Twenty years ago I was entirely ready to leave home, although entirely unprepared to do so. One thing I knew was which of my parent’s books and records I would take with me. I couldn’t simply claim my mother’s Herman Hesse novels to pad a shelf to impress girls, as I assumed they would, but if I had read them and expressed enthusiasm they were mine. So I read Siddhartha and I listened to a lot of Cat Stevens records. And that’s how I came to read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, based on its humorous title (borrowed from Swift) and its Mort Drucker-ish cover. Oh, we had paperback then! and I that was one I wanted on my shelf.

The novel was published more than a decade after Toole took his own life after its rejection. His mother found a carbon copy in his belongings (the original manuscript remains lost) and spent years pursuing its publication — when finally put to ink, A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and remains not merely a cult favorite but a genuine classic of American literature. Walker Percy, a Loyola University professor who helped Thelma Toole push her son’s book on publishers, wrote in the introduction:

… I read on. And on. First with the sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good.

Like Percy, I read Dunces laughing, shaking my head in wonderment. How could its magic have been unrecognized? And reaching the last page … how could it end? It was the only time in my life I finished a book and I didn’t want it to end.

There are a number of records we’ve been known to flip back to the beginning after the end of side B. Spider John & Willie Murphy’s Running, Jumping, Standing Still, for instance. One particular favorite around here over the past few years has been Songs to Love and Die To, the first album by Southside Desire. Two years ago the band approached us about carrying it exclusively for the first month, and they said some of the nicest things about the record shop in an interview for the City Pages‘ music blog Gimme Noise (here). Our first listen to the album might have been a little like Percy’s response to the unpublished novel a mourning mother had been haranguing him with, incredulous: surely it’s not this good.

It is and we wore out a copy that winter, and chose it as our favorite album of the year, although it went heartbreakingly unnoticed by most local music media. While we thought “When I Was Your Queen” was a natural radio hit, we hardly heard it on the air.

Songs to Love and Die To left listeners with a story yet untold, just as John Kennedy Toole had with his novel. A listener couldn’t help but wish there were just a little more when the bass walks aways just as it had arrived at the end of “The Ballad of a Flickering Flame,” a classic torcher in which Devitt speculates on life and death with striking candor. If you ask us (although no one has), this song alone should have merited Marvel Devitt as one of the best young songwriters in the Twin Cities. You should give it a listen, along with the whole album, here.

from the end of our days til the birth of the suns
our particles wanted to turn into one
and the birds will keep singing and the trees will still grow
and i’lll hold you forever, that’s all i know

Southside Desire’s story is essential to the band’s sound: a group of south Minneapolis kids who grew up together, playing in a succession of bands that didn’t ‘make it.’ The bassist who opens and closes Songs to Love and Die To is Devitt’s husband (and, full disclosure, an employee here at Hymie’s Records) — so when she speculates on “mak[ing] one together” in this last song from their first album, it’s very real. They’re expecting their first next month. “Ballad of a Flickering Flame” could easily have turned into a much darker piece of music, something like the Cowboy Junkies’ “To Love is to Bury,” but instead Devitt focuses on the precious time we have, in this case our heads safely rested on a shoulder.

wall-1260x946The band is back with a new album after two years of recording and launching a successful record label, Piñata Records, which has a staggering six new releases in 2014. They’ve shot some great videos (here’s the latest) rehearsed their way to more than merely a reliable live set, but one you wouldn’t want to miss.

Southside Desire approaches the same themes as the debut album (loving, leaving, dying) through more sophisticated arrangements without losing their appealing blend of old fashioned rhythm & blues, power pop and punk rock. In fact, in a lot of ways it makes us think of those second and third albums by new wave-y bands coming into their own — Get Happy!!!, All Mod Cons, Plastic Letters, those sort of albums.

southside desireYou can hear the entire album for yourself on their bandcamp page here. It opens with “Four Broken Souls,” a song which pushes the boundaries of their further than any other into the same new wave/disco territory Pennyroyal tapped in our favorite song of last year, “Record Machine.” Everything about this song works well, especially guitarist Paul Puelo’s performance which has become more prominent as the band has expanded its sound. The dynamic opening establishes high expectations, but the album doesn’t disappoint — especially Devitt, who delivers with all the dexterity and dignity of a genuine pop music diva.

What we’ve come to love about the Piñata Records approach, which includes bands like Black Diet, Narco States and Mystery Date, is that its not a rehash of something we’ve already heard as much as a fresh approach to the familiar. They’re giving new life to power pop, garage rock and good old fashioned soul music. Southside Desire ties them all together, even shades of sixties girl pop and the singer-songwriter expressions of the seventies, where Devitt is accompanied by piano and vocal arrangements on “Taking Time.”

On either side of that song are solid single we hope to hear on the radio. “The Heat” sounds a little smokier than the tune they released on a split single with Black Diet last year, “Casualty of Love.” Puelo and fellow backers Trevor Engelbrektson and Damien Tank sounding so surely like the Stax rhythm section (eg the MGs) one can’t help but tap a foot or nod a head.

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“the Heat”

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“Missing”

Most of the songs have rich back stories the listener has to discern from context, which makes them all the more interesting each listen — none of them seem like happy stories. The sugar-sweet artwork on the album, by singer Joy Spika, hides the heartbreak-heavy themes throughout the songs, just as the band’s bright sound often has. Besides the far heavier production of “Four Broken Souls,” the other stylistic change is their increased inclusion of keyboards. “Taking Time,” Devitt’s piano ballad, is the simplest arrangement they’ve recorded yet but one of their very best songs.  It might be the first time we’ve heard the gentlemen’s voices, also, although they’re still surely in the background.

This album exceeds their debut in every way — it’s that next chapter we wanted each time we flipped Songs to Love and Die To back to the beginning. On the last track Devitt sings, “We are saving for the things dreams cost / the work is never done.” It may be so, but it seems to us the work is paying off. The insights into love and loss in Devitt’s songs are sharper, the band’s backing better. Southside Desire is the kind of record you can listen to several times, discovering something with each passing, and it’s become a favorite around here this fall.

Southside Desire’s record release show for their self-titled second album is this Wednesday at the 7th Street Entry. Details here.

 

Lego Hymie’s

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lego hymies 5

Underdogs

sly a whole new thing

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“Underdog” by Sly & the Family Stone

giorgio

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“Underdog” by Giorgio Moroder

Walk On

brownie and sonny

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“Walk On” by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry

It sure is a shame when really awesome records are in a basement flood or a leaking garage, and they end up destroyed. If you’re a collector you’ve surely seen ‘em, gatefold stuck together forever, or jackets so moldy that no amount of scrubbing is going to salvage them.

That’s the story with this crate of cool records someone brought in over the weekend. Some of the records most damaged were from the short, eighteen-album run of Rosetta Records, a label which always has awesome liner notes.

mean mothers

Fortunately, most of them are still read-able, and the albums cleaned up pretty well. We always thought Rosetta Records was named for Sister Rosetta Tharp, the trailblazing gospel singer who we wrote about here back in May. After all, one of its releases was a collection of her songs. We have learned the label was in fact named for its founder, Rosetta Reitz, a feminist writer who had a pretty extraordinary career even before she started making awesome archival records.

Reitz (pronounced “rights”) worked as a stockbroker, ran a book store called the Four Seasons and a greeting card business before she borrowed money for all her friends to start Rosetta Records in 1979. She was already by this time a published author, both of cooking books (she had been a food critic for the Village Voice) and books about women’s issues. She was fifty-five when she started her record label.

Rosetta Records compiled jazz and blues records made by women, mostly from 78s which were in the public domain. These were the same sort of archival albums as the Stash Records collections we posted about a few weeks ago when describing Patty and the Buttons’ vintage smut album. Reitz wrote extensive liner notes with each album, and the gatefold jackets featured a variety of vintage photographs. Some collected single performers, like Ida Cox and Sister Rosetta Tharp, and several had fun themes like Women’s Railroad Blues. Instrumentalists like trumpeter Valaida Snow were also featured with entire LPs.

From the notes to Mean Mothers, the first LP Reitz released in 1979:

“Mean mother” at first sounds like a contradiction. But it isn’t, if you understand its popular meaning. “She’s a mean woman” is really a compliment, meaning this person is serious and will not put up with any nonsense. She is not someone to trifle with or to take lightly. It is a positive view of an independent woman, granting her the regard she deserves as one who will not passively accept unjust or unkind treatment.

Mean women are to be celebrated for being forthright and honest — and for insisting on their dignity. This stance has earned them many epithets however, including one used by some social scientists: matriarch. Matriarch is a dirty word in this culture and its current meaning needs turning around to more accurately convey what the word originally meant — strong woman, a woman with authority who takes responsibility and nutures those she loves and usually anyone else who comes into her orbit.

The label started as a mail order business but eventually found its way into record stores. Reitz estimated that some titles sold as many as 20,000 copies. She remained involved in both jazz music and women’s issues until she passed away in 2008 at the age of eighty-four. Duke University maintains a gigantic archive of her papers, representing the enormous contribution of her career.

And the albums still turn up here in Minneapolis from time to time, thankfully they’re usually in better shape than this one.

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“Good Time Mama” by Martha Copeland

Minneapolis is one of the largest cities in America to toss out Columbus Day and no longer celebrate the life of a genocidal mass murderer. Today is Indigenous Peoples Day in the city, although when you got to the bank and thought Damn! the sign on the door probably said “Closed for Columbus Day.”

There are celebrations at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue this afternoon starting at 4pm. Similar events are taking place in Duluth and Red Wing, both cities that have also dropped the archaic holiday.

We’d like to offer a huzzah and hurray to Alondra Cano, who took our friend Gary Schiff’s seat on the City Council two years ago, representing the 9th Ward. She worked very hard to make this change, and was quoted in this mornings paper as saying “It’s much more than a symbolic gesture.”

We had proposed this change here on the Hymie’s blog every Columbus Day for years, and also produced a program about the music of the Native American protest movement for KFAI’s Wave Project in 2011. Re-run for the last time, here it is:

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Our last post linked to a Washington Post article about the challenges of making vinyl LPs as the number of functioning presses in America doesn’t keep pace with rising demand. To the existing challenges — from finding a sound engineer familiar with the format’s range for recording and mastering, to hoping your test press sounds just right, to timing an event to celebrate the whole six to ten week ordeal — add one more potential disaster. Fed Ex might lose your records somewhere in the middle of the country.

And that’s just what happened to one of the two records we released on Friday at the Cedar Cultural Center. Having safely received the first shipment of Ben Weaver’s LP, I Would Rather Be A Buffalo, we couldn’t even figure out what happened to the 45rpm single by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade. One box was entirely missing — and its tracking number useless — and the others disappeared for a more than an entire day somewhere in Ohio, putting it all perilously close to arriving too late.

Laura spent two days tracking down the packages. There were a lot of phone calls that started with, “Speak to a representative. Speak to a representative. SPEAK TO A PERSON!” And it didn’t get easier after breaking through the automated phone system — most of the representatives were in India, and it seeing as we were connecting over tens of thousands of miles, it didn’t seem unreasonable to suggest we drive the 750 miles to pick the records up ourselves.

Finally reaching someone in the United States, Laura learned where one box was — on a truck traveling to the Twin Cities Friday morning. It was due at late afternoon in Mahtomedi, and would be unpacked shortly after. Finding a single package would be “like finding a needle in a haystack.” But we were welcome to wait for the truck and ask.

And that’s how Laura got to spend the afternoon before our first ever record release show in a suburb we’d never heard of waiting outside a warehouse. She wasn’t the only person waiting, so this sort of stuff must happen a lot. Eventually, someone came out in the parking lot and started asking people their names. “Nope, don’t have it,” he said to the first three. Laura told him she was waiting for the package to Hymie’s. “Oh, the records! I have those!”

 

Fighting Friday rush hour, she made it to the Cedar just as Brian’s band was finishing their soundcheck, shortly before the doors were to open at 7pm. In a reversal of what usually happens, everyone on the stage cheered!

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