Sly and the Family Stone “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” ORG Music
There’s A Riot Goin’ On, by Sly and the Family Stone, is one of my favorite albums of all-time. I have a pretty clean original copy with only a couple of minor ticks here and there, but I got super stoked when I saw that ORG Music had tackled a reissue and put it all on 45 rpm double 180-gram vinyl pressed at Pallas. It’s about time. None of us Riot fans have ever suffered from the delusion that this was a fine recording in the traditional sense. Neither have we suffered from the idea that it would be better to replace a vinyl copy with a remastered CD or anything crazy like that. Best to just wait. Bide our time until some executive somewhere came to his or her senses and gave us a release worthy of the songs that the tapes contained. Well, our time has come. I haven’t been as excited about a reissue since… ever, maybe. Seriously, I can’t think of any.
The recording of this landmark is legendary. Legendarily, terrifying in a lot of ways. Sly had slipped into the darkness of the times and upped the ante considerably. Around 1970, Sly settled into the L.A. home and studio once occupied by the Mamas and the Papas along with an assortment of bodyguards, thugs, hangers on, dogs, and drugs. Not the gentle kind. Of any of them. In fact, Sly’s pit bull was named “Gun,” if that gives you any indication. As he sank deeper into the depths of PCP and whatever else, he began to isolate himself more and more from the band, and recorded and overdubbed many of the album’s parts by himself. So much so that he wore the original tapes out this is reputedly what gives Riot its famously muddy, damp sound. This was one of the first pop recordings to make such prominent use of the drum machine. Probably because the Family Stone’s drummer couldn’t, didn’t want to, or wasn’t allowed to hang out for the bulk of the recordings. This was around the time that Sly was alleged to have put his thugs onto bassist Larry Graham in a fit of paranoid delusion. Graham escaped a hotel lobby with his life and a better understanding of his place in the new scene. It was not a comfortable transition by any accounts. The turmoil, as it so often has, bred the genius that these songs carry. No more sunny side up songs about how “Everybody Is A Star,” no one imploring anyone to “Dance To The Music.” This was the new sound of Funk. Deep and foreboding. Cynical and crazy. In short, lots of what makes music interesting when it’s functioning at the highest levels. “Luv N’ Haight” kicks things off in high fashion, and will follow you everywhere you go for the rest of your life after first listen. Things don’t let up from there until “Thank You For Talkin’To Me Africa” finishes the listener off. The chaos and confusion of the times comes through in every track and the finished product is as distinct as documents get from that era. If you’re uninitiated, you should fix that now.
And the ORG release is a fine way to do it. These pressings are flawless, deep, and quiet. The sound is fuller and warmer than even my original, but has lost none of the menace that makes this record so enticing and fascinating. There’s a list of all-star players on here including Billy Preston, Jim Ford, and Bobby Womack, but none are credited. I suspect that was the least of their concerns. At least they made it out alive…
(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com)
Jack Logan and Scott Baxendale “Bones In The Desert” FTF Records
I remember when Jack Logan’s debut, Bulk, was unleashed on an unsuspecting public way back in 1994. It was remarkable for a lot of reasons, including its… bulk, but mostly due to the quality of the songwriting contained in its 42 tracks. I felt like I was pretty hip at the time and couldn’t figure out how Logan snuck up on me. Turns out he’d been hiding out in Watkinsville, Georgia doing mechanical work and churning out songs while I was churning out excuses. He recently teamed up with Scott Baxendale along with members of the Drive-By Truckers, Bloodkin, and David Barbe to make Bones In The Desert. If this one sneaks up on anyone it’ll be because they simply didn’t have their ear to the ground. Baxendale’s guitar work alone could have carried the release, but Logan’s lyrical genius and vocal presentation really makes it fly. They don’t come around like this too often. I say hop on while there’s still room.
I had the pleasure of seeing Baxendale play live in December of last year as part of a mutual friend’s Christmas time benefit show/party. His tone blew me away and his techniques made playing the guitar appear frustratingly simple. I can assure you that playing with such sensitivity and taste is not for novices. Baxendale is famous for making guitars for clients with names like “Mick Jones,” “Johnny Depp,” and “Booker T. Jones” as well as for the aforementioned Drive-By Truckers band. But after having a go at Bones In The Desert, I’ll have a hard time thinking of him as anything other than a guitar wielding maniac with the chops to make Mike Campbell blush. The collaboration with Logan feels like stepping into your favorite pair of old boots after giving them the Summer off. Feels like this should have happened a long time ago, but it’s nice to know that these jokers have at least another album’s worth of material in the tank already. I can’t imagine this will be the last we hear of them. Baxendale is effusive in his praise of Logan’s ability to almost telepathically turn a Baxendale sketch into a full-blown song while maintaining the integrity and feeling of the original composition. Baxendale described how Logan would take the instrumental demo and add lyrics to it, sometimes singing midway through the intended intro or otherwise altering the structure of the planned arrangement. The results were often surprising, always compelling, and the end result is one of the finest Rock and Roll Indy releases this year. The tone is set early with the gnarly intro to “What Have You Been Up To?” which pretty much lets you know right away that this will not be an overly slick ordeal. It will be a visceral affair with equal parts humor and menace. Nothing handed to you, but lots to be gained if you’re willing to dig in and work a little. It’s the sonic equivalent of smothered chicken and gravy, completely free of chemicals and horse crap, ready for mass consumption if the world were right.
Baxendale recorded this one in the remnants of a swingers’ club in Athens, Georgia that was shut down by the law’s long arm a while back. I’d have given good money to see what went on in there, but I’d give more money to know that we all have forthcoming Baxendale/Logan collaborations to look forward to in the future. They’ll make their live debut in Athens at World Famous on August 9, and I sure wish I could go. Additional info can be found at BaxendaleGuitar.com or BonesInTheDesert.BandCamp.com. Get up, get into it, and get involved.
Jason Isbell “Southeastern” Southeastern Records
People rarely talk about Jason Isbell without referencing his time as a member of the Drive-By Truckers. I guess I’m no different based on the evidence provided in the last sentence. But I think it’s time to move on. Seems like he’s been on his own for as long as he was in the Truckers by now, and he’s certainly not confined to his former band’s songwriting style at this point. Southeastern is his latest, and this is his first without the 400 Unit in a while. I think it’s without the 400 Unit, anyway. I picked up the “Bootleg Edition” of Southeastern. Got number 192 out of 500. There are no liner notes in this version, and it’s the only version I have so the music will have to stand for itself. Luckily, this is a Jason Isbell offering so quality of work is not an issue here. The songs don’t just stand on their own; they get up, walk around, cry, stomp, and spin too. This guy’s not showing any signs of letting up soon.
Much has been made recently of Isbell’s newfound sobriety. He’s never been one to withhold details or emotions so some of the process behind finding that path is played out in these grooves. He also got married to Amanda Shires and Southeastern is sprinkled with allusions to that as well. It’s also sprinkled with fiddle playing which may or may not be as a result of his new bride’s efforts. Perhaps that info is in the liners of the official release. Southeastern is a mostly acoustic affair and, luckily, the production is completely transparent. Just stay out of the way and let these folks play, that seems to have been the sentiment. And it’s the proper way to go about capturing these performances although the actual vinyl is a little noisy at times. Isbell seems to be running through life with a bunch of exposed nerves in his heart which might hurt like hell for him, but he spins it into sonic gold for the rest of us, his bravery as a songwriter matched only by his skill as a guitarist. He finally plugs in on “Flying Over Water” which gives side one a little kick in the pants that I find personally redeeming. I like slow and I like mellow, but I love hearing Jason Isbell light up an electric and this tune gives a nice balance to an understated collection of tunes that seem tailored towards introspection and personal growth. It’s not as Rock and Roll as some of his previous efforts, but you get the idea that Isbell is right where he wants to be now. And he can always plug in and get loud. He does it again on “Super 8” just to let you know. That one’s a rocker and is my personal favorite on this collection. Isbell is super active on the Facebook, and he’s stated there that he thinks Southeastern is his finest work to date. I might prefer some of his louder work, but there’s no debating the quality of the Southeastern content. This one’s a keeper.
The “Bootleg Edition” of Southeastern is a blast. The single disc is housed in a plain cardboard sleeve with Isbell’s name and the album titled stenciled in black spray paint on the front. You can smell the paint as distinctly as you can feel the emotions in these tunes. Grab whatever vinyl version of Southeastern is available and prepare yourself for the latest round of gut punchers from one of America’s finest songwriters. It comes with a download code so you can take the whole thing with you.
The White Stripes “Nine Miles From The White City” Third Man Records
It’d been a while since I’d mourned the fact that I never saw the White Stripes play live. Then, I got my latest Third Man Records Vault Package in the mail, and old wounds were opened. It stings! Especially since I had tickets to see them at Berkeley’s Greek Theater when the rest of their final tour was cancelled, ostensibly because Meg White developed some sort of anxious condition. Nine Miles from the White City, the full-length offering in this package, is a two-disc set recorded live at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom on July 2, 2003. The set finds the duo at the height of their super powers, and it really makes me regret having not availed myself of some chances to see them prior to the cancelled Berkeley show. This stuff is high octane, sturdy, and strong. Twenty-six songs that fly past you at light speed with middle finger extended. Just my type…
This show was recorded during the Elephant tour which is when things really started cooking for the Stripes although their badassedness had been evident for years by then. “Seven Nation Army” hadn’t taken over the radio, and the Miami Heat were years away from co-opting it as their “fight song” so it had not yet claimed its spot as the band’s go to encore burner. The Nine Miles version falls right in the middle of the set and provides an interesting glimpse into the song’s live evolution. Or devolution, as the case may be. There are no radical departures, just some different inflections and textures. Big fun, all around. There’s a nasty cover of Dylan’s “Love Sick” which was a staple of the band’s repertoire in this era. (I’m hoping to hear the Bard play it in Mountain View on August 4. Wish me luck.) I always assumed that “Little Cream Soda” was an on the spot studio creation made up during the Icky Thump sessions, but there’s a slowed down version on here that predates the official release by about four years. Shows what I know. The Stripes play a snippet of Captain Beefheart’s “Party of Wonderful Things To Do” coming out of their own “Cannon” in this set. I have a live Stripes video recording of the song as an add-on to their own “Wild Orchid” which is even hotter than the Nine Miles version, but that’s like saying that the sun’s center is hotter than its surface. Maybe it is. Hard to tell past a certain threshold, and there’s certainly nothing to complain about energy-wise on the Nine Miles version. Those are some highlights for me in addition to the Robert Johnson covers, but there’s something for every Stripes fan on this set (except for any material from Get Behind Me, Satan which is not represented here). I can’t imagine having left this show as anything other than soaking wet, numb, and manic. Not a ringing endorsement for everyone, I know. Just my thing…
The 7″ record in this package contains a couple of Stripes demos with Big Jack alone on vocals and piano. There’s also a book containing black and white photos of the band recording Elephant. It’s fun, but not essential. The Aragon show is where the action is. If you haven’t subscribed to the Vault via ThirdManRecords.com, you’re already too late. It’ll be on Ebay, and it may be pricey. I’d subscribe now as the next package is built around Willie Nelson. Just my advice…
John Coltrane “One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note” Classic Records
A live recording of the Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane (from 1957!) was discovered a few years back, and I’m still reeling from the glory of it. I had a similar experience with some found Led Zeppelin recordings that were released in 2003. It makes me wonder how much of this stuff is floating around out there. I mean, in this day and age where you can’t scratch your ass or tie your shoes without someone posting it online, I find it hard to believe that anything is left to be unearthed. But I missed one. And it’s big. In 2005, Classic Records released some John Coltrane Quartet performances from 1965. They called the set One Down, One Up and released it in partnership with Impulse Records. These tapes weren’t “found,” I guess. From what I can gather, people were at least aware of the tapes as they’d been bootlegged, discussed, and dissected for eons. But this is the official release. From the Coltrane estate’s original tapes. And the whole package is absolutely stellar. Let me count the ways…
I might begin by saying that these recordings are not flawless. They were originally broadcast on late night radio and the DJ’s vocal intros are prevalent at the start of each of the four sides. Every once in a while, the sound drops out a little. But, overall, the sound is off the charts to my ears. Clear separation between each of the four players, plenty of depth and clarity all around. As was their habit, Classic Records pressed these perfect ly on deep black vinyl with virtually no surface noise to distract from the performances. I wish Classic was still extant. It is not. Each side on this set contains exactly one insanely great song. Coltrane’s solo on the title track is thought by some to be one of his “greatest recorded improvisations.” (This is from the liners and so the sentiment is almost assuredly biased. I’ve not heard tons of live Coltrane performances, but if the solo does not rank amongst his best, then I have a ton of catching up to do. It’s a rager.) My personal favorite on this set is “Afro Blue.” The first time I heard it, I thought it would be a great tune for a proper rock and roll band to cover. The Allman Brothers, of course, were impacted heavily by Coltrane and Miles, but I could never hear the crossover potential as clearly as I can on this song. Turns out, it’s been done and documented on compact laser disc by the Allman Brothers offshoot, Gov’t Mule. I have some friends that saw it happen live on New Year’s Eve 2000 in Atlanta. I was seeing something else live in Atlanta. If anyone remembers five seconds of any of it, they remember five times more than I do. McCoy Tyner’s piano playing is superb throughout this set, but he really lights it up on “Afro Blue.” The rhythm section (Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums) isn’t lacking for talent or creativity either. Coltrane lays out for extended passages and the band is really given every opportunity to shine when he does. They capitalize 100 percent of the time.
Most of the online retailers that I’m familiar with have this record listed as “limited stock” by now. If you’re a Coltrane fan at all, I’d say jump all over this one while the jumping’s good. It’s a really well done set with extensive liners, awesome photos, and it was mastered by Bernie Grundman from the original tapes on all tube equipment. Enough said? Get it.
(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com)