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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2005 10:09 am

Rescued from obscurity

The latest from the Flamin' Groovies and Puerto Muerto

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Flamin’ Groovies Shake Some Action (DBK Works)

Flamin' Groovies
Shake Some Action
(DBK Works)

Was there ever a phrase more redolent of rock than “shake some action”? In the annals of horndog eloquence, it’s up there with “Who put the bomp in the bompalompalomp?” and “Tutti frutti oh rootie” — pure Dionysian nonsense, the urgent articulation of the inarticulate speech of the groin. Besides being a killer command (senseless but kind of dirty, like all of the best rockist imperatives), it’s the title track of the Flamin’ Groovies’ fourth and finest album, which, alas, you probably haven’t heard. Luckily, it’s not too late, thanks to the fine folks at DBK Works, who just rescued the San Francisco quintet’s masterpiece from obscurity. Deftly remastered and repackaged with extensive liner notes, Shake Some Action represents America’s greatest cult band at its apex. Record geeks and eBay speculators be damned: It’s high time that the masses get a piece of this Action.

In 1976, when it was originally released, Shake Some Action seemed like a relic of a time that never quite was, a unique alloy of Swinging London-era Merseybeat, grimy R&B, and ringing Rickenbacker baroque-folk. While their more successful West Coast peers were dropping acid and noodling with Indians, the Groovies were communing with their inner adolescents, reveling in the dynamic rock & roll that inspired them a decade earlier. In spirit, it wasn’t unlike what their labelmates the Ramones were doing, but instead of fighting hippie excess with speed, volume, and a few choice barre chords, the Groovies embraced melody, economy, and reverb-kissed riffs. Recorded in Wales with Dave Edmunds, whose bass-centric, cunningly equalized, quasi-Spectorian production confers a shivery glamour on the proceedings, Shake Some Action combines all the best attributes of mid-’60s rock without sounding like mere pastiche. From the magnificent flanged guitar hook of the title track to the wistful harmonies of “You Tore Me Down,” the measured melodrama of “Teenage Confidential,” the remorseless throb of “I Can’t Hide,” and the giddy hypergospel of “She Said Yeah,” every detail is rock & roll perfection, thrilling proof that great music carries no expiration date.

Puerto Muerto
Songs of Muerto County
(Fire)

If you never noticed the original soundtrack to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, don’t blame yourself. Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell’s ambient-noise score was unobtrusive to the point of anonymity, imparting a subliminal sense of unease without drawing attention to itself. In the vacuum, Puerto Muerto’s Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer saw an opportunity. The Chicago-based spouses took it upon themselves to create new music for the 1974 horror classic, billing it, rather cheekily, as the “lost soundtrack” and performing it in movie theaters as the film rolled behind them.

Conceived more as a companion piece than as a conventional score, the dozen tracks of Songs of Muerto County don’t elucidate the grim saga of Leatherface and his hippie prey, and they don’t synch up with the film in the way that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon supposedly does with The Wizard of Oz. Kelley and Meyer’s lyrics don’t explicitly address the movie’s themes of cannibalism, human taxidermy, and the wanton misuse of power tools; instead, Muerto County evokes a mood and more than a little cognitive dissonance, providing eerily beautiful counterpoint through warped spaghetti-Western studies, fusty parlor waltzes, ragged roadhouse stomps, and banjo-and-violin ballads. Consisting of full-fledged songs and incidental fragments, Puerto Muerto’s fourth CD dovetails nicely with the duo’s death-dominated oeuvre (previous album titles include Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore and See You in Hell), which is to say that it’s gorgeous and morbid in equal measure, what some might call “gothic” if the black-lipstick crowd hadn’t sucked all the subtlety out of the term.

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