Horse Power

Barrett Martin, Peter Buck, and a host of talented eclectics set the caravan on its way.



Crocodile Cafe, 441-5611, $6

9 p.m. Wed., July 10-Thurs., July 11

When a tour is branded The Fast Horse Summer Hootenanny, there'd better be a head wrangler. In this case, the man wearing that hat—or, more accurately, several hats—is former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin.

The monthlong road show, which kicks off with a two-night stand at the Crocodile Cafe, features supergroups Tuatara and Minus 5, rhythm combo the Wayward Shamans, and bluesman CeDell Davis. In addition to playing drums for all four, Martin is the co-founder and head of Fast Horse Recordings, label home to three of the acts.

"I'll be onstage for the full four hours," says Martin from his home in Taos, N.M., "but I'm ready for it. I'm up here at 7,000 feet, so I should be in really good shape by the time I get back to sea level."

Martin moved to New Mexico last year after spending the previous three in Los Angeles doing soundtrack and session work. During that time, he also traveled extensively, studying with drum masters and making field recordings in exotic locales like Senegal, Belize, and Cuba.

It was in Cuba—where he was sent as part of a cultural exchange mission—that Martin first encountered Brave Combo trapsman Joe Cripps. Their shared interest in recording indigenous percussionists led to the formation of the Wayward Shamans.

"We took the recordings into the studio and looped them to create rhythm tracks," Martin explains. "I had written most of the music already, so we just played over the top."

Originally conceived as an instrumental outfit, Martin later decided to add vocals. "I was experimenting with lyrics and poetry at the time," he says, "so I threw some in. They're not everywhere, and many of them are like mantras or chants. But I think the voices ground the music, add that human spirit."

With bright, vibrant melodies and fairly furious playing, the Shamans' debut CD, Alchemy, is a decidedly hard-swinging affair that Martin describes as "Afro-Cuban soul-trance."

"After we finished the record, we figured no major label was going to give us a shot, so we'd better start our own," he says. "We set up an office here and got a distribution deal with Ryko. I've learned an incredible amount about the retail end of things. I mean Screaming Trees never thought about this stuff."

Martin wanted the new imprint to release the work of other experimental artists, so, naturally, he signed on Tuatara—the band he formed in '97 with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Luna bassist Justin Harwood, and saxophonist Skerik—who've just put out their third CD, Cinemathique, on Fast Horse. Martin attributes much of the velvet twang and film-noir feel of the new disc to Buck's guitar work.

Calling from a pre-tour vacation in Hawaii, Buck says many of the songs actually began as ideas for various soundtrack projects.

"Most were started with just Barrett, Jason, and myself," Buck explains. "We worked very fast. After we had the basics down, we'd bring in other people to add to it or hash out horn parts. Everything with Tuatara is always different—we don't really do it the same way twice, which is why it's still fun."

Martin and Buck say they're looking forward to hitting the road with the traveling caravan of musicians—which includes longtime friends like Minus 5 leader Scott McCaughey. Both are especially eager to perform with venerable Delta bluesman Davis, whose Fast Horse debut is slated for a late August release.

"The recording sessions with CeDell were amazing," says Martin. "We did the whole thing in, like, two days in a Texas studio with Peter, Scott McCaughey, and Joe Cripps producing. It had a very Exile on Main Street vibe."

"CeDell learned to play the blues by watching people like Robert Johnson, not just listening to records," says Buck. "We didn't rehearse, and he doesn't explain much. He'd just give us a little intro, and we'd fall in. He doesn't necessarily play a standard 12-bar blues. He might have 11 bars on one and then 14 on the next. You just really had to listen to him for the chord changes. It was very spontaneous. CeDell is of the mind that a recording is just that: a recording of a song played once, not twice. If you screw it up, it stays screwed up. It was really liberating."

Buck says Davis will be the show's centerpiece; however, he isn't sure what slot the Arkansas native will fill.

"Out of respect, we'd like him to close," says Buck, "but he's not a young man, so we don't know how long he can stay up." Asked exactly how old Davis is, Buck chuckles, "If there's a woman in the room, he'll say he's in his 60s. If there's not, he might say 79."

Getting back to the show, Buck insists there'll be plenty to hear, with lots of musical intermingling among the various outfits.

"If you get bored, you can always head back to the bar for a drink. But you'd better hurry—things will be changing quick."

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