Monthly Archives: April 2020

Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets • Live at Haw River Ballroom (Download)

Well, it’s not the catchiest title for an album, but the new Live at Haw River Ballroom from NICK LOWE & LOS STRAITJACKETS is certainly a compelling concert. This download-only show was recorded in April 2019 in Saxapahaw, NC, presumably in the backyard of the artists’ record label, YepRoc. It’s also a good bet that this live show wasn’t planned for release until the coronavirus came around to keep us out of our favorite record stores (or from ordering “non essential” physical format items online).

Here on Haw River Lowe & His Straitjackets spend an hour and a half taking spins through Nick’s considerable power pop back catalog, as well as a handful of their more recent collaborations. Of the former you’ll hear classics like “So It Goes,” “Cruel to Be Kind” and “Heart of the City,” and of the latter there are the rockabilly-ish “Tokyo Bay,” “Love Starvation” and the cozy cover tune “Raincoat in the River” (all three of which appeared on a pair of 2018 and ’19 EPs). You also get a half dozen surf-style instrumentals by Los Straitjackets “solo” (including themes to both Batman and that dreadful movie, Titanic). Why, there’s even a sneak peek at Lowe/Los’ upcoming single, “Lay It On Me, Baby,” which is scheduled to appear on another EP later this spring. Very nice.

Now, I’m not one who typically buys download product, but there are times when a man who’s hunkered down has to hunker down and succumb to the music delivery mode du jour. As in, when a guy’s gotta go with the flow and support his favorite artists. Whether that’s downloading concerts that may have never been released (like this one) or purchasing a Patreon-style subscription to a favorite singer (such as Robyn Hitchcock’s), we must do what it takes until austerity measures are lifted. YepRoc plans to release more of this type of download in the near future, so here’s hoping they’ll put out some vintage Dream Syndicate, Minus 5 and Robyn Hitchcock concerts for us to dig while we’re still dug in.  — Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (YepRoc download, 2020)

 

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The Vinyl Revival [DVD]

THE VINYL REVIVAL’s tagline, “a film about why the tables are turning again,” is a bit misleading. This UK produced documentary (by Pip Piper) is definitely about the resurgence of record stores and is long on quotes about them, but it’s short on substance. And running time. At only 43 minutes, there’s not much to see – or hear – on this here disc.

On the plus side, The Vinyl Revival presents musicians like Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and Phil Selway of Radiohead talking about why they like it that record stores haven’t yet gone the way of the dodo bird. There are also some younger folk chiming in (though they don’t really add much to the proceedings) and numerous others like record store owners and clerks to pad things out. But the documentary plays more like endless quotes making basically the same point over and over than it does as a serious look at the history of the record business and how it ended up requiring a record revival for its very survival. I’d like to hear more about how vinyl went from the only format, to one of many, to a dying format and then back to being the number one way fans enjoy the music they like most. In other words, how did we get here?

None of this is to say I didn’t learn anything by watching The Vinyl Revival. I actually learned a few things: 1) Record stores in the UK are just too clean and clinical looking (at least the ones on display here). 2) They don’t seem to play music in record stores (at least the ones on display here). And 3) Before being interviewed for this documentary, that guy from Portishead should have trimmed his nose hair because they’re not attractive (at least the ones on display here).

All humor aside, the DVD release of The Vinyl Revival was scheduled to coincide with the original April date for Record Store Day 2020, which makes sense, release-wise. Movie-wise, this is more of a made-for-TV, hour-long-with-commercials special than a feature length documentary deserving DVD release. It feels more like something that would play on cable TV between highlights of Glastonbury or Coachella, not something you’d purchase to watch at home. That being said, it might make a good stocking stuffer for the vinyl nut in your family. (Not that anyone’s looking for such items in April.) The Vinyl Revival is interesting to watch once but not anything you’d be likely to watch again. As for extras on the DVD? There aren’t any. You literally get 43 minutes of content, a “special booklet,” and that’s it. And that’s it for this review, too. No extras, no nothing.  — Marsh Gooch

2/5 (Wienerworld WNRD 2605, 2020)

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The Flaming Lips & Stardeath and White Dwarfs • The Dark Side of the Moon [LP]

[This review originally posted 4-23-10 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Well, I have heard a number of different versions of Pink Floyd’s iconic The Dark Side of the Moon in my day, including a full-on reggae version, mon, and a tribute by local Seattle group The Squirrels, but this one really takes the cake. THE FLAMING LIPS (along with little brother band STARDEATH AND WHITE DWARFS) issued their version of it late last year via iTunes, and it has now been issued on a very limited vinyl+CD version (another Record Store Day treat) that is so cool it’s almost beyond words. And yet, that’s never stopped me before…

Wayne Coyne & Co. sorta did this on a dare, I guess, and it certainly paid off. Sure, super hardcore Floyd fans will be bothered by the weird blips and noises and other fucking-with the Lips did to this album, but really, don’t they think that when the original version of the album came out, that that’s exactly what 1973 rock fans thought it was? A bunch of weird blips, noises, and other fucking-with that the Floyd did just to mess with people’s minds? Like Devo did with the Stones’ “Satisfaction,” if you’re gonna cover something so well-known, why not give it a complete and utter facelift? That’s what I like best about this. I mean, I can’t say it’s better or worse than the original (or the reggae version or Squirrels version) because it’s meant to complement or at least be juxtaposed to the original. So I’ll say this: It’s definitely worth a download if you’re a fan of the original, just to hear what can be done with such a great album. If you really like it, you might want to try and hunt down this release, though that may be a difficult task. Getting that last remaining copy could involve taking a trip to, ummm, the dark side of the moon. Or at least eBay…  — Marsh Gooch
4/5 (Warner Bros. 523541-1, ltd. ed. 180-gram clear aqua vinyl+DVD, 2010)

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The Box Tops • The Letter/Neon Rainbow–Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions [2CD]

I approach these “lots of albums on one or two CDs” collections kind of cautiously. After all, if the albums were so damn good, wouldn’t people be willing to pick them up as separate discs? Case in point: THE BOX TOPSThe Letter/Neon Rainbow– Cry Like a Baby–Non Stop–Dimensions. This new 2CD, four album release comprises all of the band’s studio albums in one handy set, and it’s definitely a hit and miss affair.

You may remember a few of The Box Tops’ bigger hits, such as the once ubiquitous ’60s AM radio staples “The Letter” (“Give me a ticket for an aeroplane…”) – a Number One, mind you – and “Cry Like a Baby,” both of which we still hear today in movie soundtracks in order to set the time period or to establish some sort of emotional vibe for people of “a certain age”. The band weren’t a slapped together group or a studio concoction, exactly, but were made up of a Memphis group called The Devilles who added 15 year old local Alex Chilton as lead singer, recorded a cool new song in a local studio, and then went on to fame (but apparently not much fortune) and the pop radio tour circuit. Chilton himself later joined Big Star, another Memphis group that went on to acclaim as a cult power pop band. (See my coverage of them here.) After that, Alex went solo and on to college radio stardom (as in, culter-than-cult status) before the 1990s when Big Star finally had its day. All types of fame are relative, of course, so what you know about any of these groups’ band or solo discographies depends on how you like your pop music. Regardless, Alex Chilton was one of those guys who had fame on about every level a musician can – except maybe without the cold, hard cash that typically comes with it. Anyway, back to The Box Tops…

The four albums that make up this set are of your typical Sixties variety, being made up of a hit single or two and then another ten or so songs good enough to help pad out an LP. A few songs on each of these records stand out a bit more than the rest, but basically, after the hit singles there’s not a lot here to get your everyday music fan excited. Sure, guys like me will be interested in, for instance, other songs that the guy who wrote “The Letter” wrote, or The Box Tops’ version of Vanilla Fudge’s cover of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (not that different from the Fudge’s), but after that even I have to call “time” on things. Yet, for £9.95 plus shipping, this 2CD is worth the price. IF you really dig Alex Chilton, that is.  — Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Beat Goes On BGOCD1400, UK, 2020)

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The Velvet Underground • 1969 Live with Lou Reed, Vols. 1 & 2 [LP]

[This review originally posted 4/22/10 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Another reissue on account of Record Store Day 2010, 1969 Live with Lou Reed comes in two separate volumes, both on vinyl only. These 180-gram pressings are very nice, with deluxe gatefold covers, handy black insert to protect you and the kiddies from the DRAWING of the closeup of a lady’s tight behind on the cover, and are sealed for added security.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND had splintered by 1969 and their initial glory was waning, thanks to all sorts of reasons. In fact, the dubious birth of these two live releases, stemming from shows in Dallas and San Francisco in the fall of ’69, is only the start—by the time these actually came out in 1974 the band had already disappeared. The quality of the recordings is pretty good, though, apparently having been done by some hardcore VU fans with decent gear. The playing is a little less exciting. I’m not sure if this is quintessentially what one of the band’s shows sounded like or not, having been but a wee boy of six at the time, but I can see how some people wonder what all that hot fuss is about. Now, before you scream “SACRILEGE!” and hold your fingers up in a cross at me, let me just say that I think Lou Reed’s songwriting is really something else. I can appreciate the band for many reasons; unfortunately, there are some pretty good reasons why they’re not in my Top Ten. For starters: Nico. Good God, Andy Warhol, what in the hell were you thinking? I don’t care how good looking she was, that woman couldn’t sing her way out of a wet paper bag. Put her in a fucking go-go cage without a mic and she’s alright, but please don’t let her sing. Second: Lou’s singing. This man isn’t God’s gift to vocals, either. And this is coming from a guy who likes Elvis Costello! Third: Guitars are almost always out of tune, even on the studio albums. Having bitched that, I don’t dislike the Velvets.

But enough of my Marty DiBergi-esque yakkin’! These two live albums, containing songs from the two aforementioned shows, are a great document of the band at the time. The song selection is quite good, too, even featuring some that Lou would go on to record solo, plus a nice cross section of the band’s discography up to that time. Big fans may already have these, true, but the nice pressings are worth the cost, Volume 1 is on white vinyl, and they’re supposedly quite limited. So if you see ’em, pick ’em up. Disregard my comments if you have no idea what I could be talking about, and if you, like, totally dig what I’m puttin’ down, then leave ’em for those who will appreciate them more.  — Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Mercury/ORG ORG-036 and ORG-037, 2010)

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The Idle Race • The Birthday Party [2CD]

There was so much going on in pop music in 1968, the year THE IDLE RACE’s The Birthday Party, their debut album, was first released. It’s not hard to understand how something this good could have been overlooked; luckily one of the band’s leaders, Jeff Lynne, went on to a level of fame that meant anything he had a hand in creating would arouse interest for decades to come. England’s Cherry Red Records, under their Grapefruit imprint, have just released a two disc celebration of that album, complete with both the mono and stereo mixes and the album’s attendant 45 releases.

What kind of pop music are we talking about here? Well, like so much of what made – and didn’t make – the charts then, there are definitive Beatles vibes going on, but there’s some good ol’ British style pschedelia going on, too. How else to explain the abundance of mellotron, sing-song melodies, double-tracked harmonies and songs about guys sitting in trees, ladies who think they can fly and other psilly psubjects. My favorite tunes on The Birthday Party are “Sitting in My Tree,” “Don’t Put Your Boys in the Army, Mrs. Ward,” “On With the Show” and the album’s natural closer, “End of the Road.” You also get (on Disc 1) singles “(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree,” which was given to the Idle Race by The Move, who went ahead and recorded it and then released it before Liberty Records could get Lynne & Co.’s version out. Too bad, too, because it’s about as good as The Move’s version so it could have been the goosing that the Idle Race’s career needed. Another good one is the alternate take of “Follow Me Follow,” which is less straight ahead than the album version and actually better than that. “Days of the Broken Arrows” is a non-LP A-side that definitely makes for a great single (and its B-side is great, too, that being “Worn Red Carpet”).

Jeff Lynne left The Idle Race after the group’s second album (Idle Race) for The Move, spent a couple years with that group and then started ELO with fellow Mover Roy Wood (with both groups running simultaneously for a year or two). Listening to The Birthday Party is a good way to see how Lynne worked his way from nascent popster to world renowned producer (he went on to produce, besides his own Electric Light Orchestra, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Paul McCartney, Traveling Wilburys and The Beatles, among many others). This is a 2CD set jam packed with tunes that you’ll want to hear again and again. — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Grapefruit QCRSEG065D, UK, 2020)

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Andrew Gold • Something New: Unreleased Gold [CD]; America • Heritage II: Demos/Alternate Takes 1971-1976 [CD]

Here are a couple of releases that are coming out for Record Store Day 2020 (now post-poned to June 20), on limited edition vinyl, but are actually out on April 24th on CD and as digital downloads.

ANDREW GOLD‘s Something New: Unreleased Gold is a collection of early demos – recorded both solo and with a band – prior to him getting a deal with Asylum Records, where his first album came out in 1975. These ’73 recordings definitely encapsulate Gold’s folky tunes (especially the ones recorded solo on acoustic guitar), foreshadowing the smooth voice that sang later hits “Lonely Boy” (which I had on 7″) and the theme song to The Golden Girls TV show, “Thank You For Being a Friend.” The recordings themselves are quite good, having been recorded by professionals in an LA studio, and the bulk of them are Gold singing to solo piano or guitar (sometimes with his own double-tracked or harmony vocals). If you’re a fan of Andrew Gold and his mid-’70s LA folk-scene style, then this might be a fun diversion to take your mind off things.

AMERICA’s Heritage II: Demos/ Alternate Takes 1971-1976 is a similar affair, a second volume of the three-man band’s original recordings of songs that (mostly) appeared on their mid-’70s albums Holiday, Hearts and Hideaway (they got a little “H” thing going with those titles). At the controls for most of these tracks were producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, two who are well-known for their work with The Beatles (for starters). I’m not a huge America fan so I don’t recognize most of Heritage II’s songs from their released counterparts, but there are some tunes on here that many of us would know, like the rough mix (with no lead vocals) of “Tin Man,” which was a big hit for them in 1974. Another highlight is “Jameroony,” a nearly 13 minute acoustic guitar jam that Americaphiles had only heard of until this new release came out. It’s a real nice jam session, alright, reminding me of the way my step brother Dave and I (and sometimes our dad, Denny) would play our acoustics together. It was usually Dave who did the soloing – he was much better than me and I seem to remember Denny wasn’t really into soloing – and we weren’t nearly as good together as Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek were. You can tell these three spent a lot of time playing together, the way they play off of each other and anticipate where the current soloist is going. I’m drawn to this album for that and because of the fact that, at about 11 or 12, I learned how to play America’s “A Horse with No Name” on the guitar and it was likely the first song I knew all the way through. (It was either that or The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”). Anyway, you get a baker’s dozen of the band’s demos on this collection, available now on CD and on limited edition vinyl come Record Store Day in June (or whenever it ends up happening, coronavirus restrictions pending). — Marsh Gooch

(Omnivore Recordings OVCD-371 [Andrew Gold] and OVCD-370 [America], 2020)

 

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Various • I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3 [2LP]

[This review was originally published 4/14/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc]

A few weeks ago I reviewed Urgh! A Music War and noted that my favorite compilation of all time is I.R.S. Greatest Hits Vols. 2 & 3. And so, dear friends, I must at long last give you a short review of said favorite so you can better understand my psychosis.

This 2LP variety pack came out in 1981, the year of my graduation from high school. At that time I still hadn’t discovered “new wave” or “punk” or “post punk” or “whatever handy genre name is making the rounds this week.” Once I started doing radio at my college station, KCMU, I came across our review item. It had a cool cover—all these broken up records—which appealed to my 18 year old sensibility (I only had one then). First song on the album is “Cold Cold Shoes” by The Fleshtones: a nice little organ-driven raver. Next song, “Ain’t That a Shame” by Brian James, whoever he was, and not the one Cheap Trick covered on At Budokan. Another great song, and it turned out this guy had been in The Damned, who open side two with “Wait for the Blackout.” Now here was manna from, ummm, well not heaven I guess, but manna nonetheless. I LOVE THIS SONG. Almost thirty years after I first heard this song, I still think of it as Numero Uno among The Damned’s many fine records. (And you probably know by now that they are my favorite band of all time, above The Beatles, above The Clash, above The Shaggs.) Where most compilation albums would falter, this one stays the course throughout four sides! “Straighten Out” was my first dose of The Stranglers and it had very interesting subject matter. “Urban Kids” by Chelsea—throbbing punk. “Uranium Rock” by The Cramps—nice lo-fi rockabilly, great song, a cover of the old Warren Smith tune. Humans’ “I Live in the City” had a great old saying on it (“If you’re gonna act like that/you better get on the stage”) and was a tough slice of life for a country girl in the city. Now let’s head over to sides three and four…

“Fallout” was the first single by The Police, and at the time, had not been released here in the States. Did you know they were actually PUNK ROCK once? Yup. Tom Robinson’s Sector 27 does “Can’t Keep Away,” Jools Holland (years before his MC stint on the BBC) does an old R&B tune in a rockabilly manner (“Mess Around”), plus The Fall, Oingo Boingo, Buzzcocks, Klark Kent (on leave from The Police) and more*, all submitting great tunes that at that time had only appeared here in the USA as expensive import singles (if that).

I discovered so many future favorite bands on this record! It’s too bad they can’t put this thing out on CD now (it all fits on one), since the rights to these tunes are probably spread out all over the globe and would prove to be a real pain in the John Keister to track down. If you want a good listen at what all those above-named genres were like in the early ’80s before MTV, hunt this down, and kill it. — Marsh Gooch
* Henry Badowski, Alternative TV, Squeeze, Skafish (awesome!), John Cale, Payola$, Patrick D. Martin, Wazmo Nariz, Fashion.
5/5 (IRS Records, 1981; out of print)
(Top image is the later US cover; bottom image is the original US cover.)

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Harry Nilsson, Fred Wolf • The Point [Blu-Ray]

You could say that, in these modern times, there’s no real point to reissuing Harry Nilsson and Fred Wolf’s THE POINT animated TV special on home video, but that would be missing the, ummm, point. This hour-plus show was cooked up by Nilsson, who not only came up with the idea but – naturally – wrote and performed the songs that crop up throughout. MVD Visual has just released it on Blu-Ray video and though it’s not perfect, it’s pretty dang good.

The Point is a fable about a boy named Oblio. Boy is born, boy is different, boy is ostracized, boy is found guilty of being born “without a point,” but “the law is the law, and without the law there’d be no lawyers, and well, it just goes on and on and on,” boy is banished, meets a bunch of weirdos in the Pointless Forest (including The Rock Man), boy comes back from his travels (not exactly the prodigal son, since he is basically a smart, good boy), boy is celebrated because everyone finally gets it: We should all be treated nicely and fairly because, after all, people are people so why should it be… oops, my bad, that’s Depeche Mode.

Anyway, the animated show ran on ABC TV here in the US in 1971, supposedly the first animated full length movie to air on television. Many of the animated sequences and concepts owe a debt to Nilsson’s pals, The Beatles, and their Yellow Submarine movie of just a few years earlier. Nilsson himself wrote all the songs and performed them, including the hit single “Me and My Arrow” (about Oblio’s dog) and the then-overlooked but now fêted “Think About Your Troubles.” The “soundtrack” album came out a few months before the TV show and featured Harry’s own narration. When The Point ran on TV the first time it was narrated by Harry’s pal, Dustin Hoffman, as a one-off. After that it was narrated by another guy, and then when it was coming out on home video (originally VHS), Harry got another pal, Ringo, to handle narration. That’s what we have here, and Ringo’s a capable narrator. (Supposedly there are no copies [of replication quality, at least] of Hoffman’s narration available.) This new Blu-Ray is what I’ll call gently restored. It’s not a pristene, frame-by-frame restoration but they apparently got rid of the most egregious bits of bother (don’t let the very beginning seconds fool you). The color quality has been made consistent and the sound is pretty good, too.

MVD Visual has loaded The Point with lots of extras, including mini-documentaries about Nilsson and including some of the voice talent and director Fred Wolf. I’m sure it was cheaper to film and edit the extras than it would have been to do a first class restoration, being that this isn’t exactly going to be a huge money maker, and the extras are interesting, so it’s all (pretty) good. Besides, any time you get a chance to check out an old favorite – either The Point, itself, or Harry, himself – that makes it worth it. — Marsh Gooch

3/5 (MVD Visual 2668BR, 2020)

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