Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, November 2016

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the brand new wax presently in stores for November, 2016. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Wadada Leo Smith, America’s National Parks (Cuneiform) This 96-minute six-movement suite might seem an arduous undertaking, but in resisting nature’s majesty in favor of celebrating the idea of preservation and public works, the trumpeter-composer sidesteps Ansel Adams-style grandeur for the poetic (think Whitman and Gary Snyder). And by celebrating New Orleans, the Mississippi River, and the writing of Eileen Jackson Southern as deserving of National Park status, he eclipses the danger of mere respectfulness. Yet another highpoint in a long, distinguished career. A+

NEW RELEASE RUNNER-UP: Elliott Sharp, Port Bou (Infrequent Seams) Sharp’s been a crucial part of avant-NYC from the late ’70s right up to this release, an opera devoted to the final moments in the life of philosopher Walter Benjamin at Port-Bou Spain in 1940 as he fled Nazi-occupied France. The tenor of the times has surely deepened the emotional impact of this demanding but not formidable avant-classical work, but the primary reasons are bass-baritone Nicholas Isherwood, pianist Jenny Lin, accordionist William Schimmel, and of course Sharp, who adds electro-acoustic backing tracks. A

Apostles, S/T (Presch Media GmbH) Once The Funkees left for London, it was reportedly The Apostles who stepped into the void to become the leaders of the Nigerian rock scene; this first-time reissue of a ’76 EMI LP is proof positive pudding. Presch Media states that album opener “Never Too Late” “could well be the best Afro Rock song ever recorded,” and after listening that seemingly bold statement isn’t at all farfetched. Although they don’t maintain that level of quality, the rest is consistently up to snuff, particularly the organ-infused “Play Girl” and the psychedelic guitar flights all over side two. A-

Beastie Vee, “Vee Sides” (BUFU) Native of France Bastien Vandevelde previously beat the skins for Juan Wauters. Beastie Vee is his side project, tagged as post-punk/ noise rock; I’d assess it as nearer to the former, though to Vandevelde’s credit it’s not easy to draw direct lines to precedent. “Outro” sets this 4-song EP into motion and is something This Heat fans might want to check out, a scenario that persists during “Lvvrrss.” A subterranean ’80s vibe does inform “Make a Wish Break a Stick,” while the brief “Bonus Clic” concludes matters with shout-racket. Promising stuff. B

Kadhja Bonet, The Visitor (Fat Possum/ Fresh Selects) Enjoyable debut from an LA soulster with a considerable amount of tradition in her scheme, though the finished product still connects as a contempo situation. Merging psychedelia with strains of sci-fi and hip-hop rhythm during “Intro: Earth Birth,” much of what follows extends from the progressive soul-R&B of the 1970s, utilizing string-sections, bilingualism, and a general tony atmosphere to positive effect. Falling short of a knockout, folks with collections holding Roberta Flack, Curtis Mayfield, Sun Ra, and Shabazz Palaces should investigate. B

Brandt Brauer Frick, Joy (Because Music) The earlier releases by this classically trained German techno outfit are of interest, but here they wade into troubling waters through the increased use of vocals, a tactic pursued in earnest on previous album Miami and extended here via Canadian poet-singer Beaver Sheppard. With a few exceptions (see the purposely overbearing cell phone chattiness in “Society Saved Me”) this avoids coffeehouse slam night conceptualism, but the poppish voicings mainly reinforce the high value of Neil Tennant, and the artier bits (closer “Away from My Body”) register as strained. C+

Clear Plastic Masks, Nazi Hologram (Soft Junk) Hailing from Nashville, Clear Plastic Masks’ blend of hard garage and dark psych is raw and contempo enough that I would’ve guessed they lived out California way, and specifically the Bay Area. More to the point, this album occasionally recalls racket comparable to what’s on the Castle Face roster, though the Masks’ lack a wildcard element (a la Krautrock) to put ‘em in the same league as Thee Oh Sees (for example). The root of this outing tilts nearer to well-done trad-minded fuzzed-up garage stomp with a late singer-songwriter curveball. B+

Clem Snide, You Were a Diamond (HHBTM) First time vinyl reissue of the ’98 debut from this Burroughs-monikered indie act formed in ’90s Boston. Sometimes described as alt-country, that assessment is helped along by a cover of Hank Sr.’s “Lost in the River,” but it’s necessary to mention the eschewal of twang and a bounty of cello. Gaining intimacy through clarity of recording, a folky feel is reinforced by the general lack of drumming (even more so on the demo-ish bonus tracks). Acoustic bass is a real plus, enhancing a feel that is at times reminiscent of early Low crossed with Souled American (who?). B+

Ornette Coleman, An Evening with Ornette Coleman, Part 1 (ORG Music) Sourced from a ‘65 concert at Croydon, England’s Fairfield Hall, this is part of an earlier 2LP issued under the same title and later as The Great London Concert. Curiously, this is everything except the side-long piece for wind quintet and “Ballad,” so perhaps part two will unveil additional stuff. What’s here is the magnificent trio of bassist David Izenzon, drummer Charles Moffett, and Coleman, who adds violin and trumpet to the equation. Not as massive as the two Blue Note Golden Circle volumes, but still major. “Now play Cherokee.” A

Bo Diddley, Have Guitar Will Travel (Cornbread) Diddley’s third album is amongst his best. The most oft-cited cuts here are the fertile Bo soil of “Run Diddley Daddy,” “I Need You Baby” (aka “Mona”), “Nursery Rhyme,” and “Dancin’ Girl,” while “Say Man, Back Again” and the frequently covered “Cops and Robbers” touch upon the man’s humorous side. Range is also in evidence, e.g. “Spanish Guitar (with harmonica from Lester Davenport) as is his enduring influence, with “I Love You So” a rough blueprint for King Khan & BBQ Show. The zonked instrumental “Mumblin’ Girl” is pure gold. A

Terry Dolan, S/T (High Moon) This San Fran-based retrieval was financed and prepped for release by Warner Bros. but was yanked from the schedule shortly before its 1972 release date; after listening it’s difficult to hear why. Built from two sessions, one produced by Nicky Hopkins (who contributes piano) with Quicksilver guitarist John Cipollina and The Pointer Sisters amongst the participants, and the other helmed by Pete Sears with Neal Schon of Santana/ Journey on board, any changes in tone aren’t discordant, and this is a major post-psych singer-songwriter find. Six bonus cuts fill out the CD. A-

E, S/T (Thrill Jockey) Debut from Thalia Zedek (Come, Live Skull, Uzi, etc.) on guitar, Jason Sanford (Neptune) on guitar and stomp box, and Gavin McCarthy (Karate) on drums, with the three alternating vocal duties, occasionally within the same track. The lack of bass is filled by Sanford’s handmade instrument, described as wooden block with a hacksaw blade inside that produces bass tones via foot thrust. The results are heavy but with a subtle distinctiveness and an emphasis on songs; veteran skill is evident throughout. The politically focused McCarthy-sung “Candidate” is a timely standout. A-

Flower Girl, Tuck in Your Tie-Die (BUFU) Combining a country and folk angled alt-rock atmosphere with stabs of lyrical wit, much of this sounds like it could’ve been culled from a flexi-disc accompanying a circa-1988 edition of The Bob magazine. Comparisons have been made to Jonathan Richman and Camper Van Beethoven, but it’s the latter that sticks out to me; Flower Girl doesn’t achieve CVB’s instrumental breadth and overall level of quality, but to be fair, these college rock-descended witticisms aren’t blatantly indebted to the Pitch a Tent crew and the LP finishes up strong. B

Frank Frost, Hey Boss Man! (ORG Music) Produced by Sam “Sun Records” Phillips and released in ’62 on his Phillips International label, this features Frost singing and blowing harp, Big Jack Johnson dishing guitar, and Sam Carr holding it down behind the kit; the result is exemplary juke joint style that transcends regional concerns, with moments recalling Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed (a version of “Big Boss Man”), Excello Records-style swamp action, and even John Lee Hooker. Disdain for fanciness and a desire for grooves makes this first-time US reissue (there have been a few imports) a winner. A-

Lee Hazlewood, Cowboy in Sweden (Light in the Attic) Although not a soundtrack, this is closely related to a ’69 film Hazlewood made after ditching the US for Sweden. I’ve not seen it, but it’s probably terrible. Tagged as surreal, it’s even more likely terribly dated, but no matter; this LP delivers an enjoyable slice of Hazlewood’s peak years, finding him stretching beyond his comfort zone as the period neared its end. “Hey Cowboy”’s breezy duet with Nina Lizell is a submersion into Middle-of-the-Road-ism, but the real nugs are “Cold Hard Times” and “No Train to Stockholm.” Strings are prevalent throughout. B+

Cris Jacobs, Dust to Gold (American Showplace Music) Formerly of Baltimore’s The Bridge, Jacobs carries over touches of that group’s neo-classic rock/jam band aesthetic to this Americana-infused and ultimately quite mainstream affair. Helping matters is stylistic diversity, e.g. “Cold Carolina”’s shades of country soul and a general lack of aw-shucks-ism throughout; by extension, Jacobs’ resists going overboard emotionally in the vocals, instead embodying warm restraint that assists Dust to Gold in going down smoothly. In the end, the polished, decidedly pro aura greatly limits the appeal. B-

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