The Black Keys “Thickfreakness” 2003. Fat Possum Records. I just dropped a huge chunk of change to get Black Keys concert tickets (we almost never go to big arena concerts anymore but we didn’t get a chance to see the Black Keys back when they were still relatively unknown) so I’m spinning their second LP as a reminder why I like them so much and to soothe my guilt over my sticker shock and my ire over the bullshit fees. Thickfreakness, like their first album The Big Come Up, is super-lo fi garage blues that Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney recorded in Carney’s basement on an 8-track recorder (they spent their advance from Fat Possum on rent instead of better equipment). They released three singles from Thickfreakness: “Set You Free” (which was included on the soundtrack for the movie School of Rock), “Hard Row” (one of my favorites) and “Have Love Will Travel” (also one of my favorites, it’s a cover of the song originally by Richard Berry – of “Louie Louie” fame – in 1959). Another great cover on Thickfreakness is their rendition of Junior Kimbrough’s “Everywhere I Go.” Kimbrough’s spirit can be felt through most of The Black Keys early sound so it’s not surprising they pay respect to him here.
catl. “Soon This Will All Be Gone” 2012. catl. Records. Punk-blues duo from Toronto (who will be playing at one of my favorite Milwaukee bars, Boone & Crockett, next month). Soon This Will All Be Gone is their third album and is steeped in traditional American blues, folk and hillbilly music and then shredded with punk attitude and attack. They cover Robert Johnson on “He’ll Make My Way,” Abner Jay on “Cocaine,” Led Belly on “Goodnight, Irene” and Hasil Adkins on “Get Outta My Car.” But my favorite tracks are their originals like the rollicking “Gotta Thing For You” and the driving blues, organ-infused “5 Miles.”
We saw catl play last summer in Indianapolis at Romanus Records Fest (their latest album, Bide My Time Until I Die, came out on Romanus) and we were blown away: I’m a huge fan of women on rhythm and percussionist Sarah K. not only beats the shit out of her drums (and tambourine, maracas, organ, accordion) she does it standing/dancing which provides an even more dynamic live experience. She takes the lead vocals on several tracks and occasionally shares vocals with singer/guitarist Johnny LaRue, whose voice is exactly the right tone for punk-blues: a little nasal sneer. I think their April performance will be their first time in Milwaukee (though I’m not totally sure) and I can’t wait to see them again.
Andre Williams “The Greasy Chicken” b/w “Come On, Baby” 1957. Fortune Records. Another musical legend gone: R&B great Andre Williams “Mr Rhythm” died on Sunday, March 17th at age 82 (b. Zephire Andre Williams, November 1, 1936). “The Greasy Chicken” was one of Williams’ early popular recordings, issued on his first record label, Fortune Records which was located in the back of a Detroit barber shop. He released several other popular tracks on Fortune (including “Bacon Fat” and “Jail Bait”) in the 50′s and a few on Chess Records in the 60′s (including “Cadillac Jack” which went to #46 on the R&B chart). In the 70′s Williams collaborated with Parliament, Funkadelic and Ike Turner. The 80′s weren’t kind to him: he struggled with drug addiction and homelessness. However, in the late 90′s and early 2000′s his career had a resurgence when he partnered with several alternative/indie bands like The Sadies, The Dirtbombs and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (“The Black Godfother”). It was during this part of his career renaissance that we got a chance to see Williams – at least once, maybe twice (memories are hazy!). We for sure saw him play Milwaukee’s Cactus Club and might have gone to Chicago to see him as well. At one of these shows he played ‘The Greasy Chicken” and I recall some lunatic running down a hallway shrieking “greasy chicken! greasy chicken!”
Dick Dale and His Del-Tones “Mr. Eliminator” 1964. “The King of the Surf Guitar” died this past Saturday, March 16th, at age 81 (b. Richard Anthony Monsour, May 4th, 1937). Mr. Eliminator was Dale’s fourth studio LP and, as the cover and song titles indicate, is heavy on the hot rod theme (see “Blond in the 406,” “Nitro Fuel,” “My X-KE,” “Hot Rod Alley”), with lots of surf guitar sprinkled liberally with Middle Eastern flavors (most especially “The Victor”) and Bo Diddley beats (“50 Miles to Go”). I like those last two tracks the best, a bit of a break from the surfy style. The only track I really don’t care for is “The Squirrel” which is just awful (Allmusic calls it “a lost cause”).
Sly and the Family Stone “Stand!” 1969. Today, March 15th, is Family Stone frontman Sly Stone’s birthday (b. Sylvester Stewart, 1943). Stand! was their fourth album and the group’s most successful, hitting #13 on the Billboard pop chart and #3 on the R&B chart; the Library of Congress selected it for inclusion into the National Recording Registry in 2015. It also had significant impact on future R&B, soul and hip-hop artists, pretty much setting the standard for uplifting, socially critical, hook-laden funk and psychedelic soul. My favorite tracks are the ones I’m most familiar with – the hit singles “Everyday People” (which hit #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts and is also notable for the lyric “different strokes for different folks”) and its b-side “Sing a Simple Song” (#89 on the pop chart, #28 R&B) which ended up becoming one of the band’s signature songs (and was covered by, like, a million other artists including Prince, Diana Ross and The Jackson 5 and sampled by a million more: Public Enemy, De La Soul, Arrested Development…the freakin’ Spice Girls). Also released as a single was the hit title track “Stand!” which hit #13 on the Hot 100 chart and #14 on the Hot Soul chart in ‘69. Its b-side “I Want to Take You Higher” also became a top 40 hit in 1970 (#34, #24 on the R&B chart), likely propelled by the Family Stone’s inclusion of the song onto its Woodstock setlist in the summer of ‘69. (Ike & Tina Turner’s cover was even bigger hit, going to #25, also in 1970.) From Allmusic: “Stand! winds up infectious and informative, invigorating and thought-provoking – stimulating in every sense of the word.”
The Lurkers “Fulham Fallout” 1978. Beggars Banquet Records. Fulham Fallout is classic 70′s punk, the debut album from English rockers The Lurkers (who have been dubbed, mostly accurately, “The British Ramones”) and it hit #57 on the UK album charts. It’s such great British punk! Snotty, upbeat, punchy, catchy, full of 3-chord hooks, and, like The Ramones, simple, straightforward rock-n-roll: no pretension, no politics. Also like The Ramones, the songs do start to kind of sound alike after awhile, though The Lurkers mix things up occasionally with the inclusion of the harmonica and glockenspiel (not instruments known for their prevalence in the punk canon) and a cover of Phil Spector’s and The Crystals’ 1963 “Then He Kissed Me,” though The Lurkers cheekily rename it “Then I Kicked Her” and speed it up, a lot. My favorite tracks on Fulham Fallout are “I Don’t Need to Tell Her,” “Shadow” (that single released in 1977 was Beggars Banquet first ever release and influential John Peel named it his #11 song of ‘77) the hyper-beat and aptly titled “Go, Go, Go,” “Self Destruct” (“self-destruct! gonna get fucked!”) and the album closer “Be My Prisoner” that’s intro’d with a great drum solo. They only slow down a little, once, on “Gerald” (this one has the aforementioned harmonica) and it’s probably the most complex songs on the album but also my least favorite.
David Bowie “1984″ b/w “Queen Bitch” 1974. “1984″ appears on Bowie’s Diamond Dogs LP. It was released only in the US, New Zealand and Japan (where the b-side was “Lady Grinning Soul” – honestly a better stylistic match for the A-side than “Queen Bitch”) and it failed to chart in all three countries. Highly reminiscent of “Theme from Shaft,” the track is super-funky, operatic and a vision of Disco future. Bowie intended the track to be included into the soundtrack for a stage musical of George Orwell’s famous book but Orwell’s estate refused to release the rights. Side B has my top Bowie song, “Queen Bitch.” It originally appeared on his 1971 album Hunky Dory as a tribute to Velvet Underground and as the b-side to “Rebel Rebel.”
Berlin “Love Life” released 35 years ago today, March 12th, 1984. Love Life was Berlin’s second album and it hit #28 on the US charts. Fairly straight-forward mid-80′s synthesizer-heavy new wave pop, the best song on the album is also its most popular, the excellent “No More Words” which hit #23 on the US Hot 100 chart. I absolutely loved that song and its video, the Bonnie-and-Clyde influenced bank heist montage with Terri Nunn’s fabulous two-toned black-and-blonde hair. “No More Words” was the first single, released at the end of February ‘84, and was re-released in ‘85 with its inclusion in the film Vision Quest (though it did not appear on the movie soundtrack). The other three singles included “Now It’s My Turn,” “Dancing in Berlin” (a pretty great dance track that charted in Australia and New Zealand but not the US), and “Touch.” I like “In My Dreams” though I find most of the other tracks (excepting “No More Words” and “Dancing in Berlin”) to be pretty bland – 1984 was a great year in general for new wave and synth pop but with those few song exceptions, Berlin didn’t do much to advance the sound. Allmusic pretty much agrees in their review of Love Life stating, “Outside of these two singles [”No More Words” and “Dancing in Berlin”], the rest of the songs on Love Life fail to harbor any distinction, and even Nunn’s forceful voice can’t raise their value. Efforts like “When We Make Love,” “Touch,” and “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” get lost in lukewarm techno-dance rhythms and cloned synth-driven beats.”
Ty Segall “Twins” 2012. Drag City Records. Twins was Segall’s fifth studio album (and his third release of 2012) and like most of Segall’s records it’s heavily fuzzed, glamorously psychedelic and catchy as hell. It went to the top of CMJ’s album chart with two released singles: “The Hill” and “Would You Be My Love.” “The Hill” is Lucy In the Sky-level psychedelia but with a lot more frenetically-distorted guitar and “Would You Be My Love” is fuzzily glammed-up garage punk. I also really like the opening track “Thank God for Sinners,” the propulsive glam rocker “They Told Me Too,” the Stooge-y “Love Fuzz,” the ridiculously catchy 60′s garage-rocker “Who Are You” and the sweetly melodic and acoustic “Gold On the Shore.” While Twins was generally very well-received by critics, some complained that it was a “grab bag” that stylistically veered all over the place. I don’t think so. Segall’s unique vocals and guitar keeps his myriad of influences (Bowie, T. Rex, the Beatles, grunge – see in particular “Ghost” for that last one) gives Twins continuity and the supposed style changes provide excitement rather than ADHD whiplash.
Howard Jones “Human’s Lib” released 35 years ago (in the UK) a couple of days ago, on March 5th, 1984 (the US version came out in June of ‘84 and I probably got this copy right around that time). Human’s Lib was Jones’ debut album and it hit #1 on the UK album charts upon its release on the strength of the previously released hit singles from the LP. (It went to #59 on the US charts). Those included “New Song,” “What Is Love?” (I adore those tracks) and “Hide and Seek.” The final single, “Pearl in the Shell,” came out in the spring of ‘84. “New Song” made it to #3 in the UK and #27 in the US. “What Is Love?” did even better, hitting #2 in the UK and #33 in the US in the summer of ‘84 which is about the time I hit peak Howard Jones (and began to dabble with vegetarianism at the age of 13 after reading in a Smash Hits article – likely purchased mainly for Duran Duran photos – that Jones was a vegetarian). The dark and ambient (in comparison to then mostly upbeat boppy synth pop sound on the rest of the album) single “Hide and Seek” went to #12 in the UK, I’m not sure if it was released in the US. “Pearl in the Shell,” which features Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ Davey Payne on saxophone, cracked the top 10 in the UK, going to #7.
We got a chance to see Howard Jones perform a couple of summers ago as part of a retro tour that included Modern English, Paul Young, Men Without Hats and (part of) English Beat. Jones put on an amazing show, for the few songs he was up there, rocking his key-tar and working the crowd masterfully.