Tuesday 2 March 2010

Abner Burnett - Discography

Jerusalem/Alley Song
Ignite Gram-o-phonics H-694, 1968 single

With prominent harmonica and understated rhythm section, John Wesley Harding possibly provided the model for the teenage Burnett's fledgling effort. Naïve and earnest, but hopeful.

Crash & Burn
Worpt W.P.A. SLP 1, 1976 LP

I Woke Up This Morning, Call In The Buzzards, Riverwalk Strut, Why Do I Still Think About You, Baby's Callin' Me Home, Ding Dong - Slick's Song, The Other Side of This Life, My Twentieth Birthday, Arpeggios & Dominoes, That's What You Get For Callin' Me A Spook

The photo-booth back-cover shots depict the artist with a terrific shiner. The music contains further evidence of hard living. It's difficult to pin down musically, low-budget-jug-band-psychedelia perhaps, or acid-casualty-Texas-outlaw-rock-with-an-unusually-dark-feel. The most controversial cut is the 12:38 long instrumental, That's What You Get For Callin' Me A Spook, based on Right Off from the Miles Davis album, Jack Johnson. Only 500 pressed.

Old McDonald
Worpt CP-2, 1979 LP

High Noon, Bluebird, Bed of Roses, In My Time of Dying, Inter Lewd, Honkytonkin',  Horses Grow Old, Ivory Thighs, Texas River Song, Pancho & Lefty, Hindu Pickin' Cowboy, Girl From The North Country

A terse, enigmatic sleeve-note ('I had my wreck') alludes to Burnett's near death in an automobile accident - the same day that Elvis Presley died. Old McDonald is an all-acoustic album of roots Americana, with a setting of Herman Melville and covers of Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan. Notable for the inclusion of Bed of Roses, the only known song written by cowboy storyteller Buck Ramsey (the album's dedicatee) and a gem. A sitar instrumental called Hindu Pickin' Cowboy alerts that this is not your conventional shitkicking stash. Townes Van Zandt, in a backhanded compliment, claimed that Old McDonald was his favourite record to fall asleep to. Most of the limited print-run ended up in a thrift shop in Austin.

Happier Than I Was
Warped Records, 1990 tape

Happier Than I Was, Hold On, Bright Side, Yours, Dollhouse Girls, We're Movin' Now, A Woman's Quiet Night, Firebird

Simple and straightforward bar-room fare, with the two brothers spurring each other on to more egregious acts of bad behaviour. The tape marks the first sighting of Abner's N'Awlins strut Look On The Bright Side and also contains the ineffably lovely A Woman's Quiet Night. Then there's Burnett's torrid tribute to topless dancers, Dollhouse Girls, and the grumpy tone of Hold On ('For every famous asshole there's a camera / For every fucking sport there's a magazine') belies the sentiment of the album title.

Worpt 001, 1997 CD

I Woke Up This Morning, Call In The Buzzards, Riverwalk Strut, Why Do I Still Think About You, Baby's Callin' Me Home, Ding Dong - Slick's Song, The Other Side of This Life, My Twentieth Birthday, Arpeggios & Dominoes, That's What You Get, High Noon, Bluebird, Bed of Roses, In My Time of Dying, Enter Lewd, Honkytonkin', Horses Grow Old, Ivory Thighs, Texas River Song, Pancho & Lefty, Hindu Pickin' Cowboy, Girl From The North Country

Lo-fi, low budget reissue of Crash & Burn and Old McDonald on an atrociously packaged CD with the wrong track order. Burnett defended the release with skills honed from his training in law. "Most criticism has focused on the substandard engineering/recording techniques, poor mastering and sloppy packaging. Nitpicking, I think, but willingly say, 'Perhaps'. Me and the rest of the kids making the music were usually wasted, and might have fudged on the hi-fidelity factor a little. I made one mistake on the order of song listing on the back cover. Remember that the Navajo weavers put a flaw in each of their works so that the soul is not captured. Let us move on."

Worpt 002, 1998 CD

Test of Time, Who Among You Sings Praises For The Training (Abner's Sad-Eyed Lady), Knowin', The Father's Son, The Mahakala is Savage and Terrifying, A Woman's Quiet Night, The Whistlin' Diane, You Love Me Baby, I'm Not Getting Over On You, Footsteps, The Days of Wine and Roses, 'Round The Bay of Mexico, The Kid's Last Night (Heaven is in the Mountain)

The official comeback album. 'Most eclectic… is Calavera, released nineteen years after the last one. The Texan lawyer, cult non-star and old drinking pal of Townes Van Zandt covers a broad swathe of Americana, from rootsy folk-picking and rolling country rock to the gorgeous Who Among You Sings Praises For The Training, an amalgam of Dylan's Sad-Eyed Lady, and his own free-form piano lullaby' - Sylvie Simmons, Mojo, September 1998. 'In closure, the digital desert landscape and mumbled Spanish of The Kid's Last Night almost reconcile Burnett the instinctive troubadour with Burnett the frustrated composer' - Stewart Lee, Sunday Times, 11 October 1998.

CALAVERA - f, skull. m, dare-devil, madcap; roué (Webster's Spanish/English Dictionary)

"El Dia de Muertos" is celebrated on November 2 of each year in Mexico, the Day of the Dead. Celebrated may not be a good verb choice, perhaps acknowledged. I was once engaged to be married in Cuernavaca on the Day of the Dead. The wedding did not take place. Malcolm Lowry, a mid-20th century Britsh novelist, wrote a profound book, Under the Volcano, about El Dia de Muertos in Cuernavaca. Mr. Lowry's history, Mexico's, and mine entertwine occasionally. According to Henry McCarty, my old friend who wrote the note on the back cover of the jewel box of CALAVERA, I leapt from the bluff near Las Calderónes which overlooks ciudad Guanajuato. The bluff is called Las Comadres. The witches and their cauldrons. Ask him for details and Henry will tell you this occurred on November 1st - Abner Burnett

Worpt 94441-1, 2000 CD

Crossfire, Garden of Eden, Waiting For Dreams, Standing on Shaky Ground, Mystic Pontchartrain, I Can't Stand the Rain, Evil, Stealing Love in the First Degree, There'll Come A Time, Never Gonna Hurt Dianne, Slow Drag, Love is a Beautiful Thing, Juke Joint Kings & Queens

Back to the bar-room. The band is primarily a vehicle for feisty soul singer Kay Kay Greenwade, but Burnett justifies co-billing by singing lead on Garden of Eden, Mystic Pontchartrain, Evil, Never Gonna Hurt Dianne and sharing vocals on Standing on Shaky Ground, Stealing Love in the First Degree, Juke Joints Kings & Queens and Love Is A Beautiful Thing (which may qualify Abner and Kay Kay as the new sweethearts of soul). Standard bar-room fare, perhaps, but Burnett bestows a few idiosyncratic quirks it would otherwise lack. Mystic Pontchartrain shows that elliptical lyrics and good-time New Orleans 'second-line' rhythms don't necessarily cancel each other out. Stealing Love in the First Degree, by contrast, is just the kind of R&B song you would expect two lawyers to write. 'I know the lyrics to Stealing Love are kind of corny, but listen to the opening, the horn lines, the drums at the end, and the organ. Those are my contributions. I think we dressed it up pretty nice,' said Burnett.

Sal Si Puedes
Worpt (2003) CD

Find That Dog A Home, Boomtown, 7-Falls, Beyond the Sea, The Galveston Bay, Forgotten Road, A Spirited Waltz, Take It To The President, Sorry As I Can Be, Demands of Love, The Uncharged Knight, Brightside. 

Intended as a pure statement of Burnett's aesthetic and a showcase for his idiosyncratic songwriting, the singer got cold feet and added some bar-room fodder at the last moment. Actually, some of the bar-fod is really good - like the Fats Domino-styled Find That Dog A Home, and the funky Take It To The President (whose mild tone marks it as a pre-George Bush Jnr song). New Orleans strut, Brightside, is revived. The heart of the album, however, resides in great songs like Boomtown (which announces Burnett as the Kurt Weill of Ector County, Texas) and the poignant Galveston Bay, while Sorry As I Can Be takes the confessional to new heights of sensational self-revelation. Beyond the Sea, by Charles Trenet via Bobby Darin, is the sole non-original. 

It Ought To Be Enough 
Worpt WPT039 (2008) CD

Two Bit Lawyer, If You Can Be An Elevator, Key to the Highway, O Catrina, The Cross By The Road, Plans For The Future (50th Birthday), Pat Garrett's Lament, King Of The Road, Someone Else's Hunger, It Ought To Be Enough

It Ought To Be Enough was recorded over three nights at The Chapel at Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, California. A single microphone was placed in the aisle in front of the pews, which meant that an oversize Christ on the cross was always in front of the singer. Perhaps this explains the special atmosphere of the sessions. It feels more like a reckoning than anything. IOTBE focuses on the enormous verities - of love and death, good and evil - without flinching from uncomfortable facts. The Cross By The Road is a story-song in the Texas tradition, and deals with bereavement and filial feelings in a totally unsentimental manner. Two-Bit Lawyer does for law professionals what Death of a Salesman did for travelling salesmen. The bittersweet Plans For The Future confronts the  mystery and mystification of middle age, and the loneliness of the hour is only softened by Heidi Jacobs' sweet and sensual harmony vocals. Then there is the niche that Abner has made his own - the post-mortem song. The major/minor phrasing of the brooding O Catrina suggests the ebb and flow of the life force itself. The narrative voice in Pat Garrett’s Lament shifts, but it finally settles on the eponymous bounty-hunter (deceased). Guilt, it seems, has survived death: "Now I’m walking that forgotten road, looking for you where the wind won’t blow." This is better than Leonard Cohen, and as good as Townes Van Zandt.

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