Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, November 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for November, 2017. Part one is right here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman (Daptone) The passing of Sharon Jones hit hard. A large part of why was purely musical, but Jones’ unlikely rise to fame as a modern vessel of uncut classic soul verve was also enduringly inspirational. Essential to her sustained success was a union with the Dap-Kings, the vitality of which is undiminished here as the disc’s contents continue to emphasize Jones’ versatility. Too often defined by her aptitude for belting, an ability to cover a range of emotions is on full display, with self-penned finale “Call on God” packing a wallop. A-

Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti) As the third collaboration (in four albums) between Staples and producer Jeff Tweedy, the comfort level is high, enough so that the Wilco leader wrote all ten songs with the veteran vocalist in mind; she immediately makes them her own, with social commentary ringing out loud and clear. Staples’ gospel-based positivity has been long-noted, but reflective of the times, the mood here is darker and angrier yet not hopeless, and the songs flourish in a cohesive small group setting descended from but never imitating socially conscious Mayfield-ish soul-funk. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Willie Nelson, Spirit & Teatro: The Complete Sessions (Modern Classics) Two underrated and contrasting ’90s efforts: the self-produced Spirit is scaled-back to the guitars of Nelson and Jody Payne, piano from his sister Bobbie, and occasional fiddle by ace Johnny Gimble. It magnifies Nelson as a songwriter of rich tradition. Teatro was cut with an expanded lineup in an old movie theater in Oxnard, CA with producer Daniel Lanois. If less intimate, the strength of the writing, playing, and singing remains high. Spirit is on wax; Teatro is on CD with a performance DVD directed by Wim Wenders A/ A

Sonny Clark Trio, The 1960 Time Sessions (Tompkins Square) The title differentiates the contents, originally issued as a self-titled LP, from an also eponymous and more well-known trio date for Blue Note three years prior. That one had Paul Chambers and Philly Joe; this expanded set features George Duvivier and Max Roach, so there’s no drop off in personnel quality. Ben Ratliff’s notes (augmenting Nat Hentoff’s original words) do a fine job of placing this record in the context of Clark’s career as a leading light in the hard-bop movement. Is it the pianist’s best? No, but the interaction is sterling throughout. A-

America, Heritage: Home Recordings/Demos 1970-1973 (Omnivore) For many years, my lack of love for the union of CSN&Y and a youthful indifference to soft-rock led to a (apologies to Philip Roth) personal plot against America. I did eventually grow to mildly dig ‘em, in large part because they lacked the grandiosity that mars so much of CSN&Y’s catalog. Anyway, enough with the comparisons; America’s unlikely to be a band I ever truly love, but I dig many of these demos a bit more than mildly, especially the early take of “Ventura Highway.” The vocal mix of “A Horse with No Name”? Not so much. B

Albert Ayler & Don Cherry, Vibrations (ORG Music) Cut live during a remarkably productive visit to Denmark in September of ’64, this was issued first by Debut as Ghosts and credited to the Albert Ayler Quartet. In the mid-’70s, Freedom released it as a re-titled co-billing, and now ORG has returned Freedom’s red, white & blue cover edition to availability. The Copenhagen material still takes something of a backset to Ayler’s albums for ESP and Impulse, which is hard to figure, as the trip found Cherry expanding the trio that cut Spiritual Unity. Ayler’s tenor bursts and burns with regularity here. A

Bad Daddies, Over 30 Singles (Emotional Response) Also known as simply B.D., which helps to distinguish them from the other groups of Bad Daddies that’re out and about, this female-fronted East Bay unit has been active for roughly six years. Over 30 Singles compiles cuts from a bunch of long-gone 7-inches and a cassette from 2016; loaded with crunch, thud, amp squeal, ranting, and breakneck throttle, the results connect like it was all unleashed in one big heave. Thus, some will infer a lack of growth, but I prefer to think of it as remaining true to first principles. Think early Bikini Kill crossed with Melt Banana. A-

Franco Battiato, Fetus, Pollution & Sulle corde di Aries (Superior Viaduct) Battiato is often called the Italian Eno, but as Fetus predates Roxy’s debut by a year, the comparison isn’t exactly strong; however, it does get one into the ballpark. Noted for a long career and a run of more forthrightly avant-garde albums in the second half of the ’70s, these are his earliest full-lengths (after trying his hand as a pop singer in the ‘60s), dating from ’71-’73 and initially issued on the Bla Bla label. They’re aptly tagged as experimental pop, but cover a lot of territory; fans of Krautrock and Terry Riley should delight. A-/ A-/ A

Johnny Bell and The Visitors, “A Visitors Anthem” b/w “The Die Four” (Self-released) Based in Santa Fe, NM, banjoist Bell (who’s also part of the band Cloacas) and his trio conjure a sound that’s geographically fitting without migrating into the overly pleasant environs that plague so much (too much) contempo Americana. A big part of the reason derives from Will Dyar’s drums and more so, Ben Montgomery’s trumpet, which lends an air of distinctiveness to both tracks; his forceful blowing on the A-side is especially welcome. Bell’s playing is crisp on both sides, and I’m curious to hear a full album. B+

Tony Burkill, Work Money Death (ATA) Leeds, UK-based multi-horn specialist Burkill’s ability shines through on this, his debut LP. He also covers ample stylistic ground; opener “Third of All Numbers” nods to Brubeck but with meatier blowing, while “At Odds with the World” offers an earthy organ groove. From there, a tangible Impulse label edge arises, with Coltrane and Gato Barbieri acknowledged as touchstones. Burkill is deft at raw searching without taking it too far outside, at least until the 16-minute closer “Beginning and End” turns up the exploratory heat. A consistently agreeable surprise. A-

The County Liners, “Mary Jane Dunphe & Chris McDonnell in the County Liners” (Wharf Cat) The choice of moniker should render this EP’s country rock contents unsurprising, though the five songs delivered by the band (Mirce Popovic and Riley Kendig fill out the lineup) are sturdy and unpolished while avoiding strict adherence to standard norms, e.g. the electric piano in “Maria” and the chilly, Kim Gordon-ish recitation (which alternates with throatier singing) in finale “Oklahoma.” There’re also moments bringing Lucinda Williams and the Paisley Underground to mind. Altogether a promising thing. B+

The Dirtys, “It Ain’t Easy” b/w “Fuck” (Third Man) Jack White’s reissue train picks up a handful of releases from the heyday of ’90s garage punk, all originally on Italy Records of Detroit, which some White Stripes obsessives might recognize as the label that released the duo’s debut 45 “Let’s Shake Hands” way back in ’98. That was Italy’s third release; these two short blasts of incensed scuzz by The Dirtys served as its immediate predecessor. The A-side features guest guitar from Mick Collins of the Gories, which adds further abrasion to the flailing, raw-throated burn. A-

Timothy McNealy, Funky Movement (Now-Again) The last few years have seen a welcome stream of reissues focused upon independently released regional soul and funk of ’60s and ’70s vintage, but this is the first time the work of Dallas, TX’s Timothy McNealy has been collected onto a single album, and it’s a revelatory pleasure for the ear and body. Originally pressed on McNealy’s own tiny Shawn imprint, these are modest productions of fully developed songs that thrive on the lack of polish, particularly the two parts of the tile track, “K.C. Stomp,” and the deservedly legendary “Sagittarius Black.” A-

Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space (Varèse Sarabande) As a non-devotee of the Star Trek franchise, my interest here is limited, and limited fairly describes Nimoy’s involvement, as he appears on roughly half the tracks; the rest hangs in a Space Age Bachelor Pad with touches of surf. Nimoy’s selections are underwhelming schmaltzy crooners and spoken word in the character of Spock. I could do without hearing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Earth” ever again, but the anti-war “A Visit to a Sad Planet” is alright. The “Mission Impossible” theme underscores the intent of original label Dot. C+

OST, The Forbidden Zone (Varèse Sarabande) It’s been years (well over a decade, even), since I last watched it, but I recall Richard Elfman’s cult flick as a fun, fucked-up time, if not particularly profound. ‘twas much better as background for smoky, drunken revelry: “Hey, here comes “Squeezit the Moocher!” As part of the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, Richard’s bro Danny worked on the music. There are shades of new wave to come, but at this point, MKotOB were nearer to a mix of the Residents and Spike Jones, but nowhere near as cool as that reads. Note: this is not the 22-track original version. B

Lee “Scratch” Perry & The Full Experience, “Disco Devil” 12-inch (Get on Down) As a cornerstone of Jamaican dub, Perry’s output is, to say the least, voluminous. Therefore, I’m hesitant to rate “Disco Devil” as essential, though these 12-inch and 7-inch mixes of “Chase the Devil,” a song Perry co-wrote with Max Romeo, are inventively strange, which is typical of Perry’s work of this vintage. Max cut it in ’76 with Perry’s band The Upsetters, who also knocked out a version with Prince Jazzbo called “Croaking Lizard.” That one’s on Super Ape, which is essential. Perry interpolates both versions into this gem. A

The Raspberries, Pop Art Live (Omnivore) This has been out on 2CD since August, but the 3LP is just now coming out for RSD, and lovers of unadulterated power-pop shouldn’t hesitate in snatching it up. Big Star were the heavyweight champs of the style, but at their best the ‘berries were certainly contenders; attaining considerable commercial success, they released four albums from ’72-’74. Clocking in at nearly two hours, a significant chunk of their oeuvre gets reprised during this 2004 reunion show. It’s certainly not a replacement for the original LPs, but the band’s engaging, energetic form is kinda stunning. A-

Razz, Time Frames (Emotional Response) Folks with an insatiable appetite for power pop should seek out this tidy eight-song LP. Not to be confused with the late ’70s outfit of the same name on Limp Records, this bunch, which includes members of Andy Human and the Reptoids, the Talkies, Sob Stories, and the Pets, specialize in melodies and riffing reaching back to the same era for inspiration. A big part of their recipe for success lies in guitar crunch of a high level, but also important are the well-developed songs, especially the keyboard-laced and vocal harmony-infused nugget “Not That Tough.” A-

Sunny & the Sunliners, “Put Me in Jail” b/w “Open Up Your Love Door,” Smile Now…Cry Later & The Missing Link (Big Crown) The single offers two cuts from Mr. Brown Eyed Soul, so holders of that record have it covered. However, they do complement each other quite nicely, so newbies (and DJs) might want to snatch it right up. Converts to the cause should like Big Crown’s release of two more Sunliners sets for RSD; there’s a touch of overlap between Brown Eyed and Smile Now, but even with a Louis Prima cover, I prefer it to the instrumental set Link, which is inconsistent in its breadth. A-/ B+/ B

Tangerine Dream, Electronic Meditation (Varèse Sarabande) Although they scored a few films that I hold in high regard, including Friedkin’s Sorcerer and Mann’s Thief, I’ve long been partial to Tangerine Dream’s output for Ohm Records, which commenced in 1970 with this album. Until his death in 2015, Edgar Froese was the Dream’s sole constant member, but for this LP (only) the lineup included Conrad Schnitzler and Klaus Schulze, and the results are much more intensely rhythmic and avant-garde in orientation. Inspired by Hendrix, Froese’s guitar deepens the nicely damaged psych-rock edge. A-

Mike Watt, Contemplating the Engine Room (ORG Music) This isn’t the most high-profile of Watt’s post-Firehose sets for Columbia; that’d be the guest-star loaded Indie-Alt fiesta Ball-Hog or Tugboat? Still, his subsequent two for the company are more personal, and by a considerable margin. Contracting the iris to focus on a splendid trio with guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Stephen Hodges (aka the Black Gang), Engine Room is billed as Watt’s first “punk opera,” but don’t go thinking of arcade sorcery; instead, the remembrance of things past is almost Proustian, though it’s a sure bet Marcel never rocked this hard. A

World Experience Orchestra, As Time Flows On (Now-Again) This John Jamyll Jones-led Boston area spiritual jazz outfit cut two LPs, both recorded live between ’75-’77. They were combined as a double set last year through Now-Again’s Reserve series, and now here’s the second album as a standalone. It’s Impossible to imagine this existing without the example of Pharoah Sanders, but the whole is hindered by flute replacing saxophone and the resulting lack of ferocity. Positivity, feminist vibes, and poetry are in abundance, however. “To Do Nothing” finds a 19-minute groove, rides it, and saves the record. B

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