Monthly Archives: June 2012

Davy Graham – Anthology: 1961-2007 Lost Tapes

January 01, 1970

(Les
Cousins Music)

 

www.lescousins.co.uk

 

Unless
you are one of those fanatical Master’s level guitar scholars or an
unabashed record geek, chances are you might not have heard of English
folk-blues hero Davy Graham.

 

But
it’s a guarantee that if you’re reading these words you are well aware of the
many legends who cite him as a primary inspiration to their own artistry on the
six-string. Jimmy Page is one of them. Ray Davies, too. The late, great Bert
Jansch once stated about his “absolute hero” that “he was a hard
man to hold a conversation with, but he knew how to play the guitar.”
Fellow British folk giant Martin Carthy hailed him as “the one everyone followed
and watched”, while Paul Simon–who covered Graham’s classic instrumental
piece “Anji” on Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 LP Sounds of Silence–has
cited him as “probably England’s greatest guitarist” at one point in
his career. 

 

And
the lot of them were indeed right in their adulation of this underrated maestro
of the acoustic guitar, whose experimental modal tunings helped to bring his
fusion of jazz, blues and folk to new worlds of sound, predating the likes of
Robbie Basho, Peter Walker and, more recently, Sir Richard Bishop, in his
seamless abilities to interweave Indian and Arabic influences into the fabric
of notes and scales that fell across the fretboard as effortlessly as one rubs
his or her eyes in the morning. 

 

This
first-ever anthology dedicated to the totality of Graham’s career on the
UK-based Les Cousins imprint gathers together three discs’ worth of “lost
tapes”, 54 tracks of varying fidelity that collects a variety of club
recordings, studio outtakes, radio broadcasts and even acetates from his first
label audition, all of which span across five decades in performance.

 

Four
years following his unfortunate loss to lung cancer at the spry age of 68, Davy
Graham finally gets the overview of his dynamic and influential career he so
richly deserves. Be it fans, students or curiosity seekers of the acoustic
guitar, Anthology is an indispensable
character study of this unsung titan of British folk whose name should be as
recognizable as those he inspired along the way.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Anji”, “Broonzy Stomp”,
“Blues Raga”, “All of Me”, “New Junkies Blues” RON
HART

 

 

Blur – Blur 21: the Box

January 01, 1970

(Parlophone)

 

www.parlophone.co.uk

 

Despite occasionally cranky words
to the contrary, Blur is still on Damon Albarn’s mind, especially during this,
the year where his wonky art pop collective turns legal age at the London
Olympics. With that in mind, collecting one band’s oeuvre into twenty one
albums for twenty one years doesn’t seem merely lavish: it’s necessary,
especially as Albarn reconsiders them (well, guitarist Graham Coxon for their
recent single) worthy of recording new material.

 

There’s the fizzy mod-ism of Leisure to the Small Faces meets Human League lark of Parklife,
the elegantly orchestrated decay of The Great
Escape
and the curtly raw Blur;
as topped with Albarn’s wily conversational baritone and Kinks-ish
observational éclat, the quartet’s become the British experience of the last two decades, far beyond that of their native
contemporaries. So B21 features all
seven of its original albums heightened to re-mastered perfection, each
appended with discs of b-sides, demos, rarities and requisite live DVDs. Those
rarities are the true gems – demos of classics like “Beetlebum,” the
never-heard “Saturday Morning,” the legendarily lost sessions with Blur’s
immediate forefather, XTC’s Andy Partridge. A magical must.

 

DOWNLOAD “‘Hope
You Find Your Suburbs,” “For Tomorrow” (demo) A.D. AMOROSI

 

Green Pajamas – Summer of Lust

January 01, 1970

(Green Monkey)

 

www.greenmonkeyrecords.com

 

 

In 1984, inspired by both a fractured romance and a
particularly fertile jam session, songwriters Jeff Kelly and Joe Ross self-released
the first Green Pajamas album Summer of
Lust
on cassette, now given its definitive release on Green Monkey. While
the gothic flavor that would become such an important part of the PJs’
aesthetic hadn’t yet manifested itself, the rest of the band’s trademarks were already
in place: sharp pop tunes (“Katie Lied,” “I Feel That Way All the Time”),
furtive acid folk (“My Mad Kitty,” “I Feel Like a Murder”), roiling psych rock
(“With a Flower in Her Hair,” “The Dreams Inside the Butterfly’s Mind”), plus a
theme song (“Green Pajamas”).

 

Deliberately evocative of ‘60s psych, the tracks have a
nicely retro feel enhanced by the four-track cassette production, which has
been cleaned up only enough to remove tape hiss. While the PJs would evolve and
improve over subsequent years, Summer of
Lust
still has the joy and charm of a great band unleashing its muse into
the universe for the first time.

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Katie
Lied,” “Green Pajamas” MICHAEL TOLAND

 

Echo Lake – Wild Peace

January 01, 1970

(Slumberland)

 

www.slumberlandrecords.com

 

From seemingly
out of nowhere, they formed in 2010, comes this London duo of Thom Hill (the madcap genius)
and Linda Jarvis (former choir girl) and who have quietly (or not so) made one
of the best records of the year. The sound is dense, dreamy, hazy and gauzy and
they take touchstones of dream pop and shoegaze and go a step further blending
the ethereal beauty of the Cocteau Twins (especially in Jarvis’ vocals) with a
kind of classic songwriting of Galaxie 500 and all webbed-over in that musical
fog that the Pale Saints and My Bloody Valentine used so effectively. Add in a
perfect production job that only an obsessive like Phil Spector would clamor
for (does Thomas Hill ever sleep?) and yes, you have Wild Peace.

 

From the opening
cut “Further Down” (a nice intro, easing you into the proceedings) and on until
the tenth and final song, “Just Kids” and everything in between, these ten
songs could each be individual hits or work as one dreamy, cinematic whole.
Stuffed in between that first and last song are some near perfect gems like the
straight-forward “Another Day”, the eerie waltz of the title track (reminiscent
of Beach House) and two re-recorded ones from the band’s debut ep (“Young
Silence” and “In Dreams”). They hit paydirt (if not perfection) near the end
with the soaring “Last Song of the Year” and jangly “Swimmers.” These kinds of
records don’t come along very often, Wild
Peace
needs to be heard.

 

Come ride the
fiery breeze of Echo Lake!

 

DOWNLOAD: “Another Day”, “Young Silence”, “Last
Song of the Year”, “Swimmers” TIM HINELY

 

 

A Place to Bury Strangers – Worship

January 01, 1970

(Dead Oceans)

 

www.deadoceans.com

 

 

At first blush, it would seem that Worship, the new full-length record by A Place to Bury Strangers, is the same as
it ever was: noisy guitars, shagged-out pop melodies, a subtle air of menace.
All those things certainly persevere, but the NYC band’s dread factor has raised
a notch or two. Leader Oliver Ackerman digs deep into his penchant for aloof
delivery, as he weaves more ominous drones and cold tones into the amplifier
abuse – more Joy Division than Sonic Youth, in other words. There’s a steely,
seething air to “Revenge,” “Mind Control” and the aptly
named “Fear” that makes the tracks as much threats as anthems. There’s still
plenty of noisemongering going on, mind you, but the gothic atmosphere gives
the tunes an uglier – and, strangely enough, more potent – appeal.

 

For balance the band indulges more fully in its pop
instincts – “Slide,” “And I’m Up” and “Dissolved” wouldn’t be out of place on
one of the Cure’s more daring LPs. More conservative fans shouldn’t worry,
though – there are plenty of traditional APtBS tracks present, including the
racing “Leaving Tomorrow,” the anthemic “Alone” and the explosive title track. A
Place to Bury Strangers hadn’t yet reached the point where it needed
reinvention, but giving its sound a few well-considered tweaks pushes its
creative momentum forward even faster.

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Worship,”
“Revenge,” “Fear” MICHAEL TOLAND

 

Mindy Smith – Mindy Smith

January 01, 1970

(Giant Leap Records)

 

www.mindysmith.net

 

Mindy Smith’s pursued
a deliberate but persistent path to public awareness over the course of her
career, with each of her half dozen albums establishing her down home designs
and cool, but effusive stance. With this new eponymous effort she shows she’s
definitely ready for primetime, and while echoes of some obvious influences
remains (Lucinda Williams, Linda Ronstadt, Shelby Lynne et. al.), it’s her most
emphatic imprint ever. There are no boundaries here to be broken, but there’s
clear indication of new-found confidence that obviously serves her well.

 

Whether operating in
vintage domains (“Closer”) or more emphatic emotion (“Pretending the Stars,”
“Take Me Back”), Smith seems content to embrace the mood regardless of where it
leads her. Many of the songs opt for
a soft, sensual sway, but at least one old school ballad — “Devil’s Inside” —
shows she’s also adept at playing an
old school chanteuse. That she assumes such credibility is easily apparent;
when on “Everything Here Will Be Fine” she coos, “Don’t worry now, Everything
here will be fine,” those in listening range will likely be inclined to believe
her.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Closer,” “Everything Here Will Be
Fine,” “Pretending the Stars” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The dB’s – Falling Off the Sky

January 01, 1970

(Bar/None Records)

 

www.bar-none.com

 

Despite having some of the most infectious and richly
developed pop songs of the early 1980s, the first two albums by the dB’s went
virtually unnoticed at a time when melodic rock’n’roll was springing up all over
the place. While Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, XTC, and many others appeared
on the covers of the magazines, the dB’s were relegated to the tiny import
record review sections with Stands For
Decibels
and Repercussion. The
band of North Carolina expatriates living in New York had cut their
teeth musically by falling in love with Big Star while the rest of the world
ignored their heroes, so the dB’s seemed fated to be loved by musicians and
critics without selling many records.

 

After those two perfect albums, Chris Stamey, one of the two
songwriter/vocalists who led the band, jumped ship. His cohort Peter Holsapple
took over as sole frontman, with bassist Gene Holder moving over to guitar and
drummer Will Rigby sticking with his regular position. The newly constituted
dB’s finally signed an American record deal, releasing Like This in 1984 on Bearsville just about the time label honcho
Albert Grossman was ready to get out of the business. Needless to say, this did
little to help spread the word. Carrying on, and changing bass players, there
was one more dB’s album, The Sound of
Music
, in 1987 on IRS Records. Despite a couple of tours before and after
the record as support act for R.E.M., sales never matched critical acclaim, and
the dB’s called it a day.

 

So, here we are, 25 years after the last original album by
any form of the band, and 30 years after the last with the original line-up,
and Stamey, Holsapple, Holder, and Rigby are back with a new record. Falling Off the Sky lives up to their classic
legacy, but despite claims to the contrary, it doesn’t do so by sounding much
like the earlier dB’s albums. It does feel seamless if you’ve been paying
attention to Stamey’s infrequent solo albums or the two records he and
Holsapple did together (Mavericks in
1991 and hERE and nOW in 2009).
Holsapple’s own solo record and the work he did with the magnificent
Continental Drifters in the 1990s also provide touchstones. And it wouldn’t
hurt if you’d heard Will Rigby’s solo albums, either.

 

The dB’s of 1980 and 1982 were young and hungry, eager to
prove to the world that they had a million song ideas; the dB’s of 2012 are
older and more deliberate, careful to refine each idea into its most immaculate
design. There is a measured authority in the songs included on Falling Off the Sky. The material is
more complex, more carefully presented. The early records were rambunctious and
immediately exhilarating. The new one is more wide-ranging, unfolding in waves
of musical pleasures which slowly roll over the listener until there is no
resistance possible.

 

Stamey’s “The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel” is a
perfect example. Opening with a quickly stated chord sequence, it jumps up a
half-step and Stamey starts singing, “The albatross is fading fast,  he’s falling through the looking glass.” The
guitars are thick, Rigby is crashing cymbals over his solid beat, Holder’s bass
is plowing through, and Holsapple adds a nearly buried keyboard counterpoint.
Stamey comes up with a delicious melody at the end of each verse for “ah-ha,
ah-ha” and then we start on the second verse about his friend Doggerel, who
also falls. Inside the looking glass, we come across a weirdly mutating
soundscape, with drums commenting on the action rather than driving it, and
keyboard flourishes up and down the scales as Stamey sings plaintively, “I can
see everything, I can hear everything, but I can’t do anything for you.”
Underneath, a flute holds long notes, and the fuzzed-out guitars start to come
back to the riff of the verse. The second time through the chorus is lighter,
with different instrumental sounds dancing behind Stamey. Then it’s the
powerhouse band sound as Stamey rings out a psychedelicized guitar solo based
on the melody, which gives way to Holsapple and a harpsichord sounding set of
chords. Another verse, and there are strings underneath the ah-ha’s which
remind us of the shower scene in Psycho. A longer sequence in the chorus the
next time emphasizes the impossibility of helping the characters out of their
dilemma, and it all ends with a nicely fuzzed out keyboard sound.

 

Yes, the dB’s paid close attention to their arrangements all
the way back at the beginning of their career, but they didn’t come up with
anything this densely packed with little musical twists and turns. And while
Stamey has taken similar approaches on some of his solo material, he didn’t
have the uncanny abilities of Rigby on drums, nor the melodic and harmonic
minds of Holsapple and Holder to help him.

 

Similar depth is
reached on Holsapple’s magnum opus “She Won’t Drive in the Rain Anymore.” And
the band still rocks out on songs like album opener “That Time Is Gone,” gets
goofy in an irresistible way on Rigby’s “Write Back” (the first song he’s ever
written on a dB’s album), goes all sweet and beautiful on “Far away and Long
Ago,” and delivers at least one old-style Holsapple masterpiece with “World to
Cry.”

 

Holsapple and Stamey remain two of the most intelligent and
moving songwriters in the business, and their reunion with Holder and Rigby shows
that these four friends who grew up together can still reinforce each other’s
strengths all these years after they last tried. Falling Off the Sky is a fresh start for the band that many of us
thought should have dominated the 1980s. Clearly, they still have the chops to
dominate the 2010’s.

 

DOWNLOAD: The
whole darn record. Really. STEVE PICK

 

 

Public Image Ltd. – This is PiL

January 01, 1970

(PiL Official)

 

http://www.pilofficial.com

 

Neil Young, of course, had the first word about the
performance artist known as Johnny Rotten: Better to burn out than it is to
rust. But that was the whole idea of the Johnny Rotten character, arguably a
co-creation of thespian John Lydon and choreographer Malcolm McLaren: to
arrive, explode, and disappear.

 

One thing Lydon may have learned from that well-remembered
yet fading era is that it may be better to be underappreciated than overrated.
Public Image Ltd. was the intentionally banal brand Lydon created in 1978 as
the antithesis to the Sex Pistols, a fungible trade name that could encompass
almost anything. Yet over the years PiL has become a reliable manufacturer and
distributor of bass-heavy third-stream rock, whose experiments led the way to
styles from drum’nbass to trip-hop. It has become such a durable brand that it
could be warehoused for 20 years – a generation – since its last album and
reemerge in the no-longer young 21st century better than ever.

 

Only those who believed Rotten (and younger Lydon’s)
incendiary rhetoric will raise an eyebrow or two over the musical membership
and recording location of This is PiL.
You’re supposed to react with a frisson of bemusement to the information
announcing the album’s appearance, that it was recorded in the Cotswolds, one
of the most gorgeous, pastoral parts of England, at the studio of Steve
Winwood. So bemused I am. Similarly, though original PiLs Jah Wobble and Keith
Levene are long gone, the bass player, and therefore most prominent
instrumentalist – is Scott Firth, who has not only played with Winwood, but
with Elvis Costello, John Martyn, Belinda Carlisle and the Spice Girls reunion
tour. This association-by-association with the pop mainstream may have once
induced capillary twitches in Lydon himself. But there’s no smirking here:
listen to the first 20 seconds of opening track “This is PiL,” and
you can hear that Firth’s thunderous, precise bass lines can carry this band
without a wobble.

 

The other members, guitarist/percussionist Lu Edmonds
(ex-Damned), and drummer/percussionist Bruce Smith (formerly the Slits and the
Pop Group) have been with Lydon in PiL since 1986. A 2009 tour helped freshen
memories and familiarize Firth.

 

For a group once more focused on sound than songwriting,
there are some memorable tunes here. “One Drop” is the best teenage
vampire song of the Twilight era, a
testament to eternal youth, if not eternal life, with bedrock reggae on both
the track and on the mic. Here, as well as on “Reggie [cq] Song” and
other tracks, Lydon’s obstreperous diction and I-maican (Irish-Jamaican) patois
strike a cheery balance. The dryly narrated “The Room I Am In,” by
contrast, shows the singer empathizing sadly with the diminished horizons and
dead-end drug culture of the council flats from which he escaped. Many of the
songs deal with political events and trends unique to England. “Lollipop
Opera” is as Brit-referential as anything by Paul Weller, Damon Albarn, or
the young Ray Davies.

 

Easily absorbing subcurrents from Bollywood and bhangra
(“Deeper Water”) to fear-of-nature horror film soundtracks (“Out
of the Woods”), This is PiL never wanders far from that fierce bass and pulsing percussion at its core.
This album, it should be mentioned, was self-funded by PiL, and is released on
its own PiL Official label (distributed by Redeye in the U.S. and Cargo U.K in
Britain.) Untainted by outside corporate money, PiL has no shareholders to
please but itself. Which just might be an aspect of its excellence in the
sphere of what used to be known as mass entertainment, today known as rock
music.

 

DOWNLOAD: “One
Drop,” “Out of the Woods” WAYNE ROBINS

 

Joe Jackson – The Duke

January 01, 1970

(Razor & Tie)

 

www.razorandtie.com

 

As might be guessed from the title, Joe Jackson’s 19th studio LP The Duke is a tribute to
jazz giant Duke Ellington. Jackson
has gone this route before, of course, with 1981’s Louis Jordan tribute Jumpin’ Jive. That record was so
reverent to the original arrangements as to invite comparisons, a standard
against which Jackson’s takes couldn’t possibly match.

 

Thirty-plus years later, Jackson doesn’t make the same
mistake. Jackson, his regular collaborators (drummer Dave Houghton and bassist
Graham Maby) and their buddies (including violinist Regina Carter, bassist
Christian McBride, guitarist Steve Vai and the Roots) personalize these songs,
keeping the original melodies prominently on display while adding contemporary
touches. Jackson puts “Caravan” to a funk fusion beat, letting that famous
melody soar, especially when sung in Farsi by Sussan Deyhim. “I Got It Bad (and
That Ain’t Good)” gets a strings-laden bossa nova makeover, while “I Ain’t Got
Nothin’ But the Blues” becomes a pop-R&B standard via Jackson’s upbeat
rearrangement and Sharon Jones’ irresistible vocals. Jackson gives “The Mooche”
over to a reggae beat and Vai’s manic guitar tones, while “It Don’t Mean a
Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” ropes in Iggy Pop as Jackson’s duet partner
and a laptop’s worth of samples to
contrast with the caffeinated grooves.

 

On the face of it, the aggressive fusioneering sounds like a
disaster in the making. But Jackson has learned much about craft and taste over
three decades of musical exploration, and his version of these well-known tunes
take the right chances and keeps the tracks from sounding stale. Besides,
straight imitations would do no one any favors, as he learned from Jumpin’ Jive. Jackson’s love for Ellington but
unwillingness to play it safe puts The
Duke
much closer in spirit to its inspiration than rote copies of originals
would ever have done.

 

DOWNLOAD: “I
Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” “Caravan,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t
Got That Swing” MICHAEL TOLAND

 

Beachwood Sparks – Tarnished Gold

January 01, 1970

(Sub Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

“This goes out to my good friends,” says Farmer
Dave Scher, over a swirl and twang of psychedelic country guitars that has been
missing for nearly a decade. The Beachwood Sparks, last convened in 2003, are
back as if they never left, spinning trippy goodtime vibes, ethereal
metaphysics and slacked out California
pop.

 

As before, Chris Gunst finds mystic
reverberations (and perhaps some mystic chords) in the natural world, tracing a
geological timeline in a mollusk shell (“Mollusk”). Erstwhile Frausdot Brent
Rademaker returns to plain-picked country sincerity in “Talk about Lonesome,” while
Scher’s wistful pedal steel cuts an arc through eddies and currents of tone. As
in the heyday, cuts like “Leave the Light On”, “Forget the Song” and “Tarnished
Gold” begin in reticence and open up into horizon-spanning day-glo California psych.

 

Still, there’s a sadness, a backwards-looking
air to Tarnished Gold that’s new. Once
the Sparks’
hallucinatory trippery signaled youth’s endless possibilities. Now their songs,
even the new ones, are filtered through a golden, dust-moted, late afternoon
light.  

 

DOWNLOAD: “Tarnished Gold,” “Sparks Fly Again” JENNIFER
KELLY

 

 

This
review also appears in the latest print edition of BLURT.