Friday, April 27, 2012

Time to Tune in the Walkmen Again

I have to admit it has been a long while since I was excited about a new release from the Walkmen, but these early streams have me marking my calendar on May 29 when the band gives us 'Heaven' via Fat Possum/Bella Union. Give these two songs a try. Then preorder the album. Nice to have you back in the fold, fellas.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How Was Your Record Store Day?

Did you fill up on turkey and catch up with Grandma? Wait, wrong holiday. As for Record Store Day 2012, last Saturday, I felt a little like how you feel after filling up on that turkey dinner. The list of "exclusives" was, for me, among the least exciting since the founding of Record Store Day. So, I didn't even bother to get up at the crack of dawn to wait in line with a bunch of other geeky middle-aged men, as I usually do. There was only one album I wanted, and I felt I could risk getting it later in the day. Besides, I already had a digital copy. So, if I was shut out, at least I would get a good night's sleep and I had my mp3s. I went top my local mom-and-pop store after lunch. To my utter shock, the album I wanted was sold out. The store was linked to another store in the heart of Seattle and, according to their computers, there were still two copies over there. Fortunately, the computers proved to be correct, and I got my album.

As for Record Store Day in general, I have learned the "exclusives" really aren't all that exclusive. The labels and bands almost always, ultimately, release the material later... in one form or another. I bought a few Record Store Day items just last year, and every single one of the songs on the 7" singles I bought is either already out or will be by June of this year. If I only had patience, I could have avoided this:

There is a great blogger over at Lost Turntable that posted several valid points suggesting Record Store Day is, to be gentle, not all it's cracked up to be. Give it a read.

As for my purchase, I got Mates of State's 'Crushes.' It's a beautiful piece of clear 180-gram vinyl, limited to 1,500 copies and filled with great covers, including two of my all-time favorite songs... "Laura" from Girls and "Sleep the Clock Around" from Belle and Sebastian. Now the bad news... at least for me. My linear-tracking turntable can't read the record's grooves. If you hold the album up to the light, the grooves are almost invisible on the clear vinyl. I have never had this happen before. So, after all of that, I can't actually play the record. I guess my copy will always be in pristine condition. Grr. Obviously, this won't be a problem if you have a traditional turntable, and I highly recommend the album in any format.

So, how was your Record Store Day? Did you get what you wanted? Were you there early? Was it a fiasco? What do you think of the holiday?

Mates of State - Laura (mp3)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cover Me Impressed: 'Almost Blue'

Let me start by saying if you haven't seen 'Let's Get Lost,' the 1988 documentary on the life and times of the late jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker, you have missed a beautiful but heartbreaking piece of art. Even though I haven't seen it for more than two decades, I remember everything about the experience... down to renting it from Video Beat in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park (one of the greatest stores of all time). For the first time in many years, I pulled the soundtrack off the shelf. In hindsight, we know these are the last days of the drug-addicted artist, and the small whistle heard from the nearly toothless Baker is haunting but, at the same time, it's somehow beautiful.

If you are a fan of Elvis Costello, you have heard Baker before. That's his trumpet solo on "Shipbuilding," one of two serious moments from the 1983 album 'Punch the Clock.' From the 1995 Ryko reissue liner notes, Costello says:

I opened the paper to find that Chet Baker was playing a hurriedly announced residency at The Canteen. I went alone to find Chet in a wonderful musical form despite the presence of several drunken bores who would loudly cal for more booze in the middle of some of his most delicate playing. You got the feeling that this happened most nights but it seemed particularly appropriate that the main culprit was said to be one of London's leading jazz critics. Between sets I introduced myself to Chet who was wandering about in the club untroubled by patrons. There is no false modesty in saying he had no idea who I was. Why the hell should he? However he accepted my invitation to come and play on the "Shipbuilding" session the next day. I mentioned a fee. He said "Scale". I think I probably doubled it.

It was a tense but rewarding session. Chet took a little time to grasp the unusual structure of the song but once he had it he played beautifully even if he looks pretty deathly in the studio photos. I'd also say it was one of The Attractions very best performances. At the end of the session I handed Chet a copy of "Almost Blue" a song which was modeled on his style. He ended up recording it but that's another story.

My one regret about the track is that I was tempted to put a spin echo onto a couple of Chet's phrases. I suppose I still had "Sketches of Spain" in the back of my mind. Then again at the time I didn't really understand what composer David Bedford was trying to do in the arrangement of the strings and had them rather buried in the mix. Now I'm really glad that we are all on the record.

Footnote: From then on I always went to see Chet whenever he played in London. Jazz club patrons, who'd probably never heard "Shipbuilding", looked a little startled when he picked me out in the crowd or dedicated a number. We'd have a drink and he'd say funny things about the "jazz singer" who was wowing house with less than a pink dress and little talent. however he seemed somebody that you "knew" rather than somebody you were "friends with". I even interviewed him once for a video special and sang a few numbers, including "You Don't Know What Love Is", with his trio. I think he knew I didn't want to talk about "the drugs". However, despite the fact that he once said in an magazine interview that he didn't care for that fateful echoed phrases he never raised that matter with me and I never got round to apologizing. I guess you can't change history.

I will assume you already have the studio version of "Almost Blue" from the classic 'Imperial Bedroom.' So, here's a live take of Costello with the Attractions from Sydney in 1982, followed by Baker's version (with slightly different lyrics) from 'Let's Get Lost.' Finally, here's a little bonus. Enjoy Tracey Thorn's beautiful voice on a cover from Everything But the Girl. I have this one on the compilation '82-92 Essence and Rare.'

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Almost Blue (mp3) (from 'Daze of Glory' bootleg)
Chet Baker - Almost Blue (mp3)
Everything But the Girl - Almost Blue (mp3)

Friday, April 20, 2012

One More Ride on the Bobsled

As last post proved, for a few wonderful years there, Bobsled Records was one of the most exciting indie labels out there. Besides the aforementioned Waxwings, there was Adventures in Stereo, Stereo Total and Velvet Crush, to name a few, but the best of the bunch, for me, was the wonderful orchestral pop of the Chamber Strings.

Both of the band's Bobsled albums, 'Gospel Morning' (1997) and 'Month of Sundays' (2001), still get regular play at my house, and I almost jumped through the ceiling when Kevin Junior assembled the 'Month of Sundays' lineup for a few shows and released the "I Come Apart (A Tragic Comedy)" single in 2009. The assumption was a new album wouldn't be far away. So, what happened?

Last fall, it was reported the uninsured Junior was in need of heart surgery. There was a benefit show given for him in Chicago, and a fund has been set up to help with medical expenses. This is serious business. If you want to help, give to Friends of Kevin Junior. The new album can wait. Just get better, sir. If you don't know the baroque sounds of this fine band, check out one song from each of the Chamber Strings' two Bobsled albums.

The Chamber Strings - Everyday Is Christmas (mp3)
The Chamber Strings - Last Lovers (mp3)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Waxwings Just Needed Tutoring From Stones

We all have our Waxwings... one of those bands we love and, inexplicably, don't understand how they never really made it. I was enamoured with these fellas for a few years in the early part of the last decade. I was fortunate enough to see them during that time on a very strong all-Detroit bill (with the Detroit Cobras and Brendan Benson) at the cozy Double Door in Chicago. They should be remembered for their retro sound... with plenty of cribbing from Brian Wilson and early Stones. Instead, they will be recalled for a tiff with Bob Salerno, owner of their label, Bobsled Records. It's all very rock and roll.

The Waxwings threw a record-release party for their second album, 'Shadows of the Waxwings,' in their hometown of Detroit. By most accounts, this wasn't one of the band's better shows. Salerno wanted to make sure they knew he wasn't pleased. He sent each member a letter by registered mail. The funny thing is the entire band lived together. So, yes, he could have sent one letter, but he had a point to make. It began:

"Your 'Record Release' show was an absolute embarrassment! Every single aspect of that show was chump! I CANNOT fucking believe that you did not take that show seriously!!! That was your RECORD RELEASE show! Let me say that again...THAT WAS YOUR FUCKING RECORD RELEASE SHOW!!! IN YOUR HOME FUCKING TOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

As the Chicago Reader reported on May 9, 2002, Salerno went on to criticize the band "for not hiring their own soundman, for failing to promote the show, for making public apologies about their performance, and for taking too long to finish their record in the first place." The best part of the rant, however, was his evaluation of the band's (lack of a) rock-and-roll persona. "Mick Jagger wouldn't be hangin' out in the club before HIS RECORD RELEASE show! "Make a fuckin' statement!!! Your faces should not have been seen for ONE SECOND before you took that stage! Do you think the Rolling Stones would be walkin' around minglin' in the crowd before their RECORD RELEASE show?? Do you think Jack White would be caught dead in the crowd before he takes the stage?? Bush leagues!!! Dean [Fertita, the band's frontman], you're just fuckin' hangin' out by the fuckin' entrance before the show, AND SOMETIMES ALONE! PATHETIC!!!"

So, how did this juicy correspondence become common knowledge? An anonymous user posted the entire letter on the Velvet Rope, a popular message board read by entertainment insiders, including those in the music industry. I wonder who did that? Needless to say, the band's second album was the last for Bobsled Records. In fact, I may be wrong, but I'm not sure there was another album done on Bobsled. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Now about the tunes. If you don't have any Waxwings, I would recommend their debut album, 'Low to the Ground.' It was well received by critics and has stood the test of time. They lost a step with the followup, 'Shadows of the Waxwings,' but it's still a good listen. There was a third album for new label Rainbow Quartz called 'Let's Make Our Descent.' Unfortunately, I don't have that one. I wish I did. Their friend Benson stepped in as guitarist, and I'm a huge fan. The Waxwings were supposed to go into the studio for a fourth album. It has been seven years since that announcement. I guess it ain't happenin'. Here is a gem from each of the first two albums.

The Waxwings - Keeping the Sparks (mp3)
The Waxwings - Almost All Day (mp3)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cover Me Impressed: 'Temptation Eyes'

When thinking of the Grass Roots, the thought that comes to mind is, as a youngster, humming along to the horn parts of "Temptation Eyes" while the song blasted from the speakers of the family station wagon. As a song that peaked at No. 15 in 1970, it was worthy of multiple plays on my parents' oldies station.

The first time I ever heard a cover of the song was while taking in a Blake Babies show at Metro in Chicago, circa 1990. No, my memory isn't that good. At this very moment I'm looking at the setlist I swiped from Juliana Hatfield's spot on the stage. In 1991, Blake Babies would release the song as a single from the 'Rosy Jack World' EP. Later that year the band would call it quits (although we would learn at the end of the decade that it didn't take). The song would pop again on the band's 1993 compilation
'Innocence and Experience.' My favorite part of the trio's take is Hatfield's voice when she proclaims, "there's more, baby!"

Many years later, 2008, to be exact, I would hear another cover of "Temptation Eyes" that brought a smile to my face. The outtake from the Replacements' legendary 1984 'Let It Be' sessions could be found prior to '08 on the 'Boink!!' bootleg, but my first listen was when it appeared on the official expanded edition of the album. It's exactly what you expect... sloppy, wild and wonderful.

The Grass Roots - Temptation Eyes (mp3)
The Replacements - Temptation Eyes (outtake) (mp3)
Blake Babies - Temptation Eyes (mp3)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New Single From Allo Darlin'

This little bit of jangle really has my ear right now. "Capricornia" from Allo Darlin' is out as the first single from the band's second album, 'Europe.' Check out this description of the song from frontwoman Elizabeth Morris: "Musically, when we first discussed the album with our producer, I suggested that the feel of 'Europe' should be somewhere between "A New England" by Kirsty MacColl and "Cattle and Cane" by The Go-Betweens. I think this song is the closest to that." Now you have to click on the video below to hear this one, eh? You can pre-order 'Europe' from Rough Trade (United Kingdom) and Slumberland (United States). If you need this 7" to tide you over, buy here. Pretty snazzy yellow vinyl, too.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Last Trio From NME/Rough Trade 'C81'

This final post on 'C81' features the big boys of the compilation. They need no introduction, and the trio already had quite a bit of success by 1981. The Buzzcocks, in particular, had a dozen or so singles and three full-length studio albums out there by the time the cassette was released. Both of the Specials must-have albums were already in the rear-view mirror as well. The English Beat, in my humble opinion, were at their peak. These established acts seem like odd choices for a cutting-edge compilation, but I can't imagine this tape without them. For me, the Postcard material is the best of 'C81,' but these three songs aren't far behind.

The Beat - Twist & Crawl Dub (mp3)
The Specials - Racquel (mp3)
The Buzzcocks - I Look Alone (mp3)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy (Mitch) Easter!

I could have gone a few directions here... his work as a producer or as a solo artist... but I'm sticking to Mitch Easter's early work as frontman for the jangle-pop outfit Let's Active. Here is a one-song sample from each of the four excellent Let's Active releases. This is sure to put a little extra bounce in Peter Cottontail's step.

Let's Active - Every Word Means No (mp3) (from 'afoot' EP, 1983)
Let's Active - Easy Does (mp3) (from 'Cypress,' 1984)
Let's Active - Fell (mp3) (from 'Big Plans For Everybody,' 1986)
Let's Active - Every Dog Has His Day (mp3) (from 'Every Dog Has His Day,' 1988)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Another Trio From NME/Rough Trade 'C81'

Sorry this is a day late, but I got caught up in some holiday activities with the family. Early next week I'll do one more post on 'C81' with some bands you know and hopefully love. Today, we'll listen to a few of the more obscure tunes from 'C81.' I'm going to keep this text short and sweet because I hope to do an Easter post later today.

Subway Sect was a punk band that was more or less finished by the time "Parallel Lines" appeared on 'C81.' Vic Godard became a mailman for a while after the band split, but he went on to release a few solo albums. I don't know much about Gist. I read somewhere it's a side project of Stuart Moxham from Young Marble Giants. Essential Logic's best known member is Lora Logic from X-Ray Spex. About a decade ago Kill Rock Stars put out a compilation of Essential Logic material called 'Fanfare in the Garden.' It's physically out of print, but you can still buy it as a download here.

Subway Sect - Parallel Lines (mp3)
Gist - Greener Grass (mp3)
Essential Logic - Fanfare in the Garden (mp3)

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Trio From NME/Rough Trade 'C81'

I was a little bit too young to get the legendary cassette when it came out, but I have wanted 'C81' for as long as I can remember. I recently took the plunge and bought it for a very fair price from an Aussie on eBay. It came with the "owner's manual," and he also threw in an original Nov. 7, 1981, 1.5-star review of the tape from Dave McCullough, critic for NME rival Sounds. McCullough somehow manages to rip the project, NME and Rough Trade to pieces while patting himself on the back in the process. Brilliant! I'm a bit shocked I can't find this historical text online. Hopefully you can read the original Mrs. LTL! scanned in for me.

Let's take a listen to the three songs from the Postcard stable, and I'll follow it up tomorrow with a few lesser-known favorites. As an Aztec Camera fanatic, I particularly enjoy this lo-fi take of a later 'High Land, Hard Rain' gem.

Orange Juice - Blue Boy (mp3)
Josef K - Endless Soul (mp3)
Aztec Camera - We Could Send Letters (mp3)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cover Me Impressed: 'Slack Motherfucker'

I have gone on the record here that I don't like fIREHOSE's Columbia output quite as much as the trio's work for SST, but it's still pretty damn good. The highpoint of those brief major-label years was the 20-minute 'Live Totem Pole' EP. The 1992 disc was recorded at North Hollywood's Palomino Club on Aug. 16, 1991. Five of the seven songs were eclectic covers by the likes of Public Enemy and Wire. The other two songs were fIREHOSE classics from the SST years. The best cover of the lot was the indie anthem "Slack Motherfucker" from Superchunk. If you don't have any Superchunk, start with the singles compilation 'Tossing Seeds.'

The songs on 'Live Totem Pole' have been out of print for years... until today. To celebrate the 45-song double-disc release of fIREHOSE's 'lowFLOWs: The Columbia Anthology ('91-'93),' let's listen to the band when it's at its best... live. I hope they play this one when I see them in Seattle this weekend.

Superchunk - Slack Motherfucker (mp3)
fIREHOSE - Slack Motherfucker (mp3)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pure Pop From the Brilliant Corners

Fans of the Brilliant Corners seem to fall into two camps:
1) pre "Brian Rix"
2) post "Brian Rix"
Can't we all just get along? There is no doubt the band's sound became decidedly more twee about the time this song came out in 1987, but I rather like the jangle. For those of you who don't know who Brian Rix is (that's most of us on this side of the pond), he's an old actor and humanitarian that's famous for being caught sans trousers on a bunch of BBC shows. That's why Davey Woodward has his pants around his ankles during much of the promo video for the song. Rix himself makes an appearance at the end of the video, and proceeds from the single went to Rix's charity, Mencap. If you would like to help, it's a great cause, and I'm sure they would be more than happy to take your dough.

As for my copy of the song, I have it as a bonus track on the Canadian reissue of the band's 1988 album, 'Somebody Up There Likes Me' (on the label Pearls From the Past). I would link you to it, but I'm not finding this version of the album anywhere.

The Brilliant Corners - Brian Rix (mp3)