Hair metal was big when I was around the age of 10 or 11, and I knew I didn’t want on that train. So, I pivoted to Soul music as a healthy means of avoidance.
Like the kid that goes all in on playing sports to stay out of street trouble. I was big into Michael Jackson, and I discovered Motown by working backwards from his Thriller days. I was growing up in Augusta, Georgia so James Brown’s work was accessible, as was the man himself on occasion. A little later, I’d dig into Parliament/Funkadelic while trying to figure out where their space explorations fit into the larger pantheon. That list, Motown to James Brown to P-Funk, seems like a logical progression from most to least accessible for small town kids. The instrumental work by the Meters slid in there somewhere, and that stuff is as easy to get into as a loose pair of bellbottoms.
Then, there’s Curtis Mayfield…
Finding his work in my early twenties felt like stumbling onto some sort of secret society. Why was I just finding out about this? I was incredulous. This was pre-internet, kids. If you were going to discover something off the well-worn path you had to have someone point you in a direction. Widespread Panic did that for me. They covered some Meters stuff and “Pusherman” by Curtis. Back in the day, if you were at a Panic show when they played “Pusherman,” you knew you’d hit on a special evening. If you still knew anything at all come showtime. You almost certainly wouldn’t after the lights turned off. But that was a long time ago.
In 2019, you can listen to Mobile Fidelity’s new reissue of Mayfield’s soundtrack to the original Super Fly movie, including “Pusherman,” on two heavy slabs of perfectly pressed vinyl spinning at 45 rounds per minute. It’s a gritty city in and of itself, and one you’ll enjoy exploring from the safety of your listening room. I don’t have an original for comparison, but I can’t imagine that Super Fly has ever sounded more alive. The main players in this sonic film are introduced within the first few measures of the musical scene. The organ and the hand drums fall in on top of each other in the first frames. The drum kit lays the foundation for the bass to slink around on before the chanky guitar slides by. Then, the horns kick the door down for the trill string section to rush through. And then Curtis starts to sing.
Thus begins “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” and the Super Fly soundtrack proper. Good Gawd, y’all.
The special detail is in such high definition that the congas seem to move around within the confines of a single channel. You can almost see the players arrayed in front of you. The material illustrates an urban experience that’s harsher than most of us will ever have to know. But the listening is living, and the lessons are large. The soundtrack pulled in more revenue than the movie did, and there’s a bit of a cognitive dissonance between Mayfield’s musical sermon and what some consider the movie’s glorification of drug dealing and pimp life. We can all form our own opinions on all that, but the soundtrack is not up for debate. You should get your hands on a copy before this “Freddie’s Dead.”
(This album was purchased on the corner of MusicDirect.com.)
I was a senior in high school in the last part of 1991, and I was already too cool for the radio. Even Michael Jackson. I’d discovered the Athens, Georgia music scene by then (some of it, but more later, then right up until present day), and was shocked to learn that there was a world of sonic action happening in clubs and venues that I wasn’t allowed to get into. Not legally. And that was the action I wanted in on. A quick online search of what was happening on the “Hot 100” at the time validates my disdain. Color Me Badd, that band with George Michael, and Kenny G, and Snow, wanted to sex up our ears, and I guess millions of listeners wanted to let them. I rest my case.
There were a couple that snuck in under the radar though. Some good ones. Guns ’n Roses was already a bloated mess, but Nirvana wasn’t. R.E.M.’s MTV Unplugged installment was a game changer. And they were clearly one of the bands that helped put Athens on the global map, but the hit that really knocked me out from the era was “Girlfriend” by Matthew Sweet. That one was so sugary it made me thirsty.
I’d later learn that Sweet had Athens roots, but all I knew when I heard “Girlfriend” was that it rocked, and that it wasn’t the same old crap. Intervention Records recently released Sweet’s Girlfriend album along with three bonus demos. As the hype sticker says, it was “100% analog mastered from the original master tapes.” It sounds good.
I’ve wondered for a long time if the rest of the material on Girlfriend would turn me on the way “Girlfriend” does. It does not, but it turns me on in different ways. The production is ‘90s clean but is also not without some grinding. The “Girlfriend” demo is called “Good Friend,” and it sounds like the Rolling Stones played through a Big Star pedal. Comparisons to the latter band are almost an obligation as we’re firmly in the realm of Power Pop here, but Sweet’s guitar playing is a little more vicious than what’s on Radio City. “Divine Intervention” announces that savagery with great immediacy. It involves two false endings. Not one. “I’ve Been Waiting” must have gotten by my forcefield at some point because I recognized it as soon as the first chorus took off.
There seems to be a lyrical theme throughout the record based, not surprisingly, around romance. The unrequited kind, the aspirational variant, the celebratory type. There’s some yearning going on, certainly. The next wicked guitar solo is always coiled up and ready to strike though. It’s like a vine you can reach for to pull yourself out of the quicksand syrup. If you’re in it for love, Matthew Sweet has a song for you. And a solo. He has both.
The pressings on this set are fabulous, approaching flawless. The clarity and transparency are almost daunting. The glossy gatefold featuring Tuesday Weld as the cover girl is as formidable the guitar work.
Sweet played a lovesick gunslinger on Girlfriend. I’m not sure what roles he plays on his other Intervention reissues, but they’re out there. I can’t imagine them not sounding superb based on what I’m hearing here.
(This album was purchased at a lemonade stand. No wait. It was purchased at MusicDirect.com. Sorry.)
Why doesn’t anybody ever talk about the Pretenders? Am I just running in the wrong circles?
Their debut has always been a surprise favorite of mine, but I drug my feet on picking up the MoFi reissue until recently. I don’t know why. Probably because I have a mint original that’s always worked just fine for me. Better than fine. The record is a blast of refined adrenaline that the uninitiated might not see coming. But once you know, you’re either all in or all out. It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking this record is just okay. I have a friend who actively disparages Chrissie Hynde, but I think she does it just to ruffle my feathers. I mean, what’s not to like? The Pretenders’ eponymous debut is a barrel of punky monkeys, man. That’s the straight dope.
The casual listener might look at the album’s “setlist” and think they’re unfamiliar with the work, but anyone who’s achieved the age of 30 probably recognizes “Brass in Pocket,” and maybe the Kinks cover (“Stop Your Sobbing”) too. They’re both great, and “Brass in Pocket” has kept my wings aloft since I heard it as a little kid. (I could have sworn that there was footage of Miss Piggy singing it in the annals of ‘80s television somewhere, but that might have been my boyish imagination running away with me. I can find no evidence of it now.) The casual fan might not realize that Hynde was pretty well entrenched in England’s mid to late ‘70s Punk scene, and that energy is prevalent from the first notes of The Pretenders. The drums and riffs sound like they could have been sampled from the Clash’s debut. And like most of the better-known Punk bands of the day, Reggae slips in through the side door during “Private Life.” “Space Invader” is a gnarly instrumental which utilizes sound effects from the video arcade game of the (almost) same name. It’s an outright rocker. Maybe the centerpiece of the whole program. All in all, there are 12 songs crammed onto two sides that play out as a perfectly balanced and nuanced debut that all adds up to uncut Rock and Roll. It’s a winner all the way around.
The problem with my MoFi copy is as surprising as my first experience of the original album was. My pressing sucks. Side two is all jacked up. Ticks and pops all along the grooves. Furthermore, MoFi kinda took all the piss and vinegar out of the recipe. There’s less air and less immediacy than what my original provides. Sounds damp and muted by comparison. A little clearer maybe, but at too high a cost. Not enough return on investment, so to speak. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this from MoFi’s take on a true rocker, but it’s the first in a long while. They did just fine with their Allman Bros. campaign, for instance. Less great with R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant. I don’t remember ever getting a bad pressing though. This one’s a first, and this one’s a whiff. Glad I have my original for safe keeping. You would be too. Trust me on this one.
(This album was unfortunately purchased at MusicDirect.com.)
Jerry Joseph is a heavy dude. If you’ve ever seen him play with his cohorts in the Jack Mormons, you’ll know. He has opinions and he feels things deeply. He expresses himself without reservation or artifice of any kind, and he seems fearless. But maybe he’s just better at staring it down than most of us, or maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. According to his website he “traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan to teach music in an underground, co-ed, rock school” in 2014. Where do you reckon, he got that gig? How do you even hear about something like that? Does your agent call you up and sell you on the idea? “Hey man, I’ve got one that won’t make you rich, but it’s a great career move…”
Anyway, a buddy of mine turned me on to one of Joseph’s records on his own Cosmo Sex School label from just before his teaching sojourn in the peaceful Middle East. It is eponymously title, which is appropriate for the material. I saw Jerry Joseph the man with his band in Charleston, South Carolina last November, and I barely survived the onslaught. Jerry Joseph the album is a quieter affair showcasing Jerry Joseph the man’s voice, acoustic guitar stylings, and, perhaps most prominently, his considerable songwriting talents.
Because that’s what this guy does. He writes great songs. And he didn’t just start. The eldest of the songs in this collection, “Eat My Soul,” is of mid-1980s vintage. Several date from the mid-90s, and the youngest was birthed five years before the record’s release. The fact that the work is consistently exceptional despite a virtual quarter century’s changes and interventions speaks as loudly as that Charleston Rock Show that found me sprawled on an airport terminal’s indoor/outdoor carpeting with ears ringing and lips curled upward two hours later.
Joseph’s voice can cut through all that with guts and gravel, but that level of effort isn’t required on this record. This is more conversational, more instructional. Gives you a window to crawl through and search around for a songwriting technique that’ll cut the mustard onstage with your outfit, and on a living room tour to pay for your lodging and gas. Joseph’s a strummer, but his technique is somehow suggestive of fingerpicking. It holds the listener’s attention despite a lack of variation. He’s found his horse and he seems content to ride it from border to boomtown. I’d like to think that I would too. But that’s the difference between “just do it,” and “just think it.” This guy’s done it again and again, and Jerry Joseph the record is a fine document of it all.
The two discs are well pressed by Pirates Press, and the production is as austere as the performances.
There’s no fat on these bones. This is a straight shot. If you’re looking for an intro to Jerry Joseph’s work specifically or the craft of songwriting in general, Jerry Joseph the record is as fine an entry as any you’ll find.
A while back, I’d been in the habit of listening to my Gospel record collection while I did my Sunday cooking. Hellhounds and whiskey chased that habit away, but after hearing Give Me My Flowers, a recent compilation by Third Man Records, I might bring it back. All the way back. Like the songs on this single dynamite disc.
Nashboro Records, the label responsible for releasing the singles that comprise this set, opened for business in 1951. There’s a hilarious (and sad) anecdote in the brief liners explaining that the material on Flowers was transferred from 45s on account of the label’s president recorded over the master tapes.
With easy listening music. Because that’s what he liked to listen to at home. Which is nutty, of course.
But we can thank that same guy for our chance to listen to the Swanee Quintet in our homes, so there’s that. The Lord works in mysterious ways, I reckon.
I’d imagine some software was used to clean up the transfers, remove pops and ticks, and maybe some hiss. Not the friendliest process for audiophile purists, but we’re not really in the audiophile arena anyway. Many of these tunes were originally recorded on simple two-track recorders in small studios above record stores or in radio stations. We’re here for the fires that this old time Gospel greatness can stoke in our bellies. Music that is understood viscerally, not intellectually. Jubilee jumpers and heavy shouters. We want to faint in our pews.
“Until He Comes,” the leadoff single by the Hightower Brothers, sounds like what the Reverend Charlie Jackson was into on his blazing God’s Got It album. The Trumpeteers’ “Seven Angels” is another highlight in a more traditional vein, rattling and rolling like a runaway steam train. There is organ backed spoken sermons, and Doo-Wop style workups that sound like they were taken straight from the original 78s.
I love it all, sonics, sinners, singers, and saviors. It’s hard to tell sometimes if there are minor defects in the Third Man pressing or if the imperfections are in the source materials. But the overall listening experience is satisfying to my ears. Sound quality varies wildly between tracks but averages out at a generous 3 out of 5. This comp will sit nicely alongside others I have by the Numbero Group, Dap Tone Records, and Soul Jazz Records. I have some old originals by the Staples, a reissue of God’s Got It, and some more contemporary Al Green and Solomon Burke stuff too. That’s enough to get you through the roughest Sunday with a dizzy smile. If you have even a passing interest in this style, or if you just need one record in your collection to scratch your Gospel itch, Give Me My Flowers should work just fine.