Charlie Burton & the Cutouts

  • Charlie Burton & the Cutouts
  • Is That Charlie Burton ... or What?!?! (Wild) 1982 
  • Charlie Burton
  • Don't Fight the Band that Needs You!!!! (Wild) 1983 
  • Charlie Burton and the Hiccups
  • I Heard That (Wild) 1985 
  • Green Cheese (Wild) 1990 

This crazed rock’n’roller from Lincoln, Nebraska does it the old-fashioned way: he and three bandmates (bassists come and go but guitarist/pianist Phil Shoemaker and drummer Dave Robel are on all of these self-released albums) play wonderfully unpretentious hopped-up/stripped-down rockabilly/R&B originals, with offbeat, often funny, lyrics. Burton’s a colorful vocalizer from the unstoppable howler school; the music barrels along with loose-limbed energy yet never runs off the road. Nothing fancy or remotely contemporary — just gutsy and great! (And don’t forget those exclamation points!!!)

The first album has touching odes to cigarettes (“The Pack Song”) and Elvis (“Breathe for Me, Presley!”), as well as a disconcerting song about dog bites (“Rabies Shots”). The sound is thick and muddy — just the way it oughta be. Don’t Fight the Band That Needs You!!!! is marginally fancier (maybe it’s just the addition of piano and a guest violin on one song that makes it sound more accomplished) but just as great. Charlie’s in a distinctly Presleyesque mood here, crooning the romantic “It’s Not Polite” and hiccuping through the cynical “I, 4 1, Don’t Care.” Strangest creation: “Succubus.” Most winsome thought: “(Can’t Find My) Niche.”

Talk about slick: I Heard That‘s lyric sheet is typed! Produced to a nice clear turn by Missouri’s estimable Lou Whitney, the album — solid but restrained fun with above-average lyrics — takes Charlie and ‘Cups up the country and into unstylized traditional pop. “All Time Low” takes a page from the Johnny Cash songbook; the catchy “Is That Wishful Thinking (On My Part)” has a blistering lap-steel solo, while “Road Kill” (“god’s will/my thrill”) is tight trucker-country rock.

We’ll overlook the high-falutin’ weirdness of Charlie Burton on compact disc to note that Green Cheese (produced by Shoemaker) sets to pumping out rock and country with redoubled vim and a new taste for puns. Alongside such sure-to-be-classics as “Brand New Mom” and “Girl with the Artificial Heart,” Charlie cracks cheap jokes like “Party Trained” and “(You’re Not Playing Fair) Elise!!,” complete with the relevant Beethoven citation. Highbrow, lowbrow or nobrow, Charlie Burton comes from a cultural state all his own.

[Ira Robbins]