HTThe year is just about half spent, but I feel safe calling Houndstooth’s “Borderlands” the finest bittersweet breakup ballad of 2015. The gentle lilt of Katie Bernstein’s voice as she sings of a “burned out love,” the beautifully bent 12-string guitar break, the steady chug of the rhythm section — it all adds up to a kiss-off that’s also a goodbye kiss. Perfect.

The rest of the Portland, OR-based band’s No News From Home doesn’t disappoint either, offering plenty of pleasing Velvety strum ‘n’ jangle, charming girl-guy vocals and effortlessly catchy songwriting. Fans of the Flying Nun label’s classic kiwipop sound will find plenty to love. No News is very good news, indeed. words / t wilcox

Houndstooth :: Borderlands

Red-Rhodes-Elektra-LPPedal steel ace Orville “Red” Rhodes (1930-1995) was one of LA’s most in-demand session players during the late 1960s and early 1970s, lending his laid-back licks to hits by James Taylor, Linda Rondstadt, and The Carpenters. But Red was more than just a sideman. He was a band leader, fronting the house band at North Hollywood’s legendary Palomino Club between 1966 and 1969. He was an inventor, building custom amps and “Velvet Hammer” pickups out of his Royal Repair Shop on the corner of Cahuenga and Hollywood. And he was a good time: according to his most frequent musical collaborator, former Monkee Michael Nesmith, Red “smoked more dope than any man I knew.”

The 21 songs on this mix showcase Red Rhodes’ virtuosity and versatility, highlighting the role his unmistakeable tone played in defining the LA country rock sound. words / m dawson

All Roads Lead To Red: A Pedal Steel Mixtape / Tribute

MegBaird_DontWeighDownTheLight_MINI

It’s been five long years since Meg Baird’s last solo album, but the singer-songwriter (formerly of the late/great Espers) is back with Don’t Weigh Down the Light, a deeply satisfying effort that feels like an instant psych-folk classic. Baird relocated to San Francisco from Philadelphia recently and you might hear a little bit of Golden State sunshine in the grooves here, as subtle piano and electric 12-string textures fill out the picture. It’s still Meg’s high, lonesome voice and gorgeous fingerpicking that take center stage, however — and rightly so.

While there’s almost no one else out there who can deliver a sad song quite as well as she can, Don’t Weigh Down the Light is also filled with hopefulness and beauty. You could easily compare Baird to some of the great folk singers of the past 50 years, but more than anything else here, she just sounds like herself. And that’s a great thing. words / t wilcox

Meg Baird :: Counterfeiters

RLJ

With a career that stretches back to her 1979 self-titled debut, Rickie Lee Jones has been creating music that transcends the every day while wholly embracing every ounce of its being. Her emergence from the same scene that birthed Tom Waits, Chuck E. Weiss and others helped make her an instant success, but her albums have consistently been an evolving work, going from her early master-work Pirates up through the Walter Becker produced Flying Cowboys and the majestic The Evening of My Best Day. The Other Side of Desire is her 12th studio album of original material and is out this week. AD caught up with Rickie via phone to discuss the new album, her move back to New Orleans, the benefit and drawbacks of ego and how it’s nice to feel like you’ve given something to the world.

Aquarium Drunkard: It’s been about six years since you last put out an album of original material [2009’s Balm in Gilead] and that’s one of the longest stretches of your entire career. But a few years ago you did a covers album [2012’s The Devil You Know]. You’ve talked in the promotional material for this album about waiting until you had the songs together you wanted to record. Was doing the covers album a way of sparking that creative process in some way?

Rickie Lee Jones: I don’t think so. I think, to be honest, it was just to make some money. [laughs] It was just to keep myself working. You know, I was getting into a place where I wasn’t working at all and was just touring. I had run out of money and had to just tour and tour. So to get myself into the studio – I had two songs that I knew I wanted to do. I wanted to do “The Weight.” I was waking up every day singing “The Weight” and singing “It Never Entered My Mind” by Frank Sinatra. And then I added on this Rolling Stones song [“Sympathy for the Devil”].

And people said, ‘you know, you do these 60s soul songs so well. You should do a record of those songs.’ I didn’t do a 60s soul record. But that’s kind of how I went in the direction of the 60s generally speaking. But then I didn’t have a group of songs from the 60s that moved me. So we ended up picking things like “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and things that had been suggested. I don’t know if I should share this, but I struggled with that record. So I suppose, in a way, it told me the way to go. It was like: ‘You have to leave here now. There’s nothing left in L.A. for you. If you want to be a writer, you have to go somewhere else.’ So I’m really glad I moved. It really helped.

You know, I know people don’t like to hear ‘I did it for the money,’ But money has really told us what direction to go. When people are poor, they often do some of their best work. They want to make some money, right?

tri-inn1987_9

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

SIRIUS 393: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ The Mekons – Where Were You?++ Landline – Wire ++ Carnivores – Pillow Talk ++ Deerhunter – Dot Gain ++ Tess Parks And Anton Newcombe – Friendlies ++ The Vaselines – No Hope ++ Lower Dens – A Dog’s Dick ++ Ought – Sisters Are Forever ++  Viet Cong – Static Wall ++ Kindness – Gee Up ++ Shintaro Sakamoto – Dancing With Pain ++ The Clash – 1977 ++ The Soft Boys – I Got The Hots ++ The Cure – Screw ++ The Fall – Spoilt Victorian Child ++ Orange Juice – Falling And Laughing (BBC Peel Session) ++ The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make (Hatful of Hollow version) ++ Girls Names – I Lose ++ The B-52s – Dance This Mess Around ++ Blur – Sing ++ David Bowie – Fascination ++ Gary Numan – Metal ++ Pylon – Cool ++ R.E.M. – Wolves Lower ++ R.E.M. – Stumble ++ R.E.M. – Carnival of Sorts ++ Bob Mould – Sunspots ++ Bob Mould – Heartbreak A Stranger ++ Bob Mould – Sinners And Their Repentances ++ Whitney – No Matter Where We Go ++ The Art Museums – Oh, Modern Girls ++ Ultimate Painting – Central Park Blues ++ Pavement – Baptist Blacktick ++ Parquet Courts – Instant Disassembly ++ Iggy Pop – New Values

*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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SPY

Consider Shaft’s Old Man: a soul jazz soundtrack to an imaginary black 60s spy film that never was. Our third in a series of ongoing collaborations with Copenhagen based DJ/record collector Peer Schouten. Split into seven sections, use your ears to follow our hero through all manner of classic spy thriller motifs. And then some.

Download: Shaft’s Old Man: An Imaginary Soul Jazz Soundtrack – A Mixtape

SRS003 Alceu Valença - Molhado de Suor jacket

One of two new Brazilian reissues coming out this summer via Sol Re Sol Records — Alceu Valença’s Molhado de Suor. Originally released on the Brazilian label Som Livre in 1974, the lp has been out of print on vinyl for the past 40 years. A cornerstone of the Brazilian Udigrudi movement found in Recife region, Alceu’s muse fused psychedelia, tropicalia, folk rock and beyond.

Alceu Valença :: Cabelos Longos

candi staton

A tale of transfiguration, Candi Staton’s rendering of “He Called Me Baby” was originally penned in 1961 as “She Called Me Baby“, via country and western singer/songwriter Harlan Howard. Not the song’s first r&b interpretation, Staton’s take was preceded in 1968 by Ella Washington, courtesy of the Nashville, TN based soul label Sound Stage 7.

Candi Staton :: He Called Me Baby

Nina+Simone

She begins in mid-flow. Sitting down at the piano, effectively taking the reins from her band, the first thing she says into the microphone is ‘So…‘ One simple word, an aside to every single soul in that auditorium. It’s almost a sigh, like the sound of a truth-teller getting down to business, or a teacher who is forced to go to the blackboard to spell it all out for us. It presumes that everyone is paying attention (they are) and that everyone recalls where they are in the lesson (they do). ‘So…’

So this is what all those people who were able to witness Nina Simone in concert were talking about. This was why–once it had been established that you knew her name, had heard her voice–the next question was always going to be have you seen her live?

ninaThe title of The Great Show of Nina Simone: Live in Paris is only half-correct; it was, in fact, recorded during the second annual Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968. However, this unofficial and long out-of-print document is extraordinary because it catches Simone in her element: off the cuff, ordering the set-list herself, offering again and again the one-two punch of spiritual uplift and spiritual desolation that was her signature. On her albums, she may have been beholden to the wants of producers and her oppressive manager/husband, but here we find her cutting loose, playing what she wants to play and however she wants to play it. She is calling the shots, and the revelations come hard and fast: first and foremost, the energy in her small backing group (consisting of just bass, drums, guitar, with prominent organ/tambourine and vocal harmonies provided by her brother), but also the directness of Simone’s performance. Always a volatile singer, Simone on this night has something she wants to impart and she knows how to get right to the point musically. This was, after all, an artist who just two months prior (in the immediate aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination) had told her audience: ‘I ain’t about to be non-violent, honey.’

Nina Simone :: Intro & Devils Workshop

A song called ‘Go to Hell’ (here titled ‘Devil’s Workshop’) is confrontational way to open a gig, if you think about it–more appropriate to the sinners beware side of gospel than the smoky night club. The earlier studio version is comparatively lighthearted, but here onstage Simone is free to unearth the gospel revival roots of her music, as if to prove that this is where it all begins. Underneath the jaunty rhythm there’s now a threat, one that goes right into the heart of the blues.

Some say that Hell is below us
But I say it’s right by my side
You see evil in the morning
Evil in the evening, all the time
You know damn well,
That we all must be in Hell. 

But if this presents us only with desolation, there’s still another point-of-view to be had. The very next song is the jazz standard ‘Just in Time.’ Set against the brimstone of the opener, the context of the song shifts. The familiar tune is suddenly turned into a recognition of grace, the possibility of providence. She’s still standing her ground, testifying, but in a different way now (though this doesn’t stop her from getting pissed-off when her brother’s tambourine is played too loud). Again, the spirituality of lyrics and the slow-burning arrangement is what Simone is aiming for. But instead of hell, this time, we’re headed for transcendence. Indeed, when she reaches the songs climax—singing ‘change me, change me’—we know what she’s yearning for, and we know it is more than just romance.

Nina Simone :: Just In Time

This dichotomy is something Simone plays with throughout the night, albeit as rendered by the album’s editors (no full-length recording of the show was released). Song for song, she’s nihilistically cutting us down, forcing us to confront the abyss, before building us back up again. It’s no accident that the last song of the night (before the encore) is ‘Ain’t Got No, I Got Life,’ which she had just released as a hit single (#2 in the UK). Here, she just calls it ‘Life’. It’s a song that dramatizes this same existential back-and-forth between nothingness and spirituality—but stretched out over 11 minutes, it’s with even greater zeal and unapologetically religious urgency. ‘Is the mic still on?’ she sings, at one point, ready to still give more of her soul and to make sure her message has been hammered home.

Nina Simone :: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

More soul is what you get on all of these songs: ‘Backlash Blues’ is finally allowed to live up to its name; ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is refashioned as a work-song in which all the workers have skeleton faces; ‘To Love Somebody’ gets a cry-your-heart-out arrangement that stuns as much for its beauty as its self-assertion (I’m a w-o-o-o-man/Can’t you see what I am?); even the night’s first encore ‘Gin House Blues’ comes off as an impromptu blend of Ray Charles and Spencer Davis.

Nina Simone :: When I Was A Young Girl

But if you’re looking for the evening’s real show stopper, and one that cuts right to the quick of Simone scary genius then look no farther than the rendition of ‘When I was a Young Girl’ she offers here. A song Alan Lomax had collected from Texas Gladden in 1941, this Appalachian cautionary tale about wayward girls had by the 1960s become something of a folk-club staple (Simone recorded it on her album Folksy Nina in 1963). On this night in 1968, however, Simone silences her band, hits a few piano chords, and sings the first line. But something happens and she then tries it in a different key before taking the melody a cappella. It’s so unrehearsed that the singer is instantly under the skin of the dying girl in the lyrics. It’s chilling. (During her earlier performances you sometimes hear the audience chuckle at the line right out of the alehouse and into the jailhouse—but there can be no laughing now). If we aren’t already devastated by the way Simone enters and dramatize a simple line like my poor heart is breaking, the return of her piano makes sure that we get floored. That fluttery Mose Allison-Nat Cole style of hers, careens down to the lowest register of the piano—until it finds one of those dark, funereal corners of the blues Keith Jarrett later nudged into during his Koln Concert. Like someone slipping under–and going not ungently–the depth here is dark and unfathomable.

Suffice it to say, Nina Simone could turn whatever style she touched into hers and hers alone.  Her music was not Jazz or Soul, but her jazz, her soul. As Stanley Crouch rightly points out in the upcoming NetFlix documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, whatever mode you find Simone in (desolate, angry, seductive—sometimes all of the above) you do not mistake that voice for anyone else’s, not ever, not even for a second. When she was at her best, she was Nina unadulterated, cutting loose and shaking free of whatever constraints were put upon her. And the greatness of this show is the fact that it is all Nina. words / dk o’hara