In 1980 guitarist Eugene Chadbourne dropped a record that would forever distinguish him from his peers in the pantheon of free improvisation, setting him on the twisted path he's followed more or less ever since. At the time, he was an adherent of the non-idiomatic playing pioneered by British guitarist Derek Bailey—he collaborated regularly with the likes of John Zorn, Tom Cora, Lawrence "Butch" Morris, and Toshinori Kondo. But with There'll Be No Tears Tonight (originally issued on Parachute, a label he formed with Zorn), Chadbourne found an ingenious, funny, and authentic approach to the music closest to his heart. He loved much more than just hard-core free improvisation, and on this mind-melting record he brought it all together. Last fall There'll Be No Tears Tonight got an overdue reissue on compact disc (accompanied by some patience-testing bonus tracks) from Corbett vs. Dempsey.
The back of the album bears the description "Free Improvised Country & Western Bebop," which does the job as well as any five words ever could. Chadbourne drew its repertoire primarily from 60s and 70s country, favoring material with a dark, somewhat absurd tone; he includes songs by Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck, and Bobby Bare, among others. He clearly loves them all, but like Dutch drummer Han Bennink—with whom he's often worked—he's a natural prankster who loves jamming a stick into the spokes of a wheel just to see what might happen. He derails what initially might seem like straight readings of the Carl Perkins rockabilly classic "Honey, Don't!" and Miller's "Dang Me," spinning out into controlled chaos. Sometimes he destroys the tempo, sometimes he unleashes a gnarled, dissonant blast on his acoustic guitar, and sometimes he pushes his run-of-the-mill voice into a needling, nasal parody of itself, balancing goofy humor and masterful musicianship.
Three songs feature superb accompaniment from saxophonist Zorn, cellist Cora, and percussionist David Licht, who went on to play with Chadbourne's wild trio Shockabilly and later cofounded the Klezmatics. A few others employ different backing musicians, and Chadbourne devotes other tracks entirely to wiggy solos. The CD reissue adds a solo version of Ernest Tubb's "Set Up Two Glasses, Joe" and a 26-minute blast of calculated outrage called "Richmond Dobro Massacre," where Chadbourne indulges his fondness for noise and chaos—this is the guy who invented the electric rake, after all. For today's 12 O'Clock Track you can listen to Chadbourne's cover of Merle Haggard's "Swingin' Doors," with Cora, Licht, and some fiery bebop licks from Zorn.