NUM58CDSo, that whole “cosmic American music” thing.

What exactly was Gram Parsons getting at when he first muttered it? Each element of the term is loaded — the cosmos are awful big. So’s America. Did Parsons mean country music okay for hippies to dig and play? Rural music as informed by grass as the dirt? A melange of uniquely American musics: soul, R&B, folk, blues, western swing, and rock? Did the Flying Burrito bro mean for it to become an idea bigger than him, a sort of ambiguous legacy left behind after he space cowboy-ed his way up to the big western in the sky?

It’s the ideas Gram inspired and that famous quote which give Numero Group’s excellent new compilation of private press country rock gems its name. Don’t get hung up on “cosmic American music” as a genre. Like “country funk” or “loner folk/psych,” you can spend many enjoyable hours debating exact definitions. Ultimately, it’s less about specifics and more about feeling. The songs on Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music help draw a picture of what Gram might have meant. They’re rurally rooted, often soaked in pedal steel, but not confined by strict adherence to anything other than good grooves. Most were created outside of the Nashville machine, issued on fledgling labels or the artists themselves.

Under this particularly open banner, there’s lots of room for diversity. Kathy Heidiman’s perfect “Sleep A Million Years” sounds the way the McGarrigle Sisters might had they jammed with Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen; Angel Oak’s gorgeous “I Saw Her Cry” sounds like a less sinister John Phillips’ outtake from Wolf King of L.A.; Kenny Knight’s sly “Baby’s Back” could find a home on a Tony Joe White record or, if someone stepped up on a stomp box, even a mid-70s LP by ZZ Top. It’s good stuff. Things get sad — hear the weeping harmonies of White Cloud’s “All Cried Out” —  and they get sexy, like on Ethel-Ann Powell’s smooth come on “Gentle One.”

Some of the songs get spacey, some not so much. But the records collected here share a spirit, a homespun vibe. Mostly, they sound like songs that would work well in a bar on any given night, the kind of barroom Mike and Pam Martin sing about in their great cut “Lonely Entertainer.” You get the sense these two weren’t concerned with psychedelia or the cosmos the way Gram might have been, but their song still taps into the mystic vein beneath the mundane. “Every song I sing begins to sound the same,” they harmonize. The line resonates in ways they never knew it could, or always knew it would. words / j woodbury

Kathy Heidiman :: Sleep A Million Years

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Cheap Trick needs precious little in the way of an introduction. Roaring out of Rockford in the early ’70s, the band’s stayed on a remarkably consistent career path for decades, hewing close to a muscular framework of guitar-driven glam riffs and sturdy, pop-based song craft. Anthems like “I Want You To Want Me” and “Surrender” bridged arena rock bombast with power-pop melodicism, hard rock heft with a nearly punk intensity. The band’s latest, Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello, is its first in seven years, but the 11 songs featured show little wear on the band’s singular style. Even if drummer Ben E. Carlos is missed — Daxx Nielsen mans the drums for the quartet these days — songs like the over-the-top “Long Time No See Ya” and “Heart on the Line” are meaty and exuberant.

Chatty and quick with a Midwestern self-deprecating dig, Rick Nielsen spent some time with AD on the phone to discuss the new record, playing with John Lennon, and recording with the late George Martin. Below, edited excerpts from our conversation.

Aquarium Drunkard: Congrats on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Have you guys been working on something cool for the ceremonies?

Rick Nielsen: Uh, no. [Laughs] I don’t think so. We’re a little new to it, so…

AD: Well, everyone’s new to it. You only get inducted the once.

Rick Nielsen: Well yeah. If we screw it up, it was the best we could do, and if we do good, it’s a fluke.

AD: Let’s talk about something you might have some more thoughts about, your new record, Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello.

Rick Nielsen: It was a lot of fun to make. We made it over a year and a half. [We did] about seven songs in L.A., and we went back and did eight more, and then we did eight songs in Nashville, and did seven more [in L.A.] It was kind of fun. Not everything sounds the same. Sometimes in the studio you get tunnel vision, but [this one felt] a bit fresher.

AD: Cheap Trick spends a lot of time on the road. Compared to a lot of other bands who’ve been around as long as you, you tour an awful lot.

Rick Nielsen: I tell people if we waited around for a hit to go on tour, we’d never tour. I see other groups saying, “We’ve got this big tour lined up, we’re doing 60 shows.” I say, “60 shows? [Laughs] That’s just getting warmed up.”

Crazy Elephant

“Gimme Gimme Good Lovin” bubblegum this is not. Via our Transcendence mixtape, found here. . .

Crazy Elephant :: Dark Part Of My Mind

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As everybody knows, the counterculture revolution of peace, love, and rock n’ roll, can be said to have died, grimly and without shelter, on a racetrack outside of San Francisco on December 6, 1969. Perhaps less well known, is that some two years later, a parallel movement south of the border—dubbed La Onda (“The Wave”)—was still cresting. Coincidentally, this revolution too reached something of a climax beside a racetrack (in a place historically known as “San Francisco del Valle de Temascaltepec,” no less). However, the 1971 Avándaro Festival was no Altamont. The original idea had been to present a Rock y Ruedas (“Rock and Wheels”) showcase involving just a handful of rock acts as prelude to the main event: a weekend of auto racing. However, massive crowds of onderos descended on the site early, and more and more bands kept being added to bill as they arrived. In the end, the races had to be nixed altogether, making way for the Woodstock-sized audience and a full weekend of Mexican Rock. After preliminary concerts and sound-checks, things officially kicked off at dawn on Saturday with a mass Yoga session and a theatrical performance of the Who’s Tommy; it closed early on Sunday Morning with a performance by Three Souls in My Mind (aka “El Tri”) during which frontman Álex Lora famously told hundreds of thousands of onderos and jipitecas the following:

“In this festival, a lot has been said about peace and love, and those things are really cool—but that is not rock. To show that we’re concerned about things such as the Tenth of June [Corpus Christi Massacre six months prior, in which student demonstrators were gunned down by CIA-trained Mexican Special Forces], we’re going to play a song by the Stones called ‘Street Fighting Man’.”

Avándaro is important because it offered undeniable proof that, despite brutal government crackdowns, a big counterculture wave was still viable. The largely totalitarian Mexican government had been working determinedly to promote conservative values throughout the country; events like Rock y Ruedas were canny, bone-tossing consolations to Mexican youth growing hungrier for the more liberal and worldly culture embodied in rock music. Now here were these same supposedly drop-out kids organizing themselves on a massive, politically-alarming scale—how dare they? How dare bands with incongruous names like Los Dug Dug’s, Peace and Love, Tequila, and Los Soul Masters play their defiantly English-language rebel music to such large crowds?

It was a big deal. The Mexican Attorney General labeled the festival a “Witches’ Sabbath” and even the President condemned it. Witnessing the great muddy exodus of the festival’s aftermath, the government’s promise was No More Avándaros. And so it came to pass: further rock n’ roll events were banned (even Avándaro auto racing was suspended for fear of crowds). Through the mid- to late-70s, Mexican rock would be institutionally pushed as far into the dark as possible, further and further into so-called hoyos funquis (“funky dives”), improvised clubs and working class roadhouses on the outskirts of the cities.

It was on the eve of this Dark Age that, druid-like, a band called Toncho Pilatos mysteriously appeared. (Even if this isn’t quite a case of “no one knows who they were or what they were doing,” it does come close.) The best and most comprehensive study of the period in question, Eric Zolov’s Refried Elvis: the Rise of the Mexican Counterculture, mentions the band hardly at all, except to admit that they, somehow, weirdly, existed. Biographical details are scarce. We do know that they came out of the thriving Guadalajara scene that also produced seminal bands like La Revolución de Emiliano Zapata. We also know that “Toncho” refers to the band’s lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Alfonso “Toncho” Sanchez Guerrero, while “Pilatos” suggests a plural form of Pilate (as in “Poncio Pilato”).  But compared to their better known contemporaries, Toncho Pilatos seem to have no definable back story or immediate musical lineage. Instead, the group seems to have arrived, fully-formed, at the dawn of Mexican Rock’s end of days (it would, alas, take until the Eighties for them to produce a second album). Indeed the band members appear on the cover of their self-titled debut as caped wizards, prophets, or Holy Mountaineers, rising from what might as well be the smoldering ashes of Avándaro.

Toncho Pilatos :: Kulkulkan

HEADSWhile there’s been no shortage of writing devoted to the Grateful Dead and its various subcultures, I don’t think there’s been one book that goes as deep as Jesse Jarnow’s new, completely marvelous Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America. I’d say it’s the best Dead tome ever written, but the Dead are only part of the overall picture. The narrative is nothing if not ambitious. Jarnow’s compelling, decade-spanning tapestry weaves in a diverse array of acid-soaked characters: mad LSD scientists, Central Park graffiti artists, intrepid concert tapers, Silicon Valley pioneers, wheelers, dealers, stealers and many, many more.

Heads is an essential piece of underground cultural history, but more than anything it reads like an epic adventure story, with page after page of remarkable stories spinning out kaleidoscope-style, like a second-set Dead improv. And speaking of which — while music may not always be focus of Jesse’s book, readers will find more than enough soundtrack suggestions. For instance, this totally wonderful 1978 Jerry Garcia Band version of Miles Davis’ “So What.” Hell, Heads even got me to listen to some Phish, which is really saying something (and the chapters devoted to the band are in fact some of the most interesting of the book, which is saying even more). Make no mistake: Heads is the definition of a must-read. words / t wilcox

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Matthew McQueen, known by most by his stage name, Matthewdavid, doesn’t have any qualms with the term “New Age.” While some electronic composers might prefer the term “ambient,” McQueen is attracted to the more metaphysical label, for its mystic connotations as much as its musical ones. In McQueen’s eyes, 2016 feels very much like part of a New Age; his new record, Matthewdavid’s Mindflight, Trust the Guide and Glide, reflects his blooming reality.

“I love the fact that things are always in flux, constantly moving,” McQueen says from his place in Los Angeles. “My ideas of who I am are always shifting and very inspiring. We’re in 2016 now and gender is fluid. Men are questioning their values of themselves. Sexism, racism, these things are all being questioned right now…Things are loosey goosey and wavy gravy now, man.”

Though he’s worked with Flying Lotus’ electronic/hip-hop Brainfeeder crew and collaborated with rappers like Odd Nosdam and Serengeti, McQueen’s latest follows the same openhearted path that inspired his previous albums Mindflight and Ashram, explicitly evoking classic New Age music in both tone and intent. From the fantastically idyllic cover art by painter Gilbert Williams to its crystalline synth drones, the record is an homage to the “incredible outsider, psychedelic, electronic music that was being made in this country under the banner of the New Age musical movement, when in the late ’60s counter-cultural pluralistic spirituality merged with  European space music, modern classical, assorted global sounds, and electronic music into a folk art specifically designed to inspire, relax, comfort, and heal.

This kind of music directly inspired McQueen, who cites conversations with New Age scholar Douglas Mcgowan (producer of Light in the Attic’s essential I Am the Center collection) and Zach Cowie (DJ Turquoise Wisdom) as indications of a wider excavation of the genre’s often misunderstood psychedelic roots. It was Cowie who turned McQueen on to Michael Stearns’ 1981 LP Planetary Unfolding, which provided deep inspiration for Trust the Guide and Glide.

“What’s so cool to me about a lot of this older New Age stuff that’s now surfacing is how freaky it all was,” McQueen says of exploring beyond more commercially known works. Not that he has a problem with “cheesy Windham Hill or world fusion stuff,” either. “I use the word ‘cheesy’ subjectively,” McQueen says. “I actually quite enjoy a lot of the New Age flute music. Celtic faerie mystical music that people write off as cheesy — I enjoy it. It does a lot for me personally.”

“Bola Sete’s music comes from everywhere and nowhere. The subconscious really is universal. Bola Sete’s music is the best reminder of this that I have ever heard. He is a man of great spirit and great depth.”  John Fahey, Guitar Player, February 1976

bola sete oceanThe above inscription rests on the back cover of Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete’s Ocean, a record of solitary guitar recorded by and released on Fahey’s Takoma imprint via the Windham Hill label.

Sete’s previous records (dating back to the late ’50s) were predominately informed by the sounds of bossa nova, samba and jazz (Dizzy Gillespie invited him on-stage at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival and his collaborations with Vince Guaraldi are stunning and timeless). However, and likely thanks in no small part to his friendship and collaboration with Fahey, Sete underwent an artistic transformation with Ocean, a collection of greater atmosphere and ambience, and like its title intimates – aquatic, serene and vast.

Album opener “Vira Mundo Penba,” a Brazilian folk song arranged by Sete, stretches across new sonic terrains populated with a gentle, reflective openness, without shedding the style and timbre of its geographical roots. The guitar – solitary and searching – is led by Sete into these unfamiliar vistas with deft and visionary movement. “Guitar Lamento” has the subtle tension and desert aura of a western, while tracks like “Let Go” and “Macumba” exude a moody, noir ruggedness while effusing hints of Latin American exotica. “Inn of the Beginning, Cotati” and the rambling “Xengo Xengo Xerengo” are pure folk numbers, works of primitive guitar that show Sete’s incredible finger picking ability, and perhaps best illustrate Fahey’s influence.

“Ocean Waves” – the Side B zenith – takes its time in revealing its majestic beauty and depth – an oceanic paradise and an apex of solo acoustic guitar. words / c depasquale

Bola Sete :: Ocean Waves

EndlessBoogie

Endless, indeed. If you missed the band’s last run through LA after the release of Long Island, now is your chance to make amends. Endless Boogie touch down at the Bootleg Theater along with Arctic and Loom on April 5th. Tickets are still available, here.

We’ve held a few pairs to giveaway to AD readers. To enter, leave a comment with…your favorite Sabbath record and why. Godspeed.

Lionlimb-ShooShoo is the debut album by Lionlimb, a duo comprised of singer-songwriter Stewart Bronaugh and drummer Joshua Jaeger. The band has a sleeper agent story: Bronaugh performed under the moniker back in 2010, bopped between Chicago and San Francisco, then linked up with Jaeger to record and tour with Angel Olsen for Burn Your Fire For No Witness–all the while working on songs. The duo recorded Shoo with Robin Eaton while on break from Olsen’s tour in 2015. The songs were written over several years, the players have an affinity reinforced by years on the road, and, despite being built up from basic drum and piano arrangements, Shoo is a cohesive, powerfully vibey document. The foundation of the keyboards, Bronaugh’s vulnerable voice, and Jaeger’s highly melodic, jazzy drumming are expanded upon generously by electric pianos, whirring organs, thunking bass, and most notably flocks of saxophones that blend in and out of the fuzzy, wah-ing guitar lines. Every one of Shoo‘s eleven songs is replete with melody–all those overdubs are put to the most dynamic use.

Lionlimb sites Miles Davis’ On the Corner, Jack London, Schumann, Elliot Smith, and Jackson Pollock–an eclectic yet telling range of influences. Bronaugh’s singing style makes the Smith reference somewhat obvious, and in most of the tracks his understated voice gets swathed in layers of keyboards and horns, blooming into a warm, enveloping maximalism not unlike that of ELO. Thankfully, Bronaugh’s writing doesn’t dwell on repeated lines or schlocky sing-song. These tunes are tautly composed, and the lyrics don’t settle along melodic earworms. Perhaps because there’s this ever-present sense of yearning with Lionlimb, in Bronaugh’s voice or the way a bed of reedy sounds flutter down upon a chorus. There’s often imagery of longing, hindsight, disconnect, failure, some little detail that triggers a memory, getting high, some insatiable need… On a Morricone-inflected “Ride,” he sings “wearing the suits of misfortune/ I moved through her ruined years,” and “if I ride, I’ll ride forever.” In “Tinman” we get “come be lavish for me, I have the words you need/ but if this tongue should fail me, I would still taste you…” Shoo‘s penultimate track, “Just Because,” closes with the line, “Why can’t I just go? My baby’s got me lookin’ back forever.”

Lionlimb :: Ride

Even the group’s name contains some drama of fragmentation: Lionlimb–a mere appendage of a regal, powerful creature, not even its essence, like the head of a lion on a chimera. Bronaugh’s evocative line drawing that adorns the album cover hints at something distant and twisted, familiar but alien. “Wide Bed” grooves like slowly plopping raindrops, sustained piano crowned by harmonized saxophones that call to mind some spaced out Miles–or perhaps a floating, Science Fiction era Ornette arrangement. But that’s the charm of Shoo–it calls to mind much wonderful, disparate music, synthesized into a present, earnest rock band with a liberal dose of saxophone. Fans of sax in rock will be pleased to know that the Lionlimb live band features a dedicated horn man throughout–a scrappier but no less fun manifestation of these memorable tunes. words / a spoto

Lionlimb :: Tinman