Skip Heller: Mean Things Happening In This Land (2006)
Skip Heller seems like a pretty fun-loving guy. But this new release, from its opening cover of XTC's anti-prayer "Dear God through its concluding folk song about the closing of a Georgia mill, presents his own scathing commentary on current social, economic and political landscapes. Working with David White on drums and percussion and Chris Spies on organ, clavinet, electric piano and a "Radio Shack synth we found in his trailer, Heller sounds particularly enraged about the government's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
His trio uses happy sounds to make this angry point. "President Nero? dances calypso on a sunlit Caribbean beach; Heller swings out soft chords to counterpoint Spies' bright solo, then blasts off with extended, inquisitive lines, apparently in search of Pat Martino's holy guitar grail. "Heckuvajob sounds similarly carefree; Heller's quicksilver leads step aside for a witty conversation between keyboards and percussion. "Katrina, Mon Amour opens in the retro surf guitar sound of Dick Dale before blasting off through a space age guitar sound into a futuristic lounge full of comfy, fluffed-up keyboard pillows.
"Dear God shows off the variety of sounds that three musicians can coax from what might be considered a simple instrumental palette; Spies' mid-song and closing organ solos honor Booker T & The MG's "Hang 'em High. Heller's ode to Ani DiFranco in soul-blues form, "The Kind of Beauty That Moves, grooves on a shimmering guitar riff that somehow sounds both hot and cool, a bright beacon of cool blue guitar light.
Pissed though he may be, this set is not completely without Heller's trademark twisted merriment. Dig his explanation for this cover version of a Dead Milkmen song: "'Punk Rock Girl' is just one of my favorite songs about Philadelphia. I've always been a huge Dead Milkmen fan, and this song has such a great melody that I thought it would work great if we did it in the Richard 'Groove' Holmes' 'Misty' style, because that's one of the ultimate Philly templates. I know I'm a music geek, but I find it impossible to not love a guy who thinks and works like this!
Track Listing: Dear God; Katrina, Mon Amour; Heckuvajob; Motel Room in My Bed; Beautiful Bright Blue Skye Eyes; Hideout in the Sun; President Nero?; The Kind of Beauty That Moves; Punk Rock Girl; Aragon Mill.
Personnel: Skip Heller: guitar; Chris Spies: organ, clavinet, electric piano, synthesizer; David White: drums, percussion.
Record Label: Ropeadope