Monthly Archives: December 2010

Mike Watt Launches 3rd Rock Opera

 

Previously available only in Japan, it
arrives early next year Stateside.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Erstwhile
Minutemen bassist/current Stooges bassist/solo artist/collaboratist Mike Watt
has announced that he’ll be releasing his third opera, Hyphenated-Man  worldwide in
both physical and digital formats early in the new year on his newly formed Clenchedwrench
label. It follows 1997’s Contemplating
the Engine Room
and 2004’s The
SecondMan’s Next Stand.

 

Previously it
was only available in Japan
on the Parabolica label.  Art is above/ tracklisting,
below.

 

This release
will be followed by a series of collaborative recording projects Watt’s
participated in the past year – stay tuned.

 

Meanwhile his recent collaboration with Nels Cline, Yuka
Honda and Dougie Bowne called Floored By
Four
picked up great press notices this year, including the following
review at BLURT
:

 

On break from his
near-now-permanent tenure with The Stooges, Pedro-punk’s most steadfast
soldier/bassist Mike Watt, along with guitarist Nels Cline (ditto in regard to
his stay in Wilco), keyboardist Yuka Honda (late of Cibo Matto) and drummer
Dougie Bowne (the ultimate Downtown avant-garde session rhythmatist) make with
the atonal jazz-soul noise and roll with furious funk.

 

 Four songs singularly named and
composed by the bassist for each of the quartet’s members, the Floored By Four
started as Watt’s “New York
project,” and wound up as a testament to their shared love of Krautrock,
Captain Beefheart and latter-day Miles Davis, with some Stax stuff thrown in as
a good luck rabbit’s (good) foot. Add to the grueling groove and the simmering
avant-soul the stop-and-start complexity of four improvisational-ists at the
top of their games and you get the stammer of “Yuka,” the cackle of
“Watt” and the absolutely epic skronk of “Dougie.” Ouch.

 

Tracklist:

01 Arrow-Pierced-Egg-Man
02 Beak-Holding-Letter-Man
03 Hammering-Castle-Bird-Man
04 Bird-in-the-Helmet-Man
05 Belly-Stabbed-Man
06 Stuffed-in-the-Drum-Man
07 Baby-Cradling-Tree-Man
08 Hollowed-Out-Man
09 Finger-Pointing-Man
10 Own-Horn-Blowing-Man
11 Fryingpan-Man
12 Head-and-Feet-Only-Man
13 Shield-Shouldered-Man
14 Cherry-Head-Lover-Man
15 Mouse-Headed-Man
16 Antlered-Man
17 Pinned-to-the-Table-Man
18 Confused-Parts-Man
19 Bell-Rung-Man
20 Boot-Wearing-Fish-Man
21 Thistle-Headed-Man
22 Funnel-Capped-Man
23 Blowing-It-Out-Both-Ends-Man
24 Jug-Footed-Man
25 Lute-and-Dagger-Man
26 Mockery-Robed-Man
27 Hill-Man
28 Hell-Building-Man
29 Man-Shitting-Man
30 Wheel-Bound-Man

 

Rarities From TX Psych Kings Space Opera

 

Unreleased material from the Fort Worth band’s
seventies heyday.

 

By Blurt
Staff

 

Possibly one of the most underrated
music groups to emerge from Fort Worth, Texas
is the legendary Space Opera, whose music has been described as “serious,
complex, satisfying music, blending rock, folk, jazz and classical influences
to achieve their distinctive sound”. Much to the delight of Space Opera fans
worldwide, ItsAboutMusic.com has released on CD ‘Safe At Home’; 9 rare unreleased recordings from the early ’70s,
around the time the band was recording their first album. Also included in this
definitive Space Opera collectors item are 6 unreleased gems from 1975, 1977 and 1978 as well as liner notes
from founding band member David Bullock. (Details, song samples here.)

 

The backstory:

 

Space Opera was
forged in the Texas
summer heat of 1969 by David Bullock, Scott Fraser, Philip White, and Brett
Wilson. Already, their young lives had been a history played out on roadhouse
bandstands and in the coffeehouses and ballrooms of Texas. They had worked as studio sidemen in
exchange for long hours spent arranging and recording their own songs at
producer T-Bone Burnett’s studio in Fort
Worth.

 

Space Opera’s first
major appearance was at the legendary Texas International Pop Festival. They
refined their unique style during years of touring Texas and the eastern seaboard, headlining
shows and opening for such groups as The Byrds, Jethro Tull, Johnny Winter, and
Jefferson Airplane. The band’s sound was defined by the dense counterpoint of
chiming electric 12-strings, crisp, subtle percussion, and choir-like vocals.

 

“Our sound by this time was a blues-infused,
spacey, folk rock that juxtaposed lightly structured songs and long
improvisational pieces”, David Bullock recently explained.

 

“Space Opera,” an album produced by the band at Manta Sound
in Toronto, was
released in 1973 by Epic Records. Rock critic and author Ritchie York called
the album “incredibly outstanding, deliriously brilliant.” The group
lived and worked in New York, Canada and Texas during the 1970s and ’80s, often
augmenting their live sound with symphonic instruments.

 

A music journalist
once observed that Space Opera had arrived at “an early, undeserved
obscurity.” Describing the band’s music, he wrote, “They don’t just write
songs, they compose miniature symphonies, three-to-five-minute pieces that
combine musical elements that would seem to have no place in rock.”

 

Over the years the
musicians disbanded and regrouped as they saw fit. In 1997 Space Opera played a
‘reunion’ concert at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth. New and old songs were woven
together in a suite-like concert that music writer Dave Ferman of the Fort
Worth Star-Telegram found “…musically stunning. Moving from mood to mood
and using subtle shadings of 12-string guitars, oboe and accordion… Space
Opera lived up to its legend and pointed the way to a fresh new start.”

 

Today, Space Opera
continues to record and perform, creating music that is uniquely its own for
the entertainment of a small but devoted audience.

 

 

Listen: Have Some Zamrock For Xmas!

Diggin’ some rare, er,
crate-diggin’ tunes from Zambia,
Africa, from the ‘70s. Song samples, below.

 

By Ron Hart

 

One of the
great lost movements of modern African music finally gains time in the
stateside spotlight in the form of two excellent reissues from Stones Throw
archivist subsidiary Now-Again and the great German psych reissue label Shadoks
Music.

 

Until
recently, the storied Zamrock scene of the mid-to-late 1970s was only prevalent
within the parameters of the nation from which it derived – the Republic of
Zambia, a copper-producing country landlocked by the unsteady climates
surrounding them in Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania and
Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south and
Angola to the west. The country was also rife with poverty and the
then-gestating AIDS pandemic that plagued the lives of several of Zamrock’s
founding fathers.

 

These dire straits did not make many of the albums
released within the harsh confines of Zambia
all that accessible beyond the few ex-pats who brought their record collections
to Europe and the United
States, where they migrated. Eventually,
though, word got out about this fuzzy, freaky fusion of reverberating, wah-wah
drenched electric rock, which the musicians had heard on Western pop albums
from Jimi Hendrix, Santana and the Jefferson Airplane that were bootlegged into
the country, not to mention being influenced by the high energy funk brought
forth on James Brown’s legendary 1971 tour of Zambia. Additionally steeped in
the indigenous polyrhythms of the music along the Congo plus traditional Zambian
folk, the sound of Zamrock became a sonic delicacy highly sought-after among
the globe’s most serious break hunters.

 

 

And there is no doubt that the time is indeed nigh for
this rediscovery spurred by the crate diggers at Stones Throw/Now-Again. Dark Sunrise is a two-CD anthology of
the scene’s first breakout star, guitar wizard Rikki Ililonga, and his band
Musi-O-Tunya. Housed in a beautiful, hardbound book-style package and featuring
a scholarly essay on the evolution of the Zamrock revolution in the extensive
liner notes, Dark Sunrise gathers together
on the first disc Musi-O-Tunya’s 1975 debut album Wings of Africa with a cache of super hard-to-find 7-inch singles
that date back to early 1973, while the second CD houses Ililonga’s two solo
albums, 1975’s Zambia and 1976’s Sunshine Love, which are more rooted in
the bandleader’s affinities for the songwriting styles of Loaded-era Lou Reed and Taj Mahal back when he played with Ry
Cooder.

 

 

Then you have Witch,
an acronym for “we intend to cause havoc”, who closely followed in the
footsteps of Musi-O-Tunya on the Zamrock scene. Hot on the heels of the reissue
of Witch’s 1975 masterpiece, Lazy Bones!! (released on QDK Media/Shadoks
earlier this year), Introduction (also on QDK Media/Shadoks),  from a miniscule run originally issued on a
local private press in 1973, is an equally essential document on the influence
of psychedelia on the Zambian music scene. You get a stoned soul safari
punctuated by wild, effects-laden guitar sprawls, scratchy freakbeat organs and
early, stones-flavored electric r&b harmonics, and on songs like “You
Better Know” and “See Your Mama” you feel as though you are hearing lost sides
from a volume of the Pebbles series more than music derived from Africa.

 

If you are
looking to get into Zamrock for the very first time, there are no two better
places to start than this pair of southern African sound diamonds.

 

 

A Christmas Gift from Bradford Cox

Five versions of a new
Atlas Sound tune for free Download. Now that’s a very Christmassy image, above.

 

By Fred Mills

 

A little less than a month ago, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound
mainman Bradford Cox was super-busy recording and posting collections of demos
to his blog – four volumes’ worth of what he called Bedroom Databank. Then for some reason Sony Music deleted the files
from the web, prompting Cox to re-post them – and eventually somebody at Sony
realized a goof had been committed. (Read about all this here.)

 

Now we learn (thanks, Pitchfork) that Cox has just posted
five versions of a holiday song to the Deerhunter blog. Titled “Artificial
Snow,” it’s being billed as an Atlas Sound composition and the main version of
the tune is scheduled to appear on a forthcoming compilation.

 

Writes Cox, at the blog, “Work tapes for a song I
made for my roommate David’s annual Christmas compilation. Lockett also made a
song, as well as David and Colin’s band Hollow Stars and a bunch of other rad
people. I think David is releasing it in the next few days.” 

 

Head over to the Deerhunter blog and click on the “download”
button to nab the five tracks.

 

Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest album is part of
BLURT’s Top 50 Albums of 2010, incidentally – it came in at #3. For the full
list, go here.

 

 

Goddam Europeans! New PJ Harvey Video

“Last Living Rose”
will be on 2011 album. View the clip, below.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

With
the music biz still abuzz over the recent news about PJ Harvey’s forthcoming
album Let England Shake (Feb. 15,
Vagrant; teaser track here), we’ve now got another sweet advance taste – a video for the album track “Last
Living Rose.” The track features Harvey
on vocals, guitar and sax, John Parish on drums, guitar and trombone, and Mick
Harvey on drums and organ.

 

It
was directed by award-winning photographer  Seamus Murphy, who has directed a series of
videos to accompany all 12 songs on ‘Let England Shake’. The 12 videos will
feature still and moving images from a 5,000 mile road-trip Murphy undertook
around England.
He has worked similarly with still photography on journeys through America and Russia.

 

Inspired
and developed from themes in Harvey’s
new album, the films were made in the manner of classic photographic
reportage – recording real & spontaneous situations. They make up a visual
diary of Murphy’s journey, travelling light and alone, and his attempt to
document England
and the English.

 

Murphy
has mixed his observations on England
with images from his work in Afghanistan,
Iraq and the Middle East –
places Polly refers to in her depiction of England.  The film soundtrack,
the studio recording of the album ‘Let England Shake’, is mixed at times
with footage and audio Murphy captured of Harvey in rehearsal and in performance. In
addition some of the album lyrics were given a voice by people he encountered
on his journey.

 

“The Last Living
Rose” Lyrics

Goddam’ Europeans!

Take me back to England

& the grey, damp
filthiness of ages,

fog rolling down behind
the mountains,

& on the graveyards,
and dead sea-captains.

 

Let me walk through the
stinking alleys

to the music of drunken
beatings,

past the Thames River,
glistening like gold

hastily sold for nothing.

 

Let me watch night fall
on the river,

the moon rise up and turn
to silver,

the sky move,

the ocean shimmer,

the hedge shake,

the last living rose
quiver.
 

 

 

Let Us All Praise Thin Lizzy!

Someone you love
deserves some Lynott for Christmas: Decca/Universal does the boys from Ireland right
on three choice reissues.

 

By
Jason Ferguson

The
other day, I was sitting around watching some Thin Lizzy videos with my kids –
you know, bonding – and upon learning
that the band was Irish, my oldest boy proclaimed “Really? They don’t
sound Irish.” Now, I’m fairly proud he didn’t say “they don’t look Irish” after gazing upon the
browned lankiness that was Phil Lynott, and that he was more surprised that
hits like “The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Jailbreak” could
have come from anywhere other than the USA, 
but I really wondered what he thought an Irish rock band *should* sound
like. U2? The Clancy Brothers?

 

The
answer – or at least one of the answers – can be found on the first few Thin
Lizzy albums, especially the band’s self-titled debut. Before Lynott and the
band had fully embraced their potent rock ‘n’ roll power, there was a
considerable bit of identity experimentation, and on 1971’s Thin Lizzy (6 out of 10 stars), it’s
interesting to hear the band that, in just a few years, would be roaring
through a Bob Seger cover on the way to chart success, diddling about on a
track like “The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle.”

 

Lynott
would weave Celtic themes throughout his lyrics during most of Thin Lizzy’s
existence, but on these first three albums – the band sounds quite a bit like
“an Irish band,” albeit one that’s working toward a distinctly
Americanized sound notably devoid of those very lyrical themes. Eventually,
Lynott gets there, and by 1973’s Vagabonds
of the Western World
(8 stars) Thin Lizzy is beginning to resemble the band
that is so well-known, with cuts like “The Rocker” and one of
Lynott’s several near-creepy tunes, “Little Girl in Bloom” (one of
the others, “Sarah,” is on Shades
of a Blue Orphanage
, 7 stars, from ‘72).

 

These
deluxe edition reissues are quite overdue, yet they do not disappoint.  The remastering job is more than welcome,
adding a depth long missing from previous CD editions, but it’s the bonus
material that’s the real prize. The first two albums are nearly doubled in
length with singles (yes, “Whiskey in the Jar” is on Shades), EPs, outtakes, and alternate
versions, while Vagabonds adds ten
bonus tracks and an entire disc’s worth of BBC sessions; of those sessions, a
five-track concert from 1973 is a highlight.  
Also worth noting: several of the singles featured as bonus tracks on Vagabonds are some of Gary Moore’s first
appearances with Thin Lizzy.

 

 

 


Read: Ken Sharp’s John Lennon Book

 

Best last-minute shopping gift idea: Starting Over: The Making of John Lennon and Yoko
Ono’s Double Fantasy, recently published
by VH1 Books/Gallery Books.

 

By Rick Allen

There’s something to be said
good and bad for each Beatle’s solo catalogue. Ringo Starr had a bunch of hit
singles that were pretty good and his last few albums though unfairly ignored
haven’t been bad. George Harrison put out several albums that were all
listenable at the very least, and his first one, “All Things Must
Pass”
was
spectacular. As far as sales are concerned, Paul McCartney comes out on top. But
while “Ram” is better in retrospect
than it seemed on release and “Band On
The Run”
has great moments, he has never really released a great album as a
“solo” artist or with Wings (though the Fireman stuff from the last two decades
is very, very good).

 

John Lennon’s post-Beatles
albums have run the gamut, from tediously self-indulgent (all the
“experimental” stuff, i.e. “Two Virgins”) to uneven and occasionally inspired (“Walls
And Bridges”; “Mind Games”)
to outstanding (“Live Peace In Toronto;”
“Imagine”)
to the mind-blowingly original and truly great “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.”

 

“Double Fantasy” was the last album Lennon was involved in from beginning to release.
Its best cuts, like the posthumous hit (“Just Like) Starting Over,” hint at a
return to Beatles era quality; not quite an attainment of those heights, but a
solid step toward them. Yoko’s tunes were her best and most accessible up to
that time even though most would have preferred a full album of Lennon songs.
The material on the album reflected where Lennon’s life and thoughts were at
the time, which was at a point of relative calm after an often tragic and
insecure childhood leading to a tumultuous adulthood that, successful as it may
have been for him on a professional level, was still one filled with tumult,
personal insecurity and tragedy, and the pressure of having to deal with
reaching an unprecedented level of superstardom before his mid-twenties.

 

By the time of “Double Fantasy” the man who wrote
“Help” and “Yer Blues” and “Nowhere Man” had found a life-saving portion of
inner peace, so its no wonder that, as is true of so many great artists, his
state of mind and soul was reflected in his work. Sure, “Watching The Wheels”
reflected a sort of contented inertia. But after being abandoned (and later
somewhat exploited) by his father, the tragic early death of his loving but mostly
absent mother and of the beloved uncle/surrogate father who provided him (along
with his Aunt Mimi) the only true and constant domestic security he had ever
known (besides that which he drew from being in his now dissembled band), the
man deserved to lay back and enjoy the bliss of kith and kin.

 

And he was well within
historical context and his artistic rights and to make that contentment a main
source of creative inspiration. Only the most jaded sourpuss could find fault
with “Beautiful Boy,” though in Ken Sharp’s book Starting Over: The Making Of John And Yoko’s Double Fantasy (VH1Books/Gallery
Books) one rock critic says he felt rock and roll artists have no business
writing about their children; apparently Chuck Berry’s” Memphis” passed by this
guy completely. But the opinions revisited and revised are the least important
and most dismissable part of a very fine volume of reminiscences of the people
involved in the making of the album.

 

Sharp’s book is made up of
the answer portions of new interviews with Yoko Ono and all the musicians,
producers, engineers etc. who contributed to the record, along with relevant existing
quotes from Lennon. Whatever your opinion of “Double Fantasy”, the book itself is a very worthwhile read thanks
to Sharp’s own self-effacing discipline as a writer/editor and his ability to
stay focused on the subject; he keeps his own comments to a bare minimum and
lets the participants tell their own stories of their part in what was, to a
person, the experience of their professional lives.

 

 

Unlike most of the books
written about (or by) any of the Beatles, this one deals with Lennon as a
musician and the respect these fellow players had for him as one of them. The
book also gives a window into Lennon’s creative and recording process and
relays the uniformly high impression the musicians and technical crew had of
him as a consummate studio professional who was not just able to make
well-considered decisions but who was also open to new ideas no matter the source.
Sharp has put together a captivating portrait of Lennon as a working musician
addressing that most important and too often overlooked side of one of the most
important musicians of the 20th century – and beyond.

 

 

Wilco Announces 2nd Solid Sound Fest

 

This year: June 24-26.
Details tba.

 

By Fred Mills

 

Okay, summer festivalgoers, feeling all sad about that tan
having finally faded? Cheer up, then, and mark your calendars for June 24, 25
and 26: that’s when Wilco will host their second – and let’s hope, annual from
now on – Solid Sound festival.

 

As with the 2010 edition (August 13-15), it’ll take place at
MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA. The official announcement containing
initial lineup details and ticket info will be made at the SS website on
Jan. 18.

 

You can see an exclusive photo gallery from this year’s
event elsewhere on the Blurt site. Artists included Wilco and all the Wilco members’ side
projects (Glenn Kotche’s On Fillmore, The Nels Cline Singers, The Autumn Defense
featuring John Stirratt and Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen’s Pronto), plus
such artists as Mavis Staples, the Baseball Project, Avi Buffalo, Vetiver, Sir
Richard Bishop, the Books and Mountain Man.

 

[Photo
credit: Oliver Scott Snure]

 

Let’s Talk Us Some Bob Dylan

 

“How Bob intended it from the start”: contemplating The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 (The
Bootleg Series Vol. 9) and The
Original Mono Recordings box, both
recently issued by Columbia.

 

By A.D. Amorosi

It’s Dylan. Cut to the
chase. The forty seven songs on Bootleg
Series, Vol. 9
come from his initial publishing contracts with Leeds Music
and M. Witmark & Sons. Fifteen of those songs have never been heard
anywhere within the Dylan canon while the rest are either impressive rough
takes on later heard classics (some more abbreviated than others) or alternate
versions of songs sung blue. There’s a lot to be said of the poetry behind
Dylan’s poetry or how these were the beginnings of Dylan’s own bible in
opposition to the folk classicism he headed to New York City to be a greater part of. Oddly
enough, for a set of publishing houses, no one said much regarding the fact
that many of Dylan’s earliest cataloged works were merely his words atop of old
folkies. Maybe no cared. It’s hard to dis someone who by the age of 24 was
coming up with prophetic ironic works like “Long Time Gone”:

If I can’t help somebody
With a word or song,
If I can’t show somebody
That they’re travellin’ wrong
But I know I ain’t no prophet,
An’ I ain’t no prophet’s son,
I’m just a long time a comin,
An’ I’ll be a long time gone.

 

The highlights amongst the
more familiar tunes are numerous and unforgettable: a fuzzy piano-only version
of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the spare but playful take on “Talkin’
John Birch Paranoid Blues,” the hurt recitation of “Mama, You’ve Been
on My Mind” – to start with – are so blindingly bold and different from
the studio versions we’ve come to know that they seem alien save for their
lyrics.

 

 

The songs we’ve not known
of? Other than the biting “Long Time Gone,” the giddy “I’d Hate to Be You
on That Dreadful Day” is but a bit more clowny than the relationship blues
of “All Over You.” While “The Death of Emmett Till” makes
no bones about its cursed subject or its character study in a way that makes
its menace unforgettable, the song behind the words of “Farewell” is one of Dylan’s
most refined and memorable – then and now. Then again, even fragments such as “Man
On The Street” or the ice dry demo of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” have
the ability to haunt – so there’s a lot of intense and lingering memorable
stuff going on in The Witmark Demos.

 

 

The nine discs of Dylan’s Mono are way more fun that the
monophonic box that was last year’s Beatles collection. There are cardboard and
inside paper sleeves copies of the original album jacket art that reproduces everything
from lyrics to the (now) kitschy advertising of its initial release (“The
Sound of Songs… Stereo… Bands… Jazz… Dancing… Fun… on Columbia
Records”). There’s an overly serious Greil Marcus piece, lots of data and
never-before seen photos and, the bonus disc, a copy of Bob Dylan In Concert Brandeis University 1963 – a solid gig marked
mostly by the open air echo on Dylan’s reedy voice.

 

Mostly though, this box
offers the simple un-compressed, non-stereo sound of how Dylan records sounded
upon release, a sound probably forgotten in comparison to the audiophiles
dedicated to mixing twitches of a George Martin. Without left/right channels
and voice/instrument splitting, Bringing
It All Back Home
is more shambling and densely rockist than its stereo
version, with The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan more nuanced and rich. The latter in particular – for some of us, those first albums
were nearly a sonic tossoff, a prelude to the rustic bumptious Bringing It. But the Mono forces us to reconsider the luster
of The Times They Are A-Changin’ and
the twitchiness of cuts such as “With God on Our Side” “Boots of Spanish
Leather” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” While little things like
Dylan’s Bob’s clicks and asides are winning, it’s the musicianship of Mono that means the most – the clarity
and warmth of the guitars on “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Leopard
Skin Pillbox Hat;” the kick of the rhythm section in “You Go Your Way
and I’ll Go Mine.” Another Side might
seem a bit reedy and some of the harmonica throughout seems to have been pushed
to the fore. But if that’s how Bob intended it from the start, at the very
least the Mono box brings it all back
home – happily.

 

[Ed. note: the live Brandeis disc is also available with the Witmark Demos for an extremely limited time at Amazon.com. Get it while you can.]

 

 

Listen: New Bright Eyes Teaser

 

“Shell Games” comes
from The People’s Key.

 

By Fred Mills

 

Below you’ll see the link to get an advance MP3, “Shell
Games,” from the upcoming Bright Eyes album. Just click on the link and follow
instructions. As noted previously, The
People’s Key
is due Feb. 15 from Saddle Creek and will be followed by a
tour starting in March. Head over to the Saddle Creek website for details on
preordering, the various limited edition packages that will be available, etc.
Artwork is above.

 

Get: “Shell Game”