ROCK ‘N’ ROLL FREAKS ALBUM OF THE DAY FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 3:
VARIOUS ARTISTS, TURBAN RENEWAL: A TRIBUTE TO SAM THE SHAM & THE PHARAOHS (1994, NORTON RECORDS)
1 –Hasil Adkins Wooly Bully
2 –The Lyres* Ring Dang Doo
3 –The Untamed Youth* Monkey See Monkey Do
4 –The Brood (3) Love Me Like Before
5 –Homer Henderson I Wish It Were Me
6 –The Devil Dogs Don’t Try It
7 –John Felice Lil’ Riding Hood
8 –Jackie And The Cedrics* Pharaoh A Go Go
9 –The Fleshtones Medicine Man
10 –Original Ben Vaughn Combo, The* Grasshopper
11 –The Ranch Hounds* Green’ich Grendel
12 –The Naughty Ones Sweet Talk
13 –Handsome Dick Manitoba Ju Ju Hand
14 –Nine Pound Hammer Oh That’s Good, No That’s Bad
15 –Little Richard Elizondo Combo Juimonos (Let’s Went)
16 –The Hentchmen Like You Used To
17 –The Senders Let’s Talk It Over
18 –The A-Bones (I’m In With) The Out Crowd
19 –Great Gaylord* And The Friggs Deputy Dog
20 –The Swingin’ Neckbreakers Struttin’
21 –Roy Loney And The Young Fresh Fellows* I Couldn’t Spell !!*@!
22 –Teengenerate Sorry ‘Bout That
23 –Los Chiflados Del Ritmo The Hair On My Chinny Chin Chin
24 –Flat Duo Jets The Phantom
25 –The Vacant Lot How Do You Catch A Girl
26 –Rudy “Tutti” Grayzell Y Los A-Bones* Wooly Bully Espanol
The flood of artist tribute albums is pretty loathsome — too much piggybacking on someone else’s creative coattails just to get heard — but Turban Renewal shapes us more like it, from the name to a dedication to Mattie and Hattie. Take one obscure but deserving artist, assemble the right bunch of in-with-the-out-crowd suspects cum fans, and let ‘em loose on the songbook. It may have prompted Rhino to get its Pharaohization best-of compilation out on CD a couple of years later — but Turban Renewal shows even more clearly how distinctive Sam the Sham himself really is.
See, he may be eternally linked with ’60s garage punk now, but Sam came out of the rhythm & blues, and even those monolithic riff tunes had a lightness and swing to the rhythm, because the players were coming up with black music (and Tex-Mex R&B, in Sam’s case) as a big part of their listening diet. That light feel is missing in action here — it’s almost all rock thud, bash and crash down below in the rhythm section — and nobody comes close to matching Sam’s vocal charisma or charm, either.
There are plenty of worthy performances here — it’s just that the tracks mostly capture one element of Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs’ essence, and the rest escape them. There are solid efforts in the faithful vein (Homer Henderson, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Untamed Youth, and the ever-reliable Fleshtones, although their take on “Medicine Man” captures the exuberance with more of a ? and the Mysterians feel). Others plug into R&B from a guitar-heavy, neo-New York Dolls angle with varying degrees of success: the Devil Dogs, John Felice, Swingin’ Neckbreakers; Ranch Hounds, with their storming take on “Greenwich Grendel,” and the Naughty Ones’ solid R&B groove with harmonica and sax.
Ben Vaughn’s accordion-driven “Grasshopper” gets the charm, Ray Loney’s “I Couldn’t Spell !!*@!” catches the slyness, and the two power pop outings are surprisingly good (The Brood and the Vacant Lot’s backing harmonies and drum drive on “How Do You Catch a Girl”). Plenty of crash and burns, too, from the merely unmemorable — Chiflados del Ritmo, Flat Duo Jets — to badly misconceived — Great Gaylord’s unfunny “Deputy Dog,” Nine Pound Hammer’s totally wrong Ramones-blast through “Oh, That’s Good,” or Hasil Adkins doing a one-rockabilly-wildman-band thrash on “Wooly Bully”.
Can’t say anything on Turban Renewal really cuts the originals, but it’s stronger overall than it sounds at first listen, and probably gave a lot of these bands a cool cover version for their live sets. Tell you the best thing about it, though — it’ll send you scurrying off to track down that Rhino Sam the Sham compilation. And, damn, that sucker will sure sound good.