CastlemusicNot unlike our recent look back at Toronto band Deloro’s 2011 self titled album, we revisited Jennifer Castle’s solo record from that same year, the lovely Castlemusic.

Castle’s successor to that record, Pink City, is an absolutely stunner. Gentle rolling guitar, Owen Pallett’s lush string arrangements and Castle’s voice – an indefinable thing that is at once fragile, delicate and rugged – are just some of the elements that made that collection of pastoral folk songs one of our favorite records of 2014. As an album, it deftly framed Castle as a twenty-first century aesthete, navigating the ghosts and discarded palm fronds of 1970s Laurel Canyon.

Taking nothing away from that record, Castlemusic is just as sturdy and surely suggests the forthcoming majesty of its follow-up. But there’s a thicker air of dust on this lp accompanying Castle amongst her explorations of existential heartbreak. The opening “Summer” finds Castle in a thick, murky atmosphere, the humidity rising and reverberating off the guitar with Castle’s cooing getting lost in the echo. The stunning and unparalleled “Powers” follows the blossom and subsequent decay of nature. Her weary voice travels beside deep rumbling guitar, airy flute and distant echoes of drum.

Jennifer Castle :: Powers


With John Renbourn passing into the great unknown this year to join his six-string brother in arms Bert Jansch, it’s a good time to be reminded of the wonderful sounds two acoustic guitarists in joyous communion can make. These two recent LPs are more than worthy additions to the tradition. Bert and John would be proud.

James Elkington & Nathan Salsburg :: Great Big God of Hands

Since his excellent 2013 solo LP Hard For To Win And Can’t Be Won, Nathan Salsburg has been busy backing up the great Joan Shelley, as well as producing some truly amazing reissues of field recordings by the Georgia Sea Singers and JB Smith, among others. His partner for the stellar Ambsace, James Elkington, has been heard in a wide variety of settings recently, from last year’s Tweedy album to Richard Thompson’s and Steve Gunn’s latest efforts to Eleventh Dream Day’s electrifying Works For Tomorrow. Together, the pair weave an intoxicating, intricate web that calls to mind the Renbourn/Jansch axis without being slavishly devoted to it. Nodding towards britfolk and blues forms, the album throws a few curveballs into the mix with covers of the Smiths and Duke Ellington — their reinterpretation of the moody Ellington/Mingus/Roach classic “La Fleurette Africane” is a surprisingly perfect fit.  Wherever Salsburg and Elkington go, it’s always a pleasure.

Bill Mackay & Ryley Walker :: Land of Plenty

Usually, saying a piece of music is “meandering” isn’t meant as a compliment. But “It Takes A Quilt,” the 11-minute leadoff track on Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker’s Land of Plenty, meanders beautifully, as the pair trade lines like old friends deep in conversation, just following the flow wherever it leads. Recorded live during a weekly residency at Chicago’s Whistler club earlier this year, the album is a laid-back, casual affair, but plenty of sparks still fly — check out the breakneck fox chase of “Gold Season,” or the slightly psychedelic vibes of “Blues for Arthur.” A perfect jazz-folk chaser to Walker’s more singer-songwriter styled Primrose Green LP from earlier this year. words / t wilcox


Joan Shelley’s latest, Over and Even, is her second for No Quarter Records and features Nathan Salsburg prominently on guitar as well as Will Oldam and Glenn Dettinger on gorgeous harmony. A crisp, golden sonic space perfect for autumn’s approach, the record grabs you instantly in its richness and warmth. Appalachian in atmosphere, Shelley’s voice is deep and soft, and with Oldham, prove a perfect pair in their delicate harmonizing. Connections to nature permeate the record, as the psychedelic meditation of the title track beckons: “the scent of wood and coffee / our cup is filling / outside the river flows / its course unfolding.”

Joan Shelley :: Over And Even

Shelley stopped us in our tracks last year with Electric Ursa, but this – the alluring wonder of her voice, scenic poetry and warm autumnal tones – make Over and Even one of the finest folk collections in some time. words / c depasquale


There was some kind of magic at work in the frayed songs of Elyse Weinberg’s 1968 debut, Elyse. Part of the allure was its mystery. Who was Elyse? The answer to the question was revealed to be more fascinating than any imagined myth when Elf Power’s Orange Twin Records reissued the album with Elyse’s permission in 2001. Emerging from the Toronto folk scene alongside Neil Young, Weinberg was signed to Roy Silver and Bill Cosby’s Tetragrammaton Records, which released her debut. She palled around with Mama Cass and hit the Billboard charts, but soon turned her attention to a new album, Greasepaint Smile.

(Read the Aquarium Drunkard review of Greasepaint Smile.)

ElyseWeinberg1400-2The album never saw release – until now, via Numero Group’s Numerophon imprint. It’s a wilder and grittier than its predecessor, produced by David Briggs and featuring accompaniment by J.D. Souther, Nils Lofgren Kenny Edwards, and Neil Young. Soon after, Elyse parted ways with Silver, and signed to Asylum to record another record – one still in the vaults – before leaving the music industry entirely. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, then Ashland, Oregon, pursuing spiritual enlightenment. She took on a new name: Cori Bishop, chosen for its numerological resonance. And slowly, she found her way back to music, recording a new album In My Own Sweet Time, in 2009. “I put one out every couple of decades, whether I want to or not,” she jokes over the phone. She’s considering her next: “I think I have one more to do, then I’ll be happy.” Bishop spoke to Aquarium Drunkard about her lost (and found) albums, spirituality, and recording with Neil Young.

Aquarium Drunkard: It must feel a little bit strange for a record that’s sat up in the attic so long come back into your life.

Cori Bishop: It does. Rob [Sevier of Numero Group] called me out of the blue. I guess he found a test pressing or something of it. He had been a fan of the first one he called and said, “What do you think about reissuing [Greasepaint Smile?]” I went, “Sure, it’s amazing that anyone cares.”

AD: So many people picked up on the first record when it was re-reissued by Orange Twin.

Cori Bishop:Yeah, that was amazing too. I got a call from Richard Goldman, a friend of mine in L.A. and Andrew Reiger from the band Elf Power. The band was on tour in Minnesota in the dead of winter and he walks into a record store and finds that old album, he likes the art work and he takes it home. I guess he got it for a dollar. [Laughs] His record player was broken and he finally got it fixed and said, “Wow, we should put this on our label.” So he and Laura [Carter], the prime movers of Orange Twin, they called me and found a pristine copy of the album on eBay and remastered and remixed it. A little while later, they were going to be in Portland playing and they asked me if I wanted to open for them. I hadn’t played in decades, you know? So I went, well okay. We had no rehearsal, [and they] played better the album and it went really well. It was really sweet.

AD: Greasepaint Smile feels very different than the first record. It’s kind of heavy, more of a rock record.

Cori Bishop: I think so. I think it’s more raw. The first one was very over the top and had some psychedelic influences to it. This one was very much “what you heard was what it was.”

AD: Did you feel more comfortable with that approach?

Cori Bishop:If I look back on both of them, I was so in-the-moment. I had no idea of what it took to make a record. I was just a bundle of reactions. There was no thought or plan, I just picked what I thought were the best songs I had at the time and said, “Let’s do these.” When I listen back, I hear a young girl crying for love and crying for a higher love. Now, 40 years later having been on a spiritual path for decades, I can look back and see that. I think people can relate to that, because we all have that yearning in our hearts. And everyone bought into that — the guitars are out of sight. Nils [Lofgren] and Neil [Young]…it was just phenomenal how they played.

350551633773Wardell Quezergue loaded up a school bus with five acts, drove down to Malaco Studios in Jackson Mississippi, cut 7-inches in a single session, and drove back home. Within a couple of months two of those tracks were sure-fire, all-time hits. One-hit wonders, sure, but solid golden oldies none the less. But three of those tracks – the ones that were not King Floyd’s “Groove Me” and Jean Knights “Mr. Big Stuff” – were all but lost to time.

Sitting somewhere alongside the future stars were Bonnie Perkins and Shelia Howard. Recently featured on our Late August Night mixtape, their 7″ A-side, “You Keep Me Hanging On,” has all the hallmarks of a hit. The catchy refrain, the soaring horns… shit, it’s the same damn backing band that cut those two classics mentioned above. And yet, the act “Bonnie & Shelia” were never to be heard from again.

I suppose the golden touch only glows so strong…and lightening only strikes twice. word / b kramer

Bonnie & Shelia :: You Keep Me Hanging On

alstewartIn 1966, Al Stewart was just one of a handful of singer-songwriters trying to drag the folk club scene out from underneath the dead weight of traditionalism. Along with the likes of Roy Harper, Jackson C. Frank, Sandy Denny, and John Martyn, Stewart quickly became associated with a legendary London venue of humble, low-rent beginnings. Opened in the basement of a Greek Restaurant by the restaurateur’s son and dubbed Les Cousins, the club was an epicenter for a new wave of musicians who were all bucking folk orthodoxy, not only by writing their own songs, but by reclaiming the folk idiom for themselves, making it speak to their experience of modern, mostly urban life. For them, pirate radio stations, long hair, and hashish-smoking were no longer beyond the pale. What was DADGAD, anyway, but one small step towards opening the doors of perception?

This may not have been The Year of the Cat yet, but it was the year of ‘Sunshine Superman’ and ‘Paint it Black.’ So, when it came time for Stewart to record for the first time, the implication that he was not a traditional folkie could not have been any more pronounced. The A-Side was a gimmicky bouquet of flower-power folk, called ‘The Elf’ caught somewhere between early Bowie and John Denver. It’s nice, but too nice. The nicely nasal elocution of the vocal, the nicely composed poetry in the lyrics—they’re all there, as but they’ve yet to accrue anything more than niceness.

The B-Side, however, is whole different story. The guitarist that Decca’s producer/arranger, Mike Leander, had booked for the session was none other than Jimmy Page, and this turned out to be propitious in a number of ways. The song chosen for the flip was ‘Turn Into Earth’ by The Yardbirds, the band with whom Page was about to become a full-fledged member. The track had appeared earlier that summer on The Yardbirds’ Roger the Engineer, and seemed to be cut from the same dark cloth as the band’s subsequent single (which also featured Page) ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,’ all echo-chamber vocals and sub-raga rhythms (it was really no accident that ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ arrived that same summer).

Al Stewart :: Turn Into Earth

Stewart, Page, and Co. up the moodiness, however, along with the production value. That dreary-beautiful vocal break (respectfully echoed on the Allah La’s recent ‘Sandy’) now provides an atmosphere only hinted at in the Yardbird’s original. So much so the latter seems like a demo for the Stewart version. The groove is heavier, tighter, the pagan-strumming of the guitars driving the whole thing forward in much the same way as Keith’s bolero on ‘Paint it Black’. There’s also that killer hint of Hammer Horror menace (thank you, Mr. Page). Here we have a tune that brings together all that was best about British psychedelia—not just the whimsy of parks and tea-drinking and tulips, but an ethereal through-line from the Kinks’ ‘See My Friends’ to Pink Floyd’s ‘Arnold Layne’.

These were British kids, remember, unwilling to stick to one musical framework anymore (be it folk, blues, or pop). Theirs was a musical vocabulary that had absorbed Phil Spector, French Ya-Ya, and Donovan as much as Skiffle, Cecil Sharp House, and Muddy Waters. They were applying what they had learned, what they were hearing. It was a time when appropriation and defamiliarization were two sides of the same coin. In fact, the ‘Elf/Turn to Earth’ session was where Jimmy Page picked up Bert Jansch’s arrangement of the traditional ‘Blackwaterside’ (a tune he would later record, near-identically as ‘Black Mountain Side’). And who taught it to him? Just a Soho folkie named Al Stewart. words / dk o’hara


Summer fade / Autumn entrance. Get mellow with the following breeze of acoustic folk and singer/songwriter hoodoo primed to banish the humidity and usher in the Fall.

Aquarium Drunkard Presents: September – A Medley

jrThis is not his father’s song.

Thanks to its appearance as the theme song of director Rick Alverson’s latest film, Entertainment, it may be time for a complete reappraisal of Frank Sinatra Jr., based on one song alone.

“Black Night” comes courtesy of the film’s star, Gregg Turkington (who plays a thinly veiled version of his Neil Hamburger character in Entertainment), the world’s foremost Frank Jr. expert, and his biggest fan. Taken from his 1971 album Spice, the song was written by Sinatra Jr. himself and arranged by Nelson Riddle, and is a sublime and twisting four-and-a-half minutes of insecurity, bombast, and menace.

Turkington says it best: “‘Black Night’ is a haunting, evocative song that encapsulates a lifetime of disappointment and yearning. Riddle’s arrangement for this song, described as ‘evil’ by Frank Jr. in his liner notes, starts with one simple guitar and builds slowly until it coalesces into an absolutely heart-rending orchestral blast. Pure dynamite.” words / k evans

Frank Sinatra Jr. :: Black Night


Pavement played one hell of a show at London’s Brixton Academy on December 14, 1992. We know this because the BBC taped and broadcast the set — a set that was subsequently included on the classic Stray Slack bootleg, officially released as part of the 10th anniversary Slanted and Enchanted reissue, and finally put to wax last month on the Secret History comp.

Of course, Pavement was just one part of the bill on that December night. Malkmus & co. were opening for Sonic Youth, then touring in support of their second major label effort, Dirty. Fortunately, the BBC’s tapes were still rolling, preserving (most of) SY’s glorious, explosive set for us to check out all these years later. They lean heavily on Dirty numbers here (even including the choice Lee Ranaldo b-side “Genetic”), but there are welcome trips into the back catalogue, including a ferocious “Kool Thing” and “Tom Violence,” appropriately dedicated to Richard Hell. This is Sonic Youth at their tightest (and most tightly wound), with Thurston Moore and Ranaldo’s guitars crunching and squalling around Kim Gordon’s inimitable snarl.

MVP of the evening, however, has to go to drummer Steve Shelley, who here comes across as the Alternative Nation’s very own Keith Moon, propelling his band to one beautiful plateau after another. Dig the stormy crescendos he summons on “Theresa’s Sound World” and bow down. words / t wilcox

Sonic Youth :: Brixton Academy, London, December 14, 1992 (external link)