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.