If anyone was going to shoot a remake of the classic 1950s juvenile delinquent movie A Blackboard Jungle, and there was no age restriction at the high-school (which never seemed to be a huge concern anyway), 25-year-old Birmingham, Alabamba, native Dan Sartain would be at the top of the cast list. When this bequiffed, guitar-toting minstrel with the pallor of Caspar the Ghost faces down a pistol-packin’ rival on the revved-up rockabilly cut “Gun vs Knife” and defiantly shouts: “If he wants to tell him bring it on”, man, you better believe it. In fact, this sophomore release from the self-proclaimed “Ivory Godfather”—with its seriously good set of reverb-drenched numbers that flows seamlessly between waves of rolling surf guitar, mid-‘60s garage-punk. and briefly swings on down south-of-the-border with the help of Mariachi band Real de San Diego (on the much covered “Besa Me Mucho”)—could easily be used as the soundtrack.
Compared to his raw rock ‘n’ roll debut, Dan Sartain vs the Serpientes, which comes on like a bump-and-grind ‘60s stripclub house-band with a penchant for Pebbles compilations and largely recorded on a four-track, Join Dan Sartain is a more polished and tighter affair. This time the album was recorded piecemeal between Liam Watson’s London-based studio, Toe Rag, famous for sessions by the likes of sultry Medway garage singer Holly Golightly and the White Stripes, and San Diego, where Dan Reis, frontman/guitarist with the now defunct Rocket from the Crypt and founder of Swami Records (it was a chance encounter at a Crypt gig in a Nashville punk club that Sartain offered up a demo tape to Reis and was duly signed), helps to provide a little post-punk gloss to the authentic retro sounds this garage rebel kicks out, righteously aided by some frenetic drumming courtesy of Raj Parmely.
And it’s this bombastic duet of feral guitar and thunderous drums that provides the backbone to the Sartain sound. Opener “Drama Queens” sets the tone with its solitary tale populated by “mama’s boys, dirty fiends and filthy whores”. But it’s on the next track, “Totem Pole”, that you know a large part of this boy’s heart belongs in the ‘50s, with a Duane Eddy-style guitar twang buoyed along by echoes of a Sandy Nelson drum roll that complements the love-lorn lyrics perfectly. Shades of Eddy’s mentor and producer Lee Hazlewood pop up on whimsical story-songs like “Flight of the Finch”, about, well, the flight of a finch, and the rock ‘n’ roll crooner “Young Girls”, replete with lines like “Those silly boys you’re with they look like Young Republicans”. Ouch.
But then he starts to get serious and takes the political bull by the horns on both “Thought It Over”, a catchy hook-laden tune which serves as a foundation for a heartfelt critique about high level government corruption, and the amusing acoustic ballad “The World Is Gonna Break Your Little Heart”, which uses the Everly Brothers’ “Walk Right Back” as the template for some outstanding pessimistic lyrics like “They never say the game is rigged / Just the world’s so small and you’re so big”, finally coming to the conclusion that “No one wants to teach these classes / So they fit you up with rose color glasses”.
Meanwhile, the rest of the album is pretty much split down the middle. There’s a return to the cavernous twang of the ‘50s with the single “Replacement Man”, followed by a searing piece of scratchy, amplified guitar distortion that leads into “Hangers On”, a slice of good old rock ‘n’ roll reminiscent of Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley at the height of their powers. The vibrant sounds of garage-punk can be heard in the pulsating rhythms of “I Wanted It So” and in the swirling psych-percussion on “Second Coming”, with its biblical theme and echoing vocals.
When Sartain was asked recently how he discovered the earlier music that so obviously inspires him, he replied: “Well, my parents were kind of hippies, you know.” What’s a rebellious kid supposed to do in those circumstances.
// Notes from the Road
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