Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2020’s Reissues, Part Two

It seems the year’s lack of live shows might’ve played a role in the sheer number of performance documents on this list. If so, that’s fine. Having something snatched away can really illuminate its value.

5. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Just Coolin’ (Blue Note) & Jimmy Giuffre 3, Graz 1961 (ORG Music) It might seem paradoxical, but that Just Coolin’ is just now seeing release roughly 61 years after its recording is ultimately indicative of Art Blakey’s good fortune as a drummer and bandleader. The creative juices were flowing, the club dates were happening, and the personnel was changing. This lineup, featuring Hank Mobley on sax, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano, and Jymie Merritt on bass, didn’t last long, which adds to the worthiness of this fantastic hard-bop session.

Drummer-led combos like Blakey’s are rare in jazz. So are combos lacking in a drummer, though multi-reed man Giuffre’s groups made a habit of it. He started out with Woody Herman and came to be associated with cool jazz, but by the early ’60s Giuffre’s trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow were exploring a unique, and far less frequently traveled, avenue of the budding avant-garde. That Giuffre chose this route over the more accessible-commercial opportunities pursued by many of his West Coast cohorts is laudable, as Graz 1961 is amongst the most rewarding jazz documents of its era.

4. Dexter Gordon, The Squirrel (Rhino / Parlophone) & Marion Brown, Porto Novo (ORG-Music) To be blunt, the live recordings of saxophonist Gordon are plentiful. It’s unlikely that a subpar one (excluding issues of fidelity) has been released, because by the time he was being documented on the bandstand on a regular basis, he was blazing trails of positivity with consistently solid sidemen. Still, some nights are better than others, and the one heard on The Squirrel, with Kenny Drew on piano, Bo Stief on bass and Art Taylor on drums is one of the very best, partly because the band stretches out so intensely.

Like The Squirrel, saxophonist Marion Brown’s Porto Novo dates from 1967 and also transpired in Europe; Gordon’s show is from the Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen, while Brown’s session was held in Soest in The Netherlands, with the Dutch rhythm section of bassist Maarten Van Regteren Altena (later just Maarten Altena) and the prolific drummer Han Bennink. Porto Novo ranks as one of Brown’s greatest, partly because the blowing is fiery and is all Brown (many of his other great records feature larger ensembles). It’s another of ORG’s commendable reissues of classics from the jazz avant-garde.

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Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2020’s Box Sets

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, with many of those twists and turns unpleasant, and we’re not out of the woods yet. One of the consistent balms for uncertainty, pain, fear, and loneliness across this pileup of months has been art, with music prominent in the mix. This week, as a change of calendar is in the wings, we spotlight a more positive side of 2020 with a series of lists, beginning with the best box sets and expanded releases of the year.

10. Michael Rother, Solo II (Groenland) Those passionate over Krautrock are surely familiar with Rother from his cornerstone work in Neu! and later in Harmonia, and I’m willing to wager they know that he also thrived as a solo artist. Last year, Groenland rounded up his first four albums from 1977 to ’82, added some soundtrack work plus a little live material and remixes to shape the 6LP/ 5CD set Solo, a doozy of a box that missed contending for placement in TVD’s 2019 Best of list only through a delay in checking it out.

Solo II offers more across seven CDs. It isn’t as strong as Solo, though it’s inclusion here is still warranted, in part because it presents such a contrast with his earlier stuff. Indeed, non-synth-pop-loving sticklers for Rother’s groundbreaking work in Neu! (before that, he was also briefly in Kraftwerk) might want to dabble in the albums individually before dropping coin on its contents. However, the truly solo Fairlight CMI-infused Lust from ’83 is a cool snapshot of the era, and from there, some beautiful tranquility is heard, with Rother’s largely non-vocal approach, and his guitar playing, very much appreciated.

9. Peter Stampfel, Peter Stampfel’s 20th Century in 100 Songs (Louisiana Red Hot) Stampfel is best-known for his work in the Holy Modal Rounders, who helped give the 1960s folk surge a needed dose of the weird. They kept on trucking into the ’70s, as the Unholy version of the outfit joined with Michael Hurley, Jeffrey Frederick, and the Clamtones to wax Have Moicy!, which stands as one of the best records of its decade. Hey, it’s lists within lists!

In fact, this very set, featuring 100 versions by Stampfel of songs, one a year from the 20th century, across three CDs, is an act of audio list making, very personal, though its maker does admit to fielding suggestions from the last 20 years of the span. And speaking of 20 years, that’s roughly how long it took for this set to reach completion, but the production by Mark Bingham and Stampfel’s instantly recognizable singing insures crucial cohesiveness. It feels like a spoiler to reveal the unexpected choices, so I won’t. Like so much in 2020, this set’s been pushed to January 2021; here’s one to look forward to.

8. Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks 26 – 4/26/69 Electric Theater, Chicago, IL 4/27/69 Labor Temple, Minneapolis, MN (Real Gone) As a fan of the Dead, I’ll listen to any live recording of the band, as there is reliably something, and more often, many things of interest, even from inside stretches of their existence that don’t thrill all me that much.

But as pertains to the band, I have a special fondness for the 1960s, and ’69 in particular. Folks up to speed with the Dead know that Live/Dead, one of the very greatest official (non-jazz) live albums, was recorded that year (compiled from assorted shows from January to March), and this volume of Dick’s Picks expands upon that brilliance, with the Labor Temple show (which is the majority of the set) even including the “Live/Dead sequence” of “Dark Star”> “St. Stephen”> “The Eleven.” Another big bonus is the organ of Tom Constanten. Real Gone’s 4LP edition (1,500 hand-numbered copies) sold out fast…

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for December 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for December 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Winston C.W., Good Guess (Whatever’s Clever / Ruination Record Co.) Winston Cook-Wilson sings, plays keyboards and writes the songs in Office Culture, an outfit that’s been described as “literary soft-rock,” a designation that effectively communicates music of sincerity rather than schtick. This scenario, the sincere, the soft-rock, continues on this solo effort (as a trio) by Cook-Wilson, though really, Good Guess is a cosmopolitan singer-songwriter paradise, the atmosphere deepened considerably by the upright bass of Carmen Rothwell; Ryan Beckley completes the band on electric guitar. You’ll notice the exclusion of drums, which is fine, as the songs don’t require them. What’s in abundance is a leisurely contemplation, and seriousness to go along with the sincerity. Soft-rock, or maybe better said, downtrodden urbanite piano pop circa the late ’70s, remains the foundation, with the style magnified in the up-tempo “Birds,” but there are stretches, such as “Swing Time” and the closing title track, where Cook-Wilson pushes outward to splendid effect. A terrific surprise. A-

Carly Johnson, S/T (sonaBLAST!) The strength of Johnson’s voice is undeniable. Based in Louisville, she’s sung jazz in duo with guitarist Craig Wagner, fronted a notable Heart cover band (I Heart Heart), and backed My Morning Jacket, Houndmouth, and Norah Jones, but this is her solo debut, featuring her own compositions co-written with her college roommate, Charlotte Littlehales. Along with the Wilson sisters, another of Johnson’s cited inspirations is Whitney Houston, which is reflected in the presentation here, as the bold expressiveness, if not hampered by slickness, is surely vivid in a manner that embraces commerciality. But stylistically, Johnson is reminiscent of Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones, with the overall thrust of the set being old-school soul and R&B (another prime influence is Etta James). And as the songs unwind, an undercurrent establishes it as a Southern record in the best sense; it’s tangible in the instrumental verve and Johnson’s versatility. Will Oldham, who once guested with I Heart Heart, engagingly duets with Johnson on “For You.” An album as assured as it is powerful. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Divine Horsemen, Live 1985-1987 (Feeding Tube) These days, Chris D is best-known for forming and fronting the essential Los Angeles punk unit The Flesh Eaters. In fact, his stature in relation to that outfit has been pretty constant since the release of their two back-to-back masterpieces for Slash in the early 1980s. But by the second half of that decade, he had moved on to Divine Horsemen, a band that initially cohered to back Chris on his 1983 solo album for Enigma, Time Stands Still. In ’86-’87, Divine Horsemen cut three LPs and an EP as part of the 15,000 or so releases SST Records was putting out back then. By ’88, they were done. This is when I first heard them, at roughly the same time I got hip to The Flesh Eaters, with this overlap of discovery fitting, as the two bands shared some personnel and had a few songs in common. In fact, the name Divine Horsemen is also the title of the last song on The Flesh Eaters’ ’81 monster A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die.

But don’t get the idea that the two were interchangeable. Divine Horsemen were more of a rootsy-bluesy rock band with punkish tendencies in comparison with the wonderfully twisted roots punk of The Flesh Eaters. For us youths who’d gotten fatigued with “classic” rock stylings and headed for the punk offramp, Divine Horsemen may not have provided as immediate and sturdy a wallop. But on the other hand, by the late ’80s, when hardcore was proving to be a consistent letdown, the Horsemen could sound mighty fucking fine. This CD, culled from two shows, one in Huntington Beach, CA, the other in Boston, MA, offers proof of their capabilities and additionally highlights one of the band’s most distinctive qualities, specifically the tandem vocals of Chris and Julie Christensen. The disc flows very nicely with no repeated songs. It’s also great to know that a fresh Divine Horsemen record, Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix is on deck (a sort of reunion companion to I Used to Be Pretty, The Flesh Eaters’ excellent 2019 return, on which Christensen provided some backing vocals). A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for December 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for December 2020. 

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time OutTakes – Previously Unreleased Takes from the Original 1959 Sessions (Brubeck Editions) The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, released in 1959 by Columbia Records, remains one of the cornerstones in the heyday of jazz, cut in what some have proposed was the music’s greatest year. What’s more, it was a legit smash at the time of its release, not just in jazz terms but in the pop sphere as well, where it climbed to No. 2 on the album chart, with the single of “Take Five” reaching No. 5. This means many people have heard its contents many times, and surely some of those listeners have concluded they’ve had their fill of the LP; while not ubiquitous (how could it be), the music could occasionally feel that way, as it crept into contexts of all kinds, frequently as a signifier. That means long after one chose to give Time Out a time out, other people would continue playing it. A lot.

Of course, the record’s perseverance is exactly why these outtakes are so worthwhile, as they present a fresh twist on sounds that are long interwoven into the cultural fabric. The playing is as impeccable as expected, but more importantly, the distinctiveness of these versions becomes quite clear; nowhere are the differences more apparent than in “Take Five,” which not only moves at a brisker pace (and yet is a smidge longer than the release version) but also finds everybody laying out except for Joe Morello, who makes exquisite use of the spotlight. “Blue Rondo a la Turk” is more than two minutes longer than the version that opens Time Out, with the intensity level higher and the playing just a bit edgier. I also like how OutTakes follows the sequence of the original album until deep in the runtime. Altogether, this set is a superb remedy for those who might still consider themselves burnt out on Time Out. CD is out 12/4, but it appears the vinyl has been delayed. A

Edan, Primitive Plus (Lewis Recordings) 2002 was the year of arrival for Edan’s debut full-length (receiving its first vinyl reissue since date of release here), and by that point, left-field/ underground hip-hop was a well-established subgenre. Primitive Plus still made a deep impression, partly because it was as strange in its musical layering as it was lyrically unique. Like many other u-grounders, Edan was a passionate student of the old-school, but rather than express his love through imitation, his word flow, sometimes twisted and in other moments direct, is equal to the sheer force of his beats and the often surreal nature of his loops. Scratching is abundant. It comes as no surprise that “Ultra ‘88” is a tribute to the Ultramagnetic MCs, the legendary group that unleashed Kool Keith on the world, for in terms of the bizarre, Keith is one of the few easily taggable influences on Edan’s work. It’s also not a shocker that Mr. Lif guests on “Rapperfection”; had Lewis Recordings not released Primitive Plus, it could’ve easily landed on Definitive Jux. A fine album that set the table for the brilliance of Beauty and the Beat. A-

The Bangles, Sweetheart of the Sun (Real Gone) For their fifth and most recent album from 2001, this oft-terrific Los Angeles band consisted of Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters, Vicki and Debbi, as bassist Michael Steele had departed shortly after the recording of their 2003 reunion effort Doll Revolution. Recruiting Derrick Anderson to fill that role, what resulted on this set co-produced by the band and Matthew Sweet (who plays bass on “Through Your Eyes”), is one of the Bangles’ strongest records, opening with the riff-tastic “Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)” (which I would rate as one of their greatest songs, period), and wrapping up with a sturdy cover of the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes.” In between, the stated influence of the ladies of the Laurel Canyon (Carole, Joni, Carly) is heard, which is to say that there’s a vibe of maturity to the songwriting, a wholly appropriate circumstance that never undercuts the garage-y melodic youthfulness making the Bangles’ music such a treat. Only 900 copies pressed and sold out at the source, so if you see it and have the folding money, don’t hesitate. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lisa/Liza, Shelter of a Song (Orindal) Lisa/Liza is singer-songwriter Liza (pronounced Lisa) Victoria, who resides in Portland, the one in Maine. This is her third LP for Orindal (she’s also issued a pair of cassette EPs for the label), and after welcoming additional instrumentalists on her prior effort Momentary Glance, she returns to solo mode here with eight tracks recorded live in a kitchen with nary an overdub. Victoria’s sound lands securely in the late night folk zone, with singing that’s pretty but sturdy, delivery that’s emotional but in control, and fingerpicking that is often gentle but with an invigorating tension and flashes of sharpness. Additionally, Victoria has the ability to tackle topics (the suicide of a friend on Momentary Glance, her own chronic illness on this album) that’s stimulating in its seriousness rather than burdensome. Still, it’s difficult to deny this record is a heavy experience, but that’s ultimately to Victoria’s credit. Shelter of a Song is unlikely to get many back-to-back spins, but when it is played it will surely leave an impression. A-

Enrique Rodríguez and the Negra Chiway Band, Fase Liminal (Soul Jazz Records) One of the dangers with spiritually focused music is an overflowing bliss that deflates into insubstantiality. Fase Liminal, which can be succinctly tagged as contemporary spiritual jazz from Chile, doesn’t have this problem, largely because the range of influence is fairly wide, so that an appealing balance is struck between free jazz fire and modal fusion textures, with electric keyboard prevalent. And so, not only does Rodriguez and band avoid getting too airy, but they also avoid faltering into hackneyed vamping or technique-flaunting noodles. Hooray! And while there’s an abundance of percussion across the record, rhythm doesn’t dominate the proceedings, as the horn playing is rich and occasionally raucous. This is true in particular during the closing alt take of “Dónde ?,” which attains levels of collective intensity recalling Sanders’ Karma but with piano that brought to mind LaMont Johnson’s playing on Jackie McLean’s “Hipnosis.” Everything clicks, even the flute and vocals. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, CUBA: Music and Revolution: Culture Clash in Havana: Experiments in Latin Music 1975-85 Vol.1 (Soul Jazz) This set, issued in 3LP and 2CD editions, arrives in conjunction with the hardcover book CUBA: Music and Revolution: Original Album Cover Art of Cuban Music: Record Sleeve Designs of Revolutionary Cuba 1959-90. Both the book and this collection are the handiwork of Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, their third such collaboration (the prior two delved into revolutionary jazz and bossa nova), and as these selections play it’s abundantly clear, even without access to the book (which isn’t available in the US until December 11), that the compilers are at the very top of their game. Now, you might’ve noticed that the book tackles a much longer timeframe than the compilation. That’s okay. The compressed focus of Experiments in Latin Music allows for a deep immersion into a transitional period rather than surface-skimming a longer span of years. Furthermore, it’s stated that most everything here was previously unheard outside Cuba, making this a feast for the curious (out 11/27). A

MIYUMI Project, Best of the MIYUMI Project (FPE) Now 20 years strong, the MIYUMI Project is a Chicago-based Asian-American / African-American collaboration founded and led by bassist Tatsu Aoki. Drawn from the group’s sizeable discography, these nine selections span four sides of vinyl (CD is also available) and from all research appears to by MIYUMI Project’s debut on wax. The sound is a synthesis of the Japanese taiko drumming tradition and avant-jazz improvisational firepower, with a sturdy connection to the Windy City’s AACM, including members Ed Wilkerson and Mwata Bowden on reeds and Dushun Mosley on drums. Aoki, who was part of Japan’s experimental scene before moving to the USA in 1977 (Chicago in ’79), brings a steadying maturity (and robust bass) to this fusion, though that’s not to infer that things don’t get wild. They do. Things are also consistently rhythmic, rising to a powerhouse level in the nearly 16-minute “Episode One.” Along with spirited expansive blowing, there is beaucoup string scrape, which only increases the fortitude of the MIYUMI Project’s bedrock. Compilations rarely get any better than this one, which culminates with an unreleased live track.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Gwenifer Raymond, Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain (Tompkins Square) You Never Were Much of a Dancer, Welsh guitarist Gwenifer Raymond’s debut from 2018, was a knockout that underscored the perseverance and the sheer reach of the American Primitive style while driving home the pure skill and the youthful energy of its maker. Now, ability is an essential baseline ingredient in the expression of the American Primitive, but the spirit of young is by no means a prerequisite. In Raymond’s example across this oft exquisite set of eight pieces, the spark is distinct, in her estimation punkish, and coupled with raw power and edge that took me to some rather unexpected places; during “Gwaed am Gwaed” for instance, I couldn’t shake thoughts of Sonic Youth, which might not seem like a big deal, except that it’s just Raymond playing an acoustic guitar in her basement flat (the album was recorded in quarantine). The artist describes this LP as an expression of Welsh Primitive (channeling her country’s folk horror in the process), which unwinds here as a striking new development in Guitar Soli. A

Sam Burton, I Can Go With You (Tompkins Square) Burton hails from Salt Lake City, UT but currently resides in Los Angeles. Although he’s had a CDR and a pair of cassettes released on the Chthonic label, this is his proper full-length debut, and it’s a wonderful trip into the folky singer-songwriter zone. In the PR for this release, John Tottenham describes Burton as extending from the “downer folk” subgenre and specifically names Bob Desper, Dana Westover, and Tucker Zimmerman as antecedents. I think that’s cool, but I’ll merely add that these 11 songs also strike my ears as reflective of Fred Neil and the Tims, Hardin and Buckley…make that prime Tim Buckley. Now, many capable contempo songwriters can strap on a guitar, step in front of a mic, and play the approximation game (which might be why Tottenham chose a different route of comparison), but Burton elevates matters significantly through compositions that reveal nary a hint of anxiety over any perceived similarities. The production by Burton and Jarvis Taveniere is faultless, and the playing is simply exquisite. One of the surprises of 2020. A

Susan Alcorn Quintet, Pedernal (Relative Pitch) Alcorn is well-described as a pioneer of the pedal steel guitar in improvised music, though most of her work has been in solo or duo settings. However, along with the size of the band, Pedernal is further distinguished as the first release devoted to Alcorn’s compositions. Her cohorts here are Mark Feldman on violin, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass, and Ryan Sawyer on drums, a group of stellar players that can bring these elevated pieces to life without a hitch. There is familiarity here, as Alcorn plays in the octet of Halvorson, and with the guitarist and Formanek comprising 2/3rds of Thumbscrew. Indeed, a stated goal of Alcorn’s was to make this album with friends, but the pedal steel/ guitar/ violin melodic core and the sheer individual distinctiveness of the three raise Pedernal to rare heights. Formanek and Sawyer are expressive in the rhythm spot, and Alcorn’s compositions are splendid; I adore finale “Northeast Rising Sun.” Note: the CD and digital are available 11/13 but pressing plant delays have pushed back the vinyl until December. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Love Tractor, S/T (HHBTM) For the October 23 drop of Record Store Day 2020, Love Tractor released new versions of two songs from this 1982 album, the Athens, GA band’s first (which has itself been remixed for this rerelease). The year of release positions them as one of the foundational acts in their scene, which became a huge deal in the College/ Alternative rock scheme of things, but if you are unfamiliar with Love Tractor and are imagining some variation on bookish jangle mumble, well don’t. If this non-vocal unit is reminiscent of any of their Athens contemporaries, it’s Pylon, but only a little bit, and mainly because the songs on this record possess an undercurrent that could be considered dancy. Really though, Love Tractor’s instrumental nature and the slightly Wavy angle of the songs has me thinking of the Portland, OR band of the same era, Pell Mell. Many outfits that operate sans a singer attempt to impress the listener with sheer ability. Love Tractor’s approach lacks ego, which nearly 40 years hence remains refreshing. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lloyd Miller with Ian Camp and Adam Michael Terry, At the Ends of the World (FOUNTAINavm) Last year the Now-Again label reissued Miller’s Oriental Jazz, a very interesting excursion into what we’ll call global spiritual fusion with a Persian musical bent; Miller was a specialist in the region’s sounds, and for a fuller scoop please consult the December 5, 2019 edition of this column, where Oriental Jazz received a review. Miller recorded a whole lot more and has in fact stayed active, as this collaboration with multi-instrumentalists Ian Camp and Adam Michael Terry (the latter also the founder and operator of the FOUNTAINavm label) makes clear. Part of what raises my estimation for At the Ends of the World is the obvious disinterest in attempting to reprise the sound of Miller’s earlier stuff, either from the ’60s or of more recent vintage, such as his joint record with The Heliocentrics, which was released by the Strut label in 2010.

Slimming down to three players increases the intimacy and deepens the dialogue, which is quite welcome. Along with Camp and Terry, Miller is a multitasker, credited with piano, flutes, trumpet, Dilruba, Kamancheh, Santu and “various world instruments.” Indeed, there is a load of percussion from all the participants, as I’m pretty certain some overdubbing occurred. Camp’s upright bass is terrific, as is Miller’s trumpet, but of additional note is the warmth and clarity of the record, which is partly attributed to Terry, as he is cited in the promo description as producer. To elaborate on that role, he’s specifically credited with field recordings and “various ambient textures,” additives which strengthen the ties to what I’ll call rain-forest-style New Age. And that’s alright, as touches of psychedelia are also in the mix. And I’ll close by mentioning that “Dystopia Wind Dance” reminds me a little of Aussie’s The Necks (it’s that bass), which is a total positive. The same is true for the spots that suggest Alice Coltrane hanging out in a glade. A-

Trees Speak, Shadow Forms (Soul Jazz) With their second full-length of 2020 (Ohms came out back in March, also on Soul Jazz), the Tucson-AZ duo of Daniel Martin Diaz and Damian Diaz continues to impress. The basic info if you haven’t heard them is that they specialize in a boldly hued non-vocal psychedelia that’s informed by Krautrock spanning from motorik to kosmische, plus soundtracks of ’60s-’70s vintage, with a tendency toward Euro genre flicks; one might possibly pick up on Soul Jazz’s interest in such an outfit, but it’s worth noting that the label that issued Trees Speak’s S/T 2017 debut was Cinedelic, who also released the first record by Calibro 35. While nothing on Shadow Forms is funky exactly, there are a few stretches, like the vibraphone and fuzz guitar-laden suspense builder “Tear Kisser,” where I could’ve been bamboozled into believing that this was the Italian crew, though in fact much of this record (including a free bonus 7-inch with the first edition) is focused on cyclical and swirling synth motifs. But there is still plenty of rhythmic heft and forward motion to be had here. A-

Howlin Rain, Under The Wheels: Live From The Coasts, Vol. 2 (Silver Current) With Howlin Rain, the band’s founder Ethan Miller has progressed so far into crowd pleasing ’70s-style bluesy and jam-tinged, yet highly melodic (anthemic, even) rock action, that casual listeners might be stunned to learn he was once in a band of considerable heaviness, namely Comets on Fire. If I didn’t know, it’s possible I’d be a tad surprised myself, but the reality is there’s really no dissonance on hand: Howlin Rain was formed to scratch a certain stylistic itch, and in doing so with panache (that is, legit songs, dynamic precision and instrumental flair) they’ve developed a fanbase encouraging them to keep at it. And so, the second installment in the band’s live series. Like some of their contemporaries, Howlin Rain exude a few similarities to the Dead of the early ’70s, but this is largely fleeting. More prevalent are Allmans-like characteristics blended with a few servings of Humble Pie. And I’ll add that I can easily understand why Chris Robinson is such a fan. A swell soundtrack for sitting next to a keg in the early morning hours. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part Six

Part six of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, part four is here, and part five is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Judith Hamann, Shaking Studies & Music for Cello and Humming (Blank Forms Editions) Released conjointly on October 30 (though there might be pressing plant delays), Shaking (on LP) and Humming (on CD) comprise Australian cellist Hamann’s debut as a soloist, though she has recorded with Tashi Wada, Graham Lambkin, Alvin Lucier, and Rosalind Hall. Knowledge of those names will clue one in to Hamann’s boldly experimental bent; suffice to say that lovers of the drone will want to get acquainted with these sets (she has worked La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela), even as the titles make clear that Hamann’s thematic focus for both releases goes beyond “simple” elevated note extension. Far beyond. The abundance of cello on these albums also strengthens connections to the classical avant-garde, though as the label points out, Hamann is consistently resisting “chamber music orthodoxy.” Shaking’s relation to its titular action is subtle but discernible; Humming spreads out to nearly 80 minutes and, due to the human need to breathe, is rife with pauses, strategically executed. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Catherine Christer Hennix, Unbegrenzt (Blank Forms Editions / Empty Editions) Along with two books, Poësy Matters and Other Matters, Blank Forms and Empty Editions have already issued two magnificent archival volumes of unheard music from Swedish composer Hennix, Selected Early Keyboard Works and The Deontic Miracle: Selections from 100 Models of Hegikan Roku, the latter sharing the top spot on my Best Reissues of 2019 list. Recorded in Stockholm in 1974, with Hennix (recitation, percussion, electronics) and Hans Isgren (bowed gong) “performing” “Unbegrenzt” (Unlimited), one of 15 text pieces from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Aus den Sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days) the nearly 52-minute piece (split over two sides of vinyl) is to my ear superior to the version from 1969 that features Stockhausen himself. I’m not alone in this view, as the PR describes Stockhausen’s concept of “intuitive music” as “Eurocentric,” while Bill Dietz’s liner notes are considerably less kind to ol’ Karl, and that’s perfectly fine. Parts of this suggest traces of AMM and gamelan music as heard from inside a radio communications outpost, and that’s very fine. A

Zazou Bikaye, Mr. Manager (Expanded Edition) (Crammed Discs) This set follows Crammed’s 2017 reissue of Noir et Blanc, which was the collab of Congolese vocalist-composer Bony Bikaye, French musician-producer Hector Zazou, and modular synth team CY1 (that’s Frenchmen Guillaume Loizillon and Claude Micheli). Mr. Manager, originally a mini-LP, came out in 1985 with Zazou Bikaye solidifying as a band as CY1 exited the scene. There were additional selections recorded at the same time and in ’86, once intended for LP release but shelved as Zazou Bikaye moved on to release Guilty in ’88. This expansion rounds up that set-aside material (including two remixes of “Get Back” dating from 1990) for an 8-song LP (the mini-album held five) and a 14-song CD (a full download accompanies the vinyl). I remain quite enthusiastic over Noir et Blanc, and I like this too, but just not as much. The debut reminded me a little of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (except I consider Zazou Bikaye’s record to be stronger), and the continued African/ European fusion of Mr. Manager hits my ear a smidge like Talking Heads at their most dancy. But more eclectic, which is appreciated. A-

The Fall, The Frenz Experiment Expanded Edition (Beggars Arkive) The reissues by Beggars Arkive of The Fall’s Beggars Banquet output have been highlighted pretty extensively in this column, and by extension, I’ve mentioned at least once that back in the day, the band’s albums for the label were somewhat contentious, as many felt that Mark E. Smith and company (which at the time, included Brix Smith) had lost the plot and smoothed out. The Frenz Experiment, which included a UK-charting cover of The Kinks’ “Victoria,” didn’t curb the griping, but that’s a long time ago now. I find the record holds up well, especially in these 21-track 2LP and 28-track 2CD editions. Both include “Bremen Nacht Run Out” and “Mark’ll Sink Us” from the 45 that accompanied the UK and German first pressings of the LP. Exclusive to the CD version are four tracks from an unreleased BBC Radio session, a cover of “A Day in the Life” (very good), a nine-minute “Bremen Nacht (Alternative),” and an additional version of “Mark’ll Sink Us.” Overall, not as strong as Bend Sinister before or I Am Kurious Oranj after, but sharp, nonetheless. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Love Tractor, “1880 to 1920 + 100” (HHBTM) Of the foundational outfits from the Athens, GA scene of the 1980s, Love Tractor is the one that’s gotten the least retrospective hubbub (as the others are The B-52’s, R.E.M., and Pylon), though the band did release The Sky at Night in 2001 (and a few 21st century CDRs after that), and as this vinyl 7-inch makes clear, are still extant. The full scoop is that the two songs offered here are fresh readings by the original lineup of cuts from their eponymous debut LP from 1982, the reissue of which is merely weeks away (also courtesy of HHBTM). And worry not fans, the band’s non-vocal orientation remains unchanged.

On the original album, “Sixty Degrees Below” and “Festival” hit like a cross between jangle pop, new wave, and party/club crowd movers. Here, with instrumental help of Doug Stanley of the Glands, Bill Berry of R.E.M., and with production and engineering by Dave Barbe of Sugar, they deliver “60 Degrees and Sunny” and “FESTI-vals,” with the jangle and gyrational aspects increased and the wavy qualities lessened, even as the spiffy synth flourish in the latter cut remains fully intact. Keen. And while listening to this brings back memories of walking around town, sucking on a Slurpee (trying not to get a headache), with a rolled-up copy of Option magazine in my pocket, while listening to the soundtrack to Athens Georgia Inside/Out on my Walkman (those were the days), this 45 has a sense of playful energy that places it firmly in the present. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Jimmy Giuffre 3, Graz 1961 (ORG Music) This is a ceaselessly brilliant and unusually well recorded live set from an exceptional trio, featuring clarinetist Giuffre, pianist Paul Bley, and bassist Steve Swallow, the music licensed from the Hat Hut label and making its first appearance on vinyl, a 2LP set offering 76 minutes of highly advanced beauty. In their promo description for this release, ORG surmise that Giuffre isn’t a marquee name today, and I’ll add that he’s mostly remembered for his ’50s work, which is fine, except that some of his greatest achievements date from the following decade, with the albums Fusion, Thesis, and Free Fall featuring this very group. If you’re familiar with those records (or the other live recordings of this trio from the era) you’ll know what to expect, though there are some wonderful surprises on this one. Like in “Trance” for instance, Bley does astounding things with a single key of the piano; it’s wildly different from the version of the tune that’s heard on Flight, Bremen 1961. A+

Dexter Gordon, The Squirrel (Warner Music Group/Rhino) There a quite a few live recordings of the great tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and I can’t say I’ve heard one that didn’t temporarily make me a happier human being. But I rate The Squirrel as special, as it features a fired-up Gordon with a superb band really stretching out on four numbers, the shortest, the ballad standard “You’ve Changed,” a little over 12 minutes and the longest, Gordon original “Cheese Cake,” nearly hitting 21. The opening reading of Tadd Dameron’s title composition and the closing take of Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon for Two” both break 15, which means one track per side as this date from the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen from June of 1967 hits vinyl (180g, edition of 1500, numbered) for the first time. The band? Kenny Drew on piano, Bo Stief on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. The intensity? It gets rather high. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Laura Veirs, My Echo (Raven Marching Band) This is record number 11 for Portland, OR singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, featuring ten songs that she describes as her “‘my songs knew I was getting divorced before I did’ album.” If that scenario suggests an atmosphere that’s maudlin, despondent, or bitter, My Echo isn’t any of those, though it’s definitely reflective and occasionally a little melancholy, as opener “Freedom Feeling” infuses her indie folky foundation with string arrangements that are sweeping yet don’t overwhelm the writing or Veirs’ vocals, which retain their sturdy and direct appeal. The strings persist but the songs vary, ranging from bossa nova-tinged to vivid excursions into ’00s indie pop, as “Brick Layer” reminded me a little of Mac McCaughan’s solo work as Portastatic circa Be Still Please. That comparison will likely slide right by many prospective listeners, but those who enjoy McCaughan’s work are destined to dig My Echo too, which includes contributions from Bill Frisell, Karl Blau, and half of the Monsters of Folk (that’d be Jim James and M. Ward). A-

The Luxembourg Signal, The Long Now (Shelflife / Spinout Nuggets) For their third full-length, this seven-member group, with members currently residing in Los Angeles, San Diego and the UK, haven’t deviated from their core sound, which hits the spot where dream-pop and shoegaze meet, though in opener “I Never Want to Leave,” they do integrate a few synths that sound like they could’ve been bought at Brian Eno’s garage sale (it’s worth noting that Eno coined the phrase that titles this album). The resonating guitars, courtesy of Johnny Joyner and Kelly Davis, and the ethereal, sweet-timbred vocals of Beth Arzy and Betsy Moyer are the most immediately distinctive qualities, but the drumming of Brian Espinosa is crisp and forceful, the bass of Daniel Kumiega is full-bodied, and the keyboards of Ginny Pitchford add dimension instead of just feeling tacked on. Also, across the record there are honest-to-goodness songs rather than just foundations for the exploration of textures. At the moment, I’m quite fond of “Mourning Moon” and the soaring ache of closer “When All That We Hold Decays.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Flaming Tunes, S/T (Superior Viaduct) The release date on this one has been pushed back again to November 13, but as the clear vinyl edition is already listed as sold out on the label’s website (the black wax pressing is still very much available), it’s probably a good idea to cover this one now, mainly so folks interested in a limited transparent copy can be on the lookout, as I’m sure a few stores placed preorders. And anybody who has taken a liking for ’80s experimental DIY should definitely consider grabbing this one, and the same goes for fans of This Heat, as Flaming Tunes is the project of that band’s Gareth Williams, alongside Mary Currie. But while there are occasional fleeting hints that this record is descended from This Heat, the whole is much more in line with the ’80s home recorded proto-lo-fi ethos, but with a higher average of experimental success. Superior Viaduct mentions the Canterbury scene and The Residents, which is on the money, but at a few points this reminded me of New Zealand’s Tall Dwarfs, which is to say that there are songs in this equation. A

Ray Barretto, Barretto Power (Craft Latino) The late Ray Barretto stood like a titan at the crossroads of Latin music and jazz. As a session ace, his credits are extensive, and I’ll confess that I am far more familiar with his work on records by pianist Red Garland, saxophonist Arnett Cobb, and guitarist Kenny Burrell than with his extensive output as a bandleader. And I do mean extensive. This set, released in 1970 and given its first vinyl reissue by Craft for its 50th anniversary, is something like his 17th album. It’s not regarded as his best (many would award that distinction to ’68’s Acid, and I won’t argue, as it’s the best that I’ve heard) Barretto Power is less about innovation that getting back to basic principles, those being rhythmic gusto, rich vocals and vivid brass. A ballad does get thrown in for variety, but finale “Power” is a beast, though not as monstrous as Acid’s closer “Espiritu Libre.” But that’s alright. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: I.P.A., Bashing Mushrooms (Cuneiform) Although this Scandinavian quintet, releasing their fifth full-length and second for the Cuneiform label of Washington DC, is accurately described as an excursion into avant-jazz, the eight tracks here are not particularly formidable in terms of abstraction or raw skronk. Comprised of Atle Nymo on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on double bass, Håkon Mjåset Johansen on drums, and Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, they initially came together through a shared love of Don Cherry’s music, which is still extant in their sound, though I.P.A. also recall that early ’60s stretch when post-Coleman groups (e.g. the New York Contemporary 5, Sonny Simmons and Prince Lasha) were navigating the new freedoms with a concurrent basis in bop-derived melody. By extension, Nymo’s bass clarinet and Ståhl’s continued presence on vibes puts me in the mind of Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! This is a wonderful thing. Note: this is out on vinyl in an edition of 25. Cuneiform’s Bandcamp says there is 8 copies left. A

Dustin Laurenzi’s Natural Language, A Time and Place (Woolgathering) Snaketime: The Music of Moondog, saxophonist Laurenzi’s tribute (with the octet Snaketime) to the great composer Louis Hardin, aka Moondog, made my best new releases of 2019 list, so discovering that his other group, the quartet Natural Language, who recorded their eponymous debut in 2016, had a new LP on deck filled me with excitement. And while its contents aren’t as thrilling as the Moondog set, there is much to love as Laurenzi, guitarist Jeff Swanson, bassist Mike Harmon, and drummer Charles Rumback blend highly advanced post-Modern jazz and avant-garde modes to a highly pleasurable result. While sparks of intensity do fly, this isn’t a harried affair, as Swanson favors a clean, recognizably jazzy tone and Laurenzi, if occasionally ruminating upon inspirations such as Albert Ayler (“Albert”) and blowing in a manner reminiscent of Coltrane (“Blocks”) is just as invested in contemplative warmth. Swanson’s cyclical glide in closer “Slate” secures the music as a byproduct of contemporary Chicago. A-

Julia Reidy, Vanish (Editions Mego) Featuring two side-long pieces, this LP is guitarist Ready’s debut for Editions Mego, but it completes a trifecta of records with two from last year, the 12-inch “brace, brace” on the Slip label and In Real Life on Black Truffle. Reidy (from Sydney, based in Berlin) has a few prior releases on cassette, CDR and wax, and is a member of Splitter Orchestra (whose CD with trombonist George Lewis I’d really like to hear), but this is my introduction to her work, a set that establishes her as a multi-instrumentalist, integrating synths, found sounds, autotuned voice, and harmonica into extended vistas that are strange and vivid. Both tracks are unsurprisingly layered, but also fluid and with a few instances of boom-thud. But worry not, mavens of contempo guitar artistry, there are ample stretches of string glisten, especially in the middle and latter portions of each cut. As unusual as it is satisfying, comparisons to other string benders are elusive. I plan on seeking out more of Reidy’s stuff. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Bachelor Pad, All Hash and Cock: The Very Best of The Bachelor Pad (Emotional Response) The Glaswegian quintet are sometimes affiliated with the whole C86 shebang, though more as subsequent reactors, as they didn’t get a record out until ’87. Additionally, the reality of catchy numbers dipped in hard-edged punk and psychedelia (the Buzzcocks fronted by Syd Barrett comparison is apt) further distances The Bachelor Pad from the varying shades of jangle that persist in defining C86 to this day. Furthermore, the level of inspired racket elevates this above the studied formalism of the neo-’60s acts that sprouted up like not-so psycho daisies during the same era. This set compiles both sides of their debut 7-inch, the a-side to the follow-up 45 from ’88, one track each from the band’s 4-song ’89 EP, seven cuts from their 1990 LP Tales of Hofmann, and one cut from their 5-song ’91 EP. Obviously, that isn’t everything, but it’s a solid primer and a consistently fine listen (no weak entries), with enough melodicism to please the indie-poppers curious about this one. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Garcia Peoples, Nightcap At Wits’ End (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) The latest from these Rutherford, NJ-based expansionists doesn’t disappoint, but it does showcase their aptitude for relatively compact songs without squelching the fire of their outbound tendencies, and that’s just marvelous. As the band’s name underscores, Garcia Peoples soar from a late ’60s San Fran psych platform, and I’ll reinforce soaring rather than choogling unimaginatively, as have too many prior examples of neo-jam rocking; neither do they noodle. Nightcap At Wits’ End offers a dozen tracks totaling not quite 49 minutes (the longest cut lasting seven), but painstakingly recorded and assembled (across nine months with Jeff Zeigler) so that it can be absorbed as one long multifaceted ride. The attention to songs can lead me to think of the Airplane as much as (maybe even more than) the Dead, while the touches of Krautrock illuminate the avant underpinnings in their attack. There are even some non-toxic prog vibes on hand. After time spent, this one shapes up as Garcia Peoples’ best yet. A

Pavone String Ensemble, Lost and Found (Astral Spirits) This is the second release for the ensemble of violists Jessica Pavone and Abby Swidler and violinists Erica Dicker and Angela Morris, (Brick and Mortar, their debut came out last year on the Birdwatcher label), though Pavone has extensive experience both solo and in various collaborative situations, including membership in JOBS and four records with guitarist Mary Halvorson. String ensembles can’t help but tilt expectations toward the Classical, but Lost and Found, like its predecessor, spotlights diversity that situates the group’s music amid the overlapping realms of the avant-garde, experimentation and New Music. Classical music remains nearly synonymous with composition, and while Pavone is credited here as the composer (she is highly adept in this regard), her working method utilizes improvisation, but with an emphasis on collectivity within the pieces rather than promoting a solos-based (read: jazz) individualism. That’s a major factor in the magnificence of this set (which is available on CD and cassette), but so is the affinity for the Drone. A

Mary Lattimore, Silver Ladders (Ghostly International) The work of harpist Lattimore has been one of the sustained pleasures of the last decade, both in her own body of work, which commenced in 2012 with The Withdrawing Room, and in collaboration with others, notably Jeff Zeigler, Steve Gunn, and Thurston Moore. For this set, her third for Ghostly International, she is working with Slowdive’s Neil Halstead as producer and instrumentalist, with the sessions taking place across nine days in his studio in  Cornwall, England. To specialize in the harp is to embrace lushness and glisten, which Lattimore continues to do here to splendid effect, but as on prior releases, her pluck can be quite vigorous, and that’s even better, particularly in combination with the synths and Halstead’s guitar. A dark tone is discernible, but so are passages that border on psychedelia, and both in late track “Don’t Look.” Lattimore’s willingness to take chances has resulted in a career highlight. A

Linaire, S/T (Capital Zero) The songs are by Anna Atkinson, who also sings, along with playing Omnichord, viola, and keyboards. She is accompanied by Alexander MacSween on drum machines and additional keys, and this largely duo approach lands them halfway between synth pop and bedroom DIY, but with the wildcard that Atkinson sings with the bold verve reminiscent of artists with a far more commercial orientation. Her delivery lends uniqueness to the record, but flows naturally, as she has the pipes for it. However, it does provide a sharp contrast to many of the instrumental settings, which can strike my ear as analogous to the sort of projects that were getting released on home-recorded cassettes back in the early ’90s. A comparison has been made to Young Marble Giants, and that’s fair, except that Linaire resonates like it’s thoroughly Atkinson’s show. Also, “I’ll Buy You Lunch” reminded me a bit of a stray Magnetic Fields track. In summary, this LP starts out intriguing and then slowly impresses with the strength of its assemblage. A highly accomplished debut. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lafayette Gilchrist, NOW (Lafayette Gilchrist Music) Baltimore-based pianist-composer-bandleader Gilchrist’s CD from last year, Dark Matter, was a superb listen, but it was also a solo set, recorded live in 2016. This 2CD, which offers nearly two and a half hours of music, expands to a trio with Herman Burney on bass and Eric Kennedy on drums, and finds the band immediately setting forth on a course of high energy and groove heaviness that effectively illuminates Gilchrist’s influences from ragtime and stride to hard-bop and blues to go-go and hip-hop, with the thrust falling comfortably between the two-handed expressiveness of Dark Matter and the vivid sound of his larger bands, which includes the New Volcanoes (formed in 1993). There are also passages of considerable lyricism, particularly “The Wonder of Being Here” on disc two, but even Gilchrist’s ballads can boom (in no small part due to Burney).

Gilchrist might be best known for “Assume the Position,” which was featured on the HBO series The Wire. A ripping version of the piece opens NOW, the choice deliberate as the song deals with police violence, an issue that continues to plague this country (this reading of the tune was recorded last year, before the latest egregious examples occurred). Indeed, the record’s very title establishes that its contents are socially concerned, and as detailed above Gilchrist’s music is a robust blend of old and new. Along with The Wire, the pianist has also been featured on two other David Simon series, The Deuce and Treme; the connection to the latter highlights a touch of New Orleans in his music, though he’s firmly a Charm City-DC guy. While the length of NOW situates it as best absorbed a disc or so at a time (the first concludes exquisitely with “The Midnight Step Rag”), the second half does find the trio progressing into less torrid, more contemplative territory (the second disc also holds many of the set’s more personal selections). Most importantly, there’s never a shortage of ideas or verve. A

Michael J Sheehy, Distance is the Soul of Beauty (Lightning Archive) Londoner Sheehy’s music-making spans back to the 1990s as part of Dream City Film Club, who released a pair of albums and an EP for Beggars Banquet in the latter half of the decade. Following that outfit’s breakup in ’99, he commenced a solo stretch, initially on Beggars for three records, and next on Glitterhouse for three more, two of them with backing band the Hired Mourners, Then, a break of over ten years. But don’t consider that span a stretch of inactivity, as along with quitting drinking, Sheehy’s been playing in Miraculous Mule and is half of United Sounds of Joy, the psychedelic electronic act where he’s joined by his partner in Dream City Film Club, Alex Vald. Along with imbibing, another thing Sheehy stopped doing for a while was solo writing, although after a few years of sobriety and then his time in Miraculous Mule, the tunes began to come together.

Following the start of United Sounds of Joy and especially after the birth of his daughter, the songs were flowing with greater frequency, and Sheehy had an album on his hands. But that’s not what’s here, as post-Covid-19, he shelved that material unfinished and then dedicated himself to recording and releasing a finished album quickly. This is the result, and while it required a few spins to get its hooks in, I’m glad I took the time. Sheehy cites the third Velvets album as a touchstone for Distance, and I can hear that, though I’ll elaborate that a few cuts here, specifically in closer “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” remind me of the gentler Ira-sung selections on Yo La Tengo’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. But there’s also a consistent Memphis-Nashville vibe (underscoring another of Sheehy’s touchstones, Elvis) and a use of electronics that drives home the influence of Suicide in a wonderfully subtle way. But the bottom line is that the songwriting here is strong throughout. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for September 2020, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for September 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Chris Smither, More From the Levee (Signature Sounds) Singer-songwriter Chris Smither is from the old school. When I listen to him, I hear echoes of Townes Van Zandt, Spider John Koerner, Eric Von Schmidt, and even a key influence on Smither, Mississippi John Hurt, as the fingerpicking on this album is impressive. Smither cut two records for the Poppy label in the early ’70s and then a third one for United Artists that went unreleased for decades. In fact, he didn’t record again until 1984, but since then, he’s been steadily productive, with More From the Levee his 18th album, though the songs date back to 2014 and the recording of his 16th, Still on the Levee, which was a 25-track double set featuring fresh versions of songs from his substantial repertoire. Well, that record wasn’t the entire session, with these ten cuts right up there with the prior 25 in terms of quality. Similar to Randy Newman’s Songbook albums, the new treatments hold up like someone just bought them a pair of suspenders, with “Lonely Time” and “Caveman” my favorites so far. But the whole thing is a delight. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Willie Colón canta Héctor Lavoe, Cosa Nuestra (Craft Recordings) This was the first gold record for the union of trombonist and leader Colón and vocalist Lavoe; it is often cited as Colón’s first masterpiece and occasionally ranked as his best album. As I haven’t heard all of Colón’s work, I can’t verify the latter statement, but that Cosa Nuestra is a masterwork is easy to affirm, as it’s a flawless document of constant structural magnificence that, as the eight selections unfurl, strikingly mingles sheer verve and heightened finesse. As the fourth record to team Colón with Lavoe (all of them for the Fania label), with Johnny Pacheco again serving as recording director, it found them truly hitting their stride as the NYC scene transitioned toward salsa. Make no mistake; this is the sound of a band with no weak link, though the dual trombones of the bandleader and Eric Matos are a total gas, as is the piano of Professor Joe Torres. The rhythms punch with flair, and Lavoe is a gift of assured expressiveness. A+

Alfredo Linares Y Su Sonora, Yo Traigo Boogaloo (Vampisoul) As detailed directly above, most of the Latin retrospective heat to recently hit my ear canals has come via Craft Recordings and their welcome Fania reissues, but here’s an exception, cut in Peru in 1968 and originally released by the MAG label, the second of two LPs from the band led by noted pianist Linares. Per the title, the boogaloo style is prominent across these 13 tracks, but the sound also incorporates Latin jazz and descarga (the Cuban jam session style) while pointing toward salsa, as the sounds of New York were influential on what was being harnessed in MAG studios. While the heft of the swinging collectivity here isn’t as gripping as on Cosa Nuestra, it’s still an utter treat from start to finish, and I especially like Charlie Palomares’s vibraphone. 500 copies, so don’t futz around. A

Camille Yarbrough, The Iron Pot Cooker (Craft Recordings) A record that should have a much higher profile (beyond its sampling by Fatboy Slim) gets a deserved reissue. The reason for my esteem is threefold. First, Yarbrough is a ’70s street-poetess, performance artist, and social activist of the first order, a total equal to Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets, and with a command of language strong enough that I also thought of Wanda Coleman, Nikki Giovanni, and Jaki Shelton Green. Second, the instrumental accompaniment across the record is consistently rewarding, legitimately enhancing the proceedings rather than simply providing standard “spoken-word” backup, which directly relates to reason number three, specifically, that Yarbrough is quite talented as a singer, best heard in this context in the sequential tracks “Ain’t It a Lonely Feeling,” “Take Yo’ Praise” (the one Fatboy sampled), and “Can I Get a Witness?,” enough so that The Iron Pot Cooker also brought Nina Simone to mind. Such a powerful recording, with closer “All Hid” unnerving in the context of the moment. Edition of 2,300. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for September 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for September 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Profligate, Too Numb to Know (Wharf Cat) Although three volumes of demo tapes have been released since, the last “new” full-length from Profligate, which is the work of songwriter Noah Anthony, was Somewhere Else, released in January 2018, his first for Wharf Cat. That record found him working in territory comparable to synth-pop but with injections of abrasiveness and a general mood that was nearer to darkwave (which isn’t 1,000 miles away from synth-pop, but still), and it was a strong enough effort to receive a new release pick in this column. Well, the writing of Anthony’s latest, which began in Philadelphia, continued after a move to Los Angeles, and then following the theft of a laptop, was restarted in Cleveland, makes significant inroads into the realms of songs over electronic environments, though Too Numb to Know is still aptly categorized as synth-pop (but with some rewardingly atypical use of electric guitar). However, as the title might suggest, the attitude (one could even say atmosphere) is nearer to dour than sunshiny, and that’s A-OK with me, bud. A-

Christopher Parker & Kelley Hurt, No Tears Suite (Mahakala Music) This CD features pianist Parker and vocalist Hurt’s composition, initially written in commemoration and celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine’s historic enrollment in their city’s Central High School. It’s a work of substantial richness and power that is only heightened by its connection to the Arkansas community, as Parker was born in North Little Rock. Additionally, the piece was composed for the literary magazine Oxford American, which is based in the city. It premiered in 2017 with a strong band that featured Parker, Hurt, Marc Franklin on trumpet, Chad Fowler on alto, Bobby LaVell on tenor, Bill Huntington on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, the lineup heard on the disc, which comes in an attractive, informative 6 panel package.

Fitting for its conception as a historical act of tribute and remembrance, No Tears Suite is a journey deep into the heart of jazz greatness as established by the form’s masterworks of the mid-20th century. Indeed, it’s almost scholarly in comportment, as Parker has studied and taught extensively, but that’s no fault, as there is also crucial warmth and verve. Consistently accessible throughout, Hurt’s contribution, which can described as serving a narrative function, is as pleasing to the ear as it is informative, and deepens the suite’s distinctiveness as the music is at times reminiscent of Mingus, Duke, Benny Golson’s work with Art Farmer, and Max Roach’s with Abbey Lincoln. Also, the release of No Tears Suite will be accompanied by a free streaming listen of the 2019 live performance from Little Rock featuring the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and with arrangements by the great bassist Rufus Reid. For the curious, it’ll serve as a fine introduction to Parker and Hurt’s work and will stand as a splendidly robust and wholly satisfying expansion for those who choose to immediately scoop up the studio recording. A / A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Rüstəm Quliyev, Azerbaijani Gitara (Bongo Joe) Born in 1969 in the village of Kosalar, Nagorno Karabakh, in the Republic of Azerbaijan (formerly part of the USSR), Quliyev’s music is a sweet find, well, a bittersweet find as he died young after a battle with lung cancer. Encountering the guitar while doing military service in Russia, but wasted no time in mastering it upon returning to Azerbaijan (he was already proficient on the tar and the saz), where he recorded frequently on cassettes released by small local labels, as well as playing weddings and appearing in TV. This is his first international release, made with the approval and input of Quliyev’s family, and it details a personal style that is assessed as a step (or steps) beyond the “already idiosyncratic” Azerbaijani guitar scene. Launching from his country’s traditional music, Quliyev incorporated a wealth of outside influences (Indian, Afghan, Iranian, Spanish) for an expansive, and dare I say psychedelic, ride. And after getting acclimated to the sound, “Yaniq Kerem” (track seven) hits the ear, and it’s like, “aww, yes…” A-

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