Author Archives: Joseph Neff

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

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July, 2018. Part one is here and part 2 is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Emma Tricca, St. Peter (Dell’Orso) After three full-lengths and an EP, the latest from Rome-born and London-based singer-songwriter Emma Tricca features a handful of notable guests, including Dream Syndicate guitarist Jason Victor (who also produced) and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. Thus, her often Brit-folk-reminiscent sound (with occasional gusts from up the Canyon) has acquired a new flavor. Victor’s input means the sweet Paisley Underground vibe of “Fire Ghost” (wherein Arizona roots giant Howe Gelb lends a vocal hand) is no coincidence, but with her songwriting and personality shining throughout the record, it’s still clearly Tricca’s show. “Solomon Said” welcomes a terrific spoken-word cameo from folk cornerstone (and formative Tricca influence) Judy Collins. A-

Forma, Semblance (Kranky) Mark Dwinell, George Bennett, and John Also Bennett are Brooklyn’s Forma, now four albums deep with this one their second for Kranky. Their goal is to “broaden the idea of what an electronic music ensemble can sound like,” and they’ve succeeded, but with clear ties to precedent. One can detect Krautrock’s electronic models and certainly ’90s techno, but most rewarding to these ears are the elements derived from the classical minimalism of the ’70s, and not just Glass and Reich but significant gusts of Terry Riley. Plus, Forma aren’t just swiping from a distance and then serving up a pastiche, as George and John are recent vets of minimalist composer Jon Gibson’s group. Across seven tracks and a concise whole, the music spreads far beyond the cited stylistic points. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Steve Reich, Drumming (Superior Viaduct) Intermingling African percussion and Balinese gamelan-derived polyrhythms with the still-budding impulse of classical Minimalism, this reissues a crucial entry in Reich’s oeuvre. In their promo text, Superior Viaduct touts it as one of the 20th century’s most important musical works, and upon time spent, it’s a statement devoid of hyperbole. But hey, I was already somewhat in agreement, though my conclusion was based on the 1974 recording of the piece as released by Deutsche Grammophon. This one, captured in performance at NYC’s Town Hall in late 1971 and released only in a private edition of 600 (this is its first-time vinyl and CD reissue), is even sharper and more entrancing as it extends to nearly 83 glorious minutes. A+

Masta Ace Incorporated, SlaughtaHouse & Sittin’ On Chrome (Craft Recordings) Offering five reissues of vintage titles from the vaults of Delicious Vinyl, Craft is doing wax-loving fans of old-school hip-hop a considerable service. All are included in this week’s column, but we’ll award the pick to Masta Ace, who was already well-seasoned and underrated at the point of ’93’s SlaughtaHouse (he got his start as a member of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew and had a prior, pre-Incorporated full-length under his belt). Listening today, it’s status as a classic is secure. Masta Ace hailed from Brooklyn, but the second and final Incorporated release is something of a bridge between East Coast and West; unsurprisingly, it was his biggest seller, but it’s not as strong as what came directly before. It still holds up, however. / A-

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Graded on a Curve: Wimps,
Garbage People

Seattle trio Wimps have been dishing catchy garage-punk since 2013 or thereabouts, but on their new album and second for Kill Rock Stars, they connect as one of the sweetest of all things; a shit-hot party band that doesn’t fall short in the studio. Not just sweet but rare, and that the party resembles a wild, inclusive weekend art-college throwdown (just after exams) is all the better. As Garbage People speeds along, numerous predecessors do spring to mind, but the whole is never burdened with similarity as they possess a fair amount of range. It’s out now on vinyl, compact disc, cassette, and digital.

To give you some sense of what Wimps are about, the cover to their 2014 “Party At the Wrong Time” 7-inch is a drawing of a hot dog in bun wearing sunglasses while riding a skateboard and doing the Egyptian. It reinforces the music guitarist-vocalist Rachel Ratner, bassist-vocalist Matt Nyce, and drummer David Ramm make; if not exactly lighthearted, it’s never ponderous. Instead, there’s a fair amount of humor at play, though sidewalk-surfing frankfurter aside, Wimps are never offputtingly zany.

The title of the above 7-inch might lead some to assume that’s from whence my party band association derives, but the conclusion was drawn prior to dipping back into the band’s catalog. Wimps’ earlier output, which commenced with the Repeat LP on the End of Time label (currently in its third pressing), isn’t radically different from what they’re up to now, though their initial sound, loaded with riffs and energy and consistently non-generic, is the basis for some drawn comparisons to the early Rough Trade shebang.

It’s a solid precursor to what Wimps are up to now; amongst other habits, they like songs about noshing (Repeat mentions cheeseburgers and the refusal to eat “Old Food”), which sheds some additional light on that hot dog and brings us to one of Garbage People’s highlights. But don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves. “Giant Brain” opens their new one, based around a clean art-punkish guitar line reminiscent of those found on Repeat but continuing the songwriting progression that informed Suitcase, 2015’s debut for Kill Rock Stars.

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Graded on a Curve: Nathan Salsburg,
Third

Louisville, KY’s Nathan Salsburg has no shortage of achievements, but as a musician he’s primarily known for collaborating with Bonnie “Prince” Billy and fellow guitarist James Elkington, recording and touring in the band of singer-songwriter Joan Shelley, and for his own releases, the latest being the first to feature only acoustic guitar. Often, going truly solo details an artist with something to prove or at least intending to make a statement, but while Salsburg’s playing attains a high level early and then stays there, the emphasis is consistently on the beautiful while avoiding the florid or sedate. The contempo guitar renaissance carries on with Third, out July 20 on LP, CD, and digital from No Quarter.

If asked to categorize Nathan Salsburg’s new one, I’d call it an instrumental folk guitar album, which is no great feat of analysis on my part and might not seem like that big of a deal. Describing it as merely folk is perhaps limiting, but it gets to Salsburg’s knowledge and deft integration of tradition and geographical styles; since 2000 he’s worked as part of the Alan Lomax Archive and is currently its curator.

However, even as the animal paintings on Third’s cover suggest the rustic, the LP doesn’t register as a plunge into or expansion of well-established root forms, as throughout he’s closer to Bert Jansch in non-vocal mode than to the American Primitive or anything consciously old-timey. Opener “Timoney’s” does possess an Irish feel, in no small part due to the inspiration of “Timoney’s Ass,” a short story by the noted Irish writer Liam O’Flaherty.

As on his prior releases, “Timoney’s” makes abundantly clear that Salsburg is a master of his instrument, and yet there’s no flash for the sake of it, and likewise, the air of Ireland takes firm hold without getting laid on too thick, which is frankly a hinderance with a lot of neo-Irish stuff. Although the stated influence of UK folk-revival guitarists, amongst them Dick Gaughan and Paul Brady, is a recurring element in the disc’s scheme, foremost is the strength of the songs, with all but two of the ten Salsburg originals.

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Graded on a Curve:
David Sylvian,
Brilliant Trees

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

When UK new wavers Japan broke up in 1982, the members predictably splintered off into various directions, and the highest profiles belonged to Mick Karn and David Sylvian. Over the decades the latter has amassed a solo and collaborative discography of unlikely reach and impressiveness; however, giving a fresh listen to ‘84’s Brilliant Trees makes abundantly clear Sylvian’s career trajectory isn’t as surprising as it might initially seem.

Upon consideration, very few musicians who made their name in the pop sphere have aged as well as David Sylvian. Of course, this is mainly due to his choice after Japan’s dissolution (they briefly reunited for one self-titled ’91 album under the name Rain Tree Crow) to gradually leave the milieu that fostered his initial reputation. The subsequent journey led him into the outlying territories of experimentation and the avant-garde, though this shouldn’t give the false impression that Sylvian’s post-Japan oeuvre is devoid of pop elements.

As a youngster of the ‘80s, I knew little of Japan, my discovery of Sylvian supplied by his ’87 collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Secrets of the Beehive. The introduction was made through the frequent play and promotion of said disc by my hometown Mom & Pop record mart, an enterprise also involved in the sale of high end stereo equipment.

To my teen mind any system comprised of separate components was high end, and at the time Secrets of the Beehive basically eluded me, as did much “deep-listening” material attached to ambient, new age, minimalism, art-pop etc. Reengaging with Sylvian as a mature adult provided, if not an epiphany than another instance aiding the realization that artistic assessments work in tandem with personal growth, therefore flouting finality.

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Graded on a Curve:
Wire,
Document and Eyewitness

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

When informed of Wire’s plans to reissue Document and Eyewitness Geoff Travis, known the world over as the man who started Rough Trade (the label and the shops) retorted that the group was “completely mad.” This wouldn’t be especially significant except it was Travis who put up pounds to release the damned thing in the first place. This small anecdote is a big tipoff that Wire’s 1981 live LP, notorious to many and beloved by a few, is really quite special. On August 18th Pink Flag’s expanded multi-format edition will again illuminate the range and polarization of opinion.

I retain a fluctuating level of esteem for the live record, but as worthy captured performances continue to occasionally hit the racks it’s hard to deny that the form’s best days are basically behind it. To my ear the neck-and-neck contenders for the finest non-jazz live set ever waxed came relatively soon after the format’s invention, taped in ’62 and ’64 respectively; James Brown’s Live at the Apollo and Jerry Lee Lewis’ Live at the Star Club, Hamburg. These aren’t controversial choices of course, but they do amplify what’s missing from the vast majority of live records and why most are little more than artistic victory laps/obligatory pop and rock star rites of passage/bones tossed into the salivating yawp of easily satisfied fans.

Surely many early live discs were to varying levels studio-massaged sleight of hand, but in the cases of Brown and Lewis it was their abilities as performers that ultimately made those albums so massive. Plus, each slab possesses further crucial qualities in abundance; danger, uncertainty, surprise, and a legit sense of vérité. Document and Eyewitness is one of the only records I can recall a paid store employee vociferously steering me away from buying, said occasion circa-’88, with the extent of my Wire knowledge then consisting of “12XU” and a Peel Session. Based on that slim exposure I was eager for more, doubly so since Wire’s Harvest-EMI stuff was pretty scarce in my neck of the woods.

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Graded on a Curve:
Small Faces,
From the Beginning

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

The Small Faces stand as one of the very finest groups of the 1960s, though many know them mainly for Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, their most ambitious and final album before Steve Marriott’s departure effectively ended their diminutive phase. The scoop is that all of the Small Faces’ ‘60s records are worthy of ownership, even the mercantile odds-and-ends collection From the Beginning. That disc and its self-titled predecessor are currently available as 180gm replica LPs. Are they cut to lacquer from the original quarter-inch production masters with front-laminated sleeves? Why yes indeed.

One gauge of the true greats is that the music manages to get better, or at least maintains a high standard of quality, as the discs take their place in the racks. So it is with the Small Faces. With this said the Decca period offers distinct and enduring appeal; more so than The Who, the Small Faces circa-’65-’66 are the true ambassadors of Mod. Utterly Brit in orientation, it wasn’t until the fourth LP that the group entered the US market.

The Small Faces consisted of Steve Marriott on vocals, guitar and harmonica, Ronnie Lane on bass, Kenney Jones on drums and percussion, and initially Jimmy Winston on keyboards. Upon signing to Decca through the efforts of manager Don Arden, they released two singles in ’65. The first “What’cha Gonna Do about It” charted, hitting #14, while the second “I’ve Got Mine” didn’t. Shortly thereafter, Winston was replaced by Ian McLagan, the new keyboardist assisting 3rd 45 “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” in reaching the #3 spot. A full-length followed a few months later.

Sporting the brass to open with “Shake” in Sam Cooke’s tempo, ’66’s Small Faces starts out strong and never really falters, which is impressive for a debut comprised roughly equally, as was the norm of the time, of originals and borrowed/cover material. Neither tentative nor betraying instrumental greenness, the Small Faces were also unburdened by conflict over what they wanted to be.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sumrrá, 6 Mulleres (Clermont) Sumrrá is a Spanish jazz trio of the contempo piano (Manuel Gutiérrez Iglesias), bass (Xacobe Martínez Antelo), and drums (L.A.R. Legido) variety, and their approach, while undeniably accessible, consistently avoids the featherweight mainstream tropes that often drag down the form. Gutierrez in particular favors drive over lightness of touch (I’m reminded a bit of LaMont Johnson), and the brightness of the recording really brings Antelo into the thick of things. The freshness of execution is matched with an admirable concept, with the selections paying trib to six inspirational women, namely Frida Kahlo and Rosa Parks from North America, Rosalía De Castro from Galicia, Qui Jin from China, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, and Nawal El Saadawi from Egypt. A-

Catherine Sikora and Brian Chase, Untitled: After (Chaikin) A CD of sax-drum improvisations inspired by Seamus Haney’s translation of Beowulf? Hey, count me in! Sikora, known for, amongst other collabs, Clockwork Mercury with bassist Eric Mingus, blows tenor and soprano while Chase, high of profile as the drummer for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but with numerous experimental credits to his name (see directly below), handles the kit; the duo exchange (to reference the title of another sax-drums LP, the ’73 classic by Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe), is magnificent throughout. I prefer Sikora on tenor, but that’s no commentary on her abilities; regarding soprano, I feel the same about Trane. Speaking of, it you dig Interstellar Space, don’t sleep on this. Track 6 “brightly forged” even brought Meditations to mind. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Brian Chase, Drums and Drones: Decade (Chaikin) This 3CD + 144-page book really cements Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Chase’s dedication to the avant-garde. It collects Drums and Drones I, which came out in 2013 (with a DVD absent from this collection), II: Ataraxia from ’15, and III: Acoustic from ’17 (the second and last appear to be debuting here). Inspired by the Dream House installation of La Monte Young and Miriam Zazeela and utilizing Just Intonation, the drone bona fides are robust. But while I was cognizant of this connection prior, the results still sounded much different than expected. Striving to reach the meditative, Chase avoids the hackneyed, with the sounds (well-nigh impossible as casual listening) intense and enveloping. An altogether outstanding achievement. A+

Tim Hecker, Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again & Radio Amor (Kranky) The first two full-length releases from Canadian electronic specialist Hecker reissued on double vinyl and CD. Although he’d issued some minimal techno (as Jetone) prior, the 2001 release of Haunt Me on the Alien8 subsidiary Substractif was devoid of beats (well, other than a snippet at the very end, anyway) while blazing a trail ahead of the period’s already forward-thinking glitch crowd (with whom he definitely shared similarities). Debuting for the Mille Plateaux label, ’03’s Radio Amor wasn’t a direct follow-up (notably, there was the “My Love is Rotten To the Core” EP), but today it sounds like the natural successor to his debut. In terms of intellectually-inclined ambient-experimental electronics, these are hard to beat. A/ A-

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Graded on a Curve: Charles A. Asbury,
“4 Banjo Songs,
1891–1897″

Archeophone Records’ mission is the reissue of sounds from the early American recording industry, and after 20 years they’ve produced their first vinyl disc; “4 Banjo Songs, 1891-1897” is a 45 RPM 7-inch featuring singer-banjoist Charles A. Asbury. Rescued from brown wax cylinders dating from the 1890s, per Archeophone the contents are the oldest recordings of banjo songs in existence. It’s a revelation with a significant caveat, as Asbury was a minstrel performer whose music comes burdened with racially derogatory language. However, the artist was identified at different points as black and white, and the accompanying text offers a fascinating examination of race and identity at the end of the 19th century.

Based in Champaign, Illinois, Archeophone Records is owned and operated by married couple Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey, and the results of their passion, often issued in gorgeous and extensively researched sets, have garnered numerous awards for excellence from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections and won a Grammy (amid a bunch of nominations) for Best Historical Album for their 2006 release Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891-1922.

Archeophone’s catalog includes ragtime, dance bands and orchestras, early jazz, gospel, Yiddish music, vaudeville, comedians and humorists, a series of Phonographic Yearbooks, and spoken word including Actionable Offenses: Indecent Phonograph Recordings from the 1890s, a collection of dirty jokes and general smut, and Debate ’08: Taft and Bryan Campaign on the Edison Phonograph, which rounds up the wax cylinders cut by 1908 Presidential candidates William Jennings Bryan and William Howard Taft: for insight into what the USA sounded like from the 1890s through the ’20-’30s, their output is essential.

Though bitesize compared to much of their discography, “4 Banjo Songs, 1891-1897” fits into the scheme quite well. And not merely adorned with the distinction of first banjo recordings, as it’s quickly apparent through the surface noise that Asbury was a considerable talent on the instrument; that his songs are described as having been popular in the phonograph arcades of the era is no surprise.

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Graded on a Curve: Gwenifer Raymond,
You Never Were Much
of a Dancer

Gwenifer Raymond plays guitar, banjo, and even a little fiddle on her full-length debut, the assured and at times enthralling You Never Were Much of a Dancer. Although the Cardiff, Wales native and current Brighton, England resident has considerable formative experience in punk bands, the album is a solo instrumental showcase that highlights her interest in acoustic blues, Appalachian folk, and the eternal allure of the American Primitive guitar. It’s a well-established framework, but Raymond enlivens it with faultless playing and more importantly, elements of personal style. As refreshing as it is fully formed, it’s out now through Tompkins Square.

The story is that when Gwenifer Raymond was eight years old, her mother gave her a cassette of Nirvana’s Nevermind; as one might imagine, the gesture had a pronounced effect, and it wasn’t long before that My First Sony tape deck and headphones were augmented with a guitar. Jump forward a bit, and Raymond’s teenaged years found her in the role of guitarist or drummer in punk outfits.

Having a galvanizing musical experience and then diving into adolescent band activity is common enough. Raymond’s subsequent branching-out isn’t unusual either, as across the decades countless folks have expanded their musical diets beyond the realms of rock. Furthermore, that she wholeheartedly dove into expressing herself through a blues-folk-American Primitive template isn’t especially rare; what is striking is her assurance of technique and the range of mood on what’s essentially her debut release.

There was a Record Store Day 7-inch earlier this year and a digital EP in 2015; one song from the vinyl and the entirety of the EP (these in different versions, some with adjusted titles) recur here. Of course, playing guitar from age eight can’t but help in the strengthening of ability, but young players often strain against the limits of their talent, in large part because they have something to prove. There’s none of that here. I’ve no idea when she took up the banjo in earnest, but Raymond’s expressiveness on that instrument is no less impressive.

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Graded on a Curve: Dexter Gordon,
Our Man in Paris

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

On May 23 of 1963 a trio of bebop originals joined up with a worthy European compatriot and visited CBS Studios in Paris. The comeback of tenor giant Dexter Gordon was well underway, but the Continent was a relatively recent change of scene. Pianist Bud Powell and drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke had been living in France for quite some time however, and bassist Pierre Michelot was born there. Together this quartet agreed upon five standards and executed them with utter brilliance. Blue Note titled it Our Man in Paris, and 51 years later it remains a classic.

They ate voraciously as Dean, sandwich in hand, stood bowed and jumping before the big phonograph, listening to a wild bop record I had just bought called “The Hunt,” with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume.
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Much deserved praise gets heaped on Dexter Gordon for his comeback(s), but it can be occasionally overlooked that even if he never came back at all, he’d be a hugely important figure anyway. To begin, he’s the most distinctive tenor saxophonist to emerge from the ‘40s bop scene, extending the influence of Lester Young and quickly adapting the innovations of Charlie Parker, recording with Bird and Dizzy Gillespie and as a leader for Savoy before heading back to California and cutting those tenor battle 78s for Dial, the very sides that impacted Kerouac and Neal Cassady (i.e. Dean Moriarty) so massively.

It was heroin that nearly ended Gordon’s career for good; the ‘50s were a lost decade, though he did cut two records in ’55, Daddy Plays the Horn for Bethlehem in September and Daddy Blows Hot and Cool for Dootone two months later. After kicking the habit, he commenced his return with The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon, a minor session (some would call it a false start) for the Jazzland label.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Claire Morales, All That Wanting (Self-released) Following up 2015’s Amaranthine, this is LP #2 from singer-songwriter-guitarist Morales, but it serves as my introduction. Comparisons to Angel Olsen and PJ Harvey are what sparked my interest, and while I can understand (indeed, hear) the similarities, I’m left with a favorable impression through strength of voice, quality of tune, and ambition realized most fully in the consecutive “Diane I” and “Diane II.” Plus, the sharp interplay with guitarist Alex Hastings, bassist Ryan Williams, and drummer Russ Connell (the last two returning from her debut) adds heft, but just as importantly, opens up the songs. Morales can effectively scale it back however, as on “Golden” and “Enough,” and she’s a commanding presence throughout. A-

Hamish Kilgour, Finklestein (Ba Da Bing) Kilgour is a member of New Zealand post-VU indie-rock royalty The Clean. The Mad Scene, his ’90s outfit with Lisa Siegel, was often terrific, and ’14 brought the appealing loner vibe of his solo debut All of It and Nothing. This follow-up, based on a story by Kilgour that he would tell his son, is also swell, but given the specifics of its conception, markedly different. For one thing, the range of instrumentation is broader, with much of the record leaning into lo-fi psych-pop. But it’s not a radical change, as he’s again working with producer Gary Olson, who also plays on the disc. Furthermore, “Welcome to Finklestein” is reminiscent of The Clean in keyboard mode, and maybe it’s just me, but the brief “Opening” recalls Tall Dwarfs’ “Louis Likes His Daily Dip.” And that’s great. A-

ARCHIVAL/REISSUE PICKS: Adonis, Marshall Jefferson, Frankie Knuckles, Mr. Fingers, Trax Records 45s (Get on Down) These four 7-inches are available either individually or as a bundle through Get on Down’s website as part of the label’s Jukebox Series, but they are certainly also obtainable in stores, at least temporarily. As fans of electronic club music will be snatching up these prime artifacts from House Music’s ’80s emergence, longevity in the bins is surely finite, especially as they aren’t straight reissues of higher-profile later (and longer) mixes, but original versions. To these ears, Jefferson’s “Move Your Body” b/w “Drum Your Body,” which nods to the style’s eventual commercial inroads, is the least of the bunch, but it lowers the collective quality only slightly; the contents deserve to be graded together. A-

Dave Evans, The Words in Between (Earth Recordings) Here’s a repress of Evans’ 1971 debut (shorn of the bonus cuts added to an earlier reissue), and it offers as much sweet folky fingerpicking as a sensible mind could ask for. Very much an exponent of the Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones style of Brit folksong (with a few touches of Nick Drake in the mix, as well), Evans’ Welsh accent and the occasional harmony vocals of Adrienne Webber lend a degree of distinctiveness. Some have criticized Evans’ songwriting (all ten are originals; even his guitar is homemade), but it all sounds fine to me, as the whole really captures the spirit of the time; as the record was cut in fellow folkie Ian A. Anderson’s house and released on the independent The Village Thing label, I’ll declare it sounds especially fine. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Wire, 154

Most bands are fortunate to get in the ballpark of a single masterpiece during their existence, but from ’77-’79, and right out of the gate with their debut, Wire produced three in a row. In the process, they delivered a blueprint for minimalist art-punk (from which many have swiped but never bettered) while becoming one of the defining acts in the emerging genre of post-punk. Those three records are currently available from Pinkflag as CD books, each with loads of worthy bonus material and all with written contributions from Jon Savage and Graham Duff; the standalone vinyl and bookless CDs are available July 6. Today, we conclude our coverage of these releases with thoughts on 1979’s 154.

As the final studio album before Wire’s first hiatus, 154 inevitably registers as a culmination. However, if the byproduct of chances taken, repetition disdained, and unsurprisingly, friction between band members, the album’s experimentation with and extension of rock and pop form ultimately transcends the tag of post-punk, with its contents remarkably cohesive and betraying no signs of strain from creative differences.

For an outfit who stated they’d quit because of a dearth of new ideas, 154 is loaded with them. If it’s a taste of the band at the end of their tether that you desire, then the live recording Document and Eyewitness, revised and expanded in 2014, is the release to check out; fascinatingly flawed but in this writer’s view somewhat underrated, it stands as the true end of Wire’s first period.

But don’t let’s lose track of the subject at hand. 154 easily extends the brilliance established on Wire’s prior releases by unveiling another major spurt in development, though the sheer intensity of invention did them few favors. The reality of all this rapid-fire progress? Wire was simply moving too fast to cultivate their listenership, and by extension, disappointment from their label EMI was certain. Furthermore, as their sound was at odds with the general trend toward post-punk refinement (e.g. New Romanticism), the response from critics could often be indifferent, perplexed, or even hostile.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Innocence Mission, Sun on the Square (Badman Recording Co. / Bella Union / P-Vine) It’s been a long time (like last century) since I’ve listened to The Innocence Mission, but their tenth album (they’ve been busy over the last few years) immediately brought the memories flooding back. This is wholly due to Karen Peris’ distinct voice, which I’ve always had a soft spot for, even in my noise-craving youth, when I generally appreciated her and the playing of Peris’ guitarist husband Don and bassist Mike Bitts through exposure from others rather than actively seeking them out. While gentle, The Innocence Mission eluded preciousness, and still do, with this a damn fine record, especially the Astrud Gilbert/ bossa nova-inspired title track. Looks like I have some catching up to do. A-

Allen Ravenstine, Waiting for the Bomb (ReR Megacorp) Upon learning that original Pere Ubu synthesizer man Allen Ravenstine was once again making music, I was excited. First came a pair of duo outings with current Ubu synth player Robert Wheeler, and last year The Pharaoh’s Bee found Ravenstine alone. That one was cool, but this follow-up, which employs analogue and digital instruments, hardware and software, is even better. There’s lots of abstraction on this hour-plus set, but also moments recalling sci-fi soundtracks/ incidental music, early electronics, jazz both straight-up mersh and with darker undercurrents, general ambience, and even a little funk. Sweet. Limited vinyl comes with a 48-page perfect bound volume of Allen’s music-related short stories. Even sweeter. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Barbara Dane, Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs (Smithsonian Folkways) It’s the 70th anniversary of Smithsonian Folkways, and I’m way past due to salute ‘em. This excellent 2CD primer into an often-overlooked vocalist-guitarist-leftist hero can be obtained from the label in a bundle with the vinyl reissue of Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers. Equally adept at range of blues, jazz, and protest folk, had Dane allowed herself to succumb to record company bullshit, she would’ve been better known in her prime, but this set illustrates that her achievements were huge in a more substantial way. As the injustice she fought against still exists, this collection is screamingly relevant. Features contributions from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, and Doc Watson. A-

Anna & Elizabeth, The Invisible Comes to Us (Smithsonian Folkways) I can’t believe I missed the boat on this one; only by a few months (it came out in March), but still. I’d gotten hipped to the work of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle last year due to comparisons made to another duo, House & Land. There’s a definite similarity between the two acts (and some shared Virginia roots), but also differences. Like House & Land, Anna & Elizabeth are steeped in tradition but never quaint, and this is their third album (available on wax), the byproduct of a shared residency in Virginia after a year’s worth of researching the archives of song collector Helen Hartness Flanders. Combining the true folk root with elements of the ’60s-’80s NYC avant-garde, the results are enveloping and often glorious. A

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Graded on a Curve:
Alan Braufman,
Valley of Search

As part of NYC’s fertile ’70s free-spiritual-loft jazz scene, the alto saxophonist Alan Braufman cut a solitary and underheard album as a leader, the ’75 effort Valley of Search. It was the second LP on the esteemed independent jazz label India Navigation, captured essentially live with no overdubs, alternate takes, or extra cuts, and while a handful of particulars solidify its stature as a noteworthy recording (including the debut of pianist and instrument builder Cooper-Moore), the biggest is its robust, ecstatic improvising. Long a rarity and never given an authorized reissue, a fresh vinyl edition is out June 29 through the Valley of Search label.

Clifford Allen’s excellent liners for this reissue go into greater depth, but in brief, the move that made Valley of Search a reality was Braufman’s leaving Boston along with a group of Berklee College of Music students for New York City, and specifically lower Manhattan; the others were saxophonist David S. Ware, bassist Chris Amberger, and pianist Gene Ashton, who’s known today as Cooper-Moore.

Next came the acquisition of a space in which to live and create, in this case a building on 501 Canal St. Once moved in, the first floor was designated for performances. Others took up residence, including drummer Tom Bruno and vocalist Ellen Christi; Amberger moved out. Through rehearsal and performance, the Braufman-Ashton unit, which included bassist David Saphra and drummer Ralph Williams, grew into the role of the house band. With time and diligence came increased attention and then the opportunity to record.

The five LPs (released separately) or three CDs (issued as a set) that hold the Wildflowers loft jazz sessions (a series of events held at Sam Rivers’ Studio RivBea that featured a range of players both well-known and obscure) remain a bountiful point of entry into this scene, but they should in no way be considered definitive. A whole lot more was happening, and a sizable percentage was preserved through Bob Cummins’ India Navigation label.

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Graded on a Curve:
Frank Newsome,
Gone Away with a Friend

Since 1972, Frank Newsome has been a minister in the Little David Old Regular Baptist Church, located near tiny Haysi in southwestern Virginia. As part of services, he is also a singer of uncommon richness and power, delivering his message without musical instruments in keeping with church tradition. Although Newsome received some exposure beyond Haysi through his longtime friend Dr. Ralph Stanley and was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship in 2011, Gone Away With a Friend is his first recording. Capturing him a cappella and unaccompanied in his church, the compact disc is out June 29 through Free Dirt Records. Anyone with an interest in folk and gospel traditions will want to hear it.

Gone Away With a Friend provides a rare opportunity to experience the Old Regular Baptist singing tradition. As mentioned in Christopher Koepp’s notes for the set, the only prior widely available Old Regular Baptist recordings were two early ’90s discs from Smithsonian Folkways that offered lined-out hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky. Making this collection rarer still is that with one exception, the pieces here aren’t lined-out, i.e. an individual leading a congregation in song (and as such, a relative to shape-note singing), but instead present Newsome alone.

The strength of Newsome’s voice is immediately felt, its quality made even more remarkable when considering his contraction of black lung disease after years working in the coal mines of his region; his last day underground was February 12, 1976. As vocal intensity gets seamlessly united with the conviction and indeed the utter soulfulness of Newsome’s singing, Gone Away With a Friend attains a brilliance that’s at first startling, then soothing, and ultimately life-affirming.

More so than most recorded examples of undiluted tradition, the disc registers almost entirely as an act of preservation rather than dually serving as a calling-card for an artist or group working in a niche of the vast field of Americana. It is true that Newsome would often commence the proceedings of Ralph Stanley’s Hills of Home festival (and has sung at other folklife oriented fests), but those appearances (it feels wrong to call them performances) occurred as an outgrowth of friendship and community, aspects that deeply resonate as Gone Away With a Friend plays.

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