Bruce Joyner

Bruce Joyner & the Unknowns

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A great, lengthy collection of the band's earliest recordings split almost evenly between final studio takes and rougher demos, Bruce Joyner & the Unknowns makes the definite case that the band was composed of the lost geniuses of early-'80s SoCal punk. The Cramps might be a comparison point, but there's less campy humor mixed in with the energy; Joyner in particular isn't out to raise ghoulish smiles so much as he's out to raise good-natured hell. If anything, Joyner and company predict where Chris Isaak would find a spot to dwell in some years later, though with less clear sound and more smoky rampage. Songs like the blatantly horny "Pull My Train" drip with seething passion, with Joyner's singing drawing on his rockabilly heroes and standing just fine with them. There's a nervous edge as well that's not too far away from new wave psychosis, but the rough, rumbling echo of the music makes for a good contrast to many such acts (and few could come up with the reckless insanity of "The Bounce"). Joyner's organ work is basic but does the trick, letting his backing band stand out as the real instrumental stars. Mark Neill's guitar work effortlessly pulls together swampy twang, film noir buzz, and surfy leads into one great combination (check the freaked-out "The Streets" and the equally chaotic, utterly great "Rip Tide" for some fine examples of his easy genre-hopping). The demos collected include a variety of otherwise then-unheard numbers; highlights there include the sharp strutter "Action/Reaction," featuring some of Joyner's sweetest singing; the reggae-derived "Dream Sequence"; and the downright psychotic "Teenage Crush." Fine liner notes from Joyner himself and from West Coast writer on cult rock Jud Cost paints a further picture of the band's compatriots, scene, and successes -- a welcome introduction.

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