Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, July 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for July, 2017.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: James Ilgenfritz, Origami Cosmos (Infrequent Seams) Double bassist, improviser, and composer Ilgenfritz has a loaded résumé; recordings include a disc of Anthony Braxton compositions for Infrequent Seams and an opera inspired by William Burroughs for Con D’or, the label of Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart. This set gathers four pieces by Ilgenfritz’s fellow New Yorkers Annie Gosfield, Miya Masaoka, JG Thirlwell, and Elliott Sharp, all written with his formidable skills on the bass in mind. The results are consistently gripping but ordered so that Sharp’s “Aletheia” delivers the closing jaw-dropper. A

Aruán Ortiz, Cub(an)ism (Intakt) Hidden Voices, the 2016 disc by Ortiz’ trio (featuring bassist Eric Revis and drummer Gerald Cleaver) is a sweet bit of business, but this helping of solo piano is even more worthwhile, in part for how it blends and intertwines modernity and tradition. Based upon four tracks from his ’96 debut Impresión Tropical, he’s made a considerable progression. 20 years ago, Ortiz’s fleet hands engaged with melody and the expectations of a solo piano record much more directly; here, abstraction is a constant and thoroughly satisfying thread. The use of quiet and space is striking. A

REISSUE PICKS: Lynn Castle, Rose Colored Corner (Light in the Attic) Of all the artists snagged in the ill-fated web of Lee Hazlewood’s LHI label, Castle just might be the most talented. There are hints of this in her ’67 single for the venture, “The Lady Barber” (indeed, clipping male wigs was her vocation) b/w the track titling this collection, but it’s the ten previously unreleased songs here, cut solo with Jack Nitzsche at the console, that illuminate Castle’s talent as a singer-songwriter. Had she made a pro recording with Nitzsche or another sympathetic producer, the results could’ve blown some minds. A-

Billy Stoner, S/T (Team Love) Fans of ’70s outlaw country should check out this rescued item, recorded in Longview Farm in N. Brookfield, MA 37 years ago but left in the can until now. The outlaw descriptor runs quite deep; Stoner’s musical sensibility was shaped in Austin, where he began serving time in federal prison for a marijuana bust shortly after this LP was cut, and across its nine songs the man and a crack band (namely Arlo Guthrie’s backing group Shenandoah and singer Jemima James) combine honky-tonk with touches of rock, folk, and Texas singer-songwriter verve to accomplished effect. A-

Apostles, “Banko Woman” b/w “Faith, Luck and Music” (Cultures of Soul) Pronounced by the label as “rare Afro-funk dance floor killers,” the scarcity, style, and intention is indisputable; open to question is the effectiveness of the body-moving. Both cuts derive from this Nigerian band’s debut LP, which came out in ’76 or ’77. Disco consciousness is tangible on side A, which is the cooker, stretching out instrumentally with psych-tinged guitar and a keyboard sound that can be described as thrifty. The instrumental and production approaches are thin but appealing. Flipside is a catchy bouncer. B+

Greg Ashley, Pictures of Saint Paul Street (Trouble in Mind) Ashley started in the garage (The Strate-Coats, The Mirrors, The Gris-Gris), but he’s been dishing platters under his own name for nearly 15 years. His latest opens with edgy solo acoustic selections that’re gradually and fruitfully adorned with added instrumentation (including a familiar Bechet-ish clarinet), the widened sonics helping the recurring, sometimes caustic lyrical negativity to go down a little easier. The man’s earlier stuff finessed a psych zone, but this is better described as folky and appealingly, though darkly, out of time. A-

Banditos, Visionland (Bloodshot) Sophomore album from this Nashville via Birmingham outfit. Contempo roots stuff regularly runs the risk of tripping over its own image, but the Banditos come out of the X school of prioritizing the music over the trappings, and I’m not just drawing the comparison due to Banditos’ guy-gal vocal setup; for starters. Mary Beth Richardson is closer to Neko Case than Exene, and furthermore, the band’s attack is both swampy and pop-savvy (in a country-soul sense) while being consistently Southern, expanding upon rather than squandering the solidity of their debut. B+

Chris Bell, Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star (Omnivore) While it’s not recommend as a starting point for Big Star newbies, this collection of Ardent Studios material (circa ’69 to ’71) is far more than a prize for devotees. Those nutzo for the group likely already know most of this anyway, as all but seven of the 22 cuts are previously released, but the corralling of tracks by Rock City, Icewater, and the Wallabys onto one disc, with the musical growth of Chris Bell the common bond, is an enlightening gesture and a pleasurable listen. It nicely complements the pre-Big Star Chilton set Free Again. B+

Big Star, The Best of Big Star (Stax – Concord Music Group) This set however, would make a fine intro for those not already well-versed in the work of Hummel, Stephens, Chilton, and Bell. Yes, it’ll probably just serve as the catalyst for the purchase of (at least) three more albums, but this collection, which is a definite improvement upon Big Beat’s CD-only set of the same title from back in ’99, includes five selections deriving from singles, so it’s usefulness extends beyond a simple primer. Plus, as someone who knows and deeply loves their stuff, the sequencing here went down exceptionally well. A

Art Feynman, Blast Off Through the Wicker (Western Vinyl) The points of reference provided for this most impressive debut, namely Krautrock, Nigerian highlife, and Arthur Russell, inspired intrigue but also worry; thankfully, this avoids mere genre patchwork, the influences tangible yet subtle, as the whole is filled with surprises, primary amongst them an appreciable level of songwriting, e.g. “Can’t Stand It.” The late-night lonesomeness of “Party Line” reinforces this as the project of one guy, but the extended groove machine of “Feeling Good About Feeling Good” transcends solo-project limitations. A-

David W. Halsell, Funkenspiel (Flat Field) This sound collage, or more appropriately, musique concrète- descended experiment (in the artist’s words, the ingredients are remixed dub-style) features nine selections cohering into one long dose of numbers stations-infused sonic unease. The individual tracks do work in isolation, with the espionage-laden titles (“The Bulgarian Incident,” “Rendezvous, Gomal E-7,” “The Russo-Angolan Operation”) reinforcing Halsell’s divisions as far from arbitrary; the layering in late selection “The Arctic Van Allen Haarp” is impressive. Conet Project fans, take note. B+

Hampshire & Foat, Galaxies Like Grains of Sand (Athens of the North) The cited influences on multi-instrumentalist Warren Hampshire (of the Bees) and pianist Greg Foat are Brit library music, ’60s Italian soundtracks, and “lost Americana,” though much of this can be tagged as symphonic fusion, particularly the highlight “End Song” and the hot-air balloon paced “How the Nights Can Fly.” Elsewhere, a persistent folkish angle is accented by almost New Ageist vibes. Courtesy of electric piano, trumpet, and guest drummer Clark Tracey, the jazz current is strong. The whole grows with repeated listens. B+

Horse Lords, Mixtape IV (Northern Spy) Baltimoreans Horse Lords’ latest mixtape is the first to make my acquaintance. It offers two 20-minute tracks, the first an arrangement of “Stay on It” from the late and great NYC New Music titan Julius Eastman with guest Abdu Ali turning the composer’s program notes into a spoken intro; what follows is a magnificent combo of minimalist groove, free jazz skronk, and an ending recalling Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock. Nice! “Remember the Future” is imbued with arty spoken words and captured protest chants. “I’m on a train to NY looking for the Horse Lord.” Fuck yes. A-

Mississippi John Hurt, Live Oberlin College, 04/15/65 (Rockbeat) This is not a reissue of the Oberlin concert that comprises Vanguard’s 2LP The Best of Mississippi John Hurt, but is in fact the other performance from that two-night stand (previously issued as Ain’t No Tellin’), which according to internet blues forum research might’ve taken place in April 1966. John Hurt’s essential recordings date from the late ’20s, but he held up well as a rediscovery player; I’d say get the studio material for Vanguard first, but the Oberlin stuff finds the man in good form. A vinyl edition of this would be nice. A-

Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help, S/T (Rhyme and Reason) As part of the Individuals, Morrow helped shape a defining Hoboken pop album (’82’s Fields), and as operator of the Bar/None label he’s issued a certifiable ass-ton of fine records, both Jerseyite and otherwise. Now, after a 28-year break in recording, he’s back leading this new combo, and the results are as energized as they are mature. This baby oozes a grown-up pop-rock sound without using experience as a crutch; Morrow’s voice is aged but far from shredded, and his songwriting exudes classicism while avoiding cliché. Much better than anticipated. A-

Willie Nile, Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan (River House) Everybody knows Bob, but too few are hip to Nile, a gutsy melodic rocker with songwriting chops who hit the scene at the dawn of the ‘80s. After long struggles with record labels, he’s been on something of a tear since Streets of New York in ’06. Unsurprisingly, imitation is eschewed here, with opener “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” hitting a sweet spot between power pop and post-Springsteen bar rock like it’s 1983 and Nile is working them up for his live set. The other eight tracks range from okay to quite good. B+

Del Shannon, The Dublin Sessions (Rockbeat) I’ll confess to knowing little of Shannon post-Liberty Records stuff, which isn’t as negligent as it may seem given that a fair portion of his attempted post-’60s comebacks have remained unreleased. That’s no longer the case with this mixed but likeable bag from ’77, in which the singer-songwriter acquits himself quite well; even before the cover of “Pretty Woman” I was thinking of Orbison. The quality of the backing is a snag, varying sometimes within a single song, but is largely on the positive side. Overall okay, especially next to the era’s frequent missteps. B

Vokonis, The Sunken Djinn (Ripple) Swedish stoner-doom trio that upon initial listen brought Sleep to mind. For some, that’s all that need be said, but other more discerning types will be asking for more. In a nutshell, they exhibit deftness of range; although all but two cuts top six minutes (nothing bests seven), when they shorten the length and quicken the pace for the straight-up heavy rocker “Blood Vortex” the results don’t unravel into a sea of genericism. Elsewhere, the riffs are big and mauling, the rhythm moves as it pummels, and the well-mixed voices are more than just gruff. A-

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