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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Negativland, True False (Seeland) This enduring and intermittently notorious outfit are better described as sound collagists and media satirists than a trad band. Old enough to have made the Nurse with Wound list, their ’87 record Escape from Noise is their masterpiece, or one of ‘em, anyway. One could say that the time is ripe for a new Negativland release (this is the first of two interconnected 2LPs), but the reality is that the time is forever ripe for their brand of deconstruction and commentary (here featuring the return of The Weatherman) plus the requisite guests (including Matmos’ M.C. Schmidt and guitarist Ava Mendoza). As agitators, Negativland are not partisan; True False’s making began in 2012. Strange, troubling, and occasionally funny, just like it’s always been. A-

Moonchy & Tobias, Atmosfere (Hidden Shoal – Tiny Room) While the second full-length from vocalist Pat Moonchy and multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias is self-described as a more subdued affair (adjusting the debut’s psychedelia), it still has numerous positives, including a comfort level that reinforces the duo as something more than a studio project. And although Moonchy’s often breathy voice enhances a persistently dreamy quality, it’s not like the psych aura has been eradicated. To the contrary, much of Tobias’ playing, in particular some solid acoustic fingerpicking, is nicely (if subtly) outward bound. But the icing on the cake (for me) is that Moonchy sings nearly the entire record in her native Italian, making the brevity of the whole a wee bit disappointing. Atmosfere is just over too damned quickly. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Willie Colón, The Hustler (Craft Latino) One of four reissued classics from the Fania catalog via Craft Recordings, three of which are available in brick and mortar stores (the other, listed below, is an October Record of the Month from subscription by mail service Vinyl Me, Please). We’re so far away from the ’60s that most people won’t immediately associate this record’s title and cover art with the Robert Rossen-directed, Paul Newman-starring flick about big money billiards, but that was the reference, and it signified a major break from the Latin music norms of the time, specifically a generally clean and safe image and an emphasis on boogaloo. The Hustler was a big step in the move toward salsa, featuring Colón’s trombone hugeness and Héctor Lavoe’s Spanish vocals. A

Curt Boettcher & Friends, Looking for the Sun (High Moon) Dawn Eden Goldstein’s excellent notes for this set begin by noting that Boettcher was once essentially forgotten, but these days, I’d guess that plenty of heavy-duty fans of ’60s pop know his work. This is the first collection to spotlight him as producer, arranger and writer. Having produced the Association hits “Cherish” and “Along Comes Mary” (plus Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea”), those cuts aren’t here. The biggest name is Sagittarius, who conclude the record, though there is an abundance of sunshine pop preceding them. When said style is average it can connect as a whole lot worse, but that’s not a problem here, as miraculously, Looking for the Sun improves as it progresses. I can’t think of a better compliment for Boettcher than that. A-

Celia Cruz & Johnny Pacheco, Celia & Johnny (Craft Latino) “Let me put it to you this way: Celia sounded good with a stick banging against a can. She didn’t need all those instruments.” That’s percussionist-bandleader Johnny Pacheco referring to Celia Cruz’s work with the Tito Puente Orchestra, reinforcing her stature as one of the great singers in Latin music. For this ’74 LP (the Vinyl Me, Please exclusive mentioned above) she engages with the noted “Pacheco groove,” as the set delivered the breakout record of her career (prior to joining Fania she’d been held back by the Tico label). I’ll venture a guess that I’m not alone in being principally attracted to Latin music for it’s instrumental adeptness and firepower, but the vocal dexterity, strength and beauty moves are substantial on this one. A

Celia Cruz & Tito Puente, Alma Con Alma (Craft Latino) So, was Johnny Pacheco correct regarding Cruz not needing all of Tito Puente’s instrumentation? Well, in my perspective he was, but with the considerable qualification that we’re dealing with a cornerstone of Latin jazz in timbales master and bandleader Puente. This record isn’t as powerful as Celia & Johnny, but it’s reportedly a deeper excursion than their prior collabs, favoring the Afro-Cuban style, though what’s immediately apparent is range that’s almost always a positive, from the funky flirtations of “Sahara” to the pop symphonics of “Alguien Vendra” to how these aspects come together in “Murmullo Del Mar” to the instrumental fiesta of “Guiro 6/8.” Cruz is in killer form throughout, so if slightly lesser I wouldn’t call this one inessential. A-

Fania All Stars, Live At Yankee Stadium Volume 1 & 2 (Craft Latino) With this edition, these two volumes are being released together for the first time. They are records of massive historical importance, with 40,000 people flooding into Yankee Stadium for this August 23, 1973 concert. In November of that year, the performance was repeated in Puerto Rico at the opening of Roberto Clemente Coliseum. Oddly, four of Vol. 1’s tracks are from the later concert (the exception is “Pueblo Latino”); on Vol. 2, three of the five are from NYC. That so much was chosen from the second show was due to higher recording quality. Once these factors are dealt with, both sets unwind pretty coherently, and while the large-scale big-band approach necessary for these nights is in full effect, there are still many worthy moments. A-

Happy Mondays, The Early EPs (London) If you’d asked me circa 1990 how I rated Happy Mondays, I likely would’ve replied not very fucking high, a sentiment that could’ve easily extended to nearly all of the Madchester experience. So, if you’re scanning down and scoping the grade this collection has earned, you might be thinking The Early EPs delivered an epiphany. Well, no. That’s specifically because I eventually stumbled upon a copy of Young, Popular & Sexy, a Factory Records comp from 1987 that opened with “Kuff Dam,” which was also the opener of their first album, though in 1990 I mainly knew them through their second and third LPs. “Kuff Dam” falls at the tail end of the timeframe covered here (’85-’87), as the set includes four EPs, each with its own 12-inch (in four different colors).

I will also add that my negative stance toward Happy Mondays (and Madchester in general) softened a bit, though that’s not the same as saying I reevaluated their proper albums. If I choose to give the LPs a reappraisal, all of them are getting reissued, per the label, “later this year” (time’s a wastin’). But don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves. Of these four EPs I like the first two, namely “Forty Five EP” and “Freaky Dancin/The Egg EP,” the best. I know, big fucking surprise. A largest part of the reason is that the aura of indie pop and “classic era” Factory is still tangible, though “Freaky Dancin” is clearly a transitional work. It’s still a good one, and if I don’t dig “Tart Tart EP” and “24 Hour Party People EP” (which is where it starts for a lot of people) as much, at this late date they are appealingly bold and weird. B+

The Joy Formidable, A Balloon Called Moaning (Hassle) When does an EP become a full-length release? Well, one way is when it’s reissued with an acoustic version of the original set’s eight songs but sung in the band’s native tongue, which is the case here, with the language being Welsh. “A Balloon Called Moaning” was already a rather generous affair, being longer than some releases that are designated as LPs. In fact, there is some difference of opinion over its format; now running over an hour, quibbling should be moot, at least for this edition, which is split over two LPs. As it was apparently issued on vinyl exactly once in 2010, the band could’ve executed a standard reissue without any fuss, but this pressing, an attempt to maintain a bond to their heritage, goes the extra mile.

I made my first significant acquaintance with The Joy Formidable last year in connection to their previous release, AARTH. I liked that record but can’t deny digging these 2010 selections a little more, in part because they have the urgency of the young band getting their first batch of songs onto tape and into stores. The contrast with the Welsh versions is striking, even to folks like me, who aren’t seasoned fans. I will add that the descriptor of acoustic (which comes courtesy of the label PR) should be taken somewhat loosely; not only is there a flare up of electricity, but the new versions get considerably lush. To my ear it’s not an improvement, but it’s far from a disaster and not even what I’d call disappointing. So, I’ll take the grades for the old stuff and the new stuff, average ‘em out and come up with a B+.

Jim Sullivan, S/T & If the Evening Were Dawn (Light in the Attic) This label’s 2010 release of Sullivan’s U.F.O., a ’69 private press that escaped notice upon release, helped to solidify singer-songwriter Jim Sullivan’s cult fandom (it was also a big step in Light in the Attic’s growth into a top-notch reissue label). U.F.O. came accompanied with the story of Sullivan’s eventual disappearance in the New Mexico desert. Authorities found his car, but not him, which draped a cloak of mysteriousness over the man’s work; it was often mentioned that Sullivan cut another album released in ’72, but unless one picked up the 2011 CD reissue of Jim Sullivan, it could be easy to misplace that a whole lot of living occurred before the man vanished on his way to Nashville for a career kickstart in ’75.

Why’d Sullivan need the take the Nashville route? A confluence of factors, but a big one was that his follow-up and essentially his attempted intro to the public at large was cut for Playboy Records. In the notes for the reissue, it’s mentioned that Hugh Hefner started the label because he thought Playboy model-actress Barbi Benton should have an album out, so it’s tempting to just say Sullivan was the victim of folly, but really, it seems more like there was just a lack of preparedness in distribution (ala another Light in the Attic reissue subject for the same era, Tumbleweed Records), as the recording of Jim Sullivan was undertaken with appropriate diligence. The record retains elements of U.F.O. (though hardly anybody at the time would’ve noticed) but magnifies his folk and country foundation.

It also has a few non-crap horn charts done on the fly by the record’s bassist Jim Hughart (for reasons lost to time, the original arranger didn’t work out). The bottom line is that the eponymous LP should’ve put him on the map, if not on a main thoroughfare than at least at a location easy to find. Over the years, hardcore Sullivan fans have located his less celebrated second effort anyway, but what they haven’t cozied up to is If the Evening Were Dawn, as it offers an acoustic session from ’69 holding four stripped-down versions of U.F.O. songs plus six unheard originals. Sometimes acoustic sessions are interesting and likeable but ultimately no big deal; if a demo, this one is a significant thing, and not just for the new tunes. Sullivan’s voice and guitar are a true pleasure for the ear throughout. A-/ A-

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