Carmaig De Forest was something of an eccentric back in the day, off even by the standards of someone who lived in San Francisco and openly laid claim to the city’s insurgent roots. A ukelele-playing troubadour who sprouted songs dealing with all sorts of weird wonderment, he managed to attract the attention of none other than Alex Chilton, something of a renegade himself and an artist who was decidedly oblique when it came to expressing his own doleful designs.
In 1987, the two teamed up to record De Forest’s first — and to date, only — full length album, I Shall Be Released, a collection of absurdist songs that not only missed out on the mainstream, but generally avoided notice entirely. Originally intended for a major label release, it was unceremoniously neglected and ultimately relegated to a small local label that confined it to obscurity. A live EP followed, but by then it was too late. De Forest’s destiny was doomed, and he remained known only to a handful of devotees and fellow musicians.
I Shall Be Re-Released captures De Forest’s entire output — the original album, the live EP and several outtakes from the original sessions — and although it remains a curiosity, it should also enhance his notoriety. Then again, having Chilton at the helm didn’t do much in terms of expanding his accessibility option, and if anything, the quirkiness quotient was given full prominence. A tune titled “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat” and the likeminded “Hey Judas,” a song about an encounter in hell with Judas, Hitler and then-president Ronald Reagan, didn’t have any chance of hitting the hit parade any time soon. While De Forest’s kinetic conceits and loopy, loping power plod were charming on occasion, the music is clearly far too wacky to be taken seriously for any sustained amount of time.
Still, with a generous 26 tracks included on this expansive set, I Shall Be Re-Released offers the listener plenty of opportunity to get in the groove. And with questionable covers of “Secret Agent Man,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “One For My Baby (And One For The Road),” it offers at least some hint of a familiarity factor. A curious snapshot of labored looniness from thirty years past, I Shall Be Re-Released proves at very least, to be a liberating libation.
DOWNLOAD: “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat,” “Hey Judas,” “Secret Agent Man”
Of course you remember the Orchids, or you should anyway. This terrific Glasgow band, formed in 1986, were the darlings of the Sarah Records stable for a few years in the late 80’s/early 90’s….at least in my house they were. Oh and the thing is, they’re still putting out solid/excellent records (check it 2014’s Beatitude #9 that was released on Spain’s Acuarela label).
This 2-cd compilation (38 songs in all, disc one is the best of while disc two is the rarities) focuses on those early Sarah years and beyond and is pretty damn essential. I mean, just listen to the songs, it’s pretty evident that the band was quite special (and next to unknown on our shores) as cuts like “Apologies,” “It’s Only Obvious” and “Bemused, Confused and Bedraggled” are all ace pop tunes that bear repeated listens. Later on on “Peaches” they go all St. Etienne dance on it (and do it damn well) so the band wasn’t afraid to experiment with different styles (and they still aren’t).
As for the rarities disc (which has lots of demos and acoustic versions), this one has some gems, too. Check out the dreamy “From This Day” as well as the demo versions of “Whitley Bay,” “And When I Wake Up” and “And I Paint a Picture.” Man folks (like me) felt that the band split at the peak of their powers in 1995 so it was certainly a welcome return when they came roarin’ back in 2007 with Good To Be a Stranger (their third record since they’ve come back was 2010’s Lost Star). Ian Carmichael provides some insightful liner notes so purchase this immediately (if not sooner and bask in what was (and still is) jangle pop greatness.
DOWNLOAD: “Apologies,” “It’s Only Obvious,” “Bemused, Confused and Bedraggled,” “Peaches”
The Upshot: A pair of must-own live albums from the late singer-songwriter that capture him at a performing peak in 1969 and backed by a powerhouse of a band equally at home with folk-rock excursions and fiery jazz jams.
BY FRED MILLS
In terms of mainstream popularity—awareness, even—late folk-rock troubadour Tim Buckley is certainly a minor figure; his son Jeff, who gained prominence during the mid ‘90s alternative rock explosion prior to his tragic drowning in 1997, is far better known. Yet among the singer-songwriters of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Buckley (who died of a drug overdose in 1975) has been so eminently served, archivally speaking, that the casual browser of the man’s discography could easily get the impression that Buckley was a major star. Though he released only nine studio albums in his lifetime, starting in 1990 with the phenomenal Dream Letter (Live In London 1968) 2CD set there have been no less than 12 titles containing live and unreleased material, rivalling even onetime labelmates The Doors’ similarly-targeted posthumous output (just to use a “major star” comparison), and nearly as many anthologies and repackagings.
Why the near-obsessive adoration of Buckley among fans? Two new live releases, Venice Mating Call and Greetings From West Hollywood, are instructive.
By way of context: Relatively early in the Buckley vault-combing game, in 1994, esteemed West Coast indie label Manifesto, which entered the Buckley picture via a reissue of Dream Letter, unveiled Live At The Troubadour 1969, a nicely appointed single-CD set that collected key performances from an early September ’69 Buckley residency at L.A.’s famed Troubadour nightclub, sourced from the archives of Buckley’s manager, Herb Cohen (Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, etc.), and overseen by reissue producer and legendary industry veteran Bill Inglot. Considered alongside the aforementioned live-in-London set, it was a revelation, palpable sonic evidence that, while Buckley’s studio albums were consistently good, the stage was truly where Buckley came alive, unleashing that high, soaring tenor like a gospel-blues diva reaching heavenward while his band—longtime guitarist/keyboardist Lee Underwood, drummer Art Tripp (from the Mothers of Invention), conga player Carter Collins, Julliard-schooled bassist John Balkin—steamed relentlessly behind him like a jazz ensemble in full improvisational flight.
Fast forward to the present. As the 2CD Venice Mating Call and 2LP Greetings From West Hollywood co-producer Pat Thomas’ detailed liner notes disclose, Manifesto has gone back to the Cohen archives well, issuing previously unreleased recordings from the Sept. 3 and 4 Troubadour shows after meticulously going through five sets from three days’ worth of performances, originally caught on 16-track tape by the Wally Heider Remote Truck. There’s only a two-song overlap between the compact disc and vinyl offerings (“Driftin’” and “I Had A Talk With My Woman”), so if you want all the material—“Nobody Walkin’” for example, is 8:25 on VMC but runs a monumental 12:32 on GFWH and is considerably different in feel—you need to pick up both. In addition to Thomas, Bill Inglot (who, as noted above, produced the original LATT 1969 album) and Dan Perloff co-produced, while Brian Kehew assumed mixing duties for the multi-tracks; in an email, Thomas explained that while they knew of the tapes’ Heider Truck provenance, there was no original live recording engineer listed on the tape reel boxes. By way of consumer note, the 2LP set doesn’t come with a download card, which to me is a notable omission—I want to be able to listen to records at the office and in my car in addition to at home—but both albums are on Spotify, so ultimately it’s a minor quibble.
Cue up the CD or drop the needle, and with the jaunty, strummy “Buzzin’ Fly” you’re instantly seated at a small table so close to the Troubadour stage you can almost reach out and strum Buckley’s 12-string acoustic, his vocal front and center in the mix, the band’s instruments perfectly splayed out behind him and to the sides and abetted by a hint of rear-of-room echo lending a crucial ambiance that at times can seem like an extra instrument. Such is the intimacy at times that the listener can seem transported from a comfortable den populated by beautiful L.A. hipsters (look! There’s Michelle Phillips at the bar!) to a cramped jazz club jammed with musical cognoscenti who dole out their musical approval sparingly, but earnestly.
Favorites on Venice Mating Call? The woozy “Strange Feelin’” is an early high point, Underwood leading the band with bluesy riffs and Buckley answering him in kind. The percussive, kinetic, exploratory “Lorca,” which comes late in the set, is unique as an 11-minute early version of a song that would go on to become the title track of Buckley’s 1970 LP. Lorca would be cut in the studio, in fact, just two weeks after the Troubadour residency—the run of shows featured a number of as-yet-unrecorded songs destined for Lorca and Blue Afternoon, albums released at different times but recorded simultaneously. But the phenomenal “(I Wanna) Testify” never made it onto album, perhaps because it wasn’t a genuine Buckley original—as the Thomas liners detail, it was an improvisation upon an old gospel song—which is a shame, because it’s a true late ‘60s West Coast-style jam that would fit neatly into a set by the Dead, Quicksilver, or the Airplane and seems perfect for the times. (At one point Underwood quotes, intentionally or not, the Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen’s signature riff from “3/5 Of A Mile In Ten Seconds.” Pretty cool at that.)
How about faves on Greetings From West Hollywood? (The album title of course, is a nod to Buckley’s ’72 album Greetings From L.A.. Speaking of having fun with titles, the song “Venice Mating Call” appears on GFWH but not on Venice Mating Call, go figure.) In downtempo mode there’s folk-blues ballad “I Had A Talk With My Woman,” Buckley singing generally in his lower register to give the tune an additional intimacy. Contrast that with the jazzy, uptempo “Nobody Walkin,” for which Underwood swaps his guitar for Fender Rhodes and the musicians all lock into a propulsive groove, Buckley letting loose with extemporaneous whoops and off-mic asides—that voice is also an “instrument” in the truest sense of the term, at times sounding like the singer is becoming unhinged and leaping into the audience. (In Thomas’ liner notes, Underwood makes it clear that these performances occurred long before Buckley gave in to heroin’s allure, and to his knowledge no one in the band had more than a few beers at the shows; there were two each evening.) The Buckley band pulls out all the stops on another lengthy number, 11-minute closing track “Gypsy Woman,” also a pulsing, improv West Coast jam, right down to the individual players’ solos. Underwood in particular seems inspired, peeling off rapid-fire licks from his fretboard, Buckley responding in kind with yips, moans, and wordless cries of carnal passion
As live recordings go, these two titles immediately join the ranks of the greats. The aforementioned Dream Letter (Live In London 1968) has long been the gold standard among Buckley live releases, of course. But although recorded only a year removed from the Troubadour tapes, it represents a completely different Buckley, who as an artist was constantly evolving and experimenting. I’d venture that had a live Buckley album been released in ’69 or ‘70 his career trajectory might have been completely different, for this was an era during which fans prized authenticity above all else, which of course is why live albums were gradually becoming de rigeur for any “serious” musical artist.
Ultimately, while Buckley is long gone, the wealth of Buckley material available in 2017 helps secure the man’s legacy for the ages. As a fan myself since the early ‘70s, I dearly love every single note, and my hat is off to everyone at Manifesto and everyone involved in this archival project. More, please.
The Upshot: A remarkable return to form and the first studio material since 1989, the record sizzles with a raw immediacy as befits the band’s in-your-face arrangements. Plus a powerhouse live recording, from 1988, in a super-duper limited edition package. (Watch a live concert from October of this year following the review.)
BY FRED MILLS
This just might turn out to be The Year Of The Dream Syndicate, what with their first new studio album since 1989, How Did I Find Myself Here?, released, along with a limited edition colored vinyl re-release,The Complete Live at Raji’s (complete with bonus tracks), a 1988 concert which originally appeared in 1989 as Live at Raji’s around the time the group was winding down its original 1981-89 run. The Dream Syndicate actually resurfaced in 2012— guitarist/vocalist Steve Wynn (who has had a wildly prolific post-D.S. career, including numerous solo albums as well as Gutterball and The Baseball Project, not to mention—most recently—his band the Miracle Three), original drummer Dennis Duck, latterday bassist Mark Walton, and guitarist Jason Victor (on loan from the Miracle Three).
Backtracking a bit, and by way of a personal note, one steamy summer evening in ’86, September 24 to be precise, the Dream Syndicate loaded in at Charlotte, NC, punk/indie venue the Milestone Club. Wynn, along with guitarist Paul B. Cutler (who’d produced the band’s debut EP and eventually joined the band, replacing original guitarist Karl Precoda), Walton, and Duck, proceeded to lay waste to the minds of a packed crowd. Easing into their set with a kind of jazzy vamp along with Wynn’s admonition that they’d been told to keep the volume down—it was a weeknight, and the club owner was nervous in the wake of some recent noise complaints and the subsequent queries from the police—the band then visibly yanked the knobs on their guitars and crashed full-decibels-tilt into D.S. mainstay “Until Lately,” emitting gale force sonic winds and prompting an angry exit from the music room by the club owner. The rest of the show was no less exhilarating, from such classics as “The Medicine Show” and “The Days of Wine and Roses” to tracks from the recently-released Out of the Grey album to wild covers of Alice Cooper’s “Ballad of Dwight Frye” and War’s “Spill the Wine.” (Incidentally, you can listen to the show at Archive.org—the tracks posted online are taken from the tape I recorded that night.)
“Until Lately” is also a centerpiece of The Complete Live at Raji’s, a powerhouse set showcasing the band at the height of its latterday powers. The Cutler lineup was touring a few months prior to the release of what would be their last studio album, Ghost Stories, although with performances this incendiary you’d never think the group was verging on its last legs—in addition to that song, standouts include an unhinged “John Coltrane Stereo Blues,” The Medicine Show noir-rock gem “Burn,” and a jittery cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” that opened the January 31, 1988, show at legendary L.A. club Raji’s.
Live at Raji’s being the ’89 CD release, The Complete Live at Raji’s originally appeared as an expanded reissue on CD in 2004, but this new reissue marks the first time it’s ever been on vinyl. As with the 2004 disc, the project was overseen by veteran D.S. archivist Pat Thomas, who was responsible for unearthing four tracks that were not on the ’89 iteration; he also contributes informative liner notes in which he discusses the provenance of the Raji’s tapes as well as correcting some errors that had appeared in the earlier album credits. Here in 2017, devoted Dream Syndicate fans also get: colored vinyl, a thick-stock Stoughton “tip-on” gatefold sleeve, and a numbered edition. All thanks to the Run Out Groove label for going the extra mile with their release; ROG has fans vote on which will be the next title the company will produce, and Raji’s was a runaway winner as a vote-getter. Give the people what they want, eh?
Fast-forward to the 2012 Dream Syndicate shows. This was not necessarily a nostalgia trip like, say, the Pixies or Pavement, bands that reunited for tours and, sometimes, new recordings when they realized they could in fact cash in on fans’ nostalgia. Although the D.S. sometimes did complete renderings of classic albums The Days of Wine and Roses (from 1982) and 1984’s The Medicine Show in concert, their tours were more intermittent as individual schedules—and, more important—inspiration dictated. Apparently that inspiration increased as more time elapsed, for by the tail end of 2015 they were working on new material.
The new How Did I Find Myself Here?, then, is the culmination of many things, of which one of those things is clearly not recapturing/reconjuring old glories—they’re extending and elaborating upon an already estimable legacy that was already secure in the minds of fans and critics. With longtime peer Chris Cacavas (Green On Red) on board as co-producer and session keyboardist, the group serves up a tough-as-nails set, part-psychedelia and part-punk and 100 percent heavy-ass guitar rock.
Indeed, the record sizzles with a raw immediacy as befits its in-your-face arrangements. And everyone sounds utterly energized here, from the jetstream convulsions of the feedback-laden “The Circle” to the atmospheric, Bowie-esque (think “Heroes”) “Glide” to the manic, choppy riffage of “Out of My Head.” They also lob a few Easter eggs in the direction of fans, too, notably the throbbing bass intro to dissonant garage raver “80 West” which is clearly intended to recall the first album’s “That’s What You Always Say.” For “Kendra’s Dream” they even bring back original bassist Kendra Smith to handle lead vocals. And the 11-minute title track, a spooky, bluesy, ultimately swaggering slice of swamp-psych conjures D.S. epics of yore, particularly the extended concert extrapolations for which the band is known for. (On the tune, Cacavas brings some terrific Ray Manzarek-like electric piano to the table, additionally giving the tune a classic Doors vibe in spots.)
Consumer Note: The album comes digitally and on CD and is also pressed on 180-gm. vinyl (black in the U.S., turquoise or red in Europe). Fans who signed up via the group’s PledgeMusic campaign could avail themselves of numerous donation tiers, including the obligatory album/teeshirt bundles, a vinyl copy signed by all four members and accompanied by a D.S. turntable mat and a booklet of Steve Wynn’s ‘80s-era lyrics, and, at the $1,500 level, a personal DJ set or house party performance by Wynn—or even a full band house party set for anyone with $15,000 to burn. If you pledged you also got some nice freebies in the form of previously unreleased live material. I’d call that giving the people what they want.
DOWNLOAD: “How Did I Find Myself Here?”, “80 West,” “Out of My Head”
Below, watch the band’s October 20, 2017, concert at the Crossroads Festival in Germany
The dark, mystical, poetic first album from Tom Rapp & Co. continues to fascinate in the form of a new 50th anniversary edition.
BY BARRY ST. VITUS
It’s not a stretch to proclaim the ‘60s as a dazzling renaissance of musical creativity and exploration that covered a wide spectrum of genres. A pie chart would show large portions of the sound rooted in blues and folk music, the rest in pop, R&B or garage. Pearls Before Swine started out in Florida, made a demo, sent it to Brooklyn label ESP-Disk, and were welcome aboard the label. The band headed north in the spring of ’67, and laid out the One Nation Underground album in three frantic days with the label’s in-house producer, Richard Anderson. It dropped in October of that year. Unfortunately, the band, like others on the label, like Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs found out, were paid practically zero for the album. Somehow, their second album, Balaklava, also ended up on ESP, but they moved on to Reprise and Blue Thumb in later years.
One Nation Underground is now reissued by Drag City as a 50th anniversary, mono-restored remaster; Anderson himself was responsible for this remastering and he has vastly improved the sound. At the time of its original release, it was a rather arcane oddity, even in an era of unbridled musical experimentation, with moody, atmospheric songs in a new, acid-folk genre, and played with odd-sounding and exotic instruments that sounded like they came off of The Garden Of Earthly Delights cover art by Hieronymus Bosch—guitar, bass, drums, mandolin, autoharp, vibraphone, English horn, harpsichord, clavioline, finger cymbals, celeste, organ, oscillator, sarangi, and the Swinehorn that multi-instrumentalist Lane Lederer created. Plus a banjo.
The music was dark, mystical, penned with much poetic license, and conjured an aural mustiness of medieval wooden objects in a museum. Many of leader/troubadour Tom Rapp’s future themes featured references to Jesus, but not quite in His current, familiar persona, but, rather one that presented Him more as a metaphysical and mystical being, separate of later church dogma and commercialization. Rapp’s lyrics are sagacious, vivid, and hallucinatory. His imagery redolent of olden times, velvet, lace, harps, harpsichords, lisping lepers, hunchbacks, and fair ladies.
Some of the music tread alongside the compositions of Dylan, Donovan, and the Incredible String Band, to some degree, but, was wholly in its own dimension. The ten tracks are each diverse enough to make the album sound more like a set on a radio show. “Another Time” is straight-ahead folk; the very Dylan-ish “Playmate,” with its top-heavy Farfisa and plinking banjo; the “Ballad To An Amber Lady”; and the gentle lushness of “Regions of May”—all are moody and hypnotic. “Drop Out!” shifts into sixties sentiment, with its suggestion of casting off society, again back to the folk mode. There’s also the oddball “(Oh Dear) Miss Morse” (which actually does have Morse code in it that translates to “FUCK”), plus the raw, raging, anti-war, proto-punk “Uncle John,” and the mesmerizing psych of “I Shall Not Care.” The album finishes up with the aptly named, swoony, druggy (mostly) instrumental, “Surrealist Waltz.” (You can download a live 1998 version of “Miss Morse” HERE.)
Oddly enough, for all of its acid-flavored ambiance, Rapp had never done any drugs, mostly just riding high on tobacco—Winston cigarettes, to be exact. The album grew into a cult favorite, drawing in a wide audience of people as diverse as Iggy Pop and Leonard Cohen, whose cover of “Suzanne” the Pearls made their own on Balaklava, still my preferred version to this day. I was a teen when One Nation Underground was released, and I recall buying it based mostly on the cover art, but, soon fell under its numinous and haunting spell, and played it regularly. I eagerly snatched up Balaklava when it was released the following year, and was even more blown away by that sophomore release. Hopefully, there are plans in the works for its half-century anniversary release next year.
PBS had four final albums together before Rapp went solo, supporting acts like a young Patti Smith in ’76, before retiring from music for a while and entering a legal career as a civil rights attorney. He emerges occasionally for rare live shows, and has appeared at several Terrastock festivals, including the 1998 event San Francisco. He was a guest of mine on KALX Berkeley then, along with Nick Saloman of the Bevis Frond and Country Joe McDonald. And he also returned to the recording studio in 1999 to cut A Journal of the Plague Year for Saloman’s Woronzow label.
Numero Group offers up an odd, beautiful, powerful monument to one of the craziest stories in popular music, that of a trans pioneer operating as a full-blown soul diva, and possessed of jaw-dropping vocal talent.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
In photos, Jackie Shane radiates an unearthly poise and elegance, whether dressed in suits with only a slash of mascara to indicate her femininity or in full-blown soul diva mode with a long wig, elbow-length gloves and shimmery ball gowns. Born in the south in 1940, Shane knew from early teenage-hood the two things that would set her apart: that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body and that she could sing (oh god could she sing).
Shane made her way in a culture not yet equipped for gender ambiguity on sheer talent, drive and charm and got surprisingly far, flourishing in Canada for a few years in a much loved soul revue and notching a regional hit in her cover of William Bell’s “Any Other Way.” There was drama, the usual (song-credit stealing, racism, money troubles and drink and drugs among band members), as well as exotic (she was kidnapped once by a Montreal gangster eager to make her a star and his mistress), but also the hard, ordinary work of building a career, perhaps not as illustrious a career as if Shane had not been trans ahead of her time, but still remarkable for the 1960s.
A new two-disc set from Numero Group collects, for the first time, all Jackie Shane’s singles, as well as sessions from a near legendary set of shows in Toronto in 1967. The first disc of Any Other Way makes the case for Shane’s lasting resonance as a soul icon, fronting a superbly tight band led by Frank Motley. The second reinforces the case for Shane as an artist, provides a glimpse of her mesmerizing on-stage persona and perhaps even draws the curtain on the real person behind it.
Disc One, containing substantially all of Shane’s professionally recorded material, runs from sublime to raucous, with the former exemplified by her biggest hit “Any Other Way,” a saxophone-swaying ballad with bright flares of brass. Shane’s voice is gorgeous, a woman’s voice in its flute-y flourishes, but with the shadowy ambiguity of lower timbres in the refrain.
No one was talking about non-binary pronouns in the 1960s, so gender becomes rather fluid in these songs, sometimes CIS male, sometimes ambiguous, sometimes female. The covers were, of course, written for more conventionally oriented performers, but Shane manages to put a subversive spin on them. Her toughness and resilience is heartbreaking in the title track, when she confides to an ex-lover’s new flame, “tell her that I’m happy, tell her that I’m gay, I wouldn’t have it, any other way.” Yet she was also the center of one of the best party bands in Toronto during her day; you can get a real sense of the sweat-soaked, euphoric abandon of a Jackie Shane show in cuts like “Walking the Dog” and “Shot Gun.”
Disc One demonstrates how well Jackie Shane fit into a tradition steeped in gospel, spiked with soul and jacked on James Brown-style funk, but on the live Disc Two, recorded in mono during two nights of shows at the Sapphire Tavern in Toronto, and it is here that you begin to get a sense of what was different about Shane and her band. The live version of “Money (That’s What I Want),” composed by Barratt Strong but reconstructed here, is a revelation, as Shane unspools a monologue halfway through about difference and self-respect, family, fame and money that makes her personality pop right out of the record grooves. She’s not an easy person, clearly, as she asserts her right to looking good, giving (and receiving) satisfaction, living life her way and getting paid for the privilege, but she is formidable, a force of life not afraid to compare herself to Jesus Christ.
Shane quarreled with her band leader, Frank Motley, soon after these songs were recorded, and spent a couple of years fronting other ensembles. (Funkadelic tried, and failed, to get her to sing for them.) She disappeared from music entirely in 1971, and rumors flew that she had been murdered. She had, in fact, gone back to Los Angeles to care for her mother, and lived as a recluse for decades before Numero found her and convinced her to release this music. Any Other Way is an odd, beautiful, powerful monument to one of the craziest stories in popular music; it’s a killer record without the back story, but all the more jaw dropping when you know the history.
The Upshot: Dexter, Crow, and even Tone raving things up for your edification via an exhaustive exploration of the Jets’ earliest recordings.
BY FRED MILLS
For North Carolina indie music devotees—particularly the Chapel Hill contingent—it was an electrifying affirmation: the MTV Cutting Edge broadcast of a segment the video channel had filmed in February of 1985, featuring one Dexter Romweber, attired in cop hat and rebel-with-a-definite-cause leather jacket and slurping noisily (booze? tea? Diet Pepsi?) from a tin cup tethered to his jacket with a chain, giving the film crew a tour of his digs, at most a 10’ by 10’ storage shed located in the back yard of his mother’s Carrboro abode, but crammed with enough reclaimed furniture and record albums to qualify as a “pad.” That Romweber called it The Mausoleum wasn’t ironic. If, say, a homeless person stumbled in there after too much antifreeze, crawled under the makeshift bed, and expired, it wasn’t altogether inconceivable that the corpse wouldn’t be discovered until Dex or one of the pot-smoking pals who gathered there to spin obscure ‘50s and ‘60s rockabilly late into the night happened to be casting about for an errant platter or pillow.
Feel free to revisit the MTV segment at the YouTube link above; there are also plenty of live clips of Romweber’s Flat Duo Jets combo (both as a duo and as a three-piece) to seek out. Meanwhile, sonic origins arrive via Wild Wild Love, a two-CD version of that outrageously cool Wild Wild Love limited edition Flat Duo Jets vinyl box set (two LPs and a 10”) released for Record Store Day 2017. Included is the entire Mark Bingham-produced Flat Duo Jets LP that the Athens-based Dog Gone label originally released in 1989—Dog Gone was overseen by one Jefferson Holt, who now helms Daniel 13, a much-respected North Carolina books/music/film outfit—along with that album’s cassette EP precursor, Flat Duo Jets In Stereo (1985, Dolphin Records, recorded by Josh Grier and Steve Gronback), plus no less than a bakers-dozen outtakes from the ’89 LP.
Whattaya get? Well, of course there is “Wild, Wild Lover,” which they would also perform during a potentially career-making 1990 performance on Late Night With David Letterman, with FDJ fan Paul Shaffer happily sitting in. Moody tiki-surf twanger instrumental, “Madagasgar,” one of only two Dex originals on the Dog Gone album, is another obvious highlight, as is a revved-up instro take of Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing,” wherein drummer Crow lays down a jungle beat as throbbin’ as any Saturday afternoon Tarzan flick soundtrack you’d care to mention. Plus, all six tracks from that In Stereo cassette are represented, from the riotous Lieber & Stoller classic “Riot In Cell Block #9” to a sunny (and, for Romweber, remarkably restrained) cover of Buddy Holly’s “Think It Over” to an early Romweber original, “Theme For Dick Fontaine,” a twangy instro thumper not unlike the above-mentioned Prima track (and a tune often used to warm up the crowd at gigs back in the day). Listening to these now, over three decades later, the visceral-to-the-point-of-unhinged FDJ energy remains palpable; if you close your eyes, it’s not hard to imagine being at one of the band’s still-legendary early shows.
All those, plus the Mark Bingham-selected outtakes—among them, surf raveup “Penetration 1,” so electrifying here it’s hard to understand why it didn’t make the final cut for the original LP; “Harlem Nocturne,” which Dex and Crow would revive for the second Jets album, 1991’s Go Go Harlem Baby; and another version of “Wild, Wild Lover”—make for more than just an early DexRom musical snapshot. Wild Wild Love is also a history lesson, one boasting key performances that influenced everyone from the White Stripes to the Black Keys, and many, many more.
Now, before all you wannabe speculators make a mad dash to eBay or Discogs to unload your RSD 2017 FDJ WWL, be alerted that the box set is, in the parlance, a package too cool to dump. Note that as an added bonus, the Wild Wild Love CD includes a link to download a 78-page digital PDF color booklet filled with vintage show flyers and photographs, plus liner-note essays by Mark Bingham, Josh Grier, and music critic David Menconi (whose exhaustive history of the band would be, if eventually expanded to include Dexter’s entire colorful/ongoing history, as book-worthy as Menconi’s earlier biography of lapsed Tar Heel Ryan Adams). But said booklet was also originally a gorgeous 12” x 12” centerpiece of the vinyl box that really deserves to be held and admired. Yours truly was actually present at several of the shows visually represented in the booklet, Dex ‘n’ Crow caught in full flight at Charlotte’s Milestone Club by ace photographer Kent Thompson. (BLURT contributor Marty Perez also has shots in the booklet.) So I can attest to the, um, for lack of a better term, candid nature of these FDJ gigs, which might include, on any given occasion, Romweber bull-dozing into the crowd, stripping down to his skivvies, or simply stretching his shirt around the top of his head to stanch the flow of sweat.
Think of both iterations of Wild Wild Love as loving testimonials and crucial documents; the 2CD also boasts impressionistic art by Phil Plank, exclusive to that version, further indication of the Daniel 13 team’s intention to present the Flat Duo Jets as one of North Carolina’s more unique musical origin stories. Something tells me that more than a couple of heads are already nodding at the notion of adding a special Romweber wing to the Tar Heel State’s official music archives…
DOWNLOAD: “Penetration 1” and “Bring It On Home” (outtakes); “Theme for Dick Fontaine” (In Stereo); “Sing Sing Sing,” “Wild, Wild Lover,” “Madagascar” (Flat Duo Jets)
North Carolina twangers prepping vinyl reissue of classic album while planning out a new studio record as well for a spring ’18 re;ease/ Above photo by Michael Traister.
By Fred Mills
Cutting to the chase: Raleigh, NC, combo 6 String Drag has long been a favorite throughout the BLURT diaspora, dating back to the hard-twanging Americana combo’s ‘90s heyday, which included a Steve Earle-produced gem from 1997, High Hat. Much more recently, the group resumed operations following a lengthy hiatus, resulting in a wave of terrific live notices as well as considerable praise for 2015 comeback album Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll (Royal Potato Family), which was stuffed to the gills with choice power pop, rockabilly, ‘50s-ish rock, and stately blues.
The group is soldiering on with a twinned campaign to get High Hat re-released for the first time on vinyl (a 20th anniversary, limited edition white wax at that) and to release a brand new studio effort in March. Over at the 6 String Drag PledgeMusic page you can view the specifics along with the various tiers of involvement for pledgers, ranging from springing from digital, CD, and vinyl versions of High Hat, to all manner of rare memorabilia and house concerts fans can avail themselves of.
Do yourself a favor and check out these guys—our friends—and consider jumping in. By way of full disclosure, the High Hat reissue will be appearing under the label name of our sister business, Schoolkids Records (formerly Second Motion). Hopefully that gives you a sense of what a kickass band we think 6 String Drag has always been, and continues to be. It’s clobberin’ time, kids.
The Upshot: Fire, air, water and earth are the four elements, and saxophonist Joe Henderson serves up jazz ruminations upon each on this 1974 album featuring Alice Coltrane, Charlie Haden, Michael White, Leon Chancler and Kenneth Nash. (Go HERE to see additional entries at the BLURT Jazz Desk.)
BY BILL KOPP
Released in 1974, The Elements is the 16th album from tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. This four-track album features four extended tracks; each is an improvisational exploration/meditation on one the elements. Though much of Henderson’s work had been well within the relatively conservative parameters of hard- and post-bop, The Elements is a conscious and largely successful attempt to venture beyond convention.
“Fire” begins with several minutes of hypnotic rhythm section work; the track eventually flowers into something more exploratory, first with a violin solo from Michael White and then Alice Coltrane playing a harp in a manner that makes it sound more like a kalimba. It’s only when she does a glissando that the instrument is recognizable for what it is. They rhythm section (bassist Charlie Haden and Leon “Ndugu” Chancler) remains steady throughout, though via modern recording techniques they’re brought forward and faded deeper into the mix at various points. In a slight bow to convention, “Fire” restates its head near the end of its eleven-plus minutes.
“Air” has a completely different character. Lacking the insistent groove of “Fire,” it begins with sax and bass both seemingly vamping, with what sound like random bits of percussion splashed about. Henderson wails on his saxophone, and Coltrane enters, playing dramatic figures on piano. After five minutes or so, the entire performance is faded out, replaced in the sonic space by what sounds like a wholly new piece, and a different song. But this second “song” has a similarly unfocused character, one that has the feel of musicians preparing to play a piece together but never actually quite getting around to doing so. Alice Coltrane’s piano improvisations form the centerpiece of the second half of “Air,” joined now and then by Henderson’s sax and Haden’s upright bass work. White shows up on violin near the end of the piece.
The Eastern flavors of tambura and harmonium (played by Coltrane) open “Water.” While Haden lays down a static bass line, Henderson overdubs multiple sax parts, some of which employ heavy amounts of reverb. Unlike the previous tracks, “Water” is a Henderson solo spotlight, with none of the other players stepping forward. Near the track’s end he plays a few relatively conventional melodies, but for most of the track’s run time, he seems more intent on improvising.
At over 13 minutes, “Earth” is the longest track on The Elements. The track combines African percussion and a smoky, slightly sinister and funky beat. That backdrop provides a musical canvas upon which Henderson paints with his tenor saxophone. He plays smoky, soulful lines, again making extensive use of overdubbing; various sax lines intertwine throughout the piece. Sometimes the result is jarringly atonal, but more often it comes together seamlessly. Just over four and a half minutes in, all of the players save Haden are faded out of the mix. After a full minute of soloing, the bassist is joined by subtle bits of Indian instrumentation. Coltrane adds harp, and while the rhythm section continues to lay out, the players set up a mysterious sonic landscape. Percussionist Kenneth Nash recites lyrics that ruminate on the concept of time. The narration may remind some listeners of Rick Holmes’ work on Nat Adderley’s Soul Zodiac. The track’s final moments are built upon a slow, hypnotic rhythmic pattern, with layers of saxophone, harmonium and violin all competing for the sonic space.
After The Elements, Henderson would go on to make more than a dozen albums, switching from Milestone to Red and eventually Verve. His exploratory nature would continue after The Elements, but he never again would work with that album’s particular set of musicians.
Jazz Dispensary’s 2017 reissue of The Elements recreates the original, upgrading to 180-gram vinyl and a sturdier color sleeve.
The Upshot: African rhythms, the blues and vocals are highlights of this early 1970s jazz outing from saxophonist Gary Bartz, newly reissued on 180-gram vinyl with high-quality reproduction sleeve from Jazz Dispensary. (Go HERE to see additional entries at the BLURT Jazz Desk.)
BY BILL KOPP
The 1970s were a fascinating time in jazz. Fusion was establishing its footing, and a wide variety of artists had committed themselves to exploring the outer boundaries of the jazz form. One of the directions pursued was the incorporation of African rhythms and textures. Of course in and of itself, that was hardly a new idea: Cannonball Adderley’s African Waltz had explicitly followed such a direction way back in 1961. and it goes without saying that jazz was built upon an African foundation.
When saxophonist Gary Bartz recorded the second of his Harlem Bush Music albums – 1971’s Uhuru, credited to Bartz’s Ntu Troop – he chose to work with some of the best sidemen he could find. That short list included bassist Ron Carter. For this record, he built the collection around an 18-minute blues with vocal called “Blue (A Folk Tale).” The piece has the feel of an opening theme from a play or other stage presentation. The tune initially features only Carter’s bass plus Bartz on vocal and piano. He’s playing in a style quite reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. Three minutes in, Bartz enters on sax, joined by percussion stabs from Nat Bettis and drums by Harold White. Much of the next few minutes features little other than Bartz’s screaming, squawking and sometimes melodic saxophone, punctuated by vocal whoops and hollers. It’s exciting stuff.
Through overdubbing, Bartz adds multiple vocal lines as the band kicks into a truly funky workout; in turns it’s groove-filled, exploratory, bluesy and near ambient; Bartz seems intent on traveling to several destinations within the blues idiom within the framework of a single performance.
The albums’ remaining four tracks are all much shorter, but no less intriguing. “Uhuru Sasa” features Carter and Bartz often playing the same melodic line; but just when the listener licks into that groove, they diverge. The vocals – especially the chorus – dig into the African flavors.
“Vietcong” features Juni Booth on bass instead of Carter. The track fades in, suggesting that what we hear on record is merely part of a much longer piece. An alluring sax melody is supported by a slinky blues foundation. Against the backdrop of the then-current conflict in Southeast Asia, a tale of a Vietcong warrior “ fight[ing] for his homeland” would have been controversial stuff indeed. Regardless, it’s a swinging tune.
“Celestial Blues” fad in as well. The rhythm section of Carter and White turns out a hypnotic patter, atop which Bartz sings and solos on his sax. His soloing becomes wilder and unrestrained as the performance unfolds. Carter sounds like he’s having fun even while adhering to the limits imposed by function as the song’s anchor.
“The Planets” is not a reading of Gustav Holst’s classical work. Instead it’s a relatively spare number that lies halfway between cocktail jazz (thanks to the wood block percussion) and the sort of thing Sun Ra and His Arkestra might have done. The song largely becomes untethered in its midsection, allowing the players to head off in whatever direction they choose. More than anything else on Uhuru, “The Planets” feels like an improvisation.
A new 180-gram vinyl reissue of the album reproduces the music and the packaging in all its glory. Harlem Bush Music: Uhuru was Bartz’s fifth album as band leader. He would go on to release more than two dozen more albums, and today at age 76 he continues to perform. He also teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.