Garage rocker turns romantic balladeer. Kind of.
These endearing and hook-heavy tunes are reminiscent of the tough but tender writing of Fred Koller and more obviously of Warren Zevon’s bittersweet sensibilities (particularly when Wendell sings in a lower register). IT!! rolls with the genuinely hard won charm of a man who has already rocked when fronting groups such as City Thrills, Blackjacks, Swinging Erudites, Creeps, and Moronic Reducer. But the guy once known as “The Punk Rock Commie” drops the abrasion here in favor of romance and playful sincerity. Thankfully, though, Wendell keeps an edge and steers well clear of the nauseating, husky-voiced, designer stubble production that has made the modern country genre unbearably bland and erased much rawness from soul music. IT!! has a balance, topped and tailed with the sweet kick of “Gypsy Boots” and the slinky bite of “Vamonos a Panama”. Equally, the wry humor and matter-of-fact gentleness in “As Long As You Always Love Me” brings to mind a couple in a bar feeling magical together, whereas the lonely will get a pleasant stab of painful recognition from “She’s Someone Else’s Someone Now”.
Over the years, Wendell has supported the Ramones, U2, the Clash, Jim Carroll, the Cars, J Geils, Echo and the Bunnymen, Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers, Johnny Thunders, Run DMC and more. He still gigs when possible, and is something of a lone wolf liberal democrat on KTLK in Los Angeles chatting with the likes of George McGovern, John Waters, Bob Barr, Gore Vidal, Barney Frank, and Tommy Ramone. He plays guitar and bass, and sings (he brought in the steel/keys/fiddle players and his engineer plays the brass parts). I spoke by email with Johnny Wendell and mentioned that his album title reminds me of Alan Watts’s books on Zen. Off the bat, Wendell described Watts as “a great man” and a few back and forths later was recalling bumping into Tim Leary shortly before his death (“a nice man, a pioneer”). If those names inspire you to listen to IT!! you might be reminded that music with a generous spirit, tempered with restraint, humor, passion, and a little sentiment, never goes out of style.