Author Archives: Marsh Gooch

The Flying Burrito Bros. • The Gilded Palace of Sin, Burrito Deluxe [CD/SACD]

We’re so ahead of our time here at NuDisc that we’re finally reviewing our first SACDs in the year 2020. The pair in question are by that legendary country rock group, THE FLYING BURRITO BROS. The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe are the sole two albums the original group released (in 1969 and 1970), so it being the 50th year since the latter’s initial release, Intervention Records has put them out on SACD. These Super Audio Compact Discs are actually hybrid CD/SACDs and are mastered “direct to DSD from analog tapes,” and in the case of Burrito Deluxe at least, from the 1/2″ safety copy of the stereo master tape. (SACD discs have a higher resolution than regular CDs so they theoretically will have more information and therefore better sound; these releases are hybrid discs and will play in regular CD players, but you’ll need an SACD player to access that layer and the superior audio it contains.) That alone isn’t a guarantee that the audio will be top notch, but there are a few other factors working in these reissues’ favor.

First off, Intervention Records, in its short time in the marketplace, has made a name for itself as a label that strives for (and typically succeeds at) producing damn good reissues. I’ve already got a few of their vinyl releases (The Gilded Palace of Sin and three releases by Joe Jackson) and they’re quite good. Second, both of these were mastered by Kevin Gray at CoHEARant Audio – this guy is really good at what he does! In fact, when I see his name in the credits it’s practically an instant purchase. Whether he’s at the helm of a punk rock remaster (The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned, for instance [not an Intervention release]) or country rock classics like these, this man’s golden ears can be counted on for flawless framing of the music in question. These two SACDs are the first I’ve heard with Gray’s remastering credit, though he also did Intervention’s all analog reissues of the Flying Burrito Bros., and I can vouch for the sound quality of the one Burritos/Intervention record I do have.

In the case of these two delicious Burritos, both the debut and Deluxe sound superior to any other versions I’ve heard. (And that includes original US vinyl of both, a European CD featuring both albums on one disc and two different compilations with most of the material from both.) I am officially going on record with this: the SACD of Gilded Palace sounds better than Intervention’s own vinyl pressing (which sounds fantastic). Yes, folks, Analog Vinyl Guy is voting for the digital disc. I know the album well enough to say I can hear more distinction between, say, Sneeky Pete’s pedal steel guitar and Gram Parsons’ keyboards with the SACD – it’s not that they sound separated, but that they don’t sound like one big “thing”. Does that make sense? Perhaps an analogy would help: imagine a burrito where you can make out the difference between the tortilla and each of the separate fillings and one that tastes like a single overall taste. Not only that, but Chris Ethridge’s bass and the (various players’) drums have more punch without sounding like someone re-EQ’d the record. In all manners, Intervention’s remastered SACD/CDs of The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe really sound like the best possible version of themselves that you could wish for outside of owning the actual master tapes yourself.

5/5, 4/5 (Intervention IR-SCD3 & IR-SCD8, 2017 & 2020)

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The Turtles • Original Album Reissues [2LP]

Manifesto Records, in conjunction with FloEdCo, have reissued THE TURTLES’ original albums from the ’60s and these are some real spiffy releases. All six of the band’s studio albums from 1965’s It Ain’t Me Babe up through Wooden Head (1970) are now available as 2LP sets that not only replicate the original artwork (although in gatefold form), but in the case of the first three albums give you both the mono and stereo mixes. (The final three albums feature the original stereo mix [they weren’t released in mono] on the first record and a second disc of bonus material.)

It Ain’t Me Babe and its 1966 followup, You Baby/Let Me Be, are quite similar to each other in terms of material and sound. From the the first, there’s obviously the single “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the Bob Dylan song that made for The Turtles’ first hit 45, as well as its followup, “Grim Reaper of Love,” an excellent song that at the time barely made the Top 100 (coming in at 81). From the band’s 1966 followup album were the singles that made up its title, “You Baby” (#20) and “Let Me Be” (#29), and the barely noticeable “Can I Get to Know You Better” (a sad #89). Another great pop tune – albeit with a morbid title – “Pall Bearing, Ball Bearing World” features on side two.Album three is where The Turtles really took off. Happy Together, though still similar to the previous pair of albums, was bolstered by two of their biggest singles. “Happy Together” really needs no introduction, it being a pure pop single that few people are strangers to even today. Penned by the team of Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, who also wrote followup “She’d Rather Be With Me,” it’s got the quintessential Turtles tone that was somewhere between The Beach Boys, The Byrds and The Monkees. Twangy rhythm guitars? Yep. Tight harmonies? Yep. Bit of a sense of humor? Yep.

Next came The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, a 1968 concept album (for real) in which the band took on the personae of a host of different “bands” in conjunction with the various sounds on the vinyl. These bands all had different names, though they are all our beloved Turtles. Big hit “Elenore” is “by” Howie, Mark, Johny, Jim & Al, while “You Showed Me” (penned by Byrds Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark) is “by” Nature’s Children. There’s also Chief Kamanawanalea and his Royal Macadamia Nuts doing their theme song, “I’m Chief Kamanawanalea (We’re the Royal Macadamia Nuts)”, as well as a number of other winners like the instrumental “Buzz Saw” “by” The Fabulous Dawgs and the Harry Nilsson/Chip Douglas title tune as attributed to The U.S. Teens Featuring Raoul.1969’s Turtle Soup was a real good album with a real odd choice of producer: The Kinks’ Ray Davies. Not really known as a producer (or even as the lead singer/songwriter for his own band here in the States), Davies nonetheless helped The Turtles come out with an album made up of all their own tunes, including the minor hit single “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain.” The album was their last all-new studio album, as Wooden Head from 1970 was made up of various Turtles tracks that hadn’t appeared on any of their previous longplayers. That being said, there are some classics here, including the band’s take on “We’ll Meet Again” and some tracks penned by band members Howard Kaylan and Al Nichol.

All of these albums were reissued on CD a couple of years ago (with the same track listings), and in the UK as 1LP vinyl (as part of a Record Store Day box set and later separately). My favorites here are Happy Together and The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands, but all of them have great songs and sound real nice. As for the mono/stereo pairings, I don’t find much of a difference between the different mixes (though they are, in fact, distinct from each other*). I guess picking up these 2LP sets will be down to how big of a Turtles lover you are and whether you’ve already got any of the recent reissues. At least you can get them separately and fill in the cracks of your Turtles shell as necessary.

* Up through the late Sixties most albums were released in both mono and stereo, and frequently these were distinct mixes. However, some mono albums later in the decade were really “fold down” stereo mixes – that is, the two channels of the stereo mix summed together into one channel.

3/5 (Manifesto MFO 48041, 48042, 48043, 48044, 48045, 48046, 2020)

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Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks • Orange Crate Art [CD, LP]

Twenty five years ago BRIAN WILSON and VAN DYKE PARKS created Orange Crate Art, what we in the rock critic world would call a “sweeping” “song cycle” about the beauty and majesty of the state of California. This month the album is reissued as a very lush sounding 2CD set and for the first time on vinyl (on 2 LPs), and it sounds real pretty.

Those of you who’ve read even a few of my reviews know my typical MO and tone is often a little “humorous,” “sarcastic” and/or “what-have-you,” so you’d be excused for thinking that my use of the phrase “real pretty” might be meant to induce snickers or other similar results in the reader. In fact I’m being straight up with you. Not only is Orange Crate Art real pretty, the CD sounds amazing. (I can’t speak for the vinyl but I can guess it’s at least as good in analog as it is digitally.) I have it on good authority* that this version of the album was mastered for better dynamic range and with more respect to the music than the original, which, let’s face it, was put out in 1994 when neither Brian Wilson or Van Dyke Parks were probably a high priority with their record label. Omnivore is much more concerned about sound quality than Warner Bros. was at that time.

Orange Crate Art has a lush soundscape thanks to Van Dyke Parks’ beautiful melodies and arrangements, and – the reason for this pairing of pop titans – Brian Wilson’s vocals. They’re not all Brian, but much of it is, including the lead vocals and the main backing vox. Along with a stellar team of vocalists, Wilson and Parks have put together an album that is super pleasant right out of the gate and welcomes repeated listenings. Musically, it’s like a cross between The Beach Boys and the Gershwins. Lyrically, Parks’ lyrics bounce back ’n’ forth between cute, clever and corny, and that sometimes became a slight impediment to my enjoyment. But as stated above, I can be a bit curmudgeonly so it’s not surprising that something like that might bug me.

But basically, if you dug Parks’ pairing with Wilson’s Beach Boys and Smiley Smile/Smile, or the absolutely brilliant “Sail On, Sailor” (from the Boys’ 1973 Holland album), you will get a kick out of Orange Crate Art. Recorded in the mid ’90s when Brian’s voice was still what we think of as Brian’s voice, it is a thoroughly relaxing and smile-inducing album.

Format notes: Orange Crate Art is available as 2CD set that includes an entire second disc of the instrumental versions of the songs, a 2LP black vinyl set that splits the album up to four sides (preserving the ability to get as much info into the grooves as possible), and a super limited orange vinyl 2LP set that sold out almost immediately on Omnivore’s web site.

3.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-373, 2020)

* Mark Smotroff’s post on AudiophileReview.com is highly recommended for both a thorough review of the album and info about the mastering of this release.

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Neil Young • Homegrown [LP, CD]

“Homegrown is alright by me, homegrown is the way it should be…” If you remember this lil’ refrain then it’s safe to say you’ve been listening to NEIL YOUNG for a long time – or at least since 1977’s American Stars ’N’ Bars, the album it was first heard on. Now it’s featured on Homegrown, Neil’s “new” album that was originally recorded in the mid ’70s and was finally set for release in April 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic pushed Record Store Day back. It’s out now and like many of Young’s latest releases, there’s a bit of a back story.

Shelved in 1975 once he decided a lot of the subject matter was just a bit too personal, Homegrown is the latest in Neil’s Archive series of releases and it’s another good album from a man with way more music in him than we’ll probably ever know. If there’s any doubt about the vulnerability that may be on display, the opening track “Separate Ways” tells you that Neil had a lot on his young mind in late ’74 when these recordings commenced and from there the openness doesn’t let up much. “Try” definitely keeps it going, as does the now familiar “Love Is a Rose” (made a hit by Linda Ronstadt not long after this recording was made) and “Mexico,” which isn’t so much about that country as it is about the peace it would bring to the man’s mind. (Neil also visits “Kansas” and “Florida” – more about that state later.) In all, the album is mostly a low key affair that was absolutely worthy of release.

Primarily recorded in December 1974 (plus or minus six months), Homegrown would have followed On the Beach but was cut from the same cloth as ’72’s Harvest – and featured many of the same players. There’s just not a lot of the rock that Beach had, save for “Vacancy” on side two. A good half of the songs on the album, like the title track, “Love Is a Rose” and “Little Wing” eventually made their way to release on later albums (more about the songs’ destinations here), but these are the original recordings and they make up a pretty cohesive album. Are there tracks on here that we could have lived without? Well, yeah! It’s Neil. I’d be pretty safe in saying “Florida,” with its stoned narrative and wine glass rubbing, could’ve been relegated to a rarities record of some sort. Yet that’s about the only one out of a dozen songs here that misses the mark so it’s good that Neil decided to finally put out Homegrown intact. I mean, at this point, he’s released so much great material that in years to come it’ll be pretty hard to separate the stems ’n’ seeds from his bountiful harvest. (Sorry, couldn’t help it.) Of course, Young releases so many albums these days – of both new material and old – that it’d be easy for the good ones to get lost among them all, but it would be just as easy for the not-so-good ones to get lost, too, so you really gotta check them all out, decide for yourself, and I don’t know, maybe use a post-it note to indicate to yourself which ones you’d want to hear again. I bet this one would be in that category.

Homegrown is available on CD and vinyl, with independent record stores receiving the vinyl that comes with a print of the cover art (which is limited).

3/5 (for Neil) (Reprise 093624898689, 2020)

 

 

 

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The No Ones • The Great Lost No Ones Album [CD, LP]

I bet when you’re Peter Buck you don’t have to care too much about getting publicity on your new album. I mean, he was the guitarist in R.E.M. He knows his album’s gonna reach the people, one way or another. So it’s the reviewer’s job to know that it’s already come out and get on top of things. And, for Scott McCaughey, regardless of whether you’re known as the guy who started Young Fresh Fellows or The Minus Five, or that you were a sideman for R.E.M. and a member of Robyn Hitchcock‘s Venus 3, the word that you’ve started yet another band – called THE NO ONES – with the guy from R.E.M. will get around. Even during a worldwide coronavirus shut down (Volume 3, anyone?). So here we are: it’s already June 2020 and I’m just now getting around to reviewing The Great Lost No Ones Album, which was released in March. Had you heard about it? I had, but I clearly neglected my rock critic duties (hey, I don’t exactly get paid for this!) by waiting so long to tell you what I think about it. It’s almost as if I was trying to do my part, not review it, and let the album completely live up to its name.

The No Ones first got together as early as 2017 and are Buck, McCaughey (as in, the real McCaughey), Frode Strømstad and Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen, and they’ve recorded a powerful pure pop elpee that hearkens back to the days of old when practically all it took to put out a rock album was two guitars, bass, drums and some meaty-ass hooks. The Great Lost No Ones Album has all of that, plus the support of a mighty indie label and a captive (read: largely still home-based) audience. McCaughey’s the lead singer and as you’d expect if you’ve followed him for the last 30+ years, he has a great voice for this kind of music. What might make or break this great No Ones album for you is the degree to which it sounds like an R.E.M. record. (It doesn’t sound like R.E.M.) Those finding this album due to Buck’s membership in that band should consider that he was also a member of The Minus Five and this album is much closer to that vibe. For those of us who have tuned in to McCaughey’s projects since he fronted Seattle’s legendary (Young Fresh) Fellows, this may be the best record since Topsy Turvy. (My review on that classic ’80s indie album is right here.) I really like the single “Straight Into the Bridge” and “Dream Something Else” – the guitars on these songs are rippin’ (not sure who’s playing which parts) and sure to invite repeated listening sessions, whether in your car, your music room or your very own underground lair. Other songs do something similar, like “Sweet Home Mississippi,” “Clementine” or “Gone.” Really, you couldn’t ask for a much more engaging record to get into these days.

The Great Lost No Ones Album is available on both CD and LP, and vinyl lovers will thrill to the killer colored vinyl that’s available on initial orders. Not only is it a real beautiful yellow and purple 12″, but it features unique artwork and comes with a bonus 7″ (same colors in reverse) featuring two songs not on the album (or the CD). That vinyl version may or may not be available at this point – after all, I’m two months behind in reviewing this baby! – so I’d get on over to YepRoc’s web site pronto. I can’t tell you what those bonus tracks sound like (my order hasn’t arrived yet) but I wouldn’t worry. I’m sure they’ll be worthy of extra time on your turntable.

3.5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2718, 2020)

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John Doe with Tom DeSavia • More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of LA Punk [Book]

If this kind of music biography/memoir was food I’d never go hungry. (I read a lot of ’em.) JOHN DOE and TOM DeSAVIA’s More Fun in the New World is the second of their pair of books on the Los Angeles punk scene of the late ’70s/early ’80s, and it’s full of the kind of anecdotes that at once astound and beg-to-be-believed that made their first book so good.

Credited to Doe, DeSavia “and Friends,” More Fun contains chapters by scenesters as varied as Doe and Billy Zoom (both of the awesome band, X), Henry Rollins (Black Flag and solo), Mike Ness (Social Distortion) and Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey (The Go-Go’s). All of these folks’ stories – as well as many more in the book – are worth reading and definitely highlight just what a wild and wonderful world was L.A. punk. Then there are chapters by non-musicians like actors and filmmakers Tim Robbins, W.T. Morgan and Allison Anders, and even people influenced by the scene like graphic artist Shepard Fairey and skateboarder Tony Hawk. You may ask, “What do these people have to do with L.A. punk?” and really, no one can blame you. I wondered the same thing upon picking up the book. Doe & DeSavia’s first book, Under the Big Black Sun (2016), featured a number of the same musicians but none of the “influenced-bys” that appear here in volume two. I guess they’re here to lend legitimacy to how influential the scene was but I really don’t think they’re necessary. That’s not to say they aren’t interesting – they are – but L.A.’s punk scene was populated by so many notable bands and characters that are still listened to and talked about that the scene’s legitimacy shouldn’t be in question. That, actually, may be why we do hear from musicians who weren’t exactly punk but who did contribute to the breadth of the scene (such as Fishbone and The Long Ryders).

Ultimately I think More Fun in the New World would have benefited from the stories of more of the town’s punk rockers. There’s no word from any of the Weirdos, The Dickies, Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions, Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs, The Screamers, or the Germs, or any of the lesser-known bands that populated all those gigs at the Masque, Madame Wong’s, Club Lingerie or any of the other dives that gave the scene places to happen. It is nice to hear some of the narrators update (in More Fun) what they were doing a few years earlier (as they detailed in Big Black Sun), so it’s not catastrophic that some of the characters make encore appearances here. It’s still a fantastic and quick read so it ought to satisfy your punk rock nutritional needs during this live music blackout.  — Marsh Gooch

3/5 (DaCapo Press, 2019)

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Buzzcocks • Sell You Everything 1991-2014 [8CD]

Is 8 CDs too much for a one-artist box set? It depends. 8 CDs of who? How about BUZZCOCKS? If that’s a resounding “Not at all,” then you’re gonna want Sell You Everything 1991-2014, an all encompassing set of (I’m pretty sure) every last minute Manchester’s finest punk band ever recorded up until then. Though this set starts after the legendary group’s heyday, there’s a lot to recommend it.

Sell You Everything’s first disc is called The 1991 Demo Album and is just that: thirteen demos the band recorded prior to their reunion album (and Disc 2 of this set), 1993’s Trade Test Transmissions. These demos sound really rockin’ and it’s surprising that they actually went and re-recorded them. (This disc has also been released as a standalone vinyl album.) Some of the demos were featured on a preceding EP (’91’s Alive Tonight) and the rest turn up on the ’93 album mentioned above. That album is a great one and was a welcome addition to the band’s oeuvre. The next few discs are all of varying quality – and that is, good to great – and include 1996’s All Set, ’99’s Modern, 2003’s eponymous Buzzcocks, and 2006’s Flat-Pack Philosophy. All of the albums themselves feature some beefy, bang-up Buzzcocks material, and all of these discs contain bonus tracks culled from various singles and other sources.

2011’s A Different Compilation, despite the excellent songs themselves, is a mixed bag. Buzzcocks had already released two albums on Cooking Vinyl and someone had the bright idea at this point to have them re-record some of their greatest tunes. Maybe it was a case of the band wanting to have control of their classic material for use in other media (movies, television, etc.), maybe it was, “if this sells we’ll be willing to let them record all new material for the next album,” maybe it was any number of other semi-plausible ideas. Whatever the case, it’s another example of interpretations (basically, cover versions) that are too much like the originals to warrant their existence for all but the band’s biggest fans. I mean, it’s not like you can’t get the original recordings on any number of compilations that are still available if you don’t already have them. Hearing the band thirty-something years later doing “Boredom” or “Why Can’t I Touch It?” for instance, is jarring because though they’re trying to sound like they did back then, their voices just don’t sound like what they once did and so the songs end up sounding like inferior versions of classic tunes. And who wants to listen to that? (For the record, I’ve heard bands like Blondie, Squeeze and Cracker cover their own material and I’ve not been impressed by any of them, either.)

Thankfully, for the band’s final album represented here, 2014’s The Way, Buzzcocks are back to doing new music. It’s another fairly solid album; “Keep on Believing” is a good song with trademark razor sharp guitars, but “People Are Strange Machines” is a bit on the pedantic side. In other words, there’s some good stuff here and some okay stuff, too.

Buzzcocks’ Sell You Everything is a twenty-five year survey that gives you all of the studio material from the second half of their lifetime and it’s eight discs of some damn good punk rock from one of the top British punk bands. Yes, it might be easier to sift through, say, a 3CD compilation of the best of that material, but as usual Cherry Red gives you so much value for the money that you might as well get the complete albums and their singles’ b-sides in one handy box set. After all, one person’s “best of” choices aren’t everybody’s so you may as well decide for yourself what’s great and what’s just good.  — Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Cherry Red CRCDBOX93, 2020)

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Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions • Limbo [2CD]

Every city’s punk scene has bands that made it and are renowned the world over, and every city has local legends who never made it beyond the confines of their own particular scene. Los Angeles, being a big city that spawned many legendary bands (X, Weirdos, The Blasters, et. al.) had its share, and one of them has finally had its day in the reissue ring. PHAST PHREDDIE & THEE PRECISIONS’ entire discography is now available as Limbo, a 2CD set named after one of their records and containing much, much more.

The first disc of this set is made up of Phast Phreddie’s debut, the 1982 live EP West Hollywood Freeze-Out, and their lone album, 1984’s Limbo. These are twenty songs of souped up, angular jump blues/R&B played by some of L.A.’s finest alternative musicians, recorded cheaply and quickly (“live to two-track, no remixes, no overdubs, what you get is what went down”) and with a decidedly punk feel. That’s partly thanks to the velocity of the songs, and partly to the attitude. The Phreddies were actually part of L.A.’s punk scene, so even though they don’t sound “punk” they were part of that world. In fact, read any book on any of the punk bands already named here – and many that aren’t – and Thee Precisions will not only be namechecked but held in high esteem. So, imagine my surprise when I finally heard the band (I was already familiar with their name) and couldn’t decide whether I liked them or not! Maybe it’s one of those cases where, if you were there at the time, you get it, and if you weren’t, you don’t, or maybe it’s just that I can’t get past Phast Phreddie’s singing voice. I’m not sure how to describe it… he sounded like the kind of smart ass who might have instigated more than his share of bar fights, someone who probably lost more of ’em than he won. Regardless, my first spin (through disc one only) left me questioning what all the fuss was/is about. Yes, the band is good. Yes, the band’s saxophonist is Steve Berlin, whom you’d know from both The Blasters and Los Lobos (though his name pops up on a zillion L.A.-based bands’ records). And yes, the guest list is also notable (D.J. Bonebrake, Peter Case, Marty Jourard of The Motels)(and that’s just the guests on Disc One!). But so far something was lacking… and then I put on Disc 2.

It’s got to be Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions’ live shows that made their reputation, because the live stuff (recorded at different live shows and band rehearsals) is what makes this set worth checking out. The sound quality isn’t all that great (what we would have called “a good audience tape” back in the day) but the performances sure are. I’ll bet if I could find some video of them performing it would all make sense. I really like “Only Lovers Left Alive,” their covers of “Peaches En Regalia” and “Hungry Freaks Daddy” (Zappa/The Mothers) and “Stone Free” (Hendrix), and one called “Empty Feeling.” With another twenty songs on the second disc, it’d be easy to get lost among Phreddie’s snotty-soundin’ vocals and the slightly dissonant saxes – not to mention the killer guitar of Harlan Hollander. But after a few listens to this compilation I can tell that those who praise this group aren’t wrong: these guys had to have put on one helluva show.

With Limbo you get, as the lead singer himself exaggerates in the liner notes, “more Phast Phreddie & Thee Precisions than anyone could ever want.” Phans of the L.A. punk scene ought to pick this up just to understand what all the phuss is about.

3/5 (Manifesto MFO 46701, 2020)

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Moby Grape • Moby Grape Live [CD, LP]

[This review was originally published 5/20/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

The first official live release from the original lineup of San Francisco’s legendary, infamous, underrated, greatest rock band, MOBY GRAPE, is not the live album we’ve all been waiting for. Moby Grape Live is a collection of songs recorded before festival crowds and less between ’66 and ’69, and there are some incendiary performances here. But there’s something missing, something that would have given this release that little push over the cliff that would have made it a must-have classic. Maybe it’s context…

For one thing, the disc (or 2LP set) is made up of songs from four different shows, recorded mostly in mono (not that that matters) from soundboards and the like, so the sound quality’s decent but not great. The final cut, “Dark Magic,” is from New Year’s Eve 1966 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Fran, and is fabled for never having appeared on any of the Grape’s albums. It’s also a long one (that’s getting rather personal, isn’t it?), at 17+ minutes, but it’s a good jam and was probably quite awesome if you were on LSD or something when you heard it. I was on a Diet Pepsi, and I still got a kick out of it. There are also two versions of “Omaha,” one from the Monterey Pop Festival (’67) and one from a Netherlands broadcast in 1969 (and that one is KILLER). I also really dig “I Am Not Willing” (originally from the studio album ’69) with its heavy guitar attack and longer, more rockin’ arrangement. But as I said, something’s missing.

Is what’s missing a tuner for the one guitar on the Netherlands cuts that is nearly unbearably out of tune? Is it the not-quite-as-tight-as-I’d-have-it-ness of the playing? Is it just the lack of suitable drugs to make me understand what it was all about? (I was barely 4 years old in 1967…) Or is it all of the above? Well, that all being said [or asked –ed.], this is a live album worth having, especially if you already like Moby Grape. If you don’t know them yet and you’re trying to figure out where to start, this isn’t the place. Get Moby Grape, their debut from ’67, and then proceed to Wow and ’69. Sundazed’s The Place and The Time from last year is also a good one, a double album with lots of different flavors. And if you’re a vinyl lover, note: You can get this on 2LP black vinyl or ultra cool 2LP purple vinyl, but really, the cost doubles from CD to vinyl and doubles again from black to purple wax, so you’ll want to dip your toe in before you cannonball.

3/5 (Sundazed LP-5314, 2010)

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Neil Innes • How Sweet to Be an Idiot [CD]

What do you call a guy who can’t seem to settle on a rock ’n’ roll style? Well, you could call that kinda guy NEIL INNES, except that name is already taken. It belongs to the British songwriter who fronted the ’60s comedy rock troupe The Bonzo Dog Band. You know, the guy who wrote many of Monty Python’s clever movie tunes (“Camelot,” “Sir Robin”) and was considered the “7th Python.” He’s the guitarist/pianist who created The Rutles, wrote all of their great music and portrayed John Lennon parody character Ron Nasty on television. His first solo album, 1973’s How Sweet to Be an Idiot, has just been reissued by Grapefruit and it’s a timely way to discover Innes’ wide spectrum of greatness.

This reissue was already in the works when Innes passed away in December, so it doesn’t feel like a record company cash grab. What is nice is that it captures on CD the album in its original running order and adds a number of singles-only tracks, marking the first time that the full-fledged Idiot has appeared in the digital age. In fact, the album is so scarce here in the USA that the only way I was familiar with any of its tracks was through an almost as obscure compilation album called Re-Cycled Vinyl Blues (the title track of that comp and one of the bonus songs on this release). By the time Neil Innes recorded Idiot he’d apparently decided to tame down the Bonzo humor and go for something a little more palatable to “normals” but his particularly peculiar way of looking at the world still exhibited a wry (or maybe an awry) vision. He was the classic case of a guy whose talents were so expansive that there was no genre or category that could possibly contain him and therefore consigned him to the sidelines. Too bad, too, because there is so much to enjoy in Neil’s work that you’re cheating yourself by ignoring his existence. (At least if you’re ignorant of his existence you’re a bit off the hook.)

How Sweet to Be an Idiot is an album from the early ’70s so it can tend to sound a bit soft but don’t let that put you off. There are blues/boogie tunes like “Momma B,” poignant ballads like album closer “Singing a Song Is Easy,” and of course humorous ditties like “Topless A-Go-Go” and bonus tracks like the genius and timeless “Lie Down and Be Counted” and “Fluff on the Needle.” My favorites (besides those) are the ones that have not only poignancy and humor but the musicianship displayed in “Dream,” a powerful yet curious tune that ends so abruptly that not only do you wish it wasn’t over but you actually write an email to the record company asking if there’s been some kind of mistake in the mastering process! (That you is me and yes, that is how the song’s supposed to end.) This CD reissue also features ten extra tracks, all of the singles sides from the period and includes the solo, single version of the title track and an oddball recitation called “The Age of Desperation.”

If you like your CD purchases to be multi-dimensional then How Sweet to Be an Idiot might be a good choice. If you also like some humor in your listening then Neil Innes’ unsung classic will likely more than fulfill your comedy needs. We’re talking comedy with a lowercase “c,” comedy that’s less of a pie in the face and more of a pie aimed at you that instead grazes your ear and leaves a little cream on the lobe for you to taste.  — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Grapefruit/Cherry Red QCRSEG073, 2020)

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