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The best kept secret in music


Firstly, I’m no historian or anything, but there should be a statue of Don Howland in some Americana museum somewhere, because the guy is a national treasure. Howland continues to follow his uncompromising and unique vision of roots-punk-blues with this monster double seven inch package. This shit is as good as anything on the masterpiece “When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again”, just without John Wahl throwing his two cents in. It’s just Bim and Don whipping out seven tracks of sweat, blood, and love, including the cemetery groove of “Ode to Charo”, stopping to borrow a song from The Who, enlisting some extra guitars to deliver a mind-blowing cover of “Raw Power” that proves that someone can actually cover that song without sounding asinine, and finishing with the sucker-punch combination of the sparse “Stack O Lee” and the punked out blast of “St. Matthew”. This is an extremely welcome release in this time of faux two-piece blues authentics and a reminder that there are few, if any, who can do it this well and real. Plus, this bitch includes a 12 track CDR aptly titled “The Forgotten Bassholes”, a raw live recording that will make you recall the noise that two possessed men can create, and pray real hard that they stop in your town this summer. I just saw this package go for upwards of $20 on eBay, so get moving. And to make things even better, rumor has it the Bassholes’ seventh full-length is being recorded this summer. Six new Bassholes tracks = you’re a dumbass if you’re not already out the door to get this. On birdshit colored vinyl. - Rich Kroneiss
- Blank Generation

Opening an LP with a scorching version of Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down Engine" is something only Don Howland could pull off. The first Bassholes album proper since 1998's mammoth and ball-busting When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again (and discounting the live LP on SFTRI) finds Don & Bim in the expected fine form, and kicking out a superlative collection of new(er) material that chugs like a locomotive right out of the gates. This self-titled effort is probably the closest these two have come to sounding 'clean', but the better recording quality doesn't hinder the effort at all, and I think it actually makes Bim's time-keeping sound even more tight/powerful. Don sounds more contemplative on these songs, and the album as a whole might be brighter/lighter than any previous recording. That's not to say there aren't dark recesses ("Fascist Times") or all-out rocking ("Purple Noon"). The whole thing is just a bit less soul-wrenching than before, and I think it's a good thing. There's accompaniment from various friends, on harmonica, banjo, extra guitar, bass, and more, and it all adds to the the impromptu session magic of the Forties bluesmen Howland has often tried to replicate. There's an assortment of great covers including "Heaven & Hell", "Caravan Man", "John Barleycorn", and a lively and weird version of "Shortening Bread" that makes the Cramps stab at it seem pretty trivial. Howland also reprises two songs from last year's "Out in the Treetops" double 7", and revisits "Daughter" from the Deaf Mix LP. In short, this is a fine welcome back record from a duo I sorely missed, and makes even more of a case for Howland as a national treasure. - Rich Kroneiss
- Terminal Boredom

I hadn't heard any news about this wild blues two-piece for a while. Boy, was I ever happy to get two new releases in one day. This one is the latest batch of recordings from singer/guitarist Don Howland and drummer Bim Thomas and it's as good as anything the band has ever put out. The band hooked up with Lou Poster of the band Grafton, who decided to start a record label and make Don and Bim his first project. All concerned turned in some excellent work. The crazy caterwaul of old is still here, but in much more limited and controlled supply. The attention to songwriting, musicianship, production and overall quality is much more prevalent. Whether Don is singing about the frustration of parenthood ("Daughter"), the thrill of being naughty ("Blackbird") or the Bush administration ("Fascist Times"), he is singing from his soul. The band add new warmth to a variety of covers as well including John Entwistle's "Heaven and Hell" and Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down Engine." This is a gorgeous work of art and rarely sounds like the results of two blokes banging out the blues. - Garage and Beat

Gadzooks! This is awesome! “When My Blue Moon..” big-sounding, but with more of an uplifting feel than anything they’ve ever done. It’s moody of course, it’s the Bassholes.. But it’s also more rock’n’roll than ever before. And what great songwriting! Fuck, this rec is packed with great stuff. Vintage Bassholes sounding but also something new for the new millenia (yeah, it’s been that long..) An even mix of covers and originals, including a really freaked out and fucked up cover of “Shortnin’ Bread”. Get this! - Savage Magazine

Opening up with a fiery version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine,” a signature tune of Don Howland’s other highly influential group the Gibson Bros., Bassholes picks up right where Howland and his partner-in-time Lamont ‘Bim’ Thomas (also known for his work with Cleveland thrashers This Moment in Black History) left off with 2003’s excellent Dead Canary debut short-player Out in the Treetops. However, instead of going the Out in the Treetops’s route of loud and raw production, Bassholes is airy, comfortable and at times haunting.

Recorded at Columbus, Ohio’s Workbook Studios with Jon Chinn, Thomas’ drum sound is fantastic, and mixed in a manner which allows for his jazzy drumming to always be present and clear. More so than on any other Bassholes album, Howland utilizes the studio to his advantage; the subtle electric on “Blackbird,” acoustic on “Broke Down Engine,” and even enlisting members of hard-rocking label mates Grafton, as well as local bluegrass outfit One Riot One Ranger (whose Mark Wyatt was in Great Plains with Howland), break up the occasional tediousness of the two-man-garage-blues-band formula the Bassholes wrote the how-to guide for over a decade ago. As a result, Bassholes is the most varied, experimental and accessible album of the band’s long career; a pretty impressive feat, I must say. When the Bassholes just want to sound like the Bassholes, they rip through a cover of “Shortening” (“my little baby loves shortening bread”), and songs such as the gorgeous One Riot One Ranger-aided take on “Daughter,” which first appeared in a rushed form on Long Way Blues 1996-1998, but now sounds loving and sincere (a little more fitting for a song which explores the joys of being a new father), and the slow and seductive “Hell’s Angel,” show that Howland is at a personal songwriting peak.

Every Bassholes record has threatened to breakthrough to a bigger audience, and Bassholes is no different. What we have is a Time Out of Mind, Ghost of Tom Joad, or Mule Variations; a classic for the fans and critics who have forgotten how their favorite powerhouses gained their power in the first place. Bassholes is a masterpiece -- you simply can’t afford to sleep on this one (especially those of you in Europe who will be lucky enough to catch them live over the first three months of 2005), this album is just too impressive.
- The Vertical Slum


98 Degrees In The Shade (In The Red, ITR 008, 1992)
John Henry 7" (Sympathy For The Record Industry, SFTRI 175, 1992)
Wooden Tit
(She Said I Had A) Problem 7" (Bag Of Hammers, 1995, BOH 033)
Hey O.J. (In The Red, ITR 031, 1995)
Lion's Share (In The Red, ITR 041, 1995)
Interzone 7" (Seldom Scene Records, SEEN04, 1997)
Bassholes Featuring April March 7" (Sympathy For The Record Industry, SFTRI 514, 1997)

Blue Roots LP (In The Red, ITR 014, 1993)
Blue Roots CD (reissue, Revenant, 1997)
Haunted Hill LP/CD (In The Red, ITR 025, 1995)
Deaf Mix Vol. 3 LP/CD (In The Red, ITR 049, 1997)
Long Way Blues/1996-1998 LP/CD (Matador, OLE-305-1/2, 1998)
When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again 2xLP/CD (In The Red, ITR 059, 1998)
The Secret Strength Of Depression LP/CD (Sympathy For The Record Industry, SFTRI 587, 2000)
Out In The Treetops 2x7"/CD (Dead Canary, DCR001, 2003)
Bassholes LP/CD (Dead Canary, DCR005, 2005)
Broke Chamber Music (early singles and unreleased) CD (Secret Keeper, SHH3, 2005)


Feeling a bit camera shy


The Bassholes, released on the utterly independent Dead Canary label, is the first full-length by the band of the same name since 1998’s Long Way Blues on Matador and When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again on In the Red. While the two-piece band, comprised of singer/guitarist Don Howland and drummer Lamont “Bim” Thomas, has been active in the years since - touring the Midwest, West Coast and Europe in the interval - recording has been problematic since Howland’s move to North Carolina and Thomas’ to Cleveland around the time of Long Way Blues’ release. Howland recorded a solo album for Birdman called The Land Beyond the Mountains in 2001 that would’ve been a Bassholes album if Thomas had been around, but time and distance were a problem.

Up to this point, the Bassholes, reflecting Howland’s bi-polar nature, had a sort of rhythm going with their long-players: the first, third and fifth albums were recorded in deep, deep lo-fi, while the second and fourth were big studio productions. The former batch (Blue Roots, Deaf Mix 3, and Long Way Blues) were considered by listeners to be weird to the extent that “experimental” often turned up in reviews, while the latter batch, considerably more listenable and likable to an audience that preferred rock to wondering whether their speakers had blown, were more straight-ahead, owing largely to the rushed nature of $40-$100 an hour recording sessions. The good guys at Dead Canary, after releasing an e.p. of lo-fi weird stuff recorded in a broom closet in Asheville, offered the band a chance to do something new – record some of the weird stuff in a hi-fi setting. Howland and Thomas met up in their old hometown of Columbus, Ohio and fed off the mostly but not entirely positive vibes of familiarity, working in a comfortable and well-appointed studio (Workbook) with a master engineer in Jon Chinn. The result is The Bassholes, which is far and away Howland’s favorite record in the chain. (But then, it ought to be.)

The Bassholes began as a two-piece in 1992 in Columbus, Ohio. The 2-piece format was not so much an aesthetic decision as a practical one. (It was certainly not a trendy decision; there were no other two-piece bands going then until the Flat Duo Jets canned their bass player.) Gibson Brothers singer/guitarist Don Howland, a father and an inner-city middle school teacher, realized he had a lot of songs he still wanted to try but was too stress-fried to deal with organizing a 3- or 4-piece band. A country blues fanatic, Howland was fond of those impromptu Lightning Hopkins recordings from the ‘50s when Spider Kilpatrick or Connie Kroll happened by to play drums, and the Bassholes, but for a three month or so period when they tried adding a bass player, has remained a guitar-drums duo from the get-go. A series of 45s on various labels (compiled along with unreleased stuff from the period on an upcoming release on N.Y.C.’s Secret Keeper) and an LP on In the Red (Blue Roots, the label’s first full-length, later reissued on John Fahey’s Revenant label) were recorded in the converted stable house behind an operating funeral home with ex-Gibson Brothers’ drummer Rich Lillash manning the tubs. They moved inside the home, down the hall and past the draining room, to work on material for second and third LP’s, and the band (with Thomas subbing for Lillash at a Cleveland gig and sticking on ever since) has cantered along and accepting, finally, its cult status.

Hooking up with Grafton’s Lou Poster, who drove the band on a Midwest jaunt in his fur-lined ex-CIA conversion van, the Bassholes recognized a kindred spirit. The two bands did some gigs together, Grafton’s meat-and-spuds-and-suds Midwest power rock and the Bassholes’ how-do-two-guys-make-all-that-noise? din complementing one another nicely. When Poster said he was starting Dead Canary (the name harkens to Poster’s roots in the coal country of West Virginia), the Bassholes, who only work with friends, said they’d be happy to do an e.p. for the fledging label. The idea for doing an full length album on Dead Canary naturally followed.

Howland, who continues to teach middle school history and English because it is meaningful work, has a tough time describing the band’s sound to people who ask, but it is a sound reflects the sensibilities of a man who is first and foremost a music lover, and has been since his dad would bring home Top 40 hits - Animals and Sam the Sham and Gentrys and Castaways - on 45 every payday back in the mid-‘60s. A list of the covers the band has undertaken over the years might say as much about where the Bassholes are coming from as any critic blurb; it includes both widely influential and remotely obscure tracks alike but they all share a certain surreal if wanton bleakness and they are all songs Howland loves passionately: “Broke Down Engine” by Blind Willie McTell (a live staple presented here in high fidelity), the Avantes’ “Baby Go,” Joy Division’s “Interzone,” the Fugs’ “Comi