Blue Cheer • Vincebus Eruptum [LP, CD]

[Written by Marsh Gooch and originally published 2/2/2010 on Skratchdisc]

“BLUE CHEER were an American psychedelic blues-rock band that initially performed and recorded in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and were sporadically active from that point on until 2009. Based in San Francisco, Blue Cheer played in a psychedelic blues-rock style, and are also credited as being pioneers of heavy metal (their cover of “Summertime Blues” is sometimes cited as the first in the genre[3]), punk rock[4], stoner rock[5][6], doom metal[6][7], experimental rock[8], and grunge[9]. According to Tim Hills in his book, The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom,[10] ‘Blue Cheer was the epitome of San Francisco psychedelia. The band is named after a street brand of LSD and promoted by renowned LSD chemist and former Grateful Dead patron, Owsley Stanley.’ [11] Jim Morrison of The Doors called the group, ‘The single most powerful band I’ve ever seen’[12].”

Well, that’s what Wikipedia says. Indeed, the progenitor of heavy metal but so much more, Blue Cheer is being served well by Sundazed. Who better to release the band’s first two albums again on vinyl? In fact, Vincebus Eruptum is out in MONO and the grandiose power of the trio’s debut is right there in your face… not meant to spread around either side of your head, but to smack you right in the noggin like you deserve! How a major label record company decided to put this out in early 1968 is beyond me – hell, I was only 5 at the time – except that they must have all been on some form of blue cheer themselves. It’s like the Beatles did Sgt. Pepper and then all of the sudden EVERY LABEL HAD TO HAVE PSYCHEDELIC BANDS ON IT. And so Verve signed the Velvet Underground and The Mothers, and Philips (now linked with Verve but not at the time) got them some Blue Cheer. These guys couldn’t have been that accepted in San Francisco, at least not if you trust the revisionist rock history we’re used to reading… I mean, if CCR was pop and Jefferson Airplane was psychedelic, what was this band? OUT OF THIS WORLD. And they are still. Today. In 2010. [Also released by Sundazed is the band’s second album, Outsideinside. And RIP Dickie Peterson, Blue Cheer bassist, who passed away very recently.]
4/5 (Sundazed LP 5297, 2010)

Tagged

Marshall Crenshaw • Miracle of Science [CD]

What do many MARSHALL CRENSHAW fans dream of? Reissues! Apparently MC got the memo, and here’s the first in a series, Miracle of Science. Originally released in 1996 on Razor & Tie Records (on CD only, though), it was the first studio album of Crenshaw’s brand of power pop after his contracts with Warner Bros. and Paradox/MCA ended. At the time it probably made sense for Marshall to move to the environs of the indie world, and he ended up making all of the rest of his albums that way. Major fame and fortune eluded him despite his ability to craft tunes that you’d be humming for days and weeks.

I instantly fell in love with Crenshaw’s music when I first heard his self-titled debut, Marshall Crenshaw, in 1982. Sure, I dug the fact that he has the same name as me (not too many of us Marshalls in the world, then or now), but it was more about the mix of pop, rockabilly and girl group rock that he played. That mix of genres continued through all of his albums, and here on Miracle of Science you get a good dose of his kind of rock ’n’ roll. From his practically patented power pop style, epitomized on “What Do You Dream Of” and “Only an Hour Ago,” full of melody and Stratocaster guitar tone, to the rockabilly of “Who Stole That Train?” and his instinct for interesting covers (“The ‘In’ Crowd”), this album is packed with a punch that is seldomly witnessed. Marshall’s added some interesting bonus tracks to this reissue on Shiny-Tone, (I believe) his own label and a guarantee he’ll get to keep doing it his way. An interesting track, “Seven Miles an Hour,” is featured in both forward and backward versions, and MC decided to include the backward version first (as a standard track) and the forward version (which was the one originally released in ’96) as a bonus track. Curious.

Anyway, let’s keep the Crenshaw reissues coming! The severe lack of tune in today’s “tunes” means we need Marshall’s tunes more than ever.

3/5 (Shiny-Tone 020286-23000, 2020)

 

Tagged

Young Fresh Fellows • A Tribute to Music [CD]

[Originally published 1/26/2010 on Skratchdisc]

This 1997 release on Rock ’N’ Roll, Inc. out of Spain completely slipped by me. Now, let me just say that YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS are probably the best band ever out of Seattle (sorry, Sonics were from Tacoma), and I’ve followed them since their inception. Why, I can remember many drunken gigs at the Rainbow (in Seattle), the Hollywood Underground (where I got asked onstage to sing “Give It to the Soft Boys” with them), and just about every good dive (oxymoron!) in town. A Tribute to Music is one of those foreign releases the Fellows have always been fond of: put out an entirely great CD on some tiny-ass label and let the hardcore fans have fun trying to find a copy. Well, I got mine used for $5.99 at Easy Street Records in West Seattle today, and I’m here to say I’m quite enjoying this 12 song, 29:39 disc.

Right off the bat there’s a real kooky intro—sorry, an “Invocation”—and then a super annoying “Louie Louie”-style tune with Scott McCaughey sounding quite demonic. Very next thing, they launch into a cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know,” which was a hit for Tracey Ullman. Soon you get “Ivar’s Theme” about our local fishmonger/marketing genius Ivar Haglund, and it just keeps rockin’ all the way to the end. I gotta hand it to Scott, Jim, Kurt and Tad for their ability to keep it real for so dang long. How I missed this one when it came out, I have no idea. But I’m glad I got it now. If only Jim Sangster would come by and get that Ampeg amp grill I snagged for him…
4/5 (Rock ’N’ Roll, Inc. R&RINC 013, Spain)

Tagged

Murry Wilson & Snow • The Break Away EP [DD]

Just in time for Christmas comes one of the world’s most loathsome rock impresarios with something new! Well, if not exactly new, previously unreleased and mostly unknown. Yes, it’s MURRY WILSON & SNOW! The Break Away EP is a 4-track digital-only collection of songs recorded sometime in 1969 by The Beach Boys’ patriarch and a Midwestern vocal group that nobody knows anything about! Okay, we do know a bit: Once Murry Wilson was forcibly removed from his sons’ (Brian, Carl & Dennis) orbit the old guy decided to try and replicate the boys’ success with a new group he could manage (The Sunrays, three Top 100 singles and then nothin’), which soon petered out, leaving him to ponder his next move. And that was, try again. Sunray leader Rick Henn brought Murry a new singing group, Snow, consisting of apparently a number of Midwestern guys and possibly at least one gal and soon the group and presumably some studio musicians (if it’s anyone from The Wrecking Crew none of ’em are owning up to it) got together to make an actually pleasant little sunshine pop concoction. “Break Away” and “We’re Together Again” were associated with The Beach Boys and the other two, “Wilderness” and “Bless Me,” are otherwise unaccounted for in the greater world of pop k-nowledge. Regardless of whether we knew about Snow before now, it’s kinda fun to listen to – dare I say, delightful? – and to see how Murry Wilson remained determined to get what he felt were his just desserts for giving his boys, The Beach Boys, to us years after they gave him the boot.

2/5 (Omnivore OVDG-367, 2019)

Here’s a taste of the “legend” of Murry Wilson’s managerial (and fatherly!) finesse, followed by a fictionalized look created by cartoonist extraordinaire, Peter Bagge:

Tagged , ,

Big Star • In Space [CD, LP]

If you started with BIG STAR’s In Space and worked your way backwards through Third/Sister Lovers, Radio City and then #1 Record, you’d feel like you’d quickly worked your way to an easy jackpot. Sorta like playing the slots and winning with the first lever pull (okay, these days, button push), then winning some more, then winning A LOT more, and then BOOM! Lights flash, slot machine makes all kinds of exciting noise and then the attendant comes over to give you buckets and buckets of coin. That may be exaggerating the point, but the final album in Big Star’s four album trajectory (not counting live stuff) is a winner, it’s just nowhere near as great as the others.

The rock critic in me feels bad making such a statement about In Space, as I know both Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow in real life and they’re a couple of great guys – AND they’re talented as hell! When they hooked up with remaining Big Stars Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens in the early ’90s all of us in the Seattle music scene were excited for these founders of The Posies, perfect youngbloods, to bolster the once brilliant band. They did some live concerts, eventually releasing a few (Columbia, Live in Memphis) and doing some short tours. When it was announced that Big Star Mk IV were in the studio recording an album of new material, it came as a pleasant surprise, tempered by the likelihood that whatever they recorded wouldn’t match the excellence of the original band’s (as in Mks I, II & III) near-immaculate output. Okay, maybe what turned out to be In Space might equal Third/Sister Lovers in awesomeness, but even that was likely not gonna happen. What I’m saying is, In Space turned out to be a pretty nice little album. Not necessarily essential listening, but in a way, exactly where you’d have expected Big Star to land if they’d stayed together. AND… it could’ve been a disaster. That, my friends, is why the Posies/Big Star merger made total sense: Because it didn’t end in disaster.

The album starts with the four best tracks, “Dony,” “Lady Sweet,” “Best Chance” and “Turn My Back on the Sun,” all songs that sport that patented Big Star power pop mixture: catchy tunes, tough but melodic guitars, hard pounding drums and killer harmonies. There’s even a Brian Wilson tribute (“Turn My Back”) with vocals that deserve to be heard on their own (which is just what you get as a bonus track). In Space also includes a pair of funky workouts like those Alex Chilton favored in his mid ’80s solo phase (“Do You Wanna Make It” and the Archie Bell & The Drells-inspired “Love Revolution,” which works as a nice mid album change of pace). Did you know that Ken Stringfellow is a real good bass player? Dig his playing here!

I can’t say all of the album is that good. I could live without “Aria, Largo,” which is an instrumental cover of baroque composer Georg Muffat’s original that sounds like the guys are still learning it, and the remaining songs are alright but not essential. But what the album lacks in all-out Big Star goodness it makes up for in a lighthearted, fun vibe that permeates the entire disc.

Omnivore’s 2019 reissue includes a rocking epic called “Hot Thing” that they ought to have included when the album was originally released in 2005, some demos and a rough mix, and the aforementioned a cappella take. The CD version sounds muscular and dynamic, and I’d assume the vinyl (initially available on clear blue wax) is going to sound similarly swell. It’s a worthwhile purchase, especially if you don’t have the original Rykodisc issue. Basically, in my dad’s words, In Space is “not too shabby.” Not superb, but NTS.

2.75/5 (Ominvore OVCD-338, 2019)

Tagged , ,

Various • A Damaged Christmas Gift for You [DD]

[Review originally published 12/8/2009 on Skratchdisc]
PHIL SPECTOR would be rolling in his grave if he knew what these malcontents have done to his quintessential yuletide rekkid. Featuring artists like Billy Childish, Thee Headcoatees, Cute Lepers, Holly Golightly, and other mostly-Brit indie stars, A Damaged Christmas Gift For You is about as garage as you can get. The 14-track compilation pulls cuts from various Damaged Goods (UK record label) 7″ holiday singles from the last decade, plus a couple of new tracks. Holly Golightly is great with “Christmas Tree on Fire” and “Little Stars” (backed by a few of The Raconteurs under the Greenhornes guise), T.V. Smith (of The Adverts) has a ditty called “Xmas Bloody Xmas,” and then there’s the incredibly naughty “Santa Claus” by Thee Headcoatees—so dirty I’d be surprised these girls got anything aside from a summer sausage as a gift that year. Very Damaged, indeed. (Available as a download only from Damaged Goods)
Tagged , , , ,

Harry Nilsson • Losst and Founnd [CD, LP]

HARRY NILSSON died of a heart attack twenty-five years ago. That would seem to explain why it took so long to finish Losst and Founnd, the “new” album from pop’s coolest singer. But there’s almost always more to the story than the obvious explanation, especially with Harry. And so, here we are in 2019 with a finished version of the album he was working on when he passed away in 1994 and it’s just about everything you’d want out of a Nilsson record.

Why’d it take so long to find Losst and Founnd? It’s apparently a convoluted enough story that there’s a four part podcast series dedicated to it. I don’t have time to sift through that now, so take it from me, it doesn’t really matter. This is a new Nilsson record! As it’s sung on the title track, “Losst and Found, what a miracle!”

From the humor that is uniquely Harry’s on “U.C.L.A.,” to the die-hard fandom of “Yo Dodger Blue,” to his interpretations of Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow Is Falling” and Jimmy Webb’s beautiful-yet-funny “What Does a Woman See in a Man,” this album’s completion means there’s one more really good Nilsson record (or CD) to have on your shelf. Yes, by now his voice wasn’t the instrument it once was – but he could still sing, and in fact the gruff in his voice quite suits the material. Sorta like how some of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings tracks (such as “Hurt,” the cover of Nine Inch Nails) benefited from the maturity and experience that only an old guy could emote. The arrangements, too, are of a similar quality level to what Harry accomplished with Richard Perry back in the early ’70s.

You may not go to Losst and Founnd as often as you do Nilsson Schmilsson or Son of Schmilsson, but it’s right up there with Pussy Cats and some of Harry’s other greats. Despite its twenty-five year incubation, it was really worth the wait. Kudos to Omnivore Recordings and producer Mark Hudson for allowing it to finally hatch.

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-346, 2019)

 

Tagged

The Damned • Black Is the Night – The Definitive Anthology [4LP, 2CD]

There’s no way in hell anyone would have ever guessed that a scruffy punk rock band called THE DAMNED would one day have their oeuvre compiled countless times by the year 2019, but it’s happened. Black Is the Night – The Definitive Anthology is the latest compilation, and it brims over with 39 songs over 4 LPs or 2 CDs that span from their first single, “New Rose,” released in 1976, to songs from their 2000s studio releases and even a brand new one (the title track)! That the band’s best stuff pre-dates the 21st century barely matters. I say barely… and if you read on you’ll understand why.

If you don’t know much about The Damned, you can see some of my other reviews of Damned-related releases to help fill in the blanks (click here). Let it be understood that I’m a BIG FAN – I tell people that I love ’em even more than The Beatles and that’s 50% true half the time – but I DO have misgivings about some of the material they’ve released in their nearly 45 years of anarchy, chaos and destruction. For instance, back in the ’90s, after numerous personnel shifts ’n’ changes, they released an album called I’m Alright Jack and the Bean Stalk (aka Not of This Earth) and I couldn’t find much of anything to like about it. And their latest album, Evil Spirits (2018), was such a letdown that I chose not to review it here because I didn’t want to “dis” on my favorite band! (“Standing on the Edge of Tomorrow” from that release is included on this new compilation.) Yet. The Damned – Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian and all the others – are a many splendored thing. Whether it’s the early punk of “Neat Neat Neat” or “Love Song,” the punky new wave of “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today” or “Bad Time for Bonzo,” the goth of “Grimly Fiendish” and “Shadow of Love,” or the sheer brilliance of “Stranger on the Town,” “Curtain Call” and “Smash It Up (Parts 1 & 2),” the band is so much more than the sum of their parts or their discography. (Still, I don’t see how they chose “Fun Factory” for inclusion on this compilation but left off “Lovely Money.”)

Black Is the Night gathers most of their greatest moments in a very nice package. The initial copies of the 4LP set are pressed on gold vinyl, housed in a gatefold cover and cloaked in printed inner sleeves. A band family tree created by the late, great Pete Frame is featured on an included insert to help you keep track of just who was in the band at any given time, but it only goes up to 1982 so it’s woefully incomplete. The cover was designed by graphic design guru Phil Smee, the liner notes are kinda snappy (written by Vive Le Rock magazine’s Eugene Butcher), and the credits come up short of crucial information such as who produced the songs or who did the mastering. Considering the colossal difference in their records from 1976 to the most recent title track (available only on this collection), it would be nice to know who to praise or blame for that. It’s generally a pretty good mastering job, though the sound on some cuts is a bit muffled, and there are some jarring segues where one song slams into another (even chopping off the last few seconds of “Alone Again Or” as “Lively Arts” starts!), which leads me to believe that this collection was culled from digital and not analog sources. Of course, you’d expect that since the 39 songs come from various and disparate sources. Still, the songs aren’t in strict chronological order so the difference between, say, “Eloise” and “Plan 9 Channel 7” isn’t as drastic as you’d think it could be. As Dave Vanian says at the end of the liner notes, “The Damned have been on an epic musical adventure. To have spent years and years making the same album was never part of the plan.” That they would make so many great LPs and singles may not have been, either, but they certainly did.

4/5 (BMG Rights Management* BMGCAT409QLP, 2019)
* Such an un-punk rock name for a record label.

Tagged

Will Birch • Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe [Book]

Once a long haired hippie, later a spiky haired new waver and currently a white-pompadoured troubadour, NICK LOWE’s story is finally getting told. With WILL BIRCH’s new book, Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe, the Basher himself comes to life in all of his many guises.

Birch, himself a new wave musician (remember The Records?), is clearly a friend and fan of the man, and tells the stories even-handedly. Many of the tales are not those of a choir boy, though Lowe could sing and put on a show from an early age. Still, Nick was interviewed for the book – as were many of those who feature in his life, such as ex-wife Carlene Carter and musician Ry Cooder – and seems to be okay with letting the cards fall where they may.  Birch’s own personality eventually works its way into the narrative, but he’s not such a fanboy that it becomes a concern. The fact that the author really knows the world that his subject comes from adds immediacy and authenticity to the book.

What comes to light in Cruel to Be Kind is that Nick Lowe is a man who has matured over time. The rough but lovable edges of youth have been sanded down to a texture that is smooth to the touch but still retains the essence of what made the guy so interesting in the first place. Lowe, indeed, is “half a boy and half a man,” and that’s in the good, lovable way. Birch demonstrates it best when he talks about how Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” started out as a cynical look at the world (when it was written in the early ’70s and performed by Lowe’s band, Brinsley Schwarz), became an angry plea with Elvis Costello’s 1979 cover (produced by Lowe himself), and eventually a heartfelt, serious question when performed by the author today. That he frequently plays the song on tour with a bunch of musicians in Mexican wrestler masks (Los Straitjackets) underscores the comic genius at Nick’s core. He’s still the quintessential Jesus of Cool.

4/5 (Da Capo Press, hardcover, 2019)

#CruelToBeKind

Tagged ,

The Muffs • No Holiday [CD, LP, DD]

When THE MUFFS’ lead singer Kim Shattuck died a few weeks ago, it was a sad day for alternative rock. On the one hand, it was great that the band were able to record one last, solid album before their leader passed away, but on the other, a bummer that their new No Holiday album would be viewed and reviewed with that event in mind.

Unlike many past Muffs releases, No Holiday is a mix of multiple indie rock strains, from the spare punk rock style they’re known for (like “Down Down Down,” “Pollyanna” and the slower “Earth Below Me”) to more poppy and even melancholy ditties like “The Best” and “A Lovely Day Boo Hoo.” I really dig “Lucky Charm” and “You Talk and You Talk,” too, with the lines “I am tired of you/and your ugliness, too/and I hear you can talk until forever.” In fact, there are 18 songs to choose from here, from really short (as in 23 seconds!) to not-as-short (face it: The Muffs don’t have “extended jam” in their vocab, which is a plus), but generally three minutes or less. Apparently, Shattuck and the boys picked out the songs from a batch of unused songs that go back as far as 1991 – basically the lifespan of the band – and luckily, these songs don’t sound like sloppy seconds. Kim said the songs had only been weeded out before to make for “super concise albums.”

No Holiday is still pretty concise and is available on CD and 2LP vinyl (with a laser-etched side four), and makes an excellent bookend to The Muffs’ nearly three decades creating some of the most uncomplicated, enjoyable pop-punk around. You’ll want to pick this one up, yup, and given that the band has now disbanded for the final time, hope that Omnivore or somebody continues reissuing their albums and maybe puts out a career-spanning comp. RIP Kim Shattuck!

3.5/5 (Omnivore OVCD-354, 2019)

Tagged
%d bloggers like this: