<<< Wednesday, July 13, 2005 >>>

Greetings from Nebraska

From a one-star Howard Johnson's, the third and final of my three-night stand in Grand Island, and the first business trip in my short tenure at my new company. It's a far cry from the trips I took at my previous job: a month, off-and-on, in Los Angeles, a four-day weekend in NYC, a coupla days in Vegas. This is a different ballgame. I’m in a weird place. Here, boredom and restlessness reign, and a disdain for chain restaurants is not a useful commodity. My short time here has actually led me to appreciate the dining scene in good ol' Peoria, my once-again hometown. But I’ve put the HoJo pool to good use, and have certainly enjoyed the mullets I’ve seen around town.

I wouldn't have foreseen this: a rebirth of Unfinished Novellas? Several months ago, the new mp3 blog seemed so right. After two months of brainstorming, Doug and I finally nailed down a name upon which we could agree. But as time passed, it became obvious my heart was no longer in it. It seemed impossible to keep up with, even with a co-blogger.

And now I realize, without a doubt, it wasn't blogging per se that I was so sick of, it was writing about music! After nearly four years of writing music reviews and articles for Skyscraper magazine, it only took a few months of strict mp3 blogging for me to lose my way. No more music journalism, no more writing for an audience. What I’d like to do now is take away the pressure, and just write whatever I feel like writing. I can’t focus right now, and I don’t want to.

More later. Maybe.

N/P Audrey Hepburn in Green Mansions

In my head: "Moon River"

<<< Friday, April 15, 2005 >>>

Levitate Me: Unfinished Novellas Calls it Quits

That’s right. Your boy anti-rove is hanging up his blogging jersey. Okay, not really. I’m just getting married and changing my address, so to speak.

Most readers of this blog will know of my longtime friendship with the noiseboy of The Blank Generation. For several months, we’ve been cooking up a scheme to merge our two blogs, and we’ve finally done it.

Friends, cruise on over to getLevitation. This is the new hangout.

N/P Danny Ben-IsraelBullshit 3 ¼

<<< Tuesday, April 12, 2005 >>>

In Praise of Inventory Nerds and the Strung-Out Reptile

For years now I’d wished that I had an inventory of all of my records. I used to have one, WAY back in the day, but I gave that up ten years ago. I was working at a record store and bringing home wax practically every single day, and it just became too much. If only I’d kept it up, though, I’d have saved myself so much work!

Since then, I always said someday, someday I’ll take that project on, but it wasn’t until I sat down with my insurance agent last August that I made the decision to go forward with this colossal project. It seems that if my house burned to the ground today, they would need a little bit more evidence of my collection and its members than just my poor memory and good will.

So I drew up an Access database, wrote a quick front-end and got to work. It was slow-going, though, tedious, and not exactly the most exciting of tasks. Roundabout mid-September I halted work, for what I thought would be a brief pause, which then became an extended vacation that would last the rest of the year. It began to look hopeless that I would ever complete Project X.

But I picked it back up after Christmas, and just about every day since, I’d grab a stack of LPs when I got home from work and enter ‘em into the database. And now, finally, praise Jesus, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight. Not quite done yet, but I’m real close, probably about a week or two out. (Long, heavy sigh of relief.)

Going through my entire collection, I’ve really enjoyed coming across records that I haven’t listened to in years. A few weeks ago I hit the G’s and H’s of my rock section, and pulled out some old Helmet records, along with one of their lesser-known Amphetamine Reptile labelmates, the Minneapolis trio Guzzard. They put out three records on AmRep in the mid-nineties, but never really got the respect they deserved. Here’s a killer track from their second album, Quick, Fast, In a Hurry. Check out those snare hits!

Guzzard – Supersonic Enemy of Evil

N/P The MolesUntune the Sky

<<< Wednesday, April 06, 2005 >>>

T For Texas, Flatlanders Redux

So I had a blast in Texas, and while I was there I managed to sniff out a used record store entirely by accident. Because we were in town only a few days, I had sworn off all hopes of making the record store scene in advance, but lo and behold, at a time when we had nearly twenty minutes to kill, we just so happened to run across one. I am blessed, or cursed, some would say, with a keen spidey-sense for used wax. Needless to say, I dragged the rest of my party in there, and boy was I glad I did.

Having only twenty minutes, I flipped through the used bins like a madman. The selection wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly the mother lode either. It wasn’t until I hit the “H” section that, uh, “up from the ground came a-bubblin’ crude,” so to speak. Three late seventies/early eighties pristine Butch Hancock records on the man’s own long-gone Rainlight label, and the prices were definitely right: $12, $12, and $15. These babies are hella-hard to come by, and generally go for more like $25, $30, or more, if you can find them at all. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to snag all three, but I picked up two of ‘em: his 1978 debut, West Texas Waltzes and Dust-Blown Tractor Tunes, and his fourth, 1981: A Spare Odyssey.

Considering I was in Texas and all, I shouldn’t have been THAT surprised to find these gems, but I’ve been to Austin and Dallas a number of times and never seen any Hancock LPs before, so it’s not like they’re plentiful, even in the Lone Star State. I thought it was pretty ironic, too, as I’d just completed my Flatlanders post less than a day before, PLUS I had just been introduced to my sister’s new boyfriend, who just so happens to hail from Lubbock, the hometown of all three Flatlanders, not to mention the great Terry Allen and some cat by the name of Buddy Holly.

One of Hancock's finest tunes for your aural pleasure...

Butch Hancock – West Texas Waltz

N/P Mojave 3 - Spoon and Rafter

<<< Friday, April 01, 2005 >>>

T For Texas

Not much time...I’m leaving for the airport in a matter of minutes...Jodi and I are headed to Dallas to visit my sister at TCU. My bro is driving down from Illinois too, so it should be a fun, if brief, coupla days. I’m not a big fan of Bush Country, save for the island of comparable sanity that is the state’s capital, Austin, but it’s all good. There is, in fact, a lot about Texas to like, not least of which is the band of brothers that makes up the alt-country supergroup The Flatlanders.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely—all formidable acts in their own right. Once upon a time, in the early seventies, they played together as the Flatlanders, before moving on to their respective solo careers, while still remaining the best of friends and collaborators. A few years ago, they shocked everybody by regrouping as the Flatlanders and issuing a number of new records, thirty years after their original formation. I saw them at a club in Boulder in ’02, and it was easily one of the best shows I saw that year. But while the new records were pretty damn good, they still couldn’t touch the band’s original sessions from the early seventies, some of the best tunes I’ve ever heard. Here’s a couple of my favorite numbers from those sessions, in honor of the city of Dallas and all that is good about Texas.

Oh yeah, and fuck Tom Delay!

The Flatlanders – Dallas
The Flatlanders – Waiting for a Train

N/P The Beau BrummelsGentle Wanderin’ Ways

<<< Tuesday, March 29, 2005 >>>

Goin’ Home

Paul Hester, former drummer for Australian New Zealand bands Crowded House and Split Enz, hung himself yesterday.

I have one Split Enz album, but have yet to really explore their music. As for Crowded House, I’ve had their first two records for years, though I don’t pull them off the shelf all that often. I grew up hearing “Something So Strong” and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” on the radio when I was a kid, and they’ve stuck with me all these years. Great songs, if the victims of radio saturation.

Their second album, Temple of Low Men, didn’t do all that well commercially, but its first single and closing number, “Better Be Home Soon”, was an absolutely gorgeous song that seems a somber goodbye of sorts. Here’s to peace on the other side.

Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon

N/P Current 93 - Calling for Vanished Faces

<<< Sunday, March 27, 2005 >>>

Absence, Overhaul, Vinyl Haul, MP3

Hello everyone, I’m back from my extended absence. I know that lately the posts have been fewer and farther between, but I’ve had a lot going on and just couldn’t get around to the dear ol’ blog. I had a job interview last week and was out of town for a couple of days—everybody cross yr fingers for me—and I’ve also been mulling over some significant changes to the site—changes which will paradoxically result in both more consistent updates and less self-imposed pressure to post nearly every day. I got a phone call this morning that has me excited to get on with it—so hopefully you will see said changes in the not-so-distant future.

Jodi was out of town again this weekend, so I spent its entirety in anti-social hibernation, curled up with my record collection, reading a fantastic book (John FowlesThe Magus), and watching movies. I hit up a number of record stores and traded in a fat stack of unwanted vinyl and CDs for a good chunk of my current wish list and some used gems. I finally picked up the Joanna Newsom record, got the new double LP issue of Devendra Banhart’s last two, and snagged the excellent new Out Hud record.

Other essential pick-ups this weekend:
  • Sandy DennySandy LP (now that I finally “get” Ms. Denny, I’m, like, SO in love)
  • Alex ChiltonLike Flies on Sherbert (one of the classic “bad” records of all time)
  • The Other Half – s/t LP (smokin' sixties garage rock featuring guitar virtuoso and future Blue Cheer member Randy Holden)
  • The Pentangle Basket of Light (one of the best records from this English folk supergroup)
  • Townes Van ZandtHigh Low and In Between (Getting close to completing my Townes collection)
  • Robbie BashoThe Falconer’s Arm I (stylistically similar to fellow Takoma-ite John Fahey)
  • Betty Davis – s/t LP (sizzling, sultry funk from ex-wife of Miles Davis)
  • Rocket from the Tombs The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs (wasn’t sure I’d see this on vinyl ever again; legendary, pre-Pere Ubu and pre-Dead Boys)
  • Bobby Womack & various artists – Across 110th Street soundtrack (just saw this movie a few weeks ago when I was sick—one of the better blaxploitation flicks, WAY better than Van Peebles’ incoherent Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song)
I know, it’s quite the haul. God, how I’m gonna miss these record stores when it comes time for us to leave this town in the proverbial dust!

I also spent some time in front of the tube this weekend. Saturday night’s Illini game—omigod! Can a mere basketball game get any better than that? Methinks, um, no. I could barely speak afterward, I was screaming so loud those last four minutes, plus OT. It was a nice change of pace from the dullness and drudgery of Oliver Stone’s HBO documentary, Looking For Fidel, which I had just finished watching—only an hour long, but it easily seemed like two. Earlier today I caught Gary Cooper in High Noon for the first time. I figured this was one of those movies one should just be familiar with. It was okay, worth watching once, but I don’t know if I really understand why it’s such a classic.

Saving the best for last, I finally watched Prince’s 1987 concert film, Sign O’ the Times, for the first time today, and I just can’t say enough great things about it. An absolutely sizzling performance, it is everything a good concert film should be—it made me wish I was there—SO BAD I wish I could have been there—yet it stood on its own legs as a satisfying experience in its own right. There’s so very few concert films that you ever wanna watch more than once or twice—usually one viewing is enough—but I’m already thinkin’ ‘bout picking up a copy of the DVD so I can watch this one over and over.

Anyway, to celebrate my vinyl haul, I got an eclectic assortment of mp3s for ya this week:

Sandy Denny – It Suits Me Well
Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street
The Other Half – Mr. Pharmacist
Prince – U Got the Look
Townes Van Zandt – To Live is to Fly
Serge Gainsbourg – New York USA

N/P The JamAll Mod Cons

<<< Monday, March 21, 2005 >>>

Hold Steady for Indie’s Uncle Remus

May 3rd, baby, mark that date on yr calendars right now, for that’s the day that The Hold Steady’s sophomore effort, Separation Sunday, hits the street. If you missed this genius band the first time around, on last year’s Almost Killed Me (one of my Top Ten records of ’04), do not—DO NOT—miss out this time.

Led by one of the cooolest motherfuckers in all of indie rock, former Lifter Puller (please…do yourself a favor and check them out too) frontman Craig Finn, The Hold Steady is a wild romp through bar band rock that serves as a platform for the twisted tales of Finn. Finn is like a modern-day, indie rock Uncle Remus, spinning stream-of-consciousness tall tales like everyday conversation in the most distinctive voice this side of Waits or Dulli. Listening to The Hold Steady is like watching Saturday morning cartoons on four hits of blotter at two in the morning in a dive bar just outside the Minneapolis city limits.

The new album, while very much in the same vein as the first, is quite possibly a slightly more mature effort. The riffs are catchier and nearer classic rock, supported by the funk of piano and a horn section, while the lyrics display less emphasis on proper names and pop culture (though MacKenzie Phillips makes a hilarious appearance on “Cattle and the Creeping Things”).

Here are two of my favorite tracks from the forthcoming release—May 3rd, don’t forget!

The Hold Steady - Cattle and the Creeping Things
The Hold Steady - Your Little Hoodrat Friend

Hit up French Kiss Records for some MP3s from the first album.

The official Hold Steady site

N/P The Hold Steady - Separation Sunday

<<< Friday, March 18, 2005 >>>

My Main Man Willie Hightower

And now for part two of my favorite new soul obscurities. Earlier this year, Damon Albarn’s Astralwerks-affiliated Honest Jon’s label released an eighteen-song collection of Willie Hightower’s late sixties recordings (three brilliant singles and one incredible album), and it’s simply mahvelous, dahling.

I haven’t actually managed to pick up the CD yet, but I did snag the six-track 12” sampler at my favorite local record store. Why the entire record wasn’t issued on vinyl with full artwork and documentation, rather than a skimpy one-third of its tracks and no liner notes, is beyond me. Someday, perhaps. Still, listening to these tracks, one can hardly complain, and the sampler does serve its purpose, I suppose, only whetting my appetite for the full disc.

Alabama’s own Willie Hightower is one of the forgotten men of Southern Soul, but with any justice this collection should vault him back up where he belongs—with the company of Otis Redding and James Carr, in the pantheon of the masters. It’s certainly no accident that, like much of the great Southern Soul playbook, a number of these tracks were recorded by Rick Hall at the legendary Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios—they certainly stand alongside anything that ever came out of that studio, and that's saying something. Hightower’s debt to Sam Cooke is an obvious one, and he carried his legacy into a new era that Cooke, sadly, was not around to see.
For any lover of soul music, it is absolutely thrilling, almost dreamlike, to hear such striking echoes of Cooke in a deep soul setting; although he was arguably the most important forebear of the southern soul style, Cooke died before the sound of southern soul solidified, and the question of how his talent might have been applied in the idiom has been left hanging for forty years. Hightower’s music, while absolutely his own, gives some hint on how exhilarating a Muscle Shoals Cooke would have been.
Unfortunately, as the sixties became the seventies, Willie was a casualty of the shifting sands of musical styles and largely disappeared from sight. Since then, his lone LP and handful of singles have become collector’s items, worth a pretty penny on the market. But now, finally, his work is available to the masses, and supposedly, due to the success of this collection, Hightower has been sought out and is presently at work on a new album, proving that miracles do happen, and that great music does eventually receive its due.

And now, a feast for yer ears:

Willie Hightower – Walk a Mile in My Shoes
Willie Hightower – Back Road Into Town

Pick this up at Amazon , like yesterday. You NEED this in yr life.

N/P Hala StranaThese Villages

<<< Tuesday, March 15, 2005 >>>

A New Day! The Complete Mus-I-Col Recordings of J.C. Davis

The last several months have brought to light a number of excellent reissues of out-of-print and obscure artists from the heyday of soul music, and I’ve had the great pleasure of picking up several of them. You just can’t go wrong with good soul music—I don’t know anyone who doesn’t dig on a little Otis Redding or Sam Cooke from time to time—and frankly, if those people are out there, I don’t know that I’d want to know ‘em. :) The recent unearthing of these neglected classics is a cause for celebration, not to mention a source of astonishment at the ridiculously high quality of said recordings compared to the ridiculously low number of people who actually heard them the first time around.

Case in point, one James C. Davis. Known primarily for his role as the band director of the James Brown Orchestra in the mid-60s, Davis played a significant role in establishing the sound that would make The Godfather rich, revered, and famous. After leaving that band, he cut several records for Chess Records before retiring to the quiet life in central Ohio, where he still kept a band and played local shows. In May 1969, J.C. and his band laid down six cuts at John Hull’s Mus-I-Col Studio in Columbus, four of which were released on 45s on the band’s own New Day label. These same 45s now fetch hundreds of dollars apiece on the collector’s market.

Enter Chicago turntablist Dante Carfagna and Josh Davis, aka DJ Shadow, and their Quannum-affiliated Cali-Tex label. Having exclusively licensed these rare tracks, Cali-Tex has pressed up a super-limited vinyl-only run of 1500 copies, collecting the entire Mus-I-Col Studios session recordings on one thick-ass black slab for the first time.

You can definitely hear that JB sound on these tracks, as Davis wails on the tenor sax and his band drops some of the baddest funk breaks ever heard, alternating between sung songs and wicked instrumentals. And hearing Benny the Hat kick out the percussion, it’s no wonder that the Shadow swooped in on this stuff. Now, about those Chess sides…

J.C. Davis – A New Day (is Here at Last)
J.C. Davis – Coconut Brown

Order the vinyl at Forced Exposure

N/P British Sea PowerThe Decline of British Sea Power

<<< Friday, March 11, 2005 >>>

More Tales of Woe, and Nevermind the Good Doctor Mingus, Here’s Schooner

Well, this’ll hafta be another short one. I was oh-so-mistaken when I ventured to guess on Sunday’s post that I had kicked the virus—I tried work the next day and all was well until mid-afternoon, when I started feeling it again. Came home, crashed for three hours, cold sweat and a bloody fever. So I’ve spent the rest of this week at home, yet again, taking four naps a day, watching my vacation time plummet to absolutely nothing, pleading with the man upstairs to help me get better. I do think I’m getting there, but damn, it’s already been two weeks. I’ve never felt quite like this before—feeling totally overcome and beaten down by a mystery virus, never knowing when the next fever will hit. And I’ve never wanted to get back to work more.

But then, you’ve gotta be sick to death of my illness rants. I know I am. I’m sorry, folks, I just can’t help it. I ain’t used ta being held hostage like this.

Somewhere along the line this week, I picked up a jazz bug. My love affair with jazz is a flighty thing. I’ve got a pretty decent-sized collection of wax, but the majority of the time I’ll go months and months without putting on a single jazz record. But this week I’ve found myself playing the hell outta some Charlie Mingus. Toss in a little Roland Kirk, sprinkle on some Stan Getz (with Astrud Gilberto), and top it off with a pinch of Ornette Coleman, and I’d say there’s the makings of a mini-renaissance there.

But that ain’t what this post is about. Fooled ya.

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard about the North Carolina band called Schooner, but I was impressed enough to pick up a copy of their debut recording, You Forget About Your Heart. Released in 2004 on Pox World Empire, whose web site features a delightfully unique user interface, the eight-song disc is a charming and enjoyable romp through a range of fuzzed-out pop music, Smiths-esque balladry, and indie rock stylings that just don’t go out of style, at least in my book. Don’t look to this band for the pushing of envelopes or the cutting of edges, for you’ll be disappointed. But if you just want a catchy little bit of ear candy, this one is worth your while. A promising, if uneven debut, I’m interested to see where these guys (and girl) go from here.

Schooner - My Friend’s Band
Schooner - Trains and Parades

Visit Schooner Headquarters

N/P Big BoysWhere’s My Towel

<<< Tuesday, March 08, 2005 >>>

Ladies and Gentlemen...The Phenomenal Nick Castro

It was early January when I chanced across a review on the Foxy Digitalis web site extolling the virtues of one Nick Castro. Intrigued, I put him on my list to check out, and lo and behold, less than a week later, I came across a vinyl copy of his debut LP, A Spy in the House of God, and snatched it up. Limited to 300 copies (mine is #210), you probably won’t be able to find this on wax anymore, but the disc can certainly still be had at Eclipse or Midheaven.

Castro also has a sophomore LP that should be out in the next month or so, and I, for one, cannot wait. I suppose that with all the new folk stuff coming out these days, Castro just flew under the radar and got lost in the shuffle, but he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Devendra Banhart, Six Organs of Admittance, and Matt Valentine. His work is along similar lines, cutting traditional songwriting with an experimental edge, at times recalling the brilliance of Nick Drake.

From the upcoming LP, Further From Grace
Nick Castro - Sun Song
Nick Castro - To This Earth

From A Spy in the House of God
Nick Castro - Jack of All Seasons
Nick Castro - If Your Soul Could Sing (edit)

Castro’s web site
An interview with Castro

N/P The Twilight Singers - The Twilight Singers Play Blackberry Belle
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