February 11th, 2020 | Album reviews

Various Artists
Land of 1000 Dances: The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection

Significant tracks and their release dates on these 79 tracks tell the tale of East L.A. soul and R&B along with Rampart’s rise and fall as well as any analysis. The imprint’s most notable single (and biggest hit) was the Carnival and the Headhunters cover of “Land of 1000 Dances.” The Chris Kenner original was the kind of rollicking New Orleans raver you’d expect out of the co-author of most of Fats Domino’s hits, though the Blendells’ “La La La La La” is a sort of an early rehearsal for the changes Rampart made to Kenner’s song. Heard as part of this set, the glorious slow intro to “1000 Dances” may be heard as something of a Rampart house production quirk, along with the swanky horns, frat house crowd noises and applause.

This sound is all over several songs by the Atlantics especially “Sloop Dance,” which is already heavily indebted to “Hang On Sloopy.” The next Cannibal & the Headhunters record lifted this house style to near sublimity with “Nau Ninny Nau,” which stripped the whole business to a heavy tribal beat. The redux of “1000 Dances” absorbed the “Nau Ninnys” and kept on going and such frat house chanting and cheering informs many of the next few singles, especially the Souljers cover of Booker T, and the M.G.’s Stax soul classic “Chinese Checkers.” Joints like the Sammy Lee & the Summits’s rollicking version of the oft-covered “Hey Joe” and the Headhunters version of James Brown’s “Out of Sight” also kept kept the dance floors crowded. Sunny optimism and pocket Motown arrangements dominate the output of the Four Tempos, the Village Callers did all-over-the-place hippie pop, and the Latin soul of Hummingbird 4 showed the label looking for a new direction, while the dated doo-wop of the Majestics showed it was always going to be 1958 somewhere in East Los.

A new direction finally came in the late 1970s, when Eastside Connection‘s orchestral disco “La Cucaracha” made a minor hit, and a spate of dance singles followed from Raven and Skylite as well. The new wave inflected power pop that comprises most of Disc 4 is the real stuff, however: Raven’s “Rock and Roller by Night/Flame of Love” is a new wave-inflected power pop, but Lava and the Hot Rocks’ “Here I Go” is really rousing in this vein, as is Topazz’s “Vision Love,” a really nice Blondie knockoff that ought to be better remembered. (The Spanish language version included here is a nice back-to-back listen.) The three Graciela Palafox sides are showstoppers, as is the Didi Scorzo pass at the future Richard Marx hit “Right Here Waiting for You” Closing out the set is Skylite’s discofied remake of “Land of 1000 Dances” Rampart survives on East Los today as another gently aging relic of the neighborhood’s legendary mid-century days.

David Ball
Thinkin’ Problem

Out of Spartanburg, SC and longtime occupant of of the bass chair in Uncle Walt’s Band, new-minted country solo artist David Ball hit it big with this album in 1994 after a decade of near-obscurity. The boys in Uncle Walt got nowhere near enough mainstream exposure during its late 70s/early 80s heyday to gain viability at a time when country music was dominated by rich middle-aged 60s holdovers posturing as “outlaws” as a branding exercise to close off competition from anyone new. A few early solo singles got no traction and an album was made for RCA and shelved before this Warners full-length dropped. The title track hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks, with four other songs charting as well making this album a true C&W blockbuster.

I was not one of the millions entertained by these joints, as by ‘94, I’d long since de-camped from Upper Dixie to southern California, where very nearly nothing in the way of new country music penetrated the weed-hazy retro stupor in which I spent the mid-90s. I’d just discovered David Axelrod and Ash Ra Tempel and the J.B’s and had no time for whatever shit future Trump voters were smashing beer bottles over their heads to back in ole Virginny. It would’ve taken more than the occasional lost weekend in Bakersfield before I could have encountered the title track even by accident, but I certainly needed to hear it anyway.

 A song about a man getting stoned on memory of a woman, “Thinkin’ Problem” is a durable and durably simple country sentiment in a genre that never had the luxury of pretending lyrics and meaning don’t matter. Other hitting No. 11 and than showing off a George Jones jones, “Look What Followed Me Home” (which went to No. 14) doesn’t add much to the catalog of mid-tempo one-night stand tunes and neither does “Blowin’ Smoke” in the vast discography of country songs about bullshitting yourself. “When the Thought of You Catches Up with Me” (No. 7) and “Honky Tonk Healing” (No. 50) are the opposing sides of a breakup, with the latter showing the way back to health and sanity lay through a pair of swinging doors. “Down at the Bottom of a Broken Heat” is worthy of Hank, Senior and there’s not a bum track among the original ten. The eight bonus tracks are pretty choice too, especially “King of Jackson, Mississippi” which is a little touch of Tom T. Hall in the honky tonk night. David Ball never had anything like this level of hit since, but continues to tour and record.

Cindy Lee Berryhill
Garage Orchestra

Shoegaze and grunge had already come and gone by the time this exercise in tin can symphonics hit record shops in 1994, so few punters had any memory of San Diego’s Cindy Lee Berryhill, her first two LPs, or her stint as minor adornment of the extremely short-lived “anti-folk” scene of the late 1980s. This is probably all for the best, as the anti-folk wave receded early, leaving hulks like Michelle Shocked immovably stranded and rotting in a kind of pop Sargasso Sea. Her masterpiece, Garage Orchestra, dropped just as the burgeoning “alternative rock” hamper began to fill with a lot of otherwise commercially unclassifiable acts. Adrift after collapse of her deal with Rhino Records—making her LPs two of the relative handful of notable original releases to come out of the reissue kingpin—Ms. Berryhill had the courage to abandon genre constrictions to make the kind of record that she wanted to hear.

Since rock journalism was by ‘94 focused on pruning indie rock’s Million Flowers in favor of finding and promoting (or poisoning) some Next Big Thing, records this original and quirky tended to languish, but Orchestra got four stars in Rolling Stone and yards of the kind of sympathetic press scarcely dreamt by a bupke label like Earth Music, a micro-indie best-known at the time for Natasha’s Ghost, a brilliant, long-forgotten band now high in the running for Great Lost Nineties MTV Rock Act. I used to see the Ghost kill it on the reg while I was in grad school in San Diego and living in the middle of that city’s rock milieu. That brief and antic scene exists today only as a half-remembered rumor, but back then had enough vitality to get Garage Orchestra out for critics to love and the public to briefly nuzzle.

“Father of the Seventh Son” kicks things off with a whimsical throwaway, the lyrical demands of which so poorly fit her breathy babyfied vocals that we’re is lifted into whimsy and that’s where we stay for the whole album. “I Wonder Why” is a silly and profound lament of the kind that once floooded Beautiful Music stations thirty years before this album came out, but here expressed in terms of wonderment atop wonderment and a playful series of giggles before the Big Questions that make you feel funny inside. “Radio Astronomy” is a hooky delight in the XTC/They Might Be Giants mode, but “Gary Handeman” goes far beyond what both progenitors usually accomplish in terms of high-gloss absurdity; primly limiting herself to five and a half minutes of a gag that could go on forever.

“Song for Brian” is reputed to be a Beach Boys fantasia but sounds too quirky and Berryhillian for such an interpretation. “UFO Suite” goes Jonathan Richman several million years better by self-identifying as a baby unidentified flying object. This track is utterly daft in a late 1960s psychedelic sense and already miles beyond much of what the Elephant 6 collective would later turn in as the New American Weird. The material girlism of “I Want Stuff” is delightful and both “Every Someone Tonight” and “Scariest Thing in the World” could have been album tracks on any classic Laura Nyro LP. “Etude for Ph. Machine” floats by quizzically and vanishes, leaving the listener at the end of the record wondering what the Fellini-in powder-pink Hell just happened.

This is one of those wonderful mid-1990s records that made such fans as heard it stupidly optimistic about rock music having a future. If a masterpiece like this can be a minor label throwaway doomed to no better than cultish love, what kind of full-throttle Awesome will the mainstream future bring? Not so much, it turns out and so another achingly lovely and revelatory recording wound up marooned by history. Ms. Berryhill would be back in 1996 with Straight Outta Marysville and has never entirely gone away. She probably doesn’t get told often enough she did one of the great alt-rock rock records of the 1990s but she did and here it is. You romantic types are gonna love this one …

Ron Garmon