Joe Meek [and the Blue Men]
I Hear a New World - An Outer Space Music Fantasy (3CDs)
Older Meek fans among us will doubtless remember when, with resounding trumpets and honking fanfares, the producer’s visionary I Hear a New World was first released, after three decades of legend and mystery, in 1991.
Originally conceived in 1960, but only released as an EP at that time, the tapes were dusted off and remastered for what became, in the words of The Wire, one of the “100 Records that Set the World on Fire (When No One Was Listening).”And so it was, a genuinely pioneering feast of what we’d now regard as “primitive” electronica, but which was so far ahead of its own time that its lessons could still be heeded throughout the 1990s.
Two decades later, the excitement surrounding the album is not so fervent - it’s a major piece of the electronic furniture now, so thoroughly absorbed into experimental music’s body politik that a reissue might ordinarily raise barely an eyebrow. Full marks, then, to RPM for this package, which takes both the 1991 reissue and the original unremastered tapes, then adds another two-and-a-bit discs worth of similar efforts from across the electronic spectrum.In terms of placing Meek’s achievement into period perspective, it’s a worthy project.In terms of giving listeners an absolute treat, it’s even better than that.
From Stockhausen, Cage and Varese to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop; from Pierre Boulez to Pierre Henry, the history of electronica in the years up to (and immediately after) Meek’s creation are laid out in style, and for anybody who wonders whether it was John or Paul who led the Beatles’ late 1960s drive into the avant garde, here’s your answer.
It was George Martin, pairing with Maddalena Fagandini for a 1962 single released under the name of Ray Cathode.“Time Beat” and “Waltz in Orbit” bore the catalog Parlophone R-4901… forty-eight numerals later, Martin would produce “Love Me Do” and music would change forever.But if Ray Cathode had been a hit, who knows?It might have changed even more.
It’a terrific collection, a history lesson that predates any of rock’n’roll’s so-called electronic pioneers; a reminder of just how high Meek was placed in the electronica field of the late 1950s; and, if you just want to have fun with funny noises, it does that as well.But read the accompanying booklet while you do.
Now That’s What I Call Silence
There has, over the years, been a few silent songs released… that is, totally blank listening experiences, that range from the Son of Pete’s “Silent Knight” to the Wit & Wisdom of Ronald Reagan LP, and on into the realm of solo Beatles. But the grandaddy of them all, of course, was John Cage’s “4.33” and, though it might seem a peculiar thing to do, there is now a 17 track compilation dedicated entirely to covers of that very piece.
Which would be a very sneaky way of selling you a blank CD, if it was blank.But it isn’t.Not totally, anyway.True, A Top Streaming Service did reject a handful of the tracks for not filling your ears with pulsating beats and toe-tapping rhythms.If you want silence, their thinking seems to have been, just turn off the streaming service.Even they couldn’t justify giving you nothing for your money….
But Now That’s What I Call Silence is only silent if you’re not listening.There’s definitely something to hear on X-Bax’s “Don’t Be So Cagey,” even if it is just the white noise of your own ears.Which then explodes into the white noise of Small Life Form’s “Empty Vessel,” an unrelenting roar for three-and-then-some minutes, and things kind of go back and forth like that for the remainder of the disc.
A track or two that demand you listen VERY carefully to make sure things really are as quiet as they seem (they rarely are, and the results are often extraordinary), followed by one whose motives seem more focussed on redefining the boundaries of silence than actually replicating them.
Goddack’s “North 7th” is melodic; Lovey Dovey’s “Summer Tableau” is a collage cut from an apparently quiet day at home; Premature Burial’s “Signal to Noise to Signal” is a relentless industrial pummelling;Heavy for the Vintage serve up a sonic seascape; Can Can Heads are sinister whisper and sibilant breath; Charles De Mar’s “Nap Time” sounds like someone hooked up the baby monitor to a tape recorder.
What they all have in common, though, is the element of surprise… shock even.A new way of looking at just how much ambient noise we put up with when we think we’re sitting quietly. A new understanding of how quiet pure noise can be and, contrarily, how distracting absolute silence can feel.However you interpret it, though, Now That’s What I Call Silence is one of those albums that you may think you can live without… before you then realize that you’re living it as well.
A Prayer for the Birds
Crystal Jacqueline & The Honey Pot
I Talk to the Wind
(Fruits de Mer)
Double-header time from the English west country’s finest - a brand new album from the solo Ms Jacqueline; a double EP from the Honey Pot collective, all woven together (as always) by the inestimable Icarus Peel, and released by two of the most visionary labels we have going for us right now.What’s not to love?
The EP first.I Talk to the Wind takes its title from King Crimson and, in this, the fiftieth anniversary of that band’s debut album, what finer tribute could there be?
In truth, and as expected, Crystal’s version owes more to Judy Dyble’s ethereal vocal on the song’s pre-Crimson demo than to anything Greg Lake brought to the party.But nifty little touches in the Honey Pot’s accompaniment conjure images of the Crimson King’s other peaks, and the team remain in similarly prog-drenched corridors for an utterly haunting take on Rare Bird’s “Sympathy,” an echo-drenched a capella first verse; a lone bass following Jacqueline through the chorus…only slowly does the rest of the band clamber aboard,and the end result suffers only from being as short (3.50) as it is.Peel’s guitar solo, kicking in a minute before the fade, is worth half an album side in its own right.
Traffic’s “Mr Fantasy” leads off the package; covers of Tonton Macoute and - of all people!!!! - Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky,Mick and Tich - pack it out, and across the course of half an hour, I Talk to the Wind effortlessly muscles its way out of the realm of simple cover versions, and into that of true reinterpretation.
Where the EP leads, the album follows, although now it’s original material that leads the way,… even if the intro to “The Edge of my Garden” is a dead ringer for Love and Rockets’ “Saudade”!
It’s a folkier brew than the EP, and if Jacqueline’s pristine vocals are almost too high up in the mix, that’s not a bad thing. The contrast between her purity and the almost ramshackle rattle of the band on “White Horse Hill” lends an eastern tinge to the tune - think of peak period Incredible String Band without the bits you don’t like, and you’ll be close.
There’s a conceptual air to the album, a celebration of early mornings, nature and gardens which moves into ever brighter focus as side one plays through, before being revealed in all its glory across side two’s side-long “A Prayer for the Birds Suite.”
Six tracks range from the unhinged duet for vocal, bird cries and ghost guitar that create the opening “Arise the Sun,” to the brief (92 seconds), chorale title track; from the pounding rock of “Turn the Tide,” to the tumultuously closing “Bird Song.”
But there’s a cohesive magic to bind all together, and that is probably the least surprising aspect of the entire package.They know how to make great records in Crystal Jacqueline’s corner of England, and here they go again.
Danny Adler/De Luxe Blues Band
Live at the Half Moon Putney - Alternates
Volume thirty-nine in Danny Adler’s career-spanning Legacy series of download albums takes us back to October 1980, and the live show that spawned his Deluxe Blues Band’s first LP, the sensibly titled Live at the Half Moon.
Fourteen tracks pile atop the nine that were included on the original LP (three are repeat performances), a classic blues-heavy set that truly shows off the strength of this band - Bob Brunning, Mickey Waller and Bob Hall joined Adler on the stage, and that alone indicates how de luxe the whole thing was.
Fascinating, too, is the discovery that this was the first ever attempt to digitally record a live rock’n’roll band, from a mobile studio parked outside.The album’s Bandcamp pages even comes with the warning “due to the experimental nature of this pioneering digital recording event, the listener may experience fluctuations in sound quality and craziness.”Oh, those were the days.
You probably won’t notice, though.Across the board, this is a thunderously good album by a thunderously good band, kicking off with a storming “Let It Rock” and just taking it from there.In fact, you might even argue that the performances that didn’t make the original album are in some cases superior to those that did.Or, at lesat, their equals.
Iguana Studios rehearsal Tape - San Francisco 1978
It is what it is, a raw cassette recording of the original five man Kennedys, caught somewhere during their first six months together, but already blessed with a repertoire that made any other local punks sound positively AOR.
Just six of the songs here would survive on to the band’s debut album; those that didn’t, however, did not fall by the wayside through any fault of their own.Early takes on the “established” classics, retain all the visceral energy and rage of their better-known studio counterparts - “Kill the Poor,” “Holiday in Cambodia” and “California Über Alles” are here in all the glory that has ever rained down on them, and the other ten tracks follow suit.
In fact, the only room for improvement would be something that the band themselves fixed fairly quickly… Biafra’s vocal has yet to attain its later perfection, and here sounds an awful lot like someone doing a Johnny Rotten impersonation.
The sound quality is rough, but what would you expect?The band did not record this rehearsal for posterity’s sake, after all.But we should be glad that they did.
The Past Tense
“Time Stands Still” (45)
Across the Pond… and Back Again (CD)
(Fruits de Mer)
In terms of wacky marketing gimmicks, this is a good one - buy the single, get the album free.Though the Past Tense have been around Fruits de Mer for years, they’ve never actually released a record in their own right on the label.
Presumably,then, they’re making up for lost time now, with a fourteen song Behemoth that not only transports the listener back to that moddy-garagey-psych-y corner of the sixties that has always been FdM’s happiest hunting ground, it makes sure you will never want to leave it.
Whether or not it was recorded live-in-the-studio or not, it sounds like it was, just a bunch of kids in the garage with a tape recorder and a pile of instruments, kicking through fourteen favorite oldies.The track listing itself looks like the kind of psych comp for which compilation CDs were invented: The Attack, the Syn, Rpert’s people, Wild Flowers, The Afex, David Clayton-Thomas… a glorious crash through Love’s “7&7 Is” is the closest things come to a bona fide hit record (although SRC’s“Black Sheep” comes close), but that’s kinda immaterial.
It’s the energy, the enthusiasm and the sheer raw contagion that gives the package its glory, and it doesn’t matter whether you buy the single and get a free album, or buy the album and get a free single, either way, you’ll be hooked.
The Bell Years 1972-1974 (4 Cds)
Considering how utterly enormous David Cassidy was in the early 1970s; considering how many worldwide charts the four albums included in this box set would top… considering all of that, it seems incredible how difficult they’ve been to find on CD.
His debut Cherish was given a US release in 2000; its successor, Rock Me Baby, in 2003.His third album, Dreams are Nuthin’ More Than Wishes was around as a Japanese import in 2005; and Cassidy Live! passed through in 2012.And that’s it.So finding all four wrapped up in a single clamshell box, a couple boasting bonus tracks and all packaged in their original artwork, is a bit like finding Christmas under your ficus plant when you thought it was just another Monday morning.
In fairness, Cassidy solo was never as impressive a beast as his Partridge Family day job’s first few records.Desperate though he was to carve himself a career away from his TV family, his choices were still limited by those Industry Heads Who Knew Better Than He.So while the voice is as great as it ought to be, and the songs and arrangements are as smooth as can be, there’s also the sense that he’d really have preferred to be somewhere else… singing something else….
There are definite high points, of course.His reading of “Cherish” is the definitive version, and Rock Me Baby as a whole more or less invented the concept of enjoyable AOR.“How Can I Be Sure” remains a stone-cold masterpiece.
But it was third album time before one really got a sense of Cassidy choosing his own musical destiny, with “Daydream,” “Daydreamer” and the inexplicably b-side only “If I Didn’t Care” all drawing out some of his finest period performances.
And then there’s Cassidy Live!, a souvenir of his 1974World Tour that has never made its way onto any of those lists of the “greatest live albums ever”… but should.For this is Cassidy unleashed, choosing his own set, working with his own musicians, picking personal favorites from the albums he’d made, and then adding in covers from the ones he wished he had.
His version of the Beatles’ “Please Please Me” certainly rates among that song’s finest ever outings; “Delta Lady,” “For What It’s Worth” and “CC Rider” get a work out as well, and if only someone would crack open the vault and compile a multi-disc portrait of this particular tour, then a lot of people would be revising their opinions about Cassidy’s true place in rock.Even if you don’t care for the rest of the albums in this box, Cassidy Live! is one you should never ignore.
But you will care, because… because you will.
Although it’s been some two years since Fader’s First Light debut, it’s hard to forget the sheer punch of hearing the duo for the first time, and as Neil Arthur and Benge regroup for their second album, it’s clear that the shock was not a one-off.
Without raising a voice, raising the tempo… without once stepping outside of a dark world locked inside their chosen electronic landscape, Fader have created an album of almost startling beauty, a succession of movements that hang beneath Arthur’s never less than fascinating lyrics and melodies, to pick at the corners of both mind and memory.
A touch of Kraftwerk here and there (“What Did It Say” surely has the glow of “Neon Lights” around itsedges) adds hints of familiarity to the journey, and Arthur’s voice cannot help but resurrect his alter-ego Blancmange, no matter how deep his voice occasionally goes; how whispered and frail it sometimes seems (the aptly-named “Whispering”); how distorted it feels across “Enemy Fighter.”
No track strays above four minutes in length, which itself is a terrific tease. More than once, the momentum feels almost cruelly truncated, and in more indulgent times, this entire album could have been released across half a dozen twelve inch singles, each track extended to the format’s limit, and a few would still have felt too short.So, you know what you have to do?Play the whole thing again.
Tourin’ - The Official Bootleg Box Set Volume 4 (4 CDs)
(HNE Recordings Ltd/Cherry Red)
Are we, or are we not, reaching the dog-days of Humble Pie’s career?The history books say “yes”; 1974-1975 saw a tired and ragged band crank out its most disappointing studio albums yet, and 1980-1981 brought a reunion that really didn’t sparkle like it should have.
But that was in the studio.Onstage, Humble Pie were … well, they were Humble Pie, irrepressible Marriott dynamite, a repertoire packed with undeniable classics.
Catch them in Milwaukee in 1981, melding “30 Days in the Hole,” “Hallelujah” and “Gilded Splinters” into one mighty whole.Screaming “I Don’t Need No Doctor” in Albany the year before.The absence of half the original band was always noticeable.But the Pie itself was still a steaming feast.
Those two discs are the final half of this four CD box, and maybe they are the weak links in the chain.But the first two sets, from Boston and Eppelheim, Germany, during the late 1974 Thunderbox tour, are as powerful as any other live recording of the post-Frampton line-up, littered again with performances that get the adrenalin pumping before the song has even started, and reminding you ho much you love this band.
Inded, no matter how true it may be that Pie’s finest live hour was Rockin’ the Fillmore, back in 1970, their finest almost-hours would continue spreading out for years to come.
Roger C Reale & Rue Morgue
(Rave On Records)
Now here’s a blast from the past, a rave from the grave, an exhumation to rock the nation.A forgotten album from 1978, power-pop rocker Reale’s Radioactive debut, and a lost album from the following year, its Mick Ronson-aided successor, Reptiles in Motion, which should have been enormous, but did not even get released.
Packaged together on a single disc, with liner commentaries by band members GE Smith, Hilly Michaels and Roger Reale himself (among others), it’s a slice of what, for many people, remains unknown territory… soon after, Ronson and Michaels would be off touring with Ian Hunter and recording with Ellen Foley; Smith would be back to the Scratch Band and later, Dan Hartman; and in many chroniclers’ minds, their time with Reale is barely even a footnote.
But think of a gravel voiced Flamin’ Groovies, if 70s glam had supplanted 60s pop on their jukebox, then got cold-cocked by a taste for Anglocentric punk rock, and Radioactive emerges one of those albums that you know you’d have loved if you’d heard it at the time, and you curse the industry of the age for ensuring you probably didn’t.
Reptiles is even rawer. Ronson came to the sessions hot off producing the Rich Kids album, and enough time in the UK to absorb a few punk lessons; and his guitar here is as economical as it is (characteristically) dynamic.In any overall portrait of Ronson’s career, Reptiles in Motion probably wouldn’t be pulled out as a crowning achievement, but it wasn’t meant to be.
He was helping out friends on music he enjoyed, and that was often where he seemed to be having the most fun.Because these are fun records, and the Reptiles won’t simply set you in motion, they’ll have you throwing yourself against the walls.
Sunny Spells (EP)
(Fruits de Mer)
Last year, Fruits de Mer’s tenth anniversary celebrations included the magnificent 3LP Three Seasons collection of golden psych classics revisited by a host of label regulars (and more).Next year, that set will be expanded across a CD box set, to encompass all four seasons.And to get you in the mood, here’s a taste of a few of the extras.
Two FdM regulars appear - Schizo Fun Addict, who launched the label in the first place, linking with Ilona V for a positively shimmering, gorgeous and utterly transformative “Dedicated To The One I Love”; and Us and Them lifting Neil Young’s “What Did You Do To My Life?” out of the half-hearted anonymity of his debut album, and into almost symphonic pastures.
New to Fruits, Hanford Flyover drape near-Floydian clouds across Neon Pearl’s “Lust Another Day,” but the real eye-opener is the acoustic version of Chad and Jeremy’s so darkly humored “Rest In Peace,” performed by… Chad and Jeremy. And they still sound as good as ever.
Again, this is just a taster of what’s due when the full box emerges.Looks like we already know what 2020’s “compilation of the year” is going to be.