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August 16, 1997
Volume 23, Number 17,  Issue 445

CHARLIE BURTON & THE TEXAS TWELVE STEPPERS

Rustic Fixer Upper

Lazy S.O.B. Recordings (SOB 003)

 

Charlie Burton isn't a household name in country/rockabilly music-even in Austin where he now lives and performs-and that’s a great shame, because he's got everything it takes to make it -style, taste, craggy good looks, a distinctive voice that he uses to its best effect, and killer songs with classic hooks, wit and intelligence. Mind you, he's not the kind of slick pop Nashville loves, but if the occasionally similar Junior Brown can break out nationally, then by all rights Burton deserves a wider audience as well. Matthew Sweet considered him a mentor, and his last single (1995's "Spare Me The Details" on Austin's Loss Lieder label) was spotlighted by R.E.M.'s Mike Mills as a favorite in a 1997 issue of an R.E.M. fanzine. This is country pop as influenced by Sun rockabilly, Iggy and the Stooges, and the MC5; not that there's anything cowpunk about Burton, and not that his records sound like the Detroit sounds he grew up on, or like punk-influenced country bands like Jason and the Scorchers, either. Charlie Burton's an original, and he's finally made a record that fully displays his talents with 1997's Rustic Fixer Upper.

Originally from the East coast,, Burton's dad moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he ran the first commercial all-classical FM station between Chicago and San Francisco. Burton attended college at the University of Michigan, where he was immersed in the music of the Stooges and the MC5. Ed Ward became one of his best friends at college, and when Ward became the record review editor at Rolling Stone, Burton was invited to follow him out as the magazine's country music columnist; he also wrote the magazine's review of the Stooges landmark album, Funhouse.

Returning to Nebraska to take over the family's business, he took up the challenge issued by Jon Landau that rock critics were music fans who couldn’t cut it as performers.   Burton launched a series of bands in Lincoln, including Rock Therapy, The Cut-Outs (there's a band name Goldmine readers will love!), and the Hiccups. His first single, "Rock & Roll Behavior" was released the day after Elvis died in 1977, and topped critics polls. Johnny Rotten saw Burton’s band play in NYC the night after the Sex Pistols split.

Between 1978 and 1985, Burton and his various bands released three albums and a CD in 1990. Highlights included the classic "Breathe For Me, Presley" and "'Is That Wishful Thinking (On My Part)". The band became very influential in the area, where younger musicians like Matthew Sweet (who lived in Lincoln) regularly attended his shows. Touring around the same circuit of Midwestern clubs as R.E.M., he got to know them pretty well; in 1983 Peter Buck listed Charlie Burton and The Cut-Outs along with The Replacements and Husker Du as the country’s top regional groups.

Burton had been playing shows in Austin for over a decade, when in 1992 he decided to move there, "...for the women and the music...", as he put it.

Now, after the fine 1995 7-inch single, he's got a new CD on a little label that really clicks on every track. With his new band, the hilariously named Charlie Burton & The Texas Twelve Steppers (Mark Korpi, Vic Gerard, and David Sanger-all vets of many ace Austin groups), Burton's produced 14 tracks that are instantly memorable, and improve with repeat plays. He's country in a classical sense: think Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and Ernest Tubb, but filtered through a heavy love of rockabilly-there's no ballads here. The band is joined on this disc by local guest stars like Eric Hokkanen, Mary Cutrofetlo, and Ian McLagan.

The songs include upbeat rockers like 'She's Out Of My Hair (But Not Out Of My Mind,' 'I'm The Guy Who Let Miss Universe Slip Thru His Fingers,' and 'Livin' On Borrowed Time (Livin' On Borrowed Money).' Try 'Thin Ice/Deep Water' for a sample of Burton's lyrical style: "...breaking up was easy-we did it lots of times/the alchemy of 'his 'n' hers' becoming 'yours 'n' mine..." 'Rogue Cop' could easily be a Junior Brown/George Jones-style comedy/novelty number. 'Words Don't Mean Words (Any More)' features the narrator lamenting to his grandfolks that words they use like "bad," "gay," and "hood" don't have the same meanings as they did in the past.

My favorite tracks are "On More Than One Occasion" with its great twangy guitar riffs and Ian McLagan's warm organ fills, the modern-day rockabilly of "Resume" (how can you not love a song with lines like: "...resume' resume'/c'mon read my resume/it's neat because it's been word processed/I'm certain if you just peruse ‘er/you'll see that I'm no loser..."), and the updated Sun-inspired 'Baby Let's Play God' ("...you destroyed that world that I created/when with that other guy you dated/ .... girl, I'm gonna fill your life/with demons, locusts, floods 'n' strife/there's only one thing I'm dying to do/come back baby, I wanna play God with you..."

Rustic Fixer Upper is in the running for the best Austin country album of the year, and it's well worth searching out. Any country/rockabilly artist who describes Raw Power as the greatest rock album of all time is my kind of country singer.

(Available from Lazy S.O.B. Recordings, PO. Box 49884, Austin, TX 78765-9884, ph. (512) 480-0765, website: www.io.com/lazysob.)

Kent H. Benjamin

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