Category Archives: Vinyl records

A DETERMINED RETURN: 6 String Drag

“All you can do is bust your ass to make good music”: With new album Top of the World and a re-release of their Steve Earle-produced masterpiece, High Hat, this seminal Americana band from North Carolina marks another new beginning.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

There’s a certain truth to the saying “timing is everything.” And there’s no more pertinent application to that adage than in the music biz. Being on top of trends, recognizing relevant topics, and tuning in to an audience’s interests and expectations are absolutely essential when it comes to maintaining a viable and prolific career.

Consequently, when North Carolina’s 6 String Drag made their bow and formed in 1993, it seemed an ideal time in terms of fertile possibilities. The boundaries between rock, pop, punk and country were breaking down, and bands like Uncle Tupelo in particular were opening the door in hopes of encouraging that slow but steady transition. 6 String Drag’s archival influences were obvious — Van Morrison, the Replacements, the Stones, the Kinks and George Jones all made the cut — but the rough-hewn sound they crafted was all inclusive, one that could appeal to anyone with a devil- may-care attitude as well as a taste for homegrown sensibilities.

All was well and good, but despite a razor-sharp sound, a contract with Steve Earle’s E-Squared Records, two strong seminal albums (their self-titled 1995 debut and its excellent successor, High Hat, which followed in ’97 and was co-produced by Earle), the band never got the traction they deserved. In late 1998 founders Kenny Roby and Rob Keller went their separate ways in pursuit of their individual careers and the other band members dispersed as well. Roby in particular went on to a prolific solo career, releasing five solo albums — Mercury Blues (1999), Black River Sides (1999), Rather Not Know (2002), The Mercy Filter (2006) and Memories & Birds (2013; reviewed HERE) — but though he garnered his fair share of critical kudos, the absence between albums served to stifle his momentum.

Indeed, timing is the one thing that 6 String Drag always seemed to lack. Although the elements seemed stacked in their favor, their early masterpiece High Hat failed to win them the attention that outside observers reckoned that they had coming.

“I felt like we were changing the world…making Sgt. Pepper,” Keller’s been quoted as saying. “High Hat was not received like Sgt. Pepper. It was critically acclaimed, yet it did not sell as well as was expected.”

Roby has his own reasons for the failure of the band to maintain its forward progress. “I can’t go out and scream ‘give me some love,’” he insists. “There’s no telling what people listen to or why they listen to something, or why things catch hold or don’t catch hold. Or for that matter, what things come together to sell a band. We kind of broke up as we were on the upward mobility slant or whatever you want to call it. By the time 6 String Drag had a gotten a little bit of press recognition and some radio, and the record had come out, we were opening for Son Volt. We were post- the Uncle Tupelo world, but pre- the 2000 Americana explosion, the Avett Brothers and all that. So we were kind of in a bit of a lull.

“Do I wish I could make a little more money doing music? Yeah, probably. And have a quote-unquote career? Yeah, I guess. But you can’t change just one part of your life, ya know.”

Could the fact that the band only put out a pair of albums before breaking up and reforming some 17 years later have had anything to do with it? Maybe, Roby says. “But 6 String Drag at the time wasn’t much of a ‘pop’ band. If you listen to High Hat, it doesn’t sound like total pop music. We could have gotten into a little niche probably. It wasn’t quite as poppy as a Whiskeytown kind of thing, and it wasn’t as super country twangy as a lot of the country bands were at that time. I guess if I had to come up with an answer, I’d have to say that it wasn’t country enough for country and it wasn’t twangy enough for Americana.”

He pauses to reflect on that.

“I thought we were like a Doug Sahm kind of band, although we didn’t sound like Doug Sahm or the Sir Douglas Quintet,” he continues. “We were like a bar band that liked to embrace all kinds of music and the contemporary music of the ‘80s and ‘90s as well. Like a NRBQ or the Band. We have just as much fun playing to an intimate crowd at a corner bar dive with a bunch of people who like our music and sing along as we do on a theater stage. We’d love $30 a head and 2,000 people, but we’re totally comfortable being a bar band, a pub band. That’s when we’re at our best, just being loose and having fun.”

Likewise, he has a hard time coming up with a precise definition of exactly where the band fit in musically at the time. The explanation eludes him even today.

“We were like a lot of bands around that time, bands that took their cues from the Replacements and the Stones and Neil Young and Crazy Horse, kind of on the rootsier side of rock,” he suggests. “A lot of us grew up listening to punk rock and then getting into country rock. It was very similar to bands like Uncle Tupelo. That’s the kind of thing that appealed to us. I go back and listen to it now and of course I still like it. It’s like that slogan ‘three chords and the truth,’ which helped define punk rock. It’s like three chords and the truth for country, or three chords and the truth for blues…although sometimes there’s four. Maybe that was it. It was all the same to us. I never got into the super sophistication of bluegrass. I was never into progressive rock. I was into the Clash and Black Flag and the Bad Brains and Buck Owens and George Jones. It was always pretty simple, but it was also easy enough for me to do. I didn’t know enough about guitars or songwriting to play more complicated music than that. We didn’t think we were doing anything groundbreaking. It’s just these different waves of whatever’s popular. In the 2000s, they came up with this Americana thing. I thought Americana was a description for furniture.”

“We listen to a lot of different kinds of music and of course that rubs off on us,” Keller notes. “We get on this wavelength where we will get into things all at the same time. Recently, it’s been on the pop rockier side, from ‘60s Kinks to ‘70s glam rock, to ‘80s punk, and power pop. We probably would’ve made more records had we stuck together all these years because we’ve always been into this type of music.”

The sound he’s describing comes full circle on the band’s new album, Top of the World, due for release this March on Schoolkids Records. (Full disclosure: Schoolkids is BLURT’s sister business.) It’s their first undertaking since their initial post-breakup reunion, releasing the Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll album in 2015 (reviewed HERE). It also finds Roby and Heller still at the helm, with recent recruits — guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Luis Rodriguez, drummer Dan Davis, and producer Jason Merritt — offering able assistance. The album, clearly the band’s most effusive and assertive offering in terms of a genuinely accessible sound, follows the label’s vinyl (limited edition white vinyl at that) recent re-release of High Hat.

Roby, for one, is clearly excited about the new record’s direction.

“We recorded a lot of it at the same studio where we recorded the last one,” he explains. “But it’s more of a rock and pop record than the last one was. Real quick, real simple, ‘50s and ‘60s style songs. We tracked the record in four days. There were very few overdubs. For the most part the record was done by the time we walked out of the studio, except for the horns and the live vocals. Oddly enough, that’s the way we recorded High Hat, but High Hat was more of a rock record. We did basic tracks just like a basic rock band in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but we spread out the recording a little longer back then to give us time to absorb the songs. Some of it is done the same way, but some things were done differently. It’s got elements of all of our records, but also the contributions that the new guys bring. I can’t always put my finger on what that is, as far as stylistically, but it does sound a little more layered. It’s a little more mature, although I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing for rock ‘n’ roll or Americana.”

As far as the re-release of High Hat is concerned, Keller sees that as a valuable additive that helps underscore the band’s re-emergence. “High Hat has been out of print, so we really needed it in our present catalog,” he says. “Also, it being 20 years makes it a good time to celebrate it. We always want to look forward in creating, so we just coincidentally have this new record at the same time.”

As Keller tells it, he and Roby have always kept in touch over the years, and have even occasionally played some shows together. Still, Roby suggests that the extent of the band’s ongoing efforts has a lot to do with practicality, saying, “We’ll play weekends. We’ve been playing on weekends for the last two years since the last record came out… actually, before the last record came out. We’ve even been doing some weeklong stints. Luis has been with us since we laid down the last album and Danny has been with us for the last year. So we’ve played a good amount of shows. We’ll start playing here and there and get out of the immediate area. But I don’t know how we could go out on the road all the time. With guys in their 40s… I don’t know.

Likewise, Roby is realistic when it comes to measuring the band’s prospects for success this time around. “We still have a lot of fun doing it and the carrot is just to get better at it,” he maintains. “As far as recognition is concerned, you just have to do the best you can as far as making records. You can only do so much. You can work your ass off and nothing will happen. Or you can do nothing, and something will happen. I don’t know what that ‘something’ is.” (Below, “something” happening for the band a couple of months ago.)

Ultimately, Roby remains pragmatic. “Hopefully you have good records,” he muses. “When someone turns around to look at you, hopefully you did your best and you have some good work for them to notice. With us, we haven’t sold a ton of records, so a lot of this resurgence is about looking back and maybe checking out one of the earlier albums or a record from my solo career or whatever. You always want to have good work, because you don’t want people to say, ‘What’s all that bullshit hype about?’

“All you can do is bust your ass to make good music. I’d rather make good music than have more fans. It would be nice to have more fans, but the carrot is still to make the next record the best you can make.”

Read our 2013 interview with Kenny Roby: “Rock, Roll & the Art of Discipline”

5LP + DVD Holger Czukay Box Set Due in March

By Blurt Staff

On March 23rd, keeper-of-the-krautrock-flame Groenland will be releasing Cinema, an overview of Holger Czukay’s solo work and collaboration. Included will be Canaxis 5 (1969), Movies (1979), On The Way To The Peak Of Normal (1981), Full Circle (1982), Der Osten Ist Rot (1984), Rome Remains Rome (1987) and Radio Wave Surfer (1991). This five-LP set features a 36-page booklet, DVD of a movie starring Czukay for which he also made the soundtrack as well as a “vinyl video.”

It ain’t cheap – $135. (Peak of Normal was reissued on vinyl not long ago, incidentally.) But to have all of this under one cover isn’t a bad way to get  your springtime record collecting off to a nice start….

Sex Pistols “…Queen” 45 Sells for Nearly $15k

You just might feel like you’d been cheated…

By Uncle Blurt

Quick, name one record you’d love to own but have neither ever seen it nor have a prayer of every buying.

If you said “God Save The Queen” / “No Feeling” by the Sex Pistols—the mega-rare version that the UK branch of A&M Records issued in 1977 prior to the band getting dumped by the label and subsequently signing with Virgin—go to the head of the bank queue. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your house deed as collateral for the loan.

The 45 has long been considered one of the rarest records from the modern era, reportedly only 25,000 copies pressed, and “virtually all were destroyed” by A&M in the wake of the cancellation of the band’s contract. Now, Alternative Press is reporting that a copy sold recently, on November 27, for nearly $15k.

“Discogs has verified the sale of the 1977 Sex Pistols seven-inch on A&M Records for $14,690 [actually, the figure listed on the Discogs site was €12,500.00, about $14,959.31 in US dollars – Ed.] and it now tops the list of the 30 most expensive records sold on the record-collecting database and marketplace for November.”

Somebody’s got some deep pockets. But wait—as the saying goes, there’s more. Currently on Discogs there are two copies of the infamous 7-inch for sale by UK-based sellers, one from a “davepunx” for £16,500.00 (about $22,400.83), the other from “mattyboy2009” for £18,999.00 (about $25,793.53). So you just might need that aforementioned trip to see your bank teller if you want to nab the platter any time soon. Of course, if you should decide to pony up, don’t blame us if at some point someone says to you, “Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?”

Never fear, normal people: there are “unofficial” reissues from 2013 on the market that were pressed on blue vinyl and boast a “Queen” themed picture sleeve that you can apparently score in the $30 range…

STILL LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER: The Heartbreakers’ Classic LP, Revived

As released on DVD and LP to chronicle a series of 2016 concerts, and more recently celebrated on a 2017 mini-tour, the iconic punk album proves its staying power.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

L.A.M.F., the only studio album by Johnny Thunders’ infamous New Yawk punk ‘n’ roll band the Heartbreakers, turned 40 in 2017, outlasting its driving force by a good quarter of a century, Thunders, a notorious junkie, having passed away in ’91 in New Orleans. In anticipatory celebration, Heartbreakers co-guitarist and torchbearer Walter Lure assembled a dream team of Thunders cohorts and acolytes to perform the album front-to-back in its original Track Records 1977 order for a short residency in mid-November 2016 at the Bowery Electric venue, recording the shows for a proposed album and video. (For a detailed review of the event, along with the Heartbreakers’ backstory, check out journalist/photographer Caryn Rose’s account at Noisey.) The video rendering recently arrived on DVD courtesy Jungle/MVD.

 

Joined by MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer (who played with Thunders in the short-lived Gang War), Blondie/Plimsouls drummer Clem Burke (who came up on the same downtown NYC scene as Thunders) and erstwhile Replacements/Guns ‘N Roses bassist Tommy Stinson (the ‘Mats being one of the few American bands to keep Thunders’ reckless rock ‘n’ roll spirit burning), plus guests, Lure delivers exactly the kind of rock show you’d expect from someone who came up that close to the flame.

The quartet plays like they rehearsed just enough to be on the same page with the songs, but not enough to be anything close to slick. Lure and Stinson share the vocals, with the former keeping to NYC cool and the latter bawling like an out-of-breath animal, while Lure and Kramer faithfully reproduce the original LP’s clashing six-string chaos and Burke calmly makes the case for being the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer alive. The ad hoc band acquits itself nicely on the usual classics like “Chinese Rocks” and “Born to Lose,” with Kramer singing “Let Go” and Burke doing Jerry Nolan’s “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You.” D Generation’s Jesse Malin guests on a feral “I Wanna Be Loved” and a poignant “It’s Not Enough”; Cheetah Chrome romps through “Goin’ Steady”; up-and-coming New York rocker Liza Colby brings soul to “I Love You”; and Chrome and Malin team up on a blazing “Pirate Love.” The whole thing comes clanging to a close with a Kramer-sung “Do You Love Me,” the Heartbreakers’ roaring bash through a Motown classic.

Production values are catch as catch can, with frequent out-of-focus video, a squirrelly mix that favors volume over nuance, a director clearly flying by the seat of his pants, especially in the editing room, and no effort put into maintaining continuity between the three different performances captured in order to compile the film. It makes one wonder if the decision to shoot it was last minute. But you know what? That’s all fine, even appropriate. Johnny Thunders never chased perfection when he could nail the moment, and Lure and company blast through his legacy with a ramshackle joie de vivre that’s more about feel and soul than precision — just like the work of the man to whom it pays tribute.

EDITOR’S NOTE: L.A.M.F. Live at the Bowery Electric has also been released as a limited edition (950 copies pressed), colored vinyl collectible, arriving in independent record stores for the annual Record Store Day “Black Friday” event. (The LP appears to not be listed on the Record Store Day website for that Black Friday sale, originally billed as a “RSD Limited Run/Regional Focus Release; but the BLURT braintrust eagerly snapped up copies on Black Friday, and as of this writing it appears to be available online but with only 950 copies in circulation, it probably won’t remain that way for long.)

And bringing things up to the present, the real 40th anniversary-of-L.A.M.F. was celebrated this past November 29 and 30, also at the Bowery Electric, followed by shows in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Solana Beach, and San Francisco, where they wrapped on Dec. 4. The mini-tour featured a slightly different roster of players. Lure, obviously, headed things up, and fellow ground-zero punk Burke was also on hand; they were joined by Mike Ness of Social Distortion on guitar, and Sex Pistols/Rich Kids bassist Glen Matlock. Malin again was a special guest, having helped organize both the 2016 and 2017 shows, turning in spirited vocals on “Pirate Love,” “It’s Not Enough,” and — in the Thunders-centric four-song encore — the iconic “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”

Memories, indeed.

 

2017 Vinyl Sales Hit 16-year High In UK

Spin the black circle…

By Blurt Staff

The Vinyl Factory reports that, according to the BP, 2017 saw the sale of 4.1 million vinyl albums in the UK last year, which represents in the neighborhood of 3% of total music sales (vinyl, CD, streaming, downloads).

The 2017 Top Ten, sales-wise, is below – note the number of catalog titles, however, and the Beatles, Nirvana, Bowie, and Queen also figure prominently in the overall Top 25.

 

  • Ed Sheeran – Divide
  • Liam Gallagher – As You Were
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Awesome Mix 1 Original Soundtrack
  • Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
  • Rag’N’Bone Man – Human
  • Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
  • Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Oasis – What’s The Story Morning Glory
  • David Bowie – Legacy

 

Incoming: Moon Duo 12″ Covering Suicide, Stooges

By Blurt Staff

The Sacred Bones label’s dynamic duo – that would be Moon Duo – is set to drop a new 12″ single on which they cover Suicide’s “Jukebox Babe” and the Stooges’ “No Fun.” Vinyl hounds will have plenty of reason to cheer: it will be available on both white vinyl (with a bonus poster included) and standard black vinyl, for a total of 2000 copies.

According to the band,

“We started playing ‘No Fun’ after BBC6 Radio asked us to record an Iggy song for his 70th birthday. We added it to our set to work it out for the session and kept playing it every night because everyone loves that song. We worked up a version of ‘Jukebox Babe’ because our sound engineer Larry got it stuck in his head and was singing it all the time. We figured, we may as well play it if we’re going to hear it all the time.

“The Stooges and Iggy, and Suicide/Alan Vega/Martin Rev, are all huge influences on us. But we never want to do faithful covers of great songs, because what’s the point. So we tried to push both of the tracks in less obvious directions, incorporating other influences, like California psych and cosmic disco, giving them more of a summer vibe. We knew Sonic Boom was working outside of Lisbon, so we asked him to produce the tracks, recording them in August for maximal summer heat.”

Based on the Suicide track alone, which is streaming at the Sacred Bones site, it’s a killer platter. Moon Duo are pros at limited edition releases, incidentally; last year’s two-part Occult Architecture EP was available as two colored vinyl pieces, and most of their other records have had some collectible element such as numbered, colored vinyl, bonus 7″, etc.

Moon Duo kick off a UK tour at the end of January.

Spacemen 3’s Dreamweapon Gets Fresh 2LP Reissue

Drone on! (blurted in Human Torch voice…)

By Blurt Staff

This just in from the estimable Superior Viaduct label – pretty much speaks for itself:

August 1988, Spacemen 3 embark on one of the strangest events in the band’s already strange history. Billed as “An Evening Of Contemporary Sitar Music” (although consciously omitting the sitar), the group would play in the foyer of Watermans Arts Centre in Brentford, Middlesex to a largely unsuspecting and unsympathetic audience waiting to take their seats for Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire.

Spacemen 3’s proceeding set, forty-five minutes of repetitive drone-like guitar riffs, could be seen as the “Sweet Sister Ray” of ’80s Britain. Their signature sound is at once recognizable and disorienting – pointing as much to the hypnotic minimalism of La Monte Young as to a future shoegaze constituency.

On the Feb. 23 double LP reissue from Superior Viaduct, Dreamweapon is augmented by studio sessions and rehearsal tapes from 1987 that would lead up to the recording of Spacemen 3’s classic Playing With Fire album. “Spacemen Jam,” featuring Sonic Boom and Jason Pierce on dual guitar, is a side-long mediation on delicate textures and psychedelic effects.

Recall that Dreamweapon originally appeared in 1990 as a 12″ EP with two long tracks or as a CD with a single 45-minute number, “An Evening of Contemporary Sitar Music.” It was recorded live in ’88 in London. Over the years it has been reissued a number of times, including on the Sympathy label in the US with different artwork, and on the band’s on Space Age label for CD and LP. This new one apparently brings things up to date with all the material that has been released previously, although no bonus music is added.

WEDDING PRESENT – George Best (30th Anniv. Deluxe Ed.) LP

Album: George Best (30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) LP

Artist: Wedding Present

Label: Happy Happy Birthday To Me

Release Date: November 24, 2017

http://hhbtm.com/

The Upshot: Nevermind the reissues, here’s the Gedge: a classic album gets revisited for the newly awakened vinyl generation.

BY FRED MILLS

Thirty years on, it’s hard to mount even a tepid argument against the out-of-the-gate brilliance of the Wedding Present’s 1987 debut. It’s certainly a product of its times, what with the omnipresent, uber-c86 guitar strum arrangements; bandleader David Gedge’s deep, resonant, and deeply emotive Morrissey-meets-Ian-Curtis vocals; and a general proto-indie rock, post-post-punk vibe that would, in a few years, grip the Brit-pop pop’d British imagination as lesser artists such as Blur, Suede, and Pulp stormed the charts.

The 12-songer has been reissued in numerous formats over the years, notably a 1997 CD via Cooking Vinyl that added a whopping 11 tracks. Archival specialist Edsel Records also weighed in with a sprawling 3-CD, 1-DVD box featuring those bonus cuts plus a slew of 1987-88 live material. But Athens, Georgia, label Happy Happy Birthday To Me has come up with an artifact that is pure catnip for the WP collectors – not to mention just plain vinyl aficionados. George Best 2017 arrives as a deluxe red wax edition housed in a two color screen printed sleeve whose artwork recaptures the titular red-jerseyed football player minus the field/bleachers background, lending the LP a kind of Warholian pop art sensibility. Which is appropriate, eh? “Pop” art was never sweeter. (Download card is included, and if ordering direct from the label, the deluxe edition snags you a special tote bag and badge. When those are gone there is also a black vinyl version.)

The Wedding Present would go on to subsequent heights, of course; 1991’s Sea Monsters held its own during the ascent of the aforementioned Britpop bands, and 1996’s Saturnalia remains an enduring, if wholly underrated, gem. But George Best wins the proverbial “quintessential” badge for Gedge because, as an opening statement and salvo, it’s up there with pretty much any long-playing debut you’d care to list. Hats off to HHBTM for reminding us of this. Now, let those listicles begin…

DOWNLOAD:  “It’s What You Want That Matters,” “Everything Thinks He Looks Daft,” “Getting Nowhere Fast”

POCKET FISHRMEN – The Greatest Story Ever Told LP

Album: The Greatest Story Ever Told LP

Artist: Pocket Fishrmen

Label: Saustex

Release Date: November 17, 2017

www.saustex.com

The Upshot: Punk rock like they useta make via re-recordings of the Austin provocateurs’ back catalog o’ tunes.

BY FRED MILLS

Art-punks or punk art? These guys ain’t tellin’! From Austin (but of course), Pocket Fishrmen reportedly disbanded in 2000 following a colorful 14-year run. How colorful? The band’s 1988 debut 45 was an ode to “Amy Carter,” who at the time was working on a law degree at the University of Texas—history does not record whether or not this invocation of former President Jimmy Carter’s daughter put the quartet on the Secret Service radar, but even if it did, the ‘men were far too busy moving forward, penning and performing such sensitive numbers as “Go Go Saddam Hussein,” “One Blowjob, One Handjob, One Vagina,” “Pot Mountain,” “Priapus Power,” “Yen For Your Yang,” “Flaccid is the Night,” and “Gay Jew Conquistador.” Yeah, the pre-millennial era was a different time and a different place in terms of how we viewed satire, provocation, and political correctness within a punk rock context. Not to mention songs about your dick. Just ask Pocket Fishrmen peers such as the Meatmen, the Mentors, the Queers, and the Dickies.

The Greatest Story Ever Told is a career overview, re-viewed via re-recordings of “classic” fan and band faves. It may or may not be strictly for longtime devotees, but I must admit that if I were 16 or 17 and I came across this band on, say, Spotify (which it is), I’d summarily blast the shit out of it from my upstairs bedroom and dare my parents to come in and ask if I’d finished my homework. Rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be self-regenerating. For me, I’m particularly partial to the straight-up thrash of “Colonoscopy” (and not just because I recently had my first experience in riding the snake), the anthemic Pistols/Ramones-a-fied “Queen of the Gorillas,” the synth-strafed, power-chorded classic rock mutation that is “High on Rock and Roll,” and of course the aforementioned, brilliantly nimble “Amy Carter” (because I still own the original single)—I seriously doubt there will be any musical tributes in the years to come for Barron Trump, so this one will always be unique in its own right.

Fans of the sturdy vinyl format (standard black or limited red, take your pick) are particularly well-served with the release because the 14-song LP is abetted with a bonus 16-song CD. That’s a whole lotta fishin’ goin’ on, folks. And judging from the poster below, it’s still goin’ on….

DOWNLOAD: “Amy Carter,” “Priapus Power,” “Yen For Your Yang,” “Colonoscopy,” “High on Rock and Roll,” “Flaccid is the Night”

COUNTERFEIT MADISON – Opposable Thumbs LP

Album: Opposable Thumbs LP

Artist: Counterfeit Madison

Label: Anyway

Release Date: November 17, 2017

www.anyway-records.com

The Upshot: Theatrical ivory-pounder with a soul-gospel voice to woo the angels with—and the kind of record that makes the listener eager to see her in person.

BY FRED MILLS

Though Columbus, Ohio, artist Counterfeit Madison (born: Sharon Udoh) had released several singles and EPs prior to 2016, it was that year’s Counterfeit Madison Meets Nina Simone: A Celebration of Blackness that served salutary notice this was a major talent awaiting discovery by the public at large. (You can grab it as a free download at her Bandcamp page.) Now comes the soulful singer’s set of original material, Opposable Thumbs—a title which on the surface should refer to her prowess at the piano keyboard, but in its implied defiance, telegraphs much, much more—and right from the get-go, there’s a riot goin’ on. “Shout About Clout” commences with some titular shouting then gives way to synth-and-piano powered rock-gospel arrangement sonically urging the listener to rise up.

As the album unfolds you’re treated to bluesy, soul-infused balladry (“Light Switch,” “Song for the Loyals,” “Concept of Life #1 in B Major”) that showcases both her piano skills—there are some overt neoclassical flourishes she’s fond of—and her octave-spanning prowess as a vocalist, not to mention underscoring how much she can sound like Simone at times. This is in contrast to the jaunty, jazzy, theatrical rock ‘n’ roll (“I Hope It’s Alright,” “Bartlett’s”) that has no doubt earned her a reputation as a flamboyant, charismatic stage performer. One suspects that Opposable Thumbs is no preparation for experiencing Madison in person, but it’s as good a calling card as they come. I can’t wait for a chance to see her live.

Available, incidentally, in digital and heavyweight vinyl formats—clearly, you want the latter, right?

DOWNLOAD: “Song for the Loyals,” “I Hope It’s Alright”