Graded on a Curve: ORG Music’s Record Store Day 2023 Releases

For years now, ORG Music’s Record Store Day output has been dependably interesting. 2023 is no different, as the label offers A Decade in Love, Vol. 10 in its Sun Records Curated by Record Store Day series, Larry Mullins + Mike Watt spreading The Stooges’ “TV Eye” across a 7-inch, Willie Henderson and the Soul Explosions’ crate digger’s delight Funky Chicken, the first legit reissue of the eponymous ’70s private press by The Happy Dragon-Band, the vinyl debut of Ukrainian punkers Vopli Vidopliassova’s cult demo tape Tantsi, drummer William Hooker’s Shamballa (in duo with Thurston Moore and Elliott Sharp), and a glorious 4LP set of Albert Ayler live performances, Europe 1966. All are considered below.

ORG and RSD take an inclusive view of the Sun Records catalog for their joint ongoing Sun Records Curated by Record Store Day venture, with the period where Shelby Singleton (he of SSS Records and Plantation Records fame) owned and operated the label (and founder Sam Phillips was essentially out of the picture) included in the pool of recordings that participating RSD stores can draw from in establishing the contents of each volume. There are overriding themes; this time out, it’s love, devotion, and anniversaries, which is triply appropriate as this series has been running now for a decade.

Given the breadth of A Decade in Love’s contents, ranging from Webb Pierce to the Ad Libs to Patti Page to Howlin’ Wolf, the sequence’s flow on each side is impressive. The core music on which Sun Records’ reputation rests, namely rockabilly and blues, is in evidence, with Carl Perkins, Warren Smith and Johnny Cash repping the former style and Wolf and The Jesters (a cover of Little Walter’s “My Babe”) the latter. But Hank Locklin and Linda Martell deepen the C&W angle and there’s a triple shot of soul (Jo Jo Benson, Clarence Murray, and Willie Hobbs) all drawn from the Singleton era. Vol. 10 is solid, if not mind-blowing.

The latest tackling of The Stooges from Larry Mullins and Mike Watt extends another ORG RSD series of sorts, as this estimable pair (Mullins a longtime associate of Iggy Pop and Watt the bassist for the reformed Stooges) has already plunged into “1969” (RSD 2019), “1970” (RSD 2020) and “Fun House” (RSD 2022), Stooges numbers all. Like this year’s entry, the prior excursions were pressed to 7-inch vinyl and broken into two parts.

There are hundreds (maybe even thousands) of Stooges covers in music history. A smaller number of those versions can be assessed as legit interpretations of The Stooges’ considerable achievements. What Mullins and Watt are up to hits this description right in its bullseye, roaring forth with that recognizable wail and then diving into a potent zone that’s redolent of the Spacemen 3, as saxophone and rhythmic currents abound. As the eight minutes progress, a couple key points are made. Foremost, Mullins and Watt adore tangling with Iggy and co. Secondly, The Stooges’ discography is simply inexhaustible.

For many, Willie Henderson and the Soul Explosions are primarily known for “Loose Booty,” a track sampled by The Beastie Boys at the beginning of “Professor Booty” from Check Your Head. “Loose Booty” and “Break Your Neck,” the bonus cuts on this pressing of Funky Chicken, were both originally added to a ’74 edition of this album, with Brunswick retitling it Dance With Willie Henderson “The Master.”

Kicking off with “Soulful Football,” Funky Chicken establishes that Sly Stone was a prime influence. Released the same year as Funkadelic’s first two albums, Funky Chicken shares exuberance with Clinton’s group but largely lacks the elements of individualist eccentricity. Instead, Henderson and the Explosions just get down to business dishing out danceable tunes, which makes this LP a good one for parties. Funky Chicken’s only cover, a version of The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” while not great, goes down better than expected.

Those in pursuit of eccentricity might find The Happy Dragon-Band’s sole LP up their alley, though an inclination (or at least a high tolerance) for 1970s private press extremities is recommended. The self-titled album, originally pressed in an edition of 500 copies in 1978 (how many were actually sold is unclear), is the brainchild of Tommy Court, a Detroiter whose preferences leaned toward the psychedelic, and in particular, the spacy.

This one’s a keeper for Court’s use of analog synths alone, but it’s additionally worthwhile for how the contents navigate the middle ground between songwriting and expansiveness. Described as a studio wiz (Fiddlers Music Company, the label attached to the original release, began as a music store and became a demo studio), Court was also recording with a modest budget, which likely helped the proceedings from spinning out of control. Along with a touch of reggae and sneaky flashes of R&B in the vocals, the general spaciness should appeal to lovers of the kosmische and even ’80s synth soundtracks.

Rhythmically pummeling and with a wickedly raw guitar edge, the vinylized demo tape Tantsi by the Ukraine’s Vopli Vidopliassova dishes a massive dose of punk mania with nary a trace of hardcore, which is worthy of note, as the date of Tantsi’s recording was 1989. There are occasional strains of accordion, which reinforces the tag of folk-punk that accompanies Vopli Vidopliassova, but don’t go thinking the inclusion of the squeeze box lessens the primal nature of the band’s attack. Because it doesn’t.

Volpi Vidopliassova do avoid the generic quite nicely as they let it rip, partly through a display of actual songwriting rather than simply churning out a series of variations on the three chord approach. Unambiguously punk but avoiding the rudimentary, the way VV batters their instruments is reminiscent of such heavyweights as Germany’s The Pack and Japan’s Friction. And anybody who digs those two is likely already in line to pick up a copy of Tantsi. They won’t be disappointed.

By the time of Shamballa’s release in 1993, drummer William Hooker had been on the scene for nearly 20 years. The scene? The NYC jazz scene, but do note that his milieu was the subterranean scene that produced Hooker’s contemporaries, bassist William Parker and multi-horn specialist Daniel Carter. Extending the possibilities of Fire Music while so many people bestowed hosannas so eagerly on the Neo-Trad movement, Hooker was and remains a post-category behemoth, his work embodying the ESP-Disk slogan “You never heard such sounds in your life.”

Shamballa was originally issued only on CD by Knitting Factory Works, with ORG Music’s 2LP set marking its vinyl debut. Teaming Hooker with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and versatile NYC avant-gardist Elliott Sharp was a guaranteed recipe for fireworks in the Fire Music Duo Exchange framework (with guitars in place of saxophones), but it’s also a sweet extension of the post-no wave/free jazz maelstrom that was the specialty of Rudolph Grey’s Blue Humans (a band that notably included in it’s membership jazz drummer Beaver Harris). The sounds on Shamballa are ecstatic and eternal.

The same is true for the performances captured on Europe 1966, an exquisite quadruple vinyl collection of Albert Ayler in his prime with a band featuring his brother Donald on trumpet, Michel Sampson on violin, William Folwell on bass, and how about that, Beaver Harris on drums. The recordings collected here have been issued previously, with Europe 1966 a vinyl edition of the Swiss Hat Hut label’s 2021 2CD Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm Revisited.

To be sure, this is a lot of Ayler to contend with, but hearing this quintet produce so many inspired variations on the saxophonist’s core compositions (“Truth is Marching In,” “Bells,” “Our Prayer,” and of course “Ghosts” amongst them) is a life-affirming experience at a time when the affirmation of existence is often greatly needed. Altogether, Europe 1966 reinforces Albert Ayler as one of the great visionaries of modern music. Anyone looking to fall under the sway of his greatness should find this set an ample introduction.

V/A, A Decade in Love: Sun Records Curated by Record Store Day Vol. 10

Larry Mullins + Mike Watt, “TV Eye”

Willie Henderson and the Soul Explosions, Funky Chicken

The Happy Dragon-Band, S/T

Vopli Vidopliassova, Tantsi

William Hooker with Thurston Moore and Elliott Sharpe, Shamballa

Albert Ayler, Europe 1966

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