Monthly Archives: December 2014

GRAZING IN THE GRASS: The Sharp Things

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With three installments of an ambitious four-album series under its musical belt, the NYC collective prepares to unveil the final chapter. Sharp Things mainman Perry Serpa explains.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Over the course of their more than 15 years together, The Sharp Things have evolved from a trio to a near orchestra and are putting out their most compelling records ever. This recent burst of creativity is thanks in large part to a loosely-themed four-album series flying under The Dogs of Bushwick banner.

This year, the band released the second and third installments: The Sharp Things Live at Galapagos Art Space and Adventurer’s Inn, both brilliant indie pop records. But 2014 also marked the passing of drummer and band co-founder Steven Gonzalez.

To close out the year, chief singer and songwriter Perry Serpa (who is also a music industry publicist and operates Good Cop PR) was cool enough to put up with some questions recently and traded e-mails back and forth with Blurt to discuss the Bushwick series, the loss of his longtime friend and copping to knowing just about every Billy Joel song on the piano.

BLURT: Can you start of by talking about the concept behind The Dogs of Bushwick? How did the idea first come about?

SERPA: Well, its original name was Beware of Dogs, then we changed it to Dogshit Explosion before we settled on The Dogs of Bushwick.” Haha.

My bandmates, Jim Santo (guitarist) and James Pertusi (bass) had opened up a recording studio in East Williamsburg called the Kennel. ‘East Williamsburg’ was the cool term for West ‘Bushwick,’ before Bushwick was cool and partially gentrified. You would think I’m going back decades here, but it was like yesterday. Anyway, really there was no “concept” per se, aside from a means by which to release the 40-somewhat songs I’d been in the process of writing, and subsequently recording there. We actually thought of releasing one colossal record, but then that’s just an impossible listen. I mean, I wouldn’t want to listen to that. But, we were also, collectively, excited enough by the material not to feel like going through a stringent editing process, so the decision was to release four albums – space out the releases – not over years, but months. We’ve gotten close to doing that. We released the first one, Green Is Good in 2012.

There was a pretty strong theme on Green is Good. Is there a theme that ties together the songs on Adventure’s Inn?

Yeah, Green Is Good was a loose collection of disparate songs based on a period of economic instability and imbalance that was both a personal and social statement. Even though we’ve gone through a lot recently, as a band, with Steve’s passing, mainly – Adventurer’s Inn is just another collection of songs. Not really conceptual, but held together reasonably well. I think the more important pervasive idea for the whole Dogs of Bushwick project was to push our own envelope. It’s anti-branding, in a way. We moved from the idea of cementing “Our Sound” and running it into the ground, and I wrote in variety of styles and voices.

I like a lot of music, but I’m intensely bored with a lot of newer things I hear, sorry to say. There’s too much MyBloodyJesusandMaryChainandtheBunnymen being championed all over the interwebsuperhighwaymachine. I had that stuff, (and loved it) 25 years ago. But, if that’s gonna be your thing now, I’d rather hear some radical modification. One Radiohead. One Arcade Fire. One Talking Heads is quite enough. Thank you.

Have you thought of songs/themes/additional players yet for the fourth record?

Yep. It’s actually almost done tracking. What I can say about it is that it’s similarly all over the musical map – AND it’s one continuous ‘side’ of music, or I should say ‘sound,’ from top to bottom kinda like Abbey Road, side 2. Just, perhaps, not as good. But good!

I was sorry to hear about the recent loss of Steven. How did you first meet him? Was the Sharp Things your first band together? 

Thanks, man. It’s been rough on everyone in the band, but Steve and I go back 40 years. We were kids when we met. His family moved into a house around the corner from me. His brother had died of cystic fibrosis just a year or so before, and it was a condition that Steven was afflicted with, as well. It wore him out, but he refused to let it hold him back. And it was just a few years into our double digits that we started playing music together. He was drumming in a band with older kids that also included Steve London, The Sharp Things keyboardist who we pulled in just a few years ago. I could always sing, but once I could play piano with some confidence the three of us started our own band with a guitarist, London on bass, and Steve G. on drums, of course.

We were mainly a cover band called Common Sense. Haha! Hoo boy! But then we all started writing songs, too. That was 35 years ago, man. After that, Steven and I had a hard rock band called LifeHouse (before the one that actually got famous) – the name based on the aborted Pete Townshend concept record since the band and our manager, Mark Pensavalle, loved The Who. That was 1990, I think. We actually put out an EP on an indie label, did a little touring then broke up. I had had it with bands and I was writing a lot at the time, living in the East Village- being all tortured and hipster and shit. I wrote. I recorded. I wrote. I recorded. We made a demo at a repurposed church in Columbia, Pennsylvania, with our buddy John Hancock and Ken Heitmeuller and Jay Sorrentino from Suddenly! Tammy. We called the demo, Here Comes The Sharp Things based on a line from a song I’d written a years prior that never really saw the light of day.

I didn’t want to play in front of people, but then I thought, “I could just grab Steven and we could do a couple of shows,” and it wouldn’t feeeeel like a band. We could just kinda do our thing at the small clubs around town. So, we did that. The first show was at the Sidewalk Café on Avenue A. Our friend Jim Santo, who was a guitarist and a rock journalist, came down to the show with his wife. My guitar was out of tune. I could hardly play it, so I asked Jim to be in “the band.” It was “a band” now. I guess it had to be. So, on we went…

The band has had members come and go over the years. Aside from you and Steve, who has been a constant since the beginning – or at least early on?

I suppose, at this point, in addition the obvious aforementioned Mr. Santo, who’s been in the group pretty much within a year of its inception, after 17 years together, it’s fair game to also give that credit to Aisha Cohen, who plays viola, Michelle Caputo, who plays guitar, as well, and Andrea Dovalle (violin) who have all straddled over the decade mark.

The band’s sound has evolved over the past decade or so, most notably with the additional instruments. Did you have a blueprint for what you wanted The Sharp Things to sound like when you formed the group?

Not really- that was sort of the premise of the band in the first place- NOT to have a blueprint at all. It was the songs that really did the talking and dictated the instrumentation. In previous groups, the writing was, for the most part, a collective situation with set, fairly standard, rock instrumentation. The notion of adding strings, trumpet, oboe, tuned percussion, etc… was never really on the table. What I loved about the initial extraction from the confines of a band, was that I could entertain all of offbeat timbres if it suited the songs, so I would just add them when I wanted. The Sharp Things, even at this point, is still an extension of that aesthetic freedom. The ability to add what I thought would elevate a song’s impact on the listener (which includes myself), remains one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a part of it.

Over the years, in the press, we got compared to various artists who used orchestration whether they pre-dated us (like Bacharach, Scott Walker, The Left Banke, The Divine Comedy) or post-dated us, like Belle & Sebastian, Broken Social Scene, the Polyphonic Spree, etc… but, in all honesty, as much as I love all of those artists, I just listened to what the songs were asking for.

One of the things I like best about the band’s output is that the influences are all over the place – some are obvious and some don’t hit you until you’ve listened to the album a few times. Do you or others in the group have any musical influences that would surprise people?

Oh, man… I’m sure! I particularly love film scores. I wish I could say that the first record that I ever bought with my own music was some obscure punk rock record, but it wasn’t… it was the Star Wars soundtrack. I can also play most Billy Joel songs on the piano, so fuck you. Otherwise, nothing too surprising, I suppose- I mean, I tend to lean on anything that is well-put together- great unions of music and lyrics from Randy Newman, Lennon & McCartney, of course, the Zombies, Billy Bragg, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Brian Wilson, and so on.

Santo digs some of the weirder guitar-driven stuff- he’s going to Paris to be the 99th of Glenn Branca’s “100 Guitars” symphony in February. We’re really all into a variety of things.

I know you and others in the band have other projects you are working on and other jobs. Is it difficult to find time to write and record?

If I could sit around and write music 24/7, I would, but since the music hasn’t created a situation to make that possible in my life yet, I have to work it in when I can. That said, we make the time to make the music weekly, and I’ve become pretty good at writing on the run. I write a lot in my head. I orchestrate in my head. By the time I actually get to an instrument, it’s just a matter of fleshing out the nuances and structuring a bit. Lucky for me, everyone else is adult enough to listen, prepare and show up, despite jobs and kids and other responsibilities.

Sharp Things live by Shoka Javadiangilani

Are tours outside of NY out of the question?

Not at all! We played in Philadelphia in August, I did a solo show at NXNE in Toronto over the summer—we’re open to whatever comes up as long as it makes sense.

The first and third releases in Dogs of Bushwick series were available on CD and the live record was digital only. Do you still have plans to release the complete set on vinyl at some point?

The second record, The Truth Is Like the Sun, was available on CD, too. We did a really limited run on those, though. I don’t even have a copy myself. True! But, yeah- the full set on vinyl and CD will be available at some point. We’re not entirely sure when that point will be, but it will definitely happen. We’re looking for partners to help us with that, but we’re hoping that it will be within the next year.

What’s next for you and what’s next for The Sharp Things?

More shows, immediately- and finishing up the fourth installment of the series. Then, I’d like to think we could play some festivals in the new year, full band. Losing Steve could have easily made us walk away from this, but his passing has actually done the opposite. We feel the gravity of our collective friendship when we walk in to make music together. We feel him all around us, and we know that us working together to be a great band would have been something he wanted. Even if he couldn’t be with us, we know that what’s happening right now with us is what he would have wanted.

 

CHRISTMAS IN MY/YOUR/OUR PANTS: The Jingle Bell Rocks! Film

Jingle Bell Rocks 11-28

What do you get when you combine Nat King Cole, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, Run-DMC, Schoolhouse Rock, El Vez, John Waters and James Brown? A classic celebration of Christmas, natch! Our intrepid reporter offers a look at this recent holiday season film and conducts an interview with the director.

BY JASON GROSS

Canadian Mitchell Kezin isn’t your ordinary music nut who collects Christmas music—he’s so devoted to it that he now collects other Christmas music collectors themselves, crafting this documentary not only to chart his own mania but that of the other people who share the same obsession.

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As such, Jingle Bell Rocks! (Oscilloscope), released to coincide with Record Store Day’s Black Friday event and in time for this year’s holiday season, is a labor of love that tracks Kezin’s sad childhood, which led to an early attraction to holiday tunes, as well as a journey across America to find kindred spirits of all kinds. With a mostly absent dad, he turned to Nat King Cole’s tear-jerker “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forget” as a refuge and became a Christmas music fan right away. From there, the film chronicles his recent journeys meeting up with fellow fanatics.

Kezin Run Adler

Foremost among them is writer and former Def Jam publicist Bill Adler, who’s collected and compiled Christmas CD’s for his friends for years. Adler takes him to Joseph Simmons of Run-DMC (pictured above: Kezin, Rev. Run, Adler) to talk about the most famous holiday rap song “Christmas In Hollis,” which he wrote while smoking weed over his breakfast eggs, and to Brooklyn haunt Charlie’s Calypso City to meet owner Rawlston Charles, who’s recorded and sold plenty of Caribbean holiday music. We also meet Sandra Dedrick of Greenwich Village folk group Free Design who did the underground holiday classic “Close Your Mouth It’s Christmas”; and radio legend Dr. Demento, who talks about Xmas novelties.

Waters

Kezin takes us on trips to: Chicago for writers Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis’ Sound Opinions radio show focused on holiday music; Baton Rouge where he meet R&B singer Clarence Carter to talk about his “Back Door Santa” (which formed the music of the Run-DMC song later); Baltimore, talking with director John Waters about his R&B-fueled holiday music obsessions; Oklahoma to meet Flaming Lips honcho Wayne Coyne, whose own childhood holiday obsessions led him to make the Lips’ cult movie Christmas On Mars and the Poconos to meet singer and Schoolhouse Rock songwriter Bob Dorough who talks about a cynical Christmas music session he had with the grumpy Miles Davis.

Kezin coyne

There’s also onstage and backstage footage of former L.A. punk El Vez, the “Mexican Elvis,” who does annual holiday-themed shows.

As we travel through the collectors’ collections, we also see that what whets their appetite (and that of Kezin) isn’t the standard classics but the fringe, weird stuff like “Santa Came On A Nuclear Missile” and “Christmas In My Pants.” As former A&R guy and present radio holiday music host Andy Cizan observes, because of this strange nature of holiday songs, singles/45s is where the action is at since labels wouldn’t let these bizarre artists make a full length record. Bob George, co-founder of the massive ARChive of Contemporary Music, also observes that many Christmas greats were written by Jewish composers, maybe because they had nothing else to do during that holiday.

Towards the end of the movie, Kezin’s outlook becomes less cynical about the holiday’s over-commercialization as he seems to believe in its transforming power. In addition, Kezin also finds comfort in the fact that there ARE other Christmas music collectors out there, making him feel a little less weird.

Sure, a movie like this is meant for other holiday music obsessives but if you find yourself singing along to any of the old Christmas songs during December, you’ll probably delve in deeper here. As for us other Christmas music fanatics, this is indeed a holiday present.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JINGLE BELL ROCKS! DIRECTOR MITCHELL KEZIN

BLURT: Were there any writers/artists/DJs you would have liked to include that you weren’t able to in the film?

KEZIN: Yes. One major musician. YULE (sic) notice that there are NO Canadians in my movie…Well, that was not my intention. I considered Mary Margaret O’Hara who released a sublime Christmas EP (in 1991) simply called Christmas which included a stunning version of Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” as well as an original written by her titled “Christmas Evermore.”

Many folks passed away as I was trying to secure artists and funding simultaneously: A few are Christopher Dedrick (The Free Design), Teddy Vann (“Santa Claus IS A Black Man”), Johnny Preston – the late, great rockabilly singer (“I Want A (Rock & Roll Guitar)”).

But, the person I most wanted is a Canadian legend. A folk, country troubadour named Stompin’ Tom Connors, who I adore. He recorded a fabulous Christmas record in 1970 (BOOT Records). It was called Merry Christmas and it features a few sacred carols, a few covers and several originals, including my all-time favorite Christmas song “Down On Christmas” which is actually not a downer at all. It’s a very upbeat little ditty about everything that goes wrong for a guy on Christmas Eve: “Here I am down on Christmas, and my credit’s off at the store… A religious group sent a box of soup, but it came to the guy next door!”

How long were you working on this film?

The idea came to me a few days AFTER Christmas 2004. I pitched it to a network executive named Charlotte Engel (who oversaw shows at the now defunct BRAVO! Arts channel) during Hot Docs Film Festival in spring of 2005 and she gave me (and my then-producing partner Step Carruthers) a development deal, which ultimately never went beyond that. There were MANY twists and turns in terms of producing partners and fundraising, which became about a four-year ordeal to raise the necessary budget.

I was fortunate, in early 2009, to form a co-production with a fabulous team who are based in Montreal. The company is EyeSteelFilm and they are one of Canada’s most lauded, prolific and award-winning feature documentary companies. I also had the extraordinary luck to meet a man named Jeffrey Kline (a self-confessed Xmas loving Jew) who became our Christmas angle when we needed one desperately. Jeff — whose company is Darby Pop Productions — personally invested a very large sum of money to help us secure the final music licensing and archival footage clearances.

Have your ideas/feelings about Christmas music changed since making the movie? If so, how so?

Boy, that is a good question, but one that I can’t answer in short form. Over the eight-plus years it took to make this movie, so many amazing and astonishing things happened (and we see one of the most incredible unfold IN THE ACTUAL MOVIE)… But let’s just say — without giving too much away — that the manner in which the film ends was an overwhelming and incredibly cathartic experience for me, and I am no longer HAUNTED by the Nat King Cole song “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot.”

Other than the Nat King Cole record, could you list 5 more Christmas records hat have special meaning for you?

Sure thing:

1) Jingle Bell Jazz (originally issued on Columbia Records / 1962 CL 1893)…this is the compilation which has the Miles/Dorough tune “Blue Xmas (To Whom It My Concern)’ on it. But the entire record is awesome, featuring the giants of jazz performing covers of classic chestnuts.

2) The Don Ho Christmas Album (Reprise Records / 1967 RS 6265) Within the Christmas obsession is a penchant for Hawaiian Xmas music, and I’ve adored Don Ho since I was a child. I finally got to meet him when I was at the Hawaii Int’l Film Festival in 2000. You won’t believe this but it is actually true: Not only did I meet Mr. Ho at the Sheraton Waikiki that fall, I ended up ON STAGE with him and I actually SANG a duet of “Tiny Bubbles” that brought the house down ! (I have pics to prove it)

3) Jimmy Smith Christmas Cookin’ (Verve Records / 1966 V6-8666) The funkiest, swingingest soul/jazz record EVER produced. Smith performs in small Trio as well as gigantic big band arrangements o this LP. An ABSOLUTE MUST HAVE!

James Brown

4) James Brown The COMPLETE James Brown which is comprised of 4 LPs Brown recorded back in the mid to late ‘60s; they are all together on a two-CD set (2010 on Hip-O Select label)/

James Brown Sings Christmas Songs / 1966 – KING Records

A Soulful Christmas / 1968 – KING Records KS 1040

James Brown And His Famous Flames Sing Christmas Songs / 1966 – KING Records KS 1010

Hey, America / 1970 KING Records & Polydor

5) Rockin’ Sidney A Holiday Celebration With Rockin’ Sidney / 1983 ZBC Records LP-100

 

 

THE GOODS: Blurt’s Guide to Spending Gift Cards and Granny Cash, 2014-15 Edition

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In which Blurt tells you how to spend your mad money. Not your serious cheddar.

BY RANDY HARWARD

Check it out: I’m gonna go all Suze Orman on your asses. Ha-HA! Financial advice. Not what you came here for? You gotta trust me on this. I’m a master at spending gift cards and granny cash every holiday season. I start with a list of stuff I wanted but didn’t get, then form a plan. I create flow charts, balance needs vs. wants, allow for impulse items, dig up coupon codes, watch sales… Sometimes I even trade up for better gift cards. Not on that website. Just within the family. (Should I have said that?) Or more cash.

I can maximize the shit out of your discretionary holiday haul. So listen up.

All that stuff I said before? That works best for online purchases. Now, if you’re looking for instant gratification and wanna go the brick-and-mortar route, I have one piece of advice: Don’t spend shit until at least late January. (That’s only kind of an arbitrary date.) Otherwise, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. The good stuff is either gone or on back order. If you happen to find what you want—

Just kidding. I don’t wanna write that crap any more than you wanna read it. And here’s some run-on honesty: Gift guides are breezy toilet reads where some dude who got some free stuff is gonna tell you why, a) He likes or dislikes it, and b) in a roundabout way, why you should pay for the same thing. This one, however, only aims to influence a portion of your income: those crisp $2 bills and Sacajawea dollars that came tumbling out the crocheted slippers that Gram-gram knitted for you. Just the mad money – not your serious cheddar, your operating funds. We just don’t want that much responsibility, you know?

So let’s dig in…

 

Led Zep Houses of the Holy reissue

 

REISSUES AND BOX SETS FROM RHINO

Led Zeppelin I, II, III, IV and Houses of the Holy ($17 ea.)

Captain Beefheart Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972 ($60)

Rhino.com

When I was a kid, I was regularly caught playing with my… dad’s music collection. Eight-track tapes and vinyl records with colorful spines – I recall how the platters leaned against a wall like a hooker does a lamppost. Irresistible. I flipped through them every chance I got. Some covers, like ones from the Grass Roots and the Association, looked boring. Others were scary, like Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath were scary. Then there were the ones like Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, where nude, cyanotic children scampered over rocks on the cover and, in the gatefold, a bluish (or is it stone?) man held one of the children aloft, as though a sacrifice in waiting. That scared the bejesus out of me – even more than the demonic orgy on the Sabbath cover. But when I was finally able to sneak it onto my dad’s diamond-needled turntable, it went way over my head. Aside from hearing Led Zeppelin on the radio all the time, I ignored them until I matured and Kiss, Loverboy and Def Leppard lost (some of) their charm. All of Led Zeppelin’s albums were relatively new to me at once. Now, in a way, I get to feast again on Led Zeps I through Houses (the band’s fifth) now that they’ve been given the deluxe reissue treatment. In the single-disc edition on which this is based, the albums are remastered and paired with a companion disc of rough/alternate/working mixes and packaged in gatefold sleeves with an eight-page booklet. What a great way to kill a Sunday.

Captain Beefheart Sun Zoom Spark

I came by Captain Beefheart even later in life, thanks to this guy Staker. Like most weirdos, he knew one when he saw one – and so he made the introduction. Of course it started with Beefheart’s landmark Trout Mask Replica. Then I was left to discover The Spotlight Kid, Lick My Decals Off, Baby and Clear Spot on my own. But that’s part of the fun, pickin’ a point of entry and bargin’ in, you know, booglarizin’ the stuff online until such time as you can procure your own (probably second-hand) copy. Sun Zoom Spark collects remastered editions of these three albums plus a fourth bonus disc of outtakes and unreleased tracks from the same period and sessions. The set, then, becomes a similar – yet whole ‘nother – type of Sunday-killing, immersive experience. If you decide now is the time to get some Beefheart in your life, embrace the weirdness. There are dividends if you do.

Primus chocolate bars

BAND CANDY

Primus Chocolate Bars ($25/three-pack)

ClubBastardo.com

In flavors like sturgeon, cheese and pork soda… Psych. Weirdo prog-rockers Primus, teaming with Asher’s Chocolates, actually stuck to conventional ingredients for this merch tie-in with the Primus & the Chocolate Factory album and tour – a celebration of Roald Dahl’s classic story about the lunatic chocolatier. (You know…) Each three-pack contains one each of Professor Nutbutter (it’s fulla peanuts), Mr. Krinkle (made with crispy rice) and the aptly-named (because dark chocolate sucks*) Bastard Bar. The price (roughly $2.38/oz.) is high, but Primus always delivers quality. Plus, if you buy these, maybe we’ll get to see more band candy down the road. Who wants to see an AC/DC bar? Maybe a Slayer-branded Abyss Crunch? My Morning Krackel? Zep Pez? This is fun. (*In fairness, this dark chocolate is actually pretty good. Also, it looks as though they did have a Pork Soda Bar, which was flavored with bacon and Pop Rocks and limited to 500. Sad.)

Adventures of Mrs Jesus hi res

THE REAL LIFE OF JESUS, IN PANELS

The Adventures of Mrs. Jesus by Dan O’Shannon ($15)

HarperCollins.com

It’s already so, so sad that Jesus takes a backseat to Santa Claus at the holidays. After all, he’s the reason for the season! It’s just that we get so caught up in the loot grab, you know? There’s so much action and drama – it’s hard to tear yourself away and just meditate on the question, “What would Jesus want for Christmas?” So you can imagine how all of this affects the great women behind the great men. For Santa, that’s Mrs. Claus. Thanks to protests and stuff, we now know that she’s the one feeding the elves cocoa and cookies and candy so they can stay up all night on the sugar rush and meet their production quotas. But what do we know about Mrs. Jesus? Ha! I know – who?! The celeb rags be slippin’, ‘cause I didn’t even know about her (Her?). Where were you on that one, US Weekly? And Jesus is an A-lister! For Hell’s sake.

Anyway, according to former writer and executive producer of Modern Family, Dan O’Shannon, Mrs. Jesus kinda sucks. In a series of four-panel cartoons, we discover she can be naggy, passive-aggressive and plain bitchy. All of that is understandable, since she lives in the shadow of a super-being who, in these same panels, also seems to be a bit ornery (he does looks really uncomfortable on that cross). But what appears at first blush to be harsh criticism in comic strip form isn’t actually that. It’s more about how people, especially married couples, relate – just like Modern Family is also about how family members get along. It’s insights like these that make this little book worth picking up.

 

 Gov't Mule - Dark Side of the Mule

 LIVE ALBUMS KICK ASS, ER, MULE!

Dark Side of the Mule by Gov’t Mule ($13 standard, $32 deluxe)

Mule.net

Dude. Floyd good. Mule good. Mule + Floyd = Dude. That kind of monosyllabic logic isn’t hyperbole. Gov’t Mule, led by gravelly-voiced guitar god Warren Haynes, are legends in their own right, and the idea of them paying tribute to the legendary Pink Floyd should make music fans slobbery. And this set, recorded on Halloween 2008 in Boston, exceeds all expectations. Mule, joined by saxophonist Ron Holloway and two of Floyd’s actual backing vocalists, nails Floyd’s sublime atmospheric sound while infusing it with that trademark Gov’t Mule slow burn. It’s a captivating, one-sitting listen that will leave you nearly speechless. (Review is for standard single-disc version. A deluxe 3CD/1 DVD version contains the full three-hour show.)

 

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TV ON DVD FROM SHOUT! FACTORY

WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete Series, $140

Welcome Back, Kotter, $130

ShoutFactory.com

If you’ve ever wondered why WKRP in Cincinnati – one of the funniest sitcoms of the late 1970s/early 1980s – hasn’t gotten the complete series treatment… It’s because the show was stuck in the same music-licensing muck that once stalled The Wonder Years and Freaks and Geeks. Thankfully, Shout! Factory has turned this problem into a specialty, and they’ve restored much of the original music (more than 200 songs) by artists like Chic, Nick Lowe, AC/DC and Blondie, whose “Heart of Glass” became a hit after its inclusion in the first-season episode “A Commercial Break.” Mostly intact, the series holds up with a heart as big as its wistful opening theme and a sense of humor as rollicking as the end credits song, with its gibberish lyrics.

Welcome Back Kotter still

Speakin’ of theme songs: John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” from Welcome Back, Kotter is one of the greats. Even if you have no attachment to the late-1970s sitcom that launched John Travolta’s career, I defy you to resist the song, a warm, midtempo welcome-home that’s just good to hear once in a while. As for the show, well, it’s pretty much a live-action Saturday morning cartoon where snarky Mr. Kotter, who tried to get out of Brooklyn but gets sucked back in to teach remedial classes to his old gang, the Sweathogs, at his alma mater. Kotter connects with the Sweathogs as he deals with their loopy antics: warm fuzzies and laughter (not all of it canned) ensue. Fans of the show know that’s not a dismissive generalization: It’s one of the reasons the show worked. And spawned a string of merchandise like a card game, board game and action figures that this writer either owns or for which he harbors a turgid, purple lust.

 

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THOU SHALT HAVE, LIKE, 25 GODS BEFORE ME…

Punk Rock Throbbleheads ($25)

Aggronautix.com

Need graven images to worship this holiday season? How about a gang of dirty rotten punks? Pennsylvania-based Aggronautix started casting polyresin “throbbleheads” in the image of punk, metal and comedy gods in 2009. They’ve since dropped 25 different numbered, limited edition figures honoring dudes like Jello Biafra, Mojo Nixon, The Meatmen’s Tesco Vee, Roky Erickson, GWAR, The Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams, Dwarves, David Cross, and flagship license G.G. Allin, who boasts four different versions, including an Extra Filthy Bloody Edition (sadly, it’s sold out). The newest releases are The Damned’s Captain Sensible and the keytar-slinging Devo Energy Dome Man. Even the box art is cool on these puppies. So build an altar, pick up some throbblers and genuflect, mutha…superior?

 

Vaporizer

PRODUCT REVIEWS IN THEORY

Far Cry 4, G-Pen Vaporizer

By Afriend Ofafriend (additional reporting by M. Brotherinlaw)

Sometimes your mo—I mean wife, doesn’t get you what you want. “You don’t need to play any more video games,” she says in that naggy way you hate. “You don’t need a vaporizer. I think you have amotivational syndrome.” Heh. It’s Christmas, ho(e)! I do what I want! And Wikipedia, citing a source that cites empirical evidence, says AMS probably ain’t really a real thing. Nyah.

Anyway, somebody decided they knew best and gave me a hierarchy of needs. Which I promptly disregarded and ordered copies of both of these things. The video game and the vaporizer. Not the skunky potpourri that fell out of the aforementioned slippers. Gram-gram has glaucoma. Her eyesight ain’t what it used to be.

So. My anticipated impression – or hypothetical review, of both products. Yessir, I like ‘em. I saw part of a multiplayer gameplay video, a 1v1 deal, and it looked awesome. Wingsuits. Bows and arrows. Cool. Sweet. Good. Wickedly funny! Adverbly adjective! I should probably mention that this is a review of Far Cry 4. And it’s my understanding that a video game reviewer should also mention the platform used to review the game. Well, I ordered the Xbox 360 version. And the reason I wanted it is because I played Far Cry 3 daily for months. Nearly two full playthroughs of single-player, and more multiplayer deathmatches than any normal person should play. It got to the point that I had dreams of sending explosive arrows into noob-crowded stairwells and shouting, “TRIPLE KILL! FUCK, YEAH!” That being said, I look forward to clocking more time working on my thumb callouses. (Ubisoft, $60, Ubisoft.com)

As to the G Pen, I’m told it’s some sort of “dry-herb vaporizer.” (They probably mean stuff like that potpourri. Note to self…) Vaporization supposedly radically almost-ly totally decreases your exposure to carcinogenic materials like Burberry fleece. Maybe I’ll pinch some of Grandma’s medicinal potpourri because the G-Pen doesn’t include certain accessories. Perhaps I’ll experience euphoria and lightheadedness, then figure I should quit and try something else. And then I’ll mention that the G-Pen probably doesn’t work with dried banana peels, crushed Smarties, powdered sugar, agave nectar, or chocolate chips. That’s fine, I suppose.

I think the only thing real complaint I’ll have about the G-Pen ($65, GrencoScience.com) is that it looks like a little flute – but I’ve so far been unable to use it to summon a single mythical creature. I’m not giving up, but it is past my deadline. I’ll update you if anything changes.

 

(Portions of this column appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of Salt Lake City Weekly.)

 

 

TRIPPIN’ ON XMAS: The Third (Or Last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

Lips blotter top

Mark Kozelek, Flaming Lips (“tabbed,” above), Over the Rhine, Blind Boys of Alabama, Farmer Jason, Ol’ Blues Eyes and more: not just another tab in the ocean, we return to the holiday theme well one final time. At least until next year. Ho-ho-HO, bitches!

BY THE BLURT CRÜE

Ed. note: We did a wrap-up of recently-issued seasonal albums in 2012 and, against all predictions, it was well-received. So much so that label folks and music industry publicists begged us to do it again in 2013. Well, they just wanna sell records and pimp their clients. But our readers and a number of our writers responded in kind, so despite ye olde editor’s general disdain for the annual deluge of holiday recs — seriously, how many times can “Frosty the Snow Man” be cut without turning it into generic pabulum? and do you REALLY need that Carrie Underwood album of seasonal favorites? — I realized that maybe, just maybe, my ol’ Grinchy heart was growing a few additional sizes each time.. Ergo, our 2014 installment. Enjoy, and go HERE to read our 2013 feature. —FM

 ***

Americana Christmas

VARIOUS ARTISTS

 An Americana Christmas

New West (www.NewWestRecords.com) 7 out of 10 stars

Giving a nod to both Americana’s elder statesmen and the up-and-comers, New West Records – easily one of the genres best labels going right now – has just offered one of the freshest takes on Christmas albums in years. Despite some solid contributions by Bob Dylan, The Band and Johnny Cash, aside from John Prime’s brilliantly original number “Everything is Cool,” the real standouts here come from New West’s newest artists like Robert Ellis’s cover of “Pretty Paper” and Nikki Lane’s beautifully twangy “Falalalalove You” (Patsy Cline’s heir apparent?). While Christmas albums nowadays are as stale as a plate of Gingerbread cookies left out until April, An Americana Christmas is a refreshing take on the seasonal record. DOWNLOAD: “Everything is Cool” (John Prine), “Pretty Paper” (Robert Ellis) and “FalalalaLove You” (Nikki Lane) —JOHN B. MOORE

 Blind Boys

BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA & TAJ MAHAL

Talkin’ Christmas

Sony Masterworks (www.sonymasterworks.com) 8 STARS

A dream team pairing that draws from the roots of soul, gospel, and genuine R&B, this set of specially selected songs featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama and Taj Mahal is equal parts sacred celebration and holiday happenstance. Although it finds the artists involved testifying to their faith with steadfast spiritual devotion, it’s likely to manifest ample secular appreciation as well. Indeed, even non-believers will find themselves singing along with the infectious refrains of “Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn” and “What Can I Do?.” The holiday harmonies that enrich “Merry Christmas to You” and a stirring read of “Silent Night” clearly proclaim universal appeal, but it’s the soulful sensibility that rings through songs like “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “The Sun Is Rising” and “There’s a Reason We Call It Christmas” which ought to entice even the surliest Scrooge. Considering the unabashed sentiment that ignites each of these serenades, Talkin’ Christmas could be considered a timeless treasure even at the outset. DOWNLOAD: “What Can I Do,” “The Sun Is Rising,” “Silent Night” —LEE ZIMMERMAN

EWF

EARTH, WIND & FIRE

Holiday

Sony/Legacy (www.legacyrecordings.com) 3 STARS

The Philip J. Bailey-helmed iteration of the Earth, Wind & Fire franchise continues apace, here serving up what is apparently the group’s first holiday-themed record. It’s no doubt well-intentioned, as most of these endeavors tend to be, dominated by traditional material given a signature EWF funk/soul spin via lush ‘n’ silky takes on the likes of “What Child Is This?,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World,” etc. If you know the group’s oeuvre, you already know these arrangements, although I have to admit that some of the tracks, in particular the Afro-beat-icized “Little Drummer Boy” was a bit crass and over the top, and the remake of “Winter Wonderland” sounded suspiciously like an outtake that might have originated from the sessions yielding the group’s mega-hit “September.”

Speaking of which, “September” itself has been redone here as “December” and, yes, on that, too, you can figure out before actually hearing it how the lyrics are now specific to the 25th day of the 12th month. Total EWF fanatics will thrill to all this, but honestly, I’ll be hanging on to my Temptations, Supremes and James Brown funk/soul holiday albums and letting this one go. DOWNLOAD: “December,” “Sleigh Ride” —FRED MILLS

 

 Living Sisters

THE LIVING SISTERS

Harmony Is Real

Vanguard (www.vanguardrecords.com) 6 STARS

Shades of the Andrews Sisters, the Pointer Sisters and, hell, even Sister Sledge (although not really), the Living Sisters (who are not really sisters at all but four individually adept solo singers, Eleni Mandell among them) deliver impeccable chirpy harmonies that add new meaning to the term “Holiday cheer.” Drawing from a selection of standards (“Jingle Bells,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silver Bells,” “Little Drummer Boy” et. al.) and various originals that fit the tone and temperament of the season, they add fun to the festivities with an approach that’s both rocking and reverent. The giddy “Christmas in California,” with its hint of cooing Beach Boys-like harmonies, and the equally sassy and facetious “Baby Wants a Basketball for Christmas” rev things up, but the token bows to diversity via “”Hanukkah” and “Neon Christmas Eve” help broaden the Sisters’ ceremonial stance. Harmony Is Real is pure pop fun. DOWNLOAD: “Christmas in California,” “Silver Bells,” “Jingle Bells” —LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

 Mark K

MARK KOZELEK

Sings Christmas Carols

Caldo Verde (www.caldoverde.com) 10 STARS

“I don’t feel happy… I just don’t understand Christmas,” Mark Kozelek mutters under his breath, in the middle of the Charlie Brown Christmas classic “Christmas Time Is Here,” and considering the tone of Sun Kil Moon mainman’s last several months, which included a highly public beef with War On Drugs and a so-called “meltdown” at the annual Hopscotch Music Festival, it’s easy to presume that Kozelek isn’t exactly a leading candidate for the lead character in a Broadway revival of Elf.

But listen carefully: Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols is a remarkably faithful, utterly transcendent take on what I will humbly submit is the beatific, unadorned side of Christmas music. It’s basically just M.K. and acoustic guitar, and I will further submit that all the folk, country and Americana artists who go into the studio each annum armed with just their guitars but feel compelled to add pedal steel, fiddles and the like in order to “flesh out” their arrangements lest they come across as too spartan simply don’t understand how sometimes “less” can be more than just “more” — it can be “just right.”

From the urgent query of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the innocently straightforward “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to heart-rending versions of the Pretenders’ “2,000 Miles” and Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas” (which has some additional, subtle keyboard flourishes), Kozelek proves that despite his reputation as a crabby curmudgeon, he’s actually a sentimental bastard who remembers how magical the holiday season can be when rendered in song. I am not ashamed to admit that I teared up listening to his take on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” subtly abetted by backing vocalists and filtered through sweet Peanuts memories.

And “What Child Is This?” has always taken my breath away… no less so, here. Merry Christmas, Mark. You may claim to not understand Christmas, but I suspect you do in ways maybe you just haven’t yet figured out. It’s nice to close out the year with you this way, on such a wonderful note. DOWNLOAD: Every bit of it. This is the holiday release of the year. —FRED MILLS

 

 Jason

FARMER JASON

Christmas On the Farm With… Farmer Jason

Courageous Chicken (www.farmerjason.com) 7 STARS

When my son was about 5 years old I took him and his cousin to a Farmer Jason concert, later queuing up to purchase CDs for the lads and have them inscribed by the popular children’s entertainer. Introducing myself, I told Jason that he and I had had a merry old time one evening in the late ‘80s backstage after a Jason & the Scorchers show, at which point he glanced at my wide-eyed kid, got a very serious look on his face, and informed us that I was probably thinking of his “twin brother,” who had a popular rock band back in the day.

Fair enough, Mr. Ringenberg; you and your “brother” both knocked it out of the ballpark every time I saw EITHER of you perform. As Farmer Jason does with his Christmas album, the latest in his string of engaging kids’ recs. Here, we get plenty of twangy, pedal steel-powered traditional tunes (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” additionally features fellow Nashville icon Webb Wilder) along with several farmer-centric numbers guaranteed to tickle the tykes’ subversive funny bone, like the Ramones/Sex Pistols-referencing “All I Want For Christmas (Is A Punk Rock Skunk)” and the sage advice that is “Eat Your Fruitcake.”

It all makes me long for those lovely, innocent days gone by, when the greatest gift I could receive was seeing the look on my son’s face when he scurried eagerly into the living room on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought him… DOWNLOAD: “Away In A Manger,” “Santa Drove a Big John Deere” —UNCLE BLURT

Sinatra

FRANK SINATRA

The Classic Christmas Album

Sony/Legacy (www.legacyrecordings.com) 8 STARS

As part of its Classic Christmas Album series, the nice people at Sony have collected holiday music by the likes of Johnny Mathis, Barbara Streisand and Perry Como but if that ain’t hip enough for you, they’ve also put together this collection from Ol’ Blue Eyes who sang these Xmas classics for his last few years at Capitol Record in the late ‘40s, just before he started his own label, Reprise.

Indeed, this is Frankie at his prime, when he was truly The Voice, as girls swooned over him after he supplanted Bing Crosby as America’s favorite crooner and before the arrival of one Mr. Presley. Things start out here with a great swinging big band sound on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and then soon turns to ballads. But even with the slower tempos and the syrupy back-up choruses, Sinatra comes shining through with authority and confidence- listen to him lead and mop up the floor with the rest of the singers on “I’ve Got A Home In That Rock” and belt out “Adeste Fideles (O, Come All Ye Faithful)” full-throated and on his own. With “Christmas Dreaming,” his croon is so sensuous, you can hear the girls melting over him and on “Jingle Bells,” he manages to swing over the strings with ease and joy. While “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night” are a little too moist in their sentiment and execution, he turns “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” into an appropriate tear-jerker and does a warm, throaty “White Christmas” that doesn’t replace Bing (what could?) but is still pretty satisfying. Towards the end, we get two real treats too- a wonderful bluesy vocal group take on “Jesus Is A Rock In the Weary Land” and a funny, sexy duet with singer Dorothy Kirsten on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

In all, a much better than average holiday album that has other uses too- not only will your parents and/or grandparents dig it, but it’s a good intro for beginners who wonder what the fuss about this classic crooner is about. DOWNLOAD: “Jesus Is A Rock In the Weary Land,” “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” —JASON GROSS

 

Tom Dyer

TOM DYER

Xmas-30 Years in the Making

Green Monkey (www.greenmonkeyrecords.com) 6 STARS

So who is Tom Dyer? His singing credentials may be a bit sketchy, but as the proprietor of Seattle’s Green Monkey Records, he ranks up there with Santa in terms of delivering some mighty fine music over the course of the past three decades, including the incredible catalogue by psych-pop greats Green Pajamas. This accumulation of Christmas recordings, a compilation of original holiday-themed music Dyer’s done on an annual basis, is of the decidedly offbeat variety, but as songs like “No Lou This Xmas” and the reggae-worthy “Jingle Bell Ska” prove, this selection also works well as worthy collection of rockers. And while tracks like “It’s A White Mule Christmas,” “Propane Santa” and the Grinch-like “Christmas Time For Sailors” suggest Dyer’s got his tongue planted firmly in cheek, Xmas-30 Years in the Making is a holly jolly collection all round. DOWNLOAD: “No Lou This Christmas,” Jingle Bell Ska” —LEE ZIMMERMAN

FL

FLAMING LIPS (a/k/a IMAGENE PEISE)

Atlas Eets Christmas

Warner Bros. (www.warnerbros.com) 9 STARS

Once upon a time Atlas Eets Christmas was a super-limited edition thingie that the Flaming Lips slid more-or-less anonymously into the hands of fans and friends; this year they gave it a wider release as part of the annual Record Store Day Black Friday event, available either as a vinyl LP or a CD. Whattaya get? Courtesy musicians “Imagene Peise” (piano),”Ominog Bangh” (synth) and “Shineyu Bhupal” (drones, sitar, tambura), a surprisingly affecting, emotional, downright traditional takes on mostly classic tunes. That this is the Flaming Lips, who most recently turned the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s into a freak-a-thon for trainspotters and Miley Cyrus fans, makes it all the more fascinating. Looking for a Yoshimi-ized electronic take on “Frosty” or “Silver Bells”? Ain’t gonna happen here.

Instead, the odes to everyone’s favorite snowman and the seasonal bells are gentle piano/synth renditions, with just a hint of sonic squiggles to signal that we’re not in, say, Irving Berlin or Bing Crosby territory, but contemporary Okie-dokey psychedelia. Admittedly here and there are suggestions of strangeness; “Do You Hear What I Hear?” lives up to its title via echoey shards of sitar, flute and analog vinyl crackles. And original compositions “Christmas Kindness Song” and the title track do in fact sound like contemporary Flaming Lips tunes.

But along with the Kozelek record discussed above, Atlas Eets Christmas seems to most capture the magical, mystical, innocent, gracious spirit of the season. When you hear the utterly guileless, haunting “The Christmas Song” here, you’ll understand what I mean. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the feeling I get is of musicians discovering their collective inner child and intuiting that at no other time during the year is that childlike quality better expressed than Christmas. DOWNLOAD: “Christmas Kindness Song,” “Frosty the Snowman” —FRED MILLS

 Rhine

OVER THE RHINE

Blood Oranges in the Snow

self-released (www.overtherhine.com) 8 STARS

Holiday albums generally fall into one of two categories — seasonal standards reinterpreted with a pop approach, or original offerings that take a spiritual slant. Blood Oranges in the Snow finds Over the Rhine bridging the divide with a set of tunes that sound like immediate Christmas classics. Although they eschew a wholly religious regimen, they evoke the spirit of the season with crisp images of snow-covered fields and the nostalgic glow of home and hearth. Much of the album is given to wistful reflection — the beguiling title track, a hopeful “First Snowfall,” the quietly yearning interpretation of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” et al — but none so specific as to deter year-round enjoyment. DOWNLOAD: “First Snowfall,” “If We Make It Through December” —LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

Hard Rock

VARIOUS ARTISTS

The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album

Sony/Legacy (www.legacyrecordings.com) 1 STAR

Consumers, beware: if you purchase this — based on its title and the roster of contributors, which includes bonafide “hard rockers” like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Journey’s Neal Schon, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford — expecting the proverbial rock-with-your-Christmas-cock-out, flic-your-Santa-Bic arena-anthem fest, you’re gonna get a stockingful of coal. Only Halford’s blazing, rapid-fire “We Three Kings” and the Nuge’s stomping “Deck the Halls” even remotely qualify here as “hard rock” (in truth, the latter could actually qualify for a Ramones-styled Christmas collection… but I digress).

Everything else, and I say this as a fan of several of these fret wizards, might surface in an alternate dimension’s version of a Windham Hill holiday album. My hero Jeff Beck scores points for his blue note-laced “Amazing Grace,” but what’s up with those sappy chorale singers? Ditto Schon’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its New Agey keyboards and barely-there puffs of percussion; don’t stop believin’ in the dude’s skills, but if you run into him, feel free to ask him what the hell kinda mistletoe was he smokin’ when he cut the tune. And okay, to be fair, Satch – that’s Joe Satriani to all you Coldplay fans – and his somewhat fiery “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam” is indeed marginally “jamming” in traditional J.S. fashion, but “Surfing With The Saviour,” this is not; it’s just a wank-fest. Only aging bleached blondes with their sagging artificial tits and their bemulleted weightlifter trophy husbands — plus the stray Rush nerd who never got laid — need apply.

A classic example of a record label marketing an angle without actually determining what the “angle” might be, The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album is part of a larger series that includes worthy titles from Frank Sinatra (reviewed above), Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and even Kenny G. There is a companion released titled The Classic Christmas Pop Album boasting contributions from… drumroll please… Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block and Big Time Rush, along with semi-credible artists Phantom Planet, Glasvegas and Los Lonely Boys. Ironically, the so-called pop community’s take on “classic Christmas” is a zillion times more vital, and inspiring, than the hard rockers. O my once-hero, Jeff Back, how far you’ve fallen.

DOWNLOAD: Bah, humbug. Not a single goddam tune. Merry friggin’ Christmas. —UNCLE BLURT

Merry Friggin

 VARIOUS ARTISTS

A Merry Friggin’ Christmas OST

Lakeshore (www.lakeshore-records.com) 6 STARS

One of the final films by the late great Robin Williams, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas leans closer to Bad Santa than A Wonderful Life as far as holiday happenstance is concerned. Nevertheless, the impressive cast that contributes to the soundtrack — participants include Rufus Wainwright, Ben Kweller, the Belle Brigade, and Chuck Meade — plays it straight for the most part in terms of interpretation of various seasonal favorites. As if their name wasn’t cutesy enough, the California Feetwarmers’ jazzy version of “Up on the Housetop” is a hoot, while Kweller lights a fire under the giddy “Here Comes Santa Claus,” although any movie about spending the holidays with a houseful of misfits is bound to get a little frisky at times. All in all, this is a fine soundtrack for the festivities, offbeat or otherwise. DOWNLOAD: ”It’s the Most Wonderful TIme of the Year (Rufus Wainwright”), “Here Comes Santa Claus” (Ben Kweller) —LEE ZIMMERMAN

 Xmas Men

THE XMAS MEN

 Santa Is Real

Rosetta (www.robertearlkeen.com) 4 STARS

It would be Scrooge-like to grouse about a peppy, oh-so-tasteful Western swing/countrypolitan instrumental take on holiday cheer; the operative term here, of course, being “cheer.” And more than a few tracks here are guaranteed to prompt a wry grin, the stray head-bobbing, a casual sway of the hips—the interpolation of “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Linus & Lucy,” while not necessarily inventive, is still cleverly patterned for maximum response on all three counts, and a twangy, bluegrass-flavored “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas” connects, for all us roots fans out here, on levels that Burl Ives could never quite muster (or imagine).

But there’s still something about The Xmas Men’s inaugural Xmas recording that leaves you with a feeling of, “meh.” In real life, TXM are none other than Robert Earl Keen and his band, cats who know their way around a few roots, country, swing and bluegrass arrangements. And here, they operate amiably enough, but not to the point that Santa Is Real is destined for perennial favorite status.

Now, if they’d cued off their Louvin Brothers-inspired record sleeve artwork and reworked some Louvins as holiday numbers—“Great Atomic Santa Power,” anyone?—they might’ve had a keeper. —FRED MILLS

Mack

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS

It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue 8 STARS

Mack Avenue

From Charlie Parker’s 1948 version of “White Christmas” to Ella Fitzgerald Wishes You A Swinging Christmas to Vince Guaraldi’s timeless soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, the jazz translation of the Great American Christmas Songbook has always been some of the most enjoyable tunes to dig during the holiday season.

However, not since 1981’s God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen has there been a collection quite like this charming third set of yuletide cheer from Mack Avenue Records. In the last five years or so, the Detroit-born imprint has been busy signing a veritable cornucopia of modern bop greats to their roster. And the Ave.’s present class does not disappoint in the least on It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue.

The Sean Jones Quartet, fresh off seeing his latest title Im•pro•vise (Never Before Seen) garner the number two spot on Wondering Sound’s Top 25 Jazz Albums of 2014, kicks things off with a bouncy, brassy version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” that would surely make both Bill Evans and Clarence Clemons smile. What follows is a succession of elegant performances that completely eschews the kind of blaring, over-the-top showboating that renders many Christmas records the bane of the season. Among the highlights peppered gracefully amongst this 12-song set include pianist Aaron Diehl’s wonderful version of “Sleigh Ride”, Beyonce’s saxophonist Tia Fuller and her incredible all-female quartet’s touching wine bar take on “The Little Drummer Boy”, the Christian McBride Trio’s talking soul spin on James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto” and a version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant that brings the beauty out of the 1944 Ralph Blane/Hugh Martin lullaby in a way that can only be heard by re-watching Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis.

For those who quickly grow tired of the same seasonal sass they churn out hourly on your local Lite FM station, It’s Christmas on Mack Avenue is a sure bet if you love your holiday festivities low key, calm and relaxing. -RON HART

 

 She Him

SHE & HIM

A Very She & Him Christmas

(Merge) www.mergerecords.com 9 STARS

You’re forgiven for assuming A Very She & Him Christmas (originally issued in 2011) would be the hipster equivalent of The Carpenters Christmas Album, a holiday staple for every Williamsburg and Bushwick apartment. Despite the fact that the “She” in She & Him is Zooey Deschanel, hipster chick personified, the album is surprisingly irony free, just an even dozen Christmas standards updated slightly with Deschanel’s charmingly quirky lilt backed by the always impressive M. Ward. Even the ukulele on The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” sounds a bit alluring, rather than forced. The album is a holiday classic in waiting, even if you don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans and couldn’t grow a beard to save your life. DOWNLOAD: “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Little Saint Nick” —JOHN B. MOORE

Peanuts

VINCE GUARALDI TRIO

A Charlie Brown Christmas

(Fantasy) www.concordmusicgroup.com 10 STARS

For many children, Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack to the classic holiday special A Charlie Brown Christmas was their introduction to jazz. And 48 years after it first appeared on the shelf of your local Disc-O-Mat, the mustachioed maestro’s unforgettable collection of yuletide cool is still one of the most beloved Christmas albums of all time (I argue for top banana myself).

The Fantasy label, via its current owner, the Concord Music Group, once again revisits this collection by refurbishing the Columbia Broadcasting Company-sponsored edition, mostly returning it to its originally intended format. (In 2006 there was an expanded Fantasy/Concord edition featuring four alternate takes, a deluxe booklet and limited edition artwork; this adds two Thanksgiving-special bonus tracks.) It is still a marvel to witness how Guaraldi not only took ownership of such Xmas chestnuts as “O Tannenbaum”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “The Christmas Song” but entered a few of his own into the holiday songbook as well in “Christmastime Is Here” and “Skating.”

I’m still transported back to my Aunt Nickie and Uncle Al’s TV room huddled together with my cousins in front of their old Sony Trinitron set every time I hear it. DOWNLOAD: “Linus and Lucy,” “Christmastime Is Here,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” —RON HART

THROWING HORNS: Blurt’s Metal Roundup Pt. 666.5

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.5

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the fifth installment in our latest genre study, with Dawnbringer, Electric Wizard, King Diamond, Atriarch, At The Gates, Godflesh and more. Go here to read the hellish first episode, Pt. 666.1, or the second, Pt. 666.2, or the third, Pt. 666.3, or the fourth, Pt. 666.4—if you dare.

  BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

2014 was a good year for metal, with a ton of strong records from artists young and old. Rather than sum up the best of the best, we’ve elected to keep on with the latest releases, which, considering how good most of these LPs are, still gives you new goodies to add to your last-minute shopping list.

Dawnbringer

Chicago metal master Chris Black already put out one of 2014’s best heavy rock records with High Spirits’ You Are Here, but he apparently wasn’t done. As Dawnbringer, Black ups his game again with Night of the Hammer (Profound Lore) (album cover artwork is above, listen HERE) the fourth LP from his main (or at least best-known) project. Fielding a classic metal sound somewhere between late 70s Sabbath and early Iron Maiden, Black expands his thematic reach beyond the romantic confessionals of his High Spirits work, taking on war (“The Burning of Home”), mythology (the waltz-time “Xiphias”), vengeance (“Damn You”) and isolation (“Alien”). He seems most at home, though, with a series of death-fixated horror stories, riffing his way through the creepiness of the King Diamond tribute “Funeral Child,” “One-Eyed Sister” and the powerhouse “Hands of Death.” Regardless of his obsessions, though, Black always maintains the strength of his tunesmanship, without stinting on the heavy. As filtered through his plainspoken but instantly appealing voice and the triple guitar attack of himself, Bill Palko and Matt Johnsen, there simply may not be a finer melody maker in all of metal. Night of the Hammer isn’t quite the mindblower of Dawnbringer’s masterpiece In the Lair of the Sun God, but it’s the essence of Black’s vision distilled into one amazing album.

ElectricWizard

Doom titan Electric Wizard returns from another one of its (no doubt debauched) sabbaticals with Time to Die (Witchfinder/Spinefarm). Depending on your perspective, this is either a throwback or a return to form, as the band goes back to the slow, pounding, acid-drenched horror of its early days. There’s not a lot of the more uptempo rock & roll tunes the Dorset quartet has been experimenting with the past few records – just bad-trip agony translated into Hammer horror devil worship. Check out “Lucifer’s Slaves,” “Sadio Witch” and the awesome “I am Nothing” (watch video HERE) for some deliciously occult kicks. If song titles like “Sabbath Hex,” “The Devil’s Whip” and “Demon Blues” say anything, Orange Goblin shares a similar taste for B-movie esoterics on its latest album Back From the Abyss (Candlelight) (listen HERE). The London quartet’s cosmic biker doom sounds recharged here, with a bluesier cast than it’s managed since its early days, giving the riffs powering “Mythical Knives,” “Heavy Wears the Crown” and “Bloodzilla” a weight beyond amplifier settings. Also, a tip o’ the tentacle for adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece “A Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

 

From its name, you’d expect The Flight of Sleipnir (above) to be obsessed with Norse mythology. But on V (Napalm), the acid doom duo seems less concerned with specific tales of Odin’s eight-legged steed than, as its Facebook page puts it, “a musical interpretation of the writings of poets long since gone.” That leaves the field pretty wide open, a situation the band takes advantage of by moving from ethereal float to shrieking pound with a flick of the mane. “Gullveig,” “Archaic Rites” and “Sidereal Course” soar and crawl, sing and crunch, spiking powerhouse thud with undulating acoustica and casting a cloudy spell that makes it unclear whether it will help or harm.

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Ides of Gemini gets even more enigmatic on Old World New Wave (Neurot), delving into vintage mythology from several cultures in its quest for perfect doom. Both heavier and more psychedelic than singer Sera Timms’ former outfit Black Math Horseman, IoG gets metaphysical on haunted but surprisingly beautiful doomgazers like “Seer of Circassia,” “The Adversary” and “White Hart.” Boston newcomer Wormwood, however, eschews the more psychedelic side of doom on its self-titled debut EP (Magic Bullet) (listen HERE). “Hollow Black Eyes” and “I’d Rather Die” elevate depressive sludge over trippy atmospherics to evil effect.

 

On the more extreme side, veteran death metal act At the Gates (above) has finally released its long-awaited reunion album At War With Reality (Century Media). Perfectly balancing traditional death with the melodic thrash the Swedish quintet exploited so well on its classic Slaughter of the Soul nearly 20 years ago, the band sounds revitalized. Axemen Andreas and Jonas Björler furiously riff off each other, drummer Adrian Erlandsson bashes like an extreme metal Keith Moon and singer Tomas Lindberg wails with the inchoate power of the truly enraged. Even better, the band’s song-authoring mojo is in full flight – “The Circular Ruins,” “Eater of Gods” and “The Head of the Hydra” make all the metalcore and deathcore upstarts who claim the group as inspiration sound like petulant children. As with Carcass last year, At the Gates proves that the old dogs still hunt (and rip and tear flesh).

SpectralLore

On the black metal front, the big news is III (I, Voidhanger), the latest slab from Spectral Lore. Or it would be, if the one-man-band didn’t hail from Greece and release records on the offshoot of an Italian label with no U.S. distribution. Multi-instrumentalist/composer Ayloss owns an ambitious sweep, leavening his mournful aggression with widescreen passages of prog, classic metal, space rock and acoustic work that sounds like a gothic take on James Blackshaw. With a passion for melody as strong as his jones for dissonance, Ayloss swings between savage and serene, raging and rocking, teethgnashingly brutal and startlingly beautiful. The record’s 90 minutes is a true pleasure to get lost in.

Godflesh

The return of Godflesh came as no real surprise, as brain trust Justin Broaderick’s metalgaze project Jesu seemed to have run out of steam. What is somewhat of a shock is how fresh and exciting A World Lit Only By Fire (Avalanche) (listen HERE) is. Broaderick’s six-string shreck and angry bark hit like boxing gloves hiding bricks, while G.C. Green’s ribcage-rattling basslines and the ice-cold drum machine patterns finish the damage. The harsh pummeling dealt out by “Shut Me Down,” “Towers of Emptiness” and “Curse Us All” will feel familiar to victims of ‘flesh classics Streetcleaner and Pure, while “Imperator” and “Forgive Our Fathers” demonstrate that Broaderick hasn’t left the textural explorations of Jesu in the closet. Like Godflesh, Today is the Day is practically a genre unto itself. Animal Mother (Southern Lord), the trio’s tenth helping of discordant anguish (a description, not a value judgment), takes a tiny step toward accessibility, with catchy riffs and easily moshable rhythms supporting leader Steve Austin’s usual clashing dissonance and distorted vocal smears. Anger, spite and flat-out hatred power Austin’s rants, whether they’re short bursts of invective like “Divine Reward” and “Imperfection” or more complex riffers a la “The Last Stand” and “Sick of Your Mouth.” Add the acoustic seether “Outlaw,” the lush instrumental “Bloodwood” and the noisecore acid metal epic “Zodiac” and it’s a party. One for armed, cranky sociopaths, but still. (Watch “Masada” video below.)

 

Giant Squid, too, avoids obvious genre affiliations, folding in progressive rock, gothic pop, experimental ambience and anything else it favors into its epic doom. Minoans (Translation Loss) (listen HERE), the San Francisco band’s latest album, comes off as both mournful and majestic, as “Minoans,” “Sixty Foot Waves” and “The Pearl and the Parthenon” move in waves of grungy guitar, plangent cello, shimmering vocals and naked emotion.

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Up the coast from Giant Squid, Portland’s Usnea translates the sight of a deep-sea leviathan rising slowing from the depths to wreak havoc on the nearest city on its big label debut Random Cosmic Violence (Relapse). Moving from melancholy to malicious to monstrous, eardrum-multilators “Healing Through Death” and the title cut pour on the blackened sludge/doom, leaving no cochlea undefiled as they flow. Splitting the destinational difference, Wizard Rifle – born in Portland, based in L.A. – swirls punk and noise rock nougats into its doom metal ice cream on its second album Here in the Deadlights (Seventh Rule). From the rattling pogo of “Psychodynamo” to the thudding roar of “Crystal Witch and the stomping grunge of “Beastwhores,” the duo wreaks havoc across the fields like an invading army of hyperactive goblins.

Atriarch (above) goes even further out onto the fringes on An Unending Pathway (Relapse). Not that combining gothic death rock with blackened doom requires a genius level intellect to bring forth, but the Nashville (yes, you read that right) band’s third record wallows in gloom and doom with both widescreen sorrow and malevolent aggression. Like Christian Death in an orgy with Emperor, “Bereavement” and “Allfather” maintain melancholy melodics while still crushing bricks with bare claws, going completely off the rails on the cathartic closing track “Veil.” Brooklyn’s Occultation mines a similar black hole on its second LP Silence in the Ancestral House (Profound Lore), dropping the black metal vokills and incorporating majestic prog rock and galloping NWoBHM into gothic epics like “The Place Behind the Sky,” “The Dream Tide” and “Laughter in the Halls of Madness.” Over the top? Sure, but the band’s inherent melodicism (credit guitarist E.M.) and singer V.B.’s icy dignity sell it without guilt.

London’s Hang the Bastard puts rumbling doom, savage black metal, spacy psychedelia and beefy death metal into a blender and pour out a spiked, bitter smoothie with Sex in the Seventh Circle (SOAR/Century Media). Few bands can shift as easily from thrashing boogie (“Absorption”) to beastly extremity (“Hornfel”) to evil acid rock (“Mist of Albion”) and not grind the gears, but HtB makes it work.

Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen

Veteran Irish horde Primordial has blown way past its black metal origins with a smorgasbord of styles on its latest Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade). Channel everything from black metal to folk to goth to NWoBHM, the quintet gallops across the windy fields of Celtic myth to the tune of burly epics “Comes the Flood,” “The Alchemist’s Head” and “Wield Lightning to Split the Sun.” Like its U.K. brethren, Austin’s Dead Earth Politics doesn’t bother showing genre loyalty on its latest EP The Queen of Steel (selfreleased). Death metal, thrash, NWOBHM, doom – it’s all the same to them. That makes the galloping title cut, the chugging “Madness of the Wanderer” and the blazing anthem “Redneck Dragonslayer” brutal, dissonant and catchy all at once – great metal, in other words.

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From Columbus with power: Lo-Pan’s fourth LP Colossus (Small Stone) (listen HERE) fulfills the Ohio quartet’s promise and then some. Perfectly balancing ‘70s boogiegrunge with ‘90s artcrunch, the band makes an epic noise that grooves even as it stomps. Singer Jeff Martin, with his clear, muscular keen, is the star, but his bandmates give him the perfect backdrop over which to soar. Check out “Eastern Seas,” “Black Top Revelation” and the highway-cruising “Marathon Man” and alternate between banging your head in abandon and nodding it in appreciation.

 

After nearly 35 years as the pre-eminent corpsepaint-wearing LaVeyan Satanist in the headbanging business, King Diamond (above) can lay claim to legendary status. Temporarily felled by major bypass surgery, the Denmark-born, Dallas-based horror metal auteur just finished a triumphant comeback tour that found him not only in fine voice (amazing what finally quitting smoking can do for you) but with a new lease on life. Given his work’s obsession with death – more specifically what happens after, in the form of ghosts, demons and revenge from beyond the grave – that could be seen as ironic, we suppose. Regardless, the old devil is back to full power, celebrating his vast catalog of fright-soaked power/prog/black metal with the two-disk best-of Dreams of Horror (Metal Blade). Personally curated by King and his longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque, who also remastered the tracks for depth and clarity instead of volume, Dreams covers both the Roadrunner and Metal Blade eras and stands as the definitive collection so far. Whether you’re a diehard looking for a refresher course or a newcomer wanting to sample one of underground metal’s most flamboyant and imaginative characters, this is absolutely the place to start.

***

Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

CELEBRATE LIFE: James

James 1

Since their return in 2007, the British art-rockers-formerly-alterna-rockers have rekindled the creative spark that made them so beloved in the early ‘90s. “We’re wanting to look forward and play music that is as good if not better than anything we have done before,” explains frontman Tim Booth.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

With more than three decades of music on their resume, you wouldn’t blame Manchester’s James for taking the well-trafficked reunion tour route, alongside so many of their peers. Their biggest single in this country, “Laid,” from the 1993 album of the same name, was practically on the syllabus of every college-aged kid in the early ‘90s, so they’ve earned the right to hit up the summer festival circuit, offering up a greatest hits playlist show after show.

Funny thing is, the band, having already weathered a tough six-year break up beginning in 2001, has no intention off simply looking back. Since their critically-praised 2008 album, Hey Ma, the band has proved to be remarkably relevant, turning out some of their best music… well, ever.

Their latest, La Petite Mort, covers some heartbreaking topics – in particular the deaths of singer Tim Booth’s mother, as well as a close friend – but contrasts them beautifully with music that is borderline celebratory. Over the years, this feat has become a hallmark of the band: taking deep lyrics and pairing them with an enthusiastic backdrop.

Fresh off a tour in the UK, Booth was kind enough to get on the phone recently and talk through the new record, the band’s break up and reunion and growing older in an industry geared towards the young.

BLURT: I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I know doing interviews are not the reason anyone gives for starting a band.

TIM BOOTH: It’s been quite interesting being interviewed on this record because the questions have been deep. I haven’t felt much like a politician on a campaign because the topics are so emotionally pregnant. It’s been really quite good to talk about this stuff.

 

That’s an interesting place to start. One of the things that struck me about this album, lyrically you talk about some very serious issues here. Death is brought up in a number of these songs, but it’s not necessarily a sad album. Was there a conscious decision to make it a little more optimistic?

There were two things. One was my mother’s death at 91, surrounded by loved ones. She wanted to go earlier, she had been in a care home in Yorkshire and she kind of died in my arms and it was really beautiful; it was an ecstatic experience. I’ve never heard anyone describe death like that before and it was a shock to me. I didn’t think that was possible, such a beautiful passing. And secondly, I had the death of a friend, one of the people I loved most in the world and it was almost the complete opposite. This person dies younger and had an illness they had kept from me and I didn’t get there in time to say goodbye and it was devastating. I had two polar experiences and I think many people experience that second extreme rather than the first.

Another thing that happened, James naturally works against lyrics. We do that as an impulse, we’re not here to depress folks and very much our impulse was to celebrate life. We like these kind of paradoxical contrasts of uplifting music and heavy lyrical matter. I think that’s basically what happened, having the experience of death that was really beautiful and the natural change inclination to put two different ideas together.

Did you ever catch yourself, on this record in particular, thinking you might be sharing too much of what you just went through?

In writing (the lyrics) I never think about it and I know other people do sometimes get embarrassed about my candor, but I don’t even think about it when I’m writing because I have a duty to write the best lyric I can possible write and the more truthful I am the more it seems to touch people who love the music. And if it embarrasses people who can’t handle that level of directness and emotion then they’re not the right people for this music. In the end, I’m writing for the people who need to be written to. We had so many people write in response to these lyrics about the loss of their parent, their loved ones, their children, then you feel like you’re doing something that’s important – voicing things that don’t often get voiced. So no, I don’t often think about it.

 

You and the other members in the band have certainly earned the right to tour under the albums and songs you have recorded over the past few decades. Is it important that you continue to write new music?

Yes, we’re not a heritage band in that we’re not really looking back. We’re wanting to look forward and play music that is as good if not better than anything we have done before. Because of our age there’s a glass ceiling on us so it’s harder to get a hit. In England it’s a closed shop unless your music attracts 16-to-25-year-olds. It’s an ageist glass ceiling which I see as no better than a sexist or racist glass ceiling.

Our feeling is that we’re looking forward all the time. When we got together it was never to play the old hits. We’ve got like 17 hits, so we can bury them or change them up, fuck around with them. “Sit Down” is the biggest hit for us in this country (the UK) and we won’t be playing it on this tour. We took it out for a year or so, so it will be fresh again and we can reinvigorate it. Springsteen is the one I think who has done it really nobly. Wrecking Ball was really a fantastic record and he keeps moving forward. There’s a belief that with aging you can’t be vital. Vitality is not a prerequisite of youth.

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The band split up in 2001. What was it that made it possible for the band to reunite and work on new music?

I left the band in 2001 and we absolutely swore we would never play together again. It wasn’t really healthy for us all psychologically. We got very dysfunctional towards the late ‘90s though we actually started to heal some of the wounds on Pleased to Meet You (the band’s 2001 album). I felt like we should go out on a really great record and I was so scared of us falling back to where we were psychologically in the late ‘90s and it just wasn’t healthy; there was a lot of addictions and it was difficult to communicate and we came back really because everyone had cleaned up and everyone had six years to reevaluate what we were and we all knew we still had some good music in us.

To me, the biggest issue was could we change as a family. When you’ve been together 32 years the band is a family, it’s more than most people’s fucking marriage… We came together and we had changed. We all love each other and love what we do passionately. This is an amazing band and it’s a real joyful band to be in right now.

 

Having been together more than three decades, what has changed about the band in terms of how you get together to write music?

In many ways it’s the same. We’ve done it in different groups of people, but the methodology is the same. But the fact is, no one really writes a song and brings it into James. We get into a room and improvise with each other. That improvisation is our philosophy; our belief in creating things in the moment, unconsciously.

It’s the way of tapping into a creativity… there’s something about in that magic that’s uncontrollable and I mean that in the most positive way. The unconscious mind is where the great source of creativity lives.

DANGEROUS MUSIC: Peru Bravo

Traffic Sound

A remarkable 2CD collection of rare funk, soul and psych tracks hailing from Peru’s so-called “radical decade” (the Seventies) outlines the underground musical response to the then-prevailing authoritarian government. Pictured above: Traffic Sound.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The track slouches in on shimmering wah-wahed guitar, navigating the familiar blues chords from the opening to Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” Still, you are not very far into this cut before it shifts into a more heated gear. A rattle of congas quickens the pace, the guitars jangle in agitated counterpoint, the vocal, in Spanish, unfurls in quick bravado, floats to impossible falsetto. You can imagine the members of Jeriko, a late 1960s band from Lima, Peru, huddled with headphones over a battered Hendrix single, swallowing American psychedelic rock whole and spitting it out spiked with Latin syncopation.

Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul & Psych from Peru’s Radical Decade (Tiger’s Milk) is a double-vinyl, 16-track compilation that documents an extraordinary period during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when despite harsh political repression, a genre-omnivorous blend of rock, jazz, funk and traditional Peruvian music blew up in Lima. The set documents the entire reign of General Juan Velasco Alvarado, who took over the government as a socialist reformer 1974 (albeit in a military coup), but eventually sought control of all elements of Peruvian society – its economy, language, education system and culture. Like a lot of authoritarians, Velasco favored indigenous folk arts over foreign imports; he made Quechua an official language of Peru. So, just as Peruvian musicians were beginning to get easier access to Western recordings – and to absorb influences like West Coast psych, American R&B, funk and heavy rock – this kind of eclecticism became politically dangerous.

Hey Joe 45

The music that Peru Bravo celebrates grew up underground, drawing in traditional art forms but mixing them with forbidden ones. It’s a heady mix, where slinky chicha grooves meet Tower of Power horn blasts, where smouldery Booker T. organ vamps sidle up to scorching hand drum syncopations.

There’s hardly a dead spot on this compilation, and the best stuff is very good indeed. Among the highlights, I’d count Black Sugar’s blistering hard salsa rampage “Checan,” Laghonia’s garage rock raveup “Bahia,” Los Holys’ super tight surf Latin cover of the Meters’ “Cissy Strut,” and The Image’s “Outasite,” a dreamy psych soul reverie that reminds me a lot of Tommy James’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” Speaking of covers, Los Texao offers their take on Steppenwolf classic “Sookie Sookie.” Also included is psych band Traffic Sound (“La Camita”), which has long been a favorite of BLURT’s editor. But the best cut on the disc by a pretty good margin belongs to chicha heavyweights Los Destellos (pictured below). Their “Onsta la Yerbita” starts in acid-trip bloops of wah wah and echo-shrouded spoken word, then kicks to life in a back-slanting, hip-shifting syncopated groove. An organ shimmers like a highway heat mirage and through it rips a lacerating fuzz guitar. It is radiantly beautiful and abrasive at the same time, and one of the most remarkable moments on an excellent disc.

Los Destellos

You don’t really need the historical background to enjoy Peru Bravo, but it’s there if you want it in an extensive essay on Lima’s 1960s and 1970s music scene and notes on the artists and tracks. Along the way you learn how “in Peru, ‘bravo’ has a double meaning. It can refer to something that is edgy or dangerous but can also be celebratory, as in English.” The collection was expertly compiled by award-winning chef/restaurateur and best-selling author Martin Morales (he’s additionally worked with such artists as Matthew Herbert, Chucho Valdez, Oi Va Voi, Omara Portuondo, Tata Guines, Orquesta Aragon and Novalima), along with Duncan Ballantyne (who has managed Soundway Records, Brazilian label Far Out and Naive in the UK) and Andrés Tapia del Rio (of Lima’s Recycled Records).

But mostly if you like funk, soul, psych or rock, you’ll like Peru Bravo. Great stuff. (Below: Laghonia)

Laghonia

 

LOST LOVE: Arthur Lee & Love

 

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A recently-excavated cache of acetates results in the release of a previously-shelved Love album from Arthur Lee’s post-Vindicator period, 1973’s Black Beauty. While it’s unlikely it would have set the charts on fire at the time, it would have added considerable might to the band’s legacy while Lee was still alive.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When Arthur Lee recorded Black Beauty in 1973, he was at a crossroads. His solo career had fizzled with the failure of his album Vindicator, and he’d thought Love retired; he continued to gig, but his heart was no longer in the business of show. But the consolidation of a new band – guitarist Melvan Whittington, bassist Robert Rozelle, drummer Joe Blocker – re-lit the fire within, and took Lee back to the studio with a collection of old and new tunes to be released under the name of the old firm.

Unfortunately, Buffalo Records, the start-up indie label formed by Hair producer Michael Butler, folded right after Lee submitted the tapes, and the record has been lost to history since. Until now, that is, when a pair of acetates produced enough workable tracks to finally put Black Beauty together and out into the public space, courtesy the High Moon label (which also recently reissued Gene Clark’s classic, out of print Two Sides to Every Story album). Some of the material has circulated before on bootleg, but this marks the first official release.

As with all Lee releases post-1967, this one comes with a fair warning: this ain’t Forever Changes part whatever. (Yes, that album is a masterpiece, but c’mon, folks – get over it. Just because Lee never repeated it doesn’t mean he didn’t make good music after it.) That said, it’s not quite in the same space as the hard-edged blues rock Lee had explored with the post-Changes versions of Love, either. Lee’s new musicians were as comfortable with then-contemporary R&B as rock, and while nothing here approaches the slicker soul sounds to be found on 1974’s Reel to Real, recorded with the same band, there’s definitely a tighter groove and a looseness to the arrangements that usually comes from folks who’ve gotten funky a time or two.

“Stay Away” and “Midnight Sun” feature the Hendrixian rock of records like False Start, but with an airiness that opens up the sound beyond mere hard rock. “Can’t Find It,” “See Myself in You” and “Lonely Pigs” ride relaxed rhythms while still giving Whittington room to roam. “Young & Able (Good & Evil)” and “Product of the Times” (recorded live with a previous Love)  rock more aggressively, backing up the biting social commentary. “Skid,” written by Lee’s personal assistant Riley Racer and poet Angela Rackley, adds muscle to the band’s old folk-rock style for a tuneful highlight.

As a reminder of the eclecticism of side one of Da Capo, “Beep Beep” adds a Caribbean groove, while “Walk Right In” rocks up an ancient Gus Cannon folk song that Lee had loved since childhood. Throughout, Lee and company sound focused and on point, knowing where they’re going and how to get there. It’s a shame that music biz shenanigans sidelined this album; while it’s unlikely Black Beauty would have set the charts on fire, it would have added considerable might to the band’s legacy while Lee was still alive.

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Besides rescuing the audio from decaying acetates, High Moon tricks out this edition with a pile of extras. “Thomasine & Bushrod” is the theme song for an obscure film of the same name, and sounds of a piece with Love’s mid-‘60s peak. One of this Love’s rare live shows contributes three more previously unreleased songs; the quality of the raging “Every Time I Look Up, I Look Down,” the melancholy “Nothing” and the bluesy “Keep On Shining” makes up for the substandard audio fidelity. The straightforwardly rocking “L.A. Blues” comes from a mid-’90s session with the band Ventilator.

Furthermore, the package includes a 22-minute interview with Lee from 1974, lengthy liner notes by noted rock writer Ben Edmonds and Lee’s wife Diane, and a nice hardback case in which to wrap it all up. (The LP version comes on 180gm vinyl and is housed in a beautiful tip-on sleeve.) After decades in the ether, Black Beauty gets the issue it deserves.

Arthur Lee

THE COLLEGE ROCK CHRONICLES, PT. 5: Dwight Twilley & Phil Seymour

Twilley Band

“I think there will always be an audience for song-oriented music and for the craftsmanship of a great pop record”: Truer words were never spoken. We hereby pay tribute to the power pop auteur and his late musical partner.

BY FRED MILLS

Ed. note: For this installment of my ongoing “College Rock Chronicles” series (previously excavated: archival interviews with Big Star, Dumptruck, The Gun Club and Green On Red) I’m paying tribute to perhaps my favorite ever power pop group, The Dwight Twilley Band. Steered by the titular songwriter and his drumming/singing foil Phil Seymour, the group released only two albums before both men embarked on solo careers, but those two records—1976’s Sincerely and 1977’s Twilley Don’t Mind—remain etched in pop devotees’ minds. No better evidence of that is the just issued Twilley Won’t Mind tribute album, comprising material from that mid/late ‘70s period. Coincidentally, a posthumous live Seymour album, Phil Seymour In Concert! has also just arrived, so as you might surmise, ye olde editor’s pop fiend gears started turning and I decided to excavate portions of a 2002 interview I did with Twilley to flesh out my musings on the two new releases. Enjoy. – FM

 We power pop acolytes can be a long-suffering bunch. Many is the time when our heroes have seemed on the cusp of breaking big, only to be shoved aside by a more mainstream-stroking bandwagon-hopper or, worse, discovering that their supporters at the label were gone (or, even worse, the label itself had shuttered). This tends to leave us, the lonely fans, casting our hosannas year after year to the utter indifference of friends, family, foils and foes. Still, we persist, viewing our unconditional love as a noble cause. Yes, we are sad bastards.

Just the same, submitted for your consideration: Dwight Twilley and his early musical partner, Phil Seymour. In the summer of ’75 the inordinately handsome 24-year old Okie with a joint Sun Records/Elvis and British Invasion/Beatles fixation vaulted from out of nowhere into the Top 20 with the chiming/throbbing radio anthem “I’m On Fire.” Credited to The Dwight Twilley Band, it was the brainchild of Mrs. Twilley’s kid and Seymour, who by that point had been working together for nearly a decade. Back then no one outside a select circle of Tulsa, Okla., musicians and Twilley and Seymour’s Shelter Records label bosses, Leon Russell and Denny Cordell, had even heard of the upstart songwriters, but as the summer unfolded and the song blared from car radios everywhere, it looked to be the start of a beautiful career for the duo.

Twilley Band 2

At the time, though, neither Twilley nor Seymour seemed all that concerned with how the music biz operated, to the extent that the band rarely performed live, the pair preferring to hole up in the relative isolation of their Tulsa studio and craft the songs that would eventually grace their debut. They presumed, in their youthful arrogance, that every song they recorded was a potential hit followup to “I’m On Fire.”

“Oh, we were so naïve,” Twilley told me years later in a 2002 interview, laughing somewhat ruefully at the memories. “We thought we were indestructible – and were proven wrong really quick.”

Indeed, many of Twilley’s subsequent activities fell prey to bad timing; Sincerely, the album containing the hit single, was delayed for a year, at which time Shelter was already in the process of going under, so following a second Twilley Band album for the Arista label he and Seymour both went solo. There were also bad business decisions: in ’86 Twilley signed with a CBS affiliate for his sixth album, Wild Dogs, only to see the shady president of his label become embroiled in a huge payola scandal, effectively killing the album upon its release; meanwhile, Seymour enjoyed moderate success with the single “Precious to Me” but the label he had signed with, Boardwalk, folded shortly after his second album was released. And then there were just plain bad breaks; after forming his own Big Oak label, in 2001 Twilley prepared to released The Luck , but its release two weeks after September 11 ensured that everyone’s attention was directed elsewhere.

However, the Twilley story isn’t strictly a cautionary tale. To the contrary: Twilley’s been luckier than most, and a lot of musicians would kill to have the same level of respect and recognition that he’s amassed over the years. Critics consistently vote Sincerely and its ’77 follow-up Twilley Don’t Mind onto their All-Time Greatest Powerpop Albums lists. Tragically, Seymour passed away in ’93 from lymphoma, but Twilley has consistently persevered, with his two most recent albums, Green Blimp (reviewed HERE at Blurt and Always (reviewed HERE), maintaining the high standards he and Seymour set nearly four decades earlier. “I definitely feel like I have my little spot, and I’m proud of what I do,” Twilley insisted to me. “I think there will always be an audience for song-oriented music and for the craftsmanship of a great pop record.” (Following this text is more of my 2002 conversation with Twilley.)

Phil Seymour CD

Under discussion today: a pair of Twilley Band related releases. First, Phil Seymour In Concert!, no less than the third installment in the Phil Seymour Archive Series, issued by Airline Records (distributed by Ingrooves). Vols. 1 and 2 were released by quirky reissue specialist Fuel 2000 and offered up, respectively, an expanded version of Seymour’s superb 1980 eponymous debut (recorded shortly after the original Twilley Band had split), and its somewhat less inspired—though still quite enjoyable—followup, 1982’s 2. This time around we get a 2CD set with pair of live concerts from L.A. in 1979 and 1980.

The ’79 performance of Seymour and The Feel at the Hong Kong Café is high on energy but suffers from just average sonic quality, a kind of flat soundboard feel, something that actually won’t bother Seymour collectors since medium fidelity tapes swapped rabidly over the years have already primed the ears to settle for what we can get. Two obvious highlights are “Looking For the Magic,” from the classic Twilley-Seymour partnership that won us over in the first place all those years ago, and a cover of the Supremes’ “Can’t Hurry Love.” Indeed, the set is heavy on covers, including tunes from Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Bobby Fuller and Nick Lowe; as such, it suggests that Seymour, along with his band at the time, The Feel, was still working out his identity as a bandleader. The ’80 show is much better, from the setlist to the sound (it was originally recorded at Gazzari’s for an FM broadcast) to the musicians backing up Seymour. Gone is the hastily-assembled The Feel, and taking their place is a far more accomplished ensemble that includes the mighty Bill Pitcock IV, from the Twilley band, natch, on lead guitar. The set is accordingly frontloaded with Twilley/Seymour-centric material, notably Twilley’s luscious “Then We Go Up,” Seymour’s surprise hit single “Precious to Me” and a “Peter Gunne”-like thumper penned by Pitcock titled “Don’t Blow Your Life Away.” Among the covers are Lieber & Stoller, Bobby Fuller (again) and go-to power pop femme Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s.

By this point Seymour has become a more confident frontman, partly due no doubt to having more seasoned players surrounding him and partly because with the success of “Precious to Me” he was staking his own turf rather than being simply “the other guy” onstage with Twilley. At times you can hear him taking on a bit of a McCartney persona, animated and clearly enjoying himself. (For proof see the live video of “Precious to Me,” above, although not that is not from the Gazzari’s show.) Sadly, Seymour’s record label would fold shortly after the release of the second album, effectively squelching whatever momentum he had, although he continued to work for another decade (notably as a member of the Textones, with Carla Olson) until his death in ‘93.

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As sweet as it is to have previously unreleased Seymour in the record bins, most of us know that you ain’t been properly memorialized until a tribute album is recorded. Enter the power pop fanatics of Australia’s Zero Hour who’ve assembled a host of international indieites to redo some 23 tracks hailing from the Sincerely and Twilley Don’t Mind era. And while we all know that tribs tend to be spotty, if not outright compromised, when it’s your personal fave getting the proverbial musical hat-tip, it’s easy to be generous if you already love the material and enough of the performances are solid.

For the most part, Twilley Won’t Mind is exactly that. With 23 tunes, it’s inevitable that some of ‘em are gonna fall flat; several tracks are overly earnest, overtly schmaltzy, or just plain poorly recorded. But with such killer readings as Honeychain’s sleek, sexy and seamless “I’m On Fire,” Donovan’s Brain’s unbelievably accurate (right down to the backwards guitar), 12-string powered “Sincerely,” Michael Carpenter’s rousing handclapathon “Here She Comes” and the Slapbacks’ urgently buoyant “Looking For the Magic” it’s easy not only to be generous, but seduced. The musicians on the album have clearly studied and loved those two albums and their creators over the years, and the inspiration comes through in their recreations.

Writes journalist/archivist John M. Borack in his liner notes, “The Dwight Twilley Band [was] a true collaborative effort. No power pop duo could match the chemistry created when Dwight Twilley and Phil Seymour played and sang together. Sincerely could have been subtitled ‘The Beatles Meet Elvis and the Byrds in Tulsa… a record for the ages. [And] Twilley Don’t Mind is nearly as perfect as the debut. Enjoy these covers, then go back and listen to the originals, too. You won’t have to look hard to find the magic.”

It’s perhaps significant that Borack and Bobby Sutliff from the Windbreakers perform on two of the tracks I’ve singled out above. Knowing both men’s deep, abiding love for power pop, I feel confident in saying that as long as they and their compatriots are around, the early Twilley Band’s estimable legacy will be in good hands. A hearty salute all around, gentlemen.

Below: Around 1977 the Dwight Twilley Band, which featured Bill Pitcock IV on guitar and guest Tom Petty on bass, popped up a number of times on American TV. Here they are doing “That I Remember” and “Looking For the Magic.” Nice lip-synching, lads!

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Dwight Twilley: The Interview

 BLURT: When you and Phil hit with “I’m On Fire,” did you have an awareness of being thrust into the belly of the music industry beast, so to speak?

DWIGHT TWILLEY: Oh, we were so naïve, too naive to be aware of anything like that. We thought we were indestructible. And we were proven wrong really quick! We had so many problems right from the get-go. The album didn’t even come out until a year after “I’m On Fire,” and it would have gone gold if it had come out then. They believed in it so much they were going to release two more singles before it came out. They released the second single and then the company went under. That’s when Leon and Denny parted company. So what do you do about that?

And you guys weren’t really touring at first anyway. You were more of a studio outfit. Did you have to play catch-up to get out there and tour?

Essentially, yeah. In a way. We could have been a stronger live act. We were so strong in the studio that I don’t think we could match what we did in the studio live.

How were you marketed? By the time Sincerely came out “new wave” was slowly becoming a buzzword… and then there was “power pop,” which some artists seem to be ambivalent towards.

Oh, I’ve had all those titles! About 20 of them! I have no problem with power pop. But would you really say “I’m On Fire” is a power pop record? To me it’s a rock record. I do pop music, but I also do rock music. So I dunno, that’s the kind of thing you leave to the writers and critics to decide. I’ll float along with it…

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What was going through your head after Phil left the band and you started moving towards the MTV era? Did you have a game plan? Because you actually shelved two albums.

Well, I had a ton of legal problems. I got bogged down for several years and it really took a toll on me. I have people tell me I’d never have another hit, and it was almost the same thing again – I was determined that I would.

Then MTV waved my flag. It said I wasn’t gone. But then again, once I stood up I got knocked down again by that payola scandal. I had my big followup album, which I thought was a good album. But boy, after that payola scandal I was, pffft, really almost blacklisted. A lot of fans didn’t even know it was out. Which is a little bit like what’s happened with The Luck. It was released 2 weeks after 9/11, so a lot of our press for that record was really blanketed. Not only were the press and everyone else walking around like zombies at the time, but so were we. Nobody did anything for about 2 months and that really killed our momentum.

It seems that a lot of American pop artists dropped off the radar in the late ‘80s also. Was there that much of a seachange in the business or in the public’s taste?

Well, I think there was that. And at that point in the music business, that was when it was starting to be uncool if you’d had hits. And I literally had people say that they would sign me if I wasn’t Dwight Twilley! It was kind of the A&R thing too: if you signed Dwight Twilley and he had a hit, what a talented guy that Dwight Twilley is, but if you were an A&R man who signed [some unknown artist] and he got a hit, what a genius the A&R guy is. That was the syndrome.

Quite a Catch-22.

Yeah, it really was. And can you believe that things actually got worse? I spent several years with a chip on my shoulder, not believing that I didn’t have a major label record deal. Yet today, I wouldn’t take one if you shoved it in my face.

People forget that a number of these bands had good deals, reasonable backing, then all of a sudden were persona non grata. We were moving into the flannel shirt era where notions of “authenticity” took over from notions of “classic songwriting.”

And I heard for years that “pop is coming back.” [bitter laugh] You hear that every once in awhile. And people would come to me and say, ‘We just need somebody to lead it, and you should be the guy!’ No such thing ever happened! And if it came back at all, I guess it came back in the form of the homogenized songs that all these little girls and boy bands are doing. I don’t think there’s a venue for it now – there’s hardly any stations that will play it.

Going all the way back to “I’m On Fire,” though, you’ve plugged into a classic style and sound that a lot of people can relate to.

And fortunately I’m still able to actually sing my hits! [laughs] And they come off pretty well live. We always like to do “TV” [from Sincerely]. I revitalize the words every two or three years, so now when I do it there’s lyrics about Pay-Per-View, VCRs, computer screens, that whole thing. It’s always a fun song – it would have been great if Elvis could have covered that! It was being talked about at one point before he died… I’m playing at least one song from every record I’ve put out. Some of the old stuff just sounds amazing, really authentic. It’s really fresh for us. You won’t hear a tired, played-out thing that we’ve been doing forever.

What do you think is the appeal, the enduring strength of American pop music?

I think there will always be an audience for song-oriented music. For people that really understand the craftsmanship of a great pop record, great pop songs. Music and lyrics tied together.

Do you feel you slot into that tradition? Ever feel like walking away from music altogether?

I dunno, I definitely feel like I have my little spot and I’m proud of what I do. And you know, there was that long period where I wasn’t doing anything, and then I put out Tulsa [1999] and it really took me by surprise how much people appreciate when I go and make a record.

So it really kind of made me want to make some more records. I was really fortunate.

Twilley now

Dwight Twilley online: http://www.dwighttwilley.com/

 

A LIFE WELL LIVED – Saying Farewell to Ian McLagan

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Ed. note: When the news hit this week about Ian McLagan’s unexpected and tragic death in the aftermath of a severe stroke, we here at BLURT were more than just shocked—we were devastated. Music lovers all over the planet, ourselves included, and particularly in Austin where McLagan had lived for a number of years, are fans of the keyboardist’s work over the years starting in the mid ‘60s with the Small Faces and up through Ian McLagan & the Bump Band. And being able to meet him in person on several occasions was an honor for members of the BLURT staff; I got to chat with him in Austin a number of years ago when his All The Rage autobiography was published, additionally seeing him play twice (I also had seen the Faces perform during that band’s heyday), while our publisher Stephen Judge got to hang out with him this past March during SXSW at our annual day party at the Ginger Man Pub. (The pictures on this page were taken by photog Susan Moll at the party.) Each time he was warm, funny and outgoing, a true British gentleman: upon learning that he enjoyed it so much he wanted to do our day party each year going forward, we were truly and deeply flattered.

       To mark McLagan’s passing, we hereby are republishing longtime Contributing Editor Lee Zimmerman’s interview with the man, conducted in February on the occasion of the release of the Small Faces box set Here Come the Nice. We’ve also added content from Zimmerman’s review of McLagan’s most recent solo album, United States, released just a few months ago. Rest in peace, Mac: you will be greatly missed.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN / PHOTOS BY SUSAN MOLL

When the roll call of people who have been key lynchpins in Rock’s overall trajectory comes to mind, suggesting the name Ian McLagan may garner a blank look from the unknowing in return. On the other hand, namedrop some of the musicians who figure prominently in McLagan’s resume, and that dumbfounded expression will likely morph into one of awe and appreciation. Aside from the fact that he played a pivotal role in two of the most vital British bands of the sixties and seventies — the Small Faces and later, the Faces – he can claim a list of recording and touring credits that include stints with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Joe Cocker, Billy Bragg, Paul Westerberg, and… well, honestly, given those names thus far, need we offer any others?

That’s not to say McLagan – or Mac, as he’s known to friends and fans alike – has spent his career in the background. Far from it, in fact. For the past 35 years, he’s helmed the Bump Band, an all-star musical collective based in his adopted hometown of Austin. Credit McLagan for continuing the trajectory initiated some five decades back to make him a mainstay of the city’s music scene. His latest effort, United States (Yep Roc) recorded with the ever-reliable Bump Band, more or less affirms the MO he established early on – simple, concise and unassuming songs delivered with a reliable mix of tenacity and humility. As a keyboardist, McLagan’s not the smoothest singer – he sounds similar to Ron Wood and Keith Richards on those occasions when they take over the microphone – but he succeeds by default, whether deadpanning a smooth croon on “Mean Old World” or crowing with conviction on “Love Letter” and “Who Says It Ain’t Love.” The best songs show some spunk – the bouncy “Pure Gold,” the reggae lilt of “Who Says It Ain’t Love” and the giddy “Shalalala,” among those that offer the ear candy. All in all, United States demonstrates McLagan’s allegiance to a pure pop mantra.

Meanwhile, there’s also Here Comes the Nice this year, a massively thorough, and highly inclusive box set that details every Small Faces hit on the Immediate Records label, along with loads of heretofore unreleased material, a thick coffee table book, souvenir mementos and other relics sure delight the most devoted fan. (Go here to read our review of the box.)

Affable, easy-going and retaining more than a hint of his British workingman origins, McLagan’s seemingly all too eager to share the details of a career that spans nearly 50 years. That career began with a trio of otherwise obscure outfits — bands like Cyril Davies’ All Stars, the Muleskinners and the Boz People — prior to his replacing keyboard player Jimmy Winston in the Small Faces in November 1965. McLagan previously detailed this critical period in his exceptional rock memoir All The Rage, which also found him recalling the Faces’ freewheeling road show and his later career as well. Given the wealth of riches, our first question was somewhat obvious.

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 BLURT: So Mac, are you happy with the new Small Faces box set?
MCLAGAN: I’m real thrilled and delighted about the new box set. (Producer) Rob Caiger is my new hero. He did such a fantastic job. There’s 45s in there, there’s CDs — four CDs in fact — it’s just amazing to me how good a job they did.

 Did you and Kenny Jones curate the box?
We oversaw it, but Rob is the guy who did it all. I was overwhelmed thinking about how we were ever going to find these tapes, but he found them all in Sony’s vault. He found the stereo masters and they’re better than any other record company has had in the past. The CDs that have been pressed over the years have been taken from other CDs in some cases. It’s just unbelievable. But now, we have almost everything, and some of the stuff is in really, really good condition for the first time. He’s kept us in touch at all times. I’ve been getting as many as five emails a day from him. Kenny and I went to the studio to hear some of it, and it’s about fucking time that this actually happened.

Had you heard this material since you recorded it?
Most of it, but there’s stuff on there I hadn’t heard since we left the studio. Some of it was quite surprising. The introduction of “Tin Soldier,” which originally was piano, then organ, guitar, drums, bass… they all come in… but there’s a rehearsal tape on one of the CDs that I had forgotten about. Steve comes in and says, “Hold on!” and then we do it again and then we do it again and then we do it again. And then he fucks up. Eventually he gets it right, but of course we never used this version. (laughs) So it was fascinating for me. All those moments in the studio that I had forgotten about… when we’d have such a good laugh.

It seems like this box is going to be a real treasure for the Small Faces fan. There are likely things on there that nobody has ever heard or even imagined before.
The booklet itself is amazing. It’s 12 by 12 like the box itself, and it’s a good half an inch thick. It’s unbelievable. Rob Caiger actually starts off describing all the trials and tribulations of finding all the stuff. There’s also a foreword by Pete Townshend, and one by me and Kenny.

 So this will be available worldwide then?
Universal in the U.K. has been hemming and hawing. It should be a worldwide release, but it’s not even coming out in England.

 That’s unbelievable.
They’re working on it. They’re trying to convince Universal and Charly to release it over there. But I have a feeling it’s not coming out over there.

 At this point, is there anything left in the vaults, any demos or unreleased tracks?
Everyone has asked about out version of the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” I have no memory of recording it, so it’s definitely a lost track. But other than that, everything from the Decca years has already come out. The head of that company was such a mean bastard. He wouldn’t have let anything just sit there.

It seems astounding that the Small Faces never really made much of an impact here in the States, with the exception of the singles “Itchycoo Park” and, to a certain extent, “Tin Soldier.”
We never toured in America.

But why was that?
It was because our first manager Don Arden didn’t want us to come to America because he was our manager and our agent and our records were released through his production company. In other words, he never paid us our royalties for our records or our songwriting, so he didn’t want us to come to America because that would have meant that an American agent would have gotten control and he would have lost control. Then we left him, but then we got busted and that kept us out of the States for awhile. We got a good lawyer and that would have helped, but once we got signed to Immediate, they didn’t want us to come over for the same reason. They would have lost control.

Aside from those couple of singles, it was just such a pity that the American audience eluded you.
Especially since onstage we were an incredibly rambunctious live band. We were wild. And that was never evident on the records, especially “Itchycoo Park” or “Lazy Sunday.” They were nothing like we were onstage, so Americans never saw that side of us, unless they were kids of American servicemen stationed in Germany or in England. We played a few shows for the servicemen in Germany and in East Anglia at the American bases there. Otherwise, they would never have gotten to see us live.

There’s a DVD collection of live Small Faces performances that came out a couple of years ago, but really, as far as audio recordings of the Small Faces live, there doesn’t seem to be too many, aside from a few songs that appeared posthumously over the years. Why weren’t there more?
I don’t really know. I know Glyn Johns recorded us at Newcastle which is where those recordings came from… and I think they’re all included in the box. I think that’s all there were. I haven’t done my research. As soon as I see the actual box I’ll let you know.

Before you joined the Small Faces, did you consider yourself a fan?
Oh yeah, in fact my dad pointed them out to me. They were on “Ready Steady Go” one night playing live. I was getting ready to go out on a date and he called me upstairs. “Here, check this one out.” He was never really fond of anybody — he wasn’t into pop music — but he heard how good they were and liked Steve (Marriott’s) voice. And they were a fantastic looking band. He said, “Here, that guy over there” — pointing to Ronnie Lane — “he looks just like you.” We did look a bit alike back then. And then I get a call from their manager. He asked me how much I was earning, so I lied and said twenty pounds a week, which is what my dad was earning. But I knew that was a fair way to go about it. So he said, “Twenty? I’ll give you thirty! And if the guys like you, then you’ll get an even split.” So instantly I was wealthier than my dad! But I never got an even split. After a month I went to Ronnie and I said, “I guess I’m not a permanent member.” And he said, “What are you talking about? Of course you are.” So we went round to the office and I asked Arden if I could start getting an even split. So he, said, “Right you are. You’ll make the same as them, twenty pounds a week.” So right away my wages went down ten pounds.

 The story is that when the other three met you for the first time, they instantly — and literally — embraced you because they thought you had the perfect look that would make you fit in.
Steve grabbed hold of me as soon as I came round the door of Don Arden’s office, and the three of them picked me up. It was like instant friends, instant buddies.

 Why did their first keyboard player Jimmy Winston leave the band?
He was kicked out. He wasn’t a great keyboard player. He could play a little bit but given the power of Steve and Ronny and Kenney (Jones), he couldn’t keep up. Kenney was only 16, but he was amazing. And they were all so fucking full of themselves.

 And then you all started sharing a flat together. That must have been a blast.
Ronnie, Steve and myself. Kenney was still living at home. He was only 16 or 17.The rest of us wanted the freedom.

It seems like you guys were living the ideal rock star lifestyle. You were in a great band, you could indulge all your dreams, you had the grooviest clothes… It must have been just as the star struck among us might imagine.
It’s true, but mind you, that rock star life meant we worked our asses off. We worked every day. We rarely had a day off. I can only remember two or three in the first year and a half or two years. But we loved that. That’s all I wanted to do, is just to play. And we were in a band where we were playing every day. It was a dream, ya know?

It seems like when you switched labels from Decca to Immediate, the band evolved incredibly quickly from that point on.
We were developing very quickly. We were always recording between gigs. We’d spend three hours in a studio and then go do a show. Once we joined Immediate, they gave us more time in the studio and we became less of a live band. It actually backfired on us a little bit because we were recording stuff that we couldn’t recreate on stage. “Itchycoo Park,” for example. But it paid off eventually because we did make some decent sounding records.

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Your final official album, Ogdens Nut Gone Flake, was one of the first concept albums, wasn’t it? It had an entire side devoted to this very odd fairy tale. It actually predated Tommy, right?
I believe it did, yeah. We got halfway there. We got half a concept album, just the second side. (laughs) Eventually it was all going to be a concept thing, but we got lax. We had the story, but we had “Lazy Sunday and “Rollin’ Over” and some other tracks on there as well. Is “Rollin’ Over” on there? I’m not sure. (chuckles) I never know which track is off of which album.

It seemed like you were hitting on all cylinders at that point.
Well, it was an incredible vibrant time, ya know? There were orchestras that did a lot of film work in the studio we were using. So there would be a left over kettle drum in the middle of the studio. We’d say, “Oh, we’ll use this.” Occasionally we’d use the tubular bells. They were always there but we never used them before. So we could always experiment a little.

Even though Steve and Ronnie were the principal songwriters, were you able to contribute to any extent?
Oh yeah. When it came to Ogdens, we rented three motorboats on the Thames for a little vacation. And we took guitars, the three of us, and I took my wife and my dog, and they took their girlfriends. So we were noodling along, doing nothing really. Smoking a joint, having a drink, loving the day, and then we pulled over for lunch. So then everyone comes over to my boat because it was bigger, and we’re all sitting around playing guitars. I would suggest titles and bits and pieces, so they couldn’t exclude me at that point.

Usually Ronnie would have an idea and he would go to Steve, or Steve would have an idea and he would go to Ronnie, and that’s where the songs came from. In this particular situation, I couldn’t be excluded because I was offering ideas and suggesting things. So I got to co-write a bit. It was easy and it came pretty fast. I had the idea of the title “HappyDaysToyTown” (from Ogdens) and little things like that. It was a really exciting time, and I think it would have developed from there.

Weren’t you occasionally contributing vocals as well?
Well, I always sang a bit of background and I had actually recorded two of my own songs early on. Ronnie and Steve were both very supportive. I always wanted to write with them, and I was sort of like the George Harrison of the band because I always trying to get my stuff in. You never saw Lennon and McCartney and Harrison compositions, but you did see Marriott, Lane and McLagan songs a few times.

Is it true that Peter Frampton almost joined the Small Faces, and that Steve really wanted him in?
We recorded with him when we did a session backing singer Johnny Hallyday in Paris. I hated it because I wasn’t a fan of Johnny Hallyday’s. But Steve wanted to Pete to join and we certainly didn’t. We said, “You’re our guitarist,” but he said, “Pete will free me up to sing some more.” But we didn’t want that. We said, “You’re the singer and the guitarist.” So he just got pissed off and decided to leave the group. I must say that I was friends with Pete and I still am. I love Pete. But he didn’t have the fire that we had. He’s lovely guy and you couldn’t find a better guitarist, but he just wouldn’t have fit.

So it was a stylistic mismatch then?
Yeah.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of the demise of the group then…
Yeah.

What happened before Rod Stewart and Ron Wood came along? Did you guys have any idea about what you were going to do next?
We were demoralized, Ronnie particularly. He felt like he was going through a divorce. He and Steve were tighter than two coats of paint. So it was even worse for Ronnie than it was for Kenney and me, even though it was bad enough for us. But we figured we’d stay together if we could. Donovan came over to my flat, and after a long chat, he said, “What I’d like is for you guys to be my backing group.” I thought, “You’re fucking kidding.” It wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I never even mentioned it to Kenney and Ronnie. And then we rehearsed as a three piece, but it was pretty hopeless because we needed that fourth guy. So then we got a call from Ronnie Wood and Ronnie invited me and Ronnie over, and we started playing, the three of us. Ian Stewart, the Stones’ piano player, offered us their rehearsal space because in his words, they never used it. So we rehearsed there as a four piece for a while, and then Ronnie Wood brought Rod down and he offered to sing one day. It was magic because (A) here was someone who could really sing and (B) we didn’t have any songs, but what we did have was the Muddy Waters Live at Newport album. And me, Rod, Ronnie, Ron and Kenney all loved that album. So as soon as Rod started singing with us we had a ready-made repertoire.

 Didn’t you cut your initial session with Ron Wood’s brother Art?
We cut a couple of songs with Ted, another brother of Ron’s. With Art, the older brother, we did a bunch of songs that eventually came out as Quiet Melon. That was early Faces.

Have you Ron Wood or Rod Stewart’s book?
No, not really. I read little excerpts of Rod’s in the newspaper in England when it came out. Three or four people can be in a room and when you read about the conversation ten years later, it becomes four different stories.

Looking back now over your life — especially when you were working on the box set — does it ever seem like something of a dream at times?
Yeah, it does. It really does. I’ve been very fortunate and I hope to continue to be very fortunate. I love what I do. I’m really blessed.

Are you the nostalgic type?
Only when I wrote the book. I don’t live in the past. I have so much I’m trying to do. I have a whole bunch of things I’m trying to do in my house. In my mind I’m wondering where the finances are going to come from. I’m buying new keyboards. I’ve got new songs. I got this new album called United States coming out. I’ve got these DVDs that we haven’t completed yet coming out. I’ve got so much to do, so there’s no time to look back. But I was happy to get involved with the archival stuff with the Small Faces. I remember the smell of studios. I remember the moment, and I remember the time by associating the sense of smell. I can almost smell what it was like with the four of us.

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 Above: Mac, say hello to Mac! Ian McLagan shares rock lifestyle tips with superfan Scott McCaughey (Minus 5, Baseball Project, R.E.M.) at the Blurt/Dogfish Head day party at Ginger Man during this year’s SXSW. That and the other contemporary photos of Mac by Susan Moll. Additional photos via McLagan’s official website: http://www.ianmclagan.com/