JUST FOR THE RECORD
A merry message for ‘dipshits drunk on pink perfume’
A bi-weekly vinyl review
The good news is that Canadian singer-songwriter Neko Case, perhaps the fiercest of indie spirits in Americana, has a new album out, Hell-On (Matador). There is no bad news. Honestly.
Case left home when she was 15 and cut her musical chops in punk bands in the Pacific North West but her career only really took off when she studied art in Vancouver in the 1990s. For a while she was tagged as being an alt-country performer, but albums like Furnace Room Lullaby (2000) and Blacklisted (2002), both critically acclaimed, featured atmospheric and personal explorations away from the perhaps formulaic country influences. As one critic put it, Case is “not a needlessly traditionalist balladeer but the sort of writer who deploys lines like dipshit drunk on pink perfume”. (And how else would one describe a rosé bender?)
Hell-On is perhaps her most poppish release, but it is also an angry one. Last year, a fire destroyed her Vermont farm home; when the local newspaper reported the incident, they revealed whose property it was, and its address, which resulted in an unfortunate incident with a stalker. Which is why, if there’s a subtext here, it’s one of simmering feminist confrontation.
Supporting artists include kd lang, Calexico’s Joey Burns, Mark Lanegan, Kelly Hogan and Jon Rauhouse. As ever, the album is a showcase for her immense talents as a vocalist, songwriter and producer. It’s a lush and intimate release, and her strongest to date. There’s a nostalgic element to Case’s voice but it’s never cliched; her singing remains extraordinary: warm, engaging, expressive and emotional but never histrionic or excessive.
ALL THAT JAZZ
Much amazement among jazz aficionados at the recent discovery of a lost John Coltrane album, especially as it was widely assumed that the saxophonist’s record label, Impulse!, had had access to all his unheard recordings when they issued a slew of posthumous LPs in the wake of his death in 1967. The set Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Universal/Impulse!) will be released at the end of the month.It would appear, according to news reports, that the complete album, recorded in a single session by Coltrane and his classic quartet — pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones — on March 6 1963, is only with us because producer Bob Thiele allowed the saxophonist to take home a quarter-inch reel-to-reel reference tape of the session.
The master tape, meanwhile, was shelved — and then promptly forgotten. At the time, Coltrane and his band were going through a particularly fertile musical period, exploring and pushing the boundaries of jazz with each new release. They had just finished a two-week residency at New York’s Birdland venue when they entered the studio on March 4 for work with Thiele. A subsequent session, with vocalist Johnny Hartman, recorded on March 7, was later released as John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1963).We can only speculate as to why the March 6 session master was passed over in favour of the unexpected collaboration with Hartman. Perhaps it was because it was so damn good; the singer was in top form on the six ballads laid down here, in particular Lush Life and My One and Only Love, and Coltrane’s playing throughout the session is beautiful, sympathetic, and still exploratory.
Nonetheless, once put aside, the tapes were inevitably forgotten and possible destroyed in the early 1970s when Impulse! attempted to reduce storage fees. Coltrane’s reference tape however was given to his wife, Naima, and despite their disintegrating relationship — they divorced in 1966 — it has stayed in the family ever since.
Though unheard for 55 years, the tape proves to be a valuable chapter in Coltrane’s history. It consists of seven pieces, three of which are previously unknown — and have no titles. One has been labelled Slow Blues, a purely descriptive label, while the others are identified by their record company matrix numbers, Untitled Original 11383 and Untitled Original 11386.
Both Directions at Once will be issued in two vinyl formats: a single and a double LP, the latter featuring alternate takes. It will also be released in single and double CD formats as well.
Those wanting an introduction to Coltrane, meanwhile, are urged to check out Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957) and A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), both among the most important and influential releases in all of jazz.CRATE DIVING
Filmmaker Michael Cross’s acclaimed documentary and a hit at the recent Encounters film festival, The Fun’s Not Over: The James Phillips Story, has provoked some interest among millennials in the musician who passed away in 1995. There’s not a lot of his music on vinyl, but what there is is quite collectible.
Rarest of the lot would be the independently-released 1980 EP, Fridays and Saturdays (Jawl), which he recorded with Corporal Punishment, the Springs-based punk rock group he formed with friends Carl Raubenheimer and Mark Bennett. I’ve yet to come across a copy for sale in trading forums online, so have no idea what it’s worth today. Interestingly, the record’s label identifies it not as Fridays and Saturdays, but The Amazing Corporals, and the artist as the Corporals.His next single, under the alias Bernoldus Niemand, was 1983’s Hou My Vas Korporaal b/w My Broken Heart (Shifty Records), the first single off the influential 1984 album, Wie Is Bernoldus Niemand? (Shifty Records).A second single from the album, Boksburg Bomber b/w Jody (Shifty Records), was also released in 1984. Boksburg Bomber was a tribute to heavyweight boxer Gerrie Coetzee. Phillips somehow managed to present Coetzee with a copy of the single at the weigh-in before the latter was due to defend his WBA title against US challenger Greg Page at Sun City. He was hoping Coetzee would play it before the fight. He didn’t and went on to be knocked out and lose his title.
Both of these singles are quite rare, but the Bernoldus album regularly turns up at vinyl fairs and flea markets. Copies in good condition go for about R350 a pop.Vinyl copies of Phillips’s next release, 1985’s Live at Jamesons (Shifty Records), recorded with his group The Cherry Faced Lurchers, are fairly difficult to come by and command a steepish price. A copy was last sold on discogs.com in March 2017 for about R540.Phillips also appears on two interesting compilation albums that were released on vinyl. Both 1985’s A Naartjie in our Sosatie (Gross National Products/Shifty Records) and 1986’s Forces Favourites (Shifty Records) offer excellent introductions to the local alternative music scene during PW Botha’s state of emergency, with contributions from such artists as The Softies, Jennifer Ferguson, Roger Lucey, Mapantsula, Stan James, National Wake and the Kalahari Surfers, among others.Forces Favourites, an End Conscription Campaign benefit album, was also released by Rounder Records in the US, but with different artwork (featuring a striking yellow image of a Casspir). Copies of these compilations in good condition should go for about R300 each.THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION
American Beauty: The Grateful Dead, (Warner Brothers, 1970; Rhino Records, 2011)Influenced in no small measure by country-rock’s general growing popularity, and the close-knit vocal harmonies of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, 1970 saw the Grateful Dead take an overnight left turn from the tripped-out, elongated free-form jams of their heyday to touch base with an emergent, roots-orientated, acoustic Americana, first with Workingman’s Dead and then with by far the best album in their large canon, American Beauty.
The former was terrific in its own right, a radical departure from psychedelia’s guilt-free freedoms that offered a moving reflection on the turmoil of political unrest at home and the Vietnam war. But American Beauty, released just a few months later, was a dramatic improvement, with more relaxed and joyous explorations of the bluegrass, folk and country-rock that they’d now made their own. This was a whole new Dead: the band’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, was now at his poetic best; Bob Weir and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s singing was never better; and Jerry Garcia not only took a break from his noodling lead guitar to acquit himself admirably on pedal steel but he proved instrumental in bringing mandolin maestro Dave Grisman on board to add depth and flavour to the mix.
The one caveat I’d offer to neophytes here is that American Beauty will lead you to explore other Dead albums, but — and as good as some of them may be, especially the sprawling live sets — this really is the best. The remastered 2011 Rhino reissue is available of 180g vinyl.