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

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

Artist: Judee Sill

Label: Intervention / Run Out Groove

Release Date: July 27, 2018

www.interventionrecords.com / www.runoutgroovevinyl.com

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

BY FRED MILLS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

DRIFT MOUTH – Little Patch of Sky

Album: Little Patch of Sky

Artist: Drift Mouth

Label: Wild Frontier Recording Company

Release Date: August 03, 2018

https://www.facebook.com/wildfrontiermusic/

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The son of a third generation West Virginia coal miner, Lou Poster’s latest group, Drift Mouth, comes about their Americana sound naturally. After years of playing in the punk country outfit, Grafton, Poster has jettisoned off the punk influences for Drift Mouth and relies solely on classic country and Americana influences for Little Patch of Sky.

The result is a pretty satisfying collection of often melancholy character sketches. Poster’s deep vocals are foreboding, so when it’s just him and an acoustic guitar, the songs tend to blend into each other, the one exception being the powerful, closing track, “This Part of Town,” a deep nod to Springsteen. Elsewhere the band is at its finest when it mixes in more electric and slide guitar (especially on songs like “West Virginia Hitchhiker” and “Franklin County Nights”).

The genesis of Drift Mouth dates back more than a decade ago when Posner brought in drummer Brad Swiniarski to help him record a song for his father, who was retiring from his job at the coal mine. Over the years, he’s added in players – Drift Mouth now a six-piece – and refined their sound, but the band has managed to keep their authenticity intact.

DOWNLOAD: “Angelene,” “Franklin County Nights” and “West Virginia Hitchhiker”

 

PRIMO!—Amici

Album: Amici

Artist: Primo!

Label: Upset the Rhythm

Release Date: July 20, 2018

http://www.upsettherhythm.co.uk/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Primo!, out of Melbourne, makes a jittery sweet jangle of post-punk aligned with early 1980s touchstones like Kleenex/Liliput and the Au Pairs though with slightly softer edges. The three women in the band—guitarists Xanthe Waite and Violetta DelConte Race and drummer Suzanne Walker — play at cross-angles, lobbing rubbery stabs of rhythmic anarchy at one another and answering in kind. Yet they also join in unity, mostly in the singing, putting the sweet buzz of harmonized thirds into tossed off lyrics about the modern rush and hassle.

“You’ve Got a Million” tangles silly string spurts of off-kilter guitar around scrambling drum rattles, pushing the pace because that’s how life runs these days. “You’ve got a million things to do, racing all over the town, flights of stairs can’t slow you down, you might as well be flying round,” they sing, and indeed, the song itself palpitates with adrenaline. “Mirage,” the single,  flirts with trance and drone and might sound a little like Wooden Shjips if it were paced at a trudge, rather than an antic trot. There’s a boinging, zinging, rebounding guitar lick that zips through the circular riff, as if just to wake it up periodically. “Closed,” regarding the heartbreak of frustrated consumerism, tends lighter, sweeter, nearly girl group-ish, with glints of shiny keyboard gleaming from its fractious guitar mesh.

Perhaps because there’s no bass (Primo! has added Amy Hill on bass since Amici), Primo!’s sound lacks a certain grind and tumult – it’s more Grass Widow than Good Throb — but it’s sharp and fresh and a lot of fun. Primo! hammers, yammers and judders with post-punk agitation but isn’t afraid of an ingratiating tune.

DOWNLOAD: “Mirage” “You’ve Got a Million”

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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks 7/31/18, Denver

Live at the Gothic Theater – and the drums were a-drummin’…

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY BEN CURNETT

Jake Morris is really, really great at drums.

That’s where a rundown of the recent Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks show at the Gothic Theatre in Denver needs to start. Of course, the band was fun and energetic. The sound was perfect. The song selection was great for die hards and casual fans alike. Joanna Bolme hit deep dark brown notes and did a dead-on impression of Kim Gordon on “Refute.” Mike Clark filled the room with keyboards and guitars. The Malk (I’m not really a nickname guy, but that’s what I’m going with now) was the perfect song and dance man as per usual.

But the drums. The drums were something else. You get that to greater or lesser extents on the SM & t Jx studio albums, even before Morris, and the new release that this tour is supporting, Sparkle Hard, is no exception. Morris was an absolute highlight of the show; he played nothing short of perfect rock drums, a completely next-level performance. The spaces Morris left between beats were as musical and deliberate the beats themselves. His fills were graceful/drunk Dean Martin tumbles into steady but loping time signatures (“Stick Figures In Love,” “Bretheren”). His driving rhythm on longer, ramblier ventures (“Kite,” “Real Emotional Trash”) were riddled with all kinds of subtle flourishes that sprung up everywhere. On stage with a group of very talented musicians, Morris pushed the band higher and farther than their individual art would allow. He was a gift.

Live, the Jicks just get better. Four years is a long time, but 2014’s Wig out at Jagbags (and really, most everything under the SM moniker) bears repeated listening, so at least fans have had that. The live show, though, is what’s really been missing. The Malk (!) doesn’t shy away from his Grateful Dead influences, and it’s easiest/most enjoyable to see and hear on stage. “Middle America” from the new album came about halfway through the set and is the Jerry-est thing they’ve done since “Cinnamon And Lesbians” which they played a few songs earlier. Not to put too fine a point on it, they broke into a “China Cat Sunflower” teaser in the middle of “Shady Lane” during the encore, just in case you weren’t getting the vibe.

The other Pavement tune, “In The Mouth A Desert” closed the show, and was a crowd-pleaser, natch. The woman next to me almost threw herself off the balcony. But are those songs The Malk’s albatross? I hope not. Like everyone else, I love hearing them. Seeing them played live definitely takes me back, which is pretty great in its own right. At the same time, I’d be happy enough if he never played any of them again. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but SM & t Jx have been together for nearly twice as long as The Malk’s other band. It’s entirely its own thing, sans-nostalgia. To me, at this point in my life, that’s miles better, and that’s why I loved the show so much.

Put another way, I count myself lucky to have seen Pavement in Denver during the ‘90s; but I count myself much luckier to have seen Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at the Gothic last Tuesday.

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SET LIST: https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/stephen-malkmus-and-the-jicks/2018/gothic-theatre-englewood-co-63eb0217.html

JAKE WINSTROM – Scared Away the Song LP

Album: Scared Away the Song LP

Artist: Jake Winstrom

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 25, 2018

www.jakewnstrom.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: A gorgeous slice of Americana, rock, baroque pop, and bearing more hard-to-pin-down charms than pretty much any record released this year so far.

BY FRED MILLS

There’s something magical about the erstwhile Tenderhooks frontman’s solo effort, Scared Away the Song, something that’s hard to put one’s finger upon. Because while all the “right” pieces are in place—hooky chord progressions and leads alongside instantly memorable melodies, compelling rhythmic structures across all tempos, plenty of stylistic variety (from Americana to power pop to garagey rock to folkish ballads), emotionally resonant lyrics, and sterling production—there’s definitely a sum-greater-than-the-parts effect going on. And even after multiple spins I’m not sure if I can isolate exactly what’s so special about the LP.

You can apply all those foregoing descriptions and adjectives to pretty much any of the 10 songs here, from the jaunty, anthemic title track and the luminous, McCartneyesque “Lightning Rod,” to the country-rocking “Unglued” and the cello-powered pop of “Big Black Dog” (who is no doubt the one pictured on the sleeve—Winstrom calls his pooch a “big black pollywog” and “a mattress hog” that is, ultimately, “everybody to me,” and the love in those lines was so palpable the first time I heard them I immediately got up and went over to give my own mutt a huge hug). Pair the music with Winstrom’s expressive, sweetly androgynous vocals and you’ve got one charmer of a platter. (A gorgeous red vinyl platter, at that, fellow wax fans.) Winstrom recorded parts of the album in Nashville with Ray Kennedy and the rest in his original home base of Knoxville, where the Tenderhooks had been based. He lives in Brooklyn nowadays, but clearly, the homecoming energized him in the studio.

So perhaps it’s the album’s elusiveness that, ultimately, is the proverbial icing on the cake. A lot of the greatest records are like that, and it’s only in subsequent retrospect that their unique qualities become fully evident. What that translates to, then, is my suggestion that you take a leap of faith and just grab it. My gut feeling is that you won’t have any regrets.

DOWNLOAD: “Big Black Dog,” “Caroline, Ugh,” “Lightning Rod”

 

AMANDA SHIRES – To The Sunset

Album: To The Sunset

Artist: Amanda Shires

Label: Silver Knife Records

Release Date: August 03, 2018

www.amandashiresmusic.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

You have to give Amanda Shires credit. Raising a child, playing with husband Jason Isbell’s band The 400 Unit, and still maintaining a solo career is no easy task. Simply keeping the family bond when both partners are forced to go their separate ways on their respective solo tours is hard enough, but for Shires, who has successfully pried herself out from under the shadow of her famous husband, it was likely even harder still.

Nevertheless, Shires has reaped her rewards on her own terms. Accorded kudos as Emerging Artist of the Year at last year’s Americana Awards, she’s clearly come into her own. An early succession of solo outings proved that she’s more than capable of seizing the spotlight, and so it ought to come as little surprise that To The Sunset fully confirms her prolific prowess. An album that finds her revelling in a series of tangled emotions, it demonstrates not only her versatility, but also a confidence and creativity that takes her to new heights. Its eerie opening track, “Parking Lot Pirouette” sets the scene, but it’s the kinetic “Leave It Alone,” the rowdy pair “Eve’s Daughter” and “Take on the Dark,” and the rousing revelry that enlivens “Break out the Champagne” that offer exacting evidence on Shires’ tone and temperament. She’s clearly unafraid to let her passion show, and indeed, if there’s any lingering doubt about that notion, the determined drive of “White Feather” ought to dispel it entirely.

Ultimately, To The Sunset becomes a new plateau in a career that’s grown steadily and assuredly since the start. Indeed, its importance ought to grow over time given its unabashed enthusiasm and its unabashedly seductive set-up. Her (undoubtedly proud) hubby had better heed this warning; His freewheeling fiddle player may not remain available as a touring bandmember for very long.

DOWNLOAD: “Leave It Alone,” “Eve’s Daughter,” “Take on the Dark”

 

DAN MELCHIOR—The Folksinger

Album: The Folksinger

Artist: Dan Melchior

Label: Swashbuckling Hobos

Release Date: April 27, 2018

http://www.swashbucklinghoborecords.bandcamp.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Dan Melchior has certainly played the blues before, both straight and refracted through his own peculiar aesthetic, but he’s rarely attacked them in so direct and sustained a matter as on #The Folksinger#. Over 11 tracks, Melchior plays a stripped-down electric blues wrapped in deathly echo. There are no frills, no instruments beyond guitar and voice and absolutely no irony.

There is, in fact, not much of Melchior, either. He plays these very traditional songs just about exactly the way that Howlin’ Wolf or Son House might approach them, though of course, he is not Howlin’ Wolf or Son House (it is a little disconcerting to hear him, a white British guy, wail, “Wa-aa-aal, I wish to the lord…” in the opening track). Yet the fact remains that Melchior is good at playing this sort of music. His guitar howls and drones and rattles like a locomotive. His hollowed-out voice navigates the spooky, overtone-haunted crevices of the music and tugs the ghosts out from “The Cuckoo” and, especially, late album highlight “Pretty Polly.”

Yet this feels like an album that takes no risks and makes no changes. It goes on, song to song, without much variation, until it ends. There’s none of the restless intelligence, the impatience with easy answers, the experimentation with tone and song structure and sound that distinguish Melchior’s most idiosyncratic and compelling work. If you like electric blues, here it is unadulterated, but that’s all.

DOWNLOAD: “The Cuckoo,” “Pretty Polly”

THE MAGIC NUMBERS – Outsiders

Album: Outsiders

Artist: Magic Numbers

Label: Park the Van

Release Date: May 11, 2018

http://www.parkthevan.com/

The Upshot: While there are some great intimate moments, the lack of a more consistent balance between upbeat and slow tempo drags the album down a bit.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

English foursome The Magic Numbers play a decidedly classic rock/pop brand of music that boasts a variety of influences from Thin Lizzy and The Kinks to Nick Drake and Neil Young and remarkably few traces that their listening habits stretch past the late 1970s. And that’s both impressive and refreshing when it seems most bands coming out of the 2000’s appears to listen to little of anything further back than Blink 182 or Radiohead.

The band comprisea two brother/sister combos, have managed to forge their own musical path, ignoring musical trends over the past decade. Impressively, they were shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Prize shortly after their 2005 debut.

The Magic Numbers continue their nostalgia streak on The Outsiders, their fifth LP and mellowest one to date. That’s not to say, the band doesn’t have its glam-inspired boogies spread throughout the record, like the opener “Shotgun Wedding” or the Sweet-worthy track, “The Keeper,” but the bulk of the songs here lean more toward slow burners. And while there are some great intimate moments (especially the beautiful “Wayward”), ultimately that lack of a more consistent balance between upbeat and slow tempo drags the album down a bit.

DOWNLOAD: “Wayward,” “The Keeper” and “Shotgun Wedding”

 

THE BLACK WATCH – Witches!

Album: Witches!

Artist: The Black Watch

Label: ATOM

Release Date: July 27, 2018

http://www.atomrecords.com

The Upshot: There’s a folkier air to this record than in the past, which might appeal to Americana fans, and if you like catchy tunes, smart lyrics and commitment to vision, all in a shamelessly (but not obsequiously) Anglophilic style, you cannot go wrong.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

OK, folks, here’s the damn deal. For years many of us have been talking about L.A.’s guitar pop janglers The Black Watch, and you’re still not paying enough attention. No matter that John Andrew Frederick writes songs the way you wish every college professor wrote ‘em: with careful attention to language but little patience for strained metaphors and thirty-dollar words, wrapped up in timeless guitar-based melodies. Never mind that the various versions of the band always treat Fredericks’ tunes with just the right amount of respect, keeping those hooks at the forefront while not being afraid to rough things up once in a while. Forget that there are few musical artists at any level who are as consistent as this one – over the course of three decades and fifteen albums, plus a bunch of EPs and a couple of compilations, there are, maybe, two mediocrities, and that has more to do with comparison to the rest of the catalog than it does the lack of quality on the releases themselves. Y’all really should wake up.

But fear not: you have another chance. TBW has just released Witches!, its sixteenth LP, on the thirtieth anniversary of its first full-length album St. Valentine. And unsurprisingly, it’s a doozy. There’s a folkier air to this record, which might appeal to you Americana types – more acoustic guitars, more of a rustic feel. Though Americana as a concept ain’t in the cards – there are more references to British locations, art and literature here than maybe any other record in Anglophile Frederick’s repertoire. “The Weird Sisters,” “From Hampstead Heath” and “Graymalkin Comes” directly invoke various U.K. icons; “Dances For Sad Footsteps Slow” doesn’t, but it adds a British prog feel to the band’s usual jangle pop and the title sounds like Romantic poetry. In other words, there’s nothing here that sounds like the Lumineers or whatever pop band parades across the charts in Americana drag these days. Plus there’s still plenty of electric guitar and fuzzy psych pop – “When We First Met” and the banging “Georgette, Georgette” have you covered if you want to play air guitar while you sing along.

Really, if you like catchy tunes, smart lyrics and commitment to vision, all in a shamelessly (but not obsequiously) Anglophilic style, you cannot go wrong with Witches! You just can’t. If you’re a browser of Trouser Press Record Guides, peruser of 120 Minutes, old school fan of Rodney on the ROQ or just someone who wonders if anyone’s continued the legacy set by the Beatles, the Kinks and the Move, The Black Watch is your meat. There’s no goddamn reason in the world you’re not chewing. So get to it, folks. No excuses.

DOWNLOAD: “Graymalkin Comes,” “Georgette, Georgette,” “Dances For Sad Footsteps Slow”

 

KLEENEX GIRL WONDER – Vana Mundi LP

Album: Vana Mundi

Artist: Kleenex Girl Wonder

Label: KGW.ME

Release Date: April 20, 2018

https://kgw.me/

The Upshot: After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.

BY FRED MILLS

The proverbial “sleeper” in every sense of the word: Graham Smith’s umpteenth release bolts out of the gate in uncompromising fashion, courtesy the brashly abrasive riff of “Practical Effects,” a slice of dissonant pop marked by his nasal vox and complementary/adversarial vocal harmonies. It sets the listener up for a potentially uneasy listening experience. And yeah, that voice is an acquired taste, the kind that almost turns sour by the time you flip the album from side A to side B—did I mention that Vana Mundi arrives on digital and sweet, delightful 180gm black vinyl?—for “The Mesomorph,” all a-focus with double-tracked and harmony-abetted vocals.

But c’mon Mr. Reviewer, you say, haven’t you given, ahem, heroes of yours who are also idiosyncratic singers, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Richard Hell, plenty of passes over the years? Correct; and as with those musical icons, Graham Smith has a hard-to-pin-down emotional and sonic quality that eventually charms one out of his or her critical tree and makes ‘em a believer. In another era, Kleenex Girl Wonder would’ve been a flagship act on New Zealand’s vaunted Flying Nun label, in all their shambling-yet-mesmerizing glory. Early Merge Records releases also come to mind, as Smith uncannily intuits how to be shouty and passionate at the same time—not a small task. After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.

Oh, and just to obliterate my entire argument about those idiosyncratic vocals: There’s a track called “Impossible Shadow” that, with its tingly indie-pop arrangement and massed vocal harmonies, clearly marks Smith as a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys acolyte. It’s a lightbulb moment, and a sonic epiphany. This dude’s a rare talent.

DOWNLOAD:  “Sounds Good,” “Impossible Shadow,” “Sunday Night Fever”