As a fan of Christmas and holiday music, like many, I tend to stick with the classics. “White Christmas” from Bing Crosby, “Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry, “The Christmas Song” from Nat King Cole. That said, what is considered “classic” today at one time was a new holiday song. For example, “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney, which by any account is a classic Christmas song came out in 1979. A Charlie Brown Christmas album by The Vince Guaraldi Trio originally came out in 1965. George Winston’s December came out in 1982.
My point is that new Christmas music comes out each year, and aside from very well-done covers of the classics (“Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” by Springsteen, Stevie Nicks’s version of “Silent Night”) attempts at new Christmas songs are generally tricky propositions. A good Christmas song is more than just holiday adjacent lyrics with some sleigh bells slapped on it for good measure, though scads of this seem to be the norm.
So, when Colemine Records, my favorite R&B label out of central Ohio announced that Kelly Finnigan was releasing a record of Christmas and Holiday songs, I was really interested to hear it. The legacy of Colemine Records stems from acts influenced by all of the big R&B labels: Motown, Stax/Volt, Atlantic, Philadelphia International, Philles, Chess, and the list goes on. Most of these labels put out Christmas records at some point (Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You and Altlantic Records Soul Christmas, being two legendary examples), so it stands to reason that Colemine would know what the bar would be for a great record.
Kelly Finnigan is a bit of a secret weapon for Colemine Records. The Bay Area musician, songwriter and producer is a recent addition to the amazing Monophonics on keys and vocals and whose 2020 album It’s Only Us is start to finish a brilliant record with a huge lush sound. His solo album The Tales People Tell from 2019 was a strong debut with Finnigan playing most of the instruments on the record, which took over two years to complete. I recently noticed that he’s a co-writer on one of my favorite Colemine singles “Next To You” by Gene Washington & The Ironsides.
You’d think that with a strong 2019 solo release and the new Monophonics record that would be enough new music, but he is closing 2020 out with a Christmas record– A Joyful Sound which came out on Tuesday digitally with the general vinyl and CD releases coming out on December 11th.
For this album, Finnigan wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. In a couple of cases, he retooled some R&B chestnuts to be Christmas songs.
The other track is from a really obscure Detroit R&B record “To Be Young” recorded by The Magic Tones. The re-boot as “To Be Young At Christmas” is a tastefully polished track, and unless you knew the original track, you wouldn’t think this wasn’t a Christmas song from the start.
My favorite song on the album, though is the heart-wrenching “No Time To Be Sad” which was the first song I heard from the album and pushed me to pre-order it instantly. That french horn, FTW. Holy crap.
I got in on the pre-order, which was a red and white swirled vinyl and came with a slipmat matching the tartan pattern of the record as well as a CD. I got the wonderful news that these pre-orders have shipped! The regular releases will come out on 12/11 and include a regular black vinyl version as well as an indie record store Christmas tree green pressing.
With so many fantastic releases coming out of Colemine, it isn’t surprising that they’d have a strong holiday release like A Joyful Sound. This is an essential release for R&B fans and Christmas music fans alike.
I’m a sucker for earnest songs about heartbreak. Clearly.
When I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, I was struck by the songs from Aimee Mann. Like many, I was familiar with her band, the MTV darlings Til Tuesday, but I hadn’t really kept up. Though, there wasn’t much to keep up with. The classic yarn of a band breakup followed by a couple of brilliant solo albums that her label didn’t know what to do with caused her to crash land in 1999 with no label and a record in the can that wouldn’t be released.
As the story goes, Paul Thomas Anderson was moved enough by the demos of this album to craft Magnolia around it and get some more songs from her. He connected to Mann through her husband Michael Penn who scored Anderson’s first two films. She got an Oscar nom for “Save Me” (a song that was written for the film).
I rewatched Magnolia recently. A horrific storm called a “derecho” blew 130+ MPH winds across Iowa, removing over 65% of the tree cover of Cedar Rapids and knocking power out for days and cell service and internet for weeks. Once power was restored, my wife and I still didn’t have internet and cell service was spotty, so we took to digging through our sadly-neglected collection of DVD’s and Blu-Rays for stuff to watch. We hadn’t seen it probably since I bought the DVD when it came out in 2000. The film’s three hours is not an easy watch, and twenty years later the heavy-handedness of the story arc and plot devices seems almost dated. Considering this was Anderson’s carte blanche film following the breakout success of Boogie Nights, it’s apparent he was pulling out all of his directorial tools for this. The soundtrack and score of the film end up being an essential part of the narrative with songs belonging to the characters, the culmination of which is when the film pauses for the characters to sing “Wise Up.”
This part of the film was a real lump-in-the-throat moment for me and how I became a fan of this soundtrack and Bachelor No. 2. I wrote an article back in 2008 proposing a mix people could make of the two CD’s to make a perfect version of the album.
Bachelor No. 2 was released in May 2000 on Mann’s own record label Super-Ego Records. It included “How Am I Different,” “Deathly,” and “You Do” from Magnolia. “Nothing Is Good Enough” appears on the soundtrack as an instrumental. Interestingly, “Wise Up” was originally intended for the film Jerry McGuire. A really great article breaking down the soundtrack by A/VClub by Alex McLevy makes the observation that in a literal sense the song says that the film “is not going to stop” until the characters wise up. Certainly the scene in the film where the characters sing “Wise Up” is a point of inflection.
In 2006, Mobile Fidelity Soundlab corrected sin of this album not existing on vinyl by pressing a limited run of 200g half-speed mastered LP’s based on the original US CD (which means it doesn’t have “Save Me” on it in place of “Driving Sideways” as the UK version did). These days copies of this are running around $200 and I was keeping an eye out to see if any might show up for a deal.
It will be interesting to hear that new version of “Wise Up.” If I had to guess, it probably removes the drum machine. In the press release she mentions that she “used a lot of drum loops” and nowhere is it more apparent than on “Wise Up.” Though for me, that works great.
For the uninitiated, Pylon was a band from Athens, GA that started in the late 70’s by some art school students at the University of Georgia. For context in the larger history of Athens bands, they’re post-B-52’s and contemporaries of R.E.M. Their distinctively angular and beat-heavy sound would be described as post-punk and follows a path blazed by New York City bands like Talking Heads and Television.
The first phase of their career started in 1978 and after two albums on the now-defunct label DB Recs Gyrate and Chomp and enjoying some well-deserved exposure supporting bands like R.E.M. U2 and Mission of Burma on tours, they split up in late 1983.
Pylon would have just been a footnote in the history of the Athens music scene if it hadn’t been for the 1987 documentary “Athens, GA Inside/Out” which turned leagues of R.E.M. fans like myself on to the band. R.E.M. also recorded a cover of the Pylon song “Crazy” and released it as a b-side to “Driver 8” and it was the first track on Dead Letter Office, a collection of outtakes and b-sides. Peter Buck said in the liner notes, “I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and being suddenly depressed by how much better it was than our record.”
The jittery energy of the live version of “Stop It!” with the militant growled vocals by Vanessa Hey was like nothing I’d ever heard before and even though it was the R.E.M. songs that drew me to the film and soundtrack, it was the Pylon track that ended up being my favorite part of that soundtrack. (Honestly, I always kind of felt like R.E.M. sort of phoned in their contribution with that Everly Brothers cover…)
Pylon reunited and in 1989 released a compilation called Hits which had notable tracks from the two albums as well as some tracks from singles. In 1990 they released another studio album Chain.on Sky Records. They went on tour with R.E.M. and then split up again in 1991. The band reunited for shows sporadically over the years that followed until they finally broke up for good after guitarist Randy Bewley passed away in 2009. Vanessa Briscoe Hay fronts a Pylon tribute band “Pylon Reenactment Society” along with members of other area bands and have even recorded a couple new songs.
In 2007 DFA Records, owned by Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem reissued Chomp and Gyrate on CD with bonus tracks . Titled Gyrate Plus and Chomp More, they went immediately out-of-print and the CD’s are now super-expensive in the secondary market. So, clearly there is demand for this catalog to be reissued again.
For Black Friday Record Store Day in 2019, New West Records sort of tipped their hand in the matter by reissuing Pylon’s debut single “Cool”/”Dub.” I reached out to the label about whether they were going to reissue the albums and at the time they confirmed it, but weren’t going to announce anything for a few months. Then COVID happened which messed up record manufacturing, so I’m guessing that’s why the announcement happened much later for the albums and the box set.
The box set comes in two versions, black vinyl and a limited-to-500 colored vinyl version. Four 140g LP’s include new remasters of Gyrate and Chomp, an LP of Extras which include singles, b-sides and other rarities, and Razz Tape, which is a recording of the band which pre-dates their 1979 debut single recorded in their practice space by Chris Razz. 47 tracks total with 18 of them unreleased.
Since they aren’t also reissuing the 1989 compilation Hits which also included some non-album tracks and there were extra tracks on the DFA releases, how do the tracks compare and what are we missing with the box set?
We’ve seen “Cool,” “Dub,” “Crazy” single mix and the “Danger!!” remix from the !! import EP on Hits and the DFA reissues as I indicate below. We have two completely new songs “Untitled” and “3×3” plus a couple of new mixes of “Danger III” and “Spiders.” Not to mention all of the new versions and tracks on the Chris Razz tape.
Notably missing are some tracks included on the DFA reissues. “Crazy (Original Version)” on the Chomp More reissue seems to also be referred to as the single version. “Yo-Yo (Pylon Mix)” or “Male version” (it has slowed-down versions of the vocals) and “Gyrate (Pylon Mix) are two versions that were recorded during the tracks that were recorded at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In, but the versions that were used on the album came from the sessions at Channel One. We’re also missing the 6-minute version of “Beep” that is called “Four Minutes.”
Interestingly, “Functionality” was listed on the Gyrate Plus reissue as a “Studio Demo.” But the liner notes say it was recorded in 1979 in their practice space in Athens, GA, so that is from the Razz tape.
Here are all the tracks for the boxset and the breakdown of where the Extras have been released before:
Feast On My Heart 03:35
Weather Radio 02:16
The Human Body 03:11
Read A Book 02:02
Driving School 03:53
Working Is No Problem 03:29
Stop It 03:06
Italian Movie Theme 02:01
No Clocks 02:57
Untitled – New track
Cool – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
Dub – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
Recent Title – from Hits
Danger!! (Danger Remix) – from !! EP also Gyrate Plus
Crazy (Single Mix) – from “Crazy” single and Hits and probably Chomp More.
Reptiles (Channel One Version) – New version
No Clocks (Channel One Version) – New version
Spider (Alternative Mix) – New version
3 x 3 (Live) 02:19 – New track
Danger III (Live) – New track
Razz Tape LP – all new tracks except “Functionality”
The Human Body 03:08
Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 1)
Read A Book (Instrumental)
Working Is No Problem
Functionality – from Gyrate Plus
Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 2)
Feast On My Heart (Working Version)
Pre-order the box set from New West Records HERE or at their Bandcamp site (where you can stream some of the tracks).
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Cedar Falls band TWINS released Square America, a manifesto of guitar riff-filled adolescent desire. It picked up from where 2014’s Tomboys on Parade left off– pulling pages from Rockpile, Cheap Trick and Big Star’s recipe books.
In those four years since the last album, TWINS sustained a lineup change and apparently a crash course in adulthood somewhere along the way. If you’ve seen TWINS or Joel Sires live in recent years you’ll have noticed the songs have switched focus. The songs still hang on the fantastic hooks the band is known for, but now with some introspection and willingness to let Joel Sires’s lyrics take precedent.
I was commenting to someone recently that the 2014-2016 shows seem like ancient history and even though the songs on their latest album Dream On (out June 5th) are new, Joel’s been playing them out for, I think, over three years. So, for some of us these songs are already like our favorite worn in shoes. Familiar and cozy.
In some regards, this approach of working the songs out live before hitting the studio is a similar process to one Springsteen, an obvious influence, was doing during the heyday of E-Street. The band played many songs live before the album came out and the fans came to anticipate the songs on the albums. We don’t see that a lot these days since the process for an album is typically in secret until BAM! The load is blown on release day and everyone is left to sort out if it was good or not while they collectively smoke a cigarette.
If you haven’t seen the band in action recently, the addition of Ben Rendall on keys and Toby Sires on lead guitar fills the sonic landscape of the band nicely.
It’s Time to Play B-Sides is honored to be able to debut the 2nd single from Dream On: “So Far Gone.” Joel Sires says this about the song:
It was one of the last songs I wrote for the record. I had been catching up on the news and whatever new crisis was unfolding at the time was particularly disturbing, even though I can’t tell you specifically what it was now, and had me worried about the current state of affairs and the future of our country. So I went downstairs and wrote this song in about five minutes without the intention of it being for the band or really for anything. Mostly just to make myself feel better. Nevertheless I played it for them and they took it in a whole different direction, sort of this swampy Stonesy groove you hear on the record was all their creation.
Be sure to pre-order Dream On from TWINS from their Bandcamp page (which includes vinyl!):
We’re treated to yet another “lost” album from the jazz archives, this time from the extensive Blue Note Records archives. On April 24th Blue Note will be releasing an originally rejected release titled Just Coolin’ from a March 8, 1959 session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Hackensack, NJ. This session was dropped due to the fact that four of the six tracks recorded overlapped with At The Jazz Corner of the World (not to be confused with the 1960 2 LP Meet Me At The Jazz Corner of the World with Wayne Shorter) album recorded by Alfred Lion at Birdland in NYC just over a month later on April 15th, 1959. Split over two volumes, the first was released in 1959, and the second in 1960.
Drummer Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers band had a lot of lineup changes during its 35 year run. The period from 1958-1964 is generally regarded as the most notable run for the band. Blakey pulled together a band of Philly natives: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano), and Jymie Merritt (bass). This is the band that Blakey had on his Blue Note Records debut Moanin’ (Blue Note 4003), recorded in October of 1958 and released in January of 1959. Following the sessions for Moanin’, the band hit the road for an extensive tour of Europe producing the live albums 1958 – Jazz Olympia (on Fontana) and Art Blakey et les Jazz-Messengers au club St. Germain (on French RCA) among other later releases (mostly unofficial) that came out in the 1970’s to capitalize on Blakey’s departure from releasing albums as changing tastes in modern music turned away from his music.
Ultimately, the replacement of Mobley with Wayne Shorter resulted in two of my favorite albums in the Jazz Messenger catalog: the 1961 release A Night In Tunisia, and the very-underappreciated (in my opinion) 1962 album Mosaic.
Mobley spent a brief stint in Miles Davis’s band as a replacement for the departed John Coltrane starting in 1961. But that pairing never really resulted in the partnership that Davis was missing with Coltrane. He appears on the studio album Someday My Prince Will Come (which somewhat awkwardly also features Coltrane) and two live albums : Friday and Saturday Nights Miles Davis In Person at the Blackhawk, San Francisco and Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.
Just Coolin’ is an album that documents a brief interval in the changing lineups of The Jazz Messengers, but an important one nonetheless. Hank Mobley wrote three of the songs for the album, and they also appear on Jazz Corner of the World: “Hipsippy Blues,” “M&M,” and “Just Coolin’.” The early reviews suggest that the studio takes lack the energy and possibly the polish of the live versions, but the inclusion of two previously unheard songs pique the interest of fans and present a kind of “what if” scenario with Mobley had he been able to continue with the band.
The first track we get to hear is the previously unheard Bobby Timmons composition “Quick Trick.”
Here is the track listing for Just Coolin’ with YouTube links to the four versions from At TheJazz Corner of the World fso you can get an idea of what the other songs will sound like.
UPDATE: The 2020 COVID pandemic resulted in the standard April Record Store Day being canceled in favor of three “Record Store Day Drops” August 29th, September 26th, and October 24th. All of these are Saturdays, incidentally. The original Record Store Day list has been split up over these three dates. It’s worth noting that Black Friday Record Store Day (Friday, November 27th) has not been changed, yet, and is kind of a 4th “Drop” I suppose, coming a month after the last Drop.
The Miles Davis Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions will be released on the 3rd drop on October 24th.
The 2020 Record Store Day List came out this week, and I’m pleased to report that Sony is continuing the trend of releasing compilations of Miles Davis outtakes that they started for the 2019 Black Friday RSD Early Minor release for the In A Silent Way sessions. This release titled Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions, takes the unreleased studio recordings from the 1998 Columbia boxset The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions.
Sony is stepping up their game with this release. It is a two LP gatefold with opaque red LP’s. Bull Moose Records (kind of the original home of RSD) shows their list price as being $25.97 (note: this price went up $1 since it was originally announced in March) which is a pretty fair price for such a nice presentation. According to the RSD site, there will be 6000 pressed worldwide.
Like many people, my first exposure to Miles Davis’s catalog started with his groundbreaking 1959 album Kind of Blue and by most accounts this is the album most people wanting to get into Davis or jazz in general should start with. Wanting to dig further into his catalog I went earlier in his career with his pre-modal style Prestige Records catalog, then moved into his early Columbia career with albums like Round About Midnight (1957), Sketches of Spain (1960) and Someday My Prince Will Come (1961). At the time I was aware of Bitches Brew, but it took a long time for me to really appreciate the album, initially seeming too cacophonous and lacking any discernible structure. For me it took listening to the Chicago jazz artists like The Chicago Underground Ensemble/Chicago Underground Trio and bands on Delmark Records who were related to post rock band Tortoise to really be able to appreciate Bitches Brew. Further, it was interviews with Tortoise bass player Doug McCombs about how Teo Macero’s tape editing work on Bitches Brew informed how his 2009 album with David Daniell Sycamore was created– improvisational recording sessions were edited into the resulting album that pushed me to take a closer look at the album.
The album as released was recorded over three days in August of 1969 (19th-21st) at Columbia’s Studio B in New York City. The band was the largest collection of musicians Davis had assembled to date. The core of the band was a partial carry over from the In A Silent Way sessions with Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Dave Holland on bass, Chick Corea on electric piano, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Notably, this was the live touring band and had already been performing some of the key pieces from Brew including early versions of what became “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”, “Sanctuary”, and “Spanish Key”. According to Paul Tingen (who wrote the essential book on this period “Miles Beyond : Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991”), this pre-work with a band before hitting the studio was rare (apparently not considering the fact that most of the 1950’s Prestige releases were based on in studio takes of what was his live show at the time). The five-piece was joined in the studio by Joe Zawinul (electric piano), John McLaughlin (electric guitar), Larry Young (electric piano), Lenny White (drums), Don Alias (congas), Juma Santos, and Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet).
After some meetings with the band at his house where they, according to the JazzTime article Tingen wrote, brought in their own compositions for Davis to choose from and he made sketches that they would work from in the studio during the three days booked. At these sessions (with Teo Macero producing and engineer Stan Tonkel), Davis acted more like a conductor than composer. The tapes typically ran the entire time and he used playbacks to further tailor the works.
Davis left the post production work to Teo Macero. Macero used extensive tape editing and effects like delay and echo on previous albums In A Silent Way and Circle in the Round to create new works from the raw recordings which many consider to be groundbreaking work in itself. Extensive tape edits were done to create the first two tracks on the album “Pharaoh’s Dance” (which has 19 edits) and “Bitches Brew” (which has 15). Davis had the final approval of the recordings, but according to Tingen never really gave Macero the full credit he deserved and Macero’s own opinion was that Davis didn’t really want to credit even the musicians. This is why In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew are credited as “Directions in Music By Miles Davis” as a kind of way to take full credit for the recordings.
The second LP in Bitches Brew had less studio manipulation than the first two sides. This was largely because these songs were more fleshed out due to live performances. “Spanish Key” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” had no edits. “Sanctuary” has one edit where Macero clips in a different take. “John McLaughlin” is an edit of a studio improvisation where Davis isn’t playing. According to Tingen, Davis gives some rough vague instructions during the session and they lumber along not knowing where to take the work until Davis says “John” and McLaughlin takes a guitar solo and then the band falls into lock step. Macero edited this down to McLaughin’s solo and following for the final recording.
The resulting album was somewhat baffling to the musicians who performed on it. Tingen quotes a famous story by Zawinul where he says he was standing in the offices of CBS and heard music over the speakers and asked a receptionist what it was when she replied that it was “that Bitches Brew thing.”
When you look at the jazzdisco.org entries for August 19-21, 1969 sessions and compare it to the track listing for Double Image, you’ll notice that the songs included were not recorded during the sessions that were used for Bitches Brew. So, what are these recordings?
Reissue producer of the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions Bob Belden told Tingen that they included the extra tracks that used a lot of the same musicians as Bitches Brew and also that these songs were additionally electric piano focused. As was typical of this later period Davis studio work, he had a lot of sessions recorded that were not intended for any particular album release, and CBS kept cranking out new albums that were ostensibly just compilations of unrelated songs– oftentimes songs many years apart. The 1979 compilation album Circle in the Round has tracks from 1955 through 1970. Exploitative? Maybe, but the renewed posthumous effort of getting Davis’s work released in a somewhat orderly fashion serves the purpose of making some sense of the progression made over his life in music.
Below is the track listing from Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions with my added notation of what the recording dates were.
LP 1 / Side A “1. Yaphet” (11/19/69) 2. “Corrado” (11/19/69) LP 1 / Side B “1. The Little Blue Frog (master)” (11/28/69) 2. “The Big Green Serpent” (11/28/69) 3. “Trevere” (11/28/69) 4. “The Little Blue Frog (alternate take)” (11/28/69)
LP 2 / Side A “1. Double Image (first version)”(1/28/70) 2. “Feio” (1/28/70) LP 2 / Side B “1. Recollection” (2/6/70) 2. “Take It Or Leave It” (2/6/70)
I’m going to predict that since we have had an LP from In A Silent Way’s complete sessions (which was box set #5 of the “complete” series) and now Bitches Brew (which was box set #3) that the next RSD release will be based on the 2003 box set for The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions (box set #6). The Jack Johnson album only had two tracks on it and there were a lot of sessions not used, so it should be interesting to see what they’d include on a vinyl comp.
It’s that time of year again when I try to remember what I listened to for the last 12 months and also when I peruse the other Top Lists from other websites to see what I missed. Considering the state of flux and chaos that the music industry is in regarding musicians getting paid, the amount of new and essential releases that come out still amazes me.
2019 was a pretty strange year all around, but in the music industry we had the big kerfuffle over Taylor Swift’s catalog being sold as part of the acquisition of Big Machine by Ithaca. I doubt that she’s in any risk of losing her position as one of the richest musicians in pop today, but certainly she doesn’t have control over where or how her music is being used. She’s not the first artist to fall into the trap of trading control for album advances and she won’t be the last, I’m afraid.
Speaking of Swift; Ryan Adams, who did a track-by-track cover of her 1989 album in 2015 was exposed by The New York Times as being a sexual predator, misogynist and possibly a pedophile. For longtime fans (who include me) this was pretty earth-shattering. I’ve covered Adams a lot on this site over the years and was aware of how unstable he seemed to be, but never thought he was someone who was abusive to fellow artists (usually demanding quid pro quo sexual favors to help their careers.) Then there are the accusations about the inappropriate relationship he had with a minor. He denies all of this and there hasn’t been any legal reaction to any of this that we’re aware of, but Blue Note cancelled the trifecta of records he was going to release this year. He’s been largely silent since this came out, but in recent weeks he’s been testing the social media waters with some posts. I have a feeling that with enough passing of time, people will forget this and he’ll likely come back. The history of pop and rock music is dotted with stories like his (and in some cases mythologized– yikes). For now my RA albums are in a box on a shelf in the basement.
2019 was also the year of Lizzo. Her career took a really steep arc this year with her much-anticipated full length release on her new label home Atlantic. The singles have been all over the place, and “Juice” becoming the anthem. I had been following her career prior to her move from the Twin Cities to L.A. but admittedly Cuz I Love You isn’t on my Top 20 because I didn’t listen to it this year other than the singles and videos. Her Tiny Desk Concert is AMAZING, btw.
2019 marks the tenth year I’ve been writing for Little Village Magazine, I wrote a lot of reviews for Little Village Magazine this year covering what I think has been the most exciting year yet for Iowa music. It seemed like new records were coming out every week from new bands, and existing bands and artists came out with career-defining releases. I launched a streaming music video channel on SBTV.com called The Fly-Over Music Hour. Its focus is on Midwestern bands and artists who have created great music videos. SBTV.com is a video streaming platform that TV stations use to stream content they create and own ad supported. So, you can watch the news and other original content from stations across the US. The Fly-Over Music Hour is an example of a 24×7 channel of original content intended as kind of an example that stations could duplicate in their markets, but also it gives me a chance to shine a light on some of my favorite music coming out of this area. There are apps for iOS, Android, FireTV, AppleTV as well as on the web. You can visit it at https://sbtv.com/flyover
Here are my Top 20 albums of 2019 (in no particular order):
Dickie – Minus Thieves – Singer-songwriter Dick Prall is back with his second album under his band name Dickie. For Minus Thieves the band has a new lineup with multi-instrumentalist and drummer Billy Barton. This album continues the largely autobiographical songwriting from Prall, but takes a more outward view than the 2015 self-titled release (which made my Top 20 list for that year, too). The production was handled by Pat Sansone from Wilco and engineer Josh Shapera and takes a more stripped-down and guitar driven spin than the typical chamber pop we’re used to, which puts the focus appropriately on Prall’s vocals and lyrics. My review of Minus Thieves for Little Village.
Beth Bombara – Evergreen – It’s a good year when we get a new album from Beth Bombara. I loved her 2017 release Map and No Direction (which made the Top 20 for Play B-Sides that year). Evergreen continues the rock leanings she established on that release. This album compares favorably to releases from folk rockers like Sheryl Crow and Aimee Mann. This is an album I think I played more than any other this year. She released a really great video for the album which takes my two favorite songs and stitches them together into one video.
Shane Leonard – Strange Forms – I can’t say enough about Shane Leonard’s last two records. Printer’s Son under the moniker Kalispell really took me by surprise when it came out in 2016. Daringly personal and beautiful across the board. Strange Forms from this year picks up where Printer’s Son left off and continues the journey exploring familial roles and relationships and exploring his new role as a father and husband. To me these two albums belong together. It’s worth a listen if you’re into the more acoustic sounds of Bon Iver or Elliott Smith’s later albums. His writing style always makes me think of Aimee Mann’s later works, too.
John Coltrane – Blue World After the surprise release of Both Directions At Once in 2018, I wasn’t really expecting another “lost” Coltrane album to come out. But, happily we got one in 2019 thanks to a soundtrack he recorded for a Canadian film in 1963. I don’t think that this release is particularly essential in his catalog as it documents a small window in his career, and is comprised primarily of new recordings of earlier songs. But, it ends up being very listenable and Blue World ends up being a nice alternative to some of my most-spun releases in his catalog (Blue Train, A Love Supreme). My “Deeper Dive” article about Blue World.
The Diplomats of Solid Sound – A Higher Place It’s hard to believe that it had been over nine years since the previous release from The Diplomats of Solid Sound. I suppose from most peoples’ perspective the band had merely broken up, but Doug Roberson had been bringing the band out for live shows, so anyone paying attention knew it was still a going concern. A Higher Place sees the reunion of the Diplomettes as a trio with Abby Sawyer rejoining the band, and it is wonderful to have her back. My review of A Higher Place for Little Village Magazine.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Terms of Surrender While not at the rate of releases from, say Thee Oh Sees or King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, we’ve been blessed with regular releases from Hiss Golden Messenger— nearly every year since 2010’s Poor Moon— and this doesn’t include the occasional EP or digital single. The recording of Terms of Surrender comes on the heels of a very dark time for him personally, resulting in a record that feels more personal than the previous ones. Aside from that, the record carries the same groove we’ve come to expect and ended up being a regular rotation for me.
Halfloves – Dazer Iowa City band Halfloves came back with their sophomore album in 2019. Their 2016 self-titled release came along with a band renaming (formerly the Olympics) and the firm hand of Brandan Darner who helped the band watershed their new sound and direction. For Dazer the band is rejoined by Darner and while they still carry their trademark dark pop, the three years since the first album has focused their sound producing a beginning-to-end stunner with a big sound. My review for Little Village.
Subatlantic – Villians The debut LP from Quad Cities band Subatlantic came out in 2019. Subatlantic was a band that I had been keeping an eye on because a lot of my friends in the Quad Cities were talking about them. Villains is a wonderful record with a kind of 90’s shoegazer sound. Rebecca Rice’s vocals and lyrics are wonderful reminding me a bit of Throwing Muses or The Cranberries. My review for Little Village.
The Maytags – Meriweather – Des Moines R&B outfit The Maytags’ album Meriweather is a departure from their more classic R&B sound on their 2016 release. Work schedules of the members resulted in a more stripped down approach which at times sounds like Prince’s classic Minneapolis sound. My review for Little Village.
Pieta Brown – Freeway – In 2014 Pieta Brown released her last album on Red House Records. Paradise Outlaw was recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios and had some of the extended Bon Iver crew on it (Vernon contributed vocals to one track as well). After an untethered five years where she launched her own imprint Lustre Records and released an EP of outtakes called Drifters in 2015 and an album of collaborations called Postcards in 2017. She also acted in a film during this time. For Freeway, she went back to April Base to record resulting in an album that has a slightly more atmospheric vibe to it than her previous releases. This is due to the use of a band that aren’t her normal go-to studio guys. Righteous Babe Records (Ani DiFranco’s label) saw fit to release this on pink vinyl and this is the recommended way to consume this record. My review in Little Village.
Crystal City – Three Dimensionality – Dave Helmer and Sam Drella of Crystal City step out of the barstool blues of their previous albums and enlist some very talented friends to create a record with new complex sonic textures drawing from jazz and and leaning a little into the Steely Dan territory. A fantastic record with lots to keep your ears busy. My review for Little Village.
Hex Girls – More of That Cedar Falls proto-punk/no wave revival combo Hex Girls put out their super-high-energy debut record More of That with enough bombast and edgy guitar to make your cool aunt blush (the one who said she read the bathroom walls at CBGB’s in NYC in the 80’s). My review for Little Village.
Brother Trucker – 5 Legendary Iowa barroom blues rock and country band Brother Trucker put out what I think is their best release this year. It is steeped in brilliant story telling and ripsaw guitar riffs. My review for Little Village Magazine sums it up well, “Most of the songs in the Brother Trucker catalog capture regular lives — like Norman Rockwell paintings of Midwestern life viewed through the bottom of a beer bottle.”
David Huckfelt – Stranger Angels I figured it was only a matter of time before we got some solo records from the guys in The Pines. David Huckfelt participated in an artist-in-residence in Isle Royale National Park in Michigan where he watershedded the songs that would end up on Stranger Angels. As I state in the review I wrote for Little Village Magazine, these songs aren’t a dramatic departure from the songs that Huckfelt brings to The Pines, but the change of band brings some new edge we don’t hear from the atmospheric leanings of that band.
Pink Neighbor – Time Beach Universe This was a really fun discovery for me this year. Iowa City’s Pink Neighbor put out their first album and it’s a well-executed tribute to the sunny singles of the Sixties from bands like The Zombies and The Mamas & The Papas, but also has a bit of new wavey B-52’s vibe. My review for Little Village.
Elizabeth Moen – A Million Miles Away – 2019 was a big year for Vinton, IA native Elizabeth Moen. She released her second album, which was a refreshing departure from her more straight folk of the first record. A funky and edgy release showing Moen figuring out her footing while delivering a soul-laid-bare performance. I played this release a lot this year. She seemed to play pretty much everywhere and even did a tour of Europe. She had a successful kickstarter for her third album, so that will probably be out in 2020!
William Tyler – Goes WestWilliam Tyler is a go-to guitarist for a few bands including Lambchop, Silver Jews (R.I.P.) and Hiss Golden Messenger. His solo releases are steeped in the American Primitive guitar tradition but he takes it to a whole new level. I would recommend every album he’s put out if you’re looking for instrumental guitar. Goes West has a really great, almost cinematic spans to it. Even though it is titled Goes West, it isn’t particularly western in theme, but feels like it could be a soundtrack for a film set in the desert and mountains.
Surf Zombies – Return of the Skeleton Cedar Rapids music scene fixture Brook Hoover’s Surf Zombies came back in 2019 with their fifth album and second on vinyl (amen). Instrumental surf guitar extravaganza, per usual, but I’m a huge fan of classic surf rock from vintage bands like the Ventures and Dick Dale and newer bands like Los Straightjackets. Return of the Skeleton stands with the best of those bands.
Octopus Live – Cedar Falls bar The Octopus on College Hill has been recording multi-tracks of the bands in the bar as an archival project. This year they pressed a vinyl-only compilation of some of the notable shows dating back to 2017. Bands like TWINS, Elizabeth Moen, SIRES, Holy White Hounds and Brother Trucker all turn in fantastic performances. They only pressed a couple hundred of these, so you don’t want to sleep on this. CLICK HERE TO ORDER ONE.
Tripmaster Monkey – My East Is Your West – Quad Cities band Tripmaster Monkey made it to a major label in the Nineties and promptly fell through the cracks of the chaos of record label acquisition hell. The band got back together and worked on new songs resulting in an album that is a distillation and refining of their sound from 30 years ago.
If that wasn’t enough, reissue label Get On Down is releasing a previously Japan-only album of Miles Davis in concert from 1964 with an early iteration of his “second great quintet.” It was released in the US on CD in 2005, but not on vinyl. Titled simplyMiles in Tokyo, the album originally came out in 1969 on Sony/CBS and this release copies that release down to the gorgeous black and white cover art and the OBI strip (which is slightly modified to show the Get On Down catalog number and logo). The original pressing was a gatefold, I’m hoping the replicated that as well, but I have no indication one way or another. (Chris from Bull Moose hasn’t done his rundown yet. I’ll update this if he mentions it).
Sam Rivers joined Miles Davis’s quartet in April of 1964 replacing George Coleman according to the Sam Rivers sessionography. This database quotes Davis as saying he wanted to hire Wayne Shorter but Art Blakey had him tied up in the Jazz Messengers, so he hired Rivers at Tony Williams’s suggestion and took him on tour. Rivers would stay with the quintet through July 15th, which is the day after the Miles in Tokyo recording took place. Rivers would be replaced evenually with Wayne Shorter in September, which would establish the “second great quintet” which would stay in place until 1968 and recorded the albums E.S.P., Miles Smiles, Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky, and Filles de Kilimanjaro.
I think the reason for Rivers’s short stint in Davis’s band is two-fold. Clearly Rivers was Davis’s second choice, and also the general opinion is that Rivers’s style on the sax didn’t mesh well with Davis’s, and this is apparent according to critics on the Miles in Tokyo album. To me the recording is notable in its frenetic pacing of the songs. I think it picks up the energy from the Lincoln Center performance, which shares a lot of the same songs, including the sped up “So What.”
Here is the track listing for Miles in Tokyo:
A Side : “If I Were A Bell”, “My Funny Valentine” B Side : “So What”, “Walkin”, “All Of You”
Helpfully, there is a YouTube video of the complete album:
Anyone familiar with the Davis catalog are likely familiar with the fact that his later years releases didn’t often correspond to the idea of an album release. When you look at the sessionography information for Miles Davis, he seemed to hit the studio whenever it suited him (or maybe when he needed money) and recorded with little regard to the idea of an album release.
The proper In A Silent Way album is two tracks, both of which were recorded on the same day. The expanded group of Miles Davis on trumpet; Wayne Shorter on soprano sax; Joe Zawinul on organ; Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, electric piano; John McLaughlin on guitar; Dave Holland on bass and Tony Williams on drums hit CBS’s 30th Street Studio in Studio B on February 18th, 1969. The sessionography at jazzdisco.org shows that the group recorded three takes of “In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” and two takes of “Shh/Peaceful.”
The band returned to the studio two days later on February 20th and tracked the over 26-minute “The Ghetto Walk” and “Early Minor.” According to Wikipedia’s entry on In A Silent Way, which quotes Victor Svorinich’s essay on In A Silent Way, “The Ghetto Walk” was originally considered for In A Silent Way, but was ultimately dropped in favor of “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time.”
Those two tracks plus “Splashdown” which was tracked on November 25th, 1968 are what make up the RSD release. These tracks are notable as being the three songs on the Complete In A Silent Way box set that were previously unreleased prior. I prefer this over including multiple takes of “In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” and “Shh/Peaceful.”
According to Svorinich’s essay, Joe Zawinul brought his composition “Shh/Peaceful” to the sessions, and it had a couple of working titles before it was settled, one was “On The Corner” which was the working title for the album at one point, and also “Mornin’ Fast Train From Memphis To Harlem” which was also a working title for the record. The Wikipedia article is a bit confused about this as it says that Davis composed “Shh/Peaceful” and Zawinul composed “In A Silent Way.” The facts of this are probably tied to how Teo Macero edited the sessions into the final recordings. This is further supported by the fact that Zawinul blamed Macero for editing the recordings and crediting Davis as the sole composer.
No matter what the details were about how the sessions were used, history has shown that In A Silent Way has become one of the most important albums in Davis’s career and is credited as the first complete foray into what would be his electric period and would pave the way for Bitches Brew.
I created a YouTube playlist of the three songs as they were included in the boxset so you can listen for yourself.
Titled Blue World, the album (out September 27th) is made up of recordings Coltrane’s classic quartet with Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner tracked on June 24, 1964 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. These songs were tracked for Quebecois film producer Gilles Groulx to be used for his film Le chat dans le sac (“The Cat In The Bag”). The songs were mostly new recordings of songs from Coltrane’s catalog plus a new song “Blue World” (which, according to an article by NPR, was itself a variation of a previously-recorded song the pop standard “Out Of This World” by Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer). Revisiting previous works in the studio isn’t something Coltrane had done before, or from what I can tell, since. This gives us a unique way to view the development Coltrane and band were going through by comparing previous recordings to these reinterpretations.
The first thing I did when I heard about this release was to check my faithful jazz session database at jazzdisco.org and it was missing! This has since been remedied as the details of this release came to light. According to the interview with Barbara Ulrich (who played the lead also named Barbara in the film) for the liner notes (written by Jazz scholar Ashley Kahn) of the release quoted in the NPR.org article, Groulx was a fan of John Coltrane and it was through an acquaintance that he knew Jimmy Garrison which was likely the connection to Coltrane’s involvement in the film. Groulx attended the recording session on June 24th and was handed the 37-minute 1/4″ mono tape at the end of the session. Since it wasn’t an official release and these sessions weren’t part of an album recording, they didn’t make it to the database.
“Gilles had a list of the music he wanted and later he told me when he gave the list to Coltrane, Coltrane said, ‘Okay, I can do this — I can’t do that, it’s not mine. OK I get it, I know what you want.’ Then they just started jamming and recorded for several hours. Then Rudy gave Gilles the tape and that was it. When he got back he was absolutely ecstatic. He knew exactly where he was going to use the music in the film.”
Le chat dans le sac featured an original score by John Coltrane, an African American saxophonist whose music was often associated with Black Nationalism. The film’s jazz soundtrack was dans l’air du temps [current fashion]. It echoed Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958) and John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1959) which featured contributions by jazzmen Miles Davis and Charles Mingus. However, the music also serves to validate the language of decolonization which Claude deploys throughout the film. Groulx’s main protagonist reads Frantz Fanon’s Les damnés de la terre, Louis E. Lomax’s La révolte noire and Parti pris. Claude, a [Quebecois separationist revolutionary] , listens to jazz as he plans his revolt. …. Coltrane’s music legitimizes Claude’s quest for emancipation in ways that Barbara cannot.
The Cinema of the Quiet Revolution: Quebec‟s Second Wave of Fiction Films and the National Film Board of Canada, 1963-1967 p 60
The Rolling Stone article says that the tape eventually made it to the National Film Board of Canada and that was how Impulse! came to get it early last year. The National Film Board of Canada was the organization that underwrote Le chat dans le sac originally. There is a funny story in the Fillon paper I quoted above about how the NFB was only interested in producing television content at the time that Gilles Groulx was working with them. Groulx agreed to shooting a TV show, and apparently gave them the Canadian theme of “snow” for this project. Instead he took the funds and shot Le chat dans le sac.
Here are the tracks on the album along with my notation of which album the original version is on. It’s interesting, if not notable, that “Naima” from Giant Steps and the two songs from Jazz (“Village Blues”, “Like Sonny”) were all recorded originally during the same sessions in 1959 and 1960. In many ways Jazz can be looked at as the outtakes from the Giant Steps sessions.
TRACKS SIDE A 1 Naima (Take 1) (4:34) originally on Giant Steps (1959) 2 Village Blues (Take 2) (3:41) originally on Jazz (recorded 1959, released 1961) 3 Blue World (6:08) 4 Village Blues (Take 1) (3:51) Jazz (1961) SIDE B 1 Village Blues (Take 3) (3:45) Jazz (1961) 2 Like Sonny (2:43) originally on Jazz (1961) 3 Traneing In (7:42) originally on John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio (1958) 4 Naima (Take 2) (4:10) Giant Steps (1959)
Blue World has been mastered from its original mono analog tape by Kevin Reeves at Universal Music Mastering in New York. The new 180g vinyl edition’s lacquers were cut by Ron McMaster at Capitol Studios.