Shorty Holloway & His Prairie Ramblers and Casey Clark & His Lazy Ranch Boys, 28 in all (no clinkers!). Between the Texas Swing, boogie-woogie, sprightly two-steps and hillbilly bop, all remastered and sounding better than ever, this is a trip back in time to a music that is timeless. White Soul.
"Bip Bop Bip” by Pretty Boy is so righteously rockin’ that Koko Mojo Records decided to make it the title song on Boss Black Rockers Volume #2: Bip Bop Bip which includes some delightful one-hit wonders as well as superstars like The Supremes, James Brown and The Isley Brothers early in their careers doing songs you’ve never heard. There’s so many highlights with a scarcity of potholes in this road to the past, that you’ll find yourself boppin’ bigtime to folks like Big Bob who complains “Your Line Was Busy,” Joe McCoy and his Real McCoys, Joe Lyons & The Arrows (the delicious “Shufflin’ Jive”), Screamin’ Joe Neal, The Click-Clacks, Guitar Junior and Rockin’ Sid & The ThunderWords. Out of all 28 tracks, the highlight has to be the original version of Berry Gordy’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong. The Satin Tones (“Going To The Hop”) are a close second. If you get only one historic compilation this year…
Johnny Horton had the #1 country song in America twice in 1959 with “When It’s Springtime In Alaska (It’s Forty Below)” and “The Battle Of New Orleans.” Fond of American History, his “North To Alaska” and “Sink The Bismarck” were only the tip of an impressive catalog that includes rockabilly, honky-tonk and bar-room weepers. He wrote “Honky Tonk Man” in 1956 (famously covered by Dwight Yoakam 30 years later). He married the widow of Hank Williams, and died at the height of his fame in 1960 in a car crash at the age of 35. It’s A Long Rocky Road: A Tribute To Johnny Horton (Atomicat Records) has 30 tracks including his good friend Johnny Cash, Ferlin Huskey (“Electrified Donkey”), the twice-widowed Billy Jean Horton, Cowboy Copas (who died in the same 1963 plane crash that killed Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins) and 10 from Horton himself. Highlights “Got The Bull By The Horns” by Hugh Barrett & The Victors predates k.d. lang’s definitive version by three decades and Horton’s “Go And Wash Your Dirty Feet (Before You Go To Bed)” wins the prize for best song title.