(1986 - Present)

home | table of contents |feature | record reviews | live shows | news | events |archive | record label | links | contact


In the Red 1999

The ultimate Lower East Side resume band, Knoxville Girls featured guitarist/vocalist Jerry Teel of the Honeymoon Killers and Boss Hog, drummer Bob Bert of Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore, organist Barry London of Stab City, guitarist Jack Martin and of course, Kid Congo Powers. Previously, Jerry and Jack were in both Little Porkchop and Honeymoon Killers together, Jerry and Bob were both in the Chrome Cranks together, and Kid and Jack both were in Congo Norvell, and the Bottleneck Drag. And the results were one of the better things to happen to rock and roll duting the bleak years bording the Twenty-first Century.

Knoxville Girls were combining all of these seemingly disparate elements - country, blues, rockabilly, early rhythm and blues, soul, and sixties garage rock with punk, no wave, and the good old fashioned New York noise that some of them helped define. The best part of this unusual combination is the way it flowed so effortlessly. They were a unique bunch of stylists getting together and just doing their thing – and – from tender country ballads to pure garage/noise assaults – it was unmistakably genuine.

This album is their first and best. They do a great job with the great American songbook – playing less-obvious standards and a making them their own with both respect and revisionism. Additionally, their compositions hold up pretty well next to the Charlie Feathers, Ray Charles, and Johnny Cash songs here – “Soda Pop Girl,” “Two Time Girl,” “Kung Pow Chicken Scratch,” “NYC Briefcase Blues,” and “One Sided Love” are all about as good as it gets. From the more straightforward opening instrumental, "Sixty-Five Days Ago," to the closing cacophony of "Low Cut Apron"/"Sugarfix," there isn’t one futile moment. I miss ‘em.


In a Woodshed
In the Red 2000

This one ain’t so easy to find as it was a sort of tour-only record, but there’re copies out there – and they're very much worthy of checking out. While Knoxville Girls’ debut record was recorded in pieces by Jerry Teel at his Funhouse Studio – now a faded landmark of a bygone era – and certainly sounds terrific, In the Woodshed is sonically inferior but a much more accurate reflection of what the band was really about after they played together a bit. And this one, mostly focusing on the first record but previewing a few from the next, completely succeeds in presenting a well-rounded portrait of Knoxville Girls in their element.

The three guitars all had unique roles – Jerry strummed rhythm, Jack picked out more traditional leads, and Kid played around with feedback and sound effects. Since Barry was playing bass-lines on the organ, bass was not missed – actually nobody had a bass downtown in the 1990s. Did they? And Bob Bert did some of the most brutal and soulful drumming of his career. It all wove together very intricately and very dynamically – some of the time. But there were others when you couldn’t really tell what was what – everything just became one - a massive noise – a really filthy, reverby, tremolo-ed out beast that compares to nothing I’ve heard before or since. Those were my favorite moments – and they weren’t so infrequent. While In the Woodshed is finds them in control most of the time, you can find hints of the wild abandon.


In a Paper Suit (2001)

In a Paper Suit, the official studio follow-up to Knoxville Girls self-titled debut, proved to be their final recording. While In a Paper Suit is a good record, and definitely more ambitious than the first, some of it just feels a bit awkward. That is not to say that this isn't a good record or doesn’t have its moments - and for any other band without so many high expectations this would be their finest hour.

There are less cover songs here than on the last one – this time there’s some Shangri Las, Hank Williams, and Hasil Adkins – three entities that I doubt were ever in the same room together – but that’s one party I’d like to attend. Jerry’s vocals, as on the last one, are beautacious. The three guitars turn some cool tricks, Bob Bert is again slamming, and Barry London is completely soulful. And Kid steps to the mic for the first time in the band, singing two staples of their live set, “Sophisticated Boom Boom” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous” - both of which you can also find on In the Woodshed. Come to think of it, this is pretty damned good. If these boys had just waited out the sophomore slump… Nahhhh…

The breakup freed up five fine underground musicians for the rest of the world. Jack Martin has, in a way, kept them all together in their aftermath. He did time with Barry in The Bright and Desperate Sparks, and is still with Kid in the Pink Monkey Birds (who Barry also played with), and, as of late, jams with Bob in a new band yet to make its public debut that, last time I checked, was called “Size Queen.” As for Jerry, he moved to New Orleans. He’s safe, from both natural catastrophe and his fellow Knoxville Girls. But I hear tell that the one-of-a-kind Funouse gear that he spent a lifetime accumulating had an unceremonious aquatic funeral.


Hear Kid tell you more about Knoxville Girls
Listen to a free MP3 of Knoxville Girls' "Drop Dead Gorgeous"

Buy it at Insound!




© New York Night Train , 2006