Friday, November 24, 2006

The Alabama Wildman...Dan Sartain

With the way records and tapes and CD’s pile up in my universe it’s a blessing any of it gets filed away. Standard operating procedure goes something like this:

-tape/CD/record arrives
-is put in one of three separate “To Listen To” boxes
-once listened-to, is filed away in the permanent collection

The sad thing is that the To Listen To boxes are grossly overflowing. Ideally I would not purchase any new music until all previous purchases have been heard. But that would never work. There’s so much stuff you buy as soon as it comes out not to mention records that somehow just magically appear in my mailbox without ever asking for or expecting them.

So it is with great praise that I tell you that “Join Dan Sartain” has been consistently spinning in my car stereo for the past month. That means a lot to me. I have some singles that I bought back in 2003 that I’ve still yet to hear. For me to not be able to abandon this record truly speaks something I cannot.

My introduction to Dan was forgettable. Issue #1 of “Careless Talk Costs Lives” (which if you remember class was a UK publication that counted down its issues and thus was the final issue) had a ¾ page review/interview of “Dan Sartain vs. the Serpientes” when it was still only available as an import (and wouldn’t be domestically released there for quite some time).

My interest was heightened mostly because of his age. I assume that this proclivity will wane as I get older, but at that time, reading about someone else doing what read to be interesting music who’s also the same age as me (21 years old) was exciting. It grabbed me. (This may also have nothing to do with my age at the time, but more of my fascination with current younger musicians…the Muldoons, Rachel Trachtenburg and on a much smaller level, Smoosh).

No store in town had “…Serpientes” so I had to special order it. All this solely based on Everett True’s word. The man did not let me down as “Serpientes” is rampant braggadocio interspersed with pure vulnerability and a failsafe way to nail the inner mind of a 21-year-old.

The songs were from a hodgepodge of places…I found out Dan had self-released two albums “Crimson Guard” and “Romance in Stereo” and the greats had been cherry-picked from those. From there, a session or two with Rocket From the Crypt front man John Reis yielded yummies with Beehive and the Barracudas as the backing band.

To this day, the only copy of either of these records I’ve seen is one leftover of the “Crimson Guard” LP that Dan graciously mailed me after months of my begging. It comes with 3-D glasses, over-utilizes the power of the rubber stamp is probably more limited than I care to know. Conversations with Dan have proved difficult in discerning how and in exactly what format “Romance in Stereo” exists. Any leads on whereabouts will be given the maximum utmost in trade bait from the cavernous recesses of my lair.

Dan would open for the Hot Snakes at the Magic Bag in Ferndale in November 2004. I left straight from my grandpa’s funeral for the rock show. I was still dressed in my suit. I can’t recall too many other people watching him. I was enraptured though…through and through an unparalleled songwriter and performer who looks like the dude they wouldn’t cast in “The Wild One” if only because he would’ve beat the shit out of Marlon Brando.

Dan’s girlfriend (now wife) was selling merch and commented how she liked my suit. I bought two copies of a CD-r called “Sartain Family Legacy” that collects all the songs from “Crimson Guard” and “Romance in Stereo” not included on the “Serpientes” disc. All hand-constructed, the cover art was a cut-out photocopy of one of various pix of Dan from a photobooth. If I was gay I’d have been in love.

I finally got to talking and Dan scribbled his info on the back of one of the CD’s. He was easy to laugh and enjoying himself. I wanted to put out a single with him and he was into it.

A few months later Dan had an idea to do a goth covers single. He wanted to do some Bauhaus song and some other tune I’ve since forgotten. When I passed on the offer, he emailed me back “Fine, but know that you just made these kids really mad” with a photo of two quintessential sullen eyeliner’d teens attached. Maybe you had to see it but it was still hilarious.

And to not seem like I’m shilling Cass product, I’ll be concise here and say that when I got three finished tracks from Dan for his single I was ecstatic. Formatting the artwork was a bit of a pain, but the final product is still aces with me.

So when Ben Swank arrived in Detroit last year for a Soledad Brothers video shoot, he casually passed me a CD-r of Sartain rough mixes. I still can’t believe that disc didn’t burn up from how often I played it. Done in Dan’s garage (or so I’d been told) it brimmed with everything I loved about his first album and then some.

Saw Dan unexpectedly in Amsterdam. Live he had a proper band, Raj on drums and a dude with a Jesus-beard rattling the bass. It was sick dude. Far beyond my wildest expectations. A power-trio in only the Nirvana-ist usage of the term.

“Join Dan Sartain” leans away from the sensitivity displayed on “Serpientes” and instead teaches us some lessons. From “Flight of the Finch” I finally know who is truly weakest of the birds…

“The flight of the finch it can be lonely
I don’t expect for you to understand
He’s got no use for words, he’s the weakest of the birds
And when he spreads his wings you’ll watch him span”

Or how about life truths kept hidden by the adult illuminati…

“They never say the game is rigged
just the world is so small and you’re so big
you go and get a job and you break your back
and you wish that they’d told you that…
but they’re never gonna tell you from the start
that the world is gonna break your little heart”

“Join” also reprises two of the tracks from his Cass single, but in my mind, they’re inferior versions. Both “Gun vs. Knife” and “Leeches 2” are re-arranged to start with a drum intro. I don’t think it works. The 7” versions are a bit more raw. But I could also see people being way more into the album versions. You gotta love variety.

There are also some inherent problems with “Join Dan Sartain.” I really get the feeling that Dan’s UK label, One Little Indian, is totally clueless as to how to market this guy. Their big acts are Bjork and, uh, Jesse Malin? I’m not quite sure…you heard of Rairbirds? Monsta? Mighty Roars? Dan sticks out like a sore thumb. As Devil’s Advocate though, he’s received laudatory NME and MOJO coverage with the label’s hard work (they honestly do push him hard to the press) and I think that’s slowly translated to US coverage in Rolling Stone and (I think) Spin.

But back to bashing One Little Indian…the first single is “Replacement Man” and not only is it one of Dan’s mere passable songs, but the sleeve art is atrocious…straight from those ads for fake Warhol silk-screens of your own photo that you find the back of Rolling Stone. Maybe Dan actually chose the song as a single but I doubt it. I know he didn’t choose the artwork (the image done up Warhol style is just the album cover…albeit a dazzling self-portrait Dan made of blowing his brains out). “Thought it Over” or “Drama Queens” or even “Totem Pole” all seem more likely to get radio play (and more so, seem more accessible to a wider audience) than the clunky “Replacement Man.”

And the winsome lullaby “The World is Going to Break Your Little Heart” should really be the last song on the album, not the forgettable instrumental “Love is Black.” I know, I’m nitpicking, but I think I’ve listened to this record enough that I just want it to tell other people…armchair label boss (not a bad videogame idea). Scraping most of the Alabama sessions (ie, the rough mixes CD from Swank) and re-recording with Reis and Liam Watson (Toe Rag Studios, London) were savvy calls that were clearly for the better. The earlier versions of the jams will make for an interesting lathe-cut LP if I ever get off my ass and send some money down to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the US label Swami Records seems to know what’s up. With head-honcho John Reis again at the production helm, he made the genius call for the Mariachi Real de San Diego to add accompaniment on “Flight of the Finch” and Dan’s cover of the old standard “Besa Me Mucho.” Where’d they come from? The San Diego Yellow Pages. What they add is an underlying melody in both songs that conquerors. Authentic, vintage, Mexicano aye-aye-aye-aye-aye firing pistols into the air with cahones.

The overall vibe is very Flat Duo Jets twangy dexterity combed with Johnny Cash dawdling you on his knee, feeding you story after intriguing story. Mixing it up are tracks like “I Wanted it So” which proves “In Utero” appreciation is pretty inescapable for those of a certain age. Coupled with a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Second Coming” and they clearly hold their weight as rock ballast.

So I’m kinda at a loss for a conclusion. All I can say is that I give everything Dan Sartain has ever recorded my highest level of approval and recommendation. It is music that I can connect with on the deepest level of my being. The rest of the world needs to meet Dan Sartain.

Dan Sartain Discography

“Crimson Guard” LP, 2001 (self-released)
“Romance in Stereo” LP? CD? 2002 (self-released)
“Dan Sartain Vs the Serpientes” CD 2003 (Swami…and One Little Indian in 2005)
Swami Records Collectors 7” 2004 (swank silk-screened package…features Dan Sartain and the Leather Scorpion doing “Lose Yer Boi”)
“Sartain Family Legacy” CD-R, 2004 (Skybucket Records)
“Who’s Sorry Now?” b/w “This is How They Beat You Down” 2004 (Bent Rail Foundation)
“Trying to Say” CD and 7” 2005 (One Little Indian)
“Walk Among the Cobras Pt. 1” CD and 7” 2006 (One Little Indian)
“Gun Vs. Knife” & “Leeches 2” b/w “When You See Me Coming” 7” 2006 (Cass Records)
“Replacement Man” CD and 7” 2006 (One Little Indian)
“Join Dan Sartain” CD/LP, 2006 (Swami/One Little Indian)
“Thought It Over” CD single, Europe only? (One Little Indian)


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