Friday, December 29, 2006

Best Records of 2006

I hope you all had a great holiday this year. Since I haven't really been hearing a lot of new music this year, my list will be a combination of new discoveries along with reissues and new releases from 2006. Here's my "Best of 2006" list just in time for the new year. Have a safe and happy new year, and I'll see you next year!



1) Comets on Fire- Avatar- This time around the boys from Santa Cruz tone down the cacophonous swirl of saxophones, psych garage guitars and echo-drenched vocals for a more laid back classic rock sound. Don't get me wrong though, the opening track Dogwood Rust still pummels you with a mind-melting hard rockin' listening experience. Think Jefferson Airplane mixed with MC5.
















Comets on Fire- Dogwood Rust and Lucifer's Memory




2)Fred Lane- From the One That Cut You- I discovered this album on the fantastically diverse blog Palestinian Light Orchestra. The record is a mix of skronking big-band free-jazz with loopy sound effects, goofy absurdist vocals and noisy no-wave experimentation. It was originally released in 1975 and as far as I know can still be found for some serious cash. If you like things like Zappa, Beefheart and the Bonzo Dog Band, then this is right up your alley















Fred Lane- Fun In the Fundus and Danger Is My Beer



3)Harmika Yab Yum- Folk Sounds of Nepal- This album was released on Sublime Frequencies in 2005 and contains a distinctive awe-inspiring mix of field recordings of snake charming music, drum circles, radio signals from another world and acoustic folk music. If you are interested in authentic creative world music, then this is for you.

















Harmika Yab Yum- VA- Radio Nepal vii and All Night Festival


4)Yo La Tengo- I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass- Besides having what is probably the best album title in quite some time, this album is all over the map stylistically. If you are a fan of Yo La Tengo, you will love this album because it is a brilliant mix tape representing every facet of the band's prolific twenty year career. The two tracks that bookend the album showcase the intense guitar dynamics of early favorites like I Heard You Looking or the hard-rocking version of Big Day Coming on Painful. While the light and bouncy pop of Beanbag Chair would have fit nicely alongside most of the tracks on I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, the spooky and elegiac eight-and-a-half minute instrumental Daphnia is undoubtedly inspired by their Sounds of the Sounds of Science sessions. Dig in and I'm sure you'll find something to treasure here.

















Yo La Tengo- Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind and Daphnia

5)Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band- Egyptian Jazz- I discovered this on the Orgy in Rhythm blog while scouring the internet for new music. Egypt Strut features snake charming flutes, big band horns and a North Arabian rhythm section for a sound that is reminiscent of the Ethiopiques instrumental collections. Buy a copy here for a truly interesting listening experience.
















Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band- Egypt Strut and Ramadan in Space Time


6)Bardo Pond- Ticket Crystals- On Ticket Crystals, the band's second release for ATP Recordings, Isobel Sollenberger and company tone down the sludgy, droning guitars and feature the vocals and flute more prominently. Lost Word features a psychedelic swirl of guitars, flute and drums which conjures up the feeling of smoking peyote in the middle of an indian reservation while hallucinatory visions dance across your subconscience. They even tackle a straightforward cover of John Lennon's Cry Baby Cry until the bottom falls out and it turns into a psychedelic firestorm at the end. Highly recommended!















Bardo Pond- Lost Word and Cry Baby Cry


7) Neko Case- Fox Confessor Brings the Flood- I've had the privilege of witnessing Neko perform these songs in a live setting and it was nothing short of amazing. She has toned down the country-noir vibe of Blacklisted for a more diverse record with elements of rock, pop, country and gospel. Her voice is the star as usual, but highlights include Star Witness with it's haunting lyrics and vivid imagery of a fatal car crash. The minute and-a-half long, A Widow's Toast, displays Neko's dynamic vocal range over a humming electric guitar loop. Then, on the country-gospel song called John Saw That Number, she belts out an awe-inspiring vocal that would make Aretha and Mahalia proud.
















Neko Case- Star Witness, A Widow's Toast and John Saw That Number


8) Old Time Relijun- Lost Light- Old Time Relijun put on such an incendiary show at the Halleluwah festival this past summer, that I had to put them on my best of 2006 list. Since Old Time Relijun relocated to Portland, OR this past summer, they have tightened up their sound to create an absolutely euphoric live experience. Arrington and company can best be described as a demented cross between Pere Ubu, Captain Beefheart and James Chance. Erratic, de-tuned guitars fight for space with dissonant saxophones over a bed of tight funk rhythms, while Arrington screams like a fire and brimstone preacher walking on burning coals. The highlight on this record and the live performance is a song called Cold Water, which features lead singer Arrington De Dionyso maniacally screaming over a tight and frantic disco rhythm from hell. You can't help but chant along with them by the end of the song, because your mind and body are possessed by the rhythm of old time religion. Don't pass up the chance to see these guys in your neck of the woods. They are electrifying!
















Old Time Relijun- Cold Water and Vampire Victim

9)Beirut- Gulag Orkestar- If you are familiar with Neutral Milk Hotel, you will definitely relate the opening instrumental intro on The Gulag Orkestar to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. This is with good reason because Jeremy Barnes from Neutral Milk Hotel and Hawk and a Hacksaw adds additional percussion and accordion to this album. However, Zach Condon essentially created this masterpiece of beauty on his own by playing nearly all of the instruments on the record. It creates the illusion that you are listening to a 20 piece marching band from Slovakia who have had one too many at the local pub, when really it's just Zach and a few assorted friends. Fans of Fanfare Ciocarlia and Gogol Bordello will absolutely love this record.
















Beirut- The Gulag Orkestar and Bratislava


10) Jolie Holland- Springtime Can Kill You- This time around the music has a more jazzy and breezy sunny afternoon vibe, but the lyrics still conjure up memories of hanging out with drunken friends and spending sleepless summer nights alone. Jolie has a way with phrasing words with a backwoods southern warble that reminds you of Karen Dalton or a folksy Billie Holiday. Springtime Can Kill You features shuffling drums, jazz-inflected vocals and an affecting whistle on the bridge. Ghostly Girl showcases Jolie's dynamic range with a truly haunting soprano vocal during the first minute of the song. The subtle nuances of lapsteel guitar on Stubborn Beast give the tune a down-home country feel with seductive vocals. Overall, this record sounds more mellow than Escondida, but it's songs explore themes of darkness and desparation which conjure up images of lost souls sipping moonshine on the back porch or just reflecting about the day.

















Jolie Holland- Springtime Can Kill You, Stubborn Beast and Ghostly Girl


11) Built to Spill- You In Reverse- Boise Idaho's Built To Spill has finally graced the world with it's latest barnstormer of an album. Going Against Your Mind comes right out the gate with a propulsive drum beat that segues into a series of infectious guitar riffs that are layered meticulously by Brett Netson, Doug Martsch and Jim Roth. This song is epic and grand in every stretch of the imagination. It ebbs and flows like ocean waves crashing onto the shore, calming to a hush and then rebuilding its intensity in the climax. Just a Habit starts out calmly with a plaintive vocal and a mellow backdrop of acoustic guitar and percussion, but halfway through the song Doug Martsch explodes into a guitar shredding solo that is beyond words. Then, the song builds intensity for another mind-melting guitar solo while a bouncy bassline carries the song along to its ending. These two songs alone are worth the price of admission.

















Built to Spill- Goin' Against Your Mind and Just a Habit


12) Alela Diane- The Pirate's Gospel- Alela Diane is a recent Portland, OR transplant from Nevada City, CA whose brand of backwoods campfire folk is highly influenced by Jolie Holland, Karen Dalton and Josephine Foster. She has complete control over her sensual and powerful voice and unleashes some of the best melodies these ears have ever heard. Tatted Lace is actually not on this album, but I love the yodeling chorus on this one so much that it brings tears to my eyes. Therefore, I have to include it here along with Foreign Tongue from The Pirate's Gospel. Foreign Tongue features majestically soaring vocals as well as the use of a whistling melody for the bridge that is hauntingly effective. Keep an eye out for this girl because she is bound to take the world by storm with her impassioned vocals and thoughtful lyrics.
















Alela Diane- Tatted Lace and Foreign Tongue

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On the 8th Day of Christmas...













Blue Yule

This is the second installment of Christmas goodies for your stocking. I hope you enjoyed the Where Will You Be Christmas Day album that was posted yesterday. I decided to give you a double dose of Christmas goodness today. Blue Yule, which was released by Rhino Records in 1991, is an essential compilation of Blues greats such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker and Big Jack Johnson belting out their Christmas favorites. Blue Yule is one of my favorite Cd's to spin during the Christmas season. It is the Christmas sound spiked with raw, soulful performances from some of the greatest artists in Blues. If you like a little bit more whiskey in your eggnog, then you'll love Blue Yule. Please go here or to your local record store and pick up a copy of this CD.















Christmas Cookin'

The second part of this post is dedicated to "The Incredible Jimmy Smith" and his astonishing Hammond B3 organ playing. Jimmy Smith first released Christmas Cookin' on Verve Records in 1964 on LP. It wasn't until 1992 that this record was reissued by Verve on CD, so those who missed out the first time around could witness the stunning artistry of Jimmy Smith.

Christmas Cookin' is an appropriate title for this record, because once Jimmy gets cookin' there's no stopping him. His amazing Hammond B3 organ solos take each song into another dimension that will delight your ears and captivate your senses. If you like what you hear, please go here to purchase this CD. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

This Time It's Really Christmas
















Where Will You Be Christmas Day?

After working at a record store for four years, you can imagine that I was inundated with non-stop Christmas music during the Christmas season. I really began to despise Christmas for becoming such an over-commercialized event, a "Hallmark Holiday" if you will. That was, until my ears came across this fantastic overview of old-timey blues, jazz, bluegrass and cajun recordings called "Where Will You Be Christmas Day?". This recording was released by the good folks over at Dust to Digital, who are also well known for releasing the definitive gospel box set called "Goodbye Babylon".


"Where Will You Be Christmas Day" is comprised of rare recordings from 1917-1959 that have been digitally remastered from the original 78's. I have been cracking this one out every Christmas since it was released in 2004, and I hear something new and exciting every time. It includes accapella gospel singing, old-timey bluegrass picking, spicy cajun fiddling and incendiary blues.

I'm sure that I am running the risk of having this removed, but I am posting the whole album for your listening enjoyment. However, please consider buying the album from Dust to Digital or from your local independent record store. Spread the gospel if you like what you hear, by leaving a comment and letting me know what you think.

I'll be back with some more Christmas albums in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Comes Early

I know I said that the Evan Parker show would be up in a couple days, but the Christmas season has been kickin' my arse so far. In the meantime, I have been listening to loads of Free Jazz gems that I discovered on Pharaohs Dance, Reality Unit Concepts and Church Number Nine . They have live shows and out-of print records from artists such as Sun Ra, Pharaoh Sanders, Frank Foster and Milford Graves that are free to download for your listening enjoyment. Be sure to check them out as well as Destination Out, which featured a link to an article from the New York Times on the state of Jazz music in the blogosphere.

This article was inspired by a posting made by the pioneering composer and trumpeter Dave Douglas on his label's website, Greenleafmusic. Douglas was essentially challenging writers or lovers of jazz music to create an unbiased overview of jazz music from 1973-1990. Eventually, Ethan Iverson, the pianist from the Bad Plus, responded to this challenge by making a post on his blog containing a subjective five-thousand word overview of his favorite jazz records from this period. While this wasn't exactly what Douglas had in mind, it spawned a resurgence in the interest of Jazz, as several more lists appeared within the week. Message boards were flooded with Jazz aficionados quoting favorites from their lists, and so it seems that Dave Douglas and Ethan Iverson have single-handedly spearheaded a new Jazz movement. You are bound to find something on these lists that you have never discovered before in the world of jazz.




Evan Parker- Live at the 411 Club


































Ladies and gentlemen can I please have your undivided attention. It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I present to you the only known copy of this live performance from Evan Parker at the 411 Club in Portland, OR. I know it's very rare, because I recorded it with my mini-disc player on May 13, 2003. I have been searching extensively on the web for any useful information on this performance, such as a review or set list. However, I have found not one shred of info that is pertinent to this specific performance. So, unfortunately, I don't know the names of these songs. What I do know is that the group consisted of Evan Parker on saxophones, Alexander Von Schlippenbach on piano and Paul Lytton on percussion, and that the crowd was so quiet while the group was playing that you could hear a pin drop. I believe they played a couple of Thelonious Monk covers, but other than that, it's a mystery to me. If there are any Evan Parker aficionados that know the names of these songs, please let me know.


The 411 Club was the perfect venue to experience the power and majesty of the truly awe-inspiring free jazz improvisation of the Evan Parker Trio. The venue was basically a small warehouse with worn out floors and holes in the wall, but the acoustics in there were simply astounding. The reason I say was, is because the club is no longer putting on shows. This is a sad thing since it was one of the only venues to see live jazz improvisation performances in Portland.



I'm not going to say much about the actual performance, because it is beyond words or descriptions. You just need to download the show and experience the mastery of Evan Parker's circular breathing technique which allows him to perform lengthy, spiraling saxophone solos without seemingly taking a breath. During Evan's circular breathing saxophone solo, I felt like I had never heard anything like it in my entire life. It sounded like a flurry of birds singing at different pitches, producing an unholy combination of dissonance and beauty.

Here's what Wikipedia has to say about circular breathing:


Circular breathing is a special technique utilized by players of some wind instruments used to produce a continuous tone without break, accomplished by the use of the cheeks as a reservoir of air while breathing through the nose rather than the mouth. The technique is used extensively in the playing of the Australian didgeridoo, the Sardinian launeddas and Egyptian arghul, as well as many traditional oboes and flutes of Asia and the Middle East. A few jazz and classical wind players also utilize some form of circular breathing.
Here is the show in 2 zip files with a scan of the booklet and a concert poster that I swiped off the door of the venue. You will need to download WinRar to unzip the downloaded files.

I am really interested in what you think about this one. Please leave a comment on the site!

Live at 411 Club- Portland Oregon
If you are interested in downloading this concert please follow these links:

Part 1
Part 2

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ask and Ye Shall Receive
















One of my loyal visitors asked me if I could post some Chico Magnetic Band sometime. Your time has come my friend. If I had to throw in my two cents on this one, I would say that it is a wild excursion through a drug-hazed psychedelic nightmare that features unintelligible multilingual lyrics, acid-rock guitar freakouts, metronomic space-rock and a dead-on cover of "Crosstown Traffic". I first heard of Chico Magnetic Band about a month ago when I visited the incredibly informative Lost in Tyme blog. This blog features an endless selection of psych-rock, blues, folk and garage rock albums that are all available to download via Rapidshare. It seems like the link is still working for the Chico Magnetic Band, so go check it out!

Addendum:

This link for Chico Magnetic Band was no longer active on Lost In Tyme, so I have re-upped it here.

Here is an excerpt from the Lost In Tyme description of the Chico Magnetic Band.

EVEN THOUGH THIS ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT and overwhelming album is but a half an hour in length, it is so chock full o’ balls and amazing riffs that consistently making all the right moves at the right times it’s downright scary and seems twice the length due to its raging density of vision. Given that (and that fact it seems almost entirely culled from moments from only the top tier fab waxings in my collection) it also seems far longer than THAT because everything on it counts SO BAD it lights a fire in my head, creates a fevered dickswell and comes close to bursting my heart every time I spin it.Why? Put it simply, this freakin’ album has EVERYTHING. And by that I mean it draws from elements of approaches set down by “Phallus Dei”-era Amon Düül Zwei, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Silberbart, Straight-era Alice Cooper, Can, Guru Guru, Groundhogs, Speed Glue & Shinki, Led Zeppelin, Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, Tiger B. Smith and “Free Your Mind”-period Funkadelic (so help me Eddie) and are seamlessly wedged into one album.

But don't take our word for it, give it a listen yourself!
I'll be back soon with the Evan Parker Live at the 411 Club for your listening pleasure.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sonic Bootleg Continued


Well as promised here is the second part of the Sonic Youth show at the Crystal Ballroom. Crystal Ballroom is a hit-or-miss venue for sound, but I recorded this one pretty close to the front at the left side of the stage. Hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.
On to other things:
In my endless search for new music, I have encountered some of the most amazing blogs that deserve some mention here. Some of them are on my Blogroll and others will be on there when I get a chance to add them. I will give you a brief description of what they feature, so you have a pretty decent idea whether or not you'll be into them.
Palestinian Light Orchestra- This eclectic blog features full album downloads of mainly rare or out-of-print records such as 60's Psych Rock, Free Jazz, offbeat novelty records and whatever else they deem as interesting. They have recently featured Sun City Girls, Fred Lane, Patty Waters, The Godz and Wild Man Fischer. Check it out for a true mind-bending experience!
Magic of Juju- Tons of great stuff on this one. Mainly private-press limited editions and lots of underappreciated gems of Arabian, Indian, African and Moroccan origin . I downloaded a bunch of music from an Arabian wedding on here that is one of the most amazing things I've ever heard. They even have some bluegrass, country and rock stuff on here too. Highly recommended site!
Ear Fuzz- I have been regularly visiting this site as they have several contributors who update often. Its bread and butter is soul, hip-hop and jazz, but they also throw in a little library music, psych rock and international. Their posts are concise and to the point, so that you can get right to the goods with a good idea of what you're downloading. Usually they feature a couple songs on each post. Great way to start off your day, with a few pumping tracks to get you moving and grooving. Recommended especially to funk and soul enthusiasts!
Grown So Ugly- Mainly obscure out-of-print folk, psych and prog on this one. Great breadth of downloads featuring gentle folk, prog-folk, psych, rare bluegrass, etc. Most of the stuff on here was completely new to me. Absolutely Recommended!
Nothing Is- Free Jazz junkies will definitely get their fix on this one. I found some rare Milford Graves, Marion Brown and Sunny Murray on here that will blow your mind. Most of these are ripped from vinyl, so that means you will get some popping and cracking. However, most of these albums haven't been reissued yet, and they are extremely hard to find if they have been reissued. I couldn't recommend this site enough. Full album downloads of Free Jazz in all its glory.
Well that's all for now. Please visit these sites for some true gems. I will be back soon with an Evan Parker 2003 live show in Portland that many of my friends think to be one of the best live recordings out there.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sonic Bootleg














First, I have been retooling the blog to be easier on the eyes, so let me know what you think. Yesterday I couldn't publish this post due to Blogger having issues again. This service has really been pissing me off lately, but I guess you get what you pay for.

Second, I really would appreciate it if you guys would leave a comment, instead of doing the download-and-run routine. I spend a lot of time making this a blog that everyone will hopefully enjoy and appreciate, and all I ask for in return is a little bit of feedback. Tell me what you like, what you don't like, what you think would make it better, etc.

Well enough of that, let's get onto the music.

About 4 years ago, I waited in line for an hour-and-a-half to see one of my favorite indie-rock bands play an in-store at Music Millennium. They were touring in support of their new album called Murray Street for approximately 350 ecastatic hardcore fans frothing at the mouth. The band did not disappoint at all, despite playing strictly from Murray Street. I won't give you a play-by-play on this one, because my memory is a little fuzzy and I'm tired as hell. However, I had the luxury of recording the show on minidisc, and I have to say it's one of my better sounding shows.

The first five songs in the zip file are from the Music Millennium show on 8-29-02 and the rest are from the first half of the Crystal Ballroom show on 8-30-02. I have included the setlists from both shows and the cd cover in the Zip file. I will be uploading part 2 of this show within the next couple days. So give it a listen, and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Junkies on the Run

This week I have been inspired to create a mix that matches the winter landscape of the dreary Pacific Northwest. This is due partly to my moods being affected by several days of continuously dismal weather, and partly because I have been listening to the Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour show on XM radio. If you haven't heard this show yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. Bob has an extensive knowledge of music and he focuses on a different theme each week. Thus far, he has covered themes such as flowers, food, jail and weather in his mixes. Here is a link to a site that offers them all for free download.













My theme today is on the drug heroin. We all know that heroin has played a significant part in destroying the lives of many talented musicians such as Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Kurt Cobain and Miles Davis. It hooks you, reels you in and then spits you back out into your own personal hell, fending for yourself in the darkened corners of your mind. Heroin has also served as the spark which inspired these iconoclastic figures to create such amazing work. I'm not condoning the use of heroin or suggesting that anyone should try it. I'm merely stating that a lot of the most mind-bendingly amazing work has come from artists who were hooked on drugs like heroin. That which inspires isn't always the best thing for us.

Here is a medley of songs in the spirit of Bob Dylan's Them Time Radio Hour dealing with the theme of heroin.
Champion Jack Dupree- Junker Blues
Velvet Underground- Heroin

Elliott Smith- Needle in the Hay

Jolie Holland- Old Fashioned Morphine

Gun Club- She's Like Heroin to Me

Sunday, November 19, 2006

It Came From Memphis Part 4

I sincerely apologize to those dedicated visitors to my blog for not updating this over the past week. I am using Blogger Beta, and it is having issues with text and picture placement. Also, Blogger seems to be down a lot for maintenance lately. So, if the text and spacing don't seem to look right on the page, it's because Blogger isn't displaying it properly. If anyone has any ideas about switching to another free blog service that works better, I'm all ears. Well, enough about that! Let's get on to the final installment of the It Came From Memphis series.

The Box Tops














The Box Tops: The Letter and I Must Be the DevilI Must From: The Best of the Box Tops: Soul Deep [Arista, 1996]
Alex Chilton first struck an emotional chord with the nation after receiving critical acclaim for the Box Top's first single "The Letter" in 1967. "The Letter", produced and written by Dan Penn, became one of the highest-selling records of 1967. However, Chilton was only 16 years old when it was released, and he wasn't mentally prepared to cope with the overnight success and adulation that the Box Tops received. Session musicians were often replacing his original band in the studio, and he had little control over the music that the Box Tops released. Over the next couple years, Chilton was growing disheartened about not being able to write his own songs and he disliked the material that was handed to him by Dan Penn and other songwriters. He felt that he was merely a puppet and the music industry was pulling the strings. In 1970, at the age of 19, Chilton abruptly decided to quit the Box Tops to pursue his own creative interests as a solo artist and musician in Manhattan.


ROCK CITY
















From: S/T [ Lucky Seven Records, 2003]

While Chilton was honing his skills in Manhattan coffehouses, Chris Bell became the guitar player and background vocalist in a band called Rock City. The band named themselves after a tourist attraction in east Tennessee whose advertising on barn roofs read"SEE ROCK CITY". Despite this clever promotional move, the band was never recognized as a live act. Instead, they were essentially a studio band with a penchant for writing bittersweet love songs. Rock City was comprised of Tom Eubanks on lead vocals, Chris Bell on guitar and vocals, Jody Stephens on drums, Andy Hummell on bass and Terry Manning on keyboards. After Rock City, the band morphed into Ice Water and wrote a song called Feel with Bell on vocals. This song would later appear as the opening track on #1 Record. My Life Is Right and Try Again would also appear on Big Star's #1 Record, with Chilton assuming the lead singer role instead of Thomas Eubanks. Bell even asked Eubanks if he could take his name off the song credits for My Life Is Right and put Chilton's on it, because he wanted them to read "Bell, Chilton". Of course, Eubanks refused and and his name remains on there to this day.
Unfortunately, the eleven tracks culled from these sessions didn't receive a proper release when they were recorded in 1969. Instead, these tracks gathered dust in a tape storage facility in Memphis until they were recently unearthed and released on Lucky Seven Records in 2003.

BIG STAR













From: #1 Record [Ardent, 1972]
From: Radio City [Ardent, 1974]

Chilton and Bell grew up together in Memphis and played in a band called the Jinx in their early teens. However, they didn't cross paths again musically until the day Chilton stopped by Ardent studio on a weekend trip from Manhattan. Bell was working on Rock City tracks at the studio and Chilton was extremely impressed with the songs he heard. Chilton shared material that he was working on with Bell and moved back to Memphis when he realized the potential of writing songs with Bell and starting a rock-n-roll band. The two of them along with Jody Stephens and Andy Hummell formed Big Star in 1971. The band was close to being named Sweden Kreme (the fast food restaurant right next to the grocery chain called Big Star) but they chose Big Star instead. Who knows? With a catchy name like Sweden Kreme, Big Star could have been the next best thing. However, this was not to be.
#1 Record
#1 Record was originally released in 1972 on Ardent, but it got lost in the shuffle due to a distribution snafu between Stax and Columbia Records. It was a critically acclaimed commercial failure, much to the chagrin of everyone who put so much time and effort into the record. However, from the unforgettable opening chords of Feel, you know this record is something special. Chilton's strained high-pitch vocals on the first verse recall Robert Plant on Communication Breakdown. The first verse immediately leads into a perfect multi-part harmony bridge from Chilton and Bell. Then, Chilton heats it up with a stunning guitar solo which then leads into an ecstatic mix of Stax-memphis horns and electric piano. The tempo increases in the last twenty-four seconds of the song as cascading guitars and a springy bassline bring it to a close. Thirteen alone has inspired many singer-songwriters from the past 30 years to pick up a guitar and play with their heart. Gentle acoustic guitars and heartfelt melodic vocals make this a truly gorgeous song. My Life Is Right conjures up fond memories of spending summer days with the girl that made you feel right inside. It's anthemic chorus, enthusiastic cymbal splashes and hooky counter-melodies make this song a crowd pleaser. I could obviously go on and on about this record, but please go out and buy this record to hear it for yourself.
Radio City
Chris Bell felt much animosity towards Stax and Columbia for letting the ball drop on their debut album, and started to hit rock bottom emotionally. He quit Big Star after the first record, but, the rest of the band continued on as Big Star due to Ardent publicist John King. King persuaded Big Star into playing this huge show at Lafayette's Music Room promoting Ardent Records. Fortunately, the band received such an amazing response from the crowd that it convinced them to record a second album.

Radio City was the title of the second album, and it featured some of the band's most raucous and upbeat material to date. Chilton and Bell had collaborated on several songs that appear on Radio City, and Bell's background vocals and guitar playing lend a fuller sound to these tracks. O' My Soul starts things off at a sprint, with a funky drum break, stinging guitars and soulful, high-pitched vocals. The album continues at a steady clip with the inspired melodic genius of Chilton pushing each song toward greater heights. Highlights include "Mod Lang", with its Marc Bolan inspired Glam sound, "Back of a Car" with one of the most impressive pop choruses ever recorded and "September Gurls" the song that inspired R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet and countless others to start bands. Big Star's first two records, #1 Record and Radio City, have been reissued as a two-fer on Fantasy in 1992.

Big Star's swan song was entitled 3rd/Sister Lovers, however it was essentially an Alex Chilton solo album with the Big Star moniker. The Sister Lovers part of the title was chosen because Chilton and Jody Stephens were dating sisters at the time. It was a painful, depressing and tumultuous time in Chilton's life and he expressed this turmoil through the songs on this record. John Fry, the engineer of 3rd/Sister Lovers, describes the process of recording this album as "a very unhappy sort of thing". Jim Dickinson, the producer of 3rd/Sister Lovers calls it "a catharsis, a series of very diffeent emotional responses that Alex was having". There are some of the upbeat numbers that Big Star is known for such as "Kizza Me" and "O' Dana", but the underlying pain that Chilton was going through is apparent throughout the album. This is the sound of a man calling to his audience from the bottom of a shot glass, praying for a reason to carry on. 3rd/Sister Lovers has been released three times with different song sequences. Its most current release was on Rykodisc in 1992. This closes the chapter on the original Big Star, but the band would receive a cult following nearly 25 years later, spawning a new album and reunion tour with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies.
Alex Chilton


From: Like Flies on Sherbert [Peabody, 1979]
According to Chilton, Like Flies on Sherbert was a "positive statement about a period in my life that wasn't positive". Chilton began working on Like Flies on Sherbert in 1978 at Phillips studio. He collaborated with Jim Dickinson, Sid Selvidge, Lee Baker and Richard Rosebrough to achieve the album's raw live sound. Like Flies on Sherbert was recorded over three nights in 1978, mixed for six months and received a small pressing of 500 copies on Sid Selvidge's Peabody label in 1979.
Like Flies on Sherbert has mostly been written off as being a cacophonous, sloppy mess of ideas signifying the downfall of a once great talent in Chilton. However, the opening track "Baron of Love Part II" starts out at 90 miles an hour on a dark highway with it's sped up and amplified "One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer" guitars and propulsive drumming . This track alone has inspired Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, RL Burnside, The Oblivians, Flat Duo Jets, etc. The rest of the album continues with a raw, spontaneous and nervous energy. Songs have false starts, weird sound effects and laughter with other banter is left in to preserve the live feeling. Jim Dickinson's production captures all of this in it's full naked glory. This album is definitely not for everyone, but it is a must for Alex Chilton completists and curious music lovers. Chilton has gone on to have a semi-successful career as a solo artist releasing eight albums since 1979. However, Like Flies on Sherbert is the defining statement of many years of frustration and dissatisfaction with the record industry.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It Came From Memphis Part 3




















Moloch, a pioneering Memphis blues-rock band led by the exceptional guitar player Lee Baker, released its sole album at Ardent on National in 1970. They promoted the release of this album by playing a show with punk stalwarts Iggy Pop and Mc5 at the New York State Pavilion. However, their sound is purely 12 bar-blues with delta slide guitar, harmonica, frenzied guitar solos and tight drumming. Moloch was highly influenced by Blue Cheer, Hendrix, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Faces and countless other blues-influenced 60's rock groups . Unfortunately, the band's sound never caught on, and they didn't receive the acclaim that was due to them. Lee Baker went on to produce and play guitar on Alex Chilton's highly underrated album Like Flies on Sherbert and Big Star's swan song Big Star 3rd.

Moloch's only record is out of print, but it is available as an import here. That being said, this is the best place to witness the stunning guitar artistry of Lee Baker, outside of his contributions on the aforementioned Like Flies on Sherbert and Big Star 3rd. The album has an up-front and cleanly produced sound, but without all of the nasty compression usually added to contemporary music. Lee's guitar playing is phenomenal, the rhythm section is tight and funky and the organ playing is incendiary. Moloch achieves an eclectic mix of styles that serves as the bridge from delta blues to heavy metal. If you like what you hear, let me know, and I will post the rest of the album.

Moloch: Maverick Woman Blues, Gone Too Long(Featuring Johnny Woods),She Looks Like an Angel, I Can Think the Same As You and Goin' Down
From: Moloch [National 1970]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

It Came From Memphis- Part 2



















The Insect Trust: Special Rider Blues
From: The Insect Trust [Capitol Records, 1968]

The Insect Trust: Our Sister the Sun
From: Hoboken Saturday Night [ ATCO Records, 1970]

For this segment of the Memphis post, I will focus on the incredibly eclectic folk-blues-jazz collective known as The Insect Trust. Their name came from a local poetry journal called the Insect Trust Gazette which was derived from the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. The backbone of the band was formed in Memphis in 1966 as a trio called The Solips, which featured Nancy Jeffries on electric bass and vocals, Robert Palmer on alto sax and recorder and Bill Barth on guitar. The Insect Trust was born in New York in 1967 and was comprised of Robert Palmer (the popular rock critic with Rolling Stone and New York Times) on alto sax, clarinet and recorder, Nancy Jeffries on vocals (the vocalist for Peter Stampfel's Swamp Lillies before the Holy Modal Rounders became a functional unit), Luke Faust on banjo-guitar, banjo and vocals, Trevor Koehler on baritone sax, piccolo, thumb piano and upright bass, Bill Barth on electric, acoustic and bottleneck slide. Highly tauted session players rounded out the rest of the lineup on bass, drums and strings.























The sound of The Insect Trust's self-titled debut album on Capitol runs the gamut from country blues, ragtime, free jazz, New Orleans gumbo folk and 60's psychedelia. One of the highlights on this album is their version of Elmore James's "Special Rider Blues", which came about when the band was jamming country blues tunes in unusual modal tunings and time signatures. The result sounds like a cross pollination of country blues, soulful free jazz and electric guitar rock. It begins with a faint vocal sung over acoustic guitar for the first 1:19 and then the rest of the band chimes in with shuffling drums, wicked slide guitar and punchy horns. Nancy Jeffries, whose vocals recall Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane crossed with the folk stylings of Joan Baez, give the song a calm feeling until about the 3:30 minute mark. At this point, the discordant slide guitar playing goes on for 30 seconds and gives way to soulful horns reminiscent of the Stax sound. The horns lead right into a blistering guitar solo from Bill Barth that leads to another awe-inspiring alto sax solo from Robert Palmer that could stand up to Ayler or Coltrane on any given day. Then, Nancy comes back in for one last verse before the song comes to a close. This is only one track on an obscure classic that had been out of print for awhile, but has recently been reissued on CD and can be found here.




















The second The Insect Trust album was released in 1970 on ATCO records. It was called Hoboken Saturday Night and featured Elvin Jones on drums as well as jazz guitarist Hugh McCracken. I think I will leave the explanation of this album to Robert Christgau (renowned music journalist and critic for Spin, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice) who wrote the liner notes to Hoboken Saturday Night. The track I am featuring is called "Our Sister the Sun" which evokes images of mysticism, darkness, happiness and faith. Nancy Jeffries channels Grace Slick via Surrealistic Pillow, with jazzy drums, soothing alto sax and lightly strummed guitar complementing the subtle nuances of her voice. Chiming flutes and a loping bassline fill out the sound as the upbeat sax playing punctuates the happiness of the song. This leads up to the climax of the song where Nancy sings a melodic chorus of la-la-la's while Robert Palmer simultaneously let's loose with a jarring alto sax solo. The juxtaposition of the two extremes at the same time is astonishing. If you are interested in purchasing Hoboken Saturday Night, it can be found here.

I was really blown away by the Insect Trust when I first heard them, and both of these albums truly stand the test of time. Please take the time to leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It Came From Memphis

I just finished reading an amazing novel by Robert Gordon called It Came From Memphis. It is a raw, unadulterated account of how the southern white and black cultures in Memphis circa 1950's meshed to create passionate, free-spirited art that inspired legions of like-minded artistic geniuses. Consummate delta musicians such as Furry Lewis, Johnny Woods and Aretha Franklin joined forces with the maverick recording engineers of the day, such as Jim Dickinson, John Fry, Sam Phillips and Don Nix, to produce some of the greatest musical treasures ever pressed on wax. Since reading this book, I have been inspired to research the myriad of producers, musicians, deejays and other eccentric folks who made Memphis such a special place. Here is the first entry in this series of obscure and eccentric musicians who came from Memphis.

Tav Falco & the Panther Burns: Bourgeois Blues
From: Behind the Magnolia Curtain [Rough Trade, 1981]
Tav Falco & the Panther Burns: Drop the Mask
From: Drop Your Mask 7" [New Rose, 1987]












Gus Nelson, an early member of the Memphis Dream Carnival's theater troupe, was first introduced to the world as his alter ego- Tav Falco during the show dubbed as The Tennessee Waltz. He asked Jim Dickinson if he could perform a song in between sets, and the music he played could best be described as primal rockabilly country blues. He played the old Leadbelly standard Beourgeois Blues, but he started blowing a police whistle in the middle of the song, laid the guitar down between two stools and started ripping into the guitar with the chainsaw like a wild banshee on crack. The crowd was in utter chaos, screaming and carrying on like they had just experienced sheer terror. One person in the crowd was particularly impressed with Tav's performance. It turned out to be Alex Chilton, the lead singer and songwriter of Big Star, who was in attendance and liked what he witnessed. Chilton approached Tav about starting a band, and Tav Falco and the Panther Burns was born. The Panther Burns name was taken from a legendary plantation in the Mississippi delta.

This psychobilly style is an amalgamation of delta-blues standards mixed with
The Cramps' macabre sense of humor and the hiccup-style rockabilly vocals of Charlie Feathers. This was the world's introduction to the unpredictable sounds and antics of Tav Falco, but he continues to release awe-inspiring rockabilly punk albums 28 years after the bands inception. I am featuring the studio version of the track called Bourgeois Blues which can be found on Tav's 1981 debut entitled Behind the Magnolia Curtain. I am also featuring a track called Drop Your Mask which can be found on the Drop your Mask 7 inch. You can buy Behind the Magnolia Curtain online by following the link. The 7" is out-of-print, but you can find a live version of Drop Your Mask on Midnight in Memphis and a newer version on Deep in the Shadows. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

It's Been a Long Time...

























The Oblivians- Guitar Shop Asshole and Do the Milkshake
From: Popular Favorites [Crypt Records 1996]

Short, furious blasts of distorted, amped-up three chord lightning. Alcohol-fueled reckless abandon. This is what's missing from the Rock-n-Roll of today. Too much time is being wasted on multi-million dollar record deals and talentless hacks who parade across our televisions every night, claiming to be the next best thing. I implore you to forget about the next best thing, and instead listen to the sleazy, balls-out rockin' sounds of the
Oblivians.

The
Oblivians are from Memphis, Tennesee, the city which spawned Mud Boy and the Neutrons, The Mar Keys, Moloch, Furry Lewis, Johnny Woods and countless others. It's no wonder that this talented three-piece garage-rock group was spawned from such a musically diverse and free-thinking place like Memphis. The Oblivians sound is a trebly, lo-fi super-charged garage rock full of gruff vocals and lyrics about sex, drugs and well... Doin the milkshake. They recall the most intensely rockin' moments of The Stooges, The Sonics, The Cows and Jesus Lizard, while no doubt influencing the sound of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, who in turn influenced the sound of RL Burnside's album "Ass Pocket of Whiskey".

I have been listening to Popular Favorites in may car for the past three weeks and can't get these songs out of my head. It's really difficult for me to pick a couple songs from this record, as the whole thing is great. However, I really like "Guitar Shop Asshole" with it's hilarious bit where a customer goes into the guitar shop and says "I'd like to buy one guitar string and your cheapest picks" . The guitar shop worker replies with "Man you must really be frustrated, All that hair coverin' up your neck, I say you can go to heck". "Guitar Shop Asshole" features overloaded amp distortion, hyper-speed three chord guitar riffing and maniacally, gruff vocals that all go by in under two minutes. The next track is called "Do the Milkshake" and it is the only song on the album that breaks the five minute mark. It is easily the most bluesy on the record and features a stinging guitar tone that recalls
Ike Turner's old sides on Ace Records. You would never guess that the racket these guys create on "Do the Milkshake" is done by a three-piece. Enjoy, and please let me know what you think by adding a comment.

Monday, October 30, 2006

All Hallows Eve



















I came up with some non-traditional Halloween songs for this post. These songs are all made by artists who aren't typically known for crafting spooky music, but they still evoke the Halloween spirit.



Lenny Bruce: My Werewolf Mama












This is an extremely rare track featuring Lenny Bruce on vocals, sounding like a demented cross between Screaming Jay Hawkins and Tom Waits. It features such fiendish lyrics as "Bite me on the neck- I said bite me on the neck- When you stop bitin' I'll be a total wreck- You're my werewolf mama- freaky as you can be" This should start your Halloween off on the right foot.


Dean Gitter: The Reaper's Ghost



















I don't know much about Dean Gitter, but I spotted this track on the absolutely incredible Scar Stuff site. Eerie thoughts enter your mind when lyrics like "The reaper crossed the hayfield as sets the blood-red sun" are sung over a delicately strummed acoustic guitar. Here is a link to his post on this album. The site is comprised of many rare and out-of-print Halloween albums archived in Zip file format for your downloading pleasure. Check it out for a true Halloween experience!






Jandek: What Can I Say, What Can I sing?











While this track doesn't have anything to do with Halloween, ghosts are lurking in every pluck of the strings. Jandek evokes a detached spirit as he moans over repetitive minor-key guitar chords that never seem to end. This track is for people who want to hear a raw and unproduced obscure musical visionary. If you want to find out more info about Jandek, he has an official website called Guide to Jandek.

Quixotic: Open Up the Walls














Of the artists featured today, Quixotic is the only group that has a Halloween-ish sound. This song reminds one of evil witches casting magical spells on their unsuspecting victims. With lyrics like Before the hours of the night are slipping into daylight- do you notice is something not right? The snaking guitar chords and shuffling drums provide a dark and eerie backdrop for Christina Billotte's wonderfully haunting vocals. Absolutely enticing.