ON RECORD IAN DURY AND THE BLOCKHEADS -- Do It Yourself (Stiff/Epic JE-36104). IAN GOMM -- Gomm With the Wind (Stiff/Epic JE-36103).
ON STAGE IAN GOMM appears with Dire Straits at George Washington University's Smith Center on September 15.
Everybody has to start somewhere.
Elvis Costello once picked up petty cash playing "bluegrass" -- the Briton's name for our C&W -- with a bar band called Flip City.Nick Lowe, Elvis' producer and now a recording star, served with a "workingman's" Grateful Dead, known as Brinsley Schwarz.
In England, most beloved and equally as important as Costello and Lowe is Ian Dury.
In his early days, Dury abandoned a college teaching career to front Kilburn & the Highroads, a rough 'n' tumble pub gang. Their repertoire was an effervescent concoction of lightweight riffs, R&B, music hall humor and Dury's Dickensian vignettes.
Costello's combo never even made a record, but they and cohorts Kilburn & the Highroads, Ducks Deluxe and Bees Make Honey, among others, laid the groundwork crucial to the development of the later punk/new wave movement.
These acts were loosely grouped as "pub-rock" because of a quixotic dedication to London's tavern and small club circuit. Rejecting the hollow rat race that big-league rock'n'roll had become, they turned to the more intimate, immediate atmosphere pubs offered.
Eventually, pub-rock succumbed to economic pressures, its practical politics carrying over into the embryonic punk. The original groups collapsed and individuals soon re-emerged in improved combinations.
Since then, Ian Dury has established himself as the premier artiste of Stiff Records. Stiff is the first and foremost U.K. independent label, owned and operated by former Brinsley Schwarz manager Dave Robinson and distributed here by CBS.
On "Do It Yourself," Dury and his current compatriots, The Blockheads, update his Highroad-era shenanigans with a mega-dose of pre-disco funk a la Parliament.
"Inbetweenies" sets the tone for much of the album with its bubbling cross-rhythms and mysterious, peppery melodies. Dury sings with coarse familiarity, pitching his wry observations with the studied vulgarity of a practiced carnival barker.
"Sink My Boats" boasts back-up harmonies that are understated yet spectacular, a bewildering beat and more of Dury's irresistible humanist vaudeville.
The Blockheads are all master musicians of the most laudable sort: They never let technique get in the way of expressiveness, economy or Dury's intent. They're a good-humored bunch, too, suffusing "Do It Yourself" with the ideal high spirited vehicle for Dury's waggish sermonizing.
Ian Gomm is another born-again pubrocker. Much of "Gomm With The Wind" reminds one of Nick Lowe -- and for good reason. From 1970 through 1974, Gomm sang, wrote and played guitar alongside Lowe in Brinsley Schwarz.
Like Lowe, Gomm's taste and talents lie in the realm of tuneful, easy-listening rock'n'roll. "Hold On," the current single, opens the album with a flourish of "pure pop": lush acoustic guitars and rich melodic vocals.
"Hooked On Love" is a Stax-flavored romp in the style of Graham Parker (and probably featuring his band).
But the stand-out is a spooky remake of Chuck Berry's "Come On." Here the old rocker is rendered as a slow, sensuous samba. A haunting electric piano figure undulates past voodoo bass and reverberating spacey guitar. Chilling.
What "Gomm With The Wind" lacks in thematic depth and musical innovation it easily makes up for with its easy affability and warmth.