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MOVING THROUGH MUSIC WITH BUCKAROO BANZAI
by James Korngold
Road Pirate Records
Excerpted from an article in Rolling Stone, April, 1999
It has been my pleasure to produce the recordings of Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers almost since the group began putting music on vinyl.
Never one for fads or fashion, Buckaroo always said the Cavaliers let their lives write their music. The result is a collection of songs as varied as the men and women who lived them. And yet, each album is distinct to the time in which it was recorded. With this in mind, we will look at them chronologically.
Though some critics admonish their first album, Native Texan (but a Rising Son), as an often heavy-handed attempt to meld rock-a-billy with the late '80s punk movement, I believe it is exactly this duality which Buckaroo was trying to achieve. The title song is itself a reflection of Banzai's dual heritage. Other cuts such as the haunting "Arkansas Adios" and the bittersweet love ballad, "Banned in Phoenix" speak of the quest to push the edge of life's frontiers. My personal favorite, "All This and NRD2" again addresses the issue of living two lives; telling the tale of a woman with her "red head in the New Jersey clouds and her Armanis (size 3 ) in Texas."
Your Place or Mayan took the band into a much lighter vein. During the recording of this album, lead saxophonist Reno of Memphis regaled us with stories of how each song was made up during an archeological expedition in the jungles of Mexico. "Imagine Perfect Tommy," he said while the gifted guitarist glay straight the next as he impersonated Hanoi Xan and sang "Squeaking Hinge, Rusted Pivot." More serious songs include "Late for Dinner," a ballad of a young Mayan boy who never returns from hunting.
I am always asked which album is my favorite and I always answer, Echo Location. While every album is marvelous in its own right, this one was recorded soon after the boys' famed jet car success, and the subsequent battle with the alien lectroids. To say they were excited to be back in the studio would be an understatement. From their heart-pumping cover of "Rocket 88" to the intricate "Untangled Web of Berners-Lee" to the touching "Gravity Catapults of the Heart," each song speaks of life and the joy in living it. The biggest thrill for me was the day Luciano Pavarotti dropped by, and ended up sitting in on "Dirty Pictures from the Prom." This album also marks the only time Buckaroo recorded a solo song while accompanying himself on the piano with the lovely rendition of "Catnip, Hollywood, and Illinois Kate."
Progress Over Protocol grew out of difficult time for the group. Finding themselves the targets of a Salem-like investigation by the Congressional Subcommittee for the Protection of Subterranean Tubers, while also planning the relocation of the Banzai Institute itself and (we now know) in the early stages of low-atmosphere tests of the new jet car, the band took refuge in their music. On this album, each member of the group gets a chance to demonstrate their individual singing talents. Perfect Tommy's "Yourself Behind Closed Doors" allows us a peek through the keyhole at this complex man, while "Up All Night" shows us the comical side of keyboardist New Jersey. For the first time, Banzai Institute major domo Evelyn Johnson shares some of herself with the heartbreaking "Premature Widow."
With the coming of the new millennium, Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers have been busier than ever. Which is why I suggested a live album. Buckaroo refused, fearing it would interfere with group's concentration and the audience's enjoyment of the performance. But with the help of Reno, Tommy, and Clyde Von Drake, we managed to record the entire performance without Buckaroo's knowledge. Fortunately for all of us, after he heard the master tapes, Buckaroo consented to the release of Live At Artie's Artery. The concert included three previously unrecorded songs; the satirical "Sined, Seeled, Delivered," the quirky yet romantic "Angular Momentum," and the raucous "It's OK (we're superheroes)" which brings the house down.
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