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KEEPING THE PROG FAITH: Neal Morse Band Live

Live at Charlotte, North Carolina, venue the Neighborhood Theatre, on February 11, the prolific Xian prog-rock hero (and erstwhile member of Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic) served up the recent “The Great Adventure” and plenty more. Tourdates follow review.

BY BILL KOPP

Neal Morse is well established as a key figure in American progressive rock, a field that—certainly as compared to its British and European counterparts—is sparsely populated. But even if there were exponentially more prog artists operating in the U.S., it’s assured that Morse would still be at the top of the heap.

Morse first came to prominence as a member of Spock’s Beard; he wrote a good deal of the music and lyrics for that group before leaving for a solo career … or, I should say, careers. In addition to making music under his own name (with a strongly faith-based perspective that sets him apart from most everyone else in rock), with international all-star prog group Transatlantic, guesting on others’ albums, and with the Neal Morse Band.

Neal Morse has been staggeringly prolific, with a volume of output that rivals that of Steven Wilson. Morse’s religiously-oriented worldview is a central characteristic of his music; try as one might, there’s really no escaping it. On his solo albums like Testimony (2003), Sola Scriptura (2007) and 2012’s Momentum, Morse chronicles his faith journey both directly and in the form of parable-like stories; Sola Scriptura, for example, is based upon the life of Martin Luther.

Listeners not predisposed to enjoying Christian-themed music may find Morse’s lyrical subject matter not to their liking; while there are long—and quite often impressive—instrumental passages on most all of Morse’s albums, when he sings, it’s pretty much always about his faith. To the converted, doubtless Morse’s lyrical themes are inspiring; even removed from that perspective, his lyrics are objectively good, steering as clear of cliché as one can do when working within the comparatively narrow format of faith-based music.

But before he was a Christian (or at least a born again one), Neal Morse was a progressive rock musician. And he has lost none of the fire and passion for musical adventurism that characterizes the best of that genre. Combining faith-based subjects and ambitious music is in itself a daunting goal, and—again, looking at it from the outside—one at which he has succeeded mightily.

But there are still those lyrics. Lots of story lines about journeys, trials, tribulations and (nearly always) an uplifting ending are what listeners will find. As one of several vehicles for his lyrical and musical ideas, Morse launched the Neal Morse Band in 2015. The group has to date released three epic-length albums: 2015’s The Grand Experiment, The Similitude of a Dream in 2016, and his newest, The Great Adventure. The standard Morse established years ago is adhered to on all of these albums; though he’s a superb musician himself, in this group Morse surrounds himself with fellow top-flight players including Mike Portnoy (drums), Eric Gillette (7-string guitar), bassist Randy George and keyboardist Bill Hubauer. It’s worth noting that all five sing, and quite well.

As I discovered in February 2019, the experience of seeing and hearing the Neal Morse Band live onstage is, surprisingly, not at all like listening to a CD. To be sure, the music’s quite similar: the current tour presents The Great Adventure start to finish, plus an encore of sorts drawing from Morse’s solo work. And the players are the same. But there’s an energy that even Morse’s finely-crafted albums can only hint at. And for that reason, the live experience is the one to have. This is especially true, I should think, for music fans of the non-religious (or other-religious) variety. While Morse puts across all of the same ideas, concepts and messages onstage that he does on record, in a concert setting it’s far easier to allow oneself to get wrapped up in the stunning musical interplay, the sublime vocal harmonies and the general upbeat, passionate energy of the show.

Think of it this way perhaps: if you’re seeing, say, an Italian progressive rock band that features vocals in the group’s native tongue, then you revel in the sound of the vocals rather than the content of the lyrics. For the most part, that’s what I did at the show I witnessed. It’s worth emphasizing that there’s very little in Morse’s lyrics with which most could (or would) take serious issue; it’s positive, life-affirming stuff. And in that way, it’s not all that different from, say, Jon Anderson’s lyrics for Yes about astral traveling and universal brotherhood. In Morse’s case, though, you just know it’s all about Jesus and so forth.

And that’s okay, and should be okay, even for listeners who aren’t of faith. The musicians are so outrageously good that, in the end, little else matters. Morse writes prog with the values of a pop songwriter, and that’s meant in the best possible way. He knows his way around a hook and a melody, and he’s skilled at the long-form approach, weaving musical themes in and out of extended pieces. In short, the man just knows how to write a compelling rock opera; it’s just that he chooses topics like Pilgrim’s’ Progress as his inspiration. Hey, it beats yet endless recycling of J.R.R. Tolkien.

And the band is jaw-droppingly good. Eric Gillette is the rarest of guitarists: he can shred with the best of them, but he’s supremely melodic, and doesn’t engage in hey-look-at-me pyrotechnics. He sings lead and harmony all the while, which itself is a triumph. Portnoy’s much the same; his command of his big kit is complete, but he never seems like a show-off. Hubauer’s keyboards often seem to melt into the overall sound of the group, but his vocals are a major asset to the group. Randy George has that rock-solid yet thunderous bottom end thing down cold.

And in front of it all is Neal Morse himself, leaping about the stage like a young Ian Anderson, disappearing briefly every once in a while, only to return in a new costume or mask. Nothing too flashy—this isn’t 1972 Peter Gabriel—but his costume changes do get across the points that (a) there’s a story here and (b) Morse is having a wonderful time.

And ultimately, that’s the vibe that comes across strongest. The Neal Morse band isn’t a bunch of dour-faced musos (with the possible exception of bassist George, who gives off a slight hey-let’s just-get-on-with-it air). They’re musicians who are having the time of their lives playing this challenging and breathtaking music. And unless one is irrationally hostile to Morse’s lyrical point of view, that enjoyment is wholly infectious.

At the end of the day, I don’t know how much time I’ll spend in the future playing Neal Morse’s albums, but I do know that I will never miss an opportunity to witness him and his band live.

Neal Morse Band upcoming live dates: http://nealmorse.com/live.asp

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK, ep. 12: 5 LATE ‘18 / EARLY ‘19 JAZZ RELEASES

 

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at some of the most notable new titles…

4 out of 5 stars

09-14-18 street date

TONY BENNETT & DIANA KRALL – Love is Here to Stay

Verve

www.ververecords.com

The Upshot: A meeting of two jazz vocal greats results in a low-key, subdued yet note-perfect musical summit.

BY BILL KOPP

Tony Bennett is an American institution. At age 92 he’s still going strong, long after most all of his contemporaries have left us. Diana Krall is only a bit over half Bennett’s age, but she’s well established as one of her (my) generation’s finest jazz vocalists. It’s fitting – if not inevitable – that the two would eventually team up for a sultry stroll through the Great American Songbook. With superb backing (Bill Charlap Trio) the two tackle a dozen songs the likes of which won’t surprise listeners. But the seeming effortlessness with which they deliver the songs is a true delight. Bennett’s voice is surprisingly like it was decades ago, and Krall could – as the shopworn saying goes – sing the telephone book and it would sound great. Everything about Love is Here to Stay is understated, but when you’re these cats, there’s nothing to prove, so you do it the way you want. Bennett and Krall are so assured that they happily give space for pianist Charlap trio to drop in the occasional tasty solo, too. The pair’s classic phrasing and smooth back-and-forth is spot-on. Each takes a solo break (for Krall it’s “But Not for Me,” and for Bennett it’s “Who Cares?”) that’s a delight, but it’s the pairing-up that really makes this disc special.

Listen: (“Love is Here to Stay”)

4 out of 5 stars

12-07-18 street date

THE GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA – Hidden Treasures Volume One: Monday Nights

Bopper Spock Suns

The Upshot: Led by its namesake’s talented son, the modern-day Gil Evans Orchestra delivers the goods in a set that bridges the gap between classic and modern-day (if not strictly modern) jazz.

BY BILL KOPP

Gil Evans was a giant of jazz; he was a key figure in the development of several substyles. To some, he’s best known as a Miles Davis associate, but there is much more to his work. Evans passed away more than 30 years ago, but today his band is led by his son (pointedly named Miles Evans). And all of the thrilling ambience of the elder Evans’ work is on display in tis 21st century recording. Ten core musicians (including Gil Evans associate and brother of bassist Tony, keyboardist Pete Levin) are joined variously by auxiliary players . Some of them are fairly obvious choices (the ubiquitous but undeniably talented Paul Shaffer, for example), while others are quite unexpected (guitarist Vernon Reid on trumpeter Miles Evans’ original Steely Dan-flavored number “LL Funk”). The set is a tasty mix of classic and more modern (urbane funk-jazz) approaches, and it all works. Even when synthesizer is used (as on the orchestral-tinged “I Surrender”) it’s done in a tasteful way that’s fully integrated in to the arrangement, never showy or scene-stealing. This set is a fine collection worthy of its namesake.

Listen: (nothing recent)

4 out of 5 stars

11-09-18 street date

JEFF GOLDBLUM & THE MILDRED SNITZER ORCHESTRA – The Capitol Studios Sessions

Decca

www.deccarecords.com

The Upshot: Don’t hold it against Jeff Goldblum that he’s best-known as an actor. Joined by to-flight guests, the pianist and bandleader shows that he deserves recognition as a skilled jazz artisan as well.

BY BILL KOPP

There is, I think, a healthy tendency among critics to look upon potential busman’s-holiday efforts as just that. Such a perspective brings skepticism to album releases by artists better known as actors. That said, Jeff Goldblum knows how to play that piano, and he lead s a band. His quirky persona meshes well with a swingin’ cocktail-vibed collection of vocal jazz numbers featuring talented friends. Using a proven approach favored by the great Cannonball Adderley, Goldblum assembled band and audience in an ersatz club inside the Capitol Records building. With a peerless selection of songs – the set opens with Herbie Hancock’s soul jazz classic “Cantaloupe Island” – Goldblum and band deliver in a big way. There is, of course, little about The Capitol Studios Sessions that identifies it as a current-day recording. What does give it away is the onstage guest list: Haley Reinhart, Imelda May, trumpeter Till Brönner and a surprisingly competent Sarah Silverman. The band really cooks – simmers, actually – and Goldblum is a superbly expressive pianist. Even chestnuts like “Caravan” are performed in a way that feels both true to the original spirit and some combination of timeless and modern. A delight.

Listen: (“My Baby Just Cares for Me”)

3 out of 5 stars

01-04-19 street date

JORGE NILA – Tenor Time

Ninjazz Records

www.ninjazzrecords.com

The Upshot: A pleasing tribute to some of the biggest jazz names in tenor saxophonem, with just a splash of the new.

BY BILL KOPP

The tenor saxophone holds an important place in the history of jazz. On this new recording, Jorge Nila pays tribute to the masters of the instrument, a list that (from his perspective at least) includes Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt and Harold Vick. It’s hard to argue with those choices, nor with the songs chosen to represent each of them on this album. Some of the choices are expected (“Soul Station in tribute to Mobley) but Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love” is an unexpected choice that still fits in well among the older classics. Nila’s band is small (guitar, drums and organ); while there’s plenty of ensemble playing and individual soloing, that configuration keeps the focus primarily on the horn.

Listen: (nothing recent)

3 out of 5 stars

11-09-18 street date

TED PILTZECKER – Brindica

Zoho

www.zohomusic.com

The Upshot: A varied collection that showcases the versatility of the vibraphone in a jazz context.

BY BILL KOPP

It’s not all that uncommon for a jazz player to be a multi-instrumentalist. But trumpet and vibes are an unlikely combination. Though he studied at the Eastman School of Music as a trumpeter, Ted Piltzecker ended up playing the vibes. And that’s fine; that storied instrument is among the most expressive and lively tools in the jazz idiom. Here, Piltzecker plays nearly as much marimba, a similar instrument, albeit one with a slightly more gimmicky sound. It’s when he moves over to the vibes that he really shines. The rich interplay between the band (various combinations of some 16 players) is the true star of this set. The tracks are nicely varied, showcasing the vibraphone’s appeal across a wide array of jazz styles. Piltzecker is equally at home playing with understated nuance as he is tearing up the scale.

Listen: (“Brindica”)

 

PUTTING THE ‘X’ BACK IN XMAS: The Sixth (or last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

Our annual—and always, in-progress, so keep checking back through Dec. 24.—roundup of seasonal platters. Guarantee: no evangelical caveats required; this is a rainbow roundup. X-tra points for any releases that come packaged with sex toys. Happy holidays, kids! (Ed. note: JBM = John B. Moore; FM = Fred Mills)

 BY JOHN B. MOORE, TIFFINI TAYLOR, & FRED MILLS)

  

 

RODNEY CROWELL – Christmas Everywhere
(New West Records – 3 / 5 stars) www.newwestrecords.com

Tired of the saccharine sweet Christmas songs that start to clog the airways just moments after Halloween? Have I got a record for you! Christmas Everywhere, the inaugural Holiday album from living legend Rodney Crowell is a holiday album that’s heavy on the honesty and humor and not so much tidings of comfort and joy.

With songs like “Christmas Makes Me Sad,” Merry Christmas From an Empty Bed,” and “Let’s Skip Christmas This Year,” Rodney never strays too far from his well-earned rep for pairing heartache and humor.

That’s not to say ever track here is for the brokenhearted, “Very Merry Christmas,” is an upbeat, jump and jive, almost standard Xmas tune with plenty of sax. But to be honest, that’s not exactly what a Rodney Crowley fan looks for in a Christmas album by the Americana great. They’re looking more for a song like “Christmas in Vidor,” a duet he co-wrote with Mary Karr years ago, about a near depression-level single mom not exactly feeling the Holiday spirit on the Louisiana/Texas border town.

Probably not the best soundtrack for you Christmas Eve Open House, but destined to eb a Holiday classic for Crowell diehards.

DOWNLOAD: “Christmas Everywhere” and “All For Little Girls & Boys”   (—JBM)

***

THE MAVERICKS – Hey! Merry Christmas!
(Thirty Tigers/Mono Mundo Recordings – 4 / 5 stars) www.thirtytigers.com

One of the more depressing inevitabilities about the holidays is that obvious cash grab, forced Holiday album from a band that has no business putting out a Holiday album. Think Afroman, William Hung, Mojo Nixon or Jethro Tull (yup, all real). You know who can’t be accused of that? The freakin’ Mavericks! Their 10-tracks Christmas record is a thing of brilliance.

The band is always dynamic, no matter what they’re recording and singer Raul Malo is simply incapable of feigning sincerity – he just his. As a result, the band’s Miami mix of Folk, Rockabilly, Jazz and Blues-based Holiday music is simply divine.

The band mixes in two Holiday standards, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Happy Holidays” with eight originals for a refreshingly new annual classic in the making.

Though none of the songs here deserve to be skipped, the dynamic opener “Christmas Time Is (Coming ‘Round Again)” and their almost anthemic take on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” are early stand outs.

If you’re not capable of enjoying this one, you’re probably just a Scrooge… or an asshole (hey, maybe both!).

DOWNLOAD: All of ‘em.  (—JBM)

****

A TAV FALCO CHRISTMAS  (4 out of 5 stars)
(Org Music / Frenzi – 4 / 5 stars) www.orgmusic.com / www.tavfalco.com

A new perennial favorite in the BLURT reindeer barn, and with special thanks to that awesome Tav Falco album that turned up recently for the Record Store Black Friday event. Memphis raconteur, filmmaker, photographer, and author Tav Falco is known far and wide as the guiding light of Panther Burns, that proto-Americana, R&B-championing outfit that once featured the late Alex Chilton as a member. For A Tav Falco Christmas he’s joined by bassist Mike Watt, drummer/sleighbellsman Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and pianist Francesco D’Agnolo, and we are advised that the ensemble hunkered down at Sam Phillips Recording Service studios in early July—which, if you know anything about Memphis in the summer, is the least likely time of year when one would find oneself “getting into” the Christmas spirit.

But maybe working through this eight-song set of holiday staples and a handful of semi-obscure R&B Christmas standards worked some seasonal magic, because the music is, in a word, cool. Sammy Cahn’s slow, strutting “Christmas Blues,” in particular, is for all you finger-snapping, whistling hepcats, while a twangy, countrypolitan “Jingle Bell Rock” is guaranteed to have even the most stalwart Scrooge—such as yours truly, who is on record as not being a huge fan of Christmas records—joining in, no guilty pleasuredom needed.

Throughout, Falco is in fine voice, his Southern near-drawl adopting a Presley-like classy croon on tracks like “Blue Christmas” and Lieber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” He’s nicely abetted by backing vocalists Lahna Deering and Tiffany Harmon, and the entire ensemble seems to revel in truly inhabiting the material. The LP, released for Record Store Day Black Friday 2017, is a limited edition (1000 copies) red vinyl gem, a perfect visual representation the holiday season. Christmas does come in July after all.

DOWNLOAD: “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Blue Christmas” (–FM)

****

MATT ROGERS – Rated Xmas
(Party on Parody Productions – 5 / 5 stiffies)

This CD apparently was released in 1997, although I can find virtually nothing about it except for a cursory Wikipedia listing (which informs us that due to a lawsuit, most copies were destroyed) and an inflated-price listing at Amazon UK; there’s no listing for the title OR the artist at Discogs. No matter—a friend posted this to me as an early Christmas gift, no doubt aiming to help put me and Mrs. Mills, er, I mean, Claus, in the mood for laying out the Christmas eve spread for the kids. Wait – we already have a kid, and he’s 17… well, after listening to tunes here like “Have Yourself a 1-900 Christmas,” “Frosty the Pervert,” “Rudolf the Deep Throat Reindeer,” and of course “Suck On My Cock” I clearly can envision being “up” for the idea of making us a new little elf this holiday season. I mean, I could simply pull out some GG Allin records and cover similar territory, but hey, I’m feelin’ the seasonal spirit right now.

As the record label name suggests, these are naughty parodies of popular Christmas tunes, but rather than have to post a spoiler alert here, I will simply add that you can let your imagination to the legwork for ya. Cut up the CD, turn down the volume on your favorite RedTube video, and spread some holiday cheer… all over your significant other’s thighs.

DOWNLOAD: Mmm… better not. It might not be legal in your state or country.

 

 

SHE & HIM – A Very She & Him Christmas
(Merge – 4 / 5 stars) www.mergerecords.com

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

DOWNLOAD: “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Little Saint Nick” (—JBM)

***

MARK KOZELEK – Sings Christmas Carols
(Caldo Verde- 5 / 5 stars) www.caldoverde.com

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

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

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

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

DOWNLOAD: Every bit of it. (–FM)

***

VARIOUS ARTISTS – An Americana Christmas
(New West- 3 / 5 stars) www.NewWestRecords.com

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

DOWNLOAD: “Everything is Cool” (John Prine), “Pretty Paper” (Robert Ellis) and “FalalalaLove You” (Nikki Lane)  (–JBM)

***

HERB ALPERT – The Christmas Wish
(Herb Alpert Presents – 4/5 stars) www.herbalpert.com

Herb Alpert is a trumpeter who has pleased many for decades. He has a unique way of making a trumpet speak. This is the perfect time of year for The Christmas Wish, a Christmas album form Herb Alpert. It has been around 50 years since he has had a Christmas album out, so why not write about it.

Need something to listen to while the yule log burns, then Santa Baby will make anyone smile. This song is a good Christmas list for anyone, but still not as expensive as 12 days of Christmas. The sound of trumpet is magical it has no need for lyrics. Imagine just sitting by the fire watching the twinkling lights on the tree listening to this in the background with a cup of eggnog in hand. A good Christmas eve evening.

Throughout this album not only will there be great trumpet, but it is with a symphony and a choir. There are a couple of medleys and they are wonderful. One that stands out is Carol of the Bells/ We Wish You a Merry Christmas, the crossover between the two songs will fill one with joy. The choir is beautiful, the strings from the symphony coincide beautifully with the trumpet.

Silent Night is a classic and for most a tradition. This is the song that sums up the season. The trumpet speaks on this song like no other. Herb Alpert brings the trumpet to life and gives it a heart. A smooth soft soothing sound that illuminates the heart. Merry Christmas, Darling spreading love to the ears. A bit of a modern soft jazz undertaking of this sensual song. It is one to be played to and for that special someone.

Another way to look at Christmas is through a child’s eyes, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. A favorite to play while Santa is flying, dreams of presents to all girls and boys. This is a soft re-interpretation of this classic. The Christmas Wish is the album name as well as a beautiful song that will make a tear drop of joy run down one’s cheek. The softness with the lovely voice presenting a song in a great way.

The Christmas Song is a must listen for any Christmas get together. It is what makes the season bright. Hearing it will make one cheerful and reflect on how wonderful and magical this season truly is and will always be. There are songs that one listens to and will make one think differently about everything. Trumpet on this one is simply amazing. This is what every office party should play at their Christmas party. White Christmas is simply spectacular with trumpets. The movie classic has competition now.

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? , this is one of those end of night songs to remind one that just because the 25th is gone the holiday season of joy and celebration is not over. A nice way to end an album that is filled with love and beautiful music.

This writer has 3 Christmas trees up in a tiny apartment, maybe this writer is a little crazy.  Sitting here watching the lights twinkle reminds what is important in life. The soft jazz sound of this album is what makes thoughts more special. Check this album out and Merry Christmas!

DOWNLOAD: Go for every holiday tune! ( – TT)

 

 

ORK POP REDUX! Chris Holmes & Yum-Yum

The pop classicist discusses his long-lost gem Dan Loves Patti, along with memories of the ‘90s and his experiences within the alternative rock milieu.

BY TIM HINELY

In the mid-‘90s there was a new breed of orchestrated pop band that were emerging, ork pop as some folks began calling it (or the more formal orch pop).  I myself fell in love with two records in particular, the S/T debut by Cardinal and a lesser-known record by a band from Kent, Ohio called the Witch Hazel Sound (later shortened to simply Witch Hazel) who had released 1995’s Landlocked. Both happened to be on Seattle label and Sub Pop subsidiary, Flydaddy).  Then, in 1996 and seemingly out of nowhere, came a record by a Chicago band called Yum-Yum that fit right in with the ork pop oddballs.

The mastermind was a gent named Chris Holmes whose name I had only known previously in a space rock band called Sabalon Glitz (love that name).  The record came out on a label called TAG Recordings which, I believe was part of the Atlantic label. I loved Dan Loved Patti and all of its sweeping grand gestures but after a handful of reviews and article mentions it seemed like the band, record and label all sort of ….vanished.

I was beyond excited this year to learn that the Omnivore label would be reissuing Dan Loves Patti with plenty of bonus tracks. That day came a few weeks back and the record is getting the second life is so richly deserves. The publicist, the always reliable Cary Baker, was more than happy to send some questions Holmes’ way and he answered them quickly and concisely, all about the history of this band known as Yum-Yum. Read on, dear readers. and enjoy.

BLURT: I know you had been in Sabalon Glitz…how did the idea for Yum-Yum come about?

HOLMES: When I was in Sabalon Glitz, I kept writing songs that didn’t fit with our sound, so I would set them aside and put them in a bucket to explore at a later date.  I love playing live in Sabalon Glitz, it was a great band, but I was limited in what kind of songs fit in with our sound.  Carla was a great live performer, and lead singer.  She had a very powerful and unique style.

While I loved playing in Sabalon Glitz, I was pretty miserable in the band.  Carla and I had dated and had a horrible codependent trainwreck of a relationship that made both of us miserable.  Some of the band members had some pretty bad drug problems and the energy around it was pretty dark.  After Carla and I broke up, I felt free to make music with Yum Yum and Ashtar Command.  It was like therapy for me.  I would enter a world of music that brought light into my heart, like the Zombies, Love, Nick Drake, and Bubble Gum Pop of the 60s.

After a while I had a couple of dozen songs in the that Yum Yum bucket, so I got some friends together from University of Chicago and put together a string section organized by Marina Peterson who played cello.  Her ex-husband, Brad Bordine, and I had started a modular synth kraut experimental rock band with me called Ashtar Command around the same time.

At the time, I just tried to surround myself with awesome people that I loved to be around and played music with.  We ended up recording around 12 songs with the string section up in my bedroom in the south side of Chicago (Kenwood/Hyde Park). It was like a dark cloud had been lifted and music was fun again.  I circulated the bedroom sessions on cassette tapes with friends around the Chicago music scene and eventually played started live shows with Yum Yum.

 

At the time did you feel any kinship with any of the other “ork pop” bands like Cardinal or Witch Hazel or did you feel more like out on an island?

I loved that first Cardinal record more than anything.  It was perfect.  There was also Plush from Chicago that came out on Drag City.  Their first 7” was a masterpiece.  I also loved the New Zealand Xpressway Records.  I had Love’s “Forever Changes”, Big Star’s “#1/Radio City”, Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos”, Stereolab’s “Emperor Tomato Ketchup”, My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” and Zombies’ “Odyssey and Oracle” on repeat.  All of that music influenced me heavily.  I was program director at WHPK at the University of Chicago, so a lot of my life revolved around indie rock and pop.  Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Beat Happening, the Raincoats, Hazel, Sebadoh, Red Red Meat, so many of those bands gave me inspiration to make beautiful music.  It was music you could get high and filled with bliss by just listening to it.

What do you remember most about the recording of Dan Loves Patti? Any watershed moments?

I remember finding the two “Dan Loves Patti” guitars that I based the concept of the record around.  My drummer friend Kriss Bataille was working at a guitar shop in Evanston and called me up to let me know that the store had just gotten two amazing acoustics in; a Gibson Hummingbird (featured on the front side of the Dan Loves Patti album) and a Martin D25 (featured on the back side of the record).  They couldn’t sell them for anything near their true value because someone (apparently named Dan) had carved a bunch of crazy stuff in them.  I went over to check them out, and instantly fell in love with them.

Dan had carved his name in the top of the guitar “Dan Loves” and then carved the names of his ex-girlfriends and crossed them out.  He left only one name uncrossed, Patti.

At that moment everything kind of came together.  My Yum Yum songwriting process had been a way for me to help process my own depression and heartbreak.  It crystalized everything I had been trying to do with Yum Yum.  I wrote the rest of the songs for the record on and around those two guitars.  Thinking about the loves he had shared, and the pains he must have experienced in crossing those names out.  More than anything, it was all about the hope of loving again with an open heart, even though the scars from the other relationships were right there on the surface.  That what “Dan Loves Patti” is all about.

It’s songs about the beauty of those scars from heartbreak and opening up your heart to love again.  It’s a record about the rush of letting down your defenses and opening up your heart to with fall in love again even though you know it will probably end in heartbreak as well.  After all he ended up selling the guitars so things probably didn’t work out with Patti, but he never crossed her name out.

How did the reissue come about?  Did Omnivore contact you or vice versa?

That is a cool story.  Over the last 20 years, I moved more into producing, remixing and DJing.  I was djing and music directing a charity event with an organization called Art of Elysium I’ve worked with for the last decade.  A couple at the gala came up to me and told me they were my #1 fans.  I was confused; did they have the right Chris Holmes?  Were they Paul McCartney, Daft Punk or Radiohead fans?  It turns out that it was John Legend’s manager Ty and her husband Erik.  John Legend was the host of the gala last year.  Ty and Erik were massive “Dan Loves Patti” fans.  They had all the singles, and tapes of live shows and unreleased demos.  It blew my mind.  Erik wrote me the next day and said he had an idea for a reissue on Omnivore.  I was a massive Omnivore fan, from their work with Big Star, Chris Bell, and Wilco.  The next week he linked me up with the wonderful Cheryl from Omnivore, and we got together and talked about music.  It was amazing and overwhelming to sit at a table with Erik and Cheryl.  Their combined music knowledge is absolutely encyclopedic.  It was such an amazing honor for me to do anything with Omnivore.  As a music fan, I love what they do so much.

 

I think some of the bonus tracks are fantastic and I’m surprised a few of them didn’t make it onto the record. 

Most of the bonus tracks included were meant to be a part of the second Yum Yum record, which never happened.  Predictably there were a lot of massive changes with Atlantic as soon as I signed, as is the case with every major label.  Focus shifted there from Yum Yum on to Ashtar Command, because they believed it had more commercial potential I guess.  I worked with some really wonderful people there, especially John Rubeli, Bobbie Gale, Darren Higman, and Janet Billig.  While it wasn’t ideal, it was an amazing experience and I learned so much from it all.

 

How were the live gigs received? Did you have any string/horns during them?  

The live shows were great, especially in Chicago.  We had a string section with Marina, Darcy, and Hilary on strings, Jim Newberry on bass and organ, Mike Kirts/Kriss Bataille on drums, and several female singers and finally Barbara Gretsch who sang vocals on the record.

At the time the Chicago music scene was pretty angry, hard and testosterone driven with bands like Jesus Lizard and Shellac.  We would dress up in pink bunny rabbit outfits and play soft love songs.  We had some amazing times.  It was pretty difficult to take on tour because we didn’t have a big tour support budget, so we eventually went on tour with some bands as a 5 piece with guitar/vocals, viola, bass/organ, drums and backup vocals.  It was hard to capture the lushness of the recordings with the stripped-down lineup, but it was fun.  My favorite show ever was opening for Phranc, in LA as she did her Neil Diamond tribute.  We had a massive party afterwards with dozens of drag queens at the Roosevelt Hotel, and the biggest fruit basket I’d ever seen (a gift from our manager Joe Shanahan on the release of the record).  I have great memories of those times.  We met a lot of amazing people on our travels.

 

How do you feel about the record 20 years later? Is it weird to see it back on the shelves?

It feels wonderful that the record has a second life.  It was caught in a weird period between the birth of digital streaming and the death of the major labels.  After TAG (the sub label at Atlantic that released the record) folded, most of the Yum Yum records ended up in warehouses and never saw the light of day.  It’s a beautiful record that captures a very special period of that time and my life.  I had forgotten how much I loved those songs.  It’s a joy to share it all again.

 

The BLURT Zine Roundup (Fall/Winter 2018 Edition)

It’s flu season, punters, but don’t worry — those ink stains you get from thumbing through this stack of fanzines will only mark you as insightful, not infectious….

BY TIM “PHOTOCOPY” HINELY

The Big Takeover (#81) Jack’a back (of course he is, every June and December, or thereabouts).  This issue has X as it’s cover stars plus interviews with Lawrence from Felt (by Mr. Joseph Kyle), Buffalo Tom, Yo La Tengo, No Age and parts 2’s of Art Bergmann, Roger Shepherd and Procol Harum and more. There’s also the usual short takes and holy brick of reviews and at nearly 150 pages it’s a doozy!  (***NEW ISH OUT ANY DAY NOW) www.bigtakeover.com

Dynamite Hemorrhage (#5)  Former Superdope editor Jay Hinman has been back for a few years with his new zine (not so new anymore). This one is another half-sized one and it looks fantastic. In this ish he has interviews with Nick from Majora Records (Sun City Girls, etc.) plus other pieces on Maxine Funke, Edible Arrangements, Hemorrhage in Dub, punk 45s and lotsa more. I’ve always been a fan of Jay’s writing so glad he’s still at it and you should be too. www.dynamitehemorrhage.com

Incremental Decrepitude (#5) Mr. Dave Brushback is back as he’s been in hiding for quite sometime (and dropped off social media) but back in a big way, I might add. You remember Dave, he used to do zines like Run It and Brushback as well as others. This one is back to full-size after his last pocket-sized ish. He’s got interview with Mountain Movers plus record, show and zine reviews and even a short piece on the old Chicago Band, Breaking Circus. This issue’s great but they may be gone by the time you read this. Still write to him anyway. Rock_in_my_shoes@yahoo.com

March, April & May (#5) Most excellent indie pop rag outta Beantown (Boston) that is half sized and pretty thick. This one has interviews and/or pieces on Traceyanne and Danny, Math & Physics Club, The Courtneys, Night Flowers, Odd Box Records and others plus reviews and more. Dan and his crew do a great job as this thing is packed to the gills and then some (there’s also a DL comp ever issue). I’m a convert.  www.februaryrecords.com  

Own the Whole World (#17), Bob Forward used to publish this rag out of his Ohio home many moons ago (I remember hearing about it in the 80’s) and not sure how many issues he’s out out between then and now but he’s got a new one. It’s got a Harvey Gold interview and a piece on Tin Huey plus reviews and a whole mess of other stuff. Bob doesn’t go for the neat layout like many zines do but you’ll still feel compelled to read it all. ubgun12@yahoo.com

 Ugly Things (#48) Brand new ish out and I haven’t gotten mine yet (just ordered so in the mail) but it’s gonna be a doozie. How do I know? Because for one it always is and for two the lineup is The Other Half (pre-Blue Cheer), Elvis Presley (ever hear of him?), Trevor White, Marc Jonson and a ton more. Buy or fry (***NEW ISH OUT ANY DAY NOW). www.ugly-things.com

Vulcher (#4) Yes! The Vulcher crew are back and better than ever and they’re already working on issue #5.  Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy and a long list of contributors (including yours truly) kick out the jams here and inside there’s contributions from Bruce Mowat, Rich Coffee, Sal Maida, Gary “Pig” Gold, Claudia Bell and many, many more and these folks know their stuff.  No pages numbers but this thing has to be over 100 pages. Write Eddie at slippytown@gmail.com or Kelsey at artichokenotes@gmail.com

Zisk (#29) I have to start off every review of Zisk by stating that it is “The baseball magazine for people who hate baseball magazines.” I was late on deadline for this ish (and the previous one too) but wanna get back to contributing. This one has pieces on the sounds of today’s ballpark (oooh ahhhh), the mystery of Fritz Ackley’s rookie card (!!!), Houston celebrating its World Series win in last year (just in time for this year’s W.S….congrats Boston fans!) and plenty more. www.ziskmagazine.com

 

 

 

Exclusive Video: Jah Wobble & Invaders of the Heart Live Brooklyn 10/26/18

TEXT, PHOTOS, & VIDEO BY JONATHAN LEVITT

On October 26th Jah Wobble and his Invaders of the Heart took the stage at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere club and proceeded to give one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. The crowd was made up of mainly music industry insiders and a smattering of musicians from both the US and Japan.  Jah Wobble who was the bassist for PIL was not only hilarious with his banter but fronted a smoking hot group of musicians that just blew me away.

The drummer was pure military precision, and extremely versatile as well. The guitarist could play anything and make it sound great. The keyboardist was a virtuoso on the instrument and perfectly punctuated certain moments in the songs. Jah showed what an amazing player he is as well veering from dub, to the world music transcendental meditations to a bit of comedy between numbers. Jah even managed to throw some PIL songs into the mix.

 

The show ended with Bill Laswell joining the Invaders of the heart for two songs of throb-heavy psychedelic jazzified mind-bending music. The sound in the club was amazing. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I could hear every instrument tunneling through to me. The mix was incredible because as the sounds hit you they morphed into this groovy organic mass that made you wanna live forever in the moment.

Through the kindness of Jah’s people I was able to get some incredible footage, below, to share with Blurt readers. Jah is currently recording his new album with Bill Laswell in New Jersey. If you get a chance to see Señor Wobble in concert it is an unforgettable experience.

 

ABOUT A SONGWRITER: Perry Serpa does Nick Hornby

 

The Sharp Things mainman and noted music industry p.r. maven dips into his literary inspirations and comes up holding a handful of Hornby via a Tucker Crowe-approved set of original tunes. “I was totally intrigued by the idea of an album [by] bands that don’t exist,” admits Serpa.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Over the years, Charles Bukowski and Chuck Palahniuk have become almost mandatory touchstones to punk rock kids everywhere. But, Nick Hornby is probably the closest thing just about every other rock and pop musician out there has to a literary patron saint

From High Fidelity to About a Boy (just consider the title alone), Hornby has endeared himself to a generation of songwriters thanks to his obvious passion for music and deep cuts knowledge. And 2009’s Juliet, Naked is one of his strongest music-based novels to date, following an obsessed music fan and his girlfriend to a pilgrimage to find a reclusive American musician. The book is populated with references to a slew of singers and bands and even goes into details about a tribute album dedicated to the fictional musician Tucker Crowe.

Now, Perry Serpa, singer/songwriter best known for his work with the brilliant indie pop band The Sharp Things (profiled in 2014 at BLURT),  has brought fiction to life with his latest project: Wherefore Art Thou? Songs Inspired By Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked. Admittedly we’re treading pretty close to Being John Malkovich territory here, but Perry’s record (10 songs, just as described in the book) is simply sublime. Getting help from a number of his friends, Perry was even able to convince Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5) to guest on a track. McCaughey, fittingly, is one of the musicians mentioned in Hornby’s book who played on the (fictional) Tucker Crowe tribute album… take a moment to let that sink in.

Serpa’s record arrived digitally worldwide on October 5; a UK and EU-only CD release is set for November 2; and a worldwide vinyl release is planned for November 23.

Serpa, also happens to be one of the coolest guys in music PR, currently servings as Principal for Tell All Your Friends PR. He was nice enough to take some questions recently via e-mail about this project.

BLURT: You’ve said that you first read Nick’s book about 9 years ago. At what point did you decide to start putting together this album?

SERPA: Pretty soon afterwards, actually! This is gonna sound a little “shiny shiny,” but I was totally intrigued by the idea of an album explained in detail in a book that you never really hear. I had fantasized over the years about creating, then publicizing bands that don’t exist, mainly to see how many folks would jump on the bandwagon and lie about being at their shows. I also had this idea for a film about a song that changes the characters’ lives that we never really hear. So, Juliet, Naked was right up my alley.

As soon as I read it, with all of the stated, hysterical influences- Dylan, actually Bob and Dylan Thomas, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Camus, Springsteen, Beckett, Dolly Parton, I started wondering about what these songs would sound like. And that was it. I had to write it.

How long did it ultimately take to write and record? Every thought of giving it up at some point?

 I think of giving up everything I’ve been doing for a while, but this… no. I figured that, at some point, I would finish the album, which was an already predestined 10 songs. There were discernible presets to a number of the songs. Premeditated time units, so it wasn’t exactly the same as writing your “own” album where you can easily over-write. You know, the cliché of entering the studio with 25 songs and walking out with a 12-song record. That wasn’t this. There was an end to be seen. And there was no real deadline. It was my own self-inflicted project. No one told me to start, and thankfully, no one told me to stop, so I just kept doing it until it was done.

How did you go about figuring out what kind of sound Tucker Crowe would have? What musicians did you see inspiring his sound besides those he mentioned?  

A lot of that was already in the book, at least in terms of the critical comparisons- really those aforementioned. I thought of Crowe as someone who had aesthetic inclinations that encompassed all of these classic influencers, so in a lot of ways, as a songwriter, he was all over the place. He wasn’t 100% Springsteen, but you can definitely hear some of that in “We’re In Trouble,” and maybe “In Too Deep.” He wasn’t 100% Leonard Cohen, but I made sure you can feel (more than hear) that influence in “You And Your Perfect Life.” “Dirty Dishes” obviously addresses the Johnny Cash/Dolly Parton tendency, Curtis Mayfield with “Who Do You Love?”, “And You Are?” definitely Dylan (Bob). And then I think I threw in a bit of Alex Chilton, the Replacements, Pink Floyd, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, and others, and addressed the literal influences mainly in the lyrics. It was a true collaboration between me and that character (and Nick).

How did you get Scott McCaughey involved in the album?

 Here’s the thing. The album that you’ve heard is actually the tribute album of Juliet, the fictional album from the book, and not the original, which thickens the plot- and is certainly ridiculous. In the book, that tribute record is called, Wherefore Art Thou? as Hornby then describes a few contributors to the said Tucker Crowe tribute record. One of them is the Minus 5, a band I’ve been into for a while, and the other I can remember is Coldplay.

I reached out to Scott with the premise of creating this tribute album like, “You’re already in the book.” It was like, “You HAVE to do this.” (although I didn’t say that). But he, also a Hornby fan, had read the book and knew exactly what I was talking about. I gave him a choice of a few songs to sing, and he chose, “And You Are?” and it was perfect and brilliant. I can’t even imagine anyone else, including myself, singing that song.

I wanted Chris Martin to sing “In Too Deep” as Coldplay was name checked as having “contributed” to the album, as well, but he was understandably too busy. So, I figured I’d just ask folks who worked for the songs, had some history with Nick, or who I knew would understand what I was doing. I got through the short list and realized I would have to wait forever for some of the folks’ schedules to clear, so I just did my own thing, sang the songs, pulled my friends into it and enjoyed the process. That was why I started into it anyway.


Did you ever consider sending it on to Nick Hornby, an admitted huge fan of music?

 Oh, yeah, of course. I had been sending music to him since 2007. I wrote a song called “The Jumpers” based on his book A Long Way Down. The song was the faux-operatic, baroque, chamber music shorty about jumping off a building, aka: tower block. It featured Michael Cerveris on lead vocals, and it kicked off The Sharp Things’ third album, A Moveable Feast. I mean, I had to send it to him.

He took a minute to check it out, but he finally did, and he liked it enough to check out the rest of our catalog. So, there, I was enabled! I wasn’t into the process of writing the songs for Juliet for very long before I started sending those to Nick, too. Each time he would say something short, but encouraging. Like, “Great! Good luck with it!” It wasn’t until “And You Are?” actually premiered with Consequence Of Sound last year that he actually got effusive about it. I was psyched, though.

Any interest in playing these songs live?

I’m actually starting to think about that. I probably wouldn’t except that the release schedule for this album is sort of long tail. We’re putting it out digitally through Shifty Disco in the UK and EU and Schoolkids Records, everywhere else on October 5th, then Shifty is doing a CD release in early November, then It’ll be a special release for Record Store Day Black Friday (11/23), so there will be good momentum, and that kinda justifies putting something together to play out for me.

We’ll see, though. Keeping folks together is hard these days. The people I would ask to play with me all have jobs and kids, etc. So, it could be tricky.

Was it just coincidental that the movie is coming out this year?

Good question! Yes, totally. In fact, I’m still kinda amused by the consequence of it all. I had been fits and starts working on this record for five, maybe six years before I even knew there was a film in the works. By the time I’d heard about it, I’d had pretty much all of the songs written, but in various stages of development. I think there were five of them already tracked in some way and I was planning sessions and guests for the rest of it.

My initial reaction to it was weird. It was this irrational feeling like someone was encroaching on my turf since I’d been living this story for so long. But, that quickly turned to delight, and that was compounded by the fact that two old friends were involved in the film- the director, Jesse Peretz and the film’s composer, Nathan Larson. Nathan was actually in Shudder To Think and Hot One, for whom I did publicity back in the day. So, we’ve been pretty close throughout the years. There wasn’t really room for this music in their film as they had decided to address that overall part of it in a different way, but I was nonetheless excited that there was all of this creative energy around Nick’s deserving story.

As I was finishing the mixing process, I started to realize when it would all finally wrap up, and that my release plans could possibly coincide with theirs. Months later, and here we are, kind of overlapping each other.

On to a different topic, are The Sharp Things planning any more music?

When it comes to The Sharp Things, I’ve learned to never say never. After 20-plus years of making music together, I think of every attempt to make another record or doing another show as a family reunion. Despite the really kind words we’ve gotten throughout our existence, it’s never really been a “career” for any of us in that we spent far more money than we ever made.

No matter what the face of it is, there was never any significant business going on, so it was ours to pick up and put down. Any “break up” saga was just pretentiousness, or us just messing around trying to have a “real band” history. Had we had the good or bad fortune of being a big band, I would have a more specific answer, but all I can say is that I still very much love the enduring band members and I remain proud of what we’ve been able to create together, so the idea of playing music with them always puts a smile on my face. And, honestly, we get better at it every time we reconvene.

So, what’s next for you? 

Loaded question! I’ll address the music making side of that ‘cos I’m a dad and a business person, so I could go forever: In the past year, I’ve lost both of my parents. It’s brought up a very distinct urge within me to be creative, possibly because my mom and dad both always encouraged that in me. There were not two people on the planet more supportive of my efforts as a songwriter and music maker than them. So, I feel the need to finish things I started years ago (like the Juliet album), and to continue giving attention to those bits and pieces that fly into my head regularly. Beyond the record at hand, I’ve been working on dozens of other songs. I’ve written more than what should comprise a few more albums. So, I guess I’ll just follow that and see where it leads me.

Photos by Margaret Gaspari. Connect with Serpa: https://listnin.co/PerrySerpa-WAT or https://www.facebook.com/perryserpamusic/

 

HEATHENISTIC BEHAVIOR: The Band of Heathens

Sending a clear “Message’ via their recently released, Ray Charles-inspired album, the Austin Americana kings take an ambitious step forward. (Above photo from the band’s Facebook page, where you can also pick up on tour dates, or at their official website.)

BY JOHN B. MOORE

To call the 2016 U.S. presidential election polarizing is a bit of an understatement. It’s akin to saying, “people seem to like The Beatles” or “Keith Moon was a bit restless.” And while the Trump Administration’s policies have likely launched more punk bands in a year and a half than Reagan’s eight years combined, Austin-based Americana greats The Band of Heathens couldn’t help but focus on how politics have pulled the country apart.

“We were on the road somewhere in New England when the topic of conversation drifted toward the troubled social climate in the country,” writes the band, in a recent press release. “We related similar experiences with how divisiveness was affecting those around us, how families were being torn apart over political and social issues.”

Looking for a much-needed distraction, the band turned to an out-of-print Ray Charles album which immediately spoke to their sense of unease and discontent. “With the first notes of the opening track ‘Lift Every Voice And Sing’, Ray had our undivided attention.”

That track was off of Charles’ 1972 LP, A Message from the People and seemed to be speaking directly to the band and the current political climate. The Band of Heathens started messing around with the other songs on the record and hit on the idea of recording the album, track for track, as a sort of musical salve for the entire country.

The result, A Message From The People Revisited, came out on September 14th and the band plans on donating proceeds from the record to Rock the Vote, in an effort to amplify the voice of the people.

Co-frontman Gordy Quist – who is joined by Ed Jurdi, Trevor Nealon, Richard Millsap, and Scott Davis – took some time recently to speak with Blurt about this ambitious record.

***

BLURT: Do you remember when and where you first heard the original album? 

 GORDY QUIST: The first time I heard Ray Charles’ A Message From the People in its entirety was in late 2016 when the presidential election was getting really ugly. We were seeing the left versus right, us versus them politics split families apart from each other. The record sounded like Ray speaking to us from the past telling us, “Everything is gonna be ok.”

Were there any songs in particular that were harder to play than they sound? 

There were some difficult choices to make in terms of how many liberties we felt comfortable taking to make the material our own. Some songs we tried to honor and keep close to the original arrangements and others we really took for a spin. The last track on the album – also the last song we recorded – is Ray’s version of “America the Beautiful.” It was daunting to record because Ray’s version is almost untouchable. For about an hour over dinner we debated whether to really take it out and do something different with it, or whether to stay close to honoring the original. After deciding we were over-thinking it, we ended up hitting record and cutting it live pretty close to the original arrangement.

This is a pretty heavy record. Did you ever have any second thoughts between coming up with the idea and actually recording it?

 I had a lot of questions whether we’d be able to pull off recording the entire album start to finish, and have it sound believable. I wasn’t sure the same messaging from 1972 coming from Ray Charles would translate well coming from us today. We did it as a hopeful experiment to see if we could do it. If only half of it had turned out well, we would have put out an EP.

If only a song or two had turned out well, we would have put out a couple singles. If none of had turned out well, nobody would have ever known. At the time I had recently bought into and taken over a studio, so we had the means to make a record if we could make the time. We found four or five days we were all going to be in town with some down time, so it was really low pressure. Somehow, we pulled it off, and I think the whole record works. It just goes to show the power and timelessness of those songs.

What message to you want to send by putting this record out? 

I’d like for all of us as Americans to embrace the notion that we’re in this together and that we can work out our differences through civil dialogue and love and respect for one another.

 

How did you decide which charity to donate to with some of the proceeds?

 We feel that supporting a movement to get people out to vote, specifically in the upcoming midterms, is in line with A Message From the People. The most effective way for us as Americans to have our voice and our message heard is to vote. We’re not saying who you should vote for. You should stay educated on issues, follow your conscience and your heart, and get out in vote.

Any plans to play this album live – or incorporate any of the songs into your sets?

We’ll definitely work some of this material into the set.

(Below photo by Greg Giannukos)

What’s next for the band? 

 We’ll do some touring this Fall and then start working on another album of our original material in the new year.

Anything else you wanted to touch on?

Our dear friend and mentor George Reiff passed away last year and I recently took over his recording studio, the Finishing School. We’ve made records there in the past with George at the helm, but this is the first album we completed in the studio since he’s been physically gone. We’ve dedicated this album to George.

(A note from the Editor: I met George in Austin during SXSW many years ago, and while I cannot claim to have known him well, I can say that in subsequent encounters—sometimes random one-on-ones via mutual friends, other times from the audience, as he was a fixture on local stages, a guy who added class (and rhythm) to every band he sat in or jammed with—I could tell he was one of the most right-on of right-on guys the city had. R.I.P. – Fred Mills)

***

A Message From The People Revisited is available for purchase HERE. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Rock The Vote. Below, listen to a key track from the original Ray Charles album.

A ROTTEN PROPOSITION: Public Image Ltd. Live in Atlanta

At Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on October 10, The Artist Formerly Known As Johnny Rotten brought his PiL.2018 to his Peach State fans, some of whom were no doubt on hand all those years ago when a certain British punk band made its American debut….

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY JOHN BOYDSTON

John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. are in high gear with “The Public Image is Rotten North American” tour, and in damn fine form if their 2nd stop – in Atlanta, Ga – is any indication.   Shows are selling out, and this one looked to be as well.  Check out upcoming PiL shows and dates here:  http://www.pilofficial.com/shows.html

The band is celebrating its 40 years of music with a world tour, a career-spanning CD & Vinyl box set release “The Public Image is Rotten,” and a new doc by the same name.  Current PiL lineup is Lydon, Lu Edmonds (guitar), Scott Firth (bass) and Bruce Smith (drums).

The former Johnny Rotten formed PiL in 1979 immediately following the demise of The Sex Pistols, going for a more ‘anti-rock’ avant-garde thing.  He’s been the only constant member of a band delivering 10-studio LPs over the years.   As lineups evolved, so has the music, crunching about any genre you can name into a unique and original meld.   Lydon is 62, older and ever-the-wiser.  PiL’s music still vital and relevant.  And you gotta go.

(And if you’re looking at these photos, I don’t know what the trash can is doing on stage.)

 

Follow John Boydston on Instagram – @johnboydstonphotos