Latest Batch of Album Reviews (June 2022) and more: Leonard Cohen, Brian Eno, John Cale, John Coltrane, Blind Willie Johnson, and more

Still tying up loose ends of the CD-shelf, so there are box set, side projects and the dodgiest kind of compilations: newbie baiting.

We start with the Leonard Cohen-box set The Complete Studio Albums Collection (2011). This came at a neat price, but has a wiff of deceit and squalidness coming from the business end of things… still, got this when it was still reasonably cheap and it’s neat. Read more for details.

Next up are John Cale and Brian Eno with their one-off duo effort Wrong Way Up (1990) – synth-pop I don’t like or understand from two artists I do love and understand. Well.

For something completely different, let’s take a look at the Impulse!-CD-edition of an epochal classic: John Coltrane’s 1965-free jazz sermon Ascension. Now this is a must.

We close with another weird blues compilation from the early 2000s, so when the CD as a format started to decline while good old music was legally available for reissues: King of Guitar Evangelists (2004) by acoustic Texas blues majesty Blind Willie Johnson. This compilation has its heart in the right place and was curated by Gérard Herzhaft who is without overstatement a legend, literally the author of the Encyclopedia of the Blues. But this compilation had no other function than to avert a new audience with its budget price – le’ts hope it did!

That’s it for the album reviews. I also wrote a little something about the old master of piano blues, Roosevelt Sykes. So have fun.

How many sides did Roosevelt Sykes produce between 1929 and 1942?

Before we start, the answer is 131 sides. Roosevelt Sykes issued 131 sides on 66 singles between 1929 and 1942. One side was by another artist.

On May 29, 2022, an Arkansas blues historian shared these pictures on Twitter:

Photos by Terry Buckalew, source: https://twitter.com/tmacbuckalew/status/1530941076659486721

They are from the Heroes of the Blues card set by R. Crumb (texts by Stephen Calt).

Here’s a quote on blues pianist Roosevelt Sykes from the card above: “He […] produced nearly 125 sides between 1929 and 1942”. Hm. The cards are neat, but the person tweeting these images asked a very good question: What are we to make of the statement that Sykes recorded “nearly 125 sides”. I mean, this is obviously a clunky way to phrase it, right? (“Beethoven wrote nearly ten symphonies”).

I couldn’t sleep at night because of this, let’s look into it.

To clear up something half-obvious: a side in this context refers to one song on one side of a single disc. Singles were usually double-sided.

So how many sides by Sykes are there, from the beginnings (1929) to the end of the period mentioned on the Crumb-card (1942)? To find out, I first looked into what’s available nowadays. For this, it’s usually best to take a look at the series put out by the Document label. I then cross-referenced this with Stefan Wirz’ online-discography and the professional discography Blues and Gospel Records: 1890–1943 by Robert Dixon and John Godrich (Dixon/Godrich) to see what had been issued at the time, but might not be available today. Of course, I also wanted to know what had not been issued back then, but is issued now. Let’s see.

The Document-series: 125 sides

The Document-series of Roosevelt Sykes’ complete recordings in chronological order feature 165 tracks total from 1929 until 1943 (it’s the first seven volumes). 4 of these tracks (the last four on Vol. 7) were recorded in 1943, so the series features 161 tracks total from 1929 until 1942. 30 of these 161 tracks are credited to other artists, meaning the series features 131 tracks credited to Sykes for said period, 1929 until 1942.

Now, 4 of these 131 tracks appearing on the Document-CDs were never issued before, so they don’t belong among Sykes’ issued sides from the time. This takes the amount of sides published up until 1942 down and leaves us with 127 tracks on the Document-CDs as originally published sides.

However, two song titles, “Essie Mae Blues” and “Dirty Mother for You”, appear twice. The reason being that Sykes recorded numerous songs in nearly identical takes, for example “Essie Mae Blues”, matrix number 67469-A and 67469-B. This was common practice, of course. Sometimes, both takes were used as master takes for distributed singles, treated interchangeably, as identical tracks (which they assumably were, in the grander scheme of things and material music business). So a single would either feature take A or take B but have the same catalogue number, as the takes are virtually non-distinguishable. This is only problematic insofar as the Document-series in one of those cases gives you both of these near-identical takes as two individual tracks, while these were not, in fact, takes issued as different singles. They were used for the same single with the same catalogue number.

So subtract these two takes, and we arrive at 125 sides actually issued on singles findable on the Document-series.

Dixon/Godrich-discography: 131 sides

As the Document-series is neither necessarily complete, nor an indication of what had been issued nor what had been unissued at the time, let’s look at the catalogue-numbers culled from a professional discography.

The discography Dixon/Godrich lists 158 individual matrix-number-entries for this period. 25 of these are listed as originally unissued and can be subtracted, suggesting 133 sides issued.

However, commonly the discography lists the “identical takes” used for the same single (as described) above under one entry, like this: “67469-A-B”. This means both takes A and B had been used for the single of this catalogue number. The discography then skips this habit for the two takes of “Eight Ball Blues”, wich each get an entry (67466-A, and 67466-B, respectively), and for “Dirty Mother for You”. For the latter, actually three takes were used interchangeably for the single, and these three takes receive two entries. So there’s two entries for “Eight Ball Blues” and for “Dirty Mother for You” where there arguably should be only one for each. We deduct these entries, and this gets us to: 131 sides for actually issued singles.

Stefan Wirz’ discography: 131 sides

So far, so good. To use a further control mechanism, Stefan Wirz’ unique single-discography mentions 66 singles (132 sides) for this period, and since there is only one side by Sykes on Champion 50071 (the other side is credited to Jimmie LaRue), this gives us 131 sides.

(Technical note: Wirz lists the single Decca 7874 twice, so deduct those, and we arrive at 129. Yet since Wirz’ list in turn omits the two sides on Decca 7252 (“Driving Wheel Blues” / “Barrelhouse Man”), we can add them, and are back at 131 as the originally published sides credited to Sykes for the period 1929–1942.)

What the Document-series misses

The Document-series misses six tracks in total that are listed in the discographies (this makes sense: 125 + 6 = 131). 4 sides indicated in the discography by Dixon/Godrich as originally published do not appear on the Document-CD: A doubled-sided single that was never actually found, and two B-sides that simply weren’t reissued on CD.

This brings the number up to 129 originally published titles. And lastly, both the Dixon/Godrich-discography and the Wirz’-discography list the single Champion 16558, “Steady Grinding” / “I Can’t to Save My Life”, which also does not appear on the Document-series (presumably because it is credited to “Sykes & Johnson”, as in Mary Johnson). But I follow the discographies to include it: We’re back at 131 originally issued titles, 125 of which are nowadays available on Document.

How many sides where there, now?

131 sides. Well, we sort of reverse-engineered this by seeing what’s available nowadays on CD and then filling in the holes with discographical information about matrix-numbers, different takes, issued and unissed sides et cetera.

The whole thing gets a lot easier if we don’t ask about how many sides he recorded, but instead just count the different catalogue numbers of the published singles with different song titles on them. The answer is, as should be obvious by now, 66 singles, 131 sides of which are credited to Roosevelt Sykes from 1929 to 1942. (This disregards all his sideman work, but that was the premise).

Crumb’s “nearly 125 sides”

Now let’s try to make sense of the statement on the Crumb-card: Roosevelt Sykes recorded “nearly 125 sides”… what the hell is that supposed to mean? Why this oddest of phrases, as opposed to “about 125 sides” or “at least 124 sides” or something sufficiently vague? Here go my thoughts: The cards were made in 1980, before the Document-series, before the CD-era. So all expert Stephen Calt, who wrote the bios, had to go on were discographies, LP-compilations and, well, the real sides.

Here is my iffy guess: We established that Sykes had initially issued 131 sides. Sykes used a number of pseudonyms during his career. The most contested of these was “Dobby Bragg”. By 1980, it was already assumed that Dobby Bragg is Roosevelt Sykes, but it was not completely settled and uncontested in all corners of the galaxy. 8 sides are credited to Bragg (2 of which were lost to history, never found). So assuming they didn’t count the sides by Bragg, we end up at 123 sides credited to Sykes. Then give or take some confusion about attribution: Do we count the sides credited to Sykes & Johnson? Yes, we do. (But remember, the Document-series doesn’t). Then there’s another single credited only to Johnson, with Sykes accompanying her. Should we count that one, too? Because that would add two sides…

That would make it… well, nearly 125 sides.

I don’t know, but this is as far as this got me. I would have liked to take a look at the Dixon/Godrich edition from 1969 (the one available to Crumb and Calt in 1980), to see if there was less information available, less sides noted, or anything. But it isn’t available where I live.

I get so sad and emotional about these things. I get up, make coffee, and I just see the brown bubbles come up and disappear. I stand there, I get back pains.

For more info on Roosevelt Sykes‘ discography, check the list I made for his output here.

Latest Batch of Album Reviews (May 2022): Kula Shaker, Jefferson Airplane, Albert King, The Band

Rummaging through the back end of my CD shelf, so there is highly questionable stuff here.

A welcome encounter was the CD version of Kula Shaker’s 1997 EP Summer Sun – I think this is the only „Extendend Play“ on CD I ever purchased, and with six songs clocking in at 21 minutes, it’s a splendid little mash-up of britpop and raga-psychedelia. Very neat.

Stylistically consistent, we continue with Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (1967) from thirty years earlier – there’s nothing much to add about this classic of Summer-of-Love-mythology, and Kula Shaker sure got a healthy dose from this. The bonus tracks on this CD are very good, some straight Kaukonen-blues.

And now for the dingy and disappointing backwaters of the CD shelf: a 2005 compilation of electric soul blues master Albert King, entitled Born Under a Bad Sign & Other Hits – the title gives away that this is not the album classic you’re looking for, it’s a desperate, but not despicable compilation, actually featuring a non-album single. I don’t remember where I but this, but I was young and on a budget. I do remember that I wanted to original (much more expensive) album Born Under a Bad Sign though and thought: Ah, this is just as good. Well it isn’t and I never got around to buy the actual thing. Compilations like these can deal real and long-lasting emotional damage, as you can see.

Which leads us to the next compilation, from 1996: The Weight by The Band. Now this is just a weird and cynical cash-grab of a CD with no value. I got this from my uncle as kid, since my father once introduced him to The Band through their first album, If I remember correctly. Anyhow, as even the thriftstore in my town doesn’t accept CDs anymore (he can’t resell them, no takers), I don’t know what to do with it.

Latest Batch of Album Reviews (April 2022): IQ, Ocean Colour Scene, Paolo Conte, Seeed, Keith Jarrett

Since I don’t create single blog entries for my reviews anymore, let’s try a new format. Here we go:

First up is 2009’s Frequency by IQ – a canonized neo-prog band, and since this isn’t really my cup of tea, I feel bad reviewing it. I only have this since my brother-in-law was and is part of the German neoprog-revival of the early 1990s, and since I review everything in my collection, here we go.

Then there’s 1996’s Moseley Shoals by Ocean Colour Scene – probably the best ‚also-ran‘-album of the late britpop era. It grew on me!

I try to grapple with 2008’s Psiche by Paolo Conte, where he messes with sophisti-pop and chanson – not too great, but there’s a classic on here.

2012’s Seeed by Seeed is another unfortunate entry, my sister gave it to me and I hate it, this kind of empty dancehall with a pseduo-self-ironic wink. Sorry for the negativity, I usually don’t write about things I dislike, it’s an accident.

And finally 1994’s At the Dear Head Inn by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, recorded in 1992, reunites Jarrett with Motian after almost 20 years and brings him back to the venue of his early days. It’s exactly what you would expect, pretty neat piano cool jazz.

Modern Jazz Quartet: Pyramid

Rating: 8.1/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: Genre Recommendation
Released: 1960
Specific Genre: Cool Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz
Undertones
: Third Stream
Label: Atlantic

1 Vendome 2 Pyramid 3 It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing) 4 Django 5 How High the Moon 6 Romaine

Cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic

There are no fundamentally weak releases in the Modern Jazz Quartet’s catalogue, but which albums would you recommend as their absolute top picks? That’s no trifling matter. Discounting their live albums, Pyramid is a slight contender among their studio work, with its focus on sophisticated vibraphone-and-piano duels that draw their power from subtlety bordering on inconspicuousness. The Modern Jazz Quartet had entered their phase as elderly statesmen, and alongside their (in my view) epochal Third Stream Music, they were ready to further test out the possibilities to turn their jazz quartet format into a chamber music style that could have potentially broken loose from either jazz or classical – yet without strings or clarinet, they end up on the slightly conventional side of cool, sneaky swing once more.  

As such, this is a terrific jazz release: cool, but not loungy, progressive, but not sonically avantgardistic, minimalistic, but not sparse. It works just as well as background music as it does for an intense listening. Given the fact they barely seem to touch their instruments, these guys put down one mean swing.

Morphine: Cure for Pain

Rating: 10/10
Rated as: Album
Album Status
: Backdoor Classic
Released: 1993
Specific Genre: Alternative Rock, Jazz-Rock
Main Genre: Rock
Undertones
: Blues Rock
Label: Rykodisc

1 Dawna 2 Buena 3 I’m Free Now 4 All Wrong 5 Candy 6 A Head with Wings 7 In Spite of Me 8 Thursday 9 Cure for Pain 10 Mary Won’t You Call My Name? 11 Let’s Take a Trip Together 12 Sheila 13 Miles Davis‘ Funeral

I think it’s time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena Buena Buena Buena: Good good good!

If you missed Morphine, you missed out on a cultural branch and attitude connecting the defiantly subdued rebellion of the 1950s’ cool jazz with the brawling counterculture grandeur of rock. A fully developed band from the start, Morphine had cut out the curious niche of “low rock” with the mature jazz stylings of their debut Good, yet with their sophomore strike Cure for Pain they created an instant classic. The ingredients are the same, but compared to its subdued predecessor, Cure for Pain is a behemoth of groove and sweeping melancholia based in a jaded sort of bluesy jazz-rock with a beatnik’s cloudy fantasy of a rock cellar. Simply put, Morphine tried to make music for cool grown-ups with cool grown-up ailments like hotel bar seduction and cognac affliction, amidst a scene of anxious grunge kids, and they succeeded. This couldn’t have worked at the time other than going for a niche audience right away.

Morphine’s sound was and is unique. The potential of each element is caught at its most exciting in these tracks: With a surprisingly sharp and punchy tone, the compositions treat Sandman’s bass as a lead instrument as well as the bedrock of their groove (I’m not quite sure how), the two-string bass constantly shaking things up with its earthquake boom and its slinky underground slide. Jerome Deupree is one of the funkiest, most loosely swinging drummers in rock music (let’s not forget the equally great Billy Conway featured on some numbers here) and Dana Colley’s saxophone work is staggering – at will freewheeling (“Head with Wings”, or the upbeat roadtrip favourite “Mary”), confrontational (the aggressive stomp of “Thursday”) or ominously foggy (“Miles Davis’ Funeral”, or the trippy and hypnotizing come-down of “Let’s Take a Trip Together”). Sandman’s voice, much like his bass, has two strings and many frets: the beat sexy low-life or the gravelly soothing crooner, and he slides up and down the full emotional register of this potentially restrictive set-up.

Making the most out of a fixed set of possibilities, it is one of the few albums where practically each of the songs has been my favourite in a certain phase of my life, with „Cure for Pain“ being an ultimate anthem of anyone who’s remotely familiar with obsession. What makes this work is the mastery of a simple recipe with diversity in attitude, mood and emotivity: A record that can be equally depressing as it can be soothing, that is as hedonistic as it is mature – like a very peaty Lagavulin. It took me a few listens (even after already having been converted to the band), but once you get hooked, there’s no turning back.