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Glyn Johns may be the most successful recording engineer and producer of his generation, if not all time — you’ll find his name in the notes to everything from Abbey Road and Let It Be to old AM radio staples by Led Zeppelin, the Who, Eric Clapton, the Eagles and Bob Dylan. His extraordinary resume makes it all the more amazing that he has said that the best album he ever worked on was Joan Armatrading’s self-titled third record.

That Armatrading’s breakthrough 1976 album is not endowed with the exalted status of those other records is a sign of the institutional racism in the realm of rock journalism. We arriving a little late to the dance, but look at Rolling Stones‘ much-lauded list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and consider the absurdly infrequent appearance of women. Armatrading’s third album may be one of the list’s most glaring omissions.

To borrow a phrase from one of Armatrading’s contemporaries who did have a pair of albums on the list, and who unlike Armatrading was also included in the magazine’s authoritative “Greatest Songwriters” list as well, “You don’t like strong women ’cause they’re hip to your tricks.”

In a 2014 interview promoting his memoirs, Sound Man, Johns was asked about the song “Down to Zero” which opens the album. While he had little to say about working with, for instance, the Eagles, Johns expressed regret he did not get to work with Armatrading more. And when the interviewer praised “Down to Zero,” he lit up:

It’s good, isn’t it? That woman is absolutely remarkable. She was like a breath of fresh air. That’s not the right phrase, but it’ll do for the moment. When I first discovered her, she took me down a musical road that I had no idea that I could even identify with. Fortunately for both of us, not only did I identify with it, I was able to help in some small way. But I learned a tremendous amount from working with her. She’s an exceptional musician. She’s a great guitar player, never mind about a wonderful singer and songwriter.

Another song from the album, “Love and Affection,” gave Armatrading her first charting single, and our personal favorite was picked for its b-side. “Help Yourself” is a timeless tune which feels especially relevant these days as inequities such as Rolling Stones‘ narrow list are being called out.

The second side of this awesome album opens with “Join the Boys,” in which Armatrading, with her characteristic confidence, describes starting a band which will “succeed where others failed” and “take the world by storm” (the song became a set list staple). “Join the Boys” features her uniquely percussive guitar playing and uncommon approach to rhythm — sounding like no one else, Armatrading may well be addressing the industry when the song opens:

Are you for or against us?
We are trying to get somewhere
Looking around for a helping hand

If you were to file Brian Just‘s latest album in your parents’ record collection you might put Changing Traffic Lights in between Donovan and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Or maybe alongside a some lesser-known psychedelic classic — in a post earlier this summer we compared the album to J.K. and Co., a late 60s gem on White Whale Records, but we could just as easily suggest a similarity to Gandalf’s cover of the Turtles “Me Without You” or a number of other trippy rarities. You could also store the new Brian Just album alongside your Yo La Tengo albums, or without taking too much of a leap some of the local psych-sters like Magic Castles.

Truthfully, Changing Traffic Lights isn’t directly derivative of anything and the most remarkable success of this album is how well its ten tracks flow while drawing from disparate sources. Tunes like “Staring into the Sun” (below) capture the celebratory sense of the Brian Just Band’s live sets, and each side ends with a lush chamber pop piece arranged by Adam Conrad. You can hear one of these, the title track, in a video posted here.

We can’t recall the first time we heard one of Just’s songs, or for that matter the first time he walked through the doors of this friendly neighborhood record store, but we also can’t imagine a world without his music. His albums have been the backdrop of life here for so long they almost reverberate off the posters and records on the walls.

Brian Just and his band have performed here a number of times over the years and will be returning this Saturday for a show with ZNAG have been eagerly anticipating.

And just who is ZNAG? Two of the band members are our own Gus and Nova, joined by Andre and Zola, two friends they met at the Music Lab‘s band camp this summer. If you have kids interested in music, we encourage you to click on that link and check out the Music Lab! They will be performing their entire repertoire (two songs)!

That was the question on our minds earlier this summer when we were trying to organize the stacks and stacks of CDs in our office. We’re always enthusiastic to give any new local recording a listen, but sometimes we forget where they came from or how they ended up here. In this case, it turned out J. Briozo was a new name for an old friend of the record shop.

This new disc, out on Friday with a release show at the Phoenix Theater, is an offshoot of longstanding roots rock band Swallows, whose own third album is now a half-decade in the works. Fans of the group are familiar with their penchants for such projects, which in recent years has included instrumental chamber music and a country album.

Swallows’ songwriter Jeff Crandall created the J. Briozo persona drawing from his mother’s Azore Island and Portuguese heritage and tapping into memories of his grandmother, who sang in her native language on a Fresno, California radio station in the 40s and 50s. The result was something entirely removed from the two and a half albums he’d written with Swallows, something much closer to the AM radio which first inspired his imagination as a child. Crandall has paid several visits to the record shop to talk more about Deep in the Waves, which may refer to the airwaves as aptly as those of the sea.

While there’s a strong feeling Deep in the Waves owes a debt to 70s airwave staples like Bread, Poco or Brewer & Shipley, one can hear the recent sounds of a Sea Change or Morning Phase or the midwest’s own Bon Iver reflected in the album. And although the album is issued under a new name, it doesn’t sound all that removed from the last Swallows record, Witching & Divining. The band’s earthy approach to Americana is just in the DNA of their recordings. If you’re eager to stream another song from the album, you can hear the first track on Soundcloud here.

There are some moments on the album perfect for old AM radio, especially the bright closing cut, “Sun Sun True” and “Beautiful Mess,” both songs which recall Everclear-era American Music Club. The song “Catalonia” finds a drifter traveling to the region where “the warm wind blows,” but the song doesn’t take a position on its current movement for independence from Spain (it was recorded well before the recent vote).

On “Deep in the Waves” Crandall’s voice comes across without any alteration and this provides one of the most earnest moments on the album, which is dedicated to his mother. She passed away from an unexpected illness as the band was finishing the project, which Crandall described to us as a life changing experience. In a conversation with us, Crandall said its difficult to lose the person who raised you, but that “you also start think that much harder about your own mortality and that you are becoming the oldest generation in your family.”

He had more to say about that title track in a recent interview on Vents Magazine:

The song “Deep in the Waves” is told from the point of view of one’s inner voice compelling you rise up and sieze the day – to be alive and awake instead of submerged and drowning. It’s easy to feel underwater in life, like you are struggling every day just to keep afloat. “Deep in the Waves” is essentially a song from the soul to the self about transforming that struggle into something more positive and constructive.

Crandall is coming up on a decade and a half of making music here in Minnesota and this album, his best-yet set of songs, is buoyed by moving performances from longtime collaborators, especially bassist/cellist Aaron Kerr, multi-instrumentalist Tyson Allison and drummer Justin DeLeon. While not in name a new album by his band, Swallows, Deep in the Waves is an excellent addition to their catalog.

The release show for Deep in the Waves is this Friday at the Phoenix Theater on Hennepin Avenue (details on their website here). Lolo’s Ghost will open up the show.

Future Songs, the fourth release by Nightosaur, is the band’s shortest release. The four song EP out this week finds the power trio sounding bigger and better than ever before. Moving further into the progressive territory forged by their 2014 LP Set Fire to the Mountain, the new EP, available on cassette, draws in favorite elements of metal and classic rock as well. These four new songs by the band we have long declared “the funneest band working in the city of Minneapolis” kick ass.

 

“Follow Me” provides a perfect fusion of prog and sludge, plodding joyfully into the dark with the EP’s heaviest headbanging riffs and fist pumping chorus. Bassist John Henry Nightopian role has expanded extensively in these new songs, sounding here not just like John Entwistle but like P-Funk’s Cordell Mosson as well. Drummer Brad Schwab likewise offers more than ever before on these new songs. He is a musical drummer in the sense that his playing does far more than merely keep time, although he does this with confidence through complex arrangements. providing for instance a sense of tension in the EP’s closer, “Doing me Wonders.” 

Nightosaur is very much the vision of Andy Webber, songwriter and luthier (checkout Whalehazard Guitars) and this accounts for the band’s incorporation of a classic power pop sensibility to their songs. Its impossible to describe this band to a friend without talking about the cathartic nature of their music — the volume, the riffs, the inevitably catchy chorus — and this all comes as much from the lexicon of rock and roll in general as from the specific world of metal. These are guys who love Thin Lizzy and Tom Petty as much as they love Sabbath. The EP was recorded by Ali Jafar, one of our favorite engineers in town. His Ecstattic Studio has modestly built up one of the most impressive resumes of past clients in town, and on this release lends a slightly more reverb-y and modern sound to Nightosaur.

Nightosaur will play a release show for Future Songs Monday night at Memory Lanes. Also performing are Black Sam Malone, Deep-Sea and Wax Lead. Details on the Facebook can be found here.

We’re pretty excited to see the Yawpers at 7th Street Entry on Friday. Their 2015 album American Man didn’t live up to the praise we’d heard poured on the trio, but this year’s Boy in a Well has become the subject of fascination around here. Why do we love this album so much? The record ostensibly tells the story of an unwanted boy abandoned in a well and is set in France during the first World War, but its not the rock opera aspirations with which we have fallen in love. In fact, we haven’t really figured out the story — but then again can you really explain the plot of Tommy without sounding dumb (bam, pun intended) or do you just like what you hear?

Boy in a Well is an absolutely magical amalgam of Americana. Rockabilly roots run alongside all the things we secretly love about hair metal. Some of the songs start or end in standard American folk music but take surprising turns along the journey. One of the things that really knocks us out about Boy in a Well is the incredibly inventive performance of drummer Noah Shomberg, who shifts genres with grace and really drives the connections which establish the album’s concept. He’s so damn good you can almost forgive them for being one of those bands without a bass. Lead singer Nathanial Cook, who turns from Jimmie Rodgers to Axl Rose as a born storyteller, couldn’t have realized his vision without Shomberg and second guitarist Jesse Parmat.

Bloodshot is releasing a 7-inch single of “Mon Dieu” from the album backed with a live recording of the band covering “Ace of Spades” next month. There will also be a comic book adaptation of the album which was previewed by Paste Magazine here. Truthfully, the ten page sample reminded us that even though we have listened to this album fifty times, we have no idea what the plot of the story is — it looks like the love child of R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural and Joe Sacco’s comic journalism and we love it.

The album was recorded by Alex Hall at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders. In the same studio Hall also captured what we think could justifiably be called one of the most beloved Minnesota records of the decade, the Cactus Blossoms’ You’re Dreaming. In addition, local legend Tommy Stinson served as producer and also contributed a “piano freakout” to the recording. The point is that these guys aren’t from here, but they should be welcomed with open arms.

Boy in a Well is maybe about a half hour long but it moves with an epic sweep in spite of Shomberg’s barrelhouse performance. Cook’s performance is so extraordinary that it is hard to believe there are not a half dozen or more vocalists on this album, and Parmat captures a true sense of everything Americana from Scotty Moore to Poison Ivy. Memorable riffs and motifs blur pass like power poles through the window of a train, and we have been entranced by the album’s epic tour of everything we love about rock and roll and all its bastard cousins.

The song we’ve sampled here is “Mon Nom,” from the second side. We couldn’t pick a favorite song from this album — in fact it was the focus of debate around here. The achingly beautiful “A Visitor is Welcomed” just wasn’t representative, nor was the mad and driven “A Decision is Made,” which precedes it. It’s just a damn good record from beginning to end, which is surprisingly rare these days. You can also hear the sweeping closer “Reunion” in its official music video here. Presumably the Yawpers will be playing many of these songs on Friday night at the 7th Street Entry. Locals the Person and the People will open. Details on the First Avenue website here.

Piñata Records is our favorite local label because they have cultivated a consistent style rooted in retro sounds. Their catalog of soul, garage and pop groups puts a fresh spin on classic American forms without falling into the familiar pitfalls of revival. The label’s two latest releases are from bands we have loved seeing and hearing for years — both were included on our 2016 Live at Hymies compilation album, providing standout performances (here and here). Both albums have been available for a few weeks and have begun a regular rotation here in the record shop.

The first is Temples into Tombs, the second full-length release by Narco States. This album has already earned rave reviews from blogs with names like Faster and Louder and If It’s Too Loud…. Their heavy feature of the farfisa organ leads to inevitable, lazy comparisons to the Doors, but any connection begins and ends there. First of all, Narco States’ sound is grounded in an altogether heavier rhythm section, including bassist Nick Sampson whose key role is largely unsung throughout the praise the band has received for each of its three releases. Second, vocalist Michael MacBlane-Meyer is a far more interesting performer than Jim Morrison. The later is amusingly dismissed as “a drunken buffoon” by Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, and the former is rightfully regarded as Minneapolis’ own answer to Iggy Pop.

The new album has a more intense feel than Wicked Sun, which was released in 2014. There’s a stronger sense of the Stooges but also a wider psychedelic landscape. The tour de force performance of organist Aaron Robertson, who also engineered the recording of Temples into Tombs, doesn’t steal the show. In fact, what’s truly remarkable about their second album is how well the quintet compliment one another and how absolutely seamless the arrangements are. This is as clear in the hook-heavy garage jams “Robin Hood” or “Generation F” as it is in the album’s brooding title track, where MacBlane-Meyer’s spoken performance and Robb Lauer’s blend ancient world mysticism with the anxiety of contemporary despair.

You can check out the entire album for yourself on their Bandcamp page here.

The second new release from Piñata Records is especially welcome because the band is better represented than they were on previous recordings. The Cult of Percolation, previously performing as Mary Allen and her Percolators, has arrived with the release of Elegant Interactions Laboratory. Like Narco States, they’ve earned an enthusiastic review from Faster and Louder, whose Lord Rutledge writes in part,

I can tell you that I’ve never heard a band in my life that sounds quite like The Cult of Percolation – a Minneapolis outfit so “out there” that you just might believe this reallyis a soul band from another galaxy.

We were quick converts to the cause but found their first album proved a hard sell to the unbelievers. Like Narco States, the Cult of Percolation self-recorded their new album, but guitarist Eliot Gordon’s BBQ Laundromat Studio more effectively captured the group’s call-and-response styled vocals and his own part on Elegant Interactions Laboratory. This stands out on the catchy riff which drives “Jessica” and the lighter “Lovin A Van.” As with the Narco States alum, you can hear the whole thing on Bandcamp here.

 

The songs on Elegant Interactions Laboratory are written to be performed live, with backing vocals that have an old time Pentecostal revivalism and the tight arrangements of the Stax revue. The Cult’s sound, and Mary Allen’s dynamism in particular, feel almost constrained in the recording, but that’s part of the magic. The record is only a taste — for the whole thing you’ll have to make a pilgrimage and witness it for yourself.

If it were released on LP as well as CD, we’d put a copy of the new Nooky Jones album in our “Make Out Music” section. The band is playing a two night stand at the Icehouse to celebrate the release of their debut disc, and we recommend you bring someone special if you plan on going — you’ll want to slow dance to closing time come-ons like “You and I” and you’ll want to look lovingly across the table when the band’s star, Cameron Kinghorn, sings in all seriousness lines like “Oh, how can I fall asleep without you there?” and “Girl to me you’re too damn beautiful.”

It’s that sincerity and dedication to form which makes Nooky Jones so surprisingly successful without stumbling into the potential pitfalls of formulaic neo-soul. While the disc has shades of big-name contemporaries like D’Angelo and Thundercat, its warm horns and keyboard sound also recalls eighties soul and jazz. Kinghorn’s sharp elocution is that of a seasoned jazz singer.

It’s in this capacity that he can make a refrain like “I hope she noticed that I noticed her so casually” not only work, but stick with you long after you’ve listened to the last song. Incidentally, you can check out that last one, in the song “Hello,” in a live performance on the Current here. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, but our favorites are the richly romantic “You And I” mentioned earlier, and “Bad Girl,” which contains both the most modern and the most ‘retro’ moments on the disc. The song’s long outro offers a showcase for the band’s horns, who are used with distinct subtlety throughout the album but here are let loose.

Kinghorn was kind enough to drop off a promotional copy of the disc here at the record shop, but it doesn’t include individual credits. If it did we’d be sure to praise the individual performances of the band. It takes a lot of restraint to make such minimal arrangements work so well, and these musicians have made something remarkable in that capacity. In addition to the outstanding horn solos which recall those achingly beautiful late-era Chet Baker performances, the keyboards have a strong foundation in jazz. We thought of Mal Waldron’s European years and in the electric keyboard passages of Ramsey Lewis’ soulful early recordings on the instrument. The whole album is subtly supported by a stellar performance on the drums, which never intrude but often add to the narrative. While Cameron Kinghorn is undeniably the star of the show, the musicianship on this album will knock you out.

Nooky Jones is performing tonight and tomorrow night at the Icehouse. Details on their website here.

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