Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Love Tractor, “1880 to 1920 + 100” (HHBTM) Of the foundational outfits from the Athens, GA scene of the 1980s, Love Tractor is the one that’s gotten the least retrospective hubbub (as the others are The B-52’s, R.E.M., and Pylon), though the band did release The Sky at Night in 2001 (and a few 21st century CDRs after that), and as this vinyl 7-inch makes clear, are still extant. The full scoop is that the two songs offered here are fresh readings by the original lineup of cuts from their eponymous debut LP from 1982, the reissue of which is merely weeks away (also courtesy of HHBTM). And worry not fans, the band’s non-vocal orientation remains unchanged.

On the original album, “Sixty Degrees Below” and “Festival” hit like a cross between jangle pop, new wave, and party/club crowd movers. Here, with instrumental help of Doug Stanley of the Glands, Bill Berry of R.E.M., and with production and engineering by Dave Barbe of Sugar, they deliver “60 Degrees and Sunny” and “FESTI-vals,” with the jangle and gyrational aspects increased and the wavy qualities lessened, even as the spiffy synth flourish in the latter cut remains fully intact. Keen. And while listening to this brings back memories of walking around town, sucking on a Slurpee (trying not to get a headache), with a rolled-up copy of Option magazine in my pocket, while listening to the soundtrack to Athens Georgia Inside/Out on my Walkman (those were the days), this 45 has a sense of playful energy that places it firmly in the present. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Jimmy Giuffre 3, Graz 1961 (ORG Music) This is a ceaselessly brilliant and unusually well recorded live set from an exceptional trio, featuring clarinetist Giuffre, pianist Paul Bley, and bassist Steve Swallow, the music licensed from the Hat Hut label and making its first appearance on vinyl, a 2LP set offering 76 minutes of highly advanced beauty. In their promo description for this release, ORG surmise that Giuffre isn’t a marquee name today, and I’ll add that he’s mostly remembered for his ’50s work, which is fine, except that some of his greatest achievements date from the following decade, with the albums Fusion, Thesis, and Free Fall featuring this very group. If you’re familiar with those records (or the other live recordings of this trio from the era) you’ll know what to expect, though there are some wonderful surprises on this one. Like in “Trance” for instance, Bley does astounding things with a single key of the piano; it’s wildly different from the version of the tune that’s heard on Flight, Bremen 1961. A+

Dexter Gordon, The Squirrel (Warner Music Group/Rhino) There a quite a few live recordings of the great tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and I can’t say I’ve heard one that didn’t temporarily make me a happier human being. But I rate The Squirrel as special, as it features a fired-up Gordon with a superb band really stretching out on four numbers, the shortest, the ballad standard “You’ve Changed,” a little over 12 minutes and the longest, Gordon original “Cheese Cake,” nearly hitting 21. The opening reading of Tadd Dameron’s title composition and the closing take of Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon for Two” both break 15, which means one track per side as this date from the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen from June of 1967 hits vinyl (180g, edition of 1500, numbered) for the first time. The band? Kenny Drew on piano, Bo Stief on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. The intensity? It gets rather high. A

Bardo Pond, On The Ellipse (Fire) Bardo Pond, from Philadelphia, PA, have become something of a RSD fixture, in part due to an extensive discography that’s ripe for reissue, as many of their releases were initially offered in limited press runs, and also, numerous selections were once exclusive to CDR. Additionally, the Pond hone a sound that’s wide enough to appeal to folks who like things sludgy and heavy while being intrinsically psychedelic in nature. A major aspect in their expansionist approach is the vocals and wonderfully appealing flute of Isobel Sollenberger, with both in ample evidence on this 2LP first issued by ATP Recordings in 2003. I emphasize the sustained positivity of the flute (which is far from my favorite instrument) largely because it adds an undercurrent of calm to the tension and ominousness in the band’s thrust, of which the quality of stress in Sollenberger’s singing is an integral component. For those unfamiliar with the Pond who like their psych with a dark edge, On the Ellipse would make a fine introduction. A-

The Bevis Frond, Valedictory Songs & What Did for the Dinosaurs (Fire) This label’s due diligence to the output of distinguished Brit psychedelic technician Nick Saloman continues, with Valedictory Songs, originally released in 2000 on the man’s own persevering Woronzow imprint, really highlighting his songwriting prowess. I’ve said it before (and I know I’m not the first), but Saloman’s singing voice can bring to mind Elvis Costello, which is just fine, particularly as the intent rarely strays from robust rocking. Dinosaurs doesn’t deviate from this model but rather expands upon it with a larger band (plus a few guests on guitar) and a wider instrumental scheme. The lyrical vitriol rises in the title track, which is appreciated, as is the extended amp burn in the finale. I do believe Dinosaurs is debuting on vinyl. A-/ A-

Booker T. & The M.G.’s, McLemore Avenue (Craft) It’s impossible for me to not admire this album, which is a largely instrumental homage to The Beatles’ Abbey Road, but with the selections reordered, which might bother some listeners, though from my perspective it undercuts the predictability inherent to covering an album in its entirety. Admire I do, but I must admit my feelings for the music have never risen to the point where I can claim it as a record that I love. Now, there are surely stretches that I dig (if everything here hit the heights of “Sun King” this would be an entirely different review), but even so, nothing on this slab charges my battery the way singles like “Hip Hug-Her” and “Chinese Checkers,” perfect songs both, do. McLemore Avenue ain’t flawless, but on the other hand, I’m not parting ways with my copy. No way. And yeah, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is one hell of a finale. A-

Neal Casal, Fade Away Diamond Time (Royal Potato Family) Guitarist and singer-songwriter Neal Casal left us too soon, but while active on this spinning rock, the man added his artistry to a wide variety of situations, live and on record, including Ryan Adams’ backing band the Cardinals, The Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams, and Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood, who I mention last, as Casal’s debut Fade Away Diamond Time reminds me a helluva lot of The Black Crowes. However, there are other similarities, such as to those Jayhawks, The Freewheelers, and that Petty cat, with production by Jim Scott, who’d worked with Petty and Wilco, so there’s nothing slavishly by the numbers going on here. If not exactly masterful, Casal’s songs at this point are still quite enjoyable, hitting a middle ground between fledgling singer-songwriter vibes and the motions of a bar-band underdog. Even better, the playing is lively and engaging, avoiding the bar-roots sessioneer autopilot that’s not uncommon to these situations. B+

Judas Priest, Sad Wings of Destiny (eOne) This, Judas Priest’s second full-length, is a vastly important album, and one maybe overshadowed by the band’s subsequent hit records. So much subsequent heavy metal action owes Sad Wings of Destiny a debt, from Iron Maiden and others in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to a couple huge names in ’80s thrash; hell, the bold riff groove in opener “Victim of Changes” suggests that more than a few ’90s-’00s stoner rock acts took a few pointers from the song. But the record also illuminates the influences that helped shape Judas Priest; Sabbath, of course, but also Zep, Deep Purple, and Queen, plus a few tendencies toward rural prog (which is to say, they sound like a band that listened to a lot of records and practiced in a barn rather than graduating from conservatory). Along with “Victim of Changes,” the consensus classics are “The Ripper” and “Tyrant.” But listening to the entire album in 2020 is a pleasure, as the dated elements add to the appeal. Even the ballad “Epitaph” (did I mention Queen?). Halford’s vocals are already in prime form. A-

Hugo Montenegro, Hugo in Wonder-Land (Nature Sounds) This is an unusual one, and all over the place in terms of quality. Bandleader-conductor Montenegro is best known for his movie soundtracks and additionally, his covers of film scores, perhaps most famously a version of Ennio Morricone’s main theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Once a staple of the Easy Listening section, secondhand copies of the guy’s records lingered for decades in the bins and in boxes underneath shelves in thrift stores, for that matter. In the ’70s, Montenegro began focusing on album-length tributes to single artists, like this one dedicated to Stevie Wonder. I’m guessing that a big reason for this LP’s reissue is the considerable amount of Moog and ARP synth, and the usage of early electronics does help to elevate the two best tracks here, the opener “Living for the City” and the late-album “Sho-Bee-Doo-Bee-Doo-Da-Day.” But far too much of the rest is hindered or outright marred by kitsch tendencies. C+

The Rolling Stones, Metamorphosis (ABKCO Music & Records) Over the years, many people have beat up on this rarities and outtakes collection, originally released in 1976, and apparently on the same day as the hits comp Made in the Shade. And while the cumulative effect of the 16 tracks isn’t mindblowing, I do think the derision is a little overboard. It’s reissue in 2020 was no doubt inspired by the use of album opener “Out of Time” in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and that’s cool, as it’s one of the Rolling Stones more underrated songs, except that this version is the one Mick Jagger cut as a demo for Chris Farlowe’s No. 1 UK hit (the actual Stones recording is on Aftermath, with a shorter mix on Flowers). As on other outtakes-heavy sets, the fact that much of this stuff was never intended for release finds a modesty of scale prevailing, though the version of “Heart of Stone” with Jimmy Page is something folks will want to have around the house, and the “Memo From Turner” with Richards is also appreciated. Bottom line: everything on Metamorphosis dates from ’64-’69, so how bad can it really be? B+

Suede, The London Suede (Demon) I’m pretty certain it’s been a quarter century since I last listened to this record, the 1993 debut from this cornerstone of Britpop, though I did hear it quite a bit around the time of its release. I remember thinking it was a solid record, but I never bought a copy, as a housemate had already procured the CD and it was unavailable on vinyl in the US at the time. In fact, this very reissue marks its debut on wax in the States, which should make 1500 people pleased as pickles. The question for me is if it holds up, and after getting reacquainted I’d say that’s an affirmative, though I’m not as smitten with it as some were back then, and I guess continue to be. There are some strong songs here, and Suede were sharp, vivid and refined as a band, which is notable for a debut, but their sound is essentially ’80s Alterative infused with Glam moves and general big rock swagger. That’s perfectly fine, it’s just not jaw-dropping. Which is how I feel about Britpop in general. B+

V/A, Double Whammy! A 1960s Garage Rock Rave-Up (Craft) Last year for RSD, Craft released Poppies: Assorted Finery from the First Psychedelic Age, ‘twas a good one. This album is its follow-up in a series spotlighting “influential underground music scenes” of the ’60s, and it starts off strong with the unedited version of The Count Five’s stone classic “Psychotic Reaction.” Like its predecessor, Double Whammy! is culled from the catalogs Craft has acquired, e.g., Stax, Original Sound, Vanguard, and Fantasy, and while I don’t immediately think of any of those labels when I think of garage rock, that’s alright, because the selections here are alright, and sometimes a little more. Frankly, I rarely think of labels in regards to garage rock…well, I do think of Rhino, and Craft’s 16-track LP is up to the standard set by that august company, which is to say that it’s solid all the way through. Plus, there are three previously unreleased tracks, including the full-length version of The Music Machine’s “The People in Me,” so if you are a garage maven, you’ll want to be one of the lucky 2000 to own a copy of this one. A-

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