Saturday, November 30, 2013

Something for the Stocking From AED Records

Edwyn Collins' label, AED Records, is playing Santa Claus with quite a little freebie. Just buy something from AED's store during December and they will throw in 'Thrillingly,' a bootleg recording of Orange Juice recorded live at Stirling University in 1981. Yes, it's on cassette, and I'm assuming the typical reader here still has a cassette deck, but AED is throwing in a download code as well. Some unknown fan of the band sent AED this show taken straight from the soundboard, and it is said to be very clean. All of those early sing-alongs are there, 'Falling and Laughing,' 'Blue Boy,' 'Felicity,' and more. This would be quite a little Christmas companion to the reissue of Aztec Camera's 'High Land, Hard Rain,' also available through AED. Are you there, Mrs. LTL?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Get Stiff'd on Black Friday

This year's Black Friday edition of Record Store Day won't get me to my nearest mom-and-pop shop at the crack of dawn, but I did find an item (or two) worth passing along.

Razor & Tie has teamed up with a legendary label to release a limited edition and individually numbered 7" box set. 'Ten Big Stiffs' includes Tenpole Tudor's "Swords of a Thousand Men," Tracey Ullman's "They Don't Know," Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites, "Kirsty MacColl's "A New England" and five more 45s housed in the paper sleeves you remember from your youth. Here's a little video vignette on Stiff put together to promote this collectible, as well as an actual look at the box itself.

We could argue about our favorite artist from the Stiff stable, but I would probably go with Nick Lowe. He's still as relevant today as he was all those decades ago.

Now I'm not a big fan of picture discs. In fact, I only own one in my entire album collection. Perhaps I'm about to acquire my second. Just for the Black Friday edition of Record Store Day, Yep Roc is releasing Lowe's new holiday album, 'Quality Street,' as a 12" picture disc. There are only 1,000 of these available. The record has three Lowe originals, a song written by Ron Sexsmith just for his pal, as well as seasonal favorites like "Silent Night."

If you're not traveling far for Thanksgiving, you're going to love this song and video for "Christmas at the Airport."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ballots Cast: Best Scottish Album From the '80s

The votes have been counted. Thanks to all who participated in this less than scientific endeavor.

Best Scottish Album From the 1980s
1. Aztec Camera -'High Land, Hard Rain'
2. Orange Juice - 'You Can't Hide Your Love Forever'
3. Big Country - 'The Crossing'
4. The Jesus and Mary Chain - 'Psychocandy'
4. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - 'Rattlesnakes'
6. Danny Wilson - 'Meet Danny Wilson'
6. Josef K - 'The Only Fun in Town'
6. The Skids - 'The Absolute Game'

The following albums also received votes:
Associates - 'Sulk'
The Blue Nile - 'A Walk Across the Rooftops'
Close Lobsters - 'Foxheads Stalk This Land'
Deacon Blue - 'Raintown'
Eurythmics - 'Touch'
Momus - 'Tender Pervert'
The Proclaimers - 'This Is the Story'
Simple Minds - 'New Gold Dream'
Texas - 'Southside'

I had high hopes 'High Land, Hard Rain' would lead the way, but the poll was still full of surprises. Let's dig into the data. I didn't expect Simple Minds would top the list, but I thought the reason would be because their fandom would split the vote between the band's six albums from the decade. Shockingly, Simple Minds received one vote.

For those of you scratching your head about the high rank for 'The Crossing,' you should know I post quite a bit about Big Country. So, I believe I have picked up some readers that are die-hard fans. I imagine those fans would lean the Skids' way as well.

I thought the Blue Nile and Deacon Blue would garner more interest, perhaps even a write-in drive for 'Hats,' but I imagine many American readers don't know these records as well as my UK friends. Two albums that didn't get a fair shake were 'Del Amitri' and 'Sulk.' I mistakenly posted the wrong album name for Del Amitri's debut, and even though I let everyone know my screw up I imagine the error made a difference. 'Sulk,' on the other hand, was left off the list completely. I swear I had it on the ballot, but it didn't show up on the front end for some reason. Big apologies to my pal George. He was the one that suggested 'Sulk' might be the best album from Scotland during the debate that inspired the poll. I think we can all agree 'Del Amitri' and 'Sulk' are terrific listens. Finally, I love that more than 30 years later the legend of Postcard Records is alive and well.

I don't know why the music of Scotland is so good, but I do know that little corner of the world has given me endless hours of audio bliss. I hope it has for you too. If it hasn't, then you obviously haven't heard the excellent albums above. Get yourself an education. Here is something from each of the three albums that captured double-digit percentages of the vote:

Aztec Camera - Lost Outside the Tunnel (mp3) (Buy)
Big Country - Harvest Home (12") (mp3) (Buy)
Orange Juice - L.O.V.E. Love (mp3) (Buy)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vote for Best Scottish Album From the 1980s

Thanks for the lively debate on the best album from Scotland we had the other day. I really wanted to do something with the suggestions, but I'm also mindful of the amount of time it would take to do an all-time best list. So, I whittled it down to tops from the 1980s. Sure, there are big holes here, but I think it's pretty good for 30 minutes of work. The biggest problem is including all of the albums from some of the more lengthy discographies. For every 'New Gold Dream' there is a 'Sparkle in the Rain,' if you catch my drift. Well, the list would be out of control pretty quickly if I went that route. So, I picked what I perceived to be the biggest vote-getter from each band. If you disagree with my pick, choose "other" at the bottom of the list and tell me your choice in the comments section. The other caveat was defining "Scottish band." For examples, Lloyd Cole makes the cut if it's an album with the all-Scottish Commotions backing him up. Eurythmics are here even though only half of the duo is from Scotland. I made these choices because I like them and wanted them to be here. Pull the lever now. Then elaborate on your vote in the comments section as you exit the polling station. Voting ends in one week.

Please Note: The entry for Del Amitri should be the self-titled debut album from 1985. I noticed the mistake almost immediately, but there were already nine votes by the time I attempted to repair it. Those votes would be wiped out if I made the fix. So, I'm leaving the error. Grr. Why did I rush?


Results to come...

12 Inches of Love: 'Hanna Hanna'

I have to make this short (but sweet) today. This is the third time in 2013 I have pulled out the old China Crisis for this series, but I promise it will be the last because I only have three 12" singles from the band. Of course, if I ever get lucky enough to track down the extended versions of "African and White" or "King in a Catholic Style," I may have to renege.

"Hanna Hanna" was the third single from the 1983 album 'Working with Fire and Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume Two.' It was the followup to their biggest UK hit, the No. 9 smash "Wishful Thinking." By comparison, "Hanna Hanna" peaked at a modest No. 44. The extended version takes some interesting turns from the take heard on the album. I particularly like the nearly a cappella vocals late in the mix. If you are a fan, I think you will really enjoy it. If you aren't, perhaps the breezy "Hanna Hanna" will be the song to sway you.

China Crisis - Hanna Hanna (Extended Mix) (mp3)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

'High Land, Hard Rain' Anniversary Continues

Thirty years after the debut of the best album to come out of Scotland, Domino Records is releasing a remastered anniversary edition of Aztec Camera's 'High Land, Hard Rain' on 180-gram heavyweight vinyl and with a new gatefold inner sleeve. OK, most of us are probably content with our old vinyl copies or the deluxe edition that came out on CD last year. The label realizes this, and they have upped the ante considerably to get you to purchase the brilliant debut album one more time.

The album will include an interesting 7" EP, individually signed by Roddy Frame himself. The A-side is "The Boy Wonders" and "Release" from a Capital Radio session. The B-side (this is big!), is the NME C81 version of "We Could Send Letters" and the bedroom demo of "The Bugle Sounds Again."

You can preorder for a Dec. 2 ship date through Roddy's new label, Edwyn Collins' AED Records. For you aristocrats, there is also a package exclusive to AED that includes a 12 x 12 inch Giclee print of the 'High Land, Hard Rain' front cover.' If you are seeing Roddy Frame at one of the three UK shows to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the album, this reissue will be available there to buy as well. Here are all the details and ordering information. Sounds like a fabulous Christmas gift, eh?

If you're a regular reader, you may recall I finally bought C81 a couple of years ago. So, let's give "We Could Send Letters" a listen.

Aztec Camera - We Could Send Letters (C81 Version) (mp3)

If you disagree with my opening statement about the best Scottish album, file complaints in the comments section for further scrutiny.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Best Time to Warm Up to the Lucksmiths

Have you ever completely missed the boat on a veteran band and then tried to dip your big toe into the discography? It can be a challenge, but that's what happened to me a few years back with Yo La Tengo. I had a feeling I was missing something special, but with a dozen albums to choose from I didn't really know where to begin. Perhaps that has happened with you and today's band.

If you have ever contemplated succumbing to the charms of the Aussie outfit the Lucksmiths but were intimidated by the 11-album backlog from the band's storied career, now is the time to jump on the bandwagon. C'mon, there's plenty of room, and Matinée Recordings has just the record to get you started. The label announced this week the Lucksmiths' third (and arguably best) album, 'Warmer Corners,' is being released on vinyl for the first time ever. This is when the band expanded to a four piece and incorporated strings, horns and even pedal steel to create a record not just filled with hooks but with real beauty as well. It's a perfect example of everything a pop record can be.

OK, you may need a little luck to get your hands on the limited edition vinyl of this Lucksmiths' masterpiece from 2005. There are only going to be 500 of these worldwide. The album will be hand numbered and come with a download card. Matinée will also throw in 'Warmer Corners' postcards and posters while supplies last. Even though I have this on CD, I may have to buy this one all over again. Call now. Operators are standing by.... Sorry I got carried away with the commercial speak, but I can't help it. In my world this is exciting stuff. Here's the real deal: You can preorder now for a November 25 ship date. In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here's the single "The Chapter In Your Life Entitled San Francisco." Do they remind you of another band from Down Under?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

'Happy Birthday, What More Can I Say?'

This one is dedicated to... myself.

I have already posted all about these Scottish lads once before. So, I'll keep this brief. I found the Bluebells during a period of my life I like to call "The Great Costello Grab." Most of my teen years were spent acquiring anything associated with Elvis Costello, from old Trouser Press covers to bizarre promo items like the three-dimensional cutout of his clown head from the 'Spike' cover that undulated on a big spring. I got into the Bluebells because Costello produced seven songs for the band, including "Happy Birthday (Turn Gold)" from the flipside to the 1983 12" single "Sugar Bridge (It Will Stand)."

As I wrote the first time around, the band's brand of pop is pleasant and lightweight. They remind me of Friends Again just a bit, but I wouldn't say I like the Bluebells quite as much as that Scottish peer. My favorite piece of trivia about the band is that they were asked to record a single for Postcard, but the label folded before it came to fruition. "Happy Birthday" first appeared as a flexi for the Glasgow magazine Stand & Deliver. You can find that version on the wonderful 'Scared to Get Happy' box set. The Costello-produced song is available on 'The Singles Collection.'

Happy birthday to me. I hope you enjoy both takes of the song.

The Bluebells - Happy Birthday (Turn Gold) (mp3)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cover Me Impressed: 'Balloon Song'

One of my favorite albums from the impressive catalog of Slumberland Records is the Aisler Set's 'The Last Match.' Although the band's home base was San Francisco and the record came out in 2000, you would swear it came from the UK in 1986. That's why the one cover on 'The Last Match' is such a perfect, well, match.

I'll let the band describe today's song... straight from the liner notes: "Ballon song was written by The Fourteen Iced Bears. The original can be found on their "Frank" single released in 1987 on capra, on the thunderball records compilation "precision," or on the 14 iced bears/hermit crabs split flexi also released in 1987. We love 'em."

'The Last Match' became SLR 62. The band probably didn't know that about a year later Slumberland would assemble a fantastic compilation of 14 Iced Bears' work. 'In the Beginning' would become SLR 65 and the definitive recollection of the C86 vets' heyday for many years. It's out of print now, but I recently read Cherry Red has picked up the slack with a double-disc reissue of everything 14 Iced Bears just this year.

Along with the cover, I'm including the two versions of "Balloon Song" I have from 'In the Beginning.' Most bands get harder, faster and rawer when they get into the studio for a Peel Session, but 14 Iced Bears toned it down quite a bit. At any rate, both takes, as well as the Aisler Set's cover, are a fantastic bit of jangle.

14 Iced Bears - Balloon Song (mp3)
14 Iced Bears - Balloon Song (Peel Session) (mp3)
The Aislers Set - Balloon Song (mp3)

Friday, November 8, 2013

No Longer 'Red' Over Price of New Prefab Sprout

Fans of Prefab Sprout here in America can close their jaws again. 'Crimson/Red' is no longer listed for $49 on Amazon. I was so distraught at the price upon its initial release that I bought it on Amazon UK and had it shipped to Seattle for what seemed like the fair price of $18... including shipping. Well, now I see you can get it for as low as $12, excluding shipping, on Amazon Marketplace. So, fence-sitters, it's time to catch up with Paddy McAloon.

After about a dozen listens I am ready to give 'Crimson/Red' a high grade. I admit I went into the album filled with angst. There seemed to be so much going against it. Although it says Prefab Sprout on the cover, this was actually a McAloon solo effort. He played every instrument. McAloon is 56 years old now and has had some health issues. More than a decade has come and gone since we have heard brand-new material. PR photos released around 'Crimson/Red' depicted a man that looked like the bridge dweller from "Three Billy Goats Gruff." Most of all, unlike Prefab Sprout's best albums, Thomas Dolby didn't man the controls.

As you will hear, my worries were unfounded. Despite McAloon's DIY approach, the album sounds great. A tip of the cap to Scottish engineer Calum Malcolm. If that name sounds familiar, it's because his name pops up all over records by a who's who of his fellow countrymen, including the Blue Nile, Deacon Blue, Orange Juice and Simple Minds. Not only is the production crisp, but McAloon's voice is as strong as it was in the mid-'80s. Sorry, no, I'm not comparing 'Crimson/Red' to 'Steve McQueen' by any stretch. Like that seminal album, however, if I can just get past the occasional over-the-top lyrics, I think I could be pulling this one off the shelf for years to come.

No hyperbole here, but you should listen for yourself. You can get a download of "The Songs of Danny Galway" for the price of an email address here. Check out the video for the first single and album opener "The Best Jewel Thief in the World" below. Finally, if you have the time, catch up with McAloon during an interview with the BBC last month.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In Dreams...

Would you like to get out from behind that desk? Here's an option from swingin' London:
Record store up for sale on eBay

Friday, November 1, 2013

When Blueboy Grew Up

From 'Return of the Pink Panther'
Clouseau: How long have you been a bellboy?
Bellboy: Ah, too long monsieur.
Clouseau: Well, keep up this good work and very soon I will see to it you become a bellman.

It's a beautiful fall day here in the Pacific Northwest... and a perfect time to pull out one of the crowning achievements from the catalog of Sarah Records. Until recently I always assumed Blueboy got its name from one of the best recordings Orange Juice ever committed to wax. Now I can only wish that was the case. Twenty years ago frontman Keith Girdler told a music magazine the moniker came from the Picasso painting "Blue Boy." The disappointments end there. If you aren't sure where to start, I would skip ahead a bit, beyond a handful of really good singles and a well-done album (that might be described as the typical sensitive Sarah fare) and go straight to the 1994 LP 'Unisex.' Clouseau would probably say that's when Blueboy became Blueman.

The leap from the 'If Wishes Were Horses' album to 'Unisex' is like when American Bob Beamon broke the world record in the long jump by nearly two feet during the 1968 Olympics. By then the band's personnel had grown threefold. The additions of multi-instrumentalist Gemma Townley (and she could sing too!) and guitarist Harvey Williams (yes, from Another Sunny Day) as lyricist Girdler and guitarist/songwriter Paul Stewart were maturing allowed the group to create much more complex songs while still adhering to that patented Sarah sound. There would be other EPs and even one more album (although not on Sarah), but I think 'Unisex' is Blueboy's best moment.

You can buy 'Unisex' with the post-album additions of the 'River' and 'Dirty Mags' EPs here. For you trivia buffs out there, 'Dirty Mags' was the last recording done by the label (Sarah, 099). Here are my three favorites from 'Unisex,' but I have found this is one of those albums best listened to from beginning to end.

Blueboy - Cosmopolitan (mp3)
Blueboy - The Joy of Living (mp3)
Blueboy - Imipramine (mp3)