Author Archives: Fred Mills

Fred Mills: Recent 45 Reviews (and some not-so recent..)

Ed. note: We dig vinyl here at the BLURT temple of wax. And we dig it no matter the size. A number of singles have been turning up in the post of late, so who are we to complain? Here’s the lowdown…

FEEDERZ – WWHD (What Would Hitler Do?) 7”

Slope / www.sloperecords.com

Two slices of searing guitars and political screeds.

The Bay Area-Phoenix punk connection has always been symbiotic, and this 7” platter by Arizona’s Feederz neatly bridges the temporal divide between the early ‘80s and now: guitarist/vocalist Frank Discussion is joined not only by early member Clear Bob on bass, but also by drummer DH Peligro—yes, THAT DH Peligro, from the Dead Kennedys, San Fran legends who befriended the Feederz as early as 1981 then the band appeared on Alternative Tentacles compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans.

As produced by the Meat Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood, WWHD serves up a twin-pack of pure outrage and sonic scree. Side A, “Stealing,” boasts a sinewy, fuzzed-out riff, a metronomic rhythm, and Discussion’s edgy vocal sneers, growls, and grunts as he mounts a call to arms for citizens to rise up and take to the streets: “Tonight we’re settin’ the world on fire.” And “Sabotage” makes explicit Discussion’s attitude to the current Republican administration – as if the sleeve art depicting a scowling Trump as Hitler didn’t already tip you off – with a snarling challenge set against a staccato, almost Wire-like minimalist funk-punk backing:

Time to put this country out of our misery…
You wanna fuck with Mexicans, you wanna fuck with blacks,
You wanna fuck with all o us? Then you better watch your own fucking backs.
We’ll be taking down your empire
And turning it into a bonfire.”

Clearly this band is, as the saying goes, “fired up.”

The single, incidentally, is pressed on beautiful orange vinyl—perhaps the same color as a certain politician’s hair and spray-on tan? Included is an inner sleeve with complete lyrics and a photo of the band wielding automatic weaponry. Best take them seriously.

THE SWEET THINGS – “Love To Leave” 7”

Spaghetty Town / https://www.facebook.com/SpaghettyTown/

More cowbell! Dolls/Stones acolytes know their sonic debauchery…

They could only be from Noo Yawk—East Village denizens The Sweet Things serve up a twinpack of Dolls, Stones, Hanoi Rocks, G ‘n’ R, and the like. Weaned on punk, subsequently smitten by glam, all scarves, mascara, and a serious Jack Daniels habit.

The fiery foursome kicks off their latest 7” single—grab it on hot pink or midnight black vinyl, collectors— with “Love To Leave,” all power riffs, sleazy slide leads, pounding ivories, and clanking cowbell. (But of course.)

Flip for the sensitively titled “Cocaine Asslicker Blues,” and no, it’s not a GG Allin cover. Instead, think Johnny Thunders backed by the original Alice Cooper band. You’ll fill in the cowbell parts mentally. Some things just continue to be revived as each new generation consults the classics. God bless The Sweet Things for diving wholeheartedly in. Sweet!

BALKANS-PEDRO FOUR-WAY – 4-song 7” EP

ORG Music / www.orgmusic.com

Garage pop and funk punk from the Mike Watt extended family.

The curious band name owes to the fact that the four bands on this 7” EP hail from  Zagreb, Skopje, Belgrade, and San Pedro, CA—the latter, of course, being Mike Watt’s home base. (You may have heard of him.) It’s a stellar slab of wax at that.

Thee Melomen kick things off with a spot-on slice of guitar-organ garage that bears worthy overtones of earlier European garage avatars the Nomads and the Watermelon Men. Up next is Vasko Atanasoski serving up a minimalist bit of pop-funk—the funk being supplied by Watt on Bass—not unlike recent material by distaff rockers Warpaint. Flip the platter—you remember how to do that, right?—and the stereo spews forth with a kind of Beefheartian blues-skronk take on Watt’s song “No One,” courtesy Disciplin a Kitschme. And Watt and his Secondmen themselves maintain that mood for “Do Not,” which was penned by fellow bassist Koya, from DaK, turning the dial up to “hectic” in true Watt fashion.

The EP arrived for this year’s Record Store Day, incidentally, limited to 1800 copies and pressed on both green and black vinyl—the two colors were inserted randomly in sleeves, so you basically flip the coin when you break the wrapper

THIGH MASTER – “B.B.C.” (7” 45)

12XU / www.12xu.net

Power pop riffage takes a Pavement-esque distorto detour, Australian stylee.

Hoo-boy, don’t even try Googling this band unless you still cling to adolescent fantasies of Suzanne Somers (that’ll date you). Instead, direct your jizz in the direction of the Brisbane (Australia) outfit’s Stateside label, which will kindly provide you with a Soundcloud link to the group’s latest A side. It is, indeed, the sonic equivalent of—as the band’s bio assures us—“a lost Flying Nun band.”

Now, I don’t expect anyone reading this, other than my partner-in-Oz (and BLURT blogger) Tim “Dagger” Hinely to fully dig that ref. So perhaps I should laud the Oz outfit’s masterful deconstruction of twinkly power pop riffage, in which they overlay distorto-rumble stylings and Pavement-esque rhythmic ruminations, ultimately emerging with a tune that, verily, defines Indie Rock 2017. (Or maybe 1987, take your pick.) But that would be saying a mouthful, and life is short.

Once upon a time, Amerindie labels would take a chance on Down Under artists, damn the quarterly reports. The golden era of 1985-95 (or thereabouts) passed long ago, however. Perhaps with folks like 12XU and In The Red stepping into the commercial fray anew, other labels will pick up the baton.

FITS OF HAIL – Belmore 7” 45

Sound of the Sea / www.soundofthesea.com

The Upshot: Velvets-esque folk rock and choogling drone, with a distinctive Clevo vibe, and on colored wax to boot.

This utterly gorgeous—sonically and visually—splatter-colored vinyl 7” comprises a pair of must-hear tracks, along with a bonus digital tune should the consumer opt for the CD or download versions. If you are a regular reader of BLURT, you no doubt already know which format we strongly recommend. It’s by Cleveland quartet Fits of Hail, the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Chris Anderson, who did the bulk of work on the previous two FoH releases, and is now joined by bassist Alan Grandy, guitarist Mike Reilly, and drummer John Kalman. Together, they make a moody-yet-joyful noise of an irresistible earworm quality.

Main track “Clutter” has a kind of low-key, subtly choogling Velvets vibe, a folk-rockish drone ‘n’ chime emitted from the guitars and Anderson’s yearning vocal powering the narrative. Flip the single, though, and be prepared for, as the saying goes, something completely different: “Came Through the Change” has a brash—in places almost ground-zero, late ‘70s NYC punk—vibe, all tumbling percussion and fuzztone riffs spliced by Verlaine/Lloyd-style fretboard strafing.

It’s only one man’s vote, but allow me to just state for the record: Fits of Hail. Long-player. Now.

You are welcome to head over to their Bandcamp page where the three Belmore tracks can be downloaded for a ridiculously affordable price. Once you do, though, I predict you’ll find yourself coveting the aforementioned color-wax physical artifact, so surf on over to the label website and order away.

BORZOI – Surrender the Farm  7” EP

12XU / www.12xu.net

Australian noize-rock that will have you camping out at the Ticketmaster office.

Are they from Melbourne, Australia, or recent transplants laying seed in Austin, Texas? Considering the sheer brazen, brutal (but serene to we tinnitus-afflicted music fans) racket this trio makes, it’s a moot point. On this four-songer, Borzoi sings of flak jackets, millipedes, Florida, Skoal chaw, and existential dread (of the latter topic, I’m not certain, but work with me). It’s kind of like fellow Oz-ites feedtime, if feedtime’s members were reincarnated as glue-sniffing teens, recorded all their material live, and then processed the resulting tapes through a CB microphone.

I’m sorry if most of you have no idea what a CB is.

There’s something remarkably energizing about this band, the kind of “energizing” that one dares not attempt to put the proverbial journalistic finger on. If records, in 2017, are supposed to be groups’ calling cards for tempting the public to spring for tickets and tees, consider this Oz aficionado “sold.” Where do we queue up?

 

 

SCHIZOPHONICS – Ooga Booga 10” EP

Pig Baby / www.pigbabyrecords.com

The Upshot: With a sound hearkening back to the MC5’s Motor City ramalama, the San Diego trio unapologetically kicks out da… you know.

Ooga booga, indeed. San Diego’s Schizophonics—the unholy spawn of Roky Erickson, Sky Saxon, and Rob Tyner—serve up a sonic scorched-earth policy guaranteed to singe even your nether hairs. I mean, seriously, folks, the music on this EP erupts from the grooves with such primal velocity, you can practically see a hologram of guitarist Pat Beers in full stage-leaping flight hovering over the turntable. (Check these photos at their website for confirmation.) The trio has been around since 2009, built around the nucleus of Pat and Lety Beers, plus bassist Brian Reilly, and has a couple of 7”ers to their credit, on Munster and Ugly Things, so you know that’s a TMOQ.  Ooga Booga seriously ups the ante, with nary a throwaway or B-side among the five tracks here.

From the outset they serve due notice: “Ooga Booga Boogalo” commences with a brace of klassic Kinks-style riffage and a Kick Out The Jams-esque arrangement (hence the aforementioned Rob Tyner namecheck). That’s followed by the riotous rumble of “Electric,” powered by sinewy, fuzzed out leads and Pat’s extemporaneous grunts and whoops. Flip the platter and get caught in the “Rat Trap,” another Nuggets-esque garage rockin’ gem of vintage Yardbirds aplomb. “Two Thousand Seventeen,” with its Keith Moon-worthy percussion and dark chordage, contemplates our contemporary era of reverse evolution to signpost the annum  in much the same way the Stooges marked the year of 1969.  The band wraps things up with “Venus Transit,” another slab of MC5 ramalama, all chaos and convulsion with a take-no-prisoners ethos.

Whew. Six successive spins of the rec, and I’m exhausted. Partially deaf as well. If this band tours anywhere near you, don’t miss it. But make sure you don your flame-proof pants before entering the club….

Consumer note: The EP is pressed on electric orange 10” vinyl, and each of the 1,000 copies pressed comes in a hand-numbered sleeve. It’s like getting Record Store Day early, so what are you waiting for, punters?

SOMERSET MEADOWS – We Will Rock 7″ EP
Self-released / https://somersetmeadows.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: The New Wave of the late ‘70s meets the alterna-nation of the early ‘90s.

Hey kids, nostalgic for the early/mid ‘90s? Me neither! The members of Portland’s Somerset Meadows clearly remember the era, but they’re smart enough not to emulate it despite having sonic overtones of Guided By Voices—which they preemptively state on their bio—as well as other indie/garage/lo-fi outfits such as the Grifters, Sebadoh, and the Mountain Goats. Like those avatars, SM have a knack for penning tuneful, hooky pop nuggets marked by careening guitars, riotous, Keith Moon-like drumming, and yowling vocals.

Lead track on this four-song EP (the follow-up to mini-album Time and Relative Dimensions in Sound) is “She Is Waiting,” a slice of revved-up British Invasion filtered through a Hold Steady lens, while the 1 ½-minute “Time to Shine” adds some surf-y riffage to the mix reminiscent of vintage Blondie. Hold that thought: this band wouldn’t have been out of place in new wave Manhattan, holding court in dives like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and going for broke in front of a leather jacketed crowd night after night. All four songs here inhabit that rock ‘n’ roll fairytale universe, and luckily enough, for us the setting is 2017.

This limited-edition (250 copies), hand-numbered vinyl platter may or may not be sold out by now, but even if it is, you can preview it at the Somerset Meadows Bandcamp page and buy it digitally.

MINT TRIP – “Ghosts” 7″ (colored vinyl)
Blue Elan / www.blueelan.com

The Upshot: Sultry, sexy, danceable trip hop, pop and soul.

L.A. 2 guy/1 gal trio Mint Trip swirls and skitters in a mélange of pop, soul, and electronica that suggests a summit between classicists Saint Etienne and trip hoppers Portishead. For this vinyl 7” debut—comprising three songs from the five-track Books digital EP—the focus is squarely on sultry singer Amy Gionfriddo, originally from St. Leonard, MD, as graceful as a lioness, and blessed with the kind of supple pipes that could find a niche no matter the genre; indeed, the band’s “soul” component is decidedly jazz-infused. Amy is joined by L.A. native Brian Gross and Cary, NC, guitarist Max Molander. The three met at the University of Miami prior to landing in Los Angeles.

“Ghosts” is elegance personified, powered by a purposeful bass bumps and synth pulses, and of course that ethereal voice. Flip the platter over for “By The Sea” and “Virga,” the former a hypnotic, ethereal pop ballad; the latter, a luminous, gospellish slice of chilled-out soul. Point of fact, you can hear these tracks and additional two at the band’s Soundcloud page (“Canvas” is particularly compelling), so you have no excuse for not immersing yourself in Mint Trip’s sweet, hummable, danceable music.

Bonus points for the gorgeous turquoise vinyl, too. A download card is included that will net you all five songs.

PETER HOLSAPPLE – “Don’t Mention the War” 45

Hawthorne Curve  / http://halfpearblog.blogspot.com/

The Upshot: Against richly melodic backdrops, the dB’s member offers up character studies of poetic intent. Oh, and by the way: Support the home team, folks.

Despite being one of North Carolina’s most prolific and respected songwriters, Winston-Salem ex-pat (and current Durham resident) Peter Holsapple actually hasn’t released that much under his own name. There was early 45 “Big Black Truck,” a primal slab of psychobilly punk garage, released in 1978 at the tail end of his stint with the H-Bombs and serving as a segue into his lengthy tenure with the dB’s; a limited edition Australian-only cassette titled Live Melbourne 1989, which documented a solo radio station session; 1997’s gorgeous Out Of My Way CD; and let us not overlook his 1991 collaboration with dB’s songwriting foil, Chris Stamey, nicely titled Angels, and the an accompanying handful of Stamey-Holsapple singles.

Longtime Holsapple watchers, of course, know simply to scour record credits if they want to unearth a wealth of Holsapple material, from the dB’s albums and EPs (include, in this tally, the Chris Stamey & Friends Christmas Time album) and his work with the Continental Drifters, to the very early Rittenhouse Square album and the (possibly apocryphal) Great Lost H-Bombs Double EP 10”—not to mention a number of online-only tracks he’s slipped into the digital realm on occasion.

All of which is to say, a new Peter Holsapple record makes for a special event, one which we fans don’t take lightly. The fact that the new item is a mere two-songer potentially allows each track the kind of proper consideration that might’ve been elusive if placed in the context of a full album. The A-side, “Don’t Mention the War,” finds Holsapple joined by Mark Simonson from the Old Ceremony on drums and acoustic guitar and James Wallace (Phil Cook’s band) on piano and drums, plus tuba textures courtesy Mark Daumen. Holsapple handles guitars and organ while spinning a 6 ½ minute tale in which the narrator observes and comments upon a beloved uncle’s return home and subsequent battle with PTSD (“he sweats and he shouts and he turns white as a sheet… he opens his eyes, he’s still seeing the dead… he hasn’t picked up a guitar in nearly three years, I can scarcely recognize the same man”). Midway through the song the drum pattern turns overtly martial, underscoring the implicit tension in what’s otherwise a richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.

Meanwhile, “Cinderella Style” has a gentle, nocturnal vibe primarily wrought by Holsapple’s acoustic guitar, bass, and organ, with Simonson adding delicate touches of vibraphone and Skylar Gudasz contributing flute flourishes. “Love can mend a dress,” he sings, going on to describe the creation of a physical garment of calico, gabardine, satin, silk, and velveteen while hinting at the metaphorical implications of the act. The tune is relatively brief, deliberately restrained, and perfectly poetic in its imagery.

Holsapple recently told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays. Fair enough. I think he’s underselling himself, however. All that music mentioned at the top of this review (not to mention his contributions to other artists’ work, such as R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish) comes stamped with the Tarheel TMOQ, so I have no doubt whatsoever that we fellow North Carolinians would be first in line for a Kickstarter-type campaign and any resulting record store product. People vote with their wallets, after all.

And while I’m loathe to invoke any electoral notions considering what we’ve all gone through recently… could I nominate Peter Holsapple for Minister of Music? Poobah of Power Pop? Raconteur of Rock? Hmmm…. why the hell not?

THE YOUNG SINCLAIRS – You Know Where to Find Me 7” EP

Planting Seeds / www.plantingseedsrecords.com

The Upshot: Jangle pop as timeless and classy as it comes

Though this 4-songer came out a few years ago, I’m only just now discovering the Virginia Beach/Roanoke area band. And it’s well worth backtracking to hear the record—it may be long gone by now, but you can year it at their Bandcamp page—particularly since this is the kind of timeless and classy jangle pop we aficionados live for.

All four songs are stellar, in particular the title song, which could be a Shake Some Action-era Flamin’ Groovies outtake. “Ear to the Ground” is another must-hear, a slice of British Invasion thump with a sleek, tremolo-powered guitar riff to die for.

The aforementioned Bandcamp page would suggest that the Young Sinclairs are incredibly prolific, and they’ve been particularly fond of the 7” format. Fellow collectors, your course is clear…

HEATHER WOODS BRODERICK & BENJAMIN SWETT – Home Winds (Book + 7” 45)

Planthouse Gallery / www.planthouse.net

The Upshot: An environmental elegy, and an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus, and revelation. 

While it’s a given that more than a few culture vultures have hopped onto the #vinylresurgence bandwagon (Taylor Swift, anyone?), eschewing relevance for trendiness, and the accompanying misguided “cool” factor, some entries have come along that not only defy that assumption, they transcend it so beautifully that you almost assume they were beamed down from another dimension or era.

Such is the case with the printed/recorded artifact at hand. Home Winds is, on the one hand, a 7” vinyl single by songwriter Heather Woods Broderick, offering up a haunting environmental elegy, a shimmery, pulsing song for the trees. “Do I truly recall your face from when it was young,” sings Broderick, in a hushed, partly quivering voice, recalling at times Sandy Denny, adding gospel touches on the chorus, and musing upon a permanent image of a tree, as if it were a beloved family member, possibly no longer with us. “Or from a photo I’ve seen, on the wall on which it was hung,” she adds, acknowledging that memories are tricky, and how they can somehow be replaced, due to the passing of time, by a photograph that survives and reinforces itself via repeated viewings. (The B-side, “Shoreline,” is similarly low-key, its lilt no less engaging and ethereal.)

She’s joined, visually, by photographer Benjamin Swett, who set out to document Gladstone, New Jersey’s Home Winds Farm, a parcel that has been protected via the New Jersey Farmland Protection Program, for its owners, who also operate Planthouse Gallery. Swett’s mandate here is to create permanent portraits of the many trees—many of them huge or otherwise so broad and expansive that they can dominate an entire two-page spread in a book such as this—dotting the farm. Pink-blossomed spring arbors alternate with snow-spackled wintry residents, as well as the sturdy green boys of summer, and the yellow, orange, and crimson citizens of autumn. The result is a permanent record of nature as it cycles through its annual beauty.

Contributing to the project is journalist Elleree Erdos, who provides historical context as well as an insightful analysis of the nuances that Swett’s images bring to the fore. Ultimately, Home Winds is like an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus and revelation.

That the participants opted to present the music not on CD or a mere link to a digital file, but a 45rpm record housed in a lovely full-color, thick cardboard picture sleeve—yes, adorned with Swett’s trees—additionally speaks to the care taken in the presentation of Home Winds. It’s a subtle, personal touch that counts for a lot in certain quarters (such as mine).

Additional note: Go to Planthouse.net to view a video for Home Winds, created by Jeffrey Rowles. Below, watch the promo video for the book/45, followed by a live clip of Broderick from late last year. The exhibition dates at Planthouse Gallery will be April 28 through June 20, with the reception being held on April 28 from 6PM to 8PM.

 BONUS BEATS: A FEW OLDER REVIEWS

Deniz Tek – “Crossroads” b/w “Oh Well” 7″ (2014)

Career/ www.careerrecords.com

No, not that “Crossroads,” although l’il Robby Johnson would still approve; instead, it’s an original from the Radio Birdman geetarzan, and a smokin’ slab of straight up garage slop it be. But yes, that “Oh Well”—specifically, the hi-nrg raveup Pt. 1 of the Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac classic, and I’d reckon that it puts to shame pretty much every other version of you’ve heard over the years with the exception of the original. Pressed on lurid purple wax, and hats off to the Career label (co-helmed by Tek and his buddy Ron Sanchez, of Donovan’s Brain) for their subtle appropriation of the old Atlantic Records promo logo for their label art.

Freak Motif – “Killin’ Me” b/w “Killin’ Me (instrumental)” 7″ (2014)
KEPT / www.kept-records.com

The latest in Kept’s so-far-unblemished series of funk-centric wax finds eight-piece Canadian combo Freak Motif getting’ gritty with a slice of JB’s-inspired fonk, heavy on the trancelike groove while a blazing horn section takes everything to the bank. Or the bridge, if you insist. The instro version of “Killin’ Me” has swagger a-plenty, but when guest vocalist Lady C takes the mic on the A-side things get saucier and sexier by the bar. Hell yeah.

 

Peter Buck- Opium Drivel EP  7″ (2014)
Mississippi / www.mississippirecords.com

Following up his latest solo album (as well as last year’s Planet Of The Apes single, that-guy-who-useta-be-in-some-famous-band teams up, once again, with Scott McCaughey and several partners-in-crime for a 4-songer. Just the pounding Charlie Pickett & the Eggs cover alone (“If This Is Love…”) is worth the price of admission, but you also don’t wanna miss the fuzz-garagey “Portrait Of A Sorry Man” for the series of inside-joke lyrical bon mots (among them: “I’m sorry I invented indie rock… the whole thing started out so well, how was I to know?”). A pair of uncharacteristic acoustic aces on the flip, notably the strummy/jangly “Welcome to the Party,” join the aforementioned joker and king, giving Mr. Buck a pretty strong hand in this game.

 

Graham Day & the Forefathers – “Love Me Lies” b/w “30-60-90” 7″ (2013)
State/Sandgate Sound /  www.staterecs.com

This garage-shocking power trio comprises gents who’ve served time in The Prisoners, the Prime Movers, the Solarflares, the James Taylor Quartet and Billy Childish’s Buff Medways, so with that kind of collective resume you’d be right in presuming some jams will be kicked out. “Love Me Lies” revisits an old Prisoners tune in glorious metal hues lined with careening riffs and wah-wah squiggles. Even better is the organ/guitar powered hi-octane R&B instro flip hailing from the pen of one Willie Mitchell (who originally wrote it for the Get Carter soundtrack). (—Fred Mills)

 

Insurgence DC – “True to Life” b/w “Man in Black” 7″ (2013)
Crooked Beat /  www.crookedbeat.com

Based in the nation’s capitol and with Triangle (N.C.) roots, Insurgence plays old school punk with the kind of vim ‘n’ vigor long associated with the punk scenes of those two locales. Indeed, bassist Bill Daly’s lead vocal on the blazing “True to Life” has the type of rabble-rousing anthemism (“Get it out/ Stir it up/ Shout it out now!”) that we’re sorely missing these days (the Occupy movement could’ve used an adrenalin shot of Insurgence). Meanwhile, “Man in Black” marries a rebel-rock message to a twangy riff and a cowpunk thump; you’d be hard pressed not to put your pogo boots on and get to scootin’ when this tune cues up. Available on both black and super-limited yellow vinyl, wax fans.

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: 6 New Releases

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Motéma Music, Mack Avenue, Hot Club, Intuition, One Note and Challenge. [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

Gerald Clayton – Tributary Tales (Motéma Music)

Clayton (album cover pictured above) has an impressive family pedigree in music, but his own career deserves serious attention. As Musical director of the Monterey Jazz Festival, Clayton rubs elbows with some of the biggest names in jazz. But the pianist’s work holds up – and quite often towers above – that of many of his contemporaries. Tributary Tales is his fourth album as bandleader, and his first for hip label Motéma. Folding in influences from well outside jazz, on Tributary Tales Clayton creates modern jazz for the 21st century. Walking a fine line between ear candy and abstract, Clayton manages to have it both ways: he is music is adventurous and accessible at once. (Music is here.)

Kevin Eubanks – East West Time Line (Mack Avenue)

Eubanks’ 15-year tenure as Music Director of the house band for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno was a two-edged sword: one one hand, it raised the guitarist’s profile unusually high in the mainstream world for a jazz musician, and afforded him untold opportunities to interact with his musical peers (and lesser musicians) in front of a large and varied audience. But it also gave him at least a bit of a whiff of commercialism, a quality that is often fatal in the rarefied and somewhat insular world of jazz. On East West Time Line, Eubanks embraces that reality, crafting an album divided into two pieces (which can be thought of as A- and B- sides, he readily acknowledges). The first is a set of tasty original tracks cut in New York City; listen for Dave Holland on bass. The second is a set of standards (covers, favorites, whatever) recorded in California. Both build upon his Wes Montgomery influences, and both extend beyond those into something that’s – happily, as he’s earned it – Eubanks’ own bag. (Music is here.)

Hot Club of San Francisco – John Paul George & Django (Hot Club)

Prewar jazz manouche is not this reviewer’s favored substyle in the genre; too often its modern-day exponents betray a lack of imagination; despite opportunities for improvisation, in the hands of far too many current artists relies on rote licks. Against that backdrop, John Paul George & Django stands out like the brightest star. Not only is the basic concept a solid one – it builds upon the old saw that a great song is a great song no matter how it’s recast – but Hot Club reinvent the music of the Beatles in clever ways. If the goal of a jazz reading of someone else’s song is to make it one’s own, to take it where it hasn’t already gone, then this album is an unqualified success. Some of the songs are nearly unrecognizable – Abbey Road‘s “Because,” for example – but that’s fine. Hot Club is both true to the inner light (so to speak) of the originals while embossing the songs with their own brand of originality. Bravo. And bonus points for both the decision to release on vinyl and for commissioning some very clever cover art. (Music is here.)

Günter Baby Sommer – Le Piccole Cose (Intuition)

In the right circumstances, jazz can indeed rock. And it needn’t be fusion to do so. Case in point is Sommer’s latest album. The 73-year-old German drummer swings as he leads a quartet through seven songs that evoke the uptempo, boundary-pushing yet traditional vibe of Art Blakey and His Jazz Messengers. There’s a very playful mindset at work here, as evidenced by the off vocalisms which Sommer employs throughout “Inside Outside Shout”: the tune has as much in common with late 1960s Frank Zappa (Lumpy Gravy and Uncle Meat era) as it does with more conventional jazz traditions. Even the subtler tracks (the aptly-titled “Mellow Mood,” for example) have an adventurous spirit that rewards close listening. The band’s makeup (drums, alto sax and clarinet, trumpet and flugelhorn, bass) is just unusual enough to be interesting on its own; the music takes things to another level. (Music is here.)

Melvin Sparks – Live at Nectar’s (One Note Records)

This one’s not so much jazz as it is soul/r&b/boogaloo. Modern-day fans of bands like The New Mastersounds, Soulive and other current purveyors of the timeless style owe it to themselves to seek out this tasty live date featuring veteran rhythm guitarist Sparks with a stellar band. The guitarist cedes the soloing to his band mates, but he shows can be done within the context of so-called “rhythm” guitar playing. Live at Nectar’s is greasy, sweaty, emotion-filled, high octane instrumental music of the highest order. And the recording also represents one of the last performances by Sparks before his untimely death at age 64 in 2011. (Speaking of New Mastersounds, Eddie Roberts produced and mixed the sessions for release.) (Music is here.)

Trichotomy – Known-Unknown (Challenge Records)

The disc’s cover art may suggest that Known-Unknown is going to be a collection of outré progressive jazz, full of atonalities and skronk. Alas, no: Trichotomy is a relatively straightforward piano/bass/drums trio, albeit one that incorporates electronics into its sonic palette. At least that’s what the back cover tells us. In practice, electronics are far from the defining characteristic of this album. It’s a fine collection of impressionistic and evocative jazz instrumentals, but the trio’s use of electronics is fairly subdued; were one not to read otherwise, one might come away form a listen to Known-Unknown thinking it’s a wholly acoustic album. And while there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that – especially when it’s done as well as it is here – the electronics angle is more than a bit oversold. (Listen to the band live here.)

 

Fred Mills: Misogyny Mea Culpa in a Trumpian New Order

This is one man’s brain on offensive stereotypes, patriarchal entitlement, and reflexive ignorance. Time to make amends, and a pledge. Any questions?

By Fred Mills

Ed. note: The graphic I selected, above, is not intended to be humorous or ironic, so please don’t regard it that way. It was a bit difficult to arrive at an illustration that I felt was appropriate to the dialogue that follows, so I hope it will at least be viewed as relevant. If you agree, pass it along.

 No excuses: I fucked up supremely a week and a half ago, and I deeply regret it. I made an off-hand “joke” on Twitter that relied on a misogynist trope. The comment I made – since deleted; I announced I had done so in the interest of transparency – equated women with prizes to be won by men instead of full human beings in their own right. I know better. At least I thought I did. What I said was deeply offensive in any context, and for that I want to apologize to every woman, not simply to those I know (who rightfully asked WTF I was I thinking). I also want to apologize to men for perpetrating this stereotype amongst ourselves, because we have clearly reached a point where trying to pass off comments like that as “just” guy talk or locker room talk is not only ignorant, it is offensive in and of itself. And I want to apologize to LGBTQ and non-binary people because I see you and you matter; my joke erased your humanity too.

There’s no way to rationalize it or excuse my way out of it. I can see now, as some have pointed out, that my initial apologies were made from a place of defensiveness and woefully inadequate. (There’s an earlier post of mine, from the other weekend on the BLURT Facebook page, where you can read those comments and the subsequent responses.) I’m going to own my mistake.

This lengthy post is my attempt at a proper, more complete apology and my promise to be (and to do) better moving forward. I’m not here to make the conversation about me. But since women don’t have the option of avoiding misogyny, I can’t either. Especially when I’m guilty of perpetrating it.

That’s the truly frightening thing: how blithely I made the original Twitter post and in the process invoked a sexist idea and used misogynist term — in short: I didn’t even think about it. It was so reflexive, such a common shorthand, the fact that it is offensive didn’t even occur to me. And in that moment I confirmed my membership in this giant sprawling frathouse. Guys, think about how often you “don’t even think about it.” It might prove scary to you as well.

With that single, decidedly unfunny joke, I placed myself in league with a pervasive mindset I have previously claimed to hate, and I did so at a moment in time (post-November 8th) when sexists have been given a renewed license to roam and offend, and when women are marginalized and rightly enraged at this inequity of power. I didn’t think before I tweeted. But since then, I’ve discussed this with a lot of people, and it’s given me an opportunity to think and to get some genuine insight into how others – on both sides of the equation – think, and what goes into that thinking.

There have been some tough realizations, not the least of which involves confronting the fact that I didn’t know better. It never occurred to me that I might be part of this systemic patriarchy problem. I’ve always considered myself an egalitarian, one of the good guys who could be depended upon to know and to do the right thing – “doing the right thing,” even if swims against the tide I’m in, is how I was raised and how I’m trying to raise my own son. But in this instance I instead became “one of the good ol’ boys”.

I realize that talk is cheap, and apologies are just words, meaningless unless backed up by action. My challenge is not just to pledge to never let something like this happen again and to set a good example — for my son, my male peers, the readers, and more. It’s also to teach myself to recognize this toxic patriarchal mindset when I see it; to actively challenge it and call folks out on it rather than just coast along and accept it as “the way things are”; and to provide my unconditional support for everyone who find themselves being… I’m not quite sure what word I’m reaching for here… hurt, offended, repressed, patronized, abused, maybe? Those all work, somewhat, but I need to find a term more holistic and all-encompassing. My inability to express it properly here tells me that there’s a lot of growing up that’s gotta happen first. It’s the duty of those of us who are privileged to remove our own blinders.

I’ve spent a lot of time this week listening to the criticism I received for my poorly chosen words, and as I said, talking to friends about what lessons I can learn, and contemplating how to do better, and I want to share two observations in particular that struck a nerve.

The other day, after a lengthy exchange with a friend about all this, I was in my car while listening to a weekend repeat of “Fresh Air” on NPR. Terry Gross’ guest this episode was female lexicographer Kory Stamper and she was talking about the immense power of words, both positive and negative. What timing. This hit home, and hard. I’m a writer, I’m supposed to know that. I thought I did know that. But my actions had just proven otherwise. That’s a personal standard that I let fall by the wayside. In the future I will keep reminding myself of the importance of choosing my words carefully, and appropriately for the context — not to mention knowing when not to say anything in the first place.

Secondly, this past week I have also reflected a great deal on the recent Women’s March and the feelings of pride and inspiration the resistance it launched has evoked in me. The Women’s March stirred up the same passions that I felt decades ago as a young man attending Vietnam War protests. I was empowered and righteous fighting for change, fighting to make my voice heard, fighting to stand up for what’s right. I’m still committed to standing up for what’s right and I want to be the change, as they say.

There is a new intersectional resistance movement taking place in our culture right now, led by women, POC, and those less privileged than me. They insist on being heard and they are righteous. Once again, I’m reminded of what it felt like, during the Vietnam era, to be part of a resistance movement. Moving forward, I want to do my part amplify their voices rather than echo the sexist tropes of times past. I’m going to think before I speak. Sometimes I’m just going to listen instead of speaking.

I am on the side of equality and progress, but the devil is in the details. It’s one thing to believe these things; it’s altogether another thing to execute them in my daily interactions, to monitor what I say and do and not perpetuate or feed the mindset discussed above.

I might not always get it right, but systemic change starts with individual change – that’s a notion that my parents also instilled in me that I intend to pass on to the next generation. I intend to pull my weight, do my part to make things improve, and not just sit on the sidelines silently cheering the resistance on (another trap that, having blinders on, is very easy to fall into). To any of the men who read this, I’m sharing all the foregoing not simply to apologize, but to encourage you to do the same – I invite them to join me.

Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT magazine and Blurtonline.com.

Michael Toland: Rockin’ Is Ma Business Pt. 3

ht_edu

And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, and HERE for Pt. 2. Above: No, that’s not the Runaways ya dummy – it’s Heavy Tiger, gettin’ ready for some heavy pettin’. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

Wyldlife-Digital-Cover

Wyldlife smartly has a boot in two camps. Based in NYC, the band has a firm grounding in the glammy proto punk and roughhewn power pop that emanated from its city back in the ‘70s. When it came time to record its second full-length, however, the group decamped to Atlanta, home of rising pop & roll saviors Biters and their brethren, and the joie de vivre of recording in a sympathetic environment certainly makes its impression. Out On Your Block (Wicked Cool) doesn’t so much veer from one stylistic variation to another so much as cram them together, powering the singalong choruses of “Keepsake” and “Bandita” with the reckless energy of a Mercer Arts Center freakout. The band zooms through the tracks like its members mistook amphetamines for sugar pills in their morning coffee, but never sound out of control – tight but loose in the grand rock & roll tradition. Sounding for all the world like a mind meld of the New York Dolls and the Plimsouls, Out On Your Block reeks with the pure joy of taking smartly crafted tunes and making a big-ass racket.

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Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes apply similar makeup to their boyish faces on their debut LP All Anxious, All the Time (Rum Bar). As leader of the long-gone Dimestore Haloes, frontguy Charles Matthews has a long history of banging out tuneful constructions with bullshit-free flair, and he continues his good work on pleasure-button mashing popsters “Get Low,” “Big Dumb Town” and “My Little Twin.” Maine-to-Spain transplant Kurt Baker adds a bit of Detroit power and L.A. flash to a similar recipe on Shot Through the Heart(Rum Bar), the first full-length from Bullet Proof Lovers. That doesn’t mean power pop hero Baker (joined here by various Spanish r’n’r luminaries) has suddenly gone hard ‘n’ heavy, but it does give “On Overdrive” and “Heart of Stone” a fist-pumping, lighter-waving rush and “All I Want” and “Take It or Leave It” a punky, street rock attack. Unusually for bands like this, the second half of the record is actually stronger than the first.

Heavy Tiger - Glitter - Artwork

With a sly grin and blazing attack, power trio Heavy Tiger blasts out of Stockholm with Glitter (Wild Kingdom). The colorful hooks of ‘70s glam rock entwine with the no-nonsense charge of mid-’70s hard rock, before being violated by late ‘70s punk. Riding Maja Linn’s gritty vocals (not unlike Muffs’ leader Kim Shattuck’s) as much as the big-ass guitars, “I Go For the Cheap Ones” and “Feline Feeling” deliver an irresistible opening one-two punch. But the band keeps the hits a-comin’, whether it’s more burning rockers like “Keeper of the Flame,” rousing glam rock like “Devil May Care” (written for the band by the Ark’s Ola Soma) or loud power pop a la “Starshaped Badge and Gun Shy.” The glitter in the album’s title dusts denim vests and ripped jeans.

ENUFF ZNUFF cl COVER HI

Back in the bad old days of the late ‘80s, glammed-up quartet Enuff Z’nuff got shoved into the hair metal ghetto, which might’ve been fine had the band gotten the same hits and success as its West Coast peers. (Indeed, it’s an association the band has never shunned.) Unlike its mousse-abused pals, though, the Chicago band fell more heavily on the Cheap Trick and Sweet side of the pop metal street than on the Aerosmith/Starz side. Clowns Lounge (Frontiers) has a few squealing guitar solos, but otherwise leans on vocal harmonies, glittery melodies and big power pop hooks. “Rockabye Dreamland” resembles Jellyfish more than Def Leppard, while “Back in Time” and “Radio” sound more like homeboys Urge Overkill than Aerosmith. It hearkens back to the band’s first couple of albums, which is no surprise, given that it consists of songs reworked from the days before EZ’s 1989 debut LP. That means most of the songs feature original vocalist Donnie Vie, which will set OG fans’ rods a-twirl. Then there’s “The Devil of Shakespeare,” which features, as guests, late Warrant singer Jani Lane, Styx guitarist James Young and – as a ringer? – 20/20 co-leader Ron Flynt. Go figure.

Connectioncover

Covers collections usually denote a lack of new material on an artist’s part, regardless of the official line. That said, the Connection has been awfully prolific the past few years and can be forgiven if the urge to hit the studio overtook the effort to write new songs. On Just For Fun! (Rum Bar), the Boston boppers bash through a batch of obvious influences (the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls,” Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “I Can Read Between the Lines,” Dave Edmunds’ “Other Guys Girls”) and left-fielders (George Thorogood’s “Get a Haircut,” the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver,” “Streets of Baltimore,” the Harlan Howard song recorded by Bobby Bare and Gram Parsons). The band’s reverence for pre-21st century pop reaches its effervescent apex on a faithfully executed take on Syl Sylvain’s timeless “Teenage News,” its ‘billy and bubblegum delirium right in the Connection’s wheelhouse. A stone hoot, Just For Fun! lives up to its title.

JigsawSeenftDC_CD_COVER_3000

The Jigsaw Seen draw from many of the same ‘60s and ‘70s touchstones as the Connection, though they’re filtered through such a personal vision that the L.A. act has always sounded unmoored from time itself. That applies even to For the Discriminating Completist (Burger), a collection of singles, EP tracks and alternate mixes of tunes from across the band’s nearly 30-year career. Echoes of the Who, the Creation, the Kinks and the Move resound, but on “Jim is the Devil,” “My Name is Tom” and “Celebrity Interview,” the Seen always sounds most like itself. That applies even to covers of the Bee Gees, Love, Henry Mancini and the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett standard “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Stoneage Hearts

The Stoneage Hearts take many of those same influences and beat them with a Nuggets stick, as found on Turn On With (Off the Hip), a reissue of the band’s 2002 debut. The Australian trio’s sugar ‘n’ spice mix of grinning power pop and rough-hewn R&B-flavored garage rock cuts any hint of crap in order to get down to the business of hooks, harmonies and tunes as good as “So Glad (That You’re Gone)” and “Stranded On a Dateless Night.”

LittleMurderscover

Australia’s Little Murders have prowled the Melbourne underground for nearly 30 years in various incarnations. The product of the longest-lived version, Hi-Fab! (Off the Hip) distills the quintet’s virtues – simple melodies, ragged harmonies, a nice mix of jangle and crunch – in 33 minutes of power pop rush. Still led by plainspoken singer/songwriter Rob Griffiths, the Murders sound comfortable and confident on the sprightly “She’s the Real Thing,” sweet “Merry Go Round” and driving “Out of Time.”

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Perth’s Manikins predated Little Murders, evolving out of the Cheap Nasties, one of Australia’s first punk outfits. (The Nasties also gave us international treasure Kim Salmon of the Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon and Surrealists fame.) From Broadway to Blazes (Manufactured Recordings) collects the band’s entire oeuvre, from demos to singles to self-released cassettes, on two slabs of vinyl, and it’s ninety minutes of power pop perfection. The quartet deftly beats the hell out of melodic sweetness like Bruce Lee fighting a cheerleader, making the winsome “Love at Second Sight” (in two versions), the raw “Street Treat,” the brittle “Losing Touch” and the blazing “Girl Friday” sharp lessons in how to do it right. Melbourne’s Baudelaires keep the Australian garage rock wave flowing with Musk Hill (Off the Hip), a psychedelicized take on three chords and a bunch of youthful angst. Alternating thumping rockers like “Scrapbooker” and “Foxglove” with trippier concoctions like “Whet Denim” and “Snapper Steve” (not to mention a quick dip into the surf music pool with “Life’s Too Short For Longboards”), the young quartet puts the roll back in psych rock.

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Manufactured has also taken it upon itself to rescue a couple more early power pop outfits from obscurity. Smart Remarks may have been the house band at the infamous City Gardens in the early ‘80s, but that was as far as the trio’s notoriety ever got. Too bad – the single and EP sides collected on Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 (Manufactured Recordings) are a delight for fans of the form. The band’s new wavey guitar pop reaches catchy potency on the sparkling “Falling Apart (As It Seems)” and “Mary’s Got Her Eye On Me.” New Jersey’s Modulators hail from the same time period, but let ‘60s/’70s roots like the Hollies and the Raspberries show through any new wave colorization on Tomorrow’s Coming (Manufactured Recordings). That 1984 platter was the trio’s sole LP, but here it’s augmented with a ton of demos, singles and unreleased tracks to grow into a 28-track monster of jangly pop glory.

Muffs HBtM

The Muffs’ first two albums are masterclasses on melodipunk, and, while not the runaway successes so many of their peers’ records were, still put the L.A. trio on the map. So what happened with Happy Birthday to Me (Omnivore), the band’s third album? Creatively, nothing – the record is, cut for cut, the Muffs’ strongest, a consistently catchy, beautifully recorded and enthusiastically performed set that should have been the apex of the band’s upward arc. Alas, its then-record company Reprise decided to put their resources elsewhere, and the Muffs were dropped right as the album came out. (Despite this, it has never fallen out of print.) Fortunately, it’s back, all the better to enjoy the spice cake rush of “That Awful Man,” “Outer Space” and “Honeymoon,” the winsome midtempo power pop of “The Best Time Around,” “Keep Holding Me” and “Upside Down,” the 6/8 mania of “All Blue Baby,” the raging snot rock of “Nothing” and the snide country rock (?!) of “Pennywhore.” Plus a rare cover of the Amps’ “Pacer,” a batch of demos and the bandmembers’ informative and entertaining liner notes, including leader Kim Shattuck’s song-by-song commentary.

JHoylesCRLP035_Cover_3000pix

British guitarist John Hoyles has, to generally excellent results, toiled in the fields of Swedish rock, slinging strings for prog/doom outfit Witchcraft, boogieing spinoff Troubled Horse and glam/power rockers Spiders. For his solo LP Night Flight (Crusher), however, takes more inspiration from punk and pub rock, with no-nonsense songs and maximum production clarity. Outside of the acid folk of “In the Garden” and overtly psychedelic title track, tunes like “Talking About You,” “Before I Leave” and “Minefield” rock righteously and unselfconsciously. Bonus: a cover of former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis’ “Police Car” that makes Hoyles’ self-professed love of Stiff Records pretty blatant.

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Mark “Porkchop” Holder did time in both blues punk act Black Diamond Heavies (of which he was a founding member) and in the arms of addiction. Free of both, the singer/slide guitarist returns to his hometown of Chattanooga, TN, for Let It Slide (Alive Naturalsound), a set of rocking blues that could only come from someone who’s lived a life on the underside. As such Holder wastes no time with virtuosity or fancy production – he and his rhythm section just crank it up and get down to business with a clearly articulated focus a lot of cracker blues slingers could use. Holder’s lack of illusions about where he’s been and how he got there power the snarling choogle of “Disappearing” and menacing country rock of “Stranger” as much as his raw bottleneck work, and his plainspoken vocals sell every syllable. Rough-and-tumble rambles through “Stagger Lee” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” also prove Holder knows how irreverently to treat a couple of pieces of well-traveled (read: overused) classics without losing touch with their essential spirit. “I’ve got no one but myself to blame!” he shouts during the titanic “My Black Name,” the song most likely to be his “Jumping Jack Flash.” That lack of sentimentality gives Let It Slide the conviction to put it in a different category than the usual flash blues slop.

Evil Twin

Australia’s Evil Twin also uses the blues as a jumping off point on its debut Broken Blues (Off the Hip). No revivalists, this pair – nor do they pay homage, unintentional or not, to the White Stripes or the Black Keys. Instead guitarist Jared Mattern and drummer Chris Beechey blast off from the music’s 12-bar origins into loud, grungy rock that’s beholden more to bands Dan Auerbach and Jack White don’t listen to – nothing sounds like Zeppelin, in other words. Led more by Mattern’s measured singing than overwhelming instrumental bombast, dirty slide pound like “Look Into My Mind” and the title track, snarling boogie like “Motor City” and soulful power balladry (!) like “Slow Dance” sound fresh and exciting, the way new classic rock should.

POWER LP Jacket

Evil Twin’s country band Power might also argue that the blues is at the heart of its sound, but it’s difficult to tell under the punky crust and general mania on its debut Electric Glitter Boogie (In the Red, though originally released in Australia in 2015; the In The Red LP comes pressed on either red or black vinyl). A deliberate nod to Australia’s legendary hard rock acts Coloured Balls and the Aztecs (names not very familiar to Statesiders, though they might know Aztec leader Billy Thorpe’s later AOR hit “Children of the Sun”), the trio goes over the top with raging riffs, gonzo vocals and an air of barely-contained madness. These boys want to rawk, and when they fire up the wild-eyed boogiepunk of “Slimy’s Chains,” the title track or the band’s eponymous anthem, get with it or get the hell out of the way.

HeathGreencover

Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Heath Green and the Makeshifters holler back to an earlier era, one when British bands like Humble Pie took soul music into harder rock realms than it was logically prepared for. Luckily, the quartet proves itself far less leadfooted than its predecessors on its self-titled debut LP (Alive Naturalsound). Without throwing any accusations of “authenticity” around, it really seems like coming from the American South gives Green a more natural feel for R&B, gospel and the blues, allowing him to fold his pan-seared shout into the Makeshifters’ hard-rocking crash without having to scream to be heard. The fierce pound of “Living On the Good Side,” chunky shuffle of “Secret Sisters” and sanctified soul of “Ain’t Got God” get the balance between tank and testify just right.

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Tom Baker and the Snakes have been one of Boston’s best-kept secrets for a few years now, but with Lookout Tower (Rum Bar), the quintet makes a national splash. Marrying the plainspoken songcraft of heartland rock, the high voltage power of the Motor City and the ramshackle grace of a party-all-night bar band, the Snakes bash out catchy tunes like “High n’ Tight,” “Make It Hurt” and “Needle in the Red” like the Replacements if they’d listened to more classic rock than punk. Three guitars keep the riffs, hooks and jangles churning, and Baker’s ragged-but-oh-so-right voice delivers the exact dose of vulnerable swagger. If you like your rock & roll to worry less about subgenres and more about just getting to the good stuff, Tom Baker is yer man, man.

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The combination of Detroit rock royalty Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman, the Visitors, his various solo bands) and James Williamson (the Stooges, of course) is so fraught with potential it would be almost impossible for it to live up to expectations. On its debut EP Acoustic K.O. (Leopard Lady), the pair neatly sidesteps the ambitions thrust upon them by delivering an acoustic EP of tunes associated with Williamson’s time with Iggy Pop. Tek’s gruff plainspokenness gives “I Need Somebody” and “Penetration” a note of gravitas, and the duo’s take on “No Sense of Crime” pulls out an obscurity that’s right in their wheelhouse. Oddly, though, the highlight is the Tek-less instrumental “Night Theme,” a mothballed tune that scans like the soundtrack to a crime-and-punishment TV show.

***

Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:

 

Tom Baker & the Snakes – Lookout Tower Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/lookout-tower

 

The Baudelaires – Musk Hill Bandcamp:

https://thebaudelaires.bandcamp.com/album/musk-hill

 

Bullet Proof Lovers – Shot Through the Heart Bandcamp:

https://bulletprooflovers.bandcamp.com/album/shot-through-the-heart

 

The Cheap Cassettes – All Anxious, All the Time Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/all-anxious-all-the-time

 

The Connection – Just For Fun:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/just-for-fun

 

Enuff Z’Nuff – “Dog On a Bone”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEQr0axc4lI

 

Evil Twin – Broken Blues Bandcamp:

https://eviltwinrock.bandcamp.com/album/broken-blues

 

Heath Green and the Makeshifters – “Ain’t It a Shame”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo2CELBHB4s

 

Mark Porkchop Holder – “My Black Name”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS6miti9XHA

 

John Hoyles – “Talking About You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_d6jcpFoRk

 

The Jigsaw Seen – “Jim is the Devil”:

https://soundcloud.com/burgerrecords/the-jigsaw-seen-jim-is-the-devil-single-version

 

Little Murders – Hi-Fab! Bandcamp:

https://littlemurders.bandcamp.com/album/hi-fab

 

The Manikins – From Broadway to Blazes Bandcamp:

https://manikinsaustralia.bandcamp.com/album/from-broadway-to-blazes

 

The Modulators – Tomorrow’s Coming Bandcamp:

https://themodulators.bandcamp.com/

 

The Muffs – “Outer Space” (live):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY1vwFdKq5I

 

Power – “Electric Glitter Boogie”:

https://soundcloud.com/powower/electric-glitter-boogie-1

 

Smart Remarks – Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 Bandcamp:

https://smartremarks.bandcamp.com/

 

Deniz Tek & James Williamson – “Penetration”:

https://soundcloud.com/pavement-pr/penetration

 

Wyldlife – “Contraband”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4T9BgwCdxU

 

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: 7 Recent Archival Releases

Darin Mercer

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Omnivore Recordings, Real Gone Music, TCB Music, Resonance Records and Concord Bicycle Music. [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer – Two of a Kind (Omnivore Recordings)

Founded in 2010, Omnivore Recordings is a boutique label that quickly became renowned for its thoughtful and carefully-curated reissues and archival releases; the release schedule of the Grammy-winning label reflects the impeccable taste of its head, industry veteran Cheryl Pawelski. But this project is something of a left-turn, even for the reliably eclectic Omnivore. A 1961 collaboration between one of music’s top vocalists (Darin) and one of its finest songwriters (Mercer), Two of a Kind is a swingin’ big-band affair. The two men are clearly having the time of their lives as they trade vocal lines, backed by an explosive band conducted by the inimitable Billy May. The set list is dizzyingly varied, featuring originals (“Two of a Kind”), show tunes and jazz classics. In its character, Two of a Kind is not far removed from the camaraderie of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby projects, but with a couple of helluva-lot-better singers. Get yourself a bottle of rye, some sweet vermouth; mix up some Manhattans, and sit back and enjoy this seemingly effortless musical summit.

Babs Ellington

Alice Babs & Duke Ellington – Serenade to Sweden (Real Gone Music)

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington wasn’t just one of the 20th century’s most important composers and bandleaders; he was one of the era’s most prolific artists. His big-band work is the best-known part of his catalog, but it represents a mere fraction of his prodigious output. This 1966 album finds Ellington conducting an orchestra while Alice Babs – Sweden’s most popular singer of that era – plays the part of siren. Her ability to tackle the highest notes without betraying the slightest trace of effort is a hallmark of her work, and her deliciously clear vocal enunciation is beguiling. Some of the tunes focus on a smaller instrumental ensemble, while others make full use of the big orchestra. But the focus is always squarely on Babs’ superbly nimble (but never showy) vocals. Until this, its first-ever CD-era reissue, Serenade to Sweden was among the rarest and hard-to-find items in the catalog of either artist; Real Gone Music’s reissue features flawless remastering from Aaron Kannowski, and informative liner notes form jazz authority Scott Yanow.

Rollins Silver

Sonny Rollins Trio & Horace Silver Quartet – Zurich 1959 (TCB Music)

The latest entry in TCB’s “Swiss Radio Days” Jazz Series, Zurich 1959 highlights one set each from Rollins’ trio (with Henry Grimes on bass, and drummer Pete La Roca) and pianist Silver’s quintet (Blue Mitchell on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and the inimitable Louis Hayes on drums), recorded at Radio Studio Zurich on March 5, 1959. The sound is superb – those postwar Europeans demonstrated a keen skill at recording jazz – and it should go without saying that both bands perform beautifully. Rollins’ group turns in lovely, uptempo readings of standard including “I Remember You,” and Rollins’ original tune, “Oleo.” Silver’s quintet is exotic and assured on five originals from its bandleader. All the players are on fire, but Mitchell and Hayes are perhaps even a notch or two above their band mates on this blowing sessions.

Three Sounds

The Three Sounds – Groovin’ Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968 (Resonance Records)

The title of this set is perhaps a tad misleading: while Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and – depending on the track – Bill Dowdy, Kalil Madi or Carl Burnett on drums play with skill, finesse and power, this set leans more toward assured understatement than fiery soul-jazz readings. The Three Sounds were together 1956-73, and these archival recordings date from the middle-period (and arguably creative height) of the group, 1964-68. As was often the case, the trio’s sound was best documented live in front of an audience, and this collection – curated by Zev Feldman, perhaps current day’s most important jazz archivist – is no exception. The interplay between the players borders on the telepathic; the music is at once loose and free yet meticulously arranged. Without a doubt, the highlight of this stellar set is “Blue Genes,” with Harris’ deft piano work at its center.

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Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 1: Sonny Stitt (Omnivore Recordings)

Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 2: Pete Jolly (Omnivore Recordings)

The estate of alto and tenor saxophonist Art Pepper is responsible for bringing these long-unheard recordings back to light. Led by Pepper’s widow Laurie, and working with Omnivore, a series of the man’s sessions are receiving thoughtful reissue in the 21st century. These volumes are perhaps the most intriguing of what’s come out of the project so far: dates recorded in and around 1980, but featuring players from 1950s jazz. Happily, there’s absolutely nothing “80s” about these sessions other than their recording date. Because Pepper was under contract to Atlantic at the time, these recordings – originally issued on the small Atlas label – don’t feature him as official bandleader, but make no mistake: he’s in charge. The Stitt sessions are spread across two discs, and bring together recordings originally released on three separate albums, adding three previously unheard tracks. The Pete Jolly sessions are a single-disc set, and feature two alternate takes of Pepper’s original “Y.I. Blues.” Booklets include not only short essays from Laurie Pepper, but also diagrams depicting the studio instrument setup for the recordings. Both sets are essential for fans of 1950s jazz.

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The Bill Evans Trio – On a Monday Evening (Concord Bicycle Music)

Bill Evans was one of the most distinctive pianists in all of music; his command of the keyboard was such that to the untrained listener, his sound seemed to be that of two different musicians. His left and right hand often seemed to operate completely separate from one another, yet they were always musically connected. The revered pianist was at his best in the context of a trio, and this 1976 recording captures him onstage with drummer Eliot Zigmund and longtime associate Eddie Gomez on upright bass. The monaural recording made at Madison, Wisconsin’s Union Theatre has never been bootlegged, so this vinyl (and CD, and digital) release marks its debut. Typical of an Evans set, the album is a mixture of originals and readings of contemporary tunes. The sound is superb, the performances are flawless, and the vinyl edition is pressed on 180g and comes in a sturdy gatefold sleeve.

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Bill Kopp is the Blurt Jazz Desk editor. You can bug him directly at his most excellent music blog, Musoscribe.

 

 

Tim Hinely: For The Love of Zines! (Pt.6)

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This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.

BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY

Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 5 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which mean that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….

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8-Track Mind (#103.1) It had been a few years since San Franciscan (via Chicago) Russ Forster had slapped together a new ish of 8TM. It’s a half-sized rag that’s 40 pages, but it’s quality over quantity here, folks. This ish goes way back over 20 years where he’s writing about the salad days (“Echoes from the Glory Days” as the cover says). The So Wrong They’re Right tour (from 1995). Yeah, it’s a tour diary and instead of contributors he has a “names dropped” column. Pure genius! Get yours now from russelforster@hotmail.com

The Big Takeover (#79) If editor Jack Rabid hits issue one hundred I wanna be there for that party. Like clockwork, every June and December comes Jack’s long-running mag (not sure how many times I’ve called it “long running” but it’s a lot). This time around it’s Lush (cover stars…and unfortunately already broken up, again) Belly, Luna, The Descendents, Eagulls, Kid Congo (part 2), Cheetah Chrome and lots of more including short takes and a holy ton of reviews. For the real deal you need to subscribe. 146 pages. www.bigtakeover.com

Casting Couch (#5), Miranda Fisher just keeps cranking out her zine, Casting Couch out of her humble abode in Austin, TX. She’s up to her 5th issue and in this one are interviews with Counter Intuits, Wet Ones, Trampoline Team and Rik & the Pigs plus reviews and the usual much She’s even included a few pin ups this issue but I can’t tell you who they are (don’t wana spoil the surprise.All that and more and everything for you, dear reader. . castingcouchzine@gmail.com

Razorcake (#96) This long-running Los Angeles-based punk zine has been at it for a long time now, sorta picking up where Flipside left off. They’re staunchly independent and at $4 per issue you get lots of bang for your buck. This time around is Pedal Strike, Fur Coats, Sharkpact (ok, have not heard of those three band) plus a punks guide to rap music. In additon there’s plenty of columns and a bucketload of reviews too. Subscribe, it’s way worth it (in other words, dive in and don’t come back up unless you really need some air). www.razorcake.org

Ugly Things (#43) Nothing can slow Mike Stax and his staff down on pumping out issues of Ugly Things. And I mean nothing (hey, Mike’s even a dad). He also told me that they are now publishing three times per year (whoah!). In this latest issue are pieces on Crime (!!!!), Bent Wind, Things to Come, The Turtles, Music Machine and more plus reviews of all formats (records, cds, dvds, books etc.) and at 146 pages it equals that of the latest issue of the Big Takeover (see above). Thick. www.ugly-things.com

Vulcher (#2) Yes! Vulcher #2 came out and it rules more heavily than the debut (believe it). Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy are still runing the show here with a mega long list of contributors (including yours truly). It’s a throwback to music mags of the 70’a with all kinda gunk crammed everywhere. Pieces on/by Coley, Meltzer, Bangs, Goner Records, Jan & Dean and way too much more. I said it last time and I’ll say it again, It’s packed to the gills and excellent. Write Eddie for a copy (or die tryin’) at slippytown@gmail.com

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Don’t forget Dagger zine, kids.

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt.666.10

 

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Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the seventh installment in our latest genre study, with Metallica, Opeth (pictured above), Helmet, Sodom, Wretch, Brain Tentacle, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5, here for 666.6, here for 666.7 , here for 666.8 and here for 666.9—if you dare. Incidentally, following the album and band blurbs are links to audio and video, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

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When Metallica releases an album – something that’s become an oddly rare occurrence in the past couple of decades – it’s an event. The San Fran band is such a major player in its genre – arguably the most important act in metal still in full flower – that the quality of the music is almost beside the point. Fortunately, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct (Blackened) finds the nearly 40-year-old band closer to its original mojo than it’s been since the early 90s – maybe even the late 80s. The quartet has made no secret of its desire to revisit the whipcrack thrash it pioneered in the mid-80s – members have filled interviews with assurances of a return to their original sound, and recent shows have relied almost solely on its Reagan-era repertoire. Unsurprisingly for an album with such high expectations, the results are mixed. Much of the record takes the heavier tracks on the massively successful and still controversial Black Album as core inspiration – anyone expecting Master of Puppets II will be disappointed. Plus a lot of the lyrics are seriously dire – the chorus of “Hardwired” (“We’re so fucked/Shit out of luck/Hardwired to self-destruct”) would embarrass a 12-year-old. And James Hetfield’s mighty voice is starting to sound thin on a few tracks – on “Dream No More,” he’s nearly unrecognizable. But when the band locks in on what it does best – the raised-fist power metal of “Atlas, Rise!,” the hatchet prog metal of “Confusion,” the neckbreaking attack of “Spit Out the Bone,” “Moth Into Flame” and even “Hardwired” – with all the power, precision and, most significantly, enthusiasm of their younger selves, all the carping falls away in a haze of headbanging and air guitar. Hardwired…to Self-Destruct may not be the new masterpiece most of us were hoping for, but it’s absolutely the best Metallica record in a quarter of a century. TRACK: Metallica – “Moth Into Flame”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tdKl-gTpZg

 

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Instrumental metal usually takes the form of either prog-like epics or shredfests designed to let the musicians show off. Philadelphia’s Dysrhythmia can certainly be accused of the latter, as the trio is made up of virtuoso technicians who can play nearly anything. But on The Veil of Control (Profound Lore), the band’s eighth LP, guitarist Kevin Hufnagel, bassist Colin Marston and drummer Jeff Eber use their powers for good. Taking cues from jazz in their interplay and punk rock in their elevation of intensity over technique, Dysrhythmia grab hold of riffs that are complex more in feel than in form and don’t let go, driving them to levels of power and tension that takes telepathic reciprocity and a lot of time in the practice space. Anyone looking for insanely complex solos worthy of Guitar Face may need to go elsewhere – Dysrhythmia’s compositional smarts and interwoven musicianship creates a space where solos aren’t needed to make the songs compelling. TRACK: Dysrhythmia – Veil of Control Bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-veil-of-control

 

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More overtly referencing jazz fusion than Dysrhythmia, Animals As Leaders takes similar influences to different places on The Madness of Many (Sumerian), the D.C. trio’s fourth album. Eight-string guitarists Tobin Abasi and Javier Reyes are quite capable of soloing with GIT-soaked abandon, but are more interested in textures than technique. The axemen’s string slashes – which contribute both bass and guitar tones – clash in a way that creates polyrhythms with drummer Matt Garstka, and a subtle funk undercurrent keeps the tracks percolating. TRACK: Animals As Leaders – “Inner Assassins”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEYt2GtfQJk

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Drawing on different inspiration than its fellow trios, Russian Circles eschews solo-happy arrangements and just goes for the jugular on Guidance (Sargent House), the Chicago band’s sixth record. Guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Turncrantz ride a fine line between doom metal and post rock, infusing the soaring dynamics of the latter with the power chord chug and thundering crunch of the former. TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be

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Ottawa quartet The Night Watch adds prog rock sweep to its second record Boundaries (self-released). Guitarist Nathanael Larochette and violinist Evan Runge – both also of equally wordless experimental act Musk Ox – balance power chords and soaring string lines over the course of one 36-minute tune that never loses steam. TRACK: The Night Watch – Boundaries Bandcamp: https://thenightwatch.bandcamp.com/

 

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Veteran Seattle black metal duo Inquisition has endured its fair share of bad press lately, due to accusations of Nazism. (Which seems unlikely, given this decidedly non-Aryan act hails originally from Colombia.) While denying all charges, guitarist/vocalist Dagon and drummer Incubus spit out Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith (Season of Mist). The title alone indicates more interest in high-falutin Luciferian fooferaw than National Socialism, and Dagon’s guttural rumble makes meaning hard to discern in any case. In truth, the band’s passion is for grinding but catchy riffs and blastbeat rhythms that conjure up that most rare of demons in black metal: a groove. (All the more impressive given the lack of bass.) “The Flames of Infinite Blackness Before Creation” and “Through the Divine Spirit of Satan a Glorious Universe is Known” don’t court controversy so much as headbanging glory. TRACK: Inquisition – “Power From the Center of the Cosmic Black Spiral”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C-W3Tq-zgM

 

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Also no stranger to controversy, Norway’s legendary Darkthrone returns with its sixteenth LP Arctic Thunder (Peaceville). Singer/guitarist/bassist Nocturno Culto and drummer/lyricist Fenriz forgo the usual chaotic blast beats for a powerhouse marriage of blackened extreme metal and NWOBHM riffery. “Tundra Leech,” “Boreal Fiends” (which ends with a synth solo!) and “Deep Lae Trespass” sound, a quarter of a century after the band released its first album, less like black metal classicism and more like classic metal. TRACK: Darkthrone – “Tundra Leech”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lwz7gucE7x0

 

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German headbanger vet Sodom also make a big return with Decision Day (Steamhammer/SPV), the trio’s 15th record, released 30 years after its debut. The band’s blackened thrash is as teeth-gnashingly powerful as ever, blazing through ugly anthems “Rolling Thunder,” “Vaginal Born Evil” and “Caligula” with nasty (and faintly ridiculous) intent. What else would you expect from a group whose singer is called Tom Angelripper? TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be

 

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Witchery keep the Satanic vibe rolling on In His Infernal Majesty’s Service (Century Media), the long-running Swedish ensemble’s sixth LP. The quintet has always blended its bloody black metal with other styles (particularly thrash and power metal) for an evil brew that appeals to more than just the corpsepainted crowd. The powerhouse whipcrack of “Netherworld Emperor” sidles up to the blastbeat explosion of “The Burning of Salem,” both of which contrast with the heads-down stampede of “Zoroast” and the straight-up anthemry of “Oath Breaker.” Good headbanging fodder whether you worship Lucifer or not. TRACK: Witchery- “Oath Breaker”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMBynqpUzdE

 

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Norway’s In the Woods… never bothered with all that Satan stuff, finding its eerie weirdness inside its own collective head. Pure (Debemur Morti Productions), the innovative band’s first album in 17 years, keeps the menacing atmosphere of darkness, but skips most of the other BM signifiers. Exchanging blastbeats and vampire-on-crack singing for sweeping minor-key melodies and a gruff baritone, ItW uses its black metal roots as foundation for moody progressive anthems “Blue Oceans (Rise Like a War)” and the massive “Transmission KRS.” TRACK: In the Woods… – “Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY0nBdumDr0

 

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The Gates of Slumber waved the flag for old-fashioned doom metal for over a decade, before the departure and subsequent death of bassist Jason McCash put a period on the end of that sentence. But guitarist/singer Karl Simon isn’t done laying down the thundering riffgroove just yet, picking up exactly where he left off with Wretch, named for TGoS’s final LP. The trio’s self-titled debut (Bad Omen) floweth over with deep sludgy grooves, lava-thick guitar waves and Simon’s plainspokenly gruff ruminations on “Grey Cast Mourning,” “Winter” and “Running Out of Days.” No psychedelic excursions, blackened atmospheres or noise dynamics here – just pure doom done well – better, possibly, than anyone else treading the boards not named Tony Iommi. Check out “Icebound” for a near-perfect encapsulation of everything doom is all about. TRACK: Wretch – s/t Bandcamp: https://badomenrecords.bandcamp.com/album/wretch

 

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Combining progressive rock melodics, death metal aggression and doom crunch, Vancouver’s Anciients blast to life on sophomore LP Voice of the Void (Season of Mist). Alternating carnivorous roars with keening croons, sweeping tunesmithery with thunderous riffology and soaring majesty with grimy brutality, the quartet lifts you up to heaven, only to drag you back through hell, usually within the same song. As such, the band is at its best on longer pieces where it can really flex its considerable muscle – “Worshipper” and “Ibex Eye” are particularly good examples. TRACK: Anciients – “Ibex Eye”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFJaeVS8L00

 

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Veteran Swedes Dark Tranquility skip the doom part of the equation, but aren’t a million miles away from prog metal on eleventh LP Atoma (Century Media). The band’s sense of majestic melody informs tracks like “Neutrality,” “When the World Screams” and “Encircled” – it’s just one clean vocal away from a radio-ready anthem. TRACK: Dark Tranquility – “Forward Momentum”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suhuQlYZwtE

 

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Pioneering avant metal act Neurosis lets enough years go between releases that any new album is a big deal. Fires Within Fires (Neurot), the influential Oakland quintet’s twelfth album and first in four years, serves as a thirtieth anniversary record, and a summing up of the group’s long career to date. Over the course of five long tracks, Neurosis takes a journey through noise and silence, chaos and order, alternating high volume and maximum crunch with delicate beauty and near-ambient intonation. Guitarists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till interweave steely webs of thorny latticework before crashing into wall-shaking thunder; drummer Jason Roeder modulates the dynamics while still keeping to the crunge. Keyboardist Noah Landis and bassist Dave Edwardson fill out the sound without drawing attention. As vocalists, Kelly and Von Till evoke the album title in their performances, calling up a harsh passion undiminished in their three decades around the metal block. “A Shadow Memory” and “Fire is the End Lesson” present masterclasses in how to manipulate sturm und drang without becoming tiresome, while the awesome closing epic “Reach” is a summary of everything that makes Neurosis great. TRACK: Neurosis – Fires Within Fires Bandcamp: https://neurosis.bandcamp.com/album/fires-within-fires

 

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Every time we think NYC alt.metal icon Helmet has finally given up the ghost, we’re proven wrong. Since its reactivation in the early ‘aughts, Page Hamilton likes to take his time between records and tours, so the confusion is understandable. Six years since the underwhelming Seeing Eye Dog, Hamilton and co. return with Dead To the World (earMUSIC), Helmet’s eighth LP. The guitarist’s voice has gotten rougher over the years – indeed, he’s almost unrecognizable to his former mellifluous yet harsh singing self. Otherwise, though, the song remains the same – growling riffs, grungy melodies, noisy guitar breaks, the occasional unusual lick or chord progression to remind us of Hamilton’s jazz training. “Bad News,” “Life or Death” and “Expect the World” likely won’t change the minds of the unconverted, but fans will feel a familiar warm and steely buzz. TRACK: Helmet – “Bad News”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkFMvststF0

 

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On their last album Clean., Whores. seemed just too angry and spiteful to live. But rage can keeps the blood pumping, as on the band’s follow-up Gold. (eOne). The Atlanta trio pummels its riffs with barbwire-wrapped baseball bats, while guitarist Christian Lembach rants and raves about whatever’s pissing him off at the moment. Same old same old, especially in the noise rawk world, but Whores. (spellcheck loves that period!) definitely possess that certain spark that elevates them above mere Unsane clonery. Maybe it’s because, like Unsane, Wrong and the other heads-above distortion mongers, Whores. writes real songs – “Baby Teeth,” “Mental Illness as Mating Ritual” and “Bloody Like the Day You Were Born” would hold up if they were being played by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Fortunately, they’re not. TRACK: Whores. – “Baby Teeth”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqPVISe4jhI

 

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If metal musicians are playing, is the result still metal? Hard to say, given how many active headbangers like to make goth rock, postpunk, prog, noise rock and various electronic and ambient musics. Case in point: Brain Tentacles, the membership of which includes dudes from Municipal Waste, Keelhaul and Yakuza. The trio’s self-titled LP (Relapse) plays smash ‘n’ grab with elements of free jazz, riff punk, noise rock and thrash for a gleefully frenzied tornado of sonic ass-whuppery. Bruce Lamont’s growling sax leads the charge, dragging bass guitar, drums and occasional synth waves and vocal expulsions in its wake with a chain. Four-stringer Aaron Dallison sometimes challenges Lamont and even threatens to win, but ultimately goes back to his corner, while drummer Dave Witte just keeps his head down and bashes away. “Sleestack Lightning,” “Fruitcake” and “The Sadist” are exciting and goofy and overwrought and brilliant all at once. Exactly what you want from a band called Brain Tentacles. TRACK: Brain Tentacles – s/t Bandcamp: https://braintentacles.bandcamp.com/

 

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Opeth hasn’t really been metal in several years at this point, ever since excising its death metal side with 2011’s Heritage. While the Stockholm quintet still hasn’t rediscovered the magic that made Blackwater Park and Watershed so distinctive and compelling, it gets closer with every post-Watershed album, as latest Sorceress (Nuclear Blast) shows. “Era” and “Will O’ the Wisp” mix progressive rock and psychedelia like there’s no difference betwixt them (is there?), while the Middle Eastern melodies of “The Seventh Sojourn” give the album a different flavor. “Chrysalis” and the title track also remind that Opeth still knows how to rock when required. Sorceress is this metal royalty’s best non-metal album so far. TRACK: Opeth – “Sorceress”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhqijfqecvA

 

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Opeth’s countrymen Witchcraft have followed a similar path from headbanging to headscratching, though starting from 70s doom rather than 80s death metal. Time (Nuclear Blast), Witchcraft leader Magnus Pelander’s first solo album, falls even further from the metal tree, its apple rolling off into fields of lite prog and acid folk. Given how stripped down these tracks are – mostly just acoustic guitar and voice – the nearly nine- and ten-minute lengths of “True Colour” and “Precious Swan” seem excessive. But Pelander’s melodic instincts serve him as well here as they do in his main band, keeping him out of trouble. TRACK: Pelander – “The Irony of Man”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXF7Y_QOV5g

 

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Similarly, Sweden never seems to tire of the heavy classic rock groove, as it spits out bands of that ilk like watermelon seeds. Örebros quartet Captain Crimson is the latest to cross over to domestic shores, via its third album Remind (Small Stone). The band sports a fairly traditional (if you can say that about this music) melodic blues rock sound – songs like “Money” and the title track sound familiar even if you’ve never heard them before. But singer Stefan Lillhager boasts a charismatic tenor and guitarist Andreas Eriksson knows when to let riff and when to let rip. “Black Rose” and “Drifting” score big on both counts. TRACK: Captain Crimson – Remind Bandcamp: https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/remind

 

Fred Mills: What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace, Love, and Overstreaming?

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Musicians hate the royalty structure of online streaming services, which are clearly reaping financial rewards while artists are being ripped off; meanwhile, fans, though potentially conflicted, love those services’ ability to deliver tunes, albums, and artists “on demand,” anytime, anyplace. Is there a middle ground?

BY FRED MILLS

Recently I was engaged in an online discussion about streaming music, and as a number of the respondents are musicians, you can imagine how more than a few of them came down on the side of the anti-Spotify crowd because the royalty rates for streaming plays are so miniscule. The discussion grew from quote by Pete Townshend that musician/label person Pat Thomas posted:

“I’m a user of Spotify,” admits Townshend, “so I feel like a complete hypocrite when I say ‘I think the guy that runs it is probably a f*cking crook’. Take me to court. I was reading about some artist who had 450,000 plays and he got a check for [almost nothing]. It doesn’t make any sense.” There’s also a recent article in The Guardian that adds some perspective to this, “Music Streaming Hailed as Industry’s Saviour as Labels Enjoy Profit Surge.”

Comments came fast and furious. Among them:

Steve Wynn: I love it as a music fan, hate it as a musician. But it makes sense to embrace the former over the latter, y’know?

Bill Janovitz: I’m with you Steve. I pay for premium Spotify but would be glad to play at least twice the $10 a month if I knew more was going to the artists. As an artist and an optimist, I subscribe to the notion that there will be more upside from streaming, each spin bringing at least some money, in perpetuity, as opposed to records, CDs, used ones in particular, being bought once. The real truth of the matter is few recording artists made royalties from sales of their records. If we were lucky, we got good enough advances that never recouped. Many times, this streaming discussion fails to take artist/label contracts into account.

Pat Thomas: As someone (me) who works for several different labels – I’m NOT seeing the upside to streaming at all. “Our” profits (indie-labels I’m speaking about) have gone down….

Paul Kimble : The streaming services are bad enough, but then you have Youtube, where you can listen to anything you want to, for free, instantly. It’s literally nothing more than institutionalized piracy. It’s only going to get worse with the incoming administration…if that’s even possible. GLB has over 10 million plays on Spotify alone, for only 10 songs, I’ve never seen a penny. /shrug. Heads on sticks times, I’m old and don’t have much to lose.

Stan Denski: I love Youtube and the instant availability of stuff. The major trend in the 21st Century is ACCESS over OWNERSHIP. Most of my younger friends don’t understand the idea of a CD or DVD “collection.” Ask them “What Kubrick films do you have?” and there’s a pause and then “…um… all of them?” And there’s nothing inherently evil about pressing a button on a phone or computer to play a film or song, and nothing righteous and “natural” about pushing a button on a CD or DVD player to play it. Personally I am tired of having “collections.” They are millstones carved in the shapes of albatross.

 Kristian Hoffman : You may be shocked that an absolute nobody like me has these numbers, but I have had over 1 million plays of songs I wrote on Youtube – that’s right – over one million. And have never been paid anything because I didn’t post them personally, and I don’t run around taking every single other post of my music down.

 Bob Martin : While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think folks are looking at this the right way. 450,000 plays, when radio was actually the driving force, would be 450,000 listens. That’s one spin of the record in two major markets. Consider the number of ears. The difference now is that you can listen when you want instead of having to wait. AND you don’t have to listen to things you don’t want to hear.
Let’s do the math really quickly. A hit record in the 60s, for instance, might get played twice an hour all day long. So, that’s 48 plays a day. In a major market, that’d be, depending on size of market, that could be 100,000 people hearing it each time. So, that’s a possibility of 4.8 million listens in a single market… Considering that there are at least 20 major markets in the USA, that’s 96 million listens a day, just in major markets.
NOW… each time a radio station played the song, they owed, for lack of a better argument (but it was a lot less), ten cents to BMI/ASCAP, etc. From that, the record company got, say, nine cents. The artist got one or two cents. So, let’s be generous and say two cents. SO… for each radio station playing his record 48 times a day, the artist would get 96 cents. That’s 96 cents for 4.8 million potential listens. Or… 0.00000002 per listen, per radio station…
People tend to forget just how many ears got to hear music for a very small amount of money. Of course it added up over time, and then there were record sales on top of it. But, 450,000 plays isn’t even a day’s worth of listeners in a single city from the radio days….

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Those are just a small few who weighed in. As I responded myself: Streaming’s a topic that I’ve been interested in for some time, and I have to say, I tend to fall on the “music fan” side of the equation, as Steve Wynn put it, so some of what I’m going to say here may be taken as anti-artist. It’s not intended to be, however. I’m not a musician myself, so perhaps I’m not entitled to presume anything on musician’s parts. In addition to being a fan and collector, I’m also a writer who just “happens” to be the recipient of (cough) free music sent to me by labels, publicists, and fellow music heads. I don’t take any of it for granted, either, and when I want something I didn’t get in the mail, I go out and buy it. Particularly when we’re talking vinyl, I try to order direct from the artist or label if possible; for example, I ordered the Southern Culture on the Skids blue wax LP from the gang even though I had already received the CD as a promo. Like I said, though, I’m pretty damn blessed with all the gratis music, so either through my own (so-called) writing or by publishing my fellow scribes’ reviews at Blurt, I try to repay the generosity as much as possible by helping to get the word out about the artists and the records.

I’m also a lapsed taper of concerts, and I’m militantly pro-bootleg as well precisely because I am a music fan who wants to hear more from my favorite artists than just the official releases. You can probably guess that I subscribe to the theory that, rather than bootlegs cannibalizing sales, they help turn fans into superfans who will in turn go out to the shows, buy merch, etc. I should stress that, other than live shows, I was never a file sharer during the Napster era and I do believe that piracy – which is different from bootlegging – is wrong and that it rips off the artists. I can say truthfully that I have never uploaded an album to the internet other than to transfer digital files to one of my writers who wanted to write a review for us.

Now what does all that have to do with streaming? A lot, actually. Bill Janovitz hinted at one aspect of this – that at least streaming generates SOMETHING in the way of income, as opposed to illicit file-sharing – which is basically what the streaming model replaced because it’s way easier than downloading. Piracy not only generated no income for the artist, it theoretically took money away from artists when it meant someone was getting an album for free off the internet that he might otherwise have gone out and purchased. In fact, for me, streaming has become my go-to means of previewing some new music prior to purchasing it. Two perfect examples: I streamed the new A Tribe Called Quest album when it hit Spotify, and subsequently put in an order for the album that finally dropped last week. And just recently I streamed the new Run The Jewels album (could have downloaded it as well) and immediately went to their site and ordered the super-duper 4LP version; it will hit in the spring, so in the meantime I can enjoy RTJ via Spotify, while the band can bank my preorder dough.

You can see where I’m going with this: Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud and their ilk ARE the new radio – a means by which to be exposed to new music, which typically I listen to at the office where I work and in the car, since I can play my CDs and LPs at home. I’ll add, too, that I am fortunate to be able to tap those audio resources and indirectly promote artists at the Blurt website by posting tracks to accompany our reviews and stories about those artists. Obviously there’s no metric to determine if my posting tracks translates into actual record sales, but I would like to think it has the potential to do so.

I can certainly sympathize with Kristian Hoffman and his YouTube plight here. Ditto all the artists who have seen the math and realized that they’re getting paid next to zip even after a zillion spins. The streaming royalty rates need to be adjusted because the artists are not being compensated adequately. (I will avoid touching on the other issue regarding streaming: whether or not the owners of streaming services are getting rich from them.) It’s all a matter of perspective, which is why I found Bob Martin’s calculations above – traditional radio plays versus streaming plays, and how many ears actually get to hear any given song – pretty enlightening, as it reinforces my contention that streaming is an excellent means by which an artist can get heard in an era where the chances of actually landing on radio are remote. Is it a fair tradeoff? By that I mean, is the knowledge that you are in fact reaching a listenership but still feel moderately ripped off sufficient to just grin and bear it and accept the new paradigm? Or should one stick to one’s guns and remain a purist while knowing that you are not going to be played on the actual radio (and therefore be heard by no one)? All debatable, but it’s definitely an aspect of the argument that must be considered.

And as I previously noted, once someone has been turned on to new music and becomes a fan of the artist, he or she can often turn into a superfan who feels very strongly about supporting the artist by purchasing records, merch, and concert tickets – or maybe even contributing to a Kickstarter campaign.

Ultimately, I think that if the argument is boiled down to intellectual property and the right of a musician to earn a decent living from that intellectual property, it oversimplifies or even ignores part of the dynamic, in that just because an artist has written a song he wants to be paid for performing, that doesn’t mean anyone is actually going to pay him (i.e., buy the album or the ticket). You have the right to create and own your music, but that right doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to turn that song into income. Most consumers want assurance up front that they are going to enjoy hearing that song, and in 2016, streaming seems to be the most efficient way of initially getting the tune in front of the public.

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Coda: Posting one final note was Rob Cullivan who detailed the following: “Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, which started out playing clubs in Rochester in the 1990s and then became one of the bigger reggae acts nationally, were asked how they survived, and their answer was simple. Never play for free (benefits excluded, of course). But too many bands undersell themselves at so many levels. I can see taking a few free gigs early, but once you’ve established your name, never play for free again. And paying someone else so you can tour with them? No way, that’s just silly. I get that musicians want to be heard through Spotify, but to me it just seems you get lost in a sea of other songs. I think it’s better to get 10,000 paying fans than one million listeners who don’t support you.”

I pondered Cullivan’s additional first person objection to – and valid extrapolation from similar arguments about – streaming services. To which I responded:  That’s a valid point, yeah. I guess what I’m thinking is, first you have to convert those 10,000 potential fans, and there’s so much white noise these days that you have to reach them through the media they use rather than just sit back and wait for them to find you. Let’s say I read about a new band, or perhaps hear the tail end of a song on the local college station: to be able to pop over to Spotify or YouTube instantly and listen to their record is incredibly gratifying and in the immediacy of that initial rush I may even be convinced I should go buy the record. It’s the digital equivalent of being turned on to a band while wandering around the record store. (Let it be known that I have worked in stores three times, early 80s, throughout the 90s, and from 2012-2015, so I am devoutly pro brick and mortar. But that doesn’t mean I don’t accept digital for what it represents to a lot of folks, and to ignore that is to lose a significant percentage of potential fans. I use similar logic when I tell bands they need to release on digital, cd AND vinyl if they can afford it.)

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In the week or so since this original discussion unfolded, I’ve seen several more of similar tenor. Working musicians, almost across the board, tend to fall into the anti-Spotify/streaming camp; I’d be interested to see actual royalty statements from a multiplicity of those folks, not only to give me a clearer picture of their objections, but to bolster the contention (which is also mine, do not mistake me here) that the powers that be need to take a hard look at what fair compensation for our artists should be. Historically, they have been ripped off to a ridiculous degree. I also feel, though, that in 2017, in a lot of instances, lower-radar artists are getting their music heard on a heretofore unprecedented level, with each fresh listen representing an opportunity for a new sale. Admittedly, that’s a bit of a crapshoot, but still… 1% of something is better than 0% of nothing. (Not trying to be facile here.)

I’d also like to see a broader understanding among the general public about what it means to be a fan, consumer, and collector of popular music. Because the music industry has ripped us off as well—just Google terms like “$10.98 list price,” “Napster,” “rootkit,” “RIAA lawsuits,” and my favorite, “Green Day sets list price for new CDs at $18.98,” among many—and it may be time for we fans and you artists to pool our resources and find a new way of doing business together going forward.

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Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT magazine and Blurtonline.com. He receives a shitload of music in the mail each month for free, and he also buys nearly as much each month because he believes in supporting his favorite artists. He has the record store receipts to prove it. What’s in YOUR wallet?

Tim Hinely: FOR THE LOVE OF ZINES! (PT. 5)

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This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.

BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY

Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 4 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which mean that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….

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Zisk (#27) I have to start off every review of Zisk by stating that it is “The baseball magazine for people who hate baseball magazines.” Mike and Steve will never quit. Ever (and we hope they never do). This ish includes Mighty Joe Young! The all-time World Series team, some serious hate for Roger Clemens and much more. Come on man, don’t we all hate Clemens? For that alone you need this. www.ziskmagazine.com

Vulcher (#1) Long-time Los Angeles based writer Eddie Flowers has dusted off his old mag and restarted it again. He and his pal Kelsey Simpson have gathered up a gang of folks to put a new spin on a classic old rag. You might not hear Eddie’s name in the same breath as Bangs or Meltzer but it should be: During his early days in Indianapolis, he was a member of now-legendary punk band The Gizmos and part of the creative team that gave the world the mighty fanzine and record label Gulcher—hence the ‘zine title here. He’s got a hard-working crew of writers (including yours truly) that rivals that of Bull Tongue (see below). It’s packed to the gills and excellent. Write Eddie for a copy at slippytown@gmail.com

The Big Takeover (#78) Speaking of someone who nevers quits (and we hope he doesn’t) is Jack Rabid, editor of this long-running mag. It started off 100 years ago as one piece of paper and now has grown into a nice, glossy mag covering the gamut of punk and indie rock. In this ish is Savages (cover stars) plus other interviews with John Doe, The Thermals, Tanya Donnelly, Kid Congo, Lemmy (RIP), Great Lakes, La Sera, and more interviews also hundreds of reviews and much more. Lotsa bang for your buck. 152 pages. www.bigtakeover.com

Bull Tongue Review (#5) Byron Coley and his motley crew of writers just keep on keeping on with this thick monster (close to 80 pages). You get reviews of whatever the writers feel like writing about and with a lineup like this you’ve gotta be tuning in: Gregg Turner, Tom Lax, Michael Hurley, Eddie Flowers, Thurston Moore, Bruce Russell, Richard Meltzer and too many others. Tune in, turn on and get intoxicated (on these writings). www.bulltonguereview.com

Casting Couch (#4), Miranda Fisher hails from Austin, TX, and seems to be soaking up all that fair city has to offer. Fuck the high rents and overpriced lattes, she’d rather head down to Beerland and catch a band then write about it (I’m assuming here). Casting Couch isn’t all Austin though. In here she’s got pieces on Lavender Flu, La Misma, Golden Pelicans, Crazy Spirit plus reviews and a lot more. The Golden Pelicans even pose for a color pinup on the back cover, hell, this is issue is worth it for that alone! castingcouchzine@gmail.com

Dynamite Hemorrhage (#3) San Franciscan Jay Hinman used to do the punk-garage zine Superdope. He then got married, had a kid and settled down, if just a bit. Well he came roarin’ back a few years ago with DH #1 and now he’s up to issue #3 and it’s spectacular. It’s a perfect mix of old and new, olde as the Velvet Underground are on the cover plus a piece on old San Fran band World of Pooh, but he also scribbles about new bands, too. White Fence, Unit 4, Sara Fancy and others. Plus there’s reviews, pics and it looks beautiful (bound with a full-color cover). www.dynamitehemorrhage.com

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Exploitation Retrospect (#52) Editor Dan Taylor used to do an awesome food zine called the Hungover Gourmet but I had no idea he’d been doing this rag on obscure films. I guess he’s been doing E.R for like thirty years or more, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this one. Anyway, this is a bound, digest-sized rag that calls itself “the journal of junk culture & fringe media.” Inside this ish is WAVE Productions, Nikkatsu Erotic Films, novels and movies featuring The Destroyer and plus reviews and a lot more. One issue and you’ll be hooked. www.dantenet.com

Fuckin’ Ziggurat (#1) This zine is put out by the folks behind the Emotional Response record label but mostly done by Stewart Anderson and this zine come with a 17-track cd as well. In this ish is Bobby Carlson, Ginnels, Primitive Calculators, Quaaludes and others plus no reviews but plenty o’ comics! It’s all bound up in a zine that slightly bigger than a half-sized one. On the cd are the names listed above plus Bing and Bob, Tangible Excitement, Croque Madame, Wanda Junes, etc. Dig into the zine, the CD and the label. Go! www.jenandstew.com

Incremental Decrepitude (#4) Done by Mr. Dave Brushback who is no stranger to the zine scene having previously done zines like Run It and Brushback as well as others. This one is pocket-sized and is all record, zine and live shows reviews except for the interview with Bonus McGinty. Dave only made a handful of these but write to him anyway and see if he has any left (if not he probably has a new zine in the works anyway). Rock_in_my_shoes@yahoo.com

 

HALLELUJAH: The Blurt Leonard Cohen Files

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Saying farewell to the Bard via a collection of our Cohen coverage from over the years.

By Fred Mills

With the passing of Leonard Cohen this week (Nov. 7, at the age of 82), the inevitable deluge of tributes followed. Which is as it should be, of course. Intriguingly, it was a story on Cohen published shortly before his death that has taken on a remarkable resonance: While promoting his recent album You Want It Darker (you can find a link listen to it here or on Spotify), Cohen did an interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker in which he commented, regarding how he was viewing life at the time, “The big change is the proximity to death. I’ve got some work to do… take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable.”

Whether uncannily prescient or simply making an semi-oblique reference to some personal details he was already aware of, it’s a quote that I suspect will linger whenever people talk about the man, his life, his work, and of course his death.

As with most music magazines, BLURT has covered Leonard Cohen many times over the years (we’ve been around since mid-2008). So I thought it would be appropriate to compile some of the more relevant pieces here; included are reviews and meditations, plus a very special interview with Cohen that originally appeared in the pages of our predecessor, Harp. Check them out, and I hope you’ll honor the memory of Cohen as well.

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lc-by-scott-weinerHOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, by A.D. Amorosi
(Photo from the Beacon concert by Scott Weiner.)

Ed. note: In 2005 Cohen sued his former manager for having misappropriated more than $5 million from him, and this eventually led the singer to start touring again in order to generate income. He did so fairly extensively between 2008 and 2010, and I was fortunate enough to see Cohen live in Asheville, NC, in 2009; it remains one of my brightest memories of my recent musical life. Cohen also performed on that tour in Manhattan for the first time since 1993, at the storied Beacon Theater. Contributing Editor A.D. Amorosi was fortunate enough to attend, and he penned a deeply insightful review of the concert for us.

“It was profound and religious, plain and simple,” wrote Amorosi. “We were watching him cradle his microphone while occasionally kneeling before a grand flamenco-folk-smooth-jazz ensemble and oddly-sunny background vocalists, all who played elegantly precise waves of wonder so that Cohen could croon-chat in a mummy-lizard-like voice his stories of sensually tempered interludes, un-flowered romance and crushed-ice apocalypses…”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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THE BARD ON THE WIRE, by Steven Rosen

 Ed. note: With the newfound touring regimen also came a number of new and archival releases for Cohen, among them a trifecta of DVDs: Bird on the Wire (a 1972 world tour; released by MVD Visual), Songs From the Road (the 2008-2009 world tour; Columbia/Legacy), and Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes (a documentary-style examination of the songwriter’s influences featuring selected performances and interviews; Chrome Dreams). Contributing Editor Steven Rosen stepped up to the plate and concluded that, while each DVD took a different approach in its appreciation of Cohen, they all worked quite nicely together whether you’re a longtime fan or a novice to his oeuvre.

Wrote Rosen, “Taken altogether (but not quite as a de facto trilogy), these DVDs further establish Leonard Cohen as one of the preeminent bards of his generation. Not that anyone needed to be reminded of that fact, of course, but it’s reassuring to know that successive generations will also have these aural and visual documents available for consultation, edification and inspiration.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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THE COMPLETE STUDIO ALBUMS COLLECTION, by Ron Hart

Ed. note: In 2011, Columbia/Legacy released a limited edition 11-CD box set of remastered editions of Cohen’s 1968-2004 output: Songs of (1968), Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love & Hate (1971), New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), Death of a Ladies Man (1977), Recent Songs (1979), Various Positions (1984), I’m Your Man (1988), the Future (1992), Ten New Songs (2001) and Dear Heather (2004). Pretty irresistible, and the CDs were nicely packaged in mini-LP sleeves housed in a smartly-designed box. Contributor Ron Hart was impressed, to say the least:

“This exhaustive overhaul of his historic body of work, warts and all, is without question well worth the dive into the expansive artistic sprawl of North America’s premier ‘Chief Apocalyptist’ as he enjoys his 77th year on this planet.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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HOLY (WHOLLY) EXISTENTIAL SENSUALIST, by A.D. Amorosi

Ed. note: In January of 2012 Cohen, clearly energized from all the activity of the past few years, released his 12th studio album to huge acclaim; it even landed in the Billboard top 10 albums. A.D. Amorosi, our resident Cohen acolyte (well, technically, we all are), once again did the deed, tackling the record with his trademark passion, concluding that it was Cohen’s best album, period.

“Old Ideas,” he observed, “has a sort-of devilishness about it, in that it’s an exaltation and an assault on Cohen’s sacred/profane intellectualism. There is forgiveness. And then some… Vision – his old ideas, the best ideas – is what guides Cohen in matters of sexuality, decay and renewal, always has in what’s become a philosophical decretum. If a holy existential sensualist is required, Leonard Cohen alone fills that niche… Song for song, sound for sound, lyrical point for point, [it is also] most certainly the best album of 2012.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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EVERYBODY KNOWS, by Fred Mills

It’s fascinating to note that prior to Cohen’s latterday “comeback” there hadn’t been too many books published about him. That has certainly changed, with notable additions to any self-respecting Cohen fan’s bookshelf being Sylvie Simmons’ definitive 2013 bio I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, Alan Light’s more narrow-focused book, also from 2013, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” , Liel Leibovitz’ 2015 musical analysis A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen, and a 2015 anthology, edited by Jeff Burger, called Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters (Musicians in Their Own Words)—not to mention several collections of Cohen’s poetry. Then there was Everybody Knows, published in late 2014 by esteemed music book publisher Backbeat and written by the equally esteemed journalist and author Harvey Kubernik. Rich in photos, many of them rare or previously unseen, and arranged as an oral history along an annotated time-line plus the author’s connective narrative, the coffeetable book is not only quite handsome, it’s a solid reference work. As I put it, “one could easily use this as a primary source when researching specific details and events of Cohen’s life.”

Of additional note: “Kubernik skillfully avoids the key pitfalls that plague most oral histories; his aforementioned connecting text includes notes on his respondents so the reader understands their significance and relevance, while the aforementioned time-line structure proves to be the book’s greatest strength in terms of providing a real sense of the arc of Cohen’s career.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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HE’S YOUR MAN, by Gillian G. Gaar

Ed. note: I have semi-saved the best for last, and technically, this isn’t even a Cohen piece published by BLURT. It did, however, appear in Harp magazine, in 2007, and I was responsible for assigning, coordinating, and editing it. (Harp essentially morphed into BLURT following the former’s abrupt demise and bankruptcy in 2008, with the main members of the Harp editorial staff resuming operations again within a few months. I retained copies of all editorial content I had overseen, as well as PDFs of pre-publication pages.) Since most of the magazine’s content has basically disappeared into the ether—the archives were lost after the Harp website was shut down—and there are not even any copyright owners, I just hope that all the individual writers have taken the initiative and archived their own material for posterity, because there was a lot a great writing in the publication.

Such as the one at hand, by Harp contributor (and occasional BLURT contributor) Gillian G. Gaar, a Seattle-based journalist and author of numerous books. “He’s Your Man” originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Harp, and at the time it was one of only a handful of interviews Cohen was doing; we were pretty proud that he had approved our request, and I knew instinctively that Gaar would be perfect to do the interview. It was enthusiastically received, and we even had a number of inquiries from overseas about obtaining copies of the magazine—definitely one of the projects from my Harp tenure that I’m deeply proud to be associated with.

Gaar was able to subsequently republish the piece in the aforementioned Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen anthology of writings, and it’s one of the book’s standouts. Introducing her story for the book, Gaar recalled being contacted by yours truly and being offered the chance to be flown to L.A., squired around by the record label, and spending a good amount of time with Cohen and then-paramour Anjani Thomas to talk about his upcoming reissues and her Cohen-produced album.

There’s a telling passage in the article, one which essentially forecast the flurry of Cohen activity that would unexpectedly unfold starting the next year. Wrote Gaar, “Those anxious for Cohen to record his own work again should be pleased to learn that the film’s concert sequences have inspired him to consider touring in support of his next album, tentatively set for release later this year. ‘Yes, yes,’ he confirms. ‘I haven’t been out since ’93. The years went by and I thought ‘I’ll never go out again.’ But every so often you do have that itch. You’ve heard that saying in rock ‘n’ roll, they don’t pay you to sing, they pay you to travel. But you forget about that stuff. The actual concerts are always compelling. If you’ve got good musicians, and you’re playing, and people know the songs, and they want to hear them live, it is a wonderful thing. And so I’m drawn to that.’”

Indeed he was. And we, his public, have been all the richer for it.

Go HERE to read the entire original Harp interview.