By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
The Great Race Record Labels
This was a great, even inspired idea: to put together a series of compilation CDs of 1920s and ’30s blues, both urban and rural-Southern, each disc devoted to a major blues label of the period. While the resulting CDs are worthwhile (especially if you don’t own any prewar blues recordings), it’s precisely the compilers’ admirably monumental intent that makes the easily avoidable flaws so irritating. Why, for example, load down the volume devoted to Paramount — a label justly revered by blues cultists for its roster of legendary deep-Southern blues-guitar men — with so many nearly unlistenable antiques from the label’s early days as a purveyor of bland, jazzy cabaret singers up in Chicago?
All right; Paramount’s high points include Son House’s searing masterpiece “Dry Spell Blues Part One,” from 1930, with shouting vocals and bottleneck guitar playing that cut through the heavy surface noise like a knife, and the opener by ragtime guitar master Blind Blake, “Blind Arthur’s Breakdown,” whose peppy opening bars seem to promise more excitement ahead — well, ha! Moving upward, Volumes 2 and 3 are great. Columbia starts off with a blaze of glory: the underanthologized Pink Anderson’s “Every Day in the Week Blues,” a good-natured, high-energy duet of jangling guitars ’n’ banter with partner Simmie Dooley. They’re singing a typical patchwork of “floating” (borrowed) lyrics — nothing brilliant — but the bouncing guitar rhythms and high, nasal voices are entertaining as hell. Columbia’s “race” recording unit in the 1920s was based in Atlanta; lucky for us, because Atlanta blues singers, most notably Barbecue Bob Hicks, typically played exuberant 12-string guitar pieces, exemplified here by Hicks’ “Going Up the Country” and the Georgia Cotton Pickers’ bawdy “She Looks So Good” (“Makes me wanna try you, honey, ’cause you look so good”). For fun weirdness, listen to Lewis Black’s “Spanish Blues” — flurried bottleneck guitar playing, mumbled and hummed “lyrics” (“Mmmmm, mama mama mmmmm . . .”) — it’s tops!
Finally: Okeh was the first label to record blues (in 1921), so Volume 3 spans those @**!! cabaret singers, more great ’20s bluesmen, and the urbanized guitarists of the mid-1930s, such as Blind Boy Fuller. In that camp is Memphis Minnie, here singing the horny “Me and My Chauffeur Blues”: “I want him to drive me downtown.” Oh, I’ll say she does.
P.S.: Tasty packaging on all three volumes. (Tony Mostrom)
The Sleepy Strange (Kindercore)
There’s an honesty and a freshness to The Sleepy Strange, the second full-length release from the Athens, GA–based Japancakes. Countrified textures shade over rock drones; rural and ambient landscapes lilt and mesmerize.
Two years ago, bandleader Eric Berg came up with a concept: Put together a six-piece group featuring cello and pedal steel, jam on basic chord patterns. What could have been a recipe for endless self-indulgence actually results in minimalistic clarity. The beautiful opener, “The Waiting,” blossoms gradually while pedal-steel flashes tug at your heartstrings — a perfect balance between cello and steel. “Vinyl Fever” is a 12-minute-plus jam with retro-future textures reminiscent of Air, but here slow disco strings cruise over slinky country-funk waves. “Disconnect the Cables” expands ever so gracefully, like a somnambulist performing ballet. “The Sleepy Strange” has a faltering, drowsy lilt. On the downside, “Vanishing Point” and some other selections are too sluggish and repetitive, crossing the line between delicate hypnotist precision and boredom.
Most of the songs are midtempo or slower, but that’s part of the charm: There’s room to breathe, crest, fall and expand. Although Japancakes often venture into cosmically drone-heavy realms, the sound remains organic, sweet and charming — like traveling in a space shuttle carved from oak. (Roger Park)
The Bright Midnight Sampler (Bright Midnight)
Jim, as his on-a-first-name-basis acolytes always remind you, was on the edge, man. And yes, Jim Morrison did live life on the edge — on the edge of brilliance, on the edge of sanity, on the edge of sheer idiocy, on the edge of drunkenly pissing his pants. With the exception of Elvis Presley, no other major rock star has ever devolved as shockingly from electric revolutionary to bloated self-parody, and Elvis took nearly 20 years to fully make that transition; Ol’ Mojo accomplished it in less than four. But therein lies his magic: As with Elvis, another artist whose legend has endured despite an annoying posthumous cult, countless imitators and an endless deluge of shoddily repackaged material, it’s still thrilling to hear Morrison soar, and hilarious to hear him falter.
Nowhere is this sublime-to-ridiculous dynamic more apparent than on The Bright Midnight Sampler, a 13-track compilation culled from eight different Doors concerts recorded between July 1969 and August 1970. The first in a series of releases available from the band’s official Web site (www.thedoors.com), the collection provides some interesting insights into the dual-tightrope act that was the live Doors: Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore often fall in and out of step with each other during the course of their extended instrumental workouts, while Morrison’s level of focus seems to depend on the song in question — and, one assumes, his level of inebriation.