Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, January 2018, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for January, 2018.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Profligate, Somewhere Else (Wharf Cat) Most current stabs at synth-pop yank my chain hardly at all. I mention this due to Wharf Cat listing Depeche Mode under the heading of R.I.Y.L. in the promo attachment for Profligate’s latest record. It’s a valid supposition, as much of this does fall under an electronically-derived melodic umbrella, especially “Black Plate,” but there’re big dollops of techno-abrasiveness that might agitate the nerves of a typical Mode fan. I’m just guessing, though. Since 2016, this project of Noah Anthony has been a duo with the input of Elaine Kahn, whose vocals are a distinct asset. Although the edginess oozes an avant-garde flavor, Somewhere Else can still be tagged as darkwave-derived, conjuring images of seasonally appropriate black turtlenecks and clove cigs. A-

Makaya McCraven, Highly Rare (International Anthem) This came out a little while back, but I just caught up with it over the break, and its sounds are too choice to not slide in a mention as the clock begins ticking on 2018. Cut in Chicago’s Danny’s Tavern in late November of 2016 by McCraven on drums, Junius Paul on bass guitar, Nick Mazzarella on alto sax, and Ben Lamar Gay on cornet, diddley bow, and voice, the tapes were then extensively edited (which is to say, looped, layered, and stretched) by McCraven; that the results, often captivating, have been described as combining free jazz and hip-hop is accurate, though there are no traces of genre-stitching. Some may persist in considering the abundant post-show transformation antithetical to jazz, but nah; methinks Teo Macero would approve mightily. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Betty Davis, Nasty Gal (Light in the Attic) Davis’ too small discography attained its pinnacle with this slab of hard funk from the middle of the ’70s, but the lack of sales effectively halted her career; the subsequent Is It Love or Desire? was cut in ’76, but didn’t see release until 2009. Davis’ unashamed sexual image surely contributed to the public’s cool response, but the music’s intensity no doubt played a role as well. When she and her band Funk House go full-bore, which is often, the results radiate a punk temperament, though overall, it’s nearer to the celebration of strangeness found on the ZE Records roster than the fratty freakiness of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Nasty Gal is a record so sharp that even the roll-call tribute track “F.U.N.K.” registers as essential. A

Smart Went Crazy, Con Art (Ernest Jenning Record Co.) Chad Clark’s recent return to activity as the singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer of Beauty Pill has been welcome, and a reissue of his prior outfit’s second record enhances this turn of events quite nicely. Like the early Beauty Pill material, Smart Went Crazy’s two full-lengths were originally issued by Dischord, where their sound—arty, articulate, and cello-shaded courtesy of Hilary Soldati, sprouted from fertile post-hardcore soil to deepen an especially strong period for the label. Not enough people heard ‘em though, so this set, which includes everything from the ’97 CD edition plus an exclusive track on double clear vinyl (‘twas formerly a single LP) should get some ears up to speed. The design by Henry Owings is characteristically sweet. A-

Cake, “Make Up Your Mind” b/w “Let Your Body Go” (Federal Green) A new Washington DC-based label commences with a spurt of reissues, three on 45 and two on LP, that largely emphasize funk, soul, and R&B, but with considerable range in the mix. Cut in ’79 by an upstate NY act, this single firmly establishes a disco-funk approach complete with spring-action guitar, strands of glistening keyboard substituting for bigger-budget strings, beaucoup flute, and a clear mission to get people dancing. Bluntly, it’s my least-favorite of the Federal Green bunch, though the period flavor and sense of scale turn it into something of a grower. B-

Rockie Charles, Born for You (Orleans) For a certain type of diligent listener, Charles is probably best known for the handful of singles he cut in the late ’60s-early ’70s (the two-part “The President of Soul” 45 furnished him with a sobriquet), but for fans of New Orleans R&B, this disc, a first-time on vinyl reissue of a ’97 release, shouldn’t be slept on. Pictured on the cover wielding a guitar, the late Charles had a sure hand, but the real focus here is on his singing, which is soulful in a manner bringing Al Green to mind. Smooth of backing and cleanly produced, nobody overplays (not even the organist!) as unnecessary slickness is avoided. The individual songs might not be knockouts, but he’s never defeated by cliché (see “Festis Believe in Justice” for proof), and moments of freshness are abundant. B+

Choke Chains, Android Sex Worker (Hound Gawd!) The title and cover pic of the Choke Chains’ second LP had me recollecting the heyday of Amphetamine Reptile, and while there’s surely more than a trace of Am Rep-like dyspeptic social observation (“Sunday Goin’ to Meetin’ Whore,” anyone?) the sound is fleeter and a smidge less beefed-up than most of the stuff Tom Hazelmyer put out. There’s still plenty of post-Detroit punk scuzz, which makes sense as Choke Chains hail from Michigan with connections to Dirtbombs and Bantam Rooster. In fact, the whole band is made up of vets, and it sounds like it. Solid recording by Kyle Johnson and mastering by Tim Warren seals the deal. B+

Coque, “People Let’s Communicate” (Federal Green) Spreading a message of positivity through dialogue across this 45, the mid-’70s Washington, DC outfit Coque are revealed as funk-rock specialists, and if it’s impossible to imagine their existence without the precedent of Funkadelic, this two-parter is far from imitative. Had this single actually came out (beyond a few promo copies, anyway), the intelligent construction and assured execution (Coque was the beneficiary of experience gained through the DC Rec Dept.’s Showmobile program) would’ve made this one a prized acquisition for collectors. Which it is, right now. While a fair amount of part 2s prove somewhat redundant, this one is well-fleshed out from the start of the front to the end of the back, and with bountiful helpings of raw-edged guitar. B+

conncet_icut, Music for Granular Synthesizer (Aagoo) conncet_icut is the long-running electronic experimental project of Samuel Macklin, who resides not in the Nutmeg State but in Vancouver via the UK; this triple cassette is his latest. It offers six tracks, one per side of tape, with each selection approximately 8-9 minutes long. Aagoo’s notes point out that Macklin’s last few releases were mostly created with computer software, but that here he’s using an all-hardware set-up without going all analogue. I can appreciate these differences, but wouldn’t’ve necessarily identified them on my own, so I thank them for mentioning it. I also appreciate the diversity of the sounds, so thanks for that, too. Don’t think I need any more cassettes around here, but hey, YOU might. A-

Cytations, “Darling You Do” b/w “Suddenly” (Federal Green) This DC-area ’60s group’s second single, financed by and issued on lead singer George W. Jones, Jr.’s Granjun label, features the sort of harmony action that gets lovers of Northern Soul all in a tizzy, but the recording and mixing, described by Federal Green as subpar, might temper the enthusiasm of some. However, if one imagines hearing this through a cheap transistor radio, the strengths of the upbeat “Darling You Do” become apparent as “Suddenly,” with its bold strings, is far more than the average B-side. Had circumstances been different, this one could’ve had a major chart run. B+

Dailey, Is This Love? (Federal Green) The three Federal Green items reviewed above are all reissues of independent productions. but the two LPs in the initial batch find the label taking a distinct turn into private press territory. This dive into ’80s R&B, apparently the sole release by DC (via Norfolk, VA) resident A. Glenn Dailey, isn’t strained or cracked, though he did overdub everything himself, a maneuver that combines with the modest fidelity to result in a unique flavor. Yet full-bodied; Dailey’s programmed rhythms eschew rudimentary amateurism, the added instrumentation including guitar, keyboards, and sax is never awkward, and the positive message avoids the heavy-handed. The main problems are too-lengthy songs (fans of the style might disagree) and questionable sequencing. B

Weldon Irvine, Spirit Man (Nature Sounds – RCA) Irvine’s work with Nina Simone (amongst other contributions, he wrote the lyrics for “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”) secures his importance, but he also cut a bunch of records as the leader of his own thing; this was his second release for RCA. Sometimes categorized as jazz-funk, Spirit Man is just as aptly associated with the genre-bending groove science of George Clinton, and the use of electronics here is notable. Sonny Fortune’s alto sax does reinforce the jazz connection, but don’t make the leap to Miles (with whom Fortune played during this era) nor Betty; this LP has moments, e.g. the electro-jazz sprint of “Blast Off” and the intense rhythm thickness of “Jungle Juice,” but too much of the duration is merely okay. Crate-diggers will differ. B

The Lightmen, Free as You Wanna Be (Now-Again) This is an ample helping of jazz outta Houston, TX at the dawn of the ’70s led by drummer Bubbha Thomas and featuring the horns of Ronnie Laws (brother of Hubert). Minus Laws, who departed to briefly join Earth, Wind & Fire, further albums were cut as The Lightmen Plus One, but this seems to be where the studio work starts. The title suggests free jazz, and there’s surely some post-Trane action in the recipe, particularly in the quite happening title track, but R&B roots are more prevalent. Thomas was a touring musician and session hand for the Peacock and Back Beat labels, so the R&B elements are non-bogue. Ultimately, these guys didn’t wanna be that free (in a musical sense), but it’s still okay. This 2LP reissue pairs the stereo and unreleased mono mixes. B+

Midget!, Ferme tes jolis cieux (Objet Disque) Guitarist Dominique Dépret, aka Mocke, formerly of the band Holden, is one half of the duo Midget! alongside vocalist Claire Vailler, and this short dose of French song, halfway between art and pop without ever succumbing to any sort of wrestling match for stylistic supremacy, is an absolute treat that combines well with Dépret’s work on another sweet duo record, namely Delphine Dora & Mocke’s “Le Corps Défendant,” which came out last year as a 10-inch on Okraina. Except for the gemlike Vailler showcase “Les cérémonies,” the art tendencies play a significant role in everything here without drifting the whole into full-on avant territory. Dépret sounds spiff throughout, and regarding Vailler, I’m guessing this would chuff fans of Brigitte Fontaine. A-

Vos Cantu Monemus, Words Never Said (Federal Green) The only LP from a Maryland-based folk trio, originally released in ’69 in an edition of 200, its reissue something of an outlier in Federal Green’s initial scheme of things, tied to the releases above by geography and private press rarity (copies have brought more than $1,000 at auction). The gal and two guys makeup explicated by the cover photo will perhaps conjure thoughts of Peter, Paul and Mary, and while there’s surely some of that in the album’s dozen originals, overall, there’s a tougher feel that’s fitting for an album recorded in a living room. ‘Twas well-recorded in a living room however, with the songs consistently solid amid occasional Christian overtones and flashes of the possible influence of Love’s Forever Changes. I dig. B+

Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia, Side Trips Vol. 1 (Round) I’ve occasionally noted that this live recording by organist Wales and Grateful Dead guitarist Garcia, with bassist John Kahn and drummer Bill Vitt filling out the band, captured at a 1970 show at San Francisco’s Matrix club, lacks a sizeable rep, but then again, maybe it’s just the Deadheads of my acquaintance. Having spent more than a couple of nights traversing the backroads of Northern VA with the Dead as a soundtrack, I don’t recall this or the associated studio album Hooteroll, ever coming up in discussion, much less out of the speakers. This was reissued for RSD Black Friday, but I didn’t cozy up to it until the holiday break, and after time spent I rate it as cool but non-essential jazz-rock. So now I’m guessing my Deadhead pals had it right. B

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