Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
Fred Schneider,
Just…Fred

Celebrating Fred Schneider on his 70th birthday.Ed.

Fred Schneider is famous for his work in The B-52’s, but over the years he’s also released a pair of solo LPs, the second of which found him in some unexpected company and delivering a set of pumped-up, punked-out mania. But ‘96’s Just…Fred isn’t really an outlier in the man’s discography, standing instead as a brief manifestation of an alternate career possibility that also reinforces how the ‘90s produced all sorts of unusual musical documents. The record’s charms could easily encourage a little bit of the ol’ pogo and might even inspire a few appropriate laughs, so in the end it’s very much a part of Schneider’s MO.

I can still remember quite clearly the reaction of certain friends and acquaintances over the arrival of Just…Fred, the out-of-nowhere solo record from instantly recognizable vocalist Fred Schneider. The general idea expressed by these folks was that in deciding to record an LP with a certain highly opinionated and defiantly indie-minded producer and a bunch of oft-noisy underground rockers as his backing, Schneider had suddenly, out of the blue, gotten “hip.”

To put it kindly, that assessment only made any kind of sense if one’s historical perspective spanned back to around 1988 or so. To put it less kindly, it was simply malarkey, a belief wrapped up in denigrating The B-52’s mainstream breakthrough Cosmic Thing and its smash hit single “Love Shack” as unworthy of any serious consideration.

That song’s ability to cross nearly any kind of social lines in its soundtracking of celebrations of all sorts has almost turned it into a cultural inevitability. If you’ll be attending a wedding party any time soon, the smart money is on hearing “Love Shack,” and maybe more than once. The groom’s grandma might even start a conga line. In this writer’s perception the tune has become so associated with revelry that imagining a person listening to it while alone in their abode, simply sitting in a chair and perhaps eating an apple, seems rather ridiculous.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Ches Smith and We All Break, Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic) To begin, We All Break is a group formed in 2013 by drummer Smith that intermingles traditional Haitian Vodou music with decidedly contemporary compositional and improvisational elements. Path of Seven Colors is a 2CD set offering the recording of the title (made in February of 2020) along with a bonus disc, We All Break, which is the group’s first album (from 2015). Both are housed in a hardshell box with notes, lyrics, and annotated track info. The two recordings are marked by substantial differences, with the first featuring a quartet of piano (Matt Mitchell), rhythm and vocals (Smith, Daniel Brevil, and Markus Schwartz) as the second doubles the size of the contributors with vocals (Sirene Dantor Rene), alto sax (Miguel Zenón), bass (Nick Dunston), and more rhythm (Fanfan Jean-Guy Rene). Unsurprisingly, the newer recording possesses greater vividness and depth in consort with an increase of ambitiousness, but it’s not like the early material is embryonic. Fire and flow are constants in this beautiful evolution. A

Molly Lewis,The Forgotten Edge” EP (Jagjaguwar) Based in Los Angeles by way of Australia, Lewis is a whistler of uncommon skill, though her debut recording is designed less as a showcase of her abilities and is instead more of an extended homage to Exotica, and with a culminating nod to Morricone, or more accurately to his whistler, Alessandro Alessandroni. While the grass skirt and tiki torch vibes are strong, with the atmosphere boosted considerably by the instrumental backing, without Lewis this would be an enjoyable but thoroughly retro affair. However, as she’s fully accounted for, the proceedings get deepened through clear seriousness of intent. Similar to Ìxtahuele, she eschews the ironic and never plays up the kitsch angle. And most important, she’s just really good at whistling (there are also wordless vocals). Also of note is “Satin Curtains,” which delivers a ’70s Euro soundtrack atmosphere that’s distinct from Morricone (or the maestro’s work for Leone, at least), instead sounding like an extract from a score to a stylish giallo or a gritty poliziotteschi. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, The Last Shall Be First: The JCR Records Story Vol. 2 (Bible & Tire Recording Co.) This is the promised follow-up volume to a highly acclaimed and eye-opening collection issued last year by the label of Bruce Watson (known as a producer and for his role in the operations of the Fat Possum and Big Legal Mess imprints), which spotlights 17 more tracks taken from reels discovered in a dilapidated shack on the outskirts of Olive Branch, MS, with the sounds as pleasing and diverse as what came before. Recorded in Memphis in the 1970s, the playing remains stripped-down but sharp, the singing as fervent as you’d expect from a style Watson calls sacred soul, and the recording quality is full-bodied and assured (but never over-polished) by Juan D. Shipp, who ran JCR as a subsidiary of his larger D-Vine Spirituals label. Folks with a love for Tompkins Square’s gospel box sets and Big Legal Mess’s retrospectives into the Designer and Pitch/Gusman labels have likely already bought Vol. 1 and now this. But for anybody looking to dip a toe in roots gospel, this is a fine place to start. A

V/A, Greg Belson’s Divine Funk: Rare American Gospel Soul and Funk (Cultures of Soul) This set, available on LP, CD and digital (though I’ve been told the wax is the victim of pressing plant delays) is a nice complement to The Last Shall Be First, but there’s also some welcome distinctiveness, and that’s mainly because the songs collected here by gospel authority Belson (fan, collector, DJ) are substantially more urban in their thrust. As we’re talking funk, this shouldn’t be a shock to the system, especially as these dozen tracks serve as a follow-up to the prior two Belson-compiled Divine Disco volumes released by Cultures of Soul. The good news is that, as the recording budgets were obviously small, none of Belson’s choices falter into the slick, but even better, the selections regularly rise above standard funk moves. In fact, The Wearyland Singers’ “If You See Me Doing Wrong,” with its cranking organ, manic vocal interplay, and unrelenting rhythm foundation, elevates matters far above typical funky maneuvering. But again, nothing is subpar, so funkateers of any belief system should step right up. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Snowglobe,
Our Land Brains,
Doing the Distance

Extant for over two decades, Snowglobe has been described as a Memphis indie rock institution, with the foundation of this esteem grooved into a pair of fresh reissues. Listening to their first album, 2002’s Our Land Brains, which hit vinyl for the first time last November as a double set, and its follow-up, 2005’s Doing the Distance, also debuting on wax July 2, it’s easy to understand why folks would get behind them, or more accurately, stand facing them as they play a set of tunes; the sound is vibrant, also tough, and yet personable. The reissue of Snowglobe’s first album is out through Nine Mile Records of Austin and their second via Black & Wyatt of Memphis. Observations on both are found below.

The scoop with Snowglobe is that they formed not in Memphis but in Athens, GA in 1999 and with connections to the Elephant 6 neo-psych scene of the time. Specifically, there were ties (i.e. shared living spaces) with Elf Power and the Olivia Tremor Control. To put a fine point on it, Snowglobe aren’t an official part of the Elephant 6 Collective, as there’s no listing of them amongst the 47 acts ordered alphabetically at the E6 website, but their strain of psych-pop, regularly seasoned as it is with horns and strings, solidifies the association, nonetheless.

Circa these two albums, Snowglobe was (and appears to still be) comprised of Brad Postlethwaite, Tim Regan, Brandon Robertson, Jeff Hulett, and Nahshon Benford. On Doing the Distance, Postlethwaite and Regan play six instruments each (not including vocals), with Robertson playing five, so I’m dispensing with individual credits here, though I will note that additional hands do help out with strings and pedal steel.

I didn’t hear Snowglobe when these two records were first released (though I was aware of the band’s existence). Being introduced to both records now undeniably alters my point of view. To elaborate, I feel confident that the grade awarded to Our Land Brains below is higher than it would’ve been had I been exposed to the album in 2002.

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Graded on a Curve:
Tim Foljahn,
Dreamed a Dream

Based in Hoboken, NJ by way of Midland, MI, and with time spent in Chicago, New Orleans, and Albuquerque along the way, Tim Foljahn has amassed considerable credits as a guitarist, including Cat Power, Thurston Moore, and Half Japanese. But he’s also a singer-songwriter, with his skills in this regard fortifying the discography of the band Two Dollar Guitar (with Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on drums) and releases under his own name, of which I Dreamed a Dream is his latest. It offers writing as confident as the instrumentation is rich, and with diversity the ace in the hole. The album is out now on 180 gram black vinyl, compact disc, and digital through Cart/Horse Records.

Going way back to the Kalamazoo hardcore scene, Tim Foljahn was in Strange Fruit (aka Strange Fruit Abiku) with Steve Shelley, though like much of the best stuff associated with the HC era, their 7-inch from 1983 doesn’t play by the loud fast rules. Purchasable and perusable digitally with bonus cuts via the Bandcamp page of Shelley’s Vampire Blues label, it’s better described as an inspired mashup of dubbed-out post-punk, no wave abrasion, and art damage in general. There was a full LP, Sin Eaters Picnic, released the following year, but sadly, I’ve yet to hear its contents. Maybe one day.

Foljahn first entered my consciousness around a decade later through Two Dollar Guitar, and roughly simultaneously (I can’t remember which I heard first), as part of Mosquito, an intensely creative trio, again with Shelley and rounded out by Jad Fair, the estimable leader of Half Japanese, the u-ground institution Foljahn also joined during this very fertile indie rock period.

But to drive home Foljahn’s association with Shelley even further, along with helping to back up Chan Marshall on Cat Power’s first few terrific records, they comprised yet another trio, this time with Thurston Moore, releasing one 7-inch (plus a couple comp tracks) as Male Slut in 1995 before recording Moore’s solo LP Psychic Hearts, which was released the same year.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Hope (Northern Spy) Last October, this trio (Marc Ribot on guitar and vocals, Shahzad Ismaily on bass and keyboards with backing vocals, Ches Smith on drums, percussion and electronics with backing vocals) released the pandemic EP “What I Did on My Long Vacation,” a strong set notable for being studio recorded in May of 2020, but with heavy precautions, as everyone was set up in separate rooms (none of the three actually laid eyes on each other while recording). Well, that CD (now sold out) was effectively a teaser for this full-length behemoth (available June 25 on 2LP and CD), which was the byproduct of the same May sessions. It extends Ceramic Dog’s focus on matters social and political very nicely, though this characteristic isn’t as strident as it is on 2018’s YRU Still Here? Saxophonist Darius Jones returns from the EP, bringing the skronk and helping to reinforce the group’s blend of avant-jazz and punk rock. Ceramic Dog is made up of exceptionally gifted players, but just as important is their constant avoidance of the stale. A-

Lucy Gooch, “Rain’s Break” (Fire) This recording was inspired by the technicolor films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, which isn’t exactly common. The best known prior example is Kate Bush’s 1993 album The Red Shoes, a fact doubly germane here, as Gooch, who’s based in Bristol, UK (originally from Norfolk) and a recent arrival on the scene (there is a prior EP, “Rushing,” dating from last year), has been likened to Bush. Listening to “Rain’s Break” (available on vinyl and CD with a gorgeous cover) reveals an ethereality that supports the comparison, though the similarities are never overpowering. This is partly because Gooch is operating with just a synth and her voice, rather than drawing on a wide array of instruments (often in the hands of an all-star supporting cast) as Bush regularly did in the shaping of her discography. However, Gooch’s work is bright, sturdy and unpredictable; she’s been additionally compared to Bjork, Julianna Barwick, and Mary Lattimore, but upon consideration, I don’t think I’d have come to those conclusions on my own. Assured and promising. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Dyke & the Blazers, Down on Funky Broadway: Phoenix 1966–1967 & I Got a Message: Hollywood 1968–1970 (Craft Recordings) Led by Arlester “Dyke” Christian and based in Phoenix, AZ (with roots in Buffalo, NY), Dyke & the Blazers are responsible for one of the essential funk music building blocks with the 1967 two-part single “Funky Broadway.” Now, many will recognize the song through Wilson Pickett’s version, which arrived shortly thereafter and overtook the original on the charts, hitting #1 R&B and rising to #8 Pop (Dyke & the Blazers peaked at #17 and #65, respectively), but as is often the case, the superior version came out first, though as pointed out by Alec Palao in his notes for the first of these two volumes, there is a lack of finesse in Dyke’s raw belting and the Blazer’s relentless combination of density and velocity, so that the whole was likely just too potent to attain smash hit status.

Being overtaken by Atlantic’s powerhouse national distribution was surely another factor in the single’s moderate chart showing, but I’ll reemphasize that Dyke & the Blazers’ approach, in a manner akin to James Brown & the JB’s (who were obviously influenced by “Funky Broadway”), was just too much for many to handle. And listening to these two collections in 2021, it might still be that way. The material on Phoenix in particular documents a band that’s variations on a template are tackled without concern for stylistic breadth (Dyke essentially didn’t do ballads, with “I’m So All Alone” an exception). The move to Hollywood did usher in some refinements as the studio players shifted to the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, but there is still a focus on collective power and grit over individualist flair (the lack of solos is striking, and the drums smack hard). But the fine-tuning in terms of arrangements does magnify Dyke’s limitations as a frontman, but he’s never short on emotion. I rate both sets as essential for budding soul and funk collectors. The Phoenix stuff is just massive… A-/A-

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Graded on a Curve: Colleen,
The Tunnel and
the Clearing

Across two decades and seven LPs, Cécile Schott, who records as Colleen, has grown into one of contemporary music’s most reliably interesting creators. Schott, a native of France currently living in Barcelona, Spain, recorded her latest at home from October 25 to December 1 of last year, producing and mixing the record along with playing everything herself; the instruments include a Yamaha organ, assorted analog electronics, Moog effects, and her voice. That makes The Tunnel and the Clearing a truly solo pandemic experience, but it never registers as a compromise, nor does it even connect as an outlier in the fertile Colleen discography. It’s out now on LP, CD and digital through Thrill Jockey of Chicago.

Cécile Schott recorded The Tunnel and the Clearing last autumn, but only after a significant delay, having initially commenced her follow-up to 2017’s outstanding A flame my love, a frequency the very next year, only to be stricken by fatigue brought on by illness. Treatment followed, as did coping with the ensuing life changes. And then more. After Schott moved home and studio to Barcelona, the Covid-19 lockdown came, and then finally, there was the end of a longtime partnership.

By any reasonable metric, that’s a tough stretch. Although not autobiographical or confessional in nature, The Tunnel and the Clearing reflects these personal circumstances through emotional richness that’s heightened by Schott’s well-established attention to acoustics and her dedication to a wide instrumental palette, as she’s previously utilized the viola da gamba, classical guitar, vintage music boxes, crystal glass singing bowls, clarinet, spinet, and melodica.

It’s also noteworthy that recording truly solo is standard practice for Schott, though that doesn’t mean this time wasn’t distinct, as she has related how the long stretches of lockdown silence intensified her perception of music’s ability to express the range of human emotion. It’s also not her first time tapping into the potential of electronics, as A flame my love, a frequency featured two Critter & Guitari brand synths, the Pocket Piano and the Septavox, plus a Moog delay.

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Graded on a Curve: Excavate! The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall, Edited by Tessa Norton and Bob Stanley

As The Fall’s constant fount of creativity, vocalist-songwriter Mark E. Smith has attained a rare position in the rock pantheon, with the man and his band exhaustively covered in print form. And so, the publication of Excavate! The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall might seem an inessential item. However, the objective of editors Tessa Norton and Bob Stanley isn’t biography, but is rather to assemble between hardcovers a series of ambitious essays plus photos of front and back album covers, flyers, correspondence and much more. Delivering vivid portraiture of and perspectives into the environments that shaped Smith and his art, it’s out in the USA today June 22 through Faber Books.

Norton and Stanley’s objectives for Excavate! are admirably bold, but it still feels right that the book’s final piece is a eulogy, by Richard McKenna, that was published on January 30, 2018, six days after Smith’s death, for the website We Are the Mutants, of which McKenna is senior editor. It’s also fitting that his opening line functions a bit like tripwire for writers covering this hefty tome who might not have finished the text or indeed even bothered to begin: “Mistrust all eulogies containing the words ‘contrarian,’ ‘curmudgeon’ and ‘national treasure’: these are inevitably the work of hacks.”

It’s pretty clear the author was referring to those either choosing to or fulfilling the given task of eulogizing Smith in the period shortly after his passing, so that hopefully the next sentence in this paragraph will escape McKenna’s harsh judgement (but if not, them’s the breaks). If by now so well-established as to be considered clichés, in the admittedly short interval since his passing, “contrarian” and “curmudgeon” (we’ll set “national treasure” aside for a bit), along with an unquenchable thirst for booze, remain dominant aspects of Mark E. Smith’s persona.

Norton and Stanley’s book doesn’t refurbish his reputation but instead complicates the issue by delving into the outside forces that helped shape Smith’s perspectives and his art. That means the man isn’t always front and center, with the shift of emphasis onto influences artistic, cultural, and environmental driving home that Smith’s antagonisms weren’t kneejerk or for the sake of just being difficult (well, mostly), and that his grumbling and grousing ultimately stemmed from the same complex worldview that shaped his art.

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Graded on a Curve:
Paul & Linda McCartney, Ram

Celebrating Paul Mccartney on his 79th birthday.Ed.

Paul McCartney was the member of the Fab Four that so many used to relish knocking around. Whether it was in spirited bar chats or animated discussions at parties, when the tide turned to The Beatles somebody could always be counted on for a hearty jibe at Macca’s expense. And in my above use of “so many” I’m generally referring to males and by “somebody” I’m specifically speaking of those who indisputably considered John Lennon to be the Best Beatle.

While for those truly devoted fans of the band there could simply never be a Worst, for many Paul was the Square Beatle, a designation not borne out by the facts, for he was as interested in the avant-garde as any member. Hell, in ’68 he co-produced “I’m the Urban Spaceman” by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for Pete’s sake, an act that places him rather high up on the meter of cool. However, others derided him as the Corporate Beatle. And yeah, it’s true that Paul never lost track of the business aspect of the whole affair, but his behavior in this regard hasn’t really played out as particularly odious in comparison to other rock star types of not even half his stature or talent.

But both Paul’s image and the assessment of his post-Beatle solo career has rebounded in recent years. Much of this might have to do with the constantly regenerating fanbase of the Four consistently growing older and perhaps letting go of the rebelliousness that inspired easy identification with Lennon or Harrison. It also might be related to the race for Coolest Living Beatle being down to him and Ringo “No More Mail, Thanks” Starr.

But seriously. In my estimation Paul’s general critical resurgence is a welcome phenomenon, if only because his first two solo records have finally gotten something approximate to the proper level of respect. And yes, for years I bought the baloney regarding the collective underwhelming nature of McCartney and Ram, too.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Hprizm, Signs Remixed (Positive Elevation / 577) MC and producer Hprizm, aka High Priest, is well-known as a founding member of Antipop Consortium, one of the cornerstone groups in avant-hip-hop’s turn of the century explosion. Antipop hasn’t released a record since 2009, but Hprizm’s Magnetic Memory came out on the Don Giovanni label in 2018, and he’s following it up with an album remixing Signs, the terrific debut recording of electronic music from crucial contempo avant-jazz drummer Gerald Cleaver, which came out last year on 577. The art of remixing can run the gamut of quality from inventive reinterpretations (that largely retain some semblance of recognizability) to autopilot hackery. Thankfully, in Hprizm’s hands, Cleaver’s pieces serve as a springboard toward invigorating possibilities. Now, if you’re expecting an infusion of slamming beats, please understand that Hprizm’s approach is broad and often abstract (in keeping with Cleaver’s source work). It’s altogether a captivating listen, but I’m especially fond of the throbbing tension in “AKA Radiator.” A

Gerald Cleaver, Griots (Positive Elevation / 577) Signs Remixed is being purposely released in conjunction with Griots, Cleaver’s second excursion into modular electronics, with both issued by 577’s new sublabel, Positive Elevation (“dedicated to electronic experimentation and avant soul.”). Although the majority of Griots’ 11 pieces are titled after individuals of significance to the New Yorker by way of Detroit (e.g. “Cooper-Moore,” “Victor Lewis,” “Geri Allen,” “William Parker”), Cleaver clarifies that this isn’t a tribute record, with his point well taken, as the contents maintain a consistently higher level of quality than most tributes. Rather than assuming that expressions of admiration will transform through sincerity into 30 minutes to an hour of worthwhile listening, Cleaver instead lets his inspirations (which include the Detroit jazz collective Tribe and Faruq Z. Bey of the Motown jazz group Griot Galaxy) serve as a starting point for a deeper delve into electronic territory, with an emphasis on the Motor City techno of his youth. Griots is an acknowledgement of roots, with its sounds vital and unpredictable. A

Assorted Orchids, S/T (Whale Watch) Assorted Orchids is the recording moniker of Massachusetts native T. McWilliams, and this is his debut, though I’ll note that he’s 35 years old, so there’s a steadiness (that life experience can bring) tangible throughout this succinct recording’s ten tracks. Fingerpicking is also consistently in the foreground, but McWilliams hits those steel and nylon strings hard, with this aspect of his sound intensified by the album’s depth of fidelity. I’ll add that guitar and vocals (his singing as prominent in the mix as the picking) are Assorted Orchids’ main ingredients, with Mississippi John Hurt, Donovan, and Nick Drake cited as influences. In terms of overall sound, he’s much closer to the Brits, but except for the aura of intimacy, he doesn’t particularly remind me of either one. There are a few fleeting moments that do make me think of Robyn Hitchcock if he’d been heavily impacted in his formative years by Bert Jansch. And the last couple selections led me to wonder if McWilliams cut this record in a lighthouse, but no, it was tracked at Wonka Sound Studios in the city of Lowell. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Milt Jackson & Ray Charles, Soul Brothers (Rhino) Ray Charles is a pillar of 20th century music, but his discography is large, and from my perspective, the two albums he cut with Milt Jackson for Atlantic are too frequently overlooked, perhaps because neither LP features Charles’ voice. Soul Brothers was the first, released in 1958 (Soul Meeting came out in ’61), and it has an abundance of fine qualities. Naturally, prominent among them is Charles on piano and Jackson on vibes, but the record is just as notable for documenting Charles’ alto sax (the title track and “How Long How Long Blues,” comprising the entirety of side one), and on the album’s mono pressings (which is what Rhino is reissuing) “Bag’s Guitar Blues,” which is the only recording of Jackson playing guitar. If you’re getting the idea that these sessions were relaxed, that’s affirmative, but the playing is sharp for the duration, heightened with Billy Mitchell on tenor, Skeeter Best on guitar, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and Jackson’s Modern Jazz Quartet bandmate Connie Kay on drums. The goodness is inexhaustible. A

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Graded on a Curve:
The Tremolo Beer Gut, You Can’t Handle…The Tremolo Beer Gut

Copenhagen, Denmark’s The Tremolo Beer Gut describe their sound as Surf & Western. That means not only do they emphasize the twang, but they burrow deep into the pasta variations of cinematic oaters. You Can’t Handle…The Tremolo Beer Gut is the band’s fifth studio full-length but first in six years, offering 16 cuts and a load of guest spots. While the sound can be assessed as unapologetically retro, there is a high level of smarts enhancing the sharpness of attack. As with their prior output, the Crunchy Frog label is handling this release in Europe, but in the USA, it’s coming out on June 18 via the combined efforts of MuSick Recordings of Los Angeles and No-Count Records of Seattle.  

Although I remain appreciative of bands that are dedicated to roots styles and general R&R simplicity this deep into the 21st century, I will confess to approaching the fruits of their labor with varying degrees of trepidation, as disappointment frequently arises. But it’s not a total wasteland. Preferable are the raunchier and more destructive approaches, but occasionally, a well-honed act acquits themselves through astuteness and sheer energy.

So it is with The Tremolo Beer Gut, who, save for the infrequent hoop, holler or repeated phrase, is an instrumental outfit that was founded by Jesper “Yebo” Reginal and Sune Rose Wagner back in 1998. Some may recognize Wagner’s name from The Raveonettes, whose popularity required him to step away from the Gut, with the lead guitar duties then assumed by producer The Great Nalna. He’s still in the band along with guitarist Jengo, bassist Per Sunding, and Yebo on drums.

However, this LP’s “Hot! Hot! Heatwave!” features some guitar playing from Wagner, his presence likely to deliver an added treat for fans after the long wait for this new record. And as the intensity of the track’s chiming motions rises, the thrust gets further boosted by the guest vocal interjections of Flavia Couri and Martin Couri, the duo that comprises contempo Danish-Brazilian guitar-drum bashers The Courettes.

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Graded on a Curve: Thomas Comerford, Introverts

Chicagoan Thomas Comerford is releasing his fourth solo album, Introverts, on July 18. He’s drawn comparisons to early Wilco, which is apt as his work benefits from the heft and interactive spark of a multi-piece band, but more striking is the stated influence of Gene Clark and Tim Hardin, acknowledgements that reinforce his singer-songwriter bona fides. Like many who fortify the annals of the vocalizing tunesmith, Comerford’s compositions possess an instantaneous allure that only grows with repeated listens. His latest, which offers eight selections on vinyl and digital, is available via Spacesuit Records.

The immediate appeal described above is indeed right there in Introvert’s opening track “Not Like Anybody Else,” specifically through guitar strum that hangs halfway between Loaded-era Velvets and the biggest hit by Stealers Wheel (you know the one). However, the largeness of Matthew Cummings’ bass playing favors the VU side of the equation (definitely a positive), while the vividness of Comerford’s words establish him as an uncommonly astute exponent of the singer-songwriter tradition. Adding to this is distinctive inflection that at times recalls Bill Callahan and David Berman.

Don’t let those comparisons insinuate that he’s aping either of the two. It’s just that Comerford has a tone, likeably unsmooth, that’s well-suited for the flowing musicality of his delivery. Setting him apart is a lack of awkwardness or the idiosyncratic in his singing, as he alternates laidback flirtations with impassioned crescendos in “Cowboy Mouth,” a combination that’s complemented by the song’s almost soft rock feel, and with this ambience itself tweaked with effects-laden backing vocals.

As Introverts progresses, an alt-country-tinged sensibility does occasionally take shape, though it’s to Comerford’s credit that his strain of the style resists the orthodox. In “Three Sisters” for example, the hovering synth suggests a mellotron and by extension, offers a brief dalliance with cosmic country, though together with the brisk tempo, the track simultaneously gestures toward guitar-pop.

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Ìxtahuele, Eden Ahbez’s Dharmaland (Subliminal Sounds) Eden Ahbez remains best known for writing “Nature Boy,” which was a smash hit in 1948 for Nat King Cole, though in connection with that achievement Ahbez was noted for a proto-hippie lifestyle that included mysticism, health foods, and extended living outdoors (you know, in nature). The Swedish exotica band Ìxtahuele (amongst its members is Mattias Uneback, whose highly enjoyable Voyage Beneath the Sea came out last year, also on Subliminal Sounds) has undertaken the recording of Ahbez’s late compositions, which were located in the Library of Congress by this album’s coproducer (and liner scribe) Brian Chidester. The results are deftly played and with obvious love and respect for the material. Fans of Martin Denny will surely be pleased, but a song like “Dharma Man,” sung by King Kukulele, gives a lighthearted (some might say novelty) spin to the clear influence of Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, and delivers a tune that would’ve fit very nicely on Rhino’s The Beat Generation box set. Like, cool, daddy-o. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Chicago/The Blues/Today! (Craft) Recorded for the Vanguard label in 1965 at the behest of Sam Charters, the three LPs in this collection were initially released as separate volumes. They were first reissued together in 1999, and now here they are again for RSD in a triple gatefold sleeve with two sets of notes by Charters and some words from critic Ed Ward (RIP). Issuing them together makes for a more expensive package, but that’s really beside the point, as anybody with an interest will want all three. Bluntly, this material from nine Windy City blues bands is indispensable from side one to side six. The artists tapped are Junior Wells, J.B. Hutto, Otis Spann, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Homesick James, Johnny Young, Johnny Shines and Big Walter Horton with Charlie Musselwhite. Of course, guitars, mouth harps, and pianos are well represented, but Young’s mandolin adds some unexpected breadth. Along with a handful of LPs put out on Delmark by Bob Koester (RIP), this set exemplifies the sound of the Chicago blues in the 1960s. It still delivers an astonishing kick. A

Michel Legrand, La Piscine OST + “Un Homme Est Mort” (WEWANTSOUNDS) Legrand, who passed in 2019, remains one of the greatest of film composers, and one of the best at utilizing the legit essence of jazz. The list of his exceptional scores is long, so instead I’ll mention that this is one of his less celebrated OSTs, at least in the USA, where the 1969 psychological thriller directed by Jacques Deray doesn’t have much of a reputation, at least not until very recently, with its 2021 restoration and theatrical rerelease, 4K Blu-ray from Criterion, and the LP at hand (the bonus RSD-only 45 offers two cuts from a 1972 Deray film scored by Legrand). Starring the smoking hot bods of Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, a soundtrack positively brimming with chicness was required, but Legrand delivers more, grabbing violinist Stephane Grappelli, calling on his vocalist sister Christiane Legrand (a member of the Swingle Singers), and even getting Delaney Bramlett to sing on one of the album’s two pop-rock numbers (but it’s the other one, “Ask Yourself Why,” sung in English by Sally Stevens, that’s the gem). The 45 is a total smoker. A

The Raybeats, The Lost Philip Glass Sessions (Ramp Local) NYC’s The Raybeats featured George Scott, Don Christensen, and Jody Harris, all fresh from the Contortions, and also included Pat Irwin, who played with Scott in 8-Eyed Spy (Lydia Lunch’s band after Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), so the No Wave connection is sturdy. But if you’re expecting pure abrasiveness and alienation, please understand that The Raybeats were tagged at the time as a neo-surf group. One could also call them a party rock combo, a description that points ahead to Irwin’s later work with the B-52’s. Also, Danny Amis, who replaced Scott after his death by overdose, went on to play in Los Straitjackets. Of the seven tracks here, Amis plays bass on a cover of Link Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” and guitar on “A Sad Little Caper.” Those and two more cuts, “Pack of Camels” and “Black Beach,” were produced by Philip Glass, who also played keyboards (and released it all in 2013 on his Orange Mountain Music label, though this is its first time on vinyl). A few of these moves are showing their age, but overall, this hangs together quite well. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Kenny Dorham,
Quiet Kenny

When it comes to Modern Jazz trumpet, few were better than McKinley Howard “Kenny” Dorham. His credits are vast, including support roles, membership in cooperative combos, and as a leader. One of the best of the latter, Quiet Kenny, recorded in November of 1959 and released in February of the following year, is getting reissued by Craft Recordings for the June 12, 2021 drop of Record Store Day. Featuring an unimpeachable quartet with Dorham the sole horn, the record’s seven tracks transcend any titular insinuations of the tranquil. Instead, it’s a non-ostentatious display of collective mastery with Dorham in the driver’s seat. In other words, it’s a joy for the ear.

In my short capsule rave of Quiet Kenny written for this very website back in 2017, I offered that Dorham’s “stature as a major post-bop trumpeter has flagged not a whit.” Giving that statement some further thought, I’m confronted with the possibility that the high regard to which I referred applies mainly to heavy-duty jazz heads, a regenerative community that has kept Quiet Kenny and indeed much of Dorham’s output in print (on CD and now digitally if not necessarily on vinyl) for decades.

This consistency of availability can propose a consensus of esteem for the trumpeter, but it occurs to me that some folks in the here and now who are curious about jazz might not even know who the guy is. This is worth ruminating upon, for it was Dorham who stepped into Charlie Parker’s Quintet in 1948, replacing Miles Davis (Dorham’s recording debut began in 1945 on a 78rpm disc cut for the Musicraft label by Mercer Ellington and His Orchestra).

Dorham was also a Jazz Messenger (early, before that aggregation essentially became the Art Blakey Allstars), played with Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, joined Max Roach’s Quintet after the untimely death by car accident of the trumpet phenom Clifford Brown, and to jump ahead to the ’60s, contributed to one of the true masterworks in the jazz canon, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure.

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Graded on a Curve:
Van Dyke Parks & Verónica Valerio,
“Only in America–Solo
en América”

It’s the 21st year of the 2st century (if you haven’t already noticed), and Van Dyke Parks could really rest on his laurels. But no. Hell no. Instead of loafing during quarantine (which would’ve been totally understandable), he spent the time productively, collaborating with singer-songwriter and harpist Verónica Valerio on the 4-song EP “Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America.” The two worked separately with their chosen musicians, exchanging ideas and building the finished songs over distance without having met in person. The music is as warm as a loving embrace, however. It’s out June 11 on 10-inch wax with cover art by Klaus Voormann through BMG subsidiary Modern Recordings.

Verónica Valerio hails from Veracruz, Mexico. Along with studying music at home and in NYC, she’s guest lectured on vocal folk music at Boston’s Berklee College, and has performed in Mexico, the USA, Europe and Asia. Valerio is well-versed in son jarocho, the Veracruz-based regional variant of the folk style son mexicano, but as explained in this EP’s promo text, from a young age she has sought to expand beyond the son jaracho tradition.

That Valerio initiated this collab is ultimately related to Parks’ talent and rep, but it also pertains to his continued relevance as an artist, this significance stemming in part from persistent open-mindedness (progressiveness if you will) that has allowed him not only to work with stalwarts of his generation such as Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, and Harry Nilsson, but also with younger musicians, and with seeming ease. His credits include The Chills, Silverchair, Rufus Wainwright, Vic Chesnutt, Inara George, Grizzly Bear, and notably in regard to “Only in America,” Joanna Newsom.

Parks’ excellence in the role of producer and arranger on Newsom’s Ys might’ve made an impression on fellow harpist Valerio, though the songs that comprise “Only in America” are stylistically distinctive. They are also beautifully sung in Spanish, with her vocals and harp (and occasionally additional instrumentation, such as percussion and violin) having served as the root Valerio sent to Parks for orchestration.

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Graded on a Curve: Violent Femmes,
Hallowed Ground

Celebrating Gordon Gano on the day of his birth.Ed.

If the 1983 self-titled debut by Violent Femmes is one of the hot half-dozen expressions of Teen Angst American Style ever waxed, then Hallowed Ground, the group’s still divisive second effort from the following year is one of rock music’s core texts in how to successfully flout expectations. It still succeeds greatly as a document of nervy conceptual growth and as a major breakthrough in terms of individual musicianship.

A lingering wisdom about Violent Femmes’ first album is that it inevitably landed squarely in the lap of any ‘80s teen that had grasped just how inescapably miserable was the struggle of growing up; the isolation, the hopelessness, the short highs followed by extended lows, the sexual overload, the distasteful omnipresence of authority. Instead of just internalizing this knowledge many naturally flaunted their alienation over this unrelentingly oppressive environment via haircuts, clothing choices, and most importantly artistic taste.

The strategic reading of Catcher in the Rye on park benches aside, music has proven a startlingly effective way of expressing that unsubtle concept of Not Fitting In. Indeed, music has long been synonymous with youth in revolt, and if circa 1985 one spied a surly, disheveled teen sauntering along the sidewalks of some suburban landscape with a sticker covered backpack and a Walkman, it was a safe bet that they were carrying a cassette copy of Violent Femmes in the pocket of their tattered thrift-store trench coat.

A true rite of passage, it was also an LP so ubiquitous that I have no recollection of hearing it for the first time; once someone was identified as belonging to the great brigade of young non-conformists it was inevitable that a more experienced member of this community would lend a helping hand and expose the newcomer to the alluring strains of Midwestern anxiety.

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