Screamer of the Week: Joe Houston

I pulled this gem from a 99-cent used bin at Newbury Comics the other night, and was iterally jumping up and down. I went to play it on the listening station and had a few of the clerks dancing in the aisles with me. Joe Houston, aka “The King of Sax”, still alive and kicking, was one of the hottest R&B acts in LA, and eventually nationally, in the early 1950s. Originally issued in 1955 on his home label, RPM (a sister to Crown Records), the name was changed from “Blows All Night Long” to what you see here. Just a bit suggestive, perhaps? Anyway, this is still a very collectible record, and now has a very appreciative home… *smile*

Joe Houston is a honking R&B saxman of wallpaper-peeling potency who recorded for virtually every significant independent R&B label in Los Angeles during the 1950s. When the jump blues style faded, he segued right into rock & roll, even cutting budget “twist” and “surf” albums for Crown that didn’t sound very different from what he was doing a decade before.

Houston started out playing around Houston (Texas, that is) with the bands of Amos Milburn and Joe Turner during the late ’40s. It was Turner who got the young saxist his first deal with Freedom Records in 1949. Houston found his way to the West Coast in 1952 and commenced recording for labels big and small: Modern, RPM, Lucky, Imperial, Dootone, Recorded in Hollywood, Cash, and Money, as well as the considerably better-financed Mercury, where he scored his only national R&B hit, “Worry, Worry, Worry,” in 1952.

Houston’s formula was simple and savagely direct — he’d honk and wail as hard as he could, from any conceivable position: on his knees, lying on his back, walking the bar, etc. His output for the Bihari brothers’ Crown label, where he was billed “Wild Man of the Tenor Sax,” is positively exhilarating: “All Nite Long,” “Riverside Rock,” and “Joe’s Gone” are herculean examples of single-minded sax blasting. You can sample each below by clicking on the arrows below.

We got this in a little late for a “Jukebox Saturday Night” but it’s included there as well. But this is what made me scream this week. What makes *you* scream??

Riverside Rock

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Joe’s Gone

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All Night Long

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Screamer of the Week: Victrola Favorites

There is a sobering moment that every yet-to-be-diagnosed OCD record collector faces at some pont, and that is the moment at which the undeniable evidence presents itself that there are collectors out there who are even more OCD than you. These are collectors whose own personal stories reduce yours to mere precious anecdotal eccentricities, and whose collections deeply pierce genres you’ve only dreamed about. Not to mention their *size*. Size does matter, at least to a degree. Every collector wants to have the biggest stock in the bar.

When you begin to listen to the discs included in “Victrola Favorites”, that moment becomes apparent. And you relive the joy all over again that you lived with each new genre you discovered, each new band, each new label – each time you lost another aural virginity.

“The obsessive record collectors Rob Millis and Jefferey Taylor have done all the hard work for fans of oddball early recordings, rare world music, ’20s jazz, blues and old time. Millis and Taylor, of the experimental Seattle band Climax Golden Twins, have collected thousands of unusual old 78 r.p.m. records from around the world, and a sampling from their troves is now available in a lovely and beguiling two-disc set called Victrola Favorites: Artifacts from Bygone Days. The set mixes popular recordings of recognizable American artists like Roy Smeck, Don Redman, the Tennessee Ramblers and Blind Boy Fuller with more esoteric and arcane audio postcard-like tracks from around the world, like the startling recordings of Burmese popular songs with electric guitar accompaniment from the 1950s, or the other-worldly croaking reed music from Thailand, or a lovely track of solo Korean bamboo flute. The set is something like a cross between the ever-relevant Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by Harry Smith, and the equally astounding series of collections called The Secret Museum of Mankind, issued on the Yazoo label in the 1990s and based, in part, on a radio show on the pioneering freeform radio station WFMU out of the New York City area.

The music is amazing, but so too is the packaging, which dispenses with lengthy book-like liner notes in favor of a more artistic, fetishized-artifact quality, with pictures of old record labels and sleeves from 78s from around the world. You can almost feel the brittle, crumbling paper and the hefty weight of the shiny shellac discs. Like Smith’s Anthology, this set does away with the idea of organizing the music by style, race or region. As a result, it’s only the most terminally eclectic listeners who will be able to stay with the swing of things as the tracks flow from the nasally playing of Bismallah Khan on the Indian shenai to the bumping big-band blues of Noble Sissle and his Orchestra, or on the journey elsewhere from Japan to South Africa to India.” — John Adamian, Hartford Advocate

Here are some of the lovingly reproduced images from the book.

The book was the next logicl follow-on from the series of cassette-magazines that these guys produced – all of which are impossible to track down now. Let’s hope this becomes a continuing series, just as the cassettes once were. Some audio tracks”

Carlos Ramos – Torre De Belem (Portugal 1910)

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He Zemin/Huang Peiying – Big Idiot Buys a Pig (Hong Kong 1930s)

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Kane’s Hawaiian – Mokihana (Hawaiian Islands 1928)

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Zeki Duygulu – Karciar Taksim (Oud solo recorded in Turey c. 1920)

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While researching this entry, I caThere is also a blog for Victrola Favorites. Check it out.

Screamer of the Day: Clearlake

Clearlake – Cedars
(Domino Records, 2003)

Another gem yanked up from the depths of the Newbury Comics Wicked Cheap bins, and another astonished “How did I miss this?” response from me.

Cedars is the second album from the Hove-formed indie guitar combo, Clearlake, who are led by Jason Pegg, and produced by Cocteau Twin, Simon Raymonde. Their sound has been compared in the press to artists such as Blur, My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie, but I would describe them as a triad of The Smiths, Tindersticks and The Go-Betweens. And dare I say it…the Beatles. (ducking…) But yes, the Beatles. Some of the harmonies arranged here can’t deny it. But we love the Beatles! How much of all of what we love would have happened without them?

This album and I have a kind of relationship similar to reluctant lovers. One trial after another, you realize you keep ending up with someone who you’d never even considered a possibility, but suddenly, there he is and you wondered how you hadn’t seen it all along. And while a couple of the songs initially moved me enough to scoop this out of a local bargain bin, it was weeks later that I realized just how sensational this album is. Consequently, the very first words uttered by the singer in the opening track, “Fine, I’ll admit, I may have been wrong / but I never knew that we’d get along” are pretty much spot on. Unfortunately, the album is out of print, so I’ve included four of the tracks here to motivate you to search the used eBins wherever you happen to shop on line for your music.

Almost the Same:

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I half-expected Almost the Same to dive right into a sappy love song fodder, which would have been fine given its rushing, heady, clear-toned guitar crying out like an angel and blowing through the opening tunnel on bouncing wheels of deep drums and a simple bassline. But instead it’s all about unresolved doubt and the waning reluctance to proceed despite this open issue. In fact, he needs enough convincing that he has to sing the same set of lyrics twice. Fine…whatever it takes.

I’d Like to Hurt You:

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It’s creepy. It’s conflicted. It’s where others would be tempted to cite Radiohead and even Coldplay. But I’m aiming my reference gun at the Go Betweens here. This, and “Just of the Coast” are in a square alignment with the Go Betweens’ early masterpiece, Send Me a Lullaby.

Can’t Feel A Thing:

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This, and “Almost the Same” prove the band can really rock out, and even throw a curve ball at you in their complex arrangement of this seemingly simple track. But listen close; there’s a lot going on…

Treat Yourself With Kindness:

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And through all this, the band finds it in their hearts here, along with “Keep Smiling”, to admonish us to go easy on ourselves. Good advice; I, for one, am my own worst critic. Just haunting.

For initially sounding so harmless, I’m continually surprised how much Cedars continues to climb in my esteem. It is vastly more complex than its first few listens let on, more sinister than its pop gloss initially reveals, and if you can find a copy in the bargain bins, a really cheap date…

Screamer of the Day: Motormark

Motormark- We Are The Public
This is music for the hyper-caffeinated.

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SRSLY, when words like “draining” and “exhausting” are used in connection with music, the artist is usually playing something heavy and extreme like death metal, metalcore, or really dense free jazz — not poppy boy/girl music with synthesizers. But Motormark’s poppy boy/girl music with synthesizers has so much nervous energy that this Chrome Tape CD can, in fact, be draining — not draining in the ferocious, suffocating way that Slayer and post-1965 John Coltrane are draining, but draining in the “I’ve just driven from DC to Boston on ten cans of Red Bull, Six shots of espresso from the all night Dunkin Donuts and inhaled gasoline fumes” way. Deal.

Scottish electro punk duo Jane Motoro (lead vocals, bass, keyboards) and Marko Poloroid (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, and best goddamn punk rock pseudonym ever) turn synths into a destructive machine, so much so that it will leave the honest hard working electro funk artists like Ladytron crying onto their latest carefully ironed uniform. Motormark are a breath of fresh air in the anger and passion they combine to liven up a genre that sorely needed it. The erratic and frantic electronica coupled with distorted drum beats, sit in well with Jane’s uncompromising in your face vocals that could best be described as Mira Aroyo (Ladytron) mixed with Bjork and flickers of Tori Amos, having a Sunday afternoon drive in a formula one race car.

On Chrome Tape, Motormark an alternative pop/rock/electroclash approach that is often spastic, hyper, and downright frantic. They bring a long list of direct or indirect influences to this 43-minute CD (which was released in the U.K. in 2004 and the U.S. in 2005), and they include Ladytron, the B-52’s, Atari Teenage Riot, and Sonic Youth, and yes, that completely hidden but increasingly more important genre of German Neue Welle that I keep namedropping. It’s gotten so important, in fact, that I may just do an entire Jukebox Heart on the genre. We’ll see. Whatever, Motormark clearly gets a lot of inspiration from the infectious pop quirkiness of late-’70s/early-’80s new wave — especially the B-52’s. But Chrome Tape is much more abrasive and noisy than anything the B-52’s ever did, minus the surfy cheesy sci-fi rub, and ultra-nervous tracks like “We Are the Public” (click above to hear the CD track, and see them perform it Live down below) and “That’s What You Say When You Want Me to Kill You” confirm my impression that Motoro and Poloroid have been consuming way too much caffeine. Occasionally, Motormark slows things down and provides material that is moody and shadowy rather than manic; when that happens, the duo detours into somewhat Garbage-like territory. But more often than not, Chrome Tape thrives on highly caffeinated intensity. For all its anger and in-your-face punkiness, this is a fabulously fun album.

They have several other releases and a wealth of other youtube videos. Check them out!

Screamer of the Day: The Fitness

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Another excavation from the Wicked Cheap bins at Newbury’s, this had me giggling like a madman at the preview table. My particular favorite subgenre of “New Wave” is this sort of cold-wave minimal synth – the more deliciously obscure, the better. And I’m happy that, in 2009, we are firmly in that 20-30 year retro-cycle which is having lots of new bands digging back in time to find their root-cause influences in early 80’s synth stuff. This album by The Fitness is a collection of songs just like this. It’s really great, actually. Perhaps the influences are a little too obvious: Dignity-era Human League, Boys-Don’t-Cry era Cure, and all things Deutschland Neue Welle a la the Zick Zack label circa 1980. OK, so maybe that last one’s not so obvious, but that’s just fine.

The Fitness is from Seattle and features singer Bree Nichols, singer/guitarist Tom Bridgman, guitarist Rebeka Dunbar, and keyboardist Adam Finn. They debuted in 2002, when the Fitness began playing local gigs supporting bands including the Epoxies, Stereo Total (watch, soonish, for a screamer from Stereo Total, as well), the Streets, the Postal Service, the Gossip, Audio Bullys, and W.I.T. The Fitness signed to Control Group and released this, their debut album, Call Me for Together, in fall 2003. There is a single that predates this and a follow-on CD as well, but I haven’t been able to track those down yet…

So anyway, Now YOU can sing along with The Fitness:

DAY JOB

I can’t dance cause the clubs too full
don’t understand cause the DJ’s dull
I showed up at half past ten
now my life can begin again
I get a drink to unwind
so I slip to the end of the line
I look around and all i see is
everybody is staring at me ohhh…

could it be my Gucci shoes?
could it be my new hair doo?
could it be my Prada pants?
or could it be that you don’t have a chance? ….ahooh ooh

I see a friend across the club
who walking over and shoulder rub
talk about that we don’t care and….
why we both don’t want to be there ohh
small talk used to make me ill
that’s all changed now I’m on paccil
she is sweet but I cannot trust
we look around and they’re staring at us ooh

could it be my couture clothes?
could it be my brand new nose?
could it be my model’s pose?
or could it be all the people I know? ….wahooh ooh

it’s 4 am and I’m kinda drunk
gotta be at work by 7 o’clock
I get home and lay in bed
and thoughts of me flash through my head
like how i danced and how i moved
how I looked and how i stood
all the things that I said
the awful things that i regret ….ahooh ooh
hahooh ooh
hahooh ooh
wahooh … ooh

****

I simultaneously liberated from a dark closet a 1983 cassette-only release of my own work as “The Gossamer Years” and piggy-backed a cut from that at the end of the track from The Fitness. Another obscure thing – this tape was only given out for free at my very few gigs back then, so only a handful of people have ever heard it. This version was recorded on Crappy Clarion 4-track cassette and mastered to stereo cassette – which explains its earthy muddiness and knee-level noise floor. But it was fun to make nonetheless. Instruments used: Linn Drum Machine (courtesy Baker Street Studios Watertown MA) and a variety of cheap, sequencer-less discount department store Casio synthesizers.

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Screamer of the Day: Rhythm & Noise

San Francisco’s Rhythm & Noise: researched, revisited and reissued.

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So I’ve been skimming the cheapo used bins at Newbury Comics all across the region lately. The findings have been astounding, and dirt cheap. It’s times like this when the desire to experiment and take risks runs wild. This is when you buy something just because the cover looks cool, and wind up discovering a new band and falling in love with them.

This time, however, I’ve been spotting this reissue from the famous Asphodel label, released in 1996. At first glance, I thought this was simply a rerelease of the Ralph Records classic Rhythm and Noise “Chasm’s Accord.” It was much more. Rhythm & Noise is a group of musical “artlaws” whose primordial sonic onslaught fused industrial percussion, vocal gestures, din, ambience, and vibration into an apocalyptic or serene sensorium. During the seventies and eighties, Rhythm & Noise’s early audience abduction and “mobilization” events eventually evolved into Sound Traffic Controller’s audio-cinematic presentations. So, I’d come across this a dozen times, but this last time I decided to pick it up and check it out. As it turns out, this CD compiles tracks from both of Rhythm and Noise’s 2 LPs for Ralph, Chasm’s Accord and Contents Under Notice. But more importantly, this CD brings to light over 27 minutes of previously unreleased material as well as a documentation of the band’s formation in the late 60’s in Seattle as a multimedia performance group under the name Theadra Matr, with rare photographs and descriptions of the their events and installations. Well worth the price tag of $1.99, so into the Sold pile it went.

The audio selection (click above to listen) is called “Slug Path” and is a vintage 1975 live performance recorded directly to cassette. The fidelity is a little off, but it captures the spirit of what was going on globally in the earliest pre-industrial scene: San Francisco, London, Sheffield and more…

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Screamer of the Day: Who is this guy?

Don’t ask me why I clicked on this on Youtube. I was looking for the 12″ version of Pale Saints’ Baby Maker, which is very different from the LP version on “In Ribbons”. No luck finding that, bit instead, I landed on this gem. This boy delivers a startlingly gorgeous cover version.

I haven’t done anymore research on this; I just couldn’t wait to share it with you…

Watch this space…

Screamer of the Day: Chumbawamba

Chumbawamba – extracts from “Never Mind The Ballots”
(Agit-Prop Records, LP, 1987)

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On Election Day, I posted the Kuti track from his Black President album. But I had alternate plans for that day’s Screamer of the Day had McCain won the election. Given the current tenor and low-level political chaos that is ensuing on just about every level of government, I thought I’d post this alternate track today.

It’s Chumbawamba. Everyone knows Chumba, right? I get knocked down, but I get up again yadda yadda. Yeah, them. But what most people don’t know is that Tubthumper was from the band’s *eigth* studio album. Prior to that, they were much more politically motivated and presented a porn-load more integrity in their messages. Recently, I had the pleasure to check out their Readymades album. Honestly, I was skeptical, but I wound up loving the album. Alice and Danbert are certainly in their full presence, but the album reads more like Tracey and Ben in bed with Neil and Christopher and the whole affair sounds like it should have been named Anything But The Pet Shop Boys. It’s great – seriously – but Chumbawamba?

No.

Rewind to 1987. The Wall is still up, Thatcher is Still In, Reagan doesn’t remember, and punk’s not dead. Yet. Nevermind The Ballots hits the streets and has entire legions of glued-up mohawks bobbing and Doing the Revolution and the whole thing is the perfect soundtrack to Republicans-Gone-Wild. (Wait. Do I really want to envision *that*? Sorry if I ruined your tea.)

The Chums were already well known in many small circles for their first effort, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, and Danbert’s solo single showing off his large unaltered maleness on the cover earned the band enough of a reputation to make the records fly off the shelves. Suddenly, we had a fucking *movement* on our hands.

The sharp sarcasm in these extracts from Nevermiond the Ballots (tax cuts and platform shoes/for every small business man!) still manages to apply today. Some find that comforting. Ultimately, it’s very sad. But the election’s over. Prop 8 has become a national issue, so let’s see exactly what our leader is willing to deliver…

Can I hear a hallelujah??

Screamer of the Day: A Houseguest’s Wish

Various Artists – A Houseguest’s Wish: translations of Wire’s Outdoor Miner
(Words on Words CD, 2004)

As it sounds, this is a compilation of 19 bands each putting in their own cover version of Wire’s seminal hit song, Outdoor Miner. It was released to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of the Outdoor Miner single. One would guess from such a presumptuous title that the producer’s knew their audience. But this compilations loses credibility almost immediately on hitting the play button. I am a huge fan of both Wire and of compilations; what many reviewers find to be faults with compilations are especially the features I appreciate most. They tend to collect music from a fairly wide variety of sources, and therefore can often be expected to vary unevenly. It is a true art to be able to program a compilation with a given set of diverging tracks and result in something seamless and intentional. That art is not evident here. That’s not to say there are no moments of brilliance here, because there are. But this compilation overall? Not so much.

So, it’s hard enough to pull together a compilation to begin with. But the concept of having 19 versions of the same song seems like a recipe for disaster. The diversity is not going to come from a variety of songs in this case, so there’d better be a high enough quality of diversity of style to keep your attention piqued. Compound that with the high level of expectation arising from covering such a revered song. Yes, this was a brave project indeed.

The first track features Adam Franklin, of Swervedriver, giving a singer/songwriter approach where he flubs the first line. The lyric is supposed to be ” ‘No blind spot in a leopard’s eye can only help to jeopardize the lives of lambs,’ the shepard cries…” but he sings “No blind spot in a leopard’s eye could ever hope to jeopardize…” Considering that the remaining lyrics were all as written, this is no poetic license, it’s a mistake that had me slapping my hip in frustration. He should have known better, and so should have the producer. What saves this first attempt is the amazing two part harmony he puts in later in the track. Still: FAIL… I’m not quite getting the whole singer/songwriter sensibility on Outdoor Miner, either, as it appears in several incarnations here. But then, I never got the whole Current 93 folk music thing either, so I guess I’m not the right person to ask about this. These versions sort of stick out like paisley on stripes.

The next issue I had with this was the fact that several tracks are available elsewhere. FAIL. A successful compilation presents material that is 100 percent exclusive at the time of release, and, if the producer has any savvy, he will manage to commit it to exclusivity indefinitely. It’s annoying to discover that (what I believe to be) the best tracks are available elsewhere and are still in print. This kind of mistake ensures the fate of the release to end up on the one-cent-CD pile at eBay – where I got mine!

The overall selection of tracks and the sequencing left something to be desired, but here are some highlights from the compilation:

Titania, featuring carlos Forster of For Stars, give the most convincing faithful version:

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Kick on the Floods give a kraftwerk meets Electric Light Orchestra interpretation that’s amusing and well crafted:

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Our great post-rock love Timonium also give a spectacular version:

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Should, also known as shiFt, longtime shoegazers on the Baltimore scene, do a fantastic instrumental version of Outdoor Miner, thereby taking the biggest risk of the bunch:

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Flying Saucer Attack put in the best of the bunch here, whereby the give an accurate interpretation without any compromise of the band’s style. It becomes a Flying Saucer Attack song when they do it.

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As previously released:

It would have also been a nice touch to include the original track. Which is just below…

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Compilations are really my favorite kind of recordings. Admittedly, I’ve sat through far worse than this. But the project itself sets the bar extremely high. And while there were moments of greatness on A Houseguest’s Wish: translations of Wire’s Outdoor Miner, I was hoping for a few more foreign languages.

Screamer of the Day: Black President

Fela Anikulapo Kuti – Colonial Mentality
(Black President – Arista Records LP, 1981)

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Real Name: Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti
Born: 15 October 1938, in Abeokuta, Nigeria.
Died: 2 August 1997, of AIDS and heart failure in Lagos, Nigeria.

This selection, from the album “Black President” just feels right…

A little history: Fela formed his first group Koola Lobitos in 1963. The large jazz, funk, and afrobeat collective underwent many changes in the following decades, but the style remained the same thanks to Fela’s vision and other key members such as drummer, Tony Allen.

In 1969, after visiting America, Fela returned to Nigeria, opened club Afro Spot in Lagos, and changed the group’s name to Nigeria 70. A few years later the name was changed to Afrika 70, which was probably the most famous incarnation as they recorded 17 albums between 1975-77 alone. In 1981, Fela changed the name for the last time to Egypt 80.

Regarding his name change. He was known as Fela Ransome-Kuti until about 1978, when he renamed himself Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the middle name meaning ‘he who carries death in his pouch’. He was a human-rights revolutionary who started his own political party, Movement Of The People, to protest the kleptocracy in Nigeria. He had his own compound called the Kalakuta Republic, in Lagos, which he declared independent from Nigeria, where he and his uncountable number of wives lived, and were constantly terrorized by the government. His influence on funk and African music is unsurpassed with approximately 77 albums.