Richard Thompson – Hand of Kindness

ARTIST: Richard Thompson Hand_of_Kindness_(Richard_Thompson_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE: Hand of Kindness

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION:  #186

SINGLES: The Wrong Heartbeat, Tear Stained Letter

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I doubt it, really

LINEUP: Richard Thompson, Dave Pegg, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol, John Kirkpatrick, Aly Nichol, Pete Thomas, Pete Zorn.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After the breakup of his marriage and partnership with Linda Thompson, Richard Thompson releases his second official solo album and erases some of the gloom that inhabited the work with his ex-wife.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: No longer part of a duo (professionally and personally), Richard Thompson resumes his solo career in an unexpectedly bright sounding album. Reunited with his old bandmates (Pegg, Mattacks, and Nicol), and adding sax, accordion and violin, Thompson’s sound is somewhat jaunty. That masks some of the lyrical content about bad relationships and marital issues.

Yet, Thompson himself sounds sunny and energized. The opening “Tear Stained Letter” would have surprised anyone who had been following his duos with Linda Thompson, as here Thompson has a fire and wink in his voices. His guitar playing is stellar, of course, but he also allows his band chances to be out front as well.

The playing is fun for the most part, and while some songs are a bit down and depressing (can’t always be happy), the mood is upbeat. The songs aren’t his best for the most part, but the music world was glad he emerged relatively unscathed from his marital hell.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The guitar he’s holding on the cover was made by Danny Ferrington

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B: Not the best song-wise, but it will please any Thompson fan.

Corin Tucker Band – 1,000 Years

ARTIST: Corin Tucker Band 220px-Album_cover_for_the_album_1,000_Years_by_Corin_Tucker_Band

TITLE: 1,000 Years

YEAR RELEASED: 2010

CHART ACTION:  #9 Heatseekers, #49 Indie

SINGLES: Doubt

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Corin Tucker, Seth Lorinczi, Sara Lund. Juliana Bright, Kate O’Brien-Clark, and Douglas Jenkins added support.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Back at it after the Sleater/Kinney hiatus, Tucker wrote and recorded an album that is quieter but just as powerful.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Not diving into the vocal yelps except on rare occasions (“Doubt”), toning down the sound, and generally making things a bit more even keeled, Corin Tucker’s first solo album after the hiatus of Sleater/Kinney adds a unique chapter to her musical biography.

There’s still hints of her band’s work, but only hints. “Half a World Away” could definitely be an SK song, but here the arrangement is more controlled and her vocals more restrained, and it works better. Some of the better moments are on the quieter songs, where she’s reflective of her place in the world as a mother and a musician.

This album shows Tucker as more than the punk rocker she was for years. She’s got depth and breadth, and it’s a refreshing look at her as she moves to middle age.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She said that Seth Lorinzi (bass player and producer) really shaped the sounds on the record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE A-: As solid as any Sleater/Kinney record with a maturing outlook.

Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms

ARTIST: Surfer Blood 220px-1000_Palms

TITLE: 1000 Palms

YEAR RELEASED: 2015

CHART ACTION:  #160, #11 Indie, #16 Rock

SINGLES: Grand Inquisitor, I Can’t Explain

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: John Paul Pitts, Thomas Fekete, Kevin Williams, Tyler Schwartz, Michael McCleary.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Returning to the indie labels, Surfer Blood makes a looser record, but not a better record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It seems that Surfer Blood, as time has gone on, has cut down on the elements that made them unique – their unpredictability. Even a return to the indie label circuits didn’t make them more adventurous. Instead, it codified their safety in their formula where they would have melodies somewhat buried in dense but sonically safe production.

“Grand Inquisitor” starts things out fine and hopeful, with tempo and sonic changes in a short period of time, but from there, the record becomes less and less memorable, with songs almost interchangeable for the most part. Only the final track, “NW Passage” changes it up a bit, moving into indie pop / folk land. That’s nice but not what they’re known for and it’s not their best work.

While decent, this is kind of disappointing and it really lost the band some momentum that they’d never recover.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Guitarist Thomas Fekete was diagnosed with sarcoma., and had to leave the band shortly after recording. He passed away in 2016.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE B-: Decent enough, but it’s disappointing that they didn’t take more chances.

Shellac – Terraform

ARTIST: Shellac 220px-Shellac-Terraform

TITLE: Terraform

YEAR RELEASED: 1998

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Steve Albini, Bob Weston, Todd Trainer.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: More of the same Shellac like the first album, and it does seem like a retread.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Out of the gate, Shellac graces it’s second official full length release with a 12-minute exercise in repetition. That doesn’t seem like a great way to start, and anxious listeners may itch for the fast forward button (or go and pick up the needle on the record).

After that, the tracks are shorter, and punchier. The star of the proceedings is the bass work of Bob Weston, who keeps things interesting even during the long opener. Todd Trainer’s drums are also solid, alternating between primitive driving beats and precise rolls and fills.

Believe it or not, the weakness here is Steve Albini. His guitar tone here isn’t interesting or groundbreaking, and the lyrics to the songs don’t bite. They’re also mixed low, which is kind of normal, but here it’s a detriment.

Shellac’s career is stop and start due to production and engineering duties, but there was ample time to get this right and it doesn’t seem right.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Disgrace” has a long silence in the middle, which may have caused some vinyl buyers to see if the record was still playing or if there was a problem with their unit.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE B-: I’m not 100% down on this record, it has some interesting parts. But it could have been better than this.

Green Day – 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours

ARTIST: Green Day 220px-Green_Day_-_1,039-Smoothed_Out_Slappy_Hours_cover

TITLE: 1039 / Smoothed Out Slappy Hours

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Two releases here are EPs

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only if you were into that scene, or are a Green Day completist.

LINEUP: Billy Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, John Kiffmeyer. 220px-Green_Day_-_1,000_Hours_cover

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Compilation of the first album and two Eps from Green Day, released before their breakthrough (so it isn’t a cash in, really). 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: From the start of their recording career, Green Day had their vision in mind. A power-pop punk sound that combined some of the speed (but not a breakneck speed) and simple structures of punk, but with melodies that allow for singing instead of shouting. The structures also were deceptively simple with some interesting changes in some tracks. The difference is the execution, as these records are from the time when the band was finding its footing.

This release combines their first two EPs (1,000 Hours and Slappy) and their full length released in 1990 (39/Smooth). At first, they sounded tentative, but as things rolled along their sound fleshed out (Dirnt’s bass becomes a bit louder in the mix, and Kiffmeyer’s drums are more expressive). The songs, as usual penned lyrically by Billy Joe Armstrong, are a bit more intelligent than some of their punk brethren at the time. Green_Day_-_Slappy_cover

This collection shows the growth of the band, but they weren’t quite at their peak yet. It would take the next release to coalesce and set the stage for their dominance of the punk matketplace in the 90’s. It’s worthy to see where they were before the big stage of a major label, and why some fans glommed onto them early on.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Drummer John Kiffmeyer was billed as Al Sobrante at times. He started to study at Humboldt State, and the band picked up drummer Tre Cool to take his place. The rest is history (though the split was seeming amicable).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The last release omits a track that was used on a soundtrack.220px-Green_Day_-_39-Smooth_cover

 GRADE B: I have a soft spot for power punk pop, and while they would get better and more expansive there’s something charming about these tracks.

Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

ARTIST: Sia  220px-Sia_-_1000_Forms_of_Fear_(Official_Album_Cover)

TITLE: 1000 Forms of Fear

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION:  #1 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: Chandelier (#8 US, #6 UK), Big Girls Cry (#103 US, #77 UK), Elastic Heart (#17 US, #10 UK), Fire Meets Gasoline (#193 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Burn the Pages, Cellophane.

LINEUP: Sia and Greg Kurstin. Jessie Shatkin and Nick Valensi helped on a track each.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After taking a break (or retiring) from performing because of mental health issues, a surprise hit led her back to the studio after a while and she released her most focused album yet.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After writing “Titanium” with hopes of it landing with Alicia Keys, and finding it released by David Guetta with her demo vocals on it, Sia became more famous than she had been, especially in the US. So having stepped back from recording to write songs, she found herself in the studio again with Greg Kurstin and delivered this set of passionate, bombastic pop songs.

While over the top at times, the production fits Sia’s intent on the tracks, especially on the smash “Chandelier”. Yet the album touches on a lot of subjects and touches on them well. Sia’s songs are personal, and at times heart-rendering, as she was fighting demons upon demons in her life, which led to her original retirement.

The deep cuts, like “Hostage” and “Straight to the Knife”, are where the meat of the album lives. She poured everything into all of the songs, telling a story and not just gunning for hits or radio play. But with her natural ability for hooks and melody, she got them. This is a much better record than her earlier efforts, and improves with multiple listens.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was at this time where Sia decided to cover her face, and let her art speak for herself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, acoustic piano cuts and other mixes.

 GRADE A-: This is a modern pop album that grows on you.

Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

ARTIST: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings  220px-Dapdip

TITLE: Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

YEAR RELEASED: 2002

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Got a Thing on My Mind, What Have You Done for Me Lately, Make It Good to Me, Got to Be the Way It Is

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: It’s a shame you don’t.

LINEUP: Sharon Jones, Bosco Mann, Leon Michels, Jack Zapata, Binky Griptite, Fernando Velez, Earl Maxton, Homer Steinweiss, Anda Szilyagi

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album featuring a powerhouse retro-soul singers and the house bands for the defunct Desco Records burns fire on turntables, CD players, and MP3s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: This record is an old-fashioned soul revue, from the introduction from hype-man and guitarist Binky Griptite, to new dances “The Dap Dip”, to scorching covers (Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” done 60’s style), to an absolute burner in “Got a Thing on My Mind”, this debut is absolutely dynamite.

Jones and her band are lock step, tight, and funky. The group, made up of members of the Soul Providers and Mighty Imperials, know their funk and soul inside-and-out, while Jones’ voice is the dream of every soul and R&B fan. She’s a powerful dynamo that demands attention.

Daptone Records (formed by Desco’s Bosco Mann to release this material) started a neo-soul and funk empire with these tasty sides. While it’s a debut, it sounds so well formed and tight that you’d think they’d have been at this for 20 years.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Jones was a prison guard. No, really, she was.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A: It’s smoking hot. My headphones are on fire now.

The Long Ryders – Two Fisted Tales

ARTIST: The Long Ryders  220px-Two-FistedTales1987

TITLE: Two Fisted Tales

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Gunslinger Man, I Want You Bad

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really.

LINEUP: Sid Griffin, Steven McCarthy, Tom Stevens, Greg Sowders. David Hidalgo, Debbie Peterson, and Vicki Peterson helped out a bit.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second major label album find them trying for a more rock-oriented sound on many tracks, and the record stalled because of record-label issues.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After praise and momentum following their last release, the Long Ryders prepared Two Fisted Tales, with an eye on radio play for the rock cuts, while maintaining a country and folk tinge on others. Ed Stasium was brought on board to produce, and his production really enhances and plays up their rock sound.  220px-Two-FistedTales1996

There are some fine cuts here, such as their cover of NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad”, and Sid Griffin’s “Baby’s in Toyland” and “Spectacular Fall”. “Gunslinger Man” was really aiming for the fences, with a driving riff and a bigger drum sound than they used to have.

Some of the tracks seem a little bit rote, as in they had a formula for tracks they needed to follow, and thus some of the surprise and intrigue weren’t there as they were in earlier releases. It’s unfortunate that Island changed over A&R folks and left them high and drive, because this record, despite its flaws, could have been one that broke them on AOR radio. Alas.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The record company really messed up their touring. They had a chance to tour with U2 but the album was delayed, and then a European tour left the band broke thanks to waning support. They broke up by the end of 1987. 220px-TwoFistedTales18

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Demos, unreleased cuts, and a 1987 California show are there on the latest re-issue.

 GRADE B+: It’s a fine record, but has a few lesser cuts. It shouldn’t have been the end of the band; they had more in them.

Big Star – Third (a/k/a Sister Lovers)

ARTIST: Big Star Big_Star-3rd

TITLE: Third (a/k/a Sister Lovers)

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: Jesus Christ, Kizza Me

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: There are a few covers. For You may have been the best known otherwise.

LINEUP: Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens. Lesa Aldridge (Alex’ girlfriend) sings on this, and many Memphis session players are on it somewhere. Maybe. 220px-BigStarThird

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Dark, haunting, shambling third album by the seminal band seems to be the sound of breaking apart – mentally, physically, and as a band. 

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Probably the most famous ‘lost album besides the Beach Boys’ Smile, Big Star’s Third (also known as Sister Lovers, though that could have been the name of the band, maybe) is a haunting stroll from power pop oddness to absolute bleakness. From the off kilter but fun “Kizza Me” to the haunting and devastating “Holocaust” is just one half of the album, yet it feels so complete.

Listening to this closely (the only way to really hear it), you find production effects and sounds all over. Cellos creeping from the back. Piano played low and soft. Guitars in and out. Mysterious crackles. Time signatures steady or wavering. Vocals either ebullient or tragic. By the end of the first half, the hope seems gone, and Chilton and Jody Stephens are left wandering around in the devastation. “Kanga Roo” begins side two with a totally obtuse lyric, and slowly they pull themselves out of it, somehow, with Stephens’ “For You” being absolutely romantic and lovely.

All through Third, you get the feeling that this was a record that needed to be made, but not necessarily released, though test pressings were done in 1975. A release in 1978 came out, but by then Chilton and Stephens moved on. In 1992, producer Jim Dickson released a version he claimed was the true running order plus bonus tracks. We don’t know, but that 1992 release was clear, clean, and you were able to hear the madness, the gentleness, and the heart and mind of the band.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There are so many notes here that I need to direct you to the various articles about the album, and books on Big Star and Alex Chilton. Basically, he purposely self-destructed some tracks to get back at…someone. complete third

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The 1992 Rykodisc release had five bonus cuts (all covers but the bonkers “Downs”) and there’s a box set with pert near every demo and finished take. 

GRADE A+: Not for everyone, but dang it’s compelling.

The Beautiful South – Choke

ARTIST: The Beautiful South         Choke_(The_Beautiful_South_album_-_cover_art)

TITLE: Choke

YEAR RELEASED: 1990

CHART ACTION:  #2 UK

SINGLES: A Little Time (#1 UK), My Book (#43 UK), Let Love Speak Up Itself (#51 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not in the US.

LINEUP: Paul Heaton, Dave Hemingway, Briana Corrigan, Dave Rotheray, Sean Welch, Dave Stead. Gary Barnacle, Kevin Brown, Pete Wingfield, Tony Robinson, and Damon Butcher added horns and keyboards all over the record.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album by the elegant and cynical pop group may have been to clever for regular punters in the UK, but it’s still a fine album.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Listening to the first few tracks of their second album, you get the sense that the Beautiful South is coming into their own – not that their first album wasn’t fully formed. But Briana Corrigan is now a full member, and Dave Hemingway’s vocal contributions are more noticeable.

The second track. “My Book”, while not a successful single, was clever and brilliant, sounding like an older pop track with modern embellishment and with clever lyrics that seem to skewer the narrator and society at the same time. Then, for some reason, the ballad “Let Love Speak Up Itself” didn’t hit, either, probably since the lyrics were twisted, which on the heels of “A Little Time”, a ballad Hemingway and Corrigan shine, was a disappointment.

Through the album, though, the production and arrangements are adult sounding and sophisticated, yet playful and inventive. The band wasn’t trying to make singles, it seems, and that was just fine, as the album plays well as a whole.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The video for “A Little Time’ won the 1991 Brit Award.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but the final track (a cover of “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics, was left off the first pressings by accident.

GRADE A-: A clever, almost too clever, pop album.