By Elmer Ploetz
There was a legendary (at least in the radio world) promo made back in 1977 called “Tomorrow Radio” that imagined itself as a look back from the future. Part of the storyline revolved around a radio station switching formats to “punk-country” and playing songs like “I Wanna Whip Your Cow.”
Go to the end of this column and you’ll find a link to it, if you want to hear it.
The idea at the time was that nothing could be more absurd than country music and punk in the same breath, or even the same room.
Yet at almost the same time, exactly that was happening in real life. The Blasters, featuring brothers Dave and Phil Alvin, were stretching rockabilly to songwriting depths that the form had never reached for before and with a punk rock intensity.
Pretty soon, there were bands like Jason & the Scorchers, Rank & File and Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper turning their country roots upside down and tearing up the clubs, if not the record charts. I would argue Social Distortion does the best version of “Ring of Fire” next to Johnny Cash’s original hit.
Meanwhile, in Buffalo, there was a hardcore punk band called Tension, led by Tymn Waters (aka Tymn Tension). Along with maybe the Painkillers and the Fems, they were the hardest, most frantic of the local scene. They made their way to Europe and wound up squatting in abandoned buildings with the others punks, before eventually disbanding … only to resurrect themselves over the past decade. (Also at the bottom, you can check out a video from one of Tension’s more recent shows)
Now, 40-some years on, Waters has released his first Americana album. It works.
For the sake of transparency, I should note that I have worked with Tymn on some of his projects in recent years, including his books of poetry and his band’s music videos. I didn’t see this one coming!
The album, “The American Excess Collection,” by Tymn Waters and the Hard Road, is at its best when it exudes a kind of honky tonk Leonard Cohen vibe, the vocals sometimes as much spoken as sung.
Waters wrote the lyrics with collaborator Beau Meeks (who has worked with Pete Anderson and Little Dog Records) supplying the music. He also got a little bit of star boost with guitar from Kid Congo Powers on guitar on two of the songs (“Votes” and “40 Miles”). Powers is a former member of the Cramps, the Gun Club and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds.
The producer is Jim Waters, who has worked with tons of indie rock bands, ranging from Sonic Youth to Das Damen and former Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker.
Water’s singing with Tension has always been a howl of anger and protest, frequently political. Of course, as with a lot of anarchic punk, it wasn’t always easy to get the words. In his recent poetry books, Waters has taken care of that issue.
Likewise, Waters comes through direct and clear on “American Excess,” and he’s got plenty to say. I’m still working my way through the album, which is officially being released today (Oct. 3). Maybe that punk meets country thing isn’t so crazy after all. The album will initially be distributed digitally by Cobraside in California, with limited runs coming on vinyl and CD on Neon Dancer, a company Waters is a partner in.
This month’s Music @ the Library? It’s the Alex McArthur Trio on Oct. 14 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the downtown Central Library. McArthur will perform with Ed Croft on bass and Harry Graser on keyboards.
Meanwhile, here is September’s show for your viewing pleasure, featuring the Ladies First Jazz Trio:
And here are those two aforementioned videos we promised: