Category Archives: New Releases

TALIBAM!/MATT NELSON/RON STABINSKY – Endgame of the Anthropocene + Hard Vibe (LPs)

Album: Endgame of the Anthropocene; Hard Vibe

Artist: Talibam!; Talibam w/Matt Nelson & Ron Stabinsky

Label: ESP-Disk

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.espdisk.com

The Upshot: Free jazz and fusionesque funk on one platter of extended improv, and mindfucker/synth-strafed Prog for eco-warriors on the other.

BY FRED MILLS

Where the fuck did these Talibam! guys come from?!? Though extant for nearly a decade and a half, their labors upon the downtown NYC jazz, avant, and experimental scene don’t seem to have penetrated the, uh, mainstream mind to date. And it’s vexing to realize I am apparently part of said “mind,” but luckily I’m making up for lost time via these two records. That the venerable ESP-Disk label is simultaneously releasing not one but two of the Talibam! projects would suggest an article (pair?) of faith that we underground musique aficionados should take note of.

First up: Talibam! Proper, with Endgame of the Anthropocene, a document of extreme synth damage that only Aphex Twin’s mom could love. But you will too, and from the get-go, as electronicist Matthew Mottel (CSC Funk Band, Alien Whale, etc.) manhandles his Mini-moog, wrestles his Roland, and yammers with his Yamaha, while accompanist Kevin Shea (Rhys Chatham, Mostly Other People Do The Killing) damages his drums and occasionally takes a percussive detour via his MIDI Marimba Lumina. I did not know they made MIDI marimbas.

It’s a concept album, an extended prognostication upon the eventual fate of Antarctica, for which Mottel and Shea predict international war over who will control the continent’s natural resources, and of course the accompanying eco-destruction. By track three, “Reign of Primordial Tenure on the Ice Shelf,” the duo has locked into a pounding, pulsing, Prog groove easily embraced by contemporary noise-headz and greying veterans of the kosmiche wars of the ‘70s alike. Several tracks take a neo-industrial tack, while others shoot for more minimalist style of psych that’s very Silver Applesish, and it’s all heady, disorienting stuff as befits its presumed dystopian-landscape theme.

Hard Vibe, on the other hand, finds the dynamic duo teaming up with tenor saxist Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, tUnE-yArDs) and Hammond B3 ace Ron Stabinsky (Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Peter Evans Quintet) for a 40-minute improv set titled “Infinite Hard Vibe” (Pts. 1 and 2, representing sides A and B of the vinyl version; they are not stitched together as a single long track for the CD and digital versions, however). Mottel and Shea restrain themselves to a great degree here, at least compared to the Anthropocene session, with Nelson, as the dominant instrumentalist, issuing Ayler-like clarion calls and dissonant clanging tones run through an echo box at times. He’s answered consistently by Stabinsky, like two guys aggressively playing out the windows of their opposite-facing tenement apartments, a grimy alley separating the buildings, each trying to prove to the bums below that he is the neighborhood’s resident badass. Meanwhile, Shea keeps the pulse steady, if at times quite jittery, and Mottel colors in the gaps and around the edges, not necessarily ceding any presumed bandleader duties, but instead lending a unique and consistent texture for the entire session. Apparently somebody picks up an old Keytar at some point, too. And wait’ll you get to the soaring, ecstatic climax during the final minute and a half of the album.

This is not jamming for the sake of keeping a festival audience of seriously baked Deadheads on their toes, but a hearkening back to the great ‘70s jazz/funk/rock/psych jammers of yore. Each of the two tracks is, at turns, intoxicating and awe-inspiring, challenging in the sense that great jazz needs to confront the listener with hard choices.

Consumer note: ESP-Disk and the musicians serve up tasty treats here for the vinyl audience. Hard Vibe is pressed on heavyweight translucent yellow wax, while Anthropocene offers the collector secret handshake with a platter pressed in red with orange and white splatters. Wham-bam, thank YOU, Talibam! gang.

DOWNLOAD: “Cost-Effective Drilling Enabled By Pioneering Technologies and Warmer Climates in the Southern Ocean” (from Anthropocene—damn, I loved typing that title just now); “Infinite Hard Vibe Pt. 2” (Hard VibeI)

ANOUAR BRAHEM – Blue Maqams

Album: Blue Maqams

Artist: Anouar Brahem

Label: ECM

Release Date: October 13, 2017

http://ecmrecords.com

The Upshot: Masterfully performed and arranged, and a world/jazz record of great beauty and fire. 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

For Blue Maqams, his tenth LP on the venerable ECM label, Tunesian oudist Anouar Brahem shifts away from the grand concepts that drove his previous album Souvenance, instead convening a jazz trio. And what an ensemble it is, too. Veteran British pianist Django Bates (Bill Bruford, Tim Berne) takes the chordal helm, with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland – perhaps the greatest living rhythm section in jazz – providing supple support. Melody rules here; Brahem’s ability to blend jazz changes with the Middle Eastern tonalities of his homeland gives each song a distinctive tone, accessible yet challenging. “La Nuit” illustrates this well, as Bates provides lush comping and countermelodies, allowing Brahem to quietly soar. “Persepolis’s Mirage” layers Brahem’s smoky twang over subtle cymbals and Holland’s insistently bluesy bass, while “Unexpected Outcome” puts Bates in the driver’s seat for some rippling solos. The rhythm-driven “Bahia” finds common ground between Middle Eastern dance music and Brazilian bossa nova. “Bom Dia Rio” puts it all together for a veritable explosion of intricate melody and telepathic improvisation. Masterfully performed and arranged, Blue Maqams is a record of great beauty and fire.

DOWNLOAD: “Bom Dia Rio,” “Bahia,” “Persepolis’s Mirage”

 

USA/MEXICO – Laredo LP

Album: Laredo

Artist: Usa/Mexico

Label: 12XU

Release Date: June 30, 2017

www.12xu.net

The Upshot: Bludgeoning, distorted sludge from the Austin supergroup, and the aural equivalent of a hostage situation.

BY FRED MILLS

Though there will be naysayers to this monolith o’ sludge, there will be soothsayers, too, proclaiming Austin trio USA/MEXICO as (to quote, uh, some dude back in the ‘70s) rock ‘n’ roll future. Indeed, as guitarist Craig Clouse (Shit & Shine), bassist Nate Cross (Marriage), and King Coffey (Butthole Surfers) envision things, there’s no greater calling on God’s green-but-growing-toxic Earth than to accurately portray modern existence as a nightmarish, deafening, Dantean routine wrought by our own miscalculations. And given its name, the band could also be a sonic representation of the toxic relations between the two titular countries as long as Trump is in office.

At numerous points on Laredo one is bludgeoned into the proverbial submission via the Coffey-Cross doomsday rhythm machine; imagine an early Hawkwind album, stripped of its high-end sonics and the low end ones being slowed to 16rpm, plus Clouse’s Cookie Monster vocals with all the cookies’ sweeteners removed and replaced by arsenic prior to baking, then duly spun at a leaden number of rpms. It should all be a recipe for migraines, such are the volume and distortion levels— attending a USA/MEXICO concert must surely be like an aural hostage-taking, whereby all attendees are shoved into a cinder block-lined room located directly under the wooden stage.

Yet there’s also a terrifying beauty on display here, not all that removed from early Swans albums and shows. (Although songs like psychedelic crack-up “Yard of the Month” and the thuggish “Dumber Rock Riff” make early Swans sound like Simon & Garfunkel.) A nominally “melodic” cover of the Fall’s “L.A.” (all hissing sonics and a recognizable descending chord progression) is reasonable enough, and rousing closing track “Bullets For Pussy,” also a cover (post-Drunks With Guns outfit Bullets For Pussy) brings to mind Black Sabbath reworking the Byrds’ “8 Miles High.” But for the Trump era. So it’s all a matter of perspective.

Perspective: warped. Vinyl record (w/download card): non-warped. Ear canal: fully cleansed. Tinnitus status: returned dammit; but my doctor warned me.

DOWNLOAD: “Bullets For Pussy,” “Yard of the Month”

 

ROCKIN’ IS MA BUSINESS: Blurt’s Rock & Roll Roundup Pt.4

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, HERE for Pt. 2, and HERE for Pt. 3. Pictured above: Sweet Apple. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

Everything singer/guitarist John Petkovic touches seems to turn to rock, from Death of Samantha to Cobra Verde to his current project Sweet Apple. The latter quartet seems like the culmination of his vision to date, putting postpunk, glitter rock, power pop and old-fashioned hard rock through Petkovic’s own special filter and coming out gold. Sing the Night in Sorrow (Tee Pee), the third LP from Sweet Apple, practically shivers with barely-repressed energy, focusing all of Petkovic’s loves into a potent rush to the rock & roll finish line. The tough “World I’m Gonna Leave You,” epic “Candles in the Sun” and sky-kissing “She Wants to Run” enliven the rock radio of our dreams, while “A Girl and a Gun” – a duet with Rachel Haden – and the album closing “Everybody’s Leaving” reclaim the slow song from power ballad territory beautifully.  If Sweet Apple sounds a little more like Cobra Verde than on previous platters, that’s no surprise, given that CV co-axeman Tim Parnin and former DoS/CV slinger Doug Gillard share six-string duties. Not that it matters, as Sing the Night in Sorrow keeps the rock & roll faith as well as any other record Pektovic’s captained – which is to say as well as any contemporary rock record extant.

Boston seems like it should be a town too intellectual and gentile to kick out any jams, but plenty of balls-out rawk has come from that town. The latest addition to the ranks is Justine & the Unclean, a rip-snorting quartet of glam/punk/power pop/garage rockers that never met a six-string hook they didn’t like. Get Unclean (Rum Bar), the band’s debut, keeps the melodies strong and the attitude sneering on cracking tunes like “Love Got Me Into This Mess,” “Worry Stone” and the self-explanatory “I’m in Love With You, Jackass.” Fans of Nikki & the Corvettes and the NY Loose should just line right up.

Further to the west, Stars in the Night (Rum Bar), the second LP from Milwaukee trio Indonesian Junk, plays up the streetwise side of its protopunk/power pop cocktail. “Turn to Stone,” “Nosferatu” and “I Would Never Treat You Like That” streamline the band’s sound down to its essence, with bash-it-out rhythms pushing unvarnished rock licks and Daniel James’ inelegantly wasted sneer. Meanwhile, L.A. gutter rockers Dr. Boogie drop a deuce with new single “She’s So Tuff”/”Peanut Butter Blues” (Spaghttey Town). The A-side’s streetwise glitter rock contrasts nicely with the B’s Stonesy roar, the connecting thread being Chris P.’s angry rasp and the band’s dedication to riff and groove. The East Coast re-represents with New Yorkers Dirty Fences’ third slab Goodbye Love (Greenway), a dizzily catchy collection of rockers, rollers and rompers that crossbreed Midwestern power pop with Lower East Side street rock. If the feverish opener  “All You Need is a Number” doesn’t do it for ya, the Christine Halladay duet “One More Step” or the delirious pop tune “Blue Screen” just might.


The legendary status of the Raspberries in the power pop community obscures the fact that the Cleveland band was quite popular during their early 70s heyday, regularly lobbing hit singles into the charts. Regardless of standing in the nebulous cloud of the music industry, the original quartet reunited in the first decade of the new millennium to show the young whippersnappers how it was done during the years when the Beatles, the Kinks and the Who were their only role models. Pop Art Live (Omnivore) captures a fiery gig from 2004 in front of a hometown crowd, all four original members included. Eric Carmen’s voice no longer hits the gloriously throat-shredding heights of the band’s glory days, but that’s no crime – age comes to us all, after all – and it otherwise retains its melodic power. The band backs him as if they couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle, making it clear that this reunion was done as much out of love as any financial incentive. Running enthusiastically through the catalog, the ‘berries reminds us just how many gems they’ve polished – not just the hits (“I Wanna Be With You,” “Overnight Sensation,” “Tonight,” a titanic, show-closing “Go All the Way”), but lesser-known, equally fine cuts like “Makin’ It Easy,” “I Can Remember” and “Nobody Knows.” Add in a couple of songs by Raspberries precursors the Choir and some filler from the Beatles catalog and it’s a power pop party. Plus it’s a double live album like the days of old.

Seattle’s Knast falls on the more psychedelic end of power pop on its debut Reckless Soul (Casual Audio Group Ltd). That mainly means some extra echo and tremolo here and there and some obvious affection for the 80s British psych pop scene, but the focus remains squarely on the songs and hooks. Which works out well for the Knast – whether the band is kicking up dust with “Side Effects” and “Sold Out,” getting sardonic with “Fight or Flight” and “Situation Vacant,” or just being a sparkling pop band on “Here and There” and “Time Out of Mind,” it knows just how to handle a catchy melody with taste and verve. The fellow Pacific Northwesterners of Date Night With Brian add a 90s alt.rock flare to the efficiently composed and performed tunes on its self-titled EP (Top Drawer). Five songs in eleven minutes, not a one less than immediately catchy and appealing.

The garage rocking Juliette Seizure and the Tremor Dolls (who win this month’s “Best Band Name” contest) find that revered sweet spot between Nuggets-powered punk and girl gang pop on Seizure Salad (Off the Hip), the Australian sextet’s second record. The blurry production doesn’t suit the band’s harmonies, but these songs are powered by attitude more than expertise, making the grungy “Stink,” the hooky “Imagination” and the rocking “Take What You Want” more representative than attempts to be like an edgier Shangri-La’s. Nice tip of the hat to Dead Moon with “Be My Fred Cole,” by the way. Detroit-to-L.A.’s intrepid Singles have kept on keepin’ on since the early ‘aughts, refusing to die no matter how many years go between albums. Sweet Tooth (Grimy Goods), the trio’s fourth LP, keeps the faith of prior platters, with stripped down power pop hearkening back to the late 70s glory years of the Plimsouls and their brethren/sistren. Stuffed with hooks and youthful verve, “Voodoo,” “If You Want Me, You Can Have Me” and “Masterpiece” effortlessly bring smiles with every turn of the melodies.

Chattanooga’s Mark “Porkchop” Holder clearly has no time to waste, as he’s already followed up his debut album from earlier in 2017 with Death and the Blues (Alive), picking up right where he left off. Though the former member of Black Diamond Heavies is no amateur, Holder is sort of the anti-cracker blues cracker bluesman – he skips displays of six-string virtuosity typical of Clapton/Vaughan acolytes and just goes for the gut. Whether he’s admonishing haters with the heavy “What’s Wrong With Your Mind,” gets a little frightening with the anthemic “Be Righteous” or just rocks like a motherfucker on “Coffin Lid,” Holder and his backup duo burrow right down to the bone. Speaking of blues grunge, Indiana’s Left Lane Cruiser hit a new high (yes, we see what we did there) with 2015’s Dirty Spliff Blues, and while latest album Claw Machine Wizard (Alive) takes a bit of a step back as the band goes back to being a duo, its raunchy punked-up blues roils unabated. “Lately” boogies, “Burn Em Brew” boils and the title track bashes, powered, as always by guitarist/vocalist Freddy J IV’s filthy slide and backwoods bark.

 

Five Horse Johnson plows much the same furrow as Cruiser, but if the latter uses a rake and a hoe, the musclebound Toledo quintet prefers a backhoe and occasional dynamite to make the earth move. Jake Leg Boogie (Small Stone), the band’s eighth album, pulls from the heavy rawness of the early years while keeping the songwriting progression of recent albums, making “Ropes and Chains,” “Cryin’ Shame” and “Daddy Was a Gun” masterclasses in powerhouse blues rock. Best of all, “Hard Times” gets political without being preachy – it’s too busy rocking your soul for that. Berlin’s Travelin Jack (pictured above) weave a carpet out of threads sewn from bluesy grit, hard rock stomp and glam, then dirties that rug up with platform boots on its second album Commencing Countdown (Steamhammer/SPV). Guitarist Floy the Fly drives the tracks with riffs that mix in-your-face theaterics and a soulful feel, but it’s vocalist Alia Spaceface who takes center stage with her leathery howl. Hit up the menacing “Fire,” the anthemic “Time” and the blazing “Keep On Running” and get your 70s rockstar air guitarspew on.

Australian James McCann did time in the original lineup of the Drones and its predecessor Gutterville Splendor Six, so you know the dude’s got chops, attitude and credibility to spare. But even if he didn’t, Gotta Lotta Move – Boom! (Off the Hip), his sixth album and second with his backing combo The New Vindictives, would rule. Like his former bands, McCann has a grounding in the blues, but no reverence for its traditions – he’s more interested in feel than form. For the latter the singer/guitarist goes back to his punk rock youth, bashing out blazing bruisers like  “Lies Start Here,” “Tar On the Lip” and the blast-tastic title track like a man with nothing to lose and a lot to prove. “Sheena Says” boasts the kind of pop hook you’d expect from a song with a girl’s name followed by “Says,” while “Nick’s Song” drags countrified balladry through the bloodsoaked dust of the scene of a shootout. McCann pays tribute to a couple of vets along the way, co-penning, singing and guitaring “I Can Control Your Mind” with Wet Taxis/Sacred Cowboys/solo slinger Penny Ikinger and covering erstwhile Beasts of Bourbon/Johnnys guitarist/songwriter Spencer P. Jones’ “What is Life in Jail.” The real punk blues indeed. (Toland, you had me at “Australian.” I’m in love, L-U.V. — Oz Ed.)

The roots rocking Flat Duo Jets have often been cited as a big influence on Jack White and his perception of what a rock & roll duo could be. People forget, however, that the North Carolina combo was a trio when it made its full-length vinyl debut. The band’s self-titled first album came out in 1990 on former R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt’s short-lived label Dog Gone, and was M.I.A. for years. The double disk Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13) rescues that LP from oblivion, adding the Jets’ 1985 cassette-only EP In Stereo and a plethora of outtakes from the original Flat Duo Jets sessions. The addition of bass grounds singer/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer Crow a bit, reigning in their wild-eyed Reagan-era rockabilly just enough to make it surge with power, like a tightly-coiled spring. Covers of the usual early rock suspects (Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson) sidle up to a handful of originals, but the real surprises come in the outtakes. Besides the rockabilly and R&B, Romweber knocks out the jazz standard “Harlem Nocturne,” the ridiculous but challenging “Bumble Bee Boogie” and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s gypsy jazz classic “Minor Swing.” It’s a reminder that Romweber is not, and has never been, a primitive, but a musician of unheralded skill.

 

Tom Heyman’s rock & roll creds are impeccable due to his membership in the long-gone, much-missed Go To Blazes. He’s kept more to a rootsy singer/songwriter vibe since then, but Show Business, Baby (Bohemian Neglect), his fourth album, pulls some of his mojo back in. Like a stripped-down Tom Petty, Heyman lets “Show Business,” “All Ears” and “Baby Let Me In” get loose ‘n’ lively like John Fogerty jamming with the 70s Stones. Boston’s Dirty Truckers get more medieval on roots rock’s ass with latest EP Tiger Stripes (Rum Bar). “Human Contact” and “Feedback” sound like they come from a lost mid-period Replacements album. Leader Tom Baker proved his rock & roll bonafides with this year’s Lookout Tower via his other band the Snakes, and Tiger Stripes upholds the same virtues: melody + energy = coooool.

Any punk knows the SoCal milieu in the early 80s was a thriving thrash & roll metropolis equal to the 70s scenes in New York, Detroit and the U.K. Symbol Six didn’t attain the same repute as peers like the Adolescents, Agent Orange and Black Flag, but when the band resurrected itself a few years ago, it was with the same brute strength and righteous rage as it had thirty years prior. Side Four (Jailhouse), the third album by the group since its revival, is simply a powerhouse, from Phil George’s battering drums to Tony Fate’s wall of guitar crunge to Eric Leach’s Alice Cooperesque howl. It helps that the band has a strong batch of songs to which to apply its mojo – “Cold Blood,” “Really Doesn’t Matter” and the cheeky “Megalomaniac” scan as catchy as crunching. Fate’s acoustic instrumental title tune and tape collage “Mellotron” allow quick chances to breath, but otherwise Side Four breathes fire from beginning to end. Eric Leach (pictured above) also has a solo album out; surprisingly, Mercy Me (self-released) eschews blazing punk & roll for tasteful roots rock. Comparable to the 80s roots rock scare, the songs on Mercy Me benefit from Leach’s evident sincerity, no-bullshit attitude and his remarkable voice, which adapts to this music better than you might think.

If Tales From the Megaplex (Saustex) is any indication, Count Vaseline (Stefan Murphy to his mom) sees no difference between 60s garage rock, 70s New Yawk proto punk and rockabilly. The former Dubliner/current Atlantean simply bangs out his rock ditties, most of less than two minutes long, without a jot of regard for genre, sensibility or public opinion. Plenty of wit and personality, though, from the dry shade of “Hail Hail John Cale” (“Lou Reed died wishing he could be John Cale”), the wishful thinking of “Texas Band” and the cheeky mystery of “What’s Your Name, Where Are You From, What Are You On?” (“I’m on ecstasy and I really want to tell you some jokes”). At eight songs in less than fifteen minutes, it’s a very efficient use of one’s rock & roll time. Pittsburgh’s Carsickness took the eclectic, late 70s punk model of the Clash and pushed into artier directions. 1979-1982 (Get Hip) shows off the quintet’s singleminded focus, mixing fractured rhythms, free jazz histrionics and pure punk power together for a knee-twisting blast of spasmodic fury. The raging “Plastic Beauty” and the seething “Bleeding” demonstrate that “rock” need not compromise for “art.”

Joey Skidmore is one of those rock & roll true believers who’s been knockin’ around the leather jackets/blue jeans underground for years. So many, in fact, that the Missouri rocker compiled a two-disk anthology covering his 37 (!) years of service. Mostly produced by the venerable Lou Whitney, may he rest in peace, Rollin’ With the Punches: The Best of Joey Skidmore (self-released) ranges from exuberant roots rock to raging power rock, all of it united by Skidmore’s rich baritone, love of guitars and enthusiastic songwriting. Divided into a “best of” disk and a “worst of” (i.e. rarities, EP tracks and unreleased stuff from the vaults), Rollin’ With the Punches never flags in its pursuit of a rockin’ good time. Skidmore may be an unknown quantity to many people, but with Nikki Sudden, Eric Ambel and members of Jason & the Scorchers, the Skeletons, the Morells and even Black Oak Arkansas making appearances and a covers pallet that runs the gamut from Chuck Berry to Blue Oyster Cult, you know he’s got the goods.

And speaking of faith-keepers, one of Finland’s greatest musical exports has also decided the time is right for a career-wide retrospective, as Michael Monroe, ex-Hanoi Rocks, rounds up nearly thirty tracks from his life outside of Hanoi for the simply titled The Best (Spinefarm). He divides the disks into the times between stints with Hanoi, with the first disk covering the mid-80s to the early ‘aughts, and the second disk hitting his recent years since Hanoi’s second shutdown in 2009. Though the first disk shows the influence of the time period in which a lot of it was recorded, Monroe’s rock & roll vision – a wickedly hooky blend of glam rock, punk and heartland rock refined in New York, L.A. and London, as well as his home country – stays consistent throughout. Disk two cuts like “Goin’ Down With the Ship,” “The Ballad of the Lower East Side” and “Trick of the Wrist” sound superior to these ears – there’s nothing like the buzz of a late career renaissance, when an artist has both reignited enthusiasm and savvy experience on his side. But that’s not to deny the powerhouses on disk one, including “Where’s the Fire John,” “Life Gets You Dirty” and the immortal classic “Dead, Jail or Rock N Roll.” Hell, the inclusion of four songs from Monroe’s sadly short-lived early 90s act Demolition 23, whose lone album is a bear to find, nearly make this a must-have on their own. Essential.

***

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

Carsickness – Bandcamp:

https://gethiprecordings.bandcamp.com/album/1979-1982

Th Dirty Fences – “One More Step”:

https://soundcloud.com/greenwayrecords/one-more-step-ft-christina

The Dirty Truckers – Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tiger-stripes

Five Horse Johnson – Bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/jake-leg-boogie

Tom Heyman – Bandcamp:

htts://tomheyman.bandcamp.com/album/show-business-baby

Mark “Porkchop” Holder – “Captain Captain”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_In-g8HejE

Indonesian Junk – Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/stars-in-the-night

The Knast – “Situation Vacant”:

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

Eric Leach – “Zoom”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPrBErt7xTk

Left Lane Cruiser – “Claw Machine Wizard”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NZzn1nxVIE

James McCann & the New Vindictives – Bandcamp:

https://jamesmccann.bandcamp.com/

Michael Monroe – “Dead, Jail or Rock ‘n’ Roll”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xdt3vqHyT0

Raspberries trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNiEDetN9ik

Joey Skidmore – “Carnival Kids”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D6ae3VV8V0

Sweet Apple – “World I’m Gonna Leave You”:

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

Symbol Six – “Pay Up Sucka”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdd2SLNFT6o

Travelin Jack – “Keep On Running”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h4xrD0zbdQ

 

 

 

DJANGO BATES’ BELOVÉD – The Study of Touch

Album: The Study of Touch

Artist: Django Bates’ Belovéd

Label: ECM

Release Date: November 03, 2017

http://ecmrecords.com

The Upshot: Bandleader and jazz pianist skillfully pushed against his own self-imposed boundaries.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Pianist Django Bates has been a mainstay of the European jazz scene since the seventies. The Englishman co-founded the British groups Human Chain and Loose Tubes, has done session and sideperson work with everyone from Bill Bruford, Tim Berne and Wynton Marsalis to the Brodsky Quartet, the Dutch Metropole Orchestra and even the Royal Shakespeare Company, and taught jazz and music at various European universities. Oddly enough, however, the ivory-tickler didn’t start working in the trio format until about ten years ago, forming Belovéd with Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and Danish drummer Peter Bruun in order to celebrate Charlie Parker.

The Study of Touch, Bates’ third album with Belovéd and fifteenth as a leader, includes one Bird tune – the gently swinging “Passport” – but otherwise concentrates on the pianist’s own compositions. While capable of coloring outside the lines (cf. the bookends “Sadness All the Way Down” and “Happiness All the Way Up”), Bates prefers to stay inside the borders of melody he imposes. “Giorgiantics” and the title track attain a certain mellifluousness even as he dances across the 88s, letting the listener know that the tune is still king. “This World,” composed by his on-and-off again bandmate Iain Bellamy, becomes positively lush, even with only three people filling out the sound. That’s not to say he can’t bring the improvisational hammer down – “Slippage Street” and “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” both feature him pushing playfully but insistently against his self-imposed boundaries. Eldh and Bruun play perfect support, staying out the leader’s way at all times while giving him the right foundation on which to stand.

Bates and company don’t rewrite the rules of the piano trio, but the leader’s accessible compositions and deft playing make one wonder why he spent nearly three decades denying an obvious strength. Fortunately, The Study of Touch makes up for his previous blind spot.

DOWNLOAD: “Slippage Street,” “Giorgiantics,” “We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way”

JON LANGFORD’S FOUR LOST SOULS

Album: Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls

Artist: Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: October 21, 2017

www.bloodshot.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Well known for his eccentricity, Jon Langford sounds surprisingly straight-laced on this eponymous debut by what appears to be yet another new ensemble. The Welsh-born, Chicago-based journeyman has had a restless relationship with the bands he’s fronted in the past — the Mekons, the Waco Brothers, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and The Three Johns, chief among them — and all these outfits have served to underscore his insurgency. While Jon Langford’s Lost Souls isn’t necessarily equipped to engage him with the mainstream, it does suggest that he’s happy to make music that’s easier to digest, at least as far as memorable melodies are concerned. Finding an even divide between upbeat offerings and sweetly sincere balladry, songs such as “Natchez Trace,” Mystery,” “Masterpiece” and “Waste” emphasize a certain ease and accessibility that makes them readily easy to embrace.

Still, it’s not that Langford has abandoned his rascally ways entirely. “In Oxford Mississippi” boasts a certain amount of sway and swagger, and indeed, “What’s My Name?” finds him as edgy as always. After all, Langford does well to emphasize his peculiar personality. Nevertheless, this certainly seems like his most accessible effort yet, a sign perhaps that after years of being regarded as an odd man out, he’s ready to find that balance between talent and tenacity. Well done, old boy. Well done.

DOWNLOAD: “Natchez Trace,” Mystery,” “Masterpiece”

Ed. note: Over here at the Blurt bunker we dig our vinyl, even more so when it’s colored wax, so it was a no-brainer to order the new Langford LP direct from Bloodshot when word of the amazing splatter/emerald-hued pressing hit. Check out this closeup:

THE JET AGE – At the End of the World

Album: At the End of the World

Artist: Jet Age

Label: Sonic Boomerang

Release Date: October 13, 2017

www.sonicboomerangrecords.com

The Upshot: From lo-fi psychedelia to shoegazey power pop, the D.C. outfit is redefining the notion of “power trio.”

BY FRED MILLS

Although the Jet Age’s guitarist and songwriter, Eric Tischler, reportedly never met a concept album he didn’t like, to date he’s had the good sense to stay on the right side—as in, “correct”—of Tommy and steer clear of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway turf. Put another way: In the studio this D.C. area trio has always been more S.F. Sorrow than Kilroy Was Here. Sorry about that, Styx fans.

Intriguingly, then, for their seventh album they decided to ditch for the most part, recurring themes and conceptual through-lines, something they’ve successfully employed on some previous outings. Not that Tischler’s individual songs have turned non-thematic; these guys hail from the brainy/literary tradition wing of rock ‘n’ roll, after all, so At the End of the World has exactly zero percent lunkhead rock on it. But man, they still rawk—in spades.

There is, of course, the none-too-subtle sleeve art to ponder. And Tischler does note up front, in the band’s bio, that certain tunes here were overtly influenced by the events of the past few years that have unfolded since 2015’s masterful Destroy, Rebuild. The opening and closing songs, in fact, bear the respective titles “At the End of the World (US)” and “At the End of the World (Aleppo),” the former an echo-drenched, wall-of-guitars meditation upon the Trumpian apocalypse; the latter, about the nightmare that is Syria, a lengthy (6 ½ minutes) martial stomp, replete with incoming-fire fretbombs reminiscent of The Edge’s strafing in U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.” And other songs reflect Tischler’s fears for contemporary society and the planet as a whole; he freely admits that the shuddery, darkly psychedelic “Which Part’s the Dream”—the album’s best song, and a powerhouse of dynamics—was inspired by the run-up to the election last year.

Taken as a whole, however, At the End of the World simply slots into that grand rock tradition of observation, outrage, defiance, and rebellion. Patti Smith once told me that art is supposed to reflect the times we live in, the implication being that for all of rock’s power to allow us to escape the stresses of daily life, it still shouldn’t be treated as escapist. From the strummy, Flying Nun-esque power pop of “The Only Difference” (in which Tischler sings, cautiously, “the only difference/ between death and sleep / is that I get to wake up with you/ and I’ll do anything/ to keep this dream coming true”) to the funky, arpeggiated riffage of “The Script” to the blazing shoegaze overdrive—listen for the tremolo—that is “A Field of Green,” these three gents set their controls for the heart of catharsis, hitting it every time.

Seven albums into the game, D.C.’s Jet Age are redefining the notion of what a power trio should look like. And they’re looking pretty good, at that.

DOWNLOAD:  “Which Part’s the Dream,” “A Field of Green,” “Your Sweet Nothings”

JONAS ALASKA – Fear is a Demon

Album: Fear is a Demon

Artist: Jonas Alaska

Label: Braveheart

Release Date: October 27, 2017

https://www.facebook.com/BraveheartRecords/

The Upshot: Slow-paced indie pop with a beautifully hushed vibe.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Jonas Alaska may be Norwegian by birth, but his sound is borrowed in part from a slew of great American pop songwriters across several generations, from Paul Simon’s early solo work to the early 2000s records by The Format. His latest, the great Fear is a Demon is no different. Stripped down for the most part, this latest is another solid collection of slow tempo, beautiful indie pop tunes. Alaska’s (not his real name) hushed vocals are powerful in their delivery.

He’s at his best here, when he adds in a fuller sound with synths, piano and, in the case of “Back to School,” horns to his arrangements for a biggest impact. Conversely, when it’s just Alaska and an acoustic guitar the music just doesn’t sound as compelling. The exception, being the beautiful “Love You Right.”

The album also includes one of the sweetest songs yet to honor the memory of David Bowie, with “Diamond in the Shadow,” a song the surely would have impressed the Thin White Duke.

DOWNLOAD: “Back to School,” “Never Knew I Was in Trouble” and “Love You Right”

U-MEN – U-Men (3LP box)

Album: U-Men

Artist: U-Men

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: November 03, 2017

www.subpop.com

The Upshot: Crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, noisy, charismatic band. Warning: no grunge here.

BY FRED MILLS

Before Sub Pop Records launched, before Nirvana made “grunge” a household word, before Eddie Vedder made flannel shirts and Doc Martens chic, before the major labels descended upon Seattle in a feeding frenzy, before silly national acts like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20 turned the term “alternative rock” into a punchline—there were the U-Men, whose tenure spanned the ‘80s and spawned one full-length and a handful of singles, EPs, and compilation appearances. And while one hesitates to label the noisily primal, skronk-powered Seattle quartet along lines of “wildly influential,” it’s likely that the proverbial Velvet Underground Effect, whereby people who happened to see the U-Men perform back in the day or bought their records (issued by labels both well-known, such as Homestead and Amphetamine Reptile, and justifiably obscure, like Bomb Shelter and Black Label) went on to eventually form their own bands, was operative at least to a small degree. (Go HERE to read a lengthy testimonial from Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, who calls them “the undisputed kings of the Seattle underground.)

U-Men is a sprawling 3LP box set (or 2CD should you not be a wax fetishist) that collects everything the band released along with five unreleased tracks, and as an artifact from Before The Dawn Of Grunge, it’s absolutely essential. And I say that as a ground zero U-Men fan, so to speak, as I either purchased or was gifted with, promo copy-wise, the bulk of the group’s original output, duly reviewing them for some of the fanzines I was scribbling for at the time. They were an irresistible draw, from the Gun Club-goes-thrash rev-a-rama of “Clubs” (off the 1985 12” EP Stop Spinning), to the unbridled, possibly improvised, dissonance-rawk of the subsequent “Solid Action” / “Dig It A Hole” 45 (it sports two of unhinged singer John Bigley’s gruffest, most extemporaneous vocals ever), to the dark, swampy blooze of “Whistlin’ Pete” in which the U-Men solidified their rep as America’s answer to the Birthday Party (it appeared on the group’s lone album, 1988’s John Nelson-produced Step on a Bug, a collaboration that yielded a relatively expansive, dynamics-rich sound).

The vinyl set is gorgeous, smartly graphically designed, with a thick outer box housing an inner slip-box that contains the three heavyweight LPs in their individual sleeves. Both the LP and CD versions have a thick booklet with full track annotations and interviews from the members—who would go on to bands like Gas Huffer, the Crows, and Love Battery—arranged oral history style, and it’s a colorful history, to say the least. Fun Fact #1: the group got its name from the bohemian section of Seattle the members came out of, the U-District. Fun Fact #2: for a short stretch, there was a U-Woman too, a female bassist named Robin. Fun Fact #3: the U-Men mounted three national tours, although we should use that term somewhat lightly; at least one of those tours consisted of something like five shows in three months plus a month-long sabbatical in Austin hanging out with fellow sonic discombobulators the Butthole Surfers.

Ultimately, it’s a crucial pre-history of the Northwest alt-rock scene, and a fascinating snapshot of an underrated but powerful, charismatic band.

DOWNLOAD: “Blight,” “Clubs,” “U-Men Stomp” (previously unreleased), “Dig It A Hole,” “Whistlin’ Pete,” “That’s Wild About Jack”

TRUMP THE HALLS WITH VOWS OF FOLLY: The Fifth (or last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

While America gets nothing but lumps of coal in its collective stocking this year, we’ve at least got some tunes to help drown out the partisan noise. FEATURING: The Beatles (box pictured above), Minus 5, Bloodshot Records, Joseph Washington Jr., Rattlebag, New West Records, Tav Falco, She & Him, the Chipmunks, and more.

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR, FRED MILLS, JOHN B. MOORE, & UNCLE BLURT

***

THE BEATLES – The Christmas Records (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

The Beatles’ Christmas records were initially issued to fend off a growing scandal. In 1963, as their popularity grew in their native Britain, membership in the Beatles’ fan club soared. As a result, the beleaguered staff couldn’t process orders in a timely fashion, leading to angry letters from parents complaining that their daughter had sent in her money order but had not, as yet, received the expected fan club greetings from John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

So Beatles publicist Tony Barrow had an idea; make a quick recording specifically for fan club members and send it out post haste to mollify those who’d had to wait so long for a response from the fan club. A 7-inch flexi disc with Christmas greetings was duly sent out, and proved to be so popular a similar flexi was issued for the next six years.

In 1970, with the Beatles now broken up, the fan club issued one more release; a long playing vinyl album that featured all seven Christmas records (the US version has a particularly nice cover). The recordings then went out of print, but have now finally been officially reissued as The Christmas Records, in a box set of seven-inch records packaged in sleeves that are facsimiles of the originals, with each vinyl record a different color.

First, it must be said that the overall presentation leaves something to be desired. Beatles reissues have often been somewhat lacking; consider the barebones CD releases of the 1980s, some of which barely used up a third of the available time on a CD and featured nothing in the way of liner notes. When some thought is put into a project, the results are wonderful, as in the deluxe edition of this year’s Sgt. Pepper’s reissue, which featured bonus tracks and a superb book (the latter worth the price of the box alone).

Of course the Christmas records aren’t in the same league as Sgt. Pepper’s. And as a vinyl-only release, this would’ve been a smash on Record Store Day. But as a general release, it seems remiss to not at least include a download code, let alone bonus tracks (outtakes of the sessions do exist). One could imagine a CD release with all the Christmas records and bonus tracks, along with a deluxe version featuring a CD, download, and the replica singles and/or vinyl album, along with the extras common to such endeavors (a facsimile program of the Beatles’ 1963 or 1964 Christmas shows, for example). As it stands, this might be a release fans purchase purely for cosmetic reasons; as one wag in an Internet comments thread stated, it’ll be something nice to look at while you listen to the bootleg.

Of course, the sound’s naturally better than on those sometimes crackly bootlegs (often taken from well worn copies of the original flexi discs). The records aren’t “Christmas records” in the sense of featuring conventional holiday songs, but more like greetings from the Beatles to their fans. The first three records (1963 to 1965) are primarily spoken word, and on the first in particular the group sounds dizzy over their success: “At this time last year we were all dead chuffed that ‘Love Me Do’ had got into the Top 20 and we can’t believe really that so many things have happened in between already!” John gushes at one point. Not that they take the proceedings seriously; Paul’s message in 1963 is interrupted when he shouts “Ow!” at one point, someone obviously having playfully whacked him (he also advises fans that the group has gone “right off” jelly babies, the Beatles having been deluged with the sweets after mentioning their fondness for them in an interview).

They offer up parodies of Christmas songs between the chat, like John’s reworking of the lyrics to “Good King Wenceslas” in 1963, and the off-key rendition of “Jingle Bells” (complete with kazoo) in 1964. In 1965, they perform a bit of “Auld Lang Syne” in the gravelly-voiced style of Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” Nothing’s sacred; they lampoon “Yesterday” on the 1965 record as well.

By then they’d clearly become bored with the spoken word format, and their growing proficiency in the studio and interest in experimentation led to subsequent Christmas records becoming more elaborate. For 1966, they devise an aural pantomime, “Everywhere It’s Christmas,” with little sketches showing how the holiday is being celebrated around the world. For 1967 (this writer’s favorite Christmas record), they serve up the short piece “Christmas Time is Here Again” that you really wish they’d fleshed out to a full length number (it’s basically the title repeated five times). There are game show parodies (“Well, you’ve just won a trip to Denver and five others! And also, wait for it — you have been elected as Independent candidate for Paddington!”), silly songs, and a tap dance (by Victor Spinetti, co-star in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!).

It was the last time the four Beatles worked on a Christmas record together. As the Fabs increasingly went their separate ways, in 1968 and 1969 they recorded their contributions individually. In 1968, Paul performs a short “Happy Christmas” song, very much in the style of the numbers he did for The Beatles album (aka The White Album) released that year. George introduces Tiny Tim (yes, that Tiny Tim) who sings “Nowhere Man” as only he can. John offers a bitter recitation about the mistreatment he and Yoko (here referred to as “Two balloons called Jock and Yono) have received, even from “some of their beast friends.”

The 1969 record is essentially the John-and-Yoko show, with the two recorded strolling around the grounds of their home in Ascot (Yoko hopes for a “quiet peaceful ‘70s”) and making improvisational music together. George makes a single statement offering Christmas greetings. Ringo sings a short ditty and plugs his latest film The Magic Christian. Paul, safely ensconced in his own hideaway, sings another sweet, if wistful, Christmas song (even his spoken message has a touch of sadness in it).

There’s also — likely unconscious — a nod to the past, when John starts singing “Good King Wenceslas,” as he did on that very first Christmas record. Certainly so many things “happened in between already” since 1963, and by late 1969 the Beatles were on the verge of becoming history.

These Christmas records bring to light another side to the Beatles: their off the wall humor, and the sense of playfulness that’s even there in the later recordings (it makes perfect sense that George Harrison would want to produce a Monty Python film). It would certainly be a fun blast from the past for the Beatlemaniac in your life. Just make sure they have a turntable handy. ­–Gillian G. Gaar

 

THE MINUS 5 – Dear December LP (5 out of 5 stars)
Yep Roc
www.yeproc.com

Santa Scott McCaughey arrives in his sleigh this season, accompanied by Satan’s Elves, Joe Adragna and Peter Buck (you may have heard of him), plus fellow Northwesterners Kurt Bloch, Tucker Jackson, John Moen, and Kevin McCaughey. A host of guest vocalists turn up as well, among them Mike Mills, Colin Meloy, M. Ward, Chuck Prophet, Kelly Hogan, Ben Gibbard, and the Posies, effectively turning what can nominally be described as a collection of quirky, rocking holiday songs that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Minus 5’s most recent full-length, 2016’s delightful Of Monkees and Men. Make no mistake, however—in the indie world, Dear December is a superstar-laden offering that’s artistically on par with Band Aid back in the ‘80s.

Highlights? There’s the wall-of-sound magnificence of “Johnny Tannenbaum,” which features Kelly Hogan and her Flat Five bandmate Nora O’Connor handling the girl-group backing vocals. “Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp-Gulp,” with Dressy Bessy’s Tammy Ealon in call-and-response with McCaughey, has a similar Phil Spectorian vibe.  Twangy, poppy “Festival of Lights (Hanukka Song)” has the Mills turn at the mic, the song credits reading “lead vocals by Mike Mills, featuring Mike Mills.” And the garage-rocking guitar raveup that is “I Still Believe in New Year’s Eve” is McCaughey’s way of bidding everyone a happy and safe annum to come.

Hold that thought: With McCaughey in the hospital at the time of this writing, having suffered a significant stroke while on tour, those wishes of cheer take on an additional meaningfulness. We’re sending good tidings right back atcha, Santa Scott.

Dear December, incidentally, was released as a limited edition Black Friday (Record Store Day) title, and it’s rather unusual. Not only is it pressed on snow-white vinyl, it has a detachable outer front cover that has a bunch of pull-apart hinged “windows” that no doubt reveal sundry gifts underneath them. Of course you have to effectively destroy part of the album to partake of those visual treats, so for collectors…. —Fred Mills

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Bloodshot Records 13 Days of Xmas LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Bloodshot Records
www.bloodshot.com

Looking for that perfect Christmas record to get your buddy who pairs his faded Melvins t-shirt with a pair of cowboy boots? The alt country punk rockers at Chicago’s Bloodshot Record’s got ya covered. On 13 Days of Xmas, the label has pulled together a fine collection of brand new holiday songs and a handful of faithful covers of traditional songs, though, aside from Ron Gallo’s “White Christmas,” the latter are hardly well-known. Bloodshot pulls in many of the folks on their roster like The Yawpers, Murder By Death, Ruby Boots, Ha Ha Tonka and others, as well as some friends of the label to make this one work.

Although it’s a fun record, the quality of the songs here vary. For every stellar track like Ruby Boots’ “I Slept Through Christmas,” or Ha Ha Tonka’s “The List,” there’s a too goofy for its own good track like Devil in a Woodpile’s “The Pagan’s Had it Right.”

The record ends on a beautiful high note, with The Yawpers’ “Christmas in Oblivion.” Not for everyone, but ideal for some. —John B. Moore

REO SPEEDWAGON – Not So Silent Night (2 out of 5 stars)
Rhino

www.rhinorecords.com

“C.mon baby deck the halls! It’s the season to be jolly, baby – wipe those tears from your eyes, it’s CHRISTMASTIME!!” So sings the REO Speedwagon vocalist in the classic rock icons’ take on “Deck the Halls,” revved up to boogie levels and with plenty of musical and lyrical tangents included. Reverent, they ain’t —which, depending on your personal inclinations towards covers of holiday standards, is either refreshing or ghastly. “Winter Wonderland” gets a complete overhaul as well, done up kind of like a Chicago blues, and not all that convincingly, either. (REO Speedwagon is the least bluesy band on the planet.) Me, I tend to prefer traditional renditions, and here, to their credit, the Speedbuggy dudes do indeed serve up their fair share of straightforward covers, including “The Little Drummer Boy” (although it does veer somewhat close to Trans Siberian Orchestra territory), “Blue Christmas,” and “The First Noel.”

Somewhere in the middle of all this is the over-the-top, partly orchestral “Happy Xmas (War Is Over,” which does hit that timeless melody that John and Yoko penned all those eons ago, but ultimately comes off like a rehearsal session for “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” including the gooey backing vocals. Still, it’s well-meaning, and I’m not in a Grinchy mood today, so I’ll give the guys an extra star here. Included is a bonus track, “We Three Kings,” that was not on the original 2009 release of the album. —Fred Mills

 

JOSEPH WASHINGTON JR. – Merry Christmas to You From Joseph LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Numero Group
www.numerogroup.com

Blues/funk/soul bassist Washington has a relatively slim back catalog, but those few records that did slip out apparently fetch fairly respectable prices on the collectors’ market, including 1983’s Merry Christmas to You From Joseph, originally issued on the S&P Music label (which itself appears to be fairly obscure). The ever-diligent archivists at Numero Group, acclaimed for their “Eccentric Soul” volumes and other excursions into the funk and soul hinterlands, have rescued this minor gem in time for this year’s Yule tidings; it was made available – on vinyl –  for the Record Store Day Black Friday event.

What’s unique about Washington’s nine-song set is that the music, while somewhat dated, is all original, so rather than yet another tired chorus of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” you get a peppy slice of funk titled “Rudolph.” Okay, admittedly, Washington nicks most of the original ode’s lyrics, turning extemporaneous in a few spots, and the combination of familiarity and freshness makes the tune fairly compelling. Several of the songs, like “Merry Christmas,” are standard-fare early ‘80s soul, which is to say, not so compelling; the early ‘80s wasn’t particularly kind to the soul oeuvre, Michael Jackson’s reign notwithstanding. But when Washington bears down with da fonk — the bouncy boogie that is “Shopping,” the jazzy, vibraphone-tinged  “Snowing In the East on Christmas” which boasts some positively kooky vocals — he’s inspiring. Whatever happened to this cat? —Fred Mills

RATTLEBAG – A Rattlebag Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
Self-Released
www.facebook.com/rattlebagmusic

The kids have just found out there’s no such thing as Santa Claus (and like dominos knocking again each other, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, etc.); like an idiot, you bought them the wrong game console for Christmas and grandma sent socks and underwear again. Have we got a festive soundtrack for you!

Rattlebag’s gloriously loud and equally funny four-song entry to the Christmas music market, A Rattlebag Christmas, is the punk rock holiday record everyone from the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedy’s forgot to make. Through distorted power chords and bellowed out off-key vocals, the band churns through “Jingle Bless,” “Deck the Halls,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Auld Lang Syne,” all in record time.

Rattlebag provides the ideal soundtrack to those likely getting fuck all for Christmas this year. —John B. Moore

VARIOUS ARTISTS – An Americana Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
New West
www.NewWestRecords.com

Giving a nod to both Americana’s elder statesmen and the up-and-comers, New West Records – easily one of the genres best labels going right now – has one of the freshest takes on Christmas albums. Despite some solid contributions by Bob Dylan, The Band and Johnny Cash, aside from John Prine’s brilliantly original number “Everything is Cool,” the real standouts here come from New West’s newer artists like Robert Ellis’s cover of “Pretty Paper” and Nikki Lane’s beautifully twangy “Falalalalove You” (Patsy Cline’s heir apparent?). While Christmas albums nowadays are as stale as a plate of Gingerbread cookies left out until April, An Americana Christmas is a refreshing take on the seasonal record.  —John B. Moore

A TAV FALCO CHRISTMAS LP (4 out of 5 stars)
Org Music / Frenzi
www.orgmusic.com / www.tavfalco.com

Memphis raconteur, filmmaker, photographer, and author Tav Falco is known far and wide as the guiding light of Panther Burns, that proto-Americana, R&B-championing outfit that once featured the late Alex Chilton as a member. For A Tav Falco Christmas he’s joined by bassist Mike Watt, drummer/sleighbellsman Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and pianist Francesco D’Agnolo, and we are advised that the ensemble hunkered down at Sam Phillips Recording Service studios in early July—which, if you know anything about Memphis in the summer, is the least likely time of year when one would find oneself “getting into” the Christmas spirit.

But maybe working through this eight-song set of holiday staples and a handful of semi-obscure R&B Christmas standards worked some seasonal magic, because the music is, in a word, cool. Sammy Cahn’s slow, strutting “Christmas Blues,” in particular, is for all you finger-snapping, whistling hepcats, while a twangy, countrypolitan “Jingle Bell Rock” is guaranteed to have even the most stalwart Scrooge—such as yours truly, who is on record as not being a huge fan of Christmas records—joining in, no guilty pleasuredom needed.

Throughout, Falco is in fine voice, his Southern near-drawl adopting a Presley-like classy croon on tracks like “Blue Christmas” and Lieber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” He’s nicely abetted by backing vocalists Lahna Deering and Tiffany Harmon, and the entire ensemble seems to revel in truly inhabiting the material. The LP, released for Record Store Day Black Friday 2017, is a limited edition (1000 copies) red vinyl gem, a perfect visual representation the holiday season. Christmas does come in July after all. —Fred Mills

 

SHE & HIM – A Very She & Him Christmas (4 out of 5 stars)
Merge
www.mergerecords.com

You’re forgiven for assuming A Very She & Him Christmas (originally issued in 2011) would be the hipster equivalent of The Carpenters Christmas Album, a holiday staple for every Williamsburg and Bushwick apartment. Despite the fact that the “She” in She & Him is Zooey Deschanel, hipster chick personified, the album is surprisingly irony free, just an even dozen Christmas standards updated slightly with Deschanel’s charmingly quirky lilt backed by the always impressive M. Ward. Even the ukulele on The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” sounds a bit alluring, rather than forced. The album is a holiday classic in waiting, even if you don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans and couldn’t grow a beard to save your life. —John B. Moore

 

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – Chipmunks Christmas (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

Al-viiiiiin!!!! Okay, give it up for the Chipmunks – you know you wanna. If we’re talking perennials here, this certainly ranks alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas. Don’t scoff. Sure, it’s nowhere near as “listenable” on a repeat-spin basis as Vince Guaraldi’s holiday classic, and in truth, hearing “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” only once or twice a year is plenty for me. Novelty-tilting though it certainly is, Chipmunks Christmas has a certain timeless quality that can turn anyone into a kid again, if only for 2 ½ minutes. And that’s something that not even those ghastly latterday Chipmunks movies (Chipwrecked, anyone?) can take away.

EMI and other labels have repackaged the Chipmunks frequently over the years – as a child, I owned the original 10-song vinyl LP – and this iteration boasts 18 squeaky, freaky tracks guaranteed to put an ironic smile on any hipster’s face while simultaneously making his or her significant other’s skin crawl. Such was the genius of Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr., who originally launched his anthropomorphic rodents in 1958 and took ‘em to the top of the charts, to the Grammys, and to the bank: for better or for worse, the Chipmunks had a little something for everyone, and still do. — Fred Mills

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album  (1 out of 5 stars)
Sony/Legacy
www.legacyrecordings.com)

This is my personal gift to Donald J. Trump and his lovely hostage, er, wife, Melania. Consumers, beware: if you purchase this — based on its title and the roster of contributors, which includes bonafide “hard rockers” like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Journey’s Neal Schon, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford — expecting the proverbial rock-with-your-Christmas-cock-out, flic-your-Santa-Bic arena-anthem fest, you’re gonna get a stockingful of coal. Only Halford’s blazing, rapid-fire “We Three Kings” and the Nuge’s stomping “Deck the Halls” even remotely qualify here as “hard rock” (in truth, the latter could actually qualify for a Ramones-styled Christmas collection… but I digress).

Everything else, and I say this as a fan of several of these fret wizards, might surface in an alternate dimension’s version of a Windham Hill holiday album. My hero Jeff Beck scores points for his blue note-laced “Amazing Grace,” but what’s up with those sappy chorale singers? Ditto Schon’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its New Agey keyboards and barely-there puffs of percussion; don’t stop believin’ in the dude’s skills, but if you run into him, feel free to ask him what the hell kinda mistletoe was he smokin’ when he cut the tune. And okay, to be fair, Satch – that’s Joe Satriani to all you Coldplay fans – and his somewhat fiery “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam” is indeed marginally “jamming” in traditional J.S. fashion, but “Surfing With The Saviour,” this is not; it’s just a wank-fest. Only aging bleached blondes with their sagging artificial tits and their bemulleted weightlifter trophy husbands — plus the stray Rush nerd who never got laid — need apply.

A classic example of a record label marketing an angle without actually determining what the “angle” might be, The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album is part of a larger series that includes worthy titles from Frank Sinatra (reviewed above), Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and even Kenny G. There is a companion released titled The Classic Christmas Pop Album boasting contributions from… drumroll please… Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block and Big Time Rush, along with semi-credible artists Phantom Planet, Glasvegas and Los Lonely Boys. Ironically, the so-called pop community’s take on “classic Christmas” is a zillion times more vital, and inspiring, than the hard rockers. O my once-hero, Jeff Back, how far you’ve fallen. —Uncle Blurt

 

Below, check out the colored wax from the Minus 5 and Tav Falco camps – THAT’s the kind of holiday cheer we like to spread around here! – Ed.