Monthly Archives: June 2010

Solex vs. Cristina Martinez + Jon Spencer – Amsterdam Throwdown, Kingstreet Showdown

January 01, 1970

(Bronzerat Records)


It may not be the highest profile supergroup the indie world has thrown our way in recent memory. But
it’s not without its promise or its hipster curb appeal, bringing the
thrift-store electronica of Solex to bear on the blues-punk swagger of Jon
Spencer and his Boss Hog cover model/wife Cristina Martinez. What could
possibly go wrong?


Jon Spencer, as it turns out, with his desperate bids at
focusing the spotlight on his own damn self as he uncorks his shtickiest,
post-minstrel-show shenanigans in years. On “Fire Fire,” he sounds like Wolfman
Jack in more cartoonish blackface. But he’s even more oppressive on a leadoff
track called “Bon Bon,” whose funky, female-fronted blaxploitation vibe —
complete with strings – was on the verge of greatness if it weren’t for
Spencer’s grunts and exhortations. “Turn me up!,” he shouts, when that’s the
last thing Solex should have done.


Every so often, though, the combination finds its stride.
His shtick is just the thing for the space-age adventures of “Galaxy Man,”
which kind of sounds like Cibo Matto rocking go-go horns with Beck producing.
And “The Uppercut” is basically the same approach with extra grit and less Jon


Standout Track: “The Uppercut” A. WATT


Peter Case – Wig!

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)


Peter Case has the blues… a deep, stirred in the soul,
gut-wrenching case of the blues that fills every nuance of his latest endeavor.
Once an upstart rabble-rousing rocker that served with the Nerves, the
Breakaways and ultimately Plimsouls, he converted to a dyed in the wool folkie
troubadour. More recently however, Case has taken a turn that’s both emphatic
and auspicious. In doing so, he offers no quarter; on opening track “Banks of
the River,” he greets the listener with a tangled, swampy sound that sets the
tone for all the songs that follows.  The
dark, demented boogie of “‘New’ Old Blue Car,” the trudging “Thirty Days in the
Workhouse,” the primitive stomp of “Somebody Told the Truth” and the gritty,
hardcore “Colors of the Night” all attest to the suspicion that Case has come
to a crossroads, the same intersection where bluesman Robert Johnson
encountered the Devil and it was the Devil that emerged unscathed.


The basic premise of Wig! appears to have been initiated by recent heart surgery, a set-back that found
him grounded for most of last year and left him plenty of time to focus on a
world  whirling madly around him. Not
that his turn towards the blues is belated. Earlier albums like Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John and his Grammy nominated multi-artist
tribute Avalon Blues have previously
demonstrated his affinity for the form. But never has he sounded so fiercely
determined to go back to basics. Indeed, Wig! is rarely an easy listen – think Dylan or Waits at their most harrowing — but
it does parlay a banshee of a sound that’s as faithful as it is frenetic,


Standout Tracks: “‘New’ Old Blue Car,” “Ain’t Enough


Woods – At Echo Lake

January 01, 1970



As someone who grew up in the Hudson Valley area of the wide
swath of land known to most city folk as Upstate, New York, there is nothing
more annoying to me than the recent trend of Brooklyn-based hipsters relocating
to my territory and acting like they run the damn place. Woods, the art-damaged
psych folk band led by Woodsist Records honcho Jeremy Earl, prove to be the
exception to this rule.


Having migrated to the historic Orange
County village of Warwick,
the band has allowed the earthy Catskill vibes inspire their creativity rather
than merely utilizing it as another talking point for some shallow,
self-important conversation its members might have at the local pub. Upon
listening to At Echo Lake (originally
the title of a tune from the group’s 2009 LP Songs of Shame that may or may not be named after a family-owned
sleepaway camp in the Adirondack Mountains of the same name), one can instantly
pinpoint the Upstate atmosphere that exists within the framework of these 11
songs, which range from ghostly lakeside country (“Pick Up”, “Death Rattles”)
to a strange Byrds/Pavement-type jangle rock hybrid (“Suffering Season”) to
tunes clearly designed to help augment singer Earl’s high-pitched voice come
off even more like Neil Young than it already does (“Blood Dries Darker”, “Time
Fading Lines”).


Unfortunately, what At
Echo Lake
utterly lacks is the sense of peaky psychedelic improvisation
that has been the highlight of Woods’ outstanding concert performances as of
late (some of which you can cop for yourself at the great Metro Area-based
music site For instance, on the album the mostly instrumental
cut “I Was Gone” is merely an interlude that fades away in less than two
minutes. Live, it becomes a 10-minute acid party jam that really showcases the
band’s growth as musicians who’ve fully transcended the lo-fi cassette scene
from which they originated. Had this record employed more of the energy of a
Woods gig as they exist in 2010, this could have been a contender for one of
the best rock albums of the year. But at least these guys harbor some panache
in their Upstate-copping ways.


“Blood Dries Darker”, “Suffering Season”, “Death Rattles”



Mondo Topless – Freaking Out

January 01, 1970



these Philly garage mavens, who have been at it for nearly two decades, don’t
get a ton of points for originality but what they lack in that department they
more than make up for in balls-out enthusiasm and dedication. On this, their 5th record (and 3rd for the venerable Get Hip label), the band once
again cranks up their trust organ, fuzzy amps and battered guitars for more
musical mayhem. About the vocals? Well, they must have gargled with plenty of


this 12 song romp the band decided to do all covers and they handle most with
equal aplomb. They open with the Twilighters classic “Nothing Can Bring Me Down”
while their version of “Freaking Out” is one for the ages. Later on they tackle
Camper Van Beethoven’s “(We’re a ) Bad Trip”  as well as The Mono Men’s
“Mystery Girl” and Jimmy Radcliffe’s “Gonna Find a Cave.” In the end we all win
‘cos they play punk rock shows, frat parties and Bar Mitzvahs.


: “Nothing Can Bring Me Down”, “Freaking Out”, “Left in the Dark”,
“Mystery Girl” TIM HINELY



Adam Franklin & Bolts of Melody – I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years

January 01, 1970

(Second Motion)


With Swervedriver, Adam Franklin had an eight-year run
spinning out dreamy textures of distorted guitar that, however, loud they might
turn in live performance, had an unruffled serenity to them.  Bolts of Melody, following a quieter
interlude as Toshack Highway,
pursues the same muscular, feedback-glazed reveries as Swervedriver, its
reflective melodies hedged with swirling masses of guitar sound.   Franklin’s band – which now includes Ley Taylor on guitar,
Josh Stoddard on bass, Gerard Menke on pedal steel – has gotten noticeably more
confident on second Bolts outing  I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years, building
dense, hallucinatory thickets of sound around Franklin’s rueful songs. 


“Yesterday Has Gone Forever,” the album’s first cut and one
of its best, pits soft, ruminative lyrics against a firestorm of distorted
guitar a la My Bloody Valentine.  Its instrumental layers shimmer, waver and
fade like heat mirages in psychedelic uncertainty.  “I’ll Be Your Mechanic” leans more into Sonic
Youth’s lyrical washes of feedback, a muted roar cresting under Franklin’s worn-in murmur.   “She
Is Closer Now Than I’ve Ever Been” is janglier, quieter, more introspective,
yet haunted by the same bittersweet backwards-looking.   And
long, lovely “Take Me Too My Leader,” follows a shambolic tambourine over brightly
colored melodies that have the symmetry of pop, the gauzy luminosity of
experimental guitar rock.  


Even without the guitar-driven sturm und drang, this would be one of 2010’s prettiest pop
records.  With it, it’s something else
altogether stronger, more dramatic and more affecting.


“Yesterday Has Gone Forever” “She Is Closer Now Than I’ve
Ever Been” “Take Me To My Leader” JENNIFER


Marah – Life Is A Problem

January 01, 1970

Farm Songs)


seems to have been some sort of fissure within the ranks of Marah, a band
that’s racked up an impressive number of albums by trading on the shared
musical view of brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko. For reasons yet explained,
Serge no longer claims a stake in Marah’s current franchise, having been
replaced, at least for the time being, by Christine Smith, an associate of the
Bielanko brothers who was never before credited as a full fledged member of the


if to signal a departure from any previous incarnation, Dave and Christine
retreated to an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania’s Amish country where they built
a studio and collected second-hand recording equipment and an equally odd
assortment of instruments with which they stocked their arsenal. Not
surprisingly, the results reflect this patchwork set-up.


fond of parlaying insurgent sounds -they’ve frequently been described as
something akin to a hybrid of the Replacements and Bruce Springsteen -this time
around, they operate in ramshackle mode, discordant and frayed around the
edges. They find themselves relatively hemmed only on a couple of occasions –
within the soft-lit harmonies of the gorgeous “Within the Spirit Sagging,” the
hillbilly harmonies of “Bright Morning Stars” and the whisper-to-roar ascent of
the riveting title track. Yet these are the exceptions; the album as a whole
often seems cluttered and cantankerous, a hodgepodge of ideas that accommodates
a predisposition to punk along with a vintage pastiche of harp, ukulele and
squeezebox. At times, the combination sounds like drunken caterwauling,
especially on songs such as “Muskie Moon,” “Tramp Art” and the untitled hidden track
where reckless abandon easily overshadows all else. “Some people find their
places on the dark side of the road,” Beilanko asserts at one point. 


On Life Is A Problem, that dimly lit road
produces some unexpected turns.


Standout Tracks: “Life Is a Problem,” “Within
the Spirit Sagging,” “Bright Morning Stars” LEE ZIMMERMAN


Is A Problem is available on cassette and
vinyl (download code included), as well as digitally.




Steel Train – Steel Train

January 01, 1970

(Terrible Thrills)


In today’s homogenized pop environment even the best bands
with potential for mass appeal sometimes have a difficult time separating
themselves from the pack. After all, it’s not always easy to make music that’s
easily accessible while also tossing out the type of tunes that can suggest a
unique niche. Steel Train have always been burdened by this disparity; an
accomplished outfit, they’ve nevertheless failed to make their mark as a band
that has something different to say. Consequently, their new self-titled
release successfully shores up their strengths but fails to tackle new ground,
although their versatility and approach ought to garner them kudos for trying.
After all, they may retrace familiar terrain, but it doesn’t mean they’re
innocuous. Their early EP, 1969,
featuring cover songs from that crucial year by Creedence, CSN, Bowie and Bob
Marley, proved they had the right instincts, at least so far as their master


Not surprisingly then, their ambitious inclinations seize
control, and while the influences may be less reliable, Steel Train’s ability
to broaden their base still serves them well. They enter the stadium rock arena
by exerting some fist pumping inducement, be it the anthemic opener “Bullet,”
the instantly assertive “S.O.G. Burning in Hell” or the rowdy, rambunctious
rallying cry of “Children of the 90’s (I’m Not the Same).”  The Hold Steady, Green Day, Gaslight Anthem,
even Springsteen’s E Street Band, are all referenced here, given the rousing
sentiments both invoked and incited. Granted, genuine conviction and dedication
can’t always be measured reliably, and much of the verbosity Steel Train exudes
seems strictly in service to the songs. However, they do deliver convincingly,
enough to qualify this latest outing as a mighty formidable contender.


Standout Tracks: “Bullet,” “Children of the 90’s (I’m Not the Same),” “Touch Me Bad” LEE


Free Forever

January 01, 1970

(Eagle Rock Entertainment)




Free’s Paul Kossoff was a wonder of a guitarist. A
demon when it came to tone and vibrato, Kossoff would have changed the way the
whole book was written had he lived another decade or two beyond his 25th birthday. With “The Voice” Paul Rodgers on vocals and a rhythm section-Andy
Fraser on bass and Simon Kirke on drums- to rival Jones and Bonham, out of all
the great late-’60s/early-‘70s British blues-rock acts, Free channeled the true
blues spirit like no other – as evidenced on the recently-issued 2-DVD Free Forever (Eagle Rock Entertainment;


But internal strife, substance abuse and a bad
break or two meant that they couldn’t sustain the momentum generated by their
hit “All Right Now” (still a classic rock radio staple) and they became one of
the great “what if” stories in rock and roll.  Perhaps Free’s greatest asset after Rodgers’
voice and Kossoff’s guitar is the natural enthusiasm and controlled abandon with
which they made music. They seemed like four guys who would have been just as
happy playing in a pub for fifty people as for tens of thousands as they did at
their famous Isle of Wight show, one of their
highest moments some video of which is included in this set.  Except for Fraser, who could be a bit of a
dandy (and in recent years came out of
the closet, not that that factoid is necessarily relevant, but still…  – Fact Checking Ed.)
they looked like
they were four guys who got up, put on whatever was clean, and went to work. In
the interview section of the DVD we find they did just that, usually performing
in the same clothes they wore driving to the gig.


This set collects pretty much all of the available
footage of the band so there is a little padding, including four versions of
“All Right Now” and three of “Mr. Big.” Several other songs come around twice
but each take has something to recommend it (though the silent concert footage
that takes up a good part of one disc is definitely a fans only feature). The
live audio of their Isle of Wight show is less
so, and might as well have been released separately as a CD, since only part of
the concert was captured on film. There are two edits of that footage and the
rest of the audio is played over candid snapshots, publicity photos and shots
of ticket stubs and other memorabilia. It’s great to listen to but for viewing,
once around will probably do.


A touching encapsulation of Kossoff’s downward
spiral featuring childhood photos is handled the same way. To see Kossoff as a
chubby, smiling but sad-eyed little kid is to recognize some of the reasons
behind the drug and alcohol abuse that led to his early death. Overweight kids
don’t always grow out of the sense of isolation and insecurity, the scars that
come with being that way. Even as a fairly normal weight adult, with his pink
skin and red beard Kossoff looks like an overgrown gnome, softer and less
sexually lethal than the criminally thin Fraser and Rodgers.


That said, when Kossoff plays, there’s a look of
anguished ecstasy on his face, his mouth forming words but his guitar doing the
speaking, screaming, wailing.


It’s magnificent to see and hear, and it does much
to illustrate the greatness of the band. Watching Free it’s hard not to feel
that they made rock and roll music the way it was meant to sound, taking its
blues roots and developing them along natural lines.


Among the extras are interviews with the surviving
members of the band and two rather odd videos from Fraser’s post-free solo
career in which he comes across somewhat like a pumped-up, bare-chested hipper
version of Peter Allen (…ahem… see above.
– Archival Ed.)
not quite what you would expect from a founding member of a
band as down to earth as Free but, you know, chacun a son gout and all that.


The package might have had a better flow if it had
been edited down to a single disc, but better too much than too little. (You got that right, sir. Free was one of the
greats, and I saw ‘em in concert myself.  – Fanboy Ed.)
With Free Forever we have a welcome retrospective of a rock and roll
Wild Bunch that held out as long as they could against the slick plastic disco/haircut
band/drum machine horrors that were already beginning to infect popular music. It
was all right then and it’s all right now.


People Like Us & Wobbly – Music for the Fire

January 01, 1970

(Illegal Art)


Despite intense collagist PLU/aka Vicki Bennett’s stated narrative
(“A plunderphonic concept album depicting the lifespan of a relationship”), something(s)
more expansively sinister are giving me the heebie-jeebies – interesting, as
that’s how I experience many PLU videos. (About Wobbly, I’ve been learning
enough to detect him in MFTF‘s more melodic
ambient and sampled passages.)


Hail, hail, the Subgenius gang’s all here! Pyramid-schemers,
new age “healers,” pick-up artists, misguided drunks, and pedophiles waltz
around a restless jukebox catering the delusional ambiences for all of the
above. America’s underside was never better represented than on this mash of
alienated, peripheral and aggressive voices persistently at cross-purposes. Objectification
is a recurring subtext: Does the pride and/or enjoyment of the swami or rapist
justify the misery and/or confusion of his or her victim? And there’s the primal
neediness that’s given up on anything like synchronicity – in “Okay,” a
querulous voice snaps, “I’m not asking you to agree with me.”


“Pick Up” intersperses the thoughts bubbles of two mismatched
singles with Julie London, Norman Vincent Peale, and the sort of late
‘50s/early ‘60s daytime television ending with a slightly melancholy orchestral
fillip. That’s a bit of brilliance: while banal, just such “romantic”
impressions are likely to have lodged in the brains of those populating chain hotel
bars in the ‘70s. Does the desperate female cruiser who asks, “What about MY
feelings?” get sodomized? Is the protagonist who keeps muttering about his
secrets or who says, “Just over the line… a bit” the one who rapes the “naked
little girl” or the two brothers who “because of that lust,” and “through
patricide” … “became lovers”?


As with Todd Solondz’s Happiness,
listeners will likely huddle into one of several camps: “This is brilliant and
rather amusing,” or “This is unsettling and disturbing!” The less analytically
inclined may just shrug, “This is odd – what’s the point?” I’m in the fourth
group, somewhat ambivalently doling props to PLU/Wobbly for a squirm-inducing
mining of what Jung called “the shadow self.”


Standout Tracks: “Partners,”
“Naked Little Girl,” “Woman,” “Goodbye” MARY LEARY


Frank Sinatra & Antonio Jobim – Francis Albert Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Complete Recordings

January 01, 1970



If there’s any one real big surprise in store for
anyone savvy enough to pick up on the recently released Francis Albert Sinatra/Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Complete Recordings (Concord) it would be how familiar so many of these songs are and how many
Antonio Carlos Jobim had a hand in composing. “The Girl From Ipanema”, “Quiet
Nights Of Quiet Stars”, “Meditation” and “One Note Samba” are just a handful of
the sixteen out of twenty songs on the disc written or co-written by guitarist
and samba king Jobim. Even if the titles – beyond “Ipanema” – aren’t familiar
right away, as you listen, recognition will creep up on you like a pleasant
champagne buzz on a warm spring night on a beach in Rio.
The music’s really, really good, and Sinatra’s singing is immaculate. But let’s
talk about the notes.


The booklet contains what reads like an eyewitness
account of the two separate recording periods; January 30-February 1 1967 and
February 11th through February 13th; a hell of a
productive six days. For that and its anecdotal detail it’s worth wading
through the snotty, pompous and, most important, inaccurate anti pop and rock
and roll jibes of its author, former Warner Bros. exec Stan Cornyn.  Cornyn mentions how by the time of these
sessions Sinatra’s Reprise label – a Warners subsidiary and the original label
for these recordings – had shifted its focus from the “good music” of Eddie
Fisher and Perry Como for the “odd” music of Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart and
the Fugs.


Conceding the “oddness” of such acts, it’s still
no exaggeration to say that neither Fisher nor the somnambulistic Como have maintained
the enduring popularity of other Reprise “good music” artists like Sinatra,
Sammy Davis or Dean Martin any more than, say, Tiny Tim or the Fugs have
endured the way other “hip” Reprise acts like Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Van
Morrison, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot have. More important, Cornyn’s jabs at
rock and roll and pop music are completely unnecessary. Nothing has to be torn
down so that Jobim and especially Sinatra can be built up. For Cornyn the idea
that one can appreciate both Frank Sinatra and the Kinks is completely unfathomable; too bad for him.


Caligula used to lament that “all of Rome” didn’t have a
“single neck” that he could slit at one time. Many feel the same way about the
Andrew Lloyd Webers, Simon Cowells etc., who have ruined what Sinatra used to
call “saloon singing,” helping to convince the world that Michael Bublé
represents the state of the art of that particular genre. The truth is that for
those who get the chance to be heard in the first place, few have the chops or
the balls to present a song the way Sinatra could at his best. Sinatra recorded
these songs between his 51st and 53rd birthdays when he
was a mature artist at the top of his game, his voice confident and strong,
subtle and never once lapsing into the histrionics that characterizes the Weber-ites
and Cowell-istas. Sinatra recognized how important melody is and had the guts
and skill to stick to one rather than woo woo-ing his way all over a tune.


This collection of twenty songs from two great
artists (one of whom is among  the
greatest pop singers of all time) is a reminder that while snobs like Cornyn
were wrong about the “what” and the “why” of “good” and “bad” music,
the notion rings true. One way to explain would be to cite a few hundred
comparative examples, but it’ll take up less time and space to say it this way:
American Idol – bad; Frank Sinatra – good.


Standout Tracks: “One Note Samba,”  “Meditation” RICK ALLEN