Wednesday 11 January 2023

The Nuclear Banana - Riot on Kansas City Strip (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Garage Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Mar 2022
Sites: Official Website | YouTube

Here's an unusual submission, given that vocalist and guitarist Joey Skidmore kindly sent me the album on banana yellow vinyl, which is a first. Thank you, sir! Then again, Joey does tend to do the sort of things that nobody else does, which is how I discovered his work in the first place, albeit in a film with a connection to music. That was Legend of the Shoe Man, with an appearance from Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas fame, about whom Joey directed a documentary feature, Jim Dandy to the Rescue. He's not in Joey's cult horror musical comedy, Kiki Meets the Vampires, but a bunch of other musicians are, most obviously the French punk band Les Fossoyeurs, for whom the Kiki of the title sings lead and plays saxophone.

In keeping with his apparent hobby of collecting interesting people, here's a new album featuring a varied selection of musical legends who I presume are part of the music scene in Kansas City, Missouri. It's a garage rock album in the sense of the sixties originals rather than the much later revival bands of the new millennium like the White Stripes and the Strokes. Think back to Love, the Sonics or the Electric Prunes, maybe even the MC5 but not quite so intense.

The biggest name is surely Tony E. Valentino of the Standells, one of those pioneering proto-punk bands whose influence is hard to calculate. Valentino plays guitar on all the eight tracks here and he sings one, one of a pair of Standells covers, Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White. His voice blew me away, because I could have sworn I was listening to a young girl singing rather than an old man of eighty. It's beautifully pure and crystal clear, especially over what is an anomalous acoustic backing.

The other songs are all electric, including the other Standells cover, Medication, which is solid but not as notable. The best song here, to my mind, is a further cover, of Barry McGuire's famous folk rock song, Eve of Destruction, because Skidmore really gets his teeth into the vocals, intonating in style, and the band behind him is clearly having a lot of fun.

Behind Valentino and Skidmore, who both play guitar, are a couple more guitarists: Elan Portnoy of the Fuzztones and Eric Ambel of the original Blackhearts band, as well as the Del-Lords and the Dukes, Steve Earle's band. Jeremy Chatzky on bass has toured with Bruce Springsteen and Ronnie Spector's bands and played with some of my favourite singer/songwriters, such as Laura Cantrell, Steve Earle and Patty Scialfa. On drums is Manga, about whom I know nothing [edit: Joey kindly let me know that he's the drummer with Les Fossoyeurs], but the Hammond organ is played by Mark Stein of Vanilla Fudge fame. That's heck of a lot of talent to gather within what really ought to have been a garage to jam through some covers and some original tunes.

Talking of originals, I'd call out two of those as highlights too, namely the bookends of the album. You're Worth the Risk opens up with an almost AC/DC intro but Stein's Hammond kicks in to take us in a different direction, which is underlined by Skidmore's lived in vocals. He's not as good here as he is on Eve of Destruction and he doesn't sing on the closer, because it's an instrumental, called I Wanna Know, and it's a glorious guitar jam, Skidmore and Valentino joined by Chatzky, Manga and the research lawyer turned jazz organist Ken Lovern, who's gloriously old school.

The other originals are Scooter Girl, a solid garage rock number with a heavier bass than it would have had back in the day but which would play well as a double A-side single with You're Worth the Risk, and Harry's Ghost, which is the quirkiest song here. Skidmore delivers a sort of spoken word lyric in a whiskey-drenched cowboy sort of voice, which is an interesting texture indeed. It grows a lot, ending up with some imaginative Hammond organ from Lovern and conch shells from one man band Bill "Jazzbo" Hargrave. He was in Legend of the Shoe Man and Kiki Meets the Vampires.

And that leaves the remaining cover, which is of the debut Rolling Stones single, Tell Me, originally released in 1964. It's a decent cover if not a highlight, Skidmore channelling that cowboy vibe with a side of Lou Reed but harmonised well by most of the band. Many of these musicians have played Skidmore's annual music festival in Kansas City, with their regular bands, which I really need to get to one of these years. Last year's was headlined by the Seeds, but the Nuclear Banana were there on the bill, as was Valentino separately. Vanilla Fudge played there in 2019.

Thanks, Joey. I had a lot of fun with this album, which I've been listening to all night.

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