Category Archives: Vinyl records

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.



THE BEATLES – The Christmas Records (5 out of 5 stars)

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

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

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


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

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)

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

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 /

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)

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)

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)

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.

GRANT EARL LaVALLEY – From LaValley Below LP

Album: From LaValley Below LP

Artist: Grant Earl LaValley

Label: Exit Stencil

Release Date: October 13, 2017

The Upshot: Sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect.            


There’s an occurrence, about a half-hour into Joshua-Tree-by-way-of-Ohio singer/songwriter Grant LaValley’s long-playing debut, that could be crudely described as “sealing the deal” for you, the otherwise increasingly transfixed listener. It’s an extended version of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush impressionistic, druggy gem “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”: Reverently spare and true to the original melody for the first couple of verses, it subtly turns noirish—gothic, even—as distant cello and trumpet murmurs, lined with ambient noises, drift in, the volume rising uneasily to match LaValley’s neo-gospel vocal swells; he returns to the “it’s only castles burning…” chorus tag at the close, but by that point Young’s line is no longer one of reassurance, but of deathly inference. You’re left utterly haunted.

”DLIBYD” is the only cover on From LaValley Below, but it speaks volumes to this newcomer’s frame of reference, as he’s clearly cut from classic folk-rock cloth. Earlier on the album, one encounters originals such as “The In-Betweens,” a shuddery slice of midperiod solo Gene Clark; as well as the mournful, minor chord meditation “Dark Love,” and the contrasting uplift of “Seasons,” for which LaValley’s gentle fretboard pluckings are abetted by gorgeous cello-grand piano interplay and no less than his Joshua Tree neighbor Victoria Williams’ angelic warble.

And while it would be premature to make any grand pronouncements of, or predictions for, LaValley, his hermetic, almost isolationist approach to music-making certainly marks him as a man who has soaked in sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect. Keep an eye on him.

The album’s also pressed up on sweet wax – vinyl (not vinyls, newbies) to all you serious music fans. Also worth seeking out is LaValley’s recent, elaborately packaged 45 (also on Exit Stencil), “Let the Light Shine In” b/w “Dark Love” – the former track was co-written with songwriter/producer M. Craft, who LaValley met after moving to Joshua Tree. (Great minds think alike in the desert, eh?) It’s a must-own for vinyl collectors, and on heavy vinyl, at that – is it possible to have a 7” weighing in at 180 gms.?

DOWNLOAD: “Seasons,” “The In-Betweens,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”


Album: The Way Home LP

Artist: Ikebe Shakedown

Label: Colemine

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The Upshot: One of the year’s best albums, near-flawless in fact, simultaneously hypnotic and danceable raw funk, sinewy soul, and steamy Afro-beat.


Brooklyn funkateers Ikebe Shakedown first pinged the national radar in 2009 with the Hard Steppin’ mini album, a sinewy, sultry Afro-beat dance party that also featured some of the like-minded Budos Band gang. As an introductory statement, it was as revelatory as similarly-positioned arrivals, including debuts by the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, and the aforementioned Budos. Since then, the instrumental outfit has released two more albums (Ikebe Shakedown, in 2011, and Stone By Stone, in 2014) and a number of 7” singles, now arriving with The Way Home. It marks a reunion of sorts between the band and the Midwest funk/soul devotees at Colemine Records, which had released the debut (and, last year, reissued it as a numbered/colored vinyl limited edition); for albums two and three, the Ubiquity label did the honors.

The alliance is apt, for Colemine has been knocking ‘em out of the park this past year with amazing albums from Orgone, the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Soul Scratch, and Durand Jones & the Indications. The Way Home finds Ikebe Shakedown having not so much shed, as simply dialed back, some of the West African influences in favor of a more broadly defined funk and soul aesthetic. Horns remain prominent, of course, and when saxman Mike Buckley steps up for his solos, the Fela comparisons can’t be avoided; one track, “Assassin,” also brings in key rhythmic elements from African highlife. But overall it seems that the way Ikebe now integrates its horn arrangements (sax, flute, trumpet, trombone) with the percussion, keys, and guitar makes it closer to the classic Stax/Volt model, at times also conjuring images of vintage Motown and Muscle Shoals setups.

Indeed, “Penny the Snitch” could be from a long-lost Blaxploitation soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, from Robin Schmidt’s chicken-pickin’ guitar and wah-wah flourishes to Dave Bourla’s percussion (bongos and congas?). Likewise, on “Blue Giant” we’re in pure Curtis Mayfield territory, Schmidt’s guitar slipping between bluesy riffs and more wah-wah, while Buckley’s flute and Bourla’s percussion lend a cinematic, chase scene-like vibe. Speaking of the movies, “Brushfire” pulls off the impressive trick of sounding like a psychedelic spaghetti western overture, but with funk horns instead of mariachis; you don’t hear a lot of funk in the desert, but damned if Ikebe doesn’t make it a reality.

Seriously, this is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, and not just within the band’s chosen genre. It’s simultaneously hypnotic and danceable, and it gets better with every spin, too. Initial copies from Colemine are pressed on crystal clear vinyl and arrive in a deluxe gatefold sleeve (thick tip-on style) with each copy individually numbered. Download code included as well, a touch that a lot of labels overlook. Colemine consistently goes the extra mile, and they should be saluted for that—one of my favorite labels these days, period.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue Giant,” “Brushfire,” “Shifting Sands”


J.J. & THE REAL JERKS – Back to the Bottom

Album: Back to the Bottom

Artist: J.J. & the Real Jerks

Label: Dead Beat

Release Date: August 18, 2017

The Upshot: Cali punks hoist high the flag of ’77 in a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten.


From the R.Crumb-meets-Big-Daddy-Roth album sleeve art to the punque-as-fuque label name to the biker bars ‘n’ careening guitars sound, Los Angeles J.J. & The Real Jerks pretty much check every box that matters.

Bolt-outta-the-gate opening track replete with chugarama riffs and yakkity sax skronk (“Out of My Means”)? Check. Harp-powered blooze thrasher ode to drinking and stinking (“Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”)? Double check. Side B opener as visceral as Side A’s, evoking in the process no less than classic Heartbreakers (Thunders, not Petty, for “Mr. Good Enough”)? Check, check, check. Anthemic, power-chord metaphorical dissection of love on the rocks—or love never even getting far enough to paddle near the shore (“Ice Queen”)? Waiter, the check, please—we’ll pick up some dessert across the street at the liquor store.

Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here, which is probably the point, ‘cos J.J. (that’s little Joe Jennings to his mom and pop) and his gang—fellow guitarist Skot Pollok, bassist Hiroshi Yamazaki, sax maestro Geoff Yeaton, drummer Richie Mendez—have a different objective in mind. By serving up these nine hi-nrg slices of Noo Yawk ‘tude and southern Cali garage-punk, J.J. & The Real Jerks hoist high the flag of ’77, a fitting tribute to four fuggin’ decades of rock ‘n’ roll decadence that will never be forgotten. But they are still indescribably now, and you can count on that.

Vinyl hound alert: The LP’s first 100 copies come on beautiful blue vinyl. Everyone too slow on the draw will still get the black vinyl edition, and you know we here at BLURT central would have it no other way than wax, Jack.

DOWNLOAD: “Mr. Good Enough,” “Tuned Out,” “Bottle and Can Retirement Plan”


BARK – Year of the Dog LP

Album: Year of the Dog LP

Artist: Bark

Label: Striped Light

Release Date: October 06, 2017

The Upshot: Who you callin’ honey?: From minimalist, brooding blooze to shuddery surf-rock to moments of pure celebration, the erstwhile Tim Lee 3 members serve notice that they are in the house and here to stay.


Although Knoxville’s beloved Tim Lee 3 has been put up on blocks for the time being, following a ten-year, six-album run, 2/3 of that ensemble—spouses Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee—is still very much in action as Bark. In fact, the guitar/drums duo were road-testing as far back as 2015, when they released Let’s Go Dancing Down on Gator Lake Road… Shake That Thang Till Our Heads Explode, a live-in-studio mini-album that revealed a rawer, bluesier side to the Lees. Now comes Year of the Dog, which is a bit more fleshed out than LGDDOGLRSTTTOHE; they don’t follow the White Stripes 2-person template, instead adding bass guitar as desired (Susan handled bass in the Tim Lee 3, but here, both share duties), and a handful of guests contribute everything from percussion to Moog to handclaps. But it’s no less visceral in feel, a garagey—at times, surf-toned—set that’s all killer, no filler.

The record is available on thick black vinyl, w/download card, or on CD, but the striking thematic sleeve art really demands that the consumer possess the full-sized artifact, because it is genuinely is art, created by Susan. Hang it on your wall and you’ll get a response at the next gathering.

Things kick off on a minor-key note via “How You Gonna Miss Me,” a low-slung, low-pitched number highlighted by the intriguing contrast of Tim’s droning baritone guitar and Susan’s insistent kit thump. Indeed, a number of tracks here are of a distinctive brooding sort—the somber, trudging “Interstate Blues”; the Western-tinged “Elbmur” (if the instrumental starts to sound somewhat familiar after a couple of listens, well… read the title backwards; it would make a terrific murder ballad if lyrics were added); minimalist blooze “World of Regret.” One hesitates to read too much into the Lees’ equally downcast lyrics, but knowing that they’ve experienced several significant personal losses over the past year or so, it’s hard not to think that they were working through some pain as they wrote these songs.

Elsewhere on the album, the Bark musical purview is compellingly broad, from the quirkysexybluesycool “Lazarus” (Susan turns in one of her finest vocals to date here) and the shuddery surf motifs of “Living Under Water,” to psychedelic raveup “The Only Cure” and the hilarious road trip that is “One-Eyed Driving” (improbably enough, it suggests a classic hill country-styled blues transformed into a surf anthem). The latter tune’s cheeky Snoop Dogg lyrical invocation—“I got my mind on my honey, and my honey on my mind”—seals the deal, and it also serves as a righteous declaration of devotion for this rock ‘n’ roll couple.

Incidentally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Year of the Dog is a 12-songer, with the vinyl only having 11 of those 12 tracks. Never fear, wax devotees: The final track, the upbeat, celebratory rocker “Ends of the World,” is included with the digital download. It’s a terrific number, too.

DOWNLOAD: “Living Under Water,” “Elbmur,” “World of Regret”

Ed. note: elsewhere on the BLURT site you can read our 2015 Tim Lee 3 interview as well as our 2017 look back at Tim’s early power pop band The Windbreakers.

RIVENER – Rivener LP

Album: Rivener LP

Artist: Rivener

Label: Twin Lakes/These Are Not Records

Release Date: October 20, 2017 /

The Upshot: For staunch fans of guitar/percussion psych and improve inclined to host wine-tastings and silent auctions (not). Get it on wax, natch.


Sometimes the press sheet and bio says it better, so allow me to quote, regarding New Haven cosmonauts Rivener:

“Lysergic, shape-shifting explorations of no wave, noise, free-jazz, and psych, with some elements rooted loosely in the rock tradition.”

Now, lest you think the above stratagem is a lazy reviewer’s cheat, fear not. Amid multiple spins of this heavy duty (how heavy? Thick 180gm black wax, heavy…) sonic sojourn, I detect scores of nuances designed to tweak my inner Prog, Kosmiche, and Noize teenager; but just as I could not summon, as a musical neophyte of a teen, the requisite verbiage to translate into words what was echoing through my cranial columns, here in 2017, it’s almost as if this no-overdubs/minimal-edits duo is determined to thwart the quick-with-a-description crowd—and more goddam power to them.

This, a collaboration between the Twin Lakes and These Are Not Records labels, and their follow-up to last year’s Svengali Gaze, finds guitarist/keyboardsman Paul Belbusti and drummer Michael Kiefer initially dropping the listener down into the middle of what some of my unreconstructed hippie friends might mistake for a heretofore undocumented middle section of “Dark Star” circa 1969-70. But nevermind the Dick’s Picks, here’s “It Takes A Pillage” coming on the heels of “Noiren,” in which the pair’s more focused percussive leanings come into play via a roiling, mutating, POV-changing series of sonic extrapolations that would make even the most devoted Sonic Youth tape archivist turn green with envy. Much later, deep into side B of the LP, Rivener moves into more groove-oriented territory (term used loosely) thanks to some apocalyptic rumblings during the lengthy “Discoveries of Fire (Saints, preserve us)” and the downright tunefully lyrical “Tsardana,” a kind of Middle Eastern modal mantra that all you lapsed Savage Republic fans might readily embrace.

Challenging? Depends on one’s aural proclivities. Suitable for wine tastings and silent auctions? Um, probably not. Life affirming? Oh, yes. Yes.

DOWNLOAD: “Tsardana,” “It Takes a Pillage”

Incoming: Big Star Live-in-1973 Album

Watch the album trailer and listen to a track, below.

By Fred Mills

Slated for release by Omnivore on Jan. 12: Live at Lafayette’s Music Room, by Big Star, a performance in Memphis in the spring of ’73 a few months prior to the notorious Memphis Rock Writers Convention in May of that year. The concert originally appeared as Disc 4 of Rhino’s acclaimed 2009 Big Star box set Keep An Eye on the Sky but this marks the first time it will be available in all formats: CD, digital, and 2LP vinyl. It will also boast new packaging and has been remastered. Included will be a download of a ’72 interview with the late Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel originally conducted by Memphis DJ Jon Scott.


  1. When My Baby’s Beside Me
    2. My Life Is Right
    3. She’s A Mover
    4. Way Out West
    5. The Ballad Of El Goodo
    6. In The Street
    7. Back Of A Car
    8. Thirteen
    9. The India Song
    10. Try Again
    11. Watch The Sunrise
    12. Don’t Lie To Me
    13. Hot Burrito #2
    14. I Got Kinda Lost
    15. Baby Strange
    16. Slut
    17. There Was A Light
    18. St 100/6
    19. Come On Now
    20. O My Soul

TROUBADOUR X 2: Tim Buckley

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.


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 DREAM SYNDICATE – How Did I Find Myself Here? LP + The Complete Live at Raji’s 2LP

Album: How Did I Find Myself Here? LP + The Complete Live at Raji’s 2LP

Artist: Dream Syndicate

Label: Anti- Records / Run Out Groove

Release Date: September 08, 2017

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.)


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—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

DIVISIONISTS – Daybreak LP (orange vinyl)

Album: Daybreatk LP

Artist: Divisionists

Label: Mount Watatic

Release Date: March 17, 2017

The Upshot: A near-perfect blast of visceral psychedelia and blissed-out power pop that yields earworm after earworm.


Devotees of latterday psychedelia surely shed more than a few tears when New England quartet Abunai! called it a day in the early ‘00s, after a fruitful 1996-01 run that yielded three critically acclaimed full-lengths. There have been the inevitable reunion shows over the years, but for the most part the members have concentrated on their post-Abunai! projects, and with Divisionists, formed by guitarist Brendan Quinn, we have a combo that not only builds upon that psychedelic legacy, it definitively merges psych with power pop and shoegaze for one of the freshest-yet-familiar albums of 2017 to date.

Quinn, a multi-instrumentalist whose solo albums have featured appearances by fellow Abunai! alumni, the Bevis Frond gang and other indie avatars, and spotlighted, in particular, his fingerstyle guitar virtuosity, is based in London these days and is joined by guitarist/synth man Mark Bennett, bassist Mike Whitaker, and drummer Rob McGregor. In 2012 they released the “we play rock music…” EP to good notices, but with the arrival earlier this year of the “Say Can You” single, all bets were immediately off for Divisionists. A hi-nrg blast of chiming, fuzzed-out guitars and soaring, ecstatic vocals, it conjured classic images of everyone from Teenage Fanclub, Ride, and Matthew Sweet, to Byrds, Crazy Horse, and Velvet Underground. That, along with followup “Dream Landscape,” a moodier, drifting/droning ballad that adds Big Star to the pop rogues list, are  obvious highlights on Daybreak’s first side, although that’s not to say that any of the other tunes are slackers. Far from it—just check the gospellish vocals and rippling guitars of “Alone” or a luminous cover of the Velvets’ “Pale Blue Eyes.”

Flip the record and the delights keep coming, from the warm, womblike sonic cocoon that is “Colors (Song For a Spaceman)”—for you influences trainspotters, listen for the modal, almost Quicksilver Messenger Service-like fretwork—to the straight-up jangle pop of “Little Margaret” to the dark, explosive, feedback-laden, space-rocking “We Must Be Careful,” which, at seven minutes, has ample time to ebb and explode in a prismic burst of dynamics, tones, and textures. All in all, a remarkable record that repays successive listens with earworm after earworm. All those above comparisons to icons? Believe it.

Consumer Note: The album, available at the above Bandcamp link for the record label (which is run by Quinn and Lisa Makros, who also guests as a backing vocalist) or at the group’s Bandcamp page (which compiles a slew of ecstatic reviews), comes in digital or vinyl formats—180gm orange wax, to be specific, and it is a visual, tactile feast. Included is a download code as well as a full-sized, four-page insert for credits, lyrics, and photos. I call that going the extra mile, and it is truly appreciated, gentlemen.

DOWNLOAD: “Say Can You,” “Freedom,” “Colors (Song For a Spaceman)”