Hank Williams • The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings [CD, DD]

If you died as long ago as HANK WILLIAMS did – and especially if people still care about the music you made – there’ll likely be a boatload of reissues in your wake. The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings is one such release, it being a repackage/ remastering of something that already came out at least once during the CD era (a two disc release from 1993). These were “live” shows recorded in 1949 for dispersal to various radio stations and sponsored by anybody willing to pony up the dough, arriving on big 16″ transcription discs that the stations would play on the air along with commercials for that sponsor’s products. (It’s a long story, recounted in this package’s booklet, but the only taker for Williams’ show was Hadacol, a patent medicine made with a liberal dose of alcohol that supposedly cured all kinds of ills; see “snake oil.”)

BMG’s new corralling of this material is said to be complete, and by that measurement there are eight fifteen-minute programs consisting of Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys running through many of his hits, one of them twice (“Lovesick Blues”), while also running through the show’s opening and closing themes eight different times (“Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and “Sally Goodin”)! Emcee Grant Turner introduces each show with a peppy little speech, followed by Hank himself sounding humble and contrite as he says hello and launches into the group’s first song (“A Mansion on the Hill,” for instance, “Lost Highway” or “Wedding Bells”), and then into a fiddle instrumental spotlighting Drifting Cowboy Jerry Rivers, then a few more songs and the aforementioned closer. These versions of the songs don’t seem very different from Williams’s late ’40s master studio takes of them, and a number of his bigger songs are here, but pretty much every song on this set was also recorded by the man for MGM Records (his original label). The patter between Hank and Grant is very homey and corny, yet still kind of entertaining seventy years on.

And then there’s Hank’s wife, Audrey Williams. Well, what can you say about Audrey? You could say she was reasonably good lookin’, and you could say – if you know your Hank history – that she was also a right pain in the ass. After listening to the first half of The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings, you’ll also likely say the woman couldn’t have carried a tune if it had a handle on it. Miss Audrey appears on the first four shows (the quad that make up CD1), bringing her wavering, quavering vocals to four songs either with or without Hank. I can say this: at least on the ones she sings with her husband her voice is covered over enough to make it only a minor nuisance. On the others, well, friend, she’s on her own so you’re on yer own.

The good news, folks, is that the sound quality here is superb. Considering the songs on The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings were preserved (if you can call it that) on old transcription discs, the possibility of dicey-sounding audio was great, and so it’s a pleasure to report that the mastering here is excellent, with nary a pop or click in earshot and the entire mono spectrum clear and rich. The pure country music Hank and his Drifting Cowboys made comes through quite nicely, and that’s one of the reasons these recordings still matter after so many years. Thankfully, they sound good enough to listen to more than once – and that ought to add to, if not your health, then at least your happiness.

3/5 (BMG Rights Management 538470942, 2019)

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Peter Case • Wig! [CD, LP, DD]

[Review originally posted 8/6/2010 on Skratchdisc]

No, PETER CASE isn’t balding and trying out toupees. He’s got a new solo album out, and it’s a real corker (to use our Limey friends’ parlance). After a 2009 that saw Case go through heart surgery without insurance AND the release of 4 Case-related albums (things with The Nerves, The Plimsouls, et al.), the man recorded Wig! with DJ Bonebrake of X and some other friends. Just like most of his releases, it’s very heartfelt without being corny or doomy gloomy.

Perched somewhere between his mostly-solo albums (Sings Like Hell, et al.) and his band records (Six-Pack of Love), Wig! has a very bluesy vibe, yet it doesn’t use the usual 12-bar template. There’s a gutsy, smokey room feel, yeah, but Case’s lyrical observations, along with his band’s punk rock pedigree, make for songs and arrangements that mark this for solo album of 2010. It opens with “Banks of the River” and its swampy guitar and piano intro, followed by the more Chicago-bluesy “Dig What You’re Puttin’ Down.” If I told you there’s a bit of a John Fogerty thing going on here, too, would it keep you from checking it out? I hope not, because it’s just one of the many I could call up that span the album, yet this record is quintessential Peter Case. I read somewhere that this was a return to his Plimsouls past (and sadly I noted it in my new releases update a few weeks ago), and that couldn’t be more wrong. The closest it gets to that is a remake of “Old Blue Car,” which appeared on his first post-Plims LP. Wig! has a great feeling of hope to it, not in a hokey way, but in a more post-modern fragmented neo-traditionalist kinda way, like on “House Rent Jump” and its side two counterpart, “House Rent Party.”

In all, Wig! has all the elements that make a great Case for Peter. (Ah, crap, sorry about that.) Pick one up now…

4/5 (YepRoc YEP-2222, 2010)
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Katrina and the Waves • Katrina and the Waves [An Appreciation] [LP]

[This review was first published 7/7/2010 on Skratchdisc]

Those of you who already know me can blow me. ’Cuz I know what you’re thinking: “I always knew he was a pop wimp.” Well, I don’t care what you say because I’ve always loved this band, even before they had that ubiquitous pop hit 25 years ago with “Walking on Sunshine,” so there.

If there ever was a band with a sound that epitomizes what I’d call summer rock ’n’ roll, this is it. Anchored by Kimberley Rew’s muscular-yet-tuneful guitar and Katrina Leskanich’s hard-edged vocals, KATRINA AND THE WAVES’ [eponymous release] shot the band to #1 all over the globe. And though there was no followup hit as big as “Sunshine,” the album had at least five (5!) tunes that could’ve should’ve been hits. The 1985 album, released on Capitol Records and somehow so hard to find on CD today, was made up of songs that first showed up on the band’s two Canadian releases on Attic, Walking On Sunshine* (1983) and Katrina And The Waves 2 (1984). Some were re-recorded, some were bolstered by more guitar, horns or whatever, but almost all of ’em were brilliant. “Do You Want Crying?”—I can’t believe this jangle rock power pop epic didn’t make it to the top. “Red Wine and Whisky,” another brilliant tune. Wanna slow it down some? Then try Katrina’s blue-eyed soul on “The Sun Won’t Shine.” And don’t even get me started on “Going Down to Liverpool,” which most people know from the Bangles’ first album (but which was written by Rew)! Of course, no album is perfect. There are a coupla tunes here that have some pretty silly lyrics, and I don’t mean “fun” silly but more like “kinda dumb, really,” such as “Machine Gun Smith,” but when it comes along with quality hard pop like “Que Te Quiero,” you should be willing to forgive a little.

If you wanna go back a ways, those two Attic LPs are available separately on CGB (a tiny US independent) and as a 2fer on Canada’s BongoBeat. The first one contained a few great tunes that didn’t make any of their Capitol releases, most notably “Brown Eyed Son” and “Dancing Street,” while 2 had “Maniac House,” for 1. They’re a little thinner sounding, but you really get a feel for where the classics came from. And actually, if you wanna become a bona fide Waves scholar, you need to get Shock Horror! by The Waves (1983), recorded before they put Katrina’s name on the marquee. Also out now on CGB, this 8-song EP had the first versions of “Liverpool” and “Brown Eyed Son,” but also “I Caught the Milk Train” and “You Can’t Stand Next to Judie.” Rew was handling most of the lead vocals while Katrina sang along and played rhythm guitar, and the raw indie vibe is fully apparent and kinda kute. (The reissue CD has 4 bonus songs on it.) Finally, if Rew’s songwriting really floats your boat, besides his more recent solo releases, The Bible of Bop (again, on CGB) features songs he cut with The Waves, The Soft Boys (who he played with prior to mega stardom) and even The dB’s, such as “My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long,” “Nightmare,” and “Hey! War Pig.”

Alright now, back to the beginning. Go ahead, throw all the insults at me you can think of. I don’t care. I’ll stand by my appreciation of Katrina and the Waves until the end of time, and I will listen to their records until that scary man with the scythe comes knockin’ on my door, because every time I hear “Walking on Sunshine” I can let go of every freakin’ care I’ve ever had in the world and for three minutes just get carried away. And don’t it feel good!

* Now called Katrina and the Waves, in order to confuse and amuse.
5/5 (Katrina and the Waves [Capitol]; Katrina and the Waves, 3/5; Katrina and the Waves 2, 3/5; Shock Horror! 3/5; Bible of Bop, 4/5 [Attic/CGB])

And for those of you who weren’t around in the ’80s, here’s a bitchin’ video of Katrina and the Waves lip syncing their colossal hit, just to make you feel good!

 

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Ernie Kovacs • The Ernie Kovacs Album (Centennial Edition) [CD, DD]

I don’t often write about comedy here at NuDisc, but when I do, it’s pretty much always about ERNIE KOVACS. That’s because this is the only comedy record I’ve ever covered on this site. The Ernie Kovacs Album is an artifact from a different era – 1950s recordings first released in 1977  – a time when people had longer attention spans and weren’t constantly bombarded by media or interrupted by continual notifications of the most insubstantial kind by their smartphones and other electronic gadgets. This album is full of the kind of comedy that requires an unclogged mind, the kind you won’t find on TV or streaming services. The kind of comedy you might have to repeat a few times before you get it.

For those unfamiliar with Ernie Kovacs, he was “an American comedian, actor and writer” whose comedy produced for radio and television influenced many of the greats that are still with us today. Kovacs’ skits and bits took advantage of whatever the medium – his radio pieces were audio puzzles best suited for radio, while his television pieces were largely based on sight gags and visual puns. Regardless of the form, Ernie’s comedy ranged from the incredibly obvious (especially his TV stuff) to the difficult to digest. Take for instance this album’s opener, “Tom Swift,” a lengthy bit read as a radio news story. Its subtle humor is not the kind of laugh riot you might expect on a comedy record. I wonder how much of the humor’s lost to us today because we didn’t grow up in the slower pace of the ’50s or are familiar with many of the references made. On the other hand, “Albert Gridley” is a short bit where an interviewer has to coach his interviewee on the details of the subject being covered (though the story is supposedly “etched in [the] memory” of the guy being interviewed). This one’s easy to get. So is “Droongo,” a lengthy description of how to play a game that is clearly way more complicated than it must be fun. You definitely have to be willing to adjust your intake valve to handle the slower, subtler pace of Kovacs’ humor in order to appreciate his greatness. Many will find his television bits easier to get since they’re presented in both audio and visual form. But there’s no denying that Ernie Kovacs was one of the greats, and it’s quite commendable that Omnivore continues to give us more and more Ernie. (They’ve also released a Christmas record and an entire LP devoted to Kovacs’ character, Percy Dovetonsils, both as limited Record Store Day releases.)

This release of The Ernie Kovacs Album, a Grammy-nominated record being issued on compact disc for the first time, contains a handful of bonus tracks, as well as new and original liner notes. 2019 being the 100th anniversary of Kovacs’ birth, this reissue is part of a centennial celebration that has included tributes by the Library of Congress and his hometown of Trenton, New Jersey. One thing is for certain: Ernie Kovacs’ kind will likely never be replicated or conceived.

3.5/5 (Ominvore OVCD-322, 2019)

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Chip & Tony Kinman • Sounds Like Music [CD, DD]

Here’s a cool place to start your appreciation of the Brothers Kinman. Sounds Like Music is a collection of tunes CHIP & TONY KINMAN created over the course of 40-odd years fronting bands like The Dils, Rank and File and Blackbird. I was a big fan of the first two back in the day and saw the third perform live once upon a time. Indeed, The Dils were a seminal if somewhat unsung L.A. punk band, and Rank and File was among the first Americana bands of the early ’80s. Their final incarnation as Cowboy Nation is also represented, and so throughout the 22 cuts here you get a good idea of what made each band tick.

There are big stylistic differences between the four acts on this disc of previously unreleased music, but the glue that really holds it all together is the blend of the Kinmans’ voices. Chip’s was the higher, sweeter voice while Tony contributed the deep, soulful one. The combination recalls the great male sibling voices of the past (the Louvin, Delmore and Everly Brothers, for instance), though the Kinmans weren’t as precise. No matter, though, because what Chip & Tony lacked in accuracy they more than made up for with their clever and catchy tunes. Whether it was the cowpunk of Rank and File’s “Amanda Ruth” and “Lucky Day” (presented here in alternate versions from the ones that made the band’s albums), the punk rock of “Folks Say Go” and “Rank and File” (in a way-more-punk version than the country-ish one we‘re all familiar with) or the industrial-flavored Blackbird material, the “real style” of Chip & Tony always shone through.

To be fair, many of the songs on Sounds Like Music are early enough in their development that the term “demo” is quite fitting. On the other hand, the prototype versions of their better known songs are quite enjoyable. This disc won’t replace any of your Dils, R&F and Blackbird records and CDs, but it’ll certainly sit quite nicely among your collection. As there is no known or official compilation of the bros’ output (yet; perhaps that’s in the pipeline – please!), this is a good place to, errrr, join the rank(s) of Kinman fans. I’m sure Tony, who passed away last year, and Chip would be glad to welcome you to the club.

3/5 (Omnivore OVCD-334, 2019)

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R.E.M. • In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 [2LP]

It’s easy for us old school R.E.M. fans to dismiss the post-IRS Records era of the band. Those fabled times were unique in our music experience: Band comes out of nowhere – that is, Athens Georgia – and takes over the college radio airwaves, steadily builds a fanbase with their amazing records and compelling yet elusive videos (you had to look pretty hard to find them at first), and eventually signs to a major label. It’s also easy to say, “they were better before they sold out,” but of course, most of us also realize that R.E.M. didn’t actually do that, since their label switch was on their own terms. Still, I definitely prefer the albums up through Document over the Green-and-on elpees. I certainly didn’t stop buying their albums, though, but aside from Automatic for the People, I’d rate the post-1988 albums lower than those before that.

One listen to In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 tells you that Buck/Mills/Stipe(/Berry) & Co. didn’t really lose the plot – they just matured and morphed into a different monster. Their sonic palette got bigger, better, engulfing the scruffy, indie R.E.M. they once were. In this later personae the band gave us epics like “Man on the Moon,” “The Great Beyond” and “Everybody Hurts,” as well as burners like “Bad Day” and the absolutely gorgeous “At My Most Beautiful.” Even the band doesn’t quite know how to sum it all up; Peter Buck wrote the liner notes to each song and he himself is frequently unsure what the songs mean or where they came from. But one thing is sure: R.E.M. weren’t even close to finished having something to say when the ink on the Warner Bros. Records contract had dried.

In Time was first released in 2003, available in a few different formats (including vinyl), but the 2LP version was hard to find. It’s now been reissued by Craft Recordings in a standard double black vinyl version and a blue colored set offered exclusively by Barnes & Noble. The mastering job on this reissue was done well, and it’s nice to have the 18 songs spread over two records. But I do have a minor issue with B&N’s colored vinyl: the transparent blue could’ve been matched better to the color of the blue moon on the cover. It plays and sounds lush, though, so don’t pay too much attention to that part of my critique. The takeaway from this review is that R.E.M. were one of the great American bands of the ‘80s and In Time is the perfect summation of their latter days.

4/5 (Craft Recordings CR00166, 2003/2019)

 

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The Beatles • “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain” [7″]

[This review was first published 6/8/2010 on Skratchdisc]

Well, only two months after Record Store Day, the speed demons at Capitol/EMI have finally released the “special” “limited edition” 7″ single of my favorite BEATLES pairing, “Paperback Writer” b/w “Rain”. Ummm, they knew RSD was coming up, I’m sure, and yet, they put this single out in a generic Parlophone 45 sleeve. It’s nice, for what it is, but why couldn’t they have put it in a picture sleeve? Over the years (and at the time of its inital 1966 release) it’s appeared in various pic sleeves (like the ones I have here). Hell, they could have even duplicated the original American generic sleeve and used the ’60s orange/yellow “swirl” labels. How come no one ever confers with me before doing these things? What they DID do was use the stereo masters of the songs (the original was a mono issue in most territories), which sound very sweet through the stereo.

Here’s a memo to the bigwigs at EMI: Next year’s Record Store Day is on April 15, 2011 (so I’m told). Start preparing now.

2019 addendum: And for that matter, stewards of The Beatles’ catalog, Abbey Road was released 40 years ago this year, so I assume that not only do you have a teaser release coming for RSD Black Friday 2019, but a deluxe extravaganza celebrating the entire album a la the Sgt. Pepper and White Album releases of the last few years.

4/5 (Parlophone/EMI)

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Nick Lowe • Love Starvation/Trombone [CD, EP]

NICK LOWE has latched onto a new way of making records in the last few years, and it’s a method that suits him. Instead of waiting until he’s got an LP’s worth of tunes, Basher has been releasing EPs of whatever he deems ready to record. Love Starvation/Trombone is his latest, another 4-song affair recorded with Los Straitjackets and released by his American label Yep Roc.

What’s great to hear is that Lowe has also landed on the perfect latter-day band to collaborate with. Los Straitjackets, those guys with the gimmicky Mexican wrestler masks, provide an expertly empathetic two guitars, bass and drums backing to Nick’s rockabilly tinged pop tunes. They’ve now appeared as his band on a couple of Christmas records and last year’s Tokyo Bay EP. Like those efforts, there’s nothing too slick or too raw here, unless you count the studio-enhanced “horn section” on “Trombone,” the co-title tune that features a ’60s almost-Tijuana Brass arrangement. “Love Starvation” itself is a typically Nick mid tempo rocker with some witty words, while “Blue on Blue” is a sleeper of a slower “blues” song, with some of his greatest, latest lyrics, like “I can’t sleep for all the promises you don’t keep / I wanna run but I’m in too deep, too deep for blue on blue” and “In my mind I’m on the end of a ball of twine / that she jerks from time to time, time for blue on blue.” Finally, “Raincoat in the River” is a cover of an obscure 1960 Sammy Turner tune (produced by Phil Spector, later covered by Rick Nelson) that nicely defies its title with a happy story of a guy whose gal is coming back to him. The song really fits with the other three original Nick Lowe-penned songs, which is no surprise because that’s a skill that the man has had for decades, dating back to his days in Brinsley Schwarz and later with Dave Edmunds in Rockpile.

There’s no telling whether the tracks from this Love Starvation EP and the aforementioned Tokyo Bay will turn up on a long player, but it would be a pretty safe bet. I’m sure Lowe and the ’Jackets  have either recorded more than what they’ve let out or they’re cooking up more tasty treats while they tour the UK and US this summer.

3.5/5 (Yep Roc YEP-2646, 2019)

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Wreckless Eric • Transience [LP, CD]

Our boy WRECKLESS ERIC is on a tear with this, his second album in a year. Transience is its name and “if you think that what you see is what you get / you haven’t seen the half of it yet.”

Out on his own Southern Domestic label, this lo-fi release is a worthy sequel to last year’s killer Construction Time & Demolition. On that album Eric and his conspirators laid down practically off-the-cuff recordings of the man’s musings about where he came from, where he’s been to and where he was then at. Transience (“the state of lasting only for a short time”) finds Wreckless Eric doing the same, and still trying to shake off the adjectivity of his stage name – something he apparently has been working on for a long time. Yet, the very fact that the cuts on these two albums have such a ramshackle (but riveting) feel make the task of trying to shake the stage name’s burden a relatively unsuccessful venture. Luckily, no one picking up one of his albums is going to give a shit about whether he’s now or has ever been wreckless. People new to his stuff will only wonder slightly about where the name came from, and those of us who remember “Whole Wide World” and “Semaphore Signals” (among others) are fine with it. Seriously, Eric: who cares? We love the semi-shoddiness of your albums, your quirky wit and cynical view of (the whole wide) world. Transience contains sarcastic songs like “Creepy People (In the Middle of the Night)” where Eric talks about having a predilection for suffering and the drag of “taking it up the ass” (figuratively), “The Half of It,” which hooks into subject matter first sung about by Ray Davies of The Kinks and Eric’s contemporary (and former Stiff Records label-mate) Nick Lowe, and six more tunes that show he’s still… if not wreckless, definitely wry and feckless. And yet, he’s still capable of writing engaging songs about whatever strikes him: tiny houses, dead end streets (hello again, Kinks), indelible stains, whatever.

Working with Wreckless Eric this time are Steve Goulding (of The Rumour) on drums, amour Amy Rigby on piano and backing vocals, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson on the bass and Alexander Turnquist on 12-string. Transience has a full sounding, freckles ’n’ all vibe, with thick low end and raw guitar and organ that make for a fulfilling listen. I’m really digging his latest work and hope he not only tours the US again (saw him last year in Seattle), but maybe even with a full band. But whether he’s solo or accompanied, Wreckless Eric’s music is definitely worth delving into, if not devouring completely.

4/5 (Southern Domestic SD 008, 2019)

 

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Robin Lane & The Chartbusters • Many Years Ago: The Complete Collection [CD]

Blixa Sounds has been on a roll with their new wave reissues, and this one is a major release for the label. ROBIN LANE & THE CHARTBUSTERSMany Years Ago: The Complete Collection is a 3 CD set that pulls together pretty much everything the band ever recorded, plus some early Robin Lane solo outings.

Lane got her start in the music world in late ’60s L.A. but eventually found her way to Cambridge (our fair city), MA, where she formed The Chartbusters. They didn’t really do any chart bustin’ but they did make a name for themselves in the nascent new wave scene. By 1980 they’d gotten enough renown to get signed to Warner Bros. Records, where they put out two albums, a live EP and a few singles. This set presents their self-released 45, the eponymous first album, Imitation Life and the 5 Live EP, her solo Heart Connection EP and outtakes from those sessions, along with numerous demos and live tracks. If you’re a Robin Lane fanatic then you’ll want this, as it contains a whopping 28 previously unreleased tracks. Phew! Me, I like the band’s guitar-based “modern rock” sound, but I’m not too enthralled by Lane’s singing voice. I don’t know, she comes off kinda unremarkable to me. Like the Pearl Harbor release I already reviewed (here), Robin Lane & The Chartbusters epitomized the slick new wave vibe that was happening then but all these years later, out of context, they come off as your typical, generic new wave band. There’s nothing wrong with it or them, though, and they’re certainly not bad. But the girth of this 3 CD release is a lot to chew.

2.5/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 818, 2019)

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