Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, June
2018, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Innocence Mission, Sun on the Square (Badman Recording Co. / Bella Union / P-Vine) It’s been a long time (like last century) since I’ve listened to The Innocence Mission, but their tenth album (they’ve been busy over the last few years) immediately brought the memories flooding back. This is wholly due to Karen Peris’ distinct voice, which I’ve always had a soft spot for, even in my noise-craving youth, when I generally appreciated her and the playing of Peris’ guitarist husband Don and bassist Mike Bitts through exposure from others rather than actively seeking them out. While gentle, The Innocence Mission eluded preciousness, and still do, with this a damn fine record, especially the Astrud Gilbert/ bossa nova-inspired title track. Looks like I have some catching up to do. A-

Allen Ravenstine, Waiting for the Bomb (ReR Megacorp) Upon learning that original Pere Ubu synthesizer man Allen Ravenstine was once again making music, I was excited. First came a pair of duo outings with current Ubu synth player Robert Wheeler, and last year The Pharaoh’s Bee found Ravenstine alone. That one was cool, but this follow-up, which employs analogue and digital instruments, hardware and software, is even better. There’s lots of abstraction on this hour-plus set, but also moments recalling sci-fi soundtracks/ incidental music, early electronics, jazz both straight-up mersh and with darker undercurrents, general ambience, and even a little funk. Sweet. Limited vinyl comes with a 48-page perfect bound volume of Allen’s music-related short stories. Even sweeter. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Barbara Dane, Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs (Smithsonian Folkways) It’s the 70th anniversary of Smithsonian Folkways, and I’m way past due to salute ‘em. This excellent 2CD primer into an often-overlooked vocalist-guitarist-leftist hero can be obtained from the label in a bundle with the vinyl reissue of Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers. Equally adept at range of blues, jazz, and protest folk, had Dane allowed herself to succumb to record company bullshit, she would’ve been better known in her prime, but this set illustrates that her achievements were huge in a more substantial way. As the injustice she fought against still exists, this collection is screamingly relevant. Features contributions from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, and Doc Watson. A-

Anna & Elizabeth, The Invisible Comes to Us (Smithsonian Folkways) I can’t believe I missed the boat on this one; only by a few months (it came out in March), but still. I’d gotten hipped to the work of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle last year due to comparisons made to another duo, House & Land. There’s a definite similarity between the two acts (and some shared Virginia roots), but also differences. Like House & Land, Anna & Elizabeth are steeped in tradition but never quaint, and this is their third album (available on wax), the byproduct of a shared residency in Virginia after a year’s worth of researching the archives of song collector Helen Hartness Flanders. Combining the true folk root with elements of the ’60s-’80s NYC avant-garde, the results are enveloping and often glorious. A

Rahim AlHaj Trio, One Sky (Smithsonian Folkways) Iraqi-American Rahim AlHaj is a master of the oud, and on his third Smithsonian Folkways release he’s joined by Iranian santūr player Sourena Sefati and Palestinian-American percussionist Issa Malluf for a musical mission of goodwill. In 1980, at the start of the Iran-Iraq war, AlHaj was a child in Baghdad; ten years later, and he was a staunch opponent of the conflict. Furthermore, AlHaj was outspoken against the rule of Saddam Hussein, and after going into exile had to be smuggled into the USA to avoid being murdered. Once here, the goal of spreading peace and tolerance through music began, though for this CD the outcome is as robust, energetic, and impeccably played as it is beautiful and positive of message. A tonic for rotten times? Yes. A-

Henrik Appel, Burning Bodies (PNKSLM) Stockholmer Appel has a background in garage; there’s his bass playing in Kilroy and the Martin Savage Gang, and more recently Lion’s Den, where the man sings and plays guitar. Lion’s Den have their second LP on the horizon, but here’s Appel’s debut solo effort. Unsurprisingly, its nine tracks are something other than garage, with the cited influences including Nico, Dylan, and Karen Dalton, but it’s far from a clean break. This is partly due to the neo-garage (perhaps better pinpointed as neo-psych) attitude that’s palpable throughout. The inspiration of Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain is also mentioned, but don’t get too excited. The use of synth does support the connection, but overall, this is the sound of a rocker stretching out. And that’s alright. B+

Cup, Jitter Visions (Aagoo) Brooklynite Tym Wojcik is Cup, and reinforcing that the world is brimming with musical activity, this is his eighth release and second since last November. Rooted in punk stomp but edged with psych tendencies, the results are surely alien sounding, but the whole, which is made up of individually short tracks, is perhaps nearer to the weirder fringe of the Killed by Death punk wave than it is to Chrome, although if you’d lied to me and said this consisted of unearthed tapes from a mid-’80s San Francisco outfit, I probably would’ve bought it (underneath the appealingly crude electro elements is a rock thrust that occasionally feels descended from, if not consciously influenced by, Crime). Well, at least up to the arrival of acoustic-leaning penultimate cut “It’s Calling for You.” B+

The English Beat, Here We Go Again (Here We Go) Last week in this column, I gave non-island ska/ rocksteady/ reggae a tough time, but hey, don’t go thinking I’m not potentially amenable to a late work by a cornerstone of the Brit scene. Although often tagged as ska revivalists, The English Beat were far more pop savvy than most of that ilk, and said astuteness, if not as sharp as on their original albums, hasn’t dissipated here. And while this incarnation of the band features Dave Wakeling sans Ranking Roger or any other original members, the results (the byproduct of substantial touring) register as inspired throughout. Furthermore, there’s a high ratio of ambition (especially “Never Die”) amid the party stokers. Not a socks-knocked-off thing overall, but largely enjoyable. Even “Dem Call It Ska.” B+

Dom Flemons, Black Cowboys (Smithsonian Folkways) As a historian, scholar, and founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Flemons is a vital source of insight into the USA’s folk, blues, string band, and early pop sounds, with particular emphasis on what can be synopsized as African-Americana. This CD digs deep into the role of African-Americans as cowboys and pioneers in the Old West, and it’s a delightful, info-drenched package. Wholly relevant to the disc’s theme is “Home on the Range,” here in a sweet version as Flemons dives into material ranging from Leadbelly, Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas, Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, and pointedly, Roy Acuff. Along with 18 selections peppered with a little cowboy poetry and some fine originals, there is 40 pages of booklet. Dig in. A

Buddy Guy, A Man and the Blues (Craft) Guy’s finest work of the 1960s is found on Junior Wells’ masterful Hoodoo Man Blues, but the three LPs he cut for Vanguard after escaping a dysfunctional tenure with Chess are all worth the time. This is the first, and it’s a vibrant encapsulation of Guy’s diverse style. As a solid horn section reinforces (but doesn’t overemphasize) the man’s ties to Soul, a reading of Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” and the “Satisfaction” revamp “Just Playing My Axe” mingle with versions of Robert Nighthawk’s “Sweet Black Angel” and Mercy Dee Walton’s “One Room Country Shack.” With sophistication and roots complementing and counterbalancing, pianist Otis Spann, rhythm guitarist Wayne Bennett, and drummer Fred Below help to seal the deal. A-

HOLY, All These Worlds are Yours (PNKSLM) Henrik Appel’s record above made a positive impression, and also drove home that a batch of recent PNKSLM releases were languishing in my promo locker sans listen (there is only so much time, good people). And so, I decided to remedy this sad situation a little. This one reaches back to January, but vinyl copies are still available, and it’s worth including here as HOLY main guy, the Swede Hannes Ferm, engineered and played on Appel’s record. Ferm’s own thing is contempo large-scaled psych-pop, though it’s classically rooted; others have made comparisons to Dave Fridmann’s production and the more expansive side of Elephant 6, but there’s a whole lot of ’70s art-glam-pomp in this recipe, and a connection reaching back to The Beatles. Hey, better late than never. B+

Hungry March Band, Running Through With the Sadness (Imaginator) The size-shifting Hungry March Band (22 musicians strong here, not including the “HMB Pleasure Society”) has been around since the late ’90s, and they can be assessed as a stylistically eclectic brass band with some out-there tendencies spicing up the whole. A bedrock of two sousaphones means this, their sixth full-length (and first that’s not self-released) never strays too far from New Orleans territory, even when they wade into the fringe; Time Out New York’s description of “Dirty Dozen Brass Band crossed with Sun Ra Arkestra” isn’t off-base, but for me, they’d need more of the latter to deliver a full knockout. Still, imagining HMB getting down to business on a parade float rolling through my home city is quite the sweet prospect. B

The Orb, No Sounds Are Out of Bounds (Cooking Vinyl) Alex Paterson, with the reliable contribution of Thomas Fehlmann, is The Orb, and his long-running (and groundbreaking) project’s return to Kompakt for a pair of releases caused me to snap back to attention. I was impressed, if not blown away. Here, they swing back to Cooking Vinyl (their other recent label) and bring a shit-ton of guests with them. Some, like Killing Joke’s Martin Glover and Roger Eno, are familiar from prior Orb releases, while Jah Wobble and a whole bunch of vocalists are new to their thing. At 70 minutes, the whole isn’t cramped, but neither is it a cumulative grabber. Along with the singers comes a techno-poppish clubby vibe that’s okay, but no great shakes. “Doughnuts Forever” and “Easy On the Onions” are highlights. B

Protoje, A Matter of Time (Easy Star / Mr. Bongo) I’m in no way averse to the blend of reggae and hip-hop (I got on board with Shinehead’s “Chain Gang Rap” back when it was new), but it’s been a while since the fusion really moved me. To be fair, I haven’t been hungrily seeking out the style, as this is my intro to Protoje. I stand converted; through his longtime producer Winta James, Protoje (real name Oje Ollivierre, from a musical family) engages with contempo ambiance and deepens it with an array of sharply played organic instrumentation at Tuff Gong Studios. The guitars by Robert “Dubwise” Browne are nice, and that nickname underscores some welcome dub flavors, but the Theremin/ singing saw-like sounds of the title cut are maybe the most appealing surprise. Features Chronixx on two tracks. CD and digital out 6/29, vinyl 8/3. B+

Happy Rhodes, Ectotrophia (Numero Group) Here’s a fascinating collection from a label with a discography loaded with ‘em. Starting in the mid-’80s, vocalist-instrumentalist-songwriter Happy Rhodes began releasing music, originally only on cassette, through the label of her friend and collaborator Kevin Bartlett. She’s had a cult following for a long while since. Oft-described as dream pop, a striking four-octave vocal range has brought comparisons to Kate Bush, which is fair (seeing Bush perform on SNL was a galvanizing moment for Rhodes) and overstated, as the typically excellent liners clarify Bush as just one course in a steady diet of the era’s art-pop a la Bowie and Gabriel. The songs here are evocative of that period instrumentally, but the DIY scale is mighty appealing. Destined to expand horizons. A-

Junior Wells, Coming at You (Craft) As on Hoodoo Man Blues, Buddy Guy is in the band here (alongside guitarist Lefty Dizz), and if this doesn’t reach the heights of Wells’ masterpiece, it’s still an enjoyable study in contrasts, as should be expected when down home-derived harmonica blends with citified horns. A rock ‘n’ roll-tinged version of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train” (check out that saxophone) underscores the roots in Wells’ recipe (he was born in Memphis and was reportedly taught by Parker), while a dive into Willie Dixon’s “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” swings the emphasis to Chicago; a pair of Sonny Boy Williamson tunes helps to bring the two sides together. That Guy’s in the lineup is no surprise, but trumpeter Clark Terry’s appearance in the horn section is. A good one for the shelf. B+

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