Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Charles Wesley Godwin,
The TVD First Date

“I wish I could say that I discovered great songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, or Kris Kristofferson at the age of four and from that day forth became a lifelong fan of the craft.”

“While growing up, I wish that I had frequented my local record store discovering new music on a weekly basis. I wish I could say that I begged my parents for a Sears and Roebuck catalog guitar before I could stand on my own two wee legs, but I can’t. In fact, I grew up not singing in church, assuming that I couldn’t sing at all, listening to Cher in the family van during road trips across the west, sitting in silence in my mother’s car on our way to school, and occasionally listening to the oldies station while riding along in my father’s old Ford Ranger. To defend my mom for a second, she spent her entire career teaching young children. I think she found those silent moments in the car incredibly peaceful. I get that now.

I had a tune stuck in my head many times in my early life. I specifically remember having songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Fortunate Son” stuck in my head for weeks at a time. However, I actually had a hard time thinking of when exactly was the first time that I sought out a piece of music. I know that I never fell in love with music until I was nineteen or twenty. For days, I’ve been thinking about when was the first time I actually wanted to purchase music. I know that seems hard to believe considering what I do now for a living, but it’s the truth.

I ended up coming to the conclusion that Linkin Park’s Meteora was it. While growing up, the Godwin side of my family had a Christmas get together sometime in December every year. We had so many children in the family that it was impractical to get everyone a gift, so we did the secret Santa thing. All the aunts, uncles, older cousins, parents and grandparents would each have one kid to buy one present for. I remember asking for that Meteora CD for my secret Santa gift.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, S/T (Free Dirt) The debut of this duo, with de Groot playing clawhammer banjo and Hargreaves bowing the fiddle, coheres into a powerful instrumental statement with numerous vocals turns that dives deep into the old-time style and comes up with something wonderfully fresh. The combined acumen comes from experience, with de Groot a member of Molsky’s Mountain Drifters and her own groups The Goodbye Girls and Oh My Darling, and Hargreaves backing such august names as Gillian Welch and Laurie Lewis, playing on the latter’s Grammy-nominated The Hazel and Alice Sessions, and releasing her own debut Started Out to Ramble at age 14. The freshness of this LP comes in part through their inspired, unusual choice of material.

It’s not an attempt to one-up folks into old-time stuff. For one thing, they dig into “Willie Moore,” a song well-known from The Anthology of American Folk Music (through the version by Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford). No, the objective is to lessen the divide between the world that spawned the music we now refer to as old-time and the cultural climate of the present day. They do so by tackling the work of black guitar-fiddle duo Nathan Frazier and Frank Patterson, digging into “Farewell Whiskey” by John Hatcher, “the avant-garde fiddler of 1930s Mississippi,” dishing the trad tune “I Don’t Want to Get Married” (with lyrics by Edna Poplin), and shedding light on sexual assault of women in prison with a reading of Alice Gerrard’s “Beaufort County Jail” that reminds me of Dock Boggs. And more. Top-flight. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: June Chikuma, Les Archives (Freedom to Spend) This is a “reinvented” and retitled edition of composer Chikuma’s Divertimento LP, which was originally released in 1986 on Toru Hatano’s Picture Label. The transformation largely centers on a total sleeve redesign and an adjustment in first name; in ’86 she went by Atsushi Chikuma. The sequencing of Divertimento is essentially retained, though for the close of side one there is the previously unreleased “Mujo to Ifukoto” from the same sessions. Giving video game ambience a methodical cut-and-paste treatment, the effect is not so much disorienting but rather a precise scramble of psychedelia. Along with another unreleased cut offered on a bonus 45 with the record’s vinyl edition, “Mujo to Ifukoto” is a considerable boon.

Speaking of video games, Chikuma is maybe best-known for her soundtracks to Nintendo’s Bomberman franchise, though she’s also composed for film and TV. The first Bomberman game appeared in ’83, three years prior to what is now Les Archives, but while game sounds are tangible, this record is onto something more, stemming from a one-person show that utilized a KORG SDD-3000 digital delay, drum machines and samplers. This presents a sort of best-of-all-possible-outcomes scenario. While I’ve liked some of the vid game soundtracks I’ve heard, they’ve never really attained repeat listening potential. In branching out, with inspirations including Satie, Mozart, and Paul Hindemith and modes ranging from hurky-jerky dance action to a piece for string-quartet, the likelihood of return listens here is assured. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Hearing Things, Here’s Hearing Things & “Tortuga” b/w “Hotel Prison” (Yeggs) Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes came out back in 2003; shot B&W and offering a series of filmed conversations (spontaneous to varying degrees) between actors, musicians and artists who were either friends with or just highly esteemed by the director, it’s what some would call a minor film. And y’know, as this LP and 45 offer a hearty dive into a surf and early instrumental R&R featuring the saxophone of leader Matt Bauder, the organ of JP Schlegelmilch, and the drumming of Vinnie Sperrazza, it’s what some might call a minor record. But I raise the subject not to connect one minor circumstance to the other, as in terms of stature, I disagree with this assessment of both.

No, I bring it up because Here’s Hearing Things’ opening cut “Shadow Shuffle” conjures visions of an unreleased portion of Coffee and Cigarettes where David Lynch and Lux Interior (RIP) wax enthusiastic about Bill Doggett and “Green Onions” while smoking like chimneys. Well, Lynch anyway. Instrumentally, this is sharp, which is to say they’re adept but also savvy enough to not muck matters up by overplaying, which isn’t the same as being chained to simplicity as a supposed virtue of authenticity. Bauder has worked in avant contexts, notably with Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier, and occasionally this background flares up, and that’s cool. But mostly this is just a blend of lounge pop, Meek-like vibes, surf rock and R&B jams, with a little guest guitar, I’m assuming from Ava Mendoza. A-/ A-

REISSUE/ARCIVAL PICKS: The Fall, Bend Sinister/The ‘Domesday’ Pay-Off Triad-Plus! (Beggars Arkive) This label’s reissue program of The Fall continues with a wonderfully exhaustive plunge into the band’s ninth studio record from 1986, expanded to double vinyl by rounding up eight tracks from period singles. For some, this is just the record with their cover of The Other Half’s “Mr. Pharmacist” on it, but the whole is an art-punk blast that’s potency has diminished nary a whit, and the additional LP offers no letdown. Importantly, the 2CD expands to 28 tracks with a four-song Peel Session and a bunch of unreleased stuff. No download card came with my vinyl copy and there’s no current digital buying option that I can see, so choose you purchase wisely. I’ve soaked it all up; this grade applies to both. A

Bibi Den’s Tshibayi, Sensible (Pharaway Sounds) Unlike some unearthed African treasures (this is from the Ivory Coast, 1983), this artist has additional recording experience of note. From the same period, there’s “The Best Ambiance” 12-inch on Rough Trade and its companion LP of the same title, which came out in numerous editions including two through Celluloid and Rounder. In 2000, he issued Nge Na Munu under his birth name Denis Tshibayi with production by Adrian Sherwood and Skip McDonald, and in ’02 provided guest vocals to a song on Alpha Blondy’s Merci. With four tracks totaling 26 minutes, this set might strike some as a wee bit brief, but while opener “Africa Mawa” offers poppy funkiness that’s middling for me, the rest taps into African grooves with gorgeous vocals. A pretty delightful time. A-

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

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

VIDEO PICK: Late Blossom Blues: The Journey of Leo “Bud” Welch, Wolfgang Pfoser-Almer & Stefan Wolner, directors (City Hall) This DVD came out last year, but as Mississippi blues and gospel ace Welch’s posthumous third LP is coming out via Black Keys guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach’s label (see directly below), it’s a good time to shed some light on this documentary, as the film does a nice job of detailing the circumstances that led to the singer-guitarist releasing his debut album Sabougla Voices as an octogenarian back in 2014. If you dig the raw rural electric style of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, then Welch should be right up your alley, and in fact the chances are good that you’re already hip to the man, as his first two records came out on Fat Possum owner Bruce Watson’s other label Big Legal Mess.

I have my ups and downs with music docs, and more downs than ups, as so many of ‘em are shoddy, blinkered in their perspective, opportunistic, or just downright unnecessary. Not Late Blossom Blues. For starters, the movie’s visuals are solid throughout, with crisp color and a steady camera. Second, they manage to tell this story without too many talking heads (it helps that the main blues expert called upon here is knowledgeable without being alienating). Third, the music is copious, with most of it performed live as the movie follows Welch all the way to Austria for performances. Along the way, we get a vivid portrait of Welch’s manager Vencie Varnado and a less extensive but fruitful taste of Welch’s work with his drummer Dixie Street. There’re lots of bonus clips on the DVD, as well. Overall, a fine doc. A-

NEW RELEASE PICK: Leo “Bud” Welch, The Angels in Heaven Have Done Signed My Name (Easy Eye Sound) Welch passed on December 19, 2017, after the completion of Late Blossom Blues and the recording of this album with Auerbach and his Arcs band. They recorded 25-30 songs, ten of which are offered on this album, which can be precisely tagged as sanctified blues. For those familiar with his debut Sabougla Voices, this’ll be no surprise, as that was a gospel album, with I Don’t Prefer No Blues a follow-up dose of the secular stuff. Where this LP differs is in the bold production and instrumental enhancement, additives that do nothing to detract from the toughness of Welch’s style. I have a suspicion this won’t be the only posthumous LP from Welch, but if it is it’s a terrific final statement. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Heathens, “Steady Girl (Take 1)” b/w “Steady Girl (Take 2)” (Black & Wyatt) Cut at Memphis Recording Service (a.k.a. Sun Studio) four days after the Presley-Perkins-Lewis Cash Million Dollar Quartet session (Dec. 8, 1956), the sole song by a local high school five-piece (singer/ co-writer Colin Heath, hence the band name, was then 15 years old) is offered here twice, once with piano and both with drums by Joe Bauer (later of The Youngbloods) captured by a single mic. Both are raw and wild and primitive in the manner of the best youthful R&R. Claims are being made for this as the first ever garage single and I can see why, though it’s mainly that way in terms of spirit, as the sound is nearer to rockabilly. Just as important, guitarist and co-writer Kaye Garren is an early rocking gal. A-

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages (Hivemind) It’s still only February, and it’s already been a swell year for fans of “out” guitar, with new stuff from the Hedvig Mollestad Trio and the Dave Harrington Group plus reissues of Caspar Brötzmann Massaker and now this 45 RPM 2LP reissue of Sharrock’s killer 1991 album originally released on Bill Laswell’s Axiom Records. At the time, it really set things right, as Sharrock had been on something of a creative losing streak, at least for fans of his playing in punk-jazz monsters Last Exit and his first two solo records Black Woman and Monkey-Pockie-Boo. What producer Laswell (who played bass in Last Exit) pulled-off here, essentially launching Sharrock from the recognizable platform of the jazz quartet, was nothing short of miraculous.

To elaborate, the music extends from a quartet zone informed by the innovations of John Coltrane, an idea that’s embraced to the maximum by grabbing saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (who blows tenor and soprano here) and drummer Elvin Jones, with bassist Charnett Moffett (who like his drummer father Charles, played with Ornette) completing the band. Sanders wastes no time in dishing some prime lung fury, Jones is as muscular and fleet as a fan of the Classic Quartet would hope, and Moffett is a hefty as ’70s Jackie Gleeson. What’s most impressive is how Sharrock doesn’t get overshadowed in a context that never really morphs into full-on skronk mania. Fire Music fans (and audiophiles) will appreciate. A

John Hartford, Backroads, Rivers & Memories—The Rare & Unreleased John Hartford (Real Gone) Deft on a variety of instruments (but especially banjo), warm of voice, and a songwriter of distinction (he penned “Gentle on My Mind,” included here, though his talent was more idiosyncratic than that), for many Hartford’s finest moment is Aereo-Plain; bluntly, thousands in the field of Americana owe him a debt. Before all that, he was a television personality, appearing on the variety shows of the Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, and Johnny Cash while working as a session musician, notably contributing to Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Hartford was also tenacious in recording his early progressions, which are offered on this CD with 19 tracks previously unreleased.

There’re also three songs from a radio show (WHOW, Clinton IL) with Pat Burton on guitar and Nate Bray on mandolin, plus the four singles from Hartford’s Ozark Mountain Trio; for bluegrass nuts, these eight songs will justify the price of ownership all by themselves. While there is a 36 second first rehearsal excerpt of “Steam Powered Aereo Plain” and a wonderfully wacked spoken “Station Break” that kinda reminds me of what might’ve transpired had a young Garrison Keillor joined the Firesign Theater, this isn’t as eccentric as Hartford regularly was later. Think of it this way; if Aereo-Plain planted the seed that became Newgrass, these are the movements that led to Hartford’s 1971 classic. With notes by Skip Heller, a sure sign of quality. A-

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: X, Los Angeles (Fat Possum) The first full-length and one of the cornerstone LPs in LA punk, its music hasn’t aged a bit as it provides a glorious barrage of lessons on how to seamlessly integrate aspects of earlier root forms into the punk equation without weakening or betraying a thing. There are sharp but exquisite harmonies, elements from C&W, even more from rockabilly and early R&R, an expansion of the instrumental landscape to include keyboards, and even a brief plunge into the indigenous LA sound from a generation prior through a wonderful transformation of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” Billy Zoom’s guitar is suitably crunchy, the rhythmic foundation is hefty but lithe, and I can’t think of a better male-female rock vocal duo than John Doe and Exene. This is it. A+

Algebra Mothers, “Strawberry Cheesecake” b/w “Modern Noise” 7” (Third Man) Back in September, I gave a pick of the week and a grade of B+ to A-Moms = Algebra Mothers, Third Man’s archival collection of previously unissued material by these Detroit punks, noting that a repress of this 45, their sole prior released output, was forthcoming. Well, here it is. In September I called this baby superb, but that was based on memory. After getting reacquainted, I stand by that statement, but will confess that it’s not quite the double-sided monster that I recalled. I also said it was arty-wavy, and I really stand by that, and will elaborate that it’s a bit like Devo meets the Voidoids, though don’t go thinking it maximizes that description. Bottom line, this is an affordable way to own a worthwhile punk-era obscurity. A-

Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, Sing (Smithsonian-Folkways) Guitarist McGhee and harmonica ace Terry (usually credited the other way around) recorded a ton, predominantly because their folk-blues recipe had just the right measurements of authenticity and accessibility. I haven’t heard all their LPs (not even close), but I haven’t heard a flat-out bad one, though obviously some are better than others (a few have struck me as uninspired, understandable given the prolificacy). This, their first for Folkways from ’58 with drummer Gene Moore on board, is one of the best. Cut not long after the duo were co-leading an R&B band that knocked out sides for a variety of labels, traces of this activity can still be heard, with a few tunes bringing Jimmy Reed to mind and “Old Jabo” nearer to Bo Diddley than John Hurt. A-

Dave Van Ronk, Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual (Smithsonian-Folkways) Van Ronk is one of the indispensable figures in the ’60s NYC folk scene, and on his first album from ’59 he bursts forth with a booming, raw voice, fleet fingers and nary a trace of the tentative. Although the man’s rep has endured, his popularity was always limited, partly because he was more of a blues singer and songster than a protest folkie (though a solid lefty all the way). His singing style, gravelly and clearly derived from (some have said downright imitative of) African-American blues singers, was once considered controversial, but it steers far clear of minstrelsy and has held up well, mainly because of conviction; he felt it was the natural (and proper) way to tackle the material (and so, I disagree that he’s mimicking). A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, SLR 30 Singles Subscription Series (Slumberland Records) Back in 1990, I scooped up Slumberland’s single of Velocity Girl’s “I Don’t Care If You Go” and I’ve been a fan of the label ever since. This series (copies will also be available in stores, all with download codes) kicked off back in October and is slated to finish near the end of 2019, and as it focuses on 45s (which have been something of a label specialty) it’s a fitting way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Slumberland’s considerable achievement, while spotlighting artists that aren’t part of the endeavor’s historical or current scheme. Here’s a rundown of the first four, and we’ll keep track moving forward to December.

The Suncharms, “Red Dust” b/w “Film Soundtrack” Formed in ’89, this UK-based quintet knocked out a couple of records shortly after and played a handful of opening spots for notable acts of period (including Television Personalities, The Orchids, Cranes, and Catherine Wheel). This landed them a Peel Session and had Slumberland eager to get them on the roster, though a breakup occurred before that could happen. Due to the positive response to their eponymous 2016 retrospective CD the band reconvened and began working on new material. Here’s the first evidence, with the A-side starting out as nice mid-tempo guitar-pop before the amps kick in and the tempo picks up. The boost might register as inevitable, but it’s far from hackneyed, and the flip is a loud melodic fiesta of solos. A-

Rat Columns, “Sometimes We’re Friends b/w “Astral Lover” & “Waiting to Die” When ponying up for a subscription series or singles club, a definite perk is receiving fresh exposure to previously unheard bands. That’s the case here with me and Rat Columns, though I am familiar with project leader David West’s other outfit Rank Xerox (he was also in Total Control). Diving into indie pop but with a decided Down Under feel (Down Undercurrent?), this is the Perth, Australia lineup of Rat Columns (the group has had US members), and it connects as distinct from his other stuff, with the A-side starting out a little moody with synth and then shifting into high-jangle gear (the synth sticks around). “Astral Lover” is a concise dose of chamber pop and “Waiting to Die” an unflustered, guitar-infused stroll. I dig. A-

David Lance Callahan, “Strange Lovers” b/w “Waiting for the Cut-Off” Another cool aspect of subscriptions/ clubs is getting to catch up with new material from musicians that have made an impact on your consciousness for a long time. I’m that way with Callahan, who was in C86 act The Wolfhounds (their “Anti-Midas Touch” remains one of my favorite songs from the era) and in the ‘90s was part of the quite happenin’ Too Pure band Moonshake (The Wolfhounds reformed in 2010 and have released LPs since). These two cuts are Callahan’s first ever solo recordings ahead of a full LP planned for some time this year. “Strange Lovers,” while not twee, does attain a level of well-mannered sophistication (complete with fingerpicking and chimes) that’s as English as a crumpet. Flip’s a likeable strummer. B+

Dolly Dream, “The Way to Heaven” b/w “Slip Thru Hell” And yet one more nifty facet of the sub/ club scenario is records that divert from expectations, and of these four short-players this one is the most surprising if not the strongest overall. Featuring Meg Remy of US Girls with assistance from members of Fucked Up, “The Way to Heaven” is ’60s throwback gal-pop that’s just off-kilter enough to have drawn comparisons to the dreamy-achy songs familiar to the soundtracks of David Lynch. I can hear that, but the considerably more wacked-out B-side is a bit like music Lynch might’ve used for a short film from around the time of Fire Walk with Me or Lost Highway. Its only shortcoming is that it’s over too quickly. Dolly Dream radiates like a one-off but is engagingly weird enough that I hope I’m wrong. B+

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Xiu Xiu, Girl With a Basket of Fruit (Polyvinyl) It’s been 17 years of existence for Xiu Xiu with no lengthy gaps in activity, as this is the 11th album from the group formed by sole constant member Jamie Stewart, and what’s immediately impressive upon listening is the lack of creative fatigue. More to the point, Girl With a Basket of Fruit is an intense, at times in-your-face record, but unlike a lot of music of this temperament that ends up ringing hallow, Xiu Xiu’s latest (co-produced by member Angela Seo and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier) is distinguished by its depth. Like a lot of experimental music, the LP’s contents can initially feel messy, but that’s just it; the record just feels messy. Art-rock with an abundance of emotion, of humanity, and maybe the best description that it’s just wonderfully poetic. A

REISSUE/ ARCHIVAL PICKS: Sun Ra, Monorails & Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vols. 1, 2, 3 (Cosmic Myth) Like Duke Ellington, Sun Ra has often been underrated as a pianist, with the largeness and vividness of the Arkestra’s endurance somewhat obscuring his brilliance as a player, though excursions into smaller groups, duos and solo settings did offer up evidence; it’s just that they could be obscured by the vastness of the overall discography. This 2CD/ 3LP set, fully authorized by the Sun Ra estate, collects two LPs of the man alone at the keyboard, originally issued on Saturn, Vol. 1 from ’68 and the follow-up from the next year, and adds a third album of previously unreleased material. The playing is consistently intense but also compositionally rich, blending beauty moves and thunder throughout. A

Alex Chilton, From Memphis to New Orleans & Songs from Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None) If you’ve already burrowed deep into Chilton’s solo career, From Memphis to New Orleans offers no surprises, corralling material from the man’s ’80s comeback releases Feudalist Tarts, High Priest, the “No Sex” 12-inch, and Black Rain, but it is a solid overview of what the guy sounded like once he reemerged after his surly, boozy, wilderness period. Back in the day this era was regularly bagged on due to its relative togetherness, but I’ve always kinda dug it (as some of it was amongst the first solo Chilton I heard), and for casual fans who don’t need to own every album he ever did, this is a solid single LP overview this portion of Alex’s trajectory. I do miss “Tee Ni Nee Ni Noo/Tip on In,” though. A-

In the early ’90s, Chilton took an unexpected turn toward the interpretation of pop standards with the album Clichés. I was underwhelmed at the time, even as the spare setting, just the man and his guitar, kinda safeguarded against schmaltz. I’ve enjoyed it more with subsequent listens, though never totally fell in love with it, so I consider it a plus that Songs from Robin Hood Lane cherry-picks five tunes from the set and combines them with three Alex-sung cuts from Rough Trade’s ’91 Chet Baker tribute Imagination, credited to Medium Cool, which also featured No Wavers Adele Bertei and James White, but in total inside jazz mode, like they were recording for late ’80s Verve or something. Four unreleased tracks seem to derive from the same session. Something of a curio, but the chutzpah levels are high. B+

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Maurice Louca, Elephantine (Sub Rosa – Northern Spy) Cairo-born and based, pianist-guitarist-composer Louca has cut a prior LP under his own name, 2014’s Salute the Parrot, in addition to playing in Bikya, Alif, Lekhfa, Kharkhana (praised in this space a couple of weeks back as part of the Unrock split LP Carte Blanche), Orchestra Omar and Dwarves of East Agouza, the latter a trio with Sam Shalabi (of Shalabi Effect) and Alan Bishop (of Sun City Girls). Being hip to those two can provide a starting-point for what Louca achieves across Elephantine’s six tracks (totaling a gripping 38 minutes), but the whole is a highly distinctive blend of compositional fortitude and free jazz exploration. An instrumentally massive set, “The Palm of a Ghost” features exquisite vocals from Nadah El Shazly. A

Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Smells Funny (Rune Grammofon) If you always felt Mahavishnu needed an injection of Black Sabbath-like oomph scorch, this is an asteroid of chocolate plunged into your personal store of peanut butter (the group has notably shared stages with McLaughlin and Sab). Mollestad’s the guitarist, and she tears into complex runs without sacrificing forward motion as bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad deliver much more than a rhythmic bedrock. ‘tis a true power trio thing. The Sabbath reference shouldn’t imply the doom-laden but rather just heaviness, with the record (their sixth in seven years) a fine locale for headbangers and jazzbos to joyously congregate. The title brings Zappa’s comment on jazz to mind, but Smells Funny makes plain that rock ain’t dead, either. A

REISSUE/ ARCHIVAL PICK: Ran Blake & Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound You Never Heard (A-Side) Along with teaching at the New England Conservatory in Boston for over 50 years, the great pianist Ran Blake has a voluminous discography; my introduction came through his sublime ’65 ESP Disk Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano. Four years prior, he debuted on record in duo with his Bard College classmate, the vocalist Jeanne Lee (and for two tracks bassist George Duvivier) on the RCA Victor LP The Newest Sound Around. Opening with “Blue Monk,” it stands amongst the most underrated of vocal jazz records, Lee not only impacted by but extending the grandness of Billie Holliday, Dinah Washington, and Abbey Lincoln as Blake, already more than just an accompanist, often recalled the sensitivity of Mal Waldron.

The title and the cover design of this 2CD collection directly reference the RCA LP, which is wholly appropriate as the contents are an ample serving of the duo in majestic form at the studio of what was then BRT (Belgium Radio and Television) and live in Brussels in ’66-’67. However, these recordings are also a spotlight on maturity and a widened sphere of interest, and right away; the opening “Misterioso” features words taken from a Gertrude Stein poem. Loaded with standards that ooze assurance and taste (in the best sense), they also dig into Ray Charles and Ornette and Duke, revisit “Blue Monk,” and in an unexpected but sweet left turn, interpret The Beatles and Dylan. Two tracks offer Blake in prime solo form, while Lee delivers a wonderful a cappella “Billie’s Blues.” Overall, outstanding and revelatory. A

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

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

BOOK PICK: Mary Lee Kortes, Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob (BMG) Upon first learning of this collection, in which musician and Dylan-aficionado Kortes assembles the number of dreams cited in the book’s title, dreams that in some way include Bob, dreams as remembered and written down by individuals ranging from the anonymous to laborers to lawyers to fellow musicians, a few of them notable, my worry was that it would be hampered by an overabundance of whimsy, or if not that than the zany, or possibly even a lethal combination of the two. The first thing that steered me in a more hopeful direction was a casual flip through. In doing so, I was immediately struck by the colorful and inventive design, its pages loaded with photos, art, and repurposed materials and objects.

While quirkiness and zaniness are both in evidence, that’s to be expected as dreams are rarely normal. But hearing people relate their sleep scenarios, particularly in groups, can sometimes register like a contest for who had the kookiest night before. Kortes keeps these qualities in check mainly through a non-sequential ordering of the dream entries, the lengths of which range from a few words to a few hundred (but mostly on the shorter side), so that uneventful unusualness offsets the more truly strange scenes. The next thing you know, many pages have turned, with Bob consistently enigmatic, sometimes pleasant, at other moments aloof; at a few spots, he’s even a little dickish. It’s not a mindblower of a read, but I laughed out loud and amazingly, was never annoyed. It’d make a terrific coffee table item. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Knud Viktor, Les Éphémères (Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology) Born in Denmark and a resident of Southern France for nearly 50 years, the late Knud Viktor (1924-2013) didn’t set out to create in the field of music, having instead studied at the Royal Art Academy in Copenhagen. In fact, Viktor didn’t consider himself a musician at all, but rather a sound painter; only two records of his work were issued in his lifetime, Images and Ambiances from 1972, reissued by the label above as a 2LP set in 2017. The material here was intended for release in ’76, but that didn’t pan out. However, the master tape and cover design layout for Les Éphémères were discovered in Viktor’s archives after his passing, so here it is now on 180-gram vinyl with a 20-page booklet and an essay by Magnus Kaslov.

After graduating, Viktor moved to Provence with his wife so they could both subsist as painters (he met her at Academy), but directly due to the incessant sound of cicadas around their residence his energies were refocused toward sculpting with audio; insects, animals and nature was his domain, and by the mid-’70s via tape recorders, homemade parabolic microphones, and audio effect processing machines (also homemade) he was creating in quadraphonic sound. On Les Éphémères, which like Ambiances consists of two side-long pieces (here specified as parts of a whole), the sounds of the living creatures of Viktor’s surroundings are easy to discern, especially birdsong, though other passages are harder to peg; a distinctive aspect is poetry spoken by the artist. Altogether an immersive, delightful listen. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lisa/Liza, Momentary Glance (Orindal) Portland, ME’s Liza (pronounced Lisa) Victoria has a prior record out on Orindal, Deserts of Youth, where she goes it completely alone via acoustic guitar and vocals. On this follow-up she switches to electric and enlists some instrumentalist friends, though Victoria’s front-and-center presence is only intensified on a half-dozen selections (totaling 42 minutes) that radiate a magnificent late-night psych-folk vibe. Recorded and mixed by Efrim Manuel Menuck of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra during a brutal Montreal winter, the suicide of a friend greatly impacted Victoria’s creative process. My learning of this surely deepened the emotional heft, which hits its apex with the massive “Tea Kettle.” A

Machinefabriek, With Voices (Western Vinyl) Dutch composer Rutger Zuydervelt is Machinefabriek, and his work essentially resides in a neighborhood shared by ambient, drone, minimalism, modern classical, noise, field recordings, electronics, and a general spirit of avant-experimentation. The man wields an insanely loaded, completist-defeating discography, but With Voices is destined to be one of the gems in that expansive body of work, in part because it finds him collaborating with a variety of vocalists across eight Roman numeric tracks, including Chantal Acta, Peter Broderick, Marianne Oldenburg, Richard Youngs, and Marissa Nadler. Eschewing lyrics, with a high percentage of the utterances effectively wordless, the results are wildly varied and in the case of the Nadler-sung finale, quite beautiful. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, The Tribe & Black Axis (Southern Lord) Originally released by Zenzor in 1988, The Tribe was the debut by guitarist Brötzmann’s trio with Eduardo Delgado Lopez on bass and Jon Beuth on drums, and it delivered a noisily intense yet rock solid heart punch and a wakeup call; the possibilities of amplified string mayhem had been broadened and the roster of u-ground guitar heroes deepened. Coming off at times a bit like Hendrix at his wildest if he’d lived and largely set aside bluesy grooving for Germanic Industrial pummel, the Massaker were a formidable beast, and that they didn’t make as may waves as the Experience ultimately speaks to the conservative atmosphere of the era from which they sprang. A few slightly lesser tracks do emerge. A-

Caspar was the son of the German free jazz saxophone titan Peter Brötzmann (who designed The Tribe’s cover), which led to some speculation prior to hearing that the Massaker was going to be an excursion into skronk-rock fusion (like Last Exit, Jr., maybe). That wasn’t the case, though The Tribe and ’89’s follow-up Black Axis (originally on Marat Records) were both cut at FMP studio in Berlin, where many of the greatest German avant jazz recordings were made. Part of the reinforcement of a rock sensibility comes through the use of vocals, which serve roughly the same function as they did in the Experience. Black Axis finds the band (with fresh drummer Frank Neumeier) tapping into grooves a bit more (some near funky), but also kicking up clouds of pungent cacophony and launching into the stratosphere. A

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Caetano Veloso, S/T (Irene), S/T (A Little More Blue) & Araçá Azul (Lilith) When it comes to Tropicália, vocalist, guitarist, composer, writer, and activist Caetano Veloso is one of the movement’s heavyweights (alongside Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa). Over the decades, he’s also been quite prolific, but newbies are advised to start early in the discography and work forward as far as personal desire dictates. These three LPs from Lilith, all on clear vinyl, don’t cover all the bases, as his first two and the essential Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis LP (which featured Veloso and all of the abovementioned names) are absent, but for those eager to plunge in, their availability is an irrefutably sweet development.

I’ve noticed a few folks ranking his second eponymous record, that’d be Irene from ’69, somewhat lower than those that surround it, but I disagree rather strongly. Others have rated it as his very best, and I don’t know about that either, though it’s certainly not far from the top. And given that it was made while Veloso was under house arrest (he and Gilberto Gil recorded the vocals and acoustic guitar, while arranger-producer Rogério Duprat integrated everything else separately), the sense of achievement rises. Everything unwinds at a high level, with “Marinheiro Só” (featuring a chorus of children) just one of the highlights. A-

However, his next album, ’71’s also self-titled A Little More Blue, recorded in England in government-imposed exile, registers as slightly greater and is substantially different in execution. Missing are the threads of psychedelia from Irene, replaced with a folky approach and a heavy mood, understandably so, as he was missing his homeland. The album has never hit me as a downer, though. Save for closer “Asa Branca,” the lyrics are all in English, and if not as bold a Tropicália experience, there’re still moments of strangeness, e.g. the wordless vocals in “Maria Bethânia” and “Asa Branca.” A

But if it’s weirdness you’re looking for, then step right up to Araçá Azul, Velsoso’s highly divisive follow-up hot on the heels of his widely popular and quite accessible Transa. Described as his most experimental LP, much of Araçá Azul is as sparse as it is esoteric, but “De Cara/Eu Quero Essa Mulher” is a gnarly rocker (with flashes of Beefheart), and if the whole can take a few spins to really take hold, “Julia/Moreno” is immediately reminiscent of Veloso’s most approachable earlier stuff. A-

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

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

BOOK PICK: Nick Soulsby, Swans: Sacrifice and Transcendence: The Oral History (Jawbone Press) Many of Soulsby’s prior credits delve into the grunge scene of the Pacific Northwest and Nirvana in particular; he’s done two books related to the band, one an oral history and the other a collection of interviews with Kurt Cobain. If that doesn’t necessarily paint him as a natural fit for covering one of the most formidable outfits of the last half century, do consider that he also assembled an oral history of Thurston Moore’s musical collaborations outside Sonic Youth.

Swans leader Michael Gira was interviewed for that book, and Moore (amongst a long list of others) was spoken with for this one, and the results are appropriately exhaustive (there’s lots of welcome input from Jarboe) without getting into sheer minutiae. The narrative is broken into chapters largely focused on periods that Swans fans have already drawn for themselves, which should also prove useful for the curious newbie, as it’d be easy and beneficial to listen to the records listed at the start of each chapter while soaking up the specifics of the tale. The while the book’s title truly fits what unfurls in the text, Soulsby could’ve easily chosen another word; that’d be Struggle, of course in the striving for excellence in the moment, but also on the part of Gira as a communicator with his bandmates and loved ones.

The unfurling anecdotes do nothing to soft-pedal Gira’s famously difficult personality. Indeed, Sacrifice and Transcendence is a warts-and-all portrayal. Folks who want to read about art-making as a bed of roses are advised to buy some other tome. But Soulsby pulls off the tricky feat of balancing the unpleasantness and the bountiful humanity, though working directly with the participants’ spoken words helps; there’s no authorial pleading or contortions of perspective, as everything said was said by somebody else. Also, the depictions of touring here are amongst the most grueling I’ve ever read. But there are also moments that inspire laughter, and the book’s trajectory is ultimately a rumination on hard-won success. As a lover of Swans, I knew that already. But I really know it now. What a book! A

NEW RELEASE PICK: Frank Kimbrough, Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Sunnyside) 2017 was the centennial of Thelonious Monk’s birth. The mammoth undertaking that is this 6CD set was a direct outgrowth of the commemoration of Monk’s arrival on this spinning rock, featuring the distinguished individuals that pianist Kimbrough called upon to play as part of a celebration held in NYC at the club Jazz Standard. This release does indeed cover Monk’s entire compositional oeuvre (70 pieces in total, even the Christmas song) and finds bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Billy Drummond in typically (exquisitely) sharp form as multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson handles the horn duties with something more than aplomb.

Given the number of tunes and how the group got the results onto tape in six working days, that this isn’t a radical reinvention of Monk’s work shouldn’t be a surprise, but even as the word respect hovers prominently over Monk’s Dreams, this isn’t timid imitation, and if recognizably, even approachably jazzy to novices of the form, I still hesitate to call this a “straight-ahead” undertaking. A big part of the non-imitative approach here relates to Robinson’s work on numerous horns, including a few not associated with Monk, e.g. the bass sax, bass clarinet, echo cornet, contrabass sarrusophone and to a lesser extent, the trumpet. Right off the bat in “Thelonious,” he doubles on trumpet and tenor sax, but if invested in non-mimicry, the multi-horn approach is also devoid of gimmicks.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
December 2018

The TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for December, 2018.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Scone Cash Players, “Scone Cold Christmas” (Flamingo Time – Mango Hill) Bluntly, holiday music is not my favorite music. But there are exceptions, like this 45 from the band of soul-jazz-funk organist Adam Scone. Rather than just diving into standards-based instrumental quickie mode, Scone enlists singer Lee Taylor and some vocal-group backing for “My First Divorced Christmas (Santa Claus Got a Divorce),” a tune that might read as jokey but unwinds as surprisingly heartfelt, with the groove keeping things from getting too weepy. On “They Say It’s Christmas Time (Christmas Time in Brooklyn),” it’s the warm, assured baritone voice of John Dokes that’s the highlight. Well, one of ‘em, as the band ascends an organ-driven Hot Buttered Soul-era Isaac Hayes-like mountain to a killer peak. A-

Say Sue Me, “Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie” (Damnably) I’m on board with the non-holiday themed stuff from this Korean indie-surfy pop-rock outfit, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t worried, as even in reliable hands Christmas music can curdle like milk in a failed fridge. Say Sue Me succeed because they don’t lay the theme on too thick. Instead, the guitar is big but congenial in the Dick Dale-tinged pop-punky title track. It and instrumental “Too Expensive Christmas Tree” brought the Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet to mind, and that’s a cool thing to consider, in December or any time of year, really. In “Out of Bed,” vocalist Sumi Choi reminds me of Hope Sandoval diving head first into a sweet sea of early ’60s gal-pop, and from there, all Say Sue Me needs to do is not foul things up. “After This Winter” doesn’t. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Lee Morgan, Indeed! (Down at Dawn) Top-flight hard-bop trumpeter Morgan was 18 years old when he cut this session in 1956 for Blue Note, an achievement that’s undeniably impressive, though it’s also important to avoid overrating it. The whole is solid, with the young leader still clearly in thrall to Dizzy and Clifford Brown, but it’s not a jaw-dropper. So why the pick status? Well, numerous reasons, including Wilbur Ware on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, an always reliable pair, plus Horace Silver on piano, who sounds fine but doesn’t steal the show, as Morgan is clearly in command. This is not to infer that he’s hogging the spotlight, as the obscure alto man Clarence Sharpe gets plenty of solo room. As the album rolls, a decided post-Bird-Diz feel develops, and that’s nice. B+

Freddie Hubbard, The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard (Down at Dawn) Having hit the scene a little later, in some ways Hubbard temporarily stole some of Morgan’s thunder; by ’63, he’d delivered four LPs as leader for Blue Note, and followed them up with this, his first of two for Impulse! It’s a minor classic from a talent-loaded sextet featuring Hubbard’s Jazz Messengers’ cohort Curtis Fuller on trombone, Sun Ra Arkestra lynchpin John Gilmore on tenor, Tommy Flanagan on piano, Louis Hayes on drums, and Art Davis (who’d played with Hub on Olé Coltrane) on drums. While it’s not aptly described as a groundbreaking affair, the playing is assured all around, and the whole, opening with Duke’s “Caravan” and following with three originals and a nice version of “Summertime,” is ripe with ambition. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
November 2018,
Part Six

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke, Hence (Editions Mego) Ambarchi and O’Rourke have two prior collabs; well, three if you count 2012’s Imikuzushi with Japanese avant-guitar titan Keiji Haino. And counting that one kinda makes sense, as this new one features the guest tabla mastery of Japan’s U-zhaan. Along with the drum, there’s synthesizer and guitar, and the whole can be aptly tagged as electroacoustic. Hence offers two long pieces, with the level of abstraction quite high, but the cumulative effect is welcoming rather than rigorous. It even fits to call big portions of this downright comforting, particularly on side two, where I was reminded a bit of rainforest New Age. However, this ambiance gets imbued with mysteriousness that’s distinct and ultimately quite pleasing. A-

Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves, The Best of Your Lies (Carrier) This set of “electro-country” from a NYC project pseudonymously led by noteworthy contempo avant-composer Jeff Snyder might read like an imminent disaster, but the blending of techno-pop with honky-tonk and Countrypolitan (all covers save for two solid ones co-written by Snyder and fiddle-harmony vocalist Anica Mrose Rissi) starts out as potentially egregious, then impresses as sincere, moves on to admirable, and with accumulated spins connects as a surprisingly successful legit fusion rather than just an experiment that didn’t fall apart. To be sure, a Carter Family song with vocoder vocals might rile some tempers, but the execution is far preferable to an umpteenth well-mannered (to the point of blandness) Americana version. Believe it. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Dock Boggs, Legendary Singer and Banjo Player (Smithsonian Folkways) While I agree that Dock Boggs’ greatest stuff was cut for Brunswick in ’27, this album still holds a special allure. Boggs had just been rediscovered by Mike Seeger (who contributes illuminating liners here) and by extension the audience at the American Folk Festival, where some of this set was recorded. As the disc unwinds, knowledge of the circumstances leading to its recording enhance the aura of Boggs’ reengaging with, and in a sense rediscovering his own music, as well; he’d reportedly repurchased a banjo shortly before meeting Seeger for the first time. But don’t think Boggs is tentative in his delivery across these 15 songs. As intense as he was in ’27? No. This is a document of an older and wiser man. A

V/A, American Banjo – Tunes and Songs in Scruggs Style (Smithsonian Folkways) Smithsonian Folkways has been celebrating their 70th anniversary by reissuing some choice titles from the vast catalog on vinyl, and the theme of the latest batch is the banjo. This includes Dock Boggs above and two releases below, plus this 1957 collection documenting the three-finger technique developed by Earl Scruggs and popularized roughly a decade before, first in the band of Bill Monroe and shortly after in his own group co-led with guitarist Lester Flatt. In short, it’s bluegrass baseline. Earl doesn’t play on this LP, but his older brother Junie does, along with Roni Stoneman, Snuffy and Oren Jenkins, J.C. Sutphin, Smiley Hobbs, Kenny Miller, and Mike Seeger, who also recorded and produced. It all sounds splendid. A

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