Friday, September 28, 2012

One More Time With Amelia Fletcher

It wasn't the plan, but this week has become an impromptu celebration of Amelia Fletcher. Since we have already listened to Talulah Gosh and Heavenly, let's conclude with something a little more recent. For the past decade, Fletcher has been fronting Tender Trap. The band is a wonderful bit of twee and not all that far removed from the sound Heavenly did so well. My favorite of Tender Trap's works is 'Dansette Dansette.' I liked it so much, in fact, it made my list of the ten best albums of 2010.

Fletcher has always seemed to have a knack for finding other female voices that mix well with her own sweet vocals. The standouts this time around were Elizabeth Morris (guitar) and Katrina Dixon (drums). You may recognize Morris' name from her own work fronting the brilliant Allo Darlin'. Have you ever noticed Fletcher's name pops up quite a bit in your record collection? She has worked with so many bands I like, including the Hit Parade, Pooh Sticks and Brilliant Corners. That tells me she must be well liked and admired. It doesn't seem right I'm tooting the horn of the great Fletcher without even mentioning the fact that her husband, Rob Pursey, has been in all of Fletcher's bands listed above, as well as Marine Research, the band she was in between Heavenly and Tender Trap.

You can find all of the following songs on 'Dansette Dansette.' If you don't have this album, you need it. Just listen to the "heavenly" vocals on the "Do You Want a Boyfriend?" video. Wow!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A 'Heavenly' Option

Since Talulah Gosh's "Talulah Gosh" was the subject of my last post, it's not too much of a leap that today's selection is Heavenly's "C Is the Heavenly Option." The song comes from the band's second full-length album (not including the Talulah Gosh material, obviously), and, if you don't include the bonus tracks on the reissue of the debut album, 'Heavenly vs. Satan,' I would say this is their best.

Beat Happening member and K Records founder Calvin Johnson is the male voice on the following song. Incidentally, 'Le Jardin' and Heavenly's other albums came out in America on his label. I did a little Internet surfing today and found a fair bit of criticism of this song from bloggers and the like, due mostly to Johnson. I'll respectfully disagree. No matter. Johnson would continue to make guest appearances on Heavenly's records. You can tell a good time was had by all in the studio.

Heavenly - C Is the Heavenly Option (mp3)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shout Out For Talulah Gosh's 'Talulah Gosh'

Here's a lazy game I have been saving in my head for a day when I don't have much time to post. This is the day.

Quite a few bands have a song named after themselves, such as "X" from X's album 'Blue Blood.' Among those, a handful of them are pretty good. Madness is the only one I can think of that pulled off this feat twice, first with the Prince Buster cover "Madness" and, later, with "Madness (Is All In The Mind)." I also like Talk Talk's "Talk Talk" quite a bit, but that's a very early single that doesn't quite capture just how talented the band would later become. "They Might Be Giants" is on my favorite TMBG album, 'Flood,' but it's not the best song on the LP... by a long shot. There are others worthy of honorable mentions, such as "Van Dyke Parks," "Fishbone" and "Tin Machine." but here's my pick for best song/band with the same name.

If you're a Sarah Records fan and know the twee pop of Heavenly, and they could almost make this list with "Our Love Is Heavenly," then you probably know many of the band's members were briefly part of the C86 scene as Talulah Gosh. The single "Talulah Gosh" came out on the legendary (at least in my mind) 53rd & 3rd label in 1987. Give this bit of jangle a listen. Do you have a favorite song/band with the same name?

Talulah Gosh - Talulah Gosh (mp3)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Can Madness Match 'Norton Folgate'?

Tidbits on the impending release from Madness have been trickling in and, if you heard the band's last album, you know there is reason to be excited. Like most of you, I imagine, I had given up on expecting anything good from the Nutty Boys more than 25 years ago. Much like recent albums from OMD and Dexys, Madness' 2009 release, 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate,' took me completely by surprise. I would put it up against anything in the band's catalog... even the Stiff years. I'll give you a moment to close your jaw.

About six weeks ago, Madness gave out a new song as a free download. We knew it would be part of a new album, but we didn't have an album name, street date or any other important details. All we had was "Death of a Rude Boy." If you haven't heard it yet, you can grab it below. For you 2 Tone Records fans, this new song is going to sound very very familiar. (You could even say "derivative." Hopefully their old pals the Specials find the whole thing flattering.) We just learned the new song will appear on 'Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da,' and the album will be out Oct. 30. The first official single will be "My Girl 2" and will be released a week earlier. Kind of an interesting song title for us old-school fans, eh?

Here's the complete album tracklist, and you can preorder here. I'm hopeful we'll have an album worthy of following up the brilliant 'Norton Folgate.'

Madness - Death of a Rude Boy (mp3)

'Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da' Tracklist
1. My Girl 2
2. Never Knew Your Name
3. La Luna
4. How Can I Tell You
5. Kitchen Floor
6. Misery
7. Leon
8. Circus Freaks
9. So Alive
10. Small World
11. Death of A Rude Boy
12. Powder Blue (Bonus Track)
13. Black and Blue (Bonus Track)
14. My Girl 2 (Bonus Track)

Album Preview

Friday, September 21, 2012

Second Song From New A.C. Newman LP

Last month, I mentioned most of the info on the upcoming release from A.C. Newman, along with a new tune. Today, Newman's U.S. label, Matador, has given us a second song from 'Shut Down the Streets.' Like "I'm Not Talking," you'll recognize the distinctive voice of New Pornographers mate Neko Case on this second song, too. Newman's new material is supposed to be a bit of a departure, but I think this one would fit quite nicely alongside the more recent material of his other band. Enjoy "Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns" while you preorder Newman's new album. These two songs will make the wait for Oct. 9 a little easier.

A.C. Newman - I'm Not Talking (mp3)
A.C. Newman - Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns (mp3)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New Comp From The Hit Parade

The works of C86 heroes the Hit Parade have been a very tough find, but I have been fairly successful tracking down the meat of the band's discography. I broke down and bought the band's first two albums from a fella in Japan. I'm too embarrassed to tell you how much I spent on that transaction. Then, in August, I found the 2006 album 'The Return of the Hit Parade,' as well as the band's Sarah 7" single of "In Gunnersbury Park." Still, there are holes on my shelf, including some recent singles I have never heard.

Some of those gaps will be filled on Monday when JSH releases 'Pick of the Pops (Vol. 1),' a 20-track compilation covering most (but not all) of the Hit Parade's singles and essential tracks. As best-of packages go, it's a strong collection (see below), and I don't think fans have much to complain about. "Forever" is the only blatant absence from the early years. Honestly, I don't think I have been this excited about a comp since the Close Lobsters released 'Forever, Until Victory!'

Here's one from 'The Return of the Hit Parade,' as well as a video promo for the new album backed by the opening song of 'Pick of the Pops (Vol. 1).' If you're wondering about all of the Japanese references, just know the Hit Parade are a big deal over there.

The Hit Parade - Sugar (mp3)

'Pick of the Pops (Volume 1)' Tracklisting
1. The First Time (1992)
2. You Didn't Love Me Then (1985)
3. The Boy Who Loves Brighter (2011)
4. In Gunnersbury Park (1991)
5. The Sun Shines in Gerrards Cross (1985)
6. In Your Arms (2003)
7. House of Sarah (1994)
8. The Queen of Mousehole (2006)
9. Heuvos Mexicana (1985)
10. On the Road to Beaconsfield (1994)
11. Sugar (2006)
12. Hitomi (1991)
13. My Favorite Girl (1984)
14. Hello Hanna Hello (1994)
15. I Like Bubblegum (2010)
16. As I Lay Dying (1994)
17. See You in Havana (1985)
18. Christmas Tears (1990)
19. My Stupid Band (2006)
20. Autobiography (1994)

Friday, September 14, 2012

EBTG Week: Tracey Takes On...

... the holidays.

Yesterday, I gave the impression that, after the '80s, I gave up on Everything But The Girl. I suppose that's true, but I rediscovered my love for Tracey Thorn when she released the criminally underrated 'Love And Its Opposite,' just her third solo album, back in 2010. Now there's this news: I'm a real sucker for holiday music. So, back in August, I was excited to read Thorn would be releasing her own album of seasonal songs at the end of October.

'Tinsel and Lights' will have two original tunes by Thorn, as well as some fine selections by the likes of Green Gartside and Ron Sexsmith. What's more, Ben Watt is said to be all over this project. No, this isn't quite the EBTG reunion many of us have anticipated for years, but we'll take it.

Here is a melancholy song from 'Love And Its Opposite,' as well as a few promised EBTG covers and an extremely alternate take of a bigger-than-life classic from yesterday's post. Thorn and Watt have performed many inspiring covers together, but I think these are a cut above the rest.

I don't know if you're someone who looked at this week's series on EBTG as a walk down memory lane, or perhaps you never heard the duo before. Either way, I hope this gets you to a turntable for repeated listens to one of my favorite bands.

Tracey Thorn - Oh, The Divorces! (mp3)
Everything But The Girl - Kid (mp3)
Everything But The Girl - Almost Blue (mp3)
Everything But The Girl - Time After Time (mp3)
Everything But The Girl - Come On Home (acoustic) (mp3)

'Tinsel and Lights' Tracklist
1. Joy (written by Tracey Thorn)
2. Hard Candy Christmas (originally performed by Dolly Parton)
3. Like a Snowman (written by Stephin Merritt)
4. Maybe This Christmas (written by Ron Sexsmith)
5. In the Cold, Cold Night (written by Jack White)
6. Snow (written by Randy Newman)
7. Snow in Sun (written by Green Gartside of Scritti Politti)
8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (holiday classic)
9. Tinsel and Lights (written by Tracey Thorn)
10. River (written by Joni Mitchell)
11. Taking Down the Tree (feat. Green Gartside, written by Low)
12. Sister Winter (written by Sufjan Stevens)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

EBTG Week: Favorite Singles

I am a little worried about how to share a mix of my favorite hits from Everything But The Girl without giving away the farm and getting cuffed by the music police. So, I'm going old-school MTV style. It has been fun. I haven't watched some of these video promos in years, and there are even two I had never seen before today. On top of being a damn fine compilation, I think this group of videos are quite representative of EBTG's evolution from first single through fourth album.

"Night and Day" sounds like the simple lo-fi beginnings of the couple's solo albums. The jazz-influenced sophista-pop of the band's debut album gave way to jangle on 'Love Not Money.' The duo really went HUGE with lush orchestration and straight-ahead radio-friendly pop on 'Baby, The Stars Shine Bright.' By 'Idlewild,' EBTG began a lengthy foray into adult contemporary that turned off many longtime fans but still spawned some beautiful work.

Well, I have to admit I'm one of the fans I just wrote about. I have all four of EBTG's '80s albums (and a few odds and ends, like the "Night and Day" 12"). I consider them absolute treasures and still spin them with regularity. All four of these albums were just reissued as double-disc deluxe editions chock full of extras. Besides the wonderful 'Essence and Rare' compilation, I have never owned even so much as a single of the band's '90s output. I don't feel like I turned on them. Sometimes it just happens. If you want to blame someone, blame the Pixies.

Up Next: In conclusion... covers, rare and news on Thorn

"Night and Day" (mp3)
from "Night and Day" single (1982)

"Each and Every One"
from 'Eden' (1984)

"Native Land"
from 'Everything But The Girl' (1984)

"When All's Well"
from 'Love Not Money' (1985)

"Come on Home"
from 'Baby The Stars Shine Bright' (1986)

"Don't Leave Me Behind"
from 'Baby The Stars Shine Bright' (1986)

"Love Is Here Where I Live"
from 'Idlewild' (1988)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

EBTG Week: The First Album

You may be asking yourself the following questions: "Why in the world didn't this guy just call this post 'Eden,' and where is the Jane Fox artwork?" There is an explanation. Here in America, Everything But The Girl's first album was self-titled and released by Sire. That's the cover for it you see above. 'Eden' was released by Blanco Y Negro in the UK and other parts of Europe. The differences in name and physical look was nothing compared to the tracklists. For me, this was all moot.

I imagine there were quite a few in-the-know American college students that knew there were two vastly different EBTG albums in 1984, but I was a 14 year old who knew of the band only because Tracey Thorn was that wonderful voice on the Style Council's "The Paris Match." It was several years before I would see 'Eden' for sale as a very expensive import at a local record store. "What in the world is this," I asked myself. By the second time I saw it, I realized what 'Eden' was and that any self-respecting American fan needed both versions of their debut. So, although most fans call 'Eden' the band's debut, I see things differently. I have always preferred 'Everything But The Girl' because, for years, I didn't know any better. The American version stuck.

Of the 12 songs on the self-titled debut, half of them appeared on 'Eden.' Since 'Eden' also had 12 songs, you can seen the albums were like "night and day." (Get it, old-school fans?) The major inclusions to the American version were the UK singles "Mine" and "Native Land." Back in the day, in my opinion, it was important to have both versions. With the 2012 reissue campaign by Edsel, this no longer matters. If you buy the new 'Eden,' you can have all of the songs (and more) as a two-disc deluxe edition.

EBTG's debut was quite successful. 'Eden' went Gold and spawned its first Top 30 hit with "Each and Every One." It could have been even bigger. The album was shelved for a year during the label switch, and this was during the height of the sophista-pop movement. The jazz-infused sound that took the music scene by storm was already winding down by the time the record was finally released. Let's also not forget the duo was still busy at university when the album came out. When BBC television came calling for a performance of "Each and Every One," they had to decline because it was time for exams. Can you imagine?

This is my favorite moment in the EBTG canon. It's a tremendous extension of the duo's solo albums, but the production and instrumentation was a huge move forward. The lyrics are complex and often sad... just the kind of thing a melancholy teen from the cow pastures of Illinois would gravitate to.

Everything But The Girl - Each and Every One (mp3)

Up Next: My favorite EBTG songs from the rest of the '80s

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

EBTG Week: Early '80s Solo Albums

I often try to imagine what it must have been like to be Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn, circa 1982 and 1983. These must have been heady times for the university students from Hull. They were both signed to the Cherry Red label. Thorn was in Marine Girls while simultaneously working on a mini solo album. Watt was busy recording with Robert Wyatt of Soft Machine and working on his own record. And, of course, by 1983 the two were recording songs together for what would become the first album from Everything But The Girl. That's jumping ahead a bit. Today, let's stick to their solo albums from the period.

Thorn's 'A Distant Shore' (1982) was reportedly recorded for a mere £138. It's a quick listen... eight songs clocking in at 23 minutes. For me, it's a mood piece best listened to in its entirety. In fact, I don't ever remember spinning it for just one song. Thorn plays guitar and sings. That's it. There is no other instrument or artist. You'll find no studio wizardry. In a word, it's beautiful. I love the album cover, too. It was drawn by Jane Fox of Marine Girls. I have spent quite a few hours admiring the art while listening to the record. Thorn wouldn't record another album as a solo artist until 2007.

Like 'A Distant Shore,' Watt's 'North Marine Drive' (1983) is also a sparse endeavor, but it's a bit closer to the jazz-infused work of very early EBTG. I really dig this album, but the sax solos are a bit jarring to me. Thirty years have passed, and Watt has yet to release a sophomore solo album. What a pity. This LP proves he's quite a good vocalist, too. Here is a single from each of their debut solo albums.

Tracey Thorn - Plain Sailing (mp3) from 'A Distant Shore'
Ben Watt - Some Things Don't Matter (mp3) from 'North Marine Drive'

Next Up: The only EBTG album that gets its own day

Monday, September 10, 2012

EBTG Week: Marine Girls

I won't wax poetic about Tracey Thorn's pre-Everything But The Girl years as part of lo-fi gal group Marine Girls. Here's a quick primer: The band formed in 1980, and they released a couple of charming albums often compared to the work of the girls from the Raincoats. The songs on their two full-length albums, 'Beach Party' (1982) and 'Lazy Ways' (1983), seem simplistic and understated, and most of the tunes were written and performed on guitar by Thorn. If, like me, you think Thorn has the most amazing pipes in music, you might be surprised to learn while in Marine Girls she shared lead-vocal duties. Thorn is known to be quite shy, and I imagine that may have played at least a small part in what may seem like a head scratcher to EBTG fans.

There probably aren't too many of you out there that consider Marine Girls the highlight of Thorn's career. As you would expect, this is the work of a young talent still trying to find herself. She was, after all, a teenager (and a very young twentysomething) then. Still, and I don't think this is mere hindsight, you can already hear a certain sparkle... especially that voice!

I was pleasantly surprised to find you can still get 'Beach Party' and 'Lazy Ways' as a CD twofer via Cherry Red. Here are a couple of songs to whet your whistle.

Marine Girls - Love to Know (mp3) from 'Lazy Ways'
Marine Girls - Honey (mp3) from 'Beach Party'

Next Up: The solo albums of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Don't Feel Tardy...

My boys began a new academic year today. So, I'm about to have a little more time to school you on some music history. The first chapter will be an entire week on Everything But The Girl. Woo-hoo! In the meantime, here's one from the 'Valley Girl' soundtrack. Like, class dismissed.

Josie Cotton - School Is In (mp3)