Anybody who has followed Tav Falco and the Panther Burns for any part of the last three-plus decades has some idea of what to expect from the 19 cuts on Hip Flask. While it's true that all of the material has been released before -- often in multiple forms -- this marks the first time that Falco has curated and fully annotated a best-of compilation himself. Tunes from ten albums and two EPs are sequenced somewhat chronologically, telling a story that brings home all the connections the man himself has between blues, rockabilly, R&B, country, punk rock, tango, rumba, samba, and who knows what the hell else. The savage primitive ferocity the band is capable of can be heard in the first three tracks, "I'm on This Rocket" and "Pantherman" from the 1982 Blow Your Top EP and "Bourgeois Blues" (the latter with Alex Chilton on guitar) from 1981's Behind the Magnolia Curtain (both released by Rough Trade). But this is only a small part of the Panther Burns story. "She's a Bad Motorcycle," from 1987's The World We Knew, weds surf, swamp, and rockabilly in a seamless, howling meld. "My Mind Was Messed Up at the Time," from Life Sentence in the Cathouse (1991), commences with a startling Latin guitar figure before it winds out into a '60s TV show go-go rave-up with horns and a piano crunch worthy of Jim Dickinson (complete with a female backing chorus that can't decide whether they are singing rock & roll or gospel). "Born Too Late," from 1995's Shadow Dancer, is a slippery, off-kilter tango that allows for a dancer's improvisation, but in its longing never escapes the eternal sense of drunken loss that fills the true lounge lizard's heart. Just as important as the music are Falco's notes. In picture-perfect grammar and flamboyant eloquence worthy of his stage persona, he describes his first public performance, tales of terror and depression on the road, and seemingly arcane moments in the studio that emerged as major moments of inspiration. Taken as a whole, Hip Flask is a bounty of killer tracks and neurotic ditties that frame the band as one of Memphis, Tennessee's most auspicious creations. What's more, the sound on this set is phenomenal -- especially considering how trashy some of the more "unofficial" re-releases of his recordings have been. While the already initiated probably don't need an excuse to jump back in and get boiled in Falco oil, newcomers should take this opportunity as one hell of a place to start. Do yourself a real favor: forget everything you think you know about rock & roll, get this, and get your head fixed by it.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek