Thursday, December 10, 2009

Los Straitjackets • Yuletide Beat

A limited edition 10" vinyl release, Yuletide Beat is Los Straitjackets' second holiday hootenanny, and a worthy companion to 'Tis The Season... Sticking closely to the template The Ventures established many decades ago of doing Christmas instrumentals wrapped in popular rock 'n' roll arrangements, the 'Jackets nail ten (one per inch) instros down perfectly. This is my favorite kinda music for this time of the year: you get the Christmas tunes, alright, but not the boring, stodgy arrangements we used to have to hear every year on records by Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. Here you get guitars, pounding drums, and even wailin' sax doing it the way it oughta be done.
4/5 (YepRoc/Spinout YEP SPIN 2813; available at YepRoc Records)

Big Star • Keep An Eye On The Sky

It's about time they dedicated a box set to Big Star. Keep An Eye On The Sky is a 4 disc set featuring most of their two classicos supremos, #1 Record and Radio City, plus a good helping of Sister Lovers and a ton of demos, live tracks, and more. In fact, disc 4 is solely dedicated to a show recorded in Memphis in January of '73, and it's both captivating and sad. There's hardly anyone there, from what you can detect, though the band is in great form. Luckily some cat with a tape recorder got it down for us to enjoy thirty something years later!

If you're not already indoctrinated you may want to buy the single CD/double LP reissue of the aforementioned albums, but those of us who already know of the power pop perfection that Alex Chilton & Co. delivered to almost no one at the time. this box—which comes in a deceiving 7" form factor—must be opened and enjoyed. Sound quality is ace and there's enough delectable rarities to make it well worth getting your wife pissed that you "blew 60 bucks on a fricking box set!"
4/5 (Ardent/Rhino R2 519760)

Robyn Hitchcock • I Often Dream Of Trains in New York

Twenty-five years after he released the original solo album, I Often Dream Of Trains, Robyn Hitchcock releases a commemorative live version recorded in New York in 2008. This time he's joined by a few extra musicians and a live studio audience. The dreamy, mostly acoustic tunes come in all flavors, from choppy rock ("Sometimes I Wish I Was A Pretty Girl") to wispy autumnal chamber pop ("Autumn Is Your Last Chance") and the a capella "Uncorrected Personality Traits," a song I've always loved and in fact took the title for a fanzine my friend Mark Campos and I put out around 1985. I Often Dream Of Trains in New York is a lovely live album, which also comes with a DVD of the complete concert and is really the reason to get this. It's a lot more compelling to see it performed than it is to just hear it.
4/5 (YepRoc YEP 2216)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Various Artists • A Damaged Christmas Gift For You

Phil Spector would be rolling in his grave if he knew what these malcontents have done to his quintessential yuletide rekkid. Featuring artists like Billy Childish, Thee Headcoatees, Cute Lepers, Holly Golightly, and other mostly-Brit indie stars, A Damaged Christmas Gift For You is about as garage as you can get. The 14-track compilation pulls cuts from various Damaged Goods (UK record label) 7" holiday singles from the last decade, plus a couple of new tracks. Holly Golightly is great with "Christmas Tree On Fire" and "Little Stars" (backed by a few of The Raconteurs under the Greenhornes guise), T.V. Smith (of The Adverts) has a ditty called "Xmas Bloody Xmas", and then there's the incredibly naughty "Santa Claus" by Thee Headcoatees—so dirty I'd be surprised these girls got anything aside from a summer sausage as a gift that year. Very Damaged indeed.
(Available as a download only from Damaged Goods)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Devo • Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, Freedom Of Choice

I didn't get to see the Devo concerts here in Seattle last month, 'cause I decided I wanted these reissues and couldn't justify all of it. So though I didn't get to hear the band do their first and third albums in their entirety on consecutive nights, I have been enjoying them on vinyl fairly regularly.

Q: Are We Not Men? is their U.S. debut, from 1978, and I'm sure the first time I heard it I had no idea what to make of these weirdo spudniks from O-Hi-O, which must've been around the time I saw 'em on Saturday Night Live in the video for "Come Back Jonee" as bowling cowboys. It wasn't until a few years later, probably about when Freedom Of Choice came out, that I kinda got it. (In between came Duty Now For The Future, which, it turns out, is my favorite.) 1980's Freedom brought the world "Whip It" and soon many music fans knew about De-evolution. Both of these albums have been lovingly remastered, with the CDs featuring bonus tracks and the LPs reproduced pretty much exactly the way they originally came out (though now they're on yellow and red vinyl). A: We Are Devo! CD adds the complete album recorded live in 2009, and that concert is actually better than you might expect, especially if you haven't seen them live in the last decade or so. The Freedom CD adds on the Dev-O Live EP from later in '80, which is fine but not nearly as important to the Devo fan (who probably already has it). Yet, all of it sounds quite good. In fact, I liked the mastering job on the CDs so much that I just had to go out and buy the vinyl, too. There are lots of things in the mixes that apparently were always there yet never really stood out from the general murk of late '70s, stack-'em-high-and-sell-'em-as-fast-as-you-can pressings on flimsy cheap vinyl that now make themselves noticed. And the overall sound is punchy but not horribly modern like that Led Zeppelin debacle of a few years ago. (I would've reviewed that as "Mothership? Mother-shit!")

If you've never dipped farther than the big hit song in this band's cannon, why not pick one or two of these up and dig in? It may or may not change your mind about the band, but you know, the guys in the band probably don't give a pooty poo-poo about that.
5/5 (Q: Are We Not Men?), 3/5 (Freedom Of Choice) (Warner Bros. Records/Because Sound Matters)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Neil Young • Neil Young, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Tonight's The Night, Harvest

I'm not actually reviewing how good these reissues are (or aren't); it's more of a rant.

Neil Young has been busier in his 60s than almost any old rock 'n' roller I can think of. Not only has he put out numerous albums of new material, he's also finally put out the first box set (9 or 10 discs!) of archival material. Now he's gone and reissued these four albums from his back catalog, on super premium 180-gram vinyl, pressed at a real high-falutin plant in Germany, packaged in era-correct covers, and more. On the one hand, I think it's awesome to be able to get these records in brand new pressings, since trying to find used copies in good shape is next to impossible. Harvest? Forget about it. I've never seen a good copy of that. I finally bought that (and the other three reissues discussed here) on CD. But on the other hand, you gotta spend a lotta dough to buy these 4 LPs. What's my point? I'm jealous I can't own 'em all!

Well, here's hoping my wife reads this and buys me, at least, Harvest and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere for Christmas.
(Because Sound Matters/Reprise Records)

Richard Curtis (director) • Pirate Radio

Starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy. Rated R.

Two of my best friends have been trying to teach me a lesson for years, and it's only been in the last one or two that I've come to appreciate it: LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS & YOU WON'T BE DISAPPOINTED. Craig Kennedy and Dick Rossetti, this one's for you...

"A shipwreck of Titanic proportions." - Marsh Gooch, Skratch Disc

That's what I would like my pull quote (or whatever they call it in the movie review business) to read for the movie Pirate Radio. I saw trailers for this one a few months ago, and thought, "It's about British pirate radio in the '60s, it's gotta be good." Or, "It's got Phillip Seymour Hoffman in it, it's gotta be good." Sure, somewhere in the back of my mind I had thought there was a possibility it could suck, but I smothered that with my thoughts of all the great music the movie would have, the '60s British fashions the birds would be wearing, and the general rebel rebelliousness I expected would accompany it. There was great music, true, but nothing surprising. (The Who, Kinks, Stones; no Beatles or Zombies.) And there were a few pairs of thigh-high vinyl boots in sight, and on a couple of pretty decent gals (including the character Maryanne), but it wasn't exactly Carnaby Street-Upon-The North Sea. But rebelliousness? It only got as far as the premise.

Then there were the anachronisms. Screenwriter Richard Curtis, who also directed, actually had one character say "think outside the box." At one point a DJ is playing the song "Judy In Disguise" by John Fred & His Playboy Band, which isn't as big a sin as the fact that they showed an A&M Records LP spinning on the turntable, when EVERYBODY KNOWS that the song came out on Paula Records! And yet, later at a pivotal point in the movie, you hear Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade Of Pale" which came out on Deram Records in the UK and they show the correct 45 spinning!

Yes, I stayed for the whole thing, trying very hard to exercise my God-given willingful suspension of disbelief. But ultimately I lost that battle. I did, however, add another notch to the post my friends Craig and Dick gave me. Next time I will think to myself, upon viewing a trailer for a movie (or cover of a book or album) that looks good, "I'll bet it sucks."

Craig Kennedy is the critic for
Dick Rossetti is the lead singer for Guns & Rossetti.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Barry Miles • The British Invasion - The Music, The Times, The Era

The British Invasion is a fab book that makes the perfect gift for the Britnerd in your life, even if that's you. 300 pages of pictures, album sleeves and even text about how Britian in the Sixties was pretty much the most happening place in terms of culture. Besides the music of the day and ample coverage of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Who, et al., you get a load of the actors and actresses, movers and shakers that were also a part of the pie. Julie Christy, Patty Boyd, Twiggy, Mary Quant, Jean Shrimpton, Peter O'Toole, Michael Caine, etc. etc. It's a biggie, this book, and yet it's priced much cheaper than you'd think considering the plethora of piccies inside.

Barry Miles
, who's been a biographer to The Beatles, Paul McCartney, The Clash, and more, authored the book Hippie, and owned the famous Indica bookstore in London back in the day. He was partially responsible for turning on Britain's musicians and other very important people to the outside world and all the awesome things in it. The writing itself is nothing to write home about--he tells the stories all right, but he's not exactly Jon Savage when it comes to quality of prose--but how he weaves the stories, and the richness of the photos and layout more than makes up for it. In fact, it's not all that likely you'll read much of it. Like Playboy, you buy this one for the pictures.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Elvis Costello • Live At The El Mocambo

My relationship with Elvis Costello has been a rocky one. I wrote a piece on him for my 9th grade newspaper, based solely on taking my journalism class teacher's copies of My Aim Is True and This Year's Model home for the weekend and coming up with what I'm sure is a shoddy little piece of writing. (Thanks Mr. Bishop!) Next thing, Armed Forces comes out with that bonus 7" of Live At Hollywood High. I ride my bike to some local record store, buy it, strap the bag to the rack on the back of my ten speed, and off I go. Next thing you know I'm his biggest fan. I buy everything. Every import single, 12", CD single, everything. Then things changed...

Nowadays the guy drives me crazy. He tries too many genres, collaborating with just about everyone who'll have him. And he's married to Diana Krall! How'd he manage that? Well, it's not germain to this review so I'll move on. The only releases I've bought in the last decade or so have been the reissues and the ones where he's actually playing ROCK 'N' ROLL. So here's Live At The El Mocambo, which was originally released as a Canadian promo album, then as a bootleg (that's what I had back in the day), then came out as part of a Rykodisc box set. Now he's put it out as part of a live series of value priced CDs. And I come a-runnin'! This March 1978 show was just after he'd put together The Attractions, the best band he ever had (and with the best bass player he ever had, Bruce Thomas). It's a fiery, ragged set, recorded for a Canadian radio station (so the sound quality's a bit compressed and flattish), and features the band doing songs from the first two albums. It's great to hear the band tear into tunes from My Aim, since they didn't play on that one, and it's great to only pay ten bucks for it. Again, audiophile sound quality is not what we're after here, it's great performances. And that they are.
(Hip-O B0012380-02)

Madness • One Step Beyond [30th Anniversary Edition]

The nutsiest sound around! Madness came out of Camden Town with a ska/pop hybrid that was so joyous and fun, how could you resist? Well, obviously some did, because they're not huge stars all over the world. But if you've come in off the street, and you're beginning to feel the heat, then listen, Buster!

One Step Beyond gets the deluxe treatment it deserves in 2009, three decades after the band's '79 debut on 2-Tone Records. Madness put together a driving, horn and bass propelled sound that was nothing like anything before or aft, putting ska on the map again in the UK and even giving us Yanks a dose of it when "Our House" became a minor hit here in '83. (Albeit in a remixed version.) Album number one by The Nutty Boys comes with "hits" like the title cut, "My Girl," "The Prince," and "Bed And Breakfast Man," from the album, and this deluxe revamp adds a ton of B-sides, a John Peel Session, and even Spanish and Italian versions of "One Step Beyond." You also get liner notes from Scottish author Irvine Welsh (author of Trainspotting, among others). Great sound quality, nice packaging, five videos, and the promise of this kind of treatment to the rest of the catalog make me a happy lad!

New York Dolls • "Trash" b/w "Trash (live)"

Not the original recording from their debut album, the New York Dolls cut a new reggae-fied version for their latest LP, 'Cause I Sez So (on Atco/Rhino). The A-side is that LP cut, produced by Todd Rundgren, the B a live version recorded for Sirius XM in May of this year. The good news... it comes in a nice card, glued sleeve. The bad? The live version is a real poor recording. The arrangement's fine: they start the song the way it originally went, and then somewhere in the middle they transmogrify it into the reggae version from the current record. But man, whoever recorded this must've used a Realistic cassette deck or something. It's that bad.
(Atco/Rhino R7 521291)

The Velvet Underground • Singles 1966-69

Sundazed continues their win streak with this, a box set of Velvet Underground singles on ACTUAL 7" VINYL. That's right, friends, not on cute little 5" CD reproductions, but real wax. Seven singles, including the greats "All Tomorrow's Parties," "Sunday Morning," "White Light/White Heat" and even a promo "VU Radio Spot" that was released only to radio stations (and presumably is worth a shitload of money now). Each single comes in the stock MGM sleeve or picture sleeve it originally came in, with proper 45 labels and everything. A printed insert gives background on the records, and the box itself is a full color beauty. The songs sound as blurry and murky as ever, which was part of their charm. I'm not saying they sound bad, you understand, just that they sound the way they were recorded--as opposed to some modern re-mastering job that tried to bring out the bass or maybe even get rid of Nico's vocals. KIDDING!
(Sundazed S 7002)

Julian Cope • Peggy Suicide (Deluxe Edition)

"Julian Cope's Eco-Protest Masterpiece" exclaims the sticker on this UK import 2CD version of Peggy Suicide, the 1989 double album by Britain's favorite new wave kook. At once more stark than Fried, his 1984 solo that featured him crawling under a large tortoise shell on the cover (I did say kook), and destined to be more successful somehow, Peggy tried to tackle the state of global ecology and other concerns Cope had at the front of his mind then. It was also recorded in mostly first takes, lending a lot to the air of freshness the album has.

He had come a long way since his days with The Teardrop Explodes, the band his first band became after he split from co-founder Ian McCulloch (who later went on to found Echo & The Bunnymen). After winding his way through the New Romantic and new wave world, Cope decided to go solo and released World Shut Your Mouth, an early '80s classic. This put him on the college radio/alternative rock map and eventually, on through to Saint Julian and My Nation Underground, he found himself at odds with his label, Island, who wanted him to go even more pop and mainstream than '88's Underground. In a bold move, Cope went 180 degrees the other way. Peggy Suicide was raw like nothing he had done before. "Safesurfer" was the most popular track, telling how his girl didn't have to worry because he had protection in those early HIV/AIDS days. Elsewhere was "Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line," "Drive She Said," and the closest thing to pop on the double LP, "Beautiful Love." In all, it's an album of mostly mid tempo band and almost-acoustic takes. This Deluxe Edition adds a second disc with many of the B-sides and unreleased tracks recorded at the time. The mastering job isn't that different from the original CD release of '89, and that's to say it's fine. This version is not a must-have unless you want all the extras or you've already worn out your original copy.
(Island/Universal UK 5313656)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paul McCartney • Good Evening New York City

This man was a living, breathing icon to me as a kid. Nowadays, he still is, but naturally I've widened the net of what I really like in music. This live release is Paul McCartney's, what, fourth or fifth live outing in the last 10-15 years? Well, what you get here is very close to the set he did on The McCartney Years DVD (Glastonbury 2004), with a few new renditions to make it a must-have for Macca geeks like me. (Guys who gotta have it on the day of release...)

Released in about a kajillion formats, including 2CD, 2CD/1DVD, 2CD/2DVD (Best Buy only) and 4LP--these are just the ones I'm aware of--Good Evening New York City is a well-recorded 2.5 hour concert film, shot over three days at NYC's new Citi Field as part of their grand opening ceremonies. (Never missing a marketing hook, this new field replaced Shea Stadium as the Mets' home field; Shea is where The Beatles last played NYC in 1966.) Having listened to the two CDs and watched the movie, I can tell you that the band Paul's had with him for the last decade-ish is the best one he's ever had, aside from, uhhh, well, his pre-Wings group. Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray handles the guitars (and bass when Paul's on guitar or piano), Paul "Wix" Wickens is the keyboards/musical director and has been with Paul since the late '80s, and this mammoth, frickin' awesome guy named Abe Leborial, Jr. handles the drums. This guy plays like a cross between Ringo and Keith Moon--always sounding like he's just about to roll off the rails but managing to hold it together quite nicely. They play a wide selection of McCartney tunes, both Beatles and Wings cuts, as well as even a couple from the latest album by The Fireman. Good God I'm glad my band doesn't play for two and a half hours! But I'm glad these guys do...

Okay, you gotta admit, it can't go on much longer. Macca's 67 this year and his voice is starting to break up on the high notes, and there aren't too many possibilities left for him to cover. Except... WHAT IF THIS BAND TACKLED SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND? Or BAND ON THE RUN? Now that would be something... really would be something.
(Hear Music HRM-31926-00; 2CD/2DVD version reviewed)

The Feelies • Crazy Rhythms

Some of you are too young to remember "college radio," but for those of you who do, then The Feelies ought to be remembered pretty vividly. New Jersey nerds with a flair for quirky, Velvets-y tunes, they were played to death all over America. I played the hell out of 'em on KCMU in Seattle, though the record Crazy Rhythms actually came out a year before I first donned the cans in the fall of '81. Well, as typically happens if we're lucky, this great record has just been reissued on vinyl (and CD and download), and it brings back some great memories.

Naturally New Jersey-based Bar None Records have put it out, on thick vinyl and with a very nice pressing and mastering job. (I didn't pick up The Good Earth yet, which has also been reissued, but after revisiting this not-so-much-forgotten-as-just-covered-over gem from my college days, I may just do so.) But Crazy Rhythms was something completely new and exciting and foreign to me when I first heard it. If you know me, or at least knew me then, you'd understand why I gravitated toward their frenetic cover of The Beatles' "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey," but once you hear it among the other tunes like "Fa Cé-La" and "The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness," you'll think they did the song first and somehow in some kind of reverse time warp The Beatles copped it from The Feelies! BTW, buyers of the LP get a coupon for a free download of the album and bonus tracks not included on the vinyl or CD.

Why, no less than Rolling Stone named this LP the 49th best one of the 1980s! ROLLING FUCKING STONE!
(Bar None BRNLP 106)

Wilco • A.M., Being There, Summerteeth

This batch of vinyl reissues is super deluxe, befitting this era of the band, which I still think is Wilco at their prime. Each reish comes with a complete CD of the album, too, so there's no worries about what you'll listen to in the car or how you're gonna get them on your ipod.

The albums themselves are deluxe cardboard gatefold sleeves, the way they used to do them when vinyl was all there was (8-track just doesn't count, folks). That is, thick cardboard with separate printed artwork stock glued on. Pressings themselves are on 180 gram vinyl, real nice and quiet. On the three I have I detected very few ticks, and they were tiny at that. Included are lyric sheets and credits, and of course the CDs, which aren't as nice (just 4-color printed jackets) as the original CD issues. But that's part of why you bought the vinyl, right, to bask in the glory of a nice big album.

I didn't really have these guys on my radar until they did the Mermaid Avenue project with Billy Bragg. Their arrangement of Woody Guthrie's "California Stars" was beautiful, so I figured if they were good enough for Billy, they'd be good enough for me. Then Summerteeth really did my head in with some great, poppy, honest rock songs that had enough standard modern accoutrements (bits of country, hard rock, etc.) in the arrangements that you couldn't easily pigeonhole them. After that I picked up A.M. and Being There, both of which had some real great songs on them ("Casino Queen," "Monday") but which felt like, in light of Summerteeth, they hadn't quite found their own sound. Of course Tweedy & Co. went on to become quite heralded with their record company woes, Tweedy's personality, and the video. These, I believe, are Wilco at their prime.
4/5 (A.M.), 4/5 (Being There), 5/5 (Summerteeth)
(Nonesuch 518084-1, 518085-1, 518086-1)