- Written by Jason Crawford
- Published on 11 June 2012
Various Artists "Good God!: A Gospel Funk Hymnal" The Numero Group
I went to a record sale earlier this month that I learned about on Facebook. That's a topic for discussion in itself. How did Facebook know that I'm a vinyl enthusiast? How did Facebook know that I'd get out of bed at 7am on Saturday and drive across the Bay Bridge to wait for some stranger to open his backyard gate so that I could dig through a bunch of his crates for a couple of hours? Spooky. Anyway, I spent a bunch of time there, and I came away with very little to show for it. And that kinda sums up crate digging for me. Yeah, you could come away with a $1 mint copy of the "White Album" in mono, but you probably won't. And how much is your time worth to you? I like things to be organized, labeled, and easy to find. That's why my world is ripe for takeover by an organization like the Numero Group. They'd do good things with their power, I know. They're saving me time and frustration, and unearthing killer regional recordings that I'd have never found otherwise. For a reasonable price, of course. We've looked at a couple of their offerings here before including some kids' bands ("Home Schooled"), and some Chicago blues recordings with a wicked coffee table book to accompany the music ("Light: On The South Side"). Now, we're going to check out "Good God!: A Gospel Funk Hymnal." Let us pray.
Gospel Funk isn't exactly a genre in danger of over-saturating the airwaves so you've got to go to it. We could all pay through the nose for the Staples' Veejay recordings online, but the Numero stuff is different. You might never find these recordings elsewhere. They have "Do-It-Yourself" stamped all over them. No handlers, no grooming schools, no Saturday morning cartoons built around these bands. This is music for the sake of it, and Gospel is the perfect platform for that. These nameless artists borrow liberally from their more accomplished rhythm and blues brethren (there's a "Love and Happiness" rip-off on here as well as a nod to Sam and Dave's "I Thank You"), but that seems more acceptable when you're praising the Lord. The "nameless" effect is exacerbated by the fact that Numero included no "Good God!" liners save for an essay inside the outer gatefold. So you have no way of knowing who you're listening to unless you walk over to your turntable and read the spinning record label. Or you could study it ahead of time, I guess. Anyway, that's not the point of a collection like this. You're not going to get turned on to a new artist and then go devour the rest of their catalog because, in many cases, the single contained on the compilation comprises the artist's entire recorded output. If you have an interest in '70's Gospel Funk and you're not overly concerned about a little dirt in your grooves, then this set is for you. Lots of slinky bass, some funky drummers, and a bunch of shouters. All the more compelling due to their anonymity. That's my take on it.
"Good God!" is a double disc set on heavy vinyl with the aforementioned essay. That's it. If you're burnt on the mainstream, check out what the folks at Numero are doing. They've got a ton of great releases spanning many different eras and genres, and they're doing the digging for you. The records are affordable, the recordings are rough, and the pressings are better than average. God bless them.
The Grateful Dead "Live" Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs
A couple of months ago, we looked at the Grateful Dead's recent reissue of their live set from 1980 called "Reckoning." That began a project to find some Dead work that really appealed to me as I feel like the band has a rightful place in popular music history, and that their brand of "rock" is underrepresented in my collection. "Reckoning" is a cool batch of songs, but I needed a more prototypical offering on my shelf to show that I'd really gone all in. So I picked up Mobile Fidelity's double disc reissue of 1969's "Live." It's representative of classic live Dead in the way that the Honda Accord is typical of sensible automobile design.
This record documents the band's first "classic lineup" with Pigpen on vocals and organ. That doesn't mean I can tell when he's singing. The only vocalist I can confidently pick out of a sonic lineup is Jerry Garcia, and he's all over this one too. It goes without saying that in 1969 there were wide swathes of musical interludes in Dead sets that involved no vocals whatsoever. That is certainly the case on album opener "Dark Star" which comprises the entirety of side one. In fact, six songs make up the whole four side set. (Unless you count the thirty-six second snippet of "We Bid You Goodnight." I don't.) Lots of jamming here, gang. You should know that going in. And I'd love to say that the "Dark Star" jam really takes off in intentional ways before Garcia brings it back to Earth by conjuring the main theme back out of the whirling percussive soundscape, but the jam doesn't feel very intentional to me at all. More like a boat without an oar in the water, going where the river takes it. Luckily, it was a lovely day to be on the water. "Saint Stephen" feels a little more purposeful, and it's always been one of my favorite Dead tunes. Garcia's guitar tone approaches nastiness on this version, and the riff certainly lends itself to that. The vocals are as clear as I've ever heard them which can be good or bad depending on who you ask. I think of myself as a sensible Grateful Dead fan. I can discern the good from the bad. Sometimes they were hilariously great and sometimes they were just hilarious. And I don't think they meant to be. But everything is working on "Live." It's a "warts and all" kind of release as it sounds like the band outright flubs things in a couple of spots. That, I suppose, was the thrill of improvisation, and I commend them for giving us the straight goods. If you like late '60's California jam rock, this is the template for all of it. Your search has ended.
I usually prefer songs to jamming, but this set is pretty great. It contrasts nicely with my copy of "Reckoning" in many ways. Acoustic versus Electric. Songs versus Jams. Later versus Early lineup. MoFi doesn't turn out shoddy product and this one contains two heavy wax slabs with near perfect pressings, and a huge soundstage for the band to spread out in. They never get lost in it no matter how much they wail away over the top of each other. Somehow, it works. MoFi doesn't press tons of copies so get one now if you're into this stuff. It'll carry you right back to Haight Street '69.
Jack White "Blunderbuss" Third Man Records
I was a sad man when I heard the White Stripes had broken up. I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me as I'd had tickets to see the band live, but then Meg White flipped her lid, and they quit. Who knew that Big Jack would spend the better part of the intervening years growing his little label into the coolest purveyor of new recordings happening? I'm better able to keep up with his goings on now than I ever was before, and now we have "Blunderbuss" to pour over and over. It's Big Jack's first solo recording, and he enlisted a bunch of folks that he'd worked with over the previous couple of years on Third Man Records recordings to help him out. That's a deep well to draw from as they've made a ton of 45's, live recordings, full length albums, DVD's, you name it. They've made some killer records, but I haven't listened to any of them as much as I have "Blunderbuss." The wait is over. The game is on. Get in the ring if you're big enough to take this ride. It's a loopy one.
The first few songs on "Blunderbuss" all have what sounds to me like "Prog-Rock" elements in them, mostly due to guitar tones - not song composition. "Sixteen Saltines" is especially rocking, but things take off for me with the album's first official single, "Love Interruption." That's the one that bounces off the inside of my skull for days at a time after hearing it. It's slower with a sparse arrangement which adds up to a surprisingly dangerous vibe for a mostly acoustic tune. It's ironic to me that one of Jack's most jarring performances doesn't involve a guitar solo or even an electric guitar. But Jack's version of punk aggression has always seemed more playful than menacing to me, and "Blunderbuss" may be his most accessible record since the Raconteurs' debut. Let's face it: the White Stripes weren't for everyone. My cousin is in love with Big Jack, but she doesn't play any White Stripes records. She'll love "Blunderbuss." It feels like Nashville's rubbing Big Jack the right way (there's some pedal steel and mandolin involved), and it sounds like this record was a blast to make. Jack's gone on record as saying that this is his baby from start to finish. He wrote the songs (except for Rudolph Toombs' "I'm Shakin'"), he handled the arrangements, and he chose the players. If you don't like "Blunderbuss," you don't like Jack White. And that would be weird. He's one of a dying breed. You don't see many true rock and roll stars any more, you see plenty of fakers. Jack ain't faking. The songs on his latest are innovative, but not distractingly so. They're new, but they're familiar. They're rocking, but you don't have to turn it off when your mom comes home. A little something for everyone.
The only knock on the vinyl version that I can come up with is that it's a little pricey for a single record. It does come with a download coupon unlike many other Third Man releases. The pressing is quiet if not visually stellar. You get a gatefold package with a lyrics insert and a few cool photos. A nicer than average inner sleeve too. Basically, you get everything that I think should come standard with new vinyl releases. And you get thirteen killer tunes. I'm ready for round two. Hit me.
Jerry Lee Lewis "Live At Third Man Records" Third Man Records
In his time, I suspect Jerry Lee Lewis' eccentric behavior may have eclipsed his musical genius. I'm making that assumption based on my life experiences tracing Michael Jackson's trajectory through the stratosphere of popular culture. By the time he passed, I'd completely forgotten what a bad man Michael had once been. And I bet a bunch of folks forgot about Ol' Jerry Lee when he went off and married his cousin or started making Gospel records or did whatever else the Killer did in those days to alienate his audience. But I don't remember any of that. All I know is the music, and Jerry Lee's ranks up there with the all-time greats for me. His voice is a little weak now as he's pushing 76 years old. He's also pushing the hell out of some piano keys. Still. I can't tell the difference between the playing on his original Sun singles and his latest, "Live At Third Man Records." The man's still got it, and that is evidenced for us all on this little nugget of analogue truth.
This one was recorded on Record Store Day 2011 outside Jack White's Nashville store. The Killer's band included men with names like "Steve Cropper" and "Jim Keltner" on that day. The photos on the album cover suggest that the event was well attended, and I'm sure the only thing hotter than the Tennessee weather was Jerry Lee himself. He played "Georgia On My Mind," "Drinking Wine, Spo-dee-O-dee," and "Sweet Little Sixteen" in addition to the more obvious "Great Balls Of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin'." There are a total of twelve tunes on "Third Man," and they were all recorded direct to tape for us to enjoy in absentia. The vocals are far from embarrassing, they're just a little weary. Basically, it sounds like the Killer wanted to get past the obligatory vocals to do some piano playing. And all those hipsters didn't converge on the outdoor stage by Big Jack's tiny storefront to hear an old man sing anyway. They converged to hear an old man play and to get a little glimpse of history in the bargain. At least, that's what this hipster would have gone for. I don't know if Chuck Berry can still cut it live or not. Most of the Killer's contemporaries have passed on by now, but Jerry Lee's too damn mean to die. If you wanna see an original from the first era of rock 'n roll, you gotta see Jerry Lee. "Live At Third Man Records" will show you right away what the man is still capable of and a little bit of what he's not. It all adds up to a fine live release that's floating right under our radar. I highly recommend it.
This isn't some sort of reinvention a la Johnny Cash's last recordings with Rick Rubin. This is Jerry Lee doing Jerry Lee. Referring to himself in the third person multiple times over the course of a single song, and lighting up a piano like the 4th of July. This package is a simple one. All you get is a pedestrian pressing on a single disc with no formal liner notes, but a really cool picture of Jerry Lee and Jack on the inside. The gold is in the grooves. The recording sounds sort of informal, like someone happened by with a recorder while Jerry Lee was doing his thing on an April day in Tennessee. In other words, it's perfect.
Danger Doom "The Mouse and the Mask" Epitaph
Alright, stay with me on this one. I'm attempting to marry my interest in quality hip-hop with my love for... animation. And I'm doing this by listening to "The Mouse and the Mask" by Danger Doom. Which is weirder: my mission statement or the fact that a record exists to build this dream on? The group is comprised of MF Doom (lyricist and rapper) and Danger Mouse (super-producer responsible for some of the most compelling new music of the last decade). The duo have supposedly been working on a follow-up to this 2005 release, but I got impatient so I circled back for their original collaboration. It's still readily available online and at decent independent record stores everywhere. Oh yeah, the animation itch is scratched by cameo appearances throughout the recording by characters from the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" shows. You still with me? Let's see...
I'm a "Simpsons" guy. I loved "Beavis and "Butt-head." I rarely watch anything on network television, but when I do it's "The Family Guy," and I laugh my natural ass off every time I think to tune in. I never got into "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" despite a couple of lackluster efforts on my part to hitch onto their bandwagon. That gang pops up over the course of this entire record, and while my lack of familiarity with the characters might negate any humor I'd find in these grooves, that doesn't denigrate the quality of the listen for me. Because Danger Mouse is the set designer for this stage play, and that guy doesn't miss. Last year's collaboration with Daniele Luppi killed me. (It's called "Rome." We looked at it on this very site. If you missed it, go get it. Don't be a fool.) Danger has also teamed with the Black Keys on their more recent records so you've heard his work in commercials or movies or TV shows whether you know it or not. He's also half of Gnarls Barkley. Anyhow, MF Doom has a million different alter egos, and I think he's one of the most fluid, most literate MC's out there. He quotes Shakespeare on "The Mouse and the Mask," and he quotes Charles Bukowski elsewhere. It seems like it should be a cliché for a rapper to quote Shakespeare by now, but I can't think of any others. And if Bukowski further infiltrates the world of hip-hop, I'll change my name to "Rumpelstiltskin" if MF Doom hasn't beat me to it. The guy's funny. It's refreshing to hear an entire hip-hop record with no hint of violence or posturing or violent posturing. I'm old, and I can't abide by that stuff anymore. In the words of the immortal MCA, "On the tough guy style / I'm not too keen." God rest his brilliant soul, I couldn't agree more, and I imagine MCA would have enjoyed "The Mouse and the Mask." I hope so.
Epitaph put this one out, and they're not known for the highest quality vinyl pressings. This one's pretty fair though. It's a single, pedestrian weight record with no digital copy, but a gaggle of hilarious lyrics to mull over on the printed inner sleeve. I can't outright recommend this record to casual fans of... anything. But if you feel like extending yourself a little bit and taking a risk, this is a good place to start. I'm sure glad I did.