Monday, April 30, 2007

Elvis Costello Reissues Coming!!!!!

Good news everybody! Elvis Costello's entire catalog is being re-issued and repackaged by Universal's reissue imprint, Hip-O! This long overdue upgrade of his catalog begins over an entire year after Rhino completed their overhaul of Costello's catalog (the last double disc Rhino reissue, The Juliet Letters was released on March 21, 2006).

The new reissue program gets started with the May 1 release of two compilations, The Best Of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years and Rock and Roll Music. Rock and Roll Music will feature an unreleased version of "Welcome To The Working Week" in anticipation of the 30th anniversary deluxe edition of My Aim Is True, which will be followed by deluxe reissues of the rest of his catalog.

Seriously, can anyone think of another artist who has been so cynical with his (or her) catalog? Between the "deluxe" editions of new albums that get released several months after the original version and the constant reissuing and repackaging of his catalog, the guy seems to be in business merely to bilk his dwindling, but still loyal, fanbase.

I felt borderline stupid for repurchasing Costello's catalog when Rhino reissued it, but this is just insulting. Honestly, this kind of hurts, because Costello's music has meant a lot to me over the years. I forgave the man for calling Ray Charles a "blind ignorant nigger." I forgave the man for thinking he could write classical music. I even forgave the man for dueting with John Hall. But this is just too much.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sly Stone Interviews on Youtube

Yesterday's post on Sly Stone led me to a couple interviews on Youtube. The first is an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show from July 1970 (around the time I was celebrating my first birthday). Stone is flying high in the friendly skies, and Cavett does his best to keep the plane from crashing. Note at one point that Cavett mentions that Stone had apparently missed previous bookings on the show. Given how messed up Sly is here, it makes you wonder what kind of condition he must have been in for the shows he missed.

The second interview is much later, filmed as Sly was working on his 1979 comeback album Back On The Right Track. Growing up I remember seeing this kind of "whatever happened to Sly Stone" feature every few years.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sly Stone - High On You

Sony/BMG's Legacy division issues remastered versions of Sly and the Family Stone's first seven albums today. Unfortunately, corporate behemoth Sony/BMG is over a year too late to capitalize on the surge of interest created by Sly's brief, bizarre reappearance at the 2006 Grammy Awards. Nevertheless, the time is always right for Sly's music to be rediscovered.

Sadly, Sly Stone's first solo record, 1975's High On You, remains out-of-print. Hopefully, that oversight will be corrected soon because it is an under-rated album that deserves a second look.

While the first five Family Stone LPs (up through 1971's There's A Riot Goin' On) are universally acknowledged as classics, Sly's later albums are more controversial. By 1971 Sly's drug use had gotten out of control, and his erratic behavior, including a slew of missed gigs, began to take a toll on his career. Nevertheless, the later albums have much to recommend them. Fresh is one of my all-time favorite Sly albums, and is generally recognized as a good record, even if it is held in lower critical regard than Riot.

Small Talk, High On You and Heard Ya Missed Me on the other hand, are typically written off as the work of a spent artistic force. While they are certainly uneven efforts, much of the music on Small Talk and High On You still sounds fresh and vital to me. Not every track on these albums is great, but Sly digs into some deep funky grooves that rival anything George Clinton and company were doing under the P-Funk umbrella at the time. Anyone who is a fan of The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (and who isn't?) should own a copy of Small Talk, if for no other reason than to hear where the boys ripped-off one of the funkiest grooves of all-time.

The title track of High On You went to #3 on the R&B charts, but peaked at #52 on the pop charts. Frankly, I don't know what pop radio programmers were thinking, because "High On You" is crazy great, nearly as good as Sly's best songs from the 60s. But what I really don't get is why the album's third single "Crossword Puzzle" failed to chart altogether. It could be because Epic made the mistake of issuing the inferior "Le Lo Li" as the album's second single. With its lame "different freaks for different weeks" lyric, "Le Lo Li" does indeed sound like a pale echo of past glories. "Crossword Puzzle" on the other hand, is the funkiest defense of single-motherhood you will ever hear. Despite the song's lyrical content ("How could you wish her pain, Cuz' she has her maiden name"), I bet the killer groove could get even Focus On The Family's James Dobson's hips moving. Bonus funk points to anyone who can tell me where the killer horn hook from this song was famously sampled.

(BTW, I think I could make those pants work for me.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus

If you ask people what the most important live musical event of the sixties was, you are likely to get a variety of responses. No doubt the majority of people would say Woodstock. Others would say Monterey Pop, Altamont, The Beatles at Shea Stadium, or Dylan going electric at The Newport Folk Festival in 1965. All of those people are musical ignoramuses who don't know what they're talking about.

The most important musical event of the 1960s was the Carnegie Hall Concert put on by music impresarios Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz featuring 46 bubblegum musicians creating a first-of-its-kind rock and roll orchestra. The Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus brought together The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express, The Music Explosion, Lt. Garcia's Magic Music Box, The Teri Nelson Group, J.C.W. Rat Finks, St. Louis Invisible Marching Band, and 1989 Musical Marching Zoo onto a single stage for a never-to-be-repeated performance.

The performance was recorded for a proposed LP, but the resulting tapes were judged to be too mind-blowingly awesome for public release, so the music was re-recorded by studio musicians with fake crowd noise added. The results of that re-creation were released on this LP.

These tracks come to you courtesy of the archives of a radio show that ran on Elon College's WSOE-FM in the late eighties and early nineties called "Bird's Multicolored Bubblegum Implosion." At a time when most college radio D.J.s were spinning the likes of The Cure and The Smiths, and the more adventurous were playing Dinosaur Jr. and Beat Happening, Tim ("The Bird") Hitchcock was playing The Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus and Giant Crab. The show acheived such legendary status that it is still a major topic of discussion among students at Elon to this day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Love - Four Sail & Out Here Revisited

Four Sail and Out Here were the first two "Love" albums to appear after the original line up disintegrated. When Brian MacLean expressed his outrage that Arthur Lee would release music made by a different band under the Love moniker, Jimi Hendrix reportedly angrily responded "Arthur Lee is Love!" Hendrix may or may not have been right about that, but it would certainly be the case henceforth.

The music on Four Sail and Out Here was recorded at a makeshift studio with equipment rented by Lee, and featured a new band (Jay Donnellan on guitar, George Suranovich on drums and Frank Fayad on bass). Love may have still been in debt to Elektra for recording costs associated with Da Capo and Forever Changes at that point, so Lee was keen to keep control of the recording costs himself. Additionally, Lee had been looking for a way to get out of his contract with Elektra since before Da Capo was recorded.

Exactly what happened is murky. By most accounts all of the material for the two albums was recorded at the same time for a proposed double LP for Lee's new label, Blue Thumb. Brian MacLean may have already left the band by this point, but Lee apparently never told the others that they had been fired, nor did he tell Elektra about his new contract. Both labels seem to have been out-of-the-loop on the band's personnel situation as well, although Elektra may have offered MacLean the chance to record a solo album.

When Elektra got word of what Lee was up to, they took their pick of the newly-recorded songs for the last LP owed to them under Lee's previous contract, and released Four Sail. But Blue Thumb wanted music from the classic Love line-up, and convinced Lee to make another go of it with the Forever Changes-era line-up, minus MacLean. That plan fell apart after Johnny Echols and Ken Forssi (by Lee's contention) pawned their rented equipment for drug money. Meanwhile, Blue Thumb was stuck with the leftovers from the Four Sail sessions and released the material as the double LP, Out Here, although it is possible some of the material featured on that album was recorded at a later point.

If all this sounds confusing, it's probably because it was a bitter and confusing time for all involved. Former Love drummer Michael Stuart describes the deteriorating situation from his own perspective in his memoir of the period, Pegasus Carousel. Stuart blames many of the problems on Lee's dictatorial tendencies and reluctance to accept gigs, a practice that left the other members of the band with too much time to indulge in their less-than-healthy habits. For his part, Lee tended to pin the blame on the worsening drug addiction among all members of the band, often claiming he was the only member of the band not hooked on heroin (though he was also known to claim that he nearly died from an O.D. around this time himself). Whatever account you choose to accept, one thing is certain--heavy use of hard drugs contributed enormously to the band's break up.

Four Sail probably never got an entirely fair shake due to the lingering bitterness over the break up of the original band. But Four Sail has many defenders today--check out the sincere and passionate defenses of the album on, and on Love message boards. Stereophile critic Michael Fremer has also written an insightful revisionist review of the album.
Personally, I was initially disappointed when I first heard Four Sail. The album struck me as less eclectic than the work of the original band. Love, Da Capo and Forever Changes all sounded fresh to me when I first heard them in the late eighties. The music on the first three albums seemed both of its time, yet somehow outside of time as well. Four Sail did not strike me in the same way--for better or worse it sounded very much like a product of its times. Four Sail sounded too similar to a lot of other "heavy" psychedelic rock from the period (Cream, Hendrix, Traffic, The Allman Brothers, etc.) to really impress me at the time. Whereas I admired "7 & 7 Is" as an obvious inspiration for punk rock, Four Sail stuck me as the kind of music I understood punk rock to be a reaction against. I thought the album was okay, but I never really got into it.

In retrospect, I think the revisionist defenders of the album largely have it right. From the opening psychedelic riffing on "August" to the gentle, emotional closer "Always See Your Face," the songwriting is of very high quality, and the musicianship is excellent (new guitarist Jay Donnellan is especially impressive). And if the music sounds a little more like other popular music from the period than previous efforts, so what? It's still mostly good stuff.

A personal favorite from the album is "Your Friend And Mine - Neil's Song," a bitter homage to Love roadie Neil Rappaport who had died of a heroin overdose upon returning from the band's ill-fated 1968 East Coast tour in support of Forever Changes. This is no maudlin "Candle In The Wind" type tribute. Lee thinks back on the good times he shared with his buddy while simultaneously expressing anger at him for being so stupid as to let his habit kill him ("They took all your money, now look what they're doin' for you -- chump!"). But even in his righteous anger Lee sees a reflection of his own imperfect self in Rappaport ("all we are is two of kind"). At the same time Lee seems to be expressing some latent anger at Rappaport for introducing him to hard drugs. The sentiment isn't pretty, but it's an honest expression of the mix of emotions a person might feel when a friend passes away too soon.

Four Sail is available as an import CD with bonus tracks, and on 180 gram vinyl from Sundazed. Both are worthwhile additions to any Love fan's collection.

Out Here impressed me far less than Four Sail when I first heard it, and that remains the case to this day. It wasn't until I heard six of the album's better tracks isolated on Rhino's 1995 anthology, Love Story, that I recognized that some of the material on Out Here is actually killer. It's easy to understand why: the album is packed with filler that represents the worst kind of 60s rock excess, including that most maligned of all conventions, the extended drum solo.

The album starts out okay with "I'll Pray For You" but deteriorates quickly with "Abolony" (a country rocker in which Lee rhymes "Abolony" with "baloney"). This is followed by a "heavy" remake of the first album's "Signed D.C." This track reminds me of the scene in Spinal Tap where the band breaks into an atrocious heavy-metal version of "Gimi Some Money," a song that had earlier been heard in a much more charming Merseybeat arrangement. Except this isn't funny. The temptation to lift the needle a couple minutes into this abomination in order to check out side two is strong, which would be a shame because you would skip the outstanding ballad "Listen To My Song."

Side two starts with the hard-rocking "Stand Out," a song that expresses Lee's emerging racial consciousness, a trend that would eventually lead to his full-on embrace of soul music with Reel To Real. Then comes "Discharged" one of the worst "protest" songs I have ever heard. This is the kind of crap that helped motivate the so-called "silent majority" to elect Richard Nixon President. Then comes "Doggone" with its seemingly endless drum solo (ironically, in an edited version "Doggone" is a pretty good song).

The rest of the album follows a similar pattern; the outstanding "I Still Wonder" is followed by the interminable psychedelic jamming of "Love Is More Than Words or Better Late Than Never," and the lovely "Willow Willow" is followed by "Instra-Mental," an instrumental track that would have been better named "Out-Take."

The good stuff on Out Here is very good, in a few cases even better than the best tracks on Four Sail. I'd go so far as to say "Willow Willow" and "I Still Wonder" are among the best songs Lee ever wrote (were it not for the fact that Jay Donnellan wrote "I Still Wonder"). But the album is ultimately brought down by the low quality of its filler. It strikes me that this is exactly the kind of album you don't want to release as your first on a new label. I imagine this album made it very difficult for Blue Thumb's A&R people to work up much enthusiasm for their new act, especially since they thought they were signing a different band. Lee could have made a much better case for his new band with a single album and some judicious use of a fader. Out Here is yet another example of Lee's tendency toward career self-sabotage. It presents both some of the best and worst trends in popular music as the 60s faded into the 70s.

Out Here is currently out-of-print, although key tracks are available on the compilations Love Story 1966-1972 and Out There. Honestly, those compilations--which omit the worst of the filler--are a much better way to hear the material. Mercifully edited versions of "Doggone" and "Love Is More Than Words" can be heard on the out-of-print Studio/Live. Here are a couple tracks that aren't on any compilation--it's basically some of the stuff that should have been cut to make Out Here a single album. "I'm Down" is easily the best track not to have been anthologized. I include "Discharged" only to remind us of the wrong way to criticize an unjust war.

I'm Down [now available from Hip-O Select]
Discharged [now available from Hip-O Select]

Arthur Lee's New Love (left to right):
Frank Fayad, George Suranovich, Jay Donnellan, Arthurly

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Roky Erickson Documentary

This looks interesting. Roky Erickson is a veteran of the psychedelic scene who is truly a survivor. Erickson has been to the dark places of the human psyche that few of us can even imagine. For years he was bedeviled by mental illness and drug problems. He was also a victim of Texas' draconian anti-drug laws. Rather than face a manditory sentence of 10 years in jail after having been busted with a single joint, Erickson pled insanity and spent several years being subjected to shock therapy and Thorazine treatments at a state hospital for the criminally insane. By all accounts that hospital stay did a great amount of psychic damage to the man.

The last I remember hearing about Erickson he had been arrested for stealing mail from the halfway house where he lived. But it seems since then, with the help of his brother, he has put his life back together. Erickson kicks off his first tour in many moons this Friday at Southpaw in Brooklyn.

Shout Factory recently released an exceptionally well-chosen Erickson anthology, which I highly recommend. This song, Bongwater's cover of one of my favorite Erickson tunes, comes from a 1990 Erickson tribute album.

You Don't Love Me Yet
[right click to download]

Monday, April 09, 2007

Love - The Forever Changes Concert

When Arthur Lee was released from jail in 2001, having served 6 years of his 12-year sentence, he became serious about touring for the first time in his career. Baby Lemonade was still ready, willing and able to back him, and he toured more during the last 5 years of his life than he had during the rest of his career combined.

All this activity culminated with The Forever Changes Concert, available on CD and DVD from Snapper Music. The band is extremely tight, and the horns and strings integrate with the rest of the music nicely. Unfortunately, Lee's voice was no longer the supple instrument it once was, and his vocals lack the delicacy heard on the 1967 recordings.

A few of the songs take on new meaning in this context. Lee obviously references his own plight when he expands the "freedom" section at the end of "The Red Telephone," and the song's refrain "They're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key, I wonder who it will be tomorrow you or me?" sounds less like the result of drug-induced paranoia in the age of Guantanamo Bay and the Bush administration's post 9/11 assault on civil liberties. These concerts were a great triumph for Lee personally, but obviously they will never replace or supplant the original recording.

The following is an excerpt from a simultaneously hilarious and sad interview with Lee printed in The New Music Express and conducted by Jack White of the White Stripes:

JW: How do you want to be perceived right now?

AL: I think I'm the best of them all. I think Mick Jagger stinks. Brian Wilson stinks too. They just don't have that punch. Don't get me wrong: Mick Jagger was a great influence in my life. He was a free spirit. But now he just doesn't have his noggin on straight. You have to protect your noggin.

JW: Love's influence is very important but it's never written as such. What is Love's place in musical history to you?

AL: [Ignoring question completely.] Mick and Brian Wilson should give it up. They should go home and take care of their kids. The Beatle guy too. Paul McCarthy (sic). He should pack it up. He's there singing "yesterdayyyy." Yesterday? I'm talking about right now! I've seen their shows recently and they stink. They're wasting people's time and money now. The people that come and see me play get their money's worth and they get an education, too. I've still got it and I'm 57 years old. I creep into people's hearts and their minds. And once I've got your mind, your mind's on my mind…and your mind and we belong together.

It's hard to know where to start analyzing behavior like this. (Maybe it's better not to, but I can't resist.) I think the proper psychoanalytic term for this sort of behavior is "projection." Despite the fact that he was surrounded by a group of young musicians that idolized him, and was basking in the much-deserved adulation of his fans, Lee obviously remained a deeply unhappy man. Lee's extraordinary level of bluster exposes his own deepest fears more clearly than a frank admission of them ever could. This is clearly the behavior of a man who is terrified that his old music doesn't measure up to that of other rock legends, and most of all is afraid that he has nothing new to say.

It's simply astounding that he would criticize Paul McCartney (or "McCarthy" as he calls him) for continuing to perform "Yesterday" while doing an interview in support of a tour in which he was performing a 35-year-old album in its entirety. Later in the interview he takes Jagger to task for not getting his underwear sweaty enough on stage. Whatever else I might want to say about McCartney and Jagger's post-peak careers, the last thing I would accuse McCartney of is a reluctance to try new things, and the last thing I would accuse Jagger of is not working hard enough on stage. Reading this, it's easy to understand why Lee eventually alienated his new band, just as he had alienated all those who had played with him before.

At the ripe old age of 21, Lee was convinced he was going to die and Forever Changes would be his last words on earth. There is a bittersweet irony to the fact that nearly 40 years later he turned out to be right.

[click on image for full interview]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Love - Girl On Fire (with Baby Lemonade)

After having been nearly silent for over a decade Arthur Lee started making a halting comeback in the early 90s. In 1992 he released the album Arthur Lee and Love (aka Five String Serenade) on the French New Rose label. He started gigging with various indie-rock conglomerations, featuring members of Das Damen, Uncle Wiggly and others, and played his first shows in New York City and England in over 20 years. The shows were reportedly very uneven in quality, and stories of near-schizophrenic behavior spread among the indie-rock pick-up bands he rarely rehearsed with.

Arthur Lee was back, but it wasn't clear how much music he had left in him. "Five String Serenade" was a wonderful song, and Mazzy Star's cover of it actually made him some money for the first time in a long time. But the rest of the album featured some of the worst music ever recorded by a high-profile 60s rocker (and yes, that includes Starship and Eric Burdon). "You're The Prettiest Song" sounds like "The Lady In Red" only sappier, and that's one of the better tracks. And how did the man who once limited Brian McLean to one song per album allow something as awful as Keith Farrish's "The Watcher" to slip onto one of his albums? Taken as a whole, the album is shockingly bad.

All of which makes this 1994 single all the more interesting. Sometime around 1993 Lee hooked up with the L.A. band Baby Lemonade, gigged with them regularly, and in essence they became his new version of Love. Unlike some of the pick-up bands Lee had been playing with, Baby Lemonade was talented and professional, and the music sounded well rehearsed and organized. It no doubt helped that this much younger group of musicians worshiped Lee enough to put up with him.

"Girl On Fire" is the closest thing to punk Lee had recorded since "7 & 7 Is," and "Midnight Sun" sounds like Hendrix-era Love, only better. Most surprisingly, in 1994 Lee's voice was still a remarkably supple instrument. Lee had finally found a group of musicians who understood him, were sympathetic to his vision, and apparently capable of instilling some discipline in him (or at least the appearance of it).

But all was not as well as it might have seemed. It wasn't clear if Lee's songwriting chops were coming back or not. "Midnight Sun" actually dated back to the lost album Lee recorded with Hendrix in 1970. And "Girl On Fire" recalls "7 & 7 Is" a little too closely to be of any real consequence. Worse, Lee would soon be repeating the lyrics to the song ("I don't want to set that girl on fire, I just want to put a flame in her heart") to a judge after he was arrested in 1995 for allegedly trying to torch a former girlfriend's apartment. This was quickly followed by another arrest on a weapons charge that got him sentenced to 12 years in prison under California's "three strikes" law. Most people figured that was where the story would end...but of course it wasn't.

This single probably sums up Lee's frustrating mix of talent and penchant for self-destruction as well as anything in his catalog.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

It's not easy being green

You gotta love YouTube, especially if you're an attorney specializing in copyright law.

What is it about Kermit that does this people? Back in 1996, a 21 year old New Zealander took a radio station manager hostage claiming to have a bomb and demanded he play "Rainbow Connection" nonstop on the air for the next twelve hours to "show the world how he felt." No kidding.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hüsker Dü

Posting on Soul Asylum got me thinking about the 80s Minneapolis scene. I was a huge Hüsker Dü and Replacements fan in high school. This cover of "Ticket To Ride" was taken from a NME 7" that also featured tracks by Trouble Funk, Tom Waits and The Jesus And Mary Chain.

I recently had a dream that I was wandering around Manhattan and stumbled into a building whose lobby was arranged in such a way as to be an exact replica of the cover for Warehouse: Songs And Stories. Or maybe it was supposed to be the set for the cover shoot, left untouched since 1987. It wasn't totally clear. I was just hoping to use the bathroom. I'm not sure what the dream meant, but I'm pretty sure it says something about me that in 2007 I would be having a dream about a Hüsker Dü album cover.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Soul Asylum - Clap Dip And Other Delights

I've gotten a couple of off-line requests to post more Soul Asylum by friends who are determined that the band not merely be remembered for "Runaway Train" and it's schlocktastic MTV video. Certainly there is a good case to be made that they should be remembered for better than that. Made To Be Broken, While You Were Out and Hang Time are all indie-rock classics. Nobody rocked as hard as Soul Asylum during their heyday.

These two covers come from the UK release of Clam Dip And Other Delights, which has been out-of-print for years. They highlight the less-serious side of the band that became less evident after they became rock stars. The cover (a parody of the famous Herb Alpert album made upon their signing to his label) features the late, great Karl Mueller covered in Clam Dip. When I was in college I had a giant framed poster of this cover, and thinking back on it I now understand why girls were afraid to come to the parties my suitemates and I threw.

There is an interesting back-story as to how I acquired this album. During junior year in college my friend Adam picked up a copy of this for me while he studied at East Anglia University for a semester. Adam is an unusually generous person, and he tells me he no longer has a copy of this to call his own because he inadvertently gave away his last copy in exchange for some magic beans. Being a generous person myself, I would ordinarily return my copy to him. But I earned this album the hard way. If I remember things correctly (and there is a good chance I don't) Adam gave me this record based on a dare involving a bottle of Jägermeister, streaking in sub-zero temperatures, and a near death experience...or possibly in exchange for some magic beans. Whatever the case, I think I'll hold onto my copy if for no other reason than to remind me never to drink to excess again.