Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: Juleah,
Melt Inside the Sun

Austrian Julia Hummer issues her music under the moniker Juleah, and utilizing minimal assistance she conjures melodic psychedelia with attention paid to vocals and guitar. A digital album and a pair of EPs shape up her catalog, and now she’s back with full-length Melt Inside the Sun via Konkord Records. Featuring ten songs primed to please fans of Mazzy Star as they wield a palpable sense of urgency and low-key breadth, it’s available on limited edition vinyl and CD through Konkord in Europe and Rough Trade in the US.

Some acts offer biographical info so detailed it becomes possible to follow dietary trajectories and chart recent television viewing habits. That’s not the case with Juleah. She’s not striving for mystery, as Julia Hummer maintains an active Facebook page that establishes her hometown as Vorarlberg and includes an interview revealing she wrote her first song in 2011. Yet it’s also clear she prefers to let those songs do the talking.

The effect isn’t standoffish however; her website announces the release of Melt Inside the Sun, offers a succinct but adequate description from her label, embeds a YouTube video for good measure and contains the expected social media and purchasing links. Upon inspection, her sonic wares are fairly certain to procure a growing listener base.

Psychedelic pop-rock of an indie persuasion has proven to be surprisingly enduring stylistic territory, and Juleah’s brand of such harkens back to Shoegaze and the Paisley Underground, though Hummer isn’t especially studious in her gleanings; the voice and guitar are definitely comparable to Sandoval and Roback, but the heft and propulsion reinforce professed influences ranging from Oasis, The Stone Roses, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to Spacemen 3, The Doors, and the Jefferson Airplane.

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Graded on a Curve: Michael Gibbs & the
NDR Bigband Play a
Bill Frisell Set List

Michael Gibbs is a musician of many facets, chalking up credits as a composer, conductor, arranger, producer, and instrumentalist on trombone and keyboard. However, much of his adult life has been devoted to teaching, a role that contributed to a relatively trim discography and a fairly modest profile. Amongst his students was Bill Frisell; subsequently, their association blossomed into friendship and collaboration. For evidence one need look no further than Cuneiform Records’ superb new CD, wherein Michael Gibbs & the NDR Bigband Play a Bill Frisell Set List.

Engaging in a discussion over worthwhile contemporary creative guitarists will find the name Bill Frisell rolling off tongues sooner rather than later. But when the talk turns to active composer-arrangers Michael Gibbs could easily get neglected, and as his career in jazz spans over half a century undeservedly so.

Born on September 25th, 1937 in Salisbury Southern Rhodesia, Gibbs moved to Boston in 1959 to attend Berklee College of Music. He studied there with Herb Pomeroy, but just as importantly received a full scholarship to the Lenox School of Jazz in 1960; the short-lived program started by the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis brought Gibbs into contact with such major compositional figures as Gunther Schuller, George Russell, and J.J. Johnson.

Gibbs’ “Fly Time Fly (Sigh)” turns up on his fellow Berklee alumnus and longtime friend Gary Burton’s second LP for RCA Victor, Who is Gary Burton? By ’64 Gibbs had relocated to London, his talent on the trombone proving very much in demand; an easy point of inspection from this period is Deep Dark Blue Centre by the Graham Collier Septet from ’67 on Deram.

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Graded on a Curve: A Crate Digger’s Collection of Rare Soul

There has been no shortage of single and various artist Soul anthologizes over the years, but most came encoded on compact disc and ranged in worth from outstanding to moderate to shoddy. Vinyl sets became few and far between, but recently that circumstance has begun to change. Behold A Crate Diggers’ Collection of Rare Soul, a compilation of three 180gm LPs assembled by Rhino Custom in an edition of 1,000 copies and currently available only through Popmarket.

The purported scarcity of the originals corralled here, everything initially issued on 45s from ’64-’75 either by Atlantic and its subsidiaries Atco and Cotillion or Warner Brothers and its sub-label Loma, offers a fine angle of presentation. However, the secret to any various-artist comp, and especially one devoted to a genre so deeply tied to the emotional, is not rarity but listenablity, though the opportunity to hear these selections on vinyl is an unequivocal plus.

A Crate Diggers’ Collection of Rare Soul smartly drafts a smattering of ringers and immediately taps into a cornerstone of the style. Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” was issued posthumously by Atco in ’68 both as a single and on The Immortal Otis Redding. Oft covered and sampled as it features the confidence, precision, and verve of Otis, Booker T & the MGs, and the Memphis Horns, there’s simply no substitute for the original.

Another stone beast is ’66’s deep and slow groover “You Put Something on Me” by Don Covay & the Goodtimers. A somewhat slept-on soul figure both at the time and hence, akin to the majority of the artists on this set Covay was recorded by Atlantic, but like “Sookie Sookie” before and “Somebody’s Got to Love You” after it, “You Put Something on Me” failed to chart, which is difficult to fathom since it pairs with “Hard to Handle” as the best track on this set’s first side.

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Graded on a Curve: Andrew Weathers Ensemble, Fuck Everybody, You Can
Do Anything

Though he currently resides in Oakland CA, improviser and composer Andrew Weathers originally hails from North Carolina. His geographical circumstances are reflected in the nature of his work; having studied Electronic Music at Mills College, Weathers plays guitar and banjo and carries knowledge of musical traditions ranging from experimental to rural Appalachia. Issuing music in a variety of contexts on Full Spectrum Records, a prominent project is the Andrew Weathers Ensemble; Fuck Everybody, You Can Do Anything is their latest and also Full Spectrum’s inaugural venture into the vinyl format.

My introduction to Andrew Weathers came earlier this year through Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem, Volume 7, the most recent entry in a long-running series dedicated to varying strains of Guitar Soli. Loaded with choices made by 20-year-old string phenom Hayden Pedigo, the contributors were wide-ranging and many of them previously obscure; investigating further, Weathers was among the most prolific.

Along with solo work, duos, and leading his Ensemble, Weathers performs and records in Parties, Kirtan Choir, and Tethers while finding time to co-operate Full Spectrum with his friend and fellow musician Andrew Marino. The outcome is a bountiful discography, which is unsurprising when considering a main component in Weathers’ artistry is improvisation.

The advent of digital-only releasing (a la numerous cassette-only enterprises before) has inspired some improv-based figures to emit a steady outpouring of product that eventually becomes insurmountable, though in most cases surmounting isn’t particularly desirable since little or no self-editing informs the process amassed in the pile.

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Graded on a Curve: Insect Ark, Portal/Well

Insect Ark emerged in 2011 as the solo endeavor of bassist/multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter, though the recent addition of drummer Ashley Spungin has coincided with a boost in positive attention, the twosome currently kicking it out on live stages across the land. However, Portal/Well documents the artistry of Schechter alone; offering progressive-minded doom vibes of significantly high quality, it’s out on compact disc June 8 via Autumnsongs Records.

Dana Schechter is an animator, visual artist, and musician of distinction. Her numerous credits include a stint in Michael Gira’s supplementary Swans venture Angels of Light, contributing bass and piano to 2001’s How I Loved You and ‘03’s Everything is Good Here / Please Come Home, and additionally bringing her instrumental skills and impressive vocalizing to the noir-hued melodies of NYC/Berlin-based outfit Bee and Flower’s three full-lengths, ‘03’s What’s Mine is Yours, ‘07’s Last Sight of Land, and ‘12’s Suspension.

Excepting the b-side to the project’s debut 7-inch, Insect Ark has intensified the duskiness of Bee and Flower without the aid of the human voice. “Collapsar” b/w “Piledriver” was issued in ’12 by Lancashire and Somerset Records and is still available on wax through Insect Ark’s Bandcamp page; with immense unhurried beats, synth additives, an uneasy disposition, and deft growth into fully-formed rock motion, “Collapsar” serves as a fine entryway into Insect Ark’s general template.

Emerging in ’13 on Geweih Ritual Documents, the 3-song “Long Arms” 10-inch (also still in-print) deepened the emphasis on mood as the title track’s expanded duration left ample room for elements of abstraction to develop into a rock scenario. Perhaps most notable is the absence of voice creating not a dearth to be filled but lending a distinct wrinkle of personality; that Insect Ark recently shared a bill with long-serving non-vocal rock trio Blind Idiot God is certainly not a coincidence.

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Graded on a Curve: Marvin Gaye, Volume One 1961–1965

Marvin Gaye is rightly evaluated as a crucial chapter in the story of Motown, but the relationship’s peaks weren’t immediate. Marvin had his goals while Barry Gordy and company had theirs, and across his first batch of releases the results only fitfully align with the vocalist’s popular image. The seven 180gm LPs contained in USM’s Marvin Gaye Volume One: 1961-1965 are still very much of interest however, offering a portrait of the soon to be great artist as a confident young man profoundly concerned with classicist pop objectives.

A recurring theme in the history of 20th century Pop finds record labels big small and in between striving purely in the name of profits to mold and modify a developing talent into a contemporary setting. In the process these actions frequently limited, damaged, or even downright quashed creative promise. In such instances the label’s miscalculations were reliably due to the reactive nature of the whole endeavor, the attempts seeking to capitalize on trends in place of shaping organic wrinkles in musical progress.

The seven albums included here complicate the above scenario considerably, detailing Motown as determined to travel a fertile trail as the young and undeniably skilled Gaye sought not to set trends but instead to examine a Pop/Jazz zone a la Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra just as this tradition was on the wane.

Rather trying to strong-arm him into a mode he didn’t wish to inhabit, Motown displayed a tremendous amount of patience with the singer’s ambitions, though this might not be as commendable as it sounds; Gaye was fully capable of pulling-off (if not truly excelling at) the crooner role, making commercial success in this capacity a possibility. Had that transpired, Motown surely would’ve primed the pump until it gushed. On the other hand, none of the non-R&B focused LPs assembled in 1961-1965 charted, and Motown was unambiguously in the business of hits.

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Graded on a Curve:
Roger O’Donnell and Julia Kent, Love and Other Tragedies

Though his résumé holds assorted accomplishments, Roger O’Donnell is best known as keyboardist for The Cure. Along with a series of solo albums, Julia Kent is a cellist noted for her contribution to Antony and the Johnsons. Love and Other Tragedies depicts their deepening creative partnership; beautiful but never syrupy and emotionally resonant without succumbing to the overwrought, aficionados of top-flight instrumentalism should take note, particularly partisans of chamber classical. It’s available digitally May 29th and on vinyl June 26th via 99X/10.

Roger O’Donnell’s reputation might rest upon his role in a true juggernaut of Alt-Goth, but he’s been on the scene since ’76, his first paying gig backing up the God of Hellfire himself Arthur Brown. Subsequently, he became a touring member of Thompson Twins, The Psychedelic Furs, and Berlin; a more ‘80s-drenched trifecta is frankly difficult to imagine. O’Donnell’s initial involvement with The Cure was also in the performance capacity; he joined in ’87 for the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me road trip and stuck around for the recording of ‘89’s Disintegration and a whole lot more.

Vancouver BC-born and NYC-based Julia Kent may not brandish as high a profile as O’Donnell, but past collaborations distinguish her as a veteran; before lending her cello to Antony and the Johnsons’ 2005 Mercury Prize-winning I Am a Bird Now and it’s ’09 follow-up The Crying Light, she was a charter member of dark-hued cello-driven rock act Rasputina, her talents figuring in their two ‘90s efforts for Columbia.

Over the past decade O’Donnell and Kent have largely been busy with solo work. He’s released a string of discs first through Great Society and then 99X/10, the imprint he founded with longtime partner and collaborator Erin Lang; they include ’06’s Moog-focused The Truth in Me and ‘10’s Piano Formations. Issuing her solo debut Delay in ’07 on Shayo, Kent has completed three albums since, most recently ‘13’s Character on The Leaf Label.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Mothmen,
Pay Attention!

The UK post-punk impulse was a sizeable one, its prolificacy ranging from cornerstone acts to DIY obscurities. Landing somewhere in the middle is The Mothmen, their 1981 LP Pay Attention! holding the distinction of being the second entry in the discography of Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label. Upon release it failed to find an audience and for years has basically been a footnote to a handful of larger success stories. In a classy move On-U Sound is giving the record a welcome vinyl reissue with bonus tracks on the download; it’s available May 29th.

In the realms of reissuedom can be found a steady stream of uninspiring and occasionally downright dubious choices, but when underappreciated, totally scarce and frequently pricey items are granted new life the endeavor is largely vindicated. Of course, proper credit should be given to the individuals with the good taste and foresight to have documented said recordings in the first place; in the case of Pay Attention! that someone is Adrian Sherwood.

A key architect in late-20th century music, Sherwood’s early productivity is nicely detailed on Sherwood at the Controls, Volume 1: 1979-1984 as recently compiled by On-U Sound, the long-extant label initially conceived by the artist to catalog his work as a producer. Amongst the names corralled by the 2LP are Maximum Joy, The Fall, The Slits, Shriekback, Mark Stewart and the Mafia, Annie Anxiety, Prince Far I, and African Head Charge.

A major aspect in Sherwood’s method was collaboration, often with musicians of Jamaican descent, and a main ingredient in his sonic recipe was the boundary pushing echo-sponginess of prime dub. The inaugural On-U Sound release (On-U LP 01) is the self-titled 1981 debut from The New Age Steppers; produced by Sherwood and featuring contributions from Bruce Smith and Mark Stewart of The Pop Group, Viv Albertine and Ari-Up of The Slits, Vicky Aspinall of The Raincoats, Vivien Goldman, and Steve Beresford, it fits exceedingly well into On-U Sound’s MO.

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Graded on a Curve:
Cream, 1966-1972

Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker are the trio collectively known as Cream. Extant for only a fraction of the ‘60s, they still managed a bountiful recorded legacy. This week USM adds to the recent resurgence of LP box sets by collecting all six entries from their first formation, two studio, two live, and two hybrids of both, onto 180gm vinyl, making the contents of 1966-1972 heavy in dual senses of the word.

Full disclosure: for this writer this one-stop-shop of the original UK supergroup’s half dozen albums holds very little appeal, seeing as everything represented herein was relatively easy to obtain on LP throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, inexpensively and in good condition; personally, there is simply no reason to upgrade. But considering the needs of younger classic rock obsessed vinyl lovers, this collection does handily amass nearly everything from a trio that proved very influential.

Over the years, Cream has been both overrated and unfairly maligned. For starters, this is a highly productive if uneven period in Clapton’s artistic trajectory. The guitarist was creatively budding; if no longer a stern blues-disciple hounded by notions of purity, he was decades away from his transformation into an ultra-bland elder statesman after years of Middle-of-the-Roadism.

Since his ascendency to the Mt. Rushmore of blues-rock string-slingers Clapton has always inspired a pocket of detractors, and while these lobes are amongst those ranking his output post-Derek and the Dominos/George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass as uninteresting or worse, his prime work has persisted in worthiness.

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Graded on a Curve: Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton

Singer-guitarist-banjoist Karen Dalton holds special significance for many discerning folk fans. A rare example of beauty captured without undue premeditation, she managed only two studio albums before passing in 1993. A song collector and interpreter of unique but captivating voice, her skills were deeply admired by Bob Dylan as she befriended folk scene luminaries Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, and the Holy Modal Rounders. Now through Peter Walker and Josh Rosenthal, her uncovered lyrics have been transformed by a wide range of female artistry. The magnificent Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton is out May 26th on LP/CD/digital through Tompkins Square.

All it takes is one listen to It’s So Hard to Tell Who’s Going to Love You the Best to absorb the prodigious talent that shaped it. Cut in ’69 for Capitol, due to Dalton’s difficulties with studio recording it reportedly had to be massaged into existence by producer Nick Venet. Akin to numerous folk counterparts, her main strength was live performance, but unlike many debuts, Dalton’s wasn’t hindered by the typical rookie issues.

It basically arrived too late in the folk cycle and surely received next to bupkis in promotion. Its reissue in ‘96 cemented her cult status for a younger generation, but for deep folk heads she was already justifiably legendary; a 12-string guitarist and banjo slinger (her photo made the cover of the Ode banjo catalog) with a memory full of ditties reaching back to her childhood in Oklahoma, she had pipes recalling Billie Holliday and a real aptitude for the blues.

Dalton was pretty far afield of the usual hootenanny stuff; for evidence see Cotton Eyed Joe (Live in Boulder 1962). However, she wasn’t as acquired a taste as has been claimed, and In My Own Time, her ’71 studio follow-up on Michael Lang’s Just Sunshine label, is a folk-rock gem. Reissued and still available through Light in the Attic), it finds her in the company of a crack band as she tackled diverse sources, amongst them George Jones, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and her friend Richard Manuel of The Band (Dalton’s often cited as the subject of The Basement Tapes’ “Katie’s Been Gone”).

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