Friday, December 14, 2018

Robert Cadwallader (1959-2018)

My friend Robert Cadwallader was killed in a car accident on Saturday, December 8. His SUV went off a rain-slick county road and hit a tree head on. He suffered multiple injuries and was pronounced dead on the scene.

Robert had left his job as a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram -- for whom he covered local politics in Mansfield and Arlington as a freelancer from 1991 and was hired full-time in 2010 -- after suffering a stroke late in 2017. I had re-connected with him last spring and was trying to encourage him to go to the gym and to practice playing the piano (which had been part of his post-stroke rehab). I was going to call him on Monday. Never assume a next time.

I met Robert in 1997, when I was going to Dallas three times a week to sit in with bands whose leaders I knew. He was playing keys with Tiny & the Kingpins, a fun party blues and R&B band led by singer/harpman Kevin Lovejoy. He also played with James Hinkle, who during their 20-year association became the most legit blues act in Fort Worth, so I was kind of in awe of him. But Robert was a modest, humble, almost diffident cat, although he was a natural blues player (who'd started out playing heavy rock a la Deep Purple), and he very kindly agreed to help out with a couple of my bands. You can hear Robert on five James Hinkle CDs, and one James and Betsy's daughter Claire Hinkle released early this year.

Robert was an incredibly generous cat, and I owe him more than I can ever repay. When I was out of work, and when I was struggling as a freelancer, he bought me lunch every week at Benito's on Magnolia or No Frills Grill in south Arlington. It was he -- or his wife Denise Lands, whom he later divorced but who was by his side helping him recover from his stroke -- who first suggested that I try writing about music for money when I got canned from RadioShack. Thanks for everything, pal.

I will miss this gentle soul, and wish his loved ones peace and comfort.

Monday, December 10, 2018

End of year top 10 thing

After last year, I don't think I'll be asked to contribute my statistically insignificant two cents to the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll again (does the Voice still exist?), but here 'tis for the edification and enjoyment of anyone who cares. Influenced, no doubt, by the fact that for most of the year, I was working in a record store again, for the first time in many years. Also listening to the radio. In no particular order:

Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour. This won top honors at CMA; go figure. A pop record with country touches (banjo, steel) amid an almost dub production (thanks for that perspective, John Nuckels). One of her co-writer/producers is the son of Barry Tashian from the Nuggets-era Remains. "Oh What A World" is my song o' the year for extramusical reasons.

The Young Mothers - Morose. An unlikely hybrid of hip-hop, free jazz, and grindcore, with an all-star at every position, led by the titanic bassist/Austin-based Oslo expat Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (The Thing). If Public Enemy, Ornette Coleman, and Napalm Death had a love child, it'd sound like the Young Mothers. Featuring my hero, Jonathan F. Horne, on guitar. Also the best live band I saw this year.

Nels Cline 4 - Currents, Constellations. Speaking of six-string heroics, a few years ago, Nels Cline and Julian Lage played the most guitar I've ever seen anybody play, as a duo at Oak Cliff's Kessler Theater. Here they add a rhythm section and some edgy writing ("Imperfect 10"). The quieter moments here conjure the spirit of '70s ECM stalwarts John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner.

Ralph Carney/Chris Butler - Songs for Unsung Holidays. Former Tin Huey bandmates Carney (Tom Waits) and Butler (the Waitresses) convened to pay tribute to "silly bands" like the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah with this collection of paeans to invented holidays, highlighted by ace songcraft and nifty playing. Sadly, Carney died in an accident at home before it appeared. This year, Butler also released another worthwhile collection of his brainy, idiosyncratic pop-rock toonage, the aging-and-mortality focused Got It Togehter.

Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples. Fourth album from a new-to-me Japanese quintet, which grabbed my attention on KNON's Tuesday Morning Blend with a sound like an unheard '70s Krautrock track from Amon Duul II or Guru Guru (although those in the know inform me that their countryman Cornelius is also an audible influence). Proof positive, as if any more were needed, that psychedelia is timeless. I'm sorry to say I missed their performance at a tiny club in Dallas. Next time, they'll probably play a bigger room.

Sarah Ruth - The Shape of Blood to Come. A new watershed for the busy Denton experimentalist, this one finds her combining her classically-trained, razor-edged vocalismo and rustic instrumentation with a variety of ensembles both acoustic and electronic (including members of Pinkish Black, Wire Nest, and Dim Locator). An intriguing melange of Western Gothic and apocalyptic noise.

John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album. An unexpected delight, this previously unheard album -- from a year where Trane's releases were a collection of ballads and collaborations with Duke Ellington and singer Johnny Hartman -- finds the "classic" quartet poised midway between the rigor of their '61 Village Vanguard dates and the spiritual apotheosis of A Love Supreme. The leader, Tyner, Garrison, and Jones are all stupendous, and even the stacked alternate takes of "Impressions" don't overtax the listener's attention.

Dead Can Dance - Dionysus. Less song-oriented than its predecessor Anastasis, more world music and less medieval than their earlier work, this is really Brendan Perry's show, based on an ecstatic experience and informed by pulse and percussion, with Perry and Lisa Gerrard vocalizing in an invented language, blending their voices with computer-generated sounds. It's music for a healing ceremony. This year, Gerrard also appeared on BooCheeMish, the first recording after a long hiatus from The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.

Shannon Shaw - Shannon in Nashville. Frontwoman for garage rockers Shannon and the Clams gets together with Black Key Dan Auerbach (wearing his producer's hat) and creates, of all things, a modern-day equivalent of Dusty in Memphis. She's got the pipes and songs, and this LP quickly supplanted D'Angelo's Black Messiah as our "Beta Band" (High Fidelity allusion) record for in-store play.

Alice Cooper - Live from the Astroturf. The lovingly-captured and exquisitely-packaged document of a wish fulfillment gig I missed. The surviving members of the Alice Cooper Group reunite at what was supposed to be a book signing in a Dallas record store, whose owner just happens to be an ACG Uberfan who crowd-funded this release. Things like this, and Third Man's An A-Square Compilation, could give Record Store Day a good name.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Alice Cooper's "Live from the Astroturf"

It was a wish fulfillment gig, and I missed it.

Dennis Dunaway, bassist from the original Alice Cooper Group, had just published a memoir (Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!) and was doing a book signing at Good Records in Dallas. Robert Wilonsky from the Dallas Observer was going to interview Dennis and his bandmates Neal Smith and Michael Bruce, and then they were going to play a short set of faves from their repertoire. Sir Marlin Von Bungy and I were going to go, but then Marlin bailed because he was seeing the real Alice play the following night, and I didn't want to drive to Dallas by myself, so I stayed home.

Then I saw the videos on social media, and kicked myself: Alice showed up and fronted the band. Who saw that coming?

Well, Chris Penn -- Good Records honcho and AC Uberfan -- did; he'd planned to have the show professionally recorded and video'd. Then he crowdfunded an exquisitely packaged Record Store Day LP release, which arrived in my mailbox today. Fifteen-year-old me is in fanboy heaven as I listen to this.

These guys haven't lost a step since 1971, when Love It to Death and Killer, and St. Lester's advocacy for same in the pages of Rolling Stone and Creem, made me a fan. Dennis, Neal, and Michael have continued playing this music in various configurations over the years, with collaborators like the Bouchard brothers of Blue Oyster Cult fame, and NYC based avant-guitarist Nick Didkovsky. (My lead singer from college was once onstage in Houston with Michael, guitarist Richie Scarlet, and Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach.) And Alice has sustained his career, from MOR hits and guest shots on The Hollywood Squares to metal niche longevity.

The singing and playing here are astonishingly muscular, and not just for guys pushing 70. The songwriting is revealed as this band's secret weapon. The spirit of original lead guitarist Glen Buxton, who passed in 1997, hovers over the proceedings, and his latter day successor Ryan Roxie plays his parts and solos with appropriate fervor.

And thanks to Chris Penn, I'm kicking myself again.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Things we like: Bob Seger, A-Square Records

I've long been of the opinion that Bob Seger's manager was leaving money on the table by not reissuing Bob's early Cameo-Parkway singles. As one who got my coat pulled to Seger's early work by Dave Marsh in Creem back in '71 (see what I did there?), spent the summer of '72 calling my local oldies station requesting "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" (which they claimed they couldn't play because it "wasn't a hit" -- although I remember it being Top 40 in NY in '68), and got off the bus around the time Bob became commercially viable with "Night Moves," I had to search long and hard to hear 'em all (Youtube helped) before a pal in Michigan hooked me up with a copy of the reished Michigan Brand Nuggets bootleg comp a couple of years ago. Now ABKCo has favored us with Heavy Music: Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967, which brings together all the sides Bob cut before the Last Heard (whom my boss at the record store I worked in while I was in high school once saw playing some student lounge at NYU; he also saw the Mothers at the Garrick and the Who and Cream at Murray the K's Easter Show) evolved into the System.

You can hear the erstwhile organ player for Doug Brown and the Omens learning how to write songs, taking on "Gloria"-era Van Morrison ("East Side Story"), Highway 61 Dylan ("Persecution Smith," with somebody doing a good job of imitating Mike Bloomfield's Telecaster tone), Brian Wilson ("Florida Time"), and "Paint It, Black" Stones ("Vagrant Winter"). The heavyweight champeen, however is the two-part "Heavy Music," the greatest Motown jam Berry Gordy had nothing to do with, the second part of which is my preferred one for the ridiculously great fillip "NSU, SRC, Stevie Winwood got nothing on me." Thankfully omitted is Bob's anti-Nam protester song "Ballad of the Yellow Beret." There's a slow one on here that ain't too snazz, and none of his Capitol stuff is included, but we take 'em where we can get 'em, and the rest of the stuff is fine, fine, supafine.

Speaking of SRC, I generally don't mess with Record Store Day releases, but for this past Black Friday, Third Man dropped a 2LP A2 - An A-Square Compilation, documenting the trajectory of the mid-'60s Ann Arbor indie helmed by local taste maker and Discount Records manager (and thus, the future Iggy's boss) Jeep Holland. While the Rationals stuff has appeared on Big Beat's excellent 2CD and two standalone LP releases, and the MC5's "Looking At You"/"Borderline" single (their best record, for my two cents, even though the latter sounds like it was recorded from inside the late Michael Davis' bass amp) has been reished many times, the four tracks from the Scot Richard Case (as SRC were known before their psychedelic apotheosis on Capitol) -- including their local hit version of Cream's "I'm So Glad" and two sterling Pretty Things covers -- are choice, and new-to-me sides by the Apostles (their version of the Cadets' "Stranded in the Jungle" being particularly boss), the Prime Movers (local Butterfield simulacra sounding more Yardbirds-like here, with the future Iggy kicking the traps), Dick Wagner's Bossmen (whose great "Mystery Man" was later the best song on his late-'60s outfit the Frost's second LP), Stony & the Jagged Edge, and the downright Sabbath-y Half Life are all equally stellar. Cut-for-cut, this is one of the best garage comps I've heard since Larry Harrison laid Michigan Mayhem, Vol. 1 on me 20+ years ago, or indeed, the Fort Worth Teen Scene comps Larry and the late David Campbell assembled for Norton a few years back. Grab it quick before it's gone.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Dead Can Dance's "Dionysus"

I got started down this rabbit hole after hearing Lisa Gerrard's contributions to The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices' album BooCheeMish earlier this year. Then my wife and I got into a conversation with a random stranger about Gerrard's band Dead Can Dance (and their '80s 4AD label mates the Cocteau Twins, whom a friend and I had listened to just a couple of days earlier), and we started streaming Anastasis, DCD's 2012 reunion album, their first since 1996, on which Brendan Perry's voice, from the opening lines of "Children of the Sun" (not the Billy Thorpe one) onward, hit like a fuller, richer version of his fellow Aussie Ron Peno's (of Died Pretty fame), in striking contrast to Gerrard's ethereal, keening arc. My wife was impressed by the confluence of African, Middle Eastern, Celtic, medieval, and Eastern European influences; I was swept away by the lush, cinematic torrent of beguiling sound.

DCD's new album, Dionysus, was composed entirely by Perry, inspired by an ecstatic experience he had while drumming at a local festival in Spain back in the '90s. Rather than a collection of songs, it's a unified work consisting of seven movements, divided into two acts, with instrumentation that includes Mediterranean folk instruments, others that mimic sounds of nature, and a vocal ensemble that blends Gerrard and Perry's voices with computer-generated sounds from a library of choral voice samples, singing in an invented language. The music manages to sound both ancient and very modern, ritual and celebratory, with a strong percussive element and those distinctively powerful waves of choral harmony.

"Sea Borne" opens "ACT I" with a grand flourish, all skirling melody over a captivating dance rhythm, then "Liberator of Minds" slows things down to conjure the expectant mood of a quiet forest, with a recurring three-note motif that recalls Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." "Dance of the Bacchantes" reaches the heart of the matter here, achieving catharsis through undulating rhythm and exultant vocal interjections. At the top of "ACT II," "The Mountain" juxtaposes Scottish reels (same ones Richard Thompson based his guitar solo style on, my wife points out) with Gregorian chants and Slavic-sounding scales. "The Invocation," with its droning polyphony, revisits some of the same territory Gerrard did with The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices, before "The Forest" introduces EDM elements into the mix. "Psychopomp" closes things out with a soothing but still highly rhythmic evocation of a sheltering rainforest. Dionysus is a sound world to get lost in.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Sarah Ruth's "The Shape of Blood To Come"

Sarah Ruth Alexander is a performer with a unique sensibility, formed by growing up in the desolation of a West Texas family farm. Classically trained at UNT, she's become a mainstay of the vibrant experimental music scene that germinated in Denton and in recent years has taken root in Dallas venues like Stefan Gonzalez's Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions at RBC, Run With Scissors' evenings at Tradewinds Social Club, the peripatetic Dallas Ambient Music Nights (currently in residence at Oak Cliff's Texas Theatre), Chateau Virago, and Top Ten Records. In person, the austerity of her sound -- which juxtaposes Western gothicism with electronic noise -- is undercut by goofy humor (often heard in her Tiger D radio broadcasts on KUZU-FM).

Sarah Ruth's willingness to collaborate has occasionally led her to settings where her signature strengths -- the ethereal voice with a jagged edge, sometimes processed into welters of electronic chaos; the folkloric instrumentation that recalls something from the plague years -- were subsumed in directionless ensembles. Her two previous releases, 2015's solo autobiographical Words On the Wind and 2016's Far From the Silvery Light with They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy (a duo with Monks of Saturnalia/Decoding Society/Unconscious Collective/Habu Habu guitar shaman Gregg Prickett), were haunting documents of her expression. Her current release, The Shape of Blood to Come, surpasses both.

The album -- available via Bandcamp as a digital download or limited edition cassette -- is a collage of tracks with different instrumentation and collaborators. An epigraph from William Carlos Williams establishes that this will be an exercise in theme-and-variations. Three tracks feature a full band that teams Sarah Ruth with Pinkish Black's dark-and-heavy duo Daron Beck and Jon Teague and Wire Nest guitar minimalist Frank Cervantez. (Pinkish Black's new record is mastered and amazing; they also have a collaboration with Yells At Eels in the can, awaiting completion.) Denton eminence J. Paul Slavens contributes meditative piano to three others, while Dim Locator guitarist Will Kapinos joins in spectrally on two more. To these feedback-scorched ears, however, the most affecting tracks are those where multi-instrumentalist Beth Dodds splits the difference with Sarah Ruth on dulcimer and harmonium. Uneasy music for uneasy times.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Things we like: Quarto Ensamble, CHORD

As fraught as social media can be, what with targeted disinformation and the prevalence of asshole culture there, it's still the best way I have of keeping tabs on musos I dig, and hearing new music that's worthwhile (although Tape Op magazine and KNON-FM have also been good to me this year). In fact, two of my favorite guitarist/composers -- Marco Oppedisano and Nick Didkovsky -- both entered my consciousness via Facebook posts about The $100 Guitar Project, a 2010 recording venture to which they both contributed.

Both men live in NYC and come from rock backgrounds. Oppedisano's an educator and electroacoustic composer whose improvised solo guitar videos are a particular delight. Didkovsky's a familiar of Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, and the Alice Cooper Group who's led bands including Doctor Nerve, Hasslicht Luftmasken, and Vomit Fist, and designed music composition software. Both have new music available.

In Oppedisano's case, it's a recording of his guitar quartet "Good News" by the Chilean group Quarto Ensamble on their album Musica de Quarteto de Guitarras Electrica. I'm not sure the CD is available outside Chile right now; you can contact the group via their website. Oppedisano's piece is gently ruminative, with crystalline textures that recall Ralph Towner's '70s collaborations with Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie. Elsewhere, on Javiar Farias' "Cuarteto 1" and "Cuarteto 2," they dig deep into Red-era King Crimson heaviosity, while on Dallas-born ex-Village Voice scribe Kyle Gann's "Composure," they weave their way through a spacious sound field. Worthwhile listening.

CHORD is Didkovsky's new collaboration with his friend and fellow guitarist Tom Marsan, and it's an orgy for the ears of guitar freaks everywhere. Opening track "loc. 10" starts out where the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" finished up, with ringing harmonics and feedback from the two heavily amplified guitars skirting Metal Machine Music territory (but with more midrange thickness). It's cleansing as well as bracing. "extinction event" uses more negative space between chords that have the density of concrete blocks, but still sound like a system on the verge of overload. "not home" is all slashing treble, a kind of operational definition of "heavy metal" minus the riffs. "penultimate" is a quiet piece, but one which features shuddering dissonance at its core of gradually mounting intensity.

CHORD reminds me of Amiri Baraka's description of Coltrane's Ascension as "a soul rinsing," and as Baraka said of that august album, you can use CHORD to heat up the house on cold days. CD copies are available via Didkovsky's Punos Music label, digital downloads via Bandcamp. So there.