Thursday, July 19, 2018

Record Roundup: Out Of The Past

My cup of new music runneth over, but there are also many extraordinary sounds from the past that are making my ears happy in 2018. Here are some quick takes on a few reissues and “lost” albums.

Dennis Coffey - One Night At Morey’s If you’ve been following closely, you know I’m a huge fan of this Detroit legend. While I still hope for new music from him, this trio session from 1968 is, like last year’s Hot Coffey In The D, pure catnip. Coffey and Co. burn their way through covers and originals, taking what were then new classics like Eleanor Rigby and Cissy Strut to new heights of exploration and interaction. Melvin Davis's phenomenal drum solo in Burning Spear and the opening groove of It’s Your Thing - featuring a fuzz tone that would blow Norman Whitfield’s mind - are ripe for sampling. Just make sure you check with Mr. Coffey, first!

Malo - Latin Bugaloo: The Warner Brothers Singles While he never had his “supernatural” moment, Carlos Santana’s brother Jorge was also an excellent guitarist and his band Malo made a lot of great records in the early 70’s. This concise compilation features both sides of seven singles released over a two year period and it’s a blast from end to end, even if it gets occasionally as slick as Chicago on a couple of the later songs. Suavecito is probably the one you remember - and it’s still as good as you thought - but skip ahead to CafĂ© for the astonishing twin lead guitars of Santana and Abel Zarate. The ideal place to listen is in the car and the punchy mastering had the busy, detailed arrangements fairly leaping out of my speakers as I drove up the Taconic.

Eula Cooper - Let Our Love Grow Higher The bulk of releases from Numero Groups are compilations featuring obscure labels or regional scenes. So, when they focus on an individual artist, it’s usually something special. Eula Cooper was a southern belle of merely 14 when she waxed her first single for Atlanta’s Tragar Records in 1968, and they gave her the full treatment with strings, horns and a driving rhythm section. Cooper’s winsome ways sometimes bring the great Irma Thomas to mind and if she doesn’t cut as deeply as her (or Martha Reeves, whom she covers), this is still a fine slab of soul that should be more familiar to everyone who loves the music. 

Laraaji - Vision Songs, Vol. 1 Another standout release from Numero Group is this collection of songs by Laraaji recorded in 1984, just a few years after his groundbreaking collaboration with Brian Eno. Intersecting somewhere between New Age, gospel and a cassette sold at the airport, the sense of one man’s true self being revealed is palpable. Casio keyboards, along with his signature zither, provide rhythmic and melodic support for Laraaji’s slightly stilted but warm voice. If you enjoyed his cameo on Jonathan Wilson’s Rare Birds, this album is just what the shaman ordered. All of a sudden, I'm waiting for Vol. 2!

The Choir - Artifact: The Unreleased Album Shortly before making this album, 70’s soft-rocker Eric Carmen auditioned for this Cleveland act, which had made some waves locally opening for the likes of The Who and The Yardbirds. He didn’t make the cut but in an odd reversal, four of The Choir’s members became HIS band, The Raspberries. That left these recordings from 1969 crushed by the wheels of history - until now, thanks to the ministrations of Omnivore Recordings. While their baroque rock sometimes seems in search of a personality, these guys were loaded with instrumental talent and when they pushed themselves, prog rock seemed just around the corner. Check out the slamming breakdown in If These Are Men or the furious organ and guitar explorations of Have I No Love To Offer for a sense of what could have been. Aside from a redundant cover of David Watts by The Kinks, Artifact is an exciting transmission from an alternate past. 

Doug Clifford - Doug “Cosmo” Clifford If you’ve gone deep into the history of Creedence Clearwater Revival, you’ll know ‘twas democracy killed the band, as John Fogerty’s supremacy was challenged by his brother Tom and the rhythm section of bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford. The man who “wrote a song for everyone” was forced to include songs BY everyone on what became CCR’s last album, Mardi Gras. That record was disappointing enough that had I come across this album at a garage sale, I would probably have given it a once over, chuckled, and put it back. In CCR’s heyday Clifford was a groove merchant of the highest order, making their many Top Ten hits dance with gutbucket rhythms and plenty of cowbell. It also turns out Clifford had a bit more to offer as a bandleader than I thought and was smart enough to know his limitations, providing plenty of cover for his laconic vocals on this assortment of covers and originals. Punchy horns (from members of Tower Of Power), organ and twangy guitar all serve as elements to be goaded on by Clifford’s superbly swinging drums, which are locked in tight with Donald “Duck” Dunn’s bass. While it doesn’t all work, I found myself nodding along and not thinking too hard while listening to much of this extremely enjoyable coda to the CCR story. 

David Sylvian & Holger Czukay - Plight & Premonition Flux & Mutation Perhaps it’s because he wrote such satisfying synth pop in Japan that critics and fans are often impatient with David Sylvian’s ambient explorations. But I think they’re wonderful, with more of a narrative intrigue than the genre’s godfather, Brian Eno. On these two albums, thankfully returned to the catalog, Sylvian collaborates with Czukay, a founder of German art rock avatars Can, and the results are often sublime. Each album consists of two long tracks that seem like sonic representations of the state of creative flow Sylvian and Czukay were in when working together. Let them inspire your own creativity, even in just letting your mind wander throughout the permutations of keyboards, guitar and the occasional field recording. 

Ursula K. Le Guin & Todd Barton - Music And Poetry of The Kesh Now, this is something I never expected to resurface. Originally released as a cassette packaged with Always Coming Home, Le Guin’s masterpiece of pastoral speculative fiction (I still have my copy), the idea was that this was art made by the Kesh, who were the protagonists of the story. At the time, while it helped create an immersive experience in combination with the book, the cassette also seemed so purpose-built that I didn’t listen to it once I had finished reading. But there's enough actual music here to justify this beautiful edition from RVNG Intl. Heron Dance, River Song and A Music of The Eighth House are the most fully realized compositions and are simply lovely. Some of the instruments were built by Barton under Le Guin's direction and seem to speak of a society deeply in tune with the natural world, a sensation also amplified by the "field recordings" and spoken word pieces on the album, some recorded by a creek near Le Guin's house. While the full credits are slightly mysterious, the pure a capella singing on Dragonfly Song will have you wishing you could track down more by the vocalist. Here's music of an imagined past that is now over 30 years old itself and somehow manages to seem surprisingly relevant to our current times. Or maybe not so surprising when the book is filled with prescient nuggets like this: “In a State, even a democracy, where power is hierarchic, how can you prevent the storage of information from becoming yet another source of power to the powerful—another piston in the great machine?”

John Coltrane - Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album That subtitle is a bit disingenuous because this release, in either standard or deluxe editions, is not as cogent as any of the other albums or live recordings released by the sax legend and his classic quartet. But that to the side, it's hard to imagine not getting extremely excited by 90 minutes of unheard music by one of the true geniuses of American music playing with three of his most sympathetic collaborators. And there is plenty to get excited about here, from Coltrane's flights of fancy to the sparkling interplay between him, McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums). Slow Blues is an unexpected magnum opus of a jam session and Untitled Original 11386 has a melodic line with real potential. Take 2 is especially dazzling, with Elvin Jones threatening to take control, pushing Coltrane hard. The day after these sessions, the band was back in Rudy Van Gelder's NJ studio to lay down a few tracks with vocalist Johnny Hartman. You might have heard some of those tunes...all in a day's work!

Miles Davis & John Coltrane - The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6 It would be easy to take this release, featuring five European concerts from 1960, for granted. For one thing, some of these have been released before, or bootlegged, and for another, the Miles Davis posthumous release train has been running for a long time. But that would be unwise, as not only does everything sound fantastic in these new masters, crisp and spacious, but the music is just too good. Davis and Coltrane are in top form as are Wyn Kelly (piano), Jimmy Cobb (drums) and especially Paul Chambers (bass), who was nearing the end of his strongest period before heroin became more important to him than swinging like a mutha. He was one of the best bassists in the entire history of jazz and there's plenty of evidence for that here. But the fire and ice counterpoint between Trane and Miles is the set's raison d'etre and you might find yourself jumping out of your chair and applauding from time to time as they go at it.

The Allman Brothers Band - Cream Of The Crop 2003 Speaking of things with a potential to be taken for granted, how about eight concert recordings (excerpted here, but you can also listen to the complete shows) by The Allman Brothers from a period well after the time when their legend was born? But consider the fact that this lineup ran from 2000 to 2014, making it the longest lasting in the group's 45 year history. Also, having fired founding member Dickie Betts a few years earlier,the band had something to prove again and sounded like it. Listen to the fiery funk of Rocking Horse, a now forgotten track from their last studio album, or the way they launch into Statesboro Blues, not sounding remotely like they had played it hundreds of times before. Having both Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on guitars is certainly a part of why it all works so well, but if Gregg Allman wasn't so into it, ripping off his vocals with an authoritative growl and displaying a complete history of American music on piano and organ, then the whole thing would probably sink under its own weight. I don't suggest listening to all five hours of this compilation in one sitting, but dip in anywhere for all the bluesy and soul-drenched mastery you need.

Horace Andy - Every Day People No reissue roundup would be complete without some reggae, a form of music that's forgotten more than it knows. Featuring excellent production by Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes at his studio in The Bronx, this 1987 album found Andy, who has one of the most distinctive voices in reggae, in top form on some new songs and a few recuts, most notably the titanic Girl I Love You, originally made in 1974. It might be this version that gave Massive Attack the idea to take the song even further on Heligoland in 2010. Barnes keeps the digital drums restrained and the bass heavy, which contributes to the timeless feel of this album, not something you can say for some reggae from the 80s. Very nice to see this one back in the fold, liberated from overpriced vinyl copies. If you're unfamiliar with Andy's 80s work, Dance Hall Style (1982) is another essential album and features the original Spying Glass, another tune he remade with Massive Attack.

Find tracks from these albums and many other reissues in this playlist or below. 

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2017: Out Of The Past
Record Roundup: Spirits Of The Past
Best Of 2016: Reissues
Best Of 15: Out Of The Past
Best Of The Rest Of 14: Out Of The Past

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