Heavy Orchids & Tattoo Dances is a collection of 20 songs: 4 spoken word pieces and 16 tunes rendered with small-band accompanyment. Rhythm guitar, bass, and drums stake out the field where saxophones, guitars, harmony vocals, accordian, and a tuba float, fly, burn, rattle, clang, whisper, wheeze, pump, and rock around the vocal pictures and stories of lovers, carnies, hobos, cowboys, ordinary people, beautiful smart women gangsters, transvestites, back-stabbing napoleans, and green houses on fire.
I'm a word-man most of all. I've studied poetry, but I'm not a poet. I'm a songwriter. I work the words and music to make the song work; I'm not afraid to crack them until they fit. The songs are folk songs in the sense that they answer only to their own reality. They're roots rock in the sense that the guitars go "twang".
I co-produced, co-promoted, and co-hosted The Billy & Brucie Show in Athens, Ohio from 1986 to 1999. It was a showcase for musicians that featured local fresh acts paired with veteran local, regional, or sometimes national performers. After that closed, I helped a few people put together their own recordings: small, local, cool, original stuff. I guess I needed to do that to see I could get it done for my own stuff.
The musicians backing up on the album are all veterans who've gigged, and toured, and starved, and succeded. Journymen & masters all. I'm humbled and proud to have their music shape and burnish and vivify these tunes.
Here's a pre-release review of the disc. I can't come any closer than this to describe what it is (well maybe some of that stuff at the end gets a little wacked...)
Inscrutable singer/songwriter delivers
tasty, tune-packed CD
BY JIM PHILLIPS
Athens NEWS Senior Writer
First time I heard Billy Rhinehart perform his songs, back in the late '80s, I flat-out despised him.
I am not exaggerating. I wanted to run out of the bar
screeching, hands clapped over my ears, eyes bugging out like the guy in the Edvard Munch painting.
What was Rhinehart's deal? He'd be up there onstage, looking at the ceiling as he throttled a self-built electric guitar, from which he pulled a meandering stream of off-kilter arpeggios and strange chords of his own design, while crooning away in a deadpan, sing-song voice about alligators, satanic bowling matches, regrettable haircuts, and lord knows what else. Was he serious? Was he going for the old Brechtian alienation effect? Was it all some kind of elaborate, cruel joke?
Second time I heard him I despised him again.
By the third or fourth exposure, I began to get interested, in a crane-your-neck-to-look-at-a-car-crash sort of way. A few more shows, and I found myself snapping my fingers, tapping my foot, and... well, I can't claim I ever actually sang along.
But before I knew it I was hooked -- eagerly scanning the sign-up sheets at open mike nights for Rhinehart's name, squealing like a bobby-soxer when he took the stage, even requesting songs. The clever artistic fiend had got me in his thrall. Now if I go too long without hearing a Rhinehart
composition, I start itching like a man on a fuzzy tree.
All this is by way of announcing the imminent release of Billy's first-ever CD, the 20-song "Heavy Orchids and Tattoo Dances." (Industry poop has it that Rhinehart held out for a more abstract and confusing title, but higher-ups, fearing loss of sales among the literal-minded, put their feet down.)
Lending their impeccable chops to the record are some of Athens' musical giants, including John Borchard (lap steel and dobro), Bruce Dalzell (bass, accordion and mandolin, and co-producer with Rhinehart), Rebecca Grubb (tuba), Mark Hellenberg (drums), Phillip Johnston (sax), and Jim Smailes(electric guitar). Pitching in on backup vocals were the Local Girls(Brenda Catania, Gay Dalzell and Mimi Hart).
The backing musicians are used with taste to present the tunes in various settings that range from smoky jazz ("Shorty's Tallest Double") to countrified rock ("Hobo in the Rain") to hypnotic Leonard Cohen-style squeezebox melancholy ("Stalin's Dream Date"). Best of all, the band manages to add colors without blotting out the deeply satisfying weirdness that makes Rhinehart next to impossible to categorize. Imagine Emo Phillips singing Norwegian art songs in translation. Try to think of what They Might Be Giants would sound like if they worked with Fred Frith. Or maybe just forget the whole exercise and go buy the CD.
To find a meaningful point of comparison to Rhinehart's ouevre,in fact, you'd probably have to look outside popular music, to the French surrealist poets, or Ring Lardner's closet dramas like "The Tridget of Greva."
Every Rhinehart song has a perfectly consistent, self-referential logic, like a dream, or the instructions for installing a Japanese car stereo.
And while many songwriters are labeled "poets," Rhinehart actually achieves, in a number of his lines, the perfection and inevitability of poetry -- what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed: "I believe she's fat on purpose." "Who got a car that long and why?" "Another greenhouse burns to the waterline." Testify, baby. And he sings every bit as good as Lou Reed, of whom you may have heard.
So accept no imitators, even if you could find one. In all the big round world, there is but one Billy Rhinehart. And Athens has got him. Yay!
Check out the artist's website:
1. Tater's Place
3. Bowling with Beelzebub
4. Tattoo Dance
5. Shorty's Tallest Double
6. Fat on Purpose
7. The Accident
8. The Green Umbrella
9. Tears on the Saddle
10. Out of the Philco
11. Lickin the Beaters
12. My Magic Dad
13. The Green Label
14. Hobo in from the Rain
15. A Car that Long
16. Paranoia's Down Payment
17. Stalin's Dream Date
18. Heavy Orchids
19. Mona Lisa
20. No Man's Ear