The Phantom Tollbooth
August '98 Pick of the Month
Ford Supersonic
Artist:  Aunt Bettys
Label:  Marathon Records   
Time: 17 tracks/60:04

One of the true alternative underground's most prolific music-makers, Michael Knott never stops.  He's a music machine, a factory of fun, a full-on assembly line of top-notch rock 'n roll. Add the chops-to-make-veins-pop of Andrew Carter, Chuck Cummings, and Brian Doidge, and the stereo is a thumpin'. Thank Jeff Elbel and his little label that could (Marathon Records) for releasing these demos lost in the cracks of the Aunt Bettys' failed major label debut. But don't let the word "demos" throw you off--this album walks all over the self-titled. A perfect melding of the pop guitar muscle of Everclear, the whine and attitude of Jane's Addiction, and the steady-as-she-goes rhythms and vocals of Tom Petty...these are the radio hits that never were. And you die-hard fans should be stoked because you get them all to yourself--no corporate radio station is going to rub them into your ears ad nauseum, and you won't have to sound like a loser by whining "I was a fan before they got popular..." It's too bad for the hardworking Knott, though.
 
Why is Ford Supersonic better? Because, while the self-titled was good, it was too obvious that Knott and Co. thought they were already big rock stars. It was too bombastic, too over-the-top, too ego-exuding, whereas Ford Supersonic is closer to the Mike Knott we know and love, humble but ingrained with the true rock spirit, a soul that swings, strums, sobs, and sees music in every step of life, no matter what the pay is. These might be demos, but the production is just right, crisp but imperfect--the sound of real music flowing from human hands and voices, not the product of big studio overkill. After the 13 new tracks (including a pop reworking of "Rock Stars on H"), surprise, surprise...live tracks to make you cry if you've not much chance to ever see the band live: a tiny bit of talking plus distortion-on renditions of "Two-Timin' Jack" and "Rock Stars on H" sandwiched between the beginning and end of Knott's deep-voiced take on "Wild Colonial Boy," an old Irish tune.

The easily offended may still find a few lyrics to frown at, but Knott is still singing his quirky, dysfunctional, what-the-hell-is-he-talking-about? true tall tales, with the few nuggets of metaphoric Truth to be found shining all the more for it. Too bad there's no lyric sheet.

Whether you're a fan or not, this is just a great album, possibly one of the best albums to ever go unsung and unheard. Rock and roll, baby.

Send $15 to: Marathon Records
                     PO Box 1222
                     El Segundo, CA 90245-6222

By Josh Spencer  (8/14/98)

The Aunt Bettys, one of rock & roll's best kept secrets, had a surprisingly short shelf-life given the dizzying excellence and energy of their debut, one of this decade's best albums. Amidst much rejoicing by fans of the band, Marathon Records, home of Farewell to Juliet among others, has gratefully gathered together an album of unreleased Aunt Bettys tracks and demos. Ford Supersonic begins bedazzlingly well with a handful of songs capturing the Aunt Bettys's signature sound, energy, wit, and modern rock enthusiasm. Regrettably, the middle section bogs down a bit with songs that aren't quite fully realized. They seem like shades of songs done better elsewhere by this band or one of Mike Knott's other musical incarnations. Before the end, however, the album picks up again with Aunt Bettys' rocking cover of "Rock Stars on H" which appeared originally on Strip Cycle.  Some of the other highlights include "Getting Normal," "Two Timin' Jack," and "Movie Star"--which sound like Rolling Stones songs hopped up on some kind of speed. Additionally, "Ricky Racer," with its combination of rapid-fire Beatnik raps overlaid with Beach Boys-type harmonies, is another unusual, stand-out offering. The extra live cuts at the end are just an added bonus to an already mostly solid album.  Although not quite as complete, compelling, produced, or energetic as their debut, Ford Supersonic is still a considerable rock & roll celebration. Certainly less controversial, too, and further proof that Knott's leftovers are more creative and fun than most bands's main fare. If you've been feeling like you can't get no satisfaction, try these tasty and true rock & roll tidbits for the soul.

By Steven Stuart Baldwin (8/18/98)