Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2021, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November 2021. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Hedvig Mollestad, Tempest Revisited (Rune Grammofon) Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen has released seven full-length recordings with her trio, all of them on Rune Grammofon, including Ding Dong. You’re Dead in March of this year. This might lead one to the supposition that this is a solo set, but no; recorded in 2019, it offers five tracks by a septet featuring assorted saxophones, vibraphone, bass, two drummers, a little flute and synth, plus Mollestad’s guitar (she’s also credited with vocals, upright piano, and handclaps). Similar to her trio material, the sound here is a robust fusion, merging rock and jazz in a manner that’s primarily hard and heavy (not bluesy) and expansive rather than explicitly proggy. There are a few pleasant atmospheric stretches and some solid groove action that doesn’t go overboard. Considered a bookend to The Tempest, a work by the late and highly esteemed Norwegian electronic musician and composer Arne Nordheim, this album continues a streak of creativity likely to please adventurous rock heads and non-stodgy jazzbos alike. A-

Wet Tuna, Eau’d To a Fake Bookie Vol. 1 & 2 (Hive Mind) Wet Tuna has been showered with enthusiasm in this space before. The outfit is the impetus of MV and PG Six (aka guitarists Matt Valentine and Pat Gubler), two individuals with deep and varied u-ground psych catalogs who’ve played together extensively for the last 25 years or so, back in the day as part of Tower Recordings and more recently as Wet Tuna. This 2LP is a vinyl press of a limited edition 2CD that came out last year on the Child of Microtones label, consisting of six cover selections, with MV and PG Six multitasking instrumentally while welcoming additional hands on bass and drums. The first LP offers two side-long tracks, “When I Get Home” by Pentangle and “Water Train” by Michael Hurley, that brought to mind both Lou Reed and Skip Spence’s Oar. LP two shortens the runtimes but broadens the sound with programmed drums, organ and synth on versions of “Fallin’ Like Dominoes” by The Blackbyrds, “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff, “Deal” by Jerry Garcia, and “Baudelaire” by Peter Laughner. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Phương Tâm, Magical Nights: Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul (1964-1966) (Sublime Frequencies) South Vietnamese singer Phương Tâm’s entire career is covered by the three-year period of the title, which makes the sheer range on display all the more impressive, as it includes assorted strains of early R&R (with an emphasis on pre-Beatles dance craze igniters), soul-R&B, bluesy numbers, and jazz ballads. The informative texts in the booklet by Magical Nights’ producers Mark Gergis and Hannah Hà (Tâm’s daughter) explain how Tâm was as much of a club performer as a recording artist, often appearing in up to four venues in the course of one evening and necessitating the breadth of style, as some catered to R&R-loving youth while others were more sophisto. Holding it all together on this CD of 25 tracks is Tâm with vocals strong and confident. She might not be as polished as some of her Western inspirations, but that’s actually part of the appeal, as Tâm is never not in control, her verve combining beautifully with the lean energy of the bands. A large serving of personality-laden history. A

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Graded on a Curve: Graham Parker
& the Rumour,
Three Chords Good

Celebrating Graham Parker on his 71st birthday.Ed.

While he experienced much success in the ‘80s and beyond, these days Graham Parker’s best work is widely considered to be the fine run of albums he recorded in the mid/late-‘70s with The Rumour, a group of pub rock vets that helped propel the singer-songwriter into the company of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and the young Joe Jackson as a direct, classicist (and UK-based) breath of fresh musical air. They’re back together again after a 30-plus year break with Three Chords Good. It’s a solid if modest success, mainly because its attitudes regarding the past and the present are kept in proper balance.

Graham Parker was a smart lyricist, a strong vocalist, a generous bandleader, and his influences were generally impeccable; as a result he became a critic’s fave in an era that frequently jettisoned such artists to the cut-out bins, though happily the man accumulated a large enough following to avoid being labeled as a commercial casualty.

If Parker had the songs and the attitude, The Rumour’s pub rock pedigree proved key in bringing it all to fruition. Guitarist Brinsley Schwarz and keyboardist Bob Andrews had previously been members (along with Nick Lowe) of the band Brinsley Schwarz, a terrific outfit if one cursed by record label hype, sort of the UK equivalent to San Francisco’s Moby Grape. Brinsley Schwarz was the forerunner of such pub rock staples as Dr. Feelgood and Ducks Deluxe, a group that included Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont.

Additionally, drummer Steve Goulding and bassist Andrew Bodnar had worked in the band Bontemps Roulez, and the Rumour Horns rounded out what was much more than just a backing band. For The Rumour released three pretty swell if not earth shattering albums of their own, starting with ‘77’s Max for Phonogram and followed by a pair for Stiff, ‘79’s Frog Sprouts Clogs and Krauts and ‘80’s covers heavy Purity of Essence.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2021, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November 2021. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Henry H. Owings, Plus 1 Athens: Show Flyers From a Legendary Scene 1967-2002 (Chunklet Industries) Unless I’m misremembering, Athens, GA was the first city that entered my consciousness specifically as a locale of a music scene. This was no small thing. Although I preferred the sounds of other regions, Athens heavily impacted my consciousness as a place of possibilities achieved, and in my imagination, against substantial odds, at least until I learned that dozens of college towns across the country had scenes. But it’s not like that realization burst my bubble. Offering over 150 flyers (and one guest list) chronicling a city’s musical development, Owings book effectively captures the non-glamor of the Athens experience (this attribute shared with other college rock-indie rock scenes) while documenting a range of styles considerably wider than Southern new wave and jangle.

Owings allows bands no more than three appearances, so instead of 52 flyers of R.E.M., the pages present a narrative of substantial depth as distinct pockets of the scene get illuminated, including the welcome appearance of a few leftfield outfits like Boat Of and the Opal Foxx Quartet, plus a fair amount of out-of-towners, ranging from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Fugazi to Hasil Adkins and Southern Culture on the Skids. Together with Owings’ thoughtfully personal introduction, there is a forward by Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, an afterword by Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers, and essays from Michael Lachowski and Vanessa Hay of Pylon and Arthur Johnson of the Bar-B-Q Killers. Anybody who fond memories of a wall in their humble college-era dwelling decorated with tacked up show flyers understands the appeal of such supposed ephemera (spawned from necessity). There’s an abundance of it in this book, with its first hand numbered edition limited to 500 copies. A

Daxma, Unmarked Boxes (Blues Funeral Recordings / Majestic Mountain Records) To begin, the name is pronounced DOCK-ma and it’s a term for a Zoroastrian funerary temple. The band, comprised of Isaac R. (guitar-vocals-bass), Jessica T. (violin, vocals, guitar, piano), Forrest H. (guitar, bass), and Thomas I. (drums), is from Oakland, CA, with Unmarked Boxes their second full-length alongside two EPs since 2016. Described as a post-doom combo, Daxma’s ambitiousness is on full display here, with the record drawing inspiration from a poem by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi  (his line “Don’t grieve, anything you lose comes back in another form” titles the last two tracks). The sound is heavy but also atmospheric. Notably, the band employs “post-metal” as a descriptor, which strikes me as a genre extension of post-rock. I bring this up because the atmospheric qualities occasionally brought Godspeed You! Black Emperor to my mind. I’m not the first to mention this similarity; while it’s not overdone, the relationship is certainly there. And that’s swell. So are the vocals. Eminently relistenable. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Leo Nocentelli, Another Side (Light in the Attic) Nocentelli is best known as the guitar player and songwriter in The Meters, the decidedly funky New Orleans institution. This recently-unearthed solo album (the story features “Money Mike” Nishita and a Southern California swap meet), recorded between 1970-’72 with assistance from pianist Allen Toussaint, drummer James Black, and fellow Meters, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, is largely acoustic and therefore not inaccurately described as folky, but it’s still a pretty funky affair, which is cool. It can be hard not to think of Bill Withers as the songs unwind, but that’s just fine, as thoughts of Bill Withers have never been a problem for me. But along with a few instances that inch toward swamp pop (“Riverfront” reminds me a bit of Tony Joe White with a hint of Shuggie Otis), everybody’s playing is sharp, and Nocentelli’s singing is consistently likeable, especially on “Getting Nowhere” and an album-closing version of Elton John’s “Your Song.” Another sweet surprise from a reissue label full of them. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Bush Tetras,
Rhythm and Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras

Bush Tetras are an essential New York City band, with their early recordings a vital chapter in the story of no wave and their impact on the early ’00s dance punk uprising undeniable. But that’s only part of their history, a reality driven home by Rhythm and Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras, which offers three 180-gram LPs and a 46-page LP-sized perfect bound book with an exclusive essay by Marc Masters, plus appreciative writings by Thurston Moore, Nona Hendryx, Topper Headon and more, all snugged into an attractive box with an always helpful lift ribbon. A two CD set in a four-panel digipak is also available, as is the digital option, natch. It’s all out now via Wharf Cat Records.

Bush Tetras formed in 1979 and stabilized with the lineup of vocalist Cynthia Sley, guitarist Pat Place, bassist Laura Kennedy, and drummer Dee Pop (who sadly passed in his sleep on October 9, RIP to a great one). Place’s prior experience in the Contortions (the band of vocalist-saxophonist James Chance, don’tcha know) solidifies the connection to no-wave; additionally, Adele Bertei, also a Contortion, was the Bush Tetras’ singer for their first show.

The quick departure of Bertei and original guitarist Jimmy Joe Uliana ushered in Sley and Place, with the four-piece debuting via a three-song 45 on the legendary 99 Records in 1980. That the A-side “Too Many Creeps” has persevered as Bush Tetras’ signature song should in no way imply that they peaked early. They just burst out hard and made an immediate (and lasting) impression.

“Snakes Crawl” and “You Taste Like the Tropics” comprise the other side of that first 45 and cement that Bush Tetras weren’t a one-song wonder. Unsurprisingly, the tracks from their debut release open Rhythm and Paranoia followed by ten more from the band’s storied first phase, which culminated in 1984 before they could cut a proper full-length.

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Graded on a Curve:
Beach Fossils,
The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads

Led by vocalist-guitarist Dustin Payseur, New York City’s Beach Fossils, extant since 2009, have established their name in the indie rock field, which makes new record The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads a definite twist in the program. The title should provide the clue-in to a decidedly jazzy state of affairs, as Payseur gives eight Beach Fossils tunes (a “greatest hits”) an infusion of classicism with the help of old bandmate Tommy Gardner on piano, saxophone, and upright bass and Henry Kwapis on drums. It’s a gamble that could’ve proved disastrous but through solid judgment and sturdy execution is a wholly enjoyable undertaking, out November 19 on LP, CD, cassette, and digital via Bayonet Records.

The influence of jazz on rock musicians is no new thing of course, but the impact is predominantly tied to later groundbreaking chapters in the constantly evolving style, namely Modal, Fusion, and Avant-garde inclinations. Outside of Steely Dan and a few of that’s band’s cohorts from the sophisto ’70s, rarely has jazz balladry, an impulse often associated with standards, been the source of rock inspiration, particularly after the punk era.

In the promotional text for this album, Payseur cites his love for Lester Young, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, and Coleman Hawkins. These are easy names to drop, but as The Other Side of Life plays, it becomes pretty clear that Payseur has spent enough time listening to classic mid-20th century jazz to avoid cheapening what he steals (to borrow a phrase from the late Andrew Sarris).

Naturally, there are exceptions to the above stated lack of ballad-loving rockers, but rather than list a few and then partake in a compare and contrast thing, it seems more productive to instead delve into what makes Payseur’s record stand out and stand up as worthwhile. For starters, his ace in the hole is Gardner, a Julliard grad (and Beach Fossils’ prior drummer) who is more than merely competent on his three instruments here and who additionally collaborated on the arrangements with Payseur.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2021, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November 2021. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Patrick Shiroishi, Hidemi (American Dreams) Los Angeles-based Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist & composer Shiroishi named this record in memory of his grandfather Hidemi Patrick Shiroishi, with its contents directly related to his 2020 album Descension, which was primarily an expression of life inside the Japanese-American concentration camps of WWII. That set, featuring saxophone and electronics, stands as an uncompromising yet cathartic experience, but Hidemi, with its more personal focus on his grandfather’s post-camp life, offers great beauty amid passages of raucous power as Shiroishi plays C-melody, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, multitracking the horns in studio to often startling effect. While there are elements of free jazz abstraction in the mix, this is a highly structured record that is further elevated by Shiroishi’s vocals on the final track, “The Long Bright Dark.” Vinyl has been pushed back to February/March. There is an accompanying chapbook of essays from Asian-American artists including Susie Ibarra, Jon Irabagon, and Eyvind Kang. A

Sally Anne Morgan, Cups (Thrill Jockey) As a member of the Black Twig Pickers and as half of House and Land, multi-instrumentalist Morgan has amassed a considerable body of work, but it was only last year that her terrific solo debut Thread was released. Cups is its follow-up, released on cassette October 1 with the digital available tomorrow, 11/12. No mention is made of additional contributors, so it’s safe to assume that Morgan is using the studio to its full advantage and playing fiddle, banjo, guitar, dulcimer, and assorted percussion. What might be lost in interactive spontaneity is replaced with intensity of personal vision; Cups is a recording that’s inextricably connected to Appalachian old-time tradition, but with an expansiveness (Thrill Jockey describes it as psychedelic) elevating the contents into the realms of the experimental. In “Hori Hori” the guitar is reminiscent of prime early Fahey (in terms of pure beauty, not dexterity), while closer “Angeline” exudes some tremendous raga vibes. In between there are elements of drone and cyclical maneuvers that are subtly Minimalist. An altogether superb excursion. A

Ross Goldstein, Chutes & Ladders (Odd Cat) This is the third LP in Goldstein’s trilogy for mellotron (preceded by The Eighth House in 2018 and Timoka last year), a highly satisfying culmination that, like the prior two albums, avoids disintegrating into a faux-orchestral swamp. It’s important to note that the entirety of the LP’s sounds derive from the mellotron’s soundcard library (the same is true of The Eighth House and Timoka, with the exception of a field recording of a hot springs on the former and the sound of Goldstein’s cat on the later), and also that Goldstein is using a digital simulation of an original modal. Much of Chutes & Ladders radiates like extracts of film soundtracks, and especially the recording of Beethoven’s “Allegretto,” which sounds like it could’ve been culled from an obscure Eastern European art film from the late ’60s, and a closing reading of Shostakovich’s “Largo.” Many of the original pieces, and particularly so with “Socorro” and “Journey to the End of the Night” (nice Céline reference there) delver a sort of mystical sci-fi atmosphere that brought Tarkovsky to mind, which is fantastic. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Bootheels, 1988: The Original Demos (Omnivore Recordings) Doubtlessly some folks who are hip to the background of this band but have yet to soak up the 13 tracks (plus three extra on the CD and digital) have glanced downward just a bit on their screens, absorbed the given grade and are sure the mark’s just too kind: “They were just teenagers, how can it be that good.” Well, for one thing, some of the best R&R ever was made by teens, and The Bootheels are unabashedly R&R in orientation. Second, the lineup doesn’t just feature one musician who went on to proverbial bigger and better, there are four, namely future Freewheeler Luther Russell (also half of Those Pretty Wrongs with Jody Stephens), Jakob Dylan and Tobi Miller, later of The Wallflowers, and Aaron A. Brooks  who went on to play with Moby and Lana Del Rey. This isn’t one budding talent surrounded by modest cohorts, it’s four skilled guys bursting with energy. Yes, their stuff sounds a lot like the Replacements, but had these songs came out in ’88 I would’ve played them a helluva lot more than Don’t Tell a Soul. A-

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Graded on a Curve: R&B in DC 1940–1960: Rhythm & Blues, Doo Wop, Rockin’ Rhythm and more…

The Bear Family label is justly celebrated for their extensive and attractive box sets. With R&B in DC 1940-1960 they’ve hit a grand slam four times over. That means 16 loaded CDs and a 352-page LP-sized hardcover book authored by the set’s researcher-compiler Jay Bruder. This chronologically sequenced deep dive, peppered with a few well-known artists and acts but dominated by undeservedly undersung names, details the evolution of a genre from inside the boundary lines of a city that’s musical claims to fame (bluegrass, go-go, punk) were yet to come. It’s a meticulously assembled revelation and an absolute joy to the ear, an inexhaustible investment that’s available now, but limited to 1,500 copies.

There’s a fantastic story in Jay Bruder’s introduction for R&B in DC’s book that details a disc cut by the vocal group The Blue Jays. I mention it not to divulge the tale (it’s too good to spoil) but to simply relate how a love of recorded music, when combined with the sheer determination of discovery, a little good luck and the unpredictability of chance, can uncover mysteries that over time, as more is learned, clarify the trajectory of the past.

R&B in DC is positively overflowing with not just historical info but well-ordered portraiture and sharp perspective. To merely regurgitate parts of the book in this already sizeable review would do Bruder and Bear Family’s achievement a disservice. Instead, the focus will be on the sounds as they evolve, with the understanding that the contents are the byproduct of a city scene that wasn’t a major recording center on a national level. While record labels emerged, the more well-known names and songs here were predominantly released by or licensed to larger companies outside the city.

Understandably, disc one’s offerings are to differing degrees distinct from the set’s overall thrust, featuring material that’s considerably jazzier and with much of it leaning toward big bands, including two cuts by Billy Eckstine and His Orchestra. Those are welcome treats, but for me, the winners on the first disc are the International Sweethearts of Rhythm’s two versions of the lively call-and-response groover “Jump Children,” plus a pair of robust numbers from Ernie Fields and His Orchestra that remind me just a tad of Count Basie.

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Graded on a Curve:
Devin Hoff,
Voices From the Empty Moor (Songs of Anne Briggs)

Bassist, composer, and arranger Devin Hoff has been on the scene for a couple decades now, working extensively as a collaborator in an assortment of styles and issuing a string of highly regarded solo bass recordings. His latest release delivers a twist, collecting nine interpretations of songs associated with the great British folk singer Anne Briggs, with seven of the pieces featuring guest contributors including singers Sharon Van Etten and Julia Holter, saxophonist Howard Wiley, and Dirty Three drummer Jim White. Transcending mere tribute, Voices From the Empty Moor (Songs of Anne Briggs) is out November 12 on sea foam green vinyl, compact disc and digital through Kill Rock Stars.

Although her discography is modestly sized, Anne Briggs is one of the essential figures in British folk, an interpreter of traditional songs and a writer of her own stuff who played guitar and bouzouki but predominately sang a cappella. Her first two recorded songs, “She Moves Through the Fair,” and “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” are amongst her most famous; they were cut live after Briggs, still a teenager, had been invited by Ewan MacColl to join Center 42, a touring cultural initiative spawned by the Trades Union Congress in Britain.

First heard on the two volumes released by the Transatlantic label documenting the Edinburgh Folk Festival where Briggs appeared with Center 42, the songs were compiled on the CD A Collection (1999) which also included her output for the Topic imprint, specifically the EP “The Hazards of Love” (1964), her contributions to the thematic collaborations The Iron Muse (A Panorama of Industrial Folk Song) (1963), and The Bird in the Bush (Traditional Erotic Songs) (1966), and her eponymous LP (1971).

Issued by Bo’Weavil in 2006, The Complete Topic Recordings features all of the above except the two Edinburgh tracks on double vinyl. Topic also brought out a new edition of “Hazards of Love” for Record Store Day in 2014 and repressed her first album in March of this year. A month later, Earth Recordings reissued  The Time Has Come, Briggs’ second LP, cut in 1971 for CBS. A third album, Sing a Song for You, was recorded in ‘73 with the band Ragged Robin, but it remained on the shelf until ’96 due to Briggs’ dissatisfaction with her vocals. It’s received a handful of vinyl reissues in the 21st century.

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Graded on a Curve:
King Champion Sounds, Between Two Worlds

On October 22, Hive Mind Records released Between Two Worlds, the 13-track double album from King Champion Sounds. The Dutch band’s latest augments their core lineup of seven, namely Ajay Saggar, Oli Heffernan, G W Sok, Mees Siderius, Holly Habstritt Gaal, Elsa van der Linden and Chris Moerland, with august guests including Mia Doi Todd, Gerry Love (formerly of Teenage Fanclub), Sally Timms and Jon Langford (of the Mekons), Janet Beveridge Bean (of Eleventh Dream Day and Freakwater), and Glasgow poet Marieke McKenna. The results spread out stylistically and durationally, cohering into a strong late-year entry on 2021’s list of new releases. It’s available on 2LP and digital.

The autumn arrival of Between Two Worlds bookends pretty nicely with Oh Temple!, the first record by the kosmische and expansionist rock-aligned University Challenged, also a double set and also released by Hive Mind back on January 29, 2021, this connection pertinent as Ajay Saggar and Oli Heffernan are two-thirds of that band.

King Champion Sounds have chalked up their fifth album with Between Two Worlds if you count the 2014 10-inch Songs for the Golden Hour, which I do because they do. This means they’ve been around a while longer than University Challenged. To nail it down, King Champion Sounds was formed by Saggar and G W Sok, a former member of The Ex, in 2013, with debut Different Drummer coming out that year. Song for the Golden Hour followed, then To Awake in That Heaven of Freedom in 2016 and For a Lark in 2018 (three 7-inch records have also been released, the latest in 2019, a split with Surplus 1980).

Through it all, the lineup has been surprisingly stable (alongside Saggar and Sok, Heffernan, Siderius and Moerland have contributed since Different Drummer), which is pretty crucial when inviting so many guests into the recording process. From To Awake in That Heaven of Freedom forward, they’ve welcomed the guitars of J Mascis, Tom Carter, Alasdair Roberts and Steve Gunn, the saxophone of Ab Baars, the electronics of BJ Nilssen, the violin of Saskia van der Giessen, and the vocals of Imaad Wasif and Mike Watt (and I note that this is an incomplete list).

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Graded on a Curve:
Cuba: Music and Revolution Vol. 2

Compiled by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, Cuba: Music and Revolution Vol. 2 pulls off an exceedingly rare trick, following up their introductory volume with no lessening of quality, nary a smidgeon in fact, while documenting the same ten years of transition, specifically 1975-’85. The full title’s descriptor Clash in Havana: Experiments in Latin Music is borne out by the 22 selections, most of which, as with Vol. 1, have had limited exposure outside of Cuba. But as the distinctiveness of style unfurls, rhythms potent and pleasurable, expressed forcefully but with flair, unite the set’s contents. It’s scheduled to arrive October 29 on 3LP with a download code and on 2CD, through Soul Jazz Records.

Much of the music featured on this collection and its precursor gets spotlighted in the large format book Cuba: Original Album Cover Art of Cuban Music (a necessary truncation of a much longer, colon-loaded title) currently available through Soul Jazz Books, with its contents also compiled and edited by the noted French-born UK-based broadcaster Peterson and the owner-operator of the Soul Jazz empire Baker (for those on a budget, booklets do accompany both releases).

Rather than repeat Paterson and Baker’s background research on these musicians, a few of them heard on both volumes, we’ll leave that (other than some basic discographical info) for later discovery. Instead, this review will focus on the sheer range that’s in evidence across Vol. 2, with the understanding that the true yardstick of a compilation’s value is based upon the strength of its sounds.

Returning from Vol. 1, Juan Pablo Torres Y Algo Nuevo kick off the set with the opening track from their 1977 LP Super Son, “Y Que Bien” indeed a beefed-up variation on the bedrock Son Cubano sound, laden with synths, horns, guitar toughness and vocals (sans lyrics) that span from some almost proto-beatboxing at the start to a healthy dose of scatting in the back end.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2021, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2021. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Black Marble, Fast Idol (Sacred Bones) Beginning as a duo, with the early exit of TY Kube, Black Marble became the project of Chris Stewart, Brooklyn-based for a while though currently working in Los Angeles. Three full-length records precede Fast Idol in the Black Marble discography, with this set the second LP released by Sacred Bones, who also put out Black Marble’s pink vinyl 12-inch of cover songs last year. I dug that set, and feel the same way about Fast Idol, as Stewart’s approach to techno-pop benefits from vivid multidimensionality of execution. It’s clear by now that scads of folks can regurgitate this sound, but few pull it off as convincingly as Stewart. It comes down to writing as much as timbres and atmospherics. Style descriptors attached to Black Marble include darkwave, minimal synth, and coldwave, none of them inappropriate, but to my ear, the sustained high quality of the songwriting places this album firmly in pop territory, techno- or synth-, take your pick. Highly danceable, but more achily lush. The added guitar in “Say It First” delivers a standout moment. A-

Dinner, Dream Work (Captured Tracks) Dinner is Danish multi-instrumentalist Anders Rhedin, who has a few prior full-lengths out on Captured Tracks, though the man is in fact returning from a sojourn of sorts, as it is divulged that he delved into the potentialities of “ambient and meditation music.” As this is my introduction to Rhedin’s work, it was difficult to discern what kind of impact this break had on his output as Dinner, at least until penultimate track “Born Again” gave way to “Drøm.” There is the sound of running water, there are drifting fields of sound, and there is even a synthetic fluty thingy (maybe two). It’s a nice way to end an album, but leading up to that, Dinner is still squarely about the songs. There are synths, but it’s not synth pop. There are surely guitars, but it’s not exactly guitar pop. Indie? Sure, but it doesn’t easily fit into the old-school or new jack varieties. All of this definitely situates Dream Work as a pop-auteur situation that’s only enhanced by a few neo-’80s-isms, the occasional guy-gal harmonies and the distinctive quality of Rhedin voice, his accent adding value. A-

Kira, S/T (Kitten Robot) Kira Roessler is a bass player of distinction, one of the best I’ve heard in fact, with my esteem directly related to her work in the two-bass duo dos alongside her ex-hubby Mike Watt (her work in other contexts is also worthwhile, in particular her role in Black Flag as she replaced Chuck Dukowski). Kira (as she prefers to be called) is also a fine singer (a talent she sharpened in dos) and crafter of songs (with the bass always at the forefront), making her a triple threat (and even more, as she has multiple credits as sound editor for Hollywood films) who’s only gotten around to releasing her debut solo album in 2021. It’s a good one. A damned good one, even. Although she gets a little help from her friends (and production assistance from her brother Paul), this is firmly Kira’s show, the ten tracks unwinding with a relaxed maturity that still holds the power to captivate. At a few moments, I was reminded of Kim Gordon, though Kira’s work here is pretty firmly rooted in songs. Still her rock bona fides shine through, as she maximizes the potential of her instrument throughout. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Lena Platonos, Balancers (Dark Entries) The discography of Greek pianist and composer Platonos is extensive and begins in the early 1980s, with its fruits falling solidly into the electronic basket, but with clear arty and outright experimental tendencies. She’s particularly noted for three releases, Sun’s Masks (’84), Galop (’85), and Lepidoptera (’86), which have all been reissued by Dark Entries, along with three 12-inch EPs devoted to contemporary remixes of her work. Balancers offers 14 tracks, all unreleased and likely to tempt fans of avant-electronics, especially as the timeframe, specifically ’82-’85, overlaps with the above albums. The reality is that without a specific pointer to the age of these recordings, I would’ve been hard pressed to nail down their era. This lack of datedness is appreciated, as is the range; there are rhythms, but they don’t run rampant. I quite like the numerous tracks where Platonos recites poetry in Greek. During “Now, While You Wait for Your Love,” she even breaks into song. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Deerhoof,
Actually, You Can

With Actually, You Can, the sustained prolificacy of the esteemed San Francisco four-piece Deerhoof continues. It’s a succinct album that finds them in typically lithe, muscular form across nine tracks that’re intended to be representative of their thunderous capabilities as a live unit. As ever, the intricacy is inviting as they mingle elements of edgy prog rock, punk at its most ambitious, and the catchiness of (art-)pop. Unsurprisingly, the vinyl has been delayed until January of 2022, but the CD, cassette and digital are available October 22 through Joyful Noise Recordings.

I feel safe in calling 2020 an unpleasant and unpredictable year, but it proved to be quite a productive one for bassist-vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki, drummer-vocalist Greg Saunier, guitarist Ed Rodriguez, and guitarist John Dieterich, the four individuals who comprise Deerhoof. To elaborate, they released Future Teenage Cave Artists on multiple formats in May and followed it up with the digital-only stream of covers Love Lore in September.

In between, as a benefit for Black Lives Matter, they issued the digital-only To Be Surrounded by Beautiful, Curious, Breathing, Laughing Flesh Is Enough (title courtesy of Walt Whitman), a live set from the 2018 Winter Jazzfest held at Le Poisson Rouge, that on its final five tracks featured the trumpet of Wadada Leo Smith.

Soaking up that show, one can easily imagine that it would be a frustrating, if not outright stifling, for an outfit of Deerhoof’s vision and sheer ensemble heft to be separated for so long. Building music through the sharing of files can be a remedy (and was in fact part of their creative practice pre-pandemic), but the reality that’s never divorced from Deerhoof in any recorded context is that they are, at core, a working band.

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Graded on a Curve: Norman Blake,
Day by Day

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Norman Blake’s contribution to recorded music has been significant. He’s played on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, John Hartford’s Aereo-Plain, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Kris Kristofferson’s The Silver Tongued Devil and I, Joan Baez’s Blessed Are…, the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou, and a slew of albums solo and as a duo with his wife, the multi-instrumentalist Nancy Blake. Day by Day is his latest, a nine-track set offering versions of his favorite folk songs alongside two of his own writing, all delivered in single takes. It’s a powerful, historically rich CD, available from Smithsonian Folkways and Plectrafone Records on October 22.

The first LP to feature the talents of Norman Blake, wherein he played the mandolin, was 12 Shades of Bluegrass by Bob Johnson and the Lonesome Travelers, released in 1963 by the Parkway label, though a year earlier he played guitar on and co-wrote “Uncle John’s Bongos” as recorded by Houston Turner and the Dixielanders, essentially a novelty tune about a Tennessean (that would be one Uncle John) who ditches the fiddle and starts slapping a set of bongo drums as he goes Greenwich Village beatnik.

Perhaps not the most auspicious of beginnings (and there’s a better-known version of “Uncle John’s Bongos” recorded around the same time by the country duo Johnnie and Jack with Blake also credited as co-writer), but that’s alright, as a couple years later he was playing dobro with Johnny Cash and heading down the road toward the Nashville Skyline.

Dylan’s album and the list in the intro up above might portray Blake as a high-profile session guy, but that’s not really accurate. While he was surely in demand, he spent as much time in studios working on his own albums or collaborating with his Newgrass cohorts Vassar Clements, Sam Bush, Tut Taylor, and Tony Rice.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2021, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2021. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sean Conly, The Buzz (577) Unsurprising for a bassist in contemporary jazz, Conly has extensive appearances on records but a tighter discography as a leader or co-leader. He is part of numerous combos that have yet to hit studios, however. His interactive ingenuity shines out brightly here, with pianist Leo Genovese and Francisco Mela on board for a 10-track set (available on vinyl, CD, and digital) with six of the compositions Conly’s; they also tackle pieces by his frequent collaborator Michael Attias, Paul Motion, Sam Rivers, and Sondheim in a closing reading of “Send In the Clowns.” After multiple listens, it seems the bassist’s billing derives from his authorship of the tunes. As said, Conly is wonderfully expressive (and big in a vibrant recording) but so is Mela and Genovese as the three excel in the tried-and-true piano trio format. Yes, the ties to various traditions are strong, but it’s also crystal clear that The Buzz is the byproduct of minds at the forefront of jazz music’s 21st century flourishing. It’s an LP that’s inviting yet rigorous and an utter treat throughout. A

V/A, Sacred Soul of North Carolina (Bible & Tire Recording Co.) Bruce Watson’s newest label hits a home run with this collection of African American gospel, thematically tight yet invigorating in its diversity, all from Eastern North Carolina, and with the entirety recorded across eight days in February of 2020 in a studio assembled in the storefront of a 100-year-old building in the town of Fountain. Anybody conversant with the long history of Hot Gospel will appreciate how these eleven groups extend the style while exuding vitality that registers as thoroughly of the moment. In this case, “of the moment” is not the same thing as contemporary, though the soulfulness that runs through these 18 selections is still very much relevant to modern music. But what makes this comp so vital is skill honed through passion and community-strengthening conviction. The range of Faith & Harmony’s two tracks, the first an a cappella knockout and the second an organ-rich full band-backed groover is indicative of the whole. Sacred Soul of North Carolina is a non-stop delight, available on 2LP, CD, and digital. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Tito Arevalo, Mad Doctor of Blood Island OST (Real Gone) The first of two Halloween-appropriate soundtracks culled from the vast reservoir of psychotronic grindhouse (or drive-in, depending on the part of the country you’re from) exploitation cheapies. I know Mad Doctor of Blood Island only by its sketchy reputation. Released in 1969, it’s the second film in the Blood Island saga, and in OST terms, this one is likely the most interesting. I come to this speculative conclusion based on Filipino composer Arevalo’s score being reused in the next two Blood Island installments, 1970’s Beast of Blood and ’71’s Brain of Blood, though Mad Doctor’s is the only one that’s fully orchestral. There are also multiple sequences that reinforce Arevalo is being a non-hack, and I’m not just talking about the pieces that can be described as Horror Exotica (to borrow Real Gone’s term). Quite enjoyable if a tad repetitive. Added value: a killer radio spot for the film and its excerpted opening, which features a William Castle-style “drink this vial of green blood” audience gimmick. Those were the days. B+

William Lava, Dracula Vs. Frankenstein OST (Real Gone) Unlike the above, I have watched Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, once many years ago. If I said it was forgettable, I’d be lying. Dracula had a ring that shot flames. Frankenstein was in wheelchair. There were hippies. Bikers. Russ Tamblyn. Lon Chaney Jr. And a carnival on a boardwalk. But memorable doesn’t necessarily equal good. That Al Adamson, one of more enduring figures in the history of exploitation films, directed, helped a bit (this movie reportedly began as a sequel to Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists, which explains the bikers and Tamblyn), but please don’t get the idea that Drac Vs. Frank is some kind of trash masterpiece. Lava’s soundtrack is solid and with moments of distinctiveness, e.g., touches of vibraphone, weird note slides (at one point mingling with some aggressively blown tuba), and even a few cascades of harp. The alternate takes are worthwhile, especially the “Jazz Chase” sequence (which was unused in the film). Also features a radio spot: “Yesterday they were cold and dead, today they are hot and bothered…Rated PG…B+

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Graded on a Curve:
The Moody Blues,
Go Now–The Moody Blues #1

Though the music they produced was only fitfully successful, the Denny Laine-fronted incarnation of The Moody Blues deserves to be remembered for more than a momentary chart fling topped by a gem of a single. In ’65 they released an album at home and another in the US under distinct titles, both holding a dozen tracks and with a third of each LP also unique. The better of the two, Go Now–The Moody Blues #1, was issued in the States by London Records.

Heavy on covers and by extension lacking in gestures toward originality, the ’64-’66-era Moody Blues are unlikely to be many people’s (I’ll stop short of saying anybody’s) most beloved component in the British Invasion. In fact, talk of the group today reliably focuses on the post-Denny Laine/Clint Warwick lineup that saw new members John Lodge and Justin Hayward helping to transmogrify the Moodies into one of the leading if artistically lesser examples of Symphonic Rock. I won’t sully the Prog genre with an inapt association since there was hardly anything progressive about The Moody Blues Mk 2.

Instead, they exemplified the Middlebrow impulse, though that’s ultimately a separate discussion. This piece concerns a band that came together when the leader of Denny Laine and the Diplomats joined up with a bunch of nameless Birmingham hopefuls, their main desire hitting it big or even just making a good living; they briefly played as the M & B 5, the initials an attempt at landing sponsorship from two local beer brewers (last names Mitchell and Butler). And similar to many of their contemporaries, The Moody Blues’ method at least initially was the borrowing and alteration of Rhythm and Blues.

And they did storm the charts with “Go Now,” in the process overtaking in popularity the terrific Leiber and Stoller-produced original by Bessie Banks, though the idea of the cover destroying the source’s commercial hopes is basically a myth. Banks’ tune was released by the Tiger label in January of ’64 while The Moody Blues’ version didn’t emerge until the following November, eventually peaking at #10 in the US in February of ’65 (it took top Brit honors a month earlier).

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