“CRUDE FOLK” by JOE NORMAL
“PURPLE IS MY COLOR” (-Geordie Pleathur thinking about American Music & Joe Normal’s standout new solo CD “CRUDE FOLK”)
* this regularly scheduled rant and rocknroll review was filmed live in front of a live studio audience…*
If I had the start-up capital, the surplus energy, and organizational skills to run my own record label, Joe Normal would be one of the first people I’d think about signing because he is a stopless rocknroll machine. The dude is a born entertainer, a total showman, a svelte greaser who understands show-biz spectacle and hoopla, he can write his ass off, sings like a sparrow, and plays some fantastic lead guitar. Fortunately, the salty songwriting institution, Pat Todd of Lazy Cowgirls fame, has an indie label called Rank Outsider records, who release music by genuine rocknroll artists, in the breach left behind by the retirement of Sympathy’s Long Gone John and the death of Greg Shaw from Bomp! Sometimes, you can be some of the nicest, hardest working, best intentioned and most talented entertainers in town, but if a former bandmate is a would-be Gene Simmons who fixates on owning copyrights and suing people, it can result in you having to endure some ill-will, undeservedly. Joe Normal came from New Jersey, a starry-eyed Garden State rocknroll dreamer like the Misfits, Dramarama, and Bruce Springsteen before him. People sometimes make jokes about New Jersey sucking because of Chris Christie or Bon Jovi and Skid Row, but some of our greatest artists were natives of Jersey-Ricky Nelson, Sinatra, Pat DiNizio, George Clinton, Clem Burke, Paul Simon, Frankie Valli, and Joe Normal. Joe Normal made his way to England in the eighties with his bleached blonde kid band, the Double O Zeros, they were a big hit with the glitterati and socialized with glam godfather, Mick Ronson. When they arrived in early eighties Los Angeles, they played the big stages, and commanded giant audiences, at the peak of the hair-metal mania. The purple haired Zeros were “this” close to joining Faster Pussycat and Guns N Roses on the Headbanger’s Ball gravy train, but somehow, their purple hair and nipple suits weren’t mass marketed by a major label in the MTV cattle call days. They did wow the kids of Hollywood with their flashy showmanship and singalong pop tunes that deeply influenced that last generation of L.A. glamsters who all looked like Nikki Six and sounded like the Ramones with naughty lyrics. Joe and his brother, the talented and mercurial, Mr. Insane, went on to release a prolific string of albums as Hutch, or the Hutchinsons, that were smattered with a significant number of catchy, Kinks and Bolanesque pop hits that gleamed like diamonds in the snow, in that dreary grunge era. One hoped they would receive critical and commercial recognition in the Brit-Pop and new wave of new wave movement, but they weren’t Brits, and were sadly overlooked again. Joe impressed many with Ric Nielsen and Brian May style, regal pyrotechnics as the elegant lead guitarist of underground pop superstars, Slow Motorcade. Slow Motorcade had all these bubble-gummy 70′s radio anthems and style for miles that evoked the satin trousered, platform heeled and roller skating seventies of Nick Gilder and the Professionals, the Who, and Bay City Rollers. At the time, bands like American Heartbreak, the Dragons, and Beat Angels were exploding like the fireworks on “Love American Style”, but only a really hip cult of power pop devotees discovered the colorfully wrapped and sugary sweet confections of Slow Motorcade. Undaunted, Joe created a concept band for kids–like The Wiggles, called the Conductors, and became an activist advocate for families impacted by Autism. Finally, he and members of Jetboy, the Glamour Punks, and the purple haired Zeros reassembled as the psychobilly revivalists, COLD BLUE REBELS, who have been enjoying an enormous wave of popularity among rockabilly, death-rock, and glam enthusiasts, worldwide. Somehow, the always busy and creative familyman, activist, and full-time rocknroller, Joe Normal, found time to release a splendidly heartfelt unplugged solo lp that reminds one of all these different times in rocknroll-diverse eras and influences from Gene Vincent to Dion and Del Shannon to Wings and the better Wilco stuff.
The NPR yuppie Starbucks crowd all have this idea that a whiter than white sub-genre exists called “Americana”, which is seemingly fat, glasses wearing dads in fuzzy sweaters and gooney shorts and flip-flops and ZZ TOP beards, who all own solar powered houses full of weather beaten folk art, and play mandatory mandolins and dobros and accordions and shit, all those upper-upper-middle-class suburban bands influenced by Ryan Adams and Uncle Tupelo and the Replacements, who have engineering jobs by day, and watch celebrity chef cooking shows, by night. Joe can be carelessly classified by lazy critics alongside all those soccer mom darlings, but his deep and sturdy musical roots go way back as his family have been folk singers for centuries and he has a profound intuition and knack for and appreciation of and abiding expertise of the whole rocknroll family tree-the high-yodeling porchswing farmers and stringtied rebel rousers and porkpie wearing bluesmen. Gene Vincent and Ike Turner, the Weavers and Pete Seeger, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Robert Johnson, not just your typical R.E.M. and X influenced bands like Mumbles & Sons and Counting Crows and corny Coldplay richboy John Maher and Dave Matthews jambands and shit. Man, I fuckin’ hate that Wonderbread and Cheese Whiz, Whitey McWhiteBread shit, and Joe Normal he got the dust of generations of music history on his working class boots. He did not first hear of Leadbelly because of Nirvana. It’s refreshing. I saw this movie that Mellencamp’s kid made about travelling through the South, playing fairgrounds and churches with his Dad hiring the Nashville guns to back him up in the legendary Sun studios. Joe Normal ain’t got that kinda extra dosh to hire big name pedal steel and country fiddle players, but his music has that same vibe, authority, and authenticity. Plenty of people underestimate Poor Joe ’cause there was another band named Zeroes, and everyone loves the legendary 1976 Escovedo family Zeroes from Chula Vista, who were associated with that name before any Donald Trump supporters filed the paperwork, and he gets lumped-in all too often with less kind and generous former associates. Imagine having an ex bandmate who sues people and likes Donald Trump–it can happen to any of us. I have ex bandmates who’ve gone Republican, who watch sports. His former bandmate tried to sue him for his stage name, too. Trust me, true believers—Joe Normal is a total gent, always means well and plays music with a real rocknroll heart–much like the original punk rock California Zeroes. There, I said it. Pat Todd does not sign posers to Rank Outsider, you dig? Some unfortunates get Joe’s purple haired Zeros confused with some of their dumber, Crayola colored imitators, who just traded on makeup and Aqua-Net and hair-dye, thing is, the purple haired Zeros could really play their instruments. They were entertaining cartoon characters like KISS or the Ramones, but they could play. Joe Normal still pens highly memorable songs and plays his instrument, yes, like a gutter fucker. But there is also this respect and reverance he has for the real rocknroll tradition, you can feel the ghosts of all those Dust Bowl crooners, protest singers, glam dandies and Hot-Rod hipcats, who came before him, but his sensitive songs usually relate to his own intimate personal experiences-everybody has a dark side and Joe may be a sweetheart, but no one’s some flawless and infallible saint, so it’s always compelling to hear him dig into his own checkered history and talk about his mistakes and regrets, and he writes openly about his inspirations in the accompanying liner notes. He’s a soulful, heart on his sleeve kind of guy. A world class talent with a Brian Wilson heart. How many times have I mentioned the word heart? He’s just got shit tons of it. You know how Mick Ronson never took credit or got the respect he deserved? Joe Normal is a LOT like Mick Ronson.
Album opener, “Mockingbirds” instantly reminds one of McCartney’s “Bluebirds” or “Blackbird” because of his effortlessly soaring vocals, Joe is McCartneyesque in the best ways possible, but where Paul might feel obliged to add some cheap and patronizing studio gimmickry to feel edgy and current, like Moby or Kanye or some shit, Joe strips it all down to the bare naked essentials-a quietly tapping foot, excellent Jimmy Page quality guitar playing, a beautifully hummable melody, great singing. If Elvis Costello or Andy Partridge wrote this song, all those expensive imported coffeetable $13 English magazines would be all over it. Brilliantly executed acoustic pop. “About Her” showcases Joe’s golden pipes, the man can really, really sing. Like the Beatles. Dreamy. “Ain’t This A Wonderful Life” is a sweet love song for a kid that probably deserves a big psychedelic production like something by Beady Eye, High Flying Birds, or Tears For Fears “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”. ‘Damned shame consolidated media weaponized the music industry so only talentless hookers and show-biz nephews can make music for a broad audience. This fella deserves to be heard on the radio. “Valentine” is more Macca influenced balladry reminiscent of the Everly Brothers and Badfinger. “One Of These Days” sounds like outtakes from “The White Album” or unfinished demoes by Harry Nillson or Emmit Rhodes. I hope all those Poptopia music geeks who love skinny-tied eighties college rock like the Smithereens and Plimsouls and Paul Collins Beat someday wise-up to the ever impressive songwriting talents of Joe Normal, one of these days. “Train Train Train” is a little bit country and a little bit gospel tent blues lament like Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three. “Something Starting New” is like cake icing, if you remember the paisley pop band, Jelleyfish–it’s that quality of epic pop mastery. This could be the television theme to some pained, coming of age adolescent drama they made in the 90′s, like “My So Called Life”. A chick singer could have a top forty hit with this. “This Little Song Is For You” emphasizes his clean, pitch perfect singing ability. He may have been a sideman in most of his groups, but he’s a better vocalist than most lead singers, he’s easily in league with say, John Waite from the Babys. He smokes guys like Ryan Adams and Rob Thomas, probably even Jacob Dylan, this reminds you of when bands had to be talented, or at least original, or saying something meaningful. Another delicate, endearing love song that Eric Carmen or Cheap Trick fans could easily appreciate. “Can’t You Give Me More Of Your Loving” is blue moon crooning like Roy Orbison, or vintage Presley, or Stray Cats songs like, “I Won’t Stand In Your Way”. Coolamundo! “This Terrible Lie” is melancholy and confessional and underscores how overlooked this painfully sincere songwriter is. Had Joe Normal ever found access to a mainstream audience, he could have easily become a Big Star. “I Wish She Would Call Me Tonight” is breathtakingly beautiful, ala Jim Ellison from Material Issue’s aching, restless torch songs about staring at the stars in the California sky and mooning for the one you love. “Be Bop A Lula” is the vintage rocknroll Cadillac and Joe Normal don’t mean maybe. Levi & The Rockats, eat your hearts out! “Valentine 59″ is a coolass alternate version of one of his boss originals with this mellow, languid silvertoned guitar styling that makes you think of some lonely hearted delinquent combing his hair beneath a street light in some old Martin Scorsese flick. “Bookends Theme” is an exquisite cover of a Paul Simon tune that is one of the best Simon covers I’ve ever heard–right up there with Patti Smith’s “Boy In The Bubble” or the Ultras bashing through “Kodachrome”! Joe Normal’s been through hell and back more than a few times and the man never gives up. He’s been beat up, he’s been thrown out, but he’s not down, he’s not down. He may not be rich and famous, but he’s a blinding star in my tired eyes, and way, way, way more talented than all those rich, mediocre capitalist rappers and corporate whores on major labels. If you like artists who are unusually talented, Joe Normal is one of underground rock and pop’s authentic greats. And he means it, maaan.
MORE TO ME THAN JUST SOME HIPSTER:
Buy “Crude Folk” here !!
Visit JoeNormalUSA.com Shugsters !!
JoeNormalUSA at Facebook kiddies !!
Elizabethtown – The Hutchinsons