Category Archives: vinyl

Electric Light Orchestra • Out of the Blue [40th Anniversary Picture Disc]

Another anniversary, another reissue. Yet, ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA’s Out of the Blue is truly deserving of a celebration. The double album was first released in October 1977, amid all the hype about punk rock and the desecration of our beloved rock ’n’ roll. Forty years later the prophecy that punk would destroy all stands unfulfilled; rock ’n’ roll carries on as “classic” music, mostly of a bygone era, via countless repackages of the best it had to offer.

This here double picture disc of Out of the Blue is truly something to look at (I’m going by the photos I’ve seen), although it can’t be quite as awesome as the original issue. That was a 2LP album in a gatefold cover with printed inner sleeves, a mini poster of the band and – wait for it! – a cut-out space station/rocket ship just like the one on the record jacket! And YES, I did assemble mine as a 14 year old and hung the poster, too. Today’s picture disc release comes with none of those extras, just Jeff Lynne’s masterpiece carved into the grooves of records that can’t possibly show all the magic that is Blue. I mean, picture discs are naturally pressed with shallower grooves to accommodate the picture inside, thus making for a quieter and (likely) less expansive sound. The original pressing, as well as some of the many reissues over the last four decades, is really the one to have.

With five singles hitting the charts, Blue was ELO’s biggest bang, eventually selling some 10 million copies worldwide. You know many of them: “Turn to Stone,” “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” and the nowadays ubiquitous (thanks to its inclusion in dozens of movies) “Mr. Blue Sky.” The band’s sound had evolved to a unique hybrid of rock, classical and pop. What started out as a great idea (their classicalized cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” was among their early singles, along with the epic “10538 Overture”) hit its zenith with this sprawling double album, which even included a side-long Concerto for a Rainy Day. Judging by the DVD of one of this era’s shows, the ELO of ’77 must have been something to see and hear in person.

Heavy on harmonies, stacked in layers thanks to 24-track recording and Jeff Lynne’s amazing ability to take melodies and turn them into major statements, Out of the Blue was like The Beatles smashed into The Beach Boys and The Everly Brothers while Phil Spector got the entire shebang on tape. My guess is Lynne was as focused on dense, dynamic arrangements as Brian Wilson was before him, though I don’t expect Jeff was wearing a fireman’s helmet in the booth… But I’ll bet it was really hot in there!

As for the strings, well, the Electric Light Orchestra at this point – lavish, grand – was six or seven band members plus the extra violins, cellos and what have you that accompanied them on record and on stage. Blue is ELO at its most magnificent. From this peak there was nowhere higher for Lynne & Co. to go, and so on the next LP, Discovery (cynically also known as Disco Very), the band shed most of the genuine strings and accomplished its orchestral manoeuvres mainly via synthesizers. It doesn’t matter that ELO’s biggest hit in America was “Don’t Let Me Down” (Bruuuuuuuuce!); Out of the Blue was the album that finally captured what was in the boss’s head and displayed it like a gigantic billboard for all to see. Hey you with the pretty face, welcome to the human race!

In 2007 a deluxe anniversary CD came out in a limited edition book-bound cover with the cutout space station (albeit in much smaller form) and 24-page booklet; that version and the standard jewelcase version included bonus tracks and new mastering. Sadly, one of the songs had a noticeable dropout thanks to the age of the stereo master tape and so this reissue loses a point. A vinyl reissue on Simply Vinyl was also issued (in 1999) and it suffered from over the top digital mastering (not usually a plus for vinyl reissues), and since then it had also been issued properly via Epic/Legacy (on clear vinyl, 2015). I’m not sure whether these vinyl versions – or the picture disc set that gave me reason to write this review now – include the aforementioned dropout, which is considerable but not a deal breaker since this album is such an essential piece of the ELO (and rock ’n’ roll in general) discography. You should give them a shot if they’re easily available. Otherwise, I’d try and hunt down an original on Jet/United Artists or even the slightly later Jet/CBS version (USA), or maybe even a UK import on Jet/UA. Hell, whatever version you get, Out of the Blue is something you must own.

5/5 (Epic 8898545616S1, 2017)

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Cheap Trick • Christmas Christmas [CD, LP]

Hard to believe I’ve been writing this blog for this long and not yet touched on CHEAP TRICK! I’ve been a fan since At Budokan first filled the streets of my neighborhood with their guitar soaked rock ’n’ roll and – barring a decade or so when they seemed to lose their way – been along for the ride ever since.

This year The Trick treats us to Christmas Christmas, their first all-holiday release and a welcome gift. Packed with a dozen Yuletide tunes, it includes their takes on a bunch of classic Christmas rock. Naturally they cover Roy Wood & Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,” giving it the customary crunch that has accompanied their previous killer covers of Wood’s material (“California Man,” “Brontosaurus”). Also tackled with aplomb are The Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” and Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run.” It’s not surprising these ones made it to the album, as they’re exactly what you’d expect Cheap Trick to do. A couple that are surprising – and both damn good – are the Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” and Nilsson’s “Remember Christmas,” two songs that couldn’t be much more different from each other and yet fit very nicely on Christmas Christmas. It’s great to see Cheap Trick stretch out a bit and cover something as punk rock as the Ramones or as beautiful as the Nilsson cut. Robin Zander shows his range as a rock singer on these two, especially the latter, where he uses restraint from going overboard and still nails it. I also like some of the arrangement touches, recalling Cheap Trick’s late ’70s records, such as the sinister middle bit in the Slade cover (reminiscent of the guy who invades your brain in the middle of “Dream Police”) or the over-the-top bridge they add to “Run Rudolph Run.” That there’s a heaping helping of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” is both expected and done quite well.

As Christmas albums go, this one’s absolutely critical for the Cheap Trick fan. Sure, you’ve heard some of these songs hundreds of times over the years, but never the way they’re done here. And though Bun E. Carlos is missed, Daxx Nielsen finally fits in comfortably on the drum throne. Christmas Christmas is filled with Cheap Trick cheer and whether you grab the Record Store Day vinyl or the CD, this one will be a platter you regularly revisit every December.

4/5 (Big Machine BMRCT0275A, 2017)

 

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Brinsley Schwarz • It’s All Over Now [CD, LP]

BRINSLEY SCHWARZ may be one of the most peculiarly named bands in rock history. They weren’t named after a dance craze, or as an homage to one of their favorite bands, or for any other reason except that one of the guys in the band was actually named Brinsley Schwarz. Perhaps the names Nick Lowe, Ian Gomm, Bob Andrews and Billy Rankin weren’t memorable enough…

Well, for whatever reason, a band called Kippington Lodge morphed into Brinsley Schwarz (oh, the humanity!) and became one of Britain’s most recognizable late ’60s “pub rock” bands. A genre marked by similar instrumentation to rock ’n’ roll and country, and lying somewhere in between (but not really “country rock”), pub rock would eventually morph into punk rock and new wave when guys like Joe Strummer went from The 101’ers to The Clash, and Brinsley Schwarz’s Nick Lowe went solo. It’s All Over Now is that band’s final studio album, recorded in 1974 and briefly released and then withdrawn. It’s unclear as to why the album came and went, except that all of the group’s members seemed to have lost interest in Brinsley Schwarz (the band) and perhaps weren’t all that keen on the album’s release; the label may have yanked it once they realized there was apparently no longer a band to back up the record. In 1988 it was reissued as mixed by band guitarist Gomm, and it appears that that mix was used for this release on Mega Dodo. The same eleven tracks make up both issues, including the original version of Gomm and Lowe’s “Cruel to Be Kind,” which became the latter’s biggest hit when re-recorded in 1979. (The Brinsleys version is more subdued and mellow.) Other tracks include the bouncy “Give Me Back My Love,” which takes The Equals’ “Baby Come Back” riff and turns it sideways, another that sounds like Lowe’s later “When I Write the Book” (which he recorded with Rockpile in 1980) and the title track, a reggaefied cover of The Rolling Stones’ cover of The Valentinos’ minor early ’60s R&B hit. Overall, It’s All Over Now is kind of a low-key affair, and not as rockin’ as the band’s official swan song, 1974’s The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz, which included Lowe’s original recording of “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” If you’re a fan of said pub rock and/or Lowe – or the other members of the band, who went on to form The Rumour (of Graham Parker fame), among others – this humble release is worth tracking down.

2.5/5 (Mega Dodo BSCD2, 2017; available direct from the label)

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R.E.M. • Automatic for the People [LP]

It’s already been 25 years since R.E.M. put out their last great album, Automatic for the People. This anniversary sees the release of a few different configurations to choose from (as is the custom these days), including a 3CD/BD deluxe set, a 2CD version and what I’m primarily concerned with here, an all-analog remaster on vinyl. This 180 gram audiophile pressing comes in your basic LP cover (faithful to the original release), with a printed inner sleeve and digital download voucher card. Mastered by industry vet Stephen Marcussen* at Precision Mastering, this vinyl is pretty quiet (as in, in between songs and in quiet moments) and has a very rich sound.

Some of that richness might be attributed to the fact that Automatic was a fairly orchestrated affair, with a handful of tunes bathed in strings arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame. Another factor is that, by this time in R.E.M.’s career, they were trying out a lot of different styles and arrangements beyond their standard guitar/bass/drums/Stipe archetype. Peter Buck’s often arpeggiated 12-string guitar is typically replaced by more inventive guitar parts, organ and other keyboard pads that make the record a much more moody thing than previous releases. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” used bits ’n’ bobs of the old pop classic (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) to interesting effect – not sampling, more like paraphrasing – though the “deeee dee deee deee” gets a little trying. Meanwhile, “Star Me Kitten” uses the F-word in place of the star in its title and, despite being a cool track with a lush vocal bed, is slightly overshadowed by the version R.E.M. did with writer William S. Burroughs narrating the lyrics. (It appeared on a soundtrack album for The X-Files.) Also present is “Everybody Hurts,” which feels a little syrupy but really works when the drums kick in and the orchestra just goes for it. I think “Man on the Moon” is still one of their greatest songs, and was so well regarded that it was used for the title and soundtrack of the film about comedian Andy Kaufman. In all, R.E.M. achieved something pretty daunting with Automatic for the People; it sold over 18 million copies worldwide, so clearly this was something much bigger than anything Murmur hinted at.

Those going for the 2CD version of Automatic will get a live concert recorded in 1992 at Athens, GA’s 40-Watt Club, the place where R.E.M. cut their teeth. This is substantial, as the band didn’t tour behind the album and this show was their only one of the year. And if you’re plunking down the extra bucks for the deluxe release you’ll also get a CD of demos and a Blu-ray disc with a new Dolby Atmos mix of the album. (Atmos is sorta like surround sound, but with sound coming at you from the ceiling if your system’s wired and hardwared that way; otherwise it will play as a 5.1 surround mix via standard AV surround receivers.)

Though it wasn’t necessarily the album for many of us who discovered the band when they first showed up with 1982’s Chronic Town EP, Automatic for the People was a watershed for R.E.M. It demonstrated that there was much more to this foursome than mumbly vocals and jangly guitars.

* Marcussen mastered the original vinyl, and appears to have done this version, too (though that credit could be a holdover from the artwork for the original album sleeve).

4/5 (Craft Recordings CR00046, 1992/2017)

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Nick Lowe • Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous, Party of One [CD, LP]

YepRoc has been working the NICK LOWE discography for some time now. Starting out with Labour of Lust, Pure Pop for Now People (Jesus of Cool) and the Rockpile-attributed Seconds of Pleasure, plus a best-of (Quiet Please) and a handful of new releases, the label finishes things off with the final six albums Lowe put out before he went independent in the mid ’90s.

Nick the Knife, The Abominable Showman and Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit (Columbia US, 1982-1984).

Granted, the half dozen releases here are among Lowe’s least successful, but that concept is only relative when you consider what Nick has knocked out in his career. His first couple of releases after his band Brinsley Schwarz called it a day – Pure Pop and Labour – have stood the test of time as power pop classics. But Lowe was never interested in being the torchbearer for that genre. So on his further releases he slowly but surely expanded his reach by tackling a wider range of pop flavors, including rockabilly, straight country, country-politan and more.

1982’s Nick the Knife cut closest to the Pure Pop/Labour one-two punch, with “Stick It Where the Sun Don’t Shine,” “Burning” and the reggae-tinged remake of his tune “Heart,” flanked by most of Rockpile (who made the original “Heart”). A year later Lowe had put together the band that would support him on the next few records, releasing The Abominable Showman (excellent title!) and scoring artistically with “Raging Eyes” – in his typical time-tested vein – but moving along into greener pastures with “Time Wounds All Heels” and the sublime sounding/lengthily titled “(For Every Woman Who Ever Made a Fool of a Man There’s a Woman Made A) Man of a Fool.”

Without a hit or hint at the Top 40 since “Cruel to Be Kind,” Nick’s label was leaning on him to come up with something chart-worthy. He gave them 1984’s Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, a cleverly-titled (though too clever for its own good) album with a surefire single, “Half a Boy and Half a Man,” which went nowhere fast. Despite a likely successful cover of The Springfields’ “Breakaway” and Mickey Jupp’s kick-ass “You’ll Never Get Me Up (In One of Those),” a worthy successor to “Switchboard Susan” (from Labour of Lust), Cowboy Outfit mostly stayed confined to the closet. Too bad, too, because Lowe penned some great album cuts (“Awesome,” “The Gee and the Rick and the Three-Card Trick”) that really showcased some of his untrumpeted strengths.

1985’s The Rose of England seemed to have the panacea to Lowe’s lack of chart time despite its boring cover art. (The US version featured a high school artist drawing/collage that was actually worse than the all-type treatment used in the UK.)  The remake of Nick’s own “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ’N’ Roll)” was produced by then-chart topping Huey Lewis and played by him and The News. A catchy tune that was already great before Lewis helmed its second coming, it still didn’t have that certain-something to bother the charts. Neither did the excellent reading of John Hiatt’s “She Don’t Love Nobody,” the rockabilly killer “7 Nights to Rock” or even Nick’s “The Rose of England.” Still… nothing.

A few years later, after taking a breather presumably to have a rethink, 1998 saw the release of Pinker and Prouder Than Previous. A peculiarly-titled little troublemaker, it had some likely candidates for stardom, such as Lowe’s “Lovers Jamboree” and the fun take on Wynn Stewart’s “Big Big Love,” but nothing that actually made a stab at bringing Nick something other than a consolation prize.

The Rose of England, Pinker and Prouder Than Previous and Party of One (Columbia US 1986, 1988 and Reprise 1990).

His US label, Columbia, decided they’d had enough and Mr. Lowe moved on to Reprise for 1990’s Party of One, arguably his best album since Nick the Knife. But even with quintessential all-time Lowes like “(I’m Gonna Build A) Jumbo Ark” and “All Men Are Liars” (which contains the clever couplet “Do you remember Rick Astley?/He had a big fat hit, it was ghastly”), as well as the more mature but just as good “What’s Shakin’ 0n the Hill” and “I Don’t Know Why You Keep Me On,” this party was a bust.

What was it going to take to bring Nick the kudos that seemed to be his for the taking? Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard movie, whose 1992 soundtrack featured a cover of Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” though the song’s author’s name was probably completely unknown to those who saw the movie and bought the soundtrack album. Perhaps it was the success – and royalty checks – from this project that helped Lowe to figure out what he wanted to do next.

Not content to age disgracefully, Nick embraced a personal path without the pressure to write what the label thinks will be a hit (I mean, were they ever right in the past?). Lowe’s albums since 1990 have been much more relaxed affairs, with the kinds of songs (originals and covers) that better reflect his life and role as one of new wave’s elder statesmen. You still get the humor, just not the sophomoric kind. It’s definitely a double-edged sword, though, for those of us who came aboard because of his association with the punk/wave scene and thanks to songs like “Cruel to Be Kind” or “Crackin’ Up” have found the ensuing releases to lack the spunk of the early albums. And even though we may have the self awareness to realize that those who don’t mature are doomed to come off as perennial punchlines, we can’t help but listen to the early records and wish our hero’s future releases had continued in the same vein.

YepRoc should be commended for taking the torch and keeping it lit. Though the packages themselves are devoid of any frills (no lyrics, inserts or anything like that, at least in the CD configuration), they have added bonus track rarities such as demos and live versions from B-sides and elsewhere, when applicable. The CDs feature these items on the single disc; vinyl buyers get them on an included bonus 7″. Applause! And – if you bought all six albums during the pre-order period – you get a Nick Lowe lunchbox. Sure, there’s no thermos included, but you’re probably not taking this thing to school anyway. Unless you’re one of those who refused to grow up and still wish there was a “Switchboard Susan” on every Lowe LP.

3.5/5 (entire series) (YepRoc, 2017)

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The Replacements • For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 [CD, LP]

Many of us think back on the ’80s and feel it wasn’t a very good time for rock ’n’ roll. Well, we are clearly forgetting about THE REPLACEMENTS! Listen to For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986 and you’ll recall that it wasn’t all bad – in fact, some of it was absolutely killer.

Captured professionally after their major label debut (1985’s Tim), this very live recording features the classic Replacements lineup (Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars) on an “on” night in Hoboken, NJ. If you know anything about this band and their near mythological live shows, depending on the night, they either were the best band on earth or they sucked big time. Representing the former – oh, thank heaven –this 2CD or 2LP release is quite possibly the Live at Leeds of our generation.

The set list this February night leaned heavily on tunes from Tim and their indie classic Let It Be, such as “Hold My Life,” “Bastards of Young,” and Westerberg’s awesome “I Will Dare,” sounding much more muscular in its live rendition (no Peter Buck on banjo!). There’s also an assortment of earlier hardcore fare such as “Fuck School,” “God Damn Job,” and one of my toppermost ’Mats tunes, Hootenany’s “Take Me Down to the Hospital.” I don’t wanna… die before my time… already used… eight of my lives…

For Sale also contains a number of cover tunes done the way only The Replacements could do ’em: unpracticed, spur-of-the-moment, warts ’n’ all. Witness “Fox on the Run,” the Sweet hit, which goes for about a minute (just past the first chorus) before it ends in a shambles. Elsewhere, “Nowhere Man” and T. Rex’s “Baby Strange” actually make it to completion, naturally in the rough ’n’ ramshackle manner these guys typically delivered.

All this is to say, if you need your rock music all polished and rehearsed, you probably don’t wanna shell out for this 30-years-overdue live release. But, if you’re a true disciple of The Replacements – and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you, man! – then you will find this album to be the quintessential, missing chapter of the book of the story of Minneapolis’s true rock ’n’ roll hall of famers. Hello Cleveland! indeed.

5/5 (Sire/Rhino R2 562078, 2017)

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Chris Bell • I Am the Cosmos [CD, LP]

Big Star’s ascendance to America’s best loved, most under appreciated rock band reaches its zenith with Omnivore’s authoritative reissue of the CHRIS BELL retrospective, I Am the Cosmos. Once again presented as an exhaustive 2CD compilation of the man’s life’s work, this version of Cosmos is a more focused affair than Rhino Handmade’s 2009 version or the original 1992 Rykodisc (single CD) release. I’ll admit: At first I thought it was going to be too much. After all, there are four versions of the title track included, and multiple versions of some of the other tunes. On paper it sounded like more than even this fan would want. I was wrong.

I won’t go into the whole Big Star story here, except to say that Chris Bell left the band after their debut, the critically acclaimed, consumer-ignored #1 Record (1972). After that, only one 45 of his own material (“I Am the Cosmos” b/w “You and Your Sister,” both included) was released in Bell’s lifetime. Yet this ample release shows that – despite the numerous versions of songs – he had a lot more in him. His harder rocking side is represented by “I Got Kinda Lost” and “Make a Scene,” his softer side by “You and Your Sister,” and the spiritual by “Look Up.” Then there are the yearning, burning tracks like “Cosmos” and “Better Save Yourself,” the winning pair that opens all versions of this compilation. Hard edged guitars anchor some tunes while strummed acoustics steal the scene in others; you even get funky Moog synthesizer (I believe) in the rollicking “Fight at the Table.” Bell’s talents were many and they’re all on display here. It’s hard for the Paul McCartney fan in me to not draw a parallel between Macca and Bell’s early ’70s smorgasbord of styles – and that, as you may know, is a high compliment in these quarters.

Omnivore Recordings has been on a Big Star bender for some time now, what with numerous band releases (including Complete Third, the comprehensive look at the band’s final album), Alex Chilton refreshers (I particularly like, but never reviewed, Free Again: The “1970” Sessions) and Chris Bell’s Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star. It’s clear from the liner notes in these various releases that label head Cheryl Pawelski and her crew will not rest until they have covered every angle of the Big Star story, and for that I’m grateful. Many lesser bands’ stories have been examined with an even larger microscope, so there’s definitely room in the world for just about anything Big Star related. Certainly some will think it’s all too much, and that’s okay. The rest of us can happily discover more of what Chris Bell, Alex Chilton and Big Star wrought during their musical careers by letting Omnivore lead the way.

I Am the Cosmos is released 9/15/17 as a 2CD set, as well as a single LP on clear vinyl (initially, and with download code for the rest of the material), and digital download.

4/5 (Omnivore OV-231)

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Alex Chilton • A Man Called Destruction [CD, LP]

Last month Omnivore reissued ALEX CHILTON’s 1995 album, A Man Called Destruction. Aptly titled, Chilton himself described it as “a soulful effort by a fairly primitive mind.” The album is a musical stew of rock ’n’ roll, New Orleans R&B/jazz and more – recorded the way this kind of stuff used to be recorded: live in the studio, one or two takes, minimal overdubs.

Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Destruction’s twelve songs (and this reissue’s bonus tracks) have a wonderful feel because they’re not perfect. Those who only know Chilton via the Big Star records will be thrown for a loop by Destruction. The arrangements aren’t power pop at all – sorry, Radio City fans – this is what Alex sounded like when he led the band all by himself. The songs, too, are primarily Alex’s, though there’s a handful of cool covers, including Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have to Go” and Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired.” The latter track is one Chilton had been doing in his solo shows (when not “reuniting” Big Star with half of Seattle band The Posies). Buoyed by his own soulfully raw guitar sound, the arrangements include a rough but ready horn section and some real primal organ (check out his “Don’t Stop” to hear what I mean).

Omnivore’s reissue adds seven bonus tracks to A Man Called Destruction, including some alternate takes, a couple of originals that didn’t make the final album, and a cover of Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s “(I Don’t Know Why) But I Do,” kind of a fitting sentiment about how some of us feel about Alex Chilton. Apparently, those who knew Alex Chilton say the two spheres of sound (power pop and primitive rock) were equally at home in the man’s psyche, a reflection of his own personality. Sometimes affable and agreeable, sometimes contrary and difficult, like it or not that was Chilton. We don’t know why we love him (at least we can’t exactly pinpoint it), but we do.

Available now on download, CD and 2LP vinyl (clear blue for the initial pressing) including all of the bonus tracks.

3/5 (Omnivore OV-227)

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Sheriff Jack • The Complete Works [Vinyl] or: “How I Learned to Stop Wondering and Love the Internet”

Note: I started this article with a great idea and the best intentions. While wrapping it up I discovered some info that, had I known it at the outset, would have greatly changed this story. More about that at the end…

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think SHERIFF JACK came to me in some fever-crazed dream. Nobody seems to know who or what he/she/it is, there’s basically nothing about him/her/it on the internet (no web page, entries on music blogs and sites, etc.), so he/she/it might just be a figment of my frazzled imagination. But: I have all four record releases (I know of) that were issued under the name, and I know I’m not making it/her/him up. So, you’ll just have to believe me and read on – or move along to something easier to digest.

Let’s go back thirty plus years to 1986, for it is then that Jack shows up for the first time on record at the Seattle college radio station (KCMU, now KEXP) where I once DJed. Supposedly Sheriff Jack’s first release, a 12″ EP called Let’s Be Nonchalant duly enters the station’s current releases bin. Four songs are on it, including such bizarre titles as “Buy Everybody a Cake” and “Buttered Slice of Democracy,” so naturally yours truly (a sucker for oddball song titles) needed to know more. And it was – and is – difficult to describe. It sounds slightly power pop or new wave, in the guitar-driven sense, but with just enough of that mid ’80s snare-in-your-face on it to be slightly distracting. That, and the guy sort of sing-yelling the lyrics. The record was produced by Pat Collier, who was known at the time for his work with Robyn Hitchcock and The Soft Boys, and as a member of the band The Vibrators (“Baby, Baby”). And the release came out on Midnight Music, which had also released Hitchcock and Soft Boys records. Kinda mysterious in those pre-internet days, and try as I could, I couldn’t figure out who this Sheriff Jack was. But, being in my early 20s and easily distracted, I bought the record but shelved it and the info search and moved on.

A few months later, out comes a full-length album, Laugh Yourself Awake. Where the first release had the tiniest amount of credits on it, this record had all kinds of credits but some of them seemed made up. Ever heard of a guy named Ted Aerialcruise who plays trumpet? Well, he’s on these two records (and the next one). The album itself carried on with the hard-power-pop yet very British tunes, this time with titles like “Bird-Oh!” (super slicing guitars) and “Cock Anne at Marjorie’s Door,” and even a cover of Big Star’s classic, “Back of a Car.” BUT… this time we get a slight biographical bit about Jack: “This stuff written, arranged, played and sung entirely by a bipedal humanoid known as Sheriff Jack… recorded in Alaska.” Well, I knew that “Alaska” was actually a recording studio in England, frequented by – you guessed it – Hitchcock, The Soft Boys and producer Collier (credited this time with “knobtwiddling deluxe; high-gloss finish”). There was a management contact phone number on the cover, but calling across the Atlantic just to find out who these people were was neither doable nor affordable then. Again, I enjoyed the eccentric English (I assumed) college rock (as we loosely classified anything without a solid genre description attached to it). The weirdo subject matter continued, the slightly yelled/sung vocals did, too, and the altogether unique guitar sound of Sheriff Jack continued to delight me and (hopefully) whoever heard it via the radio station.

Another few months later, the same performer/ producer/label team turned out a 4-song EP entitled Everybody Twist, which featured the title song (from Laugh Yourself Awake) and three more oddities (“Bold 3,” “Values for Your Culture” and “Something Cold”). Some sort of life form named Uncle Beastie sang “Something Cold,” a dirgey tune with a lower register lead vocal that comes off as fairly ominous; aside from this one, the EP is really an extension of Laugh Yourself Awake. I added this record to my Sheriff Jack collection thinking that maybe, if he/she/it/they put out further records, eventually some solid facts would emerge. Or I’d move on to some other obsession.

Then, in October 1987 another Sheriff Jack album appeared, the cleverly titled What Lovely Melodies! I know the date because the copy I bought locally HAD A PRESS RELEASE BIO IN IT. Thanks to whoever was sent a promo copy and sold it right away with the bio still inside! That press release details previous and current Sheriff Jack records as well as their release dates and catalog numbers. And! FICTITIOUS BIO INFORMATION. Shit! I’m sure ol’ Jack wasn’t really “the prodigy son of an Alabama hobo” or that he was the “ex-leader of Iceland’s leading protopunk garage loonies The Icebreakers.” I get that they wanted to keep Jack’s identity a secret, but how long could they keep up such a ruse?

The bio writer did do a pretty good job of describing SJ’s sound: “[It includes] all manner of aural perversion from sick and silly little songs to gruesome guitar meltdowns… It’s all here, fine pop music with a left-field twist to spice it up.” Okay, we can work with that. “Can’t Resist a Melody,” the ostensible title track, takes another crack at it: “What lovely melodies! / And they’re driving me CRAZY / Though I know what I’m doing is sinful / But I do it anyway ’cause I’m really odd…” The sound on this record expanded to include some slightly R&B and even vaudeville tunes among the quintessential Jack palette. Did I mention some of the other titles? “Pink Ducks”? “Dada Art Attack” (“it’s like riding a horse in a cul-de-sac”)? “The Buddha with the Runny Nose”? Okay, there you go.

As far as I know, that was Sheriff Jack’s last gasp. Well, it’s now September 2017 and I have no further information about him. But somewhere in the back of my head, as I was finishing this little exercise in demon-exorcising and seeming futility, I hear, Marsh, did you try EVERYTHING? Wait a minute… we have Discogs now! Type in Sheriff Jack and you get an entry listing an alias of Lewis Taylor. Turns out this guy was once part of the Edgar Broughton Band (late ’60s/early ’70s UK semi-prog rock) and, after his tour of duty as Sheriff Jack, put out records under his own name. Well, I’ll be. Read further and you’ll see that Taylor later changed his name to Andrew Taylor (ahem, do you remember a character from ’60s US television, who was a sheriff, named Andy Taylor??) and has played bass under that name with Gnarls Barkley.

I’m sorta speechless.

At this point, all I can say is: I’m going to attempt to reach Mr. Andrew “Sheriff Jack” Taylor and see about getting an interview with him. This time, as my trusty sidekick, I will have the internet to help me track him down.

4/5 (Let’s Be Nonchalant, Midnight Music DONG 20, 1986), 4.5/5 (Laugh Yourself Awake, Midnight Music CHIME 00.21 S, 1986), 4/5 (Everybody Twist, Midnight Music DONG 29, 1987), 3.5/5 (What Lovely Melodies!, Midnight Music CHIME 00.34 S, 1987)

You can hear Laugh Yourself Awake on Spotify. However, I don’t have an account so I can’t check to see if it’s still up.

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The Clash • Cut the Crap [LP, CD]

Today being Joe Strummer’s birthday, I thought I’d republish this review I did in 2010.

Saw a very nice copy of THE CLASH’s 1985 swansong, Cut the Crap, at one of my favorite record shops the other day. I didn’t have a copy of this record—the only one I was missing by the only band that matters—so I picked it up. Now, you may remember the reviews of this final album under that storied band name from when it came out, and they were uniformly bad. Not B.A.D., as in the band Mick Jones started with Don Letts after he was kicked out of his own band (and who were a better group than the one on this record), but C.R.A.P.

Joe Strummer, bless his populist little heart, decided to carry on under the name he helped promote to #1 Punk Band in the Land, recruited some young punks (no new boots or contracts), and cut an album of new generation singalongs. A few of these songs aren’t that bad, including the two singles “This Is England” and the severely misguidedly-titled “We Are the Clash,” neither of which charted very high. Part of the problem here is that Strummer co-wrote the tunes not with his old mates in the band (or even the new ones), but former Clash manager Bernie Rhodes. Some songs retain a bit of the old grit-and-go the band once had, but let’s face it, this one was not helped by BR’s input. Basically, it’s the arrangements and the constant “everybody sing with me!” choruses that wear on you.

Clearly, Strummer must’ve felt he had something to prove when he undertook this record. Despite the fact that The Clash had Top 10 hits everywhere, had successfully toured the globe in support of their 1982 Combat Rock album, and had garnered more great reviews than any punk band ever, he’s definitely giving it his all here. “This Is England” ain’t half-bad, “Movers and Shakers” and “North and South” are alright, too, but overall, you can’t really listen to this one much. And that may be why, when in the early ’90s a box set of the band’s work was released, mysteriously this record’s name was missing from the band discography and not one cut from it appears on any of the three discs. I like to think that maybe even those few years later Strummer realized that he’d sullied his band’s name and decided to try and forget the past. In the late ’90s all of the band’s albums were remastered and reissued—all except this one. I guess they really did cut the crap.
2/5 (Epic FE 40017, 1985)
[review originally published 1/27/2010 on Skratchdisc]

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