I done did it: the Niche Homo cassette is done, cover completed, too (c/o Andrew Lang). See the post below if you're not clued in to what I'm talking about. I gave the comp' little thought - I just grabbed a pile of CDs and LPs sitting next to the stereo and made the tape from those selections - and I ripped out these brief descriptions, first take, with similarly little thought. You can spend a lifetime on this umming and aahing about choices or simply get it out of the way, pronto. The results are often the same. Some of this stuff repeats what I've said before on this blog. Read it and weep...
Elmore James - Hawaiian Boogie
Hard-arsed, shambolic and truly rockin' rhythm & blues from Elmore, ca. the early 1950s. The guitar work on this really does remind me of Keiji Haino w/ its shards of wild notes flying in all manner of directions. That's weird that I should say that. I don't even like Haino's music, nor have I listened to any of it for years, but this track still reminds me of him in places, which I guess means that all his hoo-ha about him ultimately being a "blues" guitarist might hold some water. Call this what you will, it still sounds more rock & roll than anything Elvis ever recorded.
John Martyn - Spencer the Rover
Possibly my fave Martyn track, though that's a hard one to pick. He wrote so many great originals that perhaps I shouldn't have chosen him covering a traditional tune to demonstrate his awesomeness... but I have. I'm thinking that if you don't get a sense of the despairing soul of the artist from this number, then you've got shit in your ears. I don't have much else to say about this.
Jimmy Reed - High and Lonesome
A killer Jimmy Reed track, and also possibly his "heaviest". Reed had a pretty light and breezy style, and one which is dead-easy to superficially copy. Not much fancy stuff on display, his schtick was a basic boogie-blues shuffle w/ few embellishments, a modus operandi copied by just about every bad-teethed limey w/ a guitar back in the '60s. Do I have anything else to add? Not really, but perhaps you will.
Eliza Randazzo - Circles
If you told the average collector-putz that this track was from a rare singer-songwriter record from the early '70s on Elektra, featuring David Crosby and Neil Young on guitars, written and performed by a short-lived fruitcake who bombed in the marketplace, lost her mind and died soon thereafter in a gutter w/ a needle in her arm, they'd be hoping to place a winning bid on an original LP copy on ebay and willing to skip a month's regular diet to get that imaginary record. Never fear, the album this comes from is alive and well today and regularly available on various formats for the plebs to consume. That's a good thing. It doesn't sound contemporary, which is perhaps why I like it. Randazzo is a music veteran, having played for years w/ the likes of The Red Krayola, though this track is from her debut solo album, Butterflies and Bruises, which came out last year on the Drag City label. It disappeared w/ nary a trace. It was my favourite record of 2010, and helped renew some sense of faith in contemporary music. This record moves me, and this track moves me the most. Deal with it. You guys will possibly think it's lame.
Bad Brains - Banned In DC
Here's a band who understood dynamics. When that opening drum roll explodes into a lightning-paced polka beat and HR screams out whatever he does, it makes me want to punch a hole in the wall. Failing that, it makes me punch the air. Richard Meltzer said a great thing in that Minutemen doco which came out some time last decade, so I'll paraphrase it: when you're growing up, good rock & roll was like an antidote to all the world's assholes; it was like the players of said music were the good guys and they were on your side. Somewhere along the line, the assholes took over, and suddenly assholes were the ones dominating music, singing songs for other assholes. The good guys were shut out. Punk rock hoped to rectify that situation. I think I've just totally misquoted him, and that whole argument is probably a bit archaic and quaint in this day and age anyway. The internet has levelled the playing field so drastically that the whole idea of a monoculture being enforced on youth doesn't hold nearly as much water as it used to. Am I rambling? Bad Brains are the good guys, even if HR is, from all reports, a flaming asshole.
Pell Mell - Nothing Lies Still Long
The is the opening track from Pell Mell's 1995 album on Geffen, Interstate. Do you guys remember the great major-label feeding freenzy of the early/mid '90s? You're probably too young. It was a truly bizarre moment in music history. Suddenly all these bands who previously could barely get arrested were having six-figure cheques thrown at them by A & R schleps in the hopes of them becoming The Next Big Thing. Someone actually thought that Tad and Royal Trux fitted the bill. Pell Mell released this record on Geffen because the label's A & R guy, Ray Farrell, who had signed Sonic Youth and Nirvana to the label and made 'em a mint, liked 'em a whole lot and had in fact been their manager back in the '80s. Is this interesting to you? Probably not. This minutae thrills me, sad as that may seem. Pell Mell are one of the great unsung American bands of the last 30 years; they're certainly the most expressive and lyrical of instrumental outfits. Every track takes a basic motif or riff and slowly develops and embelishes it during the song's lifespan, adding layer upon layer. It's not about solos, but every instrument working in perfect harmony with the others. I managed to say all of that without even mentioning SST.
Amos Milburn - Chicken Shack Boogie
One of Amos' big hits, if not his biggest. Throughout the late '40s/early '50s, LA-based boogie-woogie pianist Amos Milburn had a shitload of 'em, most of them about boozing & broads, and then his star was dimmed by the onslaught of rock & roll "proper", a genre he helped create. That's an injustice, but the world's full of 'em. He died broke and bitter like so many do. Think of that next time your shitty noise band can't get a gig: he had over two-dozen genuine hits, yet was probably hoodwinked into signing a contract so rotten that he never saw a cent from any of it. Not only that, but his music, now 60+ years old, is the sound which moves mountains. "Chicken Shack Boogie" is a change of pace for Amos: it's a fast & furious rocker, whereas most of his music has a boozy, mid-tempo groove. Actually, a lot of his hits are merely the same basic riff repeated w/ different lyrics, a shuffling groove w/ him singing about getting wasted over the top. He might've been a one-trick pony, but it was a hell of a trick. Being one-dimensional didn't hurt Slayer, AC/DC, Motorhead or the Ramones one bit.
William Parker - El Puente Seco
An unusual track from Mr. Parker. It's from an album of his which sees him teaming up w/ some African musicians doing something which sounds like it could be lifted off one of the Ethiopiques records. Always keep 'em guessing. This track's a faux-Latino one, hence the name, and it's pretty repetitive and possibly one-dimensional, though it's a dimension I don't mind being stuck in. I've got about 50 albums w/ Parker's name on 'em, about 20 as leader. 90% of them are unreal. An awesome strike rate for the best "jazz" muso alive today. I met him once - I like saying that - and he was a complete jerk. I jest. He was lovely, couldn't believe a dumbfuck Australian had even heard of him, let alone owned a bunch of his records.
Brian Eno - Always Returning
The best Eno track of them all, from my fave Eno album of them all, 1983's Apollo. The only other Eno song which rivals this as a fave is "Needle In A Camel's Eye", but that's rock & roll. This song isn't. Space-rock minus the rock w/ a muzak/Satie piano melody taking the rein, mixed up w/ strange electronic effects. Light a bowl, play it loud. That's livin'.
Joe Houston - All Night Long
Joe Houston was one of the big honkers & screamers of the late '40s/early '5s R & B scene, a man who blew his tenor sax as if he was possessed. He gets a gravelly, occasionally shaky tone on his horn which often has me thinking of Ayler. A lot of the '50s/'60s free-jazz pioneers got their start playing in R & B combos (such as Coltrane and Ornette), and I'm willing to bet that Ayler heard some Houston in his time. This is a party song par excellence, and one which requires little explanation.
Die Kreuzen - Halloween
This is a CD-only bonus track from the band's 1988 meisterwerk, Century Days. I bought the album in 1990 at the age of 18 and was pretty soon convinced that I'd just heard one of my favourite ever records. 21 years later, I stand by that claim. I wrote to them and told them as such soon thereafter. Their bassist, Keith Brammer, wrote back and told me I wasn't an idiot. I needed that. A lot of folks only like their debut, which is short/fast/loud hardcore punk, dismissing their later forays into arty post-punk heavy metal. Whatever. I've wasted enough time in my life defending this band. By this stage you either dig it or you don't. This is their version of the theme song from John Carpenter's Halloween, a great film w/ an equally great soundtrack. Die Kreuzen do it justice and then some.
Meat Puppets - Like Being Alive
The last track from their 1989 LP, Monsters. I know a lot of people don't like this album much, and it's a good thing I couldn't give a shit what a lot of people think. I bought it the day it came out: I was THAT kind of eager beaver. I never even found out until many years later that Derrick Bostrom used a goddamn DRUM MACHINE on this record; I always just thought the production was super-slick and Bostrom was a stop-on-a-dime skinsman. Monsters is mostly made up of anthemic psychedelic heavy metal, though this track sees the record out on a more downbeat note, slightly countrified like it coulda been ripped from II or an early '70s Neil Young disc. Great stuff.
John Zorn - Little Bitterns
A few of my music-dork pals think John Zorn isn't worth the time of day, dismissing him as an overly prolific purveyor of cartoonish clown-metal who displays poor taste in who he chooses to associate with. Two words to say: either GET FUCKED! or LISTEN UP! Zorn releases a shiteload of music on a yearly basis - the last few years have been particularly prolific - and it's 80% good-to-great-to-unreal. That's a strike rate better than your band, and Zorn has the balls and/or stupidity to release it all. His cottage-industry label Tzadik is all about documentation, something lost in this world of MP3s and blogs, and I'm hoping he can keep on doing it. I've got more of his albums than I care to count right now, though I can say that the last couple of years, or maybe even 4-5 years, have been his best yet. Musically, it's all over the map, and this track's a good example of it. It's a drone-y surf/blues number w/ Marc Ribot cutting it on the strings, sounding like the musical nexus of Ry Cooder, Pell Mell and the Meat Puppets.