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John Brown was hanged by the United States in Charles Town, Virginia on December 2nd, 1859. In the attendant crowd were Walt Whitman, Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Boothe, who is said to have borrowed a militiaman’s uniform. The noose was not removed from his body before it was placed in a pine box and set on a train bound for North Elba, New York, where he had bought a homestead ten years earlier for a dollar an acre.

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“John Brown’s Body” by Jimmy Smith

The debate over Brown’s legacy began immediately after his failed raid on the US arsenal at Harper’s Ferry on October 16th, and has never ended. Before his trial many spoke for his defense or to his detriment. Whether or not he was America’s first homegrown terrorist is still discussed, although in the beginning that was a word which did not exist. Henry David Thoreau’s speech, “A Plea for Captain Brown,” was first delivered in the author’s own Concord on the 30th, and has the immediacy and eloquence of the unadorned and ad hoc remarks of Robert F. Kennedy on the evening the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated more than a century later. At his most piercing, Thoreau says

The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to bed and sleep quietly afterward. All his prayers begin with ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ and he is forever looking forward to the time when he shall go to his ‘long rest.’ He has consented to perform certain old-established charities, too, after a fashion, but he does not wish to hear of any new-fangled ones; he doesn’t wish to have any supplementary articles added to the contract, to fit it to the present time. He shows the whites of his eyes on the Sabbath, and the blacks all the rest of the week. The evil is not merely a stagnation of blood, but a stagnation of spirit. Many, no doubt, are well disposed, but sluggish by constitution and by habit, and they cannot conceive of a man who is actuated by higher motives than they are. Accordingly they pronounce this man insane, for they know that they could never act as he does, as long as they are themselves.

The song “John Brown’s Body” became a rallying cry for many during the Civil War. It was written, according to a likely apocryphal account, by the Massachusetts 12th regiment, offering tribute to both the martyred revolutionary and the battalion’s own Sergeant John Brown. Its melody is based on a camp spiritual, a product of America’s “Second Great Awakening,” the religious revival which lent levity to the abolishionist movement. The Reverend William Patton, who as chair of the committee petitioning President Lincoln to pass the Emancipation Proclamation offers historians unique insights into our sixteenth President, collated the song’s standard verse:

Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave, While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save; But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave, His soul is marching on.

John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave, And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save; Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave, His soul is marching on.

He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few, And frightened “Old Virginny” till she trembled thru and thru; They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew, But his soul is marching on.

John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see, Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be, And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free, For his soul is marching on.

The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view, On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue. And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do, For his soul is marching on.

Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may, The death blow of oppression in a better time and way, For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day, And his soul is marching on.

Another New York abolishionist, Julia Ward Howe, reworked the song as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which was first published by the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. Her song has been played by every major American party at one convention or another, and become a patriotic anthem. Her husband, Samuel Grisley Howe, had been one of the “Secret Six” who funded Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. We don’t believe for a minute she was not involved herself.

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“Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Marisa Anderson

The novelists John Steinbeck and John Updike both borrowed lines from Howe for titles (The Grapes of Wrath and The Beauty of the Lilies), and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. often used lines from its lyrics. One sermon, delivered on April 3rd, 1968, is especially moving for its heartbreaking prophecy. “Like anybody I want to live a long life,” he begins,

Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.

And using a line from Julia Ward Howe’s lyric, one which had probably been sung for a century or more before it was ever documented, King concluded, “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” It was the Reverend’s last sermon. He was shot the following evening outside of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.

The very evening Dr. King was shot in Memphis, Robert F. Kennedy was scheduled to address a political rally in a mostly black neighborhood of Indianapolis. With little notice himself, he shocked the crowd with the terrible news, and delivered a calm, impassioned address. Hinting to his personal grief, he quoted

he same evening Robert F. Kennedy addressed a campaign rally in Indianapolis, speaking with candor our political leaders would be unlikely to muster today without conferring with their handlers. His short, eloquent address recalled the death of his own brother and quoted an ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus, who wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget

falls drop by drop upon the heart

until, in our own despair, against our will,

comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

“We will have difficult times,” Kennedy continued. “We had difficult times in the past, and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence, it is not the end of lawlessness and disorder, but the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.”

While many cities around the country were ravaged by angered rioting, Indianapolis was not one of them.

Malcolm X once made a reference to John Brown, when asked if white people could join his Organization of Afro-American Unity. “Definitely not,” he said, but added, “If John Brown were still alive, we might accept him.” The anger which inspired Brown, and a century later Malcolm X, never once succeeded. They and so many others became casualties of their cause. Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry did not inspire the slave revolt he envisioned, but he gave his life — and the lives of two sons — to the cause. Historians rarely agree, but on Brown’s role as a catalyst of the Civil War they’re solid as cement. Hours before he was hanged, Brown wrote he was “now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

And so it came, and so it has never stopped.

We could look back at John Brown as our first domestic terrorist as comfortably as we might call him a champion of freedom. His body is in the grave, but his soul marches on, no matter what side of it all might put you at ease. Today’s turmoil hardly merits the violence of the 1860s, the 1960s, or the last six months. Even Malcolm X came to see the potential for racial unity, in what we recall as the most moving passage of his autobiography as narrated to Alex Haley. “I saw all races, all colors,” he began, describing his first Hajj. “Blue-eyed blonds and black-skinned Africans in true brotherhood! In unity! Living as one! Worshiping as one! No segregationists, no liberals. They would not have known how to interpret the meaning of those words.”

“I’ve got an idea the American audience would rather hear Dixieland than any other kind of music — if it had the chance.”
- Doc Evans

When the sound of jazz first shuffled itself across the United States it came to Minnesota not over the airwaves or on records as you might expect, but by transit not long for the world in the 10s and 20s: the riverboat. Bix Beiderbecke himself visited the Twin Cities at least once before 1922, while working on the Majestic, a 228-foot boat which ran from his hometown, Davenport, to St. Paul. We learned this and a thousand other interesting things about the history of Minnesota jazz when we read Jay Goetting’s book, Joined at the Hip.

We’ve been thinking a lot about the way jazz came to Minnesota in those days before trucks and trains because there has always been such a strong connection between our hometown and the crescent city on the other end of the Mississippi. Here at Hymie’s we’re fortunate to have friends who love traditional jazz and share their enthusiasm with us, sometimes pulling awesome local records out of our jazz section which we didn’t even know were there. This is how we discovered the Mill City Seven and Upper Mississippi Jazz Band LPs we posted a couple years ago as a tribute to clarinetist Dick Ramberg (here). These have since become favorite albums to play on gloomy days; no matter the weather outside they always brighten our day.

Much of Goetting’s rich history of Minnesota jazz is about traditional bands, most famously those of Doc Evans and the Hall Brothers, of course. There are many other jazz traditions in Minnesota, from an early exotica act (the Ron Hamar Trio) to the wave of fusion bands like Natural Life and Solstice in the seventies. Our friend Maurice Turner, a bassist now in his 80s, loves to tell the story of the day he played a set with Coltrane at the Walker (and we love to hear it), a venue which hosted all kinds of national and local modern jazz groups. As much as we love all of these folks, our favorite Minnesota jazz records are the traditional ones, and our favorite local jazz group to hear today is the Southside Aces.

second thursday

Second Thursday is the fifth album by this local sextet, named for their long-standing residency at the Eagles Club #34, right here in our neighborhood (the best in town, by the way). Lead arranger Tony Balluff uses the monthly gig to highlight the music of a specific jazz artist or composer, like a recent set of songs by Jell Roll Morton. Here at your friendly neighborhood record shop we usually know who it will be ahead of time because he stops in for a few records to give away during the show. Their albums haven’t ever followed the same format, although tribute albums are certainly a jazz tradition, and Second Thursday is a varied cross-section of songs they’ve been performing at the Eagles.

Its been almost exactly ten years since the Aces released their first disc, All Aboard!, and their original lineup is still intact — a pretty remarkable accomplishment for a band these days. What listeners like ourselves enjoy about this is the intuitive interactions which make for great jazz, especially when trying to recreate the style of early jazz. The Aces’ polyphonic ensemble choruses at the end of “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” are pure Dixieland, full of joyous energy and improvisation. Other tracks are much more in the various styles established by the great swing orchestras. One of our favorites is an original by trombonist Steve Sandberg, “J For Jump,” which is written in the jungle style of Duke Ellington’s first great orchestra or Jelly Roll Morton’s classic “Jungle Blues,” complete with scat vocals, horns growling through mutes and wild tom-pounding drum breaks by Dave Michael. There’s a lot of later swing in the tune, too, especially the feel of the Benny Goodman’s famous performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” at Carnegie Hall in 1938 (which we featured in a post here this spring). You can hear why this one would tear up the parquetry dance floor at the Eagles Club.

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“J for Jump”

What’s remarkable is how tastefully the band transitions into “Japansy,” an introspective slow dance tune first recorded by Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders in the late 20s, but maybe likely familiar to some folks as a Guy Lombardo number. The Aces’ rendition is closer to the former’s, but we couldn’t find a copy here at Hymie’s. We bet you could find a 78 of the original single on Victor if you visit our pals at Vintage Music Company. Balluff, on clarinet, and guitarist Robert Bell offer sensitive, lightly swinging solos over over the backing of Erik Jacobson’s sousaphone. That’s right, this band has a sousaphonist, and a damn good one too. Remember, these guys play in New Orleans every year, and are well-received while also studying with jazz veterans.

Second Thursday is really evenly paced like this throughout, balancing big numbers like “J For Jump” with beautiful tunes like “Japansy” and the lesser-known holiday tune, “Winter Weather” — which is well-chosen considering today’s sub-zero temperature, although we’d prefer a tune like “Freezing my Ass Off,” if anyone has ever written such a song. Anyway, this has always been the case for the Aces’ residency at the Eagles, giving swing dancers a chance to cool their heels, but always keeping the mood and energy up. Like the Cactus Blossoms’ Live at the Turf Club album recorded last year, Second Thursday captures the feel of a popular residency. Another thing we love about this disc is that the tunes we’ve chosen for today’s post are both original numbers which fit firmly with the band’s usual classic jazz repertoire. We haven’t asked why Balluff titled his opening tune “Little Duke,” because it reminds us of Count Basie, especially those “Kansas City 5,”and “6” and “7” (and so on) records he made for Pablo in his later years which awesome cats like Harry “Sweets” Edison, Louis Bellson and Joe Pass. We should probably mention you can check out the entire disc on their Bandcamp page here.

In Goetting’s book, clarinetist Harry Blons describes how the Doc Evans band began to make a name for itself after the war, when Dixieland wasn’t what most bands were playing. “People wanted to hear pop tunes, but a band like this could make a Dixieland tune out of a pop tune,” Harry Blons. The Aces have done the same thing, adapting everything from Al Green to Amy Winehouse on earlier albums, but on Second Thursday the closest to a pop tune cover is Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” in the Dixieland style, which offers an opportunity for a lovely solo by Sandberg after trumpeter Zack Lozier has smoothly stated the familiar melody. We stopped listening to “Bluegrass Saturday Morning” some years ago when it seemed like every other song was an ironic cover of an 80s pop hit, and we’re glad jazz bands haven’t painted themselves into the same corner. The song selection on Second Thursday is a lot of fun without falling into this trap, which turns traditional music into a novelty. We especially enjoyed the Aces’ arrangement of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose,” a song we never thought we’d enjoy so much.

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“Little Duke”

A couple years ago we were given the honor of writing the liner notes to Jack Klatt‘s solo disc, Love Me Lonely, and we concluded our thoughts by borrowing from novelist W. Somerset Maugham, who wrote, “Tradition is a guide, not a jailer.” Jazz, like so many other American traditions, is sometimes treated like a museum piece, a relic of a past era we appreciate the same way old men like to look at old cars. We walk a tenuous line on this subject here at Hymie’s, with one foot firmly in the past and another feeling its way forward — we’ve always avoided becoming purists of any kind, whether its the sort who feel an album simply must be on vinyl to be appreciated, or that the “rules” of traditional jazz must be followed without fail. When we think about jazz purists like Wynton Marsalis we remember how The Simpsons‘ Superintendent Chalmers described Principal Skinner: “The rod up that man’s butt must have a rod up its butt!” Some people take all the fun out it.

Just this week, we were listening to Second Thursday when a regular who had known Hymie walked in the door and said, “Now that sounds like Hymie’s.” The band was playing Jelly Roll Morton’s “New Orleans Bump.” True, we love the old tunes as much as our departed founder, who left us fifteen years ago and whose obituary in the Star Tribune opened with a description of the very same Edith Piaf song the Aces Perform on this disc (its true) — but we hardly think of ourselves as archivists in the serious sense.  We’re not comfortable with the idea of jazz as a dead art form, especially this style so deeply rooted in Minnesota’s history. We’re very thankful there’s folks like the Southside Aces carrying the jazz tradition into its second century. Their residency at the Eagles Club has been a helluva lotta fun.

The Southside Aces’ record release show for Second Thursday is, naturally, this Thursday, at the Eagles Club #34. Music starts at 8pm. The $5 cover also gets you a raffle ticket, where you can win some prizes, including albums from your friendly neighborhood record store.

 

 

Growing Up

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“Thirteen” by Big Star

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“Only Sixteen” by Sam Cooke

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“She Was Only Seventeen” by Marty Robbins

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“I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper

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“Nineteen” by the Old 97s

big star only seventeen

Here’s a song to give you some perspective next time you’re feeling down in the dumps.

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so you think marvin rainwater

Marvin Rainwater was born in Kansas, was one quarter Cherokee, and had a number of hits in the 50s before a throat problem forced him to mostly retire from singing. He’s one of our favorite classic country singers, but when he was younger he wanted to be a classical pianist — his dreams were dashed when he lost part of a thumb in an accident. One of his first breaks in the music industry was when Theresa Brewer covered one of his songs, “I Gotta Go Get my Baby.”

His stage act usually played on his native heritage in a way which would seem contrived today, but he was one of the most original country songwriters of his time. We’ve always wanted to find a copy of his two singles for Warwick Records in the early 60s, where his backing band is Link Wray and his Raymen (here‘s one of them). We don’t see his LPs in the shop very often anymore, but sometimes his singles. Even with the hundreds of thousands of records in the shop, there are some we can’t find!

Rainwater retired completely after he developed throat cancer in the seventies, settling here in Minnesota. He passed away just a little over a year ago here in Minneapolis. At the time we still had a regular gig spinning rockabilly and honky tonk 45s at the Turf Club, and played a little tribute of his songs and covers of his compositions — we were thrilled to find several other people in the bar that night who were also fans. This country legend’s life was not all filled with the sort of troubles in this 1957 b-side, and he’s remembered by folks like us all around.

Feelin’ Good

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“Feelin’ Good” by Nina Simone

This is a song from the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. In it two characters, Sir and Cocky, fight with one another over the rules of the game of life.

We’re feelin’ good here at your friendly neighborhood record shop, excited to start another year with the funnest job in the world. We’ll be open from 1-6pm today.

nina simone

A disclaimer: We chose to start our list with Ben Weaver’s I Would Rather Be A Buffalo because it would feel disingenuous to leave it out, let alone place it anywhere farther down the list, since it was released by Hymie’s Records in October. Full disclosure: an employee here at Hymie’s is a partner in the label which released three additional albums on this list, and we contributed to a several others, whether through (ugh) kickstarter or direct donation to the band. We helped press another record on this list, and hosted the release show for yet one more.

We learned a Russian word this year, vzaimopomosch, which sort of translates to “mutual assistance” and feels sort of apt in this situation. Participating in the Twin Cities varied and vibrant music scene has been the biggest reward for running a record store, not having first pick from each musty box of dinosaur rock. We wouldn’t for a moment pretend our list is a definitive cross-section of new music here in Minnesota, because there are more new albums than we could even count, many of which we have never heard. These are the records which have become favorites here in your friendly neighborhood record shop…

20 – I Would Rather Be A Buffalo by Ben Weaver

Ben Weaver Buffalo LP

I Would Rather Be A Buffalo was recorded live to tape in a barn. You’ll hear the birds and the breeze underneath its nine stark songs, and there are no overdubs or mixing. Its sparse production provides the perfect setting for Ben Weaver, who in his eighth and best-yet collection of new songs is “looking for the last blank space on the map.” In writing about our inspiration to begin releasing records ourselves (here), we compared this theme in I Would Rather Be A Buffalo to a passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature, in which the great American philosopher and poet praises the restorative power of our relationship to the natural world. Weaver finds that connection fracturing in I Would Rather Be A Buffalo, although by the album’s conclusion hasn’t really prescribed a solution. The album is more about removing oneself from society than returning to nature, and in that becomes as tragic as it is beautiful.

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“Divided by Animal”

19 - Original Face by Little Man

little man

Our review of the debut album by Chris Pericelli’s Little Man posted in April (here) called the album “a solid rock and roll romp,” but also compared it to a thirteenth century Japanese poet, Eihei Dōgen, and a 90s fanzine writer, Dishwasher PeteWhile Perciella plays like Marc Bolan and sings like David Lee Roth, the potentially cartoonish collusion comes together comfortably to support his nods to zen philosophy, self-realization and self-loss. Original Face is an album one can enjoy on conflicting levels: the sensual and the cerebral.

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“I Know Who You Are”

18 – XXX and The Mercury Blues by Patty and the Buttons

WebMercuryCover

photo (12)

Fifteen years ago, when PBS aired Ken Burn’s nine-part documentary, Jazz, we were appalled by its rigid, neo-classicist attitude. Eight episodes were devoted to the history of America’s greatest art form up until 1960, and only one to the extraordinary works written and recorded since. Watching Wynton Marsalis and Gary Giddins describe something so vibrant and inspiring as though it were a lost relic turned us off to traditionalism for years — It took local musicians like Patrick Harison, who we recently described as a muppet (here), to remind us that traditional music is not a museum piece but an ongoing communication between the past and the present. Patty and the Buttons‘ second full-length disc, The Mercury Blues,  adds to the conversation by introducing several new numbers which fit beautifully with songs nearly a century old. The album also introduces Patty’s pedal steel work and the band’s interest in the role of Hawaiian music in the first half of the last century. They also produced an underground release (packaged in a brown paper bag) of traditional tunes with, um, unseemly themes. Folks was dirty as far back as the thirties. Our favorite was the Buttons’ dry revival of Harry Roy’s 1931 song, “My Girl’s Pussy.” The disc closed with the dirtiest of all old-time songs, Lucille Bogan’s “Shave Em Dry,” where the Buttons are accompanied by Jack Klatt and a New Orleans band, the Drunken Catfish Ramblers. We endorsed this disc (here) for purely artistic reasons, not to encourage Patty and others to make more recordings of hokum blues favorites that Ken Burns would surely find shocking and offensive.

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“You Can’t Swing”

17 – Ain’t Nothin’ New by Mary Allen & the Percolators

mary allen lp

In the beginning rock & roll was fun, and there were folks like Chuck Berry, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Wanda Jackson to keep it that way — this is all before the Beatles and all the boring shit that followed, wrenched every ounce of fun to the floor with one pretension after another. If you’ve never felt the draw of rockabilly, soul or punk rock, you’re unlikely to enjoy Mary Allen & the Percolator‘s debut, Ain’t Nothin’ New and you’ll probably prefer Paul McCartney’s latest, New — but you’d be the first person to purchase it in an un-ironic way. Meanwhile, this Minneapolis band had been killing it in dive bars for long enough to know how to work a crowd to a frenzy, and Ain’t Nothin’ New pushes their attitude into your living room and earbuds with passion. The album drops the covers which accent their live sets and nods to the bands roots (like their killer use of “In the Basement” as an opener) but their originals like “Whiplash” and “Tiger City USA” are worth the trade. “Grass” is a raunchy reminder of lost late-era San Francisco sound bands like Grootna, and “Swamp Thing” is theatrical fun Howlin’ Wolf would love. Ain’t Nothin’ New is raucous and raw rock and roll, not for the faint of heart but invigorating for those of us who appreciate the reminder.

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“Whiplash”

16 Ink No Ink by the Poor Nobodys

poor nobodys

The Poor Nobodys are one of the most talented but totally unclassifiable bands in the Twin Cities, original as ever on their fourth full-length, Ink No Ink. The record opens with a mournful accordion piece several folks here at Hymie’s have mistaken for the Dreamland Faces before launching into one of the most vibrant tunes they’ve ever recorded, “Thousand, Thousand,” which sounds like the score to a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film filtered through Rain Dogs. The record continues to explore exotic settings with the same combination of the morose and the mysterious — each song on Ink No Ink could be the introduction to an entirely new album just as likely as the soundtrack to some surreal dream. The band has always been more interested in theatrical productions and live performance than recording, which we mentioned in our review (here) but you wouldn’t guess so hearing Ink No Ink, which has a cohesive quality missing from their two earlier full-lengths (the third was a soundtrack). “Thousand, Thousand” and the title song have an air of intrigue and adventure (in the first this is accentuated by a baritone guitar played by Albert Perez), and in the evocative waltz “Hologram” we feel a sense of suspense, the unpredictable nature of the escapade hosted by this septet. Our favorite tune is the long and captivating closer, “Hymn,” an instrumental which places Christopher Duba’s mandolin along Wyse’s accordion to offer bright hints to the magic just below the surface.

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“Thousand, Thousand”

15 Spectrophilia by Tickle Torture

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Spectrophelia is a world apart from the “make-out music” tag we put on Bain’s debut release last week (here). Even Prince, whose Art Official Age hardly disappointed fans this year, seems tame these days compared to Tickle Torture’s “Fuck Me With the Lights On.” The Artist is far from a unfamiliar influence in “Fuck Me” and the after-hours awakening “Maybe I Need to Go Home,” but what works best on this thirty-minute EP is Tickle Torture’s synthesis of earlier electronic funk and later neo-soul. The sexiest moments on Spectrophelia are its slowest, like the closing jam “You’re Gonna be my Baby,” but what really sticks is what’s most subtly suggestive, especially “Would I Love You.” Hearing this stunned our dancefloor queen friend because he was certain, certain, he’d gotten down to it back in the day.

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“Would I Love You”

14 – Iced Over by Tree Party

iced overOur only complaint about Tree Party’s survey of our state’s local legends was its brevity (here‘s our review from January). After meeting characters such as Helmer Aavik, the old man who battled the inland sea, and the “Root Beer Lady” of the Boundary Waters, we’d just as soon Joey Ford continue to take us around our home, the 38th state in the Union, and school us on the stories we’ve never heard. We hoped for a sequel and still do: Ford does it so damn well, crafting stories about these characters which fit smoothly into his band’s sublime synthesis of 50s rock and western music. “Wrinkle Meat” has a walking beat, and “Burl Sylvester” is praised with a bonafide town-square romp only Minnesota could produce. The story of “Charlie,” the ghost who haunts Pipestone’s Calumet Inn, is delivered with such achingly empathetic beauty we wish someone out there would play it for Paul Anka. The most magical thing about this ambitious album is how Tree Party takes its vintage-tinged sound and a series of even-older stories to create something superbly, vibrantly new.

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“Wrinkle Meat — The 137 Year Old Man”

13 – Set Fire to the Mountain by Nightosaur

nightosaureaNightosaur’s shirtless live sets and devotion to the classic metal sound might deter one from taking the band seriously, but there’s no denying their commitment to creating a solid soundtrack for headbanging. When we first reviewed Set Fire to the Mountain (here), we said it “filled a hole in our hearts and in our record collection.” Their first album as a trio and their first issued on LP, it takes a more serious tone with tighter arrangements which both simmer and thrash with unabashed sincerity. The epic title track is the most dynamic, theatrical piece they’ve produced, a life-size realization of the little epics they’ve been creating since “Thunder Lizard” on Black Blood of the Earth three years ago. The record’s hook-heavy headbanging in “Devourer” and “Skeleton Key” are the highlight. We could offer no bigger compliment to this band than the fact that since this fall’s reissue of the early Iron Maiden catalog, we’ve still preferred Nightosaur on those days we’re feeling dark and heavy.

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“Devourer”

12 – Crow Call

crow call

Our review of this self-titled debut back in June (here) praised its grace, simplicity and confidence, quoting from Marcel Marceau, who may have first quipped, “It’s the note you don’t play that make all the difference.” In forming Crow Call with guitarist Peter Ruddy, Ellie Bryan has found a fitting match for her rich, heady voice and driven banjo playing. Friends who have performed with Spider John Koerner tell us his idiosyncratic rhythms are hard to get into, but Bryan and Ruddy seem to be of the same unique mindset throughout this disc, which often has the same qualities. Ruddy ranges from a convincing slide guitar on “In the Pines” to the atmospheric, otherworldly style of Robbie Basho on the duo’s originals. The disc accents the dark original songs like the haunting “Your Ghost” with sensitive treatments of standards sure to please fans of local revivalists like Charlie Parr or Corpse Reviver.

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“I Wish my Baby was Born”

11 - Find Your Tambourine by Black Diet

black diet CD

A little plastic tambourine made for a magical moment at the release show for Black Diet’s debut album, which doubled as our block party here at Hymie’s, when a rockin’ toddler played along with Jonathan Tolliver just as the inevitable rainfall arrived (we posted about it recently here). Everything about this band was just as inspiring this year –and everything their debut album Find Your Tambourine struck the same magical chord with fans of the band’s infectious live sets, especially Tolliver’s dynamic performances. The sextet is in sharp form throughout the short album, especially guitarist Mitch Sigurdson, whose subtle contribution distinguish the band in its best tracks, the near-sanctified “You Did it to Yourself” and the seventies-seeped “Thrown Stones.” Tolliver runs the range with his rich tenor, from the disc’s bold opener through the dynamic re-recording of their debut Piñata single, “You Did it to Yourself” to the single, “Nothing to Say,” which became a Radio K favorite this spring.

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“Nothing to Say”

10 - Live at Ed’s by Mike Munson & Mikkel Beckmen

mike munson

This live album from Ed’s No Name Bar in Winona has been a house favorite here at Hymie’s for months. Ironically, it was recorded at the release show for Mike Munson’s debut disc. We’ve always maintained live albums have a magic lost in studio recordings, and Munson’s too-good-to-be-true slide guitar and wry delivery give cuts like the opener “Rattle Can Black” an irresistible swagger. His songs are often mistaken for Charlie Parr’s, which carries a lot of weight around here at Hymie’s –this disc brings bluesies to the counter asking what they’ve been hearing and gets just about everyone else interested. Even the laziest numbers on Live at Ed’s provide a showcase for Munson and virtuoso percussionist Mikkel Beckmen — the six-minute slow drag of “Over Now” in the center showing no slack and offers no rest for your hips, knees and feet. The third party in this performance, the crowd at Ed’s that September evening, makes itself most heard halfway through “Good Gal Said,” in which Munson has been listing all the people who tell him to “quit his guitar playin’.” When Beckmen begins pounding a tambourine before the third chorus the crowd roars its approval. We feel it.

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“Over Now”

9 – Wicked Sun by Narco States

 narco states

Why more people haven’t discovered this band is entirely outside of our understanding of pop music, considering Narco States is surely one of the most incendiary live bands in the Twin Cities (if you’re planning a party for us, the other two acts we’d pick would be Mary Allen & the Percolators and the Blind Shake). Our experience is that anyone who gives them a fair listen becomes a fan — it’s not hard to see why because their irresistible sound is seeped as deep in psychobilly sensibilities as in the Minnesota garage tradition of old Soma, Garrett and Bangar 45s. Wicked Sun, their debut full-length, allows the quintet to stretch into extended psych jams like “Jeckyl and Hyde” and the album’s title song, while allowing plenty of space for explosive rockers like “Lost in Time” and “Amputated.” Michael Macblane-Meyer doesn’t disappoint in his role as frontman in the good ol’ Stooges tradition, but its guitarist Nate McGuire who holds Wicked Sun together, rooting his role in 60s Bay Area psychedelia while the rest of the band pushes both inland and into the future.

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“Lost in Time”

8 – Machista by Buffalo Moon

machista lp

Buffalo Moon‘s second album, Selva Surreal, was our favorite record of 2011, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a copy around in spite of its widespread praise because, by drummer Jonathan Wetzler’s own admission, “we’re not good at business.” The band split for leader Karen Freire’s hometown, Guayaquil, for the summer following the album’s truly surreal release show at Hell’s Kitchen, and became an unpredictable act to follow after they returned. By the time the long-labored Machista was released this past January, they’d shed two members and become somewhat of strangers in the local scene which should have welcomed them as one of its most original acts. Now in Brooklyn, Freire’s Buffalo Moon isn’t a local band any longer, but Machista, recorded by the original quintet belongs in any collection of Minnesota essentials. The album continues their progression from Wetsuit‘s boozy, hazy samba-pop through the psychedelic latin jazz of Selva Surreal, while shaking off their bossa nova base. Freire approaches latin machismo from several directions, including bitterness in the awesome, catchy “Liar” co-written with bassist Sarah Darnell and unrequited love for an Argentine twice her age in “Luiggi.” Its summed up tidily in the album’s explosive opening title track, but it hardly salves the real heartbreaker, which is that we won’t hear more from these five.

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“Machista”

7 – Sonder by Hanan

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This instrumental debut struck like a bolt of lightning here at Hymie’s, quickly becoming a favorite local listen after Hanan played a performance here with Echo’s Answer from Minot (we first posted it in October here). The heaviest passages on Sonder have the manic drive of memorable King Crimson and Yes moments, while its overarching ambient expressions hold the energy in check — the most rewarding moments for an active listener are where the conflicting impulses conjoin, as in the sonically magic “Parsimony” and “Pay Attention.” Not only is Sonder the band’s first release, but its the first release for Inspirus Records, a project we hope to watch grow in 2015.

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“Pay Attention”

6 – Old as the Stars by Gabe Barnett 

gabe barnett disc

When we reviewed this album at the end of April (here), we wrote that “something really great is happening in the Twin Cities recently — folks aren’t merely reviving traditional music, they’re reinventing it.” Six months later we’re at the Heights Theater for Patty and the Buttons’ release show for their new album (see #18), which was presented as a classic vaudeville show and became a ‘who’s who’ of the Twin Cities traditional music scene. We said howdy from everyone from Dakota Dave Hull to Dan Newton (aka accordion legend Daddy Squeeze), and sat next to no less a local luminary than our pal Jack Klatt. No surprise then, that just a couple rows down we’d recognize Gabe Barnett, who has become sort of a nexus in this scene whether or not he knows it. You could probably play a variation of the “Six Steps to Kevin Bacon” game with Barnett’s band, connecting the bandleader to nearly every country, folk, blues or old time act in town. This is one of the two things which makes Old As the Stars such as successful album — the other is Barnett himself, who tells new stories in old forms as confidently as he tells old stories in new forms. The disc blends blues, jug band music and old time rogue punk into a milieu ironically best expressed in “The Modern World.” Old Aa the Stars is not a debut record for him, but for us it felt like an introduction to the larger world he could, and will, create.

(here)

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“The Modern World”

5 – Pangaea by Toki Wright and Big Cats

DSC07070“Its hard to simplify the mind moving a thousand miles an hour, but I tried,” says Toki Wright, after a forty-five minute marathon in which the MC has contemplated everything from the consequences of continental drift to the familial cost of the foreclosure crisis. Pangaea is political, polemic and personal, and Wright’s insight finds its match in the signature slow beats and smooth sounds of Big Cats’ production, which is drawn entirely from live performances ranging from Bomba de Luz’s Lydia Liza and Graham O’Brien, the dynamic drummer of No Bird Sing. Together Wright and Big Cats deliver party jams like “Overhead” and “You Know” with confidence and drive, and heavy pieces like “Gatekeepers” with stunning mastery of their craft. “Permanent” is built on a steady groove and a simple sentiment: “I like what you’re working with.” No other new album we heard this year had so much depth as Pangaea, which sounds and resounds like a record from hip hop’s golden era, or rewarded our ears and minds so reliably with each listen.

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“Permanent”

4 – Amoratorium by Brian Laidlaw

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At the end of Nicolás Echevarríais’s 1991 film about Cabeza de Vaca, the sixteenth century shipwreck who’s narrative has inspired generations, the hero listens to a companion captivate a barroom with tall tales of their adventure. “Why don’t we tell the true story?” he asks. We recalled this recently, listening to Brian Laidlaw‘s book & record study of 30s outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, which stumbles a fine line between aching romance and blasphemous realism with wrenching agility. What a listener could take from the tortured end of Amoratorium might be the album’s correlations between the Great Depression and our time, or the uncertain confidences we invest in such struggles, but instead it becomes an inspiring love story which couldn’t be translated to the screen. Its far too honest for Hollywood. Our review last month (here) focused on how Laidlaw explored the mythology which surrounds Bonnie and Clyde, but one could enjoy its seven extended songs without knowing Barrow from Beatty, simply for the innate sincerity of “Will Our Love” the tragic romance of its slow closer, “Not a Drill,” and the young man’s angst in “The Way That I Was Made” and the epic “The Family Trade.” Is it for everyone? No, unfortunately we’re pretty sure you have to resent where you’re coming from and where you’re going.

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“The Way That I Was Made”

3 – Southside Desire

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So many of our favorite stories start in the shadow of some untold history, and the mystery is what keeps us listening or reading. Soul music has been uniquely successful in telling such stories from a female perspective, and our review of Southside Desire’s second album (posted here) suggested Marvel Devitt is one of the Twin Cities’ best songwriters for this reason. She’s fortunate to be be backed by a band which can cook soul stew six ways, and singers which can smolder until the flames are needed. Rhythm & blues has become big in the Twin Cities this past year, with new groups and folk-singers turned soul-singers and old veterans all releasing new LPs — no others have the substance of those sought-after soul singles from the sixties. There’s not a song on this LP which would sound out of place alongside a set of treasured and rare 45s. Devitt and her southside crew bring an understanding and this album brims with substance, showing the courage it takes to tell a good tale in a tune, whatever kind of music you’re playing. There’s a apocryphyal legend about Charlie Parker, who was known to pump coins into the jukebox of his favorite dives, picking country and honky tonk records. When asked why he chose “that stuff” by an acolyte, the legendary jazzman replied, “It’s the stories man. Listen to the stories.”

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“Four Broken Souls”

2 – Breakfast of Failures by the Blind Shake

blind shake

Grass never grows under the feet of this venerable Minneapolis trio, whose touring and recording schedule seems as driven by the double-time demons as most of their songs. The Blind Shake hardly slowed a step in 2014, and with Breakfast of Failures hit their stride like never before. The album is more cohesive than last year’s Key to a False Door (on our favorites list last December) by taking a leap in the same direction, integrating slower arrangements and increasingly bold guitar-noise experiments into the frantic rage which mysteriously drives the band. For the first time its the slower songs which work best: the booming title track, which pushes itself into the classic Blind Shake piece “Go Lie,” and “Dots in the Fog,” which we’ll certainly one day find on The Blind Shake’s Greatest Hits. For the time being, Breakfast of Failures surly bodes well for a band with two albums in the works for 2015.

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“Dots in the Fog”

1 – American Theater by Erik Koskinen

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So many things work so well on American Theater, Erik Koskinen’s first album in years: especially Koskinen himself, delivering thoughtful, original songs with swagger, sincerity and at times the dedicated, detached drawl of Lou Reed. The Star Tribune‘s Chris Riemenschneider described American Theater as an album which would make Merle Haggard proud (here), but it is very much about pressures unique to Gen Xers, something we came to slowly realize writing our original review back in May (posted here). “American Theater,” we wrote, “is about the war which is both figurative and real and which has been happening on the outskirts for years. It’s about the landscape of this ‘theater of war’ we’re living in — ‘The good times really are gone,’ Koskinen sang in another song on Keep it to Yourself four years ago.” Our nerves are worn to exhaustion by forced anxiety over one nebulous nightmare after another, who we’re assured we are ‘at war with': drugs, AIDS, terrorism, ebola. It doesn’t matter. We’re just exhausted and looking for a direction, but once in a while, like the lucky blind squirrel, we find an acorn.

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“First Time in Years”

 

 

 

We’ll be open this Christmas eve from 1-5pm, if you need to get a last minute album for someone special, or if you just need to get away from that someone special for an hour.

“A Visit from Saint Nick” (or as it is more commonly known, “The Night Before Christmas”) was published anonymously in 1823. There are two claims to the authorship of what is possibly the most widely recited work of American poetry.

The poem has appeared on hundreds of records over the years. Perry Como and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians produced sophisticated, tasteful renditions in the 50s, around the same time many of the most popular holiday songs were written. Novelty producer Ross Bagdasarian (ie David Seville) produced a fun version featuring Alvin & the Chipmunks in 1963, which was a favorite of ours growing up and which our kids found hilarious.

In 1980, Anthony Daniels (ie C-3PO) recorded the absolutely worst reading of the poem ever, on the worst record in the entire history of the holiday, Christmas in the Stars. We posted his equally horrible “What do you get for a Wookie (When he already owns a Comb)?” yesterday. If you can find a copy of this album it will make the perfect gag gift for the record collector in your life.

Louis Armstrong’s last commercial recording was a reading of the poem produced in his home in Corona, New York. You can visit the Louis Armstrong Museum to stand in the very same room and hear the unedited tape. According to their website, candy canes are provided.

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“The Night Before Christmas” read by Louis Armstrong

The last recording of Louis Armstrong was sold in drug stores and gas stations as a promotion for Kent, True, Old Gold and Newport cigarettes.

There’s a history of jazzy readings of the poem, going back to as early as 1955, when poet and singer Babs Gonzalez wrote his fun interpretation. Our favorite, however, is from 1975, and was read by Northern Calloway, better known as David from Sesame Street. Lets remember David this way, and not from the long and tragic decline of his health. Also presented for your enjoyment are recordings by Ed Byrnes, who you may recall as the dance show host from Grease, and by Wynton Marsalis who seems to us unlikely to be much fun around the holidays but provides a fun performance anyway.

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“Bebop Santa Claus” by Babs Gonzalez

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“The Night Before Christmas” by Wynton Marsalis

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“Yulesville” by Ed “Kookie” Byrnes

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“The Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street” by David (Northern Calloway)

sesame street

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