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

Part four 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, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Elder Jack Ward, Already Made (Bible & Tire Recording Co.) Fat Possum label exec and indefatigable mensch Bruce Watson, who also runs the Big Legal Mess imprint, has also been doing wonderful things recently with Bible & Tire, his Southern gospel-themed endeavor, issuing two superb volumes spotlighting the output of JCR Records for starters, but even better, organizing sessions with currently active exemplars of Sacred Soul like Dedicated Men of Zion, Elizabeth King, and Elder Jack Ward, who is recording for the first time in over 50 years with Already Made. In addition to briefly filling O.V. Wright’s spot in the Sunset Travelers, Ward sang on “Don’t Need No Doctor,” the 1964 gospel hit by the Christian Harmonizers (recorded for the Chalice label, a subsidiary of Stax). Further solo singles followed on Peacock’s Song Bird label and then with his group the Gospel Four on D-Vine Spirituals (a retrospective of this imprint’s catalog is coming in 2022 from Bible & Tire), though Ward eventually set recording aside to become a mechanic.

But if not making records, Ward’s been busy singing on Sundays along with his family band as the founder and pastor of Earth Temple Holiness Church in North Memphis, so that Already Made lacks even a speck of rust. Instead, he exudes both confidence and conviction as he’s backed by the Elder Ward Company Singers (the harmonies are rich throughout) and a top-notch band featuring both Will Sexton and Matt Ross-Spang on guitars, with the organ of Rick Steff and Alex Greene enhancing that churchy feeling. Now, those who know of Watson’s background mainly through the raw blues of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough might be expecting Ward to be operating in the same neighborhood, but just on the sacred side of the fence. That’s not the case however, as the singing, playing and production are crisp and clean. And yet, in pure feeling terms, Already Made is comparable to the wildest blues or R&R mania that’s out there. And there are a few bluesy undercurrents along the way. Soul? Oh, there’s an abundance of that. Ward’s singing is a delight throughout an album that’s essentially faultless. A

The Shivas, Feels So Good // Feels So Bad (Tender Loving Empire) This Portland, OR-based four-piece’s latest, a 13-song platter, is also their seventh album. As it’s a consistent treat for the ears, the tenacity and longevity are impressive. A big hunk of their prior stuff came out on Calvin Johnson’s K label, which, if you don’t know The Shivas, might give you a false first impression, as the thrust of the band’s sound is decidedly pop-rocking in a ’60s classique manner (with drummer-singer Kristin Leonard the ace in the hole in this regard) and with varying levels of neo-psych. There are a couple of doo-wopping, post-Spector moments that got me to thinking of Norton Records, but the majority of this is loud and distorted enough to saunter into an Anton Newcombe-like zone. And while the riff in opener “Feels so Bad” is huge, there’s a melodic sensibility that occasionally reminds me just a tad of Robert Schneider. But the toughness of the band’s thrust eradicates any traces of psych-pop bubblegum. There are a few pretty moments, such as the surplus jangling in “A Gift.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Maximum Joy, “Stretch” b/w “Silent Street – Silent Dub” (1972) Formed in Bristol in 1981 by horn man Tony Wrafter, fresh from the breakup of the Glaxo Babies, and vocalist-clarinetist-violinist Janine Rainforth, they snagged two former Glaxo Babies in drummer Charlie Llewellin and bassist Dan Catsis, and rounded out the band with guitarist John Waddington, formerly of the Pop Group. Anyone with moderate knowledge of UK post-punk might suspect what’s the score, if they don’t know already. It’s funky, it’s punky, it’s dubby, it’s skronky, and it has the vocal presence of the 18-year-old Rainworth (that’s her on the cover), extending from Poly Styrene (those wonderful screams) on the wickedly grooving A-side, and Ari Up on the dub deepness of the flip. Just a few months over 40 years ago, this was their debut single, a stone post-punk classic, absolutely essential, originally issued on Y Records in the UK and 99 Records in the USA and given a well-deserved anniversary pressing by 1972. Listening to these two long tracks, it’s clear this band still doesn’t get enough retrospective love. A

Family Plan, S/T (Endectomorph) This is the splendid debut by a Brooklyn-based band comprised of Canadian Andrew Boudreau on piano and keyboards with Chileans Simón Willson on double bass and Vicente Hansen on drums. A piano trio, you might assume. And well yeah, but very forward-thinking, which shouldn’t be misconstrued as free, as this is a very compositionally based CD (closer “El Mono” doesn’t even have any solos, and that’s just fine). The PR for the set mentions The Bad Plus and The Necks, and well yeah again (particularly the former) but the Danny Fox Trio also came to mind, and that’s sweet. Important to mention are the post-production techniques (e.g., overdubs and electronic distortion) that provide the album with one of its distinguishing (if subtly applied) qualities. Others are the impeccable playing, both individually and as a unit (the choice to use a group moniker is quite significant here) and the compositions, which come from all three members. Kevin Sun rolls up in the mix with his tenor sax for penultimate track “What’s Your Fee.” I’d welcome a whole quartet album. A

Film School, We Weren’t Here (Sonic Ritual) Based in California (Los Angeles and San Fran), Film School was formed by Greg Berten in 1997, with their debut 7-inch emerging in 2000. Initially, it was the project of Berten and his drummer roommate with help (including members of Fuck and Pavement), but Film School eventually morphed into a full-fledged band, if one with a few personnel changes and a long stretch of inactivity between fourth album Fission in 2010 and its follow-up Bright to Death eight years later (notably, the band’s second and third records were issued by Beggars Banquet). Film School pulls from a bunch of complementary styles, including shoegaze (opener “Superperfection” and “CPPT”), ’90s indie (the slightly Stereolab-ish “Said Your Name” and the mildly Magnetic Fields-like “Why”), and even a few gestures toward Flying Nun and the Clientele (“Stratospheric Tendencies”), but a big hunk of the sound derives from the ’80s UK, with “Soft Reflections” offering a Factory vibe, “Isla” a solid pop-auteur move, and “Take What You Need” loaded with late-New Wavy keyboard swells. Very solid. A-

UMAN, Chaleur Humaine (Freedom to Spend) French siblings Danielle and Didier Jean are the creative force behind UMAN, with Chaleur Humaine their debut album from 1992, originally released only on CD by the Buda Musique label, which I confess slipped right by me back then. That isn’t a surprise really, as stylistically, this is about a thousand yards away from my listening diet at the time (e.g., noise rock, free jazz, low-fi, Jandek). The sound of this recording, which, alongside a remastered CD, is making its debut on vinyl with this reissue (plus a bonus 7-inch in the bundle offer), has some affinities with New Age (there is a 1995 UMAN 12-inch on Windham Hill), as there are a few horn lines that insinuate camping out on the outskirts of a tropical rain forest, or even suggest (gasp) smooth jazz, but thankfully Danielle’s input steers matters nearer to Freedom to Spend’s comparison of Cocteau Twins and Enya. Overall, the thrust is a lot more art-poppy; at a few points, I thought of goings-on in Japan from roughly a decade prior to Chaleur Humaine’s release. Also, Downtown NYC, and even once or twice, Ralph Records. B+

V/A, Salutations (RVNG Intl. – Adult Swim) This week’s digital-only recording is a pretty sweet collection of a dozen new pieces that, to quote the descriptive text accompanying the release, are the handiwork of “artists near and dear to RVNG’s sphere” (I’m guessing the cats over at Adult Swim hold these artists in high esteem, as well). It starts off in a somewhat surprising mode (and pleasantly so), with back-to-back cuts by Isik Kural and Satomimagae featuring acoustic guitar. But it’s not exactly a hootenanny vibe, and pretty quickly (like during Satomimagae’s “Dots”, actually) the selections begin resonating in a manner that’s recognizably RVNG-like. Admittedly, “RVNG-like” resists tidy definition, but it’s appropriate to say that electronics, experimentation, and an expansiveness that’s perhaps well-described as “post-New Age” are part of the equation. And also, collaboration, as Anna Homler, Michael Vincent Waller and Darryl Tewes’ “Bounding / Missive from the Teacup Galaxy” is one of Salutations’ highlights. The chamber classical drone swirl of Visible Cloaks’ “Arcoíris” is quite terrific. A-

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