Friday, February 11, 2011

John Krogman’s Primordial Earth Songs aka Sling That Mud

I’ve known John Krogman for a few years now and I’ve been attracted by his active creative force and almost frightened by his intensity. This cat is all body and heart and his music reflects his masculine energy. His minimalist lyrical style is tell-it-like- it-is, straight to the point without obscure references or metaphors that don’t let you in on the joke. Krogman’s gritty scratchy cool is part of his mystique. People that experience Krogman’s music or performances are naturally drawn nearer and want to be close to him. But he can lose more people and friendships in the span of a solstice than I’ve had in my lifetime. It’s like Jim Perkins once told me, “I don’t form bands because I don’t like people.” We laughed and of course he exaggerated but there is a kernel of truth underneath his statement that resonates for many of us. Including JohnKrogman. I can dig it. I believe in peace and love but I don’t trust people easily.

Holding this long-awaited disc in my hands is, for me, like the first moment I laid my trembling sweaty mitts on the Bossmen’s Anthology CD (1964-67). It took my breath away. I loved Dick Wagner’s primitive country-laced jangly pop music. I put it on the changer, receptive and open and let the music take me back to Daniel’s Den – Baby Boy, Take A Look My Friend, Here’s Congratulations….ah
Now, some may see Wagner as the true mystery man at times arrogant and distant but I see another side, one that is generous and even loving. Rockin’ Johnny lives a similar paradox. He’s plain spoken, does not mince words or suffer fools gladly. But there is always something more like Krogman’s long abiding friendships with Stewart Francke and John Van Beschoten, his love for music. John is a true minstrel whose soul needs to express itself in song and music. John Krogman has found his time and place with Sling that Mud. It may be long overdue but it’s here and now. Listen and rejoice as one of our greatest singer/songwriters has crafted a forum for his muse. Listen….

Soft and Sweet is reconfigured with an old blues progression stolen back in the mid-sixties by the Newbeats for their pop classic Bread & Butter. Producer Stewart Francke plays it straight and true adding lazy horn trills and honky tonk piano. This is rockin’ 12 bar R&B played by some of Detroit’s best and brightest. Krogman is writing about someone we all know. If you look close enough you can see her toughness is her vulnerability. She smokin’ cigarettes, drinking whiskey and riding it hard yet never really hiding her capacity to love well.

Curtis Road is a fired-up mid-tempo rocker, a song with big riffs and a bigger beat. Curtis Road is a metaphor about longing… a wish for a better life, as a tired soul leaves the sparkle of a Bavarian tinsel town only to return to the dirt and grime of the wet nasty – where it gets real. The heavy load is a metaphor for the fear and ennui evoked in a dying city. The minor chord on the bridge gives the music-scape a sense of foreboding. From my perch I’m not sure which city is more frightening.

Sling that Mud is a Louis Jordan Big Band swing and jive. It jumps out and slugs you in the chest and dares you to want more. Krogman’s voice is filtered and thinned out like it’s a radio broadcast giving you the skinny on things that don’t matter like whose doin’ who and what Travolta said on the stand. The music bomps and rolls but the lyrics reveal a darker message – how people talk smack and defile reputations. It is a universal message. We’ve all been there – on each side of it. This mud activates our own internal critic and a judgment you believe (at least partially) to be true about yourself….its a heavy load to carry. The sinister organ and the moaning horn riffs give it a B-movie horror classic vibe. Boris is watching…oooh

Sinatra Hours is a Francke composition, a big band number with a walking bassline and a modern sound that is more bluesy than ‘ol blue eyes swing. It rocks and rolls and it took me home and made me like it. The cool windy city Chicago sound is front and center. The almighty hawk swoops down to fashion a paranoid vision of mistrust and infidelity. This overarching suspicion kills the singer’s peace of mind. It begs the question where have you been. You’ve been nowhere. It’s just the illusion of betrayal, balling Mick and Keef while singing Love in Vain. The sumptuous full bodied guitar trills speed it up. The urgency in the coda reaches fever pitch until it all collapses in exhaustion… whew.

Shadows of Night. This is a Krogman oldie that has aged like a fine wine - a 1945 Red Bordeaux versus a 1970 Ripple. I prefer Ripple. Krogman is doing a straight 12-bar blues with a lyrical theme that recalls youthful extravagance, being just a bit naughty. His husky tenor is huskier now from years in the bars and jook joints. 3 or 4 sets a night. 7 nights a week, mixing originals with the covers, use those classic rock gems by Fogerty and Young to hook the audience then give ‘em Shadows of Night, Come on Down and Into the Sunset. They’ll never know what hit them. And before you know it your songs become anthems.

Live Without Love is a song that exposes John’s most vulnerable side and his most ambivalent lyrical framework. Krogman questions love’s influence on his life…even its very existence. We covet it, pursue it, even pine over it. Then it turns out to be such a disappointment. The ride is a let down and you put the blame on yourself. But you go back to her anyway. When love dies and falls away you may fill up with regret and longing fall into this cold emotional black hole that sucks the life right out of you. But you come back for more. You do not want to be alone… ever. It’s like that primal existential aloneness that a baby experiences in her crib. Alone. Crying in the dark. And not knowing if momma will come and pick her up.

Raymond Jones is a clever take on Beatlemania. What would have happened had this English bloke Raymond Jones had never entered NEMS Department store and sauntered over to the record department and asked about this German 45 rpm entitled My Bonnie by this unknown group The Beatles? This was indeed a history altering event. NEMS was owned by the Epstein family and their wayward son Brian was charged to take care of the records division…he mucked up just about every other assignment, couldn’t do too much damage here. Yet Brian Epstein’s natural curiosity led him to find the aforementioned record and learn more about these oddly-named Beatles. Raymond Jones turned on the world. The rest is history.

The Right One is a mid-tempo rocker with a REM vibe, a jangly Happy Shiny People riff and a variation of the message in Everybody Hurts…Hold On. Krogman’s voice is a wonder, always has been. His singing has an immediacy that is palpable. He is the instrument of his message. It’s between him and his audience, it’s out front like no other instrument can be. Few voices could capture the wordless searching of those who are lost and lonely. But Krogman hits the pocket like Unitas threading the needle. Krogman gets it. The ringing guitar break at the end of the song brushes the musical landscape with a felt sense of pain and awakens the body to the tension. This is something that isn’t “figured out” or analyzed.

Tears of a Clown. This old Motown chestnut is actually John’s tribute to his former band The Flies. They would do it at their shows but would rearrange it dramatically into a cool Ska beat with choppy rhythms and syncopated vocals. Back in the day, John and the Flies loved the Police and the English Beat and The Point, a great Ska band that frequented old town. The Flies would play downstairs at the Fordney Hotel in the Old Town Saloon (formerly the Gaslight) and incorporated all of these influences into their act- pop, punk, reggae – anything was grist for the mill. The Flies did a similar Ska workup by combining the Beatles’ Rain with Rankin’ Full Stop by the English Beat. It was magnificent.

Red, White and Blue closes the disc on a thoughtful and heartfelt note. The tempo is slowed way down from the ’93 version by Johnny & the Boomers (though he’s been slowing it down for years) to great effect. It helps color the ambivalence about doing what’s right when moral issues of right and wrong are uncertain. This is a Desert Storm era song that is both patriotic (I’m ready, ready what I gotta do) and anti-war (I’m hoping to shoot no bullets). It’s a clear-eyed patriotism that considers the human cost of war and it ain’t the rich man paying. A mournful pedal steel underscores the weariness of the message. When will it ever end?

Bo White

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