Thursday, June 27, 2013

When Roddy Dropped Aztec Camera...

Even though Aztec Camera was mostly a one-man operation, I was sad when Roddy Frame officially went solo by name. I shouldn't have been. I wasn't a huge fan of the last few Aztec Camera albums anyway (although there were some fine moments), and the trio of albums with his real moniker on it turned out to be proud achievements more than worthy of the Frame name.

I was surprised to find that nearly 750 posts into this blog I have never mentioned two of the three Frame albums. I did write a mushy love letter about 'Surf' last year, and it is by far my favorite of the three solo albums, but 'The North Star' and 'Western Skies' should be on your shelf too. There is much to like here. The songwriting is top-notch, and the lyrics often seem very personal and heartfelt. Regardless of what the calendar says, Frame's vocals never sounded better. What's most refreshing, however, is the overindulgent production that hampered efforts like 'Love' and 'Dreamland' is nowhere to be found on any of these releases. I must admit I had a little problem getting into 'Western Skies,' but it has really grown on me.

One problem: I don't know how it is across the pond, but all three of these albums are tough to get a hold of in America. I have never even seen a Frame solo album in a brick-and-mortar store. I just took a quick look at the UK version of Amazon. You can still order them, but they can cost a pretty penny, oops, I mean pence. How about a little listen before you buy? I'm having quite a time choosing one song to represent an entire album. These aren't really records chock full of singles. Just expect a more mature and understated Frame from beginning to end. I'm taking the easy way out with the title tracks from each album.

OK, the real reason I'm writing about Frame today is because a nice reader by the name of Pádraig asked for a re-post of some live Aztec Camera I had up in June 2012. This version of "Jump" is from a Barrowlands show in '88 that didn't make the cut on any of those fine reissues from last year. So, here you go, sir. I'll keep the links up for a few days. Enjoy.

Roddy Frame - The North Star (mp3) (1998) (Buy)
Roddy Frame - Surf (mp3) (2002) (Buy)
Roddy Frame - Western Skies (mp3) (2006) (Buy)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Cup Runneth Over (Part 2)

I may live in Seattle now, but Chicago will always be first in my heart. Thank you, Blackhawks, for one of the most exciting Stanley Cups in memory. It was a pleasure committing to the Indian again.

Dick Marx Orchestra - Here Come the Hawks (mp3)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cover Me Impressed: 'I'll Be Your Mirror'

The Primitves' debut album 'Lovely' turns 25 this year. To celebrate, a two-disc reissue of the album comes out next week. Makes you feel a bit long in the tooth, eh? Well, then, let's skip ahead just enough to avoid epic anniversaries. In 1989, the Primitives followed up 'Lovely' with 'Pure' and preceded the release with the "Sick of It" single. The 12" had two B-sides, the Paul Court original "Noose" and this Lou Reed composition that appeared on the seminal 'The Velvet Underground & Nico' in 1967.

The vinyl edition of 'Pure' that I bought in 1989 didn't include either one of these B-sides, but I see by a quick check on Amazon that at some point they were added to the album. I have to admit that bums me out a little.

Court and Tracy Tracy must have quite an affinity for Nico. The Primitives covered "I'm Not Sayin'" -- the Gordon Lightfoot song that became her first single in 1965 -- on their excellent 2012 album 'Echoes & Rhymes.'

So, the following is taken from my rather scratchy "Sick of It" 12". Don't worry. The sound gets better after the first 20 seconds. One footnote: It's interesting that on the back cover it says these songs are from the forthcoming album 'Purity.' I guess the powers that be decided to go with 'Pure' in the 11th hour.

The Primitives - I'll Be Your Mirror (mp3)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

B-Side From the Bluebells

When one thinks of Elvis Costello as producer, his work with the Specials, Squeeze or even the Pogues would probably be the first to come to mind, but let's not forget the handful of songs he did with the Scottish jangle-pop band the Bluebells. Here's one you'll find on the flip side of the "Sugar Bridge (It Will Stand)" 12" from 1983. There are actually two Costello-produced songs on the record, the other is "Happy Birthday (Turn Gold)," and I think both are superior to the single. Incidentally, "Sugar Bridge" stalled at No. 72 on the UK chart.

I know of at least two other songs Costello produced for the band. "Aim in Life" is the B-side to the band's debut single, "Forevermore," from 1982. The other is "Will She Always Be Waiting" from the 1984 full-length album 'Sisters.' If I have missed any others, please let me know. I'm quite enamored with these lads. Like fellow Scotsmen Friends Again, the Bluebells came and went rather quickly, but they have left quite a mark on me. This recording is straight from my vinyl, but you can still find this song and many other gems on 'The Singles Collection.' That seems to be about all you'll find in print from these fellas. What a pity.

The Bluebells - Some Sweet Day (mp3)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cover Me Impressed: 'Girls Talk'

"There are some things you can't cover up with lipstick and powder..." I wonder how many hundreds of times I have heard this opening line. Elvis Costello has said "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" was a song he always wished he had written. Today we will listen to a song he did write but that he wished he had kept for himself. Costello wrote "Girls Talk" and, as he noted in the liner notes to the 'Get Happy!!' reissue from Rhino, "[gave it] away to Dave Edmunds in a moment of drunken bravado."

You have to hand it to Edmunds. He made the most of this gift. The single would peak at No. 4 in the UK and a modest No. 65 in America. (Let's not cry for Costello either. As the writer, he must have made quite a few shekels.) It was the opener to his 1979 covers album 'Repeat When Necessary.' He was backed by Nick Lowe, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams. It's amazing to think these same four fellas appear together on Lowe's excellent
'Labour of Lust' album at the same time... and that Rockpile's 'Seconds of Pleasure' would be just around the corner. Of course, in '80, they all appeared together on Edmunds' 'Twangin'' and Carlene Carter's 'Musical Shapes' as well. Wow!

Costello's recorded version first appeared as the B-side to the 1980 single "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down." I didn't have that 45. Like many in America, I first heard the song on the odds-n-sods collection 'Taking Liberties.' Although I have all 20 tunes from that album as bonus tracks on Costello reissues, I have always held on to 'Taking Liberties' because I love the track order. In my world, "Girls Talk" is always supposed to come after "Clean Money" and before "Talking in the Dark." I have had the album for so long that it has always felt like a regular studio release. Maybe that's because even though several musical style are represented, all of the songs were recorded in such a small window of time, and the quality of work was so high. Costello was quite prolific between 1977 and the release of 'Taking Liberties' in 1980.

So, even though Edmunds and his Rockpile mates ended up with the hit and Costello used it as a B-side, I'll usually take the Costello version. If you're a fan of the Costello version as well, there is an additional (but inferior) "alternate take" of "Girls Talk" on that same Rhino reissue of 'Get Happy!!' that I mentioned earlier.

Dave Edmunds - Girls Talk (mp3)
Elvis Costello - Girls Talk (mp3)

Trivia: Who wrote "Bad is Bad," the B-side of Edmunds' "Girls Talk?"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Single From Between Dexys' Smash LPs...

The year following the hugely successful debut album 'Searching For the Young Soul Rebels' was a tumultuous one for Dexys Midnight Runners. Label issues and a less-than-friendly relationship with the music press made 1981 a real head-scratcher. Ultimately, Dexys jumped from EMI to Mercury and quit conversing with journalists all together. If Kevin Rowland & Co. had something to say, they would take out an ad or do what they did with the release of the single I'm featuring today... write a mini manifesto and stick it inside the sleeve. The band had much to get off their chests when "Show Me" was released in the summer of '81. I'm holding the single and the enclosed message in my hand right now. I thought I would share a snippet of the group's thinking at the time:

"Dexy's Midnight Runners are not a band, and we don't play gigs and we don't make albums. We're a group, we perform shows and we intend to make an LP quite soon. There's so much confusion surrounding us. Of course, our music paper essays help to get our point of view across, but they also supply the freedom and the motive for music writers to create the their own image of us. So from now on we'll use whatever means we can to communicate. The grooves in the records just aren't enough. Incidentally, our reasons for not talking to the music press are simple: We care passionately about what we do and feel the writers have very little understanding of the values and standards by which we judge our craft. We just happen to think that what we're doing bears no relation to the types of music usually appraised in those papers, and don't see why we should have to entrust our work to what are essentially 'Rock' writers."

This was merely the introduction. There are five more paragraphs that get into the specifics of the music, the shows, the group and, interestingly, their stance on the use of alcohol (or the lack thereof). You may know this was also around the time Rowland instituted an exercise program for the group. Interesting times, indeed, and quite a read.

"Show Me" made a nice bridge between the soul of the first album and the Celtic sound of 'Too-Rye-Aye,' and it peaked at No. 16 on the singles chart in the UK. The horns of "Big" Jim Paterson and the rest of the lads are top-notch. The short B-side, "Soon," may sound familiar to you. It would be reworked a tiny bit to become the 90-second intro to "Plan B" on the next album. If you like these songs, it might be worth it to you to pick up the deluxe edition of 'Too-Rye-Aye.' The second disc contains a live show from June 26, 1982, and both of these songs were on the set list that night.

Dexys Midnight Runners - Show Me (mp3)
Dexys Midnight Runners - Soon (mp3)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wondering If Wondermints Will Rise Again

Most of my favorite power-pop albums came out in the late '70s and early '80s, but there were some wonderful releases of this ilk in the '90s as well. Matthew Sweet's 'Girlfriend,' Jason Falkner's 'Presents Author Unknown' and Velocity Girl's '¡Simpatico!' are a few that immediately come to mind, but anything by Wondermints would shoot by them all... with a bullet.

The band's 1995 self-titled debut album is arguably the best of the bunch, but today I want to give some love to their often overlooked third album. 'Bali' isn't as well known because it came out on a Japanese label, quickly went out of print, was briefly reissued domestically years later and, sadly, went out of print again. It's an old story, but I find this shameful. We are talkin' 1998. They were kings of L.A's power-pop scene, had just worked on the soundtrack to the first Austin Powers movie and were only a year away from becoming a permanent part of Brian Wilson's backing band.

For fans like me, Wondermints joining Wilson has been a blessing and a curse. Working with a god like Wilson all of these years is a chance you don't pass up, and the results have been nothing short of miraculous, but Wondermints as its own entity have been almost nonexistent since 'Bali.' There has been only one release of new material, and that was more than a decade ago. I'm still hopeful we will hear from them again one day.

Wondermints - Arnaldo Said (mp3)
Wondermints - Cellophane (mp3)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Few From the Former Mrs. Nick Lowe

It happens every time. I post something about Nick Lowe and then lose myself in his music for days. I'm digging deep today to bring you songs from his ex-wife, Carlene Carter. Lowe was married to her from 1979 to 1990 (that was her getting hitched to Lowe in the "Cruel to Be Kind" music video), and he had his fingerprints all over her work while they were a couple. Two of those albums, 'Musical Shapes' from 1980 and 'Blue Nun' from 1981, are quite good. Carter surrounded herself with the usual suspects from Lowe's bands... with fantastic results. Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, Terry Williams, Bobby Irwin and Paul Carrack are all there. To these ears, 'Musical Shapes' leans a little bit country, and the dial on 'Blue Nun' points a little bit Rockpile. Lowe produced both records and co-wrote some of the songs.

Lowe and his pals seem to have been less involved with 'Two Sides to Every Woman' from 1979 and 'C'Est C Bon' from 1983, and it's reflected in the final product. Still, there are a couple of interesting curiosities, including a Carter/Lowe composition called "Do It in a Heartbeat" and a cover of "Radio Sweetheart." John McFee played guitar on 'Two Sides to Every Woman,' and you may recognize his name from playing pedal steel on Elvis Costello's original version (EC's first professionally recorded song, trivia fans!), as well as popping up all over 'My Aim Is True.' Lowe, of course, produced that gem from 1977.

After 'C'Est C Bon,' Carter didn't release another album for seven years. By then the marriage was over. I haven't bought anything else by her outside of these four albums because, frankly, the Lowe connection wasn't there. You may know some of these picks below from other albums, such as Carrack's version of "Don't Give My Heart a Break" on 'Suburban Voodoo' and Lowe's version of "Too Many Teardrops" on 'Nick the Knife.'

Carlene Carter - Do It in a Heartbeat (mp3) (1979)
Carlene Carter - Radio Sweetheart (mp3) (1979)
Carlene Carter - Baby Ride Easy (mp3) (1980) (duet w/ Edmunds)
Carlene Carter - Oh How Happy (mp3) (1981) (duet w/ Carrack)
Carlene Carter - Too Many Teardrops (mp3) (1981)
Carlene Carter - Don't Give My Heart a Break (mp3) (1983)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Curtain Call: Nick Lowe From 1994

If I could have only one Nick Lowe album (what a nightmare!), I would choose 'Jesus of Cool.' Obvious pick. If I could have two, my next choice would be 'The Impossible Bird.' So, let's listen to a song from the 'Jesus of Cool' era that was recorded live while touring in support of 'The Impossible Bird.' The song was taken from a November 1994 show at the Sun Plaza in Tokyo. Lowe slows down the tempo a bit from the original, giving it a slightly blues feel. You can find it on the wonderful 'Live! On the Battlefield' EP.

Nick Lowe & the Impossible Birds - 36 Inches High (Live) (mp3)