Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chuck Mead returns to Nashville's Quonset Hut

When former BR-549 frontman Chuck Mead decided his next solo album would be strictly old-school country, the natural choice of venue would be an old-school Nashville studio. And what better place than The Quonset Hut (aka Bradley Film & Recording Studios) – the first joint recording music in the neighborhood which eventually became known as Music Row. But Mead didn't stop there, oh no, he went a step further and reunited some of Music City's famed "A-Team" session hands, namely Harold Bradley, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Bob Moore and Buddy Spicher  to back him on a selection of twelve timeless classics. And then he invited pals Bobby Bare, Elizabeth Cook, Jamey Johnson and Old Crow Medicine Show to come along for the ride that ultimately became Back At The Quonset Hut (Ramseur Records).

Johnny Cash recording at the Quonset Hut in 1958.
The Quonset Hut was originally an attachment to the old Nashville rooming house (at 804 16th Avenue South) that songwriter, arranger and producer Owen Bradley bought with his brother Harold in 1954 and turned into a recording studio. Once the Bradley boys began notching hit after hit with the tunes they were cutting inside the Quonset Hut's arched walls with the original "A-Team" of Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Buddy Harman and Bob Moore, artists from everywhere started beating a path to the Quonset Hut door including Ray Price, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Tammy Wynette, Simon & Garfunkel, Clyde McPhatter, Gene Pitney, Bob Dylan, George Jones and Johnny Horton, among others.

Of course, all good things come to an end and Bradley sold the Quonset Hut to Columbia Records (now a division of Sony BMG) and the acoustically unique studio closed for recording in 1982. Evidently, the Columbia/Sony brain trust decided that the hallowed ground where Patsy Cline first sang Crazy, Roger Miller recorded King Of The Road and Marty Robbins did El Paso would make for cozy office space so the historic studio was unceremoniously gutted. 

"When I first saw the inside of the Quonset Hut," recalls Mead, "it was being used as the art department for Sony Records. It was 1999 and my band, the country music outfit BR5-49, had just moved over from Arista Records and we were touring our new label’s building. I remember standing in the spot where Patsy Cline sang “Crazy” amidst Dixie Chicks promo photos and album mock-ups, looking at the big old ceilings, imagining how great the sound was in there. I would never have believed that I could have the chance to find out for myself – but fate put me “Back At The Quonset Hut"

"When Sony moved out amidst the record label conglomerations of the 2000s, the Quonset Hut sat empty until Mike Curb donated funds to turn it back into a studio and a classroom, placing it in the hands of Belmont University’s music program. Students learn about recording techniques and are invited to work on sessions that are taking place."

Mead parted ways with BR-549 in 2005 and went on to release his solo debut, Journeyman’s Wager in 2009. More recently he's been working as the musical director for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Million Dollar Quartet which is now running in New York, Chicago and on tour with Broadway Across America. It wouldn't be long before Mead would again be bitten by the recording bug.

"When it came time to figure out what my next record should be. I decided it would be a good idea to make an album of classic country songs. I called my friend, neighbor, and original BR5-49 producer Mike Janas, who is a Belmont University instructor and studio manager for RCA’s historic Studio B as well as the newly renovated Quonset Hut.

"I wanted to make the record the old way – you know, with all the musicians playing together in one room so you have to listen and react to one another. We decided it would be perfect to record my classic country record at the Hut – the quintessential Nashville studio – with Belmont students helping. I liked the idea because I could make my record the way I wanted, and Mike liked it because his young engineers could catch the vibe of the way the old-timers did things – an experience they could carry on through their own professional careers as music moguls or pizza delivery drivers.

"So I recorded the album with my band, The Grassy Knoll Boys and, as very special guests, four members of the “Nashville A Team” – studio players Harold Bradley, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Bob Moore and Buddy Spicher who played on most all of those aforementioned classic songs. I also invited some great friends who are on the same page as me musically and cosmically to join in. Old Crow Medicine Show, Elizabeth Cook, Jamey Johnson and the legendary Bobby Bare all showed up and sang with me to create some pretty stellar moments. We also filmed it just to be able to share our killer weekend making music with everybody."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Whaddya mean you don't know George & Ben

Back in 1968, Baltimore's George Figgs and Ben Syfu recorded a brilliantly bent psych curio called Boa Constrictor & A Natural Vine for the Vanguard label's newly minted Apostolic subsidiary. At the time of it's release, it sold an incredible 26 copies and has since remained largely unknown to all but a few obsessive collectors. Last time I checked, George & Ben's lone album wasn't even listed on
It says a lot about the relative obscurity of Boa Constrictor & A Natural Vine that Vanguard's recent double LP archival excavation Follow Me Down: Vanguard's Lost Psychedelic Era (1966-1970) didn't include a single track from the album even though their five-minute epic The Devil & the Ace of Spades (listen below) would've certainly been a highlight of the set. Here's the lowdown on George & Ben:

George Figgs is a painter, film historian and projectionist from Baltimore, Maryland who is a longtime  member of John Waters' ensemble filmmaking cast (he's Jesus Christ in 1970's Multiple Maniacs) and the founder of the Orpheum art house cinema. But like just about every other US teen in the mid 60s, Figgs had been working on some song ideas with stadium-sized dreams. Eventually he decided to head to New York with his guitar-playing sidekick Ben Syfu to see if there was any interest.

In January of 1968, they turned up at the residence of Nic Osborn who was the viking-costumed elevator operator at Apostolic, a state-of-the-art recording studio in downtown New York which had an offshoot label subsidiary of Vanguard Records. Apostolic Studios – named for the custom-built twelve track Scully machine at the heart of the operation – was founded by John Townley in the spring of 1967 and would later play host to Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, The Fugs, The Critters, Grateful Dead and the Silver Apples,  It was Osbourn that brought George & Ben to the attention of Apostolic A&R rep and producer Danny Weiss who in turn passed the recording assignment to budding engineer John Kilgore. Now a respected New York studio owner with an impressive list of production credits, Kilgore recalls how the George & Ben album came together. 

"George & Ben were hanging out at Nic's apartment," remembers Kilgore, "trying to get something going with their music career, albeit in a pretty stoned-out desultory fashion. Danny tried to make a recording or two with them and for whatever reason, it just wasn't happening. He was going to let them go but I begged Danny for a chance to record them because I thought I could get something out of them."

When Kilgore ran into the same problems Weiss was having in the studio with getting George & Ben to focus on tracking, he suggested a change of venue, someplace without the distractions of downtown New York. A secluded farm in rural Maine would be perfect and by chance, he knew of one that would be vacant in September. 

"My high school bandmates Sean Hutchinson (bass) and Larry Luddecke (organ) were in a group called The Far Cry with singer Jere Whiting and it was my connection to them that helped get The Far Cry signed to Apostolic. Jere's parents were professors at Harvard – at least one of them was – and they had the place up in Searsmont they used as a summer home. George & Ben were pretty energized by the small successes we had up there. "The song Little David, the lead track on Boa Constrictor came out of that trip, as well as the outdoor weirdness. When we came back to New York, they put a bit more effort into getting things done. That's when the other tunes happened."

Figgs' wickedly trippy wordplay backed with Syfu's bent blues backing makes for an otherworldly getdown and Kilgore was there with his trusty Nagra to capture it all. A few uncredited overdubs added by Far Cry guitarist David Perry, saxophonist Dick Martin and drummer Victor McGill back at Apostolic – particularly on the album's masterstroke The Devil & the Ace of Spades – further enhance the haunting alone-in-the-woods vibe laid down in Maine.

"The Devil & the Ace of Spades was initially planned to be just a guitar and vocal number,  with maybe some drums added later. But we recorded the tune on the multi-track using scrap tape, and there just happened to be a track of someone playing an Indian-style Qanun (like a cross between a dulcimer and an autoharp) recorded in the other direction. After we had laid George's guitar and vocal down I happened to push up the fader on that track and behold –  spooky backwards noise! It' was in the right key so it worked on almost the whole track. I put lots of reverb on it and just faded it out where it doesn't work.

"Dick Martin heard it, and immediately wanted to blow some saxophone on top of it. He did a great job in one take. We momentarily thought about putting on some drums but decided it was perfect just the way it was."

What completes the package is Phoebe Stone's colourful arwork which is really everything you could hope for in a late-60s loner/stoner psych sleeve. Now an acclaimed children's book illustrator and author, Stone was still very much an unknown when she was hired to come up with a suitable visual counterpart to George & Ben's fiendishly freaky debut.

"Susan Sewell, the girlfriend of Danny Weiss at the time, was in charge of graphics at Vanguard Apostolic. She would  oversee the artwork for various Apostolic projects but Vanguard had the final word on almost everything. Susan suggested a bunch of ideas to George and Ben, and they grudgingly accepted the work of Phoebe Stone who was the girlfriend of Apostolic engineer Randy Rand who helped build the studio. George & Ben would have preferred  using George's own artwork, but that was too out-there even for Apostolic. It's a shame because George's stuff is uniquely beautiful and would have made a stunning cover.

"The sleeve layout was put together by Jules Halfant, who was the Art Director at Vanguard and designed most of the label's album covers (Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Doc Watson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, John Hammond, Junior Wells, etc). Wonderful man, but trippy was definitely not his style. The back photo, which was taken on the roof of the Apostolic building at 53 E 10th Street was deemed too grubby for Vanguard, so they blocked out the  rooftop scene and surrounded George & Ben with the squiggly toothpaste which horrified all of us. And instead of using Phoebe's art for the whole front cover, they inserted more conservative Vanguard-like graphics along the left side, again to the outrage of all. By the way, the snake in the photo is George's pet boa constrictor Bal." 

If George & Ben's Boa Constrictor & A Natural Vine should ever be reissued, it won't be from the original master tapes. 

"When I worked at Vanguard between 1974 and 1976, I looked for the Boa Constrictor masters. I was told they had been destroyed."

The Devil & the Ace of Spades by George & Ben

Time is Money by George & Ben

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Prince & Sharon Jones: Together at last

A new *improved* Andre Williams album

If you recently picked up a copy of Andre Williams' oddly low-key Bloodshot release Hoods & Shades – which he calls "my folk album" – and were wondering what happened to the raunchy rhythm & booze-inspired frolic for which Mr. Rhythm is known and loved, evidently Andre was saving it up for a rematch with the Sadies

On May 15, Yep Roc (Outside in Canada) will release the Jon Spencer-produced Night & Day packed tight with the sort of lascivious humpin', bumpin' and thumpin' we've come to expect from Andre Williams. That's right, no Don Was involvement whatsoever. Phew! The label has thoughtfully made Andre's much-anticipated comeback album available for pre-order in various configurations which you can get directly from Yep Roc's site

Here's the press release: 

Canada’s finest live band, The Sadies, have reunited with explicit soul singer/cult legend Andre Williams for Night & Day on Yep Roc records. Night & Day is the result of sessions that began in 2008 at Key Club Studio in Detroit and captures Andre, then 70 years old and still using at the time, at his most raw, honest, and immediate. No filter. 

Andre is aided by a stellar cast of musical friends, dirty bluesers who have earned the trust of the ancient hustler, including Jon Spencer (who directed these sessions) and Matt Verta-Ray of Heavy Trash, Danny Kroha of Detroit’s own gutter-blues superheroes, The Gories, the unsinkable Mekon, Jon Langford, and of course, behind it all, The Sadies’ long-time line-up of Dallas Good on guitars and keys, his brother Travis Good on guitars and fiddle, Mike Belitsky on drums, and the mighty Sean Dean on the bass. The result is a raw, gritty slice of raunch rock that has attitude in spades and the hooks and playing to back it up.

The story starts at Key Club Studio, an old school jungle of analogue gear an hour outside of Detroit. Andre had just been sprung from a few days in the county cooler where he was being held on powder possession until his manager came to bail him out, a charge he would eventually beat, but his most recent stop in stir is reflected in "Your Old Lady," a song about sending a lover back to her man after he gets out of prison.

Throughout these sessions, Andre kept his rum buzz and his harangue on, and even if he showed up missing his bottom row of dentures -- he growls "I like my rum, coz I got no teeth, I let it flow over my gums" -- he was still able to drawl and percolate his continuing narrative of life in songs. In "America" he sings that "Living in America ain't no fun, better have some money or you'll be on the run, and it's a goddamn shame, without cash you're trash... the men are dogs, the women are hogs, but that ain't a bad thing... it's better than living in Africa."

Since these sessions, Andre was able to shake off some of his demons and has been living clean ever since. Says Andre, "I like where I am now. My family admires me now. I kinda wanna keep it like that."

Dallas Good writes in the liner notes for Night and Day that the first session "was good but we were worried for Andre. A couple years later, everything was different. He was sober and sharp. Agile, mobile and hostile. Night and Day. It wouldn't be fair to the new Andre (who I'd never met after working together for like, 12 years) to let the old Andre have this album. So we did more."

The resulting record is a modern classic, with Andre showing remarkable range -from heartbreak and bitterness to ribald humor, swagger, sleaze, fear and retribution, romance gone right and romance gone wrong, and all in the spirit of the sloppy fun that has made him a legend. Andre Williams represents as the first and last of a breed of pimp-rolling R&B wise men, the real deal, an authentic totem of the low-down and disreputable, a man who has played outside the law, and outside the record business, and somehow managed to come out not only alive, but with a fervent cult behind him.

Night and Day
1. I Gotta Get Shortly Out Of Jail
2. America (You Say "A Change Is Gonna Come")
3. The Seventy Year Old
4. Your Old Lady
5. Bored
6. Mississippi & Joliet
7. I Thank God
8. Don't Take It
9. One-Eyed Jack (listen)
10. Hey Baby!
11. I'll Do Most Anything For You
12. That's My Desire
13. Me and My Dog

Happy Birthday Sarah Vaughan

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sofrito goes Malian Afro-disco... with Caribou?

Dan Snaith, aka Caribou has been exploring bold new sounds and fashion accessory options under his Daphni alias.

The latest in Sofrito's superb Super Series 12" EPs is Kognokoura – a bangin' bit of afro disco from the legendary Malian griot Niama Makalou with a non-throwaway remix on the flip by Dundas mixmaster Dan Snaith using his "Daphni" handle presumably to keep Caribou and Manitoba fans guessing.

Descended from a family of traditional Malian praise singers, Makalou – not Dan – moved to France in the 70s where she cut this, her first and last vinyl release. At the time Paris was swept up in disco fever, so along with a pick-up group of fellow West African ex-pat musicians dubbed the African Soul Band du Mali, Niama cut a dancefloor destroyer with a distinct Mandé roots flava.

The resulting mixture of off-kilter handclaps, raw string arrangements, balafon battering combine with a heavy disco groove and Makalou's shouted Bamanankan exhortations to produce a one-off piece of cross-cultural magic. Have a listen below.

Originally released in 1980 as a 12" maxi 45 tours on the Ledoux Records label, copies like the one depicted on the right currently change hands for 200 Euros and up. So even though the generic sleeved Sofrito reissue regrettably doesn't reproduce the snazzy art and leaves off the B-side track Drissa Coulibaly, you're saving at least $250 and you get a Dan Snaith remix thrown in gratis!

For his part, our kid Caribou – who has apparently been listening to the late 70s recordings of Nigerian lo-fi funkateer William Onyeabor on the sly, really! – strips the vocals off the original with a dubwise imperitive which may appeal to the less adventurous club crowd who care not for the riotous Afro-disco bang-sha-lang of decades past.  As for myself, I'll be rocking the A-side but it's still good to see Snaith expanding his horizons.

Sofrito Super Singles 005 - Niama Makalou et African Soul Band / Daphni Edit

Friday, March 23, 2012

Whadya mean you don't know P. Ramlee

Bunyi Gitar from Tiga Abdul aka The Three Abduls (1964)

One For The Weekend: Black Bananas

She's baaaack! Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux and RTX (Rad Times Xpress) infamy has returned with a hard-pummeling vengeance in the form of the Black Bananas' debut album Rad Times Xpress IV for Drag City. Although singer/producer/journalist Herrema – the original poster girl for Calvin Klein's controversial "heroin chic" ad campaign – is a proud product of the Chocolate City, this new release reveals, like never before, the irreparable damage done by years of listening to Parliament and Funkadelic records at wall-shaking volume.

Check out Grant Singer's behind-the-scenes video for Overpass followed by the dope promotional montage created for the album release. By provocatively intercutting film clips of biker violence, surfing and snake handling with a roaring tiger and people being chased by vans at night, the Brain Drain crew give you a reasonably good idea of what you can expect when Black Bananas open for Sleigh Bells at the Phoenix on Monday (March 26).     

Overpass by Black Bananas

Rad Times Xpress IV promotional video

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Johnny Dowd unveils No Regrets in Toronto

Why would the enjoyably bent cracker soul man Johnny Dowd pick Toronto of all places to premiere his creepy concept album No Regrets,  a typically off-kilter personal document of his fave female obsessions?

It could be the unseasonably balmy weather we're enjoying this week but something tells me that our man Johnny doesn't have much use for sunshine. No, I'm guessing it has more to do with Silver Dollar booker Dan Burke who sees in Dowd's troubling revelations the good and evil that once made rock 'n' roll a dangerously exciting proposition.

Well that, and Burke also needed at least one marquee act with a decent draw for the 12 midnight slot of his Canadian Music Week showcase on Friday at the Comfort Zone. Considering the rest of the line-up – Nick Doubleyou & the B Squad (1 am), Brave Little Toaster (11 pm), Cowgirl Choir (10 pm), Attagirl (9 pm) – you can understand Burke's desire to have Dowd serve as the anchor with Catl bashing away relentlessly between sets to further bolster the entertainment package. So Burke can now rest easier knowing that whatever happens the rest of the night, Dowd will deliver the goods at midnight with a preview of his scary good No Regrets (out April 2).

"The album is about girls and women I have know, imagined or seen on TV." explains Dowd. "I love them all. I used a couple of old 60s drum machines on the album because my long-time drummer, Willie B, was unavailable at the time we were tracking. I intended to replace the machines with live drumming, but instead, I blended the two. Man versus machine. Man versus woman. Me in an endless, maddening conversation with myself.

"I used some great female vocalists to sweeten the album. Tracking with them was hilarious. I’m particularly proud of the sounds and feel we got on this record. I’m always trying to take the music I grew up with (blues and R&B) and filter them through my own experiences. Otis Redding as imagined by Sartre. Of all my records, this one is by far the leanest. But probably not the meanest. I don’t think anyone was murdered in these songs.”

No Regrets (Mother Jinx)
1. Betty
2. Emily / Meryl
3. Billie
4. Sherry
5. Miranda
6. Susan
7. Rita
8. Juanita / Rita
9. Nancy
10. Ella
11. Abigail
12. Linda
13. Candy

Betty by Johnny Dowd

Tour Dates
* 03/23 The Comfort Zone (Canadian Music Festival), Toronto
* 04/21 Lot 10 - CD and vinyl release party, Ithaca, NY (w/ Teardrops)
* 05/03 Altstadt, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
* 05/04 Paard, The Hague, The Netherlands
* 05/07 Patronaat, Haarlem, The Netherlands
* 05/08 Q-Bus, Leiden, The Netherlands
* 05/09 DB's, Utrecht, The Netherlands
* 05/10 Cactus Muziekcentrum, Brugge, Belgium (Kamarama Festival)
* 05/11 Winston Kingdom, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
* 05/14 El Lokal, Zurich Switzerland
* 05/15 Chelsea, Vienna, Austria
* 05/16 K4, Nurnberg, Germany
* 05/18 Bassy Club, Berlin, Germany
* 05/20 Harksheide, Norderstedt, Germany
* 05/21 Cafe Video, Ghent, BE
* 05/22 Kulturrampe, Krefeld, Germany
* 05/23 Portland Arms, Cambridge, UK/li>
* 05/24 Cluny, Newcastle, UK
* 05/25 King Tuts, Glasgow, UK
* 05/26 The Greystones, Sheffield, UK
* 05/27 The Windmill, Brixton, UK (afternoon and evening shows)
* 05/28 The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, UK
* 05/29 The Basement, York, UK

Sherry by Johnny Dowd

Johnny Dowd
Canadian Music Week

Happy Birthday Juke Boy Bonner

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Walkabouts' Long Drive In A Slow Machine

The Walkabouts discuss Travels In The Dustland

Jack Candy live in Athens - January 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Solomon Burke

The Price by Solomon Burke

Cool Breeze theme (sampled for Ghostface's Apollo Kids)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mark Sultan releasing live LP for Record Store Day

It wasn't that long ago that Mark "BBQ" Sultan recorded two albums worth of unusual covers backed by his pals Choyce from Red Mass, Jared and Cole fom the Black Lips, Erin from the Spits and others which In The Red issued last October as the 14-track Whatever I Want LP and the 12-track Whenever I Want LP. And our man still had material left over for a couple of singles.

Now just a few months on, Sultan is announcing a vinyl release of his live album The War On Rock 'n' Roll to coincide with the Record Store Day cash-in on April 21. Although Sultan has made The War On Rock 'n' Roll available on his site as a free digital download since October, this new limited-run vinyl version boasts artwork by Gary Panter who created the amazing LA punk scene handbills for the Screamers and the Germs. Like many RSD-related releases it's a slight repackaging of something you may already own.  

"In The Red Records has decided to release this recording on vinyl to celebrate Record Store Day and I am thrilled," says Sultan. "While you listen to this recording, keep in mind that it is one take, live, and that the sides of the LP split the recording, obviously due to vinyl's time limitations upon pressing.

"At the time of this recording, yes, I was hellbent on converting my live sound to what you hear on this LP. It had been my first and only attempt at this sound, and while I am myself curious how I pulled it off in that one take, and while I really enjoy how it sounds, I never tried doing it again. Maybe I will for some of these upcoming shows."

Tour Dates
March 30th: Cornwall, ON - La Maison
April 5th: London, ON - Call The Office
April 6th: Toronto, ON - Parts And Labour
April 24th: Tallahassee, FL - Waterworks
April 25th: St. Augustine, FL - Cafe 11
April 27th: Miami, FL - Vagabond
April 28th: San Juan, PR - Abracadabra
May 2nd: Orlando, FL - Will's Pub
May 3rd: Long Beach, CA - Alex's Bar
May 4th: Phoenix, AZ - Trunk Space
May 5th: San Francisco, CA - The Hemlock
May 7th: Denver, CO - Hi-Dive
May 10th: Brooklyn, NY - Knitting Factory
May 11th: New Haven, CT - Cafe 9
May 12th: Boston, MA - PA's Lounge
May 23rd: Detroit, MI - PJ's Lager House
May 24th: Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle
May 25th: Milwaukee, WI - Cactus Club
May 26th: Minneapolis, MN - Turf Club
May 28th: Omaha, NE - The Slowdown
May 29th: Oklahoma City, OK - Blue Note
May 31st: Dallas, TX - City Tavern
June 1st: Austin, TX - Scoot-Inn (Chaos in Tejas)
June 2nd: Houston, TX - Continental Club
June 4th: Memphis, TN - Hi-Tone
June 5th: Nashville, TN - Zombie Shop
June 7th: Cincinnati, OH - Motr
June 8th: Columbus, OH - Ace of Cups
June 9th: Cleveland, OH - Beachland
June 15th: Montreal, QC - Sala Rossa
July 6th: Moncton, NB - The Manhattan
July 7th: Halifax, NS - The Seahorse

Neil Young revisits kindergarten for Americana

It was announced yesterday that Neil Young's new album Americana would be released on June 5. The good news being that for the new project Young has reunited the entire Crazy Horse line-up of Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro – which hasn't happened since 1996's Broken Arrow. However, the bad news is that he got everyone together to record traditional tunes like Tom Dooley, My Darlin' Clementine, Oh Susannah and oh yeah, God Save The Queen. It should make  Greendale look like an epic work of creative genius by comparison.

Assuming that this isn't some kinda contractual obligation ruse, you have to wonder just how tapped of original song ideas Neil must be at this point for an absurd concept like cutting an album's worth of "songs we all know from kindergarten" to seem like a viable option. This being a crucial election year in the US at a time of global economic turmoil and catastrophic environmental upheaval, there doesn't appear to be a shortage of relevant subject matter. Yet perhaps Neil figures the world could really benefit from hearing him reprise She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain with a children's choir.

On the upside, Bob Dylan beat Young to the studio with Froggie Went A-Courtin' (for 1992's Good As I Been To You) so that one won't be on Americana (see track listing below). So far there's no word about whether the other record Young is reportedly working on with Crazy Horse will be Canadiana – a bi-lingual collection of Canadian traditional songs, but I'd enjoy hearing what Neil could do with I's the B'y, Ah! Si Mon Moine Voulait Danser! and that old Klondike fave When the Ice Worms Nest Again.

Americana  –  Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Oh Susannah

Tom Dooley
Gallows Pole
Get A Job

Travel On

High Flyin’ Bird

She’ll Be Comin ’Round The Mountain
This Land Is Your Land

Wayfarin’ Stranger

God Save The Queen

Sunday, March 18, 2012

How many music execs does it take to hear a hit?

My Darling Clementine's Michael Weston King and Lou Dagleish
While those in charge of struggling record labels like to blame their financial woes on illegal downloading, the real reason many are facing difficult times has more to do with a fundamental lack of vision and what people in the music business call "ears."

It's difficult for well-compensated executives to admit this but the majority of those who have signing authority simply wouldn't know a great recording if they heard it. And even if someone still working for the label did, they're now too scared to pull the trigger for fear of their capital investment wouldn't be instantaneously profitable.

Take for example the illuminating case of My Darling Clementine, the inspired male/female country duet project of UK singer/songwriter Michael Weston King and his wife Lou Dagleish. Their impressive debut disc How Do You Plead? (Drumfire) has received rave reviews across the board from venerable print publications and music blogs alike and continues to get the sort of BBC support that's very unusual for something with a twang. Yet so far, King still hasn't been able to curry any label interest in a North American deal. Everyone he's corresponded with has apparently shrugged off the offer of a finished album that's already been critically acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. "Thanks, but no thanks."

That might be understandable if Americana mainstays like say Bloodshot, New West, Lost Highway, Sugar Hill or Rounder already had their own top-selling male/female duet acts that could write, record and perform their own material but the fact is, they don't. Moreover, even if you put aside that radical duets concept, the sophisticated level of compositions, arrangements and musicianship on How Do You Plead? puts My Darling Clementine's debut ahead of 90% of those labels output over the past decade.

It makes you wonder what other great Americana talents U.S. major indies have foolishly slept on – well, apart from The Walkabouts, Dylan LeBlanc, The Rizdales, Caitlin Rose, The Pining, Alela Diane, Scotty Campbell, etc.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Psycho-Surgeons get deluxe reissue treatment

Even if you're one of the proud few to own an original pigs' blood-splattered copy of The Psycho-Surgeons' classic 1978 Oz punk two-sider Horizontal Action b/w Wild Weekend on Wallaby Beat, you may want to spring for the deluxe reissue.

Just released by Tim Warren's Crypt Records (the label that brought you the essential eight-volume Back From The Grave series of raw 'n' snotty 60s garage punk artifacts), the two sought-after Paycho-Surgeons tracks (less than four minutes total) are housed in a snazzy gatefold sleeve with a 4-page insert packed with band photos, sleeve images clippings and relevant info. If you're unfamiliar with Mark Taylor's supreme slice of Sydney-style slash 'n' burn, here's what you've been missing:

Horizontal Action by The Psycho-Surgeons

Wild Weekend by The Psycho-Surgeons

Crypt Records

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hear the dope new Nas single "The Don"

Watch Bruce Springsteen's entire SXSW keynote

Showing up 15 minutes late for his highly-touted SXSW 2012 keynote address, Bruce Springsteen made up for his tardiness with a thoroughly engaging 50 minute address to an enrapt audience of musicians and music biz professionals.

His exceptionally well-constructed presentation – delivered with a directness that is the hallmark of The Boss – came filled with intriguing insights into his own musical inspirations and songwriting process intercut with often whimsical, sometimes poignant asides and punctuated with a guitar strum.

As far as SXSW keynote's go, Springsteen's bravura solo performance ranks as one of the very best in the festival's 25 year history as you can see below.

But that was just a warm-up for the Boss. He then rounded up the E Street Band Band and followed up his pulpit pitch with a two-and-a-half hour show for 3,000 people at Austin's Moody Theatre. It culminated with a few friends jumping on stage for a Woody Guthrie singalong, namely Alejandro Escovedo, Joe Ely, Eric Burdon, Garland Jeffreys, Arcade Fire's Win Butler and brother Will, Tom Morello and members of The Low Anthem. Have a look:

And here's Bruce rocking what appears to be Alejandro Escovedo's Gretsch backing Joe Ely on an impromptu version of The Flatlanders' Midnight Train at the Austin Music Awards on Wednesday night:

Andy Weatherall & Sonic Boom remix Wooden Shjips

Remixes is a 28 minute Wooden Shjips 12” EP featuring exclusive retouches from the celebrated Andy Weatherall and Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember of Spacemen 3) along with a hands-across-the-water collabo involving Kandodo (which is really Simon Price of The Heads). The limited-edition release pressed on clear vinyl with fancy black streaks is available now directly from Thrill Jockey or wherever dubby psych remixes are sold.

Andrew Weatherall, long time producer and remixer – who has worked with Primal Scream, New Order, My Bloody Valentine, and Bjork among others – remixed "Crossing" while Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3 fame contributed "Wiking Stew (aka Red Krayola-ing)". When Pete was called in to help master the Wooden Shjips' West, he was so inspired that he made a mash-up on his own. The final track is the Wooden Shjips' sad farewell to the North American polar bear "Ursus Maritimus (Last Bear's Lament)", a long distance collaboration with  Simon Price. Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson (who also plays in Moon Duo with Sanae Yamada) created the bed of the track in Colorado in between tours and sent if off to Simon, in London where he added all the additional instrumentation at his home studio.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cotton Mather reunite Saturday for SXSW 2012

So what's all the fuss about Cotton Mather reuniting for a SXSW showcase at Austin's Soho Lounge (217 East 6th St) Saturday (March 17) at 10 pm? Well, they're probably the greatest pure pop band ever to come out of Texas and their just-reissued Kontiki album – originally released in 1997 – stands as one of the very best recordings of the 90s.

Although Robert Harrison (no relation to George despite the profound Beatles influence) founded Cotton Mather in Austin back in 1991 and put out their Cotton is King debut album in 1994, by the time of Kontiki's appearance in 1997, Cotton Mather was still very much an unknown quantity in Austin – even to the folks who are paid to keep tabs on what's happening locally. They may have been getting glowing reviews in the British music press and Noel Gallagher of Oasis would sing Kontiki's praises in every single interview yet for some reason Cotton Mather just didn't register a blip in their own hometown. No cover story in the Austin Chronicle, no "local boys do good" feature in the Austin American-Statesman documenting the unusual UK buzz surrounding an Austin group – nada.  

In fact, I can remember the look of furrowed-brow puzzlement on the faces of hipster clerks at Austin record stores in March of 1998 when I asked if they stocked the Kontiki album by Austin's Cotton Mather which had been issued the previous November. "Cotton who?" one replied, "Nope, never heard of them," shrugged another "Are you sure they're from Austin? I'm pretty sure I would've heard of them if they were." Hilarious.

When I informed Harrison of my failed quest to find a copy of their then new CD for sale in Austin he didn't appear the least bit surprised. Instead he simply nodded and said with a pained chuckle, "Yep, sounds about right."

Clearly something has changed over the past 14 years, since Cotton Mather's one-off reunion to coincide with the deluxe re-release of the long out-of-print Kontiki has been deemed worthy of an NPR special (listen below). But I'm guessing it won't be Austinites packing the Soho Lounge on Saturday night and the staff at Waterloo Records and End Of An Ear will still look perplexed if you ask for anything by Austin's Cotton Mather.

One For The Weekend: Pat Kelly

Pat Kelly - Lonely Man (Riley Inc) 1978
Producer: Winston Riley
Mixing Engineer: George Raymond
Engineer: Sylvan Morris, Errol Thompson, Pat Kelly
Vocals: Pat Kelly
Backing Vocals: Cynthia Richards, Cynthia Schloss, Pat Kelly
Drums: Mikey Boo Richards, Carlton Barrett, Santa Davis
Bass: Family Man, Fully Fullwood, Robbie Shakespeare
Guitar: Willie Lindo, Tony Chin, Chinna, Duggie
Piano: Harold Butler, Tyrone Downie, Ansel Collins, Winston Wright
Organ: Ansel Collins, Wire Lindo
Horns: Tommy McCook, Bobby Ellis, Herman Marquis, David Madden, Jerome Francisque
Percussion: Sticky, Denzel Laing, Winston Riley
Horns Arrangments: Pat Kelly, Winston Riley
Recording Studios: Harry J's, Federal, Errol Thompson's
Mixing: Federal

Celebrating Lightnin' Hopkins' 100th Birthday

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The latest from Chicago's ace HoZac label

The small but mighty HoZac Records label behind stellar records from the Smith Westerns (initially rejected by Matador and Fat Possum!), The Spits, No Bunny, Dum Dum Girls is showing no signs of slowing down in 2012. In fact the Chicago punk powerhouse owned and operated by Todd Killings and his old Bradley, Illinois pal Brett Cross – which grew out of the excellent Horizontal Action fanzine they founded back in 2001 – seems to be stepping up production.
Below you'll find a boffo selection of HoZac's best and brightest for 2012. So check out the latest tracks from NICE FACE (whose Horizon Fires LP will be out soon), Radar Eyes, Bare Mutants, Teledrome, Schonwald, Rayon Beach, Nones, Plateaus and the Missing Monuments now before they get scooped up by bigger indie operations that use HoZac like a farm team because their own label reps don't know real talent when they hear it.


Rare early Johnny Cash images & audio released

If you thought that everything worthwhile connected with Johnny Cash has already been uncovered, Germany's Bear Family label has just come up with something new for the discerning collector who has seen and heard it all. Timed to coincide with Cash's 80th birthday celebrations, Unseen Cash From William Speer's Studio packages a collection of previously unpublished early photos of the then promising Sun Records signee with a one-sided 180 gram LP (or digipak CD) containing just over 25 minutes of rare live recordings of our man on-stage in 1957 and 1959.

Here's the scoop on the photos: In 1955, Sun Records boss Sam Phillips sent Johnny Cash to a local Memphis photographer, William Speer for a promo shoot. Speer who also took some classic early shots of Sun star Elvis Presley, was an innovative craftsman, influenced by Hollywood portrait photographers who were playing with light and shade in a dramatic new way. A few of the photos Speer took of Cash between 1955 and 1958 were circulated back in the day but the rest remained unpublished until someone connected with Bear Family turned them up.

Realizing that the photos hadn't already been commercially exploited by another label – and that the 80th anniversary of Cash's birth was coming up on February 26, 2012 – Bear Family came up with a novel plan to restore and package the images in a 16-page LP-sized hardcover book, accompanied by a one-sided LP of rare live audio recordings (from Country Style USA and Country Music Time) with a portrait of Cash etched onto the flipside. For those who don't have a turntable and/or aren't bothered by the notion of viewing seriously scaled-down versions of Speer's striking images, there's also a digipak CD available with a 28-page booklet.

Unseen Cash From William Speer's Studio (Bear Family)
Country Style U.S.A. #18
Stay All Night, Stay A Little Longer 
There You Go 
Give My Love To Rose 
CAROLEE COOPER: White Silver Sands
Home Of The Blues
Stay All Night, Stay A Little Longer (&

Country Music Time #141
I Got Stripes 
Pickin' Time 
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Fela Kuti live recording out in May

On May 8, a Fela Kuti performance recorded live with Egypt 80 at Detroit's Fox Theater in 1986 is being released by Knitting Factory (North America) and Strut. Cleverly titled Fela Live In Detroit 1986, the album touted as presenting "the first unheard Fela Kuti music in over 20 years" will be available as a digital download as well as as a two-CD or four LP set.

You'll hear an animated Kuti (just two months out of prison on dubious charges of "currency trafficking") leading his fully-amped ensemble through extended workouts of Just Like That (29:35), Confusion Break Bones (40:54), Beasts Of No Nation (38:49) and Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (34:04). Here's a preview:

Fela Kuti & Egypt 80 - Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense - Live In Detroit (Edit)

Paul Burch lights up Wacos on Great Chicago Fire

Over eight boisterously blustery albums for Bloodshot, what the Waco Brothers have lacked in the subtleties of singing and songcraft, Jon Langford and his bruising band of British country-pub bashers have always made up for with pure piss 'n' vinegar. Way over on the opposite end of the twangy spectrum, Nashville traditionalist crooner Paul Burch has a well-earned rep for knocking out new tunes that sound remarkably like early 50s honky tonk classics. So put them together in a studio and you could have an epic brawl on your hands or a heavenly hayseed hybrid destined to go viral.

Either way, it had to be worth the risk for both parties since the Wacos have been putting out pretty much the same album for the last few years and Burch's recent associations with Mark Knopfler and PBS documentary filmmakers was a worrying turn considering his prior string of artistic successes fronting the WPA Ballclub

After hearing the recorded results on Great Chicago Fire (out April 24), it appears that cooler heads prevailed, at least long enough to come up with something even better than anyone could've expected. As with Wilco's unexpectedly successful throwdown with Billy Bragg on the Woody Guthrie song project Mermaid Avenue or even Amy Winehouse's career-changing encounter with Brooklyn's Dap-Kings for Back To Black, there seems to be something in the Brits-meet-Yanks concept that sufficiently ups the creative ante to make great things possible if everyone involved is willing to participate in the cultural exchange.

There are a couple of songs where Burch sounds like a tipsy club-owner who jumped onstage for a Wacos encore and others which you can envision the seated Wacos plonking their way through Burch's sheet music but Great Chicago Fire's finest moments are the true collaborations like Wrong Side Of Love, Transfusion Blues and Up On The Mountain which neither could've done better on their own. Hopefully it's not a one-off.

Paul Burch will put down the books to join the Waco Brothers in Austin for Bloodshot's annual day party at Yard Dog (1510 South Congress)  on Friday (March 16) at 5:30 pm prior to Bloodshot's official SXSW showcase at Red Eyed Fly (715 Red River) on Saturday (March 17) at 10:30 pm. Additionally, Burch will appear on a bill with Jon Langford, Rosie Flores and Garland Jefferies at The Ginger Man (301 Lavaca) on Thursday (March 15) at 2:30 pm. 

Paul Burch
Jon Langford
Yard Dog Gallery

Happy Birthday Blue Mitchell

Señor Blues by the Horace Silver Quintet (1959)

Cool Eyes

Monday, March 12, 2012

Eleni Mandell joins Yep Roc's stacked SXSW soiree

Happy Birthday Don Drummond!

Treasure Island

Heaven and Earth (Roll On Sweet Don)

Addis Ababa

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Happy Birthday Neal Sugarman

Cherry Pickin' by The Sugarman Three

I Found Her by Boys Life on Good Day! (1981)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Watch Robert Pollard's Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft video

Fading Captain Series FCS-39 2006

Directed by Fiat Lux aka GBV biographer James Greer

Download Robert Pollard's solo album Mouseman Cloud right here

Happy Birthday Rick Rubin!

Friday, March 9, 2012

New Bobby Womack album due June 12

Some 14 years since Bobby Womack's previous studio album – and decades since his last great one – Sam Cooke's sideman and Jim Ford's runaround pal is poised for another comeback with the June 12 release of The Bravest Man In The Universe on XL Recordings via Beggars Group Canada.

Recorded with his Gorillaz mate Damon Albarn and XL's hands-on label boss Richard Russell (Gil-Scott Heron, Major Lazer, Roots Manuva) between October and December 2011 at Albarn's Studio 13 in West London and New York's Manhattan Center, the 10-track set boasting all-new material (!) promises a refreshing forward-looking approach for Womack who has wasted far too much time dwelling on past glories.

While longtime fans probably wouldn't be disappointed with Womack making yet another attempt at revisiting his creative peak period of the late 60s and 70s, it's welcome news that Bobby's moving on as can be heard from the lead off track Please Forgive My Heart (download it for free right here). The beats are contemporary but the soul is strictly old school.

The Bravest Man In The Universe (XL Recordings)
1. The Bravest Man In The Universe
2. Please Forgive My Heart
3. Deep River
4. Dayglo Reflection
5. Sweet Baby Mine
6. Stupid
7. If There Wasn't Something There
8. Love Is Gonna Lift You Up
9. Nothin' Can Save Ya
10. Jubilee

Happy 70th Birthday John Cale!

Buffalo Ballet by John Cale (1975)

Fear Is A Man's Best Friend (1975)

Whaddya mean you don't know Soft-Slipper

Soft-Slipper - Sing Me A Song
(De Wolfe DW/LP 3200) 1971

Side 1 (Instrumental)
Stonehenge (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Moody, melodic-unusual colours) 03:13
Sing Me A Song (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Cheerful party atmosphere) 02:19
I’m In The Mood For You (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Medium-tempo beaty ballad) 03:09
Baby Jane (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Active, interesting rhythms) 01:44
Take Me Back Soon (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Light, airy shoulder-shrugger) 01:35
Aphrodite’s Girl (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Up-beat, melodic) 02:40
Me And The Wind And The Plain (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Wistful ballad-up-tempo breaks) 02:21

Side 2 (Vocal)
Sing Me A Song (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Cheerful party atmosphere) 02:19
I’m In The Mood For You (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Medium-tempo beaty ballad) 03:08
Baby Jane (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Active, interesting rhythms) 01:43
Take Me Back Soon (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Light, airy shoulder-shrugger) 01:35
Aphrodite’s Girl (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Up-beat, melodic) 02:34
Me And The Wind And The Plain (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Wistful ballad-up-tempo breaks) 02:20
Crazy House (Roger Holman / Phil May) (Bouncing, light-hearted) 02:40

Baby Jane (instrumental) by Soft-Slipper

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Dick Hyman!

Alfred The King Of Disco by Dick Hyman

One For The Weekend: Yasin Bey

Sunshine Screwface by Yasin Bey aka Mos Def