Welcome to the Guide to the Week of Music, a round-up of music news, media and releases from the wide musical world. This week we explore Bill Laurance’s new concept album Cables, explore the fascinating story behind a soon to be re-released underground album and tip our cap to some fine new music and visuals, released this week.
Merry Airbrakes: an Americana gem informed by the horrors of conflict
The story behind Merry Airbrakes, the eponymous 1973 album by a group under the leadership of American roots artist Watermelon Slim (aka. Bill Homans), is one of the most interesting in underground music history. To appreciate it fully, one first needs to know Bill Homans’ story.
Born in 1949 and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, he first became aware of blues music in 1954 and recalls having had various small instruments during his youth, including a blues harmonica. In the late sixties, he was enrolled to fight in the Vietnam war, but upon arriving in Vietnam he fell ill. It was there, during his recovery, that he encountered the guitar for the first time. He negotiated the purchase of a cheap balsa wood acoustic from a French-speaking commissary worker, repurposed a cigarette lighter as a bottleneck slide and began teaching himself to play. Fast forward to 1972 and the Vietnam veteran has become an active anti-war protestor, fraternising with musicians also in opposition of the war and increasingly becoming involved in American roots music. It is from that position that Merry Airbrakes, a privately-pressed album soon to be reissued by Scissor Tail records, came to be.
It is described by Bill, the chief songwriter and vocalist, as “an anti-capitalistic, anti-imperialistic album,” and features songs about conscription and the horrors of war, written from both North American and Vietnamese perspectives. A fascinating mix of psychedelic folk, blues and Americana music, it begins with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s Vigilante Man and contains nine original songs thereafter. If you’re a fan of Captain Beefheart, Country Joe McDonald and Homans’ idol: the late Mississippi Fred McDowell, you’re certain to appreciate its contents and the unique story that is a Vietnam war veteran, blues aficionado and general outsider channeling his first hand accounts into fascinating American roots compositions. The re-release arrives on 11th April and you can find out more about it and Homans’ remarkable life here.