Archive for December, 2009

The Nice “Ars Longa Vita Brevis”

Ars Long Vita Brevis

Opinions on this, the band’s second album, are so polarised that I did seriously think of suggesting it for a uReview, but I guess it’s not well enough known to make that a starter. Nonetheless, the only thing more polarised than its reviews is the nature of the opus itself. The first three tracks are some of the most wigged-out psychedelic songs ever recorded; these almost universally garner critical praise. By contrast the remainder of the album sees the genesis of Keith Emerson’s bombastic “pomp-rock” style, via cod-classical and bebop jazz; this element of his output has been popularly ridiculed for years. Not that this ever worried him: the Nice always existed on the edge, offering compromises to nobody, even in the band’s name – a “nice” is hippie argot for a person who’s high and happy on marijuana. And, being far and away the most prodigiously talented rock keyboardist ever, arrogance and excess came early and easily to Emerson; the only difference between the Nice and ELP is that the earlier band didn’t sell squillions of albums. The title of this one translates loosely as “life is short but art endures” – perhaps indicative of Keith’s elevated opinion of his own product.

The excellent psych confections “Daddy, Where Did I Come From?”, “Little Arabella” and “Happy Freuds” fall somewhere between Syd Barrett and early Zappa, offering a variety of sophisticated musical backings with ludicrous Alice-in-Wonderland lyrics in which bassist Lee Jackson’s vocal limitations actually contribute to the effect (with the help of a little vari-speed and echo). These lead into what is probably Emerson’s best-ever classical reinterpretation – at nine minutes a little too long to sample here – in which the somber, gorgeous melody of Sibelius’s “Intermezzo” from the Karelia Suite becomes a furious military march overlaid by brilliant Hammond harmonisation and a contrapuntal, partly bowed bass line. The title track, somewhat ingenuously subtitled “Symphony For Group And Orchestra”, actually consists of four very disparate segued pieces, linked only by brief Copland-esque orchestrations in the Prelude, the Coda and between the second and third “movements”; elsewhere, the orchestra is used only sparingly. “Awakening” is the vehicle (this being 1968-) for a somewhat underwhelming Brian Davison drumkit solo, while “Realisation” starts with some pretentious poetry from Jackson before dissolving into a clattering bebop-style piano tour-de-force. The orchestra features more strongly in the lilting “Acceptance” a.k.a. “Brandenburger”, in which J S Bach’s delightful theme from the third Brandenburg Concerto is further enlivened by some gloriously bluesy Hammond soloing; it’d be nice to think that old Johann Sebastian would have appreciated this joyous updating of his work. Finally, “Denial” provides a noisy proto-prog instrumental workout for all three musicians before the orchestra reappears for the short coda. The CD reissue’s bonus tracks include the band’s infamous reworking of Bernstein’s “America”, which the composer reportedly did NOT find amusing.

Note that the whole of this album can be found on The Immediate Anthology200, which is a bargain compilation excellent in most respects but substitutes a mono-only version of “Arabella” (in this case definitely inferior!) and an earlier demo version of “Daddy” (likewise). The pukka item also offers a good retrospective booklet.

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“Daddy, Where Did I Come From?”

:D The Immediate Collection | 2000 | Castle Music UK | at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Immediate | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Booker T. & the MG’s “In the Christmas Spirit”

In The Christmas Spirit

I love mining the cracks and depths of the rock era, hunting down lost or obscure gems, but I’m not about to put some rare junk or novelty crap on my Christmas mix. The holidays are a time for family entertainment and this jock aims to please the crowd. Mostly, I’m looking for classic tracks with the elusive “christmas sound,” that special magic that separates rushed covers of holiday standards from the true “christmas canon.”

Year after year, Booker T.’s In The Christmas Spirit is where it’s at. Famous as the legendary house band at Stax, the MG’s defined the sound of southern soul backing records for the likes of Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. Even likely the men behind some of the artists on Atlantic’s classic Soul Christmas, cutting classic grooves like Otis’s “Merry Christmas Baby.”

This collection of souled-up instrumentals hits the pocket for me, and it’s versatile as a party record or lite background music. Easily essential this time of year.

Other perfect holiday records to recommend include Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You, The Beach Boys Christmas Album, the original Soul Christmas, and Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.

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“Jingle Bells”

:) Vinyl Reissue | 2009 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed ]

Q. What records are on your Christmas mix?

Kaleidoscope (US) “A Beacon From Mars”

beaconfrommars

As good as Kaleidoscope’s debut was (1967’s Side Trips), A Beacon From Mars expanded on the group’s sound greatly, as it includes two excellent “long” tracks: the Eastern instrumental jam “Taxim” and the ghostly blues-rocking title cut, which is full of feedback and excellent harp work.  These two tracks were cut live in the studio with no overdubs or studio interference.  Chris Darrow explains, “We needed an album that really sounded like us live, not a stacked, layered sound that was so prevalent. We decided to record the way only jazz musicians were recording, live” (taken from the Edsel reissue liner notes). Needless to say, this conscious effort to capture the group in true form is a success, as both cuts are amazing, showing off Kaleidoscope’s legendary eclecticism and peerless musicianship. “Taxim” is an astonishing Eastern folk instrumental that builds into an exciting crescendo unlike anything you’ve heard before. Incredible stuff.

Kaleidoscope were some of the most accomplished musicians of their day – up there with the best San Fran had to offer (ie. Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, Moby Grape and so on).  Chris Darrow, principal songwriter, is one of LA’s most underrated musicians, he penned fine 3 minute pop songs while David Lindley and Solomon Feldthouse mastered a variety of strange, stringed instruments.  Remaining cuts like “I Found Out,” “Greenwood Sidee” and “Life Will Pass You By” are exciting roots excursions that mix folk, country and psychedelia into something that’s genuine and authentic.   Other than being a standout acid folk-rocker, “I Found Out” is also notable for a cool dobro solo and what sounds like primitive synthesizer.  Another great track is the excellent Smokestack Lightning rewrite “You Don’t Love Me.”  This track features incredible graffiti-like lead guitar (with lots of bluesy fuzz) while the aforementioned “Life Will Pass You By” is a beautiful Byrds-like folk-rocker with accomplished finger picking (think Byrds crossed with early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band).  The only misstep here is a rather lame attempt at good time/jugband music titled “Baldheaded End Of A Broom.”  My pick of the bunch is “Greenwood Sidee.”  This track is actually an Irish murder ballad, a tremendous one at that, with stoneface vocals and an eerie acidic vibe -no doubt aided by effective fiddle work.   This is one of my favorite lps.

This would be Chris Darrow’s last LP with Kaleidoscope.  After Beacon he would join the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and also release a few solo discs.  David Lindley and co. soldiered on releasing the fine Incredible! from 1969 and the disappointing Bernice.  Edsel reissues are pretty hard to come by these days but the recent box set Pulsating Dream is highly recommended as it features all their classic albums and rare non-lp singles.

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“Life Will Pass You By”

:D CD Reissue | Box Set | 2004 | Acadia | at amazon ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2008 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed ]

The Best Reissues of 2009

It’s been a great year for re-releases. All thanks to labels dedicated to top notch sound, quality packaging, expanded content, and 180 gram vinyl. With no further ado here’s an unranked list of the top 25 reissues we found this year. Hit up the poll below and help us determine which was this year’s very best.

3eyed 13th Floor Elevators “Sign of the 3 Eyed Men”
International Artists 10
CD Box SetThe band’s three landmark albums including rare mono versions, outtakes and alternate versions. Two lost albums featuring previously unreleased material. Rare and previously unreleased live recordings with a 72 page hardback book. Enhanced with posters, ephemera, discographies and many rare and previously unseen photos.

 

 

midniters “Thee Complete Midniters – Songs of Love, Rhythm & Psychedelia”
Micro Werks 4CD Box Set
Chicano rock n roll pioneers released these four LPs between 1965 and 1969; each disc has bonus alternate takes, alternate-language versions, instrumental mixes, live cuts and sought-after single sides.
moby Moby Grape “The Place and the Time”
Sundazed 2LP Outtakes Comp
Rare tracks cut during the band’s 1967–1968 heyday. Encompassing audition recordings, album outtakes, alternate versions, live material and more. read our review…
jujus The JuJus “You Treat Me Bad”
Cicadelic CD – Complete Singles
The classic singles, a good 1965 Ray Hummel Fenton 45 (backed by the JuJus) and a slew of quality outtakes. There are no lame covers and the sound quality is excellent. Mandatory listening for anyone interested in pure rock n roll. read our review…
thinkrational The Rationals “Think Rational/Fan Club LP”
Big Beat 2CD
All the group’s early singles and outtakes on a double disc anthology. First time legit reissue of the group’s early years. A great package, evenly divided between the group’s garage and soul eras.
read our review…
bigstar Big Star “Keep an Eye on the Sky”
Rhino 4CD Box Set

1968 to 1975 unreleased demos, unused mixes, alternate versions, and a 1973 Memphis concert recording. Extensive liner notes, rare  photos, and essays about the cult of Big Star and the band’s history.
skip Alexander “Skip” Spence “Unreleased Demos”
Sundazed Limited 10″ Vinyl Single

Demos recorded in New York in 1968 during the run-up to the Grape’s second album,”Wow.” Limited edition 10” vinyl single packaged in a numbered sleeve with liner notes by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, an artist bio, and rare photo inserts.
louie Louie and the Lovers “The Complete Recordings”
Bear Family CD AnthologyDefinitive collection of this Doug Sahm produced Salinas group, harnessing the sounds of SDQ, CCR, conjunto, and rock and roll; includes the legendary lost 2nd album and extensive liners. read our review…
clarence Clarence White “White Lightning”
Sierra Records CD & DVDRare and largely unreleased studio and live recordings available for the first time on CD, focusing on Clarence’s electric work with some of his fine bluegrass acoustic chops on display.
emitt Emmit Rhodes Recordings (1969-1973)
Hip-O Select 2CDRemastered 48 song collection features the four albums Emitt Rhodes released between 1970 and 1973 – the three ABC/Dunhill albums Emitt Rhodes, Mirror and Farewell To Paradise, and his one A&M album, American Dream, along with the non-LP single “Tame The Lion.”
beatlesmono Beatles Mono Box Set
EMI 13CD Remastered Mono MixesThe first ten albums in re-mastered mono (the final 3 albums made their debuts in stereo only), and a double album of singles and EPs, called “Mono Masters”. Each disc is presented as if it were a miniature “33”, replete with plastic anti-scratch sleeve, inner paper sleeve, original album cover, inserts and all original text.
michigan 2131 South Michigan Avenue
Sundazed 2LP USA & Destination Records Comp60’s Garage & Psychedelia from USA and Destination Records. Chicago ’66 garage at its finest; album artwork stuffed with rare photos, band bios, and an interview with the legendary Jim Golden.
lovebomb Blossom Toes “Love Bomb 1967-1969”
Sunbeam Deluxe 2CDPreviously unreleased vintage British psychedelia including a detailed booklet with rare photos and an introduction from the band’s leader, Brian Godding and Guest appearance from Frank Zappa.
monks Monks “Black Monk Time” “The Early Years 1964-1965”
Light in the Attic CD, LPMonks’ recorded legacy through two reissues.  Numerous unseen photographs and two-part essay by Canadian music journalist Kevin Howes accompany both releases and tell the Monks story like it has never been told. Bonus material dating back to pre-Monks Torquays and up to post Black Monk Time 7″s are also included.
death Death “For the Whole World to See”
Drag City CD/LP/MP31974 demo album released for the first time and maybe one of the first punk albums.  Bobby Hackney’s sons, members of Rough Francis, are responsible for digging up the old demo tapes for this blisteringly hot buried treasure. read our review…
drendall John Drendall, B.A. Thrower and Friends “Papa Never Let Me Sing The Blues”
Riverman CDDeacon Productions released 100 copies of Papa in 1971/1972. This is its first re-release. Very fine Americana, a true undiscovered gem that needs to be heard by more music fans. read our review…
morning Morning “Morning”
Wounded Bird CDOne of the mandatory lost  LPs in the rural-rock/American roots/country-rock field. First time on CD since its Vault 1970 release.

read our review…

offthewall Off The Wall Volumes 1& 2
Past & Present 2CDOriginally issued by the UK imprint Past & Present in the late 80s, this is one of the original 60s garage rock and psychedelia compilations.
kaleidoscope Kaleidoscope “White Faced Lady”
Repertoire Records CDLong-lost concept album from the British psychedelic group, remastered and presented in a definitive collectors’ package. It has the original descriptive texts for the music, plus a new interview with founding member Peter Daltrey. read our review…
bettydavis Betty Davis “Is it Love or Desire”
Light in the Attic CD/Sundazed Vinyl
Recorded in the summer of ’76, and never issued until now. Betty was Miles Davis’ ex-wife and often credited with influencing the Bitches Brew era. Super hot funk must have.
lemondrops The Lemon Drops “Sunshine Flower Power”
Cicadelic 2CD
Rare psychedelic rock from the suburban Chicago scene. Features the “Sometime Ago” LP and plenty of rarities, including previously unreleased versions.
lovelysight Pisces “A Lovely Sight”
Numero Group CD/LP/MP3Never issued LP of unknown, modern-sounding psych done up by the wonderful Numero label. 1969 curio from Rockford, Illinois.
masters The Master’s Apprentices “The Master’s Apprentices”
101 Distribution 2CDRemastered and expanded two CD edition of of this Australian 1967 garage/psych classic including 27 bonus tracks.  Deluxe eight panel digipak with 28 page booklet with many previously unpublished photos and recent interviews.
red King Crimson “Red”
Discipline 2CD/DVD
Remastered and expanded two disc (CD/DVD) edition of the Prog Rock band’s classic 1974 album, released to coincide with King Crimson’s 40th anniversary. Presented as digipak in a slipcase with new sleeve notes by Robert Fripp and King Crimson biographer Sid Smith along with rare photos and archive material.

 

 

neilyoung Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 1963-1972
Reprise Records 8CD Box SetComprehensive, chronological survey of Neil Young’s entire body of work. 8 discs, each in its own custom sleeve and featuring over 40 previously unreleased songs, versions, mixes, or rare tracks.

Best Reissues of 2009 (pick your top 5)

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Q. Which reissues, from any list, knocked you out in 2009?

Grateful Dead “From The Mars Hotel”

From The Mars Hotel

For some reason I came late to the Grateful Dead. A perceptive workmate introduced me to Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty in the mid-70’s, and then loaned me this, their latest release, which subsequently became a lifelong favourite.

Now nobody’s ever going to claim this period as the Dead’s golden age. Their collective creativity was heavily diluted by the loss of two original members and a slew of solo and side projects; their organisation was financially mired by its 300-plus employee wagebill, massive organised bootlegging of their first independent release Wake Of The Flood and the spiralling cost of their cocaine habit; and their new fifty-ton PA system, the notorious “Wall Of Sound”, demanded yet further intensification of their already exhausting touring schedule to recoup its outlay. Somehow out of all this they managed to produce in 1974 an immaculate studio album, which despite its quality still remains largely under the critical radar.

The eight songs here all feature taut songwriting and, in contrast with the legendary loose nature of the band’s live shows, gratifyingly tight performances. All would lend themselves to funky stretchout treatment on stage, yet benefitted from the distillation necessary to fit them into a studio collection. Jerry Garcia still finds space to weave his magical, sparkling lines among the verses, and the tight three-man rhythm section (only Bill Kreutzmann on drums here) effortlessly surmounts the exotic, often shifting rhythms. Keith Godchaux provides a new versatility on keys – acoustic piano, synth and harpsichord as well as trademark organ – and his wife Donna gives a new Grace Slick-like edge to the harmonies so saccharine-sweet on American Beauty.

From the opening jaunty shuffle “U.S. Blues”, which captured good-humouredly the cynical yet defensive national attitude following Watergate, to the brooding, diminished-chord-laden Dylanesque closer “Ship Of Fools”, there really are no weak tracks here. For me the standouts include Garcia and Hunter’s oh-so-funky “Loose Lucy” which gallops along on one of Captain Trips’s most irresistable riffs, and Bob Weir’s highly enjoyable reinvention of the old Motown standard “Money” as “Money Money”, in which the avarice is transferred to his unidentified lady friend and the original riff neatly subsumed into a new chord structure and irregular time signature. Phil Lesh finally attains composer recognition with the hazy, shimmering “Unbroken Chain” and the lilting “Pride Of Cucamonga” on which guest pedal steelist, Cactus’s John McFee, provides tremendous accompaniment to Lesh’s earnest tenor. The most gifted singer in the band is of course Garcia, and my personal favourite is his rollicking “Scarlet Begonias” which forefronts the Captain’s delightful plaintive whelp either side of a brief, exemplary Garcia/Godchaux instrumental dialogue, plus some exhilarating Lesh bass on the jazzy coda: definitive 70’s Dead stuff. Oh, yes, and the album title refers to the nickname of an itinerants’ hostel around the corner from the studio.

This album could be the Dead’s best kept secret. Go discover.

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“Pride of Cucamonga”

:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Rhino | at amzn ]
:) Vinyl | 1974 | Grateful Dead | at ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Nomadds “The Nomadds”

nomaddshe

Their only album has finally been reissued by Way Back Records on vinyl and cd. The Nomadds was originally released by Radex in 1965. They enjoyed quite a local following in Freeport and were Northwestern Illinois’ most popular teenbeat group bar none. The group’s lineup is: Lee Garner (lead guitar), Tony Cannova (drums), Greg Johnson (rhythm guitar, vocals), Denny Kuhl (bass), and Dean Kuehl “Stick” (vocals, harmonica – the big guy who stands center on the album’s cover).

The Nomadds is closer in spirit to early British Invasion records like Meet The Beatles or Gerry and the Pacemakers from their giddy 1963/1964 prime. For this reason interest may be limited: there are no fuzz guitars, walls of feedback, psychedelic freakouts, or shouting punk vocals; this album was recorded in 1964! That being said, the song arrangements are articulate and take interesting detours that most teenbeat/garage groups couldn’t handle. The Nomadds cut their teeth playing the bars and teen clubs of Illinois which would explain the accomplished nature of their performances.

You’re buying the album for the five great originals but some of the covers are pretty solid too. Standout covers to these ears are a rocking version of “Roll Over Beethoven,” a rollicking “W.P.L.J.,” Jimmy Reed’s “Shame Shame Shame,” and the ultimate teenage heartbreak of “Tragedy.” Excellent originals like “There Is No More” and “You Can Fall In Love” mix minor chords, folk-like guitars and rocking rhythms while other good tracks hit more of a tender, love song vibe. My favorite tune is “Don’t Cheat On Me”, a great performance with an interesting guitar intro and a marvelous vocal arrangement – this is teenbeat at it’s finest, really.

So while this LP may not be a definitive classic, it’s still very good and recommended to those who appreciate the British Invasion or very early American garage/teenbeat sounds.

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“Don’t Cheat On Me”

:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Way Back | at amzn ]
:) Vinyl Reissue | 2009 | Way Back | at amzn ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1965 | Radex | at ebay ]

uReview: Townes Van Zandt

For The Sake Of The Song

12345678910 (29 votes, average: 8.62 out of 10)
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Sometimes when I listen to Townes, it makes me feel like nothing else could ever reach his level.
But does the production on this debut truly take the steam out of the songs?
And if this isn’t his best record, which one is?

:) Vinyl Search | ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2007 | Fat Possum | amazon ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Chris Bell “I Am The Cosmos”

I Am The Cosmos

I dithered about reviewing Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos for months, in part because I was struggling to decide exactly what I wanted to say about it, in part because of its ambiguous status: formerly considered a “lost album” but nowadays a recognised classic (for the measure of its current standing, read the heartfelt reviews on Amazon.com), whilst actually not an album as conceived, but a compilation of tracks laid down over the six years before his death in 1978 and only issued in collected form fourteen years later to cash in on the renewed interest in Alex Chilton’s tempestuous career. Whatever: such an exceptional record deserves a slot on The Rising Storm.

Chris Bell’s history is extensively available on the Internet, so I’ll eschew my usual historical perspective and offer a purely personal appreciation. I bought the CD in 2001 as a clearance bargain, the insert booklet having gone missing; hence I do not have, and have not read, the highly-rated explanative booklet essay by Chris’s brother David. I knew of Chris as an ex-founder member of Big Star, but I knew nothing of his subsequent music, nor of his repressed homosexuality, clinical depression, heroin addiction and untimely ending, and it was mostly the mystique of the title I Am The Cosmos that prompted me to pick the album up. It didn’t turn out to be the neo-psychedelic exposition the title suggested, but one of the most intimately personal and bittersweet singer-songwriter collections I’ve ever heard: twelve absolutely exquisite compositions, mostly despairing songs of unrequited love, barely leavened with a couple of gently evangelical, faintly optimistic near-hymns.

Musically, the album runs the whole gamut from harsh, primitive electric tracks, all splintered guitars, thunderous drum fills and Spectoresque reverb, to sweet acoustic numbers with the softest possible string or woodwind coloration. Among the many original touches, “Speed Of Sound” pitches the acoustics against “violin-ed” lead guitar, marimba and swelling synth, whilst the quirky “Fight At The Table” features barrelhouse piano and an odd, wah-ed bass line, and the gentle Fender Rhodes on “Though I Know She Lies” is complemented by a crying George Harrison-like slide guitar. Despite all this variety the overall feel is homogeneous enough to almost convince you that the album was recorded as a single entity. Chris’s vocal throughout is high and keening, and mostly double-tracked with a dissonance that lends yet further pathos to his lyrical delivery. I don’t often attach the greatest importance to lyrics, preferring to hear the voice more as a principal instrument, but given the nature of this record they’re a quintessential and indivisible part of the package: simple, almost naïve and childlike, but utterly honest and expressive – just incredibly sad, without a trace of the cynicism present in some of Alex Chilton’s writing.

If you feel like getting emotionally wrung out one evening, try playing this end-to-end with Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night, Kurt Cobain’s In Utero and Elliott Smith’s eponymous second album. It’ll either make you feel much better or have you reaching for the razor blades.

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“Speed of Sound”

:D CD Reissue | 1992 | Rykodisc | at amazon ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]