Scram #18 reviews
(all by the editrix unless otherwise noted)
David Ackles David Ackles, Subway
to the Country, American
Gothic CDs (Collectors’ Choice)… It’s always been hard
to talk about Ackles in the context of modern pop music, but looking
back at the five years spanned by these reissues of his first
three releases on Elektra (from 1968-72), it’s no easier to put
him in historical perspective. Whether your reference point is
the singer-songwriter crowd of the period, the Jesse Winchester-type
folkies, or the Laurel Canyon shitkickers, these records just
don’t make sense. It gets worse when you try and shove him into
some kind of concept artist ghetto with Van Dyke Parks or Lee
Hazelwood. Except for American Gothic, where there is a
musical and lyrical unity that comes the closest to a concept,
these are records filled with story songs, but they don’t necessarily
hang together. The standout tunes on David Ackles are "The
Road to Cairo," a traveling song with biblical overtones
and "Sonny Come Home" which with its off-kilter American
carny feel points the way toward American Gothic. The liner
notes on the reissue try comparing such work to Kurt Weill, but
once Ackles hit his stride on Subway to the Country the
only thing I hear is mid-fifties Rodgers and Hammerstein. The
sinister, melodramatic feel of Picnic is all over "Candy
Man," one of the better child molester ballads in anyone’s
recorded cannon. Occasionally, as on American Gothic’s
"Love’s Enough" and "One Night Stand," Ackles
slips into a kind of mellow Neil Diamond lyricism which is pleasant
enough, but not his strength. Instead, plow your way into the
heart of Gothic and bathe in the pungent, hurdy-gurdy bombast
of the title tune or "The Ballad of the Ship of State"
or "Midnight Carousel." It’s there you can witness the
flowering of an iconoclastic vision from a time where a major
label could at least temporarily find a place for something so
amazingly out of place and time. (Ken Rudman)
Mark Bacino The Million Dollar Milkshake CD (Parasol)… Shimmery hand-clappy
tunes sure to please fans of Marshall Crenshaw and regional soda
Frank Bango The Unstudied Sea CD (Sincere)… Mr. Bango and his partner
Richy Vesecky specialize in sweet and witty pop ala Elvis Costello’s
take on Bacharach-David, and it’s nicely realized here, if a bit
Tywanna Jo Baskette Fancy Blue CD (Sweet Tea)… This is one of those discs that’ll
either charm the socks off you or make you run screaming out of
the room. Baskette’s a genuine Southern oddball with a cracked,
babyish voice and a sensibility to match. Her low-key, improvisational
songs reveal a deeply personal mythoverse packed with strange
animals, out-of-season flowers, the magic power of names and language,
and always the shadow of death hanging overhead. "1985/1998,"
an a cappella memorial for her parents, both dead of lung cancer,
entwined with a rendering of the Winston jingle, is about as wrenching
and lovely a listen as you’ll find. Baskette’s debut is precious,
certainly, but it’s awfully good.
birddog songs from willipa bay CD (Karma)…
Rangy, understated kosmic kountry, very pleasant.
Bobby Birdman Born Free Forever CD (Hush)… Restrained, strained pop cycle
ala Plush’s More You Becomes You-though not as catchy-distinguished
by pretty if monotonous singing and a sense that this Birdman’s
taking us nowhere in no particular hurry.
Black Keys thickfreakness
CD (Fat Possum)…The natural blues howl that Dan Auerbach channels
on this raunchy, unpredictable set may be surprising coming out
of his young, white throat, but it’s no less effecting for that.
Feverish punk-blues with flavorful jolts of psych and funk.
Tony Borlotti & I suoi Flauers il mondo È
strano LP (Teen Sound)… What does it say about the garage
scene that it’s this refreshing to hear an overseas act
sing in its native tongue? Tony and his pals play silly, upbeat
folk rock with all the fuzz guitar, Farfisa abuse and snazzy harmonies
you could possibly want, and would be a hoot to dance to.
The Briefs Off the Charts CD (Dirtnap)… Fun pop akin to Buzzcocks,
Dickies, Oi bands and others featured on the gazillion punk comps
released circa 1980. Strong songwriting skills and good sense
of humor in lyrics, presentation and stage name. Perhaps a bit
derivative for some, but if you can show me one band that you
think isn’t these days, I’ll show you the suckers they ripped-off.
There’s no reason the Briefs’ video isn’t already on the MTV punk
rock cycle except that they haven’t sold out to a big label…
yet. When you do, guys, don’t let "them" change a thing.
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Bands Railroadism:
Live in the USA 72-81 CD (Viper)… Following Viper’s
comp of UK audience recordings comes a homeland bookend, featuring
batty, impassioned takes on faves like "The Blimp" and
"Big Eyed Beans from Venus." The sound quality’s not
bad considering the source(s), and live, the tunes hold together
better than you’d think. For fans only, but they’ll be stoked.
The title refers to a newly discovered blues vamp that evolves
out of a long version of "China Pig."
Chaino New Sounds in Rock ‘N’ Roll – Jungle Rock CD (Bacchus Archives)…
Now that Chaino’s several years deceased, his pals at BA are spilling
the bones that spell out the mysterious African percussionist’s
true ID as Leon Johnson, late of Philly. These tracks were meant
to cash in on the success of his manic Bagdasarian-damaged "Pygmy
Song," but that 1958 side didn’t do much and they were packed
away to molder. Ignore the title-this is sleazy jazzbo dementia
punctuated by lewd grunts ‘n’ giggles, faux African invocations,
and the sound of session guys giving in to all the excesses usually
forbidden them. Half these tracks were previously available on
scarce Tampa and Orb 45s.
Gene Clark No Other CD (Collector’s Choice)… The wayward Byrd
never spent more on a record than on this coke-era L.A. artifact,
a weird mix of Clark’s trademark yearning melodies and ambitious
arrangements packed with gospel choruses, funk overlays and other
excesses typical of folks living with 24 tracks and no curfew.
There are some pretty songs, and I love the cover art, but as
an album it’s a tough sell.
Cobra Verde easy listening CD (Muscletone)… How’re we ever gonna bury
Rock’s suppurating corpse as long as these marvelous dopes insist
on crawling inside and making it all sound great again? A personal-as-political
glam fag testament that works on about eight simultaneous levels,
every one a blast. See ’em live.
The Cuts 2 Over Ten CD (Birdman)… On their second disc, the Cuts
ply a smart, edgy sound reminiscent of Television, but warmer
and poppier. "Paradise" is a sweet piece of early ’70s
fluff right out of Pete Ham’s pocket. If you can handle Andy Jordan’s
strangled vocal stylings, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here.
Jeff Dahl I Was a Teenage Glam-Fag Volume 2 CD
(UU)… It’s clear from past releases that Jeff Dahl never got
over the damage inflected by prolonged exposure to unpasteurized
’70s cheese, and on this ltd. fan club issue he pays direct, trashy
tribute to his fave glitter-daubed names (Lou, David, Marc) and
never weres (Smokey, Berlin Brats). The results: good dirty fun.
Evan Dando Baby I’m Bored CD (Bar/ None)… If you’re bored, baby, change
careers because your heart doesn’t sound in it anymore. Baby
I’m Bored falls short of the creative spark that made the
Lemonheads beloved by their fan base. It’s weirdly uninteresting,
like watching an ambulance speed by. He seems to want to be a
contemplative or maybe "adult contemporary" singer-songwriter.
While that worked for some old punks (Nick Cave) it totally failed
for others (Paul Westerberg). Dando needs to get rid of all the
yes-men in his life who agreed this was a great idea. (Margaret
The Deadly Snakes Ode to Joy CD (In The Red)… Hauty, sneering gospel / garage
that stutters and veers like a high-powered engine run too long
on the cheap stuff. Real loose and real wild.
The Decembrists Castaways and Cutouts CD (Kill Rock Stars)… Since KRS has mysteriously
seen fit to reissue the Decembrists’ year-old debut, I guess I’ll
recycle the review I wrote when it was released on Hush: "If
the long silence of Neutral Milk Hotel chafes at you, try rubbing
these marvelous Portlanders on the sore spot. I am charmed by
their rollicking modernist sea chanteys peopled by ghostly infants,
self-reflexive legionnaires, bedwetters and assorted oddballs.
A Dame Darcy drawing on the cover is all that’s missing."
The Decemberists 5 Songs CD-EP (Hush)… A fairly straightforward set from
the jangly and mournful Portland magical pop realists, though
"My Mother was a Chinese Trapeze Artist" charts them
squarely back into zany waters. Extra track "Apology Song"
is an appealing acknowledgment of a failure between friends and
the inborn nobility of inanimate objects. A very odd and interesting
band, though the vocals are a taste some won’t ever acquire.
Jonathan Donaldson & The Color Forms Beyond Blue
Bells CD (Traveling Talons)… The debut by occasional Scram
contributor Donaldson’s combo is an emotion-soaked trip on an
anglophilic ’80s rocket, with propulsive, clever tunes anchored
by JD’s soaring, Orange Juicy vocals.
The Easybeats The Very Best of the Easybeats: Friday On My Mind CD (Varèse
Sarabande)… Sure, "Friday On My Mind" has been overplayed
on Goldies stations worldwide, but comparing "Friday"
to the rest of their tunes is like judging the Rolling Stones
on the basis of "She’s A Rainbow" alone. This comp reveals
a natural progression of styles paralleling the ’60s in general
but without the insane commercial success of a Stones or Beatles.
"Sorry," "The Music Goes Round My Head" and
"Bring A Little Lovin’" are just three of the should’ve-beens
that oughtta crowd out the Motown infesting AM today. Too heavy
for ’60s throwback radio, I guess. Easybeats Vanda and Young were
musical nursemaids to Young’s little pipsqueak brothers who went
on to form AC/DC. If that ain’t street cred… (Margaret Griffis)
Electric Turn To Me S/T CD-EP (No Quarter)…
Elegantly lush and eerie goth-pop, featuring their own mono-monickered
German chanteuse, Silke.
El Guapo Fake
French CD (Dischord)… Electro post punk dragged through
an indie rock/ Fugazi filter, not bad if you dig the California
weird crowd like the Residents, Centimeters, Screamers and electro
pop ala early Depeche Mode. They’re affected by DC/ Dischord,
but not in a heavy-handed way. Fairly interesting, though I found
the repetitiveness of some of the songs irritating on second and
third play-which doesn’t mean you won’t absolutely love it. (Margaret
Ron Elliott The
Candlestickmaker CD (Collector’s Choice)… Sole solo
outing from the Beau Brummels’ chief songwriter and guitarist,
here backed by Chris Ethridge, Dennis Dragon and assorted session
cats. Elliott’s no Sal Valentino, and his gruff vocals can’t enliven
these dirgelike country-folk tunes, which lack the inspired magical
realism of the Triangle/ Bradley’s era. There’s some nice
picking and typically classy Waronker stable arrangements, but
just too little in the way of hooks and energy. As a solo artist,
Ron Elliott is one hell of a sideman.
S/T CD (Dirtnap)… It’s rarely acknowledged, but the
most startling accomplishment of the first new wave was that it
momentarily made yodeling cool-Lene Lovich, anyone?-and neo-wave
siren Roxy Epoxy and her compadres give the gimmick another shot
with their stylish, catchy and surprisingly sincere sound.
The Fleshtones Do
You Swing? CD (Yep Roc)… The last ‘tones disc I heard
was disconcertingly "mature," with lyrics suggesting
these longtime party rockers had settled into straight jobs and
comfy relationships. The garage revival has roused them from their
languor to turn in a trashy, jangly set more in keeping with fans’
expectations. While they rarely come up with a great hook, this
is solid, nicely produced foolishness that will give them a welcome
excuse to hit te road again.
Freddy & the Four Gone Conclusions Wigged Out
Sounds CD (Get Hip)… Post-collegiate frat rockers Fortune
& Maltese are no more, but Freddy Fortune’s back with a new
outfit that knock out more of that utterly convincing retro rock
that makes the kids dance funny. Shame-on-you-girl lyrics, check.
Sneery vocal action, check. Matching suits-canary yellow, no less-check.
All kindsa organ, check. Someone dust off the temporal skip panel
and book these boys on Happening ’68, stat.
Bobbie Gentry An
American Quilt 1967-1974 CD (Raven)… This is a revelation.
If, like me, all you knew of Bobbie G. was "Ode to Billie
Joe," you’re likely to be gob-smacked by the lady’s sure
and striking amalgam of country, soul and subtle psychedelia.
Gentry was raised in Mississippi, studied philosophy at UCLA and
worked as a Vegas showgirl, and these apparently contradictory
experiences prove surprisingly cohesive in her art. The regional
portraiture is imbued with a rich psychological understanding
and a streak of dark and giddy humor, her voice is warm and knowing,
and the arrangements terrific. From the erotic maternalism of
"Jessye’ Lisabeth" to the arch "Casket Vignette"
to "Fancy," the irresistible tale of a streetwalker’s
rise to semi respectability, this Australian comp (composed almost
exclusively of Gentry’s originals) should go a long way towards
restoring the reputation of a mysteriously neglected singer-songwriter.
Highly recommended, nay, essential.
Hearts and Flowers The
Complete double CD (Collector’s Choice)… In the late
’60s, Hearts and Flowers’ spare country-folk made them an oddity
on the L.A. scene, and, while perfectly pleasant, their two Nik
Venet produced Capitol discs failed to sell them to a larger audience.
There’s nothing extraordinary here, but if your tastes run to
close harmonies and down home versions of Donovan and Goffin-King
tunes, it’s well worth a spin. Disk two is mainly unreleased,
unfinished material, including an interesting, disjointed take
on Phil Ochs’ "Flower Lady." Late member Bernie Leadon
was a founding Eagle.
The High Dials A
New Devotion CD (Rainbow Quartz)… Rainbow Quartz specializes
in quality contemporary psych, and disc #2 from this Montreal
act is one of their best picks yet, an Eastern-inflected concept
album that keeps the concept (man struggles to escape from nightmarish
city) refreshingly low-key. The energy level suggests the Jam,
but a dreamy Sunday morning Jam you can spread on your crumpets.
Dotti Holmberg Sometimes
Happy Times CD (Sundazed)… Ms. Holmberg was an early
Curt Boettcher collaborator (one of the black haired gypsies backing
up the Greenwich Village GoldeBriars) with a breathy little girl
voice that could give Boettcher’s sunshine pop confections the
extra dash of powdered sugar required to send them over the top.
On its own, that voice is too sweet to take in large doses, but
for a track or two it’s charming. This disc compiled unreleased
solo Dotti tracks recorded at Columbia during the Millennium era,
plus some home demos.
The Incredible String Band U
double CD (Collector’s Choice)… Studio recreation of the ISB’s
1970 theatrical presentation which played briefly at London’s
Roundhouse and the Fillmore East. On stage, the band was augmented
by Stone Monkey, a troupe that evolved out of happenings artist
/ bubble sculptor David Medalla’s Exploding Galaxy. U is
a musical mishmash, with the band’s usual eclectic hobbit meandering
grafted to old timey fiddle-fueled wackiness, robotic laments
and mysterious invocations. Very weird and unpredictable, but
it obviously loses a lot from the absence of the visual element.
Insect Surfers Mojave Reef CD (Marlin)… After
nearly 25 years honoring the instrumental surf traditions while
striking off on their own abstract melodic trails, the Surfers’
third disc is just the warm, high energy blast you’d expect. Close
your eyes and see spies, fast cars, huge swells and swirling colors
shifting almost too fast to register.
Insta Checklist for Love CD (Sunday)… Fine
girlie pop as gooily infectious as warm, fresh nougat.
Morning Beautiful CD (Eenie Meenie)… Fresh, eclectic
sixties-inflected sounds with a dash of frenetic new wave goofery.
Demure and sweet.
The Kills Keep
On Your Mean Side CD (Rough Trade)… Hipswing minimalist
punk-blues that veers between snotty, sexy and annoying, pretty
much in that order. The latter’s largely due to pointless spoken
asides delivered in that bored Kim Gordon fashion, throwing a
wet towel over otherwise cool twining boy/girl vocals and low-fi
The Lazily Spun S/T
CD (Camera Obscura)… Reunion of the mid-’90s Manchester DIY
psych act whose demos gained support from the Ptolemaic Terrascope
crowd. Slow, moody layers of very English melancholia, with occasional
found sounds, Indian instruments and theremin. I like that these
guys are professional psychedelicians-the bassist does
post-graduate MDMA research, and their name derives from early
acid and mescaline experiments on spiders. But I don’t like the
ugly stoned doodles on the cover, ugh.
Let’s Active Cypress/
Afoot (Collector’s Choice) This disc plugs a big hole
in the ’80s Southern jangle pop revival. Let’s Active was formed
in Chapel Hill in 1981 by Mitch Easter, a Dixie wonder boy who,
with future dB Chris Stamey, had a long stint during the ’70 in
Sneakers (another influential, long dead power pop act whose catalog
badly wants a reissue), before going on to produce R.E.M.’s first
single "Radio Free Europe," their Chronic Town
EP and the epochal Murmur. The demos that became the brilliant
1983 Afoot EP evoke the frothy, pessimistic, dancing-on-the-deck
atmosphere of the Southern early ’80s. Easter’s sweet-boy vocals
on "Every Word Means No" and "Leader of Men"
glided ecstatically on power pop’s dazzling membrane stretched
tight over general disaster. 1984’s Cypress should’ve been
the band’s breakout-twelve exuberant nightmares comparable to
Dramarama’s Cinema Verite and sweetly gloomy as Georgia
mist. The band took to unsuccessful commerce for the next two
albums (also available on Collector’s Choice) before dying in
obscurity in 1988. This is my odds-on favorite for reissue of
the year. (Ron Garmon)
and Tom Verlaine S/T
CD (Collector’s Choice)… After Television broke up, Elektra
cannily kept both guitarists on with solo deals, and while the
results were hardly as anxiously thrilling as Marquee Moon,
Lloyd and Verlaine’s 1979 debuts are each worth hearing. Verlaine’s
is closest to Television, with nervous, obtuse, jittering tunes
that betray a deep vein of silliness. The songs on the original
side two ("Flash Lightning" through "Breakin’ in
My Heart") are the most serious and striking, and had their
mood been maintained over the course of the disc it might have
made more of a splash. Coming to it as a Television fan soon after
its release, I found Alchemy a startling surprise. Richard
Lloyd, the pretty boy who stood in the shadows behind Verlaine,
turned out to be an excellent pop songwriter with a lazily cool
performance style, kind of like a softer-edged Johnny Thunders.
The disc is catchy, jangly and heartfelt, with some terrifically
inventive guitar playing.
The Lovin’ Spoonful Hums
of CD (Buddha/ BMG)… When I was a gnash-toothed teenage
record clerk, one of my co-workers made it a habit to try and
convince me of the genius of his pet band, but while I loved "Summer
in the City," I couldn’t get past the faux-naïf cover
of Everything Playing and the Kotter theme. Now
I’m probably older than that seemingly doddering fellow, and damned
if he wasn’t right! Album #3 (originally issued by Kama Sutra
in ’66) is as warm and charming and genuine and rocking a set
as any group issued in that sparkling year. A stone delight, with
Sir With Love: The Best of 1967-1968 CD (Taragon)… Lulu
packed a lot of recording into her first couple years on Epic,
where under Mickie Most’s tutelage she knocked out some fine tracks.
But was she the snarling little rocker chick discovered grooving
with the Luvvers in Glasgow, or an idiosyncratic soul belter with
an air of continental sophistication? You’ll find both Lulus here,
and it’s a treat to see the woman emerging from the little girl
persona of the title track. And while the orchestral stuff’s fun
in an Anthony-Newley-in-drag kinda way, it’s as a rocker that
Lulu most impresses. Highlights include her fabulously miffed
reworking of "Day Tripper," a haunted, desolate "Morning
Dew," and the defiantly un-pretty "Love Loves to Love
The Maharajas h-minor LP (Teen Sound) Jens Lindberg
(the Swedish Russell Quan) leads these gloomstruck purveyors of
minor key folk rock revivalism, replete with Beatley oooos and
a positively Blue Things style raver "Anything Right"
(as in "I can’t do"). Not the real thing, but a most
Mando Diao bring
’em in CD (Mute) Kinda interesting young Swedish combo
mixing sixties pop and r&b influences with more commercial
contemporary hard rock and punk sounds, all over the place and
unsure of their strengths. Main weakness: one of the two singing
guitarists has a decent grasp of English, but the other uh she
is not so goodly spoken.
Many Birthdays 35 Minutes CD (Red Cake) Textured,
whispery, subterranean loops and outsider singalongs. Sounds like
the music discarded dolls might make in the dumpster.
City CD (Gearhead) Deliciously energetic union of buzzsaw
guitars, bored girl vocals and a punk + Detroit sensibility that
reminds me a little of the ’80s Sydney scene. Solid kicks.
of the Rumours CD (Gloomy Tunes) Milo is a little bit
country, 5% goth, a bit avant-pop, and all unpredictable. From
the "peel it and see" banana cover parody to the nifty
version of Shari Elf’s "Happy World" to the low-key
incest ballad, you never know what’ll be subverted next. Many
of these could be tagged as novelty songs-Dr. Demento plays Milo
music-but the gag is never telescoped.
Monster Island Dream Tiger CD (End is Near) While
we don’t usually review older stuff, this 2001 disc is so gloriously
haunted, rhythmic and childlike that an exception must be made.
Using oud, harmonium, sitar, toy piano and something called Chinese
organ, in addition to the usual rock instrumentation, the band
unfurls each song like a found fairy tale gene spliced with the
most exotic of flowers. The results are most lovely and imaginative.
Monster Island & John Sinclair Peyotemind
CD (End is Near) Time is the least of our concerns here, but let’s
review. Some while before he transformed an Ann Arbor garage band
into a ten-legged, tongue-wagging symbol of socio-political confrontation
(MC5), John Sinclair kept a handwritten journal of his peyote
observations, a document that was later deposited in a local archive.
Monster Island’s Cary Loren uncovered the text and its related
series of poems, and conceived this free form musical backdrop
over which Sinclair intones his nearly forty-year-old texts. The
result: thought-provoking jazzy psychedelia, seasoned with spookhouse
Moog and a sense of delicate spaciousness.
The New Christs We
Got This! CD (Laughing Outlaw import, Smog Veil domestic)
Rob Younger says this is the last New Christs record. We’ve heard
that before, but the paranoid mess described in a recent Bucketful
of Brains interview certainly seems to guarantee that this
version of the band won’t be back. They leave as proof of their
existence a rough, angry disk in the New Christs distinctive,
swaggering style. There aren’t many singers who can make cynicism
sound like fun, but when Younger turns his tonsils to denunciation
the results are positively inspiring. Let’s hear it for hatred!
The New Creation Troubled CD (Companion) One
of my favorite stops on the web is www.showandtellmusic.com, with
its galleries of offbeat cover art. Webmaster Will Louviere was
so blown away by the sole, self-released 1970 album by these Vancouver
Jesus People, he started a label to reissue it. Troubled
starts off with a disturbing four-minute sound collage in which
old and young male and female voices intone snippets reflecting
contemporary political, cultural and religious thought over war
sounds and outer space echo effects. Wild! But it’s their shambling
garagey originals that have made this a much-traded CDR. The New
Creation weren’t particularly skilled musicians-I’m being generous-but
their love of the Lord let them put self-consciousness aside to
share their belief in a new form of revolutionary Christianity.
The main vocalist is the guitarist’s mom, and the effect of her
mature, British-tinged vocals over the primitive drumming and
guitar is truly strange. Pick hit: "No Excuse," with
its jaw-dropping lyrics blaming the older generation for providing
heroin, whiskey and war to innocent kids. If you always wished
the Shaggs were more spiritually minded-and I figure if such a
person exists, they read Scram-this is for you.
Nineteen Forty-Five I
Saw A Bright Light CD (Daemon) Katharine McElroy, one
third of this Birmingham pop juggernaut, formerly led the excellent
Three Finger Cowboy. Their warm, smart songs have a folky coziness
even at their most fierce and prickly. Cool and weird.
Jerry J. Nixon Gentleman of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Q-Recordings,
New Mexico ’58-’64 CD (Voodoo Rhythm) Man, what a story! Failed
teenage bank robber Gerald Hall splits Yorkshire with the merchant
marine, turning up in the US with a ridiculous accent, claiming
he’s a Minnesotan who lost his passport. Some wit in the Customs
Office went for it, and "Nixon" migrated down southwest,
where he joined the Communist Party (for the dames and conversation)
and recorded these deliriously amateurish, yet truly inspired
rockabilly sides with a local band called the Volcanoes. JJ wasn’t
a great singer, but with that pedigree you just know he could
sell a tune. This cool comp has all the 45s from the Q
label, previously unreleased live cuts and demos and some hilarious
radio spots with JJ’s remarkable "New Mexican" accent
The Operators Citizens Band CD (Unstoppable)
Boston’s Operators are flagship members of the Handstand Command,
a small, loose-knit group of friends and musical associates. They
play in each other’s bands and set up residencies in local clubs.
I think more bands should do this-get together, take on a catchy
name and form their own gangs. Certainly Citizens Band,
the Operators’ debut, is infused with that spirit of rambunctious
friendship. You’ll feel an instant sense of rapport with these
three gals and one guy, as if they were people you see at shows
and bars all the time. The chugging guitars, ragged ‘n’ bittersweet
melodies and raspy harmonies are reminiscent of early Scrawl,
while the song structures and call-and-response vocals (more like
"yell-and-response" on the title track and "Rock
City") betray a Sleater-Kinney influence. Occasionally a
Flying Nun/New Zealand feel shines through-particularly in "Running
Late," with woozy tempo and acoustic guitars straight out
of the Look Blue Go Purple songbook. A couple of songs don’t quite
coalesce, but as a whole Citizens Band is impressive and
addictive. (Mike Appelstein)
Orchestra Superstring S/T
CD (Dionysus) Convincingly ’56-sounding set of exotica originals
(plus a cover of Sun Ra’s "A Call for All Demons"),
languidly spun by a (sm)all star L.A. band featuring X’s D.J.
Bonebrake and Carey Fosse from Possum Dixon.
Bruce Palmer The
Cycle is Complete CD (Collector’s Choice) Buffalo Springfield
bassist Palmer took a few hours from his busy schedule quitting
bands and getting deported for possession to record this improvisational
psych-jazz ramble with Rick James, Big Black and members of the
west coast Kaleidoscope. Barely released by Verve in ’71 and subject
to a scathing Lester Bangs review in Rolling Stone, thirty-plus
years on it reads as a playful, Eastern-tinged jam that’s surprisingly
listenable considering the sheer volume of individual instruments
(including wayyyy too much flute) battling for attention. A very
Blues and Prayer CD (Dim Mak) Soledad Brothers side project
with a meaty, energetic blues-punk sound, and a sensibility closer
to Detroit party rock than porch-sittin’ bellyachin’.
Linda Perhacs Parallelograms CD (The Wild Places)
I’ve been obsessed with this gorgeous 1970 record since finding
it at a yard sale a couple years back. This expanded edition,
taken from the artist’s original masters, makes the Kapp LP sound
like the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz look.
Delicate little effects trill around the edges, building to crescendos
of rattling sonic force, and always there’s Linda’s gently layered
voice, praising the rain and the rocks and the river, erotic,
exquisitely simple, utterly original. The title track especially
is a psychedelic classic, a multi-tracked crazy quilt celebrating
shapes and their qualities before segueing into some of the most
ghostly, weird sounds ever put on tape. Parallelograms
really sounds like my baby memories of Venice and driving up the
coast in the bread van my hippie folks outfitted as a temporary
home. Wind chimes, soft winds, swirling colors and magic made
manifest. Bonus tracks include alternate takes and demos, Linda’s
narrated tape of potential manipulated sound effects for producer
Leonard Rosenman, and two versions of a surprisingly poppy, unreleased
song, "If You Were My Man," that could almost be a Carpenters
outtake. Watch for our interview with Linda in the next Scram.
The Petals Butterfly Mountain CD (Camera Obscura)
First release in nine years from Milwaukee neo-psych outfit whose
pastoral themes and oddball phrasing suggest a punky homegrown
Incredible String Band.
The Pillbugs The
3-Dimensional In Pop-Cycle Dream CD (Proverus) The first
cut sounds so much like the Lemon Pipers it’s scary-could Ohio
still be hiding a secret stash of great bubblegum acts? The other
songs don’t sound so Pipery, more like tasteful, impressively
realized UK-obsessed pop-psych with a hint of prog. The singing,
so often the weak spot on such projects, is strong throughout.
Plus the CD comes with a custom ViewMaster reel!
The Poets Surrealistic Rain LP (Teen Sound) This
contemporary Italian trio (no relation to the legendary Scots)
have sixties pop ambitions that veer from early Searchers beat
to "Midas"-era Hollies, and if their reach exceeds their
grasp, you gotta respect ’em for trying-plus they write all their
own songs. The blend of accented English vocals, oddly lush instrumentation
and sudden tempo changes gives the whole affair a weird air akin
to riding a carousel on heavy meds. None of the other revivalists
sounds a bit like ’em.
Alasdair Roberts Farewell
Sorrow CD (Drag City) Ancient-sounding courtly balladry
from the Appendix Out leader. Some tunes are partly adapted from
traditional British songs, and chords and capo positions are provided,
but the lyrical abstractions and ghostly orchestration place it
nearer to postmodern pop than trad folk.
Shutdown 66 Welcome
to Dumpsville CD (Get Hip) Swellsville’s more like it,
assuming you’re looking for snotnosed contempo organ splat that’d
fit just fine on a Back from the Grave comp. If Nicky Shutdown
had been around in his beloved ’66, five hundred bands called
the Outsiders woulda covered his howling, reject anthems. From
Australia, where garage fans demand that little bit more from
it flow CD (Rainbow Quartz) Spacious, whispery Britpop/psych
from Spain, laced with traditional Indian instruments and Byrdsy
harmonies. An attempt to reclaim Madonna’s Love-steal "Beautiful
Stranger" is unfortunately accented by shrill synth lines,
but overall this is a warm and pretty selection.
Simply Saucer Cyborgs
Revisited CD (Sonic Unyon) One leg clad in post-Warhol
Velvet, the other teetering somewhere between psyched-out space
rock and Stoogey primitivism, these Cannucks made sounds too delightfully
wobbly to fly when initially launched (’73-79), though a posthumous
LP blew a lot of influential minds in the late ’80s. This comp
brings that disc together with the legendary early 45s plus previously
unreleased demos and live cuts, and it’s an absolute gas, retroactively
sounding positively sophisticated, in a brain damaged kinda way.
The Small Faces
Nut Gone Flake CD (Fuel 2000) The Small Faces’ final disc
is a schizophrenic affair, kicking off with six scrumptious rockers,
layered like some tottering sonic trifle, the whole thing suffused
with pot smoke instead of sherry. Part two smells more like hash
oil, with its meandering thematic fantasy narrated by babbling
Brit comic Stan Unwin, leading into disjointed jolts of psychedelia
that lack the band’s usual tautness and melodicism. Too bad they
felt they had to compete with the Beatles and Who in the concept
stakes, especially since they were so deeply out of their element.
This reish includes some strong live tracks recorded at a November
1968 show in Newcastle, accompanied by screaming teenies.
Soledad Brothers Steal
Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit to Move CD (Estrus) Another
set of mostly tough and swaggering white boy blues from the Toledo
three-piece, the kind of record that makes good background music
but doesn’t require serious attention. Still, "This Guitar
Says I’m Sorry" is a surprisingly pretty folk-tinged instro,
and a couple other cuts have that sleepy late Velvets vibe.
Soltero Defrocked and Kicking the Habit CD (Handsome)
Loping lo-fi minimalist country-folk / indie-rock, fully loaded
with banjo and apologies.
Sun Zoom Spark Electricity CD (SlowBurn) Eclectic,
intriguing blend of loping ’70s stoner rock, hypno-exoticism and
tape collage, compiled by an insular trio of Tucson four-trackers,
later associated with Black Sun Ensemble. Originally released
in 1999 in an edition of thirty copies, this repressing is sure
to please fans of homegrown psychedelia and unselfconscious thud.
Deniz Tek & the Golden Breed Glass
Eye World CD (Career) Career is a new label founded by
Deniz Tek and Donovan’s Brain leader Ron Sanchez as an outlet
for their recent recordings that don’t fit elsewhere, and this
is certainly a raw little morsel, partly live and live in the
studio. The Golden Breed features Deniz’ American touring band,
the Godoy twins, and their U.K. punk influences get spliced onto
Deniz’ languid guitar mystics with unexpected results. Closer
"Baja Confidential" is a classic spaced-out DT instro.
The Telepathic Butterflies Introducing
CD (Rainbow Quartz) Familiar but enjoyable Beatle/ Floydesque
jangle pop, the band name and record jacket cribbed from Vonnegut’s
Breakfast of Champions. Includes a cover of Donovan’s "Epistle
to Dippy," hardly the first (or even fifth) Donovan track
I’d expect to hear revived.
The Third Rail Id
Music CD (Rev-Ola) Id Music is the result of teen
songwriter Joey Levine’s initial collaboration with older husband
and wife writing team Kris and Artie Resnick. Joey was a hungry,
talented kid, Artie had had some success in the Brill Building,
penning "Under the Boardwalk" and "Good Lovin’,"
while Kris brought a classically trained sensibility to the proceedings.
Their sole Epic LP is an unpredictable melange of delicate chamber
pop, politically charged lyrics and goofball satire. Joey sings
almost entirely in a punky falsetto, avoiding the nasal tones
that would make him a bubblegum sensation. The Resnick-Levine
partnership would later yield smash Buddah singles like "Yummy
Yummy Yummy," but this Third Rail music has its own daffy
charms. The comp includes all the 45 mixes and informative liner
Tokyo Sex Destruction Le
Red Soul Comunnitte (10 Points Program) CD (Dim Mak) These
Spaniards got so high from sniffing the MC5’s revolutionary shtick
that they took the collective surname Sinclair-though they eschew
hippie garb for a Hives-cum-Make-Up button down uniform. Sonically
speaking, they’re a less tuneful Mooney Suzuki, spouting incomprehensible
dogma about landlords and girls over a wall of chunky guitars.
Rock ‘n’ roll déjà vu.
Toothpaste 2000 Catch-22
CD (Parasol) Crunchy, riff-laden goodies from Seattle three-piece
led by Donna Esposito, who mews like a sweet little kitten and
plays some awfully tuff guitar.
Townes Van Zandt In The Beginning CD (Compadre)
Lots of cool new Townes releases lately, including these rediscovered
1966 solo recordings that predate Townes’ debut album by two years.
He already sounds like a mature artist, alternately positioning
himself as raunchy bluesman and folk romancer. The songs aren’t
masterpieces, but solid compositions that obviously belong in
the body of work. A major find, despite some problems with tape
Townes Van Zandt
Mother the Mountain
CD (Tomato) TVZ’s 1969 second record,
where lush arrangements cushion his plainspoken country-folk originals.
At this stage Townes was already capable of penning an iconic
piece of poetry like "Tecumseh Valley," a stark inversion
of the humorous American motif of the doomed miner’s daughter
Clementine rendered here as Caroline, who deliberately becomes
a whore from grief. The rest of the material is strong lyrically
and quite beautifully sung, but suffers from simple, samey tunes
causing the songs to blend into a piece. Quite listenable and
a must for fans, but better things were to come.
Townes Van Zandt Delta
Momma Blues CD (Tomato) While the cover photo’s a classic
in hippie kitsch (a smirking Townes leans on some steps with The
Last Unicorn poking out of his suede pocket, as a pair of
grimy, androgynous love children grope behind him), this is deep,
dark stuff, not cute at all. Townes drank, and he had demons that
yanked him around by his hair whenever he got too close to happiness.
DMB is a portrait of the great American fuck up, yearning
for grace, failing every time, and documenting his flaws with
wry, elegant precision. Townes’ fourth disc contains some of his
most philosophical songs, including misfit waltz "Tower Song,"
and "Nothin’," an existential boot to the skull. And
then there’s "Rake," a Beaudelaire-by-way-of-Hogarth
fantasy of a reprobate whose spiritual and physical decay culminate
in vampirism. Sure it’s just the blues, but as literate, startling
and refined a blues as we’re likely to get. And we think you should
hear it, so when Tomato offered us one of their TVZ reissues for
new subscribers, this is the one we picked. See the last page
for details, and reserve yours quick.
Townes Van Zandt Flyin’
Shoes CD (Tomato) Townes took a long break from recording
in the mid-seventies, and when he went back into the studio with
Chips Moman, he had a fine set of songs on hand. Some folks shy
away from the more heavily produced TVZ discs, and certain early
Poppy albums did go overboard with strings, but Moman’s crew-including
Randy Scruggs, Spooner Oldham and Moman’s wife Toni Wine-forge
a sympathetic framing for these tender, taut ballads with their
lonesome, Southwestern feel. Side two of the LP has been resequenced
to start this remaster, which I’ve got no problem with, as that’s
the way I usually play the record. Apparently I ain’t the only
Townes Van Zandt The
Nashville Sessions CD (Tomato) This is all wrong: sleepy,
sweetened 1993 rerecordings of some of Townes’ best songs that
just make me long for the stark originals. Townes sounds like
he’s medicated, the chorus is annoying and the arrangements suck
every bit of soul from the material. I really hope no one ever
makes this their first TVZ purchase.
American Song-Poem Anthology CD (Bar/None) Carnage Press
has put out several song-poem anthologies over the years, but
this latest set, compiled by American Song-Poem Music Archives
curator Phil Milstein, is a good single-disk introduction to the
genre. The focus is on the weirder juxtapositions of "lyric"
and performance, with brain bogglers from masters Rodd Keith,
Gene Marshall and Norm Burns and his spooky singers, working with
words provided by inspired, endlessly hopeful (mostly senior)
citizens who truly believed tunes like "Jimmy Carter Says
‘Yes’" just needed a little push to make it to the hit parade.
Includes John Trubee’s "Blind Man’s Penis," which is
a ringer, but still nice to have on disk.
V/A California Ain’t Fun No More CD (Just Add
Water) It ain’t easy to put together a comp that holds together
as a piece, but a strong line up of back-catalog-delving left
coast garage rats makes this a treat straight through, from the
Loose Lips’ Cynics-style sleaze through the Pinkz’ little girlz
lost vamp on the Scientists’ "Last Night," the Bobbyteens’
lurching Gears cover to the Fevers’ sticky sticky bubblegum tribute
"Ohio Express." But how come Russell Quan’s only in
three of these bands? Someone’s laying down on the job!
in the Basement: Joe Bussard’s Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s 1926-1937
CD (Old Hat) A preteen Joe Bussard started knocking on neighbors’
doors asking if they had any old records they didn’t want in the
mid-’40s, expanding his operation to the rural states surrounding
his Maryland home once he learned to drive. Along the way he saved
many a rarity from the dump or careless butterfingers. The result
is a basement stacked floor to ceiling with salvaged shellac relics
documenting the many fascinating, lost strands of American pop
and roots music. The basement’s a national treasure, and DJ/ raconteur
Joe’s no slouch himself. This lovingly compiled collection highlights
24 of Joe’s favorite tracks-jazz, blues, gospel, old timey country
and uncategorizable blends-and there’s not a dull ‘un in the bunch.
Highlights include A.A. Gray & Seven-Foot Dilly’s infectious
"The Old Ark’s A’Moving," the Dixon Brothers’ gruesome,
matter-of-fact "The School House Fire" and the Corley
Family’s deliciously amateurish, kiddy-drenched "Give the
World a Smile." Included in the thick booklet are individual
track notes, handsome sleeve reproductions and transcriptions
of Joe gloating over his most fruitful record raccoon rambles.
If you can’t pay a visit to Joe’s basement yourself, this is a
pretty good substitute.
V/A Inside Deep Note: Music of 1970s Adult Cinema
CD (O.S.T. Grammo-fonpladen) Seventy-odd minutes of hack funk-jazz
purportedly from various obscuro ’70s skinflicks (Soul Sisters,
Brighton Beach Bunnies), this collection is more like one
of Big Chief’s old fake-blaxploitation albums than a legit archival
find. The music is strictly pastiche, but the accompanying booklet
has many pictures of truly stunning nudes, as well as a delightfully
dubious reminisce from a female porn director on her start in
the biz. The package is a welcome trip back to the era of polyester
and the bucket-seat blowjob. ’70s nostalgia is as durable as ever,
probably because people were having a demonstrably better time
of it than in the repressed, glumly politicized present. (Ron
in the Key of Z, Vol. 2: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music
CD (Gammon) Irwin Chusid presents yet more examples of music made
by divinely or otherwise inspired nuts, culled from the tape trader
underground, self-released singles, song-poem LPs, etc. Highlights
include contributions from scatman Shooby Taylor, nerdy anger-rocker
Alvin Dahn, trumpet overdub fantasist Luie Luie and some unknown,
twangy dame delighted to be stripping to her black pantyhose.
Jaw-dropping good fun interspersed with quite startling levels
Can Never Go Fast Enough CD (Plain) High concept tribute
to Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Highway, a project probably
best known ’round these parts for featuring Dennis Wilson’s sleepy
cinematic debut. Using new and vintage material from folks like
Leadbelly, Cat Power, Wilco and Giant Sand, the compilers create
a rangy, lonesome mood that may well evoke TLB in your
Viva L’American Death Ray Music A New Commotion A
Delicate Tension (And the Exquisite Corpse of Mr. Jimmy) CD
(Misprint) These Memphis cats thrive on change, whether it means
Frenchifying their name, stripping down to a three piece, or alternating
releases on local label Misprint and Sympathy. Here they plug
into a chunky Velvety groove-writing one song called "The
New Age" and adding "Sister Ray" lyrics to another
to make it easy on us scribblers-then introduce all manner of
post-punk twitchery and spaciousness. Sometimes krab-with-a-k
can be pretty tasty, too.
are for Petting CD-EP (RCA) Punky glam from San Francisco,
with a Lust for Life rhythm track, Jaggery sneer and loping
erotic energy. They’re pretty enough to back it up, too. A little
monochromatic, but interesting. Partly produced by Don Was?
Alan Watts Om:
The Sound of Hinduism CD (Collector’s Choice) High-minded
1967 disc intended to introduce a Western audience to the themes
and sounds of the Hindu faith, partly narrated by the British
religious scholar, broadcaster and author. The hypnotically simple
tabla and tampura parts are played by one Vincent Delgado, and
when Watts proclaims that "all of us are rays from one center,
tits on one sow, sounds one on flute, forever and ever,"
it seems quite feasible. Damn big sow, though.
Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 Static
Transmission CD (Down There) The feel’s lazy, longing
and expansive on this follow up to Here Come the Miracles,
again recorded in Tucson with Chris Cacavas guesting on keys.
Wynn & co. are quite adept at playing out haunting grooves,
here seasoned with a nice jolt of silliness, "California
Style." The longer he lives in NYC, the more it seems L.A.
turns up in his songs. Neat to see the old Down There logo on
the back, vestige of Wynn’s paisley underground-era label that
issued early Dream Syndicate and Green on Red EPs.
Geza X and the Mommymen You
Goddam Kids! CD (Bacchus Archives) Geza X, strange person,
is better known as a record producer and all around hipster, but
he wasn’t immune to the performance bug. You Goddam Kids!
is probably only interesting to music history junkies and those
who didn’t pick up the record when they were pub-crawling LA circa
1980. It’s an interesting snippet of a style that’s almost forgotten,
a new wavey mix of Residents and Broadwayish tunes with keyboards,
marimbas and "Gezatone" guitar. Lots of famous people
involved here like Josie Cotton plus various Germs, Screamers
and X-es. (Margaret Griffis)
Warren Zevon The
First Sessions CD (Varèse Sarabande) The apparently
unkillable Zevon has lingered long enough to see a slew of reissues
of his older material, including this comp of solo and Lyme &
Cybelle demos. L&C were a folk-pop duo composed of Zevon and
Violet Santangelo, and their ’66 White Whale single "Follow
Me" (written by the pair) is a neat propulsive jangler that
charted locally. The demos are a weird, mixed bag, with Dylan,
Beatles and Jimmy Reed covers adding little to the source material,
but their own songs having an eerie, romantic ambiance. Zevon’s
solo juvenilia, recorded with Bones Howe, includes his original
"Outside Chance" with its arrangement almost identical
to the Turtles cover. Nothing great, but fans will be curious
to see him messing with styles on the way to finding a voice of
his own, hinted at with the creepy "A Bullet for Ramona."
Bonus tracks include the Zevon-less Lyme & Cybelle single
that Curt Boettcher produced, a giddy piece of old timey California
The Zombies Zombies
featuring She’s Not There / Tell Her No CD (Varèse Sarabande)
There’s scads of Zombies material out there, so why pick up this latest reish?
For context, that’s why. This mono mix of the band’s American debut (plus
six early domestic singles) serves as a snapshot of the precise schoolboy
R&B that turned them into stars off their native shores. Only with Chris
White’s yearning 1965 b-side "I Love You" is there a hint of the
baroque A-level pop that would come with the posthumous Odessey & Oracle.
Call it Zombies Mach I, a fun, somewhat unsung body of work.