Monthly Archives: January 2017

THE MARK III – Marvin Whoremonger

Album: Marvin Whoremonger

Artist: The Mark III

Label: Now-Again Reserve

Release Date: November 18, 2016

http://www.nowagainrecords.com

marvinwhoremongerlpfront

The Upshot: Think of it as a kind of soundtrack to a mid-‘70s Blaxploitation film that never got past the scripting stage but still holds up purely on its funky bonafides.

BY FRED MILLS

Rather than attempt to distill the convoluted backstory of this uber-rare funk album from Eothen Alapatt’s liner notes (which are a noble, if necessarily out there, attempt at same), I’ll just offer up the Amazon.com product description:

“One of the sought-after funk albums: a concept-piece executed by a Las Vegas hustler, pairing the troubled musings of a transient vocalist with the exuberant funk of a teenage trio. Embellished by session musicians in Hollywood with synthesizers and a large horn section, Marvin Whoremonger lurked behind a garish, anonymous jacket and failed immediately, despite producer Cholly Williams exhortations in his liner notes that the album would lead to international stardom for all involved. Forty years later it has aged well, and stands as an immediately accessible – yet bizarre – exercise in late-period, real funk music.”

Everybody crystal clear? No? Good. Neither am I, even after a couple of reads and multiple spins of the disc. But don’t let this journalistic discombobulation deter you from doing the proverbial run, don’t walk…  ritual to your local record emporium, because this is some seriously fonky, stanky, nasty stuff. Which of course will not surprise anyone even remotely familiar with the Now-Again label’s output—both archival (such as this release) and contemporary—to date.

The Mark III was a group in name only, and a short-lived one at that: four Vegas teens—vocalist Marvin Neroes, plus the Thompson brothers as the musical ensemble—backed up with additional keyboards and horns. Producer Williams wrote the bulk of the material, although Neroes and one of the Thompsons also receive credit; think of it as a kind of soundtrack to a mid-‘70s Blaxploitation film that never got past the scripting stage. The music holds up, though, in spades (no pun intended). Opening track “Street Scene” could be an opening credits segment, with a slinky, push-pull, urgency and exhortations of “when you get down, don’t you get up/ do it, do it, ‘til you get enough.” Up next is “Pusher Man,” admittedly not the most original of titles, but its overtones of both Curtis Mayfield (duh) and Temptations, while not ultra-original either, give it a righteous mojo. Other highlights include the pulsing, nocturnal funk of “Sex in Motion” (it has more than a passing resemblance to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”; there’s a bonus instrumental version here as well) and—speaking of instrumentals—“Funky Heaven,” which contrasts a squonky synth melody with some terrific funk guitar licks worthy of Motor City maestro Dennis Coffey. And don’t miss “The Party’s Over,” a kind of Kool & the Gang-meets-Sly Stone throwdown that courts extemporaneous chaos but never quite loses the plot.

Marvin Whoremonger dropped much earlier last year as part of the Now-Again Reserve subscription series, deluxe, handsomely packaged vinyl repressings of rare titles (the quarterly subscription includes a gorgeous wooden box for housing each year’s four LPs). Luckily, for more budget conscious punters, the CD version arrived in November, because it really deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible—as much for its irresistibly inherent weirdness/obscurity as for the compelling funk-soul grooves that come pulsing from your stereo speakers. And as per all Now-Again releases, the packaging is immaculate; here, you get a thick cardboard mini-LP sleeve housing the CD, a 28-page booklet on thick stock paper, and an outer slipcase.

Party’s over? Naahh—just starting.

DOWNLOAD: “Sex In Motion,” “The Party’s Over,” “Pusher Man”

 

 

 

AFTER-DEATH PLAN – Literature

Album: Literature

Artist: After-Death Plan

Label: Hear No Evil Sound

Release Date: January 06, 2017

www.afterdeathplan.com

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The Upshot: Chicago duo that is terrifying at times, but you won’t be able to avert your eyes/ears as the emotions mount and you succumb to the resulting, and beautiful, psychic disarray.

BY FRED MILLS

Chicago duo After-Death Plan off-handedly describe their genre as “American Gothic Nous Rock,” which is befitting of an album titled Literature additionally accompanied by a user’s guide* to its literary influences. Fair enough—although I feel compelled add that ADP is so free-ranging and broad-reaching in its musical palette that adjective-adjective-adjective-noun categorization borders on the useless (if not outright hapless). Because this has to be one the most sonically adventurous and lyrically challenging releases to grace the still-young new year, the type of record destined to be mentioned by critics when they start chronicling their best-of-2017 picks at the end of the annum.

It’s the brainchild of vocalist Lesley Ann Fogle, classically-trained and studio-schooled, and multiinstrumentalist Constantine Hondroulis, most recently heard with innovative Columbus combo Earwig (whose 2016 LP Pause for the Jets was reviewed right here at BLURT recently). Together, the pair conjure images both stark and expansive, foregrounding Fogle’s sultry purr ‘n’ coo—a cross between PJ Harvey and Sharon Van Etten, but one which can’t help to conjure analog ghosts of experimental muses of long ago—against an array of melodically riveting, rhythmically edgy, arrangements.

There’s opening track “The Master & Margarita,” for example, a brooding slice of ‘50s-ish, Nick Cave-styled pop noir, which is quickly followed by the considerably strummier, yet no less dark, Americana that is “Devil Takes A Hand.” Two songs in, and we’re already thinking murder ballad territory. Ah, but we’d be thinking wrong. Soon enough there’s the luminous “Raygun,” with its gorgeous strings and neo-gospel choir of harmony vox; a thrumming post-punk-meets-power-pop rocker called “Memory Remains” that cements the aforementioned Harvey comparison; and, skipping all the way to the end of the album, “In The Sun,” a slice of neo-operatic provocation that crescendos towards a violent, Sonic Youthian climax that’s anything but ballad-like.

Impressionistic, lyrically, and utterly elastic as a musical enterprise, Literature sounds, to these ears at least, like an exorcism. It’s terrifying at times, but you won’t be able to avert your eyes/ears as the emotions mount and you succumb to the resulting, and beautiful, psychic disarray.

*If you go to the “Songfacts” section of the group’s website, there’s a lengthy discussion by Fogle about her and Hondroulis’ inspirations, song by song. Literary giants such as Dostoevsky, Conrad, and Shelley get namechecked, as do such contextually-startling mentions as Ronald Reagan’s funeral, the joys of lo-fi recording, and Fogle’s other project, the apparently under-the-radar Mal Vu. (More on that in the future.) I mention this as a coda to my review here because there’s just something compelling about artists this open and eager to share with their audience, and also because I’ve always felt that pulling the veil back more rather than less is a positive thing. Consider me a convert, kids. Can’t wait to see you live one day.

DOWNLOAD: “Devil Takes A Hand,” “Into Grey,” “Memory Remains”

DELBERT MCCLINTON & SELF-MADE MEN – Prick of the Litter

Album: Prick of the Litter

Artist: Delbert McClinton

Label: Hot Shot/Thirty Tigers

Release Date: January 27, 2017

http://www.hotshotrecords.com/

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The Upshot: Uneven album for diehard fans only.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Delbert McClinton’s been doing this for about 45 years now, so you can’t blame the guy for wanting to slow things down a bit. That’s not to say McClinton has syphoned all the piss and vinegar out of his music, but on his latest, Prick of the Litter, he’s definitely showing a softer side.

He still mixes plenty of blues, country and a little funk into his gumbo, it’s just not as spicy as some of his earlier servings. Prick of the Litter finds the Texan showing off a lot more of his jazzier influences, especially on a song like “San Miguel,” his answer to Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in san Francisco.” Despite the softer side, thankfully his knack for sharp wit is still here, but overall the album is a bit uneven. The songs vacillate between solid, classic McClinton and ho-hum and you can’t help but miss the more raucous, wilder Delbert. Definitely worth checking out for diehard fans, but everyone else can feel free to sit this one out.

DOWNLOAD: “San Miguel” and “Jones For You”

 

Luke Winslow-King- I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always

Album: I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always

Artist: Luke Winslow-King

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: September 30, 2016

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(www.bloodshotrecords.com)

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

With five albums to his credit, Luke Winslow-King has sought to establish himself as a journeyman musician of exceptional reverence and humility. Nodding to such indelible influences as Ry Cooder, Gary Clark and other artists whose sentiments tend to be both personal and profound, Winslow-King shows his ability to dig deep into his own psyche and make music that rings with shared sentiment.

With I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always, the New Orleans-based blues singer, songwriter and guitarist taps into the heartbreak that etched its way deep into his soul following the dissolution of his marriage. Written and recorded while on tour overseas, the songs tap the sounds of his native environs while drawing their lyrics from the various stages of his grief. The easy amble of “On My Way” and “Esther Please” belie the betrayal and sadness that lie at the core of those engaging entries. The anger infused in “Act Like You Love Me” is easily at odds with the its smooth groove and crisp, confident delivery. Yet, when Winslow-King name checks the dark, brooding titles of several Hank Williams’ classics on “Heartsick Blues,” it’s also apparent that the ache and anxiety he feels is still palatable and personal.

All is not lost however; when Winslow-King sings “no more crying today,” the persistent refrain from the song of the same name, redemption still seems within reach. Musically, expressive and thematically sound, I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always is as promising a pronouncement as its title suggests.

DOWNLOAD: “On My Way,” “Esther Please,” “Heartsick Blues

BASH & POP – Anything Could Happen

Album: Anything Could Happen

Artist: Bash & Pop

Label: Fat Possum

Release Date: January 20, 2017

http://fatpossumrecords.com

bash-pop

The Upshot: Tommy Stinson knocks out one greasy gem after another with an ease and grace that only comes from a combo of talent and experience.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

One of the unsung gems of the early 90s alt.rock explosion is Friday Night is Killing Me, the debut album by Bash & Pop, the collective formed by ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson following the ‘Mats’ demise. While Paul Westerberg pursued his passion to become the James Taylor of college rock (at for his major label tenure), Stinson and company kept the ‘Mats legacy of rollicking pop & roll alive.

Now, a mere quarter of a century later, Stinson follows up Friday Night with B&P’s second album Anything Could Happen. As with the first album, it’s not so much of a band as a group of Stinson’s pals in various combinations. But, also as with the first one, Stinson’s vision is so focused that it sounds like a band. Picking up the threads of his previous solo record One Man Mutiny, ACH continues in that record’s Stones/Faces vein, almost like the ‘Mats with a downplayed Big Star influence. “On the Rocks,” “Not This Time” and the gleefully mean-spirited “Unfuck You” rock excitedly, “Never Wanted to Know” and the title track roll vibrantly and “Shortcut” and “Can’t Be Bothered” strip down to their undies for mostly acoustic, drumless elegance.

Stinson doesn’t try to be profound – he simply knocks out one greasy gem after another with an ease and grace that only comes from a combo of talent and experience. Anything Could Happen makes no apologies for getting down to the business of making no-bullshit rock & roll.

DOWNLOAD: “On the Rocks,” “Never Wanted to Know,” “Can’t Be Bothered”

 

 

THE FLAT FIVE – It’s a World of Love and Hope

Album: It’s a World of Love and Hope

Artist: The Flat Five

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: October 14, 2016

www.bloodshotrecords.com

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The Upshot: Pleasant may be the most perfect way to describe these proceedings, but the emotions are contagious.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

If ever an album lived up to its billing, then It’s A Wonderful World of Love and Hope does that and more. Cheery and effervescent to a fault, it’s stacked with giddy love songs, while propelled by a sway and sashay that’s irrepressible and infectious. A conglomerate that includes at least two notables among their ranks — Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor — it’s far from the sometimes contentious conceit those occasional insurgents are capable of purveying on their own.

Pleasant may be the most perfect way to describe these proceedings, but the emotions are contagious, especially on the sugary and saccharine “I Could Fall In Love With You” and the samba-centric “This Is Your Night.” Light and fluffy to a fault, the songs convey simple sentiments, and if the impact isn’t exactly emphatic, the results are consistently engaging. The sweetness conveyed in songs like “Florida,” “Bottom Buck,” “Bluebirds in Michigan,” and “Birmingham,” not to mention the lithe amble that underscores tracks such as “Buglight,” “You’re Still Joe” and “Almond Grove” (complete with its “la la las”) all but ensure an instant embrace. This one-off combo ought to make it their mission to obliterate the cynicism and skepticism that’s infected the planet and based on the feathery feel of this debut, they just might just be the ones to succeed.

DOWNLOAD: “BottomBuck,” “Florida,” “I Could Fall In Love With You”

 

VIVIAN COOK – The Long Shot

Album: The Long Shot

Artist: Vivian Cook

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: January 27, 2017

www.omnivorerecordings.com

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The Upshot: Set the way-back machine to the early ‘90s and pull all those Lilith Fair banners out of mothballs!

BY FRED MILLS

Vivian Cook is a young Bay Area songstress as defiantly in your face as you’re likely to encounter in this still-young year, blessed with an innate ability to lyrically provoke, and gifted with a brassy blare of a voice to ensure her message is delivered. Said message involves, typically, reconciling the shortcomings of one’s lovers and associates while rationalizing the same about oneself, and then having to process the potentially crippling dissonance that ensues. Not a recipe for happiness, in other words, and the tense tone of Cook’s words is mirrored by the gritted-teeth visage that graces the cover of her long playing debut.

Yet it’s her defiance and unwillingness to surrender, combined with her apparently unerring ability to find trouble at a moment’s notice, that makes Cook about so vividly real. Lyrics like these simply jump out and demand that the listener pay attention: “She wanders in nowhere near drunk, hands to the bar trying to get fucked up”; “I lost everything last night, yeah I’m starting to think I might’ve joined a fight”; “Oh, tell me again how you’re so insane, Do so many drugs, Are in so much pain”; “Every time I let you get down, so I can play the whore, but girl, you know you want me”; and, best of all, “Just cuz I couldn’t cum didn’t mean we didn’t have any fun.”

Cook, it must be said, is a direct descendent of such previous confrontation chanteuses as Liz Phair (a pure instinct for how to rock out), Alanis Morissette (the warbling vocal inflections), and Meredith Brooks (the potty mouth—and yeah, Cook throws in several iterations of the term “whore” here as well). With her lyrics synched to brisk, percussively punctuated arrangements that alternate between acoustic/electric guitar motifs and punchy keyboards, Cook’s R. Walt Vincent-produced debut has an immediacy that’s hard to deny—one dares to call it “radio friendly,” but it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that this lady isn’t going to remain a regional phenom for long. And if Lilith Fair ever resumes operations and wants to cast around for another young gal who has no qualms about kicking ass from here to Timbuktu, they’ve got an early entry.

The Long Shot was originally self-released by Cook in September of 2015. All credit to Omnivore, then, for sensing the potential for greatness here and putting it out in wider release.

DOWNLOAD: “Train Conversations,” “Hazy,” “Take Me to the Water”

 

MICHAEL CHAPMAN — 50

Album: 50

Artist: Michael Chapman

Label: Paradise of Bachelors

Release Date: January 20, 2017

http://www.paradiseofbachelors.com

chapman

The Upshot: Five decades on, the guitar virtuosos revisits worn-in groves and tests some new ones, demonstrating his resonance with a younger generation of folk interpreters while showcasing a connection with a contemporary icon.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Michael Chapman celebrates 50 years of making music and touring here, dusting off some old songs, writing a few new ones, and inviting a gang of new jack American Primitives (Steve Gunn, Nathan Bowles, James Elkington, Jimmy SeiTang) and one 1970s folk contemporary (Bridget St. John) from the admirers’ circle into the studio. Now in his 70s, Chapman sings with some authority about all the things you give up for a life in music – a settled abode (“Sometimes You Just Drive”), a late-model vehicle (“Spanish Incident”), a working relationship (“Falling from Grace”) and cold hard wherewithal (“Money Troubles”). And yet, surrounded by younger and contemporary peers, in a translucent mesh of jangling, tangling guitar/bass/banjo tones, he makes a case for the difficult path he’s chosen. “You know I don’t scare easy… but I do get scared,” he rasps on the superlative “That Time of the Night” (last heard covered by Lucinda Williams on the Oh Michael What Have You Done? tribute album and before that on 2008’s Time Past and Passing). The lilt in the line pulls the tune out of the darkness, the massed guitars and hushed group vocals bring shivering into the light.

Steve Gunn produced 50 and his presence and influence shows best in “The Prospector,” an older tune first recorded for 1979’s Life on the Ceiling and covered, rather thrillingly, by Maddy Prior on the Oh Michael compilation. It’s a Spoon River Anthology-esque view of small town life, with cameos by the hopeful prospector, ruddy farmer, the hard-drinking, bitterly disappointed school teacher. Chapman describes them with a line or two, his grizzled voice carrying sympathy but no sentiment, before moving on. The kicker, though, is in the very Gunn-like interleaving of electric and acoustic instruments which flare into Crazy Horse-style rockery, distorted and glorious.

Bridget St. John also makes a profound impact on the disc, accompanying her long-time friend and collaborator with soft husky counterparts that are as weathered and elemental, in their own way, as Chapman’s voice. She is very fine on the lovely “Mallard,” weaving in and around Chapman in the verse with a kind of heart-breaking tenderness and rue, but also light and frolicsome on the all-hands “Money Trouble.”  Her work is subtle but integral; you notice it only gradually, but it becomes, over time, one of the best parts of the music.

Much of Chapman’s career has, of course, been solitary, traveling from gig to gig with little more than a guitar. “Memphis in Winter” shows this side of him, a dexterous, intricate interplay of blues guitar holding down the music, Chapman’s desolate spoken-song carrying the narrative. It is spare and devastating.

Coming five decades into a singular career, 50 is, surprisingly not a bad place to start. It revisits worn-in groves and tests some new ones. It demonstrates Chapman’s resonance with a younger generation of folk interpreters while showcasing a connection with a contemporary icon. There’s a joy in the big group numbers, as the guitars pile on, and the vocals swell, and the tunes fill up with sounds. Chapman’s songs range from bleak to wryly humorous, but they’re dark and lonely at the center, and it’s a pleasure to hear him in such good company, for once, and not alone.

DOWNLOAD: “The Prospector” “Memphis in Winter” “That Time of Night”

EMPTYSET – Borders

Album: Borders

Artist: Emptset

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: January 27, 2017

https://thrilljockey.com

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The Upshot: In space, only this interstellar British outfit can hear you scream.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Emptyset is the London duo of Paul Purgas and James Ginzburg. On Borders, they have turned in a record that just simply destroys everything in its path. This is music that’s been stripped and processed and then stripped again, dipped in acid, and then charged with electricity. I can hear elements of Einsturzende Neubauten, Aphex Twin as well as Hair and Skin Trading Company’s Psychedelische Musique record percolating through a few of the tracks.

The band bombards you with a mélange of processed sounds that whipsaw around striking everything in their path. Here, resistance truly is futile. Some of the songs pulse with a nocturnal glow. The electrical emanations beckon us towards something quite terrifying. I imagine the vast darkness of space when I listen to this record: If the song “Body” is our loss of contact with earth, then “Descent” is our interaction with an alien being; “Sight” is our awakening to the pulse of interstellar space; “Ground” is our body being ripped apart; and “Dissolve” is our emergence from a LQG black hole.

Regardless of the narrative you attribute to the running order of an album after listening to this record, I felt as if I had genuinely experienced something groundbreaking, elemental, and thoroughly thought-provoking.

DOWNLOAD: “Ascent,” “Axis,” “Ground,” “Dissolve”

LET IT ROCK! Rock ‘n’ Blues Album & Book Reviews by the Rev. Keith A. Gordon

Title: Let It Rock!

Author: Reverend Keith A. Gordon

Publisher: Excitable Press

Publication Date: October 04, 2016

 

www.thatdevilmusic.com

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The Upshot: More rekkird reviews than you can shake a goddam King Crimson fan club membership card at!

BY FRED MILLS

Last year, longtime BLURT contributor Keith Gordon—sorry, I mean the REVEREND Keith A. Gordon; let us not forget the holy sacrament that is rock journalism, and the people who administer it—published the second installment in his rock scribe archives, Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’: Blues Music Reviews, which collected sundry commentary he has accumulated over the course of his lengthy career (including, full disclosure, material he originally penned for this very magazine and website). As our reviewer succinctly put it, “More of a reference work than a tome designed to be read cover to cover, Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’ is a useful consumer guide to the world of currently-available blues (and blues-informed) music.”

You can also read an interview I conducted with the Rev. last year in which he discussed the book, his publishing house Excitable Press, advice to potential authors, and more. But to bring things into the present, we’ve got his third archives-clearing compilation, Let It Rock!, which extends his purview from over the past decade or so well beyond the blues to include punk, prog, Americana, classic rock, and records that are otherwise not easily pigeonholed.

As with its predecessor, Let It Rock! zips, zings, and zooms across the rock/blues/Americana CD and DVD milieu—one can only hope that Gordon will exclusively devote a future installment to the latterday vinyl revival, as he is the type of music journalist to have a distinctive perspective—and as is always the case with record review anthologies, your attention and enthusiasm will ebb and flow depending on which artifact your thumb winds up paging to. Are you more into underground heroes of yesteryear, such as The Godz, Uriah Heep, Blue Cheer, and, er, Goose Creek Symphony? (Full disclosure: the latter proto-Americana act was a huge fave of mine in the ‘70s.) Or perhaps more contemporary maestros of skronk, ‘n’ roll are your thing—like Clutch, Black Keys, Bigelf, and the Jim Jones Revue? (More full disclosure: Gordon and I bonded many, many aeons ago over Jim Jones, and if you recognize the UK rocker’s name from his early tenure in Thee Hypnotics, consider yourself officially baptized.)

Bottom line: There’s something here for all of us, kids, ‘cos when the Rev. sets up his tent to preach the gospel, it’s a big goddam tent he pitches. Apologies for the cursing; but this is, after all, the devil’s music.

Incidentally, there’s a nice music book section that, considering yours truly’s own obsessive passion for collecting the printed word where it comes to rock history, is absolutely essential if you need some tips for stuffing your den’s bookshelf. Included are takes on respected UK journalist Barney Hoskyns’ Waiting For the Sun, garage-punk legend (and frontman for New Bomb Turks) Eric Davidson’s We Never Learn, and the Suzy Shaw/Mike Stax tribute to Shaw’s late ex-husband Greg, Bomp 2: Born In the Garage.

Fitting that Rev. Keith would wrap up with a look at the wild, weird, wooly world of rock journalism—can I get a “Boy howdy!” to that, fellow punters and parishioners? Waitaminnit, hold that thought: the postman just rang the front door bell (twice, but who’s counting…), and there’s some kind of book parcel in the pile of packages… hmmm… it says “Fossils”… what could this possibly be….