Monthly Archives: May 2011

Tyler, the Creator – Goblin

January 01, 1970

(Interscope)

 

www.interscoperecords.com

 

“Fuck Bill O’Reilly.”

 

In their fairly short
career, the members of L.A.’s hip-hop collective
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kills Them All have been fairly prolific, releasing scores
of free mixtapes, remixes, one-off tracks, and a solo album by de facto
frontman Tyler,
the Creator. Even with that prodigious output, odds are you’ve probably read
more about them than you’ve actually heard them. Before even releasing an album
on a label, the group has inspired hundreds of thousands of words in
thinkpieces, essays, and reviews, many of which incorporate double-jointed
critical contortions to explain and in some cases defend the group’s violent,
misogynist, often morally disgusting lyrics. Can their musings on murder and
rape – often directed at pregnant women – be written off as adolescent
confrontation and rebellion, or are they serious about such brutality? Will Odd
Future grow up to regret their behavior (like the Beastie Boys), or will they
double down on the darker elements of their personae (like Eminem)? Are they
the saviors of hip-hop, or a cancer on the art form?

 

I’ve been living with Tyler, the Creator’s
major-label debut, Goblin (released,
incidentally, on Eminem’s label Interscope), for awhile now, and I admit I have
absolutely no idea how to answer any of those questions. On one hand, Odd
Future seem to capture a particular strain of adolescent abandon, apathy, and
angst, which paints their unsavory lyrics as the postmillennial equivalent of kids
telling grosser-than-gross jokes.

 

On the other, they’re
amoral assholes, calculating their offenses as a means of achieving popularity
and prestige; Goblin debuted at
number 5 on the Billboard album chart
this week, for whatever that’s worth. Perhaps the strongest handle we can get
on them is this: Their provocations are more palatable when the production is
inventive, when the wordplay is clever and surprising, when the ideas give
critics and listeners something to think, write, and argue about. We can
distance ourselves with analysis and commentary, which means they’re only
excusable – and then, only barely – when the music is not just good, but
impossibly exciting. Judging from Tyler,
the Creator’s major label debut, Goblin,
they’re just not there yet.

 

“I’m a fucking unicorn / fuck anybody who say I’m
not.”

 

Goblin is actually the second album from Tyler (real name: Okonma), a hyperactive
twenty-year-old with a penchant for tube socks, ski masks, and 666s. His first
was 2009’s Bastard, a self-released
collection of tracks that stoked the hype around Odd Future and led to the deal
with Interscope. By now, he’s obsessed with his own fledgling celebrity, so
rhymes about his critics and detractors now sit uneasily alongside his rape
fantasies and self-loathing tantrums, creating a tedium of unwarranted
defensiveness and meta confusions. “Hey, don’t do anything that I say in this
song,” he declares at the beginning of “Radicals.” “If anything happens, don’t
blame me, white America.” From Tyler, the Creator, it’s a ridiculous PSA: Is he
being serious, or is that a jab at anyone who would attack him for his violent
content? In the end, he can’t make it mean both, so it means neither – nothing.

 

Throughout Goblin, he carries on an imagined
conversation with his therapist (also played by Tyler through a distorting
voicebox). For him, music is a form of counseling, an exploration of ego via id
that dismisses psychiatry but leads to a particularly grim album finale. Tyler
complains about his absent father, but it’s always the same talking point, with
no sustained self-exploration. He describes himself as suicidal, but it’s more
a shock-value fixation than a real mental state. Ultimately, Tyler wants it
both ways: He craves your attention but not your judgment. He thrives on
spectacle, but shuns accountability. He throws out unbelievably repulsive
imagery, which he chalks up to his youth – as if that, or anything, could be a
reasonable excuse. He’s 20 going on 14, which is not so much empowering as it
is pathetic.

 

As a rapper, Tyler is
adequate but never revelatory, without the mind-bending flow of Eminem or the
snarling aggression of other West Coast rappers to dilute his offensiveness.
It’s not always a pleasure to hear his voice, which may be the point. He even admits
his shortcomings on the title track, telling his therapist, “I know I’m not a
great rapper, but on the whole, I’m pretty cool, right?” But it just feels like
another excuse, a deflection, a lowering of expectations so Tyler can exceed
them.

 

But he can be canny and
witty when he needs to be, even if he works almost exclusively in short,
quotable couplets. Instead of hashtag rap, it’s Twitter flow: no sustained
thoughts, just punchy outbursts in 140 characters. Occasionally, Tyler gets a
good line or two, as on “Tron Cat”: “I’m awesome, and I fuck dolphins.” The
line is meaningless in itself, but it suggests some clever wordplay: not just
the weirdness of man-dolphin sex, but the “and” that suggests that being
awesome and fucking dolphins don’t necessarily overlap. In a different life, he
could have been an amazing surrealist rapper.

 

“What you think I record it for, to have a bunch of
critics call my shit horrorcore?”

 

With its dank sound and
subtle tweaks, Goblin suggests Tyler may
be a better producer than emcee. His work with Odd Future – he has produced
almost all of the group’s output – has given him an intuitive grasp of how
sounds and beats can bolster the impact of his delivery and even sell a line
that might fall flat otherwise. On Goblin,
the tense complaints of “Yonkers” sound all the more self-annihilating for the
abrasive sample and tense beat, and on “Tron Cat,” a thick synth swell conveys
a fevered, unsteady emotional state. In the video, he hangs himself at the end
of the song, but it’s clear the music pushed him to it.

 

What Tyler lacks, however,
is range. He sets almost every song here at the same midtempo and in the same
claustrophobic tone, which is fine early in the album but grows tiresome with
each track. The album never lets up, and especially since Tyler doesn’t really
bother with choruses or hooks, it quickly becomes repetitive and tedious in the
most self-indulgent way possible. Even the infamous chorus of “Radicals” – “Kill
people! Burn shit! Fuck school!” – sounds like a chore rather than a cry of
freedom and defiance.

 

“I’m not a fucking role model / I’m a 19-year-old
emotional coaster with pipe dreams”

 

And yet, it’s hard to
dismiss Tyler and the rest of Odd Future, not for their offensiveness and
especially not for a dearth of talent. The Ramones used to sport swastikas
onstage, yet quickly grew tired and embarrassed of such hollow provocations.
These guys could do the same. Or not. Any attempt to think about Odd Future
leads inevitably to overthinking Odd Future, and perhaps that is the secret to
Tyler’s power and appeal, especially to critics who love something meaty to
write about: On Bastard and
especially on Goblin, he makes you
question every single aspect of the music, which is perhaps a way to usher
hip-hop back to its earliest days, when it was at its freshest and most
unpredictable, when its entire odd future seemed open to possibility. Tyler
puts these songs over by sheer force of will, which may be at the root of all
hip-hop, if not all music.

 

On the other hand, Goblin is so mired in hip-hop’s imagined
past-the comical boasts and nonchalant violence of gangsta rap, the
claustrophobia of horrorcore, the rapt self-absorption of the underground – that
it comes across as a heavily reactionary work: it’s more about the common past
than the odd future. But what’s the point of so many contradictions, except for
their own sake? Goblin is so
mathematically calculated that it playacts the baring of Tyler’s soul rather than actually baring his
soul.

 

So perhaps the most intriguing
and frustrating aspect of Odd Future is that after so much music and so many
words, we don’t even know who Tyler,
the Creator is. Worse, he doesn’t seem to know, either.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Tron Cat” STEPHEN M. DEUSNER

Vaccines – What Did You Expect From the Vaccines?

January 01, 1970

(Sony)

 

www.sonymusic.com

 

If
you caught The Vaccines at SXSW last March, you might already know what to
expect from What Did You Expect From the
Vaccines?,
the London
foursome’s debut LP. This contagious album is what happens when punk rock
invades the sock hop; when the Ramones twirl with Danny and the Juniors; when
the Shangri-Las play footsie with My Bloody Valentine. And yeah, it gets pretty
darn good.

 

The
opening track, “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” lays on the charm in a
hurry, evoking Joey and the boys with three-to-four-chord wallops and a
danceable rhythm. “Norgaard” and “If You Wanna” tap similar
instrumental veins, keeping it catchy as frontman Justin Young’s tales of
romantic confusion unfold. It doesn’t take long for Young to morph into an
insecure Buddy Holly, either, with dreary-but-tender breath pasted over
shoegaze-y guitars. “I’ve got too much time on my hands/ But you don’t
understand/ Or you won’t understand/,” Young moans on “A Lack of
Understanding” — nice stuff. The somber tones continue on “Post
Break-Up Sex,” a song about a guy who could have snagged his girl’s
virginity…but didn’t; add the oldies twinge and it’s a made-for-Facebook dilemma
cloaked in a ’50s jukebox sound.

 

What Did You Expect
loses a little steam by the second half, but it’s forgivable. The slow spots
fall away from the core of this album, which happens to be a sweet, addictive
fusion of both modern and vintage style.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra),” “A Lack Of Understanding” DARREN
RATNER

 

White Denim – D

January 01, 1970

(Downtown)

 

www.downtownmusic.com

 

Although the name of White
Denim’s new album is simply D, a more
deserving title might be “B” for the effort put into the Austin band’s fourth full-length and second
on one-to-watch label Downtown Records. Starting with grass-fed jams “It’s
Him!” and “Burnished,” White Denim’s music is as Americana as its name,
pristine in its pursed vocals and fraying with the rebel guitar work of
frontman James Petralli who plays a gentle balance of tug-and-war with his two
responsibilities to give each equal amounts of TLC.

 

Third track “At the Farm”
delves deeper into the rambling road trip of White Denim’s instrumentals with a
summery, sunny disposition that would make it a perfect track for a Cameron
Crowe soundtrack – however, it’s not until “Street Joy” that the hinted
potential of D hits center stage.
Moving beyond mid-fret board, White Denim experiments with swallows of
cutthroat indie melancholy with tearful fingerwork so eloquently expressed on
the slide guitar.

 

But the moment is brief and
fleeting as White Denim move back into their comfort zone for much of the rest
of the ten tracks, which self-consciously distracts from the beauty discovered
when they take more musical risks. The guitar work on later number “Drug” again
expertly illuminates Petralli’s heightened state of music appreciation but
mastery of one element that is rinsed and repeated simply gives listeners the
unwanted side affect of déjà instead of moving forward and progressing through
the album.

 

The near-end track “Is and Is
and Is” redeems D with a potent vocal
output not yet seen by Petralli whereby he gets the guts and glory to let a
soft rage temper his rib cage and belts out a guttural headshaking howl, a calm
before the storm that only makes the lightning bolt moments more empathetic. If
only D could have been for more
“daring” tracks like these on the album.

 

DOWLOAD: “Street
Joy,” “Is and Is and Is” SELENA FRAGASSI

 

My Morning Jacket – Circuital

January 01, 1970

(ATO)

 

www.atorecords.com

 

In the
chorus of Circuital‘s title track,
Jim James sings “Right back in the same place I started out.” While that may be
literally true – this is the first album the band has recorded in its home
state of Kentucky
since 2003’s It Still Moves –  it’s not exactly a return to the old days. If
anything, it’s more like the musical version of someone who goes back to his
hometown after a few years away. The town may be the same, but the person
certainly isn’t. So while Circuital has
the warm, folk-based sound that characterized the band’s early work, it also
makes room for the experimentalism of its more recent albums.  

 

In fact,
the most interesting thing about Circuital – and MMJ itself – is the way it manages to sound completely of a piece, while incorporating
tons of different sounds. Opening track “Victory Dance” sounds like Neil Young
& Crazy Horse performing with an orchestra, while the title track combines
the galloping beat of U2 with Grateful Dead harmonies. There are also steel-guitar
ballads (“Wonderful”), psychedelic funk-rock (“Holdin’ On to Black Metal”) and
catchy, alternate-universe radio hits (“First Light”).

 

Overall, Circuital is a strong album that stands
a notch below MMJ’s best (Z and It Still Moves). But as anyone who has
seen its live shows will attest, albums aren’t really what this band is about.
There are a lot of songs on here that should kill onstage. For now, think of Circuital as an enjoyable set of coming
attractions for what should be one of the best tours of the summer.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Circuital,” “First Light,”
“Wonderful” HAL BIENSTOCK

Cass McCombs – Wit’s End

January 01, 1970

(Domino)

 

www.dominorecordco.us

 

On paper, Cass McCombs’ music shouldn’t work. Composed of the same
processional tempos, weak-chinned hooks and laconic vocals, McCombs’ songs may
be the absolute anti-thesis of pop. And yet… if you fall under their spell,
those elements alter and refract to reveal new depths and dimensions. The pace turns
cinematic, a lovers’ stroll through rural evening twilight or a lonely pub-crawl
through rainy streets; rich textures of keys and gently strummed guitars
nullify the absence of obvious hooks and belie the sparse instrumentation; the
voice turns out to be a spot-on vehicle for the dry wit and probing
observations that, as McCombs sings on “Memory’s Stain,” read like confessions
“in the form a question.”

 

At least that’s been the case with previous releases, particularly
2009’s notable high point,
Catacombs. But for Wit’s End, McCombs’ fifth full-length,
the California-based musician has turned to a darker and moodier palette which
too often falls into the traps risked by his approach. Tracks like the maudlin
“Saturday Song” and interminable “Buried Alive” (which is no metaphor, it
appears) inch by to such a sleepy degree that no amount narrative wit or instrumental
textures can rescue them. “Pleasant Shadow Song” has a pleasing jazz trio-feel
in its intro (largely built on contrabass), but veers off into the stilted
chamber-pop feel of dull ‘60s psychedelic folk. 
“Lonely Doll,” too, begins promisingly with a graceful
celeste-and-organ-wash waltz , but each observation in the narrative is
followed by the title mantra, an effect that quickly wears thin.

 

Still, there are moments here where McCombs’ particular (and peculiar)
style transcends. Opener “County Line” is a pretty slice of Rhodes-inflected twang
that sounds like it wafted out of Laurel
County on an ocean
breeze. The prisoner-of-love lament “Hermit’s Cave” and “A Knock Upon the Door”
both benefit from slightly quickened waltz tempos, the latter fleshed out with
banjo, horns, bassoon and just enough clanking percussion to suggest Tom Waits
– if he sang like Burt Bacharach, that is. But at over nine minutes, “Knock”
overstays its welcome, and, unfortunately, that’s the case with too much of Wit’s End.

 

DOWNLOAD: “County
Line” “Hermit’s Cave” BY
JOHN SCHACHT

Sir Douglas Quintet – The Mono Singles ’68-’72

January 01, 1970

(Sundazed
Records)

 

www.sundazed.com

 

Although
long respected by critics, hipsters, and historians for their important place
in rock ‘n’ roll history, only belatedly has the Sir Douglas Quintet begun to
receive its props for expanding the 1960s-era garage-rock vocabulary beyond
retro-Elvis crooning and faux Fab Four harmonies. While the band was originally
put together by Houston producer Huey P. Meaux as a Cajun facsimile of an amalgam
of British Invasion bands, left in the hands of the capable Doug Sahm and
friends, the Sir Douglas Quintet became something else entirely.

 

The
original Sir Douglas Quintet recorded a handful of songs with Meaux, scoring a
Top Twenty hit in 1965 with the Tex-Mex flavored classic “She’s About A
Mover.” Fleeting fame would follow, met by a string of good, but not
particularly successful singles released by various Meaux-owned labels,
culminating in The Best of the Sir
Douglas Quintet
album, a collection of the aforementioned flotsam and
jetsam. When the band was arrested for marijuana possession after returning
home to Texas from a 1966 European tour, Sahm got out of jail, broke up the
band, and took off to San Francisco, followed shortly by the Quintet’s saxophonist
Frank Morin.

 

In
California, Sahm saw the light and formed a new version of the Sir Douglas
Quintet with friend Morin and a bunch of guys who subsequently came and went. Playing
regularly around Frisco, the band signed with a Mercury Records subsidiary, and
recorded a true debut album in 1968’s Sir
Douglas Quintet + 2 = Honkey Blues
. It’s at this point that our tale takes
off and the era documented by Sundazed’s The
Mono Singles ’68-’72
begins, the album collecting all 22 songs – 11 singles
total, with B-sides – released by Mercury and its subsidiary labels during the
stated period.

 

While
these songs have been compiled before – most notably as part of the 2006 box
set The Complete Mercury Recordings,
this single-disc set places them firmly in the spotlight all by their lonesome
selves. Whether you prefer the mono or the stereo versions of these songs is a
matter of personal taste, really – I find myself on the fence, liking the mono
versions of some songs better, the fleshier stereo mixes of others – the
groundbreaking nature and entertainment value of the songs is beyond argument. As
a rabid Doug Sahm and Sir Douglas Quintet fan, I’m happier than an armadillo in
the sun to have multiple versions of all of these classic tunes.

 

The Mono Singles ’68-’72 begins with an atypical
pair of 1968 singles, “Are Inlaws Really Outlaws” and “Sell A
Song.” The former is a muted, Stax Records/Southern soul jam with bleating
horns and conversational vocals, while the latter is similar to what Delaney
& Bonnie would be doing later in the 1960s, Sahm’s R&B torch vocals
supported by Wayne Talbert’s gospel-tinged piano and scraps of guitar until the
song devolves into an improvised instrumental work-out with jazzy horns. Both songs
are interesting in a curious, prurient, historical context but neither is
indicative of the sound that the Sir Douglas Quintet would later innovate.

 

By late
’68, Sahm would have a reconstituted Quintet in place with his old friend Augie
Meyers on keyboards, where he belonged, and then the band really started
cooking. “Mendocino” was the result of the new band line-up, the
song’s Tex-Mex flavor enhanced by Meyers’ buoyant keys, Sahm’s understated
vocals, and a melodic hook large enough to hang your hat on. The song cracked
the U.S. Top 30, blew up even bigger in Europe, and put the Quintet back on the
international stage. The B-side was the wistful “I Wanna Be Your Mama
Again,” a mid-tempo slice of Texas soul with Sahm’s lonesome vocals, some
inspired piano-play by Meyers, and just a touch of psychedelic swirl creeping
in around the bluesy edges of the song.

 

“Mendocino,”
the hit single, would subsequently spawn Mendocino the album, which in turn would yield a couple more minor hits. The first was
the yearning “It Didn’t Even Bring Me Down,” a great example of the
emotionalism Sahm could bring to a song with both words and vocals, the music a
mix of horn-driven R&B led by Morin’s tasteful tenor saxophone and
Texas-flavored blues-rock. The flip side was the jaunty “Lawd, I’m Just A
Country Boy In This Great Big Freaky City,” another homesick ode about life
in bad old San Francisco that is as alt-country in sound and texture as
anything to follow by the Byrds and/or Gram Parsons.

 

Sahm
missed Texas something awful during his stay in the Bay area, and it made for
some great songs. The other single from Mendocino was the wonderfully wry blues-gospel-rock hybrid “At The Crossroads,”
a slow-paced ballad with chiming organ and as mournful a vocal performance as
you’ll ever hear. Sahm’s verse “you can teach me life’s lesson, you can
bring a lot of gold, but you just can’t live in Texas, if you don’t have a lot
of soul,” is pitch-perfect in its yearning, the sentiment punctuated by an
elegant score of descending piano notes. Turn the single over and you have the
equally delightful “Texas Me,” a fiddle-driven country tale of Sahm’s
move to Frisco, a mid-tempo rocker with plenty of twang and an undeniable yen
for life back in Austin.

 

Somewhere
during all of this, Mercury released the non-album single “Dynamite
Woman,” a swinging little number with gobs of Cajun fiddle, Meyers’ steady
Farfisa work, Sahm’s vocals almost lost in the mix beneath the spry
instrumentation. “Too Many Docile Minds” picks up, musically, where
“Dynamite Woman” left off, adding a bit more melody to the
arrangement but otherwise sounding very similar. Why they were left off the
album is anybody’s guess, ’cause both are fine performances.

 

Reunited
with producer Meaux, the Sir Douglas Quintet would release Together After Five in 1970. The album’s lead-off single was the
mid-tempo Tex-Mex rave-up “Nuevo Laredo,” an ode to the Texas border
town that features a recurring keyboard riff, joyous blasts of
Mexican-influenced horns, and more than a little mariachi flavor. “I Don’t
Want To Go Home” is a contemporary 1960s-styled country ballad that would
have been at home in either Texas or Tennessee. It’s right about here that Sahm
veers off course, The Mono Singles
’68-’72
offering a pair of Nashville-born singles that Mercury released
under the “Wayne Douglas” name in an attempt to crack the country
charts.

 

Although
both “Be Real” and the Music City remake of “I Don’t Want To Go
Home” are fine examples of old-school country featuring some of the city’s
best session players – folks like pedal-steel maestro Pete Drake and honky-tonk
pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins – both were a little too raw and, well,
dated to appeal to then-contemporary country radio’s sophisticated
“countrypolitan” audience that placed a premium on slick production
and slicker appearance. Sahm returned to the Sir Douglas Quintet for 1970’s 1+1+1=4 album, from which were released
a couple of singles, “What About Tomorrow” a relatively-unremarkable
country-rocker and “(I Found Love) A Nice Song” a bluesy ballad with
jangly piano-pounding and a dynamic vocal performance by Sahm, with just a
little nuanced guitar thrown in for good measure.

 

To be
honest, Sahm’s return from Nashville to San Francisco seemed to only prolong
the inevitable homeward journey, and the subsequent handful of single releases
seemed to be a catch-as-catch-can mixed bag of styles. “Catch The Man On
The Rise” is a bluesy rocker that walks a path that Joe Cocker would
sprint down couple of years hence, while the psychedelic tropes of “Pretty
Flower” seems an unnatural fit for the Lone Star State transplant. Sahm
finally gave in and went back home to Texas in time for 1971’s The Return of Doug Saldana, a welcome
return to form after the middlin’ country-rock of 1+1+1=4.  Tex-Mex ruled the
soundtrack to the autobiographical “Me And My Destiny,” a great
folk-rock song with deep roots in the multi-cultural Texas music tradition that
Sahm cherished and, indeed, helped popularize.

 

The B-side
of “Me And My Destiny” was a heartfelt cover of Freddy Fender’s 1959
regional hit “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” which, perchance, would
launch Fender’s country music stardom during the ensuing decade. Delivered
straight, as a 1950s-styled soul burner, Sahm’s version is very cool with
emotional vocals, a swinging horn line, and piano flourishes all around. With The Return of Doug Saldana achieving
mixed commercial results, the Sir Douglas Quintet would call it a day.

 

Sahm
appeared as a drug dealer in the 1972 film Cisco
Pike
starring Kris Kristofferson, offering up the pro-drug song “Michoacan”
for the movie’s soundtrack. Released by Mercury as the last Quintet single, the
jaunty Mexican-flavored number is a mid-tempo polka featuring Meyers’ familiar
Farfisa and Sahm’s playful vocals. The B-side, “Westside Blues
Again,” is a bluesy, smoldering R&B tune that features a great,
growling Sahm vocal and scorching fretwork complimented by Rocky Morales’
1950s-styled tenor sax riffs.

 

Doug Sahm
would launch his solo career with 1973’s acclaimed Doug Sahm and Band, recorded with what remained of the Sir Douglas
Quintet, including Meyers and future Texas Tornados bandmate Flaco Jimenez. It
was a testament to the esteem that his fellow artists held Sahm that he was
able to enlist talents like Bob Dylan, Dr. John, and David Bromberg to appear
on his solo debut. Sahm would continue to create and record essential and
creative music throughout the 1980s and 1990s, both as a solo artist and with
the more commercially-successful Texas Tornados. Although Sahm would later resurrect
the Sir Douglas Quintet name on occasion, he’d never break as much ground as he
did with these 22 songs recorded over four years.   

 

DOWNLOAD: “Mendocino,” “At The
Crossroads,” “Texas Me,” “Nuevo Laredo” REV.
KEITH A. GORDON

Fresh & Onlys – Secret Walls EP

January 01, 1970

(Sacred Bones)

 

www.sacredbonesrecords.com

 

The Grey-Eyed
Girls
LP was a hint at what these Bay Area blokes were capable of but last
year’s Play It Strange totally proved
it for anyone who had any doubts. The thing is what they do sounds instantly
familiar. The first time I heard their music I was thinking to myself, “Where
have I heard this band before?!”.
They barely take a chance to breathe and out comes this 5 song EP (not on In
the Red but on BKNY startup, Sacred Bones label).

 

These 5 songs are low-key and seem to hit
that sweet spot where the band melds their concoction of pop, psychedelic,
garage and yes, even surf music. The title track opens the record and sits
comfortably in its warm groove and when it’s up at 4:00 you wonder where the
time went. “Keep Telling Everybody Lies” sports a similar vibe but with an
eerie organ reminiscent of recent music by The Clean. Of the final three songs
the pick top click would be the warbly “Wash Over Us” where leader Tim Cohen’s
vocals sound mumbled and beautiful and when the guitar hits that middle part it
sounds like Paisley legends the Rain Parade in the best way possible.  If you’re wondering, the other two songs are
worthy too.

 

Cohen and Co.
know how to make us beg for more. Well, come on, we’re begging over here.

 

DOWNLOAD
“Secret Walls”, “Keep Telling Everybody Lies”, “Wash Over Us” TIM HINELY

 

 

 

Nikki Sudden – Playing With Fire + Tel Aviv Blues

January 01, 1970

(Troubadour/Easy Action + Earsay)

 

www.easyaction.co.uk; www.myspace.com/earsayrecordsil

 

One
of the maddening mantras of the late Nikki Sudden’s autobiography The Last Bandit (reviewed here at BLURT)
is that he will mention the recording of a particular track, and then follow it
with the phrase “Maybe it’ll come out someday.” The prose indicates enough
unreleased material to fill up a box set, something venerable British label
Easy Action promises for later in the year. Fortunately, Sudden’s old bassist
John C. Barry has compiled Playing With
Fire
(Troubadour/Easy Action), a collection of outtakes that at least
covers the period of recording his final (and best) LPs Treasure Island and 2006’s The
Truth Doesn’t Matter
(completed shortly before his death in March of that
year).

 

Amazingly,
there’s barely a bummer in the bunch – as explained in Barry’s liner notes,
most of these songs were left off the records for reasons other than quality
control. “I Know You,” “Don’t Look Back” (the obligatory, ahem, homage to T.
Rex’s “Bang a Gong [Get It On]” that appears on nearly every Sudden record) and
“Hanoi Jane” represent Sudden at his rocking zenith, channeling very spark of
inspiration he ever gleaned from the Rolling Stones, the Faces and Marc Bolan
into slices of transcendent rock & roll. (Bizarrely, Sudden wasn’t happy
with this version of “Hanoi Jane.”) His ballads channel the same spirit,
resulting in the lovely but still gritty “Pirate Girls,” “The Ballad of the
Bellman Bar” and “The Last Flash of the Cavalier Nation,” a tribute to his
beloved Bernard Cornwell novels co-written by Norwegian musician/Sudden
disciple Einar Stenseng.

 

Also
included is “Happy Birthday,” a tune intended for Treasure Island that Sudden talks about at length in his book, due
to the presence of his father Trevor Godfrey on piano – the only time father
and son played together. Things start to get silly near the end, with a loose
duet with Captain Sensible on Iggy Pop’s “Kill City”
and a brief improvised boogie called “Kamikaze Karaoke.” But the gorgeous,
contemplative “A Thousand Years Ago” brings everything back home, taking one of
the most fertile periods of Sudden’s career gently into the good night. Despite
being an odds ‘n’ sods collection, Playing
With Fire
is a near-perfect way to introduce friends and rock & roll
fans to the Sudden mystique.

 

Also
released in conjunction with the bio is the solo acoustic LP Tel Aviv Blues (Earsay). Recorded in a
studio in the titular city during a brief tour of Israel in 2002, the album presents
Sudden running through new songs, a couple of older tunes and some favorite
covers. Obviously meant to be a demo session, some songs include false starts
and post-performance mumbling, but that adds to the you-are-there informality
of the album. Version of Johnny Thunders’ “Diary of a Lover” and the Stones’
“As Tears Go By” come off well, as does a piano-based version of Sudden’s
rocker “Liquor, Guns & Ammo.” Some of the fresh material is a bit gimmicky,
particularly the obviously improvised “The Girls Are So Pretty in Tel Aviv
City” and “Tel Aviv
Blues.” But other new tunes like “Out of My Dreams, “Edge of Autumn” and
“Cathy” reveal sturdy melodies and superior craft. A recording this stripped
down, not to mention well recorded, doesn’t favor an artist of Sudden’s uneven
vocal talents, but he acquits himself decently, though his wobbly performance
gives his version of eternal inspiration “Get It On” a strange lilt. More of
interest to diehards than casual fans, Tel
Aviv Blues
shows a side of Sudden often mentioned in the book but rarely
heard on record.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Hanoi Jane” “The Last
Flash of the Cavalier Nation,” “Pirate Girls” (Playing With Fire), “Cathy,” “Liquor, Guns & Ammo,” “Out of My
Dreams” (Tel Aviv Blues) MICHAEL
TOLAND

Hammer No More The Fingers – Black Shark

January 01, 1970

(Churchkey
Records)

 

www.churchkeyrecords.com

 

This is the
third release from this Durham,
North Carolina trio after a 2007
EP and a debut full-length in 2011. The band wisely got noted producer J.
Robbins (who has produced Jets to Brazil,
The Promise Ring, Jawbreaker, Against Me! and plenty of others). It was a smart
move snaring Robbins as the bands he has played in and produced don’t sound
unlike H.N.M.T.F. and he kept the punchiness intact while improving on the
bands hooks ‘n’ harmonies. All three members (vocalist/bassist Duncan Webster,
drummer Jeff Stickley and guitarist Joe Hall) are solid players and not content
to play the regular rock guy game.

 

First song
“Atlas of an Eye” is a perfect example of the Robbins’ patented bob and weave
with circular rhythms, jangly guitars and soaring vocals, while “The Agency”
adds a creepier bass line and a darker mood all around. “Leroy” has a vibe
similar to that of Tar Heel brethren The Rosebuds, and “Thunder” gets a bit
funky, where the band had previously not treaded before. At times you want the
hypnotic guitar to snap out of it and move on, move forward or move out and
it’s moments like these that the songs get a bit bogged down, but with a 34
minute running length for the album most of the songs don’t wear out their
welcome too often.

 

The leap from Looking for Bruce to Black Shark  was fairly significant. Let’s see where they
head next time.

 

DOWNLOAD: 
“Atlas of an Eye”, “Shark”, “Leroy” TIM HINELY

 

 

Ramble At the Ryman

January 01, 1970

(Vanguard Records; 120 minutes)

 

www.vanguardrecords.com

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Reports on Levon Helm’s imminent demise are obviously
exaggerated, if the visual and audio evidence provided by Ramble At The Ryman is any indication. Rumors were rife that the
71-year old singer, drummer and multi-instrumentalist was suffering from
assorted age-associated ailments and his vocals had become the first casualty.
And yet, here he is, anchoring an otherwise unwieldy outfit with a full horn
section and various big name guests to boot. Although the presence of Sheryl
Crow, John Hiatt, Buddy Miller, Billy Bob Thornton and Sam Bush add star power
to the proceedings, and could have possibly upstaged its star, Helm is clearly
in command, revisiting classic songs from the Band songbook (“Ophelia,”
“Evangeline,” “The Shape I’m In,” and the obvious signature stalwarts like “Rag
Mama Rag,” “Chest Fever” and “The Weight.”) as well as selected offerings
plucked from a traditional template. His rugged authority and respected
reputation as an Americana
icon are further affirmed with the down home designs of Buddy Miller’s “Wide
River To Cross,” the folk finesse of “Anna Lee” and the sturdy blues of “Fannie
Mae” and “Baby Scratch My Back” in particular.

 

Yet, even while the music provides the set’s homespun
embrace, the interaction between the artists onstage, as well as audience and
entertainers, makes this performance all the more memorable. The intimate
environs of the Ryman (“Ain’t no better place to play than the Ryman auditorium,”
Helm asserts prior to ending the evening with a remarkable read of “The
Weight”), provide the most natural of settings for this sometimes-ragtag revue.
Consequently, while the DVD offers little more than a ringside seat to the
proceedings, the opportunity to watch Helm – perhaps the best singing drummer
in Rock ‘n’ Roll – strut his stuff by vocalizing and drumming simultaneously,
and then making it look like a breeze besides, is alone worth the price of
admission. With varying camera angles highlighting the enthusiasm of the
players, there’s all the inducement needed. With Levon Helm still at the helm
and hitting his stride, this Ramble rarely falters.