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

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—in shops for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 13, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Tellavision, Add Land (Bureau B) There are lots of things to like about this release, the fourth full-length (and my intro to her work) from this one-woman Berlin-based artist. I like how I wasn’t able to easily discover her birth name. I like how the thrust of the work here, which is electronic and song-based, resists easily encapsulation as electronic-pop, while pop is an integral component (there’s also techno and Krautrock to consider). I like her voice, stated in the press release as foregrounded more here than on prior releases, and how it possesses a soulfulness that makes clear that she could really belt it out (and there are plenty of spots where she gets close). Lastly, I like that on an album concerned with positivity and love, Tellavision’s music is powerful and multifaceted. A-

Fox Millions Duo, Biting Through (Thrill Jockey) In terms of percussion worthiness, Greg Fox and Kid Millions (a.k.a. John Colpitts) are two of the most impressive figures on the contempo scene. They are, as Gorilla Monsoon used to say, forces to be reckoned with. Having attained this stature individually, one might worry that creating together might somehow neutralize or undermine each other’s strengths (in the manner of so many past supergroups), but their prior record Lost Time was a killer and so is this follow-up, which has a lot more going for it than just hi-energy drumming. Like synths for instance, these devices run through a modular setup with contact mics so they can be played live. Which brings us back to high-energy, as parts of this remind me of a four-armed Rashied Ali going full-tilt with Merzbow. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Dream Syndicate, Days of Wine and Roses (Fire) I consider this a perfect record. Furthermore, it’s pretty much the apex of the Paisley Underground and darker and heavier than their cohorts in that scene. It was also the end of what many consider to be the “classic” Dream Syndicate lineup of lead vocalist-guitarist Steve Wynn, lead guitarist Karl Precoda, bassist Kendra Smith, and drummer Dennis Duck. Steve Wynn soldiered on through the ’80s, but while all the subsequent records all have their moments (the band has also reunited, with a new LP out next month), this one remains the best. Fire’s edition of 500 includes their S/T four-song EP and a repress of the 45 by Wynn’s earlier band 15 Minutes featuring a significantly different version of “That’s What You Always Say.” A+

Alice Clark, S/T (Wewantsounds) Here’s an absolute must for soul fans, unless of course you already own a clean-playing copy of this ’72 release on Bob Shad’s Mainstream label. Originals now exchange hands for hundreds of dollars, and listening makes it easy to understand why, as Clark was an exceptional singer comparable in style to Aretha Franklin and notably confident on her only LP (there was a pair of prior singles, both also highly sought after). The band, which shares some members with Franklin’s backing bands of the time, was impeccably assembled by Shad as he and arranger Ernie Wilkins produced a knockout in just two days at the Record Plant in NYC. Steeped in that lush but robust early ‘70s soul feel, this should’ve been a major hit. Another fine reissue from this class label. A

Josephine Foster, Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You RSD (Fire) Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Foster didn’t exactly emerge from nowhere with this 2005 release; she’d been hovering ‘round the freak-folk/ New Weird scene for a little while (as part of Children’s Hour, Born Heller, and with an ’04 album on Locust backed by the Supposed), but in the grand scheme of her musical output, she was a lot nearer to starting out than to the reliable veteran folkie status she enjoys today. With Hazel Eyes, Foster consistently mingled intimacy, depth and, well, the weird, but in a natural, often subtle way. That was the goal of her numerous contemporaries, though they only intermittently and/ or modestly pulled it off. Many of those cohorts have departed the scene. Foster hasn’t. This reissue underscores why. A-

Groundhogs, Thank Christ for the Bomb (Major Edition) (Fire) Given Fire’s reissue of Scratching the Surface and Blues Obituary last year, I expected this one to arrive eventually, though not with a bonus LP of material. This Major Edition rounds up two live tracks from Leeds in ’71 and three Radio 1 sessions from ’70-’71; while all of it has been previously available elsewhere, it’s still a worthy addendum to the album that marks this outfit’s expansion from a likeable (very likeable on Blues Obituary) but still pretty standard UK blues-rock experience to something bigger and more progressive (though not really prog) as they scaled back to a trio. Maybe the most exceptional aspect of it all is how this rise in ambition, while thoroughly if its time, isn’t a bit embarrassing. Instead, it rocks smartly, which is always a plus. A-

Woody Guthrie, “I Don’t Like the Way this World’s A-Treatin’ Me” (Omnivore) At a glance, this might scan as a modest RSD release targeted to diggers of the enduring political-folkie thing and Guthrie fans in particular. But it gets transformed in part through some impossible to predict lyrical timeliness, but more so via three varied and thoughtful selections executed in a contemporary context. The title track is a home demo from 1952, delivered a cappella, that’s pure Woody; on the flipside, the same recording is enhanced by the guitar of longtime Guthrie acolyte Jeff Tweedy. It’s a swell thing and additionally notable for its lyrical swipe at Guthrie’s landlord at the time, one Fred Trump (that Guthrie wrote lyrics decrying the father of the current U.S. President is something of a stranger-than-fiction situation).

The other cuts expand upon this. “Old Man Trump” by vocalist-guitarist Ryan Harvey with assistance from Ani DiFranco and Tom Morello and “Beech Haven Ain’t My Home” by U.S. Elevator, a band led by Guthrie’s grandson-in-law Johnny Irion with input from Mac McCaughan and Tim Bluhm, each take distinct approaches to a combination of Guthrie lyrics (combined by Harvey) that call out Trump’s racist practices in the renting of his properties. Harvey’s track essentially follows a country-folk-protest avenue with a boost of rock guitar (I’m assuming from Morello); altogether, it’s a rousing tune that’s fine for fist-raising. But U.S. Elevator deliver the concluding and unexpected highlight, giving Guthrie’s words the anthemic kick of power pop. It’s just as good for pumping that fist, so don’t hesitate. A-

Lone Justice, Live at the Palomino 1983 (Omnivore) If You’ve picked up and enjoyed Omnivore’s two prior archival releases covering this band, This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes, 1983, and The Western Tapes, 1983, both featuring studio recordings from the titular year, you’ll definitely want this performance counterpart, captured at the Los Angeles club (way out in the Valley) where so much vital cow-punk (essentially a progenitor of alt-country) transpired (not that I was there, mind you). Like the studio tapes above, this set predates the release of their first album, and it easily solidifies Lone Justice’s cow-punk bona fides. Why? Well, the studio records that did come out back then either squandered or deliberately sanded the rough edges off the band’s sound. This rediscovered tape is the real deal. A-

Ziad Rahbani, “Abu Ali” (Wewantsounds) As detailed in the PR for this LP, Ziad Rahbani is a pianist, producer, playwright, activist, and in his home country of Lebanon a left-wing countercultural figure of considerable import. However, in terms of the global record market, he’s probably best-known for this 1978 disco 12-inch, described as “mythical” by Wewantsounds, original wax having exchanged hands for over $1,000 (though it more often goes for $400-600). I wouldn’t shell out that much cash for it (not even close) (or for any LP), though listening to both 12-minute-plus cuts, I can understand why some with apparent stacks of excess cash lying around might. There are no radical changes to the disco template, but the strings and horns are a little heartier than is the norm for this sorta thing. B+

Kenny Roby & 6 String Drag, The Jag Sessions: Rare & Unreleased 1996-1998 (Schoolkids) A multiformat reissue of 6 String Drag’s highly regarded 1997 LP Hi Hat came out in January of last year, followed by a new album, Top of the World, the fourth by the reunited band, the following March. Both are worthwhile items, and so is this collection of rarities and demos, described as unreleased although there has been some prior distribution via CDs at shows. This is the first time this material has been on vinyl however, and deriving from two separate sessions, one for a possible deal with Columbia, the other for a post-Hi Hat EP that didn’t pan out, the results are cohesive (some with horns and some not) and nicely representative of the band’s sound, which is tough alt-country rocking with a tinge of Elvis Costello. B+

Shovels & Rope, By Blood (Dualtone) Americana duo Shovels & Rope, which is married couple Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, have acquired an avid following. There’s also a documentary about them, which has clearly played no small part in growing that base of support. I haven’t watched that flick and up to now have only heard them in passing, which didn’t impress me all that much and led to the suspicion (one could call it kneejerk) that their fanbase was fortified more through personality and performance moxie than strong material. Listening to By Blood a few times didn’t blow me away, but it did strike me as better (bigger) than the other stuff I’d heard. A few more spins and the impression held, and I found that I could hang okay with the record’s unfettered emotionalism. You might, too. B

V/A, Boy Meets Girl: Classic Stax Duets (Craft) Originally released in ’69, this 2LP isn’t exactly one of highpoints in the whole Stax shebang. For one thing, it reveals that the label’s roster of female vocalists wasn’t exactly deep, at least at the point of this recording anyway, as it’s essentially Carla Thomas and Mavis Staples (two great ones, yes) with a revolving door of male counterparts William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Pervis Staples; Cleotha Staples is here, but only on opener “Soul-A-Luja,” which isn’t a duet but a big (unsurprising) gospel-styled group sing featuring all the participants listed above. That’s not to overlook some good stuff, and even a couple of borderline great tunes (like Floyd and Mavis doing “Piece of My Heart”), but there’s just too much flirting with the ordinary (for this sorta thing). B

V/A, Stax Does the Beatles (Craft) Opening with an inspired alternate take of Otis Redding tackling “Day Tripper,” it’s followed by a significant chronological jump to David Porter’s vividly conceived 1971 reading of “Help”; frankly, the contrast is more than a little jarring. Beginning with Otis also means that nothing after hits the same level of quality, which might seem odd given the number of Stax heavy-hitters on this 2LP; we’re talking Booker & the M.G.’s, Carla Thomas, Bar-Kays, Mar-Keys, Steve Cropper, and Isaac Hayes, whose symphonic soul expansion of “Something” (nearly clocking 12 minutes) is one of the stronger entries. Not that anything comes close to stinking up the joint, but the whole does drive home that an integral component in The Beatles’ greatness was their own playing and singing. B

Marty Willson-Piper, Hanging Out In Heaven (Schoolkids) Noted as a co-founder of Aussie neo-psych band The Church, singer-songwriter Marty Willson-Piper is a busy guy. In addition to releasing his latest album The Afterlife a couple of months back as part of the outfit Noctorum (with producer Dare Mason), he’s also a member of the Swedish band Moat. But he’s not so consumed with activity that his earlier stuff falls by the wayside; last year, his ’92 solo album Spirit Level came out for RSD courtesy of Schoolkids, and now here’s his fifth record from 2000, getting the vinyl treatment for the first time, though its release on the format was always the intention. It’s a long one, made longer with two bonus tracks, though it largely resists drag. Fans of The Church (obviously) but also The Chills take note. B+

Winter, “Infinite Summer” (ORG Music) Winter is Brazilian singer-songwriter Samira Winter, who offers indie rock dream-pop featuring lyrics in English and Portuguese. She has a pair of full-lengths and an equal number of EPs under her belt since 2012, most of them released through Lolipop, an association that might provide you an inkling that her approach is considerably retro-inclined. ORG mentions that she’s tangibly more ’80s-focused on this 4-song effort (and they back this up by adding that “’80s pop master” Wyatt Blair is the producer), though “Always Teenager” strikes me as more than a bit like early Weezer, while elsewhere I had brief thoughts of Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Sweet. Overall, I’m reminded of a value sized box of kid’s cereal, which is to say the sugary-pop sound is kinda timeless. B

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