Rewind Review: Betty Davis – Nasty Gal (1975)

Funk mistress Betty Davis classic 1976 album Nasty Gal has recently been remastered and re-released.  If you’re looking for a funk record, a make-out record, or a diva record – look no further.  Nasty Gal is a trifecta of all that.

The title track opens the album, and Davis comes out swinging with her proclamation to an ex-lover that she is a nasty gal, and her ex will now miss her freaky self after she leaves him for spreading lies about her.  It’s a fierce vocal performance that instantly lets you know that she wasn’t screwing around in 1976.

As if the opener wasn’t freak enough, the next track is “Talkin’ Trash,” which is all about dirty talk during freaky sex.  “Do whatever you want to do to me.  Be a freak, I don’t care.  Tell me what gets you off,” she sings while an antsy guitar churns behind her.

“Dedicated to the Press” has great slap bass propelling Davis’ takedown on 1976 media.  She feels bad that they can’t understand where she’s coming from or that they won’t join her on the ride.  “You and I” is a lovely jazz ballad about deciding to leave a lover.  “Feelins” has a fast groove that should’ve been the theme to a third Cleopatra Jones film with its “Hey!  Hey!  Hey!” chants and car chase beats.

“F.U.N.K.” has Davis giving shout-outs to Steve Wonder, Tina Turner, Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Funkadelic, and others.  “Gettin’ Kicked Off, Havin’ Fun” has Davis purring about having a good time and encouraging a lover to not be afraid to get down with her.  The organ and bass work on “Shut Off the Light” is outstanding, and Davis’ vocals are downright intimidating as she pretty much demands a sweaty romp before bed.

The groove on “This Is It” makes you feel like a bad ass, but just know that you will never be half the bad ass Betty Davis and her crew were on this record (or any other time, really).  The album ends with one of her sexiest tunes ever – “The Lone Ranger.”  There’s not much I can write about this song that would do it justice.  I can’t guarantee that this song will get you laid, but I’d say playing it will probably improve your chances by at least fifty percent.  Davis’ voice moves around you like the hands of a masseuse and her band mixes funk and psychedelia to produce an intoxicating brew.  “Is it true that you want to hi ho my silver?” Davis asks.  Yes.  The answer to that is always “Yes.”

This is the album you wish was the soundtrack to your sex life, even if you won’t admit it.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Lionel Hampton and the Golden Men of Jazz – Just Jazz: Live at the Blue Note (1992)

Take a powerhouse jazz lineup and let them go wild in a legendary club and you get a great record like Just Jazz: Live at the Blue Note by Lionel Hampton and the Golden Men of Jazz.

Hampton was a legend on the vibraphone and his equally famous backing band included bassist Milt Hinton, drummer Grady Tate, trombonist Al Grey, saxophonist James Moody, pianist Hank Jones, flugelhorn player Clark Terry, saxophonist Buddy Tate, and trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison.  According to the liner notes of this album, the average age of the band in 1992 was 72.  They were still killing it and teaching youngsters a way of jazz you rarely hear anymore.

The opener, “Corner Pocket,” is tune originally written for Count Basie and has great back-and-forth fun between Hampton, Grey, and Terry.  The title track was written by Al Grey for the show and the whole band has a blast on it.  Everyone gets their turn in the spotlight and Moody especially cooks with a great solo.

Tate sings lead vocals on “Body and Soul” while Hampton and Jones stroll along beside him with their respective instruments.  “God Bless the Child” is an instrumental cover of the Billie Holiday classic with Hampton taking lead on it like the grooviest tour guide you’ve ever met.

“Ring Dem Bells” (originally a Duke Ellington song) is great fun as Hampton encourages each band member to shred a solo.  Edison rips it and Jones’ solo is so good that it almost sounds like he’s goofing throughout it.  The album ends with “Flyin’ Home” (apparently a favorite of Hampton’s to close a show) and has fabulous saxophone work throughout it and Hampton having a blast and laughing through parts of his solo.

This is a great jazz record, live or otherwise, and a worthy addition to your jazz collection (or any collection, really).

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (1999)

The Soft Bulletin marked a departure for the Flaming Lips from their heavy, psychedelic guitars to, well, a softer touch and even more psychedelia.  It’s a lovely record that explores the band’s now-frequent themes of the universe, the self, death, and love.

“Race for the Prize,” for example, is the story of two scientists burdened with the competition of finding a cure for something, even though the stress of it might kill them and leave their wives widows and their children orphans.  The initial swell of keyboards lets us know right away that this won’t be a typical Flaming Lips record.

We learn that the scientists were successful on “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton,” even though the race did indeed kill them.  The cure they found?  Love.  It’s always been right in front of us.  The percussion on “The Spark That Bled” blends rock drums, orchestral beats, and psychedelic drippiness as lead singer Wayne Coyne sings about a moment of enlightenment.  “The Spiderbite Song” has Coyne thanking the cosmos that friends of his didn’t die too soon from things as varied as a spider bite, a car crash, or falling into crazy love.

“Buggin'” is, appropriately, a song about insects.  It’s rather peppy and fun, even as it discusses bugs dying against your car’s windshield.  I can’t describe “What Is the Light?” any better than the notes on the back of the album: “An untested hypothesis suggesting that the chemical (in our brains) by which we are able to experience the sensation of being in love is the same chemical that caused the ‘Big Bang’ that was the birth of the accelerating universe.”  That’s what this lovely, shimmering song not only discusses but also makes you believe.

If you ever doubted the Flaming Lips are inspired by Pink Floyd, just listen to “The Observer,” which is practically a lost cut from the Dark Side of the Moon sessions.  Wayne Coyne described “Waitin’ for a Superman” as “a sad song” when I saw them live two years ago.  It is a song about depression, and how even Superman can fail so we shouldn’t be crushed when we do the same.  It’s one of the Lips’ greatest songs, really.  It’s uplifting and bittersweet at the same time.

“Suddenly Everything Has Changed” is about one of Coyne’s favorite subjects – embracing the idea that one day we’ll all be dead.  Little moments of existential panic are actually reminders that we should appreciate things like the clouds we see on the drive home, the vegetables we just bought at the store, and the fact that we can fold laundry while floating on an orb in an endless universe. “The Gash” is a call to fight on even when to do so exposes wounds in us that must be healed no matter how frightening it is to confront them.

“Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” continues the Lips’ theme of not being afraid of death, for “life without death is just impossible,” as Coyne sings while the rest of the band plays bright keyboards and whimsical guitars behind him.

The album ends with the instrumental “Sleeping on the Roof,” a beautiful send-off that could be the sound of a dream, a funeral, a birth, or all three.  The entire album could be played during any of those events.  It’s another masterpiece by the Flaming Lips and still uplifting after nearly twenty years.

Keep your mind open.



Rewind Review: Diagonal – self-titled (2016)

Chicago-based psych / shoegaze rockers Diagonal play an intriguing mix of both genres.  Their self-titled album, currently only available on cassette or digital download, starts with a meditative, almost ambient, nearly instrumental song called “Aura.”  I listened to this on a frosty northern Indiana morning as the sun rose over harvested corn fields.  It was perfect.

“Wide Eyed” teases you with a bit of drone sludge before breaking into a heavy shoegaze riff.  “Inside Your Mind” is so steeped in psychedelic tea that you can pretty much see rear projection oils when you hear it.  “Where to Go” ups the fuzz and races by you almost before you realize it’s happening (and I love the trippy fade-out).

“Waterloo” is another rocker that puts in enough reverb to almost make it a weird dream that eventually turns into a crazy psychedelic nightmare.  “Come Down” reminds me of early Black Angels material with its distorted yet somehow crisp guitars and lyrics lost in layers of reverb.  The album ends with “Cave” – a loud, wild, feverish freak-out that swirls around you like a tornado full of broken, dead trees and shattered houses.

It’s a solid release, and Diagonal is definitely a band to watch and hear.  They have the chops to be serious players in the psych-rock game.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Dirtbombs – If You Don’t Already Have a Look (2005)

In the liner notes to this excellent double album from Detroit rockers the Dirtbombs, band leader / guitarist / vocalist Mick Collins proclaims, “The best albums are all compilations, anyway.  Why?  Because they’re made up of SINGLES, duh.”

If You Don’t Already Have a Look is a full-length collection of downright dangerous singles and another disc of cover tunes.  Danger is missing from a lot of rock music nowadays, and the Dirtbombs were possibly the most dangerous band to come out of the Motor City since the MC5.  Even their songs that venture into soul and pop music always have a streak of menace hidden in them.

There are many standouts on the album.  The opener on the disc of originals is “Theme from the Dirtbombs,” a fiery song that sounds like it belongs in the opening credits of a 1960’s car race cartoon.  “The Sharpest Claws” is a theme song for dominatrixes everywhere.  “I’m Saving Myself for Nichelle Nichols (No. 3)” is one of the craziest punk rock songs in the last twenty years.  “High Octane Salvation” is an homage to muscle cars and sprinkles in some psychobilly riffs for good measure.  “Little Miss Chocolate Syrup” has a bass groove as sweet as the song’s namesake.

“Don’t Bogue My High” was, like many early Dirtbombs tracks, recorded into a dictation microphone.  It is thus gloriously distorted and trashy.  “Encrypted” is a satire of 1990’s Britpop.  “Broke in Detroit (Again)” has this cool 60’s surf guitar riff you can’t shake.  “Infra-red” is a weird, shapeshifting track with guitars that ooze around like the Blob and “Candyass” is a solid rock track.  The lyrics of “All My Friends Must Be Punished” are some of the wittiest on the record.  “They Saved Einstein’s Brain” is a one-take punk rock classic.

The disc of cover songs includes great tracks by obscure bands like Cheater Slicks (“Possession”) and classics like Stevie Wonder‘s “Maybe Your Baby.”  Their cover of the Rolling Stones‘ “No Expectations” includes a Beatles tribute and a salute to the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.”  “Noise in This World” (originally by English Beat) fits in perfectly with the Dirtbombs’ sound, as does their fiery, almost unrecognizable cover of Soft Cell‘s “Insecure…Me?”  “Tanzen Gehn” is a song in German made for a German label while the band was in Germany.  It’s wonderfully funky.  “Crash Down Day” was written by a six-year-old and is still better than most current rock tracks.  Their cover of the Bee Gees “I Started a Joke” is one of the coolest Bee Gees covers ever (especially with the reverbed vocals).

It’s a great introduction to the Dirtbombs or an addition to your collection of your  material.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: The Moonlandingz – Expanded (2015)

The Moonlandingz started as a bit of a joke between Sean Lennon and members of Fat White Family when then created a fictional band. That band got so much hype that art turned into reality and the Moonlandingz released Expanded in 2015.

The EP starts with the instrumental “Exorcise Your Mammary Eyes,” which I think is code for “Stop staring at my tits.” A Sean Lennon “de-mix” of “Sweet Saturn Mine” (one of the Moonlandingz biggest hits so far) is next, and the slowing of what is normally a fast, brash tune only highlights the creepiness of the lyrics (which are mostly about having sex while you’re high). “Lay Yer Head Down on the Road” is almost a carnival midway song about getting high to escape reality, even though such an action might be a bad idea.

“Blow Football with J. Carpenter” sounds like something John Carpenter would brew up on his home synthesizers. It’s creepy and futuristic at the same time. “Psych Ersatz” is equally strange, mixing images of spooky things in the shadows with psychedelic loops, beats, and echoed vocals.

The EP ends with “The Man in the Lyfe Suite – Parts 1, 2, and 3.” It’s a wild trip full of fuzzed out guitars, frantic vocals, and rollercoaster beats and loops.

Expanded was a nice appetizer for their full-length follow-up, Interplanetary Class Classics (one of my favorite albums of 2017 so far). Both are well worth your time.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)

The second page of liner notes for Neko Case’s brilliant album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood have her name above the words “DANGEROUS TO MAN: WILD ANIMALS – A Definitive Study of Their Reputed Dangers to Man.” Ms. Case’s lyrics are often brutal in their honesty and her voice can both soothe and cut to the bone. She’s like a panther – lounging in the sun one moment, and then tearing out the throat of an antelope the other.

The album begins with “Margaret Vs. Pauline,” a tale of two girls. One, Pauline, has it made. “Everything is easy for Pauline,” Case sings. Margaret, however, has to scrap for all she can. Case has written an anthem for girls everywhere to never forget their strength. “Star Witness,” with its simple yet slick drumbeats by John Convertino, is a stunning display of Case’s vocal prowess.

“Hold On Hold On,” with the Sadies on backing vocals, is another plea from Case to stay strong in tough times, especially in matters of love. “I leave the party at three a.m., alone, thank God,” she sings at one point. It’s a haunting lyric, especially when the echoing song “A Widow’s Toast” follows it. It’s nothing but Case’s vocals and guitar, Paul Rigby’s guitar effects, and reverbed beauty.

The liner note art for “That Teenage Feeling” is a jackknifing semi-trailer with a transmission shaft shattering from the force. That, and the shuffling guitar (by Dexter Romweber, no less) backing Case’s voice, is a perfect expression of teenage emotions. The title track is about the beauty of things all around us that we don’t notice until they are gone. “John Saw That Number” is a great floor stomper spiritual with sizzling guitar by Dallas Good.

“Dirty Knife” is an ode to a murdered man and the type of song that Case does so well – a tale of death, love, violence, and rural landscapes. “Lion’s Jaws” belongs in David Lynch’s next Twin Peaks reboot. Dallas and Travis Good team up for lovely guitar work, and Kelly Hogan is listed as contributing “lovely backing vocal” to the track (which is true). “Maybe Sparrow” is one of Case’s greatest hits, and it’s easy to hear why as her voice peaks multiple times during the second verse. “At Last” is nothing but Case’s voice and three guitars, and “The Needle Has Landed” is beautiful power pop tinged with outlaw country.

Case is dangerous because her vocals and lyrics are like a hardwood staff. You can lean on them to get you through a rough patch or they can hit you in the ribs like a ball bat and bring you to your knees. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is no exception.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: Zola Jesus – Taiga (2014)

Zola Jesus’ music is difficult to classify. It’s not quite electro, not quite shoegaze, not quite diva, and not quite goth. Yet it is somehow all of these things. Zola Jesus, has one of the most haunting voices in music, and her album, Taiga, and is a fine addition to her already impressive catalogue.

The title track opener is a spooky electro song with drum and bass beats that dissolve into frightening horns. “Dangerous Days” could be a dance club hit if she wanted. It could also be your favorite new song about relationships. “Dust” sounds like a long-lost Yaz track with its tick-tock electric beats and her lovely voice creeping through it like fog rolling along a beach. Ms. Jesus, in case you’re reading this, I’ll sign a petition to hear you cover Yaz’s “Situation.”

“Hunger” is a hot song about hot sex that I’m sure tore up dance clubs in various remixes in 2014. “Go (Blank Sea)” is a swirling wave of sound that hits you over and over again (in a good way) with Zola Jesus’ powerful vocals, which are sometimes laced with reverb to make them even bigger, industrial beats, and angelic synths. It’s one of the best cuts on the record. “Ego” and “Lawless” highlight her vocals well, especially “Lawless,” which mixes epic synths with hip-hop beats and a bit of a tough girl attitude behind her vocals.

“Nail” has the gloomy yet beautiful feel that many Zola Jesus fans love in her work. “Long Way Down” has probably the biggest electro beats on the record (and the most reverb), and I’m sure is another excellent remixed dance track. “Hollow” is another solid entry, and the closer is the cheekily named “It’s Not Over.” It’s a big-voiced track about big love with a slow build and a glorious ending.

The main attraction to any Zola Jesus record is her phenomenal voice. The electro beats and goth touches help, but her voice can be soothing and haunting at the same time. She needs to sing the theme to the next Bond film, and the next ten Bond films if you ask me. If you enjoy a lovely female voice, you need to hear her.

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Rewind Review: Ty Segall – Live in San Francisco (2015)

Ty Segall is so prolific that I’m surprised it took him until 2015 to release a live album. He seems to put out a new record every month, so it feels like he should have three live albums by now.

The psych-fuzz whiz kid opens his live set with, oddly enough, “Wave Goodbye.” It starts out with low bass and then kicks into squealing high gear that has the small crowd cheering in joy. It sounds like something Tom Petty wishes he could release on his new record, but fears it would alienate his long-time fans. “Slaughterhouse” (from the album of the same name) is pure freak-out punk rock with a little Nirvana vocals sprinkled on top for good measure. “Death” mixes stoner rock with punk so fast it might give your ears friction burns. It’s one of the best cuts on the record.

“I Bought My Eyes” is one of Segall’s biggest hits, and he lets it rip on this live album. The guitars seem to come at you from all sides while Segall’s vocals are somehow gentle in the din. “Feel” borders on arena rock territory at first, but the sleeveless denim jacket riffs cut it off at the front door (which is a good thing).

“The Hill” follows the band’s friend, Julie, telling a joke, and next up is “Thank God for the Sinners,” which sounds like something Buzzcocks cooked up at their second jam session. Segall claims “Standing at the Station” “is about the cow trade.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that it’s a swaggering, wild blues-influenced tidal wave coming out of your speakers.

The album ends with another of Segall’s hits – “What’s Inside Your Heart.” I’m sure the fans at this gig told him how their hearts were full of palpitations from being shaken by so much rock. It’s a strong ending to a strong record.

I know this entire review has essentially been me saying this record is non-stop blaring madness, but that’s the best way I describe it. You’ll understand once you hear it. Ty Segall is making crazy records, and we should all be grateful to him for doing it. The world needs more live records, and live performers, like this.

Keep your mind open.

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Rewind Review: TV on the Radio – Seeds (2014)

TV on the Radio returned in 2014 after taking time to mourn the loss of their bass player, Gerard Smith, who lost his battle with lung cancer in 2011. The album they released, Seeds, is a bright affair that not only pays tribute to Smith, but also embraces life and love after loss.

The first four lines of the opener, “Quartz,” are “How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie. How deep is the ocean? How high the sky?” It is a beautiful track with wicked beats that get your feet tapping within seconds.

“Careful You” (a play on “care for you”) is the most direct tribute to Smith barely hidden within a love song. The opening verse, “Oui, je t’aime, oui je ta’ime, a demain, ala prochaine (Yes, I love you, yes, I love you, tomorrow, and the next), I know it’s best to say goodbye, but I can’t seem to move away.” is both heartbreaking and tender. The throbbing synths drive the song through any fog that may be surrounding your head and bring you to out of your reality, at least momentarily.

“Could You,” with its big brass horns, has lead singer Tunde Adebimpe pleading for love (“Could you love somebody? Could you strip the ego bare and let love take flight? Could you open up your heart?”). The first single, “Happy Idiot,” is a sizzler with hot drums and lyrics about a man preferring ignorance and losing his mind to thinking of a life without his former lover. “Test Pilot” is another song about lost love and heartbreak, although by the end it seems the lovers involved may be willing to work through the rough skies and come in for a safe landing after all.

“Love Stained” is an epic song with lovely lyrics about a man terrified by his feelings and seemingly the world at large, but whose lover is always there for him (“In the middle of the night, when fear comes calling singing it all dies, always scared, alone, I’m looking into your eyes to feel the call, pretty thing that catches me so strong when I fall.”). The synths in this rise and fall like waves and eventually drift out like the tide. It’s almost as haunting as opening to the follow-up track, “Ride,” in which the piano and violins sound like a funeral dirge until the drums kick in and the song bursts open to become an affirmation of moving beyond grief and embracing the future. It’s a telling statement from the band considering the loss of Smith.

“Right Now” is another song of renewal and embracing of life. It is a directive from TVOTR to live in this moment and the leave behind the “imaginary need for the silly little things.” “Winter” has blaring guitars that sound designed to reach the back of the concert hall; and, yes, it’s another love song. It has the sauciest lyrics on the album – “Can’t think of nothing better than a union in the afterglow. Let it go, all the thinking and the reason. Here we go, to the lovin’ and the pleasin’.” Meow.

If all the synths are too much for you and you’re whining about the album not having a “real” TVOTR song, don’t worry. “Lazerray” sounds like something the band might’ve put on Return to Cookie Mountain. It’s is the most straight-up rocker on the record and a strong message about the impermanence of everything (“Chop down your master plan in nanoseconds, man. I hope you understand that nothing living lasts forever.”). “Trouble” seems to be a song about a man realizing his lover’s going to break up with him and there’s nothing he can do about it, but I can’t help but think it’s also about the impending death of Smith, especially when the song ends with “Everything’s gonna be okay” repeated over and over. The title track closes out the record, bringing back the thick synths and TVOTR’s great layered vocals. It’s another beautiful love song about a man planting the seeds to build a relationship with a woman who’s been stung in the past.

Seeds might be the best collection of love songs released in 2014. It was a great return for a great band.

Keep your mind open.

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