May 2009

Harmonia: Live '74

The incestual issues that obscure any sort of proper kraut rock discography are explicated through the life of a super group dubbed Harmonia. Made up of different combinations of musicians from Neu! as well as Cluster and ever Brian Eno for a brief time, the group, over it's three proper studio discs, set out a blue print as specific as any other ensemble from the period.

Begining as Ambrose Slade...

The British music scene of the '60s had as many stars as over here in the States. Each group had some unique flavor while still borrowing liberally from American blooze and RnB. No matter, the music worked. And even if the early '60s only yielded some sugary love songs, the latter portion of the decade was rife with hits. Unfortunately, some of these chart toppers are all but forgotten today. Regardless of their current standing in the history of pop music here or in the UK, Slade - or on their first album Ambrose Slade - was able to rave up simple blues, get into spacey Pink Floyd territory and even cover a song by Zappa.

Suburban Ethiopiques: Ducktails

With the advent of file sharing, everyone from Metallica to Skerik has decried it a crime against art. Although, Metallica probably doesn't count as art at this point, it's an understandable stance to take. It is theft. That's not really debatable. Taking what someone has created - partially in order to feed and clothe themselves and their families - isn't right. But along with the plethora of non sanctioned downloads going around, there's a fair share of straight up give aways. At times, though, it's difficult to figure what's what.

The Skull Defekts: Urban Ritual

First off, ever since interviewing the (International) Noise Conspiracy earlier this year, I've become pretty wary of Swedes - or anyone from a country whose population overwhelming has blond hair and in Detroit could pass for a gaggle of models. Apart from that, pseudo revolutionary commie speak seems pretty pervasive over there. And in an atmosphere of nonsensical, ill conceived governmental works the mush that passes for brains - in t(i)NC at least - seems be result in grand notions of musical purpose. And unfortunately, not just played out garage rock is affected by this - it's droney pretndo experimental rock as well.

The American based Important Records traffics in the general territory of purposefully obtuse rock musics. And to include the Skull Defekts isn't all too shocking. It makes sense actually. Unfortunately, apart from the Vanishing Voice disc from a few years back, I can't say that I've enjoyed any of the label's releases all too much.

Ben Reynolds x Tompkins Square

Being a part of some enormous underground, psych and drone ensemble and cohort hasn't exactly made the name Ben Reynolds a common name here in the states. But in his native England, while still not a chart topper, Reynolds has recorded with these groups attracting the attention of everyone from Will Oldham to the Incredible String Band. Most of these endeavors, though, have been full band settings with the guitarist getting only so much room to ply his craft.

The lack of acoustic recordings from this gentleman was remedied on the third volume of Imaginational Anthem series from Tompkins Square Records. While the disc wasn't a showcase for Reynolds, it sat his work next to a variety of folks playing in the same genre - Steffen Basho-Junghans for one. Again, that disc, while critically well received, found none its participants going on to make a million bucks.

Dave Edmunds: Living in a Dream

There's more than one confusing aspect to Repeat When Necessary - the 1979 album from Welsh singer and guitarist Dave Edmunds. First, the fact that this disc is from one of the Love Sculpture dudes, who were responsible for some bluesy, pysch touched moments, but has nothing to do with that music seems weird. Secondly, the album is on Led Zepplin's Swan Song imprint while the music doesn't seem even tangentially related to the soopa group's muzak. Next, is the fact that not only does the album look like a power pop disc, it features Nick Lowe on bass and begins with an Elvis Costello song seems to refute the fact that there isn't all to big a correlation between this disc and that movement.

Apart from all of those things, it's still a pretty good listen.

Ray Charles: Though My Heart Aches

During the late '40s and early '50s a single man can be held accountable for the success at Atlantic Records. Ahmet Ertegün sought to record a huge amount of jazz, blues, soul and RnB that up until that point had really been a cottage industry pointed at a very slim portion of the American populace

Being born to a Turkish diplomat brought Ertegün to this country. And as he grew up, he found the music of Professor Longhair, amongst others, to be sorta irresistible. To that end, he figured recording and distributing it would be not only a money maker, but a satisfying, life long, endeavor.

Detroit's Garage: Nicodemus

Outlaw, outsider, downer sludgy schlock has a very specific collector base. And it's for that reason that new discs from the recorded past of America keep popping up. Much in the same way folks travel around collecting historic artifacts for pleasure, or their own vaults, some one kindly preserved enough material from a gentleman named Nicodemus that we, today, still have some tunes to listen to - thankfully.

Detroit has graced gleeful geeks with showers of music from soul to funk to garage and punk. And somewhere in the middle is Nicodemus. A raunchy, face tattoo sporting, gnarly, long haired biker outlaw who has recorded under his name for roughly forty years - and is somehow still going - has as interesting a past as anyone else.

Sun City Girls: Piano Bar

With the impending release of Sir Richard Bishop's new disc via Drag City, it would behoove fans to go back and see where this guitar player came from and what that evolution sounded like. The band, which began during the early '80s in Arizona, started off sounding as tied to punk as their desert brethren the Meat Puppets, JFA and the Feederz. But just as quickly as the brothers in the Meat Puppets shed their baby fat, the Sun City Girls would do the same.

Moving from relatively straight ahead song structures to incorporating noise, any racket that could be devised and music from other cultures further distanced the band from their peers. It was a relatively understandable evolution after it began. While using improv - as tied to jazz as anything else in Western culture - the Sun City Girls recorded too many records to count that involved one off tracks, ideas and appropriations.

Animal Collective: Electronic Recordings from a Field (Part Two)

As the trappings that adorn Animal Collective's music have shifted, its songs still function as a momentary peak into what the dudes are up to. The straight forward lyrics of "My Girls," from the group's newest disc, Merriweather Post Pavilion, provide listeners with little reason for conjecture. The repeated chorus of, With a little girl, and by my spouse I only want a proper house seems as explicit as "Single Girl, Married Girl" from the Carter Family in which disparate life styles get a quick going over. Of course these lyrics might just be the opinion of Avey Tare. But longing for pedestrian domesticity, as related by Deakin most unequivocally figured in a late 2007 Montreal Mirror piece, dissuaded him from appearing on this newest album and subsequent touring.

Animal Collective: Electronic Recordings from a Field (Part One)

Flies must have buzzed around the face and shoulders of Alan Lomax as he sat in distant, antiquated hollers with state of the art recording equipment capturing the musical lives of average folks. But if not for these situations, today field recordings would be drastically different in theme and application. The explorers of music during the 20th century, Harry Smith and Moe Asch in addition to Lomax, didn't set out to define what music or art was indispensible, each just felt that it was necessary to preserve. Capturing or anthologizing a culture at the dawn of mass produced, in-home entertainment may have been perceived as bizarre, but even the most average person has a story to tell. And in the various recordings that these men got down on tape, American folk music was distilled and preserved for listeners in the future.

Lady Soul: Aretha Forty Years Ago

Currently, Aretha Franklin is afforded as much due deference as any other American performer of music. It'd be difficult to count how many Presidents have either honored or asked her to perform. That by itself is probably enough to figure a career as a success. If not, though, the political and cultural cache that Franklin touts surpasses most folks in the entertainment industry.

While a great deal of her recording career was given over to reworking popular songs, the selections that Franklin filled her albums with had some sort of affect on the greater culture. Even the songs that were written specifically for her have become anthems to portions of the not just the American record buying public, but international fans. She is generally recognized as the leading voice in soul music from the '60s and even if that wasn't the case a string of albums from the latter portion of the decade and the early '70s could make the argument for her.

Country Joe and the Fish: Porpoise Mouth

By simple virtue of the band's ridiculous moniker it would be safe to say that some have disregarded Country Joe and the Fish as some sort of throw away '60s group. And even if listeners are familiar with the rag that not only brought the group fame at Woodstock, but a law suit from the daughter of Kid Ory, it isn't really representative of what Country Joe and the Fish were able to do as an electrified psych band.

When the group began, the mid '60s hadn't given away to the latter portion of the decade's radical politics. But since the band was based in Berekely, Ca it seemed that the ensemble were at least a step ahead of everyone else politically.

Leon Russell: Shelter

Solo artists are funny for a number of reasons. One, as a solo performer, an individual has to think that their personage is entertaining enough on its own to entrance an audience via recordings or in a live setting. But the other reason is that, by and large, solo artists make use of a wide variety of guests to flesh out recordings.

In the case of Leon Russell, he was able to wrangle most of the Rolling Stones - minus Keith Richards - a Beatle, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker for assistance on his eponymous debut album. Of course, Russell came about befriending these folks in a very specific manner - he played on their records or toured with their bands.

Wilco on Wilco

The experimentation of A Ghost is Born seems gone, but also the county folkisms of Being There has disappeared. And if you remove those two aspects from Wilco, what's left?

Having been birthed from the demise of Uncle Tupelo and its sometimes traditional take on American, Wilco began in much the same manner - if not for a dash more of that old rock and roll flavor. But since the group's 1995 album A.M., it seems as if there has been a lack of consistency from this Chicago group.

In part one could place the onus of this problem on the shoulders of Jeff Tweedy and whatever personal problems he's encountered in the last fifteen to twenty years. But that would be unfair. Tweedy's a human being - even if he's one of the most well respected rock dudes still writing songs.