Categories
Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

Brown Acid – The Tenth Trip

Riding Easy Records

Time to drop some brown acid and take a trip back to 1966. Rock and roll had just turned electric and America was turning on, tuning in and dropping out. The fine people at Riding Easy Records are the de-facto curators of this sound, they give the past a safe house for guitar excesses and weird early synthesizer goofiness. Riding Easy hunts down obscurities that never made the Top Ten but should have. Their “Brown Acid” series finds ancient gems, cleans up the audio and fixes the legal problems so we can relieve our past.

We begin this trip with “Plastic Thunder” by Bitter Creek. This 1970 track features heavy guitar work and screaming vocals. The cut was their only release, it was just a 45, and they hailed from Atlanta, Ga which at the time was about as far as you could get from acid rock. I’m glad to hear it, and we are lucky to have it. Next we skip ahead to “Babylon” by a group called “Conception.” This a cover of a Blue Cheer 1969 release, and its start-stop guitar paying gives it a near dance like quality. Interesting drumming adds to the mystique, and it’s a solid piece of music that holds up to any of today retro Acid Rockers. Next let’s spin the best band name. “First State Bank” rocks out on “Mr. Sun.” It’s the oft told tale of wanting your woman back. Why did she leave? We’ll never know, and neither party is willing to talk.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one more recommendation. The Brood offers more unheeded advice on a track named “The Roach.” They advise: “Don’t kill the roach, save it for a rainy day.” It’s an exuberant party song with flailing guitars and cheap keyboards and frenetic vocals. While I haven’t heard all 10 of this Riding Easy collections, this is my third trip with them, and I’ve never been disappointed. Kudos to this great label for preserving all this rock and roll history and passing it on to the grandchildren of these bands’ fans. Who know? They may be hippie stoners and not even know it. Peace, love, and dope. Aloha.

www.ridingeasyrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Electronic Voyages: Early Moog Recordings 1964-1969

Electronic Voyages: Early Moog Recordings 1964-1969

Waveshaper Media

Once upon a time all music was analog, and all music was played on physical instruments by skilled artists, and then disappeared into the past. But electronics in the 1960’s allowed a new approach with music created by machine, and replicated anytime you want. Today this is a service, back in 1964 is was a miracle. Robert Moog pioneered what today we think of as synthesizer music. He used a collection of oscillators, amplifiers and a giant patch panel to make space age sounds. They sounded like nothing before, except perhaps the Theremin, but it took a few years for the musical community to fit synthesizers into concerts and compositions into their daily work.

On this quirky and historic collection, we hear a half dozen compositions from these days. We begin with a little introductory speech from Mr. Moog as he explains what he’ll be showing at on upcoming electronics conference. Then it’s off to the space age races as various compositions recall cheap sci-fi movies, 8-bit audio “compositions” and a plethora of what might be classed “experiment music.” Mostly clearly, it IS an experiment – a new toy in musicains hands that raised the question: “Now what do we do?”

The experience continues for a total of 7 tracks: sounds are purposefully avant guarde compositions daring us to dislike it. Fully sampled instruments that sound like real pianos and clarinets lay in the future, as does the powerful dance music that drove the 1970s and 1980s. Here we have the seminal event, the sound of electronica. It’s fascinating and frustrating at the same time: I want to love this record, but the best I can do is respect it.

This is a soundtrack to an upcoming documentary on Moog, Electronic Voyager

www.waveshapermedia.com/#to_EV

Categories
Music Reviews

Memphis Rent Party

Memphis Rent Party

Fat Possum Records

I dearly loved reading Robert Gordon’s sixth book, Memphis Rent Party, only pausing to look up yet another new discovery online to sample later. Thankfully for the rest of you, Fat Possum has released a soundtrack, and it’s nearly as good as the book. Gordon has been Memphis’ greatest champion for years now, from books such as It Came From Memphis to the utterly disturbing film Very Extremely Dangerous, on the life and hard times of the late Memphis rascal, Jerry Mcgill, who’s surprisingly touching rendition of Guy Clark’s “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” opens this 12 cut collection.

While Nashville has always garnered the limelight with its mega-popular pop sheen cast to its music, Memphis is where you go for the dirty blues and gut-bucket rock n’ roll that you need at 2am. Take Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars (and son of the patron saint of Memphis rock and roll, Jim Dickinson) with Sharde Thomas, granddaughter of blues legend Otha Turner on “Chevrolet”, which pairs Dickinson’s slide guitar with the vocals of Turner, and it’s just as low-down and nasty as you can imagine. Well, until you hear the next cut, Junior Kimbrough’s “All Night Long”, recorded in somebodies living room, or “Little Bluebird” from The Fieldstones, and you realize that Memphis literally runs on this stuff.

The great Jerry Lee Lewis still calls Memphis home, and his previously unreleased “Harbor Lights” slays, as does the piano stylings of Mose Vinson on “Same Thing on My Mind”. But it wasn’t all the blues, as Charlie Feathers lets loose some rockabilly on “Defrost Your Heart” and the great songwriter, producer (Big Star’s Third, The Replacements Pleased to Meet Me and piano player (the Stone’s “Wild Horses”) Jim Dickinson with his “I’d Love To Be a Hippie”. Alex Chilton reigns large in Memphis Rent Party, and his live attempt at the reggae chestnut “Johnny Too Bad” might not be definitive, but shows that pretty much anything Chilton tried, he mastered.

So, do yourself a favor and pick up Robert Gordon’s Memphis Rent Party, a completely engrossing look at one of America’s most cherished musical cities, and when you do, get this CD…it will save you a lot of time searching online!

fatpossum.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Bloodshot Records’ 13 Days of Xmas

Bloodshot Records’ 13 Days of Xmas

Bloodshot Records

For someone who isn’t exactly a Christmas fan, I sure like the music! Getting those LPs at the gas station – loaded with Andy Williams, Bing Crosby and more were some of my first records, and 50 years later, my taste in artists might have changed, but I still love the songs. So it was good to listen to Bloodshot Records newest, 13 Days of Xmas.

Starting off with a somber, cello-driven “O Holy Night” by Murder By Death, this collection isn’t perhaps what one would expect from the original “outlaw country” label, but hey, it’s Christmas. Now, “Papa Barrence’s Christmas”, from Barrence Whitfield & the Savages or “I’m Drunk Again This Christmas” from Zach Schmidt are a little rowdy, but all in all, it’s a sedate gathering.

Highlights include the wry “How to Make Gravy” by All Our Exes Live in Texas, the Dex Romweber Duo’s “Dark Christmas” and “The List” from Ha Ha Tonka. Two selections are standouts- a lovely, mournful “Blue Snowfall” by the legendary Kelly Hogan, and “Christmas is Now Drawing Near At Hand” which showcases James Elkington’s amazing mastery of the guitar.

So, I recommend 13 Days of Xmas to all. It goes great with spiked eggnog and those Andy Williams records!

www.bloodshotrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Sincerely, L. Cohen

This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last tribute of the late poet and musician Leonard Cohen’s work. This recording comes from a concert held at the Music Hall in Williamsburg, NY on January 24th 2017. Leonard had only been gone for a few weeks, so this concert was a way for New Yorkers to honor the life and legacy of the man. I think Cohen would have appreciated that the concert was a life celebration rather than a dour affair. Leonard was a humble man. He would have preferred it that way.

Sincerely, L. Cohen is a rather humble affair. I’m sure they could have wrangled some huge name superstars to headline the affair, but instead, it appears to be more of a community wake. To me, the biggest name on the bill is Richard Thompson. His contributions blend well with the contributions of Leslie Mendelson and Elvis Perkins. The songs, not the personalities are the stars.

The tone is set from the opening track, “Hallelujah”. This has probably become Cohen’s best known song. It’s been covered by everyone from John Cale to contestants on the Voice. Delicate Steve turns the well known song into an instrumental showcase for emotive electric guitar. Stripping the words from Cohen’s most popular tune showcases the power is in the music as much as the words.

I think Cohen would have smiled at the gender-fuck version of “I’m Your Man” turned in by Holly Miranda and Joan as Police Woman. The women don’t change a word. It reminds me of when the Raincoats did the same thing with “Lola” many years ago. It’s a simple twist that throws everything into a different light.

Richard Thompson turns in moving versions of “Bird on the Wire” and “Story of Isaac”. Thompson is a master of musical story telling, and he wrings the pathos out of the biblical story with voice and spare guitar leads. Richard’s son Teddy Thompson also brings a lesser known country song to life with a reading of “Ballad of the Absent Mare”.

Lenny Kaye, best known as guitarist for Patti Smith, takes a few moments to remind us that before Leonard was a musician, he was already a well respected novelist and poet. Kaye puts aside the guitars and drums in favor of a reading from Cohen’s 1966 book, Beautiful Losers. Thank you Lenny for reminding me that I should delve into Cohen’s fiction too.

The show ends with Will Sheff of Okkervil River doing a moving version of “So Long, Marianne”. When he’s joined by a massive chorus singing, “it’s time that we began to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again,” that pretty well sums up the spirit of the night. It was a group of friends sending off one of their own. There is sadness, but also joy for the words and music that will continue to inspire for decades to come. As Will says when he finishes the song, “Thanks for the songs, Mr. Cohen.”

All proceeds from album sales will go to the Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-profit organization that aids children and families affected by terrorism and other crises in the Middle East across the globe. For more information, visit: www.preemptivelove.org.

royalpotatofamily.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

Aeronautic Vol. 1

Aeronautic

Wow. We are already “post-dubstep”, and I never even made it past “pre-dubstep.” Aeronautic is one of those obscure labels engaged in recording even more obscure tunes, but their artist roster always has a banner of rhythm and substance that makes them worth a listen no matter what your tastes and prejudices are. My sources (actually, their publicist) reports the label plans a regular release of material from their stable of artists, mixers, and general musical Avant-Gardists. The theme here is future / bass; there’s a strong rhythm line but it takes its time with a resultant chill flavor that precludes any frenzied dancing. And while you can’t dance, fragments of sampled vocals or electronically edited analog synthesizers make you feel like you’re doing something useful while you wait.

Right now I’m grooving on Alex Lowet’s “I Don’t Need No Groove.” I think he’s channeling “Monday Night”; that must be when these guys get there turn on the disco turntable. Next I’ll fast forward to DJ Flp and his “Good Old Days Original Mix.” Here we find more actual vocals and learn “Everyone is talking about the good old days.” True enough, but I’ll warn you now: THESE are the good old days. “Shoot Dice feat. Swimwear Original Mix “is my favorite title; musically its fast and high pitched. The aim here is not chilled relaxation but a parody of a police raid compete with whirling sirens.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the most delicious of the tracks: “Shwarma King Original Mix” gives us “Epicure.” There a Hindi vocal track samples, old skool vinyl scratching and a laid back beat. I’m not sure how we ended up here but it’s a Saturday night in old Chicago at closing time. There’s lots more electronic experimentation here, and they even sample some 78 RPM Edith Piaf crooning French. I don’t pretend to understand everything in this circus of sound, but it’s all yummy and fascinating to boot.

www.facebook.com/AeronauticRecords

Categories
Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

First Class Rock Steady

17 North Parade, VP Records

The smooth, soulful sounds of rocksteady have always been an obsession for me. This obsession is so powerful that in 1996, when I started producing my radio show at WMBR in Cambridge, The Bovine Ska and Rocksteady, I had to put that magical rhythm in the title of my program. It has been a huge part of my show ever since. In 2006, my good friend Eli Kessler even wrote rocksteadys for the legendary Trinidadian guitarist Lynn Taitt, who invented that rhythm in 1966, and we subsequently brought Taitt to Boston and recorded those songs with other area musicians who shared our love for Taitt and the genre he created and helped to make famous, which was an experience that all of us will never forget. It is now 2016, and thus it is the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of rocksteady, which is being commemorated this summer with special concerts in Jamaica and in many cities across the United States, as well as with a special box set of rocksteady classics and rarities from the folks at VP records entitled: First Class Rock Steady (the title of the rhythm being either one or two words is as contentious as the battle between comicbooks or comic books as the proper notation).

So, at this point, you might be justifiably asking yourself: Why all of this commotion about the rocksteady? Well, to put it in the simplest terms, rocksteady forever changed the sound of Jamaican music.

In the beginning of 1966, Jamaica’s national music had become the ska, a fast rhythm that was born out of Jamaica’s fascination with American rhythm and blues, the kind created by Roscoe Gordon or Fats Domino. Beginning in the 1950s, Jamaicans played coveted, imported R&B records from the States on soundsystems, and during that same time, most of the limited recordings that were done on the island were in the mento style (simply put, a kind of Jamaican calypso); that is until musicians like Owen Gray and Laurel Aitken began writing and recording their own original rhythm and blues compositions. The Jamaican rhythm and blues period lasted for a few years until the early 1960s when that beat was changed to make ska, which incorporated a similar beat to that of rhythm and blues but with the addition of jazz elements, for many of the island best instrumentalists were trained in that genre.

This all changed one day in 1966, when Lynn Taitt, who primarily played calypso in his home country and who came to Jamaica years earlier and became a prolific ska instrumentalist, went into the studio to play and arrange a track for Merritone entitled, “Take It Easy,” for the soon to be legendary vocalist, Hopeton Lewis. Try as Taitt and the band could, “Take It Easy” did not work, as the song contained mellow lyrics that didn’t make sense when matched with the upbeat ska rhythm of the day. Taitt soon instructed the band to slow the rhythm down, and then the guitarist, drawing from his calypso roots, matched his guitar via a stick line to the existing bassline to produce a sound that was dramatically different from the ska. Besides the colossal feat of inventing a rhythm that became the precursor to reggae, Taitt is so important because he brought Jamaican music even further away from American influence by adding another island sensibility, that of calypso, to make rocksteady an even more Caribbean sound. Rocksteady would only last for about eighteen months from 1966 to 1968, but the impact was huge.

The story behind Taitt’s creation of rocksteady as well as quotes from other notable musicians and producers such as Bobby Aitken and Bunny Lee, who were integral to the rhythm’s popularity, are contained in the masterfully constructed liner notes inside the two-disc First Class Rock Steady box set. Of the forty expertly digitalized tracks selected for this collection are many well-known rocksteady gems as well as a few rarities that to my knowledge have not been part of any previous compilations. One of the rarer tunes that leaps to mind is one from the little known vocal group, The Jupiters, who in 1967 cut a tune for one of the most prolific producers of the period, Joe Gibbs, and his Amalgamated label. The song, “The Return Of Ezekial,” is a “rude boy” tune done in a courtroom conversation style similar to that of “Judge Dread,” an immensely popular recording that was written, performed, and produced by Jamaica’s “Voice Of The People,” Prince Buster. Given the worsening of Jamaica’s post-colonial economy in the mid-1960s, Kingston became massively overcrowded with job seekers. Given the limited work available to the influx of new Kingstonians, “rude boys,” unemployed youth who turned to crime in order to survive, became not only the subject of headlines but also the music of the time. Hence, another less rare but essential rude boy tune from 1967, Honey Boy Martin’s “Dreader Than Dread,” also appears on First Class Rock Steady, right next to the lesser known aforementioned tune from The Jupiters.

Rocksteady’s slower rhythm and lesser dependence on horn arrangements also gave vocal groups a greater opportunity to be more expressive and front and center on compositions. Included in this collection are hits from some of the most popular groups of the rocksteady era, including The Heptones, The Uniques, The Jamaicans, The Gaylads, and my favorite of these harmony combos, The Techniques, who are represented on First Class Rock Steady with their hit for producer Duke Reid in ’67, “You Don’t Care.” For those who want to hear from the more prominent solo vocalists who recorded between 1966 and 1968, have no fear as the compilation also contains Jamaican Hit Parade entries like Dobby Dobson’s “Loving Pauper,” Errol Dunkley’s “You’re Gonna Need Me,” and “Hold Them,” a superb 1966 cut, which some attest is the first hit of the rocksteady rhythm from the soon to be named “High Priest Of Reggae,” Roy Shirley.

I only have a few issues with First Class Rock Steady. First, as far as the judging the compilation as a definitive representation of rocksteady, is the omission of anything produced by Coxsone Dodd of Studio One, arguably the most important label of the era next to Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle imprint. As Coxsone productions are usually missing from most compilations due to what are probably licensing issues and not thoughtless omissions, I can let this one slide, but the real issue I found is that a few of the cuts that are included here are not actually rocksteadys. Even though 1968 began with rocksteady, that year also saw the beginning of the reggae rhythm, and The Paragons’ “Got To Get Away,” along with their cover of The Four Tops’ “Left With A Broken Heart,” though beautifully performed, are more indicative of the faster reggae rhythm that became popular from 1968-1970 and really does not belong on a compilation of honoring rocksteady as these may confuse the listeners who are trying to understand the rhythm. One frequent question that we have been asked over the twenty years of the radio program is the classification of a certain song by rhythm, and admittedly rocksteady might be the toughest one to nail down, so any further confusion here just makes it tougher for us, and for that, I have to point this out. Sorry about that VP.

Regardless of the few cuts that were added that are outside of the rhythm, First Class Rock Steady is an excellent collection of rocksteadys matched with a beautiful presentation that should stimulate the same need to possess more of the that same sweet and soulful, albeit short-lived, sound that thrilled Jamaica in the mid-1960s and can still thrill listeners fifty years later.

www.vprecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

Money Maker

Studio One/Yep Rock

Money Maker is an artifact from the early ’70s. This compilation showcases artists from the Studio One stable and was originally released in very limited pressings. It catches a moment when Jamaican music was transitioning from the laid back rock steady sound to the even more laid back feel of reggae. For decades it’s been one of the rarest Studio One titles released.

Money Maker is a largely instrumental collection that makes it clear that many of the Studio One musicians were grounded in jazz. At this time Jackie Mittoo was living in Canada and brought a definite soul influence to the sessions. Ernest Ranglin slides his jazz inflected guitar leads onto many of these tunes. “Black is Black” by Im & Dave features nice horn solos over a loping rhythmic groove. Jackie Mittoo’s contributions sing with a wheezy Hammond B3 sound that really captures the period.

There are only two vocal tracks on the compilation. Lloyd Williams “Black Man’s Train” is an upbeat ska tune that lets Ranglin run wild with tasty guitar fills and chunky wah pedal riffs. Maybe the most unique track on the record is “Great Mu Ga Ruga.” It’s a spooky vamp that with vocals by The Boss. In this case, the Boss is none other that the great producer Clement Dodd.

In the final analysis, Money Maker is one of the great lost party mix tapes. It’s the soundtrack to a chill evening spent with friends and the libations of your choice. Sit back, relax and cancel all other engagements, and maybe shake your money maker with friends.

studioonerecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

Groove & Grind Rare Soul ’63 – ’73

Rock Beat Records

Well this is an embarrassment of riches for the soul fanatic. 4 cds, 112 songs with a 120 page book by Bill Dahl for under 40 bucks? From the opener “My Baby Likes to Booglaoo” by Don Gardner to the closing “I Got A New Thing” by Willie Smith, this set will keep the R+B enthusiast entertained for hours. Any crate digger worth his salt knows the special thrill that comes from finding that ultra-rare side, or discovering a previously unheard classic. (And if that sentence didn’t make any sense to you, well then, more records for me!).

Short of spending untold hours (and cash) trying to find some of these records, most of which were released on small, independent labels, this handsome package can certainly tide you over, as well as introducing even the most stone soul freak to artists they have never heard or even heard of. The CDs are broken up into 4 categories, the first is “Urban Soul”, featuring releases from cities of note: New York, Chicago, L.A., Detroit and of course Philly. Now the set is entitled “Rare soul” and they ain’t woofin’. Lessor known works from major artists abound, such as Ike & Tina Turner’s barn-burner “You Can’t Miss Nothing That You Never Had” or “Walkin’ and Thinkin'” from King Floyd. Disc 2 highlights vocal groups such as The Four Pennies with “You’re A Gas With Your Trash”, “Victim of Loneliness” from The Pace Setters and more.

The third disc turned out to be my favorite, since it’s all about Southern Soul, that hybrid of soul, blues and rock forged in the heat and the sweat of my birthplace. Candi Staton’s “Now You Got The Upper Hand” and “Mr. Lucky” from Betty Wright are standouts, as well as deep cuts from Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, Bobby Parker and the great “The James Brown Bougeloo” from Little Genie Brooks. Told ya this stuff was rare. Finally, disc four is all about the funk, to get you up and dancing to classics such as “The Sno-Cone” from Lloyd Hendricks, King Earnest with “The Soul Stroke (Can You Handle It”) or “Hep Squeeze” from Mad Dog & The Pups. Guaranteed to get you shakin’ your tailfeathers.

Can’t say enough about this set, it’s truly a labor of love, hours of listening and packaged in a nice hardbound book. Get two- one to give away, and one to groove on when the record store ain’t open!

www.rockbeatrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

I (Heart) Real Deep House

Tronicsole

House music has been around so long it’s now a major industry. But this collection goes down in the cellar of the style to explore all those alt mixes and never released tracks that aficionados seek out, and the result is interesting as well as down-tempo relaxing. “Everything You See (HiRO Remix)” by Sei A features a male vocal with occasional ripples of mild static underneath the hypnotic rhythm. His mantra of “Make no sense of everything you see” is a close to a koan as you find here. We float along for a few more track and then achieve enlightenment with another intriguing track from D. J. HiRO: “This Child Is Wild.” Sampled vocals agree pleasantly in the background, you don’t know exactly what they approve of but this arrangement sticks close to House’s rhythmic roots while eschewing excessive exuberance in it self selected rhythmic space. True, a glass is broken every 16 bars but this is a small price to pay in the dark and somewhat fluorescent room.

By track six “Badam (Alex Barck Remix)” by TrAmHed hits a smooth level groove. Here another male vocalist sputters “Since I found you, don’t know what to say.” There are several interpretations of this male astonishment: either she’s amazing, or she’s psychotic, or possibly he consumed a chemical rendering him unsuitable to do anything no matter what this mysterious woman looks like. Oh, to be young and stoned again!

www.tronicsole.co.uk