Huffin’ Rag Blues

Nurse With Wound

Huffin’ Rag Blues

Year: 2008
Label: United Dirter & United Jnana (UNITED JNANA 444, DPROMCD63, DPROMCD63ETC & DPROMDLP63)
Format: CD (European version) / CD (North American Edition) / Double LP / Tin, CD, CD E.P., Handkerchief, Badge, Signed Photo / Tin ONLY

Willy the Weeper
Groove Grease (Hot Catz)
The Funktion of the Hairy Egg
Black Teeth
Thrill of Romance...?
Livin' with the Night
Juice Head Crazy Lady
Wash the Dust from my Heart
Cruisin' for a Bruisin'
All of Me

The Funktion Of The Hairy Egg (Code Scramble)

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There were 4 versions of this album released. CD, North American CD, Double L.P  and a special “canned” edition. Both the American and European standard CD editions were packaged in a tri-fold, full-color digipak. The double LP is pressed on dirty dark opaque blue vinyl, with an etching on the fourth side, and is housed in a gloss laminate gatefold sleeve with double sided full colour insert. The double LP is 3 sides of entirely different mixes to the CD.

Huffin’ Rag Blues Etc. Canned, this edition in a metal box contained:

“Huffin’ Rag Blues” CD in sealed digipack (some with the UK version & some with the USA version).
“The Funktion Of The Hairy Egg (Code Scramble)” CD E.P. in clear PVC wallet.
“Huffin’ Rag Blues” embroidered handkerchief (some are sold without the handkerchief).
“Huffin’ Rag Blues” badge and a photograph signed by Steven Stapleton and Andrew Liles.

Limited to 100 copies.

Recorded, mixed and mastered between 2005 & 2008 at The Bear Den, Brighton, UK.

Track 11 “All Of Me” fades to silence at approx. 1:51. The silence continues until approx. 6:48 when another track fades in for the remaining duration. The final section after the silence is an alternate version of “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön” which appears on the 12″ vinyl release “The Bacteria Magnet”, which was released in the same month as this album.


Review by Thom Jurek
Even writing about this album feels like giving too much away. Nurse with Wound’s Huffin’ Rag Blues is something you would never have expected from them — or would you? Steven Stapleton has been his own recording project since 1978, and as such, he and his collaborators have taken on virtually every Western genre — and then some. They’ve engaged in so many different kinds of music murder that they’ve resurrected its sleeping spirit in their own image. Stapleton teams with composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Liles as his co-creator in musical terrorism as they take on the exotica and lounge genres. Longtime friends of NWW Colin Potter and Matt Waldron are on board as well. Canadian singer/songwriter Lynn Jackson exchanges her folk-rock priestess crown for the little black sequined dress of a nighttime barroom chanteuse and channels everyone from Lynn Marino of the Frank Cunimondo Trio to Peggy Lee. Likewise, composer and performer Freida Abtan does her amazing, slightly campy European (though she too is Canadian, but then, Montreal is its own country) impression of the singers in Italian film soundtracks; she also contributes percussion and her better-known brand of electro-acoustics as well. Waldron does his very best (a literal double take at the credits) Nick Cave on “Black Teeth.” Diana Rogerson also sings on a pair of cuts.
Huffin’ Rag Blues is the sonic terrain where Les Baxter and Esquivel meet the dark edges of a future — which has already happened and no one noticed — that reflects, in the eternal echoes and colors of space, their own sonically imagistic futurism back at them. They are recognizable, but something has happened to them too. Stapleton and Liles are faithful to a degree in how they “hear” exotica and lounge, but there is that other, specifically NWW aesthetic at work here: how far can they bend it, break it, morph and pervert it, until it becomes something wholly other, something categorically NWW? This is the secret to every NWW recording that borrows from other sources of inspiration. This isn’t like any reading of this music you’ve ever heard before; it is deliciously dark, dripping with black humor as well as suspense, in both compositional and architectural sophistication. One can imagine Neal Hefti encountering this is an unlit room (not a pretty sight, though), or Martin Denny suddenly taking a turn through John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, and Luc Ferrari, then nervously and excitedly bringing his Polynesian sound experiments into the studio. Blues, jazz, crime films, bachelor pad, and TV serial music are treated and discarded, then chopped and recycled in a mix that contains a ton of space, but is also bursting with dynamic tension, hilarious asides, sexually suggestive poetry, and a certain rock & roll abandon. While one can recommend “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg,” “The Thrill of Romance…?,” “Groove Grease,” and “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin'” as excellent examples that relate to the description above, alas, they only tell a small part of this quixotica story. This is feeling music for thinking people, or drinking music for teetotallers. It can raise one’s hackles, or perhaps push one toward a laughter so uncontrollable that it may be dangerous to one’s health. Huffin’ Rag Blues is one of only two imaginary soundtracks in 2008 (the other is Barry Adamson’s Back to the Cat) that are as important as underground hip-hop, Current 93, or the new jazz-funk. It’s brilliant, maddening, hilarious, and sinister enough to warrant a place in any collection with a bit of quirk and squeal.

As a longtime fan of Nurse With Wound, I was both eager and afraid to hear the latest effort by Steven Stapleton and crew, Huffin’ Rag Blues. Up until it’s release it was touted as a very lounge-inspired release with vocals that harkened back to Peggy Lee. Not really knowing what to expect I put the disc in the player and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
The short opening track, “Willy the Weeper,” begins with a whimsical tune that fades into a terrifying growl, letting you know that this is still clearly a NWW release. Between the droning, free-form jazz of “Thrill of Romance..?”, the lounge organ of “Groove Grease (Hot Catz)”, and the piano of “Wash the Dust From My Heart” the setting of this album is created. A dingy, smoky subterranean club, pulled out of David Lynch film.
Where the album strays from the lounge concept is on the tracks “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg” and “Juice Head Crazy Lady”. The nearly 14 minute long “Hairy Egg” is mostly a traditional Nurse With Wound track for the majority of it’s length. Vocals kick in around the 9 minute mark and the underlying noises morph into the tribal drumming and animal sounds of a rainforest cacophony.
One of the more interesting choices on Huffin’ Rag Blues is definitely “Black Teeth”. The vocals by Matt Waldron make this track sound like a Tom Waits inspired Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds outtake… not something you would expect to be said about a Nurse With Wound song, especially one that apes Sheena Easton lyrics.
The highlight of the album is the track “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’”, which has an equally great remix found on The Bacteria Magnet mini LP. Utilizing car horns, car radios and other auto related samples, it seems easily to be the track on Huffin’ Rag Blues that the most fun was had making.
Huffin’ Rag Blues could be difficult for a lot of Nurse With Wound fans to get into as it is somewhat of a departure and is, on the surface, one of Stapleton’s more accessible outings. After 30 years in the making music business, it is clear to me that Steven Stapleton is still being as experimental and innovative as he was when he first began Nurse With Wound.
Reviewed by: Tom Gilbert

By Brandon Bussolini
Under the Nurse With Wound name, Stephen Stapleton has spent the better part of the past three decades being elusive. In a sense, he’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time. He lives in rural seclusion and avoids publicity, but he’s an inveterate collaborator (most notably with Current 93 and Stereolab) and regularly releases albums — it’s just that these albums create distinct, hermeneutic sound-worlds that have more to do with his esoteric cultural obsessions — which run the gamut from dada to David Lynch, from Austin Osman Spare to Snoop Dogg — than traditional notions of music.
This disregard for musicality means that a benchmark album like 1982’s Homotopy to Marie, which was Stapleton’s first solo effort as Nurse With Wound (the debut Nurse With Wound album, 1979’s Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table, was the work of a full band), doubles as either cinema or a really potent Halloween sound-effects tape. Huffin’ Rag Blues incorporates more familiar musical trappings — including instruments (played live, even), rhythm, and singing — than almost any other Nurse With Wound release to date. Even with this surface discontinuity, however, the album’s main preoccupation is, as ever, creating environments for lucid dreaming rather than creating music qua music.
The album opens with “Willy the Weeper,” short monologue that ranks as the most uncomplicatedly corny thing in the Nurse With Wound discography. It’s not worth lingering over here except to point out that it suggests a possible analogy with Twin Peaks: The same way that series’ first season established a pitch-perfect marriage of the familiar (soap opera dynamics) and the uncanny (the woods, for one), only to drift through a patience-testing second season before concluding with the fascinating disaster of Fire Walk with Me, Nurse With Wound has made a left turn here toward art that’s more facile and still hard to dismiss. A track like “Black Teeth,” for example, with its growlin’, free-associatin’ vocals courtesy of irr. app. (ext.)’s Matt Waldron, can feel like something genuinely new for the group (while reminiscent of certain Sun City Girls tracks) and a little like pandering to an audience I’m not sure exists.
Which might be the point, and one of the only places Stapleton can go to continue confounding expectations. There’s nothing here that suggests diminished possibilities — Stapleton’s not against the wall, and the album’s as spacious as any other Nurse With Wound release. Although Stapleton’s studio manipulations are more understated here, they give the more loungey numbers (like the mid-album highlights “Thrill of Romance…?” and “Livin’ with the Night”) a sense of subtle but pervasive off-centeredness as percussion pans between speakers.
Even though Huffin’ Rag Blues is less of an immersive experience than previous Nurse With Wound albums, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a definitive statement. It’s simply the latest in a long, discontinuous history.

Written by Jonathan Dean
Sunday, 29 June 2008

The first proper Nurse With Wound full-length to come along in quite a while is an album-length exploration of the exotica, kitschy swing and cutout-bin jazz genres that have long been an audio fetish for Steven Stapleton. On paper, the idea sounds great. In practice, Huffin’ Rag Blues is sometimes interesting, sometimes laborious, and for a longtime Nurse With Wound fan such as me, largely a disappointment.
The closest parallel to the music on Huffin’ Rag among Stapleton’s past work is 1985’s The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion, in which Stapleton along with a large ensemble of NWW satellites—David Tibet, Edward Ka-Spel, Jim Thirlwell, William Bennett, Diana Rogerson, among others—took great joy in deconstructing, reconstructing, destroying, mocking, celebrating and generally pulverizing a dizzying collage of easy listening favorites, all pervaded with an infectiously irreverant, anarchic attitude. Something similar is going on with Huffin’ Rag, a large ensemble of collaborators—including Andrew Liles, Matt Waldron, R.K. Faulhaber, Colin Potter, Diana Rogerson (again), Peat Bog, and Aranos—and an agenda that includes off-kilter versions of lowbrow jazz, but something is missing. Actually, two somethings are missing: the experimental collagist feel and the sense of anarchic joy.
Part of the problem might be the proverbial “too many cooks spoil the broth” problem, but more than likely it has to do with the growing tendency for Nurse With Wound’s recent output to sound less like the work of one author, and more like art-by-committee. I don’t know enough about Steven Stapleton’s working methods and artistic process to second guess the way in which this album was recorded, but compare it to something like Sylvie and Babs, or even Who Can I Turn to Stereo?, and it’s hard not to notice a marked drop in quality. Where those earlier albums had a gloriously handcrafted feel, weird musique concrète rubbing shoulders with mangled samples and surrealistic moments of pure creep-out, Huffin’ Rag can’t shake its digital, clinical, overworked feel. A track such as “Groove Grease (Hot Catz)” is aiming for a dislocated, Yagga Blues-style take on bebop, but its collection of loops and prefab effects bring it much closer in effect to 1990s acid jazz and goofy swing/exotica revivalists like Tipsy or (gasp) Combustible Edison. Only isolated moments remind one of what the Nurse is usually capable, and they come few and far between.
Some of thee tracks go on for far too long. “Thrill of Romance…?” is a case in point, a real patience-tester at more than six minutes of tepid noodly jazz with the same throbbing synth element repeating through its entire length. While others may find it hypnotic, I found it annoying. The vocals provided by Lynn Jackson are capable, but unremarkable, and it makes me wonder about Stapleton and co.’s mysterious investment in such an undistinguished singer/songwriter that they used her songs and lyrics for three of the tracks on Huffin’. “Black Teeth” has Matt Waldron of doing some funny Tom Waits/Dr. John-style vocals, and he actually sounds pretty good, but the cutesy pastiche wears out its welcome way before it’s over. Same with “Crusin’ For a Bruisin’,” which attempts to liven up a dull, repetitive loop with occasional traffic noises and radio chatter.
All is not lost. The album’s longest track, “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg,” remains dynamic and interesting for most of its 14-minute length, traveling from fragmentary jazz blurt, to drone-y krautrock repetition, to the sounds of several species of furry animals huddled together in a cave grooving with a pict, and finally to a weird country song lost in the midst of a Salt Marie Celeste-style cycle of jarring noises. “Juice Head Crazy Lady” sounds a bit like the Boredoms at their more exotic/electronic end, tracks like “Jungle Taitei” or the DJ Pica Pica Pica mix CD; amped-up exotica in a glittery acid wonderland. At its best, Huffin’ Rag Blues hints at a much better album, the album that Stapleton, Liles and co. probably should have made instead of this one: a more lateral, abstract take on jazz and swing with less loop-based recording and more open-ended, improvisatory composition; more ragged, jagged juxtapositions, rather than the overly smooth, washed-out digital edits that make this album sound more pedestrian than it should.
Unfortunately, what we get here is overcooked in places, and undercooked in other places. Mostly, it just seems like Stapleton didn’t really push the concept far enough, and didn’t exercise enough control over the proceedings, so that the final product sounds like an artistic misfire at times, but mostly like a watered-down compromise. It doesn’t share the same unglued, bizarre surrealism that has made Nurse With Wound one of the most consistently outré and entertaining sound artists of the post-industrial milieu for nearly 30 years. There’s still more than enough moments of cleverness on display throughout Huffin’ Rag to demonstrate that Stapleton and co. can easily get back on the horse and make something great again. Until then, curious listeners are advised to comb online auction sites for reasonably priced copies of Sylvie and Babs.

If Nurse With Wound means anything more to you than “that band that takes up a whole browser in the ‘Industrial/Goth’ section of my local record store,” chances are they inhabit a strange place in your collection. Equally indefinable and uncollectible, Steve Stapleton’s Nurse With Wound have spent the past 30 or so years crafting what sounds like indigenous music for household appliances. That Stapleton’s latest, Huffin’ Rag Blues, has dropped with a silent, drone-y thud even amongst out-music fans is no real surprise, as even NWW cultists aren’t starved for material (e.g. 2005’s decidedly under-considered Angry Eelectric Finger is receiving a double CD/photo book addendum). Huffin’ Rag Blues, a collaboration with, among others, experimental sound artist Andrew Liles, extends Stapleton’s exploration of the bizarre and arcane via tricks like obscure and disorienting samples and minimal industrial noise– this time juxtaposed against bop and swing music.
Huffin’ Rag Blues’ nods to big band and jazz– as well as its appropriations of linear, identifiable grooves– suggests NWW’s 1996 question Who Can I Turn to Stereo? might be Stapleton literally asking his boombox for answers (rather than casually pondering who he can transmogrify into a Sony). The aborted album-opening story of “Willy the Weeper”, a chimney sweep with a dope problem, starts with a januty accompaniment, and is followed by “Groove Grease (Hot Catz)” and a lounge organ that surprisingly isn’t overrun with angsty noise-niblets until its final minute. “Thrill of Romance…?” sets a pulsing horn and spindly Latin guitar work under Freida Abtan’s vocals, which sort of sound like Kim Gordon doing standards. “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin'” rolls a bass-y horn bauble over careening car noises, the noir of Sin City interpreted as roly-poly funk.
Unfortunately, most of Huffin’ Rag Blues is spent accomplishing something most albums this singular and creative couldn’t imagine: boredom. Stapleton has ideas for miles but the speedometer’s fucked. “Wash the Dust From My Heart” is a straight-played jazz homage replete with a walking bassline and careful xylophone vibes; that it contains occasional ambient interruption does not distract from its six-minute runtime. “Advance single” (ha!) “Ketamineaphonia” opens with a snippet of ballpark organ before settling into five minutes of hapless beat instruction and slight orchestral breaks. “Black Teeth” inconceivably bats around Captain Beefheart congo-skronk, allowing Matt Waldron ample room for a sub-drug conversation between Satan and, um, a man that wouldn’t have made the cut of a third-grade puppet show (“And Satan says ‘Here comes a storm/ Get off the bus’ and the Man says ‘Shutup Satan/ Satan shutup’ and Satan says “Here comes another stop/ Get your fat ass off the bus'”). “Juice Head Crazy Lady” and “The Funktion of the Hairy Egg” are the most classically NWW tracks here, and while the former sounds inspiringly deranged for four minutes, “Hairy Egg” stands as a 14-minute behemoth mercilessly sequenced in the three-hole, eventually devolving– predictably, somehow– into a cacophony of barnyard noise.
Huffin’ Rag Blues should probably get points for distinguishing itself from the endless string of NWW releases. The cover art– pressed in a glossy digipak with colors other than black and photos suggesting things other than sadistic sex– basically assures as much. Stapleton’s complained in the past about his releases floating into the ether, but Huffin’ Rag Blues, inspired and deeply flawed, deserves both your consideration and your dismissal. Stapleton’s tireless mind merits as much; he was probably right to bitch. And if Huffin’ Rag Blues isn’t wtf/”Things done changed”/NWW on Demand enough for you, take heart: that Angry Eelectric Finger addendum is eligible for free shipping with Amazon Prime.