mv

I have already sung the praises of Matt “MV” Valentine elsewhere. For the Google-averse, I can sum it up by saying that MV’s music–both with and without his partner, co-conspirator and constant foil Erika “EE” Elder–has been as crucial a catalyst for my development as a listener as I imagine the Stooges, Big Star, or the Velvets might have been to crate-diggers of a previous generation. Though the influence of MV & EE can clearly be heard throughout various strains of nth wave psychedelia and folk, the duo is rarely name-checked alongside contemporaneous true-originators like Ben Chasny, Jack Rose, or the brothers Bishop, nor evoked in discussions of similarly singular lifer-artists like American Tapes’ John Olson.

MV & EE’s music seamlessly assimilates raga, blues, folk, punk, free improv, drone, and avant garde disciplines while maintaining close, perhaps compulsory, ties to so-called “classic rock” (Canned Heat, the Dead, Dylan, Neil, etc). Their work seems to abide the Muse while ignoring–even as it predicts—subcultural trending (MV was making “guitar soli” albums over a decade ago). In many ways, MV is to free folk–a term he invented, by the way–what Thelonious Monk is to jazz: individualist among individualists, stranger to orthodoxy, and spiritual link to the music’s very essence.

It seems obvious to me that the only logical explanation for the continued obscurity of MV & EE music is that the group are the victims of a deep and diabolical conspiracy. Perhaps MV is, as Steve Aylett wrote of rogue (fictional) science fiction author Jeff Lint, “so far ahead of his time that his existence has had to be disregarded so as not to screw up the continuity.”

I spoke to MV about the great new MV & EE album Alpha Lyrae (the first vinyl release on the duo’s long-running C.O.M. label), his defiantly Utopian approach to gear, and unpopular Neil Young albums.

MV & EE :: Starchild

Wooden Wand: C.O.M. was one of the very first CDR labels, and is also one of the longest-operating, having been established in 1999 following the dissolution of your previous label, Superlux. Alpha Lyrae is the label’s first vinyl release. Why the decision to release vinyl now?

Matt Valentine: It just seemed to align with everything. For once we felt in sync with the times, not ahead or coma slow. We were so deeply involved with all aspects of the album’s creation we figured, why not go all the way? Every note matters, so why not touch as much of it as possible? It feels good. Hopefully that translates. Every sound means something.

Wooden Wand: Alpha Lyrae is my favorite MV and EE ‘high art’ release since Space Homestead. This one reminds me, in spirit, of the Bummer Road / Golden Road era, an era that saw your records become more community-based, despite being recorded with various personnel over vast expanses of terrain. Is this an accurate description?

MV: That’s cool you hear that. In a way, a lotta the “road” crew are on this one, even the Spanish Wolfman! (Spanish Wolfman was a founding member, alongside MV, of both Tower Recordings and Memphis Luxure. –Ed.) Erika and I wanted to have as many of our favorite players as we possibly could on this single LP, even though she and I mostly play everything. P.G. Six was on a bunch of tracks that we working on, but they just didn’t get finished in time.

In 1972, Mark Volman (“Flo” aka Phlorescent Leech) Howard Kaylan (“Eddie”), original members of The Turtles, took some time off from their gig with Frank Zappa’s band to record an album for Reprise called (of course), The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie. If you’re not curious already, what if I said this tune approximates something like a sweetly psychedelic Laurel Canyon acid trip, experienced from the back seat of the bus while Cowboy Neal cranks the wheel, doing doughnuts in the meadow? It’s trippy, tightly executed, and always on the edge of falling apart – controlled chaos delivered with a wry smile. Wildly under-appreciated stuff. words / r wilson

Flo & Eddie :: I Been Born Again

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Michel Polnareff :: La Poupée Qui Fait Non

Fred+Neil+Fred__Chris

When Paul Simon turned down the chance to write the theme song for Midnight Cowboy and the rights of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” proved too difficult to pin down, someone suggested up-and-comer Harry Nilsson for the job. John Schlesinger liked Nilsson’s cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin” on Aerial Ballet, and had even been using the song as a ‘temporary’ track around which he could edit the film. Nilsson’s cover, beautiful as it is, is still a pretty straightforward reading of the original, replicating detail after detail of Neil’s own laid back, breezy arrangement—it only really diverges in its orchestral embellishments, and of course in the coda which allowed Nilsson to show off his angelic vocals. “The Lord Must Be in New York City,” the substitute theme tune Nilsson supplied tries to re-capture that same Fred Neil spirit, slyly adding lyrics that were a bit more appropriate to the film. But, as everybody now knows, it was ultimately rejected by Schlesinger. In 1968, “Everybody’s Talkin” became the iconic theme of an iconic film.

The story is instructive because it shows the way in which a sound that was integrally Fred Neil’s became disassociated from the man himself.

In 1969, Neil began collecting significant royalties for a song he penned off the cuff—and whose popularity seemed to overshadow him. No stranger to drug addiction (two of his closest protégés were Gram Parsons and David Crosby, if that means anything to you), he quickly faded into obscurity. His last album, The Other Side of this Life, was released only three years after Midnight Cowboy (as if sign-posting its own contractual obligations, the LP was padded out with alternate and live versions of his old songs). By the mid-Seventies, the Greenwich Village folkie who let an unknown Bob Dylan sit in with him, had moved permanently to Coconut Grove, Florida, playing the odd gig but devoting himself primarily to conservationism and philanthropic causes. He died, shortly before beginning treatment for skin cancer, in 2001.

Because of the enigmatic nature of Neil’s biography, you can’t trace his influence as directly or in as coherent a way as you can other lynch-pins in folk-rock history—Dylan, say, or The Band. He is further back in the picture and about to fade away. Listen for him and you can certainly hear his influence everywhere. However, it’s always a ghostly thing, like the sea still echoing inside a seashell.

The first thing that usually gets commented upon is the ‘deep voice’, but what tends to be overlooked is the unique melodic sensibility that went along with it. Watch him surprise you at the end of a line by diving deeper into his register, sustaining it, making it resonate at its lowest end. The melodies soar momentarily, but they are always drifting downwards. Johnny Cash would seem an obvious touchstone–but then again, a little too obvious. Johnny Hartman had a deep voice too, after all, and Neil’s phrasing swings far more than a folk singer’s should. That said, his voice is freighted with melancholy. The waltzy sway of his arrangements (not unlike Dylan’s take on “Corrina, Corrina”) are forever being off-set by that languorous, after hours croon. As a songwriter too, Neil seemed to be mining a divide between the hammock and the abyss, supplying lyrics that were as laid back as they were fatalistic: wars and dolphins, summer breezes and the shadows of everyone’s eyes.

Fred Neil :: I’ve Got a Secret (Didn’t We Shake Sugaree)

And then there’s the electric guitar playing: flangey and reverb-laden, as fluid as a Floridian beachfront view; awash in major sevenths and occasional instrumental breaks (doubly distinctive as his first solo album was released right in between Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited). It was a sound he’d codified by his second album, the one that opens with what is today the quintessential Fred Neil composition: “The Dolphins.” You will find the same sleepy jangle echoing through everything from The Byrds to Tim Buckley, from Gram Parson’s “Brass Buttons” to Joni Mitchell’s “Otis and Marlena,” all the way down to the watery drone of “Champagne Supernova”.

MI0001573937Through a career that spans over forty years and travels nearly every road on the musical map, Loudon Wainwright III has always maintained an ultimate honesty in his work. Whether it’s the “New Bob Dylan” sincerity in his 1970 debut record, his aptly placed humor, or his deeply sentimental songs about family, death and loved ones, Loudon has the ability to poetically flip a switch between quick and slow, quiet and loud, happy and sad.

This live ballad, off 1979’s A Live One, delves into the woes and romantic tolls of life on the road, finding the singer in a state of utter desperation, trying to scratch that itch caused by the loneliness of empty motel rooms and beautiful faces with no names. The song was originally released on Loudon’s sophomore record, 1971’s Album II, and serves as a hint to where his songwriting and wonderful autobiographical narratives were soon headed. words / p dufrene

Loudon Wainwright III :: Motel Blues

a0471860184_10Not sure what you had accomplished musically by the time you hit 20 years of age, but I’m fairly certain Hayden Pedigo has you beat. But hey, age is just a number, right? What counts here is that the Amarillo, TX-based guitarist has just put out his star-studded sophomore LP, Five Steps, and it is a pretty wonderful collection.

The first side consists mostly of duets with Pedigo’s Takoma School/American Primitive elders, including Mark Fosson, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Danny Paul Grody and Chuck Johnson. The vibe is casual and there is lovely instrumental interplay throughout; even though much of the recording was done long-distance, it’s easy to imagine the musicians trading licks from across a room. Side 2 is something else altogether, though it keeps the collaborative momentum rolling. For “Dream Theory,” Pedigo draws on the talents of some post-punk/experimental heavy hitters, including This Heat’s Charles Hayward, avant-guitarist extraordinaire Fred Frith and Faust co-founder Werner Zappi Diermaier. The four-part suite is an absorbing, oddly hypnotic, and yeah, dreamy composition. Hayden has some seriously eclectic, ambitious sounds at his fingertips, making you wonder what else the dude has up his sleeve. Whatever it is, it’s sure to be a fun ride. words / t wilcox

Hayden Pedigo :: Stray

Bo

More r&b and early soul gems from my grandpa, C.W. “Pop” Hardwick’s stash of jukebox stock. For the full story and more killer sides that set San Antonio’s hips to shaking and hearts to breaking, refer back to volume two.

Download: Hipshakers & Heartbreakers – Vol 3 (external link, zipped folder)