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Monthly Archives: October 2009

True calypso masks hard, unflinching social commentary in bright melodies and rhythms, and although it is very much a dance music, its infatuation with sexuality, cultural inequities, street gossip, violent situations, and eye for an eye revenge scenarios coupled with its full use of bravado, humor, inflated rhetoric, and private metaphors means it has much in common with contemporary rap, right down to the “calypso wars” that pitted performer against performer in sharp, improvised insult battles. Calypso at its purest is a truly devilish style, since the galloping rhythms say “don’t worry, be happy” while the lyrics bite deep and list all the things to be worried about. To borrow a phrase from Phil Ochs (who might have made a passable calypso singer), calypso is “all the news that’s fit to sing.”

Slinger Francisco, the Mighty Sparrow, is perhaps the best known of Trinidad’s modern calypso masters, and this fascinating set collects some of his earliest commercial recordings from albums he made between 1956 and 1959 for Emory Cook, who in turn licensed them to RCA Records. A cursory listen and these tracks seem bright and harmless, they bubble along on shining, horn-driven rhythmic arrangements that just make you want to move your feet. Underneath that sheen, however, Sparrow sang and rhymed away about taxes (“No, Doctor, No”), ghetto gun dealers (the oddly ambivalent “Gun Slinger”), personal revenge (“Eve”), international foolishness (“Russian Satellite” derides Russia for using a dog as a guinea pig in space exploration), and even, on occasion, the openly sentimental (“Post Card to Sparrow” is about being away from the one you love at Christmas while “Dorothy” is a straight up love song like Brook Benton used to sing). This is early Sparrow, and he would get better and bolder after all of this, but the origin of the Trinidadian phrase “if Sparrow say so, is so” starts with these recordings.

-Steve Leggett,


In 2000, Britain’s RCA Camden line mounted an extensive Harry Nilsson reissue campaign, remastering the original albums, offering bonus tracks, and combining the LPs into two-fers where possible. His first two records were issued as part of a double disc set, with the first disc devoted to the two original albums and the second containing his remixed, re-re-recorded consolidation of the two, Aerial Pandemonium Ballet, plus four unreleased tracks, all of high quality. The remix album remains a bit bewildering and all the more so in this context, when it’s possible to A-B it with the superior originals. And that’s why this is worth seeking out for the curious and the faithful: the debut will still convert, and when you’re converted, it’s hard not to want to find all the differences between the first two and the remix record.

-Stephen Thomas Erlewine,


Love Nardwuar, he just got a show on WFMU!

Been rocking the leak of Nirvana LIVE AT READING since last night, kind of blows away all the crappy wussy Panda Grizzly indie rock of the past couple years. It was like a welcome, joyous relief to hear them kick right into “Breed”.

Somebody who recorded Michael Jackson often, it might have been Bruce Swedien or even Quincy Jones, said that Jackson was a big fan of these records and may have even lifted his famous singing tic/trademarks from them. You can definitely hear the basis for such an observation in tracks like “Feel Up” -Ian!

Grace Jones teamed with the great reggae production duo of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on this ’80 album, and made the transition from straight dance and club act into quasi-pop star with reggae and urban contemporary leaning. The single “Private Life” was one of her best, and the overall album had more energy and production gloss than previous LPs that had been aimed completely at the club market. It helped that Jones seemed enthused about the session and really put herself into the songs.

By all means a phenomenal pop album that hit number nine on the black albums chart and crossed over to penetrate the pop charts at number 32, Nightclubbing saw Grace Jones working once again with Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and the remainder of the Compass Point team. Nightclubbing also continues Jones’ tradition of picking excellent songs to reinterpret. This time out, the Police’s “Demolition Man,” Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” and Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” receive radical reinterpretations; “Nightclubbing” is glacial in both tempo and lack of warmth, while both “Use Me” and “Demolition Man” fit perfectly into Jones’ lyrical scheme. Speaking of a lyrical scheme, “Pull Up to the Bumper” (number five black singles, number two club play) is so riddled with naughty double entendres — or is it just about parallel parking? — that it renders Musique’s “In the Bush” as daring as Paul Anka’s “Puppy Love.” Drive it in between what, Grace? It’s not just lyrics that make the song stick out; jingling spirals of rhythm guitar and a simplistic, squelching, mid-tempo rhythm make the song effective, even without considering Jones’ presence. Sly & Robbie provide ideal backdrops for Jones yet again, casting a brisk but not bristly sheen over buoyant structures. Never before and never since has a precisely chipped block of ore been so seductive.

-Ron Wynn, Andy Kellman,


This album was recorded by the same engineer, same time, same studio (Abbey Road) as PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, and at the same time as SGT. PEPPER. I kind of think it tops both in certain ways, or at least ties with them. Enjoy the shitty review that apparently took two people to write! -Ian!

Who could ever have thought, going back to the Pretty Things’ first recording session in 1965 — which started out so disastrously that their original producer quit in frustration — that it would come to this? The Pretty Things’ early history in the studio featured the band with its amps seemingly turned up to 11, but for much of S.F. Sorrow the band is turned down to seven or four, or even two, or not amplified at all (except for Wally Allen’s bass — natch), and they’re doing all kinds of folkish things here that are still bluesy enough so you never forget who they are, amid weird little digressions on percussion and chorus; harmony vocals that are spooky, trippy, strange, and delightful; sitars included in the array of stringed instruments; and an organ trying hard to sound like a Mellotron. Sometimes one gets an echo of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn or A Saucerful of Secrets, and it all straddles the worlds of British blues and British psychedelia better than almost any record you can name.

The album, for those unfamiliar, tells the story of “S.F. Sorrow,” a sort of British Everyman — think of a working-class, luckless equivalent to the Kinks’ Arthur, from cradle to grave. The tale and the songs are a bit downbeat and no amount of scrutiny can disguise the fact that the rock opera S.F. Sorrow is ultimately a bit of a confusing effort — these boys were musicians, not authors or dramatists. Although it may have helped inspire Tommy, it is, simply, not nearly as good. That said, it was first and has quite a few nifty ideas and production touches. And it does show a pathway between blues and psychedelia that the Rolling Stones, somewhere between Satanic Majesties, “We Love You,” “Child of the Moon,” and Beggars Banquet, missed entirely. [This CD reissue on Snapper adds four valuable songs from their 1967-1968 singles (“Defecting Grey,” “Mr. Evasion,” “Talkin’ About the Good Times,” and “Walking Through My Dreams”). This version of “Defecting Grey” is the original, long, uncut five-minute rendition, and not of trivial importance; it’s superior to the shorter one used on the official single.]

-Bruce Eder & Richie Unterberger,

S.F. SORROW (1968)

Re-up of my favorite Veloso album.

One look at the doleful expression that Caetano Veloso wears on the cover of his third self-titled album, from 1971, and it’s clear that the listener is in for a bummer. It’s a dead-eyed look that says, “Friend, sit down, have a drink, and listen to my weary tale.” And a weary homesick tale it is, for the man who only a few years earlier had been one of the catalysts in a revolution that sent the Brazilian music world on the psychedelic Beatles-lovin’ roller coaster of Tropicalia was now living in the U.K. in a government-imposed exile. Gone are the Day-Glo flashes of his earlier albums, replaced by the realism of a revolutionary whose dreams have been shuttered. If there was any doubt to the depths of his melancholy, Veloso clears it up right away with “A Little More Blue,” reflecting on being thrown in jail and declaring that his exile is worse than his Brazilian imprisonment. Even more dismal may be the lovesick tribute to his sister, “Maria Bethânia,” which plainly spells out his physical and emotional disconnection. It’s not all so dismal, though; there are upbeat songs as well, like the acknowledged classic “London, London” and the lone Portuguese-sung track, “Asa Branca.” There are Brazilian touches in the drums and Veloso’s phrasing, but the album is more in the tradition of downer folk classics like Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad. If that seems like heavy company, then seek out this emotionally rich and complex work by an artist who doesn’t merely stand on the shoulders of giants — he is one of the giants.

-Wade Kergan,


Re-up at 320kbps.

Brian Eno’s second album collaboration with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster consists of slow-moving instrumentals full of repeated synthesizer sound patterns and sustained guitar notes in the ambient style familiar from Eno’s collaborations with Robert Fripp and albums of his own, such as Discreet Music. (One song, “Broken Head,” features recited vocals by Eno, and on another, “The Belldog,” he sings. On “Tzima N’Arki,” he sings backwards.)

-William Ruhlmann,

Eno Moebius Roedelius-AFTER THE HEAT (1978)

This album is a psyche classic that never got its due, because it was released on the Andrew Oldham (The Rolling Stones version of George Martin) helmed disaster of a record label, Immediate. It recieved little to no promotional push.

Keep in mind when listening that Nicholls is 17 years old at the time, and is backed by a band that included Nicky Hopkins (of Stones, Kinks, John Lennon, and The Who albums), and John Paul Fucking Jones. -Ian!

Billy Nicholls’ stillborn 1968 album does indeed recall the Beach Boys’ 1966-19 67 era, not just due to Nicholls’ melodies and high, versatile vocals, but also the production of Andrew Oldham, an avowed fan of Phil Spector and Pet Sounds. Although very attractive, however, the songs and production do not have the depth and emotional resonance of Pet Sounds. This is not a knock; Nicholls was very young at the time, after all, and it’s hard to match Brian Wilson, though Oldham pulled out a bunch of tricks with baroque keyboards, tasteful brass, and airy multi-part harmonies. As with the Oldham-produced cuts done by Del Shannon in the same era, the deftly elaborate L.A.-meets-London semi-Wall of Sound is more impressive than the pretty but often rather slight material. It’s still a pleasurable listen, with the more acoustic and darker “Come Again” slightly foreshadowing the kind of sound Pete Townshend would employ on much of Who Came First, and “Girl from New York” (with Steve Marriott on lead guitar) going for a gutsier British rock vibe. The CD reissue (on the Immediate imprint, but actually put out by the British reissue label Sequel) includes mono single versions of “Would You Believe?” and “Daytime Girl” as bonus tracks.

-Richie Unterberger,

Billy Nicholls-WOULD YOU BELIEVE (1968)

May be mistaken, but I think this is out of print! I have the Yung Wu album SHORE LEAVE too but it’s only 192kbps, looking for 256kbps or higher! -Ian!

With an unchanged lineup but more attention due to their A&M deal, the Feelies hit the jackpot with their third album, a warm, inviting collection that finally addresses the endless Lou Reed comparisons with a cover of his “What Goes On.” With its clearer feeling and peppier overall delivery, it avoids simply cloning the original arrangement and performance. The rest of the album shows off the band’s distinctive yet flexible sound, as much jangle as it is quietly moody. Mercer and Million’s previously tense guitar power becomes attractive shadings, implying a louder approach without always delivering it, while the Demeski/Sauter rhythm team takes the lead throughout; his steady drums and her low, rolling performances giving the guitarists something to play around instead of dominate.

The Feelies always make this tranced-out rock their own, but this time around it’s as quietly thrilling, if not more so, than ever. “Higher Ground” is a great example, with Mercer and Million trading off not merely notes and passages but differing approaches, whether laden with distortion or chiming clearly. Though Weckerman’s work, as earlier, isn’t easily distinguished from Demeski’s, from the sound of it everything fit in right when recording. Where appears more audibly, as on the start of “The Undertow,” his percussion adds an intriguing wild card to the proceedings, aiming at the same goal with slightly different sonics. Mercer’s ghost-of-you-know-who vocals still pop up at times, but here his own ability to actually sing and hold notes comes forward, giving him a technical edge that he uses to great effect on the brisk “Away.”

-Ned Raggett,

The Feelies-ONLY LIFE (1988)

Higher quality re-up of one of my favorite albums and an absolutely necessity for fans of psych/baroque pop with those SMiLE-style American Gothic lyrics. -Ian!

Van Dyke Parks moved on from the Beach Boys’ abortive SMiLE sessions to record his own solo debut, Song Cycle, an audacious and occasionally brilliant attempt to mount a fully orchestrated, classically minded work within the context of contemporary pop. As indicated by its title, Song Cycle is a thematically coherent work, one which attempts to embrace the breadth of American popular music; bluegrass, ragtime, show tunes — nothing escapes Parks’ radar, and the sheer eclecticism and individualism of his work is remarkable. Opening with “Vine Street,” authored by Randy Newman (another pop composer with serious classical aspirations), the album is both forward-thinking and backward-minded, a collision of bygone musical styles with the progressive sensibilities of the late ’60s; while occasionally overambitious and at times insufferably coy, it’s nevertheless a one-of-a-kind record, the product of true inspiration.

-Jason Ankeny,

Interesting tidbit from wikipedia:

“In response to the poor sales of the record after its release (despite some rave critical reviews), Warner Bros. Records ran full page newspaper and magazine advertisements that said they “lost $35,509 on ‘the album of the year’ (dammit).” The ad said that those who actually purchased the album had likely worn their copies out by playing it over and over, and suggested that listeners send in worn out copies to Warner Bros. in return for two new copies, including one “to educate a friend with.””

Van Dyke Parks-SONG CYCLE (1968)