Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Things we like: Panther City Vinyl edition

So last weekend, I filled in at my buddy Dan's record store while his partner Ted was out of town, and was reminded that I love selling records as much as I do playing and listening to music. Also, that it's a bigger kick finding something serendipitously in a bin, or hearing it played in-store, than it is having your coat pulled via social media (at least for me it is). And at the end of the weekend, I left with four items, any of which would have been a "find o' the week" on its own. Hooray!

18 King Size Rhythm and Blues Hits -- Compiled for Columbia back in '69, this Valentine from one great Jewish indie record guy (Seymour Stein) to another (Syd Nathan) covers the whole waterfront, from vocal groups (Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, the Five Royales) to instrumentals (Bill Doggett, Freddy King -- whose instrumentals canny marketer Nathan had the audacity to repackage as surf music!) to embryonic soul men (James Brown, Otis Redding).

Everything You Always Wanted to Hear by Dion & the Belmonts...But Couldn't Get! -- Twenty songs by my favorite early rockaroller ("Presley or Penniman?" "DiMucci!"), which embody the swagger of the Italo-American cats I grew up around (even though a guy from the Bronx who taught at my high school claimed Dion was laughed out of the 'hood for shaving his legs "to fit in those pegged pants!") and include some classic lines ("Here's the moral of the story from a guy who knows," "With my two fists of iron but I'm going nowhere"). Dion said Jesus saved him from junk, and he still had the goods in his millennial blues phase (I treasure a CD-R of a recording of his live NPR broadcast). Now I need to hunt down the "Abraham, Martin and John" single for its Bronx blues flip, "Daddy Rollin'," and the '67 Together Again with the Belmonts, for the OG "My Girl the Month of May" (covered by Richard Thompson with the Bunch).

Stooges: Highlights from the Funhouse Sessions -- The Rhino box set was too much, like being brainwashed with 23 versions of "Loose" (in the same manner as the Sony Robert Johnson box, where someone unwisely sequenced all the alternate takes together, which makes sense as scholarship, but not as record production). CD-era completism gave me a finer appreciation for the art of curatorship. (Relevant quote from Francois Truffaut: "The direction is a critique of the scenario and the editing is a critique of the direction." Un autre: "Many of Welles' recent films give the impression that they were shot by an exhibitionist and edited by a censor.") This distillation of good mature takes, minus overdubs, is in essence a well-recorded live album (because it was cut in a room with all the players together and Iggy singing through a PA). I'm saving the 17-minute "L.A. Blues" precursor "Freak" for a special occasion.

Sonic's Rendezvous Band: Sweet Nothing -- Twenty years ago, when it was new (and the music it documents already 20 years old), this thing steamrollered me like Live At Leeds. In some ways I am still there. At once the final fruition and last gasp of Detroit high energy, fulfilling every promise of Funhouse and the first side of Kick Out the Jams (not to mention the Rationals' great LP), this is hard rock as trance music, and no one will ever know what recent West Virginia Hall of Fame inductee Fred "Sonic" Smith was singing on "City Slang." (Scott Morgan's a better singer, but Fred sounds like a hoodlum, which fits the music's gritty menace better.) A friend of mine heard this music and bought the LP on eBay even though he didn't own a turntable. (Someday before I croak, he and I will play "Slang" onstage together.) Here again, sweet, sweet vinyl beats CD because it omits a less-than-snazz cover of Mick 'n' Keef's "Heart of Stone."

Saturday, February 10, 2018

2.10.2018, Fort Worth

I'm kind of sick of rockwrite, including my own, and I'm kind of preoccupied with other things now, but tonight Heater and The Prof.Fuzz 63 were playing at the Boiled Owl, a place where I'd never set foot before, so my wife and I were going to check it out. In the event, she was still recovering from a bout of flu last weekend, and the temperature dropped down into the 30s-feels-like-20s, but I decided to step out anyway after she'd headed for the rack.

The Boiled Owl is a congenial little spot and they had a good crowd by the time I rolled in a little after 10. I missed the Deep Sleepers' set, but it was the first time on the boards for that crew, and perhaps there'll be another opportunity. I'd met Professor Fuzz, who's a no-fooling history prof and Sinologist at UT Dallas, at a show a couple of years ago, and had dug his band's quirkily idiosyncratic garage rock online, but this was my first chance to hear them in person.

The band -- Fuzz on guitar and vox, his wife Sleepy Redhead on organ and vox, and their son Mr. B on drums (Fuzz quoted an ancient Chinese proverb to the effect that the best drummer is "one who doesn't have other options") -- stays pretty busy, playing 50 shows last year all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The list of upcoming shows on their Facebook page already shows more gigs than Stoogeaphilia ever played in a good year, and it only runs through May.

They're pure concept, with not an ounce of excess anywhere in their sound. Fuzz sings his amusing juvenalia about plumbing malfunctions, a local indie pop band playing Motorhead, double homicides, panda attacks, and the like, while coaxing gorgeously tweaked tones from his custom built axes. His wife is responsible for a huge chunk of their auditory impact, utilizing sounds that variously recalled Question Mark & the Mysterians' Farfisa and the clavioline from the Tornados' "Telstar." Their son thumps the traps in the grand Mo Tucker manner -- small price to pay, he said, for college tuition, room and board. Fair exchange.

I'd seen Heater before when the Stooge band shared a bill with them at Lola's Trailer Park a couple of years ago, but the way to see these guys is really up close and personal, when they're playing on the floor in a small place. That way you can feel the energy wash over you like a tidal wave; it's pure catharsis. I was wondering how the house's tiny PA would handle their sound (both guitar players use Marshall half stacks), but was pleasantly surprised that not only was I able to hear vocals, but I was able to differentiate between guitar parts.

Things got off to a slow start when Adam Werner busted a string on the first song, but they were able to regain momentum with only a slight interruption to resolve a power issue later in the set. Adam's the visual fulcrum of the band onstage, singing in a raspy growl while pummeling his axe hard enough to break another string later in the set. Travis Brown sings from the bottoms of his feet and keeps up a steady barrage of chords, stinging lines, and ringing harmonics from choked strings. Josh Lindsay's drums and Jamie Shipman's bass propel the engine. Together, they're tight and intense.

They played a couple of new songs, as well as the ones from their EP, and quit just as four squad cars and an ambulance arrived at Yucatan Taco Stand next door. Hope somebody's night didn't go as badly as it looked when I was leaving. For myself, spending a couple of hours feeling my clothes being moved around by air from drum heads and speaker cones was just the medicine I needed.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Loose canon

This fall, it will have been 50 years since I started buying records. (My first: The Beatles, "Hey Jude"/"Revolution.") Recently, reorganizing and culling my music collection caused me to revisit this list (which I do every so often, for like every music lover who is also a writer, I am a list-maker.) I picked ten albums from each decade I've been listening, because it seemed a truer way than, say, picking one each for 100 bands. (Yes, I like Lou Reed and George Clinton a lot; Pete Townshend, Brian Wilson, Joe Strummer, Shannon Jackson, and Jimi Hendrix less so, apparently.)

I discovered many of these years after they were released, but I still like to listen to everything here (not true of everything I loved 20, 40, or 50 years ago). The sole criterion is my taste, rather than world historical significance. It is evident to me how much my preferences have been affected by reading, and by what I was doing at different times in my life (record store geek, military enlistee, tech writer/moonlighting record store geek, freelance journo, ad account manager, grocery clerk, stay-at-home-parent/amateur pediatric nurse/physical therapist, brokenhearted old man). There's still a lot from all these years I haven't heard, and a lot that I love that isn't reflected on this list. Music's a deep well; how fortunate are we.

1) Laurie Anderson - Heart of a Dog
2) Chris Butler - Easy Life
3) Billy Bragg/Joe Henry - Shine A Light
4) Beck - Morning Phase
5) Mark Growden - Saint Judas
6) Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
7) Cameron Smith/Sur Duda - Paper Knife
8) Petra Haden - Goes To the Movies
9) They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy - Far From the Silvery Light
10) Velvet Underground - Complete Matrix Tapes

1) Brian Wilson - Smile
2) Hochimen - Totenlieder
3) Goodwin - S/T
4) Woodeye - Such Sweet Sorrow
5) Stumptone - Gravity Finally Released
6) Joe Strummer - Streetcore
7) Lou Reed - Ecstasy
8) Bob Dylan - Modern Times
9) Top Secret...Shhh
10) Sonic's Rendezvous Band - box set

1) Lou Reed - Magic and Loss
2) Sonny Sharrock - Ask the Ages
3) Turbonegro - Apocalypse Dudes
4) Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
5) Freedy Johnston - This Perfect World
6) A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders
7) Living Colour - Time's Up
8) George Clinton - Dope Dogs
9) Charlie Haden/Quartet West - Haunted Heart
10) Robert Johnson - Complete Recordings

1) Lou Reed - New York
2) George Clinton - Computer Games
3) Ornette Coleman - In All Languages
4) Clash - Sandinista!
5) Captain Beefheart - Doc at the Radar Station
6) Gang of Four - Entertainment!
7) Ronald Shannon Jackson - Mandance
8) Minutemen - Double Nickels On the Dime
9) Husker Du - Zen Arcade
10) Power Tools - Strange Meeting

1) Stooges - Fun House
2) Who - Quadrophenia
3) The Band - S/T
4) Grateful Dead - American Beauty
5) Velvet Underground - Loaded
6) Jimi Hendrix - The Cry of Love
7) Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.
8) Joni Mitchell - The Hissing of Summer Lawns
9) King Crimson - Red
10) Funkadelic - Maggot Brain

1) Who - Sell Out
2) Jeff Beck - Truth
3) Beatles - Revolver
4) Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
5) James Brown - Live at the Apollo
6) Miles Davis - In A Silent Way
7) Jefferson Airplane - After Bathing At Baxter's
8) Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
9) Jimi Hendrix - Axis: Bold As Love
10) John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Things we like: Big Heaven, The Pungent Sound, Darrin Kobetich

The first record I ever bought -- the Beatles' "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" -- came with an implicit choice: Did I prefer Paul and melody, or John and noise? They're not mutually exclusive, of course. For proof positive, give a listen to Big Heaven's Strike A Match EP. The sunshine in Jesse Gage and Amanda Hand's voices, whether separate or blended, rides a careening 18-wheeler of fuzzy guitars and thunderous drumming (imagine Mad Max's Marauders invading a California beach), with sardonic lyrics like "I don't mind taking all your money / I don't mind wasting your time / Sometimes life's so fucking funny / So funny I think I might cry" ("Creature") to boot.

The three shadowy multi-instrumentalists who make up The Pungent Sound take their time between releases (nine years in this case). On The CoffinWorms EP, Seattle-based mastermind John Frum, Californian Andy Gassaway (also a veteran of Frum's indie-ish "regular" band Transient Songs), and busy Fort Worthian Ray Liberio (Me-Thinks/Vorvon/FTW, plus he's doing the artwork for the new Pinkish Black record) have produced a dense, doomy half-hour of phantasmagorical psychedelic murk. Ray's vocals ooze out of the mix like a specter from beyond the void, while the instrumental tracks reverberate with bone-crushing intensity.

In recent years, ace axe-slinger Darrin Kobetich has been plying his trade in even more contexts than usual -- in multiple rock and bluegrass bands, Eddie Dunlap's improvisatory Rage Out Arkestra, and a number of Hip Pocket Theatre productions, as well as solo acoustic. Now, with Going Planetary, he may have produced his magnum opus: a cinematic melange of overdubbed ambience in which the ethereal sounds of feedback and bowed guitars bump up against earthy percussion and oud, not to mention some of his most cogent and lyrical electric soloing ever, and even a little surf music, in addition to a palate cleanser of his signature acoustic fretwork. A fascinating departure.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Panther City Vinyl

Dan Lightner has been slinging rekkids in the Town of Cow since 1978, the year I met him when I came here to open Peaches Records and Tapes at 6393 Camp Bowie Blvd with the man who brought me here, who ran a record store there for 25 years under four different corporations (and now works for Half Price Books). Dan was one of the first people we hired, and he stayed in the vinyl trade longer than most of us, winding up as the last general manager at Tower Records in Dallas before they folded the chain. He's also had a career as a visual artist -- of which I was a skeptic at first, like the John Cusack character in High Fidelity before he saw Jack Black's band; the fiery colors of Dan's Oath of the Horatii, which I once beheld at a Deep Ellum show he had with Brian Scott and Brian Jones in the early '90s, remain etched on my synapses. More famously, he did the painting that appeared on the cover of the Toadies' Rubberneck, about which I used to chide him that his work could now (late '90s) be found on the floorboards of cars all over America.

For years, Dan talked about opening a record store in Fort Worth, and a couple of years ago, he finally found a partner who had the time, energy, capital, and records to do more than talk about it, in the form of Ted Stern, a native of Fargo, North Dakota (he's an avowed ice-fishing enthusiast) who came to Fort Worth via Austin. Their store, Panther City Vinyl, opened earlier this month in a pop-up location at 1506 West Magnolia Ave. (the former Darrel Whitsel Florist location) -- look for the banner in the window, the sandwich sign on the sidewalk, and the creepy animatronic robots (inherited from the florist) in the window. When construction is complete, their permanent location will be across Magnolia, opposite Benito's and the Bearded Lady. The small store has a beautifully curated selection, with many gems, reasonably priced. If you don't see something, ask the fellas -- they may have it in back, or they can bring more from their storage unit. (There's also a small assortment of CDs. More select pieces are available from their Discogs store.) It's a pleasure to crate-dig in the company of folks who know and love their music as much as these two. If you dig the vinyl and live in the Fort, Dallas, or Denton, you owe it to yourself to pay 'em a visit.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Azonic's "Prospect of the Deep, Volume One" and Blind Idiot God's "Undertow"

It is noteworthy to me how many of my favorite bands these days are duos: Pinkish Black, They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy, and Wire Nest, to name just three. Paring down the instrumentation doesn't necessarily equate with lower volume, but it certainly allows the listener to hone in on sonic detail to an unprecedented degree. A good example of this phenomenon is Prospect of the Deep, Volume One, a new album by the duo Azonic, whose members also constitute two thirds of the current lineup of instrumental trio Blind Idiot God. Here, guitarist Andy Hawkins continues the exploration of the vibrato-equipped electric guitar's extreme pitch potential that he started back in 1989 with the track "Drowning" on BIG's second album, Undertow.

On the Azonic disc, Hawkins' 7-string and doubleneck guitars are matched by drummer Tim Wyskida's unique percussion array, which consists of two tympani, a concert bass drum, and a gong, to which the estimable Bill Laswell added bowed bass and triggered samples as part of his mix translation. The gargantuan sound of their high-volume improvisations, replete with long tones and pealing feedback, is both heavy and deep: the full realization of things Hendrix hinted at with "And the Gods Made Love..." and parts of the third side of Electric Ladyland, and the logical next step after Boris' Flood.

Hawkins' Indivisible Music imprint is simultaneously reissuing Undertow, so that those who missed out the first time around can be gobsmacked by BIG's massive sound, wherein heavy rock dynamics collide with 20th century classical harmony, dub, and funk (a raging cover of Funkadelic's "Alice in My Fantasies" is a particular standout). The label also plans to re-release BIG's other out-of-print albums, the self-titled 1987 debut and 1992's Cyclotron. Lower Manhattan avant-garde godfather John Zorn adds alto sax to his composition "Purged Specimen," while Henry Rollins provides confrontational vocals on the galloping "Freaked" (originally cut for a soundtrack in 1993). Drummer Ted Epstein, who left the band in 1996, plays like a whirlwind and is a wonder throughout. Essential listening.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Things we like: Japan, again

The summons came in the form of a coat-pull from my buddy Phil Overeem, the Christgau of Columbia, Missouri -- a link to a NYT story about the release, on Light in the Attic (the reish label best known for its revival of obscuro '70s Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez's career), of Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk and Rock 1969-1973.

The comp documents the music, influenced by America's Woodstock and Laurel Canyon crews, made by musos from Tokyo in the east and the Kansai region in the west, and recorded by indie labels like URC (Underground Record Club) and Elec, as well as major label King's Bellwood imprint. Some of the musos would go on to Western success with later outfits like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Sadistic Mika Band. A couple had been mentioned favorably (Takashi Nishioka's Itutsu No Akai Fusen) or less so (Happy End, Haruomi Hosono's Apryl Fool) in Julian Cope's Japrocksampler. Sachiko Kanenobu married pioneering rock scribe Paul Williams, emigrated to the States, and revived her career in the '90s.

While it's well curated and beautifully packaged, I found the music less than inspiring -- at its best when echoing traditional-sounding enka (with its bluesy scale that omits the 4th and 7th degrees), or pioneering depresso rockers the Jacks (unfairly maligned by Richie Unterberger in his All Music Guide bio), who blended their folk balladry with touches of free jazz and psychedelia; less so when taking more literal cues from the likes of the Band and CSNY. It underwhelmed me in much the same way as the German comp Love, Peace & Poetry: Japanese Psychedelic Music (which was packaged with a "WTF?" blonde model on the cover) had. Although that one included several artists Cope had lauded, and I wanted to like it, the overall impression it left was one of mediocrity -- lesser echoes of US and UK models.

On the upside, the LITA comp got me thinking about Japanese music I dig but hadn't listened to for a minute. Even before Jon Teague pulled my coat to Boris -- whose massive catalog covers a musical spectrum from harsh noise to doom metal to dream pop -- via a CD-R of Akuma No Uta, I'd owned a copy of Shoukichi Kina's Peppermint Tea House, released on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label back in the '90s. Kina's been called "the Bob Marley of Okinawa," and Richard Thompson covered his "Haisai Ojisan" on the first French, Frith, Kaiser & Thompson album wa-a-ay back in '87. To these feedback-scorched ears, Kina's music sounds like the Japanese pop music I heard as a kid, with traditional-sounding melodies played on electrified Western instruments. The bounce quotient is high, and the music is sprightly and fun, which I see as a plus and is probably what attracted Byrne, as well.

Much more to the point is Kan Mikami, who started his career in 1970 as a teenage police academy dropout from the godforsaken northern prefecture of Aomori, playing for cells of student radicals and would-be terrorists (as heard on Live in Kouchi University 1972, a rough audience recording released by his fan club in 2006). Mikami's monochromatic minor key music resembles Delta blues, and he sings over his own minimal guitar accompaniment in a voice as rough-hewn and wildly expressive as Charlie Patton or Bukka White's. Mikami was featured in some of J.A. Caesar's soundtracks for Shuji Teriyama's theatrical productions, and even acted in films. His early, major label records were withdrawn due to their lyrics, which expressed sympathy for criminals.

From 1991 to 2010, he recorded roughly an album a year for the forward-looking Tokyo-based label PSF (which stood for either "Poor Strong Factory" or "Psychedelic Speed Freaks," depending) -- an outgrowth of Hideo Ikeezumi's Tokyo record store, Modern Music, where by the late '80s, listeners already exposed to Fluxus experiments and free jazz were tuning their ears to psychedelic rock. In trying to run down some of Mikami's PSF releases online, I discovered that a new US indie, Black Editions, has acquired the rights to the PSF catalog from Ikeezumi, who died this past February, and is undertaking an ambitious reissue program.

The first Black Editions release to hit my mailbox was Tokyo Flashback, the first vinyl release (an opulently packaged double LP) of the 1991 CD sampler that was many American listeners' introduction to the likes of High Rise (the explosive power trio who serve as the model for Boris when the slightly younger band isn't being inspired by the Melvins or Pink Floyd), Ghost (a more meditative sounding outfit who like to record in sacred spaces, and have had US releases of their material on Drag City and Now Sound), White Heaven (the band that gave us the John Cipollina-esque guitarist Michio Kurihara, a frequent collaborator of both Boris and Ghost), and Marble Sheep (whose guitarist Ken Matsutani went on to helm the Captain Trip label, releasing crucial material by rockaroll Renaissance man Mick Farren, as well as a 4CD box set of live Doug Yule-fronted VU).

I was spinning the fourth side of Tokyo Flashback when my wife looked up from her newspaper and asked, "Who's that? He sounds like he's exorcising demons." Or perhaps he's the demon, I thought, for the artist who'd caught her discerning ear was none other than Keiji Haino, the man whose music represents the sinister heart of the Japanese underground. (Imagine the vibe of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood incarnated in the form of a black-clad specter in dark shades, wearing the same hair style James Earl Jones sported in Conan the Barbarian -- a look pioneered by the Jacks' Yoshio Hayakawa and Les Rallizes Denudes' Takashi Mizutani.) Solo and acapella, Haino's anguished moans and blood-curdling shrieks are bone-chilling. Surrounded by the sturm und drang of his trio Fushitsusha (also represented on Tokyo Flashback), with his coruscating noise guitar riding over the top, it's hard to imagine a more intense music.

So now, I'm waiting for my copy of Black Editions' reish of Haino's solo debut Watashi Dake? -- the 1981 album that made its creator's US rep when Fred Frith heard it while visiting Tokyo and took home copies for Lower Manhattan buddies like John Zorn and Bill Laswell -- and hoping they get around to re-releasing Fushitsusha's "2nd Live" from '91 and the two-volume Live in the First Year of Heisei from '90 (on which Kan Mikami is accompanied by Haino and free jazz bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa) sooner than later. Music's a deep well; how fortunate are we.