Pharoah

RE-REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (Bonus tracks)

Original review:  2016-09-27

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (Reissue with bonus demos)

By the time the Four Horsemen managed to get a second album on the shelves, it was already far too late.

It didn’t matter how good the album was; the climate was completely different in 1996.  Not only had grunge come, but it had already gone!  Sadly, so had original T4H drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.   He was not the only casualty.  Struck by a drunk driver in late 1995, their charismatic frontman Frank C. Starr fell into a coma he would never come out of.  (Starr finally passed away in 1999.)  The Horsemen had a second album in the can with Starr, but were all but out of action.

Even though the debut was produced by the biggest name in 90s rock, Rick Rubin, the mercurial Starr had always been the key.  When the band first arrived, his shriekin’ AC/DC mannerisms earned the band some series MTV play.  The frontman had a whole lot to do with that.  Then he blew it.  Starr wound up in jail for a year while Kurt Cobain took over, something addressed in the lyrics on several tracks.  Horsemen guitarist Haggis attempted to move on with new singer Tim Beattie and, through trials and tribulations, recorded a southern rock album called Daylight Again that was not released.  Then guitarist Dave Lizmi tried to give the can one more kick, and reunited with Starr for what could have been an incredible second ride.  They had the tunes to back it up, and Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By is the proof.  With Canadians Randy Cooke on drums and Pharoah Barrett on bass, they finally had a second Horsemen album on the shelves.  But with Starr in a coma, they were stuck in the mud once again.  They toured with Little Caesar vocalist Ron Young doing an admirable job of it, but it was the end.

For shame.  A forgotten album that could have been mega was largely ignored.

You can’t really tell that Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was made through such hardship.  The songs are largely upbeat and party-hardy.  The exceptions are the contemplative “Song for Absent Friends”, dedicated to the passed Dimwit Montgomery, and the angry “Back in Business Again”.  This ode to Seattle was certainly not a love letter to Kurt or Eddie.  Singing about his year in jail, Starr says he “heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers, complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.”  Ouch.

Otherwise, this a rip roarin’, liquor snortin’ good time.  “Lots of whiskey and beer!”  Starr’s singing style had changed too.  No longer was he trying to be Brian Johnson (one has to assume doing that is hard on the voice).  Singing in a more natural throat, Starr could still pull it off, just shoutin’ instead of screamin’.

Here’s something else:  13 tracks, and no filler.  Not one skipper, and more variety than the first LP.  Most of the tracks are fast or mid-tempo rock n’ rollers, adorned with some absolutely stunning lead guitar work from Dave Lizmi.  The man has not seen a slide or a wah-wah pedal he couldn’t master, and the album is drenched in that kind of feel.  It also sounds more loose.  Frankie seems to crack up laughing mid-sentence on “Drunk Again”.   “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face (laughs)…ah shit…”

Some of the tunes that deviate from the norm are the highlights.  “Song For Absent Friends” hits hard, right in the feels.  “And I know that you all are out there somewhere, on a leave of absence from this place.”  Then there’s the aforementioned “Back in Business Again”, probably the heaviest tune the Horsemen have put to tape.  The anger is palpable, but it’s not without a smile and a wink.  It’s more a declaration of the kind of music the Four Horsemen represent in the era of “wussy rock n’ rollers” from some “nowhere town”.  As Frank sings, they’re a “trail blazin’, skin lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, motherfuckin’ rock and roll band”.  The exact opposite of the kind of groups Frank seemed to despise.

There are a couple singalongs (“My Song” and “Hit the Road”) and the traditional Horsemen album closing epic.  Seven minutes long, Frankie asks “What the Hell Went Wrong”, and I’m sure there are many different answers to that question.  A slow blues rocker with some sweet organ, it’s kind of like two songs in one.  They pulled a similar trick on the debut album with a track called “I Need a Thrill / Something Good”.  Regardless, when Lizmi starts soloing it goes into epic territory.

Like other Horsemen releases, Gettin’ Pretty Good was reissued on CD by the band with bonus tracks.  These are 1995 demos for “Livin’ These Blues”, “Keep Your Life” and “Hit the Road”.  All three tracks differ in some ways from the album versions, either in lyrics or solos. These feature Canadian Ken Montgomery’s brother, Chuck Biscuits, on drums.*  Surprisingly, the soulful backing vocals on “Livin’ These Blues” was there from the demo stage.  The demo of “Hit the Road” is even looser than the already pretty lubricated album version!  More twangy, too, with a wicked dobro solo.  The demo of “Hit the Road” is probably the superior take for its genuine party atmosphere.

These albums are finally available from the Horsemen shop on CD once more.  You know what to do.

5/5 stars

* Drum credits confirmed by Pharoah Barrett.

COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Nobody Said It Was Easy (2018 double vinyl LP)
  5. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  6. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (1996)
  7. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  8. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)
  9. Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena (DVD)

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996)

scan_20160908THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (1996 Magnetic Air)

The Four Horsemen seemed to burn the candle at both ends.  Before really even getting off the ground, they imploded, but not before dropping one of the greatest unsung records of the decade:  Nobody Said it Was Easy.  They had Rick Rubin, they had Def American, they had a guy that was in the Cult and another from D.O.A., and they had tours with the Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  They also had a volatile frontman who drove the band nuts and ended up in jail, and they just couldn’t make it last.

Founding member Haggis tried to give it another shot.  He reformed the band with a new singer named Tim Beattie, but ultimately the album was shelved.  It sounded like a completely different band, a southern soul band with nothing hard or heavy.  That’s not a bad thing:  the album Daylight Again was finally released in 2009, and it’s incredible (and we’ll get there soon).  Instead they folded again, but not for long.  Dave Lizmi and Frank C. Starr formed a new Four Horsemen, with Canadians Pharoah (bass) and drummer extraordinaire Randy Cooke.  With another Canadian, producer Rich Chycki, they forged a rare followup:  one as good as the original.

Slimmed down to a single guitar band, the new Horsemen sounded leaner and less AC/DC.  Frankie’s voice had changed and he was no longer screaming, and that also lessened similarities to AC/DC.  He had also become more expressive, while losing none of his power or character.  They opened the album with a southern flavoured “Still Alive and Well”, a Rick Derringer cover.  Considering the five year gap between albums, they couldn’t have picked a better opener.

The title track “Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By” goes deeper into the swamps of the south.  Lizmi takes out the slide, and who doesn’t love some greasy slide guitars?  This is an uplifting hard rocker, stating the Horsemen’s modus operandi:  “Well well, oh my my, what have we here?  Some good old fashioned music, lots of whiskey and beer.”  Lizmi wrote the lyrics for this album, but the words sound like Frankie’s.  It’s a celebration of rock and roll, proudly and loudly.

The third song in a killer triple threat of openers is “Drunk Again”, which sounds exactly like you hope it does: fast, upbeat, cocked and loaded.  Gotta love the female backing vocals, giving it a kick of soul.  The performance sounds live and authentic.  At one point, it sounds like Frankie cracks up chuckling right in the middle of a line.  “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face…ah shit…”  This is the kind of music everybody needs for a serious rock and roll party.

scan_20160908-3

There are few more standout songs that have to be discussed.  First is “Song for Absent Friends”, one of the most emotionally bare tracks you’ll ever find from a band of this ilk.  Original drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery, a Canadian punk legend, died in 1995 of a drug overdose.  “Song for Absent Friends” sends legitimate tingles up the spine.  You can feel the hurt.  But it’s not a funeral, it’s as much a celebration of Dimwit as the rest of the album is a celebration of life.

“And I know that you all are out there somewhere,
On a leave of absence from this place,
And I still have a place for you all,
A place around near me,
And your glasses will always be full.”

Then we have the blazingly fast drag race of “Hot Rod”, featuring the lyric “I got the hottest rod around,” ha ha. It’s that slippery fast guitar lick that knocks you out. But if you want a song that’ll knock some teeth out, with some biting lyrics, look no further than “Back in Business Again”. Frank sounds pissed!

“And we were headed for the top babe,
Way back in ’91,
Some record business scumbags took it from us,
Well they forgot my gun.
Well now we’re back in business folks,
I’ve come to claim what’s mine,
See we’re the Four fucking Horsemen,
Back for a second time!”

That’s nothing. Clearly, they were still ticked that they got dropped by the label in 1992. I don’t think Frank or Dave thought much of the latest wave of bands that were topping the charts in the early part of the 1990’s. Exhibit A:

“Now pay attention,
I got a little story here to tell ya,
It kinda goes like this.
You know I had a couple years off there babe,
To kinda take some time,
And I heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers,
Complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.
I say we gather up all these little bastards,
Shove them back to their little nowhere town,
See I was born on this stage,
And I plan to stick around!”

Frank didn’t get that chance, either.

Before Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was even released (by the Canadian label Magnetic Air), Frank was hit by a drunk driver while riding a motorcyle. He suffered massive brain trauma. He never woke from coma, and died four years later.

It’s almost absurd how much hardship fell upon this band, almost as if the fates decided that nothing would stand in the way of grunge. The Horsemen tended to end their albums with emotional epics, and this album ends with “What the Hell Went Wrong”. It’s a complicated question with many answers, but the bottom line is that the success the Four Horsemen had was inversely proportional to their talent.

In one of the strangest twists of an already twisty story, the masses finally heard the Four Horsemen when “Back in Business Again” was used in the movie G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  Completely out of context, but who cares.  The movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made $375.7 million.  That’s a lot of people who got to hear a kick ass Four Horsemen track with theater quality sound!

Rest in peace, Frankie.  Rest in peace, Dimwit.

5/5 stars