Judy Dyble/Andy Lewis
Summer Dancing (CD)
With her own next solo album hurtling through the pipeline, Judy Dyble rounds off a triumphant season of live shows (capped at Cropredy over the weekend) with Summer Dancing - a collaboration with Andy Lewis that is, in every way, a meeting of the musical minds.
Lewis himself has form as both a solo artist and Paul Weller’s sometime bassist - inevitably, Summer Dancing falls closer to the former than the latter, but again, it’s the partnership that flavors the album. Dyble’s ineffably English vocals, mannerisms and lyrics melt exquisitely into Lewis’s so-evocative soundscapes, themselves a panoply of sonic impressions that inhale fifties jazz clubs, sixties psych and seventies folk, without consciously echoing any of them.
Really, the album’s title says it all - it’s an album of bird song, bees and breeze-born scents, but again, without any of those things on board (well, maybe some bird song). But there is a rural English traffic report that evokes an awful lot, while Lewis’s production and the overall instrumentation ensure nothing strays too far beyond those parameters. Okay, maybe the hook that hangs from “Summers of Love” could have been rendered with a shade less Hammer horror drama, but that’s a minor criticism. If, indeed, criticism it is.
Think of Saint Etienne’s more pastoral moments and take away the beats. You’ll be close… at least until you arrive at “My Electric Chauffeur,” which has a pulse to match its title and begs for a twelve-inch remix; and “The Day They Took the Music Away,” which marries dark chorus and riffing harmonica to a locomotive beat and bitter lyric.
Even there, though… with fourteen tracks and an (elsewhere) luscious, lazy atmosphere that cannot help but envelop you in a similar mood, Summer Dancing is a timeless triumph, both for its makers and its listeners - a record that feels like a movie, which in turn captures memories that you may not even own, and they peak with the penultimate “Tired Bones,” and a pristine, playful Dyble vocal that rolls back so many years that she could be a teenager recording her first album again. Until you listen to the lyrics.
The span of Dyble’s “rebirth” as a solo artist has now all but quadrupled the duration of her “original” career, to the point where it now feels redundant to even mention her beginnings in the same breath as her current status. As a singer, as a performer and certainly as a songwriter, she hasn’t merely re-established herself, she has carved out… and indeed, created… a niche that is exclusively and extraordinarily her own; and Summer Dancing proves that she’s nowhere near finished exploring it.
The Ed Palermo Big Band
The Great Un-American Song Book Volumes 1 and 2 (2CD)
Imagine, if you will, dragging out twenty-or-so random albums from your record collection; selecting one song from each, blindfold with a pin; and then rearranging them for a group best remembered for once doing very strange things to the Frank Zappa catalog.
Congratulations. You’re already halfway to adoring the Palermo Big Band’s latest, a two disc romp through rock’s distant (and not so…) past that opens with the sound of someone shooting one of Sergeant Pepper’s goats, and marches on from there.
The album is well-titled - it’s the British Invasion and its sundry descendants that dominate the track listing, although the segue from the Nice’s approximation of Bernstein’s “America” into Green Day’s “American Idiot” does strain the purity a little. It’s scarcely an indictable offense, however; and for all the band’s oft-touted musical peculiarities, many of the covers aren’t simply respectful, they are spot on, too.
From the Stones’ “We Love You” to Radiohead’s “The Tourist”; from Arthur Brown’s “Fire” to Oasis’s “Definitely Maybe,” and on through a brace of wicked Crimson covers (“Lark’s Tongue part two” and the horn interlude from “21st Century Schizoid Man”), The Great Un-American Song Book is an album that first embraces all the elements that made these songs important in the first place, and then seeks out the ingredients that contributed to that importance.
A thirteen minute jazz-scented dance through Quicksilver’s “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder” (written by a Brit, pianist Nicky Hopkins); a mantric drift through Traffic’s “Low Spark…”; a honking romp through ELP’s “Bitches’ Crystal” - these are the poles around which the songbook revolves, and so long as you don’t regard the originals as some kind of holy writ, there’s no reason whatsoever why Arthur Brown’s “Fire,” apparently sung by one of Monty Python’s Gumbies, or the Beatles’ “Her Majesty,” as re-envisioned by a fifties crooner, should not effortlessly scale the peaks of your pleasure. And, while you’re at it, pay special attention to the silences between the songs. They’re not always silent.
He’s Real Gone
The wry humor with which Overend Watts awaited his death back in January (including the gloriously disrespectful greetings cards that he mailed to certain friends, in the knowledge he’d be gone before they received them) is one of the brighter stories to emerge from the merciless toll that the last few years have taken on the Class of Seventies Rock. And his first and final solo album maintains that mood.
Best remembered, of course, from Mott the Hoople, but an in-demand producer and an occasional author too, Watts was also a sorely under-sung songwriter - “Born Late 58,” opening side two of Mott’s The Hoople album, is his best known, and reappears here in its original demo form. But he also wrote the lion’s share of the post Ian Hunter Mott (no Hoople)’s output, and if their two albums received short shrift from both critics and fans, that was no reflection on the material itself.
Recorded towards the end of his days, it would be lovely to report that He’s Real Gone captures everything that made Watts so unique, from the towering platforms and the silver hair, to the humor, artistry and vision that characterized his work way-back-when. Lovely, and true.
From start to finish, He’s Real Gone is a delight; lyrically light-hearted, buoyant as a balloon, and so determined not to take anything seriously that you almost overlook how magnificently constructed and exquisitely played the thirteen new tracks are.
The titles give a lot away - “The Legend of Redmire Pool, “Prawn Fire on Uncle Sheep Funnel,” “There’s Berkeley Power Station”… there are few ruminations on life, the universe and everything here, and who’d have wanted them if they were? Watts’s onstage persona was almost cartoonish (how could it have been much else with that tailor?), and alone in the studio with a broad array of instruments, that’s the side that he indulges.
Yet it’s not an album you put on just for laughs. The songs are genuinely powerful (“Caribbean Hate Song” might be the best, but I’ve changed my time six times already), and the playing and production are spot on. Yes, there are certainly echoes of past friends and peers on display, including a touch of Roy Harper around the vocals, but it’s Watts’s album all the way through, still jammed with all the pleasures that were so much a part of his writing “back in the day,” and occasionally allowing them to shine through even louder than before.
“He’d Be a Diamond” has a hook and harmonies that the mid-sixties would have given their last pair of Beatle boots for; “Magic Garden” feels like a lost John Otway classic; “Belle of the Boot” is unadulterated punk rock. And the only regret, as the album comes to an end, is that Watts waited so long to make it. If this is the music he spent forty years bottling up, we lost out on some of the most extraordinarily enjoyable albums in history.
Naturally / Steppin’ (CD)
No More Heartaches / What Am I To Do? (CD)
(Doctor Bird/Cherry Red)
Inaugurating the UK’s latest reggae reissue imprint, Doctor Bird takes its name from producer Graeme Goodall’s much-loved sixties label, but seems set to spread its wings a lot further, with two twofer reissues that pick up on, respectively, two great late seventies albums by the undisputed Empress of seventies reggae; and a pair of late sixties comps that have been making collectors’ wallets water for years.
Griffiths first. Already an established solo star when she became part of Bob Marley’s I Threes in the mid-seventies, she continued her own career under the aegis of producer Sonia Pottinger, and what is effectively a who’s who of the Kingston session scene of the day: Sly Dunbar, Ranchie McLean, Ansell Collins, Earl Lindo, Sticky Thompson et al.
The albums’ content is as peerless as the players. First up, Naturally (1978) is built around no less than seven sharp Bob Andy covers (Griffiths and Andy scored a number of international hits earlier in the decade as Bob & Marcia); plus a couple of old Wailers classics and the Melodians’ “Survival,” but all of them remodeled for the new age and sounding spectacular still.
The following year’s Steppin’ retains the Marley and Andy connections, but broadens its horizons across a magnificent version of BB Seaton’s “The Way I Feel About You,” a rerecording of Griffiths’ own 1975 hit “Give and You’ll Get,” Jackie Edwards “Peaceful Woman” and the self-penned “Stepping Out of Babylon,” a stunning piece of roots that made it into the I Threes’ own set on Marley’s next (final) tour in 1980.
Two great albums, to be followed by… two more great albums.
Throughout the late 1960s/early 1970s, the Trojan label was the primary international source for new reggae releases; indeed, across a slew of subsidiaries, Trojan released so many single per week that it would have cost a fortune to keep up with even the best of them. The label’s response to this dilemma, then, was simplicity itself - a regular flow of compilation albums that themselves rounded up select titles.
Best known among these is the Tighten Up series, if only by virtue of the LPs’ memorably risque cover art. But there were many more, and the two presented here, No More Heartaches (1969) and What Am I To Do? (1970), round up two dozen tracks which may not be as instantly familiar as the contents of the average Tighten Up, but are no less dynamic for that.
Produced in the main by Harry J, the Beltones, King Cannon, Glen & Dave, Lloyd Robinson, the Jamaicans, Kid Gungo, Tony Scott and the Woodpeckers all figure among the line-up, and all perfectly recapture the “Boss Reggae” mood of the time - this was the sound of the junior youth club at the dawn of the decade, sta-prest trousers and Ben Sherman shirts mandatory, and an evening in their company brings it all hurtling back. Baz has brought some cider!
There are squidillions of compilations out there for anyone looking to jump into the Trojan catalog of this period, including a plethora of themed 3CD boxes that appeared during the nineties (and can now cost a bomb on the collectors market). Maybe some of this material appears within; maybe it doesn’t. No matter. Here you hear it in exactly the form and order that probably the majority of people listened at the time, and they are utterly peerless.
Signal 9 (CD)
Reminding us that spirit of King Crimson looms at least as large as the continuing (albeit stop-start) existence of the original band, Canada’s Miriodor surface with a new album that opens with what could easily be the Residents’ remix of Red, a succession of passages and pauses, solos and sequences that shoot off in so many different directions at once that its sole musical equivalent would be feeding time in the piranha pool.
A quarter century on from their first prolusions, but with founders Pascal Globensky and Rémi Leclerc still present on ultra-prominent keyboards and drums, Signal 9 is less an album, more a box of sounds, sequenced for your convenience but just as likely to be a random gathering of noodled notions - and that is not a put-down.
Rather… like the Residents, like King Crimson… Miriodor have that rare knack of continuing to challenge even after you think you’ve got the hang of their music, at the same time as steering clear of simply being clever for the sake of it. Indeed, in another time and place, this could be seen as verging on pop, and only the fact that Henry Cow never quite made it as teenage pin-ups deprived us of that sensation.
Lives of Angels
Hole in the Sky (LP)
Although one ear to their sound irrevocably pins this to early eighties London, at that glorious moment when the disparate forces of the new wave began splintering into so many fresh genres, Lives of Angels are scarcely rated among the era’s most sainted names. Indeed, unless you happened to pick up the 1983 Elevators to Eden cassette EP, or a couple of compilations released around the same time by the Color Disc label, chances are you’ll never even have heard of them.
Hole in the Sky remedies that, not only gathering together (almost) the band’s entire released output, but also adding a clutch of unreleased cuts that stretch from the group’s first ever recordings, through to their mid-decade last.
The overall feel is patchy, a forensic examination of a band still finding its feet (and, having done so, setting out to find different ones). But the vision remains focussed throughout, whether they’re carving a modern surf anthem into the theme from an unmade sitcom (“Nothing Yet”), or predicting the future of low-fi indy with the mildly muffled Velvets sheen of “Popular Violence.”
The sound quality does betray the band’s station in life; particularly the earliest home recordings that may or may not have been taped onto a passing C90 with one mike in the middle of the room. But to focus on that is to overlook the ingenuity of the songs, the rough-hewn perfection of the performances and, most of all, the belief - and this is where you really get a flavor of the time - that the entire music scene had just been torn open and, for the first time in decades, anything was possible.
Alan Lee Shaw
She Moans/Bolweevil (45)
(Last Year’s Youth)
The Rings (10-inch EP)
(Neat Damned Noise)
Originally released in 1974 and more or less unheard since then, “She Moans” marks the first ever vinyl excursion by Alan Lee Shaw - frontman with the Maniacs, and later, the Physicals and a mid-90s incarnation of the Damned, plus a few intervening line-ups with Brian James. All amounting to some of the most invigorating high energy rock’n’roll of the past forty years.
A clattering melange of the Velvets, the Dolls, the Fairies and the MC5, shot through with Shaw’s manic guitar and lyrics to match, the Maniacs were the ultimate in-concert test for anyone who believed a two man band was going to sound like Tyrannosaurus Rex; abetted by drummer Rod Latter (later of the Adverts), Shaw concocted a sound that could make Metal Machine Music sound like “Pale Blue Eyes.”
Released, for whatever reason, under Shaw’s name alone, this same line-up sounds somewhat more refined, but still the grooves rattle to a slathering slice of proto-punk thuggery, hard-edged and harshly delivered and so out of step with the glam rock of the day that hindsight insists it was no coincidence whatsoever when the NME reviewed it under the headline “Punke [sic] Rock.”
Further evidence of the two-man Maniacs’ mania remains under lock and key at present, so make the most of this monster now it’s here. But their energies didn’t die, as proved by the eponymous six track EP that captures Shaw and Latter’s reunion with former Pink Fairy Twink - the trio first worked together in 1972’s ZZZ.
Comprising the demo that landed the band a one-off single deal with Chiswick in 1977, it opens with early versions of that 45, the riotous “I Wanna Be Free” and “Automobile.” Four further cuts include another Shaw original, “Shoot You Down,” and a cover of the Fairies’ “Teenage Rebel” - grand primal street noise one and all, and a reminder that the best punk rock always kept one eye on its heritage. It was just a very different heritage to the one that Greenslade fans got off on.
Close to the Noise Floor Presents… Noise Reduction System (Formative European Electronics 1974-1984) (4 CDs)
Following up the so-indispensable Close to the Noise Floor compendium of early UK electronic singles, Noise Reduction Floor widens its horizons to investigate all that was taking place in Europe around the same time - and emerges with four discs packed with things that even arch-collectors might be unfamiliar with.
West German acts dominate, which is hardly surprising; long before DIY electro became a possibility elsewhere, the country led the world in such explorations. But the mark of its best-known proponents, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream et al, is a lot less pronounced than on the UK side of things, so abandon all expectations here.
Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Slovenia - entries appear from across the map and, for each of the bands whose name you recognize (Yello, DAF, Vangelis, Klaus Schulz, Front 242, Minny Pops), there’s probably nine more that will shock your socks off.
Because this is a startling album, both in terms of content and sound, but also in execution and expertise. Again harking back to the earlier volume, there was very much a sense of “what happens if I press this button?” at play. This time around, the mood is more “I know what happens if I press that button… but what if I also do this at the same time?” The Brits took the machines for a trial run. The continentals gave them the run of the house, and while the sense of young guns going for it is still shaking the walls, the overall feel is a lot more fulfilled.
Which is not to say that every band here knew exactly what they were doing - the sense of glorious experimentation for its own sake still pervades. But perhaps, coming from a musical background that was less in thrall to the rock of the west, there was more room for invention as opposed to contradiction. British (or American) performers might be proud that their work sounds nothing like Chuck Berry. Elsewhere, Berry didn’t even enter the equation.
Highlights hurtle from every corner, although the accompanying booklet is so engrossing that your first listen will probably be lost in the liners, a full guide to who, what, where and when. Later, though, the true beauty of the box sinks in, and the next four hours of your life have an unimpeachable soundtrack. And a lot of hours after that, too.
To the Moon and Back - 20 Years and Beyond (2CD)
(Minstrel Hall Music)
Twenty years on from their debut album, Blackmore’s Night remain the only truly convincing band to have taken root in the world that lies beyond folk rock; and to have continued on, as Blackmore puts it in his liner notes, “not just regurgitating the past for the purists, but living it and feeling the pain and passion of the day.”
He refers to their music as “Renaissance mock rock,” and he’s right. Whereas too many other hybrids allow the rock to flavor whatever its mixed with, here, the modern world feels more grafted to the minstrelsy than vice versa ever could; and, volume notwithstanding, Blackmore seems far happier with his hurdy gurdy and what-have-you than he ever did with a guitar alone for company.
Whether or not the bulk of BN’s compositions would ever have passed muster in ye authentic olden days is, of course,a question that cannot be answered, except by pointing out that when they do embrace an older melody, it slips effortlessly into their repertoire. Songs like “Fires at Midnight,” “Under a Violet Moon” and “Ghost of a Rose” may be alive with modern sensibilities, but they track back too, to an earlier age… one in which, one likes to think, a traveling musician might happily have encored with an all-in party piece that medleys “I Love to go a-Wandering,” “Drink Drink Drink” and whatever else he feels like dropping in on the night.
All of which is included here, on a twenty-seven track collection that rounds up what the duo consider to be BN’s best material, both original recordings and 2017 remakes. The playing is exquisite; the performances flawless; Night sings like an angel and Blackmore staggers with every fresh flourish, wielding every stringed instrument with the panache of wild youth, but taking them all so much further. And suddenly, twenty years of Blackmore Night feels like a mere bagatelle. It could easily be two hundred.
Edit Peptide (CD)
Re-emerging with their first new album in fifteen years, Minnesota prog monsters Bubblemath continue down much the same path as last time around (2002’s Such Fine Particles of the Universe, in case you’re keeping score), but all those years of waiting still don’t prepare you for a soundscape that can swing from Yes-sy pastures to growly Heep vox, and never once sounded rushed. Or even Styxed.
All manner of minds have been exercised trying to visualize where prog would have gone had exhaustion, punk rock, and a desperate need to escape the genre not conspired to rip its heart out, somewhere around 1975.
Not until the emergence of Bubblemath, however, did any suggestions really seem to fit… too many attempts to either emulate the old, or completely redesign its parameters left us swimming helplessly in a sea of cosmic mushroom soup. (And not even the fun mushrooms).
Bubblemath, however, hit the nail on the head, and they continue to do so today, with an album that could never have been released at the time, but if you follow an imaginary lineage from then-till-now, Edit Peptide is exactly where we should be today.
Indeed, with “Avoid that Eye Candy,” they’ve even included a prospective hit single!
Rich La Bonte
Mayan Canals (LP)
New Yorker La Bonte’s debut album was released in 1981, the product of seven years’ worth of writing and recording and the follow-up to a clutch of 45s released beneath the alias Dada2. Unseen and largely unheard since then, it reappears now with a fresh remaster, a couple of bonus tracks (drawn from a period single) - and it still refuses to sit still.
Maybe it’s the disparity of subject matter (one song discusses Bowie’s role in The Man Who Fell to Earth; another celebrates the birth of La Bonte’s daughter); maybe the range of styles as an electro opening feeds into a stirring prog ballad, becomes a piece of swaggering new wave pop and so forth.
But however you approach Mayan Canals, it’s a gloriously audacious collection that also manages to do something completely unexpected with the Stones’ old “Satisfaction” riff (but only the riff); delivers a lecture on the archaeological mystery that gave the album its title; and takes a rattling, clanging, almost industrial nocturnal train ride to Albany.
And the next time you play it, it might do something else entirely.What a great album this is.
I Speak Machine
Nobody said this was going to be an easy listen. It is, however, a dramatic one, the soundtrack-plus-more to a newly-made mid-eighties zombie flick, with Gary Numan’s daughters starring as the living dead, and I Speak Machine concocting a brutal stew of songs, sounds and effects from a studio full of period machinery.
A self-described “love letter” to the mid-eighties, rooted joyfully within the realms of Cabaret Voltaire and Chris & Cosey (the seething “Demon Days” is where the latter really come into focus), Zombies 1985 is an utterly disconcerting album, as liable to ricochet off into effects and distortion (the soundtrack portion) as it is to percolate along on a rhythm or hook.
But while the mutant pop vibe of the era is the predominant theme on first listen, subsequent airings are more potently hinged on the sheer timelessness of both sound and execution - proof that, no matter how far sundry period practitioners took the mood, the full potential of eighties electronics was never explored in their lifetime. By that token, I Speak Machine, in tandem with producer Benge, reignite the age with unexpected ferocity, but never at the expense of the music itself.
Zombies really have been overworked in popular culture recently, and you’d probably be smart to avoid every mention of them. Mid-eighties zombies, on the other hand, are well in line for a comeback, and this is where they begin.
John Foxx and the Maths
The older farts among us recall his name from Ultravox, but where’s the fun in that? Across the almost-forty years since he departed, Foxx has been responsible for some of the most intriguing, alluring and invigorating electronic excursions of the age… and, if he’s done so some distance below the mainstream radar, then there’s all the more to discover if you’re arriving late to the party.
The Machine is the score to director Juliet Forster’s recent adaptation of EM Forster’s The Machine Stops… a now 108 year-old short story that wonders what mankind will do when the power goes out. Written before any of the technological gimcrackery that we today rely on had even been dreamed of, it nevertheless visualizes most of it - and then snatches it away, just to see what will happen. If you’ve ever lost your phone when you need to update your Facebook status, you can probably guess what happens next.
Foxx’s score is an other-worldly experience, atmospheres conjured from machines that themselves will not work when the inevitable occurs, but contrarily evoking a desolate silence and darkness that only slowly shifts as the survivors gradually come to terms with their predicament, and start developing the first work-arounds.
It’s not a piece of music that leaves you with warm, fuzzy feelings at the end; how could it be, with a final track titled “Orphan Waltz”? But it is a work of breathtaking beauty, a soundtrack that paints its story without any need to know the tale that sparked it, and that’s always the hallmark of brilliance.
3 Teens Kill 4
No Motive (LP)
Dislocated New York post-punk, agitated home recordings scratched out in 1980 by the simple expedient of turning on the cassette recorder and doing… whatever.
Long before there was sampling, taping things off the radio and inserting them into the soundscape was simply something that the occasional band tried; long before there were banks of electronics, Casio drum and Korg rhythm machines laid down beats that rumbled over one another; and when you add the 3 Teens’ vocals and bass, you’re left with a savage collage of urban decay and headline news, wrapped up inside the dance sensibilities that ESG are normally best associated with. Yeah, it’s that good.
A report on the shooting of Ronald Reagan unfolds around stentorian neo-rap; “Crime Drama” is semi-spoken word set to sci-fi space junk having a seizure; “Circumscript” is an oasis of pop purity that could have crackled out of any decent new wave jukebox of the age; and “Hut / Bean Song” is seven minutes of robotic S&M set to a foreboding marching beat, before morphing into a childish chant about breast exercises. And three previously unreleased bonus tracks just add to the fun.
The whole thing is frightfully far-sighted when one considers when it was recorded; in a matter of just a couple of years, of course, it would also seem dreadfully old-fashioned, as the likes of Big Audio Dynamite and Sigue Sigue Sputnik took to lacing almost exactly the same ingredients into a sale-able, commercial whole. Or even hole. But distance has reclaimed 3 Teens’ genius, and remastering even disguises any suggestion of these tapes’ cassette-recorder origins.
Dark Entries has already proven itself among the most enterprising reissue labels of the last few years. 3 Teens are now established among the most enterprising bands in its catalog.
Putting Off Death (CD/LP)
Eighteen albums in (but six years after their last), and still channeling classic Canterbury through their Chicago hometown, Cheer Accident’s latest feels like the album Robert Wyatt would have made if he’d abandoned his late 1970s seclusion, and chosen instead to embrace the teen idolhood that could have greeted him post- his hit with “I’m a Believer.”
A lot less strange than either Ruth or Richard, then, and a long way up from rock bottom, Cheer Accident have concocted what could easily rank among America’s best albums of the year-so-far. Indeed, Putting Off Death opens with a haunting triptych of opening numbers that lean towards so many different poles that their sheer coherence is an art form in itself, all the more so since they never lose sight of their essential melodics.
This vista does, it is true, cracks fairly dramatically with track four, and “Failing World”’s evocation of several drunken David Byrnes trying to fit a tune to a chiming riff and a passing trumpet; but it’s a brief (under four minutes) diversion before the tribal jazz mantra of “More and Less,” and then we return to the opening pastures with the gorgeous “Lifetime Guarantee” - whose fade, alone, is worth the price of admission; and the closing piece de resistance, “Hymn.” Which, in places, even matches its title.