Monday, February 20, 2017

Spiral Stairs Pounds the Pavement

I can't help but root for Spiral Stairs. Even though he co-founded Pavement, he never seemed to get the cred of his famous mate, Stephen Malkmus. I was a big fan of Stairs' post-Pavement band, Preston School of Industry, and PSOI's first full-length album, 'All This Sounds Gas,' still garners a gaggle of plays in this house some 15 years later. At the time of release, reviews were lukewarm at best. Again, I felt like it was because he was being compared to Malkmus. Admittedly, Malkmus' first solo album, released about six months earlier, was great, but so was 'All This Sounds Gas.'

One of Mrs. LTL's all-time favorite shows was seeing PSOI in 2001 at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. We were one of about 50 that saw them that night, and Stairs seemed so approachable that we had a little chat with him after the show. We thanked him for the effort and had a good laugh about his Robert Smith imitation in the music video for "Falling Away," which had just been released. That song was a mighty accessible piece of pop and quite different from the rest of the expansive twang of 'All This Sounds Gas.' It had hit written all over it, but as often happens, the masses missed it.

There have only been a couple of albums since then. I didn't think followup 'Monsoon' was quite as good, but I imagine it might have sold a little better since they had played for bigger audiences as openers for Wilco, one of the hottest bands at that time, prior to that release. Five more years would pass before Stairs would release another album, this time as Spiral Stairs, not Preston School of Industry. This was around the time Pavement would briefly reunite and tour to support a best-of package. I'm afraid the latest from Stairs may have been lost in all of that love for Pavement.

That's it. No new music from Stairs for the past eight years... that is until March 24 when 'Doris and the Daggers' hits the shelves. Quite a bit has happened to Stairs since we last heard from him, and that is reflected in the music. He's lived abroad, lost friends and become a father. So expect the songs to be more personal, emotional and confessional. I'm not usually one to quote from press releases, but I was pretty excited to read Stairs say, "The lyrics definitely have a more traditional 'songwriter' feel. I'm getting older, and the music I'm listening to is often more story-based. I love Paul Kelly, the Australian singer-songwriter – he's a great storyteller. I think I was trying to channel some of that, and people like Lloyd Cole, songwriters more from the Dylan school of honesty." Here's the first release from 'Doris and the Daggers,' with help from Jason Lytle of Grandaddy. Stairs has a slew of dates on the west coast in the spring. Catch him if you can.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 20)

Between the years when he briefly fronted the original lineup of Duran Duran (or Duran Fucking Duran, as they are known by many in these parts) and formed the Lilac Time with his brother Nick, Stephen "Tin Tin" Duffy composed a couple of dance-floor classics that scored quite well on the UK charts and got plenty of spins in the clubs on this side of the Atlantic too.

During that era, one song Duffy couldn't seem to get out of his system was "Kiss Me." To the best of my knowledge, he recorded, released or reissued this song at least four times in the '80s. When it comes to this genre, I'm no expert, but having just listened to two takes from this 12" Caroline put out in 1986, I don't think he bettered the original. This post may vie for my shortest, but I have no recollection of buying this record and am quite sure it hasn't been played since I was in high school three decades ago.

"Kiss Me" (1983 Version)
"Kiss Me" (1985 Version)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day... or Not

I try to keep an open mind about these things. If you're smiling today, go with the optimistic power pop of the underrated Elvis Brothers. If you're down and want to stay there, opt for the legendary Chet Baker. It's not really supposed to be so sad, but it sure is when Chet delivers it. No matter which song you choose, you're gonna get a hell of a listen.

The Elvis Brothers - "Valentine"
Chet Baker - "My Funny Valentine"

Friday, February 10, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 19)

No draining the swamp here. From N'awlins, the land of red beans, slot machines and voodoo queens, the doctor is in. I just featured the double album a couple of years ago, but this is where I find myself in the series, and I can't bring myself to skip it. The title on the front cover reveals everything you need to know about this relic. It's an in-studio FM radio broadcast for WLIR in Hempstead, NY, circa 1973, starring Dr. John and the Rampart Street Symphony Orchestra (as named by Professor Longhair). Funky, tight and out of sight. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

"Mess Around"

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Cover Me Impressed: 'Porpoise Song'

In recent days, we have had a ton of trippy music in our little corner of the blogging community, haven't we? Well, today's selection will continue the groovy theme. We got my youngest his first record player for Christmas. As you can see above, calling it a turntable might be a stretch, but it's a fine introduction for a 10 year old. He has three albums in his collection so far. One is this compilation picture disc by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Last week we found a really interesting used album of hits by the Beach Boys that came out in 1975 and focused specifically on the Brother Records years. His favorite, though, is a new compilation Rhino put out called 'Monkees Forever.'

To my delight, one tune he plays over and over is "Porpoise Song." It's a Goffin-King composition from the Monkees' 1968 film 'Head.' His obsession has afforded me the pleasure to play for him the excellent cover by one of my all-time favorites, Wondermints. The fellas recorded this one for their all-covers album from 1996 called 'Wonderful World of Wondermints.' The album initially came out only in Japan, and I paid a pretty penny for it back in the day, but I believe it has been reissued domestically at least once since then.

The Monkees - "Porpoise Song"
Wondermints - "Porpoise Song"

If you can spare a moment, give this demo by Carole King a listen, too. It's a rough recording, but I just love it. Goffin-King wrote about a dozen songs for the Monkees, and the demos I have heard are real gems. Somebody needs to clean them up and release them as an album. I know I would be the first in line.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Robyn Returns... and With a Band!

Take a deep breath, Swede. We got our first listen at a song from Robyn Hitchcock's upcoming album earlier this week. If I counted correctly, the self-titled LP, out April 21 from the fine folks at Yep Roc, will be his 22nd as a solo artist. Interesting that 35 years after 'Black Snake Diamond Röle,' Hitchcock goes the self-titled route.

Here's what we know so far. The album was recorded in Hitchcock's adopted hometown of Nashville at Brendan Benson's Readymade Studios. Benson is a power-pop hero to many, and his role as producer should excite Hitchcock's fans too. Now, don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed his last album, 'The Man Upstairs,' but it's good to hear him backed by a band again. Many of the roster are from Music City, including guitarist Annie McCue, bassist Jon Estes and drummer Jon Radford. Backing vocals are provided by old friends like Emma Swift, Grant Lee Phillips, Gillian Welch and Pat Sansone.

So, about that first song. Here's what Hitchcock has to say about "I Want to Tell You About What I Want." Here's a guy that will make you stop and listen.

"The original title of the song was 'My Vision Of World Empathy.' Either we will eventually become extinct and be replaced by cats with articulated thumbs who have evolved the way apes slowly evolved into us, or we will become empathic and mildly telepathic — people like Donald Trump won't happen because biologically no human will be born with that lack of empathy. We will become a species that isn't capable of bullying because we can feel what we're doing to other people. There is obviously some evolutionary step between the human and the angel that needs to take place. Maybe when we have enough suffering credits, our DNA will go, 'Right! Here we go! Homo angelicus — it can read your mind, it's compassionate, it can levitate and it's a great lover! It shares its fish sticks with you and flies you back in time to see The Velvet Underground!' That is what we need to become." -- Robyn Hitchcock

Thursday, February 2, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 18)

I have written about my fascination with local indie-pop scenes around the UK in the late '80s, such as Barry Newman booking bands at the Norwich Arts Centre and releasing music on his own Wilde Club Records. In the past couple of years, I have been researching another such pocket around Newcastle. This cat named Stephen Joyce used to book bands at long-gone venue the Broken Doll. He booked My Bloody Valentine, McCarthy and many others, but with an eye for talent a little lower on the bill, such as Edinburgh's The Holidaymakers and locals like Nivens. He got a hold of both of them and released a split flexi along with a fanzine, calling the entire endeavor Woosh. What followed was a brief but memorable run of ten 7" singles, all but three of them flexis.

There were a couple of big names in the indie world that stopped by Woosh with a song, such as the Groove Farm and the Pooh Sticks, but it was Nivens that gave Joyce's label its brightest moment. Woosh 005, "Yesterday," peaked at No. 13 on the indie chart in early 1989. I have slowly begun to collect these 10 singles from Woosh, and I thought we could give Woosh 002 a listen since I keep this split flexi in the D section for the Driscolls. I featured my favorite song by the band a couple of years ago, and this one isn't quite up to the level of "Girl I Want You Back," but still a fine listen. "Father's Name Is Dad" is the Driscolls' first release, and it has that feel, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a cover from Fire, a late '60s band that was pretty trippy, to say the least. As mentioned earlier, this is a flexi. So please give me a pass on the pops and scratches. I like the song by Strawberry Story even more. Expect them to show up at some point.

"Father's Name Is Dad"

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 17)

The Dream Academy may not be for everyone, but I thought they were just swell, particularly the first two albums and related singles. Let's listen to a couple of my favorites from the period. From the self-titled debut, here is "The Edge of Forever." This was the followup to the worldwide smash "Life in a Northern Town." This one didn't bother the charts, but I think you'll find the song a real charmer. The first take is from the album. The second version, titled "Poised On The Edge Of Forever," feels a bit like a demo and can be found on the flip side of the "Life in a Northern Town" 12" single. Through the years, I have grown to like it almost as much as its polished successor. You lose some of that gorgeous instrumentation, but on the plus side, you also lose the saxophone solo. That instrument didn't bother me one bit in 1985, but it makes me cringe now.

"The Edge of Forever"
"Poised on the Edge of Forever"

I can't let a post on the Dream Academy pass without including non-album single "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." The cover of the Morrissey/Marr classic didn't even get a proper release here in America, but the instrumental version (available on the 12") more than got its due in the summer of '86 when the song was used (with nary a word of dialogue) in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'

The famous scene shot at the Art Institute of Chicago has been a favorite in this house for a number of personal reasons, and it was a big moment for my then art-obsessed six-year-old when we walked into the hallowed halls of the museum in 2011. He has a giant coffee-table book of the permanent works featured there, and he used to take out his crayons and try to make his own versions of the paintings, particularly Van Gogh's "The Bedroom," Picasso's "The Old Guitarist" and Cassatt's "The Child's Bath." His favorite, though, was Seurat's "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte," and he took one of his renderings to the museum to compare it to the real thing... a moment I'll never forget. A moment I would like to forget: About 15 minutes later he left another work of art all over the floor in front of Chagall's famous "American Windows." We called it "Breakfast."

Here are both versions of the Dream Academy's "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want." I'll take the instrumental every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

"Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want"
"Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" (Instrumental)

Friday, January 27, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 16)

Surprised I was able tally six pieces of plastic from Thomas Dolby, three LPs, two 12" singles and one 7" single. Wouldn't be totally honest if I said I hadn't played any of them for 30 years because about five years back my little ones were taken by "She Blinded Me With Science" after our local Public Broadcasting Corporation station used the song to advertise the show "Sid the Science Kid." I was spinning the extended remix for them for a while before they grew out of the song and Sid's program. Otherwise, yep, I don't think the rest of the lot has been played since the '80s. When I think of Dolby now, the first thing that comes to mind is as the producer of many of Prefab Sprout's best moments, but here is a very minor hit I played to death when I was 12 years old. Listening to it now, I honestly can't tell if it's awfully good or just plain awful. Nostalgia is clouding my senses. I'm sure you'll let me know. Where is George when you need him?

"Europa and the Pirate Twins"

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Music For the Middle Aged

I mean no offense with that headline... I'm one of 'em! The albums have been few and far between, five in roughly 36 years, but the Feelies have been nothing but quality every time out. The followup to the excellent 2011 album 'Here Before' is about to hit the shelves (With language like that, I must be old!) via Bar/None Records, and the first two songs we have the privilege of hearing are oh-so Feelies. That album cover is vintage Feelies too. 'In Between' is out on Feb. 27.

Ray Davies is such a treasure. Oops, make that SIR Ray Davies. The freshly knighted musician has a new studio album coming out for the first time in almost a decade. Big news made even bigger by the fact he's backed by another one of my favorites, the Jayhawks. When greats come together, it doesn't always work, but I have a good feeling about 'Americana,' out April 21 on Legacy. Davies has been inspired by the country and its culture for many years, as readers of his most recent biography, 'Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story,' are well aware. If you haven't read Davies' two biographies, wait no longer. 'X-Ray,' chronicling the early years, is probably the most intriguing music biography I have ever read. Got off track a bit. Let's get back to the new music. Here's "Poetry."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 15)

I wish I was celebrating the solo work of Chris Difford with this post. Unfortunately, I don't have any of those albums on vinyl. I'll have the same problem when I get to the letter T and want to talk up the talents of Glenn Tilbrook... all CD. What I do have in the D section is the self-titled album by Difford & Tilbrook (as well as a 12" single), and it's pure pop worth remembering.

Many call 'Difford & Tilbrook' the lost Squeeze album. To these ears, though, there was a grown-up sophistication to these songs not prevalent on 1982 album 'Sweets From a Stranger,' the last before Squeeze (temporarily) broke up. I think 1984 album 'Difford & Tilbrook' was the bridge between the old sound we all loved and the darker atmosphere to come on reunion album 'Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti' in 1985. I'm not sure how much we owe to producer Tony Visconti for 'Difford & Tilbrook,' but it wouldn't surprise me if it was a lot.

I was looking up the charts today to see how 'Difford & Tilbrook' and the singles from the album fared. I remembered seeing the video for first single "Love's Crashing Waves" a few times in the summer of '84 (when I was watching MTV every waking moment). So I was a bit surprised when I didn't find it anywhere on the Billboard Hot 100. "Love's Crashing Waves" did a little better in the UK, but still peaked at a somewhat anemic No. 57. It deserved a better fate. Let's give the 12" extended remix an airing. There aren't too many of those mid-'80s remix flourishes that sound so bad today. The other song is a non-album B-side with a country tinge. I didn't really remember hearing the song before today, but it's not at all bad for a flip side.

"Love's Crashing Waves" (Extended Remix)
"Within These Walls of Without You"