Monthly Archives: January 2015

JACKIE MOORE – The Complete Atlantic Recordings

Album: The Complete Atlantic Recordings

Artist: Jackie Moore

Label: Real Gone Music

Release Date: January 13, 2015

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One of my favorite finds in a recent crate-digging expedition was a near-pristine copy of Southern soul songstress Jackie Moore’s final release for Atlantic Records, 1973’s Sweet Charlie Babe. It nicely summarizes the Jacksonville (Fla.)-born musician’s career up until that point, collecting material originally cut at Philadelphia’s venerable Sigma Sound and Miami’s Criteria Recording and spotlighting her smash pop hits “Precious, Precious” and “Sweet Charlie Babe” alongside such R&B chart staples as “Both Ends Against the Middle” and “Darling Baby.”

Now the Real Gone label has seen fit to release a 30-song collection containing that album’s 10 tunes along with several B-sides and no less than 14 unreleased tracks. Naturally the aforementioned hits are front and center and obvious high points: “Precious, Precious” is a swaggering strut on the part of Moore, who mewls and coos with a raspy resolve, additionally powered by Cornell Dupree’s sinewy guitar licks and punctuated by the Memphis Horns, while “Sweet Charlie Babe” is sweet, strings-laden Philly soul at its best, produced by the legendary Young Professionals team of Bunny Sigler, LeBaron Taylor and Phil Hurtt. Both demonstrate the range and depth of Moore’s musicality and how, in retrospect, she should be regarded as representing the gold standard for female soul singers of that era, and no less than a distaff contemporary of Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. Additional evidence: “Time,” from ’72, a muscular blend of girl-group-styled pop (check the backing vocals: they feature Cissy Houston and the Sweet Inspirations) and Blaxploitation-esque funk (the chukka-chukka wah-wah guitars are by Dennis Coffey and Ray Minett, while among the keyboardists is one Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John).

And even if this two-CD set didn’t have those hits, it would be pure gold. One clear standout, for example, is a four-song mini-set cut one day in June 1972 at Muscle Shoals: “It Ain’t Who You Know” b/w “They Tell Me of an Uncloudy Day” may have failed to chart as a single, but the gospel pop of the A-side and the funky, Staple Singers-like B-side are every bit as riveting as the songs that did; and an unreleased cover of the Stevie Wonder-penned “I Love Every Little Thing About You” and sultry slow jam “Lead Me, Guide Me” (also unreleased) are almost as good.

In one sense, The Complete Atlantic Recordings is “the Jackie Moore story” because following her Atlantic tenure (she left the label in ’75, frustrated that the A&R department wasn’t hearing any hits among her latest recording sessions) she mostly disappeared from public view save one disco hit in the late ‘70s, “This Time, Baby.” Liner notesman Charles Waring indicates that she’s recently resurfaced on the oldies touring circuit, however, so with the release of this compilation, perhaps a younger generation of soul and funk acolytes will see fit to accord her the type of attention and acclaim that the likes of Charles Bradley and Bettye LaVette have been enjoying of late. As the title of one of those songs suggests, it’s “Time.”

DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Charlie Babe,” “Both Ends Against the Middle,” “They Tell Me of an Uncloudy Day,” “Time”

RON NAGLE — Bad Rice

Album: Bad Rice (Deluxe Version)

Artist: Ron Nagle

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: January 27, 2015

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At first glimpse, Ron Nagle’s Bad Rice might seem like an incidental piece of archival history or merely a short-lived curiosity that bore no lingering importance. In truth however it’s a source of fascination that continues to linger some 40 years after its original issue, one that sounds as insolent and insurgent as it was the day it was originally released. It was a shocker then and it’s still a shocker now, a stunning example of rock ‘n’ roll indulgence that paid no heed to convention, whether it was the gap toothed individual whose visage filled the back cover, to the sassy and defiant attitude immersed in its grooves. This Bad Rice was not only spicy, but saucy too.

Co-produced by Nagle, legendary producer Jack Nitzsche and the equally legendary San Francisco deejay Tom Donahue, Bad Rice was a musical summit of sorts, one in which each of the participants seemingly held free reign. And yet clearly, it wasn’t an album that would appeal to everybody. Nevertheless, in retrospect, shimmering ballads like “Frank’s Store” and “Dolores” (each of which won Nagle comparisons to Elton John) easily moot the effect of the swampy southern grit conveyed in rabid rockers like “61 Clay” and “Capricorn Queen.” Likewise, there’s a certain telling presence in standout track “Marijuana Hell” that today’s freewheeling, pro-legalization denizens of California and Colorado might indeed want to note of.

Being a bohemian at heart, Nagle refused to tour, thereby dooming the album to an ignominious fate in the bargain bins. However, he did gain further success later on in the Durocs, a punchy pop outfit, and as a writer and producer for artists as diverse as Barbara Streisand, John Hiatt and the Tubes. Nevertheless, Bad Rice remains his tour-de-force, and four decades on, bolstered by alternate mixes and an entire disc of demos of unreleased songs, the full extent of Nagle’s brilliance becomes clear. This …Rice still steams.

DOWNLOAD: “Marijuana Hell,” “Frank’s Store,” “61 Clay”

THE GREEN PAJAMAS – Happy Halloween!

Album: Happy Halloween!

Artist: Green Pajamas

Label: Green Monkey

Release Date: October 21, 2014

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Between their first album Summer of Lust and the ambitious follow-up Book of Hours, Seattle stalwarts the Green Pajamas issued a blink-and-you-missed-it cassette of eight tunes under the title Happy Halloween in October of 1984. The set passed into legend nearly as quickly as it was written and recorded, but now sees its first CD release, a mere three decades after it was originally released. But not only does this edition give us the original eight songs – thematically linked by intent more than practice – but another baker’s dozen bonus tracks recorded in the same era and never previously released.

Though early days for what would become one of our finest psychedelic folk rock bands, there are plenty of tunes that point to the PJs’ nascent greatness. Leader Jeff Kelly veers, as always, between catchy pop like “I’ll Want to Run to You” and “Thinking Only of You (Lust Don’t Last),” acid folk like “In the Sky” and “Everything is Green” and gothic weirdness a la “Nearly Winter” and “Last Days of Autumn.” Without a long band history to weigh down expectations, Kelly is also able to branch out more than he would in later years, messing around with garage psych (“Little Red”), tape loop oddities (“One Monday”) and sarcasm that owes nothing to any particular genre (“Hate Song”). “This Winter’s Night” features a host of band friends recording backing vocals live in the studio for Kelly’s attempt at a modern carol, a theme he would return to almost 20 years later with the PJs EP The Caroler’s Song. Partner Joe Ross chimes in with a couple of tunes of his own; his wavery pitch and more straightforward emotional thrust make “Last Days of Autumn” and especially “All I Want to Do” (“is sit in my room and try and write songs for you”) particularly affecting.

A handful of these tunes would go on to greater glory elsewhere: “Stephanie Barber” found another place in subsequent reissues of Summer of Lust, “Murder of Crows” was reborn on Book of Hours, “Gothic Funk” got remade ten years later and appeared on Indian Winter and “Walking in the Rain” transformed from twinkly synth-pop to melancholy folk rock on the masterful Ghosts of Love. But those are just a few of the rough gems found in a mine that veteran PJs fans will greatly enjoy excavating.

DOWNLOAD: “This Winter’s Night,” “All I Want to Do,” “Thinking Only of You (Lust Don’t Last)”



Iguanas + Trailer Park 1/22/15, Northampton MA

Dates: January 22, 2015

Location: Iron Horse, Northampton MA

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It was mostly because it was so damned cold.

You try a week of single-digit, high wind-chill, relentlessly bone-chilling New England weather. See if the idea of a night of sweaty, celebratory, jazz-funk-Latin New Orleans soul doesn’t appeal to you.

So we trekked down to Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall for the Iguanas, hoping for a good time and some respite from flinty winter. And, you know what? It worked.

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The evening started with the local lifers of Trailer Park (above), a band with some two or three decades of history in western Massachusetts and a penchant for old time sax-honking, vamp-blaring rock ‘n roll. The band is a five-piece, two sax players, guitar, bass and drums, all five members kitted out in sharp suits. They’re loose and a little goofy, blaring brash, blues-shaded, funk-rhythmed ditties. It’s all fun, but it heats up right near the end with the swinging, swaggering, island-syncopations of “Uncle Jack” and the closer, a wild, joyriding, call-and-response monster of a tune called “Muhammed Ali.” It’s a fat, skanky blues that gets the audience into it. People are storming the dance floor and shouting back at the singer and it feels, just for a couple minutes, like it’s 110 degrees inside.

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Trailer Park and the Iguanas are old friends whose paths have intersected at dives like this one for years, and you can see a lot of commonality in their music. Both bands draw on blues, funk and classic R&B, though Iguanas add a healthy dollop of Latin style to the mix.

As the set starts, front man Roy Hodges is playing a button accordion and Joe Cabral a beautiful 12-string guitar (both will switch over later in the program). Rene Coman picks up an unusual bass, with a narrow neck and a face decorated with elaborate turquoise designs and what looks like Curious George painted under the sound hole. Doug Garrison, in the back, pounds out the shuffling, ramshackle rhythms of “Benny’s Cadillac,” and the three in front — Hodges, Cabral and Coman — join in high close harmonies. This configuration of the band lasts through slinky, serpentine “Oye de Cumbia,” the country-rocking “Late at Night” (co-written with John Magnie from the Subdudes,” mariachi swaggering “Cumbia de Chon” from last year’s Juarez, the R&B-slanted single “Soul Kiss” also from Juarez (by this time Cabral has switched to a battered saxophone), and the wry, not-quite-mournful “Back in the Limelight.” It’s like a cornucopia of rootsy styles, whirled in a blender but with some big chunks left in.

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A few people have ventured up to the dance floor during this preliminary session, but when Hodges switches to guitar and the band assays a little known Turtles B-side (the surfy “Buzzsaw”), the temperature shifts upward and people begin to groove. From there, things escalate with a series of old favorites, “Boom Boom Boom” and the Treme-tested “Oye Isabel,” the wonderfully sax-insinuating, woodblock clacking, jungle-feverish “El Orangutang” from Nuevo Boogaloo and the giddy syncopated rollercoaster rush of “Para Donde Vas?”

In the middle of the set, Joe Cabral announces that the Iguanas have just won Offbeat magazine’s 2014 Roots Rock Album of the year for Juarez. “Roots” is too broad a term, most of the time, but it seems like a perfect category for a band that has grooved effortlessly through genres from early rock, to classic soul, to New Orleans funk to south-of-the-border syncopation. And yeah, it’s gotten hot inside, with a little bit of les bon temps rolling right into frigid New England and taking over.




SISKIYOU – Nervous

Album: Nervous

Artist: Siskiyou

Label: Constellation

Release Date: January 27, 2015

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Colin Huebert’s first two LPs under the Siskiyou moniker were notable for their intimacy and austere instrumentation; they seemed almost as likely to fall apart as finish, and that was part of their charm.

There were discernible sonic upgrades from Siskiyou’s self-titled debut to sophomore release Keep Away the Dead (2011), but nothing to really suggest what was coming with Nervous’ ambitiously broad palette.

But then much had happened to Huebert in the interim, chief among them the debilitating inner-ear infection (and its side effects) that paint these songs in anxious, claustrophobic tones. Huebert was on a songwriting residency in the Yukon in the winter of 2012 when he began suffering severe bouts of anxiety and chronic ear-ringing. Those bouts continued throughout 2013 and defied conventional diagnosis or treatment; Huebert retreated to silence and meditation before finally returning to recording – though at much-reduced volumes.

With that as a backdrop, he began embracing new instrumental arrangement and recording techniques. Huebert tabbed producer/engineer Leon Taheny, who’s worked with Owen Pallett/Final Fantasy and Dusted, to work the controls, and the lush sonics those acts are known for have invaded Siskiyou-ville.

On Nervous’ 10 tracks, that registers as both good and bad news. The layered arrangements can be stunning while hinting at big payoffs that never arrive: “Deserter,” with a choir singing “all good things in life are free” over ominous organ, pulsing basslines and madly strummed guitar, leads to Colin Stetson’s skronky sax solo on the bridge and hushed choruses replete with ambient noises, but meanders between those sections; Huebert’s ghostly whisper highlights “Violent Motion Pictures” and provides contrast for the sinister guitar figure overlaid with yawing guitar cries. But all that angst devolves into a repetitive last two minutes that promise release without ever delivering.

Only on “Jesus In the 70s” does that all that anxiety result in any catharsis, but the track’s labored introduction reads more repetitive than ominous. By the time you reach the explosive chorus – which could soundtrack a Bosch painting of hell – the wait has been too long.

The most compelling tracks on Nervous turn out to be among the shortest and most direct. “Imbecile Thoughts,” a critique of pure idealism, is a fast-paced track where synths invade like Mongol hordes and then back off to reveal Huebert’s familiar strummed-guitar structures. On the more pop-oriented “Oval Window,” the insistent beats over circular guitar lines and keys create a whirling sensation that serves as fitting backdrop for Huebert to recount his symptoms: “The road is spinning around me/and I can’t feel the world beneath my feet.”

Nervous, then, turns out to be a mixed bag — there’s a promising expansion of Huebert’s instrumentation, and he certainly conjures a sense of foreboding throughout. But the songwriting doesn’t quite match the ambitions here, and that gives the LP a transitory feel – that, too, may be fitting, given Huebert’s long season.

DOWNLOAD: “Oval Window,” “Imbecile Thoughts,” “Back Accounts & Dollar Bills”


Album: Worthy

Artist: Bettye LaVette

Label: Cherry Red/MVD

Release Date: January 27, 2015

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The remarkable journey of soul singer Bettye LaVette has enough twists, turns, heartbreak and triumph to make a biopic far more fascinating than those made for bigger names. Her artistic path, too, has been an interesting one. After years of trying to make it in the world of R&B, she turned to producer Joe Henry and iconoclastic label Anti- to walk a new road, one in which songs taken from the worlds of rock, country and folk were filtered through her tonally limited but emotionally expressive voice and recast as future blues, soul and jazz classics. It’s a path she’s followed ever since, through five magnificent LPs that recast Americana in her image.

LaVette may have severed her relationship with Anti-, but she’s reconnected with Henry, producing her for the first time since 2004’s career-bump I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise. Worthy doesn’t bother with the overarching concepts of prior LPs – instead she and Henry simply gather a group of good songs and soak them in molten LaVette. Fronting a small ensemble of players that includes guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and Henry stalwarts Jay Bellerose and Patrick Warren, the Detroit native applies her weathered croon to a variety of tunesmiths. The Rolling Stones’ “Complicated” becomes a roiling choogle, while the Beatles’ “Wait” transforms into a stark, acoustic ballad. She recasts Mickey Newbury’s “Bless Us All” as a smoky torch song, and her producer’s “Stop” as a slinky, sexy strut.

LaVette also shines a spotlight on lesser-known names, singing Randall Bramblett’s “Where a Life Goes” with quiet dignity, growling the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Just Between You and Me and the Wall, You’re a Fool” into a blues ballad and giving Over the Rhine’s lovely “Undamned” an impossibly soulful reading. She also gives an unknown her due with the horn-kissed R&B of “Step Away,” written by up-and-comer Christine Santelli.

The title track comes from the catalog of Mary Gauthier (with assistance from top Nashville tunesmith Beth Nielsen Chapman), and is another exercise in the kind of dignified soul that comes only from living a full life. It’s as much a metaphor for LaVette’s journey as it is a smart song choice, redolent with wise choices, stark realities and no regrets. This record isn’t just Worthy – it’s essential.

DOWNLOAD: “Unbelievable,” “Undamned,” “Stop”


HEY ROSETTA! — Second Sight

Album: Second Sight

Artist: Hey Rosetta!

Label: Sonic Records/Factor

Release Date: January 27, 2015

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As if their handle wasn’t enough to indicate their exhilaration and exuberance (Hey! Rosetta!!), the sophomore set by this expansive Canadian combo seals the deal completely. Starting their songs off with hushed reverence, each song surges and billows from there, resulting in a rousing crescendo as rowdy as any Lumineers shout-out.

Their ability to build to such celebratory heights from such unassuming beginnings — listen to the progression of “Gold Teeth,” “Dream” and “Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering)” for all the evidence necessary — indicates not only some solid songwriting, but also a knack for orchestral extravagance courtesy of keyboards, cello, violin, french horn and trumpet. Indeed, it’s a finely made mix. Most of the material maintains that dichotomy, although “Trish’s Song,” “Alcatraz” and “Cathedral Bells” find singer Tim Baker more or less keeping the mood subdued throughout. Conversely, “Kintsukuroi” heightens anticipation from the outset and sustains it successfully from that point on.

Mostly though, Second Sight is a study in how to master tone and texture to achieve the most dynamic effect. In that regard, it’s a nicely nuanced album that’s also quite compelling

 DOWNLOAD: “Gold Teeth,” “Dream,” “Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering)”

King Tuff + Ex Hex 1/22/15, Athens GA

Dates: January 22, 2015

Location: 40 Watt Club, Athens GA

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Photography and Humble Narrator: John Boydston

For a good time call King Tuff. That’s been working for thousands of fans packing the clubs to hear King Tuff lately. How great to see a band having such a good time watching the crowd have a great time. (Major mosh-fest alert) King Tuff has been touring behind his latest excellent LP Black Moon Spell and equally great 2012 eponymous LP King Tuff. Both are jammed with catchy songs packing a sonic wallop, a sound that I would describe as Mitch Easter vocals meets Dinosaur Jr guitar crunch. Besides King Tuff on guitar and vocals, the band is Old Gary on drums and Magic Jake on bass.   King Tuff’s music is on Sub Pop. The band just wrapped a headlining club tour of the Southeast, and starts a 10-date run with Father John Misty late March in Nashville.

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Halfway through his set at the 40 Watt Club King Tuff stopped to thank his opening act Ex Hex, by saying he can’t believe ‘how effing good they are,’ and I can about stop typing now because that’s as good a description as I could give. These ladies do it all and should be on your list of bands you gotta hear and with any luck see live, in 2015. Start with their new LP Rips on Merge records (recorded by Mitch Easter speak of the devil). Ex Hex is indie-rock all-star Mary Timony (guitar and vocs), Betsy Wright (bass & vocs), and Laura Harris (drums & vocs). They’ll strut, swagger, and charm their way into your pop and rock-loving hearts. Hard to experience Ex Hex without thinking of the Go-Go’s, and I mean that as a compliment to both bands because I can’t help but imagine there was a time when the Go-Go’s sounded this good or were this fun.

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Check out John Boydston’s photos on Instagram and Twitter @rockdawgphoto



Album: Boxers

Artist: Matthew Ryan

Label: Blue Rose

Release Date: October 14, 2015

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Despite an ability to consistently create a singularly haunting milieu, Ryan Matthew’s melodies aren’t always the easiest to digest. Shadowy, fleeting and eerily elusive, his songs resonate not in the way he stacks his choruses over his verse, but rather for the uneasy impression the music leaves behind. It’s that aural imagery that’s made Ryan so fascinating, even when the more hummable content is buried far deep in the mix.

Happily then, Boxers finds Ryan upping the ante on those more accessible elements, ultimately resulting in a more satisfying sound. Here, his atmospheric rumination is injected with a not so subtle hint of urgency and intent, resulting in a mix of infectious, incessant rockers and cool, contemplative ballads. “Boxers,” “God’s Not Here Tonight” and “Heaven’s Hill” are the most obvious standouts, but in truth, the bar remains high throughout. It’s hardly an exaggeration, but still necessary to point out — true to its title, Boxers evokes the sound of a man that’s suddenly ready to rumble.

DOWNLOAD: “Boxers,” “God’s Not Here Tonight,” “Heaven’s Hill”


Album: Take It Like a Man

Artist: Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: January 27, 2015

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Singer/songwriter Jim White made his reputation on being the Americana scene’s crazy cousin, the quirky guy in the corner who sees his chosen style as a jumping off point into previously unknown territory. So it’s a bit of a surprise to hear White, along with the Packway Handle Band, playing more or less straight bluegrass on Take It Like a Man.

Of course, this being White, the “more or less” is pretty important – dig the melodica running through “Smack Dab in a Big Tornado,” the train whistle in “Sorrows Shine,” the subject of “Paranormal Girlfriend” and the batshit insanity that is “Wordmule Revisited.” White plays it straight as well, though, from the wry humor of the honkytonker “Jim 3:16” (“a bar’s just a church where they serve beer”) to the dark folk of “Sorrows Shine” and the spitfire energy of “Blood On the Fiddle, Blood On the Bow.”

Being almost (there’s that qualifier again) conventional, Take It Like a Man may not hit the same highs for fans as White’s more seminal work, but it’s a solid set of songs given engaging performances.

DOWNLOAD: “Blood On the Fiddle, Blood On the Bow,” “Sorrows Shine,” “Wordmule Revisited”