Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: Special Ed,
Youngest in Charge

1989 was an outstanding year for hip-hop. Classics in the rapidly developing genre included EPMD’s Unfinished Business, the Jungle Brothers’ Done by the Forces of Nature, and the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique. In fact the list is so deep that worthy items are bound to be overlooked. The recent reissue of Special Ed’s Youngest in Charge will certainly keep the Brooklynite’s enduringly striking wordplay in the discussion, with the LP housed in a gatefold sleeve sporting notes by estimable hip-hop scribe Brian Coleman. It’s currently bundled at Get On Down’s webstore with a red vinyl big-hole 45 of breakout single “I Got It Made.” Both are also available separately.

Of Jamaican descent, Edward Archer is the youngest of five brothers and the only one born on US soil. As a rap obsessed teen from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, he quickly became a battle rhyme specialist, employing a variety of handles before settling upon Special Ed. The initial chapters in his story are approximate to the beginnings of numerous local legends; the difference is Ed’s realization that breaking on a larger level required a key collaborator.

Enter Howard Thompson; English-born and also of Jamaican descent, he’s better known as Hitman Howie Tee. Ed was 14 when he first met the older and more experienced Howie, his future cohort having been a member of CDIII, an electro-rap trio who cut a pair of singles on the Prelude label in ’83-‘84. And while uncredited, in ’84 he contributed production to UTFO’s rap smash “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The next year he worked on Whistle’s “(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin’.”

Suffice it to say Ed and Howie knew each other from the neighborhood. Once properly introduced, the producer was struck by the rapper’s sidestepping of the Jamaican angle for what can be described as a New York-based approach. He was furthermore impressed by the maturity in his execution; Youngest in Charge’s title references Ed’s age, 16 at the point of the album’s making, but the LP is in no way the prototype for Kris Kross or Lil Bow Wow.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Windian Records’ The Hangmen and Ebenezer and the Bludgeons 7″s

Garage rock is a largely straightforward endeavor that’s easy to champion mainly because the byproduct frequently resonates so splendidly. In an excellent turn of events Windian Records has just reissued two 7-inch platters from the label’s neck of the woods, specifically by Washington, DC’s The Hangmen and Baltimore’s Ebenezer and the Bludgeons; the former oozes mid-‘60s teen-scene gusto and the latter grapples with the disreputable essence of ‘70s punk. Both are welcome additions to any shelf devoted to rock in its pure, short form.

In the guts of the 20th century many youngsters in the US were impacted so heavily by the rock ‘n’ roll impulse that they diligently sought out likeminded individuals and formed bands of their own, and once amassed they found shelter in buildings where they could practice and hopefully perfect a few tunes. The true heyday of this phenomenon is the mid-‘60s, an economically healthy period with roughly a decade’s worth of accumulated R&R moves ready for the swiping.

Just as importantly the music had yet to find widespread acceptance as Art; it was, in an aged phrase, still greasy kid stuff. This is the territory where The Hangmen thrived. Theirs is a tale of shows truncated by the fuzz due to rabid fandom, the playing of private parties at the digs of Robert Kennedy, traveling to and from gigs in a hearse, and displacing “We Can Work it Out” b/w “Day Tripper” from the DC chart’s top spot.

Their ’65 single actually derives from Hangmen guitarist Tom Guernsey and drummer Bob Berberich’s prior outfit The Reekers. As a Link Wray-styled instrumental group they dished a 45 for Ru-Jac (the swell Dick Tracy-inspired “Don’t Call Me Flyface” is found on numerous comps including Strummin Mental Vol. 2 and Signed DC) but soon brought Joe Triplet’s vocals to the fore on “What a Girl Can’t Do” and “The Girl Who Faded Away.”

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Savant,
Artificial Dance

Discussions concerning the USA’s early 1980s underground scene often dwell upon punk’s adjustment into hardcore and the new wave’s gradual transformation into college rock. However, as the clock incessantly ticks, numerous archival releases have assisted in expanding the sonic landscape of said timeframe, and a fresh addition to this shelf has just arrived from the New York City label RVNG Intl. Having already devoted a volume to the solo recordings of K. Leimer, Artificial Dance continues the enlightening overview of the composer’s productivity by focusing on his studio project Savant. It’s out now on 2LP/CD/digital.

Starting in the mid-‘70s Seattle’s Kerry Leimer began a mission of self-documentation that has been recently reevaluated as one of North America’s earliest responses to Euro-based electronic innovators Cluster and Brian Eno, especially the latter’s groundbreaking ’73 collaboration with Robert Fripp (No Pussyfooting). Holding 30 tracks (31 on the double wax), RVNG’s A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983) nicely illuminates the breadth of Leimer’s achievements and is a superb primer into his influences.

Undisguised influences at that, for amid the riches is a brief entry named “Eno’s Aviary.” Some might find the reference a tad blatant; it rather quickly reminded this writer of “In the Wake of King Fripp,” the leadoff cut on the second album from Heldon (Heldon II “Allez-Téia”), the French prog rock unit led by guitarist Richard Pinhas.

Like Heldon, K. Leimer was part of a milieu where postures of originality were at least sporadically deemed as less crucial to success. And it was an epoch seeing a large percentage of recordings bought on intuition and high hopes; trying before buying simply wasn’t as common, and therefore a song title as homage could clue in prospective buyers and potentially lead them to the cash register.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Bobby Fuller Four,
I Fought the Law

Inspecting chart history proves otherwise, but due to the ubiquitous nature of that one song everybody remembers, Bobby Fuller is considered by many as a One Hit Wonder. Others view him as the true-blood ‘60s extension in art as well as life of fellow Texan Buddy Holly, which overlaps with the assessment by some that Fuller was maybe the last gasp of rock ‘n’ roll innocence before the ‘60s became The Sixties. But he was also just a passionate young guy with a boatload of talent for whom music was paramount, and nothing communicates that better than a listen to The Bobby Fuller Four’s 1966 LP, I Fought the Law.

The Bobby Fuller Four’s second and best long-player opens with what is probably my pick for the band’s greatest moment and certainly one of their leader’s finest compositions. It’s not the title track, for “I Fought the Law” was penned by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets, a group most famous for their backing of Buddy Holly (Curtis joined after Holly’s plane crash demise; the original appears on 1960’s In Style with the Crickets.)

The tune is “Let Her Dance,” a delicious slice of guitar and vocal harmony driven pop-rock and easily one of ’65’s best singles. Perfectly calibrated for airplay, its 2:32 flows with expertly layered simplicity. Once established, none of the song’s elements drift far in their roles; not Fuller’s lead singing of his wounded-heart love lyrics or the gorgeous chiming and jangling of his and Jim Reese’s guitars, not the beautiful but non-grandiose backing vocals, not Randy Fuller’s bass, and definitely not DeWayne Quirico’s drumming, which with subtle alterations follows the same pattern throughout.

Individually, none of these aspects are especially noteworthy. It’s in the assemblage and the ensuing vigor of the captured performance that greatness is attained. And over the years, playing “Let Her Dance” has turned many a head that had erroneously pegged Bobby Fuller as basically a slightly displaced rockabilly guy.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | 1 Comment

Graded on a Curve: The Kitchen Cinq, When the Rainbow Disappears: An Anthology 1965-1968

It’s not exactly a secret, but the musical history of the 1960s is loaded with bands. A few got famous, some are still remembered, and many more hang in the purgatory of obscurity. From Los Angeles via Amarillo, TX, The Kitchen Cinq fell short of stardom but they definitely haven’t been forgotten; helping to insure their placement in the cultural memory is the most recent volume in Light in the Attic’s Lee Hazelwood Archive Series, When the Rainbow Disappears: An Anthology 1965-68. Collecting their LHI sessions, rare material as The Illusions and The Y’alls, and superb notes by Alec Palao, it’s out now on compact disc and double vinyl.

When the Rainbow Disappears carefully compiles the output of a worthwhile outfit, with The Kitchen Cinq’s background also shedding light on one of the decade’s more idiosyncratic pop artists in Lee Hazelwood. The set’s liners detail the Cinq’s struggles as the inaugural act on Lee Hazelwood Industries, the story providing supporting roles to vocalist Suzi Jane Hokom and fellow Amarillo scenester and future songwriter of note J.D. Souther.

Consisting of Dale Gardner on lead vocals, Mark Creamer on lead guitar, Jim Parker on rhythm guitar, Dallas Smith on bass, and Johnny Stark on drums, The Kitchen Cinq’s early Amarillo days were spent as The Illusions. Taken from two sessions, the five glimpses of these origins are amongst When the Rainbow Disappears’ best attributes.

Divided between three originals and two covers, these entries simultaneously illuminate the infancy of The Kitchen Cinq and present the fruits of a perfectly sturdy mid-‘60s rock ‘n’ roll band. More to the point, they got work; The Illusions’ ’65 date offers “Young Boy,” a solid beat-combo-styled number from Parker with harmonica and appealing tandem vocals and a surprisingly non-rote cover of “Searchin’” by The Coasters that surely went down a storm during gigs.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Static Daydream,
Static Daydream

Those nutty over shoegaze may know Paul Baker from Skywave and Ceremony. Since 2012 he’s been busy in Static Daydream, a project finding him in cahoots with girlfriend and musical collaborator Jamie Casey. Their 4-song cassette “The Only One” was issued last year and now here’s a self-titled LP; like Baker’s previous outfits Static Daydream is disinclined toward untapped aural horizons, instead striving to invigorate long-ensconced ideas. Limited edition vinyl in an edition of 150 in black and 100 in “Orange Crush with Black Haze” is out through Saint Marie and Moon Sounds Records.

Akin to Static Daydream, Skywave was based in Fredericksburg, VA. A trio composed of Baker on guitar, Oliver Ackerman on bass, and John Fedowitz on drums, their geographical circumstance has been suggested as a disadvantage, Skywave apparently plagued with audience neglect while extant. Beginning in 1998 they released four full-lengths and a few singles and EPs, the group going out on a qualitative high-note early in ’04 with Synthstatic.

Post-breakup Ackerman moved to Brooklyn and formed the considerably higher-profile A Place to Bury Strangers; he’s also notable for effects pedal company/defunct warehouse space Death By Audio. Baker and Fedowitz remained homebodies and worked together as Ceremony, the pair issuing three albums and a bunch of short-players prior to Baker’s exit and the subsequent formation of Static Daydream.

If Skywave’s existence was basically unimaginable without the precedent established by My Bloody Valentine and likeminded acts of their era, the same can be said for Ceremony, though the choice of moniker might tip-off the reader to Baker and Fedowitz’s interest in the adjustment period betwixt Joy Division and New Order. Utilizing programmed beats and a familiar vocal inflection infused with waves of distortion, Ceremony initially resonated like the Brothers Reid ambushing A Factory Record.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
John Hulburt, Opus III

In 1972 the late guitarist John Hulburt, then based in Chicago, self-released his sole album. Decades later a copy was plucked from a Windy City record bin by Ryley Walker, the contents so impressing Hulburt’s fellow string slinger that he partnered with Tompkins Square’s Josh Rosenthal to produce its reissue. Featuring 20 tracks of nimble fingerpicking and a demeanor suggesting Berkeley or Greenwich Village in the heart of the 1960s, Opus III is available now on LP/CD/digital.

Opus III is John Hulburt’s lone full-length (there is no Opus I or II), but it wasn’t the extent of his studio experience; roughly five years earlier he was a part of Chicago garage act The Knaves. Managing a pair of singles in ’67 for the Dunwich label, their complete recordings were recently compiled by Sundazed on the 10-inch “Leave Me Alone!”

Unlike their Chi-town garage cohorts The Shadows of Knight (who also recorded for Dunwich), The New Colony Six and The Cryan’ Shames, The Knaves lacked any national chart action and apparently weren’t even particularly popular locally. This shouldn’t insinuate a lack of quality; described by Knave’s member Gene Lubin in Opus III’s notes as “punk/rock,” The Knaves could distill the Stones and Pretty Things with adequate flair but were actually quite adept at crafting surprisingly durable folk-rock ditties with ample and smartly rendered harmonies.

Lubin relates that Hulburt was brought into the Knaves’ fold to sing and shake a tambourine. Within a year he was adding guitar to the band’s 45s, and by 1972 it was his primary instrument; issued on Hulburt’s own Clarence imprint, Opus III was an early engineering credit for Barry Mraz (Styx, Ohio Players, David Johansen, Fotomaker etc).

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
4 x Liquid Liquid

In 1980s New York City Liquid Liquid hung at the crossroads of Downtown and No Wave but are more retrospectively notable for unwittingly laying the musical bedrock for an early rap hit and helping to pave the way for both the paradigm of post-rock and the new millennium’s indie-dance agenda. Superior Viaduct’s reissues of the group’s three EPs are hot off the griddle, as is an LP devoted to relevant prior acts Liquid Idiot and Idiot Orchestra. Folks needing all four can acquire them in a special-priced bundle exclusively from the label. Those looking to dabble can buy separately and in stores.

Featuring drummer Scott Hartley, bassist Richard McGuire, vocalist Salvatore Principato, and marimba specialist Dennis Young, Liquid Liquid announced their presence in 1981 with two EPs issued on 99 Records, a home to significant if initially neglected indigenous happenings of the period; Glenn Branca, Bush Tetras, Y Pants, and ESG were all documented on the influential venture of Ed Bahlman.

But not so fast; before Liquid Liquid’s formation the members were part of two related bands, the older of the two being Liquid Idiot. They formed circa the late ‘70s down New Jersey way at Rutgers University and migrated to Gotham to play gigs. The flyers for these events would encourage the audience to bring their own instruments and join right in, and at one of these hootenannies Dennis Young showed up, playing marimba from the floor.

Liquid Idiot recorded a 7-inch in McGuire’s living room while still in New Brunswick; offering loose, thoroughly non-pro art-inclined DIY totaling 15 minutes, its nine tracks spring from a framework of guitar and rhythm as clarinet, saxophone, and a cheap organ intermittently enter the fray. Favoring abstraction and repetition over melodious concerns, Liquid Idiot’s beginner’s stabs at free jazz/Trout Mask-era Magic Band/general avant-gardism are likeable if far from mind-blowing. Occasionally, the thrust’s comparable to the Los Angles Free Music Society.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | 1 Comment

Graded on a Curve:
Sarah McQuaid,
Walking into White

Born in Madrid, the multifaceted folk musician Sarah McQuaid was brought up in Chicago, studied in France, and after a lengthy stay in Ireland currently lives in Cornwall, England. Early in 2014 she traveled to Cornwall, New York to record a follow-up to 2012’s The Plum Tree and the Rose; the result is the trimmest release of her career as McQuaid continues to push the boundaries of an engaging and increasingly personal sound. Issued in the UK/Europe this past February, Walking into White is out now on CD in North America through Waterbug Records to coincide with a September-October US tour.

Borrowing a term from the realm of organized sports, or for those who simply can’t abide the playing of games, the performing arts, Sarah McQuaid is what’s known as a triple-threat; that is, she does three things extremely well, specifically sing, play guitar, and write songs, though she initially excelled more at the interpretation of traditional and even centuries old material.

To elaborate, 1997’s debut When Two Lovers Meet examined trad Irish sources and offered a fine balance of focus between the strength of McQuaid’s playing and the power of her voice, hitting peaks in the unaccompanied six-minute “Táim Cortha Ó Bheith Im’ Aonar Im’ Luí” and “The Parting Glass,” a closing duet with the esteemed Irish vocalist Niamh Parsons.

Backed by additional guitar and ukulele, cello and fiddle, keyboard and double bass, and those Irish standbys whistle and pipes, the sound is far from monochromatic, a circumstance abetted by the sole original composition. “Charlie’s Gone Home” is a decidedly more contempo folk proposition reminiscent of a ditty heard on the countertop radio while visiting the apartment of one’s favorite fifty-something hippie librarian aunt for Sunday brunch.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Nirvana, Nirvana

In 1991 a Pacific-Northwest three-piece changed the direction of the record industry, securing a spot in music history as the spearhead of Grunge. In 2002 a self-titled album attempted to sum up their essence; rather than electing to represent the trio’s actual range, Nirvana is dominated by chart entries, a handful of non-surprises, and a (then) previously unreleased track. On August 28 it’s available on LP through Universal as either a 45rpm 200gm double or a 33rpm 150gm single, each with accompanying download.

To obtain a full grasp of how well Nirvana succeeds in offering a tidy retrospective of an important, oft volatile, and enduringly polarizing act required getting reacquainted with their discography from ’88 to ’94. With time spent the verdict is in: first hitting racks roughly 8½ years after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and a little over a decade removed from the band’s unexpected runaway success, Nirvana ultimately falls short of top-tier.

This assessment comes not by any fault of the group but through unimaginative assemblage and a problematic title. Leaving the occasional sarcastic usage aside, the words Greatest Hits summarize an objective truth, and the use of Best Of, while potentially arguable, is a nomenclature making its intentions plain. The eponymous treatment employed here is merely ambiguous.

If the purpose behind Nirvana was to encapsulate its subject’s breadth and heights on one record the results don’t meet the goal. Far too safe to accurately embody the Best, it essentially flirts with Greatest Hits; perhaps the term was just considered tacky when applied to retail achievements stemming partially from a perceived lack of calculation and even borderline disinterest.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

  • 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