Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Original 'Almost Blue'

I dedicate this post to a country lawyer living the dream on the continent. Best of luck to Jonny Bottoms and the rest of the Ponderosa Aces as they begin to boot scoot their way across Europe. No, Jonny, 'Almost Blue' probably isn't considered country by your peers, but the original songs might just work for the fellas. Give my best to JC when you see him in Manchester.

Side 1
Hank Williams - "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)?"
Patsy Cline - "Sweet Dreams"
Loretta Lynn - "Success"
The Flying Burrito Bros. - "I'm Your Toy"
Merle Haggard - "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down"
George Jones - "Brown to Blue"

Side 2
George Jones - "Good Year for the Roses"
Charlie Rich - "Sittin' and Thinkin'"
George Jones - "Colour of the Blues"
Emmylou Harris - "Too Far Gone"
Johnny Burnette Rock 'n' Roll Trio - "Honey Hush"
Gram Parsons - "How Much I Lied"

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Impending Releases From Elefant's Trunk

All ears should be pointed at Elefant Records right now. Let's start with Tracy Tracy, Paul and Tig. There are a few naysayers in this audience that won't agree, but this fan from way back in the Lazy days thinks the reformation of the Primitives, from "Echoes And Rhymes" to "Spin-O-Rama," has been nothing but a pleasure. That's why my excitement is building for the limited-edition four-song "New Thrills" 10" maxi, out May 5th. "I'll Trust The Wind" and "Squeak 'N' Squawk," the two songs on side 1, are full of the fuzz and fun that will take you back to 1986. On side 2, Paul takes a turn at lead vocals with the pure pop of "Oh Honey Sweet" before the set concludes with the surprising sounds of the genre-bending "Same Stuff." So very pleased the Primitives can still provide "New Thrills."

Thirty-one years after the single "E102," indie legend Duglas T. Stewart is still at it, searching for love in the form of the perfect pop song. Perhaps he's found it this time, somewhere on the new full-length album 'BMX Bandits Forever.' When you think of BMX Bandits, Stewart's current nine-year run on Elefant may not be what immediately springs to mind, but I'm arguing that you can safely set 2012 album 'In Space' next to 'C86' and 'Star Wars.' All I have heard from the new one are the songs below, but if "How Not to Care" is any indication, we are in for quite an experience. Dig out the tissues 'cause this song is a real heart breaker. 'BMX Bandits Forever' is out May 19th, and there are 500 copies up for grabs on beautiful orange vinyl, along with other formats.

Monday, April 17, 2017

And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' for Nez

After a false start last summer, I'm finally finishing up Elvis Costello's autobiography. I always like to have a book going, particularly one about music, and my next read will be Michael Nesmith's 'Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff,' out this week via Crown Archetype. Like other recent biographies from musicians, there is a companion CD. 'Infinite Tuesday: Autobiographical Riffs The Music' came out on Rhino last week. This is the kind of disc that barely scratches the surface, but it's a nice introduction, particularly if you have always wanted to dip your big toe into his '70s country-rock solo work.

I'm sure the book will have plenty of anecdotes around Nesmith's time as a Monkee, and there must be some time devoted to his single mother's brilliant invention of Liquid Paper, but I'm most interested in his ground-breaking later work in television, film and video. His 'PopClips' program more or less paved the way for MTV, and the long-form video 'Elephant Parts' nabbed him the first ever Grammy in that category. Blink and you missed it, but if you're an old timer like me, you may even remember his off-the-wall show 'Television Parts' on NBC too. As the head of Pacific Arts, his contentious legal battle with PBS rivaled the very war Ken Burns chronicled for the network... and got the lawyers choosing sides. There's so much more that makes this Renaissance man a fascinating figure, but I'll add just one more. Nesmith was executive producer of 'Repo Man.' Enough said. I'm buying 'Infinite Tuesday.'

To whet your appetite for the book, here are two from the 1972 album 'And the Hits Just Keep on Comin''. Obviously, no hits on this one, but it's a low-key LP that's beautiful in its simplicity and my personal favorite from Nesmith's entire discography. Think Roddy Frame's 'Surf'. The personnel is limited to Nesmith on guitar and Red Rhodes on pedal steel. In hindsight, I'm surprised RCA let him make it.

"Tomorrow and Me"
"The Upside of Goodbye"

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy (Mitch) Easter!

The tradition continues. On this day, I usually mix it up a bit with Mitch Easter's work as a musician and as a producer and engineer, but the Easter Bunny told me he was feeling pretty basic this holiday. Said he wanted to do the pogo to a Let's Active video. I assumed he only did the hop, but I decided to egg him on with five fine clips. Enjoy the day, everyone.

"Every Word Means No" (from the 1983 EP "afoot")

"Waters Part" (from the 1984 album 'Cypress')

"In Little Ways" (from the 1986 album 'Big Plans for Everybody')

"Every Dog Has His Day" (from the 1988 album 'Every Dog Has His Day') This one has an intro from a cable-access show that's worth the price of admission.

"Easy Does" (recorded at Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, N.C., Aug. 9, 2014... We miss you, Faye!)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 6)

I have pushed the Elvis Brothers on you before, with little success, but I'm going to try again. They're worth it. I have a soft spot for the power-pop trio because they got together while surrounded by the same central Illinois fields where I grew up. Corn, beans and pumpkins do well there, but creativity isn't something that's easily cultivated in those parts, I can tell you.

Although not nearly as popular, I always felt like the Elvis Brothers were our Cheap Trick. Rick, Robin and the boys hailed from Rockford, a gritty town in the northwest corner of the state. Those of us in the center of the state always had a chip on our shoulder when it came to anything north of Interstate 80. So, it stood to reason Cheap Trick would be the bigger deal. Even the band's label signings had similar parallels. Cheap Trick were on the mighty Epic, and the Elvis Brothers were on the smaller sister label Portrait. Cheap Trick had a few years on the Elvis Brothers, but the sound of the Elvis Brothers' first album, 'Movin' Up' from 1983, was similar to Cheap Trick's first couple of albums. That was before Rick's guitar got louder and Robin's hair got bigger. Rolling Stone's review of 'Movin' Up' described the band better than I ever could: "Take Rockpile's loose-as-a-goose barroom stomp-downs, add Cheap Trick's Midwestern hard-pop sensibility and cartoon-character posturing, throw in Squeeze's knack for the modern hook and the Stray Cats' rockabilly-trio configuration, and you'll have some idea of where the Elvis Brothers are coming from."

"It's So Hard"
"Hidden in a Heartbeat"

In 1985, the Elvis Brothers released 'Adventure Time.' To these ears, the songwriting didn't stray too much from the first album, but the sound and their look did. Adrian Belew produced it, and he made everything sound slicker. Everything about 'Adventure Time' seemed, well, of its time, while 'Movin' Up' seemed timeless. Just compare the album covers above and the clothing they are wearing to see my point. If you look closer at the copies of my albums, you'll see that 'Movin' Up' is pretty worn out, while 'Adventure Time' looks brand new. I'm not going to be too hard on the album though. There are some keepers here, but the label chose all the wrong songs for singles and stacked all the best songs on the second half of the album. I think the toned-down "Crosswinds" is about as close as the band got to capturing the magic of the early days on 'Adventure Time.' "Count to Three" may have been a bit out of the band's comfort zone, but I can appreciate an effort that was described at All Music Guide as being "Holland-Dozier-Holland as reinterpreted by the Raspberries."

"Count to Three'

When Portrait folded in 1986, the Elvis Brothers did as well. In 1992, out of nowhere, the trio returned for one more album on indie label Recession. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. 'Now Hear This' may very well be the best of the three albums. I'm not sure many heard it, but I remain hopeful it will be discovered and appreciated someday. That one is on CD, and we will listen to it another day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wobbly Feeling

As I mentioned last time, the family got a few days in SoCal last week. We get down there about once a year, and it's a great spot for us because we all have our favorite places to go. Mine has always been Wombleton Records in L.A.'s Highland Park neighborhood. I found out about the shop in a most interesting way. Back in 2012, while in Edinburgh, I popped into many record shops. I asked David, the owner of a terrific music and book shop at Leith Walk called Elvis Shakespeare, if he had a particular 12" single by Close Lobsters I had been seeking for years. He told me he didn't have it or very many records like it because these two American chaps had recently been in and had cleaned him out. He said the lads had their own shop in Los Angeles, and they were traveling all over the UK looking for finds to stock the store. He gave me their card, and I made it a point to look up the shop when I got back. My love affair with Wombleton was born.

Ian, the owner, has made multiple trips to Scotland, Germany, Holland and many other places around the world looking for rare first-edition vinyl, most of it seemingly catered just for me. No filler. No reissues. He has brought back 50,000 LPs and 20,000 7" singles in the past six-and-a-half years. While Ian is traveling the globe looking for records, his pal Elden minds the store. He is passionate and knowledgeable about every record in in the bins. That might not be so rare for a counter jockey, but his friendliness certainly is. The shop itself looks like the sitting room of a home in the UK, right down to the wallpaper and furniture. You will never find a cozier place to buy records. To sum it up, there isn't another record shop like it in America, and I have always been more than happy to go to Disneyland (for the kids) and outlet shopping at Desert Hills (for the Mrs.) knowing I will get my hour at Wombleton.

Here's where this tale takes a turn. It's over. With zero fanfare and nary an announcement, I discovered Wombleton has closed its doors. I feel like I have lost a friend. What happened? I have found an article in L.A. Weekly with some quotes from Ian that sheds some light on Wombleton's demise. I have written about this shop a time or two, and I have always made it clear the records are expensive. Of course they were. You can't travel the world and select each record by hand, pack them, ship them by boat and get them through customs and pay all of those fees without passing on all of that to the customer. These were not records you could find on a store shelf anywhere else over here, and it was worth paying the prices. What Ian told L.A. Weekly I found more interesting was his sources were depleting. A record he used to find abroad for £6 was now costing him £30. It's obvious a business model like that can't be sustained, but the depletion factor is far more depressing than just this one store closing. My family will continue our treks to the L.A. area, I'm sure, but it just got a little less fun for me.

How do I honor Wombleton today? I'll spin what I have bought there on past trips. What else can I do? Off the top of my head, I know I picked up records by the Hit Parade, Orange Juice, Josef K, the Go-Betweens, Rosehips, Wolfhounds, Sugargliders, the Wedding Present, Soup Dragons, Mighty Mighty, Strawberry Switchblade and Hurrah! Nice hauls, one and all. Let's listen to a few songs and ponder what happened to the stock that was still in the bins when Ian shuttered the place.

I'm thinking of you today, too, Swede. As a former shop owner, I'm sure this doesn't bring back pleasant memories.

The Go-Betweens - "Spring Rain"
The Hit Parade - "Forever"
Hurrah! - "Who'd Have Thought?"

Sunday, April 9, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 5)

Just back from some fun in the sun with the kids during their spring break. Never needed vitamin D so badly. I ripped this translucent gold 10" before I left but ran out of time to post. You may remember Elastica's single "Stutter" making an appearance here before, back in 2015 during my countdown of favorite songs from the '90s, but that was before I had the proper equipment to transfer the B-sides.

On the previous post, "Stutter" generated quite a bit of debate about how much is too much to lift from musical forefathers. For a little taste, C said, "I couldn't believe how much it made me think of Wire when I first heard it." I reminded her Wire thought the same thing... and a settlement was reached. Friend of Rachel Worth had a great line: "Don't mind bands wearing their influences on their sleeve but as a whole suit?" He vaguely remembered a song by Elastica that was awfully close to something by the Stranglers. I was pretty sure it was the riff in "Waking Up" resembling "No More Heroes." Yes, the Stranglers got paid for that one too.

I have been irked many times by bands that have crossed that line, but I have shrugged my shoulders and accepted blatant swipes just as often. When is it acceptable? For starters, give credit where credit is due. When you're caught, don't act shocked and tell us you've never heard of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers before, for example. Now on with the 10" inch of "Stutter." Pilferers or not, I loved Elastica, Sadly, as Echorich said in the comments last time, "Never felt Elastica/Justine Frischmann ever lived up to their potential." What's the old proverb? Oh, yes. "The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long."

Side 1
"Rockunroll" (Peel Session, first broadcast Sept. 18, 1993)

Side 2
"2:1" (BBC Evening Session, first broadcast April 18, 1994)
"Annie" (Peel Session, first broadcast Sept. 18, 1993)

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Kinks and Kinda Nice Turns at the Kinks

Here's another post inspired by something I read on another blog. Last weekend, our pal CC at Charity Chic Music wrote about a couple of 'State of Confusion'-era singles from the Kinks, and it was so nice to hear those songs -- lo these many years -- that I have done almost nothing but listen to the band in an obsessive manner ever since. Here are a couple I can't seem to get out of my head, along with a couple of covers that, at the very least, hold up to the originals. Some of you may even go a step further, but I can't quite bring myself to type those words.

"Stop Your Sobbing" is an early song written by Ray Davies for the self-titled debut album in 1964. It's not much like "You Really Got Me" and their other raucous singles of the period. In fact, it has more in common with radio hits from the late '50s, but most rock 'n' roll bands were forced to fill out albums with popular covers from yesteryear anyway. It just so happens this song was an original. For the record, less than half of the album contained songs written by Davies. What draws me to "Stop Your Sobbing" are the vocals. Ray's pleas to his girlfriend are dramatic for the listener... even if they don't seem to have worked with the girlfriend. Pretenders did a fine cover of the song for their debut single in 1980, and it's interesting to hear a female deliver the lines. As we all know, the cover led to an appearance in the charts and a relationship between Ray and Chrissie Hynde.

The Kinks - "Stop Your Sobbing"
Pretenders - "Stop Your Sobbing"

"David Watts" opened the terrific 1967 album 'Something Else' and also appeared as the B-side to the "Autumn Almanac" single. For most of my youth, I wondered, who is this mysterious David Watts? Is he real? Why does everyone want to be him? It wasn't until Ray's biography 'X-Ray' that the puzzle pieces fell into place and I realized "why all the girls in the neighbourhood try to go out with David Watts" but none of them succeed. Certainly a fascinating fella in rock lore. The Jam covered this one and released it as one half of a double A-side single with "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street" in 1978. Truly an inspired walk up to 'All Mod Cons,' especially considering Bruce Foxton was the one who took lead vocals.

The Kinks - "David Watts"
The Jam - "David Watts"

I can't stop. One more. Let's remember Chuck Berry with a previously unreleased take of "Too Much Monkey Business" that first appeared as a bonus track on the Kinks' debut album reissue in 1998. It's even more frantic than the version that showed up on the album in '64. Hold on tight! The Kinks know how to treat a cover too.

"Too Much Monkey Business" (Unreleased Alternate Take)

Update: We have an interesting comment string going on here (see below). CC, thanks to our friend JC, here is your perfect post. Drew, my apologies. For the rest of you, what do think of this cover? This is a tough one for me. It doesn't get much better than "Victoria" and "Waterloo Sunset." Not sure if I want them covered, you know?

The Kinks - "Victoria"
The Fall - "Victoria"

Update No. 2: Nicely done, JTFL. Haven't listened to 'Kojak Variety' in ages. You might remember Elvis Costello recorded most of the songs for that album many years before they saw the light of day. When I saw him in the summer of '91, I believe he thought the release was imminent. The band spent much of the show playing covers, many of them obscure to his fans, including "Hidden Charms," "Strange," "Everybody's Crying Mercy" and "Bama Lama Bama Loo," all of which appeared on the album four years later. There were many puzzled and disappointed faces in the crowd that night, but I was not one of them.

Update 3: Good call by Rol. From Kirsty MacColl's 1989 album 'Kites,' here is her take on "Days" too. Kirsty, you are missed.

The Kinks - "Days"
Elvis Costello - "Days"
Kirsty MacColl - "Days"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Nick and Dave Channel Phil and Don

In 1979 and 1980, Rockpile were on fire. Dave, Nick, Billy and Terry followed up albums 'Repeat When Necessary' and 'Labour of Lust' with 'Seconds of Pleasure,' the only official release under the Rockpile name. If you bought 'Seconds of Pleasure' early on, the album included the bonus four-song 7" "Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Sing the Everly Brothers." All four lo-fi numbers were done with care and affection, and you can really feel the love for the Everlys in these performances.

Nick and Dave opened with the melancholy prison ballad "Take a Message to Mary," but they really got your toes tapping by the flip side. "Poor Jenny" has always been one of my all-time favorites. In 1959, Phil and Don burned through this thing like their lives depended on it. Did Nick and Dave find the energy to pull this one off? I think they did. "When Will I Be Loved?" is all about the harmonies, and the voices from both of these duos melt into each other beautifully.

It would be many years before I loved two voices together as much as Nick and Dave singing the Everly Brothers. I considered asking you to guess, but that's too cruel. When I discovered Mark Olson and Gary Louris singing together on the Jayhawks' album 'Hollywood Town Hall,' I knew I was listening to something special.

The Everly Brothers - "Take a Message to Mary"
The Everly Brothers - "Poor Jenny"
The Everly Brothers - "When Will I Be Loved?"

Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds - "Take a Message to Mary"
Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds - "Poor Jenny"
Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds - "When Will I Be Loved?"

Thursday, March 23, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 4)

It's probably not the best sign when your favorite song from an artist was penned by another, but that's the position I find myself in with Dave Edmunds. Elvis Costello said he gave "Girls Talk" to Edmunds "in a moment of drunken bravado," and we should all be thankful for his cockiness. The next time you have a free evening, do yourself a favor and play both of Rockpile's albums from 1979, Nick Lowe's 'Labour of Lust' and Edmunds' 'Repeat When Necessary,' back to back. Lowe, Edmunds Billy Bremner and Terry Williams were a hell of a unit. From the Edmunds' section, here are the three singles from 'Repeat When Necessary,' covers one and all. I'll have another treat featuring Edmunds and Lowe and a couple of famous siblings next time.

"Girls Talk"
"Crawling From the Wreckage"
"Queen of Hearts"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Goin' Bananas for VU Covers

While catching up on posts over the weekend, I was deeply drawn into Drew's appreciation for 'The Velvet Underground & Nico.' As we continue to celebrate the album's importance in rock history 50 years after it flopped, I thought of the bevy of bands through the generations that have been influenced by the 11 songs on the album. Here are a few from the '80s who dared to put their own spins on perfection.

Strawberry Switchblade - "Sunday Morning"
("Since Yesterday" 12" B-side)

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - "I'm Waiting For The Man"
("Messages" 10" B-side)

Tracey Thorn - "Femme Fatale"
(from 'A Distant Shore')

Echo & the Bunnymen - "Run Run Run (Live)"
(from 'Crystal Days' box set)

R.E.M. - "There She Goes Again"
("Radio Free Europe" B-side, 1983 version)

The Primitives - "I'll Be Your Mirror"
("Sick of It" 12" B-side)

Slightly off the topic of 'The Velvet Underground & Nico,', but I can't resist playing my favorite VU cover. Probably helps that I love the original to bits.

The Feelies - "What Goes On"
(from 'Only Life')

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Name Like No Other

Actually, Brian is a name like any other, and that's exactly why Ken Sweeney named his band something so mundane. It worked for the Smiths, after all. JC's inclusion of Brian in his excellent mix of Irish bands on St. Patrick's Day inspired me to pull the 1992 album 'Understand' and 1999 album 'Big Trouble' off the shelf on the weekend for the first time in a good long while. My recollection of 'Understand' was timeless sad-sack music of the highest order. If anything, I was even more struck by its beauty this time around. "Understand" has always been my go-to song, but I just got this one stuck in my head. It was a single that went nowhere in 1991:

"You Don't Want a Boyfriend"

The EP "Planes" followed 'Understand,' and Sweeney thought it was his best piece of work. Its failure hit the artist hard, and he disappeared for several years. When he reemerged with 'Big Trouble' at the end of the decade, the shift in sound was a shock to some of Brian's veteran followers, but it had a beat you could dance to, and there were new fans after "Turn Your Lights On" was BBC Radio One Single Of The Week. There was success on Irish radio and a nomination for Irish Single Of The Year at the Irish Music Awards as well. The overall feeling, though, was Brian was better at music for the melancholy, and Sweeney must have agreed because he never recorded as Brian again. Here are a couple from 'Big Trouble.'

"Turn Your Lights On"
"Right Through Tuesday"

I have spent the last few days catching up with my favorite blogs, and I'll be back next time with another post inspired by a post I read.