Sunday, July 15, 2007

A MAXIMUM STRENGTH BLOG TO COMM VINYL LISTENING PARTY!

Can't say that the previous week was any great shakes, but at least I managed to live through it which oughta account for something these days! Not much happening here at the homestead (which is why I neglected my customary mid-week post, mostly out of boredom) plus I'm afraid I'm not in one of my usual manic moods from whence marvelous streams of run-on sentences and brilliant insight emerge, but I think I'll manage to pull this one off with typical elan given not only the exciting material for reviewing purposes at hand but the fact that I just downed about three frosty mugs of Dr. Pepper.

Considering the lack of any really new jamz to traipse across my mailbox as of this time, I decided to once again trek down to the basement and dig up vinyl both old and new (to mine ears) and give it all a nice spin just for the sake of recording my own thoughts and opinions regarding these sounds therein for your own benefit. Thursday through Saturday saw your humble blogschpieler listening to three full-length platters per evening with the goal of writing about what was experienced within those grooves come Sunday morn, and now that the sun has arisen I feel it's my sworn duty as a rock fan (NOT critic) to detail to you just exactly what I think of alla them foot-long platters (usually listened to while reading ancient TV GUIDEs and Tintin books) at hand. Gee, that's NINE whole discuses up for review (a bargain!) and believe me, I'll try my durndest to be witty, offensive, pointed, snide and all those other neet things that made reading various fanzines as well as CREEM such a joy to behold before the eighties hadda come in and ruin everything with its staid seriousness!

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HYDRA (Capricorn)

Here's yet another oldie I reviewed way back in one of those early-nineties issues of my much-reviled yet fabled fanzine, and back then I must admit that yours truly was rather enamored with this Southern Heavy Metal Rock band especially after reading a few things about these guys via CREEM's late-'74 Southern Rock issue as well as Lester Bangs' chapter on rock trend predictions that appeared in some long-lost paperback o' mine. And really, the idea of a Deep South rock band merging the burgeoning Dixified sounds so in-vogue at the time with the Decadent glam-metal of the day to the point where these bozos not only opened for Iggy and the Stooges in Atlanta (the same gig where noneother'n Dame Elton John donned a gorilla suit to join the band onstage for a rousing duet of "Search and Destroy" and Das Ig thought she was a real ape on the prowl!) but showed 'em the sights and sounds of the burgh and even covered "Raw Power" in typical Ig-homage sure seemed appealing to me! True, Hydra were on Capricorn Records (not exactly the most forward-thinking label on the face of the earth if you can believe Stiv Bators' claims that label head Phil Walden told his pal Jimmy Carter to stifle the punk rock uprising in order to save his own financial skin!), but that really doesn't matter given how these guys had a concept that they were able to deliver on without looking like a buncha bozo schmucks custom-made for the instant flop bins which is where they obviously ended up, but it's not like that was a fate they most deserved unfortunately.

Anyway Walden spared no expense getting this platter out to an uncaring public, even hiring the noted British album cover crew Hipgnosis to design a typical mid-seventies flash sleeve for these guys. And that coupled with the pretty good raw playing that didn't get too washed over by the typical slick production only goes to show you that Hydra was a rather exemplary group for the day and that HYDRA (the album) was a particularly stellar debut that dared document the heavy metal idiom somewhere between early-seventies glory and mid-seventies downfall coupled with a good Southern attitude that seemed to bypass a whole load of those "New South" acts that seemed to milk their musical heritage to the point of ridiculousness.

If I hadda describe Hydra (and HYDRA), I'd say they sounded sorta like KILLER-period Alice with a little bit of Allmans tossed in and a few readings of Metal Mike Saunders' PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE metal history in order to rectify things. The horn section on elpee opener "Glitter Queen" reminds me of nothing sort of "Under My Wheels" while lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Wayne Bruce's southern accent is most certainly an asset as he growl-sings the lyrics with an especially bizarroid force to it all. The general playing is up-to-par too, with Spencer Kirkpatrick's leads pretty angular when needed and the general attitude devoted to a hard rock ideal that seems to've crossed over into rather sloppy grounds once the mid-seventies began to arrive and heavy metal for all intent purposes lost most of its energy. The hard rock attitude even slips into the realm of great mid-seventies pop structures at times such as on "It's So Hard" (obv. doom to fail single side?) and even the ballads manage to keep your attention unlike they do on way too many other metallic longplayers both then and now!

Really, I can't see how Hydra missed out on the big heavy metal sweepstakes of the day, but considering the subpar sputum that did hit the jackpot maybe I answered my own question. Still, at least these guys proved that they could've been maybe the Aerosmith of the Confederacy (given how elpee closer "Miriam" has the same sorta driving force that made "Dream On" Aerosmith's breakout tune at a time when they were pretty much fanzine fodder) and while their subsequent albums, the final one without driving force Bruce at the helm (!) don't quite measure up at least this debut's snat enough for inclusion in any smart boy's top HM elpees of all time. And believe-it-or-not, but judging from this classic I'd say that Hydra were perhaps the brightest, most promising group to come out of the South since the Hampton Grease Band and that ain't just a buncha bunk written in order to get some of you barren-of-brains types out there an incentive to READ my rancid ramblings!
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Kissin' Cousins-LAUTERMUSCHEL (L'Age D'Or, Germany)

Usually I don't quite go in for the hype given some of these obscure-os, but I hadda fall for the tag that was hung onto Kissin' Cousins after someone told me these krauts sounded not like the Velvets or the Stooges or all those other groups whose names have been dragged through way too many mudpuddles these past twennysome years, but Ton Steine Scherben. Well, I gotta hand it to the guy who sold me this platter for at least comparing some relatively-unknown buncha Europeons to a band who has at least some untainted underground memories to fall back on and y'know what? For ONCE this unnamed peddler of unwanted vinyl wares was RIGHT ONNA TARGET for these Kissin' Cousins really have that strong Ton Steine Scherben beat, and I'm not talkin' 'bout those later-on slick-production Scherben records either but their early, more punky stuff and the fact that the Cousins were doin' this all somewhere inna eighties (not exactly a highpoint in time for high energy ravings) makes them all the more tasty, dontcha think?

Not only do the Kissin' gang have a strong-voiced vocalist similar to the lead singer for Scherben, but they have that same kinda early-seventies punk rock approach which naturally borrows from a lotta our faves of the day yet expands on the influence like very few copycats would dare. And not only that, but their songs manage to have a nice sense of dynamics that was also missing from way too many practitioners of the form who, somewhere down the line, decided to substitute cute ginchiness for structure and style. And yeah, it sure does sound wonderful listening to something recorded within the realm of "alternative" music for wont of a better term that recalls the best moments that the fore bearers of that sound created instead of jettisoning them in order to reflect the sterility of today's moderne lifestyles!

Hey, in case you're not familiar with Ton Steine Scherben I slipped a Youtube thing on 'em into this posting below so's you can get an idea of what these guys, and Kissin' Cousins, were all about music-wize. Both aggros are most definitely worth checking out if you're game for some straight-ahead early-seventies-styled garage-punk, and even if you don't understand German I think any true rocker'll understand the "international language" of it all, savvy?
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Eric Dolphy-OUT TO LUNCH (Blue Note)

That Felix the Cat cartoon w/Dolphy's "Hat and Beard" as the soundtrack which I posted here, along with a reading of the infamous Miles Davis blindfold test in a '64 DOWN BEAT where he threatened to stomp on Dolphy's shoes had me digging this early-'64 classic outta the mothballs. Sheesh, I wish I'd get some more extra-strength stimuli comin' my way in order to jar me outta my ennui-laden complacency these days because I gotta say that this disc is just what I needed to jar myself back into real life, and if this platter won't do just that then I guess that even I must be headin' straight for Quinlanville, lazed-out music maniac that I am.

Even next to the likes of Coltrane and Coleman, Dolphy was way ahead on the avant garde train with this disc and hearing the guy whether on alto, bass clarinet or flute is always a fantastic atonal spine-tingling joy that seems to reverberate this far down the line (as if you'd ever expect a classoid free jazz side to somehow lose its inherent magic as the years tumble on...c'mon, get real!). The backing group whether it be bassist profundo Richard Davis (known to "classic" schmuck rock types as the guy on Van Morrison's ASTRAL WEEKS but better known to me for his work with Anthony Braxton's Creative Construction Company!) or vibist Bobby Hutcherson couldn't be better as they add even more tension to Dolphy's already-wound up stylings, and hey, what else can I say about a performer and a grouping that influenced Frank Zappa's best-ever number as well as a good hefty portion of everything grand that was to come out of the jazz world for the next five years at least?

An interesting aside: the copy of OUT TO LUNCH now in my possession was once a part of the shoulda-been-legendary record library at the old WRUW-FM at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland back when that station had perhaps the weakest signal in the city, college or otherwise, and could only be heard outside a good city block if the wind happened to be blowing your way. At the time WRUW's avant jazz shows were pretty much the talk of whatever lucky soul could pick this most desirable station up (the same one that broadcast the final Mirrors/Electric Eels show, which was also the debut of the Polistyrene Jass Band in case you didn't know!), and it kinda gives me teenage tingles down my spine to know that right now I am in possession of a platter that undoubtedly got played on that station and at a time when I surely would have loved to've heard such sounds on the radio! And some say there is no God!
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Various Artists-STATE OF THE UNION (Zoar)

Here's an interesting collection based on the ol' one-minute each trackage LP idea that had been used by the likes of ESP, Antilles and Matthew Fisher back in the day, only this one features stuff from the early-eighties of hip 'n chic New York experimentalism that sure sounded swell back then but nowadays has more'n a little taint of datedness throughout the whole proceedings. Now I don't mind things that sound or look dated as long as they still deliver the needed aural push, but when such datedness reflects bad ideas that maybe didn't seems so screwy at the time maybe they do tend to rub people the wrong way. Well, perhaps STATE OF THE UNION rubs me the wrong way because it dredges up memories of my commie rat past, but then again maybe it's GOOD that I revisit my roots in order to give me a reason to see that history dare not repeat itself. After all, I don't wanna end up like one of those hissy fits who write in to Jay Hinman's own blog every time he tries to compromise his so-called libertarian beliefs with his support of Rudolph Guiliani (phfew!!!!).

Oh, there are some things on STATE OF THE UNION that ya gotta admire, but there are also many things that flash EARLY EIGHTIES SELF-CONSCIOUS POLITICOS AT WORK here much to its overall detriment. My own personal fave one-minute snippet's the Social Climbers track probably taken from the same CBGB gig from whence a numbuh on the SON OF SEGMENTS tape comp appeared where this "no wave" (as some say) group (complete with former Screaming Gypsy Bandit/MX-80 Sound producer Mark Bingham) jam on a tape loop of Jerry Falwell preaching along with special guest jazz guitarist John Scofield (whose trio opened for the Climbers that very same show!) making the most amazing jazz-inspired clatter that makes this homesick noisemonger wish someone would release the entire show pronto! And something tells me you're not gonna read about this one on any Scofield discographies extant so if you're a fan of his you better be onna lookout! Former Slapp Happy member Peter Blegvad (who was hanging around the NYC environs at the time) submits a nice li'l introspective thing with the help of RIO-in-hand John Greaves, and even the Material-backed Thi-Linh Le does a nice Asian chant that sounds more par for the course than some of the more disco-oriented Material tuneage of the day. But amidst the nice bits of soundsnippage arises a lotta going-nowhere and perhaps downright embarassing moments, with New York artists jumping on the old Sugarhill Gang-led rap craze (the Squat Theatre's "Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free" comes to mind) that sounds about as commercial and as leaden as all of those other white rap novelties that would get sprinkled amidst the AM playlists of the day. And not only that, but that taint of radical hoo-hah obviously inspired by the election of Ronald Reagan seems to coat a lotta the proceedings to the point where you get the idea that a good portion of the artistes present on this disc were most CERTAIN that the prez was just about on the brink of starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union and boy were they just rarin' to let us all know about it! In fact, I'll betcha that if you had asked the contributors to this album whether or not any of 'em would still be alive a good twennyfive years later none of 'em would dare think so, apocalyptic rumblings being what they may! Well, considering what happened in the meanwhile maybe these definitely left-tilting Manhattanites would've preferred the world go up in a nuclear blaze but maybe not. After all, there sure is a lot for these malcontents to yammer about in this day and age so I'm sure a whole buncha 'em are glad they didn't go the Mario Savio route when it must've seemed the most EXPEDIENT thing to do!
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Charlie Parker-QUARTET, QUINTET & SEPTET VOL. 1 (Joker, Italy)

Here's one that was more or less supposed to end up in a piece on the infamous bootleg label Joker slated to appear somewhere in the next issue of my sainted BLACK TO COMM magazoon, but since that issue has more or less been put into mothballs until I can move more of the existing magazines at hand and AFFORD its publication I guess I'll just have to piecemeal these Joker elpee reviews to you this way. Now, aren't you slackers reading my writings here onna web for FREE just ashamed of yourselves?

I bought this 'un solely for the inclusion of "Lover Man" which starts off side two. This is the track which, accoring to Nick Tosches in his avant jazz history originally published in a '70 FUSION (y'know, the same one where he called Archie Shepp's "Stick 'em Up" the rock & roll single of the year, blabs on about how he experiences spontaneous orgasms when removing his copy of Coltrane's MEDITATIONS from the sleeve and refers to the ORNETTE COLEMAN TRIO LIVE AT THE "GOLDEN CIRCLE" STOCKHOLM album as "the most beautiful, playful stuff ever to dribble from one of these jazz darky's ape-like brains"...and people think I'm in bad taste!) is no-bout-a-doubt-it "thee" first ever avant garde jazz song to be committed to vinyl. Whether or not "Lover Man" is the first bonafide avant jazz number extant or not (others point the way towards the George Russell-arranged "A Bird in Igor's Yard" by the Buddy DeFranco Orchestra and the various Lennie Tristano Quartet tracks that were so scabrous their release was delayed a good quarter-century, plus Sidney Bechet gets the honors once in awhile) is moot, but I got to hear it and considering the heroin-ravaged playing coupled with incessant mental crackup vibrations extant it's no wonder Parker himself wanted to "stomp" this record once he emerged from a rest home soon thereafter. Not an experience one would likely forget, especially considering its "jazz on the brink" stature that would lead to even mightier things once the forties trounced into the fifties. The rest of the elpee is no slouch either, with hot bop playing from the likes of everyone from the likes of Erroll Parker to Miles Davis, a name that rings a bell somewhere.
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Sandy Bull-FANTASIAS (Vanguard)

Here's anudder one I wuz gonna hold off on reviewing until I received my LONG-AWAITED copy of E PLURIBUS UNUM which I fear has been forever lost in the mail, but rather'n the once-planned Bull gang-review I'd hoped for I thought I'd give this recent arrival its just due and in just time as well. Anyhow, any smart boy whose been reading this blog as of late can tell that I've recently become a big fan of these old Bull recordings, and considering just how much both STILL ST. VALENTINE'S DAY 1969 and INVENTIONS are getting late-night spins here at BLOG TO COMM central who could doubt that this Sandy Bull revival on my part is perhaps the biggest nostalgic trip to hit the boards since SGT. BILKO reruns! And one good sign is that most of the time when I'm spinning my way through "Blend II" the bedroom door gets a heavy rappin' with calls for me to "turn that thing down!" Always nice to see that this sixties sound still has the power to incite!

Here's the debut Bull platter from '63, recorded for the folksy Vanguard label (then home to such decidedly non-Bull-esque acts as Alan Arkin's Baby Sitters, Paul Robeson and Joan Baez) and released smack-dab inna middle of the early-sixties folk boom back when some of the most yawn-inspiring music passing as "Americana" was getting shoveled at radio and tee-vee maniacs left and right to the point of nausea. Thankfully the Beatles soon arrived on these shores to wash all that Kingston Trio hackery and HOOTENANNY hoedown outta our lives forever and for that we gotta be thankful to those mop-topped Liverpuds, but in the meantime you could also be thankful that such an innovator as Bull did pop up on the scene and recorded this disc which transcended the usual folk boom pratfalls into a new source of sound that comes off refreshing and innovative even this far (forty-four years!) down the line.


Considering the time and setting in which this was recorded and released, I was expecting more self-conscious folkie musings to come forth but fear not, for even at this early stage in the game Bull is on top of the eclectic ball mixing the same folk/classical/blues/rock influences that wouldn't've been mixed until a good year later when the once rock-hating folkies discovered rock's hidden boho nature. And with the help of Ornette drummer Billy Higgins, Bull lurches to the head of the string-pickin' class with his original "Blend" which takes all of those Indian and folk ideas and hashes them into a new source of energy as Higgins lays down some fantastic drum patterns that really wouldn't get explored in rock music until the advent of the Godz and Maureen Tucker. There's such an otherworldly ahead-of-itself drone and bash goin' on here that if you told me this track/album was actually a recording made by one of those fly-by-night acoustic acts that used to play the CB's 313 Gallery in the nineties and oh-ohs, I definitely would believe you! I really can't compare this version of "Blend" to anything that came outta the day...in fact, the closest thing that "Blend" resembles is the Seventh Sons' "Raga", and that alledgely was recorded a whole year later!

And on the flip Bull continues to amaze with a re-write of 16th-century composer William Byrd and the more-current Carl Orff, not to mention Bull's take on a more-apt-for-the-day mountain tune called "Little Maggie" that would probably still upset the purists at heart, finally closing with an electrified long before Dylan "Gospel Tune" which, as Nat Hentoff's liners indicate, would eventually end up as Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman." And hearing Higgins in this context playing along with Bull's rather rockified electric guitars does recall something that might have come about later on, but ya gotta admit that in 1963 music like this must have been about as alien to even the most open-minded longplaying fan as...Joe Meek?

By the way, while trying to get some more background info on this disc I came across an interesting article on Bull that I'm sure'll offer a little more info on the man and what he was doing back in the days when old fogies even thought Bobby Vinton was the height of atonal blare. And with the way Bull's music continues to stir up fits of rage at least in my household, it's sure good to know that some things do not change!
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"Blue" Gene Tyranny-OUT OF THE BLUE (Lovely Music)

It took me awhile to figure out that this Tyranny guy whose albums were incessantly being hawked in the old NEW MUSIC DISTRIBUTION SERVICE catalog back in the late-seventies was the same guy as Robert Sheff who not only played piano alongsides Iggy in the Prime Movers but ended up in the Stooges a short while before being replaced by Scott Thurston which, for some odd reason, really amounts to something in my book to be cliched 'bout it. And the fact that Mr. Tyranny also got former Stooge Steve Mackay to blow baritone sax on this 1977 offering really must mean that OUT OF THE BLUE is a return to blatant Stoogeisms, right? Well...wrong! However, I thought it was a nice flash back to mid/late-seventies popisms with enough jabs at avant gardisms to make my ears perk up a bit even with its general mainstreamish jamz. Jazzy enough rock with loads of female vocals and extended narration by one of the same sex on side two detailing a letter which just oozes seventies sentimentality...I'm not gonna be playing the thing much if at all ever again, but I gotta credit the way Tyranny/Sheff flashed me back to 1976 to the point where I felt like running over to the corner stop and rob to pick up the latest CREEM, and that really must be saying something, eh?
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The Jones Family Band-AN ELECTRIFIED JOINT EFFORT (World of Sound)

These sixties/seventies self-produced albums that cluttered up the landscape at the time (and command plenny of bucks from lowlifes who can't afford the things!) are pretty chance-y affairs, and for every good re-release that comes my way there must be about ten that range from iffy to downright rancid. I'd put the Jones Family Band from Michigan in the previous category...given their Michigan locale I was hoping for some of the Detroit heavy metal influence to wooooosh upon 'em but for the most part this disc contains loads of acoustic folkiedom that thankfully ain't as whole wheat as some of their brethren but still backwoods enough to turn me off, coupled with a few live rock tracks tossed in to jolt one back into the world of rockism reality. Still, even the covers of such standbys as "Route 66" and "Down the Road Apiece" ain't that special enough to make you bow your head in homage, and if you're the kinda guy who likes to gamble bucks on these self-issued rarities I'm sure the dough could be put to much better use on some mid-sixties rarity that one might find combing through the most recent Norton catalog. At lease you can be pretty sure that you won't find any hippie bead-jangling or acoustic garment-rending on anything they'd sell!
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THE SEVENTH SEAL (Acme, PO Box 248, Sevenoaks, Kent TN14 6NT England)

Not to be confused with either the Bergman film nor the number of mid-sixties garage bands sporting the same name (most notably the Detroit-area group co-led by future Commander Cody guitarist Bill Kirchen and Panther Burns bassist Ron Miller), this particular Seventh Seal was a Japanese aggregate made up of various Acid Mothers Temple and Angel'n Heavy Syrup members 'mongst others doing the one-off thing for old times sake or somethin'. As you'd expect given their pedigree, this brand of Seventh Sealers also dealt in psychedelic music albeit that of a more European, particularly German bent. Heavy references to Amon Duul II particularly on their massive debut PHALLUS DEI can be heard as well as Tangerine Dream while they were taking that burning brain journey, and the entire results sound so wild in that classic early-Velvet Underground reshape/restyling that I'm positive this group coulda been a smash opening for Les Rallizes Denudes at some Japanese psych-out in the late-sixties...and survived. Considering that the Seventh Seal are a "new" band (and in my world, anything after 1975 seems to be new nowadays!), I gotta give 'em credit for recapturing that mysticism of old that way too many revivalists seem to disregard for whatever stupid reason they could find!

1 comment:

diskojoe said...

Dear Chris: I just like to say that I dug that Felix the Cat/Eric Dolphy thing that you had posted some time ago. It was very entertaining & I couldn't believe how well the music fit in w/the cartoon. I also noticed how the food always disappeared whenever Felix & the kittens said grace. Must be something subversive in there. Anyway, I also dig your smog, erm, blog & keep up the good work.