Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
Close Lobsters, Firestation Towers:
1986-1989

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

The currently active Scottish act Close Lobsters emerged in the guts of the 1980s as one of the earliest signings to Fire Records. Said label is also still in existence and having a boffo 2015, with part of their continued success stemming from due attention to back catalog. To elaborate, Firestation Towers: 1986-1989 is Fire’s expansive assemblage of Close Lobsters’ initial output, matching two full-lengths with a singles collection. Copies of the Record Store Day 3LP remain available and the CD edition is out September 18th.

Close Lobsters formed in 1985 with Andrew Burnett on vocals, Tom Donnelly and Graeme Wilmington on guitars, Andrew’s brother Robert on bass, and Stewart McFayden on drums. The next year they earned a spot on C86, the movement-defining comp issued by the weekly UK periodical New Musical Express.

“Firestation Towers” is the track, a sub-two minute spurt of urgent jangle and slightly lethargic voice landing squarely within the parameters of what constitutes the C86 sound. Quickly signed to Fire, the two sides of their debut ’86 single, “Going to Heaven to see if it Rains” and “Boys and Girls,” possessed a level of energy certain indie pop associates lacked and evidenced substantial writing ability. 1987 was a fertile period. The “Never Seen Before” EP’s title cut sports Postcard-style chime swagger with complementary bouncing bass notes and on 12-inch includes “Firestation Towers” and “Wide Waterways,” the latter a shrewd cover of a song by Peter Perrett’s Velvet Underground-infused pre-Only Ones band England’s Glory.

A deal with Enigma broadened their fan base through US college radio. First album Foxheads Stalk this Land opens with the copious string glisten, lively bass, lithe drumming, and enhancing brogue of “Just Too Bloody Stupid,” while “Sewer Pipe Dream” is vibrantly poppy as the two guitar attack pays dividends. From there, “I Kiss the Flower in Bloom” offers glistening mid-tempo melodicism, its aura contrasting with the torrid echo-laden bottom end and hyperactive riffing of “Pathetique,” a number moderately reminiscent of C86 cohorts The Wedding Present.

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Graded on a Curve:
Alice Coltrane,
Lord of Lords

The resurgence of interest and the increase in esteem for the work of Alice Coltrane is an unambiguously sweet thing, but it’s also not an especially new development, as her reputation’s been on the steady upswing for quite a while now. However, the first-time vinyl reissue of the pianist-organist-harpist-arranger’s 1972 LP Lord of Lords is a recent turn of events, and it sounds better than ever. Featuring bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Ben Riley, and a 25-piece orchestra, the record is the third in a trilogy that established Coltrane as a spiritually questing and musically trailblazing American original. It’s out now through Superior Viaduct.

For decades, the seven albums in a roughly five-year stretch that Alice Coltrane made for the Impulse label were essentially rated (by those with a favorable disposition to her work, anyway) as the crowning achievement of her recording career. Opinions unsurprisingly differed over which of her releases was the strongest, but it was almost certain the array of choices would derive from 1968-’72.

That is, until last year, with the arrival of World Spiritual Classics Volume I: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, a collection of recordings she made in the ’80s after leaving the commercial biz and establishing the Sai Anantam Ashram. Initially distributed in small cassette runs to the members of her spiritual community, Luaka Bop’s collection is a revelatory hour of material that while not usurping the primacy of her Impulse period in my personal esteem, does stand head and shoulders with it in terms of quality and sui generis verve.

Such was the fervent response to World Spiritual Classics I that no doubt many disagree and consider it to be Coltrane’s finest work. And who knows, maybe in a year or five I’ll be swayed into concurring with that line of thought. I say this not as a platitude but as a preface to relating how my esteem for Lord of Lords has grown since I evaluated it as worthwhile and occasionally superb but, in the end, a little lesser than 1971’s Universal Consciousness.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Dave Clark Five, “Try Too Hard” b/w
“All Night Long”

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

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.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Tomberlin, At Weddings (Saddle Creek) An earlier edition of Sarah-Beth Tomberlin’s debut, which held seven tracks, emerged last autumn in a hand-numbered edition of 500 through Joyful Noise’s White Label series, an artist-picked affair with At Weddings selected by Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn. As the music resides in an introspective indie folk zone, the stylistic connections between chooser and chosen are minor, and within the parameters of the style, Tomberlin has her own thing happening; assured of voice and warm instrumentally, the whole goes down really well. Saddle Creek’s release isn’t limited, and adds three tracks, smartly not tacked onto the end, as the final three songs, “Self-Help” into “Untitled 2” into “February,” offer a striking culminating progression. A-

Walter Salas-Humara, Walterio (Rhyme and Reason) Salas-Humara co-founded The Silos in mid-’80s NYC, the still extant band sometimes classified as a progenitor of alt-country, though they always struck me (especially on their first couple records) as rock with a classic sensibility and an edgy spark. He was also in The Setters with Alejandro Escovedo and Wild Seed Michael Hall, and has dished a few solo records, of which Walterio is the latest. Unsurprisingly, the ten tracks here are fairly rootsy, but this attribute is nicely counterbalanced with songwriting smarts reflecting his diverse background; born in Florida to Cuban parents, Salas-Humara studied visual art in NYC before choosing music (that’s one of his popular dog paintings on the cover). What is surprising is the enduring high quality of his stuff. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Vulgar Boatmen, You and Your Sister, Please Panic & Opposite Sex (Play Loud!) Before he was in The Silos, Walter Salas-Humara was part of the Gainesville, FL outfit The Vulgar Boatmen. While he contributes a bit instrumentally to 1989’s You and Your Sister, his main role is sharing the co-producer chair with member Robert Ray. Alongside ex-Gizmo Dale Lawrence (based in Indiana), Ray (who continued to live in Florida) served as the band’s songwriting core, with each fronting a distinct lineup 800 miles apart. An unusual mode of operation in the pre-internet days, but fruitful, as all three of the group’s releases are stellar; much of the contents extend from a VU/ Feelies place, but with an utter lack of big city attitude. This is the sound of College Rock’s promise fulfilled. / / A-

The Fall, 458489 A-Sides (Beggars Arkive) There are numerous collections in The Fall’s myriad discography, and this one covering what’s known as the ’80s “Brix Smith” era, is essential, even if you already own all the albums and/ or the singles from which this 17-track LP derives. As I was getting acquainted with the output of Mark E. Smith’s lineup-shifting band of soon to be logic-defying endurance, this music was still fresh in the bins, and while some older heads were inclined to rake The Fall of this vintage over the critical coals, as the days of “Live At the Witch Trials” or “Grotesque” were over (though really, a lot of folks just didn’t like Brix), this summary sounds even better on the occasion of its white wax reissue by Beggars Arkive as it ever has to me before. First time on vinyl in the USA. A

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Graded on a Curve: Odetta Hartman,
Old Rockhounds
Never Die

Odetta Hartman is a singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist based in New York City, and Old Rockhounds Never Die is her second album. As on her first, she plays all the instruments, with the main threads being guitar, banjo, and fiddle. If this sounds like another release for the ever-growing Americana pile, nix that notion right now, as Hartman’s songs blend the classic and the contemporary as partner and co-producer Jack Inslee infuses the selections with digital environments that are sometimes electronic, often intriguing, and frequently psychedelic. It makes for a strange but highly accessible listen, and it’s out August 10 on vinyl and digital through Northern Spy.

Odetta Hartman’s upbringing in Manhattan’s Lower East Side comes close to the model of raising ‘em right. Northern Spy’s typical engaging promo text mentions “early exposure to community activism, renegade film screenings, poetry readings and trips to CBGB’s.” Along with soaking up punk and hip-hop, there was also a jukebox in the house loaded with her father’s classic soul and Afrobeat records and her Appalachian mother’s old-school country sides.

This bears mentioning not to support the idea that Hartman’s creativity in adulthood was somehow inevitable, but instead to illuminate the planted seed that led to the sheer diversity of ingredients in her bag, components that on paper are likely to instill doubts as to the overall effectiveness of the endeavor, with the disparate combinations destined to register in varying measures forced.

Good thing records aren’t experienced on paper. As on her 2015 full-length 222, the blend of the old-timey and the cutting-edge is striking in it’s unusualness but never incongruent as it ultimately coheres into a rewarding personal approach; it only takes a listen to perceive Hartman’s vision as unmistakable from anyone else’s.

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Graded on a Curve: Woody Guthrie,
Struggle

Born in 1912 and laid to rest in 1967 after a long bout with Huntington’s Disease, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie is as iconic a figure as American music has produced. Long-considered the granddaddy of folk protest, his 1940s recordings have influenced countless musicians across numerous genres, but ill-health brought his days as a performer to a close prior to the onset of the ’50s folk boom. But against all odds, in every era since, Guthrie’s music has remained relevant; the posthumous 1976 LP Struggle is testament to his staying power, and it’s recently been reissued on vinyl by Smithsonian Folkways in the label’s classic tip-on jacket, with artwork by David Stone Martin and original liner notes by Moses Asch.

It was as a music hungry youth in the mid-’80s that I first became cognizant of Woody Guthrie. Sure, I’d sung “This Land Is Your Land” in school a good while before that, but the teachers did a bang-up job of not mentioning whose song it was. It was a fascination with Dylan that led me to Guthrie, and even at that point Woody was moving beyond the iconic and into the realms of myth.

Mythic stature almost always brings a backlash, but with Guthrie, it was surprisingly little. He was beloved by the folkies natch, but also valued by the heartland rockers, rated as worthy by blues hounds (due to his association with Leadbelly and Sonny Terry), and even respected by the punks; well, some of them, anyway.

But I’ll confess that after soaking up and appreciating Dust Bowl Ballads (recorded for Victor in 1940) and the Library of Congress Recordings (from another 1940 session, issued by Elektra in ’63 and again by Rounder in ’88, which his how I heard it), for a long while afterward, I listened to Guthrie only intermittently.

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Graded on a Curve:
Taj Mahal, Taj Mahal

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

Taj Mahal’s been at it for longer than some of us (myself included) have been alive, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. He’s got an extensive rack of recordings under his belt, with his self-titled ’68 debut being the most sensible place to begin. Whether a person chooses to scoop up one or more of his albums, elects to soak up what he’s putting down in the live setting, or lets it all hang out and does both, the result will certainly be a highly enlightening good time.

There isn’t really another musician quite like Henry St. Clair Fredericks, the man known to the world by his stage and recording moniker Taj Mahal. While an almost ludicrous number of players have explored the bottomless well of inspiration that is the blues, few have engaged with the form in such a complex, multifaceted manner while remaining so naturally accessible to listeners from different generations and varied backgrounds.

As a farmer and graduate of the University of Massachusetts, where he majored in agriculture and also studied ethnomusicology, he’s emblematic of the once common but increasingly rare phenomenon of individuals well-versed in both the fruits of physical, land-based toil and the rewards of intellectual pursuit. And as a musician, it could perhaps be summed up that Taj Mahal was just substantially more curious than the majority of those touched by the blues impulse, recognizing in the music a connection to a much wider global experience.

While most of his cohorts tapped into one or two streams of the blues; say the early acoustic “country” style and the later electric form it directly inspired, or the grit and fire of ‘50s R&B and the attempts at sophisticating it for a wider audience that developed afterward, Taj interacted with a much broader spectrum and fused it all with distinct but stylistically compatible genres. As his career has progressed he’s incorporated the music of Africa, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific into his vast thing; in fact, after moving to Hawaii in the ‘80s he began hanging socially with local players, a circumstance that resulted in the formation of The Hula Blues Band.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Deadly Ones,
It’s Monster Surfing
Time

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

Issued in 1964 by Vee-Jay Records, It’s Monster Surfing Time may appear to the sophisticated modern observer as an undisguised fusing of a trend and a gimmick. While it most assuredly fits that description, its instrumental surf bedrock has proven more than just a fad and likewise, the creature feature matinée gimmick has endured across generations. The Deadly Ones offer a fun taste of legitimate surf flavor, but their album signifies a whole lot more; its vinyl reissue is out on April 8 via the Concord Music Group.

Founded in 1953, Vee-Jay Records stands as one of the great labels in 20th century popular music’s pre-corporate era. Initially successful in the fields of doo-wop (The Spaniels, The Dells), R&B (The Impressions, Dee Clark), blues (John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Memphis Slim) and gospel (The Staple Singers, The Swan Silvertones), the company also managed a small but worthy jazz line (Wayne Shorter, Wynton Kelly, Lee Morgan, Walter Perkins) and perhaps most famously had the foresight to be the first US home of The Beatles.

It’s well documented how the Fab Four helped to metamorphose rock ‘n’ roll and youth music in general into a more serious proposition, but the change didn’t occur overnight, and there is no better proof of its gradual transformation than It’s Monster Surfing Time. The disc positively basks in a lowbrow aura prompting visions of a cigar-chomping label-boss orchestrating an unabashedly mercantile concept through colorful language and a cloud of smoke, though I’ve discovered no evidence to actually support James Bracken or his wife Vivian Carter (the Vee to James’ Jay) fitting this salty descriptor.

Surf music naturally inspires thoughts of waves, wipeouts, beach parties, and couples doing the swim, but in its unadulterated instrumental form its range isn’t especially wide; in 1963 Vee-Jay issued Come Surf with Me by Aki Aleong & the Nobles, a fine if less than earth shattering attempt to hang ten on the style’s popularity, and it would seem that by the following year it was deemed necessary to give the template a considerable shaking up.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
August 2018, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for August, 2018.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Miss Information, Sequence (Pioneer Works Press) This and the item directly below, the first two vinyl offerings from Pioneer Works Press, aren’t obtainable until 9/7, unless you visit the Press Play Book and Music Fair in Red Hook, Brooklyn on 8/3–8/4, where both will be available in advance of that date. Miss Information is Miho Hatori, who’s known for her work in Cibo Matto, Gorillaz and tons of other projects, with this LP formulated while she was artist in residence at Pioneer Works. The time spent shows in the fullness of the work. It’s not solo per se, as drummer Greg Fox, guitarist Patrick Higgins, and electronic musician Nicky Mao all contribute, but from futuristic pop and funk to twisted electronica to intriguing soundscapes to woozy rap, but it all plainly carries Hatori’s stamp. A-

Marijuana Deathsquads, Tuff Guy Electronics (Pioneer Works Press) Like Sequence, this is available at Pioneer Works’ Press Play Book and Music Fair on 8/3–8/4 and nowhere else until 9/7, so if you’re excited for the first stuff from these Minnesotans since 2013 and reside within reasonable traveling distance, then you know what to do. For this, Marijuana Deathsquads’ core group of contributors are Ryan Olson, Ben Ivascu, Isaac Gale, and newcomer Trever Hagen. Throughout their existence extra hands have helped, including Justin Vernon (he of Bon Iver) and Jim Eno (of Spoon). I’m not exactly sure of the auxiliary for Tuff Guy Electronics (a fantastic title), but the outcome is loosely twisted and at times rhythmically rolling. After a few spins, it begins cohering into a shape that’s attractively fucked. B+

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Hampton Grease Band, Music to Eat (Real Gone) I gave this surrealist psychedelic 2LP a long review back in 2014, but the record, described as the second worst seller in Columbia Records’ history, was OOP at the time, so this 1,000-copy reissue on peach colored vinyl is cause for celebration. The late Bruce Hampton gained some notoriety in the ’90s through the jam band scene, but Music to Eat is a much weirder animal as it hovers on the outskirts of the psych and blues rock milieu that inspired the likes of Phish, Govt. Mule, and Widespread Panic. Holding similarities to the Dead, Zappa, and Georgia cohorts the Allmans, there’s a much deeper connection to Beefheart, making this, alongside Trout Mask Replica, one of the few true Dada-rock artifacts of the pre-punk era. A

Pere Ubu, Terminal Tower (Varèse Vintage) When this comp of early Ubu material emerged in 1985, it was a big deal; ’78’s “Datapanik in the Year Zero” dipped into the first three 45s but was scarce nearly a decade later. Terminal Tower offered the entirety of that EP and more. When the first big Ubu box arrived in ’96 (sharing the EP’s title), it was all there too, but not on vinyl. Fire Records’ extensive reissue series, now four volumes deep, is on wax; it includes everything here and is still in print, which might lead you to surmise that this reissue, offered on limited clear and standard black vinyl, is redundant. I can understand that line of thinking, but disagree rather emphatically, as this record holds some of the best music from one of the finest bands of the last 50 years. It serves as an excellent introduction. A+

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Graded on a Curve:
Ted Hawkins,
Watch Your Step

The first album from Biloxi, MI-born and longtime Venice Beach, CA-based singer-songwriter-guitarist Ted Hawkins is one of those beauties that makes a lifetime of record collecting worth it. Originally released by Rounder in 1982 and composed of recordings made earlier, Watch Your Step finds Hawkins intermingling blues, country, folk, gospel, and a whole lot of soul into a mode of expression that’s simultaneously personal and warmly familiar; he cut more albums, but none were as striking as his debut, which gets its first-time vinyl reissue on August 3 via Craft Recordings.

The story of Ted Hawkins is a tale of struggle in Mississippi and later in California, where along with playing as a street performer in Venice Beach he also did a stretch in prison. That’s where he was when, based on the strength of these recordings made by producer Bruce Bromberg in the early ’70s, he signed to Rounder; the cover picture above was taken in the yard of the California State Penitentiary.

Like any niche of the musical landscape, the recordings of street performers vary in both content and quality. Hawkins is immediately of interest because, while out of step with pretty much anything that was coming out in 1982, his eccentricities are palatable as the focus of original, and more importantly personal, material keeps his highly approachable nature far away from any street corner oldies show.

However, it’s worth adding that fans of good oldies radio (does such a thing still exist?) are likely to take a special cotton to Hawkins’ work, specifically due to the resemblance of his voice to Mr. Sam Cooke, a likeness close enough that the aforementioned autobiographical uniqueness becomes an important factor in Watch Your Step’s success (it’s worth noting that it’s difficult to dream up any circumstance where sounding like Cooke would be a bad thing).

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Graded on a Curve: Lightnin’ Hopkins,
Lightnin’ Hopkins

Lightnin’ Sam Hopkins remains one of the crucial figures in the annals of the blues. By extension, he recorded a ton, and owning all his music will require diligence and a seriously long shelf. However, there are a few albums that are a must even for casual blues collectors, and his self-titled effort from 1959 is one of them. Recorded by historian Samuel Charters in Hopkins’ apartment while he played a borrowed guitar, it served as the door-opener to years of prominence. A highly intimate gem of nimble-fingered deep blues feeling, Lightnin’ Hopkins is out now on vinyl through Smithsonian Folkways, remastered from the source tapes in a tip-on jacket with Charters’ original notes.

To call Lightnin’ Hopkins the byproduct of rediscovery isn’t inaccurate, but it does risk stripping the contents of its unique story. Unlike Son House, Skip James, Bukka White, and John Hurt (all from Mississippi), Texan Hopkins had only been inactive for a few years when Samuel Charters found and recorded him in Houston, and if he’d been playing since the 1930s, he was still very much in his musical prime.

Hopkins debuted on record in 1946 for the Aladdin label of Los Angeles in tandem with pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith, the partnership bringing him his sobriquet. From there, a solid decade of studio dates (and some R&B chart action) commenced; his additional sides for Aladdin fill a 2CD set, and the sessions for Gold Star take up two separate CD volumes. Additionally, there were worthy recordings for Modern, Sittin’ in With, and majors Mercury and Decca. 1954 brought a massive spurt of wild, highly amplified material for the Herald label; it contrasts sharply with the one-man circumstance of Lightnin’ Hopkins.

If commercial recording industry prospects had dried up by ’59 and Hopkins’ guitar was in hock, there was no trace of rustiness from inactivity, though the comfort level does increase as these songs progress (the bottle of gin Charters bought likely had something to do with it). What’s shared with his prior electric band stuff is a recognizable, eventually signature style based in the conversation between rural blues verve and more citified boogie motion (in this he shares much with John Lee Hooker).

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Graded on a Curve:
Nolan Strong and the Diablos, “The Wind”
b/w “Baby Be Mine”

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

In 1954 Nolan Strong & the Diablos recorded one of the great doo wop singles, “The Wind” b/w ”Baby Be Mine.”For years it’s skirted under the radar as a pleasure known by far too few. But this Detroit group impacted two generations of Motown glory, and there is no time like the present to spread the word on this neglected classic.

It’s true that one of the perks of the CD era was the steady proliferation of box-sets, a development that was spurred by both a healthy economy and a general increase in consumer interest in having hefty chunks of music history loaded into their stereo system’s multi-disc changers. Yes, vinyl box sets weren’t uncommon, but in reality labels tended to shy away from subjects that required more than three or four LPs. Often they just broke them down into individual volumes, where most buyers reliably purchased the first few entries and left the subsequent installments (which is reliably where some of the best stuff was found) for those branded as “obsessive.”

This box-set boom included everything from Columbia’s 4-disc Roots ‘N’ Blues Retrospective collection, MCA’s generous stream of single artist and compilation sets procured from the vaults of Chess Records, Polydor’s Star Time, a 4-disc study of James Brown, and maybe the granddaddy of them all, Atlantic’s 9-disc The Complete Stax/Volt Singles 1959-1968. Naturally, Rhino Records got into the act with gusto, producing three 4-disc sets of garage-rock in the Nuggets series and a 4-disc collection of vocal group harmony titled The Doo Wop Box that was so successful it inspired two additional volumes.

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Graded on a Curve:
Jobriath, (S/T)

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

In terms of popularity, America never produced an equivalent to David Bowie. But there was Jobriath, an unfortunate victim of record label hype and consumer indifference who produced what’s easily the USA’s purest expression of glam sensibilities.

Jobriath Boone, né Bruce Wayne Campbell is one of the more fascinating casualties in rock’s colorful history. Starting out in the ultra-obscure pop-folk-psyche group Pigeon (who recorded an LP and a single for Decca in ’69) after defecting from a Los Angeles production of Hair, his demo tape was stumbled upon by ‘70s mover-and-shaker Jerry Brandt, who managed to get him signed to Elektra Records for the reported sum of $500,000. A barrage of publicity followed, including a billboard in Times Square and an appearance on the late night TV variety program The Midnight Special. Problem was, his ’73 debut tanked commercially, setting off a media backlash that left his follow-up Creatures of the Street to wither without promotion.

His relationship with Brandt severed, Jobriath was held in the clutches of a ten year contract that kept him from recording any further material. Instead, he worked as a cabaret singer under the name Cole Berlin and lived in the Chelsea Hotel, where he died of AIDS in 1983.

Jobriath’s status as an openly gay musician sets him apart from his glam contemporaries. Where Bowie and others flirted with the perception of bi-sexuality, Jobriath made no bones about his sexual orientation. He described himself to the press as a “true fairy,” displaying frankness and flamboyance that surely damaged his chances with many observers hiding a closed mind in the closet, and in fact this defiant boldness situates Jobriath as an exponent of the camp theatricality that’s long been an aspect of gay culture.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Daniel Bachman, The Morning Star (Three Lobed) Bachman is deservedly well-known for his post-American Primitive guitar prodigiousness, but as quietly forecasted by his S/T effort of 2016, he came to a stylistic fork in the road (coinciding with a move back to Virginia from North Carolina), and he chose the more experimental path to brilliant, often captivating result. Experimental can often be shorthand for “fluctuating level of success,” but time was taken with The Morning Star (Bachman’s first release in two years), and the 74-minute 2LP is remarkably consistent with the focus on drone and field recordings; at 18-plus minutes, side-long opener “Invocation” brought Henry Flynt to mind. Plenty of fine guitar playing is to be heard, but sometimes there is none (e.g. “Car”). A

V/A, Freedom of the Press (Kith & Kin) A benefit for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, featuring such worthy names as The Weather Station, Garcia Peoples, Hans Chew, Wooden Wand, Tom Settle & Friends, Bob Hughes, Elkhorn, and 75 Dollar Bill. A lot of various artists collections aiming to help good causes round up participants that are so stylistically broad that actually listening to the assembled contributions can become something of a chore, but new label Kith & Kin have tightened the focus to the “modern psychedelic songwriter scene,” and the results flow like a mixtape from an old, discerning friend. CD and digital only, but as phony populist fascists, corporate whores, self-serving political frauds, and contemptable bigots are currently attempting to destroy the USA, format is immaterial. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Charles Mingus, The Complete Sessions of The Clown & East Coasting (Wax Love) Of these two 1957 recordings, The Clown was originally released on Atlantic, and is the better known. Opening with the glorious “Haitian Fight Song” and closing (on the original wax) with the title track, an ambitious piece featuring an improvised story by the great writer-broadcaster Jean Sheppard, a solid blues and a sublime Bird tribute in between help solidify The Clown as an early masterpiece from the bassist-bandleader. Quibble: the bonus cuts eradicate a powerful ending. I’ve have no such issues with the extras on East Coasting; first issued by Bethlehem, the set persists as underrated, especially since the pianist for the session is Bill Evans. If not as bold as The Clown, it’s still essential. A+ / A

Paul Page and His Paradise Music, Pacific Paradise (Subliminal Sounds) This 2LP/ CD collection documenting a little-known but indefatigable Alaska-born, Indiana-bred, and as an adult, Hawaii-based singer-bandleader-record maker offers a bountiful plunge into private press tourist lounge exotica. As detailed in Domenic Priore’s extensive liners, across a long string of LPs and 45s, Page combined Bing Crosby-ish pop sophistication (he was quite a crooner), a “seafaring Anglo working sailor man” approach, and legit Hawaiian-Polynesian-Pacific influences. With a few exceptions, e.g. the wonderfully zonked “Chicken Kona Kaai” and the spectacular “Auwe, Wahine,” this is pretty well-mannered stuff, but it coheres into an impeccably assembled and researched tribute to one guy’s passion. B+

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Graded on a Curve: Okonkolo,
Cantos

Brooklyn’s Big Crown label remains primarily known for soul, R&B, and funk both new, and with increasing frequency, in reissued form, but their bag also holds other stylistic treats; there’s the psychedelic rock of Paul & the Tall Trees, the psych-kissed femme-voxed pop-rock of The Shacks, and most interestingly, the Yoruban Santeria music of the New York-based Okonkolo. Led by vocalist and Yoruba Chango priest Abraham “Aby” Rodriguez, the group is powerful of voice, rhythmically strong, and through the contribution of guitarist and producer Jacob Plasse, instrumentally diverse. Blending sounds from Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and NYC, Cantos is a rich treat, out on vinyl and compact disc July 27.

Cantos might just be your first taste of Yoruban Santeria music, though perhaps you were hip to Big Crown’s 2016 release of “Rezos,” Okonkolo’s 10-inch debut. Although I’m fairly well-versed in the label’s wares, that one managed to slip by me, but as all four of the EP’s songs are included on Cantos, catching up is a cinch, and highly advisable; the insight the album provides into the music of the Santeria religion is matched by the depth and beauty in its grooves.

The religion and its music survived the transatlantic slave trade, spreading to Cuba and then through Caribbean immigrants to NYC (notably, Santeria music also has roots in Bahia, Brazil). Okonkolo at once embody this long tradition and build upon it, and in doing so easily transcend the by-now worn platitude of “giving it a contemporary spin.” If you know Yoruban Santeria music, it suffices to say you haven’t heard it like this. Of course, that isn’t an inherently good thing, but thankfully Cantos’ newness avoids both novelty and the predictable.

Along with the singing of Rodriguez, who is joined in that role (and in the Yoruba language) by female counterparts Amma McKen and Jadele McPherson, rhythm is of upmost importance, with the Bata and Coro drums played by Rodriguez, Gene Golden, and Xavier Rivera. This is the root stuff. The elements of stylistic departure (or better said, enhancement) are bass (played by Nick Movshon), guitar (played by Plasse), saxophones, clarinets, trombone, sousaphone, violins, violas, cellos, and organ (deducing from the credits for “Rezos,” in addition to producing, Plasse delivered Cantos its string arrangements).

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