Category Archives: CD

Al Bloch • It Was All Once Bright Jewels, Protest Songs [CD, DD]

It’s kinda nice when you’re a rock critic and someone sends you an email, out of the blue, asking if they can send you so-and-so’s new release and you reply, “Yeah, sure,” and you hope it’s gonna be good but experience tells you that it probably won’t be and then it is. Good. At this point I should probably mention that it was Green Monkey Records who recently sent NuDisc.net an email asking if they could send us copies of AL BLOCH’s latest two releases, It Was All Once Bright Jewels and Protest Songs. (I should also note that yours truly was once in a band that released a CD on that label.*)

Okay then… So, Al Bloch is who? He’s a bass player and songwriter who was once in the ’90s L.A. band, Wool. He’s Kurt Bloch’s – of Fastbacks and Young Fresh Fellows, most notably – big brother, so he grew up in Seattle. He’s a funny guy who, when propositioned to write some songs again after a coupla decades not writing, took up the challenge and quickly wrote an album’s worth of stuff good enough to record and release. That album, last May’s It Was All Once Bright Jewels, is packed with smart-assed, pithy tunes like “Unemployment Office” and “Cahuenga Pass,” which I can relate to. (If you’ve ever lived in L.A. and had to cross over from Hollywood to “the Valley” then you’ll understand the reference and the dread of such an undertaking.) (Although, in my case, I lived in “the Valley” and usually went in the opposite direction; all the shows were in Hollywood. But then, of course, you did have to come back home [eventually] and so you’d have to leave Hollywood to go back to “the Valley.”) Bloch’s lyrics definitely look at things from a slightly bothered yet resigned viewpoint. I mean, we all have a friend or acquaintance whom “Stay Away from Steve” could be about. Or “Dude, What Were You Thinking?”, which is a funny one about a guy who doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone and ruins everything for everybody. These songs are set among pretty hooky, punk-rocky arrangements of guitar, bass and drums – my favorite! – provided by the Brothers Bloch and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald, and they’re quite catchy ’n’ fun to hear more than once.

The fun continues on Protest Songs, which came out a month or so ago, and is even better. It’s like, all that Al needed was a nudge to start writing again and then the floodgates burst open. Indeed, it is not an album of your typical protest songs – it’s more like the kind of protesting that he voices in the songs mentioned above. I mean, “Bass Solo” isn’t actually a bass solo (like you’d find on a live album, for instance) but a song bitching about how you go to a live show, hear a real crummy bassist playing on stage, then just silently think to yourself “Dear God/Satan/Deity-of-Your-Choice, PLEASE don’t let that guy take a solo!” “You Gotta Have a Plan” opens the CD with sage advice and it’s followed by the 1-2 punch of “Too Nervous” and the chuckler “One Chord Baby,” which includes the couplet: “Mary Lincoln used to say to Abraham/ You can’t save the world but this one chord can!” In fact, that song has a number of good lines in it – as do most of the songs here. (I don’t count the killer UFO cover “This Kid’s,” which earns Al bonus points for not doing the obvious “Doctor, Doctor” or “Rock Bottom”!)

Al Bloch’s not really what you would call a lead singer. He’s more of a guy who writes sharp, short ditties that probably wouldn’t be near as entertaining if someone else sang ’em. As for the production, well, these two albums were both produced by brother Kurt and sound nice ’n’ crisp, which is how scrappy little punk rock releases should sound. So, kudos to Green Monkey for lighting a fire under Al’s ass to get It Was All Once Bright Jewels and Protest Songs written and recorded, to Kurt for his crackling production (and his hotshot guitar playing), and to Al himself for figuring, “Why not?!” – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Green Monkey GM1068, GM1075, 2020)  * Look up Ladies & Gentlemen, Your King County Queens, Green Monkey GM1018, 2013)

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Jet • Get Born [2CD/DVD]

Well, that Australian band that made such a huge splash in the early ’00s has been born again. Yes, I’m speaking of JET. Their debut album, Get Born, has been reissued in a super deluxe set that gives you about as many versions of “Cold Hard Bitch” and “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” as you could possibly want. Cherry Red’s new 2CD/ 1DVD edition is packed with 35 audio tracks (and nine videos on the DVD) and a fairly informative booklet that make it, at this point, the definitive birth certificate of an album that was so good that there was just no way the young band could follow it up and better it.

Without regurgitating Jet’s pre-birth story, these Melbourne guys adopted their name in 2001 – after their favorite McCartney & Wings song (I like that!) – but sounded more like a Stones/ Who hybrid than a ’70s pop band. They took off with two guitars, bass and drums for an attack that was a definite throwback yet contained something that must have been lacking in popular music in the first decade of the 21st century. I can’t help but think that they were more appealing to dudes my age (I was in my late 30s then) than most people in their own age bracket, but it doesn’t matter much because their hard rockin’ sound grabbed you by the throat with its instant familiarity and freshness, regardless of yer age. Informed in equal amounts by both the classic rock of the late ’60s and the punk rock of the late ’70s, Get Born was a debut album as amazing as Nirvana’s Nevermind from a decade earlier (though that was, indeed, that band’s second record). A few of the songs appeared on Jet’s first release, a 4-song EP called Dirty Sweet, which, if I remember right, includes recordings that are downright soundalikes to the versions here. But since that record was never available here in the States, what we got on Get Born was thirteen dirty, sweet tracks that just burned with excitement. Not just the aforementioned “…Bitch” and “…Girl,” but also opener “Last Chance,” “Rollover DJ” and “Take It Or Leave It,”; slow burner ballads like “Look What You’ve Done” and closer “Timothy,” and all the rest. I really don’t think there’s a bad one in the bunch.

On these two CDs you get the album plus a handful of B-sides on disc one – of which, “Sgt. Major” is killer and the acoustic version of “…Girl” is awesome – and all kinds of different versions, B-sides and demos on disc two. That second CD contains just about every outtake, edit or live recording from the era that exists (though I know of a few things that aren’t here), and here’s where this collection is a bit much. I can’t imagine there are many who need to hear “…Bitch” in an album version, an edit, a second edit and a one-off live version, all in one go. Likewise, “…Girl” appears in album, acoustic, edit and live versions. That’s a whole lotta love for just two songs! YET… you DO get some real scorchin’ tracks like “Sweet Young Thing,” a totally different demo version of “Lazy Gun,” another great in “You Don’t Look the Same,” and a cover of “That’s Alright, Mama” that really buries Elvis’s version. Why the obscure tracks that have appeared on earlier reissues that aren’t here, aren’t here, is a mystery we may never know the answer to, though it’s probably due to some rights issues that are likely to be as boring as watching paint dry. And why do that when you can listen to Get Born? I mean, if you’re gonna do that, at least put on some Jet and watch that paint set!

Ranting and rhyming aside, the two CDs here – plus the region-free, NTSC DVD containing eight videos* – make this the essential edition of this Down Under band’s first and greatest triumph. – Marsh Gooch

3.75/5 (Cherry Red QCDTRED826, UK)   (*The video of “Look What You’ve Done” below is an alternate version to the one on the DVD)

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Richard Hell & The Voidoids • Destiny Street Complete [2CD/2LP]

Way back in 1982 I was a nineteen year old college student discovering punk and new wave via my college radio station, KCMU. Yes, MTV was a factor in my alt-rock education, but to a much lesser degree. At the University of Washington’s student-run 90.3 FM (atop the Communications Building in room 304), we had the run of all the records in its library. It had decades’ worth of rock ’n’ roll, but what I was most attracted to was the current records coming out that were in the station’s daily rotation. One of them was RICHARD HELL & THE VOIDOIDSDestiny Street, the 1982 sophomore release from the once member and co-founder of Television. On the covers of KCMU’s records were stickers for the DJs to scribble their comments, and if I remember right, more than one of the older jocks had written “not as good as Blank Generation” as their sentence-fragment review; naturally I had to dig that one up and decide for myself. Between the title track and “Love Comes in Spurts,” I think I did like Blank better. But Destiny Street wasn’t too shabby, either.

I tended to gravitate, at least early on, to songs with kooky titles, so things like “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” and “Lowest Common Dominator” were my initial faves. These were tunes propelled by twangy, angular/staccato guitars, a pretty funky bass and fairly straight ahead drums. I don’t remember if, at the time, I was bothered by Richard Hell’s out-of-tune, subtle caterwauling or not – I was probably too unschooled to notice it much and it likely was hidden by what I thought was just a highly unique vocal delivery. (It was years before I noticed, for instance, how flat my beloved Elvis Costello sings, so…) Anyway, the band’s semi-punk, semi-new wave sound was fairly new to me, and the couple of ’60s garage covers on the album weren’t in my radar yet (“I Gotta Move” and yes, even “I Can Only Give You Everything”), but the record was pretty dang cool regardless of what I did or didn’t know then.

Today, Richard Hell isn’t someone I’d choose all that often to listen to – I am a much bigger fan of Television – but I can appreciate various aspects of what he and his Voidoids put down. When you pick up this reissue of Destiny Street you’re gonna get FOUR different versions of the album. First, the original from ’82, then a 2009 version entitled Destiny Street Repaired that uses the original’s basic tracks but features re-recorded guitar solos and new lead vocals. Version three – Destiny Street Remixed – is a brand new mix of the original (from the 24-track tapes), and finally a selection of demos of most of the songs that were destined for Destiny Street. Why so many versions? I guess the answer to that would have to be, for lack of a better answer, why not?! I can think of a couple reasons, actually. Hell has apparently always disliked the way the original album turned out, so in 2009 he drafted Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot to add some guitar parts (original Voioids guitarists Robert Quine and Naux had passed away). That might have been the final version of the record, but then, just last year the original multitracks for 3/4 of the album turned up and so Richard, not satisfied with version two either, set about remixing the original tracks with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. After listening to these three different versions three times I don’t find enough difference or improvement in the “repairs” or remixes to really warrant all this fuss. (I will say that Remixed seems to put Hell’s vocals more up front in the mix, which doesn’t exactly improve the album…)

BUT… I DO find that Destiny Street, regardless of which version I’m listening to, is a much better album than I remember and I’m really enjoying it. I like the Clash-style guitars in opener “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” (a la “Capitol Radio Two,” though those electrics are toned down enough in the later versions that you don’t quite notice the resemblance), I like “Ignore That Door” with its souped-up Steppenwolf vibe, and I like the title track and its spoken word narration.

So if Richard Hell wants to go to all this trouble after all these years to redo his band’s swan song release, and a reputable record label wants to put it out as a deluxe 2CD set (or just the Remixed portion as a single LP) AND it rekindles the Voidoids’ flame, I guess I can go along with it. I mean, you know when Hell and his honchos were running this concept up the flagpole they must have been considering what I, Marsh Gooch, would think about the enterprise. Psych. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-410, 2021)

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The Gun Club • Miami [LP, CD]

THE GUN CLUB is primarily remembered for their incendiary debut album, Fire of Love, a psychobilly/roots rock/punk classic that introduced the world to vocalist Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Their sophomore release, Miami, came out in 1982 on Blondie’s Chris Stein’s Animal Records label and has just been reissued by Blixa Sounds.

Continuing in the same vein as their introductory platter, Miami was, in many ways, the quintessential ’80s American indie rock release. With Ward Dotson’s twangy rhythm guitar leading the unadorned but solid bass and drums of Rob Ritter and Terry Graham, The Gun Club’s sound was at the root of two then upcoming indie rock camps: the twangy Americana guitar rock of R.E.M., Guadalcanal Diary, et. al., and the cowpunk/voodoo vibe of The Cramps, Tex & The Horseheads and the like. Leader/singer Pierce – “Elvis, Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop all rolled up into one” (says Dotson in a recent interview) – was a big fan of the blues and other American music but wasn’t exactly the greatest candidate for carrying the torch. At least, on paper. But in the studio and on stage, he conjured his influences into a compelling, raw, unschooled vocal style that would make you forget, if indeed you knew, that he was really a “guy that lives with his mom in Reseda” (Dotson again).

That first album, Fire of Love, was one of Slash Records’ earliest releases (on their Ruby subsidiary) and was a good seller for the label. But it wasn’t long before Pierce had burned a lot of bridges, both personal and professional, with his difficult personality and questionable antics. By the time they recorded Miami they had signed to a new record label that was backed by a larger label (Animal was distributed by Chrysalis Records). Unlike the crisp, raw sound of their debut, this album – produced by Stein – has a slightly muffled sound that doesn’t jump out of the speakers quite the way Fire of Love did. Still, its songs flicker and burn in a similar fashion. “Devil in the Woods” and “John Hardy” stand out as tunes that could’ve been on the Slash release, while opener “Carry Home” and the cover of CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” are less psycho and closer to that generic college radio sound that many of us still have stuck somewhere in our heads. Overall, though, in hindsight Miami is just a notch less-great than its classic predecessor.

Blixa Sounds’ 2CD and 2LP reissues include the original Miami on disc one and that album’s demos on disc two. (The compact disc version adds an additional handful of songs demoed for Miami but eventually released on The Gun Club’s next album, The Las Vegas Story.) The CD package contains interesting liner notes, skeletal credits and only a few small photos (there is no actual booklet included in the six-panel digipak; I’m not sure if you get more in the 2LP configuration), but the sound is punchy despite the subtle high end. Regardless, it’s great to have Miami restored to availability after so many years of obscurity. We may not have Jeffrey Lee Pierce around anymore, but his band/spawn continues on. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 843, 2020)

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Jules Shear • Slower [CD, DD]

You may not know JULES SHEAR by name but there’s a good chance you know him by some of his songwriting credits. Despite having such a unique voice – and some pretty peculiar thoughts dressed up as lyrics – he’s penned hit songs for people like Cyndi Lauper, the Bangles and many others. Maybe he writes with specific people in mind? Or maybe they just pick the songs with more of a “universal” feel? Regardless, in the case of Slower, his latest solo album, the songs are definitely his to sing and the arrangements make that plain to hear.

I got into Shear in the late ’70s when he fronted the major-label-signed L.A. band Jules & The Polar Bears. Then as now, his voice was one that made you think you were listening to a boy singing a man’s lyrics. That new wave outfit surrounded his quirky (I hate that word but it’s the right one here) songs with equally off-kilter arrangements that were very much of the moment. From there Jules Shear went on to form a band called Reckless Sleepers and a solo career that went a long way to emphasizing his increasingly more mature lyrics. To tell the truth (something I usually try to do) I haven’t followed Shear’s career since the mid ’80s but was certainly aware of, for instance, Bangles’ version of “If She Knew What She Wants,” a song that signaled Jules’ new tools in the songwriting department. Circle around to today and Slower is a nice album to listen to. It’s certainly lighter than my usual fare but each listen brings out a new thought or twist-of-phrase, like the ones contained in the lyrics and title of “Between Hell and Hello” or “I used to think no one could catch me / But now I’m slower” from the title track. With arrangements veering between pop-lite and Sinatra-esque – courtesy mostly of piano by Pepe, with some additional help from bassist Sara Lee, (the) John Sebastian on guitar, autoharp and harmonica, and assorted others on the rest – Slower is Jules Shear at a much more mellow, measured gait.

If you’re hoping for the energy level that accompanied Jules and his Polar Bears, you may as well grab one of those records to put on. But if you’re cool with Shear’s cooler, calmer 21st Century vibe then Slower may just suit you fine. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Funzalo FNZ1120, 2020)

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Little Richard • Southern Child, Omnivore Reissues [CD]

This Fall Omnivore Recordings undertook a five-prong LITTLE RICHARD reissue campaign that culminates in Southern Child, a not-released-at-the-time album receiving standalone LP reissue for Record Store Day’s Black Friday 2020 event. (A CD will follow.) That record and the other four were all recorded for Reprise and Warner Bros. Records between 1970 and 1986, but this 1972 album went unreleased until Rhino Handmade issued it as part of a multi-album retrospective in 2005. Southern Child, a funky little country album, was handed to the label and promptly shelved for The Second Coming, recorded at about the same time but very different from the shunned LP it was birthed with. Strangely, both albums have some real good material on them so it’s not clear why one was picked over the other, although maybe it was the former’s titillating cover, which was concocted and approved at the time (the album even had a catalog number and release date on the books) but wasn’t exactly commercial. But backing up a bit… 

Little Richard was signed to Reprise at the beginning of the ’70s and enlisted Bumps Blackwell and FAME Recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record The Rill Thing, which spawned a Top 40 single in “Freedom Blues,” but failed to do much more than that, despite critical acclaim. Album tracks included back-to-back covers of both The Beatles and Hank Williams as well as some funky R&B that showed Richard wasn’t sticking to the ’50s style rock ’n’ roll that he pioneered. Undaunted, in 1971 the true King released King of Rock and Roll, similar in vibe but with a more varied handful of covers (The Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, CCR, Hoyt Axton/Three Dog Night, Hank Williams again). Despite its absolutely awesome cover it failed to chart or sell much.

For 1972’s The Second Coming, Little Richard and Blackwell decided to record in L.A. at The Record Plant. The album has a very funky sound, sorta pre-disco in places with some great horn charts, clavinet and more. The musicians assembled represented both Richard’s past (Lee Allen, Earl Palmer) and L.A.’s present (Sneeky Pete Kleinow, Chuck Rainey). Alas, the album – bolstered here by bonus tracks including single edits – did just about nothing to boost our hero’s visibility and it wasn’t until 1986 that Little Richard came back to rock with Lifetime Friend (he had done one gospel-focused record in the meantime) for Warner Bros. (Reprise’s parent label). The album was a mix of rock ’n’ roll music and pseudo-spiritual lyrics – even some rap! – and had the original version of “Great Gosh A’Mighty,” co-written with Billy Preston and, when recut for the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills, a near-Top 40 single. Most of the songs have a decidedly Eighties sound that is a bit off-putting today, sorta the way those ’70s records sounded dated to us in the Nineties (though they now sound pretty cool).

Omnivore’s seen to it to add plenty of bonus tracks to those four CDs, and for Southern Child’s CD issue they’ve provided some early takes of album track “In the Name” and an outtake of a little thing called “Sneak the Freak.” (The yellow vinyl Record Store Day version lacks these extras.) Whether you’re going to want these depends on a lot of things at this juncture in time, but I’d say big fans of Little Richard will find them pretty fun to put on for a change of pace from “Tutti Frutti” and the other classics we’re so used to hearing. Casual fans may not find these releases to be, ahem, the rill thing when it comes to Richard Penniman’s alter (or is that altar?) ego… – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore Recordings, 2020)

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Flamin’ Groovies • Now, Jumpin’ in the Night [CD]

See also: Flaming Groovies, Flamin Groovies. However you wanna spell or punctuate the name, the FLAMIN’ GROOVIES were an American band that wore their Anglophile leanings on their sleeves – or was it collarless Nehru jackets? Or was it the trousers?? Two albums from their classic late ’70s period were quietly released on CD earlier this year and after finally receiving copies of them I’m writing a few words on their behalf.

1978’s Now was their second with Sire Records and with Dave Edmunds producing. While it was still one helluva semi-power-pop album, it lacked a “Shake Some Action” or “Teenage Head” to buoy its greatness. In fact, except for “Yeah My Baby,” it is Now’s cover versions that make it a worthwhile Groovies disc. “Feel a Whole Lot Better” feels a lot like the Byrds’ version, as does “There’s a Place” to the Beatles’ original, while “Paint It Black” feels Groovier than the Stones’ hit. The album didn’t do much to propel the band’s career, though, so in ’79 they were back with Jumpin’ in the Night, which is practically a cookie-cutter copy of Now. Sadly, though the band’s Cyril Jordan produced (with Roger Bechirian), neither the band’s originals nor their choice in covers were as good as those on their previous outing. “Werewolves of London” is a great song but this version’s not very flamin’ or groovy. “Down Down Down” is a lot like the version Dave Edmunds recorded so it’s pretty good, as is their cover of “Please Please Me” (you know who did it), and “Absolutely Sweet Marie” is a shade peppier than Dylan’s but nowhere near as awesome as Jason and the Scorchers’ later take. I don’t find any of the band’s originals all that interesting this time around.

In all, both Now and Jumpin’ in the Night are fairly entertaining – neither, though, is as good as Shake Some Action. That 1976 album was not reissued with these two, for some reason, even though they all were originally issued by Sire. Peculiarly, Liberation Hall has issued these two without bonus tracks (not that there are that many, as far as this Flamin’ Groovies fan knows), but they did seem to do a nice job of mastering. (Attributed to Gary Hobish on the latter but not credited at all on the former.) The packaging is pretty bare bones, with very light liner notes and plenty of typos. I’d say Alec Palao’s text in the former is more informative than Steve Wynn’s in the latter, though those are more entertaining and curiously dated to January 2005! I get the feeling that – at least with the packaging – these two CDs were thrown together quickly. Here’s to hoping that the label creatives pay a little more attention to whatever they currently have in the hopper. – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Liberation Hall LIB-5036, LIB-5037, 2020)

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Young Fresh Fellows • Toxic Youth (Back to the Egg) [LP, CD]

Record Store Day “Drop 3” is the last of the RSD 2020 triad that make up what would have been last April’s normal single-day event. One of the two records I am/was hoping to get is YOUNG FRESH FELLOWS’ Toxic Youth (or as it is also known, Back to the Egg). Recorded three years ago but only now seeing the light of day, it’s a great addition to the Fellows’ discography.

To start with, Toxic/Back is both a first and a last. It is, indeed, the first YFF record in eight years. Just as important, Youth/Egg is the last album recorded at Seattle’s legendary Egg Studio, the nest in which many Fellows releases were laid (or is that hatched?). The story is that in 2017 Conrad Uno, Egg’s patriarch (or is that rooster?), had decided to retire and close the studio, word got back to the Freshies, and they  booked one last weekend there before Egg went the way of the dodo bird. Since they’d gone in with just three songs and came out with seventeen, you’d be tempted to call it a success. Yet it took another three years for those results to show up on wax… was it delayed because of subpar quality? Band member Scott McCaughey’s stroke in late 2017??  Who knows??? One thing we do know: Once it finally got a release date – the original Record Store Day, April 2020 – Toxic Youth got delayed again thanks to that pesky coronavirus pandemic. Well, it’s finally out this Saturday (knock on wood) and it’s an honor to get to share my own opinions about it just slightly ahead of time.

As Mott The Hoople once said, rock ’n’ roll is a loser’s game, and it’s a game the Young Fresh Fellows have been winning (or is that losing?) for (gag! I feel old!) nearly 40 years. GULP. Regardless of, or despite their relative obscurity, from their very first outing back in the early ’80s, Seattle’s Fab Four have been creating kooky, clever cult rock for the masses – it’s just that the masses never got the memo. Too bad! Those of us who did get it, we got it. Whether it was with “Rock ’N’ Roll Pest Control,” “My Friend Ringo,” “Taco Wagon” or any number of other hooky, cheeky tunes, the Fellows could always be counted on for a great time.

Young Fresh Fellows say “Vote!”

Times changed throughout the Eighties and Nineties and though they didn’t exactly stay young they pretty much stayed fresh on their handful of sporadic releases. And that was okay with the fans. But when the YFF guys took on other projects (playing with their original groups [Fastbacks, for instance], playing with big name rock bands [R.E.M., for instance]), we lamented what we thought might be the end. So today we have Toxic Youth – I don’t really know what the title means – and I can tell you it’s a killer record! Opening with “November” and heading into quintessential Fellows stuff like “Never Had It Bad,” “Gear Summer 2013” with its ’60s organ, “Alien Overlords” and drummer Tad’s “Black Boots,” this release was worth the waits. THEN there’s Side 2 and that’s where Back to the Egg really fries! “She’s By Request” has this wobbly, eerie lead vocal from Scott, telling the story of of a late night TV encounter with some actress that I can’t figure out. I really like this one and figured it was gonna be my favorite on this toxic green vinyl record until I got to the grand finale, “Bleed Out.” OMG. This is like the YFFs detailing their own career and demise, explaining “I’m married to this life / Gave my body and soul / When I take the final knife I will bleed out rock and roll.” Yes, I honestly believe that Scott, Tad, Jim and Kurt will and DO bleed rock ’n’ roll.

If Toxic Youth/Back to the Egg were the final Young Fresh Fellows album you could truthfully say – based on this album alone, let alone Topsy Turvy or Totally Lost or Gleich Jetzt – they played a loser’s game and won. Cleaned up. Mopped the floor with almost every other band there ever was. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2722X, 2020)

P.S. – It may be a bit late in coming, but having known Conrad Uno of Egg Studio and Popllama Products fame for 30-something years – and having worked for and recorded with him at Egg myself – I’d like to thank you, Uno, for your contribution to the Seattle music scene and the rock ’n’ roll world at large. “What a humble guy.” Cheers! And say hi to Emily.

 

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The Replacements • Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition) [3CD/1LP]

THE REPLACEMENTS’ Pleased to Meet Me isn’t celebrating an obvious anniversary. The 1987 release isn’t 30 or 40 – it’s 33 (and not even 33-1/3!) – so the release of this Deluxe Edition is a bit surprising. Housed in the now standard Warner Music/Rhino LP-sized “book” format (a la Ramones, The Doors, Love), the Minneapolis band’s (arguably) greatest album is now surrounded by a coupla CDs of demos, rough mixes, outtakes and alternate takes that tell a much more complete story about this record, (arguably) the first or second album that should’ve turned them into a major band. Whether that would’ve been a boon or a bitch for these rock ’n’ roll loudmouths isn’t that hard to figure out if you know The Replacements’ story and trajectory.

Without diving deep into all of that last bit – after all, if you’re reading this you probably know the basics of their back story – Pleased to Meet Me was a turning point for the band. The Replacements had already been touted as the college rock band of the moment and after 1983’s Let It Be they seemed destined to hit the big time. Their first major label release, Tim (1985) had some great material but somehow missed the mark and so a lot was riding on this one. What a great time for the band to have to fire their lead guitarist (bassist Tommy Stinson’s brother Bob), just as they were on the precipice of Rock Mountain, about to go into the studio with a solid satchel of songs that was sure to do the trick. Paul Westerberg, Tommy and Chris Mars got together with producer Jim Dickinson at Memphis’ famous Ardent Studios and – long story short (it’s all in the included book) – put together this amazing record.

At the time I remember seeing “digitally recorded” on the album cover and wondering if Pleased to Meet Me was the inevitable sell-out every band eventually makes when they sign a deal with the (major label) devil. And then I heard it! What a powerful record! It didn’t sound “clean” like digital was supposed to – it just sounded like a ballsy, blistering batch of Westerberg’s best stuff. Opening with “I.O.U.,” cruising into the brilliant “Alex Chilton,” careening into “I Don’t Know” and “Shooting Dirty Pool,” with breathers like “Nightclub Jitters” and “Skyway” along the way, Pleased to Meet Me was everything Tim should’ve been and even better than Let It Be. How could it be?! Well, it was, it is, and it forever shall be. Somehow Jim Dickinson and his assistants at Ardent got what they wanted out of the band, either by coaxing, cajoling or outright strong-arming – whatever. They got it.

Pleased to Meet Me was the last, great Replacements album so it’s natural that there’d be a version of it like this one. And yet, nowhere on this 12″ x 12″ package do they note “deluxe edition,” “33rd anniversary” or anything that announces why this, now. Regardless, what you get on this 3CD + LP set is a new master of the original album (on CD only), a slightly different tracklisting for the “rough mix” version – which appears on both one of the CDs and on the vinyl – and another disc of further versions. (The singles B-sides appear on the CD with the 2020 master of the original album.) Of the many, many mixes and demos, there are a few that are remarkable: “Awake Tonight” sounds like a Faces/Rod Stewart outtake, except with more of a Replacements swagger; “All He Wants to Do Is Fish” is drummer Mars’ lone songwriter/ lead singer credit and is quite good; and the bulk of the Blackberry Way (recording studio) demos. Though it’s clear that Westerberg had many of the songs basically ready to go once the band got all the way to Memphis, the lyrics changed considerably and multiple times between those first demos through to alternate takes and on to the rough mixes and final versions. There are plenty of demos here, too, that aren’t all that exciting, I have to admit. But in its entirety this Pleased to Meet Me, from the music to the illuminating (in words and pictures) book, is definitely a pleasure. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Rhino/Sire R2 643412, 2020)

And fer God’s sake don’t miss this video:

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NRBQ • In-Frequencies [CD, LP]

Just the fact that NRBQ has been around for over fifty years is pretty amazing. Can you believe they’ve never put out a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks? It’s true. In- Frequencies remedies that dour predicament with sixteen recordings that fell through the cracks (or were lucky enough to roll off the chopping block the first time around).

You’ve got to hand it to the ArQive 50 crew because they somehow put together a cohesive collection of tunes from a band that has never been able to settle on a style long enough for any rock critic – let alone fan – to pigeonhole them. As I have said in previous NRBQ reviews (and as any fan will attest), that’s a big part of what makes the Q so great. Why settle for one flavor of ice cream when you can have 31? In-Frequencies covers not only the various Q styles, but the different lineups of the band. There’s plenty of cuts representing the Big Al Anderson era, like “Let Me Tell You ’Bout My Girl” and a soundcheck recording of “It’s a Wild Weekend” that’s better than the album version, as well as a good helping of tracks from both the original and latest lineups. There’s also a cut by the legendary Dickens, “Sho’ Need Love,” which is not only super rare but has an awe-inspiring backstory (click here!) that you’ve got to check out. From the humorous (“Sourpuss”) to the super sweet (“April Showers”) to the just plain weird (an alternate version of “Everybody’s Smokin’”), it’s all here.

It’s highly likely that In-Frequencies is the first in a series, since it’s a sure thing that NRBQ has a lot more in the can than just a single CD’s worth. It might be wise to focus further volumes on, say, live cuts or the real out there material that was too Q for a standard album, if only to make those collections more pigeonhole-able than this one. Regardless, this single CD (also available on vinyl and limited edition colored vinyl) is a pretty good selection of rare NRBQ stuff for that rare fan who doesn’t have everything. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Omnivore OVCD-393, 2020)

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