The Baird Sisters 10/8/16, Montague MA

Dates: October 8, 2016

Location: Montague Book Mill, Montague MA


Live at the Montague Book Mill, the other performers included Marielle V. Jakobsons, Amber Wolf, and Chuck Johnson.


Does folk music need to be pure to be true?  This evening at a used bookstore tucked away in rural Western Massachusetts, a string of players incorporate various technological elements into their art, from the luminous amplified picking of Chuck Johnson, to the abstract voices and sounds behind Amber Wolfe’s soft country blues, to the full-on trippy video immersion of Marielle V. Jakobsons’ atmospheric soundscapes. It mostly worked — and sometimes wildly succeeded (Jakobsons) — but when the Baird Sisters sat down with nothing but acoustic guitar, banjo, voice and flute, you remember that magic can happen without artifice, too.

Chuck Johnson is not on the bill, but he’s playing when we get there, the Oakland-based finger-picker holding forth on amplified Fender Strat, spilling silvery American Primitive runs into deep wells of reverb, so that the notes blend together in pure dazzling tone. We just catch a few minutes of his set, but he’ll play later with Marielle V. Jakobsons, switching to bass.


Amber Wolfe, who lives in Northampton, comes next, pitting an old-fashioned, vibrato tinged folk voice (she sounds a bit like Josephine Foster) against a row of electronics, two effects boards, a hand-held recorder, a keyboard and possibly a few things I couldn’t see, all manned by a partner who kneels, back to the audience for the entire set. In the first song, you can hear some of those sampled sounds weaving through Wolfe’s elemental folk tunes, voices, whooshes and hums, though some of them might well have been the water going over the Bookmill’s rushing falls.

This all soon recedes into the background, though, as Wolfe plays. Her delicate features framed by tight ringletted curls, she looks like a Victorian doll, but her words are quietly bracing and strong. She sings one song that she’s recently performed in a play, getting at the slippery nature of the way women look versus the way they are — “You say that I’m beautiful asleep, but not awake, not awake.”  She performed with an inward-looking quality, as if she’s testing out these melodies for herself, drifting off into trilling hums at the end of phrases, like she’d just as soon keep all this to herself. And yet, when she turns to a Spanish-language cover, there’s a vertiginous wildness in the way she sings, the emotion she conveys, even the way she slashes out guitar notes, not quite flamenco, but fired with the same fire.

Marielle V. Jakobsons follows, against a screen of abstract colors and shapes. The images come from a “Macro-Cymatic Instrument” Jakobsons has invented, a visual interpreter that generates analogue representations of the music she makes, translating sound into water, light and patterns. Tonight the imagery is pre-recorded, but catch her nearer home with access to her macro-cymatic instrument, and she makes the flow of visuals as she goes and different every time.



Jakobsons and Johnson perform much of the recent Star Core, released by Thrill Jockey in August, layering trippy washes of analogue synth over booming, birth-of-the-universe evoking bass notes, and top it with Jakobsons’ airy, evocative vocals, violin or flute melodies. “Undone” looms mesmerically, long tons of synth flaring then receding; the bass is not loud but so low and enveloping as to have a physical presence. She croons into the mic airily, dreamily, the words blending into serene swathes of tone, as calming as the bubbling, waving imagery on the screen behind her. “Sinking of the Sky” is next, another center-of-the-universe soundscape, this one with flute and violin, their shifting melodies slipping beneath layers of drone.


The Baird Sisters take a few minutes to follow, since Meg (of Espers, Heron Oblivion and some really wonderful solo work) is having trouble with a battery for her tuner. It’s the last technological issue of the night though, since the Baird Sisters make the most beautiful use of organic sound possible, distilling guitar, banjo, flute and voice into quietly thrilling folk music.

Meg and Laura Baird have been playing together since 2001, with three home-spun self-releases to their credit. The third and most recent, Until You Find Your Green, was originally put out by Grapefruit Records as part of a subscription series, but BaDaBing is reissuing it this fall, and lots of the set material comes from it – “On and On” with its hammered out banjo rhythms and breath-catching harmonies, the Civil War-evoking traditional, “A Soldier Being Home,” the hauntingly melancholy “Down Where the Waters Flow.”

The two sisters’ voices work very well together, but not, as you might expect, because they’re all that similar. Laura Baird’s voice is lower, earthier, bluesier, while Meg’s is high and clear and pure, like the ice on the leaves that makes them glitter. Together, there’s something enchanting about the way they blend, the here-and-now simplicity of traditional folk resting against piercing ethereal beauty. They do have a sisterly channel for unspoken communication, filling in the spaces around each other with unassuming, unshowy grace.

It’s a good night for technology, for colorful screens and unexpected field recorded sounds, but also a good night for simplicity, in the clarity of archaic rhythms and harmonies. But whether electronically assisted or technologically unadorned, the music is lovely and true.







Louder Than Life Festival 10/1-2/16, Louisville KY

Dates: Oct. 1-2, 2016

Location: Louisville, KY


Live at Champions Park, the annual metal fest featured a who’s-who of the hard rock world. Go here to see our gallery from the 2015 event. Above: guess who?


For the third year in a row, the Louder Than Life Festival took place at Champions Park in Louisville, KY. If you are true metalhead and you missed this event, you should immediately kick your own ass! The weather was messy most of the week leading up to the festival, but after the gates were open for about an hour the Rock Gods said NO More! The weather was overcast most of Saturday, but Sunday was a perfect day with mid 80’s and mostly sunny. This Festival is billed as a rock festival with bourbon and gourmet man food, and the servings certainly lived up to the hype.



The festival had a lot of great sponsors such Jack Daniels, Monster Energy, Miller Lite, and lots of other bourbon makers. I must say one of my favorite sponsors this year had to be Vibes. Vibes is sold as high-fidelity earplugs. Vibes was kind enough to give me a set to try out. I must say that these earplugs are much more comfortable than the several of regular earplugs that I have used in the past. The best part about these earplugs is that they lower the sound by 20db, but keeps most of the quality of music. This is a life saver when you are at a concert little lone pressed against the speakers in the pit right in front of the artist where the bass will rattle your insides. I highly recommend you pick up a pair for yourself whether you use at a concert, work in a noisy environment, or just want to tone down the volume of your spouse! You can order yours here for less than $25.


Now on with the show! Saturday had great bands starting with Twelve Foot Ninja, Neck Deep, Avatar, I Prevail, The Amity Affliction, Motion in White, HellYeah, Anthrax, Pierce The Veil, Chevy Metal, The Cult, Cheap Trick, Slayer, and last but not least ending the night with Avenged Sevenfold.




Avatar, who I first saw at Rock on the Range earlier this year is from Gothenburg, Sweden. Johannes Eckerström announced that Avatar just stole the show after completing their first song, and I have to say that they did indeed steal the afternoon. Looking like an evil circus has come to town, Avatar has a tight sound and Johannes owns the stage.



Motionless In White is a gothic metalcore band who hails from Pennsylvania took the stage in the 3:45 time slot. The band defiantly looked and sounded the part of goth with lots of black eyeliner and even black painted arms, they even had one member dressed as the exorcist complete with green vomit. The crowd had now been on site since 10 A.M. or so for the late arrivers, so with plenty of convent locations to get a drink the crowd was rocking and surfing.


Next up was HellYeah who consist of Mudvayne’s lead singer Chad Gray, former Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell, Bass player Kyle Sanders, guitarist Christian Brady, and former Pantera and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul. This was another highlight of the day for me. Chad’s energy on stage is nonstop, with antics such as high jumps, head banging and face covered in blood. With a lineup such as this in one band, you know you’ve got a solid hour of great music. My personal favorite is the new cover song of “I Don’t Care Anymore” by Phil Collins.


Chevy Metal

Chevy Metal

Next up was cover band Chevy Metal. Chevy Metal is much more than a cover band. Drummer and front man Taylor Hawkins who is the drummer for The Foo Fighters says “We are just a wedding band”, but they are much more than a wedding band. You never know who may join them on stage when they are playing.


Just before sunset The Cult took the stage. I have loved The Cult’s music since the album Love. From the moment I first heard “She Sells Sanctuary” I was hooked. The Cult sounded as good as they did in the 80’s and the mostly younger crowd enjoyed rocking out with them. One of my favorites of the day was “Fire Woman”. The only negative I can give them was the fact that we had to photograph from the soundboard. This seems to be a growing trend with aging artist. We all get older and fans still want to see you not an image of a band from across the stadium. Look at Neil Young and Willie Nelson, they accept the age and keep rocking and the fans love seeing good pictures of their idols. My two cents anyways.



Another example of older acts who are still rocking and allowing photographers up close is Cheap Trick. With too many hits to name them all starting in 1977. A couple of my favorites are “I Want You to Want Me”, “The Flame”, “She’s Tight”, “Dream Police”, “Tonight It’s You”, and of course “Surrender”. Guitarist Rick Nielsen has always been known for a great guitar player, but even better know for the unusual guitars he dawns on stage. I commend Louder Than Life for mixing up the line up the way they did this year. This is a great way to draw in all age rockers and to give the young ones a chance to see where today’s acts found their influences.



Slayer took the Loudmouth Stage at 8:35 and from the first note didn’t let up until the last note. I don’t know how they kept up that pace for the full set. I must admit, they were a little hard for my taste but then again they weren’t there for me! The massive crowd was head banging, sweating, and crowd surfing like there was no tomorrow.

Last but not least for the night was Avenged Sevenfold. Avenged Sevenfold also known as A7X is from Huntington Beach, California, and has been evolving since forming in 1999. Starting out more on the metalcore side and recently moving more toward the rock and heavy metal. Being the headliner and only stage running, the crowd had swollen to fill half the park. There was a nonstop line of crowd surfers during the entire show. A7X put on a great show with the sound on point. My only gripe with this set is that out of 50+ photographers covering the weekend, only 4 were preapproved by the band and allowed to shoot the set.


Sunday started for me with Adelitas Way at 12:15. They only had a thirty minute set, but it was a great way to start out the day. Adelitas Way got the crowd started on this long day of rock.


Skindred took the stage next. I had never heard of them before, but I’m glad I got to see their set. Skindred is a rock band formed in Newport, South Wales. Skindred is a mixture of heavy metal, alternative rock, reggae. Skindred wins the award for most fun band of the afternoon, between getting a large number of the crowd to take of their shirts and twirl them in the air during one song or asking the crowd “do you want to hear some evil shit?” and then playing Justin Bieber.

The weather now reaching mid 80’s, Trivium took the stage at 1:25 on the Loudmouth Stage. Trivium is now out touring in support of their latest album Silence in the Snow.






Other bands during the day lineup included Parkway Drive, Pop Evil, Skillet and Alter Bridge, and Ghost. Korn took the Monster Stage at 6:25, and you would have sworn that they were headlining the evening with the size of the crowd. Korn alone would have been enough for the evening, but we still had Disturbed and Slipknot to go.





Speaking of Slipknot, They were indeed the headliner on the Monster energy stage and the final band of the night. If you have never seen this crazy scary rock show, you owe it to yourself to catch them. Corey Taylor can go from a slow clear vocal to an all out scream and make you love both ends of the spectrum. The energy from all nine members is intense and the elevating/rotating drum kits on both sides of the stage will leave you mesmerized.




Shonen Knife 10/13/16, Denver


Live at the Marquis Theatre, the distaff popsters are touring North America through November 10.


I was trying to think of the last time I saw this perky Japanese trio  then realized I may never have seen them (this happen in 35 plus years of gig going…you forget stuff).

Ok so yeah…I’d never seen Shonen Knife before even thought they’ve been around for over thirty years (this was, in fact, thir 35th anniversary tour) and first came to cult attention in our country on the heels of 1986’s Pretty Little Baka Guy.

They’re in our country now touring for their latest album Adventure which came out back in April on the Damnably label.

After two or three opening band who I missed except for the band before S.K. who seemed to play forever but it was a lot more exciting our front on the sidewalk. I had an extra ticket that I couldn’t give away (not a knock on the band, everyone who showed up already had a ticket) so I offered it to this homeless guy who was on his knees chalk drawing out front . When he stood up he must’ve gotten a head rush ‘cos he fell face first flat down on the sidealk. Ouch. Ok so much for him.

In the band are still sisters Naoka and Atsuko (and a revolving cast of drummers…and even bassist Atsuko has bene in and out of the band over the years) dressed in colorful, flowery, silky dresses and armed with the energy of an entire Kindergarten class. They opened with the old favorite “Pop Tune” and played a relatively short set which included a few off their new record including “Jump into the New World” and “Green Tangerine.”

They interacted with the crowd and the crowd, especially the die hards up front, loved every second of it, smiling, pumping their fists and singing along to all the songs.

They ended the set with a rousing version of “Loop Di Loop” and came out for one encore, the fan favorite “Sushi Bar Song” (from 1998’s Happy Hour) and called it a night. Hey even rock chicks like Shonen Knife need their beauty sleep G’night ladies.


Album: Skeleton Tree

Artist: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Label: Bad Seed Lt.

Release Date: September 09, 2016


The Upshot: Born of tragedy and catastrophe, the latest album from Cave is nevertheless dotted with beautiful moments amid the dark anguish.




“What happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change?” Nick Cave asks in the trailer for One More Time with Feeling, a documentary film that presents the songs from Skeleton Tree in the context of the nearly unthinkable change that shaped them. The catastrophic event, in this case, was the accidental death of Cave’s 15-year-old son. The songs written mostly before, but recorded afterwards, commune with this tragedy with a numb, hardly-there desolation that is as hard to look at as it is to turn away from.


Skeleton Tree further darkens the somber, restrained palette of 2013’s Push the Sky Away, relying on piano, strings, ghostly electronics and Cave’s hollowed-out, sleep-walking voice to carry it. Because the lyrics were already done before Cave’s life split in half, the songs do not directly refer to the son or his death. Still, words’ meanings change under pressure. There is no denying the anguish in “Jesus Alone,” as a buzz and whistle of feedback imply unbridgeable distance, solitude and loss. “With my voice, I am calling you,” Cave sings, in between visionary intervals of poetry, and you know who he is calling for and how unlikely an answer is. Later in “Girl in Amber,” he murmurs, “Some go on, some stay behind, some never move right on,” and though he may not have written the line about his lost child, it has surely become about him, the “little blue eyed boy” who moves with him down the hall.


Strings in Skeleton Tree are spare but necessary, as long-time collaborator Warren Ellis stirs up agitated dissonance in “Jesus Alone” and plumps up soft, soothing layers of sustained sound in “I Need You.”  Backing vocals curve gently around fragile, haunted melodies “whoa-oh-oh-ohs” in “Rings of Saturn,” sighing “ah-ah-ahs” in the interstices of “Girl in Amber.” The piano, too, is integral, though quiet. It stands in for wordless rumination, in lingering, melancholy chords that hang like memory over empty vistas. There is a solace in these sounds, a solace that is absent from the lyrics, which reject religion and cliché to look hard at the bald fact of loss.


Skeleton Tree has some painfully beautiful moments, none more harrowing or lovely than “Distant Sky.”  Here Cave enlists the lovely soprano voice of Else Torp, a Danish classical singer known for her interpretations of early and baroque music. “Let us go now, my only,” she sings with a high crystal clarity, a shaft of light piercing this dim and mournful vista. Cave’s voice is a shadow beside her, worn nearly through, exhausted, and gorgeous, too, in its way, because it sounds so true.


The album ends on an upswing, in the title track, the steadiness of rhythm bracing the tune in a way that has been, up to now, mostly absent. Cave’s voice wobbles as he finishes in a chorus that goes, “and it’s all right now” to the fade, and who can blame him? He does go on, though, as one does. Skeleton Tree is a testament to his art, his flaying honesty and his persistence in the wake of devastating loss.


DOWNLOAD: “Jesus Alone” “Distant Sky” “Skeleton Tree”






Album: Eve

Artist: Thalia Zedek Band

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: August 19, 2016


The Upshot: Explorations of loss, isolation and alienation that leave emotional marks in their wake. It’s not as bleak as it may sound, though—there is freedom and catharsis in the acceptance of those human traits.


Readers and musicians alike recoil when the word “formula” finds its way into a review, the implication being that the musician has abdicated their creative role to rely on well-worn tropes—either of their own making or (worse yet) another’s. But saying a musician has grown comfortable in their skin, or knows what works for them and sticks to it, gets at the same idea while leaving enough leg room to suggest that imagination and experimentation still fuel their creative fire.

Fire, of course, has never been the issue with Thalia Zedek, whose indelible persona seared itself into underground bands like Uzi, Live Skull and, most notably, Come. But by now, with Eve, her seventh solo effort since Come disbanded in 2001, listeners have come to know what to expect from a Thalia Zedek record—and on an album that advocates, at least in part, acceptance as a means of survival, that’s part of the bargain. The Boston stalwart hasn’t altered her style much going solo, only refined it and added the occasional wrinkle. Her influences—Patti Smith and Nick Cave, especially—remain  apparent in her songs, but Zedek’s always had too unique a voice to be a mere knockoff—and that extends beyond the smoky, occasionally off-key vocal delivery which she seems more comfortable with as she grows older.

So most of the 10 tracks on Eve (Thrill Jockey) represent what we’ve come to expect from Zedek—extended, slow-burn songs (four stretch out to six-plus minutes) that evolve from quiet viola and/or piano-accented meditations into emotionally cathartic maelstroms built mostly around her biting guitar. The best of these again feature Zedek working with violist David Michael Curry and pianist Mel Lederman, and these explorations of loss, isolation and alienation leave emotional marks in their wake. It’s not as bleak as it may sound, though—there is freedom and catharsis in the acceptance of those human traits, a key element in Eve.

Opener “Afloat,” for instance, ebbs and flows like the metaphoric flood it describes, staccato viola ratcheting up the tension over the churning rhythms until the narrator relinquishes control and floats with the song’s eventual flow instead of against it. Similarly, in “360°,” Lederman drops Nicky Hopkins-like fills between guitar riffs and the cresting rhythm section while Zedek exclaims, “When you let go, you can see 360, you are free in all degrees,” practically willing it into reality through the music’s urgency. On the skittish “By the Hand,” as Zedek and Curry interplay in fine Mick Turner/Warren Ellis tradition, the narrator recounts an increasingly nerve-wracking dream of being chased through a city she doesn’t recognize, but takes solace in that “I know the streets, and I know where I’m from.”

Zedek’s comfort with her bandmates plays out in many ways, but especially in the time-shift, proggy middle 8s of the sinister “Northwest Branch,” or in the three-minute improvised breakdown that closes out “Walking in Time.” On that song, the LP’s most charged rocker, Zedek declares that “now that the tide has turned and our ship has sailed, we are walking in time”—a tacit admission that with age comes self-knowledge and the wisdom to appreciate the moment (and the music) for the life-affirming service it provides. If that’s Zedek’s formula, it’s one that we could use more of.


DOWNLOAD: “Afloat,” “Walking in Time,” “Try Again.”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Quiero Creedence

Album: Quiero Creedence

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Concord Picante

Release Date: July 29, 2016



The Upshot: With tribute albums it always boils down to the tunes themselves, and in this case there are enough “A” quality tracks among the 14 to rate the project average.


To date there have been at least five Creedence Clearwater Revival tributes, including the inevitable Pickin’ On… bluegrass trib, which is part of a ghastly trend of assembling genre tributes (coming soon to a tribute near you: a klezmer take on Led Zeppelin) rather than simply rounding up 12-15 groups who claim to have a deep appreciation of the artist being memorialized and each one delivering its own unique take on same.

That five-tribs raw statistic by itself doesn’t constitute evidence of this particular band’s staying power., however, for It always boils down to the tunes themselves, and in the case of Quiero Creedence—“I want Creedence”—there are enough “A” quality tracks among the 14 to rate the project slightly above average. Intriguingly, the star power shines a bit more brightly here for the Mexican market than the American one, with Latin superstar Juan Gabriel’s (R.I.P.—Gabriel passed away just before this review was written) strings-laden “Have You Ever Seen the Rain (Gracias al Sol”), GRAMMY winners Diamante Eléctrico’s moodily cinematic “Up Around the Bend,” and erstwhile frontman for ‘80s hitmakers Heroes del Silencio Enrique Bunbury’s sinewy/salsafied “Corre por la Jungla” (Run Through the Jungle) all gaining an additional emotional oomph from being sung in Spanish.

Not to take anything away from Los Lobos (a rousing, twangy “Bootleg”), Los Lonely Boys (“Born On the Bayou,” done reverently), or Ozomatli (a ska-fueled “Bad Moon Rising”), three names well-known on both sides of the language barrier, and who tackle their selections in English. It’s hard to say what ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons was going for with “Green River,” a kind of Afro-Cuban-metal-dub take on the classic tune and featuring vocals in both Spanish (courtesy La Santa Cecilia’s Marisol Hernandez) and English.

The sonics, as you might imagine, vary from one track to the next, coming as they do from multiple sources. In general, though, they’re quite acceptable, so rating them squarely in the middle seems logical enough. In the final estimation, well… yes. Yes, we DO want Creedence. English, Spanish, Spanglish, you name it.

DOWNLOAD: “Born on the Bayou,” “Bootleg,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Corre por la Jungla”

BIG STAR – Complete Third

Album: Complete Third

Artist: Big Star

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: October 14, 2016


The Upshot: The magic is still there, spread across three delightful discs.


Tell me honestly: What, if anything, can possibly be added to the Big Star public profile? In particular, as regards a review of the band or its albums, is there anything that hasn’t been said multiple times before, by other reviewers? But Big Star Third (or Sister Lovers, take your pick) has not only stood the test of time, it seems inevitable that music critics will continue picking its bones—lovingly, don’t get me wrong—for the rest of time. And I hope they do, because each new generation deserves the opportunity to discover this remarkable record.

I myself have written about Big Star countless times in the past, frequently for this very publication. (Just enter the term “big star” into the search box in the right-hand column and you’ll, er, spot more than a few missives of mine.) So maybe this time around I’ll opt for a different approach, one which is in keeping with the wonderful liner notes gracing the 3CD Complete Third box, served up by the diligent archivists at Omnivore. It’s clearly a labor of love—lust, even (thank you, Nick Lowe)—as those liners, penned by lifetime Big Star acolytes like Mitch Easter, Mike Mills, Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Ken Stringfellow, Wilco’s Pat Sansone and Steve Wynn, make eminently clear.

First, some of the basics: Collectors of Big Star and Alex Chilton ephemera have long prized their stash of outtakes and demos, some of which made it onto good-quality bootleg CDs (check this massive 9CD boot collection, I Got Kinda Lost), while others remained the domain of poorly-archived cassettes. To date, though, there’s been no comprehensive release of the material, and even in its “official” form, Big Star Third in particular has undergone a number of semi-confusing iterations, starting with the PVC label’s 1978 LP featuring 14 songs, and culminating with a 1992 CD on Rykodisc, 19 songs in all. 2011 also brought Omnivore’s 14-track Test Pressing Edition, but that was a strictly limited affair, one which can properly be viewed as a kind of preview for the box at hand. And what a box—as I wrote a few months ago at the news of its imminent release, “It’s a doozy, the kind of box set that sends fans into spasms of delight.”

The 3CD set (also to be issued as three separate 2LP sets later this year, each set corresponding with one of the CDs) contains 69 tracks, 29 of which reportedly have never been heard before: Disc 1 it titled “Demos to Sessions to Roughs”; Disc 2, “Roughs to Mixes”; and Disc 3, “Final Masters. (View the tracklisting HERE at Omnivore’s website.)  In a statement, drummer Jody Stephens commented, “As Alex shared his acoustic guitar song demos, I would immediately think that they were complete feelings and performances, no additional production necessary. How do they evolve from here? Enter Jim Dickinson and John Fry in the production and sonic roles respectively.”

And that pretty much tells you what you need to know; if you are reading this, there’s a 99% probability you already own at least one of those Third iterations, and assuming you fell under the record’s spell like most of us did, you’re not going to need some reviewer’s “astute assessment” and a bunch of song descriptions. Plus, the aforementioned liner notes, which include detailed observations by critic Bud Scoppa, Omnivore’s Cheryl Pawelski, and Rykodisc’s Jeff Rougvie, nicely summarize everything else that you might want to know. (Blowing My Own Horn Department: Go HERE if you want to read a lengthy Big Star piece I did a few years ago, as it features interviews with Chris Stamey, Ken Stringfellow, and Jody Stephens. I trust you know who those people are and their significance in the Big Star world.)

So anyway, my personal Big Star journey isn’t particularly unique. A story I like to tell is how I was at a party in Chapel Hill one night in the mid ‘70s when I first heard Big Star—this was during my college years, and I had fallen into a crowd of fellow UNC students who were Winston-Salem ex-pats, most of them musicians themselves. At the party, some nondescript music was blaring on the stereo, probably Jimmy Buffett or Kansas, I dunno. Suddenly a guy I’d just recently met, and part of that W-S gang, Will Rigby, jumped up from the couch, headed for the stereo, and, yanking the LP from the turntable, muttered something like, “Fuck this shit. We’re gonna hear some Big Star.”

It would have been #1 Record or Radio City, naturally; Third had yet to be released, the band long broken up. But, like so many others who encountered the band under unexpected circumstances (or through the workings of providence), a lifelong connection was forged almost instantly between me and the band’s music. I’m guessing that within 24 hours I was scouring the record dealer ads in the back of Trouser Press and Goldmine magazines, looking for anyone with copies of the two LPs for sale.

Sometime later that year, I was hanging out with Rigby when he shoved a low bias c90 cassette into my hands. On one side it read simply Big Star, while the other was labeled Big Star WLIR. I forget what he said to me, but since I’m the one doing the re-telling here, and rock ‘n’ roll is nothing if not a cultural exercise in myth-making, I’m going to say that there was a conspiratorial tone to his voice, a kind of secret-handshake-meets-passing-along-state-secrets vibe in the air.

What I do know for sure: upon arriving home I popped the tape in the cassette deck, and the music that subsequently unspooled for nearly 45 minutes was unlike any Big Star I was familiar with. This was Third, and absent were the boisterous jangles and Beatlesque harmonies I’d come to associate with the band. I was utterly perplexed. The other side of the tape was a bit more straightforward, a recording of a three-piece Big Star performing live in the studios of WLIR-FM sometime in ’74. Again, nowhere near as pristine and pop-perfect as the two LPs, but the recording at least scratched my Big Star itch in a similar way. (Thanks, Will.)

I’d go on to nearly wear that tape out, subsequently making a couple of safety copies and also running off copies so I could perform the secret handshake ritual with other friends, just like Rigby had done with me. In 1978, of course, the PVC label’s LP was released, although judging from side A of my cassette, the track sequence was “off” and a handful of songs were missing; the live broadcast wouldn’t see the light of day in officially-sanctioned form as Live until ’92, when Ryko released it, a Chris Bell collection, and Third on CD. Meanwhile, that lifelong connection continued apace….

All of this comes back to me now while listening to Complete Third and reading the liner notes. In particular, Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple recount how they first experienced Third: Stamey, via a Big Star bootleg tape he’d ordered from a Trouser Press ad; Holsapple, from a Memphis acquaintance. Clearly, my introduction to Third paralleled Holsapple’s. I’m betting that Rigby’s copy, in fact, originally came from him. (Thanks, Peter.)

Writes Holsapple, “On one side was a live radio broadcast… The other side was a mish-mash of songs that was my first exposure to Big Star’s storied third album. I played that tape and made copies of it for people for many years, just as I’d tried to evangelize with the other records… I believed then and now that Big Star could only improve anyone’s musical appreciation, and it was only a matter of time before that was understood by something larger than a miniscule cult audience.”

Indeed. That cult audience would grow and grow, powered by reissues and archival releases and books and DVDs and a ‘90s reunion and even an ongoing latterday revival of Third for the concert stage, helmed by Stamey. (Thanks, Chris.) We now find ourselves at a culmination of sorts with Complete Third. And yes, before you ask, the magic remains intact. It’s a 5-out-of-5-stars release, without question. But don’t listen to me. You’ve got some shopping to do.



CURSE OF LONO – Curse of Lono 12” EP

Album: Curse of Lono

Artist: Curse of Lono

Label: Submarine Cat

Release Date: October 14, 2016


The Upshot: A bold new incarnation for Hey Negrita’s Felix Bechtolsheimer featuring everything from Krautrock to folk to jazzy gothic noir. Extra points for that Arizona landscape on the record sleeve.


Don’t be fooled: While London’s Curse of Lono comes across like a group of veterans who’ve been recording and performing for years, they’ve actually only been together since 2015, and this is just their debut. The players themselves, however, are indeed seasoned musicians; the group is the brainchild of Felix Bechtolsheimer, who previously performed in the much-loved Hey Negrita, which toured extensively and released four albums prior to Felix deciding it was time to move on and test out some new sounds and textures. Somewhere along the way he encountered the ’83 Hunter S. Thompson mini-memoir The Curse of Lono—a kind of Hawaiian-misadventures variation on the truth-in-loathing angle—and liked the name.

Those sounds and textures showcased across these four songs—the EP is a 12” vinyl offering, that quite nicely spins at 45rpm for additional fidelity and clarity—are, indeed, monumentally moving. Side A features “Five Miles,” a pulsing, cinematic, motorik slice of neo-Krautrock that’s tempered by ecstatic, almost anthemic singing. The jazzy “London Rain” then makes a rapid left-turn via spooky electric piano, atmospheric shards of guitar, and a low, growly vocal; think the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” meets Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning” and you’ve just about got it.

Flip the platter and “He Takes My Place” unexpectedly detours into Nick Drake/Dylan territory via tuneful, harmony vocal-strewn country-folk that practically begs the listener to sing along. And closing number “Saturday Night,” with its nocturnal vibe, suggests that Felix and the band have spent more than a few hours soaking in vintage gospel and blues.

Overall, Curse of Lono is a bold new incarnation for Felix, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch the band grown and evolve. A full-length is due early next year.


Incidentally, the tunes here are apparently also the soundtrack for an Alex Walker-directed short film starring Grant Masters and Marta Hermida, so that “cinematic” tag above isn’t too far off. The group has also filmed a series of live-in-studio performances intended to visually enhance their material, and the intimate videos can be viewed at their Facebook page or YouTube channel. [Below: watch one of the, their live version of “London Rain.”]

DOWNLOAD: “London Rain,” “Five Miles”

NOTS – Cosmetic

Album: Cosmetic

Artist: Nots

Label: Goner

Release Date: September 09, 2016


The Upshot: Distaff Memphians make a garage rockin’, weird punkin’ racket.


For anyone who thought this Memphis all-female quartet’s debut, 2014’ We Are Nots, was a fluke….nope it wasn’t. They come back hard and a bit more focused on this terrific sophomore effort. 9 songs in just under 35 minutes and right from the start, the opening cut “Blank Reflection” they make  statement (reminding me a bit of Neu). They’re still a hard bunch to describe though their own tag of “weird punk” definitely fits. Natalie Hoffmann’s guitar work is still scratchier than a hundred mosquitos while the keyboard work of Alexandra Eastburn still brings to mind the dementedness of real early Devo. The rhythm section of Charlotte Watson on drums and new bassist Meredith Lones (who replaced Madison Farmer) are somehow keeping these wobbly, unhinged tunes all together like a heady mix of duct tape, bubblegum and the stickiest surf wax available.

“New Structures” fires like a busted machine gun on stun while the cranky title track grunts n’ huffs (with a vocalist that reminded me a bit of Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna). “No Novelty” is a snarling, splendid mess and the record’s shortest song at 1:41 while the record- ending “Entertain Me” tops the seven minute mark (7:05) and scratches every surface in the house including all chalkboards, the pristine hard wood floors and those new granite countertops that you just got. Sure, you paid thousands of dollars for said countertops but what would you rather have to impress the guests, nice countertops or this new Nots record? Thought so.

DOWNLOAD:  “New Structures,” “No Novelty,” “Entertain Me”


Album: Solarium

Artist: Number Three Combo

Label: Slowburn

Release Date: September 16, 2016


The Upshot: There’s something demonic and unforgiving about the sound, the combo having scraped away the previous album’s adornments and dipped the whole affair in a late afternoon blinding solar haze.


Tucson’s Number Three Combo another exponent of the Black Sun Ensemble camp are back at it with their latest project Solarium. Eric Johnson who is the doyenne behind the Slowburn label has been toiling in relative obscurity for most of his creative existence, and has managed to make himself into the Bill Laswell of the desert. Flanked by two awesome musicians namely Carl Hall on percussion and Joe E. Furno (inferno) on flute this album bears little resemblance to last year’s more muted Retrofitting. The album is devoid of guitar yet you don’t miss it, because what’s going on under the hood is so compelling. An eerie mix of Middle eastern tinged space dance head grooves, the album is a beguiling synthesis of both the modern and the ancient, the sacred and profane. Here the band reinvent the BSE tune “Arabic Satori” for the ecstasy popping set.

There’s something demonic and unforgiving about the sound. Here the combo, have scraped away the adornments and dipped the whole affair in a late afternoon blinding solar haze. The only misstep in this reviewer’s ears is the track “Babylon Handcuff” which is an unhealthy amalgam of Tears for Fears and After the Fire electronics and could’ve been left off the set. Things get surprisingly weirder after this. The track “Dive” has an 80’s veneer and feels reminiscent of some of Peter Schilling’s best tunes. There’s a sadness that permeates this record. I get the sense that beyond just being an aesthetic choice of ditching the guitar Messr Johnson feels that he’s taken the guitar based stuff as far as he could and instead of being pigeonholed by Tucson Indie rock expectations has taken the more difficult next step of reinvention. The track “Future Sound of Tucson” is this moment where Johnson and band shed their skin and burn the link to their ancestry. The band are saying here that being birthed from Black Sun does not mean being hemmed in by its sonic scaffolding.  This scorched earth approach yields an album that refuses to be constrained and is a unique curveball that leaves the listener asking, where to next? “The Grand Sky” answers this and is as close to a walking out the door and setting sail for brighter ports of call that you’ll get in the space of 9 minutes.

It’s a mystical world that that these three men have woven on this record. Unyielding and uncompromising, they made the hard choice so we wouldn’t have to. Enjoy the fruits of their labors. Sing while ye may.

DOWNLOAD: “Banana Seat” “Arabic Satori” “Dive” “Future Sounds of Tucson” “The Grand Sky”