Been a while. Let's get right into it. Part Two (vinyl) is coming soon. . .
The famous "unfinished" third Judee Sill album. The tapes sat for years, thought to be lost, only to be newly mixed and mastered by Jim O'Rourke in 2004 upon rediscovery. The actual eight song proper album is darn fine. Looked at as the next album to follow up Heart Food, it's a stripped back, no-nonsense affair that focuses solely on the songs and leaves the arrangements purposely plain. Considering the big productions that preceded it, it is especially scaled back, so it's hard not to hear as a collection of demos. The lyrics are as ambiguously religious and as laced with quasi-mysticism as ever. "I'm Over" is one of her best songs and definitely the highlight here. The title track, which closes out the album, is one of those killer piano ballads that she just seemed capable of belting out at will. The remaining fourty minutes, besides a few demos from the album, is rounded out by a second disc subtitled "Lost Songs" that consists of home recordings of songs that never showed up on either of her two first albums. The fidelity leaves much to be desired in most cases, but the songs are good enough for anybody wanting more to overlook it. 'Emerald River Dance', for instance, strikes me as one her best songs. Although the stark sparseness of the whole affair and the large amount of tape hiss on the second half supposes a bleak final document of Judee Sill, the "Lost Songs" disc closes out with the gospel flavored piano instrumental 'Oh Boy the Magician' and it's hard for me to think of a better way of ending the account of her last recorded music. The second disc has a twenty minute Quicktime movie of Judee playing solo live in 1973. The quality also does leave me a little disappointed, but in the days of YouTube and instant streaming, I have to take a step back and realize what I'm actually looking at to truly appreciate it. Certainly not the most polished picture of Judee Sill and her music, but as an overall package, I'd be hard pressed to imagine it could be any better than this.
Nick Drake — Time of No Reply (late 60's/early 70's)
I drank the Kool Aid when Made to Love Magic came out. It was presented as an updated, improved version of Time of No Reply. I figured it was a good choice for me, as Time of No Reply was long out of print and demanded rather high prices on the used market at that point. Although, after really digesting this initial outtakes collection, I can honestly say that I was duped. The only real draw on Made to Love Magic is the excellent 1974 home recording 'Tow the Line.' Time of No Reply, most importantly, contains the original mixes of the other four songs from those abandoned 1974 recordings, in addition to five other demos and outtakes from 1968 that Made to Love Magic ignored in favor of altered versions of previously familiar tunes. While Made to Love Magic has its place for the truly devoted Nick Drake fan (i.e. people like me), it's far from being a competent replacement for Time of No Reply. While it still does demand fairly high prices for a used CD, I'd say it's definitely worth it. I'm sorry I waited so long.
Josef K — Entomology (early 80's)
Josef K, being one of the original Post Card label bands and the starting point for guitarist Malcolm Ross (who would go on to play in Orange Juice and then later Aztec Camera, pulling off a Post Card hat trick), has long been of interest to me. Their albums are just not that easy to come by in my neck of the woods. I really don't like compilations as a first taste of a band, but this one was just too easily available and too nice of a package to pass up. Pop it in and the first track is the absolute lost classic 'Radio Drill Time.' The sparse, tinny guitar that doesn't sound so much strummed as it does slashed at, the aloof vocals and the inexplicably danceable backbeat — talk about one hell of a start! Elsewhere, frontman Paul Haig's existential influences are on display on the undeniably Cure-ish 'It's Kinda Funny' (atmospheric and lovely), while the band's signature tune 'Sorry for Laughing' practically epitomizes the new wave era. For the most part, it's all esoteric, isolated lyrics and purposely bad singing, hollow guitar sounds and break neck tempos. The psycho-surf of 'Fun 'n Frenzy' is about as close to traditional punk as the boys get here, while favoring a much jumpier, jubilantly jangly sound in the disc's second half (not too bad, actually). All in all, this thing clocks in at twenty-two tracks and over an hour long, making for a serious good investment for a new wave dork like me. If I ever see any of their other records, they will be purchased without a second thought.
Various — Blue Skied an' Clear: A Morr Music Compilation (2002)
Tribute albums have always been kind of a slippery slope for me. While an electronic-based tribute to Slowdive strikes me as a bad idea right off the bat —and to be exact, I expected to hate it— it's actually kind of fun, in a way. Unfortunately, most of the performers here miss the vocal melodies completely and rely entirely on the atmospherics. Lali Puna's '40 Days' is a beat-heavy, laptop-inspired revision that gets it right, while Ulrich Schnauss' 'Crazy for You' bares enough resemblance to the original to get by on the small nuances of difference. Hermann and Kleine's 'Dagger' is a nice electro-acoustic version that puts a female vocalist in the lead. Two versions a piece for 'Here She Comes' (a disappointing one that builds to an unnecessary climax by B Fleischmann and Ms. John Soda and a decidedly retro instrumental take by Skanfrom) and 'When the Sun Hits' (a boring vocoder electropop version by Solvent and a surprisingly great, mostly acoustic version by Komeit). Isan's synthesizing of 'Celia's Dream' is kind of what I expected going in, while still being a pretty decent rendition. As the song from which the disc takes its name, Manual's 'Blue Skied an' Clear' is a pretty standard run through, but disappointingly ditches the vocals altogether. The closer is 'Machine Gun' by Múm and it's a pretty nice, skeletal and bleak rendition of the tune. Overall, a grab bag, but I didn't expect anything else. There is a second disc that contains all originals by these bands and musicians, but I've honestly only skimmed it, as it was not what I picked this album up for. Maybe one day I'll go back and find something fun.
Leo Kottke — Guitar Music (1981)
An all instrumental, solo guitar album from Leo in the early 80's. There's a lot on display here, from Leo's classic post-bluegrass slide techniques like 'Part Two', to newer ideas like 'Strange', to more meditative pieces like 'Three Walls and Bars' and down to a completely unforeseen (yet totally brilliant) cover with 'All I Have to do is Dream.' Just wonderful to hear a master at play and this album has plenty of that. For such a later album, I am pretty impressed with its consistency with Leo's earlier albums. Really good stuff.
More on the way.