Third Man Records has joined forces with the certifiable old-time jukebox that is the Document label to commence a rather stellar series of vinyl reissues, with its first three subjects responsible for some of the most vital music produced in the early years of sound recording. Maybe the most important is Charley Patton. He’s credited as an integral ingredient in the shaping of the blues, but his stuff remains captivating even when heard apart from the circumstances of history. Separating Patton from his legacy is in the end an impossible and undesirable task, however; Patton’s The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume One is the first installment in a sequence that will not only bring huge insights to new generations but will additionally provide an inexhaustible source of pure listening pleasure.
For many a young rock-weaned listener who came of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the first encounter with the blues was provided through the electrified strains that emerged from cities like Memphis, Detroit, and of course Chicago, with the amplified blues holding the closest relationship to the rock music that had absorbed, altered and in some cases betrayed the form.
To ears that held no firsthand experience with the often severe climates that shaped the early portion of last century, the more modern sensibilities of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and even the less urbanized, at times quite eccentric sides issued by guitarists like Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker still made sense when considered in rock terms, a set of ideas that held a dominant sway on the young minds that so often salivated for insight into the circumstances behind the stuff that helped to define their youthful musical interests.
The sounds that originated from the Mississippi Delta in the ’20s-‘30s, often talked about as a locus for so many of rock’s big advances in the ‘60s-‘70s, represented a distance of only a few decades, but for adolescents hearing them for the first time, the gulf between surface-noise compromised acoustic performances that were reliably rendered solo and the unblemished, full-bodied, full-band recordings of The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton could feel huge and unsurprisingly alienating.
Of all the marquee British Invasion acts, nobody typified the concept of “singles group” more than The Dave Clark Five. Of albums they had many, but the qualities that made them a special and enduring outfit are best served by the two brief sides of a 45. During the mid-‘60s their short-players stormed both the US and UK charts with a frequency that remains impressive, and “Try Too Hard” b/w “All Night Long” from 1966 is one of their finest efforts.
While they are well-remembered today, I also suspect that few people these days would rank the Dave Clark Five as one the tiptop exemplars of the Brit Invasion, and that’s an interesting scenario because during the phenomenon’s initial wave, only The Beatles achieved a higher level of popularity. Contemplating the subject for a bit leads me to a handful of reasons for the lessening of the DC5’s status over time.
Perhaps the biggest factor is that none of the Five’s non-compilations have landed in the rock ‘n’ roll canon. I tend to think that any well-rounded, historically focused record collection is incomplete without the inclusion of Clark and company, and no doubt many others feel the same way. But I also agree with those asserting that in the run of albums they made while extant, nothing represents them better than UK Columbia’s ’66 release of the 14-track The Dave Clark Five’s Greatest Hits.
This is not to infer that the original long-players are negligible. To the contrary, ‘64’s Glad All Over and the following year’s Coast to Coast, both issued in the US by Epic, are quite good. But starting in the mid-‘70s and continuing until 1993, none of the Dave Clark Five’s music was commercially available in any format, leaving the used bins and the radio dial as the only ways one could access their discography.
Born in 1931 in an Alberta, Canada mining town and deceased in 1988 from heart failure, Bruce Haack is rightfully considered one of the trailblazers of electronic music. He’s responsible for an eclectic and often eccentric oeuvre, but his most famous LP is the one he made for Columbia in 1970. The Electric Lucifer remains an inimitable and visionary work, and it’s been given a well-deserved though highly limited 180gm vinyl reissue by the Omni Recordings Corporation.
Quickly dropping out of Julliard in the mid-‘50s, Bruce Haack initially made a living writing both pop songs and scores for dance and theater, but on his way to electronic music immortality he also simultaneously devoted his energies to serious composition, completing work in the highly prescient musique concrète style, a form wildly popular with the ‘50s avant-garde.
He was also a creator of early synthesizers, with his inventions landing him on television programs such as The Tonight Show and I’ve Got a Secret, where Haack often demonstrated his heat and touch sensitive Dermatron. As such, he’s often linked with Raymond Scott as an inhabitant of the oddball-visionary wing of electronic music, the ties to Scott enhanced by a significant portion of his discography being designed for the enjoyment and benefit of youthful ears.
In the case of the three volumes of Scott’s Soothing Sounds for Baby, the intended audience was still lolling in the crib, but the records produced by Haack for his own Dimension 5 label took on a more educational approach. Offered in homemade black and white covers with the assistance of dance instructor Esther Nelson, pianist Ted “Praxiteles” Pandel, and later Haack’s friend and business manager Chris Kachulis, their look and sound does give off a strong whiff of the unconventional.
Cian Nugent is a young Dubliner mainly known for his acoustic guitar prowess as one of John Fahey’s growing number of stylistic inheritors. But on Born with the Caul, his new LP in tandem with the appropriately named outfit the Cosmos, he’s completed a surprising and at-times amazing transformation. It’s psychedelic rock masterfully done, and it’s one of the best albums of the year.
Up to this point, the productivity of Cian Nugent has been pretty easy to synopsize. In a sentence, he belongs to the rich folk tradition known as the American Primitive. And placing him in this category surely isn’t as noteworthy as it used to be, since what was once a rarity on the scene, namely post-Fahey/Basho/Kottke instrumental guitar grandeur, has over the last few years become far more commonplace.
A distinguishing factor for Nugent is his nationality. And yet hailing from Ireland sets him apart only somewhat, for his status as a Euro extender of an overtly American musical phenomenon places him in the company of Englishmen James Blackshaw and C Joynes (and no doubt others I’m forgetting or don’t know), both of whom have toured with Nugent.
While of interest, the locale of these three guitarists is of no great consequence; in the end there’s really nothing that unusual about a British division of American Primitive exponents. Just as Europe picked up on jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, two indisputably American forms, and then contributed a large tide of substantial work to the canon, so it is with the children of the Takoma School.
Washington, DC’s Rites of Spring is considered to be one of the most widely influential of the many short-lived groups to burst from the roster of Dischord Records, and their self-titled 1985 LP has also been offered up as a prime contender for the title of flat-out finest album to see release via that long-serving and well respected label. Yes, that’s a bold statement with names like Minor Threat, Faith, Void, Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, and Lungfish in the mix, but it’s surely a valid proposition and a topic worthy of discussion. And as Dischord has just waxed-up the band’s oft-discussed (and bootlegged) Six Song Demo for post-hardcore fans both young and old(er), that conversation is also a timely one.
For some casual observers Rites of Spring, a four-piece comprised of Guy Picciotto on guitar and vocals, Mike Fellows on bass, Eddie Janney on guitar, and Brendan Canty on drums, are the big link between the initial waves of righteous American Hardcore as done in the distinctive style of Dischord Records and the later music of Fugazi, one of the most artistically successful (and probably the most well-known) post-hardcore bands on the planet.
This link is solidified most obviously by Picciotto’s and Canty’s membership in Fugazi, but it’s also deepened by the presence of Ian MacKaye, who figures in the connection through his roles in Minor Threat, Fugazi, and as the co-owner of Dischord and by extension co-producer of Rites of Spring’s small body of work.
In 1969 four guys, namely Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, and Malachi Favors, took a trip to Paris. Once there they became the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In striving to attain the goal of “Great Black Music” and refine the concept of “Ancient to the Future,” they have given us many important works. A particularly fine one is their first under the moniker, A Jackson in Your House.
A Jackson in Your House embodies an unusually high number of interesting discussion points. It might seem odd to begin with a survey of the company that initially released it, but doing so greatly illuminates one of the numerous challenges jazz musicians faced throughout the form’s development, an issue that was deepened when the music resided in the commercially thorny region of the avant-garde.
The album was put out by the French imprint BYG as part of their now celebrated Actuel series of free jazz recordings, a discography that sits alongside that of the American label ESP-Disk as the biggest repository of the movement’s development in its first fifteen years. It’s no surprise they were both independents. Where Impulse, Atlantic, and to a lesser extent Blue Note, Verve, and Savoy all contributed to the early documentation of avant jazz, they were all cautious over their offerings.
However, ESP-Disk and BYG jumped into the fray headfirst, frequently pressing up records of vital historical importance that the big boys wouldn’t deign to touch, which is the main reason they’re so beloved by free jazz fans today. Unless they know the whole story, in which case the adoration very likely comes with a major sticking point; in both cases the artists largely never got paid.
Albert Collins hailed from Texas, and he had the blues. His biggest fame as a guitarist came during the 1980s but his tenure as a performer and recording artist spanned all the way back to the late-‘50s. Truckin’ with Albert Collins, which is freshly available on 180gm vinyl from the Friday Music label, serves up a very nice collection of his mid-‘60s work, and its chapter one in the story of a major electric blues figure.
It was a long run of albums for Alligator that finally brought Albert Collins sustained and much deserved recognition, but prior to his association with that long-serving Chicago-based indie he’d already achieved the status of a Texas master. Along with T-Bone Walker, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Freddie King, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Collins is an essential component in the Lone Star State’s post-World War II blues progression, and his pre-Alligator material reveals an artistry that thrived on versatility and yet was also quite focused.
However, noting the man’s rise in stature via Bruce Iglauer’s label shouldn’t suggest that Collins was doing his thing under a shroud of total obscurity during the ‘60s, or conversely that the ascension via Alligator was instantaneous (far from it; it was only in the late-‘80s that he was able to pay someone else to drive his tour bus.) The guitarist certainly had his moments during the ‘60s blues boom, and the record that established him as a force was his single for the TCF/Hall label “Frosty.”
It’s not often that a compilation of thirty-year old music is almost as representative of the time of its issue as it is of the artist that originally made it, but that’s the case with Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music from the always suave and ever distinctive musician known to many as simply Esquivel. If the ‘90s fad for lounge and exotica sounds is often perceived as an unfortunate occurrence, it did hold a few pleasant twists and turns. This is one of them.
When Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, a quite unexpected compilation of material by one-of-a-kind Mexican band leader/composer Juan García Esquivel first hit the racks back in 1994 via Bar/None Records, it was a welcome curveball of smooth lounge/exotica strangeness and a dish unspoiled by the potential taint of contemporary approximation. For outside of Combustible Edison I consider the ‘90s retro-lounge field to be a rather dismal bunch of pikers, and while I do enjoy them in doses I’m not even all that bonkers over Edison (though I am rather taken with Edison members Michael Cudahy and Elizabeth Cox’s non-retro inclined previous group Christmas). For the record I consider the excellent Chicago band Coctails to fall outside the genre.
The only sticky thing about Esquivel’s unlikely rise from obscurity was pondering if people were sincerely digging him (or fellow exotica specialists Martin Denny or Les Baxter); it was always possible they were just being infuriatingly ironic. This situation was sorta similar to the ebbing and flowing penchant of folks attaching themselves to Z-grade movies, but different in that nobody would actually fess up to believing it was “so bad its good.” However, spending too much time wondering about the ultimately innocuous motives of others is a surefire way to end up in a straightjacket. And whenever I would listen to Esquivel’s stuff my concern just evaporated anyway, for it’s a truly inspired and loony trip.