Various Artists ‘Anxious Color’
Mississippi Records, 2014
The last track on this Mississippi-curated compilation of rare and oddball 45s from the mid-1960s might be the most fitting to sum up the collection. It’s a ghostly, rockabilly number called “How I Feel” by a group called Little Willie & The Wonders.
“How I Feel” is almost perfect in every way, including the scratchy surface noise that casts a sort of spectral aura over it. The spare but efficient one-page liner notes explain that the song was taken direct from acetate, never released and “total mystery.”
Most of the acts on “Anxious Color,” a stew of eclectic one-offs, are shrouded in some sort of mystery. Little is known about any of them, and what little is known, actually makes everything that much more mysterious.
“Leaving My Old Life Behind” is one of two songs recorded by a guy named Jonathan Halper in 1966. They were intended for a film that was made fifteen years earlier. Not much else here about Halper beyond that a legend that he gave up music and joined a monastery. That’s a shame, because from the sounds of this swingin’ lo-fi number, he probably had a few more singles in him.
Vicki Lynn’s “Don’t Break My Heart” was recorded in Omaha, but speculation remains as to her origin or whereabouts — maybe she’s from Iowa? But here she sounds hugely influential, with a vocal performance and presence so aggressive that — if you didn’t know better — could be convincingly declared the prime mover of all punk.
“Anxious Color" is also noteworthy in that many of the selections here are unabashedly grim. The Brooklyn doo-wop act Royale Coachmen’s “The Killer Of Men” lashes out in particularly biting attack against a heartbreaking gal with scathing lyrics: "You think that it’s a joke to ruin everyone // you are the killer of man // you love to see blood and laugh at death” and “Only “the devil can compete with you.”
The Perils’ “Hate” also gets down on witchy woman in terms about as straightforward as they get: “I don’t like you, girl, I hate you, girl // stay away from me right now.” Sidenote: These guys apparently cut this one in the same studio that Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly recorded some early work.
And some oddballs in here, too: Albuquerque’s Feebreez is charmingly incompetent. (Original copies of that 7” go for $350 online. WWH (We Want Help) is a ramshackle teenage Swedish act whose “Tell Me The Reason People Don’t Like Me” is really an earnest plea for an answer as to why s/he’s unpopular. And Jimm Olsen's "Last Drop Of Wine” is a totally sad-sack death rattle.
But this is some good stuff. I’d almost file it alongside Mississippi’s “Six Feet Under” gothic country western set. Each are types of music I'd picture playing at the roadside bar I’m hiding out in after my jailbreak.