Best Of 2016: Cait Brennan

Published on January 6th, 2017 in: Best Of Lists, Music, Reissues, Retrovirus |

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In really hard times, music is the only thing that gives me any kind of real comfort. I don’t know why I bring this up now, since 2016 was an unending laugh riot…

Anyway, here’s some music that mattered to me in 2016. There’s no real ranking here, and I’m sure I’m forgetting or neglecting a million things I discovered and adored. But for here, for now, a rundown of some things I loved this year.

New Releases

Fairy Bones, 8 Ball and Pink Plastic Cups: In 2015 Fairy Bones had one of my top albums of the year with Dramabot, produced by the always-dapper Bob Hoag. We didn’t get a new album in 2016 but these two singles are top-notch (and landed on a variety of savvy year-end best-of lists). Chelsey Louise is among the very best rock vocalists out there, and this tight-knit band is totally irresistible, so don’t bother resisting, just get this. New album coming in 2017; don’t miss it.

The Armoires, Incidental Lightshow: Yeah, I loved this record so much that I put it out on my own label Black Market Glamour. There’s a sonic dynamic/vocal interplay here somewhere between John Doe and Exene & Gram and Emmylou, with swirling sounds and moving stories that will cast an immediate spell. Deeply emotional, with deft lyrical sleight of hand, this is a record that rewards intimate, repeated listenings. Expect to fall in love. New record coming in the new year!

Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, Eyes On The Prize: the eminent music writer Mitchell Hillman once described Carol Pacey’s sound as a pioneering Americana thrash-pop and it’s an apt description; it’s Americana only in the sense that the Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” is Americana. On this, their second full-length outing, Carol and the Honey Shakers explore darker, moodier space, then kick out the jams at a speed and intensity few bands can touch. The push-pull between Carol’s amazing voice and the searing, soaring guitar work of Andy Borunda is something to behold.

Loveland Duren, Next: Memphis legends, national treasures—there aren’t enough superlatives you can throw at Vicki Loveland and Van Duren to really do ‘em justice. We’re talking about voices and songwriting of the very highest order here. Their first album together, 2013’s Bloody Cupid, was stunning, soulful, lush; Next pares it down to a raw, urgent sound, putting both the songs and Van and Vicki’s singular, beautiful, deeply affecting voices right up front. From its heartbreaking tribute to Johns Fry and Hampton to its gorgeous, intricate guitar work, this one is a must-have.

The Monkees, Good Times: Aptly named, this thing; who knew that after 50 years, the Monkees would not only still be a band, not only still making records, but that the record would be a lot of fun and great music besides? But how could you go wrong, really, with songwriting contributions from Paul Weller, Ben Gibbard, Adam Schlesinger (who also produced), Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Rivers Cuomo, as well as longtime Monkees cohorts like Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Goffin & King and the mighty Harry Nilsson—as well as cheery beyond-the-veil vocal contributions from the departed-but-not-gone Davy Jones and Nilsson himself. It’s a fresh and fun record and one of their very best.

Emitt Rhodes, Rainbow Ends: Despite the incessant prattling of its tiresome, sleazy, two-faced apologists, the major-label music industry always seems to take a special joy in destroying true artists. Said industry did a real number on Rhodes back in the 1970s, robbing him of both his life’s work and the will to create. It took 40-something years, a Herculean effort from producer Chris Price, and an all-star squad of musician-fans including Price, Taylor Locke, Jon Brion, Fernando Perdomo, Jason Falkner, Roger Manning, and Aimee Mann to bring Rhodes out of self-imposed exile. He’s not the fresh-faced kid anymore—both his voice and his songs reflect the journey his life has taken—but it’s all the more moving as a result: this is the real thing, real art and real heart and soul, something no corporate goons can synthesize—or silence.

The Legal Matters, Conrad: If you don’t know Detroit popsters the Legal Matters, set yourself straight with this outstanding collection of classic power pop sounds—tight songs, gorgeous harmonies, crunchy guitars, and a sense of joy you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

Fernando Perdomo, Voyeurs: I’ve met this guy once or twice, and I can tell you that he is an outstanding instrumentalist and a songwriter of great depth and versatility; there’s no genre, no style that is out of his range, and on Voyeurs he took to Facebook live and created/recorded the songs in front of an audience (something I myself have done, now and again). The result is tuneful, inventive, surprising, beautiful, heartbreaking. With gorgeous, poetic songs like “Feels,” “The One You Run To,” “Stay With The Friends,” and “Holding Back I Love Yous,” you’ll probably find yourself wishing he’d written one of these about you.

Sam Means, Ten Songs: Sam was half of the wonderful pop band The Format (Nate Ruess, now in fun., was the other), and while Nate has gotten most of the post-Format attention, Sam’s tuneful and thoughtful songs here are a reminder of his extraordinary gifts as a performer and songwriter. It’s a dynamite record and one you should own.

Ken Sharp, New Mourning: Ken’s talents as a music journalist are legendary; many, many more people need to hear his equally amazing songs, which are hauntingly beautiful, intricate, sometimes delicate, but with a power and punch all their own. With gorgeous vocals and flawless musicianship, guests like the Knack’s Prescott Niles and the great Rick Springfield, and production/instrumentation by Fernando Perdomo (this year’s hardest working man in show business by far), this introspective and hook-laden set of gems is not to be missed.

Reissues

Beat Angels, Holy Mother Of Christ! It’s The Best Of The Beat Angels: You almost certainly have never heard of the Beat Angels, and that is your loss; a blast of undeniable sonic hooks, sex-on-wheels swagger and merciless, literary lyrics, the Beat Angels were one of the greatest bands of the 1990s and ‘00s; picking up roughly where the late, lamented band Gentlemen Afterdark left off, the Beat Angels built on and vastly expanded that band’s singular sound—and maintained their 100% consistent dubious luck, as well. Onus Records has compiled a selection of their best material from three studio albums (one, sadly, never released). Mostly produced by Gilby Clark, it’s a wonderful overview, but a full reissue and reassessment is urgently needed. In the meanwhile, start here.

Gentlemen Afterdark, Gentlemen Afterdark EP and Open The Door EP (iTunes): Glam, New Romantic, Postpunk, New Wave, and beyond: the Gentlemen did it all and did it better than anybody else. After years of being out of print, some of their best songs—and some never before commercially released—are now available via iTunes. A physical release and proper retrospective would be ideal, but for now? At least you can finally hear these absolute ear-candy songs.

Omnivore Recordings is pretty much the undisputed label of the year, having released the Emmit Rhodes album, the Legal Matters, and an absolutely staggering series of reissues, including Game Theory, The Muffs, the Bangles, NRBQ and the undisputed champeen, Big Star’s Complete Third, among dozens of other absolutely essential releases all year. I could write an essay on each of these, but then I would die of exhaustion and people would be sad. Go to your record emporium, look at the records, if you see the Omnivore label on anything, purchase it at once. Your ears will thank you.

We reviewed Cait Brennan’s Debutante on January 22, 2016. You can also read her writing on Popshifter.

Best Of 2016: Ronnie Barnett of The Muffs

Published on December 28th, 2016 in: Best Of Lists, Music, Reissues, Retrovirus |

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Top Ten Reissues of 2016

1. Milk ‘N’ Cookies, Milk ‘N’ Cookies (Captured Tracks): They shoulda been contenders but their initial good luck turned bad quickly. This long-in-the-works compilation of their lone album, singles, demos, and rehearsal tapes finally does this overlooked band’s legacy right. The two-CD set is accompanied by an exhaustive booklet jammed with photos, ads, flyers, and liner notes. Sigh!!

2. Ramones, Ramones: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Rhino): Obviously no introduction necessary for this band/album but the most special thing about this edition is the earthshaking news that the groundbreaking masterwork has finally been given an additional mono mix. The only thing wrong is that none of the boys are around anymore to hear it…

3. Crowded House, Deluxe Editions (Universal): Digitally remastered & expanded two-disc versions of all seven releases with tons of b-sides, outtakes & demos. Any morsel of Neil Finn is a true godsend.

4. Big Star, Complete Third (Omnivore): As the world borders on “Big Star overload,” Omnivore has he final word with this lavish three-disc set devoted to the tortured, beautiful Big Star’s Third. Exhilarating.

5. Scientists, A Place Called Bad (Numero Group): Wouldn’t be a year-end release without a Numero Group title, this time a four-disc set compiling the complete works of Australia’s hugely influential Scientists. Essential!

6. The Shaggs, Philosophy Of The World (Light In The Attic): No introduction necessary, Pat Thomas and LITA finally get this classic back in print & done right. I can’t believe I missed the in-store at Newberry Comics!

7. Game Theory, The Big Shot Chronicles and Lolita Nation (Omnivore): The GT reissue campaign continued this year with arguably their two most important works. I always thought the genius of Scott Miller would be appreciated by future generations, thanks to Omnivore my dream has come true.

8. Jack Lee, Bigger Than Life (Alive!): I hate to complain at all when discussing the long overdue reissue of both Jack Lee albums on one disc but… come on Alive! at an expensive list price should at least include some much needed liner notes about one of the most under-appreciated power pop icons of all time!

9. Public Image Limited, Metal Box: Super Deluxe Edition (Universal UK): If the newish trend of four-disc box sets devoted to one album made sense for one title only, this would be it.

10. Long Ryders, Final Wild Songs (Cherry Red): Compiling their complete works, B-sides, live tracks & demos… though I should say “complete minus one” as there is one key track mysteriously missing. Note to record companies: in this situation go ahead and put the song on and deal with the fallout and hurt feelings afterwards; they will get soon get over it and thank you later.

Another Ten:

Lush, Chorus (4AD)
MnMs, Melts In Your Ears (Burger)
King Crimson, On (And Off) The Road 1981-1984 (Panagyric)
David Bowie, Who Can I Be Now? (Parlophone)
Redd Kross, Teen Babes From Monsanto (Redd Kross Fashion)
Nymphs, S/T (Rock Candy)
Cluster, 1971-1981 (bureau b)
Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (Pax-Am)
Plasticland, Wonder Wonderful Wonderland and Salon (Wounded Bird)

We reviewed the reissue of The Muffs’ Blonder and Blonder on July 22.

Best Of 2016: Cheryl Pawelski of Omnivore Recordings

Published on December 23rd, 2016 in: Best Of Lists, Books, Movies, Music |

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Ten Good Things… in a kinda cruddy year (not really in any order, sorta):

1. Some new record releases that were thrilling in 2016:
David Bowie, Blackstar
Wilco, Schmilco
Syd Arthur, Apracity
King, We Are King
Parquet Courts, Human Performance
Kendrick Lamar, untitled unmastered
A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Emitt Rhodes, Rainbow Ends
Case/Lang/Veirs, Case/Lang/Veirs
Mudcrutch, Mudcrutch 2
Hamilton soundtrack
John Beasley, Monk’Estra Vol. 1
Eric Bachman, Eric Bachman
Luther Dickinson, Blues & Ballads
Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
East Of Venus, Memory Box
Still making sense out of Bon Iver’s 22, A Million (but I think I like it a lot) and still can’t stop listening to The Epic by Kamasi Washington, a 2015 release but a towering achievement!

2. Reissues, boxed sets & previously unissued music that I was happy to hear, happier to own:
Crooked Fingers, Crooked Fingers and Bring On The Snakes reissues
Midlake, The Trials Of Van Occupanther 10th Anniversary Edition
The three-LP “Loser Edition” of Wolf Parade’s Apologies To The Queen Mary
The Crowded House catalog reissued in deluxe fashion
Fleetwood Mac, Mirage (finally!)
David Bowie, Who Can I Be Now?
Gillian Welch, Boots No. 1
Art Pepper & Warne Marsh, Unreleased Art Vol. 9: Live At Donte’s; April 26, 1974
My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves (deluxe edition)
Patti Smith, Horses: Live Electric Lady Studios
The Meters, A Message From The Meters: The Complete Josie, Reprise & Warner Bros. Singles 1968-1977

3. Various Artist compilations that make me glad that in the digital/Internet/technology-will-be-the-end-of-humankind era we live in, curation of various artist compilations still happens:
Celestial Blues: Cosmic, Political And Spiritual Jazz 1970-1974
The Girls Want The Boys! Sweden’s Beat Girls 1966-1970
Tanbou Toujou Lou, Haiti 1960-1981
Various Artists, (The Microcosm): Visionary Music Of Continental Europe 1970-1986

4. Favorite records that I produced or worked on (that finally came out in 2016), of which I’m particularly proud:
Big Star, Complete Third
NRBQ, High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective
Judy Henske & Jerry Yester, Farewell Aldebaran
Game Theory, Lolita Nation and The Big Shot Chronicles
JD Souther, John David Souther; Black Rose; and Home By Dawn
The Crowded House deluxe reissues
Buddy Guy & Junior Wells, The Criteria Sessions

5. Best shows of the year (no order, all awesome):
Emitt Rhodes, Grammy Museum
Systema Solar, SXSW
Lucius, SXSW
The Bangles & The Muffs at the Whisky
Case/Lang/Veirs at the Greek
Three nights of Wilco at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel
Judy Henske & Jerry Yester, at both the Grammy Museum & McCabe’s and Jimmy Webb actually performing on a lovely summer evening in MacArthur Park!
And this just in: sneak Beyonce performance at the Lemonade screening with a full all-female band complete with strings, horns and background vocalists!

6. Music books that were super cool:
Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
Robbie Robertson, Testimony
Guy Clark, Without Getting Killed Or Caught: The Life And Music Of Guy Clark
Trouble Boys: The True Story Of The Replacements
Patti Smith, M Train
Under The Big Black Sun: A Personal History Of L.A. Punk

7. More about Bruce’s book Born To Run:
As a life-long Bruce fan, the surprise of an autobiography (both book and audiobook!) and accompanying book tour, was a bit mind boggling. Coolest thing? None of it sucked, in fact, the book is charming, funny, arresting, insightful, honest and human. While I and a truckload of other super nerds would have liked more insight into the recordings and songwriting, a book by Bruce was something I never thought I’d see. Just like all his musical work in the past, Born To Run is life affirming and a place from which to draw inspiration in difficult times. We all deserve some transcendent rock and roll as we peer over the edge of 2017, I find some of mine here.

8. Runner up in Bruce-ville
The release of the Christic Benefit shows from November of 1990. It was my first Bruce show as a fresh L.A. resident (I was there the 17th). A mind-blower in that he had not performed solo since the early 1970s—before he had a record deal with Columbia. He was nervous, but still managed to debut brilliant new songs like “Real World” and “Soul Driver” among others. The solo versions of these songs performed on these two nights, remain the definitive versions. Extra bonus, a photo by Greg Allen, my partner at Omnivore adorns the cover of the Nugs release!

9. Music Film: The Beatles, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years
Never having had a chance to see The Beatles live (I don’t think I’ll be able to say this for much longer, but I’m too young to have seen The Beatles live), it was a treat to see this documentary in the theater. The film itself was fun, but the really great part of motivating my ass to the theater (and not waiting for streaming, on-demand, Blu-Ray, DVD or whatever method the ones and zeros bring us our entertainment these days as we calcify on our couches), was seeing the bonus concert at Shea Stadium on the big screen. It was large, it was loud, and it was glorious good fun!

10. Favorite album design/packages
I love music. I love it so much, I made it my life’s work. I also love all the things music comes in—the packaging, the artifact. Yeah, yeah, I know, streaming. Whatever. I really like all my cool records and don’t really like the idea of renting music. Just ain’t for me. I love art, photography, liner notes, and package design and how powerfully they co-mingle with music, each amplifying each other.

A few I dug the most this year were…
David Bowie, Who Can I Be Now? LP set
Various Artists, Waxing The Gospel: Mass Evangelism & The Phonograph 1890-1900
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool deluxo-LP/CD
Sloan, One Chord To Another LP/45 set
Grateful Dead, July 1978: The Complete Recordings
Pearl Jam, Live At Third Man Records vault package
The Band, The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary

Check out our reviews of 2016 releases from Ominvore Recordings.

Music Review: Don Rich and the Buckaroos, Guitar Pickin’ Man

Published on December 16th, 2016 in: Americana, Country Music, Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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In the pantheon of great guitarists, there are ones that come easily to mind: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Jeff Beck, B.B. King. I’d add the Buckaroos’ Don Rich to that list. His style is immediately recognizable, and without his sonic experimentation, Buck Owens’s catalog would lack a certain verve. While Owens was always happy to dip a toe in the rock side, Don Rich’s playing upped the ante. His fuzzed-out guitar work on “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass?” is as fresh and timely as anything recorded in 1969, and viscerally satisfying. This is pretty remarkable for someone who was hired to play fiddle.
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Music Review: Buck Owens And The Buckaroos, The Complete Capitol Singles: 1957-1966

Published on December 9th, 2016 in: Country Music, Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Retrovirus |

By Melissa Bratcher

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Once again, Omnivore Recordings gives us the Christmas gift we need: a new Buck Owens and the Buckaroos compilation. The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 covers a particularly creatively fecund phase in Buck Owens’s career: the early days at Capitol, his partnership with the brilliant Don Rich, and a string of hits that defined the influential Bakersfield Sound. The Complete Capitol Singles 1957-1966 is gorgeously remastered and sounds stunningly good. Crisp, even, with that trebly production that Buck favored (so it would sound good on AM radio) sounding better than ever.
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Music Review: The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Atom Bomb

Published on November 18th, 2016 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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The Blind Boys Of Alabama won a Dove Award for 2005’s  Atom Bomb, but the album isn’t your typical gospel music. The songs are intended to capture the “deep and haunting feel of the Old Testament,” as executive producer Chris Goldsmith says, and they do, but as always, the Blind Boys put their own distinct spin on songs. On Atom Bomb, they are joined by a fantastic band who turn the traditional (and sometimes untraditional) tracks into swampy, bluesy explorations and canvases in which to showcase the Blind Boys luxuriant harmonies, as well as rapper The Gift Of Gab (from Blackalcious), who adds a whole other dimension.
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Music Review: The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Go Tell It On The Mountain

Published on November 18th, 2016 in: Current Faves, Holidays, Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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It took until 2003 for The Blind Boys Of Alabama to release a Christmas album, but the wait was worth it. Now, Omnivore is reissuing Go Tell It On The Mountain with bonus material (as they do and do so well) in time for your holiday playlist, and it is a welcome addition.
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Music Review: Tony Hadley, The Christmas Album

Published on October 21st, 2016 in: Holidays, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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As the front man of Spandau Ballet, Tony Hadley was the purveyor of slick, soulful songs. His rich voice was perfect for their tracks of intrigue, drama, and yearning love. And, as Tony Hadley’s The Christmas Album shows, he’s still soulful and slick.
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Music Review: The Muffs, Blonder and Blonder (Reissue)

Published on July 22nd, 2016 in: Feminism, Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews, We Miss The Nineties |

By Less Lee Moore

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For the first half of the 1990s, if Redd Kross was involved in something, I was interested. Any band they toured with or recorded with or even name-checked was a band that I would check out. I was rarely disappointed. Enter The Muffs, who I associated with Redd Kross originally because they were both from Southern California and had both punk rock and bubblegum pop cred. And there was the Bill Bartell connection. Plus, Kim Shattuck and Melanie Vammen were ex-Pandoras members, a band I was fond of after hearing them on WTUL New Orleans in the mid-’80s.

Not long after the band’s eponymous debut, Melanie left and former Redd Kross drummer Roy McDonald replaced original drummer Criss Crass. So I was extremely interested in hearing Blonder and Blonder, The Muffs’ 1995 release from Warner Bros./Reprise Records.

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Music Review: The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Higher Ground

Published on May 13th, 2016 in: Americana, Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

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It’s difficult to listen to The Blind Boys Of Alabama’s Higher Ground (2002) and not compare it to its predecessor, Spirit Of The Century (2001). Both are Grammy-winning collaborations with producers John Chelew and Chris Goldsmith and both feature bold, spiritual covers of songs by contemporary artists, with the Blind Boys Of Alabama being backed by a band in “musical conversation.”

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