Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
The Ru-Jac Records Story Volume One–Volume Four

Any time is a good time to soak up old-school Soul and R&B, but really, there’s no better moment than right now, as 2018’s month-long observance of African-American history and achievement is set to begin. Rather than simply replaying the cornerstones of the styles, there’s much to be gained by diving into less celebrated regions of the music’s narrative. With the four volumes comprising The Ru-Jac Records Story, Omnivore Recordings provides a lengthy look at soulful happenings in and around the city of Baltimore. Meticulously researched and co-produced by East Coast soul historian Kevin Coombe, the first two installments came out on compact disc January 19. The others are available February 2.

Kevin Coombe’s notes for The Ru-Jac Records Story offer valuable insight into the entrepreneurship of Rufus Mitchell, who in mid-20th century Baltimore branched out from his vocation as a successful tailor to navigate the uncertainties of professional entertainment, first by getting his feet wet as the general manager of Carr’s Beach Amusement Company, a business focused on enlivening the Annapolis, MD beach that catered to African-Americans during the era of segregation.

Mitchell then struck out on his own; initially, there was Ace Promotions, an enterprise that grew out of a mounting list of contacts through his work at Carr’s Beach. Shortly after forming Ace, Rujac emerged (with investor Jack Bennett, hence the name), beginning as a publishing venture only to morph into Ru-Jac the record company.

Most independent labels last only a short time, but Ru-Jac persevered, in part because Mitchell recognized talent. An ample survey of his ability to identify the solid stuff has already been annotated by Coombe and Omnivore on a pair of 2016 discs, Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker at Ru-Jac and True Enough: Gene & Eddie With Sir Joe at Ru-Jac.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Sarah McQuaid,
If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous

Sarah McQuaid’s prior releases have garnered deserved praise, and yet she has remained underappreciated in relation to her talent. She’s a gifted guitarist, with comparable vocal prowess, and her songwriting skill is…well, you get the idea. But with the imminent release of If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, it seems a higher profile is all but certain, as the record, a major statement in contemporary folk adding considerable depth to an already personal approach, continues her positive trajectory. Produced by the estimable UK guitarist Michael Chapman, it’s out February 2 on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through Shovel and a Spade Records.

Sarah McQuaid’s prior full-length Walking in White came out on compact disc in 2015. The result of the Spanish-born and Chicago-raised McQuaid’s trip from her adopted home in Cornwall, England to Cornwell, NY to record with her cousin as co-producer, ‘twas a solid effort, quite solid in fact, enough so that I worked-up a long glowing review, complete with some background on her earlier stuff, in this very column.

I’ll admit that after giving an artist the full review treatment once, with a few exceptions I’m hesitant to do so again, mainly due to the circumstance of underappreciation mentioned above; there is a considerable amount of fine music on the current scene that’s deserving of a wider audience, and it seems appropriate to cast the spotlight as wide as possible.

But as I said, there are exceptions; through songs that are increasingly sharp (McQuaid began her recording career more as an interpreter than as a writer) and instrumentation that remains top flight, If We Dig Any Deeper falls into my personal return engagement category. Overall, the set, her vinyl debut, delivers a slight but still tangible improvement on its predecessor.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, January 2018, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for January, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Jeff Snyder, Sunspots (Carrier) Composer, improviser, instrument-designer, holder of a Music Composition doctorate from Columbia, and Director of Electronic Music at Princeton, Snyder has worked in a variety of groups, and after numerous appearances on comps this is his debut album, offered on 2LP in a gatefold sleeve and as a digital DL in both stereo and quadrophonic versions. Using a 1970s Buchla synth controlled by his Snyderphonics JD-1 keyboard/sequencer, the four side-long 18-minute pieces recall the heyday of avant-garde electronic music, but without the bleep-and-bloop that sometimes dates those perfectly fine records. Instead, there’s a congruence to later experimental electronic stuff, so fans of Pan Sonic, Matmos, and Merzbow should investigate. A major work. A

Belle Adair, Tuscumbia (Single Lock) The second album from this Florence, AL four-piece was recorded at their hometown FAME studios, but don’t go jumping to any conclusions regarding their sound. Instead of working in a style that’s tangibly Southern, they dish out a strain of guitar pop that’s less geographically situated. Sure, Belle Adair’s influences include Big Star, who are assuredly in the Southern USA’s musical Hall of Greats, but the list also features Teenage Fanclub. Produced by Tom Schick, Tuscumbia fruitfully delves into a strum-glide zone instead of dishing riffy power-pop action, with the songs, singing (which occasionally brings The Clientele to mind), and playing strong throughout. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Bert Jansch, A Man I’d Rather Be (Part 1) (Earth) Recently, the work of this Brit-folk cornerstone has been relatively easy to obtain (it wasn’t always that way), but for interested parties who have yet to scoop up a few of his albums, this, Earth’s first installment in the corralling of his prime early discs (Part 2 arrives next month) is a gift destined to give decades of pleasure. Jansch has influenced hordes of aspiring fingerpickers, more than a handful of them notable, and his work has aged hardly a bit. This 4LP casebound box set (also available on CD) collects his self-titled debut and It Don’t Bother Me (both ’65) and Jack Orion and his collab with future Pentangle bandmate John Renbourn Bert and John (both ’66). Don’t think for a sec that you don’t need this stuff in your life. A+

Robbie Basho, Live in Forli, Italy 1982 (ESP-Disk/Obsolete Recordings) Along with John Fahey and Leo Kottke, Basho comprises the big three original American Primitive guitarists. Due in part to his death from a stroke in 1986 (he was just 45), his discography is smaller than his counterparts, but much of it is downright gorgeous, and this ’82 show adds to the luster. There is some overlap with the Bonn Ist Supreme CD, which captured a 1980 German performance, but that won’t stop heavy-duty fans (who were likely already familiar with this show as an incomplete download) from picking it up. The selections span from ’66’s The Grail and the Lotus to ’81’s Rainbow Thunder: Songs of the American West; yes, he does sing, but to these ears, that’s not a problem. CD available 1/26, vinyl 2/23. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
EXEK,
Ahead of Two Thoughts

Upon post-punk’s emergence in the late ’70s-early ’80s, it’s doubtful anyone thought it would develop into such an enduring genre; really, it was just a group of artists, most of them British, who were straining against restrictiveness toward new possibilities. Today, post-punk is still going strong, with no signs of slowing down, and the results are unsurprisingly mixed. Amongst the stronger recent examples is the Aussie outfit EXEK. Dark, arty, sometimes dubby, while wielding synth and a saxophone, their second album is Ahead of Two Thoughts, and it’s out on vinyl with download card January 26 through W.25TH, the new music sublabel of Superior Viaduct.

EXEK hail from Melbourne, where they started out as the studio project of their frontman Albert Wolski. Having songs written but no band to realize them, the vocalist-guitarist recruited Andrew Brocchi on synth, Henry Wilson on bass, Sam Dixon on drums, and Neil Grant on sax. After getting their sound together, a self-released eponymous 4-song cassette emerged in 2014.

The next year a pair of splits followed, one a tour 7-inch with the Austin, TX band Spray Paint, and the other a cassette with fellow Melbournians Halt Ever. EXEK’s contribution to that tape, the nearly 17-minute track “Baby Giant Squid,” filled the second side of their full-length debut Biased Advice, which came out in 2016 on the Another Dark Age label.

“Baby Giant Squid” productively mingles a dub foundation with ample moodiness and shifting instrumental textures, and the results underscore EXEK’s ambition as they remain tethered to precedent; Another Dark Age’s website cites a connection to the Australian Innocent label of Dave Chesworth and Philip Brophy crossed with the Germanic post-punk offered up by the imprints No Fun and Zickzack.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Dommengang,
Love Jail

Dommengang are a young band, formed in Brooklyn, who now reside in Los Angeles. Their forte is hard rock with psychedelic touches and electric blues at the root; it’s the specialty of countless well-intentioned dullards, but on their new sophomore effort the trio acquit themselves nicely by resisting the urge to wallow in cliché as a virtue. Instead, they embrace the style’s expansive possibilities, with results that register as both familiar and fresh. Love Jail is out January 26 on vinyl and compact disc through Thrill Jockey.

Comprised of guitarist Dan “Sig” Wilson, bassist Brian Markham, and drummer Adam Bulgasem, Dommengang brandish some of the heaviness established by the great rock trios of yore, but without falling victim to the common pitfall of plod. To the contrary, there’s a fleetness to the band’s sound, and on their 2015 debut Everybody’s Boogie, even hints of an experimental side.

Given Wilson’s past collaborations with Ancient Sky, Castanets, and Holy Sons, Dommengang’s experimentation, and propensity for psychedelia, shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, in 2015 the band were effectively part of the Holy Sons, touring as Emil Amos’ backing outfit (while opening the shows in support of Everybody’s Boogie), a connection that should hopefully reduce any hard rock retread worries.

I won’t deny that prior to listening, the title of their first record triggered thoughts of another band with a Brooklyn affiliation, namely Endless Boogie, but upon investigation there are some marked differences. For starters, where Endless Boogie have a Krautrock tendency informing their jams, Dommengang’s psych inclination, at least on their debut, is more reminiscent of Hawkwind.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, January 2018, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for January, 2018. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Phew, Voice Hardcore (Mesh-Key) Phew (real name Hiromi Moritani) is an integral part of the Japanese underground; she fronted the Osaka punk band Aunt Sally, her debut 7-inch was produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto, her first LP featured guests Conny Plank and members of Can, and she’s remained quite active since. Voice Hardcore emerged as a tour CD last year, but this is the vinyl edition, and as an excursion into the possibilities of Phew’s voice and Phew’s voice alone, it’s a captivating and unpredictable listen. The title might suggest unrestrained throat aggression, but the results are less throttling and more enveloping. Indeed, opener “Cloudy Day” is reminiscent of Ligeti in its textured drift, and “In the Doghouse” is a marvel of sonic breadth and repetition. A

Wooing, “Daydream Time Machine” (Ba Da Bing!) Here’s the debut 3-song EP from the new band of Rachel Trachtenburg, who as a youngster was part of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, and later was in Supercute! and the Prettiots. Although she’s a multi-instrumentalist (she drummed in TFSP), Trachtenburg handles vocals here, with JR Thomason on guitar and Rosie Slater behind the kit. Their sound is an unambiguous extension of ’90s indie; of the comparisons that others have floated, I’m most in agreement with Helium, and to a lesser extent The Breeders. They do combine Mary Timony’s mastery of mood with the Deals’ knack with a song, and the results are raw, occasionally dark, and best of all, amenable to volume. “In Colour” inches toward psych. “Tear World” is the pick by a nose. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Dinosaur L, (Get on Down) “Go Bang” and “In the Corn Belt” (Get on Down) Dinosaur L is often simply lumped into the magnetic eclecticism of the late and great Arthur Russell, but it’s worth noting upfront that these two tracks, split into parts with the original versions found on the 24->24 Music LP (released in ’82 via Russell and William Socolov’s Sleeping Bag Records), is the byproduct of a band. A studio band, sure, and one directed by Russell, but a band nonetheless, featuring the input of the Ingram brothers, Julius Eastman and others. They played disco, a prototype for art-disco to be specific, with Francois Kevorkian remixing “Go Bang” and Larry Levan handling “In the Corn Belt,” and these 45s will hopefully enliven many a DJ night across 2018 and beyond. A-/ A-

Indian Ocean, (Get on Down) “School Bell / Treehouse” 12-inch (Get on Down) As the PR for this reissue notes, Arthur Russell suffered from an inability to finish projects, leaving him with only one completed full-length solo effort prior to his untimely death from HIV in 1992. Russell’s working method also caused him to part ways with his Sleeping Bag partner William Socolov, but as his health began to deteriorate, he approached his friend to cut this 12-inch, his last for the label, which was also his final collab with friend Walter Gibbons. By this point, Sleeping Bag was focusing on early hip-hop, so this disc probably got lost in the shuffle, but it shouldn’t’ve, as it’s a treat of avant-groove. Sure, I’d welcome a higher ratio of distorted cello lines, but what’s here is still a lovely (and bittersweet) sound. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Gladiators, Full Time and Ethiopian & His All Stars, The Return Of Jack Sparrow

The sun is shining, it’s hot enough to induce sweat just by standing up, and there’s a substance (or two) tickling the brain: this is maybe the best framework for soaking up deep reggae grooves, but it’s also true that any time can be a good time to engage with the style. Omnivore Recordings knows this, as they’ve recently reissued The Gladiators’ Full Time compilation and rescued Ethiopian & His All-Stars’ The Return of Jack Sparrow from the realms of the unreleased. Both compact discs commence a reissue program focused on the catalog of the St. Louis label Nighthawk Records, and as the goodness on display here indicates, it’s going to be quite the enjoyable ride.

I’d say The Gladiators need no introduction, but reggae is such a cavernously deep genre that even a multidecade discography including a series of LPs for a major label can manage to go unnoticed by folks receptive to Jamaican sounds. Formed in the mid-’60s by singer-songwriter-rhythm guitarist Albert Griffiths, the group cut their first single for the Wirl label in ’67 and then hooked up with producers Duke Reid, Lloyd Daley, Lee Perry, and Clement “Coxsone” Dodd for a series of hits. In the second half of the ’70s they landed on Virgin Records, as Dodd’s Studio One milked the vaults for comps.

Roots reggae entered a period of commercial decline in the early ’80s, and the Gladiators’ final record for Virgin, an eponymous Eddy Grant-produced misfire, only worsened their personal circumstances. And yet by adjusting to the smaller Nighthawk label they bounced back artistically with ’82’s Symbol of Reality, ’84’s Serious Thing, and ’86’s collaboration with the Ethiopian (real name Leonard Dillon) Dread Prophecy.

In ’92 Nighthawk issued Full Time, which gathered up two cuts from the ’82 various artists comp Calling Rastafari and the entirety of the group’s ’83 US Tour EP (enticingly pictured on clear vinyl in the CD booklet) in combination with then unreleased selections from the ’82-’86 sessions. It’s all engineered by Sylvan Morris, who’d worked with The Gladiators at Studio One starting in the early ’70s, so the quality is high throughout. This is anything but a plate of leftovers.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Danny Fox Trio,
The Great Nostalgist

A whole lot of contemporary music is accurately tagged as variations on the tried and true, while the raison d’être of a smaller percentage is concerned with subverting or boldly breaking free from precedent. The Danny Fox Trio travel a third path, putting an individualist stamp upon a form that often thrives on subtle differences in execution, as they solidify their existence as an extension of the long and vibrant piano trio tradition. Radiating the influence of classical music, but without the expectations that association can bring, The Great Nostalgist is out on compact disc January 19 through Hot Cup Records.

The Danny Fox Trio features its namesake at the piano, Chris van Voorst van Beest on bass and Max Goldman on drums. They are a working group, having traveled the US in a sedan with this classic setup, and their sound has been called “modern chamber jazz.” It’s a description that can prepare one for a light, refined atmosphere, but that’s not what’s served up on The Great Nostalgist.

Somebody somewhere once tagged ‘em as a contempo Ahmad Jamal Trio, and it’s an astute compliment, enough so that it subsequently made it into the trio’s short biographical text. But there are marked differences. For starters, thus far, the Fox Trio’s repertoire on record has eschewed standards or any outside compositions at all; everything on their latest was written by the pianist and arranged by the band.

This is hardly the first piano-based affair to oust standards from the compositional pool. But where many pianist’s tunes branch out of the post-bebop template and often connect like variations on standards (or standards to be, perhaps), Fox’s writing resonates as strikingly personal, in large part due to subject matter (e.g. stuffed animals, Carvel Ice Cream store mascots, caterpillar-shaped accordions, laundromats, and Terminal 4 at JFK Airport). It’s all enhanced by their collective, working approach.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, January 2018, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for January, 2018. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Leah Calvert, Satellite (Vera Hellcat) Amongst other bands and activities, Atlanta-based fiddler, vocalist, and songwriter Calvert is a member of the Dappled Grays, but this, her debut solo effort, is my first exposure to her work, and it’s quite the pleasant introduction. The initial selections establish a mainstream pop singer-songwriter foundation with some rock inflection, though in part through sturdiness of vocals the atmosphere is far from insubstantial. By the title cut (the fourth of ten tracks) it’s clear that the tunes are deeper than the norm for this style, and the playing, which includes not enough bowing from Calvert, elevates matters even higher. Additionally, “Sleep” is a flat-out rocker, and her version of Tom Waits’ “Day After Tomorrow” is a late album gem. A-

Unlikely Friends, Crooked Numbers (Swoon) Like other regions, the Pacific Northwest is known for genres, but it’s guitar pop productivity has been often undervalued. I’m talking Stag. I’m talking Posies. I’m talking Young Fresh Fellows. I’m talking Dharma Bums. I’m talking Fastbacks, people. And right now, I’m talking Unlikely Friends, who feature members of BOAT and Math and Physics Club. Repping a Seattle Tacoma Olympia melodic rock triangle, they’ve got songs, some anthemic others jangly, while oozing plentiful amp edge and clear knowledge of tradition. They also integrate elements, like the drumbox in “39 Steps” for instance, that eschew a throwback feel. There’s humor, too. If ya’ dig any of the above names (and Doug Martsch and/or Weezer, for that matter), don’t sleep on this one. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Big Star, Live at Lafayette’s Music Room (Omnivore) Some casual observers might be wondering if the stream of Big Star (and related) reissues has reached a point of diminishing returns, but this first-time on vinyl edition of a January 1973 show is anything but the overmilking of a cash cow. Captured just after #1 Record was released to a cricket-like response and the resulting departure of Chris Bell, we find Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel adapting to their subsequent trio reality while opening for Archie Bell & the Drells in front of a largely indifferent crowd. First heard as part of the Keep an Eye on the Sky box set, this stand-alone 2LP delivers more than historical import. If the set is imperfect, there are plenty of highs, and they navigate a tough period with class and verve. A-

Rising Storm, Calm Before (Sundazed) I’m far from the first to say it, but ’60s garage LPs tend to be spotty affairs. Not this one. Cut by a bunch of teens during their senior year at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, this is one of the rare long-players in the style that doesn’t wither when the needle hits the originals, which are folk-rocky and gently psych-tinged here. As the covers, which include the Remains, Love, Wilson Pickett, and Jimmy Reed, are well-executed, this is doubly impressive. Those who want their garage infused with a modicum of sneer and snot might find this album wanting, but there’s an equally strong chance the sound of six guys on the brink of adulthood doing it for the sheer love of it will bowl them right the fuck over. Original copies go for stupid money, so garage lovers WILL want. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Doctor Ross,
Memphis Breakdown

Charles Isaiah Ross, known to blues aficionados as Doctor Ross, and additionally as the Harmonica Boss, was born in Tunica, Mississippi. In the early ’50s, he cut his first sides at Memphis Recording Service, which was soon to be known as Sun Studio. Noted for his wild, primitive, one-man band style, Ross was often recorded with accompaniment, though this ultimately did little to streamline the raw exuberance of his approach. The man’s verve bodaciously flows across both sides of Memphis Breakdown, a tidy 14-track collection that corrals the highlights of Ross’ sessions for Sam Philips; it’s out now on vinyl and compact disc through ORG Music.

Spurred in large part by a youthful interest in Brit blues-rock, I developed into a full-blown teenage blues nut. It was the real uncut stuff I was digging: Muddy, Wolf, Elmore, Sonny Boy, Hooker, Lightnin’, and Little Walter, and the interest made me something of an ’80s anomaly. Although I was eventually seduced by punk and the underground rock of the era, by my senior year I was primed for another plunge into the blues, and Rounder’s series of Sun Records reissues, which included four tracks from Doctor Ross on Sun Records Harmonica Classics, delivered with undiluted gusto.

Ross’ initial November 1951 meeting with Philips yielded two songs that ended up on a Chess 78, credited to Doctor Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys, though the record’s only other participant was guitarist Wiley Galatin (Ross hadn’t yet added the acoustic to his arsenal); neither “Doctor Ross Boogie” nor it’s flip “Country Clown” is offered on Memphis Breakdown, but the mouth organ hypnosis of “That’s Alright (Goin’ Back South)” from the same session, is.

For a second Philips session the following year, Ross, now in one-man band mode, was augmented with the piano of Henry Hill and the washboard of Rueben Martin. It produced five songs, two of which are featured here. The instrumental “Left Job Boogie” exudes an incessant groove that can be connected to John Lee Hooker and the hill blues of R.L. Burnside, while the jug band flavored “Polly Put Your Kettle On” illuminates the pre-blues influences that lingered into the second half of the 20th century.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text