Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Homesick Aldo
Talkin' Innocent Outlaw Blues


Released 2011 on Newtown Products
Reviewed by O YEH, 18/09/2012ce


I remember a few years back my old band ended up on the bill at a gig one of our mates had organised, it was at a tiny little pub in Fife, Scotland, and although probably not the ideal venue for our brand of glum underachieving noise-rock, it was at least local, all our mates were coming and the main band usually brought a good crowd too. I remember on my way in walking past the chalkboard with the line-up on it and seeing the name “The Soul City Shakers” and thinking “Eh? Have they got a band over from Detroit or something?” Turns out they’re from round the corner. A band from here with a name like that? Fucks sake, most likely they’ll be a load of nonsense.

It was a Friday so by about 9 the place was rammed with the usual maniacs out for a scrap and a shag, like I say, not the best crowd for us. We need to get playin in clubs or at least drug dens for fucks sake. When are we gonnae make that step up lads? Ah, we better get on anyway eh…

We played first and totally bummed everyone out with our moody-indie-feedback stuff for a while, played ok, a minor tussle broke out during one of the ballads, we got off, got some half-hearted compliments and then got wired in about the booze so we could enjoy the rest of the night and put up with the average music we’d gotten accustomed to hearing at all the gigs we played.

The drink was kicking in nicely by the time The Soul City Shakers, (I mean, what, seriously?!) were sorting their gear out and getting ready to go on, and I noticed they’d changed into “stage clothes” too. Wow, what a bunch of phonies, this is like cabaret or something. It’s gonnae be a load of fuckin nonsense after all. The singer walked out into the front of the hall (the stage being too small to fit anything except the drum kit and amps), mic dangling in his hand as he glared into the crowd. He had a leather jacket, home-made shirt and a massive fucking lime-green scarf on. Probably by this point most of the crowd were staring at him in slack-jawed awe anyway, but just incase anyone’s attention had wandered he launched into a preacher-like rant to announce the arrival of YEAH THE SOUL CITY SHAKERS ALRIGHT!!! WOOO, HUH!!! YEAH!!! TONIGHT!!! OWW!!! as the band slammed in at 300 miles-an-hour behind him and sent him practically insane with energy.

It took me about 20 seconds of this music to realise that I had guessed right; it really was a load of complete nonsense. But it was absolutely white-hot genius inspired nonsense of the highest quality, the kind of sub-Nuggets garage stoopidity that only a certain special breed have the dedication and egoless-ness to pull off for real. The guitarist & bassist stood locked in trance-like intense concentration, playing complete non-riffs over and over while the drummer hollered in approval, and at the centre of it all the singer, Aldo, for it was he, yelping, screaming, moaning, wailing, peelin' off blistering solos on his harmonica, and on the awesomely titled “Addicted To Dick Dale”, even blurting out big fat riffs on his motherfucking saxophone.

That’s right “Addicted to Dick Dale”!!! What a name! That one was a 50’s soundin' pre-surf kinda instrumental thing, but all the others had lyrics. One was called “Tony Coca Cola” and featured not much more than Aldo and the drummer taking turns to yelp the title in all the different ways they could muster, like

TONY COCA COLA!
TONY Coca Cola!
Tony Coca COLAAA!!
(tony coca cola)
Tony Coca Cola?!?!
TONY COCA COH-LUH!!!!

etc etc etc etc etc but one of the verses was just Aldo sorta sneering “NEW YORK CITEH! NEW YORK CITEH! NEW YORK CITEH! over and over for a minute or so. Indeed, New York City seems to be a source of lyrical inspiration for Aldo as we’ll get to later.

Anyway, by the end of the first, roughly 2-minute-long song, Aldo was already reduced to a big pile of matted hair, sweat and scarf and the place was goin' ballistic. They absolutely wiped the floor with our band and the headliners too & by all accounts did likewise at most of the gigs they played. I couldn’t fuckin believe it. I was an instant fan.

But as you can probably guess, The Soul City Shakers were one of those bands that were never gonna be built to last & they split not long after I saw them play. I never heard why, but I’d guess that as only true lifers can dedicate themselves to playing such stoopid, righteous music for more than the odd handful of gigs, maybe not all of the Shakers were down with the idea of taking it much further. The band was sorely missed though, and there was even an internet campaign in the area tryin to get them to reform, but being right-on motherfuckers they never did cave into public pressure. Anyway, The Soul City Shakers as anything but inspired underdogs? That just wouldn’t be right, man!

So there was a Shakers-shaped void in my head for a while, and naturally my mind started trying to figure out how it was gonnae be filled. Nothing with that much energy and enthusiasm can just cut off dead, there has to be an outlet or transferral into something else. I mulled it over. There had to be something new. But What? Who? Where? Why? When?

A: Aldo! Aldo! Aldo! Aldo! Aldo!

Because it was obvious Aldo was not your usual jumped up brat-punk-hero that just wanted to get up on stage, throw himself around to the beat and be the centre of attention for a while, although that was obviously a part of it. He’d already shown he had the determination to learn such non-typical instruments as harmonica and saxophone, as well as the brains and balls not only to pen immortal Zen-simplistic lyrics like

“Rock ‘n’ roll, rock ‘n’ roll,
Rock ‘n’ roll, rock ‘n’ roll,
Rock ‘n’ roll, rock ‘n’ roll,
Runnin’ through my soul.
Yeah.!
Yeah!
Yeah!
Yeah!
Alright!”

but also get up there in front of a crowd and fucking MEAN them. Aldo was definitely Most-Likely-To carry on the righteous spirit of the Soul City Shakers, but to make it work he still needed the right band behind him, and the right people; just the right blend of musicianship, skill, innocence, enthusiasm and personality to pull off his songs.

Didn’t he?
DID HE FUCK!!!

Aldo looked around, surveyed the bullshit music scene in Fife, said FUCK UM ALL and went fuckin SOLO, and I don’t mean in a one-man-and-his-acoustic-went-to-mow-a-meadow-rock-stylee, or even in a hey-watch-me-cleverly-work-my-loop-pedals-cringe-fest way. No sir, for the next few years Aldo got up on various stages all around the UK with nothing except his skinny little voice, a couple harmonicas and his Mount Rushmore sized balls of steel, and kicked out the jams harder, longer and better than all those other pansies combined.

Around this time I saw him at an open-mic night one night in a venue in Fife and I can remember exactly how my mind recoiled in terror as he played. Or “performed” actually. Imagine the scene; a bunch of polite, thoughtful singer songwriters sitting strumming away either side of this howling madman hunched over his harp, it was like drinking a couple pints of fully-skimmed milk and then downing a shot of alcoholic molten lava, then back to the milk. I didn’t see him for a while after that, I had a couple chances where I could’ve maybe made it along but I didn’t, I mean it’s a heavy gig. It’s the kinda stuff where if you’re not in the mood you end up sorta hiding at the back of the venue terrified at the hideous obscenity on the stage, or if you ARE in the mood, you end up writhing around on the floor barking like a fuckin dog. Not a quiet relaxing night out. Shit, what can I say? I’m a part-timer.

Anyway, all that’s changed now because against all the odds Aldo has not only condensed his maniac harp ‘n’ hollerin’ down into a genuine peaks-and-troughs, ups-and-downs, fasties-and-slowies set of songs, but he’s also found a label to release it into the grateful hands of the slobbering masses. Praise be! to Newtown Products, then.

Yup, I hold in my hand the real deal artefact, the first album by Homesick Aldo, as he’s now known by, and it’s a gem. The front cover is a black and blue tinted shot of typical Aldo in action, gigantic fuckin black shades on, outrageous spotty bandana and scarf, caught in mid-howl, head thrown backwards with his harmonica jammed in his face. He’s so obscured by all this stuff that really it could be absolutely anyone behind that harmonica, and maybe, just maybe, that’s the whole point…

So I don the headphones, plop the CD in the player and push the button & immediately I’m right there in some murky room, with just Aldo, his harps & drums & the inner workings of his mind. This is unmistakeably the sound of someone live, in a room, with bugger-all overdubs or even much in the way of EQ-ing or mixing or giving a flying fuck about anything beyond the exact moment of creation. Aldo groans out some free-time harp noises, hints at a rhythm, throws his head back and exclaims his favourite word in the whole world: “WHOOO!”. Then he does it again. And again. And again. Followed by a huge slow-motion insane falsetto bluesy wordless vocal run-down and into a 300-mph harp & drum jam par excellence.

With harmonica in one hand and a drum stick in the other, Aldo goes to town on both motherfuckers simultaneously for a good minute & onwards still, only pulling his face away form his harp to holler the lyrics to his righteous declaration of intent “Lone Wolf Blues”.

Right off the bat Aldo lets you know what he’s thinking, he lets you know what he’s feeling and he lets you know what he’s doing, but most importantly of all, he lets you know exactly what the fuck he’s all about. And he does it in one repeated eight-line verse that he rides fast and hard until it’s spindly broken little legs can take no more and crumble into dust. Let us break this verse down & study it accordingly.

I’M A LONE WOLF BABY
LORD I AM
GOT NOBODY
IN THIS LAND
I RIDE FREIGHT TRAINS
LIKE SONNY BOY
LIKE HOMESICK JAMES
GONNA FIND MY HOME

He repeats the last line over and over again like a mantra, as sure of it as he’s sure he isn’t who he is. “I” is another. And all that jazz. GET DOWN!

Aldo is a man born out of his own time and place. Like many of us, I suppose. But his tone of voice is defiant. The difference is, he knows it and is doing something about it. This land isn’t his & there’s no-one here for him. The freight trains he rides are metaphorical but he’s out there, moving, searching, getting closer to the place he knows is his. His eyes are wide-the-fuck-open. He’s gonna find it. He’s gonna find it. Try and convince him otherwise. He’s riding the little-freight-engine that could. He’s got it jammed in his goddamn mouth. He’s puffin blues licks out of it’s reedy chimney. He’s a-stokin’ the engine with every holler and yelp. Faster, faster, faster. He’s gonna find it. He’s gonna find it. GONNA FIND MY HOME. GONNA FIND MY HOME.

The music cuts in and out of a groove at Aldo’s every whim, the beat disappears completely, he’ll go completely accapella, or he’ll take a harp solo for minutes at a time. Is there any rhyme or reason to any of this? Is there fuck! Are the hairs on my neck standing up? Ten feet fucking tall!

Four minutes and three renditions of that same verse later, Aldo breaks off:

GONNA FIND…
GONNA FIND…
GONNA FI-HI-HA-HEH-HIIII-HEH-AH-HE-HEEEEEEHHHHHHHH
MA-MA-MA-MA HO-OH-OH-HO-HOOOOOMMMMMMEEEEE

like Christina Aguilera trapped in Sky Saxon’s body without even knowing it. Then Aldo whoops, again and again, the final holler extending into a long drawn out wolf-cry that bizarrely mutates seamlessly into a single sweet harmonica note. The briefest of harp licks emphatically draws a line under the first and most righteous track on this album.

The second track is a genius re-imagining of the aforementioned Soul City Shakers classic “Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Condensed here to sub-atomic levels of simplicity and profundity, the song rides along on harmonica, one chord & no drums or percussion at all. The lyrics are edited down to pretty much just the title, repeated over and over with psychotic zeal, plus one verse concerning coffee in the morning, tea at night, and sugar three times a day which basically seems to be a bizarre metaphor for shagging.

Riding along on an appropriately rockin’ tempo, Aldo alternates between 2-note midrange harmonica riffin’ & high, twisty little rhythmic lead breaks as the track accelerates faster and faster with horny gusto as the singer gets closer to his caffeinated drink-metaphor of choice, whoever she is. He slips in a little aside about “no more cola, no more lemonade” just to make her feel special. She’s the real deal, forget all that other crap. Then he goes and blows it by maniacally repeating it over and over until she gets freaked out and leaves. Doesn’t matter. “Rock and roll! Rock! And! Roll! It’s all I need! It’s all I want!” he says. Right on, brother!

Next up is the 7-minute long free-association blues jam “Wintertime Blues”, which is opened by Aldo jammin' facedown in his drums and harmonica for almost 2-and-a-half-motherfucking-minutes. One of the beautiful things about this album is his total disregard for the listener in these sections. When Aldo gets into his instruments he gets WAY into them. For ages. Aside from deploying virtually every harmonica sound you could think of, he’ll ditch the song to explore his drums set-up, clicking away on the rims of the kit, bouncing the stick lightly on the skin to rattle the snare, taking the tempo slowly faster and faster, cutting it off completely & starting a new rhythm. Although Aldo is obviously capable of holding a completely badass (albeit slightly wonky) groove, in these parts he plays his kit like a little kid who’s never seen a drum before & has to investigate each and every way of hitting it. Where most folk would’ve used the drums merely to give a bit of oomph to the honkin’ and hollerin’ main attraction, he can’t help but check out every nook and cranny of sound they contain, take the concept of playing them right down to the very minimal and then back up again, just like he does in his harp playing & lyrics.

The lyrics in this one kinda starts off with bits of “Milk Cow Blues” so you know right where you are timeline-wise. Aldo describes the onset of winter & doesn’t sound too happy about it at all. “I’m cold as hell! Sky be grey!” he exclaims. “Ain’t goin’ out! It’s cold outside! I’m stayin indoors!”. He decides to do the only appropriate thing in such a situation: “Gonna rock the house! One more time!” and brings us right back to the huge drum-jammin intro all over again. The track fades out right at the point where Aldo starts to obsessively coax random rumbles and rattles out if snare in free-time again. Sweet.

After four tracks of harmonica & drums, “Uptown Rocker” is a complete change of pace. And being as it is a bizarre accapella pseudo-reggae song, it would be a change of pace on pretty much any album, ever. This is a showcase for Aldo’s insane voice, which makes Sky Saxon sound like Scott Walker in terms of sheer badass whiney-ness. Aldo thumps a tambourine in his hands and free-associates his way through 4 minutes of minor-key sickness. It’s probably 99.9% improvised on the spot but seeing as he can get even more mileage out of two or three public-domain blues lines than John Lee Hooker, (and that’s saying something) it doesn’t hold him back one bit, no sir.

This sounds like some lonely lunatic street musician staggered out of an early Jim Jarmusch film and was caught on tape for only a few moments of an hours-long tambourine ‘n’ vocal daily ritual. As he goes on, Aldo picks up on little subconscious lyrical themes, twists them around, turns them on their heads and just as quickly gets bored of them and charges onwards, sometimes recklessly into ghastly wordless falsetto flights of fancy. As the tambourine cuts out he goes absolutely Whitney-Houston-bananas and you can hear him almost drop in a quote of that mightiest of accapella songs, “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ In Your Face”, but just in time he pauses to think for a microsecond and rounds the whole thing off nicely by insisting that we don’t mind all them “uptown rockers now, yeah-yeah!” instead and slaps the tambourine one more time indicating that that’s a motherfucking wrap.

The final genuine classic cut on this album is the utterly demented “Alligator and the Wolf”. Where on all the other tracks Aldo is hauling our gasping asses through the space-canyons of his 10,000 miles-an-hour mind, here we’re seated round the campfire for story-telling-time. And if this is the kind of story Aldo tells then he should write a whole series of books full of the bastards. He would probably go through hundreds of exclamation-mark keys in the process though. Rock! And! Roll! etc. Maybe an audio book would be better. Or the world’s first harmonica-rock-opera. Aldophenia?

Anyway, “Alligator and the Wolf” starts with a jaunty little harmonica melody, which is repeated throughout to divide the song up into verses, and although Aldo displays his usual knack for getting his point across in as few words as possible, there are more verses on this song than probably all the other songs combined.

The song tells the story of a wolf, from New York City (but of course!) who gets chased away by a man with a “shiny shotgun” and instead of skulking away to the next block to rake some more buckets or howl at the moon or whatever, he ends up down in Louisiana. This whole scene is described and explained in roughly 10 seconds and is presented as a completely obvious series of events, like much of this truly insane song.

In the second verse an alligator shows up wondering what the hell the wolf is doing in his swamp, but luckily both animals can talk (although naturally this fact isn’t even commented on in the song), and Wolf explains the events that lead to him arriving in Louisiana, including the ominous “shiny shotgun”. After hearing this tale, Alligator offers the wonderfully blunt “ok boy, let’s you and me be friends” and proposes that they teach each other their specials skills. Wolf’s skill is of course howling, and Alligator’s skill is the slightly more left-field art of “haunting” a swimming pool. Again, this is all told as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

In keeping with the Zen-like no-frills approach of this album, whole swathes of potential plot are machete-ed aside by brutally effective little lines, like in the verse that describes the Alligator and the Wolf’s entire relationship, start to finish, in 30 killer seconds:

“Three months went by, Wolf and the Alligator,
Was firm friends, was havin’ fun.
Alligator howl just like a wolf,
Wolf he know how to haunt a swimmin’ pool

He said ‘alright now boy, it’s time for you to go on home
To New York City, where ya come from’
He said ‘ok alligator, I will miss you my friend,
But I’ll be back you bet, someday I will!”

And with that, Wolf heads back on up to NYC to confront the man with the shiny shotgun in the epic fourth verse. It’s been three months since Wolf was in town but as soon as he arrives the man is there waiting, shiny shotgun in hand. Wolf is ready though, and plays his trump card, asking the man if he owns a swimming pool. “Sho’ as hell I have!” comes his indignant reply. Wolf tells him he better watch out “cos I be hauntin’ yo’ swimmin’ pool, just like the alligator down in Louisiana taught me to!”

Final scene nailed, Aldo breaks off the rhythm of the boogie-rhythm of the song and in asks us:

“Yes, what about that man?!
Shiny shotgun,
He never bothered that wolf no mo’!”

And finally he pulls the listener’s focus back wider, end-credits style, and tells us:

“And all them folks in Louisiana,
They get so freaked out,
When they hear that alligator,
HOWL LIKE A WOLF!”

Cue one more expertly executed harmonica howl and you’ve got yerself the perfect little acid-blues children’s tale, and all in three and a half minutes. Hell yeah!

Without a doubt, this album is one of the most fearless musical expressions I’ve ever heard. There’s genuinely nothing between what you are hearing on disc and what comes flying out of Aldo whenever he puts on his bandana and grabs a harmonica, no artifice, no safety net, no edits, no room for error and yet completely free of the fear of error.

While I’m tempted to call it a great statement-of-intent, I’m not so sure there’s actually any statement being made at all. This is simply one guy with great focus and intelligence doing only the things he can do 100% full-on and doing nothing else, probably not even because he likes the sound of it, but because he knows that’s the only way to get the answers to the questions that he asks himself.

So if you want to hear music that’s different, music that gives, music that cares, and most of all, music that’s true, then give this album a chance, because it is a genuine rarity of our times & deserves all it gets.


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