Not necessarily the blues

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To the naive, the word "basshole" could pass for a fishing reference. But back when guitarist and singer Don Howland pioneered the blending of rootsy country blues with trashy punk in Columbus, Ohio's Gibson Brothers, inspiration hit him at a watering hole rather than a fishing hole. As Howland recalls that fatefully altered piece of tavern bathroom graffiti, "Somebody had written 'asshole' and somebody else had put a 'B' in front of it. I just thought, 'If I ever got another band, that's what I'm going to call it.'"

The Gibson Brothers broke up amicably earlier this decade (but not before a certain Jon Spencer, he of the Blues Explosion, could fraternize in their ranks and take some notes). Since then, Howland has put his ready-made band name to good use. Under the Bassholes moniker, Howland has crafted four albums of possessed, stripped-down, basement-recorded rock with just himself and a drummer. Whether adapting old blues lyrical motifs to fit their own kinetic music, or turning punk or Dylan nuggets into energetic, swampy stomps, the Bassholes play with an integrity and fervor that make you forget about the sorry state of what passes for rock, punk and the blues today.

"To me the Germs song off of the Cruising soundtrack, which we covered, and a Blind Willie McTell song have pretty much the same vibe -- very dark, sexually maladjusted and pretty in a very ugly way," says Howland. At its most libidinous, the Bassholes' music is the kind of elemental sonic sleaze that could emanate from Robert Crumb's more twisted comics. And though some of the song structures and a lot of the lyrics have at least one dirty leg planted in Delta mud, you're not going to find the Bassholes attracting a blues audience.

The latest record, Long Way Blues 1996-1998, finds a creepy pallor settling in among the crude, obvious metaphors and parcels of dark, lyrical surrealism. The past year or so has been especially nightmarish for Howland, who's known as "Mr. Howland" by his inner-city junior high students. Unfortunately, several of his students are now ex-students after being involved on the criminal side of a couple of murders. "It was a bad year for Columbus, Ohio," says Howland.

Accompanying feelings of millennial dread seep into Long Way Blues, as on the propulsion of a track like "Hail Bop!" On this tune Howland and dynamite drummer Bim Thomas go for a suicidal surf excursion on the tail of the notorious comet. Thomas sits out on some tracks, leaving Howland alone with only a couple of guitar overdubs. This skeletal sound sets a haunted tone on songs like "Cabooseman Blues" and the title track. It's excellent music for sleepless souls to stare at 4 a.m. streetlights by, wondering how many more gunshots you'll hear before sunrise. As Howland explained, "I don't think the Bassholes records would sound the way they do if I didn't have a really frustrating job."

With Howland's commitments to a full-time job, wife and two kids, it's tough for him to find the time for a full band -- hence the convenient duo setup. However, there are drawbacks to even a duo's dynamics. As the ever-responsible Howland queried, "Who do you think gets to be the designated driver?" Greg Baise gets electric in the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]. is getting ready for release

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