Thursday, December 31, 2009

Die Toten Hosen: Auld Lang Syne

Don't leave the house without MRML's New Year's gift stapled onto your iPod (oh that wasn't the verb I needed was it?) Last time we dedicated a post to Die Toten Hosen we said "they have for decades have ruled the charts of their native Germany by mixing the swagger of glam rock, the aggro of '77 punk and and the sing-along choruses of schlager (a central and Northern European easy listening genre whose name sounds like a portmanteau of schmaltz and lager for good reason). Now I'm going to send you sprawling into 2010 with the sound of the Dead Pants (en anglais) curb-stomping Guy Lombardo.

It's a riotous 2:32 that, in tribute to "Auld Lang Syne's" Scottish author, Robbie Burns, has bagpipes alongside the loud guitars. Die Toten Hosen's take on this old folk standard recalls the Sex Pistols derangement of "Friggin' in the Riggin", there's even an exact moment where you can imagine someone shouting "Give it some bollocks" just before the song goes into overdrive. Who cares if the boys add some 'new' verses about "pubs in Inverness" when the song's such a blast?

The rest of this 1999 E.P. is filled out with two fine-sounding Deutsch sing-alongs as well as an unplugged versions of "Auld Lang Syne" and "Little Drummer Boy".

Auld Lang Syne

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

MRML's Under-Appreciated Albums that Rocked '09

To continue adding to the saturated market of best of lists, I'll add yet another dose of subjectivity with this one caveat: I chose albums which show drive, grit and passion and yet, too rarely grace typical best-of-the-year lists. Being a tad retro-minded may taint my list in some eyes but with all these nature-named bands and their delicate sound-sculptures dominating best-of lists someone's gotta highlight albums that kick ass - not just punk but driving country, folk, glam, power-pop, gospel, hell even an indie rock album if it shows some damn fortitude.

1. The Parasites (more here) Solitary
New Jerseyite Dave Parasite, a one-man force in pop-punk for decades waited till two-thousand-and-fucking-nine before releasing his best record, full of racing guitars and soaring tunes - score one for the late-starters!
Listen here
2. Ripchord Beginner's Luck
If I told you I'd discovered a band whose two greatest influences are the Kaiser Chiefs and the Housemartins would you run away or listen closely? Choose carefully...
Watch here

3. Those Darlins’ S/T
Always nice to have a funny, pretty and catchy country album on the list; even if gets a bit arch in spots.
Watch here

4. Houseboat The Delaware Octopus
The lame name (but netter than Barrakuda McMurder!) can't disguise the fact that Grath Madden, formerly of New York's Steinways is starting to grow up. Now backed by members of Dear Landlord and the Ergs, Grath's more musically developed songs show that his old cute self-loathing is veering towards self-disgust, ("everyone's fucked and alone" he sings on "Alonelylonelylone") which he still makes sound pretty appealing.
Listen here

5. Frank Turner (more here) Love, Ire & Song
An odd entry due to the Frank Turner Overdose on the net this year and this album being from 2008 but as the hype focused on the disappointing Poetry of the Deed and since Epitaph did release this wordy-but-wonderful folk-punk album in North America this year (though without the corrosive "Thatcher Fucked the Kids") and I need a "Dylan-was-a-punk" album of the year we will have to bend the space-time continuum just to the left.
Watch here

6. Used Kids Yeah No
Nato Coles (self-described as, "like Bob Mould, Howlin' Wolf, Paul Weller, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Westerberg, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Mike Ness, the baritone guy from the Coasters, the slightly less baritone guy from the Coasters ... all rolled into one giant burrito." put out two heartland punk records this year and I'm giving this one the edge for the astounding ballad, "Desperate Times".
Listen here

7. Michael Roe (more here) We All Gonna face the Rising Sun
I've already raved to ridiculous degrees about this gos-pel ex-plosion, which is basically a one man condensation of the the Goodbye Babylon box set (the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack would be a more widely known, if less accurate, comparison).
Listen here

8. The Leftovers (more here) Eager to Please
Another one I've spilled many words over, but how can you resist such sparkling power-pop melodies being given the pop-punk once over?
Watch here

9. TV Smith (more here) Live at NVA
Thirty songs hammered out by one skinny fifty-something balladeer with an acoustic guitar who'd sooner kick the shit out of James Taylor then confess his inner demons.
Watch here

10. The Takeover UK Running With the Wasters
The kind of swaggering egotistical glam-pop thievery that the British music press would usually salivates over, if the band wasn't from Pittsburgh - yup the Takeover UK are from steel-town.
Watch here

11. MewithoutYou It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright
Experimental post-hardcore band who, despite their roots is Sufism and Judaism record for Christian label Tooth and Nail, find the Neil Young and Sufjan Stevens within, thereby breaking all my stupid rules (it's even number eleven!) and make an album that when described sounds like a pretentious bag o' shit but in execution aches, shines and refuses to relent.
Watch here

Okay, MRML Readers, leave us a comment on our choices and then tell us your picks for the great album of '09.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The MRML Twenty-Two (Best of 2009)

What percentage of songs that came out this year in the Western world (to say nothing of the REST of the world) have you heard? Even for most music fanatics (takes one to read one), the number is not only single digit, it's probably a count-on-your-little-piggies digit. So the MRML Twenty-Two makes no claim to enumerate the GREATEST song of this calendar year, just ones I heard that shouldn't languish in that >95% mass of missed music.

The list is tightly bound by my taste for the punchy over the swishy, the pounding over the lilting, the catchy over the fancy and the relentless pursuit of relentlessness. When I say punchy, pounding, catchy and relentless, you'd think punk and you wouldn't be wrong but the lifeboat's got room for folk, country, power-pop, ska, the much-maligned (by me anyway) indie-rock and perhaps a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger.

1. Manic Street Preachers "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time"
While Journal for Plague Lovers is not as immediate to me as Send Away the Tigers, this track with it's refrain of, "Oh, mommy, what's a Sex Pistol?" is as good of a smack-in-the-face as anything they've done.

2. Radio Faces "Slippin' Back With You
Milwaukee-ite Nato Coles 2nd best album of the year (see the next list) could be given a ridiculous genre like "bar-punk" or "honky-punk" but songs like this are just rough-hewn, mid-western rock n' roll played like the final closing time is nigh.
Listen here

3. Pugwash "Monorail"
If I was Australian (where this Irish band had a huge hit this year) I'd hate this song but since it's a novel obscurity with cool keyboards, a lyrical list and, befitting the album's name, Earworm, a chorus that slithers into your ear like Kahn's mind-controlling eels and just takes over it'll fit here.
See here

4. Teenage Bottlerocket "Skate or Die
The fact that Teenage Bottlerocket (and their kin, The Lillingtons) so often resemble an old-school hardcore band as much as a pop-punk band is their secret strength.

5. Classics of Love "Slow Car Crash"
I've a bit of weakness for survivors, like ex-Operation Ivy/Common Rider singer Jesse Michaels but he's still a all-out performer with a knack for wise, sharp-eyed lyrics and choruses that a crowd of sweaty kids can yell along to instantly.
Listen here
6. The Bomb "Space Age Love Song"
Despite the abundance of ripping rockers ( "Haver", "Integrity") on Speed is Everything that sees Chicago punk legend Jeff Pezzatti (of the fearsome Naked Raygun) giving the kids hell, I chose this mid-tempo, post-punk ballad because it hearkens back to "Holding You" a longing ballad from the neglected album Raygun, Naked Raygun.
Listen here

7. Two Hours Traffic "Territory"
The pride of Prince Edward dish out sprightly power-pop with a dollop of wussiness.
See here

8. Frank Turner "The Road"
Poetry of the Deed was a bit of a let-down but this song is not only a clear-eyed statement of Turner's philosophy of itinerance, it's also a grand, booming song whether played solo or with the band.
See here

9. Shonen Knife "Ramones Forever"
I'm a sucker for a heartfelt tributes to great bands and for Osaka's Shonen Knife.
Listen here

10. The Methadones "Gary Glitter"
I'm also a sucker for savage put-downs like this one from Dan Vapid formerly of Chicago's Kings of Pop-Punk, Screeching Weasel.
Listen here

11. Said the Whale "Camillo (the Magician)"
With "Camillo" Said the Whale prove that while there may be not be any good band names left to pick there's still a near-inexhaustible supply of power-pop hooks as yet uncast.
See here

12. Dear Landlord "I Live in Hell"
Pop-punk schleps Adam and Brett from Chicago's the Copyrights name their sideband after a Dylan song and rock like hell.
Listen here
13. Roman Candle "Why Modern Radio is A-OK With Me"
A little alt-country is good for what ails you, especially when it's astute, tuneful and not too studied.
See here

14. Carbon Silicon "What's Up Doc?"
While I wish that Mick Jones and Tony James would remember that songs can be over in 2 minutes fifty-nine, you gotta love a rip-snorting rocker like this:

15. Grant Hart "You're the Reflection of the Moon on the Water"
A hummable zen-noise-pop song from the former Husker Du man and members of Godspeed You Black Emperor.

16. Dr Frank "Bethlehem"
The doctor must need to write catchy pop-punk songs with clever lyrics and quirky bridges since he keeps recording music despite his massive literary success (calling the sequel to his best-seller King Dork, King Dork Approximately is a sly Dylan reference).
Listen here

17. Tinted Windows "Kind of a Girl"
Okay, the classic super-group paradox (the whole is less than the sum of the parts) kicked in for this Cheap-Trick-Smashing Pumpkins-Fountains-of-Wayne-Hanson aggregation but, fittingly, the single was a grand-scale pop song.
See here

18. Ida Maria "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked"
As I've said before, the hype, or lack thereof, is irrelevant, if the song (in this case one by a sexy Norwegian) makes you want to sing along or air drum than you've got a winner.

19. Jeffrey Lewis "Whistle Past the Graveyard"
New York cartoonist and anti-folk standard-bearer Lewis tries on his cow-punk boots then contemplates eternal life and zombies.
See here

20. Oak Ridge Boys "Seven Nation Army"
Stop using that word novelty like it's a bad thing, as if this White Stripes classic didn't always need some gnarly country veteran going bom-bom-bom-bom-bom in the background.
Listen here

21. Dan Magann "Tina’s Glorious Comeback"
As a singer and song-writer I'd slot Vancouver's Magann somewhere between the Violent Femme's Gordon Gano and the Weakerthan's John K. Sampson and while some of Nice, Nice Very Nice is occasionally a bit hushed or precious, when his cleverness and tunefulness come together it's impressive.
See here

22. Bob Dylan "It's All Good"
Together Trough Life was not a great record by any stretch but this song is one of those "Foot of Pride" style attacks on the world's ills that even a half-assed, strangulated Dylan pulls off well.
Listen here

(Bonus: Bryan Scary and the Shedding Tears will confuse the hell out of everyone with Queen-like piano-punk song, "Andromeda's Eyes".)

Okay, MRML Readers, leave us a comment on our choices and then tell us your picks for the great songs of '09
For the entire playlist click here and please remember to delete any material downloaded for education purposes from your computer within 48 hours.
And on a less legalistic note go to please got to Interpunk, Amazon or even (shuddder) iTunes and buy some music!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sessions of the Damned

This CD collects up all of the Damned's BBC work from 1976 through till 1986. With it's rawer and sometimes better versions, it ends up functioning as alternate "Greatest Hits" album.

In many ways it's a drastic decade, going from the brutally raw "Neat, Neat, Neat" to the to the crooning goth-psych of "Is It a Dream?" but even the later material has some bollocks left (thanks Rat!) unlike, say, the Stranglers of this era and their Linn drums. Just saying...

MRML Readers: Whaddya think of the mid-eighties Damned?

Sessions of the Damned CD

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Damned But Not Forgotten

More Damned for your dollar. Damned But Not Forgotten is yet another collection of rarities and alternate takes and again it hangs together pretty well.

Damned But Not Forgotten L.P.

(Hey the new Damned stuff is pretty good too!)

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Damned: Tales from the Damned

Pity the poor fool who's primary introduction to the Damned is the The Light at the End of the Tunnel. That compilation is, to use a currently meaningless word accurately, random, placing tracks like their '76 jackhammer punk classic "Neat Neat Neat" cheek-by-jowel with their 1986 cover of psych-pop classic, "Alone Again Or". Damned albums were hard to find in my time, so this album, which on my cassette copy even included the side-long experiment, "Curtain Call" was where I finally began.

Speaking of dog's breakfast comps, today's offering is actually the slightly narrower focused, Tales from the Damned. This album covers the late seventies through early eighties period of the Damned. Perhaps it's the side-effects of owning Light at the End of the Tunnel but I really believe that this is the band's apex. This rarities collection is anchored by the four songs from the creepy but poppy Friday the Thirteenth E.P. ("Disco Man" is the hit but "Billy Bad Breaks" is almost as good) and also includes a slew of rarities like a violin version of "Anti-Pope", a remix of "There Ain't No Sanity Clause", a live version of the MC5's "Looking at You"and MotorDamned (both bands playing at once!) on the fittingly named, "Over The Top". The album sells for $100 now, which is foolish because it completes any Damned collection.

MRML readers: What is the best period of the Damned's discography?

Tales from the Damned CD

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Clash: Sandinista! Live!

R.I.P. Joe Strummer
August 21st 1952 - December 22nd 2002

Sandinista is a mess. Call it an inspired mess or self-indulgent one but few accuse it of cohesiveness. While the Clash's fourth album, a triple L.P. from 1980, has its defenders and detractors my estimation remains unchanged since making my own cassette distillation back in the eighties: roughly one album of strong material, one album of fine B-sides and one album of endurance-defying filler.

So, as MRML once presented Cut the Crap Revisited, we’d now like to offer up Sandinista! Live!, a collection of just-about every song the Clash played live from that album. This compilation is not so-much an alternate version (listeners make their own even faster now) as a supplement to the studio work. After all, unlike Cut the Crap, Sandinista doesn't suffer over-production, if anything it suffers from the lack thereof. The final goal of this set was to observe how well the test of the stage succeeded in burning off the dross.

(In the early eighties this image sold as a poster, alongside ones of Rambo and Cheryl Tiegs)

1 Intro Kingston, Jamaica (27-1-'81)
A little Kosmo Vinyl to rile you up.

2. The Magnificent 7
Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
The original (more so than its re-mixes) succeeds at its somewhat dubious goal (white-boy rap-punk) so well that the live versions, even this guitar-heavy one, rarely out-do the original (the mash-up of the songs and "Armagiddeon Time" preserved on Live at Shea CD possibly excepted).

3. Junco Partner - Kingston, Jamaica (27-1-'81)
Look, I don’t know what makes that bown! sound on the record but it’s fucking annoying and any version without it has a leg up on the original.

4. Ivan Meets G.I. Joe Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
The Topper song sans the disco touches is kinda fun

5. The Leader Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
It’s a little slight in the lyrical department but the original rocks any way you cut it.

6. Somebody Got Murdered Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
Lyrically and musically devastating, this song got a bit buried in the vinyl avalanche that was Sandinista and here it gets a rough treatment with Jones vocal being stretchy but his guitar ringing at full force.

7. One More Time
Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
A throbbing version of one of Sandinista's better reggae tracks.

8. Lightning Strikes Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
Structurally a bit too similar to Magnificent 7 but this version rocks out.

9. Corner Soul Lille, France (09-05-'81)
This bantam level song has dodgy sound but a solid performance.

10. Let’s Go Crazy Barcelona, Spain (27-04-81)
Great song but by far the worst recording here.

11. The Sound of the Sinners
(US Festival, 05-28-83)
A secret joy of Sandinista is this little gospel pastiche done both tongue-in-cheek and with reverence for the power of the music. The live versions are fiery with hilarious Joe intros.

12. Police on my Back Tokyo, Japan (30-01-82)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bad version of this one, Mick and co. just seemed to love ripping up Eddy Grant's classic.

13. The Call-Up Bonds, New York, USA (09-06-81)
A live audience definitely gave this less-successful single the extra push it needed.

14. Washington Bullets Bonds, New York, USA (09-06-81)
Long one of my fave songs from the album (in retrospective it foreshadows the Mescaleros) despite a few clunky lines ("Castro is the colour that will earn him a spray of lead"), this version features a jam with some toasting (mmmm jam toast).

15. Broadway
Bonds, New York, USA (09-06-81)
A subtle, jazzy song from the album that feels more immediate in this setting.

16. Charlie Don’t Surf
Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
A loping version that shows that even with slower material the Clash were still an exciting live band.

17. The Street Parade
Bonds, New York, USA (03-06-81)
A noisier version of another of the undeservedly ignored songs from the album.

18. Radio Clash Jaap Edenhal, the Netherlands (10-5-'81)
An honourary Sandinista song (it came out between that album and Combat Rock) and despite being slagged off as "This is Disco Clash" it's never a drag, especially on this burning version.

I’m saddened that “Hitsville UK”, “Something About England”, “Loose This Skin” (resurrected by the Mescaleros-era Strummer) “Rebel Waltz” and “Kingston Advice” (despite being the title of a fine bootleg) never met the stage but glad for what we do have to remember Joe by.

MRML Readers: Is Sandinista trash, treasure or some unholy muddle-up of the two? Let us know in the comments!

Sandinista! Live!

Thanks, as always, to If Music Could Talk (esp nsc for the Equaliser jpg), which helped make this post possible, though I’m sure that many of the denizens of that community would make a very different, likely better version of such a compilation. Also thanks to Clash Photo Rockers for many of the fine images herein.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Radio City: Love and a Picture

Maybe in some Joker-like plan, UK punks spiked the country's water supply with sugar and methamphetamines back in '79. What else can explain the explosion of thousands of killer pop bands like Radio City? Radio City were, according to 45 Revolutions, James Sutherland (lead vocals), Robin Murray (guitar, vocals), Colin Matheson (guitar), Raymond Henderson (bass) and Tich Bremner (drums). They were from Thurso in the far North of Scotland. They released just one single "Love And A Picture" b/w "She's A Radio" (Media Wave MV-001, 1980). James Sutherland adds, "We pressed up 1,000 copies of the single, hand glued the covers together then sold them at gigs, mainly in Northern Scotland, so I am always very intrigued at the world-wide interest in our music.

Rob Murray relates that Radio City, then with David Murray (Drums) and without Colin Matheson, later, "recorded two demos, one at Highland Recording Studios Gollanfield Inverness (8 songs : 6 originals recorded ) and one session with John Sutherland at Thurso East ( recorded 4 original songs) all songs written by Henderson / Sutherland. The band broke up late 1981, with two demo songs re-recorded and released as a cassette single, under the name the Blonde Brothers - it actually made single of the week in Sounds (one of the big weekly music papers in the UK back then), beating ABC and "The Look of Love"!!!" Sutherland adds that the Blond Brothers single contained "Talked to You"/"Why", and was the first cassingle released in Scotland ("There's a long story behind that" he warns), and that the Sounds review was written by Ralph Traitor (who was really Jeremy Gluck, lead singer with the Barracudas).

Murray adds, "the "Love and a Picture" single has been bootlegged several times and appears on a series of CD’s i.e. Lost New Wave Classics and Everyone a Classic to name but two. The single was also re-released on vinyl in Holland in 1995, again as a bootleg. As the single was released in a key era ( New Wave 1978 – 1981) and on an independent label, original copies of the single have been sought by completists and collectors with buying requests on eBay and collector's web sites. In 2003 one of the band met Dave Balfe who owned the Gollanfield Studio, he had been contacted on numerous occasions by buyers who wished to secure the Radio City master tapes for both the single and the demo recordings. Again in 2003 a band member was directly contacted by a “music consultant” ( found through friends re-united site) who wished to do a deal to release the single and demo songs on a mini CD/EP marketed under the umbrella of “New Wave Nuggets”. This hasn’t progressed."

Sutherland brings us up to date, "Robert still lives in Scotland, in Inverness, I now live, work (and still occasionally gig) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Raymond, my co-writer, bass player and dear friend passed away in the 90's. I don't know where the other guys are, but I'm sure they will be equally bemused and happy at the ongoing interest in our music.

Of the music, last summer I enthused; "In "Love and a Picture" the interplay of each strum, thump and bang is designed for maximum dynamic impact and that wide-screened chorus will bore right through your skull." And now, glory be, Sutherland has sent MRML a copy of the B-side (and the cover JPEG). He says, "She's a Radio", the other side of "Love.." (it was really meant to be a double A-side), shows our poppier, Joe Jackson-ish side". He's dead right - like the flipside, "She's a Radio" is filled to bursting with hooks, like the band was pouring everything they had into those few minutes of jaw-dropping, ass-kicking, bone-rattling glory.

Further to the subject of influences, Sutherland says they were in fact named after the second Big Star album, "...Although we really sounded not much like them Raymond and I were obsessive Big Star fans. We were also pretty much influenced by anything that combined the jangle of The Byrds, the powerchords of The Who and the wit and wisdom of Ray Davies. In fact, to tell the truth, "Love and a Picture" is lyrically a darker, self-hurting version of the Who's "Pictures of Lily"." There are times, and this was one, when could such classicism, rather than being stuffy and studied, can jump-start an entire nation.

Sutherland concludes by saying, "Great days, great music, and some fantastic memories. Thanks for your interest in this stuff, for keeping it alive and shaking!"

MRML readers: leave the band a comment, it's the least you can do!

Radio City 7"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Stranglers: Big Thing Coming

If you've ignored the Strangles for a decade or two, you've missed the full-blooded return of a band whose drummer is three years older than Charlie fuckin' Watts! Sure the absence of Hugh Cornwell is still felt but if you consider how they slid into being a bit of a frat-rock cover band ("96 Tears", "All Day and All of the Night") during his final years, it's an endurable loss. In 2004 the remaining band (Burnel, Black and Greenfield along with new guitarist Baz Warne and front man Paul Roberts) roared back, spitting nails. Back on E.M.I., the band set about living up to their name, reclaiming diverse elements from their most fertile period ('76-'82 give or take). The single, "Big Thing Coming" (which hit # 31 on the English charts) proves the firepower of this incarnation, with Roberts' gauzy vocals erasing memories of Cornwell and the glorious tension between Greenfield's bubbling keyboards and Burnel's guttural bass being kept taut by Black's driving rhythms. Plus it's just a damn good song.

Support the band - buy Norfolk Coast or another Strangler-iffic album!
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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Stranglers: Who Wants the World?

And speaking of the Stranglers (more here), why would their label re-issue their awe-inducing early albums (I bought the first six) without putting the brilliant "Who Wants the World" on any of them?

The Stranglers - Who Wants The World

Dave | MySpace Video

I first heard this song in the early eighties on the North American-only album IV, which was I.R.S.' bowdlerized version the Raven padded out with singles. I loved it then and now because it's got all of what made them such a devastating listen: Burnel's concussion bass, Greenfield's Manzarek-ian keyboards, Black's relentlessness and Corwell's gruff vocals and slashing guitar. As the Stranglers softened over time*, it would get harder to understand why they didn't change their band name to something more fitting but here, they still sound like a gang intent on strangling the pop charts.

* The latest version of the band has been on a roll, though Suite XVI is no match for Norfolk Coast, which was what set me back to the band's mid-period catalog in the first place.

And for more live Stranglers visit Punk Friction!

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Stranglers - Live at the Hope & Anchor

This is the entire Stranglers set from the opening night at the Hope & Anchor's Front Row Festival (more here) back in 1977 . This loud, raw, gritty, ugly and foul-mouthed recording wasn't released till 1992 but then fell out-of-print and now fetches peachy money on eBay.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lowe-Fi: The Production Genius of Nick Lowe

(Picture property of Getty Images)

"As a producer, my biggest break came during working on "Watching the Detectives" and I discovered where the echo button was on the tape machine."
Nick Lowe

Despite being a fabulous song-writer, a smart quipper and passably handsome, Nick Lowe never hit stardom. Part of the reason might be that Nick, a long-time bass player, never loved the spotlight quite enough. From Kippington Lodge to Brinsley Scwharz, to Rockpile to Noise-to-Go and Little Village (and those are just the more famous ones) Nick always seemed to want to be part of, not just a band, but a team of equals. He used to seem a bit like a McCartney in search of his Lennon.

Further proof of his knack for team-work is the number of classics for which he's sat in the producers chair. Despite a catalog stacked with witty pop songs, more people probably own a song that Nick Lowe (more here) produced than one he performed. In interviews he often expresses amazement about this, as he believes he's no whiz at the mixing board. And certainly he's no sonic architect like Phil Spector or (shudder) Mutt Lange. After all, he earned his nick-name, Basher, for his recording philosophy of "bash it out now - tart it up later". But that gut-level style fit the times so perfectly and even when times changed and things got electronic ("Any barnyard horse can kick a synth" he once said) Nick always kept the songs and the people who played them right up front.

1. Graham Parker Back to Schooldays
Nick's first gig at the controls was this album, where much of his former band, Brinsley Schwarz, were now backing up this fiery little British soul-punk under the name the Rumour.

2. The Damned New Rose
Nick also produced what is commonly called the first punk rock single (which contained a love song and a Beatles cover - hmmm).

3. Snuff Rock Gobbing on Life
C.P. Lee (of Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias who deserve a post of their own) strikes again with first punk piss-take, which mocks the Pistols, the Damned and the Clash in a few short minutes.

4. Wreckless Eric Whole Wide World
Lowe's only production for Eric was this single, but it's a monster that will never die.

5. Elvis Costello Watching the Detectives
Lowe and Costello's partnership is another example of his ability to draw out the best in others, I mean how else can you explain how Nick produced Elvis Costello doing what many consider the definitive version of Nick's own "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding"?

6. Dr. Feelgood She's a Wind-Up
The Feelgoods may be the very embodiment of pub-rock and they certainly cranked up the tempo and the volume of what began a a bit of a laid-back movement.

7. Carlene Carter Baby Ride Easy
Johnny Cash's step-daughter (and child of country legends, June Carter and Carl Smith) married Nick Lowe who produced some hit-an-miss albums for her. Strangely, her move to Nashville, thankfully accompanied by her husband (and Tom Petty sideman), the late Howie Epstein, began her prime period.

Video here.

8. Mickey Jupp Old Rock n' Roller
Jupp is another lesser pub rock vet (he did write "Switchboard Susan", which got covered by both Nick himself and the Searchers when they recorded at Dave Edmunds' Rockfield studios).

9. The Pretenders Stop Your Sobbing
I suppose there are more popular nominees for the absolute zenith of Chrissie Hynde's catalog but I'd say she's made a fine, storied career out of never quite topping this one.

10. Richard Hell Kid With the Replaceable Head
Nick produced Hell? Yup, again just the once. (The 'video' is for the Destiny Street version produced by Alan Betrock and Hell.)

11. John Hiatt Love That Harms
Nick's would have a strong hand in bringing Hiatt's taut song-writing to a broader audience but not just yet.

12. Johnny Cash Without Love
When Johnny Cash is your step-father-in-law you better write him a damn good song, you better play on it and produce it in your basement. Much later, Nick's "The Beast in Me" became the linchpin in both his and Johnny's mid-nineties comebacks.

13. Fabulous Thuderbirds Diddy
The fun-loving, crowd-pleasing retro-minded music the Brit's cheerfully call "pub rock", North Americans derisively refer to as "bar rock". This is probably because while the back-to-basics movement Nick and his contemporaries built was vital and alive, sometimes the North American equivalent sounded like paint-by-numbers boogie even when, in the Fabulous Thunderbirds case, they have Stevie Ray Vaughn's brother in the band and had some middling eighties hits.

14. Paul Carrack Don't Give My Heart a Break
It's Lowe's song-writing and production (alongside Carrack's warm vocals) that keeps this from descending into tinky eighties pop.

15. Moonlighters I Feel Like a Motor
Austin De Lone, from Eggs Over Easy, was the Yankee in pub rock's court and even in his next band, the Moonlighters, he kept a vigil for the sounds of '75.

16. The Redskins Keep on Keepin' On
Their goal was,"To sing like the Supremes and walk like the Clash" and Nick's job was to keep them from sounding like a Trotskyist version of the Commitments.

17. His Latest Flame Somebody's Gonna Get Hurt
A pretty, if lushly melodramatic, pop song that bears little evidence of Nick's tricks.

The Men They Couldn't Hang
Greenback Dollar
Sure TMTCH were Pouges-ian but what a ripping version of this Hoyt Axton-via-the Kingston Trio song.

18. Katydids Lights Out (Read My Lips)
An Anglo-American folk-pop band, to whom Nick gave a bright sound, to no commercial avail.

19. Rain A Taste of Rain
Liverpudlian jangle, probably owned a lot of the same records as the guys in R.E.M.

20. Mavericks Blue Moon
The Mavericks, not a name you'd want to be pallin' around with in these post-Sarah Palin times, played country with a keen sense of history, which made them a perfect choice to do one song (again) with Nick.

Nick hasn't produced much in recent years. Since the nineties, he's focused on his ideal micro-niche as a writer and performer of tightly focused soul-country-pop songs over a four album Brentford Trilogy.


"It's either this or the biscuit factory, really."
Nick Lowe on his career

Monday, December 7, 2009

Michael Roe: Face the Rising Sun

"Holy fuck!"

I swear to God, I spoke those words, aloud, multiple times during my initial listen to Michael Roe’s history of Southern gospel music, We All Gonna Face the Rising Sun. Perhaps it speaks to the paucity of my vocabulary or the degradation of my spirit that, when awed, I am reduced to cursing. Or maybe it’s evidence that this album demands a strong reaction. After all, some listeners may recoil at Roe’s appropriation of material so particular to another time, another place and another culture. Others may balk at Roe’s absolute sincerity, of which he said, “These songs make me tremble in my boots, I cannot sing these and not feel it every time I sing them. I picked songs I need to hear.”

Even most die-hard music obsessive will be unaware of Californian singer/guitarist Mike Roe’s almost thirty-year carer. Roe only bobbed above the surface of the mainstream when his eighties roots-rock band (sort of a heavier R.E.M.) the 77’s released a brilliant album on Island Records, the same week as U2’s The Joshua Tree, utterly consumed that label’s resources. Since then, Roe's soldiered on with the 77’s as well as adding his voice to alt-country collective the Lost Dogs.

For this album, Roe is on his own. He sang all the vocals, played almost every instrument (including the banjo which he’d never played on record before) and produced it all in his own home. What he has produced here is a virtuoso one-man show. While Roe is a very fine musician, it is his voice - a supple instrument, alternately sweet and stinging - that dominates these proceedings. Listening to him jump from a high lonesome country twang on "You Can't Go Halfway" to a deep bluesy growl on "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" (covered years ago by Uncle Tupelo) is damn exhilarating.

The eleven songs Roe sings on Face the Rising Sun could well act as an introduction to Goodbye Babylon, a six CD box-set of (mostly) pre-war Southern gospel, despite only a two song overlap. That prodigious collection was so revelatory that Bob Dylan was moved to buy a copy for a grateful Neil Young, who called it, "The original wealth of our recorded music." Like the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack (whose newly-recorded material included "Man of Constant Sorrow", a song Dylan had recorded on his debut album), Goodbye Babylon juxtaposed songs from all different Southern cultural traditions, illustrating just how deeply they had intermingled.

With the period songs he tracked down, Roe weaves together multiple musical idioms, ones once labeled "race records" or "hillbilly", just as Bob Dylan did on his first album back in 1962. However, on this album, Roe wears even more masks than the young Dylan, who never multi-tracked himself into a full-blown gospel quartet as Roe does on the title track!

Every guise is not equally successful. However, while the album may have befitted from the guiding hand of a strong producer like T-Bone Burnett (an old Dylan sideman who produced Oh Brother as well as Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant) or even Rick Rubin (who kept Johnny Cash taking chances till the end, which even the Gaslight Anthem noticed) Roe's achievement remains stunning.

On the 77’s 1982 debut album Roe sang Washington Phillips’ (via Ry Cooder) “Denomination Blues” and here he interprets Phillips’, “Paul and Silas in Jail”. Back in ’82 he nailed “Denomination Blues” but in a most literal way, as a young seminarian might rigidly interpret a single bible verse. In “Paul and Silas in Jail”, as on the whole album, you can hear Roe wrestling with the poverty, suffering and degradation intrinsic to these indomitable songs. But this album is no glum recreation, in fact the most awe-inducing thing is how Roe took a rock n' roll cliche (the "back to my roots" album, of which the blues-based album in the most trite) and instead of making a self-indulgent vanity project or a studied exercise in history, he's made a joyful fucking noise.

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(This an updated version of a review published in the Manitoban, the University of Manitoba's student paper.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

V.A. Hootenanny Special (1965)

In memory of Liam Clancy's passing, I'd like to offer a piece of my childhood. While we never owned this Zenith Collector's Item, the songs of Pete Seeger and the Clancys filled my early days. We didn't really need it anyways, in my house we sang the songs ourselves, the hacked-up records were just for rainy days.

This set, which the liner notes call a "doozer", really contains all of the contradictions of the early sixties folk boom. In fact, by '65 this collection must've already been a bit of a curio. The set puts together thirties survivor Pete Seeger, New York actors (and Irish emigrants) the Clancy Brothers, collegiate folkies the Brothers Four, easy-listening act New Christy Minstrels and the Village Stompers who aspired to be the Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass of folk. Then Bob Dylan, with two old songs, ends both the album and the quaint era of the Hooteanny.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dylan, Clarke and Bragg

John Cooper Clarke's moment of fame came in the thick of the punk era, though at the time he said, "My relationship with rock is like Lenny Bruce's with modern jazz - I like the clothes and attitude." While Clarke owed a massive sartorial debt to Bob Dylan (and some attitude debt to Bruce) his oeuvre is pure, amphetamine beat poetry with accompaniment ("I try to talk in tune" he once said), eschewing the vintage folk, blues and gospel which power Dylan's work.

In contrast, Billy Bragg gained little fame during his tenure as leader of '77 punk band Riff Raff but when he returned from driving tanks for the British army to take up arms against Spandau Ballet in the mid eighties he grabbed his nation by the throat. Bragg, to commit an over-simplification, mixed up musical and lyrical elements of the Clash and Bob Dylan till you couldn't tell which was which. Now here, in the midst of his 2009 Canadian tour, he tries that mash-up trick with John Cooper Clarke and Bob Dylan, trying to do Clarke's "Evidently Chickentown" (with the original lyrics) in a Bob Dylan (circa "Desolation Row") style. There's almost four minutes of chit-chatting to begin with but the end result is fascinating.

Fittingly, Bragg praises Clarke as a poet and as Dylan has said, "Everyone admires the poet, no matter if he's a lumberjack, a football player or a car thief. If he's a poet, he'll be admired and respected." Of course this was also the man who said, "I don't call myself a poet because I don't like the word. I'm a trapeze artist." For proof of that statement, here's Dylan working without a net.

P.S Those intrigued by Clarke shouldn't miss his beat-punk cum hip-hop, "Health Fanatic" from Urgh: A Music War.

A big thank you to regular reader/commenter Biopunk without whom this post would never have happened (though he is not to be held responsible for the rambling herein).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

V.A. A Bunch of Stiffs (1977)

Speaking of Stiff Records, their second L.P. release, after Damned, Damned, Damned, A Bunch of Stiffs emphasizes the lark-ish side of the label. The hits here are Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World", Elvis Costello's "Less Than Zero", "Back to Schooldays" by Graham Parker and Motorhead's "White Line Fever" (officially released on Chiswick). Then the going gets weird. Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label" works as a laugh and a song, Dave Edmunds' cover of Jo Jo Gunne fulfills the rock n' roll quotient and, predating Dewey Cox by thirty years, we have "Food" by the Takeaways with a Mystery Guest you're all supposed to hope is Bob Dylan. As if, deep into his mystic-poet guise (not his best but far from his worst) between Desire and Street Legal, Dylan did boozy self-parody.

(Badges courtesy of Buy the Hour)

I Love My Label - Nick Lowe
Go The Whole Wide World - Wreckless Eric
White Line Fever - Motörhead
Less Than Zero - Elvis Costello
Little By Little - Magic Michael
Back To Schooldays - Graham Parker (uncredited)

Jump For Joy - Stones Masonry
Maybe - Jill Read
Jo Jo Gunne - Dave Edmunds
The Young Lords - Tyla Gang
Food - The Takeaways

This post owes some inspiration to Bert Muirhead's Stiff: the Story of a Record Label. After a little more digging I found this on some other blogs (including one of the first, and still one of the best, music blogs, Power-Pop Criminals). I was in too deep to stop, so to add some value (the book sells for almost a hundred bucks on eBay), here's its gossipy entry on this album:
A 'cash-in' record all the acts here were old friends of (Stiff founders) Jake (Robinson) or Dave (Rivera). The album worked well considering the ragbag of demos and finished articles from which it was compiled. The blend of heavy metal, rock and roll and new pop combined to make a potent album. Certainly, when the word punk was on everyone's lips and there was little of it in the shops, it helped fill the void.

Only the Costello and Wreckless tracks had been issued as singles and Motorhead's would have been if they had not signed to Bronze. Of the rest, "I Love My Label" was a typical Nick Lowe ditty (co-written with Jake). Magic Micheal was well-known on the benefit concert scene and was on the first Greasy Truckers album. GP's track was uncredited as he'd just signed with Phonogram but was still managed by Dave Robinson. Stones Masonry featured Martin Stone and postdated his spells with Mighty Baby and Chilli Willli (famous Jake connection). Jill Read was in fact Dave Edmunds. (Sean) Tyla was also part of the pre-Stiff crowd. The Takeaways were a studio band comprised of Lowe, Edmunds, and Larry Wallis. The nasal intonations are probably* Tyla imitating Dylan. Recording costs were minimal and the profits were probably high as the album sold like hot cakes.
* According to roberto (and backed up by the authoritative 45 Revolutions) the faux-Dylan was in fact C.P. Lee, head of faux-punk band Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias and author of the definitive Stiff slogan, "If it Ain't Stiff, it Ain't Worth a Fuck".

* C.P. Lee dropped by to give some excellent detail, "It was me - It was the second take - the first take was done in the 'style' of Brian Ferry - Jake and Nick asked if I could do Dylan - I did and got £25, a free copy of the album and a night out at The Marquee - Vive Le Rock!!" Bless you, C.P.

(Image courtesy of fredpopdom)

A Bunch of Stiffs L.P.