Author Archives: Roger Catlin

Record Store Day is Now a Book as Well

Marking just its 15th anniversary, Record Store Day is now an established enough cultural event to warrant its own book. Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century (Rare Bird, $20) by Larry Jaffee tells the tale of the triumph of vinyl as music’s hard copy of choice in part because of the annual day that calls attention to the mom and pop stores that have been the mainstays of the record business, and to celebrate the format that has not only just survived but is recently thriving.

In it, Jaffee recounts the rise of vinyl sales in recent years, concurrent with the increasing embrace of Record Store Day, including testimonials from a number of artists to the vinyl format and their formative years hanging out in such cherished places. “The timing was good,” Jaffe says in an interview. “I think it was better they waited until 15 years as opposed to ten, because the story is so much better at this point and had this really unusual arc to it in the sense that the pandemic changed the game for a lot of stores especially, and labels.”

“Nobody knew how much effect being closed for four months, for example, would have,” Jaffe says. “What it did was to force certain stores who wouldn’t have done e-commerce to get up to speed on doing online sales. One of the great things also was how the industry shared information on best practices to keep everyone safe.”

It was also in recent years that vinyl re-emerged as music’s top physical object after years of being dominated by the compact disc. Jaffee had been commissioned to write the book by Record Store Day co-founder Michael Kurtz after covering the vinyl resurgence for a number of publications. He traces its beginnings to a 2007 conference of three major independent record store coalitions that had been “friendly rivals” before.

“It was at that conference, the record day concept was green-lit,” Jaffee says. “The funny thing is they waited until the morning of last day to try to get support for this concept and there were only 10 people around, so I did my best to track down each of those people.” Of them, some were still hung over or otherwise recovering from the partying that had gone on the night before. “A few of the principals couldn’t even give exact details of what happened.” he says. “But enough did.”

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Paul Morley,
The TVD Interview

The creation of the Manchester music scene in England can be traced in many ways to one man—a bespectacled TV journalist there named Tony Wilson. His work in signing Joy Division and creating Factory Records inspired dozens of other bands and made the industrial city in the North a kind of beacon for a type of post-punk, industrial sound before he died in 2007 at 57.

Also from Manchester, the writer Paul Morley chronicled the rise of the city’s sounds and the particular character of Wilson over the years for New Musical Express and other publications. More recently, he’s spent 10 years writing the eventual biography, From Manchester to Love: The Life and Opinions of Tony Wilson, which is just now getting a US release this month on Faber Books. We talked via Zoom with Morley from London about the effects one man could have on a city, and culture.

Why did it take a decade to complete the book?

It was something I wanted to get right. I think technically a few years ago I could have finished it.  I wanted more perspective on it, to see how he would develop as a character as times were changing very quickly. The kind of iconoclast that Tony Wilson was in the 20th century—those kinds of figures don’t exist anymore.

I suppose it could have been difficult to know at what point to end the book as well.

That’s right. Because stories continue to change. And also it’s a story about a city, Manchester. And that’s been going through a lot of changes, a lot of  them having to do with Tony’s presence and ambitions. For me the equivalence was the 19th century industrialists who set up the city and are already being forgotten about, apart from the occasional statue. I just wanted to animate that work. Because it’s a story not just about music, it’s about many other things as well.

Did you grow up in Manchester?

Yes. I grew up in Manchester, in a town just a few miles south, Stockport. Manchester consists of a lot of satellite areas if you like. The city center itself is very compact and small. It’s got a lot of resident history.

So I hit my teens in the early 1970s, I was just a bit younger than Wilson. At a time when Manchester seemed to be done as a place; its history seemed over, people like Tony Wilson, oddly enough, kept urging it to reconnect with its industrial heyday.

How did he try to make that happen?  

I think it was simply the fact that he had a knowledge of it. Unlike the people in that area at the time, he was a Cambridge University student, which gave him an immediate difference to the rest of us; he’d been out there, and been out in the world and come back with a very different kind of presence than most Northerners, an intellectual presence, or the presence of a deeper, stranger thinker.

He was very aware of the history of Manchester and the history of things that were firsts: the first computer, first suffragettes, the first library. He felt that we considered ourselves in the North at the edges or margins of the universe, why not put ourselves at the center of the universe. And he had the ambition and energy and the desire to do that.

Of course he was also a great broadcaster, and what happened in the late ’50s and 1960s, a local TV company, Granada, started working out of Manchester, showing that it could be good. And it was very innovative and progressive, and had some of the greatest journalists in the country. It gave a great modern presence to the city in the ’60s as it was declining. Tony ended up there and that fed into the realization that he could make a change. He had a revolutionary sensibility as well, coming out being 18 in 1968, the year of all the great revolutions. And this all sort of coincided.

But it was music that he thought he would do this through?

Yes. The first visit in 1976 of the Sex Pistols to Manchester—that was a great catalyst for him. Not so much the music but their manager Malcolm McLaren, who he identified with as a figure very similar to him. He didn’t do anything specific. You couldn’t say he was a musician or an artist or a designer or a writer, it was this weird thing you have a lot of examples of in rock music, the impresario, the behind the scenes character, like Andrew Loog Oldham or Brian Epstein or Peter Grant—the ones who saw and made the myths. And he was a great myth-maker, so McLaren made him think he could do something. He was very good at broadcasting at Granada television, and he was a local celebrity. But he got bored easily, and he was just at a lull. He was bored and looking for an opportunity to do something else and make things happen.

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TVD Live: Santana at Treasure Island, 4/8

WELCH, MN | There is something about the serenity and tone of Carlos Santana that keeps him soaring, more than a half century after the world ignited from the Latin fire he brought to Woodstock. The magic of that appearance, which essentially made the band’s career, continues to be alive as the band that performs under his name plays every show, including one at a rural Minnesota casino on a chilly April night.

His generous set at the Treasure Island Casino in Welch, MN, last Friday (4/8) didn’t culminate with the Woodstock hits; it started with it. First with footage from the popular movie, and three songs from the band’s first album that they played at that mammoth stage: “Soul Sacrifice,” “Jingo,” and “Evil Ways” without a break between them.

And then they jumped to the peaks of their million-selling second album—their cover of  Peter Green’s “Black Magic Woman” that segues into Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen,” right into their version of Tito Puente’s “One Coma Va,” just as it came on Abraxas.

The five song assault—joyful and fulfilling enough to fill a winning Super Bowl halftime show—was capped with the coolness of “Samba Pa Ti,” the lilting instrumental, which like so much of Santana’s music has perfect tone and control, and wild power as the percussion revs behind him.

Santana, at 74, is quite a serene player on stage, head tilting back as he reacts to the pure notes on his custom Paul Reed Smith, often turning to his band like a jazz player to give and receive their input. He wore a shirt that pictured Jimi Hendrix; other nights he’d wear Bob Marley. He continues to exemplify the best of both men in their musical chops and uplift.

And when the crowd had received so much, so soon in the set, they were quite happy to receive his blissed-out spiritual speeches that followed in what is the show’s first break between songs. There was also a moment given to sing happy birthday to his longtime conga player Karl Perazzo, who has been with the band since the early ’90s.

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TVD Live Shots: Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs with Jeremy Ivey at the Birchmere, 3/28

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | With Tom Petty gone since 2017, fans have flocked to the shows of his longtime guitarist, producer, and collaborator Mike Campbell. With the same kind of Florida panhandle twang, rock ’n’ roll pedigree and especially taste in top hats, he’s the closest and most authentic connection to a beloved body of music.

But the talented Campbell, 72, has been busy in a lot of other ventures, too, over the years, helping out bands in the studio, co-writing with stars and even serving as part of Fleetwood Mac for a tour. For the last decade or so, he’s also maintained a stripped-down, garage sounding rock band, the Dirty Knobs, who’ve only released their first two albums in the last couple of years.

The Dirty Knobs have been listed to play a gig at the Birchmere in Alexandria for more than two years. First scheduled for March 17, 2020, it was postponed to September 2020, then rescheduled for a year later, September 2021, and finally to a late March, long sold out show this week.

“Hey Virginia! We made it,” Campbell greeted. “Thank you all for risking your lives to be with us tonight, just as we’ve risked our lives to be with you.” (You’d think the pandemic was officially over, though, with no vaccination checks, nary a mask in sight, and fans packed as tightly as ever on the long tables.)

It was a generous, generally rocking show on a wide stage, where equipment, amps and guitars spilled clear down the runway to backstage. The volume was that of someone used to arenas and stadia as well (or someone who had already lost their hearing at such venues).

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TVD Live: Poguetry
in Motion at the Black Cat, 3/17

While we were away.Ed.

The Pogues and St. Patrick’s Day were always a natural combination to be celebrated by the Irish from any background. Many are the fans who clamored to see the Irish roots punk band on their annual March visits to the East Coast.

Nearly as welcome, then, is the tour by Poguetry in Motion, which played St. Paddy’s at the Black Cat in DC, for the first time in two years—shortly before the pandemic put a halt to their tour and nearly everything else in the performing world. There was some extra joy, then, at the simple pleasure of live music in a room full of grateful fans who had been unable to gather like this for a good long while.

Poguetry is the brainchild of Peter Richard “Spider” Stacy, the Pogues’ tin whistle player and late period sometimes frontman. While spending some time in New Orleans he crossed paths with the Grammy-winning zydeco outfit Lost Bayou Ramblers, realizing there were a few similarities to their approaches to roots music, if not their instrumentation (electric guitar and drums, but also fiddle and squeezebox).

Soon they were jamming on Pogues tunes and before long Cait O’Riordan, the original Pogues bassist, was on board as well. Carrying such key bona fides, a tour naturally followed. Their Black Cat show proved that with the penny whistle, the original vocals of O’Riordan and a steady drum (from the Ramblers’ Kirkland Middleton), they were able to conjure the best of things like “I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Everyday” from 1985’s Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, the source of so much material in the Pogues-centric set.

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TVD Live: St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Thee Sacred Souls at the Lincoln Theatre, 3/8

While we were away.Ed.

“It’s been two and a half years since I’ve been able to be with an audience,” Paul Janeway, the venerable saint of the soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, told the crowd at the Lincoln Theatre. He wasn’t talking about performing; the band had played dozens of shows since the pandemic hit, getting back on the road in August 2020. He was talking about really being with the audience, plunging down in it and walking among them as he performed.

So he gingerly stepped down from the stage and strolled up an aisle unmolested as he sang another one of his songs that blended gospel feel with soul yearning, “Sanctify.” Up to the back of the hall, up the back stairs across the balcony, singing down to where the first floor crowd was turned around and looking back, the seven-piece Broken Bones churning away on stage.

Accompanied by a roadie who wasn’t so much providing security as he was being pressed to do lighting—shining a flashlight on the singer’s face, Janeway made his way finally to the boxes overhanging the stage—a nice perch for him to sing and reach out at the climax of the song.

He was only a few songs into their set—one of two nights in DC that would conclude at the nearby 9:30 Club Wednesday. But that was also the extent of his performance outreach, at least until he high fives a toddler on her dad’s shoulders in the encore. He spent the entirety of the following instrumental—inserted more to kill time than to showcase soloists—trying to get back onto the stage.

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Urge Overkill,
The TVD Interview

Formed 36 years ago in Chicago, Urge Overkill was an edgy garage outfit that aligned with a number of notable producers from Steve Albini and Butch Vig to Kramer and the Butcher Brothers. Running adjacent to the grunge boom—opening for Nirvana’s Nevermind tour and then Pearl Jam’s Vs. tour—they found their own moment with a delicious cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” buoyed by prime placement in Quentin Tarantino’s enduring 1994 Pulp Fiction.

Nash Kato and Eddie “King” Roeser led the band (with a succession of drummers so numerous it gave Spinal Tap a run for its money) but split at the heights of their popularity only to reunite in the new century. Their strong 2011 comeback Rock & Roll Submarine has led to their new one, Oui, out this week on Omnivore Records with its own smart cover, “Freedom” by Wham! We spoke to Nash and King over a frozen party line recently.

Why did it take ten years to make your new album?

King: You know, that’s a good question and an obvious question. We are benefitting from it not coming out in the last three years. The genesis of this record really is, since our reformation as a band that kind of self-destructed in the mid ’90s—at our peak I may add; it was a very conscious self-destruction—we cautiously got together for a show for our friends and co-conspirators

This Urge reformation thing happened in stages. We really had a falling out where time healed all wounds. We couldn’t go anywhere in Chicago without people quizzing us why on Earth we had stopped being a band. And enough time had gone by where we ourselves forgot why on earth we stopped being a band.

At the risk of piling on, why did you?

King: Whatever salient concerns of the moment really, to be brutally honest, were life or death concerns. There were drug issues. And two thirds of us felt that continuing meant most likely somebody was going to die. And people were dying at a rapid rate around us. We felt like the magic had turned into bad juju for the band, and expectations were raised beyond what we had gotten into the band. The process of making music together became something that was out of our control. We didn’t really foresee what was going to happen. Our slice of territory musically became grunge, which became this in-demand thing. It wasn’t really what we signed up for.

I mean, with hindsight being 20/20, I think Nash and I could have worked things out, and been happily employed at a major label through the late ’90s into the early 2000s, but such was not to be. And I think largely we escaped putting out what both of us agree would have been either a terrible record or a record that didn’t have our hearts in it. If we were going to do a record at that point, it really would have been a strictly commercial enterprise. And that’s not what we were in it for.

You know frankly, looking back at it now, the reason Kurt Cobain is dead is that everybody wanted the cow to produce more milk. The guy tried to kill himself. What more message do you need to put out there that it’s time to stop. This tremendous machinery was, like, “You guys have to strike while the iron’s hot.” It was, I think, irresponsible of his management to not see that clearly the warning lights were on. And I think we wisely decided to hang up our cleats, as it were.

Another thing we realized pretty quickly is that when you’re at the height of your career, you’re like, “Well, this game can’t be that tough. We all thought we’d be able to have these illustrious solo careers easily. But
the magic of a rock band is not so easily cooked up.

So that was something that took us an initial five years after we broke up the band, to realize: Yeah, it’s not that easy to find people that you’re really simpatico with, unless you’re really going to be really strictly a solo project—and that is kind of boring. But you have to go through that, you really have to experience that to really know what you missed; to have a gang of compadres.

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TVD Premiere: Urge Overkill, “Forgiven”

That essential jolt of rock ’n’ roll—timeless, freewheeling, hard charging—comes to you courtesy of Urge Overkill, the outfit out of Chicago, resurfacing in 2022 with new stuff. The Vinyl District is proud to premiere the bracing “Forgiven” here from their upcoming album Oui, due in stores February 11 via Omnivore Recordings.

It will be the first new release in more than a decade from the band that earned its name backing Nirvana on its Nevermind tour, Pearl Jam on the Vs. tour, and especially with their cover of Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” that became a sensation in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

The vibrant, almost offhand “Forgiven”—one of 11 new originals on an album that also includes a cover of Wham’s “Freedom,” came with some specific inspirations from some classic rockers, Eddie “King” Roeser says. “Little Richard. The Killer, Jerry Lee. Gang of Four, Some Girls, Television. Unwittingly these were the sounds swimming through my brain the day I started working on ‘Forgiven.’”

His only goal, he says, was to “return with something that rocked.” Turned out it was simple. “I had been messing around working on high volume riffs,” Roeser tells us. “You don’t need lyrics, all kinds of songs just repeat one word for a while—just go over there and kick some fucking ass!” As such, the words come secondarily—and spontaneously. Working with longtime band partner Nash Kato, “I freeform sang most of the ideas you hear on the track,” Rouser says.

Forgive him if the words seem just right for a world trying to crawl out from the pandemic, with refrains like “When the world comes down around you, you gotta believe,” and ultimately: ”I’m going to be among the living / I don’t want to hear your opinion.”

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TVD Live: Bob Dylan at the Anthem, 12/2

Before it was so rudely interrupted, Bob Dylan’s annual touring regimen took on a recurring pattern, playing the same towns the same times of the year. His last time in Washington, DC was the first week of December 2019. The final show in that leg of the campaign that he never called the Never Ending Tour looked like it may well have served as his last live performance ever as the pandemic raged on, closing venues for more than a year and a half, wiping out touring schedules for more than a year as Dylan, deserving a break after so many years of service, was entering his ninth decade.

But a brief month-long tour materialized despite all odds (and during a brief clearing in the gloom of Covid variants) and here was Dylan, back in DC at the Anthem during the first week of December 2021 closing the latest leg of his tour, selling out the place at 80.

With the latest handful of subtle but tasty musicians behind him, Dylan emerged from the shadows a couple of minutes before the 8 o’clock start time, suggesting an early bird special. The ensemble remained in shadows or silhouette for much of the show, which depended on dim footlights and illumination of the curtain folds behind them.

And when they all shambled to a start on an unrecognizable “Watching the River Flow,” it seemed like Dylan, behind a big upright piano, was sputtering to keep up, the river’s flow having gotten away from him. His voice was a froggy growl, as if frayed at the end of the tour, the timing all wrong. Things didn’t much improve on the next song announcing his intention to forge his own direction despite expectations, “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine.”

It seemed like it was going to be a long night.

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TVD Live: The Flaming Lips at The Anthem, 11/16

Add to the list of necessary roadie skills that of leaf blower.

He’s the guy who scampers on stage at a Flaming Lips concert to inflate a series of transparent plastic bubbles surrounding lead singer Wayne Coyne—or similarly blow-up giant rainbows, or swaying pink robots, as required.

Decades ago, Coyne developed the idea of singer-in-plastic bubble at rock concerts as a method to roll over his blissed-out audience, improving and streamlining the hand-to-hand combat of crowd surfing. When Covid hit, they proved safe barriers; he devised a series of concerts in the band’s hometown of Oklahoma City where not only all the band members were enclosed in their own bubbles, but so were the audience members. Now, the band must have piles of leftover bubbles.

By the end of their fall tour Tuesday at the Anthem in Washington, DC, concert restrictions had eased enough to allow fans to move around without being confined to bubbles (vaccination proof and masks were still part of the protocol, though).

But Coyne sang almost entirely inside a series of bubbles, with new ones constantly subbing in when his got too foggy, too hot, or a little less inflated. At 60, he no longer rolls over the audience. But he did roll out a big bubble full of balloons to the crowd at the show’s end. And he had other distractions: shooting streamers, pointing a spotlight into the crowd, unleashing confetti at various times, and hoisting a site-specific set of letter balloons at the finale.

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Class of 2021 takes a bow at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Concert

Given the diminishing pool of worthy candidates, it might be a good idea to take a year or two off from the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. 

As the event has moved from an intimate, anything-goes party in a New York ballroom to a slick arena cable special, producers have succeeded in making it a pretty good annual celebration anyway, with thoughtful segments that really make the case for new inductees. With the public now allowed as final arbiters on who gets in, the sometimes questionable results have been offset by some well chosen “special” awards to pioneers and influencers who, in the case of Kraftwerk, for instance, should have been inducted long ago.

Saturday’s three hour program on HBO begins with Taylor Swift sauntering out slowly to sing. Immediately you think, oh no, she’s going to take 10 minutes here. She doesn’t, but her performance of Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” hints she doesn’t quite grasp its intent  (the line “I won’t ask again” is spat with girl power defiance that wasn’t in the original).

The dance of these induction shows is balancing the often elderly honorees with hot stars that will get a younger demographic tuned in, so Taylor Swift may have been the right person to pay tribute to King (and the fact Taylor has a new blockbuster album out may have helped her make the flight to Ohio). Certainly she was more suited to the material than Jennifer Hudson, whose salute came through her adaptation of Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” which didn’t seem to channel the Queen of Soul all that much either. The insightful point about Carole King is that her own voice is so personal, warm and direct, it communicates the best. And so it was when King was allowed finally to sit at the piano and show everyone.

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TVD Live: Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express at Jammin’ Java, 11/7

Chuck Prophet is always cheery and maybe a little goofy on stage. But Sunday at Jammin’ Java out in Vienna, VA, he seemed cheerier than usual. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we’ve been gone,” he said by way of explaining the pandemic that wiped out more than a year and a half of touring. “And now we’re back.”

He said so as if to explain “We might be a little rusty. It’s been a while.” But he and the four-piece Mission Express sounded fine indeed. “We’re going to put this little strip mall in Virginia on the map!” Before a sold-out audience at said strip mall, he doffed his mask to begin with the march of “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” and mixed in his well-honed songs from his last handful of albums, including a few from one that came out in 2020, the year time forgot, titled The Land that Time Forgot.

That collection included the dance party of “Marathon,” the reflection into past cultural touchstones in “High as Johnny Thunders,” and the autobiographical tale about growing up in Whittier, CA, and its brooding political shadow, “Nixonland.” But Prophet has such a rich array of surefire live songs that he can mix and mingle in highlights like the participatory “Wish Me Luck” (with a dour intro from Creedence’s “Lodi”), to the enduring “Summertime Thing,” which goes back nearly 20 years to the same album that produced “Run Primo Run,” which he also pulled out.

Prophet has enough songs in his quiver to select ones topical to the moment. While he doesn’t currently have one about the end of Daylight Savings Time, he did have “Castro Halloween,” which lamented “Halloween is gone,” seven days after the holiday. And cowriting “Always a Friend” allowed him to play that blast of an Alejandro Escovedo song.

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TVD Live: The
Magnetic Fields at
City Winery, 11/6

Prolific songwriter Stephin Merritt seems to respond best to creative prompts. Sixty-Nine love songs? Sure. A dozen songs that start with the letter I? Easy. One song representing each year of your 50-year-old life? Okay. All have been projects for his band The Magnetic Fields over the years. The latest was 30 songs each clocking in at 2 minutes, 35 seconds or less, called Quickies.

An accompanying tour for the collection, released in May 2020, did not come so quickly, though, due to the pandemic. A series of City Winery residencies for the band across the country, first planned for March 2020, was delayed at least a couple of times until it finally got running this fall, making its most recent stop at the Washington, DC outlet for a three night stand over the weekend.

It’s a compact crew, especially compared to the last time Merritt was here four years ago, amid a spectacular stage set and larger (but largely unseen) backing band of six doing 50 Song Memoir in order over two nights.

Here, evenly spaced across the stage was Merritt, perched on a stool to the right, alongside cellist Sam Davol (who switched to broken bongo from time to time); Shirley Simms on ukulele, vocals and autoharp, and Claudia Gonson on piano, vocals, and toy tambourine.

It was sparse looking compared to the fussy, colorful, toy-filled stage last time. And were they spaced out because of Covid considerations? (Simms and Davol wore masks, except when she was singing or he sipped tea; the audience, packed as they were, had to have shown vaccination proof or negative test results, and were asked to wear masks when not downing wine—about half did).

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TVD Live: The Jayhawks at The Hamilton, 10/8

One plus of The Jayhawks playing the mid-Atlantic is that their former bandmate, guitarist Stephen McCarthy, often drives up from Richmond, VA to rejoin the Minneapolis band, adding some extra country twang and bringing added authenticity to the classic albums the Long Ryders member made with them, 2006’s Rainy Day Music.

His appearance with the band at the Hamilton in Washington, DC Friday was not such a casual reunion—his addition was vital to fill out the band after Karen Grotberg begged off of dates in DC and Philly over the weekend due to a short medical leave.

Grotberg adds a lot to the band, and has ever since she joined in 1992 with thoughtful keyboards and sweet harmonies with frontman Gary Louris. On the band’s latest album XOXO, meant to showcase songs and vocals from each band member (and not rely so much on Louris), she was standout on a couple of songs.

This time it was drummer Tim O’Regan doing most of the harmonies with Louris as well as a couple of songs where he took lead, “Tampa to Tulsa” and a newer one, “Dogtown Days.” (O’Regan’s family was in the crowd, we were told, and there was a singalong to note his recent birthday.)

But McCarthy helped on harmonies as well, though his focus was that pedal steel and electric guitar twang. Still, there was a rockier sound to the all-boys lineup (rounded out by bassist Marc Perlman, who didn’t sing at all). The combination of guitars led to some dizzying heights as on “Waiting for the Sun,” one of a couple songs pulled from their third album, Hollywood Town Hall, now marking its 30th anniversary.

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TVD Premiere: Bishop Albert Harrison & The Gospel Tones, “Shake Me”

It was the early part of the last century when musicologists like Alan Lomax would travel to the hinterlands to come up with surprising results. That sense of search and discovery still goes on in the 21st century and it was in March 2020 when Bruce Watson of Fat Possum Records and Tim Duffy of the Music Maker Foundation took a trip to the tiny eastern rural town of Fountain, NC to film and record a series of sacred soul musicians—11 groups in eight days in a makeshift storefront studio in a 100 year old building.

It was just in the beginning stages of the pandemic in the US and they were able to record some of the several groups arising from the quartet tradition of a lead singer and a chorus doing call and response. It dates as far back as the 17th century and continues today with the added power of electric instruments.

The trip netted this performance of “Shake Me” by Bishop Albert Harrison & The Gospel Tones, that we are blessed to premiere today at The Vinyl District. The gritty voiced Bishop and his unerring Gospel Tones lock into a groove in “Shake Me” that translates to music lovers everywhere regardless of religion. “Jubilee singing is what I call it,” Harrison says. “We’re singing from our heart. But we come way down from below.”

Harrison has been traveling and singing gospel since the 1980s, but after a hospital stay in 2006 he decided to get serious and start a group, The Gospel Tones. While Harrison makes his home in the experimental planned Black community of Soul City in Warren County, the rest of the group live in Ahoskie, NC, so that’s the group’s home base.

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