Back on ’04 and more
A root and a beer for the new year!
by Thomas Schulte
Outsight brings to light non-mainstream music, film, books, art, ideas and opinions.
Published, somewhere, monthly since July 1991. Feel free to re-print this article.
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News And Views
Son Seals 1942 – 2004
Chicago bluesman Son Seals, 62, died December 20 in Chicago from complications due to diabetes. A voice for redefining Chicago blues in the 1970s, Seals released 11 albums during his 30-year recording career and toured worldwide. Several titles on Alligator Records reach from the career retrospective Deluxe Edition (2002) on back to Son’s 1973 debut recording, The Son Seals Blues Band (1973). Seals played his last live performances in October 2004 in California.
Frank “Son” Seals was born in Osceola, Arkansas on August 14, 1942. He became an accomplished drummer by the time he was 13. By the age of 18, Son had put down the drumsticks and was leading his own band as a guitarist. He moved to Chicago in 1971 and began playing regular weekend gigs at The Expressway Lounge and other clubs on Chicago’s South Side, regularly jamming with legends like Hound Dog Taylor, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. His career was on an upward trend from there and Seals shared stages with a wide variety of blues stars, including B.B. King and Johnny Winter. Even the popular rock band Phish recognized Seals’ talent, recording his song “Funky Bitch” and inviting Seals to join them onstage at many of their tour dates.
Porn Star vs. Folk Music Venue
Kulak’s Woodshed, a volunteer-run and donation-supported music venue in the heart of North Hollywood has come under relentless attack by its neighbor, Charles Peyton, a.k.a. Jeff Stryker, one of the biggest names in porn. A dispute began over four years ago when Kulak’s Woodshed owner Paul Kulak asked his neighbor, Stryker, whose business office is adjacent to the Woodshed, not to attend performances anymore because he would repeatedly show up drunk and cause a disturbance. Then, Kulak and his fiancé, Helena, witnessed Stryker urinating on their car. As Stryker describes in an email, which Kulak has saved, “I pissed on your car cause ya asked me not to come in anymore.” From there, the harassment escalated. “He put a dead rat in my mailbox, feces on my back door, practiced his kick boxing on the sidewalk next to the Woodshed in a very brazen and threatening way just before our shows began, scaring people who have to walk by him. I have video of this,” said Kulak.
“We called the LAPD many times but they claim they can do nothing unless he physically hurts someone.” Stryker then launched a series of baseless legal complaints and entangled Kulak’s Woodshed in a mess of red tape, pushing it to the brink of financial collapse from required use/parking variance applications and additional permit fees. Paul Kulak has appeared at hearings before the Zoning Administration with supporters seeking an end to these problems.
What’s Old Is New Again
Fuel 2000 has out a trio of recordings by bands from the classic rock era back together in reunion form for new recordings. First up is The Hollies Reunion, complete with Graham Nash and Allan Clarke from a 1983 tour. The keyboard does not sound too hot in this live event concert recording, but The Hollies basically keep to their strength as a vocal group and sticking to the original formula does well with such highpoints as “Look Through Any Window” and “Teach Your Children”. The Wet Willie Band also goes for a live document with High Humidity. The funky rock band here led by guitarist/vocalist Ric Seymour does not disappoint. With a prominent horn section, this excellent album delivers on such songs as “Grits Ain’t Groceries” and the risqué “Babyfat”. With an approach not unlike The Ventures, Vanilla Fudge entertained with psychedelic sludge renditions of pop hits. On Then and Now the group ups the ante by not only sampling the era of its own prominence (“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t that Peculiar”) but also having more or less success with more contemporary targets. The group uses “Tearin’ up my Heart” (‘NSync) and “I Want it that Way” (Backstreet Boys) as a canvas to paint its hard rock pictures. The powerhouse drumming of Carmine Appice makes this a pretty solid record overall, but the rap treatment of the Appice co-authored “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” is misguided.
Virgin Prunes, Ripe For Reissue
The Grey Area, an imprint of Mute, reissued five albums from these demon creatives of Dublin: A New Form of Beauty, Over the Rainbow, Hérésie, The Moon Looked Down and Laughed, and …If I Die, I Die. All albums were originally released in the ’80s from Gavin Friday’s group. A New Form of Beauty, a one-CD package for what was a series of releases, is an eerie and successful concept album on the variations of beauty. This goth rock vision combines the dramatic noise of Throbbing Gristle and the sonic theatre of Bauhaus. This is the experimental edge of Virgin Prunes territory, the group here looks to find the limits of their reach. Over the Rainbow is similarly experimental, but in a varied, less focused way. Originally released in 1985 as a single LP of rarities from the group, this exploration of non-album material has been expanded into a 2-CD set. This shows the scary noise of the group, funky new wave songs and moody ambient creations. Also very interesting in this collection is The Moon Looked Down and Laughed. This album, produced by Dave Ball (Soft Cell) and featuring Jim Thirlwell (Foetus), is an exploration of melody and song and can be seen as a prediction of the future arc of Friday’s solo career. Hérésie, which originally came out in 1982 as a pair of 10″ albums, is now on one CD. The experiment in nightmarish noisescapes is not for the uninitiated. That goes for the first part of the album, the second being some very dated sounding and poorly produced live tracks. Hérésie is difficult enough as it is, but the live material burdens this little package of malevolence. The live material is also overshadowed by the songs’ studio versions. …If I Die, I Die, produced by Colin Newman (Wire), is the most accessible of the albums and includes the widely known “Baby Turns Blue” along with a parody of Bruce Springsteen, “Ballad of the Man”. After hearing all the possibility of the other albums, this one, the safest, may actually be felt to be the most boring.
Producer/composer/percussionist Kip Hanrahan is a matchmaker of musicians to who assemble great ensembles to record magical music. Check out Exotica (all releases American Clavé), which features Kip with Jack Bruce and others. Gentle but brisk percussion creates energizing jazz music and features a jazz anthem for the working class (“The Last Song”) alongside other politically aware nearly spoken jazz ballads as “As in Angola (Red Star in the Morning Sky)”. Reuben Blades and many other join Kip for a crisply etched Latin jazz album Robby and Negro at the Third World War. It has a smart, swinging rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil”. Kip has been doing this collaboration and production for quite a while. The American Clavé reissue of his 1985 classic Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed features Taj Mahal, Allen Toussaint, Carla Bley, Lester Bowie and many others on such standout tracks as the whimsical “The Wardrobe Master of Paradise” and the salacious “Betty Ball’s Blues”. Allen Toussaint with Don Pullen and others are on Conjure: Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon, which is produced by Kip, although he is not featured on the disc. This album also conjures music for the weird and wonderful story-poems of Ishmael Reed. Yo! is an album by tango vocalist Silvana Deluigi produced by Hanrahan. Her easy and natural delivery is sultry, sexy and sensual. Also intimate is the ear-close low-voiced telling of tales by singer and actress Carmen Lundy on Kip Hanrahan’s A Thousand Nights and a Night. This ambitious audio condensation of the Arabic story cycle is a fascinating and transporting telling as Carmen veers from spoken word to gentle song in her deliver. Hanrahan calls this magnificent opus “maybe the densest and most difficult project we’ve played through”. With his band he took a break to record for the joy of it All Roads are Made of the Flesh. You should feel that joy.
With such a diverse and encompassing artist, how does one start? An excellent entry point is made by the 2-CD compilation American Clavé. This anthology touches the wide spectrum of Kip’s output from 1980-1992.
John D. Luerssen
River’s Edge: The Weezer Story
This mightily detailed Weezer chronicle includes everything from session track listings to specific tour dates. This is a Weezer fanatic’s dream. The book is a detailed exegesis of the band’s trek through time and space. Interestingly, this also works as a tale of the indie rock everyman charting a course through the unmapped regions of popularity, the corporate music industry and the group dynamics of a band. Although this is an unauthorized biography, it is enhanced by interviews with pre-Weezer musical associates of Rivers Cuomo, original Weezer guitarist Jason Cropper, producer Ric Ocasek, current guitarist Brian Bell and more. Music journalist and admitted “enormous Weezer fan” John D. Luerssen succeeds in that he does more uncovering and investigation than hagiography in this enlightening examination of Weezer unveiled. (3.5)
Contents Under Pressure: 30 Years of Rush at Home & Away
In the midst of Rush’s 40-city tour to promote its 30th anniversary, this book looks back on the progressive rock bands progress through intertwining discography with gigography. This authorized tour overview is replete with candidate remarks and insight garnered from interviews with Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. The book also features many photographs from official band photographer Andrew MacNaughtan. Conveniently broken into a chapter dedicated for each release and the corresponding tour, this book serves not only as band biography, but also excellent reading while enjoying classic albums from the Canadian prog rock trio. (4)
Guitars On DVD
There are three new DVD titles featuring world-class guitarists, all available from Music Video Distributors. These are Angel Romero, Virtuoso (Quantum Leap), One of these Nights (Al Di Meola; Inakustik), and the Jan Akkerman DVD Live (Alpha Centauri). The Angel Romero DVD really stands out. The Spanish guitar maestro gives a moving and compelling classical guitar performance in this concert recorded live at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California in 1981. As he performs, jazz ensemble instruments lay ready behind him. However, the implied threat that other musicians will come and pick those up to intrude upon this moving and personal display, thankfully, never materializes. The Jan Akkerman DVD presents Jan in front of an electric jazz-rock band. The music never overwhelms his electric pop-rock performance. The ex-Focus guitarist here gives us two German concerts and 35 minutes of bonus material that includes improvisations with Paco de Lucia. Of the three, Al Di Meola chose the most robust accompaniment. Sometimes, however, the string section, florid piano runs and percussion drown out what Di Meola could do to entertain us himself. This is still a good, if unfocused, exploration of instrumental jazz with world music overtones. Di Meola calls this “the first in what I hope to be a series in future performances in this direction” on this subject of melding a string section with his group.
Jazz Legends Live
The thirteen-volume series Jazz Legends Live from Quantum Leap is live performances from jazz artists captured the world over. Some of these jazz artists cast longer shadows than others in the world of jazz. Witness, Vol. 2 which offers “Someday We’ll Meet Again” from pioneer Les McCann with two selections from jazz-pop artist Ben Sidran. (Here my interview with McCann.) This DVD also includes Charlie Byrd marrying acoustic classical guitar to jazz as well as aged and softened tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb. Steps Ahead and Koinonia represent the fusion edge on Vol. 3. Foundationally important jazz figures Ron Carter (“Loose Change”), piano minimalist Ahmad Jamal and hard-bop piano original McCoy Tyner are also here. Again a mixed bag, Vol. 4 starts out with mellow and melodic Phil Woods eloquent on “My Old Flame”. Juxtapose this with jazz-pop from Sidran and Steve Miller (“Space Cowboy”). Sidran & Woods (“Last Dance”) is also on the DVD. We get another dose of Charlie Byrd, this time masterfully leading his ensemble through “Seven Come Eleven” (Benny Goodman) and “Thou Swell” (Hart & Rodgers). More string jazz comes “after” courtesy of violin maestro Stephen Grappelli: “After You’ve Gone” and “After You in the Wind”.
All Gone Live
The fury, excitement and slight sense of danger found at really good punk shows just does not translate to the small screen when extruded through the lens of a video camera. That is the weakness of this uninterrupted, unblinking portrayal of three gigs on a ’03 tour mashed into a single concert experience. For the die-hard Subhumans fan, this has something to offer, I am sure, but for the general punk rock aficionado, what is there to get excited about? Well, like with most DVDs, the action is in the special features. While it could have benefited from post-production editing, the road video footage here is fascinating. It is a behind the scenes look of what that fan never sees: what happens between the venues. From collecting receipts, to combating boredom, to traveling, the mechanics of reviving punk rock has better eye appeal than looking at the show through a microscope. (3)
CD With DVD Reviews
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Sometimes, at night, I am watching TV and a commercial comes on promising what I take to be a glorious Hollywood orgy of sex and violence propagated by viscous urban hoodlums. Then I see that what is actually being advertised is a game. As the animation on these games becomes more lifelike and continued success provides greater budgets it does not seem unusual in the least that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas offers two CDs of music from the Grand Theft Auto game and a DVD featurette to introduce characters and settings in the game. About two-thirds of the music does not move me, but it may be just the thing for suburban gamers basking in the glory of L.A. ghetto violence: Cypress Hill, Rage Against the Machine and … Eddie Money? Well, maybe not. Good songs on the discs include James Brown “The Payback”, the balancing Slick Rick “Children’s Story”, Ohio Players “Funky Worm” and more. The AFI cover of “Head Like A Hole” was recorded just for this release. The DVD is tantalizing short, entertaining and features the voices of Samuel L. Jackson (Officer Frank Tenpenny) and Chris Penn (Officer Eddie Pulaski). Note that this release is a prelude to the much more complete 8-CD box set of music from the game’s vehicle-accessed radio stations. (3.5)
Munly and The Lee Lewis Harlots
Munly and The Lee Lewis Harlots
It is apt to compare the musical art of Munly and The Lee Lewis Harlots with the literary art of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. The songs of the group fronted by Munly (Slim Cessna’s Auto Club) summon to mind the southern tragedy of Absalom, Absalom! (Faulkner) and the cruel horrors of The Blood Meridian and Child of God (McCarthy). The eerie, Southern gothic album repeats with a slide show presentation of still images on the accompanying DVD disk. Given the possibilities of this format, it may seem a letdown to have just this basic presentation, and in some ways it is. However, the images are apt and linked to the songs lyrics so it succeeds as well as it can. The even more minimal approach of Munly reading the lyrics to each song without accompaniment will affect the listener even more. Here we are confronted with a calm delivery of poetry about abortion punches, fraternal rape and more from the last house on the left of Tobacco Road. (4.5)
Aces Back to Back!
Bobby Darin was a Friend of Mine
This Hyena Record CD/DVD combination spans Darin’s career as a diverse singer with tracks from “Song Sung Blue” to “If I were a Carpenter” and “Mack the Knife” to “Moon River”. The DVD has footage of slick, Technicolor TV presentations of “Beyond the Sea”, “Mack the Knife” and more along with grainy black and white candid footage from a documentary about Darin’s return to the nightclub circuit complete with George Burns telling anecdotes. (4.5)
Suitable companion reading comes from Al Aronowitz, a.k.a. “The Blacklisted Journalist”, and his book Bobby Darin Was A Friend Of Mine, Volume Three Of The Best Of The Blacklisted Journalist. The book is a collection of Al’s published and unpublished articles on Darin and those around him released to preempt whatever image Kevin Spacey gives to Darin in his biopic Beyond the Sea. (3.5)
Jay Geils/Duke Robillard/Gerry Beaudoin
New Guitar Summit
New Guitar Summit: LIVE at Stoneham Theatre
The New Guitar Summit CD is a cool, hip CD to put on in nearly any setting. The swinging blues album will be impressive to your grandmother who lindy-hopped with “our braves boys” at WWII USO events and will also work with your young friends that went through punk rock and then transformed into neo-swing and are now ready for the jazz blues on this excellent CD. The mix is mostly instrumentals from the guitar trio with a few songs thrown in for variety and good measure. Light and bouncy, this is an uplifting, feel-good album with hours of listening enjoyment contained therein. This is a great meeting of friends and comrades that includes a veteran blues rock guitarist (Geils), a contemporary blues guitarist (Robillard) and a trained jazz guitarist (Beaudoin). (4)
While the guys are snappily addressed, it is hard to find what the visual plus is to the DVD New Guitar Summit: LIVE at Stoneham Theatre. Seeing as the “Swing with Dr. Jake” is a video on the CD there is not much to add to what they are like live from track to track. The real difference and reason for having both formats is the facts the two recordings do not cover the same songs. The DVD has fewer but has some not on the CD: “Broadway”, “Flying Home” and “Lonely Boy Blues”. “Lonely Boy Blues” is a standout vocal Jay McShann number sung, with an extemporaneous Jimmy Witherspoon visitation, by Duke Robillard. Also, the DVD has an excellent group interview that tells how it all came together and the group explains each song and why it is on the DVD. (3.5)
One in a Million
“The Q” self-releases the Dummy CD while celebrating is 35th anniversary. Putting the CD next to the DVD One in a Million shows two different sides of the diverse band that has become a musician’s band and garnered praise from Hendrix, Paul McCartney, R.E.M., Iggy Pop and more. Admittedly, some of the sounds seem dated. (“Call of the Wild” could be from the Huey Lewis and the News soundtrack. “Imaginary Radio” could be classic Elvis Costello.) The charm of this band on record is part of that. And, talk about catchy. There are choruses here you will be humming instantly and for a long time. It seems a miniature music box containing the joys of pop rock and underground rock from The Fleshtones to The Pretenders. Breaking out of the pop rock topic mold with such lowbrow, punkish topics as those on “Do the Primal Thing”, “Hey Punkin Head” and the title track just adds to the cultish appeal. Combine that with excellent production and technical ability and you have a record that will win narrow but zealous appeal. Also, this is one you can enjoy again and again. (3.5)
The DVD has a bonus video of “Dummy” featuring exclusively the lifelike ventriloquist dummy representations of the band featured on the CD cover art. The rest of the DVD is a hard rock performance by the band from 1989. It is a quintessential rocking show. I can just picture some movie filmmakers mulling over how to place a hard rock concert scene in their movie and make it so “with just a few seconds of footage the movie viewer will know the scene takes place at a kick ass rock ‘n’ roll show.” A normally quiet production assistant increases the angle of his career’s ascent as soon as he utters: “I know what we need, just a few frames from the NRBQ One in a Million DVD!” (3)
Flat Earth Society
Flat Earth Society is an avant-garde Belgian big band founded by clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, and arranger Peter Vermeersch. So, on one level the music is rooted in big band (swing, cabaret, R&B, etc.) but the delivery is agile and unexpected like a compact improvising combo. This is a 19-track compilation culling from previous import-only albums and a few unreleased tracks selected by Mike Patton. The music is exhilarating and thrilling like a high-speed car wreck. (4.5)
54 Sq. Ft. Trampoline
This post-folk chill out music is laid back and full of the wide-open vision that is the hinterland of the Montreal band’s native Quebec. The hypnotic music and country-ish vocals recall Giant Sand and Calexico, but nothing here is that engaging. This is a collection of demos that is good background mood music in a late evening, candlelit way (especially if you have rusty farm implements on the walls). A few demos, like “Make it Warm Enough” and “Another Dead Hero” never gel and should have been left off. (3)
There are only four different words in the Guitar Wolf song “Murder By Rock”. Those words are “rock ‘n’ roll” and the three-word phrase “murder by rock”. That is how Guitar Wolf is: simple and blunt. Like the word “murder” sounds gloomy and final, like a knifing in an alley, so “Guitar Wolf” sounds like the band: ravenous and electric. The primitive, fuzzed-out and loud sonic assault here is your favorite garage rock bands on steroids, or other “performance enhancing” drugs, like the rock enhancer alcohol. The band throws in some great covers: “Route 66”, “Sore Loser” by The Royal Pendletons and “The Way I Walk”, that anthem to cool penned by Hazel Park, Michigan rock legend Jack Scott. (4)
Peanut Butter and Jelly Live at the Ming Lounge
Coachwhips are even more primitive and deconstructed than Guitar Wolf. The piercing, clarion organ sound here clearly sails over the muddy low-end noise-rock of this garage rock ensemble. The band does not quite reach the dissonance of Cheater Slicks, but are in that zip code. Distorted and homemade microphones that transmute the voice of vocalist John Dwyer contribute to the unique chaos that is Coachwhips. For the record, this studio recording is a live album in name only. (3)
Lee “Scratch” Perry And The White Belly Rats
Panic in Babylon
The crisp, sunny dub beats (both wet and dry varieties) here includes lyrics sometimes so childish as to be inane. The resulting feel of smiling humor is almost giddy at times, like the homage to Inspector Gadget (“Inspector Gadget 2004”) and the sexual prowess theme delivered with lullaby-like lines (“I’ll set you free with my music key”) in “Are You Coming Home?” Then there is the ultimate, the repeated couplet rhyming on “Perry’s ballad” with “Perry salad” in the song “Perry’s Ballad”. I think the message is that we can use this album to free ourselves to feel the same primal, basic joy that defines Perry’s state of grace. I put headphones on and tried it — it works! (3.5)
There is an interesting mix to the material on this retrospective album. The voice is brought so far out to the front it is even arresting at times. “Nick Drake” is one of those handshake names that if you get recognition by dropping in conversation, you know you have found a kindred spirit in music appreciation. This collection is not for the hardcore Drake fan. The “bonus track”, which is essentially less than a minute of an instrumental version of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You”, is not going to be enough carrot for the dedicated. All other tracks are previously released. This is an excellent introduction for those who do not know what they are missing, though. (3.5)
Ball of Design
Slimmed down to a quintet from a full fifteen members, this incarnation of Dufus is a deadly and agile thought-provoking rock machine. Recommended if you like Chandler Travis or Holy Modal Rounders, this is a group that pays homage to the ideal that weirdos are your best entertainment value. However, buried beneath the madness is a crazy wisdom where guitarist/vocalist Seth Faergolzia seeks to break apart the listener’s hold on reality to welcome them to a carnival of wacky happiness. Take that trip. Hear my interview with Seth about his previous ROIR release 1:3:1 at musicsojourn.com/AR/Alt/page/d/Dufus.htm. (3)
We Versus the Shark
Stop-on-a-dime, angular rhythms propel this juggernaut of an album. I can see fans of Babe the Blue Ox appreciating We Versus the Shark. We Versus the Shark is like a cross between Fugazi and U.S. Maple with its delivery heavy and frantic yet focused and rocking. The group is at its best when juxtaposing a simple melody with jagged, disconnected rhythms. Witness the lulling female vocals of “Ten uh Clock Heart uh Tack” and how that works with the spiky asterisk of guitar works punctuating the song, especially at the beginning. (3)
An Anthology Of Noise & Electronic Music
This third volume of exploration of electronic noise and soundscapes stretches from the early ’50s (Hugh Le Caine, Herbert Eimert) to 2004 (To Rococo Rot, Zbigniew Karkowski). The styles include ’70s musique concrete and tape music out of Columbia University. There is a special focus on the creative output from the German krautrock movement (Faust, etc.). This encyclopedic disc includes mostly previously unreleased tracks on two CDs and a 40-page booklet. (4.5)
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