Tav Falco’s Panther Burns “Lore & Testament Vol 1” – review

Tav Falco & The Unapproachable Panther Burns
“Lore & Testament Vol 1”
(Stag-O-Lee Records)
Dbl LP/2CD/DL ”“ Available now

“You compose them, we decompose them”

Panther Burns motto

Having previously written my letter to Santa he clearly deemed I was worthy; for in amongst the tat and unwanted chintz that the fat man in the red suit had deposited under my Christmas tree was a particular audio treat;

The majority of you will be particularly familiar with the work of The Cramps, a lesser number of you will be familiar with the work of one time Cramps producer and musician the late Alex Chilton, some of you may well have delved deeper and acquainted yourselves with the fantastic ”˜Songs The Cramps Taught Us’ and ”˜Born Bad’ series of bootleg albums ”“ sadly even fewer of you will be au fait with the music of the legendary Tav Falco and his Panther Burns; however if you have ever had more than a mere passing interest in The Cramps then maybe now is the time to discover Tav Falco.

In or around 1979 Tav (Gustavo) Falco having graduated from the University of Arkansas was scratching a living as a performance/visual artist in Memphis ”“ he augmented this by shooting video footage of the then music scene, as such he met up with a number of the local musicians including Chilton and Jim Dickinson ”“ soon they chose to experiment themselves, and the first incarnation of Panther Burns was born playing a few gigs in a Memphis cotton loft in summer 79′ ”“ the sound Panther Burns created was raw, it was rough ”“ a brutal mix, a bastard coupling of Mississippi blues and rockabilly.

The Cramps arrived in Memphis to record their seminal Songs The Lord Taught Us’ with Chilton at the helm, this provided an opportunity for Interior/Rorschach and Falco to meet; the result being Panther Burns were invited to support The Cramps in a few hometown New York gigs ”“ at once such gig held at the Danceteria a certain Geoff Travis was in the audience and on the basis of that one gig signed Tav to Rough Trade Records for their first album ”˜Behind The Magnolia Curtain’. Panther Burns entered the studio but the resulting tape was deemed unusable by Travis so was rejected. At which point future Gun Club guitarist Jim Duckworth was brought in and a further slot was booked at Ardent Studios, Memphis for early 81′

That recording and subsequent Rough Trade album, re-released here was recorded in one continuous take totalling no more than six hours; Panther Burns at one point even being joined by a troupe of marching drummers; the entire ensemble being fuelled on fried chicken and pints of bourbon. The ensuing noise is one magnificent discordant noise with Tav himself often wailing ever so slightly off key ”“ opening with the Sonny Burgess classic ”˜Come On Little Mama’ a standard rockabilly tune trashed by Panther Burns and setting the tone for the clearly unhinged delights to follow, ”˜She’s The One That’s Got It’ simply oozes and throbs as Falco regales us with his desires, continuing into ”˜Hey High School Baby’ ”“ this is primal, its unpolished and by ”˜Brazil’ as the bourbon takes hold things are evidently getting more frayed. ”˜River Of Love’ allows Falco to ease off just a touch, it’s a loose gunslinger of a tune though some of those drum flourishes are clearly from a different song! ”˜Ooeee Baby’ is an instrumental, was it intended to be or had Falco just succumbed to the booze? Either way he is back for Muddy Water’s ”˜Blind Man’ and the sublime ”˜Snatch It Back’ ”“ an unassailable assault on the by now scorched senses, which should (but doesn’t!) prepare you for ”˜Bourgeois Blues’ as Falco is joined by the Tate County Mississippi Drum Corps ”“ at which point the recording desk clearly gives way to any form of production values and settles with just (about) capturing the cacophony, as Falco hollers about madness, and the destruction of his generation.

Somehow the band manage to emerge from the carnage to close with the Roy Orbisson penned ”˜Moving On Down The Line’ though at just over two minutes long they clearly had nothing else to give.

The album generated enough interest to force Tav out on the road, Alex Chilton however had other ideas, so he was replaced by Jim Sclavunos (yes, the Bad Seed/Grinderman) who took on the drumming duties. ”˜Behind The Magnolia Curtain’ had also caught the attention of a certain Chris Stein who funded by royalties from Blondie’s worldwide domination had started his own Animal record label.

Stein oversaw the recording of the follow up 4trk ”˜Blow Your Top’ EP also included in this package. ”˜Blow Your Top’ saw restraints being placed upon Falco, not in the musical sense ”“ due to being recorded at the New York based Plaza Sound studios, the engineer and producer were able to control Burns just long enough to capture the madness ”“ the result being a tighter, cleaner sound that allows space for each instrument to be heard and for Falco’s yelping vocals to sit atop.

The recording features guitar feedback which transports the EP from its 50’s roots toward a heavier, even rockier sound – ”˜I’m On This Rocket’ and ”˜Pantherman’ are both sleazy, trashy numbers as Falco rightly assures us that he is “the pantherman”. EP closer the J. Marascalco composed and widely covered ”˜Bertha Lou’ not only signposts quite where The Stranglers got the opening riff to 1977’s ”˜Go Buddy Go’, but reaffirms Panther Burns motto “You compose them, we decompose them”

”˜Lore & Testament Vol 1′ is the first of an eight release series, both ”˜Behind The Magnolia Curtain’ and ”˜Blow Your Top’ have been lovingly and faithfully packaged – each album comes in a slip case reproduction of its original release then bundled into a wallet style case accompanied by a 21pg booklet containing essays from former member Ross Johnson and Tav Falco himself.

This releases perfectly ensnares Panther Burns; ”˜Behind The Magnolia Curtain’ in particular conjures up images of frazzled musicians trying desperately to capture their brutally ferocious live sound ”“ the original Rough Trade release sold virtually nothing, the ”˜Blow Your Top’ EP despite the better sound and production fared little better, as such these recordings have latterly been widely sought after, and referenced by musicians including most recently Imelda May.

Stag-O-Lee have now seen fit to allow us all a glimpse into the addled shambolic origins of a true original”¦ with the promises of a further seven releases this is going to be one hell of a ride.
Falco currently lives in Vienna, he and his Panther Burns gig sporadically ”“ hopefully this reissue series will see him take to the road once more.

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