Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
The Magic Force of
Konk 1981-1988

When it comes to blending post-punk edge with the rhythmic fire of funk, hip-hop and disco, hardly anybody did it better than New York City trailblazers Konk. Ditching an insular path for the wide open highway of hybridization, their horn-drenched sound is thoroughly documented on The Magic Force of Konk 1981-1988, a 3LP that corrals studio output, a side of live material and a whole platter of party-flowing DJ mixers on colored wax (each LP a different shade) with a 12-page booklet, notes by Ezra Gale, a reproduction of a Konk/ Pigbag gig poster, and an accompanying download. For fans of the ’80s musical subculture of NYC, it’s a fabulous one-stop-shop, out now through the Futurismo label.

This isn’t the first time Konk’s music has been given the retrospective treatment, as Soul Jazz issued The Sound of Konk (Tales of the New York Underground 1981-88) on 2LP and CD back in 2004. It was one installment in that label’s series of anthologies into subterranean NYC, and while a satisfying survey, it’s effectively expanded and improved upon by The Magic Force of Konk.

Like its predecessor, Futurismo’s collection avoids simply regurgitating the track-list of Yo!, Konk’s 1983 long-playing debut (notably, on the Belgian Les Disques Du Crépuscule label, the home of A Certain Ratio’s “Shack Up” 45). Rather, side A opens with “Konk Party” from their ’82 7-inch and side B “Your Life” from their ’84 short-player, with each side filled out with prime cuts from the first LP.

Non-chronological but also not random, with the tracks included from their ’88 set Jams sequenced on side C, the better to absorb the group’s progression toward something nearer to club music (but without ever really sacrificing the warmth of live instrumentation that gave the early stuff such a nice punch). Finishing out the side is a dip back to Konk’s debut 45, the “Soka-Loka-Moki” two-parter from 1981.

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Graded on a Curve:

Today we remember Ginger Baker who passed away on October 6, 2019 with a look back from our archives.Ed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Michael Vincent Waller, Moments (Unseen Worlds) Waller is a NYC-based composer whose debut The South Shore was released in 2015 on XI Records, the label of composer Phill Niblock. Amongst others, Waller has studied with La Monte Young, and if these info tidbits are leading you towards the drone, I say whoa there, partner. On this, his third release (out on CD and 2LP) Waller more appropriately fits the bill of minimalist, or maybe better said miniaturist, as the piano pieces here, played by R. Andrew Lee, are reminiscent of Erik Satie. The selections for vibraphone, played by William Winant, are more resistant to easy comparison, at least for me; ultimately, they chart their own contemplative course. With excellent notes by Tim Rutherford-Johnson and “Blue” Gene Tyranny. A

Boduf Songs, Abyss Versions (Orindal) Mat Sweet from Southampton UK (and who is currently based in Toledo, OH) is the man behind Boduf Songs, a long-running endeavor (roughly 15 years) combining home recordings blending organic instrumentation and assorted electronic additives plus field recordings. He’s been described as an electroacoustic musician, an that’s not wrong, but Sweet is, per the name of the project, invested in songs, and he displays appealingly broad range across his seventh album. If the domain is the homestead, this isn’t a lo-fi thing, instead reminding me a bit at times of Mark Kozelek or Warn Defever crossed with Low (there is a Kranky connection). However, other parts cozy up to darkwave flirting with bedroom industrial, and the guitar playing is consistently sharp. A-

Gong Gong Gong, Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (Wharf Cat) Duo music in an approximate rock mode commonly features a drummer or some form of mechanical device in service of creating beats. This record is a striking exception in that its Beijing-based makers Tom Ng (born in Hong Kong) and Joshua Frank (born in Montreal but an intermittent resident of Beijing since he was a child) play guitar and bass respectively. Ng sings in his native tongue, which is described in the label PR as a defiant gesture (folks currently following world news should understand). However, don’t go thinking there’s an absence of rhythm here, as they work up robust post-punk grooves. They have wide-ranging influences (Bo Diddley, Cantonese opera, desert blues, drones and electronics) but a focused attack. Impressive for a debut. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Ethel Mae Bourque, Chansons de la campagne (Nouveau Electric) CDs and tapes are reviewed in this column, as the point of the endeavor is what’s newly available to buy in stores. However, it takes a special release on these formats to grab a weekly pick, and that’s the case with this CD from the label of Lost Bayou Rambler Louis Michot. Ethel Mae Bourque was a friend, mentor, and inspiration to the fiddler, with a large store of original songs and versions of Louisiana French nuggets at her command. These field recordings were made by documentarian Erik Charpentier in her kitchen in 2003-’04 (she passed in 2011) with occasional contributions from Michot and his brother David on guitar. It unwinds like a choice Lomax session but with heightened personal flavor. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Joan Shelley,
Like the River Loves
the Sea

The latest effort from contemporary folk singer-songwriter and guitarist Joan Shelley finds the Kentucky native recording far from home in Reykjavik, Iceland, but with her familiar support cast including Daniel Martin Moore, James Elkington, Nathan Salsburg, Kevin Ratterman, Cheyenne Mize, and Julia Purcell. Deepening her already impressive artistry, the record remains invested in the regional musics that help shape it, and while Bonnie “Prince” Billy lends harmony vocals to two tracks, the focus holds firmly on Shelley throughout. Her finest album yet, Like the River Loves the Sea is available now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through No Quarter.

Often those who spend their time listening to and perhaps commenting upon (or at least drawing conclusions about) recorded music can get caught up in the circumstances surrounding an album’s creation. The how, the what, the who, perhaps even the why, and in the case of Like the River Loves the Sea, certainly the where.

As her terrific accompanying text for the album makes clear, Joan Shelley understands this, but she also downplays matters a bit, relating her decision to record in Reykjavik to Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden, inexpensive airfare and the simple desire to visit a faraway (and alluringly unusual) place. Additionally, she explains that while made in Iceland, Like the River Loves the Sea is a record about Kentucky, and her words drive home how the making of an album is always more than the direct actions of its construction.

It is conversations had, new people met, meals shared, and indeed, places visited. It’s fostering a positive environment so that decisions can be made with clarity and certainty. In “Haven,” this LP’s brief but immediately gripping opening track, the assurance is palpable as the song strikes the perfect balance of beauty and intensity, all achieved with just vocals and guitar.

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Graded on a Curve:
Those Pretty Wrongs,
Zed for Zulu

Those Pretty Wrongs, the collaboration of Jody Stephens, formerly of cult titans Big Star, and Luther Russell, a founding member of The Freewheelers who’s responsible for a slew of subsequent projects, issued their self-titled debut back in 2016. ‘twas a good one, at times a great one even, and their full-length follow-up doesn’t falter. But those familiar with Stephens and Russell who haven’t heard them in tandem shouldn’t assume they know what Zed for Zulu sounds like. While there are moments that unwind in the proximity of the expected, there are just as many surprises on a record loaded with solid writing, singing and playing. It’s out now on LP, CD, cassette, and digital through Burger Records.

Before a minute elapses, Zed for Zulu’s opener “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” offers up a stunning string arrangement by Chris Stamey played by Leah Peroutka on violin, Aubrey Kessel on viola, and Leah Gibson on cello. Given the background of the duo’s older half, this might insinuate Third/Sister Lovers, and as the song progresses that album did come to mind, though just as prevalent were fleeting thoughts of Thunderclap Newman, Badfinger, and early solo George Harrison; hell, there’s even a brief little string flourish reminiscent of The Beatles in its neo-psych regality.

But its bedrock is a likeable slice of guitar-pop songwriting, and it’s not especially evocative in sensibility to the work of Big Star. Neither is the crisp Byrdsian chime-pop (with a backbeat of sturdy simplicity) of the next track “Ain’t Nobody but Me,” in part because it offers a downtrodden sensitivity that’s distinct, at least in the context of this record (and its makers).

“Time to Fly” presents a strumming singer-songwriter wrinkle that shouldn’t perplex anyone familiar with Russell’s post-Freewheelers work. To elaborate, it’s a soft-rock-tinged number replete with touches of gentle psych. The choruses are nice, and the delayed entrance of the drums and bass even better. Moving more forthrightly into psych-pop, “The Carousel” is florid if not quite foofy (it begins by referencing that warhorse of children’s bedtime prayers).

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Roots, Things Fall Apart (Geffen / UMe / Urban Legends) One of the best records of 1999 and a hip-hop cornerstone gets a deserving deluxe reissue here, spread across six sides of vinyl with sides five and six holding Questlove-curated bonus tracks. There’s also a 24-page booklet with essays from Black Thought and Questlove (who also delivers track-by-track liner notes) and photos. And that’s just the standard version. The collector’s edition offers the three LPs on clear vinyl with a die-cut slipcase with all five covers as interchangeable lithos, plus a bonus sixth cover and foil stamp numbering. And the music hasn’t gotten subsumed in the trappings, as this isn’t an attempt to gussy up a pretty good record but is rather a wholly fitting presentation for a masterpiece.

The Roots’ fourth full-length really drove home their organic reality as not just a crew or collective but as a band. That is, they were and remain an outfit utilizing live instrumentation. On their Wikipedia page, there is a quote crediting them as “hip-hop’s first legitimate band,” which strikes me as wrong. I mean, I don’t think Smokin’ Suckaz wit Logic was very good, but I wouldn’t call them illegit. I completely agree that The Roots are hip-hop’s first great, or maybe better said, the style’s first non-gimmicky band (I’ll add that Guru’s Jazzmatazz is accurately described as a project and a collab). But the thing (well, one thing) that makes Things Fall Apart outstanding is that it never loses its handle on hip-hop’s core essence. It simply deepens the genre’s possibilities rather than trying to be something else. A+

Bro David, Modern Music from Belize (Cultures of Soul) Even if I didn’t care for this record, which is the latest in this label’s reissues of global groove music, I’d probably hold onto a copy due to the sleeve, as it offers an illustration of a lion with a rather confused look on its face. Confused why, exactly? Because there is a person standing on its back with a globe in each hand. Bluntly, that’s the kind of thing I like to have around the house. But what’s nice is that I need not worry about keeping an LP that’s main interest is visual, as Modern Music from Belize is both an enjoyable listen and an insightful (and succinct) dip into the work of Bredda David Obi, who is a new global music discovery to me and I’m guessing to most folks reading this. It’s the dedication of this label that has brought this music into a brighter light.

This is not just a taste of Bro David, whose recording career began with No Fear in ’84, followed by Cungo Musik in ’87 and We No Wa No Kimba Ya in 1990, it’s an intro to the danceable pop of Belize, a Caribbean country often overlooked when focusing on the region’s music during this era. With this said, the seven tracks included here, which are taken from the three LPs above (all pricey in original form, so obviously folks beyond Culture of Soul’s operator Deano Sounds are hip to this stuff) isn’t a radical departure from the more well-known strains of the Caribbean; there’s a whole lot of reggae, in fact, plus a general vibe of positivity that never gets overbearing, in part because the record’s low-budget reality insures against slickness. Bro David called his synthesis kungo (or cungo) and it’s a treat. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
John Coltrane,
Blue World

If it seems like it was just last year that some unheard material by John Coltrane was unveiled to the listening public, that’s because it was. On September 27, the Impulse! label releases Blue World, its contents accurately described as underheard and until very recently essentially unspoken of in terms of Coltrane’s discography. Offering songs recorded for Canadian filmmaker Gilles Groulx’s 1964 fiction feature Le Chat dans le sac (The Cat in the Bag), it is Coltrane’s only soundtrack and also presents him revisiting previously recorded works in the studio, which is something he almost never did. Featuring the Classic Quartet in their accessibly robust mode, it’s a consistent pleasure and a must for fans.

First, some further clarification into Blue World’s reality; if a new Coltrane LP for 2019, it wasn’t recorded with an album concept, not even a soundtrack album concept, in mind. The first fictional movie by a filmmaker who’d worked extensively in documentaries, Le Chat dans le sac was an independent work from the days long before (roughly a quarter century before) Indie cinema’s blossoming as a brand.

The film, which was influenced by Direct Cinema documentary tactics and utilized numerous techniques associated with the French Nouvelle Vague (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer, etc.), wasn’t any kind of big deal at the time. In his typically strong notes for this reissue, Ashley Khan calls Le Chat dans le sac an “underground hit,” which is another way of saying that only hepcats knew of the film’s existence.

Although Coltrane and Groulx did become friendly later, the saxophonist’s agreement to record songs for the film’s soundtrack was basically a favor, one initiated through Groulx’s relationship with the quartet’s bassist Jimmy Garrison; he’d met the filmmaker through a mutual acquaintance who’d appeared in one of Groulx’s prior documentaries.

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Graded on a Curve: Magnapop,
The Circle Is Round

Atlanta, GA’s Magnapop emerged as part of the 1990s scene, but unlike many of their contemporaries their sound isn’t boxed in by the decade. It’s probably a stretch to describe them as timeless, but the band’s blend of catchiness and raw guitar lands between the poles of power-pop and pop-punk, which is to say that theirs is a classic sorta thing. On new album The Circle Is Round, vocalist Linda Hopper, guitarist-vocalist Ruthie Morris, bassist Shannon Mulvaney, and drummer David McNair have made no radical adjustments to their approach while avoiding the formulaic. For anyone who dug ‘em before, the smart money says they’ll dig ‘em now. It’s out September 27 through Happy Happy Birthday To Me.

This is Magnapop’s sixth album and first since Chase Park came out ten years back. The band’s first three, which commenced with a self-titled debut for Caroline in 1992 followed by Hot Boxing and Rubbing Doesn’t Help, both for Priority in the US (Play It Again Sam in Europe) in ’94 and ’96 respectively, were easy to take for granted in an era flush with bands. Well, that was the case with me, at least.

While the four-piece (the “classic” lineup is back together for this latest effort) can reliably pull off sturdy, non-hackneyed power pop moves, the forcefulness of their attack ultimately lands them in the ballpark of pop-punk, and bluntly, that zone has been absolutely polluted with riff-debasing dullards and overly anthemic buffoons for a few decades.

But Magnapop easily avoid pop-punk’s general dearth of quality, partly because their simplicity is counterbalanced with songwriting acumen. That is to say, they actually write tunes rather than just cop and reassemble moves. Not that grabbing from precedent is a faux pas, it’s just that when Hopper and Morris do it, as in the mid-tempo Ramonesian chug of The Circle Is Round’s opener “Dog on the Door,” it’s done with good taste, with the revved up choruses insuring it’s far from a carbon copy.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Telepathic Band, Electric Telepathy Vol. 1 (577) The third album from this exceptional five-member NYC group is also the first half of what promises to be an absolute knockout. The Telepathic Band features Daniel Carter on saxophones, clarinet and trumpet, Patrick Holmes on clarinet, Matthew Putman on keyboard, Hilliard Greene on bass, and Federico Ughi on drums, and for this LP they took an improvised earlier recording session back into the studio and created a new thing in collaboration with producer Stelios Mihas, who also contributes guitar. While the four tracks on side two tangle with the finer side of ’70s fusion and robust astral jazz, it’s side one’s 19-minute dive into psychedelia that’s the real grabber here. The Telepathic Band and 577 Records are boundary breakers. A

Joel Paterson, Let It Be Guitar! Joel Patterson Plays The Beatles (Bloodshot) This one unabashedly throws back to an era when technically sharp instrumentalists could carve a livelihood by putting an adept and distinct stamp on their chosen material. To sharpen the description, Chicagoan Paterson’s influences include Les Paul and Chet Adkins as he blends jazz, exotica, blues, rockabilly, western swing and C&W with ease. That’s mucho range, and he’s not about showing off but instead making the right sounds. While the LP’s sleeve enhances the retro angle, the music hits just right (in fact more consistently than some of his influences), and only partly due to the solidity of the source material. Paterson tackles a few later Beatles tunes but seems to prefer the early stuff, and that’s fine with me. A-

somesurprises, S/T (Drawing Room) Seattle’s somesurprises began as the solo project of singer-songwriter Natasha El-Sergany but is now a full-on band. Although there are some cassettes in the discography, this is designated as the debut album, and it establishes El-Sergany as being substantially impacted by the sound of shoegaze. This is cool, and especially because the work transcends expectations (mine, anyway) for this sorta thing. To elaborate, a whole lot of recent shoegaze (neo-shoegaze, if you will), even when it’s (very) good, can be assessed as somewhat or largely formulaic. Not this record, the opening track of which doesn’t even gaze at any shoes at all. Instead, it offers a celestial retro futurist vibe that bookends nicely with the extended closing motorik burner “Cherry Sunshine.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Kristin Hersh, Crooked (Fire) Released in 2010, this was Hersh’s eighth full-length, making its vinyl debut here with a new sleeve design. There was a CD issued in ’10 (Fire has a CD out with fresh cover, as well), but Crooked was notably first issued as a book with digital download that included ample extra material; that stuff ain’t here, but that’s alright, as the core is represented, though interestingly with a new track sequence. “Mississippi Kite” opened matters in 2010, but now it’s the fourth track and side one’s closer. This is also alright. Hersh is a writer, and writers are prone to the need to revise. What hasn’t changed is the intensity of her work; I like her stuff in Throwing Muses but tend to love her in solo mode, where the power kick only increases. She’s weathered, but not beaten. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Solid Bronze,
The Fruit Basket

The core of Solid Bronze is Ian Everett and George Miller, both New Jersey residents with a loud-and-clear love of the soulful and funky. This fact is evidenced on The Fruit Basket, their full-length debut, a deliciously off-kilter ’70s-styled groove-fest spiced with strains of jazziness, touches of reggae, and excursions into psychedelia. Recorded and co-produced by Dean Ween with notable guests including Atlanta-based hip-hop artist CLEW, Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley, Ween/ Blood, Sweat & Tears keyboardist Glenn McClelland, and Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton, this last name is quite appropriate as the influence of P-Funk is strongly felt. It’s out now on LP via Schnitzel Records.

Earlier this year, Solid Bronze released a 45 featuring The Fruit Basket album track “The Invisible Man.” It was and remains an enjoyable little number, but it was backed with a dub mix of the track by Lee “Scratch” Perry, not in itself a bad thing (to the contrary, the version added to the general positive vibrations of Perry’s most recent comeback), it just didn’t necessarily provide further insight into Everett and Miller’s overall thing.

That Michael Hampton contributed guitar to “The Invisible Man” did present a clue into one possible avenue in Solid Bronze’s roadmap, though just as prominent in the track is the Auto-Tuned crooning of Atlanta rapper CLEW, along with a contrasting deep voice offering spoken smoothness of a decidedly ’70s comportment.

But The Fruit Basket’s opener “Papa’s Bug” jumps right into buoyant Clinton-esque funkiness with wiggly tech flourishes and unperturbed vocalizing that also nods back a bit to Sly Stone. It’s an appetizing start that’s followed by the slower groove of “The Invisible Man” as Hampton’s soloing accents the psychedelia in Solid Bronze’s equation. From there, “Hard to Keep the Faith” introduces a danceable mid-tempo spiked with saxophones and capped with sharp jazzy jaunts and an instrumental passage putting keyboards and additional rock guitar action squarely in the foreground.

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Graded on a Curve:
Patty Waters,

No discussion of the 1960s avant-garde is complete without touching upon the work of singer Patty Waters, as she predated such vocal iconoclasts as Yoko Ono and Linda Sharrock. Additionally, she was a prime influence on Patti Smith and perhaps most pertinently, Diamanda Galas. Live, her latest and first new release on vinyl since 1966, was captured in performance at the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn on April 5, 2018 with the pianist from her debut Burton Greene, bassist Mario Pavone, and percussionist Barry Altschul. Dedicated to the great pianist Cecil Taylor on the day of his passing, its run of 1,000 LPs and 750 CDs is out September 20 via Blank Forms.

“People ask me (about) my influences, I would have to say Patty Waters. They say other people and I say, nahh, Patty Waters, listen to Patty Waters. I listened to her twice. That’s all it took for some grain of inextricable influence” —Diamanda Galas

Patty Waters’ two greatest albums, Sings from 1965 and College Tour from the following year, combine to secure her reputation as an avant vocal priestess of the first order. They were cut for the storied label ESP Disk, an enterprise known for its stable of fringe ’60s artifacts ranging from the proto out-rock of The Godz and Cromagnon, assorted strains of folk including The Fugs, Pearls Before Swine, The Holy Modal Rounders, Erica Pomerance, and Ed Askew, and most prominently, a ton of the era’s avant jazz; in fact, it was saxophonist Albert Ayler who introduced Waters to ESP’s owner-operator Bernard Stollman.

Instead of its deceptively plain title, her debut for the label could’ve been called The Vocal Extremities of Patty Waters, for its first side offered seven short tracks of hushed and isolated intensity, with Waters’ accompanying herself on piano, while the second held one side-long dive into the emotional abyss, with Waters working herself into a wailing screaming frenzy as Burton Greene plays piano and piano harp, Steve Tintweiss works the bass, and Tom Price delivers percussion.

Like many ESP Disk titles, the back cover stated, “You never heard such sounds in your life.” This was no exaggeration. Her detonation of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” still has the power to unnerve a room. While Sings has much in common with the ’60s free jazz movement, to simply label it as an out-jazz record does it and Waters a disservice. It’s undeniably an avant-garde experience, and I rate it as one of the decade’s very best.

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Graded on a Curve: Daniel Johnston,

Today we remember Daniel Johnston who passed away on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 with this look back from our archives.Ed.

Of all the fine stuff scheduled to hit the racks last week for Black Friday, one item particularly stood out in large part due to its belated appearance on vinyl. In all the excitement and hubbub of the holiday festivities, it was easy to miss the last minute cancellation of this record, shifting the focus below from an appreciation of a long-delayed vinyl slight to a consideration of a release whose LP coronation continues to be denied. The subject is Fun, the sole major-label entry in the discography of Daniel Johnston, originally issued by Atlantic Records in 1994. Hopefully its eventual emergence on vinyl comes sooner rather than later.

While I won’t be so bold as to say there was no middle ground, the reaction to Daniel Johnston’s original home recordings did largely run to extremes. On one hand, there were those who championed a new and startlingly unique pop singer-songwriter. On the other were the strident doubters and the often exasperated reactions of folks who considered it all a big put on.

Johnston’s advocates largely felt that his crudely recorded homemade cassettes were just as legitimate and deserving of attention as anything being produced for mass consumption in the spacious multi-track studios of the big label machine. Many listeners not smitten with his considerable output identified it as another example of underground tastemakers locating a marginal artist and then lording it over those with enough sense to not buy into the hype.

As more people became acclimated to the uniqueness of Johnston’s work, either through the stumping of music journalists and critics, the name dropping of assorted clued-in musicians, and via his now legendary appearance on MTV’s The Cutting Edge Happy Hour, where he performed during his lunch break at McDonalds, it started to become clear to some of the previously doubtful that the passionate reaction of so many was indeed sincere, the music having struck a deep chord. A fair number of these agnostics listened again, and what had initially sounded strange shifted into something special.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Sequoyah Murray, Before You Begin (Thrill Jockey) Murray emerged earlier this year with the 4-song “Penalties of Love,” and this long-player fully delivers on the promise of the EP (only one cut, the title track of the prior release, is featured on Before You Begin). Initially, there was talk of Arthur Russell, and with the presence of cello in “Blue Jays” and “Let’s Take the Time,’ that’s still a relevant point of observation, though much more pertinent is Murray’s blend of soul/ R&B/ hip-hop/ trap and experimentation spurred from the Atlanta free-improv scene. Yes, this experimental side can swing us back to the topic of Russell, but the approach is thoroughly contempo (but occasionally utilizing vintage gear). I also dig how Murray plays around with a croon that recalls ’80s UK synth pop a bit. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Osondi Owendi (Hive Mind) By the time he’d released this utter beauty of Nigerian highlife in 1984, Osadebe had already chalked up a multi-decade career, having initially made his mark in ’59 with the hit “Lagos Life Na So So Enjoyment.” In fact, this record was something of a strategic stylistic adjustment for Osadebe, made in reaction to the upsurge of rock and funk on the Nigerian scene. The bandleader slowed it down, stretched it out (the LP features two side-long tracks), smartly borrowed contemporizing aspects from the rock and funk styles that had momentarily displaced him at the forefront of Nigerian music, and then dubbed this revamping oyolima. For anyone who digs the highlife style, Osondi Owendi is an absolute necessity. A

Rain Parade, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (Real Gone) This 1983 debut, the only LP made by the band’s original lineup, is a cornerstone of Paisley Underground architecture, as crucial to understanding the breadth of that movement as the debuts from the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, The Bangles, and the Three O’Clock (then called The Salvation Army). Featuring the brothers Stephen (bass) and David Roback (guitar, notably later of Mazzy Star), Matt Piucci (guitar), Eddie Kalwa (drums), and Will Glenn (multiple instruments), the band’s approach blended aspects of the L.A. scene (Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Love) with pop-angled psych (rooted in Nuggets and early Floyd rather than San Fran) to superb effect. If you’re into neo-psych and aren’t hip to Rain Parade, here’s an easy fix. A

Lee Hazlewood, 400 Miles from L.A. 1955-1956 (Light in the Attic) Discoveries of early, embryonic recordings by departed artists regularly reek of barrel-scrapings gussied up for completists and the manically obsessive, but these early home demo recordings of a youthful Hazlewood made in Phoenix, Arizona as he was attempting to infiltrate the music industry are insightful and a non-stop pleasure across four sides of vinyl (there’s also a deluxe bundle where the wax is gold and is accompanied with a silkscreen print, a travel journal, a shot glass and drink coasters). Lee is considerably less eccentric here, with the voice still deep and low but not as distinctively so as he later became. That’s alright. But much better than alright is the opportunity to hear Trouble is a Lonesome Town in early form. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Art Pepper,
Promise Kept: The Complete Artist House Recordings

In 1979, while in the midst of a career-capping comeback, Art Pepper entered the studio to cut a record for Artists House, the label of producer John Snyder. Indicative of how things sometimes work, one album became four, released across the 1980s, with numerous takes left in the can…until now. As part of Omnivore Recordings’ unflagging dedication to returning Pepper’s late work to easy accessibility, Promise Kept: The Complete Artist House Recordings hits stores on September 13, holding five CDs featuring across-the-board exceptional players in tandem with one of Modern Jazz’s finest saxophonists.

Promise Kept might seem like an unwieldy hunk of music to contend with, but if lengthy, it’s easily parsed as the work of two top-flight bands comprising two sessions on opposing coasts (with distinct temperaments to match) as Pepper made good on a commitment to record an LP for Snyder’s small but consistently rewarding label (a handful of classics reside in its discography).

As said, four albums resulted, though only So in Love, the first, was actually issued by Artists House. The subsequent three, Artworks, New York Album, and Stardust came out after Pepper’s death via Galaxy and Victor in 1984-’85. With the exception of take two of “But Beautiful,” the entirely of disc five (titled simply Sessions) is previously unreleased.

Snyder, a jazz aficionado who circa the 1970s was also Creative Director for Horizon, the jazz label of A&M Records, had booked a tour for Pepper in ’77 that included gigs at the Village Vanguard. The success of those gigs instilled a desire in Snyder to record Pepper live at the storied New York club with an all-star group.

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Graded on a Curve:
Howlin Rain,
Under the Wheels: Live from the Coasts, Vol. 1

Hailing from Oakland, CA, Howlin Rain’s heavy-acid-jam rock suggests the last 45 years never happened. If you’ve ever gotten so drawn in by the outbound firepower of an early ’70s Grateful Dead tape that you forgot about the portabella mushrooms and tofu pups you were grilling during a late-summer weekend cookout, it suffices to say that Howlin Rain should cruise right down your boulevard. Under the Wheels: Live from the Coasts, Vol. 1, the first in a new live series, is a fine point of entry into the band’s thing, but don’t dilly dally around, as there are only 1,000 copies total in assorted color variations and handmade micro editions, all available now through Silver Current Records.

Howlin Rain is Ethan Miller (formerly of Comets on Fire) on guitar and lead singing, Dan Cervantes on guitar, Jeff McElroy on bass, and Justin Smith on drums (Smith, McElroy, and Cervantes all contribute backing vocals). They debuted with an eponymous LP on Birdman Records way back in 2006 and have released a bunch of material since, a significant portion of it capturing them in performance, so this live album series isn’t exactly a novel concept.

You see, Howlin Rain know what they do well. The studio records they’ve released over the last 13 years are all worthwhile, and a couple, like The Alligator Bride from last year, are borderline excellent, but that’s still not the same as getting on stage and letting loose in communion with a crowd that’s thoroughly focused on the occasion. And this surely reinforces the Dead comparison above, a connection Howlin Rain has openly made themselves, but it’s really only part of their overall sound.

The PR for The Alligator Bride did specifically reference Europe ’72, but that was in tandem with a mention of UK hard rockers Free. And that lines right up with a 45 they recorded back in 2012 that dished “When the Morning Comes” (from American Beauty) on the A-side and The James Gang’s “Collage” on the flip. So, we’re talking lysergic but with a powerful thrust; stretching out to over ten minutes, Under the Wheels’ instrumental opener “To the Wind” gets right in the thick of this heady-heavy mix.

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