Author Archives: Joseph Neff

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Duane Pitre, Omniscient Voices (Important) Pitre is an American experimental composer and musician (borrowing the description from his website) with an extensive discography in the ballpark of 20 full-length releases including collaborations (and excluding compilations, like this year’s outstanding The Harmonic Series II, also on Important), though for Omniscient Voices Pitre is in solo mode on electronics and a justly tuned piano. Equally prioritizing the piano and the electronics, Pitre employs a Max/MSP-based generative network to convert his piano motifs into data that is then fed into a pair of polyphonic, microtonal hardware synths with patches of Pitre’s own authoring. There is also controlled improvisation. The complexity of Pitre’s method (and I’ve even synopsized a bit) might suggest a rigorous if not quite unrelenting experience, but the five pieces (fitting nicely onto LP) engage with the minimal (cited influences: Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Steve Reich) in a productive and often surprising manner. Tense resonances are plentiful, but also an underlying sense of order. A

Gas, Der Lange Marsch (Kompakt) Gas is the ambient-techno project of Wolfgang Voight, debuting with a self-titled record in 1996, followed by Zauberberg the next year and Königsforst in 1998 (these three were compiled in the 10LP set titled Box in 2016), and then a long break that ended in 2017 with Narkopop. Arriving in 2018 was Rausch, and now Der Lange Marsch, which is comprised of 11 pieces, all of them title-tracks numbered sequentially. Purchasing either the 2LP, CD, or digital from Kompakt’s online store comes with an email download of the 11 files plus all the music in one file as a continuous track (not sure how this works with purchases made in brick-and-mortar shops or even other online retailers, as there is no download card). I mention the continuous track because it would seem to be the best (though certainly not the only) way to experience this set, partly because once the rhythm kicks in, it doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t really change). Still, don’t let the ambient or minimal descriptor give you the wrong idea. There is a lot going on throughout Der Lange Marsch, all of it worthy. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Etching the Voice: Emile Berliner and the First Commercial Gramophone Discs, 1889-1895 (Archeophone) Captured by Emile Berliner’s disc gramophone in Europe (Germany to be exact) between the years of the title, these 102 tracks on two CDs represent, per Archeophone (frankly experts on the matter), the earliest and also the scarcest manufactured sound recordings in the world. That wall of LPs you’re (hopefully) cultivating? These sounds are square one. But if it’s a lengthy plunge into late 19th century musicality you seek, please adjust those expectations. Musical pieces, mostly played or sung solo but occasionally by bands or choirs, are certainly part of the weave, but so are recitations of speeches, nursery rhymes, jokes and prayers (mostly in German, sometimes in English or Spanish). There’s even a person clucking like a chicken and barking like a dog. Sweet. Surface noise is abundant, but in fact these recordings sound better now than they ever did before, even when new. It is a fascinating trip enhanced by the wonderful 80-page booklet. A

Doug Carn, Adam’s Apple (Black Jazz – Real Gone) This is the fourth and final record multi-instrumentalist (with a focus on keyboards) and bandleader Doug Carn made for the Black Jazz label (nobody made more, not even the guy who founded the label, Gene Russell). It’s also often nearer to progressive R&B than jazz (“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire gets a nice cover, that in a sweet twist, delivers Adam’s Apple one of its jazziest moments), but with other enhancing elements integrated into the scheme, e.g. proggy organ (see “The Messenger” for evidence), numerous spiritual jazz motions, and some very interesting use of Moog synth (again, scope out “The Messenger”) Plus, even as Carn’s vocalist wife Jean Carn has departed the scene, there’s still an abundance of vocals (John Conner and Joyce Green joining Doug for the duties). Also: Calvin Keys on guitar. While Adam’s Apple strives for accessibility, it lacks in any brazen commercial gestures, unless you consider R&B to be a brazen commercial gesture. In which case…what in the fuck are you thinking? A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Aeon Station, Observatory

Observatory by Aeon Station marks the solo debut from Kevin Whelan. Along with material specifically written for this album, it offers songs that were long intended for the follow-up to The Meadowlands by The Wrens, the band where Whelan played bass and sang. That makes its ten songs something of a big deal in the indie rock scheme of things, for more reasons than one. Glistening and anthemic, the record delivers an unabashed continuation of indie rock’s sound as it thrived in the ’00s and early ’10s of the 21st century. It’s out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital formats December 10 through Sub Pop.

The saga of the follow-up to The Meadowlands, an album released by the small indie Absolutely Kosher in September of 2003 to unexpected widespread acclaim, has come to a partial conclusion with Observatory. In short, Kevin Whelan could no longer wait for The Wrens’ next album to be deemed as finished, and so, took songs intended for that record, added some more, recorded them with Jerry McDonald on drums and his brother Greg Whelan on guitar (both members of The Wrens), plus his wife Mary Ann Coronel Whelan on backing vocals, and released them as Aeon Station.

Still, the inescapable: 18 years in wait for a follow-up is a long freaking time. As someone who writes about music specifically due to a lifetime spent unrelentingly listening to music, it’s my perspective that records are generally best when they come to fruition in a timely manner, which is frankly the case with most of the releases now considered canonical rock and pop masterworks. Of course there are exceptions, as The Meadowlands itself took a long time to make, though it’s not like very many people were waiting for that one (as said, the record’s success was something of a leftfield breakout).

Prolonged anticipation ushers in mounting expectations, with the whole scenario likely to become a burden. Such is the case here, and it’s a circumstance Observatory can’t avoid, even as its existence means the end of the drawn-out waiting period with a narrative twist hardly anybody expected and that fewer fans hoped for, plus a possible positive spin: “Hey, now we get TWO post-Meadowlands albums.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Trini Lopez,
The Rare Reprise Singles

Singer and guitarist Trini Lopez was one of the first Latin pop crossover artists, emerging in the early 1960s with his success persisting deep into the decade. Along with his hits, Lopez’s reputation largely rests on a pair of big-selling live albums that effectively kick-started his career. Omnivore Recordings’ new CD The Rare Reprise Singles illuminates the man’s abilities in the studio across 24 non-LP A- and B-sides. Trading performance verve for varying degrees of finesse, the disc spotlights Lopez’s considerable skills as an interpreter of songs and offers a few solid examples of his own writing. It’s available now.

Timeliness alert: those looking for non-overplayed Christmas songs to soundtrack their holiday soirees are in luck with The Rare Reprise Singles, as it includes Lopez’s 1968 45, “El Niño Del Tambor (The Little Drummer Boy)” b/w “Noche De Paz (Silent Night) / Let There Be Peace.” a double-dose of yuletide vibes that’s enjoyable if not a mindblower. Lopez had the voice for this material, and his singing in Spanish adds appeal, so it’s not at all bad as far as Christmas tunes go.

Contemporary relevance alert: The Rare Reprise Singles opens with “A-Me-Ri-Ca,” its lyrics written by that great man of the 20th century musical theater Stephen Sondheim, who passed from cardiovascular disease at age 91 on November 26 of this year, just a few days ago as of this writing. Lopez died from complications from Covid-19 at age 83 in August of 2020.

Furthermore, “A-Me-Ri-Ca” was written in collaboration with Leonard Bernstein for the 1957 Broadway play West Side Story, which was adapted into a film in 1963 (surely the impetus for Lopez’s song, which was released the same year) directed by Robert Wise, and with a fresh adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg (with a screenplay by Tony Kushner) due in theaters this Friday, December 10.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Beauty Pill, “Instant Night” (Northern Spy) The title track of this 4-song EP came out digitally last year. In his notes accompanying this physical expansion (clear vinyl in a transparent plastic sleeve and a clear CD with a silver center in a transparent jewel case), Beauty Pill’s singer-guitarist-producer-chief songwriter Chad Clark describes the song’s political-protest genesis, it’s poetical (rather than polemical) sensibility, and it’s unexpectedly quick finish via socially distanced recording (on a rooftop), so that the cut was rush released by Northern Spy in hopes of inspiring citizens to vote in the Presidential election in November of 2020. The track is also noteworthy for its lack of drums and for highlighting Beauty Pill’s woodwind quartet. Clark says it sounds like Phillip Glass music, which is detectable but not blatantly. The main thing is that the song is built to last rather than carrying the rapid-fire datedness of so much political music. The drums roll back into the picture on the other cuts, and the horns stick around for the swank “You Need a Better Mind,” which gets a nifty remix. A-

Robert Ashley, eL / Aficionado (2021) (Lovely Music, Ltd.) Per the title, this is a 2021 recording of an opera by the late avant-gardist Ashley, a work that premiered in 1987 with many performances following over the next seven years and a prior recording released by Lovely Music in ’94. Until October 21-23 of this year at Roulette in NYC, the opera was last performed in 1995. This CD, released on 10/22, features the cast of the 2021 production, with mezzo soprano Kayleigh Butcher stepping into the role formerly played by baritone Thomas Buckner. eL / Aficionado offers a series of conversations between an “agent” (Butcher) and her three interrogators (Brian McCorkle, Interrogator No. 1; Bonnie Lander, Interrogator No. 2; Paul Pinto, Interrogator No. 3). Espionage and intrigue are essential components in the work, but Ashley’s intent wasn’t to construct a spy story, not even a post-modern/ nonlinear example of such. Instead, the unwinding complexity seems focused upon the friction between public personas and private-inner lives. Tom Hamilton’s orchestration, recording, and mixing are essential. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Robert Ashley, Foreign Experiences (Lovely Music, Ltd.) For this 1995 recording of Foreign Experiences, an opera that’s part of Ashley’s early 1990s tetralogy, with Perfect Lives and Atalanta (Acts of God) to follow, Sam Ashley is Don and Jacqueline Humbert is Linda, characters familiar from Improvement (Don Leaves Linda), which preceded Foreign Experiences in said tetralogy, first recorded for Nonesuch in 1991 (a new recording of Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) was released on CD in 2019 by Lovely Music, featuring a new group dedicated to realizing Ashley’s work). For this release of Foreign Experiences, the ensemble consists of Robert Ashley himself along with Thomas Buckner, Margareta Cordero, Joan La Barbara, and Amy X Neuburg, this group having interpreted Ashley’s work from 1992-2012. Here, they are recorded by Tom Hamilton and Cas Boumans, with the release mixed and edited by Hamilton. Even at this relatively early point, the “band” is in prime form, and the prose is some of Ashley’s very greatest. He was an absolute master of language. A+

Calvin Keys, Proceed With Caution (Black Jazz – Real Gone) Keys got his start in the ’60s backing up a slew of soul jazz organ heavyweights, and on Shawn-Neeq, his debut as leader from 1971 (reissued early in 2021 as part of Real Gone’s Black Jazz reissue program and already sold out at the source), it’s not hard to tell, as he has a crisp, lithe, clean approach that’s occasionally reminiscent of Grant Green. Keys notably nixed the organ for Shawn-Neeq, electing instead for the electric piano of Larry Nash, a decision retained for Proceed With Caution, though the pianist this time is Kirk Lightsey. Those allergic to Fusion need read no further, but ears open to the style should understand that while Shawn-Neeq is a solid effort, its follow-up is an all-around improvement; the scope is broader both instrumentally and compositionally, there’s plenty of heat and edge, and nary a trace of smoothness. The year was 1974. Had this been released by one of the major labels in the mid-’70s, say Columbia or Warner Brothers, my guess is it would be perennially in print rather than getting its first-time vinyl reissue in 2021. A

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Graded on a Curve:
Thee Headcoats, Elementary Headcoats: The Singles 1990–1999

Celebrating Billy Childish on his 62nd birthday.Ed.

Wild Billy Childish has played in many bands, with Thee Headcoats arguably the biggest. Flaunting ’60s beat rock swagger, ‘70s punk energy, and a prole-art thrust of unquestionably British persuasion, for roughly a decade the trio of Childish (guitar and vocals), Johnny Johnson (bass), and Bruce Brand (drums) produced an unrelenting stream of material. Keeping up with it all could be a daunting task, but Elementary Headcoats: The Singles 1990-1999 admirably sequences 50 tracks across two compact discs or three vinyl records; first issued in 2000, and back in print through Damaged Goods.

Author, poet, painter, photographer, filmmaker, publisher, and of course musician: Chatham, Kent, UK’s Billy Childish remains a crucial figure in various movements, and foremost amongst them is punk rock. By the formation of Thee Headcoats in 1989 he was already a veteran of a half-dozen outfits, the most well-known being the Pop Rivets, The Milkshakes, and Thee Mighty Caesars.

In sonic terms Childish is oft and fairly categorized as an indefatigable extender of the garage impulse, but just as importantly he can be assessed as an exponent of Brit DIY, a phenomenon linked to the rallying cry from the b-side of the Desperate Bicycles’ ’77 single- “it was easy, it was cheap—go and do it!” Scores took the advice either directly from the Bikes or through inspired peers, and subsequently Wild Billy’s activities gushed more abundantly than any industry would deem appropriate; in 1984 The Milkshakes released four albums…on the same day.

Childish’s longevity is largely defined by a constant tinkering with inspired simplicity. Proving impervious to fashion, he’s influenced numerous trendsetters along the way, and folks considering punk as an era or phase rather than an undefeatable style are likely to rank him as a curiosity or a fly-in-the-ointment. His racket is well summed-up by a verse from Alternative TV’s “Action Time Vision,” a tune tackled by Thee Headcoats in ’93 and one of this set’s highpoints: “Quarter notes don’t mean a thing/Listen to the rhythm, listen to us sing.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Eddie Hazel,
Game, Dames and
Guitar Thangs

The late guitarist Eddie Hazel remains highly esteemed for his role in shaping the funk rock juggernaut that is Parliament-Funkadelic. With beaucoup assistance from the P-Funk All-Stars including George Clinton himself, Hazel released Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs, his solo debut, in 1977, an absolute fiesta of string bending that quickly fell out of print, grew to be highly sought after, and therefore became rather expensive. On December 3, the folks at Real Gone Music are bringing out an edition on blue vinyl, its affordability sure to be appreciated by longtime fans and curious newbies alike.

I suppose it’s possible to review Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs without mentioning Hazel’s role in Parliament-Funkadelic, but I’m not sure what purpose that would serve, particularly as so many of his bandmates contribute to it, specifically bassists Bootsy Collins and William “Billy Bass” Nelson, drummer Tiki Fulwood, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, guitarists Michael Hampton, Gary Shider, Glenn Goins, and those Brides of Funkenstein, Dawn Silva and Lynn Mabry. Additionally, George Clinton had a hand in writing all four of the record’s originals, with Hazel a co-writer on two of them.

It’s the original stuff, which is very much in the sonic ballpark of P-Funk, that made Hazel’s only non-posthumous solo album such a pricey item for such a long time. And even after being reissued on CD and vinyl on a handful of occasions in the 21st century, copies of the first pressing (in good condition, natch) still changed hands for roughly 200 smackers.

Lending Game, Dames and Guitar Thangs fresh ears on the occasion of Real Gone’s new vinyl edition (the label issued it on CD back in 2012 featuring notes by P-Funk Minister of Information Tom Vickers, with copies still available) reestablishes the most important factor in the record’s enduring stature, which is a baseline standard of quality. It is an eminently listenable record, providing that one is amenable to the P-Funk sensibility of course, and to Hazel’s playing in particular.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Cutthroat Brothers and Mike Watt,
Devil in Berlin

Since debuting with a self-titled LP in 2018, The Cutthroat Brothers, a duo consisting of guitarist-vocalist Jason Cutthroat and drummer Donny Paycheck, have been busy. On Friday December 3 they issue their fifth full-length and second of 2021, with their latest the second consecutive release to feature the bass playing of Mike Watt, who deepens but doesn’t radically alter the punky-bluesy appeal. Produced and mixed by Jack Endino, Devil in Berlin fits snuggly into the discography of Hound Gawd! Records. It’s available on vinyl, CD, and digital.

I’ve a sneaking suspicion The Cutthroat Brothers aren’t blood siblings, It’s an established fact however that both men are barbers, with Donny Paycheck clipping wigs in Takoma, WA and Jason Cutthroat doing the same in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. In matters musical, Paycheck did some drumming with Seattle-based punk thrashers Zeke before hooking up with his partner in coiffure and spiking a potent vein of throbbing scuzz-pummel.

In terms of comparisons, The Cutthroats have chalked up quite a list, including The Cramps, The Stooges, X, The Gun Club, and even Nick Cave. But maybe more impressive is getting Texacala Jones (she of 1980s cowpunk notables Tex & the Horseheads) to sing on “Black Candle” from their second LP (and first for Hound Gawd!), 2019’s Taste for Evil.

It’s the sort of gesture that reinforces a sturdy base of knowledge and strengthens a healthy streak of non-genericism. In turn, the Cutthroat Brothers have thrived exclusively on full-length releases (their third album, the digital-only Live in Europe, came out in May of 2020), a format where many outfits of similar roots-punk temperament simply run out of creative gas.

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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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