Monthly Archives: August 2018

GIANT SAND – Returns to Valley of Rain LP

Album: Returns to Valley of Rain LP

Artist: Giant Sand

Label: Fire

Release Date: August 10, 2018

The Upshot: “Had an accident last night on Highway 95…” Howe Gelb & Co. revisit the band’s 1985 debut in classic freewheeling Gelb fashion. Go HERE to read our new interview with Gelb, in which he discusses his thumbing through the back pages and his long, colorful career.


It was just three years ago when England’s Fire Records, as part of their ongoing back catalog overhaul of Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, reissued G.S. debut Valley of Rain, remastering and expanding the 1985 gem (as “Beyond The Valley of Rain”) for a 30th anniversary edition. Included were extensive, fresh liner notes penned by Gelb, who duly related a conversation with his dear friend Rainer Ptacek, the late Tucson slide guitarist and songwriter with whom he’d formed Giant Sand precursor Giant Sandworms in the early ‘80s, and who would appear on many subsequent G.S. albums: “Rainer was right,” wrote Gelb, “when he said we need to make a music that won’t embarrass us ions from now (he tended to teach without really teaching).”

Prophetic—and well-taught/learned—words. Valley of Rain, whether in its original Black Sand Records/Enigma iteration or the aforementioned 2015 edition that boasts a bonus disc of outtakes and proximate live material from ’86 (the latter with Ptacek in the lineup), more than simply holds up to this day. It’s as seminal as other Amerindie titles from that period, notably the desert rock/proto-Americana and neopsychedelic/Paisley Underground scenes of the mid- and late-‘80s that included the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, Rain Parade, Sidewinders, Zeitgeist, etc. And apparently Gelb made a similar determination in 2018 that, even after helming more than 60 albums to date, VoR was worthy of the proverbial Stetson-tip. Ergo, Returns to Valley of Rain, a track-by-track re-recording—with some notable tracklist shuffling—of the ’85 platter.

From time to time you hear of artists who gripe about this-or-that’s earlier release’s faults and how they’d love to attempt a re-do. Once in awhile they might actually go through with the threat—among the adapters, for better or less, Camel, Girlschool, Mike Oldfield, Car Seat Headrest, Suicidal Tendencies, and a slew of metal bands—but more often they simply settle for re-cutting individual songs and, of course, trotting out the “classic album done live” trope, once a mainstay of ‘70s classic rock icons but, nowadays, a staple of the touring-circuit scene. (Not to mention the bread-and-butter of tribute bands, who bank on the enduring appeal of, I dunno, Beatles/Doors/Pink Floyd and Sublime/G’n’R/Phish appeal to keep their mortgage payments up to date.)

Howe Gelb, though, has the luxury of (a) never releasing an album considered so commercially iconic that going the contemporary remake/remodel route would be a reputational risk; and, (b) having a uniquely dedicated fanbase that both knows his records and understands how being a Gelb/G.S. fan means enjoying and trusting the songwriter’s freewheeling, freeform view of his own back catalog. It’s no secret that Gelb takes a Dylan-like approach to song-selection and –rendition.

Returns to Valley of Rain, then, is a start-to-finish delight. It’s technically a re-do of the original UK cassette version of Valley of Rain, which had 11 tunes compared to the 10-song US LP. (Fire’s 2010 CD reissue added a pair of bonus tracks prior to their full-blown expansion in 2015.) And as noted above, it also toggles the track order; for example, where the original album opened with the title track followed by “Tumble and Tear,” the new one reverses the pair, effectively making the latter a kind of brusque overture/prologue that sets up the deeply anthemic groove of “Valley of Rain—with its irresistible riff, memorable melody, and honeyed harmony vocals from Annie Dolan—as a thematic focal point for the album.

RtVoR rocks its desert ass off from start to finish, whether we’re talking about the straight-up Nuggets-worthy garage of “Man of Want,” the almost-but-not-quite metal of “Black Venetian Blind,” the lumbering Old Pueblo howl that is “Barrio,” or the aforementioned “Tumble and Tear,” a Jurassic stomp which, over the years has become a genuine show-stopper (check this relatively recent live version for proof).

Produced by Gelb and Gabriel Sullivan—a musical savant in his own right who came on board with Giant Sand as guitarist a few years ago—Gabriel Sullivan, and featuring guitarist/vocalist Dolan, veteran Tucson drummer Winston Watson (who is also a Dylan band alumnus), and regular Giant Sand bassist Thoger Lund (plus, on a couple of tracks, Kid Congo Powers and original G.S. bassist Scott Garber), the album’s a must-hear for any longtime fan of the band. Intriguingly enough, it also can serve as a righteous introduction for newcomers to the Gelb oeuvre, which has been known to swerve all over the rock ‘n’ roll highway, sometimes to the discombobulation of less-discerning ears and sensibilities. This album, though, is about as straightforward as Gelb gets, and it also sounds like it was a helluva lot of fun to make. In my book, that impossible-to-quantify quality will always be a selling point.

Available on digital, CD, black vinyl, and sweet limited edition blue wax (plus, from Burger Records, limited edition cassette), and with a download code, it’s an essential addition to the G.S. collection.

DOWNLOAD: “Barrio,” “Tumble and Tear,” “Death, Dying and Channel 5,” “Valley of Rain”

CLOUD SEEDER – Cloud Seeder

Album: Cloud Seeder

Artist: Cloud Seeder

Label: Lather

Release Date: April 27, 2018;


Cloud Seeder—consisting of Acme Rocket Quartet members Roger Kunkel (one of the founding members of Thin White Rope), Steve Edberg, and Dave Thompson—raised the funds via Kickstarter earlier this year to release this two CD album heavily inspired both by the German band CAN and The Swell Maps. As the liner notes states, it’s a group of spontaneous recordings with zero overdubs, which makes it even more stunning that something so coherent and yet out there could be recorded in one go.

This is an album perfect for a Sunday lay-about where you let the music wash over you. On the jazzy “Reul Vallis Blues,” with its Spanish laced nocturnal guitar, what permeated my mind was the lyric “I just kissed a girl named Maria” from West Side Story—funny what comes trickling through the ether. “Pleasure Planet” is a very evocative number that sounds like a prelude to a séance or ritual bloodletting; the exquisite guitar playing and hypnotic drumming churn together with a sinister sonic undercurrent to create a compelling and disquieting tune. “Cesium Surfer,” with its noir surfer guitar and tight rhythm section, is the perfect soundtrack to something ominous and criminal. It’s Bob Bogle meets Black Sun Ensemble. CD 2 takes a turn for the more hallucinatory side of things. Longer, more experimental numbers dominate, like the edgy “Oh Dear Edgar” with its electronic blips and battlefield snare drum, which then give way to some really laid-back psychedelic guitar; it’s an amazing track and the gem on the second half of the album.

On this album, while the guitar may be the first thing we notice, one must also give equal attention to the layered sonics, the deft bass and drum playing, as well as some key sound samples that are interspersed across several of the tracks. There is so much to dig into on this record, whether you are a Krautrock fan or just a fan of really well-crafted complex tunes that challenge you in unique ways. I think it’s criminal that bands like this, operating at such a high level of musicianship, seem to get short shrift from the music-buying public. Hopefully one day this will change, but until it does, do what you can to support these guys as this album is definitely a keeper.

DOWNLOAD: “Fed by Gravity,” “Reul Vallis Blues,” “Pleasure Planet,” “Cesium Surfer,” “Oh Dear Edgar”


THE POSIES – Dear 23 / Frosting On the Beater

Album: Dear 23 / Frosting on the Beater

Artist: Posies

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: August 03, 2018

The Upshot: A pair of power pop classics that helped make the grunge-encrusted tail end of the 20th Century just a little more bearable.


Ah, the Posies. With a seemingly bottomless bag of hooks and sentiments that veered easily between clever and heartfelt (and often both at once), the Bellingham/Seattle band should be mentioned in the same breath as luminaries like ELO, Cheap Trick and Big Star and contemporaries Jellyfish (and its spinoffs), Velvet Crush and Matthew Sweet. Instead the group had the mixed fortune of hailing from the grunge mecca that inaugurated the era of “alternative rock.” Certainly, the Posies didn’t suffer, garnering a sheaf of rave reviews and plenty of fans, even if they never quite broke out the way their champions hoped. But being one of the leading lights of the nineties alt.rock boom somehow keeps them out of the halls of the power pop masters, or at least the main wing – a minor mischaracterization, to be sure, but one that seems to put them on the bottom rung of a ladder they’ve long since climbed.

And as uncool as it may be to say it, the Posies were at their best during their major label era. Not that the rest of the band’s indie catalog isn’t delightful, but it was their three-album stint on Geffen Records subsidiary DGC that really put the band on the map. Whether that was due to the influx of corporate cash that allowed them to hire top flight producers and get great sound or simply due to the rush of singing and songwriting excellence pouring out of chief Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow then is up for debate (we tend to lean toward the latter, though it’s probably some of both). Regardless, the trilogy of Dear 23, Frosting on the Beater and Amazing Disgrace – the first two of which having just been reissued – is not only the best work of the band, but some of the best guitar/power pop of the twentieth century.

Dear 23, the Posies’ second album, made a splash when it was first released in 1990, but under somewhat false pretenses. By this time the band had evolved from Auer and Stringfellow’s bedroom duo into a scrappy four-piece rock & roll outfit with bassist Rick Roberts and drummer Mike Musburger, but that wasn’t reflected in the grooves. Instead, producer John Leckie (XTC, Thee Hypnotics, Stone Roses) augmented the arrangements with layers of acoustic guitars for an almost folk rock feel, and added his signature psychedelic wash to the mix, making the entire record nearly sound like it comes from another continent. The results may not have been true to the Posies’ live sound, but it works like gangbusters with the songs. The massive-sounding acoustics form a wall on which the glorious anthem “Any Other Day” is painted, while the folk rock sheen fits perfectly with the bittersweet “Suddenly Mary.” “Golden Blunders” and “My Big Mouth” transcend the designation “power pop” with bright hooks and creamy harmonies, while “Mrs. Green” revels in gentle acid psychedelia when it’s not rocking out. “You Avoid Parties” and “Everyone Moves Away” strip things back down to the original duo, coming off like big-league version of Auer and Stringfellow’s cassette recordings, while “Flood of Sunshine” becomes a widescreen, lighter-waving singalong with unexpected guitar heroics. A few awkward lyrics aside, mainly in mispronunciations necessary to fit rhyme schemes, there’s not a bum note played or sung or a track worth skipping.

As with most Omnivore reissues, this one includes generous extras. The number of bonus tracks is staggering, taking up a third of disk one and all of disk two, with a big ol’ bucket of demos (including two of “Apology,” one version from each songwriter), covers of Big Star and the Hollies, some otherwise unreleased tunes, and the original version of “Will You Ever Ease Your Mind,” which wouldn’t reach full flower until Amazing Disgrace. There’s also an enthusiastic essay from Craig Dorman and, best of all, track-by-track commentary from Auer and Stringfellow that enlightens the original songs.

For 1993’s Frosting on the Beater, the Posies hired Gumball/Velvet Monkeys leader Don Fleming to give them a muscular sonic aesthetic more in keeping with their live shows. While some critics and fans accused them of trying to come to terms with their hometown grunge (as if there weren’t dozens of former college rockers trying to do the same thing at the same time), for the band it was simply a closer reflection of their original aim. In that light, this is probably the purest of their power pop moves – loud guitars, big melodies and hooks, a simmering energy set to explode any moment. The record contains some of their catchiest and most blazing rockers: “Flavor of the Month,” “Definite Door,” the nearly hitbound “Dream All Day,” the irresistible “Solar Sister.” The rest of the record is not the easy listen of prior work, as Auer and Stringfellow began exploring knottier melodies that don’t throw hooks right into the listener’s faces. The results are mixed – some songs simply don’t stick to the ribs as strongly as the band’s best. But others – “Burn & Shine,” the enigmatic and atmospheric “Coming Right Along” – prove themselves worthy of any Posies hall of fame, and the best tracks make Frosting as essential as its predecessor.

As with Dear 23, this two-disk version overflows with bounty, including another wave of demos and unreleased songs and sterling liner notes. It’s worth noting that a large portion of the extra tracks were originally released on the box set At Least At Last, but given how long out of print and expensive on the secondhand market that project is, that’s hardly a sin. Frosting on the Beater 2.0 is another excellent reissue and an indicator that the upcoming take on Amazing Disgrace will also be something special.

DOWNLOAD: “Any Other Way,” “Flood of Sunshine,” “Golden Blunders,” “Solar Sister,” “Dream All Day,” “Flavor of the Month,”


TUNNG—Songs You Make at Night

Album: Songs You Make at Night

Artist: Tunng

Label: Full Time Hobby

Release Date: August 24, 2018

The Upshot: The same recognizable magic as Tunng’s best work, in hectically complicated arrangements that melt into simplicity and sleek modern surfaces atop centuries-old modalities. 


Tunng co-founder Sam Genders has been missing for two albums, as under the sway of Mike Lindsay and Becky Jacobs, the folktronica collective has moved further away from its shadowy melancholic roots towards a brighter, more conventional sound. With Songs You Make at Night, Genders is  back for the first time since 2007’s Good Arrows, adding a soft wistful ache to the band’s percolating rhythms and expansively instrumented grooves. This latest album is still a fair amount bubblier than early works, with the electronic part more prominent than on Mother’s Daughter or Good Arrows, yet it has the same recognizable magic as Tunng’s best work, in hectically complicated arrangements that melt into simplicity and sleek modern surfaces atop centuries-old modalities.

In this way, the single “ABOP” bleeps and burbles with dance elements, its antic syncopated beat banging on amid new wave-y chimes of keyboard. Yet it also works a night time sorcercy with lyrics evoking “A blue moon phosphorescence, ignites around my fall, like chalk around a body, like light inside a storm.”  Some of these songs are relatively folky, though even “Crow” weaves samples and shiny Rhodes and glitch-rhythms into its melody. Sounds are always in flux, one turning into another, electric morphing into acoustic, melancholy into euphoric, introspective into body-celebrating dance. “Dark Heart” is the most synthwave-y of these cuts, its ghost disco trills of “Ah! Ah la la la!” punctuating blatting, burping beats, but even it starts in birdsong and water sound. This is the music of magical realism, where anything might be transmuted into anything else at any moment.

There’s a nocturnal air to many of these songs, which are bookended by “Dream In” and “Dream Out,” two concoctions of electronic aura and wistful confidences. The first one is longer, throwing up flares of keyboard sound and glitch percussion around murmured verse. “It’s a beautiful dream,” observes Genders, in his unadorned way and an altered woman’s voice, fully of eerie vibrato, flickers up in the background. “Dream Out” has no vocals, but it also works in soft, understated textures, where ordinary strums and jangles coalesce into fairy dusted surreality. The album ends with a very Tunng-like spoken word sample of a man asking, “Why are you lying down in the middle of the forest?”  Why indeed, but also why not?

DOWNLOAD: “ABOP,” “Dream In”




Album: With Animals

Artist: Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood

Label: Heavenly

Release Date: August 24, 2018

The Upshot: It’s hard to tell where Lanegan leaves off and Garwood steps in, but that’s because the gravelly-voiced singers are so well matched and equally focused on a singular, spooky vibe.


Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood make a lot of sense together. They’re both gravelly-voiced singers with a ruminative air, both adept at the hallucinatory bends and slides and repetitions of blues guitar, both willing to look into the abyss, and, indeed, hardly able to tear themselves away from it. Both work, at least part of the time, in a smouldering, spectral mode, volume pitched at a murmur, but intensity nevertheless rather high. They have a history together, too. This is their second album as a duo, following 2013’s Black Pudding, and Garwood has played supporting roles on Lanegan’s Blues Funeral as well as last year’s Gargoyle.

With Animals, then, is a bare-bones incantation, recorded both together and separately with a minimal palette of voice (entirely Lanegan’s as far as I can tell), guitar, a few keyboards and programmed drums. The title refers to the fact that Lanegan keeps five pets at home where he recorded, and sharper ears than mine can, reportedly, pick up the occasional bark or meow. The album has a muted, tamped down air, at least compared to the last couple of Lanegan records. Songs run slow and hollowed out and mournfully contemplative; there are no extended instrumental solos, no rock excess, but rather a haunted, phosphorescent atmosphere, where melodies float among rings of smoke and fog. “C’mon now midnight children, sing a dark harmony,” Lanegan urges in the single, “Save Me,” which is as good a summation of With Animals’ nocturnal energies as any.

None of these tracks are overstuffed, but a few have been pared to eerie essence. The sparest, most ghostly cut, “Lonesome Infidel” does away with guitars altogether, running only an oscillating line of keyboard tone under it, notes that blink on and off like landing lights to bring its elliptical verses home. Finally even the words fade away into the murk and a whistler carries the melody, a small point of light moving through the darkest sort of cavern. “Scarlett,” with its thudding kick drum, its wavering tones of slide guitar, is similarly skeletal but lovely, its vocals distilled to basics: longing, sex and memory. Other cuts let the light in, just a little. “Upon Doing Something Wrong” proves again that something interesting happens when Lanegan’s ravaged voice is added to pristine, sun-dappled folk picking, while “Spaceman” moves further into twilight on shuffling, shaken percussion and slanting, note-shifting guitar.

With Animals reminds me of Lanegan’s work with Isobel Campbell, more acoustic, less bombastic, less ready to take you by the throat than his solo albums, but nonetheless quietly revelatory. It’s hard to tell, really, where he leaves off and Garwood steps in, but that’s because they’re so well matched and equally focused on a singular, spooky vibe.

DOWNLOAD: “Save Me” “Scarlett” “Upon Doing Something Wrong”




Album: Walterio

Artist: Walter Salas-Humara

Label: Rhyme and Reason Records

Release Date: August 10, 2018


Walter Salas-Humara has never been one to dismiss his past, especially as it applies to his Hispanic heritage. The erstwhile leader of the seminal Americana outfit The Silos even opted to name his new album after the nickname given him by his family, and then went several steps further by singing two of its songs in Spanish — the rousing opening track “El Camino De Oro” and the perky yet persistent “Hecho En Galicia.” Granted, that’s not as bold a move as it might once have been in a more Anglo-fied era, but even in today’s multicultural environment, it still shows a certain propensity for expanding his embrace.

After The Silos went on hiatus 20 or so years ago (the band’s history is complicated, to say the least; in 2011 a revamped lineup headed up by Salas-Humara released an album, also touring behind it, and occasional rumblings continue to be heard about the group), Salas-Humara undertook a solo sojourn that has gained him international recognition all on his own. Indeed, his knack for plying rock steady rhythms with a decidedly personal perspective has helped him carve a niche in today’s roots rock firmament. In that regard, Walterio is one of his most personable and pointedly engaging efforts yet, whether it’s the vulnerable plea of “Should I Wait for Tomorrow” to the rockier resolve of “Out of the Band,” a humorous diatribe about the conflict that often erupts out of the usual group dynamic.

With Silos drummer Konrad Meissner in tow, Salas-Humara frequently summons an unabashed rock ‘n’ roll revelry, and the brash swagger powering songs such as “Here We Go” and the steady, seductive “She’s a Caveman” attest to his ability to follow the form. Consider him a populist rocker of sorts, a musician whose live performances frequently find him freely mingling with his audiences while serving up his songs. “I want to be with you,” he declares, in the ebullient song of the same name, and while it may be a romantic entreaty in theory, it also attests to his populist precepts. Even a cursory listen ensures the feeling will remain mutual.

DOWNLOAD: “Should I Wait for Tomorrow,” “Out of the Band,” “Here We Go”

TIM RUTILI & CRAIG ROSS – 10 Seconds to Collapse

Album: 10 Seconds to Collapse

Artist: Tim Rutili & Craig Ross

Label: Jealous Butcher

Release Date: June 22, 2018

The Upshot: There be beautiful monsters here, and the Rutili-Ross team serve up new and unfamiliar sonic mutations to charm and awe us. Watch video, below, and also check the links for additional videos.


Like the pop art cover collage by artist Shane Swank, the songs on 10 Seconds to Collapse portray all manner of beautiful monsters. For creators Tim Rutili (Califone, Red Red Meat) and Craig Ross (Shearwater, Spoon, Robert Plant), these surreal folk, desert-baked blues and deconstructed pop hybrids bloom brightest where the digital — feedback, tape loops, etc. — and analog worlds collide, and where new and unfamiliar sonic mutations emerge to charm and awe us.

On 2016’s Guitars Tuned to Air Conditioners, the pair vamped off the electricity of the universe in two 16-minute-plus sides of modulated drone airbrushed with guitar parts. On 10 Seconds, that adventurism anchors what are more traditional song structures in the same reference frame; the vocals are really the only hint at authorship. Rutili sings five of the seven tracks, and what emerges here is pretty characteristic of the Califone catalog: streaks of angular feedback, cottony whorls of synths, looped noise and chopped-up percussion melting into — and emerging from — transcendent melodies and harmonies. (Fellow traveler Brian Deck had additional recording/mixing duties.)

The phrase “Ten seconds to collapse” is the warning heard just after an underground nuclear detonation, and here it’s delivered in chilling, military official-monotone to kick things off with a suitably apocalyptic portend to open Ross’ “Like a Rifle.” An explosion of chopped-and-screwed guitars and beats follows, before serrated guitar lines burst through a fuzzy haze of effects and into a loping tempo that’s fitting for a song that passes — lyrically, anyway — through Tucumcari.

The current political nightmare may color song interpretations — particularly given the duo’s penchant for elliptical lyrics — but the atom-splitting here also occurs face-to-face in addition to musically. On the elegiac “The Day Before the Peaches Rot,” Rutili builds around his familiar languid acoustic slide, keyboard drifts and EBow scrawls. The song’s “Sunday table drunks, bellowing too late, too late in the game,” may be bitching about politics or mistakes made or their former glory days (or all three), but “The terror in your smile/in every wedding picture” image that follows suggests dark clouds and future fear as well.

On “Back to the Plow,” Ross’ lyrics work equally well as Luddite warning or future prophecy, as the song alternates between sections of brutal guitar riffs and clouds of Lennon-like mellotron.

It’s not all gloomy cataclysm, though. “Choke” — probably Rutili’s most pop-friendly take since Quicksand/Cradlesnakes’ “Vampiring Again” — is a wizened love song that choogles along behind prominent bass-fuzz while the duo subverts the AM Gold-friendly format, using EBow and feedback to blow up the chorus and elliptical imagery to create a more Burroughsian narrative. Another radio-friendly cut, the Stones-y ballad “Coma Tapes,” has a heart-beat tempo and blissful harmonies from indie film actress Angela Bettis, who whispers in our ears to remind us that “there’s starlight that made you.”

The LP closes with “Little Carnivores,” which laments our habit of self-sabotage and species murder by asking, “Shall we kill something beautiful tonight?” in the slinky choruses. The song is cousin to “Tayzee Nub” from 2000’s Roomsound, including Califone co-founder Ben Massarella’s distinctive percussion touches. The last half of the nine-minute track features a looped piano chord overlaid with synth and guitar squiggles that drift in and out of the frame like microscopic organisms on a slide. “Birds are crashing into picture windows/God’s a hundred-dollar head rush coming down,” Rutili wearily intones as our place in the natural order, well, collapses it.

These days, it’s easy to conflate apocalyptic fare with its most obvious source — the racist trashcan fire atop our political system. But aiming all our disappointment there cheapens us and absolves us of the roles we play in our own personal Armageddons. These sonic explorations of Rutili and Ross may just be a pleasant way to bide time until the inevitable collapse, but you won’t find many lovelier monsters to play the string out with.

DOWNLOAD:Greasing Up the Third Eye,” “Choke,” “Like a Rifle,” “Coma Tapes.”

JUDEE SILL – Judee Sill / Heart Food / Songs of Rapture and Redemption

Album: Judee Sill / Heart Food / Songs of Rapture and Redemption (LPs)

Artist: Judee Sill

Label: Intervention / Run Out Groove

Release Date: July 27, 2018 /

The Upshot: Late songstress gets a welcome reintroduction via deluxe vinyl reissues of her two studio albums plus a new collection of live and rare material.


As is often the case with artists who have passed on, legacy begets legend. And while 1970s songstress Judee Sill’s impact during her short life was minimal before her death, at 35, of a drug overdose—she was probably better known for being the first signing to David Geffen’s Asylum Records, and for having Graham Nash produce her single ”.Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” than for any measurable commercial inroads—she would go on to inspire subsequent generations of singer-song­writers. A trifecta of new archival releases amply demonstrates why her reputation as an immaculate, gifted songstress has steadily grown over the years.

In 2004, 4 Men With Beards reissued on vinyl both her eponymous debut (1971) and Heart Food (1973), while 2003 and 2005 brought remastered CDs on Rhino Handmade and the Water Music label, respectively. Now comes archival specialist In­tervention, which has recently worked wonders with audiophile reissues of Stealers Wheel, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Everclear, and Joe Jackson, with its own vinyl take on the two records. The results are revelatory. Intervention was granted access to the original analog masters so that Grammy-winning mastering engineer Kevin Gray, of Cohearent Audio, could work his all-­analog magic. They then pressed each album on two 180-gram, 45rpm discs, and printed the original artwork on Stoughton “tip-on” gatefold sleeves.

The new Judee Sill is richly illustrative of both artist and artifact, if a bit of a period piece. It’s reminiscent in places of early Joni Mitchell, particularly in ”Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” a slice of mid-tempo piano pop subtly lined with chamber strings; the straightforward folk of “Crayon Angels,” with its oboe melody; and another of several evoca­tions of Jesus, the strummy “My Man on Love.” Elsewhere are some more fleshed-out compositions, orchestra­tions courtesy Don Bagley and Bob Harris; it’s in lush numbers such as “The Archetypal Man” that Gray’s fresh mastering is showcased, revealing a surround-sound depth to the tune’s almost Bach-like arrangement that I don’t hear on the 2005 CD.

For several reasons, Heart Food is the better album. It clearly benefits from Sill’s presumably being more comfortable in the studio two years on, and boasts an impressive roster of 25 “name” musicians, among them keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitar­ist Doug Dillard, pedal-steel legend Buddy Emmons, bassist Chris Etheridge, and drummer Jim Gordon. And the complexity of Sill’s composi­tions has taken a quantum leap. For this album she also wrote the orches­trations, allowing for both a diversity of scope and an internal cohesion that suggested that she was going for more than simply getting a collection of disparate songs down on tape. Heart Food glows from the outset, its highlights including the sweet, coun­try-tinged (fiddle and steel), lyrically evocative “There’s a Rugged Road,” in which Sill indulges her familiar passion for Christian themes; the delightfully lush “The Kiss,” with an arrangement worthy of Brian Wilson; and the nine-­minute piano epic ”The Donor,” which is suite-like in structure, breathtaking, like CSN&Y singing gospel.

Gray’s remastering, too, will take your breath away. One example: Listening to ”The Donor” is like sitting in a cathedral, bathing in the enveloping voices of a choir, each piano note’s attack and decay as palpable as if you were seated on the bench beside the pianist. Ultimately, Heart Food is a timeless and deeply nourishing musical feast.

Songs of Rapture and Redemption: Rarities & Live arrives courtesy Run Out Groove, whose specialty is deluxe vinyl reissues (check my review of the Dream Syndicate’ The Complete Live at Raji’s 2LP set, which was released last year) and, in some cases, unique titles such as this one. Sides A and B are made up of live material recorded in Boston in ’71, and the seven tracks originally surfaced as bonus material on the 2003 Rhino Handmade Judee Sill; sides C and D are demos and outtakes originally included as bonus material from the two Sill CDs on Handmade. So while the material itself is not unreleased, this marks the first time it’s ever appeared on vinyl, and Run Out Groove has gone the extra mile by pressing the two LPs on swirly magenta vinyl (180-gram, natch) and housing them in a glossy-textured Stoughton sleeve—each set is individually numbered.

The live tracks are delightful, a beautifully recorded document of Sill in her to-brief prime, just the songwriter and her guitar plus, on the seven-minute “As Enchanted Sky Machines,” piano. The track “The Lamb Ran Away with the Crown” is one obvious standout, the Judee Sill number nearly aglow with passion. Among the demos, “Jesus Was a Cross Maker” is a fascinating early glimpse as a song that would go on to be, arguably, the artist’s most famous song. Equally fascinating: reading the liner notes, which are a transcribed conversation between the album’s co-producer, Pat Thomas, and the late Sill’s best friend and collaborator, Tommy Peltier, in which Peltier offers memories of the singer and observations about each track.

All in all, a must-own for any fan of Judee Sill even if they already own the Handmade CDs.

DOWNLOAD: Judee Sill & Heart Food: ”Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” “The Archetypal Man,” “There’s a Rugged Road,” “The Donor”  


Songs of Rapture and Redemption: “Lady-O” and “The Lamb Ran Away with the Cross” (both live), “The Desperado” (outtake), “The Pearl” (demo)

DRIFT MOUTH – Little Patch of Sky

Album: Little Patch of Sky

Artist: Drift Mouth

Label: Wild Frontier Recording Company

Release Date: August 03, 2018


The son of a third generation West Virginia coal miner, Lou Poster’s latest group, Drift Mouth, comes about their Americana sound naturally. After years of playing in the punk country outfit, Grafton, Poster has jettisoned off the punk influences for Drift Mouth and relies solely on classic country and Americana influences for Little Patch of Sky.

The result is a pretty satisfying collection of often melancholy character sketches. Poster’s deep vocals are foreboding, so when it’s just him and an acoustic guitar, the songs tend to blend into each other, the one exception being the powerful, closing track, “This Part of Town,” a deep nod to Springsteen. Elsewhere the band is at its finest when it mixes in more electric and slide guitar (especially on songs like “West Virginia Hitchhiker” and “Franklin County Nights”).

The genesis of Drift Mouth dates back more than a decade ago when Posner brought in drummer Brad Swiniarski to help him record a song for his father, who was retiring from his job at the coal mine. Over the years, he’s added in players – Drift Mouth now a six-piece – and refined their sound, but the band has managed to keep their authenticity intact.

DOWNLOAD: “Angelene,” “Franklin County Nights” and “West Virginia Hitchhiker”



Album: Amici

Artist: Primo!

Label: Upset the Rhythm

Release Date: July 20, 2018


Primo!, out of Melbourne, makes a jittery sweet jangle of post-punk aligned with early 1980s touchstones like Kleenex/Liliput and the Au Pairs though with slightly softer edges. The three women in the band—guitarists Xanthe Waite and Violetta DelConte Race and drummer Suzanne Walker — play at cross-angles, lobbing rubbery stabs of rhythmic anarchy at one another and answering in kind. Yet they also join in unity, mostly in the singing, putting the sweet buzz of harmonized thirds into tossed off lyrics about the modern rush and hassle.

“You’ve Got a Million” tangles silly string spurts of off-kilter guitar around scrambling drum rattles, pushing the pace because that’s how life runs these days. “You’ve got a million things to do, racing all over the town, flights of stairs can’t slow you down, you might as well be flying round,” they sing, and indeed, the song itself palpitates with adrenaline. “Mirage,” the single,  flirts with trance and drone and might sound a little like Wooden Shjips if it were paced at a trudge, rather than an antic trot. There’s a boinging, zinging, rebounding guitar lick that zips through the circular riff, as if just to wake it up periodically. “Closed,” regarding the heartbreak of frustrated consumerism, tends lighter, sweeter, nearly girl group-ish, with glints of shiny keyboard gleaming from its fractious guitar mesh.

Perhaps because there’s no bass (Primo! has added Amy Hill on bass since Amici), Primo!’s sound lacks a certain grind and tumult – it’s more Grass Widow than Good Throb — but it’s sharp and fresh and a lot of fun. Primo! hammers, yammers and judders with post-punk agitation but isn’t afraid of an ingratiating tune.

DOWNLOAD: “Mirage” “You’ve Got a Million”