Best of 2009

Best of 2009

New Stuff

Telekinesis! (self-titled) Irresistible power pop, “Coast of Carolina” an instant classic.

The SoundcarriersHarmonium Soft and breezy with a little electronica thrown in, something like Stereolab/Broadcast but with a more direct nod to soft psych from the ‘60s.

Jah Wobble-"Get Carter" (single) Anyone who knows me knows why I’m interested in this. But, Ted Lewis connections aside, this is an inspired interpretation of a timeless movie theme.

The Flaming LipsEmbryonic A mood-driven record where the overall feel is the point, rather than individual songs; it’s the Lips doing Prog, and they do it in masterly form.

The ClienteleBonfires on the Heath The same kind of majestic, lush psychedelia that had our jaws dropping when Suburban Light came out nine years ago.

The RaveonettesIn and Out of Control Ramones songs told as ghost stories. This record is both throwaway and brilliant; gets better with each listen.

Reissues and Compilations

New DawnThere’s a New Dawn Lost classic from 1970 out of the Pacific Northwest. Pothead lyrics and fuzzed-out guitar.

Emitt RhodesThe Emitt Rhodes Recordings (1969-73) Rhodes is one of the great unheralded songwriters in pop music history; these four albums are gems showcasing sparkling power pop and gentle psychedelia.

The Apples in Stereo#1 Hits Explosion 16 choices tracks from the Apples recorded output up to this point. Makes you want to do cartwheels while singing along.

Roy Loney & The Phantom MoversA Hundred Miles an Hour 1978-1989 The one-time Flamin’ Groovies frontman kept the Groovies’ greasy, rockin’ spirit alive with the series of records he made after leaving them.

SpiritFresh From the Time Coast: The Best of 1968-77 One of the most innovative bands on the late ‘60s SoCal scene, Randy California and friends continued to make compelling, jazz- and folk-tinged psych into the late ‘70s.

Big StarKeep an Eye on the Sky A four-CD treasure of recordings done by one of the most influential bands ever. All the stuff from the three main albums, yes, but also a stunning live show from ’73, a handful of revelatory pre-Big Star sessions, and alternate versions that are actually worth hearing.

NirvanaLive at Reading A great band playing live when at their very peak.

The PaupersMagic People Psychedelic folk rock from Toronto, 1967. Part Beau Brummels, part Buffalo Springfield, part Lovin’ Spoonful.

FunkadelicStanding on the Verge (Best Of) Faultess, one-disc best of Funkadelic that covers their full output, 1969-79, early acid rock to later acid disco.

T. RexSpaceball (The American Radio Sessions) T. Rex doing spots on American radio, 1971-2.

Best New Album: The Raveonettes-In and Out of Control

Best Reissue: Emitt Rhodes-The Emitt Rhodes Recordings

Best Compilation: (Two-Way Tie) Big Star-Keep an Eye on the Sky; Spirit-Fresh From the Time Coast (Best of 1968-77)

Best of 2008

Anne Briggs-Anne Briggs Stunning first album by British folksinger Briggs, who is like PJ Harvey doing ancient folk ballads

The Magnetic Fields-Distortion: More great songwriting from Stephen Merritt, and I especially like the ones the girl sings

The Raveonettes-Lust Lust Lust They borrow liberally from J&M Chain, but then who doesn’t? Feedbacking guitar, spooky vibe, overall sexy and mysterious feel

Rosie Flores-Rosie Flores “Rockabilly Filly” makes her debut in the late ‘80s, one of the best albums of its kind, ever. When Rosie tells her man “God may forgive you, but I won’t,” she means it.

Rodriguez-Cold Fact Sixto Rodriguez is like a Hispanic Lou Reed. Stone-cold lost classic from ’71 here

The Grip Weeds- Infinite Soul: The Best Of Excellent power pop from New Jersey. The Kinks meet Cheap Trick meet The Posies

Matthew Sweet-Sunshine Lies Speaking of power pop . . . many of the tracks just lie there, but on the best few he revisits his “Girlfriend” peak

Bobbie Gentry-Ode to Billie Joe/Touch ‘Em With Love 2-for-1 Gentry is an enigmatic character who has not performed or given interviews for ages. This set collects her startling debut with her best album

Beach House-Devotion Baltimore’s answer to Opal/Mazzy Star improves upon their impressive first album

The Searchers-Love’s Melody The Searchers have never really gotten the credit they deserve for being at the forefront of mid-‘60s jangle, and here, in ’81, they showed they could handle power pop just as masterfully; they covered Big Star years before the rest of the world caught up

Dennis Wilson-Pacific Ocean Blue The truth is that the effort was more than the end product here, as Dennis just really wasn’t a good singer and could never match brother Brian (who can?) in songwriting and arranging; still, there’s some movingly moody and evocative stuff here, done by a troubled soul who was on the way down

N.E.R.D.-Seeing Sounds On the first listen I was dancing around the house and raving to friends that it was the record of the year. On future listens I heard the lyrics more closely and thought, aren’t these guys out of junior high yet? I would love to hear it as all instrumentals.

Sean O’Hagan-Musical Paintings Part of a complicated and interesting collaboration the High Llamas’ main main has done with a Belgian visual artist; as music it just sounds like really good High Llamas instrumentals

Jorge Ben-Jorge Ben Tropicalista heavy and guitar wizard at his best, in 1969 

The Chevelles-Barbarella Girl God (Best Of) The Ramones from Down Under, with a little more pop sensibility

Flamin Groovies-This Band is Red Hot: 1969-79 The Groovies recorded two of the most memorable tracks in pop/rock history- “Teenage Head” and “Shake Some Action.” As this comp. proves, they did a whole lot more, as well. Swampy, greasy rock and roll with a boogie kick.

Various-Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story Eye-opening 2-CD collection shows that Alex Chilton and Big Star weren’t the only band doing interesting stuff around Memphis in the ‘70’s

Colin Blunstone-Ennismore/Journey Doesn’t match up to Blunstone’s post-Zombies masterpiece One Year, but still two solid records that are better than Argent

T. Rex-The Best of the BBC Recordings Marc and friends doing their thing on John Peel’s and Bob Harris’s radio shows during their Electric Warrior-era heyday

Various Artists-Halloween a Go-Go I generally loathe holiday-themed compilations, but Little Steven and Wicked Cool did one that includes Roky Erickson, The Stems, Howlin’ Wolf, and a Tegan and Sara track that has become a household favorite here on Watts

The Notwist-The Devil, You + Me Boards of Canada if they incorporated more melody into their noises

R.E.M.-Murmur (Expanded Edition) The ’83 show on disc 2 finds them in their best form and is a reminder of what all the hoopla was about to begin with

Neil Young-Canterbury House 1968 Neil doing an intimate show playing acoustic versions of Buffalo Springfield favorites, as well as stuff that would appear on his underrated solo debut, etc.

Windy & Carl-Songs for the Broken-Hearted Give them credit for sticking to their guns and doing the space rock stuff almost a decade after it became passé; moody, eerie sounds that can help you let your head go

Reuben Wilson and The Cost of Living-Got to Get Your Own B-3 master and jazz hipster Wilson does cool breeze soul

The B-52s-Funplex I have to disagree with all the music writers who have trashed this in print. I keep cueing up “Hot Corner” and “Deviant Ingredient” when I’ve had a couple rounds and feel like moving around in the music room.

Dom Mariani: An Appreciation

Dom Mariani: An Appreciation

Trying to get your head around Dom Mariani’s long and wide-ranging musical career can be both a confusing and an exhilarating adventure. Every time you get a handle on one of the great bands he’s been in, you find that there is another one to learn about. As you sort though all of this, two things become very clear: (1) Mariani has a deft touch and keen musical instincts, allowing him to approach each of his projects with command (2) You should never expect one Mariani band or project to sound like the one that came before it.

Mariani formed ‘60’s garage revivalists the Stems in Perth, Australia in the early 80s. The band released a smattering of singles and an album, At First Sight Violets are Blue (1987), that stand up to the best of all the fuzz psych releases circulating the indie markets at that time (think Fleshtones/Telltale Hearts/ Lyres/Chesterfield Kings/Vipers, et al). Their sublime track “She’s Fine” was included on Rhino’s The Children of Nuggets, a box set of songs by ‘80’s bands influenced by ‘60’s psychedelia and garage. But just as the Stems were promoting their first long player, and as they were enjoying both critical acclaim and success on the Independent charts in Australia and other parts of the world, they broke up.

“I was always into ‘60’s music, but originally maybe just the more well known bands, like the Beatles, Stones, and Kinks,” Mariani told me over the phone recently, by way of describing his personal musical evolution leading up to the formation of the Stems. “But then I discovered the Nuggets double album, and the Electric Prunes Underground record, so I saw there was this other kind of thing from the ‘60’s, which was more like garage rock, and I got totally into that.”

Mariani cites pressure from the band’s management and the label to relentlessly promote At First Sight, and the resultant exhaustion, as causes of the Stems’ untimely implosion. Also, he soon had another project cooking. While in the Stems Mariani met Darryl Mather, then with Sydney’s the Lime Spiders (another Children of Nuggets band) and later with the Orange Humble Band. The two discovered a mutual affinity for ‘60’s and ‘70’s radio pop and decided to get together and make music that would sound more like the Raspberries than the Stooges. The resulting LP, 1990’s Don’t Talk About Us, is now widely considered to be a power pop masterpiece.

“My musical background is very much steeped in Top 40 radio from the ‘60’s, things like the Monkees and girl groups and all,” Dom says when I ask him about the poppy departure the Someolves were from the Stems. “And even during the Stems, although we had kind of a hard rock sound, we were listening to things like the dBs and the Plimsouls, which were more pop.”

Don’t Talk About Us was recorded with Mitch Easter at his famed Drive-In studio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Easter has continued to mix, and sometimes play on, Mariani’s recordings throughout Dom’s career). A great meeting of musical minds, an album made at one of the coolest studios in the world at the time, two songwriters with no apparent lack of inspiration . . . the future held no barriers for The Someloves, right? Wrong. Their label, Mushroom, would only agree to a second album if the band committed to tour to promote the first, something Mather – a studio animal not interested in playing live – refused to do.

Someone with less fortitude or creative drive might have given up after seeing his first two bands split up just when they seemed to be going on the rise. But Mariani was only getting started. After an enforced recording hiatus which was part of the contractual baggage from The Someloves/Mushroom situation, he exploded back onto the scene in glorious fashion a few years later with his new band, DM3.

To this listener’s ears, DM3 is where Mariani fully hit his stride, combining the adrenaline rush of the Stems with the pop craftsmanship of the Someloves. DM3s albums One Times Two Times Red Light (1993), Road to Rome (96) and Rippled Soul (98) are power pop gems (the first two are, anyway; Rippled Soul has some stellar songs but doesn’t quite match up in overall quality level with the others) with a little garage energy to them, and are where Mariani pulled off tracks that stand comfortably alongside records made by the likes of Dwight Twilley, Big Star, Badfinger, et al.

“We were trying to make records with a rock & roll edge to them, but also with great melodies,” is how Dom sees DM3, a project he clearly put a lot of himself into and feels passionate about.

Some of DM3s best songs weren’t on the three main albums, but can be found on the odds-and-ends collections Garage Sale Vols 1 & 2 (as well as a Mariani retrospective covered below). One of these oddities, “Hold On,” is something I have listened to at dangerous volume levels no less than eight times in a row on more than one occasion recently – an absolute dream of a power pop song. Another Garage Sale track, “Just Like Nancy,” is both one of the finest moments in DM3s recorded history and their swan song. This single, with its splendidly catchy chorus, chugging guitar riff, and sly, vaguely naughty lyrics (a “girl in boots” with “the power to overthrow ya”), was the last record made by DM3.

Always looking to explore new terrain, after the demise of DM3 Mariani showed yet another side of his wide musical range. In 2003 he and his new act The Majestic Kelp released an album of instrumental tracks, Underwater Casino. The sound here is something like a meeting between Dick Dale, Ennio Morricone, and Martin Denny – a Spaghetti Western on the beach in Hawaii.

Dom: “What started out as just kind of a quick surf guitar record became something more than that. The songs started to take on some additional character, kind of a soundtrack feel. It’s quite an interesting group and we’re exploring a lot of different things you can do with instrumental music.”

I ask Dom if he feels any difficulty in connecting to the audience when the Majestic Kelp perform live, without the benefit of vocal parts like catchy choruses people can latch onto:

“It has been a learning curve for me. It kind of divides the audience. Some of the people who have been listening to my bands over the years get into it, just like they would the Stems or DM3. But other people are kind of standing there saying, ‘So when is he going to start singing?’ Some have said, ‘I think Dom’s gone off the planet with this one.’ But other people will just dig it for what it is. “

The Majestic Kelp released a second collection of instrumentals, Music to Chase Cars By, in 2006. Here they continued to explore some of the same musical themes approached on the first record, but also added some horns, one track filled with Byrdsian jangle, and a bit of a tougher guitar sound on the surf tracks.

In 2004 Mariani put out his first solo album, Homespun Blues and Greens. A much more personal collection of songs than any of his other projects offered, the 11 tracks here sound like they could be open letters to a close friend or lover, saying things that are difficult but necessary to communicate. The gentle psychedelia on some of the backing tracks cements the sense of contemplative emotion.

“I toyed around with the idea of making a solo album for quite some time, but initially was uncomfortable putting something out with just my name on it. For a while I thought of calling it a DM3 record, but that didn’t seem right, because there really wasn’t a band there to drive it. So I thought, instead of coming up with another band name to add to the list, I’ll just put my name to it. And the songs are kind of reflective, anyway, so it makes sense for it be labeled as a solo record.”

If all the great music wasn’t reward enough in itself to Mariani for sticking with things through all the band breakups, he was honored with a career-affirming retrospective put out by Citadel Records in 2005. Popsided Guitar (Anthology 1984-2004), a 2-CD, 38-track collection compiles highlights of Dom’s varied career, including songs by all of the aforementioned acts as well as a few from his solo album, and it also throws in one song each from one-offs Mariani did with bands The Stonefish and The Stoneage Hearts. There could have been a few more Stems tracks, but really there is little to complain about on the comp. The selections are well chosen and bring to magnificent life a career that has not received its due attention and appreciation.

One Mariani project not covered in the Popsided Guitar comp. is the reformed Stems. After having excellent compilations of their stuff put out by both Citadel (Mushroom Soup, 2003) and Get Hip (Terminal Cool, 2005), as well as seeing a 2-CD reissue of the At First Sight record (2003, Warners Australia), the band released a set of newly recorded material in 2007. Listening to Headsup, you’d think The Stems had never gone away. The 10 tracks further the band’s legacy as psych garage masters, especially the riff-heavy “Liar” and the assured rocker “Hellbound Train.” Listening to this record, you can easily see why Little Steven once invited the Stems to perform at his Underground Garage festival in New York.

So are the Stems fully reformed now, can we expect another release from them sometime sooner than the 20 years which separated their first two LPs?

“We are talking about doing another recording, although I’m not sure when that will be. We’re thinking about doing something like the Flamin’ Groovies Jumpin’ in the Night record, where it’d be some favorite covers alongside some originals.”

And what might some of those covers be?

“Well, we’re talking about doing all Australian songs. ‘Friday on My Mind’ by the Easybeats is one we’re thinking of. ‘Come On,’ by the Atlantics. We’re also looking at some of the very early Bee Gees stuff, looking for something there that might be appropriate.”

Dom is also at work on a third Majestic Kelp record, one with vocals, including some Beach Boys-style harmonies. He looks to finish the album by the end of this year and hopes for an early 2009 release. And while he is taking some down-time now after a recent Stems tour, he seems never too far away from the next gig, whether it be in Australia, Europe, or at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, where the Stems performed this year and where Mariani expects to be again next Spring, either with the Stems or on his own. Prolific and diverse as he is with his music, no one should be surprised if by that time he has a totally new band trying for a sound and feel different from all his other projects.

Los Chijuas

Don't know much about this band yet, and almost don't want to, just to keep the mystery intact. Excellent, odd psychedelia from Mexico. Got hipped to them via their track, "Changing the Colors of Life," on the Nuggets II box set. Took me a few years after hearing that to follow up and dig deeper, and now that I have I am a better person for it. Their late 60s album El Esquimal is cool and weird and mind-bending. The title track is a rollicking, Spanish-language version of Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn." Another cover, and perhaps the most trippy moment on the record, is their take on The Zombies's "I Love You," read as, of course, "Te Quiero" – the opening to that track is grand psychedelia and when the melody kicks in it's all trips and hooks. Several originals surround these covers, including the Spanish version of "Changing the Colors" (English language version appears on Nuggets II) and others, some of which are throwaway but a few of them gems. I know I'll eventually go in and try to find out more about this great and strange band, but for now I'm going to keep rocking El Esquimal and just ride with the enigma and with the groove.

Greenberry Woods

Just a quick entry to tell you about my Band of the Week, or month maybe. I don't how or why I've gone this long without hearing about the Greenberry Woods, but I got tipped on to them because of something else I was looking at or bought on-line, and now I have their two albums and cherish both. They formed in Maryland in the late 80s and between then and 1995 recorded two long players, Rapple Dapple and Big Money Item. Both are power pop gems, with vocal hooks around every corner and some nice distorted guitar work. Each album has filler material on it, but each also has three songs which are power pop hall-of-famers. Like just about every power pop band that has ever existed, the 'Woods owe much to Alex Chilton and Big Star, whose sound they quite clearly emulate. If you are into power pop, if you like the Posies, Guided by Voices, New Pornographers, dB's, Dwight Twilley Band, etc, etc, do what you need to do to buy the two Greenberry Woods records. After the two albums the band split up, apparently because there were too many creative forces under one roof (heard that before). Some core members went on to form Splitsville, who seem to be somethning of a camp/novelty act and who I have not yet explored. Could be a future blog.


Shalini Chatterjee Profile/Interview

When 3-year old Shalini Chatterjee discovered the cartoon “Josie and the Pussycats” on Scottish TV, this brought on a fascination with music and performance. These interests developed into a lifestyle when she immersed herself in the indie rock scene around the University of Wisconsin in the ‘80s. Later, a relationship with Game Theory main-man Scott Miller led to her meeting Mitch Easter – Let’s Active mastermind and producer of early R.E.M. and many other college radio luminaries in the heyday of ‘80s indie rock; she and Easter are now married, play on each other’s records, and live in North Carolina. After releasing two albums while fronting the band Vinyl Devotion, Shalini (current band name) released her/their masterpiece (thus far) in 2004; Metal Corner is an album of spellbinding Power Pop – something like Cheap Trick if they had a cool girl singer. In late 2007 Shalini’s second album, The Surface and the Shine, appeared and continued to explore the terrain of catchy, ‘80s-influenced pop songs driven by ‘70s-style power chord riffs. Shalini, currently busy organizing a 5-day film and music festival which will take place this summer, recently took time out to have the following e-conversation with me:

*You seem to have had an interesting upbringing, being born in India and spending your early years in Scotland. Can you tell me about your family, what you all were doing in India and what prompted the move to Scotland? When, where, and why did you first move to the States? Where did you spend your teen years?

My dad is Indian. He's from an old Calcutta family. The big family house still exists. He had a job as a country doctor of sorts in rural Northern India, which is why they were living there when I was born. The place was really beautiful and green and peaceful. It's called Digboi, near Margarita, near Assam, where the tea comes from.

My parents decided to move to the USA for various reasons. They were attracted to Los Angeles, and my dad was offered a job at UCLA, so after living in Edinburgh for 4 years, we packed up and landed in LA in 1973. I had never heard an American accent. Everything seemed big and either deluxe or rundown. In Edinburgh, things were on smaller scale but were kept up. No crappy buildings. We moved around a few times in LA, living in Amherst, then South Pasadena (it was a pokey cute place back then not the crowded overpriced spot it has become, although the nice small Norton Simon art museum still exists), then Rancho Palos Verdes on the peninsula.

Then they decided to move to Northern California, which was kind of a bummer for everyone. We all liked Los Angeles. We moved to nearby Davis, California. I had a great elementary school- Pioneer Elementary – with awesome 5th and 6th grade teachers, a lot of nice friends and an excellent Girl Scout troop. I loved singing with the other girls, going on nature walks, and camping. I earned every badge I could until my sash was full. Teen years were spent going to high school in Sacramento. Black years, nothing much to say except I was immersed in bands and music.

There were a lot of great bands in Davis back in the 80s. I was often too young to go to the shows but snuck in house parties to see the early Camper Van Beethoven shows, stuff like that. I read the news on KDVS – I was in high school so they wouldn't let me DJ – and I worked at the local records store in town called Barney's where some band people worked. People assumed I was older than 16 and 17. I moved out of the house when I was 17 to attend the University of Wisconsin and joined my first band in the first week there. I had taken four bass lessons that summer, so thought maybe I was passable, ha-ha. Obviously, I am a self-taught rock musician.

*Do you have siblings?

Yes. I have an older sister named Sharmila. She became a doctor and has a Master's in Public Health from Harvard. I am not sure if she practices medicine any more – doesn't seem to want to talk about her job, ever – all I know is she is on staff at Boston University. She's a couple years older. My brother Arun is 4 years and 4 days younger than I am. He is a teacher and lives in Sacramento. That's everyone.

*Were/are any of your family members interested in music or other arts? Did any of them have anything to do with you deciding to become a musician and performer? Did you have any other early influences that may have guided you into having creative ambitions?

Sharmila liked bands and the indie scene. I snuck out of the house and hitched a ride with her to see my first live band, the Bangles in 1983 playing at a small club called Club Minimal (apt name) in Sacramento. No one in my family is musical and they don't seem interested in art at all. I can't really relate to anyone in my family. It feels like Them and Me.

I really got inspiration from things I heard; I always had my ears open and was mesmerized by music, obsessed with songs I thought were good and recordings that seemed so powerful. There were three singles my dad had that influenced me: “Baby Love” by the Supremes, “From Me to You” by the Beatles and “Rock a Hula Baby” (awesome drums!!!) by Elvis.

And of course there was Josie and the Pussycats which looked like the ideal existence to me when I was 3 and watched it Tuesday nights in Edinburgh. I loved the colors, the action, and the music. And their costumes! And I thought Josie was such a cool name, and the fact she was the band leader was just the center of the universe.

*You started playing the bass at age 17. When did you start playing with other people? When did you start writing your own songs?

I started playing with other people in the dorm at UW-Madison, out of our state dorm called Princeton House. We had a semi-joke punk band called Phlegm. My stage name was Phlegm Fatale. We played our first gig at a birthday party in the dorm in September 1986. My knees were shaking, I was so nervous to be standing in front of people Playing in a Band! I started trying to write songs in 1987. It was harder than I thought it would be. I co-wrote with Ryan Jerving of Kissyfish. He was more of a proper musician, had played in jazz bands and was a really, really good guitar player.

*How did playing with Kissyfish and the other bands lead to you forming Vinyl Devotion, then Shalini?

Phlegm split into two bands that became Madison mainstays in the late eighties: My Cousin Kenny, and Kissyfish. I was the bass player and singer in Kissyfish. We played with Otis Ball some in the late 80s, who tried to get Bar None interested in us, and eventually wrote some really good songs, but the guys wouldn't give up this corny vaudeville posturing, so I wasn't totally sorry when the band split up in 1990 when we graduated. I wanted to be in the Pixies, playing rock music, not some frat band with accordians. Ow. We made recordings on 4 tracks and sold cassettes. I still get requests for them over the internet.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1990, I didn't know what to do. I really wanted to play in my boyfriend Scott Miller's band Game Theory. They needed a bass player, and never really had a cool one after Suzi Zielger left in 1985. I had a lot of experience playing by then, and had become a real bar rat in my years in Kissyfish. I could have handled the transition to a more grown up band easily and was as good as Suzi in 1990. However, Scott was adamant about not wanting his girlfriend in his band after 2 psycho girlfriend experiences. I thought that was pretty lame, because I was way more responsible and sane than those other girls could ever be, but I wasn't going to beg!

So I just played with two or three bands that weren't going anywhere for a while. I had my own vision for a band, so started Vinyl Devotion by recording a single in 1992, produced by Scott and recorded at Paul Wieneke's home studio for $15 an hour! Paul was super nice and played keyboards on my cover of "Nobody Told Me." Scott contributed his really excellent background vocals. I played guitar and bass. I was seriously working on my songwriting all the time by then.

I established my own record label called Mitochondria Records and got distribution by making a zillion phone calls. It was fun and easy to do the single; the hard part was putting a band together. I killed myself looking, placing ads and holding auditions. As soon as I had some stability, someone quit. Booking was so hard in SF. It was all extremely difficult. A highlight was the band in 1994. Our first EP (out on CD! Can you imagine that being a big deal now? But this was 14 years ago! World was a different place) got great attention. I got letters (typed!) of interest and met with A & M records in NYC in 1995. Sadly, they wanted another Courtney Love. There is probably no one less like me on earth than her! I couldn't pretend to be an aggressive drug addict.

*Do you find it easier to work with male band-mates than with other women?

Yes. The girls are flakey and/or psycho, the ones I've ever worked with, except a couple in all these years. They don't work on their musicianship and are not generally reliable.

*Describe the relationship you have had with the two labels you’ve recorded for, Parasol and Dalloway. Why are you moving away from Dalloway with this next album?

Parasol was great! Friendly, opened some doors, had other good bands. Some people who work there are musicians, notably the awesome Angie Heaton and Paul Chastain. Dalloway was run by two women I could really relate to on a musical level. They liked the 80s and especially 90s girl-led bands a lot, that I could identify with, like the Breeders, Veruca Salt, Throwing Muses, Garbage, and the Lovelies from the 2000-era.

A lot of the indie purists around here sniff at some of the music I like the best. None of it has a country twinge, maybe that's why. NC indie musicians are prone to going country. I don't even own an acoustic guitar and I wouldn't be seen in overalls unless I was pitching hay.

Eve and Christina were interested in being urban and stylish. They moved to Boston and had trouble keeping their label afloat. They had probably lost quite a bit of money on Metal Corner. I had the chance to go with Electric Devil/125 Records so I took it. I still keep in touch with the Dalloways, and if we're ever in Boston we'll hook up.

*You play bass in the studio and guitar live – which, if either (both?) do you write songs on?

I write songs on electric guitar.

*Where and when did you first meet husband/band-mate Mitch Easter? Did the romance form before or after the musical kinship developed, or was it all wrapped up in one?

I first met Mitch in July, 1991 when Scott and I went to see him play in Marshall Crenshaw's touring band. Mitch and I got together in 1995 or 1996, after I had split up with Scott, contrary to negative gossip about "overlapping". I lived alone in a SF apartment for a couple years and Mitch and I were long distance. I moved here Christmas Eve 1996. Mitch and I didn't play music together regularly for a long time. He was super busy in the studio in the late nineties. I started playing with him and Eric Marshall in 1999. They were such pros. After all the many, many years slogging through practices with bad musicians, it felt like flying, playing with these guys. They were fun band-mates. We had really good synergy for a while and ended up playing together for 7 years. I play live with another drummer now, Chris Garges of Charlotte.

*What other interests do you have besides music?

Reading, walking, dogs, animal protection, environmental causes, and film. I started a film festival called the Revolve Film and Music Festival, the state's only regional Triad-to-Triangle festival with monthly screenings revolving around a 5-day core festival in June. I used to work at another film festival but just had a lot of other more positive programming ideas involving art and music and style. They screen some films I find questionable and do not use violence warnings.

*Write out the index of what would be a Shalini desert island mixtape – 10-20 of your favorite all-time songs.

Of course, this changes all the time but here's a rough mish-mash list that isn't thought out, just off the top of my head:

The Real World, Bangles; Surrender/anything from In Color, Cheap Trick; Shayla, Union City Blues, Blondie; 25, Get Back, The Speed of Candy, Veruca Salt; Don't Let Me Down, Nina Gordon; Remember You, Chris White (Zombies); Friend of Mine, Jealousy, Supernova, Cinco de Mayo, Liz Phair; No Aloha, Breeders; Easy Does, Room with a View, Let's Active (really all of Cypress); 24 (all of Real Nighttime), Together Now Very Minor, Dripping with Looks, Game Theory; Don't Bother Me While I'm Living Forever, Slit My Wrists, Loud Family; Phonograph, Stateside; White Leather, the Lovelies; West of the Fields/We Walk/Shaking Through/Perfect Circle – R.E.M.; Our Lips are Sealed/How Much More/Fading Fast/I'm With you/Mercenary – Go-Go's, who were underrated songwriters; Nina Nastasia – I like her as an artist but can't name her song titles; Blue Spark/Los Angeles/+ many others – X

*How do you like living in North Carolina, as compared to the other parts of the U.S. and the world that you have lived in?

I like it. It's a great place to have a band! People have pretty much space, it's low crime, and there are a lot of talented musicians.

Best of 2007

Here are the highlights of my listening, watching, and reading year:

New Stuff:

• Southern Culture on the SkidsCountrypolitan Favorites: ‘Skids covers album, songs by Wanda Jackson, Kinks, CCR, et al

• Mitch EasterDynamico: Could be a new Let’s Active album, minus the female vocals and plus more power chords

• Mick HarveyTwo of Diamonds: Dark balladry by Bad Seeds member

• High LlamasCan Cladders: More Brian Wilson meets Bossa Nova – the ‘Llamas best since Hawaii

• Brant Bjork & the Bros.Somero Sol: Stoner rock from surfers

• Junior SeniorHey Hey My My Yo Yo: B52s meets 60s bubblegum meets contemporary dance; every track is a little party

• His Name is AliveXmmer: Left-of-center pop by longstanding indie rockers

• MumGo Go Smear the Poison Ivy: Boards of Canada with more hooks 

*Woodjen ShipsWoodjen Ships: Like early Deep Purple with Spacemen 3 sitting in. 

Reissues, Compilations, Etc

• Anne BriggsThe Time Has Come: Breathtaking folk from 1971

• The ShoesDouble Exposure: Demos from Shoes albums Present Tense and Tongue Twister; some of the best Power Pop ever made

• Dwight Twilley BandSincerely/Twilley Don’t Mind: More of the best Power Pop ever made; Twilley Band’s first two albums, plus 4 excellent bonus tracks

• The ZombiesInto the Afterlife: Recordings made by Zombies members shortly after Odyssey and Oracle – a must-have for Zombies fans

• Neil YoungLive at Massey Hall: Solo Neil, on guitar and piano

• True WestHollywood Holiday Revisited: Debut EP + first LP by Paisley Undergrounders – like Television from the West Coast

• PylonGyrate +: Surf guitar meets art rock meets the Athens sound

• Gene Clark with Carla OlsonLive in Concert: Original Byrd and granddaddy of Gene playing live, near the end of his career and life

• The BongosDrums Along the Hudson: The bonus material is stupid, but it’s great to have the main album on CD

• Gram ParsonsGP Archives, Volume 1: Flying Burrito Bros. playing live as the opening act for Grateful Dead over two nights in San Francisco, 1969

Best Music DVD:

• All My Loving: British-made documentary from late 60s which makes the argument that the day’s pop stars were changing the world for the better. A little heavy-handed, but great live clips and interview segments of Donovan, Who, Hendrix, et al

Best Music Book:

• Riot on Sunset Strip by Domenic Priore: Contends that the music that came out of LA in the mid-to-late 60s was actually much better than what came out of San Francisco during those years, contrary to what critics and SF snobs have always said. Really gives a lasting impression of the scene on the Strip during its Mod/psychedelic heyday.

Best Non-Music DVD(s)

• Cult Camp Classics, Vol 1-4 (Sci-Fi Thrillers, Women in Peril, Terrorized Travelers, Historical Epics): Great cinematic camp fun, spread over 4 box sets containing 3 movies each. Joan Crawford plays a scientist trying to housebreak a cave creature; Lana Turner’s stepdaughter’s boyfriend slips her a hit of acid; a nerve-wracked family gets terrorized on the highway by a group of delinquents; the movie being parodied by Airplane!

Best Non-Music Book(s)

• Hard Case Crime series by Dorchester Publishing: Ongoing series of high-quality pulp novels, some from the 40s-70s, others by current writers. 5% are no good, 70% are good reads if not memorable, 25% are outstanding.

Mimsy Farmer, Danger Girl

    Like my entry on the writer Ted Lewis, I am going to write about somebody who is not a musician but is definitely rock and roll. Mimsy Farmer is my favorite actress, and the mere fact that she had a prominent role in the film Riot On Sunset Strip makes her Lost in the Grooves worthy. Here's my take on the wild-eyed girl from Chicago:

    Mimsy Farmer has led a charmed life as an actress. At age 22, the native Chicagoan scored a part in Riot on Sunset Strip, one of the hippest films made in the Summer of Love. Moreover, she got what was arguably the most dramatic moment in the movie, playing the victim of a bad trip in the obligatory acid freakout scene. Then, when the 60’s were over, rather than stooping to taking roles in schmaltzy 70’s films or just fading into obscurity, she got in with the European set, moved to Italy and spent the next two decades starring in a slew of cult Euro horror and crime films, directed by Dario Argento and the like.

    As much hipster credibility and critical acclaim Riot and all the horror flicks might have gotten her, though, none of these films were among the ones which defined Mimsy as an actress. She had a Great Trilogy, three films which represent the nadir of her acting life.

Mimsy Farmer is a danger girl. Her natural beauty calls attention to her, and once you get a close look you see that there is something volatile lurking behind the pretty eyes and inside the head covered by the cute page-boy haircut. Film directors clearly recognized this unstable facet of Mimsy’s being, as they were always casting her in peril-filled, if not outright violent, roles and scenes. Sometimes she was the victim and other times the perpetrator, but in either case there was just always trouble surrounding her.

    Hot Rods to Hell, the first in the Great Mimsy Triolgy, came out in 1967, the same year as Riot on Sunset Strip, but had a decidedly 50’s-ish feel to it. Dana Andrews plays a Ward Cleaver type who experiences trauma as he, his wife and teenage daughter move to a new town, where they are terrorized by a trio of young delinquents. Mimsy portrays Gloria, the mercurial moll of the little gang. In the most memorable scene of the film, Mimsy, her boyfriend and his best friend are sitting in a parked car at a Lover’s Lane kind of locale. Mimsy’s boyfriend, after having an argument with her, gets out of the car and goes over to talk to Andrews’s pretty teenage daughter, who is sitting by herself near some water and looking pensive. Mimsy responds to this by first slamming her fists on the steering wheel, then biting her own finger. Next, just when you think she’s going to start crying or maybe go after her boyfriend, a psychotic smile suddenly spreads across her face. She reaches over and starts pulling her boyfriend’s friend’s hair, and when he cries uncle she lays a passionate kiss on him. After that he’s hers. The best bit of dialogue in the film comes across when Mimsy talks to her former boyfriend about what might have been possible for them if they’d been able to stay together, bringing out his response, “What’d we ever have that wasn’t gonna wind up in Splitsville?”

    More (1969), Barbet Schroeder’s (Barfly, Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female) directorial debut, and the middle piece of the Great Mimsy Trilogy, has become a cinematic footnote for the fact that it features a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. But this a great, under-appreciated film which was looking a few years ahead of its time in depicting the downfall of 60’s hipster drug culture. Stefan is a German student who’s just finished his studies and is looking to spend some time tramping around Europe, experiencing life and enjoying his freedom. While at a party in Paris he locks eyes with a pretty blonde (Mimsy, of course). They share a round of margaritas in the kitchen, and from there he is stuck on her and about to be led into a downward-spiraling adventure which will take him through drug addiction, sexual depravity, petty crime and general personality deterioration. Stefan’s friend in Paris tries to warn him off Mimsy, telling him she’s a junkie and a thief who has already seen several guys like Stefan to their decay, but the dangerous Mimsy is irresistible to the hapless student. This film is worth watching if not just for the beautiful shots of Ibiza, where Mimsy flees, giving Stefan an out to avoid the hazards she knows she will bring him; he doesn’t take the offer and follows her there, setting up the film’s tragic climax.

    The third and final title in the Great Mimsy Trilogy is the best film she ever acted in. The blurry, existential, voice-over happy Road to Salina (1971) is another overlooked mini-classic. Robert Walker, Jr. (Walker, Sr. portrayed the creepy Bruno in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train) plays a drifting hippy who’s wandering along a quiet West Coast town when he spots a house with a water well out in front of it. Thirsty and in need of a washing, Walker indulges himself, not knowing that this is the house that will change his life. As he’s splashing water on his face, he is confronted by the matron of the house, a clearly unbalanced woman (played by Rita Hayworth, who sadly foreshadows her real-life future here – she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, becoming a confused shadow of her former self in her latter years) who takes him to be her long-lost son, Rocky. Walker recognizes that this is a precarious set-up, but finds that he can’t turn down the promise of a hot meal and a bed to take a nap in. And when he wakes up he starts to think that maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the batty marm thinks he’s her son. It seems that all she wants from him is his help in pumping gas and serving lunch and beer to the locals (the house is also a business, a kind of combo gas station/weekend café). The rest of the time he’s free to eat and sleep and shower and go to the beach. And all he has to do is pretend to be her son and let her dote on him. If all of that doesn’t totally sell him on the house, his “sister” does. Mimsy, once again playing a wild-eyed femme fatale, eventually shows up at the house and is introduced to Walker as his sibling. But this is a weird kind of sister: one who likes to let her brother see her naked and who takes naps with him and sleeps with him under a tent on the beach. Walker’s head-trip is magnified immensely as he tries to determine whether Mimsy really believes he’s her brother of if she’s fucking with him – and he’s trying to sort all of this out as he’s falling in love with her. Pop this film in on a rainy Sunday afternoon and you won’t walk away from it. Plus, you’ll get to see Hayworth and the senior Ed Begley do the frug.

    Between Riot on Sunset Strip and More, Mimsy Farmer temporarily got out of acting and became involved in something called “psychedelic therapy,” a fringe school of psychological treatment where the “counselors” apparently dosed old drunks in hopes of getting them off the sauce. Mimsy seems to have regarded this experiment as a failure, but the acid appears to have inspired her; having already tuned in and turned on, she dropped out of her native country, citing the moneyed shallowness prevalent in American life. She met and married a European man and never looked back. That’s a set of circumstances that could be the makings of an interesting film, one starring a daring, tempestuous, willful woman – a part perfectly suited for an actress like Mimsy Farmer.

    Mimsy’s present whereabouts and doings are unknown. In her bio on the Hot Rods to Hell website, for current residence it simply says, “Europe.” A 1997 feature article on her in Fuz magazine reported that, since 1989 (the year of her last known film role) she’d been living in semi-retirement in France, with a new husband and new daughter, and suffering from some sort of health problem. That’s all vague and maybe a little sad, but there’s also something triumphant in the way that Mimsy has let herself fade from the public eye quietly and gracefully; a good actress knows when it’s time to tone things down.

Shoes Demos

Some friends and I were recently talking music (what else is new?), one of us mentioned Power Pop, and someone else not familiar with that genre asked what that was. I muttered something about the combination of sweet vocal melodies and barre chords, somebody else starting dropping names of bands who played in the style . . . But if we really wanted to make our friend understand Power Pop, we should have just played him some songs by The Shoes. Better yet, we should have directed him to buy Double Exposure, the new 2-CD collection of Shoes demos. The 30 tracks are workbook recordings of songs that would appear on the band's two seminal albums from the late 70s/early 80s, Present Tense and Tongue Twister. The Shoes had every right to be as popular as Cheap Trick, the Cars, et al, but somehow they never scored any hits (at least, to my knowledge). Their melodies are sing-songy but with just enough of an edge to them – and the backing tracks are all power chords and sharp hooks. It's like Cheap Trick but more introspective, the Cars but not as slick – four shy and nondescript guys from the Midwest who had a love of melodic music and a knack for creating great pop songs. It had been a long time since I'd listened to The Shoes (prior to getting this set), and I have been listening to a lot of Guided by Voices of late; hearing these demos tells me that Robert Pollard studied this band closely when forming his melodic sensibilities and his band's sound. The Shoes songs make me feel like I'm at the roller rink on a Friday night, slow dancing with my new girl, both of us with feathered hair and me with a comb in my back pocket. But this is not novelty music; it is some of the best Power Pop you'll ever hear. These demos, while not vastly different than the versions of the songs that appeared on the official records, are just raw enough to make them worth hearing for a Shoes fan. Double Exposure in on the Black Vinyl label, and despite being a new release is pretty hard to get your hands on. Make the effort.

Anne Briggs

Dear Friends: Sorry to have been away so long. I'm back and am here to tell you about Anne Briggs. I don't care about the British Folk Revival, the phenomenon that gets mentioned in every Mojo issue about 20 times, the thing that you have to hear about every time a new Devendra Banhart (sp?) or Joanna Newson record comes out. But Anne Briggs, while a British folkie to be sure, is a something else altogether, somebody too original and sublime to be cast in that pot. She is a field hippy with a punk attitude, like a PJ Harvey singing ancient folk ballads. She prefers to sing a cappella, and has never been crazy about being recorded. She dislikes being photographed, and when caught on film she generally looks like she needs a bath and a hairbrush, and like she might be considering punching the photographer. Her 1971 album The Time Has Come was reissued this year, and this record is what I'm really writing about here. On this record Briggs allowed herself to be accompanied by some light guitar playing, and on the two instrumental tracks she plays some rare stringed instrument herself. This is a spellbinding album, and something that should be known as one of the great folk records of all time, instead of an album only a select few have heard. The guitar playing is similar to that of the acoustic work on Led Zeppelin III, and Anne's vocals are something that can't really be described – they just need to be heard. This is Nick Drake meets Judee Sill, it's acoustic Led Zeppelin with a female vocalist, it's timeless music performed by an extraordinary artist, it's Anne Briggs . . . and it's the reissue of the year, as far as I'm concerned. Also highly worthwhile is the Anne Briggs compilation, A Collection, which compiles much of her best a cappella material. The one I would skip is Sing a Song For You, on which Briggs is backed by the band Ragged Robin – just not the same caliber of material as is found on Time Has Come and A Collection.