Big John Bates: Take Your Medicine

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In case you missed it, I have a day job as a Managing Editor where I cover the burlesque, drag and fetish communities. Over there, we don’t get much luv from the music industry; in fact, we get more than a little hate. Publicists for bands with names like “Spastic Pustule Eruption” and “Lords of The Sogoth-Yar” sniff uncomfortably and admit that they find Eros Zine a little too déclassé. Vancouver’s Big John Bates is different, though, and it’s a good damn thing. Y’see, word on the street is that this Bates cat’s a psychobilly sleazehound with one foot in Memphis and the other on 42nd Street, a Hot-Cha-Cha Bubba badass pumped on moonshine liquor and knockoff Viagra, with his live gigs heated up to white-hot frenzy by Voodoo Dollz, Western Canada’s bona-fide proof that there ain’t no exposure like Northern exposure, a burlesque troupe so tart-a-licious that when they bump & grind up in Hollywood North, Hollywood South says “did you feel that?”

With Take Your Medicine, BJB provides a fast-moving disk of classic psychobilly which, for those of you who have sex listening to Enya, means he blends the ’50s hillbilly-rock sound with vintage punk rock sensibilities, horror-movie imagery and Tom Waits-influenced noirish lyrical scenarios. Short version: it’s bad-ass. In lyrics, BJB doesn’t shy away from the sleaze that makes rock ‘n’ roll great. There’s a nasty little number called “Burlesque is Dead” and a catchy urban voodoo prayer called “44 Love Bites”, and a spanked-up cover of “Goo Goo Muck,” the ultimate anthem of the prowling horndog and, not incidentally, this reviewer’s favorite Cramps song of all time. The two instrumentals “Allison Hell” and “Salome’s Last Dance” are equally potent, the former a one-and-a-half minute guitar frenzy and the latter a surf-rock-flavored homage to the ancient world’s favorite head-choppin’ femme fatale.

Even before you rack up the promise of a live show with the Voodoo Dollz (and believe me, buddy, a visit to their website’ll have you groping desperately after your lost virtue), this is high-octane stuff. From start to finish the album is a celebration of the wrong side of the tracks, an atmospheric conjuring of the spooky booga-booga land your Mom sleeps easy knowing you’ll never visit. God love ’em, Big John Bates and his bandmates coax you there with the twang of a semi-hollow body, the pump of a stand-up bass and the siren song that goes “BELIEVE-BELONG-BEHAVE / YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SAVED.” Hellz no I don’t, and this is the perfect soundtrack to keep those pesky good spirits at bay.

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