From the first bars of ripping blaster "Little Boy," Joey Harris and his Mentals explode like Elvis's heart after a fried banana sandwich. The Mentals don't even bother with a title for this one. It's clear from the Rolling-Stones-in-a-barroom stomp of the opening track that the ethic and spirit of his former band, the Beat Farmers, lives on in spite of the tragic early death of drummer/alt-country sex symbol Country Dick Montana (Dan Maclain). Harris and Jerry Raney, who now fronts San Diego's other Beat Farmers offshoot, the Farmers, have had artistically impressive and largely ignored releases since the Farmers were grounded by the Montana's death in 1995. Souped-up tracks like "Get Out of My Way" ("Everybody get out of my way/ I've got a date with an angel and she's coming my way") says that the raging monster party spirit that drove the Beat Farmer jalopy is still alive and and as virile as swine flu.
The crazy "Brother of the Grape" has a huge dose of the attitude and lyrical wackiness that was brought to its fullest flower by the Montana persona. Ditto "She's On the Pill," a grand follow-up to Dick's old Farmer's anthem "Baby's Liquored Up." And there are pleasant surprises. "I Haven't Been Cryin'" finds an Albert Collins swamp groove that is mesmerizing. Like Houston's venerable Iceman, Harris's blues licks cut deep and they bring emotional blood. "Miguelita" sounds like Tijuana and is the furthest stretch away from the Beat Farmer oeuvre.
But what Farmers fans will come to this album for is that old thing that's still there, full-throttle rock that will never go out of style until the powers that be have us all shackled to computers and hooked up to a happy pill sedative drip.
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Several of the songs are open to wide interpretations and seem to have references in particular to Montana. Harris was kind enough to briefly explain his background and his history with Montana.
"I grew up in a musical household, everything from Elvis and Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams to the Beatles and the Stones," he says. "And my uncle Nicky was in the Kingston Trio.
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"When I joined Dan Maclain in his band Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies in '81, we rediscovered country music. Of course his vinyl collection was full of great, funny songs, mostly about drinkin'. Dean Martin's countrified "Little Ol' Wine Drinker Me" was in the Snuggle Bunnies set.
"My years working with the Beat Farmers shaped who I am, and I just naturally look for the humor and irony in my songs. If it's a straight song like "Don't Seem Like Love," I try to infuse it with something I know Country Dick would have dug, the spaghetti western solo, for instance.
"Working with Country Dick and the musicians and songwriters he surrounded himself with was the most fucking fun you could have with your pants on, though I thought it was the height of comedy to lose my pants pretty regularly. I miss my friend everyday and I know every decision I make, artistically or business related, includes a little conversation with him.
"I don't generally like CD art to have a lot of thank yous and dedications. I had planned to remember Country Dick in the liner notes, but a very dear friend, Lorna Hamilton, and my uncle, Nick Reynolds, and Beat Farmer roadie Otis Owens died during production.
"While the list got larger, I thought I should ask if the band wanted to include anyone, and so we have Mighty Joe's mother in law, Little Jo, Joel and Jeff Kmak's dad, mother and father-in-law and a high school friend. Sentimental perhaps, but most of the songs on the CD are about the people I love."
If this is a sentimental record, it's the rocking-est sentimental album LOM has ever heard. Country Dick lives.