Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Whitmore Sisters, Ghost Stories (Red House / Compass) This one starts big and bright and then doesn’t falter in its old-school harmony rich rootsy country-rock sweetness. Bonnie Whitmore is known for her solo recordings, of which there are four, with 2020’s Last Will And Testament serving as my entry point to her work. Eleanor is half of The Mastersons with husband Chris Masterson; they’ve cut four albums and play in Steve Earles’ Dukes. Produced by Masterson, this is the Whitmore siblings’ first album together, but anybody coming to it cold would likely think they’d already cut three or four, as the interaction is sublime. Recorded spontaneously post-pandemic in Los Angeles, the 11 tracks thrive on unexpected twists, and right away in “Learn to Fly,” which has a Bangles gone country-rock appeal, while also emphasizing their harmonious strengths, as in “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” a song that Paul McCartney wrote for the Everly Brothers. Secret weapon: strings. In closer “Greek Tragedy,” they bring Forever Changes to mind. WHAT KIND OF WONDERFUL CRAZINESS IS THIS?! A

Artsick, Fingers Crossed (Slumberland) The focal point of Artsick is Christina Riley, formerly of Burnt Palms, who set this band in motion by sharing a few of her demos with Mario Hernandez of Kids on a Crime Spree and Ciao Bella. He was up for playing drums and doing some recording at his Oakland, CA studio. With Donna McKean of Lunchbox and Hard Left stepping in on bass, a new trio was formed. Musically, the focal point on this concise full-length is also Riley, with her vocals lending everything, even the hard-charging Ramones-y handclapping highlight “Despise,” a 1990s indie-pop angle, though this shouldn’t discount the deftness of the playing. On that note, the Ramones mention supports a comparison to Vivian Girls, though I will add that Artsick is less rigid and more supple in their approach, and with some appealing range. A fine example is “Look Again,” which reminds me a bit of a Bratmobile-’80s Flying Nun hybrid, though I suppose that the C86 explosion and even earlier ’80s predecessors Dolly Mixture can be considered part of the equation, as well. It’s an equation that never feels like formula. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Play Selections From the New Musical Golden Boy (Honey Pie) Here’s a highly deserving reissue of one of the few obscurities in the discography of celebrated drummer and bandleader Blakey. Released in 1963, Golden Boy’s lack of stature derives partly from its release on the Colpix label (rather than Blue Note or Atlantic or Impulse!) and also I’m guessing due to the Broadway musical tie-in. The corrective is the personnel, specifically the Messengers lineup that cut Caravan before and Free for All after: trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, trombonist Curtis Fuller, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Cedar Walton, and bassist Reggie Workman, this core group expanded with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Julius Watkins on French horn, Bill Barber on tuba, James Spaulding on alto sax, and Charles Davis on baritone sax. The largest Blakey band on record? I think so, and the playing throughout is splendid, with Shorter and Davis particularly fired up. Blakey shines in his spots, and if Golden Boy isn’t on par with his best stuff, it’s not far behind. A

The Cosmic Jokers, S/T (Die Kosmischen Kuriere) The label blurb for this reissue states that it’s a remaster from the “original analog tapes,” and has apparently never sounded better. The text also describes the Jokers as simply an “all-star band,” which isn’t wrong, as this Krautrock supergroup features Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze from Ash Ra Tempel and Jürgen Dollase and Harald Großkopf from Wallenstein, with Dieter Dierks also contributing, but definitely omits some crucial info, as they congregated to play parties organized by producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and hosted by Dierks in his sound studio, with the “band” reportedly paid in cash and hallucinogens. Recorded (legend has it surreptitiously) and edited by Kaiser, four albums were issued in 1974 without the consent of the players (who weren’t even informed of their release). Legal action ensued (the dispute eventually settled). It’s been a while since I’ve heard the others, but checking this one out fresh solidifies my belief that it’s the best of the bunch. It features two potent side-long space rock excursions sans vocals. A-

Simone De Kunovich, “Mondo Nuovo” (Mule Musiq) The Venetian born techno specialist Simone de Kunovich issued his debut 12-inch, “Mondo Nuovo Vol. 1” on Superconscious Records back in May of 2019. This follow-up lacks designation as volume two as “Mondo Nuovo” is described in the press release by Mule Musiq as a “trilogy concept,” and one that’s impacted by Kunovich’s “cinema studies,” which means he either went to film school or just really likes watching flicks. I suspect the former, as the cinematic touchstones are pretty broad here; along with the PR referencing Herzog and Jodorowsky, the B-side “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty” (the EP’s highlight) is named after a film by Jonas Mekas, and the A-side’s closer “Paradiso Delle Sabbie Mobili” features extended dialogue samples from Louis Malle’s My Dinner With Andre. The opener “Cerchio Magico” also samples the G-Man character from the video game Half-Life, though I had to look that up. The roughness of the voice actually reminded me of the Alpha 60 computer in Godard’s Alphaville. Neat. B+

Michael Rother and Vittoria Maccabruni, As Long As the Light (Groenland Records) As a member of Kraftwerk (early), Neu!, Harmonia, and extensively solo, Michael Rother is, as they say, an essential figure in the Krautrock scheme of things. He met his partner, the electronic musician Vittoria Maccabruni, while touring in Italy with Moebius in 2005. In 2020, Rother moved to Italy to cohabitate with Maccabruni as they completed this album together, and while it consistently combines Rother’s long-established guitar sound(s) with a coherent electronic sensibility courtesy of Maccabruni, the results are still quite varied. And by extension, As Long as the Light is something of a mixed bag, though its charms do outweigh its deficiencies by a considerable margin.

The set begins strongly enough with “Edgy Smiles,” which weds an appealingly clinical ‘90s techno sound (including a sweet loop of what sounds like the purr of an electronic cat) with soaring interjections from Rother, but then “exp1” falters a bit into ’80s B-movie credits music territory. Conversely, late track “CodriveMe” applies (what sounds like) a human heartbeat and respiration as rhythmic motifs and is the record’s standout track, with Rother’s playing bordering unexpectedly on twang. I do wish Maccabruni sang more on the album; in “You Look at Me,” she sounds like an ’80s Goth-priestess trying to go pop, and succeeding. And I could deal with a whole lot more of Rother’s downright threatening guitar spillage in “Curfewed” and “Forget This.” I also dig the cathedral-style organ at the beginning of “Happy (Slow Burner)” (bringing Terry Riley to mind, sure, but really, it’s more of a Bach-ish thing). While As Long as the Light isn’t indispensable, it’s far from insubstantial. B

Rude Skøtt Osborn Trio, The Virtue of Temperance (El Paraiso) Rude is bassist Martin Rude and Skøtt is drummer Jakob Skøtt (both Danes). As a duo they released two albums in 2020 (The Discipline of Assent and The Dichotomy of Control), both full-lengths cut in the studio of Jonas Munk, who is Skøtt’s bandmate in Causa Sui, and released by El Paraiso, which is the label run by Munk and Skøtt. For this set, described as the third entry in the “Stoic opus,” Rude and Skøtt are joined by baritone saxophonist-alto flautist Tamar Osborn, she of the UK-based modal jazz ensemble Collocutor along with numerous other outfits and projects. The upright bass, sax and flute help to situate The Virtue of Temperance in a jazzy neighborhood, though it’s important to clarify that the emphasis on hearty (but not overtly funky) grooves nudges matters toward rock territory as well. This is understandable given Skøtt’s work in Causa Sui, who are unambiguously rock in orientation. And so, it’s unsurprising that this set offers a few passages that are engagingly spacy (aided by some electronic effects courtesy of Skøtt). A-

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