Category Archives: CD

SWEET PEA ATKINSON – Get What You Deserve

Album: Get What You Deserve

Artist: Sweet Pea Atkinson

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: September 22, 2017

The Upshot: The Detroit singer and erstwhile mic shaker of Was (Not Was) deserves to be considered as part of an ongoing soul continuum—and, indeed, one of the very best of the best.


Sweet Pea Atkinson should be a legend. The Detroit singer has a career going back to the 70s, with one prior solo album to his name (1982’s much sought-after Don’t Walk Away), a long stint as one of the lead singers for inexplicable soul/rock band Was (Not Was) and an even longer stint as a background vocalist to the stars, including an especially prominent tenure with Lyle Lovett. He also served as frontman for W(NW) guitarist Randy Jacobs’ blues rock band the Boneshakers. His instantly recognizable voice – the one that powered Was (Not Was)’s biggest single “Walk the Dinosaur” – cuts through any amount of sludge surrounding it. (Let’s not forget “Knocked Down, Made Small” and the astounding accompanying video. —Funk Ed.)

Yet he’s never truly found the fame and notoriety his talent deserves. It’s not his fault. He may have helped Was (Not Was) into the top 10, but it was with a novelty song that unfairly tarred the entire enterprise as a big joke. The Boneshakers may have had fiery guitar and Atkinson’s distinctive voice, but they didn’t have any real songs. His work as a background singer was just that – background. Ultimately, though, he may have been held back by his aesthetic – he’s an old-fashioned soul singer who came to prominence right as his style of gritty, blues-informed vocals and tasteful accompaniment was being supplanted by electrofunk and the nascent hip-hop and new jack swing scenes.

In 2017, however, the tide has turned. Hip-hop, programming and samples still rule the R&B roost on the charts, but a less slick, horn-enhanced, vocal-driven style of soul is once again in vogue, thanks to Amy Winehouse, the Daptone family and, however unintentionally parodic they may be, blue-eyed soulsters like St. Paul & the Broken Bones. That’s a style that’s perfect for a singer like Atkinson – his gritty croon and urban howl slip into the confines of 60s and 70s rhythms, chunky guitars and tasteful horn charts like sore feet into warm slippers. All this is evident on Get What You Deserve, the first Atkinson solo album in 35 years.

Working with producers Don Was and Keb’ Mo’, Atkinson sounds like a man unleashed at last. That’s not to say he goes for the histrionic jugular – years of singing backup, not to mention Was (Not Was)’s weird compositions, have given the vocalist a taste and control that should be the envy of soul throats who think over the top is better. But he sounds happy and comfortable here, finally given the chance to sing what he’s best at and bringing every ounce of talent and experience he has to the party.

Listen to the way he glides through the melody of Bobby Womack’s funky smooth “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” – it’s less seduction than plea, even as Atkinson retains his dignity in his insistence. Or how he asserts his masculinity in Freddie Scott’s sly “Am I Grooving You,” sounding manly without being macho. He takes a similar trip on Keb’ Mo’s “Just Lookin’,”’ an irresistibly danceable funk rocker that features a strong guitar solo from his Boneshakers/Was (Not Was) bandmate Randy Jacobs. He sounds right at home on “Are You Lonely For Me Baby,” another Scott tune given a timeless arrangement that could have come from the fifties, sixties or now. He leapfrogs back to his eighties heyday with the title track, an hard-grooving electrofunk track composed by Mother’s Finest bassist Jerry “Wyzard” Seay that prominently features rapper Leven Seay and backing singer Vida Simon.

Atkinson is truly at his best with a couple of songs originally associated with artists who could be his peers. “Last Two Dollars,” written by the great George Jackson and originally recorded by soul legend Johnnie Taylor, is just the kind of midtempo R&B tune that Atkinson can dig into and make his own. The most ambitious track finds Atkinson taking on Bobby Blue Bland’s immortal “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” keeping tight control over his magic larynx to deliver a riveting performance of a classic tune.

More than a comeback, Get What You Deserve confirms what longtime fans have long known: what Sweet Pea Atkinson deserves is to be part of a soul continuum as one of the very best of the best.

DOWNLOAD: “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” “You’re Welcome, Stop On By,” “Last Two Dollars”



Album: Hallelujah Anyhow

Artist: Hiss Golden Messenger

Label: Merge

Release Date: September 22, 2017

The Upshot: It’s all quite pleasant, nicely played and sung and recorded, but as the album title itself telegraphs, perhaps a little distant.


MC Taylor’s low-key but soulful Americana outfit hits a particularly breezy stride in this seventh full length. Song titles like “Lost in the Darkness” and “Harder Rain,” hint at darker material, but the tone is resolutely positive, uplifted by sharp uptempo guitar work and rousing choruses. The 3 a.m. disconsolate-ness of early albums like Haw and the nearly-lost Bad Debt (which after all included a song called “Jesus Shot Me in the Head”) has dissipated and Taylor sounds unworried, if not downright happy.

Taylor works with mostly the same crew as before, the two Cook brothers from Megafaun and drummer Darren Jessee, forming the main band. Fellow Dead aficionado Josh Kaufman sits in on guitar this time, instead of Ryan Gustafson. Together they find worn-in, comfortable grooves that swing and swagger modestly, with a certain amount of decorum. Taylor himself is the focus, however, with his slippery, note-bending phrases that snake around the main melody with slides and bends and flourishes.

As is often the case, the strongest stuff comes near the album’s end, with blues-rocking “Domino (Time Will Tell” channeling gospel fervor and roadhouse horn lines in a celebration (sort of) of touring life. The guitar solo here is particularly fine. Slower and more contemplative, but just as good, is “Caledonia, My Love” where Taylor’s voice flickers like a flame in the night breeze, mournfully ruminating on life and lust and love.

It’s all quite pleasant, nicely played and sung and recorded, but perhaps a little distant. These tunes flow by like sunny afternoons and when they’re done you can’t remember much.

DOWNLOAD: “Domino (Time Will Tell)”, “Caledonia, My Love”




JEAN CAFFEINE –Sadie Saturday Nite LP

Album: Sadie Saturday Night LP

Artist: Jean Caffeine

Label: self-released

Release Date: August 25, 2017

The Upshot: Thumbing through her back pages, the songwriter offers up sweet pop alongside snarling punk for a wonderfully vivid sonic memoir.


Jean Caffeine is a gifted, extroverted singer/songwriter, artist, actress, and a writer, spending time in San Francisco, NYC, Austin, Durham, Ontario, and elsewhere, and along the way she’s collected plenty of memories and vivid stories to go with those memories. Sadie Saturday Nite, then, her first album since 2011’s acclaimed Geckos In the Elevator, is what I’ll describe as an aural memoir in which she thumbs through her back pages via song and spoken interludes, going all the way back to her concert-going days as a high schooler in San Francisco. It’s a vivid narrative she spins from the outset: thrumming midtempo rocker “Neon Adventure / Mission (District) Statement” offers sonic snapshots of those early days; that’s immediately followed by “High School Was A Drag,” a spoken narrative outlining her misfit status; and then by “Winterland (Talking Blues),” part-spoken and part-sung, telling how she escaped the teenage doledrums via shows by Bowie, the Stones, the Who, Patti Smith, etc. For anyone who was also on the scene at the time, regardless of the city, it all rings remarkable true.

Soon enough, Caffeine immersed herself on the burgeoning San Fran punk scene, and as detailed in the delightfully waltzing—and, musically, determinedly un-punk—title track, she “was a mere 17, when she spotted a poster for the Nuns & Crime”—and that was all it took. She would learn the drums and join a punk band herself, The Urge, later moving across-country to New York where she wound up in actress/rocker Ann Magnuson’s band Pulsallama for a stint before forming her own group, Clambake. Here, on the album, the ridiculously catchy “All Girl Band” details those band experiences: “We learned to play on the stage,” she sings, against a jangly/poppy/garagey backdrop, “one note at a time, out of tune, a beat behind.” (There’s a sneaky homage to the Go-Gos in the middle of the tune worth listening for.)

Other highlights include dreamy ballad “It’s Not Nice Without You,” the thumping, T. Rex-esque “Mad As Hell in the White Night,” a riffy number the smartly nicks a handful of Sex Pistols licks (“Winter of Hate”), and a positively brilliant cover of the Zeros’ punk anthem “Wimp.” Throughout, Caffeine adjusts her vocal style, chameleon like, to the specific tone and imagery of each song, crooning sweetly one moment in a poppy tune and sneering in the next for a punk arrangement.

Overall, Sadie Saturday Night is both poignant and fun, bringing an autobiography to vivid life. The record is, in fact, intended as a companion to a one woman/one guitar player show that Caffeine has put together about growing up punk in San Francisco during the ‘70s. Currently based in Austin, she’s doing performances here and there, with shows coming up soon in Arizona and on the West Coast. (Details at the Facebook Page the Jean Caffeine Appreciation Society.) If you get a chance to see her, don’t pass up the opportunity. It just might turn out to be a lot like thumbing through your own back pages.

It’s on vinyl, to book, wax fans. More details:–2#/

DOWNLOAD: “Wimp,” “Winter of Hate,” “All Girl Band”


Album: Tally Ho!

Artist: Woggles

Label: Wicked Cool

Release Date: August 11, 2017

The Upshot: Like a treasured garage mixtape, but as blazingly fresh as any young band you’d care to mention.


The BLURT braintrust got together and wholeheartedly agreed: We want Georgia’s Woggles to be our official house band. I mean, they’ve already played multiple BLURT day parties in Austin during SXSW, so why not formalize the notion? Not a band to rest on such obvious laurels, however, the Woggles recently notched a major imprimatur in the form of signing with Little Steven’s Wicked Cool label (he’d already awarded them his storied “Coolest Song In the World” label), going on to snag veteran studio rat Jim Diamond to produce the platter. The resulting Tally Ho! is everything we’ve come to expect from the gang, and then some—which is saying a lot considering they’ve been doing this for 30 years.

Leading the pack, of course, is vocalist Mighty Manfred Jones—I still have a mental image of him dancing on a picnic table during his band’s day party set at SXSW 2013—who brings an outsized swagger and classic showman’s flair to the, uh, “table.” He’s joined by bassist Patrick O’Connor, drummer Dan Hall, and guitarist Jeff Walls (the newest member of the band, from the late, great Guadalcanal Diary and Hillbilly Frankenstein; he came into the fold following the death of guitarist George Holton). And straight outta the gate, everyone smokes: opener “Luminol Test” is a fuzztone-laced, stop/start stomper guaranteed to have you reaching for your Nuggets and Beyond the Grave compilations to see if this isn’t in fact a cover; nuh-huh, but it sure sounds like it already enjoyed “classic” status. That’s followed by “Hard Times,” an R&B-flavored ditto complete with call-and-response action between the singer and the chorus, who are all urged along by the omnipresent Farfisa. And when “What You Think We Are” cues up amid searing guitar riffs (more fuzz, natch) and a Paul Revere & The Raiders arrangement and vocal motif, only the most recalcitrant rock snob will be able to resist succumbing to the primal charms of the Woggles.

The hits, of course, keep a-comin’, from the modal twang-jangle of “Moritori Salutant” to the echo-laden jungle thump and B-movie tip that is “Mothra Hai” (you want “jungle”? check out the throbbing “Jungle Queen” and its chain-gang/tribal chanting) to the hectic, jet-powered, positively insane raveup of “Learn To Love Again.” Ultimately, Tally Ho! is not only everything we’ve come to expect from the Woggles, it’s everything and then some—reassuring familiar, like a treasured garage-rock mixtape you compiled years ago and only just recently unearthed in a box that was stashed in the back of your closet, yet as blazingly fresh and energizing as anything some young band of well-hyped upstarts might deliver in 2017.

It’s positively nowsville, Pops. Dear Woggles, let’s have a house party again, soon.

DOWNLOAD: “Hard Times,” “Learn to Love Again,” “What You Think We Are”



JACK COOPER — Sandgrown

Album: Sandgrown

Artist: Jack Cooper

Label: Trouble In Mind

Release Date: August 25, 2017

The Upshot: Guitar virtuoso brings a sharp sense of loss and change to his glowing, spare arrangements.


These shimmering songs are full of ellipses, the spaces between guitar notes clouded over with wistful nostalgia for Jack Cooper’s lost seaside childhood. Cooper has gotten a fair amount of ink lately for his quietly subversive, acoustic dueling guitar duo Ultimate Painting (with Veronica Falls’ James Hoare), also rather luminously introspective, but Sandgrown is more personal, with the smell of salt air, the sting of sea breezes, the sharp sense of loss and change running through every track.

Take “Gynn Square,” named for an old-fashioned commercial block near the beach in Blackpool, England, a resort gone slightly to seed. Cooper is up early, who knows why, watching the last vestiges of weekend hedonism fade, (“as the sea spray washed the weekend from the concrete”) and thinking about the ghost of a girl in a deck chair, by the melancholy of the song, lost forever. Cooper’s singing is quiet and natural, his arrangements glowing but spare. Guitar notes are left to hang in the air glittering. Space separates thoughts and images. Lyrics are put together artfully, with embedded rhymes and rhythms, but delivered casually and full of pauses, as if Cooper were just deciding what to say next.

Other songs are slightly more emphatic, like “Stranded Fleetwood Blues” with its shambolic shaken percussion, its backbeat knocking drum beat, its twisting, exploratory guitar lines, or “A Net” which drones in a directed, almost krautish way, though subdued and acoustic. There are a couple of jazz-scented intervals – Django-ish “Sandgrown Pt. 1, Rev. 1,” and also “Pt. 2” — which weave and bobble like gazebo concert band tunes remembered from long ago.

The disc finishes on a particularly pensive note, with the slow moving, hallucinatory “Memphis, Lancashire,” a memory palace song (whose memories Cooper is clearly too young to personally own) about Elvis and maybe also WWI. Guitar chords flutter down, settling, a bass rumbles up from underneath, and Cooper sings wistful, non-linear phrases about music and remembrance. (“And when the crowd goes quiet, I hear myself again.”) There is a gorgeous aching guitar duet near the end, one part arcing out in liquid runs of blue notes, the other flickering in tone-changing chords. It’s enough to make you miss people you never met and long for places you’ve never been. Just beautiful stuff.

Consumer Note: For you vinyl fans, the LP version comes pressed on tangerine-colored wax.

DOWNLOAD: “Memphis Lancashire,” “Gynn Square”


BEACHES — Second of Spring

Album: Second of Spring

Artist: Beaches

Label: Chapter Music

Release Date: September 08, 2017

The Upshot: What would you say to a mashup of Krautrock, shoegaze, dronerock, and the like?


Beaches, the five-woman garage-psych band out of Melbourne, plays a mesmerizing blend of clatter and drone, undercutting sun dappled melodies with shifting undercurrents of buzzing tone. This double album is their third, following two previous albums that earned fervent praise in Australia; the second, Beats, featured a like-minded artist on guitar – one Michael Rother from Neu!  This one relies solely on the home team, a seasoned group of musicians who include Antonia Seibach (ex- of Love of Diagrams), Alison Bolger (of Panel of Judges, Ali McCann, Gill Tucker (of Spider Vomit) and Karla Way.

That’s a guitar-heavy line-up with Seibach, Bolger and McCann all playing six-string, and indeed, the density and variety of guitar sounds is one of the first things you notice. After the wordless pound and exhilaration of “Turning,” the band turns to wide horizons drone in “Void,” with traded vocals and sweat-sheened overdrive evoking the much-loved Scottish band Prolapse or Austin’s Experimental Aircraft. “Contact,” later on, is even dreamier, riding a surf wave of swelling sound, its interlocking guitar and bass licks gamboling atop blissful surges of overtone. The singing is just fine, and will remind you of plenty of other bands in the Dum Dum Girls/Vivian Girls continuum, but it’s the heft and interplay of instruments that put these songs over.

Seventeen tracks makes for an extended listening experience, but there’s enough variety that you’re never bored. In fact, the second half seems to hit a little harder than the first, starting with “Arrow,” track ten, the most fuzzily pop of these tunes. The cut is upbeat to the point of euphoria, but slashed through with razory guitars, so that there’s a high but not a sugar high. “Walk Around” is more open-ended, but just as inviting, as sawing effects blister through radiant clouds of tone. Forget the girl group comparisons for Beaches – this stuff transcends gender – think instead of the great drone-heavy shoegaze bands, Bailter Space, Ride, Slowdive, and sure, why not, even Neu!

DOWNLOAD: “Arrow” “Contact” “Walk Around”




BASH & POP – Friday Night is Killing Me

Album: Friday Night is Killing Me

Artist: Bash & Pop

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: September 08, 2017

The Upshot: Erstwhile ‘mats bassist rapidly emerged from his bandleader’s shadow to display a remarkable sonic acuity, as this expanded reissue clearly reveals.


When the Replacements broke up in 1991, all eyes turned toward bandleader Paul Westerberg for the next move. Eager to move on from the ‘Mats’ reputation, Westerberg spent the first part of his solo career trying earnestly to become alt.rock’s James Taylor, before eventually settling into an eccentric and erratic series of one-man band LPs.

Fans looking for more of the ‘Mats’ rollicking bar band asskicking had their heads turned in the wrong direction. Had they shifted their gaze, they might have noticed Bash & Pop. On 1993’s Friday Night is Killing Me, its first (and, for over two decades, only) album, the band formed by bassist Tommy Stinson proved the ‘Mats’ co-founder to be not only the true soul of the beloved band, but the heir to its ramshackle rock & roll. Boasting more of a Faces/Stones vibe than anything his ex-bandleader ever recorded as a solo artist, Stinson, his bandmates, and the myriad sessioneers who helped create the record tap directly into the tight-but-loose vein of aspiring bar bands everywhere.

Singing in a classic soulful rasp, Stinson uses the prototypical model of two guitars, bass and drums to field a set of songs steeped in both brash attitude and winsome uncertainty. “Never Aim to Please,” “Hang Ups” and “Fast & Hard” (with an uncredited Westerberg on backing vocals) fulfill the first part of the band’s name nicely, insisting on the world rocking out with a joyful grin overtaking the sneer. The world-weariness of a life spent on the road starts to intrude in “Loose Ends” and “Tickled to Tears,” before finding full flower in the title track. Stinson strips back to near nudity on the ballads, imbuing “Nothing” and “First Steps” with wistful nervousness, but still displaying a determination to move past it. With it all coming together under the watchful eye of producer Don Smith, Friday Night is Killing Me calls attention to itself not with bombast or chest-puffery, but with smart songcraft and a time-tested take on old-fashioned rock & roll.

This new edition adds a second disc with some of Stinson’s home demos, alternate takes on most of the album’s tunes, and three non-album cuts. The power popping “Harboring a Fugitive” and hard rocking “Situation” were worked up in rehearsal but didn’t make the LP, while the punky “Making Me Sick,” featuring a different lineup of Bash & Poppers, ended up on the Clerks soundtrack. Nice treats for completists ultimately make an unheralded but great record even better.

DOWNLOAD: “Friday Night (is Killing Me),” “First Steps,” “Never Aim to Please”



Album: C88

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Cherry Red

Release Date: June 30, 2017

The Upshot: I was all over this like a cheap suit, and if you were into the C88 bands back in the day, you will be too.


The C86 scene in England was cool—and got all the hype—but I liked a lot more of the C88 bands, and this three CD set covers ‘em all. And I mean all. As it states in the press sheet  “it documents a golden era when tuneful guitar-based bands made records on shoestring budgets often issued on small labels with hand-made artwork, with little hope of mainstream exposure.” Umm….yup, that about sums it up and I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Several of the UK labels of the day (many probably reviled by the British press) are represented here including Sarah Records  (The Orchids, The Sea Urchins, Another Sunny Day, etc.) Creation  The House of Love, Pacific, etc.) 53 and 3rd  (The Vaselines, Groovy Little Numbers , etc.) , The Subway Organization (The Flatmates, The Clouds, Bubblegum Splash, etc.) and plenty more. In addition to all of the (mostly) great bands mentioned above there are plenty more excellent guitar janglers like The Pooh Sticks doing my favorite tune “On Tape” plus Pale Saints doing the dreamier “Colours and Shapes” and Choo Choo Train (Ric and Paul from Velvet Crush) doing the righteous “High,” all of which is one disc one. Moving right over to disc two The House of Love start things off with “The Hill” but, in addition to all of the stuff that I already loved, comes plenty of bands I hadn’t heard (or in some cases hadn’t even heard of ) before like Bob, Cud, The Hearthrobs, The Nivens, The Waltones, etc. Moving right along to disc three  is more great unknown stuff (to me, anyway) like The Church Grims, Annie and the Eroplanes, Holidaymakers, The Raw Herbs, and lots more (and lets not forget pop masters who are in my collections like The Wake, The Fat Tulips, East Village, The Fizzbombs and too many others.

In the 48-page booklet Neil Taylor waxes poetric about each and everyone of of these bands. I have no control over other countries but I can control what happens here in the USA and if I can make it happen where every home in American has a copy then I’ve done my job. I’ve got some work to do (and so do you, listen to C88).

DOWNLOAD:  “On Tape,” “High,” “The Hill,” “Our Summer,” “Anorak City,” “Dying For It,” “Heaven Knows,” “Cubans in the Bluefields”




Album: Incidentals

Artist: Tim Berne's Snakeoil

Label: ECM

Release Date: September 08, 2017

The Upshot: High-powered sax man proves he’s just as wired and iconoclastic as ever.


Alto saxist/composer Tim Berne has always been known for his energy music – few musicians outside of John Zorn are as comfortable with powerhouse improvisation as Berne. But he’s as much author as performer, and Incidentals, his fourth LP with current ensemble Snakeoil, highlights his writing as much as his musicians’ playing.

Not unusually, the first song lays it all out. “Hora Feliz” begins contemplatively, building slowly until Berne weighs in with a surprisingly straightforward melody. But soon enough, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith arrive to knock the tune off-kilter, as the songs shifts to more angular moves, and clarinetist Oscar Noriega rampages through the arrangement like a Tie Fighter with a faulty gyro. The burly “Stingray Shuffle” keeps the arrangements roiling, as does “Incidentals Contact,” in which Smith switches to vibraphone and guitarist Ryan Ferreira adds thick, rumbling textures beneath the horn attacks. But the centerpiece is “Sideshow,” nearly a half hour of Berne, Noriega, Mitchell and Ferreira exploring every nook and cranny of the piece, going from out to in to somewhere in between, translating the love/hate relationship between chaos and order into a musical journey. Closing cut “Prelude One/Sequel Too” slows down the tempo, but Berne’s fiery soloing keeps the tune from ending the album on a calm note.

After as many decades as he’s been active, you’d think Berne might be slowing down in his middle years. But Incidentals is proof that he’s just as wired and iconoclastic as ever.

DOWNLOAD: “Sideshow,” “Incidentals Contact,” “Hora Feliz”

MYTHICAL MOTORS – Running the Shine

Album: Running the Shine

Artist: Mythical Motors

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 26, 2017

The Upshot: With crashing power chords worthy of Pete Townshend, insidious melodies that you’d expect to find on a Clean album, and an offhand energy that’d make Robert Pollard green with energy, there’s nothing mythical going on here: It’s vivid, purposeful, and NOW.


Chattanooga’s not often cited as a hotbed of indie rock, but man, if this outfit is a spearhead, then I’m ready for a hunt.

It’s pop, with power; “fi,” with “lo”; and punk, turned “post.” Think early Merge and Elephant 6 bands, the kind that would charge outta the gate from the get-go then, just as the pit was on the verge of forming, they’d downshift into a Flying Nun tangent for a period prior to revving back up towards a Who/GbV-like cathartic climax. Hold that thought: Mythical Motors freely admits to their Robert Pollard worship in their bio, yet it’s not so much a slavish devotion to style as it is an appreciation of how Guided by Voices so adroitly made a shotgun marriage threesome out of jangly psychedelia, high-nrg indie rock, and convulsive New Wave ‘n’ punk.

Running the Shine, the band’s ninth (!) album, is a direct descendent of those obscure early ‘70s experiments that underground ‘zine-championed groups were conducting against a backdrop of shaggy-assed prog and proto-metal, and to the utter indifference of the general public. It’s a hybrid, for sure, and in the most inspiring sense; if this record had been (self-) released in ’73 or ’74 it would surely be hailed now as a genuine collectors’ item and a latent influence upon the then-emerging Amerindie scene. Give Mythical Motors some love right now, so they don’t have to wait a few decades to get their due.

DOWNLOAD: “Place of Only Midnight,” “The Mind Skipping Pictures,” “June’s Mayhem Machine,” “Broken Indian Toy Tambourine”