Desert Sessions Vol. 7 & 8: Gypsy Marches; Can You See Under My Thumb? ... There You Are
Drag City Records Presents A Drag City Supersession: Tramps, Traitors and Little Devils

Neil Hagerty and Josh Homme are two of the most important guitarists working outside the mainstream. Homme’s work in Kyuss has spawned a legion of imitators; Hagerty’s work in Pussy Galore, Royal Trux and alone has been so singular that it hasn’t spawned any. Both men have put in studio time with some like-minded collaborators; Hagerty with fellow Drag City performers, Homme with the usual lot hangin’ about.

The first album is centred around Queens of the Stone Age guitarist and vocalist Joshua Homme and Masters of Reality mainstay Chris Goss. Most of the players, such as Nick Eldorado of Like Hell, and Fred Drake of earthlings? and percussionist-about-town Brendan McNichol, appeared on the last QOTSA album Others, such as Alain Johannes and his wife Natasha Schneider, once two-thirds of Eleven and currently in Chris Cornell’s band and Motley Crue drummer Samantha Maloney (formerly of Hole and NYC hardcore group Shift), are members of the Seattle scene. Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees, who also appears on the album, is meanwhile a member of both.

Homme and company are no stranger to this sort of musical potluck — they already have six previous volumes out on the now defunct Man’s Ruin label (three, if you’re buying on CD instead of 10-inch vinyl).

The songs on Desert Sessions fall into two camps: Those that would fit comfortably on a QOTSA album, and those that are basically looning around in the studio.

The first half gets its name from the lead track, 'Don’t Drink Poison' which fluctuates between Eastern-inflected mandolin backing dreamy vocals warning against various verboten behaviour and rhythmic drumming over wordless choruses— thus the title of Vol. 7.

The best song here, which would be a standout on any album, is the Mark Lanegan sung 'Hanging Tree'.” A morbidly romantic stoner rock anthem, it’s part QOTSA, part Nick Cave. You’ll be humming “round the hanging tree ... swaying in the breeze” for weeks.

The other “real” songs all have a heavy groove and sinuous guitar noise, with the an inventive approach to percussion and guitar sounds. None of the tracks sound like they were relegated to a side project for lack of quality. There’s a good variety as well, with the agitated 'Polly Wants a Crack Rock' sounding like something Nick Oliveri would sing if it appeared on a Queens album — here it’s sung by Nick Eldorado of Like Hell (also responsible for a fair chunk of the backing vocals on 'R').

Then there are the silly bits: In 'Winners' an officious voice starts off with “The following students of Indio High School were winners ...” The song title is sampled and looped for the rhythm track while the names are read out. Uh huh. 'Interpretive Reading' appears to be a combination ghost story/gay seduction over a strange melange of choruses, tootling horn and piano. 'Covousier' is a piss-take on Philly soul, complete with a Barry White-like spoken intro. 'Ending' is all crashing drums, screamed vocals of "Thank you ... ladies and gentleman? Thank you Seattle!!!!” etc. and feedback. And 'Piano Bench Breaks' ? Chorused ohs!, piano thumping, a loud crunch, giggling — they can’t be accused of misleading song titles, anyway ....

Despite the nonsense, the Desert Sessions disc is well worth getting — not many CDs can boast seven great songs and a classic like “Hanging Tree” (it’s on Vol. 7 for those buying the 10-inches).

The other supergroup boasts some of the Drag City label’s biggest names, and features the twisty rock and fractured folk music you would expect. The driving forces are solo artist Edith Frost, Bill Callahan of Smog and Hagerty. They each sing two of their own songs each and a cover (or two, in Frost’s case). Also appearing: Tara Key’s fuzzy lead guitar is a redeeming feature on several album tracks; Rian and Brendan Murphy provide drums and percussion on all the tracks; Jessica Billey, who was on (Smog)’s #Rain On Lens' provides violin; Matt Bauder plays reeds; Azita Youseffi plays piano on two tracks; Matt Greenberg adds keys to two more; Jim O’Rourke plays guitar on a pair of tracks as well.

Callahan starts off the album, his baritone intoning the gloomy 'Zero Degrees'. Regretably, this track sets a trend for the album with an incongruous reed and violin break from Billey and Bauder. Callahan is also in very good voice on his other original 'Nothing Rises to Meet Me'. Callahan starts each verse accompanied by his guitar, then is joined by the other players (Hagerty, Key, the Murphys and great backing vocals from Frost) on the remainder of the verse. Billey adds a fine violin solo — the one time her work really fits. Youseffi supplies some tasteful piano as well. Callahan also has the best cover, the truckin’ chestnut 'The Girl On The Billboard' made famous by Del Reeves.

Frost’s own songs are particularly fine, 'One Chord Complaint' and '“Leaving The Army,” a great parable about someone wanting to make a drastic life change. Her vocals on covers of Lou Reed’s 'Charley’s Girl' and Randy Newman’s 'Old Man' are less impressive, a little more breathy than either song requires; Frost sounds better in the lower register she uses on the songs she wrote herself.

Hagerty’s first track is a groovy rock concoction called 'Texas Dogleg' that would have fit just fine on Royal Trux album’s like '“Waterpark' or 'Pound for Pound'.” His other song 'Everyday' isn’t as strong rhythmically, and his vocals are on the nasal side, and the kazoo-like guitar doesn’t help, but its not bad. Hagerty also sings on a cover of Black Sabbath’s 'NIB' which is capable enough, though once again it could have done without the efforts of Billey and Bauder.

Fans of Callahan, Frost and Hagerty will want to pick this up; unfortunately, Hagerty isn’t the arranger that Homme is and some of the contributors (i.e. O’Rourke, Bauder, Billie) only seem to prove the old saying about too many cooks. Now, perhaps Hagerty and Homme should go into the studio together .…

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