Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2022, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February 2022.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Luke Stewart’s Silt Trio, The Bottom (Cuneiform) Washington, DC-based Stewart plays saxophone and bass, both electric and acoustic, with the latter his instrument exclusively on this CD featuring fellow DC resident Brian Settles on tenor sax and Chicagoan Chad Taylor on drums. Additionally, on The Bottom’s opening track “Reminiscence,” Taylor plays the Zimbabwean mbira (aka thumb piano). His cyclical motif on the instrument brings an immediate air of distinctiveness to the Silt Trio’s debut recording. However, as Stewart has played with both of his counterparts here separately before (and Settles recorded with Taylor and pianist Neil Podgurski on their terrific album The Daily Biological), this set has no shortage of rapport. While two selections, one long (“Angels”) and one short (“Circles”), were improvised in studio, the other tracks are considerably more structural, with “Roots” even working up an abundance of groove heat. Elsewhere, traces of free-bop emerge, which is to say the playing gets loose and spirited but not too out. A very promising first statement. A-

Lady Wray, Piece of Me (Big Crown) On her second full-length, Nicole Wray alters the program a bit, honing a sound that’s substantially more contemporary but without abandoning her appealingly hard-hitting old-school soul sensibility. Having spent ample time with her 2016 gem Queen Alone, I’ll admit that the transition took a little getting used to, but the difference was never jarring, partly due to the producer once again being Leon Michels, and also because Wray’s stylistic shift has the air of the familiar about it. Specifically, aspects of hip-hop have been intensified in the equation, and successfully so, as “Where Were You,” with its killer beat (and fuzz guitar) is a sterling example. But really, the rhythms are massive all over this set, and to be clear, hip-hop is still an influence not an outright style. The main diff is that on Queen Alone, it felt like Wray was fronting a wickedly sharp live band (with hip-hop more of an undercurrent). Now, it’s more of a rich studio concoction. The biggest similarity is Wray’s voice, which is terrific throughout but shines in particular during the exceptional “Melody.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Flamingos, Flamingo Serenade (Real Gone) 1950s doo wop acts weren’t exactly known for cutting albums. Frankly, most of them were lucky to get more than one single on the market. That Flamingo Serenade isn’t just a collection of singles padded out with an exclusive track or two is especially notable, with this LP the realization of End Records’ founder George Goldner’s desire for a full album of pop standards done in R&B vocal group style. Ambitious and impressive that it came together so well, and with “I Only Have Eyes for You,” a doo wop masterwork if ever one was, prominent in the sequence. Clearly crafted for extended necking sessions with the lights turned down low, Flamingo Serenade avoids sinking into a listless love stupor, instead dishing otherworldly resonances (harmoniously and even instrumentally) that’re perfect for cheap car radios. Note that “I Only Have Eyes for You” opens side two here, like it did upon release in 1957 (some subsequent editions reverse sides A and B). Also, Real Gone has chosen to repress the Super Sonic Stereo edition. A

William S. Fischer, Circles (Real Gone) A fascinating album originally released on Herbie Mann’s Embryo label in 1970 that offers symphonic soulfulness, funkiness, jazziness, hard rock heaviness, and most strikingly, avant-garde electronic music played on a Moog by Fischer, who along with extensive credits as an instrumentalist (saxophone) and arranger-conductor-musical director (notably, Joe Zawinul’s The Rise & Fall of the Third Stream, Roberta Flack’s First Take, and Eugene McDaniels’ Outlaw, recently reissued by Real Gone), studied electronic composition in Germany. The electronic pieces here are totally devoid of kitsch, sounding instead like extracts from a random album on Nonesuch released around the same time as Circles. The sheer range of Fischer’s ambitions, when coupled with the lack of knockout songs, keeps this shy of the masterpiece plateau, but the lack of blunders both conceptually and in execution (Ron Carter and Billy Cobham are amongst the personnel) really raises the bar. Maybe Real Gone could reissue Fischer’s Omen LP next. A-

A Place To Bury Strangers, See Through You (Dedstrange) I’ve yet to be disappointed by a record from guitarist-vocalist Oliver Ackermann, who leads A Place to Bury Strangers, with bassist John Fedowitz and drummer Sandra Fedowitz his current cohorts, the unit based in NYC but with a sound that could hoodwink a newbie into assuming they rent some dank UK bunker as a practice space. To expand, I’ve never heard APTBS sound quite this post-punk before, and that’s just fine. Neo-psych, yes. Shoegazey, ditto. Even borderline noise-rock at times, sure. And that they’ve been called the loudest band in NYC is still reflective in the urgency and rawness inherent in their studio attack. But in the early moments of See Through You, I couldn’t help but think of Peter Murphy circa 1990 shaking up his game and cutting a record for Blast First (with Head of David as his backing band, maybe). So this isn’t just post-punk, it’s ass-pummeling Goth. And then in another late twist, they bring the songwriting to the fore in “I Don’t Know How You Do It” and closer “Love Reaches Out,” but with no loss of heft. Likely APTBS’ best yet. A-

Don Julian and the Larks, Super Slick (Real Gone) Originally released on the Money label in 1974, this set, original copies of which are quite expensive, mingles a handful of solid soul-R&B-pop covers (Bread’s “Make it With You,” Al Wilson’s “Show and Tell,” a sweet version of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination,” the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”) with an equal number of Julian originals that were intended for a Blaxploitation film, Shorty the Pimp, that reportedly only exists in a rough cut print currently owned by Quentin Tarantino. Maybe one day he’ll release the fucking thing. The song “Shorty the Pimp” is so on-the-nose that it actually kinda sounds like it could’ve been written for a movie shot in the 1990s about the making of a lost Blaxploitation movie. Not that I have any doubt that the story of the song’s origins is true, as Julian & the Larks actually did score Savage!, a Black action flick released in 1973 that was funded and distributed by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. Super Slick hangs together much better than reasonable expectations would have it. B+

The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Summer at Land’s End (Slumberland) This project, one songwriting vehicle amongst a few for San Francisco-based Glenn Donaldson, received a stream of accolades last year for the album Uncommon Weather, which came out in April. Now here’s its follow-up, and it’s likely to get the positivity flowing once again, as the tidy 11-track album hits the sweet spot at the intersection of indie pop and pop auteur. There’s a undeniable air of the sophisticated swirling around a few of Donaldson’s songs, and he can also jangle up a storm in spots, but mostly, he blends the erudite and the catchy into an approach that’s splendidly non-retrograde. Donaldson’s drawn comparisons to Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities (the title track here, which stretches out to seven minutes, has a gentle psych quality that subtly reinforces the association) and F.M. Cornog of East River Pipe (not in lyrical content but rather in how Donaldson gets the most out of programmed rhythms in an pleasingly understated way, which continues here) but also, Sarah Records (“Pour the Light In,” especially). A-

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