The essential 2018 biography of American Primitive guitar legend John Fahey (1939-2001), Dance of Death :The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist by Steve Lowenthal frames the final years of Fahey’s life as a resurgence of popularity that coincided with the rise of alternative and underground acts due to a major label feeding frenzy. Caught on their heels by the unexpected popularity of Nirvana, fringe bands like Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, The Melvins, Mudhoney, The Meat Puppets and others were getting sucked up in the land grab. These bands were all talking about their influences which often included John Fahey. Thurston Moore was quoted as saying, “Fahey’s weirder tunings were a real secret influence on early Sonic Youth.” (Spin, Nov. 1994 p. 66)
In 1994, Fahey, crushed from the effects of the Epstein-Barr virus, long-term heavy drinking as well as a divorce from his third wife of 15 years, was living in fleabag hotels or missions in Salem, Oregon literally surrounded by the detritus of his life. Descriptions from those who knew him during this time mention equal piles of thrift store records which he sold for money and pizza boxes. His trusty guitar spent time in and out of hock.
The two events that reignited Fahey’s stature as an important and influential artist were a double-CD career survey put out by Rhino Records titled Return of the Repressed curated by none other than his old friend Barry Hansen (better known as Dr. Demento) and a feature article in Spin Magazine by Byron Coley titled “The Persecutions and Resurrections of Blind Joe Death.” The Spin feature paints a stereotypically eccentric and boldly opinionated Fahey who spends most of the article riding around in a car eating gas station food and visiting thrift stores to find records. This exposure manifested a deal with Geffen Records spearheaded by Coley, but negotiations broke down as Fahey decided he wasn’t interested in it. In Dance of Death, Coley is quoted, “He was able to negate that [concept], as it didn’t spring from him.”
It seemed like something that would be up his alley. He has a reputation of a little bit of mystery, a little bit of pranksterism…. He did respond well to it and that was how we first met…. [78’s] seemed like the perfect vehicle to record music with a timeless quality. The focus wasn’t on music that would sound “old timey.” The intent wasn’t to speckle it with noise and make it sound of the era. The idea was for it to sound beyond era.
Fahey’s thing was that he liked to insert these things in pawn shops and thrift stores and record stores without any context to guide anyone in terms of “is this authentic?” and the labels had been designed to look like a label that had existed from 1922 to 1938 called Perfect. So, there really wouldn’t be any clues to the real provenance of the music — maybe even after playing it you wouldn’t necessarily know.
Extended interview with Dean Blackwood for In search of blind joe death : The Saga of John Fahey (2012)
During this time Blackwood also helped improve Fahey’s quality of life by becoming a kind of manager for him– dealing with collection agencies, getting his music publishing in order to help bring in more regular payments and also get him into an apartment and out of the motel (which was comparatively much more expensive). In the interview Blackwood says, “He was a guy who didn’t pay a lot of attention to the things that plague you and me in terms of paying his bills, hygiene– you know, things like that, those little annoyances.”
Blackwood would eventually help Fahey launch Revenant Records. This partnership would gain Fahey Grammy recognition due to the use of his thesis (written in 1966 as part of his masters in folklore from UCLA) on Charley Patton used for Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton which won Grammys in 1997 for Best Historical Album, Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package, and Best Album Notes (source: Wikipedia). Fahey would also win his own Grammy in 2000 for his liner notes to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4.
The recordings that make the foundation of the new Drag City album Proofs & Refutations are the four that were released on the 1996 Perfect Records Double 78 RPM. The two-part “Morning” and the two-part “Evening, Not Night” recalls Fahey’s early Skip James influences. Thanks to a generous YouTube uploader, we have rips of the 78’s. I’ve made a playlist for convenience:
Here is the track listing for Proofs & Refutations:
All the Rains 5:43
F for Fake 6:58
Morning (Pt. 1) 4:13
Morning (Pt. 2) 4:30
For LMC 2 4:00
Evening, Not Night (Pt. 1) 5:19
Evening, Not Night (Pt. 2) 4:38
Untitled (w/o rain) 7:04
It’s unclear where the other tracks in the collection come from. Drag City says that the sessions are from 1995 and 1996, which suggests at least a couple of recording sessions were involved, and add that all of the tracks are considered a “session.” They mention the double 78’s, but also say that portions of this material appeared on 7″ vinyl too, though I can’t find a release with these titles.
While I was trying to find reference to the other songs on the album, I found that bleep.com had “All The Rains” for purchase and that you could listen to. Interestingly, the player will let you skip past the sample clip if you move the slider. CLICK HERE to listen/purchase “All The Rains.” This track doesn’t have any guitar in it, only Fahey’s chanting vocals with echo effect. It’s kind of a comedy piece, I think, in a sort of Spike Jones way. The chant and answer sort of get into an argument about whether the rains came down, at one point declaring “you can’t fool me!”
These recordings represent a kind of “lost years” for Fahey. They’re after his stint on Varrick and are before City of Refuge and Womblife and the launch of Revenant Records.
It’s kind of surprising to get a new album for John Fahey in 2023, honestly. For one thing, I figured that everything that was worth releasing had been released. The pinnacle of that effort is the early Fahey box set Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You which seemingly has every possible minute of tape that Joe Bussard recorded of Fahey in the 50’s and 60’s pre-Takoma. If nothing else, it shows that there is interest in compiling releases like this from labels like Drag City (who also has as part of their publishing division two books from Fahey). Here’s hoping we get some more archival (or archeological?) releases for Fahey!
Proofs & Refutations comes out on MP3/FLAC and on vinyl LP on September 8, 2023. You can get it from Bandcamp or from Drag City’s website (and probably other retailers). It’s available for pre-order now.
The much-anticipated list for Record Store Day 2023 dropped February 16th and the next (and likely last) Miles Davis release based on a “Complete Sessions” box set is on the list. Titled Turnaround : Rare Miles from the Complete On The Corner Sessions, it is a four-song excerpt from the 2007 box set of sessions before and after the ones used on Miles Davis’s 1972 album On The Corner.
On The Corner was the third in a series of Davis’s 1970’s Jazz Fusion releases and similarly to the previous Bitches Brew (1970) and Jack Johnson (1971) (both of which also got the Complete Sessions treatment) the album was a pastiche of recording sessions.
On The Corner’s Complete box spans a wide range of recording dates starting in March of 1972 and continuing through May of 1975. So, it’s a bit disingenuous to say that everything in the On The Corner Complete Sessions box was really sessions for On The Corner. Especially considering how many sessions were after the album itself was released– the tracks on On The Corner come from June and July 1972. But, I suppose that Sony’s attempt at clearing the vaults for release necessitated expanding the scope of sessions to include and there wasn’t enough material to give releases like Big Fun and Get Up With It their own box sets, so combining them makes sense.
Below is the tracklisting, which I got from the website of the French version of RSD called DisquaireDay. I got the session information from the infinitely-handy Paul Tingen site miles-beyond.com dedicated to the Electric Miles period. Per Tingen’s site, all four of these tracks were at-the-time remixed and remastered for the boxset by Richard King and Bob Belden in 2007.
The Jazzdisco.org site is missing the session information for “U-Turnaround” and “The Hen.” Tingen says that the “U-Turnaround” track is the same theme as used on Agharta after “Prelude.”
…Turnaround and U-Turnaround are based on the tune that appears after 22:01 in “Prelude” on Agharta. On the LP version it’s actually called “Prelude Pt2.” It also appears on another official Sony release, Bill Laswell’s Panthalassa. Laswell calls it “Agharta Prelude Dub,” and Enrico Merlin and I simply refer to it as “Agharta Prelude.” Why the makers of the OTC boxed set didn’t stick to convention as established by Sony itself is a mystery.
The album comes out on sky blue vinyl and implements a pink version of the original artwork done by Corky McCoy with some of the clothing in different colors from the original art.
This is a custom YouTube Playlist I made of the four tracks on Turnaround:
Davis hit the studio as a bandleader with a concept of what On The Corner was to become. His intention with On The Corner was to reconnect with the African American audiences who had moved away from jazz to rock and funk bands like Sly and the Family Stone. Unfortunately, by creating an albums with a foot in both worlds, he was never fully embraced by either jazz or rock and funk fans and critics.
Following On The Corner Columbia would create a string of releases comprising studio outtakes. Big Fun (1974), Get Up With It (1974) and Water Babies (1976) while released before his four-year hiatus, were made up of outtakes and unused sessions dating back into the 1960’s which adds to the general confusion around his work during this time.
There has been a reappraisal of Davis’s jazz and rock fusion albums of the late 60’s and early 70’s in the last decade with tastemakers like The Wire and Pitchfork praising albums like On The Corner. It clearly took a while for audiences to catch up with the genius of Miles Davis. As a fan who only recently came around to Electric Miles, I’m happy to have these really unique and cool RSD releases in my collection.
A side note: These Rare Miles from the Complete Sessions releases have been “RSD First” releases, which means that Sony/Universal could choose to reissue these later. I think that a boxset treatment with all four of these would be a cool release and would give some people who missed out on these a chance to get them.
Here are links to the previous article I wrote about the series:
As far as how this writer’s year went, 2022 was not really notable as far as music goes. The industry was still trying to recover from the mess of 2020 and, in fits-and-starts artists seemed to get back to the business of live performance. A few reports of bands getting COVID and canceling dates, though it didn’t seem like whole tours were really impacted. I saw one in-store performance by Iowa musician Dick Prall (who performs as DICKIE). There were a few other shows I was interested in, but the malaise of not seeing shows really set in for me, plus COVID is still a concern I have.
Vinyl record manufacturing was still on the blink with most releases seemingly pushed back from original release dates and in some cases pre-orders canceled entirely. Used vinyl prices continue to rise. This is likely due to the surge of new vinyl collecting during the lockdown in 2020, and also due to economic inflation across the board and rising oil prices (which records are made from, and the fuel for shipping them). Good used vinyl records are getting harder to find in the typical spots, and if the record is by a top-tier artist, the retailers are taking advantage of it. Considering the tough time independent retailers have in general, I don’t really blame them. Clean copies of pre-owned records by the cast of regulars– Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and others have seen an all-time high. I bought a collection of 10 Bowie records that were between $20 and $30 apiece for very clean RCA re-pressings of his mid-70’s titles. Thankfully, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin catalogs have been in print on vinyl for a few years now, and places like Walmart and Target stock them, so new collectors don’t have to resort to early pressings if they don’t want to.
Record Store Day returned to the non-Drop/two date version (April and Black Friday). My friends and I did the April RSD and bought quite a few titles (plus a ton of used). The RSD releases I bought were mostly reissues, so there won’t be a lot of those on this list. Black Friday RSD was a bust as far as I was concerned. The list just didn’t have anything I was interested in.
I continue to find myself purchasing a lot more from Bandcamp, both physical and digital releases, and my Top 20 list has a mix of both.
In no particular order, here are my Top 20 releases of 2022!
Makaya McCraven – In These Times Makaya McCraven is a drummer and producer from Chicago who is part of what I consider the new school of Jazz music. These are musicians who are drawing from the larger canon of Jazz, but are not afraid to fold in elements of current music (sampling, hip-hop, electronic music). Artists I think are also in this space are Jeff Parker, Thundercat, Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus. For his album In These Times, McCraven is acting as band leader, pulling together other musicians to help deliver his compositions. The guitar on this album (as on some of his previous) is Jeff Parker. This is a beautiful record and one that I heartily recommend.
Toro y Moi – Mahal – This album might be the most-spinned this year for me. The super laid back chillwave style of Chaz Bundick (aka Chaz Bear aka Toro y Moi) is one I can’t get enough of. The soft vocals and jazzy instrumentals land him squarely in the Sea and Cake space as well as his collaborators Mattson 2 (who are also on here). Summer vibes all year long.
Kendra Morris – Nine Lives Although this is her third album, I hadn’t heard about her until Colemine Records started promoting the release (which is on Colemine sub-label Karma Chief). Her previous two albums gained press due to her involvement with Czarface/MF Doom (both released on Wax Poetics). This album is described as being “Neo Soul” and that pretty much nails it. She’s got a huge voice that really cuts through the record. This record fits in with other releases on Colemine like the first album from Neal Francis and Monophonics. A real banger, for sure.
Monophonics – Sage Motel – Speaking of Colemine and Monophonics, Kelly Finnigan and company came back with a concept album of sorts surrounding vignettes of guests of a fictional seedy, but once glamorous hotel. I’d say the album is less of a concept album and more of an album with a running theme, so no worries of overwrought tales of blind pinball players or post war children who have mommy issues. It’s more like White Lotus for the soul crowd. This video is AMAZING:
Elizabeth Moen – Wherever You Aren’t – After a delay, Moen dropped her fourth full-length album in November. Since I reviewed it, I was lucky to have a lot of time with it before it came out. It’s her best release to date with a lot more interesting details in the production including some new instruments. Read my review in Little Village here.
Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa – This album seemed to drop out of nowhere for me. I’m a very casual Spoon fan, so I’m not really tracking them with the same fervor that I do other bands. In fact, they seemed to release like three albums that I didn’t listen to, for whatever that is worth. I must have seen an article or something mentioning the album so I checked it out. For their 2022 album, the band seems to be leaning into the rockier side of their sound. I found myself listening to this a lot over the summer.
Sylvee and the Sea (aka Pieta Brown) – The Less I Needed The Better I Felt – This was kind of a surprise release and kind of overlooked. Sylvee and the Sea is a supergroup of sorts featuring Pieta Brown, Don Was (president of Blue Note Records, and formerly of Was (Not Was)) on bass, John Convertino of Calexico on drums and CARM (of Y Music and Bon Iver) on horns. A collaboration recorded remotely by sending snippets of music around and letting the musicians record their parts with the instructions of not overthinking their contributions or creating charts. Kind of a freewheeling affair of instrumentals in the Pieta Brown vibe of not sounding like any particular genre or time.
Bo Ramsey – How Many Miles – Another surprise drop came from Iowa country blues legend Bo Ramsey in the form of a digital EP. Never content to leave a song alone, Bo typically brings out retooled versions of his classic songs in a live setting. For this EP we have new versions of “Wounded Dog” with a searing guitar line by Mark Knopfler all the way through it, a laid back and softened take on “555×2” and a new take on “Blue Earth,” the beautiful instrumental from Down to Bastrop. These versions represent the 2020’s version of live Bo Ramsey. The other two tracks are new instrumentals in the vein of his 2016 album Wildwood Calling.
Revelators Sound System – Revelators – Revelators Sound System is a side project of M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger along with Cameron Ralston of Spacebomb House Band. This project is intended to be distinct from Hiss Golden Messenger, and in fact sounds only vaguely like the jam-adjacent works of that band. These are full-on jammy instrumental workouts with some dub worked in and sounds a lot more like 70’s albums from bands who heard Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew– an aural pastiche of improvised breaks. While it isn’t HGM, I can hear how this informs what live Hiss Golden Messenger is becoming.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Wise Eyes: Live at The Neptune, Seattle, WA, 2/25/22, Greetings From Charleston!, Mystic What: Live in Kansas City and St. Louis – Continuing the releases of live shows to Bandcamp, Hiss Golden Messenger gave us THREE fantastic live shows this year. All three have Grateful Dead covers, which sort of tips the hat to what HGM’s live shows are becoming, in my opinion. This band keeps getting better and better in live performance. Out of the three my favorite is Mystic What based on St. Louis and Kansas City shows from March of 2022. Some deeper cuts in this set. “Standing In The Doorway” was a really nice surprise. My favorite non-album track, coincidentally paired with “Cat’s Eye Blue” on a Record Store Day 7″ “Live From Spacebomb.” and a surprise cover of “Bird Song.”
Jeff Parker – Mondays at The Enfield Tennis Academy – This record is based on a residency that Parker and band did at the Enfield Tennis Academy which is a bar in L.A.’s Highland Park area. These are largely free improvised performances with some standards and original compositions peppered in. While the idea of an improv jazz album might turn most folks off, this group’s use of melody and structure make this a very enjoyable music journey. The recording was made from open room mics, so we get the whole experience of the room complete with typical bar ambience.
Elijah McLaughlin Ensemble – II At this point, it seems that I’ll buy pretty much anything that comes out on Tompkins Square. In fact, I hadn’t heard of Chicago musician Elijah McLaughlin until Tompkins Square announced the pre-order in an email. Elijah McLaughlin’s acoustic guitar work fits in the American Primitive space, but with his ensemble he creates layered and scenic soundtracks in a space similar to William Tyler’s works. I quickly ordered his first album after I heard this album. Beautiful stuff.
Penny Peach – Ego Party – Penny Peach is often found delivering her amazing harmony vocals on other peoples’ records (see: Anthony Worden and the Illiterati or Elizabeth Moen) but her string of solo recordings are worth checking out– her early works are largely DIY affairs but her last couple of album/EP’s have had the full band treatment with her bendy, sneering and sometimes gutteral vocals front and center. She’s kind of her own genre– a playful but often dark mixture of bratty Ramones punk, new wave and black metal. The droning distorted guitars smeared with Digitech Whammy pitch bending is fantastic.
Squalls – Live From the 40 Watt – In 2022 seminal Athens, GA bar band Squalls released a fantastic compilation of live recordings from the early 1980’s (around the time of the performances in Athens, GA Inside/Out). Prior to this album, I was only really familiar with the songs on the soundtrack to that documentary, but this album shows the band in their element as a seasoned live act. Squalls are getting a reissue campaign of their studio albums, too, that are worth checking out. With the Pylon reissues, and the ongoing Love Tractor reissues, it’s cool to see these Athens bands getting some love. Kilkenny Cats or Dreams So Real next?? Here’s my article breaking down the live album.
Richard Thompson – Music From Grizzly Man – The brilliant soundtrack to the documentary about Timothy Treadwell done by Richard Thompson got the vinyl treatment this year. One of my favorite Thompson records is Strict Tempo, which is an instrumental record, and this soundtrack is a kind of compliment to that release. The Grizzly Man film is sort of hard to locate on the streaming services these days, but at least we have this soundtrack which also includes snippets of Treadwell talking.
Nathan Salsburg – Landwerk No. 3 – The third installment of the Landwerk series of guitar sketches by Nathan Salsburg came out this year. These albums started as a way for Salsburg to get some inspiration by utilizing samples of old 78 RPM records to provide loops of some instruments, and sometimes only the crackle. These are amazing records and I’m glad he is continuing this series.
Diplo – Diplo – I was a big fan of Diplo’s first solo full length Florida which came out in 2003 around the time he started gaining attention having worked with M.I.A. and others bringing his finely-honed beats and production to a continually-growing list of projects (Major Lazer, Jack Ü, etc). He wouldn’t bring another project credited to himself out until he dropped the California EP in 2018 around Record Store Day. Positioned as kind of the spiritual follow up to Florida, I was curious to check it out. I loved the bubbly, an often moody electro pop and it became a regular play in my car. His 2022 self-titled full length picks up where California left off. I really love this album and he’s been nominated for a couple Grammys, and it is deserved.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Live at the Fillmore, 1997 Boxset – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers captured at their peak. A legendary 20-night run at the Fillmore West in early 1997. The band wanted to step out of their regular album release and tour schedule and do something to reenergize them. This massive box set is a compilation of the last six nights of the run that were captured for editing to be use for radio broadcast. While the band didn’t do the same setlist every night, there were some songs that were featured each night, and we can look at this box set as kind of representative of these shows. The box set is almost half cover songs, which is really fun, especially for fans like me who collect Petty.
Life Moves Pretty Fast – The John Hughes Mixtapes Box Set – Under the category of everything eventually comes out on vinyl, we have this fantastic compilation of songs from the films of John Hughes. As someone who grew up with these films and also bought the soundtracks, this addresses some glaring omissions. For one thing, there was never a soundtrack to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and we finally get pretty much everything from that on this box set (leaving off stuff like “Danke Shoen,” “Twist and Shout” and the theme to Star Wars is fine, I think) and it fills out some of the other soundtracks that were released (She’s Having A Baby, Sixteen Candles). I was a little surprised that it wasn’t organized by film, but the spirit of it was based on the mixtape trades that Hughes did with the music supervisors, and I guess makes it more listenable as a big mix of everything. I wrote an article about the release here.
No single filmmaker captured the zeitgeist of the 1980’s better than John Hughes. His catalog of films loom large on the landscape of what we think of as 1980s culture with big blockbusters of the teen condition like “Sixteen Candles” (1984), “The Breakfast Club” (1985), “Pretty In Pink” (1986) and the immensely quotable “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986).
Hughes wasn’t the only filmmaker making movies targeted at adolescents in the 1980s, but for that run of films he certainly set the standard for what they should be– heartfelt and funny, often involving a cross section of teen culture, which ultimately allowed those of us who were teenagers at the time the ability to see ourselves in the characters– even if it was largely a whitewashed one.
Hughes was more than his teen movies, however. He got his start writing for National Lampoon, and his first big hit was “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983). By 1987 he stepped away from teen films with the epic road adventure starring John Candy (with whom he would create a number of films) and Steve Martin “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” He would continue to make films through the early 1990’s before finally retiring from writing, producing and directing in 1994. Hughes passed away of a heart attack in 2009 while on a trip to New York City visiting his son James.
One constant through Hughes films was the placement of music and often the soundtrack albums were as popular as the films themselves. Like many, I found out about bands like The Psychedelic Firs (“Pretty In Pink”), New Order (“Shell Shock”), Kate Bush (“This Woman’s Work), Oingo Boingo (“Weird Science”), Simple Minds (“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”), Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (“If You Leave”) from these soundtracks. One beef I always had was that the soundtrack albums didn’t have all of the songs from the film on them or sometimes the album simply didn’t exist, or focused on the score. In most cases when the soundtrack did exist, they would include the most prominent songs, and albums for the soundtracks to “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty In Pink” and “She’s Having a Baby” are all great standalone listens.
Before record labels and rights holders got aggressive about takedowns in the early 2010’s, the collective efforts of soundtrack fans on the Internet would create comprehensive soundtracks for many films. One notable site that suffered the takedown fate was The Inferno Music Crypt, which started as a way to collect rare soundtracks to horror films which by and large may never have had a soundtrack release (these days this effort continues, and labels like the amazing Terror Vision label resuscitates lost music from bands like Tangerine Dream!). The Music Crypt complete version of the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Soundtrack had a few iterations before landing on the final version which had 320Kbps mp3’s of all of the songs as well as samples of film dialog and even alternative versions of some of the songs as bonus tracks (his version included the vocal version of The Dream Academy’s cover of The Smiths “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” for example). His version also included the Star Wars Theme (used when the parking attendants took the Ferrari for a spin), the “I Dream Of Jeanne” theme, and even parade songs: Wayne Newton’s “Danke Shoen” and The Beatles “Twist and Shout.”
So, when I heard about a massive box set of soundtrack songs from the John Hughes films titled Life Moves Pretty Fast : The John Hughes Mixtapes (out November 11th), I was really excited! Initially, the preorders were only from the UK– Demon Music Group, who produced this set, is run by the BBC, but now the compilation is available as a pre-order from Pop Market for around $142.00 as a 6-LP box set with book. There is also a CD box set which comes with a 14-track cassette and 7-inch, and a 2 LP version.
The compilation is curated by Tarquin Gotch who was Hughes’s primary music supervisor for his films. The compilation is presented as a mixtape of songs from all of the films, rather than in order of the soundtracks as a tribute to how Gotch and Hughes would collaborate on the music supervision.
“Back when we were working on these movie soundtracks, the best way to send music around the world was the cassette, by Fedex,” Gotch remembered in a statement. “We sent John cassettes of newly released music, of demos, of just finished mixes (and in return he would send VHS videos of the scenes that needed music).”
Presenting the songs this way makes the compilation more listenable, since Hughes had a tendency of jumping around stylistically as the scene demanded, plus even at 74 songs, this is far from comprehensive. Some films are only represented by one song, for example. The Breakfast Club is represented only by “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (though arguably the most famous song from the film), Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” makes an appearance representing all of the various “Vacation” films (also a song that is sort of hard to find since Buckingham never seems to include it in any releases), Pop Will Eat Itself shows up for “The Great Outdoors” (an unmemorable soundtrack, honestly, and seemingly a way to pay licensing to “Elwood J. Blues” (aka Dan Akroyd) with no less than 5 songs (none of which are here).
What this compilation seems to try to do is walk the line between appeasing died-in-the-wool fans of the soundtracks of these films and also presenting a compilation of songs that general fans of the films would enjoy. In that regard, I think they might have gotten it right– particularly when you look at the 2 LP version. Clocking in at 25 tracks, it represents pretty much only the “big” songs from these soundtracks and is kind of a greatest hits of these. Most people would only be interested in getting this version, I expect.
The 6 LP/4 CD version is clearly targeted at the fans who already have the original soundtracks and want to get some of the songs that were skipped due to album length or licensing. If you already have The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Weird Science you won’t feel gipped here. Most of the songs on these soundtrack albums aren’t here.
Interestingly, we pretty much get all of the “missing” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Soundtrack in this collection. There was never an album release for this, though in 2016, LaLaLand Records put one together (still missing some tracks due to licensing), and it includes the Ira Newborn score which is pretty nice. We don’t get the parade “Danke Shoen/Twist And Shout” on Life Move Pretty Fast, and that’s likely due to licensing. Having “Beat City” by the Flowerpot Men, “Love Missile F-111” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik and “March of the Swivelheads” by The Beat (The English Beat in the U.S.) as well as “Oh Yeah” by Yello really captures this soundtrack’s big moments.
Life Moves Pretty Fast also makes up for the ridiculous attempt at a soundtrack album in 1984 for Sixteen Candles. The original release was an EP clocking in at around 16 minutes. In some regards, it was pretty much a way to prop up the brilliant “If You Were Here” by The Thompson Twins. We get 11 songs on this box set, which includes the aforementioned “If You Were Here,” but also includes some of the really on-point tracks from the wedding preparation, the Peter Gunn theme and “True” by Spandau Ballet. All we’re missing is the Stray Cats cover of “16 Candles, the Annie Golden track and “Geek Boogie” which was a song created for the film by Ira Newborn (a signature track that really should have been on here).
Quite a bit of the soundtrack to “She’s Having A Baby” is included here, both new songs and songs from the album. The key songs from the soundtrack album proper make it here, though sadly leaves off the awesome XTC song “Happy Families.” But, where it really hits are the “classic” songs that propped the film up, but weren’t licensed for the album: Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” Boston’s “More Than A Feeling,” and the use of “Music For A Found Harmonium” by Penguin Cafe Orchestra (which HAD to influence its inclusion in the post-dance scene in Napoleon Dynamite). The funny addition is the cover of the Gene Krupa track “Drummin’ Man” by Topper Headon, who was the original drummer for The Clash.
The original soundtrack album to Planes, Trains and Automobiles seems to lose any sort of cohesion from both not including some key songs from the film itself, and the fact that the songs don’t really fit together. Steve Earle’s cover of “Six Days on the Road” is fantastic, and really the only reason to have ever bought it (I had it on cassette…). Don’t even get me started with “I Can Take Anything” by E.T.A. which is a club track with samples from the film (sort of like “Batdance” from Batman I suppose). This, thankfully isn’t included on Life Moves Pretty Fast, but we get both Steve Earle songs: “Six Days on the Road” from the album as well as “Continental Trailways Blues.” Yello is back with “Lost Again” which originally appeared on their 1983 album Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess. To me it seems that by 1987, the soundtracks to the Hughes films had moved from being the leading edge of New Wave tastes, but that was probably also a symptom of Hughes moving from teen films. In that regard, this box set and album smartly leans heavily on those earlier films.
As someone who has been a big fan of the music in John Hughes’s films, this box set is a welcome release, and certainly a tribute like this has been long overdue. Since I already have some of these original soundtracks in my collection, this is a great companion to those (and I realize I need to get some of those on LP).
Click here to order the 6 LP red vinyl box from Pop Market (currently about $142 with free shipping)
Click here to order the 4 CD, 7″ and cassette box from Pop Market (currently about $120 with free shipping)
Click here to order the 2 LP black vinyl version from Pop Market (currently at $53.79 with free shipping)
Below is the tracklist for the 6 LP box set. I’ve added in bold the film the songs appeared in, and put an asterisk next to the songs that were on the original soundtrack albums.
Side A: Kajagoogoo – Kajagoogoo (Instrumental) – Sixteen Candles * Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Breakfast Club * Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – If You Leave – Pretty In Pink * Oingo Boingo – Weird Science – Weird Science * Furniture – Brilliant Mind – Some Kind of Wonderful * Dave Wakeling – She’s Having a Baby – She’s Having A Baby
Side B: The Flowerpot Men – Beat City – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off * The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty in Pink – Pretty In Pink * Flesh for Lulu – I Go Crazy – Some Kind of Wonderful * Dr. Calculus – Full of Love – She’s Having A Baby * Lick the Tins – Can’t Help Falling in Love – Some Kind of Wonderful * Steve Earle & The Dukes – Six Days on the Road (Album Version) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Side C: * Kirsty MacColl – You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby (Soundtrack Version) – She’s Having A Baby * Suzanne Vega & Joe Jackson – Left of Center – Pretty In Pink * Pete Shelley – Do Anything (Soundtrack Version) – Some Kind of Wonderful * Carmel – It’s All in the Game – She’s Having A Baby * The Dream Academy – Power to Believe (Instrumental) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles * Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work – She’s Having A Baby
Side D: The Beat – March of the Swivelheads (Rotating Heads – Dub Version) – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Nick Heyward – When It Started to Begin – Sixteen Candles Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Tesla Girls – Weird Science Big Audio Dynamite – BAD – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off * Killing Joke – Eighties – Weird Science The Specials – Little Bitch – Sixteen Candles
Side E: * Gene Loves Jezebel – Desire (Come and Get It) (US Club Mix) – She’s Having A Baby Flesh for Lulu – Slide – Uncle Buck * Love and Rockets – Haunted When the Minutes Drag – She’s Having A Baby Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Love Missile F1-11 (Ultraviolence Mix) – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off * Lords of the New Church – Method to My Madness – Weird Science
Side F: * The Jesus and Mary Chain – The Hardest Walk (Single Version) – Some Kind of Wonderful * Echo & the Bunnymen – Bring on the Dancing Horses – Pretty In Pink General Public – Tenderness – Weird Science The Blue Room – I’m Afraid – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off * Belouis Some – Round, Round – Pretty In Pink * Thompson Twins – If You Were Here – Sixteen Candles The Dream Academy – Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (Instrumental) – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Side G: Yello – Oh Yeah – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off * Book of Love – Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles Otis Redding – Try a Little Tenderness – Pretty In Pink * Patti Smith – Gloria: In Excelsis Deo – Sixteen Candles * Westworld – Ba-Na-Na-Bam-Boo – Planes, Trains and Automobiles Divinyls – Ring Me Up – Sixteen Candles Topper Headon – Drummin’ Man – She’s Having A Baby
Side H: Billy Idol – Catch My Fall – Some Kind of Wonderful The Association – Cherish – Pretty In Pink Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Music for a Found Harmonium – She’s Having A Baby Zapp – Radio People – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off * The Blue Room – Cry Like This – Some Kind of Wonderful
Side I: Ray Charles – Mess Around – Planes, Trains and Automobiles Joe Turner – Lipstick, Powder and Paint – Uncle Buck Darlene Love – (Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry – Sixteen Candles Marvin Gaye – How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) – She’s Having A Baby Perry Como with Mitchell Ayres and His Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers – Juke Box Baby – Uncle Buck The Chordettes – Mr. Sandman – Uncle Buck Ray Anthony and His Orchestra – The Peter Gunn Theme – Sixteen Candles
Side J: * Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road – National Lampoon’s Vacation * Emmylou Harris – Back in Baby’s Arms – Planes, Trains and Automobiles Hugh Harris – Rhythm of Life – Uncle Buck Spandau Ballet – True – Sixteen Candles Propaganda – Abuse – Here – Some Kind of Wonderful The Dream Academy – The Edge of Forever – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Side K: Yello – Lost Again (Album Version) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles * Bryan Ferry – Crazy Love – She’s Having A Baby The Rave-Ups – Positively Lost Me – Pretty In Pink Los Lobos – Don’t Worry Baby – Weird Science Steve Earle – Continental Trailways Blues (Album Version) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles The Revillos – Rev Up! – Sixteen Candles
Side L: Boston – More Than a Feeling – She’s Having A Baby * Balaam and the Angel – I’ll Show You Something Special – Planes, Trains and Automobiles The Rave-Ups – Rave Up / Shut Up – Pretty In Pink * Pop Will Eat Itself – Beaver Patrol – The Great Outdoors The Vapors – Turning Japanese – Sixteen Candles * Silicon Teens – Red River Rock – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The national awareness of Athens, Georgia as a vibrant art and music scene in the 80’s was largely accomplished due to a plucky, quirky and loose 1986 documentary film by director Tony Gayton titled “Athens, GA: Inside/Out” and its associated soundtrack on I.R.S. Records, which at the time was R.E.M.’s label.
In many ways, the film happened at the right time: R.E.M.’s Document, their last and biggest album on I.R.S. Records would come out in Fall of 1987 and blow up with “The One I Love.” Fans like me who were hungry for everything related to R.E.M. ran out to pick up the VHS tape of the film and the soundtrack to hear and see the two R.E.M. tracks performed in the Seney-Stovall Chapel: acoustic versions of “Swan Swan H” from Lifes Rich Pageant and a cover of an Everly Brothers classic re-titled “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream.”
A side note: the legend of R.E.M. includes the fact that they lived in an abandoned church and their first concert was in this same church. Until today, I assumed that the performance in the film was in that church, but they really lived in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which was demolished in 1990 by developers. The steeple still stands today as a landmark to R.E.M.
As someone growing up in a very small midwestern town in the 1980’s, I had very limited access to underground non-Top 40 music. I didn’t even have MTV! So, the soundtrack and filmed performances in “Athens, Ga : Inside/Out” were eye-opening experiences! In many ways this soundtrack defined the music I would follow for many years. As a compilation, the songs and bands are all over the map: soon-to-be radio darlings R.E.M., twitchy frenetic post punk of Pylon (who recently got their much-deserved recognition in a boxset I covered here.), the instrumental workings of Love Tractor (the use of “Fun To Be Happy” as the opening music was brilliant and set the tone for the film), moody guitar rock of “Dreams So Real” (whose major label debut Rough Night in Jericho disappointingly made them sound like The BoDeans and not like the moody and beautiful “Golden”), The B-52’s were included in the film, but not the soundtrack, the hardcore punk of Bar-B-Q Killers, the hyper retro two-piece rockabilly of The Flat Duo Jets (who are obvious influences on The White Stripes). The thoughts of these bands playing bars and stages in Athens was breathtaking, and my friends and I all wanted to make a trip there. (It’s still on my bucket list of places to visit)
Out of all of those bands on the soundtrack, the ones that really stood out for me (and are favorites to this day) were Pylon, Love Tractor and Squalls. Squalls had two songs on the soundtrack, their big hit (such as it was) “Na Nanana” and “Elephant Radio.” Both of these songs were on their debut self-released EP from 1984, and by 1986, when this film came out, they were regarded as one of the bands who deserved to make it to the national spotlight. The Squalls mix of epic harmonies and melodies combined with smart and sometimes progressive rhythms to me makes them a shoo in for a band that could follow in the footsteps of bands like Talking Heads and Adrian Belew.
The Squalls were signed to R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt‘s label Dog Gone Records, and released two albums there before the band hung it up in 1989.
On August 19th, the band is releasing a compilation of live recordings made over five dates made at the legendary Athens, GA bar The 40-Watt Club between 1983 and 1985 (predating the performances in the film). These performances were recorded by 40-Watt soundman T. Patton Biddle. Titled Live from the 40 Watt, the songs span the EP and the two albums and are a great representation of the band’s body of work. Here is the tracklist, with my notes of performance date and what album the songs come from. I’ve also provided links to the tracks that have been released for streaming.
Bride Of Frankenstein (8/2/1985) from No Time and “Crickets” 7″
The striking thing about this compilation is how much unreleased music is included! I exchanged messages with Bob Hay, the principle songwriter in Squalls whether this release was indicative of the live sets from this pre-Dog Gone era of the band, or whether he was attempting to get these unreleased songs released formally. He said:
It’s kind of both. On “LIVE” I wanted to include every song that was released on vinyl before 1986. (8 songs – the EP and the single.) and also rescue from the sands of time a bunch of songs that were staples of our live shows in those days and a few that we played only a few times but are too good to be forgotten. We were primarily a live dance band and played live for almost three years before we set foot in a studio.
Facebook chat 7/10/22
The idea of a band packing bars playing all original songs seems foreign, if not kind of quaint these days. Bob sent me a scan of the show calendar for The 40-Watt Club from February, 1986: the month that they filmed the performances for Athens, GA: Inside/Out. I commented about the incredible lineup of bands that were playing that month– (not to mention all of the bands who were in the film)– Alex Chilton played a Thursday night show, The Georgia Satellites and the Del Fuegos (who would share a tour with Tom Petty the next year), Giant Sand, and Jason and the Scorchers played a three night stand. Bob replied, “I tell you, it was something during that time.”
In addition to capturing a wildly creative time for Squalls, Live from the 40-Watt also is a reminder that Athens was (and still is) a very special place where bands were drawn to be more free creatively and where audiences were excited to hear new music. The recordings show a band wide-eyed and excited to bring their art to the world.
Live From The 40-Watt will be released on August, 19th, 2020 and will be available on beautiful 2 LP blue vinyl, CD or digital. Click here to order from Strolling Bones records site, or you can order it from Bandcamp.
July 28, 2022 Update : With the recent events surrounding “MoFiGate” I’m updating this article from January 23, 2022 with details recently revealed.
It has come to light that Mobile Fidelity Soundlabs has, in some situations, been making a digital copy of the original masters that they have access to for their “Original Master Recording” releases and their One-Step releases. Mobile Fidelity has issued an apology for this lack of transparency and has started to implement descriptions on their website to improve clarity about the sources used. As it applies to the upcoming Bitches Brew One-Step, it explains some things (it is confirmed a digital copy), but still doesn’t tell us what the source master tape is, so I’m still hoping they’ll make a statement about this. Continue on for the updated version of the original article.
I’ve coveredBitches Brew quite a bit in these pages, so I won’t cover the complete history of the album’s creation here. I recommend reading my coverage of the Bitches Brew sessions in my article about the RSD Double Image release of outtakes. The interesting thing about this release is that MoFi says that this release is mastered from the original tapes (I’ll get into this later). This is pretty much the M.O. for Mobile Fidelity: get the best versions of the original analog (or digital) tapes for a release and then create the best possible high fidelity audiophile release. Often this involves restoring these original tapes, thus preserving them for future reissues. In the case of the One-Step releases, they get a custom box set treatment and are pressed on vinyl that is a proprietary formula known as “Super Vinyl.” From a post on their Facebook page:
“MoFi SuperVinyl is a new proprietary compound developed by NEOTECH and RTI to address two specific areas of improvement: noise floor reduction and enhanced groove definition. The vinyl composition features a new carbonless dye (hold the disc up to the light and see) and produces the world’s quietest surfaces. This high-definition formula also allows for the creation of cleaner grooves that are indistinguishable from the original lacquer. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab feels SuperVinyl provides the closest approximation of what we hear in the mastering lab.”
September 28, 2021 Post to Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Facebook page
Beyond the vinyl composition, there is the One-Step process itself, which is an attempt to create a record as close as possible to the original master by removing the typical three steps involved in creating additional copies to provide a way to create additional stampers as they wear out over the lifetime of the plates. The creation of the additional copies adds a small bit of loss in fidelity. Here is what MoFi says about this (Updated in July 2022):
Instead of utilizing the industry-standard three-step lacquer process, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s new UltraDisc One-Step (UD1S) uses only one step, bypassing two processes of generational loss. While three-step processing is designed for optimum yield and efficiency, UD1S is created for the ultimate in sound quality. Just as Mobile Fidelity pioneered the UHQR (Ultra High-Quality Record) with JVC in the 1980s, UD1S again represents another state-of-the-art advance in the record-manufacturing process. MFSL engineers begin with the original master tapes, painstakingly transfer them to DSD 256, and meticulously cut a set of lacquers. These lacquers are used to create a very fragile, pristine UD1S stamper called a “convert.” Delicate “converts” are then formed into the actual record stampers, producing a final product that literally and figuratively brings you closer to the music. By skipping the additional steps of pulling another positive and an additional negative, as done in the three-step process used in standard pressings, UD1S produces a final LP with the lowest noise floor possible today. The removal of the additional two steps of generational loss in the plating process reveals tremendous amounts of extra musical detail and dynamics, which are otherwise lost due to the standard copying process. The exclusive nature of these very limited pressings guarantees that every UD1S pressing serves as an immaculate replica of the lacquer sourced directly from the original master tape. Every conceivable aspect of vinyl production is optimized to produce the most perfect record album available today.
From mobile fidelity’s website on the bitches brew One-step. emphasis mine.
One notable discrepancy here is that this description says the copy made is DSD 256, but the description above it on the webpage says the source is “1/4″ / 15 IPS analog master to DSD 64.” This is maybe a result of the use of stock copy, but they should fix this.
What Master Was Used?
The 4 CD boxset titled The Complete Bitches Brew was released in 1998. In addition to taking some creative liberties by including music from sessions that were not part of the Bitches Brew proper, the decision was made to remix the original Bitches Brew album, which required the recreation of Teo Macero’s original edits of the album. In an interview with Davis biographer Paul Tingen, Producer Bob Belden said the reason for this was twofold. First, they wanted to have a consistent sound across all of the music so all of the recordings needed to be addressed. There were disparities in the LP mixes of the material that had been released on albums like Big Fun, Circle in the Round and Live-Evil, and the a lot of the outtakes had never been mixed before. Secondly, the two-track masters had not aged well. Session engineer Mark Wilder elaborated, “So, we could either work with inferior tape copies from other countries, or go back to the original eight tracks and re-mix them, and so save ourselves a generation. The decision was made to re-mix from the original multitracks, just like with the Miles & Gil and Quintet boxed sets.”
The information available about the Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recording One-Step of Bitches Brew says only that it was mastered from “the original master tapes,” but we don’t know if that is based on the 1998 remix upon which all of the subsequent Sony releases have been made. The 2014 Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recording, which according to discogs.com pricing is selling for around $200 may also be based on this same 1998 remix. The 2014 release was created by MoFi in-house engineers Kreig Wunderlich and Shawn Britton.
Since this uses a different process to create the records, it stands to reason that there will need to be new mechanicals created from the master tapes– lacquers, stampers and converts. None of the parts used for the 2014 release would be used for this. Which brings us to the tape used to make these parts. I couldn’t find any direct reference to what Wunderlich and Britton did to create a master tape for the 2014 release.
My opinion and speculation is that since Sony decided that the original 1970 master tapes were unusable for their own releases, they wouldn’t likely give any reissue label access to anything other than masters from the new mixes they created.
Reading about the work that Acoustic Sounds did for the recent UHQR Kind of Blue we know that Bernie Grundman created a copy of the vault masters for Kind of Blue in the 1990’s for Classic Recordings (which Acoustic Sounds bought) and this was used for the UHQR rather than go back to the vault. Considering that Mobile Fidelity was in a similar situation, they presumably acquired master tapes for the 2014 release and created their own DSD copy. Many reviews online say that the Original Master Recording releases (both the 2 LP and the SACD versions) are superior to the original releases of Bitches Brew, so my hopes are high for this release sounding fantastic. I would love to hear more about the tape used for the master. Was it, to quote Wilder, an “inferior tape copy from another country” or was it another source?
Even over 50 years after the release of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew its importance to the history of recorded jazz is undisputed, though certainly not universally loved. It’s place in the pantheon of jazz contributes to the interest in preserving it and creating new editions of it. One could argue that the 1998 remix is a different album than the original 1970 album created by Davis and Macero, and if this is what Mobile Fidelity used in 2014 and for this One-Step, how will this be received by the community at large? Nevertheless, I’m interested to hear and see this new reissue done by one of the premiere reissue labels.
You can pre-order the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs One-Step for Bitches Brew either from Mobile Fidelity (the pre-order link is not live yet) or any number of other places online like Music Direct. The MSRP on it is $125.
Note: I’ll update this article if there is any additional information about the source tapes for this release.
2021 was a year that was framed pretty much as “the year after 2020.” Every topic of discussion in 2021 seemed to be saddled with the context of the previous year. As I’m writing this, the topics still surround COVID, and lately the latest variant of that, plus vaccinations, and boosters.
All aspects of the music industry resumed with fits and starts. Concerts kind of resumed and kind of didn’t. Artists needed to evaluate for themselves what kind of risk they were willing to put their fans in and themselves. At this writing I have not been to a concert since March of 2020. I had tickets for three shows this year that honestly I wasn’t comfortable attending so I skipped them. This summer was looking better for outdoor shows, and maybe in 2022 I’ll look closer at those kinds of events.
The vinyl record situation was worse than 2020. All of the manufacturing issues we saw in 2020 were still in effect and delays were commonplace just in getting the records pressed. This was compounded by shipping issues– records manufactured overseas were held up on shipping containers– my vinyl copy of the brilliant Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra was ordered in March and didn’t ship until September! This was certainly out of Luaka Bop’s control, but they did a really great job of keeping folks in the loop about where things were with the shipping. It was not a big deal for me since I had the digital stream and download for it.
Record Store Day resumed in 2021 as a two-date “Drops” one on June 21st and one on July 17th. This accomplished a couple of things. First, it would theoretically reduce the attendance (and lines) by splitting up the releases, and secondly it would help with the delays from manufacturing as well. The upshot of that was that the titles I wanted were moved to the 2nd Drop so I only needed to go to the 2nd one. That happened to be the Grand Opening of the new Davenport location of Ragged Records, too, so that was really great!
With all of that, let’s get to the list! In no particular order, these are my favorite releases from 2021! It’s interesting to me that all of these releases were available on Bandcamp, which is where I did the majority of my purchases in 2021. The first six in this list are all Iowa, or Iowa-adjacent acts.
Joel Sires – Dog Years – The debut solo EP from Joel Sires, frontman for Cedar Falls band TWINS came out in April. I reviewed it for Little Village in November of 2020, but delays with manufacturing the 10″ vinyl EP held the release until April. This release on the new Seeder Records label started out as a release based on the amazing solo shows Joel does in the area, but in an interview with KUNI recently, he said that he really wanted to have a full band on these songs, so he quickly assembled a band to back him producing a release that doesn’t stray far from the last TWINS album’s sound, leaning towards folk rock. A fantastic release from one of Iowa’s best new songwriters.
David Huckfelt — Room Enough, Time Enough – David Huckfelt released his second solo album in 2021. Since Huckfelt’s other gig was over 10 years in The Pines, it’s not surprising that his solo work sounds reminiscent of those brilliant albums. With Room Enough, Time Enough he continues his own musical path surrounding himself with brilliant sidefolks including luminaries Howe Gelb and Billy Sedlmayr as well as notable . The album has an overarching concept regarding land rights and the plight of native Americans. As a solo artist Huckfelt has expanded beyond the folk atmospherics of The Pines to a bold sound of his own. My review for Little Village Magazine.
Alex Ramsey – Bonsai – Speaking of The Pines, keyboard player and brother of Benson Ramsey, Alex released his debut solo record in 2021– a release that was a long time coming. He recorded it before COVID, but the mastering and mixing all happened during it. All of the instruments were played by Alex at home, but certainly doesn’t sound like it. The album, as you might expect leans towards his keyboards and vocals, which makes it stand out from the catalog of The Pines. Delightfully complex record. You can read my review and Q&A with Alex in Little Village here.
Hex Girls – Pop Fluff – Cedar Falls band Hex Girls returned with their second EP titled Pop Fluff, but the title was more tongue-in-cheek than an accurate description of what was contained inside. The band gained some polish by filling the group out with a dedicated keyboard player moving from their rough-and-tumble post-punk sound to something I think is more akin to the no wave sound of early Talking Heads and Television. The band’s dedication to offbeat humor continues to make them one of the most interesting bands to come out of eastern Iowa. You can read my review from Little Village here.
Anthony Worden and the Illiterati – How Could We Lose When We’re So Sincere? – Iowa City band Anthony Worden and the Illiterati’s 2021 album How Could We Lose When We’re So Sincere? finds the band returning to the winning pop rock formula they used on their 2020 album Voilá– beautiful melodies and harmonies, polished production. Again, the secret sauce is letting Penny Peach take lead in spots. WOW. Killer formula. The constructs of the album are clearly influenced by a time when AM radio would bring the hit singles– a time sorely lost, I’m afraid. If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Todd Rundgren or Big Star, I think there is enough here to satisfy. Plus this album is available on super limited edition vinyl– well worth occupying your turntable.
Penny Peach – brain gamez Speaking of Ms. Peach, she put out her debut EP in 2021. I described the record on Facebook as being, “a shoegazer cupcake with sludgy frosting.” Thick distorted guitars provide a bed for Elly Hofmaier’s powerful vocal acrobatics: swooping to dizzying heights, yodeling and dipping to growling metal. It’s at once pop and dark.
loess – totems – Somewhat unexpectedly, loess released their first album since 2017’s brilliant Pocosin. Earlier in the year there were some photos in Ian Pullman’s Facebook feed that hinted that there was some activity in the duo’s camp and then the album kind of dropped with little notice at the end of September. totems continues the beautifully glitchy soundscape loess has been known for now 20 years on (wow). Some say that the sound of loess is derivative of the early works of Boards of Canada, but since BoC didn’t stay in that mode long, and I welcome more of the pretty clockwork sounds.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It / O Come All Ye Faithful – In 2021 we got not one, but TWO new releases from Hiss Golden Messenger! In June, the follow-up to the fantastic Terms of Surrender came out. Titled Quietly Blowing It, it feels like a sequel to me as it shares the intimate emotion of the previous album. The band backing him is largely made up of his touring group and the locked-in grooves benefit from the road wear.
In October we were gifted another release in the form of a holiday album. O Come All Ye Faithful is a mix of holiday standards and original tunes. Not content with straight readings of perennial favorites, the HGM spin on songs like the title track and “Silent Night” end up being dramatically new readings: new keys, changed rhythm and melody. If you’re not listening closely, these seem like HGM originals. Not a bad thing, and ends up being a really fresh addition to my expanding Christmas collection on vinyl. I ordered the “Peak Vinyl” variant which came with a 2nd LP called The Sounding Joy: Hiss Golden Messenger Meets Revelators on South Robinson Street which is a dub/remix record of some of the tracks from the album. Incidentally, The Revelators is a new side-project/collaboration with Cameron Ralston that is supposed to have a release in 2022 and will be dub and free jazz influenced.
Elsa Hewitt – LUPA– Kind of an unexpected release from Tompkins Square in that it doesn’t really fit the typical American Primitive guitar or archival releases they’re known for. For me this release really establishes Tomkins Square as a curator of music– no matter what genre. Hewitt hails from the UK and her latest release is a jaw droppingly gorgeous blend of her vocals and electronic production. It seems like this release was overlooked by many this year.
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises – This release is seemingly on everyone’s Top list for 2021 and for good reason. It’s a compelling blend of Floating Points electronics, sax (and vocals) from jazz legend Pharoah Sanders and lush orchestral additions by the London Symphony Orchestra. The main composition in multiple parts is titled “Promises” and is composed and scored by Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points. Sanders and Shepherd worked together in the studio, with the LSO part added later. Since the album is really one large work in movements, there are recurring themes throughout as you’d expect but the payoff for me is listening to the work as a whole. I’m always looking for new directions for jazz beyond the standards, and this album fits that bill nicely.
Eleventh Dream Day – Since Grazed – One of the more surprising things about the latest from Chicago band Eleventh Dream Day is the how this band continues to be GREAT after 40 years. The formula of the band is pretty straightforward– strong garage rock with heavy Neil Young leanings makes for a sound that is both classic and uniquely fresh in the current landscape of rock bands. This album started as a solo Rick Rizzo album but morphed into an EDD album. Sprawling over 2 LP’s it moves around stylistically. More so than their last couple of albums which were well-heeled rockers. After I picked this album up, I decided to revisit their earlier releases again.
Marisa Anderson/William Tyler – Lost Futures – Tyler and Anderson met while doing a tribute show to the late David Berman and became quick friends. The obviously have simpatico ideas about guitar music and Lost Futures cements that idea. I was less familiar with Anderson’s albums than William Tyler’s but listening to Lost Futures, it isn’t possible for me to tell who is doing what– the two of them together creating a work bigger than the both of them. A wonderful addition to my growing collection of Tyler’s work.
I Think Like Midnight – Interim Contingent – I Think Like Midnight started out as sort of a tribute to the defunct American instrumental rock band Pell Mell, and certainly their first album Warm Seclusion Structure achieved that goal in its intuitive understanding of the source music. It wasn’t a cover album, but it sounded like what Pell Mell might have sounded like had they stayed together. Fast forward seven years and I Think Like Midnight has moved away from strictly being a guitar effort but holds tight to instrumentals. Every release from ITLM is worth checking out– cinematic and unique with enough obscure tips of the hat in the mix to keep music geeks searching for references. ITLM had planned to hit the studio to work on their next album, but these plans were derailed by COVID and Interim Contingent was birthed instead. This album leans heavily towards loops of electronics as the basis and as a result makes a really compelling argument for the band to work more in this arena. “Kit Lambert Begins To Dream” sounds like an outtake from the Wang Chung “To Live and Die in L.A.” soundtrack. “Dot Outlier” sounds like Michael Brook– breathtaking and reverbby. This is a record any instrumental rock band should check out. Brilliant release.
Neal Francis – In Plain Sight – In Plain Sight is the second album from Chicago songwriter Neal Francis and the first on his new label home ATO Records. His first album Changes was on Colemine Records’ subsidiary Karma Chief, which is how I first heard him since I follow all of the releases on that label. Francis’s particular blend of Dr. John and Leon Russel funky keyboard-driven soul is earthy and real and it fuels his trajectory as one of the bigger independent artists.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Georgia Blue – Fulfilling a promise that Isbell made on election night in 2020 where if Georgia “turned blue” he recorded an album of covers of Georgia music. We have two tracks from R.E.M. (“Nightswimming” and “Driver 8”), James Brown, Indigo Girls, Gladys Night, The Allman Brothers and more. Anyone who’s been to an Isbell concert is familiar with the covers he’ll usually bring out– he’s a fan of music. So, this album is a really great addition to the Isbell catalog. Plus, he does “Driver 8” which is my very favorite R.E.M. song. I picked up the blue vinyl version for RSD which is gorgeous.
Surf Zombies – In Color – More tasty surf-influenced guitar rock from Iowa’s premier guitar instrumental band. Can’t get enough from Surf Zombies’ modern take on surf rock.
Nathan Salsburg – תהלים = Psalms – Nathan Salsburg is usually known for his albums of American Primative-influenced guitar work. For Psalms his inspiration was the joy he experienced as a child singing Hebrew at camp and a desire to bring that joy back to his own life. For this album he created wholly new arrangements of these to fit how he wanted to sing them. The resulting album is a beautiful testament to his spirituality and desire to share it. I love “Psalm 147.”
El Michels Affair meets Liam Bailey – Ekundayo Inversions – In 2019 Leon Michels produced UK artist Liam Bailey’s album Ekundayo for Michel’s label Big Crown. Michels is “El” as in El Michels Affair who is maybe best known for their Wu-Tang Clan instrumental covers albums. I was familiar with El Michels Affair, but not Liam Bailey or the Ekundayo album. I first heard about Ekundayo Inversions from an email from Colemine Records and the sample track was enough for me to decide to order it. Ekundayo Inversions is remixes and dubs of some of the songs from Ekundayo plus some interstitial skits. Plus, it has what is probably the last appearance of Lee “Scratch” Perry (R.I.P).
Jeff Parker – Forfolks – Just barely making 2021 is the latest from jazz guitarist Jeff Parker (it came out 12/10/21 digitally). I was pretty surprised about this release considering all of his work in 2020, including the BRILLIANT Suite For Max Brown. Forfolks is a strictly solo Jeff Parker record. Stripped down guitar and loops, but really big sounding ironically. Beautiful record.
Charlie Parr – Last of the Better Days Ahead – Duluth musician Charlie Parr’s sixteenth album is on the legendary Folkways label after a brief turn on Red House Records. He’s not braving any new territory here, but we get more of the amazing Piedmont Blues style guitar work and Parr’s warm and human songwriting. Double LP!
At some point I found a copy of She’s The One in a CD cutout bin not too long after the album was released in 1996. From a Tom Petty fan perspective, ironically, I heard this before I ever heard Wildflowers completely. 1995 and 1996 were years of exploration for me musically. I was living in Minneapolis (Eagan, specifically) and my ears were filled with the alternative nation of REV-105 and I was discovering new bands and music every day it seemed and I wasn’t focused on classic rock. I missed the Wildflowers release completely and ended up picking up its neglected sibling purely coincidentally. The irony being that She’s The One became the home for tracks that were lopped off Wildflowers when Warner Brothers suggested it be a single album rather than Petty’s original vision of a double.
As much as I have come to love Wildflowers and its 2020 bloated retort to the eternal Pettyfan joke “When is Wildflowers going to be reissued?”, Wildflowers… And All The Rest gave us nearly every minute of tape we could stand of the album, with every possible session that could be considered related to Wildflowers proper, I still hold a fondness for She’s The One, the quirky non-sequitur of songs collected spanning incidental music, covers and multiple takes.
One of the criticisms put forth about Wildflowers… And All The Rest was that it didn’t include any of the at-the-time new songs from She’s The One. Most people looked at She’s The One as kind of an extension of Wildflowers— particularly since the soundtrack benefitted by the inclusion of four very strong songs from those sessions: “Climb That Hill,” “Hung Up And Overdue,” “California,” and “Hope You Never.” The rest of the original soundtrack was new material recorded specifically for the film including two songs which would become important songs in Petty’s catalog, “Walls” with its amazing chorus “‘Cause you’ve got a heart so big/ it could crush this town/And I can’t hold out forever/Even walls fall down” and Petty’s tribute to his future second wife Dana, “Angel Dream” which became a staple in later live shows.
Amidst all of the personal turmoil in Petty’s life including the firing of drummer Stan Lynch from the Heartbreakers, divorce from his wife of 22 years Jane and the beginning of a heroin addiction that was hidden from public view until Warren Zanes’ “Petty” biography came out in 2015, he was approached to curate the soundtrack for the Ed Burns film She’s The One. Quoted in “Petty,” he says about the project, “I was approached about putting together a soundtrack for the movie. I liked what I’d seen of Ed Burns’s work. But, when I took the job I didn’t think it through. I wound up in a situation where they wanted different artists for a soundtrack. They had a few, but they wanted me to call more artists.” Eventually he called his manager Tony Dimitriades and told him he couldn’t do this. Dimitriades suggested that he should do the soundtrack himself, “like Paul Simon did for The Graduate.”
Ultimately, it was a failure on many levels. Petty was forced to rush to meet a deadline, “I was completely off my game.” he says in his biography, “I was doing something that was against my grain.” The film’s release was pushed back six months, leaving the soundtrack to appear to be a Heartbreakers album, “Some people thought I was following up Wildflowers… My record came out with no movie, I was so depressed– that just made me more depressed.” The album sold only 490,000 copies and ultimately went gold, but marks the sole disappointment in his catalog.
I would say that the 1996 version of She’s The One suffers from being a somewhat literal listing of the songs included in the soundtrack. We get two versions of “Walls”: one version is what was the single (“Walls (Circus)” and the other is “Walls (No. 3)” apparently created to satisfy Burns’s request of having a different one for the closing credits. We get two versions of “Angel Dream” as well and things cap off with a 57-second bouncy piano/organ instrumental “Airport.” The strings/piano/guitar instrumental arrangement of “Hope On Board” is positively breathtaking and too short. Another complicating factor are the two cover songs, which Petty typically didn’t include on proper albums. The resulting release comes off as kind of a cast-off in that regard, and if anything a bit unbalanced particularly considering the usually careful sequencing on Petty albums.
What the team ultimately settled on is now titled Angel Dream: Songs and Music from The Motion Picture ‘She’s The One’ and capitalizes on the great songs included on She’s The One: “Walls,” “Grew Up Fast” (a personal favorite), “Zero From Outer Space,” the Lucinda Williams cover “Change The Locks” (a typo according to Dana Petty in her interview with David Fricke on SiriusXM since the correct title is “Changed The Locks”) the Beck cover “Asshole,” “Supernatural Radio” (which is presented now as an extended take) and adds two songs recorded in July 1993 (in the middle of the sessions for Wildflowers, incidentally) during the sessions that produced “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” for the Greatest Hits album (“Something’s In The Air,” the other new track, was recorded in February that year). These songs are notable as having Stan Lynch on drums. None of the songs on the original Wildflowers nor the original She’s The One had him on them. These songs are a JJ Cale cover “Thirteen Days” (recorded on July 22, 1993, this shows up in a photo of a proposed tracklist for Wildflowers included in the box set), “105 Degrees” (recorded on July 23, 1993) and “One Of Life’s Little Mysteries” (the earliest track, recorded on August 4, 1992). We also get an instrumental reworking of “Angel Dream” titled “French Disconnection.”
It’s interesting to note that the song “Lonesome Dave” from the Wildflowers sessions which was included in the An American Treasure box set and not in the …All The Rest boxset was recorded on July 23 as well. In the “Petty” biography by Zanes, George Drakoulias remembers cutting many more tracks than “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and we’re getting a bit of a peek into those sessions with Stan Lynch with the posthumous releases.
“…The idea behind Angel Dream was to make it a tighter album, and something that would make sense with this music after the three original Wildflowers tracks were taken off of it (for inclusion on Wildflowers All The Rest). It was important to have a really tight set of songs, sequenced in a way that honors Tom’s sense of how important albums are, in the story that they can tell. (This logic is behind the decision to leave certain songs off of the original Wildflowers, as McCool discussed in his earlier post.)
For Angel Dream the decision was made to not include the second versions of two songs (Walls and Angel Dream) that are on the She’s The One soundtrack, and also to not include the music cues that related more to the film. This was reconfigured to be a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album, not a film soundtrack album. Since we needed more material to fill out the album, we went back to three tracks that were recorded during the Wildflowers sessions, and an unreleased instrumental track.”
Steve Hoffman Forums post 6/15/2021
Ulyate touches on the inclusion of the new songs, “Can songs that were not recorded at the same time as others live on the same album? Yes they can, if they fit into the “vibe”. Without Tom there will always be second-guessing, but please know we did our best.”
The album is a really good listen and while I question the absolute necessity of its existence, it’s a record I’ll play frequently. The idea is that this is the version that will “replace” the original album in the new cataloging of Petty, though the original 1996 version (which was remastered in 2018) will continue to be available as a download.
Angel Dream Tracklist with my notes (special thanks to Mark Felsot for corrections):
Angel Dream (No. 2) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Grew Up Fast from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Change The Locks (Lucinda Williams cover) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Zero From Outer Space from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Asshole (Beck cover) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
One of Life’s Little Mysteries new track recorded August 4, 1992 with Stan Lynch
Walls (No. 3) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Thirteen Days (JJ Cale cover) new track recorded July 23, 1993 with Stan Lynch
105 Degrees new track recorded July 24, 1993 with Stan Lynch
Climb That Hill from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Supernatural Radio (extended version) new version recorded June 4, 1996
French Disconnection (Instrumental) new track recorded April 11, 1996
The new RSD Drops lists came out April 7th for both the June 12th and the July 17th Drops. Similar to 2020, Record Store Day is being split into multiple dates to help with crowding in the stores. I think this also helps with the vinyl pressing delays as the record manufacturing is still catching up from the COVID shutdowns and related problems.
As I predicted in my post last year about the excellent Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions 2 LP release, the next in the series is one based on the 1970 sessions that resulted in the Jack Johnson (AKA A Tribute To Jack Johnson) album. Titled Champions – Rare Miles from the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, it will come out for the second RSD Drops on July 17th, and will be around $21.97 according to Bull Moose, and will be on opaque yellow vinyl.
According to the expert in all things Electric Miles, Paul Tingen, Davis was spurred on by his recent exposure to Jimi Hendrix to state in a 1969 Rolling Stone interview, “I could put together the greatest rock ‘n roll band you ever heard.” Tingen surmises that Davis seeing Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies at the Fillmore East New Years Day, 1970 was the biggest catalyst for his new sound.
Davis was in the Columbia studios with his band for a marathon 12 dates starting February 18th and continuing through June 4th– an incredibly productive time for Davis yielding many more recordings than the two that ended up on the 1971 LP. Distilling the massive amount of time in the studio for Davis into releases that make sense organizationally continues to be a challenge, and has since the beginning involved some creativity on the part of the record producers and the label. This is compounded by the fact that Davis rolled tape for every minute he was in the studio.
Following the sessions that would form Bitches Brew (August 19th-21st, 1969) Davis continued recording music that followed the new electric Jazz/Funk path he was taking. The compilers of the Complete Bitches Brew opted to take sessions from November 1969 through to February 1970 that used the same band lineup as Bitches Brew. In that regard, the Double Image release is less of an outtakes of Bitches Brew as it is maybe a part II.
The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions pretty much pick up where The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions drop off. “Take It Or Leave It” was recorded on February 2nd, and the initial “Willie Nelson” sessions start just over two weeks later on February 18th.
Side A 1. “Duran – Take 4” (March 17, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 2. “Sugar Ray” (March 20, 1970 at Columbia Studio B) 3. “Johnny Bratton Take 4” (February 27, 1970 at Columbia Studio B)
Side B 1. “Ali – Take 3” (May 19, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 2. “Ali – Take 4” (May 19, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 3. “Right Off – Take 11” (April 7, 1970 at Columbia Studio B)
As an entry in the catalog of Miles Davis music, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions represent a transitional snapshot. These are the sound of Davis and his sidemen searching. Big looped sections on the eventual album from these sessions show the band landing blocks of music that work, but also seems to include the band kind of reaching. A lot of this was a result of the very unstructured approach in the studio. From the Tingen article:
“Everything was experimentation,” recalled drummer Billy Cobham. “There was not one moment that whatever was put on a piece of paper would not be changed.” “A lot of times the way we did things was very fragmented,” added Dave Holland. “Often I didn’t know whether we were recording or rehearsing. We would have these fragments, these sketches of ideas, and we’d play them for 10 minutes. And then we might do one more take like that, and move on to the next thing. One of the things that created the sound of the studio recordings is that were all trying to figure out what was going on. This created a certain space—it wasn’t tentative, but it was searching. And Miles had a policy of taping everything. When it was then finally put together, there was a lot of editing that went on.”
Even with this somewhat randomly-organized recording, the highlight is Davis, who plays some fantastic runs around the grooves. This seems to be a result the physical and mental health of Davis during this time. The cover of Champions is a photograph of Davis in the ring taken by Jim Davis shortly after these sessions. Tingen quotes Chick Corea, “Miles was, “totally clean, working out in the gym, physically looking great, and living the life of a health freak. He had this thing about fish and told me how good fish was for you.” In short, Miles was in great physical and mental shape, and at the peak of his trumpet powers.”
In the Davis catalog, Jack Johnson is a record that is somewhat obscure; maybe “obscured” is a more accurate description. Even though it uses a similar approach of editing miles of tape into a two-track epic funk, it is overshadowed by achievements of Bitches Brew. The Champions collection of tracks from these sessions helps put some context around somewhat meandering Jack Johnson album and also opens the door for the following Electric albums which include my personal favorites Big Fun and On The Corner.
Speaking of On The Corner, it’s almost certain that the next RSD-exclusive title based on the series of “Complete Sessions” for Miles Davis will be from the 2007 Complete On The Corner Sessions made up of sessions from June of 1972 through May of 1975.