Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
June 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for June, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys, La Danse à St. Ann’s (Nouveau Electric) The French Creole style known as zydeco is foremost a celebratory music. Now, it can function just fine as solitary listening, but it’ll assuredly make one pine for good company and enough space to dance while drinking something strong, preferably from a jar. With this said, on past occasions when zydeco bands have been invited into studios, the results sometimes got slicked-up to the point where the pleasure knob gets turned down. Well, there is no such problem here, as the 15 tracks on this CD were captured in a church hall in Mallett, Louisiana last November during the Thibodeaux Family Reunion. And so, there is intimacy (enhanced between tracks through interaction between Goldman and his assembled kin and in-laws), but astutely recorded by veteran musician, producer (Marianne Faithfull, Dr. John, Flat Duo Jets) and longtime New Orleans resident Mark Bingham.

But there’s a whole lot more going on here, such as the documentation of a family band, with the Lawtell Playboys having been extant since shortly after the end of WWII. Formed by brothers Bébé and Eraste Carriere in 1946, the Playboys first began featuring Goldman, who sings and plays accordion and is 87 years old, around two decades later. However, he didn’t start learning accordion until he was in his 50s, eventually taking over for Delton Broussard, who’d himself replaced Eraste Carriere. Before fiddler Calvin Carriere died in 2002, Goldman, who is his cousin, asked for permission to carry on the Lawtell Playboys. This version has Goldman on accordion and vocals, Brock Thibodeaux on frottoir (aka rubboard), Louis Michot on fiddle and vocals, Courtney Jeffries on acoustic guitar, Justin Leger on electric bass, and Barry Cormier on drums and vocals.

Over the decades, there hasn’t been many recordings of the Lawtell Playboys. La La Louisiana Black French Music, a split with the Playboys and the Carriere Brothers, came out on the Maison De Soul in 1977, with that album’s participants included on Zodico – Louisiana Créole Music, which Rounder released in ’79. Much later, Calvin and Goldman cut Les misères dan le Coeur for Louisiana Radio Records. It was released on CD in 2000 and was the only recording they made together. It seems rather scarce these days, and would make a fine reissue, though right now, let’s cherish the contents of this disc. Sure, this stuff flows in a more contempo zydeco party fashion than the trad sounds heard on the Maison De Soul LP and other likeminded releases, but that’s in part due to the size of the ensemble and some of the instruments used. The bottom line is that La Danse à St. Ann’s is an utter gem. Dishing pure gusto for nearly 75 minutes, the only thing missing is a big plate of food. Cue this up and get one. A

Threadbare (featuring Jason Stein, Ben Cruz & Emerson Hunton), Silver Dollar (NoBusiness) Stein plays the bass clarinet, Cruz the electric guitar, and Hunton the drums on this CD of contempo avant-jazz with a compositional foundation. The whole occasionally rubs up against a jazz-rock sensibility that’s closer to art-metal than fusion-esque noodling, and that’s sweet as a candied yam. From a Chicago home base, Stein has excelled in a whole lot of situations over the last fifteen years, including Locksmith Isidore and the Jason Stein Quartet and co-leading Hearts & Minds and Nature Work. This is doubly impressive, as the bass clarinet is no easy axe to handle. I say that not from experience, but from the reality that a man who passed in 1964, namely Eric Dolphy, is still considered the benchmark in jazz on the instrument. And it’s not that people haven’t played it since, it’s just that it’s hardly anybody’s main focus, a scenario harkening back to Dolphy himself (as he was a triple threat on alto sax and flute).

Plus, when folks do tackle the bass clarinet, it’s often in more progressive and downright avant-garde situations. This is the case with Silver Dollar, on which Stein plays the distinctively toned instrument exclusively and deftly. What Stein doesn’t do is compose, with that role filled by his bandmates, both recent Oberlin College grads and each younger than him. Their pieces are uniformly interesting as they cohere into a gripping whole of digestible length. Cruz’s guitar is at times reminiscent of Mary Halvorson, which is a treat for my ears (hopefully yours, too) and when coupled with his and Emerson’s compositions (they only co-write one of the eight tracks, the untitled finale), the sound can remind me a bit of Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant. Just a bit, mind you, as the pieces here aren’t as angular (not as convulsant) if no less powerful. There are moments of full-boil (and texturally metallic) intensity, but early on in “Funny Thing Is” (and only for a few seconds), I heard a touch of Ornette’s ’60s trio. I dig. A

Yotam Avni, Was Here (Kompakt) Based in Tel Aviv, after roughly a decade of singles and EPs Avni is releasing his first full-length with Was Here, which might be considered a long time, though it’s certainly understandable as he’s a purveyor of unabashed techno. For this record, Avni has stated the desire to attempt “Detroit techno meets ECM” (the German jazz label), which is cool, though the music definitely gravitates much nearer to the four-to-the-floor side of the equation. In fact, the jazz connection here relates as much to sleeve design, with the cover’s cited inspiration being Concorde, the 1955 LP by the Modern Jazz Quartet. But hey, the trumpet of Greg Paulus does emerge later in the album. It’s a bit like Jon Hassell (or hell, late Miles, even) blowing over in the corner of some sweaty dance bunker while everybody in the joint is cutting some major rug. As said, this set hits my ear as pretty techno-oriented, but with recurring aspects that make it worthwhile for ass-sitters. Well, this ass-sitter, anyway. B+

Zachary Cale, False Spring (All Hands Electric) Singer-songwriter Cale is Brooklyn-based by way of Louisiana; this is his sixth album, a double set (but still trim at just over an hour), and his first release since Duskland came out in 2015. I gave that album (which was issued by No Quarter) a highly positive review for TVD, like a rave even, with a praise also featuring a solid (if partial) bit of background on his discography leading up to that set, so the fuller scoop is in the archives. Now, as said, this is a bigger canvas than before, but it hasn’t hit me as hard as Duskland as of yet, but it still might, as it has the sort of amiable charm that insinuates the possibility that it’s a grower. This grower prospect is familiar to singer-songwriters, though he’s not laidback and never blatantly throwing back; however, Cale does continue to mildly suggest Neil, Dylan, and solo Bruce. Hey, it’s a NYC-heartland thing. The instrumentals interspersed through the record are a definite bonus, and “Free to Go” is a closing standout. A-

Josephine Foster, “I’m a Dreamer” b/w “All Glow Now” (Fire) The skinny on this single is that the a-side, which happens to be the title track to Foster’s swell 2013 album, recently popped up in an episode of the British TV program The End of the F***ing World, which airs in the US on Netflix and can be purchased for viewing from a handful of other streaming services. Having not watched the show (it’s doubtful I ever will), I’m unsure how the song is used, though it’s just dripping with the out-of-time emotionalism that’s frequent in Foster’s work and seems to be a natural for an audio-visual narrative situation. The flip side is listed as exclusive, but as it’s loaded with the same mid-20th century pop piano stateliness (think Roger Williams), I suspect it derives from the Nashville sessions that produced “I’m a Dreamer” (and its album). Taking Discogs as the authority, this is only the second 7-inch in Foster’s oeuvre (including the assorted groups she’s fronted over the years), which is a surprise. Good stuff. A-

Holy Hive, Float Back to You (Big Crown) After a run of singles and a pair of digital EPs that span back to 2017, New York’s Holy Hive bring their debut full-length, with the contents described by the label as Folk Soul. Said blend can bring Bill Withers and Terry Callier to my mind, but the trio of Homer Steinweiss on drums, Joe Harrison on bass, and Paul Spring on vocals and guitar, hit me differently, in part because they’re harder hitting rhythmically. Steinweiss has played on recordings by Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga and toured with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, so this approach fits into Big Crown’s overall objectives quite nicely, though Harrison’s playing, steady and unbusy throughout the album, is deserving of recognition as well, with his bass adding heft as these dozen tracks move along. But rhythm is only part of it, as Holy Hive function efficiently as a group.

To elaborate, those folkish qualities often connect as folk-rocky, gently expressed and in touch with strains of sunshiny psychedelia. These properties come right down to Spring, who before joining up with his bandmates here was a traveling musician, skilled as a classical guitarist and a student of Greek mythology, who played solo gigs, sometimes at libraries in promotion of his children’s record Home of Song. Spring’s falsetto voice surely furthers a mellow angle, but it’s only on a cover of Honeybus’ “Be Thou By My Side” that Holy Hive grow into an outright soft-rock situation, mainly because the rhythm hangs back. That cut reinforces Holy Hive’s strength at interpretation (they’ve previously covered the Invincibles’ “This Is My Story”). Elsewhere, “Oh I Miss Her So” welcomes Mary Lattimore on harp and Dave Guy of The Roots on trumpet (the track culled from the digital EP “Harping” from last year) for a standout, but I also dig the instrumental “Cynthia’s Celebration” (that’s no slight on Spring’s vocals). A-

Irmin Schmidt, Nocturne (Mute) If you don’t know the name, Irmin Schmidt was a founding member of Inner Space with Holger Schüring (soon to be Holger Czukay) and Jaki Liebezeit, with that group evolving into Krautrock kingpins Can. Now, if you know Can (and you really should) you might be expecting a certain thing here, but I’m willing to bet that Nocturne ain’t it. That’s because this set, out digitally now but with a July 10 release date for the vinyl (a worldwide edition of 1,000 on double white wax with an etched side four) and compact disc, documents a solo piano concert at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in the UK from the end of last year, featuring two new compositions and one, “Klavierstück II,” that’s on his 2018 album 5 Klavierstücke (that’s German for 5 piano pieces).

Now, if you know Schmidt’s background, like his pre-Can study with Stockhausen and Ligeti, and his work outside of Can, such as the five volumes of Filmmusik from the 1980s and his opera Gormenghast (based on the novel by Mervyn Peake) from 2000, the specifics of Nocturne mightn’t be a surprise. As on 5 Klavierstücke, these pieces were performed on a piano partly prepared (a la John Cage, who instructed Schmidt on how to prepare them) and partly unprepared. There are also pre-recorded sounds, which figure most strongly via church bells in the final selection, “Yonder.” Early on (“Klavierstück II” opens the performance), the prepared tones can radiate like Balinese gamelan; which might be no great revelation for those with a knowledge of this tactic in action, but it’s still worth mentioning, particularly for how it relates to the minimal, often quite spare, approach Schmidt takes to the unprepared keyboard. Most importantly, Nocturne holds interest, and is at times captivating, for the duration. A-

Sweet Whirl, How Much Works (Chapter Music) Melbourne, Australia’s Esther Edquist is Sweet Whirl, with this release described as her proper debut (it’s out on both black and white vinyl). Picking up an info tidbit prior to listening relating her former membership in Scott and Charlene’s Wedding brought a few possibilities to mind, but How Much Works sounds like none of them as the songs are instead built on a foundation of Edquist’s piano and vocals. Overall, the set spotlights Edquist’s maturity as a musician and positions her as an artist to watch. There is instrumental adornment, most of it played by Edquist herself, as the general feel can suggest the ’90s-’00s adult Alt female singer-songwriter experience, which is just fine by me, as she can also bring to mind Chrissie Hynde gone introspective, and even Laura Nyro. Somewhat (or quite a bit) esoterically, Sweet Whirl recall Buried Beds to me, specifically that act’s “Camellia” as heard on an old compilation CD. If you dig that tune, I bet you’ll dig this album, too. B+

Trixie and The Trainwrecks,What would you do” b/w “Summertime” (Voodoo Rhythm) On their 45 from last year (reviewed in the October 17 entry of this column) Trixie Trainwreck (who sings, plays guitar and drums all at once, here) and Charlie Hangdog (who blows mouth harp) were joined by some backing singers and Bruce Brand of Thee Headcoats (who also played on their 2018 LP 3 Cheers To Nothing), but it sure looks and sounds like the duo is going it completely alone here, and that’s just grand. For the A-side, they dish out a stomper that conjures visions of a pack of youngsters getting inspired by the idea of coating Bo Diddley’s peanut butter with Little Walter’s chocolate. Ho Boy! Boy? No, Trixie’s doing three things at once, and her gal-vox imbues these tunes with freshness. Yes, the flip is the umpteenth cover of Gershwin chestnut, which retains recognizability, but does get a strong enough blues-punky injection that it’s more than just a B-side. Really looking forward to the upcoming album. A-

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