By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Excretio: The Difficult Years
Poor Bastard Sons
Hot Links Records
Chris Flemmons, the main Poor Bastard Son, is only in his 20s, and God knows if he's ever been to Appalachia. Perhaps in a past life, this Denton boy was a union organizer--or, better yet, a deep-and-dusty coal miner, more focused on the minister's daughter and moonshine and getting through the working week than any politics. His creative brethren are Palace's Will Oldham, the Scud Mountain Boys, even the Pogues; they're all contemporary music men channeling old ghosts. Some call it trad, but I call it healthy grounding. Listen to Poor Bastard to heal your present-day weary soul.
It's not that Flemmons writes about another era or dresses up in black-and-white drag; he just captures the spirit of its misty-mountain hop. From the first jangle-and-scrape bars of "Curse" to the last mellow claptrap fade of "Phonecard to Mexico," the nine tracks on the tape-only release Excretio take your ears on a rumble-seat ride past old front porches and the thick drawls of the people who sit on them. Flemmons' vocals are part anguish and part hazy optimism, and when he surges into earnest wailing, his sandpaper growl stays miraculously on key.
This is music with a jagged, heavy backbone--the echo of acoustic guitar set against walkabout bass and tub-pounding drums--and the cadences are pure gospel. You feel you should already know these songs, that they've been stewing in our collective unconscious since the Depression...or maybe the Civil War. Whether he's pleading ("This is the last of the sweet red wine/Don't you spill it/Please don't waste it 'cause you're already drunk"), or yelping a chant, hootenanny-style ("I wanna hold you in the water/Wash it all away"), Flemmons' throwdowns sound as though they could unravel at any minute. The trick is that they never do--the deceptive simplicity sits on a foundation deeper than that of a 200-year-old church.
Flemmons and his music epitomize the creative energy and adventure of Denton these days. Musicians such as Jon "Corn Mo" Cunningham, John Freeman, Little Grizzly's George Neal, even misanthropes like Wiring Prank just don't exist in the big city. Shiny metropolises and super-lo-fi, guts-and-grime songwriters like Flemmons don't like each other, don't get each other. He's an anachronism, a lost soul who, along with bandmates Jake Williams (guitar) and Steve Hill (drums), plays the brand-new Gypsy Tea Room and makes it sound as though it's been there forever. Only recently, Flemmons changed the name of Poor Bastard Sons, and it's not as good a match for his Excretion sound as the current moniker. Still, it's close, and his next musical phase (in a town that breeds monthly re-invention) may well fit the rechristening: The Baptist Generals. God bless.
Excretio: the Difficult Years is available at The X in Denton, 940-387-8439.