Swan Silvertones – I Found the Answer

I Found the Answer

Swan SilvertonesI Found the Answer Peacock PLP-181 (1973)

An album supposedly culled from leftover material recorded for Vee-Jay Records in the 1960s that develops a soul-inflected sound — though given the apparent absence of Paul Owens and the possibility that it’s Claude Jeter imitator Carl Davis rather than Jeter himself here, I wonder if this material is from the post-Vee-Jay era.  There are bouncy, up-tempo rhythms as well as slower, smoother, organ-drenched sounds.  At times there is even just a bit of country-rock influence.  From songs like “How Great Thou Art” it’s easy to see the direction the group would take through the mid-1970s during their tenure on HOB Records.  This album has an easygoing charm.  It’s yet another forgotten gem in The Swan Silvertones’ catalog.

[Note:  Though I don’t believe this is available on CD by itself, it’s available in its entirety on Raisin’ the Roof]

Pere Ubu – St. Arkansas

St. Arkansas

Pere UbuSt. Arkansas spinART SPART 108 (2002)

Approaching its third decade as a band, Pere Ubu sounded surprising close to its late 1970s roots on St. Arkansas.  If “avant garage” has long been the term of choice to describe their style of rock and roll, it remains the right way to describe this album.  As a band, they thrive on the fringe of acceptability.

St. Arkansas is a road album. David Thomas reportedly wrote the words from Conway, Arkansas to Tupelo, Mississippi, from I-40 to U.S. 49 to State 6.  Movement is implied in the songs, compiled from isolated moments and drawn into a surreal reflection of americana, as if passed by in a moving car, in a blur.

“The Fevered Dream of Hernando DeSoto” opens the disc very much in the band’s style of old.  But this isn’t purely a retreat into the past.  St. Arkansas has gems to offer both newcomers and Pere Ubu’s cult following.  At times the album grooves (“333” and the Brian Wilson-meets-Ray Davies sounding “Phone Home Jonah”), while other times it perplexes at a halting pace (“Michele”).

Pere Ubu’s lineup of the last five years can coax a balance out of extremes. The liner notes suggest: “Most people know that by moving between the two speakers of your hi fi system a point can be located at which the sound seems to lock into place. Ordinarily this is the point that forms an equilateral triangle with the two sound sources.  With Pere Ubu, however, this point has been located directly in front of the right hand source.  There are reasons for this.”  If this all seems very deliberate, know that the production on this album is a little raw and hollow.  It’s not terrible, but it seems somewhat underbaked overall.

This is a good one, and it is worth saying again that it is probably the closest to the band’s 1970s sound as anything since that time — if that’s your thing.  Yet it is a notch below the underrated return to form album Ray Gun Suitcase, which has the advantage in freshness and inventive techniques, even if it is less song-driven.

Pere Ubu – Ray Gun Suitcase

Ray Gun Suitcase

Pere UbuRay Gun Suitcase Cooking Vinyl COOK CD 089 (1995)

Pere Ubu were one of the stranger rock bands to emerge from the punk era.  But by the late 1980s their sound shifted to a more pop-focused arena.  1995’s Ray Gun Suitcase was a sort of return to a rock sound.  The band’s lineup had changed a lot since the 1970s, so this is closer to the “alternative rock” milieu than punk, but there are hints of the band of old — such as electronic effects by Robert Wheeler that recall Allen Ravenstine‘s experiments of the past.  What is most new here are the song structures, many of which play like mini-suites with numerous shifts in tone.  Also, there is an emphasis on theatrics, in the formal sense.  Singer David Thomas adopts affected singing techniques that seem drawn from avant-garde theater (“Vacuum in My Head”).  So guitarist Jim Jones plays some driving, anthemic riffs, but those come and go in any given song.  The bass (Michele Temple, plus Paul Hamann) is prominent, and the overall sound is crisp but full, with a lot of separation that lends an almost hollow effect.  There are definite rhythms and melodies and chord progressions, but also atonal interjections and other elements at odds with convention.  Overall, the subject matter of the songs seems to look back a bit, with an interest in “Americana,” but for the purpose of understanding what cultural history means for the future — this is not nostalgic navel-gazing by any means.  This would establish a foundation for much of what the band pursued for the next decade.

David Bowie – Santa Monica ’72

Santa Monica '72

David BowieSanta Monica ’72 MainMan GY002 (1994)

A few of the slow songs drag, but mostly this is a fine set from the peak of Bowie’s glam period.  Mick Ronson proves to be as much the star as Bowie himself.  It’s interesting to know these guys were performing “I’m Waiting for the Man,” and quite well actually.  For what it’s worth, this was recorded during the Ziggy Stardust tour, but only released over two decades later.

Albert Ayler – Prophecy


Albert AylerProphecy ESP-Disk ESP 3030 (1975)

A superb album that essentially is a live performance of Spiritual Unity.  In many respects, the performances here are even better than on Spiritual Unity.  Although, if there is one limitation of this set, it’s that in a live setting the recording quality is less than the what the studio setting for Spiritual Unity provided.  I wouldn’t recommend this album as a starting point for those unfamiliar with Ayler, but for fans this is an essential recording.

Link Wray – Be What You Want to

Be What You Want to

Link WrayBe What You Want to Polydor PD 5047 (1973)

After releasing the lo-fi cult classic Link Wray, recorded in a converted chicken coop on his family’s farm, Link Wray made overt efforts to produce a more commercially palatable sound on this, another of his albums for a major-label contract with Polydor.  He had done that before.  The new recordings on Yesterday — Today leaned toward the hippie rock of the Woodstock generation, and earlier Link had made forays into the teen idol realm.  It’s hard to blame him, because he was always better than his sales and popularity reflected.  Just don’t come to Be What You Want to expecting the wild rockabilly of his 1950s and early 60s output.  This is country-rock — comparisons to Squeeze and Behind Closed Doors (both released the same year) are appropriate.  Yet Link, as usual, gives it just enough twists to keep it interesting.  Though this may try to be a fairly generic country-rock outing, complete with guest spots from Jerry Garcia, Peter Kaukonen, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the results are above-average.  The highlight is probably the title track.

Anthony Braxton – For Two Pianos

For Two Pianos

Anthony BraxtonFor Two Pianos (Ursula Oppens / Frederic Rzewski) Arista AL 9559 (1982)

Not jazz, but modern composition.  Anthony Braxton does not himself perform on this record.  It is reminiscent of Arnold Schönberg, and also kind of presages things like Scott Walker‘s The Drift in its ritualistic elements.  The performers play piano as well as melodica and zither, and perform in floor-length hooded cloaks. This is one of the most effective recordings of a Braxton “classical” (non-jazz) composition, partly because with just two performers there are less rehearsal demands (or at least ones that fit into the recording budget).  Highly recommended.

Anthony Braxton – Composition for Four Orchestras

Composition for Four Orchestras

Anthony BraxtonComposition for Four Orchestras Arista A3L-8900 (1978)

The most notorious — some would say infamous — release from Anthony Braxton’s tenure on Arista Records.  It is a composition rooted in Arnold Schönberg and the serialists, with a multi-orchestra form similar to Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s works like Gruppen & Carré.  Brief passages even resemble the minimalism of Morton Feldman and Steve Reich.  This was recorded superbly, and the musicians perform well considering they were given only three hours to rehearse. It’s not terribly exciting though.  There is always a kind of nagging issue with grandiose works like this that the composer is really just trying to garner social prestige by demonstrating an ability to summon resources (four orchestras are fairly expensive and capital-intensive to assemble) rather than to make any particular musical statement….listeners should decide that for themselves on this one.