If we could all just tear ourselves away momentarily from the Zimmer Man’s Another Self Portrait, may I suggest an immediate tip of both ears towards (and in absolutely NO order other than the alphabetical, as always)…
8X8 Azalea’s Room
Lane Steinberg is a fine upstanding/singing resident of Queens, NY whose pure past pop pedigree should already be far and wide known to you all. Alexander Khodchenko is a similarly abundantly gifted musical adventurer from far over there in Kiev, UKR. Lane and Alex surfed across one another ‘way back in MySpace days – remember MySpace, anyone? – and have now shared sufficient files to present their second forty minutes of border and genre-hopping munificence. Casting off upon airy, nicely nautical Ice Wings à la 10cc-meet-VD Parks, the title track which follows fearlessly fast-forwards Ummagumma Floyd or, as the handily enclosed Press Release explains, it “typifies the kinetic 8X8 energy with its Arabic sounding melody set to a jungle groove with lyrics describing a seaside refuge belonging to a woman who makes a fantastic cup of tea.” Next on deck, Laws Of Attraction dares mate late-period Badfinger as produced by mid-period Carl Wilson, I kid you not, while I’m a Werewolf, Baby truly is what the circa-2013 Zombies SHOULD write and sound just like! Our heroes then proceed to prog ‘n’ roll over some Cold War(s), more recent hijinx of the www variety, sing their Auld Lang songs of retiring obstetricians then leave Azalea’s Room with no less than R. Stevie Moore in tow to the sorrowful strains of Dylan/Manuel’s Tears of Rage. And, if this wasn’t all more than enough to raise a glass, may I only add the entire disc is lovingly presented in Kaleidoscopic Stereo ??!
BEE GEES The Festival Albums Collection 1965-67
Australia and the Brothers Gibb have always been very good for, and to one another over the past half-century and counting. Elsewhere, though? Well, to quote the promotional material carefully wrapped around my shipment from Carlton VIC 3053, “There is arguably not another major artist in the world whose early catalogue has been as overlooked as the Bee Gees’ early work.” Thankfully, Warner Music Australia has now corrected that sorrowful state of affairs with their above-splendid triple-disc Festival Albums Collection, in which can be found all three of Barry, Maurice and Robin’s pre-fame long-players in all their jingle jangle, proto-sike-even splendor. Now, you certainly don’t need me to remind you what great vocalists and writers these young men were; what may come as an extremely pleasant surprise is to discover just how much of their undeniably prodigious talents were fully intact long before they set off upon their NY Mining Disaster.
P.S.: Note also the single-disc companion Morning Of My Life, which expertly compactualizes the cream of early Gibb from Spicks And Specks on downwards, plus just so happens to also contain my long-time personal fave rave rare and precious Bee Gee beauty Coalman.
LAURIE BIAGINI Sanctuary Of Sound
Can you believe it takes only fifty minutes and sixteen seconds for the pride of Vancouver, BC to whisk us all approximately 1100 miles south to the corner of Main and PCH in Huntington Beach? Or, for you musical gremmies out there: Ms. Biagini has gone and created one of the most unabashedly pure, patently p-o-p perfections of this or many other years. Just as Do It Again once so ably launched those B. Boys’ 20/20 platter of yore, Sanctuary Of Sound’s opening track sets sail towards some Honeys here (Gold Plated Girl and Castle Of Sand), some Bangles over there (as if even they could ever come up with something as tanned and tall as Rise Up!) plus ten other so-cool-you-can-toast ‘em tunes. Such as Monkey Business, sporting lyrics ‘n’ licks worthy of even Laurie’s twin-sis-in-sound Lisa “Candypants” Jenio, and Beautiful World, which just must be the great Davy Jones / Shane Faubert collaboration that unfortunately never was …til now, that is! With arrangements swirling ‘round run-to-the-sun six-strings, and vocals especially so succinctly sand-between-the-toes SoCal, Laurie Biagini has, at the very least, made it safe to don our fantastic baggys once and forever more. So! Do you wanna go?
BIG BOY PETE Through The Back Door
Wherein my all-time favo(u)rite renegade recording legend ends up… well, in his own well-chosen-as-always words, “penetrated by a trip deep into the bayou backwoods, accompanied by a pure white alligator (Patoi Polly) and a case of Jax.” In other words, where and how else could one possibly expect to hear classic Fats D. by way of DE7 Edmunds, Willie Nelson going almost wholly Nash-pop, and/or Elvis Costello’s Attractions in some strange cage match with NRBQ (refereed by none other than the below-mentioned Johnny Dowd to boot)?!! Add a solid past of Blasters, Jerry Reed, Duane Eddy and even a few Thai flutes to gum up the Big Boy’s audio gumbo and the result is a half-hour slip down the not-so-Big Easy that is often every bit as much ZZydeco Top as it is Gator Hammock Swamp Mustard. Strictly audio-gastronomically speaking, that is.
Oh! And it’s still not too late to not miss the latest in that long and wind-up series of Pete / Subterrain Squire collaborations, Hitmen, either.
JOHNNY DOWD Do The Gargon
Limitless eons in the past, in this world appeared a powerful king, who established the sentient beings in his realm on the path of the ten virtues. He was the father of a thousand fine princes, who all became monks, except for the youngest, who was attached to royal life. With the intention of establishing his youngest son on the path of enlightenment, the king emanated two monks and sent them off to him. Chanting sweet songs that taught renunciation, the monks came to the place where the king was indulging himself in sensual pleasures. By the power of compassion, everything in the palace and the trees outside began to echo to the sound. The prince’s mind changed, and he gave rise to disenchantment. Then he prepared golden parasols bedecked with jewels and offered one to his father, and one to each of his brothers. He gave rise to, and became himself a monk. Thus, the prophecy that in a future aeon the youngest of his thousand sons will be this eon’s Infinite Aspiration, whose enlightened activities should exceed those of all previous. One who always holds the intention to benefit the people, his renown spreading like the wind so that all will, someday, Do The Gargon.
While his many, many champions throughout what remains of the music business compare Richard most favorably indeed to other such singing/songwriting one-man-bands as Messrs. McCartney, Rhodes and Rundgren, to me RXH has always approached his art more with the unfailing ear-for-sonic-detail of a home-recording Pete Townshend. To wit on this, his tenth album in at least twice as many years, the guitars are taught and tightly tremolo’d, the snare snaps without suffocating, and the vocals – now here’s where we separate the men from the noise – are deep, lush, and ever-resonating. For example, The Difference Between Us leans lovingly towards his, and our, beloved Left Banke, Hangman Smiles should have been covered by no less than the Global-era Cowsills, Be The One twists and shouts out for that other all-American pop wonder Bill Lloyd, and Compass just must be brought on stage immediately by the Hey! man’s “day band” The Doughboys. But it’s ultimately If You Have To Ask, four minutes of full fantastic RXH-tasy, which I’d ultimately have to pick as my 2013 choicest from a songbook already crammed with undeniable gems.
THE MOP TOPS Got To Make Sunday Funky!
From Sweden’s sensational Sound Asleep label, who in oh-13 also brought us Chris Hickey and a Buttercup Best Of – not to mention the Midwest Beat’s 7-inch Blue Tippecanoe! – comes this ten-track, 27-minute (!) digital tribute to North London’s one and only Equals. Yep, you bet, Baby, Come Back is here. But so are thoroughly Mop Top’d takes on Police On My Back (so easily out-strummers that ol’ Clash cover), Green Light (remember: Chinnichap glam started HERE) plus the equally bubblicious Sunday Morning and Michael And The Slipper Tree. Eddy Grant was one unquestionable rhythm ‘n’ bluebeat genius, on that we all agree (e.g.: I Get So Excited, anyone?!) But today it takes four righteously ragged Mop Tops, and a label domo the caliber of Jerker Emanuelson, to bring these proto-Britpoppin’ babies all the way back.
HARRY NILSSON Flash Harry
Hard to find even when it was originally semi-released circa 1980, and also missing in 2013 from that big new Nilsson box set, Flash Harry is quite simply the most buzz-worthy fly in the man’s big ointment of a career. And then some. Or, as Eric Idle would say (and actually sing as the Flash first goes off), “He’s a pretty nifty guy. Always looks you in the eye. He always has a friendly smile” and, of course, “He doesn’t give a damn for what’s in style.” One listen to How Long Can Disco On, for one – fire extinguisher played by producer Steve Cropper, by the way – certainly proves that. So! Come and share a joke or two with one of the most brilliant singer-vs-songwriters Hollywood, or even Brooklyn, ever produced. And if you haven’t already read Alyn Shipton’s Harry Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter and/or repeatedly viewed the John Scheinfeld / David Leaf Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?), then don’t wait another year to miss those either.
SEX CLARK FIVE RembrandtX
Thirteen years is too long, just TOO LONG to wait, I tell you, between albums from the strum-drummin’ prides of Huntsville, Alabama. But just in the bare nick of the times come thirty – count ‘em! – new tracks in fifty-two-and-a-half minutes flat from the minds, mouths and fingers of James Butler and Rick Storey. Still able to concoct sounds fully worthy of song titles the likes of Epistle Packin’ Mama and even Mussolini and Squirrel whilst expertly distilling the entire Beatles Anthology project down to a mere 2:25 (hashtag “grim Reeperbahn” and/or “the Mersey sighed”) RembrandtX sounds like XTC commandeered by Alan Clayson as opposed to Andy Partridge, Joe Meek exhumed to finish (off) Lifehouse, or perhaps Lindsey Buckingham kidnapped, held hostage, and ordered to produce a new Neil Innes CD before suppertime. Whatever the cases may be, one must ultimately admit the mighty SC5 have with RembrandtX produced – dare I say it? – a work of art.
AL STAEHELY & THE EXPLOSIVES Cadillac Cowboys
It only takes 12-minutes-fourteen for the great guys down at SteadyBoy – who celebrated their tenth anniversary in 2013, by the way! – to hook up former Spirit frontperson Al Staehely with legendary Texan proto-P-poppers The Explosives. And the result is one compact EP which in a mere four songs says, and plays more than absolute dozens of other discs which passed through the trusty Pig Player since last we spoke. Track-by-track, the title number breathes more than fresh air into that vintage Feedback classic of yore, Signs Of Life is precisely the kind of song those Stones have been trying to come up with since You Got Me Rocking at least, Al’s Crazy Like A Fox, we would be wise to recall, was originally recorded by none other than Keith Moon, and the brand new Bailout Blues really does trickle down as much as it ties things straight up, sonically speaking that is. Explosive drummer/producer Freddie Steady Krc keeps the proceedings as raw, sparse, tight ‘n’ taut as he always does; Be Sure to check out his similarly fine work all over SteadyBoy’s recent Shakin’ Apostles retrospective as well.
See – and hear! – everyone again Next year then.
Keep those hits comin’,