Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for April 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—in shops for Record Store Day this Saturday, April 13, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Inter Arma, Sulphur English (Relapse) Mountain Goat John Darnielle penned a short bio for this Richmond, VA-based doom-sludge-progressive metal unit’s fourth album. It’s an utterly adoring text, which is cool, as I very much enjoy when musicians enthuse over the productivity of their contemporaries, especially when those gestures span across genres (though indie singer-songwriter Darnielle has been long-noted as a major metalhead). With this said, I normally take these appreciations with a grain or two of salt. The difference here is that I was pretty much knocked sideways by the expansive heaviness of Inter Arma’s prior album, 2016’s Paradise Gallows, and was wondering how they’d follow it up. At just short of 67 minutes, this one’s nearly as long and just as accomplished. A

Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Tim Story, Lunz 3 (Grönland) Roedelius is noted, amongst other achievements, for co-founding the Krautrock-kosmische staples Harmonia and Cluster. Story is a veteran ambient composer who made a considerable impact on the ’80s New Age scene via recordings through Windham Hill and Hearts of Space. The first meeting of these figures took place in the Austrian city of Lunz, with their ongoing collaboration named after the locale. Lunz 3 means this is the pair’s third recording. I haven’t heard the others, but based on what’s here, some backtracking is in my future. In terms of their individual discographies, I’m more in Roedelius’ camp, but the prettiness I associate with Story’s work integrates well in this context, and along the way there are all sorts of surprises. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Spiritual (ORG Music) Like Tutankhamun (which ORG reissued earlier this year), this was cut during the Art Ensemble’s early and highly fertile days in Paris, where they solidified as a group (in terms of sound and under the name AEoC) prior to the addition of drummer-percussionist Don Moye, who joined in 1970 (the year after The Spiritual was recorded). No Moye doesn’t mean a lack of percussion however, as everyone contributes on that front. Yes, this LP is an experience in abstraction, but it’s also strikingly cohesive (and disciplined) in its desire to re-inhabit the pre-swing/ bebop New Orleans spirit of jazz collectivity while getting at something unmistakably new and at times thrillingly theatrical. After 50 years this still challenges and rewards. A

Cecil Taylor, The Great Paris Concert (ORG Music) Recorded in November of 1966 but not released until 1973 by BYG as Student Studies (the ’77 edition by Freedom carried the title used here; reissues have alternated since), this features Taylor with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, bassist Alan Silva, and drummer Andrew Cyrille; essentially the band on Conquistador! (which was recorded for Blue Note less than two months prior) minus trumpeter Bill Dixon and second bassist Henry Grimes. Notably, everyone here also played on Unit Structures (cut in May of ’66) so it suffices to say the band knows the complexities of Taylor’s music well (Lyons had been with him since ’61). Crucially, they add their own strains of individualism. For those just getting into Taylor, this one is essential. A

Johnny Adams, Heart & Soul (ORG Music) New Orleans vocalist Adams is sometimes classified as a bluesman, which isn’t off-target, though when he’s bluesy here, he’s soul-bluesy. In fact, this collection is probably best described as soulful R&B, but with the occasional gospel tinge and noteworthy dives into the always welcome style-hybrid of country-soul. One could easily say he had the bases covered. Adams is probably best-known today for his string of ’80s releases for Rounder, and if you dig those you’ll likely be pleased with this reissue, which features material cut between the years ’62-’68 compiled by Shelby Singleton’s SSS label after their licensing of his “Release Me” single made the R&B charts. While the range in recording vintage is sometimes tangible, this is still a fine, cohesive listen. B+

James Brown, Sho is Funky Down Here (Now-Again) This album, which is related to the Grodeck Whipperjenny release below, has caught a lot of shit as being James Brown’s psych-rock folly (or his Electric Mud, maybe), though at the other extreme, a handful of folks I’ve met have spoken breathlessly of its greatness. My viewpoint is that it’s a helluva lot better than the detractors’ evals but not quite a masterpiece either, partly because Brown’s voice is hardly ever heard across a half-dozen instrumentals. Essentially, this is arranger and Grodeck leader David Matthews’ album with Brown in the producer’s spot, though the man with his name and picture on the cover does play an unusually harpsichord-inflected electric piano. With lots of fuzz guitar and soaring solos, fans of early Funkadelic take note. B+

Culture, The Nighthawk Recordings (Omnivore) Up to now, Omnivore’s Nighthawk reggae reissue series has been CD and digital only, but this RSD item plants an entry into the vinyl racks. The content doesn’t disappoint, in part because four of the seven tracks are previously unreleased; the other three, which open side one, are culled from the 1981 Calling Rastafari compilation. A vocal trio originally consisting of lead Joseph Hill with backing by his cousin Albert Walker and Roy Dayes, Culture’s debut Two Sevens Clash from ’77 was a massive success and is a core component in any reggae collection. If you dig that one but it’s all you have, this is a smart pickup capturing the initial trio backed on Rastafari by the Roots Radics and on the unreleased stuff (two of which are spiffy dub versions) by the Wailers. A-

The Grodeck Whipperjenny, S/T (Now-Again) I do believe this James Brown production (the first record issued on his People label in 1970) predates Sho is Funky Down Here (reviewed above); this was released first for sure. I assume the notes accompanying this reissue by Brown historian Alan Leeds will clarify. If Sho is Funky can be called a David Matthews record in disguise, this is much more openly his work, though it seems the biggest impression he made at the time was on Brown himself. For those familiar with Sho is Funky but not this, Grodeck is a much more varied stylistic affair; it’s also not as good, though the highpoints, like the appealingly weird opening beat-samplers’ delight “Sitting Here on a Tongue” (yes, you read that right) make up for the lesser, merely dated moments. B

William Hooker, Mindfulness (ORG Music) The ‘90s are often musically synopsized as the era of Grunge, Alt-rock, trip-hop/ electronica and bi-coastal hip-hop, but the decade also offered a flowering of avant-garde jazz, much of it from a younger generation of players finding no satisfaction in extending the ’80s Neo-Trad thing. Drummer William Hooker is a prime example; although he debuted on record in the late ’70s, his output increased substantially in the ’90s, with this set one of the best. Captured live in ’96 at Slim’s in San Francisco with tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman and turntablist DJ Olive and initially issued on CD by Knitting Factory (receiving its first vinyl pressing on double clear wax here), this is much more than a night of free blowing and abstract rhythmic intensity. It’s a wild, expansive beauty. A

Albert King, Born Under a Bad Sign (Craft) Here’s a sweet mono edition of an electric blues classic cut from the original mono tapes on 180gm wax. Electric blues, but more specifically soul blues, a substyle of which my personal mileage varies. This is in part due to too-much horn section action, which directly relates to how soul blues so often unreservedly drops the letter e onto the end of the word urban. The diff here is that the blowing is executed by The Memphis Horns as King gets further backed by Booker T & the M.G.’s, which means the record has punch, even when the guitarist-vocalist is bringing it down a notch with a cover of Ivory Joe Hunter’s “I Almost Lost My Mind.” But the bottom line is King’s excellent guitar is never sidelined and his singing is strong throughout. Everything fell into place with this one. A

Ocampo, Ocampo + Watt, “Apparatus” b/w “Better Than A Dirt Nap” (ORG Music) Mike Watt’s annual RSD day contribution is a collab with noted DC-based multi-instrumentalist Devin Ocampo and his wife, drummer Renata Ocampo. The couple played with Watt for the first time only recently, at the two-night event celebrating the 25th anniversary of the DC nightclub the Black Cat, where they dished out some Stooges covers. I was in attendance for that set; it was a real cool time. This 45 might not hit my sweet spot as forcefully as witnessing them on stage did, but it has more permanence, y’know? The A-side leans toward the recent sound of Devin’s projects, though the bassist’s presence is subtly felt. The sharp flip reminds me of a specific track from Watt’s Ball-Hog or Tugboat. The playing is solid all-around. B+

Sol Seppy, The Bells of 1 2 (Grönland) It’s reissues like this, the solo debut of Brit-born and partially Australian-raised Sophie Michalitsianos, that help to elevate the overall Record Store Day experience. It’s not that Michalitsianos, a pianist-cellist noted as a collaborator of Sparklehorse who unveiled her skills as vocalist and songwriter via this 2006 CD as Sol Seppy (making its vinyl debut here), is suffering terribly from obscurity, though I didn’t hear The Bells of 1 2 at the time. The thing is that without this reissue (which to be fair, could’ve emerged at any time of year with the same possible result), there’s a good chance I never would’ve heard it. As Michalitsianos spikes a piano-based indie singer-songwriter template with dream-pop ambience and fruitful studio experimentation, I’m glad it crossed my path. B+

V/A, Industrial Λccident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records (Wax Trax!) This is the OST to a recent doc on Wax Trax! (the store and label) that’s out on DVD/ Blu-ray this month. I’ve yet to see it but would like to, as I grew up with cognizance of and wildly ranging levels of appreciation for the music it covers. The genre (I should say subgenre) is Industrial Dance, and my frequent ambivalence over it kinda boils down to how it refined a form birthed from alienation, misanthropy, and the promise of a bleak future into club music for folks too edgy to hang at the nearest techno joint. But the style did have its moments. A few of them are here and right away via My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. Later, it’s revealed why Ministry was once considered such a big deal. Still, too much of this is just…there. And then we have Laibach. B-

V/A, Poppies: Assorted Finery from the First Psychedelic Age (Craft) When it comes to retro comps, and especially those covering the 1960s, it seems that the bolder the claims over the worth of the contents, often accompanied by exclamation points, the more one should anticipate a somewhat less than amazing whole. Craft is pretty calm about this one, likely because the songs derive from Vanguard, Original Sound, Hip and Musart, all labels currently held by Concord. That reinforces quality as some of the selections aren’t particularly obscure (I even own a couple, like Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Poppies” from her swell Illuminations album), though an unreleased cut by The Human Jungle will insure the interest of hardcore psych collectors. With 2,500 copies pressed, hopefully there will be enough to go around. B+

Violent Femmes, Hallowed Ground (Craft) Back in 2012, I worked up an enthusiastic long review for this website on this album, easily my fave by this College Radio and proto-Alternative staple. That piece wasn’t connected to any kind of new edition, but now that it’s getting a deserved reissue (limited to 2,000 copies) I’ll just mention that my esteem for it continues to hold. Part of why relates to how it perseveres as a statement of growth, exploding the Lou Reed and Modern Lovers-influenced teen angst-saturated street busker baseline of their debut to near kablooey with old time death songs, free jazz horns, and a whole lot of gospel. Unsurprisingly, the results were divisive, though they weren’t trying to confound their fans, but rather just hoping to take them along for the ride. A

X, Under the Big Black Sun & More Fun in the New World (Fat Possum) Back in February, Fat Possum kicked off their X reissue series with Los Angeles, followed it up last month with Wild Gift, and now complete it (at least for the time being) with the double whammy of their first two for Elektra after they’d parted ways with Slash. For some newbies, learning of this move to a major company (with X leaving Slash shortly prior to that label striking a distribution deal with Warner Bros.) might’ve put the brakes on purchasing plans, as the relationship between punk rock and the suits in the big tall buildings hasn’t exactly been a smooth one. Well, an ordinary punk band X wasn’t (and aren’t, as they still tour with the original lineup). Anyone who digs the first two will find much to like here.

That’s not to suggest that X weren’t spreading their wings. Of the pair, ’82’s Under the Big Black Sun is (unsurprisingly) the closest to the punk thrust of the Slash days they’d just left behind, opening with the rawness and harmony of “The Hungry Wolf.” Akin to it, across the album the raw aura is often asserted through chunky mid-tempos, and that’s perfectly alright with me. Fave track: “Blue Spark.” With More Fun in the New World, the group became more anthemically rocking, at times more poppy, simultaneously more polished and heavier, and through an Exene-sung Jerry Lee Lewis cover (Otis Blackwell’s “Breathless”) made the roots that’d always informed their sound even more explicit. The funkiness of closer “True Love Pt. #2” really highlights some underlying similarities to Blondie. A/ A-

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