Reviews: Spikedrivers, Rupie Edwards, Comet Gain, Fruup, Progressive Pop Box, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Treasure Isle Dub

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Spikedrivers

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…across the water

(Scratchy Records)

Tenth album time for the UK veterans who’ve been around, in one form or another, since the early 1990s; and, if you think they sound surprisingly American for a British blues trio, there’s a reason for that.

Bassist Constance Redgrave hails from Los Angeles, guitarist Ben Tyzack grew up in Iowa City and Atlanta, the son of a Dixieland trumpeter… yeah, that’ll do it.And when you listen to the moody slow-burner “One Careful Owner,” or the slinky rewrite of the “Hokey Cokey,” “What’s It All About,”it’s done.

This is pure, unpretentious, straightforward country blues, shot through with a mean sense of humor (“just another song about a lonesome train” they sing in the middle of another song about a lonesome train), and a regular hoedown full of singalongs.

For example. If you can’t imagine a barnful of kids roaring joyfully along with “It’s All About You… and Your Big Fat Ass,” then you have no soul.And you probably drive a car that’s way too big for your needs.

Try “Soho Blues” which feels like Dr John playing the smokiest speakeasy in town, while trying to lure the audience into a seedy London strip club.Or the cover of “Summertime,” that sounds like it was hacked out on the hottest, stillest, most humid day of the year.Play it outside while the cicadas are singing.It’s the only sound missing from the record.

In fact, in a way, the whole album feels like that.Dark and soulful, and deliberately lazy, there’s a slide guitar that howls like a distant siren, harmonies that feel like eerie echoes, and more passing ghosts than you can shake a swampsnake at. …across the water is nighttime behind the neon light that’s the only illumination for miles, a shack in the middle of nowhere, and a band that looks like it really wants to give you the time of your life.Now you have to decide what you’ll give them in return.

Various Artists

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You Can’t Wine/Music Alone Shall Live

(Doctor Bird)

To the average UK listener of the mid-1970s, the name Rupie Edwards means just one thing.“Skanga… Skanga… Skanga… Skanga…”

The first dub side ever to become a major hit record outside of Jamaica, Edwards’ “Ire Feelings” remains one of the most exhilarating… or one of the most irritating… records ever to breach the Top Twenty.Spin Cycle regards it high among the former, the foundation stone for what became a lifelong fascination with producer Edwards’ work.

And so we celebrate this two CD collection, not only for shining a bright light on Edwards’ pre-skanga catalog (the music here dates from 1967-1970), but also for restoring to the racks one of the great rarities in his canon. 1971’s Music Alone Shall Live compilation might be best renowned for its topless cover model, but more lastingly, it’s also the repository for a non-stop dozen monster sounds.

The Meditators’ title track, Winston Blake’s “Herbert Spliffington,” Winston Wright’s “Sharpen Ya Machete,” Gregory Isaacs’ “Too Late” - this is the kind of collection that Trojan Records vinyl was made for, and we can only hope that its CD reissue portends a full waxen reappearance, too.

None of which is to say You Can’t Wine is in any way inferior.Released in 1970, and again overflowing with Edwards-produced jewels (Bob Andy, Lloyd Robinson, Lloyd Charmers, the Concords, Dobby Dobson), it’s more of a retrospective than Music Alone.Whereas that set, and the sixteen bonus tracks that follow it, concentrate on what were then still recent releases, You Can’t Wine tracks back to 1967 in search of jewels, and the seventeen extra numbers appended to the disc follow suit.

Nothing here packs the same dislocating punch as “Ire Feelings” did, the first time you heard it.But Edwards was one of Jamaica’s most visionary producers for a lot more than one record, and this package will tell you why.

Comet Gain

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Fireraisers Forever!

(Tapete)

Feeling lo-fi, feeling fuzzy, feeling like listening to a dozen garage-in-the-bedroom, Question Mark organ-driven singalong anthems for the interesting times in which we live?Let’s start with a song called “We’re All Fucking Morons,” and go gloriously downhill/uphill from there.

This is the kind of record that people who like their music well-played, smooth and yachty will run screaming from the room to escape, and that’s what makes it so good.It doesn’t even matter that “The Girl with the Melted Mind and Her Fear of the Open Door” sounds like Michael Stipe fronting the 13th Floor Elevators, and “Bad Nite at the Mustache” sounds like Carter USM fronting Carter USM… actually, that latter might well be pegged as an influence here, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The 1990s would have been a helluva lot dourer, darker, dirtier place had Carter not come along, and maybe it’s the lack of something similar that has turned today into such a sour sack of silliness.Comet Gain aren’t ever going to change the world.But they do make it more fun and, if you don’t believe that, give “Your Life on Your Knees” a spin - actually, no.Don’t.It’s one of the most desultory songs you’ll hear today.

“Mid 8Ts,” though… oooh, the memories tumble off the tumbrel, and “Her 33rd Perfect Goodbye” feels like something Lloyd Cole might have done, if he’d not done something else.In other words, Fireraisers Forever! is all over the place, fist in your face and stuck in your brain, and it’s going to be a lot easier getting up tomorrow morning, knowing this is waiting to be played again.

Fruup

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Wise as Wisdom: The Dawn Albums 1973-1975

(Esoteric)

Fruup were one of those band names that populated the UK gig guides of the early-mid 1970s, without a lot of people really knowing who they were or what they did.And you know that’s true because, if a lot of people had known, we wouldn’t be having to introduce them to you now.Irish prog band, opened for everyone… look ‘em up on-line if you need to know more.

The four albums here represent Fruup’s entire output, recorded for the Dawn label in the years, sadly, after Dawn stopped being the kind of label that the hardcore proggers bought without question.Too few pearls, too much swine. But Future Legends (1973) was a corker, blessed with a genuinely eyeball-searing cover, and probably featuring more truly great Fruup numbers than any of its successors.

“Graveyard Epistle,” “Lord of the Incubus,” “Song for a Thought” - this was tightly wrought, fascinatingly woven stuff, and the “On a Clear Day” bonus track is nothing to sniff at, either.Seven Secrets, The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes and Modern Masquerade followed, and some might say there was a definite downward slope being followed, as Fruup’s reputation suffered from the same kind of “where next?” ailment that benighted so many of their contemporaries.

Prog was running out of steam as a genuinely adventurous force; labels were getting a little more fussy about bands pursuing more commercial streams.But Fruup, obviously, didn’t get the memo.The fidgety medieval nearly-jig that is “Faced with Shekinah,” from 1974’s Seven Secrets will certainly set your inner hobbit a-bopping, while Modern Masquerades, their final LP, might well be the overall best of the lot.Just as its centerpiece, the almost-eleven minute “Gormenghast,” could be their overall masterpiece.

So, Fruup… er; they’re super.

various artists

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New Moon’s In The Sky: The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1970

(Grapefruit)

Wow, this is a weirdie.Which, of course, is what we want.Picture the scene.It’s 1970, you’re up in your bedroom, you’ve got the cassette-radio blaring, and one finger poised to unpause the “record” button at the first sound of something you think you might like.

And, while it’s true that you’d have need to find an extraordinarily adventurous station before you’d hear the full contents of this box, the three nearly-C90s worth of sound on these CDs is what you could have been listening to, if the DJs weren’t so obsessed with… other stuff.

“Progressive Pop” is a bit of a misnomer, of course… some might even say it’s an utter oxymoron. But the fact remains, a lot of period prog and underground bands did at least try their hand at numbers that didn’t tie themselves into 11/8 variations on a Theme of Rimsky Korsakov; didn’t believe that any song that clocked in at less than three sides long was clearly just the band tuning up; didn’t think “choruses” were seventeen women dressed as Valkyrie on the closing three numbers of the latest on-ice spectacular.

So, prog goes pop and as you play through this box, it’s hard to disagree.Hawkwind’s “Hurry On Sundown” was breezy acoustics with a singalong chorus, and only when you dig deep into their debut album do you realize it’s the most atypical track in their period repertoire.

Kevin Ayers’ “Singing a Song in the Morning” is such breezy summertime sunshine that “Eleanor’s Cake (Which Ate Her)” feels a thousand miles away. Patto, Affinity, Cressida, Magna Carta and Warhorse come spinning off the Vertigo label to utterly dismiss that concern’s reputation for mind-blindingly underground arcania (not a real word, but let’s leave it); Stray, Barclay James Harvest, Steamhammer and Killing Floor rework whatever you might ordinarily think of them.

Then there’s the bands who kinda go in the opposite direction. Status Quo reinventing themselves from the Matchstick Men hitmakers into a far more serious affair; the Sweet, never dreaming that one day they might be the glam rock bubblegum sound of the seventies; Doctor Father, who thought of themselves as a pseudonym for Hotlegs, two years before 10cc hove into view.The Hollies and the Tremoloes, Marmalade and the Move,

And, to wrap it all up, there’s comedian Bill Oddie, who appears to have woken up one day wondering what Joe Cocker’s rendering of “With A Little Help From My Friends” might sound like if someone had switched lyric sheets at the start of the session, and he’d sung a traditional Yorkshire folk song instead.If you want to know the answer, you’ll have to listen.But a clue. It’s fabulous.

Such a fun compilation, such a dream and a delight, and oozing, as it ought to, through the kind of 1970-colored cloak you really wished you’d worn at the time.Forget reputations, forgetwhat you think you can expect from this set.Just put it on and drift… and don’t forget to hit “record”!

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes

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Be For Real - The PIR Recordings (1972-1975)

(Soul Music Records)

Gamble and Huff’s Philly International label is not often lauded for the quality of its album releases.Why should it be, given the magnificence of the 45s that came shooting out like shrapnel every time you turned around, not to mention the success that those singles enjoyed. For close to half a decade, the Philly International sound was the soundtrack to the soul music seventies, the new decade’s answer to Motown in terms of both quality and hit records.

Unlike Motown, however, there was never a sense that albums were there just to round up the b-sides and out-takes that were knocked out between the deathless hit 45s.Across the roster, Philly International set sail down a stream of magnificent albums, from the O’Jays to the Three Degrees, from Billy Paul to Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and hold that latter thought because, spread across three CDs, here are the four LPs that the latter released between ’72 and ’75.And even if you excise the hits (“If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “The Love I Lost,” “Wake Up Everybody”), there’s enough quintessential Philly soul here to have you smooching the rest of the night away.

“Be For Real,” Teddy Pendergrass chasitising a girlfriend for acting up around his friends; “Bad Luck,” taking one of the producers’ early excursions into disco and raising it higher than anyone expected; and, best of all, “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” a record of such glittering perfection that even Motown couldn’t resist cutting a cover, and earning one of its biggest hits of the decade.(Oh, and don’t be fooled by the mistiming in the track listing on the box.“Bad Luck” is noted as 4.31, but the CD plays the full 7.31 version.)

And that’s not all.With the four albums fitting neatly onto two CDs, disc three rounds up half a dozen bonus tracks, ranging from a few live cuts to a couple of Tom Moulton remixes… “Don’t Leave Me This Way” among them.And if you thought the six minute original was sublime, wait till you hear its eleven minute revision.

various artists

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The Treasure Dub Albums Collection

(Dr Bird)

Duke Reid and his Treasure Isle label aren’t names that necessarily leap foremost to the mind when contemplating mid-1970s dub.Not when the likes of Lee Perry, King Tubby and Rupie Edwards were all at the peak of their own dub abilities at the time.

But three albums worth of Tommy McCook & the Supersonics dub mixes nevertheless ranked among the brightest spots in an already luminescent era, and here they are again, spread across two CDs and resplendent, of course, with sufficient bonus tracks to stuff both discs.

Treasure Dub volumes one and two, and Pleasure Dub are the collections in question, with the package not only rounding up material cut alongside the LPs themselves (1975-76) but also looking back to 1973 and forward to 1978, while picking up on seven tracks that have never before seen the light of day.

Most, of course, were based around familiar tunes; many were b-sides to those tracks themselves.But soaring off in fresh directions, with Errol Brown at the controls and Sonia Pottinger as executive producer (the Duke himself passed away in 1975), the dubs may be shorter than some we’re accustomed to, but they’re adventurous, exciting and just a lot of fun to listen to.So file this alongside the dubbers you love, and turn that bass up loud.