the embattled vitality and resourcefulness and sure-footed economy of this! His strongest album, I suspect (even Station To Station always requires deciding whether I really want to hear "Wild Is The Wind" and/or "Word On A Wing" one more time). Vibe-wise, the title is his classic disguise, in a way, one more time for the Artist Formerly Known As The Thin White Duke AKA another white rocker from Thee 60s now plugging into and through the recombinant resource, the revisited, rigorously science-fictional-to-factual soundscape of blackmusic heaven (emerging, tiny figure in the spotlight, piping, insisting, claiming, "I'm a blackstar! I'm a blackstar!"---"too", he seems to imply---maybe hoping for a moment of escape, transcendence, alternative history, some twists and turns in the cold bare facts). Black music as source, standard, guiding star, now reflected and refracted through the implosive momentum synthesis of this blackstar-blackmusic by customized pressure and implementation, played by distinctive jazz pros, all of them, along with Bowie, reportedly(no obvious lifts to confirm) listening to Kendrick Lamar etc. between takes, also applying rock and r&b---all of it drawing from and drawn into fast last generation of mutant blues with no time to waste, between unmistakable Bowie cuts in the flung tropes, clues, private references ripped and read: gotta be masked because he can't give it all away, never could, foreseeing death and being told don't change that sort of thing, the music and band make his way, in extension: something more creative than beating your head against and even through a wall, but not totally unrelated (that drummer, yow)
A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service:
So much to take in on A Tribe's last-minute return and farewell, but initially I'm struck by the subtle shifts behind robust guest Ja Rule's well-grounded assertions; also, here and elsewhere certain changes in headphone air pressure when not those of rhythms and/or beats, of genre, subgenre, stylistic elements in reliable recombination, shifting just a bit---are we on an escalator here? An elevator, or did I just now open my eyes to what's been here all along? (That guitar lick there, these words right here, passing by). Not that they're ever coy or hedging bets, but life is like that, and also they want us to keep listening, I gather.
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker:
"As He died to make men holy, let us die to make things cheap." Although El Cohen already mentioned "the ruins of the altar in the mall", among the stuff he's urging us to "Steer Your Way" past---though how can we, since it's all in The Great Chain of Being (And Nothingness), which he can't help mentioning, can't forget, even though forgetting and all other loss is part of it too, "thought by thought" indeed---still, I find this an inspirational or at least perky reminder that cheap thrills and other bargains worth hunting (as he demonstrated),""things" including affordable objets d'art, like this tenacious tunnel of love, You Want It Darker, on the free version of streaming services near you---are valuable, necessary: consolation prizes, and our daily bread, always in danger of being overlooked and overcooked by the distracting Big Fence of "Cosmic Pain" he also wants us and him to steer our way past, in found, hoarded
moments. Maybe I should call this magpie eye for the cheap (as well as the classy) his saving grace, just because that's the kind of spiritual-y cliche he might pocket for future use.
Not that it always saves his arty ambitions and manners even charm-wise: the clunker here is "If I Didn't Have Your Love", the formally doom-y do-me greeting card verse of which is dead boring, and feels oddly forced---why and how does he feel obliged to deliver this to whomever? Is he making the last rounds, settling his affairs, "making his peace"? That's not what this album is about; he's still in the midst of life, and yes he's letting us/somebody know this is as far as he's gotten, and probably will get, but nothing is resolved, no "closure." What would failure to mail the notice matter, at this point? What will happen if he doesn't? Did he lose some kind of bet? In context, it's almost intriguing. Almost, but not quite. Well, okay, kind of, at least to scribble about, while no longer listening to this thing.
So even his failures can succeed in soliciting glints of attention, precious moments of our consideration, once we get hooked. (As I have, though this is the first Cohen album I've heard in its entirety, several times, since the flatline-monotone Songs From A Room, in 1969.) Because that's the kind of cunning, compulsive underdog he is---present tense, safe in the afterlife of recorded song for 50 years, and paperback print for several years before that----always with another slightly soiled dove and/or ace in the hole, leaving no stone unturned, or unrolled: still hungry after all these years, and opening this set with a round of cosmic one-upmanship, successful as any dog can be, yay, and he follows that by remaining competitive even/especially in the weary, magnanimous-in-victory"Treaty", where he confides/confesses/advises that only one opponent can be real, so "You're the ghost", so sorry. Which might seem sorrowfully ironic now, but again, who is on all those records? Probably not you, unless you're his muse/deity/frenemy/lovah, but you always knew you were not the only one, and if you made it this far, you're probably with him now, calling for another round.
This is the guy, after all, who first showed up on vinyl with "Suzanne", via Judy Collins' artisanal pipes, moving Greil Marcus to compare the results, as written and crooned, to arty softcore porn, sweet gooey atmospheric religious-erotic imagery, "And the Sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the Harbour", and all. Robert Christgau long ago mentioned "studied vulgarity" as another arrow in Cohen's quivering quiver, and El always did have a good nose for cheap perfume too, so where once we got "rages of fragrance", on You Want It Darker he finds/fine-tunes just a twilight whiff of "crazy fragrance" even "in the temple", where "Mah 'don't' was sayin' 'Ah do.' " This pronunciation of this pronouncement, along with sneaky piano serve as reminders that devil-or-angel dichotomies, maybe especially re the female of the species, were all the basically toxic valentine candy rage in the 50s of Cohen's youth, and yes, your "heart deserves a medal", also a cookie, for rejecting such trashy icons, you dirty old man (still summoning your don't-you-dare-call-them-angels -now, male and female, unobtrusively singing on the head of a pin, and perfectly on cue). Oh yeah, and he beyond-shamelessly plays the beyond-old man card, the hints-that-he's-more-mortal-than-ever card, even, in "Leave The Table", which also plays the most seductive vocal here---seductive or seduced; what is she doing to him, or what is he thinking about----better to leave it to the canny-as-uncanny, perfectly poised sound, deploying hairline strings, suggestive bass lines, times Halloween mask-echo---and the writing and the conception and other still sufficiently moving parts behind and inside it all (O Baby).
PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project :
It took a while---had to make myself listen a second time----but now I'm really enjoying most of her tragical reality tour (though not tracks 1 & 2). She sounds startling and startled, by the details and sheer weirdness of these times, as her voice veers and finds purchase in the dark heavy shiny spiky curves, suggesting a garden, sometimes of wrought iron ---initially thought it was all from DC, so this would be the long fences of Georgetown----or big black vehicles, limos or four-wheel-drives, cruising and bouncing through the various neighborhoods and becoming the architecture, monuments and housing developments and parks and gutted areas and demolition equipment---for renovation, yay: involved framework, as the people surface and flash by, fade away once, again, in her snapshots and notes.
I could go to her site and get all the words, but think they're better this way, for the most part Calling it the Vietnam Memorial, leaving "Veterans" out, somehow ricocheting off "Lincoln Memorial", making me think more of the associated bloodbaths: stark profusion, more sheer weirdness, also rebounding off her chirpy vocal, leading a children's expedition around the grounds.
Quite an emotional range here, but I also like the one bit of straight-up lightning up, when she's tromping along, carrying on about all those groovy traditional "Medicinals", 'til she comes across "an old lady in a wheelchair, with her Redskins cap on backwards", who is taking some kind of de facto medicine from its newspaper wrapping, as I hear it: the folk process continues, y'all. And she follows it, for her own purposes.
Which reminds me, re old and contemporary musical elements (including Balkan beats for horn grooves, gospel harmonies and free jazz sax cries)mashed into personalized, stylized expression without hogging the foreground, that she now seems like a colleague of Tuneyards.
And the personal expression of the artist/tour guide also invites personal responses of listeners; the show hasn't stopped yet, not for some of us, anyway. As my I Love Music message board colleague Lee (quoted here by permission) posted on the ILM thread re Hope Six :
"Whenever I've had to drive through DC in the last half year, I get this uncontrollable urge to sing "The Community of Hope" but with new lyrics about whatever random shit I happen to see out the window...."
The Mekons, Existentialism :
Finally got to the album, though still not the video or book---but it def stands on its own while invoking not to mention flaunting associations with other media, starting with that in-your-face-duh title, Existentialism, ooo-wee. Hear now the brainy Brechtians of Bloodshot ((also shouting out "Adventures In The Skin Trade!" for Welsh homeboy Dylan Thomas and their own claimed exploits, of course): it's rough and slick, theatrical as hell, a series of scenes linked by grabby nuanced mood and attitude and tone, mainly of voice, since this is mainly voices + or x rhythm section with other sounds coming in on cue, but zinging by: dabs of dub, also kind of a skiffle feel at times, and other old rock tie-ins, from the Caribbean influence, and punk---this is all stuff the Clash liked too, and the male voices sometimes make me think of Strummer (and this set reminds me that the Mekons contributed to The Sandinista! Project. wherein many different artists took different kinds of adept re-shots at the Clash's sometimes chops-challenged(outward-boun yet self-and-inner-circle-anchored/limited) three-LP adventure).
So the Mekons are still doing what they can to make existence worth continuing, and/or killing time, providing sing-along entertainment on the train, in the lobby, maybe the hipster rest home (ending with, "You seen it all, but ya don't---remember!" But then ya do, then ya don't, and a mention of history at the very end). Getting under my skin, among my nerves at times, but in a gooood way, and also "Bucket" seems like it might be a Masked Marauders-type parody: bootleg of that (mythical) time that Marianne Faithfull met the Mekons. Not to be outdone culturally, "Nude Hamlet" has smoked The Complete Basement Tapes Raw and the Clash continuation, before being killed in youth (short-ass track for such a killer, damn) by ("These are our orders, sir!") the hearty, dusty, galloping, and otherwise action-packed pageantry of "1848 Now!" Meanwhile, "Simone On The Beach" is "riding naked through the town to expiate the burden of her guilt"--- tell it, Sister! Yes, it is a well-preserved wood of justified and ancient exclamation marks, wherein Sally Timms and Susie Honeyman and Lu Edmonds ride through the lines of male Mekons' hurlyburly often enough, thank goodness.
Or, as I Tweeted: Don Allred @0wlred Mekons, Existentialism: rough & slick, Brechtians of Bloodshot demonstrate punky pop flair x grubby light=getting through tho' not off lists
Wussy, Forever Sounds:
Wussy's Forever Sounds earns its name--which, if they didn't consciously make from Forever Changes and Pet Sounds, might as well have, cos it's that kind of vibrant sonic monument, made of Grade-A Collector's Guide Catnip---but so far can't hear why xgau says it's more the sound than the songs; to me it's the sound of songs, of detail curving in through the wide windscreen strata of perspective (doesn't seem all that overdubby though, even on headphones: think they could get a lot of the same effect on stage, or recording live in the studio).
Title also related to the mythopoeic power and ambition and hope and compulsive urge in their surge, x fatalistic or morbid themes: they're off to see thee wizard, even though we're all gonna die sometyme--so: folk music, and big loud catchiness too; sounds like they still like the Who as well as Richard and Linda Thompson, and this is what we get after Attica! and Public Domain Vol. 1(harmonium and piano from the splintered parlor show up on intro of last track, even).
This pulled me in right away, which isn't absolutely necessary but always favored.
Lisa Carver and Hungry Chuck Cleaver: owner-operators of Wussy combo, Mom 'n' Pop ov Dragons (Midwestern loose meat sandwich ones, of course).
The Coathangers, Nosebleed Weekend: took me awhile to get closer to the carefully distanced yet v. personal verses---pointedly addressed to whom it may concern, but let their present and former associates sort it out ("Does she me mean me? Or my roommate? Oh shit, g-r-r")---but always got the surging choruses: ceremonial, almost ornate, but totally functional mesh of bass and drums, with cogent comments by guitar, and even chanted semi[harmonies on the title track, though more often a thin, incisive, sly "girly" solo voice, with ruder, deeper one more occasionally. Not exactly hooks, but fascination in details and overall (turn it up, listen on headphones, give it several chances; took four times to sell me on every bit of almost all; could still live without "Dumb Baby" I guess).
Seems like they've learned from the early Doors, maybe Pistols' "Submission": kind of a bluesy quality in the concision, prob learned much more from Sleater-Kinney, but not operatic; they've already developed their own variant. I wanna see their show.
Seratones, Get Gone: commentator on NPR mentions "blues" (well-assimilated), "classic rock," and even "punk": the latter two most relevant re Pretenders' s/t debut, which got a surprising amount of radio play, even on Top Forty or whatever that was called in the late 70s, here in the boondocks. So: smooth-then-sharp-edged vocals (minus Hynde's trademark touches of vibrato or melisma or whatever it is), even a little lush occasionally, but not wallowing in it, just self-confident (commentator says she started out in gospel, which I wouldn't have guessed, except for the bit about learning to sing without "amplification," which relates to the self-confidence). Fast strumming, lightning fills and solos, also making me think of Pretenders; they might well like Mother's Finest, Stone The Crows.
Haven't got all the lyrics yet, but so far, don't *think* this will inspire essays about the dark drama lurking in certain lines---so not that much like Pretenders, re "Tattoo Love Boys" etc. She/they might have to change it up that way or some way (maybe something bold, re Alabama Shakes' second full-length), cos this seems fairly definitive in its approach.
Starting on the Trad Gras Stenar box: so far so good, re dark x light themes distilled from Velvets and Dead; got the soulful vibe, with solos a bit cautious, but doggedly preceding uphill at the moment; keep at it, guys. Info here: http://www.anthologyrecordings.com/albums/tradgras/They do have some variety so far: the opening VU/pre-Plastic People-type subway mood groove, the "Estimated Prophet" uphill venture, the hearty juice harp hop-around, now the proto-metal-boogie---but I won't live-blog the whole thing, I promise (uh-oh, kind of a "Gloria" riff-based fade-in, nice). But will they do anything really distinctive in these 4'46''? Got the spirit, anyway.
After many diversions, I'm on the home stretch of the Trad, Gras box; it's pretty strong now. I dig that they get into shaping one note, with enough sustain, twangbar etc. for carving, without worshipping thee thing. When they do that and keep a groove, can be fairly involving. But as an overview, as I said on their own ILM thread:
Been making my way through the box for several days, off and on--so far (heard about 3/4), about an hour's worth really grabbed me, but the rest either starts well, then loses the momentum, or fades out too soon, or seems utterly predictable, in that jam band way, from any era--or just seems inconsequential, at least to non-specialist ears (that nevertheless have listened to lots and lots of jams, in my case). But I'll keep listening; it ain't painful (I've heard much, much worse). Going to be more like 90 minutes than an hour of personal keepers after all, but out of 4 hrs.-plus---so still rec more to confirmed fans than newcomers, unless there's a sampler coming up, or reissues of individual albums.
The Muffs: Bigger and Blonder: Kim Shattuck's rough, dry, take-it-or-leave it vocal comes off flat here, more often monotonous than signifying tuff cookie pre-emption, though yeah yeah,she don't want you to think she's vulnerable and girly and trusting, just because she's venting; we get it already. Also, bringing it down to a trio---this trio, that is--- keeps the backing from adding a little variety. Nevertheless, "Red-Eyed Troll," "Ethyl My Love" (a good demo added to the reissued debut reissue) and a few other finished tracks really work. But as with the reissued debut, the breathing room demos (9 here, incl just a couple versions of the original album's cuts) really make the whole thing worth having, or hearing, anyway. Things get just a bit more flexible---and some of the initial release's tracks should be rescued by somebody with a few more musical shrewds.
Still, I'd start with the debut; here's what I said about it last year:
The Muffs' s/t debut reissue w bonus tracks: "pop-punk," some call them, and I've seen comparisons to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, but Kim Shattuck sometimes relies more on on vocal scrunchies than hooks---still, good some good chord changes and textures, with a few guest sounds, like theramin and organ: part of the variety of arrangements *eventually* shaking up the 16 tracks of the original album.
But the 10 bonus tracks, mostly four-track demos, provide a lot more breathing room for vocals and guitar, like maybe the studio sessions were more labored, sometimes (not so many direct comparisons; several of these songs didn't show up on the finished product). It might help that most of the demos have only a tambourine behind the slightly echoing, gnarly jangle (but one of the best, "Ethyl My Love," has what sounds like a full trap set). I'd say that, if you like the original album or the band as you knew them, or, even if you haven't heard them, but are into what turns out to be indeed pop-punk, with even a bit of power-pop---but more get-lost gusto than moony romance---then the demos make this worth checking out, for sure.
THE RAVE-UPS, TOWN + COUNTRY: def has that blue jean jacket mid-80s ambitious, mostly friendly but sometimes morose and often wound-tight been-around boondocks sound---also rec to fans of Jason and the Scorchers (for the guitars more than the front man), Drivin' & Cryin', Chuck Prophet's solo ventures, Cracker, the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies, Wussy---but, while most of the original album had to grow on me (and still ain't all the way here). most of the demos are immediate grabbers (that/those guitars never let me down, when they get a reasonable amount of room, which they usually do).
"Positively Lost Me" is the most inspired song, leading off the original album (a bit downhill afterwards): like one of Wussy's bent muffler folk-slammers of the present century, each verse adds more stuff you lost when you lost me, empty bottles and a broken tree, but even better stuff too, all the way up the hill and out the window. Favoring the bonus tracks, but prev. released LP tracks still growing on me though. Especially "Better World," where he's skeptical of progressive and Greatest Generation claims, as a given, not getting shrill about it, but his parents dead and brother not doing so well, but he's marching on but also to a sinuous, even backwards-seeming but as written, no retro gimmicks, riff. So he's got the Beatles legacy too, carrying on amidst (offstage but prevalent) 80s musical & other glitz.
Also like "Class Tramp," which starts off like it's gonna be a Kinks mockery of Mr. Middle Class Salary Whore, but then turns the mirror: look out now, he might be your Dad. Okay though, be a hip classy Class Tramp too. Very cheerful, like celebration "In My Gremlin" (can't afford no "Mercury" of course, though trying to hotwire the same tune). Some are grim, but need those too.
Kate & Anna McGarrigle's Pronto Monto starts strangely, with olde folkie warbles over tasty yachty licks. And these top-paid studio pros should never be asked to play a straight-fwd guitar shuffle. But in terms of at least gettin' concise-if-not-always-down sounds, and thematically appropriate melodic-harmonic explorations, Kate McG. is the Lennon figure here, with Anna the moonier McCartney. Then again, her "Park Fixture" is dynamically *about* an obsesso romantic, as written and performed from that POV. (And she tries to get more concise, "I love my kid" etc.) So far seems like about half of this album works pretty well after all. Do like Kate's solo voice more than the duets.
Pylon, Live: haven't heard a lot of their shows, but clear sound, music's cool & rough, not too dry, best for dancing, incl. vs. and with "Gravity": "Yew can't. Yew can't." Yes I can, Vanessa! Bumping into counts. dizzy among "Reptiles," drawn into wet tunnel of pedals & bass On headphones, now think they're all fingers, fingers, fingers...they always reminded me of the barnstorming gypsies of aviation in Faulkner's novel, total pros in the face of weird weather over Depression-era New Orleans and Faulkner's prose, with eventually revealed inner turmoil providing countervailing winds behind a seemingly stoical, unified front (not forever of course). In an interview promoting this album, they say the name actually came from the safety cone, because they were into Industrial Art. And this is often a no-nonsense march through low-budget clubland, resonant as plumbing and metal beams. More exciting than that at times, as my notes above indicate, but they never become airborne; for that check all their studio albums.
John Renbourn & Wizz Jones, Joint Control: somehow not yet into the opening and closing instrumentals---though appreciating the latter's it-ain't-over-yet diligent picking-as-digging as an end---but the one in the middle, Jones's "Balham Moon," is pretty cool, and the singing x playing of the others also bring several cycling shades of blues-as-a-feeling vs. purism, even in the Renaissance Faire come-on, "Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning," JR's notes got thee pangs. Mostly, though, it's closer to the relatively expected sort of UK and American rare birds, "Buckets of Rain" aside. Distinct approaches, but very cohesive (think Renbourn plays most of the solos).
Finally occurs to me that my foggy notion of what Big Star might sound like, before I heard 'em (not knowing that Chilton's voice was no longer Box Top), is sort of like Ian Curtis, already reaching past Brit-tries-to-sound-US-Southern, to something shared in the slightly halting I-can't go-on-I'll-go-on reporting.
Big Star, Complete Third:
Vol. 1 Demos to Sessions to Roughs
73 minutes, what I've heard so far:
Careful sedation of the post-midnight mind keeps several of these now-familiar songs affectless, via smoove solo voice & guitar (nerf 12-string, quite a feat). Opener "Like St. Joan (Kanga Roo)" does kinda work (sonically) as a junkie children's song, not too long after *Vice* President Spiro "Nolo Contendere" Agnew had described "Puff The Magic Dragon" that way, and "Lovely Day" glides like it should, o yes, and "Downs" is a crisper, Lou Reed-Dorothy Parker campfire sing-along. But then "Femme Fatale" is limpid, ditto the following "Thank You Friends"-"Holocaust-"Jesus Christ" sequence, although they do hitch up some kind of diverted-milk-train-to-score-settling-day subtext (I think, although they're also nodding me
out). Bland vocals especially useless on "Holocaust", unless you want to think about it more than listen, in which case the impression of "You're not even worth pissing on/singing about with any degree of effort or giving a shit" rules conceptually, I guess--and the piano is startling, both for finally showing up, and more for eerie gravity, suggesting the surfacing of a previously unknown John Lennon Plastic Ono Band outtake.
However, that subset is followed by a much more appealing one, listening-wise: the tender (!), watchful, very nocturnal "Blue Moon"-"Nighttime"-"Take Care", then the pre-Cobain codeine classic "Big Black Car" moves as slowly as possible, but certainly does move, and is immediately followed by "Don't Worry Baby": Jesus wants him for a sunbeam and got him, got several multitracked Alexes, apparently, just chirping away in pre-dawn harmonies, and even before that, we finally get *two* guitars, showing me stuff about the chords etc. I hadn't noticed before.
And then! We get two tracks, back to back credited to Alex & Lesa, which really should be the other way around, because she's the one who keeps them going, or is really ready to, while he keeps fumbling around---"Aw, now I've got my guitar in the wrong position"--sabotage? Notes claim the album and "album" have a lot to do with their relationship: "Scott and Zelda" even get invoked---welp so far it def seems about keeping some kind of chaos on the minded and mined sidelines, so guess it might be some kinda love too---coming from "Situations arise/Be-cause of the weathah", but even more obliquely so far; maybe they saw/nodded in and out of Renaldo and Clara? Edited sketches and happenstance, so maybe---
Anyway, Alex & Lesa try their hands at Beatles' "I'm So Tired", a bit haphazard but/and very enjoyable, also contextually perfect---and even better, "That's All It Took", which I thought was gonna be, "Just one look, that's all it took", the pop-rock-r&b song, but it's a country song, *not* campy: we get an on-it duet x ace guitar solo---adding up to a perhaps unique artifact in the AC pantheon (see Edd upthread* on Chilton trashing a good Gary Stewart song).
That's as far as I've gotten, will check back in after making more time (though not seeing many unfamiliar Big Star titles ahead, on the rest of this disc or the other two.)
*referring to this Big Star thread on ILM, gloriously revived in 2016 by the approach of Complete Third
Vol. 1---Demos to Sessions to Roughs:
"Pre-Downs": somewhut asymmetrical grove-to-jam thang finding its way sometimes, with prob Dickinson shouting Beefhearty-Dr. John jive through the control booth mic, occasionally following it with his steel drum, Chilton with his indolent aristo laugh--some potential here, but more on "Baby Strange", which i wish they'd nailed for the finished album or whatever it was. A third version of "Big Black Car", this one marked (Demo # 1/band), and yeah they're finding their way, but it's distracting, especially after the intimate confidence of the lights-out acoustic demos: he knew just what he was doing, where he was going and not-going--"Heroin" and several Townes Van Zandt tracks come to mind, but no nudge-nudge with the important influences etc---here, the confidence eventually becomes arrogant, then too indolent for that, "Sun-ny day, ", etc etc.---which would be more involving if the musos, incl. him, weren't poking this way and that---but then! his guitar becomes astringent, probing, in a way I can't defend associating with the Byrds--but maybe I'm right, because damn if it doesn't go over this little arc, surrounded by Byrds-y, starry
and I guess Star-ry notes, twinkling as the car cruises on (Jody's so patient, he knows it'll work all work out eventually).
"KIzza Me", already in progress, is the first band track completely in focus, and "Til The End of the Day" even gets its Alex guide vocal kept for the final version, but these, and especially "Thank You Friends", really are rough, dry, kinda dull-edged mixes. "O Dana" and "Dream Lover" mostly absorb the roughness into their own juices and keep going, winning me over pretty quickly. End of Vol.1.
(I referred to that the xpost acoustic solo demo of "Big Black Car" as "pre-Cobain codeine classic", and the more I listen to all this stuff again, the more I think of how it fits between Lou and Kurt---did either of them ever mention Alex or Big Star? KC has been quoted to the effect that his original idea for Nirvana drew on the Beatles and Black Sabbath, so they've got the former in common at least.)
Complete Third Vol. 2: Roughs To Mixes starts with a Dickinson rough mix of "BBC": Alex's guide vocal has the self-awareness, confidence and indolence, now without lolling around in complacency, and/or no sonic distractions; the band knows the song now. Guitar sounds a little warped sometimes, but fittingly. Fry's mix immediately rivets attention on the vocal, which sounds like he's singing through a--pipe? Exhaust pipe? Opium pipe? Meerschaum? A tight focus, maybe eventually too tight, despite the more vivid bandscape: it might become more about the sound he's getting, less about the song itself (thinking most about that vocal effect); JD's mix is more transparent--would like to hear something that uses elements of both.
More of a sustained success (though still a little distancing), Fry's mix of "Take Care" adds a cool, thin, slightly dirty echo-mirror to Chilton's voice (good staircase-type ambience on the word "stairs", and was already thinking he might be singing to himself. Also, it enhances the (eventually slightly over-underlined) suggestion of Lennon, as does and did the piano, which was mentioned as most effective aspect of the solo demo of this song. Again, vivid, resonant band sound, though *kinda* prefer how on Dickinson's mix I first became aware of Bill Cunningham's upright bass when it starting grinding away at the piano, during a little interlude between verses---in Fry's version, bass is even the first thing we hear (although yeah it sounds real good all through, and never showboating).
Also good Dickinson rough of "Whole Lotta Shaking" and a couple takes of "Take Care."
Oh yeah, and Fry's mix of "Nighttime" does improve on or is even better than Dickinson's, at least in terms of getting the "grain of the voice", which in Chilton's case can incl. fleeting nuance, flickerin' thought, even though in the notes he claims to have written most or all of these songs w no great conscious intent---in performance, he starts to get it/let it slip, little bit.
Dammit! If we could just have Dickinson doing the treble, Fry doing midrange and bass---how about it, Mr. Albums That Never Were? D..'s "Thank You Friends" has a whole lotta shakin' shiny wires, excitable female backing voices, some kind of curvature too, all going with Ray Davies Chilton mash-up of arch excitement x poise, mentions of "Kayyyy-os", like he's serenading somebody, and how if not for his friends, the winds would take him get him high, o heavens. Fry's mix keeps the dry wit, but brings it down to earth; nice bass of course as always.
But the tight focus on the voice really works on "Nature Boy", drying out the so-what room sound of Dickinson's version, making Chilton sound more committed, masterful, even, though he still isn't Nat King Cole*, of course--ditto (inspired BS LP cover photographer) William Eggleston when it comes to his (nevertheless apt) piano---but the latter sounds better here too, even though it was already good enough to practically steal the show from Alex-Boy on the JD version.
*Cole sounded awed and awesome, but it ain't that much of a song otherwise, incl. here. Still, Fry's presentation is surprisingly damn good.
In both mixes, AC comes to a point where he obviously wants to laff, which doesn't help (if you're going to record and issue the thing at all, do it straighter than that). But he gets past it.
Just another l'il flicker of impulse and then control, so thank you again, friend.
Some of these *may* be different takes as well as diff. mixes, but they're certainly close enough for comparison. Like diff piano at one point on the Fry version? Anyway it's a keeper.
(mention of Bread upthread totally apropos: the more I listen to these sessions, the more flashbacks to Top 40 narcotic satori, discreetly stoned at and by the Pizza Hut jukebox: "Nuthin can, hhhhhuuut me...")
the rest of Vol. 2: Roughs to Mixes:
So (spoiler), several subsequent Fry rough mixes *do* 'llow Dickinsonian treble hijinks atop the lucid layers of rhythm, which are also getting bolder. The notes have AC auditioning Dickinson with the brand new "Kanga Roo", and finding the results very educational. So at some point, he may have been more assertive with Fry about taking the music further(and/or more credibly articulate, having understood what JD showed him---along with what Fry had already taught the Big Star crew about running the board).
However it happened, Fry's rough "Lovely Day" swirls and swoops all around the crisp rhythm farmers, and his "Kanga Roo" is jangle-dub, with orchestral tendrils drifting by, teasing the chaos, Lady Alex Davies trilling and trailing fingahs in the thin paisley currents, thee whole pre-channeling Mad Professor's re-channeling of Massive Attack, just a little, la-la-la.
Fry's rough of "Downs" is a pulsating puzzle palace, "After Hours", sung by Lesa, sports pre-ska skiffle-ish, kinda Mungo Jerry casual catchiness, with a bit of clarinet sometimes. She sounds less confident singing lead (Alex in the background) on an alt of "At The End of The Day", which detracts from the momentum a little (though might not notice if there weren't an Alex-led take nearby).
Alex glides through "Femme Fatale" with Lesa repeating the chorus in French---notes have him erasing some of her tracks "in a fit of pique", but Dickinson scolds him into keeping this one (at the end, after nice warm wry delivery, he suddenly gets peevish and atypically Southern, like "Aw, whah on Earth should we do another tayke). This and "Blue Moon", like xpost "Nature Boy", show that Fry can do ballads too, without sticking in all that rocknroll stuff.
For Disc 3, we should keep in mind that Dickinson quote in the booklet
"The Rykodisc people asked me if I wanted to sequence
it," he recalled, "but when I went back to my production notes, I realized
that my ideas and Alex's were so different that it wouldn't be fair. There is
Finally got to xpost Vol.3: Final Masters just now, during the caffeinated workday, and found its phosphorescent after midnight vibe not at all dependent on mere circadian rhythms or other reality/irreality crutches. Beale Street Green would indeed have been a good title (picturing green odd-cornering three-storeys,also around bus shelters, if any, in smoggy parklets and medians and alleys and pipes). Latest remastering makes this just a bit more vivid, without getting into Guiliani York Time Square shine jobs.
I haven't counted up the outtakes I like or the ones I suspect may grow on me, but so far seems like this might be one of those rare boxes I wouldn't want to be without, almost in its entirety: the collector bait now takes its place alongside the canonical edition, or versions, in this case.
Since the booklet emphasizes the lack of any definitive intended sequence or even contents, we can make our own, and mine goes something like this:
All of Vol 3 as listed above, except I'd substitute the aforementioned "pulsating puzzle palace" Fry alt mix of "Downs", or maybe the crispy solo version.
If I knew how to pull Fry's echo around the vocal into the Vol. 3 version of "Holocaust", I'd do that, but otherwise, I'd let this 'un alone.
No "Femme Fatale": AC is oh-so-gracefully superfluous, kinda preeny too, Lesa's long-distance French chorus is just anxious (secret insecurity of la "Femme Fatale"? Conceptually acceptable, but currently vaguely annoying in actual listening). Steve Cropper is out in the hall, notes tell us: uncomfortable with the setting and/or material, and just kinda poking at it.
Prob no "Nature Boy" for me, though I do like Fry's mix, and Eggleston's piano.
I'll have to compare Vol. 3 version of "Lovely Day" to Fry's Vol. 2 rough, but they're both mighty fine.
Maybe reprise "Big Black Car" via one of those mesmerizing acoustic solo demos, though mainly cos I love the effect of going from that to
"Don't Worry Baby", multiple Alexes x unaccompanied guitar
"I'm In Love With A Girl", solo
Alex & Lesa:
"I'm So Tired"
"That's All It Took"
Lesa & musos:
maybe the version of "Til The End of The Day" with her singing lead, but her lack of confidence does seem to drag the momentum a little.
maybe the Fry alt of "Kanga Roo" I mentioned as incl. "jangle dub."
Maybe the Big Star 2.0 live in Columbus MO version of "Baby Strange", because the attempt here did seem like it could have fit.
Ditto that show's version of "I Am The Cosmos", re grandiosity vs. reality, but not cringing away.
(Others from Complete Columbus? Must check.)
Judy Henske & Jerry Yester, Farewell Aldebaran: Foreboding yet outward bound, folk, olde verse, and mid-20th Century romantic and Romantic (idealistic, fatalistic) imagery X concerns ("Age of Anxiety" Auden called it; Bomb Culture Jeff Nuttall titled his life studies of UK para-Beat etc. activities/mindset), further times expert chamber folk-pop-rock focus---crisp, fluid, but not "snarling rockers" or particularly "guitar-driven" in the rawk sense----otherwise, just as advertised above.
Although Henske maybe has even more vocal range, and male vocals (mostly Yester's deceptively gentle, Nesmith-ish clarity, and Yanovsky's unpretentious support) are occasionally featured, otherwise the vibe & polish remind me of Michele's studio-aces-in-space Saturn Rings, another 1969 release, and produced by Curt Boettcher, with hip guests, though Henske and Yester did almost all of this themselves*. Some of it also suggests the more expansive tracks on John Cale's pastoral-post-country gothic Vintage Violence, released in 1970. And it sails by the wilder shores of early English folk-rock too.
Title track is esp. rec to fans of Laser Pace, what with synthesizer (incl morphing of vox) by Paul Beaver (I gotta check Beaver & Krause, right? Bernie Krause added electronic mirrorshadings to one of my favorites, Link Wray's mid-70s The Link Wray Rumble).
Fun instrumental bonus versions, incl. "Moods For Cellos," very different from scary swooping LP use: this seems like a wordless Beach Boys lullaby.
Lots to wrap brain around, but so far only the opener, "Snowblind," seems a bit awkward, as written. It's more about the overall effect, anyway (attitude w musical smarts also re with United States of America's '68 s/t).
PS: The instrumental bonus tracks on Farewell Aldebaran stand on their own, sometimes *very* different in vibe etc. than the corresponding tracks w vocals and other elements using these in various ways.
Still got some doubts about some of the opening tracks on Farewell Aldebaran: the mix seems too crowded at tymes, though 60s enthusiasm would do that, and better than too sparse; also the aforementioned mid-20th Century romantic and Romantic (idealistic, fatalistic) imagery X concerns can seem dated and predictable (like a lot of dystopian science fiction, then and now), but the musical enthusiasm and freshness does take it further than a lot of other artistes managed. "Three Ravens" pulls and pushes like that, though thought it was gonna be a draw, for a while. Don't know why I referred to this finished track as "scary and swooping," but it sure is different enough from the bonus instrumental source, "Moods For Cellos."
I may have confused "Three Ravens" for "Raider," which is my fave now, with the calling voices I mentioned, like an Appalachia-to-British Isles ballad ritual the Velvet Underground might've dug: " 'Raider,' she cries, 'you got tearrrs in your eyes, oh you're dreeam-ing mmmeee." Excellent bass by Jerry Scheff, bowed banjo and hammered dulcimer by David Lindley and Solomon Feldthouse of Kaleidoscope.
*I shouldn't have said that "Henske and Yester do almost all of it themselves." Yes, Yester does a lot, but, as well as Zal and some Kaleidoscopians, jazz bassist Ray Brown shows up, ditto Tim Buckley's sometime co-writer, Larry Beckett, and the splendid session/touring drummer Fast Eddie Ho (who played on Buckley's Yester-produced Goodbye and Hello, also with the Mamas and Papas and many others).
Anybody heard Rosebud, Henske & Yester's later group? Still wondering about Modern Folk Quartet too.
The Heaters, American Dream: The Portastudio Recordings
Re the press sheet:The band's explosive stage technique, visual smarts, great pop songwriting, and Mercy Bermudez's soaring lead vocals — the sound of Phil Spector mixed with the energy of punk seems plausible after to listening to these vintage demos (occasionally clunky as played, though never ever as sung). Although the 60s meets 80s thing, such a thing in some of the 80s, mostly obviously comes across in the first and last tracks: "I'll Meet You There" is stately, swaggering sincerity, jangle-to-twangle and even maybe a Moog briefly improving on 50s-60s-to-80s sax: Bangles-worthy, if not Bangles-challenging (nah, they could handle it now).
"American Dream" seems like a de facto parody and celebration of 60s-80s, high-stepping like "Uptown Girl" (though here's where some of the clunking comes in), serenading someone whose smile is like a new car, "Your hair is like an airport," and even changing faster than "a color TV"---hmmm changing colors, a passing ziiing---little bit of everyday science fiction-reader's snidery there, like xpost United States of America's 60s s/t. By the same token, it's a bit we-get-it-already as written, though proud and fine singing, even ditto final instrumental flourish.
Other lyrics are mostly played 60s-girl-group straight---which also means healthy emotional range, which can incl. flamboyant as hell, from the daze when Ellie Greenwich and her mostly female competitors (yeah, sorry Phil) were concocting AM radio chartbusting showstoppers, not waiting for Broadway to finally cough up Grease and Hairspray.
Oh, one more 60s-80s lyrics exception (and I guess this is the one where "punk" is the closest to applying, re if and where it might get radio/video play): "Sandy" starts like maybe a cover of the Boss's song, but it's another original serenade, girl-to-girl, though also like the cute-friendly-girls-dressed-as-boys-dressed-as/for-girls British Invasion-power-pop publicity pic, she's playing a guy maybe, like in Shakespeare's time, OK---but then suddenly she's explaining, in thee midst of this midsummer night's cold call, "He's in love with his own feelings/He doesn't really see-ee you, he just wants to bee-ee you," and then the full-group chorus really spells it out: "That boy wants to be a girl/That boy wants to be a girl!" Punchline adds another surprise, but still.
60s-wise,rec to fans of the Shangri-Las etc., their influence on early Laura Nyro, also other very belatedly resurrected girl groups like Honey Ltd., who had their own cosmic harmonic thing, incl. in more country-pop reincarnation as Eve.
60s=>80s-wise, yeah the Bangles a bit there at the very end (right before that, they do pick up the pace and the guitars a bit more than previously). Otherwise, Cyndi Lauper's early 80s (early 60s-minded) group Blue Angel maybe, though think Lauper did all the belting, maybe--- Annie Golden & Shirts? Don't think I ever heard them, but back in the day said to have a bit of early 60s/Broadway influence (and before that, same was true of early Blondie, esp. with Shadow Morton, who did the same for Noo Yawk Dolls and actual early-mid 60s groops). Other examples worth hearing--??
"Right before that" (re "they do pick up the pace and guitars a bit more than previously"): tracks 8 and 9.
Sun Ra's Singles---The Definitive 45s Collection 1952-1991: 63 tracks, a lot more than the one on the Evidence label (this is on Strut), and from the original masters, while at least some of the Evidence collection was from the low-budget 7" vinyls. Sounds great, and while the guest singers (who gradually disappear, as Ra and the Arkestra speak and sing up, occasionally but very assertively), are uneven, they all shine sometimes. My favorite is Yochanan, AKA The Space Age Vocalist and The Man From The Sun, who belts 50s novelty free r&b numbers "M uck M uck (Matt Matt)" and "Skillet Mama" and also delivers the word from further afield. Hattye Randolph presents Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra with a seemingly unlikely gift, "Back In Your Own Backyard", and they return the favor, simultaneously: this little blue mirrorverse is singing after supper, totally at home, knowing we travel even sitting back, and everywhere is outer space, and vice-versa, like/in music maybe especially.
the two opening songpoems by Mr. Ra are instant grabbers."I Am An Instrument" is very sweet and humble, waiting for the player; "I Am Strange" begins in the midst of a man's amazed and somewhat apprehensive self-awareness, his vibrations, then moves through the window to the wind's imploring, perhaps lamenting regard of the man, whom the wind cannot approach too closely; can only wait and call for the man's contact, must submit to this desire, for windy powers are too great for initiative (this seems like the genesis of My Brother The Wind).
The rock 'n' roll/r&b appeal of some vocals and more instrumentals, including the original Sun Ra single versions of "Rocket No. 9" and "Love On Outer Space", both of which are covered on NRBQ's 2016 monster box High Noon (see this listed as Related Reissue, with comments, in Life's "Other" Side, post re country, countryoid etc releases, posted sep) and reminding us that Q-pilot Terry Adams long ago declared that his band was the child of Sun Ra and Sun Records) can also come across kinda Latinoid, in a way that could attract the soul jazz club-goers, Chicago electric bluesters---all of it fitting into what some older customers of my Deep South music store in the 90s meant by "blues", sometimes. And, early on, some straight-up swing---nice, sometimes a little neat for my taste--and some tentacles extended, but soon assimilated, though not forgotten---this is Disc I, on II things def get out, though "The Bridge", which is cosmic and must be walked after "fire is poured on dry leaves" and one way left to go, is immediately followed by "I'm Gonna Unmask Batman" and it keeps zig-zagging like that. And the catchier pop-blues-jazz approaches stuff can pull in darker rays, like on "Nuclear War": "Radiation breeds mutation" (group singers repeat), "And when they push that button, you can kiss yo' ass bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye." ("Bye-bye, bye-bye, bye-bye.")
After several appearances by a frequently angry angel, the aforementioned sweet and humble "I Am An Instrument" returns, now pointing out that man is an instrument too, waiting for the plucking of his heart strings: "The heart can speak more than the mind" (thus providing a reminder of the mind passing the conductor's bation, as demonstrated recently on "On Jupiter/Cosmo Drama (Prophetika 1)" by the angel, who may be fate and certainly sounds in a pleasant mood, on this occasion, with good news:"Something is, but nothing is too",and while positives include "The life you liiive, and the thoughts you think, and the death you die", negatives include immortality, because that's impossible---"Election Day is coming, which one will you vote for? If you care to reach for thee impossible, that's my department.")
(update: John W.'s comment on Ra collections follows below)