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.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Ballad of the Occasionals

After the collapse, at the end of 1998, of the blues band I'd put together to get out of the supporting-the-bar-for-three-hours-to-play-three-songs rut of the jams, I had this instrumental R&B band for a minute. I wanted something that could gig small rooms where my being on DUI probation would not be problematic, and I knew the woman who booked bands for Borders. Instrumental because I'd had some static with the previous band's frontman that I wanted to avoid repeating. (When I first proposed the idea to Professor Robert Cadwallader -- whom I met sitting in with Tiny & the Kingpins in Dallas, before he went on to spend many years as James Hinkle's ivory-tinkler -- he exclaimed, "We can't go out there without a singer. They'll kill us!"). R&B because it wasn't rehearsal-intensive, and there was already a bunch of guys who jammed at my duplex in Benbrook every Sunday.

Ron "The Velvet Hammer" Geida taught two of my kids guitar and had played in a rock band called the Civilians. He was from Springfield, Mass., had a nice touch and lots of melodic ideas. He went on to tour Europe with country rockers Jasper Stone, and serve as the resident Jeff Beck simulacrum for years of Wreck Room and Lola's jams. I don't remember how we found Dan Bickmore, who was a corporate attorney from Oregon but had drummed in a Tower of Power-type band there. Later on, Dan and I played alt-country and rock in bands that never got out of the shed before he disappeared back into the ether. Bass was the hardest position to fill. We started out with a guy named Bill (I forget his last name) who was obsessed with Kustom amps. I'd met him sitting in with Dave Anderson's band in Dallas. After timely pause, Bill was replaced by Duke Nishimura, a superior technician with whom I butted heads over his desire to cover the Yellowjackets. Duke in turn was replaced by Ron's buddy Layne McConnell, who'd been in the Civilians.

Besides Borders, we also played one gig at a coffee house in Cleburne, and an audition at 8.0's where Ron was inaudible due to his reluctance to hump a Twin downtown and the foldback weirded us all out to the point of falling apart in the middle of "Pick Up the Pieces." Ron subsequently hustled us another audition at the Flying Saucer, for which Layne was unwilling to rehearse due to the Cowboys being on TV, so I broke up the band after 13 months. Several months later, we regrouped at an open jam hosted by the frontman from the aforementioned blues band and played "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" -- which we'd learned very laboriously over the summer when Ron and I saw the Allmans play it with an extended intro that we copied -- cold. Almost made me wish we'd stuck together. And learned more material.

I ran into Ron a little while ago, and he told me he had some tapes of the band he'd been thinking about digitizing. Daron Beck very kindly consented to do the transfers, and Ron and I were left with the task of listening to four shows, seven sets (one of the sets wasn't recorded) of ourselves, almost 20 years ago -- an exercise that feels a lot like brainwashing. The first show, with Duke on bass, was clearly the best, recording quality-wise, with a good balance between instruments and a definition the others lacked. You could even hear the tonal differences between Ron's 335 and my Telecaster. (Ron solos first until the last three songs, when we had the good guitar bat cleanup.) I realized, listening, that I played a couple of these songs ("Cissy Strut," "Chameleon") with Lee Allen years later at the Wreck Room, and one ("Rock Me Baby," although not this arrangement) with Lady Pearl Johnson at the Swing Club. Days gone by. Anyway, now there's a little digital home (on Soundcloud) for a band hardly anybody heard, who only lasted for a minute. So there.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Things we like: Self Sabotage Records

Ordering my copy of The Young Mothers' Morose via Discogs, I blundered into the online store of the distributor for awesome Austin indie Super Secret Records and their experimental arm Self Sabotage Records, some of whose wares we carry at Panther City Vinyl, and was rewarded with a stack of other releases I'm just now going through.

On the recent LP Wires, guitarist Jonathan F. Horne and cellist Randall Holt use all the tonal, timbral, and textural possibilities of their respective instruments to create a cinematic music based on density, depth, and repetition. The cello is the predominant solo voice, but both instruments take turns looping arpeggios and ostinatos or daubing colors from an electronic palette. On Knest's Honorary Bachelors of Arts CD -- Self Sabotage's inaugural release from 2015 -- drummer Thor Harris adds his crash, thump, funk, and scintillating tuned percussion to this mixture. The sounds on offer run the gamut from crushing rock to invigorating modern chamber music. Among the latter, my jam is the beguiling "Motes Skate in Shafts of Sun-Raking the Table," which sounds pretty much like what its John Fahey-esque title describes. The propensity for verbose titles carries over to Holt's solo CD, Inside the Kingdom of Splendor and Madness, on which his instrument's lyricism and penchant for long tones come to the fore. Horne also plays on Call It In, a CD of noir-ish rustic rock tunes (really!) by songwriter Sean Morales that we like real much around la casa.

En Las Montanas de Excesos is a half hour plus space rock improv marathon combining the estimable talents of drummer Chris Corsano, bass colossus Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, pedal steel virtuoso Bob Hoffnar, and experimental guitar stalwart Henry Kaiser for a session that's out to lunch -- same place Sun Ra and Hawkwind eat at. Side one of the LP starts out in oddly metered syncopation before heading into galactic meltdown. Side two reintroduces pulse over a gliding Hoffnar ride through an electrical storm and into a celestial drone that hits like Pete Cosey sitting in with Neu! The bassist also has a solo outing, Hong Kong Cab, under the rubric Ingebrigt Haker Flaten's Time Machine that showcases his facility on acoustic and electric instruments as well as apocalyptic noise freakouts. Finally, Victor Lovlorne's eponymous debut CD is all lugubrious melody, sounding for all the world like a minimalist Leonard Cohen as he applies the most skeletal electronic background imaginable to his soul's-dark-night ruminations. I still need to check out the self-titled debut LP from exhalants, who come highly recommended by a Fort Worth muso I respect a lot. But now I'm hip that Self Sabotage is an imprint to watch.