Bob Dylan duly dumped about another thirty-seven (at last count) albums in our laps last year, while on much the other hand the vast majority of my aural Good Times! during oh-16 came courtesy of Micky, Peter, Michael and Davy. Nevertheless, there still remained room on the trusty Pig Player for the following splendid, purely alphabetically-listed items as well …which you should all be playing too if you aren’t already:
8X8 Inflorescence (8X8 Records)
Once again virtually producing their sonic bridge between Queens, NY and Kiev, UKR, Lane Steinberg and Alexander Khodchenko return with forty three minutes which never fail to fully mystify as much as melodize. To begin, “Stop The Madman” takes its fanciful funereal march clear off our collective cliff, then “My Summertime High” trips Todd Rundgren straight over Colin Moulding before signing off with a most significant SMiLE indeed. But… is it Sunshine Pop?? Soon however, unlike on their previous offering, Alex and Lane start stretching out magnificent, purely instrumental passages: “Aftermath” sports a dense Mellotronic concluding quarter while “The Essence” tags on nearly two whole minutes which would sound completely at home beneath the very next Tom Cruise green-screen action caper; in fact two songs, “Head, Heart, & Tail” and “Between The Double Curtain” are almost totally instrumental. Yet wherever and whenever words do enter into it, the utterly Blonde on John “Bubbles” in particular, the lyrics weave a near Sir Ray Davies level of storytelling detail (“No More Second Chance”). Which reminds me: Lane Steinberg’s vocals – I single out “Some Surreal Idea” above all – are perhaps the best he has ever done. Which is saying quite a bit over a career which already spans decades. And counting.
MIKE BADGER and the Shady Trio Honky Tonk Angels On Motorbikes (Generator)
Delightfully direct from the J. Strummer School of roots ‘n’ roll, Mike Badger’s northern UK ancestry (The Onset and, yes, The La’s to cite only two) plays as sure and smooth as his hollow body Gretsch upon this disarming little disc. “Miss Jones,” for starters, slyly sways in a Nesmith National Band way, while “27 Miles to Memphis” should without doubt be railroaded in Dave Edmunds’ direction asap. And while we’re at it, John Fogerty sure could use a tune or two just like “Mean And Nasty Devil” right about now. Elsewhere, “Adios Amigo” wouldn’t sound a single inch out of place on your favorite Rank and File album while “John Got Shot” fires 21st Century skiffle, I kid you not, complete with crackling Crickets-y guitar breaks here and then there. But it’s whenever his expertly Shady Trio channel those Tennessee Three – on “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” and “Maybe” mainly – that Mike’s way with a word and a chord shine brightest; and “The County’s First Psychedelic Cowboy” spins tall tales which could make Shel Silverstein roll over …while telling Mick Farren the news. P.S.: Mike’s exemplary The Rhythm & The Tide should be considered Required Reading as well, one and all.
Beach Boys, Pet Sounds (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
The Little Album That Could celebrated its 50th (!) Anniversary in 2016, and naturally Brian Wilson + Band fearlessly toured this whole world (“one last time”?) performing it to rapt audiences young, old, and definitely in between. To help with said commemoration on film, the venerable Classic Albums series gathers together the usual interview subjects (various Beach Boys, past and present, living and otherwise), some fascinating, seldom-heard-from figures (veteran Capitol Rec.s exec Karl Engemann), plus several downright dubious speakers (British teen singing starlet Helen Shapiro who, well, opened for the Boys back in ’67) to relate the oft-told yet still somehow captivating saga of one of our favorite-ever thirty-six minutes of vinyl. We get to view many an original Pet Sounds session reel box – one with Jan Berry’s phone number still visible – and hear snippets of raw recording chatter (thrill to M. Love Not War attempting “I Know There’s An Answer” Jimmy Durante-style), while engineer Bruce Botnick, listening to a playback of “Good Vibrations,” demonstrates how to correctly identify – within mere notes! – each studio used to record each suite section. Most interesting as well to hear Tony Asher recall how a brief hallway meeting between he and B. Wilson lead to his being asked, out of the proverbial blue, to write most of Pet Sounds’ lyrics, while Hal “Drummer Man” Blaine deciphers how the “Sloop John B” percussion was arranged to depict in sound the tiny ship’s increasingly choppy ocean voyage. “It’s all visual!” as Hal exclaims, and you’ll soon see too this is without doubt one Classic Album that more than deserves vivid A/V treatment.
BIG BOY PETE Miller’s Tales (•22 Records)
As the man/the legend himself has admitted, “This is what happens when you give Big Boy Pete a movie camera for Christmas.” And what happens all over this 90-minute (again, as BBP sez) “album of EyeTunes” is precisely the sort of seat-o-the-pants decorum-be-gawddamned DIY-ness which has infused Peter Miller’s career ever since he built his first Warblerama guitar in late-50’s Britain before going on to create some of the farthest-out sounds this side of Syd Barrett in Joe Meek’s parlor. And now, for the first time he’s bringing his all to the small – even laptop screen on this DVD: Be it chicken-pickin’ his way up and down the local record emporium’s vinyl aisles (“Once Upon a Tune”), sliding the kind of solos which would make even Zoot Horn Rollo recant (“Upside Down”), or plopping Sinatra in the middle of the nearest Nirvana video (“Baby I Got Screwed by You”). The accompaniment’s always top top notch of course (e.g.: Just when one thought there couldn’t be any more wah-wah Wonderwall Music comes “No Limeys Left in London”), but the visuals also wholly live up to their tasks (“The Flicker” imagines Casino directed by D. Lynch as opposed to M. Scorsese, while “My Loyal Shadow” displays genuine Bernard Shakey sensibilities, if you’d catch my drift). So! Call me Crazy Boy, but I for one hope we all live long enough to hear – and see – the Big Boy’s “Winnie” blanket-broadcast every 24th of January ’cross the length and breadth of that once United Kingdom in honour of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.
ALEX CHILTON Ocean Club ’77 (Norton Records)
They say cool things come to those who wait, and I had to wait about a year til this gem safely arrived here at the ol’ sty. Then again, we all had to wait 38 times as long as that to finally have those now sounds of Alex, Chris Stamey, and Lloyd Fonoroff blow their Live in New York proto-punk directly cross our paths. Kinda hot off his Singer Not The Song EP, Alex and those sometimes-called Cossacks, taking a night or two off from demo’ing up a storm for Elektra Records (who, I suppose not surprisingly, never bit) hit the Ocean stage with the following words: “Can I have a Coke and, uh, Canadian Whiskey on the rocks?” How else to follow that up than with a blast into “September Gurls” (how very odd though to hear Alex introduce this number to near silence; the Chilton revival/renaissance still, we must recall, a few years off) followed by a detour home to Chuck B’s “Memphis” as only a Box Top can, “In The Street” – yes, that 70’s theme – and then “Back Of A Car” (“There’s a screw loose in this speaker!” it sounds like Stamey saying by way of, um, introduction). Add a nice Seeds nugget, a “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” in – wait for it – Beach Boys Love You (!) fashion, a too-wily-for-words “Walk Don’t Run” and a de rigueur “Letter” (no, not “Please Mister Postman” as Alex teases) and we honestly have a fifty-minute trip back to a simpler time when Big Star albums could only be found in Woolworths’ 99-cent bin and “power pop” was strictly a phrase uttered in crinkly old Pete Townshend interviews.
SIMON FELTON Return to Easton Square (Pink Hedgehog Records)
One of my favorite singing songwriting types from the far-flung Isle of Portland – that’s in Dorset, England btw – takes good time off from his Garfields Birthday band to bring us a dozen, and I quote the Press insert, “essentially demos. The intention would be to one day record them ‘properly’ in a studio, but the reality is that this is as good as they’re ever likely to sound.” But! With material as finely tuned as Simon’s, there’s nothing whatsoever amiss in keeping said recordings raw, ripe and ready. “Will You Be There” for example rests with a low rumbling cello pulse; a most effectively spacious arrangement which features often throughout this collection. “Alibi” employs a perfectly playful rhyming scheme, lyrically speaking, while “Good Morning Britain” really makes me wonder how often Simon stays home to watch Gavin & Stacey reruns. Everything herein’s sung with a soft C. Blunstone approach; which reminds me: “I Would (If I Wanted To)” should be sent the Zombies’ way without delay! And, so far as my ears are concerned, “Goodbye (Again)” represents just about the absolute best two-and-a-half minutes they’ve had all year. “Demos”? Well, these ones prove, yet again, that less can honestly amount to more. MUCH more.
THE FLESHTONES …The Band Drinks for Free (Yep Roc Records)
Joyously celebrating, as their sticker sez, “40 Years Of Rocking Harder Than Anyone In The World,” those ever-touchy-feely Fleshtones defiantly continue to put the Rage in the back of Garage …and then some. To wit, this latest and very possibly greatest release of theirs turns the guitars up and screws the snare taut for the kind of witful wallop we’ve long come to expect from these masters. More specifically, “Love Like A Man,” not to mention “Rick Wakeman’s Cape” (Title of the Year, btw) deftly add the Sir to the Douglas, “Suburban Roulette” should be considered for immediate cover on the very next Teenage Head platter, and “Respect Our Love” sounds as if those Dead Boys actually aren’t. I personally cherish that little Ox outro, bass-ically Who speaking that is, on “Living Today,” and Bonus Points aplenty for shutting completely down Usher/Christian’s golden vintage “Gasser” to boot. Then, signing strategically off “Before I Go” with said fuzz’n’Farfisa-crusted capper and this is, without debate, one band who can live up to its album title. Any time. On me.
JANIS JOPLIN Janis: Little Girl Blue (MVD Entertainment Group) The mark of good filmmaking, especially of the docu genre, is the ability to capture and hold the viewer’s undivided attention even if the subject matter is unfamiliar or of little if any interest. I’ll admit to falling into the latter category insofar as Janis Joplin is concerned, for while I have always admired her talents and drive, I never really appreciated the range and depth of both until Little Girl Blue laid it plainly to see …and hear. Not only is the wealth of historical footage, both performance and otherwise well chosen, but so is the inevitable swell of talking heads – notably her Holding Company, her younger sister Laura, and intriguingly her “former boyfriend” David Niehaus – and thankfully all the young, Century 21 celebrity testimonials are saved til the end credits, lest they divide and distract from Those Who Were Actually There And Know (John Lennon’s final words on the subject, from a 1971 Dick Cavett Show, remain most chillingly profound). BEWARE, however, the “Big Brother Acapella” on the Special Features menu …you’ve been warned. All from our heroes at MVD, who have also just brought us magnificent audio compilations from John Coltrane (!) and John Lee Hooker (!!), not to mention – speaking of fine documentaries and even finer record stores – All Things Must Pass.
THE LEGAL MATTERS CONRAD (Omnivore Recordings)
Meanwhile, from the fine folk over at Omnivore who, on the most recent Record Store Day alone brought us lotsa Bangles, Beach Boys and Big Star present (to kinda quote the sticker right there on the CD cover) the highly anticipated second hook-filled and harmony-drenched release from Michigan’s Keith Klingensmith, Chris Richards and Andy Reed. And while absolutely no time whatsoever is wasted as “Anything” lulls ‘n’ floats most gently in on a lush Badfinger-by-way-of-Crowded House bed of ooooh’s, ahhhh’s and six strings, these Legal Matters, baby, are never content to toil merely within the boundaries of any musical pigeonhole: there’s “More Birds Less Bees” which goes one further plus deeper into vintage – guess who? – Bachman/Cummings territory while the sweet chilling “Pull My String” adds a slight scoop of Townshend, but with the ’tude toned properly down. May I add “The Cool Kid” should henceforth be piped through the PA at the conclusion of each and every International Pop Overthrow festival clear round the globe? Andy’s Reed Recording Company right there in Bay City, MI checks that all sounds shimmer, yet pack punch when need be, ensuring and reassuring any out there who may often fret over who killed all the rock and roll stars – yes, the ones that used to make us wanna learn our guitars in the first place.
Oh ! and Did I mention… THE MONKEES Good Times! (Rhino Entertainment)