Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

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

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

BOOK PICK: Rachel Alina, Ashley Smestad Vélez and Birdie Busch, Locals // If You Swim Far Enough (Styles Upon Styles) Locals is a collaborative illustrated chapbook of narratively linked poems; the words are Alina’s, the black & white drawings rendered by Vélez, and it’s a treat of a quick read detailing the author’s youth/ early adulthood in and around her hometown of Ocean City, NJ and her loose apprenticeship as a recording engineer at Scullville Studios (she has subsequently mixed numerous releases on Styles Upon Styles). Alina’s poetry is vivid but direct, effectively relating her experiences, while Vélez’s illustrations, which remind me a bit (but just a bit) of R. Pettibon, enhance the poems (and the storyline of sorts) by expanding upon elements of the text in occasionally unexpected ways.

That is, Vélez is a fine illustrator and a little more. And as said, Locals worked for me as a fast read, but it doesn’t have to be that, and it’s the hope of Alina and the label that buyers will accompany these poems with Birdie Busch’s If You Swim Far Enough, a digital-only release (free with purchase of the book) described as Locals’ companion album (Alina and Busch struck up a friendship through Scullville). I can attest that combining text, drawings and songs is in this case a productive blend, but I’ll add that after a handful of standalone spins, Busch’s nine cuts (totaling a little over 25 minutes) stand up well on their own. Her sound hits the folk target right in the bullseye with no-nonsense verve that should please young and old alike. This strengthens an already sturdy fit with Alina’s words. A-/ A-

NEW RELEASE PICK: Luka Productions, Falaw (Sahel Sounds) Based in Bamako, Mali, Luka Guindo is Luka Productions, and this is his third full-length. Succinctly described as a leading producer in Malian hip-hop, Guindo has employed a highly productive approach in his own work by combining the tech-infused sound of the now with traditional Malian musics. His records feature organic instrumentation including ngoni, djembe, kora, and balafon. Falaw is no different, though it’s distinct in flavor from his prior effort, the “New Age” (Craig Leon-influenced) Fasokan; what’s clear is that Guindo’s creative engine is nowhere close to running low on gas. Falaw is loaded with diversity as it rolls, and if somebody cooked up a 25-minute extended 12-inch remix of “Indienfoli” I’d buy five copies. A-

Spiral Wave Nomads, S/T (Twin Lakes / Feeding Tube) It seems like only yesterday that I made the acquaintance of More Klementines, a psychedelically robust trio featuring drummer and Twin Lakes co-founder Michael Kiefer; that band’s self-titled debut, like this one, was a co-release with Feeding Tube. Spiral Wave Nomads are the duo of Kiefer, who’s also played in Myty Konkeror, Rivener, and No Line North, and Eric Hardiman of Burnt Hills and Century Plants. While Kiefer’s attention remains focused on the drums, Hardiman plays bass, sitar, and double tracks his main instrument, the guitar. This lends the record a full-band feel that’s lacking the unfocused spillage that can result from too many hands. This set is rock-edged but outbound (of course) and not too heavy. It’s never cheesy, not even the sitar. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Aseethe, Throes (Thrill Jockey) Here’s the third full-length from this Iowa-based doom metal trio; they have a relationship with drone that’s sturdy but still strikes me as mostly implicit (the big exception is “Suffocating Burden”); this is just fine to my ear. If an undercurrent rather than a mainstream, the drone works because Aseethe like to stretch out, and their stuff hangs in the air as much as it thuds. Aseethe also have a new member in bassist-vocalist Noah Koester, who’s largely responsible for the record’s anti-fascist and anti-greedmonger lyrical bent. I’ll confess that when vocal cords get this guttural, I essentially engage at the level of pure texture instead of striving to parse what’s actually being said, which is often not really worth the trouble. It’s nice to know this is an exception. A-

Doomstress, Sleep Among the Dead (Ripple / DHU) This Houston, TX-based four-piece released a 7-inch in 2016 and followed it up the next year with one side of a split LP with the band Sparrowmilk; this is their proper full-length debut, and I’m digging it quite a bit, in large part because they fortify a solid doom foundation with an approach to songwriting that hits my ear as fairly distinctive as it radiates classic vibes (notably, they dished a B-side version of Coven’s “Wicked Woman” on that first 7-inch). The consistently appealing vocals of Doomstress Alexis (who also plays a sturdy bass) initially hooked me, reminding me at times of Heart’s Nancy Wilson but in a thoroughly metallic context (getting a little operatic at times a la Ronnie James), but it was the quality of the songs that sealed the deal. A-

Full of Hell, Weeping Choir (Relapse) Folks who are bonkers over the whole extreme metal scene are likely already hip to Full of Hell, but this is my introduction, in part because I consider Relapse to be a signifier of quality; this is their first for the label. Full of Hell hail from Ocean City, MD, a once and current “tourist destination” where folks in some proximity of adulthood commonly passed out in bathtubs (or yes, on the beach) after too many National Bohemians. As it’s title should make clear, Weeping Choir isn’t music for swimming and suds but grindcore mingled with power electronics; they have prior collabs with Merzbow and The Body. At nearly 25 minutes, this is just the right amount of textured pummel. It looks like I’ll be spending some time investigating Full of Hell’s back catalog. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Joe McPhee, Nation Time (Superior Viaduct) Part of the ’70s jazz corrective was impressing on folks that the urge to get funky didn’t automatically equate to Bob fucking James. This live LP originally released on CjR in ’71 but basically a very well-kept secret until it was reissued as the inaugural CD in Atavistic’s out-jazz-focused Unheard Music Series in 2000, offers a splendid example of what I’ll call groove searching; the label mentions a potent blend of James Brown and Archie Shepp, and that succinctly describes “Shakey Jake.” McPhee remains one of our enduring free-jazz explorers. This was his second record on a label designed specifically to document his artistry (‘twas also initially the case with Hat Hut). It’s a crucial document available on wax for the first time in forever. A

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Wes Montgomery, Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (Resonance) This and the Evans set below are the latest gems from this indefatigable reissue/archival enterprise; both were offered as 2LP sets in April for Record Store Day, and I’m guessing copies are still around, though the 2CD editions are also available now, so if you can’t locate (or don’t want to pay an inflated price) for the wax, the high quality digipaks with booklets are a sensible alternative. And this Montgomery collection, the recordings of which derive from the guitarist’s hometown of Indianapolis sometime in the second half of the ’50s (predating his stellar debut for Riverside), is described as a find with no hyperbole; anyone interested in post-bop jazz guitar will want to check it out.

The emergence of these privately taped studio recordings is directly related to Resonance’s earlier Echoes of Indiana Avenue collection; when that set came out in 2012 the recordings’ origins were a mystery. Now, through the “jazz detective” work of Zev Feldman, we know the answer. Don’t expect Van Gelder-levels of audio richness, but it all sounds fine, offering Wes in a variety of ensemble settings, my faves being the piano quartet that opens disc one and the Nat Cole-styled trio (meaning no drums) featured on disc two. The organ trio grabs me the least, though it’s still quite appealing and leads into a nifty sextet with sax and ‘bone. Knowledgeable ears suggest the additional musicians include organist Melvin Rhyne, pianists John Bunch and Carl Perkins, Wes’ brothers and more. A consistent treat. A

Bill Evans, Evans in England (Resonance) Resonance’s release history with Montgomery is considerable, with Back on Indiana Avenue the fourth collection the label has devoted to the artist. With Evans in England, there is now an equal number of releases in the catalog featuring this pivotal modern jazz pianist, all of them spotlighting his work in the trio format. The first, Bill Evans Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate, came out in 2012 and featured live work from ’68 by the threesome of Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Marty Morell. The next two, 2016’s Some Other Time and the following year’s Another Time, shifted to uncover material from Evans’ short-lived group from earlier in ’68 featuring Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Short-lived and essentially unheard, so it might seem that this return to Gomez and Morell, a lineup which lasted for seven years and became Evans’ most enduring group, is a comparatively less alluring proposition. But as this two-disc set offers performance material from December of 1969 at the club Ronnie Scott’s, the trio’s rapport by this point well-established and allowing for the flights of individual expression that Evans’ required, any assumptions that Evans in England is somehow second-rate are ill-founded. Although captured surreptitiously on a small portable machine by an avid fan, the sound is clean and vibrant (helping matters is that by this point audiences clearly came to Evans gigs for the music) and the sequencing (lacking in any repeat versions) supports maximum listenability. Splendid. A

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

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

BOOK PICKS: Gillian G. Gaar, World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story (BMG) This item and its counterpart below came out late last year as the initial two entries in the BMG imprint’s RPM series, which in a nutshell is shooting to do for notable record labels what Continuum’s 33 1/3 series has done for individual albums. The comparison isn’t a tidy as all that, as these books are bigger and info-loaded as well as perspective-driven; it’s unlikely folks will be finishing either in a day or two. I obviously didn’t. Gaar’s volume tackles a tale that I witnessed unwind, at least partially as an indie rock fan from my vantage point on the east coast, and I was a little worried that it was going to handle the subject unsatisfactorily, either through a lack of new info or by overemphasizing certain aspects of the saga.

I needn’t have worried. Gaar takes a good long time setting up the underground background of the label and she does a nice job illuminating the differing personalities of Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman, and doesn’t shy away from the fact that they nearly imploded the label before Nirvana broke big; ‘twas Grunge that yanked them from the jaws of bankruptcy. In a sense, the heroes of this story are Rich Jensen (whose accounting and basic discipline served as an anchor after the Kurt & co. cash came rolling in) and Megan Jasper (who righted the ship after the inevitable grunge backlash and Pavitt’s exit). Sub Pop’s ultimate success story (tapping into ’00s indie) isn’t exactly a mystery, so Gaar expands the tale to include how the label smartly navigated the sweeping changes in the industry from the ’90s forward. A-

Randy Fox, Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story (BMG) Fox does something similar with his spotlight on one of the great mid-20th century indie labels (which includes the persevering Nashboro gospel label), detailing its extensive long-term success in the mail order business through label owner Ernie Young’s “Ernie’s Record Mart.” Many sensibly think of Excello in relation to the swamp blues of Lightnin’ Slim, Lazy Lester, and of course Slim Harpo, but the label cut a ton of R&B throughout the ’50s, and when they didn’t score hits, those records reliably “sold through” via placement in package deals that customers could purchase through the mail. The records reached all the way to the UK, which is part of the reason why Slim Harpo had such an impact on the burgeoning Brit blues-rock and Beat scene.

As the story progresses, Ernie Young is depicted as a businessman and a record producer by necessity, but also as something of a rarity in the music biz, a fundamentally decent guy (in marked contrast to his New Orleans connection Jay Miller, who is revealed as sort of a shithead and definitely a bigot); really, the worst you could say about Young was that he drove a hard bargain (maybe sometimes a little too hard), but here’s the thing; EVERYBODY GOT PAID. This includes royalties. I’m going to guess that as the RPM series (hopefully) continues, unpaid royalties will be a not-uncommon thread in the individual stories. Another part of Fox’s scheme that’s such a treat is how much time he gives to specific recordings in a way that had me stopping to listen, even to tracks I already knew well. This is a special thing. A

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

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—in shops for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 13, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Elkhorn, Sun Cycle & Elk Jam (Feeding Tube) Elkhorn is the guitar duo of Drew Gardner on Fender Telecaster and Jesse Sheppard on 12-string acoustic; they have three prior releases out, starting with their self-titled 2016 effort on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, and now here’s two more, released simultaneously but separately via one of the current scene’s best (and most prolific) small labels. If you’re excited for some electric-acoustic duo interplay, that’s exactly what you’ll get on Elkhorn’s prior records, but here they are joined by Willie Lane on third guitar and Ryan Jewell on drums and tabla, the impulse to add players first documented last November on CDR (in an edition of 50 and still available digitally). The presence of supplementary hands is felt here, but especially so on Elk Jam.

On Sun Cycle, the duo interplay is still very much discernible, with Sheppard coming from an American Primitive place and Gardner exploring lysergic plains reminiscent at times of raga rock and unsurprisingly ’60s San Fran. Gardner’s background in avant-jazz (having played with John Tchicai and Sabir Mateen) combines well with Sheppard’s dexterous fingerpicking to ensure that the outward-bound travels never meander or for that matter simply spin wheels while navigating out of a psychedelic rut. The lack of vocals is also a major plus. The Bay Area vibe is particularly strong on Elk Jam, with the title of the LP inspiring thoughts of Elkhorn releasing it as a free album a la Moby Grape’s Grape Jam. They didn’t, but I can’t imagine psych fans being the slightest bit disappointed after dropping cash for both of these. A/ A

Reese McHenry, No Dados (Suah Sounds) Lovers of gal-throated hard-edged garage-based belting should step right up to this one. Chapel Hill, NC-based McHenry’s second album after prior experience with the Dirty Little Healers delivers a powerful kick, but it’s also an inspirational story, as it documents McHenry’s return to the musical path after being diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation and suffering a near-fatal stroke (followed by a series of smaller ones). It was a tough road back, but Bad Girl, cut with backing from Spider Bags, solidified her return, and No Dados extends the positive trajectory. Her band this time is out is Raleigh’s Drag Sounds, who tear it up like experts, but it’s McHenry’s show all the way; compared to Janis J., contempos Shilpa Ray and Neko Case also came to mind, and that’s wonderful. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Griot Galaxy, Kins (Third Man) This gleaming nugget of underheard jazz history intertwines some sturdy threads. They feature a three-sax lineup of Faruq Z. Bey (tenor and alto), Anthony Holland (alto and soprano), and David McMurray (all three), this configuration bringing the World Saxophone Quartet to mind. But with bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Tani Tabbal on hand, there are aspects reinforcing the influence of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Sun Ra. Additionally, they dish some killer post-Ornette free-bop, and as Shahid plays electric as well as acoustic bass, unusually appealing jazz funk. If you’re thinking Kins is all over the place stylistically, no. If the seed of Afrofuturism is planted in your mind, that’s a most emphatic yes. Altogether delightful. A

Cheap Trick The Epic Archive Vol. 3 (1984-1992) (Real Gone) I’m gonna make it plain. The music collected here is not the music I think of when I think of Cheap Trick, and I do think of them, if not daily, then with some regularity, for when they were on top of their game, they were a great fucking band. This is not to say that some of this doesn’t jog the memory banks. Of course, “The Flame” does (I’d rather it didn’t, though it’s not a bad song), and so does their association with Up the Creek, a 1984 raunch comedy, essentially a pale imitation of Animal House. I recall Cheap Trick’s theme song being the best thing about it (I mean I guess so; it’s been a while). Overall, this is a mixed bag of ups (they seem to be having a good time) and downs (a few songs are near dud-like). Kinda like life in general. B

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

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—in shops for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 13, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Inter Arma, Sulphur English (Relapse) Mountain Goat John Darnielle penned a short bio for this Richmond, VA-based doom-sludge-progressive metal unit’s fourth album. It’s an utterly adoring text, which is cool, as I very much enjoy when musicians enthuse over the productivity of their contemporaries, especially when those gestures span across genres (though indie singer-songwriter Darnielle has been long-noted as a major metalhead). With this said, I normally take these appreciations with a grain or two of salt. The difference here is that I was pretty much knocked sideways by the expansive heaviness of Inter Arma’s prior album, 2016’s Paradise Gallows, and was wondering how they’d follow it up. At just short of 67 minutes, this one’s nearly as long and just as accomplished. A

Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Tim Story, Lunz 3 (Grönland) Roedelius is noted, amongst other achievements, for co-founding the Krautrock-kosmische staples Harmonia and Cluster. Story is a veteran ambient composer who made a considerable impact on the ’80s New Age scene via recordings through Windham Hill and Hearts of Space. The first meeting of these figures took place in the Austrian city of Lunz, with their ongoing collaboration named after the locale. Lunz 3 means this is the pair’s third recording. I haven’t heard the others, but based on what’s here, some backtracking is in my future. In terms of their individual discographies, I’m more in Roedelius’ camp, but the prettiness I associate with Story’s work integrates well in this context, and along the way there are all sorts of surprises. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Spiritual (ORG Music) Like Tutankhamun (which ORG reissued earlier this year), this was cut during the Art Ensemble’s early and highly fertile days in Paris, where they solidified as a group (in terms of sound and under the name AEoC) prior to the addition of drummer-percussionist Don Moye, who joined in 1970 (the year after The Spiritual was recorded). No Moye doesn’t mean a lack of percussion however, as everyone contributes on that front. Yes, this LP is an experience in abstraction, but it’s also strikingly cohesive (and disciplined) in its desire to re-inhabit the pre-swing/ bebop New Orleans spirit of jazz collectivity while getting at something unmistakably new and at times thrillingly theatrical. After 50 years this still challenges and rewards. A

Cecil Taylor, The Great Paris Concert (ORG Music) Recorded in November of 1966 but not released until 1973 by BYG as Student Studies (the ’77 edition by Freedom carried the title used here; reissues have alternated since), this features Taylor with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, bassist Alan Silva, and drummer Andrew Cyrille; essentially the band on Conquistador! (which was recorded for Blue Note less than two months prior) minus trumpeter Bill Dixon and second bassist Henry Grimes. Notably, everyone here also played on Unit Structures (cut in May of ’66) so it suffices to say the band knows the complexities of Taylor’s music well (Lyons had been with him since ’61). Crucially, they add their own strains of individualism. For those just getting into Taylor, this one is essential. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Viking Moses, Cruel Child (Epifo) I’ve long known Viking Moses, which is the performance moniker/ band name of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brendon Massei, through his track on The Golden Apples of the Sun, a 2004 various artists CD compiled by Davendra Banhart for the Bastet imprint of the free magazine Arthur. I love that release, but Viking Moses is one of the handful of contributors who I never made a deeper acquaintance with…until now. Where Golden Apples was a vessel of freak folk and shades of New Weird activity (the Viking Moses track was submerged smack dab in it like a celery stalk in a bowl of organic peanut butter), Cruel Child reminds me more of Bill Callahan but with some cool twists, like the poppy “Headstrong.” Pretty terrific, overall. A-

Lee Fields & the Expressions, It Rains Love (Big Crown) The fifth release by Lee Fields & the Expressions and the second for Big Crown doesn’t disappoint. Like 2017’s fantastic Special Night, it benefits from the production of Big Crown honcho Leon Michels, himself a musician crucial to the old school funk and soul scene where Fields is a prime torch carrier, especially since the passing of Charles Bradley. That means folks who discovered Bradley through his cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” or are just into the Daptone sound in general (exemplified by Sharon Jones) who haven’t hipped themselves to the Big Crown roster should rectify that lack right quick. A congruence with hip-hop has been mentioned in relation to Fields’ work, but it’s either implicit stylistically or appealingly subtle. A stone winner. A-

Stewart A. Staples, Music for ‘High Life’ (Milan) Let’s go way back; in an earlier era, soundtracks used to function (well, it was one function, anyway) as a sort memory enhancement of a film that, once it exited movie theaters, was effectively gone outside of TV reruns or a cinematic rerelease. Today, scores can help to promote a film in a crowded artistic landscape, especially when they are by musicians with a substantial rep outside the cinematic scene, which is the case here with Stuart A. Staples, who’s known for his work with the group Tindersticks. Celebrity film scoring can occasionally seem like a deliberate maneuver on the part of a director and/ or producers, but that’s not the case here, as Staples (either with Tindersticks or on his own) and High Life’s auteur Claire Denis have worked together extensively.

At this point, purely in terms of name association for cinephiles, their collab is reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work with Jonny Greenwood, and the results have been quite worthwhile across a variety of genres, though this one, a movie set in outer space, stands out a more than a little bit. Just a smidge over an hour long, Staples’ score is appropriately moody/ atmospheric (with one late song exception, “Willow,” which features vocals by the movie’s lead actor Robert Pattinson) and successfully establishes tension. In “Rape of Boyse,” this tension gets released at a level of intensity suggesting something nearer to Alien than Solaris. Or perhaps a sweet blend of space thriller and sci-fi art-film, the possibility supported by the brief accompanying synopsis. It’s a cinch that I’ll be checking it out. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones, From Untruth (Northern Spy) Matt Nelson’s soprano sax and Nick Dunston’s upright bass lend this LP a jazzy (and decidedly out-jazzy) component, though it’s augmented by drummer Max Jaffee adding “Electronic Sensory Percussion” to his standard kit and Nelson doubling on Moog. But the focal point is unquestionably vocalist Kidambi, who adds synthesizer and harmonium to four compositions that on this aggregation’s second release cohere into a uniformly superb, at times gripping (and thrilling!) post-category statement. The mention of “futurist realms” rings true. From Untruth also tackles major themes of politics and injustice, but with the intent to give the listener respite from the ugliness of our current reality. Kidambi has succeeded mightily. A

The Underground Youth, Montage Images of Lust & Fear (Fuzz Club) In 2017, this Manchester-born but currently Berlin-based outfit led by vocalist-guitarist Craig Dyer released What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This?, a record that reminded me somewhat of Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe. But this follow-up, the band’s ninth overall, reminds me of Newcombe’s output not at all. Instead, the dark and tense atmosphere makes me think of the Birthday Party, but with instrumental precision (matched with sharp lyrics) that helps the whole to stand apart. Suicide is mentioned by the label, but I thought more of Michael Gira (Swan Kristof Hahn guests on six tracks here) and occasionally of Joy Division. When Dyer shifts to ballads, things get distinguished even more. Borderline excellent. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Mary Lou Williams, S/T (Smithsonian-Folkways) Along with Lucinda Williams’ Happy Woman Blues (reviewed in full earlier in March) this and the Elizabeth Cotten LP below comprise the 2019 Women’s History Month installment in Smithsonian-Folkways’ vinyl reissue series. It’s a well-rounded trio. This record, originally released in 1964 on this great jazz pianist’s Mary label (distributed by Folkways back then) is probably the most underrated of the bunch, in part due to how it transcends category. Though infused with jazz (Percy Heath and Grant Green contribute), the music here, titled Black Christ of the Andes, is a devotional work that features choral sections of considerable scale and beauty, and all the better because it’s a sound almost unheard of today. A major achievement. A

Elizabeth Cotten, Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar (Smithsonian-Folkways) Many folks know this LP as Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes; it’s reissued here under the title of its initial release. The story of Cotten’s life is well-known (it’s recently been told as a children’s book by musician Laura Veirs) and her rediscovery (through the family of Pete Seeger, which accurately was just a discovery, as she’d never recorded previously) commenced one of the most welcome and enduring byproducts of the whole mid-20th century folk revival. Taped by Mike Seeger in Cotton’s bedroom in her Washington, DC home in 1957, this is powerfully intimate music, reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt in its calmness, featuring guitar, banjo and vocals. For folk music lovers, I’d call this one essential. A

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Charles Wesley Godwin,
The TVD First Date

“I wish I could say that I discovered great songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, or Kris Kristofferson at the age of four and from that day forth became a lifelong fan of the craft.”

“While growing up, I wish that I had frequented my local record store discovering new music on a weekly basis. I wish I could say that I begged my parents for a Sears and Roebuck catalog guitar before I could stand on my own two wee legs, but I can’t. In fact, I grew up not singing in church, assuming that I couldn’t sing at all, listening to Cher in the family van during road trips across the west, sitting in silence in my mother’s car on our way to school, and occasionally listening to the oldies station while riding along in my father’s old Ford Ranger. To defend my mom for a second, she spent her entire career teaching young children. I think she found those silent moments in the car incredibly peaceful. I get that now.

I had a tune stuck in my head many times in my early life. I specifically remember having songs like “Eleanor Rigby,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Fortunate Son” stuck in my head for weeks at a time. However, I actually had a hard time thinking of when exactly was the first time that I sought out a piece of music. I know that I never fell in love with music until I was nineteen or twenty. For days, I’ve been thinking about when was the first time I actually wanted to purchase music. I know that seems hard to believe considering what I do now for a living, but it’s the truth.

I ended up coming to the conclusion that Linkin Park’s Meteora was it. While growing up, the Godwin side of my family had a Christmas get together sometime in December every year. We had so many children in the family that it was impractical to get everyone a gift, so we did the secret Santa thing. All the aunts, uncles, older cousins, parents and grandparents would each have one kid to buy one present for. I remember asking for that Meteora CD for my secret Santa gift.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: X, Los Angeles (Fat Possum) The first full-length and one of the cornerstone LPs in LA punk, its music hasn’t aged a bit as it provides a glorious barrage of lessons on how to seamlessly integrate aspects of earlier root forms into the punk equation without weakening or betraying a thing. There are sharp but exquisite harmonies, elements from C&W, even more from rockabilly and early R&R, an expansion of the instrumental landscape to include keyboards, and even a brief plunge into the indigenous LA sound from a generation prior through a wonderful transformation of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” Billy Zoom’s guitar is suitably crunchy, the rhythmic foundation is hefty but lithe, and I can’t think of a better male-female rock vocal duo than John Doe and Exene. This is it. A+

Algebra Mothers, “Strawberry Cheesecake” b/w “Modern Noise” 7” (Third Man) Back in September, I gave a pick of the week and a grade of B+ to A-Moms = Algebra Mothers, Third Man’s archival collection of previously unissued material by these Detroit punks, noting that a repress of this 45, their sole prior released output, was forthcoming. Well, here it is. In September I called this baby superb, but that was based on memory. After getting reacquainted, I stand by that statement, but will confess that it’s not quite the double-sided monster that I recalled. I also said it was arty-wavy, and I really stand by that, and will elaborate that it’s a bit like Devo meets the Voidoids, though don’t go thinking it maximizes that description. Bottom line, this is an affordable way to own a worthwhile punk-era obscurity. A-

Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, Sing (Smithsonian-Folkways) Guitarist McGhee and harmonica ace Terry (usually credited the other way around) recorded a ton, predominantly because their folk-blues recipe had just the right measurements of authenticity and accessibility. I haven’t heard all their LPs (not even close), but I haven’t heard a flat-out bad one, though obviously some are better than others (a few have struck me as uninspired, understandable given the prolificacy). This, their first for Folkways from ’58 with drummer Gene Moore on board, is one of the best. Cut not long after the duo were co-leading an R&B band that knocked out sides for a variety of labels, traces of this activity can still be heard, with a few tunes bringing Jimmy Reed to mind and “Old Jabo” nearer to Bo Diddley than John Hurt. A-

Dave Van Ronk, Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual (Smithsonian-Folkways) Van Ronk is one of the indispensable figures in the ’60s NYC folk scene, and on his first album from ’59 he bursts forth with a booming, raw voice, fleet fingers and nary a trace of the tentative. Although the man’s rep has endured, his popularity was always limited, partly because he was more of a blues singer and songster than a protest folkie (though a solid lefty all the way). His singing style, gravelly and clearly derived from (some have said downright imitative of) African-American blues singers, was once considered controversial, but it steers far clear of minstrelsy and has held up well, mainly because of conviction; he felt it was the natural (and proper) way to tackle the material (and so, I disagree that he’s mimicking). A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, SLR 30 Singles Subscription Series (Slumberland Records) Back in 1990, I scooped up Slumberland’s single of Velocity Girl’s “I Don’t Care If You Go” and I’ve been a fan of the label ever since. This series (copies will also be available in stores, all with download codes) kicked off back in October and is slated to finish near the end of 2019, and as it focuses on 45s (which have been something of a label specialty) it’s a fitting way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Slumberland’s considerable achievement, while spotlighting artists that aren’t part of the endeavor’s historical or current scheme. Here’s a rundown of the first four, and we’ll keep track moving forward to December.

The Suncharms, “Red Dust” b/w “Film Soundtrack” Formed in ’89, this UK-based quintet knocked out a couple of records shortly after and played a handful of opening spots for notable acts of period (including Television Personalities, The Orchids, Cranes, and Catherine Wheel). This landed them a Peel Session and had Slumberland eager to get them on the roster, though a breakup occurred before that could happen. Due to the positive response to their eponymous 2016 retrospective CD the band reconvened and began working on new material. Here’s the first evidence, with the A-side starting out as nice mid-tempo guitar-pop before the amps kick in and the tempo picks up. The boost might register as inevitable, but it’s far from hackneyed, and the flip is a loud melodic fiesta of solos. A-

Rat Columns, “Sometimes We’re Friends b/w “Astral Lover” & “Waiting to Die” When ponying up for a subscription series or singles club, a definite perk is receiving fresh exposure to previously unheard bands. That’s the case here with me and Rat Columns, though I am familiar with project leader David West’s other outfit Rank Xerox (he was also in Total Control). Diving into indie pop but with a decided Down Under feel (Down Undercurrent?), this is the Perth, Australia lineup of Rat Columns (the group has had US members), and it connects as distinct from his other stuff, with the A-side starting out a little moody with synth and then shifting into high-jangle gear (the synth sticks around). “Astral Lover” is a concise dose of chamber pop and “Waiting to Die” an unflustered, guitar-infused stroll. I dig. A-

David Lance Callahan, “Strange Lovers” b/w “Waiting for the Cut-Off” Another cool aspect of subscriptions/ clubs is getting to catch up with new material from musicians that have made an impact on your consciousness for a long time. I’m that way with Callahan, who was in C86 act The Wolfhounds (their “Anti-Midas Touch” remains one of my favorite songs from the era) and in the ‘90s was part of the quite happenin’ Too Pure band Moonshake (The Wolfhounds reformed in 2010 and have released LPs since). These two cuts are Callahan’s first ever solo recordings ahead of a full LP planned for some time this year. “Strange Lovers,” while not twee, does attain a level of well-mannered sophistication (complete with fingerpicking and chimes) that’s as English as a crumpet. Flip’s a likeable strummer. B+

Dolly Dream, “The Way to Heaven” b/w “Slip Thru Hell” And yet one more nifty facet of the sub/ club scenario is records that divert from expectations, and of these four short-players this one is the most surprising if not the strongest overall. Featuring Meg Remy of US Girls with assistance from members of Fucked Up, “The Way to Heaven” is ’60s throwback gal-pop that’s just off-kilter enough to have drawn comparisons to the dreamy-achy songs familiar to the soundtracks of David Lynch. I can hear that, but the considerably more wacked-out B-side is a bit like music Lynch might’ve used for a short film from around the time of Fire Walk with Me or Lost Highway. Its only shortcoming is that it’s over too quickly. Dolly Dream radiates like a one-off but is engagingly weird enough that I hope I’m wrong. B+

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