On August 2nd, Bo Ramsey is going to release his first new album since 2008’s fantastic and understated Fragile. Titled Wildwood Calling, the album is 13 tracks of instrumental guitar backed by a band which includes in addition to Bo, JT Bates (The Pines, Marijuana Deathsquads) on drums and percussion, Marty Christensen from Bo’s original Backsliders band on bass and son Alex Ramsey of The Pines on piano and keyboards. The album– which is on Pieta Brown‘s new “underground” record label Lustre Records— was recorded over two days in April at The Kitchen in Iowa City, and was mixed and mastered by BJ Burton, who is house engineer for Justin Vernon’s April Base studio, and also worked the boards on Brown’s Paradise Outlaw and her EP of outtakes Drifters.
I’ll be writing a review of the album for Little Village in the coming weeks. I’ll link to it here when that goes up.
Printer’s Son is one of those rare records that is so completely imagined and executed that when you first listen to it, it seems to drop unexpectedly out of the ether. It’s a record that defies any convenient genre classification. Elements of ambience and folk and jazz come together to help deliver a grippingly emotional and personal album. The album reminds me another album that slips from the grasp of genre: David Sylvian’s 1987 landmark solo record Secrets of the Beehive. For his second release Sylvian took another step away from the New Wave-ish synthpop of his band Japan. He enlisted some Jazz artists including Ryuki Sakamoto and Mark Isham which gave that album a delicate ambience. Printer’s Son carries a similar jazz folk vibe. Additionally, the dry production of Leonard’s vocals suit the intimacy of the album.
Printer’s Son owes some of its woody atmospherics to the fact that it was partially recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios and was engineered and co-produced by Brian Joseph, who was on the boards for Bon Iver’s 2012 Grammy-winning album. Bon Iver is another album that similarly made beautiful soundscapes out of impressionistic personal stories and accounts. Leonard takes recent painful events and uses them as the basis for Printer’s Son. He talks about this on The Current show Radio Heartland:
I had this wildly unforseen year of just this radical change. I thought I had my path pretty set– music was going well and I was living in Chicago. All within this year, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and his passing forced me– ultimately I think in a really important and helpful way even though very difficult– to reconsider a lot of assumptions I had. And, right after he passed our family dog died and then my dad’s father also passed. It was all at the same time and I was moving and also moving away from a relationship that I had been in a long time. So, it was like the world got turned over and then I just started thinking differently as a symptom of that.
Some albums have stories that we can identify with. On Printer’s Son, I feel the sentiments, the memories, the connections. Leonard tells his stories and like a good book or film, they become part of the listener’s own fabric. I can picture that canyon climb with the banded walls in “Windfall.” I feel the ghost itch from the overgrowth scratching skin on the fading road in “Parting Ground.”
David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive has become part of my permanent soundtrack. I feel that Kalispell’s timeless tapestry of folk and jazz in Printer’s Son is destined to be another album that I will hold onto.
By the time I first heard Pylon, they had already broken up. They were featured prominently in the documentary film Athens, GA: Inside Out and its associated sountrack on IRS Records. I bought the soundtrack first– I had heard that R.E.M. had a couple of songs on it, so the completist I was, I needed to own the soundtrack.. The R.E.M. songs were good, and the band I had at the time did a similar version of “Swan Swan H” though we couldn’t really tackle the harmonies of “(All I’ve Got To Do is) Dream.”
But, the real eye-opener was all of the other unknown bands on the album. I really loved Love Tractor, and to this day is still one of my favorites, and The Squalls, and Dreams So Real (who were swept up by a major and then lost forever). I wasn’t sure what to make of the dissonant and angular music of Pylon, whose live version of “Stop It” was kind of the centerpiece of the soundtrack. It wasn’t until I finally saw the film on VHS that I really understood that Pylon was one of the early bands in the scene and all of the other bands really looked up to them, including my heroes R.E.M., who covered “Crazy” which was included in the odds-n-sods compilation Dead Letter Office. I started college later in 1987, and found friends who were really into the Athens scene and I borrowed the two albums Chomp and Gyrate and made a tape of them and was quickly a fan.
The band broke up because they were tired of the pressures that come with a band that was rising from obscurity. In 1990, seemingly out of nowhere the band was back. In an interview with Perfect Sound Forever, they said that they realized that interest in the band wouldn’t die, and they were all still living in Athens, so they decided to reform. The put together a “greatest hits” of sorts called Hits, and then recorded a new album Chain in 1990. By that time, their unique sound wasn’t as leftfield as it was earlier. In fact, bands like The Sugarcubes probably owed a lot to the groundbreaking Pylon. But, they wouldn’t stay together for long after that.
Some time in 2004, the band reunited again and enjoyed notoriety spurred on by the CD reissue campaign of Chomp and Gyrate by DFA Records (now out-of-print again, and going for insane prices). The band played shows and, I for one was happy they were back. The band broke up officially again in 2009, following the unexpected death of Randall Bewley.
So, in 2016 we have some developments in the Pylon camp. In March it was announced that a 1980 performance at Danceteria by Pylon in the archives of Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong as part of the Nightclubbing TV show from NYC that captured the early days of Punk and New Wave. There were select screenings of the show with Q&A from the band. Then, in April the band announced a 7″ of live tracks from their last show in Athens, GA in 1983 at the Mad Hatter. This show was captured to video and multitrack audio for a pilot for a failed PBS series called Athens Shows.
It turns out that the 7″ was a taste of what was to come. On July 25th– Randal Bewley’s birthday– Pylon is releasing a 2 LP and digital download version of the last show in Athens titled simply PYLON LIVE. Pylon was a force to be reckoned with live and this album captures them at the peak of their powers with a setlist that picks the great tracks from the 2 LPs and drops in a couple of rarities. “Party Zone” was only available on a rare DB Recs compilation and Pylonized cover of the Batman TV theme with new lyrics.
The vinyl package comes in three different colors– 200 on magenta vinyl (which compliments the cover well) and 200 on clear vinyl. The rest are on black vinyl. The LP’s are a reasonable $29.99 plus about $5 shipping. The digital download is $8.99. If you pre-order, you get immediate download of “Volume.” Here it is in their Bandcamp player:
PYLON LIVE is available for pre-order at chunklet.com, chunklet.bandcamp.com, iTunes, Amazon, and wherever digital music is sold.
Limited to 200 on magenta vinyl.
Limited to 200 on clear vinyl.
Unlimited on black vinyl.
Working is No Problem
Italian Movie Theme
Feast On My Heart
From the Under the Radar department: I happened to notice on Amazon yesterday that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ 1993 Greatest Hits was getting the 180g vinyl treatment. Though some might deem it unnecessary to reissue this again, it has only ever existed on vinyl as a foreign pressing. While this compilation is the greatest-selling release in Petty’s catalog at 12 Million copies, it is one that exists only because of an exit strategy that Petty needed to get out of his contract with MCA.
It’s easy to see why this compilation is so popular, Petty’s stint with Shelter/MCA from 1976 to 1993 produced the biggest and most beloved singles and albums of his career. But, by 1993 Petty was already secretly signed to Warner/Reprise by Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker, and holding the critically-acclaimed Rick Rubin-produced Wildflowers to be the first release on his new label– a result of his increasing disappointment with MCA and in particular label head Al Teller’s handling of his catalog. Petty instructed his manager Tony Dimitriades to meet with Teller and negotiate getting out of his contract without fulfilling the last record due the label, and certainly not giving MCA Wildflowers— what Petty considered to be an artistically important one. Dimitriades recounts the negotiation in Warren Zanes’ book “Petty: The Biography”
“I get to the point and tell [Al Teller] that Tom doesn’t want to give him the last album. Al says, ‘What do you mean he doesn’t want to give us the last album?’ I say, ‘He’s not going to give it to you. He wants to leave. He’s unhappy.’ We’re in this restaurant, you know? And Al says, ‘You can’t do this to me!’ But I could. The artist we were talking about was a guy who chose to file for bankruptcy rather than deliver an album.”
Dimitriades and Teller negotiate and arrive at a greatest hits release (one that they were already planning) with the stipulation that Tom and the Heartbreakers record a new song for it. An idea that Tom hated since he didn’t understand the idea of a new song being on a greatest hits. Conveniently, the song was “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” which became a greatest hit, too.
In 1995 Seagram bought 80% of MCA and rebranded it Universal Music Group and fired Teller in November of that year. In 2003 the MCA catalog was absorbed by UMG label Geffen, which explains why, in 2008, the reissue of Greatest Hits was on Geffen instead of MCA. The 2008 reissue dropped the Thunderclap Newman cover of “Something In The Air” in favor of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and gave it a new cover.
This new vinyl reissue of Greatest Hits restores the 1993 track list, but uses the 2008 cover– a symptom of it being on Geffen Records, now I expect. They also add the song “Anything That’s Rock n Roll” which was on the UK version of the 2008 reissue.
1. American Girl
3. Anything That’s Rock n Roll
4. Listen To Her Heart
5. I Need To Know
1. Don’t Do Me Like That
2. Even The Losers
3. Here Comes My Girl
4. The Waiting
5. You Got Lucky
1. Don’t Come Around Here No More
2. I Won’t Back Down
3. Runnin’ Down A Dream
4. Free Fallin’
1. Learning To Fly
2. Into The Great Wide Open
3. Mary Jane’s Last Dance
4. Something In The Air
It’s no secret that the guys in Cedar Falls band TWINS are fans of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds and owe a little of their guitar pop swagger to the groundwork Lowe and Edmunds laid down in their various projects as solo artists, together in Rockpile and their production work for just about everyone in the late 70’s and early 80’s (Lowe’s work with Elvis Costello is my favorite period of his).
As a tribute, TWINS have recorded a cover of “I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” a song that has been a part of every wedding reception I’ve ever attended. This cover is a bonus download for anyone who pre-orders the new TWINS album Square America which drops on July 1st! Be sure to catch TWINS with Volcano Boys at The Mill on 7/1 for the Square America release show! $8 Cover. Deets HERE.
A bit of trivia: Nick Lowe wrote “I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” and the version we usually hear is his 1984 recording. That studio version has Huey Lewis and the News as the backing band, with Mr. Lewis providing the distinctive harmonica honking. The version that TWINS have done is closer to the sped-up one that Dave Edmunds recorded in 1977.
Some of the most special shows I’ve seen at CSPS have been the ones with Pieta Brown. Though Cedar Rapids isn’t her home turf, I feel like in some ways CSPS has become a 2nd home for her– she seems really comfortable with the crowd which is a mixture of Cedar Rapids and Iowa Citians and is capable of giving a very intimate show in the big space.
She’s returning this Saturday night, May 14th with Bo Ramsey opening with a special solo show and then joining her for her set. This show is a CD release show for her self-released EP of outtakes from her album Paradise Outlaw. I reviewed the CD titled appropriately enough Drifters for Little Village Magazine, saying “Although Pieta Brown thinks that the songs on Drifters have “many rough edges,” they provide a picture of what a double album might have been like. She offers these songs as an experiment, launching her own “underground” label imprint, Lustre Records. I’m looking forward to more collections of songs from her archives — Drifters is a great start!”
We’re getting a treat with Bo Ramsey opening for Pieta as he doesn’t do many solo shows. His last show was opening for Pieta at the Englert. I can’t remember the last time Bo played solo in Cedar Rapids!
With Record Store Day 2016 fast approaching (April 16th), I wanted to post about a few releases that I’m interested in. I already posted about the Son Volt Live at the Bottom Line previously. Tom Petty has been a supporter of RSD from the start with special reissues of his first two albums and a vinyl-only (plus download) live compilation titled Kiss My Amps for Black Friday RSD 2011.
Announced with the rest of the Official RSD list for this year is a sequel– Kiss My Amps Live Vol. 2. Volume 1 focused on the Mojo Tour from 2010. Volume 2 focuses on dates in 2013 and is made up of tracks that were given to members of the Tom Petty fanclub Highway Companions as part of their subscription as a digital download. Notably, Kiss My Amps Volume 1 was not made up of theMojo Tour 2010 download the club got, but were different tracks.
It will be pressed on 180g vinyl and includes covers by The Byrds, Paul Revere and the Raiders/The Monkees, Little Feat and a Traveling Wilburys song. They had to take a track off of it (“Baby, Please Don’t Go”) because the original digital download was 55 minutes and it is tricky to get that much audio per side of an LP and have it sound good. (Even minus the 5:22 of “Baby Please Don’t Go” it’s pretty tight at 49 minutes (24+ per side). Optimally, you want less than 22 minutes per side to get the full bass frequencies.
1. So You Want to Be a Rock N Roll Star (Live Beacon Theatre)
2. I’m Not (You’re Steppin Stone) Live Beacon Theatre
3. Love is a Long Road (Live Fonda Theatre)
4. Two Gunslingers (Live Beacon Theatre)
5. When a Kid Goes Bad (Live Fonda Theatre)
6. Willin’ (Live Fonda Theatre)
7. The Best of Everything (Live Fonda Theatre)
8. Tweeter and the Monkey Man (Live Beacon Theatre)
9. Rebels (Live From Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival)
10. A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me) (Live From Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival)
The standout track on here for me is the 8:46 minute version of “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.” For that track alone, this set is essential.
Bull Moose Records lists this at MSRP of $19.98 with their price being $17.97. So, expect your RSD participating store to have it around these prices.
In other Tom Petty news for RSD, there will be a Mudcrutch 7″ featuring tracks from the upcoming Mudcrutch album 2. The A-side is “Trailer” which is a reworking of the Southern Accents outtake. The original version can be heard on the flipside of the “Don’t Come Round Here No More” 7″ or on disc 4 The Other Sides of the Playback boxset. A really great track, and is worthy of a revisit. The song would have improved the song lineup of Southern Accents, in my opinion.
The Roach Brothers aka Terry and Jamie Rouch have been part of the Jack Logan extended musical family for a long time, showing up on most of the releases that Jack has put out dating back to the monolithic and epic Bulk. Terry was a member of Jack’s band Liquor Cabinet and Jamie would drop some drums here and there and if the recordings happened at Big As A Barn Studios in Indiana, it was Jamie on the board. Jamie tragically passed in 2008, succumbing to ALS.
A couple of years ago while Jack was digging through a box of CDs, he found one labeled “Roach Bros. Inst.” which turned out to be backing tracks recorded in the 90’s intended for Jack’s vocals but never completed. Jack loaded them up on his trusty 4-track and laid some vocals on them. Satisfied with the results, he sent them over to Terry Rouch and posted a couple of tracks on his old website. Terry wanted to do a release of these songs as a tribute to his fallen brother. With some help from Matt Swisher of Failure Records and Tapes, he was able to do a small run of vinyl! In November, Jack announced the release on his new blog.
On Thursday, Jack announced from his blog that the vinyl is ready, and Failure is taking pre-orders for the vinyl due out February 5th and humorously titled What Is This.. Some Kind of Joke?, which is a limited-edition run of 300 multi-colored LPs. The first 50 orders will get Jack Logan buttons and stickers! The LP is $17 + shipping comes with a free digital download. You can also get the album as a digital download for $10 from Bandcamp.
What Is This… Some Kind of Joke? is a bit of departure from Logan’s last album, which was a collaboration with Scott Baxendale and members of The Drive-By Truckers titled Bones in the Desert. That album was closer to some of the label releases in that it was structured rock tunes with a focus on guitars. I think Bones is a good pairing with Mood Elevator. This new album is a lot more Lo-Fi experimental– a lot like some of the more outsider tracks on Bulk. You can check out the new album using the Bandcamp player below.
As part of the week of Grand Opening celebrations for the Brand Spankin’ New Daytrotter HQ in Davenport, Duluth, MN country blues aficionado Charlie Parr is playing a “Four O’Clock Rock” matinee show! Parr’s new album Stumpjumper made my list of “Top 20 of 2015.” Produced by another of my Top 20 recipients Phil Cook, it gives Parr’s signature boogie a much-deserved fleshing out.
The new digs for Daytrotter are a big upgrade over the old location in Rock Island– with its climate control issues and its control and live room dating back to its original use as a TV studio– but that was part of its charm, certainly. The expanded facility now has a live venue in it and I’m sure they brought some of the mojo from the old location with them. I bet that minifridge stocked with PBR is somewhere in the new space.
We’ve made it through another year of music. 2015 was another year of the music industry trying to figure out the future. Heavy hitters like Taylor Swift and Adele removed their music from online streaming services like Spotify– which might be interpreted as an ego move on both parts. Jay-Z’s Tidal enjoyed a bit of press due to Prince releasing two albums exclusively on it, though I still don’t know anyone who is using it. Adele’s last-quarter release of her much-anticipated 25 album has just surpassed 5 million copies sold. There is a lot of debate about the significance of this as it applies to the general health of the industry. Ultimately, though, I don’t think you can use this as any kind of barometer– certainly not an indicator of “rebounding.” One thing is for certain, though, her 50+ date tour in 2016 will be the top grossing.
In other re-warmed news, a reformed Grateful Dead with Trey Anastasio as “Jerry” played some high-grossing shows in LA and Chicago showing that baby boomers and Gen X’ers are willing to shell out lots of money to recapture even a brief glimpse of their youth. The shows seemed like a fitting celebration of 50 years and a kind of closure to the promise of the remainder of the band getting back together. The following “Dead and Friends” tour with John Mayer as “Jerry” has been benefiting from the exposure and in my opinion are an improved version of the Dead. His vocals and guitar work are top-notch and add a real polish to the proceedings.
Looking this list over, it shows that I spent most of 2015 listening to local artists. Iowa has really been stepping up its game for music and we’ve got some of the best music around. There were a lot of notable releases outside of Iowa, but I just didn’t find myself putting any of them on repeat. It says a lot– you don’t have to go far from your back yard to get world-class music.
Looking over other Best of Lists, I see some albums that I listened to and thought were good, but they just didn’t stick with me: The Decemberists – What A Wonderful World, What A Terrible World, Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell, Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear, Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly, Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color.
Here is the list in no particular order–
Dickie – Self Titled : Dick Prall moved back to Iowa and started a new project with Kristina Priceman crafting a wonderful string-wrapped package of retro-inspired pop rock. Somewhere between the Beatles, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly sits this collection of autobiographical songs with heart.
Younger – Self Titled : This one from the new Iowa City band Younger was a late discovery for me, but no less brillant. Former members of The Wandering Bears and Emperors Club have put out a Riot Grrl-ish album that people are drawing comparisons to The Breeders and Bikini Kill. To me it sounds more like Pylon and Throwing Muses. In any event, a fantastic record that I’ll be spinning a lot in 2016, I expect.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit : Yep. More edgy Riot Grrlish rawk. On almost everyone’s list for 2015.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – Self Titled : I’ve been a fan of Nathaniel Rateliff ever since I saw him on the Daytrotter Barnstormer shows back in 2010 along with Delta Spirit. I’m a sucker for his well-crafted folk albums to date, but his transformation into an R&B powerhouse and seeing the nearly-universal embrace of it is pretty unexpected. Fantastic record and the return of Stax Records!
Holy White Hounds – Sparkle Sparkle : Des Moines band Holy White Hounds are gaining momentum by word of mouth. These guys make some pretty fantastic rock coupled with a great live show. Kind of 90’s throwback metal/grunge reinvented for the new century.
Phil Cook – Southland Mission : Hiss Golden Messenger sideman, member of Megafaun, producer and all-around great guy Phil Cook releases his first solo album with him singing. Due to a stupid security issue at Eaux Claires Festival this year, I missed his set, though it’s on YouTube. Rootsy, bluesy gospel-influenced boogie rock. I could put this album on every day and it puts the same dumb grin on my face every time.
Tom Jessen – Hunting Season : Former Iowa musician Tom Jessen released his first album in years– and that pent-up potential created what has to be the best snapshot of current American dystopia ever. Pretty damn fantastic portrait of how fucked up things are. LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM.
Charlie Parr – Stumpjumper : Speaking of Phil Cook, he produced the latest album from Minnesota retro blues and folk historian Charlie Parr. He was picked up by Red House Records which is a good home for him. This is the first album he’s done with a full band and the fleshing out of his sound really benefits the proceedings. “Over The Red Cedar” gives me goosebumps every time I play it.
Calexico – Edge of the Sun : Calexico tends to swing back and forth between full-on Latin-influenced albums and albums that lean a little more towards Americana-rock. This one ends up being more the latter. For me, I welcome the changes the band goes through– continually pushing the identity of what Calexico is.
Ryan Adams – 1989 : I did listen to this one a lot as soon as it appeared. It’s a really great album, but it seems like it is just an extension of last years self titled release– which isn’t bad at all. I like it, but I just about didn’t include it on the list because, for me anyway, Ryan Adams is a complete musician and songwriter, so I prefer to have more complete work rather than covers. I suppose some of this feeling is due to my relative unawareness of Taylor Swift’s blockbuster album it’s based on.
Dagmar – Afterlight : I can’t say enough about this Iowa duo. Atmospheric and sublime harmonies with unique counterpoint and rhythm. Jawdroppingly gorgeous album– somewhere between Philip Glass and Sufjan Stevens sits this baroque choral folk.
Pieta Brown – Drifters EP : The “lost” tracks from 2014’s fantastic Paradise Outlaw album. Brown is using this to launch her own “underground” imprint Lustre Records. Includes a remix from Justin Vernon!
The Pines – Pasture: Folk Songs EP : A kind of surprise drop from The Pines this year in the form of an EP of covers from Joe Price, Mance Lipscomb, Iris Dement, Mason Jennings & Greg Brown. No new ground broken here, but is a tribute to the songs that The Pines have included in their sets over the years.
Jim Viner’s Incredible B3 Band – COMANGO! : Jim Viner– Iowa drummer extrordinaire– assembled a collection of musician friends to create a retro B3-driven album with influences from The Meters and Booker T and the MGs. A really fun album that recalls the pre-Diplomette-vocals days of The Diplomats of Solid Sound. Destined to be part of the soundtrack to a cable TV show near you!
Kamasi Washington – The Epic – If I have any complaint about this sprawling masterpiece of Jazz, it’s that it can’t reasonably be digested in one sitting. But, if you’re willing to dedicate the time, this album is impressive in its diversity. I consider myself a fan of Jazz, but I don’t listen to much contemporary Jazz as I haven’t found much that really keeps my attention. I hope this signals a new generation of jazz artists who are willing to explore and innovate.
Thundercat – The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam – Thundercat works with Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington, and all three worked on the Kendrick Lamar album How To Pimp A Butterfly — noted for its adventuresome approach to the music. His short album (16 minutes, but Flying Lotus said it’s an album, not an EP) from this year featured him front-and-center singing and leading most of the music with his jazz and funk bass riffs.
Aero Flynn – Self Titled – Justin Vernon raves about Josh Scott as a songwriter. After a lot of years not performing music, he comes back with Aero Flynn. Atmospheric and swirling it sounds like a distant cousin of Radiohead when they made more straightforward songs (OK Computer, maybe).
Beth Bombara – Self Titled – Beth is back with her most polished and accomplished record to date. She continues her shuffling, pining folk and country. Dusty and awesome.
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free : Brilliant record– literary and scenic songwriting. Isbell continues to impress with one of the great records from this year– almost unanimously agreed.
Lyrics Born – Real People – Lyric Born has never been shy to work with live band. He did one tour with a full band behind him (documented on the Overnite Encore Live album), he contributed vocals to the 2007 Galactic album From the Corner to the Block. His new album Real People includes members of Galactic as well as a who’s who of New Orleans musicians including Ivan Neville, Corey Henry, Trombone Shorty, the Revivalists’ David Shaw and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Typically upbeat and tongue in cheek the album is a funk overload. Great record– not sure why more people aren’t calling it out (see what I did there?).