Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sub Oslo - "Dubs in the Key of Life" (remastered)

Essential classic. Download free via Bandcamp. You owe it to yourself.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Brokegrove Lads - "Into the Now Almost Before Yesterday"

New track from Brokegrove Lads (Matt Hickey, Robert Kramer, Terry Valderas, myself) from our sesh with Britt Robisheaux at Eagle Audio last Christmas. Give us a play why doncha.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"The Kids Are Alright"

Through the magic of the Wayback Machine, I was able to find the ancient I-94 Bar column where I quoted the additional lyrics (which I copied off his website) to "The Kids Are Alright" that Pete Townshend sang when I saw the 'orrible 'oo at Reunion in Y2K. They moved me to tears back when I was a youngster of 43, and they ring even truer today.

Never leave me
I can't live without you
I don't want you to go
I brought you here with my love, and my lust
And now as I grow old 
And lean toward the dust and flowers of death
I need to know that you'll be all right.
With me and without me.

Things we like

1) Listening to jam tapes from almost 40 years ago, sent to me by the guy that originally inspahrd me to want to play music, back when I was 12 and he was 14. After that we were in bands together; he moved to Florida the same year I moved to Texas, and he never played again. Hearing this stuff provides me with tangible proof of a time in my life that I otherwise might have imagined. It makes me remember what it felt like to be young, timid, diffident, and unsure of myself. And it makes me want to jam with these guys again, although some of them are no longer living. In some ways, the best part is hearing their voices in the intervals between the jams.

2) Sub Oslo and Pinkish Black at Lola's, 6.14.2014. Two of the best bands ever to call Fort Worth home, playing on their home turf, surrounded by their friends. Since then, I've been listening to Sub Oslo's The Rites of Dub (a better way of experiencing them at home -- because it has more BASS -- than their otherwise excellent DVD) and Pinkish Black's Razed to the Ground (which came out after I "did like a mole and went underground" a couple of years ago, but sounds like a watershed to these feedback-scorched ears, with Daron Beck's voice sounding better than ever) to try and keep the buzz going. And looking forward to hearing Sub Oslo's Frank Cervantez and John Nuckels (whom Frank calls "the Axis of dub," to which I meant to reply, "Just axe the excess") in their current project Wire Nest at the Wherehouse on Friday, 6.27.2014, the night before I turn forty-seventeen.

3) A Who binge, including Shakin' All Over, the better (more songs) CD-R version of my favorite vinyl bootleg, recorded at the Fillmore East on 4.6.1968, when they were still wearing spangled suits and ruffled shirts, and slouching towards Leeds with shuddering jams on "Relax," the title song, and the inevitable "My Generation;" Join Together, an Antipodean oddity also released in the UK as Rarities 1969-1972, which compiles all the great Lifehouse-leftover singles and B-sides I collected while waiting for Quadrophenia; The Kids Are Alright, still the definitive documentary even though it's bookended by songs that Classic Rock radio has rendered me unable to enjoy (the DVD that includes "A Quick One" from The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, which was absent from early issues); 30 Years of Maximum R&B, the DVD that appeared simultaneously with their mid-'90s box set (the version that includes the 1970 Tanglewood material that was deleted from later issues); and Music From Lifehouse, a DVD of the stage production Townshend mounted in Y2K which is my favorite way to hear that material.

4) All we ever need is something to look forward to. In this case, we have Ian McLagan at the Kessler in Oak Cliff on 8.8.2014, and the following evening, when the li'l Stoogeband briefly returns from the dustbin of history (sobering Lola's moment: realizing that the bumper stickers for the bands I used to play in have been torn off the wall; it's almost as if we never existed) at the Sunshine Bar in Arlington.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spiral Mercury Chicago/Sao Paulo Underground's "Pharaoh & The Underground"

Pharaoh Sanders was on the first jazz record I ever bought: John Coltrane's Ascension. On that epochal, structured collective improvisation, one of the solo voices that stood out the most from the general cacophony was the Arkansas-born tenor saxophonist's squalling cry, which sounded like nothing so much as the sound of a soul struggling to break free from bondage -- which made it very appropriate to its time (1965). On Trane's Meditations from the following year, the combination of Sanders' gritty roar with the dueling drumkits of Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali provided a musical simulacrum of an erupting volcano. On subsequent Coltrane dates like Live In Seattle, the former Sun Ra sideman pushed Ohnedaruth even further (a friend refers to Live At the Village Vanguard Again as sounding as if all the participants were on "really bad heroin").

His own dates tended to be more monochromatic, but 1967's Tauhid introduced the world to the firestorm that was Sonny Sharrock's guitar, and was cited as an influence by Detroit psychedelic proto-punks the Stooges and MC5. In the '70s, he veered off into the realm of commercial R&B-jazz purveyed by his former sidemen Lonnie Liston-Smith and Norman Connors before dropping from sight. He resurfaced in 1991 on Sharrock's Ask the Ages a highly atypical Bill Laswell production that evoked the "classic" Coltrane of A Love Supreme and Crescent with a quartet that featured Elvin Jones stoking the fires of Sharrock and Sanders' solo voices.

Now Sanders is the featured soloist on this new release from Clean Feed, the Portuguese label notable for its steady stream of high-quality, forward-looking music which, broadly speaking, absorbs the influence of post-Coltrane/AACM '70s jazz, European free improvisation, and contemporary classical music in interesting and distinctive ways. Pharoah & The Underground matches him with a mixed ensemble of Americans and Brazilians, who summon the spirit of Miles' '70s band one minute, Don Cherry's (another '60s collaborator of Pharaoh's) European ensembles the next.

While Pharaoh's name is up front, the date really belongs to Rob Mazurek, who composed all the pieces and whose cornet alternately spits staccato streams and sings with burnished lyricism. Mauricio Takara's cavaquinho (a four-stringed instrument that resembles a cross between a ukelele and a classical guitar) sounds for all the world like nothing so much as '60s Sharrock. Guilherme Granado's synth grounds the music firmly in the now, while drummer Chad Taylor's mbira evokes ancient empires. Together, the ensemble creates an aura of dark, dreamlike mystery that makes for an intriguing listen. Pharaoh's voice is still highly distinctive. It'd be ace if Clean Feed (or anyone) could give him another date where we can hear more of what he has to say in 2014.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Jeff Beck's "Truth"

Try as I might, I can't seem to get excited about the latest batch of Led Zep reissues. I'm the right age (b. 1957) to be a Zep fan, but back when I was a snotnose and all of my cohort were heavy into Zep, Grand Funk, and Black Sabbath (who'd have guessed that they'd be the most influential band o' the day, 40 years down the road?), I preferred the Yardbirds and the Jeff Beck Group. Yep, I'm one of those.

Today, I realize the folly in this, and acknowledge that only a fool would say that the Yardbirds or the JBG were better bands than Zeppelin (forgetting for a moment that Beck's Truth provided the template for Led Zep I in the same way as Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Clapton provided the template for Truth). Man for man, one could reasonably argue that the JBG that recorded Truth was as strong as Zep. But in terms of (forgive me) psycho-social dynamic, Led Zeppelin was a band where the JBG was a leader and a bunch of sidemen who were constantly reminded of it -- which means that you have to go to Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells A Story to hear the full fruition of a unit boasting the talents of Stewart, Ron Wood, and Micky Waller. And while poor old Keith Relf and Jim McCarty might have had the big ideas, either Stewart-Waller or Plant-Bonham left them in the dust in terms of ability to execute.

More to the point, as Charles Shaar-Murray points out in a 1973 NME piece that just resurfaced online in The Guardian, while Beck's boyhood pal Jimmy Page was a composer-producer-arranger in addition to being a shit-hot axe-slinger, Beck himself was a superior technician, period. A one-idea man, even if the idea was "How in hell did he do that?" As such, he was only as interesting to listen to as the context in which he was placed. And in the early JBG, with a Bohemian folksinger wannabe-cum-Sam Cooke enthusiast up front, a demoted guitarist from second-division R&B bands on bass, and what someone I know once referred to as "the world's greatest sloppy drummer," Beck could play a more fully realized version of the amped-up Chicago blues he'd been playing at with the Yardbirds.

At the point in his career (1968) when Truth appeared, Beck suffered from the misfortune of having signed a contract with producer Mickie Most, a failed South African Elvis Presley wannabe who'd had the good fortune to record the Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun" in a single take and seen it top the charts in both the UK and the US. Most had gone on to further success with Herman's Hermits, Lulu, and Donovan, but failed to hit pay dirt with the post-Beck Yardbirds, whose stage act in '67-'68 was the foundation for Zeppelin's first LP (which might appropriately have been titled Take THAT, Mickie Most!) while, in the studio, Most forced them to record pop drivel that wouldn't have even been successful a couple of years earlier.

So while the nascent Beck Group was playing storming live shows (I'm listening to a bootleg of an August '67 show at the Marquee Club as I write this), Most had them recording horrors like "Hi Ho Silver Lining" and "Tallyman" with Beck singing while Stewart warmed the bench, and nadir of nadirs, a cover of Paul Mauriat's "Love Is Blue" that must have had the punters who'd witnessed the band live scratching their heads. In the fullness of time, of course, Beck would discover his forte as a melodist, playing stunning versions of everything from Motown hits to Italian opera. But that was in the future; first, he had to invent Heavy Blooze, then freak himself right out of the competition at the moment when fans like your humble chronicler o' events have been speculating for years that he Might Have Been Huge. (Why, he even pulled out of the Woodstock festival to fly back to England and record Beck-Ola, an album made in great haste by people who really didn't like each other that sounded like it. Duh.)

Given the circumstances surrounding its creation, Truth could have been terrible, but there's also this: By '68, the JBG was as bulletproof a live act as the MC5 were around the same time, the Who would become while touring Tommy, and the Stooges would be for a minute in '70; I've got the bootlegs to prove it. So while its ten tracks include a re-recorded Yardbirds hit, a cover of a Jerome Kern tune from Show Boat, a solo acoustic version of "Greensleeves," a re-recorded single B-side, and another B-side that was recorded in 1966, when these guys got to do in the studio what they'd been doing in clubs and they'd go on to do on tour in America, the results were impressive.

The Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things," f'rinstance, is slowed down from a martial clip to a molasses-slow grind that's jazzier and sexier than the 'riginal. Stewart's rasp, drawing out every phrase, is an improvement over Keith Relf's earnest bleat. Wood is busy enough to fill the space a rhythm guitar would occupy, but rhythmic enough not to be obtrusive, while Waller is as busy, but not as flashy, as Moon and Mitchell. Beck's phrasing is uniquely idiosyncratic and he uses a Les Paul, Marshall, and Tonebender to create a sound that's dark and full of menace, overdubbing crazy glisses on a Sho-Bud steel.

"Let Me Love You" is a slower, groovier take on Buddy Guy's shuffle. Stewart dialogues with Beck's guitar in the same way Junior Wells did with Guy's on their collaborations. The gravel-throated singer is center stage again for Tim Rose's "Morning Dew" (also covered by the Grateful Dead), with bagpipes on the intro and outro, and Beck making wah-wah/slide interjections in the manner of Earl Hooker. Fun fact: Hooker played on Muddy Waters' original version of "You Shook Me," which here features help from sessioneers Nicky Hopkins (who'd tour with the JBG in '68-'69) on piano and John Paul Jones (who'd remember the arrangement when Led Zep covered the same tune on their first LP) on organ over the sound of Beck torturing his guitar with a wah and Tonebender. Jones also plays organ on "Ol' Man River," another feature for Stewart, with Beck overdubbing bass and guitar and Keith Moon (credited as "You Know Who") on tympani.

"Rock My Plimsoul" is a slowed-down (do you begin to detect a theme here?) and uncredited version of B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby." The version on the "Tallyman" B-side had Aynsley Dunbar on drums, who must have wound his watch too tightly that day. On the Truth version, Wood's bass phrases just a little behind Beck's guitar on the riff, giving the shuffle a loping feel. "Beck's Bolero" -- which Beck still plays live to this day -- was recorded at a moment when Keith Moon was considering jumping ship from the 'orrible 'oo, with Moon on drums, Page on 12-string, Jones on bass, and Hopkins on piano. The LP version is missing the little snippet of feedback guitar that appeared on the "Hi Ho Silver Lining" B-side.

"Blues De Luxe" -- another B.B. steal, this time from "Gambler's Blues" -- is the album's tour de force, overdubbed bullfight cheers and all, with relaxed performances from Stewart and Hopkins and a Beck solo with crazy, vocal-like phrasing that sounds like an angry tirade, complete with imprecations. Howlin' Wolf's "I Ain't Superstitious" takes it home with slide-wah animal imitations, culminating in the sloppiest drum solo since Hughie Flint's with Mayall on "What'd I Say."

As great of a listen as Truth remains, the problem (besides the JBG's interpersonal dynamics) is clear: there's no songwriting here. As it turned out, Stewart and Wood had plenty of songwriting ability, but they chose to withhold it until they were away from Beck's ego. After torpedoing the original JBG and getting sidelined by a car crash, Beck returned in 1971 with a similar lineup that emphasized the jazzy R&B that was always lurking under the original JBG's blues-rock surface (dig the Motown covers that band recorded for the BBC, besides the version of "I'm Losing You" that Stewart and Wood exported to the Faces). Since then, he's largely relied on keyboard players (Max Middleton, Jan Hammer, Tony Hymas, Jason Rebello) to provide him with grist for his melodic mill. When Blow By Blow appeared in '75, I remember my teenage guitar mentor and I thinking we'd have to learn how to play good now. We were wrong, of course, but still. These days, Beck is something like a Zen master of the guitar. But he's never made a record better than Truth.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Who's "Quadrophenia Live In London" DVD

When times are tough, we gravitate to what's comfortable and familiar. I was already in the middle of a Who binge (thanks, Big Mike Richardson!) when the news came through that my mother had passed away up in New Jersey, so the next day, I watched every Who DVD I own -- sort of like an electronic security blanket. Now I've got one more.

The Who have been milking their iconography since at least 1979, when The Kids Are Alright pulled me back into the fold after a couple of years away. They were the first band I ever loved, before I ever heard a note they played, when everything about them back in their spangled-suit-and-ruffles days seemed to scream "LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!" When Tommy was new, a lot of it blew right past me, but The Who Sell Out, which I found in a bargain bin the following spring, enchanted me with its ethereal incandescence before Live At Leeds arrived like a sucker punch to the gut, delivering the aggressive energy that their rock-and-wreck image promised. All through high school, the "Maximum R&B" poster adorned my wall, with the '65 promo shot and iconic Woodstock photo hanging above it. (Come to think of it, maybe "milking their iconography" started with the replica memorabilia that came stuffed in the Leeds sleeve back in '70.)

I had a hard time digesting Who's Next when it arrived the year after that -- I'd been following the reports of Townshend's ambitious Lifehouse, and didn't know quite what to make of the synthesizer-heavy album that arrived in its place. Over the years, classic rock radio overexposure killed whatever enjoyment I was able to find there. Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy clued me in to what I'd missed, and I spent the interval between Who's Next and Quadrophenia delving deeper into their history via imports and bootlegs (I'd started working in a record store by then), while a string of great (if commercially unviable) singles whetted my appetite for the new album (I'd gotten used to the synths).

Quadrophenia was the moment when I realized that those extremely extroverted exhibitionists were singing about ME -- who'd a thunk it? -- and the reason why, as I approach, um, forty-seventeen, I can still remember what it felt like to be an extremely alienated 15-year-old. As much as I love Sell Out and Leeds, Quadrophenia's been the Who album I've reached for most consistently over the years. When it was new, the Who found it difficult to perform live -- Moon had trouble playing along with the tapes of all the extra instruments, and Townshend felt it necessary to overexplain the concept in between songs -- and very quickly dropped most of the songs from their set lists.

Often overshadowed in media by his guitarist, Roger Daltrey -- who had a banner year in 2013, doing fundraising for the Teenage Cancer Trust/Teen Cancer America and recording an album of tough R&B with iconic cancer survivor/ex-Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson -- is the guy who's always planned the Who's live shows, and it's his visual concept that makes Quadrophenia Live In London an impactful viewing experience. While I'm not a fan of Big Rock Spectacles that require a Jumbotron and lots of staging, translated to the small screen in your living room, this just works. The proximate model is the film Julian Schnabel made of Lou Reed's Berlin a few years back, but here the video -- of the sea, Mods, the younger Who, and larger historical events from their time, as well as visual correlatives to the lyrics -- is more tightly integrated with the music, as when images of Entwistle and Moon appear on-screen (to play a bass solo on "5:15" and sing on "Bell Boy," respectively). And the joy on Daltrey's face when he sees the images of his fallen bandmates couldn't be faked.

You won't like watching this if you don't like looking at old people -- these geezers are pushing 70 now, after all -- or if you still think the Who are a four-piece rock band (which they haven't been, onstage, in 40 years). Post-CSI and Super Bowl, Townshend and Daltrey now employ a half-dozen sidemen -- Simon Townshend copping his big brother's licks on a tantalizing array of axes and singing "The Dirty Jobs" with Daltrey, Pino Palladino on bass, Scott Devours replacing Ringo's kid on drums behind the Plexiglas, no fewer than three keyboardists replacing Rabbit Bundrick, plus a couple of horn players -- but the sound doesn't seem bloated, as it did on the '89 Tommy/"Unix ponytail" tour. In fact, it fits the music like a glove.

Daltrey's lost a bit of his range, and a few high notes that were sustained on the record are now truncated or sung in a lower register, but his mic-swinging and athletic ebullience are undiminished. Townshend's mighty leaps are a thing of the past, but he still windmills with abandon and vocalizes with power he lacked in his younger days, bellowing like a bluesman where he once sang like a choirboy. Did Pete forget the words to "I'm One," or did he just want to emphasize the line "Where did you get that walk oh so lean?" Who knows. But the music still heals as it thrills.

They even had the decency to make the non-Quadrophenia songs a bonus feature, so I don't have to skip through the ones I've heard wa-a-ay too many times every time I want to watch this. The only one of those I'll be going back to is "Tea and Theater," from an album I never got, but which serves as a nice reminder that at the end of the day, this band -- which has been a lot of things over half a century -- comes down to the friendship between two old men.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Red 100's "Let Go Get Down"

Was talking to Joe Vano the other night about how the hipi blues will never die, then this arvo some new toonage from The Red 100's arrived like a candygram from the gods. Since I first heard 'em, I've always dug Raul Mercado's guitar style, which is blues-based, but not roots-reverential, as befits a cat in his 20s. But he really sings his ass off on this one, sounding at times like Mark Arm if he was channeling Son House instead of Iggy, at others like the Devil himself as personified by BOA's Jim Dandy. The multilayered guitar damage recalls the MC5's third album, only more cohesive and better recorded. These guys could give being a two-man band a good name.