Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for March 2019, Part Three

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, S/T (Free Dirt) The debut of this duo, with de Groot playing clawhammer banjo and Hargreaves bowing the fiddle, coheres into a powerful instrumental statement with numerous vocals turns that dives deep into the old-time style and comes up with something wonderfully fresh. The combined acumen comes from experience, with de Groot a member of Molsky’s Mountain Drifters and her own groups The Goodbye Girls and Oh My Darling, and Hargreaves backing such august names as Gillian Welch and Laurie Lewis, playing on the latter’s Grammy-nominated The Hazel and Alice Sessions, and releasing her own debut Started Out to Ramble at age 14. The freshness of this LP comes in part through their inspired, unusual choice of material.

It’s not an attempt to one-up folks into old-time stuff. For one thing, they dig into “Willie Moore,” a song well-known from The Anthology of American Folk Music (through the version by Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford). No, the objective is to lessen the divide between the world that spawned the music we now refer to as old-time and the cultural climate of the present day. They do so by tackling the work of black guitar-fiddle duo Nathan Frazier and Frank Patterson, digging into “Farewell Whiskey” by John Hatcher, “the avant-garde fiddler of 1930s Mississippi,” dishing the trad tune “I Don’t Want to Get Married” (with lyrics by Edna Poplin), and shedding light on sexual assault of women in prison with a reading of Alice Gerrard’s “Beaufort County Jail” that reminds me of Dock Boggs. And more. Top-flight. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: June Chikuma, Les Archives (Freedom to Spend) This is a “reinvented” and retitled edition of composer Chikuma’s Divertimento LP, which was originally released in 1986 on Toru Hatano’s Picture Label. The transformation largely centers on a total sleeve redesign and an adjustment in first name; in ’86 she went by Atsushi Chikuma. The sequencing of Divertimento is essentially retained, though for the close of side one there is the previously unreleased “Mujo to Ifukoto” from the same sessions. Giving video game ambience a methodical cut-and-paste treatment, the effect is not so much disorienting but rather a precise scramble of psychedelia. Along with another unreleased cut offered on a bonus 45 with the record’s vinyl edition, “Mujo to Ifukoto” is a considerable boon.

Speaking of video games, Chikuma is maybe best-known for her soundtracks to Nintendo’s Bomberman franchise, though she’s also composed for film and TV. The first Bomberman game appeared in ’83, three years prior to what is now Les Archives, but while game sounds are tangible, this record is onto something more, stemming from a one-person show that utilized a KORG SDD-3000 digital delay, drum machines and samplers. This presents a sort of best-of-all-possible-outcomes scenario. While I’ve liked some of the vid game soundtracks I’ve heard, they’ve never really attained repeat listening potential. In branching out, with inspirations including Satie, Mozart, and Paul Hindemith and modes ranging from hurky-jerky dance action to a piece for string-quartet, the likelihood of return listens here is assured. A

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Graded on a Curve:
Mary Lattimore +
Mac McCaughan,
New Rain Duets

Mary Lattimore is known for collaboration; if the scene were jazz, she’d be rated as a first-call harpist. Mac McCaughan is noted as the singer-guitarist in Superchunk, a band that has thrived in four decades; it sorta goes without saying that collaboration is in his skill set. Still, the prospect of a duo record from these artists came with a tinge of uncertainty, as the team-up didn’t seem a natural fit. New Rain Duets, out on clear or black vinyl and digital March 22 through Three Lobed Recordings, exceeds expectations. One reason why: McCaughan isn’t slinging guitar but helming an array of synths. Meanwhile, Lattimore is plucking like a champ. The results are appealingly celestial, but also more.

I haven’t listened to everything Mary Lattimore’s recorded, but to varying degrees, I’ve liked everything I’ve heard. Her own stuff, either solo or in collaboration (she’s released records with Jeff Zeigler and Meg Baird and played with many others) displays an admirable range and comfort with experimentation while avoiding falling back onto the baseline cascades of lushness that are associated with her chosen instrument. If I see the name Mary Lattimore in the credits of someone else’s album (as I did with Sharron van Etten’s Are We There or Marissa Nadler’s For My Crimes) I note it as a sign of promise.

Of course, no artist is infallible, and I was unsure over what exactly New Rain Duets held in store. This is not to suggest that I don’t hold Mac McCaughan’s work in high regard. To the contrary, Superchunk was amongst my most-played bands of the ’90s, in part because they consistently delivered hooky songs with punk energy and edge while never coming off like a bunch of hackneyed doofuses.

I really dig his other bands Portastatic and Bricks, as well. Same goes for his 2015 solo LP Non-Believers. But a common thread in McCaughan’s work is pop, though it’s far from one-note. Over the years, he’s expanded from early Superchunk’s post-hardcore Buzzcocks-zone into lo-fi melodicism and power-pop-shaded singer-songwriter territory, and later augmented his sturdy strum with vivid baroque flourishes. On Non-Believers, he even productively integrated New Wavy synths into the scheme.

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Graded on a Curve: Andre Williams, “Bacon Fat” b/w “Just Because
of a Kiss”

Today we remember Andre Williams who passed away on March 17, with a look back from our archives.Ed.

Zephire Andre Williams has packed a lot of living into his nearly 80 years on this planet, and along the way his name has been attached to a whole lot of records. In the second half of the 1950s he cut a slew of smolderingly low-fi platters for Detroit’s Fortune label, with “Bacon Fat” b/w “Just Because of a Kiss” growing into a national hit. The a-side is amongst the most potent R&B of its era, and it rightfully stands as a classic.

Specifically due to its scarcity, Andre Williams’ early work was once the stuff of legend. Not just his run of singles for Fortune, but his subsequent motions for ventures of differing size and longevity such as  Wingate, Sport, Avin, Checker, and Duke. He was also noted for his role behind the scenes at Motown during the first half of the ‘60s and as a co-writer (with Otha Hayes and Verlie Rice) of “Shake a Tail Feather,” the original of which was recorded in Chicago by The Five Du-Tones for the One-derful imprint.

The waxing of that ludicrously swank monster occurred in 1963 during one of Williams’ absences from Motown. It’s now well-established that he and Berry Gordy’s relationship was a highly volatile one, and by ’65 the two men had parted ways for good. His biggest post-Motown success came at Checker, one of the numerous subsidiaries belonging to Phil and Leonard Chess. Hooking up with Ike Turner in the early-‘70s sent Williams’ life into a downward spiral, mainly due to the steady availability of copious amounts of cocaine.

And Williams’ frequent label-hopping combined with his overall lack of national hits to basically insure difficulty and neglect in the anthologizing of his discography, even after he’d made his comeback. In ’84 Fortune Records, still in business against seemingly insurmountable odds, issued the compilation Jail Bait, but by the point of his ‘90s resurgence copies of that slab were long gone.

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Graded on a Curve:
Bali High OST

Today we remember Surf Guitar legend Dick Dale who passed away on March 16 with a look back from our archives at the genre he pioneered.Ed.

The Western Hemisphere has just entered prime beach season, which of course means swimming, soaking up rays in the sand, sipping upon cold beverages to help counteract the swelter, and for beings of adventuresome and athletic nature, the riding of major waves. But if one is faced with landlocked circumstances a perfectly acceptable alternative is cranking up Anthology Recordings’ reissue of the OST to Stephen Spaulding’s surf film Bali High. Gills-drenched in appropriate vibes, it also spotlights the ingenuity of musician-composer Michael Sena. 

Whilst enduring my teenage years a steady rise in clumsiness unfortunately became tangible, and thusly skateboarding, skiing, and surfing essentially got lumped together as activities best avoided in the safeguarding of physical health. However, I did enjoy skate and surf rock (I know not of a corresponding mountain genre of the slopes), though gradually clear was that a lot of surf music didn’t actually impact the listening diets of those having shaped up the subculture.

A whole bunch of real estate spreads out between the coasts of the United States, and a significant portion of surf rock served that market in a manner kinda similar to Exotica; residing closer to the root of true surf was Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Chantays, The Surfaris, and more so scads of obscure regional acts, a high number of them hailing from Southern California, but surf music’s reality was undeniably somewhat messy. For instance, many quickly adapted to hot rod themes in hopes of expanding audiences instantaneously snatched away by the tsunami of the British Invasion.

So the story goes, anyway. In 1966 The Endless Summer appeared, giving voice to a legitimate way of life amid the death throes of faddishness. Scored by The Sandals (or Sandells, who curiously went on to contribute the soundtrack to Dick Barrymore’s ’67 skiing doc The Last of the Ski Bums), Bruce Brown’s documentary is the obvious starting point of any tour through surf culture’s audio-visual component.

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Graded on a Curve:
Terry Allen,
Pedal Steal + Four Corners

Although he’s noted as a painter and conceptual artist, Terry Allen also writes songs, sings them and has recorded albums that have earned him an enduring cult following. This music has sometimes found him lumped into the subgenre of outlaw country, a designation that short-shrifts the man to an almost ridiculous extent. At no time will this be more apparent than while listening to Pedal Steal + Four Corners. Collecting Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band’s long-form narrative audio works onto one LP and three CDs with an info-loaded 28-page color booklet, the set defeats tidy stylistic categorization and presents the artist as truly one of a kind. It’s in stores March 22 via Paradise of Bachelors.

Art continues to accumulate at such a rate that the impulse to time-manage and only engage with an artist’s best or most noteworthy work is stronger than ever, even as evaluations over which examples are the greatest evolve over time. Make no mistake; Terry Allen, an artist of multiple specialties born in Wichita, KS and currently residing in Santa Fe, NM who’s been long-associated with the non-conformist country music scene of Lubbock, TX, is amongst our greatest artists. Pedal Steal + Four Corners takes the idea of abbreviating his body of work to one or a few examples and blows it completely to smithereens.

For decades, folks looking to become knowledgeable about Allen’s music were almost always urged to check out Lubbock (On Everything), his sophomore double-album masterpiece from 1979. Circa the late 1990s and into the new century, if someone was eager to go a little deeper, the recommendation was often Human Remains from ’96, in part because it was easily available (or easier to find, anyway) and also because it retained a similar vibe to Lubbock; call it singer-songwriter. The two albums even shared personnel in Joe Ely and Lloyd Maines (the latter’s steel guitar is all over Pedal Steal + Four Corners).

Back in 2016, Paradise of Bachelors’ vinyl reissue of Allen’s ’75 debut Juarez threw a major wrench into the works. It had hit CD for the second time in 2004 through his longtime label Sugar Hill, though I don’t recall much fanfare during that period. And by much, I mean hardly any at all, probably in large part because it was a rough time for physical releases of any kind.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for March, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Hearing Things, Here’s Hearing Things & “Tortuga” b/w “Hotel Prison” (Yeggs) Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes came out back in 2003; shot B&W and offering a series of filmed conversations (spontaneous to varying degrees) between actors, musicians and artists who were either friends with or just highly esteemed by the director, it’s what some would call a minor film. And y’know, as this LP and 45 offer a hearty dive into a surf and early instrumental R&R featuring the saxophone of leader Matt Bauder, the organ of JP Schlegelmilch, and the drumming of Vinnie Sperrazza, it’s what some might call a minor record. But I raise the subject not to connect one minor circumstance to the other, as in terms of stature, I disagree with this assessment of both.

No, I bring it up because Here’s Hearing Things’ opening cut “Shadow Shuffle” conjures visions of an unreleased portion of Coffee and Cigarettes where David Lynch and Lux Interior (RIP) wax enthusiastic about Bill Doggett and “Green Onions” while smoking like chimneys. Well, Lynch anyway. Instrumentally, this is sharp, which is to say they’re adept but also savvy enough to not muck matters up by overplaying, which isn’t the same as being chained to simplicity as a supposed virtue of authenticity. Bauder has worked in avant contexts, notably with Anthony Braxton and Alvin Lucier, and occasionally this background flares up, and that’s cool. But mostly this is just a blend of lounge pop, Meek-like vibes, surf rock and R&B jams, with a little guest guitar, I’m assuming from Ava Mendoza. A-/ A-

REISSUE/ARCIVAL PICKS: The Fall, Bend Sinister/The ‘Domesday’ Pay-Off Triad-Plus! (Beggars Arkive) This label’s reissue program of The Fall continues with a wonderfully exhaustive plunge into the band’s ninth studio record from 1986, expanded to double vinyl by rounding up eight tracks from period singles. For some, this is just the record with their cover of The Other Half’s “Mr. Pharmacist” on it, but the whole is an art-punk blast that’s potency has diminished nary a whit, and the additional LP offers no letdown. Importantly, the 2CD expands to 28 tracks with a four-song Peel Session and a bunch of unreleased stuff. No download card came with my vinyl copy and there’s no current digital buying option that I can see, so choose you purchase wisely. I’ve soaked it all up; this grade applies to both. A

Bibi Den’s Tshibayi, Sensible (Pharaway Sounds) Unlike some unearthed African treasures (this is from the Ivory Coast, 1983), this artist has additional recording experience of note. From the same period, there’s “The Best Ambiance” 12-inch on Rough Trade and its companion LP of the same title, which came out in numerous editions including two through Celluloid and Rounder. In 2000, he issued Nge Na Munu under his birth name Denis Tshibayi with production by Adrian Sherwood and Skip McDonald, and in ’02 provided guest vocals to a song on Alpha Blondy’s Merci. With four tracks totaling 26 minutes, this set might strike some as a wee bit brief, but while opener “Africa Mawa” offers poppy funkiness that’s middling for me, the rest taps into African grooves with gorgeous vocals. A pretty delightful time. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Dexter Story,

For a guy just releasing his third full-length, Los Angeleno Dexter Story’s credits and experiences are wide-ranging, with this depth of background vividly reflected in his work and nowhere more than in Bahir, his second LP for Soundway. Having spent extensive time in Africa, Story combines a variety of styles from that continent with jazz, funk, and contemporary production techniques. It’s not his first time tapping into the sounds of Africa (and Ethiopia in particular), but the music here expands rather than retreads, and it delivers consistent rewards. It’s in stores on vinyl and digital March 15.  

Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and arranger Dexter Story’s prior two records under his own name are Seasons, which came out in 2012 on the Kindred Spirits label, and Wondem from 2015, his first for Soundway. Prior, he was part of Life Force Trio, an outfit featuring Carlos Niño (who has co-produced all of Story’s LPs) and a “floating” third member; they released Living Room on Plug Research in 2006.

Life Force Trio came into being through Niño recruiting Story as instrumentalist for vocalist Dwight Trible’s 2005 set for Ninja Tune, Love is the Answer. The endeavor went so swimmingly that Life Force Trio are co-credited on the album. It’s all unsurprising, as Story’s strengths as a player are considerable, having backed LA alt-hip-hop group Sa-Ra Creative Partners and taken part in (alongside Niño, Trible and many others) the ensemble Build an Ark.

A pervasive characteristic of Story’s music is a sort of advanced soulfulness, though during Bahir’s opener (too brief, but understandably so, as it serves as a sort of prelude) the cascading harps travel into the realms of spiritual jazz a la Alice Coltrane. It heralds the arrival of “Biba,” where a flurry of elements in Story’s execution get solidly asserted, the first being a thorough connection to the contemporary as heard through pitch-shifted vocals. Rather than feeling grafted on, the singing coheres productively with the bold African-derived joyousness of the tune.

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Graded on a Curve: Lucinda Williams,
Happy Woman Blues

With the release of her self-titled 1988 album, the career of singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams experienced a definite upswing. Roughly a decade later her fifth record arrived, and she really broke out. However, she was on the scene a decade prior to cutting Lucinda Williams with a pair of releases on Smithsonian Folkways. In accordance with Women’s History Month, the second is getting freshly reissued on vinyl by the label. It’s a strong LP that considerably predates the Alt-country upsurge; indeed, Williams had a major role in defining the style. Happy Woman Blues is in stores now with the original sleeve art and lyric booklet.

My introduction to Lucinda Williams came through her “Passionate Kisses” 12-inch back in 1989. It was a casual buy, though not exactly a whim, as I was attracted by the Rough Trade logo on the back, particularly as not long before I’d been impressed by another US signing to the label, specifically Souled American and their debut Fe.

Upon taking it home and disposing of the shrink-wrap, I dropped needle and was immersed in a bright sound with chiming guitar and pretty vocalizing. It was quite far afield from the punk affiliated stuff that was typical of my listening diet at the time. Still, something kept me coming back to it. Well, a few somethings, like that guitar, and how the whole cohered into an exceptional piece of songwriting; a few years hence and “Passionate Kisses” would win her a Grammy through the hit version by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Overall, I was impressed more by the four tunes on the flip side, three of which were from a radio performance on WPFK, and one cut in New York City in 1983, the bunch underscoring Williams’ aptitude with bluesy material. It was a twist that connected quite nicely to the blues and roots stuff I’d been listening to prior to taking that offramp into punk.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for March, 2019. 

VIDEO PICK: Late Blossom Blues: The Journey of Leo “Bud” Welch, Wolfgang Pfoser-Almer & Stefan Wolner, directors (City Hall) This DVD came out last year, but as Mississippi blues and gospel ace Welch’s posthumous third LP is coming out via Black Keys guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach’s label (see directly below), it’s a good time to shed some light on this documentary, as the film does a nice job of detailing the circumstances that led to the singer-guitarist releasing his debut album Sabougla Voices as an octogenarian back in 2014. If you dig the raw rural electric style of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, then Welch should be right up your alley, and in fact the chances are good that you’re already hip to the man, as his first two records came out on Fat Possum owner Bruce Watson’s other label Big Legal Mess.

I have my ups and downs with music docs, and more downs than ups, as so many of ‘em are shoddy, blinkered in their perspective, opportunistic, or just downright unnecessary. Not Late Blossom Blues. For starters, the movie’s visuals are solid throughout, with crisp color and a steady camera. Second, they manage to tell this story without too many talking heads (it helps that the main blues expert called upon here is knowledgeable without being alienating). Third, the music is copious, with most of it performed live as the movie follows Welch all the way to Austria for performances. Along the way, we get a vivid portrait of Welch’s manager Vencie Varnado and a less extensive but fruitful taste of Welch’s work with his drummer Dixie Street. There’re lots of bonus clips on the DVD, as well. Overall, a fine doc. A-

NEW RELEASE PICK: Leo “Bud” Welch, The Angels in Heaven Have Done Signed My Name (Easy Eye Sound) Welch passed on December 19, 2017, after the completion of Late Blossom Blues and the recording of this album with Auerbach and his Arcs band. They recorded 25-30 songs, ten of which are offered on this album, which can be precisely tagged as sanctified blues. For those familiar with his debut Sabougla Voices, this’ll be no surprise, as that was a gospel album, with I Don’t Prefer No Blues a follow-up dose of the secular stuff. Where this LP differs is in the bold production and instrumental enhancement, additives that do nothing to detract from the toughness of Welch’s style. I have a suspicion this won’t be the only posthumous LP from Welch, but if it is it’s a terrific final statement. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Heathens, “Steady Girl (Take 1)” b/w “Steady Girl (Take 2)” (Black & Wyatt) Cut at Memphis Recording Service (a.k.a. Sun Studio) four days after the Presley-Perkins-Lewis Cash Million Dollar Quartet session (Dec. 8, 1956), the sole song by a local high school five-piece (singer/ co-writer Colin Heath, hence the band name, was then 15 years old) is offered here twice, once with piano and both with drums by Joe Bauer (later of The Youngbloods) captured by a single mic. Both are raw and wild and primitive in the manner of the best youthful R&R. Claims are being made for this as the first ever garage single and I can see why, though it’s mainly that way in terms of spirit, as the sound is nearer to rockabilly. Just as important, guitarist and co-writer Kaye Garren is an early rocking gal. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Wadada Leo Smith,
Rosa Parks: Pure Love

As we exit Black History Month and enter Women’s History Month, how about a new release that’s in direct dialogue with both sides of the transition? That recording would be trumpeter-composer-multitasking bandleader Wadada Leo Smith’s Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs, out now on CD through TUM Records. It offers Smith with vocalists Min Xiao-Fen, Carmina Escobar, and Karen Parks (distinguished here as the Diamond Voices), the RedKoral Quartet (contributing strings), the BlueTrumpet Quartet (featuring trumpets, natch) and the Janus Duo (consisting of drums and electronics), creating a work that’s approach to history is imbued with contemporary relevance.

Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs is an achievement of considerable ambition. Unsurprisingly so, as Wadada Leo Smith has become well-known for grandly-scaled works on topics of equal size. 2012’s 4CD Ten Freedom Summers, 2014’s 2CD The Great Lakes Suites, and 2016’s 2CD America’s National Parks are amongst his best-known recent thematic releases in a voluminous discography.

Grand of scale but eschewing sprawl and steeped in disciplined, focused intent; upon learning of this set’s imminent release, I had no doubts that Smith would engage in a suitably robust manner with the lasting significance of Rosa Parks, who he describes in his liner dedication as “a person of exceptional courage and wisdom, who made the right move of resistance at the right time.” Frankly, Smith consistently brings the goods, meaning his latest work would be something far greater than a tepid appreciation of “Rosa the tired.”

In his booklet essay, Franz A. Matzner usefully clarifies that Parks’ civil protest differed from how it is often remembered and sometimes still taught to children, specifically that it was just a spontaneous act by an exhausted and frustrated woman after a hard day’s work. Instead, Matzner makes clear that Parks was the secretary of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP.

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Graded on a Curve:
Elena Setién,
Another Kind Of Revolution

A native of Spain’s Basque region, Elena Setién has just released her third album, and across ten songs it highlights her strengths as a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter. Her sound is layered and inviting, an example of art-pop that doesn’t favor one side of the hyphen over the other, and while she’s quite attentive to the lyrical side of Another Kind Of Revolutions equation, the playing, nearly all of it executed by Setién herself (guitarist Steve Gunn is a notable guest contributor) never takes a back seat. The album is out now on LP with a limited amount on red vinyl, on CD in a four-panel mini-LP gatefold package, and of course digitally through Thrill Jockey.

Thrill Jockey’s promotional bio for Another Kind Of Revolution, Elena Setién’s debut for the label (and it appears, her first release on wax) mentions that she has extensive experience as an improvisor. It’s stated without elaboration in support of her musical depth in a setting that’s decidedly pop, but the bio on her website (written around the time of her 2013 solo debut Twelve Sisters) relates appearances at over a half-dozen Euro jazz festivals (including Moers) and extensive touring in a duo Little Red Suitcase.

I’m not exactly sure how that twosome connects to Setién’s terrific singing on the self-titled 2012 CD by Little Red Big Bang, a nonet with much to recommend combining avant-jazz with tangibly straight-ahead big band action, but connect they do. Again, it’s a scenario broached but not belabored by Thrill Jockey, and it’s expanded upon in this review to make a point about what Elena Setién is not.

Sometimes, when improvisors/ jazzers elect to tackle pop, the results can come off as arrogant (as in “lemme show you how it’s done”), slumming (often manifested by an absence of the heartfelt), or a damaging air of the fancy-pantsed (which can detrimentally combine with the presence of ego cited above. Setién succumbs to none of it.

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages (Hivemind) It’s still only February, and it’s already been a swell year for fans of “out” guitar, with new stuff from the Hedvig Mollestad Trio and the Dave Harrington Group plus reissues of Caspar Brötzmann Massaker and now this 45 RPM 2LP reissue of Sharrock’s killer 1991 album originally released on Bill Laswell’s Axiom Records. At the time, it really set things right, as Sharrock had been on something of a creative losing streak, at least for fans of his playing in punk-jazz monsters Last Exit and his first two solo records Black Woman and Monkey-Pockie-Boo. What producer Laswell (who played bass in Last Exit) pulled-off here, essentially launching Sharrock from the recognizable platform of the jazz quartet, was nothing short of miraculous.

To elaborate, the music extends from a quartet zone informed by the innovations of John Coltrane, an idea that’s embraced to the maximum by grabbing saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (who blows tenor and soprano here) and drummer Elvin Jones, with bassist Charnett Moffett (who like his drummer father Charles, played with Ornette) completing the band. Sanders wastes no time in dishing some prime lung fury, Jones is as muscular and fleet as a fan of the Classic Quartet would hope, and Moffett is a hefty as ’70s Jackie Gleeson. What’s most impressive is how Sharrock doesn’t get overshadowed in a context that never really morphs into full-on skronk mania. Fire Music fans (and audiophiles) will appreciate. A

John Hartford, Backroads, Rivers & Memories—The Rare & Unreleased John Hartford (Real Gone) Deft on a variety of instruments (but especially banjo), warm of voice, and a songwriter of distinction (he penned “Gentle on My Mind,” included here, though his talent was more idiosyncratic than that), for many Hartford’s finest moment is Aereo-Plain; bluntly, thousands in the field of Americana owe him a debt. Before all that, he was a television personality, appearing on the variety shows of the Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, and Johnny Cash while working as a session musician, notably contributing to Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Hartford was also tenacious in recording his early progressions, which are offered on this CD with 19 tracks previously unreleased.

There’re also three songs from a radio show (WHOW, Clinton IL) with Pat Burton on guitar and Nate Bray on mandolin, plus the four singles from Hartford’s Ozark Mountain Trio; for bluegrass nuts, these eight songs will justify the price of ownership all by themselves. While there is a 36 second first rehearsal excerpt of “Steam Powered Aereo Plain” and a wonderfully wacked spoken “Station Break” that kinda reminds me of what might’ve transpired had a young Garrison Keillor joined the Firesign Theater, this isn’t as eccentric as Hartford regularly was later. Think of it this way; if Aereo-Plain planted the seed that became Newgrass, these are the movements that led to Hartford’s 1971 classic. With notes by Skip Heller, a sure sign of quality. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Professor Longhair,
Live in Chicago

Prior to his passing in 1980, the New Orleans pianist Professor Longhair reliably delivered the goods to club and festival audiences far and wide. For evidence, please consult Live in Chicago; cut at the University of Chicago Folk Festival on February 1, 1976, it offers a fine dose of the man’s immediately recognizable sound.

Professor Longhair’s 1970s renaissance is one of the sweeter late acts in the whole of 20th century American music; throughout the decade Henry Roeland Byrd was knocking out crowds on festival stages across the USA and Europe, but before the Alligator label’s 1980 release of Crawfish Fiesta the pianist was still primarily known on home stereos for his ‘50s work as collected by Atlantic on their classic ’72 LP New Orleans Piano.

Amid his newfound fortune new Fess material was largely approached with disinterest; as detailed in John Sinclair’s notes for Live in Chicago, he did record with Snooks Eaglin circa ’71-’72, but the results languished on the shelf until Rounder put them out in ‘87 as House Party New Orleans Style (Rhino followed suit four years later under the tile Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge).

Rock & Roll Gumbo paired the Professor with the guitar and violin of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, but it was contemporaneously issued only in France on the Blue Star imprint, and other than Live on the Queen Mary, a ’78 album capturing a performance at a party hosted by Paul and Linda McCartney, there was basically nothing else.

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TVD Live: The Chills at the Black Cat, 2/24

PHOTOS: JON THOM MOODIE | Led by songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Martin Phillipps, New Zealand’s The Chills haven’t toured in the USA since 1996. That’s a long time. Long enough in fact that when this cornerstone of the Kiwi Flying Nun experience announced a 2019 tour of the States, high expectations were unavoidable. That’s in large part because the current lineup’s recent work, in particular 2018’s Snow Bound, has offered substantial rewards. However, it’s also true that outstanding music by veteran outfits doesn’t always fully translate to live performance bliss, making disappointment a real possibility. How’d The Chills’ February 25th show at Washington, DC’s Black Cat turn out? Dear reader, the answer is awaiting below.

It should be mentioned straightaway that when it comes to geographical sounds, the ’80s New Zealand Flying Nun Records explosion remains one of my favorites. And yet, with the exception of catching David Kilgour (twice), my up-close-and-personal experience with this scene is zilch. Talk about intensifying expectations. Understandably given the circumstances, when the opportunity arose to see The Chills at the Black Cat, my thoughts beforehand focused entirely on the main attraction and not on the opening acts, of which there were two.

Still, my friend and I arrived early, shortly after the start of the first band’s set. They were called Springhouse. It rang a bell, but at my age I’ve encountered more than a few false alarms. The music they played was solid melodic rock, moderately anthemic and more than a touch Anglo, with some interesting guitar textures. Not at all bad.

Then the drummer came out front to play shakers for a song. Once it was over, he was announced to the crowd as what sounded like Jack Rabbit, which I thought was kind of a lame handle. After rolling it over in my head a few times, it suddenly occurred to me that it was actually Jack Rabid, as in the indefatigable publisher of The Big Takeover and oh yeah, Springhouse, I remember them now.

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Graded on a Curve:
ORG Music’s Jazz
Reissue Series

As Black History Month nears its conclusion for 2019, the opportunity arises to spotlight seven coinciding jazz reissues made available by ORG Music. Stylistically wide-ranging, including a few masterpieces, some overlooked gems, and a plethora of historical value from Bunk Johnson and Leadbelly, Ben Webster, Milt Hinton, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Cecil Taylor, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Albert Ayler and Don Cherry, all seven are out now.

Black history encompasses so much more than just music, of course. But there’s also no denying that music provides a fertile landscape of African-American achievement; even when limiting the scope to jazz, the body of high-quality work and noteworthy accomplishments is large enough that it can seem inexhaustible.

The pool only widens when considering examples that might fall short of the earth-shaking category but are still very much of interest, as history does not consist of an uninterrupted sequence of masterpieces and artistic breakthroughs; there’s a whole lot of interest in between, which is where At New York Town Hall 1947, a live recording on double vinyl featuring New Orleans trumpeter Bunk Johnson & blues-folk singer-guitarist Lead Belly, resides.

In a sense, the recording’s strongest attribute is history. Pressed to vinyl for the first time after hitting CD in 1993, it’s a document of one event from a series put on by an organization called the New York Jazz Club. In addition to Bunk and Leadbelly, this association rounded up an interesting band including trombonist Jimmy Archey, banjoist Danny Barker, clarinetists Omer Simeon and Edmond Hall, pianist Ralph Sutton, drummer Freddie Moore, and tubist-bassist Cyrus St. Clair.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the greatest night for many in the assembled crew, including Bunk, and even after being mastered for vinyl by Dave Gardner, the limitations and flaws of the source recording are still quite evident. Leadbelly only performs on three cuts, none of them near the peak of his powers, and one being “Yellow Gal” (yellow meaning bi-racial, a problematic but not uncommon term in vintage blues recordings).

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