The Rolling Stones • Their Satanic Majesties Request [LP]

Why don’t we sing this song all together: I know many are calling this and other recent reissues cash-grabs, but I don’t care. I like Record Store Day and I don’t apologize for it. I’ve always wanted a copy of THE ROLLING STONES Their Satanic Majesties Request with the lenticular cover, but it always costed way too much – at least if you wanted one in decent shape. Now that the album’s hit 50 years old the powers that be issued last year’s deluxe edition (2LP+2CD, mono and stereo mixes only, no bonus tracks, beaucoup bucks), and for RSD 2018, this single record, stereo mix on groovy blue splatter vinyl. Yes!

Released in December 1967, the Stones were late to the psychedelic table – and they moved on pretty quickly, too. For Satanic Majesties was a one-off (along with the single that preceded it, “We Love You”), and the band moved on to their most storied late ’60s/early ’70s/Mick Taylor period. But the delights of this oft-disparaged album are many. From the beginning of side one and “Sing This All Together,” through the rocking “Citadel” and on to Bill Wyman’s “In Another Land” (they must have been short on material; they rarely did any of Bill’s songs), through the sort-of-reprise “Sing This All Together (See What Happens),” the “front side” of the album is worth repeated listenings. “Back Side” (side two) takes off with the exquisitely awesome “She’s a Rainbow” and its strings arranged by one J.P. Jones (who became the bassist for Led Zeppelin!), the illuminating “The Lantern,” which has been stuck in my head for a week, and then proceeds to conclusion with “2000 Light Years from Home” and album closer “On With the Show.” Satanic Majesties gets short shrift from many quarters but it’s not a bad album at all. It just sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s nothing like what came before it or after.

Whether you go for the RSD version pictured and reviewed here, the deluxe version or just a CD, Their Satanic Majesties Request really ain’t too shabby. I like it more today than when I first heard it, so for it I carry the lantern high.

4/5 (Abkco NPS-2, reissue, 1967/2018)

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins • Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994 [CD]

Uhhhhh… where to start with this one?! I’ll bet you know who SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS is. He’s the guy from the ’50s who wrote “I Put a Spell on You,” an oft-covered minor key R&B slowburner. The guy with a bone through his nose. Well, he really only ever had that one minor hit, which was kept alive via covers by Creedence Clearwater Revival and others, and he moved from record label to record label over the years trying to rekindle that flame. By the time he landed at Bizarre Records – a suitable home, at least ’cause of its name – his number was about up. And yet, the old man still had some spunk in him. [I hear you Brits laughing.]

Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? compiles all of the recordings he did for the label, at one point home to Frank Zappa, and it’s a whopper of a 2CD set. By whopper I mean, there’s so much here you’ll have to go through it in multiple sittings. Naturally, there’s a remake of his big hit, but this time he’s backed by a 1990 hip hop drum beat and even has a rapper doing some bits in it. Hey, if it worked for Aerosmith… and yet, no, it doesn’t really work for Jay. The band employed across all 44 tracks includes guitarist Mike Keneally (a Zappa vet) in a combo that sounds very of-its-time. The arrangements are clearly semi-rehearsed and semi-ad-libbed according to wherever Screamin’ Jay was going. And the man was going fuckin’ nuts! The songs range from some pretty cool remakes, like “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (originally done by Louis Jordan) and Jay’s own “Strange,” to odes to current hotties like “Sherilyn Fenn” and “Amy Fisher,” which itself is reprised twice (though mercifully short). There are even a few Tom Waits covers. If you’re a fan of Hawkins’ comedic rants and, let’s say unique (old school? sexist?) viewpoints on women, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Does the collective joke wear thin? Yes. But trust me: you don’t wanna go through this in one sitting anyway. It’ll take a few rounds to audition both discs, so you’ll have a chance to recharge your “man, this guy was crazy” batteries in between sessions.

As for the package itself, Are YOU One of Jay’s Kids? has a decent booklet inside a triple panel digipack cover, but it’s hard to discern when and where the sessions were cut or even which songs come from which albums. Basically, this compilation encompasses 1991’s Black Music for White People (what a great title!), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994). Without wading too far into the liner notes or on Discogs, this has got to have all the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ever recorded at Bizarre’s behest. This compilation’s worth a shot if you’re in an ornery mood.

2.5/3 (Manifesto MFO 42202, 2018)

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Chris Stamey • A Spy in the House of Loud [Book]

Memoirs by rock ’n’ roll stars are a dime a dozen these days. That’s great for those of us who devour them, but the more of them we read, the more we realize that these books fall generally into one of two boxes. There are books that give us revelatory information on how our favorite albums or songs were created and read as if they were written by someone who can actually write (few and far between); and then there are those that sound like someone related a bunch of anecdotes into a tape recorder, had someone transcribe them, and then gently edit them into a semi-cohesive “book.” A Spy in the House of Loud by CHRIS STAMEY, luckily, mostly falls into that first box.

Stamey, one of the founding members of the late ’70s indie band The dB’s, somewhat misleadingly subtitled his book New York Songs and Stories. True, the North Carolinian guitarist/songwriter spent a good portion of this memoir in NYC, chasing down his muse by witnessing and creating music by and with people as diverse as Television, R.E.M., Alex Chilton and more. But his college town upbringing in Chapel Hill plays a pretty big part in his story, too. I’m guessing the New York appellation was more of a marketing decision than one of “accuracy in reporting.” Whatever.

What I like about A Spy in the House of Loud is the nice mix of stories – the Chapel Hill scene of the ’60s, how he met fellow dB’s Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby and Gene Holder, his work with legend Mitch Easter – and his personal takes on songwriting, music theory and record production. Stamey started recording his early bands’ rehearsals on rudimentary reel-to-reel decks, figuring out ways to overdub and create sounds by overriding or rejigging his recorders, at least until the venerable (and semi-affordable) TEAC 4-track decks came out. The way he tells it, though, he was always equally as interested in the technology of how songs were recorded as he was in how the instruments used on them were played and how those songs were written in the first place. The author actually takes a few minor detours in the book by dissecting what he thinks is the crux of the biscuit on songs he didn’t even write (and some he did), so-called “Jukebox” mini-chapters that talk about R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” as well as, for instance, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message,” the first crossover rap song (written about life in NYC in the early ’80s). His descriptions give us a unique look at how all of these disciplines interconnect to create the records and CDs we’ve been listening to all of our lives.

A Spy in the House of Loud has a generous selection of photos, most from Stamey’s or his fellow musicians’ archives, and a reasonable discography and footnotes at the end. My only nitpick – besides the subtitle one – is that he sometimes comes across as stuffy and intellectual, typically when discussing advanced music theory. Maybe that’s me being bugged that I don’t know music theory as well as he does, but I prefer the passages discussing the basic writing and recording of the songs, the musicians he created them with, and the glimpse of what the climates for creating music were like in ’60s Chapel Hill and ’70s/’80s NYC. That being said, Chris Stamey has written a book that reads like it was written by someone who can actually write. And by a musician, even!

3/5 (University of Texas Press, Austin, 2018)

 

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Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs • Clippety Clop [CD]

If you like yer country with all the dirt, dust ’n’ twang missing from most of today’s “country,” then you’ve probably heard of HOLLY GOLIGHTLY AND THE BROKEOFFS. Her/their new album, Clippety Clop, is a doozy. A dozen tracks built around songs about horses and mules, it’s a fun album that trots and gallops happily through alt country territory without ever leaving the stable. [Does that count as a mixed metaphor?] There are traditional songs such as “I Ride an Old Paint” and “Stewball,” and a wealth of well-known old school country tunes like “Strawberry Roan” and “Mule Skinner,” plus some fairly obscure ones that only the most hardcore of hard country fans would know.

Holly and her partner, Lawyer Dave, came up with a real cool collection here. Some of the tunes on Clippety Clop are of a typical I-IV-V blues pattern variety, while others occupy a darker place, such as “Horses in the Mines.” What’s really swell about this album is its arrangements and production. Not sounding like your usual slick Nashville or Hollywood thing, it’s of a more lo-fi, indie vibe. Naturally distorting guitars mix with Holly and Dave’s raw vocals in a small room with none of the glitz that makes up most of today’s records, giving the songs a more authentic feel. I don’t think I heard a pedal or lap steel on here, but don’t let that get you down. This’ll appeal to not only fans of Golightly (she’s got numerous albums under her belt, both solo and as one of Thee Headcoatees, a little sister band to Billy Childish’s Thee Headcoats), but to anyone who enjoys the genuine article. Those of us who discovered alt country via college radio and No Depression magazine will take a real shine to Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs’ “concept” album. Though Holly says it’s merely “what came out best from a batch of songs we wanted to do,” the fact that all of these songs come from the same corral makes it an even juicier apple. Horses like apples, right?

3.5/5 (Transdreamer TR-6225-CD, 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

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Robyn Hitchcock & His L.A. Squires • “Insanely Jealous” [7″]

ROBYN HITCHCOCK, never content these days to play with any one group of musicians for too long, lest his muse abandon him, conjured up His L.A. Squires last year and was wise enough to capture a gig for posterity. Three songs from their gig at The Troubadour in Los Angeles last May make up this 7″, another winner from YepRoc Records and a Record Store Day “first release.”

“Insanely Jealous” is the A-side, a song Hitchcock originally performed in The Soft Boys (from their stellar Underwater Moonlight album). The B-sides are “I Pray When I’m Drunk” (from last year’s eponymous release, see my review here) and “If You Were a Priest,” the lead-off track from Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians’ Element of Light (from 1986). Though none of the arrangements veer very far from Robyn’s originals, it’s fun to hear him sing the songs with a very capable, current combo. I hope there’s a complete album in the offing, as it would make a fine companion to this 45.

3/5 (YepRoc YEP-2586, 2018)

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Elvis Costello • “Someone Else’s Heart” [7″]

Weird timing for this one. ELVIS COSTELLO (with Roger Bechirian) produced Squeeze’s 1980 album East Side Story. The record was lauded then as a “new wave masterpiece” and it still holds up extremely well, even without the new wave tag. “Someone Else’s Heart” is one of the songs on that record, and it must’ve made quite the impression on EC that he would do his own version 34 years later. Just released for Record Store Day, the 7″ on YepRoc features that on the A-side and an instrumental mix on the B. It’s a more chilling arrangement than Squeeze’s, which relied more on the quirky, Farfisa organ style they’d used on their previous album, Argybargy. Costello recorded this with ?uestlove of The Roots, the “hip hop” band he worked with on the 2013 Wise Up Ghost project, and a few other heavy hitters. What they serve up here has a loping heavy bass line courtesy of Owen Biddle, some gritty guitar from Kirk Douglas and ?’s trademark drumming and loops, and it’s a fine version of the song. Leave it to Elvis to not cover the obvious songs (though “Tempted” would have been pretty interesting, I’ll bet). The instrumental version on the B-side is great for hearing the individual bits the band is playing (especially the clavvy keyboard part from Ray Angry), since EC sings both lead and layered backing vocals on the regular mix that cover some of the nuances of the arrangement.

A worthwhile 45 to pick up, and supposedly available beyond Record Store Day. I originally had this on my “save it for later” list, but my inner Costello fan ghost whispered to me something like, “what if they run out?” and “what if it’s awesome,” so I gave in and got it. You might want to get in on this action, too. Or no action. Your call.

3/5 (YepRoc SI-YEP-2558, 2018)

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Wreckless Eric • Construction Time & Demolition [CD, LP, DD]

“All your records are shit, except maybe one…” So goes one of the lines in a song on the new album from WRECKLESS ERIC, Construction Time & Demolition. If you were around in the late ’70s you might remember a few of Eric’s releases on Stiff Records, home then to names like Elvis Costello, The Damned and Nick Lowe. Or maybe you’ve heard the cover of his biggie “Whole Wide World” (by Cage The Elephant). Eric was an oddball – he sang in a low register squeak that sounded like some weird guy’s speaking voice – and appears to have stayed one. But not all of his records are shit…

His new album is a beautifully ragged semi-lo-fi collection of remembrances of things like his childhood in Hull, England, and how the (whole wide) world seems to have been continually constructing and demolishing itself ever since. The opener, “Gateway to Europe,” tells of his hometown becoming that when a bridge was built that spanned the Humber Estuary and Britain became part of the European Common Market. (Look it up, I’m not a history teacher.) The arrangement of this song, as well as the rest of the eleven songs that make up Construction Time & Demolition, is one that sounds like it’s building up, getting denser and denser, while simultaneously kind of falling apart. Jagged guitars, weird organs and fuzz bass are at home among drums, percussion, and a “horn section” led by a brilliant trumpet blowing whenever some musical bit needs underlining. As Eric himself says, “I wanted the music to sound as though it was demolishing itself as it went along, and at times I wanted to actually hear it destroy itself, fuzz in and out until all that was left was the flat tone of a heart that’s stopped beating.” Well, now. That’s a grand concept and I think Wreckless Eric has achieved it. His lyrics remain wearily wistful in a jaded sort of been-there-done-that way, making canny observations about how getting older isn’t always easy (“life is all the same old lessons / until you learn ’em / And I’ve got so many lessons left to learn, I wish I could burn it all! / I’m coming unraveled here!”).

So how did Wreckless Eric fall off my radar? I mean, I loved his new wave records back then (see the clip below with his magnificent “Whole Wide World”), but he’s kind of come and gone over the last forty years. (I actually got to see him perform in NYC in the early ’90s during a New Music Seminar – met Cheetah Chrome from the Dead Boys at a bar down the street before the show and bought him a beer. Cheetah, not Eric. On my company’s dime.) Wreckless Eric’s had a few albums out in the last decade or so but I guess I just missed them. Meanwhile, he’s now stationed here in the States and has a pretty good thing going with this new record. You can catch him on tour if you live on the East Coast or in Britain. I hope he’s got a full band with him, and one that can deliver the goods and bads that make up Construction Time & Demolition. Meanwhile I’ll be looking into some of the records of his that I missed over the years. My bad.

4/5 (Southern Domestic)

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Madness • Absolutely, 7 [CD]

[Originally published 3/23/2010 on Skratchdisc]

Two more masterly remastered and expanded reissues from MADNESS, and once again, their new parent label Salvo does a fantastic job. Absolutely and 7 were the sophomore and junior (third) efforts from Camden Town’s Nutty Boys, and instead of proving the rule that the second outing is usually nowhere near as good as the first, they disproved it by a landslide. (Quite possibly the worst mixed metaphor I’ve ever committed to paper… Oops, there I go again!)

Absolutely, released in late 1980, featured the singles “Baggy Trousers,” “Embarrassment” (one of my top Madness tunes) and “The Return of the Los Palmas 7,” and continued the band’s chart reign. Bubbly, fun melodies were still to the fore, but beginning to get noticed was the melancholy subject matter. Sure, they didn’t say directly that the girl got knocked up and made her family look bad in “Embarrassment,” but that’s clearly the story. “In the Rain,” a different recording than the one that appeared prior as a B-side (though both are here), also isn’t exactly chipper. Whatever—Madness still had it goin’ on.

In 1981 they released 7, their third longplayer and another successful outing. More big singles here, including “Cardiac Arrest” and “Shut Up” (a lot like “Embarrassment” and another Marsh-certified goodie),  kept Madness in the NME and other papers, and paved the way for eventual US success (“Our House” from the following album). They hadn’t changed the formula yet, and since these two albums followed in such quick succession, nobody seemed to notice. Original label Stiff could barely keep up with these guys, nor could those of us over here who’d already discovered them despite little or no promotion from American label Sire.

Salvo’s treatment of the band’s catalog so far has been great… all the videos are on the corresponding CDs, bonus tracks are in abundance (Absolutely features seven bonus cuts plus a 21-song live show from London), the notes and photos of ephemera are also plentiful, and the mastering is superb. No qualms here at all! Can’t wait to hear and see what they do with The Rise and Fall.

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The Rezillos • Flying Saucer Attack: The Complete Recordings 1977-1979 [CD]

THE REZILLOS – Scotland’s, and maybe the world’s, greatest punk band – recorded only one studio album, a live one, and a few singles in their original incarnation. For years, their records (especially here in the US) were hard as hell to find. In the early ’90s, Sire Records put out a CD compilation that sated those of us who couldn’t find a vinyl copy that wasn’t completely hammered. It featured their studio LP, Can’t Stand The Rezillos, most of the live record (Mission Accomplished… But the Beat Goes On) and a single, but it was missing some waxings that hardcore fans would’ve given their left nuts for. Finally that ball-busting shortcoming is rectified with this 2CD compilation, Flying Saucer Attack: The Complete Recordings 1977-1979. Cherry Red Records to the rescue! With 40 tracks, it’s more Rezillos than any sane person can stand. For me, it’s what I and leagues of fans have been waiting for.

What you get with The Rezillos is a “punk” band – that is, a band that played their songs fast and loud, without any synthesizers, lasers or other late ’70s gizmos, but sang about flying saucers, mothers who say NO! “because you’re not old enough” and girls who do good sculptures. Fronted by a guy/girl duo on vocals (Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife) and guitared by one Jo Callis, the band also featured bassists William Mysterious, Simon Templar and D.K. Smythe (not all at once), drummer Angel Paterson and backing vocalist Gale Warning. Sire Records from America signed them after they’d issued their first single (“I Can’t Stand My Baby”) and put out another single and an album, followed by a couple more singles and a live record. The Rezillos charted in the UK but didn’t cause any harm to the US charts and after some inter-band issues they called it quits. Two different factions went on as The Revillos and Shake, but those didn’t last long, either. And that, in a nutshell, is the trajectory of the original band.

The Rezillos have always managed to stay off of those dreaded greatest punk bands lists for no other reason, I suppose, than they did fun songs about nothing at all important. There was no current cause or fashion to attach them to; instead, the band wore kooky, semi-sci-fi outfits and seemed to actually be enjoying what they were doing. You can’t usually say that about The Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols or even The Damned. Plus they did so many Sixties covers, you could almost overlook their great originals. For covers, how about “Glad All Over” (Dave Clark Five), “I Like It” (Gerry & The Pacemakers), and the king of ’em all, Earl Vince & The Valliants aka Fleetwood Mac’s “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite.” What a record! Why they didn’t put this out as a single, I got no idea. Speaking of singles, the 45 rpm versions of their own swell tunes “Good Sculptures” and “Top of the Pops” lack the energy of the LP versions, which is also a big question mark to me. Why didn’t the record company go with the superior versions on the album? Got no idea.

Cherry Red’s new 2CD extravaganza brings you the studio album and all of those singles on disc one, with the live album, further live tracks and some alternate, unreleased versions of a pair of tracks on disc two. The mastering job keeps the concentration on the high end, though the kinetic bass of Mr. Mysterious still comes through like it ought to. For the live album, I see from various internet groups that there is a snippet of “Thunderbirds Are Go” missing (apparently, from the actual movie), but otherwise it appears to be intact in all of its low cost mobile truck glory. The artwork by Keith Davey is pretty groovy, too, and a perfect fit to the contents of the digipack cover. In all, Flying Saucer Attack is so close to perfect I can hardly stand it.

4.99/5 (Cherry Red WCDBRED705, 2018)

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NRBQ • NRBQ [CD, LP]

Omnivore put out an epic five disc box set last year, trying to somehow encapsulate the fifty year history of NRBQ. There was no way for the label to summarize just what makes this band so amazing in a mere five CDs, so they’re forgiven for missing a mark that really no one could hit. The fact that they even tried earns them major kudos. This time around they’ve reissued the band’s first album, NRBQ. Released in 1969, this record introduced to rock fans the wide world of the New Rhythm & Blues Quintet, a band name that also tried to encapsulate just what these guys were all about. It’s a wonder that Columbia Records signed these guys and put out a few records by them in the first place. Because you can’t pigeonhole NRBQ. They’re primarily a rock band, sure, but where do they stand in that strata? Hard rock? No. Country rock? A little. Jazz? Well, how many rock bands have covered Sun Ra (besides MC5)? Rockabilly? Sometimes. A mixture of all of those sub genres and more – that’s what NRBQ does. Imagine what a tough job the marketing department had trying to figure out who to sell this record to!

On NRBQ, the band – fronted by vocalist Frank Gadler, Steve Ferguson on guitar/ vocals and Terry Adams on keyboards/ vocals – demonstrates much of what made them so amazing. From covers of Eddie Cochran (“C’mon Everybody”) and Bruce Channel (“Hey! Baby”) to their hard rockin’ take of the aforementioned Sun Ra’s “Rocket Number 9,” to their own slightly countryish tunes like “Kentucky Slop Song” and the MOR-y “You Can’t Hide,” plus a neat little traditional ditty called “Liza Jane” that induces someone’s hound dog to bark along with it – phew! – the genres and influences on this record make it a hard sell on paper. So you gotta put this motherfucker on and let it do its thing! It comes down to this: you either get NRBQ, or you don’t. That’s been the problem since day one, because if you say that to the Q virgin you’re gonna sound like an asshole. But it’s the truth. And you don’t wanna be called a liar, do you?

Judging from the pre-release digital download, and comparing that to my ’80s vinyl pressing, Omnivore’s done a great job with NRBQ. They’ve expanded the cover to a gatefold, added some historical photos, and likely created new liner notes. (The original release’s back cover is nothing but liner notes, and they’re very much of the era in their language and longwindedness.) Considering the album’s never been out on CD, this reissue is important to longstanding NRBQ fans. For those who haven’t gotten into them yet, well, why not start here? You could try the box set or the one disc highlights release, or grab one of the other compilations that can be found on the internet, but don’t (yet). Just get this and give it a shot. You may just find you get it. If you don’t, then wait a few years and try again. Maybe by then Omnivore will have put out NRBQ’s second album, the one they did with Carl Fucking Perkins!

3.5/5 (Omnivore, 2018)

 

 

 

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