Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for September 2021, Part Five

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, Voodoo Rhythm Label Compilation Vol. 5 (Voodoo Rhythm) This Swiss label is run by Beat Zeller, aka The Beat-Man, aka The Reverend Beat-Man, aka a beautifully twisted cat if ever one was (though we’ve never met). Burrowing into a stylistic zone that’s not far from the great Billy Childish, except it’s swampier and more bluesy (and with flashes of strangeness that are almost Beefheartian), The Beat-Man has been cranking out steaming hot hunks of rant and distortion since the 1980s, with the Voodoo Rhythm label commencing operations in 1992 to document his own prolificacy plus records by those of a similar temperament. The discography now runs well into the hundreds. As I’ve only been soaking up Voodoo Rhythm’s wares for the last 5-6 years, I haven’t heard it all, but it’s still been long enough to have gotten acquainted with a sizable percentage of what’s on this comp. Chances are you haven’t, so let’s give it a rundown.

Right up front, there’s the garage-punk stomp of the Beat-Man’s band The Monsters, followed by the drum-box punk thud of the Bad Mojos, and then some trash dumpster Troggs action from Destination Lonely. There’s the reverb drenched punk-blues throb of Sloks, a zonked busker-billy Venom cover by Rev. Beat-Man and Izobel Garcia, the demented retro-pop of Garcia’s own track, and then a strong dose of Chess Records-inspired punk pound by Trixie and the Trainwrecks. And with the Tom Waits vibes of Degurutieni, things get even more interesting. There’s the decidedly KBD-like track by Nestter Donuts, an ode to well-lubed onanism by Sex Organs, the acid-bent Gibson Bros. fumes of Roy and the Devil’s Motorcycle, a fuzz-punk rave-up by The Devils, the twisted trio chug of E.T. Explore Me, the moody, dare I say goth blues of Honshu Wolves, and a Jimbo Mathus-like closer by The Dead Brothers. And it’s all grooved into a picture disc. My normal reaction to picture discs is to stick those fuckers on the roof, but this one looks pretty cool. It sounds even better. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Little Willie John, The Complete R&B Hit Singles (Real Gone) Back in 2012, Real Gone released Complete Hit Singles A’s & B’s as a 2CD set, a 32-track collection that remains the heavyweight champ in spotlighting this undeservedly neglected R&B (and Soul, and R&R) pioneer. Prior to Real Gone’s endeavor, there had been a few solid single disc comps of his stuff, but the beauty of A’s & B’s is that the flips were far from forgettable as they instead reinforced the man’s versatility and energy. And it wasn’t even all of John’s essential stuff. Well. A’s & B’s looks to be out of print (though a copy can probably be located without parting with too much scratch). This set, which appears to be the first vinyl release in John’s discography since the ’80s, offers just the charting songs, 17 in total, and if it isn’t as deep an experience as the 2CD, it’s still a pleasurable ride as it delivers an abbreviated survey of the guy’s growth. And I’d say it’s a cinch that many vinyl-loving R&B aficionados that already own A’s & B’s will be picking up the wax as well, so my advice is to grab a copy sooner rather than later. A

Baligh Hamdi, Modal Instrumental Pop of 1970s Egypt (Sublime Frequencies) This ever-dependable label does it again, with a superb collection (and first-time reissue) of this crucial Egyptian composer and bandleader’s work. The 2LP (with gatefold and insert) isn’t scheduled to arrive until 11/19, but the CD (in digipak with 12-pg booklet) is out tomorrow, and anybody with an interest in 20th century global sounds will want a copy. There are sitars aplenty, but also Omar Khorshid on guitar as part of Hamdi’s Diamond Orchestra. Organ, accordion, saxophone and even a Theremin are part of an Indio-Arabic equation that’s rhythmically driving and ceaselessly inventive. Hamdi was a Modernizer and also a hybridizer, tapping into jazz, rock (those guitar solos), and even Exotica but without any kitsch ambiance. There are also plenty of stretches that can be described as psychedelic, but they’re strengthened by a seeming lack of deliberateness in this regard on Hamdi’s part. Similar to other Sublime Frequencies collections, track 19 is as engaging as track one. In fact, closer “Love Story” is one of the best cuts. A

Pas Musique, Amateur Radio (Alrealon Musique) The thing about a lot of extreme electronics, and specifically stuff that harkens back to ye olde dangerous days of Industrial, is that it can come on strong, exuding a high level of bleakness, but well before it’s over the misanthropic surliness is revealed to have fallen a little (or a lot) short in musical ingenuity. This might sound like an accusation of posing, but it’s not attitude that I’m really talking about. Rather, it’s just execution falling short of ambition. Brooklyn’s Pas Musique doesn’t have this problem. They are also considerably broad in scope, as vocals are largely eschewed (a positive). Opening track “Charlies Lament” is explosively rhythmic, while “Don Cheadle Superhero” is initially cinematic (borderline atmospheric, even) with a tinge of the retrofuturistic, before ramping up the intensity. Across the next four tracks, they never set a foot wrong. For many, the highlight will be the cover of Faust’s “It’s a Rainy Day (Sunshine Girl),” which features a guest contribution by Jeanne-Marie Varain, the daughter of Faust’s Jean-Herve Peron. It’s pretty spiff. A-

Saint Abdullah, To Live A La West Pt. 1 (Important) & To Live A La West Pt. 2 (Cassauna) Saint Abdullah is the project of Mohammad and Mehdi Mehrabani-Yeganeh, Iranian brothers born in Tehran, raised primarily in the West and now based in NYC. Their music is political (while lacking lyrics and for the most part, vocals) and also deeply rooted in tradition, particularly the sounds of Shia Islam. It’s also heavily electronic in nature as the brothers take additional inspiration from dub, and on Pt. 1 (a CD) and Pt. 2 (a cassette) free jazz and Jon Hassell, the impact of both more immediately felt on Pt. 1 due to the contributions of trumpeter Aquiles Navarro (on opener “A Lot of Kings”) and saxophonist John Butcher (on “Like a Great Starving Beast”). But in relation to these influences, there is also admirable restraint, as both releases share a dedication to the electronic ideal. On Pt. 1, the thrust avoids the dancy, though I suppose that’s for you to decide. It’s Pt. 2 that has a few stretches that could be described as club friendly. The parts are quite complementary, however. The cassette is a first edition of 100. A-/ A-

Silas Short, “Drawing” EP (Stones Throw) This week’s digital-only release is the debut by Short, a singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who was raised in Milwaukee and currently based in Chicago. Notice the lack of hyphen between singer and songwriter, as Short lacks ties to the folk tradition. He does play guitar though, having overcome a work accident suffered at age 19 that resulted in a shattered left hand. Short’s style is primarily R&B-Soul with a touch of Alternative rock in the mix. I will admit to nervousness over the combination, but the Alt in this equation registers as an undercurrent rather than anything that’s gaudily grafted onto the whole. Frankly, I don’t hear much of it at all, which suits me just fine, as Short’s approach to R&B-Soul is quite pleasant, tapping into more contempo strains (’80s-’90s and forward) with a relaxed feel that allows his eccentricities (which is perhaps where those Alt influences derive) to flow rather than agitate or startle. The guitar playing is clean and subtle, and through seven tracks, the run-time is ample. A promising first statement. B+

Dar Williams, I’ll Meet You Here (Renew – BMG) Musically active since the mid-’80s, singer-songwriter Dar Williams has released a slew of records since, a total that pales next to the number of performances she’s given across that span. But I’ll Meet You Here is my first prolonged exposure to her music, as I’ve only heard her in passing over the years. That means I had a rough idea of what to expect but was still taken by the strength of William’s songs. Make no mistake, the music here, a tidy but fulfilling ten tracks, is unreservedly accessible and often nearer to melodic rock than pop-folk (and folk is definitely a big part of her background, as she’s played with and had her songs covered by Joan Baez). Frankly, I kinda dig the pop-rock angle, as it lends her tunes a modest edge as she keeps the Americana ambiance at bay. Williams is also expressive lyrically, avoiding cliché throughout as “Little Town” hits an emotional crescendo at the LP’s mid-way point (complete with chamber strings). She does it again, this time with piano at the fore, with “I Never Knew” and then one more time with closer “You’re Aging Well.” A-

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