|The Northern Lights|
This is the final Sounded Like column of the year. Next month brings The Recordchanger year-end column that collects the year’s musical activities into easy to read lists. I’m not certain this column will survive the New Year either. It’s unlikely I’ll continue doing it monthly, but I might do something similar in a quarterly format for 2014. Or I might shut the hell up altogether. Who knows?
There’s a lot to talk about this month because I went on a buying binge the past 30 days. I found bargains, there were some new things released, and usually I don’t buy anything new in December anyway. So this is the last push before the year ends. I tend to mark the years in music since little else happens to me. And November’s take keeps my monthly streak alive. The music is harder to find, and harder to find out about, but my instinct for finding the best hasn’t deserted me as you’ll see if you continue reading.
Picking up where we left off last month, my Bomp order arrived soon after I posted the last column with three more LP’s from Alive in their ongoing deal with Jerry Williams, Jr. (aka Swamp Dogg). Doris Duke’s I’m A Loser, Too Many People In One Bed by Sandra Phillips, and the self-titled Wolf Moon brought to nine the number of releases from the Swamp Dogg deal, and these three are as good as any in the series. Sandra Phillips was the most impressive, and she has gone on to enjoy a fine career since while both Doris and “The Wolf” dropped out of the business. But don’t let that detour you if you love soul music. It’s all solid stuff.
Palladia happened to air Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary this month, and I caught it, fortunately. It tells the story of the legendary Sound City recording studio. I was disappointed none of my music pals had mentioned it to me since it was right up my alley. And it turned out they’d all seen it. But that’s what happens when you’re not behind the counter in a record store anymore. You’re not on anyone’s radar, and you’re definitely on your own. I do the best I can, but it’s difficult to stay abreast of everything that’s coming out that might interest me. In any case, I picked up the LP, Sound City-Real To Reel, and enjoyed it a great deal. There’s a nice mix of styles, and some excellent tunes from the likes of Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, Rick Springfield, and Trent Reznor among others. Mr. Grohl did a nice job on both the film and the music on the soundtrack, and it’s a valuable addition to the canon of historical rock films.
The long list of 13 used LP’s I picked up at the annual book fair can be found in my A Fair To Remember piece posted earlier this month. There’s not a single title I wouldn’t recommend, but I was especially happy with Booker T.’s Up Tight soundtrack, Mort Sahl’s On Relationships, and Arthur Blythe’s Da-Da.
When it comes to Christmas, I’m more Scrooge than Tiny Tim, but I do love Christmas music – especially in the hands of capable jazz musicians. Christmas music is not as easy to find as it once was. And Christmas jazz music has, like most jazz, gone underground. But an Internet search turned up the out-of-print Jingle Bell Jam, a superb collection on Rhino, Jingle Bell Jazz, a compilation CD of a pair of Columbia Christmas albums originally titled Jingle Bell Jazz, and God Rest Ye Merry Jazzmen. And, new this year, Concord Jazz issued A Slow Jams Jazz Christmas with gems from the Prestige/Riverside/Fantasy/Concord family of labels. All of these sets mix the new with the old, the classic with the modern, and big names with the more obscure. There’s a bit of duplication among the three titles, but track for track, these are as good as it gets - Chet Baker, Bird, Bill Evans, Duke, Vince Guaraldi, Ella, Dexter, and many more. I was almost moved to buy presents for complete strangers. (Fortunately, I came to my senses before I could find my credit card.)
Would you believe a trip to Half-Price Books yielded a two CD, 50 track Buddy Holly collection, Buddy Holly Gold, featuring virtually every essential cut in the Holly catalog, digitally remastered for just 5 bucks? That’s right. Less money than your latest trip to Starbucks, and I get to keep it while your Starbucks purchase was flushed just hours later.
November always features an addition to The Beatles catalog from our pals at EMI. This year brings us On Air-Live at the BBC Volume 2. It comes just 19 years after volume one. There are plenty of spoken word bits between live renditions of Beatles classics and covers – many of which were never recorded by the band. If you love The Beatles, you own it already. If not, move on.
After I sang the praises of a pair of Lou Reed original album box sets last month, he died suddenly, and there was, I read, a 621% increase in his album sales in the weeks after. So I hardly expected to find the Warners/Sire records Original Album Series box I’d already planned to buy before Reed passed. Fortunately, Amazon’s UK site had one copy left, and I grabbed it. In the box are New York, Magic and Loss, Songs For Drella (with John Cale), Set The Twilight Reeling, and Ecstasy. These are five of the best records of Reed’s career, and at 22 bucks, a steal. Look for it when it’s restocked. You won’t miss Lou as much – until it stops playing. At which point, you reload and go again.
Sid & Susie are back (that’s Matthew Sweet and Bangle Susanna Hoffs to you laymen) with Volume 3 of their Under The Covers series. Volume one featured tunes from the 60’s, Volume Two rounded up the 70’s, and this one picks up – you guessed it – the cream of the music of the 1980’s. As with the previous volumes, how well these work depends on your perspective, your tastes, and your tolerance for cover versions of great songs. The best tracks can go head-to-head with the originals. The rest will probably send you back to the originals. Sweet and Hoffs don’t reinvent these tunes. (This is not, after all, a Peter Gabriel project.) They do faithful renditions of great songs. When they cut loose, it works. When they’re too polite – and sometimes they are – they’re less successful. But all three volumes are certainly listenable. And this third volume makes a nice addition to the series.
I was struck with another bout of Yardbirds fever this month. There’s no known cure for it, so I don’t fight it. I just get my wallet and start shopping. But at this late date, it’s hard to find something I don’t have. That’s why Making Tracks was good news for ‘Birds fans this month. It’s a live set that spans the band’s entire catalog, and features the current version of the group putting their imprint on some of the best songs in the band’s history. And yes, they still bring it.
But it was not enough. My search uncovered a remastered version from the Repertoire label of the band’s first studio album, For Your Love, featuring a dozen bonus tracks amended to the LP’s original 11 songs. I never owned this album because most of it had been issued piecemeal on various compilations through the years. But the fever had me, and I knew I had to get it. It’s a stone cold classic in every way, and the bonus tracks make it twice as good.
But I wanted more, and with the fever overwhelming me, I went searching for the ultimate Yardbirds title – the Holy Grail for collectors, and the most elusive of any title in the group’s catalog. Could I find a copy anywhere of Live Yardbirds!, the 1968 Epic LP recorded at Anderson Theatre in New York, and featuring Jimmy Page on guitar? It had, to my knowledge, only been issued on CD one time by the band’s own Moorhouse Records several years ago, and quickly sold out and was never re-issued. There were used copies of the LP starting at 70 bucks, and somebody had the Moorhouse CD for 40. Sorry, that’s too much money for me. But I persisted, and found the album was issued again on CD by a label called Lost Diamonds in 2008. And I found a seller in England offering his last copy for $29.95. That’s a lot to spend on a single album, but when you’ve been looking for something for more than 30 years, it didn’t seem unreasonable. I ordered it, and two weeks later, it was mine. It has a pair of bonus tracks, liner notes, good sound, and some searing performances. Given when it was released, it qualifies as one of the first great live rock albums. And it is, most definitely, the blueprint for what would become Led Zeppelin. I never thought I’d own it. Jimmy Page has talked of reissuing it since he owns the original masters, but neither of us is getting any younger. I’m thrilled to finally have it, and I owe it all to “the fever”.
We close out this final Sounded Like column with one of the best, and most unexpected releases of the year. Back to Bomp we go for Alive’s release of the previously unissued debut record from California’s Beachwood Sparks. The music on Desert Skies pre-dates what would appear on their officially released first album, the self-titled Beachwood Sparks on Sub Pop (although my LP is on Bomp). That was issued in 2000. Once We Were Trees followed it in 2001, and then the band was silent until 2012 when The Tarnished Gold was issued, heralding the band’s return. There’s a long, somewhat convoluted tale of how this all happened in the liner notes for the new record, and I won’t repeat it here. But Desert Skies represents all that I love about the music of the Golden State - gorgeous harmonies, melodies that stick in your head, shimmering guitars, sparkling production, and a hippie sensibility that’s both charming and disarming. These are guys you’d find in the desert on a sunny day with guitars in hand, and peyote buttons in their backpacks. I don’t do drugs – never have – but this is music whose natural properties will make you high. That’s what I love about it. When Desert Skies is playing, the sun is shining and the surf is up. It’s got an excellent chance of being my archive release of the year. And there are a couple of different versions of it available. The CD comes with four additional tracks, and the LP is available with a 7” bonus single of a radio broadcast, and a poster, along with that liner notes insert I mentioned. Mine is on stunning sunburst vinyl. That limited edition might be gone by now. But I’m sure Alive will have it in a variety of colors in the months ahead. If you love the sound of California, and you have a taste for extended jams, and a somewhat skewed sensibility (think Meat Puppets at their best), Desert Skies just may be your Santa Claus. Available at www.bomp.com.
Next month I’ll try and make sense of all this with the Recordchanger 2013 Year-End Edition. Thanks for reading.