Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Handful of Sand (EP)
SST Records 176, 1988
This was Divine Horsemen's last official release. It illustrates what was good and what was bad about the band - wailing and gritty live, limp and overproduced in the studio. Side a is three studio cuts, one unreleased, and two from previous albums (although one is an alternative take) and side b is live version of songs from "Snake Handler" CD (but not the LP, got it?). In fact, though this is dated 1988, all the cuts are from 1985-1988 thereby spanning the band's history.
Coming from the L.A. beat-poet folk punk rock gypsy and leather tradition first mined by such luminaries as Janis, Jim and The Mac and yes, X and Flesh Eaters, they were riding in with a whole lot of other bands with horse and cow and guns in their names... in fact, one might say DH leader Chris D. was a principal enabler of this movement via his influence with Restless Records and as a producer - Lazy Cowgirls, Jeff Lee Pierce and my toke-buddy Texacala Jones all came out of this group (and we won't mention Guns 'n' Roses). See, I got through that without even saying the cowpunk word.... (shit)...
So there's Chris D. to blame and praise for that, I guess, but we'll cut him some slack because, well, FLESH EATERS, 'kay?!?
Side a is what illustrates the problems with DH -- somebody seemed to be whispering in their ears when they got into the studio to not be all "self-indulgent" and if that means playing as if someone's life depended it on it, they oughta have purged the little voice. Maybe there was some hope that if they tamed themselves, there'd be a living to be made. One cut in particular, "The Tenderest Kiss" illustrates this calling to mind more Mitch and Mickey (in leather!) than Mickey and Mallory... cringe-inducing moments occur as Chris croons with vibrato: "I didn't think a girl like you could exist until a kissed the girl with the tenderest kiss"... Nick Cave he is not.
The previously unreleased "Handful of Sand," a somewhat spiritual song, leads off this side and it's okay enough, kind of a more mainstream X-sound, with a decent chorus to verse riff and is my favorite cut on that side. The other cut, the jangly "Curse of the Crying Woman," appears to be a ghost story but might make more sense if one could understand the lyrics but they're a bit buried in the mix. Curses on bands who don't publish their lyrics, somewhere, anywhere.
It's the live and expertly recorded b-side where can witness the magic of Chris D. and Julie and the other Horsemen, voices and geetars soaring on songs like "Past All Dishonor", a post-Civil War vagabond story about two people that are just really bad for each other but can't break it off despite the piles of Catholic guilt about the evil they do together. It's a great archetype Horsemen song, if ya ask me and you obviously did if you're reading this far. We listen as verses are traded back and forth and told from two different dueling perspectives. Julie's voice soars here over and under while the band crunches it out just guitar, bass and drums - that's Peter Andrus and fellow Flesh Eater Robyn Jameson and Rex Roberts (also backing vocals), respectively.
"Sanctuary" recalls Flesh Eaters the most with about the closest thing to a musical version of an Robt. Williams urbanscapeas junkies, lowlifes, poets, drunks and whores looking for a place to crash. There's plenty of jam time and its not wasted. I love the guy in the audience screaming, "play it again"... yeah.
Finally, our feature cut, "Frankie Silver" is based on the early 19th century North Carolina story about a woman who was hung for chopping up her philandering husband with an ax...(in Chris's version Frankie blows her hubby away with a .44). I heart the chorus with Julie singing in Frankie's voice and Chris sardonically relating the story. It's sort of the white trash version of Lizzie Borden story and not uncommon in this day and time. This side is slave to my needle.
Where are they now: Divine Horsemen reportedly fell apart when Chris D. and Julie's marriage ended and Chris recorded a one-off project "I Pass for Human". I met them around '88 and did an interview with them for WDC Period (though I can't remember if it was ever published). Nice folks and seemed to be getting along at that point. I'm forever embarassed, though, by handing Chris a tape of my own songs.
Around the same time of Divine Horsemen, Chris acted in Kevin Costner's No Way Out. He played one of the thugs and can be seen chasing Kevin around. Although he starred in an independent film after this (Border Radio, dir. by Alison Anders and others), nothing much came from the acting career. According to IMDB, though, he is debuting his first film (wrote and directed) called "I Pass for Human" about junkie-vampires and Jay Hinman hinted a few years back that he was working on a book on Japanese Yakuza films but I couldn't find it anywhere. It played at the San Francisco horror festival -- the only review I found (via google) wasn't too positive about it but, hey, its a first effort and given his love of Yakuza films maybe he'll find his niche (hey, Quentin, give up some of your millions, eh?)
As for Julie, she went on to front a jazz/nightclub band and toured with Leonard Cohen. Her most recent big event was appearing with Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright and others in a Cohen tribute. There's a review reprinted in the news section of her website. She has released several CDs with co-writer pianist Karen Hammack under the moniker Stone Cupid. There's a streaming MP3 at her site - kind of Joni Mitchell with piano if that's your cup of tea. Still has a very fine voice.
Liner notes: This EP is out of print but I found that there are still some venues selling it. See here.
My version is in fairly good condition (VG+)
And now for your moment of Appalachia Zen:
Frankie Silver (live)