Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for August 2021, Part Three

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: James McMurtry, The Horses and the Hounds (New West) There isn’t a lot of elbow room in the scene McMurtry inhabits, specifically the country-folk-Americana-roots rock singer-songwriter zone, but frankly very few do it better, with his stature in a crowded field only amplified by a six-year break between releases. How’s he do it? Well, he and his band play bright but rugged, and more importantly, his tunes are consistently strong. That McMurtry, the son of prolific (and recently passed) novelist Larry McMurtry, doesn’t do autobiography (as quoted in a recent Rolling Stone article), certainly helps, though even more crucially, his songs avoid the staleness of creative-writing class cliché. And it makes a big difference that he’s open to taking chances, with none bigger than “Ft. Walton Wake-Up Call,” a sort of talking storyteller ditty where McMurtry flirts with sounding like C.W. McCall but ends up pulling it off, mainly through astute observations; likewise, “Operation Never Mind.” At this stage, I dig the anthemic up-tempo rocker “What’s the Matter” best, but the record doesn’t falter. A-

Thalia Zedek Band, Perfect Vision (Thrill Jockey) Entering her fifth decade making music (having debuted on wax as part of Dangerous Birds in the early ’80s), guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Zedek’s latest exhibits no signs of creative fatigue. To the contrary, Perfect Vision underscores her adaptability, as it was recorded remotely due to (you guessed it) the pandemic. Operating in this manner allowed for a wide array of guest contributors. There’s Karan Zarkisian on pedal steel, Brian Carpenter on trumpet, and cellist (and Zedek’s labelmate) Alison Chesley aka Helen Money. And of course, there are familiar elements, including her regular collaborator, violist David Michael Curry, plus her bandmate in the outfit E, drummer Gavin McCarthy, but most recognizable is the tough and assured expressiveness of the singing and the distinctive way the songs unwind. Fully capable of writing catchy tunes, Zedek’s focus encompasses the layering of textures, the juxtaposition of timbres and the tension that builds through methodical repetition. In short, it’s another sweet record from Thalia Zedek. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Destiny Street (Complete), Destiny Street Remixed, & Destiny Street Demos (Omnivore) The first of these titles is a 2CD set that includes the contents of the second and third, both vinyl sets. In addition, the 2CD opens with a remastered version of the original Destiny Street, the second album by Hell and the Voidoids, a record that’s mix Hell has hated since the album’s release in 1981. It’s followed on the first CD by Destiny Street Repaired, which featured guitarists Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Voidoid Ivan Julian overdubbing guitar in place of original Destiny Street guitarists Robert Quine (who passed in 2004) and Naux (Juan Marciel) (whose death occurred in 2009), with Hell singing the tracks anew. Destiny Street Repaired was made possible by the then recent discovery of the tape holding the original album’s rhythm tracks, while in 2019, three of the four Destiny Street masters, long thought lost, were discovered, allowing Hell (with the aid of Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) to finally remix the record to his satisfaction.

When Destiny Street (Complete) came out back in January, I was stoked, as I’ve always thought Destiny Street a tad underrated, and was eager to hear it remastered, while at the same time understanding Hell’s misgivings. And so, I was just as keen to check out the remix. Soaking up an LP’s worth of demos and getting reacquainted with the Repaired set was like topping a delicious meal with desert. Soaking it all up was indeed a wonderful experience but I procrastinated in writing it up and then completely lost track. Here’s my belated thoughts as all three releases are still available. As I said, the original Destiny Street was undervalued in my estimation, and this remastering sharpens its positive qualities, but not enough to raise the grade in comparison to my original vinyl. A- Without original Voidoid guitarist Julian and the massively talented Frisell and Ribot, Repaired would’ve likely been a mistake, but they pulled it off, and the vocals of the aged Hell add value. A- Hell’s remixing is noticeable and an improvement. A The Demos span four years and are the opposite of negligible. A- Put it all together, you get an A.

Marisa Anderson/William Tyler, Lost Futures (Thrill Jockey) It’s not a bit surprising that this set imparts no sense of disappointment, as guitarist Anderson’s records for Grapefruit, Mississippi, and Thrill Jockey have all been stone winners, and guitarist Tyler’s been dazzling ears since his days with Lambchop. Additionally, both are established as duo collaborators, particularly Anderson, who has recorded in tandem with Jim White, Tashi Dorji, and Tara Jane O’Neil. But please also consider Understand, Tyler’s recent album with Luke Schneider, which received a very positive review from this website just a few weeks back. What’s maybe just a wee bit unexpected is the range on display across Lost Futures. There is fingerpicking (much of the record, but I’m particularly fond of the title track, “At the Edge of the World” and “Life and Casualty”), and there are contemplative, even atmospheric passages (as in opener “News About Heaven”), but there is also a distorted drone pulser halfway between Krautrock and early Spacemen 3 (“Something Will Come”) and a wonderfully pretty little standout (“Hurricane Light”). A-

Wendy Eisenberg/Stephen Gauci, Pandemic Duets & Lisa Hoppe/Stephen Gauci, Pandemic Duets (gaucimusic) Back in January, I reviewed two of tenor saxophonist Gauci’s digital-only free-improvisational duo exchanges, one featuring bassist Michael Bisio, the other with drummer Gerald Cleaver. Gauci originally intended for just five improvs, but the interactions, all of which were organized safely and recorded at Scholes Street Studio in Brooklyn last summer, swelled to 19, and that’s the number that are currently available on Gauci’s Bandcamp. As the shared title makes obvious, these excursions wouldn’t exist if not for the Covid-19 pandemic as it transpired last year, but they are also a reaction to, or better said, a refusal to accept or surrender to, the state of the world as it existed in 2020.

Inspiring and creatively vital, it’s all deserving of high praise, but I’ve chosen to spotlight sessions with guitarist Eisenberg and bassist Hoppe. Eisenberg’s played with a long list of contempo avant-gardists and notably in trio with Ches Smith and Trevor Dunn. Their meetup with Gauci reminds me at points of John Zorn’s tangles with Eugene Chadbourne, though the ecstatic lung abrasion hits occasional peaks that are reminiscent of the unrestrained fire-breathing of Charles Gayle. Eisenberg’s playing resists pigeonholing, ranging from noise shards to dense clusters of notes to angular lines to fleet, identifiably jazzy runs. Fans of Mary Halvorson should definitely take note. The session with Hoppe, who also has numerous credits including the 2019 release of the debut by her band Third Reality, isn’t as wild, but neither would I call it subdued. While Gauci does let loose at times and his tone is as uncompromising as ever, he and Hoppe are more inclined toward spaciousness and contemplation than in fervent forward motion. Hoppe’s playing resists easy comparisons but is fleetingly similar to Jimmy Garrison’s solos with Trane. A-/ A-

The Mumps, Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That: Best Case Scenario, You Got Mumps (Omnivore) It’s been out for a little bit, but this collection of material by a noteworthy if under-recorded (only two singles while extant) NYC-based ’70s punk band, led by Lance Loud, is an important and highly listenable document (rounding up extensive unreleased material including two cuts from the pre-Mumps band Loud). I rate it as essential for punk collectors, even if my grade below may not necessarily reflect this. The key to understanding Mumps is right there in the set’s title. Specifically, it’s rock & roll. What rescues the band from the retrograde can be explained by Loud’s moth-like attraction to mid-’70s punk-era New York City.

Obsessed with Andy Warhol (who apparently reciprocated the esteem), Loud the TV star (for the proto-reality series An American Family on PBS, on which he came out as a homosexual) moved the band from California to NYC, where they became a live fixture. Unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount of what can be called ’50s, or at least pre-Beatles, stylistic throwing back in Mumps’ sound, an inclination shared with some of the glam-rock of the same period, and it’s tempting to speculate that this collection will appeal more to glam-rock lovers and power pop partisans than it will to fans of early punk, many of whom have a bias against first wave NY bands that’re not the Ramones or the Voidoids (thankfully, I don’t have this hang-up). In terms of glam pomp, Mumps are kinda comparable to Jobriath minus the flamboyance, though I find this disc preferable, mainly because they don’t remind me of Elton John or Meat Loaf, at least not until those tracks by the band Loud, which appear to be exclusive to the CD and digital, come along (“Cha-Cha-Cha” inspired visions of The Rocky Horror Picture Show). B+

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