Saturday, October 29, 2011

Midnight World Pop Scout-33: Recent Reggae Releases: Gregory Isaacs; Sugar Minott; Bristol Reggae Anthologies

Because it's always midnight somewhere....

While vinyl has probably always will be the preferred medium for collectors of reggae (and most other types of popular music), the compact disc has been a boon to us reggae lovers. Because of the digitization of music, and the consolidation of labels and their valuable back catalogs, it is possible to produce compilations sliced and diced in any manner desired by the consumer: By artist, by style, by producer, by unique rhythm, and so on. This flexibility is particularly useful in reggae, where producers had distinctive styles, artists switched labels and producers, and singles rather than albums rule the market. In the wake of the recent deaths of Sugar Minott and Gregory Isaacs, one of the giant surviving labels, VP Records in Queens, New York, has released fine compilations of each man's career. We've highlighted those releases below, and also are bringing to your attention recent releases regarding a lesser known part of the reggae world--the Bristol, UK reggae scene of the late 70s and 80s. We hope you enjoy them.

Gregory Isaacs (b. 7/15/51; d. 10/25/2010) was known as "The Cool Ruler" of reggae. As a reggae artist, Gregory was about as close as one could be to the complete package. He could deliver lover's rock that strummed the heartstings (see "Number One", below), challenge the government on ganja policy (see "Rumors" below), and highlight the plight of the black man in the white man's world (see "Slave Driver", below). And he had the charisma needed to rock the house live.

"Number One"


"Slave Driver"

VP Records' imprint, 17 North Parade, has just released Reggae Anthology: The Ruler 1972-1990, comprised of 40 tracks from the most productive years of Isaacs' long career, and a DVD of the 1984 Brixton Academy concert. Given the length of Isaacs' career, this collection doesn't include the artist's entire body of work. But as a fan, I think it reflects very good choices. If you want your reggae collection to include Gregory Isaacs and you currently have none, this set would be an excellent choice for the foundation. As an aside, 17 North Parade releases typically are attractively packaged and contain interesting liner notes.

"Night Nurse", from the Brixton Academy concert:

VP Records
VP Records on Facebook

Reggae great Lincoln "Sugar" Minott (b. 5/25/56; d. 7/10/2010) owes his nickname to a voice that sounded as sweet as sugar. His career spanned most of modern reggae, from the days of Studio One lovers rock through to digital the rhythms of dancehall. His contributions included performing, songwriting, promoting and producing. He also devoted time and money to helping young musicians find their way off the streets and into the studios. As was the case with The Cool Ruler, Minott could add a sweetly sung twist to a nursery rhyme (see "Old King Cole", below), inspire lovers (see "Good Thing Going", below), sing eloquently about the plight of the underclass (see "No Vacancy"), and ride Sly and Robbie's rhythm for the dancehall (see "Devil's Pickney", below).

"Old King Cole"

"Good Thing Going"

"No Vacancy"

"Devil Pickney"

Again through its 17 North Parade imprint, VP Records has just released a Sugar Minott collection Reggae Anthology: Hard Time Pressure. The collection includes 36 of Minott's hits spread over two CDs, and a DVD of a 1986 live performance. If you like reggae and you don't have any of this key reggae artist, this set is a very good way to build a collection. If you want more, you can add his Rare Jems and The Roots Lover: 1978-1983 collections later if you decide that you want more. To be honest, I have trouble evaluating the choices VP made because I have the two other albums as well. Sugar, as is the case with Gregory, is a collector's essential.

VP Records
VP Records on Facebook

It isn't well known at this point, particularly in North America, but there was a lively reggae scene in Bristol, UK in the late 70s and 80s. Bristol Archive Records has released two anthologies of the scene. What I think is particularly wonderful about these anthologies is that the music is absolutely wonderful reggae, and I've never heard of most of the artists. I can listen to them (as you can below) without and expectations or preconceptions. Moreover, the recordings were pressed in small numbers and sold at gigs, so they have been very rare.

Bristol Archive Records
Bandcamp for the 1978-1983 Anthology
Bandcamp for the '80s Anthology

And a tip of the Rocksteady hat to Ed at the 17 Seconds blog from whom I learned of the Bristol releases.

Friday, October 28, 2011

REVIEW: Joe Henry - Reverie

Joe Henry's a blues singer. He's a real good blues singer with an old soul, a great rhythmic sense and a terrific group of co-conspirators on each and every album. Joe is so consistent, folks may be forgiven for taking him for granted from time to time... but don't make that mistake here. Give a listen to Reverie and marvel at the breadth and strength of one of America's very best songwriters, producers and, oh yes, blues singers.

It starts off slow and sad, with a beautiful piano line on "Heaven's Escape". Henry's voice comes in slowly, and starts to take over as Keefus Ciancia's piano majestically, slowly, ushers the song along. Joe talks like a would-be big shot: "I deserve a much better hotel room than this" - and the irony is, based on his body of work and the quality of his records, he is a big deal but ought to be bigger.

"Odetta", song two, is a big acoustic song reminiscent, to me, of something from Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue period... of course, Henry's worked with T-Bone Burnett and they are in a very real sense, kindred spirits, so that shouldn't be a surprise. About :30 from the end of the song comes Ciancia's piano again, rolling so it would do McCoy Tyner proud, and moving us out of this song and into a wistful "After the War". Delicate piano and plucked acoustic guitar and bass give this one the kind of sadness that makes us revel in our reminiscences.

Here's a trailer to give you the sense of the album... The song here is "Odetta":

There's jazz here: check out "Grand Street", plenty of syncopation and improvisation and that nearly-out-of-control sense you'll recognize from the great American jazz canon. And there's blues here: "Dark Tears" is directly linked to Skip James, Son House, and any of the great acoustic blues players both in spirit and approach. But more than that there's the kind of ragged acoustic rock music that informs 21st century masterpieces like Gillian Welch's Time the Revelator, Tom Waits' Blood Money and Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind. I understand what type of company that puts Henry's work in... it is my intention to do so.

Reverie was released October 11, and you ought to be able to find it at your local record store. Or check it out at Anti- Records Website

And just because Henry speaks and writes so well, I'll close this with some of his thoughts on the record. It's rare indeed that a rock musician is both willing and able to give you some coherent thoughts that illuminate the work he has committed to record... but if anyone could, it'd be Joe Henry:

This album speaks about time, the great river that reminds us we are buoyant after all, as its moving current lifts us by the chin and just off of the balls of our feet, while we strain to dig our toes into the sandy ground. I am not convinced that any song exists without some knowing nod in its direction. And so with Reverie I am nodding, then –to time, but also to all the love, hope, despair, and revelation that stands naked inside its weather.

Just beautiful... both the thoughts and the record. If you'd like to read more of his writing (which I recommend), go to his website and click on the "Journal" tab at the top:

Introducing: Koko and the Sweetmeats

It is Friday, the sky is grey, and I've decided I need a bit of psychedelic blues rock. And since I'm living in Seattle, I've decided that I need psychedelic blues rock from a Seattle band. Fortunately for you, I've decided to share my choice with you; fortunately for all of us, the selected band, Koko and the Sweetmeats, has decided to make their album Sacrifice available for free download. It reminds me of the good parts of late 60s and early 70s music. At least the parts I remember.

The band members are listed as Garett and Laura van der Crimp (some writers have indicated the name is van der Spek) with part time Sweetmeats Kieran Smith and Andrew Houle. If you like The Kinks, Howling Wolf, Screaming Jay Hawkins and the early White Stripes, give these kids a listen.


By the way, credit to Noah on the Sound on the Sound blog for highlighting this band.

The Soul Corner - The Flirtations: "Nothing But a Heartache"

I've long been a fan of this song, but not until today did I find this video, which is awesome beyond words, perfect and then some.

The Flirtations were a trio from South Carolina - Viola Billups and sisters Ernestine and Shirley Pearce - who signed with Deram Records in England. "Nothing But a Heartache" became a prime example of the "Northern Soul" of England that united mods and R&B fans and became the rage of cool teenagers across the UK in the late '60s-early'70s.

I showed this vid to my 12 year old daughter and she flipped over the fashion. Good taste, that kid.

The over-the-top production here is so great - the piano intro, the big build ups and work out, and the ever increasing drama and high pitch of the vocals: Nothing but a heartache everyday!"

The singer may be miserable but this song can make us in the Soul Corner feel so good.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cool Video Thursday

It seems that The Black Tambourines, a favorite of ours from the summer has made an official video for their song "Tommy". Any excuse to highlight that group again is OK with me, and this actually is a good excuse.

"From the Morning Heat" by Craft Spells was recorded for the Incase Room 205 sessions. The production values for the Room 205 sessions are uniformly high.

"Pirate's Life" from We Cut Corners. Interesting approach.

We Cut Corners "Pirate's Life" from Kijek / Adamski on Vimeo.

Stephen Marley & The Fugees with Stephen's Dad's "No Woman No Cry". Footage of Bob is laced into the current footage.

"Human Error" from We Were Promised Jetpacks

We Were Promised Jetpacks - "Human Error" from stereogum on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Midweek Roundup: Three Metre Day, Tunabunny, Pepe Deluxe

Three Metre Day is an ethereal folk group with a very pretty sound - violin (Hugh marsh), slide guitar (Don Rooke), and keyboards and vocals from Michele Willis, who's got a clear, sweet voice. Here's a free download of the track "Stay That Way" from their new disc Coasting Notes.

Tunabunny, what kind of name is that? Great indie guitar and terrific female lead vocals - some with sweet harmonies and some kind of "out there". Check out "Song For My Solar Sister" and fondly remember old friends like The Breeders and Throwing Muses. They're from Athens, GA and they really rock. Of course...

And here's a free download of Tunabunny's "Only At Night"

Pepe Deluxe, like its name, doesn't really fit any sort of preconceptions. Crazy surf guitar, some wild drumming and punk vocals all kind of whipped into a frenzy with a theatrical flourish. Check it out for yourself - here's "The Storm", the lead track from an album due to be released in early 2012:

The Storm (Radio Edit) by Pepe Deluxé Official

Update: The Hardy Boys -- British Melancholy

We profiled The Hardy Boys last week, and alerted you to their new album, British Melancholy, which was released earlier this week. However, we did not have a track listing for the album and couldn't provide any songs that we knew were included. Fortunately, Bubblegum has made a stream of the album available on Soundcloud, and we've embedded it for you below. If you like uplifting jangle pop, I think you'll like it.

The Hardy Boys - British Melancholy by bubblegumrecords

Artist page at Bubblegum Records website

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

REVIEW: Wax Idols - No Future

This is beginning to look like Garageapoloza around here. Of course, I think that is just fine, except that I think my speakers are burning oil. Today we're reviewing the No Future, the impressive debut album from San Francisco's Wax Idols. Headed by Heather Fedewa (AKA Heather Fortune), who also is a member of Blasted Canyons and formerly played with Hunx and His Punx and Bare Wires, the current band lineup also includes Amy Rosenoff on bass, Keven Tecon on drums, and Jennifer Mundy on guitar.

Wax Idols seem to hit the intersection of indie rock, garage and punk, all with a pop sensibility. There is a punk snarl, but boy/girl vocals, harmonies and hooks. And regardless of whether you are interested in genre tags, all you really need to know that Wax Idols blasts your brain and gut with excellent surly but sexy music.

Album opener, "Dead Like You"
Wax Idols - Dead Like You by HOZAC RECORDS

To be honest, eight weeks ago I'm not certain I'd heard of this band. After hearing a few tracks I became a believer in their potential. After seeking out and listening to No Future, I'm of the opinion that we don't need to wait for potential to be realized--this band is very, very good right now. The last four tracks on the album alone, "Bad Future", "Uneasy", "Sand In My Joints" (Wire cover) and "Grey Area" will have you moving your feet and pumping your fist. They have me reevaluating my draft year end list. Is there a weakness? Well, I'm not sure these guys know how to name an album.

"Gold Sneakers"

This isn't an album track, but rather a track released on a 7" earlier in the year. I include it in the review because I think it helps point out the irresistibly anthemic music this band puts out. "All Too Human":

All Too Human from Gretchen Natvig on Vimeo.

By the way, the band currently is on tour with Terry Malts. Check the tour schedule to determine whether you are lucky enough to live in their path. I'd love to see either band; both is a deluxe burrito!

Artist page at Hozac Records

Monday, October 24, 2011

REVIEW: The Beets - Let the Poison Out

If I were writing a rock music menu, Let the Poison Out from The Beets would have a fairly long list of ingredients. There is garage, punk, and folk, most certainly. But there is a good dose of 90s slacker, Americana, and from the back of the spice cabinet, a bit of 70s California country rock. Of course, ingredients are only part of the story -- the magic is in how they are blended together -- and The Beets have cooked us a fun, varied and tasty album.

"Doing As I Do", the fifth track and first single from the album is a folk rock anthem that readily attaches to the pleasure center of your brain:

"Preso Voy" is a snake-rhythm Spanish language vamp that will bring to mind The Strange Boys or The Black Lips. "Let Clock Work" slows things down and comes close to the indie guitar pop of Wonderwall-era Oasis. The album closer, "Walking to My House", has a dreamy, hazy psych feel. I think that overall these songs are the strongest and most varied of The Beets' career.

The Beets are Juan Wauters (guitar and vocals), Jose Garcia (bass and vocals), Matthew Volz (official artist, including album covers and flyers, and occasional recorder playing), and Chie Mori (drums). Mori is a recent addition to the band, and her addition brings additional depth to the songs by adding female vocals to the punk/garage delivery of Mr. Wauters. Wauters, originally from Uruguay, met Garcia in community college and formed the band. Volz has been with them nearly from the start, but Mori is the most recent, but, according to the band, last of the musicians to play drums for the group. The Beets are based in Queens, New York, but this album is released on the tastefully ambitious Hardly Art label in Seattle.

"I Think I Might Have Built A Horse"

The band's ancestors, and heroes, are fellow New Yorkers, The Ramones. But Let the Poison Out isn't an imitation of the punk/garage godfathers. These songs have varied pace and thematic cohesiveness while retaining genre appropriate structures and an appealing sing-along quality. I suggest that you give this album a try--it is one of the fun releases of the year.

Artist page at Hardly Art

Get to Know: French Kissing

Some readers might wonder whether I've got more garage rock to share with you. While contemplating the possible answers, listen to French Kissing performing "Let Yourself Go":
Let Yourself Go by frenchkissing

The London trio comprising French Kissing are Jonny Stafford, Dominic Haley, and Chris Fenner, and they've been together for a couple of years, or less. The music is a surfy garage vibe, as evidenced by "Oh Suzanne":
Oh Suzanne by frenchkissing

If you want to determine whether French Kissing are a good match for your music collection, consider their other interests: Beer; riding bikes; and making songs about girls and feelings.

We'll close this little introduction to the band with their song "Beach Ball", as I don't know anything more about them at this point. However, I do know that I'd like to hear more music from them.
Beach Ball by frenchkissing