UntitledTowards the end on the Nineties, everyone in the UK seemed to be suffering en masse from Oasis-burnout and Acid House comedowns. The coked-up fervor that had nurtured a startling variety of music from Suede to Blur, from Supergrass to Elastica, was now producing shark-jumping acts like Chumbawumba and Republica. The dancefloors were sticky, the houselights were about to go up, and something more subdued was needed. Enter a handful of bands like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, The Beta Band, Mojave 3, and Gomez—all of whom seemed to be working from a druggy, post-Radiohead template, but who could draw just as generously from English psychedelia of the Sixties (Pink Floyd or Canterbury Scensters like Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt). Debts to The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and Teenage Fanclub were also in evidence, yet the squalls of feedback and VU-cacophonies had ebbed away. It was time to get a tad more low-key.

Even Creation Records, that pioneer of Planet Brit-Pop, could see the light. On the verge of bankruptcy, the label decided to release a mini-album of quiet, ramshackle demos recorded (in a barn) by a band called Arnold. And for just a moment, the clubs sounded very far away indeed. Here, finally, was the musical equivalent of someone beating a retreat to the countryside while feeling as worn out as Withnail & I. You got rained on but the air was nice.

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Summer came and went, and as it now slips away, let the languid humidity of Old Smile carry you through these last few weeks. Riding a wave of lo-fi, bedroom psych pop akin to Ariel Pink, Conspiracy of Owls and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Are You Still There?” kicks of with a frenetic drum freestyle – an interestingly off-key compliment to the slow, narcotic vibe of the vocals and guitar. Let this one soak in and melt – it might become your end of summer jam. Grab one of 30 limited Steep Blue Hill cassettes, each with their own unique hand drawn cover. words / c depasquale

Old Smile :: Are You Still There?

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Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 354: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Pappy’s Haunted House – Dude ++ Jimmy Thomas – Springtime ++ The Paragons – Abba ++ Big Star – Back Of A Car ++ The Soul Inc. – Love Me When I’m Down ++ Billy Lamont – Sweet Thang ++ Donn Shinn & The Soul Agents – A Minor Explosion ++ T.L. Barrett And Youth For Christ Choir – Like A Ship ++ King Khan & The Shrines – Welfare Bread ++ Flash & The Dynamics – Electric Latin Soul ++ Donald Jenkins & The Delighters: Elephant Walk ++ Symphonic Four: Who Do You Think Youre Fooling ++ Milton Henry: Gypsy Woman ++ Bishop Perry Tills – I Pound a Solid Rock ++ Serge Gainsbourg – New Delire ++ Phil Upchurch – Sitar Soul ++ White Hinterland – Dreaming Of Plum Trees ++ Jan Hammer Group – Don’t You Know ++ Joe Valentine – I Can’t Stand To See You Go ++ Serge Gainsbourg – Requiem pour un con ++ The Three Degrees – Collage ++ Dion – Baby Let’s Stick Together ++ Margo Guryan – Sunday Morning ++ Robert Vanderbilt & the Foundation Of Souls – A Message Especially From God (AD edit) ++ Ned Doheny – I’ve Got Your Number (demo) ++ Daughn Gibson – Bad Guys ++ Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb ++ Jonathan Rado – Valentine’s Day (McCartney) ++ Paul McCartney – Arrow Through Me ++ Gil Scott-Heron – Message To The Messengers ++ Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread ++ Jerry & Jeff – Voodoo Medicine Man ++ Jack Nitzsche: The Lonely Surfer / Oscar Harris: Twinkle Stars Boo Galoo ++ Joe Bataan: Chick-a-boom ++ Jacques Dutronc: Les Cactus ++ The Shadows: Scotch On The Socks ++ Nancy Dupree – James Brown ++ Jackie Shane – Any Other Way ++ The Wallace Brothers – My Baby’s Gone ++ Alex Chilton – Don’t Worry Baby (fragment) ++ Harry Nilsson – Mother Nature’s Son ++ The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (Rehearsal) ++ The Beach Boys – California Girls (Rehearsal) ++ The Beach Boys – Surfer Girl (Rehearsal) ++ The Velvet Underground – Oh! Sweet Nuthin’

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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LevonHelm1978

Uh huh.

Levon Helm :: Take Me To The River

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When soul music aficionados get together and start talking music, the inevitable question of preference between ‘Detroit vs Memphis’ almost always seems to arise, to which my response is ‘YES, both please! But don’t forget about Chicago’. The well of Chicago soul 45′s is practically bottomless, and the majority of the hundreds of records recorded in the windy city during the golden age of soul are at least very good, with many veering into the exceptional category, and very few falling into the ‘unsatisfying listening’ bin.

The axis of Chicago soul centers around several key players and record labels, as well as those who followed their influence and cut their own records under their shadow. Chicago was also a key record distribution hub, with S. Michigan Avenue housing what is known as ‘Record Row’. I’ll tell a version of their story based on what’s in the grooves of  a few of my favorite (lesser known) gems from this mighty, hard working city.

Gene Chandler :: Mr Big Shot

Sadly, Gene Chandler is thought to be a one hit wonder (“Duke Of Earl”) to those with scant knowledge of rock and soul history. Gene Chandler had MANY excellent R&B hits that are cherished by soul fanatics, though relatively unknown to the rest of the world, even though this man not only performed, but also wrote, produced and acted as an A&R liason/ talent scout. “Mr. Big Shot” (1966) is by far one of his most hard hitting soul records, and it sank without a trace, no thanks in part to Constellation Records (a label in which Gene co-founded) was on the verge of bankruptcy, making any type of distribution nearly impossible. A pity, as it is a superb record.

The Dells :: Wear It On Our Face

The Dells, the epitome of the male Chicago group sound, were formed while the group was still in high school (1952) during the early doo-wop years. Their first single was released as The El-Rays in 1954 (featuring the lineup of Marvin Junior, Mickey McGill, Lucius McGill, Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale, and Johnny Funches), and by 1955 they had renamed themselves the Dells and became a quintet after the departure of Lucius McGill. The group cut the exquisite “Oh What A Night” for Vee Jay Records in 1956 which became a million seller, and one of the most loved doo-wop songs in the history of the genre.

Follow-up singles didn’t hit, and the group was derailed temporarily after a serious 1958 car accident which involved Mickey McGill. The group put their career on hold until 1960, when Mickey recovered, but Johnny Funches had left (to be replaced with Johnny Carter). This lineup remained stable for FIFTY years until Johnny Carter passed away in 2009.

The Dells spent the early part of the ’60’s as studio singers (most notably singing the backups on Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger”; a performance which I rank as one of the all-time greats, both from Barbara Lewis and The Dells). The group cut several unsuccessful (but usually quite good) singles for Vee Jay during these years, but their career renaissance began when they were signed to Chess records and began working under the production and writing talent of Bobby Miller. The singles released by the group between ’66-’68 are some of the greatest ever, and the LP There Is, which collects some of these 45s and adds in a few more stellar tracks, is simply one of the greatest soul LP’s ever released.

“Wear It On Our Face” (1968) is one of my favorites from the mighty Dells; with its freaky but great steel drum/piano intro forward into the extraordinary lead vocal from Marvin Junior, the group harmonies and the power of the musicians take us to a place where time stops and the transcendence of music is all that matters.

Barbara Acklin :: Fool, Fool, Fool

“Fool, Fool, Fool” was Barbara Acklin’s debut 45 under her own name (an earlier release credited her as Barbara Allen on a tiny label), released on the Chicago soul powerhouse label Brunswick Records in 1967. Ms Acklin was born in Oakland, CA in 1943, and her family moved to Chicago in 1957. Her clear, soaring soprano was just the type of voice that was favored by the record makers of Chicago, yet Barbara also displayed a wide depth of range in her voice which is heard brilliantly here. The record is super cool, with a very appealing echo on the drums and fantastic call and response vocals. Super catchy, but it barely made a dent commercially, making for a very hard to find 45.

The Vontastics :: Never Let Your Love Grow Cold

Quite unusually, The Vontastics lead vocalist (Bobby Newsome) was also the chief songwriter for this groups’ excellent handful of 45’s. This stomper of a side from 1967 is one that has resonated deeply with me from the first time I’ve heard it, and it’s one that is ALWAYS in my DJ box. There may be moments where the group harmonies waver a bit out of tune, but to my ears it only adds to the power and soul of this righteous track.

Previously: Wax Wonders :: Chicago Soul, Part One

(Derek See is a Bay area based musician who plays guitar with The Bang Girl Group Revue, Joel Gion & Primary Colours, and occasionally makes records on his own with The Gentle Cycle.)

unnamedGarciaLive Volume Four: March 22nd, 1978 Veteran’s Hall

In late 1974 the Grateful Dead were battening down the hatches and taking refuge from the storm of popularity that had pushed them into larger venues, stage setups and crews. As the age old saying goes ‘more money, more problems’. Jerry had slinked away to the comforts of small Bay Area clubs and a song book stocked with Bob Dylan, Motown classics, early rock & roll and everyone’s new island fascination: reggae. But, here’s the funny thing about the Jerry Garcia Band (or JGB) – while the Grateful Dead were this hugely popular hand over fist profitable touring group – with nearly every note and movement being recorded by their rabid fan base – Jerry’s solo career has largely gone undocumented. The band was often fleshed out with a ragtag ad hoc assembly of musicians that allowed for a constant game of ‘who’s on first?’. Drummers, keyboardists, back up singers and others came and went, but throughout all this, the core membership was Jerry Garcia with his right hand man, John Kahn on bass – a dynamic duo that would work together for nearly 30 years.

The Dead’s short but productive sabbatical ended in 1975 with the release of the transformative Blues For Allah, with the band back on road mid-1976 with a scaled back presence – both on and off the stage. 1977 saw a legendary spring tour and the release of Terrapin Station. Feeding off this relentless forward momentum, Garcia hit the studio for his first proper release as the Jerry Garcia Band (Cats Under the Stars) with an all-star cast of friends including Kahn, Keith and Donna Godchaux, Elvis’ drummer, Ron Tutt, organist Merl Saunders and folkie Maria Muldaur. Garcia’s arsenal were at the top of their respective games, beautifully blending influences as varied as reggae, gospel, and early rock & roll.

During February and March 1978 the Garcia Band, along with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, hit the road in support of the album for a whirlwind run of shows throughout the East Coast and California. The tour culminated in a benefit show on March 22 for the local paper Sonoma Stump, in the tiny Sonoma town of Sebastapol, with Buzz Buchanan assuming drums in place of Tutt. On paper this show looks like a straightforward, yet stacked, Jerry gig – Motown is represented not once but twice in the first set with “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “I Second That Emotion”. There is the Dylan cover (“Simple Twist of Fate”) and a soulful albeit ghostly rendition of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” along with cuts off the new album including the title track and the quiet romanticism of “Mission in the Rain”. The second set, however, is where the heat lies – opening the set is a pummeling version of Jimmy Cliffs “The Harder They Come” – with Kahn’s bass hammering out a thick rhythmic pulse, as Buzz fills it in with a rootsy swing. Garcia easily slides into the solos as Keith tickles the keys with a funky and imaginative fervor.

As the set raves on, the continuing mystery of JGB’s Abbott and Costello-like membership is brought to the fore, as it has being long rumored that Hunter’s keyboardist, Ozzie Ahlers, sat in with the band that evening as an unknown, yet swift, set of hands taking the group off the rails for a runaway version of “Mystery Train”. The Garcia estate, through some deep detective work, finally confirmed he was indeed the hands behind the final four songs – making this the first recordings of Ahlers with the JGB as he later joined the group from 1979-80. The real highlight of the second half with Ahlers is the short but sweet gospel standard “I’ll Be With Thee”. Maria and Donna beautifully harmonize together (so well in fact that you have to wonder what the Dead would of sounded like if Maria was always there to support Donna) as Garcia’s voice plays the part of our Lord bellowing reassurance of constant companionship and faith. Not to be outdone, the night closes with a spirited version of “Midnight Moonlight” that sends the small crowd into the brisk Pacific air. As history would prove, the chances of seeing such a intimate affair, post-1978, would become far and few between …  words / d norsen

Jerry Garcia Band :: I’ll Be With Thee

tvOne hell of a night in Cleveland. Television played its first out-of-town shows deep in the heart of Ohio in the summer of ’75. The opening band was Rocket From The Tombs, a band that would soon splinter into Pere Ubu and Dead Boys (You can hear the RFTT set from this night on the the officially-released The Day the Earth Met Rocket From The Tombs). Television had been doing some splintering of late as well, having bid adieu to their original bassist / songwriter/ vocalist Richard Hell just a few months earlier. His replacement, Fred Smith (stolen away from the then-fledgling Blondie) made a big difference in the sound.

“All I know is when we got Fred it clicked immediately,” Tom Verlaine said. “At the first rehearsal me and Lloyd [were] looking at each other and thinking ‘God, this is a real relief.’ It was like having a lightning rod you could spark around. Something was there that wasn’t there before.”

This Piccadilly tape is proof positive of the band’s newly found prowess. Gone are the lurching rhythms and the cluttered arrangements that sometimes marred the Hell era of the band; in their place is pure majestic sound. There are still some rough spots, and these songs would still go through some changes before being recorded, but all in all, this is one of the greatest Television live performances.

Check out the 10-minute “Breakin’ In My Heart” here, a tune I’ve always thought of as Television’s entry in the “Sister Ray”/”Roadrunner” riff sweepstakes. It’s a song the band never got around to recording (Verlaine returned to it on his first solo album), but that’s no loss — this version is definitive, with a mindbending intro, an improv-ed narration from Verlaine and an explosive finish. At some point you can hear some gobsmacked Clevelander exclaim, simply: “WOW.” There are a few other tunes here that never made it to the studio: the slinky “Hard On Love,” the tortured “Poor Circulation” and the rave-up to end all rave-ups, “Kingdom Come.” After a season in hell, Television sounds positively celestial. words / t wilcox

Download: Television :: Piccadilly Inn – Cleveland, July 25, 1975 (zipped folder/mediafire link)

1. Fire Engine 2. Hard On Love 3. Poor Circulation 4. Friction 5. Marquee Moon 6. Breakin’ In My Heart 7. Venus 8. Prove It 9. Careful 10. Little Johnny Jewel 11. Foxhole 12. Kingdom Come