Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Week in Listening 2/2 - 2/8

2/2/09- Souled American- Flubber CD 1989
Stump- A Fierce Pancake CD 1988

2/3/09- Borah Bergman Trio- Luminescence CD 2009
Bengali Bauls- At Big Pink LP 1969

2/4/09- Otis Redding- The Otis Redding Story 3CD

2/5/09- The Cramps- All Tore Up (Ohio Demos 1979) Boot
The Cramps- Songs the Lord Taught Us LP 1980
The Cramps- Drug Train 12” LP 1984
The Cramps- The Crusher 12” LP 1984
Various Artists- Songs the Cramps Taught Us CD

2/6/09- New Klezmer Trio- Melt Zonk Rewire CD 1995
Crystal Stilts- Alight of Night CD 2008
Beau Brummels- Bradley’s Barn LP 1968
Bunky & Jake- L.A.M.F. LP 1969
Nels Cline Wally Shoup Chris Corsano- Immolation Immersion CD 2005

2/7/09- Individuals- Fields/Aquamarine CD
Richard Grossman- Where the Sky Ended CD 2000

2/8/09- Individuals- Fields/Aquamarine CD

Photo by William Eggleston, idea stolen from the Silver Jews.

MONDAY 2/2- There is such an immediate warmth running through Souled American’s Flubber, and along with the power gained through assurance and the album’s graceful but small gestures it all builds up to a grand statement. Occasionally flourishes of instrumental brilliance will rise up from the stream of solid soul-mining, but largely this is a low-key affair that will gain its appreciative fans through familiarity and the durability of the music. It’s one of those records that gets “stuck” in the tape deck (I use that piece of playback machinery due to it’s contemporaneousness to Flubber’s release date, when car CD players were still largely a luxury) with the songs’ impact slowly increasing as the melodies and sharp playing ripen, and (of course) whenever friends hear it they either shrug their shoulders or ask for something else. But YOU know. Because that drive across town that normally feels like nothing took on an odd appeal as the car’s cheap speakers resonated in the vehicle’s interior and the bright sun of the cool autumn afternoon felt brighter and invigorating, making the ever mounting pile-up of personal problems somehow feel less taxing and insurmountable. Flubber is loaded with great moments, many of them anchored by the huge and expressive acoustic bass of Joe Adducci. There are noticeable strides between this record and the debut Fe, with several songs being deceptively unusual in their construction. The tandem vocals of Adducci and guitarist Chris Grigoroff attain a sweet stride on this one and it all stacks up to a beautiful sum. File under Alt-Country (No Affectation).

Stump was briefly a big deal in the late ‘80s before flaming out as bands are wont to do. Deeply entrenched in their sound was a quirk/eccentricity factor that made people stand up and take notice, and they eschewed any traces of guitar heaviness in favor of a malleable, at times even elastic bass-heavy song structure that worked well with Mick Lynch’s unusual but attractive vocal style. They had a few MTV “hits” and became a fleeting sensation with the stations po-mo contingent, but sadly the initial hoopla didn’t translate into longevity. They were quite an interesting group for the profile they achieved, not sounding like much else that was happening at the time, and the lack of reference points led some to describe the band as Beefheartian. They don’t really sound like the Captain, lacking any of the blues base that various Magic Band’s subverted and sometimes pounded into submission. Stump instead seemed intent on undoing pop structures and aligning themselves with an art-spazz sensibility that was unique from Beefheart’s zonked hippie aesthetic. A Fierce Pancake actually feels closer to something Ralph Records might have released for pop chart consideration, as unlikely as that might seem. The album has a proud production veneer (I resist using the term polish) that really sits at odds with most of what was happening on an indie level in the States during its period, so I guess it’s no surprise that this didn’t catch on with that crowd. It has over time built up a deserved cult status that resulted in a 3-CD collection of the band’s discography. This is something, at least. In a better world “Charlton Heston” would have been a big hit and Pancake would’ve kick-started some heavy fireworks instead of serving as the underappreciated final document from a wonderful group of seriously unserious oddballs.

TUESDAY 2/3- The Bengali Bauls LP hasn’t been reissued to my knowledge, which is strange considering the big time connections it has. Recorded by The Band’s Garth Hudson at the titular location of what’s probably that group’s best record, it’s also quite noteworthy that two of the Bauls are found in the cover photo of Dylan’s excellent John Wesley Harding album. So it would seem that this cool slab of druggy Indian jamming would be a prime candidate for some label’s licensing department. But it hasn’t, so if you’re interested, happy hunting. Released on Buddha Records right at the end of its decade, the disc is a fine addition to the discography of a wide open era. So much stuff was on the shelves at the time that it’s not surprising this didn’t make a bigger splash. Plus the music lacks any overt rock elements that many people to this day seem to require. But Big Pink’s lack of retrospective stature is more than a bit quizzical. It’s a fine listen, full of prime smoky drifting, and it would’ve been a stone(d) treat to be seated on the floor, cross-legged and heavy-lidded, while this baby was recorded. I’d love to “score” an LP copy of this because here’s a perfect case where the download experience just isn’t the same. There NEEDS to be a record sleeve on the mantle when this one plays. Lie back on a big-assed pillow, inhale deeply and enjoy. Shit. Gotta turn the record over.

Mr. Pitiful

WEDNESDAY 2/4- Otis Redding is well served by assorted reissues, but I can’t think of a better one than the 3-disc set above, which chronologically presents twenty songs per disc in the too short career of one of the greatest artists/showmen that R&B/soul music ever had. Redding possessed a striking ability to work with his bands and stir up a massive series of both rousing party belters and slow grooves through a wounded psyche. He could filter a touch of uptown blues into his cagey country thrust, or extend the gorgeous template of Sam Cooke. He could riff on and vamp up chart material from invading Britons, and could tangle in a good-natured snap contest with Carla Thomas. He could simultaneously pay homage to and challenge one of his strongest peers by simply nailing “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”. He could send crowds of Brit mods and rockers into a wigged-out frenzy and captivate the “love crowd” at Monterey. The guy appeared to be in complete control of his creative impulses. He could elevate average material to the realm of classic, knew exactly how to navigate chancier terrain and make it sound timeless, and seemed to have a nearly faultless ability to know what boundaries to push and what wouldn’t work. Redding was certainly versatile, but his artistic personality never lost focus. He always sounded like Otis Redding. His bands were often the star of the show, particularly live (some of the live tapes just BURN with soul grease), and his generous relationship with the musicians who played with him seemed to add a spark to the proceedings and also helped promote racial goodwill, since one of the most inspiring extra-musical aspects of the Stax/Volt story involves how it was an integrated scene, where black and white denizens of Memphis came together to create brilliant, lasting art. And all of the above was just fucking NATURAL. What’s amazing is the utter lack of self-consciousness, while also appearing in no way naïve. It’s clear whenever I play this collection that Redding’s work is one of 20th Century music’s great pleasures. I think this specific release is out of print, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find an inexpensive copy. Sure, the mastering is a bit crappy like most CDs from the ‘80s, but this stuff will always sound best spilling from one speaker on a battered transistor radio while baking in the summer sun and guzzling bug-juice from a mason jar. Who wants a sno-cone?

And this was an off-night.

THURSDAY 2/5- Lux Interior has checked out of this astral plane, and his status as the original roots-punk trash culture maniac-as-deity is eternally secure. Along with his wildly coiffed mate Poison Ivy and a revolving door of third (and occasionally fourth) members, including such worthy characters as ex-Electric Eel Nick Knox and ex-Gun Clubber Kid Congo Powers, Lux basically invented the raw and simple punk tinged celebration of youth junk ephemera that included everything from hot rod worship, dinkus surf instrumentals, cheesecake mags, wildly harroomphing horn-laden R&B singles, z-grade horror movies, hopped-up hillbillies going bonkers, forgotten dance craze non-hits, and assorted other societal fragments that for many are still little more than kitschy detritus.
Since its 2009, it’s maybe possible that a well adjusted, right minded person might not be familiar with The Cramps. If this is the case, can I suggest checking out at least one of the Songs The Cramps Taught Us compilations discs? All three of these highly educational volumes are just stuffed to the latex gills with the source of Lux and Company’s lovely mayhem. And the compilers make a couple of judicious decisions in the programming: instead of grouping the songs by genre or roughly similar styles they choose to just splatter the contents haphazardly onto the discs and therefore present the sounds as some mythical lower-class nogoodnik might’ve actually heard them. In addition, there is a smattering of names that will actually resonate with the culture at large. Link Wray, The Sonics, Bo Diddley, The Trashmen and Andre Williams are all included on the first installment, and they sit like ringers in a mass of lesser known obscurities. As it plays it forms a mind-flaying soundtrack to wildly nowhere forms of youthful suburbanite obsession that flourished in the prosperity of the ‘50s and didn’t really stall out until rock music (the main locus of the generation gap during this period) truly assimilated into the culture at large. Sitting in a clubhouse leafing through beat-to-shit copies of Mad Magazine and Famous Monsters of Filmland and listening to a jive-talking pill addicted disc jockey spin whatever he damn well pleased with a temporary freedom that everyone that was really receiving it took for granted. There’s a car show in the dollar store parking lot Saturday. I heard a band’s going to play…..Who?......I dunno who, but Crazy Carlton is going to be there too, giving away stuff…..Hey, we can go to see Eegah afterwards, I saw that poster in front of the theatre…...You guys know Bettie Page?.....Yeah, man who doesn’t…..My brother has some postcards of her under his mattress…..And the clubhouse is suddenly, eerily vacant in a manner that would make Rod Serling almost crack a smile.
One of the most attractive elements of The Cramps was their blunt refusal to change their sound over the years. They did flirt around with bass and bigger, more pro production, but the essential message of Lux and Ivy remained constant until the very end. This means that pretty much everybody that’s into them will have a quite personal cutting off point in relation to the band’s discography. How much of a good thing do you want? How many bootlegs do you own? I personally run up to A Date with Elvis, but there’s certainly no defined reason why I haven’t bought into the records released since, other than shelf space and a mild non-judgmental feeling that their oomph had codified somewhat. But that’s a contradictory assessment, isn’t it? The Cramps were always about code. They dumped any aims toward originality into their visual/live presentation, and let the record’s serve as wonderfully bent party din that was also a conduit to how kids survived before The Man stole their music (not really rescued back briefly until punk rock bubbled up, with The Cramps securing themselves on the fringes of that scene). Anybody who denies that Lux and Ivy were shrewd calculators under the surface of their reckless abandon is either not getting it (hard to imagine) or they’re just being contrary. They were the band equivalent to record labels like Crypt and Norton, teaching as they gave stuffed clubs countless nights to remember. I feel like a dumbass for not ever paying to see them throw down. You don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone. Thanks, Lux.

FRIDAY 2/6- The new in New Klezmer Trio is no general descriptor. The music found on Melt Zonk Rewire, which is the middle disc in a three release discography and the only CD that I’ve heard by this group, is quite strident in its groundbreaking. They make this clear immediately by reworking a traditional piece into a serious hunk of avant roots-plumbing that’s quite blunt in its appreciative nods toward rock progressions. Then they shift gears and examine the source of their inspiration on original compositions that start from a more tangibly trad base. I wouldn’t recommend this disc as a gift idea for that classic klezmer loving uncle. The focus here is squarely on grabbing avant-garde music fans that are open to the finely woven fabric of the past instead of sating those who are specifically spoken to by the undying beauty of the diverse threads of said fabric. But don’t think for an instant that these guys are in any way disrespectful of their muse. Unlike some releases from the avant-garde and a few on Tzadik (who released this), there isn’t a trace of the will to provoke. Instead it is drenched in a desire to keep this amazing style vital and moving toward the future. Ben Goldberg’s clarinet playing is tough but spry, and his bass clarinet is certainly raw but with the necessary ability to constantly express ideas emotionally (artistically) instead of just huffing and puffing. This is a group loaded with chops. Dan Seamans’ bass and Kenny Wollesen’s drums are continuously climbing around the tunes while also propelling them forward. Rewire is a beautiful work and I’m anticipating becoming acquainted with the other two records by the trio.

The Beau Brummells are best remembered for a two hit combo of Brit Invasion inspired pop-rock that still stands rather tall to this day: “Laugh Laugh” and “Cry Just a Little”. In a somewhat similar vein to The Turtles, but with more Everly Brothers influence, the band’s early stuff remains solid listening and is a great example of how chart inclined US bands were adapting the non-blues based UK sound to their own ends. Triangle was a departure into conceptual territory, though folkier and less psyche than many similar efforts, and therefore less dated. But Bradley’s Barn is a whole different kettle of trout. By this point the group was down to two original members, and Reprise sugar daddy Lenny Waronker took them to Nashville to record with producer Owen Bradley and a bunch of smoking session musicians (including the late Jerry Reed), with the results being one of the best slabs of country-rock I’ve ever heard. Situations like this one often find the playing surpassing the songwriting, but that’s not the case here. The original tunes are choice from top to bottom, with “An Added Attraction (Come and See Me)” being my favorite of the bunch: it actually reminds me a bit of the deep melancholia of the following year’s brilliant Oar LP by ex-Moby Grape Skip Spence, though it lacks the edgy stress of that record and instead feels wise and in control. The entirety of this baby is a pill sweet and wonderful, capped off with the record’s solitary cover, Randy Newman’s “Bless You California”. If you need another Nashville Skyline in your life then pucker up to this one.

SATURDAY 2/7- The late Richard Grossman is maybe the most underappreciated jazz pianist of the last thirty years. Playing free jazz in earnest is a sure fire path to neglect and occasional scorn, and Grossman’s non-prolific discography and his residences away from free-music friendly media centers surely added to the fact that almost nobody but the jazz obsessed know him, and even then it’s a coin flip. The West Coast’s free scene has always been small, including a batch of major names (Sonny Simmons, Smiley Winters, Horace Tapscott, John Carter, Bobby Bradford, Barbara Donald, James Zitro and the later Nine Winds Records group led by Vinnie Golia that Grossman was a part of) but never fostering enough closely knit activity to build momentum and help many of the musicians associated with it become more than just personalities recognizable to partisans of the movement. This is where Grossman spent most of his recording career, but a large portion of his playing life was based in Philadelphia, where he played post-bop in a scene that found him crossing paths with names such as Lee Morgan and Jimmy Garrison. Seduction by Ornette found him moving away from the accepted post-bop forms, and his move to California gave him the opportunity to record his work. This 2000 CD on the Hat Hut label reissues a very obscure 1994 release that hit the stores roughly two years after his death from lung cancer. It’s a challenging beauty. Made up of trio pieces featuring percussionist Alex Cline (bro of Nels if you’re wondering) and bassist Ken Filiano, the music starts at a very spacious and considered pace, reflecting Grossman’s interest in modern classical composition. Slowly the pieces move into a more established avant-jazz territory, with the piano rubbing up against Taylor-esque sounds (while never losing the vital thrust that makes this music Grossman’s own) and the trio conjuring an energetic back and forth that should appeal to anybody with an interest in small group free interplay. This is my first taste of the man’s music and it should be obvious that I’m still basically unsure of how to do him justice beyond stacking up his bio and then slobbering some unexceptional praise all over it. That’s okay, because I’m going to continue listening, and as the music gets under my skin and grows so that I can start to get a really worthwhile handle on it, I’ll return to the keyboard (as he so often did to his) and retool and expand upon the ideas touched on in this paragraph so that I can actually do the man some justice. It seems the least I can do.

SUNDAY 2/8- I remember buying Individuals’ Aquamarine LP used back in ’88 or so on a tip that I’d dig it and being nonplussed. I traded it back in on my next visit to the store. At the time the band’s guitar-pop sound was far too clean and sophisto for me. I basically shelved them in my memory as a New Jersey band with an ironically collegiate sensibility that didn’t appeal to me. Well, revisiting some of these previously dismissed groups has proved to be interesting. Individuals can still seem a bit forced at times, and at others moments appear intent on making covertly dancey music for bookworms (I can just picture a tightly packed club of lit-majors totally forgetting themselves and flailing into a frenzy as a DJ spins “My Three Sons”), but I can’t deny that this stuff goes down better with me now than it did back then. Individuals will never be my favorite Jersey band, but damn if the guitar in “Walk by Your House” didn’t make me smile. This disc is basically a complete discography, and while I don’t consider it essential listening, there are some moments in the mannerisms.

Individuals, don'tcha know....

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