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Raised Eyebrows: Remembering Fela Kuti (Randy)

July 15, 2016

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It’s been almost 20 years (August 2,1997) since the godfather of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, passed away. He leaves behind a wealth of musical and political inspiration. Kuti preached peace and human rights through powerful grooves and transparent lyricism that reflected both the joy and struggle of his homeland.

Alu Jon Jonki Jon (from Afrodisiac 1972)

This contains some of Fela’s most refined and FRIED keyboard playing. It gets “out there” for a few minutes in a REALLY good way. One of The Black President’s best.

Confusion Pt 1 (from Confusion 1974)

The intro to this one has a darkness and beauty that few/none of his other works have. A high point in the Fela catalog.

No Agreement (from No Agreement 1977)

One of Fela’s funkiest tracks. Drummer Tony Allen is unreal here.

No Buredi (No Bread) (from No Bread 1976)

Some of Fela’s finest sax playing and singing can be found here. The man was a master.

Noise for Vendor Mouth (from Noise for Vendor Mouth 1975)

This one is tremendous! It’s twin guitar rhythm and thrift moog sounds are KILLER.

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Raised Eyebrows: Private Press Primer (Randy)

June 10, 2016

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Hey, It’s June! Where in the hell did the time go? You ever wonder about all those odd records you see floating around resale shops and vintage stores? The ones that feature photos of strange men and women and incredible fonts. There are many of these kinds of LP’s and most of them SUCK, but there are some exceptions. I’m here this month to give a little sample of the ridiculous wealth private press records can offer. Here we go!

Anonymous – J. Rider (from Inside The Shadow)

This LP is a slice of homemade pop/prog/psych heaven. Recorded in Indianapolis in 1976. This was recently reissued by the good folks from Light In The Attic.

Eddie Callahan – Santa Cruz Mountains (from False Ego)

This song is an incredible christian anthem that features a truly serious synth solo. Fans of Chris Bell and Badfinger are encouraged to listen. Time-Lag reissued this puppy not too long ago.

Larry ‘Sunshine’ Rice – Listen Sister (from Here’s Sunshine)

Legend has it that Texan Larry Rice opened up a church dedicated to marijuana in Justin, TX after recording this record in Dallas in 1969. Time-Lag has also made this one available again!

Jandek – Lavender (from You Walk Alone)

Jandek may be the most legendary private press artist EVER. Among his many many LP’s, this one stands tallest with it’s twin guitar “blues rock” approach. 2012’s Maze of the Phantom is also highly recommended. Both are available on Corwood Industries.

Jim Sullivan – Rosey (from UFO)

This record has it ALL: The Wrecking Crew, alien abduction, and INCREDIBLE songs. Read the whole story HERE

Ted Lucas – I’ll Find a Way (To Carry It All) (from Ted Lucas)

Known or unknown, this song is simply one of the finest songs written by just about anybody.

Sound Ceremony – Miss Vickey (from Guitar Star)

There’s something about this song that makes me want to believe that Alex Chilton used it as reference for his own chintzy classic Like Flies on Sherbert. This song is such cheap boogie and that’s cool with me.

Timbercreek – Stone Cold Turkey (from Hellbound Highway)

Heady 1975 Grateful Dead worship from these Laurel Canyon hippies.

Kenny Knight – Carry Me Home (from Crossroads)

This song is all about pain and moving past it in a positive way. It’s sort of this Taoist country rock jam that can really puts things in perspective. Paradise of Bachelors reissued this one.

Perry Leopold – And Then, The Snow Came (from Experiment in Metaphysics)

Some fine Guitar Soli and many-a Basho’d vocal.

Steve Tibbetts – Sunrise (from Steve Tibbetts)

Before his career with ECM, Steve Tibbetts released an outstanding recorded-at-home LP in 1977. This was reissued by Cuneiform in 1995.

Bob Desper – It’s Too Late (from New Sounds)

A loner folk masterpiece from Portland songwriter Bob Desper. His 1974 album New Sounds was reissued in 2009 by Discourage Records.

David Kauffman / Eric Caboor – Kiss the Day Goodbye (from Songs From Suicide Bridge)

This out-of-time, singular work of art was recorded in 1983 in Burbank, CA. There may be nothing as melancholy and pure as this. It’s available through Light In The Attic.

BONUS:

Bill Madison – Low Days Down (from Sunday Mornin’ Hayride)

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Raised Eyebrows: The Jazzmaster (Randy)

May 13, 2016

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Photo of Lizzy Mercier Descloux courtesy of http://mydisdain.tumblr.com/

It’s May! Given the wonderful weather expected by this emerald month, I thought I’d investigate one of my favorite guitars, the Jazzmaster, and the music created by it. Making its debut in 1959, the Jazzmaster was first made to rival Gibson archtop guitars preferred by jazz musicians. It didn’t catch on, but over the years, it has found a home in a number of genres and on a ton of great records. Here’s a few highlights:

Johnny Cash – Katy Too (1959)

Luther Perkins of Cash’s Tennessee Three was an early user of the Jazzmaster. There’s some photos floating around dated as early as 1958.

Roy Clark – Twelfth Street Rag (1963)

Roy shreds on this! This comes from his 1963 album The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark.

The Staple Singers – Whatcha Gonna Do? (1965)

Pops Staples does the tremolo Jazzmaster better than any other human being on the planet. This is proof.

Clarence Carter – Snatching It Back (1969)

Here the Jazzmaster surpasses country and blues to enter the wonderful world of rhythm and blues. The twined soapbar tone and Carter’s voice are a match made in soul heaven, and check out that album cover!

Danny James – Soul and Wine (1970)

I heard this on the Fai Do Do program on 91.7 KOOP recently. Came out on the Goldband Records label in 1970. Dude is holding a Jazzmaster on a compilation CD so I figure …”lay down some soul and get some cheap wine.”

Elvis Costello – Watching The Detectives (1977)

The Jazzmaster fell out of fashion in the 70’s. Les Paul’s and Strats became the norm until this nerdy dude named Declan MacManus declared himself to be Elvis Costello and sported a Jazzmaster on the cover of his landmark 1977 album, My Aim Is True.

Television – Foxhole (1978)

After their seminal 1977 recording Marquee Moon, Television brought their intergalactic guitar interplay back for the sophomore record Adventure. It doesn’t get the love that their classic does, but Verlaine’s guitar work on Foxhole is PURE HEAT.

Lizzy Mercier Descloux – Wawa (1979)

Legend has it, Lizzy (from Paris) decided in order to make it as an artist, she had to move to New York. There she met Richard Hell and bought a Jazzmaster. Her tune Wawa is a prime example of what the Jazzmaster was capable of, in both No Wave and New Wave.

The Cure – 10:15 Saturday Night (1979)

Believe or not, Robert Smith was known to sport a Jazzmaster early on in the career of The Cure. This track captures some of the harmonic uses of the Jazzmaster that other bands would take to further limits in the near future.

Sonic Youth – Silver Rocket (1988)

Almost ten years later, Sonic Youth hits with their biggest record, Daydream Nation. Here the Jazzmaster goes from being a cheap anomaly to an icon of underground rock that’s still being seen today. The techniques this band forged with the instrument helped to not only reinvent it, but also send its value soaring.

Luna – Sideshow by the Seashore (1995)

Sean Eden of Luna is a well known Jazzmaster user. This tune is a high mark for American rock music.

Yo La Tengo – Cherry Chapstick (2000)

Ira Kaplan wields a cherry red Jazzmaster for this tune at shows. One of YLT’s purest tunes.

Nels Cline – Cause for Concern (2002)

I was on the fence with Nels as a member of Wilco, but after hearing The Nels Cline Singers album Instrumentals, I was convinced the dude is one of the finest Jazzmaster players around today.

Marnie Stern – The Things You Notice (2010)

FACT: Marnie Stern is a completely unique Jazzmaster player. Her playing and approach is unlike anyone else and that makes her polarizing for folks. I’m down with the Marnie sound.

Noveller – Concrete Dreams (2015)

Sarah Lipstate has recently been seen sporting a Jazzmaster. Her solitary soundscapes are incredible examples of where the instrument could be headed. Her latest album Fantastic Planet is BEYOND.

Note: Yeah, I left off some people. Tell me who and why should they have been mentioned?

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Raised Eyebrows: Sound-Alikes (Randy)

April 8, 2016

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As we approach “spring”, I thought we could discuss a more lighthearted subject of musical nerdery. This month we’ll discuss songs that sound-alike. There are some well known instances like Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure and Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby, but here we’ll take a closer look at 5 instances that I’ve noticed recently.

Cat Power – The Greatest vs Andy Williams – Moon River

I was a big fan of Chan Marshall’s 2006 LP The Greatest. It still stands as one of her best works. When listening to the title track, it has always reminded me of Moon River. The strings tag before each verse is almost identical to the beginning melody notes of Moon River. Take a listen and tell me I’m wrong.

Holy Modal Rounders – Nova vs Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers – Baltimore Fire

Folk music is a lot more forgiving of folks borrowing progressions and melodies for their own devices. It’s all part of the tradition. Here The Holy Modal Rounders steal directly from the North Carolina Ramblers 1929 recording of Baltimore Fire. The Rounders take the tune originally found in a 1905 songbook by the Ramblers and turns it on his head. Still using the same arrangement and melody, Weber and Stampfel discuss space travel, the CIA, and ocean waste.

Carson McHone – Bouquet vs Sandy Denny – Listen, Listen

Austin singer-songwriter Carson McHone has been making a name for herself both locally and nationally as of late. Her 2015 LP Goodluck Man boasted a simple beauty by way of charming vocals and narratives. After hearing Bouquet, I had to run over to the turntable and grab my copy of _Sandy_. It’s pretty clear when you play the two songs side by side how similar they are. Though it was probably coincidence of their likeness, it is not a coincidence at all to think that these two extraordinary women would find the same lasting melody.

Beck – Paper Tiger vs Serge Gainsbourg – Cargo Culte

From the beginning bass line, Beck’s Paper Tiger is an almost carbon copy of Gainsbourg’s Cargo Culte. Everything about Beck’s track nods to Gainsbourg, from the bass to the drums to the strings that emulate the subliminal guitar found on the OG. Thanks to Justin for the heads up on this one!

Songs: Ohia – Farewell Transmission vs Earth Opera – All Winter Long

Jason Molina’s passing in 2013 is still felt today. His music remains a beacon for those searching but not lost. Perhaps his highest point hit in 2003 with Magnolia Electric Co. It was interesting when I came upon Earth Opera, an SF band that contained both Peter Rowan and David Grisman, and heard their tune All Winter Long. It was almost immediate to hear the similarity to Molina’s Farewell Transmission.

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Raised Eyebrows: Film Music (Randy)

March 11, 2016

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This month I thought I’d dive into some of my go-to film music. While film scores or soundtracks may not be the first place to reach, there is a wealth of rad stuff available to those willing to make the leap.

Ry Cooder – Paris, Texas

I can’t say enough on how rad this soundtrack is. It’s Cooder’s greatest accomplishment amongst his many soundtracks. Also do check out Cooder’s The Long Riders from the the film The Long Riders.

Bruce Langhorne – The Hired Hand

For Peter Fonda’s first film as director, Fonda asked the well-known sideman, Bruce Langhorne (Richard and Mimi Farina, Bob Dylan, etc.) to score the film. Langhorne got a copy of the film to work with by shooting an edit of The Hired Hand on a black and white camera and taking what was captured back home to work on. He composed in real time while watching the images captured with his camera and the results are both surreal and astounding.

Mark Orton – Nebraska

Much like Ry Cooder and Paris, Texas, I can’t picture Alexander Payne’s Nebraska going as well without the terrific score turned in by Mark Orton. Orton’s work makes this already enjoyable film all that more charming and most importantly… memorable.

Richard Thompson – Grizzly Man

Like all Herzog films, there is an ominous note to even the most playful scenes and characters. I can’t think of another musician who matches Herzog’s mastery of craft and artful vision except for Richard Thompson. Here the two masters collide and create a truly dark and inspired score.

Popol Vuh – Cobra Verde

Popol Vuh can be a tough nut to crack. Behind all the chanting and 19 minute ambient tracks, a listener can get lost. Their 1987 Herzog soundtrack Cobra Verde is a really good place to start for many and still the highest of their work with Herzog.

Jeanette – Porque Te Vas

Carlos Saura’s Cria Cuervos is a really wonderful film. The song is used to great effect in the film and it’s been one I haven’t been able to forget since.

The Byrds – Ballad of Easy Rider

The story goes that Peter Fonda was hounding Bob Dylan for a song for the film Easy Rider. He wrote this on a napkin and gave it to Fonda – “The river flows, it flows to the sea/Wherever that river goes, that’s where I want to be/Flow, river, flow.” He then told Fonda, “give this to McGuinn. He’ll know what to do with it.” He sure as hell did. An all-timer for me.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Braver Newer World

The first time I think I ever heard Jimmie Dale Gilmore was in one of my favorite films called Kicking and Screaming by Noah Baumbach. This one of several songs the film used and remains a remarkable song that only Jimmie Dale could sing. So fucking rad.

Les Barricades Mysterieuses

Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life uses F. Couperin’s Les Barricades Mysterieuses throughout the film. One of my favorite pieces of music ever composed.

Anton Karas – Third Man Theme

Played on a zither, Karas captures all the carefree aspects of life no matter the outcome.

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Raised Eyebrows: Modern Global Sounds (Randy)

February 12, 2016

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This month I’m taking a look at some incredible global music. Though mostly Tuareg assouf music, there’s also some quality Zamrock, WAGM, Somali, and Malian folk blues represented. It’s important to note that ALL of these artists are keeping dying traditions alive and some are bravely speaking out against contemporary struggles. In some of these areas, popular music has been outlawed.

Terakaft

Terakaft (Caravan) is a Tuareg blues band following Tinariwen’s long lead into electric desert blues or what I like to call, sand rock. Also check out the album Chatma by Tamikrest.

Sahra Halgan Trio

Sahra Halgan comes from a long line of Somali folk singers. Her newest record, Faransiskyo Somaliland is full of rad grooves and good spirits, and some great guitar work by Mael Saletes.

Tal National

Tal National is West African Guitar Music at its most inventive. The grooves this group achieves on Zoy Zoy are part Victor Uwaifo and part Doc at the Radar Station.

Faris

On a record called Mississippi to Sahara, Tuareg guitarist Faris proves that Africa really is the birthplace of American blues by bringing 12 delta blues tunes to the Sahara. His version of Son House’s Grinnin’ in Your Face is revelatory.

Ngozi Family & Amanaz

Now Again Records has a monopoly on amazing Zamrock reissues. The label has put out a ton of must-haves unearthed from Africa’s psych-funk past. Ngozi Family’s Day of Judgment and Amanaz’s Africa are just two of the many stand out Zamrock releases available. Tikondane from the Ngozi Family sounds like an African VU and Nsunka Lwendo from Amanaz contains a truly burnt solo from Isaac Mpofu.

Imarhan Timbuktu

I got Akal Warled at Record Store Day 2015. It’s a reminder of my son in his first year of life.

Boubacar Traore

A Malian blues/folk legend. Kar Kar is still putting out records and though he began his career in the early 60’s, his first album wasn’t released til 1990. The song Mariama remains one of his finest works and a fave of mine.

Tony Allen

Tony Allen was the drummer for Fela Kuti in Africa 70. Brian Eno once said, “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat.” On Film of Life, Allen makes a unique statement. Ennio Morricone needs to hear this and so do you.

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Raised Eyebrows: 2015 Hangover (Randy)

January 22, 2016

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I’m reluctant to leave 2015 behind. Admittedly, there’s plenty of junk that happened that I’m ready to forget about, but I am realizing there’s a good chunk of records that either I failed to give a fair shake to or missed entirely in the past year.

The Chills – Silver Bullets (Fire) (buy)

Pioneers of the “Dunedin Sound” in the early 80’s return with their first full length in almost 20 years! The results are impeccable and wildly contemporary for a band out of the spotlight for so long. I Can’t Help You is the album’s best song but don’t overlook Molten Gold or the title track.

Chuck Johnson – Blood Moon Boulder (Scissor Tail Editions) (buy)

2013’s Crows In The Basilica was a big record for me. Songs like Ransom Street Blues helped me turn on to more traditional forms of music. Blood Moon Boulder takes Johnson into deeper zones perfect for a drive down US Route 67 toward Marfa.

The Weather Station – Loyalty (PoB) (buy)

Tamara Lindeman wrote the best song of 2015 with Way It Is, Way It Could Be. Her lyrics and voice paint an incredible picture that is completely singular and original. The snakey guitar and rhythms add to the stealth beauty of the song. Stunning.

Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness (buy)

This record is one of the most interesting pop releases in a while. Silhouette is extraordinary. Side Note: Very similar artwork to Apple artist Mary Hopkin.

Twerps – Range Anxiety (Merge) (buy)

I hated this record when it came out. I still think it doesn’t reach the heights of what the band is fully capable of, with one exception, Shoulders. Julia McFarlane has written a present-day jangle pop stunner full of waver and grace.

Woolen Men – Rain Shapes (Loglady) (buy)

I always looped Woolen Men in with the whole garage rock trend happening seemingly everywhere. Another band of lost bros rebelling against nothing or possibly boredom. I was wrong. Rain Shapes contains four songs that will soon be considered classic. It’s one of the tightest and consistent releases I’ve heard from any band anywhere.

Salad Boys – Metalmania (Trouble In Mind) (buy)

I’ve been a fan ever since I heard I’m A Mountain from their self released cassette back in 2013. What is fascinating is, I’m not sure if the band is aware of the past sounds that they so wonderfully suggest or not. One thing is for sure, Metalmania rips.

Phil Cook – Southland Mission (Thirty Tigers) (buy)

I learned of this record through Hiss Golden Messenger. Cook is a member of the band and on his off time has made a wonderful record. For those of us that see music as church, this is the record you put on on Sundays.

Barna Howard – Quite a Feelin’ (Mama Bird Recording Co.) (buy)

Howard’s 2012 self titled album may be one of the best singer-songwriter albums of the new millennium. His sophomore album finds him among friends and feelin’ mellow. The title track is a road song that sits well next to Willis Alan Ramsey’s Satin Sheets. That’s a big deal in my world.

Tinariwen – Live In Paris (ANTI) (buy)

This band is sheer joy. Their desert blues/sand rock/ is trance inducing. I’m still hoping to see them live one day. This will have to do until then.

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Raised Eyebrows: The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (Randy)

December 9, 2015

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I love Christmas music. It something of a weak spot for me. The genre has long been a cash-in for artists looking to capitalize on their fame or for those past their prime. Despite this sad fact, there is some truly great Christmas jams out there to feast on each and every year. This playlist merely scratches the surface of the bounty of rad yuletide melodies available for those willing to dig a little bit. Merry Christmas Everybody!

Guided By Voices – Father Sgt Christmas Card (Pollard would be a great mall Santa.)

Cardinal – If You Believe in Christmas Trees (One of those obscure wonders that deserve so much more recognition.)

George Harrison – Ding Dong, Ding Dong (The best of The Beatles solo Christmas songs, even though they are all so good.)

Canned Heat – Christmas Blues (The Heat wish you a deep fried Holiday Season.)

Chuck Berry – Run Rudolph Run (It’s this, then Jingle Bell Rock.)

Jerry Lee Lewis – I Can’t Have A Merry Christmas Mary (Without You) (The Killer delivers serious on this one.)

Bob Dylan – She Belongs To Me (Self Portrait era Dylan deliverin”.)

Merle Haggard – If We Make It Through December (Merle says it all.)

Dolly Parton – Hard Candy Christmas (A classic Dolly cut.)

Willie Nelson – Pretty Paper (Willie gets it right here.)

Jerry Jeff Walker – Twelve Days of Christmas (Gonzo rewrites this classic for the cowboy in all of us.)

John Prine – Everything is Cool (A prime Prine outtake.)

Emmylou Harris and Neil Young – Star of Bethlehem (One of my favs.)

JJ Cale – What Do You Expect (Mumblin’ bout Santa Claus.)

Hiss Golden Messenger – I’ve Got A Name For The Newborn Child (This record doesn’t stop.)

Leo Kottke – Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (Leo chills us out.)

REM – Deck The Halls (Athens outfit breaks out the sleigh bells.)

Alex Chilton – The Christmas Song (The BEST rendition of this song.)

Steeleye Span – Gaudete (An ancient carol from Hutchings and Co.)

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Raised Eyebrows: Thanks A Lot (Randy)

November 20, 2015

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Thanksgiving is a brutal, yet rewarding endeavor. You cram a bunch of people together who share some of the same blood or have the same last name or some sort of wandering connection and they eat. They eat a lot. Too much in fact. This is the tradition and I’m not going to disparage it. Given all the shit in the world, it’s good that humans have set aside a day to tell others that they are appreciated. Every year there is a day where we eat too much, drink too much, talk about nothing in particular, argue, cry, laugh and fart. Thanksgiving is the best.

Here’s some tunes that’ll go good with basting turkeys and yelling at your Aunt Rose.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme Part I – Acknowledgement (Coltrane makes you thankful for humanity.)

JJ Johnson – Horn of Plenty (The table centerpiece can be a big to do.)

The Byrds – I am a Pilgrim (Henceforth,  I will eat turkey to this every year.)

Bob Dylan – If Not For You (Nobody says it like he does, just nobody.)

The Cranberries – Ode to my Family (F Yes. Family and Cranberries.)

Dr. John – Peace Brother Peace (Sometimes things get crazy and Dr. John must intervene.)

Guy Clark – Texas Cookin’ (Guy gets funky when he talks about food.)

Bob Dylan – Country Pie (Country Bob in full on pie mode.)

New Lost City Ramblers – Hot Corn (I love this kinda thing.)

John Renbourn - Sweet Potato (November is sweet potato awareness month. RIP John.)

Ernest Tubb – Thanks A Lot (It says it all on the back of his guitar.)

Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant Massacre (A holiday tradition.)

John Lennon – Cold Turkey (Day after sandwich jam.)

Steely Dan – Black Friday (Yacht rock while you online shop.)

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Raised Eyebrows: Halloween Blues (Randy)

October 29, 2015

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In lieu of Halloween, I thought I’d put something together to jam for your Halloween festivities. I’m not a big Halloween fan, but I do really enjoy the idea of human beings entertaining the idea of wolfmen and witches. I also dig a good murder ballad and/or psychotic country song. What that says about me … I’m not sure, but maybe it means I dig on Halloween more than I think. This playlist is changing lives already.

Round Robin – I’m The Wolfman (Thanks to Mike Buck who jammed this on Blue Monday on 10/26/15, Sun Radio 100.1)

The Sonics – The Witch (Was reminded of this on Elk Mating Ritual, 91.7 KOOP.)

Howlin Wolf – Evil (The man’s name alone is enough for anything relating to Halloween.)

Terry Allen – The Wolfman of Del Rio (Fort Worth’s greatest treasure.)

Michael Hurley – Werewolf (Snock truly understands the wolfman.)

The Kossoy Sisters – Poor Ellen Smith (A rad murder ballad complete with blood stained lyrics.)

Roky Erickson – I Walked with a Zombie (Halloween is Roky time.)

The Rolling Stones – Too Much Blood (A disco song about blood.)

Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room (A country song about a man inside an asylum – dig the slapback!)

Eddie Noack – Psycho (Leon Payne’s outrageous classic.)

Neil Young – Vampire Blues (A spooky Shakey number.)

Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London – Live (Warren talks about the werewolf looking to murder James Taylor – nuff said.)

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Raised Eyebrows: Sonic Youth’s A Thousand Leaves (Randy)

June 10, 2015

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Reminiscing about Sonic Youth’s A Thousand Leaves finds me recalling a short-lived friendship.

Like many, I had a friend who I spent a lot of time with for a short while. Hanging out with her was my first taste of punk rock in the sense that, she used to put the tops back on week old beers and give them to me to drink while Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre or Bratmobile scratched out the speakers in her living room.

Somewhere in the haze of that time, she decided we should go to Austin to see her sister and A Thousand Leaves was brought along. The album’s hypnotic excess really jived with us then and made a proper soundtrack for our jejune escapades.

We arrived in Austin, very drunk, at her sisters around 3am. Her sister gave me a haircut while her boyfriend played Eric’s Trip records til morning. I could say more but the best thing that come out of it was me searching out a copy of Love Tara not long after the fiasco.

Not a great story, I know, but A Thousand Leaves was a fitting soundtrack for us then and continues to be an intriguing listen now. Tracks like Wildflower Soul and Hits of Sunshine (For Allen Ginsberg) are some of the best songs the band has written in some ways. Their long passages of fractured jamming reveal the later focused work found on Murray Street and moves forward some of the desultory work found on Washing Machine. Both songs exhibit SY’s slow progression away from cimmerian blasts of feedback towards more serene experiments – a path that would be taken even further on 2000’s NYC Ghosts & Flowers.

Lee Ranaldo’s song contributions on A Thousand Leaves (like on many SY records) are terrific.  Hoarfrost and Karen Koltrane are both wonderful compositions that not only show Lee’s strength as a songwriter but also SY’s willingness to take ATL to a truly meditative place. On both of these pieces, the band really allows themselves (and the listener) room to get pulled into the vortex.

A Thousand Leaves is still a polarizing record for many SY fans. Many reviews accused the album of being excessive, unfinished, and shapeless. Rolling Stone even wrote, “nearly every song is a supermonolithic bummer.” I never heard A Thousand Leaves as anything but a beautiful exercise from a band looking for (and finding) a new space to inhabit. It’s an exercise we all have try at some point in our lives or more accurately, at many points in our lives.

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Raised Eyebrows: Steely Dan’s Countdown To Ecstasy (Randy)

May 26, 2015

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On considering Steely Dan’s 1973 smooth epic Countdown to Ecstasy, I’m reminded of my first steps into music geekdom.

My first run in with a real deal music nerd happened late in college. I worked at a record store and was also the music director for the local college radio station at the time. This timid kind of dude would stop by the store sometimes and special order things as well as cherry pick the $1 bin. Most of the shit he talked of, I had no idea about (The Beach Boys Friends, Nuggets, early Rod Stewart). I thought I had it all figured out and knew of most of the newest things going, but this dude was on another level. We became friends.

I was staying with a girl we both kinda knew and when we split, the guy put me up at his place while I figured out my next move.

I still remember the first few days over there. He had vinyl! Not many folks my age were carrying on the tradition in the late 90’s/early 00’s and he had a ton. Everything I looked at, I knew little or nothing about. There were Tom Verlaine solo records, a copy of The Replacements Let It Be and Costello’s Get Happy … the list goes on and on.

One of the records I recall him playing a lot was Steely Dan’s Countdown to Ecstasy. I didn’t really get it at first but the damn thing was on all day every day. After a while it became this comforting kind of thing and that’s never really changed for me.

I guess what i’m saying is that for me, Countdown to Ecstasy is the audio equivalent of sweet tea and I love sweet tea.

The record opens with Bodhisattva, a great supermarket rock track. Not too wild or righteous but that dual guitar coda remains pretty wicked and Dias’ solo out of the first verse is the only way to shop for produce.

Razor Boy follows and is where the record takes off for me. There’s a groove happening not unlike their previous top ten single Do It Again and later smash hit Rikki Don’t Lose That Number. The moves and melody in this song give discreet nods to their country rock contemporaries (Neil Young, CSN) while also creating an early blueprint for those artists looking to crossover into the genre without giving up their sound or chart success.

Your Gold Teeth is a  6+ minute Chevy Chase kind of burner built on fusion rhythms and sinister playing. Dias shines again (especially around 3:45 when he gets some eastern raga twinges going) and the modulation before and after the boys stretch out is stellar. One of my all time favs from The Dan.

My Old School follows the fairly successful single, Show Biz Kids and is another fav of mine. It dishes out some well crafted old school RnR without the Billy Joel schmaltz. Additionally, it may be the best and possibly only rock song ever written about Bard College.

What’s so striking to me about CTE is that not only does it contain some of the most perfectly recorded and arranged music the 70’s ever saw, it also captures a time for me that very few other records do. It’s part of a time when I first started realizing that my love for music was expanding and that I had a helluva lot still left to learn.

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Raised Eyebrows: Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain (Randy)

March 4, 2015

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Meditating on Dylan’s 1976 live album Hard Rain, I get both inspired and embarrassed.

I had made a friend my first year in college who was a hippie kind of fella that I ended up hanging out with quite a bit. He played the tired old acoustic guitar/harmonica combo and sang Dylan songs all the time. I couldn’t admit to him at the time that I didn’t really know who Bob Dylan was and that I just hated all those fucking long ass songs he was constantly singing. I thought they were his songs! Let’s just say, your first introduction to Dylan shouldn’t be a guy in Birkenstocks and a beaded necklace singing his own nasal interpretation of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. He wasn’t all bad though, he knew girls, got me high and let me borrow Decade by Neil Young.

Somewhere along the line, this guy busted out a cassette of Dylan’s rough and tumble live album from 1976 called Hard Rain. He had bought it at a gas station for a couple bucks and just as soon as it began playing, I was enthralled. Was this the same legendary Dylan this dude was always talking about?

Maggie’s Farm starts the set with everyone kind of warming up before going for it. Dylan’s nasal vocals are bygone and the band behind him is in full rock mode despite being out of tune and not really knowing what the hell is gonna happen next. It’s evident in every refrain of the song’s chorus. They hang in there though, even when Dylan momentarily forgets where he is around the 3:40 mark.

One Too Many Mornings follows, sounding nothing like the folk version recorded back in ‘64. Keep in mind that I hadn’t heard any of that yet, this was the first I had heard of any of these songs and I thought they were exceptional. There was something approachable to the music that the folkier stuff still doesn’t possess for me. The sound of an out of tune telecaster was easier for me to copy than any acoustic fingerpicking.

The big highlights for me continue to be Oh, Sister and You’re a Big Girl Now. Both of these particular readings are not only the most well played tracks of the whole set but are also overwhelmingly ardent. Shelter From the Storm is close behind. Between the groovy/spastic bassline of Rob Stoner, Mick Ronson’s melodic guitar lines and the aimless slide work of Dylan himself, the song gets an uplifting makeover.

Hard Rain is without a doubt my favorite Dylan record. It caused to me think differently about the possibilities of song. To later hear the original versions of these songs and really understand how much the compositions had been changed was sort of a revelation. It doesn’t matter that I first heard it at a hippie guys house, does it?

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Raised Eyebrows: Sonny Sharrock’s Ask The Ages (Randy)

January 20, 2015

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This year I’ve decided to take the route of nostalgia here at SOTO. Though the term was recently discussed by Jandek on his Hardly Sound episode (watch the whole shabang here) as some kind of neurological disorder that needs to be rectified, there are some surprising records and stories that go along with them that I can no longer overlook. I’ll be discussing 12 records from various points of my listening life, the personal stories that go along with them and how they struck me then and now. So here goes …

When pondering Sonny Sharrock’s 1991 masterpiece Ask The Ages, there’s a few things I associate with my first interaction with it, including possible minor injury.

I used to be in a band (weren’t we all) and was heading to a gig in San Antonio. I recall traveling in the passenger seat of a 1970 Dodge Van when the driver, a jazz head/behemoth, pulled out a CD he had just got and was stoked about. The record he held in his hand was of course, Ask The Ages by big boy Sonny Sharrock.

The record began and before the first passage of Promises Kept was finished, everyone in that damaged bucket of a car was enamored with the leaden sounds flying out the speakers. Then Pharoah Sanders began his skronk and by that point I’m not sure if anyone was aware of anyone else’s existence.

Who Does She Hope To Be? followed with some meditations that were well needed after the thrash of the lead off track. Sharrock’s runs (on this track especially) spoke directly to the core of what we were on our way to do. Playing music is a game of chase. Much like most aspects of life, there are moments that give you enough essence of existence to get through the rest of the performance/day/task and you continually look for that. On Who Does She Hope To Be?, Sharrock bottles that longing and gives it audibility.

I recall the driver getting way into the intro of Little Rock and drumming on the dashboard, doing a sort of Neal Cassady bit when all of the sudden, in the midst of Sonny and Pharoah dueling it out mid song,  we took a turn off the highway and my door swung wide open! Pavement was rushing under me and the driver had me by the shirt with me hanging half ass out the car. “Oh yeah, It does that sometimes.” smiled the driver and off we went to eat tacos at a car wash before the gig.

Not much of a story, I know, but the scenario unfailingly plays out every time I listen to this record. It continues to be one of my all time favorite jazz recordings and puts Sharrock in line with the greats. One listen to album closer Once Upon A Time and you get a sense of all the avenues music still has left to explore and conquer. Sonny said it best, “I’m just a horn player with a really fucked up axe.” To my ears ‘taint nothing fucked about it.

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Raised Eyebrows: Rockpile (Randy)

August 20, 2014

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Ju Ju Men: The Story Of Rockpile

Rockpile were not just an extension of the pub rock established by Brinsley Schwarz (see my column on them here) in the early 70’s. The group would undoubtedly play an integral role in the UK new wave/punk scheme being hatched in the mid to late ‘70’s in England by creating music that was shrouded in tradition yet written/recorded/performed with abandon.

The band was founded by former Brinsley Schwarz member Nick Lowe and former Love Sculpture guitarist Dave Edmunds. Edmunds first met Lowe in 1974 when he was producing the Brinsleys final album The New Favourites of … Brinsley Schwarz. The mixture of Edmunds’ classic pop production mixed with Lowe’s then blooming talents as a unique songwriter (see: The Ugly Things and The Look That’s In Your Eye Tonight) created an album that seemed somewhat dissociated from the group’s previous output. Though not commercially successful, the band did manage to turn in a modern classic with (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding – a song that would be brought into fashion by Elvis Costello & The Attractions in 1979.

LISTEN:  Brinsley Schwarz – (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love And Understanding

The Rockpile name originated in 1971 with the release of Edmunds’ first solo album aptly titled Rockpile. The album contained Edmunds’ #1 UK single from 1970 – a cover of the Smiley Lewis original, I Hear You Knocking. Edmunds put together a band to tour the album and high-charting single under the name Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, but the band broke up shortly after tour. The band included former Man and Love Sculpture drummer Terry Williams. Interestingly, the backing track for I Hear You Knocking was first intended as a cover of the Wilbert Harrison original Let’s Work Together but Edmunds was beat to it by Canned Heat. Edmunds then tailored the arrangement to suit Lewis’ song and had a hit.

LISTEN:  Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking

With the Brinsleys’ demise glaringly evident, Edmunds and Lowe soon joined forces on the 1975 album Subtle as a Flying Mallet. Brinsley Schwarz would make an odd appearance as Edmunds’ backing band on the same album for two Chuck Berry numbers, No Money Down and Let It Rock, before dissolving completely in ‘75. Edmunds would also produce Terminal to the Taxi Zone by Ducks Deluxe this same year.

1976 found Edmunds and Lowe beginning work on what would become the classic Jesus of Cool LP. Though not released until 1978, these sessions would create a tight-knit unit that would come to be known as Rockpile – featuring Edmunds and Lowe as well as Terry Williams and guitarist Billy Bremmer. Stiff Records was founded at this time and Nick Lowe was the first artist signed to the now famed label. Though the label promoted Lowe’s ties to Edmunds, Edmunds would sign to Led Zeppelin label Swan Song due to a rocky relationship with Stiff co-founder and Lowe manager Jake Riviera. 1976 also saw Rockpile opening for Bad Company, Edmunds producing the power pop staple Shake Some Action by The Flamin’ Groovies and Lowe releasing the first ever single for Stiff with So It Goes.

LISTEN:  Nick Lowe – So It Goes

Released in 1977, Get It would be Edmunds’ first album for Swan Song and featured an early incarnation of Rockpile (Lowe/Edmunds/Williams) as well as songs co-penned by both Lowe and himself. The album also featured songs written by Lowe, Graham Parker, as well as country funk giant Jim Ford’s tune Ju Ju Man – first covered by Brinsley Schwarz in 1972.

Lowe would also release the first EP ever for Stiff Records in ‘77 with Bowi. The title was a quip at David Bowie’s 1976 album called Low. Lowe thought it only natural to return the favor to Bowie, without the e, just as Bowie had done with his release.

The release of Nick Lowe’s now classic Jesus of Cool (released as Pure Pop for Now People in the US) in 1978, first credited Rockpile on both the live recording of Heart of the City and the studio version of They Called It Rock. The album also contains yet another Jim Ford composition in 36 Inches High and the irreverent Lowe/Edmunds tune Little Hitler.

On the other hand, Edmunds’ Tracks on Wax 4 was the first full blown album to feature all four members of Rockpile for its duration. Bremmer penned two of the songs on the album under the surname Billy Murray, including the killer Trouble Boys (later covered by Thin Lizzy), and Heart of the City has the same backing track as Lowe’s cut on Jesus of Cool, only with Edmunds on vocals. This year also marked Rockpile backing former Legend frontman Mickey Jupp on his 1978 solo Stiff LP titled Juppanese and Edmunds producing Now by The Flamin’ Groovies.

In 1979, Rockpile simultaneously recorded Edmunds’ Repeat When Necessary and Lowe’s Labour of Lust at Eden Studios in London. The BBC filmed during the recording of both albums, creating a one hour documentary special in 1979 called Born Fighters.

Repeat When Necessary created two high charting singles for Edmunds with Elvis Costello’s Girls Talk and Hank Devito’s Queen of Hearts. The album also contained a blues number written by Huey Lewis, and a reading of Ronnie Self’s Home in my Hand – a song covered by Brinsley Schwarz in both 1972 and 1973.

Labour of Lust led off with the US hit Cruel To Be Kind – a song co-written by Lowe and former Brinsley bandmate, Ian Gomm. The tune was originally recorded by Brinsley Schwarz for an album called It’s All Over Now in 1975 but Schwarz broke up and the song was never officially released until 1978 as the B-side to Lowe’s Little Hitler single. Labour of Lust also included a cover of Mickey Jupp’s Switchboard Susan and the Rockpile collab Love So Fine.

LISTEN:  Nick Lowe – Cruel To Be Kind

Rockpile also made an appearance at the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea in 1979. They performed a scorching version of Graham Parker’s Crawling From the Wreckage and were joined on stage by Robert Plant for an offhand reading of Elvis Presley’s Little Sister. ’79 also produced an impromptu performance with Keith Richards of Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock at The Bottom Line.

In 1980, Edmunds assembled Twangin’ to fulfill his Swan Song album contract, freeing up Rockpile to finally release an album under their own name. The Edmunds album consisted mainly of covers with the exception of the Lowe/Carter/Edmunds tune (I’m Gonna Start) Living Again If It Kills Me and Rockpile’s I’m Only Human. The influence of Mickey Jupp continued with a cover of his tune You’ll Never Gonna Get Me on One of Those where the backing track sounds almost identical to the one cut by Rockpile in 1978 for Jupp’s album.

Once free to record under their own moniker, Rockpile released Seconds of Pleasure on Jake Riviera’s label F Beat in 1980. The album had a charting single in its lead off track Teacher Teacher. The album also contained Lowe’s Play That Fast Thing (One More Time) – a tune first played by Brinsley Schwarz on 1973’s Please Don’t Ever Change. The LP additionally included the Difford/Tilbrook (of Squeeze) penned Wrong Again (Let’s Face It) and an 7” EP was packaged with the album entitled Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Sing The Everly Brothers.

Also in 1980, Rockpile served as the backing band to Lowe’s then wife, Carlene Carter on her album Musical Shapes. The record contains the Carter/Edmunds duet Baby Ride Easy, originally composed by Tyler, Texas songwriter Richard Dobson.

After multiple appearances, including the Montreaux Jazz Festival and the Heatwave rock festival in 1980, Lowe and Edmunds had begun to have had enough and Rockpile disbanded by 1981. The only other official Rockpile release came posthumously in 2011 and is a live recording of their performance at Montreaux in 1980. The album includes a phenomenal live rendition of Jim Ford’s Ju Ju Man that features the strength of each member of the band in their top form.

LISTEN:  Rockpile – Ju Ju Man

Rockpile took the vitality of pub rock and transformed it into something containing the roots/essence/you-name-it of UK new wave and punk. Thanks fer the tunes, boys.

Stream the companion Spotify playlist.

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