Author Archives: Joseph Neff

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Body Meπa, The Work Is Slow (Hausu Mountain) This band of heavyweights (we shan’t call them a supergroup) chose a name that directly references the classic 1978 album by Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, although integrating the Pi symbol and thereby rendering the moniker distinct underscores this unit’s pursuit of their own substantive thing. The four pillars of Body Meπa are Grey McMurray (Sō Percussion, etc.) and Sasha Frere-Jones (of Ui, etc.) on guitars (Frere-Jones also plays bass on one track, “Rice Tea”), Melvin Gibbs (Defunkt, Harriet Tubman, etc.) on bass, and Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, etc.) on drums. Nobody sings. It should be a no-brainer that fans of the participant’s prior activities should seek out The Work Is Slow (available on CD, cassette and digital) at their earliest opportunity, but that doesn’t get to what the record sounds like. As the six tracks unwind, I heard elements of post-rock, a few passages of gliding psych, and even some robust funk. Also, the 1980s SST aesthetic (e.g., Minutemen and Meat Puppets) kept crossing my mind, and that’s just marvelous. A

Green-House, Music for Living Spaces (Leaving) The Los Angeles-based non-binary artist Olive Ardizoni released their debut Six Songs for Invisible Gardens on cassette and digital in January of 2020 (it’s subsequently received CD and LP editions that are still available; the tape is sold out), a recording that sounded exactly like what its title promised (that is, music for the benefit of transparent plants) while simultaneously and subtly exceeding expectations. Part of why related to Ardizoni enhancing their environmental objective through sheer electronic range while never losing focus of the goal. The same is true for this follow-up, which is rich with analog synths and vintage keyboard tones alongside recordings of nature such as babbling brooks, reverberating insects, birdsong and falling rain. Often gentle and always eschewing the disruptive, there are welcome unexpected elements, and right away with the regality of tone in opener “Top Soil.” Music for Living Spaces (also available on cassette, CD and LP) is relaxing and functional, but it’s as deep as it is pretty. It’s ultimately very moving. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Juana Molina, Segundo (Crammed Discs) While undertaking a synopsis of Argentine singer-songwriter and sound sculptor Molina’s prior work in a review of her terrific 2017 album Halo, I assessed this album, her second, as “a considerable step forward.” That was intended as high praise. However, given the extensive background provided in this 2LP reissue’s liners regarding the recording’s slow progression toward breakout success (let’s just say the journey was impacted by a few chance encounters), the terseness of my description reads like short shrift. I’ll add that getting reacquainted with Segundo on the occasion of this edition (which benefits from a quality remastering job) finds it rising in my esteem and deepening my impression that I underrated it, if inadvertently. For those unfamiliar but curious to hear more of Molina’s work, this is a fine starting point. While its contents can be tagged as folktronica, Molina ultimately transcends the designation. Fans of the Beta Band and Rita Lee’s work in Os Mutantes who don’t know Molina have some good times ahead. A

Can, Live In Stuttgart 1975 (Mute) Captured from the audience on a Halloween night, the first installment in Mute’s series of Can live documents is absolutely essential, even if you’re already familiar with the recording (as the sound has been cleaned up considerably by sole surviving founding member Irmin Schmidt). Those who haven’t heard it should prepare for a jaw-dropping experience, as Can nixed a run-through of established tunes for five jams, titled numerically as “Eins,” “Zwei,” “Drei,” “Vier,” and “Funf” (and sans vocals, as Damo Sazuki had recently left the band). The whole is high of discipline, intensity and extendedness. Of particular note for their durations are the 20-minute opener and the 36-minute “Drei,” the latter a startling excursion that justifies purchase of the 2CD/ 3LP all by itself. Along with the sheer pleasure of hearing Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli, and Holger Czukay firing on full cylinders, it’s notable that the psychedelic thrust of these pieces travels into regions that aren’t readily taggable as Krautrock. It is identifiable at superb, however. A

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Okuté, Okuté

Slickness is an attribute shared by far too many contemporary recordings, with this preponderance of sheen often indicative of an overriding superficiality. Obviously, releases that are free of the malady are a welcome respite; the eponymous debut by Havana, Cuba’s Okuté is one of those. Available June 4 on vinyl (light transparent blue or standard black), compact disc and digital via Chulo Records (available through Daptone), the album’s eight songs are tough and raw as they hone a vibrant synthesis of Cuban music’s elemental diversity (spanning back to the African root). And yet, the album is wholly inviting. It’s difficult to come up with an LP better suited for social gatherings than this one right here.

Although in operation since 2012, my introduction to Jacob Plasse’s Chulo Records came through Bambulaye, the gemlike second album by Brooklyn’s Los Hacheros. Released in 2016, it delivered a remarkable serving of what the band, which features Plasse on trés guitar, describe as the sound of Latin Music’s Golden Age.

Okuté’s debut shares a lot with the sound of Los Hacheros. There is verve and edge heightened through sheer virtuosity and expert ensemble play, with Okuté comprised of lead vocalist Pedro “Tata” Francisco Almeida Barriel (pictured on the cover), percussionists Machito, Ramoncito, Roberto Vizcaino Sr. and his son Roberto Jr, trésero Juan “Coto” de la Cruz, and bassist Gaston Joya.

The album-opening “Caridad” is a concise serving of Okuté’s strengths. There’s Tata’s assured lead singing and the band’s tandem responses in the chorus, the rough-toned guitar, the sheer robustness of rhythm and the resulting infectiousness of the groove. They even spike it in the middle with a lively arrangement for trumpets.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Trees Speak,
PostHuman

Tucson, AZ’s Trees Speak draw from a deep pool of complementary styles. As their name suggests, the brothers Diaz, Damian, and Daniel Martin, share a psychedelic inclination. They also have a motorik groove thing happening, along with other Germanic sensibilities (e.g. kosmische). Bonding these aspects together is a cinematic aura, rich in vintage keyboards and synths, that recalls prime soundtrack action from the 1970s-’80s. There’s even a hint of non-toxic prog in the mix. And with one notable exception, PostHuman retains Trees Speak’s non-vocal orientation. It’s out now via Soul Jazz Records.

Although the assorted styles listed above are all worthwhile, they are also not difficult to locate in the grand musical scheme of things. In terms of quality, Trees Speak, on their fourth full-length (like the prior two, issued on vinyl with a bonus 45), persists in beating the odds. To elaborate, crummy psychedelia outnumbers the good stuff by a substantial margin. The same is true for outfits tapping into filmic vibes and/ or launching from Krautrock foundations.

PostHuman follows the release of Shadow Forms in late October of 2020 as OHMS hit stores in March of last year (Trees Speak’s self-titled 2LP debut came out in 2017 on the aptly named Cinedelic label). The recent burst of productivity is impressive and becomes borderline miraculous when considering the magnitude of assembly that shapes the brothers’ oeuvre.

To be frank, a lot of psychedelia is not especially disciplined. In the right situations, this can be part of its appeal. Additionally, bands exhibiting Krautrock tendencies (either motorik or kosmische or some combination thereof) are known for zeroing in on their zone and then locking into autopilot. And likewise, prolonged repetition can be a pleasant scenario, but PostHuman’s 16 selections (not including the 45) dish variety and impeccable flow.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Joe Morris / Damon Smith, Gusts Against Particles (Open Systems) Free improv/ avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris has been active since the 1970s, debuting on record with Wraparound by his trio on his own label Riti in 1983. Double bassist Damon Smith is nearly two decades Morris’ junior and young enough that punk rock (’80s US u-ground division) was a source of inspiration before jazz and free improv. He’s recorded a bunch, and like Morris, he started his own label, Balance Point Acoustics. On his instrument, Smith is a beast, and in fact, so is Morris; as Gusts Against Particles plays, the sheer breadth of technique grows to utterly striking levels, largely because the goal is intensity of interaction. Morris’ sound is at times reminiscent of Derek Bailey and Eugene Chadbourne (in free improv mode) but he is ultimately his own man. The same is true of Smith as he pulls gargantuan notes on his bass and wrangles passages of massive extendedness. A wonderfully recorded LP (Smith’s breathing is audible at a few points) in an edition of 200 as Open Systems’ first release. With two digital bonus tracks. A

Maxine Funke, Seance (A Colourful Storm) New Zealander Maxine Funke sings and plays guitar with an uncommon gentleness that’s decidedly late-night and never cutesy. In fact, at a few points, like during the terrific “Moody Relish,” Funke conjures an atmosphere that’s notably tense. That same track also had me thinking of Young Marble Giants, a comparison that never crossed my mind when soaking up her 2018 LP Silk. Like on that album, Seance dives deep into the lo-fi folky zone, with that sound heard most straightforwardly in “Homage.” But as on Silk, Funke expertly evades cliché. As side one played, I thought more than once of Skip Spence’s Oar, which is high praise, as that record is a masterpiece. So is this one. Having played in $100 Band with Alastair Galbraith and Mike Dooley (also her bandmate in The Snares), Funke has roots in the Kiwi underground, and while the relationship remains tangible as her latest unwinds, her music isn’t easily comparable to others from the same scene, which is to her credit. It’s also worth noting that Funke’s strain of lo-fi is economical rather than murky. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage / Catherine Christer Hennix, Blues Alif Lam Mim (Blank Forms Editions) Since 2018, Blank Forms has enriched the world with a yearly release of work by the Swedish composer Catherine Christer Hennix. The first three date from the 1970s, but this set is of more recent vintage, the piece (full title: Blues Alif Lam Mim in the Mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis) performed in 2014 in Brooklyn at ISSUE Project Room by Hennix and her expanded just intonation ensemble Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage and issued on CD in 2016 by Important Records; this 2LP (in a tip-on gatefold Stoughton jacket) is its vinyl debut. The ensemble features a five-horn brass section, live electronics and three voices (one of them Hennix herself) as the music extends to nearly 80 minutes at the intersection of drone, raga and the cosmic. The effect is meditative (the singers incant a devotional poem written by Hennix in Arabic that includes quotations from the Quran) but wields power and beauty in equal measure. Avant-garde sounds are rarely this welcoming. A

Mark Fry, Dreaming With Alice (Now Again Reserve) In 2013, an original copy of this record, first released by RCA subsidiary It in 1972, sold for a smidge over $4,000. When obscurities go for that much, it’s safe to assume the master tapes are lost and someone’s planning a reissue mastered from clean vinyl. But Now Again’s edition, available on wax and CD, is sourced from the rediscovered tapes, and the fidelity is totally up to snuff. The music is psych-folk of unusually high quality and sustained levels of bentness, and the story (in short) is that while studying painting in Italy, Fry cut this record for It, the label teaming him with the visiting Scottish band Middle of the Road. Along with a title song that’s broken into segments (each featuring a verse) and spread across the album, there are flutes and sitars and a general druggy atmosphere, with the folky vibes mildly reminiscent of Nick Drake and Donovan. A prior reissue by Akarma came in a sleeve paying homage to/ ripping off the cover of Barabajagal, but this sports the original design and adds six CD bonus cuts of a substantially mellower disposition. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Screamers,
“Screamers Demo Hollywood 1977”

As one of the first punk bands to ditch guitars for electronics, Los Angeles’ Screamers are deservedly legendary, in part because the choice of instrumentation wasn’t an attempt to streamline or soften their sound. Additionally, they broke up before releasing any recordings. While numerous bootlegs eventually surfaced, their audio quality was predictably non-optimal, so that the arrival of “Screamers Demo Hollywood 1977” is reason to celebrate, as its five songs are sourced from the original reel-to-reel tapes. Issued by Superior Viaduct in black and red vinyl editions, both are already sold out at the source, which means folks desiring a copy will only find it in stores starting on May 14. Happy hunting!

The above might give the impression that Screamers were unjustly neglected while extant, but that’s not really accurate, as the video footage of their 1978 show at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens captures a commanding performance in front of an appreciative crowd. Released first on VHS by Target Video as Live in San Francisco: Sept 2nd 1978, in 2004, the half-hour set was given a DVD upgrade with bonus footage. As Jon Savage mentions in his liner notes for this EP, it was that DVD (and its uploading to YouTube) that helped to spark fresh interest in the trailblazing group.

Spawned from an outfit called The Tupperwares, upon leaving Seattle for Los Angeles in 1976, they briefly adopted the moniker Gianni Bugatti and then settled on Screamers. By the next year, when the demos reissued here were recorded, the lineup consisted of two keyboard players, Tommy Gear and David Brown, with drummer K.K. Barrett and galvanizing vocalist Tomata du Plenty.

Barrett replaced Rio de Janeiro, whose obvious pseudonym, along with that of du Plenty (real name David Harrigan), point to the drag queen street theater roots of the group (Tommy Gear’s prior moniker was Melba Toast). Indeed, Du Plenty was a former member of the Cockettes in San Francisco; after leaving that troupe and moving to Seattle, he formed Ze Whiz Kidz in a similar vein, from whence the more musically focused Tupperwares emerged.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Animals,
The Best of The Animals

Celebrating Eric Burdon on his 80th birthday.Ed.

No single album can encompass the range of The Animals’ ’64-’65 run, but ABKCO’s recent vinylization of the ’88 compact disc The Best of The Animals comes pretty close. Gathering all the early hits without neglecting the enduring appeal of their R&B core, it sports the same cover photo as MGM’s 11-track ’66 LP while slightly modifying and significantly expanding the contents. 

The pop success of great rock bands, and the one formed in Newcastle upon Tyne when Eric Burdon joined the Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo definitely qualifies, often gets belittled as concession, cash-in, or more likely some combination of the two. The reality is that music and commerce, particularly in the middle of last century, weave together like amorous but argumentative vines. The four largest hits of The Animals’ first two years are all represented on this fresh reissue, which places onto vinyl the contents of a CD designed to usurp an LP not all that hard to locate in used bins at the time, at least in my neighborhood; this sequencing of The Best of The Animals (there have been others) includes the A-sides from the first nine 45s.

“House of the Rising Sun,” easily The Animals’ biggest commercial success, also endures and by a wide margin as their most famous recording. Indeed, sans exaggeration it can be described as one of the defining singles of the 1960s. A few may balk, but the sheer seriousness, ambition and intensity was unusual for ’64.

Gleaning a traditional tune found on Bob Dylan and Just Dave Van Ronk and in the process setting folk-rock into motion with an intercontinental smash (#1 in four countries, #2 in Australia, Top Ten in two more), it was a massive chart breakthrough achieved without compromising The Animals’ angelic comingling of blues, R&B, and R&R (it’s gobsmacking to note, but their producer Mickie Most was initially disinclined to record the song).

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Damien Jurado,
The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania

The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania is the twentieth album in the discography of singer-songwriter Damien Jurado (there are nearly as many EPs), but it’s the first he’s issued himself, doing so through his own imprint Maraqopa Records. Self-produced and stripped-back but methodically so (inspired by records like Lou Reed’s The Bells and Paul McCartney’s Ram), it’s another powerful statement that’s also distinctive, making it a fitting inaugural release for his new label. It’s out May 14 on vinyl, compact disc, and digital.

Damien Jurado just keeps putting out solid record after solid record, productivity that is duly noted in the music press (often with accolades) and soaked up by his listenership, but also without the sort of hubbub that frequently accompanies the activities of musicians with discographies as prodigious as the one Jurado has built.

That he’s a guy with a guitar and a voice singing songs (of which there is no shortage in the world) surely adds to the fairly measured response, but on the other hand, Jurado debuted on Sub Pop (back in 1997, with Waters Ave S.) and after four full-lengths with that company, commenced a long stretch, 11-albums deep, with Secretly Canadian (a run culminating with The Horizon Just Laughed in 2018).

Since then, he’s recorded two that were co-issued by Mama Bird Recording Co. in North America and Loose in the UK and Europe, which plants us firmly in the present. In the grand scheme of things, Jurado’s achievements can be assessed as substantial and his longevity rare, considerations that only increase after time spent with The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, Arc Mountain (Hausu Mountain / Deathbomb Arc) This release, a benefit with all profits going to the Last Prisoner Project (a nonprofit committed to cannabis criminal justice reform), features artists from the Deathbomb Arc and Hausu Mountain labels in collaboration, with the cassette released by Hausu Mountain and the CD by Deathbomb Arc. Contributors include Dustin Wong, Margo Padilla aka I.E., They Hate Change, J Fisher, Fielded, Signor Benedick the Moor, TALSounds, Angry Blackmen, George Chen, Jonathan Snipes, White Boy Scream and more, with particularly heavy input from Fire-Toolz and Khaki Blazer. The contents range from wild blasts of underground hip-hop to varied strains of avant-pop to bent electronics to noisy soundscapes, with some instances of overlap and the uniting bonds being the liberating spirit of experimentation and a clear disdain for the soul-sucking rigidity of norms, both musical and societal.  Upon repeated listens, the gripping assemblage of twisted teamwork (mostly twos but a couple threes) coheres into a larger statement of considerable power. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: BMX Bandits, Star Wars (Last Night From Glasgow) Headed by sole constant member Duglas T Stewart and with input on this album from Francis McDonald and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub and Gordon Keen and Eugene Kelly of Eugenius (Kelly was also in The Vaselines), BMX Bandits are one of indie pop’s finest cult bands, but with a refined blend of kindheartedness and twee tendencies that inspired many to reject them. Although there is a sense of the awkward in Stewart’s vocals (which has resulted in comparisons to Jonathan Richman, though they don’t sound alike to my ear), it never comes of as a mannerism, and that’s cool. What definitely not awkward is Stewart’s songwriting, which blossoms beyond the standard indie pop jangle. One example is “Extraordinary,” (sure to drive twee-haters up a wall), which sounds a little like young Dan Treacy if he was heavy into Nilsson and bubblegum pop rather than Syd Barrett. And instrumentally, the flare-ups of baroque strings remind me a bit of Big Star’s Third. And that’s just dandy. First time on vinyl outside of Japan. A-

V/A, Made to Measure Vol.1 (Crammed Discs) As part of Crammed Discs’ 40th anniversary, here’s a reissue on vinyl and compact disc of the inaugural entry in the Belgian label’s series dedicated to music that either could’ve been or deliberately was made as a soundtrack to other artforms, e.g. film, theater, dance, and even a fashion show, as is the case with this album’s track by Benjamin Lew, “A la recherche de B.” The other contributors are Minimal Compact, with four tracks commissioned for live dance; Aksak Maboul, with the album highlight “Scratch Holiday,” supposedly crafted (with a turntable, a ’60s pop 45, and orange marmalade) to soundtrack a movie, and six tracks intended to accompany a theatrical play; and Tuxedomoon, with three cuts composed for a documentary film. The guest violin by Jeannot Gillis (of Julverne and Univers Zero) for Minimal Compact, who are sequenced first, lends an appealing circularity, as Tuxdeomoon (and violin) close side two. But in fact, as the record plays, the sound is quite unified as it stirs thoughts of Rock in Opposition, Ralph Records, and early ’80s avant-pop in general. A-

Telex, This Is Telex (Mute) The best way to experience Telex is probably by soaking up one of their songs in a larger mix of material, like during some cat’s late night college radio show, in the midst of a friend’s mixtape, or as spun by a DJ in a club while waiting patiently for the headliner. Over the years, I’ve heard a few people opine that Telex was a novelty act, a conclusion drawn essentially because of their penchant for interpreting the material of others in the then nascent electronic pop style. I disagree. Taken individually, Telex’s songs are frequently pleasant, partly through catchiness but also due to the enduring appeal of their formative aura. But when heard sandwiched between the songs of others, Telex sticks out, largely because they were operating with a different sensibility. The trio’s versions of “La Bamba” (included on this LP/ CD compilation) and “Rock Around the Clock” (which isn’t, giving hopes for a follow-up volume) underscore the non-angsty ’50s-ish R&R spirit they brought to the scene. But there’s more to Telex, like a sweet version of Sparks’ “The Number One Song in Heaven.” A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Elsa Hewitt,
LUPA

Based in London and hailing from Sussex via Yorkshire, Elsa Hewitt is an electronic producer and songwriter who’s been active since 2017, and with a fondness for releasing her music on cassette. To wit, LUPA, her latest and sixth overall, is available on tape in an attractive edition of 50, but it’s also fresh out on vinyl through Tompkins Square. As a document of her consistently evolving skills, it’s both inviting and elusive, as likely to please curious dabblers as those with an undying jones for electronic sounds.

LUPA isn’t Elsa Hewitt’s vinyl debut. Her 2019 release, Citrus Paradisi, received a wax pressing late last year that’s still available through the Lobster Theremin label. There’s also a self-released single LP distillation of Becoming Real – Trilogy, a 3CD set that corrals Hewitt’s three tapes from 2017, Cameras From Mars, Dum Spiro Spero, and Peng Variations.

The contents of Becoming Real – Trilogy; that is, the full 3CD version (I’ve not listened to the compilation), reinforce Hewitt as a writer of songs (as distinct from a crafter of soundscapes, rhythmic thickets or tangles of abstraction), though her music gravitates not toward synth-pop but rather a blend of experimental techniques and progressive dance impulses with samples (occasionally humorous). Singing (and even rapping during Cameras From Mars track “Rainbowz”) aids considerably in establishing the songlike aura.

Cool thing is, Hewitt’s songs roam around a lot, so that the progression is never predictable. Circus Paradisi can be considered a rapid-fire spurt of advancement, the tracks more wide-ranging and more confident as the brightness/ boldness doesn’t break the spell cast by her 2017 tapes. Contrasting, the cassette “Quilt Jams,” described as wordless, spontaneously created and modest, was issued shortly before Circus Paradisi.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Chester Thompson, Powerhouse

An Oklahoma native who landed in San Francisco in 1969, organist Chester Thompson joined Tower of Power in 1973 and after a decade with that group, hooked up with Carlos Santana for a 26-year stint that included work on GRAMMY®-winner Supernatural. But pertinent to right now is Powerhouse, Thompson’s 1971 debut for the Black Jazz label, which has just been reissued on LP and CD by Real Gone Music. In most (likely all) synopses of jazz in the year 1971, Thompson’s album doesn’t receive a mention, but that’s a faulty measurement of its worth. Let’s delve into that a little more below

Artistic canons, which are dominated by masterworks, are certainly useful in ascertaining the creative heights and the breakthroughs of a particular discipline, but they are forever at risk of ossifying and even becoming downright moribund. For this reason and others (sexism, racism, Eurocentrism, etc.), canons have received scrutiny of late, which is completely fair, though I’m not here pile on. Rather, let me merely recommend maintaining an openness to artworks, in this case musical recordings, that haven’t been championed as high hierarchical classics.

It shouldn’t be difficult to make this argument to music fans, but when it comes to jazz (and the following applies to varying degrees to any style that’s existed for more than a half century), the history is by now considerable, indeed labyrinthine, and therefore potentially daunting, so that many end up simply falling back, deflated, and electing to absorb the established cannon. Of course, getting acquainted with masterpieces isn’t a terrible problem to have, but it doesn’t represent jazz’s true historical sweep.

Chester Thompson’s Powerhouse isn’t a masterpiece. Instead, it’s a highly appealing album by a quartet working in soul-jazz territory, which for 1971 was not exactly novel. Had it been released by Prestige and not by the label cofounded by keyboardist Gene Russell (whose own album New Direction was the imprint’s first release in 1971), it might’ve been slapped with a title like Soul Gravy and immediately followed by two, maybe three exclamation points.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Sonny Rollins,
A Night at the Village Vanguard

Sonny Rollins’ name met the marquee of The Village Vanguard in the fall of 1957, and by November 3rd the saxophonist had honed his group to basic rudiments and figured out exactly what he wanted to do. With drummers Elvin Jones and Pete La Roca and bassists Wilbur Ware and Donald Bailey, he delivered one of jazz’s core documents, the undyingly superlative A Night at the Village Vanguard.

According to Leonard Feather’s liner notes for the original 6-track LP documentation of Sonny Rollins’ ’57 Vanguard stand, the saxophonist first hit the stage for a week with a quintet including trumpet and piano. Not happy with the results, he ditched the other horn and grabbed a new rhythm section for week two. Dissatisfied with the quartet lineup as well, Rollins then decided upon a sax-bass-drums trio. And that’s what we hear on the still startling A Night at the Village Vanguard. If Rollins’ rapid-fire retooling seems odd for a concert engagement, understand that he was basically using the bandstand as a live laboratory, experimenting loosely and approachably for proprietor Max Gordon’s hip urban clientele.

Though the Vanguard opened its doors in 1935, based on Feather’s notes, through the ‘40s and well into the next decade most live jazz had moved uptown, and Gordon’s club had then only recently underwent a substantial return to its now legendary intersection of serious jazz and bohemia. In attempting to steer his joint back in the direction of the cutting edge, Gordon casually inviting Rollins to spontaneously create in his spot was an extremely bright maneuver.

For at this point in his career Sonny Rollins was at an early peak. Frankly, the previous sentence is understating the case almost criminally; from ’56-’58 he cut 17 LPs as a leader, and by my count (and I’m far from alone in this arithmetic) at least ten of those recordings are classics. The performances corralled on A Night at the Village Vanguard arrived in the midst of all that activity, and the vinyl configuration’s slim but thoughtful annotation of the significant invention presented by these group’s (there are two, each with individual characteristics) remains an absolute masterpiece.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2021, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sarah Louise, Earth Bow (Self-released) Once upon a time, Sarah Louise Henson was primarily known for her skills as a fingerpicking guitarist and then a little later, as half of the progressive Appalachia duo House and Land with Sally Anne Morgan. But with her pair of LPs for Thrill Jockey, Deeper Woods (2018) and Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars (2019), she began making expansive headway that has come to some beautiful conclusions with her latest, Earth Bow. The blend of New Age and kosmische and drones and psychedelia might not seem like much of a big deal, seeing as how variations on this combination have been pretty common over the last decade or so, but a few things are working in Sarah Louise’s favor. Foremost, she’s deeply invested in song form, even flirting with pop here and there. Second, those songs can get quite intense. Earth Bow didn’t help me to relax; it took me for a ride. Third is her voice, powerful and beautiful, deepening the attentiveness to matters of nature and healing and bringing added dimension to the LP. It’s called sincerity. It means a lot. A

Innov Gnawa, Lila (Daptone) Based in NYC, Innov Gnawa is comprised of five Moroccan expats led by Mâallem Hassan Ben Jaâfer, who sings and plays the guembri, the three-stringed African bass (also called the Sintir), the featured instrument of Joshua Abrams on the latest record by his band Natural Information Society (a new release pick in this column just two weeks ago). The sound of the guembri here is traditional in nature, amply anchoring and propelling a style that’s been tagged as Sufi Blues. Please note that this sound is distinct from Malian Desert Blues, as Innov Gnawa’s four other members, Amino Belyamani, Ahmed Jeriouda, Samir LanGus, and Nawfal Atiq, along with singing richly in response to Ben Jaâfer’s powerful lead, all play metal castanets called qraqebs. An exception is the closing track “Hamdouchia,” which features Ben Jaâfer alone, his guembri playing as the start reminding me of Jimmy Garrison’s solo preludes in performance with John Coltrane (e.g. Live in Japan). Lila (which translates to “night” and describes an all-night Sufi musical healing ceremony) is utterly sublime. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Michael Nesmith, Different Drum: The Lost RCA Victor Recordings (Real Gone) The albums Michael Nesmith cut for RCA, six from 1970-’73, are still too often overlooked today, a circumstance that directly extends from their general neglect by consumers when they were new in the racks. While not flops (Magnetic South, his debut with The First National Band, produced the Top 40 hit “Joanne”), they certainly undersold in relation to RCA’s hopes for the man freshly departed from The Monkees. Now, for those with a long abiding love for Nesmith’s distinct strain of country-rock worthiness (abetted by the pedal steel of O.J. “Red” Rhodes, drummer John Ware, and bassist John London, under the supervision of Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis), this CD is a sweet dish 22 tracks deep from across his time with RCA. Yes, it’s loaded with alternates and the back end is mostly instrumentals, but there’s distinctiveness in the versions and the playing is as shit-hot as skillet gravy. So I guess that means this set will make a fine primer for those having not yet plunged into Nesmith’s solo stuff. A-

Zouo, Agony憎悪Remains (Relapse) This set is the second in what’s hopefully an ongoing series of reissues by Relapse diving into 1980s Japanese hardcore; the first, Detestation, the debut LP from the highly influential band GISM (I’d call them legendary, but they appear to be currently active), emerged late last year. Agony憎悪Remains collects the debut 4-song 7-inch EP by Zouo, originally released in 1984, and adds two comp tracks from the same year to complete side one. The flip offers nine live cuts culled from Relapse’s 41-track digital release. It’s not clear if the vinyl editions (there appears to be four different color variations available but selling quickly) come with a download card; this review focuses on the 15-tracks grooved into the wax. Metal-core was too often hackneyed, but at its bizarre and extreme best, Japan’s strain was in a class by itself. Speed is integral, but it’s never the soul objective. Pristine fidelity gets nixed as murk and echo are abundant; indeed, some of the live stuff sounds like it was recorded in a metal culvert by a single microphone from 25 feet away. This is just as it should be. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Charley Patton, The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume One

Remembering Charley Patton who passed on this day in 1934.Ed.

Third Man Records has joined forces with the certifiable old-time jukebox that is the Document label to commence a rather stellar series of vinyl reissues, with its first three subjects responsible for some of the most vital music produced in the early years of sound recording. Maybe the most important is Charley Patton. He’s credited as an integral ingredient in the shaping of the blues, but his stuff remains captivating even when heard apart from the circumstances of history. Separating Patton from his legacy is in the end an impossible and undesirable task, however; Patton’s The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume One is the first installment in a sequence that will not only bring huge insights to new generations but will additionally provide an inexhaustible source of pure listening pleasure.

For many a young rock-weaned listener who came of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the first encounter with the blues was provided through the electrified strains that emerged from cities like Memphis, Detroit, and of course Chicago, with the amplified blues holding the closest relationship to the rock music that had absorbed, altered and in some cases betrayed the form.

To ears that held no firsthand experience with the often severe climates that shaped the early portion of last century, the more modern sensibilities of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and even the less urbanized, at times quite eccentric sides issued by guitarists like Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker still made sense when considered in rock terms, a set of ideas that held a dominant sway on the young minds that so often salivated for insight into the circumstances behind the stuff that helped to define their youthful musical interests.

The sounds that originated from the Mississippi Delta in the ’20s-‘30s, often talked about as a locus for so many of rock’s big advances in the ‘60s-‘70s, represented a distance of only a few decades, but for adolescents hearing them for the first time, the gulf between surface-noise compromised acoustic performances that were reliably rendered solo and the unblemished, full-bodied, full-band recordings of The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton could feel huge and unsurprisingly alienating.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | 2 Comments

Graded on a Curve:
Willie Dunn, Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology

Many ears were hipped to Indigenous folksinger, poet, filmmaker and activist Willie Dunn by the 3LP/2CD set Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985. Issued by Light in the Attic in 2014, that one’s received a recent repress, and in even better news, the next volume in the series is Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology, which gathers tracks from his four albums and more, with everything remastered by John Baldwin. The icing on the cake for vinyl buyers is the inclusion of Willie Dunn Notes, the 24-pg newsprint insert with exhaustively researched liners assembled by the set’s producer Kevin Howes. Essential for folk fans, it’s out now.

Willie Dunn’s best-known song is “I Pity the Country,” in large part because it was one of two recordings featured on Native North America (Vol. 1). That revelatory compilation, GRAMMY®-nominated and prominent in numerous year’s best lists including the top 10 reissues offered by this very website, smartly placed “I Pity the Country” as track one on side one.

When a musician attains a belated boost in profile, their best-known song often just happens to be their best song period, but that’s not the case with Willie Dunn, as Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies begins with the nearly 10-minute powerhouse “The Ballad of Crowfoot.” Now, that song is arguably the artist’s greatest composition (as it plays it sure feels that way); that the ensuing 21 songs here are unmarred by even a hint of anticlimax is testament to Dunn’s talent.

“The Ballad of Crowfoot” is included on both his debut and its follow-up (both eponymous, released in 1971 and ’72 with an overlap of six tracks), but neither of those shorter versions are the one that’s heard on Creation Never Sleeps. The recording collected here is sourced from the soundtrack of the short film of the same title that was made in 1968 by the National Film Board of Canada’s Indian Film Crew, of which Dunn was a member.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Joe Kaplow,
Sending Money and Stems

Although currently based in Santa Cruz, CA, singer-songwriter Joe Kaplow has traveled extensively as a touring musician, a reality that has surely impacted the direct, vibrant approach of his latest album Sending Money and Stems. However, the set’s ten songs were crafted during quarantine, as digital files were shared via email with his mixer Mike Coykendall. The results exude a consistent positivity, a vibe that’s welcome in the world right now as cautious optimism begins to take hold. The album is out April 30 on vinyl (orange marble, black), CD and digital (the cassette is sold out, alas) through Fluff & Gravy.

Joe Kaplow isn’t an oldster, but as detailed in his unusually loquacious website bio, he’s been making music for quite a while now, 20 years by his count (reaching back to childhood), which is long enough that the massive setbacks brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic can seem like a catastrophe, or at the very least, can bring on changes in livelihood as music gets set aside, perhaps for good.

As is obvious, that didn’t happen in Kaplow’s case, but it did set him to thinking, as it certainly did with scores of others for whom recording and performance are more than a hobby. Often, this has resulted in sounds, songs, and indeed whole records, that directly address our global predicament with outcomes ranging from insightful and inspired but more frequently clichéd or downright ponderous. For Kaplow, it mainly meant that his second full-length was shaped remotely rather than by traveling up to Portland for mixing at Mike Coykendall’s joint.

This is to say that Sending Money and Stems isn’t an emotionally or instrumentally heavy affair. To the contrary, one could call it upbeat, amiable even, though I would stop short of tagging it as good-timey. But you might not, as opener “5 am” dives headfirst into a framework of lively fingerpicking and crisp drumming, complete with soaring vocal leads and a chorus that’s primed for a big group singalong when it’s safe to gather for a full-blown shindig.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text