Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for March, 2019. 

VIDEO PICK: Late Blossom Blues: The Journey of Leo “Bud” Welch, Wolfgang Pfoser-Almer & Stefan Wolner, directors (City Hall) This DVD came out last year, but as Mississippi blues and gospel ace Welch’s posthumous third LP is coming out via Black Keys guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach’s label (see directly below), it’s a good time to shed some light on this documentary, as the film does a nice job of detailing the circumstances that led to the singer-guitarist releasing his debut album Sabougla Voices as an octogenarian back in 2014. If you dig the raw rural electric style of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, then Welch should be right up your alley, and in fact the chances are good that you’re already hip to the man, as his first two records came out on Fat Possum owner Bruce Watson’s other label Big Legal Mess.

I have my ups and downs with music docs, and more downs than ups, as so many of ‘em are shoddy, blinkered in their perspective, opportunistic, or just downright unnecessary. Not Late Blossom Blues. For starters, the movie’s visuals are solid throughout, with crisp color and a steady camera. Second, they manage to tell this story without too many talking heads (it helps that the main blues expert called upon here is knowledgeable without being alienating). Third, the music is copious, with most of it performed live as the movie follows Welch all the way to Austria for performances. Along the way, we get a vivid portrait of Welch’s manager Vencie Varnado and a less extensive but fruitful taste of Welch’s work with his drummer Dixie Street. There’re lots of bonus clips on the DVD, as well. Overall, a fine doc. A-

NEW RELEASE PICK: Leo “Bud” Welch, The Angels in Heaven Have Done Signed My Name (Easy Eye Sound) Welch passed on December 19, 2017, after the completion of Late Blossom Blues and the recording of this album with Auerbach and his Arcs band. They recorded 25-30 songs, ten of which are offered on this album, which can be precisely tagged as sanctified blues. For those familiar with his debut Sabougla Voices, this’ll be no surprise, as that was a gospel album, with I Don’t Prefer No Blues a follow-up dose of the secular stuff. Where this LP differs is in the bold production and instrumental enhancement, additives that do nothing to detract from the toughness of Welch’s style. I have a suspicion this won’t be the only posthumous LP from Welch, but if it is it’s a terrific final statement. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Heathens, “Steady Girl (Take 1)” b/w “Steady Girl (Take 2)” (Black & Wyatt) Cut at Memphis Recording Service (a.k.a. Sun Studio) four days after the Presley-Perkins-Lewis Cash Million Dollar Quartet session (Dec. 8, 1956), the sole song by a local high school five-piece (singer/ co-writer Colin Heath, hence the band name, was then 15 years old) is offered here twice, once with piano and both with drums by Joe Bauer (later of The Youngbloods) captured by a single mic. Both are raw and wild and primitive in the manner of the best youthful R&R. Claims are being made for this as the first ever garage single and I can see why, though it’s mainly that way in terms of spirit, as the sound is nearer to rockabilly. Just as important, guitarist and co-writer Kaye Garren is an early rocking gal. A-

Bonobo, Fabric Presents Bonobo (Fabric) This is the first in a relaunch of this label’s mix series, but I’ll confess to knowing nothing about those activities prior to receiving this for review on CD (also available on double LP). I’ll also admit to only knowing Brit-native and L.A.-based producer Bonobo by name, as I don’t intensely (or well, even casually) follow this scene, though I do enjoy a good dance mix when it’s handed to me, or as was the case with this 73-minute dish of house-laden club sounds, sent in the mail (as a vinyl aficionado, I will mention that CD is probably the physical format best-suited for this stuff; uninterrupted flow, y’know?). It all goes down okay, with a few inventive turns like the looped sax in “Boston Common,” but alas, it doesn’t blow me away like Powder’s recent “Powder in Space” did. B

Kevin Corcoran & Gretchen Jude, Hirakito (Full Spectrum) Percussionist Corcoran and vocalist Jude met by chance while visiting Japan; back in San Francisco, they initiated a creative partnership based in their mutual pursuits in free improvisation. They’ve performed publicly, accompanying dancer Peiling Kao, and have recorded a bunch using Jude’s Sony PCM-D100. Over the course of a year, they went through the process of deconstructing and reassembling these tapes, and Hirakito’s single 59-minute track, offered on limited CD, is the result. Although there are some resonances of objects, particularly metal, being struck, Corcoran is instead explicitly credited with field recordings. I’ll assume Jude is the source of the speed-manipulated (slowed-down) vocals that lend the whole an appealing environmental feel. B+

Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, Keep Drinking (Damnably) Hailing from Daegu City, Korea, this band, who are all about skating, punk rock, and as should be clear from name and title, drinking, serve up 43-minutes of barreling speed on their full-length debut. Influenced by the likes of NOFX, their style is not my style to be frank, but the sound as presented isn’t hard to swallow, in part because the singing (often gal-throated, though everybody steps up to the mic) differs from the obnoxious front-and-center vocal stylings that too-often plague US bands of this type. Of course, it helps that beyond titular hints, I’ve no idea what the lyrics are about. I suspect it’s drinking. Formulaic? Sure, but there are detours into strum-pop and miraculously, a non-fatal early dip into ska. On the down side, the LP is too damned long. B

DUKE, Uingizaji Hewa (Nyege Nyege Tapes) This is my first taste of the Tanzanian style known as singeli, and well, holy fucking shit. In two words, this is breakneck relentlessness. To expand, there’s DJ and producer Duke of the zonked samples (sirens, pouring water, radio snippets, gun shots, chip sounds, and oh yeah, an occasional air horn) and a rhythmic attack that can seem like mayhem until it becomes apparent just how controlled it is. And this is just the seven-minute opening track, which also features some wild rapping. As the record (which is available on vinyl) progresses, the scenario does settle down, but only just a little, as the spotlight shifts to Duke. But then the sped-up syllabizing comes back in and shit gets crazy once again. The PR describes the approach as punk, and I agree wholeheartedly. Wow. A-

Ryan Dugré, The Humors (Birdwatcher) The second full-length, released on cassette and digital, from NYC-based guitarist Dugré, is an instrumental guitar affair, though he occasionally adds drums and synths. Guests, notably Ian Mclellan Davis with string arrangements for three of the ten tracks, help to broaden the scope. Dugré’s playing is pretty and suitable for relaxing, though I’ll stop short of saying he’s tranquil. Influenced by film music and namechecking Marc Ribot’s Silent Movies and the score for Dead Man, unlike Neil’s work for that film I can detect nothing potentially divisive about this release, though citing those two examples does underscore an underlying intensity that keeps things afield of the innocuous. Dugré also offers occasional cyclical motifs that hint at the mathy. I like. A-

The Gentlemens, Triage (Hound Gawd!) Ancola, Italy’s The Gentlemens, that’s Giordano Baldoni on guitar, Daniele Fioretti on drums, and Paolo Fioretti on guitar and voice, are here with LP number three, and in terms of what the label calls blues-based rock ‘n’ roll (think the punk side of this equation), they manage to avoid the common snags of the annoying (generally manifested through a off-kilter ratio of attitude to instrumental fireworks) and the hackneyed (a malady suffered by folks who are drawn to the blues because of its “simplicity”). No, the Gentlemens have worked up a batch of songs (this isn’t form debasement/ destruction) rather than just a succession of strung-together copped moves, and while Paolo is comfortable in the frontman zone, he never goes overboard. B+

Howe Gelb, Gathered (Fire) The great Arizonan’s follow-up to Future Standards could’ve been titled Future Standards II (there has already been Further Standards, a second dip into the songs from his 2017 LP that adds Lonna Kelley). Except calling it that wouldn’t be quite right, as one of the highlights here is a reading of “Moon River,” a well-ensconced standard if ever one was, sung by his daughter Talula. There’s also a tune from Gelb’s old, departed friend Rainer Ptacek and the more recently deceased Leonard Cohen, but the rest are sturdy originals with a frequent tendency toward the intimately jazzy, and it goes down as good as it did before. Along with an international feel, the disc features a few guests, including M. Ward, Anna Karina, Pieta Brown and…wait, Anna Karina? What a cool twist. A-

Helado Negro, This is How You Smile (RVNG Intl.) Although this label’s range inside of what I’ll call progressive electronics is pretty wide, LP number two by Roberto Carlos Lange (who is Helado Negro) for RVNG Intl. (I missed his first) and his sixth overall (I missed all those, too) still managed to surprise me. Interweaving electronic elements and organic instrumentation in the crafting of songs, with the amount of strummed and plucked strings considerable, in some ways this registers as a highly (unusually) appealing strain of folktronica, except that along the way my thoughts kept returning to the sound of Tropicalia. Neat! Also, standout track “Seen My Aura” brought both Shuggie Otis and William DeVaughn (you know the tune) to mind, and baby, that’s sweet. I think this one’s going to be a grower. A-

Minami Deutsch & Damo Suzuki, Live at Roadburn (Fuzz Club) Here’s a cool pairing with the common thread being, you guessed it, Krautrock, grooved into 10-inch wax by one of the globe’s most reliable psych labels. Japan’s Minami Deutsch have been on the scene since 2014, dishing out two full-lengths and two singles; this is their Fuzz Club debut, captured live at the 2018 installment of Roadburn, a festival of u-ground and experimental music that takes place every April in Tilburg, Netherlands. They are in collaboration with Damo Suzuki, widely and justly celebrated as the singer for Krautrock behemoth Can, which he joined from ’70-’73 for a batch of classic records. His improvised vocals here are a treat, the band is hot with the Motorik, and the only let down is that this is isn’t the whole set. B+

Recent Arts (Tobias Freund & Valentina Berthelon), Skin (Non Standard Productions) As this is described as an “audiovisual concert formed by video projections, experimental electronic music, lighting design, and voice,” it’s a cinch I’m missing a significant portion of the cumulative effect, but after viewing the half-dozen still photos that accompanied my digital promo as a slide show, I think I have an inkling of the weight of performance, where Barbie Williams sings and Valentina Berthelon handles the video projections; along with Tobias Freund, Berthelon is credited with writing and producing this LP. While there is a welcome atmosphere of chilly cinematic tension and foreboding, the aforementioned hint of the whole’s heft isn’t enough to vault this into the top-tier. A few passages do get pretty close. B+

Tredici Bacci, La Fine Del Futuro (NNA Tapes) Right away, the orchestral-pop outfit of conductor, arranger, player and bandleader Simon Hanes conjures a gleeful swingin’ zest more than mildly reminiscent of theme music for a late ’60s TV show that’s striving to be perceived as hip. Or, one could also imagine the 5th Dimension. This scenario could quickly grow annoying, except that Tredici Bacci refuses to stay in one place for very long. As this follow-up to 2016’s Amore Del Tutti progresses, they certainly return to it multiple times; there’s a Bacharach and David song in this sequence, plus a co-write with JG Thirlwell that surely sounds like it could derive from Burt and Hal’s book. But then there’s the Glass-like “Minimalissimo” and the sunshine symphonics meets light opera of “The Liberty Belle.” B+

V/A, Cruising OST (Waxwork) In 1980, William Friedkin, the noted “New Hollywood” director of The French Connection and The Exorcist, was in the midst of a mild career steadying after The Brinks Job came out two years prior; it had followed the ambitious commercial disaster of Sorcerer in ’77. Cruising, which starred Al Pacino as an undercover cop trying to solve a series of murders connected to a gay S&M bar in NYC (filmed at The Mineshaft, an actual locale for that purpose, with its clientele serving as “actors” in the film), has been called a film maudit (a French critical term for “cursed film”), but to me, that designation better applies to Sorcerer. Friedkin’s 1980 film can be described as just a really bad idea, blazing beyond our contemporary designation of problematic and into the zone of inflammatory.

Cruising brought protests from the gay community of the period both before and after release, which is understandable. Its rep carried over into the VHS era, which is when this young auteurist-minded film fan, desiring to catch up with everything Friedkin made, popped it into the player. What I saw was unambiguously exploitative, and it brought me no joy, which isn’t the same as saying I regret watching it, a clarification that also should not be mistaken as any eagerness to revisit. Well, the film anyway, as I’ll admit to being pretty curious to explore this soundtrack, which is fresh out on 3LP with a triple-gatefold sleeve, black, blue, and white 180gm wax with the music sourced and remastered from the original tapes, additional material, and a LP-sized booklet featuring an essay from the director.

That essay is crucial to understanding exactly how Cruising ended up like it did. Friedkin doesn’t apologize for making it, but he twice calls the film controversial and admits that it was “not the best foot forward” during the upswing of the gay rights movement. Okay. The background, which includes associations with organized crime (which controlled the operation of The Mineshaft) and Friedkin’s disinterest in making a movie from a book detailing the murders of homosexuals circa 1970, as he considered it dated (long a button-pushing director, he was looking for something considerably edgier), is fascinating and from my standpoint, really gets to the why Cruising ended up as such an incendiary mess; the movie wasn’t an expose, but was rather a warped fiction of Friedkin’s design.

While visiting The Mineshaft, the director notes that what he heard was, unsurprisingly, the disco sounds of the period, but that’s not what he wanted in his movie. What he did want, to put it lightly, is unusually broad in genre terms. The choice of funk courtesy of Mutiny, the group of P-Funk drummer Jerome Brailey, isn’t too far removed from the disco that Friedkin didn’t want to use, but the inclusion of a wide range of punk-era material is a bold jump on the part of the director, whether it’s NYC’s Willy Deville, Toronto’s Rough Trade (with openly lesbian singer Carole Pope), the Cripples from Venice Beach, CA (featuring activist Shaun Casey O’Brien) and most notably, a rack of cuts recorded for the film by the Germs (fans will know these as the Cruising Studio Sessions as produced by Jack Nitzsche).

There’s also a big dose of what can be synopsized as ECM jazz (bassist Barre Phillips, guitarists Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti), though if you’re worried about jarring sequencing, the soundtrack’s diverse threads are largely corralled onto the separate LPs for prime digestibility. As icing, there are songs by L.A.’s “Lady Barber” Lynn Castle under the pseudonym Madelynn von Ritz and an early cut from John Hiatt. As it draws from many corners, this package’s assemblage doesn’t incur the filmic mess is symbolizes. In fact, at this point the OST easily remains the best thing about the movie. One’s eagerness to listen or buy will be directly tied to their feelings about the film’s existence. The soundtrack does clarify that the road to creative infamy, however fleeting, is often tied to unchecked ambition. B+

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