Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for April 2019, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—in shops for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 13, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Elkhorn, Sun Cycle & Elk Jam (Feeding Tube) Elkhorn is the guitar duo of Drew Gardner on Fender Telecaster and Jesse Sheppard on 12-string acoustic; they have three prior releases out, starting with their self-titled 2016 effort on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, and now here’s two more, released simultaneously but separately via one of the current scene’s best (and most prolific) small labels. If you’re excited for some electric-acoustic duo interplay, that’s exactly what you’ll get on Elkhorn’s prior records, but here they are joined by Willie Lane on third guitar and Ryan Jewell on drums and tabla, the impulse to add players first documented last November on CDR (in an edition of 50 and still available digitally). The presence of supplementary hands is felt here, but especially so on Elk Jam.

On Sun Cycle, the duo interplay is still very much discernible, with Sheppard coming from an American Primitive place and Gardner exploring lysergic plains reminiscent at times of raga rock and unsurprisingly ’60s San Fran. Gardner’s background in avant-jazz (having played with John Tchicai and Sabir Mateen) combines well with Sheppard’s dexterous fingerpicking to ensure that the outward-bound travels never meander or for that matter simply spin wheels while navigating out of a psychedelic rut. The lack of vocals is also a major plus. The Bay Area vibe is particularly strong on Elk Jam, with the title of the LP inspiring thoughts of Elkhorn releasing it as a free album a la Moby Grape’s Grape Jam. They didn’t, but I can’t imagine psych fans being the slightest bit disappointed after dropping cash for both of these. A/ A

Reese McHenry, No Dados (Suah Sounds) Lovers of gal-throated hard-edged garage-based belting should step right up to this one. Chapel Hill, NC-based McHenry’s second album after prior experience with the Dirty Little Healers delivers a powerful kick, but it’s also an inspirational story, as it documents McHenry’s return to the musical path after being diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation and suffering a near-fatal stroke (followed by a series of smaller ones). It was a tough road back, but Bad Girl, cut with backing from Spider Bags, solidified her return, and No Dados extends the positive trajectory. Her band this time is out is Raleigh’s Drag Sounds, who tear it up like experts, but it’s McHenry’s show all the way; compared to Janis J., contempos Shilpa Ray and Neko Case also came to mind, and that’s wonderful. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Griot Galaxy, Kins (Third Man) This gleaming nugget of underheard jazz history intertwines some sturdy threads. They feature a three-sax lineup of Faruq Z. Bey (tenor and alto), Anthony Holland (alto and soprano), and David McMurray (all three), this configuration bringing the World Saxophone Quartet to mind. But with bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Tani Tabbal on hand, there are aspects reinforcing the influence of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Sun Ra. Additionally, they dish some killer post-Ornette free-bop, and as Shahid plays electric as well as acoustic bass, unusually appealing jazz funk. If you’re thinking Kins is all over the place stylistically, no. If the seed of Afrofuturism is planted in your mind, that’s a most emphatic yes. Altogether delightful. A

Cheap Trick The Epic Archive Vol. 3 (1984-1992) (Real Gone) I’m gonna make it plain. The music collected here is not the music I think of when I think of Cheap Trick, and I do think of them, if not daily, then with some regularity, for when they were on top of their game, they were a great fucking band. This is not to say that some of this doesn’t jog the memory banks. Of course, “The Flame” does (I’d rather it didn’t, though it’s not a bad song), and so does their association with Up the Creek, a 1984 raunch comedy, essentially a pale imitation of Animal House. I recall Cheap Trick’s theme song being the best thing about it (I mean I guess so; it’s been a while). Overall, this is a mixed bag of ups (they seem to be having a good time) and downs (a few songs are near dud-like). Kinda like life in general. B

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for April 2019, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—in shops for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 13, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Tellavision, Add Land (Bureau B) There are lots of things to like about this release, the fourth full-length (and my intro to her work) from this one-woman Berlin-based artist. I like how I wasn’t able to easily discover her birth name. I like how the thrust of the work here, which is electronic and song-based, resists easily encapsulation as electronic-pop, while pop is an integral component (there’s also techno and Krautrock to consider). I like her voice, stated in the press release as foregrounded more here than on prior releases, and how it possesses a soulfulness that makes clear that she could really belt it out (and there are plenty of spots where she gets close). Lastly, I like that on an album concerned with positivity and love, Tellavision’s music is powerful and multifaceted. A-

Fox Millions Duo, Biting Through (Thrill Jockey) In terms of percussion worthiness, Greg Fox and Kid Millions (a.k.a. John Colpitts) are two of the most impressive figures on the contempo scene. They are, as Gorilla Monsoon used to say, forces to be reckoned with. Having attained this stature individually, one might worry that creating together might somehow neutralize or undermine each other’s strengths (in the manner of so many past supergroups), but their prior record Lost Time was a killer and so is this follow-up, which has a lot more going for it than just hi-energy drumming. Like synths for instance, these devices run through a modular setup with contact mics so they can be played live. Which brings us back to high-energy, as parts of this remind me of a four-armed Rashied Ali going full-tilt with Merzbow. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Dream Syndicate, Days of Wine and Roses (Fire) I consider this a perfect record. Furthermore, it’s pretty much the apex of the Paisley Underground and darker and heavier than their cohorts in that scene. It was also the end of what many consider to be the “classic” Dream Syndicate lineup of lead vocalist-guitarist Steve Wynn, lead guitarist Karl Precoda, bassist Kendra Smith, and drummer Dennis Duck. Steve Wynn soldiered on through the ’80s, but while all the subsequent records all have their moments (the band has also reunited, with a new LP out next month), this one remains the best. Fire’s edition of 500 includes their S/T four-song EP and a repress of the 45 by Wynn’s earlier band 15 Minutes featuring a significantly different version of “That’s What You Always Say.” A+

Alice Clark, S/T (Wewantsounds) Here’s an absolute must for soul fans, unless of course you already own a clean-playing copy of this ’72 release on Bob Shad’s Mainstream label. Originals now exchange hands for hundreds of dollars, and listening makes it easy to understand why, as Clark was an exceptional singer comparable in style to Aretha Franklin and notably confident on her only LP (there was a pair of prior singles, both also highly sought after). The band, which shares some members with Franklin’s backing bands of the time, was impeccably assembled by Shad as he and arranger Ernie Wilkins produced a knockout in just two days at the Record Plant in NYC. Steeped in that lush but robust early ‘70s soul feel, this should’ve been a major hit. Another fine reissue from this class label. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for April 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—in shops for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 13, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Inter Arma, Sulphur English (Relapse) Mountain Goat John Darnielle penned a short bio for this Richmond, VA-based doom-sludge-progressive metal unit’s fourth album. It’s an utterly adoring text, which is cool, as I very much enjoy when musicians enthuse over the productivity of their contemporaries, especially when those gestures span across genres (though indie singer-songwriter Darnielle has been long-noted as a major metalhead). With this said, I normally take these appreciations with a grain or two of salt. The difference here is that I was pretty much knocked sideways by the expansive heaviness of Inter Arma’s prior album, 2016’s Paradise Gallows, and was wondering how they’d follow it up. At just short of 67 minutes, this one’s nearly as long and just as accomplished. A

Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Tim Story, Lunz 3 (Grönland) Roedelius is noted, amongst other achievements, for co-founding the Krautrock-kosmische staples Harmonia and Cluster. Story is a veteran ambient composer who made a considerable impact on the ’80s New Age scene via recordings through Windham Hill and Hearts of Space. The first meeting of these figures took place in the Austrian city of Lunz, with their ongoing collaboration named after the locale. Lunz 3 means this is the pair’s third recording. I haven’t heard the others, but based on what’s here, some backtracking is in my future. In terms of their individual discographies, I’m more in Roedelius’ camp, but the prettiness I associate with Story’s work integrates well in this context, and along the way there are all sorts of surprises. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Spiritual (ORG Music) Like Tutankhamun (which ORG reissued earlier this year), this was cut during the Art Ensemble’s early and highly fertile days in Paris, where they solidified as a group (in terms of sound and under the name AEoC) prior to the addition of drummer-percussionist Don Moye, who joined in 1970 (the year after The Spiritual was recorded). No Moye doesn’t mean a lack of percussion however, as everyone contributes on that front. Yes, this LP is an experience in abstraction, but it’s also strikingly cohesive (and disciplined) in its desire to re-inhabit the pre-swing/ bebop New Orleans spirit of jazz collectivity while getting at something unmistakably new and at times thrillingly theatrical. After 50 years this still challenges and rewards. A

Cecil Taylor, The Great Paris Concert (ORG Music) Recorded in November of 1966 but not released until 1973 by BYG as Student Studies (the ’77 edition by Freedom carried the title used here; reissues have alternated since), this features Taylor with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, bassist Alan Silva, and drummer Andrew Cyrille; essentially the band on Conquistador! (which was recorded for Blue Note less than two months prior) minus trumpeter Bill Dixon and second bassist Henry Grimes. Notably, everyone here also played on Unit Structures (cut in May of ’66) so it suffices to say the band knows the complexities of Taylor’s music well (Lyons had been with him since ’61). Crucially, they add their own strains of individualism. For those just getting into Taylor, this one is essential. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for April 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for April, 2019. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Viking Moses, Cruel Child (Epifo) I’ve long known Viking Moses, which is the performance moniker/ band name of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brendon Massei, through his track on The Golden Apples of the Sun, a 2004 various artists CD compiled by Davendra Banhart for the Bastet imprint of the free magazine Arthur. I love that release, but Viking Moses is one of the handful of contributors who I never made a deeper acquaintance with…until now. Where Golden Apples was a vessel of freak folk and shades of New Weird activity (the Viking Moses track was submerged smack dab in it like a celery stalk in a bowl of organic peanut butter), Cruel Child reminds me more of Bill Callahan but with some cool twists, like the poppy “Headstrong.” Pretty terrific, overall. A-

Lee Fields & the Expressions, It Rains Love (Big Crown) The fifth release by Lee Fields & the Expressions and the second for Big Crown doesn’t disappoint. Like 2017’s fantastic Special Night, it benefits from the production of Big Crown honcho Leon Michels, himself a musician crucial to the old school funk and soul scene where Fields is a prime torch carrier, especially since the passing of Charles Bradley. That means folks who discovered Bradley through his cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” or are just into the Daptone sound in general (exemplified by Sharon Jones) who haven’t hipped themselves to the Big Crown roster should rectify that lack right quick. A congruence with hip-hop has been mentioned in relation to Fields’ work, but it’s either implicit stylistically or appealingly subtle. A stone winner. A-

Stewart A. Staples, Music for ‘High Life’ (Milan) Let’s go way back; in an earlier era, soundtracks used to function (well, it was one function, anyway) as a sort memory enhancement of a film that, once it exited movie theaters, was effectively gone outside of TV reruns or a cinematic rerelease. Today, scores can help to promote a film in a crowded artistic landscape, especially when they are by musicians with a substantial rep outside the cinematic scene, which is the case here with Stuart A. Staples, who’s known for his work with the group Tindersticks. Celebrity film scoring can occasionally seem like a deliberate maneuver on the part of a director and/ or producers, but that’s not the case here, as Staples (either with Tindersticks or on his own) and High Life’s auteur Claire Denis have worked together extensively.

At this point, purely in terms of name association for cinephiles, their collab is reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work with Jonny Greenwood, and the results have been quite worthwhile across a variety of genres, though this one, a movie set in outer space, stands out a more than a little bit. Just a smidge over an hour long, Staples’ score is appropriately moody/ atmospheric (with one late song exception, “Willow,” which features vocals by the movie’s lead actor Robert Pattinson) and successfully establishes tension. In “Rape of Boyse,” this tension gets released at a level of intensity suggesting something nearer to Alien than Solaris. Or perhaps a sweet blend of space thriller and sci-fi art-film, the possibility supported by the brief accompanying synopsis. It’s a cinch that I’ll be checking it out. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Dustin Laurenzi,
Snaketime: The Music
of Moondog

Louis Thomas Hardin, better known to the world as Moondog, was one of last century’s most unique composers. This means that interpreting the man’s music is tricky business, at least in terms of results that are satisfying to those not directly involved with the endeavor. On Snaketime: The Music of Moondog, out now on vinyl as a co-release through Feeding Tube and Astral Spirits, Chicago saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi and his octet have overcome without a hitch the difficulties in paying tribute through translation, successfully transforming the source material in a jazz context while remaining true to Moondog’s vision. Released in an edition of 500, curious vinyl lovers shouldn’t procrastinate.

Dustin Laurenzi’s highest profile gig is as a touring member of Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver, though the main thrust of his musical activity finds him improvising; he’s a member of the trio Twin Talk and the leader of the group Natural Language and has additionally played in a variety of ensembles including Snaarj, the Marquis Hill Blacktet, Katie Ernst’s Little Words (featured on a 2015 CD inspired by the writings of Dorothy Parker), and the Dave Lisik Jazz Orchestra.

The baseline reason for Snaketime’s worthiness is probably the passage of years, indeed roughly a decade, between Laurenzi’s introduction to Moondog’s music while studying at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and the making of this album, recorded live at Chicago’s Hungry Brain in January of 2018, through a group put together specifically for the purpose.

A first encounter with the works of Moondog, when absorbed together with his biography and his undeniably striking mode of self-expression, what Laurenzi calls the “lore surrounding him,” could easily prove seductive enough to inspire haste in creation. But not only did the saxophonist take a measured approach, he didn’t even have plans to release this recording, at least until it was played back. Upon listening, he discovered how exceptional it was.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Zombies,
The Complete Studio Recordings

All this week we’re celebrating the 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees.Ed.

With three enduring hit singles, the last of which derives from a classic album that’s as redolent of its era as any, The Zombies aren’t accurately classified as underrated, but it’s also right to say that the potential of much of their catalog went unfulfilled while they were extant. Since their breakup, subsequent generations have dug into that body of work, which has aged rather well, and right now nearly all of it can be found in Varèse Sarabande’s The Complete Studio Recordings, a 5LP collection released in celebration of the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For anyone cultivating a shelf of ’60s pop-rock vinyl, this collection is a smart acquisition.

The Zombies began cohering as a band around 1961-’62 in St Albans, Hertfordshire UK. By the time they debuted on record in ’64 the lineup had solidified, featuring lead vocalist-guitarist Colin Blunstone, keyboardist Rod Argent, guitarist Paul Atkinson, bassist Chris White, and drummer Hugh Grundy. That’s how it would remain until their breakup in December of ’67. Rightly considered part of the mid-’60s British Invasion, The Zombies’ stature in the context of this explosion basically rests on the success of two singles, both far more popular in the US than in the band’s home country.

Those hits, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No,” each made the Billboard Top 10 (the former all the way to No. 2) and respectively open sides one and two of the US version of their first album, a move suggesting confidence on the part of their label Parrot that, as the needle worked its way inward, listeners wouldn’t become dismayed or bored by a drop-off in quality.

That assurance was well-founded. While “She’s Not There” is an utter pop gem, thriving on perfectly-judged instrumental construction (in its original, superior mono version with Grundy’s added drum input) and emotional breadth that’s found it long-eclipsing mere oldies nostalgia, and “Tell Her No” a more relaxed yet crisp follow-up, their talents were established beyond those two songs, even if nothing else on The Zombies quite rises to the same heights of quality.

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Graded on a Curve:
Scott Walker,
Bish Bosch

We remember Scott Walker who passed away Monday, March 25, with a look back from our archives.Ed.

From his beginnings as a pop idol working in the mode of The Righteous Brothers to his period as a smooth student of Jacques Brel to his unprecedented re-flowering as a restless, challenging avant-garde artist, there is no doubt that Scott Walker’s career has been a long and fascinatingly strange trip. And Bish Bosch, his latest record for 4AD, continues that progression, being his most extreme and often baffling statement to date. Opinions will most certainly be divided, but one thing is certain; there’s nothing else like it.

My introduction to the name Scott Walker occurred shortly before the release of his 1995 release Tilt, but I’d already been exposed to him for years without knowing it due to his membership in The Walker Brothers. That duo’s “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” hit #1 in the UK and #13 in the US in 1966, and it’s a beautiful song that remains on the radar to this very day in large part through consistent rotation on oldies radio. That’s where I first heard it as a youngster, but from within that context it was just one fine song amongst many, and my memory is quite foggy regarding exactly when and how I connected the dots between Walker’s early pop stardom and his slowly realized total about-face as an enigmatic experimental musician.

Walker’s unusual career path has been described by some as being completely his own. And essentially that’s true. Sure, there are numerous examples of creators from across the artistic spectrum who successfully emerged from the realms of the conventional, only to end up in the deep weeds of uncompromising experimentalism; film director Nicholas Ray and writer James Joyce both spring to mind. But nobody seems able to come up with an instance of a pop icon so completely abandoning their commercial sensibility for an environment of success so blatantly the opposite.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for March 2019, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for March, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones, From Untruth (Northern Spy) Matt Nelson’s soprano sax and Nick Dunston’s upright bass lend this LP a jazzy (and decidedly out-jazzy) component, though it’s augmented by drummer Max Jaffee adding “Electronic Sensory Percussion” to his standard kit and Nelson doubling on Moog. But the focal point is unquestionably vocalist Kidambi, who adds synthesizer and harmonium to four compositions that on this aggregation’s second release cohere into a uniformly superb, at times gripping (and thrilling!) post-category statement. The mention of “futurist realms” rings true. From Untruth also tackles major themes of politics and injustice, but with the intent to give the listener respite from the ugliness of our current reality. Kidambi has succeeded mightily. A

The Underground Youth, Montage Images of Lust & Fear (Fuzz Club) In 2017, this Manchester-born but currently Berlin-based outfit led by vocalist-guitarist Craig Dyer released What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This?, a record that reminded me somewhat of Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe. But this follow-up, the band’s ninth overall, reminds me of Newcombe’s output not at all. Instead, the dark and tense atmosphere makes me think of the Birthday Party, but with instrumental precision (matched with sharp lyrics) that helps the whole to stand apart. Suicide is mentioned by the label, but I thought more of Michael Gira (Swan Kristof Hahn guests on six tracks here) and occasionally of Joy Division. When Dyer shifts to ballads, things get distinguished even more. Borderline excellent. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Mary Lou Williams, S/T (Smithsonian-Folkways) Along with Lucinda Williams’ Happy Woman Blues (reviewed in full earlier in March) this and the Elizabeth Cotten LP below comprise the 2019 Women’s History Month installment in Smithsonian-Folkways’ vinyl reissue series. It’s a well-rounded trio. This record, originally released in 1964 on this great jazz pianist’s Mary label (distributed by Folkways back then) is probably the most underrated of the bunch, in part due to how it transcends category. Though infused with jazz (Percy Heath and Grant Green contribute), the music here, titled Black Christ of the Andes, is a devotional work that features choral sections of considerable scale and beauty, and all the better because it’s a sound almost unheard of today. A major achievement. A

Elizabeth Cotten, Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar (Smithsonian-Folkways) Many folks know this LP as Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes; it’s reissued here under the title of its initial release. The story of Cotten’s life is well-known (it’s recently been told as a children’s book by musician Laura Veirs) and her rediscovery (through the family of Pete Seeger, which accurately was just a discovery, as she’d never recorded previously) commenced one of the most welcome and enduring byproducts of the whole mid-20th century folk revival. Taped by Mike Seeger in Cotton’s bedroom in her Washington, DC home in 1957, this is powerfully intimate music, reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt in its calmness, featuring guitar, banjo and vocals. For folk music lovers, I’d call this one essential. A

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Graded on a Curve: Velvet Goldmine OST

Once upon a time, I owned the soundtrack to Velvet Goldmine on compact disc, but somebody stole it. Or maybe in an addled state, I let somebody borrow it, and they never gave it back. It’s possible I might’ve left it at a friend’s house or in their car. Somehow, I doubt it. Whatever the reason, it’s long gone, though this fact saddens me no more, because on April 5 MVD Audio is bringing out a fresh edition on double blue and orange vinyl. As it remains one of the few song-based (as opposed to score-driven) soundtracks that didn’t have me giving the CD player skip button a workout, I’m pretty stoked. A few fresh spins had that tone arm gliding steady.

Having enjoyed Todd Haynes’ first two features, I watched Velvet Goldmine, his third from 1998, and liked it, too. I considered digging into it again in service for this review, but ultimately didn’t, which is of no consequence, as the record stands on its own merits. Not only pleasing from start to finish, it’s also unusually multifaceted for a soundtrack, with its handful of genre-appropriate ’70s tracks cohering well with a larger helping of thematically-focused ’90s material.

First, the old stuff. The film Velvet Goldmine is tersely described as loosely based on the lives and artistic trajectories of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed, but especially Bowie. However, Haynes apparently wasn’t able to license any of Bowie’s stuff, a roadblock that became a benefit, as the soundtrack (and the film, as I remember) dually functions as a lengthy trip down one of the main highways of ’70s Glam.

That would be the glam rock-as-Art-as-lifestyle liberation-auteur route on the map, which means a decided deemphasis on bubblegum or hard rock (Gary Glitter and Slade are heard in the film, though). However, the selections grabbed from the era do an adequate job of portraying glam rock’s creative ambition even without access to Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie.

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Graded on a Curve:
Scott Walker,
The Collection 1967-1970

Today we remember Scott Walker who passed away yesterday, March 25, with a look back from our archives.Ed.

The first five key albums by Scott Walker have just been compiled into a CD/LP box set, and in corralling this very important and vastly enjoyable work from a true existential dreamboat, the executives at Universal Music Group have done music lovers the world over a massive service. Scott Walker: The Collection 1967-1970 includes Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3, Scott 4, and maybe most enticingly ‘Til the Band Comes In, and if not flawless, the collection does paint a truly captivating portrait of this singular artist as a young, ambitious and enduringly relevant man.

Had Scott Walker’s recording career been somehow curtailed before the release of his 1967 solo-debut Scott, he’d still be remembered as one-third of the sneakily non-sibling trio The Walker Brothers, an American group that flipped the script to become a UK teen-pop sensation right in the midst of the British Invasion. They even scored a pair of US hits in the process.

The Walker Brothers’ enshrinement in the Pop Hall of Fame sorta rests upon the enduring pleasures of the Bacharach & David-penned “Make it Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” both songs climbing to the apex of the British singles charts. They also landed securely in the US Top Twenty to stand as their biggest homeland success, though the reaction of American girls to the trio’s suave image (and young Scott’s, in particular) fell quite a bit short of the mouth-agape and eyes-agog manner of those Swingin’ lasses across the pond.

During their fairly brief initial run (they did reunite in ’75 to produce three further LPs, essentially setting the stage for the second phase of Scott’s career) The Walker Brothers possessed a considerable diversity, with their discography holding a fair amount of uptempo material, including covers of Motown (“Dancing in the Street”), Chris Kenner’s R&B warhorse “Land of a Thousand Dances,” and even Dylan (“Love Minus Zero”). It’s this stuff that gets them mentioned as partial conspirators in the whole UK Beat scene, and while quite likeable in doses, it also lends an air of unevenness to their output.

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Graded on a Curve: Federico Ughi, Transoceanico

Drummer Federico Ughi is no stranger to this column. A Rome-native who splits time between his home country and Brooklyn, he’s drummed on a few dozen records since emerging on disc in the late ’90s, many of them, like this one, on the label he founded, 577 Records. Included in that number are LPs reviewed here by multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter and the electronic-jazz collective New York United. With Transoceanico, Ughi celebrates the 20th anniversary of his first album with a striking free-jazz trio session featuring British tenor saxophonist Rachel Musson and bassist Adam Lane. It’s a searching, raw-toned delight for avant-jazz fans, out now on vinyl and digital.

The opening moments of Transoceanico’s opener “So Far So Good” sparked quick thoughts of ’60s ensembles like The New York Art Quartet and the New York Contemporary Five, outfits that were in the thick of the jazz New Thing (as it was then sometimes called) in the years prior to Fire Music really taking hold. This is a sometimes-underrated period in the history of avant-jazz, but it remains quite important in the documentation of how individuals and groups extended the innovations of Ornette Coleman shortly after his emergence on the scene

As Coleman is cited as a major influence on Ughi’s music as well as a mentor, the multifaceted connection here isn’t a surprise. Furthermore, as Transoceanico’s intense but digestible 43 minutes unwinds, a major point of comparison would be Coleman’s classic ’60s trio, the one that was the core of the pretty good Town Hall, 1962 for ESP-Disk and both volumes of the absolutely essential At the “Golden Circle” Stockholm.

And it’s not like there’s any anxiety on the part of Ughi over Coleman’s influence, as one of the tracks here is titled “Sky Ramblin’,” which I’m assuming is a nod to the opening cut from Ornette’s 1960 classic Change of the Century. Additionally, the reference to the sky wraps up nicely with the drummer’s choice of album title and cover art as the record explores the theme of home and how it has grown in his experience to encompass Rome, NYC, and London (where he lived in the late ’90s and where his first release was made), and by extension travel (between Italy and New York obviously, but also touring).

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for March 2019, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for March, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, S/T (Free Dirt) The debut of this duo, with de Groot playing clawhammer banjo and Hargreaves bowing the fiddle, coheres into a powerful instrumental statement with numerous vocals turns that dives deep into the old-time style and comes up with something wonderfully fresh. The combined acumen comes from experience, with de Groot a member of Molsky’s Mountain Drifters and her own groups The Goodbye Girls and Oh My Darling, and Hargreaves backing such august names as Gillian Welch and Laurie Lewis, playing on the latter’s Grammy-nominated The Hazel and Alice Sessions, and releasing her own debut Started Out to Ramble at age 14. The freshness of this LP comes in part through their inspired, unusual choice of material.

It’s not an attempt to one-up folks into old-time stuff. For one thing, they dig into “Willie Moore,” a song well-known from The Anthology of American Folk Music (through the version by Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford). No, the objective is to lessen the divide between the world that spawned the music we now refer to as old-time and the cultural climate of the present day. They do so by tackling the work of black guitar-fiddle duo Nathan Frazier and Frank Patterson, digging into “Farewell Whiskey” by John Hatcher, “the avant-garde fiddler of 1930s Mississippi,” dishing the trad tune “I Don’t Want to Get Married” (with lyrics by Edna Poplin), and shedding light on sexual assault of women in prison with a reading of Alice Gerrard’s “Beaufort County Jail” that reminds me of Dock Boggs. And more. Top-flight. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: June Chikuma, Les Archives (Freedom to Spend) This is a “reinvented” and retitled edition of composer Chikuma’s Divertimento LP, which was originally released in 1986 on Toru Hatano’s Picture Label. The transformation largely centers on a total sleeve redesign and an adjustment in first name; in ’86 she went by Atsushi Chikuma. The sequencing of Divertimento is essentially retained, though for the close of side one there is the previously unreleased “Mujo to Ifukoto” from the same sessions. Giving video game ambience a methodical cut-and-paste treatment, the effect is not so much disorienting but rather a precise scramble of psychedelia. Along with another unreleased cut offered on a bonus 45 with the record’s vinyl edition, “Mujo to Ifukoto” is a considerable boon.

Speaking of video games, Chikuma is maybe best-known for her soundtracks to Nintendo’s Bomberman franchise, though she’s also composed for film and TV. The first Bomberman game appeared in ’83, three years prior to what is now Les Archives, but while game sounds are tangible, this record is onto something more, stemming from a one-person show that utilized a KORG SDD-3000 digital delay, drum machines and samplers. This presents a sort of best-of-all-possible-outcomes scenario. While I’ve liked some of the vid game soundtracks I’ve heard, they’ve never really attained repeat listening potential. In branching out, with inspirations including Satie, Mozart, and Paul Hindemith and modes ranging from hurky-jerky dance action to a piece for string-quartet, the likelihood of return listens here is assured. A

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Graded on a Curve:
Mary Lattimore +
Mac McCaughan,
New Rain Duets

Mary Lattimore is known for collaboration; if the scene were jazz, she’d be rated as a first-call harpist. Mac McCaughan is noted as the singer-guitarist in Superchunk, a band that has thrived in four decades; it sorta goes without saying that collaboration is in his skill set. Still, the prospect of a duo record from these artists came with a tinge of uncertainty, as the team-up didn’t seem a natural fit. New Rain Duets, out on clear or black vinyl and digital March 22 through Three Lobed Recordings, exceeds expectations. One reason why: McCaughan isn’t slinging guitar but helming an array of synths. Meanwhile, Lattimore is plucking like a champ. The results are appealingly celestial, but also more.

I haven’t listened to everything Mary Lattimore’s recorded, but to varying degrees, I’ve liked everything I’ve heard. Her own stuff, either solo or in collaboration (she’s released records with Jeff Zeigler and Meg Baird and played with many others) displays an admirable range and comfort with experimentation while avoiding falling back onto the baseline cascades of lushness that are associated with her chosen instrument. If I see the name Mary Lattimore in the credits of someone else’s album (as I did with Sharron van Etten’s Are We There or Marissa Nadler’s For My Crimes) I note it as a sign of promise.

Of course, no artist is infallible, and I was unsure over what exactly New Rain Duets held in store. This is not to suggest that I don’t hold Mac McCaughan’s work in high regard. To the contrary, Superchunk was amongst my most-played bands of the ’90s, in part because they consistently delivered hooky songs with punk energy and edge while never coming off like a bunch of hackneyed doofuses.

I really dig his other bands Portastatic and Bricks, as well. Same goes for his 2015 solo LP Non-Believers. But a common thread in McCaughan’s work is pop, though it’s far from one-note. Over the years, he’s expanded from early Superchunk’s post-hardcore Buzzcocks-zone into lo-fi melodicism and power-pop-shaded singer-songwriter territory, and later augmented his sturdy strum with vivid baroque flourishes. On Non-Believers, he even productively integrated New Wavy synths into the scheme.

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Graded on a Curve: Andre Williams, “Bacon Fat” b/w “Just Because
of a Kiss”

Today we remember Andre Williams who passed away on March 17, with a look back from our archives.Ed.

Zephire Andre Williams has packed a lot of living into his nearly 80 years on this planet, and along the way his name has been attached to a whole lot of records. In the second half of the 1950s he cut a slew of smolderingly low-fi platters for Detroit’s Fortune label, with “Bacon Fat” b/w “Just Because of a Kiss” growing into a national hit. The a-side is amongst the most potent R&B of its era, and it rightfully stands as a classic.

Specifically due to its scarcity, Andre Williams’ early work was once the stuff of legend. Not just his run of singles for Fortune, but his subsequent motions for ventures of differing size and longevity such as  Wingate, Sport, Avin, Checker, and Duke. He was also noted for his role behind the scenes at Motown during the first half of the ‘60s and as a co-writer (with Otha Hayes and Verlie Rice) of “Shake a Tail Feather,” the original of which was recorded in Chicago by The Five Du-Tones for the One-derful imprint.

The waxing of that ludicrously swank monster occurred in 1963 during one of Williams’ absences from Motown. It’s now well-established that he and Berry Gordy’s relationship was a highly volatile one, and by ’65 the two men had parted ways for good. His biggest post-Motown success came at Checker, one of the numerous subsidiaries belonging to Phil and Leonard Chess. Hooking up with Ike Turner in the early-‘70s sent Williams’ life into a downward spiral, mainly due to the steady availability of copious amounts of cocaine.

And Williams’ frequent label-hopping combined with his overall lack of national hits to basically insure difficulty and neglect in the anthologizing of his discography, even after he’d made his comeback. In ’84 Fortune Records, still in business against seemingly insurmountable odds, issued the compilation Jail Bait, but by the point of his ‘90s resurgence copies of that slab were long gone.

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Graded on a Curve:
Bali High OST

Today we remember Surf Guitar legend Dick Dale who passed away on March 16 with a look back from our archives at the genre he pioneered.Ed.

The Western Hemisphere has just entered prime beach season, which of course means swimming, soaking up rays in the sand, sipping upon cold beverages to help counteract the swelter, and for beings of adventuresome and athletic nature, the riding of major waves. But if one is faced with landlocked circumstances a perfectly acceptable alternative is cranking up Anthology Recordings’ reissue of the OST to Stephen Spaulding’s surf film Bali High. Gills-drenched in appropriate vibes, it also spotlights the ingenuity of musician-composer Michael Sena. 

Whilst enduring my teenage years a steady rise in clumsiness unfortunately became tangible, and thusly skateboarding, skiing, and surfing essentially got lumped together as activities best avoided in the safeguarding of physical health. However, I did enjoy skate and surf rock (I know not of a corresponding mountain genre of the slopes), though gradually clear was that a lot of surf music didn’t actually impact the listening diets of those having shaped up the subculture.

A whole bunch of real estate spreads out between the coasts of the United States, and a significant portion of surf rock served that market in a manner kinda similar to Exotica; residing closer to the root of true surf was Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Chantays, The Surfaris, and more so scads of obscure regional acts, a high number of them hailing from Southern California, but surf music’s reality was undeniably somewhat messy. For instance, many quickly adapted to hot rod themes in hopes of expanding audiences instantaneously snatched away by the tsunami of the British Invasion.

So the story goes, anyway. In 1966 The Endless Summer appeared, giving voice to a legitimate way of life amid the death throes of faddishness. Scored by The Sandals (or Sandells, who curiously went on to contribute the soundtrack to Dick Barrymore’s ’67 skiing doc The Last of the Ski Bums), Bruce Brown’s documentary is the obvious starting point of any tour through surf culture’s audio-visual component.

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