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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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Raised Eyebrows: Brinsley Schwarz (Randy)

July 8, 2014

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It Ain’t Easy Being Brinsley: A Short History Of Brinsley Schwarz

Brinsley Schwarz’s history is an important one to the genre of Pub Rock and beyond. Though they may seem rather unassuming as far as rock bands go … Brinsley Schwarz without question represent an important intersection of music that would precede the influential pub rock and new wave scenes that occurred during the mid to late ’70s in the UK. There are a few bits and pieces of excitement in their chronicles to be sure, with mentions of sharing a rehearsal space with The Band in ‘69 , a ‘hyped’ gig across the pond opening for Van Morrison and Quicksilver Messenger Service at the Fillmore East in 1970 that failed miserably, and performing as the opening act for both Wings and Hawkwind respectively in ‘72.

Stream Brinsley’s tracks mentioned in this article here …

The idea of the band originated at the Woodbridge School between Nick Lowe and Brinsley Schwarz as early as ‘64. The name Kippington Lodge was assumed with the release of a single (Shy Boy) on the Parlaphone label in 1967 – their second single Rumours, was the first to showcase Lowe. With no charting hits and few record sales, the band was able to scrape by while backing Billie Davis for several singles and acting as the supporting band at the legendary Marquee Club in London through ‘68 and ‘69. The band renamed themselves after Schwarz in 1969 as a means to perform new material that was separate from Kippington Lodge.

Brinsley Schwarz released two very different albums in 1970, Brinsley Schwarz and Despite It All. The former remains a head-scratching attempt at marrying folk and prog while the latter stands as an overlooked cosmic country touchstone that redefined the early hype given to the Brinsleys and showed a promising new direction to the sounds being made by Lowe, Schwarz, Billy Rankin and Bob Andrews.

 

By 1971, songwriter/guitarist Ian Gomm had joined the group as they embarked on a tour with solo artist Ernie Graham and English rock band Help Yourself as part of a package called “The Down Home Rhythm Kings.” The Brinsleys and Help Yourself acted as Graham’s backing band on his incredibly underrated lone solo LP, Ernie Graham, and Graham wound up joining Help Yourself for one album, Strange Affair, the following year. Graham would be briefly resurrected by Stiff Records with the release of one single in 1978 – Romeo and the Lonely Girl / Only Time Will Tell.

LISTEN: Help Yourself – Strange Affair

Brinsley Schwarz also had loose ties to country/soul/funk extraordinaire Jim Ford, covering Ford’s Ju Ju Man and Niki Hoeke Speedway on their 1972 album Silver Pistol (the first album to feature Gomm). An additional Ford song, I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind was well performed on their sole live release, Greasy Truckers Party, in 1972. The album also features performances by Man and Hawkwind. Man drummer Terry Williams would later go on to play with Lowe in Rockpile.

LISTEN: Brinsley Schwarz – Ju Ju Man

‘72 and ‘73 saw The Brinsleys creating what may be THE quintessential Pub Rock albums with Nervous On The Road and Please Don’t Ever Change. Tracks like Happy Doing What We’re Doing, Nervous on the Road (But Can’t Stay At Home) and Surrender to the Rhythm trade some of the band’s previous country leanings for more of a southern groove similar to The Band or Allen Toussaint – Toussaint even receives a capricious reading of I Like It Like That by Lowe and band on the record. The additional release of Please Don’t Ever Change in ‘73 cemented the Brinsleys spot as one of the top bands in England – strangely both albums feature fantastic treatments of forgotten rockabilly songwriter Ronnie Self’s Home in My Hand.

LISTEN: Brinsley Schwarz – Home In My Hand

 

Brinsley Schwarz’s final album, The New Favourites of … Brinsley Schwarz, came in ‘74 just as the band had reached their peak. The LP was produced by former Love Sculpture member Dave Edmunds, who would soon find a foil in Lowe with Rockpile. Though commercially unsuccessful, the album remains a highly influential work, containing the cult classic (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding which was brought to prominence by Elvis Costello and The Attractions in 1979.

A mysterious additional album entitled It’s All Over Now was released in 1975, but was quickly pulled. A few copies still exist after a small repress in 1988, some copies used the pseudonym Raime Schwarz. Tracks from the album have appeared on a number of Schwarz bootlegs over the years, one in particular is the original version of Lowe’s 1979 hit single Cruel to be Kind, co-written with Brinsley bandmate Ian Gomm.

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

 

Lowe would go on to begin session work with Edmunds in 1975 on his Subtle As A Flying Mallet album. Ian Gomm would begin a solo career and start a home recording studio that would before long host the likes of The Stranglers, Peter Hammill and Amon Duul. Brinsley Schwarz and Bob Andrews would soon form The Rumour and back Graham Parker. Billy Rankin would join fellow pub rockers Ducks Deluxe for their final tour in ‘75. What happens from here is something labeled Pub Rock, a genre the Brinsleys pioneered and gave coherence to and a soon-to-be band called Rockpile would come to define.

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Raised Eyebrows: Bad Records (Randy)

May 7, 2014

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Every band seems to have a sore thumb or two sticking out of their discography that either you love, hate or have little opinion of. Seemingly undeterred by bad reviews, harsh criticism, and/or disapproval by fans or the artists themselves, these records find their way into your hands and sometimes earn a special place in your psyche.

Maybe these records are your first introduction to a band or maybe a band can be so talented that even a debilitating release with mass distribution makes a lasting impression. It could just be you are a “warts and all” collector who is so devoted to an artist that you manage to find something admirable in every record. Regardless of how they show up, these records exist and they can stay with you. A couple come to mind for me and a few other folks as well.

By the way, you can stream all of the cuts from this article in one mighty playlist, HERE.

Also, if you have a bad record you love, then hit us up in the comments to discuss!

The ReplacementsAll Shook Down (1990)

Widely considered to be Paul Westerberg’s first solo album, All Shook Down shows the Replacements limping on their last legs. The bad reception of their previous album, Don’t Tell A Soul followed by a crummy tour with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers led the band to this album and to their eventual demise. The album is filled with studio musicians and guest appearances (John Cale on Sadly Beautiful, Terry Reid on Someone Take The Wheel and Johnette Napolitano on My Little Problem). The wearied Attitude being the lone cut on the album with all of the members of the band playing together. Many consider this record a total flop, but I wholly disagree. This album was the first thing I ever heard by the band and while I eventually got Let It Be and consider it to be the classic that it is, All Shook Down still ranks high personally among the band’s discog.

I worked at a record store at the time called The Ear Doctor in Huntsville, Texas and found this in the cassette section of the store. I took it home and was instantly hooked. The more I listened, the more I saw where contemporary bands of the time (Wilco, Whiskeytown) were pulling from and there was the additional zap of Westerberg’s lyrics.

Nobody expertly depicts attending the wedding of a lost love, the line “You’re still in love with nobody/And I used to be nobody,” paints a clever picture. Someone Take The Wheel encapsulates where Paul’s head was at with the band at the time and contains the classic Westerberg idiom rewrite “Anywhere you hang yourself is home.” While not as ripe with lyrics as other cuts, Happy Town remains another fav of mine. The hammond build into the solo on this song is one of the best moments on the album.

All Shook Down is said to be Westerberg’s stab at a Rod Stewart LP. PW is known for loving Every Picture Tells A Story which explains the album’s more acoustic leanings (When It Began) and it’s overall laid back appeal (The Last). This being my introduction to the band explains why I tend to prefer the albums that led up to this record (Pleased To Meet Me, Tim) and maybe why I still sometimes scratch my head when listening to Sorry Ma and Hootenanny. It all depends on where you begin I guess.

Lou ReedRock N Roll Heart (1976)

Released the same year as Coney Island Baby in 1976, Rock N Roll Heart’s release had something to do with Clive Davis bailing Reed out of bankruptcy by signing him to Arista. The album features two Velvet Underground throwaways in A Sheltered Life and Follow The Leader. It also contains the only rock instrumental in Reed’s vast catalog with Chooser And The Chosen One (a fav of mine).

I’m not sure how I came across this one but it was purchased on LP not too incredibly long ago at Antone’s Record Shop in Austin. The record starts off with two nonessential feel good tracks, I Believe in Love and Banging On My DrumYou Wear It So Well plays like a Neil Young track, Zuma being a record Reed admitted to liking around this time. Ladies Pay and Vicious Circle are highlights, simple tunes that epitomize Reed’s strengths as a personal songwriter. The title track is filled with VU swagger and has that oh so familiar talk singing that only Lou can do. It should be stated here that Reed is in great voice throughout and is the sole guitar player for this entire ride – he more than keeps up to say the least. There’s a couple of tracks that have a Bob James kind of feel (Senselessly Cruel and Claim To Fame) but I like the theme from Taxi so I say, bring it on!

While there are many records that are superior to Rock N Roll Heart, it’s a record in Reed’s discography that deserves revisiting. It’s a straightforward take on the artist and has a consistent vibe. You could do a lot worse (Mistrial, Growing Up In Public) but that’s up for debate. For me, this is one of Sweet Lou’s best.

Here’s a few picks from a few other folks:

Robyn Hitchcock & The EgyptiansQueen Elvis (1989)

It wasn’t the first record by Hitchcock I got – that would be Globe of Frogs. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that one, but there was enough appeal for me to tune in when 120 Minutes debuted Madonna of the Wasps, the first single from Queen Elvis. I dug that a lot. MTV then had Hitchcock host Post Modern MTV, their nightly version of 120 Minutes, and he played solo acoustic versions of Wax Doll and One Long Pair of Eyes. I was hooked. I bought Queen Elvis and it’s remained a firm favorite ever since.

So imagine my surprise to find that in the Hitchcock entry of the Trouser Press Record Guide (my music bible for a good decade, and still a frequently referenced research tool) Queen Elvis is described as “the nadir of his…body of work.” “The song structures are overly familiar,” writes Ira Robbins (or whoever kept the entry going after his initial efforts), “the weirdness seems forced and, worst of all, the emotions don’t seem real.” I personally would level those last two accusations at Globe rather than Elvis, and I still find the latter much more enjoyable and closer to my heart than Perspex Island, the much-acclaimed follow-up. Perhaps if I’d been listening to Hitchcock’s [pre-major label work with the Egyptians before I found Elvis I’d feel differently. But Queen Elvis is the first Hitchcock record that made sense to me, and as such I still love it more than just about anything else in his catalog.

by Michael Toland – writer for The Austin Chronicle, The Big Takeover, Blurt, Sleazegrinder

Black SabbathNever Say Die! (1978)

I recently picked up Never Say Die!, which is generally considered one of the worst – if not the worst – LP by the original Black Sabbath lineup. It was released in 1978, and lacks a lot of the doom-laden vibes Sabbath fans had come to expect. The band recorded it in Toronto, and were allegedly dealing with serious substance abuse issues. Ozzy Osbourne has said that he’s embarrassed by it. But despite all that, it’s a great sounding record. The songs are generally pretty upbeat, almost punk-like (maybe because of all the coke?), and loaded with inventive melodies, massive hooks, and fantastic guitar work from Tony Iommi. Ozzy’s voice is in fine form, as well. Highlights include the title cut, Hard Road, and album closer Swinging the Chain. As an added bonus, the album art – developed by Hipgnosis, the design team responsible for the covers of Houses of the Holy and Wish You Were Here, among others – totally rules.

by Brandon Gentry – writer for DCist and author of Capitol Contingency: Post-Punk, Indie Rock and Noise Pop in Washington D.C. 1991-1999

13th Floor Elevators – Bull of the Woods (1969)

This was one of my first CD purchases and, growing up in Houston with the legend of the band along with Roky Erickson’s then-recent reissues and tribute compilation Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye, it was an easy purchase for the rare time I had $12 on hand. Reliably stocked in the bins when I would look for the albums that I’d actually heard/heard about, I gave it a shot and liked it. I defended the record for its breezy chooglin’ that satisfied an intense need for actual psychedelic music I didn’t feel was represented by The Grateful Dead or others of that time. Obviously, I grew to learn what made the more Roky-attended records historically significant, but I still don’t shy away from BOTW and that 60’s Texas boots-meet-weed-leaf-tshirt sound – still a weird record if mostly dismissed.

by Aaron White – leader of Denton proto roll band, Old Snack

 Carcass - Swansong (1996)

I bought this on cassette at a movie rental store in Snyder, Texas that just happened to have a large selection of extreme metal albums on CD and cassette. I’d heard that it was the worst album of the band’s career, but I had loved everything else they had done so I bought it. I put it in my trusty tape player and cranked it up super loud. The riffs were more rock-oriented, but I just loved everything about it. You can’t go wrong when you open your album with a song titled Keep On Rotting In The Free World.

by Daniel Markham – Denton by way of Lubbock singer-songwriter

The Magnetic Fieldsi (2004)

I’d resisted getting into MF for years despite lots of urging from friends in the know because I’d been going through a deep acoustic/rock & roll songwriter phase of my life. The record had just come out and a friend who shared my prejudices against electronic/synth/computer-y music recommended it to me. I still resisted but when someone put on the record while hanging out at their apartment and I heard the first track I Die, with its delicate acoustic arrangement, bitterly self-effacing lyrics (“Having forgotten how to cry/I die”), and melancholy vocal delivery, something struck a serious chord. The album is widely considered a disappointing follow-up to their breakout 69 Love Songs, but to me it was a revelatory entry point into their canon, highlighting Stephin Merritt’s juggernaut songwriting abilities in a way accessible to the singer/songwriter junkie in me. Though it falls short of the invective and conceptual prowess of MF’s 90’s discography and indicates the ebb in the vitality of their output over the past decade, I still feel many of the songs on the record are among their best. Tracks like I Don’t Believe You, It’s Only Time, and I Wish I Had an Evil Twin, accentuate the band’s hallmark deliberateness, fantasizing, and pessimism while still offering meta commentary and genre referencing that I find deeply satisfying.

by Adam Hilton – recording engineer and leader of Austin grump rock band, Linen Closet

Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersEcho  (1999)

I don’t know if this record is considered bad by people, but the reviews were real mixed as i remember, and it was not a big success by Tom Petty standards. I was living in Seattle and I went to the record store in Ballard where I lived and got it. The first thing I recall was sticker shock. With tax this CD cost $20! The second thing was not liking the opener,  Room at the Top very much. I have since come to like the song, but this happened slowly, over years. I later read that Petty had just split up with his wife and was in a deep depression when he wrote the record, and it was longtime bassist Howie Epstein’s last album with Petty before od’ing on heroin. It has a kind of embattled vibe, more than usual even. The ‘breakers sound awesome on these tracks still. Mike Campbell even takes a lead vocal on I Don’t Wanna Fight. I’m real biased…I  find something to like on almost all Petty albums.

by Mike Nicolai – Austin/Minnesota songwriter and leader of The Bremen Riot

Gary NumanTelekon (1980)

For starters I’m old enough that I used to shop at record stores in the malls as a kid. Every record store back then had the “cut out” bins .These are filled with vinyl by artists whose records bombed! The record companies would sell them off really cheap. So after the huge success of Pleasure Principal, the next three Gary Numan records were all over pressed. So with my very low budget/allowance my first Gary Numan albums were Telekon, I, Assassan and Dance. I really love these records. In fact it was years before I bought the “good” ones. In fact, when I recently met Gary Numan at a signing event at Waterloo I had him sign Telekon. When I told him this record changed my life and it was my favorite, he looked at me incredulously and said “really?”

by Bill Jeffery – buyer extraordinaire at Waterloo Records and vocalist/trumpeter for Ichi Ni San Shi

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Raised Eyebrows: Crosstalk – Part 2 (Randy)

March 24, 2014

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Beginning in 1990, Crosstalk started to sound very different than it had in previous years. Maybe it was the rejection of nostalgia or the faded convictions of punk rock, either way the idea of Crosstalk took a large leap forward both in sound and execution. After the 1990s, a new century gave prominence to indie culture and with it, an acute sense of the past. These factors continue to transfigure Crosstalk as it soldiers on in the modern world. Let’s continue.

photo courtesy of elenanorabioso.com

photo courtesy of cultureshock.bangordailynews.com

Fugazi – Repeater (1990)

The combination of Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto on 1990’s Repeater is a momentous one. Never before had anyone taken the twin guitar attack to such extremes.. Fugazi introduced a new sound to an old concept, making them the modern archetype for Crosstalk going forward. It’s the beginning of a new age.

photo courtesy of brooklynvegan.com

Polvo – Vibracobra (1992)

Polvo’s Ash Bowie and David Brylawski marched Crosstalk straight into the 1990s. Beginning with their first LP, Cor-Crane Secret, Polvo established themselves as something otherworldly in the then blossoming indie scene. Vibracobra should be the audio example on the Crosstalk wiki page.

photo courtesy of toymachine.com

Sonic Youth – The Diamond Sea (1995)

When people talk about rock music with two guitars, Sonic Youth inevitably show up in the conversation. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo have both cemented their place in the Crosstalk hall of fame with countless jams in probably every tuning imaginable. Sonic Youth’s status as both a band and a cultural anomaly is not something to be taken lightly by anybody. This track comes from the 1995 DGC release, Washing Machine.

photo courtesy of rokbun.com

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – 1% of One (2003)

With Pavement far behind him and a new band dubbed The Jicks, Stephen Malkmus decided to get out and stretch his legs a bit on 2003’s Pig Lib. Malkmus is joined here for the first time by guitarist/keyboardist Mike Clark. It’s the first LP where we truly hear Stevie “Guitar” Malkmus take center stage with Clark riding shotgun versus taking an easy back seat.

photo courtesy of rockturtleneck.blogspot.com

Wilco – Impossible Germany (2007)

Another fine example of Crosstalk courtesy of Jeff Tweedy, Nels Cline, and Pat Sansone of the band Wilco. I don’t dig on Nels Cline often but he swings for the fences on Impossible Germany leaving Tweedy and Sansone to intertwine in the perfect requiem riff to channel his defining solo. Another high mark from a band that almost single handedly carried Americana into the 21st century.

photo courtesy of list.co.uk

Field Music – Share The Words (2010)

Field Music is essentially Peter and David Brewis. The brothers began in 2005, were on hiatus after 2007 and returned with the double album Measure in 2010. Buried on the second disc of Measure is a Crosstalk dream come true entitled Share The Words. The track finds Beatles rooftop riffs darting off of punk funk rhythms, climaxing with a tough solo in the mighty key of E.

photo courtesy of laweekly.com

Parquet Courts – Yr No Stoner (2012)

Self described as “The Fall meets Neil Young”, Parquet Courts is one of the primary acts ushering Crosstalk into the post modern indie rock era. The team of Andrew Savage and Austin Brown is one of chaotic unanimity throughout their breakout LP, Light Up Gold. Synchronicity through fluky feedback and reaching solos, boys are dying on these streets!

photo courtesy of arrozyfrijolesmusic.blogspot.com

White Denim – Come Back (2013)

Imagine an Innervisions influenced band featuring Jeff Baxter and Denny Dias. What you’d get is something close to White Denim. After adding guitarist Austin Jenkins to the lineup in 2010, leader James Petralli found the perfect compliment to fulfill his Patto inspired ambitions. White Denim gives high hopes for the future of Crosstalk in all its varied forms. Here is to another 60 years.

Stream the entire playlist for Crosstalk – Part 2 anytime here:

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Raised Eyebrows: Crosstalk – Part 1 (Randy)

February 18, 2014

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Crosstalk generally refers to a signal affecting another nearby signal. Take that statement and apply it to a band with two or more guitar players that do not participate in the traditional lead/rhythm scenario, and you’re beginning to get the idea.

In 1967, San Francisco band Moby Grape consisted of 3 guitar players, Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis, and Skip Spence. While Miller was considered the “lead” guitarist, all three walked the line between lead and rhythm, often playing off of each other in something the group dubbed Crosstalk. This term never really caught on, but is a perfect descriptor for a bunch of hard to categorize bands that have existed throughout rock ‘n’ roll history. So, I’m proposing to bring the term back from extinction to help identify the groups that personify the phrase and to pinpoint the players that define it.

photo courtesy of zombiesenelghetto.tumblr.com

photo courtesy of www.vinylsurrender.com

Moby Grape – Fall On You (1967)

We start with the band that coined the failed catchphrase, the one and only Moby Grape. From their illustrious self titled debut comes Fall On You. The song’s motorik-like drums anchor the beginning guitar riff that is then harmonized when the vocals jump in. This is ground zero, folks.

photo courtesy of mbmonday.blogspot.com

The Grateful Dead – Morning Dew (5/23/72: Lyceum Ballroom – London England)

The Grateful Dead were another band emerging from San Francisco at the same time as Moby Grape. In fact, it was Jerry Garcia who convinced Moby Grape’s Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson to move to SF in the first place. Garcia and Weir are prime examples of the Crosstalk dynamic. Both figures found a way to organically play off and/or against each other without taking away from the song. In truth, their interplay is what made some of the band’s more average songs spectacular. The tune chosen here comes from Europe ‘72: The Complete Recordings.

photo courtesy of www.dannyraywhitten.com

Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Down By The River (1969)

The combo of Neil Young and Danny Whitten is one of magic. Rarely do you find two players who matched so well. In 1969, Young and Whitten, along with bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina, stretched out on an LP entitled Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. The album featured two unprecedented guitar workouts: Down By The River and Cowgirl In The Sand. On Down By The River, Whitten and Young charge straight at each other, Whitten catching fire early around the 3:30 mark, while Young begins to really burn around 7:00. You can’t go wrong here, bro.

photo courtesy of pbs.org

Lou Reed – Satellite of Love (1973)

On December 21, 1973, Lou Reed took the stage of Howard Stein’s Academy of Music in New York City with a crack band that included guitarists Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter backing the former Velvet Underground frontman. The resulting performance yielded both 1974’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal and 1975’s Lou Reed Live. Here, Wagner’s and Hunter’s pyrotechnics skyrocket Reed’s already flamboyant songs to an excessive altitude. For those of you looking for mentions of Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, or The Eagles as part of the Crosstalk conversation, I point to this performance as a representative of that sect. Work it!

photo courtesy of ffanzeen.blogspot.com

Television – Marquee Moon (1977)

The Holy Grail of Crosstalk. Released by Elektra in February of ‘77, Marquee Moon continues to blow the mind of any person looking to go beyond the traditional operations of the electric guitar. The LP’s centerpiece title track remains Tom Verlaine’s and Richard Lloyd’s greatest achievement. Whether it’s the opening riff, the modal solos, that towering pre-chorus, or all of the above, there is something here for every misfit rock ‘n’ roller born after 1950.

photo courtesy of www.ear.fm

The Soft Boys – Human Music (1979)

In 1979, The Soft Boys released an LP called A Can of Bees. The record fell somewhere between Captain Beefheart’s Moonlight On Vermont and John Lennon’s Meat City. That sounds pretty epic, right? The unique Fender clamour depicted here by Robyn Hitchcock and Kimberley Rew creates a splendid example of Cambridge Crosstalk.

photo courtesy of howlinwuelf.com

True West – Look Around (1983)

True West could be considered a forgotten footnote to the Paisley Underground scene that caught fire in L.A. in the early 80’s. Whether the band had significant success or not doesn’t take anything away from the influential crossed lines of Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman. The band even cut demos with Tom Verlaine of Television at Bearsville Studios in 1983. The composition chosen here, Look Around, comes from that hallowed Verlaine session. The song was rerecorded in 1984 for the group’s only full length LP, Drifters. The track remains a choice example of True West at their Crosstalk zenith.

photo courtesy of thegearpage.net

The Dream Syndicate – John Coltrane Stereo Blues (1984)

From Karl Precoda and his foam filled Harmony Rocket, to Paul Cutler and his roach clip guitar pick, to the explosive Jason Victor  of The Miracle 3, Steve Wynn has always surrounded himself with killer players. Wynn may not always be the best singer, or even the finest foil, but he manages to write tons of songs that leave lots of room for some good old fashioned Crosstalk.  This song is courtesy of Precoda and Wynn, from the underrated 1984 album Medicine Show.

photo courtesy of tomwarren.com

The Feelies – Slipping (Into Something) (1986)

The team of Glenn Mercer and Bill Million are what makes The Feelies the legendary band that they are. The band cut their first LP, Crazy Rhythms, by playing their guitar parts directly through the board instead of through an amplifier (the engineer claimed that he would run the tracks through an amp later, but he never did). Could this kind of guitar playing without the sustain of an amp have created the jittery Hoboken sound? Who knows? What can be claimed is that the duo really know how to bounce off of each other, so much so that at times the listener can get lost on who is doing what. Now that’s Crosstalk! The cut here comes from The Good Earth, produced by Peter Buck in 1986.

 Stream the entire playlist for Crosstalk – Part 1 anytime here.  Join me next month as I follow Crosstalk from the 1990s to the present day.

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Raised Eyebrows: How I Learned To Love The Grateful Dead (Randy)

January 27, 2014

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I read a bumper sticker recently that said, “Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.” That resonated with me. The sentiment I gathered from that Toyota bumper can be applied to my love for The Grateful Dead. Being the hypocrite that I am, I once criticized The Dead and blamed them for the birth of bands like Phish and Widespread Panic. My view of Deadheads consisted of bro dudes, hippies, and that guy who played guitar on the quad. Little did I know that one day I would become someone who discussed what the best version of Sugaree is, or where my favorite Wall of Sound show was performed.

The point being, growth is a good thing. Driving in my car with my fleece pullover and baseball cap on, blasting Live/Dead with my son in the backseat is kinda awesome. Is it what I thought my life would look like? I don’t know. I honestly never thought I’d get this far.

Below are six of my favorite Dead recordings/performances. Each of them offers some explanation as to how I came around to The Grateful Dead.

By the way, an online mix of all 6 performances can be heard here.

Photo courtesy of posternutbag540.tumblr.com

1)  Jerry Garcia Band – 10/17/75, Concord Pavilion: Concord, CA

It all starts here. This was my turning point with Jerry Garcia. The playing here is expressive throughout and the pacing is fairly slow. Jerry was known for loving a slow, sad song, and here he and his killer band (Nicky Hopkins/Rolling Stones, Ron Tutt/TCB Band, John Kahn) settle in for a melancholy set. The show still has Garcia and crew familiarly reaching and improvising, but without the space jams and rave ups. Hearing Garcia out of the context of The Dead helped alleviate the preconceived notions I had about the music.  It was the perfect introduction for me.

2)  Jerry Garcia – Garcia

This studio solo album by Garcia took me that extra step past the JGB. Bird Song, Deal, Loser, The Wheel, and of course Sugaree remain big jams for me. Finding out all of these songs were staples in GD sets furthered my descent into the maelstrom. This album got me hooked.

Photo courtesy of dead.net

3)  Grateful Dead – Mission in the Rain, 6/12/76, Boston Music Hall: Boston, MA

I first got into Mission In the Rain through JGB ‘s Don’t Let Go. Interestingly, the JGB set from the Orpheum Theatre was recorded less than a month earlier, on 5/21/76. Regardless, the song stood out for me, especially once I heard The Dead’s version. It starts off with a slow riff similar to I’ll Take A Melody, then perks up a bit at the second verse and just steamrolls from there.

Photo courtesy of lostlivedead.blogspot.com

4)  Grateful Dead – St. Stephen, 10/12/68,  Avalon Ballroom:  San Francisco, CA

I got seriously obsessed with the song St. Stephen. The studio version drew me in with all those good timing hollers and that oddball bridge. I am convinced St. Stephen is THE preface to many works by Steve Malkmus & the Jicks, Wilco, and I’d even go as far as to say Television. The 10/12/68 performance of St. Stephen is the ultimate rendition for me. The entire band, and especially Jerry, bring the HEAT! Despite many faults, I never fail to get a rush at the resolve of the second verse, and you get the added bonus of hearing Weir drop out at the bridge due to technical difficulties. Solid gold.

5)  Grateful Dead – Morning Dew (Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack), 10/18/74, Winterland Ballroom: San Francisco, CA

Lesh sold me on this one. The opening riff helped. Phil really digs in after the third verse, and the build between Garcia and Lesh before the end jam is pretty epic. If you can get past the dancing hippies, you’ll find a truly powerful performance by one of the best live bands ever.

6)  Grateful Dead – Cumberland Blues (Europe ’72), 4/8/72, Wembley Empire Pool: Wembley, London, England, UK

This performance is a perfect example of John Fogerty’s term “chooglin’.” Fogerty‘s lyrics are clear on Keep On Chooglin: “You got to ball and have a good time and that’s what I call chooglin’,” and  that is exactly what happens here. Lesh’s beginning bass notes lay the foundation for a toe tappin’ good time. Overdubbed or not, the vocals at the end of the first verse are glorious and the song as a whole is played with rollicking precision. It was here that I realized “Oh fuck, I’m listening to The Dead and it rules!”

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Raised Eyebrows: Making A Mixtape In 2013 (Randy)

November 4, 2013

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I haven’t made a mixtape in over eight years. I used to make them a lot and will admit to missing the process. Thinking about it now, it was a big commitment. Not only did you have to curate, record, design and manufacture a product, you were also making a huge time commitment all while trying to keep the person you were making it for in mind. This was a lot for a then twenty-something to take on. In some ways, the mixtape was the only business course I ever took and maybe explains why I continue to create things that only reach a handful of people.

Cassettes are on the rise as evidenced by recent mixtapes from Parquet Courts and Kurt Vile as well as the premiere of Cassette Store Day on 9/7/13. There’s even a short film celebrating the medium featuring the dude that runs Awesome Tapes from Africa.

As ridiculous and nostalgic as it seems, I’ve always thought that tapes were the perfect medium for music. They’re portable, durable, affordable and easy to hack. Yes, their sound is inferior to vinyl and CDs, I will not disagree. But somebody show me how to record over a Cranberries CD or explain to me how I can leave an album on vinyl in my car all summer long and it still play, then maybe I’ll change my tune.

All this schmaltz over tapes does seem to beg the question: Is the affection for this device just a mask for an attachment to the past? According to Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, author Simon Reynolds writes,

“… Cassettes are also a ghost medium in the sense that as far as mainstream culture is concerned, they are dead, an embarrassing relic. The cult of the cassette has spread beyond the no-fi underground to become a retro fad, with young hipsters wearing t-shirts adorned with cassettes or belt buckles actually made out of old cassette shells.”

Seeing Reynolds’ point every day in my own life has led me to return to the object and see if it still contains the wonder I remember it having almost a decade ago. I decided to make a mixtape in 2013.

The process began first by purchasing the actual cassettes. Thanks to the Cassette Gods blog article on how to release your own cassette, I settled on 25 individual 60 minute green cassettes with 25 soft poly cases to put them in. The cost with shipping was around $40.

Once the actual physical tapes were purchased, I was then onto the task of making the actual mix. The process was far different than I remember it being. Instead of sitting on the floor with LPs and CDs strewn everywhere, I was on a computer with a multitude of tabs opened, listening to selections via Youtube. Was the process any less enjoyable? Not really. It did, however, present the modern problem of having too many choices.

To narrow things down, I proposed a few self imposed parameters that I think help make a good mixtape.

The first of those being a theme. A theme imposes a rule that causes you to be diplomatic about song choices. I settled on the Side One Track One theme as a tribute to this site and its staff. Limiting yourself to the first track of an LP can deliver some much needed clarity and direction to a mix. I was able to settle on the rest of my criterion after briskly surveying my own biases and reading an intriguing thread called The Art Of The Mixtape. I decided on including a blues tune, a female vocalist, an instrumental, a live track, and a local band. It was all pretty subjective, but hey, that’s what great about mixes in the first place: it’s a self made environment, an artifact of you being yourself.

After making my track choices and putting them in their sacred order, the only thing left to do at that point was to give it a random title and create some lame artwork. This sounds flippant, but most mixes I have received bear these two seemingly insignificant characteristics. I chose the anagram method for my inane title. It was as simple as going to anagramsite.com and typing in Side One Track One. The title designated was Ocean Skirted One. (FYI: Other titles not chosen included Incense Road and Keen Coordinates) In the spirit of the mixtape and breaking copyright/duplication laws, I hastily chose some art by Brian Rea and then used an online editor called Picfont to apply my own spin on the whole thing. In the olden days, it would have been way more involved and a lot less good. Modernity is not so bad.

From there, I contacted a friend about using a high speed dubbing set up he had put together for his own recent return to tapes. He made a master tape of my mix for approval and after my endorsement, the dubbing commenced.

While waiting for the dubs to be finished, I decided to step out of the time warp and make the mix available online. I used a site called audio-joiner.com to create one long mp3. The site features an online editor that allows multiple uploads and fades between tracks with easy download. Mixcloud allowed me to post the mix without worries of copyright infringement and offered links and streaming. I should also say that during this time, I had the artwork printed onto business cards. Business cards are cheap ($11 for 50).

The tapes are now finished and I am pleased with how they came out. After having a few days to enjoy the final product, I realized that I have learned a few things through this process. The most important being that I still love cassettes. I had forgotten the dedication that goes into them and the satisfaction you get handing over the final product to someone. Maybe this feeling of fulfillment is what I was after all along …

While listening to the tape on a Walkman knockoff in a Target parking lot, I had this feeling that, in the words of Roky Erickson, I have always been here before. That may sound exaggerated, but you reach a point where you realize that music isn’t just part of your life, it is a fact of your life. From first recording You Give Love A Bad Name by Bon Jovi off the radio to now, cassettes remain a comfortable place for me to loiter. Is it nostalgic? Yes.  Are there more important matters to attend to? Yes. But we all still need that golden place to hang and be ourselves, and mine is somewhere on this tape.

Want a tape? Send an email here. We’ll figure something out. Thanks to Alex, Toland, BG, and JL for their help. Limited quantity of this mixtape available (edition of 21).

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Raised Eyebrows: A Guide To Jeff Tweedy’s More Adventurous Non-Wilco Recordings (Randy)

September 9, 2013

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Jeff Tweedy is the leader of Wilco, the biggest Americana band on the planet. His life in music thus far has been an audacious one. From The Plebes to The Primitives to Uncle Tupelo to Wilco to Loose Fur, Tweedy has played a number of musical roles including second fiddle (Uncle Tupelo), prophet (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), co-conspirator (Loose Fur) and elder statesmen (Wilco). Though Wilco continues to be Tweedy’s main concern, his recording career outside of the band can be a mixture of rewards and challenges to those looking to find shelter in the house of Tweedy.

After reading an article entitled The 15 Best (Non-Wilco) Jeff Tweedy Songs posted by Consequence of Sound on 3/22/13, Raised Eyebrows quickly made its own list and found nothing in common with the CoS article. Let it be stated here that this response is meant (just like the original article) for readers to start their own conversations, make their own lists, and write their own pieces. There is no malice meant for Consequence of Sound or the writer of the article. Now with that being said, to these ears most of the cuts on the original CoS list are glorified Wilco songs. So … Raised Eyebrows has taken it upon itself to dig a little deeper to bring you a guide to the more adventurous side of Tweedy’s musical career with tracks that feature traces of Chicago experimentalism, songs that echo what would later become Wilco’s signature sound, and of course, Tweedy’s neoteric guitar style.

Photo by OC Weekly

15. The Minus 5 – The Old Plantation (Down With Wilco, 2003 Yep Roc)

While this tune has it’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel issues, the chorus (with Tweedy on backing vocals) never fails to win the listener over. It’s a number that showcases the lyrical gags of McCaughey (also of The Young Fresh Fellows) without his Achilles heel of losing sight of the hook in another well penned pop song.

14. Uncle Tupelo – We’ve Been Had (Anodyne, 1993 Sire)

This song should be the first piece of evidence shown to the jury in the infamous case of Farrar vs. Tweedy. It’s where Tweedy starts venturing into his own lyrical territory, see: “There’s no call waiting in my headphones.”  This essentially gives us a preview of what is to come on Wilco’s first album, A.M.

13. Golden Smog – Pecan Pie (Down By The Old Mainstream, 1995 Rykodisc)

Pecan Pie is another shot of what was to come with Wilco on later songs like King Pin. Rather than sounding like a leftover this song hits you with some sense of familiarity, like when Pete Seeger comes out and leads all the children in a folk song that they somehow know all the words to.

12. 7 Worlds Collide – All Comedians Suffer (The Sun Came Out, 2009 Columbia/EMI)

This song was written by Neil Finn of Crowded House/Split Enz for the 7 Worlds Collide project that benefited OxFam. The track was incidentally produced by Wilco conspirator Jim Scott and despite the tracks likeness in sound to modern christian rock, Tweedy rips an inspired solo. For those looking for some A Ghost Is Born vibes, look no further.

Also See: Girl, Make Your Own Mind Up by Don McGlashan (from The Sun Came Up)

11. Deerhoof – Behold Jeff Tweedy In The Darkness (Bandcamp 2011)

Here we find Tweedy with San Francisco’s gift to the world, Deerhoof. The collaboration is a good mix of the Wilco song Radio Cure and Deerhoof’s excellent album, The Runners Four.

10. Boxhead Ensemble – Two Brothers (Two Brothers, 2001 Atavistic)

Michael Krassner, composer and leader of Boxhead Ensemble, is joined here by a collective of musicians including members of The Dirty Three along with Wilco’s Kotche and Tweedy. Tweedy finds his inner Sharrock skronk on this extended cinematic piece.

Check out the song here.

9. Nikki Sudden – Farewell My Darling (Red Brocade, 1998 Chatterbox)

Those of you who know of Nikki Sudden, know this a strange pairing. The strangest part about it is that Sudden (who mostly has the singing voice of a feral cat) unexpectedly shines while Tweedy plays catch up through most of the cut. Despite the odd pairing, the track stands as testament to Tweedy’s varied tastes and the acquaintances he has made over the years.

Also See: Tweedy’s guest appearance on power pop idol Tommy Keene’s album, Isolation Party

8. The Autumn Defense – Silence (Circles, 2003 Arena Rock Recording Co.)

Jon Stirratt and Pat Sansone, both current members of Wilco, have a soft rock/power pop side project called The Autumn Defense. This particular tune is a beaut showing more of Tweedy’s restraint than the guitar attack he has become somewhat known for.

7. Jeff Tweedy – Crack A Smile (Down In A Mirror: A Second Tribute To Jandek, 2005 Summersteps Records)

If you have ever wondered what a Tweedy solo album might sound like, this tribute to Houston’s own elusive Jandek might give you an idea. Here we have single coil strums, layered vocals, and Spector drums tangling with noise and fake strings. Everything combines for something unexpectedly grand.

6. Loose Fur – An Ecumenical Matter (Born Again In The USA, 2006 Drag City)

Tweedy teams up a second time with Chicago experimental prince Jim O’Rourke and drummer Glenn Kotche on the group’s second LP for Drag City, playing a tune that has a major parallax sound. The jam will remind you of Diamond Claw from The Wilco Book, containing an irregular but seasoned melody with hints of smooth jazz and math rock to boot.

5. Jeff Tweedy/Glenn Kotche – End Credits (Chelsea Walls Soundtrack, 2002 Rykodisc)

Tweedy and Kotche get together to score the 2002 film Chelsea Walls, directed by Ethan Hawke. Here Tweedy delves into Paris, Texas territory to thrilling effect. This particular piece is later scorched by Loose Fur, hidden on the Japanese version of their LP, Born Again In The USA, re-titled in the liner notes as Prelude to 110, 220, or Chelsea Walls.

Check out the song here.

4. Uncle Tupelo – Wait Up (March 16-20 1992, 1992 Rockville)

Produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M., Uncle Tupelo set out to make a record that was a reverse of the current trend of music in 1992. The result was UT’s March album and here we have another prime example of a song that only Tweedy could present. The same throaty delivery would be found on Someone Else’s Song and countless other Wilco favorites.

Check out the song here.

3. Loose Fur – You Were Wrong (Loose Fur, 2003 Drag City)

This one leans on the grump rock side of things, but it is a major jam nonetheless. The clang of a tremolo tailpiece paired with a solid bass groove and memorable hook make this one of Tweedy’s lesser known triumphs.

2. Jim O’Rourke – All Downhill From Here (Insignificance, 2001 Drag City)

On one of O’Rourke’s first collaborations with Kotche and Tweedy before Loose Fur and his third installment of records titled after Nicolas Roeg films, JO releases a fine pop record. Opening with a riff akin to ZZ Top’s Going Down To Mexico, the trio push this O’Rourke song into the uncomfortable spotlight. Just push play already!

Check out the song here.

1. Uncle Tupelo – If That’s Alright (Still Feel Gone, 1991 Rockville)

The quintessential track to represent the change in Tweedy’s songwriting, going from the songs on the record you sat through to the best songs on the album and eventually becoming the voice of the post alt-country generation.

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Raised Eyebrows: The School Of Public Language (Randy)

July 8, 2013

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Guitar music, for lack of a better term, is a seemingly daunting genre. This brand of music is not one of virtuosity as some may suspect – instead it’s about expression through original composition. This sect is not easy to categorize, which may be one of the key reasons it remains off the mainstream radar, but it remains highly approachable musically. Two figures are central to this anonymous genre: John Fahey and Jack Rose. Fahey acted as founder/explorer/developer/colonizer/architect while Rose took on the role of teacher/revivalist/promoter/preacher/friend. From these two, a new school of contemporary artists have found a place to freely drift between the tradition/legacy of American song and their own individual voice.

For decades John Fahey has loomed over the world of guitar music. He continues to be one of the most well known figures and spokesmen for the medium. His emphasis on the unconscious over technical skill and unfailing faith in expression has made big impressions on a number of musicians.

In recent years, the U.S. has unknowingly become a hotbed for music that is being informed by Fahey in both direct and indirect ways, depending on who you talk to …

“In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am playing emotions and expressing them in a coherent public language called music.” – John Fahey

With the release of Blind Joe Death in 1959 on his own Takoma Label, Fahey took a neo-classical approach to country blues, ragtime, bluegrass and classical music. The style was referred to as “American Primitive,” meaning untutored or self taught. Fahey’s influence can be found in the psychedelia of Sandy Bull, the raga of Peter Walker, the skronk of Sonny Sharrock, and the ragtime of the late Jack Rose.

Jack Rose was a guitarist who hailed from Philadelphia. Rose was a well-known proponent of the local music scene in Philly, and he has played a major role in the recent renaissance of “American Primitive” music currently going on in the US. Since his passing in 2009, his spirit continues to charge those who came to know him.

Glenn Jones, former leader of the avant/motorik band Cul De Sac and 30+ year devotee to the so-called American Primitive School, tells his favorite story of Rose:

“There’s a solo guitar record I’m especially crazy about , Six Organs of Admittance’s For Octavio Paz. As my friend Jack Rose knew Ben Chasny, I asked him if he knew whether Ben planned to make more solo guitar records. Jack, who was about to tour the West Coast, had a few dates that included Ben. He said, “I’ll tell you when I get back”.
When Jack got home I asked him how the tour went. “Great!” said Rose. I next asked whether Chasny would be making another solo guitar record. Jack said, “Yeah, I asked him about that. He said he wasn’t planning another one anytime soon.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, he said he doesn’t want be pigeonholed in with the whole American Primitive / John Fahey thing”.
I thought for a few seconds and said, “I guess I can appreciate that.”
Jack said, “Not me! That’s exactly where I want to be pigeonholed!”

Jones has released several albums under his own name with Chicago label Thrill Jockey, including 2013’s My Garden State. The album was written in New Jersey while Jones was caring for his mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. The collection ranges from seemingly short elemental passages to exploratory pieces composed spontaneously in the studio. When asked about “American Primitive” and the connection to his own work, Jones states:

“To my mind, ”American Primitive” is characterized by a certain emotional quality. Some people think the term means that the music is somehow technically primitive. It isn’t. It’s just that expression generally takes precedence over technical proficiency, especially technical proficiency for its own sake and not in service to anything else.”

Chris Forsyth is an otherworldly guitarist who is also from Philadelphia. His influence are closer to Television, Richard Thompson and The Grateful Dead than it is to Fahey and the Takoma label. Forsyth’s view of “American Primitive” is more difficult to characterize:

“I think anyone who’s getting up and performing solo guitar is automatically putting themselves in dialogue with the American Primitive thing, or at least with Fahey.
The downside of naming music is that categories become cemented and rules form and dogma emerge, for the artists as well as the audience.”
“That said, the two people I admire most in the “American Primitive” canon are probably Fahey and Jack Rose. Fahey’s obviously the Big Daddy and, in terms of 20th century American musical minds, he’s on par with Coltrane or Miles Davis as far as I’m concerned. He’s the fountainhead. And Jack’s fearlessness and conviction, both musically and as a human, hit me hard and helped me move my own practice forward in a real way.”

In October of this year, Paradise of Bachelors will be releasing Solar Motel. Forsyth will be touring behind the record with The Solar Motel Band featuring bassist Peter Kerlin, guitarist Paul Sukeena (Spacin’) and drummer Steven Urgo (ex-The War on Drugs). Forsyth explains:

“Solar Motel was written and developed over the course of 2011. The music just sort of comes. I catch a melody or a riff some days and follow it, sometimes it arrives whole and sometimes it takes months to settle.  We recorded the basic tracks for the Solar Motel record in a couple of days at Jeff Zeigler’s studio in Philly. Some of it had been worked out for a European tour, but the sessions were also pretty spontaneous.”

“Bachman probably represents the hopes and dreams of the American Primitives as much as anyone these days.” – Chris Forsyth

Daniel Bachman is an acoustic guitarist from Fredericksburg. He stands as a marvelous contemporary example of “American Primitive” or “Psychedelic Appalachia” as he has called it. When asked how his work connects to the past, Bachman says:

“I mean the Fahey, Basho, Rose influence is impossible to overlook. I play guitar without much accompaniment and sometimes use tricks and tunings that they used. But like everybody in this world right now I’m just trying really hard to not rip them off too bad. It’s pretty well trod ground, but I think that you can pull something new out of it … or at least try to.”

Since 2011, Bachman has released a string of recordings over a mass of small labels with limited pressings. He tours the US and UK often and has just finished a new record in Rappahannock County, VA. Bachman goes on to say about the recording process and touring:

“I just finished the newest one a couple days ago – but the writing takes about a year – especially with touring a lot. But I write these songs and kind of hone them over a year of touring then lay them out on record. There is some improvisational aspect in the recording – and usually one or two songs are written specifically for record and never really meant to be performed. I’m doing a tour in the UK in June – some gigs here and there in July – Tour east coast in August with my friend Mary Lattimore, Europe and new record in October with Ryley Walker and West coast with Chris Forsyth in November… I don’t really do well with time off.”

Speaking of time off … Steve Gunn has had little if any in the last year. The New York based guitarist has been a member of GHQ, Magik Markers, and most recently, Kurt Vile & The Violators. He has also collaborated with Hiss Golden Messenger (Golden Gunn), Michael Chapman (a personal hero of Gunn’s), and with drummer John Truscinski (Gunn-Truscinski Duo). Gunn elaborates on his relationship with Truscinski:

“I’ve developed a lot with John, who I have been playing with for about 7 years now. We’ve done collaborations with other people, duo playing, band, and we both do solo recordings. We’ve worked out a bunch of different kinds of music over the years, and a lot of it has gone onto a release in one form or another.”

Gunn’s newest record, Time Off, finds Gunn and Truscinski now in a trio with bassist Justin Tripp (Aspera). The album deftly builds upon previous Gunn efforts: the vocals of Sundowner, the raga of Ocean Parkway/Sand City, and the spiritedness of Boreum Palace. The release also pays tribute to Jack Rose with Old Strange, a song that has been with Gunn for some time. When asked about the thought process going into Time Off, Gunn says:

“I’ve been playing a few songs that are on the record for years in different styles, and they kind of took a winding path on how the ended up sounding on this new record.  A few songs on the record I wrote really fast, in pretty much one sitting. I’m trying to tap more into that mind frame as a songwriter.”

William Tyler lives in Nashville. In addition to his role as resident guitarist in the world’s foremost ‘countrypolitan’ band, Lambchop, he is also an accomplished solo player who has recently released Impossible Truth, a record he calls, “my ‘70s singer-songwriter record; it just doesn’t have any words.” Chapel Hill’s venerable Merge Records (Lambchop’s label, as well) released the album in May. Tyler says:

“I wanted to move more towards psychedelic cathedral music and lose a little of the Appalachian drone. I guess I was interested in the possibilities of a guitar record that wasn’t a folk record per se, more of a deconstructed rock record without any lyrics.”

Impossible Truth is a definite departure from previous works, Behold The Spirit and Deseret Canyon. The album has a joy throughout that relates more to Carl Nielsen than it does to John Fahey. When asked about what’s next, Tyler reports:

“I am about to do a full band lineup version of some of the ‘Impossible Truth’ material for the first time and it’s been exciting and weird to experience those tunes in a true full volume rock context. I’d like to try more of that with the next record.”

Chuck Johnson is a guitarist/composer residing in Oakland. He has been playing fingerstyle acoustic guitar since the early 90’s, but has also continually sought out new ideas with multiple projects including Shark Quest, Pykrete and Idyll Swords. After a contribution to the Beyond Berkeley Guitar Compilation released by Tompkins Square in 2010, Johnson found new life with the steel string guitar.

Going in new directions is nothing new to Johnson. When asked about unexpected happenings over the years, Johnson states:

“I never imagined I would be playing in front of 10,000 people at Siren Fest in Coney Island. Back in 2001 Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan cut his finger really badly a couple weeks before they were scheduled to play, and he called me and asked if I could learn his guitar parts.”

Released by Three Lobed Recordings in May, Crows In The Basilica is Johnson’s second solo album. The LP plays like a star map, locating all of the constellations and galaxies Johnson has collected over the years. Johnson offers more insight into the making of the record by saying:

“CITB includes a couple of traditional pieces, as well as one of the first solo fingerstyle tunes I wrote back in the mid 90’s. And these recordings represented new interpretations of those tunes that I had been playing for years, so it really is like a snapshot of where I am now as a musician and as a person.”

Though not officially connected in any way, there is a thread that binds all of these musicians not just to Fahey and Rose, but to each other. Community, for this type of music, is not only part of its rich history, but will also facilitate its future. Chuck Johnson sums it up:

“I have been making music for a long time now, and the community that I have is what keeps me going in a lot of ways.”

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