Thursday, November 19, 2009

File under WTF?

I've been getting a lot of weird spam emails like this one recently:

Hello,
This is Shiela from ThumbJointPain.net.
We stumbled on your blog while searching for Thumb Joint Pain related information. We operate the largest Thumb Joint Pain website featuring more than 30,000+ blogs. Our site averages 200,000+ uniques visitors per month. As a kind note We have featured your blog at http://ThumbJointPain.net/blog_awards/index.php?id=1216 We would be grateful if you could add the following details to your blogs main page.
Thumb Joint Pain
Looking forward for your confirmation.
Thanks
Shiela
ThumbJointPain.net.

I'm proud of a lot of things that I've done over the past 40 years, but this award from ThumbJointPain.net ranks considerably below the "participant" ribbon I got in a sack race I entered when I was six.

[Please don't follow the links above.]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All Going Out Together

I came across this Big Dipper 12" single the other day at my local record store. It was still sealed and only a $1.99. What the heck? I remember this 12" from back when it came out in 1987, mostly because of the memorable cover, which was very similar in layout to both Robyn Hitchcock's Element of Light and The Jazz Butcher's Fishcotheque, all of which came out around the same time. But I can't remember if I owned it, or if I had a friend who owned it, or if I just heard it at the radio station. Or maybe I had it on cassette. Whatever. Either way, I didn't have it in my collection a couple days ago and now I do.

"All Going Out Together" appeared on the the band's first full-length album, Heavens. "He Is God" recently reappeared on the Merge Big Dipper anthology, Supercluster. But there are two tracks here that I believe are not available anywhere else. The first is "Which Would You Rather," written by Big Dipper, but with vocals from former Modern Lover/Rockin' Robin Ellie Marshall. The other is an uncredited, untitled collage of sounds, songs and live recordings, including a cameo from Shonen Knife. It's, um, interesting, but I can see why Merge decided it wasn't essential enough to include it on Supercluster.

I wrote about Big Dipper before. I thought it was an amusing--but clearly fictional--little story about my desperate and ultimately futile search for Ron Klaus (of "...He Wrecked His House" Fame). Anyway, when my wife first read it she told me she was worried I might be losing it. Ouch.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

B Stiff


I found a nice copy of Devo's first EP, a collection of independent singles released on the Stiff Records label in 1977, entitled Be Stiff (or possibly B Stiff) yesterday at the Providence Rock 'n' Roll Yard Sale. The event continues today (November 8th), so if you are in the area stop by and check out the vinyl goods, crafts, and aging hipsters carrying their babies around the vaguely unwholesome environment.

Be Stiff is a nice reminder of what a great band Devo really was/is. The EP contains early, possibly superior, versions of four songs that appeared on their first album, along with two tracks that didn't. The spud boys from Akron's robotic take on the Stones' "Satisfaction" remains one of the great moments in rock history, even if the Residents did it first.

Speaking of rare spuds, Devo's two most popular albums, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo and Freedom of Choice, have recently been given the deluxe reissue treatment. Both albums have also been reissued on LP (on colored vinyl). Oddly, nothing from this great EP appears on either deluxe edition as bonus tracks. I have no word on whether there will be deluxe reissues of the Devo leisure suits originally made available by mail order with Freedom Of Choice, but I promise to keep you informed if I hear any news.

Lord help us all if the music industry ever reaches such an advanced state of Devolution that we see a deluxe reissue of Shout.

Update: Devo leisure suits are indeed available at Devo's website, so you can still protect yourself from dangerous human elements and stay cool during meltdowns. For spuds with spare change there is also an Ultra Devo-lux Ltd. Edition reissue of the two albums with lots of other goodies.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Click Repair

My friend Pete has mentioned to me a couple of times that he thinks it would be interesting if I put together a post, or series of posts, on how to transfer records into the digital domain. I've been reluctant to do so for a number of reasons, the most important being I do not consider myself any kind of expert on the subject. The internet is full of "experts" who can tell you what you should and shouldn't do on any variety of subjects with absolute certainty. I can really only tell you what I've done, and what I think has worked best for me.

One recommendation I can make without any hesitation is that, if you are doing "needledrops" of LPs or 78s, you should give the program Click Repair a try. Click Repair is a reasonably priced "shareware" program written by a mathematician named Brian Davies that uses sophisticated algorithms to identify and "clean" clicks and pops from digitized vinyl and shellac records.

I was initially very skeptical about any program that "automagically" repairs clicks and pops in a recording, assuming that it would necessarily affect other parts of the recording for the worse. But after having tried the program, I learned that with a little experimenting it was not difficult to keep "false positives" (instances where music, not noise, is "fixed") to an acceptably low level, while vastly reducing the amount of clicks, cracks and pops on a recording. The important thing to note here is that Click Repair is not a "filter" that affects the sound of an entire recording, but rather a program that seeks out samples that it identifies as clicks or pops, and "repairs" them. In other words, it basically leaves the music alone. (You can read many more details on how the program works at the program's website).

Below you will find a link to a sample from a copy of Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours I recently picked up for 25 cents. The record looked a little beat up, but I figured it might clean up nicely. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that, as you can hear in the initial, unrepaired, selection. The raw file is followed by the same selection after having been run through Click Repair. To my ears the results are pretty remarkable. Take a listen and see what you think.

Now, admittedly, I've picked a rather extreme case (an LP that was pretty much trashed) to emphasize what Click Repair is capable of, but I've found that even LPs in reasonably good condition can also benefit from a run through Click Repair (for records that are in better shape you can use a lower sensitivity setting to further minimize the likelihood of "false positives.")

You can demo Click Repair for free for 21 days, after that you will need to purchase a $40 license. I did so happily.

In The Wee Small Hours (excerpt) [click to download]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

R.I.P. Damon Crowdy

I got some sad news from my Mom today when I learned that an old school friend of mine, Damon Crowdy, passed away recently. I was sad to learn that Damon died of heart failure after a long struggle with kidney disease.

I hadn't seen Damon in twenty years or so, but I never forgot him. It's not possible to forget a guy like Damon. I was entirely unsurprised to learn from his obituary that as an adult Damon dedicated his life to helping others. Damon was one of the funniest people I've ever known, but unlike so many other children, there was never a hint of cruelty in his humor. And while Damon had a rowdy side as a child, there was also always an almost spiritual quality about him.

If Damon liked you, he would invent a funny nickname for you--I was "Squeaky Mongueeky"--a silly name that nevertheless always made me feel special. I can remember reading the book I Wish I Had An Afro, a story of a young boy's emerging sense of black pride, with Damon in Elementary school, and how Damon created a musical version of the story to the tune of "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler On The Roof. Maybe you had to be there, but it was genuinely hilarious. Most kids are not nearly so clever in their attempts at humor.

I'm sure that Damon touched many lives after I last saw him, and I'm sure that many people are better off for having known him. I know that I am. I will always remember him as a warm, funny, cheerful kid, and regret I didn't get to know the man he became. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Feelies - The Good Earth Reissued

I wanted to provide yet another Feelies update now that my vinyl reissue of The Good Earth has finally arrived.

I will admit to a small amount of consternation when I first learned that the vinyl reissues of Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth would not be mastered from the original analog master tapes. Now that I have actually heard them, I will also admit that any sense of concern about that was totally misplaced and misguided. Major kudos are due to Andreas Meyer from Tangerine Mastering for the magic he has worked in remastering these albums for vinyl.

In my previous post I noted that I was hard pressed to hear any differences between a Stiff original pressing of Crazy Rhythms and the Bar/None reissue. I could hear differences between a Coyote/Twin-Tone LP pressing of The Good Earth and the Bar/None reissue, and they were mostly in favor of the reissue. First off, the reissue is a better, quieter pressing than the Coyote original, which is a helpful thing because there are some long quiet passages on the album. Beyond that, the reissue has a subtly crisper, more open sound without changing the essential sonic character of the album in any way.

I also had an original Coyote CD on hand for comparison, but the less said about that the better, because it is an absolute sonic disaster. The old Coyote CD turned an album with a warm, inviting sonic character into something shrill and unpleasant. The old CD only reminded me of why I hated CD sound for such a long time.

As with Crazy Rhythms, I downloaded the album plus bonus tracks in WAV format, and once again, while they sounded good, it was obvious they were slightly dynamically compressed compared to the LP. Nevertheless, the new digital version sounds far better than the original CD. The download-only bonus tracks are not quite as interesting as was the case with Crazy Rhythms. The two covers were previously available on the No One Knows EP, and a recent live version of "Slipping (Into Something)" once again proves the reconstituted Feelies have not lost a step.

The only quibble I have with the reissue (and it is a minor one to be sure) is that about ten seconds of silence present on the original LP between "Tomorrow Today" and the album closer "Slow Down" has been removed. I always kind of liked the way "Slow Down" came in after such a long quiet period ("Tomorrow Today" also features a very long, slow fade out). Curiously, this silence is also not present on the original Coyote CD, so it's arguable whether it is necessary for the sake of "authenticity." I always kind of liked the effect, but its absence is not enough to prevent the reissue from becoming my new "go-to" version of the album.

Finally, a few words about the music itself. If I haven't said much about it to this point it's because I assume you know it's great. Crazy Rhythms seems to be the album that has gotten the most attention over the years, probably in part because it has been out-of-print longer. It would be a shame if The Good Earth were overshadowed by the earlier album, because its charms are at least equal to those of its predecessor.

The Good Earth showcases a less jumpy and nervous version of the Feelies. The rhythm section of Brenda Sauter (bass), Stanley Demeski (drums) and Dave Weckerman (percussion) was less aggressive than the Crazy Rhythms-era combo of Anton Fier and Keith De Nunzio. This, combined with a greater amount of strummed acoustic guitar, led to a more relaxed, pastoral sound which is beautifully reflected in the cornfield photo and earth-tones on the album cover.

Despite the more laid-back vibe, there is still plenty of interesting stuff going on rhythmically, but it emerges from the mix in a more subtle fashion than previously. Some of the songs reflect Mercer and Million's longstanding interest in Brian Eno's ambient music, but the influence of country and folk music is just as clear. All-in-all, it makes for an entirely unique, and highly appealing sonic concoction.

I simply cannot recommend both of these long-overdue reissues highly enough, even to those who already own the albums in other forms. The LPs sound absolutely gorgeous, and the digital tracks sound very fine as well. Both albums, as well as a limited edition 7" of "Fa Ce La," are available directly from Bar/None.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Feelies Reissue Update


I just wanted to provide a quick update on the Feelies reissues. I finally got my vinyl copy of Crazy Rhythms (still waiting on The Good Earth). In terms of sound quality, the LP reissue is outstanding. I had an original Stiff pressing of the first album on hand for comparison. As hard as I tried, I could not hear a difference between the two, which was kind of surprising considering we know the reissue was digitally sourced. The digital source must have been better than CD resolution, because I could see frequency content extending all the way up to 40 kHz. The pressing was very quiet, which is a really good thing considering that some of the song intros feature extended periods of near silence.

The LP comes with a cute little business card with a code for a digital download. The download is administered through Domino, who offer the option of downloading the album as a CD resolution WAV file. The download sounded fine as well, although I believe it was slightly compressed. The download-only bonus tracks are terrific. I had never heard the 7" version of "Fa-Ce-La" or the demos of "The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness" and "Moscow Nights" before. What struck me about these versions was that although the sound quality and performances were cruder than the later versions, the arrangements were very much locked into place early. These versions also apparently date to a period before Glenn Mercer hit puberty, because he really sounds like an awkward teenage kid on these cuts with a far different voice than what would appear on Crazy Rhythms in 1980. (I guess if I want to hear the b-side version of "Raised Eyebrows" I will have to shell out for the Insound exclusive 7"). The live tracks from 2009 show the band has not lost a step in terms of energy and tightness despite the long hiatus.

Well done and highly recommended!

For anyone bummed the cover of "Paint It Black" included on the 1990 A&M reissue was omitted from the new reissue, here it is:

Paint It Black [click to download]

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Step into the wayback machine...

For a little perspective today's The Beatles reissues, check out this article published in The New York Times in 1987; "Beatles On CD: Yeah, Yeah, Nah." Reviewer Allan Kozinn grumbles about the fact that both the mono and stereo mixes were not being made available for each album, but in general he is very complimentary of the sound quality of the CDs:

On the four CD's just issued, the sound is magnificent - solid, crystal clear, beautifully textured and fully detailed. One hears very little in the way of tape hiss or extraneous noise; heard side by side with their equivalent mono Parlophone LP's, the CD's sound, for the most part, as bright or brighter on top, and a good deal richer in the bass.
As much as people have complained (rightly to my mind) about the sound of the 1987 remasters in the ensuing years, as far as I remember at the time of release, the original Beatles CDs were considered state-of-the art. Most reviewers commented on what a revelation it was to finally be able to hear the music of The Beatles in the shiny new CD format.

Anyway, it's worth keeping in mind how perspectives can change over the years as you read contemporary reviews of the new remasters.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Finally! Feelies Reissues Coming Sept. 8!

You might remember that I passed on the news that The Feelies classic first LP, Crazy Rhythms, was going to be reissued by a label called Water Records back in early 2008. To the disappointment of many, that reissue never materialized (although a worthwhile reissue of the group's third album, Only Life, appeared in its place). But good things come to those who wait, and I am very pleased to announce that The Feelies first two albums are going to be reissued by Bar-None Records with full approval of the newly reunited band.

I made an inquiry with the band's management and got the following details about the upcoming reissues.

First of all, the really important part:

Release date for both The Feelies re-issues on Bar None: September 8, 2009.

No fooling around this time, this is really happening (honest).

The albums will be reissued on both CD and LP. Bonus tracks will be download only:


Both albums will be issued in original sequence with download cards included in each package that will give purchasers access to bonus tracks as well as the original albums. The band felt that the original records functioned as discrete works on their own that should not be compromised with additional tracks not part of the original sequence, hence offering bonus tracks thusly

Crazy Rhythms CD/LP reissue track listing:
Side One:
1. The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness
2. Fa cé-La
3. Loveless Love
4. Forces At Work
Side Two:
5. Original Love
6. Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey)
7. Moscow Nights
8. Raised Eyebrows
9. Crazy Rhythms
*** NOTE: Their cover of "Paint It Black" was left off the reissue as per the band's request. A&M added it without the band's permission and it was a recording from the late 80s with a different line-up than what was the "Crazy Rhythms" line-up.

Crazy Rhythms bonus tracks:
1. Fa cé-La [single version] - originally released as a 7" on Rough Trade.
2. The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness [Carla Bley demo version]
3. Moscow Nights [Carla Bley demo version]
4. Crazy Rhythms [Live] - From the 9:30 Club (Washington D.C.), recorded March 14, 2009.
5. I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms [Live] - From the 9:30 Club (Washington D.C.), recorded March 14, 2009. Modern Lovers cover.

The Good Earth CD/LP reissue track listing:
Side One:
1. On The Roof
2. The High Road
3. The Last Roundup
4. Slipping (Into Something)
5. When Company Comes
Side Two:
6. Let's Go
7. Two Rooms
8. The Good Earth
9. Tomorrow Today
10. Slow Down

The Good Earth bonus tracks.
1. She Said, She Said - originally on the "No One Knows" vinyl EP on Coyote Records through Twin/Tone Records (US). Beatles cover.
2. Sedan Delivery - originally on the "No One Knows" vinyl EP on Coyote Records through Twin/Tone Records (US). Neil Young cover.
3. Slipping (Into Something) [Live] - From the 9:30 Club (Washington D.C.), recorded March 14, 2009.

Download cards will be included in each respective CD & LP reissue. The full album + bonus tracks will be included on each. Domino will be the hosting site for the downloads as they have the rights to the albums outside the U.S. & Canada.

I have heard some grumbling about the fact that the bonus tracks will not be included with the physical packages, but I agree with the band's decision. The Feelies have always had their own way of doing things, whether it was only playing holiday and weekend gigs in the early years, taking 6 years before releasing their sophomore album, or refusing to sell t-shirts ("because a t-shirt is something you wear under a shirt"). The band is very sincere about not wanting bonus tracks to interfere with the artistic integrity of the albums. Some might find it pretentious, but the band really thinks of their albums as complete artistic statements (and having listened to these albums hundreds of times over the past decades, I happen to agree). The Feelies probably consider offering bonus tracks as downloads a pretty big artistic compromise.

Personally, I have always found The Feelies' absolute commitment to their artistic vision (even if it meant less money) refreshing, and inseparable from the their overall appeal. If this is the way they want to present their work to the public after it's been out-of-print for so long, I respect that absolutely. Just because there is space on a CD for bonus tracks doesn't mean they belong there, and these albums really do work best as cohesive entities, or "discrete works," if you prefer. Just because it sounds pretentious to say so, doesn't mean it isn't also true. I also agree that "Paint It Black" was best left off
Crazy Rhythms altogether. It never made any sense to include a track recorded so much later by a different line up. I always strongly suspected that A&M tacked the track onto the album without approval from the band, and we now have confirmation that was the case.

I also got a few details on the vinyl pressings:


Bar/None's LP reissues were mastered by Andy VanDette at Masterdisk in NYC
www.masterdisk.com
Pressings will be handled by Rainbo Records and will be 180 gram
www.rainborecords.com

Now for a little bit of bad news:

Original tapes were unfortunately not found. Andreas Meyer from Tangerine Mastering used digital files for both.

Tapes obtained from the band were used for the Fa cé-La [single version], The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness [Carla Bley demo version] and Moscow Nights [Carla Bley demo version]. The live tracks were recorded by their live sound engineer Andy Peters.

It's disappointing to know the original analog tapes for these albums could not be located, but if mastered properly (and Masterdisk usually does a good job) they should still sound very good. Honestly, I've always felt that because of the extremely quiet and long intros, that
Crazy Rhythms was best appreciated on CD anyway (that's not something you will hear me say often by the way). I also really appreciate that the band's management was so forthcoming with information about the sources used for the reissues, as that is not always the case.

Collectors will want to keep their eyes open for a limited edition reissue of the "Fa cé-La" single:


Insound will be exclusively carrying a limited
edition 7" reissue of the original "Fa cé-La" single.
Side A:
Fa cé-La (single version)
Side B:
Raised Eyebrows (album version)

Pressing for this single will also be handled by Rainbo Records.


Steet date for the single is October 8, 2009, and it is available for
pre-order from Insound now.

All in all, this is fantastic news. Not only are two of the best albums of the 80s finally being reissued, but long-time fans can also get some interesting bonus material.

Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth are two of my favorite albums and it is great to see that they will be available again after being unavailable for far too long. I only hope that the reissue of Crazy Rhythms does not overshadow the reissue of The Good Earth. The first album has acquired more critical cache over the years, and the band will be performing it live in its entirety at an upcoming All Tomorrow's Parties event. But perhaps because it was my introduction to the band, but I've always felt The Good Earth was the artistic equal of its more celebrated predecessor. The album has its own pastoral charm that stands as a nice counter-balance to the jumpy nervousness of the debut.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Walkabouts - Cataract

The Walkabouts' Cataract was the first non-grunge album released by Seattle's Sub-Pop records. Much more rooted in folk music than, say, TAD's God's Balls, Cataract was still no precious affair. The influence of punk is clear in some of the rapid tempos and tough guitar work, but the Walkabouts music is as big and open as America itself.

Unfortunately, America proved not to be open to the Walkabouts. Sub-Pop dropped the band in the U.S. after their next album--1991's near perfect Scavenger--failed to meet sales expectations despite some slick production and high-profile guest spots from Natalie Merchant and Brian Eno. The band's subsequent albums have all been European-only releases. It seems absurd that one of America's best bands, playing distinctively American music, cannot get their music released in their home country, but perhaps there is something appropriate about that. The Walkabouts eventually relocated to Europe where the bulk of their small, but devoted, following resides.

Every track on Cataract is strong. I picked two of my favorites, but any other two would have done just as well. The album was released on CD in conjunction with the Rag & Bone EP, but that has been out-of-print for ages. Many of the group's albums are still available, and any and all of them are worth checking out. Also worth checking out is Chris Eckman's new solo album, Last Side of the Mountain, which features lyrics adapted from Slovenian poet Dane Zajc. Zajac's vivid imagery sounds right at home with Eckman's rootsy Americana, and beautiful guest vocals by fellow Walkabout Carla Torgerson make it difficult to distinguish it from a Walkabouts album. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Love Lost (and Found)

I came across some exciting news for fans of Arthur Lee and Love. Sundazed is releasing a previously unissued Love album from 1971:

Sonic archaeology! In a move that defies rational belief, SUNDAZED has unearthed an unissued 1971 album by revered Los Angeles rock band Arthur Lee & Love, languishing in the Columbia Records tape vault.

I assume this is the album that Lee recorded for CBS--tentatively titled Dear You--after his deal with Blue Thumb expired. While I was aware of the existence of this album, I have never heard it, and am not aware of the tapes ever circulating in traders circles (although I am not really up on these things). Either way, this is a major find, and I'm glad this material will finally see the light of day through Sundazed.

But [think of a Ronco infomercial here] that's not all you get! According to Sundazed:

And that's not all! We've also uncovered a marvelous batch of acoustic demos for the ‘71 album, featuring just the magical voice of Arthur Lee and his acoustic guitar. It's a thrilling twin-discovery of ultra-important material that no one knew existed.

As a precursor to the release of this breath-taking Arthur Lee and Love material (to be called Love Lost), we've created a 7” single of two knockout tracks from the demo sides. “Love Jumped Through My Window” is cut from the same fine cloth as every heart-stopping Love track you've ever heard. And the flipside, “Sad Song,” — in alternate take form here — will appear only on seven-inch vinyl. The Love maestro is in superlative voice on both of these exquisite unheard sides.

These two songs eventually appeared on Lee's 1972 solo debut, Vindicator. From the short 30 second clips Sundazed has made available these acoustic demos sound far better than the over-cooked hard rock of Vindicator, so this looks to be a very promising release. The single will be released August 25, and is available for pre-order from Sundazed now.

I don't have any information beyond that this at this point, but I have made an inquiry with Sundazed and will keep you updated as details emerge.

In other Lee/Love news, I noticed that a label called Friday Music has reissued a couple of Lee collectors items. The first is the Arthur Lee album that was first issued by Rhino back in the 80s that I reviewed a while back. The other is an album called Love Live featuring material Lee recorded with Bryan Maclean in 1978 (Rhino originally issued that one as a picture disc).

Friday, July 03, 2009

Galaxie 500 Reissues

Great news for Galaxie 500 fans. damon & naomi's label, 20-20-20, has reissued Galaxie 500's three studio albums on premium vinyl and as digital downloads. These albums have long been unavailable on vinyl, and the original Rough Trade pressings were nothing special to begin with. The band seems to have gone all out to make these LPs sound as good as possible. The vinyl was "remastered by Alan Douches and [original producer] Kramer at West West Side Music, cut by Kevin Gray at AcousTech, pressed to virgin vinyl at RTI, and packaged in old-fashioned tip-on style jackets at Stoughton." You really can't ask for better than that, so I'm very excited to hear these. (As an aside, I can't help but note that while these are being reissued on LP--a format declared dead around the time the albums were originally issued--they are not being re-released on CD. Who's the dead format now?)

The albums are available from Galaxie 500's official online store in a variety of ordering options. MP3s are have been encoded at 320kps, but even better the band has made Apple Lossless files available for download at the same price (a practice I hope more bands and labels will follow). If you only want the vinyl, you can order the LPs directly from 20-20-20 for only $15 a piece. This is a very reasonable price for LPs mastered at AcousTech and pressed at RTI, most labels charge nearly twice that much.

As for the music, I can say without fear of hyperbole that these are three of the best indie-rock albums ever released, as well as some of the best albums released during the 1980s. If you know Galaxie 500 you already know this, if you don't I strongly recommend you download the free MP3 of "Fourth Of July" as well as the video for damon & naomi's "Song to the Siren" (see below).

Happy 4th of July!



Monday, June 29, 2009

R.I.P. - Sky Saxon

Farrah Fawcett wasn't the only person to have their death go less noticed than it should have been because of untimely demise of the "King of Pop." I was very sad to learn of the passing of Sky "Sunlight" Saxon this past Thursday. Saxon was a true rock legend, a man whose life and musical legacy deserve far more attention than they have received.

My friend Peter wrote a very eloquent post about Sky and his music here a couple of years ago, and the single biggest thrill I've gotten from running this blog came when the man himself, Sky "Sunlight" Saxon, posted his thanks in the comments section. I was truly elated to know that a legend like Saxon had stumbled across this humble blog.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Sky's loved ones and friends.

R.I.P. - Michael Jackson

We headed up to New Hampshire for a short vacation starting last Wednesday and on the way up I pulled up the Jam's Sound Affects on my iPod.

Perhaps because I once read a quote from Paul Weller in which he claimed Sound Affects was intended to sound like a cross between The Beatles' Revolver and Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, I started thinking about Jackson. I said to my wife something to the effect of "someday we're going to find out all the weird stuff that has been going on with Jackson the over past 10+ years, and it won't be pretty." I didn't realize it at the time, but I was talking about what would happen when Jackson died, which coincidentally happened the next day.

Because we were staying in a motel, I had access to cable news (no cable at home), and its weird world of wall-to-wall coverage of major and not-so-major events. It was strange hearing the different takes on Jackson. Depending on who you believe, Michael Jackson was either the closest thing the world has ever seen to a perfect human being (a child-like, innocent and kind humanitarian who only thought of others) or history's greatest monster (a master manipulator, with bizarre, twisted and seemingly insatiable appetites). Of all the people I heard voicing their opinion on Jackson on CNN, MSNBC and Fox, no one outside of Deepak Chopra offered anything close to a nuanced opinion on the man and his personal life. (Chopra clearly had great affection for Jackson as a person, but also seemed intensely aware of his flaws.)

Personally, I do not have any special insight into Michael Jackson, other than to fall back on cliches like "the truth probably lies somewhere in between," which, given the wide chasm between the two camps of opinion, hardly seems adequate either. In any case, the world doesn't need my opinion on who Michael Jackson really was, and not only because I honestly have no idea.

Perhaps the most prescient take on Michael Jackson was offered in episode one of the third season of The Simpsons, in which Jackson lent his voice to Leon Kompowsky, a bricklayer from Patterson, NJ and mental patient laboring under the illusion that he is Michael Jackson. Though Bart is initially let down when Homer brings home a "big white guy who thinks he's the little black guy" instead of the real Michael Jackson, Kompowsky still manages to save the day by helping Bart write a song for Lisa's birthday.

In other words, maybe who Michael Jackson really was matters less than who people (his fans and detractors alike) think he was. Michael Jackson's music has brought joy to millions, and no doubt will continue to do so for many, many years. But he is also there for those of us who need monsters to demonize as well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saturn V

I wanted to follow up on the Razorcuts post from yesterday with some music from singer/guitarist Gregory Webster's next band, Saturn V (not to be confused with the surf rock band The Saturn V featuring Orbit, as All Music has apparently done).

Saturn V released a nice single on the short-lived Shimmy Disc pop label, Koko Pop, and an album on Vinyl Japan in 1993, then disappeared. It's too bad, because the small amount of music they released was quite good, similar in many respects to the Razorcuts, although perhaps a bit less twee.

Both the single, Dominator, and the album Skycycle are well worth tracking down if you can find them.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Elvis Costello - Secret, Profane & Sugarcane CD vs LP

Here's another comparison of compression levels from a recent CD and LP release, this time the new Elvis Costello album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. When I compared tracks on Mr. Declan Patrick MacManus' last album, Momofuku, I noted that the CD appeared to be considerably more compressed than the LP. That is not the case with the new album. True, the CD looks to be slightly louder, but that is probably just due to a stray peak or two on the LP. Overall, these look (and sound I might I add) quite similar. If anything, the CD probably has a bit more dynamic range due to the lower noise floor, which is as it should be.

This is good news, because neither the LP or the CD suffer from over-compression, something that would have really done serious damage to the largely acoustic music on the album. So score one for the good guys in the ongoing loudness wars.

The LP does have a couple of bonus tracks, so it's still the version to get however.


"My All Time Doll" CD Version

"My All Time Doll" LP Version

The Pains of Being Razorcut

My friend Peter recently turned me onto the latest indie-rock hype band, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. If someone had told me before I heard them that they had a retro J&M Chain/C86 vibe to them, I might not have bothered to listen to them. I've heard a few bands recently that harken back to that sound, and inevitably, my reaction has been a cynical "been there done that."

But POBPAH (sorry, but their name demands abbreviation) had a different effect on me. From the first chords of "Contender" I got an instant psychocandy sugar jolt that sent me on a nostalgia trip resulting in me digging through my old records to rediscover POBPAH's antecedents (that is, after I listened to POBPAH twice through).

I had to needledrop my copy of Psychocandy (which itself was thought to be a slavishly imatative album on its original release, but holds up quite nicely on its own terms nearly a quarter century later). I also dug out some of my old british "shoegazer" and C86 albums, including a compilation of music by the Razorcuts called Patterns On The Water: A Retrospective. Patterns has been unavailable for so long it doesn't even show up at Amazon. A more recent compilation R Is For Razorcuts, is also out-of-print and fetching megabucks. (The A Is For Alphabet EP is still available on CD and as a download, so if you dig what you hear pick that up).

Fans of POBPAH will likely enjoy the slightly fey and extremely catchy nature of the Razorcuts' music (although it's not as noisy, for that you need Psychocandy).

So okay, I've been there and done that, but POBPAH is good enough to make me want to go back and do it all over again. They deliver what some of these other neo-shoegaze bands don't: excellent songs that transcend the formula. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some footwear to contemplate.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

I Asked For Water (S/he Gave Me Gasoline)

I've noticed more and more formerly out-of-print music has been made officially available for download, even without a reissue on CD or LP. This is a great thing, and something that I have advocated since starting this blog. But it does present a certain dilemma for me in so far as there is increasingly less interesting out-of-print music for me to write about.

But every once in a while, I am shocked to discover a really great album that is unavailable in any format and fetching high prices on the used market. Such is the case with Lucinda Williams' eponymous 1988 album.

It took Lucinda Williams eight long years to follow up her first album of original material, 1980's Happy Woman Blues. Perfection takes time. Williams had grown enormously as a songwriter, singer and performer during the interval between albums. Unfortunately, it would take another ten years for the music buying public to figure out what those of us lucky enough to hear this album (released on Rough Trade a couple of years before it went bankrupt) already knew: Lucinda Williams is a genius.

"Changed the Locks" was released as a single, and is one of the stand-out tracks on an album full of stand-out tracks. The lyrics are at once harrowing yet ambiguous. It's clear that Lucinda's protagonist (or is it just her?) is on the run from a relationship gone very wrong. She's hiding from something so powerful and all-consuming that she's gone so far as to erase her identity and move heaven and earth in order to start over. She never fully articulates why, although she perhaps drops a hint with the line "so you can't knock me off my feet." Does she mean that figuratively, or literally? Or both?

One thing is clear: whoever or whatever she is hiding from in this song has scared the hell out of her, and hearing her sing about it, it scares the hell out me too. Lucinda's deliberate pacing and careful delivery turns a song that in lesser hands could have been the audio equivalent of a Lifetime movie staring Valerie Bertinelli into a masterpiece.

Tom Petty covered "Changed the Locks" on the She's The One Soundtrack. He does a fine job, but this is a case where the change of gender really damages the song on some fundamental level. Having a man sing the song reduces the ambiguous tension at the core of its power. And before anyone objects that "men get trapped in abusive relationships too" (yeah, I know I saw that episode of Montel), cut me a break. I just can't buy this as a guy's song.

"Crescent City" is a beautiful love letter to New Orleans, and just another damn fine song. But every song on the album is a classic.

In 1988 Lucinda Williams sounded fresh and ahead of its time (or perhaps refreshingly behind the times). The passing years have done nothing to diminish that impression; it sounds just as fresh and vibrant today, even after a flood of mediocre alt.country/Americana/No Depression/Whatever releases have created a codified market for this kind of music.

**UPDATE: According to posts on LucindaWilliams.com, it appears there is a long-delayed deluxe edition of this album in the works, possibly due in September.

Monday, May 04, 2009

George Jones - Musicor Years

Great news from Bear Family:

George Jones' classic Musicor recordings have been out of circulation for years while a lawsuit was resolved. Jones' Musicor recordings were never issued systematically or in full until now! Jones' Musicor recordings were never issued in premium sound quality until now! This CD boxed set includes all-time classic George Jones hits, such as 'Love Bug' (revived by George Strait), 'Take Me', 'Four-O-Thirty Three', and 'Walk Through This World With Me'. Includes two complete George Jones sessions with false starts and alternate takes. Be there with George in the studio! The first of two boxes that will eventually include every Musicor recording, except the duets with Gene Pitney (available elsewhere on Bear Family)! -- These were George Jones' truly classic years. After more than a decade as one of country music's top stars, newfound maturity and soulfulness augmented what was already the greatest voice in country music. The six years from 1965 to 1971 that Jones spent on Musicor Records were marked by personal turmoil and unprecedented success, but through it all he kept minting one country standard after another. This is the first part of Bear Family's comprehensive two volume edition of Jones' complete Musicor recordings, covering all sessions from 1965 until mid-1967. Until now, the Musicor sides were randomly packaged and many were unavailable, but the two Bear Family boxes (plus one CD of duets with Gene Pitney available elsewhere on Bear Family) will tell the complete story. Here are the fabulous original albums, including his tributes to Dallas Frazier and the duet albums with Melba Montgomery, plus such all-time George Jones standards as 'Things Have Gone To Pieces', 'Love Bug', 'Take Me', 'I'm A People', 'Four-O-Thirty Three', and one of the greatest ever country classics, 'Walk Through This World With Me'. It's all here in stunningly restored sound together with ten previously unissued recordings, including fabulous early versions of 'Love Bug' and 'Take Me', recorded in Houston. -- In all, this set includes 142 songs on five CDs, plus two complete sessions from Houston with false starts and alternate takes. -- This set includes liner notes by Rich Kienzle and a complete discography by Don Roy, Kittra Moore, and Richard Weize.

I probably have a dozen of George Jones' Musicor LPs, but not anywhere close to all the music he recorded for the label. Also, while the quality of the songs on these albums tends to be quite high, the LPs themselves are another matter. The condition of the LPs is variable (not all of Possums' fans are also audiophiles apparently), and there are many, many tracks that are repeated across LPs. Anytime I buy a Musicor album I didn't already own I get on average three or four new songs because of the high percentage of repeats.

Of course I'm gonna hold on to those LPs, if for no other reason than to keep all those beautiful pictures of George in all his buzz cut, nudie suit splendor. Now how about a complete Starday/Mercury set?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

If you're trying to decide if it's worth shelling out for the new Dylan double LP versus the cheaper CD, these pictures might help you decide.

"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" CD Version

"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" LP Version

I've kind of burned out on talking about what these differences mean (see previous posts tagged "loudness wars" for my thoughts on this subject). On average the LP version of this track has about 4 dB more dynamic range than the CD. This despite the fact that technically (as I've mentioned before) CD is capable of around 30 dB more dynamic range than the LP.

The difference between the two versions isn't as dramatic as I remember it being with Modern Times, so perhaps we're seeing some progress. But at around -11 dB average RMS the CD, while not the worst offender in the loudness wars, is still (in my opinion) too loud to sound really good. By comparison, with the peaks normalized to 0 dB, the LP version is around -15 dB average RMS, which allows for a more exciting, dynamic presentation.

The pressing quality of my LP was pretty good with only a few stray clicks and pops. I could quibble with the packaging: shoving two 180 gram LPs into a single, flimsy cover will quickly lead to seam splits. For $26, a gatefold cover would have been nice, but at least the CD is included as a bonus (if you can call it that).

BTW, I'm really loving the music. Dylan just keeps reaching further and further back in time for musical inspiration. But you don't need me to tell you Uncle Bobby is great and that he's on a serious late-career roll.

A Request...

Sony/Legacy has a reissue request feedback forum. You can go there and request specific reissues. Users can also "vote" on other requests. I put in a request that Sony start using their original analog master tapes rather (or at least hi-rez DSD digital copies) for their LP reissues. I don't see much point to buying an LP that has been mastered using a CD resolution digital file (which is apparently what Sony has been using for their recent LP reissue series).

So if you agree that it would be preferable to master LPs from the original analog master tapes, stop by the Sony/Legacy forum and vote for this request. You must register, but the process is quite painless, you can even use your google/yahoo/AOL ID.

While you're there you can also vote for my suggestion to reissue Sly Stone's High On You and Heard Ya Missed, Well I'm Back. You can also put in a request for vinyl reissues of some of Bob Dylan's more recent albums, and a reissue of Neil Diamond's complete Bang recordings, or add your own suggestion.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Great Moments In Flexi-Disc History

While searching for the Kendra Smith flexi-disc, I came across this one, given away with a different issue of The BOB Magazine. I had totally forgotten I had this, but it's a good one.

The A-side "I'll Meet You Halfway" by Redd Kross is an outtake from 1993's Phaseshifter. It sounds to me like the boys were going for a kind of Neil Diamond vibe here (quite sucessfully, I might add). This also appeared on the B-side of "The Lady In The Front Row" 7" single (but not on the 10" EP that I own, go figure).

Side two has a then 48 year-old Moe Tucker performing "Teenager In Love" accompanied by her daughter Kate on violin and sax. Like everything else Moe touches, the results are completely charming.

The other B-side track, "So So Sick" appeared in a slightly different version (titled "So Sick") on Unrest's fantastic 1992 album Perfect Teeth. I believe this version also appeared on a limited edition Teenbeat 7" box set of the album. It's criminal that Perfect Teeth, one of the best albums of the 90s, has fallen out-of-print. It's not even available as a download, although a compilation of some of the better tracks and rarities from the same period, B.P.M. (1991-1994), is available at iTunes. "So So Sick" (possibly the same version as this one) is also available there, presumably sans flexi-disc induced distortion. Once again, I've done my best to clean up the sound without negatively impacting the music, I hope you enjoy the results.

[link expired]

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Kendra Smith - Alle Morgens Parties

I'm still here.

I recently got a request to re-up Kendra Smith's German language version of "All Tomorrow's Parties," which I originally posted long ago. It's worth hearing again, but I thought I would also take the opportunity to re-record the track, and apply some of what I've learned about digitizing vinyl in between time. This was taken from a flexi disc given away with The BOB Magazine. It's never going to sound like the kind of recording audiophiles use to demo interconnect cables, but I think it sounds a lot better than the first time I did it. (Long time readers who downloaded this back in 2006, let me know what you think).

I don't have a lot to add to what I said originally, which wasn't much to begin with. It's uncanny how fully Kendra Smith and Steve Wynn were channeling The Velvet Underground when they recorded this track back in 1981. If I didn't already know better and someone told me this was an alternate take from the Velvets' session that produced the Norman Dolph acetate, I would believe it. Slavish imitation? Sure, but also great.

I'd like to apologize to my regular readers for not posting in a while. I've been suffering from a case of what might charitably be called writer's block. But I'm going to keep posting, if not necessarily at the rapid pace I once did.

Alle Morgens Parties (click to download)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Robyn Hitchcock - Goodnight Oslo

Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 release a new album, Goodnight Oslo, in the U.S. tomorrow (it was released in the UK last week). I pre-ordered the vinyl directly from Yep Roc so that I could get a bonus CD with a few non-album tracks (somehow, I feel it is important that I add to my seemingly bottomless well of Hitchcock obscurities). I just noticed that the release date for the LP is not until March 3, so hopefully Yep Roc will give me access to the digital tracks tomorrow.

From the bits that I've heard of the album, it sounds very good. It's clearly the most carefully produced and pop-friendly album we've heard from our hero since his stay at A&M ended in the mid-nineties. The production sounds crisp, but not overdone. Certainly it's not fussed over to the point that the music will sound dated in a couple years.

In the meantime, I finally picked up the Luminous Groove boxset (on CD). Despite my uncharacteristic foot dragging, it's an essential purchase for any Hitchcock fan. The three albums presented in the box, fegMANIA!, Gotta Let This Hen Out!, and Element of Light, were among my first Hitchcock purchases and remain favorites. Between cassettes, LPs, and various CD editions, I've probably bought each of these albums several times over at this point. No doubt I'll buy them again when they're offered as implantable nano-crystals, or whatever format lies on the horizon beyond digital downloads.

Yep Roc currently has all three of these CDs on sale for $5, but the boxset (despite being pricey) is easy to recommend because of the excellence of the bonus material found on the double CD Bad Case of History album. The first CD focuses on (mostly) previously unreleased studio material. Much of it dates from 1987, the period between Element of Light and the Egyptians A&M debut, Globe of Frogs. Another excellent batch of previously unreleased songs dates from 1994. The material sounds too well produced to be demos, but not as polished as what appeared on the official releases from the period. It's hard to figure out why these songs wouldn't have seen release sooner. The liner notes are of no help in this regard, because there are none to speak of. Highlights include, "Bad Case of History," "Poisonous Angel," "Evil Guy," "Ivy Alone," and one of my all-time favorites "Surfer Ghost." The second CD collects live tracks recorded at various gigs from 1991 to 1993, think of it as Gotta Let This Hen Out! Mach II!

Here's another Egyptians obscurity from Hitchcock's A&M years that is not represented on the boxset. "Watch Your Intelligence" was released on the b-side of the "So You Think Your In Love" promo 12" in 1991. Perhaps this song will see official release on some future CD boxset chronicling Hitchcock's A&M recordings, but of course we might have moved on to nano-crystals by the time that happens. Stay tuned.

Watch Your Intelligence [right click to download]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Songs The Cramps Taught Us: Psychedelic Jungle


Well when I die don't you burry me at all, Just nail my bones up on the wall, Beneath these bones let these words be seen, "This is the bloody gears of a boppin' machine" Roll on...


I've spent a lot of time the past couple weeks thinking about what made The Cramps so great. Perhaps this should be an easy question to answer. I could just say "it's the music" and move on. But I think there's more to it than that.

Part of what makes The Cramps' music so powerful is the way in which Lux and Ivy were able to create a kind of alternative universe that their fans could inhabit. And the world they created is more tangible, more real, in part because it has been stitched together--like some beautiful Frankenstein monster--from things that are real (twisted rockabilly, garage punk, budget horror films, etc.).

The music The Cramps covered is an important part of their aesthetic. With their choice of covers, it was as if Lux and Ivy were pointing us toward a secret history of rock'n'roll. It was a history in which the music never became homogenized and corporatized, a history where rock'n'roll remained the music of outsiders, freaks and deviants. The Cramps were not alone in this attempt to reclaim rock'n'roll from the normals ("Gabba gabba we accept you, we accept you, one of us"), but they brought a powerful sense of history to the project.

It's a fight Lux kept up till his last breath, and for that I salute him. Rock on.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Songs The Cramps Taught Us: She Said

Like Flies On Sherbert was recorded, mostly, over three nights in 1978, mixed over the year that followed, and released to an unsuspecting world in 1979 by Selvidge's Peabody label. While it takes only three minutes to record a song, Chilton emphasizes that sorting it out takes a lot longer, "especially if you cut things that're really crazy." Only five hundred of the album were pressed (a British label subsequently pressed a version), and I suspect that through a series of phone calls over a short time, one could locate the individuals who own four hundred of them. Peabody had little distribution, but Chilton’s ardent fans managed to acquire their copies.

- from It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon

During high school, I suffered from an extended case of insomnia. I spent most nights watching bad horror films on TV and listening to Nuggets-style garage rock, punk and 50s music. During my sophomore year, at the behest of my good friend, Bill, I bought Songs The Lord Taught Us by The Cramps. This took some convincing, I am ashamed to admit, as I was skeptical of any band that wouldn’t have a bass player. Anyway, when I finally listened, I heard songs that mixed Nuggets-style garage rock, punk and 50s music with lyrics about insomnia and horror movies. It was as if some sick pranksters had recorded a platter especially for me.

I became, and remain, a Cramps fan.

At that time, Lux & Ivy's last "real album" was 1981's moody Psychedelic Jungle. Since that creepy crawl, they had bestowed upon us a great live EP (Smell Of Female) an import comp (Off The Bone) and a US comp (Bad Music For Bad People) but no new stuff.

Despite being virtually identical to Off The Bone, Bad Music For Bad People was somehow my favorite. It was less expensive, for starters. More importantly, it had some of the greatest cover art of all time. In addition, it arrived on IRS Records, a label I (ahem) trusted. Finally, I got real gone on "New Kind Of Kick" and "Can't Hardly Stand It" -- both became mixtape favorites.

A highlight of Bad Music For Bad People was "She Said," a rockabilly shudder that sounded like the product of a drunken night. Lux Interior hectored listeners through a disposable cup he had lodged in his mouth to give the chanting an appropriately incoherent quality. At the mall, my friends and I would shout its maddening chorus, "Whoo Ee Ah Ah!," at each other like some catch phrase along the lines of "Where’s The Beef?" or "Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls."

Around this time, (I'm not sure of the exact date) a compilation entitled Rockabilly Psychosis & The Garage Disease marched in on Big Beat Records It contained original takes of songs later covered by The Cramps, such as "She Said," "The Crusher" and the unbalanced "Love Me." Shards like The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's infamous "Paralyzed," The Sonics' "Psycho," and a cool number by The Gun Club made the disc all the more enticing. The coup de grace (coup d'etat?) - it held within its vinyl etchings, The Cramps, themselves, performing "Red Headed Woman" alongside Jim Dickinson, who I may or may not have heard of at the time. I have to assume "Red Headed Woman" was done by the group during a sojourn to Memphis to record with Alex Chilton. It's a fun song, and it features the the very talented Mr. Dickinson on lead vocals - but, darn it, I wanted Lux.

Still, I played the record to death.

With that...

"She Said" startled me. It was dramatically different than the version on Bad Music For Bad People that I had become used to. The Cramps' rendition, while obviously screwy enough, at least sounded like it was taped in a studio. There were discernible guitar parts and somebody had taken the time to set up a drum kit. This "She Said" however, as played by somebody named Hasil Adkins, sounded like a field recording of a mentally ill man. The Whoo Ee Ah Ah! bit, instead of being fun and catchy, was raspy and feisty - an evil whoop. There was no way of recognizing the instruments. Instead, I caught a simple rattling behind the lyrics that I assumed was intentional. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before.

I examined both versions of "She Said." Over and over. One against the other. As if by voodoo, I began encountering mentions of Hasil Adkins in magazines. He was some Appalachian nut who lived in a disused bus and howled about "hunching" and hot dogs. A basic misunderstanding of the recording process led Mr. Atkins to believe that most rock & roll musicians were one-man-bands who played guitar and percussion at the same time, which is precisely what he learned to do.

I quickly realized that the punkabilly and psychobilly I had been listening to for the past year represented fairly refined, or at least distilled, versions of maniacal sounds which had emanated from a vanishing America.

I figured I should hear more.

I learned about Hasil Adkins from The Cramps. I learned about a masked, musical polygamist who recorded under the alias "The Phantom" from The Cramps. I heard about Irving Klaw and Russ Meyer. I found out which numbers Carl Perkins was alleged to have recorded while tanked.

That's the effect The Cramps had on a lot of listeners. Lux & Ivy were infinitely hip people - always a few steps ahead of their audience. By listening to their records - which, frankly, there are too few of - we got a brief view into their unique world. Enticed by those flash glimpses, we always wanted to see more - they were magnificent carnival barkers; we were suckers stumbling by. We flatfoots knew our world could never be as wild or as groovy as theirs, but they inspired us to try.

The late, great Lux Interior and his brilliant partner, Ivy Rorschach, fired up a generation of oddball kids to search for the real and the campy and the artificial and the ugly and the beautiful and to find something/anything that rolled them all up into one fun, scary mess.

I miss him already.

Songs the Cramps Taught Us: Tav Falco's Panther Burns

A year after working with the Cramps in Memphis to produce tracks that would appear on Songs the Lord Taught Us and Gravest Hits, Alex Chilton was working with Tav Falco to create a masterpiece of wail and reverb on Behind the Magnolia Curtain.

1979 also happened to be the year Chilton released his polarizing Like Flies On Sherbert LP. This is one of those albums you love or hate and critics mostly hate it. I happen to love it, warts and all. "Hey Little Child!" is simply one of Chilton's finest moments. And while there are a few missteps, it's a really enjoyable record that explores rock and roll, country and blues in it's most basic forms.

Tav Falco's Panther Burns Behind The Magnolia Curtain also happens to be one of those records that you'll write off as a lo-fi mess or can't get enough of. The parallels between "Bourgeois Blues" and "Teenage Heart" with what the Cramps were doing during this period is obvious. I've also included the track "Red Headed Woman" from The Unreleased Sessions recorded at Kingsbury High School in Memphis.

In contrast, the track "Pantherman" from the ep Blow Your Top was recorded at Radio City Music Hall and represents Tav's New York period. The guitar on this track does have a nervy, edgy sound that was much more typical of New York than Memphis at the time.

Go man go!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Lux Reading

Available for free this week on Rock's Back Pages three cool interviews with Lux Interior by Paul Rambali (1978), Cynthia Rose (1983), and Susan Compo (1995).

One quote from Rambali's piece really jumped out at me:

For us, we've loved rock'n'roll all our lives, and this band is the end of it. We're not using the band to get into galleries or become mime dancers or anything. We want to be a rock'n'roll band, and I'll do it till past when I'm dead.


Made back in 1978, it's a promise Lux more than kept. Rock on Garbageman.

Songs The Cramps Taught Us: Green Fuz

The Cramps second album, the great Psychedelic Jungle, contained a remarkable seven covers. This was "remarkable" in the sense that it's an extraordinarily large amount of covers, and in the sense that the songs themselves were, well, remarkable. Everyone of the songs they covered was incredibly obscure at the time the album was released in 1981, so much so that only the most dedicated record hounds and devotes of musical esoterica would have recognized all of them as covers. Additionally, each of the songs seemed so much of a piece with The Cramps' musical vision, that it was hard to imagine they could have emanated from anywhere other than Lux Interior's twisted imagination.

So this week, in honor of the late Lux Interior, I will present the original versions of each of the seven covers presented on Psychedelic Jungle, alongside The Cramps' cover versions for your listening pleasure. My friends Guy and Peter have also promised to do "Songs The Cramps Taught Us" posts in Lux's honor.

"Green Fuz" (or "Greenfuz") was originally recorded by garage rockers Randy Alvey & the Green Fuz from Bridgeport Texas at a deserted roadside cafe in 1969. "Green Fuz" had already appeared on the second Pebbles compilation by the time it appeared on The Cramps' second album, but no doubt the way a lot of people first heard it (present company included) was as the classic lead off track to Psychedelic Jungle.

R.I.P. - Blossom Dearie

I was saddened to hear of another passing of a great musician, this time jazz chanteuse Blossom Dearie. With her wispy, girlish voice and playful demeanor, Dearie was entirely unique among jazz singers.

The obituary in The New York Times explains why Dearie was a woman after my own heart:
But just under her fey camouflage lay a needling wit. If you listened closely, you could hear the scathing contempt she brought to one of her signature songs, “I’m Hip,” the Dave Frishberg-Bob Dorough demolition of a namedropping bohemian poseur.

Further,
Ms. Dearie didn’t suffer fools gladly and was unafraid to voice her disdain for music she didn’t like; the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber were a particular pet peeve.

Seriously, anyone who hates Andrew Lloyd Webber is okay with me.

But while Dearie was best known for her unique interpretations of jazz standards, she first came to my attention (and I suspect many of my generation) through her work on the educational Saturday morning cartoon series Schoolhouse Rocks. It was Dearie who taught me how to unpack my adjectives and the simple beauty of the figure eight.



It wasn't until many years later that I discovered Dearie's voice could be equally enchanting singing jazz standards. Here are two of my favorites that were associated with her. Her version of "Rhode Island Is Famous For You" ought to be adopted as our official state song. Even though it was Ethel Merman who first introduced Cole Porter's "Give Him The Ooh-La-La" it sounds like it was written for Dearie's playful voice.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Lux Left Instructions

I wanna leave a happy memory when I go,
I wanna leave something to let the whole world know,

That the rock 'n' roll daddy has a done passed on,

But my bones will keep a rockin' long after I've gone...
Rock on...


Lux Interior left instructions as to what should happen in the event of his demise. We're supposed to rock on, which is exactly what I intend to do. But not before paying proper respect.

It's impossible to calculate the effect The Cramps' music has had on me personally. It was largely through The Cramps that I learned to appreciate the pleasures of junk culture--the stuff I had always been taught to look down on. More than any punk band, The Cramps taught me that rock'n'roll music is at its most powerful when it is at its simplest. More than any other band (with the possible exception of The Ramones) The Cramps taught me that rock'n'roll music should be fun. More than any other band The Cramps taught me not to eat stuff off the sidewalk (no matter how good it looks). I literally do not know what would have become of me without The Cramps.

I can't think of a better description of The Cramps' music than that provided on the back of their first EP, Gravest Hits, by Dr. J.H. Satisfy, Professor of Rockology, American Rock'n'Roll Institute, Washington D.C. U.S.A.:

In the Spring of 1976, The Cramps began to fester in a NYC apartment. Without fresh air or natural light, the group developed its uniquely mutant strain of rock'n'roll aided only by the sickly, blue rays of late night TV.

While the jackhammer rhythms of punk were proliferating in NYC, The Cramps dove into the deepest recesses of of the rock'n'roll psyche for the most primal of all rhythmic impulses - Rockabilly - the sound of Southern culture falling apart in a blaze of shudders and hiccups.

As late night Sci-Fi reruns coloured the room, The Cramps also picked and chose amongst the psychotic debris of previous rock eras - instrumental rock, surf, psychadelia, and sixties punk.

And then they added the junkiest element of all - Themselves.

Nick Knox, stoic drummer with the history of the big beat written in his left hand. Ivy Rorschach, Voodoo guitarist with the rhythm method down as pat as her blonde beauty. Bryan Gregory, flipping cigs and fractured guitar runs at the incredulous mob. And Lux Interior, the band's frontal lobe, wherein Elvis gets crossed with Vincent Price and decent folks ask, "What hath God wrought?"

The Cramps don't pummel and you won't pogo. They ooze, you'll throb.

The rock 'n' roll daddy has done passed on, but his bones will keep a rockin' long after he's gone.

I'm breaking my usual rule about not posting music that is commercially available because "Rockin' Bones" is available on the Psychedelic Jungle/Gravest Hits CD two-fer. And if you don't own--at the very least--The Cramps IRS records, go out and buy them right now, then work your way through the rest of their catalog. But this version is kind of special because it was transcribed directly from a vinyl copy of Psychedelic Jungle purchased by a genuine mutant teenager.

Next week: "Songs The Cramps Taught Us."