Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, November 2016

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the reissued wax presently in stores for November, 2016. Part one is here.

REISSUE PICK: Jungle Brothers, Done by the Forces of Nature (Get On Down) Jazzed by We Got It from Here…? Jonesing for more in the same vein? If so, then check out the 2LP reissue of this ’89 classic from Tribe’s contemporaries. To be accurate, Mike Gee, Africa Baby Bam, and DJ Sammy B slightly preceded their cohorts in the Native Tongues collective, blazing a trail without reaping the immediate recognition; instead, they’ve been the next step for those knocked out by 3 Feet High or People’s Instinctive Travels. Through uplift and inclusion, this sharp album’s immaculate flow has only improved with age. A

REISSUE RUNNER-UP: Waylon Jennings, Dreaming My Dreams (Fat Possum) That Jennings’ 22nd album (in a decade!) is arguably the best he ever cut inspires pause, for that’s hardly ever how it works. Ultimately, the fact reflects newfound artistic freedom through a fresh RCA deal, and the byproduct is subdued but rich with positives; tributes to Hank and Bob Wills (the latter recorded live in Austin), production (by Jennings and Jack Clement) that disdains overdubs, and an utterly non-dated atmosphere. The man is in superb voice (of course he is), and the material consistently delivers. A

Las Kellies, Friends and Lovers (Fire) The fifth studio album (and third for Fire) from this Argentinian grrl group (herein composed of Silvina and Cecilia Kelly) is impressively varied, its contents inhabiting the post-punk end of the spectrum; there’s the soul liberation through body movement of “Sugar Beat,” the reggae-infused “Tied to a Chain,” the riffy VU-update “Make it Real,” the new wavy “I’m on Fire,” the indie poppish “Summer Breeze,” and up-tempo rocker “I Don’t Care.” And that’s just the first six cuts; the LP’s second half tightens the focus. “Sundays” is a late pop-tinged highlight. A-

Lungfish, Rainbows from Atoms (Dischord) From the perch of hindsight some have painted this as a formative work, but at the time this third LP connected as a major stride forward. Sure, the Baltimore group’s roots in ’80s post-HC emo are still very much in evidence (“Mother Made Me,” “Open House,” “Seek Sound Shelter”), but Daniel Higgs’ poetic sensibility was beginning to cohere (“Fresh Air Cure” and especially “Creation Story”) and the cyclical-drone-roar was rapidly evolving as well (“Instrument,” “8.21.2116,” “You Might Ask Me What,” closer “Seek Sound Shelter” again). A minor classic. A-

Harvey Mandel, Snake Pit (Tompkins Square) Guitarist Mandel contributed to a handful of classics (like Charlie Musselwhite’s debut) but he’s also taken part in some iffy sonic situations, so I approached his first widely distributed album in two decades with a certain amount of trepidation. Recorded over two days at Berkeley, CA’s Fantasy studios with a solid band (all Ryley Walker alumni), like a percentage of Mandel’s prior output (e.g. Baby Batter) this is all-instrumental blues-rock; the fusion-y use of keyboards/ strings inspires a personal tug-of-war between pleasure and ambivalence. B

Thelonious Monk, Monk’s Music (Doxy) I’ve yet to encounter a Monk release that’s not worth having around, but this one’s special. Not as great as the Blue Note Genius sets, this Riverside LP finds Sphere in stellar form, his playing on “Well, You Needn’t” (after a horns-only intro of William H. Monk’s “Abide with Me”) worth the price alone. The band is top flight, with Gigi Gryce on alto, John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins on tenor, the severely overlooked Ray Copeland on trumpet, Wilber Ware on bass, and Art Blakey on drums. Not as great as the earlier Brilliant Corners with Sonny Rollins, but still essential. A+

Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan, Mulligan Meets Monk (Doxy) ‘Twas once described to me as a mismatch, referring both to Monk as iconoclast-visionary vs. Mulligan’s West Coast Cool pigeonhole, and to an enduring giant contrasting with a guy whose importance as composer and bandleader was subsequently partially clouded by history. What’s here is a rewarding quartet date utilizing Monk’s rhythm section of the time (Wilber Ware bass, Shadow Wilson drums) diving into four of the pianist’s tunes and one by the baritone saxophonist, with the pair in good (if loose) instrumental voice. A-

Mood Tattooed, Hush Tarantula (Blankstairs) The second full-length from guitarist-vocalist-sonic manipulator Hagan Knauth travels an indie-psych-folk-electronica path. It’s certainly post-Animal Collective but with a distinct approach, Knauth focusing upon string pluck-strum while sprinkling in rainforest flute/ environmental sounds, songlike moments (mildly reminiscent of a sleepy indie-folk troubadour), and electronic gestures touching on looped tribalism, Steve Reich, and even The Books; the whole is less mind-blowing than this suggests. Nice mixed gender duet on closer “DMV Angel.” B+

Radio Birdman, Radios Appear (4 Men with Beards) The truly essential 1978 overseas version of the debut full-length by Australia’s bedrock punk combo. Formed in ’74, their killer “Burn My Eye” EP hit two years later, and in ’77 the initial domestic pressing of Radios Appear began with a cover of “TV Eye,” an unsurprising choice as guitarist Deniz Tek had moved Down Under from Ann Arbor, MI. Their Stooges rip didn’t make the reshuffling for export, but this is still loaded with some of the finest Detroit-inspired punk R&R ever waxed. It’s also highly developed for the period in both songwriting and execution. A+

Rats on Rafts / De Kift, S/T (Fire) Not a split but a team-up of veteran u-ground Dutch punks De Kift with their younger countrymen; the In the Fishtank studio collabs initially sprang to mind, but where that series had a “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” sensibility, this album clearly benefits from extensive familiarity and ample preparation but with no loss of spontaneity. Shared is a disinclination for punk orthodoxy, with the older unit’s horn-heavy approach combining well with Rats on Rafts’ stylistic restlessness. A little more skronk would’ve put this one right over the top. B+

Sonny Rollins, Sonny Boy (Doxy) Comprised of ’56 recordings but not issued until ’60, those familiar with the Tour de Force LP will recognize three of Sonny Boy’s selections as it ditches two okay Earl Coleman-sung ballads. Featuring pianist Kenny Drew, bassist George Morrow, and drummer Max Roach, the program opens with an intensely soloing Rollins in “Eh-Ah” followed by two fierce post-bop sprints in “B. Quick” and “B. Swift.” The resulting downshift “The House I Live In” subs Wade Legge for Drew and adds trumpeter Kenny Dorham and is a bit of a letdown. The title cut delivers a strong finale. A-

Sun Ra Arkestra, The Nubians of Plutonia (Cornbread) At Inter-Media Arts, 1991 (Modern Harmonic) From opposite discographical ends, Nubians is a ’58 recording (later issued on Saturn, Impulse, and Evidence) navigating away from the big band concept toward heavy percussion, exotica, modern jazz, and electric piano. Not “out” but still appealingly eccentric. Inter-Media is a 3LP/ 2CD documentation of a ’91 WNYC live broadcast, and it finds the leader assuming the role of jazz elder like a champ. Big band stateliness? Check. June Tyson? Check. John Gilmore? Check. Another for the shelf? Check. A-/ A-

V/A, The Reverb Conspiracy Vol. 4 (Fuzz Club) 12 contempo neo-psych tracks, all of Euro origin, spread across two LPs at over 90 minutes; that the latest edition in this series (the first to make my acquaintance) doesn’t collapse via stylistic constrictiveness is kinda amazing. Curator Casper Dee describes this as a “modern Nuggets,” but everything here is aware of, if not necessarily profoundly impacted by, the ’80s wave of neo-psych, making this a Grandchildren of Nuggets situation. I prefer the Krautrock informed selections, but there’s not a bum number in the bunch, and that’s impressive. B+

Ben Webster, Gone with the Wind (ORG Music) Black Lion specialized in Euro live sets by visiting jazz titans in their autumnal phase, and this RSD reissue captures the great swing-era tenor man at Copenhagen’s Montmartre Jazzhus in January of ’65. The playing is consistently worthwhile; in-demand fellow expat pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, and drummer Alex Riel are up to the task as Webster dishes rasp and warmth in abundance. Mixing up-tempo numbers and ballads, this was just another night on the bandstand and all the better for it. A-

The Yardbirds, Birdland (Favored Nations) Far from the disaster one might assume, this resurrected 2003 set teamed original members Jim McCarty (drums) and Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar) with newbies including Keith Relf-ish singer John Idan and a parade of prestige axe-handlers; ex-bird Jeff Beck checks in as does Steve Vai, Brian May, Slash, Joe Satriani, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Instead of calamity, the LP suffers from an accumulation of smaller flaws compounded by the inescapably bush-league misstep of redoing Yardbirds originals and a few of the group’s well-known covers. Completists step right up. C+

Mike Zito, Make Blues Not War (Ruf) As stated in the lyrics to “Chip off the Old Block,” Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter are primary influences on this veteran guitarist’s style; for this writer, the association undeniably limits the appeal, but Zito plays with such relish that he basically can’t be denied. Very comfortably riding the fence demarking blues and rock territories, the band delivers a sound that’s instantly familiar and yet doesn’t succumb to the rot of cliché. Nudging toward the urban(e), Zito chooses intermittent flashes of restrained organ over horn vamp, which is a big point in his favor. B

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