Category Archives: Reissue

JUDEE SILL – Judee Sill / Heart Food / Songs of Rapture and Redemption

Album: Judee Sill / Heart Food / Songs of Rapture and Redemption (LPs)

Artist: Judee Sill

Label: Intervention / Run Out Groove

Release Date: July 27, 2018

www.interventionrecords.com / www.runoutgroovevinyl.com

The Upshot: Late songstress gets a welcome reintroduction via deluxe vinyl reissues of her two studio albums plus a new collection of live and rare material.

BY FRED MILLS

As is often the case with artists who have passed on, legacy begets legend. And while 1970s songstress Judee Sill’s impact during her short life was minimal before her death, at 35, of a drug overdose—she was probably better known for being the first signing to David Geffen’s Asylum Records, and for having Graham Nash produce her single ”.Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” than for any measurable commercial inroads—she would go on to inspire subsequent generations of singer-song­writers. A trifecta of new archival releases amply demonstrates why her reputation as an immaculate, gifted songstress has steadily grown over the years.

In 2004, 4 Men With Beards reissued on vinyl both her eponymous debut (1971) and Heart Food (1973), while 2003 and 2005 brought remastered CDs on Rhino Handmade and the Water Music label, respectively. Now comes archival specialist In­tervention, which has recently worked wonders with audiophile reissues of Stealers Wheel, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Everclear, and Joe Jackson, with its own vinyl take on the two records. The results are revelatory. Intervention was granted access to the original analog masters so that Grammy-winning mastering engineer Kevin Gray, of Cohearent Audio, could work his all-­analog magic. They then pressed each album on two 180-gram, 45rpm discs, and printed the original artwork on Stoughton “tip-on” gatefold sleeves.

The new Judee Sill is richly illustrative of both artist and artifact, if a bit of a period piece. It’s reminiscent in places of early Joni Mitchell, particularly in ”Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” a slice of mid-tempo piano pop subtly lined with chamber strings; the straightforward folk of “Crayon Angels,” with its oboe melody; and another of several evoca­tions of Jesus, the strummy “My Man on Love.” Elsewhere are some more fleshed-out compositions, orchestra­tions courtesy Don Bagley and Bob Harris; it’s in lush numbers such as “The Archetypal Man” that Gray’s fresh mastering is showcased, revealing a surround-sound depth to the tune’s almost Bach-like arrangement that I don’t hear on the 2005 CD.

For several reasons, Heart Food is the better album. It clearly benefits from Sill’s presumably being more comfortable in the studio two years on, and boasts an impressive roster of 25 “name” musicians, among them keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitar­ist Doug Dillard, pedal-steel legend Buddy Emmons, bassist Chris Etheridge, and drummer Jim Gordon. And the complexity of Sill’s composi­tions has taken a quantum leap. For this album she also wrote the orches­trations, allowing for both a diversity of scope and an internal cohesion that suggested that she was going for more than simply getting a collection of disparate songs down on tape. Heart Food glows from the outset, its highlights including the sweet, coun­try-tinged (fiddle and steel), lyrically evocative “There’s a Rugged Road,” in which Sill indulges her familiar passion for Christian themes; the delightfully lush “The Kiss,” with an arrangement worthy of Brian Wilson; and the nine-­minute piano epic ”The Donor,” which is suite-like in structure, breathtaking, like CSN&Y singing gospel.

Gray’s remastering, too, will take your breath away. One example: Listening to ”The Donor” is like sitting in a cathedral, bathing in the enveloping voices of a choir, each piano note’s attack and decay as palpable as if you were seated on the bench beside the pianist. Ultimately, Heart Food is a timeless and deeply nourishing musical feast.

Songs of Rapture and Redemption: Rarities & Live arrives courtesy Run Out Groove, whose specialty is deluxe vinyl reissues (check my review of the Dream Syndicate’ The Complete Live at Raji’s 2LP set, which was released last year) and, in some cases, unique titles such as this one. Sides A and B are made up of live material recorded in Boston in ’71, and the seven tracks originally surfaced as bonus material on the 2003 Rhino Handmade Judee Sill; sides C and D are demos and outtakes originally included as bonus material from the two Sill CDs on Handmade. So while the material itself is not unreleased, this marks the first time it’s ever appeared on vinyl, and Run Out Groove has gone the extra mile by pressing the two LPs on swirly magenta vinyl (180-gram, natch) and housing them in a glossy-textured Stoughton sleeve—each set is individually numbered.

The live tracks are delightful, a beautifully recorded document of Sill in her to-brief prime, just the songwriter and her guitar plus, on the seven-minute “As Enchanted Sky Machines,” piano. The track “The Lamb Ran Away with the Crown” is one obvious standout, the Judee Sill number nearly aglow with passion. Among the demos, “Jesus Was a Cross Maker” is a fascinating early glimpse as a song that would go on to be, arguably, the artist’s most famous song. Equally fascinating: reading the liner notes, which are a transcribed conversation between the album’s co-producer, Pat Thomas, and the late Sill’s best friend and collaborator, Tommy Peltier, in which Peltier offers memories of the singer and observations about each track.

All in all, a must-own for any fan of Judee Sill even if they already own the Handmade CDs.

DOWNLOAD: Judee Sill & Heart Food: ”Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” “The Archetypal Man,” “There’s a Rugged Road,” “The Donor”  

 

Songs of Rapture and Redemption: “Lady-O” and “The Lamb Ran Away with the Cross” (both live), “The Desperado” (outtake), “The Pearl” (demo)

TRUCK STOP LOVE – Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994

Album: Can't Hear It: 1991-1994

Artist: Truck Stop Love

Label: Black Site Records

Release Date: November 17, 2017

https://black-site.org/

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

Manhattan, Kansas is not the first place one would conjure when thinking of rock and roll. It may not be Memphis, Seattle, New York or Los Angeles but it did give us Truck Stop Love.

Blending the textures of Bob Mould’s post- Husker Du project Sugar, the country punk swagger of Uncle Tupelo, the aggressiveness of “Sorry, Ma” era Replacements, KISS, Big Star, the pop sensibilities of The Lemonheads and the jangly goodness of Matthew Sweet, Truck  Stop Love created a sound that was truly theirs, an amalgamation described as “pop thrash” on the band’s Facebook page, Truck Stop Love made a thunderous racket in the days when country music, coupled with a blistering wall of guitars and punk rock aggression , became a monster of a movement all its own: a giant named Alt-country.

Bands like Soul Asylum, the country fried fuzz rock of The Meat Puppets and the great Dinosaur Jr., the straight ahead rock n roll of fellow Midwesterners The Replacements or the booze soaked alternative country of Jason and the Scorchers, Truck Stop Love borrowed a little bit of these, a splash here, a dollop there, all coming together triumphantly with “Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994”, a collection of demos and unreleased tracks, recently released by Kansas City, Missouri based label Black Site Records.

Truck Stop Love (the band recently reformed to headline the yearly rock and roll weekend Lawrence Field Day Fest in Lawrence, Kansas), were a band that could hang with the big boys of the time, a foot stomping rock band from the middle of Kansas making music that, even today, twenty five years on, demands to be heard by those of us that miss the Holy Trinity: bass, Drums, guitar.

Re-mastered and produced by former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994 shows a band at the height of its musical powers, standing among some of the best of the time and writing songs that sound as fresh today as they did when they were first recorded, some over two decades ago; the multiple guitar attack of “Townie,” rings true, making the song a hybrid creature of Springsteen, Son Volt, The Bottlerockets and The Descendents; singing the lament of small-town life, the boredom, the loneliness, of Saturday nights spent drunk in the high school parking lot, avoiding the sheriff (I speak from personal experience here).  Truck Stop Love, to me were and are, accessible in a way that too many bands today sadly, will never be.  Truck Stop Love grasped onto their roots, the influence of both the times in which they lived and from those of their youth.  “Can’t Hear It’ is the sound of young guys, pissed at the world, making music, channeling what is around them into a thing to share with anyone who’ll take the time to listen, all while trying to clean out the bar.  If that’s not punk rock, I don’t know what is.

Can’t Hear It chronicles a great band that should’ve made it to the top but, for some reason, didn’t.  Do yourself a favor and re-discover Truck Stop Love with Can’t Hear It: 1991-1994, I’m glad I did.

DOWNLOAD: “Townie” “How I Spent my Summer Vacation” “River Mountain Love”

Incoming: Shoes “Black Vinyl Shoes” 3CD Deluxe Edition

Our favorite power pop band, bar none, gets set to kill it again with archival release.

By Blurt Staff

Power pop icons Shoes – who killed it at our 2013 SXSW day party in Austin – have their iconic LP debut Black Vinyl Shoes vastly expanded as a 3CD set on August 31 from Britain’s Cherry Red label, one of the planet’s most reliable archival sources. From Cherry Red:

First issued in 1977 on the band’s own label but not widely available until it was reissued in 1978, SHOES’ first album proper, Black Vinyl Shoes, is an absolute classic of US Power Pop, characterised by gorgeous, Byrds-style chiming guitars, wistful, melancholy melodies and wonderful harmonies. To coincide with the 40th anniversary (ish!) of this landmark record, Cherry Red are proud to present this 3-CD deluxe edition of Black Vinyl Shoes, reconfigured to present – almost – the complete recordings of the band from their embryonic home demos in 1973 through to tracks laid down on the eve of their deal with Elektra Records in 1979. These include the entire Black Vinyl Shoes album, their privately-pressed 1975 album One In Versailles, the 1975 recordings which were unissued at the time but belatedly presented as Bazooka, two tracks from their mythical 1974 LP Heads Or Tails, their one-off single for Bomp! And a handful of previously unissued tracks. Coordinated with the original band members, Black Vinyl Shoes boasts lengthy (8,000-word) sleeve-notes by David Wells, remastered sound quality and a sizeable booklet awash with rare images from the period.

Full track listing for this amazing, long-awaited collection, is below. Meanwhile, check out our 2015 profile of the band, a lengthy interview with cofounder Jeff Murphy by Blurt’s archival guru Dave Steinfeld.

DISC ONE:
BLACK VINYL SHOES
1. BOYS DON’T LIE
2. DO YOU WANNA GET LUCKY?
3. SHE’LL DISAPPEAR
4. TRAGEDY
5. WRITING A POSTCARD
6. NOT ME
7. SOMEONE FINER
8. CAPITAL GAIN
9. FATAL
10. RUNNING START
11.OKAY
12. IT REALLY HURTS
13. FIRE FOR AWHILE
14. IF YOU’D STAY
15. NOWHERE SO FAST

BONUS TRACKS
16. CAPITAL OFFENSE
17. SHE’LL DISAPPEAR (Demo) *
18. LUCKY TAIL
19. I WANNA HIDE
20. TOMORROW NIGHT (Bomp! Version)
21. OKAY (Bomp! Version)
22. I’LL TAKE YOU AWAY
23. FULL BITE
24. BABY’S GONE
25. EVER AGAIN
26. LIKE I TOLD YOU (Second Version) *
27. KAREN (Acoustic Demo) *
28. I’LL TAKE YOU AWAY (Alternative Version) *

* previously unissued

DISC TWO:
BAZOOKA
1. PINHEADS
2. MOVE IT OR LOSE IT
3. ROCK YOUR OWN
4. ALONG WITH LOVE
5. LOVE TOOK A TURN
6. ALONE BUT SATISFIED 7. NEW MEAT
8. I’M BRAZEN
9. THE ATLANTIC
10. MY ANISETTE
11. SNAP!
12. EDUCATED
13. LIKE I TOLD YOU BONUS TRACK
14. I CAN MAKE IT (Demo) *
* previously unissued

DISC THREE:
ONE IN VERSAILLES
1. DANCE IN YOUR SLEEP
2. DOIGETSOSHY
3. UN DANS VERSAILLES
4. KRISTINE
5. SOMETHING I CAN’T SEE
6. EGGROLL ROCK
7. SONG FOR HER
8. ONE NIGHT
9. NO, I DON’T
10. THE SUN
11. ONE IN VERSAILLES
12. BANJO

BONUS TRACKS
13. MY HUSBAND’S HOME!
14. NOTHING MEANS MORE
15. I’D LIKE TO TAKE YOU OUT AGAIN (from “Heads or Tails”, 1974) *
16. ROCK’N’ROLL FREAK
* previously unissued

VARIOUS ARTISTS- How is the Air Up There? 80 Mod, Soul, Freakbeat Nuggets from Down Under

Album: How is the Air Up There?

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Cherry Red

Release Date: April 26, 2018

www.cherryred.co.uk

 

BY TIM “Dagger Zine” HINELY

 Whoah, now this is a thing of beauty! Just as the title say this is a 3-cd set of out there gems from New Zealand. As most of you longtime DAGGER and BLURT readers know, I have a love of all things New Zealand, at least musically, but my knowledge is mostly with the 80’s Flying Nun (and to a lesser extent the Xpressway) scenes. Who in the heck knew that those two little islands in the South Pacific had such a healthy garage rock scene?! I sure as heck didn’t.  Apparently after falling in love with The Beatles in the 60’s (who didn’t) the teens of New Zealand were also treated to visits by The Rolling Stones (twice, no less), The Kinks, The Pretty Things and others and the kids were hooked. Guitar shops began selling out of guitars and amps and every house that had a garage was turned into a mini recording studio and /or concert hall. So spread out over these three discs are 80 songs by 50 bands (spanning the years 1965-’69) and there is some truly righteous stuff on here.

I’ve got disc one in right now and I’m hearing the sweet , grungy sounds of The Breakaways doing “Woman” while other cuts that frizzed out my hair (in the best way possible) were swingin’ jams by the likes of  The Smoke –“No More Now”),  The La-De-Dah’s (who open up disc 1 up with the title track, “How Is the Air Up There?), Larry’s Rebels (with the Blue Cheer-ish  “Painter Man”), The Four Fours (with the floppy “Go Go”) and too many more.

Manu of those same bands show up on disc two including The Action  with “Dad by Day,” The Cossacks belting out the great “Ugly Thing” (I wonder if that is where Mike Stax got his name for his great magazine??) , The Roadrunners with the fabulous “A House in the Country” (listen to those guitars!), Judge Wayne & the Convicts with the real 50’s ish “Little Miss Rhythm & Blues” and plenty more. Hey, don’t forget about disc three where you’ll hear more memorable cuts from The Spectres, The Pleazers, Mr. Lee Grant, Tom Thumb, The Rayders, The Librettos, Concrete Lamb and plenty more.

DOWNLOAD:  “No More Now,” “How Is the Air Up There?,” “Painter Man,” “Go Go,” “Ugly Thing”

 

 

THE DAMNATION OF ADAM BLESSING – The Damnation of Adam Blessing (LP) / The Second Damnation (LP)

Album: The Damnation of Adam Blessing (LP) / The Second Damnation (LP)

Artist: Damnation of Adam Blessing

Label: Exit Stencil

Release Date: March 30, 2018

www.exitstencil.org

The Upshot: Remarkably engaging underground hippie rock from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s by a now-obscure Cleveland band that actually came close to grabbing the brass ring.

BY FRED MILLS

Anyone interested in a sampling of late ‘60s/early ‘70s underground band The Damnation of Adam Blessing while reading this review is encouraged to pop over to Spotify, where there’s a digital album called The Best of The Damnation of Adam Blessing. With 13 tracks, it has selections from all four of the band’s LPs, heavily weighted towards the first two discussed here.

Begins 1969-spawned The Damnation of Adam Blessing, tellingly, “You take your Technicolor daydream/ Aww, let your mind and soul unwind/ You walk a mile into a mirror/ Yeah, travel sideways into time…” This eponymous debut from the Cleveland-based quintet is impressive as hell, although sadly, the band’s fortunes would ebb and flow across a quartet of albums; their steadily diminishing returns, commercially speaking, would ultimately doom the group by the time ’73 rolled around.

It wasn’t for lack of talent or trying, however, and on multiple fronts (particularly since the band was signed to United Artists, at the time a moderately significant label with an eclectic roster). But despite some promising flirtation with the national charts, TDOAB failed to get much traction beyond the Midwest touring circuit of the day.

Instrumentally, the band had the chops to deliver sonic tableaux that, while in retrospect were clearly of the era, should’ve powered any number of their songs onto the playlists of freeform radio stations of the day across the country.  These were dark, dramatic numbers of metaphysical intent and wah-wah-fueled delivery, and they also boasted the potentially starmaking vocal charisma of frontman Bill Constable (aka the titular Adam), whose pipes were supple enough to make him a potential understudy to Ian Gillan or even Rod Stewart — check his performance in the group’s notable version of the Jeff Beck Group’s version of “Morning Dew.”

Yours truly was fortunate enough to be turned on back in the day to The Damnation of Adam Blessing by an older mentor, and several years later, after the group was no longer, I came across the first two LPs in a used bin. I never was able to locate their third or fourth albums, 1971’s Which Is the Justice, Which Is the Thief?, and 1972’s Glory, although most accounts suggest that neither record was exactly mind-blowing. But LP Numbers One (the aforementioned self-titler) and Two (The Second Damnation, from 1970) remain crucial artifacts, and the ever-diligent archivists at the Exit Stencil label have just rescued both platters from relative obscurity as fully-licensed reissues. Neither are nostalgia trips; period pieces, perhaps, but still churning with hirsute, hippie bravado ‘n’ passion.

The Damnation of Adam Blessing is perhaps the stronger of the two releases, should you have to choose between them. From the aforementioned “Cookbook,” which wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Free album, and moody, meditative ballad “Lonely,” a showcase for Constable’s estimable croon; to the baroque pop of “Strings and Things,” a lengthy (5:45) excursion that deliberately ventures into Jefferson Airplane psychedelia, what with its overtones of the Volunteers album, and a surprisingly rousing take of the Monkees (!) “Last Train to Clarksville”—this is a diverse, layered album that repays multiple spins with fresh sonic revelations each time around. And The Second Damnation doesn’t exactly fare poorly either, what with tuneful garage workouts like “Death of a Virgin,” full-on hard rocker “Driver” (somewhere there’s an unreconstructed Grand Funk fan who heard this once and to this day swears it was from a GFR bootleg), the lust-fueled, six-minute 12-bar blooze of “New York City Woman,” and the group’s unabashed pop anthem “Back to the River,” sensual and sinewy, and one of those “coulda-shoulda” radio hits that never was. (In fact, it almost made it to the Billboard Top 100 when United Artists release an edited version as a single, but for some reason it stalled at #102, taking with it any momentum the album itself might have been building.)

Pressed up on heavyweight vinyl and boasting sharp reproductions of the original sleeve artwork plus bonus inserts depicting photos of the original master tape reel boxes on one side and detailed liner notes by Ugly Things writer Doug Sheppard on the other, both LPs are essential listening for anyone even remotely interested in probing the less-explored corners of the era. I can feel my mind and soul expanding just writing about ‘em—somebody pass me my mirror, I’m ready to travel sideways…

DOWNLOAD: “Back to the River,” “Morning Dew,” “Cookbook,” “Strings and Things,” “New York City Woman”

SYNDICATE MAN: Steve Wynn

The songwriter stepped outside the Dream Syndicate mothership for his first two solo albums, originally released in the early ‘90s, which now get the expanded reissue treatment courtesy the archival maestros at Omnivore. (Watch a Wynn concert from 1992 following the text.)

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

In the late eighties, Steve Wynn was best known as leader of the mighty Dream Syndicate, and as such was associated with a certain sound. Though the band had begun to cross its own boundaries before its final record Ghost Stories, the Syndicate was still thought of as one thing: a semi-crazed guitar band that crossed the Velvet Underground with Crazy Horse. But Wynn was more ambitious in his vision, so it was only natural that he would put his latest batch of songs in different settings on Kerosene Man and Dazzling Display, his first solo albums.

They’ve now been reissued and expanded by the Omnivore label.

Originally released on Rhino Records in 1990, Kerosene Man opens up Wynn’s sound with colorful arrangements and thick, even lush instrumentation. Producer Joe Chiccarelli encouraged Wynn to look outside of his circle of friends and consider session cats. It’s a move that might be construed as an attempt to make Wynn’s songs commercial, but that’s not in and of itself a bad thing. Wynn’s writing has always been fairly straightforward – verses, choruses, melodies, hooks – and giving them production that, while hardly slick, wouldn’t sound out of place on the evolving Adult Album Alternative format would hopefully increase his audience. The single “Carolyn,” a tune that went back to the early Syndicate days, goes alt.country before alt.country was cool, while “Something to Remember Me By” enhances its dirty rock with female backup vocals (courtesy an overdubbed Julie Christensen of Divine Horsemen/Leonard Cohen infamy). “Conspiracy of the Heart” (a co-write and duet with Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano) and “Here On Earth As Well” essay gorgeous balladry with easy grace, unleashing a new facet of Wynn’s talent. With its jangling 12-string, crunchy solo and rousing chorus, opener “Tears Won’t Help” posits Wynn as the classic rocker that was always hiding under the Syndicate’s wall of feedback.

None of that’s to say Wynn doesn’t work his more eccentric mojo. “The Blue Drifter” indulges in his Lou Reed side, complete with saxophone coda, “Under the Weather” waits under the streetlight at midnight for a cool slice of noir rock, and the title track rollicks like a great bar band trying to cover Bob Dylan and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” at the same time. The gnarled “Younger” – guest-starring Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb and future Continental Drifter Robert Mache duking it out on guitar – sounds more like an unused Dream Syndicate track than Nü-Steve. But the overall feel of Kerosene Man is smoother and more radio-ready than Wynn’s previous work, though it’s a sheen motivated more by a desire to get a set of strong songs in the vicinity of friendly ears than it is shifting units.

The Omnivore edition comes with a half-dozen bonus tracks, all recorded either in clubs or on the radio with his band at the time. A mix of originals and covers, the bonus cuts boast aggressive takes on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Graveyard Train” and Bob Dylan’s “The Groom’s Still Waiting At the Altar” and an absolutely molten version of “Younger.”

Wynn quickly followed up Kerosene Man with Dazzling Display, made with the same core team and originally issued in 1992. With a bigger budget, extra musicians and a year’s worth of experience on the road as a solo artist, Wynn was able to make what’s probably the most diverse and colorful record of his career. The first two cuts tell it: alongside the same studio band as on the last record, the bright, groovy pop of “Drag” features Three O’Clock/Mary’s Danish guitarist Louis Gutierrez, a horn section and a small army of backing vocalists, while the frisky folk/pop of “Tuesday” includes Gutierrez, Peter Buck, John Wesley Harding, string players and, on backing vocals, Flo & Eddie (the Turtles’ Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman) and the Psycho Sisters (the Bangles’ Vicki Peterson and the Cowsills’ Susan Cowsill – soon to join Wynn guitarist Robert Mache and bassist Mark Walton in the Continental Drifters). It looks excessive on the page, but by the grace of Wynn’s tasteful and efficient writing, his contagious enthusiasm for taking advantage of the studio environment and the skill of the players themselves, these top-heavy creations don’t fall on their faces.

Though the number of musicians on the rest of the tracks rarely reaches the same levels, they’re still presented in busier arrangements and shinier production than even Kerosene Man. But that works like a charm, suiting this particular set of Wynn songs well. The glittery pop of “Dandy in Disguise” and “When She Comes Around,” propulsive psychedelia of “Grace” and angry rock of “405” and the title track find their melodies buttressed by the arrangements, rather than obscured, and Wynn sounds confident and engaged amidst all the industry. Above all, it sounds like a natural evolution from the debut. Hardcore fans of The Days of Wine and Roses might blanch at first, but anyone following the road from 1982 to 1992 will be satisfied.

As with Kerosene Man, the Omnivore version includes six in-concert bonus cuts, recorded with Wynn’s touring band. The mini-set boasts a lovely “Conspiracy of the Heart,” with Johnette Napolitano reprising her studio role, and a hard-rocking version of Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” as highlights.

Wynn continued exploring this pop-friendly direction in later records, but it’s on these long out-of-print gems that he truly signaled his desire to never be hemmed in by expectations, his own or others. Kerosene Man and Dazzling Display are well worth rediscovery.

Photo by Greg Allen

GOD’S CHILDREN – Music Is the Answer: The Complete Collection

Album: Music Is the Answer: The Complete Collection

Artist: God's Children

Label: Minky

Release Date: April 13, 2018

 

 

https://www.midheaven.com/label/minky-records

The Upshot: Sweet sunshine pop, Latino rock, and psychedelic-tinged soul from the age of Aquarius.

BY FRED MILLS

You gotta love an archival project like this one, and not just because it is a true across-the-board labor of love. There’s a freshness and optimism suffusing the music, and while it is definitely “of a time”—specifically, late ‘60s/early ‘70s—the tunes have also stood the test of time, their seamless blend of sweet sunshine pop, Latino rock, and psychedelic-tinged soul as fine an ambassador to the era as you’ll find.

The group was co-founded by Little Willie G and Lil’ Ray (that would be misters Garcia and Jimenez, respectively), late of East L.A. Chicano rockers Thee Midniters, and had a kind of streamlined Sly & the Family Stone-meets-Fifth Dimension sound thanks in no small part to three female vocalists joining the par at the mic, notably one Lydia Amescua (described as “a teenage girl with a big voice”) and an Aquarian-age vibe. As detailed in the exhaustive liner notes penned by author/journalist (and Blurt alumnus) Denise Sullivan, once the project got off the ground the musicians hooked up with local entrepreneur Eddie Davis, who helped them land a deal with the UNI label and put them in the studio with the legendary Wrecking Crew to up their studio game several notches. As these things often turn out, however, UNI wasn’t sure how to market and promote the band, and with other pressures coming to bear—the musical culture was rapidly changing as well, away from vocal groups and in the direction of rock bands and singer-songwriters—the group fell into disarray. Two singles for UNI, and that was that.

The music they left behind, however, deserves to be heard. From the richly soulful midtempo ballad “Dream” (sung by Little Willie G) and the percolating, organ-powered garage pop of “It Don’t Make No Difference” (somewhat reminiscent of ? and the Mysterians, featuring Lil’ Ray on lead), to the lush, orchestral, almost Lee Hazelwood-esque “Hey, Does Somebody Care” (which was also the theme song to television series Matt Lincoln) and sinewy, wah-wah/congas-powered rocker “Music Is the Answer” (available here in both vocal and instrumental versions), there’s plenty to tuck into. A cover of pop schmaltzer “Put Your Head On My Shoulder” may inadvertently have telegraphed how the group was growing out of step with the times, but a gorgeous, inspiring version of Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It” more than redeems matters.

Incidentally, in addition to CD, Music Is the Answer also was released on limited edition brown vinyl for this year’s Record Store Day, and as of this writing you can still find reasonably priced copies at Discogs.com. Grab it while you can.

DOWNLOAD: “That’s the Way God Planned It,” “It Don’t Make No Difference,” “Music Is the Answer”

BLIND IDIOT GOD – Undertow + Before Ever After (2LP reissues)

Album: Undertow + Before Ever After (2LP reissues)

Artist: Blind Idiot God

Label: Indivisible Music

Release Date: February 23, 2018

http://indivisiblemusic.com

The Upshot: The monstrous Bill Laswell-approved NYC outfit embarks upon a tantalizing colored-vinyl reissue program, including 1989’s Undertow and 2015’s comeback album Before Ever After. The former now comes in a deluxe gatefold sleeve and is pressed on brilliant tan/copper wax, while the latter goes even further with a trifold sleeve and luminescent green vinyl.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND & FRED MILLS

As Dr. Toland pointed out in his “Throwing Horns” metal roundup recently, ”the New York trio’s second LP found its patented blend of thrashing doom and jazzy dub in almost bifurcated form, with neither side of the band’s coin rubbing up against the other.  Undertow has the deep-dub hallmarks of a Bill Laswell production, and it also features a couple of the extended Laswell family intimates, Henry Rollins (vocals on two tracks) and John Zorn (sax on one of them). Yet guitarist Andy Hawkins, bassist Gabe Katz, and drummer Ted Epstein never surrender their stage in terms of their blistering jazz/skronk/hardcore approach to music making. Whether serving up a Bad Brains-worthy thrash epistle (“Atomic Whip”), a luminous meditation in the key of the aforementioned dub (“Watch Yer Step”), an improv-powered wall of noise (“Wailing Wall,” which justifies its title), or even a quick jazz-sax freakout (Zorn’s 2-minute appearance, “Purged Specimen,” may be brief, but it’s brutal), Blind Idiot God makes the most of its four vinyl sides.

And if you’re looking for some good old fashioned late-period Black Flag-meets-Rollins-Band, uh, boogie (term used loosely), there’s a long and a short version of the appropriately titled “Freaked,” from the Alex Winter film. Hank, we love the spoken word, but seriously, your rock audience needs you, and Blind Idiot God would be the guys to help you deliver the goods once again.

Sigh. 1989 was such a different time. At any rate, this 2017 remaster for double vinyl is essential uneasy listening. Grab it on sight. (—Fred Mills)

***

A baker’s dozen years since its last platter Cyclotron, Blind Idiot God came stomping back in 2015 with Before Ever After, a double LP that displayed the NYC instrumental trio at its BIGgest.

On the album, although joined by a new rhythm section, guitarist Andy Hawkins stays the course of the past three decades of his singular career, keeping one foot in amp-melting doom and the other in airplane-hangar dub.

As Hawkins terrifies his amp and bass/drums bash and crash, “Earthmover,” “Strung” and the appropriately-titled “Under the Weight” rumble like a Brontosaurus across the rubble of a fallen city, crushing debris underfoot as its stomach growls. On the other side of the bent coin, “Ramshackle,” “Shutdown” and “High and Mighty” skank through the dust as it settles, letting a little sunlight echo through the destructive aftermath. Not everything is quite so direct, however. “Voice of the Structure” alternates between spacy swirl and heavy pound, while “Barrage” fractures its rhythm in a manner not dissimilar to postpunk. “Fub” takes the band to the next level of development, its light-on-its-feet feel full of jazzy lightning and improv thunder.

Brandishing its weaponry with power and grace, Before Ever After both reclaims the legacy of Blind Idiot God and paves the way for its next epoch. (—Michael Toland)

 

 

 

 

 

 

U-MEN – U-Men (3LP box)

Album: U-Men Box (3LP)

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”

 

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KLAUS SCHULZE – La Vie Electronique 1.0 (2LP)

Album: La Vie Electronique 1.0 (2LP)

Artist: Klaus Schulze

Label: One Way Static/Light In The Attic

Release Date: February 09, 2018

www.onewaystatic.com

The Upshot: Electronica maven and godfather’s trawl through his early-‘70s archives now gets a vinyl rollout.

Synth pioneer Klaus Schulze, one of the godfathers of modern electronic music and a major influence on the ambient artists who emerged during the ‘90s, first came to the public’s attention as the drummer for early Tangerine Dream. He only lasted for one year and one album before moving on to form Ash Ra Tempel with Manuel Gottsching, but that, too, would be short-lived, as the restless compower/multiinstrumentalist soon embarked upon a long, fruitful solo career that also included scoring a number of thriller and horror films. His 1972 debut Irrlicht remains a Krautrock touchstone, and he’s been consistently intriguing over the years, although his music can admittedly come across at times as a bit too new age-y for some tastes. (Fun fact: Schulze also was part of the early ‘70s ad hoc Krautrock “supergroup” the Cosmic Jokers. Look ‘em up.)

La Vie Electronique compiles extremely rare and unreleased early material, some of which he and coproducer/archivist Klaus Mueller came across in musty old tape boxes that were so haphazardly labeled that they typically had to come up with songtitles after the fact. In 2009 the duo began releasing the material on CD, and since then they’ve delivered no less than 16 volumes (the 16th one, from 2015, was a whopping 5CD set). T

The series is now being rolled out on vinyl, and part one of the original 3CD La Vie Electronique, here titled, 1.0 is both mesmerizing and meditative. The lengthy, three-part “I Was Dreaming I Was Awake And Then I Woke Up And Found Myself Asleep”—which is broken up into “I Was Dreaming I Was Awake,” “And Then I Woke Up,” and “And Found Myself Asleep”—in particular is rewarding, with waves of synths initially ebbing and flowing like ocean currents gently rocking the boat, then gradually growing more forceful and direct, ultimately culminating in a pulsing, throbbing, unsettling crescendo. The 14-minute “Dynamo” is also fascinating to absorb, an electronic approximation of piloting across the galaxy and being sucked slowly into a black hole. The album ends in a brief (24-seconds) Schulze interview which, since it’s in German, serves as a fittingly inscrutable coda. A must-own for Schulze fanatics.

This set, then, is the first in the Schulze vinyl series that One Way Static/Light In The Attic has initiated; the second installment of the first volume, La Vie Electronique 1.1, arrived on March 23, and it will be interesting to see if they get to the 16th volume, particularly if you consider that a 5CD set would probably require between 10 and 15 LPs to cover all of the music. Each title is a pressing of 1000, with 700 on standard black vinyl and 300 on white. And as with most LITA productions, always a trademark of quality, you get a healthy dose of detailed liner notes along with an Obi strip wrapped around the album jacket—the latter a nice touch for folks browsing in a record store who want to know more about the release. Whenever a label goes the extra mile for collectors, it should be applauded.

DOWNLOAD: “Dynamo”