dylan gospel

Light In The Attic just reissued the Los Angeles Gospel Choir’s Dylan Gospel LP, a downright excellent collection from 1968. Bob himself, of course, had his own gospel period about a decade later, releasing a trilogy of albums inspired by his conversion to Christianity in late 1978. Dylan’s born again music remains controversial even today, but it’s ripe for re-assessment. If the Bootleg Series can rehabilitate the reputation of Self Portrait, it certainly can do the same with the ever-so-solid rock of the gospel period.

Because whether you’re a true believer or not, there was plenty of action taking place onstage during these years. Dylan’s live band was packed with ringers — Fred Tackett, Spooner Oldham, Jim Keltner, Tim Drummond — and they triggered some of the most intense performances of his career. This version of “Slow Train” drawn from a late 1980 multi-night stand in San Francisco, sees Dylan testifying as though his life depends on it, his musicians and backup singers egging him on to a positively possessed vocal. This is some seriously lowdown, funky music for the Lord. You can almost smell the fire and brimstone.

Bob Dylan :: Slow Train

Slightly more celestial is “City of Gold.” A Dylan original that has yet to see an official release (though it was covered by none other than the Dixie Hummingbirds a while back), the tune is a beautiful, revival tent slow-burner, with an appropriately holy melody and deeply spiritual vocals. Not sure how many San Franciscan souls Bob converted on this particular night, but if any song could do the trick, it’s be this one. words / t wilcox

Bob Dylan :: City Of Gold

Related: Dylan’s 1965 Studio Fragments // Tomorrow Is A Long Time (New Morning Outtake)

peter walker

Guitarist Peter Walker spent decades off the grid, but reemerged in 2006, when he contributed recordings — alongside James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, Thurston Moore, Steffen Basho-Junghans, and others — to Tompkins Square’s A Raga for Peter Walker tribute. Since then, a slow but steady stream of Walker material has become available: Two new recordings of Spanish guitar, a previously unheard jam session recorded in Levon Helm’s barn, Long Lost Tapes: 1970, a collection of lost sessions, the sublime Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms, on Delmore Recordings. Now, Light in the Attic and Vanguard Records have teamed to re-release his long out of print sophomore album, 1968’s second Poem To Karmela” Or Gypsies Are Important.

PeterWalkerOutsideGateTeeming with Jim Pepper’s flute and the fluid ragas of from Walker on guitar, sitar, and sarod, the album explores the intersection between 60s psychedelic experimentation and some of the oldest musical traditions in history. A compatriot of Timothy Leary, Walker understood the role of music in his LSD experimentation, and the record taps into some of what might have been heard at one of the Walker-soundtracked “Acid Tests.”

With renewed attention being paid to his records, Walker is performing live in the US once again. He’ll do so on April 11 at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, sharing the stage with Vanguard/Light in the Attic label-mate Bob Frank. The performance ought to make it clear that while Walker was out of the spotlight, he spent his time diligently with a guitar, studying in Spain, exploring the historical connections between folk, Indian music, and Spanish guitar.

Peter Walker :: Second Song

We spoke to Walker from his home in Woodstock, where he spends his time when not playing guitar in Peru.

Aquarium Drunkard: I’m curious about the era just after your Vanguard recordings. You recorded Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms, by yourself. What influenced your decision to record that record solo?

Peter Walker: I learned solo, for one thing. I was solo when I learned to play. I traveled a lot during those years – I still do I guess, but more then – and I lived for several months in Mexico, where I played solo; I lived in North Africa, where I played solo. I studied solo guitar in Spain.

But here in New York, I was able to get a pick-up band. When I traveled they weren’t with me, so I was able to play solo. When I was in the city, I had a band, but when I’m traveling I’m alone. So I wound up writing [the songs on Has Anybody] alone. I’d been playing festivals alone, all through the Midwest. So when I went in the studio I cut the stuff I’d been playing the summer before.

AD: In addition to the re-release of records like Second Poem To Karmela or Gypsies Are Important and Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms? you’ve been working on new material. What does it sound like?

Peter Walker: From 2000 on I went to study Spanish guitar in Spain. What they taught me I’ve been absorbing. It’s a different way of looking at the fret board. My next album is going to be solo guitar, and I’m going to be playing one piece in each key: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Pretty much different modes of the keys. That’s what I do every day. To me it’s fascinating, because I can start in any key or mode and compose something. So that’s what I love to do, that’s what I’m going to record next.

I also want to do an album of tunes on piano. That’s part of my plan. The idea is to do two more albums: one of Spanish guitar, mostly sung tunes from a collection of songs I play piano.

LB Superchunk’s 6th full-length Indoor Living is a beautiful and difficult record, one riddled with the anxiety of a vital, effervescent group beginning to fully wrestle with the inherent conflicts of productive adulthood juxtaposed against the rudderless life of a touring band. By September of 1997, when the album was released, the ”alt-rock” panic of the early 90s had largely abated, and for the first time in several years Superchunk faced an audience that seemed to be shrinking rather than growing.

While there is no shortage of hooks and energy present over the album’s eleven tracks, the palpable air of panic and melancholy is unmistakable. From the first track ”Unbelievable Things”, with its fearfully claustrophobic opening sentiments “When you commissioned your cage/ Indoor living became all the rage” to the devastating final elegy for a deceased friend “Martinis On The Roof” it is obvious we are in uncharted terrain for a band that had been reliably triumphal, angry and romantically wounded, but never quite so existentially disturbed.

There is a woozy quality to Indoor Living, it seems at times to wobble and reel about the premises with a guileless confusion. The lovely but profoundly strange “Marquee” is a showcase for frontman Mac McCaughan’s newly established penchant for falsetto vocals, an aesthetic decision that somehow deeply flatters his inherently reedy voice. “Marquee” would not sound out of place on Big Star’s Sister Lovers; it’s an ambitious and mournful track that somehow evokes that album’s signature co-mingling of the orchestral and the made-up-on-the-spot. Still more lovely is the crushing ballad “Every Single Instinct”, which suggests all the melodic and lyrical cleverness of American Music Club at their dyspeptic peak, and featuring a plaintive, near perfect opening line of inquiry: “Oh, what did I think was going to happen?” The question answers itself: nothing good.

That is the essence of Indoor Living. Approaching a decade of yeoman’s work in the indie rock salt mines, the prospects for Superchunk had never seemed dimmer. Years of great effort, deprivation and hope had yielded frustration, disillusion and the threat of whole lifetimes wasted and unappreciated. The sense of frustration and identification could not be more palpable than on the great “Song For Marion Brown”, a tribute to the avant-garde jazz saxophonist whose obscurity belied his genius.

With the passage of time and the release of a handful of exemplary records, including last year’s terrific I Hate Music, Superchunk has incontrovertibly burnished their legacy as one of the crucial acts of the past three decades. But in 1997, nothing felt remotely so assured.

That same month, in September of ’97, Bob Dylan released the harrowing and death obsessed Time Out Of Mind. Retrospectively, it serves as a sort of senior companion piece to Indoor Living, a rock-bottom meditation on mortality and failure. Rock and Roll generally deals badly with the twin scourges of death and aging, to the extent that it deals with it at all. These two extraordinary, painful and uncompromising records, released four weeks apart, did a great deal to remedy that shortfall. It may not be Superchunk’s greatest album, but it is a bona fide classic that certainly belongs on the short list of any conversation. On the occasion of the recent expanded reissue of Indoor Living, we were lucky enough to talk to the members of the band about their recollections and current thoughts on this seminal achievement.

Aquarium Drunkard: From the opening measures of Indoor Living there is a sense that we are in store for a very different sounding Superchunk record. While each of the previous records had a great and distinct personality, Indoor Living feels like a kind of full-fledged reset. From the patient, tension-building tempo of “Unbelievable Things” to its prominent doubled-tracked vocals, it seems immediately clear that this is a band devoted to a new agenda. Was there a particular impetus to bring the vocals, and consequentially the narratives, front and center? By this time, Mac had done a handful of terrific, essentially solo records as Portastatic. Do you all feel that experience impacted Indoor Living in a significant fashion?

Jon Wurster (drummer): This seems addressed to Mac so I’ll leave this to him.

But…

It’s a tough sell, I know. A man typically associated with famous Christmas classics doesn’t immediately scream ‘check out his back catalog ‘or ‘listen to these records he cut in Nashville’. He didn’t have the darkness of Johnny Cash, the urgency of Woody Guthrie, or the unwavering politics of Pete Seeger, yet hidden among his records are some truly perfect renditions of songs from America’s folk catalog, the country and western songbook, and classic children’s rhymes. Burl Ives was an interpreter, not a songwriter, but it’s his voice that first grabbed me. It is a unique, warm, and instantly recognizable instrument. His voice has a quality one could only dream of obtaining. It’s a kind hearted, deep, mellow thing that rolls along easily.

I rediscovered Ives while picking through my grandfather’s records about six years ago. I was already familiar with (and thoroughly enjoyed) his hits “Lavender Blue” and “A Little Bitty Tear”, but had never thought to dig much deeper. And then I found a 2-record set of songs collected on DECCA Records, which I  quietly took it back to my house, playing his haunting version of “Sad Man’s Song (Fare Thee Well, O Honey)” repeatedly in my attic. And thus the Burl Ives bug began.

As I get grayer, older, and add to my responsibilities, I’m beginning a slow retreat to new places – finding appreciation for new genres and old unloved guys like Burl Ives. Recently, I purchased an excellent collection from Omni Records, compiling an odd assortment of Burl Ives songs recorded in Nashville from 1961-1972, called Sweet, Sad, and Salty. It’s a perfect 31 song compilation, covering a very obscure and unique selection of material, that does a fine job exemplifying there was more to the man than jolly Christmas songs and Goober peas. words / j gleason

After the jump: some choice selections from Ives’ prolific and varied catalog:

(The summer of 1974 found Van Morrison in flux. Between the largesse of The Caledonia Soul Orchestra and what would become a three year hiatus (with a quick stop in San Francisco for The Last Waltz), Van was, by some accounts, a mess. More moody than mood-altering, his songs were sadder – the punctuation and preciseness of what had culminated in It’s Too Late To Stop Now, gone. A recent divorce, a creative impasse.)

van morrisonVan Morrison only toured in a four-piece configuration once. You can’t even really call it a tour. You can’t even technically say it was the same band on the two-to-three nights that Van was on sax, Jerome Rimson on bass, Pete Wingfield on keys and either Dallas Taylor or Peter Van Hooke on drums.

The band, if you can call it that, was put together by the promoter of the 1974 Montreaux Jazz Festival (at which the first of the nights was recorded for Live at Montreaux) when Morrison showed up with only his girlfriend and manager in tow. But sometimes necessity truly is the mother of invention, as it worked. And well. The stripped down quartet tackled a mix songs to be released that fall on Veedon Fleece, along with other material only found on Morrison bootlegs.

Making an appearance a few weeks later on the German television program Musikladen, Morrison is distracted, the band is tight, and the arrangements and interplay are airy, funky and different. Aside from a forgettable version of “Into The Mystic,” they play only one other known quantity – “Warm Love.” Hooke’s drums are marching, his eyes transfixed on Van’s notorious jerks and snaps. Wingfield is out-there, right down to his Hard Nose The Highway inspired-or-inspiring shirt; he’s playing funk, he’s playing blues, ripping up and down the blacks and whites. Rimson is steady, in lock with Hooke, and with Wingfield creates a beautiful vocal harmony, particularly in the last minute of the track.

And then there is Van on sax. Morrison never looked at home on a guitar; saxophone was his original instrument; on Musikladen the instrument lays across his chest, more scarf than horn. Like an afterthought, he begins to play an ungodly deep bellow, pressed to his lips almost comically. He puts so much into each sequence, dipping back when in need of breath like a quill into ink, producing an even deeper, unholy blow. For a minute he stabs, bouncing in and out of the rhythm, a truly revelatory performance. And then, with preciseness, he rejoins the band for a single line in unison, bringing it all back on home. words / b kramer

The FALL

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. Phil Pirrone, from the Desert Daze music festival, joins me during the first hour pulling from arstists performing at this year’s fest. Details, here.

SIRIUS 336: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Autolux – Turnstile Blues ++ Liars – Proud Evolution ++ Diiv – Air Conditioning ++ Disappears – Weird House ++ Corners – Everything Is Good ++ Mr. Elevator & The Brain Hotel – My Purple I ++ Mystic Braves – Oh So Fine ++ Night Beats – H-Bomb ++ The Ravonettes – Love In A Trashcan ++ Cosmonauts – Motorcycle One ++ Terakaft – Talikoba ++ Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Good At Being In Trouble ++ JJUUJJUU – Ancient’s Future ++ Vincent Gallo – I Wrote This Song For The Girl Paris Hilton ++ L.A. Witch – Get Lost ++ Parquet Courts – You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now ++ Pavement – Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era ++ The Fall – The Classical ++ The Damned – Neat Neat Neat ++ Kevin Morby – Reign ++ Real Estate – Green Aisles ++ The Walkmen – Canadian Girl ++ Jonathan Rado – Hand In Mine ++ Vetiver – Sleep A Million Years ++ Of Monteal – She Came From New York (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Of Montreal – Did You See His Name? (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Of Montreal – All My Sorrows (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Carnivores – Dressed For The Rain ++ Gap Dream – Fantastic Sam ++ The Brunettes – The Record Store ++ Posse – Shut Up ++ Daughn Gibson – Bad Guys

*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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funkees

If Fela Kuti was Afro-Jazz, then The Funkees were Afro-Rock. Hailing from Eastern Nigeria, and formed in the late 60s as an Army band after the Biafran War, the Funkees were the band that set the dance floors of Lagos on fire in the 70s. Soundway released an excellent compilation in 2012, but the tracks below come from their incredibly potent (and incredibly hard to find) album entitled Now I’m A Man, which was released in 1976, a year before the band broke up. I can only imagine what Don Cornelius would have said if The Funkees had performed on Soul Train. I’m sure the first word out of his mouth would have been something akin to: “Damnn…”. words / cognoscere

The Funkees :: Now I’m a Man
The Funkees :: Time

BrothersAndSisters_dylan

Of the many, many tribute albums concerning the Dylan catalog, the Lou Adler produced Dylan’s Gospel stands as one of the most coherent. Tracked at Sound Recorders in Hollywood, this 1969 set by The Los Angeles Gospel Choir takes the bard’s material and works it from the inside out — from fairly catholic renditions (see the the two tracks below) to the full gospel workout of the 18+ minute versions of “All Along The Watchtower” and “Chimes Of Freedom“. Over the past four decades, the collection has been in and out of print numerous times under various names, titles, and cover art. The one thing that has remained constant is the music.

As of this month, it’s back in print via Light In The Attic Records. It’s rolling, Bob…

The Los Angeles Gospel Choir :: I Shall Be Released
The Los Angeles Gospel Choir :: The Times They Are A Changin’

English-Oceans

There are certain musical landmarks often brought up in conjunction with Athens, Georgia’s Drive-By Truckers: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, R.E.M. But on the road to the Truckers’ excellent new album, English Oceans, songwriter Patterson Hood found himself contemplating a comparison no artist wants to make.

“We’d been through so many damn personnel changes,” Hood chuckles over the phone from Milwaukee. “I thought, ‘Has this become some kind of Spinal Tap joke?’”

Recorded by a leaner, meaner Truckers – Hood and Mike Cooley on guitar and vocals, backed by Brad Morgan on drums, Matt Patton on bass, and Jay Gonzalez on guitars and keys — English Oceans is their best in a decade, a potent distillation of exactly what makes the band tick: soulful boogie, distorted rave-ups, and the dual wits of Hood and Cooley. The record didn’t come easy.

Following 2011’s R&B-indebted Go-Go Boots, it became obvious that the band had reached a breaking point. Bassist Shonna Tucker departed, following the lead of guitarist Jason Isbell, who’d split a few years earlier. Cooley was in the midst of a terrible bout of writer’s block, and the core band was road worn. Making music requires a sense of humor, Hood says, but beneath the surface of his Spinal Tap reference existed a real fear: “I always said the last thing I want to do is keep doing this past the point that it’s over. To be an embarrassment to what we used to do.”

The band needed some time, so it took the time. The band kept playing shows, but Hood and Cooley played solo, too. Hood released Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, and Cooley issued The Fool On Every Corner, a live album that found the songwriter getting comfortable playing on his own. The band reconvened to pour over the tapes of their seminal 1999 live album, Alabama Ass Whuppin’, which they reissued in 2013. It was listening to those tapes that led Hood to reevaluate what he was after.

“I really fell in love with the rawness of [Ass Whuppin’],” Hood says. “We were so unbridled and sloppy. I couldn’t sing worth a shit, and my playing was out of tune and wonky…but the passion and immediacy was really refreshing to me. We knew when we made another record [we wanted to tap into that]. We’re not that band anymore, we’re not those people anymore — but there was a spontaneity and immediacy to how it was done, and I wanted to do that.”

The Alabama Ass Whuppin’ tapes served as a reminder, and the time to hit reset worked for Cooley, who contributes about half of the English Oceans tracklist. His songs – like “Primer Coat” and “First Air of Autumn” – are some of his most insightful and tender, and his roaring opener, “Shit Shot Counts,” is among his finest rockers.

“Coming out with a strong rock & roll number to begin with – after all this time off – it was the obvious choice,” Cooley says. “Everything else fell right in behind it.”

For Cooley, the time off was spent writing without the kind of pressure that comes with a schedule. “I spent almost every bit of those three or four years working on the songs. It took almost every bit of it to write those songs. I needed ideas that I knew were good enough to make this record. When the record was near finished, we knew it was gonna be a good one. We were about as excited as we were burned out when we decided to take time off to begin with.”