Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
August 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for August, 2020.

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, Cover Charge: NC Artists Go Under Cover to Benefit Cat’s Cradle (coverchargemusic.com / Bandcamp) Living as I do near the tiptop of North Carolina’s neighbor to the north, I’ve only been to Cat’s Cradle once…well, actually it was four consecutive nights while attending Merge Records’ 15th anniversary festivities back in 2004, an experience that persists as a wonderful memory. That’s one thing: live music, especially the kind that’s played in the close quarters of clubs, is about potential great times in the moment, but it’s also about remembrance, which is part of the reason people keep returning for more. But another thing: live music is impossible without musicians of course, but it also doesn’t happen without the investment of time and money into places to play, so in times like these, both artists and show venues are struggling. The straight scoop from the folks responsible for this digital-only benefit: the Cat’s Cradle is in trouble.

Featuring a slew of NC-based or aligned acts and bands, this batch of cover material rolls along with a few peaks and valleys but no outright stumbles or even hiccups, starting out with a version of The Go-Go’s’ “Can’t Stop the World” by Superchunk that fits into their energetic power-popping late period quite well, and concluding with a reading of Madonna’s “Dress You Up” by The Veldt that dishes an appealing groove landing smackdab between neo-psych and the dancefloor. Hot cha! The predictable (but still nicely done) covers of Neil Young (represented twice, thrice with Buffalo Springfield) are fine, but my faves are the unexpected or leftfield sources, like the roots double whammy of Southern Culture on the Skids’ “Let’s Work Together” from Wilbert Harrison and Dex Romweber’s “A Face in the Crowd” from Andy Griffith as sung in Elia Kazan’s film of the same name (very timely, as it’s about a populist fraud). At 25 tracks, this is a long one, but it rewards the time spent. And as said, the cause is worthy. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: James Booker, Classified (Craft) The legendary New Orleans pianist and singer James Booker doesn’t have an extensive studio discography. I rate this as his best in studio and maybe period, reissued by Craft in part to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rounder Records, who originally issued it in 1982; it’s a jewel in the label’s extensive discographical crown. Booker’s addictions shortened his life and career (he died shortly after making this album), surely damaging his opportunities to get on wax in a non-live context. Fittingly, this set’s contents reportedly came forth in a four-hour spurt after days of unproductive recording, but boy howdy, did a gem arise from that late gush of inspiration. Fleet of finger and smooth of voice, Booker’s playing style has similarities to Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, and Allen Toussaint just for starters, and his singing is approachably bluesy, reminiscent of Jimmy Reed blended with prime ’50s Atlantic R&B. Which brings us back to Fess. Not sure why Craft didn’t reissue the 2LP expanded edition from 2013. It would’ve received the +. A

Airto, Seeds on the Ground—The Natural Sounds of Airto (Real Gone) Last year, Real Gone reissued Natural Feelings, Brazilian drummer-percussionist Airto Moreira’s debut from 1970, his first of two for the Buddha label, and now here’s its follow-up in a pressing of 1,000 reproducing the original gatefold sleeve and on ocean blue vinyl. I remain impressed by Natural Feelings, and this set largely extends the blend of Música popular brasileira, bossa nova, folk, proto-world music and jazz elements, including fusion (as Airto was a member of Weather Report, Miles Davis’ electric band, and Return to Forever). The whole of this one is as pleasing as his first, bringing back the same players (including his vocalist wife Flora Purim and bassist Ron Carter). Reviewing Natural Feelings last year, I speculated that it was a distinct item in Airto’s discography; Seeds on the Ground clarifies that the two Buddha LPs are of a piece, though this one’s a bit more psychedelic and takes a definite turn toward fusion on side two. ‘tis OK. A-

Beth Anderson, Namely (Other Minds) Poet and composer Anderson has been on the avant-garde/ New Music scene since the ’70s. To expand upon her talents, from her biography, “she has composed an opera, an oratorio, three off-off Broadway musicals, several downtown music theater collaborations, music for orchestra, voice, chorus, tape, instrumental solos with and without electronic modulation, and a large amount of chamber music…” She is also a text-sound composer, a discipline also called sound poetry or poesie sonore, with Namely a hefty but thoroughly engaging thematic excursion into the form. Specifically, the CD holds 65 short pieces derived from the names of 65 of her influences, from her mother Melissa to her teachers John Cage and Terry Riley to a bunch of figures associated with writing and audible poetics (or hey, just text-sound) ranging from Jackson Mac Low, Gertrude Stein, John Giorno, Robert Ashley, Anne Waldman, Kurt Schwitters, and Laurie Anderson.

There is also a diverse stream of avant-gardists including Steve Reich, Byion Gysin, Martha Graham, Lou Harrison, Yoko Ono, Eric Satie, La Monte Young, Pauline Oliveros, Frederic Rzewski, and Meredith Monk. I also dig that Julius Eastman, Laurie Spiegel, and Pamela Z are here, as Hugo Ball and Nam June Paik connect old-school Dada to Fluxus, with the latter movement something of a baseline for Anderson’s work here. Her method involves making each name into a magic square and rotating around the geometry, with the names breaking down as other words emerge along with fragments, phonemes and letters. The results are undeniably avant in nature, the individual pieces all short but with consistencies and variations. “John Giorno” has motions reminiscent of theatrical performance, while “Terry Riley” offers some rolled Rs and barking dog gestures. R-r-r-r-ruff. Importantly, Namely is just damned fun to listen to, and if you’ve grabbed Lovely Music’s Robert Ashley reissues, I’ll bet you’ll be into this, too. A

Allegra Krieger, The Joys of Forgetting (Northern Spy) Although she has a couple of song collections available on her Bandcamp, this set is described as Krieger’s debut, and it’s quite impressive as such. Born in Florida and raised Catholic, she rejected that life and then underwent something of a transitory existence. Like many a wanderer-searcher, she landed in NYC; The Joys of Forgetting does exude a few big city folky vibes, though Krieger’s not much of a throwback. Something of an outlier here is “Rot,” which the PR describes as a wielding a grunge-rock sound, though it reminded me more of ’90s-era heavies Chan Marshall, Mary Timony, and Rebecca Gates. What I’m driving at is Krieger’s thrust is tangibly cerebral, which is an unmitigated positive. Other tracks here radiate a considerable chamber-folk sensibility, which is swank, with “Every Once in a While” conjuring thoughts of Nick Drake, which is even swanker. There’s cohesiveness to the whole, with strong singing and nimble picking. Major. A-

Man, Revelation (Real Gone) I’m guessing I’m like a lot of Yanks in that I first heard the Welsh outfit Man via the classic 2LP Greasy Truckers Party, where they were featured live at the Roundhouse with Binsley Schwarz, Hawkwind, and Magic Michael. At their best, Man served as a link in the chain connecting Quicksilver Messenger Service to White Heaven. For Revelation, their debut LP from ’69 originally on the Pye label in the UK and Phillips in the US, they were not yet at their best, but the set is still an enjoyable translation of West Coast psychedelia from when the stuff was still fresh and with some chunks of blues rock and prog (spacy, even) folded into the batter. Dee-lish! There are some pop motions and gentler folk gestures, as well. As you might’ve gleaned, Revelation is very much a representation of its era, but that’s okeydokey; the same can be said for Greasy Truckers Party.

And that Hammond organ reminds me more of The Nice than anything too progressively ornate. And the pop action doesn’t feel forced. Notably, Man was spawned from the Bystanders, who had a few minor UK hits including “When Jesamine Goes” and a cover of Keith’s “98.6.” Still, the pop here is often blended with ambitious tendencies, as in “Don’t Just Stand There (Come in Out of the Rain),” which reminds me of a single that might’ve been released by Immediate at the time. The simulated (or is it?) gal orgasm in “Erotica” brings the alb a certain kind of peak (heh), but it’s kinda like watching 16mm Swedish porn loops while the hi-fi is blaring in some high-rollers late-‘60s smut-den (so yeah, simulated pleasure). Released as a 45, naturally it was banned. Additional sourced audio adds to the strangeness, especially near the end of the record’s closing track “The Future Hides Its Face.” Oh, and this is also something of a concept album, though that’s not really noticeable until the end. A good one overall. B+

Jason Molina, Eight Gates (Secretly Canadian) The late Jason Molina is held in high esteem for his work in Songs: Ohia, a project which emerged in the mid-’90s, and then, around 2003, Magnolia Electric Co. (as the earlier moniker was retired), but he also released a few solo records during his lifetime; in 2020, that number gets increased by two. I haven’t heard Live at La Chapelle, a performance document captured in 2005 inside a church in Toulouse, France, but I’m keen to, largely because my interest in Molina’s has been rekindled by the arrival of Eight Gates. To elaborate, my own opinion of Molina’s work is high, but his stuff possesses an emotional power that I’ve preferred to approach incrementally. And so, I don’t come to this set with a perspective derived from expertise, though it’s still clear that these songs, captured in 2009 after Molina had moved to London, are collectively a work in progress, or, as they represent Molina’s final studio recordings, it’s maybe better said that they are simply unfinished.

I do stress collectively, as a few of the tracks register as full-bodied, possibly complete takes, like opener “Whisper,” the immediately following “The Shadow Answers the Wall,” and later in the record, “Fire on the Rail” and “Be Told the Truth.” The in progress/ unfinished quality comes in combination with entries that, acoustic and unaccompanied, strike my ear in this context as demos for further development. This is the case with “The Mission’s End” the brief “She Says,” which begins with studio banter and finishes by just trailing off, and finale “The Crossroad + the Emptiness” (this one also starts with conversation). However, the LP is a considerable success for a few reasons. First, the unfinished stuff is infused with the aforementioned emotional power (peaking for me in late cut “Thistle Blue”), lending cohesion and also helping a short record deliver a satisfying whole. The interweaving of birdsong also pulls things together, while “Old Worry” hits a midpoint between the LP’s opposing but equally gripping facets. A-

Shackleton & Zimpel, Primal Forms (Cosmo Rhythmatic) Sam Shackleton is a UK-based electronic producer who’s been active for most of the 21st century, releasing vinyl under his surname, often in collaboration, and co-running the defunct Skull Disco label. Here, he’s teamed up with Polish clarinetist Wacław Zimpel, who has an extensive avant-jazz background, having played on releases with the great clarinetist Perry Robinson, drummers Michael Zerang and Tim Daisy, and saxophonist Dave Rempis, plus his own discs on his label Tak Picture. You might be thinking, “electro-free jazz merger, ehh, ok,” but hold up there slick, as Zimpel’s main horn lends this immediate freshness, plus, he plays violin, harmonium, frame drum and percussion, E-piano and organ, lyre and monochord, across three long tracks. Along the way thoughts of Terry Riley give way to cathedral organ before the emergence of potent psych-drones and then ’70s Reich. Shackleton’s presence consistently deepens the whole. A-

Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit, Axis/Another Revolvable Thing (Blank Forms Editions) This live set, reissued both as two separate LPs in the manner and sequence of their original release by Offbeat Records in 1975 and on 2CD in chronological playing order for the first time, continues Blank Forms’ reissue program tackling the work of Japanese guitarist Takayanagi, following April is the cruelest month, which came out in June of 2019 (a reissue pick in this column at the time). A notable occurrence in Takayanagi’s background is getting blown away by “Free Form Guitar” from the debut album by Chicago Transit Authority (soon to be just plain ol’ Chicago), the piece totally rearranging his musical objectives. The result was the formation of New Direction for the Arts, soon to be renamed New Direction Unit.

Takayanagi’s epiphany is worth stressing here, as listening to these pieces as they were played can inspire a few thoughts of Windy City-based AACM and Art Ensemble abstract collectivity, which is only accentuated by multi-reed man Kenji Mori’s liking for flutes, plus a general lack of leadership atmosphere. Chronologically, a solo percussion piece “Fragment – III” (but 13 minutes long), delivered by Hiroshi Yamazaki (bassist Nobuyoshi Ino rounds out the group), separates the first two fragments, which are each given the parenthetical “Gradually Projection,” and the final three; these are dubbed “Mass Projection.” In short, the Unit moves through skittering loose interplay (a tad Euro free improv-like) into full-boil roar, though it’s important to relate how the pieces all offer rewarding progressions individually. Thusly, the preservation of the original vinyl sequences makes sense. The latter cuts can hit like an especially wild ESP-Disk or BYG-Actuel session with psych-rock/ out-rock guitar in the mix. The original performance flow is slightly preferred, but the vinyl progressions offer a comparable appeal. A

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