Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Party Like It's 1983

Yes, I'm a party animal. As always, I will spend New Year's Eve watching Big Country's homecoming show from Barrowland, Dec. 31, 1983. I was already a big fan when I first saw this concert as a mesmerized 13 year old via MTV, at the height of the band's popularity here in America, but what really grabbed me was the atmosphere of Glasgow's legendary ballroom. I had not been to concerts yet, and I was lured into the misguided impression for quite a while that all live outings were that way... the floor stomps, sing-alongs and chants of "here we go." The crowd was so supportive. The lads had just returned from taking the United States by storm, but Stuart and the fellas were their boys, and they were ready to welcome them home.

In 1990, I moved to Chicago to attend college. I took a part-time job in Lincoln Park. There was this shop a few doors down on Clark Street called Video Beat. It's difficult to believe, but all they sold was music video. Heaven. I found a VHS copy of this show from my youth and bought it on the spot. I have rung in the new year with Big Country ever since. (Last year I included Big Country's Dec. 31, 1984, concert from the Edinburgh Playhouse from the new 'At the BBC' box set for good measure.) Some years I have actually timed it so that my clock would strike midnight at the same time as it did on stage all those years ago. The show is well-known for the Deysart and Dundonald Pipe Band sequence at 12 o'clock. I imagine this is a first (and only) for a rock show, and it's a special moment as the importance of ringing in the new year for the Scottish people is vividly illustrated to the rest of the world. Here is the band performing "The Storm," followed by the bagpipe brigade.

I retired my VHS copy of the show in 2009 when the show was released as a CD/DVD combo by Track Records. There are some video extras, including Big Country's appearance at New York's Peppermint Lounge in 1982. I also have the show on CD as a King Biscuit Flower Hour release. Even though I don't really need multiple copies of the same concert, I have hung on to this one for many years because there is an interview with Stuart Adamson about this special concert that didn't make the 2009 reissue.

Interview With Stuart Adamson About NYE Show

I could go on and on, but I have written so many posts about this show since 2009 that I'm starting to bore myself. I'll just add, in case you're new to this blog, one of my biggest dreams came true in 2012 when I finally stepped foot inside Barrowland. I saw Mark, Tony and Bruce, with Mike Peters on lead vocals, perform 'The Crossing' in its entirety. I stomped my feet, sang along and chanted "here we go" just liked I had imagined in my head so many times. I cried a little too. Here are a few quotes from the band, along with a fine moment from the 1983 show. Happy New Year to you all!

"The Barrowland Ballroom is a great rock venue. It became our spiritual home. This gig could go down as one of the best moments in my gigging life. Long live the Barras and all who play in her." -- Tony Butler

"Even just before the gig the atmosphere was electric, and just walking on stage can only be described as being at a cup final and scoring the winning goal." -- Mark Brzezicki

"The excitement going on in the room that night was really a Scottish thing. We tried to make it a huge party, as much as possible." -- Bruce Watson

"That was a memorable show. It was New Year's Eve, and everyone was out of their heads. I remember in the middle of the show - at midnight - an entire bagpipe band came on stage and did a few numbers. It sounded so cool, we decided to keep it in the recording." -- Stuart Adamson

In a Big Country/Auld Lang Syne

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Monkeein' Around; Papa Nez Turns 72

I'm taking a page out George's blog, Jim McLean's Rabbit, to mark a birthday. There are so many reasons to celebrate the first 72 years of Mike Nesmith's life, not the least of which is his pioneering work in television, video, film and music video, and he's an author to boot, but it's his musical talents that have had a hold on me since I was a child.

I see Nesmith's music in three distinct parts. There's the Monkees, of course. Nesmith's songwriting contributions during that period are grossly underrated because, well, it was the Monkees, and I'm not going to get doubters to change their opinions on that one (but they are wrong). Some of my favorite Nesmith songs include "Mary Mary," where Mickey Dolenz took the lead, and "Circle Sky" from 'Head.' Tops for me with Nesmith on lead vocals would be "What Am I Doin' Hangin' 'Round?" He didn't pen that one, however. So, today's pick from that period is "You Just May Be the One," which he did write and sing, from the 1967 album 'Headquarters.'

After the Monkees, Nesmith recorded several wonderful country-rock albums. 'And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'' from 1972 is my go-to from the era. He wrote it while still a member of the Monkees. The formula is simple: Nesmith on acoustic guitar and Red Rhodes on pedal steel. "Tomorrow & Me" is not only my favorite from the album, but it's my favorite Nesmith song. Period.

After his country-rock phase, around 1977, Nesmith began becoming involved in music video. He created a promotional video for his song "Rio," from the album 'From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing.' This would later become part of a one-hour program of music videos and comedy shorts he put together called "Elephant Parts." I'm just repeating what is already well known, but the "PopClips" music-video show Nesmith assembled for Nickelodeon in 1980 and 1981 was MTV before there was MTV. This was America's chance to see videos from Madness, Squeeze, Split Enz and other cutting-edge artists otherwise ignored by the mainstream. Nesmith's own music was on display as well. During this period, his sound was much less country and much more eclectic. Enjoy "Rio," a song that did quite well in the UK and Australia.

I know there must be a few of you out there that share my affinity for Nez because my Michael Nesmith Week series in 2011 still stands as my all-time most viewed posts. Happy Birthday, Michael. You continue to entertain and inspire.

"You Just May Be the One" (from 'Headquarters')
"Tomorrow & Me" (from 'And the Hits Just Keep on Comin')
"Rio" (from 'From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing')

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holiday Mood

Other than my annual ode to Big Country's 1983 New Year's Eve show, this is probably it for me this year. So, I would like to wish you all happy holidays with a few of my favorite seasonal favorites. Like many of you, this is Spector time, but I enjoy listening to Ella Fitzgerald's 'Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas' (1960) and Booker T. and the MGs' 'In the Christmas Spirit' (1966) nearly as much as 'A Christmas Gift For You' (1963). Hopefully, this little mix will help you get in the holiday mood.

The Apples in Stereo - Holiday Mood
Booker T. and the MGs - Jingle Bells
Ella Fitzgerald - Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Freedy Johnston - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
James Brown - Please Come Home For Christmas
NRBQ - Christmas Wish
Otis Redding - White Christmas
Ron Sexsmith - Maybe This Christmas
XTC - Thanks For Christmas

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2014

1. The Popguns - 'Pop Fiction'
2. The Luxembourg Signal - 'The Luxembourg Signal'
3. Real Estate - 'Atlas'
4. Lunchbox - 'Lunchbox Loves You'
5. Allo Darlin' - 'We Come From the Same Place'
6. Primitives - 'Spin-O-Rama'
7. Spoon - 'They Want My Soul'
8. Alvvays - 'Alvvays'
9. The Hit Parade - 'Cornish Pop Songs'
10. Cosines - 'Oscillations'
11. Roddy Frame - 'Seven Dials'
12. The Woodentops - 'Granular Tales'
13. Slow Club - 'Complete Surrender'
14. The New Pornographers - 'Brill Bruisers'
15. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - 'Days of Abandon'
15. Gruff Rhys - 'American Interior'

Because a Top 16 just didn't sound quite right... that's why.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Favorite Reissues (and Such) of 2014

Before the unveiling, I wanted to mention a few fantastic reissues that deserve attention but didn't make my list. The reasons vary a bit, but it often comes down to me not pulling the trigger on a purchase due to already owning too much of the material. Cherry Red's 'C86' box, for example, was arguably the best of this year's bunch, but I have the original release and a majority of the bonus material. The same goes with Pixies' 'Doolittle 25.' It's a quality collection worthy of inclusion, and the packaging is impressive, but most of us already have the original album, as well as the B-sides and 'At the BBC' discs. I don't have the demos, but that's just not enough "new" material to make me buy it... even at the very fair sticker price.

For the most part, I stayed away from including pieces of music that were eligible only because they were on vinyl for the first time. If there was bonus material included, then that's fair game, but without this caveat there would be far too many candidates. Having said that, the original releases of 'Blue Bell Knoll' and 'Heaven or Las Vegas' from Cocteau Twins can be bought on vinyl now, and it was tempting to include them here.

Much of the Wedding Present's best work was re-released this year as positively stuffed three CD + one DVD editions, and not including them here is a travesty, but I haven't bought them (yet!). Most know
the Jayhawks from early works like 'Hollywood Town Hall' and 'Tomorrow the Green Grass,' but there were a few albums after that worthy of your attention. 'Smile,' 'Sound of Lies' and 'Rainy Day Music' can be got on vinyl now, and there is just enough bonus material to make me want them (again). McCarthy has a four-disc box seductively titled 'Complete Albums, Singles and BBC Sessions,' but it's not complete, and there are a few other problems I won't get into here. The band has been grossly underrated forever, however. So, I feel like I want to recommend it anyway. I could go on and on, in fact, I just remembered the Wolfhounds' 'Unseen Ripples From a Pebble,' grr, but let's just get to my top 10 already:

1. The Rainyard
'A Thousand Days'
I have been worshipping these Aussie jangle gods and Summershine veterans for four months now. Unlike most of the selections on this list, a majority of the songs on this compilation were new to me. Its freshness undoubtedly contributed to 'A Thousand Days' rising to the top of the heap. Unfortunately, you may already be out of luck because only 300 copies of the album were lovingly pressed by the folks at the Spanish label Pretty Olivia. You can download the lovely "So Happy Now" for free by clicking here.

2. Dexys
'Nowhere Is Home'
'One Day I'm Going to Soar' is nothing short of a miracle, but that album is even better performed live. If you have seen the double DVD concert and documentary, then you know the nine-night residency at London's Duke of York's Theatre in the spring of 2013, chronicled on 'Nowhere Is Home,' was something special. The sound of the quadruple 180g vinyl version I have is heaven on headphones. So good to have you back, Kevin.

3. Wilco
'Alpha Mike Foxtrot'
If you don't have a majority of the band's studio albums, this isn't the collection for you. It's like XTC's 'Coat of Many Cupboards' box set... an offering for the fanatics. This collects B-sides, live performances, alternative versions and work from soundtracks and tribute albums between 1994 and 2014. I already had many of the 77 tracks, but there was enough new here to take the plunge. My interest in Wilco had cooled in recent years, but this has me stoked again.

4. Aztec Camera
'High Land, Hard Rain'
Ridiculous. How many copies can one person own? For seemingly the umpteenth time, I bought the vinyl reissue last December. Within weeks, however, Domino released this new CD edition with a couple of nuggets on a second disc, such as the Kid Jensen session, that I didn't officially own. Had to have it. At least this gave me a chance to let my slightly scratchy 12" singles from the era have a well-deserved rest.

5. Big Country
'Steeltown' and 'The Seer'
From the "Harvest Home" single in 1982 through 'The Seer' in 1986, my fandom for Big Country runs deep. So, any time there is a new edition of one of the band's albums, I'm first in line. Both of these are two-disc affairs. My beef with 'Steeltown,' as with the deluxe edition of 'The Crossing from 2012, is the omission of Steve Lillywhite's brilliant extended 12" singles. You do get the B-sides and radio edits, as well as three of the four songs from the 'Wonderland' EP. The real find is the previously unreleased rough mixes and works in progress, but I understand that isn't for the casual fan. Goodies from 'The Seer' include seven B-sides, the complete 'Restless Natives' soundtrack and, yes, the 12" versions of the singles.

6. The Bluebells
'Exile on Twee Street'
I have always enjoyed a few of the band's singles and B-sides but have always wondered what Alan Horne saw in them when they were considered for Postcard Records. These 20 recordings (mostly demos) from between 1980 and 1982 certainly helped solve the mystery. Songs the Bluebells would later come to be known for, such as "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," "Happy Birthday," and "Sugar Bridge," were a whole lot better without the polish.

7. The Mighty Lemon Drops
'Uptight: The Early Recordings 1985/1986'
I'm a sucker for most of the bands that appeared on 'C86,' and here is a mess of work from the band just before and just after the famous session for NME in March 1986. You get the four tracks issued on the 7" and 12" editions of the "Like an Angel" single, four songs recorded for BBC Radio 1, three songs from the 'C86' session, five demos from the summer of '86, as well as the extremely limited (150 copies) eight-song 'Some of My Best Friends Are Songs' cassette released by Uptight Records. You can certainly hear why Daniel Treacy wanted the lads on his Dreamworld label.

8. The Ocean Blue
I will remember 2014 as the year I discovered the Ocean Blue is much more than a one-album wonder. This time a year ago all I had was the brilliant debut and the then brand-new 'Ultramarine,' a record that was No. 11 on my best-of list for 2013. Now I have the Ocean Blue's entire discography, including this 2004 EP that got a second go around four months ago with three additional tracks and a first ever vinyl release.

9. Jazzateers
'Don't Let Your Son Grow Up to Be a Cowboy'
Amazing. Here is the second band on this list to almost be a part of Postcard Records. This collection rounds up unreleased demos, singles that never saw the light of day and songs from 'Lee,' an album from 1983 that didn't get released either. A real highlight is "Wasted," produced by Edwyn Collins. At the end of this disc you're gonna wonder why Jazzateers never quite made it. Wasted, indeed.

10. Sneakers
For power-pop fans such as myself, Record Store Day's Black Friday celebration was a fruitful one. Before Chris Stamey started the dB's and Mitch Easter formed Let's Active, both were in Sneakers. This 10" goes all the way back to the band's first release in 1976, when the recording was a six-song 7". Three songs have been added, including a cover of the Grass Roots' ""Let's Live For Today." Other namedropping includes the dB's Will Rigby on drums and Don Dixon assisting and engineering. Don't expect 'Stands for Decibels,' but this is an historical artifact worth digging up.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Favorite Songs of 2014

When I assembled this list last year, it dawned on me I had become an old man. Most of my music purchases had become reissues or used records to fill holes in my collection that often dated back to my youth. I would have put the old/new music split at something like 80/20. So, my New Year's resolution was to flip the numbers around. The good news is I stuck with it. The bad news, well, not exactly bad, is many heroes from my youth released new music in 2014. So, this still kind of looks like the list of an aging father trying desperately to stay relevant. It's funny. Buying so much new music this year made me think about what a risk it used to be to plunk down 13 bucks for an album you may have read about but most likely never heard. Now we don't even have to get out of our chairs as we sample the whole endeavor over and over again. Progress?

I'm rambling. Back to the list. I used the one slot per artist rule to keep the Popguns and a few others from hogging the whole thing. I bent the rules a bit for Todd Terje and Parquet Courts/Parkay Quarts, but I feel like I can justify both of these exceptions... if you force me. I went with 40 songs this year in honor of the late Casey Kasem. His countdown filled my Sunday mornings during the most awkward of my teen years. What songs did you enjoy or despise this year? I'm sure we could go a few rounds with my No. 40 for starters.

1. The June Brides - "Being There"

2. The Popguns - "Out of Sight"

3. The Luxembourg Signal - "Distant Drive"

4. Close Lobsters - "Now Time"

5. Primitives - "Spin-O-Rama"

6. Roddy Frame - "White Pony"
7. The Hit Parade - "From Paddington to Penzance"

8. Cosines - "Out of the Fire"

9. Spoon - "Inside Out"

10. Future Islands - "Seasons (Waiting on You)"

11. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Kelly"

12. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - "Retreat!"

13. She & Him - "Stay Awhile"

14. Real Estate - "Crime"

15. Allo Darlin' - "Romance and Adventure"

16. Slow Club - "Suffering You, Suffering Me"

17. Lunchbox - "Tonight is Out of Sight"
18. Todd Terje and Bryan Ferry - "Johnny and Mary"
19. The Woodentops - "Conversations"

20. Beck - "Blue Moon"

21. Alvvays - "Adult Diversion"

22. The School - "When I Fall in Love"

23. Tam Vantage - "The Boy Who Always Wins"
24. The New Pornographers - "War on the East Coast"

25. Robyn Hitchcock - "The Ghost in You"

26. Ben Watt - "Spring"

27. Literature - "New Jacket"

28. Gruff Rhys - "Liberty (Is Where We'll Be)"

29. Parquet Courts - "Instant Disassembly"

30. Vic Goddard & Subway Sect - "Born to Be a Rebel"

31. Making Marks - "Forgive and Forget"

32. Echo & the Bunnymen - "Lovers on the Run"

33. Christopher Owens - "It Comes Back to You"

34. Parkay Quarts - "Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth"

35. Todd Terje - "Delorean Dynamite"

36. The Rosebuds - "In My Teeth"

37. Jim Noir - "Here Come the Broadway Jets"

38. Simple Minds - "Honest Town"

39. The Steinbecks - "Trying to Be Someone"

40. David Bowie - "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sticks and Stones

Scott's recent inclusion of "Getting Mighty Crowded" over at
Spools Paradise got me thinking about some of my favorite covers performed by Elvis Costello... and I would certainly place the Betty Everett tune among them. Here's another. "Sticks and Stones" was penned by Titus Turner and made famous by Ray Charles in 1960. It was Charles' first single after the move from Atlantic to ABC-Paramount, and the song peaked at No. 2 on the R&B chart and No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. We all know the story of Costello's drunken racial epithet while discussing Charles back in 1979, and that unfortunate incident will follow the artist forever, but the myriad of mea culpas since then have satisfied most of us.

After several years of cooling, my passion for Costello's work heated up again in 1994. The Ryko reissues, the first but certainly not the last of its kind, were in full swing. Nick Lowe was producing the new album. Most importantly, the Attractions were back. Even though I was living in Japan and had seen Costello several times in the past, this would be my first show with the Attractions. My fandom was such that I was even buying the singles again. As B-sides go, I thought the "You Tripped At Every Step" single was the best from the 'Brutal Youth' era. There was "Step Inside Love," written by Paul McCartney and used as the theme song to Cilia Black's late '60s TV show. The second B-side, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," needs no introduction. The single ends with a hoppin' 95-second take of "Sticks and Stones." Interesting choice, don't you think? Fortunately, by 1994, it seemed Costello's cover of this particular Charles song was more or less a non-story.

Ray Charles - Sticks and Stones
Elvis Costello and the Attractions - Sticks and Stones

Friday, December 5, 2014

Favorite Record Covers of 2014

This might be cheating a bit, but the above is my favorite album art from this year. You might be wondering how I could choose a cover from a piece of music that came out two decades ago. Well, back in the day, Crayon's 'Brick Factory' was released via Harriet Records on CD and cassette... before quickly going out of print. HHBTM Records recently resurrected this lost treasure and gave it to us on vinyl for the first time ever. I don't have to tell you it's not only the music that's better on wax. I love the blurred hustle and bustle attempting to envelop a couple that doesn't seem to notice any of the other students. Is this where love begins? Anyway, that's how I see it. I know nothing about the artist, but there were two names credited to the artwork on the original CD. So, I'll thank George Pfromm II and Todd Christensen and hope that covers it. HHBTM pressed 500 copies, and the label is including 20 bonus tracks for download with purchase. It's a twee/punk masterpiece.

Sometimes you know you're going to love a band just by seeing the art. The cover of Cosines' debut single from 2013, "Hey Sailor Boy!" grabbed me with the font used for their logo, the brown cardboard used to house the 7", and the simple sketch of a ship. The 2014 followup, "Commuter Love," used the same formula, only with a speeding train. I love the aesthetic and enjoy looking at these two images side by side while listening to these fine singles. Credit goes to illustrator Tom Greatorex. The band's first full-length album is out now, and it's wonderful. These first two singles are not on 'Oscillations.' So, you need to find the trio.

I won't spend too much time touting the new album from the Popguns. I'll have plenty of time to do that when I reveal my favorites of the year next week. Today is all about the artwork. Credit for the cover of the "Lovejunky" single and 'Pop Fiction' album goes to, as the band described him, the "astonishingly talented" Jason Brooks. You can find these and other works in his 'Paris Sketchbook.' The art fits the Popguns' latest so well. Just listen to "Alfa Romeo" and think about Chet Baker wandering the same city streets half a century ago. I took this photo of the 'Lovejunky' single from the Matinée Recordings site because, well, there's something beautiful about it as well. I have certainly heard of a story within a story, but can you have art within art?

Ah, the American dream in action. Cookie-cutter houses, a strip of grass, an above-ground pool and never ever leaving Mom and Dad's basement. Chumped certainly know where it's at, and the band perfectly captures those awkward young-adult years in their songs... and on the cover of 'Teenage Retirement.'

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Boyracer's Victory Lap

If you've ever heard Sarah 076, "B Is For Boyracer," then you know this 7" was not the usual sound that made the label famous. Famous? Point is, Boyracer was anything but submissive, and the lads leaned a little more punk than pop. There were a couple of more Sarah singles and a wonderful full-length album on Slumberland during that era. I highly recommend the lot. Here's a little taste from 1993:

I kind of lost track of Boyracer around 1995. Shameful. There were lots of personnel changes, more labels and many many more songs, but the one constant throughout Boyracer's roughly 23 years was Stewart Anderson. During those years Anderson had a couple of labels of his own, and he's recently founded a new one with his wife, Jen Turrell. One of the latest releases on Emotional Response is being touted as Boyracer's swansong, but what a way to go out! Anderson is joined by the Mrs. and Sarah-era guitarist Matt Green (his first Boyracer appearance in two decades) for the four-song 7" "Pete Shelley" (six songs as a download). Yes, that Pete Shelley. How cool is that? Perhaps this should be an all A-side affair, because every song is a keeper. Sample "The Kind Of Man You Really Are" below, and stick around or you'll miss Terrell's organ-infused "Jump," and that would be your loss, believe me.

The "Pete Shelley" EP is exactly what I would have wanted Boyracer to sound like in 2014. Still raucous, a little more grown up, and with the kind of crisp production that wasn't even a thought when I was a fan during the Sarah and Slumberland years. It feels good to be back in the fold, even if I just barely made it in time.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Allo Darlin' Delivers Riches in Nottingham

Meet the first correspondent to ever grace the pages of Linear Tracking Lives! This occasional commenter and all-around swell chap goes by the moniker MisterPrime, and he saw an all-star bill (at least in my world) the other evening. Read his poignant reflections below. MisterPrime, you're welcome here whenever the mood should strike. There are a mess clips from this show on YouTube from a Jim Bethell. I included one below.

Allo Darlin'
The Maze
Nottingham, 19th November 2014

This was the fourth time in recent years that I've seen Anglo-Australian indieposters Allo Darlin' -- a band about which I have to admit to developing some slightly undignified fanboyish tendencies -- play live and it seems to confirm a continued though not wholly unwelcome tendency toward increasing boisterousness. Last time, at the same venue, as headliners of the Nottingham POP! All-Dayer in September 2013, I'd taken the party-atmosphere bounciness as a symptom of the occasion, what with the banter and the Paul Simon cover and all, and I'm by no means saying that the band had been subdued in the previous, hallowed environs of Derby's historic Silk Museum in 2012, but the live atmosphere they create does seem to have had something of a remix in the last couple of years. Mind you, tonight's bill was good one too, in keeping with the band's usual policy of inviting along some like-minded friends, to the extent that even middle-aged curmudgeons like myself were forced into making the effort to turn up early.

I caught local band Seabirds, who grew out of the ashes of the promising Red Shoe Diaries (who, coincidentally, I was impressed by when they supported Allo Darlin' in Leicester early in 2012) and created something of a stir last year with their debut single "Real Tears", on Matinée Recordings. They were slightly shambolic but still charming, on only their second gig, apparently (after last years' Indietracks festival) and obviously still something of a work in progress. That said, the pieces are already in place for a fine band, the same kind of literate well-honed indie that Red Shoe Diaries were making, but with a slightly beefier twin-guitar sound. The aforementioned single, in particular, and the closing three songs of the set, once they'd got into their stride, were delivered with panache. I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Norwegian band Making Marks, who are the support for the whole tour, were also very good. Their sound is somewhat fragile too but in a much more deliberate and polished way and they exude a kind of mannered scandic charm and a clever pop sensibility somewhat reminiscent of Swedish songsmith Jens Lekman. They also have one of the coolest girl-bassists ever -- horn-rimmed, hounds-toothed and slightly haughty, like a Nordic librarian. Their short set covered stuff from throughout their career (they were previously called My Little Pony and had a tendency on record to veer a little too far into the territory of the excessively twee for my liking that they manage to avoid in a live setting), but the jaunty single "Ticket Machine" and the slow-burning title track from last year's fine 'A Thousand Half-Truths' album were particularly strong.

By the time Allo Darlin' took to the stage the small club was rammed and the atmosphere (despite its being positively Baltic outside) was typically just the wrong side of tropical -- indeed Liz admitted to that she almost had to throw up from the heat last time they were here! -- the band responding with a performance that was subtle but anything but fragile. Energetic, bouncy and pleasingly drum-skin taut, this was a big, joyful, grin-inducing racket from the outset. Here, clearly, are a group who have spent time honing their chops and the onstage chemistry between all four members is lived-in and palpable. The rhythm section is solid but flexible and Paul Rains guitar work, as some reviewers of the new album 'We Come From The Same Place' have noted, has come on in leaps and bounds, switching smoothly between fluid, high-life lead and choppy, chordal rhythm to stunning effect. Obviously the set list leant heavily on the 'We Come...' numbers, the girl-group punkiness of "Half-Heart Necklace" and aching big-chorus nostalgia of "Crickets In The Rain" (a highlight even on an album as strong as the new one is) being particularly potent. That said, a couple of first album tracks at the end ("Silver Dollars" and "Kiss Your Lips", not to mention an encore of single "Darren") are proper crowd-pleasers, the band broadly beaming as they hit the pre-chorus drops and Liz pogoing madly as she leads the crowd-singalong climaxes.

There's a real feeling (borne out, I think by the band's healthy, philosophical approach in recent interviews to the question of the possibilities of success vs. the work-life balance) that Allo Darlin' are the kind of band who do this stuff, as that song "Silver Dollars" would have it, "because they love it" and can't help but express that through the uplifting nature of their music. Here's to the next four!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dexys' Concert Film Soars

My birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and Mrs. LTL! came through in a big way. She got me both of my wants from Dexys: the recently released live four-album AND double DVD versions of 'Nowhere Is Home' I mentioned last month. What a gal! For a whole host of reasons, I didn't get around to the concert film directed by Paul Kelly and Kieran Evans until this evening. It came just in time too. If you saw the Vinyl Villain's post today about Kevin Rowland's professional low point, you know why I desperately needed to see the enigmatic performer at one of his brightest moments. Shake it off...

Dexys' 2012 album, 'One Day I'm Going to Soar,' was the band's first in more than a quarter of a century. As Rowland is oft to do, he completely redefined their sound, and the story he told drew me in like no other record that year. I had read reviews of the accompanying live performances during Dexys' residence at London's Duke of York's Theatre in 2013, and it became obvious that as well received as the album had been by fans and critics alike, this was a piece of art best experienced on stage. Back here in America, this realization left me with a hole in my heart... until tonight. I own very few live shows on DVD. Brian Wilson's 'Smile,' Talking Heads' 'Stop Making Sense' and Big Country's New Year's Eve show at Barrowland in 1983/4 are just about the only ones I have watched multiple times. The others just sit on the shelf collecting dust after one viewing. Concerts just aren't meant for television, but this one worked for me like no other. There are no shots of the crowd or mixed-in applause. There is no "good evening, London!" from the maestro's microphone. This is all about the performance, and it feels much more like a dramatic play than the tired old rock show you've seen a thousand times.

'Nowhere Is Home' pulls off the feat in a seemingly simple way. There are two interspersed elements to the film. Rowland, with a little help from trombonist "Big Jim" Paterson, tells the tale of Dexys between songs being performed on stage. The conversation feels intimate, like a couple of fellas shooting the shit with you over a beer. Rowland opens with "I was a no-hoper. Prison was a real possibility for me. And when this opportunity presented itself, I wasn't going to screw it up." There's more talk of the early days, but much more time is spent on assembling the current incarnation of the band and creating "One Day I'm Going to Soar." The two big takeaways from this monologue are that Rowland has no interest in playing the hits, at least in a nostalgic cash-grab sort of way, and that this band means everything to him. "I've bled for Dexys quite a few times," he tells us, and that passion comes through in the show. That feeling of giving it all for his craft is palpable.

The songs that work best on stage are the ones that showcase his relationship with the female antagonist played by Madeleine Hyland. Emotions run the gambit, from lust, to rage to tenderness to heartbreak through the album's best songs, "She Got a Wiggle, "I'm Always Going to Love You" and "Incapable of Love." Now I know I just went on forever about how it's all about 'One Day I'm Going to Soar,' but my favorite moment of the entire performance was the closing 12-minute rendition of "This Is What She's Like." This is not about looking back. The song is a perfect fit for the themes of the evening... and it just happens to be my No. 1 song from Rowland and Co.

If this is on your Christmas list, and it should be, here are a couple of things you need to know, especially if you're American. It's best to buy this DVD from a UK outlet. Amazon is selling it for a whopping $56 right now, and that's just ridiculous. Even with shipping you can save a bundle getting it overseas, but beware: Make sure your DVD player can read discs from Europe.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Power Popsters Remember a Motown Hero

I was away when I got the news of Jimmy Ruffin's death. I thought
the Guardian wrote one of the better obits, especially recalling Ruffin's own explanation of the blessing and curse of recording the timeless 1966 song "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted." One of my favorite band's, the dB's, did a wonderful rendition as a Hurricane Katrina benefit release back in 2005, and they just posted it to YouTube as a tribute to the Motown legend. Ruffin's work will live forever.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sarah 097 Straight From the States

Just back from a whirlwind trip to San Francisco. I had very limited time to hit the shops, but I did manage a few minutes at both Bay Area locations of Amoeba Records. Neither stop was a home run, but I'll tell you all about my treasures soon. As you can imagine, I'm way behind today, but I wanted to make a quick appearance and pass along a couple of riveting reads.

The build is over: Scott at Spools Paradise has just unveiled his personal No. 1 album, and it's a doozy. If you're a fan of Simple Minds, and I must assume you are, Post-Punk Monk is digging deep for a dissection of the band's albums. He's on 'Real To Real Cacophony' right now. So, you can catch up quite easily. Do stop by.

Ok, now that I have your attention, let's listen to a band straight outta Cali but via Bristol. Huh? Oh, and named after Scotland's third most populous city to boot. As young Palm Desert pals, John Girgus and Beth Arzy penned some beautiful twee tunes and sent it across the pond to Sarah Records. Even if Aberdeen's nationality was all wrong, their sound was perfect for a label brimming with so-called sad-sack bands. This is the second (and far superior) of the two singles they released for the UK indie label. This 7" and CD single would be one of the last recordings Sarah would ever release. As you can see from the following review, Aberdeen took the world by storm. Screw you, David Quantick. The original Sarah stuff is tough to find, but LTM Recordings reissued much of Aberdeen's output in 2006. Buy 'What Do I Wish For Now?' right now.

When It Doesn't Matter
Super Sunny Summer

I have been listening to quite a bit of Aberdeen lately because Arzy's latest band, the Luxembourg Signal, has put out one of my favorite albums of 2014. I know I have already pushed this one on you, but allow me to try one more time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Popguns Aim High and Hit the Bull's-Eye

Even though the Popguns haven't had a full-length album since 1996, thanks to the triumphant lead-in single "Lovejunky," released this past September, I had little anxiety the Popguns could pull off a modest little record a few of us die-hard fans would enjoy for a few minutes before we went back to our copies of 'Another Year, Another Address... the Best of the Midnight Years.' What I didn't expect was a tour de force that deserves its rightful place beside 'Eugenie' and 'Snog' as the Popguns' best work.

'Pop Fiction' is an absolute no-filler affair. Every note is a keeper, and a few of the songs would be bona fide hits if this was 1989 and we still cared about such things. Among the highlights: "Alfa Romeo" has this laid-back "Let's Get Lost" quality that Chet Baker, the song's protagonist, would have found cool. It reminds me a bit of 10,000 Maniacs during the 'In My Tribe' era. "Still Waiting for the Winter" turns things down a bit and flips the band's old single and fan fave on its head. The back and forth between Wendy Pickles and Kate Mander gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it, and I only hope these two takes of "Waiting For the Winter" are played back to back on stage. My great love of the album is the dramatic ballad "Out of Sight." The beautiful and mournful chorus slowly penetrates the soul. You can't help but hope these two in the song make it in the end.

The jangle of "See You Later" closes the album and send us off optimistic this isn't the last we will hear from the reformed Popguns. I have been known to have moments of hyperbole, but I'm certain 'Pop Fiction' will be vying for my album of the year.

'Pop Fiction' has its official release Dec. 2, but you can preorder the CD from Matinée Recordings right now for shipping on Nov. 19... and you'll get it as a download immediately. For your listening pleasure, here's a trio courtesy of the label:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Mess From 'Just Say Yes'

Lots of new music to listen to today. So, I need to make this quick. Digging up that rare mix from Wild Swans last week got me thinking about how much I enjoyed Sire's 'Just Say Yes' sampler series in the late '80s. They were chock full of singles, remixes, live versions and B-sides from the label's stable of alternative stars, but Sire would throw in a curve ball to keep things interesting too. Without question, you could always count on an appearance from Depeche Mode, Erasure and Morrissey. They were the cornerstones of the operation at the time, but you might find something from Figures on a Beach, the Ocean Blue and k.d. lang as well.

The first compilation, out in the winter of '87, was the best. Unfortunately, they got weaker with each release, and I gave up on the endeavor with the fourth volume in 1990, but the series did continue through at least the seventh sampler in 1994. Bottom line is these must have been a success because I would always end up buying the records Sire was marketing. Here's a little mix of late '80s magic from that series:

Echo & the Bunnymen - Lips Like Sugar (12" Mix) (from 'Just Say Yes...')
The Smiths - Work Is a Four-Letter Word (B-side from 'Just Say Yes...)
The Mighty Lemon Drops - Inside Out (Live) (from 'Just Say Yo')
Throwing Muses - Dizzy (Remix) (from 'Just Say Mao')
Ian McCulloch - Candleland (Second Coming Version) (from 'Just Say Da')
Erasure - Chains of Love (Truly in Love With the Marx Bros. Mix) (from 'Just Say Yo')

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pleased Pleased Pleased By JB Documentary

Having seen the HBO documentary "Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown" this past weekend, I was struck by the complexity of the "Hardest Working Man in Show Business." On the one hand, as a performer, you can't help but watch with your jaw hanging open. The clips are just amazing. All of his most memorable moments are here. I have seen the "T.A.M.I. Show" and his medley on "The Ed Sullivan Show" many times, but it never grows old. There were a few moments on stage that were new to me, such as his Boston appearance right after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., that filled me with admiration. The best of the lot, however, came after he broke in "Catfish" and "Bootsy" Collins. There is a rendition of "Sex Machine" near the end of the program that literally got me off the couch.

On the other hand, in interview after interview, Brown is painted as a tyrant and thief by former members of the band. He treated everyone around him roughly, including the ladies. Is this the price for perfection? Politically, my head was spinning as he seemed to do and say everything right on issues of race and civil rights throughout the '60s, only to abandon the Democrats and back Nixon in 1972. Sounds ridiculous, but then he says, "I don't want nobody to give me nothing." Then he adds, "Open the door and I'll get it myself." I told you he was complex.

Mick Jagger co-produced the documentary, and he adds a little levity early on with a tale of how things went down behind the scenes of the "T.A.M.I. Show." The Roots' ?uestlove adds perspective to Brown's vast influence today. This was a well-done documentary that I highly recommend. My only gripe was it felt like the filmmaker whizzed by Brown's moustache era a little too fast. However, it was kind of the powers that be to spare us the '80s and beyond.

Here's a quick promo of the film. I also dug up Brown's appearance on the "T.A.M.I. Show." I thought you might also enjoy a listen to an early song. "Good Good Lovin'" was recorded Jun 27, 1959 with the Famous Flames. On the heels of the smash "Try Me," this one should have been his next big hit. Sadly, it didn't chart, but it's always been one of my favorites. I'm taking this one from 'CD of JB II." Those two volumes were my introduction to Brown... back in 1987. It appears they are out of print.

James Brown - Good Good Lovin'

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

I'm not a fan of 'Anomie & Bonhomie,' but I can even find something redeeming from Scritti Politti's worst moment. The Mrs., as you no doubt know by now, hates every note the band ever put to wax. She's on the road again, however, so I can shed the headphones and freely move about the abode while I get my Green on... although I must say the beautiful "Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder" may be my favorite song to listen to on the old Sennheisers. I dedicate this one to the talented but still retired blogger Friend of Rachel Worth who commented back in June he has "a soft spot for A&B. It has 2 of the best tracks [Green Gartside] has done, the gorgeous brushed and the hooktastic tinseltown."

Scritti Politti - Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ugly Duckling From the Wild Swans?

Understandably, fans of the Wild Swans have always flocked to the early stuff, and 'The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years' has quickly become a staple too. It's the middle material, 'Bringing Home the Ashes' and 'Space Flower,' that divides us. Even Paul Simpson doesn't seem to like these albums all that much. Well, I do. Today's selection is the opener from the latter.

'Space Flower' was produced by Simpson's old pal Ian Broudie. Ian McNabb and Chris Sharrock from the Icicle Works joined Broudie and Simpson to create a trippy collection not unlike the neo-psychedelic side of the "Madchester" sound all the kids were dancing to around the time this album was released in 1990. "Melting Blue Delicious" is worlds away from "Revolutionary Spirit," to be sure, but I find its lightness quite catchy and fun.

I was a big collector of the 'Just Say Yes' CD samplers Sire Records was putting out in the late '80s and early '90s. Volume IV, called 'Just Say Da,' had a special version of "Melting Blue Delicious" that was remixed by the legendary Bill Drummond, along with Dave Balse. I believe this was meant to be part of a 12" or CD single, but, to the best of my knowledge, this mix only ended up appearing on the label compilation. If I'm wrong about that, let me know.

The Wild Swans - Melting Blue Delicious
The Wild Swans - Melting Blue Delicious (St. Petersburg Mix)

Monday, November 3, 2014

One Last Pile O' Peel

Let's conclude a wonderful week of Peel Sessions with appearances by some of my all-time favorite bands. Most of these songs have been properly released on B-sides (like the Smiths), deluxe editions (like the Housemartins), box sets (like Orange Juice), best ofs (like the June Brides) or complete "at the BBC" releases (like Pixies and OMD). Also, a few years ago EMI helped put out a terrific 41-track double CD called 'Movement - The Peel Sessions 1977-1979' that is a must for Peel fans that weren't around to record his show off the radio at the time. There are a few samples from that collection below. If you don't have time to listen to this mix, at least take a moment to hear John's opening spiel impersonation as done by Andy Partridge. Spot on. As an American, I barely know what he's saying, but it's a big smile. I got that one from a an XTC collection of BBC appearances called 'Drums and Wireless.' If you have a favorite Peel Session, I would love to hear about it.

Peel's XTC Intro by Andy Partridge

XTC - Meccanic Dancing (Oh We Go!) (Nov. 13, 1978)
The Housemartins - Get Up Off Our Knees (April 6, 1986)
The Specials - Gangsters (May 23, 1979)
Orange Juice - Falling and Laughing (Oct. 21, 1980)
Pixies - Wave of Mutilation (April 16, 1989)
OMD - Of All the Things We Made (Jan. 29, 1983)
The June Brides - We Belong (Oct. 22, 1985)
The Smiths - Rushholme Ruffians (Aug. 1, 1984)
Madness - The Prince (Aug. 14, 1979)
The Jam - In the City (April 26, 1977)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ooh, My Soul... It's a Little Richard Halloween

Maybe not the scariest post you'll see today, but both of these songs have a "stay away from my door" theme, and it's a good time to remind you to "jump back!" from those bad luck heeby-jeebies tonight 'cause if your bad luck baby puts the jinx on you, forget it, you can't get well. These two are from 1956 and 1957, respectively, and are filled with all the whoops and wails you need this Halloween, and some punch in the gut sax solos to boot. Heard that drum intro on "Keep A-Knockin'" before? Ask those limey Led Zeppeliners. They have a habit of nicking song openings. Anyway, as John Bonham used to say, be careful out there tonight. Huh? No way he ever said that. Happy Halloween everyone!

Keep A-Knockin'

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Peel Nabs Attractions Elvis Costello and Rockpile

I don't listen to Elvis Costello or Rockpile nearly as much as I did, say, in my early teens, but I go back more than 30 years with both of them, and I consider each crucial to my early musical education. From here I discovered Stiff and the many bands Costello and Nick Lowe produced and covered... then Madness, then 2 Tone, and the Costello/Lowe tree just kept growing more and more limbs. They were a strong trunk.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions recorded four Peel Sessions between 1977 and 1980, and I found them all on a very poorly assembled and produced bootleg called 'Radio Radio' while living in Japan 20 years ago. The sound quality is uneven, which is really too bad because I really like some of the takes found on this 19-song disc. That's how bootleg purchases went in the pre-Internet age. You bought on faith... not research. What I do like is hearing Costello with the Attractions so early. Of all my Costello live recordings, and I have a bunch, I don't believe I have another one that goes back to the summer of '77. My favorite of the sessions, however, is the one from 1980, but that's probably because 'Get Happy!!' is my No. 1 from the entire Costello catalog. Here's a taste from each session:

Mystery Dance (July 25, 1977)
Blame It On Cain (July 25, 1977)
Pump It Up (March 13, 1978)
Really Mystified (Oct. 23, 1978)
Beaten to the Punch (Feb. 25, 1980)
High Fidelity (Feb. 25, 1980)

Rockpile's session is from Feb. 8, 1977, and there was much to plug at the time. Dave Edmunds' album 'Get It' was slated for an April release, and Lowe's solo singles had been hitting the racks for the past year and would continue until 'Jesus of Cool' came out in 1978. "JuJu Man" was a Jim Ford cover from 'Get It." The Lowe penned "Heart of the City" is the real winner of this lot, and it, of course, appeared on 'Jesus of Cool' as a live song and on the American version of the album, 'Pure Pop for Now People,' as a studio track. Edmunds would also include the tune on his 1978 album 'Tracks on Wax 4.' "I Knew the Bride" was another Lowe tune on Edmunds' 'Get It.' I don't think Lowe released it himself until 'The Rose of England' album in 1985, but it was a live staple for many years. "Down Down Down" is another cover Rockpile used to play quite a bit. Edmunds had it on his first solo album, called 'Rockpile' just to really confuse things, way back in 1972. That settles it. I need more Rockpile posts. So good. Oh, and I got these from a Rockpile boot called 'A Mess of Blues.'

JuJu Man
Heart of the City
I Knew the Bride
Down Down Down

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Popguns on Peel

I will resist the urge to say the period around this Peel Session was the best time to be a fan of Popguns. If you picked up the "Lovejunky" 7" and are eagerly awaiting the upcoming full-length album 'Pop Fiction,' then you know right now is awfully exciting too. This is the first of two sessions the band did for Peel's program... both were in 1990. These four songs were broadcast in January, just a few weeks removed from their single "Landslide" appearing at No. 46 on Peel's Festive 50 for 1989. I suppose the band could have rested on their laurels by performing the hit or the follow-up single "Waiting For the Winter," but they were already looking ahead with a session of all new material. "Someone You Love" would be the lead single for Popguns' first album, 'Eugenie,' released later that year, and the other three songs wouldn't be committed to wax until the second album, 'Snog,' in 1991. Enjoy another fine moment from Peel's show.

Someone You Love
Bye Bye Baby
Put Me Through It
Where Do You Go?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tune In Talulah Gosh

I spent a big chunk of the weekend pulling Peel Sessions from the collection, and it turned out to be such a pleasant way to celebrate John's life. So, let's keep it going this week with some of my favorites from the past few days. Here's Talulah Gosh, first broadcast on Peel's show Jan. 11, 1988. This was the band's second (and last) recording for BBC Radio 1. In fact, the band, at least in this form, wouldn't make it to the end of the year. Of course, three members of the band, Amelia, Mathew and Peter, along with earlier member Rob, regrouped in '89 as Heavenly. You can find this session in a few places, but I have taken it from 'Backwash,' the compilation K Records released in 1996. One thing you can say about Talulah Gosh: They never wore out a welcome. These five songs clock in at around eight meager minutes... but there are plenty of the band's patented pace changes to get your heart racing.

My World's Ending
Be Your Baby
Break Your Face
In Love For the Very First Time
Spearmint Head