The Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project

Axels & Sockets

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AllMusic Review by

It seems sadly fitting that Jeffrey Lee Pierce (best remembered as the founder and leading light of the fabled band the Gun Club) is better recognized in Europe years after his death in 1996 than he was in his native United States in the final decade of his short life; it was just the sort of fate that met many of the innovative blues and jazz artists and outlaw poets that were his heroes and role models. Though audiences overseas more eagerly embrace Pierce's vision, there was something strongly and defiantly American in his lyrical voice and his fusion of blues, punk, jazz, folk, country, and nearly any other native musical strain that crossed his path. Thankfully, a handful of Pierce's friends and admirers have kept the flame alive with a series of albums that offer fresh, sometimes radical interpretations of his songs, with Pierce's old running buddy Cypress Grove contributing guidance and a cache of old demo cassettes that held a treasure trove of unrecorded Jeffrey Lee Pierce compositions. The third album from the Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project, Axels & Sockets, offers more rare and unheard Pierce tunes performed by a rotating cast of musicians, ranging from folks who knew and worked with Pierce (Debbie Harry and Lydia Lunch) to like-minded left-of-center rock icons (Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Thurston Moore), and young upstarts who see Pierce as an influence and kindred spirit (Black Moth, Honey). While a number of these performances are rave-ups in the Gun Club's tradition of punk informed by rootsy blues and country accents -- notably Honey's version of "Thunderhead" and Slim Cessna's Auto Club's romp through "Ain't My Problem Baby" -- many of the participants put different spins on his work, showing how diverse his songs could be in the right hands. Iggy Pop's wiry vocals fit "Nobody's City" like a glove, Primal Scream's electronic overhaul of "Goodbye Johnny" transports the song's swampy vibe into cyberspace, Nick Cave's duet with Debbie Harry on "Into the Fire" reinforces both the beauty of the melody and the emotional intelligence of the lyrics, Mark Lanegan finds something both lovely and ominous in "Desire by Blue River," and Lydia Lunch's spoken word duet with an old recording of Pierce on "The Journey Is Long" is effective enough that it ought to be longer than just over a minute. (Pierce's vocals also pop up on Mark Stewart's reworking of "Shame and Pain," with Thurston Moore adding his own brand of dissonance.) In their third round, Cypress Grove and his colleagues are still finding fascinating things in the Jeffrey Lee Pierce archives, and Axels & Sockets is a potent reminder of the strength and imagination of his songwriting, making a powerful case for his status as an overlooked visionary.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
feat: Iggy Pop
4:17
2 2:17
3
feat: Black Moth
4:13
4 5:02
5 3:52
6 6:58
7 3:15
8
feat: Honey
3:24
9 5:12
10 3:18
11
feat: Ruby Throat
4:09
12 3:41
13 3:12
14 7:37
15
feat: Hugo Race
5:25
16 4:48
17 1:04
18 4:06
blue highlight denotes track pick