Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020. Part one is here.

BOOK PICK: Billy Vera, Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story (BMG) The fourth installment in BMG’s RPM series tackles one of the crucial R&B-R&R labels of the 1950s as formed and operated by Art Rupe, with the story told by a man who was integral in setting Specialty’s reissue course right at the dawn of the CD era. Vera’s also a noted musician who was deeply influenced by the sounds that Rupe was responsible for gifting to the world, and his love shines through, though he’s not uncritical. This applies to some of the artists and individuals in Rupe’s employ, as Specialty’s owner-operator, like Excello Records’ Ernie Young (covered in an earlier RPM volume) is revealed to be a fundamentally decent guy. He’s still with us, at 102 years of age.

Like Young, Rupe was especially taken with the music made by blacks in mid-2oth century USA (with a particular affinity for gospel), but unlike Sam Phillips, he was never able to land a major caucasian R&R crossover. However, the book makes clear that he really didn’t try that hard; as Rip it Up’s title and cover photo underscore, he had Little Richard, at least for a little while, and that secured him a ton of sales in the booming rock market. Vera’s authorial approach is to proceed roughly chronologically while spotlighting many of the singers and players who shaped one of the strongest discographies of the era (and beyond). There is also attention paid to how crooked the biz was then (Alan Freed is here in all his heinousness), enough so that Rupe retired from music and made his fortune in oil. A solid read. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Throbbing Gristle, A Souvenir Of Camber Sands, TG Now, Part Two – The Endless Not (Mute) Formed in 1975 in Kingston upon Hull, UK, Throbbing Gristle are in many ways the dictionary definition of Industrial music in its raw form, which is to say, prior to the style’s hybridization and dilution with dance beats. Emblematic of a societal bleakness that led many to take up instruments and set punk rock into motion, Throbbing Gristle didn’t react to it/ rail against the desolation but rather internalized it and then spat it back out in often chilling fashion. They remain most revered for their initial string of albums (plus a pair of expansive box sets of live material, the first holding 24 CDs, the second 10), which decades after their emergence could still unnerve.

Reforming in December 2004 for an All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare Before Christmas event dedicated to John Balance (aka Geoffrey Nigel Laurence Rushton, who founded Coil with TG member Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson), who’d died the month prior, A Souvenir Of Camber Sands documents them in strong form. Notably, this two-disc set was available in CDR form minutes after the performance; this is its first time on vinyl. The ambience isn’t as abrasive and confrontational as it often was back in the late ’70s, but that’s understandable and actually preferable, with much of the set list revealing a disinterest in merely repeating themselves. In studio form, Some of the tracks do derive from TG Now, which dipped a toe into the reformation pool to find the temperature favorable.

Released on LP and CD in March of 2004 and originally available to attendees of RE-TG Astoria, which was the group’s first live performance since touring the US in 1981, TG Now’s studio origin, even at roughly half the length of Camber Sands, nicely magnifies the indifference to retreading earlier achievements (there’s no need to dish out a version of “Hamburger Lady” for the assembled faithful, natch). But it’s really 2007’s Part Two – The Endless Not that drives home Throbbing Gristle’s desire to strike out for fresh territory. But it’s also familiar to the style that TG helped formulate, as “Rabbit Snare” is a bit reminiscent of Jim Thirlwell or even Angelo Badalamenti. Altogether, these three releases constitute a vital portion of this uncompromising and often brilliant outfit’s legacy. A-/ A-/ A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Animal Collective, Ballet Slippers (Domino) Yes, this came out in November (it all seems so long ago, now), but a little thing called Black Friday went down and then two weeks later TVD unveiled our Best of the Year. Ballet Slippers is also a long one, three LPs in fact, so it didn’t get the necessary attention until the holiday break. And it was time well spent, as this live collection from 2009, with a heavy emphasis on Merriweather Post Pavilion (assembled from four shows to hit like a full performance), connected with my memory banks like a punch from Ali. It’s been over ten years since this stuff unraveled in the air, but Ballet Slippers, peppered as it is with selections reaching back to 2002, really underscores the ’00s as Animal Collective’s decade. Simultaneously warped and accessible. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Revillos!, From the Freezer, Compendium of Weird, Live from the Orient (Damaged Goods) Formed by vocalists Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife after the breakup of the Scottish ’77 punk era act The Rezillos, this outfit’s initial run was 1979-’85. The 20-track comp From the Freezer (CD only, as it was upon first release in 1996, though this edition is a gatefold digipak with booklet) details their existence quite well. I resisted simply calling them ’77 punk, and that’s because they (and the band that preceded them) didn’t conform to the music’s angry standard, though they do fall into a fun-loving niche of the period; at times, it’s like early Blondie and the B-52’s morphed into another band. There are also a few Joe Meek-ish motions and a Crampsian love of junky youth culture.

The thing about this band (with either the z or the v) is that they were consistently so revved up and loudly amped that it always felt punk enough for me. And thus it remains. As you might’ve gleaned, they’ve gathered something of a following, and Compendium of Weird (which is out on vinyl, though the CD adds two cuts for a 17-track total) is an extensive dig into the vaults. It should come as no surprise that Compendium isn’t as consistently sharp as Freezer, but the number of cuts that should’ve stayed in the can (like the head-scratching pop move “Heaven Fell”) number very few, and the cover selections, including “Cool Jerk,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “ Do You Love Me,” nicely reinforce their ’60s-derived foundational inspiration.

Long-posthumous clearinghouse comps can instill worry, especially in punk territory, but Compendium holds it together. A much bigger fear is the emergence of reunion material, and there are few places where that sorta thing can get more horrific than in the punk zone. The big difference in the case of Live from the Orient is that it indeed captures The Revillos in performance, specifically during a Japanese visit in 1994 (the first time they’d gotten back together since ’85). initially released in much shorter form in ’96 on the Vinyl Japan label, the source tapes, which for a while were effectively lost, were partially salvaged by guitarist Kid Krupa prior to his passing, with the job finished by drummer Rocky Rhythm. Amped and energetic, the results blow the doors off expectations. 21 tracks, 18 on the vinyl. A- / B / B+

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s New Releases, Part Two

So, we wrap up a calendar year of coverage with ten records in five entries. If your personal favorite of 2019 is not here (or in yesterday’s installment) please fret not; it was most likely unheard in a certifiable avalanche of new music from across the last twelve months. These releases however, struck us as special.

5. Swans, Leaving Meaning (Young God / Mute) & Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith, Songs from the Bardo (Smithsonian Folkways) One of Leaving Meaning’s pertinent facets (and something that relates to prior Swans releases) is that it makes generally worthwhile and even accurate synopsizing difficult. That it is lengthy has little to do with it; rather, it is a work utterly loaded with content, dimension, and with range reflective of this new version of Michael Gira’s long-extant band/ project. But Leaving Meaning can be described as a spiritual record, which isn’t a new development, though it offers this aspect distinctively. Parts of it sound great at Christmastime, even. ‘tis the season!

To call Songs from the Bardo a spiritual record is to spew a banality, at least for folks familiar with Tibetan Buddhism. Even for those with little to no knowledge of the practice, the overall transcendental nature of the collaboration should be easily absorbed. But this isn’t what makes the album special. Instead, it’s in how affecting the contents become for listeners with a casual relationship (or less) to the shared spiritualism it documents. That’s instrumentally (via all three participants), textually (through the persistent calmness of Anderson’s recitation), and vocally (the heartfelt singing by Choegyal). Songs from the Bardo communicates broadly without slipping into the banality mentioned above. That’s special.

4. Bill Orcutt, Odds Against Tomorrow (Palilalia) & Peter Brötzmann, I Surrender Dear (Trost) The beauty motions on guitarist Bill Orcutt’s latest are considerable. We’re talking beauty as a non-contentious property, a facet of the whole that large groups of listeners could (theoretically) agree upon. It’s something of an unexpected development in Orcutt’s trajectory. Not that he didn’t seem capable. It was more like he just wouldn’t be interested in traveling down that particular avenue. Plus, there was an abstract beauty (the kind of beauty people argue over) in his work already. Well, the good news is that Odds Against Tomorrow is a stellar record hovering on the borderline of a sound that’s tangibly rock.

Now, when experimenters and avant-gardists begin migrating toward a recognizably rocking zone, it’s generally time to get nervous. This can also apply to jazz musicians if they are swinging their creative pendulum toward conservatism. In the case of I Surrender Dear, which could be alternately titled Brötzmann Does Ballads except that he’s doing a whole lot more (a few of his own tunes just for starters), there is no need to worry, for the man’s playing, if more clearly intertwined with Tradition than ever before, is still far far away from tuxedos and cocktails. “Brozziman” (a tune by Misha Mengelberg) hits like Albert Ayler decimating a vaguely Mancini-like strip joint number. Glorious.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s New Releases, Part One

Out with the old (reissues), in with the new (releases), y’know? 2019 is rapidly dwindling away, so let’s usher it out with a bang and get right down to the biz.

10. Chuck Cleaver, Send Aid (Shake It) & Joan Shelley, Like the River Loves the Sea (No Quarter) The tendency when compiling annual lists of best new music is toward broken ground and pushed boundaries. Everybody does it. And it makes sense to do it. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be done all the time. Room can be made for a record that lands securely in the pop-rock pocket while oozing veteran assurance and some heartland verve (plus nifty lyrics). The indie scene once dished out killer platters like this with regularity, so while we’re celebrating the new, this brings back memories. Neat duality.

A similar claim of non-innovation can be made for Joan Shelley’s latest, though a record as flat-out gorgeous as Like the River Loves the Sea can easily register as tapping into the inventive. A substantial percentage of the beauty is directly vocally derived as Shelley engages wholeheartedly but astutely with a rural, subtly Brit-folk approach. That means she never comes off as overly reverent. The result documents the artist breaking significant personal ground on her fifth and finest record yet.

9. Sequoyah Murray, Before You Begin (Thrill Jockey) & Alexander Noice, NOICE (Orenda) The full-length debut (there was a prior EP “Penalties of Love,” also in 2019) of 22-year old Atlanta, GA-based Murray resonates with possibilities through rich hybridization, but it is also a remarkably assured collection of song, and for all its pushing into fresh territory, there is a substantial pop core. Specifically, there is a strong current of contemporary soul and a stated influence of rap that to my ear is implicit but surely there. More explicit are elements of synth-pop, which works well with Murray’s voice. His cello playing has drawn comparisons to Arthur Russell, but this LP is following its own path of promise.

Really, the only disappointing thing about NOICE is that its physical manifestation was CD only. Was? Yeah, it’s sold out. Waaa! But hey, it’s early yet. If enough folks take the digital plunge with this release, a vinyl edition might just emerge. Here’s hoping. The recipe here includes art-rock, prog-rock, its younger niece math-rock, jazz, electronics, noise and the avant-garde, with an emphasis on the operatic through the vocals of Karina Kallas and Argenta Walther. Thoughts of a Downtown NYC Deerhoof persist, though the jazz background of Los Angeles-based guitarist and composer Noice gives the whole a distinct flavor. NOICE is a captivating experience that does not run out of gas.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s Reissues, Part Two

As we dive into the part two of 2019’s best reissues and archival releases, a little space gets devoted to what constitutes genuine worthiness in the endeavor. Unsurprisingly, the journey moves pretty far afield from the well-trodden path, although the twists and turns are far from random. They begin directly below.

5. Willie Colón, The Hustler (Craft Latino) & V/A, No Other Love: Midwest Gospel (1965-1978) (Tompkins Square) Partly because there continues to be two major Record Store Day events annually that seem to be going down gangbusters, it’s safe to say that vinyl buying is still very much an endeavor connected to being in a room full of records. This makes the steady stream of reissues emerging via Craft Recordings’ Latin subsidiary a real service, as the plain facts are that original specimens from the Fania Records catalog aren’t common in less metropolitan areas. I mean, you could buy secondhand copies online, but that practice is a few blocks from Nowheresville. Oh, how’s The Hustler sound? It’s a fucking beast…

Grabbing an original Willie Colón LP is unlikely out in the boondocks, and you can forget about the selections on Tompkins Square’s latest African-American gospel volume. As Ramona Stout’s accompanying essay explains, No Other Love’s contents were the direct result of community record canvasing (only one track has been anthologized before, on a Numero Group set). It’s safe to surmise that nobody besides Stout and her partner Kevin Speck heard all these cuts prior to presenting the compilation to others. It’s an amazing LP, with Stout’s notes contextualizing matters far beyond the increasingly trite “pure sounds of religious fervor” concept. You know, things are never so simple.

4. Joe McPhee, Nation Time (Superior Viaduct) & Sounds of Liberation, New Horizons & Unreleased (Columbia University 1973) (Dogtown / Brewerytown Beats) To get back to the idea of rarity, or maybe more appropriately, scarcity, when Atavistic commenced the Unheard Music Series shortly after the turn of the 21st, it was cause for celebration for fans of avant-garde jazz the globe over. I mention it because Nation Time by the great multi-reed man Joe McPhee kicked off the whole shebang. The only real caveat is that the UMS was a CD-only endeavor; Superior Viaduct’s reissue of Nation Time gives folks a new vinyl pressing and inspires hope that further UMS titles will see fresh wax editions in the years ahead.

But you need not wait years to scoop up some truly scant ’70s avant-free-spiritual jazz in reissue form, as two records from the Philadelphia-based band Sounds of Liberation have been reissued by the above labels (interestingly given the remarks over brick and mortar above, Brewerytown Beats is also a Philly record store). The septet’s highest-profile players were saxophonist-flautist Byard Lancaster and vibraphonist Khan Jamal; the other members were guitarist Monnette Sudler, drummer Dwight James, bassist Billy Mills, and percussionists Omar Hill and William Brister aka Rashid Salim. Fans of loft jazz and the Wildflowers volumes in particular will want to grab copies of both. The sound is flowing but potent.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s Reissues, Part One

With the list below, the reissues have slimmed down a bit, though in terms of weight, collectively as well as individually, they are all worth noting. So hey, we did. The second half, even heftier yet just as svelte, follows tomorrow.

10. Lightning Bolt, Wonderful Rainbow (Thrill Jockey) & Robbie Fulks, Country Love Songs (Bloodshot) The general tendency is to refrain from listing straight reissues of stuff that is less than a quarter century old, but occasionally exceptions will be made, and the controlled duo mayhem that comprises Wonderful Rainbow is one of them. That it’s part of Thrill Jockey’s extensive plunge into Lightning Bolt’s discography no doubt added some weight to the consideration; however, taking this baby out for a few fresh spins provides as wild a ride as it ever did before. The rainbow splatter vinyl is going to splendid revolving on the turntable.

Country Love Songs hasn’t hit the 25-year mark either, but, released in 1996, it’s inching nearer by the second, and it’s a record that’s as necessary now as it was upon initial release. Fulks had a few songs out prior, but the set was his full-length debut and it put him solidly on the map, in the process differentiating him from much of the alt-country pack, as listening to his stuff; rich of voice, strong of song, and exquisite instrumentally including pedal steel from Tom Brumley, made it clear that a couple of decades prior he would’ve been a legitimate country hitmaker. That is conjecture of course, but what’s hard to dispute is how at his best Robbie Fulks is timeless. This LP is a prime example.

9. Miles Davis, The Complete Birth of the Cool (UMe) & John Coltrane, Blue World (Impulse!) I can envision the eye rolls from the non-jazz-loving contingent. These guys again? Didn’t they just make yesterday’s list? Hey, maybe we’ll eventually call for a moratorium on Miles and Trane in the annual Best Of tallies, as it seems unlikely that a year will elapse without multiple reissues and/ or archival editions from these two august names. As you can see, no great jazzman ban was undertaken at TVD in 2019, but things have been kept in perspective.

Birth of the Cool is total jazz canon stuff to be sure, but UMe’s highly attractive 2LP edition (with LP-sized booklet featuring photos and notes by Ashley Khan) is also the first time the live and studio material has been offered on 2LP. For jazz fans and vinyl aficionados, I’d say it’s a must. As a soundtrack recorded by the Classic Quartet for Canadian director Gilles Groulx, Blue World is simultaneously a major discovery (though one hiding in plain sight) and a minor work. But as it offers the saxophonist revisiting previously recorded tunes in the studio, it’s noteworthy, and definitely of interest.

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Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2019’s Box Sets

As we begin our year’s end Best of coverage, it bears mentioning that this is only a portion of the worthy box sets and expanded releases to hit stores across the last twelve months. Trying to give them all ample consideration is a fool’s errand, which is partly why there are no real surprises here, at least for folks who regularly check out this website’s Graded on a Curve column. But the main reason for the hierarchy unwinding below is that the chosen selections are just really good. So, let’s jump in.

10. Konk, The Magic Force of Konk 1981-1988 (Futurismo) This reissue label, summarized somewhat concisely as being focused on the fringier twists and turns of the New Wave era, has brought out fresh editions of classics from noted New Yorkers James Chance and Alan Vega, so this 3LP collection devoted to this No Wave-affiliated NYC-based proto-dance punk outfit is no surprise. That it goes down so nicely in the here-and-now while spotlighting a vital strain of stylistic hybridization in the 1980s, a decade where a high percentage of punk and post-Wave music became increasingly insular, is a stone treat.

9. Art Pepper, Promise Kept: The Complete Artist House Recordings (Omnivore) The retrospective diligence on the part of Omnivore into the late work of saxophonist Art Pepper continued in 2019 with this 5CD collection of material cut for the Artist House label, originally offered on a string of four albums from the first half of the 1980s (only one, So In Love, actually issued by Artist House), plus 21 previously unreleased takes. Drawn from sessions held in Cali and NYC and with a slew of major players in the bands, Promise Kept is a deep exploration of Art Pepper’s duality; he was a cornerstone West Coast guy but also totally adept in an East Coast context. I mean, there are some major burners on this baby.

8. Chet Baker, The Legendary Riverside Albums (Craft) As West Coasters, Art Pepper and Chet Baker recorded together a few times, perhaps most notably on Playboys, a sextet LP released in 1957 by World Pacific with a big ol’ slice of ’50s cheesecake on the cover. The Legendary Riverside Albums dates from ’58-’59 and corrals some of his most enduring work. In the case of (Chet Baker Sings) It Could Happen To You, it’s also some of his most divisive, as he was iconoclastic as a vocalist but without alienating an audience that, for a while, elevated him to the stature of pop star. More importantly, this collection emphasizes his prowess as a trumpeter and his deep love of standards, a facet shared with Pepper.

7. The Pop Group, Y (Definitive Edition) (Mute) Available either as three LPs and a 7-inch or as a 3CD set, the core of this collection, specifically the debut album from 1979 from these Bristol, UK-based post-punkers, is an absolute must in the scheme of the genre they helped to define. The great news is that the record of additional, previously unheard material, Alien Blood, is way up to snuff, as is the self-explanatorily titled Y Live; the 45 is a repress of the “She’s Beyond Good and Evil” single, and that’s indispensable, too. Standing in the rubble of punk in the late ‘70s, The Pop Group integrated funk, skronk jazz, dub, African influences, and leftist politics into a stew that’s lost none of its potency.

6. Patsy Cline, Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Masters 1960-1963 (Third Man) If one were to jot down the biggest names in the history of C&W music, Patsy Cline would figure high upon the list. I’ll add that she achieved this stature in a relatively brief career cut short by a plane crash, and that she was a perfect example of an artist for whom the descriptor of mainstream was not a putdown. With all this said, it’s kind of a stumper how we got all the way to 2010 without her Decca recordings (in short, her finest stuff) being compiled in one set (Hip-O-Select rounded them up on 2CD) and basically another decade before they received the vinyl treatment. Mandatory on any well-rounded country shelf.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for December 2019

The TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for December, 2019.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Shasta Cults, S/T (Important) Canada’s Richard Smith is an electronics technician who for two decades was the go-to repair person for Buchla & Associates, a job that put him in contact with a variety of musicians and institutions. Smith’s work as Shasta Cults, with this LP preceded by the CD Configurations (recorded in 2017 and issued in September), has its roots in demo recordings of rare equipment he’s worked on over the years, with both of his releases thus far derived entirely from one instrument each; for Configurations, it was the Buchla 700, and for this follow-up (recorded in 2018) it’s the Buchla Touché. Records featuring the Buchla are often spacy and swirly, but this outing is more drone-oriented and impressively layered, though Smith’s work is still quite transportive. A

The Gonks, Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Gonks (Rocks In Your Head) This is a fine batch of fringy-pop from a San Fran-based combo, first heard by moi on this label’s nifty recent Hot Sick Vile and Fun comp (their tune titled the collection). They cover a range of appealing territory, like the black turtleneck art-angst of “I Hired a Hitman” (like a song from the soundtrack to a Beth B. flick), the gal-voxed melodicism (briefly intruded upon by maleness and roaring engines) of “I’m a Lonely Night Driver,” the vaguely Television Personalities-like “My Glamourous Mother,” the decidedly warped jangle and thump of “I’m a Leaker,” and the sax honk meets indie pop strumming of “I’m Dead.” That’s five tracks. There are five more, including a closing theme song of sorts. Altogether, a 16-minute stunner. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Cecil Taylor, Indent (ORG Music) This label’s Black Friday Record Store Day releases didn’t reach me until right at the cusp of finalizing last week’s column. As RSD selections often linger in the bins for a while, I would be remiss not to mention a few in our final New in Stores of 2019. Along with Silent Tongues and The Great Paris Concert (aka Student Studies), this is ORG’s third installment (all from this year) in what’s hopefully an extended reissue program devoted to this incomparable pianist and cornerstone of the jazz avant-garde. Indent was the first solo Taylor record to hit stores back in 1973 (but not the oldest chronologically; that would be Praxis, a ’68 recording released in ’82), first on his own Unit Core label and then with wider distribution through the Freedom imprint.

For a few reasons, Silent Tongues is perhaps the most celebrated Taylor solo LP; for starters, it was awarded album of the year by Down Beat in ’75, with its arrival coinciding with a gradual change in fortunes (not really commercially, as he’s never been a great seller, but rather just a diminishment of neglect/ increase in respect regarding his creativity). But if Silent Tongues is the most well-known of his solo works, it shouldn’t be considered as encompassing the totality of Taylor alone at the bench. There are certainly common characteristics, amongst them energy and precision with bright rays of beauty shining through. Additionally, the clusters of notes and the overall sound flow is so dense and rich that if the experience proves agreeable it is also inexhaustible. As great as Silent Tongues, maybe better. A+

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2019, Part Five

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Land of 1,000 Dances: The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection (Minky) Here are four compact discs tucked snugly into pockets inside an essay and picture-packed hardcover book spotlighting the label that gifted unto the world the Los Angeles-based ’60s Mexican-American rock impulse, aka the “West Coast East Side Sound.” The larger intention of owner-producer Eddie Davis (who’s also credited with stewarding into existence the all-time classic “Farmer John” by The Premiers via his other label Faro) was to build an equivalent to Motown for Chicano performers, and if he didn’t reach Gordy’s levels of success, his company did carry on into the ’90s while adapting stylistically to the times.

That means there’s disco from Eastside Connection and even a cover of Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting,” in English and Spanish by Didi Scorzo. I’ll confess to having no use for that one as the later stuff is hit-and-miss, but roughly half of the set derives from the ’60s and is a stone blast of R&B instrumentals, vocal group sounds, Chicano soul, and yes, Mexican-American rock, of which Cannibal and the Headhunters’ cover of Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances” is a prime example. Other highlights include The Blendells’ cover of Stevie Wonder’s “La La La La La,” and The Village Callers’ killer “Hector Parts 1 & 2.” The background info is welcome, and the photos are pretty special, including previously unpublished shots the Headhunters’ ’65 tour as openers for The Beatles. A valuable thing. A-

New Riders of the Purple Sage, Thanksgiving in New York City (Live) (Omnivore) Captured at the Academy of Music in NYC on November 23, 1972, this is six sides of country-rock hippie style for Black Friday, though the 2CD and digital aren’t available until 12/6. In their hippie comportment the New Riders (by this point sans Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, replaced by Buddy Cage) could get a little eccentric, but mainly through vocalist John “Marmaduke” Dawson and a few of his song selections (like R.B. Greaves’ “Take a Letter Maria,” which they later cut in the studio). The rest of the members; alongside Cage, that’s guitarist David Nelson, bassist Dave Torbert, and drummer Spencer Dryden (Nelson and Torbert also sang), were busy being crack instrumentalists. The pleasure offered here never ebbs. A-

Edan, Beauty and the Beat (Lewis Recordings) Edan’s 2002 debut Primitive Plus endures as a mainstay of alt-underground-indie hip hop, but his ’05 follow-up is even better as it enters into psychedelic realms without the negative connotations that frequently emerged when druggy expansiveness mingled with rap’s intensity and forward momentum. Indeed, Edan continues to explore the classic structural launching pad of late ’80s-’90s hip-hop in a manner that’s far deeper than the typical cred-establishing nods to the past (making this a true extension of his first album), but more importantly, his approach to psychedelia is never shallowly, stereotypically trippy. Truly bent, there are more ideas in the consecutive “Rock and Roll” and “Beauty” than in many hip-hop records twice this one’s length (a tidy 34 minutes). A

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, No Other Love: Midwest Gospel (1965-1978) (Tompkins Square) This label has a fine track record in the documentation of 20th century African-American gospel sounds, with the contents offered in multi-disc sets that have been amongst my favorite releases of the last few decades. However, as cathartic as those sets can be, they don’t pack the emotional wallop of this single LP of recordings uncovered in and around Chicago and compiled by Ramona Stout. The punch is surely musical, as the contents derive from preachers, congregations, family bands, and children’s choirs, but the impact gets intensified by Stout’s accompanying essay, which is frankly some of the best writing I’ve read on the American Experience in a long time. More from me on this one in a few weeks. A

Chet Baker, The Legendary Riverside Albums (Craft) Trumpeter and sometimes singer Chet Baker has long been a divisive figure in the annals of jazz, and this box set exemplifies the reasons why; in a nutshell, these LPs, five in all, with one a collections of outtakes, were cut because the artist was young, good-looking and Caucasian, with the album covers really amplifying those qualities and validating the cliché of Baker as the matinée idol of ’50s jazz. It’s not hard to understand why some would (and still do) take issue with the guy’s success, and we haven’t even mentioned his heroin addiction and the second chances and comebacks he was allowed when others surely were not. These observations may seem odd in relation to an artist’s pick, but it’s all an inextricable part of Baker’s story.

Sometimes that story overshadows the talent. As this collection offers some his strongest and most distinctive recordings, it provides a well-rounded portrait and serves as a solid corrective to those who insist on denying his abilities. (Chet Baker Sings) It Could Happen To You (A) (available as a standalone reissue for RSD) wasn’t Baker’s first vocal outing, but it’s his best as it emphasizes the unruffled unusualness of his style. Even today, as he sings, one can easily envision the slowly tightening fists of macho jazzbos. Chet Baker in New York (A-) is a record much more suited to their tastes, as it features tenor saxman Johnny Griffin and two thirds of Miles Davis’ famed ’50s rhythm section in bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Pianist Al Haig completes the band.

What the album, and all of the trumpeter’s Riverside material (and beyond), shares with Chet Baker Sings is a sincerity in its approach to standards. Chet (A) is loaded with tunes from the Songbook and has the added value of an interchanging all-star lineup, with Chambers and Jones back along with pianist Bill Evans, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, drummer Connie Kay, flute and tenor sax from a pre-shirtless Herbie Mann, and two cuts with guitarist Kenny Burrell. Everyone sounds sharp throughout, and I prefer this one to Chet Baker Plays the Best of Lerner and Loewe (B+), which is a little stuffy in its tribute concept, even as saxophonist Zoot Sims makes the scene. Outtakes and Alternates (A-) is exactly that, with all the songs having featured on previous CD reissues of these LPs. Overall grade; A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Oiseaux-Tempëte, From Somewhere Invisible (Sub Rosa) Described as an evolving collective rather than a band, Oiseaux-Tempëte (translates as Storm Petrels) was formed in 2012 by multi-instrumentalists Frédéric D. Oberland and Stéphane Pigneul. This recorded incarnation features vocalist G.W. Sok formerly of The Ex, electronic producer Mondkopf, drummer Jean-Michel Pirès of Bruit Noir, violinist Jessica Moss of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, and multi-instrumentalist and producer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh of Jerusalem In My Heart. It was Moumneh who initiated this lineup by inviting the quintet of Oberland, Pigneul, Mondkopf, Pirès and Sok to Canada for live shows, with Jerusalem In My Heart reforming to play alongside them.

This is presumably how Moss, who’s based in Canada, got involved. She’s a welcome addition to an ensemble sound that covers a wide range of possibilities as the tracks, a few of them lengthy, unfurl. To call From Somewhere Invisible experimental is fitting, but the collective’s thrust is also quite structural, but with a looseness that never quite tips over into spark-of-the-moment improvisation. Horns emerge, as do electronics, and the way Sok speaks rather than sings really reinforces this as an intellectually vibrant art-rock shebang. We could also call it a post-rock throwdown, but in doing so I feel it’s necessary to specify that this record, had it not been issued by Sub Rosa, could’ve easily fit on the roster of Constellation Records (Moss and Moumneh obviously help promote this observation). A

Dopolarians, Garden Party (Mahakala Music) A spectacular CD of avant-jazz from a new label, with an undercurrent of sadness, as it documents the final studio recording of percussionist Alvin Fielder. He’s joined here by tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, alto man Chad Fowler (who also plays a little saxello), bassist extraordinaire William Parker, pianist Christopher Parker, and vocalist Kelly Hurt. As said, Garden Party is inextricably tied to the avant-garde, but don’t get the idea that this is a big group exhale of freedom’s breath (worry not, there are a few sweet blasts). This is a compositionally rich batch of music (totaling just over an hour), with three of the six selections credited to Fowler. Everything maintains a high level of quality, but Hurt’s title track, complete with warm storytelling, nearly steals the show. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Springfields, Singles 1986-1991 (Slumberland) Part of Slumberland’s lasting appeal is in how they thrived as part of an indie pop trajectory that continues right up to now, with the label, as listed below, making worthy contempo contributions to the style. The imprint is also psyched to share influences and enthusiasms, which is what’s happening with this comp. The Springfields were Chicago based and featured Ric Menck and Paul Chastain, two dudes likely better known for the band Velvet Crush. The glorious post-Byrds jangle pop collected here was released by labels including Sarah of the UK, so take that as a sign of quality. Also cool is that the comp opens with both sides of the “This Perfect Day” 45 by pre-Springfields Menck/ Chastain outfit Choo-Choo Train. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Fea, No Novelties (Blackheart) Hailing from San Antonio, TX, Fea is Latina punk with ties highlighting the band’s relationship to the style’s classicism; specifically, No Novelties is released on Joan Jett’s label with production by Alice Bag (Iggy Pop is also a fan). The music has been compared to Bikini Kill and The Gossip, and yeah, as this LP unwinds it does implant into the brain a similarity to the gal side of the ’90s-’00s Kill Rock Stars shebang (Riot Grrl central, essentially), but Fea has also been likened to Priests, which is nice shorthand in expressing that the band effectively carries this sound and screamingly relevant perspective into the present rather than just delivering a carbon copy. For example, Fea’s music is bilingual, and that’s fucking great. “Pelo Suelto” kicks major ass. A-

Juliana Hatfield, Sings The Police (American Laundromat) Although I do like some of their songs, mostly early stuff, I’ve no special esteem for The Police. In fact, in my personal hierarchy, I value Juliana Hatfield a whole lot more, in part because Blake Babies were an often-terrific band. So, you might think this tribute project (obviously, she holds a much higher opinion of The Police) would be somewhat up my alley. But I’ll confess that tributes of this stripe only pull my chain on occasion; I mean, I’ve yet to even listen to Hatfield’s prior set doffing the hat to Olivia Newton-John. But that’s also because my interest in ON-J is basically nil. What can I say, I can be a fickle motherfucker sometimes. All this didn’t bode particularly well for this album of interpretations of tunes by Sting, Summers and Copeland.

Well, Hatfield emerges creatively victorious, for a variety of reasons. First off, her long-extant likability has diminished not even a little. She’s in strong voice and is clearly engaged with the concept (as she should be, as she initiated it), but Hatfield also plays nearly everything herself, which works in relation to a production style that is both stripped-down and vivid. The way her tough guitar sound mingles with the choice of occasionally rudimentary drum programming and additional modest tech is also a plus. All this counteracts a frequent problem with The Police’s later stuff, which is that even when the songs were okay (or a little better) the whole ultimately reeked like bags of money. In contrast, Hatfield’s Sings the Police registers as an act of love thriving on inspiration rather than inflated or propped up by cash.

We’re nearer to the spirit of The Police’s initial handful of singles and Outlandos d’Amour, and that’s swell. Other smart decisions: Hatfield stays fairly close structurally to the sturdier of the band’s songs (like “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”) while giving others a punky kick in the pants (“Murder By Numbers”). She also doesn’t simply up the reggae quotient, which would frankly be a pretty lazy thing to do. But maybe her most unlikely achievements are in revitalizing overplayed warhorses “Roxanne” (a true highlight here) and “Every Breath You Take,” and back-to-back, even. Amongst all this success, I can even forgive a few spots that remind me of Sheryl Crow. Hey, maybe I should check out that Newton-John thing after all. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Jumpstarted Plowhards, Round One (Recess) Bassist Mike Watt is, with no hyperbole, indefatigable. In the recent past, he’s been out on the road as part of Tav Falco’s band, assisted (along with singer David Yow) in a bunch of shows with Flipper, and has just wound down a tour with his own outfit The Missingmen. Recordings have been prominent as well, with this set a back-and-forth project with singer-guitarist Todd Congelliere of Toys That Kill and a rotating cast of drummers including a few with long associations with Watt, namely George Hurley, Raul Morales, and the youthful Nick Aguilar. Toys That Kill is a San Pedro-based outfit, so this is all literally close to home for Watt, with the foundation of the songs beginning with his bass parts as recorded to click tracks.

They were then passed on to Congelliere, who fleshed out the tunes and finally picked the drummers as he felt appropriate; amongst the contributors is Patty Schemel of Hole. Not being super-familiar with Toys That Kill, the results are pretty surprising as the concise set begins in what I’ll call a late ’70s-early ’80s UK art-punk zone that borders on that era and that nation’s subterranean DIY explosion. As the next seven tracks unwind, the general aura of Britishness remains but without ever slipping into the territory of a best-accent contest. The whole is cohesive as fuck (this bodes well, as there are five more prospective installments of Jumpstarted Plowhards material) and rocks like a mofo, which given the participants, isn’t the least bit surprising. It all syncs up very nicely with the below. A-

Fitted, First Fits (ORG Music) If Jumpstarted Plowhards is near to Mike Watt geographically, Fitted connects to the Minutemen (the bassist’s most high-profile endeavor, as ever it will be) pretty solidly, as amongst the participants is founding member of Wire, bassist-vocalist Edvard Graham Lewis; rounding out the band is later and current Wire member Matthew Sims on guitar and Bob Lee (Fearless Leader, Claw Hammer, The Freeks) on drums, with Watt on bass and spiel. Lewis adds synth and sampler, while Simms brings modular synth and organ to the studio. Well, five studios, as this was cut in various locations in Cali, the UK and Sweden in 2017-’18. Amazingly, Fitted practiced once, on March 30, 2017. The music is sharp-edged post-punk and expansive; at six tracks, it’s twice the length of Round One. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Peter Ivers, Becoming Peter Ivers (RVNG Intl.) Peter Ivers is far from forgotten, but along with the mysterious circumstances of his death in 1983, he’s probably remembered mainly these days for writing “In Heaven,” which was featured in David Lynch’s Eraserhead as sung by Laurel Near (it has since been covered many times, including by The Pixies). He was also the host of Los Angeles-area public access show New Wave Theater, which benefited from wider exposure on Night Flight and last decade by making the internet rounds. But as a recording artist, Ivers debuted all the way back in ’69 for Epic with Knight of the Blue Communion. Neither it nor his epic follow-up Take It Out On Me sold much, but he still ended up signed to Warner Brothers, where he cut two more albums.

Ivers’ role on New Wave Theater might position him on the surface as an early punk-era oddball personality, which he certainly was, but as the above should highlight, he was much more than that. His ’74 album Terminal Love was produced by Van Dyke Parks, who appears on one selection on this collection, “Window Washer.” Five years in the making and collecting mid-’70s demos, four of them of songs from Terminal Love, Becoming Peter Ivers really underscores Ivers’ talent as a songwriter, his solid harmonica playing (he was mentored by Little Walter) and the kind of ’70s presence that didn’t fit in to the decade’s scheme, a la Tom Waits, though the music here, often in the singer-songwriter mode with a funky undercurrent, is distinct. While demos, these aren’t song skeletons. A valuable eye-opener. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Swans, Leaving Meaning (Young God / Mute) It can seem a bit unfair to other promising and thriving acts to so regularly spotlight the work of Michael Gira in this column (and in year end best lists), but after consideration, Leaving Meaning fully deserves the attention, as it’s something distinctly more than just another great Swans release. That’s because it documents a new phase of Gira’s band; much attention was paid to the winding down of the prior lineup, arguably the best in the outfit’s long history, after the release of the masterful The Glowing Man. There was promise of more to come under the moniker with the understanding that the results would constitute a break with what had commenced at the beginning of the decade and solidified Gira as one of our most important artists.

Leaving Meaning assuredly marks a fresh chapter in the saga, though unsurprisingly, Gira hasn’t inaugurated this phase with concision, as the release is over 90 minutes long on 2CD and over 80 on 2LP. This is in keeping with his penchant for large-scaled works (which predated the prior Swans iteration going back to the mid-’90s and even earlier as ’87’s Children of God broke 70 minutes). And with expected similarities aside, Leaving Meaning justifies the new start hubbub; back in the day, Swans was occasionally compared to Industrial, but this set inches into the ballpark of the Gothic, or maybe more appropriately dark folk, partly through depth of vocals but also because Gira is never cheerful, which, along with many returning players, reinforces this as a Swans record. A very brilliant Swans record. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Pop Group, Y (Definitive Edition) (Mute) This expanded edition of the first LP from these essential UK post-punkers completes a reissue program that commenced on the band’s own Freaks R Us label back in 2016 with the rerelease of their second LP from 1980, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? There was also a fresh pressing of the “We Are All Prostitutes” 45, Cabinet of Curiosities, which collected the debut single and unreleased stuff including a session for John Peel, and The Boys Whose Head Exploded, which was a collection of live songs documenting various locations on a 1980 tour. This stream of fanbase-funded material overlapped with two new records from the group that to my ear did a pretty okay job of not sullying their significant legacy.

Perhaps in part because Pledge Music (the platform for the Freaks R Us reissues) went bust, Mute is now on the scene. But I’ll add that the multi-format nature of the affair required hefty label muscle; along with single CD and cassette offerings of Y, there is a 3CD that includes the rare and unreleased comp Alien Blood plus the self-explanatory Y Live. There is a 2LP of Y with a 12-inch reissue of debut 7-inch “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” and two limited 4LP sets, one on Inca Gold wax, corralling everything. Those unfamiliar with The Pop Group’s importance might be wondering if all this activity is justified, to which I’ll reply most certainly, as the music offered here greatly expanded possibilities, and as reflected by how many folks once hated this band, was way ahead of the game. So, it still holds up, big time. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Negativland, True False (Seeland) This enduring and intermittently notorious outfit are better described as sound collagists and media satirists than a trad band. Old enough to have made the Nurse with Wound list, their ’87 record Escape from Noise is their masterpiece, or one of ‘em, anyway. One could say that the time is ripe for a new Negativland release (this is the first of two interconnected 2LPs), but the reality is that the time is forever ripe for their brand of deconstruction and commentary (here featuring the return of The Weatherman) plus the requisite guests (including Matmos’ M.C. Schmidt and guitarist Ava Mendoza). As agitators, Negativland are not partisan; True False’s making began in 2012. Strange, troubling, and occasionally funny, just like it’s always been. A-

Moonchy & Tobias, Atmosfere (Hidden Shoal – Tiny Room) While the second full-length from vocalist Pat Moonchy and multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias is self-described as a more subdued affair (adjusting the debut’s psychedelia), it still has numerous positives, including a comfort level that reinforces the duo as something more than a studio project. And although Moonchy’s often breathy voice enhances a persistently dreamy quality, it’s not like the psych aura has been eradicated. To the contrary, much of Tobias’ playing, in particular some solid acoustic fingerpicking, is nicely (if subtly) outward bound. But the icing on the cake (for me) is that Moonchy sings nearly the entire record in her native Italian, making the brevity of the whole a wee bit disappointing. Atmosfere is just over too damned quickly. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Willie Colón, The Hustler (Craft Latino) One of four reissued classics from the Fania catalog via Craft Recordings, three of which are available in brick and mortar stores (the other, listed below, is an October Record of the Month from subscription by mail service Vinyl Me, Please). We’re so far away from the ’60s that most people won’t immediately associate this record’s title and cover art with the Robert Rossen-directed, Paul Newman-starring flick about big money billiards, but that was the reference, and it signified a major break from the Latin music norms of the time, specifically a generally clean and safe image and an emphasis on boogaloo. The Hustler was a big step in the move toward salsa, featuring Colón’s trombone hugeness and Héctor Lavoe’s Spanish vocals. A

Curt Boettcher & Friends, Looking for the Sun (High Moon) Dawn Eden Goldstein’s excellent notes for this set begin by noting that Boettcher was once essentially forgotten, but these days, I’d guess that plenty of heavy-duty fans of ’60s pop know his work. This is the first collection to spotlight him as producer, arranger and writer. Having produced the Association hits “Cherish” and “Along Comes Mary” (plus Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea”), those cuts aren’t here. The biggest name is Sagittarius, who conclude the record, though there is an abundance of sunshine pop preceding them. When said style is average it can connect as a whole lot worse, but that’s not a problem here, as miraculously, Looking for the Sun improves as it progresses. I can’t think of a better compliment for Boettcher than that. A-

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