The Sound and the Fury

December 3, 2019

Wrapping Up 2019


A year-end potpourri of records and books from the past year

IT’S THE END OF another year, meaning it’s time for another year-end roundup, my chance to cover a potpourri of releases that came out in 2019:

IT’S CERTAINLY BEEN A YEAR unearthing long lost treasures that have been tucked away in the vaults for years — 60 years, in the case of Lee Hazlewood’s 400 Miles from LA: 1955-56 (Light in the Attic). Just five years after LITA reissued Hazlewood’s Trouble is a Lonesome Town, a previously unreleased demo of that classic album was discovered, dating from the mid-1950s; “akin to finding an earlier draft of the Old Testament,” the liner notes of this new release state. It’s fascinating to hear tracks like Hazlewood’s winsome solo version of “Long Black Train,” along with songs that didn’t make the cut of the final Lonesome Town (originally released in 1963). Needless to say, this is essential for Hazlewood aficionados.

Viscaynes_Cover-FINAL-1024x1024EVERYBODY STARTS SOMEwhere, and for a youthful Sylvester Stewart, that would Vallejo, California, where he joined a doo wop outfit called the Viscaynes while in high school. The group had a local hit with the dreamy “Yellow Moon,” and recorded six other songs before breaking up (including a light-hearted number about being drafted, “Uncle Sam Needs You”), previously only available on singles. The Viscaynes & Friends (ORG Music) finally brings all seven tracks together on a full-length album (the “Friends” are other acts recorded by the same producer). A valuable document of the early years of the musician who would become Sly Stone.

Harry-Nilsson-Lost-And-Found-1569424067-compressedIN THE EARLY ’90S, HARRY Nilsson was working on what would’ve been his first solo album since 1980’s Flash Harry. But the project came to a sudden end when he died on January 15, 1994. Now the album’s original producer, Mark Hudson (who also co-wrote some of the record’s songs) has been able to complete the job, and the end result is Losst and Found (Omnivore Recordings), the misspelling cleverly referencing Nilsson’s name. It’s a fine work that’s a real return to form for Nilsson, who’s in excellent voice. High points include a heartfelt
take on Jimmy Webb’s “What Does a Woman See in a Man” (Webb also plays piano), a fun medley of “Hi Heeled Sneakers” and Nilsson/Hudson’s “Rescue Boy,” and a reggae-fied take on Yoko Ono’s “Listen the Snow is Falling”

Tony Joe WhiteWHEN LEGENDARY MUSIcian Tony Joe White opened for Creedence Clearwater Revival in the fall of 1971, Warner Brothers taped one of his shows (the exact date is unknown) in anticipation of releasing a live album. But it never came to be. Rhino later released the show on their limited edition Handmade Records imprint in 2010, and now Real Gone Music has put out a more widely available release of That on the Road Look on CD. It’s a fantastic set, drawing on songs from his self-titled Warner Bros. debut, a cover of T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday,” and a killer “Polk Salad Annie” that goes on for over 10 minutes.

PrintLIGHT IN THE ATTIC REISsued singer/songwriter Jim Sullivan’s 1969 album U.F.O. in 2010, hoping to solve the mystery of his disappearance in the process (in March 1975, Sullivan was headed for Nashville from Los Angeles, and disappeared without a trace during a stopover in New Mexico). Sadly, no new details were uncovered. But LITA has now reissued Sullivan’s second, self-titled album, as well If the Evening Were Dawn, a wonderful new collection of previously unreleased demos. His warm voice is well suited to his folk/country songs, and this new release will surely enhance his reputation.

leonard-cohenAND FOR THOSE WHO thought You Want It Darker (2016) was the last new music they’d ever hear from Leonard Cohen, you’re in luck. Cohen’s son Adam has taken his father’s unfinished material and fleshed it out for Thanks for the Dance (Columbia) which also features contributions from Cohen’s touring guitarist, Javier Mas (who plays Cohen’s own guitar), and Jennifer Warnes, who worked with Cohen in the studio and on tour, among others. It’s a hauntingly beautiful record, with Cohen’s rumbling baritone set within a restrained musical backing like a precious jewel.

black sunMORE FUN IN THE NEW WORLD: The Unmaking and Legacy of LA Punk (Da Capo Press) is the rollicking sequel to Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of LA Punk, with co-authors/editors John Doe and Tom DeSavia tapping friends and colleagues to share their experiences of those halcyon days. “Success” (moving to a major label, getting famous), turns out to be a double-edged sword with its own set of challenges. The Blasters’ music, for example, was rejected by their label because “it sounds too much like the Blasters.” There’s a lot of laugh-out-loud moments too; Jane Wiedlin’s (the Go-Go’s) anecdote about the band shoving opium up their butts at a post-gig party paints an indelible image. If you’re a fan of the era, or the bands, this is one highly entertaining (and surprisingly poignant) read .

sparksTHE MAEL BROTHERS — AKA Sparks — have put out a real treat for their devoted fans. In honor of its 25th anniversary, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins (BMG) has been reissued in a wonderful ex-
panded edition. In the 3 CD or 2 CD/1 LP editions, you get a remastered version of the album (best known tracks: “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’” and “[When I Kiss You] I Hear Charlie Parker Playing”), and two discs of extras. The first disc has remixes of various tracks, while the third is filled with previously unreleased material. Most entertaining is listening to Ron Mael as lead vocalist on two tracks; you can even compare him to brother Russell in the two takes of “This Angry Young Man Ain’t Angry No More” (Russell comes out on top). Also new is Past Tense: The Best of Sparks, available in 2 CD and 3 LP editions, though for the ultimate Sparks overview you should head straight for the more comprehensive 3 CD edition.

lou reedHOWARD SOUNES’ NOTES From the Velvet Underground: The Life of Lou Reed was first published overseas in 2015. Now it arrives in a US edition from Diversion Books. It’s a very clear-eyed, unflinching look at an artist Sounes describes with some understatement as a “complex, difficult man” (others aren’t as charitable; film director Paul Morrissey tells Sounes he found Reed to be “a stupid, disgusting, awful human being”). We get a first-hand account of Reed’s family life from his sister, as well as insights from romantic partners, band members, and business associates (around 140 interviewees in all), creating a rich and detailed portrait of this truly unique talent.

happyI’VE BEEN A FAN of Kristi Callan’s music ever since an editor handed me a copy of Betsy’s House, an EP by her band Wednesday Week, in 1983 (and I still have it!). She went on to play in the band Lucky, has released solo material, and even performed in a Cheap Trick cover band called — what else? — Cheap Chick. Her latest outfit is Dime Box Band, and their newest album is Happy (Avebury Records). The opening blast of “All of Nothing” sure brings the jangly pop of Wednesday Week to mind, though the music also leans in an alt-country/Americana direction. There are bittersweet songs about relationships and the vagaries of human nature (e.g. the cheeky “Everybody Lies”), plus a tough rocker about corporate greed (“Keystone”). The LA-based band has a couple of dates in December; for more info.

See you next year!


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