Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2021, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March 2021. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Xiu Xiu, OH NO (Polyvinyl) This album features Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart in a series of duets with an impressive list of contemporary artists, including Sharon Van Etten, Haley Fohr (Circuits Des Yeux), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Owen Pallet, Chelsea Wolfe, Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater), Alice Bag, and Stewart’s Xiu Xiu bandmate Angela Seo. 15 duets, well, 14, as the very brief “ANTS,” while a delightful finale, sounds like it’s Valerie Diaz all by her lonesome. Now, when a singer shares the mic on a record with a bunch of different folks, my expectations generally lean toward an enjoyable but not especially challenging affair, so I was intrigued by OH NO, as easy listening has never been Xiu Xiu’s specialty. Hey, good news: it still isn’t. The scoop here is that the making of OH NO served as therapeutic for Stewart, or more to the point, helped him to regain some faith in humanity after suffering a few betrayals. Instead of just a pileup of songs, this unwinds like a Xiu Xiu record, but with a handful of surprises, like a Cure cover, and the swank electro-pop of “A Bottle of Rum” with Liz Harris. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Ali Farka Touré, Red (World Circuit) Released in 1984 by Disques Espérance, a subsidiary of the French Sonodisc label, this wasn’t Touré’s recording debut, but it did substantially raise the Malian guitarist profile and proved enduringly influential, particularly after World Circuit (and Nonesuch in the US) combined it on CD in 2004 with Touré’s ’88 LP, as Red & Green, that name referring to the original eponymous releases’ sleeve colors that have come to stand in as titles that distinguish the two. Growing up in the 1980s, it was stated back then with regularity that World Music was mostly consumed by Yuppies (particularly those who were ex-hippies), but I can’t imagine those cats willingly hanging with the exquisite, barbed rawness of Red’s desert trance blues. Featuring just Touré on a Bulgarian-made acoustic and percussionist Hama Sankare on calibash, this set is pretty much required listening for fans of Tinariwen and for those into the output of the Sahel Sounds label, but it’s also recommended to curious newbies who are partial to the Delta blues and drone music. A

V/A, Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2 (World Circuit) Cumbia is the celebrated dance music of Columbia, deep of rhythm and spiked with rich horns, spritely accordions and passionate vocals. I can think of no better primer into the goodness of the style than this set, which combines two albums originally issued by World Circuit in 1989 and ’93, the second one on CD only until they were first offered together in 2012. But more importantly, these four sides are packed with material that was first issued by the Discos Fuentes label, the first album spanning 1960-’88, while the second is a deeper dive into the ’50-’60s. What this means is that, unlike a multitude of other decades-spanning comps that become less vital as they progress forward chronologically, this baby is a certifiable fiesta of swinging throughout. Seriously, “Santo Domingo” by Los Cumbiamberos De Pacheco, sequenced deep into side three, feels like the standout of the record, but then side four delivers a ceaseless succession of gems. If you dig Afro Cuban sounds and salsa but aren’t hip to cumbia, this will hit a sweet spot you didn’t know you had. A

Tower of Power, 50 Years of Funk & Soul – Live at the Fox Theater – Oakland, CA – June 2018 (Mack Avenue) As the title relates, San Francisco’s Tower of Power has been around for a long time, hitting that golden anniversary in 2018 and marking the occasion with a run of shows in their hometown, augmenting the 10-piece core band with more horns and even a (sparingly used) string section. And the generosity of the band’s performance is matched by Mack Avenue’s multiformat documentation, as they offer a 3LP, a 2CD/ DVD combo and a standalone DVD. Drum tight and highly polished, Tower of Power embody the sound of communal celebration that’s comparable to Parliament, though minus George Clinton’s eccentricity. Instead, ToP just combine their incessant James Brown-like grooves with a soulful pop inclination that can occasionally suggest ’70s Philadelphia. And while the musicianship is impeccable, the virtuosity never kneecaps feeling, which is kinda miraculous given the nature of the endeavor. I’ll close by mentioning the coincidental timeliness of “Soul Vaccination.” A-

Dan Blake, Da Fé (Sunnyside) Saxophonist and composer Blake has played with, amongst others, Anthony Braxton, Julian Lage, and Esperanza Spalding, along with releasing a few of his own CDs, of which The Digging from 2016, also on Sunnyside, is his last full-length effort. Da Fé (which translates as “of faith”) is my introduction to his work, and based on its contents, varied but unified and ambitious, I’m eager to hear more. Musically contemplating the severity of climate change, poverty and hunger, the album’s sound spectrum is broad but coherent. Actually, broad understates it, as the synths, electronics and keyboards of Leo Genovese are a crucial component in the music’s weave. Blake alternates between soprano and tenor, sounding appealing on both as the band, completed by Carmen Staaf on piano and Fender Rhodes, Dmitry Ishenko on acoustic and electric bass, and Jeff Williams on drums, blends tradition with excursions to the outside. Altogether, a fine record. That “The Cliff” gradually reminded me of Dizzy’s “A Night in Tunisia” was as unexpected as it is terrific. A-

Jazz WORMS, Squirmin’ (Capri) Pianist Andy Weyl, saxophonist Keith Oxman, drummer Paul Romaine, cornetist Ron Miles and bassist Mark Simon are the Jazz WORMS, a reunited Denver-based band (the first letter of each member’s last name makes WORMS) who cut a highly regarded LP, Crawling Out, back in 1987. This CD follows a 2014 live show that made it plain the guys could still spit out the collective sparks; these eight selections, all original compositions from members of the quintet, recorded in November of 2017, effectively spread the word. Extending from the post-bop tradition but with ample flair in the writing and confidence in the soloing, it’s established that the record, while reverential to the past, isn’t a nostalgia trip, either in personal terms or stylistically. Squirmin’ isn’t an edgy affair, but what the set lacks in this regard it makes up for through warmth and an avoidance of the formulaic. Of course, there are form moves on display. What’s missing is the air of calculation. A-

Louise Quinn, Gates of Light (Shimmy Disc / Joyful Noise) Glasgow-based singer-songwriter Quinn cut this CD at home in her bedroom studio last year, making the results a lockdown album, though there was collaboration involved, with her husband Bal Cooke recording and producing as Scott Fraser and Kid Loco provided instrumental input. Indeed, Gates of Light titles the album and the group that made it. A ’60s flavor in Quinn’s writing is immediately graspable, and appealing, as she avoids a throwback sound, in part through applied technology that radiates an ’80s-’90s aura.  Gates of Light goes down pretty nicely overall, but the sweetness of three consecutive tracks makes it a keeper. These are “This Is How We Sound” into “Belleville Sun” and culminating with “Inevitable,” an absolute gem that brings to mind both Young Marble Giants and Saturday Looks Good to Me. Fucking yowsers. After this, the record redirects a bit, offering a blend of ’90s electronica and shades of dream pop. I’m not quite as keen on these maneuvers, but as said, the disc goes down pretty nicely. B+

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders “…there’s pretty things in Palookaville…” (Hound Gawd!) These aged but spry Los Angelenos are no strangers to this column, but for those who’ve just stumbled into this virtual joint, Todd was the prime shaper of raw punk specialists Lazy Cowgirls. With the Rankoutsiders, he’s moseyed nearer to trad but tough R&R, while retaining a punk edge. Frankly, this sorta sound goes down best from the stage of a grimy joint after sucking down four or five cheap beers, but Palookaville continues Todd and band’s streak of harnessing the live in a club with suds appeal. Along with the rawness and sheer emotive power of Todd’s singing, a big part of the band’s success relates to how they spread out a little stylistically, particularly with a handful of country-tinged numbers including the consecutive “Read ‘em and Weep” and “Take That Monkey Off My Back,” with the latter harkening back to pre-honkytonk country boogie. But there’s also a swell version of Tyrone Davies ’70s soul nugget “Turn Back the Hands of Time” that’s well-integrated into the rough and occasionally even anthemic thrust of their attack. Altogether, this is muscular, no-frills rock done right. A-

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