Wednesday, May 28, 2014

For Maya Angelou

Her body rests.
Her soul ascends.
Her voice resounds.

Chris Butler's "Album: An Audio Memoir"

I say I'm writing an autobiography in record reviews, but Chris Butler -- obscuro pop genius, Waitresses mastermind, and creator of my probable Album of the Year, Easy Life -- is doing it for real. His Album: An Audio Memoir combines great storytelling with sound samples, like a hipper This American Life, but not as insufferable as that sounds. So far there are half a dozen installments, but it remains a work in progress. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Things we like

1) The cymbal wash Mike Throneberry played during Stumptone's set at Lola's last Monday that sounded as if it was flowing naturally out of the harmonics from Chris Plavidal's guitar. Chris says Stumptone's new record will be out in the fall. All I ever need is something to look forward to.

2) The new Fungi Girls cassette Old Foamy. When I last saw them a couple of years ago, these boys were playing live shows of withering intensity, and you can hear some of that in these three songs. No one else I've heard in the last decade has a better command of the impulse that birthed surf music, "garage rock," and punk (with a little psychedelic spice floating atop the ocean of reverb). Sky is moving to Oakland in December, so this could be their swan song, but what a way to go.

3) The musical dialogue Mondo Drummers honcho Eddie Dunlap got into with a blind high school student when Mondo played the annual picnic for visually impaired students at Greenbriar Park. Mondo now has a gig the third Thursday of every month at Shipping and Receiving.

4) The Fort Worth debut of Wire Nest. Sure, their visuals weren't working, and Frank and John said they weren't able to get into the intuitive space they like to inhabit, but their deep beat science sure sounded good to me, and whetted my appetite to hear Sub Oslo when they play Lola's with Pinkish Black and the Diamond Age on June 14th.

5) The CD-R of guitar instrumentals my friend Jim Crye (Volume Dealer, Lifesize) handed me when we ran into each other at the market. Jim's a metal virtuoso of imposing expressiveness that more people should know of, and he's crafted easily digestible settings for his jaw-dropping fretwork that recall Steve Vai and Joe Satriani back when they were commercially viable.

6) The new, Britt Robisheaux-produced CD by Momentary Gamelan Ensemble aka the remains of HIO. The sound is more unified than it was back when Hickey and I were adding our boing-boing/pounding and scraping noises to the mix, and the net effect is either monotonous or hypnotic, depending upon what you like. Terry, Mark and friends continue holding down a regular gig the last Sunday of every month at the Cellar.

7) The new Neil Young record A Letter Home. Recorded in the record-your-voice booth in Jack White's Nashville record store, the covers of songs Neil loved in his yoof remind me of crappy cassette recordings I made when I was trying to learn to sing and play at the same time. The intimacy is charming, as are Neil's messages to his mom -- "Talk to Daddy, and say hello to Ben," which made me realize that Neil's son is named after his old steel guitarist.

8) Crate-digging at Doc's. While I have a higher hit rate online, there's nothing like holding a record in your hand to tell you whether or not you really need it.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Uncle Lou's last interview

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Brokegrove Lads' "For Mick Farren"

From an aggregation including Matt Hickey (HIO, Joe and the Sonic Dirt From Madagascar, The Fellow Americans), Robert Kramer (Tabula Rasa, Gumshoe, Purple Overdose, ESP), Terry Valderas (The Gideons, Parasite Lost, ESP, Toadies), and your humble chronicler o' events, here's a noisy salute to rock 'n' roll Renaissance man Mick Farren. Recorded by Britt Robisheaux at Eagle Audio on 12/26/2013, with additional recording by Hickey and Terry.

Sonny Rollins' "Road Shows, Volume 3"

In the universe of jazz tenor saxophonists, the relationship between John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins is analagous to the one that exists between Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck in the universe of rock guitarists. One expanded the expressive potential of the instrument and died too soon; the other lived long enough to refine his art to the level of a Zen master. Now in his 80s, Rollins says he still considers himself a developing artist.

I was fortunate enough to see him perform once, at Caravan of Dreams, in 1992, the year I got out of the service. His band (the Clifton Anderson-Mark Soskin-Bob Cranshaw-Marvin "Smitty" Smitth lineup that appeared on the G-Man album and in Robert Mugge's Saxophone Colossus documentary) was adequate, but Sonny was revelatory, opening his set with one of his trademark walk-ons, playing as though he couldn't hold his torrential flow of melodic imagination in check long enough to make it to the stage and count off a tune.

After his masterful recordings of the '50s and '60s, his records always seemed to suffer in comparison with his live performances; the "lights-camera-action" pressure of the studio was not conducive to the in-the-moment invention that is the cornerstone of Rollins' art. (The best of his '70s and '80s sides are conveniently compiled on Milestone's Silver City.) In the Millennial decade, he abandoned studio recording altogether and initiated the Road Shows series, which draws from his extensive archive of recent live recordings. Unlike, say, Joe Henderson, who enjoyed a nice resurgence in the '90s but bridled under his producers' creative restrictions, Rollins has it his own way, releasing his work on his own Doxy label under the aegis of Sony's revived Okeh (!) subsidiary.

I got on board for the previous volume's agreeable collision with Ornette Coleman on "Sonnymoon for Two." Volume 3 includes four Rollins compositions, including the ebulliently swinging "Biji," the brand new modal canvas "Patanjali," and the signature set-closing calypso "Don't Stop the Carnival." "Solo Sonny" documents one of Rollins' famous extended cadenzas, which leads into a tour de force 23-minute exploration of Kern and Hammerstein's "Why Was I Born" that's the album's pinnacle. Bassist Bob Cranshaw, who joined Rollins in 1963, is present throughout, playing the electric bass that has been pissing off the purists since the '70s. More, please.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Things we like

1) I don't get out much these days, and I do most of my listening on the quiet, at a volume comparable to when I used to live in my parents' house. I used to say that the only game I played on Facebook was the one where I try and convince you that other people like my bands, but since I now have no band to promote, I mainly use social networking as a way of having conversations with buds of a kind I used to have in record stores, back when I used to hang out in them (and before I started working in them).

Divorcing music from its social context has allowed me to indulge myself in a Grateful Dead binge that would have been unimaginable when I wrote about them as a kind of guilty pleasure a couple of years ago. Since then, I've re-read the Arthur magazine symposium that I referred to in my earlier post (as well as the Daniel Chamberlin confessional memoir that preceded it) on their website, and more recently, Uncle Johnny "The Mailman" Bargas pulled my coat to a lengthy New Yorker piece on the subculture of Grateful Dead bootleg collecting. (There was also a good interview with Dead bassist Phil Lesh in the Julia Louis-Dreyfus issue of Rolling Stone, but it's unavailable to link to as of this writing.)

While I'll never go that far down the wormhole (who has the time?), I've been digging the '68-'70 albums Anthem of the Sun, Aoxomoxoa, and Live/Dead. Those albums represent the Dead's apogee as purveyors of borderline avant-garde psychedelia. While American Beauty still occupies its own unique space in my consciousness, to these feedback-scorched ears, the Dead as a performing entity were most interesting when they were in the process of becoming the franchise they'd become in the '70s. (I'll never be enough of a fan to endure Donna Godcheaux's horrible caterwauling, or their execrable Terrapin Station cover of "Dancing In the Street." But both Terry Valderas and Big Mike Richardson speak highly of Blues for Allah, so maybe I need to give thatun another chance.)

Sure, their jams tended to meander, and while Pigpen was still alive, they were as terrible a blues band as Big Brother and the Holding Company, but at their best (the sequence "Dark Star"/"St. Stephen"/"The Eleven" on Live Dead; the live "Alligator" on the CD reish of Anthem where you can hear the seed of the Allman Brothers' "Mountain Jam" and realize how much Dickey Betts owed to Garcia; the studio weirdness in the original mix of Aoxomoxoa -- dig the choir on "Mountains of the Moon!"), they could be as transcendent as their rep. So there.

2) Watching Jim Jarmusch's Year of the Horse, his 1997 documentary about Neil Young and Crazy Horse (which I just scored on VHS, although I understand it's also Netflix-available), one is reminded of how totally reptilian brain those guys play -- makes me wanna play some really simple music, really aggressively. Those guys were really just hitting their stride on the '96 tour the film documents (although there's also live footage from Neil's scuttled Rusty Track doco, including a "Like A Hurricane" that juxtaposes performances from '76 and '96) -- it's instructive to remember that they'd been playing with Neil for about a week when Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere was recorded in '70, and that Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot's rockaroll experience started in the doowop era, just like Ronnie James Dio's did.

One is impressed by the primal force of their troglodyte stomp on songs like "Fuckin' Up" and "Tonight's the Night" and "Sedan Delivery," they way they all stand really close-in onstage, and how adept Frank Sampedro is at occupying a different sonic space than Neil, which is part of what gives the Horse's sound its grungy fullness -- "the sound of one big guitar playing, rather than two guys." It's also innaresting (as Neil's Shakey biographer Jimmy McDonough would have it) to be a fly on the wall for one of the band's backstage arguments, and to hear Neil's dad, the late journo Scott Young, offer his take on the band. It also makes me wonder when (if?) Jarmusch's long-awaited Stooges movie is coming out.