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June 4, 1999
Vol. 25, No. 12, Issue 492

CHARLIE BURTON
The Charlie Burton Story: ‘77-’99, One Man’s Trash
Bulldog Records

At long last there’s a CD collection of all of Charlie Burton’s best work, dating from his early days in Lincoln, Neb., to his current tenure in Austin, Texas. This one may be hard to find being on a tiny indie, but it's well worth seeking out because Burton is, well, a musical treasure.

After starting his musical career as a writer for Rolling Stone in the Ed Ward early days, Burton hung up his typewriter and picked up a guitar to turn out a fine string of little indie 45s and LPs, many of which were regional "hits" in the Nebraska area, and gigging with bands such as R.E.M. (longtime buds) on their earliest tours. Burton’s earliest material was punk-informed rockabilly. He mixed equal parts of Sun rockabilly with straight country elements, courtesy of everyone from Hank Williams to George Jones, and added more than a hint of punk rock and Sex Pistols energy thrown into the mix (this is a "country" musician/singer-songwriter who numbers among his favorite records The MC5 and The Stooges, after all).

Smart as hell, with a wry wit and keen eye for observation and detail and a powerful baritone that could do justice to an Elvis number or three, Burton was always an entertaining performer. What I’d heard or found of his recorded repertoire was always cool and sometimes downright great. This 1999 CD is the best of his material from the past 22 years, including his non-LP 45s and highlights from his previous three LPs—Is That Charlie Burton OR What? (Wild Records, 1982), Don’t Fight The Band That Needs You (Wild Records, 1983) and I Heard That!!! (Wild Records, 1985, produced by the great Lou Whitney of the Skeletons), and his 1989 Green Cheese CD.

The collection opens with a real rarity and a true Burton classic--the 1977 debut 45 "Rock & Roll Behavior," a primal slice of raunchabilly inspired by The MC5’s Back In The USA and the Johnny Burnette Trio’s "Rock Therapy." The album continues the pace with another 45, "Guitar Case," and the fine "Even As We Speak" before presenting another certifiable classic, "Breathe For Me Presley," the finest track on his debut album and one of the earliest post-death Elvis tributes. This one’s a punkabilly plea, the last words said to Elvis as the medics worked on him (a true story, apparently, it’s even in the new Peter Gualnick book, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley). "Garage Sale" is a song about a favorite pastime of many Goldmine readers; "Succubus" features a quasi-Buddy Holly tune with lyrics based on the book, I’ll Be You/You Be Me; and the Bo Diddley—flavored "Bum Ticker" is a sardonically autobiographical tune about his dad.

The album is rounded out by some recent Austin tracks. "Spare Me The Details" is a very good little indie 45 (Loss Lieder, 1994) based on a saying Burton’s ex-wife was very fond of, which makes it easy to imagine why they’re no longer together.

One of my favorite Burton oldies, "(Is That) Wishful Thinking (On My Part)" (from I Heard That’!’), is featured in a much-improved live radio version from KUT-Austin in 1997, and Burton’s most popular live number (dating back to 1990) is featured in a brand-new 1999 version — the epochal "Without My Woman" (the punch line being I’d be a hopeless sack of shit").

If you like good country/rockabilly done with style, intelligence and a wicked sense of humor, with a punk edge and a healthy bit of seasoning courtesy The MC5, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley, you’d be well advised to seek out this album. It’s a keeper! (Bulldog Records, 1514 Richcreek Road, Austin, TX 78757, wingram@ix.netcom.com)

 

— Kent H. Benjamin

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