Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2019, Part Five

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Land of 1,000 Dances: The Rampart Records Complete Singles Collection (Minky) Here are four compact discs tucked snugly into pockets inside an essay and picture-packed hardcover book spotlighting the label that gifted unto the world the Los Angeles-based ’60s Mexican-American rock impulse, aka the “West Coast East Side Sound.” The larger intention of owner-producer Eddie Davis (who’s also credited with stewarding into existence the all-time classic “Farmer John” by The Premiers via his other label Faro) was to build an equivalent to Motown for Chicano performers, and if he didn’t reach Gordy’s levels of success, his company did carry on into the ’90s while adapting stylistically to the times.

That means there’s disco from Eastside Connection and even a cover of Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting,” in English and Spanish by Didi Scorzo. I’ll confess to having no use for that one as the later stuff is hit-and-miss, but roughly half of the set derives from the ’60s and is a stone blast of R&B instrumentals, vocal group sounds, Chicano soul, and yes, Mexican-American rock, of which Cannibal and the Headhunters’ cover of Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances” is a prime example. Other highlights include The Blendells’ cover of Stevie Wonder’s “La La La La La,” and The Village Callers’ killer “Hector Parts 1 & 2.” The background info is welcome, and the photos are pretty special, including previously unpublished shots the Headhunters’ ’65 tour as openers for The Beatles. A valuable thing. A-

New Riders of the Purple Sage, Thanksgiving in New York City (Live) (Omnivore) Captured at the Academy of Music in NYC on November 23, 1972, this is six sides of country-rock hippie style for Black Friday, though the 2CD and digital aren’t available until 12/6. In their hippie comportment the New Riders (by this point sans Jerry Garcia on pedal steel, replaced by Buddy Cage) could get a little eccentric, but mainly through vocalist John “Marmaduke” Dawson and a few of his song selections (like R.B. Greaves’ “Take a Letter Maria,” which they later cut in the studio). The rest of the members; alongside Cage, that’s guitarist David Nelson, bassist Dave Torbert, and drummer Spencer Dryden (Nelson and Torbert also sang), were busy being crack instrumentalists. The pleasure offered here never ebbs. A-

Edan, Beauty and the Beat (Lewis Recordings) Edan’s 2002 debut Primitive Plus endures as a mainstay of alt-underground-indie hip hop, but his ’05 follow-up is even better as it enters into psychedelic realms without the negative connotations that frequently emerged when druggy expansiveness mingled with rap’s intensity and forward momentum. Indeed, Edan continues to explore the classic structural launching pad of late ’80s-’90s hip-hop in a manner that’s far deeper than the typical cred-establishing nods to the past (making this a true extension of his first album), but more importantly, his approach to psychedelia is never shallowly, stereotypically trippy. Truly bent, there are more ideas in the consecutive “Rock and Roll” and “Beauty” than in many hip-hop records twice this one’s length (a tidy 34 minutes). A

Alex Chilton, “My Rival” (Omnivore) There is perhaps no more enticing a phrase in music fandom than “newly discovered tape reel.” That is the scenario here, with the contents grooved into 10-inch vinyl and offering what might be the last collab between Big Star bandmates Chilton and Chris Bell. It was during this period, late-’75, with Sister Lovers recorded but shelved because nobody wanted to release it, that Chilton sang backup on Bell’s “You and Your Sister.” Bell was briefly visiting Memphis between stays in England with a notion to maybe reunite Big Star. As Chilton was at a low point, that didn’t happen (in Bell’s lifetime, anyway), but these four tracks (and an aborted take) of Chilton with Bell engineering did. It’s scrappy but not as surly as one might think. A worthwhile acquisition for the Chilton-passionate. B+

Patsy Cline, Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Studio Masters (1960 – 1963) (Third Man) On the infrequent occasions when I’m asked where I’m from or where I currently live, I answer Winchester, VA, which mostly elicits no further retort, but every once in a while someone perks up and says “Hey, Patsy Cline,” for my city is where she was born, and I usually respond with something like “yeah.” Now, the brevity of my rejoinder is not due to a low opinion of Cline or indifference over her work but the basic reality that I’ve been cognizant of her music for a good long time; in fact, I was a teenager when the 1985 Cline biopic Sweet Dreams came out, and you can probably imagine the hubbub that transpired in her hometown around the time said flick hit theaters.

Later in the ’80s I made the acquaintance of folks who were openly disdainful, vociferously even, over the pop malady in country music. This perspective helped to kickstart the early alt-country movement, elevated the visages of Outlaws past to Rushmore-like status and championed the authenticity of Dwight Yoakum, Lyle Lovett, and Steve Earle. I tend to agree with this viewpoint, but with the caveat that pop and legit country aren’t necessarily incompatible. Amid the Bakersfield verve, people tend to miss or maybe just choose to ignore that Merle and Buck both had some sharp pop instincts (they just did it on their terms), to say nothing of George Jones. The Countrypolitan impulse did churn out an assload of subpar material, but the ’60-’70s non-Outlaw country scene wasn’t a total wasteland.

Kitty Wells preceded her, and she had contemporaries like Brenda Lee, but Cline’s Decca discography, which began with “I Fall to Pieces,” was for decades essentially the pop crossover blueprint for women in country music. The biggest reason for her success was vocal strength and control when delivering prime material, with her interpretations of songs by Willie Nelson now deeply ensconced in her biography (poor song selection was the main reason for her early commercial struggles). There’s also Owen Bradley’s string arrangements adding dimension to the proceedings rather than coating them with syrup, vocal support from The Jordanaires, and piano by Floyd Cramer. Issued on 2CD in 2010 by Hip-O Select, that was the first time all the Decca material was released together. Here it is on vinyl. A

CRIME, “San Francisco’s First and Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Band: Live 1978” (Superior Viaduct) The main attraction here is a 35-minute DVD (in color, region free) of a live performance by this essential early Bay Area punk outfit, captured in 1978 at Mabuhay Gardens. However, my digital promo came with no encoded video footage, so the grade below specifically pertains to the double 7-inch, with its runtime totaling nearly 25 minutes. The audio isn’t pristine but it’s better than bootleg quality and it really underscores how massive this band was early on. In case you know them only through “Hot Wire My Heart,” which was covered by Sonic Youth on Sister, that song’s not here, but its flip side “Baby You’re So Repulsive” is. Another prime cut “Murder By Guitar” closes out the set with a bang. A-

Fight, War of Words (Real Gone) I like Judas Priest and have in fact paid to witness them perform live, but I must admit that the band released quite a few more records than I’ve kept track of over the years, which is partly because the ones I did hear beyond their canonical stuff didn’t impress me that much. I did check out this 1993 album, the first of two from the band Halford formed after temporarily leaving Judas Priest, back when it came out; I liked it then and I like it a little more now, largely because of its consistency. There are similarities to the Priest, but this is mostly its own very thrash metal-informed thing, and it should be added that it’s a smart record, though it doesn’t go out of its way to draw attention to this aspect. They could’ve shaved off a few tunes and released them as an EP, however. B+

Josephine Foster and The Supposed, All the Leaves Are Gone (Fire) In this reissue’s short promo text by Steve Krakow (aka Plastic Crimewave), the illustrator-writer-impresario mentions that only a small number of heads were in tune with All the Leaves Are Gone upon its initial 2004 release. Krakow was surely amongst the enlightened few, as he contributed the album’s cover art. On one hand, this notion seems off base, as the ’00s were flush with records exploring the intersection of folk, psych, and rock, which, along with Foster in powerhouse vocal mode, are the elements at play on this LP. But on the other hand, rarely has acid-folk been offered up with such intensity, with Brian Goodman whipping off some magnificent guitar burn and Foster’s singing capable of triggering a rash of goosebumps. A

Herbie Hancock, Directstep (Get On Down) Hancock went to Japan to cut this album, released only in that country in 1979, Direct-To-Disc; later, it was one of the first compact discs. Direct-To-Disc meant the session was immediately preserved as a high-quality acetate as the possibility of any overdubs was nixed. Obviously, Hancock and his band could handle it, though he brings in keyboardist Webster Lewis so they could both effectively double on the array of state-of-the-art synths. That brings us to the fusion nature of the whole shindig, which decidedly falls somewhere outside my bag. With this said, the live nature helps render portions of this as fairly appealing, though just as much can be aptly described as tough sledding, e.g. the extended vocoder hijinks in the 15-minute “I Thought It Was You.” B-

The Prefects, Going Through the Motions (Call of the Void) Most of this spotlight on a storied (they took part in The Clash’s White Riot tour) but underheard early punk band from Birmingham, UK was on Amateur Wankers, a 2004 compilation released by Acute Records, but that was CD only. Featuring Robert Lloyd, later of The Nightingales (this was his first band), The Prefects’ entire recorded output emerged posthumously, including their Rough Trade 7-inch and Peel Sessions, all of which are sequenced here and comprise the bulk of the record (not included: their 13 second song “VD”). The contents hit a sweet spot between ragged art-punk and the shambolic nature of UK DIY, so if you dig Swell Maps and Desperate Bicycles, it’s a safe bet you’ll want this one around the house. A-

Buffy Sainte-Marie, Illuminations (Craft) Originally released on Vanguard as the sixth album from this often-overlooked folksinger, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Illuminations makes abundantly clear that she was also an experimenter, at least for a little while. A cult record in large part due to Sainte-Marie’s use of electronics including the then novel Buchla synthesizer, the results are appealingly psychedelic in effect, which is to say, she avoids cliché while getting beyond mere surface applications. This is not to infer that Illuminations doesn’t sound like it was created in the ’60s (this reissue celebrates its 50th anniversary); it surely does, and that’s just fine. Productively broadening the record’s range are her dives into psych-rock on side two. A-

Tony Joe White, That on the Road Look “Live” (Real Gone) This set was recorded to multitrack tape in late 1971 while White was touring as the opener for Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the claim that it just might be his best album isn’t hyperbole. All of White’s stylistic ingredients; blues, rock, soul, country, and swamp funkiness, can go down a storm when well-rendered in front of an audience, and that’s exactly what transpires here. The band is tack-sharp (featuring Duck Dunn on bass), with White in fine voice as his always considerable swagger level is only heightened in this setting (the large crowd is receptive). His guitar and harmonica are tight, too. Unreleased at the time, this was belatedly available online but can now be purchased in stores on 2LP (while vinyl, natch) with notes by Ben Vaughan. A-

The Wrens, Silver (Craft) If you are a vinyl-loving fan of The Wrens, this reissue of the band’s debut, initially released by Grass Records in 1994, is undeniably a big deal, as it’s getting its first edition on wax, coke bottle clear across four sides in fact, for RSD Black Friday 2019. Now, it took me a while to check out this record, and for a fickle reason, as Grass’ initial logo was crappy (look it up and see), and I therefore avoided their releases (they did have some other quality bands including Brainiac and The Karl Hendricks Trio). Actually, it took me a good long while to hear this record period, as it was kinda scarce for a stretch due to some well-documented label troubles with the guy who bought Grass. Changing the name to Wind Up, he then turned it into a mersh rock entity (ever hear of Creed and Evanescence?).

The Wrens didn’t want to go that route and the fallout of parting ways is that their first two albums landed in limbo. They’ve only put out three, this one, ’96’s Secaucus, and ’03’s The Meadowlands for Absolutely Kosher. Well, there was the self-released tape Overnight Success in ’98, but good luck finding that one. And for a time, good luck was what you would’ve needed to score a copy of Silver and Secaucus; I stumbled onto both in a used bin circa 2002. I agree with the consensus that The Meadowlands is The Wrens’ best record and that they got better with each successive release. That would make Silver the least of ‘em, but it’s still a pretty special thing. In a nutshell, its sound is emblematic of ’90s indie rock at its best. But like many CDs from the era, it’s too damned long. A-

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