Here's Little Richard (Craft/Concord/Specialty Records)
In the wake of recent losses in the music business, including the shockingly unexpected passing of Tom Petty, Prince and David Bowie - as well as founding fathers such as Chuck Berry and Fats Domino - now is a good time to reflect on the true living legends who still (as of press time at least) walk the Earth. Perhaps no better place to start is with the Georgia Peach himself, Little Richard. Born Richard Perryman in Macon 84 years ago, the flamboyant rocker has influenced several generations of artists including The Beatles and Elton John. His glitzy, over-the-top image remains iconic and his soulful early recordings endure as the foundation of the genre. He'd made a few attempts at recording in the early '50s, beginning in Atlanta (in the studio at WGST radio) and in Macon, but it wasn't until he signed with Specialty that his star began to rise with a series of incredible hit singles. His first full-length album included those original songs and in retrospect, it's a greatest hits collection. In honor of the 60th anniversary of its release, Craft Recordings, the catalog imprint of Concord Music, has reissued the album in a deluxe 2-CD set. It contains a remaster of the full album and a separate 22-track disc of demos, outtakes and unreleased material from the sessions, offering the definitive look at the uninhibited performer's best overall record. It's a great place to start for new fans and a loving reminder for longtime admirers. The fervent versions of "Long Tall Sally," "Ready Teddy" and "Tutti Frutti" alone mark the set as a must-have for any collector of classic rock. â€“LVS
The Successful Failures
Ichor of Nettle (FDR)
For just over a decade now, New Jersey-based four piece The Successful Failures have been fighting the good fight for guitar-centered rock/pop. Across five consistently great albums, the band has tossed in everything from Americana and jangle pop to their mix, but at the core there are always driving guitars, tight harmonies, sharp hooks and witty lyrics. Ichor of Nettle, their sixth record is no exception. The collection opens with "The Ballad of Julio Cuellar," about an immigrant from El Salvador who quits his job as a policeman to try and make a new life in the U.S., but is left to die in the desert by his smuggler. The fact that the Mike Chorba and the others can take an ultimately tragic subject matter and turn it into a brilliant pop song is pure genius, akin to someone like Randy Newman. For the next 14 tracks, the band covers every topic from Sam Houston (um, "Sam, Houston"), love between and Irish girl and a Tennessee boy ("Tennessee Boy") and the daily crap that grinds you down ("The Shit That Drags You Down." These guys don't fuck around when it comes to song titles). They manage to easily slip from one genre to the next, be it alt country ("Pa Fight Song"), power pop ("All Wrapped Up") to Americana ("Baby Home Tonight") while weaving bar room rock throughout just about every number. A decade in, the band has yet to get their Rolling Stone cover, their stadium tour or their even their own craft beer. Regardless, they've managed to turn in a near-flawless catalogue of music, all the while keeping their humor.
Flat Duo Jets
Wild Wild Love (Daniel 13)
The music world is cluttered with tragically underrated bands. Groups that didn't get their due until long after they'd broken up, despite their influence heard on a raft of more successful bands. Before R.E.M. there was Big Star, before Cheap Trick there was The Raspberries and before bands like Devo and The B-52's, there was Captain Beefheart. So, North Carolina/Athens, GA's Flat Duo Jets are in good company. In their 16 years of existence, they became musician's musicians and went on to influence everyone from The White Stripes to a slew of current Americana bands and punkabilly bands. The label Daniel 13 is re-releasing Flat Duo Jet's fantastic 1990 self-titled album, along with 1985's long out of print "In Stereo" EP and a full second disc of outtakes. The set is packaged as Wild Wild Love and is proof that this band deserved a much wider audience.
Combining rockabilly, psychobilly, punk folk and straight up rock, the band â€“ singer/guitarist Dexter Romweber and drummer/bassist Chris "Crow" Smith â€“ manages to sound so much larger than just two (and occasionally three) guys. Romweber's deep, emotive vocals are complemented brilliantly by Smith's rock-steady rhythms. Songs like "My Life, My Love" and "When My Baby Passes By" still sound remarkably relevant decades later. Impressively, the music was recorded without overdubs, just straight to tape. Among the 13 outtakes that make up the second disc are an inventive take on Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk" and "Bring it on Home," the Sam Cooke classic, along with alternative versions of their own songs. In the years since the duo split, Romweber has put out half a dozen solo albums, including last year's Carrboro, while Smith has been less prolific, putting out a solo album in 2005. Wild Wild Love would be a great first step in reuniting the band.
For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986 (Rhino/Sire)
As any fan of The Replacements is likely to tell you their live shows were either brilliant examples of inspired Midwest punk rock at its finest or a drunken mess of bellowed obscenities, fistfights and thrown instruments.
This surprise live recording of The Replacements, recorded in Hoboken during their Tim tour, is thankfully the former. This 29-song set marks the first official live set by the world's most-underrated band (trademark pending). The group's arrangements here are just sloppy enough to sound dangerous, but still show a band that has finally escaped the bar circuit and on their way (at least on paper) to being one of the biggest bands around. Sadly, despite major label backing, and a number of impressive albums, they managed to screw that up spectacularly.
The show kicks off with "Hayday," from "Hootenanny," before segueing into the brilliant "Color Me Impressed". Guitarist Bobby Stinson, playing one of his last shows with the band before getting the boot, sounds far more impressive here than any of the band's albums would have you believe. In a live setting, he really shines, as do the others here. "For Sale" also includes some great covers, like one of their live standards, a completely unironic take on Kiss' "Black Diamond," along with impressive stabs at "Fox on the Run," "Baby Strange," "Nowhere Man" and the somewhat obscure (at least to post-Baby Boomers) Vanity Fare tune "Hitchin' A Ride." The set ends with a furious rendition of their 1982 song "Fuck School," and Paul Westerberg can be heard telling the crowd, "Thanks, guys. We're getting to be tired old men." That may be true, but you can hardly tell based on this remarkable live set. At the end of the band's 2014/2015 reunion tour, Westerberg wore a series of cryptic t-shirts each night that ultimately spelled out the ominous: "I have always loved you. Now I must whore my past."
If this album is what he was referring to, I'm more than fine with it.
The Texas Gentlemen
Jelly (New West Records)
With the recent passing of Leon Russell and Merle Haggard, it seems like we're in danger of losing a precious sub-genre of music. Both, along with a handful of others like Willie Nelson (still around, thankfully!) and Waylon Jennings, played a skillful brand of bullshit-free country music that added in the swamp sound of Mussel Shoals and a "no fucks left to give" Outlaw vibe. But, thankfully, there are still bands a few bands out here like The Texas Gentlemen willing to pick up that flag and carry on the fight against the plastic, neon country sound that seems to be dominating Nashville at the moment. The Dallas-based five-piece's debut, "Jelly," is 11 tracks of authentically played Southern Rock, Americana, Soul and '70s Country. Recorded live in under a week down in Muscle Shoals, AL, there are a slew of influential touchstones here (including all those named above), but the band still manages to come off as wholly original with their music. Hardly a band to hue to a single sound, The Texas Gentlemen can pull off a sweet, almost hymn like sound on the front end of the song "My Way," then pivot to Boogie Woogie piano in the last minute. On the next track, the breezy sentimental "Superstition" they manage to pull off a Harry Nilsson vibe, while later in the album they boast a brilliant tear in my beer number like "Pretty Flowers" and a psychedelic garage rocker like "Shakin' All Over." Versatile throughout, each song is just as powerful as the last. With "Jelly," The Texas Gentlemen may just be the ones to save country music.
Ephrata (Dessert Records)
Long after the media and major labels finally left Seattle alone, the music scene there continued to flourish without the spotlight, branching out from the one or two assigned genres they were shouldered with thanks to lazy journalism. The result is a slew of amazing, inventive bands that still call Seattle home. And among them is Ephrata. Though together since 2012, this self-titled LP marks their debut. Aside from a tepid opening track (still a sloid song, but it belies the energy that follows), the album is a fantastically brilliant mix of dream-pop and '90s alt rock. From the solid drumming and harmonies on "Tunguska," the dreamy vocals on "Breakers," to the jangly guitars on "Pharaoh," the band moves seamlessly from one sound to the next, never sticking with one formula long enough to get stale. All the cliched descriptors of a dream pop band are still applicable here: "lush," "soaring," "beautiful," etc. But more impressive, Ephrata manages to represent so much more with just this one record.