Sunday, October 30, 2011

I've got a few spare minutes, so let's see what's been floatin' my boat in these neck 'o the woods of late. The above box is one which is high on the list. I must admit - hell, I will admit - that the name Mickey Newbury didn't register in my mind until a few months ago when this 4CD box set was thrust in my paws by a colleague w/ the strict instructions that I must digest, toot sweet. Such a confession is one I'm not proud of, and in retrospect it's odd that I'd never come across his wares, considering my fandom for his contemporaries (Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Waylon Jennings), but here we are and that's the story. Newbury was a Texan-born singer-songwriter - one most famous for his songs which were made into hits by others - who made a big splash in the Nashville/Acuff-Rose scene in the '60s and perhaps an even bigger splash in the burgeoning outlaw country music crew of the 1970s. Those who've covered his songs range from the good to the bad to the ugly (from Joan Baez and Tom Jones through to Kenny Rogers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe, Bobby Bland, Willie Nelson... the list goes on) and right on through to The King himself. You can compare the two versions of his most famous song, "American Trilogy", below. Newbury's is quiet and delicate - a ballad supreme - whilst Elvis' is a blustery showtune spat out with pure spirit wrapped up in a glittery suit complete w/ karate kicks. I'm prone to dismissing Elvis as a monumentally over-rated dunce who landed himself in history at just the right time and place - hell, why would you listen to Elvis when there's Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard? (and don't even get me started on the genius of Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris et al) - a man whose tastelessness knew no bounds, and then I see a clip like the one below and am struck by the man's godlike stage presence. His rendition has an extra coating of cheese, but by golly, that's no reason not to like it. Both versions possess their own unique sense of beauty, and for very different reasons. But that's enough about Elvis. Newbury released 3 LPs between the years 1969 - 1973: Looks Like Rain, 'Frisco Mabel Joy and Heaven Help The Child on the Mercury and Elektra labels. They're collected here on this deluxe box set - designed and put together by the folks who designed the similarly lavish Charley Patton and Albert Ayler sets for Revenant, so you know it looks nice - put out by the UK impint, Saint Cecelia Knows. The LPs have also been reissued individually in the US by the Drag City label. There's also a 4th CD in this set which puts together demos, a radio session from 1970 and publishing-company demos of Newbury songs made famous by Roy Orbison, Ray Charles and others. The collection of music contained within the four discs features some of the most stunning examples of pure songcraft I've had the pleasure of hearing since Townes Van Zandt blew the lid off my head w/ his debut back in the late '90s (I was late to the game then; I guess I continue to be). Newbury's delivery and song style isn't far removed from Van Zandt... in fact their style is so close at times that I could mistake one for the other, although Van Zandt's has a heavier country/folk bent, whereas Newbury mixed his w/ a more Tin Pan Alley Nashville sound, one leaning towards the Jimmy Webb school of slick, urban countrified sonics (not a bad thing). Newbury released a few more discs after these, though was largely musically inactive from the 1980s until his death in 2002. Any songwriter you'd give a damn about in this lifetime owes him a debt, and some of them give their due in the liner notes. The power of his songs are immense, w/ subtle changes of mood which power them along w/ an emotional gravitas like few others. Note the shift in key after the first chorus run on "American Trilogy": it moves the heart and loins. There are many other songs present here which similarly achieve such an aim ("Write A Song A Song/Angeline", the first song on the set is a definite contender for his greatest piece of music), and over time I'm sure I'll discover more. The packaging is incredible (there's now a cheaper, less deluxe edition available - actually the one I own - with the kind of design/layout which still shames most others), the music unbeatable and for me it gets my vote as one of the best reissues of 2011. You. Need. It.

The Washington DC band known as Lungfish are one I've been meaning to give the obligatory props to the past 6 months, and now I shall finally, if perhaps too briefly, fulfill my promise. They're a band who've been on my musical radar for over 20 years but one whom I'd never taken the time to actually listen to until roughly a year ago (despite the urgings of several friends who've been committed fans since their early recordings). They have 11 full-length recordings released on the Dischord label, and for now the band remains on hiatus as members pursue other projects. One of these is guitarist Asa Osborne's Zomes project (whose latest recording on the Thrill Jockey label I reviewed earlier in the year), a kind of basement electronics gig somewhere in the Suicide/Cabaret Voltaire realm, as well as main man Daniel Higgs' various musical outings. Higgs is also well known as a tattooist in great demand (he himself is heavily inked, and combine that w/ a beard of great girth and he cuts quite a striking figure), and his eccentric musical outings outside of the Lungfish brand are well worth investigating. He cut a great, rustic, Sandy Bull/John Fahey-ish LP on the Holy Mountain label a few years back, and his double LP, Say God, released again on the Thrill Jockey label last year, is a recording of great weirdness and beauty, the kind of disc whose peculiarities (it's essentially Higgs yelping out his poetry to the minimal backing of a harmonium and little else) tests the listener, but for those who are up to the test, great rewards can abound. But Lungfish are something different. They could be pegged as being a post-HC DC band of the Dischord mold, but I think they're a whole lot better than that. Higgs cut his teeth in '80s HC unit, Reptile House, and the band occasional deliver w/ the ferocity of their punker past, though the musical pace is rarely, if ever, raised above the medium level. One observation many make of the band is this: every album they've made sounds the same; nearly every song sounds the same; essentially, they've been remaking the same album over and over for 20 years. Such observations are correct, but it's a hell of a formula. For my money, the music of Lungfish is caught in the nexus of Master Of Reality-period Black Sabbath and Joy Division ca. Unknown Pleasures: that is the musical meeting point. There's the thick fuzz and stoner groove of primo 'Sabbath combined w/ a slightly Angloid post-punk vibe, driven by melodic bass lines and a vocalist purging whatever from his system in the process. And this formula has been repeated over and over throughout the years. It might sound dull, but it ain't. They rarely, if ever, cut loose; their music is meditative, hits a groove and sticks with it. Album after album. Some folks have named it "Zen-punk". That just sounds fucking dumb... so I'll use it, too. I've got 5 or 6 of their discs, and I like 'em all, particularly Pass And Stow (1994), The Unanimous Hour (1999), Necrophones (2000) and Love Is Love (2003). Which doesn't mean it's all great. I have, for instance, listened to 1991's Talking Songs For Walking and really disliked it, its slick, lifeless production made it sound like the kind of dud alt-rock I thought sucked at the time (and indeed, continues to suck). But from what I can gather, that one's an anomaly. The band known as Lungfish have cut a long, strange and unique path w/ their singular vision, a mixture of mid-tempo sludge combined w/ Higgs' spiritual rants, and I for one am glad they made the effort.

Lastly, I present for you something really special. My buddy Richard Stanley alerted me to this gem just the other night, as he proudly showed me his copy of a rare Village People 7" (I don't get to say lines like that often enough). Yep, the Village People. In 1981, they recorded and released a truly embarrassing and strange stab at New Romanticism by the name of Renaissance. Predictably, it tanked. If ever there was a record worth its 20 cents simply for its cover, then Renaissance is it (Google it, and I'm told that the non-US version is the one). I'm also told its stature as a truly craptacular classic now earns it a few dollars more on the collector scene. But I've since discovered that its worth lies beyond the merely ridiculous. It also happens to feature this track, "Food Fight" (more alleged facts: some versions of the LP don't contain the song, and that for some territories it's only featured as a B side to some crap single they released from the album... at this point in time, you really have to ask yourself: do you care?). As a novelty New Wave/punk cash-in track, it's phenomenal: a relentlessly upbeat pop-punk jumper which is possibly better than the 2 or 3 Dickies songs I actually like (the band this track most resembles). I don't get to say this often enough: sit back, press play and enjoy this Village People track.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hello and welcome back to me. I've been away from here for a couple of weeks attending to family matters. Long story and none of your business. In the meantime, I also discovered two things: that I have incurred a massive credit card bill which needs paying off, and that I have a mountain of records, CDs and cassettes in the spare room that haven't even been glanced at in the previous decade. Folks, it's time for a cull. When I announced this to friends recently, they howled in protest that they couldn't believe I was selling all my records. I had to put the story straight: the records I'm selling don't even make a dent in the said mountain of records. Believe me, I have more audio recordings than I could listen to in a lifetime, so some of it has to go. I've got stuff to sell by: Royal Trux, Sun City Girls, Harry Pussy, Dead C., Mike Rep, Screamin' Mee Mees, Alastair Galbraith, Red Krayola, Merzbow, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Anthony Braxton, Derek Bailery, Yma Sumac, Mountain Goats, Unsane, Drunks With Guns, Scratch Acid, Brainbombs (first 3 7"s!), Crass, Grey Wolves, God Bullies, Cows, Sebadoh and many more. Some of these I have duplicates of on other formats (sorry, I go for nice & deluxe CD reissues over original vinyl these days, heathen that I am), some I realised I simply don't like anymore (Brainbombs, Dead C., Mountain Goats, Anthony Braxton's more abstract ventures) and most I simply haven't listened to for about 15 years and don't care all that much about anymore (Sun City Girls, Harry Pussy, Thinking Fellers Union). So, if you're at all interested in some or any of these items, email me at I've almost finished pricing the first batch of 7"s and LPs, and I'll shoot you through a list. Some of these records are pretty damn rare, so don't expect a bargain, but don't expect to pay through your teeth either. I've priced most of them somewhere in the medium range, so far as I see it (going by Gemm, ebay and Popsike rates), as I would actually like to see them sell. Just about every item is in "near mint" condition, too. I look after my stuff, and I expect you to do the same!


If ever you needed proof that the Folkways label stands as one of the greatest imprints of them all, then look no further than the following releases. These titles had, until fairly recently, been out of print for a dog's age (several dogs, in fact); that is, until the Runt label out of San Francisco reissued them in LP form. They've been licensing from the Folkways label a few gems from the vaults, and I'm happy to report that they all hold up to scrutiny.
A friend noted recently that whilst he appreciated Folkways' achievements in documenting the weird, wonderful and unwanted recordings which the majors wouldn't touch w/ a barge pole, he also noted that that didn't necessarily imply that he wanted to listen to a great deal of what they released. Sure, the classic country/folk/blues/world recordings are items you'll give a spin on many an occasion, but the esoteric stuff, the spoken word albums, the sound effects recordings, they're for collectors and hopeless nerds inclined to hauling the ridiculous and unlistenable. Sorry, those last few sentences were a quote from someone else. They're not my words. Whilst I can't say I've given my copies of North American frog sounds or taxi drivers of Ghana and their "honk horn" music a great deal of airtime the past few years, I mighty glad they exist. And for the occasional, sublime listening experience, they will be played. The recordings Runt has chosen to reissue don't all necessarily fall within the absurdist realm of sound, and a couple you might even say are pretty darn accessible in their own way.
The one above was released in 1974 by Bilil Abdurahman East New York Ensemble de Music (yeesh, I shall call them BAENYEDM from now on, if I have to), and it documents a man and ensemble I know nothing about. I do know, however, that it rates as a first-rate '70s Spiritual Jazz disc, one which doesn't stray into the outer zone like some of its contemporaries (Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, et al), but one which never gets too mushy and caught in the New Age, either. Most of it essentially sounds like a mid '60s hard bop/modal jazz disc a la Blue Note w/ a heavy dose of Eastern spiritualism thrown on top. Some of the musicians hailed from the Carribean, and the vibes (as in the instrument, not the feeling) present also lend it that flavour. Abdurahman leads on soprano sax and Korean reeds, and he's backed up by another six players on instruments such as Turkish drum, African Twin-Gong and conga drums; there's four tracks, two of which stretch over the 10-minute mark, and it's cosmic jazz of a very high order. This is my pick of the bunch.

This one came as a surprise. It's entitled Jujus: Alchemy Of The Blues, performed by poet Sarah Webster Fabio w/ music backing by a funky outfit which consisted of several of her sons. Fabio was an academic and Black Power activist, friendly w/ Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and this LP was curiously originally released in 1976, a fairly striking release for a time when America was getting all mellow and about to vote in Carter. Possibly given the limited finances, this possesses none of the sheen which was starting to gloss out the best funksters by the mid '70s, and is a raw, skeletal sound w/ tough rhythms and scratchy guitar licks. Fabio's vocals and poems work to effect, too, the one part of the recording I was fearing would fall flat on its face (possibly sounding too smug or self-righteous, or just plain dated in some of its sentiment). Her words are none of the above, and you can read them in the accompanying booklet. The band rips out an ace James Brown/Last Poets hybrid and her authoritative yet cooly delivered voice makes this one more than a mere curio item. Killer.

This one's a curio, and one I probably won't spin it as much as the others, but I'm glad it was documented at the time and made available once more. It was originally released in 1959 and puts to tape the music of half-a-dozen street-dwelling kids from Harlem - bongos and vocals - all edited together by one E. Richard Sorenson. The record is split into five seperate parts: Percussion Ensembles (bongos, sticks, drums), Rhythms With Voices, Rhythms With Verses, Songs and Rhythmic And Vocal Improvisations Rejecting Personal Experience. Given Folkways' political bent, much of this was, I'm guessing, an attempt to show the blight of the inner city in Amerika, and whilst I'll give props to such swell intentions, I'll give equal props for the fact that a lot of this is highly listenable on a strictly musical level. If you're partial to the exoticism of Ocora's field recordings, then get your head around the bongos & chant mania of this gang who reside a little closer to home. The Last Poets made themselves legends and drug addicts w/ this schtick a decade later. This version sung from the mouths of babes may just be your ticket, too.

And then there's the last one below. The great Michael Hurley is likely known to many of you out there. His catalogue of song - recorded over nearly the past 5 decades - ranks as one of the most erratic, bizarre and brilliant there be. He's an American institution, or at least would be if more than a handful of people had heard of him. I was a big nut for the guy in the latter half of the '90s and still pull such wares from the drawers on a semi-regular occasion. In hindsight, it remains a bizarre yet possibly true fact that for some reason I haven't written about his music once in this blog. Or have I? I'm up somewhere in the 600-mark of entries, so you might have to do my research for me. Back in the '90s, some of his best recordings, such as this Folkways LP from 1964, were completely unavailable to mere mortals and late-comers. I had to make do w/ the more easily-attainable (and equally as good) Rounder recordings and the cassettes which my old UK buddy Richard Mason supplied: he, too, was a mad fan and gave me several original Michael Hurley Fan Club cassette releases. I ain't selling them. In the past few years, I'm pretty sure all his prior hard-to-get titles have been reissued (some by cult nerds Mississippi Records, I believe), and if you're feeling curious, I'd recommend Long Journey and Snockgrass to just about anyone reading this, and most of all I'd recommend 1976's Have Moicy!, Hurley's high point which was recorded w/ his old Greenwich Village freak-folk buddies the (Un)Holy Modal Rounders (so-called due to the absence of member Steve Weber) and others. Heck, even the clueless puds at Rolling Stone gave it props, voting it one of the top 20 releases of the 1970s. It's one of the best party records I own. The record itself sounds like a party, a drunken, rambling one. One in which I would like to attend. It's combination of offbeat humour and rag-tag country/folk/rock/blues rates it as one of the greatest examples of sublime Americana put to tape. It should be held in the same esteem as The Band's early discs or Creedence's finest output, though begging for it to break out of its cult status this late in the game is too much to ask. Hurley's music is not easy to describe. His basic modus operandi isn't a world removed from the likes of Dylan, musically speaking (folk singers caught in the world of rock who still give nods to classic 1930s country-blues), though his lyrics inhabit a seperate universe. They're more Edgar Allen Poe than Woody Guthrie, fused with stories of werewolves and vampires and bizarre imagery, psychedelia w/out the fancy studio trickery. It's a hoot. Now, that brings me to this disc, First Songs, credited to Mike Hurley. It features only Hurley on vocals, guitar and violin. The music is stripped back to the bones (some of these tracks would later surface slightly augmented w/ a backing group on later releases), presenting Hurley and his nonchalant vocals as a voice like no other in his time. This has been out of print forever, and like all these reissues, it comes in a paste-on sleeve just like its original issue, complete w/ inserts. Runt has also reissued on vinyl some excellent Folkways discs by Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb and Elizabeth Cotten - musicians I've written about before on this blog - and if you've got the spare change, you oughta take the plunge on the lot of 'em.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The awesome Melbourne duo, PIVIXKI, whom I released a CD by last year (get it here), will be touring Europe soon w/ another Melbourneite worth checking out, Marco Fusinato. I can seriously vouch that every time I've seen PIVIXKI play live, they have completely and totally knocked the socks right off my feet, which means I'm seriously suggesting that, if you happen to be on the continent, you should take the time out to see them play. They are truly a force of nature. The dates are below...

19/10: FR – Poitiers @ Le Confort Moderne

21/10: BE – Bruxelles @ Ancienne Belgique

22/10: CH – Lausanne @ Lausanne Underground Film Festival

23/10: FR – Fresnes-en-Woevre @ Festival Densites

24/10: FR – Marseille @ L’Embobineuse

25/10: FR – Lyon @ Ground Zero

26/10: FR – Montreuil @ Les Instants Chavires

27/10: IT – Milano @ Leoncavallo

28/10: IT – Massa-Carrara @ Tago Mago

31/10: CH – Geneva @ L’Usine

02/11: DE – Berlin @ Ausland

03/11: AT – Vienna @ Shelter

04/11: SK – Kosice @ Tabacka

06/11: SK – Bratislava @ Melos-Ethos Festival


What happened to the font above? Don't ask. Sometimes you cut & paste and just can't control the outcome. On another note, I'm on a break here for a while. Personal dramas and circumstances will keep me away from here for likely a few weeks, but I will be back...

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Just last week I was telling a couple of work colleagues that I virtually never read any music magazines anymore. The fanzine has just about gone the way of the dinosaur (there are actually a number of Australian fanzines around, though given the fact that they tend to mostly cover both new bands I don't care for or old bands I don't care to read the zillionth article about, I never give them a chance. However, I do find it interesting and encouraging that folks in their early 20s are penning articles and 21st-century appraisals on bands such as Simply Saucer and Von Lmo, as well as articles on bands who, for better or for worse, defined ca. 20 years ago for me: Skullflower, Dead C., Sun City Girls, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, etc. Things have truly come full circle Now, please allow me to exit these brackets), and I've found I haven't even been bothered to flick through the monthly issues of MOJO and Uncut which turn up at my workplace like clockwork. In short, I had, until 96 hours ago (you can make that 4 days, if you wish), considered myself burnt out on the concept of reading music periodicals. A colleague, who recently left my place of work, subscribed to The Wire for "work purposes" (on the company's dime), and even that I'd never even pick up for a browse. From the years 1994 - 2002, I read The Wire religiously. The Wire started in the 1980s and was originally a magazine dedicated, more or less, to contemporary jazz and "new music" (you know, Laurie Anderson fans). It was largely a dull read, but at some point during the mid '90s it started covering a broader range of music in greater depth, much of it within my radar of interest. I feel no shame in stating that during the period in which I considered it a compulsory read, it was the best widely-read music mag under the sun. No other publication kept me abreast of what was worth hearing, both old and new, on such a regular basis. William Parker, Krautrock, ESP-Disk', John Martyn, Lee Perry, Acid Mothers Temple, Nurse With Wound, Morton Feldman, you name it, it covered the best music in a manner which got one excited. You knew that in some sense it was up its own backside, but that was OK, because so was I (I probably continue to be so, too). If The Wire was all you read for a musical fix, then I'd suggest that horizons should be broadened, but as part of a Rainbow Coalition of paper & staple productions (which for me included everything from MOJO to Flipside to Browbeat to Popwatch to, err, Black To Comm), it filled a vital hole. Something happened around 2003, and I lost interest. Perhaps it was the internet which killed my enthusiasm (and my attention span), or maybe I got tired of their anorak musical approach and wanted to distance myself from becoming what some friends of mine classify as a "Wire-reading tosspot loser" (their words, not mine). Actually, if you could pinpoint the one moment in time when the mag totally lost me, it was probably when David Keenan wrote the "New Weird America" cover story and I purchased some of his recommended releases (Sunburned Hand Of The Man, Charalambides, etc.), only to be sorely disappointed. They'd just lost their status as taste-makers and for me had fallen into the UK music press trap of attempting to christen a scene for the sake of a story.
Well... as stated, the new issue landed at my feet just the other day, and I decided to give it a go. In the intervening years of my absence, the world of music has changed considerably. Hell, the world of "music journalism" as we once knew it barely exists. There are few writers who hold sway as tastemakers as they once did in the days of yore, and the idea of sitting down and reading a periodical - a collection of articles pieced together and compiled as a snapshot of music worth reading about and hearing - is one almost entirely lost to an entire generation. The Wire has a few of such tastemakers left in their armour: Byron Coley rips out a couple of dozen reviews of recent 7"s here, including a batch from Sydney's RIP Society label, and Edwin Pouncey, AKA Savage Pencil, is still giving props to an eclectic array of artists, including a surprisingly positive review for Wilco's latest album. I only say "surprising" because I've heard it and it very positively bored the complete shit out of me. But I do like the fact that he covered it, just as he gave similarly rave reviews years ago to Radiohead's Kid A and Primal Scream's XTRMNTR, both being records by million-selling "alternative rock" bands I can also vouch for, whether you like it or not (along w/ Beck's incredible Seachange from 2002, a record which bears absolutely no resemblance to the rest of his catalogue, and one which reminds me: I really should do an entry covering such sore thumbs in the contemporary landscape of major sounds). Reading the reviews section has inspired me to come out of my slumber and explore what's going on in the year 2011: the new one by doom uber-group Asva on the Important label sounds right up my alley, and I'd never know of the recently-released Billy Bang 3CD set unless I'd bothered to pick this up. The droll cover shot of sound artist Christian Marclay may give props to the theory that The Wire is all about po-faced adulation of the serious, but there's also articles on ex-Harry Pussy guitarist Bill Orcutt and his recent solo output (records I've heard and find quite intolerable, but I can commend the direction they're coming from), an Invisible Jukebox w/ Chris & Cosey and a guide to "militant tuning" (AKA a certain brand of minimalism, covering LaMonte Young, Harry Partch, Pauline Oliveros, Tony Conrad and others), a lengthy review of the Slayer anthology (not the band, but the Norwegian Black Metal fanzine from the '80s/'90s) and a piece on reggae legends, The Congos. My old buddy Nick Cain (I interviewed him here many moons ago here) is still living in Ol' Blighty, after moving there from New Zealand in the late '90s, and, amongst other things, he contributes a scathing review of Mark McGuire's latest on the Mego label. McGuire is the main guy from hipster outfit Emeralds, an outfit whose guitar/electronics sonics approximate a meeting point twixt Terry Riley, Suicide, Metal Machine Music and Georgio Moroder. I'd consider their music to be generic & vacuous, but not without its charms (there's a rather excellent "introductory" 2CD set to McGuire/Emeralds' work on Mego I could recommend), so I'm surprised that Cain dumps a load on him so hard, but I can respect the fact that someone's giving the guy a bad review (a rarity, given his hallowed status among hipster idiots of a youthful persuasion). So where is all of this heading? I know where print media is, and it ain't pretty, but a thorough reading of the latest issue of The Wire has at least managed to pull my head out of the sand for a few brief hours, and to consume some articles larger than blog posts which paint a broader picture of where music's at right now than I've taken in the last few years. Props to them, I say.