Monthly Archives: September 2017

Widowspeak + Death Valley Girls 9/19/17, Denver

Dates: September 19, 2017

Location: Hi-Dive, Denver CO

Live at the Hi Dive…

BY TIM HINELY

Death Valley Girls are three gals and one guy who hail from El-Lay, but they might as well be from a different planet. At least the Squeaky Fromme singer. Oh she has a name, it’s Bonnie Bloomgarden and I guess on tour these folks do nothing but search out haunted places (I told ya’ they were weird!). Musically? They hit a sweet spot right where punk, bubblegum, garage, metal and space rock all collide, make out and go their seprarate ways (which makes them all feel so used). They’ve got  few records out on the Burger label so enter at your own risk (ah, you’ll befine, just drop some Pixie Stix before listening).

Widowspeak came back to town as I caught this hirsute quartet from Brooklyn, NY here a few years back and they all still look like Cousin It (except the singer, she’s way cuter than Cousin It). They just released their 4th full-length, Expect the Best, out on Captured Tracks label (like their previous three) and it’s in the same ballpark. They mine a territory that bands like Mazzy Star used to (or a band like Escondido currently does) as lead vocalist Molly Hamilton lays down a dark, soothing vibe while the rest of the band soothes the groove (especially guitarist Robert EarlThomas) while they blasted out dense cuts like “The Dream” and “Warmer” (both from said new record). This bunch won’t get your blood boiling but will help you dream a lovely dream.

GARY BARTZ NTU TROOP – Harlem Bush Music: Uhuru LP (reissue)

Album: Harlem Bush Music

Artist: Gary Bartz Ntu Troop

Label: Jazz Dispensary/Concord/Milestone

Release Date: July 28, 2017

www.jazzdispensary.com

The Upshot: African rhythms, the blues and vocals are highlights of this early 1970s jazz outing from saxophonist Gary Bartz, newly reissued on 180-gram vinyl with high-quality reproduction sleeve from Jazz Dispensary. (Go HERE to see additional entries at the BLURT Jazz Desk.)

BY BILL KOPP

The 1970s were a fascinating time in jazz. Fusion was establishing its footing, and a wide variety of artists had committed themselves to exploring the outer boundaries of the jazz form. One of the directions pursued was the incorporation of African rhythms and textures. Of course in and of itself, that was hardly a new idea: Cannonball Adderley’s African Waltz had explicitly followed such a direction way back in 1961. and it goes without saying that jazz was built upon an African foundation.

When saxophonist Gary Bartz recorded the second of his Harlem Bush Music albums – 1971’s Uhuru, credited to Bartz’s Ntu Troop – he chose to work with some of the best sidemen he could find. That short list included bassist Ron Carter. For this record, he built the collection around an 18-minute blues with vocal called “Blue (A Folk Tale).” The piece has the feel of an opening theme from a play or other stage presentation. The tune initially features only Carter’s bass plus Bartz on vocal and piano. He’s playing in a style quite reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. Three minutes in, Bartz enters on sax, joined by percussion stabs from Nat Bettis and drums by Harold White. Much of the next few minutes features little other than Bartz’s screaming, squawking and sometimes melodic saxophone, punctuated by vocal whoops and hollers. It’s exciting stuff.

Through overdubbing, Bartz adds multiple vocal lines as the band kicks into a truly funky workout; in turns it’s groove-filled, exploratory, bluesy and near ambient; Bartz seems intent on traveling to several destinations within the blues idiom within the framework of a single performance.

The albums’ remaining four tracks are all much shorter, but no less intriguing. “Uhuru Sasa” features Carter and Bartz often playing the same melodic line; but just when the listener licks into that groove, they diverge. The vocals – especially the chorus – dig into the African flavors.

“Vietcong” features Juni Booth on bass instead of Carter. The track fades in, suggesting that what we hear on record is merely part of a much longer piece. An alluring sax melody is supported by a slinky blues foundation. Against the backdrop of the then-current conflict in Southeast Asia, a tale of a Vietcong warrior “ fight[ing] for his homeland” would have been controversial stuff indeed. Regardless, it’s a swinging tune.

“Celestial Blues” fad in as well. The rhythm section of Carter and White turns out a hypnotic patter, atop which Bartz sings and solos on his sax. His soloing becomes wilder and unrestrained as the performance unfolds. Carter sounds like he’s having fun even while adhering to the limits imposed by function as the song’s anchor.

“The Planets” is not a reading of Gustav Holst’s classical work. Instead it’s a relatively spare number that lies halfway between cocktail jazz (thanks to the wood block percussion) and the sort of thing Sun Ra and His Arkestra might have done. The song largely becomes untethered in its midsection, allowing the players to head off in whatever direction they choose. More than anything else on Uhuru, “The Planets” feels like an improvisation.

A new 180-gram vinyl reissue of the album reproduces the music and the packaging in all its glory. Harlem Bush Music: Uhuru was Bartz’s fifth album as band leader. He would go on to release more than two dozen more albums, and today at age 76 he continues to perform. He also teaches at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue (A Folk Tale),” “Uhuru Sasa”

 

Photo Gallery: 2017 Hopscotch Music Festival

Sept. 7 – 10 at various venues in downtown Raleigh, NC

BY SHANNON KELLY

There were scores of outstanding performances at this year’s Hopscotch – too many to portray here. But we have some of our faves for your viewing pleasure. And go HERE to read Daniel Matti’s review of the event. Visit Shannon Kelly at the official website.

Skylar Gudasz (also above)

 

Happy Abandon

 

Angel Olsen

 

Big Thief

A Flock of Dimes

 

Run the Jewels

Big Boi

 

 

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists 9/14/17, Philadelphia

Dates: September 14, 2017

Location: Union Transfer, Philadelphia PA

Live at Union Transfer – once upon a time, a Spaghetti Warehouse.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

“Good Evening Philadelphia! We’ve got a lot of songs to get through, so I’m not gonna talk too much,” pledged a dapper Ted Leo, taking the stage of Union Transfer, a former Spaghetti Warehouse turned stellar concert venue.

Thankfully, he didn’t keep his word as Leo, probably one of the most charming storytellers to come out of Jersey since Springsteen, peppered the set with a slew of self-deprecating jokes, one-offs and stories.

Kicking off the show with “Moon Out of Phase,” off his new album, The Hanged Man, Leo and his band played a fantastic collection of newer songs and classics, cramming two dozen tunes with plenty of Leo’s banter in between. The show was a homecoming of sorts for a bulk of the touring band who call Philly home (there was even a moment when Leo and his guitar player traded off their best Philly accents).

Though Leo has never been overtly political, the current administration and its policies managed to play a role in Thursday night’s show regardless.  “As you may imagine, it’s a weird time; it’s odder than usual to be out and exuberant, but thanks for having us,” he said early in the set to loud cheers.

Before launching into “Heart Problems,” of off Shake The Sheets, her lamented the move by the president and many in Congress to try and get rid of the Affordable Health Care Act which has given health insurances to millions. “We need to be expanding it, not denying it.”

Leo, on the stage solo for a handful of songs, also took time to acknowledge the death earlier that day of Grant Hart and the passing just a day before of Jessi Zazu, playing a beautiful cover of the Hart-penned Husker Du track “She Floated Away.”

More than two decades into their career, Ted Leo (along with his band) is not just doing ok, he’s hitting his creative stride, managing to be both a better musician and fantastic showman.

SWEET PEA ATKINSON – Get What You Deserve

Album: Get What You Deserve

Artist: Sweet Pea Atkinson

Label: Blue Note

Release Date: September 22, 2017

http://bluenote.com

The Upshot: The Detroit singer and erstwhile mic shaker of Was (Not Was) deserves to be considered as part of an ongoing soul continuum—and, indeed, one of the very best of the best.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Sweet Pea Atkinson should be a legend. The Detroit singer has a career going back to the 70s, with one prior solo album to his name (1982’s much sought-after Don’t Walk Away), a long stint as one of the lead singers for inexplicable soul/rock band Was (Not Was) and an even longer stint as a background vocalist to the stars, including an especially prominent tenure with Lyle Lovett. He also served as frontman for W(NW) guitarist Randy Jacobs’ blues rock band the Boneshakers. His instantly recognizable voice – the one that powered Was (Not Was)’s biggest single “Walk the Dinosaur” – cuts through any amount of sludge surrounding it. (Let’s not forget “Knocked Down, Made Small” and the astounding accompanying video. —Funk Ed.)

Yet he’s never truly found the fame and notoriety his talent deserves. It’s not his fault. He may have helped Was (Not Was) into the top 10, but it was with a novelty song that unfairly tarred the entire enterprise as a big joke. The Boneshakers may have had fiery guitar and Atkinson’s distinctive voice, but they didn’t have any real songs. His work as a background singer was just that – background. Ultimately, though, he may have been held back by his aesthetic – he’s an old-fashioned soul singer who came to prominence right as his style of gritty, blues-informed vocals and tasteful accompaniment was being supplanted by electrofunk and the nascent hip-hop and new jack swing scenes.

In 2017, however, the tide has turned. Hip-hop, programming and samples still rule the R&B roost on the charts, but a less slick, horn-enhanced, vocal-driven style of soul is once again in vogue, thanks to Amy Winehouse, the Daptone family and, however unintentionally parodic they may be, blue-eyed soulsters like St. Paul & the Broken Bones. That’s a style that’s perfect for a singer like Atkinson – his gritty croon and urban howl slip into the confines of 60s and 70s rhythms, chunky guitars and tasteful horn charts like sore feet into warm slippers. All this is evident on Get What You Deserve, the first Atkinson solo album in 35 years.

Working with producers Don Was and Keb’ Mo’, Atkinson sounds like a man unleashed at last. That’s not to say he goes for the histrionic jugular – years of singing backup, not to mention Was (Not Was)’s weird compositions, have given the vocalist a taste and control that should be the envy of soul throats who think over the top is better. But he sounds happy and comfortable here, finally given the chance to sing what he’s best at and bringing every ounce of talent and experience he has to the party.

Listen to the way he glides through the melody of Bobby Womack’s funky smooth “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” – it’s less seduction than plea, even as Atkinson retains his dignity in his insistence. Or how he asserts his masculinity in Freddie Scott’s sly “Am I Grooving You,” sounding manly without being macho. He takes a similar trip on Keb’ Mo’s “Just Lookin’,”’ an irresistibly danceable funk rocker that features a strong guitar solo from his Boneshakers/Was (Not Was) bandmate Randy Jacobs. He sounds right at home on “Are You Lonely For Me Baby,” another Scott tune given a timeless arrangement that could have come from the fifties, sixties or now. He leapfrogs back to his eighties heyday with the title track, an hard-grooving electrofunk track composed by Mother’s Finest bassist Jerry “Wyzard” Seay that prominently features rapper Leven Seay and backing singer Vida Simon.

Atkinson is truly at his best with a couple of songs originally associated with artists who could be his peers. “Last Two Dollars,” written by the great George Jackson and originally recorded by soul legend Johnnie Taylor, is just the kind of midtempo R&B tune that Atkinson can dig into and make his own. The most ambitious track finds Atkinson taking on Bobby Blue Bland’s immortal “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” keeping tight control over his magic larynx to deliver a riveting performance of a classic tune.

More than a comeback, Get What You Deserve confirms what longtime fans have long known: what Sweet Pea Atkinson deserves is to be part of a soul continuum as one of the very best of the best.

DOWNLOAD: “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City,” “You’re Welcome, Stop On By,” “Last Two Dollars”

 

HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER — Hallelujah Anyhow

Album: Hallelujah Anyhow

Artist: Hiss Golden Messenger

Label: Merge

Release Date: September 22, 2017

http://www.mergerecords.com

The Upshot: It’s all quite pleasant, nicely played and sung and recorded, but as the album title itself telegraphs, perhaps a little distant.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

MC Taylor’s low-key but soulful Americana outfit hits a particularly breezy stride in this seventh full length. Song titles like “Lost in the Darkness” and “Harder Rain,” hint at darker material, but the tone is resolutely positive, uplifted by sharp uptempo guitar work and rousing choruses. The 3 a.m. disconsolate-ness of early albums like Haw and the nearly-lost Bad Debt (which after all included a song called “Jesus Shot Me in the Head”) has dissipated and Taylor sounds unworried, if not downright happy.

Taylor works with mostly the same crew as before, the two Cook brothers from Megafaun and drummer Darren Jessee, forming the main band. Fellow Dead aficionado Josh Kaufman sits in on guitar this time, instead of Ryan Gustafson. Together they find worn-in, comfortable grooves that swing and swagger modestly, with a certain amount of decorum. Taylor himself is the focus, however, with his slippery, note-bending phrases that snake around the main melody with slides and bends and flourishes.

As is often the case, the strongest stuff comes near the album’s end, with blues-rocking “Domino (Time Will Tell” channeling gospel fervor and roadhouse horn lines in a celebration (sort of) of touring life. The guitar solo here is particularly fine. Slower and more contemplative, but just as good, is “Caledonia, My Love” where Taylor’s voice flickers like a flame in the night breeze, mournfully ruminating on life and lust and love.

It’s all quite pleasant, nicely played and sung and recorded, but perhaps a little distant. These tunes flow by like sunny afternoons and when they’re done you can’t remember much.

DOWNLOAD: “Domino (Time Will Tell)”, “Caledonia, My Love”

 

 

 

JEAN CAFFEINE –Sadie Saturday Nite LP

Album: Sadie Saturday Night LP

Artist: Jean Caffeine

Label: self-released

Release Date: August 25, 2017

http://www.jeancaffeine.com/

The Upshot: Thumbing through her back pages, the songwriter offers up sweet pop alongside snarling punk for a wonderfully vivid sonic memoir.

BY FRED MILLS

Jean Caffeine is a gifted, extroverted singer/songwriter, artist, actress, and a writer, spending time in San Francisco, NYC, Austin, Durham, Ontario, and elsewhere, and along the way she’s collected plenty of memories and vivid stories to go with those memories. Sadie Saturday Nite, then, her first album since 2011’s acclaimed Geckos In the Elevator, is what I’ll describe as an aural memoir in which she thumbs through her back pages via song and spoken interludes, going all the way back to her concert-going days as a high schooler in San Francisco. It’s a vivid narrative she spins from the outset: thrumming midtempo rocker “Neon Adventure / Mission (District) Statement” offers sonic snapshots of those early days; that’s immediately followed by “High School Was A Drag,” a spoken narrative outlining her misfit status; and then by “Winterland (Talking Blues),” part-spoken and part-sung, telling how she escaped the teenage doledrums via shows by Bowie, the Stones, the Who, Patti Smith, etc. For anyone who was also on the scene at the time, regardless of the city, it all rings remarkable true.

Soon enough, Caffeine immersed herself on the burgeoning San Fran punk scene, and as detailed in the delightfully waltzing—and, musically, determinedly un-punk—title track, she “was a mere 17, when she spotted a poster for the Nuns & Crime”—and that was all it took. She would learn the drums and join a punk band herself, The Urge, later moving across-country to New York where she wound up in actress/rocker Ann Magnuson’s band Pulsallama for a stint before forming her own group, Clambake. Here, on the album, the ridiculously catchy “All Girl Band” details those band experiences: “We learned to play on the stage,” she sings, against a jangly/poppy/garagey backdrop, “one note at a time, out of tune, a beat behind.” (There’s a sneaky homage to the Go-Gos in the middle of the tune worth listening for.)

Other highlights include dreamy ballad “It’s Not Nice Without You,” the thumping, T. Rex-esque “Mad As Hell in the White Night,” a riffy number the smartly nicks a handful of Sex Pistols licks (“Winter of Hate”), and a positively brilliant cover of the Zeros’ punk anthem “Wimp.” Throughout, Caffeine adjusts her vocal style, chameleon like, to the specific tone and imagery of each song, crooning sweetly one moment in a poppy tune and sneering in the next for a punk arrangement.

Overall, Sadie Saturday Night is both poignant and fun, bringing an autobiography to vivid life. The record is, in fact, intended as a companion to a one woman/one guitar player show that Caffeine has put together about growing up punk in San Francisco during the ‘70s. Currently based in Austin, she’s doing performances here and there, with shows coming up soon in Arizona and on the West Coast. (Details at the Facebook Page the Jean Caffeine Appreciation Society.) If you get a chance to see her, don’t pass up the opportunity. It just might turn out to be a lot like thumbing through your own back pages.

It’s on vinyl, to book, wax fans. More details:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sadie-saturday-nite-the-album–2#/

https://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwmusic/article/SongwriterMusician-Jean-Caffeine-Unveils-Video-for-All-Girl-Band-20170725

DOWNLOAD: “Wimp,” “Winter of Hate,” “All Girl Band”

THE WOGGLES – Tally Ho!

Album: Tally Ho!

Artist: Woggles

Label: Wicked Cool

Release Date: August 11, 2017

www.wickedcool.com

The Upshot: Like a treasured garage mixtape, but as blazingly fresh as any young band you’d care to mention.

BY FRED MILLS

The BLURT braintrust got together and wholeheartedly agreed: We want Georgia’s Woggles to be our official house band. I mean, they’ve already played multiple BLURT day parties in Austin during SXSW, so why not formalize the notion? Not a band to rest on such obvious laurels, however, the Woggles recently notched a major imprimatur in the form of signing with Little Steven’s Wicked Cool label (he’d already awarded them his storied “Coolest Song In the World” label), going on to snag veteran studio rat Jim Diamond to produce the platter. The resulting Tally Ho! is everything we’ve come to expect from the gang, and then some—which is saying a lot considering they’ve been doing this for 30 years.

Leading the pack, of course, is vocalist Mighty Manfred Jones—I still have a mental image of him dancing on a picnic table during his band’s day party set at SXSW 2013—who brings an outsized swagger and classic showman’s flair to the, uh, “table.” He’s joined by bassist Patrick O’Connor, drummer Dan Hall, and guitarist Jeff Walls (the newest member of the band, from the late, great Guadalcanal Diary and Hillbilly Frankenstein; he came into the fold following the death of guitarist George Holton). And straight outta the gate, everyone smokes: opener “Luminol Test” is a fuzztone-laced, stop/start stomper guaranteed to have you reaching for your Nuggets and Beyond the Grave compilations to see if this isn’t in fact a cover; nuh-huh, but it sure sounds like it already enjoyed “classic” status. That’s followed by “Hard Times,” an R&B-flavored ditto complete with call-and-response action between the singer and the chorus, who are all urged along by the omnipresent Farfisa. And when “What You Think We Are” cues up amid searing guitar riffs (more fuzz, natch) and a Paul Revere & The Raiders arrangement and vocal motif, only the most recalcitrant rock snob will be able to resist succumbing to the primal charms of the Woggles.

The hits, of course, keep a-comin’, from the modal twang-jangle of “Moritori Salutant” to the echo-laden jungle thump and B-movie tip that is “Mothra Hai” (you want “jungle”? check out the throbbing “Jungle Queen” and its chain-gang/tribal chanting) to the hectic, jet-powered, positively insane raveup of “Learn To Love Again.” Ultimately, Tally Ho! is not only everything we’ve come to expect from the Woggles, it’s everything and then some—reassuring familiar, like a treasured garage-rock mixtape you compiled years ago and only just recently unearthed in a box that was stashed in the back of your closet, yet as blazingly fresh and energizing as anything some young band of well-hyped upstarts might deliver in 2017.

It’s positively nowsville, Pops. Dear Woggles, let’s have a house party again, soon.

DOWNLOAD: “Hard Times,” “Learn to Love Again,” “What You Think We Are”

 

 

The Blurt Music Book Summer ’17 Reading List

January 01, 1970

Everything from a legendary Austin music venue and the equally legendary Minneapolis punk scene, to the Summer of Love and the Newport Folk Festival. (Pictured above: the Suicide Commandos.)

BY JOHN B. MOORE, LEE ZIMMERMAN, TIM HINELY, AND FRED MILLS

Complicated Fun – The Birth Of Minneapolis Punk And Indie Rock, 1974 – 1984, by Cyn Collins
Minnesota Historical Society Press (April 4)

There are a number of seminal U.S. rock scenes that easily come to mind: New York in the mid-to-late ‘70s; Athens, GA in the early – to-mid- ‘80s and Seattle in the early ‘90s. Often overlooked by many but the die-hard music obsessives is Minneapolis throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Prince, the Suburbs, Husker Du, the Replacements, Soul Asylum, Suicide Commandos… It’s remarkable that such a small region could be responsible for creating such an influentially impressive list of artists that remain relevant 30 and 40 years later.

DJ and music journalist Cyn Collins does a remarkable job in this oral history of tracking down and recording the memories and anecdotes of some of the scene greats. The early ‘70s were lean times for the Minneapolis musicians with few places to play, but getting inspiration from eclectic scenes like Detroit, London and New York, local rockers started to gather wherever they could, be it frat parties, bowling alleys or, in many cases, their own homes. Spurred on by influential local record stores like Oar Folkjokeopus or Electric Fetus, a legit music scene started to bubble up. Out of Oar Folkjokepus, for example, came Twin/Tone Records which would go on to put out records by the Replacements, Soul Asylum, The Suburbs, Jayhawks, Babes In Toyland and a slew of other great bands.

Around the same time, rock and punk venues started up and traded owners – in particular The Longhorn and First Avenue, in the process becoming legendary venues and soon locals realized Minneapolis bands were just as important as the national touring groups stopping through.

Complicated Fun is crammed with inside stories from those who helped start the scene. Everyone has a Prince story, everyone has a drunk Replacements story and everyone remembers the scene for what it was: a tight community of raucous, but brilliantly talented musicians some of whom would fade out early, but many of whom would go on to international acclaim and inspire others in far off places to start their own music scenes. Complicated Fun is a beautiful love note to DIY music everywhere. [John B. Moore]

Boogie Chillun: Rock ‘n’ Blues Articles, Album & Book Reviews (The Reverend’s Archives, Vol. 4), by Reverend Keith A. Gordon

Excitable Press (April 8)

Volume friggin’ FOUR? Damn, Rev, you are making the rest of us scribes out here in indiesville look like slackers!

The “Rev” would be Keith Gordon, Nashville ex-pat currently terrorizing the populace of upstate New York, and regularly beaming his broadsides in via the digital pipeline to multiple media outlets (including, full disclosure, this very one from time to time). He’s a prolific sonofabitch, too, for you may recall that barely six months ago we reviewed his Let It Rock! compendium of rock-write, the third volume in his ongoing series of missives from the Gordon archives. As I noted at the time, “Let It Rock! zips, zings, and zooms across the rock/blues/Americana CD and DVD milieu, 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…. 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.”

Picking up where its predecessor left off, Boogie Chillun finds Gordon plucking roccrit nuggets from his back pages anew, dipping all the way back to the ‘70s at times, ultimately serving up more than 150 reviews (“and over 120,000 words,” he adds). Among those nuggets:

Black Oak Arkansas: The Complete Raunch ‘n’ Roll Live (album review): Okay, okay, all you Coachella clowns out there, yes, Rev. Keith and yours truly are indeed rednecks. That’s why we loved Black Oak in the first place! But I can tell you this: Back in the day, when Jim Dandy came to the rescue in concert, you considered yourself done rescued. Something tells me that is not a claim that a Fleet Foxes or Feist fan can make.

Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers: L.A.M.F. Live at the Village Gate 1977 (album review): Who needs another crummy-sounding, bootleg-in-everything-but-name-only Heartbreakers rec? You do, that’s who! Just because it’s released on Cleopatra doesn’t mean it’s not pure junk—which, coincidentally enough, is what killed Johnny Thunders. So don’t let it happen to you, kids. This is your brain on Rev. Keith—any questions?

Steve Earle & The Dukes: Terraplane (album review): As Blues are Gordon’s specialty, he includes plenty of da blooze in his book. He’s particularly well-qualified to assess Steve Earle’s well-publicized foray into the field, and his observations are about as insightful as any commentary I’ve read on Earle, period, and not just about the Terraplane album.

Zap Comix No. 16 (book review): I still own copies of all the original Zap underground comics—R. Crumb, if you are reading this, drop me a line sometime—but that doesn’t mean I’m dumb enough to actually take ‘em out of their bags ‘n’ boards and get my finger oil all over the covers. That’s why we have folks like Fantagraphics to reprint ‘em! “Zap Comix was the grandaddy of all undergrounds [that] proved that comix were a legitimate art form,” writes Gordon. Amen.

-“Piracy on the High Seas of Cyberspace” (1998 essay/op-ed): Here, Gordon talks to music industry folks such as Bill Glahn (then-editor of Live! Music Review, a bootleg-centric publication) and Richard Conlon of BMI, and the topic is issues surrounding the leaking of big-name albums before street date and the industry’s response. In 2017, the notion of “leaks” might seem vaguely quaint, given that numerous artists now put their music up on the web for streaming well ahead of an album’s physical release, and it actually serves to build buzz, not kill it. But in 1998 it was still a big deal, and the powers that be were shitting bricks and sweating dollars every time a major release loomed on the horizon. When you read this article, pay close attention to the comments from Glahn, as he presciently envisions what music access and distribution in the digital age-to-come will look like.

The Author points out in his introduction that Boogie Chillun is the final installment in his rock ‘n’ roll brain dump: “It still only scratches a small part of what I’ve written overall… I figure that four books of my literary narcissism are probably (at least) three too many… Perhaps it’s time for something new.”

Regarding the “three too many” angle: As someone who has enjoyed this rock ‘n’ roll animal’s writing for many years, I would propose that there can never be too many music reviews in the world. I still regularly consult my dog-eared The Rolling Stone Record Review volumes from the early ‘70s, both as primary-source reference material when researching an artist, and to remind me of some of the journalists who originally inspired me to try my hand at this whole rock critic game. So it would be entirely appropriate if some young wannabe scribe in 2017 is in the process of mentally charting his own career path and taking deep inspiration from the likes of Gordon—and will still be hanging on to the four volumes in Gordon’s archives series some four-plus decades hence. Can I get a “boy howdy” to that?

As far as the “time for something new” part: To paraphrase Johnny from The Wild On”—well, Rev, what’ve you got? [Fred Mills]

I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival, by Rick Massimo
Wesleyan University Press (June 6)

There was Woodstock and there was Monterey; there’s Telluride and Bonnaroo; but in terms of a legacy and significance, no festival can match the prestige of the Newport Folk Festival. It was there that Dylan committed the utmost in blasphemy by exchanging his acoustic guitar for the full throttle of rock ‘n’ roll. Where Pete Seeger made the bold decision to mix up the genres and African American artists like Odetta and Leadbelly were encouraged to share the same stages as their white contemporaries, long before integration in the arts became a common occurrence. And it was there, when Old Crow Medicine Show made its bow, that guitarist Chance McCoy could revel in the fact that he learned to play by listening to recordings made live at the Newport Folk Festival while he was growing up.

As the first to document a comprehensive history of the festival, author Rick Massimo had a formidable task on his hands, and yet, all that he accomplishes within the book’s 240 pages ranks it among the best music treatises of its kind ever written. Massimo doesn’t just give a broad historical survey; rather he pores into the personalities involved — the festival’s founder and long-time mainstay George Wein, those that helped execute the operation from behind the scenes, the performers that commanded its stage and the journalists that covered it year after year. The trajectory is told through anecdote and reflection, first-hand accounts of the sometimes difficult circumstances—financial and otherwise—hat occasionally threatened to imperil its progress. And yet through it all, the triumph of the music and people that made it provides its ultimate achievement, both then and now.

“The threading together of the traditional and the new has been a part of the festival’s ethos since the beginning, and it has fuelled its recent renaissance,” Massimo writes, and indeed, that’s the core of what this book is all about. It speaks to a grand legacy, one timeless in its intent and ever-changing in its execution. The song belongs to us all. Let’s hope it is never extinguished. [LEE ZIMMERMAN]

 

1967: A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love, by Harvey Kubernik
Sterling Publishing Co. (April 18)

The name Harvey Kubernik undoubtedly rings a bell with anyone who is moderately interested in rock history; as a journalist, he’s covered music for national—and international—publications for decades, additionally working in A&R for the MCA label and producing numerous records over the years. More recently, he published handsome coffeetable books about Neil Young (Heart of Gold, reviewed here at BLURT) and Leonard Cohen (Everybody Knows, ditto here). With 1967, issued not-so-coincidentally just ahead of the much-ballyhooed 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, he extends his authorial winning streak, once again in a colorful, graphics-rich 9 ¾” x 11 ½” coffeetable format and once again well-stocked and –organized with text, commentary, archival, and interview materials that belie the general stereotype of “coffeetable” book-as-mere-eye-candy.

In a nutshell, Kubernik, a longtime California resident who was making the nature(al) hippie scene back in the day, traces that epochal year, first introducing numerous major players of the era such as LSD prophet Timothy Leary, concert impresario Bill Graham, Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman, and members of the Jefferson Airplane, then pushing the narrative forward month by month via media accounts and firsthand quotes. Key events are highlighted, from the release of the Doors’ self-titled debut in January to the release of D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back in May to the arrival of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine in November. Along the way sundry key moments deserving of extended navel-gazing get their props—the Monterey Pop Festival, of course, which Kubernik previously documented in detail in a 2011 book, A Perfect Haze: The Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival; and, uh, a little album called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—but Kubernik puts plenty of energy into, and sets aside plenty of space for, smaller items on his sunshine checklist that he feels wielded an impact upon the times and the culture worth documenting.

To wit: The hippies of San Francisco may have dominated the conversation that year, but there was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on in nearby L.A., where the Seeds were laying the, ahem, seeds for the eventual Nuggets-ian rediscovery of garage rock; across the continent in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where a collection of studio rats who would one day be known as “the Swampers” were creating sonic magic behind some of the Sixties’ greatest funk/soul voices; and halfway across the world, where a conflict in the split country known as Vietnam was steadily growing, and along with it, American G.I.s were learning how to leaven their terror and stress with marijuana and underground records.

One of my favorite tangents in the 266-page book arrives on page 206, where Kubernik details the rise of the underground press, including the aforementioned Rolling Stone, the Berkeley Barb, Ramparts, and The Realist. The latter wielded a huge influence on yours truly, ensnaring me in its us-against-The-Man!, oftentimes surreal/silly aesthetic. Meanwhile, Kubernik rightly points out that the mainstream (relatively speaking) media likes of Playboy provided plenty of coverage to the emerging counterculture and the people behind it, with musicians in particular leading the pack. Among all the naked women and bachelor pad gear reviews was coverage of Jimi and Otis, Janis and Grace, Ravi Shankar, Chris Darrow of the Kaleidoscope, and others.

Did I mention the graphics and layout? Oh boy. Suffice to say that the hot-pink-yellow-green neon-day-glow outer cover of this hardback is clue enough that a visual feast awaits one inside—as do stunning photos and eye-catching fonts, along with respondents’ quotes blocked off into their own sections, effectively allowing the reader to graze and skim at will, should that be desired, over start-to-finish consuming. That’s the coffeetable-book factor working nicely in Kubernik’s favor alongside the hungry rock-geek effect.

Kubernik includes a four-page appendix, an alphabetized “Playlist” of tracks that no so-called self-respecting Scholar of Summer of Love would be caught dead without on their personal mixtape or Spotify roundup; for all you newbies out there, it gives you a chance to delve into far more than the usual suspects, given the presence of The Hombres (“Let It All Hang Out”), Friend & Lover (“Reach Out of the Darkness”), The Wild Cherries (“Krome Plated Yabbie”), and a slice of classic soul by the eternal James Carr that messes my mind up every time I hear it (“You Got My Mind Messed Up”). Throw in exhaustive quote sourcing for each chapter and an equally comprehensive bibliography that proves Kubernik is, first and foremost, a veteran reporter who personally interviewed most of the quoted individuals cropping up in his book’s pages, and you’ve got a scholarly tome that should be on the required reading list of any college course that purports to delve into the cultural history of the Sixties. [ —FRED MILLS]

 


The Prodigal Rogerson: The Tragic, Hilarious and Possibly Apocryphal Story of the Circle Jerks Bassist Roger Rogerson in the Golden Age of LA Punk, 1979-1996,
by J. Hunter Bennett
Microcosm Publishing (May 15)

Admittedly, the full title is a mouthful but this is one killer book put together by J. Hunter Bennett, bassist for terrific Washington, DC power pop band Dot Dash. I loved those early Circle Jerks records, but hardly knew anything about their bassist, Roger Rogerson. The book, done in an oral history style of the folks who were there (band members, Roger’s old girlfriend, his ex-wife, etc) spills the beans on what a complete over-the-top character that Rogerson really was. Blowing into LA from Kansas City in the late 70’s the dude was as enigmatic as he was colorful and boisterous. Eventually he OD’d, but lived, and managed to still play for a few years. However, band members say he was never the same again.

A master of odd phrases (“Horn in, chief out”, etc.) and a personality turned toward the con, Rogerson even played with teen idol Jimmy McNichol for a while. The guy seemed to make friends or at least acquaintances, wherever he went, at least until the day he stole the Circle Jerks van and vanished. For a while, anyway, until he reappeared in… aw, I don’t want to spoil the book for you. It’s a must read and yes, you must read it. The American hardcore scene of the early ‘80s had many characters—a few within the Circle Jerks—and especially the LA scene, but Rogerson was definitely near the top of that “characters” category.

As the title says, the tale is both tragic and hilarious, but above all, riveting reading. Miss this book and your life will never improve, Incidentally, this is the fourth in Microcosm’s Scene History series). [ –Tim Hinely]

Sgt Pepper At Fifty: The Mood, the Look, the Sound, the Legacy of the Beatles’ Great Masterpiece, by Mike McInnerney, Bill DeMain & Gillian G. Gaar
Sterling Publishing Co. (June 1)

If you’re like me, you sometimes shudder as we approach the anniversary of such-and-such iconic artifact from the ‘60s; I’m as nostalgic for my misspent youth as the next senior citizen, but as anniversary celebrations are often organized by people who experienced the artifact in question secondhand, they frequently overlook some of the most salient aspects while elevating the more mundane ones. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has been no exception this year, with talking heads going into breathless overdrive, media outlets doing their best to cash in with tie-ins and even the record label itself doing its level best to dilute what was genuinely groundbreaking about the 1967 album by serving up a buffet of studio outtakes that illustrate why they were, in fact, relegated to outtake status.

This 178-page hardback book is a welcome exception, not only getting everything right in terms of providing an immensely informative and entertaining analysis of a musical and cultural watershed, but also in the way the evidence of same is presented for the printed page.

The structure is straightforward: Following a stage-setting introduction by Gillian G. Gaar—a Seattle-based journalist/author (she’s a longtime BLURT contributor) and scholar on all things Elvis, Nirvana, and the Beatles—Mike McInnerney, who during the Sixties was a graphic designer in London, reports on “The Mood” that informed the era in which the Beatles operated. He touches upon everything from the counterculture’s obsession with spiritual and, ahem, chemical enlightenment, to the influence that fashion and art wielded among youth, to some of the mass gatherings taking place that additionally put that youth front and center in the media. Next, Nashville-based journalist Bill DeMain tackles “The Look”—speaking of fashion and art—that went into how the Beatles physically presented themselves (one section subtitle is “Pepper Sprouts: How the Beatles’ Mustaches Set Them Free in the Summer of Love,” tellingly enough) and all the behind-the scenes stuff that went into creating the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s record sleeve. Fun side note: The origins of the notorious “Paul McCartney Is Dead” urban legend that would sweep the planet in 1969 can be traced back to the album’s photo session. And finally, Gaar writes about “The Sound,” discussing the actual recording sessions for the record. She breaks down individual songs and traces the progression of the material, recounts some of the public’s and media’s reactions upon the album’s initial release, and even delves into some of the more intriguing (for Beatles geeks, at least) musical minutiae, such as the debate over which is “better,” the mono or stereo mix.

Throughout, Sgt Pepper At Fifty supplies a nonstop visual feast, from period photos of the Swinging Sixties and shots of relevant cultural heroes of the day (including many who were pictured on the album cover), to images of the Beatles working in the studio and assorted ephemera (such as shots of them in India with the Maharishi and on the set of the video shoot for “Strawberry Fields Forever”). Some of the photos are familiar, but many are not, indicative of the thought and care that went into the book’s creators’ planning process. Ultimately, it’s a solid time capsule for anyone wanting to delve into both the content of and context surrounding Sgt. Pepper’s, as well as a worthy addition to any Beatles fan’s already-sagging bookshelf—a keeper and a conversation-starter that you’ll no doubt want to display conspicuously for when visitors arrive. [ —Fred Mills]


Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir,
by Eddie Wilson, with Jesse Sublett
University of Texas Press (April 4)

It may be a slight exaggeration to say Eddie Wilson is the reason why Austin isknown today as the “Live Music Capitol of the World.” But just a slight one.

Wilson, a liberal hippie in 1970s Texas – when such things still existed – founded the Armadillo World Headquarters, Texas’ version of CBGBs, Café Wha, The Fillmore and Whiskey A Go Go, all in one venue. In his brilliantly clever memoir, Wilson details the exact moment he found the old National Guard armory that he would soon convert into a club that would host everyone from Frank Zappa, Slade, AC/DC, Springsteen to Willie (naturally).

“If not for the coincidence of a swollen bladder and a flimsy lock on a derelict building, there might never have been a place called Armadillo World Headquarters,” writes Wilson in the opening paragraph.

The author, along with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the legendary singer/songwriter and all around badass member of The Flatliners, walked across the street from the Cactus Club to piss on the side of an old building and stumbled on his Taj Mahal. Not too much later, with a small army of friends fueled by a lot of cheap pot and local Texas beer, they would open and run the legendary Austin venue from the early ‘70s through the early ‘80s.

The book is a fascinating story of how a handful of young adults managed, at least for a little while, to completely define a city that at that point was known for little more than Longhorns football and Lone Star politicians. The venue became a haven for all kinds of freethinkers and non-conformists, boasting several brilliant poster artists, and eventually an off-shoot ad firm (they helped to reinvigorate Lone Star beer sales with a genius longneck bottle campaign). The ‘dillo also had a world class kitchen and catering company and was the scene for several live albums, fundraisers for liberal politicians and causes and even competing music venues.

Despite its reputation with music fans and musicians across the globe, the venue rarely made a profit. However, it could be argued that everything from the long-running PBS live music show, Austin City Limits, to the SXSW music festival would not have existed if not for Wilson and his merry band of music-loving hippies.

His memoir is required reading for any music fan out there. [John B. Moore]

 

All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music, by Michael Corcoran
University of North Texas Press (May 17)

Quick, determine which artist in each musical trifecta here does not belong with the others: (1) country gyspy Floyd Tillman, gangsta hip-hoppers the Geto Boys, soul music avatars Archie Bell and the Drells; (2) outlaw country rocker Billy Joe Shaver, Dylan/Velvet Underground/Zappa producer Tom Wilson, fiddle legend Johnny Gimble; and (3) “loco” jazz-polka accordionist Steve Jordan, cosmic cowboy Doug Sahm, Tejana pop superstar Selena.

Think you know the answers? Sorry, it was a trick question, because if you listed a single name, you failed the quiz. As chronicled in veteran music journalist Austin-based Michael Corcoran’s latest book, each artist originally hails from Texas: in respective order, from Lone Star regions Houston, the Waco area, and San Antonio/Rio Grande Valley. By way of fun facts: I had always figured Bell and his Drells were from the South, probably South Carolina, due to their being strongly identified with beach music; I did not realize that producer Wilson was African-American, much less from Texas, considering how so many of his productions were done in New York studios; and always just assumed Selena came from Mexico, considering that her core audience was located south of the border.

The point I’m making, of course, and the one Corcoran clearly intends to convey with All Over the Map, is that Texas is way more than folk, country, Tex-Mex, and the blues; for every Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, there’s a Ronnie Dawson (rockabilly) and a Butthole Surfers (psychedelic punk). I mean, did you even realize that Sly Stone was born in Dallas and spent part of his childhood in nearby Dallas? Admittedly, Texas is a big freakin’ place, and as Corcoran notes, “It’s where the South ends and the West begins, and yet Texas remains independent of those regions. Removed from the pressures of the music industry centers, Texans were able to chase the muse without much interference, resulting in indigenous sounds that retained personality.” (No kidding. Among the diverse “personalities” Texas has spawned over the year are Janis Joplin, Roky Erickson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gibby Haynes, and DJ Screw. ‘nuf said.)

Clocking in at 308 pages, All Over the Map, as noted above, breaks its musical groupings down via region rather than the more obvious genre or chronological options. It’s not a history of Texas; rather, you get an invaluable series of history lessons via the context Corcoran places each of his 39 main profiles, and the stories they tell or have told about them. In this study, then, the artists who came out of Waco are as important as those from Austin, and neither East Texas nor West Texas is the more influential locale, partly because within each section, there’s a hugely range of styles being practiced.

In many instances, Corcoran conducted firsthand interviews, an authorial perk of someone who spent much of his professional career as a music critic for the Dallas Morning News, Texas Monthly, and of course the Austin-American Statesman. (Anyone who ever attended South By Southwest prior to 2012 inevitably came across the Corcoran byline in the daily paper while the annual music conference was raging.) He also includes a musical appendix, a 34-track playlist of artists not included among the profiles; for example, he didn’t write about ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, or Marty Robbins, preferring instead to utilize that space to sing the praises of some lesser-knowns. And there’s a nice section titled “Behind-the-Scenes Heroes” that serves up tributes to musical movers and shakers who weren’t necessarily musicians themselves, among them journalist Chet Flippo, SXSW legend Brent Grulke, and legendary club owner Clifford Antone.

Factor in an amazing selection of archival photos—several of them not heavily circulated before, like a teenaged Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a shot of Don Walser and his band onstage and sporting Stetsons nearly scraping the venue’s impossibly low ceiling—and you’ve got a Texas-themed book that is essential reading whether you’re a Lone Star fanatic or just a standard-issue music geek. It’s also more than just an updated edition of Corcoran’s original 2005 book of the same name. As he points out, he opted to rewrite it, adding both newly-unearthed information and entire new chapters. [ —FRED MILLS]

 

America 51: A Probe Into the Realities That Are Hiding Inside “The Greatest Country In the World,” by Corey Taylor
Da Capo Press (August 8)

In 2011 Corey Taylor, the lead singer for Slipknot and Stone Sour, hustled his way onto the New York Times Best Sellers list with Seven Deadly Sins: Settling the Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good (Da Capo Press), a part-memoir, part-self-help tome that used as its jumping-off point Taylor’s own extensive first-hand acquaintance with those titular sins and sundry related vices, and subsequently extrapolated them to explaining how fucked-up humans—and by implication, societies—truly are. The book was a mixed bag. As our reviewer observed at the time, “Taylor’s ramblings, though entertaining at first, start to grate by the time you hit gluttony. A decent enough effort, that doesn’t exactly fulfill its promise. Two hundred and seventy pages later, I’m wondering if Taylor is guiltier of vanity or greed for thinking his peachiness on society’s ills is worth shelling out $25 in hardcover.”

Since then, Taylor has also published 2014’s You’re Making Me Hate You: A Cantankerous Look at the Common Misconception That Humans Have Any Common Sense Left, which in places mined similar themes (including a love of ridiculously long and convoluted book titles), but was generally deemed to be more laugh-out-loud funny and less self-aggrandizing than its predecessor. With America 51, Taylor maintains his lazer-like focus on our cultural foibles (I suspect he would never use a word like “foibles,” but hey, BLURT is a family publication), this time drilling down into the new era of der Trumph. As a touring musician, he’s as eminently qualified as Steve Earle to do so—one cannot truly say they understand how America is viewed by people in other countries until they’ve actually visited those countries and talked to those people—and as someone who has clearly put a lot of time and effort into thinking about what it means to be an American in 2017, versus just clicking on clickbait and then ranting about it to his Facebook followers, he’s earned the right to do so in a very public forum such as a book from a major publishing house.

Here, Taylor tackles religion, racism, bigotry, and the alt-right; chronicles the drip-drip-boom-boom of propaganda (see: social media; #fakenews) through our nation’s history; ruminates upon the “Fall of the House of Kennedy” and its implied corollary, the fall of the house of Clinton; and he even finds time to ponder just why man buns are so fucking annoying to pretty much everybody except the doofs who sport ‘em. The book title, accompanied by the image of the alien on the cover, is pretty awesome, incidentally; I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been wondering of late if our country isn’t actually part of some protracted alien autopsy experiment.

Trigger warning: There are more “fuck”s and “shit”s per capita here than a box set of Richard Pryor DVDs (I think Taylor would like that comparison, by the way). And from time to time, all the self-referencing Taylor engages in can at times feel disruptive, flow-wise; his screeds can often ome across more like a standup routine than an expanding narrative.

But maybe that’s the point. Taylor’s also grown immensely since 2011 as an essayist, and his sense of humor is indeed wicked. In 2017, having and expressing a sense of humor is the only thing that’s kept me sane, so I’m all for more—from a healthy disrespect for bullshit comes #resistance. I can’t say that I would welcome the opportunity to hang with Taylor at a backyard barbecue, since his outsized ego would probably mean he’d dominate all the conversations and keep me from concentrating on my game of cornhole.

Ultimately, I can say that I am grudgingly becoming a fan of the dude’s point of view and how he expresses that point of view. As I write this review, Kid Rock has just announced a bid for the U.S. Senate, aiming to take on Democrat Debbie Stabenow in 2018. And while I have no idea what, if any, political aspirations Corey Taylor might harbor, if he got an itch to run for office from his native Iowa in an effort to counterbalance whatever bad juju Sen. Rock might be aiming to conjure in Washington, I would certainly applaud the move. [Fred Mills]

 

VISUAL ABUSE: Jim Blanchard’s Graphic Art 1982-2002, by Jim Blanchard
Fantagraphics (Sept. 16, 2016)

And if you are looking more for eye candy… you’ve come to the right place.

By way of full disclosure: From around 1992 – 1997 I was the books/magazines buyer for an indie record store in Tucson, Arizona, and if you have a sharp memory of that time, you’ll know that the aforementioned period was what I’ll tentatively peg as “alternative lifestyles in ascendancy” for the book biz. Not only did I sell boatloads of tattoo/piercing books, straight-up rock bios, and (cough) The Anarchist Cookbook (ask me sometime about the grilling I got one afternoon from a couple of Tucson detectives looking into the presumably illegal escapades of a local punk “subversive”), the underground art milieu was in full bloom, along with its printed chroniclers.

Fantagraphics was not only one of the distributors we ordered from, it was a cultural force of nature in its own right, playing host/den-mother to its own stable of urban guerillas. So thumbing through this recent hard-cover volume from the publishing house, which collects, per the subtitle, native Texan/subsequent Northwest underground artist Jim Blanchard, I’m immediately struck by how delightfully right the guy’s work seems—and by that I don’t mean “for that era,” but instead, for the enduring underground aesthetic.

By way of additional disclosure: Somewhere in my attic is a sizable collection of old underground comics, hippie-era artifacts containing ground zero epistles from the likes of Crumb, Rodriguez, Griffin, Wilson et al. If you were born at the right time, it was a no-brainer to graduate from Mad and Cracked to Zap and its printed peers; and then, sometime later, after punk hit, to the sometimes realistic/sometimes impressionistic/always outrageous work of folks like Blanchard.

Visual Abuse is a flashback, for sure, stuffed with psychedelic skeletons, colliding craniums, bouncing breasts, exploding eyeballs, morphing mutants, and even the stray construction worker (?). More to the point, this handsomely appointed 200-page volume serves up a buffet of twisted brilliance that neatly presents an artist evolving alongside the culture he was chronicling and/or commenting on. Early in the game, Blanchard is found publishing his fanzine Blatch, duly inspired by punk and hardcore and soon dispensing photocopied word of wisdom alongside vivid pen-and-ink depictions of the likes of Black Flag, T.S.O.L., etc. Within a couple of years he’s doing concert posters and handbills, and with a relocation to Seattle in 1987, Blanchard, along with similar talents such as Charles Burns, crafting delicate (ahem) visual come-ons for potential attendees of upcoming shows by Skin Yard, the Fluid, Killdozer, Mentors, Butthole Surfers, and some three-piece called Nirvana.

In addition to reproductions of gig posters, the book includes Blanchard’s album art: Coffin Break sleeves for Sub Pop and C/Z, New Bomb Turks, Italy’s Raw Power, Mooseheart Faith (apparently a fave of Blanchard’s—and mine, too, with 1991’s Magic Square of the Sun a psychedelic gem as masterful as any of the Fillmore-era artists), and others.

Blanchard would digress into pure fantasy, both drug-induced and sexual in thrust; on occasion his sketches of females may border on sexism, but most of the images portray them as coming from a position of strength or power, such as the faux-Blaxploitation poster starring a giant Afro hair-do, and one for a “Patty Hearst is Tania” film. Here and there the book also displays some relatively straightforward narrative comic strips, like the chilling nine-panel “An abbreviated picto-history of bad crime in these United States,” about a pair of “big time hoods” who turned out to be just another pair of fuck-ups.

It’s an anarchic ride for sure, and a must-read for any fan of underground art, particularly those who came of age alongside Blanchard. As fellow artist Daniel Clowes testifies, in Blanchard’s honor, “A treasure trove of fucked-up shit from the dare end-times of a lost civilization.” You got that right. Now, more than ever. [Fred Mills]

cheap-trick

Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, Illinois, 1973-2005, by David Ensminger
Microcosm Publishing (Feb. 7)

I first became aware of current Houston resident David Ensminger’s writing when he did his classic punk zine Left of the Dial. I was sad when that one folded but since then Ensminger, who also teaches at a university, has published numerous books, most detailing all of the nooks and crevices of different punk rock scenes. This particular book, as the title states, goes into depth on Ensminger’s hometown of Rockford , IL. If you’re like me then the only thing you knew about Rockford was that it was the birthplace of Cheap Trick. I believe a few of the C.T. members still live there, but Ensminger goes back from the time of the immigrants who built the city in the early 1900s to the time it became a dilapidated rust belt city by the ‘70s and beyond.

After a small but strong music scene began to blossom when teenagers began buying guitars the author goes into the ‘60s garage band scene who called the place home to the classic Cheap Trick (‘70s) and then, by the early ‘80s, a hardcore punk scene began to spring up of which the author was a big part of (doing zines, helping put on shows, etc. The scene seemed like that of many others with too many good bands that never got the proper notice. Built by a dedicated crew of folks who kept it alive to the downsides of scenes (drunkenness, infighting, apathy, etc.) but Ensminger has a certain flair for words so he can turn even a humdrum Tuesday night punk gig at a bowling alley into the most exciting night of the year.

The book is part of the Microcosm’s “Scene History” series and it’s terrific. Pocket-sized, under 100 pages and a wealth of information. Even if you only have a passing interest in the punk scene you won’t want to miss this one as it not only give a history of the music scene but a history of the town of Rockford itself, built by the immigrants looking for a better life. [Tim Hinely]

2017 Americana Music Festival & Conference 9/12 – 9/17, Nashville

“Now that’s Americana!” This year’s festival and conference offers more to adore. View a photo gallery following the text.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN / PHOTOS BY ALISA B. CHERRY

If the Americana Festival and Conference proves anything, it’s that anything and everything born of genuine roots can be classified as Americana. It doesn’t matter whether it originates from the heartland, the swamps of the south, the outer reaches of California, the mountains of Appalachia, or as far afield as the Australian outback and the urban and rural expanses of the U.K. A showcase for literally hundreds of acts, each competing for attention in more than three dozen venues, various onsite events, as well as assorted record shops, restaurants and boutiques, it challenges attendees to figure out how to place themselves in several locations at the same time, a daunting proposition given the fact that music occurs simultaneously and decisions must be made.

Not surprisingly then, the Americana Music Festival is ideal for those with quick attention spans, eagerness and impatience. For all others, it takes planning, sound strategy, dexterity and a willingness to make the most of five days filled with ongoing entertainment. In exchange, it offers the opportunity to see both icons and artists of international stature, a diverse contingent that this year alone included Van Morrison, Graham Nash, Jason Isbell, Emmylou Harris, The Blind Boys of Alabama, John Prine, Robert Cray, Kasey Chambers, Colin Hay, Robyn Hitchcock, Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer, Jon Langford, and Lee Ann Womack, to name but a scant few.

It’s a large and durable umbrella, this thing they call Americana, and summing it up succinctly is an impossible feat even for those with broad imaginations. As artist and compere Jim Lauderdale is fond of saying, “Now that’s Americana!”

While every day and evening boasts highlights of every description, the awards presentation on the second night of the fest is one of the most prestigious music ceremonies one might ever witness. Simply put, it rivals anything the Grammys have to offer, at least as far as coolness is concerned. Where else can you catch Graham Nash harmonizing with the Milk Carton Kids on an old Every Brothers chestnut or John Prine doling out honors to an emotional Iris Dement and before joining her for a duet? With a house band led and directed by the great Buddy Miller — absent this year but ably subbed for by the equally prolific Larry Campbell — there are stars galore crowding the legendary Ryman stage.

That said, the Americana Festival does not differentiate between artist and enthusiast. Hanging out at an event like the Compass Records annual open house or spending the evening enjoying a live broadcast of the syndicated show Music City Roots at the Yee-Haw tent practically guarantees you’ll run into someone of renown. We found that to be true even on arrival, courtesy of a luncheon with John Oates, who was as amicable as anyone can be while promoting a new project. Likewise, there’s little in the way of barriers between back stage and front, and during our stay, we had opportunity to chat with Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kasey Chambers, Colin Hay, Willie Nile, Jonathan Byrd, and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. Everyone is especially gracious in these relaxed environs, allowing for especially cool connections.

Aside from the idols, the festival provides a great opportunity to catch artists on the way up. We were fortunate enough to see the young Aussie duo Falls, whose sweet harmonies and bewitching melodies prove nothing less than utterly enticing. Two young Americans from Austin Texas, Max Gomez and David Ramirez, were equally worthy of attention, two strong singer songwriters with an authority and presence that extends far beyond their relatively modest ages. Three rockier ensembles, Deer Tick, Band of Heathens and Reckless Kelly literally shook the rafters in their own individual performances, while Matthew Ryan, normally calm and composed on record, showed he could also rock with a ferocity that had the crowd taking notice. There were numerous others as well — The Wild Ponies, a husband wide duo that served up superb songs from their new Galax, the amazingly talented songstress Becky Warren and extraordinarily entertaining Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboy, an ever-exuberant Korby Lenker, and a superb Scotsman Dean Owens, all of whom proved themselves well worthy of recognition. Those on an exploratory mission will always find ample rewards.

Indeed, then it comes to rising stars, the English and the Aussies are especially well represented. Each contingent host showcases that are consistent must-sees. The Bootleg BBQ in particular, held on the back lawn of The Groove record store, becomes one of the best attended events of the festival. Sponsored by the British Underground, it’s an outstanding opportunity to spotlight some of Britain’s most dynamic up and coming artists within the umbrella of international Americana. This year, the dynamic and irrepressible Yola Carter, sisterly trio Wildwood Kin and the charismatic Danni Nicholls were among those that wowed the crowd, with special guests Angaleena Presley ensuring the connection between the U.K. and the U.S.A. remains as unbreakable a bond as always. There were also star sightings — with Jim Lauderdale checking out the action and Indigo Girl Amy Ray braving the heat and obviously enjoying the entire afternoon. And the barbecue ain’t bad either.

While entertainment is a priority for most, it ought to be noted that Festival and Conference also offers educational opportunities. The Country Music Hall of Fame provides an ongoing series of themed exhibits that trace the music’s evolution from past to present, and during the festival, there are special gatherings well worth attending. Two in particular were an intimate discussion and acoustic performance from Allison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne, who were celebrating the release of their first collaborative effort, and a program devoted to Southern Roots, specifically, a salute to the legacy of the late Gregg Allman and his band of brothers.

When all is said and done, the Americana Fest is most appreciated as an opportunity to immerse oneself in the best the genre has to offer. It offers a chance to stay ahead of the curve, to be a part of a musical movement that’s making its impact worldwide. Ultimately, it’s a community, one that provides opportunity to make new friends, reconnect with old friends and share in the celebration of sound with immense populist appeal.

Indeed, as Mr. Lauderdale sums it up so succinctly, “Now that’s Americana!”

***

Marty Stuart getting the Duo/Group of the Year Award at  The 16th Annual AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium on 9/13/17

Webb Wilder at NPR Music Live from the YeeHaw Tent on 9/15/17

Lindi Ortega at The Bootleg BBQ at The Groove, Nashville on 9/16/17

Yola Carter at The Bootleg BBQ at The Groove, Nashville on 9/16/17

Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboy at The Station Inn, Nashville on 9/15/17

Angaleena Presley at The Bootleg BBQ at The Groove, Nashville on 9/16/17

The Falls from Australia at SoulShine Pizza Factory, Nashville 9/16/17

A.J Croce at Compass Records 9/13/17

Sam Outlaw at Mercy Lounge, Nashville 9/13/17

Harrow Fair at Outlaws and Gunslingers Luncheon at the American Legion Post 82, Nashville 9/14/17

Jim Lauderdale at The Music City Roots at the YeeHaw Tent, Nashville 9/14/17

Ray Wylie Hubbard at NPR Music Live from the YeeHaw Tent 9/15/17

Taasha Coates at A Taste of Australia at the Filming Station, 9/15/17

Kasey Chambers at A Taste of Australia at the Filming Station 9/15/17

Poco’s Rusty Young at the Filming Station, Nashville 9/15/17

 

Colin Hay At City Winery, Nashville 9/12/17

John Oates & Lee Ann Womack at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Winning the Emerging Artist of the Year Award – Amanda Shires @AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Graham Nash and The Milk Carton Boys at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires performing at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Emmylou Harris at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Lukas Nelson at Cannery Ballroom, Nashville 9/13/17

Whitney Rose at Outlaws and Gunslingers Luncheon at the American Legion Post 82 9/14/17