Chamber Strings Reunion Looms

It’s taken ’bout A Month of Sundays, but the soaring orchestral pop genius of the Chamber Strings is about to make its return to the Chicago stage. To celebrate, Glorious Noise has posted part one of a three-part short video documentary about the band, focusing on the early years after Kevin Junior came off the road with Epic Soundtracks.

Celebrate this magnificent return by scaring up tickets for their show at the Double Door on Saturday January 20, or you can sample or purchase both Chamber Strings albums or the earlier Rosehips disc through our partners at Maryatt Music.

Rosehips – Soul Veronique in Parchment

Chamber Strings – Gospel Morning

Chamber Strings – A Month of Sundays

A warm welcome back to one of our favorite underappreciated bands, who may not stay underappreciated for long.

3 MORE FILMS I SAT DOWN IN THE DARK & WATCHED FOR YOU

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE – This film seems to alternately loved and loathed, and I guess I was sorta reluctant to see it in the theaters given the high preponderance of folks in the latter camp. I didn’t need to worry – it was a mostly funny, well-made indie-by-the-numbers comedy with some strong performances from Toni Colette and the always-great Allan Arkin, as well as from the little girl whose beauty-pageant dreams kick the road-movie, dysfunctional family shenanigans into high gear. I can see why this was the hit of Sundance last year because, while being unique in its content, it hued so closely to the structure & feel of past wacky indie comedies that it figured the audiences there would go bananas for it. Solid film, definitely worth a rental. B.

THE OH IN OHIO – On the other hand, this one was a total monstrosity. Staring the once-reliable Parker Posey as an uptight executive who can’t bring herself to climax with her husband or solo, the film is a shapeless, unfunny, poorly-acted mess. I knew we should have turned it off when Danny Devito showed up. His scenes with Posey near the film’s end (they hook up! Right!) are stunningly tone deaf and badly written, and when the thing ends it does so with a total thud. This film is the final proof I needed that Posey, who I & everyone else loved early in her career, really isn’t much of an actress when you get right down to it – she’s great in certain roles (usually when she gets to be a clueless, shrill bitch), but everything else I’ve watched her in lately has had total diminishing returns. This one’s the worst of her sorry 21st Century lot by far. D-.

SUMMER IN BERLIN (pictured above) – They have this great “Berlin & Beyond” film festival in San Francisco every year, and this was the opening night release. It’s about two Berlin-based women trying to figure out how to move their lives beyond the rote and day-to-day, and maintain their deep & very personal friendship as they do so. One, Karin, is a 39-year-old single mom with a serious drinking/depression problem; the other is a smoking-hot, thong-wearing twentysomething who cleans bedpans by day and hits on the fellas by night. I thought the film did a good job capturing their relationship and what happened to it when a man entered the life of the younger woman; that said, there was a lot of hackneyed dialogue and a few scenes that absolutely perplexed me as to why they weren’t cut. “Summer in Berlin” might get a wider general release – I guess it was good enough – but I’ll venture to say it probably won’t. It was what I like to call a “film festival film” in every sense of the phrase. C.

Tamalada

Tamales in Berlin? Impossible. Well, not entirely. There was a Mexican woman who showed up at the first Karneval der Kulturen and handed out tamales to promote her new tamale-making business, and dissolved in tears after the Germans first accepted them, then threw them in the street because they couldn’t bite through the corn-husks. Never occurred to them to unwrap them, I guess. But — wise woman that she was — she soon gave up the business.

Late last summer, though, a friend from Texas announced he was coming over, and I asked him if he could bring some stuff over for me, including some cornmeal. Instead of cornmeal, I got a four-pound sack of masa harina, the treated cornmeal you make tortillas from. Oops! But when I mentioned this to RFM, he mentioned he was going to California and could pick up some corn husks and any other stuff I might need to make tamales with. Just the ticket! He dutifully bought a few thousand of them, and I researched a recipe, coming upon this one, which, with some tweaking, looked like it would do the trick.

Finding a time and a place that was convenient to all took a bit of doing, but on Sunday, he, his friend Kristen, and I showed up at the dancer’s place (she’s got the only kitchen big enough to do this) and got down to some serious tamale making. Actually, I showed up first to get five pounds of pork roast and two chickens boiling and returned some hours later to find them boiled and cooled off. I proceeded to shred nearly the whole meat-mountain by hand, which was essential; as we discovered, the strings of meat are like shreds of tobacco to be rolled into a tamale/cigarette.

Next, I heated the meat-seasoning paste on the stove and cooled it some. By this time Mike and Kristen had showed up, and it was time to get to work. First, Mike kneaded the spice-paste into the meat:

Next, I stirred more spices into the dry masa, added some oil, and then we whisked in the broth with an electric mixer. All this while, the corn husks had been soaking in the sink, so we were ready to go. Here’s the wet fixins:

Learning not to overfill them, learning to roll them correctly, and learning to fold them carefully wasn’t easy, as you can see from the wide variety of shapes they wound up in:

As it turned out, Kristen was extremely proficient at making perfect tamales:

Her secret was to really roll them back and forth in the husk, just as you shape a cigarette in a cigarette paper. She can probably roll something that looks like a Camel with one hand. Anyway, we took the first batch and steamed them while we were rolling the next batch: we had two pots and two steaming baskets we could use, which was fortunate because it sped things up well. The recipe said to steam them for two hours, which seemed excessive and — fortunately, because we were starving by now — was. About 30 minutes proved to be enough to firm up the gloppy masa and heat the meat all the way through, and before long we were attacking them like the ravenous beasts we were: the smell had long since permeated the kitchen.

They don’t look so good, but if you could smell this photograph, you’d know that looks aren’t everything:

After dinner, we realized there was a lot of meat left over, so we whipped up another bowl of masa and continued rolling. This last batch we didn’t bother to steam, and I produced a box of Zip-Loc bags and proceded to pack tamales, six to a bag, ready to freeze. We each wound up with three bags apiece, each as heavy as a brick. Kristen shows off part of her take:

Quite a project, and physically exhausting, but I’d happily do it again. Once, that is, I’m through eating the ones I have.

THE CRAZY WORLD OF MODERN KIDS’ TELEVISION

My wife & I were the sort of annoying pre-parents who made all sorts of proclamations about how closely we’d be regulating our son’s TV viewing, how he’d be limited to 30 minutes a day, how we’d drop everything to read to him when he got bored, all that crap that everyone who hasn’t had a kid yet promises themselves and others. When the reality of child-rearing hit in 2003 – well maybe a year and a half later, when he had formed into something more than a blob on the blanket on the floor – it became obvious that television was a godsend, a magical device that instantly gave the parent the opportunity to eat dinner in peace, to wash dishes, to even read the paper for a friggin’ change. Hey, 30 minutes is nothing – another show couldn’t hurt, right? And maybe another after that? “Sesame Street”‘s an hour – surely we can get a bunch done during that time? Wow, it works! And he’s digging it, too.

What has helped calm us both is the fact that 38 years after the first episode of “Sesame Street” aired in 1969, there is actually an abundance of quality educational, instructive, sunny, not-too-annoying shows out there for the preschool set. When I counsel myself about his mind rotting from the TV he’s watching, I look at the actual product on the tube, and it’s truly hard for me to see where the damage would be coming from. See, we have a Tivo, a lifechanging device that you can get for fifty bucks & then another 12 bucks a month after that. That allows us to pre-screen the shows for the ones without commercials, store up the ones we approve of, and dole them out as we see fit. We also still keep the TV viewing to about an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening, always with us supervising in the room & sometimes watching with him (and of course, all rules such as those are made to be broken). My son totally goes berzerk when we watch a rare “live” show with commercials, and freaks out that his show just abruptly stopped for ads, which he has zero concept of; he also can’t fathom why he can’t immediately watch another episode of, say, “The Backyardigans” when the one he’s watching has ended – because on the Tivo we can just keep them rolling as long as we’ve stored ’em up, and have the lack of parental discipline to cut him off.

There are a handful out there that truly impress me besides “Sesame Street”, which is still the gold standard. I actually enjoy the Disney Channel’s “Little Einsteins”, an animated show with revolving “rescue”-type adventures by a cast of four preschoolers on a red rocket – a white boy, a girlie girl, a tomboy, and a wisecracking African-American boy. Each show is scored by a famous composer – Grieg and Tchaikovsky seem to be the default choices – and features the paintings of an artist such as Van Gogh. To hear my son routinely command me to walk “adagio” or “allegro” is something to behold, particularly when I have to ask him what those words mean. I also approve of “The Backyardigans” (four suburban African-American hippos with names like Uniqua and Tyrone invent backyard adventures like ice treks, volcano climbing and pirate shennanigans before Mom calls them in for their snacks); “Zoom” (on PBS, almost exactly like the one I worshipped when I was a 1970s kid, minus my first crush Julie); “Arthur” (a little trying at times but always a good “lesson” to be had); and “Charlie & Lola” (a British import, drawn in this great animated cut-&-paste style that’s a blast to look at and actually kind of funny besides).

Must to avoid are of course “Barney” (simply horrifying, and so dumbed-down it defies description to even a two-year-old), “The Wonder Pets”, “Bob The Builder” (awful) and “The Wiggles”, which I know some people swear by but which drives me bananas. The fact that it’s “rock-and-roll” themed does nothing for me in the least. And my kid thinks it blows too. I still am struck by how generally good the good ones are, though. I have no doubt they’re challenging his mind, reinforcing concepts of reading & counting beyond what we already do ourselves, and giving this only child examples of how kids deal with conflict or problems, and the rewards or punishments that come from proceeding correctly. I think they finally figured out the secret recipe for quality kids TV a few years back, just as adult TV seems to be undergoing a fantastic renaissance right now as well, and I’m glad it’s peaking right when my kid’s inquisitiveness is as well. Respectful disagreement welcomed.

PS – Apologies to any readers who are bummed out that I even indirectly wrote about my kid, something I promised I wouldn’t do when I started this blog. I know it’s not punk in any way, shape or form, and I promise to tackle deep underground subcultures like Fuck Off Records, the films of Jodorowsky, and Spock/Kirk erotica in future posts.

First Crumbs of Oh-Seven

Good-bye to all that. Well, not good-bye, but here’s the stack with just about every CD I played in 2006 in it, from which I drew the last two posts. Exceptions are the box sets and the discs I’ve used for radio pieces, which got filed elsewhere. As impressive as this stack is, it’s not nearly as large as you’d think, especially once you subtract the many CDs with similar spines you see in there, which are CDs burned from downloaded Indian classical music, which I played a lot of this year, for some reason.

Sometime in the next couple of days, these will be filed away and a new stack will start.

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Now, here’s a campaign I can get behind! On Jan. 21, there’ll be a vote as to whether to re-name a part of Kochstr. Rudi-Dutschke-Str. For those of you who don’t know who he was, there’s a decent bio of the charismatic left-wing rabble-rouser who later became a committed Green here in German. The really edgy thing about this proposal is the segment’s propinquity to the Springer Verlag building, where Germany’s right-wing press lord printed lies about the youth culture of the ’60s and fostered the climate that saw Dutschke take three bullets to the head during a demonstration. He lived, but he was never the same again, and died after an epileptic seizure in his bathtub in 1979, aged 39. I’m not eligible to vote, but I’d be proud to if I could. Dutschke was the kind of thoughtful West Berlin politico this city needed more of, which, I guess, is why he was eventually driven to exile in Denmark.

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I thought I’d seen the end of stupid brand-names with the Puky bicycles and the SMEG refrigerators, but no: visiting some website the other day, I saw an ad from Neckermann, a big German mail-order house, for their hip new line of footwear: Re-Ject Sneakers. Uhhh, guys? Sneakers are supposed to be a prestige item, not something for losers. Try again.

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Okay, it’s a cliche to talk about what the search engines are looking for when they hit your blog, but ever since someone in Turkey found me by searching for “fried tits,” I’ve done my best to check out what’s going on out there. I guess the search for “Berliner luft cake recipe” was pretty odd; I’ve never understood the obsession with the air here, and why it’s supposed to be so special, but there really are songs about the “Berliner Luft.” But a cake? I wouldn’t touch it!

Still, this all fades into normality in the face of the person about a week ago who landed here after Googling “Mayonnaise spread on one’s lawn to attract the zombies.”

Not that I’m going to try that, understand.

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And finally, one nice addition to the neighborhood that I discovered while walking around on New Year’s Day: a new Nike! This is good because a number of her pieces have disappeared: the three identical women doing yoga, which was the first of hers I saw, the one outside Cafe Burger, and the fat girl by Friedrichstr. station, among others. I found another in Kreuzberg that I haven’t shot yet, but it may no longer be there, because it had signs of having been attacked from below by a crowbar, and I found a couple yesterday in a part of Prenzlauer Berg I hadn’t visited in about a year that I’m going back up to shoot soon. But, not very far from the mad installation Invalid Beach on Invalidenstr. here’s Nike’s new year present:

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND LOST 1966 ACETATE

I may have been the last interested person to hear the story of a lost 1966 “demo”/acetate version of the VELVET UNDERGROUND’s first album – complete with totally different versions of some of my/your all-time favorite songs – turning up in a warehouse for 75 cents and then going for broke on eBay for $150,000. I got the news that it even existed when the bidding was well underway, and was pretty bummed when my $105,131.69 max bid was trumped by someone else. So then I turned my sights onto getting a CD-R version of it for less than 50 cents, and in that endeavor I was much more successful (though you can trump even that by going to #1 superdope homeboy Brian Turner’s post on WMFU’s blog and downloading the songs yourself before they disappear). I’ve been accumulating Velvets bootlegs and alternate tracks for many years, and I was floored that such a treasure would just pop up out of nowhere – the quintessential record collector’s wet dream.

Imagine an alternate history of these recordings, one in which the band broke up after this session was laid down, and then pursued mediocre-to-nonentity musical careers that ended in failure and zero records. Presuming that the recordings would still ultimately be unearthed in Manhattan in 2005 or whenever it was, how would we have reacted to the earthshaking squall of track #1, “European Son” (seriously! They originally intended for it to open the album!)? Or to the life-changing guitar work on “Run Run Run” and “I’m Waiting For The Man”? Or the hypnotic trance/ice-drone of “All Tomorrow’s Parties”? I’m reasonably confident it would have caused a rock-n-roll revolution in the motherfucking streets. Me, I’m actually surprised that this is even better than I expected. Of the 9 songs on here (they added “Sunday Morning” and “There She Goes Again” to the eventual LP), unless I’m high, eight of them are mildly and in some cases wildly different from the later versions. Only “Run Run Run” is the same version, and even that one, like everything else on here, has muted “White Light/White Heat”-esque low fidelity production and tons of vinyl pops & crackle not on the later version.

The surprise winner for me was the wholly different Nico vocal on “Femme Fatale”, which also includes feminized Reed/Cale backing vocals. “European Son” is massive, of course, and features a crazed guitar shitstorm every bit the equal of the later version. It unfortunately doesn’t have the chair dragged across the floor & the broken glass we all love so much. “I’m Waiting For The Man” is completely different, as is “Heroin” – I like the later versions, as these sound too much like demos, but hindsight is of course 20-20. In all, it’s one of the best “bootlegs” out there, and a total gift to the Velvets fan and the rock and roller at large. I’d recommend getting a version straight off of the acetate if you can, rather than wait for a cleaned-up official version – though of course you and I will buy that one too, right?

Best Of The Old, 2006

As I said last time, I spent more time listening to old music this year than I did to new music — when I bothered listening to music at all. Part of this is due to the fact that I have writing commitments to a couple of magazines and a radio show, all of which have to do with reissues or older music. Part of it, though, I have to admit, is that at least I knew what I was getting, and it wasn’t all confessional songwriting, which seems to have taken over these last few years — or at least taken over what shows up in my mailbox. At least there was some diversity in the reissues, and I appreciate that.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my faves. And, as with last time, remember that clicking on the link and ordering from it brings me a whopping 4% of the money, bringing me ever closer to getting out of Berlin — a worthy cause if there ever was one. Or, well, of course, that’s what I think…

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Bob Wills: Legends of Country Music: Amateur rock historians always talk about how Elvis pioneered the vital fusion between black and white popular music, but that’s hooey. Bob Wills was there first. So were a lot of other people, but none of them was as successful, and as successful for so long, as Wills and his parade of brilliant instrumentalists. West Texas fiddle tunes and hot swing jazz only sounds like a weird idea until you drop the needle on some, and this collection is by far the finest assembling of Wills’ output ever. And although Legacy has the jump on others who’d compile this stuff, since most of Wills’ best music was made for Columbia, Gregg Geller and Rich Kienzle, who put this together, managed to come up with a whole disc’s worth of stuff made after he left that’s top-drawer. This set is not only an education in itself, it’s some of the greatest American music ever recorded. You need it.

Friends of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival, 1961-1965: It was a total shock for the young folkies who’d been listening to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music that not only could some of these people still be alive, but that a lot of them actually were. After a number of them were located — and others, who’d never recorded, also showed up — there was a mad scramble to record them and present them live in concert. Probably the most notable concert series was run out of Izzy Young’s Folklore Center on McDougal Street in New York, by a group calling itself Friends of Old Time Music. True to their mission, they recorded every show, and the compilers of this three-disc set had their work cut out for them culling it down to what you see and hear here. What’s most remarkable — and, in a way, discouraging — is that most of what’s on this set is previously unissued; it’s discouraging in that the FOTM albums Folkways put out in the ’60s had some amazing stuff on them, and I don’t know where to point you to it. That said, this is heartwarming stuff, from Dock Boggs unveiling a new song to Mississippi John Hurt’s totally engaging on-stage presence. It’s a document of something that won’t pass this way again, captured when it was in its full flowering. Essential.

Country & West Coast: The Birth of Country Rock: It was only a short step from the folk revival to the birth of country rock, where various California cowpersons, would-be cowpersons, hippies, and Bakersfield malcontents — not to mention dissident folkies like Jim McGuinn — conspired to bring about a change in rock no less important than the one the Beatles had sparked. It wasn’t an easy transition, but it succeeded — all too well, as the birth of the Eagles attests. Compiler Alec Palao has done his homework, and this set not only includes some of the obvious — the Byrds, the Burritos, et al — but some worthy obscurities. Me, I’m really hoping for a Volume Two, but until then, this will continue to satisfy.

B.B. King Sings Spirituals: Another byproduct of the folk boom was the eventual concession by the folkies that maybe electricity was okay after all, and the subsequent discovery by the rock crowd of the great electric bluesmen who were still among them. None benefited from this quite so much as B.B. King, whose guitar style was one of the touchstones of the electric blues revival. But one of the things people have always missed about him was that it was his voice as much as his guitar virtuosity which had made him popular with black audiences from the beginning. On this album, Lucille takes a bit of a rest — although she’s by no means silent — and the result is an album that King has always said is his favorite of all of his extensive catalogue. Fans have long clamored for a second one, and maybe now that he’s retiring, we’ll get one. Meanwhile, this more than does the trick. No, the blues isn’t the devil’s music.

Hearing Is Believing: The Jack Nitzsche Story, 1962-1979 and Hard Workin’ Man: The Jack Nitzche Story, Vol. 2: Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound? That was Jack Nitzche. Phil had the idea, but it was his arranger who put it on paper for all those musicians. Naturally, an ambitious guy like Nitzche wasn’t going to stay in Spector’s shadow for long, and he went on to produce and arrange albums by a huge number of people, from Doris Day to Willy de Ville, before moving to the even more lucrative field of film scores. These two records document a wide variety of his work, from his early single “The Lonely Surfer,” through an absolutely radiant arrangement of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” for the Everly Brothers, to his work with Neil Young (and his playing in Crazy Horse), all the way up to his last work, with the obscenely talented young Louisianan C. C. Adcock. Two of my most-played discs of the year. Incredible stuff.

Rockin’ Bones: 1950s Punk and Rockabilly: Another piece of good homework. Rockabilly can be terribly tedious, as we listen to washed-up or never-was country singers attempting to get down with the kids, or kids thrashing around trying to be as cool as Elvis. By recasting this movement as “punk and rockabilly,” complier James Austin not only builds a bridge to the present, but clarifies the past, so that the hillbilly component is only part of the mix, and outright zaniness comes to the fore where it belongs. I’ve got some quibbles with the selection, but overall, this is a wonderful presentation of an era in American popular music when nobody knew what the formula was, but didn’t figure that was any reason to stop.

Waylon Jennings: Nashville Rebel: A figure in both rockabilly and country rock, Waylon Jennings was yet another of those Texas guys whose music didn’t fit in anywhere but refused to let that stop him. This four-disc collection is exhaustive, and I bet most of you will be satisfied with The Ultimate Waylon Jennings, which is a tidier selection, but then you’d miss Lenny Kaye’s liner notes and the version of “Jole Blon” Buddy Holly produced for him.

Spencer Wiggins: The Goldwax Years: Damn those Brits! When you think you’ve discovered all the great soul singers there ever were, they go and launch another CD full of astounding vocal work backed with great arrangements at you! Wiggins was from New Orleans, which figures, although his work didn’t partake of any of the Meters/Toussaint brand of exotica but went straight for fine country soul, which was what Goldwax did best. This is as fine a collection of his stuff as you’ll find, and I recommend you get it before the next amazing soul singer’s CD slides into my mailbox.

Wanda Jackson: The Very Best of the Country Years: Wanda Jackson wasn’t fazed by the fact that she didn’t become the female Elvis — at least in sales, since artistically she more than met her goal. She slid gracefully into a career as a country singer, and she sure had the pipes for it. So it’s hardly surprising that this collection is as good as it is, since the compilers were able to omit the so-so stuff that was a fact of life for every Nashville-based entertainer at the time and concentrate on stuff which extends her legacy. And when the new tough-girl Nashville gals — read Loretta Lynn — started happening, Wanda was ready: check out the bizarre “This Gun Don’t Care (Who It Shoots).”

Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal: Can I hear the congregation say, “Just plain weird?” Amen! This actually takes me back to the gospel shows I wrote about in my post about Village Music. The headliners would be in the grand tradition, but somewhere down the bill would always be a couple of groups of ambitious young local kids who just loved to jam, and, I bet, later wound up working the secular side of the street. But this, like most of the Numero Group’s releases, is completely idiosyncratic and bizarre, a collection of releases on private labels and limited pressings by funky gospeleers working a style that never took off and was eventually crushed by the ’80s mass choir movement. This has shown up on a lot of year-end best-ofs, and no wonder.

Eccentric Soul, Vol. 11: Mighty Mike Lenaburg: You know that “Funky Broadway” Dyke and the Blazers were singing about? It wasn’t in New York. It was — of all places — in Phoenix, Arizona, and Dyke was just the most successful of a whole bunch of funky guys, many of whom were captured on wax by — who else? — a white guy from Liverpool, who seems to have considered it his mission in life to document the Phoenix Scene. Some of these recordings are rough, but some are exquisite. Eccentric soul, indeed.

Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story: Oh, go ahead, listen to this. You won’t turn gay. I haven’t, anyway, although this does bring back the days when gay taste ruled the dance music scene in New York and the rock kids would gingerly approach clubs like the Paradise Garage, where Levan ruled the decks, if they were feeling adventurous. This collection is pretty much a primer of New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and ought to get any intelligent person re-thinking the opprobrium levelled at “disco” — or even whether such a label makes sense or ever did.

Lorraine Ellison: Sister Love: She was too old when she started, her career had a disastrous start with a jazz album (included here) that’s all but unlistenable, and then she cut a single that couldn’t be topped — by anybody, let alone herself. Lorraine Ellison had rough luck, if you want to look at it that way. But she also had the great good luck to hook up with one of the greatest soul music producers of all time, Jerry Ragovoy, for that single, “Stay With Me,” and then to make one more excellent album with Ted Templeman, a producer I’ve never liked. It’s all here, along with a whole disc of her demos, recorded with members of her family gospel group. Soul was giving way to funk when Ms. Ellison was doing her best work, but this is definitely worth hearing. Well, except for the jazz album. Jerry, what were you thinking?

James Brown: The Federal Years: Yeah, we lost him this year, but here’s how we got him in the first place. He burst onto the scene with “Please, Please, Please,” described by his ever-articulate label-owner, Syd Nathan, as “the worst shit I ever heard,” and then sold so many copies of it that he had to cut pale imitations of it for Nathan for four years in the hopes of achieving another blockbuster success. It wasn’t until he used his own money to cut a demo of a ballad, “Try Me,” and convinced them to let him record it that he had another hit. But then he was on his way, inventing a whole new kind of music. This starts slow, but Disc 2 takes off like a rocket.

The Complete Motown Singles, Vol 4: 1964: Motown Select has now gotten to the real nitty-gritty. 1964 was the year of the Supremes’ “Baby Love” and the beginning of the Motown juggernaut. You can still hear them tinkering with the formula here, but this is where they found it. Even the flops are hits. I’m most of the way through the 1965 box and have the ’66 sitting waiting to be heard. This series has its occasional bad tracks (less so after this volume, when Gordy finally abandoned his — yes! — country label, Mel-O-Dy), but this is a project no student of American music can pass up.

That’s just the best; I’m out of energy for the rest. Anyway, this’ll give you lots of listening pleasure, and I’ve got to get busy with next year’s batch. I mean this year’s. Enjoy.

The Trolleyvox present The Karaoke Meltdowns CD (Transit of Venus)

Medium Image

This cheery and high energy combo is distinguished by the sweet, warm tones of vocalist Beth Filla and by its charming tunes. I especially fell for the sunny C86 sensibilities of “I Know That You’re High” and the jangly, anxious “Whisper Down The Lane,” which sounds like a lost Barbara Manning track filtered through the Throwing Muses.

C’mere ya Pretty Thing

While I am fairly sure most of the music experts frequenting this blog have heard of the fabulous British band The Pretty Things, I would like to devote this blog to a fairly rare album of theirs that blew my mind the minute I listened to it.

Now, before you start guessing – it is NOT one of the band’s classic ’60’s albums like S.F. Sorrow or even one of their ’70’s albums recorded when the band started leaning away from their punky/garage/dirty-bluesy beginnings and attempted some classic arena rock sounds. No, this album was recorded by the band wayyyyyy back in the good old days of 1999. The album I am talking about is the expertly titled latter-day masterpiece Rage Before Beauty (on Snapper Records), their first true album since 1980’s supposed swan-song Crosstalk

Note to sticklers: the Pretties did get together to record one new album about a year before Rage Before Beauty came out and the story behind it is really quite cool. The band had decided to regroup for a one-off webcast of their music and, putting their heads together for a concept, decided to record a live concert performing their old concept album SF Sorrow in it’s entirety for the first time since the album was released in 1968. Wanting to make the event extra special, the band enlisted two ringers: Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour to augment the band as only he and his guitar work can, and veteran English rocker Arthur Brown to add extra narration and cohesion to the storyline. Needless to say, the resulting album Resurrection is an absolute joy and should be searched out and acquired as soon as possible. Often found in a version that packages it with the original version of SF Sorrow, while not eclipsing the original, shows the band is more than capable of continuing their legend without showing the usual signs of age or obsolecense often all-too-present in the middle-age-rock set.

But, back to the reason I am writing this blog: Rage Before Beauty. Often when listening to a new album from a band or artist of this vintage it is hard to put their past out of your mind and accept a new work as a credible continuation of a band’s legacy. Most likely, the band’s new work suffers from comparison like, say, the Rolling Stones’ releases of the past twenty years or so. Though they may be fine albums and the band members may be better musicians technically, the new works never quite sound as good as our old favorites, do they? Well, believe me when I say this album by The Pretty Things will not suffer at all by comparison to the gritty, sleazy blues rock they belted out in their formative years. In fact, it sounds as if the band has lost nary a step. Gone are the arena rock posings of their middle years and reborn is the anger and hunger this band of hooligans were always known to flaunt like badges of honor. Phil May, Dick Taylor and the rest of the Pretties fly the flag of down-and-dirty rock once again!

From the first note of the urgent rocker Passion Of Love to their ode to their lost ex-bandmate Vivian Prince to my personal favorite of the album Everlasting Flame, the band plays as if their lives depend on it. Guitars twine and twist, the bassist and drummer bludgeon their respective axes as if in a race to oblivion and May does his vocal exorcises on all of his demons on this little shiny disc just for our enjoyment. They even do a version of the Stones’ song Play With Fire that obliterates the Stones’ version. Only an ill-advised cover of Mony Mony slows the proceedings down for a bit, but the band recovers nicely by the next song.

I was very surprised by how good this album sounds, not thin and brittle like the last few albums by the Stones and Paul McCartney but full-bodied and very tough. I recommend this album wholeheartedly and suggest you get re-acquainted with the band as the US label Zoho Records has a NEW album slated by The Pretty Things to come out in the now-great year of ’07. Needless to say, I will be the first in line to pick the album up and if anyone tries to stop me, well, their in for a fight.

So, quit being ugly and pick up a few PRETTY THINGS!

The Music Nerd knows……..