A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: December, 2006

Recycled Goods (#38)

by Tom Hull

More records in the top section this month than usual. Mostly this is a matter of trying to catch up with Sony/BMG's box set season before the official shopping season ends. But also because I wanted to leave you with a few more modest ideas. The other major still committed to the box set format is WEA's Rhino division, but they've spared me such tantalizing items as David Crosby's Voyage, A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box, and that Tori Amos thing shaped like a piano. I'm willing to listen to lousy records so you don't have to, but I'm not masochistic enough to buy them.

Next month I'll take a break from old music and try to take an initial measure on the soon-to-be-old new records of 2006. After all, it'll be 2007 by then. The old stuff will return in February.

The Byrds: There Is a Season (1964-90 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD+DVD): After demos as the Jet Set and the Beefeaters, they did a makeover as America's answer to the Beatles, all the way down to the clever misspelling. For songs, producer Terry Melcher tapped Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, inadvertently inventing folk-rock. The group gradually became self-sufficient, tracking the Beatles through sitars and psychedelia, improbably knocking out a dozen or so indelible hits. When David Crosby left to launch his supergroup, Roger McGuinn hired Gram Parsons and came out way ahead, getting credit for inventing country-rock too. When Parsons left for the Flying Burrito Brothers, McGuinn trudged on, leaving a couple more instances of inspired schlock. They were done by 1973, aside from a brief 1990 reunion to pad out a 4-CD box set -- one track here, once again hauling water for Dylan. This second generation box adds more than it loses, but nothing essential either way. The best you can say is that it works better as a general history, even if most of what you learn is how dull they were live -- a short DVD of their early TV spots shows you where shoegazing came from. B+

Johnny Cash: At San Quentin (Legacy Edition) (1969 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD+DVD): Overpackaged in a tall box with plastic tray holders glued to the sides, the advantages to this over the single CD At San Quentin (The Complete 1969 Concert) are: extra music padding the show out, a video that cuts back and forth between the concert and interviews with prisoners and guards, and a booklet that nails the history down. The extra music breaks Cash's set up, slipping in features for Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and the Carter Family, and turning June Carter loose to talk trash and sing "Jackson." Cash always seemed to be tripping on his own sense of danger, and the inflation just makes it weirder and more chaotic. But he makes a connection, both in the public's mind -- this was his best-selling album -- and with this audience, which happened to include a young thug named Merle Haggard. B+

The Clash: The Singles (1977-85 [2006], Epic/Legacy, 19CD): The last time I bought 7-inch singles with any regularity was during the breakout years of English punk. The Sex Pistols and X-Ray Spex were two groups that revealed themselves two songs at a time before they collected three or more great singles in debut albums. The Clash, on the other hand, was an album group from the git go. Their first album, The Clash (UK edition, please), burned white hot from start to finish, its songs barely distinguishable until they became firmly implanted in your mind. Three more albums broke like tsunamis, followed by the relative whimper -- actually an attempt at consolidation -- of Combat Rock, the break-up, and the partial regrouping on Cut the Crap. The only time the singles broke loose from the albums was circa Give 'Em Enough Rope -- in the UK regarded as a sop if not complete sell-out to the US market. The UK singles then included "Clash City Rockers" and "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" -- later rolled up in the belated US release of The Clash. Nor were the singles all that popular: the best UK showing was #11 for "London Calling," with US singles faring poorer until "Rock the Casbah" hit #8. So it's not obvious to box them all up like this. The CDs run as short as 3:38, although some pick up extra mixes tracking variant releases -- "The Magnificent Seven" runs through various dub versions totalling 33:13. In the end -- well, especially toward the end -- it's the oddities that prove most interesting. B+

Buddy Guy: Can't Quit the Blues (1957-2005 [2006], Silvertone/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): He moved up to Chicago from Louisiana in 1957, a young man with a guitar, but a latecomer to the scene. It took him a while to click -- there's nothing all that original in what he does, but blues is an old man's game, and he got stronger as the competition died off. This dispatches 25 years with one disc, limiting frequent partner Junior Wells to five cuts, then fills up two more with recent stuff starting from 1991. That doesn't make this a very well balanced career retrospective, but it never stops for such niceties. Individually, his Silvertone albums seem like more and more of the same old, same old, but packed together they deliver quite a punch. A-

Bruce Hornsby: Intersections [1985-2005] (1989-2005 [2006], RCA/Legacy, 4CD+DVD): Circa 1990 the compact disc repackaging industry reached critical mass, resulting in the fusion of numerous box sets. The boxes started with the most famous, most marketable artists, and for a while reviewers took them as signposts of achievement -- at least until they inflated to the point of indifference. Hornsby was too new to get this treatment back then, but after two decades here's his own overstuffed package. Somehow, he never caught my attention, so I had no idea if he was as deserving as, oh, Jimmy Buffett or Steve Miller. Still don't, as this is one of those odds and sods boxes with live tracks subbing for hits and collectorama filling in for misses. Still, it flows more consistently than Billy Joel's similar box, and Hornsby is a much more impressive pianist. He's also a pop omnivore, and much of what I find attractive here I can trace back to sources he evidently knows as well as I do. B

Waylon Jennings: Nashville Rebel (1958-95 [2006], RCA Nashville/Legacy, 4CD): Lucky to have missed Buddy Holly's plane, not to mention sustaining a four decade recording career without ever producing a first rate album or a classic single -- at least without Willie Nelson at his side. He wasn't a rebel, let alone outlaw, so much as an outsider. A hardass Texas rocker, too young when rockabilly hit and too established when alt came around, he managed to stay outside the Nashville system. At 92 cuts, this is way more than you need to know. But the first two discs are so consistently selected that they make a virtue out of his ordinariness. And friends help overcome the rough spots on the last two. A-

Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story (1978-86 [2006], Rhino, 2CD): Disco started in the pop-soul world, dominating the charts in the mid-'70s as the politically charged '60s burned out or went underground, and the Me Generation took over the dancefloor. But disco itself changed in the late '70s, moving into its own underground as dance clubs deviated from pop formula by favoring extended 12-inch mixes. Levan was DJ at New York's Paradise Garage, where he went beyond spinning discs to remixing to producing. His joint closed in 1987 and he died at 38 in 1992, by which point techno had taken over dance music. There are hints of that here, especially as he busts a move from Sister Sledge to Talking Heads, but he never let preconceptions about the music get in the way of the ecstatic moment. A-

Konono No. 1: Congotronics (2004 [2005], Crammed Discs): Founded some 25 years ago by Mawangu Mingiedi, whose rural roots trace back to the Angola-Congo border and Bazombo trance music, but more representative of the tribalization of Kinshasa's urban jungle. Mingiedi and two others play likembe, a thumb piano that comes off harder and more harshly rhythmic than the usual guitars, and the drums and found percussion -- pots, pans, car parts -- cranked up through the jerry rigged sound system add to the intensity. A-

New Order: Singles (1981-2005 [2006], Rhino, 2CD): The first disc largely replicates the original, near-perfect 2-LP edition of Substance 1987 -- two remixes revert to originals, three songs are added, two from the massively extended 2-CD edition. The second carries on to 1993, then jumps to "Crystal" in 2001, the first of six late singles that are if anything even more committed to the dance groove of their early 12-inchers, where they subsumed the new wave vs. disco dichotomy into a synthesis that transcended both. A

Romica Puceanu & the Gore Brothers: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 2 (1964-73 [2006], Asphalt Tango): Puceanu was the grande dame of Romania's mahalas -- the Gypsy slums that fringe cities like Bucharest. Admirers seek familiar analogies like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Edith Piaf, but they might as well bring up Umm Kulthum, whose reign over Egypt was comparable and probably greater. Puceanu had a low, stately voice, which keeps the Gore Taraf from opening up the throttle. In some ways that's too bad: Victor Gore's accordion and Aurel Gore's violin are delights. But the singer's presence is undeniable. A-

Sonny Stitt: Stitt's Bits: The Bebop Recordings, 1949-1952 ([2006], Prestige, 3CD): Stitt always claimed that he developed his style independently of Charlie Parker, sort of like Alfred Russel Wallace's discovery of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. But Parker was four years older, got his records out first, and established his case more persuasively. Stitt's early records on Prestige came out when bebop was in full swing -- indeed, Jay Jay Johnson headlined the first set here, and Bud Powell co-led the second. And as he moved from tenor sax to alto, he almost begged comparison to Bird. More than anything else, Stitt was a working musician -- a guy who cranked out hundreds of albums, often on the flimsiest of premises. Most of the sessions here were jousts with Gene Ammons, and the best are when they're both flying high. But including everything drags their faint r&b vocal sides in. B+

Weather Report: Forecast: Tomorrow (1969-85 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): The jazz-rock fusion of the early '70s was less a movement than a family franchise. It started with Miles Davis, then spread with his departing employees: most importantly, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and this Wayne Shorter-Joe Zawinul joint venture. Hardly anyone without a connection to Davis mattered, but the preponderance of keyboards set the music adrift -- the rhythms and textures thickening, the atmosphere clouding up. At least that's what I always thought, but this box had me wondering for a while. The first disc gets a running start by including three pre-group cuts, starting with the Davis take of Zawinul's "In a Silent Way." Then it leans heavily on the first album and live cuts where the jazz whiskers come out. But it gets spottier as they go on, especially when Shorter tries to fit in rather than stand out. The DVD offers a 1978 concert at the band's popular peak with Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine going shirtless in what must be a Cheap Trick homage. B+

In Series

Anthology Recordings claims to be "the world's first ever all digital reissue label." I'm so old fashioned I still consider reissues to be be physical objects, so I'm reluctant to recognize them as such. (For that matter, I'm old fashioned enough to think of "bits" a mere encoding method to play something over a distance, like radio.) But the label's publicist sent me the label's first batch of releases on CD, and they turned out to be interesting enough to review. The least one can say about the label is that they have interesting taste in esoterica. As for their business plan, I'm always reluctant to pay people something for nothing -- and their nothing strikes me as exceptionally pricey. But that's just old fashioned me. One thing I do appreciate is the amount of information on their website.

African Head Charge: Off the Beaten Track (1986 [2006], Anthology): Based in London, Bongo Iyabinghi Noah's group stripped dub to its echo chamber and mechanistic beats, folding in instruments and chants without adding any complexity; while referring back to the most African music Jamaica has to offer, such roots aren't grounded -- producer Adrian Sherwood done ripped them up. A-

China Shop: 21 Puffs on the Cassette (1979-91 [2006], Anthology): An early postpunk band, frequented CBGB's in the early '80s, released a 4-song EP in 1983, broke up, regrouped, went nowhere much; not negative enough for no wave, not positive enough to leave much of an impression; this collects scraps from eight undated sessions, some prog, some new wave, not bad, but not much. B-

Moondog: Demos (1989 [2006], Anthology): This is ex-Gorilla Biscuits, future Quicksand singer Walter Schreifels, not the eccentric and comparatively famous Louis Hardin, engaged in relatively listenable hardcore thrash; these were unreleased demos, seven songs, not much more than two minutes each, and my advance doesn't match what they're peddling on the website. B-

My Solid Ground (1971 [2006], Anthology): Early kraut rock -- so early it's not recognizable as such, aside from the fact that the musicians are German, and the instrumental first cut sort of points the way toward Can; with vocals they loosely fit into art rock, metal division. B

Pärson Sound (1966-68 [2006], Anthology, 2CD): Mostly instrumental, built from thick layers of guitar, cello and sax with hard rock beats punctuating dirgelike repetitive drones -- at its lightest just guitar over bird twitter; mistaken for psychedelia at the time, this owes more to LaMonte Young, parallels the Velvet Underground and Soft Machine, and runs far ahead of hardcore bands like Flipper, but sounds to me most like a jazz fusion road not taken. A-

Sainte Anthony's Fyre (1971 [2006], Anthology): A rough and fuzzy hard rock power trio from Trenton NJ, packaged at the time as psychedelia because grunge hadn't been conceived. B+

The Suicide Commandos: The Commandos Commit Suicide Dance Concert (1978 [2006], Anthology): Punk from Minneapolis, which seems to mean polite and well-schooled, down to respectful covers of Chuck Berry and the Animals, as well as crude thrash over unformed hooks. B

Briefly Noted

Luis Bacalov: Il Postino (1994-2000 [2006], CAM Jazz): The Oscar-winning soundtrack from 1996, a sweet and lyrical evocation of Italian folk music with a dash of jazz; the title theme returns in various guises weaving the smaller bits and one vocal together -- the final reprise a later version with Enrico Rava's trumpet. B+

Carolina Chocolate Drops: Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind (2005-06 [2006], Music Maker): Newly minted primitivist string band music, by a trio of twenty-somethings playing banjo, fiddle, and jug; that they happen to be black is reflected in the group name, a tribute to an old Tennessee group. B+

François Carrier/Dewey Redman: Open Spaces (1999 [2006], Spool/Line): Redman may be best known as Joshua's father, but his own work with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett will stand the test of time; he never recorded enough, so these free improvs with the Quebecois alto saxist's trio, released in memoriam, are especially welcome. B+

Congotronics 2: Buzz'n'Rumble From the Urb'n'Jungle (2006, Crammed Discs, CD+DVD): Doubters can use this as a primer on Kinshasa's fringe underground -- the greater variety includes guitars and balafons in addition to the signature thumb pianos, and the DVD puts faces on the sounds, even if the camera favors the dancers; but Konono No. 1 has the clearest sound and the most undeniable groove, and their own record to prove it. B+

Steve Earle: The Definitive Collection 1983-1997 (1982-97 [2006], Hip-O): The cutoff date means nothing from Earle's increasingly political E-Squared records other than a piece from the Dead Man Walking soundtrack that slows him down a bit; a country rocker too left and too deep for Nashville, he emerged fully formed on Guitar Town and grew even more from there. A-

Guitar Gabriel & the Brothers in the Kitchen: Toot Blues (1991 [2006], Music Maker): Born Robert Lewis Jones, 1925; died 1996; father recorded with Blind Boy Fuller, but Gabriel is even more died in the wool. He would have fit right in with the '60s folk blues boomlet, sounding as ancient, as weathered, and as soulful as Furry Lewis or Gary Davis. A-

Kip Hanrahan: Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 [2006], American Clavé, 2CD): A belated third installment of Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed, as the 1983 debut was subtitled; Hanrahan's name isn't on the spine, but he made it happen; Reed's spoken pieces hold your interest more than the song-like ones -- the music doesn't kick as hard as you'd expect given the all-star Latin percussionists, except when David Murray, the sole holdover from the '80s albums, steps up and roars. B+

Kip Hanrahan: Every Child Is Born a Poet: The Life & Work of Piri Thomas (1992-2002 [2006], American Clavé): A soundtrack to a biography of the Puerto Rican memoirist and poet of the Bronx's mean streets, framing his words with supple rhythm and flair, but in the end the words are what stick with you. B+

Raúl Jaurena: Te Amo Tango (2005 [2006], Soundbrush): Tango may have originated in the brothels of Buenos Aires, but these days it extends from popular dance to classical music; this sounds more classical than most, thanks to the Sinopus String Quintet, the operatic singer Marga Mitchell on four tracks, and to the slow grind of bandeonist Juarena's dense melodies -- an intensity that works, up to a point. B+

The Klezmatics: Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah (2006, JMG): The lyrics, some didactic and some delirious, all date from 1949, when the Okie folksinger made his home in Jewish Brooklyn; the music is new, even happier and more joyous than the lyrics, with a few new instrumentals slipped in, like "(Do the) Latke Flip." B+

Brenda Lee: The Definitive Collection (1957-79 [2006], MCA Nashville/Chronicles): This tracks her early '60s pop hits faithfully -- sometimes too much so -- then follows her back to Nashville for a few middling '70s country charts, but offers only a whiff of the diminutive Georgian's early dynamite -- no "Bigelow 6-200," no "Jambalaya," but they offer "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" as a bonus at the end. B+

The Best of Brenda Lee (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1959-63 [1999], MCA): A 34-minute subset of the 75-minute Definitive Collection, picked strictly by the numbers, which means 12 top-ten pop hits, mostly mid-tempo torch songs that exhibit enough sass and soul to overcome Owen Bradley's production. A-

Johnny Mathis: Gold: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (1956-2006 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Front-loaded, of course, with 13 cuts from the '50s, the other 5 no older than 1986, by which point he had reverted the ambiguous respectability that let him rise to fame; the classic cuts are on every other comp back to 1958's Johnny's Greatest Hits, to which this adds nothing more momentous than Chris Botti. B-

Johnny Mathis: Gold: A 50th Anniversary Christmas Celebration (1958-2006 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): The usual suspects, solemnly orchestrated and sung with magisterial grace; he did as much as anyone since Bing Crosby to build the Christmas music market, mostly through his 1958 album; this adds a large dose of his 1986 comeback album, and a nod to the Mannheim Steamroller era. C+

Kathy Mattea: The Definitive Collection (1983-97 [2006], Mercury/Chronicles): She moved from folk to bluegrass to Nashville, eventually finding that neotrad suited her plain voice and words best -- cf. "Lonesome Standard Time," which stands out here, and originally appeared on a more consistent and vigorous album, named like the song. B+

Delbert McClinton: The Definitive Collection (1961-97 [2006], Hip-O): A Texan from Lubbock who came up after Buddy Holly died but way before the Flatlanders put his hometown back on the alt-country map, McClinton is usually filed under blues, perhaps for his harmonica; I've never heard him that way -- his arrangements, including horns and backup singers, should mark him as a soul man, but he doesn't connect that way either. B

Roy Orbison: Lonely and Blue (1960 [2006], Monument/Legacy): First post-Sun album, the foundation of a career of inspired operatic schlock; hits plus filler, like most LPs of the era -- the strings and slinky percussion cohere on hits "Only the Lonely," "Blue Angel," and "I'm Hurtin'"; the filler includes two Don Gibson weepies, but most miss, some by a lot; the premature "Pretty One" is a bonus track. B

Roy Orbison: Crying (1962 [2006], Monument/Legacy): The hits thin out -- "Running Scared," "Crying," the B-side "Candy Man" a bonus after "Lana" stiffed -- but the filler gets better; it helps that the music rocks harder, also that the strings fit in and never get icky, but more important is the supple flexibility in his voice. B

Roy Orbison: In Dreams (1963 [2006], Monument/Legacy): With the great songs -- the title cut and its near twin "Dream," "Blue Bayou" and the magnificent "Falling" -- readily available on any decent compilation, the rest is a tough call; he's never been more consistent or more ingratiating, and he only strains the voice when he has song enough to carry it. B+

Buck Owens: 21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection (1963-88 [2006], Rhino): An Okie who didn't move to Bakersfield until he was 21, Owens' cornball mix of western swing fiddle and honky tonk domestic woes put his adopted home town on the country music map as the pre-Austin alt to Nashville; hosting Hee Haw made him more famous, but his hits dried up before the TV show aired -- the exceptions are the 1972 "Made in Japan" and a much later Dwight Yoakam duet. A-

Henri Pousseur: Musique Mixte 1966-1970 ([2006], Sub Rosa): The fourth in a series of works by the Belgian composer and pioneer of avant electronica; mostly pieced together from bits of voice and piano, the vocal samples coming from left field and the mezzo soprano operatic. B

Putumayo Kids Presents: New Orleans Playground (1956-2003 [2006], Putumayo World Music): The kiddie stuff is bright and bouncy, with only Kermit Ruffins condescending, but the equally bright and bouncy pop hits are more durable -- "Ya Ya," "I Like It Like That," "Whole Lotta Lovin," "Ain't Got No Home" go back as far as 50 years, and still open ears. B+

Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Christmas (1995-2006 [2006], Putumayo World Music): Makes me wonder when the Big Easy's last "White Christmas" actually was -- probably back in the ice age -- but I don't doubt that "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" comes around once a year; only Ellis Marsalis bothers with a non-secular tune, only to break it with a bebop solo; no bah humbug here. B

The Idan Raichel Project (2002-05 [2006], Cumbancha): World music, as viewed from Israel's melting pot, drawing on folk musics from Ethiopia, Yemen, and beyond, beat into a synthesis that doesn't identifiably come from anywhere; the intentions are no doubt honorable -- there's nothing bad about peace, love, and understanding, although sponsorship by the Israeli Foreign Ministry shows the limits of this "Sing Out for Love." B

Lou Reed: Coney Island Baby (1975-76 [2006], RCA/Legacy): Deep in debt, his solo career failing, he dashed off this little song and dance album -- not quite his slightest, but easily his lightest; bonus here: Paul Nelson's rave review, proof how perplexing and frustrating Reed had become; also six extra tracks, which punch up the end. B

Savoy Brown: Hellbound Train: Live 1969-1972 ([2003], Sanctuary/Castle, 2CD): British blues rock band, first appeared in 1967, when the purists were giving way to the second wave, ultimately splitting into the metalloids and the pub rockers; live, they edged toward the latter, turning their lack of innovation into a pretty good time. B+

Sebadoh: Sebadoh III (1991 [2006], Domino, 2CD): Lou Barlow specialized in post-grunge confessionals, which come and go in this scattered 23-cut breakthrough of sorts, augmented with a second disc of extras that are hardly any more hit and miss, at least until the long, tedious exercise in sloganeering that wraps it up. B

Dona Dumitru Siminica: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 3 (1960 [2006], Asphalt Tango): His falsetto vocals are unreal at first, modulated for operatic emotion but framed by a classic Gypsy ensemble of violin, accordion, and cymbalom. B+

Candi Staton: The Ultimate Gospel Collection (1955-2002 [2006], Shanachie, 2CD): One cut catches her at 15 with the Jewel Gospel Trio; the rest pick up from 1983 when she returned to gospel after a sometimes inspired fling at Muscle Shoals soul detoured through disco. First disc is "traditional tracks" (like "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water"), second "contemporary hits" (like "What's Going On?" and "Sing a Song"). Either way she has a tough time finding worthy material. B

Ralph Sutton: At St. George Church, Brandon Hill, Bristol, England (1992 [2006], Arbors, 2CD) Two hours of BBC radio broadcasts, taped from a typical solo piano recital by a guy who a decade earlier represented himself as "the last of the whorehouse piano players"; Sutton's mastery of the stride piano style developed by Fats Waller and Willie "The Lion" Smith was complete, but here he seems more intent on play, rearranging and transposing, stringing medleys together, breaking for the odd story. B+

The World's Greatest Jazz Band: At Manchester's Free Trade Hall, England, 1971 (1971 [2006], Arbors, 2CD): A mostly all-star trad jazz group led by two former Bob Crosby Bobcats, trumpeter Yank Lawson and bassist Bob Haggart, WGJB toured ten years, getting crap for their name and answering with red hot performances; Bud Freeman and Vic Dickenson were legit legends, Bob Wilber and Ralph Sutton were the swing era's finest students, and Billy Butterfield had one helluva night. B+


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: box sets (Byrds, Johnny Cash, Clash, Buddy Guy, Bruce Hornsby, Waylon Jennings, Sonny Stitt, Weather Report), disco deviants (Larry Levan, New Order), gypsies (Romica Puceanu, Dona Dumitru Siminica), junkyard rumblers (Konono No. 1), golden voices (Johnny Mathis, Roy Orbison), not to mention the World's Greatest Jazz Band; many more (50 records).

Copyright © 2006 Tom Hull.