The Sundresses sound like rock and punk grew up straight out of blues from the Swing Era. They are an alternative to the alternative with American roots from when rock was just putting out little shoots.
Zaz didn't die, lucky guy
There were no parades, how the glory fades
Now he shoots lots of pool and as a rule
He wears a silly grin on his chin
It all started when
Zaz turned blue, what were we supposed to do ~ From Zaz Turned Blue by Was Not Was
Show me the way
To the next whiskey bar
Oh, don't ask why
Oh, don't ask why ~ From "Alabama Song" by Kurt Weill
I've seen the future, brother
It is murder ~ From the song "The Future" by Leonard Cohen
The Sundresses have chucked the usual influences in favor of a deeper experience based way back when the roots of rock were little bitty shoots. This band blindsided me as the opening band at The Southgate House like pop gone beautifully wrong. At the end of the night, I remembered their lyrics and came away satisfied I'd heard something new and exciting. This three-piece band has a sound for the stage deep, strong and theatrical, and that new CD takes the show deep inside. Barkinghaus has the punch, power, and fearless dramatic truth-telling growl with a sound ranging from Tom Waits and Jim Morrison to Jerry Vale, Lotta Leyna and Al Jolson. They have a take-no-prisoners, big, nasty view of America from the POV of an American band. They preach from the faulty straw man pulpit or podium like some Country Joe MacDonald or Woody Guthrie gone punk playing swing era blues.
The magic of The Sundresses is they have two different minds for songwriting, two different spirits in the drumming and picking. The problem with a three-piece band is somebody normally dominates the sound and the concert is just about as interesting as that one imagination. I hear tell local fans of The Sundresses have favorites between the two, which means there's enough difference to create a delicious variety. Brad writes a scathing, straw man, ironic type of song so arch in its import the truth seems to spill out from his subject like a man drawn and quartered. Remy writes a descriptive song, like that kid Robert Zimmerman (stage name "Bob Dylan") made popular in "Idiot Wind" with a similar theology to Zimmy's "Highway 61." Remy is the jaded theologian of the group, and Brad is the more the rebel dissenting patriot. Brad's voice ranges from Tom Waits to Jerry Vale and Jimmy Durante, with his musical roots in Tin Pan Alley, the swing era, and punk. Brad's character-driven writing roots make him a switchblade of a theatrical writer like Kurt Weill's songs for those Bertold Brecht musicals, or Lotta Leyna, or Jimmy and The Doors with a touch of Jimmy Durante. Remy's roots are more roadhouse blues, Eddie Cochran, and punk icons like Henry Rollins or Jello Biafra. What pulls it together? They are both shooting down the same ducks, just from different angles and with different vintage guns. There's a remarkable switcheroo when these guys switch guitar and drums. You get two main courses in this movable feast. That's a hell of a meal.
Now, Mackenzie don't write the songs and only plays that P-bass and the trombone, but . . . I just got a call from my attorney advising me I've said enough about Mackenzie. She's young and part of the audience knew her when she was in Junior High, I'm just about grandfather age to her, so I'll just say her performance style rhymes with "hexy." She taught me an astonishing oxymoron I thought I would never say, " trombone." It's that dancing. That's the rock 'n' roll. A straight male punk rocker said something similar to me about Tony Sales when he plays that bass for Iggy Pop. Then he apologized by typing, "TMI." The bass is easy to play, but it's hard to feel. She's moved by the music. That's where the dancing comes from. The folks at Dewey, Cheatum & Howe have suggested I say no more.
The published roots of the Sundresses sound come from the 1930's through punk, but I hear a boatload of Kurt Weill and Lotta Leyna, Bertold Brecht and Stephen Sondheim built into a band with all that creative distance, character and drama. The sensual drumbeats suggest old school minstrelsy or burlesque shows. Their songs are a sucker punch at good old failed American certainty and bluster like to make some preachy Bruce Cockburn sound like a slick PC snake oil salesman. The truth is in the guts of the public, and never gets told except to spin people nowadays. This band I listen with my solar plexus live or on tape. I've heard something similar maybe once from Was Not Was with Zaz Turned Blue sung by Frank Sinatra Jr. or maybe Joel Grey in Cabaret. These guys have taken the mantle and broke it on the altar of an angry, cheated, hoodwinked patriotism and piety. Beneath this hard shell of just and honest anger is the soul of a nation raised to believe in an America no longer available to the general public, a church gone nuts from greed, and the painful message writ on the brail waffle iron of a failing economy.
No holds are barred, teeth are bared, and the music stomps out the ironic truth like to ring the Liberty Bell. This album is the strip show of that gussied up nonsense we've come to accept as news. Power has corrupted. Our geopolitical plan is worthy of Genghis Kahn or Pistol Pete. The news sounds like some carnival is missing a barker working Noam Chomsky's axiom, "If you can get them asking the wrong questions, you needn't worry about the answers." The forces that be don't fret if you catch them with their hand in the till. But they can't survive a joke. Barkinghaus offers the scathing irony to bring down the Ivory Tower: "We're dollar bills until we die!" Drum roll and a trombone to wake the dead. This album is a provocation.
Live this band has a punch. Brad Schnittger and Remy Spring each play guitar and drums, switching off mid-performance. Makenzie Place plays the bass and trombone, but there is no more interesting sight onstage than that flaming redhead pounding out the low tones in Harley Davidson boots bought from the St. Vincent De Paul, standing on the bass drum at the end and always, always providing the visual for the pounding power of the song. Brad and Remy share the songwriting chores and for my ears they keep the story straight like one great team always sticking the talking points with wit and bite. This band offers theater in the lyric and streetwise American rock 'n' roll against the machine. They are the road not taken to a brand new world where nothing is what you expect it to be, but you sure as hell got your money's worth. They are American ingenuity back from the dead. Compared to the Sundresses' unhinged creativity, most other bands are that same new thing.
1. KING KILLER OF MURDER TOWN steps up to the stage with a Closing Time jazz flow on piano, bass and drums and the languid dark Waits tones of a dark MC: "Ladies and gentlemen, I saw it too. I saw what you saw. I'm just like you." We are among friends, living the same dream. "Now I'm confused. I thought I was dreaming when I saw that news." The public has done some stuff, and we are it. "You build them up, and you burn them down." Enter the antihero -- "King Killer of Murder Town." The inscription on the album is "Music about America by an American band." This is the inside story we tell about ourselves. It's intimate and theatrical. The appropriate dance for this is the "Ironic Twist."
2. AN AMERICAN AMERICAN is the brash cry of Americanis Narcissistico. "I am an American American! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! How the hell are you?" This is the guy David Bowie embodies in the phrase: "I don't want truth. I want CERTAINTY!" This easy path to self-confidence leads to a bad end. "This is a problem and it's got too big. We've have a square hole and a round peg. Square in the square hole, round in the round hole. Hell hole! Hell hole! There's a killer in the guitar!" This Midwestern menace thinks locally and has an audacious desire to die globally. One wonders if he is some bonehead Johnny Appleseed out to spread democracy at the barrel of a gun. "I am born in raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Born and raised and ready to go. I will not die in Ohio. Hell no! Hell no! Hell no!" Hardhead Harry Truman once said: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." The Sundresses advise: "There is a killer in the kitchen!" This song cooks with a high two-stepping bluster dance and a damn fine resonator slide guitar straight to the one.
3. BLACK WORK SONG takes deadly aim with a crackling electric slide guitar. "All killings ain't murder, but that's what they do, and I'd pay to walk the last mile in them shoes." There's a chorus in harmony of "ooo's" reminds me of The Tennessee Ernie Ford band or The Couriers back in the day of quartet gospel. "Time to take a shovel. Time to take up space. Time to take up digging and give our master's grace."
4. MOST PEOPLE OVER 40 "I hear the things that you say but you never do. Your music is old and it's dying. I want to kill it. I want to KILL KILL KILL KILL it." There's a touch of Jimmy Durante in the backing vocal. Now the boys in this band are creeping up on middle age, so they may be singing with that proverbial tongue protruding madly through their protruding cheek. "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. This is a racist superstition and we are part of it. Wanna kill it!"
5. INTO THE ARMS OF DOGS is haunting in the beginning, with a piano like Lou Harrison and a whispered heavenly chorus under a whispering opening lyric. "You're dirty." This is a theatrical song like something from the Three Penny Opera. "You dug a hole all on your own with you bloody hands soaked to the bone. Yeah, you dug hole and you shoved us in. Now we all hate this fucking hole that we're in. Ooo, you're dirty. Yeah, you're filthy. And all your money just makes you smell funny. Yeah, it makes you stink." Foreign policy? "In other countries the cry in every street, 'America is the thief. And in America, the cry in every street, 'You are the thief in charge!' A million graves beneath our feet, one hundred million more for your fraternity." An ugly irony: "All the votes are in. The President wins again." (NOT!) The drums take up a military snare: "We're dollar bills until we die."
6. THE BARKINGHAUS takes the pace of a dirge for a straw man characterization of The Man. The voice on this croons out the inside story of the second-story thief in the White Haus. This song has the breadth of the Ohio River flowing to the sea. From the opening "We don't want you to know" there's a malevolent presence in the man "you aren't allowed to see." The straw man behind the curtain "We hold the torch while handing you the broom, locking the door and leaving you outside the room" "We don't want you to know we were sent here to kill, and we can and we will." This song is enough to set the straw man burning. "We'll come in through the roof, we'll pay to put another nickel down, my friend, to pay for all the crime we push around. That is not worth the price. That is not worth my life!"
7. BULLSHIT MOTHERFUCKER slides into the blues sweet and nasty. "My band don't sound like the bands that I listen to." The BM in this song digs "on cocaine" out at the Northside Tavern for the concert -- has to leave right away and comes back for the last song. Very poor concert etiquette. Got a song written about him, though.
8. MEET THAT FREDDIE must be a nod to local colleagues in that Jake Speed and the Freddies band, if you ask me. There's a raggy chorus like Caiaphas Song in JC Superstar: "My name is Jesus and I have come back from the dead. Play music instead of helping you. I could care less, I must confess. I played a big joke upon you." Lot's a Freddies in this song. Jake Speed is a friend of The Sundresses. I think he maybe wrote this song.
9. 10 YEARS LATER has the sound of a gospel hymn out of Appalachia. "In my dream I saw the flood coming down the river. Ten stories tall and red with blood down came that river." The slide acoustic or resonator guitar sounds like the guitar you rockers might remember from Stray Cat Blues, but it same from way back at the roadhouse. "And I died inside that river and I was born into the sea." This dream of the flood might be an Ohio river thing, but it has biblical proportions. This sounds strong enough to be a cover of something very old. That's hard to do.
10. STRANGE FRUIT is a great dark song written by Lewis Allen and Sonny White. Nina Simone and Billie Holiday covered it and made it their own. The Sundresses bring this metaphor for southern hangings from poplar trees to a new audience with a Gene Krupa beat. It fits the conscience of the band.
11. THE MAN WHO BOUGHT THE WORLD takes economic theory into a Dr. Seus world, but the analysis seems about right. "Each person is a little leaf hanging up in the money tree. Everybody in the money tree falls off eventually." "There's something wrong with the money tree. There's no responsibilitree." Even the butterflies agree. "What you seek, you will never find." That's responsibilitree was "washed away in the bankruptcy." Just keep walking through the orchard. "Right foot, left foot." Bottom line: "You be the judge."
12. HOUSE OF THE DROWNING SON is an accusation of a song with a biting sense of humor. "You'd rather make millions than save civilians." Politicians and businessmen get theirs. "You'd rather make money than make things right." There's a nod to that whorehouse in New Orleans at the end of this one. After the music there's a sweep of the talk radio stations for some horrifying crap that sounds so rotten it's probably from the real thing. This one is a blues!
13. MURDER HYMN is a prayer. "Dear Lord, you are an evil man. I will hunt you, I will hunt you like a dog." Reminds me of Tom Waits' statement: " Don't you know there ain't no devil, there's just God when he's drunk." "You are dead. You are king~ Long live the king!" The critique picks up speed in the chorus. "We flew the planes into your house that day because you asked us to and we was paid to stage your grand parade." Things done in the name of God.
14. EUROPE, OR UTAH "All the world is a holy blast. Better men gave up at last. Bishops and constiples traded up for a pot of gold." This is an anthem. "He's just a penny man, owned by a penny man, owned by a penny man, I know!" Mackinzie's trombone brings us all home mighty, meaty, big and brassy.
15. THE SADDEST SONG "We will kill your women. We will kill your children. We are the good guys. You are the villains. We will hang your husbands. We will rape your girls. And Lo! Our flag flies all over the world." Who do you think this song is referring to? "Our heaven is glorious and you cannot come in." Must be some rogue outlaw country.
Makenzie Place: Mayor, bass player & trombonist
Brad Schnittger: Singer, Guitarist, Drummer
J. Remy Springer: Singer, Guitarist, Drummer
FROM THE SUNDRESSES WEBSITE:
If there were a punk band in the swing era of American music The Sundresses would be that band. Formed in 2002 in Cincinnati as kind of a joke, The Sundresses have been freaking out people ever since. In 2003 the band self-produced a full-length album, The Only Tourist In Town, for their friends in the Ohio River Valley. To their surprise, not only did people at home want to hear, but lots of other people wanted a listen, too. In fact, their ninth out of town show was South By Southwest 2004.
Since then they have performed in cities and towns from Colorado to Maine. The Sundresses are three people, but they have two drummers, two singers, two guitar players and one fine ass-swinging and stomping five-foot-tall bass/trombone player. The Sundresses put on a live show unlike any other. no pyro, no dat tracks, just three highly intuitive musicians with really loud amplifiers and drums and voices singing loud words loudly. Some call it otherworldly, some call it religious, most get very drunk and have a great time.
With four consecutive SXSW's performed, many women swooned and many hands shook, the Sundresses have finished a healthy 15-song full-length, titled "Barkinghaus".
2002 - The original (and rare) 4-song demo that started it all. If you have a copy, you're lucky and you'd better put it on your hard drive cuz those CDRs we burned 'em to went bad after about 4 years. -Hooray Records
2003 - The Only Tourist In Town -Hooray Records
2005 - Split CD with Cincinnati band, 4192 -All Night Party, LLC