Monthly Archives: May 2014

WALKING ON A WIRE: Chatham County Line

Chatham County Line

The North Carolina outfit may be nominally a “bluegrass band” but as we learn in a free-wheeling conversation with the members, there’s way more than just traditional ‘grass stylings in the mix for their latest studio album.

BY JORDAN LAWRENCE

It’s a little weird to hear the lead singer of Raleigh, N.C.’s Chatham County Line — one of the most professional and forward-thinking bluegrass bands to emerge this century — speak of the group’s latest record as a work of newfound maturity.

This is an outfit that mastered the bluegrass basics with sleek insistence across its first two records; that littered their game-changing 2008 LP IV with bittersweet love songs (“The Carolinian”), philosophical ruminations (“Chip of a Star”) and politically charged barnstormers (“Birmingham Jail”); that added drums to the driving acoustics of 2010’s Wildwood without tarnishing their music’s reliably refreshing simplicity. By all appearances, Chatham County Line were about as mature as any band could get.

And yet, Dave Wilson insists that they still had growing up to do. After Wildwood, their fifth album in eight years, they slowed down, continuing to tour, but not rushing to record a new batch. Life was catching up with them: Another of their number took the leap and got married; bassist Greg Readling became the father to a baby girl. Having found success early in their 15-year run, the stakes for maintaining it were coming into focus.

“All the sudden it becomes, ‘This is how you’re making your living,’” Wilson explains. “Your experience starts to stack up, and you know the mistakes you’ve made. You know the things you’ve done that have worked. We’re just getting older, and we’ve done this for a lot of years. We’ve played together a lot, and we have life experiences. We’ve read more books and listened to more records. You’re soaking all that up all the time. You just have the gift of hindsight more than anything.”

On Tightrope, the group’s sixth LP, the escalating pressure tightens their focus. Returning exclusively to the acoustic instruments they play onstage — mandolin, banjo, bass and guitar — plus the pedal steel and piano that Readling has long contributed, the new album is a work of confident restraint, a savvy crew returning to their essential strengths after a period of restless experimentation.

That’s not to say that the albumis a retreat to traditional bluegrass. In fact, Chatham have never sounded more unbound by the rigid expectations of genre purists. With minimal instrumentation, the players fashioned a lush and sweeping folk collection. Every quickly strummed mandolin, every lithe banjo ramble, every yearning peel of pedal steel, they’re all deployed with precision, allowing Tightrope — the sparest album in the band’s catalog — to feel like the fullest.

Over the last decade and more, these purposeful players have bolstered their bluegrass chops with rock melodies and pop hooks. They’ve indulged each Christmas in sets of full-on rock ‘n’ roll, touring their electrified lineup across the Southeast. Tightrope builds on these experiences even as it strips back.

“Everybody put a lot of thought into the parts that they wanted to play because they knew that they were going to have to stand onstage and play these things forever,” Wilson offers. “We’re not a jam band. We don’t just make up shit all the time. There’s a little bit of improv going on, but a lot of the parts we just kind of work out.”

This desire to fashion songs that might stand the test of time — both for the audience and for the group playing them — was further stoked when they readied the setlist for Sight & Sound, the live album and concert film they released in 2012. Seeking to include their most important songs, the players had them at the front of their mind when they turned their attention to new material.

The four-year gap between albums also afforded the members a chance to scratch their rock ‘n’ roll itch outside of the group. Wilson and Readling revived Stillhouse, the folk-rock outfit they played with around the time that Chatham County Line were first taking off, fashioning songs that work a lot like the ones in their main band and hitching them to electric guitars, wistful keys and striding drums. Meanwhile, mandolinist John Teer and banjo player Chandler Holt took their own rock foray when they formed the similarly charming Letter Jackets.

“You realize just how fucking lucky you are,” Wilson says. “Why keep looking down the street at the electric guitar in the window? That’s fun, and we can get those ya-yas out anytime we want, but we want to travel like this and stand onstage and inspire people and educate and amuse them with what we can do with just simple instruments and voices and words.”

Across several stints in different locations — recording studios, Wilson’s basement, the auditorium of a historic school building in nearby Hillsborough — Chatham painstakingly fashioned their new songs. But they didn’t remove spontaneity from the process. “Tightrope of Love” emerged when Wilson recorded a rough banjo instrumental by Holt onto his phone, taking it home and singing over parts of it. “Should Have Known” and “Ships at Sea” were conceived during the formal recording session at Durham, N.C.’s Sound Pure Studios.

The resulting tunes are surprisingly diverse. “The Traveler” puts a somber twist on your typical journeyman ballad, lilting through laconic strums before hitting the road with a potent mandolin chop. “I know that woman, she waits for me,” Wilson moans, “For I laid the stone that she’s underneath.” “Tightrope of Love” rollicks with wry intensity, comparing a tenuous romance to the plight of a doomed aerialist — “I did it all without a net,” Wilson chuckles. “Ships at Sea” lets its stark arrangement do most of the work: The piercing beauty of piano and fiddle evoke the grandiose solitude of hearts left adrift, an epic gesture gleaned from humble instrumentation.

But the album’s best moments are marked by some of the group’s most mature songwriting. “Hawk” is a stately portrait of a World War II pilot whose best years are behind him. “It’s been 60 years or more since he’s been up in the air,” Wilson sings. “He spends his years now flying a dusty old armchair.” But the afterlife, the singer hopes, will reward this hero’s valor: “Hawk is in a place where he’ll never have to land.”

It’s a song that succeeds by way of grave eloquence, something this group simply couldn’t muster 10 or 12 years ago. Thus far, Chatham County Line have only gotten better with age, a gift that Wilson knows is all too rare.

“I’m really interested what the future holds,” he says. “Literally every single artist music-wise, everything turns to shit once they get out of their 20s, so I don’t really know what to promise anybody. But we hope for the best. Sometimes songwriters get better.”

THE SINGLES SCENE VIII: Blurt’s Indie 45 Roundup

THE SINGLES SCENE VIII - Blurt's Indie 45 Roundup

A man walks into a digital singles bar… the bartender says, “Hey, why the long face?” To which he replies, “There’s no point to my stylus anymore…”

BY TIM HINELY

Now wait a minute…. yeah, so I’m a little late here but don’t  pin this one on me. I’ve got an editor here you know.  Not saying it’s his fault either but…… ok, fine. I’ll take some accountability. [Drop and give me 10 now, Hinely! – Drill Sgt. Ed.] The floor of the house is filled with empty pizza boxes, half-drank cans of Mountain Dew and so many newspapers that I can’t even see across the room. They tried to have an intervention but it didn’t work. They tried to get me on Hoarders but it didn’t work. They did everything in their power to get me to write another singles review column except ASK ME. When they simply asked, nicely, I complied. See, I’m not a bad guy, a little preoccupied but nice.

 

Bunnygrunt

Bunnygrunt/ The Winchester (split single)

The Worst of Both Worlds EP (7 out of 10 stars)

(Pancake Productions) www.pancakeproductions.net

St. Louis institution Bunnygrunt (Matt, Karen and Eric Von Damage) are still at it, thankfully and still blasting out sugar-coated pop nuggets that any band would be proud t call their own. The flip features a band called The Winchester who spout off with not one but two songs. “Minus One Plus” and “30 Seconds to Bars” show me one thing, if these guys ever show up in Denver I’m going.

 

Elika

Elika

Girls, Be Serious (7)

(Saint Marie Records) www.saintmarierecords.com

Regular readers of this column (all 4 of you) will remember I reviewed a previous Elika 7” last time (same young girl on the cover though this time she’s making a weird face) and yes, the vinyl is still the thickest I’ve ever felt (oooh baby).  “Your Secrets” on the a-side is the best song of their yet, all slow and dreamy (think Trembling Blue Stars) while flip “Truest Heart” is nearly as good. Smoove.

 

Insurgence

Insurgence DC

“True to Life” b/w “Man in Black” (8)

(Crooked Beat) www.crookedbeat.com

Based in the nation’s capitol and with Triangle (N.C.) roots, Insurgence plays old school punk with the kind of vim ‘n’ vigor long associated with the punk scenes of those two locales. Indeed, bassist Bill Daly’s lead vocal on the blazing “True to Life” has the type of rabble-rousing anthemism (“Get it out/ Stir it up/ Shout it out now!”) that we’re sorely missing these days (the Occupy movement could’ve used an adrenalin shot of Insurgence). Meanwhile, “Man in Black” marries a rebel-rock message to a twangy riff and a cowpunk thump; you’d be hard pressed not to put your pogo boots on and get to scootin’ when this tune cues up. Available on both black and super-limited yellow vinyl, wax fans. (—Fred Mills)

 

 

Fireworks

The Fireworks

“Runaround” b/w “With My Heart” and “Asleep” (9)

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

Oh man, I wasn’t sure if this UK band was gonna top their debut 7” from last year (at least I think it was their debut) but this one is even better. Two blissfully fizzed-out songs in the vein of the Shop Assistants. “Runaround” is my fave with that great drum sound that only UK indie bands can seemingly get while side b, “With My Heart” sprints to the finish line and “Asleep” tucks it in. G’night.  On beee-yooo-teee-ful red vinyl!
 

 Butt

Butt/ Gogolplexia (split single)

Ass Sick Creeps (6)

(Pancake Productions) www.pancakeproductions.net

Whoah…..that’s all I have to say, whoah. This 7” is apparently a tribute to Denton, TX band Fishboy. Each band here wrote a song about the other. Butt consists of a drummer named Amy Frogpockets and bass by Drunk Uncle Doug (there’s other members too) and their “Ass Disaster” stumbles out of the gate and vomits all over the floor (got a mop?). Gogolplexia offers up a tune called “Butt Release” and the bands members, all two of them, start and stop songs are roughly the same time. I’m not saying I didn’t like this, it just may not have been the best thing to play after my pork chops tonight.

 

 

Great SWamis

The Great Dismal Swamis

“Surfin’ with the Swamis” +3 (8)

(Fandango Records) www.fandangorecs.com

Dunno jack about this band but hey, I can read  so it states the band hails from Norfolk, VA (the label is outta Washington, DC) and the band was previously known as the Hydeouts. I’ve heard things described as frat rock before but most of it’s lame but if I was younger and going to frat parties this is the kinda stuff I’d wanna hear. All dirty guitar, choppy organ, trashy rhythm section and a vocal straight outta of the rubber room! Best song title: “Whiskey Twitch.”

 

Luxembourg DRive

The Luxembourg Signal

Distant Drive EP (8)

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

Ok, so anytime I hear that Bety Arzy (aka Beth Aberdeen aka Beth from Trembling Blue Stars) is involved in a new project I stand up and take notice (same with Pam Berry). This is Beth along with a few compadres from Aberdeen and Fonda (another terrific L.A. pop combo) offering up two soaring pop tunes. “Distant Drive” is near pop perfection (Ginny’s simple yet effective keyboards make it) while the flip,  “Wishing Pool” (Broiler Rom Session)  is more rockin’ and direct. Man, I cannot wait for the full-length. Huzzah!

 

Negro Spirituals

Negro Spirituals

“Black Garden” b/w “Ancient Trees” (8)

(A Wicked Company) www.awickedcompany.tumblr.com

A Wicked Company is batting .1000 so far (better n’ Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, Ted Williams…hell, anyone) and this Wisconsin bunch get a hit here, at least a triple. “Black Garden” blasts out some dizzying effects that made me fall outta my chair, hit the ground, bounce back up and not miss a key while doing this review. “Ancient Trees” was a bit more traditional, that is if you consider Caroliner Rainbow Milkqueen traditional. There’s only 500 of these so git your ass to Hot Topic and pick one up!

 

Pep

Pep

My Baby and Me EP (8)

(The Stones Records) www.thestonesrecords.com

I like how on this band’s Facebook page they describe what they do as doo wop /dreamsauce. Hey, they have a sense of humor and yeah, I’d call this doo-woppy. I’m guessing that the band is from L.A., but who knows as the label website is Japanese and I couldn’t read a damn thing on it.  “All songs written and performed by Karys Rhea”, so there you go. The songs are bouncy and fun, a bit like The School or even Camera Obscura (when they’re in a good mood). If I like it you’ll like it, trust me.

 

 

Polkaholics

The Polkaholics

“Blue Haired Lady” b/w “Spaced” (6)

(self-released) www.thepolkaholics.com

Chicago trio who do a blend of, what else, polka music and rawk. Go to their webpage and they’ll try and sell you something (they got a ton of merch). These two songs kick out the jams brothers and sister. The band obviously has a real sense of humor  (love the artwork on this 7” ) and I’ll bet they’re a scream live.  Can one of my Chicago underlings check ‘em out on stage and report back to Blurt? Please? (side note- big hole 45s rule).

 

 

Graham Day

Graham Day & the Forefathers

“Love Me Lies” b/w “30-60-90” (6)

(State/Sandgate Sound) www.staterecs.com

This garage-shocking power trio comprises gents who’ve served time in The Prisoners, the Prime Movers, the Solarflares, the James Taylor Quartet and Billy Childish’s Buff Medways, so with that kind of collective resume you’d be right in presuming some jams will be kicked out. “Love Me Lies” revisits an old Prisoners tune in glorious metal hues lined with careening riffs and wah-wah squiggles. Even better is the organ/guitar powered hi-octane R&B instro flip hailing from the pen of one Willie Mitchell (who originally wrote it for the Get Carter soundtrack). (—Fred Mills)

 

 

When Nalda

When Nalda Became Punk

Indiepop or Whatever! EP (9)

(Shelflife) www.shelflife.com

Yessss!!! New music from WNBP and not a moment too soon. I was going through withdrawals. I loved their full-length from last year and was jonesing for more and this Spanish bunch, led by Elena Sestelo, came through in the clutch.  Not much has changed, they’re still whipping out indie pop nuggets at an alarming rate (my kinda band). “Song for Carrie Mathison” is very good but the title track is incredible! All squealy guitar and melody. On the flip “Daylight Savings Time” get the nod from me of the two and again, if you love the supple sounds of bands like Helen Love or Heavenly then you’ll want this in your collection.

***

Tim “45 Adapter” Hinely spins backwards when he reviews Australian records, but don’t let that throw you off balance. Check out his most excellent rock mag Dagger at www.daggerzine as well as his 7th installment of The Singles Scene (here at BLURT) and the 6th installment (right here) and the 5th (here).

IT AIN’T THAT HARD TO BE SAINTS IN THE CITY WHEN YOU ARE… The Everymen

everymen

“We’re psyched”: with a staggeringly fine new album in stores and a summerlong tour looming, these Garden State soon-to-be-heroes are gonna make you believers, one fan at a time. BLURT investigates, with special cameos by Rosalita (the van, not the gal), and The Boss (Springsteen, not the day job employer).

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s a tough gig being a band from New Jersey.

Every city you hit on tour, you’ve got some jackass giving you his best Sopranos “Fuggedaboutit.” People name check Bon Jovi and a slew of awful ‘80 hair metal bands (Skid Row! Trixter!) when talking about your state’s musical pedigree and conveniently forget that Springsteen is not only a native son, but also chose to stay in the Garden State.

So it’s with the pride that can only be earned when the rest of the country is laughing at your expense, that The Everymen (quite possible THE best band you aren’t listening to yet) spits out the names of New Jersey’s favorite sons and daughters in rapid fire (“Martha Stewart, Ricky Nelson, Meryl Streep, Danny Devito,” and on and on) on “NJHC.” The track comes midway through the band’s latest record, Givin’ Up On Free Jazz (Ernest Jenning), and nails it with the line “The list’s insane… Almost too much for one state.”

And that right there is the beauty of this band; fantastic musical chops, a great sense of humor, and plenty of self-awareness. It’s like a gorgeous girl who also happens to quote Arrested Development at the drop of a hat and, by the way, is really into metal and old Power Pop bands.

Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, the founding member of the one-man-turned-nine-man/woman band, was cool enough to answer some questions via email recently, talking about the group, their van, getting A.C. Newman to guest on a song, and loads more. Oh, and being a Jersey band, I had to ask if they have a Springsteen story? Fuck yeah they’ve got a Springsteen story! (OK, it’s not a great one, but come on. You got a Springsteen story? Didn’t think so.)

 

BLURT: You have nine members. That has got to mean everyone gets about $10 after the money at the door is split. Did the band start out with that many members?

 MICHAEL VENUTOLO-MANTOVANI: No. For the first two years or so we were a two-piece. The band was kinda born out of this 7″ I made while I was trapped down the shore. See, I was visiting my parents who were living just outside of Atlantic City at the time and we were hit with a fuck of a snowstorm and I just couldn’t get back to Jersey City – where I was living at the time – because the roads were just so whacked up. So I holed up in my parents’ basement where my father, a killer musician in his own right, has a ton of gear. Guitars, drums, recording action. So I just started bashing away, writing these little two minute pop jams. But I don’t know the first thing about recording so it ended up sounding like the lowest lo-fi you could imagine. The intent was just to keep them as demos and figure out where to use them down the road, as at that point I was still playing in another band that didn’t have much place for two-minute pop jams. But as it turned out, I ended up absolutely loving the way the demos sounded. So I scratched together a few bucks and self-released our first 7″ as Sarin McHugh And The Everymen.

From there, of course I wanted to get out and play those tunes in a live atmosphere so I recruited Stephen Chopek through friends of friends and knowing that he was one of the most in-demand drummers around the Jersey City scene. So we did that for a long while, just the two of us bashing away as loud as we possibly could. I played through two amps and generally cranked up as high as I could. From there, we got Geoff (Morrissey) to play bass. I knew him from college and he came to see us one night. After the set he told me if we ever needed someone on bass, he’d be the guy. So we were three. From there we got our hands on Scotty Z and his blazing sax and after he joined, he recruited his brother Jamie on bass, moving Geoff over to guitar.

[DEEP BREATH] After that, we got Catherine (Herrick). She and I were coworkers and one night we ended up at a karaoke bar together and the minute she took charge of that mic I knew she had to be in our crew. It was a revelation for me. So after some pestering she finally relented and now here she is. After that, Stephen’s touring schedule with some other bands became a little hectic so we hired Jake Fiedler to fill in when Stephen couldn’t play. Jake was the long-time drummer in one of my all-time favorite freakout crews, Ex Models. Then after years and years of us bugging him, Thomas Barrett joined on keys. He and I played in a band together prior to The Everymen so I knew what a special musician he was. He’s since left to focus on his own band (Overlake. Check ‘em out) but he’s always got a spot with us. Last but certainly not least we dug our claws into our brassman Will Hoffman who used to play with the brothers’ Zillitto in a crew called The Porn Horns.

Phew. There you have it. Long-winded. But you asked.

Who in the band has the most surprising taste in music?

I think all of us will throw you for a loop in one way or another. Scott is a huge Louis Prima fan, I have a very healthy experimental and noise side, Jamie’s really into zany shit like Zappa. But we’re all kinda all over the place. I mean, during any given van ride you can hear shit like Jack White, Black Breath, Future Islands, Iron Maiden, Sleep, Pat Benatar, Dinosaur Jr., blah, blah, blah. But I think if we had to pick one who’d shock you the most, it’d be Catherine. Here’s this sweet little thing, soft-spoken little gem that she is, and then BOOM! she schools you on Thin Lizzy or Dio or Def Leppard or really deep new stuff like Prince Rupert’s Drops or EMA or Mount Carmel. The girl loves the rock. And you probably wouldn’t tell that straight off the bat. You’d probably guess Belle and Sebastian or the Comet Gain (whom she both also loves).

I was (and still am) a huge fan of the Jonathan Richman tribute EP. Any plans to cover another artist?

Thanks dude! So stoked you dig it. Actually, yeah, ideally that EP is ideally the first of a series. We’ve just been so focused on Free Jazz that we haven’t really had time for much else. But I have a whole slate of them in my head. Definitely wanna do the aforementioned Louis Prima, Gin Blossoms (don’t judge. y’all are gonna have to pry New Miserable Experience from my cold dead fingers), Eric’s Trip and some others. Maybe someday it’ll be as cool as Fucked Up’s Zodiac Series. We’ll see.

How was the writing of Givin’ Up on Free Jazz different than how you approached New Jersey Hardcore

Night and day, dude. New Jersey Hardcore was such a solitary commitment on that part and such a speedy one at that. That record was a lot of ways just me making a record alone. Stephen played drums, Catherine sang on only one song – as she had just joined the band – and Scott hit the horn a bit. But I did all of the guitars, all the bass and most of the vocals. We hadn’t yet solidified as a unit and our record was made in a matter of a few weeks. With this record we had had this current lineup for over a year, we all were in a groove, we all knew how we worked with one another and I made a very conscious decision to stretch the process of making this record out over a long period of time. I wanted to let the songs breathe and develop and see where they ended up. It wasn’t so much revision as much as it was addition, ya know? So much of the depth of this record comes from that. Had we made it in a week or so we may never have had a glockenspiel or I never would have thought to lay an acoustic guitar under everything or we may never even have built such strong horn parts. A lot of that just comes from taking the rough mixes home, sitting with them for a few weeks and going from there. I mean, so many ideas and opportunities arose from simply taking our time… which brings me to your next question

A.C. Newman shows up on one song here. How did you get him involved? Did you always intend on having someone guest on that song?

No! That was one of those fantastic natural and organic things that just happened during the process of creating our record. It was something that just fell into place during one of those voids between sessions. When we put out New Jersey Hardcore, Carl’s wife had gotten her hands on a copy and really enjoyed it. I forget how it came about but she told me back then that she really loved it as did Carl. I’d sent some early Free Jazz mixes over to them just to give them a taste of what was coming and she had responded that both she and Carl were loving what they were hearing so I just asked if he wouldn’t mind guesting on the record. Of course I’ve always been a HUGE fan of Carl’s (I stand by the fact that his first solo record is the best Matador release ever) and I think that his voice is just so undeniable and so unique so it was such an amazing treat when he said yes.

This is your first record for Ernest Jenning Record Co. How did you connect with the label?

I’ve known Pete (D’Angelo) for a while now. I used to look after a band who put out a record with EJRC a few years ago so we worked together back then. At first I didn’t think he’d be interested in Free Jazz so I hadn’t sent it over… or maybe I did and he just ignored me? I don’t know. Haha. But then he ended up at one of our shows and I guess for him everything clicked. He sent me an e-mail the next day to the tune of “Tell me what I need to do to put this record out.” Something like that. So pretty much right then I was sold. His enthusiasm was unmatched by anyone else we were talking to and to me that’s the most important thing, ya know? I’d take a deal with these guys who are gonna make us their priority rather than deal with being the small fish in a pond with a ton of others competing for attention blah, blah, blah. So far it’s been a great place to be.

You have a pretty exhausting tour schedule and will be touring for most of the summer. Is it difficult to find time to tour or have you all quit you day jobs at this point? 

Quit is a strong word. Well, yes. Some of us have quit our jobs. Our aim is to tour as much as humanly possible between now and whenever it is we make our next record so we can’t really do that around work schedules, ya know? Now’s our time. We can’t sit around doing two week tours and weekenders here and there anymore. We’re the kind of band that needs to go out and make fans one by one. And that’s the only way that that’s gonna happen. So yea, we’ve mostly left our day jobs or put them on hold or taken leaves for the time being. But most of us are picking up some side gigs. Working from the road. Freelancing. Rosalita (our big beautiful van) is like a rolling office space. Hopefully it’ll keep our hands busy, our bellies full and our minds sane. [Wait a minute – the band has a van called ROSALITA?!? Do tell! – Boss-fan Ed.]

 

So every just about every Jersey band I have ever interviewed has a Springsteen story. Any of you guys have one? 

All tall tales I tell ya. Legends. I mean, mine’s pretty boring but one time in high school I was shopping at Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank. I was flipping through CDs and I look up and who’s on the other side of the rack from me but The Boss. I was very uncool and stared too long. He looked up and smiled and I shot my gaze back down into the racks and I think ran out the door. Like I said, I was very uncool. Our next Bruce story will be better. That’ll be the one where he invites us on stage and lets me sing “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City” with him.

What’s next for you guys?

Touring. Like I said, we just need to play as much as possible right now. The number 250 is in my head. If we can do 250 shows between now and next June, I’ll be happy. Right now we’re gearing up for our big US tour this summer. Pretty much all of June and July we’ll be out there. Then home for two weeks and then back out for a two week run in August. That’ll be straight west and back. Out and back on Route 80. Home for a bit more then another three weeks in September. That’ll be mainly east coast. Up and down.

Then in late October through the end of November we’ll do another US run. Ideally. Unless any bigger bands want to take us out on tour. Then we’ll do that. Obviously. But just have fun. Play shows. Make friends. Try and sell as many records as we can. Drive around. See the country. Have an adventure that few people are lucky enough to have.

I can’t wait. We’re psyched.

Everymen 5-20

Photo Credit: Kenneth Bachor

STILL SPINNING: Marianne Dissard

Dissard photo 1

To regain her artistic footing, the French-born musician realized that leaving her adopted home of Tucson and eventually becoming the prodigal daughter would be necessary.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

In the winter of 2012, Marianne Dissard returned to her home in Tucson after a four-year stretch of nearly non-stop touring behind her first two LPs, 2008’s L’Entredeux and 2010’s L’Abandon. She was exhausted — ‘’physically, spiritually and mentally,” she says – but the city Dissard had called home for nearly 20 years wasn’t the salve she’d hope for.

“It’s part of the exhaustion of coming back from touring, not finding your ground,” says the French-born Dissard, who has since returned to Europe. “Some people do it much better and faster than me. Within a day, they’re like, ‘Okay, I’m home.’ Me, I have a hard time stopping spinning.”

Soon enough, however, Dissard realized that what was eating at her and making her feel mangled, inside and out, went much deeper than just having a tough time decompressing after a tour. She’d simply run her course in Tucson, where she’d recorded her first two LPs with help from the town’s indie royalty, members of Calexico and Giant Sand. (Go here to read BLURT’s 2011 Tucson profile of Dissard.)

Having toured extensively in Europe and collaborated with members of the hip-hop community in the interim, Dissard — who’s also a filmmaker — had re-discovered other parts of her artistic self, as well as the desire to explore new ones.

“It was like I wasn’t living there anymore, I was just packing suitcases and travelling, and when I got back there I realized, ‘this is just not where I want to live’” anymore, she says of the city and what she called its laid-back arts scene. “It was just time to go. Everything I listen to, the things I want to explore with my music, my stage performances, with my writing — they could not really develop any further in that energy, I thought.”

And so for two months that winter she wrote songs from that dark place of isolation, exploring the changes happening within her. It was from there that her latest recording, what she calls the last in a trilogy of Tucson LPs, took shape as The Cat. Not Me. With most of the music written by Sergio Mendoza of Calexico, the record reads like a logical extension of her previous solo LPs.

Official music video – ‘Am Letzen’ – Marianne Dissard from album ‘The Cat. Not Me’ (2014) from Marianne Dissard on Vimeo.

The album still includes spacious and dusky Southwest vibes in the haunting guitar lines and minor chords of “Mouton Bercail” or the shuffling tempo and lonesome harmonica on “Oiseau,” songs that feel like they couldn’t have been written anywhere else. And of course Dissard’s smoky voice and dramatic flair on the lullaby-like “Pomme” or orchestrally dense “Heureusement Sans Heurt” fit neatly within the French chanteuse tradition.

But there are key changes going on here — thematically and sonically —that suggest The Cat. Not Me. is a quintessential transition LP. Influenced by PJ Harvey’s White Chalk LP, Dissard asked her co-writer to help realize her dream of a piano-based record. Mendoza, together with Giant Sand bassist Thøger Lund, complied and put his own fiery stamp on the music, Dissard says, keeping it far from White Chalk’s sparse structures. Instead, strings and horns surge into the tempos on the thrumming march “Je Ne Le Savais Pas,” and crank up the urgency quotient on the passionate “Tortue.”

But the LP’s two most telling cuts are “Doll Circa,” a confessional vignette about a young, acting-out Dissard torturing her Barbie doll, and the processional piano ballad, “La Partie de Puzzle du Jardin Francaise.” Both tracks find Dissard blending in samples and playing with structures, something the filmmaker found both familiar and exhilarating.

“It has to do with my film background, when I do editing,” she says. “It’s more experimental stuff, it’s all about mixing and matching and editing and changing timelines — it’s not tied to musicians needing to be put in context.”

Election – Marianne Dissard – ‘The Cat. Not Me’ (2104) from Marianne Dissard on Vimeo.

Before that stage, though, Dissard had to come to terms with the changes she was going through personally.  As winter passed, Dissard discovered the thematic red thread linking her songs. That the realization came via her cat, whose daily gift of dead and mangled Tucson wildlife included the half-eaten salamander pictured on the LP’s cover, turned out to be indicative of the life-fulcrum where she found herself.

“I took photos of those offerings every day — and I wasn’t sure why, but it was so fascinating to me,” Dissard says. “But then I understood that it had to do with the state of mind or physical shape I felt in when I was actually writing the record. Not so much the recording, but the writing of the lyrics came from a period of time when I was really feeling mangled.”

But as Dissard explains, sometimes we’re the cat, too. The record, she says, is really about the ambivalence we have reconciling our animal selves with who we think we are. “We’re responsible for our instincts and urges, and responsible for our own lives and beings, but sometimes it’s the animal in us that’s speaking,” she says. “ ‘It’s the cat in me, not me!’ It’s also the cat’s fault if I do anything wrong — if I hate you, bite your head off, it’s not me, it’s the animal in me.”

Anthropomorphic imagery pervades Dissard’s narratives: the bird in “Oiseau” is stuck inside, endlessly flying against windows, unable to grasp or penetrate the glass; the lizard in “Salamander” sheds its skin by painfully flaying it over stones; the tortoise shell in “Tortue” provides shelter, but it also carries the “nightmares” we drag around with us. If Dissard’s first two LPs explored her relationships with others, she says these songs are about the battles we fight with ourselves.

“It is very hard to shed, to let go of the bad relationship you have with yourself,” she says. “The songs are about getting stuck in myself, and getting to the point where I go, ‘okay, what do I do now? Do I keep going this way and I’m going to just shoot myself? This is pretty bad, this is like suicide-note type stuff —or do I manage to shed my skin?’”

Leaving Tucson behind, then, became a form of molting. Dissard headed first to Minneapolis to finish her new record, where she worked again with DJ/producer Brendan Kelly, aka BK-One of the city’s two-decade-old hip-hop collective, Rhymesayers. Kelly had helped with L’Abandon, and also introduced Dissard to another Rhymesayers artist, the DJ/producer Budo, who wound up being instrumental in Dissard’s evolution.

Dissard photo 2

She had done a few live gigs with Budo, the nom de plume of Seattle-born Josh Karp, now most famous for his work with Grammy award-winning duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Dissard and Budo had hoped to collaborate further after some shows at last year’s SXSW, but the Macklemore explosion short-circuited that, with the exception of a recent one-off in Paris. But the influence of those shows, and hip-hop’s energy in general, had changed Dissard.

“I was trying to find a musician to accompany me on stage that had developed this kind of energy I’d been thriving with,” she says. “I’m a little dramatic on stage. I’m a little hyper. So I think that’s something that maybe the Tucson guys I was touring with were like, ‘whoa, what’s going on here?’ But when it comes to a more dramatic performance style, I kind of felt more interested in what was coming from hip-hop, from a different scene and from a different city.”

What really impressed Dissard and dovetailed with her new-found interests was what Budo did remixing The Cat. Not Me. LP. He took the record’s many textures and — where a missing full horn section would make the pair look like karaoke singers, for instance —whittled the track down without losing its lush essence or energy. “For me that was quite the lesson on approaching mixing,” said Dissard, who did the studio mix of the record.  Combined with what she’d picked up from BK-One, that experience was also transformative.

“I had figured out how to deal with musicians in Tucson, people who will bring you a guitar track or piano track and go, ‘Okay, try putting your voice on that,’” she says. “But people like Brendan and Budo, producers who come from a different background — ‘whoa, what are you doing now with samples? You can play around, move this thing here, this thing there? You’re not tied to structures or a progression? Okay!’ “

Dissard insists she isn’t dissing her previous work or Tucson’s musicians, instead looking at the three records as “time pieces,” or simply what she knew how to do at the time she was doing it. In recording L’Entredeux, Calexico’s Joey Burns firmly held the production reins because Dissard had never done it before. She watched, listened and learned, though, and took control for L’Abandon, where she recreated what she’d experienced on the road — “get a bunch of guys who know what they’re doing together in the same room,” she says, “and if your casting is right, you’re fine.”

Yet it’s The Cat. Not Me. that she says is her first real studio album, the one that most bears the stamp of her personal vision. Where it leads next, she has no idea. It’s already taken her half-a-world away. But she will likely look back on this record as a rite of passage that signaled not just a new era, but a world of new directions.

Françoise Hardy – cover – Mon Amie La Rose from Marianne Dissard on Vimeo.

 

RETURN TO SUGAR MAN: Rodriguez

Rodriguez

With the news of the Searching for Sugar Man documentary director’s death still fresh, we pay tribute.

BY FRED MILLS

Ed. note: The music and film worlds were deeply saddened this week to learn Sweden’s Malik Bendjelloul, the Oscar-winning director of the 2012 Searching for Sugar Man documentary about folksinger Rodriguez, had died Tuesday (May 13). His brother Johar later confirmed to CNN that the cause of death was suicide, indicating Bendjelloul “had been struggling with depression for a short period of time.” No other details were disclosed and the family asked for privacy.

Onstage in Chicago a couple of days later, Rodriguez expressed his sorrow, according to Chicago Tribune reviewer Bob Gendron, who wrote that Rodriguez “addressed the reported suicide the way he handled everything else Wednesday at a near-capacity Chicago Theatre — with class and modesty. ‘He will be sorely missed,’ Rodriguez solemnly stated. ‘Sweden has lost a favorite son there. So have the States.’”

The past few years should have been reason to cheer for Bendjelloul, and most likely they were, not the least reason being the acclaim heaped upon the man for his film. Even more gratifying must have been the part the director played in restarting—or at least significantly expanding—Sixto Rodriguez’ musical career. Put briefly, first-time filmmaker Bendjelloul, a Swedish TV director/producer, happened to be in South Africa doing research for Swedish TV in 2006 when he encountered a local journalist, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman. The writer had originally uncovered the story about Rodriguez, a Detroit singer-songwriter from the early ‘70s who had issued a couple of poor-selling albums before dropping out of the music business, only to learn many years later that not only were his records highly prized among collectors but that he had somehow become legendary –Dylan-like, almost—in South Africa. Fascinated, Bendjelloul commenced work on his documentary, which took him from Cape Town to Detroit and beyond. Upon its completion the film was submitted to Sundance where it got tapped to open the 2012 festival, and the rest is history. To further stoke the fires, Light In the Attic had reissued both 1970’s Cold Fact and its 1971 follow-up, Coming From Reality, with Sony/Legacy subsequently teaming with LITA to release the Searching For Sugar Man soundtrack LP and CD. (There’s a fascinating NPR “Weekend Edition” broadcast from a couple of years ago that features both Rodriguez and Bendjelloul talking about the film and the artist’s long strange trip to date. Meanwhile, there’s an earlier, somewhat briefer TV documentary titled Dead Men Don’t Tour, directed by Tonia Selley and first broadcast in 2001, that’s a chronicle of Rodriguez’ 1998 triumphant tour of South Africa; as with the Sugar Man film, it touches upon the disappearance and rediscovery of the songwriter, although it’s the riveting live footage that’s the calling card.)

In 2009 I was fortunate enough to interview Rodriguez from his home in Detroit around the time of the Coming From Reality reissue. I’d also been able to spend a little time with him and his daughter following a concert in January of that year in Asheville, NC, and both times he was soft-spoken and self-deprecating, reflective at times as befits someone who grew up in an era of great social, political and cultural turmoil. At the same time, there was an underlying intensity to him that surfaced whenever certain topics — war, politics, the government, how humans treat one another — were broached. Still, he seemed oddly respectful, too: at several points he addressed me as “sir” or “Mr. Mills,” and towards the end, following a humorous exchange, he told he loved the way I laughed. Genuinely appreciative of all the good fortune that had been coming his way of late, he was clearly excited to be making the touring rounds again regularly. At the time of our conversation he was preparing for another East Coast tour using several of the same musicians who’d backed in him in Asheville. (Go here to watch several videos from the Asheville show.)

As the man, then 66, himself put it succinctly, chuckling softly, “I’m at the top of the line, man. I mean, things are happening!”

Sugar Man poster

BLURT: So — how are you preparing for this tour? You’ll be touring more extensively, at least in terms of the U.S., than ever before.

RODRIGUEZ: See, we’re all working at it, so I think it’s in the air, you know? Busy at our craft. Yeah, I practiced with a drummer last night and we went through a lot of material. The other day I practiced with this other guy too — so I’m getting ready. I’m having a great time with this. It’s totally — it’s a great time for me, and the thing is, it doesn’t happen every week, so I’m serious at it. I gotta take this chance. It’s like Eminem says, you get just one opportunity, so don’t blow it. [laughs]

Seize the moment – or like the old ‘60s saying, seize the day.

Yes, exactly. Until I see the band again, we each just practice on our own. And then when I hook up [with them] it’s like… waiting for a love! Something like that, very much so. I’m glad to hear the band is getting ready — and really, my stuff is simple. But we’re all very serious at it.

Even though you can get back together with groups musicians when you return to their towns or regions, do you ever wish you had a permanent touring band to play with?

Well, my style is that I’m a musical slut! [laughs] I do it like this because that’s how I am. Cheap drinks and all! But yeah, I have to do it like this — air flights [and expenses], all that. And I enjoy meeting new musicians too. But once I could guarantee a band, then we’re in. But right now this is how I’m doing it. And I’m going to do the European tour – Amsterdam, Dublin, Rome, Paris, London — with a Swedish band. I’ve worked with them and I’m lucky that I have. So if we all just hang in tight and close, I think something can happen. And I hope they all hold with me. I’m out there, you know? I got my amp in the wind. So that’s the way this is going for me. I’m not a band; I’m a single, a solo.

You’ve been through this whole rediscovery thing three times now: first in Australia and New Zealand, then South Africa, and now America. Does this create any anxiety for you — does it turn your world upside down each time it happens?

I’m as nervous as a clock, so I reach for the rum or the brandy. But yeah, you do get nervous; you’re reading me just right. So I have a “cheer.” And then when I see them after the show, the fans and the fanbase and the band, we’ll go out and party. Of course, last time we partied until four in the morning, so I’m cutting down the parties on this tour! Just an hour. Because it gets intense. We’re going to get up [each morning] at 11 a.m. and then out of that city. It’s getting so very busy.

Onstage you don’t betray any nervousness. In fact, you appear pretty relaxed…

That’s just the way I perform. I have my eyes closed, I’m listening to the band, and trying to remember my lyrics and trying to find the microphone. So in a way, I’m almost in a trance when I’m up there. I’m getting better at it — better at ending songs and stuff like that. But I don’t want to be so manicured and sharp that it loses something. You know what I mean? So right now, you’re watching me as I develop. The thing is, you have to prepare, and be prepared. So that’s the other thing, why I’m practicing [at home], so when we hook up we’ll knock it out.

Let me ask you a few things about Coming From Reality. It’s as strong as Cold Fact, but in a totally different way, with a completely different sound for most of the songs. How did it come about that you shipped all the way off to London to do the album?

Well, the guy who ran my label, Clarence Avant, I thought it was him who was the hero of my career. But it actually turns out to be another guy, Neil Bogart, from Buddha Records. [Buddha distributed Rodriguez’ record label, Sussex.]He wrote a letter to Clarence and said that this guy in London wants to record the second album, a guy named Steve Rowland. So it was like, I dunno, inner city meets Hollywood! [laughs] I mean, he’s full production, one of these guys right at home [in the studio].

One thing about Coming From Reality that people might catch, for example: we have a Stradivarius on those tunes, a full violin section, cello and viola. So it’s a major kind of difference and approach [from Cold Fact]. I just worked with the rhythm section on Cold Fact, but I went over to London — and there they are! The strings; Chris Spedding is on guitar; bongos [by Tony Carr of Magna Carta and Donovan’s band]; and the drummer is imitating a lot of different styles.

What are some of your favorite songs on the album?

“A Most Disgusting Song” [is] one of my favorites. That was a quick song [to record]. That one, and also “To Whom It May Concern.” Those are very different things. One’s a kind of poppy ballad, and the other one’s more of just getting down on guitar. Gritty.

“Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyles” is also very different sounding, with the lush string suite for the first section of the song.

Oh yeah. Sandra and Eva are my daughters — I have another daughter named Regan — so that’s what “Sandrevan” is. “Sandra” and “Eva.” One day they were sleeping and I was playing guitar and just jumped into this song because, the thing is, it was so nice to have them with me. So I wanted to call it “Sandrevan Lullaby,” trying to crush words in together trying to think of a title. A real seventies thing I guess — I understand I do belong to the old century, but I like to think of myself as contemporary. I’m today, you know?

“Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyles” was also a general thing of the day. We were in the middle of a war and stuff. I think that peace is harder; war is easy. There’s going to be war, but peace will come. And they say the system’s gonna fall through too, or if not the system, the ideas within the system. They’re always asking, is the world gonna end? No, they are gonna end. The world’s gonna go on. So if I could rewrite that, I’d say those ideas of that are gonna go.

From “Sandrevan Lullaby – Lifestyles”:

America gains another pound
Only time will bring some people around
Idols and flags are slowly melting
Another shower of rice
To pair it for some will suffice
The mouthful asks for second helpings
Moonshine pours through my window
The night puts its laughter away
Clouds that pierce the illusion
That tomorrow would be as yesterday…

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, as a teenager my consciousness was expanding with the times, and it seems like a lot of the topics and lyrical concerns on both your albums were very much attuned to the era and what a lot of us were going through.

That word — “consciousness.” That’s a bigger word than I’ve heard in a long time. That’s a bigger thing. When you reach that, you can’t go back. You see, most songs are boy-girl themes, and I’m happy to do a ballad, but there are other words, too, that will prove more [useful] in awakening our collective consciousness.

When you walked away from the music industry, was it just disillusionment over the albums not selling?

They were totally not commercial successes. I just had to go, hey, there’s gas, there’s the electric, water bills, and taxes and insurance… So that’s what really pulled me away from the music industry. I never left music, though. I never left that.

Have you continued to write songs over the years?

Oh, yes sir. Oh yeah. Like I said, I was jamming with the cats. And when we jam, I do a lot of covers – “Here, try this…” But I do write new stuff. I think at my practices it’s 40 to 60 per cent new material.

Rodriguez 6

How would you like to be remembered? What would you want on your gravestone?

Wow. You are hitting right into my heart. Um… how would I want to be remembered? That’s too tough a question! [laughs] Can I refrain from that one? Because sometimes I don’t have that answer. It’s like when you asked your loved one a question and they don’t have the answer for it. So… I’ll work on it!

Fair enough. I saw a great quote of yours from a few years ago. You said, “Life ain’t chronological. Some older people appear to be younger, and some younger people appear to be older.”

That’s it. There you go.

What did you mean by that?

It’s just that I think some people grow up a lot quicker and reach that consciousness earlier. And other people are, um, a little spoiled — I don’t know if that’s the right word — and I want to get away from people with those prejudices and their hates and their fears.

I’ve been around the world in three weeks, man. I went to Rotterdam and then to Australia, for example. And here’s my synopsis about the world: there’s enough for everyone, and in fact, too much for anyone. And here they are, fighting for this, fighting for that. I want to say, “Stop fighting, guys.”

That is sometimes the role of the artist, to make observations and then let people think about it all.

Yeah, that’s what it is. Usually my observations are like, “Hey man…” But what do I know? I can’t do anything about it. But yes, I can speak to it.

***

RODRIGUEZ LIVE IN ASHEVILLE JANUARY 10, 2009

 In a way, it was the culmination of an amazing year for Rodriguez — a twinned triumph of deferred artistry and rooting for the underdog that left both artist and fans in mild states of shock at how wonderfully things turned out. These are my people, you imagined the performer thinking, as he peered out through his shades at audience packing Asheville, NC, venue the Grey Eagle on January 10. This is our music, we collectively thought, sensing a connection to both the songs and the man who wrote them, as we smiled right back at him and pumped our fists to express that feeling of triumph.

 Still, I’ve been attending gigs long enough (nearly 40 years) to know how a disproportionate level of anticipation can undermine a concertgoing experience, although I didn’t necessarily downgrade my expectations either, and I did allow myself the usual luxury of pre-show ritual, i.e., playing Cold Fact a zillion times over the course of a couple of days leading up to the show. But I also reminded myself that “performer” has not been Rodriguez’s full-time occupation for some time, and that the whole pickup-backing-band factor can be a substantial wild card.

On that latter count, as it turned out I needn’t have worried. A couple of months ago when the show’s promoters, Mark Capon and Matt Schnable (who also operate Asheville indie CD and vinyl emporium, Harvest Records), booked Rodriguez, they were surely mindful of that same wild card aspect and as a result were determined to ensure that this rarer-than-rare concert — Rodriguez, though open to bookings, doesn’t have a regular tour itinerary — didn’t turn into some sort of embarrassing Chuck-Berry-flummoxes-local-pickup-band debacle. Capon took it upon himself to assume bass chores; on drums was Drew Wallace (ex-Guyana Punchline); on piano and keys, Kim Roney; and on guitar, Greg Cartwright, of Reigning Sound/Oblivians fame, who had opened the show with a solo set. They also lined up a three-man horn section: Derrick Johnson, Jacob Rodriguez and Ben Hovey, on trombone, sax and trumpet. The ensemble duly bore down to learn the material — if you’ve heard Cold Fact you know that while some of the songs are straightforward, others have some tricky, complex arrangements — and awaited Rodriguez’s arrival in Asheville.

rodriguez2013

 By 10:15 this evening the club was impressively filled — the door person confirmed later that they’d almost reached the 550 capacity — and although this was certainly due in part to the Rodriguez feature in the weekly paper and some local radio coverage of the event, after talking to a number of people to find out how they’d heard about Rodriguez, I began to realize that this was a true word-of-mouth phenomenon sparked by the Harvest Records guys and passed along the grapevine simultaneously by curiosity seekers and folks who’d heard Cold Fact.

 The band filed onstage and adjusted their instruments, then Rodriguez emerged from the dressing room, dressed head-to-toe in black (boots, jeans, shirt, under-vest and shades) and appearing utterly relaxed. Standing at the mic and smiling at the audience, he adjusted the brim of his trademark fedora (black, natch) as he joked about being from Detroit and having a mayor who got sent to jail. He strapped on his hollow body electric guitar, nodded to the band, then started into the strummy, loping sunshine pop of “Inner City Blues” (not the Marvin Gaye song, it’s one of the standouts on Cold Fact, a song about hopelessness tempered by hope and leavened by the cynicism wrought by the events of the late ‘60s). The horns left the stage during the next song, “Only Good For Conversation,” one of the more overtly psychedelic numbers on the album; as Rodriguez chopped at his guitar and spat out his brutally direct lyrics (“My statue’s got a concrete heart/ But you’re the coldest bitch I know”), Cartwright peeled off steely Jeff Beck-styled leads and the rhythm section churned purposefully. The Dylanesque “Crucify Your Mind” followed, with the horns returning to provide a stately, soulful edge.

Just three tracks in, and the Grey Eagle crowd was pressing against the stage and whooping with delight — won over, totally. What’s even more remarkable is how quickly the musicians locked in together: no tentativeness, no frowns or puzzled glances exchanged, no flubbed riffs or awkward transitions that I detected. A few songs later Rodriguez, beaming broadly, would glance at the other musicians and announce, “I love this band!” He obviously meant it, too.

And so it went. Among the highlights were “I Wonder,” strummy and boasting a signature, irresistible Motown bass whomp that Capon rendered deftly as Wallace provided a jaunty, skittering sideways beat (“This song asks a question,” Rodriguez said, by way of intro); and “Sugarman,” which elicited immediate shouts of recognition and singing along from the crowd the moment Rodriguez began (“This song is a descriptive song”), and with Cartwright and Roney recreating the eerie, Joe Meek-styled background noises it bordered on note-perfect. It’s worth noting that while the musicians had completely mastered the material’s arrangements, the performances were anything but static. Cartwright in particular contributed some inspired side flourishes (fuzz guitar, etc.) and Roney’s keyboard fills, frequently in synch with the horns, lent texture and colors around the edges.

Also featured were two songs from Coming From Reality that slotted seamlessly in with the Cold Fact material: “I Think Of You” and “To Whom It May Concern” — the latter, with its piano filigrees and a striking guitar solo from Cartwright, proved to be one of the poppier, almost overtly commercial, numbers of the evening. And a third non-Cold Fact song, “Can’t Get Away” was an unexpected treat: anthemic and boasting a soaring melody, its propulsive choogle vibe gradually ensnared the audience until the entire room appeared to be pumping along in tandem. (Originally from a ’77 Australian anthology, At His Best, “Can’t Get Away” is a bonus track on the Coming From Reality reissue.)

Well before the end of the show Rodriguez had worked up a sweat, eventually shedding his outer shirt to reveal a trim, solid, vest-clad torso; for a 66 year old man he’s fitter than most, with long, muscular arms plus large, nimble hands like Richie Havens. And his voice: nearly as clear and resonant as it is on the album, hints of Dylan, Donovan and Arthur Lee all informing his delivery while still uniquely Rodriguez; you’d be hard pressed to apply the old “ravages of age” argument to this particular survivor of the ‘60s/’70s. Smiling continuously, his love of the material was palpable; his enthusiasm for the performance, infectious. This natural, easygoing charisma had the effect of tugging the audience into his aura, to the point where we were no longer pulling for an underdog with a compelling comeback story — we were cheering and singing along because he was that fucking good, period.

After he departed the stage the crowd stomped and clapped and demanded an encore, and when Cartwright came out to the microphone to egg folks on, there was a pinch-me look on the guitarist’s face. Rodriguez returned, this time with a young lady in tow that he introduced as his daughter Regan; then she and Cartwright both left, leaving just Rodriguez and his guitar alone under drawn-low, intimate lighting. He eased into the gentle, John Lennonesque “Jane S. Piddy” that also closes Cold Fact, and I could swear I saw some of the onlookers tearing up. Confident in delivery and acknowledging our response, Rodriguez made it clear that he was moved by the events of the past hour or so. The fact that he played on the night of what’s supposed to be the largest, brightest full moon that will occur in 2009 didn’t hurt matters, either. Under the lunar spell, both artist and audience shared a musical moment that, though brief, will linger in memory for a very long time.

Rodriguez CD crop

Afterwards, I corralled a still-grinning Cartwright who stated flatly, “That might be the most fun I ever had.” He pulled me into the dressing room to introduce me to Rodriguez and Regan prior to the musician going back out to the club, where a large contingent of fans awaited to get their CDs and posters signed. Both father and daughter were impressed not only by the Grey Eagle crowd but by the city in general, and Rodriguez talked a little about how amazed he was at his backing musicians — “We could do the entire East Coast!” he marveled — and how gratifying it was to have them put so much effort into learning the material.

With a playful lilt to his voice that’s as genuine and affecting as his singing style, he seemed like an exceedingly happy man, caught up in a moment of triumph and vindication that, some four decades earlier, he’d reckoned would never come.

Rodriguez is currently on tour – dates at Rodriguez-music.com.

RESOURCES:

 Rodriguez websites: http://www.sugarman.org ; http://www.rodriguez-music.com/

Searching For Sugar Man film: http://www.sonyclassics.com/searchingforsugarman/

 

30 YEARS ON, STILL UNUSUAL: Cyndi Lauper

CyndiLauper

She’s the superstar big sister who could be your own best friend—and who belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, period. Any questions?

BY DENISE SULLIVAN

By the time Cyndi Lauper made her solo debut in the fall of 1983, the year had already delivered some of ‘80s culture’s greatest hits: Michael Jackson had performed the moonwalk on the Motown 25 TV special; Sally Ride was the first woman to fly into outer space, and a black Miss America, Vanessa Williams, was crowned for the first time ever. Madonna was still a yet to be and in the process of defining herself on a debut that just skimmed the radar. Lauper however was fully formed, comfortable in her own skin and clothes, wrote her own songs and had enough chutzpah to take others’ songs and make them her own. She was also an extraordinary singer, then and now, her voice an expression of pure joy and an assertion of her freeness, two of the very best parts of She’s So Unusual, a record that isn’t so much stuck in the ‘80s as it’s a simultaneous survey of what was brilliant and what could’ve been done better that decade.

“Money Changes Everything,” was a hip pick: Atlanta’s Brains had already scored an underground radio “hit” with the song. Lauper’s own take of Tom Gray’s composition (with Rob “Hooter” Hyman on Melodica) manages to make it less robotic and electro than the original, a bit janglier, and just as tough. With her mind on her money following a bankruptcy (a suit was laid on by her former band, Blue Angel) Lauper’s song about power and relationships made the perfect match for her new marriage—a label deal with Portrait/Epic. And with her characteristic bounce and hiccup, “Money Changes Everything” serves not only as an echo but as a warm-up to the big one: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the zing of its chords carved so deep in the psyche of people of a certain age (whether they like it or not), a refresher is hardly necessary. Though if it’s been awhile, you may want to revisit just how powerfully Lauper delivered her far-from-frivolous song, insisting that women be allowed to lead lives unbound.

Her icy take on Prince’s “When You Were Mine” strips the soul and hyperkinetic tempo from it, but adds a new twist on modern love in what had just become the age of AIDS. “She Bop” suggests a girl is better going it alone than risking heartbreak or death, while also tipping the hat to the time-honored tradition of rock’n’roll nonsense (be bop a lula).

Collaborator Hyman and she came up with a song for the ages. “Time After Time,” and Jules Shear’s ballad, “All Through the Night,” is equally sustainable (though suffers a bit under the weight of electronics). The ska-lite “Witness” and the new wave “I’ll Kiss You” recede into the background, though it’s no fault of Lauper’s consistently gold standard vocals. “Yeah Yeah” combines the best of Yoko Ono, Johnny Rotten and Betty Boop in a powerhouse ultimate performance (the free jazz horn blasts make up for the fact the twee keyboards weren’t checked at the door).

Three unreleased bonus tracks accompany the reissue—a remix of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Yolanda Be Cool, and two remixes of “Time After Time,” by Nervo and a house-ish percussive track by Bent Collective. Whether the 30th anniversary remastered edition actually sounds better than the original is debatable: If only “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” roared off the turntables like “Rip Her to Shreds” by Blondie or if only it had the intimacy of the Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket”…Instead, Lauper’s tracks are tamped down, muted in a vinyl mix that’s only slightly improved on the digital recordings. While it’s been said many times by fans and critics that ‘80s studio technique and production practices haven’t weathered the years well, I suppose it’s a matter of taste. But here especially, the then-new sound of the drum machine doesn’t enhance Lauper’s gutsy vocal antics and sheer excellence; rather, they clutter the tracks and the synthetic quality makes me want to send the needle skidding across the record.

Lauper’s release got its share of awards and recognition; her videos were virtually ubiquitous on MTV throughout 1984 and the album remains a classic of the era. The facts are irrefutable, so why comment or criticize further? Because 30 years on, Lauper still hasn’t received her due in some quarters. This girl’s girl, the superstar big sister who could be your own best friend belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yesterday. Other than that and her ginormous voice, heart and talent, there’s really nothing so unusual about her at all.

Top photo by Annie Leibovitz, natch.

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OH, WHAT SWAG YOU SCORED… ON RECORD STORE DAY 2014: Another Blurt Report

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Did you stand in line for hours on April 19? Did you max out your Visa card? Did you have to hit eBay afterwards to keep the high going? Most important: what did you score? We’ll show you ours if you show us yours.

BY FRED MILLS, DANNY PHILLIPS AND JOHN MOORE

Record Store Day #7: April 19, 2014. It rained limited edition, numbered/colored—and the instance of that Ghostbusters/Ray Parker Jr. 10”, glow-in-the-dark—vinyl. In some places, like at BLURT’s sister business Schoolkids Records of Raleigh, NC, it literally rained, which made for some very soggy shoppers! Regardless, a good time was had by all, including for ye olde editor and longtime contributors Phillips and Moore, who all got their collector geek on. Below you’ll read about some of the platters they geeked out on, along with relevant info for the pieces in case you feel compelled to go hunting yourself. We have additionally noted whether or not a download card was included with the record since we feel that such inclusions have played a large part in the current vinyl resurgence (although it’s too bad many labels insist on you providing your email address and other contact info, because if you have already paid for an item the download should be a one-click, no-commitment process). If you do decide to try to track down hard copies, however, be mindful of online gougers (it might be prudent “completed listings” on eBay rather than current asking price as a guide to what an item’s true market value is) and support your local indie store whenever possible.

       Go here to read about swag we scored on RSD 2013 and here for RSD’s Black Friday 2013, or elsewhere on this website for some general comments on the annual event. Oh, and a huge thank-you to the labels who supplied some of the swag discussed here. You know who you are… –Ed.

REM cover

R.E.M. – Unplugged: The Complete 1991 And 2001 Sessions (Warner Bros., www.warnerbros.com; 1000 copies; note that it is going to be released on CD)When there’s a Linkin Park/Jay Z RSD exclusive, you know someone’s throwing a lot pink slime in with the top-grade meat to try and make a quick buck off this once-sacred vinyl nerd holiday. Leave it to the boys from Athens to put a little more relevancy back into your 1 a.m. wake up call on Record Store Day. This four album (FOUR ALBUMS!) release corrals songs from two different MTV Unplugged appearances (’member those, kids?); the first in 1991 and the follow up in 2001.

Aside from some bootlegs that likely existed in some form or another, this is the first time these 33 songs are getting a proper release (and 11 of the songs never even aired on the show, making it the Holy Grail R.E.M. fans didn’t know existed). This pristine set includes just about every song an R.E.M. acolyte could hope for, from “So. Central Rain” to “Daysleeper” (but feel free to address any petty gripes about missing obscure tracks directly to Blurt). This record is the reason Record Store Day was first dreamed up seven years ago. —JOHN B. MOORE [Current eBay asking price: $250-$300]

 

Pogues

THE POGUES WITH JOE STRUMMERLive in London (Warner Bros./Rhino, www.rhino.com; 3000 copies) The 2012 Strummer release Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros Live at Acton Town Hall proved to be a key part of the erstwhile Clash mainman’s puzzle, and now we have another addition to the legend via his 1991 tenure with partners-in-crime The Pogues. Pressed on brilliant red vinyl, the 2LP set covers all the Pogues bases (wait’ll you hear Joe warble out the melody of “The Sunnyside of the Street”) while not overlooking the Clash oeuvre via passionate readings of “London Calling,” “Straight To Hell,” “Brand New Cadillac” and “I Fought the Law”—all with a Poguesian spin, of course. Joe clearly enjoyed filling in for the AWOL Shane MacGowan, and the band clearly reveled in the partnership. While I risk collector-geek blasphemy by saying this, the album really needs to get a wider release so Strummer fans everywhere will get a chance to hear the ’91 London concert. —FRED MILLS [Current eBay asking price: $35-$55]

 

Velvets

VELVET UNDERGROUNDLoaded (Cotillion/Rhino, www.rhino.com; 3000 copies) Yes, I did it again; I was resolute in my mission for truth, justice and a great place in line. I drug my ass out of bed at 4:55 am to drive two hours to my favorite record shops, Lovegarden Sounds in Lawrence, KS and Mills Recording Company in Kansas City, for the privilege of standing in line. I was among a handful of half-awake vinyl junkies; drinking Monsters and eating artisan donuts, waiting impatiently to buy exclusive Record Store Day releases that I would rejoice getting and kick myself for not grabbing up. I was facetious toward some of the fellow devotees; camping out overnight to buy records seemed absurd while part of me wished I had that kind of dedication. To be honest, the list of releases was soft for me this year. Sure, there was a ton of stuff but only a few stuck out to me, only a few got me from slumber at that godforsaken hour on a Saturday. This Velvets album, for RSD on platter pink/white/black vinyl,and though being one of my favorites in the VU canon, is one I have never owned in any format, this was an anomaly in my collection, a gaping hole that needed to be rectified and filled. Thanks to the good folks at Rhino and a nice price of $20, I now have a copy and it looks phenomenal spinning. —DANNY R. PHILLIPS [Current eBay asking price: $49-$75]

 

Yardbirds little Games LP

YARDBIRDSLittle Games (Parlophone, via WEA EU; 2500 copies) Next to the aforementioned Velvets LP, the sunburst yellow/orange wax for this reissue (sonically, a reprise of the 1992 remix for a CD reissue) is probably the most awesome-looking release for the 2014 RSD. Yes, I turn into a little girl in the presence of colored vinyl. But seriously—look at it! Admittedly, 1967’s Little Games is the worst album in the Y-birds’ catalog despite guitarist Jimmy Page’s brief foreshadowings of what he would be doing subsequently in Led Zeppelin. But despite the general malaise that was creeping into the band at this point in time, it has its moments. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $24-$30]

 

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERSDragon Pants 10” EP (ATO, www.atorecords.com; 2500 copies) Speaking of Page, the title track of the DBTs new EP is an ethereal/bluesy tribute to the Led Zep wizard, with Patterson Hood musing on what he would do “if I was Jimmy Page.” (It would indeed be a trip to see Hood playing a double-neck guitar with a bow.)

Anyhow, here we have five outtakes from the English Oceans sessions, nothing absolutely essential, but all solid entries for the discriminating DBTs collector, and you gotta love a songtitle like “Trying to be The Boss (on a Beaver Brown Budget)”. Raise your hand if you sprung for the limited edition/blue vinyl/hand-numbered “bootleg” edition of the English Oceans LP, incidentally. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $19-$25]

 

Grant Hart LP

GRANT HART – Every Everything/Some Something LP/DVD (MVD, www.mvdb2b.com; 1750 copies) (This is one that stands close to my heart. Every Everything/Some Something is a soundtrack of sorts to Every EverythingThe Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart, a film by Gorman Bechard. I reviewed the doc for BLURT and subsequently re-published it in the book That Devil Music: The Best Rock Writing of 2014. In addition, a quote from said review graces the cover art (not a sticker) of the RSD release. [Huzzah! – Very Proud Ed.]

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The record has a great song selection from Hart’s body of work and includes the wonderful documentary of a true punk rock icon. Totally, worth the purchase, my words on the cover were merely the icing on the cake. For me at least. —DRP [Current eBay asking price: $21]

 

DEVOLive at Max’s Kansas City November 15, 1977 (Jackpot, www.jackpotrecords.com; 2000 copies) Along with the R.E.M. set detailed above, this deep-archival Devo release clearly has the collector community agonizing over how to score copies: it has been routinely selling for more than a hundred bucks. Well, it’s a pretty rocking, killer set and a crucial glimpse of the band during its earliest days, precisely when it was beginning to break out of O-HI-O, stocking masks, radiation suits, Booji Boy ‘n’ all. Seriously, classic numbers like “Mongoloid” and “Come Back Jonee” are as loopy and riveting as ever, and the sound quality, while not up to 2014 professional-recording standards, is more than acceptable. (It’s likely this show has circulated among the tape trader underground for years and has also been bootlegged, although the band did two shows the same night so the bootlegs may be of the other one.) Hey, is that David Bowie intro’ing the band at the start of the LP? There were a couple other Devo releases for this year’s RSD, but Live at Max’s is without a doubt the one to try to track down, so slap your mammy, unleash that uncontrollable urge, and start clicking that mouse. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $125]

 

GRAM PARSONS180 Gram: Alternate Takes from GP and Grievous Angel (Reprise/Rhino, www.rhino.com; 3000 copies) With each copy numbered and stamped, Parsons collectors will have no choice but to salivate over this for years to come. Indeed, because it is “Gram” and because Gram collectors can get kinda nutty, some of the online entrepreneurs are in full gouge mode, demanding up to 150 bucks (although most copies have traded hands for around 35 to date, which was the original retail price, so caveat emptor). The 2LP set was previously available as the third disc in the 2005 CD box The Complete Reprise Sessions so it’s not exactly obscure (that out of print artifact can also be had for in the neighborhood of $35). But it’s still essential listening by any estimation. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $35-$75]

 

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DONNY HATHAWAYLive at the Bitter End 1971 (Atco/Rhino, www.rhino.com; 3000 copies) A companion piece, of sorts, to the Parsons LP, with similar gatefold/tip-on sleeve packaging and numbered/stamped. Though jazz/gospel/soul/funk legend Hathaway would meet a tragic end, leaping to his death from the 15th floor of a New York hotel in 1979 following a baffling stint with mental illness, in 1971 he was absolutely on, as this record comprising a set recorded at the iconic venue clearly shows. Similar material previously graced Hathaway’s Live album (1972), which also featured tunes cut at L.A.’s Troubadour, but this is a complete show featuring Hathaway and a crack quintet (guitarist Cornell Dupree, guitarist Mike Howard, bassist Willie Weeks, drummer Fred White, conga player Earl DuRouen) absolutely slaying a New York audience. From silky covers of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and the Hollies’ “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” to an extended reading of Hathaway’s signature funk workout “The Ghetto” and a jaw-dropping 21-minute bluesy jam called “Voices Inside,” there’s not a wasted note in any of the double album’s grooves. Journalist Charles Waring contributes in-depth liner notes that additionally make the record a kind of Hathaway tutorial. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $39-$60]

 

Michael Chapman

MICHAEL CHAPMANPlaying Guitar The Easy Way (Light In The Attic, www.lightintheattic.net; 2000 copies) As the obi strip on this hand-numbered, colored-vinyl (both blue and clear), tip-on sleeved oddity informs us, axe maestro Chapman’s ’78 album—never offered on CD, by the way, so original LPs or this reissue remain your only options—comprised instrumental workouts serving, presumably true to the title, as “hints for would be songwriters.” Well, even though the artist has kindly provided tablatures and sundry tips in the extensive booklet, good luck turning out as nimble a fingerpicker and slide wielder as Chapman! But aside from that, the album is manna for all you Fahey and Kottke enthusiasts as well. Soothing and thrilling all at the same time. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $22-$33]

 

STEVE EARLETownes: The Basics (New West, www.newwestrecords.com, 2000 copies, download card included) Hand-numbered and housed in a chip-board sleeve, Earle’s latest RSD offering reprises the material from the out-of-print bonus CD that originally came with initial copies of his 2009 album Townes. These stark acoustic tracks were recorded in NYC in October of 2008 prior to moving to professional studios for fleshing out; as such, they give you a clearer sense of what was on Earle’s mind as he worked out how he wanted to pay tribute to his late mentor. I’ll never get tired of hearing Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” in any format. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $35-$70]

 

Angels

BLACK ANGELSClear Lake Forest 10” EP (Blue Horizon, www.theblackangels.com; 3500 copies; download card included] As a de facto followup to last year’s Indigo Meadow, this is a wholly worthy successor without any whiff of the “outtakes/B-sides” syndrome. A track like the thrumming “Diamond Eyes” in particular makes for classic sike-o-delic Black Angels listening, further proof that the Austin band is one of the best lysergic operations on the planet. Clear vinyl simply seals the deal. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $21-$25]

 

Vinyl records collectors

AEROSMITH – 4 reissues (Columbia/Legacy, www.legacyrecordings.com; 3000 copies) Continuing with the trend they started last April, Legacy released another four remastered albums from Aerosmith’s back catalogue – the albums that contained some of the band’s best songs, years before they made a successful, but ultimately embarrassing comeback in the hair metal scene, pissing away decades worth of stoner rock credibility. Each one is numbered and on 180-gram vinyl (but will get a full re-release later in 2014 as they are among the “Record Store Day First” titles). This latest collection is a mixed bag, including two of their best (Rocks and Draw the Line) and one of their worst (Rock in a Hard Place).

*Rocks – Following up the classic Toys in the Attic, this one is a fantastic example of the Boys from Boston at their peak. Songs like “Back in the Saddle,” “Last Child” and “Sick As a Dog” to this day are examples of sleazy American rock at its finest. (Pictured above: an original copy of the LP – note the ring of authenticity.)

*Draw the Line – Almost as good as its predecessor, the title track, the operatic “Kings and Queens,” (a perfectly crafted ‘70s time capsule track) and fantastic “Milk Cow Blues” cover make this one another essential Aerosmith record.

*Night in the Ruts – And this is when the massive amounts of drugs begin to take their toll. Joe Perry quit the band and as a result the songs are not nearly as tight and just seem to peter out. The fact that the limp Shangri-La’s cover “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” is the best known song from this album says a lot.

*Rock in a Hard Place – …And now we’ve hit “rock” bottom, with the band’s least popular album of the decade. Skip these last two and start scouring your favorite record store Rocks and Draw the Line. —JBM [Current eBay asking prices: $25]

 

STEPHEN JOHN KALINICHA World of Peace Must Come (Light In The Attic, www.lightintheattic.net; 2000 copies) Here’s one of the genuine oddities of this year’s RSD batch—and an orange wax, hand-numbered, tip-on sleeved oddity at that. In ’69 Brian Wilson apparently enlisted his friend, songwriter/poet Kalinich, for a project they would record at his Bel Air home, although eventually the sessions would shift to Sunset Sound and Wally Heider Studios. The result was an Aquarian-era collection of part-sung, part-spoken word compositions with Kalinich the primary voice and Wilson lending his own pipes here and there. Later, the tapes went missing, but when they turned up many years later and saw release, Wilson acolytes received it somewhat cautiously yet ultimately with warmth. It’s certainly not for everyone, probably more up your alley if you are primarily a Kalinich fan, although there are a few brief Beach Boys-esque passages. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $10-$20]

 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEENAmerican Beauty 12” EP (Columbia, www.columbiarecords.com; 7500 copies) One would be “hard pressed” (pun intended) to describe 7500 as a “limited edition,” and given that these four songs presumably assembled during the numerous sessions that eventually resulted in the High Hopes (itself a grab-bag affair) aren’t exactly Bruce classics, we’ll charitably call the EP a bone being tossed to hardcore fans. Okay, “Hurry Up Sundown” has the classic Springsteen anthemism pulsing from its heavily overdubbed (just Bruce on multiple instruments, plus Josh Freese on drums) grooves, I’ll give him that. But High Hopes, initially a disappointment, has begun to grown on me. I don’t think American Beauty will get too many repeat spins. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $18-$24]

 

WAYNE KRAMERLexington(Industrial Amusement, www.industrialamusement.com; 1000 copies; download card included) On the other hand, the almost-as-iconic (to me, at least) ex-MC5 guitarist decided it was time to really stretch out his chops and walk an artistic tightrope. Billed as the rocker’s first free jazz album, it does indeed traverse the sonic cosmos, with producer Kramer handling guitar while a small horn section plus pianist, two drummers and both an acoustic and electric bassist providing the full ensemble effect. Some tunes steer decisively into big band-esque Sun Ra territory, while “13th Hour” is a straightforward, and lovely, ballad for guitar and piano; the net effect is both exhilarating and engaging. Fans should note that while this will be made available again later this year as it is among the “Record Store Day First” titles, those will not be hand numbered or feature Kramer’s autograph. (The RSD website lists this at 500 copies pressed, but that appears to be incorrect as my copy is numbered 636/1000.) —FM [Current eBay asking price: $25]

 

SUN RAOuter Spaceways Incorporated (ORG Music, www.orgmusic.com; 1500 copies) Speaking of free jazz… don’t let that clown from Oak Lawn, IL (seller name: dooben08) trying to sell his copy of this for $2,000 on eBay throw you off—that’s about $1,960 more than what you can expect to pay for this reissue of the ever-prolific Sun Ra’s ’78 classic. Pressed on immaculate whiteish-purple vinyl and boasting brand new artwork, OSI is arguable Ra at his peak, or at least during one of his numerous peaks. Da skronk hurts reallll good, kids. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $35-$50]

 

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J. SPACEMAN & KID MILLIONSLive at Le Poisson Rouge (Northern Spy, www.northernspyrecords.com; 3000 copies; bonus 7” and download card included) Speaking of free jazz, on September 11, 2013, J. Spaceman (Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3) and Kid Millions (John Colpitts of Oneida, Man Forever, People of the North) took a night off of their US tour with Spiritualized to perform an improvised set at (Le) Poisson Rouge, in Greenwich Village. Northern Spy Records was there to document the show. 24 minutes on side 1 plus 21 minutes on side 2 makes for ¾ of an hour of freeform, at times psychedelic jamming wherein Pierce wielded both guitar and piano and Colpitts maintained a constant percussive presence. Also included is an individually sleeved 45, “New York” b/w “London”—nice touch, that. Presumably Pierce found this particular project more meaningful than his other contribution to RSD, The Space Project compilation, which he went on record in the press as saying he was broke at the time and needed the cash. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $15-$25]

 

Pussy

PUSSY GALOREPussy Gold 5000 (Shove; 1500 copies) Pussy Galore is not for everyone. Abrasive, loud and left of center, the band that Jon Spencer would later leave to form The Blues Explosion is a gem of garage rock noise. Taking from influences like The Kinks, Sonic Youth and any number of noise rockers, Pussy Galore’s (one of the greatest band names ever) EP Pussy Gold 5000, with “Spin Out,” “Walk,” and “Pretty Fuck Look,” is a testament, a time capsule of what the New York underground sounded like in the 1980’s. This is a followup to the band’s 2013 release, a reissue of the Groovy Hate Fuck EP. —DRP [Current eBay asking price: $15-$30]

 

BTS

BUILT TO SPILLUltimate Alternative Wavers (C/Z & Light In The Attic, www.lightintheattic.net; 5000 copies) First released on May 1, 1993, Built to Spill’s debut saw its first run at vinyl this Record Store Day and it’s worth the wait. The translucent yellow double vinyl should have hipsters and indie rock nuts everywhere setting down their craft beers, stroking their ironic facial hair and “meh-ing” with excitement. With “Nowhere Nothin’ Fuckup” (a title taken from Philip K. Dick’s “Flow My Tears, The Postman Said”), “Built to Spill,” “Shameful Dread,” Wavers heralded the arrival of one indie rock’s best and most beloved bands. Too bad, it took 20 years to find a home on wax. (Most copies of the press run were on translucent yellow vinyl, but 500 additional copies turned up on green vinyl specifically for Pacific Northwest record stores.) —DRP [Current eBay asking price: $35-$50]

 

SCHARPLING AND WURSTERRock, Rot & Rule (Stereolaffs/Flannelgraph, www.flannelgraphrecords.com; 1000 copies) If you were hesitating because it’s not music but a spoken word comedy album, you may have missed the boat, in all its red vinyl glory, because I don’t even see it listed on eBay at the moment. Anyhow… a number of years ago WFMU deejay Tom Scharpling teamed up with his buddy Jon Wurster (known to most folks as Superchunk’s drummer and also, currently, as Bob Mould’s drummer) to create the “Rock, Rot & Rule” comedy routine wherein Wurster, as know-it-all-yet-clueless rock critic “Ronald Thomas Clontle, proceeds to make the entire career pat known as “rock criticism” utterly superfluous by “publishing” a reference book designed to be the ultimate musical argument settler. Meanwhile, callers to Scharpling’s show, found themselves alternately confused, bemused and, for the most part, infuriated by Clontle and his pronouncements, which were way better than any 10-star rating reviews system ever devised by music magazines. Did you know that Eddie Money and Herbie Mann both “rock”? You didn’t? What are you, an idiot? Ummm… don’t ask, or you’ll get sucked down the Scharpling-Wurster rabbit hole. Just trust me. My favorite moment, a subtle but telling one, comes when Wurster/Clontle gets writer Ira Robbins and Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan mixed up. I trust you will have many such faves yourself. Pure, unfiltered brilliance. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $30-$50]

 

Mudhoney_OnTop_cover+type2400

MUDHONEYOn Top! (Sub Pop, www.subpop.com; 1700 copies pressed; download card included) Whoah…. This should be an “official” album rather than a limited edition—it’s that smokin’ white hot a live performance, recorded at the band’s 2013 Sub Pop 25th anniversary bash at Seattle’s Space Needle. Of course, it was originally broadcast over KEXP, and since a download card is also included, you shouldn’t have much trouble locating the tunes somewhere on the web. Still, the whole package is pretty desirable, with a striking red cover and an inner sleeve festooned with a slew of color live action photos of the band performing at the very top of the space needle. Touch those boys, they’re sick. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $30-$40]

 

Sonics

SONICS/MUDHONEY – split 45 (Muddy Roots, www.muddyrootsmusic.com; 1000 copies) Speaking of Mudhoney… Pressed to beautiful green and black splatter vinyl by Muddy Roots, this release pairs two of the Northwest’s best garage bands, each from different era fitting perfectly together. The Sonics, a garage band that were part of the Trashmen, Kingsmen, ? and the Mysterians garage explosion helped give birth to the sound that Mudhoney would later embrace, mutate and shape to their own will. It is great to see a label like Muddy Roots giving the kids out there a chance to hear The Sonics and it is always a treat to hear Mark Arm scream.—DRP [Current eBay asking price: $12-$20]

 

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVERCommissions 1 12” 45 (Warp, www.warp.net; 1000 copies) Daniel Lopatin commences his “Commissions” series with this limited edition in order to showcase some of the side works he’s been doing—but “out of context,” so to speak, from the galleries, films and other original settings. For example, the “cover” of “I Only Have Eyes For You” is relatively disjointed, yet oddly soothing; it was created for an installation by Doug Aitken at the Hirshhorn Museum in 2012. Probably for OPN completists only, but still, a desirable artifact, not the least reason being the minimalist die-cut outer sleeve. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $16-$24]

 

Cure

THE CURE/ DINOSAUR JR. – split 45 (Warner Bros., www.warnerbros.com; 5000 copies) Another release in the topnotch “Side by Side Series,” Dinosaur Jr. / The Cure are possibly the best thus far. Taking two of my favorite bands and putting them on one white vinyl 7” doing the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” is, well, heaven. It shows a band at the peak of its powers (The Cure) and another in all its abrasive joy (Dinosaur Jr.) taking a song from a band they admire and doing it justice, while making it their own. —DRP [Current eBay asking price: $18-$30]

 

Fela

FELA RANSOME KUTI AND HIS KOOLA LOBITOS – “Se E Tun De” b/w “Waka Waka” 7” 45 (Knitting Factory, www.knittingfactoryrecords.com; 1000 copies) To be brutally honest, this year’s 7” selection was pretty underwhelming. When people are claiming to getting excited over singles from Wanda Jackson, Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac, Doug Paisley and, er, Ron Jeremy (doing classical music, no less), that tells me that they are just settling for what they can get. Even this year’s traditional mystery disc, Rush covering Love’s “7 and 7 Is” plus the original Love version, was much ado about zip—particularly in light of the fact that everyone was expecting a Led Zeppelin release as a lead-in to the upcoming expanded reissues of the first three Zep albums. At any rate, the Fela Kuti 45 here was an exception to all that, his horn-heavy Afrobeat never being less than fascinating; plus, when was the last time you actually held a Fela 45 in your hands? (The Black Friday release last year was a very cool 12”, by the way.) —FM [Current eBay asking price: $12]

 

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS WITH FRED SCHNEIDER – “Party At My Trouse” b/w “Hey Mary” 7” 45 (Yep Roc, www.yeproc.com; 950 copies; download card included). The very first SCOTS release back in the mid-‘80s was a silk-screened sleeve 7” EP that is now highly collectible, and for their newest 45 they’ve gone silk-screen again (not a cheap packaging option, trust me). And yes, that is the B-52s frontman sitting in on a chooglin’ l’il white trash anthem on the A side and a jazzy l’il strut on the flip. Schneider’s vocals remain instantly identifiable, so this will please fans of both camps. Neither track is available elsewhere, by the way. —FM [Current eBay asking price: $12-$18]

 

SCRUFFY AND THE JANITORS – “Shake it Off” b/w “Low Belly”(This Tall Records) Not an “official” Record Store Day release, St. Joseph, Missouri garage rock band Scruffy and The Janitors put out the first single from the upcoming Anglo. Pressed on limited edition blue translucent vinyl and debuted during an April 19 in store at The Lucky Tiger Vintage store/ record shop, a home base for St. Joseph’s growing music scene, Shake It Off/Low Belly blends classic blues riffs with The Hives and Mudhoney aggressiveness. “Shake it Off” has been strong enough to get Scruffy attention at home, an opening slot with J. Roddy Walston and the Business and an invitation to play the NXNE Festival in Toronto this June. —DRP

RSD Chuck D

HURRICANE BOBBY: Bobby Charles

Bobby Charles 1

With a fresh reissue of a key musical artifact newly available, let’s pay our respects to the late swamp-pop godfather.

  BY ALEX RAWLS

Ed. note: Back in our third issue (September ’08) we profiled swamp-pop godfather Bobby Charles, born Robert Charles Guidry, whose roots stretch back to the ‘50s and Chess Records. Many fans know him from his association with The Band (whose Rick Danko produced 1972’s Bobby Charles) and his appearance at the Last Waltz. Though known to be reclusive and not one to seek the spotlight, he recorded hits for numerous other musicians, and his solo albums, though few and far between, consistently got the ears of critics and lovers of Americana music alike. Charles died unexpectedly on January 14, 2010, at the age of 71, just a month before his latest album, the Dr. John-produced Timeless, was released. More recently, in February the estimable Light In The Attic label reissued the Charles debut as a gorgeously remastered (from the original tapes, no less) 180 gram LP in a gatefold tip-on sleeves. The music is timeless, so now feels like the right time to republish New Orleans journalist Alex Rawls’ 2008 interview with Charles. Enjoy!—FM

Bobby Charles LP

The brass alligator that serves as a grip on his cane—a gift from a friend—reminds you where you know Bobby Charles from. Chess Records had a hit in 1956 with the Abbeville, Louisiana native’s “See You Later, Alligator,” which was later a smash for Bill Haley and the Comets. Charles was only 15, and Chess signed him sight unseen. According to Charles, now 70, Phil Chess met him at the airport with a pretty young blonde girl when he flew to Chicago.

“After everybody had left, Phil Chess came up and said, ‘You can’t be Bobby Charles.’ I said yeah,” Charles recalls. “He said, ‘motherfucker.’ First time I’d ever heard that in my life. He dropped me and the girl off at a hotel and gave me $200 and said, ‘Have a good time.’ That’s the way it was. They weren’t going to bring a black girl for a black guy. They knew what he wanted.”

His days touring as part of Chess package tours were intense. He was the only white man on tours that included Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. He was still a teenager, but he played black clubs, stayed at black hotels, and was turned away from white restaurants that saw him get off the musicians’ bus. “I thought I was going to get hung trying to buy 50 hamburgers,” he says. When Charles effectively retired from performing after a few Chess tours, he started doing promotions work for the label. Once, while promoting an Etta James record in a southern city, a station manager asked, “Hey man, want to come to a hanging? They’re going to hang this black dude.”

Experiences like those and various rip-offs made Bobby Charles a reluctant member of the music business. He recorded sporadically and, as is the case with his new album, Homemade Songs, released music on his own schedule. When he works, it’s out of friendship, as is the case with the six songs he co-wrote or contributed to Dr. John’s recent City That Care Forgot, or because ideas come to him whether he wants them or not. “When I write, I write,” he says. “I can’t help that.”

Shucks in Abbeville is a non-descript room of mid-’80s vintage except for the small, glassed-in room in the corner with “Whole lotta shuckin’ goin’ on” painted in script on the window. The seafood restaurant specializes in oysters, and Bobby Charles has his table at the back of the room, where he sits three to four days a week—“sometimes more,” he says with a conspiratorial grin—and staff and regulars alike pass by to say hi. It serves as his unofficial office, and when singer Shannon McNally was in Abbeville to record an album of Bobby Charles covers late last year, he’d often take her to Shucks. “He’d come round me up around noon every day and want me to sit there until two or three in the afternoon,” she remembers, laughing. “He sits down there and has his sautéed oysters or fried oysters and his martinis and holds court.”

Dr. John—Mac Rebennack—produced the McNally album (which is currently in need of a label), and it’s a project she had long wanted to do. Ever since her husband gave her Bobby Charles, the album he recorded in 1972 in Woodstock with co-producer Rick Danko, she has wanted to re-record that album. “That Bobby Charles record he did is one of the best records ever made,” she says. “It should be as important to the alt-country world as Grievous Angel. It’s one of the top five records of an entire genre. It’s overlooked because it’s not really available.”

The album is now downloadable as an mp3 at Amazon.com, and it shows how much the Band vibe was in the Woodstock air. The songs groove loosely, and Charles’ songs have the sly wisdom of the country bumpkin who slowly lets on that he knows more than he seems. It’s in his voice, and it’s in the songs, which are written in the common tongue to such a degree that they seem artless. “There’s something very Gump about him, and I mean that in the best way,” McNally says. “He’s a very simple person, but in the highest form of simple. It’s no small thing to get Mac’s attention, but when Mac talks about him, Mac would shake his head and say, ‘Dat muddafucka can write. He just couldn’t go wrong.’”

That was his musical life, though. Charles gets vague when he talks about dates and places because he has spent some time on the lam. He ended up in Woodstock after a pot bust, and when he arrived, no one knew who he was because he used an assumed name. He quickly fell in with neighbor Paul Butterfield and a houseful of musicians including Amos Garrett who introduced him to Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman. Charles was suspicious of Grossman from the start, but he signed with him to deal with his legal issues. According to Charles, Grossman heard his songs and asked, “‘Why don’t you make a record for me?’ I said, ‘Why don’t you get me out of the trouble I’m in and maybe I might?’”

The album’s high point is “Tennessee Blues,” the song that convinced Grossman he wanted to manage Charles. It’s a sweet, wistful song of longing:

If I had my way, I’d leave here today.

I’d move in a hurry.

I’d find me a place where I could stay,

not have to worry.

A place I’d feel loose.

Some place I could lose

these Tennessee Blues.

 

His simple, quiet hope for a home was also a comment on being on the run from the charges hanging over him, which were filed in Nashville. “It’s like living in jail in your mind.”

After he found a loophole in Grossman’s management contract, Charles said, “See you later, alligator”–literally–and set out for more adventure. He spent time in Arizona, California and Tennessee, but he’s fuzzy on where, how long and why. At some point–likely in the 1980s–he returned to Abbeville, and in the early 1990s, he started recording one-off sessions at Dockside Studios in Vermillion Parish with guitarist Sonny Landreth leading the band.

“For me, he’s the quintessential South Louisiana singer/songwriter,” Landreth says. He’s also a challenge to work with because Charles writes only the words and the melody, often by singing them into a recorder. When he has ideas and a recorder isn’t at hand, he sings them into answering machines. It falls to Landreth or guitarist Sam Broussard to figure out chords and an arrangement. Once, Charles told Landreth he had the song written out. “He brings in one sheet of ‘String of Hearts’ but it was in a picture frame,” Landreth says. “Here’s our chart, so we had to wing that. That’s classic Bobby Charles.

“Working with him is a creative circus that shows up in the town, and you don’t want to miss it. It’s chaotic and we’re making all this stuff on the spot. The thing about him is, when he’s excited about the song and has that feeling, that’s what you want to get. When he starts trying to polish it, that’s not what he’s about and you lose that magic. Sometimes he’ll start singing and we’re still tuning up and we haven’t got that far with the song, but that’s part of the ride. It wouldn’t be as special if it were any other way.”

While the return to Acadiana was good for Charles creatively, he suffered more setbacks in his personal life. His house burned down in 1996, he was treated for cancer (currently in remission), and in 2005, his home at Holly Beach on Gulf of Mexico was wiped away along with the rest of the community by Hurricane Rita. Back and dental problems have slowed him down and limited his mobility. He canceled a scheduled appearance at the 2004 Ponderosa Stomp, and he surprised everybody when he agreed to perform at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2006. Sonny Landreth was the bandleader, and Marcia Ball, Dr. John and Shannon McNally were invited to help carry the load. To no one’s surprise, Charles backed out of the show and at the last minute, it became a tribute to him. It was one of the highlights of Jazz Fest, particularly McNally’s segment, as she approached the plaintive, unassuming quality of Charles’ voice, but the set was more spontaneous than the audience realized. “I was finishing up the set list as they were calling my name onstage,” Landreth says.

Missing recent shows doesn’t stop Charles from making plans to perform, though. “Bobby called me up and said, ‘Man, I want to go to Europe. Let’s get your guys and go to Europe,’” Landreth recalls, laughing. “I said, ‘How about we try one closer to home first?’”

Like 2004’s Last Train to Memphis, Homemade Songs is a collection of new songs, new recordings of old songs, and recordings that were never released. The title track was demo’ed for Bobby Charles, but this version was recorded in Nashville in 1975 with a band that includes Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, Mickey Raphael. “Here I Go Again” has already been recorded by Paul Butterfield and Gatemouth Brown, but the album also includes “The Truth Will Set You Free (Promises, Promises),” which reflects his general hostility toward politicians. He started co-writing the song with Willie Nelson when he commiserated with Nelson on his tour bus. “‘The road to the White House is paved with lies,’ I said. He said, ‘Write that down right now.’” When Nelson suggested the next line–”the truth will set you free”–the collaboration was underway.

Charles’ political concerns find fuller expression in his collaborations on Dr. John’s new album. For Rebennack’s lacerating look at the world that abandoned New Orleans, he contributed “The Truth Will Set You Free,” and collaborated on a number of songs including “Time for a Change.” Though its subject matter is pointed–politicians selling their asses to Big Oil–it came out of good times. “We were just talking on the phone, sitting right here,” Charles says, pointing to his table at Shucks. As they traded lines, each nudged the other into places they might not go on their own, resulting in commonplace anthems that forego Dr. John’s hoodoo so that no one misses the point. “Mac’s a lot of fun to work with, a good friend. Once I get the right inspiration, it doesn’t take me 10 or 15 minutes.”

While Rebennack takes on greedheads of all stripes, the songs he co-wrote with Charles focus on the environment, particularly the Louisiana wetlands, a pet concern for both. An ongoing frustration for Charles is Louisiana politicians’ unwillingness to take him up on the “Solution to Pollution” song and book he wrote with school age children in mind. “The government’s not much of a government these days,” he says.

And as happens in every barroom in America, one complaint about the government begets a dozen more. “We’re going to have another civil war. Looks like they’re sure trying to start one,” he says. “We’re lucky we lived in the times that we do. I don’t know if I want to be around in 10 years.” He likes Obama, has no love for McCain, but he’s interested in the ideas in T. Boone Pickens’ ads on television. But as befits someone who has found his identity in his songs whether he wanted to or not, talk of Washington circles back to “The Truth Will Set You Free.”

“I’m glad I wrote it,” Charles says. “I tried to do something right. I feel good about that. I feel a lot better than a lot of other people walking around, people who still have Bush and Cheney stickers on their cars. I can’t handle that.”

Bobby Charles Wikipedia page can be found here.

 There’s also a good discography located at this fan site.

15 QUESTIONS FOR… Gerard Cosloy of 12XU Records

12xu buttons

And… here’s the second installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon, and meanwhile, go here for entry #1, Slumberland Records.

BY TIM HINELY

To most folks Gerard Cosloy is known as being one-half of the Matador Records brass; prior to that he was at the legendary Homestead Records. Matador’s been around for over two decades but close to a decade ago, after moving to Austin, Texas, from London, Cosloy started up another label, 12XU. Named after the infamous Wire song, 12XU now has several releases under its belt by both bands that call Austin home as well as many that don’t. You could call it a garage rock label but then again, Tommy Keene, whose Strange Alliance was reissued last year by 12XU, might taken offense to being called garage rock. Cosloy took time out of his busy schedule to answer our 15 questions and we certainly appreciated his honesty (keep readin’…).

 12xu logo

BLURT: When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?

2001.  I’ve been involved with a number of labels before and had no plans of starting or working with another. But there were a number of longtime associates (Joel RL Phelps, Spoon, Chris Brokaw) who needed assistance getting records out in Europe and these were all people I enjoyed working with.   The label’s UK operations came to a bit of a screeching halt when I relocated to Austin in 2004, and for logistical reasons things are mostly centered on moving records around North America these days.

Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

An Arizona graphic designer named Paul Howalt.

What was your first release?

Joel RL Phelps & The Downer Trio (pictured below) – Inland Empires EP (12XU 001)

joel-rl-phelps-and-the-downer-trio-650x400

Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

As I mentioned before, I’ve had a bit of experience with labels far more established than 12XU, and those experiences (good and otherwise) have been pretty educational.  But if I have to go back much, much further, certainly labels like Touch & Go, Dischord, X-Claim, Propeller, SST, Ruby, Ace Of Hearts, Teenbeat, Crypt, Siltbreeze, etc. have been influential in a number of ways.  In more recent years, there’s other labels I’d probably call more inspirational than influential, just in terms of their ability to do amazing work, set very high musical standards, etc.   I could go on for a few days but some of those that instantly come to mind are Trouble In Mind, Play Pinball, Goner, In The Red (duh), Homeless, SS, Pelican Pow Wow, Jeth Row, Douchemaster, Urinal Cake, Monofonus Press, Superior Viaduct, Dais, Mt. St. Mountain, A Wicked Company, Thread Pull… we could be here for a while

If there is one band, current or past, you could release a record by who would it be?

Y’know, I don’t wanna get into that. I feel insanely lucky and privileged to be doing records with everyone on the label past and present.  It’s always a matter of what this so-called label can do for them that either they can’t do for themselves or don’t have the resources to accomplish, it’s not about collecting scalps or whatever.   The important thing is that the records come out, sound and look right and someone can find them.  It’s not terribly important that those records are on this label—but if that has to be the way  it turns out, so be it.

What has been your best seller to date?

Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight (12XU 014), however the rights have long since reverted.  BOO HOO.

Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public? [Austin’s Air Traffic Controllers would be Cosloy’s combo. – Ed.]

Yes/no and no.   I am a recording musician, I rarely play outside of this lovely city and no, I have another deeply pretentious, poorly distributed imprint for that stuff.

Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Yes.  I mean, you could look it up.  Sorry, Tim, this is kind of a terrible question! [Ed. note: Here, Mr. Cosloy failed (or declined) to pick up the interviewer’s ball and run with it. This is a stock question we ask each label owner in order to give them the opportunity to highlight how they use social media, if at all, to distinguish themselves from other labels—or at least how important it is for them to be constantly tweeting, “liking,” tumblng, burping, farting, etc. For the record, 12XU’s Facebook page is right here, while the label’s Twitter page is here and Tumblr page here. Below: label artist Chris Brokaw, a man who knows a thing or two about social media.]

brokaw

Is the Austin music community supportive of the label?

Ahhh, sometimes, sometimes not.  It varies from project to project.  But I honestly don’t care very much, those things only matter to me in the sense I hope the Austin-based bands feel it’s working out ok.  I really can’t get too bothered about local media stuff.

The record stores here have been awesome (End Of An Ear, Trailer Space, Waterloo) and I cannot say enough about [how] supportive some of the local club folks have been.

Beerland is probably most closely ID’d with the label given that’s where many of the bands played their earliest shows (and continue to) but I would be remiss in not acknowledging the support we’ve received from Hotel Vegas and the Transmission venues (Red 7, Mohawk), none of whom have been asked for any favors whatsoever.

Still, given that the label represents artists from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Seattle, Portland, Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, etc., I do not expect anyone in Austin to embrace 12XU as a local entity. Nor do I expect Austin to be a selling point for the Austin-based bands when they go somewhere else.  I mean, we have terrible bands here, too, just like everywhere.

Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

Depends on the release.  Usually the latter, but sometimes the former. (Below: the presumably digital-friendly Obnox.)

obnox

 

Has there actually been a vinyl resurgence the past few years?

Man, I know you’re a busy guy with a family and stuff but this cannot be a serious question.  Who could you possibly ask this question who’d say “no”? (Below: Tommy Keene, who knows a thing or two about vinyl, pictured on a 45 that the vinyl-friendly label issued.)

Tommy Keene 45

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

Probably 12″ or 7″ vinyl but I’m hearing great things about these little discs you can play in a car stereo that are really cheap.

What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

I probably listed a bunch above but the recent Total Punk winning streak has sort of made a mockery of anyone saying “Hey, write about my label”.

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

I prefer not to, but people usually find a way to send them, despite my best attempts to discourage.

Will there be a Casual Victim Pile III? [CVP was a series of Austin underground rock compilations assembled by Cosloy, with Vol. 1 being released on Matador in 2010 and Vol. 2 on 12XU.]

I sincerely hope not. That’s not to say there isn’t a huge crop of newer Austin bands that deserve documentation, far from it.  But I think it’s time for someone else to play favorites/inflict their tastes on the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love those compilations but I don’t feel they did nearly enough to elevate any of the participants.  Vol.1 totally got bogged down in people oohing and ahhing about it being on Matador, and while it’s nice that might’ve opened a door or two, it also created weird expectations for slower thinkers (ie. they weren’t used to listening to music that was so badly recorded).   I think Vol. 2 flowed a lot better as an album, but again, having to explain why it wasn’t on Matador seemed to take up more time than actually talking about any of the songs!

Anyhow, at this point, I think 12XU can do a lot more good by releasing full, stand-alone records by a handful of Austin bands than by trying to take another snapshot of what’s really a moving target.   But if someone else wanted to do a good Austin comp. based on their own take on things, I’d support a good one, sure.  [Below: Cosloy in Austin in 2010, as portrayed by John Anderson of the Austin Chronicle]

Gerard in Chronicle

Contact:

12XU.net

info@12XU.net [please, no demos, unsolicited MP3s, etc.]

12XU.bigcartel.com

 

THE DESERT IS ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF… Andrew Jackson Jihad

Andrew Jackson Jihad

Ace guitarist Sean Bonnette on the Arizona band’s take on acoustic punk as well as achieving high profile status as the latest signing to venerable punk label SideOneDummy.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Acoustic punk rock is not exactly a new idea. Billy Bragg has been doing it for decades and folks like Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner have managed to completely remake their careers by simply pulling out the plug. So what does an acoustic punk band have to do to stand out in 2014? Writing bizarrely hysterical songs certainly helps, like Andrew Jackson Jihad’s “The Michael Jordan of Drunk Driving.”

The Arizona band has enjoyed cult status since their first record in 2005 and playing on some high profile tours, like The Queers and Against Me!, helped bring the band to venues across the globe.

Now recently signed to SideOneDummy, the upper echelon of independent punk rock labels (with a roster that has included folks like Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly), and a fantastic new record, Christmas Island, the band is in for a big 2014.

Guitarist/singer Sean Bonnette took some time recently to answer a few questions about the new record, their new label and being taken seriously while still writing quirky songs.

BLURT: This year marks a decade that the band has been in existence – at least for two of you (Bonnette and Ben Gallaty, upright bass). Did you have any idea you guys would get this big and still be going after 10 years?

SEAN BONNETTE: Nope!  We started this band with very low expectations, everything that has happened since has been amazing and rather unexpected.

 

Can you talk a little bit about writing this album? Did you do anything different? Did it take longer than previous records?

The answer to both of those questions is yes. It did take longer, and I think that’s because I was initially trying to write an album instead of trying to write songs. Things really got cooking after John reminded me to just write songs as they come and not think of them in terms of their place in an album. Writing an album is intimidating, whereas writing songs is fun.

 

When people talk about the band they always use terms like goofy and fun, but there are also some serious elements to your music, with this record in particular. Is that a conscious decision you made to try and balance the moods?

I wouldn’t say it’s a decision I am aware of because most of the times I consciously try to write something it turns out wrong. The best songs are the ones where I have the least amount of mental control, when I’m in the zone. That said, I think a sense of humor is a great thing to have, it allows one to broach uncomfortable subjects a lot easier. I think I learned that from my family.

ajj-xmas-island-5x5 w text

Can you talk about the inspiration behind “Linda Ronstadt” – probably my favorite song from the record? [Random Trivia Ed. note: while I lived in Tucson, the titular Ms. Ronstadt resided on the street behind the record store where I worked and was a regular customer there, as was a brother of hers.]

 Thanks! That one’s probably my favorite too. That song is unique to the rest of our catalogue in the sense that the song is about the inspiration. I actually wrote it on the same day that it happened.

 

You guys spent a lot of time touring last year and put out the live record. This year seems to be just as busy. How do you manage to stay sane when you are constantly in a different place each day?  

Rumors of our breakneck touring schedule are greatly exaggerated, we only toured for about three weeks last year, but we love that people think we tour more than we do. This year is going to be more intense, probably about three months of touring. Here is some free advice on how to stay sane on tour: drink lots of water, bring plenty of pillows, and reserve time to talk with loved ones on the phone.

 

Was this year first time recording with John Congleton?

This was our first time and hopefully not our last.

 

How was the experience?

John is amazing. He kept us on track and excited for the whole process, didn’t let anyone agonize over small details, and I think he made us a better band. His philosophy behind this record was to make the AJJ record he wanted to hear, to embolden the things about us that are unique, and I love that.

 

You guys have been on Asian Man Records for years. How did you connect with the folks at SideOne?

We’ve known people at SideOne for years. I first met Joe Sib when he invited me out to his California Calling show in Phoenix. We’ve known Matty B. (Matt Baldwin, who handles SideOne tours) for a long time as well. They are all amazing people. We started talking about putting out the record with them in November, when Kenny (Czadzeck, who handles digital marketing for the label) hit us up the day after we played VLHS in Pomona, California.

 

What’s next for the band?

We are touring the US and Canada this summer and going overseas in the fall, after that, who knows? All the while I plan on joyfully writing songs.

 

John B. Moore’s regular BLURT column on all things punk is titled “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” Get into the pit with him – such as this recent entry – at your own risk.