Rhapsody Streamnotes: June 7, 2011

Rhapsody has a new "beta" website up. Good news is that it hangs much less in the middle or at the end of tracks. Bad news is that it's harder than ever to find things, especially new things. Also they seem to be getting slower at getting new things up, so sometimes I report things as missing that are just delayed. I'm doing a better job of managing my ongoing metacritic file, which means I'm more aware of the front edge as new things come out. But it's harder to find most of what's interesting.

One advantage this has over most review series, including Expert Witness, is transparency: at least you know everything I've heard to get to this point, so you know not only what's in but what's out. If a record isn't listed in the index I haven't heard it -- it's not just something that slipped beneath my interest threshold. I spend less time, and I'm less certain that what I think now is what I'd think with more exposure and experience a year or two from now. At least I share what I know.

These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on May 7. Past reviews and more information are available here.

The Antlers: Burst Apart (2011, Frenchkiss): AMG still lists this Brooklyn rock group as Folk, which suggests they started out ultra lo-fi. Nothing like that now. The band they most remind me of is Pink Floyd with their thick layering, willingness to ride a heavy riff into oblivion, and general world-weariness (cf. "Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out"). On the other hand, they lack the English accent, never set their controls for the heart of the sun, and don't even know much less care for someone as odd as Syd Barrett, so don't make too much of that. But they are an indie band to take seriously, and within that subset a pretty listenable one. B+(***)

Architecture in Helsinki: Moment Bends (2011, V2): Australian group, electropop, multiple singers with choral depth, multiinstrumentalists proud of their glockenspiel. I find this sort of thing clear and clean and uplifting, a wee bit prettified with unnecessary bells and whistles, but catchy, often delightful. Could have gone higher if I were sure the lyrics wouldn't prove trip me up. B+(***)

Art Brut: Brilliant! Tragic! (2011, Cooking Vinyl): Four impressive albums in, not counting a side project that turned more on wit than guitar power and was all the better for it. The hard stuff is hard to resist, the wit is harder to discern, but the accent keeps you off balance, and there's a good chance he's saying something interesting -- can't find a lyric sheet and wish I could. B+(***)

David Bazan: Curse Your Branches (2009, Barsuk): Singer-songwriter, has a new album out which I went looking for -- not available, but this long-missing item popped up. Christgau liked it back then, finding "humanistic empathy" and "spiritual complexity" and melodies too. I'm finding it a little overwrought and clunky -- "a decent human being," no doubt, but he does make it sound hard. B+(*)

Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011, Capitol): I gather Part One was in the works when Adam Yauch discovered he had cancer; first it got shelved, and eventually it got rolled into this. Played it two-and-a-half times, and still I'm hedging: seems a bit formal, but they have a distinct sound, and this hacks it just about perfectly. Hedge? Well, this is late in the game, the game's close, but I haven't heard the zingers they'll need to close the deal. B+(***)

Bibio: Mind Bokeh (2011, Warp): British electronica producer, Stephen Wilkinson; sixth album since 2005, first three on Mush, rest on Warp; first I've heard. Some underwater bubbly effects, but I'm more struck by things that resemble songs, like "Take Off Your Shirt." But after that, even such minimal figures as "Saint Christopher" suffice. A-

Blu: Her Favorite Colo(u)r (2009 [2011], Nature Sounds): LA rapper, b. 1983 as Johnson Barnes, cut several records 2007-08 with others (one billed as Johnson & Jonson). This one apparently came out in 2009, probably without the parens, and is reissued here. With his jazz samples, has an underground vibe, the raps talky, the mix rather disconnected. B+(*)

Kate Bush: Director's Cut (2011, Fish People/EMI): Eleven songs from two 1989-93 albums, The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, reworked, newly recorded, simply for the most parts, with an additional nod to James Joyce. Several packaging options: one adds a book, another recycles remastered editions of the old albums -- haven't heard either, or for that matter any of her albums, although the best-of The Whole Story shows that on occasion she can put her literary expertise and warbly voice to remarkable effect. Some of that here, but not much. B+(*)

The Cars: Move Like This (2011, Hear Music): If Tom Petty was the sunbelt answer to pub rockers Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, Ric Ocasek's band offered a MOR American analogue to new wave's synthesis of punk and disco, with chunky guitar and keyb flashes, and hooks enough to distill five 1978-84 albums down to a consistently pleasing Greatest Hits. Ocasek went solo after their 1987 letdown, and now that all other options have been exhausted, they're back with a reunion, on the perfect label for such things. They have little trouble sounding like themselves -- at least this was a band that always knew its formula. B

Cold Cave: Cherish the Light Years (2010 [2011], Matador): Hard synthpop band, emphatic beat, thick electronics, I've seen their lead-off song ("The Great Pan Is Dead") compared to early Eno, and recognize power-packed New Order down the stretch, things that should impress me more, but I found myself dialing the volume down to weather the storm. Not a record I want to hear again. B-

Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi: Rome (2011, Capitol): Not sure what this is the soundtrack to, but it must fit something. Luppi channels Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western arias with less allure, and Brian Burton somehow makes them sound like Pink Floyd outtakes -- the instrumentals, anyway. The vocals are explained by the front cover fine print: Starring Jack White & Norah Jones. B

Darwin Deez: Darwin Deez (2010 [2011], Lucky Number): Singer-songwriter/band/eponymous debut album, given name Darwin Smith but most other bandmembers have adopted the Deez surname. New Yorker, Came out last year in UK, was unavailable then on Rhapsody, but seems to have gotten a second release here even on the same label. I find the sound disconcertingly jarring -- unharmonious may be the word -- but the upbeat energy and frequent catchiness almost make it work. B+(*)

EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints (2011, Souterain Transmissions): Initials for Erika M. Anderson. From South Dakota, moved to LA, played guitar in a group called Amps for Christ, then the Gowns, now first album solo. Definitely has something extra going on guitar here, plus sings like Nico only technically better (means not like Nico, but you got to start somewhere). Ends in a dirge, which kind of takes the edge off. B+(***)

Explosions in the Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011, Temporary Residence): Yet another Austin group, rock with no vocals, what they call "cathartic mini-symphonies." Fifth album since 2000. Guitar work is intricate, their pieces long and flowing, pleasing although not all that substantial. B+(*)

The Felice Brothers: Celebration, Florida (2011, Fat Possum): Woodstock band (Catskills, anyway), sometimes remember Dylan's tenure there, at least the blood from his motorcycle wreck. Takes a roots groove and messes with it, interesting when it works, confusing when it doesn't. B+(*)

Fight Like Apes: The Body of Christ and the Legs of Tina Turner (2011, Model Citizen): Irish guitar-rock group, fronted by Mary-Kay Geraghty (aka MayKay) although Jamie Fox occasionally gets a word in edgewise. Second album. Fond of B movies and long titles -- EPs are How Am I Supposed to Kill You If You Have All the Guns? and David Carradine Is a Bounty Hunter Whos Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch. First song I heard, "Jenny Kelly," sounded like a hit; rude of Rhapsody to skip the opener, "Come On Let's Talk About Our Feelings." B+(**)

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (2010 [2011], Sub Pop): Seattle group, second album, lot of fans in the indie rock press, broke #4 on US charts, #2 in UK. I've seen this tagged as Baroque Folk-Pop. About all the sense I can make of that is that sometimes this sounds like the Papas without the Mamas: it has a down home air of the familiar although when I consider it I doubt I really want to hang out there. B-

Foster the People: Torches (2011, Columbia): Los Angeles electropop group, led by Mark Foster (vocals, keybs, guitar), basically a trio but they add some help to tour. Signature single: "Pumped Up Kicks" -- why pretend you're serious when you just want to sell records? Relentlessly upbeat, semi-falsetto vocals, some inadvertent comic value; sorry to spoil the fun but not much here. B

Friendly Fires: Pala (2011, XL): English "dance punk" group, which I take to mean that they try to play dance music but are kind of spastic about it. Sounds like second- or third-tier 1980s new wave, something to file between Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. Probably closer to Duran Duran. B

Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (2011, 4AD): New York group, lots of synths, lots of bounce, singer Lizzi Bougatsos. Some things to like here, but it mostly strikes me as garish, tarted up, bombastic, with nothing that quite qualifies as "redeeming social content" (a legal term I take to include porn). B

Jimmie Dale Gilmore/The Wronglers: Heirloom Music (2011, Neanderthal Noise): Actually, the group name appears first on the album cover, in a banner centered above the singer's longer name, but everywhere I've looked this is filed under Gilmore. He does, after all, have one of the truly great voices in country music, and if he wants to sing oldies, nobody's going to stop him. The Wronglers seems to be a front for banjo picker Warren Hellman, in his 70s now, most of his career wasted away running a billion dollar private equity fund. Awful rich, but why resist bon bons like Charlie Poole's "Leavin' Home," the greatest of all Frankie and Johnnie songs? [was: A-] A [cd]

Warren Haynes: Man in Motion (2011, Stax): Journeyman guitarist, toiled for David Allan Coe, the Allman Brothers, Dave Matthews, and others, sometimes while running his own band Gov't Mule. Cut an album under his own name called Tales of Ordinary Madness, now finding himself working for Concord, farmed off to their Stax imprint, reminding you of no one else on their famous roster. Must be sincere, otherwise why use so much organ? B

Keri Hilson: No Boys Allowed (2010, Mosley): R&B diva, second album, came out Dec. 17 so totally missed year-end list consideration, not that she would have gotten any -- can't say as I've seen a single favorable review. Songs all have 3-5 writers, none of the plethora of producers got a hand on more than two songs, so it's easy to pick on inconsistencies, but I'd worry more about them being samey, which is why guest rappers from J. Cole to Kanye West always seem to kick it up a notch. B+(*)

Isolée: We Are Monster (2005 [2011], Pampa): Rajko Müller, from Frankfurt, Germany. Considered minimalist house, or maybe ambient techno. Second of three albums since 2000, but this has been reissued on the new label (originally on Playhouse). Scratch off the ambient here. The beats are simple but they got some hop (and some humor) to them. And they throw off synthy echoes. A-

Isolée: Well Spent Youth (2011, Pampa): Third album from Rajko Müller. Favorite technique is repeating little 3-or-4 note figures. Manages to get a slightly deeper, more basic tone here than on We Are Monster -- previous album was more synthy -- but not as upbeat, frisky, humorous. All minor variations. A bit of voice sample neither here nor there. B+(***)

Kode9 and the Spaceape: Black Sun (2011, Hyperdub): Dubstep, Kode9 is Scottish DJ Steve Goodman, Spaceape rapper Stephen Samuel Gordon -- good for at least two albums together, plus a lot of singles. Dense and grimey, occasionally leaking out into open space. B+(**)

Lady Gaga: Born This Way (2011, Streamline/Interscope): Huge star these days, outsold everyone (except maybe Eminem) over the last couple years, and will get a huge return on this record, at least first week out. She's invested her money in big production here, thumping loud dance beats, a couple of songs so adroitly hooked they'll be with us for ages -- especially the title anthem. She has sturdy pipes and emotes like a country singer -- strip away the beats and she could go that way (probably with a name and wardrobe change, which would hardly matter to her, although my wager is on Vegas). Initially comes in two packages: one 14-song budget edition, a deluxe with 17 songs on the main disc, 5 remixes on the second. Rhapsody offers the latter, and the remixes start out with the better songs, and improve on them. B+(***)

The Lonely Island: Turtleneck & Chain (2011, Universal Republic): "Three white douche bags in Japan": musically they're the Beastie Boys on laughing gas, but rather than making that seem like an accomplishment, they make it cheap and tawdry. B

Jennifer Lopez: Love? (2011, Island): Type "Jennifer" into Wikipedia and she's the top prompt, beating out Aniston, Hudson, Love Hewitt, Connelly, Jason Leigh, etc. Seventh album since 1999 -- didn't start until well into her 30s, but she had 10 movies by then. This, like most of her records, has gotten dreadful reviews, which doesn't seem quite fair. Production is generally bouncy, with one catchy song in "Until It Beats No More" and she holds up her end in the Lil Wayne feature "I'm Into You." If she wasn't so famous (and, err, so old) she might seem promising. B

Magnetic Man: Magnetic Man (2010 [2011], Columbia): UK electronica project/group, members: Benga, Skream, Artwork. Don't know much more about them, but evidently they have dubstep backgrounds, making this a so-called dubstep supergroup. More commercial, I'd say, big beats, spacey riffs, guest vocals (Ms. Dynamite, John Legend, two by Katy B). More like a disco throwback, just less danceable. B+(**)

Cass McCombs: Wit's End (2011, Domino): Singer-songwriter, from Baltimore, fourth album since 2005. Has an easy gait to it, the final cut ("A Knock Upon the Door") almost a waltz. B+(*)

Moby: Destroyed (2011, Mute): Hard to tell whether he's recycling, but he's certainly done much of this before, down to the gospel vocal samples which at least are underplayed. Schema calls for "being the only person awake (or alive) in an empty city" in which case I guess it doesn't much matter. B+(**)

Gurf Morlix: Toad of Titicaca (2000, Catamount): Thought I'd check out his first album to give me a little more perspective. Voice is pretty healthy here, songs consistently well structured, has the good sense to frame his country-rock with little waste or affectation. Falls apart some at the end, e.g. with "The Greatest Show on Earth" which turns into a dumb repitition of Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, and Pernell Roberts. B+(**)

Gurf Morlix: Last Exit to Happyland (2009, Rootball): New record (Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream) isn't available, so I thought I'd check out his previous one -- his 5th since 2000 (or maybe 6th). From Buffalo, moved to Texas 1975, probably best known for producing two of Lucinda Williams' best albums. Doesn't have much of a voice -- sort of whispery. Keeps a lot of space around his voice, and writes pretty good songs, especially "Music You Mighta Made." B+(**)

Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers: Rambler's Call (2010, Rebel): First album from an Ohio bluegrass group with a very old-timey sound -- I'd say classic but Monroe and Scruggs and Jimmy Martin were a lot weirder than these guys. If Mom were here she'd be exclaiming how beautiful this is, but she was never one to nitpick the occasional hymn. Second album is full of 'em, but this is down home enough. B+(***)

Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams (2011, Reprise): Watching Glee's episode based on Rumours, I was surprised to find those putative teenagers knowing more about Fleetwood Mac than I do. But while I liked the group records as much as anyone, and don't doubt that they got better when Buckingham-Nicks merged in, I never gave them much thought, and never bothered with any of their post-group solo projects. This is Nicks' seventh studio album, a downhill slope since her 8-million selling solo debut in 1981, and the only one since 2001. Dave Stewart produced. Has a big, thick classic rock sound, suits what's left of her voice. Nice surprise until "Soldier's Angel" annoyed me. Then I started noticing the synth strings and shook off my dream. B

Okkervil River: I Am Very Far (2011, Jagjaguwar): Austin band, evidently named for a river in Russia via a short story by Tatyana Tolstaya; seventh album since 2000, not counting one in 2010 where they capably backed Texas legend Roky Erickson. They can wax countryish, but this one is thick mush, the keyboards the glue that holds the glop together. AMG identifies: "Elements of Wilco, the Flaming Lips, Springsteen, Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, and even the Fixx" -- my powers of observation (or hallucination) can't top that, nor would I want to. B-

Brad Paisley: This Is Country Music (2011, Arista Nashville): The liberal's great white hope for mainstream Nashville, he's always had beaucoup voice and chops, so all he needed to cross over was decency and/or brains. Aside from a song about hell on earth he didn't write there's nothing here to pin your hopes on, and even that is couched in Dixified cliché, like the camouflage he celebrates as patriotic colors. Catchier than American Saturday Night, but that's largely because he's found a way to produce neotrad that's slicker than countrypolitan. No wonder he can't look you in the eye. B+(*)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Rise Again (2011, MOD Technologies): The great dub producer, at 75 working under another producer, handy man Bill Laswell. Keeps him up, but smoothes out the path. Doesn't sound old. Nor rejuvenated. Just rolling steady. B+(*)

Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers: Teenage and Torture (2011, Knitting Factory Works): Postpunk group, more mersh than the Cramps but that's mostly because they're more metal. Ray is a female with a deep voice mostly lodged in banshee scream. The band is neither happy nor hook-prone. Doubt that any of them are teenage either; tortured? Maybe. The concepts are so muddled here it's hard to tell. B-

Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin' (2011, Columbia): Only three songs played on Rhapsody, but they're real good ones. He always had this "vintage" aspect, which in the past spelled Motown but here looks back further, to rock and roll. Bought a copy. Doesn't sustain the first three cuts throughout, slowing down and wandering some, but always comfortably in the past, which may be the best place to look for the future. A- [cd]

Screeching Weasel: First World Manifesto (2011, Fat Wreck Chords): Punk band from Chicago, dates back to 1986, had eleven albums through 2001 when they hung it up -- titles like Teen Punks in Heat and How to Make Enemies and Irritate People and Ramones -- their note-by-note cover of the first Ramones album. Evidently vocalist Ben Weasel couldn't think of anything better to do with his life in the last decade so now he's back with a new lineup but pretty much the same ideas. The new guys seem to have spent even more time studying the Ramones, or maybe they're just better at it. B

Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (2011, Hear Music): Can't say that I've always hated his former duo, but it's been some 40 years since I could handle more than the occasional song. Simon's always had that melodic knack, but he's a lightweight thinker with annoying habits, the least of which is that he occasionally hijacks some rhythm and comes up with a record I have to begrudgingly admit is pretty good. Did it in 1972 (although I didn't notice until much later), and did it again in 1986. Might have done it again this year, but this doesn't work as consistently. Besides, I'm ticked off at the packaging, which has a tendency to let the CD slip out of the cover. Fact is, having bought this cheap when it was on sale, the disc has slipped out and vanished -- so I wound up consulting Rhapsody. Do still have a nice little booklet with lyrics and all that (although it too tends to fly out when I pick the package up). B+(***)

Tinie Tempah: Disc-Overy (2011, Capitol): British rapper, Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu, born in South London, most likely from West African stock. Album came out a year ago in UK, and looks like it's been goosed up for its US release, having some of the big beat of US commercial rap wrapped around the more minimal Anglo style. B+(***)

Times New Viking: Dancer Equired! (2011, Merge): Columbus, OH lo-fi group, fifth album since 2005; guitar-drums-keybs, Adam Elliott and Beth Murphy sharing vocals. How lo-fi? This seems to be regarded as their inevitable hi-fi move, but it still sounds thin, tinny, deep in sonic crud. An aesthetic, an attitude, a way to keep their knack for catchy tunes from becoming too obvious. B+(**)

William Tyler: Behold the Spirit (2010 [2011], Tompkins Square): Guitarist, from Nashville, first album, plays solo, showing some fingerpicking that tempted AMG to file this as folk (as in John Fahey) but it's also loaded up with a lot of ringing feedback. Aside from Charlie Louvin, his side credits are more likely rock -- Lambchop, Silver Jews. This rolls on the one hand, shimmers on the other. B+(**)

Tyler, the Creator: Goblin (2011, Odd Future): Tyler Okonma, so young (b. 1991, makes him 20 now, younger when this was recorded) you can imagine his wild-eyed revelation on first hearing Eminem, mostly internalized the lesson that you can sling any old shit with the disclaimer that it's fiction. Talks to his shrink, a sweet way to stoke his ego. Hooked into something called OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All), an LA collective with a couple names I've heard of but haven't heard: they keey the beats spare and sinister, attractive if he had something to say. And it gets thinner and cruder as the record winds on. B+(*)

The Weeknd: House of Balloons (2011, mixtape): Abel Tesfaye, from Toronto, has a soul-singer voice and a penchant for profanity, works up a slow grind over thickly layered synths meant to move mountains. I've seen it likened to dubstep but it's much heavier, not just literally but in bringing back the dirge riffs of 1970's "she's so heavy" tropes. Also seen comparisons to Tricky and the whole trip hop thang, and to The XX, but they're all grasping at straws. A- [download]

White Denim: D (2011, Downtown): Austin group, AMG calls them a "spastic indie rock trio" but the group added another guitarist and that (or possibly maturity) seems to have settled them out. I recall hating their Christgau-approved previous album, which had the spastic title Fits, but don't recall anything else about it. This is tuneful, inoffensive; one cut seems to add a horn and a more chunky rhythm, although they could just as well evolve into something countryish, or Spoonish. B+(**)

Wild Beasts: Smother (2011, Domino): English group, from up in the Lake District, third album since 2008. I checked out their second album but completely forgot about it. Rhapsody described them as post-punk, but AMG's influences list is more accurate (and much more amusing): Queen, Tiny Tim, Sparks, the Smiths, Adam & the Ants. Actually, singer Hayden Thorpe sounds like he's studied Bryan Ferry, but he's not a natural, so he hems it in, surrounded by a soft cushion of synthy sounds, anything but wild or beastly. B+(*)

Robag Wruhme: Thora Vukk (2011, Pampa): German techno producer, has a few records under his belt, including one earlier this year that I was looking for, Wuppdeckmischampflow (Kompakt). Got this one instead, and it hits a delightfully minimalist vibe -- at least until he plays around with some voice, which does quite the opposite of humanizing things. B+(***)


Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

  • 13 & God: Own Your Ghost (2011, Anticon)
  • David Bazan: Strange Negotiations (2011, Barsuk)
  • Bill Callahan: Apocalypse (2011, Drag City)
  • Michael Chapman: Fully Qualified Survivor (1970 [2011], Light in the Attic)
  • Coati Mundi: Dancing for the Cabana Code in the Land of Boo-Hoo (2011, Rong)
  • Faust: Something Dirty (2011, Bureau B)
  • Group Doueh: Zayna Jumma (2011, Sublime Frequencies)
  • Letlive: Fake History (2011, Epitaph)
  • Let's Wrestle: Nursing Home (2011, Merge)
  • Joe Mullins: Hymns From the Hills (2011, Rebel)
  • Mike Watt: Hyphenated-Man (2011, Clenched Wrench)
  • Bill Wells: Everything's Getting Older (2011, Chemikal Underground)
  • Willie Wright: Telling the Truth (1977 [2011], Numero Group)
  • Robag Wruhme: Wuppdeckmischampflow (2011, Kompakt)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

The Cars: Greatest Hits (1978-85 [1985], Elektra): Reduces five of six 1978-87 albums to fourteen tracks, giving you a sense of the hook-laden guitar grooves they tried to replicate in their 2011 reunion; the more expensive 20-cut Complete Greatest Hits adds one cut from the last album and three more from their eponymous first -- but this covers them adequately. B+(**)

Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol I: Personal File (1973-83 [2011], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Forty-nine songs recorded solo in the privacy of Cash's studio, more originals than covers but not by much, some with intros, some effectively poems without the guitar kicking in. One especially tasty sequence goes north for "Saginaw, Michigan," follows with "When It's Springtime in Alaska," Cash's own "Girl in Saskatoon," and the tall tale of "The Cremation of Sam McGee." Less inspired is the long series of Jesus songs on the second disc, but where the originals are sketchy and idiosyncratic, the disc closes with three classics. A-

Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol II: From Memphis to Hollywood (1955-69 [2011], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The early stuff from his first radio shot at KWEN, reading aluminum siding ads and promising to learn new songs if listeners will write in and request them, is little short of embarrassing; his Sun demos are starkly unadorned, lacking the Tennessee Two rhythm that made his Sun singles so great, but we find the simplicity suits him as he moves on to Columbia, songs that would be slaughtered for filler regaining their dignity. B+(**)

Da Doo Ron Ron: The Very Best of the Crystals (1961-63 [2011], Phil Spector/Legacy): Spector's flagship girl group, which made them his primary targets of abuse, running through three lead singers -- Barbara Alston, Darlene Love, and Dolores Brooks -- in a bit over two years, each good for a pair of top-20 singles, with only "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)" falling flat -- even more explicit was the non-single "Please Hurt Me"; the filler gets stronger toward the end, thanks to Barry-Greenwich. B+(**)

Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah [Soundtrack From the Documentary Film] (1975-89 [2011], Lost Art): Michael David Fuller, better known as Blaze Foley, better still as Lucinda Williams' "Drunken Angel," lived from 1949-89, finally giving it up not to alcohol but to a bullet in the chest, the killer acquitted by reason of self-defense. Don't have any doc on this, but it claims to "span Blaze's musical life," leading off with a single released in 1979 ("Let Me Ride in Your Big Cadillac") but also appeared near the top of The Dawg Years dating 1975-78 and on another posthumous compilation dated "mid-1970s" (Sittin' by the Road, on Lost Art). Fact is, with Foley it's pretty much all posthumous: five records now on Lost Art, one on Waddell Hollow, Dawg Years on Fat Possum, all scraped up from practically nothing. A few good songs loosely done, most neither deep nor weird enough to care for unless knew and cared for him, which some folks did, otherwise he'd be as forgotten as he is dead. B+(**)

The Tubby Hayes Quintet: Late Spot at Scott's (1962 [2006], Verve): Live set at Ronnie Scott's, home base for England's foremost tenor saxophonist of his brief heyday (d. 1973 at 38); an energetic hard bop quintet, with underrated Jimmy Deuchar on trumpet and better known Gordon Beck on piano, does some interesting things on the ballad "Angel Eyes" then breaks loose, especially on the burner "Yeah!" B+(**)

Isolée: We Are Monster (2005 [2011], Pampa): Rajko Müller's second album, reissued as he moves to a new label, picks up minimal house beats and flings off witty synth asides, more echo slides than blips or twiddles, although there are some of those too; hard to tell how electronica will wear, but this keeps coming back -- every time I start to zone something tickles my fancy. A-

Ladytron: Best of 00-10 (2000-10 [2011], Emperor Norton): Standard edition, 17 tracks, although they also have a 2-CD 33-track deluxe option that I haven't sampled; English pop group, mostly synths fronted by vocalists Mira Aroyo and Helen Marnie, as tronic as the synths; can't say a single song stood out, least of all badly. B+(*)

The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love (1962-75 [2011], Phil Spector/Legacy): Leads off with her two great Crystals singles -- "He's a Rebel" and "He's Sure the Boy I Love" -- and tacks on two of her more retro Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans leads, splitting the difference on her own marquee songs like "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "A Fine, Fine Boy"; ends with a post-Philles single Spector somehow controls. B+(**)

Elvis Presley: An Afternoon in the Garden (1972 [1997], RCA): A typical period set dumped off 25 years after the fact, almost the same as the previously released As Recorded at Madison Square Garden, from the opening strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" through the ridiculously bloated "American Trilogy," stopping off for a handful of 1950s hits; sounds a bit scrawny at first, but picks up steam on the way. B

Don Pullen: Plays Monk (1984 [2010], Why Not?): The last pianist to work for Charles Mingus is an odd choice to play Monk, and I suspect he gave little thought to the project; he keeps wanting to work in his trademark flourishes, dazzling of course, but excess baggage especially when playing songs that hide their odd note choices in a cloak of primitivism. B

Be My Baby: The Very Best of the Ronettes (1963-66 [2011], Phil Spector/Legacy): Girl group, led by Veronica Bennett, later known as Ronnie Spector, had been together for several years before Phil Spector took them over, introducing them with their sole hit single, arguably Spector's finest three minutes: "Be My Baby"; after that "Baby, I Love You," "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up," and "Walking in the Rain" fell short of top-20, but Spector's mono-faced kitchen sink sound gives nearly everything a unifying force -- although a couple clunkers near the end make you wonder. B+(***)

Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966 (1961-66 [2011], Phil Spector/Legacy): One producer of the Brill Building era whose records are remembered under the producer's name rather than the artists' names. Part of the reason was that he had a name for his production technique -- Wall of Sound -- and part of it was because along with Lester Sill he owned his own label, Philles Records, and assiduously kept his records segregated from all other doo-wop and girl group anthologies, where they might have just fit in, and where many would not stand out. Instead, the records have slipped in and out of print, with rare compilations mixing his key girl groups (the Crystals and the Ronettes) in with juvenilia and the operatic excess of his decline. I've owned two of these -- the 1977 2-LP Phil Spector's Greatest Hits and 1991's Back to Mono box, the former's 20 songs a bit much, the latter's 4 CDs (including his 1963 Christmas album) an open dare for you to start programming around the dreck. In his 70s now, serving 19-years-to-life for second degree murder, he's back finally in print now, his oeuvre reduced to 19 songs (53:39) on one disc, about right -- in fact, most classic, even once he discovered strings and a percussionist named Sonny Bono: in fact, climaxing with "River Deep, Mountain High," you can see why so many people thought he had a plan all along. I'll just note that every great song he put his name to was co-credited to others, usually Barry-Greenwich or Mann-Weil. A

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Chris Barber: Memories of My Trip (1958-2010 [2011], Proper, 2CD): English trombonist, one of the major figures in Britain's trad jazz movement in the 1950s, looking back from age 80 on a career that did more than preserve past music: Barber was especially important in building British interest in American bluesmen, which led to all sorts of things, not least the Rolling Stones. I don't have good dates on everything here, but some of the earliest tracks come from a 1958 tour with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; later tracks feature bluesmen from Muddy Waters to Jeff Healey, but also Lonnie Donegan, Van Morrison, and Andy Fairweather Low. The guest star framework slights Barber's own play and his wry vocals, making room for old jazz hands like Edmond Hall, Albert Nicholas, and Trummy Young. But at least he leaves some space for Ottilie Patterson, his long-time singer and wife. Could use more of her, and more jazz instrumentals: Hall's "St. Louis Blues" is definitely a high point. B+(**)

Brazilian Groove Band: Anatomy of Groove (2009, Far Out): Leo Gandelman project. He plays sax, flute, keyboards (here at least), has 15-20 records under his own name, the majority with obvious Brazilian themes (Brazilian Soul, Bossa Rara, Perolas Negras, Ao Vivo, like that). The horns are massed up like salsa, but the guitars work Brazilian themes, and the beats feel electronic: all seems a bit off, but not enough to be odd. Packaging at least is truthful, including the absence of definite articles. B

Matana Roberts: Live in London (2009 [2011], Central Control): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, always identifies herself as a member of AACM even though the Association was founded forty years before she came up -- kind of like growing up in a union family. With Robert Mitchell (piano), Tom Mason (bass), and Chris Vatalaro (drums). First song runs 27 minutes, everything skewed at odd angles, just like in the good old days. B+(***)


Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)
  • [download] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal