Social Distancing Spins – Day 31

Day 31

By Joel Francis

Baby Huey – The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend (1971) Sadly, Baby Huey was no longer living by the time The Living Legend came out. The soul singer died from a heart attack four months before album’s release.  With no chance of a sequel, The Baby Huey Story makes the most of its shot. “Listen To Me” starts the album with a horn chart so strong it should be in every pep band’s repertoire. An extended reading of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Going to Come” turns the civil rights anthem into a psychedelic soul adventure. On the flip side, Huey tackles “California Dreamin’” and three songs by benefactor and producer Curtis Mayfield. “Hard Times,” another civil rights song, popped up a dozen years ago on a collaborative album between John Legend and the Roots. In fact, hip hop musicians have mined this album pretty hard for beats and samples since the early ‘80s. There’s a good chance you’ve already heard a lot of Baby Huey’s Story, just in five- or 10-second looped intervals. Soul fans and hip hop heads will find a lot to enjoy in Huey’s abbreviated catalog.

The Cure – Standing on a Beach: The Single (compilation) Greatest hits collections were the meat and potatoes of my music library during my time as a student. In those days of early internet, anthologies were the best place to start for bands and artists with daunting catalogs. I mention this because I learned through the hits collections Standing on the Beach and Galore that the Cure were a very different band on their singles than they were on album. Singles Cure were bright, poppy and quirky. Album Cure was moody, dark and confrontational. I am a Singles Cure fan. Standing on a Beach starts with the band’s early lo-fi post-punk work and leaves off at the doorstep of their must successful commercial period. The transformation is subtle on Standing on a Beach. There aren’t any huge leaps in sound and the progression feels very natural. It’s also more fun than any proper Cure album would allow.

David Bowie – Heathen (2002) At the time of its release, Heathen was hailed as a comeback for Bowie. In retrospect this seems odd, because the final three albums Bowie released as a touring musician, before disappearing for a decade, are very much of a piece. They are Bowie reflecting on his past work, cherry-picking the best bits and reprising them in a contemporary context. Of these three albums – 1999’s Hours, Heathen and 2003’s Reality – I like Heathen best. It feels the most fully realized. There’s not a bum track to be found, but “Slow Burn” and “Everyone Says Hi” stand out as favorites. The reference to the Yankees in “Slip Away” will always make me think of that horrible/wonderful period after 9/11 when we were all New Yorkers, even if the only thing you’d done in New York at the time was go to the Bronx for a ball game like me.

Johnny Cash – Now Here’s Johnny Cash (compilation)

Johnny Cash – Original Sun Sound (compilation) Both of these albums are early 1960s attempts by the Sun Records label to cash in on Johnny’s stardom (See what I did there?) after he moved on with Columbia Records. Interestingly, neither of them contain many hits. Now Here has “Cry Cry Cry” and “Hey Porter” while Original has “Big River.” That’s it. The rest of the 21 tracks across the two albums are deep cuts. And they go pretty deep. “Belshazzar” outfits an Old Testament tale the Tennessee Two sound. Cash liked “Country Boy” so much he cut it again 30-some odd years later on Unchained.  Even the Lead Belly chestnut “Goodnight Irene” gets a spin. The producers on Now Here positioned “Oh, Lonesome Me” next to “So Doggone Lonesome.” “Port of Lonely Hearts” appears earlier in the collection, further driving the point home.  Fans wanting the hits should look elsewhere, but anyone wanting a deeper look at his early period will be pleased. Even better, both of these albums can be found pretty easily for under five bucks.

Stardeath and White Dwarves – Wastoid (2014) Stardeath may have won some new fans through nepotism – lead singer Dennis Coyne is the nephew of Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips – but they kept the converted by producing entertaining slabs of psychedelic, experimental rock. Wastoid is the Oklahoma City quartet’s second album. They are significantly heavier than the Lips, but share that band’s morbid playful side. If you ever wanted the Flaming Lips to make a stoner rock album, this is for you. I enjoy Wastoid more than their debut, simply because it sounds more effortless and assured. Stardeath released an EP in 2015 and have been strangely quite since then. I hope we get some new stuff at some point.

Neko Case, k.d. lang, Laura Veirs – Case/Lang/Veirs (2016) The appetite for supergroups goes back to Sun’s Million Dollar Quartet. But for every Traveling Wilburys or CSNY, it seems you get about three Nodding Hillbillies or the Firms. Maybe that’s why Case/Lang/Veirs works so well. I don’t remember hearing much of anything about this project before its release. There was no time to build anticipation and expectation, it was just … there.

The greater reason why Case/Lang/Veirs works is because all three women are incredible songwriters with voices of gold that perfectly complement each other. While this album doesn’t match the high points each artist has achieved on her own it should be cherished by fans of all three.

The Gotobeds – Poor People are Revolting (2014) Sometimes you end up with an album purely because of the convergence of mood, price and genre. The Pittsburgh-based punk quartet are fine purveyors of their craft, but don’t know why I have three of their albums. I’d definitely go see them the next time they come through town, but my fandom isn’t as deep as my record shelf suggests. Poor People are Revolting is the Gotobeds’ first full-length album. If you like the sound of Pavement, the Fall and Sonic Youth noisily colliding with populist politics, this is the place for you.

Social Distancing Spins – Day 11

By Joel Francis

Let the hit parade continue.

Sonic Youth – Washing Machine (1995) On the surface, Washing Machine appears to be just another release by avant rockers Sonic Youth. Released nine albums into their three-decade career, the band doesn’t have much to prove by this point but they certainly aren’t coasting through this set. All three of the band’s songwriters are in peak form. The album opens and closes Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo taking lead vocals on their respective compositions. Moore’s closing cut, “The Diamond See” is a fascinating 20-minute track that shows the quartet stretching out, yet never repeating themselves. It’s the longest they let a mood percolate on a studio album. (An even longer 25- minute version was released on The Destroyed Room rarities collection.) Overall, Washing Machine points to the more mature direction Sonic Youth would take in the early ‘00s.

One Day As a Lion – self-titled (2008) Well, this is it. The 20 minutes on this EP comprise most substantial release by Zack de la Rocha since the end of Rage Against the Machine at the end of the millennium. It boggles the mind how someone so politically aggressive during the Clinton administration could be so quiet during the Dubya and current administrations. If anything, you’d think de la Rocha would be out stumping for Bernie Sanders.

Brief as it is, the music here meets all expectations. It’s loud, combative and better than either of Rage axeman Tom Morello’s acoustic Nightwatchman full-lengths.

Andrew Hill – Point of Departure (1964) I discovered Andrew Hill about six months before he died. Even though I didn’t have a lot of history with his art, I was still deeply saddened by his loss. Selfishly, I had hoped that I would be able to see him perform at some point. I was also disappointed that such a monumental talent hadn’t achieved the renown and accolades Hill deserved.

It can be easy for pianists to get lost in the background when playing in larger groups, especially with reed-player Eric Dolphy in the mix. Hill’ steady hand is ever-present across this album, guiding every song and creating the spaces for Dolphy and saxman Joe Henderson’s solos (and delivering plenty of his own as well). “Dedication,” the final piece, is as beautiful a piece of music as you will ever hear.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Get Happy!! (1980) Elvis Costello has released so many great albums across so many styles it is hard to pin down a favorite. That said, of the four classics in his initial “angry young man” phase, this might be my pick as the best. Costello skitters across all forms of soul music in these 20 songs, moving quickly from Motown to Northern and blue-eyed soul. Ballads and Southern soul are also given their due. What reads like a dull, academic genre exercise on paper is a hoot to hear because of the Attractions manic energy – particularly Steve Nieve’s hopping organ – and Costello’s lyrics, that slash like a switchblade in an alley fight. You don’t realize how quickly they cut until they’ve moved on to the next victim. Best to keep dancing and sort it all out later.

Robbie Robertson – Storyville (1991) Anyone disappointed that Robbie Robertson’s debut album bore few traces of his time with The Band will find more to like with this sophomore effort. Although the performances are far more restrained and the production more polished than anything with his old group, it’s not hard to imagine Rick Danko singing on “Night Parade” (although he does contribute backing vocals on the gorgeous ballad “Hold Back the Dawn”). Taken on its own terms, this is still a very satisfying album. Neil Young stops by to help with “Soap Box Preacher” and the Neville Brothers appear on “Shake This Town,” recorded with Rebirth Brass Band, and “What About Now.” The spirit of New Orleans, where Storyville was made, also appears on “Go Back to Your Woods.” In a way, Storyville makes a nice companion piece to the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon, released the year before with Daniel Lanois, the man behind the boards for Robertson’s debut.

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five – The Golden Era Series, Vol. 1 (compilation) It blows my mind that these recordings are approaching their centennial. These are among Armstrong’s first sessions as a bandleader. His solos here went a long way establish jazz as an improvisational genre. Satchmo doesn’t sing on every cut, but when he does it is always memorable. The dozen cuts here are so celebrated and influential it is impossible to have a favorite, but I’ll share some of the titles to whet the appetites of the uninitiated: “Heebie Jeebies,” “Struttin’ with some Barbeque,” “Gut Bucket Blues,” “Hotter than That.” Just reading those titles, how can you not want to dive in?

The songs here appeared roughly the same time as George Gershwin’s compositions and significantly predate Aaron Copeland’s most celebrated pieces. This is the sound of America growing up and forcing its way on the world’s artistic stage well before it became impossible to ignore as a superpower.

Ben Folds – Supersunnyspeedgraphic, the LP (compilation) The first three sides of this two-record collection encompass highlights from the digital-only mini-albums Folds released in the early 2000s. It’s fun to hear Folds give the Cure and the Darkness his own demented spin. His potty-mouthed cover of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” is funny the first few times, but gradually wears out its welcome. In his memoir A Dream About Lightning Bugs, Folds recounts a stint opening for John Mayer where he would perform this song several times in a row relishing the jeers. I can relate to how that audience must have felt. Original songs including “Adelaide,” “Songs of Love” and “Still” more than make up for Folds’ West Coast rap mishap. The fourth side of this set is a real treat, too. We get a half-dozen cuts from the Over the Hedge soundtrack, including a great cover of The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” and an alternate version of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” with an epic William Shatner rant based on real events.

The Supremes – At their Best (compilation) Conventional wisdom holds that the Supremes were over once Diana Ross left. True, Ross had much greater success as a solo artist than the Supremes did without her, but they were still a potent force. The group had six Top 40 hits in the post-Ross era and several more hits on the R&B charts. Many of those tracks are included on this 10-track collection, which spans 1970 to 1976. “Stoned Love” and “Up the Ladder to the Roof” are as good as anything the Supremes released in their prime years. “I’m Going to Let My Heart Do the Walking” and “You’re My Driving Wheel” update the group’s sound with elements of funk and disco. The Supremes were always a better singles act than album artists and this anthology is a fitting encapsulation and the final chapter.

Social Distancing Spins, Day 5

By Joel Francis

In observance of St. Patrick’s Day, here are some of my finest albums with Irish ties.

The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace with God (1988) The only thing wrong with this album is that the title song is too short. The extended 12-inch version on the Pogues box set solves this problem. Mentioning the highlights is like reading the track listing, but I’ll narrow it down to the absolute best. “Fairytale of New York” is my absolute favorite Christmas song and is just as powerful in August as it is in December. Hearing Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan trade stanzas in the final verse always crushes me. This song’s all-time status was cemented in my soul when Bill Murray slurred his way through it with David Johansen and Jenny Lewis in his Christmas special.

There may be no finer tribute to the hope and heartbreak of the 19th century immigrants who traveled to the United States to start a new life than “Thousands are Sailing.” And that’s just side one. We’d better move on or I’ll be here all day.

Stiff Little Fingers – Greatest Hits Live in London (2017) The glory days of this Belfast-born punk band were long over when this live set came out. Although most of the material here pulls from the groups mighty four-album run in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the fire on this inflammable material has dimmed. I really bought this album because it was marked down on a Black Friday sale and signed by the current musicians. As it’s the only SLF I currently own, it will be what I spin when I need to hear “Tin Soldiers” or “Suspect Device.” Oh, one more thing: “Alternative Ulster” makes a great alarm song on your phone. It’s hard not to want to kick the day’s butt after hearing that first thing.

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (1976) Yeah, this is the album with “The Boys are Back in Town,” the only song that classic rock radio deigns to circulate, but this is a solid slab of rock from start to finish. “Jailbreak” blows out the speakers like a lost AC/DC song. “Cowboy Song” starts off like a campfire ballad before Phil Lynott’s storytelling takes over and the guitars plug in. Can we talk about Lynott’s lyrics for a moment? “Emerald” reads like a preview to a great lost epic poem. The story in “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” is just as majestic as Mark Knopfler’s masterpiece “Romeo and Juliet.” All with those dual guitars that can sting like a scorpion out of nowhere. Thin Lizzy gets nowhere near the respect they deserve.

The Chieftains – 3 (1971)

Van Morrison and the Chieftains – Irish Heartbeat (1988) If you blindfolded me and played me any one of the Chieftains first half-dozen albums, I’m fairly confident I couldn’t tell them apart. The traditional Irish troupe expanded their sound when they started adding guest artists and gimmicks in the ‘90s. (The Chieftains play movie themes! The Chieftains go to Nashville!) There are many moments to savor on those albums, but I like the unvarnished simplicity of the jigs and reels on their initial run.

Ironically, it was the success of Irish Heartbeat that paved the way for these cross-genre exercises. I don’t begrudge the Chieftains for trying to reach a broader audience but to my ears they’ve never found a better partner than fellow Irishman Van Morrison. For proof, take a look at the group’s star-studded release Long Black Veil from 1995. Everyone from Sting to the Stones shows up, but Morrison steals the album with his own “Have I Told You Lately.” Irish Heartbeat brings out a playful side of Morrison rarely heard, particularly on “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and “Marie’s Wedding.” Hoist a pint and turn it up.

Dropkick Murphys – The Meanest of Times (2007) Irish by way of Boston, the Dropkick Murphys combine the traditional feel of the Chieftains with Thin Lizzy’s hard rock and Stiff Little Finger’s punk attitude. When I played this album in the morning my son announced that he didn’t like it and left the room. That evening he was captivated by the Murphys’ live performance online. I tried to tell him they were the same band from earlier, but he didn’t believe me. I guess some things need to be seen to be believed. (By the way, streaming this concert was a brilliant idea and really seems to be taking off while all of us are stuck at home. According to the counter in the corner, 128,000 people were watching live. That’s a far bigger crowd than they ever could have hoped to reach by playing a St. Patrick’s Day show in Beantown.)

Flogging Molly – Within a Mile of Home (2004) It’s hard to imagine a Dropkick Murphys fan not liking Flogging Molly as well. Molly are slightly less hardcore than the Murphys on record but both acts generate a considerable mosh pit in concert. I found Within a Mile of Home at a ridiculously cheap price on CD shortly after its release. Seeing Lucinda Williams was featured on one track, I picked it up. A couple years later, I found Whiskey on a Sunday, the follow-up EP/DVD under the same circumstances. Watching those live performances convinced me I absolutely had to see this band in concert. While Within a Mile from Home is the only Molly vinyl I own, I’ve seen them a handful of times in person and never been disappointed.

U2 – Boy (1980) If it is possible to think about this divisive Irish quartet without the hype, bombasity and preening it has accumulated over the years, then Boy is it. With the exception of opening track “I Will Follow,” the rest of the album has been excluded from setlists and compilations (although some songs have gradually crept back onstage). The menacing “An Cat Dubh” almost sounds like an anthemic early Cure outtake (with glockenspiel!) that slides into The Edge’s wonderful guitar textures of “Into the Heart.” (Along with Bono’s earnest vocals. U2 were never not-earnest.) There aren’t many hints of The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby here, yet all the essential elements of those albums are present. Sometimes spending time with the boy is more revelatory than hanging out with the man.

Review: Get Up Kids

(Above: The Get Up Kids perform “Martyr Me” at the second show of their two-night stand at the Record Bar in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Nearly a year to the date after reuniting, the Kids are still alright.

Homegrown heroes the Get Up Kids capped off a two-month tour opened their dual-night stand at the Record Bar Friday night in front of an energetic crowd. Both shows benefit the family of the late Recycled Sounds owner Anne Winter.

No one in the band mentioned Winter during their 80 minute set. Instead they dashed through 20 songs that encompassed their decade of glory, inspirations and a couple new numbers.

The night started with a frenetic, nonstop explosion through “Holiday,” “I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel” and “The One You Want.” After slowing things down with “Valentine,” the Kids kicked into a new number.

“Your Petty Pretty Things” doesn’t deviate from the sounds and themes that made the hometown band famous around the world, but has enough wiggle room in its three and a half minutes for the band to kick it into high gear during the outro and ride the riff together before abruptly wrapping up. That energy was channeled into a powerful reading of “Come Clean.”

The band was lined up four across with the drums in the back of the corner stage. Keyboard player James Dewees was pushed so far to stage left that it seemed like he faced out the windows and into the parking lot more often than into the crowd.

As usual, Dewees was the band’s not-so-secret weapon. He shined an acoustic duet of “Campfire Kansas” with guitarist Jim Suptic on lead vocals, but Dewees’ most interesting contribution came on “Keith Case.” The second new song of the night, “Case” appeared out of a left turn from “No Love.” Driven by Rob Pope’s fuzz bass, Dewees applied a shimmering sci-fi synth line that makes the sound stand out in Kids’ catalog. Later, Dewees’ classic piano riff formed the bridge from “Holy Roman” into “Mass Pike.”

Although the Record Bar was full, there was still plenty of elbow room. The faithful throng delighted in throwing back frontman Matt Pryor’s words with same energy they were delivered. “Act and Action” erupted into one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night until “Don’t Hate Me.” The atmospheric “Walking on a Wire” kept slowly building layer by layer until both the crowd and the band took it through the roof.

In lieu of an encore, the band went straight into their cover of “Close To Me.” The Cure’s  1985 hit was obviously a big influence on the band, but the Kids nearly manage to one-up their heroes with Ryan Pope’s buoyant drum line propelling the song.

The set ended at midnight with the final words to “Ten Minutes” ringing out: “Everything will work out fine.” So far, it has.

Setlist: Holiday; I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel; The One You Want; Valentine; Your Petty Pretty Things (new song); Coming Clean; Woodson; Out of Reach; No Love; Keith Case (new song); Red Letter Day; Campfire Kansas; Holy Roman; Mass Pike; Act and Action; Walking on a Wire; Close To Me; Beer For Breakfast; Don’t Hate Me; Ten Minutes