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The Gated Community

Country Hymn opens with a warm, old-time revival atmosphere. “Betty on the Road” sounds like a Gillian Welch and David Rawlings collaboration, but the disc takes a quick turn towards more familiar Gated Community territory with a raucous cover of “Odds and Ends,” a song from Dylan’s Basement Tapes. This band has always had a knack for sitting on that fence between traditional country music and novelty, which isn’t as easily done as one would think.

A little levity goes a long way in adding weight and depth to the more sentimental moments on the album, like “Fading Flowers,” a Tom Petty-ish tune about growing older with a little grace. Sumanth Gopinath lets himself be the subject of self-depreciation and sarcasm throughout (with lines like “I’m a piece of a work of art”), while the delivery is traded through the group in the same way classic country-rock outfits would share the role of lead vocals, ie Poco, the Byrds, the Band, etc. In tunes like “I Can’t Get Right” Gopinath remind us of the Carpetbaggers, one of the most criminally under-appreciated Americana acts to ever come out of Minnesota. There’s probably more of a scene to support this sort of music in the Cities today, and the Gated Community has already recorded as much as that great mid-90s trio.

You can hear the whole album on The Gated Community’s bandcamp page here. It’s more cohesive than their last disc (which we posted here), and there’s a definite improvement in the recording. Country Hymn was recorded and produced by Secret Stash’s John Miller, and the homey warmth of those 70s country-rock records reverberates through the disc, along with the more general clarity of those bigger production bluegrass records, the Welch/Rawlings sound we mentioned up above. Miller might be known for his work on Secret Stash’s retro-soul recordings, but he was a great choice for this project as well.

(Incidentally, we posted our favorite song by the Carpetbaggers (here) after finding there was so little of their music to be heard online, and later received a nice note from John Magnuson who wrote it. Having had a chance to see some of our favorite local acts from the 90s reunite a couple years ago for the Extreme Noise 20th anniversary celebration — including the Strike and Dirt Poor — we’d love to see the Carpetbaggers once more)

These days, there’s enough Americana acts in Minneapolis to fill the bill of every neighborhood bar for a three day weekend, so its actually become a competitive market. Heck, without even leaving our garden we can look over the fence to see the homes of two country acts who have played here in the record shop and recorded new songs over the past couple years. The challenge these days is to distinguish one’s self — which The Gated Community has done with their third disc.

The album release show for Country Hymn by the Gated Community is tonight at the Eagles Club #34. Maybe we’ll see you there, but we’re gonna also have to rush across the river to the Turf Club for Black Market Brass‘ show later this evening! We’re sure to post some songs from their new album soon, but we only just got our copy yesterday!

 

It is nearly impossible to separate the poems of Langston Hughes from jazz, if only for their clever use of syncopation and repetition. He is often described as a jazz poet, and evidence of this influence can be seen as early as “When Sue Wears Red,” poem he wrote as a teenager.

As a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, he in turn influenced many jazz musicians — when last we visited Hughes here on the Hymies blog, it was to hear Nina Simone sing the song he wrote for her, “Backlash Blues” as well as a 90s collaboration between Courtney Pine and Cassandra Wilson to interpret his poem “I’ve Known Rivers.” This second song was first recorded by Gary Bartz in 1973, but we still haven’t found a replacement for our warped copy!

Hughes himself made a jazz album in 1958 for MGM Records, which was later reissued (as pictured here) by Verve Records in 1966. On it, he reads a ‘Greatest Hits’ assortment of poems over two small jazz combos, one led by jazz writer and occasional composer Leonard Feather, who produced the project, and one led by Charles Mingus.

weary-blues

You have almost certainly on the back of an LP jacket if you own more than a handful of jazz records. He was, for many years, perhaps the most prolific writer of jazz liner notes in the world. In addition, his 1960 New Encyclopedia of Jazz is an absolutely indispensable compendium of history and criticism. He was a friend to Louis Armstrong, once employed as a press agent by Duke Ellington, and one of the earliest supporters of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker with his 1949 book Inside Be Bop. He recorded albums as a pianist sporadically in the 50s and again in the 70s, but remains best known as a writer.

Leonard Feather never wrote the notes to a Charles Mingus album (in fact, the Mingus eulogy from Eric Dolphy’s Last Date we quoted just last week was replaced on reissues by notes from Feather). He often wrote about Mingus’ music, however, twice inviting him to his “Blindfold Tests” (featured in his Platterbrains radio broadcasts as well as printed in Metronome and Down Beat) in which an artist responds to several unidentified selections of jazz music.

Two years after their collaboration with Langston Hughes, Feather would be “recording director” for Mingus’ only Mercury album, Pre-Bird, which included a reworking of Weary Blues‘s “Weird Nightmare.” Still, Feather and Mingus are strange bedfellows, and it comes across in the difference between the arrangements they produced to accompany Hughes.

Weary Blues is of interest to collectors of Mingus’ extensive discography. Falling just before the watershed year (1959) in which he composed and recorded Blues & Roots, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty, his apparently extemporaneous arrangements hint at what he had in the works. Several motifs from those three great albums can be recognized, even though he’s working with a substantially smaller group and under far more auspicious conditions — for contractural reasons, the quintet’s leadership was credited to pianist Horace Parlan, even though the work is undeniably Mingusonian.

Mingus is far more fit for the role of framing Hughes’ words than Feather, although the later is himself also a writer. Consider Mingus’ second appearance in Feather’s “Blindfold Test” in April 1960, in which he completely dismisses the first record, Manny Albam album, and would rather talk about the Civil Rights movement:

Take it off … Look, I don’t want to drag you or anybody. I don’t think maybe you should give me a Blindfold Test , because I’ve changed. I didn’t let it get started — maybe that’s not fair of me? But it disturbs my ulcer. I’d rather talk about something important — all the stuff that’s happening down south.

Feather’s form — intended to slyly suggest talent is often not judged on its own merit but under pre-conceived notions of race, gender or age — undoubtedly frustrated the iconoclastic Mingus.

Although he certainly had extensive connections in New York’s jazz scene (as evident in the group he created to perform his arrangements on Side A), Feather chose Mingus to arrange music for Weary Blues likely because of the bassist’s often confrontational attitude. When, in 1979, he wrote Mingus’ obituary for the L.A. Times, Feather described him as “a brilliant man of strong convictions, he was outspoken on racial and social matters and became a storm center in many confrontations during his peak years.”

The section here is titled “Dream Montage” and contains all or portions of fourteen of Hughes’ poems (depending on how you count his superfluous commentaries). The most notable of these is “Harlem,” the 1951 poem known for asking, “What happens to a dream deferred?” as it explores the American dream as experienced by African Americans. Its final line — “Or does it explode?” — almost ideally suited to Mingus’ musical and political leanings.

Another of the poems in this passage reads almost like it came from Mingus’ 1971 autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. In its entirety, “Final Curve” reads:

When you turn the corner
And You have run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left

Of course, Langston Hughes’ readers have been wondering what he might have meant here for decades. Is the “Final Curve” the conclusion of a personal journey along the lines of Mingus’ Me, Myself and Eye and other late compositions, or is the poem part of Hughes’ push for cultural nationalism. So much of his work was about how the African American journey to the American dream began at home, in taking pride and ownership of a heritage even when others do not. Or, as Mingus wrote in Beneath the Underdog:

So he must use what time he has creating now for the future and utilize the past only to help the future, not as a razor strop for guilts and fears that inhibit his very being. Or like it said at the end of a labor song I liked a lot when I was a kid: what I mean is, take it easy, but take it.

 

There are a lot of interesting compilations of rare 78s, 45s and LPs these days, and for music omnivores like ourselves they’re a lot of fun. On our shelves at home we have sets of obscure music in many genres, from cumbia to cosmic country, and while compilation albums like these are often hit-or-miss affairs, there’s always something to enjoy. Sometimes the best feature is the liner notes, and that’s the case with our favorite collection from this past year.

native north america

Native North America is a three album set by Light in the Attic, packaged with a sixty-six page book. It collects music recorded between the mid-60s and the mid-80s by Indigenous artists throughout Canada, most of which is in the sort of country and folk vein you might expect (although there are some solid rockers) and most of which come from albums and singles you’re unlikely to ever run across.

Some of the songs are about the social and political struggles faced by Native people, and others are simply about the setting where they lived — our favorite, for instance, is a simple love song set on the shore of James Bay.

We’ve have a history of posting music by Native Americans here on the Hymies blog around Columbus day each year — and produced a program of protest songs for KFAI’s Wave Project — but most of what we’ve found for our collection to date has been records released here in the United States.

native north america 2

The book inside Native North America has an extended biography for each of the artists and a reproduction of the original art, but we think one of the most impressive pages is this map, which shows the locations where the artists live, performed and recorded. Its a reminder that people have been making music — and putting their music on records — in just about every corner of the world.

 

We’ve already posted that we’re excited for the next release in our catalog, a 45 with two new songs by Tree Party, but tonight’s show at the Cedar Cultural Center will also celebrate the release of even more new music. The Brass Messengers, have treated us to a long-overdue new album.

We listened to it last night while we were working on assembling the Tree Party singles, and one of them had just the right assessment of the Messengers’ new album: “This is such happy music!” The eleven new songs (plus a “Dancehall Remix”!) are filled with such joyous energy Thigmonasty has already become our cure for the rainy day blues…and there have been a few of those kinda days around here lately.

brass messengers thigmonasty

The first half of the disc is recorded live in Creation Studios with an enthusiastic audience, which is essential to the celebratory nature of the Messengers’ music. The group evolved out of the brass bands that played the Heart of the Beast‘s May Day parade, which is one of the biggest celebrations in the Twin Cities. Their two earlier discs present their interest in brass music from around the world, including Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America, and Thigmonasty has really successfully blended this with the dozen members’ other experiences in different bands around town.

 

While they often play covers ranging from cajun classics to Black Sabbath, Thigmonasty is entirely originals by the duodecet.* Trombonist J.B. McLain, who also performs around town as a solo guitarist, contributes several original songs which have more of a street band, New Orleans feeling. These are definitely the sort of songs which gets you moving, and which have that energy which vibrates within you when you see a performance by the Messengers. Tony Randazzo, the band’s tubist and also the album producer, offers songs with more of the Eastern European feel, highlighted by inventive, suspensful arrangements (especially the brief tune “Leo Nursha”). Another song in this vein is a re-recording of the title song from Paul Fonfara’s 7 Secrets of Snow, which we featured here. One last tune is by composer Andy McCormick (of Dreamland Face), and pays tribute to the ruler of Wisconsin’s mythical colony of dwarves. Or so we assume.

The second half, recorded without an audience features some of these more intricate arrangements, but there is still a lot of energy behind them, especially in Randazzo’s “Leo Nursha.” And as we mentioned, there’s a remix at the end of the album. It’s a surprisingly sweet conclusion, and works very well.

We think this is one of the best local albums of the year so far, but the best way to appreciate the Brass Messengers is surrounded by other celebrants smiling and dancing. We’re looking forward to doing just that tonight.

*Had to look that one up!

The Brass Messengers and Tree Party have a joint release show for their new music at the Cedar Cultural Center tonight. Details on the Cedar’s website here

Tonight, Piñata Records presents the vinyl reissue of Dealer by Red Daughters, a band whose first album received a review which used the words “ballsy” and “countrified” not only in the same sentence but in succesion (that’s some ballsy writing!), and also a band commonly called “down home” and compared to The Band. (You can find details about the show at the Uptown VFW below or here on Facebook)

With empathy to a writer’s impulse to offer a more or less universal touchpoint, we don’t think being a little seventies steeped really defines the Daughters, even though we’d love to hear their take on a chestnut like “When You Awake.” There’s a level on which its easy to understand how something undeniably very contemporary could be so quickly described as derived from a group whose debut is now almost exactly forty-two years old, but on a second level its frustrating because, again, forty-two years old. We’ll venture not a member of the Red Daughters was even a twinkle in an eye when Music From Big Pink became a sleeper success in 1968, and that all five of them have listened to something else since the fall of ’98, which was the last time the Band released a new album.

Like any band in the Piñata Records catalog, there’s retro in Red Daughters, but also an original approach to the sound of an era. Here, Southside Desire’s “littered alleyways of south Minneapolis” are replaced by the ramblers and water towers of Coon Rapids, and we think the gaze backwards is a good deal less distant. Dealer is the 90s alt-country album you’ve been looking for. The lyrics are better than the best Old 97s songs, the arrangements are miles more inventive than anything the Bottle Rockets recorded, and unlike every Wilco album there’s not a moment that’s so wrenchingly awful you have to move the needle.

The sound of that era’s indie country is ripe for reinvention. It, too, has roots in the early 70s but also the reverberating post-punk explorations of the Mekons, the Meat Puppets, American Music Club, or a dozen other bands. Few of those bands held fast to the 70s emphasis on vocal harmony (sang Ryan Adams on some Whiskeytown record, “So I started this country band, because punk rock was too hard to sing”) and here’s where Red Daughters offer something entirely new. Where Brewer & Shipley or Bad Company harmonized like hell, arrangements so rich were left at a rest stop somewhere along country-rock’s journey to be discovered by the Daugthers. We can’t think of another recent record along these lines which uses ensemble vocal for such stunning pop hooks (“Big Love”) or dramatic effect (“Protest” or “War Nam Nikhada”).

red daughters LP

And the keys which cause those comparisons to the Band (in our estimation) are so tactfully employed. There’s no “Chest Fever” moment on Dealer, though no doubt Hix is up to the task. The same for the guitarists, Charles Murlowski and Ryan Zickermann. Red Daughters’ jam band sound doesn’t translate to extended introspection. Instead there’s some Old 97s-ish riffs, like the opening of “In Love Without You” and some inventive lead/rhythm counterpoints throughout. The brilliant solo on “Black Ice” is a bright spot, re-appropriating the sound Nils Cline brought to Wilco. “Protest,” meanwhile, recalls the epic rural gloom of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club without extending to ceremonial drama. Remarkably, while nearly all eleven tunes sound like they could be extended to “Dark Star” territory, they are strikingly concise, adding to the album’s captivating appeal. There’s no doubt this distillation of the Daughters’ distinct sound is in part owed to the unique approach of producer and engineer Jacques Wait, who reliably gets the best out of bands which need that sort of focus.

You can, incidentally, hear the entire album and order copies if you’re out of town, on Red Daughters’ Bandcamp page here.

We’ve always written that it doesn’t matter the format music is released, but rather what is heard after you drop the needle, press play or command the palace minstrels to perform (this last is less common than the others). Still, there is something very special about the long-playing record. We’ve held the word “album” over from the time 78s were collected in bound albums the same way we once kept our photographs, and the good ones still tell a story or paint a picture. Dealer is one damn great album, due a release on vinyl and overdue praise. This is why people collect records.

Red Daughters have a show tonight to celebrate the re-release of their album Dealer on vinyl tonight at the James Ballentine “Uptown” VFW tonight. Opening is Black Market Brass, who are themselves one of the most must-see bands in the Twin Cities. Details for the show can be found on Facebook here.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 7.40.04 AM

One of the bands who appear on the upcoming Live at Hymie’s compilation LP were surely one of the loudest groups to ever perform here in the shop. The Wolf Council’s “Victims of the Sea” was also one of our favorites from the series of videos we produced here — and it has the distinction of being the only one of the videos presented in black & white.

DSC08425We don’t recall exactly when they released their debut album TWC last year, but its been one of those albums which snuck its way into regular rotation on our turntable. You can hear the whole thing on their Bandcamp page here.

Part metal, part stoner rock, the album’s ten tracks are impressively explosive considering you are only hearing three musicians. The inventive arrangements make especially good use of bassist Steve Post, which helps to create the band’s big sound. His sweet solo in “Loading the Guns” is one of the album’s highlights.

We can’t imagine how the three of them — especially lead singer and guitarist Steve Williams — can make it through a set without passing out from exhaustion. Williams’ voice is booming, but not impossible to understand, which is a delicate balance when you think about it. Drummer Jeff Paske propels the songs forward with enough energy to prevent the music from becoming sludgy, but without playing over his bandmates.

As devoted Night-osapiens, we haven’t really expanded our collection of local metal recently, but TWC has become a favorite. At its doom-y-est its like darker European bands, and at its fastest a little like the thrash and hardcore records we grew up with.

With the recent passing of Lemmy at the surprising age of seventy, we haven’t been able to keep Motörhead or Hawkwind reissues in stock. The hard living bassist is synonymous with Motörhead (as the only member to appear on all of its twenty-three studio albums and ten live albums) but some fans weren’t familiar with his early gig with the pioneers of space rock.

We imagine searches for “space rock” have gone up in recent weeks. It’s not exactly the most popular subgenre out there. We posted one of the only Hawkwind albums in our collection the day after the death of Lemmy was announced on the Motörhead Facebook page. Hawkwind’s first live album, Space Ritual (recently back in print and in stock here), is like the Yuri Gugarin of space rock records.

The strange subgenre hardly came from outer space. Its science fiction themes and unusual effects, for instance, came in part from the sort of 20th century composers championed by the late Pierre Boulez. Unfortunately, records like Karl-Birger Bloomdahl’s two-act opera Aniara are as obscure those early Hawkwind albums. When you find ’em, they’re worth the search.

One reason we’re musing on the subject of space rock is because we’ve been listening a lot to a recent local record which features a lot of the same sounds. The Shiver of the Flavor Crystals is the decennial release from a Minneapolis band which has been just a little under the industry’s SETI radar for years. Flavor Crystals found all sorts of new fans after touring with the Brian Jonestown Massacre a few years ago, but they don’t seem to be in any hurry to overtake America. Taking time is what made their last album (the triple LP Three) so awesome.

The Shiver of the Flavor Crystals is comparatively short (two albums), but suitably epic. Opener “Eyes Go White” sets the tone before a sudden stop with a captivating tape effect, and that first side ends with one of the band’s most compelling wall of sound productions to date, “Bridge of Noise.”

One of the album’s longest tracks, “Diamond Mine,” makes such incredible use of space and melody that we didn’t even notice it was twice the length of most of the other songs until we played the album on the band’s Bandcamp page (here). It’s definitely post-90s shoegaze pop, but propelled more like a New Order song.

We’ll admit we have next to no idea what most of these song are about — there’s some Yo La Tengo-ish titles (“Billy Dee Williams’ Parking Spot”) and abstract, spacy lyrics. For the most part we haven’t tried to decipher any of the heavily-reverbed vocals because the album is so melodically inventive we’re still entranced by the sound itself. “OSCillot” is an awesome example. It feels like we’re on our first trip into orbit, just getting used to the sensation of weightlessness.

shiver of the flavor crystals shiver of the flavor crystals 2

 

The beautifully packaged double LP was released in November last year, and its two discs have been regular visitors to our turntable ever since. We should probably mention for those who love their Lps in fun packages, that the die-cut jacket has inner sleeves with different images so you can choose what’s on the cover. Shiver succeeds where so many psychedelic records fail in its variations in the context of a devotion to form.

Now that we’ve passed the future as seen by Marty McFly (October 21, 2015), science fiction is hardly as inspirational or compelling as it was in the late sixties when space rock sort of solidified itself as a genre. In fact, we’ve become predominantly pessimistic about the future. Of course, one thing which seems to never let us down is all the great records coming out, just here in our hometown. Yep, the future’s looking good around here.

 

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