Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Heater's "Temporary Power"

The first time I laid eyes on Heater, they were playing the outside stage at Lola's. Matt Hembree was standing next to me. We looked at each other and said, "Husker Du!" (Your referents might be different, but we are old.) Unlike a lot of young bands who seem to conflate surf, garage, and punk, the dudes in Heater draw primarily (and primally) on '80s punk progenitors, and cut their aggression -- exemplified by the Josh Lindsay-Jamie Shipman rhythm section's raging tempos and Travis Brown's raw-throated bark -- with melody, which comes at you fast and furious via Travis and Adam Werner's thrashed and scraped guitars. Austin-based Twistworthy Records released a 7-inch on these guys back in 2017. Since then, they've digitally released a compilation track and now this three-song EP, recorded and mixed in Travis' living room. Do-it-yourself catharsis should always sound so powerful. Heater's exhilarating energy pulls you in, pummels you, and leaves you wanting to prolong the pounding.

Friday, January 25, 2019

CHORD's "CHORD II"

Speaking of my buddy Geoff from Philly, we were talking today about extreme volume in rockaroll. I've always maintained that if you start by turning up your amp until you can feel your solar plexus vibrating, you can't go wrong. Geoff takes it a step further: "If the volume is high enough, the music can get into your soul."

As if to prove his thesis, hot on the heels of their 2018 debut, CHORD -- the electric guitar duo of Nick Didkovsky (Doctor Nerve, Eris 136199) and Tom Marsan (Delta Garage, The Handler's Hand) -- just released a second installment in their ongoing exploration of the sonic possibilities of electric guitars and amplifiers driven to the outer limit of their capacity. Imagine a detail from a Sleep or Melvins song in extreme closeup (in the same way as those bands are like ECU re-imaginings of Black Sabbath's dark and durable sound), or the logical extension of the work of NYC noisicians Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham, and you'll have an idea of what's going on here.

Initially, the sound can be overwhelming. But listen to CHORD II long enough and you'll notice shades of detail and nuance amid the droning sturm und drang. On the opening "Signal," jarringly abrasive chords (starting with Hendrix's beloved augmented 9th and going progressively farther out) lay the groundwork for swooping feedback howls and shrieks, raging harmonics, and splintered shards of melody. The effect is curiously cleansing -- an atonal exorcism you could use (as Amiri Baraka once wrote of Trane's Ascension) to heat up the house on cold days.

"Our Or Us" begins with pealing midrange tones like tolling bells that multiply echolalically to serve as the launching pad for rapid-fire, high-register pummeling (the heritage of "Sister Ray" and Sonny Sharrock audible here). "Dust" is a shorter piece that's quiet and moody, but maintains an undertow of menace, segueing into "It Fails Me," which begins in a meditative manner that gradually gives way to increasing agitation -- like Sonic Youth at their most exploratory -- building to an intensity that fades abruptly to feedback wisps. "Yellowing" is the tour de force here, a Wagnerian blast of amplifier worship. (Funny: In recent years, I've come to realize that childhood exposure to Strauss and Wagner -- my old man's faves -- at pain-threshold volume actually prepared me for the Who and Hendrix.) "A Retreat from God" ends things on a surprisingly lyrical note, like "flying brick wall"-era King Crimson in repose.

A bold and bracing spin that's also surprisingly varied. Physical CDs are available from Didkovsky's label Punos Music (link above) or Bandcamp, where you can also obtain digital downloads.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jim Lea's "Therapy"

Jim Lea was the quiet guy in the loudest band I ever heard.

That band was Slade, for whom Lea was the bassist-violinist-songwriter. I got my coat pulled to them (and Monty Python's Flying Circus) by a kid who returned at the beginning of 9th grade from a year he'd spent in the UK with his parents. I read the coverage of Slade's rabble-rousing ramalama in Greg Shaw's "Juke Box Jury" column in Creem, and Melody Maker (once the record store I'd later work in started carrying it), and bugged my future boss to order their records. I was one of two people on Long Island at the time who loved them beyond all reason, the other being a guy whom we called "Slade Kid" when he came in the store and used words like "coalescence" to describe the trainwreck clusterfuck at the beginning of "Keep On Rocking," which led off the second side of Slade Alive! (I never learned his real name, but I think his parents were college professors.)

I witnessed Slade's performance at NYC's Academy of Music in the spring of '73, at the bottom of a bill with the J. Geils Band and Frampton's Camel. The Noo Yawk audience hated them; the cries of "FUUUUUUCK YOU!" from the balcony were unmatched until the one (directed at WNEW-FM jock Scott Muni) that actually made it into the live broadcast of what would be released as Climax Blues Band's FM Live, although not the subsequent record. In Slade's case, however, the catcalls were totally obliterated by Slade's massive volume (corroborated by Thom "Tex" Edwards, who saw 'em in Texas, but with the same effect), especially after they turned on the siren on their set-closing cover of "Born To Be Wild." Having emerged from a period when ex-Hendrix manager Chas Chandler saw fit to costume them as skinheads (not realizing that racist skins ironically preferred Jamaican music to rockaroll), the silver-suited, proto-glam Slade tottered about the stage on four-inch heels as the mirrors on Noddy Holder's hat and Telecaster sent blinding shafts of light shooting around the room anytime he moved, further enraging the surly crowd. Dave Hill was an even worse guitarist than Mott the Hoople's Ariel Bender, whom I habitually rate as the lamest I ever heard with a name group. But I went home happy (if slightly hearing impaired).

Underneath the football hooligan anthems, you see, Slade's music was finely wrought Beatlesque pop, even including the occasional diminished chord, and self-effacing Jim Lea was its architect. At the end of their 25-year run, Lea and Holder left Slade, although the rump of the band continues touring even today. Lea sold real estate, obtained a psychology degree, was treated for prostate cancer, served as a caregiver for his Alzheimer's-suffering father. He'd make the odd solo single, and originally released Therapy digitally via his website in 2007. It was subsequently re-released on CD and vinyl by Wienerworld in 2016, but I would never have heard of it if I hadn't reconnected with my buddy Geoff from Philly, who's responsible for more one-liners I habitually quote than anyone since '65-'66 Dylan.

I first encountered Geoff Ginsberg online some 20 years ago, and we bonded over our mutual admiration for the Stooges and their fellow Michigan rocker Scott Morgan. Geoff had a label, Real O Mind, on which he released some 7-inches and CDs by Morgan's various groups, as well as good stuff by Nashville songwriter Tim Carroll's NYC band the Blue Chieftains, and Streetwalking Cheetah Frank Meyer's project Sweet Justice. We met in the flesh for the first time at a couple of shows Scott Morgan's Powertrane played in the spring of 2002, a week before I got fired from RadioShack. Geoff knows good rock from bad and holds a special affinity for quality songwriting with well-crafted lyrics. (The other band-axis he pulled my coat to was the Yayhoos' Eric Ambel-Terry Anderson-Dan Baird triumverate.) As a listener whose big beef is bands with distinctive sonic signatures but no memorable songs, I'm open to his recommendations. When we reconnected earlier this month after a couple of years, his parting comment (after an hour on the phone) was, "Jim Lea's Therapy is like Pet Sounds if it was a John Lennon solo album!" My interest was piqued, and the CD appeared on my front porch a few days later. Thanks, Geoff!

Like Chris Butler's Got It Togehter! from last year, Therapy is a rock record Soren Kierkegaard would understand. Kierkegaard is, of course, the Danish philosopher who once wrote, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." That's right, this is old person rock, but if you'd pass it up on that basis (ageism being the new "last acceptable prejudice," in this era when people in my age cohort apparently think that you don't get "old" until your 70s -- our fear-based denial of death is comical), then oh well, more for me. I mean, if you grew up expressing yourself through the medium of rock music, how else are you going to say what you have to say about life approaching your seventh decade? (Just this morning I saw that a version of Mott the Hoople is touring this year on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of The Hoople -- admittedly not their best LP, but whatthehell: Ian Hunter will be 80 in June. The operative question becomes, "Wouldn't you, if you could?")

Lyrically, Therapy is, as the title implies, about the whole ball of wax, and sonically, it boasts some surprises. Perhaps Geoff's Pet Sounds comparison came from lead-off track "Heaven Can Wait (For Those Who Pray)," which carries a melody not dissimilar to the one from Brian's similarly-themed "God Only Knows." The swaggering "Big Family" reveals Slade to have been the missing link between the Beatles and Queen that I never noticed they were, with multi-instrumentalist Lea -- who basically plays all the instruments here, except for some added strings and brass and a couple of drum tracks -- employing Dr. May-esque saturated guitar tones. And the lines "You always hurt the one you love / The one you shouldn't hurt at all / It seems to be the way it is / When we love and hate our families" hit home. Hard.

"The Smile of Elvis" covers similar lyrical turf to the latter-day Who's "Real Good Looking Boy" (which I like) and Mick Farren's correcting his '80s shrink, who thought Farren wanted to have sex with Elvis: "No (you damn fool), I wanted to be Elvis Presley." "Deadrock U.K." shows where youthful idolatry can lead, eulogizing a litany of '60s and '70s greats over a chord progression that recalls the Small Faces' "Song of a Baker." "Could God Be A Woman" juxtaposes a surprising rap influence (not for the last time here, either) with string-laden balladry worthy of McCartney or Mercury. "Go Out in Style" pays tribute to Keith Moon in suitably anthemic fashion, replete with thunderous drumming and crashing chords. Slade's '91 swan song single "Universe" gets redone here, where it fits in perfectly with the concept, and Lea proves himself a worthy vocalist, owning the lyrics that Noddy originally sang.

"Time and Emotion" is, of all things, a love song -- sometimes even an introverted navel-gazer can sing one -- while "Your Cine World" takes a drama queen to task; everybody knows at least one. "But needing folks to need you / Simply is not love." In "The Valley of the Kings," Lea's aging rocker remembers past glories in a style reminiscent of mid-'70s Pretty Things, while "Why Is Youth Always Wasted On the Young" looks back wistfully on missed chances and roads not taken -- and name checks the Incredible Hulk! "Notice," another rap-rock hybrid, might be my favorite item here, and carries (for my two cents) Lea's most impactful line: "When  you offer  your tender underbelly / To the sword of experience." Perhaps the closing "Let Me Be Your Therapy" reveals why Lea never pursued a counseling career, post-degree. "Let me be the garbage in the cesspools of your mind," he sings, before concluding, "Let me turn you inside out / Then hit you with my bill."

This being the post-CD era, there are, of course, bonus tracks, and the Wienerworld Therapy is an instance where the 2CD is a better buy than the 2LP, because it gives you a whole 'nother disc of mostly covers (along with two Therapy songs, as well as some Slade songs Lea co-wrote), performed by Lea -- fronting the band and playing a surprisingly Hendrixoid guitar -- with a thrown-together trio at a one-off bar gig back in 2002. It's rough and LOUD (some things never change) and you won't listen to it as often as Therapy, but it's good noisy fun from a guy who's not so quiet after all, and more to the point, has a lot to say.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Robert Cadwallader (1959-2018)


My friend Robert Cadwallader was killed in a car accident on Saturday, December 8. His SUV went off a rain-slick county road and hit a tree head on. He suffered multiple injuries and was pronounced dead on the scene.

Robert had left his job as a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram -- for whom he covered local politics in Mansfield and Arlington as a freelancer from 1991 and was hired full-time in 2010 -- after suffering a stroke late in 2017. I had re-connected with him last spring and was trying to encourage him to go to the gym and to practice playing the piano (which had been part of his post-stroke rehab). I was going to call him on Monday. Never assume a next time.

I met Robert in 1997, when I was going to Dallas three times a week to sit in with bands whose leaders I knew. He was playing keys with Tiny & the Kingpins, a fun party blues and R&B band led by singer/harpman Kevin Lovejoy. He also played with James Hinkle, who during their 20-year association became the most legit blues act in Fort Worth, so I was kind of in awe of him. But Robert was a modest, humble, almost diffident cat, although he was a natural blues player (who'd started out playing heavy rock a la Deep Purple), and he very kindly agreed to help out with a couple of my bands. You can hear Robert on five James Hinkle CDs, and one James and Betsy's daughter Claire Hinkle released early this year.

Robert was an incredibly generous cat, and I owe him more than I can ever repay. When I was out of work, and when I was struggling as a freelancer, he bought me lunch every week at Benito's on Magnolia or No Frills Grill in south Arlington. It was he -- or his wife Denise Lands, whom he later divorced but who was by his side helping him recover from his stroke -- who first suggested that I try writing about music for money when I got canned from RadioShack. Thanks for everything, pal.

I will miss this gentle soul, and wish his loved ones peace and comfort.

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.