It’s been quite a year, and I have to admit I have had a hard time keeping up with commentary on the flow of recorded music that has arrived at my doorstep during the past year. It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed any of it – quite the contrary! – but I suppose some of it has left me stunned into silence. I will try to break that silence here and catch up with my CD mailbag from 2017 in the next few hours.
Thanks to all of you who submitted music to us in 2017 – we will try to stay more on top of it in the coming year!
Neil Young – Hitchhiker (Warner Bros.)
There are several Neil Young studio albums that I am aware of having made to final mix/ acetate stage before getting pulled off the release schedule at the last minute. This is one of those albums, dated from 1976, and it’s as spare and raw as anything you’ve ever heard him do. It’s a rare studio recording of just the man and his acoustic guitar, playing a current batch of songs that would eventually find homes on his next four albums, and a couple that have remained unheard until now. If the fact that “there is a brand-new acoustic Neil Young album from the seventies” is good news to your ears, then by all means, pick this up right away. It’s easily as good as you’re imagining it to be. (Now how about releasing its predecessor, Homegrown, in our lifetimes, dude?)
Van Morrison – The Authorized Bang Collection ((Legacy Recordings)
If you’ve never heard Van’s first album on Bang Records, which contains “Brown Eyed Girl,” it’s pretty great and worth owning. Whether you need a full three discs of it including a disc of alternate takes and mixes from the sessions, plus a third disc of “contractual obligation” compositions, is up to you. But I recommend splurging for that third disc, a half hour of self-parodic audio comedy that beats anything you’ve seen on SCTV all week. He wrote a song about Ring Worm that sounds like Adam Sandler on his best day. “You are very lucky to have ringworm/ because you might have/ you might have had something else/ Ooooooh -wah/ you’ve got ring worm.”
Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind – Super Natural (Masonic Records/ Hound Gawd! Records)
The former Thee Hypnotics frontman is up to some new tricks, peppering his new band the Righteous Mind with voodoo soul in three dimensions, keyboards, and pedal steel to add color, most of which is in shades of black. This is a dark boogie masterpiece that will totally satisfy.
Throbbing Gristle – Second Annual Report, 20 Jazz Funk Greats, The Taste of TG (Mute/ Industrial Records)
I mentioned to a friend of mine that TG is on a reissue bender again, and he laughed at the idea that music so intentionally off-putting and antagonistic should have “NEW! Improved Fidelity!” as a selling point. But in truth, these do not appear to be remasters, simply new editions on vinyl and CD, with the latter including extra material. Considering how much of their catalog sells on Ebay for over fifty bucks a copy, I guess this kind of thing is necessary once in a while.
And even if you have the albums, if you listen to this kind of painful stuff for pleasure, then these current 2-CD editions are worth pursuing. The extra discs live material that come with Second Annual Report and 20 Jazz Funk Greats are well-constructed snapshots of the band as they existed in the time of those albums – noisy and confrontational as any punk rocker, but far more fearless in their rejection of conventional wisdom and method than just about any four people that ever had the nerve to call themselves a band. I find 20 Jazz Funk Greats to be the more re-listenable of the two – the 3-D masterpiece “Still Walking” is an example of how disorienting music can be when it’s created with that intent.
As for the compilation The Taste of TG, which appears with a new tracklist incorporating a number from their reunion album The Endless Not, it’s a reasonable entry point for those who have never heard this stuff – a summation of lots of the things that made them special, drawing from rarely-heard live recordings as well as their studio records. And for completists, it may be the one place you can get “Distant Dreams (Part 2)”, the B-side to “Adrenalin”, on CD.
Azonic – Prospect Of The Deep Volume One (Invisible Music)
Two members of Blind Idiot God appear here in a guitar/ percussion duo that enjoys building up massive walls of sound that drone on without end like some exceptionally brutal form of New Age music. Fans of Earth, Sunn O))) and Borbetomagus take note!
LAMF Live At the Bowery Electric (MVD Audio)
Sole surviving member of the Heartbreakers lineup that recorded this album, Walter Lure, teams up with Wayne Kramer, Tommy Stinson and Clem Burke to slam through the songs on this album for a New York crowd. I don’t doubt it was a fun night out. Lure sings with gusto, Kramer does a more than passable job in the Johnny Thunders spot, and Stinson/ Burke is a hell of a rhythm section. But the question is – would anyone on earth ever put this on their stereo, INSTEAD OF the real LAMF if they had the urge to listen to some Heartbreakers material? If you are that person, good news – it was also captured on video, and is separately available on DVD.
Ben Bostick – Ben Bostick (Simply Fantastic Music)
Bostick is a country singer with a deep baritone voice and a good-bad-but-not-evil winking way about him. The funny, fast-talking “The Juggler”, about a man with more girlfriends than good sense, is a memorable character sketch with no particular moral to the story. I could have a beer with this album.
The Alex P. Smith Band – The Alex P. Smith Band (Darlar Productions)
This disc is one of the oddest curiosities ever to cross my mailbox. It’ s a two-piece from Cleveland who appear to work in a costume shop, and who make it clear from their press release that they don’t care for Meghan Trainor or girls singing about their booties. By contrast, their own songs take on serious issues- poverty, war and exploitation. But the lyrics to “North, South, East…”, in which they appear to be trying to start beef with Kanye, and “Black Man”, in which I think somebody gets killed during a traffic stop at an intersection for reasons that are maddeningly unclear, make me wonder where they actually stand on these issues. They routinely butcher the English language when singing about unfortunate Native Americans and African war babies, leading to sentences like “For whom the bell tolled, for him it chimed” and “step wrong, mamba bite”. I assume they mean well and everything but I’m not sure what musical value there is in just listing social injustices without ever taking a position on it like “this should stop” or “how long do we tolerate mass murder?” or “this is not a rebel song!” The one thing they seem willing to take a stand on is girls’ butts being off limits, and then they spend several lines of their Kanye diss taking on the delicate-because-they-already-self-righteously-brought-it-up topic of girls’ butts. I’m probably overthinking it but I did indeed spend some serious head scratching time in the course of this CD’s forty-six minutes.