Artist Proof, by Chris Darrow
There seems to have been countless numbers of singer songwriters hanging our in California in the early '70's. And a good number of them seem to have released records that quickly fell into obscurity. Chris Darrow is one of these. He set out as a solo artist after being a member of the folk/psychedelic band Kaleidoscope. Darrow mines much the same California country rock territory as many of his contemporaries. "Artist Proof" is low key and tasteful and, although it may not be a true "lost classic" it definitely deserves resurrection by the tastemakers at Drag City records. And it certainly has the aura we have come to expect form the California music scene of the early 1970's. Fans of the current crop of alt-country bands will find much to love here.
Change the Beat: the Celluloid Records story, 1979-1987,
Some seriously eclectic stuff here. Celluloid Records, a French/American record label, founded by Jean Georgakarakos operated from 1976 to 1989 in New York, and produced a series of eclectic and ground-breaking releases, particularly in the early to late 1980s. This two disc set features a fine overview of the label's acts which include hip hop, post-punk, French new wave and world beat artists. It sounds a bit dated in places but, for the most part, most of these songs have stood the test of time. There is quite a bit to explore here and it's a great introduction to a seminal record label.
First Issue, by Public Image, Ltd.
According to many purists, punk rock was done and over by the end of 1977. It was all just posing after that. While that may be up for debate, many of the movement's movers and shakers had moved on to making more daring and esoteric music by 1978. This new genre was quickly dubbed post-punk. One of the first shots across it's bow was this record, which is being released in America for the first time, 35 years after it made it's stunning debut in the UK. If the band was attempting to make a statement here, they certainly succeeded. After the Sex Pistols imploded, lead singer Johnny Rotten changed his last name back to Lydon and gathered a group of musicians including former Clash guitarist Keith Levene and bass player Jah Wobble and made a record that to this day sounds as invigorating as the day it came out. From the opening sharp metallic guitar chords of the title track it's evident that the game was now changed. While keeping the aggression of punk the music was now more experimental and artier. Grounded in heavy dub the band quickly tested their audiences limits, both musically and lyrically.
The CD version of this re-issue contains two discs (it's also available on vinyl!) The second disc features an interview with Lydon from the BBC from October, 1978 and a bonus track recorded around the same time. If you haven't heard this record before, now is the time.
Green, 25th Anniversary Deluxe edition, by R.E.M.
The band's 6th album, released in 1988 and their first for a major label is the point where many long time REM fans hopped off the train and many other newcomers finally hopped aboard. It's a polarizing record; their first to go double platinum. It also set the stage for REM's rise to international stardom. From a musical standpoint it differs from their previous records. It features a more polished, radio-friendly production as the band moved away from their patented enigmatic jangly pop sound. Vocalist Michael Stipe stopped his mumbled delivery and the band switched to major chords. Whether this was intentional will never be known but it changed the bands course for the rest of their career. While it certainly paid off from a career standpoint, one wonders if the band ever missed the unconditional love foisted upon them by their loyal old school fans. This remastered version (the latest in a series) features a the bonus disc Live in Greensboro 1989. The songs included in this live show draw heavily from Green but also features a variety of numbers from the band's five previous records.
In Between Tears, by Irma Thomas
Irma Thomas was a contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James but never achieved their level of commercial success. She garnered early success in her hometown of New Orleans and is still active and much loved today. In the early '70's she entered the studio with notorious producer Jerry "Swampp Dog" Williams and recorded this classic record of soulful southern R&B. This is the real deal people and Thomas's vocals sound like a woman who lived through quite a bit. As the Aquarium Drunkard blog states, "most of the songs concern the ins-and-outs of infidelity, sung from alternating viewpoints, by the cheated on and the cheater herself." This sentiment is brought home in the stunning "We Won't Be In Your Way Anymore" where Irma tells her man, behind some serious guitar and brass work, that "Me & the kids, we'll be alright, we'll get a hotel room for the night. We'll get a meal at the local drugstore and we won't be in your way any more." And that's just the tip of the iceberg. "In Between tears" is a classic "men are scum" record, with one hell of a backbeat.
This lost gem stands on its own in every single way but also boasts some guitar work by the late Duane Allmann who, according to the liner notes, "wandered into the studio and picked up a guitar" for a few early sessions, not long before his death in 1971.
Inspiration Information: Wings of Love, by Shuggie Otis
Originally released in 1974, "Inspiration Information is such a great and influential record that it has been re-issued twice, first in 2001 by David Byrne's Luaka Bop label as the first release in it's "World Psychedelic Classics" series. This version contains original album in its entirety as well as four songs taken from Otis' 1971 album Freedom Flight, including "Strawberry Letter 23". Then, just a few months back Epic/Legacy re-issued it again, this time accompanied by a second Shuggie record, "Wings of Love" which features 14 tracks that Otis recorded between 1975 and 2000. "Inspiration Information" is notable for it's wide variety of musical styles and ranks among the 1970's most unique and personal musical statements. Taking over three years to records, It's a studio creation of the first order, with Otis dabbling in sounds and technologies that were ahead of their time. From the Stevie Wonder/Sly Stone slow funk of "Aht uh mi hed" to the futuristic psych of "Happy House" to Shuggie's early adoption of the analog drum machine. It's no wonder that the record was met with consternation when it finally came out.So much so that Otis was dropped by his label, Columbia and wasn't heard from again for almost 40 years. By it's very nature (various demo tapes and previously unreleased tracks), "Wings of Love" is a more uneven affair but has bursts of brilliance. At the very least, it solidifies Shuggie's status as en eccentric who made music for himself, not the masses.
Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM , compiled and edited by Jonathan Ward
Here's an astonishing and beautifully packaged set that explores music from the African continent from the span 1909 to the mid-'60s. It features 100 songs and an incredible booklet with information about the project and photos of the performers included. Each CD (there are four of them) focus on specific region of the continent. They each work their way forward in time. While some of this may be an acquired test there is no doubt that this is a monumental feat undertaken by Dust to Digital, whose mission is to produce and curate a wide variety of musical projects, which combine rare, essential recordings with historical images and descriptive texts.
You can read more about the project here, from the LA Times Music blog.
Silhouette Segments, by Brother John Rydgren
I can't say it any better than the the back cover description of this excellent re-issue from the folks at Omni Recording Company: At the very zenith of Psychedelia and Christianity stands the imposing figure of Brother John Rydgren. An ordained pastor of the American Lutheran Church, Rydgren laid out a heady trip of lysergic spiritual philosophy. Sincere, profound and yet deeply playful, Brother John's mesmeric baritone waxed poetic about the big questions - Love, Sex, Death, War and Drugs (and God's place in all this) - over a backbeat of fuzz guitars, sitars, avant choirs and go-go drums. From 1966 onwards Brother John broadcast his widely syndicated radio show "Silhouette" across the U.S.A (and Vietnam), speaking directly to the Hippies, Heads, Jesus-Freaks and G.I.s in an engaging flower-power-patter. His incredibly rare LPs "Silhouette Segments" (1968), "Cantata For New Life" (1967) and "Worlds Of Youth" (1966) were originally distributed only to radio stations and church groups. All are officially reissued here (in full) for the very first time. Remastered with copious extra tracks, exclusive liner notes and extremely rare photos, here at last is the true Gospel of Brother John Rydgren.
Rydgren's imposing baritone really is the perfect foil for the disturbing choirs and weird soundscapes that creep out in the background but I can't help to wonder, however, how effective this form of proselytizing actually was. It seems more like something that folks "in the know" would listen to late at night, while doing some of the very things that Rydgren is advising against.
This set features the magnificent 28 minute epic "Cantata For New Life" - a psychedelic psycho-spiritual mass for choir, fuzz guitar, rock drums and Brother John.
An astute reviewer on Amazon refers to Rydgren as "the Lutheran Ken Nordine", which is completely apt.
This is not to be missed.
The Street Giveth-- and the Street Taketh Away, by Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys
This dubiously named band started in NYC in the late '60's, playing all the legendary spots, including Cafe Wha' and the Electric Circus. Co-Founder Roy Michaels played with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay before they moved to California and started Buffalo Springfield. This association allowed Michaels to secure a recording contract with Polydor records. Michaels and the band eventually followed suit and relocated to California in 1970. This record, their debut, works best as a piece of musical history it serves it's purpose and may appeal to fans of grassroots rock and roll but, at least to me, offers nothing revelatory. What is notable (and surprising) is that it was produced by Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix also acted as the sponsor to obtain union membership for band members, in order that they could play professionally on tour with him.
They did hit the Top 25 in 1969 with the song "Good Old Rock & Roll"
(which sounds exactly like you think it would)which may be one of the
first examples of a "mash-up", containing snippets of "Sweet Little
Sixteen," "Long Tall Sally," "Chantilly Lace," "Whole Lotta Shakin'
Goin' On," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Party Doll" within its three minutes
and five seconds. The standout track is a commentary on the chaotic
summer of 1968 called "How I Spent My Summer."
A quizzical choice for resurrection, I guess, but that's the beauty of
the re-issue business. One man's treasure...