Versa Vice is a triumph of Freakish Weird! It's the aptly twistily titled debut solo album from Joe Gideon (Gideon Joel Seifert), who until 2013 was one half of the self-styled avant-blues brother-sister duo Joe Gideon & The Shark. Shortly after the demise of that outfit, Joe suffered a wrist injury that meant no guitar playing for several months; finally he called on Bad Seeds drummer Jim Sclavunos (with whom he'd made friends when on the same tour in 2008), to help him realise some new songs he'd been working on. Recordings made of this collaboration by Rich Matthews, finished off at Joe's home, formed the basis of Versa Vice, to which additional embellishments from Ed Harcourt (piano, organ), Gita Langley (violin) and Duke Garwood (horns) were subsequently added on selected tracks.
The album comprises eight Gideon originals plus one brilliantly chosen cover. The former are lyrically nothing short of extraordinary, and musically possessed with the spirit of febrile grinding post-punk weird, let's say The Only Ones (Gideon uncannily reminiscent of Peter Perrett on occasion, tracks like Fearsome) crossed with Doug Hoekstra (haven't heard from him in a long while) and some kinda Lou Reed maybe too. Opening song Eve's Rib takes its angular three-note guitar riff (shootin' out the lights) into a jungle of frantic drumming and off-kilter chanting; Naked Eye runs a heavy Blue Cheer course over a deep Beefheartian growling bass motif; The Lady With The Metallic Voice locks you in with its curiously motoric charm; and Heart Attack Girl's pithy fragmented grunge riffing rather reflects its skewed imagery (long-tailed tits, indeed…!). The fractured, episodic Salvation, a standout cut, is at once tender and macabre, its ominous silences punctuated with crashing guitar chords. The aforementioned cover is a decidedly oddball one, Porter Wagoner's schlock-psycho-country number The Rubber Room, where Gideon seems to take on something of a slinky Jim Morrison persona. That song's awesome, eerily sinister aura makes it an ideal followon from the B-movie vibe of Eugene Went Crazy (a near-bio of photographer W. Eugene Smith).
Versa Vice is one of my discoveries of the year so far. It's a record of noteworthy maverick creativity and serious character, one that really stands out for its quirkily distinctive invention.
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