Friday, May 21, 2010

New Releases Update • May 21, 2010

The La's | Callin' All (June 8)
Considering they only made one studio album, it's amazing that there's a 4CD box set on its way. But The La's were so good, that one album has stayed in print and made us all want more for nearly twenty years. Callin' All features two discs of singles, album and outtake cuts, including all the remaining unreleased recordings from Lee Mavers' many attempts to cage the bird he heard in his head, while two others feature live performances from 1989 and 1991 (London's Town and Country Club and the Marquee, respectively). I saw them play in NYC in '91 and can tell you, they were superb live. The set is bound in hardback book format, with a 60 page book and artwork by the band's original designer. (Import)

Devo | Something for Everybody (June 15)
After nearly twenty years, America's favorite spuds are back with a new studio album, and it promises to be a great one. You may have already heard the tracks on the band's website, since it was there that, by popular vote, the band whittled 16 tracks down to the 12 that appear on the album. Or maybe you picked up the 12" single on Record Store Day with "Fresh" and "What We Do" on it and heard how great at least two of the cuts are. I don't see a vinyl version listed…

The Dream Syndicate | Medicine Show (June 15)
Los Angeles' fabled "Paisley Underground" of the '80s was represented by many different stripes. Steve Wynn's band was one of the harder-edged groups, and this, their second album, was also their major label debut. Though many found it to be a bit more commericial sounding than their amazing debut (The Days of Wine and Roses), it still had some amazing tunes on it, including "Armed with an Empty Gun" and "Merrittville." The new edition supposedly features much better mastering than the original CD did, plus, the entire live EP This Is Not the New Dream Syndicate… Live, with a bonus, a lengthy workout of "John Coltrane Stereo Blues."

Madness | The Rise and Fall, Keep Moving (June 15)
Two more reissues in Salvo's series of Madness deluxe editions, and you gotta have The Rise and Fall if you're gonna have any of them. This was the album that made people take the band seriously, despite the fact that they'd already had more top ten singles than most bands ever have. As on the other reishoes, this will have all the singles related to the LP (including the US mix of "Our House" as well as "House of Fun" and "Driving in My Car"), B-sides, and lots more. Keep Moving isn't nearly as good, but it does feature the singles "Michael Caine" and "The Sun and the Rain," and a track about marching pickles. (Import)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Moby Grape • Moby Grape Live

The first official live release from the original lineup of San Francisco's legendary, infamous, underrated, greatest rock band, Moby Grape, is not the live album we've all been waiting for. Moby Grape Live is a collection of songs recorded before festival crowds and less between '66 and '69, and there are some incendiary performances here. But there's something missing, something that would have given this release that little push over the cliff that would have made it a must-have classic. Maybe it's context...

For one thing, the disc (or LPs) is made up of songs from four different shows, recorded mostly in mono (not that that matters) from soundboards and the like, so the sound quality's decent but not great. The final cut, "Dark Magic," is from New Year's Eve 1966 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Fran, and is fabled for never having appeared on any of the Grape's albums. It's also a long one (that's getting rather personal, isn't it?), at 17+ minutes, but it's a good jam and was probably quite awesome if you were on LSD or something when you heard it. I was on a Diet Pepsi, and I still got a kick out of it. There are also two versions of "Omaha," one from the Monterey Pop Festival ('67) and one from a Netherlands broadcast in 1969 (and that one is KILLER). I also really dig "I Am Not Willing" (originally from the studio album '69) with its heavy guitar attack and longer, more rockin' arrangement. But as I said, something's missing.

Is what's missing a tuner for the one guitar on the Netherlands cuts that is nearly unbearably out of tune? Is it the not-quite-as-tight-as-I'd-have-it-ness of the playing? Is it just the lack of suitable drugs to make me understand what it was all about? (I was barely 4 years old in 1967...) Or is it all of the above? Well, that all being said, this is a live album worth having, especially if you already like Moby Grape. If you don't know them yet and you're trying to figure out where to start, this isn't the place. Get Moby Grape, their debut from '67, and then proceed to Wow and '69. Sundazed's The Place and The Time from last year is also a good one, a double album with lots of different flavors. And if you're a vinyl lover, note: You can get this on 2LP black vinyl or ultra cool 2LP purple vinyl, but really, the cost doubles from CD to vinyl and doubles again from black to purple wax, so you'll want to dip your toe in before you cannonball.
3/5 (Sundazed)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fela Kuti • Fela and His Africa 70 (10" EP)

Another Record Store Day gem, which I didn't buy on that fabled (last month) date but just found the other day. My friend Gary brought over his copy of Fela Kuti's EP on Knitting Factory, Fela and His Africa 70, a few weeks ago and I really dug the West African pop-meets-jazz 'n' soul vibe. I'm not sure about the origins of these tracks, and the label's website has scant info on them, so all I can say is the tracks on this 140-gram, 10-inch record sound like they're from the '70s, with a very soulful vibe and some great grooves.

You know, just trying to describe this music makes me feel very, ummmm, white. Like when I wear this really cool King Tubby t-shirt I have, I feel conspicuously visible. Or when you see a drunken frat boy wearing his Bob Marley shirt at a club and you think, "You probably don't know any other reggae artists, you frickin' moron!", that's what it's like. I guess you just have to sample the music for yourself and see if it moves ya. I like the groove of "My Lady Frustration," with its cool bass line and horn riffs. Fela sounds frustrated, kinda, but his band doesn't let him get mired in it at all. If James Brown was Nigerian and could just slow down a bit, that's kinda what you have here. If you know the song "Soul Makossa" by Manu Dibango, it's a lot like that but less poppy. It's got a real sweet trumpet solo too. Definitely a jazz record, though, so if you're against jazz (c'mon, man, just try it, you might like it!) then you'll want to pass. But I think this 10" record's a winner.
4/5 (Knitting Factory)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Rolling Stones • Exile On Main Street

Here's a reissue I don't mind picking up, if only because it's one I haven't already bought fifteen times in my life. A very rockin' album by The Rolling Stones, Exile On Main Street was originally released in '72 and is now out again in multiple formats. I just saw a guy at my local loaded up with all the versions they had in stock: 1CD, 2CD, 2LP and the Deluxe Edition that has 2CDs, 2LPs, a DVD, a book, and probably the deed to Keef's French mansion. Well, it should, for $150!

Most people know this album as the one with "Tumblin' Dice," "Happy" and "All Down the Line," but don't forget there are many other good ones here, including "Just Wanna See His Face," "Stop Breaking Down," and the one that wins my award for best song title, "Turd on the Run." What's great about this record is that it's not as excessive as you'd expect—double albums can be awfully long—and there aren't any real clunkers, from "Rocks Off" to "Soul Survivor." The band takes on some different styles and really comes into their own, no longer copying everything The Beatles did, but doing their own thing. Now, I can't vouch for the bonus tracks on the 2CD version (except "Plundered My Soul," which I previewed when it came out on Record Store Day as a 7"), so you're on your own there. Let your conscience (or wallet) be your guide. But I can say that I like this album in its original form quite a bit. Maybe not as much as Sticky Fingers, personally, but hey hey, what can you do?* BTW, the double vinyl sounds sweet but doesn't come with the original postcards. (*Wrong band, dude. That's Zeppelin.)
4/5 (Rolling Stones/UMe)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Squirrels • What Gives?

NOTE: In my Flaming Lips review a few weeks ago I mentioned Seattle band, The Squirrels. Here's a review I did of their first CD, twenty years ago.

Rob Morgan's a raving lunatic. He's nuts. He employs some of Seattle's best rock musicians, promises them nothing but mayhem, and turns out unique—let's get to the point here: downright goofy—songs. He's a fuckin' genius.

What Gives? is The Squirrels' CD album that's been promised for your typical Seattle band's lifetime, a compilation of 15 of Rob's favorite songs. Recorded by various lineups of the group (The Mighty Squirrels, New Age Urban Squirrels, The 23 Squirrel Five, etc.) and including a veritable greatest hits list for those who've seen them live, Rob's vehicle suits him perfectly. Where, let's say, They Might Be Giants might drive a Volkswagen Bug, the Squirrels drive a big ass Winnebago (or was it a bus? I don't remember—see the video), wreck it, and still come up with some great little anecdotes. There's the perennial favorite, "One in the Spirit," a song that's usually done in church, "Oz '90" (i.e., "Oz on 45"), "Pope on a Rope (Cigarette Butt)," and a host of both originals and covers that add new dimensions to overworked pop critic cliches ("quirky," "godlike").
Oh yeah, there's the stellar Seattle musician lineup. Members of the Young Fresh Fellows, the Posies, Fastbacks, Prudence Dredge, the Dynette Set, as well as the dynamic Nadine, all contribute to this zany thing. You could call the Squirrels Seattle's own Bonzo Dog Band, if'n you're familiar with that group's bizarre brilliance. Or you could pray like hell that they don't really come over to your house for dinner…

I've gotta say, sometimes the Squirrels drive me nuts. I mean, I really like 'em and all, and What Gives? is certainly a treasurable item, but this much wackiness can burn even me out. Here, though, unlike a live show, you can shut the thing off when you've had enough. I'm not saying "shut the thing off" like the CD sucks. I'm saying when enough's enough, you can shut the thing off.
(The Rocket, Seattle, December 1990)
(Popllama Products, 1990)

ANOTHER NOTE: Looking at this review after
twenty years, I can see that in my early days as a rock critique I definitely was trying to impress myself with a whole lot of in-jokes. BTW, that's Baby Cheevers above right.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Juliana Hatfield • When I Grow Up - A Memoir (book)

Juliana Hatfield is best known as the wispy-voiced alternative rock gal who belted out "Spin the Bottle" and "My Sister" in the early '90s. She's been putting out records fairly steadily since then, but once her major label deal ran out of gas, she was on her own and her visibility lessened considerably. Still, she's bravely released albums on various labels, including her own Ye Olde Records, and has consistently done her own thing. Yet Juliana had many demons to deal with over the years, and that's what led her to pen When I Grow Up.

The memoir, published by Wiley last year, is a stark, unexaggerated look at her life touring to support her various solo releases (since her first band, Blake Babies), and details the issues she's faced, from standard "boy issues" to deeper problems like anorexia and severe shyness. What's best about this book is that Hatfield doesn't hold anything back. One moment she's supremely irritated by a pushy fan trying to get a picture, the next moment she's lamenting a crappy hotel room, the next she's trying to combat loneliness despite being surrounded by friends and fans. It's not that she's a bitch, it's just that she's only outgoing when she's performing. So she doesn't color anything overly rosy, and that doesn't mean the book is a big downer, though about midway through I was starting to wonder when—or if—she was gonna find the light at the end of the tunnel. She does, finally, and by then you feel like you wish you knew her as just a person and not the woman sporting the SG onstage.

After not having heard any of her records for a decade or so, I felt like I really wanted to track down a few of her releases to pay a little more attention what she's actually saying. Though she does note somewhere in the book that words are just vehicles to drive the songs, as a songwriter myself, I can tell you that no matter how much the writer wants to chalk a song up to a silly idea or funny phrase someone spoke, there's always something personal in there. When I Grow Up shows how a girl can become a woman without succumbing to the massive amount of BS thrown at her from birth.
4/5 (Wiley Books)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Releases Update | May 9, 2010

Devo | New Traditionalists
A brand new remaster of this great album is something to look forward to. Practically every song on this album is a Devo classic—like "Love Without Anger," "Jerkin' Back 'N' Forth," "Through Being Cool," "Race of Doom," etc.—so go get yours as soon as the shops open. The CD will have six bonus tracks; the vinyl will be on clear wax! (May 18)

The Wonder Stuff | Hup (21st Anniversary Edition)
This one feels kinda troublesome. The band has re-recorded the entire album for this release, so it's really not a reissue. I can't help but think the results will be questionable—not because I have no faith in the band, but just because two decades later there's no way the band will be what it was then. Plus, press releases claim this will have a "much fuller, contemporary sound," which means it probably ain't gonna rock like the original. (May 25)

Teenage Fanclub | Shadows
Five years ago these Scottish popsters put out Man-Made, and now they return with Shadows, "overflowing with the kind of gorgeous, harmony-driven classics you'd expect to find on a greatest hits album." Speaking of which, can anyone tell me where I can find TF's version of "Take the Skinheads Bowling"? Ever since they featured that in Bowling for Columbine I've been looking for it, and for the life of me I can't find it anywhere. Not on soundtrack album, not on import CD single, nowt. (June 8)

Oasis | Time Flies… 1994-2009
Yet another best of from Manchester's Favorite Sons. The 3CD+DVD set includes all 27 of Oasis's hit singles ("together for the very first time") plus a DVD of their videos. The 5LP version is on heavyweight vinyl, with a full size booklet and 12" box. In keeping with the way they do these things today, there's also a dumbed-down 2CD version and a DVD available on its own. (June 14)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iggy Pop • Party

This is one of those albums that hardcore Iggy Pop fans either really love or really hate. I happen to really love Party, I guess partly because it was the first time I had ever heard him. (I discovered it amongst the more recent releases when I first started doing college radio in late '81, at the now defunct KCMU in Seattle.)

Other reasons for liking this album, which came out on Arista records, include the following:
1. Iggy has a real sense of humor, which I find lacking from most music. Dig "Bang Bang" for all kinds of off-the-wall quotes, like: "Lonely?! Ha ha ha! What does it mean? Who, me?!"
2. It is way more, uhhh, pop than anything he's ever done, before or after.
3. The arrangements include strings and horns, yet this is a real rockin' elpee.
4. Ivan Kral and Rob Duprey play some nice guitar licks.
5. Party only reached #166 on the Billboard Top Albums chart. So what?
6. It includes two great covers, "Time Won't Let Me" and "Sea of Love."
7. Every song on this album is a winner.

Those who expect a Stooges-style bloodbath are going to be disappointed, I suppose. But maybe it depends on what you knew about Pop when it came out. As I said, this is the first thing I ever heard by him, so to me it was just a colossal record. After that I discovered Soldier, Lust for Life, and then I got into the Stooges. Sometimes discovering an artist's discography in reverse order is a real good way to get into someone.

Now, then, if you buy Party on the CD that came out in 2000 on Buddha, you get two bonus tracks, which aren't so great, but since they're not part of the original album, you can listen to 'em once and then disregard. Personally, I'd track down a vinyl copy and let 'er rip!
5/5 (Arista, 1981)