Monthly Archives: June 2009

Harold Budd and Clive Wright – Candylion

January 01, 1970

(Darla)

 

www.darla.com

 

In 2004 ambient guru Harold Budd
announced that Avalon Sutra would be
his swan song, but in the time-honored tradition of musicians who publicly
declare their retirement, he didn’t stay away for long. Since his return to the
studio, Budd has worked primarily with two artists: Robin Guthrie (releasing a
brace of albums with the former Cocteau Twin in 2007) and Clive Wright, with
whom he recorded last year’s A Song for
Lost Blossoms
and now Candylion.

 

Budd has an extensive history of
collaborations with musicians boasting diverse, innovative creative pedigrees:
Brian Eno, Hector Zazou, Bill Nelson, Andy Partridge, John Foxx and Jah Wobble,
to name just a handful. In such company, Wright — best known for his tenure
with the rather flaccid ’80s soft rockers Cock Robin — might appear a peculiar
choice. Nevertheless, Candylion, like
its predecessor, is unmistakably the work of two artists on the same wavelength,
a poised, quietly meditative dialogue between Wright’s serpentine,
Frippertronic-style guitar textures and Budd’s minimalist piano melodies and
gauzy, amorphous synth washes.

 

“Ambient Music,” according
to Eno, “must be able to accommodate many levels of listening
attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is
interesting.” Judged by those criteria, Candylion is slightly uneven —
occasionally falling on the ignorable side of Eno’s equation — but, for the most part, it successfully accommodates
seemingly contradictory active and passive modes of listening: the album’s most
memorable material works as a non-intrusive component of the environment (as
agreeable background music) while at the same time it’s substantive enough to
be the exclusive focus of attention — an aural experience in which the
listener can wholly immerse him/herself.

 

Candylion marks a
slight departure from A Song for Lost
Blossoms
insofar as it feels more concise and focused. Not only are the
tracks generally shorter, but the incorporation of elements such as acoustic
guitar, harp and percussion tends to add more definition and structure to Budd
and Wright’s open-ended, drifting soundscapes.

 

The simplest and most understated
pieces are its strongest: for example, “The Bells,” with its
delicate, sedate East Asian ornamentality; “She Slipped Through the
Door,” which balances drones and melody to attain an austere majesty; and
“In the Midst of Life,” which subtly builds a hymnal gravitas with
its otherworldly choral arrangement. “Eaux d’Artifice” is the album’s
tour de force as Wright loops and weaves his sinuous, fluid guitar lines around
Budd’s slow-falling droplets of melody.

 

The only weakness here derives
from obtrusive rhythmic elements that render a couple of tracks rather ordinary
and generic. “Sunday After the War,” for instance, has a shuffling
drum beat, which jars with its otherwise calm flow; moreover, sequencing this
track as the album’s opener gets the proceedings off to a less than compelling
start. Elsewhere, a naggingly busy lite-jazz beat brings “Beautiful
Intruder” perilously close to New Age schmaltz.

 

But in the broader context of the
album, these are fairly minor quibbles.

 

Budd has talked self-deprecatingly
about his rather limited musical vocabulary, implying that his signature
amalgam of minimalism and melody is perhaps more accident than design. Either
way, although the lexicon of his sonic idiom might not be especially extensive,
Budd rarely fails to infuse his work with a wealth of moods and emotional
resonances that belies his supposed limitations. On the whole, this
collaboration with Wright continues to make that point.

 

Standout Tracks: “Eaux
d’Artifice,” “She Slipped Through the Door,” “The
Bells” WILSON NEATE

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Smiles – Oh For The Getting and Not Letting Go

January 01, 1970

(self-released)

 

www.allsmilesmusic.com

 

Jim Fairchild’s latest solo release under his All Smiles
moniker unabashedly displays his musical pedigree. Fairchild has played in
Grandaddy, Earlimart, and most recently, Modest Mouse. Though skronky, Isaac
Brock guitar squeals are largely absent from this new record, the lazy, hazy
central California
pop-rock of Fairchild’s former bands permeates his songwriting. Elliott Smith
is clearly another big reference point here, but Fairchild’s hushed vocals and
borderline-folk style pales in comparison to Smith’s tired and wasted emotions.

 

Everything about All Smiles is even-paced, often
excruciatingly so. The tempos, the singing, the medium doses of distorted
guitars that pop up every now and then, the subtle guitar licks that emblazon
strummed chords – it all chugs along at a pleasant but yawning 30 mph. It’s not
that Fairchild needs a gimmick to enliven his music. It’s just that this style
of contemporary mope-rock has been done many times before, with much more
finesse.

 

 Standout Tracks: “Maps To The Homes of Former Foes,” “Brother I
Know My Way” JONAH FLICKER

 

Radio City

January 01, 1970

(33 1/3)

 

www.continuumbooks.com

 

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

The Big Star story has been recounted in great detail over
the years, most recently by British journalist Rob Jovanovic, whose 2005 biography
Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death,
and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop
is a must-read, so
it’s not as if these characters are the same hazy figures they were back when I
first discovered them. Amazingly, then, a new book ostensibly about the making
of the second album takes the story to an entirely new level: practically from
day one Chilton has resisted the overtures of journalists, consistently
downplaying Big Star’s overall importance both in the larger sense and how it relates
to his particular musical vision. He’s consistently been “not available for
interviews” during Big Star’s periodic revivals (for example, in 2005, when a
reborn Big Star featuring Chilton, Stephens and two members of the Posies
issued In Space, Stephens assumed virtually
all the media-fielding duties), so writers have generally had to rely on the
reflections of Chilton’s friends, former band members and even other writers to
cast an impression of the man.

 

But in Radio City the
book – the latest installment in Continuum Books’ 33 1/3 series on classic
albums – author Bruce Eaton pulls a bonafide rabbit out of his hat, and Big
Star devotees owe him an immense debt as a result. Not only does he get Chilton
to go on record about the band, he coaxes in-depth commentary out of the
notoriously elusive musician, who holds forth on everything from his childhood
and experiences with the Box Tops to his relationship with Chris Bell (good, it
turns out, and not adversarial as has often been reported) and detailed
descriptions of Big Star recording sessions. Eaton, it should be said, was
holding one card that all the other journalists who’ve picked away at the
Chilton monolith didn’t: based in upstate New York, Eaton, a musician himself,
found himself, through a series of coincidences, playing in one of Chilton’s
early eighties bands, and although the alliance was short-lived, the
relationship was friendly enough to allow the two to remain in occasional
contact. When Eaton decided he wanted to do his book, he was able to tap that
friendship, Chilton apparently trusting that Eaton’s agenda was neither
self-serving nor exploitative but rather a sincere desire to set the Big Star
record straight. (Memo to fellow journalists: yes, despite all our
protestations of doing what we do because we love the music, we can come across as self-serving and
exploitative to musicians.)

 

The best titles in the 33 1/3 series tend to be
making-of-the-album stories (sorry, but the ones that read like novels or
fantasies or a protracted exercise in autobiography are rarely engaging), and
when the author is fortunate enough to conduct interviews with the principals
themselves, the books can become invaluable reference works. That’s Eaton’s Radio City,
in spades. He frames his main narrative with a intro relating how he discovered
the band and why he thinks it’s noteworthy, and a closing section outlining how
he wound up playing with Chilton (which itself is insightful as it provides glimpses
into Chilton’s mercurial personality and musical modus operandi).

 

But the bulk of this 144-page volume is given over to the
events leading up to the formation of Big Star and those surrounding the first
album, followed by a blow-by-blow breakdown of Radio City. In addition to Chilton, Eaton’s respondents include
Stephens, Hummel, Fry, Ardent engineer Richard Rosebrough and Ardent label boss
John King, plus the late Chris Bell’s brother David who pitches in on the pre-Radio City section, and they all supply
incredibly detailed descriptions of who did what, when, where, and how. Even
when memories get slightly fuzzy – for example, as it was the musicians’ habit
to record late into the night at Ardent, often without a producer or engineer
on hand (the Big Star members all had keys to Ardent studio), specific session
details sometimes didn’t get transcribed – the reader still gets a vivid sense
of what it must have been like to be part of the Ardent inner circle.

 

Fry’s recollections tend to be the most reliable, summoning
up specific notes on how he placed the mics on certain songs, how this
particular take differed from that one, even how he approached mixing the
album. Yet the three musicians are generally clear-headed in their
reminiscences, and as noted above, Chilton supplies his share of invaluable
anecdotes, even talking a little about the Radio
City
aftermath in 1974-75 and the Big
Star Third
sessions. (Countering another journalist-spawned misconception,
Chilton states unequivocally, “[Stephens and I] never saw it as a Big Star
record. That was a marketing decision when the record was sold in whatever year
that was sold.”) For his part, Eaton structures his book as a semi-oral
history, interspersing sections of expository narrative as needed between
blocks of quotes – many of them quite lengthy, such as nearly ten-page passage
dictated by Chilton on his life prior to Big Star. Oral histories can be risky,
but in this instance the editorial decision was sound; perhaps Eaton sensed
that after all the telling and retelling of the Big Star saga, maybe it was finally
time to let the men get it down in their own words, without journalistic
filters.

 

Plus, one mark of any great music bio is that while you’re
reading it you want to listen to the artist or album in question. When you get
to the Radio City song-by-song descriptions, I guarantee you’ll be compelled to cue
up the record and listen for the parts that Fry, Chilton, Stevens, Hummel and
Rosebrough are describing. It’s as close to a fly-on-the-wall experience as
you’re likely to get with Big Star.

 

Incidentally, Eaton has his own this-is-what-I-was-doing
epiphany on Big Star that he relates. Coming across a used copy of Radio City in the bins of a Buffalo, NY,
record store one afternoon in ’76, he was struck by the William Eggleston
lightbulb/room photo gracing the sleeve. “Curious, I picked up the album,”
writes Eaton. “The sturdy cardboard cover sheathed a nice thick slab of wax.
Like a vintage Blue Note jazz LP, it felt like a record made by people who
cared about the music and knew what they were doing.” At home later that
evening, Eaton put the album on while he sat down to write some letters:

 

Song by song, it
pulled me in until by the end of the first side I had stopped writing and was
propped back in my chair with my feet on the desk, listening as the sun set
behind the woods outside my window, feeling the June breeze blowing in through
the window screen. I flipped the record over to Side Two, and by the time the
needle reached the middle of ‘September Gurls,’ five cuts in, I was riveted…”

 

Across the land, over the years, a similar scene would
continue to repeat itself. So I ask you, dear readers: where were you when you first heard Big Star?

 

 

Placebo – Battle for the Sun

January 01, 1970

(Vagrant)

 

www.vagrant.com

 

On Placebo’s long
awaited sixth album “Battle for the Sun” the song “Kitty Litter” includes the
refrain. “I need a change of skin.” There’s little question that’s just what
the U.K.
rockers have since drummer Steve Forrest was replaced by Steve Hewitt. Although
a lineup change is always unsettling, it doesn’t seem to have adversely
affected the band, which sounds as musically solid as ever hammering out the
band’s signature sound.

 

The issue with this
CD comes down to that sound. Either you love the punk-alt mix Placebo brings to
the table or you find it tough to swallow. All music is subjective, of course,
but perhaps this more than most. There’s no respite, no gray, in this sound.
It’s all Placebo hard hitting, intense, in your face, all the time. Maybe not
Aiden mixed with Tokyo Police Club, but you get the idea.

 

For all the fuss
that’s been made in the media about the band members wanting to “step out of the
darkness and into the light,” – to quote frontman Brian Molko in ChartAttack – the album is pretty dark.

 

Lyrics such as
“No one cares when
you’re out on the street/Picking up the pieces to make ends meet/No one cares
when you’re down in the gutter/

Got no
friends, got no lover,” from “For What It’s Worth” gives you a taste of those
on other songs. This album is either
the last one you’d want to hear when you’re on a rant or the first one,
depending on how quickly you want to pull out of the mood.

 

Only you can decide
that.

 

Standout Tracks: “Kitty Litter,” “For What It’s Worth” NANCY DUNHAM

 

 

 

 

Phil Lee – So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You

January 01, 1970

(Steady Boy Records/Palookaville Records)

 

 

www.steadyboyrecords.com

 

 

Here’s the thing about Phil Lee; he’s got three albums out
and all three are among the best albums you’re likely to come across anytime
soon . But experience teaches that whichever one you hear first is the one you
will think is his best. That is, until the others will each in turn start to
tug at your ear jostling for first place; good for him, good for you. If you
don’t already have the two albums on Shanachie (“The Mighty King Of Love”; “You
Should have Known Me Then”) just go ahead and pick up the 3 pack. Guaranteed,
you’ll have hours of playtime fun going to all the places a run through a Phil
Lee album can take you.

 

 

So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You was produced by Lee
along with George Bradfute – some of the album was done at his Tone Chaparral
studio in Nashville -and peerless guitarist Richard Bennett who between them have
four of the best ears in Nashville. Bennett and Bradfute both play guitar and
other instruments on the album and with Fats Kaplan and the rest of a bunch of
high caliber players -including Phil himself on guitar and drums – flesh out Lee’s
Country/Folk/British Invasion influenced music. He can be witty, romantic,
irreverent, incisive; usually all and more within the same song (“Lovers
Everywhere”) and in “Neon Tombstone” (“I met the Dalai Lama; he hit me with a
hammer”) he’s a downright scamp. Through some kind of arcane hocus pocus he can
manage to be unsentimental and poignant at the same time. “25 Mexicans” will go
straight to your heart like a dart from a Jivaro blowgun. Poignant? To quote
Queen Elizabeth II; “‘25 Mexicans’ is poignant as a mofo.” And you were wondering what she was rocking on that iPod
President Obama gave her.

 

 

Standout Tracks: ’25 Mexicans”; “Sonny George”  RICK ALLEN

 

Otis Taylor – Pentatonic Wars And Love Songs

January 01, 1970

(Telarc Records)

 

www.telarc.com

 

In the past, bluesman Otis Taylor has written about racism,
social injustice, poverty, and drug abuse, imbuing each song with dark humor
and the darker-hued, acoustic-based music that he calls “trance
blues.” With Pentatonic Wars And
Love Songs
, the uncompromising songwriter turns his creative attention to
love and romance, tragedy and loss.

 

As he has with eight previous albums, Taylor brings his characteristic insight and
personal experience to bear on the material here. Sung with enchanting beauty
by his daughter Cassie, “Sunday Morning” is an ethereal tale of
waiting for one’s long ago lost lover to return. British blues-rock guitarist
Gary Moore lends his talents to the horrifying tale “Lost My Guitar,”
but the interracial romance by two kids too young to have been taught
differently in “I’m Not Mysterious” is simply brilliant in its
haunting beauty. Driven by a raging circular riff, and sung with wicked charm
by Cassie Taylor, “Mama’s Best Friend” is a true story of a woman
finding love and acceptance in the arms of another woman.

 

An underrated and skilled multi-instrumentalist, Taylor has
never been afraid to experiment beyond blues tradition musically, and he does
so gleefully here. Still, it’s Taylor’s
uncanny ability to capture human behavior in song, warts and all, that is his artistic
trademark. With Pentatonic Wars And Love
Songs
, Taylor
has created a master work that not only perfectly captures the energy and
emotion of romance and relationships, but has also taken blues music as an art
form to a higher level altogether.

 

Standout Tracks: “Sunday Morning,” “I’m Not Mysterious,” “If You
Hope” REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

 

Tom Brousseau – Posthmous Success

January 01, 1970

(Fat Cat)

 

www.fat-cat.co.uk

 

When you call your record Posthumous Success irony is obviously your songwriting friend. And finding
Dave Grohl, Vincent Price and Proust wandering through dream-like, heart-rending
narratives with comic kick is telling, too — but then mordant wit is Tom
Brosseau’s gift and cross. Billed as a huge stylistic shift from his bare-boned
past, this time the Grand Forks’
expat embellishes his witty fare in striking arrangements of whirring synths
and electric guitars, even turning up the heat and pace to a near-boil on “Big
Time” and the overly distorted “You Don’t Know My Friends.”

 

Mice Parade’s Adam Pierce produced and drummed, the latter
abetting the occasional thunder. Brosseau even adds four lyric-less interludes
to successfully vary the skyline. But even if the stories occasionally tilt
in-jokey, they’re still the draw. Brosseau tells us as much when he warbles
almost apologetically on “Axe & Stump” that he’s “got an evil eye and a
matching wit.”  Let us just forgive and
enjoy.

 

Standout Tracks:  “Favorite Color Blue” and “Wishbone Medallion”
JOHN SCHACHT

 

 

 

Ex-Norwegian – Standby

January 01, 1970

(Dying Van Gogh Records)

www.stndyby.com

 

What’s in a name? Potentially plenty when a band dubs itself
Ex-Norwegian and there’s not a Scandinavian expatriate in the bunch. Admittedly
though, it’s a considerably better handle than the moniker given its
predecessor, the absolutely incongruous Father Bloopy.  Fortunately, there’s reason enough to forgive
the band’s lynchpin, Roger Houdaille for his strange choice in nom de plumes;
whatever his shortcomings in that regard, it doesn’t diminish his melodic
prowess or his ability to inspire a rousing performance from his collaborators.
Consequently, this new trio – Houdaille (vocals, guitar, mellotron, synths),
Carolina Souto (bass) and Arturo Garcia (drums, percussion, vocals) – make
amends with a stirring debut that’s chock full of exuberant, exhilarating
performances and a unerring pop sensibility that’s both brash and
irresistible. 

 

In truth, Standby isn’t so much a variation from Houdaille’s Father Bloopy guise as it is a
further affirmation of his melodic abilities, newly bolstered by an assertive
stance and a modern rock regimen. The staccato rhythms of “Fujeira In My
Dreams,” the unrelenting pace of “Pow3full” and the steady stomp and surge of
“Dance Trance Pants” all testify to the band’s revved up delivery, confidence
and poise. What’s equally impressive is Ex-Norwegian’s ability to flirt with
radio-ready possibilities, be it with the pop-perfect “Sad Wonder,” the buoyant
refrains of “Fresh Pit” or the percolating “Add Vice,” which, coincidentally or
not, retraces the sound of the soul classic “What Becomes of the Broken
Hearted.” So no matter what name they paste above the marquee, Standby is nothing less than a standout.

Standout Tracks: “Add Vice,” “Sad
Wonder” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 

R.E.M. – Reckoning – Deluxe Edition [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(I.R.S./A&M/UMe)

 

www.universalchronicles.com

 

 

April 9, 1984, record
stores all over America:
For in-the-loop R.E.M. fans, it’s a red-letter – as opposed to, one presumes,
dead letter – day. The Athens combo’s second long-player is released today, and
although advance tapes of the LP have been circulating for weeks (the band commenced
work on it at Charlotte’s Reflection Studios with producers Mitch Easter and
Don Dixon back in early December and completed sessions in mid-January), any
sneak peeks at the material have only whetted our appetite. Not for nothing has
R.E.M.’s grassroots base been increasing at an exponential rate over the course
of the last 18 months; one fan’s awestruck reports from the trenches on the
band literally begets twenty more, and everybody is positively itching to have,
to hold and to hear this new artifact.

 

And what an artifact it is. A quarter-century after its
release, Reckoning, as with 1983’s Murmur, has lost none of its charm. From
the disturbingly serpentine Howard Finster sleeve art to the simultaneously
dense and expansive sonics to the tunes themselves, nearly all of which would
remain fan favorites for years to come, Reckoning‘s
estimable powers to enthrall and to mystify are only just slightly less than
its predecessor’s. If there’s a true qualitative difference between the two
that must be logged, it’s simply that Murmur appeared on the musical landscape as something utterly fresh and absolutely alien;
for Reckoning, we know the score – and
therefore what, in general, to expect from the band. But that doesn’t make
listening to it any less thrilling then or now.

 

Like last year’s Murmur 2-CD overhaul, the brand new Reckoning –
Deluxe Edition
(I.R.S./A&M/UMe) has been freshly remastered, and while
it’s nigh-on impossible to fault the original Easter-Dixon production/mixing, Reckoning Mk. 2009 does have a crispness
and an overall presence that will have stereo gear geeks and headphone (not
earbud) aficionados pinching themselves. The “theater” aspect of the album is
quite profound; moving your battered-but-trusty old pair of Dynaco A-25
speakers around in the room just so will make the record come alive in nearly
3D or surround-sound fashion (the producers even applied binaural recording
techniques on some tracks). In fact, “alive” is the operative term: despite it
being very much a studio record boasting a wealth of cortex-ticking mix flourishes
– listen, for example, to the choirlike qualities of the Michael Stipe-Bill
Berry-Mike Mills harmony vocals, or Mills’ keyboards, previously somewhat
obscured – Reckoning is a remarkably
accurate document of what the band sounded like in concert (see below) at the
time.

 

From the sensual, hip-swiveling throb of opening track
“Harborcoat” and moody jangler “so. Central Rain” to the brash powerpop thump
of “Pretty Persuasion” and proto-Americana anthem “(don’t Go back To) Rockville” – try
listening to the latter without singing along during the chorus – Reckoning delivers the songwriting
goods, too. By now Stipe had grudgingly decided he had a greater stake in
having people understand what he was singing, and even if it was still tough
sometimes to get exactly what he was singing about, with his words more carefully enunciated and no longer
pushed as deep into the mix, you can snag complete visual images, tantalizing
metaphors, quirky observations and little asides that help make the
lyric-combing all the more rewarding. And with Pete Buck’s consistently
churning, at times agitated fretwork riding atop an equally brawny Mills-Berry
rhythm section, Reckoning was
defiantly rock ‘n’ roll from start to finish. Though early on the group may
have notched its share of Byrds comparisons, nobody was going to mistake this record for some latterday excursion
into folk-rock territory.

 

The Deluxe Edition’s second CD serves up a sparkling live
concert from the actual Reckoning tour
(a/k/a the “Little America Tour”). Recorded July 7, 1984 at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom and broadcast over
WXRT-FM, the performance spawned a raft of high quality bootlegs so it’s not
exactly obscure to R.E.M. buffs. It’s not the entire show, either; the original
broadcast was about 75 minutes but a subsequent re-broadcast trimmed it back to
just under an hour, omitting the unreleased song “Cushy Tush” and covers of
Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” and the Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run.” The
edited concert is what’s presented here, but it’s still a welcome addition to
the collection, showcasing such relatively obscure R.E.M. gems as the band’s
charmingly awkward take on the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” and hectic
punk raveup “Windout” plus the as-yet-unrecorded “Driver 8” and “Hyena” (the
latter two would eventually wind up on, respectively, 1985’s Fables of the Reconstruction and 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant, but as mainstays of
R.E.M. setlists on the ’84 tour, they quickly became concert crowd-pleasers).

 

All of the Reckoning songs
shine in their live incarnations. “Rockville”
in particular dials the twang back and is straightforwardly anthemic in the
purest R.E.M. sense, while “so. Central Rain,” though sounding ever-so-slightly
out of tune, brings an additional dynamic heft, particularly in Stipe’s
feral-to-the-point-of-anguished vocals in the closing seconds. “Harborcoat” is
itchily kinetic, speeded up to the point of almost being ska-like. “7 Chinese
Brothers” is true to the album version – with the exception of Stipe’s role, as
he throws in some of the tune’s “alternate lyrics” (otherwise known as “Voice
of Harold,” an outtake from the recording sessions, they included bon mots culled from the sleeve of an
old gospel album, e.g. “the joy of knowing Jesus… produced by Joel
Gentry…backliner design…”). And the band’s standard pre-encore concert-closer at
the time, “Little America” is a rousing,
howling, thumping, gloriously messy blowout that, also, is pure R.E.M. For a
crucial snapshot of the band in the mid ‘80s, the Aragon broadcast is pretty hard to
beat (hold that thought; see below).

 

The Deluxe Edition of Murmur was issued last November (read our review HERE), which was a fantastic document
but one that might have been served more fully by the inclusion of additional
studio material (its bonus disc comprised a 1983 live recording). Likewise, this
new-look Reckoning doesn’t include any of the known studio outtakes
from the original recording sessions, or sessions proximate to the album’s
general time frame. (“Burning Down,” “Ages of You,” “Voice Of Harold,” “Cushy
Tush” or “Hey Hey Nadine,” anyone? How about the Velvets covers
“Pale Blue Eyes” and “Femme Fatale”?) Previous import CD reissues of the album
had included bonus tracks “Wind Out,” “Pretty Persuasion (live
in studio),” “Tighten Up,” “Moon River”
and “White Tornado (live in studio),” so fleshing out Disc One wouldn’t
have been all that problematic. However, since this makes twice R.E.M. has
opted to present the original artifact exactly as it was presented in ‘84 sans extras, we’ll squelch our fanboy
instincts and defer to the intentions of the artists themselves. Besides, some
of the songs listed above have already seen official release, and if R.E.M.
eventually gets around to doing a Deluxe Edition for 1987’s odds ‘n’ sods
collection Dead Letter Office, it’s
entirely conceivable they’ll throw the fans a few additional bones – or olive
branches.

 

***

 

September 26, 1984, Duke University: “If anybody
taped last night,” R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe is saying to the audience, “come find
me after the show – I wanna talk to you.”

 

It’s the second of two sold-out nights at Duke’s Page
Auditorium. After this tour, R.E.M. won’t be able to do venues of this size
(seating cap.: just over 1200) anymore. Knowing that and wanting to document the
impending end of an era, the band has brought in engineers and recording gear
from Reflection Studios. Reckoning‘s
release a few months earlier brought critical and commercial acclaim, the LP eventually
hitting #27 on the Billboard charts, and
the band is firing on all cylinders. Much to the chagrin of everyone involved,
however, last night’s taping yielded some nasty sonic gremlins. Hence Stipe’s
stage announcement – they’d like to get ahold of a decent tape.

 

And this is the moment where one of yours truly’s odder
intersections with rock royalty begins. In possession of front-row balcony
seats for both nights and with my own mobile recording unit (a Sony D6 stereo cassette
deck) in hand, I’m doing my own documentation of what’s clearly an event. As
both tapes turn out quite nicely, upon my return home I dub off copies of each
night and drop them into the mail to their manager, whom I knew from our mutual
Chapel Hill days, at R.E.M.’s Athens
headquarters.

 

A few months later things take an intriguing twist when an
acquaintance phones and says he has a surprise for me. It’s a cassette, tellingly
labeled “Page 9-26-84,” and the moment I hear it I know what it is: the
Reflection mobile recording from the second night at Duke, fully mixed and in
pristine sound – the best live R.E.M.
recording I ever heard
. My friend, an aspiring engineer/producer who’d
recently begun interning at Reflection, had somehow gained momentary access to
the studio’s vaults and dubbed off about an hour’s worth of the show. “Keep it
to yourself,” he instructs me gravely. I readily comply, no questions.

 

Too bad he didn’t take his own advice. He’d also made a copy
for another contact, an R.E.M. fan and record dealer from Florida with more balls than ethics. When
the “We Are Having A Heavenly Time!” bootleg R.E.M. LP subsequently
surfaced in the summer of ’85, it was pretty obvious who was behind it. In the
transition from tape to vinyl, somehow the Duke show had gotten slightly
speeded-up, but with the otherwise incredible sound quality and custom sleeve
artwork, the album quickly became a high-demand item among collectors. It
probably would have remained “underground,” too – by ’85 a lot of R.E.M.
bootlegs were in circulation, Pete Buck himself even being known to collect
them – had the back cover not been inscribed with the notation, “This Fan Club album is not intended for
sale, commercial distribution or air play. All rights reserved.”

 

R.E.M. HQ wouldn’t have blinked twice at the appearance of
another R.E.M. boot, but they were not happy at all about some clown
usurping the official fan club’s name. Curses were uttered. Phone calls were
made. Including one to yours truly from the band’s manager, who thought I might
have an idea who was behind the LP. I did, of course, so I offered to track
down the bootlegger and broker a scenario whereby, in exchange for his pledge
to get out of the R.E.M. “fan club” business, they wouldn’t sic The Man on his
ass. Oh, and as a gesture of good faith, could he mail a stack of the Heavenly Time album to Athens as well? The guys in the band would,
er, like their own copies.

 

After that things returned to normal – sort of. Not long
afterwards, R.E.M.’s lawyer turned up at Reflection. He took every R.E.M. tape
that had been in storage at the studio, including the live shows from Duke, and
toted them back to Athens
in, legend has it, an armored car. Many years later during a periodic
housecleaning at Reflection, the studio’s head engineer, also a friend of mine,
came across some empty reel-to-reel tape boxes; listed on them were Reckoning song titles. Knowing I was a
fan, he mailed them to me and to this day they remain prized additions to my
record shelf.

 

To date none of the live material from Duke has ever seen
the official light of day. Although the Aragon set is good, the Duke show
is better, at least to these ears. (I’m biased, I admit.) Regardless of where
one’s Reckoning intersection occurs,
however, to re-experience the band on that eventful 1984 tour – with the
exception of a month’s break during August, it essentially lasted all year (chronology HERE) – is to hear a band at the peak of its pre-arena powers, as thrilling and
charismatic a live outfit as the era ever produced.

 

In a both a literal and metaphorical sense, the slamming
shut of the aforementioned armored car’s doors marked, perhaps, when that era
truly came to a close.

 

Standout Tracks: “Pretty
Persuasion” (studio), “7 Chinese Brothers” (live) FRED MILLS

 

 

 

Buckwheat Zydeco – Lay Your Burden Down

January 01, 1970

(Alligator)

 

www.alligator.com

 

Etoi! As hearty a music as Zydeco may be, its translation to
larger realms has usually been a dicey proposition. Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural has tried for
decades to highly mixed results, but on this sucker he nails it firm and deep.
With the able assistance of Steve Berlin as producer, the singer and
accordionist creates a potent brand of “Greater Gulf Music” that ranges from
the lower Caribbean to beyond the upper delta
with wondrous results.

 

The opener “When
The Levee Breaks,” the Memphis Minnie/Kansas Joe McCoy classic known to rock
fans from Led Zep’s version, signals that something magical is happening here
with its Louisiana-style Southern rock fury, whipped to nice froth by Sonny
Landreth’s slide guitar, which along with Buck’s mellifluous squeeze box
slathers the Tabasco atop J.J. Grey’s Chicago-style shuffle blues on “Can’t Let
Go” that follows. Jimmy Cliff’s “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah” hits the locus among
reggae, ska and New Orleans R&B with an infectious delight while Bruce
Springsteen’s “Back In Your Arms” shines in a similar one-drop lilt, iced by
Doral’s loamy B 3 pads and slides. In a veritable Whitman’s sampler of
stylistic treats, the disc gets mighty soulful (“Don’t Leave Me Here” and
Captain Beefheart’s “Too Much Time”), summons up some swampy voodoo to match
Dr. John on the title song that swirls hypnotically from the pas de deux between Buck’s Hammond organ
and writer Warren Haynes’ guitar, and travels to a Saturday night at Slim’s
Y-Ki-Ki in Opelousas on the snappy Zydeco of “Throw Me Something, Mister” and
“Ninth Place.”

 

By the time this
delicious disc cools down on the closing grace note instrumental waltz of
“Finding My Way Back Home,” you know you’re in the presence of the bayou music
greatness that Buckwheat Zydeco has long aspired to achieve.

 

Standout Tracks: “When The Levee Breaks,” “Let Your Yeah
Be Yeah,” “Back In Your Arms,” “Lay Your Burden Down” ROB PATTERSON