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Tuesday, Jul 30, 2002

grease monkey

"It's going to be hard to do this one justice... We just got a few copies in of this actually out-of-print double cd. Cheap, too! The Hampton Grease Band released this, their debut and only album, in 1971, to almost universal disinterest and, even, active dislike. It was, famously, the second worst selling album in Columbia history. It might not have helped that Columbia's marketers, doubtless confused by the dadaistic hippy rock weirdness of the Hampton Grease Band, pitched it to stores as a comedy album. It certainly is funny -- funny ha ha and otherwise -- but it's as an avant-garde rock record that we recommend it. Imagine Zappa, Beefheart and a southern rock band all rolled into one absurd, palpitating, guitar-totin' ball. The end result: gorgeous, dissonant, textural guitar-based instrumentals that wouldn't sound out of place on the best Polvo record you've heard, plus the raving loony vocal 'stylings' of one Bruce Hampton (who has kept up his antics as the leader of Col. Hampton's Aquarium Rescue Unit, which we definitely aren't recommending). He's untrained and maniacal and his screechy voice makes this sound at times like Sam Kinison fronting the Allman Brothers. An acquired taste, perhaps, we'll warn you -- it even took a few listens for Allan (the biggest, and maybe only, Hampton Grease Band fan here) to get into this originally. And he doesn't like Zappa, either. But annoyance soon gave way to enjoyment. There's definitely some stoopid stuff on here, but then there's the several extended (around 20 minutes long, three of 'em are) compositions/improvs in complex, interlocking time signatures and whatnot. Not normal rock, not jazz, certainly not jazzrock. Instrumentally, amazing. Lyrically, certainly odd -- Hampton often sang "found lyrics" from whatever text was at hand, like an encyclopedia entry about Halifax or the back of a can of spray paint. As it says in the cd booklet liner notes, the HGB were "an intensely musical group with an intensely non-musical singer"."