Bobby Bare Jr.’s Young Criminals Starvation League: Undefeated (Bloodshot)
Among the growing fraternity of Record Store Day-worthy redneck offspring, Bobby Bare Jr. gets diminished attention because his father is merely notable these days for a memorable name and penchant for novelty tunes (which is a damn shame, because “Detroit City”). And it’s not as if Bare Jr. is riding his father’s coattails— releasing four studio albums in the past decade speaks to his artistic rigor dammit. So here comes Undefeated, his self-confessed breakup album, and although a modest amount of moroseness cut with mordant humor suffuses the record, what first catches my attention is pop-referential eclecticism: Led Zeppelinish song—check. 80’s synth pop tune—check. Tin Pan Alley—check. Zombies rip—check. Velvet Underground outro—check. Now notice that none of these ingredients are required for any alt-country recipe, which nevertheless is decisively still on the menu. The Zeppelin influence of the opener, “North of Alabama by Mornin’”, creates a psychotic road trip claustrophobia that augments the love-flight storyline (“Am I holding the steering wheel/Or is it holding me?”). “The Big Time” (“You’re gonna miss me after I hit the" you know what) is a bitch-slap, but the Hayes Carll collab “My Baby Took My Baby Away” (the Tin Pan Alley song) hides a dirty rotter's tale amid its offhand glibness. And tagging “Don’t Stand At the Stove” as Velvety (like I just did) fails to acknowledge its falsetto vocals, its techno grace notes—perhaps a four-minute version of Sonic Youth’s “The Diamond Sea” would be more precise shorthand. (And I’d pay real money to see a 20-minute “Don’t Stand At the Stove” in concert.) I won’t deny that Undefeated drags a little in the middle, unless you bear down on the lyrics (which I strongly advise), but that does kinda go with the territory. On his best album, Bare Jr. comes out of his lover’s blues if not on top then definitely in control, which is just about what you’d wish for him, or anyone.
Gladys Knight & the Pips: Silk N’Soul (Soul/Motown)
A minor Motown artist at the time, soon to be MOR queen, and now the chicken and waffles lady (I’m more a fan of her collard green spring rolls), there’s no obvious reason why this album of hits-of-the-day covers should be anything other than de trop. But that 70’s MOR stuff obfuscates how husky and joyful and caramel-sexy young Gladys Knight was. So no, she doesn’t make a soul song out of “Yesterday”, but “Groovin’” steals the blue-eyed soul right back from the Young Rascals, “Tracks of my Tears” adds rough edges that Smokey would never have tolerated, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” has a type of heat that the Righteous Brothers couldn’t really bring to the song in the Sixties (would have been <awkward>), and Knight flat steals “Baby I Need Your Loving” from the Four Tops. Available for download digitally now (or on CD for a mint), this mini-revelation has me headed for the low-budget 4-CD boxed set I see on Amazon and already wondering what it might be missing.
Listening to the Watertrain (Blue Navigator 11)
Blue Navigator is an intermittent Irish multimedia celebration of all things holy and unholy in the Have Moicy! world, named after a 1984 Michael Hurley LP that was reissued last year on 8-track from a vinyl rip after the master tapes were destroyed in a fire because, well, that’s how things go for this lot. Some of the Blue Navigator issues come with CDs and some of those (like the one about Peter Stampfel inamorata Antonia) are pretty great. #11 is the most elaborate edition yet: it’s Hurley-centric this time and comes in a foldout with postcards, a comic book by the Werewolf, and the bricolage that amounts to a fanzine (we’ll have to do a session about fanzines one day for the kids out there) about past and present misadventures of this motley crew. Listening to the Watertrain is the name of the CD that comes along for the ride. At a tempo that approximates your resting heart rate most of the time, it captures the bemusement of slightly above average musicians who happen to still be alive many years after they sowed their wild oats. “I’m walking the dog/And painting the town” pretty much nails it. But don’t worry that this is old folks’ home stuff: Peter Stampfel and his Ether Frolic Mob deconstruct “I Will Survive” (yes, that one), and St. Peter Laughner comes back from the grave to lay claim to “Biscuit Roller” from Hurley’s epically lazy Armchair Boogie, emphasizing what an astute tastemonger Laughner was. Two Irish musicians, Kate Lawrence (who has 29 followers on Twitter) and Donal Fean manage to steal the show with a cover of Hurley’s aptly titled “The Revenant”. And a good time was had by all.
Jefferson Airplane: Crown of Creation (RCA) How lucky are those virgins to the San Fran 60s scene who get to listen to this, or Anthem of the Sun or Moby Grape’s debut with fresh ears. And here’s what Michael said.
Young Thug and Bloody Jay: Black Portland (free mixtape) Shredded vocals, neo-crunky beats, something new under the hip-hop sun. And here’s what Jason said.
Jon Langford and Skull Orchard: There Be Whales (In De Goot) Cut to the chase: Best Langford with Skull Orchard, as good as the best Wacos, right there with mid-level Mekons. And here's what Jason said. And here's what Jason said again.