Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Goodwin live at the Wreck Room

The first time I ever saw Goodwin, on a Tuesday night in 2002 at the Wreck Room, I recall my exact words to Anthony Mariani being, "Who are these fucking guys with numbers on their shirts?" But before long (e.g., by the end of the night), they were my favorite band, and hearing their debut CD tonight reminded me of why. Then I found this.

Things we like

1) D'Angelo Black Messiah. You probably heard Prince; at first, I heard Sly's Riot, and found the densely layered production resistant to listening at home, where I now listen to music at a volume level comparable to when I lived with my parents. (Apparently, hearing familiar stuff at whisper-volume triggers enough memory to give the illusion of having heard the whole thing, but this doesn't work for newer stuff.) In the car, where I do all my "close" listening these days, I was able to hear enough detail to beguile my ears until the irresistible hooks began to differentiate individual tracks from the sonic bath: the Parliafunkadelicment of "1000 Deaths" (replete with Hendrixian stankfinger guitar), the Uber groovaliciousness of "Sugah Daddy," the Stylistics-worthy slow-jam magnificence of "Another Life" (replete with Coral electric sitar). The presence of Roots drummer Questlove -- whose love for (and understanding of) R&B history informs everything he touches -- is crucial.

2) Kendrick Lamar To Pimp A Butterfly. Last year, it was Beck and St. Vincent; this year it's this guy. (In my dotage, I'm listening to records I read about first in Rolling Stone.) This is a lot easier to hear than the D'Angelo, because it's mastered LOUDER, with the vocals right up front. At 27, this kid from Compton is renouncing all the stuff (violence and conspicuous consumption) that put me off hip-hop back in the '90s, while decrying both racism and self-defeating behavior patterns, and expressing ambivalence about success. Great band dynamic, too.

3) Lou Reed Animal Serenade. A year down the road, I'm delaying the dread realization that there'll be no more Uncle Lou forthcoming by listening to Set the Twilight Reeling, which I never really got next to when it was new (and missed seeing Lou when he played the Bronco Bowl, dammit), in the car, and this -- which just might be his finest live recording -- at la casa. While it lacks the somewhat inappropriate mock grandeur Hunter 'n' Wagner gave Rock and Roll Animal, it also avoids the self-loathing that made Take No Prisoners funny but ultimately unlistenable. The sound is as clear as Perfect Night Live, with a much better (maybe even definitive) set list. Besides Lou's ultimate accompanist Fernando Saunders, the always-supportive Mike Rathke, and the ever-ethereal Antony Hegarty (singing all the "Doug Yule" leads where melody's important), the secret ingredient in the drummerless accompaniment is cellist Jane Scarpantoni, who did the same job for Bob Mould on Workbook.

4) Captain Beyond. A collector's fave and absolutely archetypal '70s hard rock band in the same way Cactus was, this outfit brought together the original Deep Purple lead singer (before he screwed himself out of his royalties for touring with a fake DP), a couple of ex-Iron Butterflies, and Johnny Winter And's drummer (who wrote all the songs). Lots of odd time signatures and almost-prog electro-acoustic textures, plus it's dedicated to Duane Allman (with whom Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt jammed in Florida way back when).

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Johnny Case website

Perennial FTW jazz/western swing mainstay gots a new website. Check him out here. Probably the easiest way to hear him is via his regular Saturday gig at Lili's Bistro, where Johnny plays from 6:30 to 10:30pm.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Ascension: The Missing Link Between MC5 and SRB

Going through some old CD-Rs, I found a recording I've had for 15 years or so and forgotten: a performance by Ascension, the post-MC5 regrouping of Fred "Sonic" Smith, Michael Davis, and Dennis Thompson, playing in a Detroit bowling alley just a few months after the Five folded the tent. I guess it's been available out in bit torrent land for awhile, and there are a couple of videos on Youtube. I gave it a quick listen in the car, then tonight at home, I gave it a little more scrutiny.

The MC5's last gig was on New Year's Eve 1972, when the members of the band that recorded their three LPs regrouped to play for some chump change at the Grande Ballroom, scene of their greatest triumphs just four years earlier. Bassist Davis had been slung out of the band the year before, replaced by English musicians for the Five's last couple of European tours. Frontman Rob Tyner and drummer Thompson declined to participate in the last "MC5" tour of Scandinavia, which left the guitarists -- Smith and Wayne Kramer -- to undertake a dispirited series of shows with a pickup rhythm section that were documented on a bootleg, MC5 Kick Copenhagen, and some video that's on Youtube.

In the Five, Smith had always played second banana to the flashier Kramer, even when he was wearing his "Sonic Smith" superhero costume with his face painted silver. But he played the famous "Battle Hymn of the Republic" guitar solo on Back In the U.S.A.'s "The American Ruse," and when the band started taking individual song credits on their swan song LP High Time, Fred claimed four to Wayne's two and one each for Rob and Dennis. And he steps out to blow plenty of lead on the '72 French TV performance of "Thunder Express."

By then he had already developed the thick, midrange-heavy tone he'd use to great effect in Sonic's Rendezvous Band, but it was actually captured better on the soundboard and audience tapes that make up the bulk of SRB's recorded legacy than it was on any of the Five's official recordings. And the "MC2" shows in Scandinavia featured Fred singing lead in a low, gruff, whiskey-throated voice. For Ascension, however, he ceded vocal duties to Davis, who'd sung Bob Dylan songs around the Wayne State University campus before becoming the MC5's bassist, and bought him a Casio keyboard. (Davis soon discovered that his voice wasn't up to the demands of the multi-set engagements they were booked to play.) Bass duties were handled by John Hefti.

Ascension fizzled out after "two or three" gigs, and Smith was asked to overdub guitar on a couple of tracks ex-Rationals frontman Scott Morgan had recorded with the band Lightnin'. The seeds of SRB were sown. At that point, Morgan had stronger material; it'd take Smith a couple of years to hit his writing stride to the point where he could match Morgan song for song, and ultimately dominate the band.

On the Ascension tape, recorded on September 20, 1973, you can hear Smith working out ideas that'd see fruition in SRB. The song "You Make Me Happy Now" uses a chord progression he'd repurpose for SRB's "Song L" and "So Sincerely Yours," and "Undertow," which Ascension plays after someone from the house complains about their volume, is a minor-key blues with a similar vibe to Fred's SRB saxophone feature "American Boy." He plays choppy rhythm that occasionally sounds like two guitars, and his solos lean less on Chuck Berry than his High Time ones had, alternating staccato picking and sustained notes with vibrato, almost like a metallic Detroit Albert King.

A song entitled "Vulva" indicates that Ascension wasn't hoping for major label interest, and there's a cover of the Temptations' "Get Ready" that's no threat to either the original or Rare Earth's cover. Their best song is probably "Summer Cannibals," a three-chord pounder that gives a hint of what's to come.

In his spoken intro to one of the pieces, Smith expresses some of the bitterness he and his bandmates felt in the wake of the Five's implosion: "A few years ago we did a thing called the MC5. A lot of people talked about it when it was happening and they said we were doomed, just because we did what we thought was right for us. I never did believe we were doomed, I mean, it was just someone's words...because music lives on if you keep lovin' it."

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Half Cleveland's "Live @ the Wi-Fi Cafe"

A rock obscurantist's delight and proof positive (as if any more were needed) of my contention that Ohio is, indeed, the secret music capital of America, Half Cleveland is the current vehicle for ex-Tin Huey bandmates/writing partners Chris Butler (the former Waitresses mastermind whose Easy Life was your humble chronicler o' events' Record of Last Year) and Harvey Gold. Recorded in the actual internet café at a local college, Live @ the Wi-Fi Cafe finds our heroes "semi-plugged," playing acoustic guitars through pedals and amps in the company of Deborah Smith-Cahan (a veteran of Chi-Pig and Peter Laughner's Friction) on bass and Bob Ethington on stripped-down percussion rig, captured for posterity on Pro-Tools by Recording Arts & Sciences students.

Back in prehistory, Tin Huey were the proggiest of Ohio underground acts, whose contemporaries/familiars included Devo and Pere Ubu. Maturity has revealed these guys as masters of songcraft and consummate wiseasses, both qualities which come across well in the intimate, informal setting in which they're heard here. Half Cleveland prove that you don't need high volume to put across Big Rock dynamics; just canny and crafty musicianship. (Gold's keyboards are particularly meritorious in that regard.)

For evidence, check out "Cheap Mechanics," which previously served as the curtain-raiser for Huey's disinformation disc (released in '99 on Butler's Future Fossil label), or Gold's lament for an aging muso "Larry's In the Cutout Bin." Butler casts his jaded idealist's eye on the modern world in songs like "Workingman's Beer," "Physics," "New Enemy," and "Idiot Trail" (nice Who allusion at the end of that one), and it's a special treat to hear a couple of the Easy Life songs essayed live.

Use the link below to stream or download. Physical CDs are coming, Harvey sez. Watch this space.


Half Cleveland recently played a sold-out, cover-rich show (with the Bizarros) at The Club at Akron's Civic Theater that's well documented on Youtube. Here's my favorite from that performance:

Things we like

1) The opportunity to jam with Da Kobe I mentioned below came about because I was invited to provide some background music for a short skit the estimable dramatist Rob Bosquez wrote about the Wreck Room (and performed with his friend Susan van Belkum) as part of the Wildcatter Exchange Radio Hour, a sort of teaser for a festival of literature and storytelling that'll be held at multiple venues March 27-29 (exciting details here). The radio hour was a throwback to days gone by, and will be broadcast on John Rody's radio station (97.5 FM) at a future date, with a cast I was gassed and stoked to be part of, including fellow muso-scribes Michael H. Price and Josh Alan with Shae Lynn Goldston in Arch Oboler's 1936 radio drama "The Dark," storyteller David Ellis, and master of ceremonies James Hinkle (who told his story about bringing leftover BBQ chicken from a Hip Pocket benefit to the Wreck Room by way of introduction to Rob's piece -- and I was there!). While it was humbling to hear myself spoken of as a guitarist in a room where Da Kobe, Josh, and Jime were present, how often does one get invited to play one's own ghost?

2) Listening to a bunch of Sonny Sharrock on cassette, CD, and sweet, sweet vinyl, and remembering that the late free jazz guitar master made a bunch of good records between his Bill Laswell-sponsored resurgence with Material and Last Exit and his career-capping masterpiece Ask the Ages (the closest thing to a new Coltrane record we had back in '91, with Elvin Jones and Sonny's '60s employer Pharaoh Sanders in full effect). My sweetie 'n' I unearthed a Phil Overeem-dubbed cassette that included Sonny's overdubbed-solo Guitar -- perhaps the purest example of what he was up to -- along with the rest of our tape hoard. Faith Moves, a duet with Nicky Skopelitis (whom Shannon Jackson credited with coming up with the groove Herbie Hancock used on "Rockit") on a variety of mostly Near Eastern acoustic instruments, puts me in mind of a project I want to do with Da Kobe someday. And Seize the Rainbow features Sonny fronting a rock band with Decoding Society/Rollins Band vet Melvin Gibbs on bass, and two drummers that sound like one drummer. (Later they added a keyboard player, and were not as good.) While Sonny's known for his skronk and chaos-slide, the main impression I have of him in his maturity is the majesty of his melodic statements.

3) The smiling folks at Clean Feed over in Portugal still have me on their promo list, even though I haven't really got much time to review stuff these days. Lucky me. As a result, I got to hear Epicenter, a new side by Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, a bassist-led, piano-dominated (Craig Taborn's Wurlitzer is particularly effective) quintet with two tenors including the redoubtable Tony Malaby that's capped by a scintillating cover of the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" that might just be the best jazz cover of a rock song since, I dunno, Steve Marcus' "Tomorrow Never Knows." Also new from Clean Feed is I Never Meta Guitar Three, the latest installment in the Elliott Sharp-curated series of contemporary solo guitarists. Like its predecessors, Three is rich in electro-acoustic wonderment.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Darrin Kobetich - "An Exercise in Revelry"

I recently had the pleasure of jamming with Darrin Kobetich, eclectic wizard of anything-with-strings, something we used to do all the time back in Wreck Room (RIP) daze. Darrin just recorded this album for the RPM Challenge, in which musos write and record an album during the month of February. His program note: "This is my western approach to music of the mid-east. For fun. I am not a scholar by any means. I just like to dabble in different styles. Music is just plain fun, regardless of what religions or cultures are attached. This recording is not for the purist. The instruments used are cumbus (pron: djoomboosh - Turkish word for revelry or fun), doumbek, djembe, tambourine, jingle bells, claves, violin, ocean drum, tile-cutting saw, bongos, toms, kick drum and floor tom, mandolin. Recorded in various locations (bathroom, studio, porch, sculpture) in Ft. Worth and Austin, TX."

darrinkobetich's player: