The Rolling Stones • Exile on Main Street [CD, LP]

[This review was originally published 5/18/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

Here’s a reissue I don’t mind picking up, if only because it’s one I haven’t already bought fifteen times in my life. A very rockin’ album by THE ROLLING STONES, Exile On Main Street was originally released in ’72 and is now out again in multiple formats. I just saw a guy at my local loaded up with all the versions they had in stock: 1CD, 2CD, 2LP and the Deluxe Edition that has 2CDs, 2LPs, a DVD, a book, and probably the deed to Keef’s French mansion. Well, it should, for $150!

Most people know this album as the one with “Tumblin’ Dice,” “Happy” and “All Down the Line,” but don’t forget there are many other good ones here, including “Just Wanna See His Face,” “Stop Breaking Down,” and the one that wins my award for best song title, “Turd on the Run.” What’s great about this record is that it’s not as excessive as you’d expect – double albums can be awfully long – and there aren’t any real clunkers, from “Rocks Off” to “Soul Survivor.” The band takes on some different styles and really comes into their own, no longer copying everything The Beatles did, but doing their own thing. Now, I can’t vouch for the bonus tracks on the 2CD version (except “Plundered My Soul,” which I previewed when it came out on Record Store Day as a 7″), so you’re on your own there. Let your conscience (or wallet) be your guide. But I can say that I like this album in its original form quite a bit. Maybe not as much as Sticky Fingers, personally, but hey hey, what can you do?* BTW, the double vinyl sounds sweet but doesn’t come with the original postcards.  — Marsh Gooch
[*Wrong band, dude. That’s Zeppelin.]

4/5 (Rolling Stones/UMe B0014203-01, 2010)

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Utopia • Deface the Music [LP]

My friend Steve once uttered, “You’re the only guy I know who, when he’s not listening to The Beatles, is listening to something that sounds just like The Beatles.” I don’t remember for sure what was playing in the car that day but it could very well have been UTOPIA’s Deface the Music. This 1980 album by Todd Rundgren’s rock group, an homage to the music of The Fab Four, sounds so much like Liverpool’s Finest that you could be forgiven for thinking it was some long lost long-player of theirs. Of course, it doesn’t sound exactly like them, but it’s an incredible simulation that’s close enough for many a Beatlemaniac to enjoy.

I’m not sure what the impetus for creating and releasing something like Deface the Music was. Perhaps Todd & Co. were feeling nostalgic for the music they grew up on, or maybe it was that, when one of the group’s songs was turned down for a soundtrack because it sounded too much like The Beatles, they decided to do an entire album of soundalike music for fun. I’d guess the record company thought it was a mistake for Utopia to put it out but – it being the beginning of the anything goes ’80s – it might just catch on. It’s not like The Beatles’ popularity had waned at all even ten years after they’d called it quits, considering the success of compilations like Rock ’N’ Roll Music and the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 best-ofs. Regardless of why they did it or why it was released, Utopia did Deface the Music and yet they actually didn’t deface it at all. From the opener “I Just Want to Touch You,” an “I Want to Hold Your Hand” parody, through “Take It Home” (a la “Day Tripper”), “Hoi Poloi,” the gentle “All Smiles” and closer “Everybody Else Is Wrong” (hello “Strawberry Fields Forever”), the album is a baker’s dozen of grin-inducing singles that may have even made the Mop Tops themselves smile. (Even if it was only with visions of suing for copyright infringement in their collective head.)

While Deface the Music is full of songs that sound like The Beatles, there are some clues that 100% homage wasn’t necessarily what Utopia had in mind. For one thing, the instrumentation that would have been strings in the ’60s is definitely played on late ’70s synths and so don’t sound authentic. Likewise, the production value (or what you could call the sound) is clearly of 1980 and not that warm but shimmery glimmer of Abbey Road circa ’66 or so. I always thought the mix was a bit murky and lacked some of that high end sizzle you’d expect, but this 2020 reissue, put out by Music On Vinyl from the Netherlands, nevertheless sounds really good. There’s no notation as to what the source material was for this limited edition vinyl pressing (MOV has never been clear about their sources), but Deface the Music sounds at least as good as an original US Bearsville/WB copy. If you’re a Beatles or Todd nut, you should have this one. Limited to 500 copies on silver vinyl (perhaps black wax will follow), this record is worth wrapping up and taking home. Or having delivered to your door by international courier. Or however the hell you can get it.

4/5 (Music On Vinyl MOVLP 2519, 2020)

 

 

 

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Juliana Hatfield • When I Grow Up – A Memoir [Book]

[This review was originally published 5/10/2010 on my old blog, Skratchdisc.]

JULIANA HATFIELD is best known as the wispy-voiced alternative rock gal who belted out “Spin the Bottle” and “My Sister” in the early ’90s. She’s been putting out records fairly steadily since then, but once her major label deal ran out of gas, she was on her own and her visibility lessened considerably. Still, she’s bravely released albums on various labels, including her own Ye Olde Records, and has consistently done her own thing. Yet Juliana had many demons to deal with over the years, and that’s what led her to pen When I Grow Up.

The memoir, published by Wiley last year, is a stark, unexaggerated look at her life touring to support her various solo releases (since her first band, Blake Babies), and details the issues she’s faced, from standard “boy issues” to deeper problems like anorexia and severe shyness. What’s best about this book is that Hatfield doesn’t hold anything back. One moment she’s supremely irritated by a pushy fan trying to get a picture, the next moment she’s lamenting a crappy hotel room, the next she’s trying to combat loneliness despite being surrounded by friends and fans. It’s not that she’s a bitch, it’s just that she’s only outgoing when she’s performing. So she doesn’t color anything overly rosy, and that doesn’t mean the book is a big downer, though about midway through I was starting to wonder when – or if – she was gonna find the light at the end of the tunnel. She does, finally, and by then you feel like you wish you knew her as just a person and not the woman sporting the SG onstage.

After not having heard any of her records for a decade or so, I felt like I really wanted to track down a few of her releases to pay a little more attention to what she’s actually saying. Though she does note somewhere in the book that words are just vehicles to drive the songs, as a songwriter myself, I can tell you that no matter how much the writer wants to chalk a song up to a silly idea or funny phrase someone spoke, there’s always something personal in there. When I Grow Up shows how a girl can become a woman without succumbing to the massive amount of BS thrown at her from birth.  — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Wiley Books, 2010)

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David Kirby • Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ’N’ Roll [Book]

[RIP Little Richard, 1932-2020. This book review was originally published 1/23/2010 on Skratchdisc.]

I read way too many rock ’n’ roll biographies. I could be filling my head with interesting socio-political tomes (which I do read on occasion) or treatises on the latest thoughts on victims’ rights or whathaveyou, but instead I read typically badly-written stories of people who may or may not be remembered in another ten years for wielding their cigarette-burned axes all over the world with fellow drug-addled losers… Okay, maybe not all of them are that bad, but you know what I mean.

Well, anyway, I was given a nice gift certificate to a book store and I bought this here book, Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ’N’ Roll, by a real life professor of English, DAVID KIRBY. It’s a small thing, suitably decorated in a mid-2oth century pink cover design depicting our own Richard Penniman looking his straightest best, more than likely belting out “Tutti Frutti” or one of his other hits. In fact, Kirby’s main premise in this book is that that song is the most important in the history of rock, and based on his very erudite and quite humorous arguments, he may just be right. This book isn’t exactly a biography, though, because Kirby doesn’t present “just the facts, ma’m” like most do – he gives you basic facts ’n’ figures but he surrounds them with his very interesting anecdotes and observations of Macon, Georgia (where Richard was born), of the man’s bi/gay persuasion, of his lifelong swingin’ back ’n’ forth from absolutely primordial rock ’n’ roll screamer to good-boy churchgoer. Kirby, a prof at Florida State U., makes this such an entertaining and energizing read, you just gotta get out your 18 Greatest Hits CD (on Rhino) or any one of the other packages of Little Richard’s awesome songs and start boogieing right there on the floor in front of God and everybody.

And he doesn’t just pour on the fanboy kudos all over the place, either. Though Charles White’s bio on LR might be the one to get if you want a by-the-book biography (it ain’t a bad book either, I recall), David Kirby’s is the one to better show just what made this effeminate madman possibly the craziest, most outrageous shouter the world has ever known.  — Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Continuum Books, 2009)

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NRBQ • High Noon – A 50-Year Retrospective [5CD Box Set]

First released in 2016 and now freshly repressed, High Noon – A 50-Year Retrospective is the NRBQ collection to end all collections. Unlike numerous one- and two-disc packages that have tried to sum up the New Rhythm & Blues Quartet’s unique take on rock ’n’ roll, this set does the job nicely. The fact that it took five CDs to do it means that this was no easy feat. Trying to describe NRBQ in one review, likewise, ain’t gonna be easy. And yet, I’m gonna try.

NRBQ are like the tastiest stew you’ve ever had. With every spoonful you get a taste of something different. You might get something rockabilly inspired like “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” you might get a country funk like “Flat Foot Flewzy,” you might get a power pop classic like “Me and the Boys,” or you might get a sweet little pop ballad like “This Love Is True,” or any other of the many different flavors NRBQ adds to the pot. They are one of the few bands who can play about any style you’d care to hear. They’re also hard to classify, genre-wise, because even when they’re doing “rockabilly” they’re adding something to make it seem like a whole new style. From song to song, album to album, and especially era to era, there are elements that are always there: musicianship, humor, exuberance and zeal. Whether it’s Terry Adams’ crazed clavinet or piano playing, Al Anderson’s killer guitar picking, or any of the other members’ talents (too many over 50 years to name here), NRBQ never fail to deliver… whatever it is they’re trying to deliver.

Curiously, Omnivore’s superb look at the 50 year old group starts somewhere toward the end (or present-day, I should say, since NRBQ is still together), goes back to the beginning (1966!) and then works its way back to where we started. Not so curiously, I began back in ’66 with Disc 2, being pretty familiar with the band’s early stuff, then through the ’70s and ’80s material – the ’Q I like the most – and up to where High Noon ends in the 20-teens. I’m still digesting the band’s last two decades (what with the multiple personnel changes, even more stylistic turns, etc.) and High Noon gives me a good way to do that, with Discs 1 and 5 covering the second half of their history (1989-2016). So far I really like the Buck Owens flavored “Fightin’ Back” and “21-50 to Headquarters.” With 116 tracks, you’d think this behemoth would be overkill. Not so. In a way, it just begins to tell the NRBQ story. I mean, there are classic cuts in their canon that aren’t even here (hello, “When Things Was Cheap” and their covers of “Wild Weekend” and “Tonight You Belong to Me”)!

Knowing that a 5 CD compilation might be too much commitment for some, the record label took the liberty of putting out High Noon in a two disc “highlights” version and a 2 LP set, too. The track list on both of those looks worthy of your time if you’re not sure you’re up to the task of digesting so much NRBQ, but seriously, if you go that route you’ll probably end up buying this package anyway. And maybe that was Omnivore’s idea all along.  — Marsh Gooch

4.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-190, 2016/2020)

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

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

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

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

3.5/5 (YepRoc download, 2020)

 

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The Vinyl Revival [DVD]

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

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

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

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

2/5 (Wienerworld WNRD 2605, 2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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