Graded on a Curve:
ORG Music Black Friday Releases

ORG Music has three releases for Black Friday 2022, all reissues: the self-titled debut by Overwhelming Colorfast, Thriller by Augustus Pablo, and The Complete 1931 Sessions by Skip James. It’s a diverse, worthy haul available on 11/25. All three are covered in more detail below.

The scoop on Overwhelming Colorfast is that the band’s eponymous debut long-player from 1992 is more than slightly indebted to Hüsker Dü. Today, this influence will very likely be considered a positive, but it wasn’t always that way. Indeed, back in the early ’90s, when many folks learnt of a new band wielding an undisguised similarity to the Dü, the response was often, “I’ll pass, thanks.” And the reason was simply that numerous bands were spawned from the Minneapolis power trio’s sound, and with varying results.

Led by guitarist-vocalist Bob Reed, Overwhelming Colorfast inhabit the stronger end of the Dü influence spectrum, or at least that’s the case at this point in their existence (the band’s second and third records I have not heard). This is primarily due to a solid batch of tunes. Bluntly, a lack of quality songwriting is where many bands inspired by Mould, Hart, and Norton fell flat.

But Overwhelming Colorfast aren’t rote copyists, as the album’s front cover design tips off a psychedelic persuasion that’s most prevalent in their cover of The Beatles’ “She Said, She Said,” with its abundance of pedal-scuzz. Along the way, this psych angle dishes a few Dino Jr.-ish flashes and early Flaming Lips-like moves, but the overall thrust never drifts too far from the Hüskers, and at this late date, that’s just fine.

Overwhelming Colorfast can be described as comfort food for fans of old school indie rock, but Augustus Pablo is one of the undisputed greats in the field of Jamaican reggae, and he has the added bonus of distinctiveness, as he notably played the melodica, the instrument right up front in “Pablo Nah Jester,” the opening track to Pablo’s 1975 album Thriller.

Pablo, whose given name was Horace Swaby (he passed in May of 1999), managed to be expressive on an instrument of seemingly pretty limited potential. And like other Jamaican music innovators of considerable renown, he recorded a whole lot; whether it’s in a coffeeshop, a restaurant, or in a club between bands, whenever melodica-tinged reggae, and often with a dub edge, is heard, it’s a safe bet it’s Augustus Pablo.

And speaking of dub, King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, which stands tall amongst the style’s defining records, is often cited as Pablo’s career highpoint, and I’m not going to disagree. But Thriller was released the year before and is curiously slept on, or at least neglected in the reissue market (the last prior vinyl pressing dates from the early ’80s and it’s only been issued on CD once, in the late ’90s), and has much to recommend it, particularly Pablo’s switching to piano for the intense, guitar-laden “Marcus Garvey.” There’s some positively gargantuan trombone in the title track, as well.

Like Pablo, the incomparable bluesman Skip James was also a multi-instrumentalist, with his piano playing, too seldomly discussed, showcased on The Complete 1931 Sessions, which collects everything the Bentonia, MS native recorded in Grafton, WS for the Paramount label in 1931. It’s an indispensable set of 18 sides, with the most celebrated being “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,” “I’m So Glad” (famously covered by Cream), and the unsettling and truly eerie “Devil Got My Woman.”

James has long been categorized as a purveyor of the country blues (a term that seems to have fallen out of usage). This basically meant he played acoustically and lacked an element of citified sophistication. As a youngster fresh in high school who was mesmerized by the blues, I stubbornly avoided country blues for a long while, exclusively listening to post-WWII artists who were largely plugged-in, if not necessarily urban(e).

The country bluesmen who woke me the fuck up were Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, and Skip James. Scoring a cheap copy of Yazoo’s ’80s release of these recordings was a revelation, magnifying the sheer uncompromising power of James’ work while underscoring the breadth of his talent and inspirations. Based solely on exposure to “Devil Got My Woman,” James is a haunted, haunting, and spectral presence, but hearing him play spirituals as part of a varied repertoire humanizes him as something of an entertainer (but with a hard edge) rather than as a tortured, possessed figure.

Overwhelming Colorfast, s/t
B+

Augustus Pablo, Thriller
A-

Skip James, The Complete 1931 Sessions
A+

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