Frank Gutch Jr: The Best of 2012, Vinylly— The Shoes!, and Notes…..

Whaaa-a-a-at, you say?  2012 ain’t over yet?  You’re right.  It ain’t.  But if the Mayans have it right, it will soon be all over so if you don’t mind the indulgence I’ve decided to do what I do every year— post my list of albums which have floated to the top a month early.  I do it for a couple of reasons.  One, I hate for my list to get mixed in with the rest of those end-of-the-year lists which swarm late December and early January.  The timing is all too predictable and if there is anything I don’t like, it’s predictability (which is why I don’t go gaga every time Keith Richards adds another day to his fossilized remains or Mick Jagger farts).

Two, I set my fiscal clock from December to December.  I started doing it years ago when I realized that December is a throwaway month for music unless you add it to the next year.  Any album released in December is lost in the shuffle.  Even albums consisting solely of  Christmas music are released before December— some of them months earlier.  And, well, it sometimes takes me pretty much a solid month to appreciate an album’s worth anyway.  So by the time I have absorbed that future classic album unfortunate to have been earmarked for December release, it is many times already the New Year.  Like they used to think in the music biz, timing is everything.  My timing, a little off to many of you, suits my situation perfectly.

Music is dead?  In certain ways, I hate tossing that ancient bone into the stew but I still hear it all the time.  I dangle bait (albums worth a listen) for people who might really believe that, but I don’t get many nibbles.  A few, but all too few.  From people who believe music is dead, I would venture to say none at all.  Music is dead to them, but not because music is really dead.  Because they stopped listening.  Insert fork comment here.

As far as I’m concerned, music is better and more alive than ever.  Album after album of worth have made it into my CD player and computer and I couldn’t be more pleased with the vitality of the music itself.  The music venues may be pulling their financial support to a degree but there are more of those than ever too.  It is a bummer to watch bands playing for the door, but bands and artists are learning.  They know that they might have to play for five in a town or city so that they can play to maybe fifty the next go-round and they are, on the whole, willing to do it.  The ones who won’t or can’t end up playing less, is all.  And that’s okay too because that more than often means they are working on recording.

Will we ever see an industry even close to what it once was?  Doubtful.  But has it hurt the music?  Not even close.  So without further ado (to those with forks stuck in them, make that adieu), here are my choices for the best albums of 2012.  Each and every one of these artists have earned my greatest respect and future support.  Let us start with…..

PICTURE THE OCEAN/Picture The Ocean—  When I list any “best of” lists, I normally steer clear of numbering them.  It seems foolish to rank anything because moods seem as important as the music at times and the number one album of today could easily turn into the forgotten album of tomorrow— until the next day when I realize I forgot it.  The one big exception this year has been Picture The Ocean‘s self-titled album.  I was primed by an earlier album by Jesse Dee & Jacquie B titled Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls, an Americana-ish serving of so many styles that it was all I could do to keep up.  Between that album and Picture The Ocean, the band went through a reformation, of sorts.  The personnel stayed pretty much the same, Jesse wielding the guitar and Matt Blackie hammering on drums, but the emphasis on Jacquie’s keyboards took the band into a new dimension.  The songwriting is as strong as I’ve heard this year from anyone and the band, with the exception of Jesse and Jacquie’s (and Blackie’s too) vocals, and the ensemble-geared playing has turned into a full-on band.

So I put a Number One in front of these guys.  I cannot do otherwise.  I have played this album more than any other since I received it.  I take it with me in the car.  I put it on when I need a breather.  I find myself humming their songs during walks and even while watching TV.   When I was in the Army, the big question passed around among people who loved music trivia was what is the most played song in the world?  Some said White Christmas, some Louie Louie.  There was even one demented bastard who said Free Bird (bet he voted for Romney).  The answer, of course, was The Star Spangled Banner.  During that period, it was played numerous times all over every United States military base in the world (and the United States has lots of them)—  before every assembly, every class, every public meeting.  Well, pick any song on this album and it is my own present Star Spangled Banner.  And the more I hear them, the more I want to hear.  There are very few albums that do that to me these days.  They are Number One based solely on number of plays at my house, in my car and in my head.  It has been months and I am still blown away.  Be sure to give them more time than you might someone else.  This grows on you.  Listen here…..

The rest are not in any particular order, but that certainly does not demean them in any way.  I love them as much as Picture The Ocean but for some odd reason just did not play them quite as much.  They are still among the best of the year.

ALCOHOLIC FAITH MISSION/Ask Me This—  I think I saw AFM live before I heard the album but it would not have made much difference.  What I  heard on stage was enough to convince me that this Denmark band was a force.  They began the show as they begin the album, a Singer’s Unlimited-like a cappella chorus slowly giving way to a music of intriguing depth.  From that point on, it was a whirlwind of musical choices— harder-edged with intermissions of flowing and at times downright beautiful harmonic goodness.  By the time the show was done, so  was I.  Musically, one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.  Which begged the question, could they possibly put on record what they did on stage?  The first few seconds of Ask Me This answered that question.  They could and did.  This album lived in my CD player until Picture The Ocean bumped it out.  Not completely, though.  This album is so good that it gets fairly regular play, regardless.  It has a very slight European leaning, but then that’s more than likely just me.  I overhear and overthink things.  Tell me someone’s from the South and I start hearing drawl.  Excellent album!  Listen here…..

WHISPERING PINES/Whispering Pines—  More and more people these days are dragging themselves back to the early- to mid-seventies when it comes to music, young and old alike.  There is a reason.  The late-sixties and early-seventies were a smorgasbord of music, much of which was lost on the denizens of radio and, like it or not, radio was where we got our music back then.  I couldn’t put my finger on anything which made the seventies so musically important, but Whispering Pinesseems to know.  Every time I play this album, I get two or three chills down the spine because it is a virtual time warp.  The thing is, they do it so well that it doesn’t sound retro at all.  This is worth it for the short jam on Purest Dreams alone.

RESEARCH TURTLES/Mankiller Part 2 of 2—  I have brain damage from shaking my head over the inability of the public to accept these guys.  Sure, they have their following in Louisiana and Florida, but even those are courtesy of their alter-ego, Flamethrowers.  See, they play live gigs as a cover band and the kids down there love what they do.  Hell, the Turtles make a living off of Flamethrowers.  A good living.  And that’s not mentioning the free drinks and meals and invites home with any of hundreds of beautiful young nubiles.  But they are, to me, Research Turtles first and Flamethrowers second and they prove it every time they head into the recording studio.  Mankiller Part 2 of 2 was released only a couple of months ago and immediately fell right in line with a string of releases worth hearing.  They are power pop juggernauts but have that ability to trip the light poptastic whenever it suits them.

And (and this is really cool) you don’t even have to pay for the privilege of carrying their music around with you.  They have put their entire catalogue on the Net for free (though one never knows how long such grace will be permitted).  Everything.  Turtles, Jud Norman solo, early stuff, demos.  Very cool.  A couple of columns ago, I laid out the proposition that you might want to download free things off of the Net for your kid/parent/significant other and hand them to them on discs.  This is a great place to start.  Download ’em all, transfer them to disc and package them up for stocking stuffers or to place under the tree.  The fact that you cared should be enough for anyone who loves you and loves music.  Click here to do just that.  Hey!   It’s free!  And mark the name.  Research Turtles.  I love these guys!

TICKTOCKMAN/Ticktockman—  Seattle progrockers Ticktockman just this past month put out an EP titled Calling Out the Hands and it is an epic EP, but you have to hear their self-titled album from earlier this year to really appreciate the depth of this band.  I keep expecting to see all kinds of press about how incredible they are and they do get press love but not enough for me.  They incorporate elements of music which made bands like King’s X and Living Colour one step above, their precision impressive enough in itself until you hear the music a few times and realize just how really good they are.  They have the hard rock chops, the jazz twinges, the prog rock aura.  All in all, this is a musician’s album because musicians are the ones who will really understand what these guys bring to their music.  An amazing work.  You can quote me.  (Pssst!  And if you want to buy something on vinyl, this comes in that format.  Just sayin’).  Listen and buy here…..

LAURIE BIAGINI/A Go-Go Girl In a Modern World—  There aren’t that many musicians out there wrapping themselves up in the surf, sand and girl group sound as completely as does Laurie Biagini.  God knows why she does it, living in Vancouver BC far away from the sun and sand of SoCal, but she does it so well that it is downright infectious.  Laurie is a lady who writes whenever and wherever she can— on the commuter train, on the beach, in her “music room”— and what she writes about is personal yet wrapped up in genre.  The younger folk don’t remember what a thrill it was to turn on the radio and hear the new Beach Boys or Annette Funicello  and it is sad to me because so much of my young life centered on those moments, but Laurie is as good a substitute as there is in the “Modern World”.  She stays within the guidelines of the genre on most tracks.  The music may sound formula but is much less than one would think, possibly because the genre has been buried so long.  All I know is that I grew up in that golden era and embrace her music as much as I embrace those who bring Brit Pop or Doo-Wop to their theirs.  Biagini is fun, yes, but don’t call her copycat or cookie cutter.  Not to her face.  She’ll throw sand in it.  You can hear her music here…..

CRAIG ELKINS/I Love You—  So who is Craig Elkins?  Some may remember him as a member of the band Huffamoose.  They seem to have made an impact a few years ago though they got completely by me without any trouble.  One of those bands which I heard about but never heard.  But when Elkins set about putting out his solo project, I somehow got sucked in.  Sucked in because it is some of the most diverse and, at times, downright weird music I’ve heard.  Elkins himself describes it as “Music for Real (Depressed) People.”  Friend and fellow writer Jaimie Vernon got that impression too.  Myself, I was so enamored by the odd combinations of music and lyrics that I missed it completely.  True, his lyrics, if taken at face value, shriek suicide or at the very least a darker side.  The way they are presented, though, is the important thing.  There is a dry humor in his words amplified by the downright bizarre chord progressions here and there.  And his voice— well, Tom Waits has a head start but Elkins is moving up fast.  You have to really listen to get this guy but as you all know, I listen hard.   The future will look back on this with kind eyes.   Not for the squeamish.  Check out his site…..

THE GREEN PAJAMAS/Death By Misadventure—  The Green Pajamas are, in my world, one of the most musical and creative rock bands.  I remember the days of Kim the Waitress  but really didn’t understand the trek they would take for the next few decades, reinventing themselves at every turn.  They have released, what?  Some twenty-plus albums?  And they aren’t even close to done.  Death By Misadventure is only the latest in a string which seems endless at this point.  They draw in numerous influences, from Brit Pop to circus music to psych to fashion a world few could have fashioned.  If the album was a film, it would be an art film— one with multiple levels and intriguing twists at every turn.  I cannot think of one band who has impressed me as much over the years and they show no sign of letting up.  Read about and listen to the band here…..

Not long ago, the Pajamas and Tom Dyer (Green Monkey Records)rekindled a working relationship which had lapsed.  Obviously, it was time for them to work together once more.  Bravo.

WINTERPILLS/All My Lovely Goners— This is yet another stunning album by this Northampton, Massachusetts-based band.  They have a number of albums out and an EP (Tuxedo of Ashes) which totally blew my mind when it was released back in 2009.  They have the ability to incorporate so many subtle nuances of the folk and psych world into each album that it brings to mind the days of Pentangle, though the bands sound nothing alike.  There is just that certain something that you know is there but cannot always put your finger on.  All My Lovely Goners is a roller-coaster ride of a handful of styles they have made their own.  That’s Winterpills, bozos.  And you’re welcome.

DAN MIRALDI & THE ALBINO WINOS/Sugar & Adrenaline—  This  Cleveland band is knocking some heads in the Midwest and for good reason.  There is just enough of the old rock ‘n’ roll style (think a mixture of Gene Vincent, Bobby Fuller, Buddy Holly and Marshall Crenshaw— okay, Crenshaw wasn’t that long ago, but if you know his music you’ll know what I mean) for Miraldi to build on.  It is killer stuff.  Here is a taste…..

KEN STRINGFELLOW/Danzig In the Moonlight—  Most people know Ken Stringfellow from his work with The Posies and Big Star.   His fans know him as co-conspirator on many albums and songs with some very talented people.  He is much in demand as a producer and session man as well.  I wonder where he finds the time, myself.  The thing is, as much as he does, he does it consistently well.  No less so than on his own Danzig In the Moonlightalbum.  The roots are Pop, of course, but he takes things in directions you would never expect.  I cannot even begin to go into the music here, but here is my review.

MAXI DUNN/The Neglected Gambit—  Maxine Dunn brings an intense sixties aspect to her music that is at times so spot on the music sounds like it really is straight out of the sixties.  Dunn has this ability to capture the period as well as anyone I’ve heard.  Well, the female singer/Pop aspects.  I mean, there is a depth to the songs on The Neglected Gambit which almost make my eyes roll back in my head, it’s such a rush.  And not just The Neglected Gambit.  Her first album, Welcome To Soonville, is solid and the songs I’ve heard from her soon-to-be-released Edmund & Leo are nothing short of outstanding.  Seriously, this is award-winning stuff for the production alone.  Listen here…..

SYDNEY WAYSER/Bell Choir Coast—  I’ve written so much about Sydney Wayser over the past couple of years that the keyboard almost does it on its own anymore.  Her voice is unique as is her writing style, but her songwriting is what astounds me.  Bell Choir Coast is packed with exceptional songs, both musically and lyrically.  If I had a label, I’d be trying like hell to sign her.  Follow this link to her music.  It’s exceptional stuff.

THE STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK/Wake Up Where You Are— Had The Strawberry Alarm Clock  not re-recorded a handful of older tunes and included a few new tracks, this album would not even be considered for best of the year, but the fact is that they did.  The re-recordings are amazing in that they are not the same young whizz kids that they were when Incense & Peppermints rocked the AM world and yet they pull it off without a hitch.  Not exact re-creations, either, which makes it even better.  The new tracks, though, are what really makes the album.  They have that same old feel and a lot  of that same old sound but embellish it a bit with a maturity which shines.  Listen to the original albums from the sixties right next to Wake Up and though the sound is similar, the results are vastly different.  When they were young, as good as they were, they steamrolled their way through the songs.  They sounded like the sixties.  The new songs are to the old ones what aging is to a fine whiskey— the sharp edges are honed down and the bite more controlled.   I cringed when I first heard SAC was back.  The cringing stopped at the first listen.  They nailed it.  For more info, click here…..

SAGE RUN/Sage Run—  David Stace-James, the man behind Sage Run, recorded this album because, in a way, he had to.  He had music running through his veins and spent months and even years readying himself for this project.  He brought his entire past with him— his education, his Faith, his insatiable thirst for musical knowledge— and recorded an album which is remarkable in its depth.  Listen closely and you hear elements of religious music, psych, folk and a whole lot more.  I would write more, but better to just let you read my review.  And if you want to hear it, click here…..

DALA/Best Day—  I keep waiting for these girls to falter.  I have been following them for a handful of years now and they just keep getting better.  Two lovely voices and a whole lot of writing magic make this yet another in a string of recording triumphs.  Think Patience & Prudence on steroids.  Here is my review and here is a link to more…..

KEITH MORRIS & THE CROOKED NUMBERS/Love Wounds & Mars—  Charlottesvillain Keith Morris pulled out all the stops and called in a ton of favors to produce this album which covers a wide range of topics and musical styles.  I love this album so much that I wrote this review (click here).  Better you read my thoughts there than read my ramblings now.  Suffice it to say that Love Wounds & Mars deserves to be listed.  It is a giant step forward for Morris and only a slight indication of what he may, with luck, have for us in the future.

THE SHOES/Ignition—  I saved The Shoes for the very last (minus the Notes, anyway) to correct a monumental omission in last weeks “vinyl” column.  I have been a Shoes fan for years— from the mid-to late-seventies when I discovered a very early 45 by them in an old issue of Bomp magazine and ordered it.  I had written the band recently through their website and had inquired about vinyl and had received a response packed full of information about not only their vinyl but the attitude which has made them one of Power Pop’s class acts for, lo, three decades-plus.  Rather than just glean the info, which is pretty much what I did last week, and because I fell into an enormous black hole in omitting the band from the aforementioned column, I have decided to print Jeff Murphy‘s entire email regarding music and vinyl.  Take it away, Jeff!

“Thanks for writing in.  I wanted to give you the rundown on which SHOES albums are available on vinyl, per your inquiry.  Just this week, The Numero Group has released the first vinyl reissues of our first 4 albums; One In Versailles, Bazooka (never on vinyl before), Black Vinyl Shoes and “Pre-Tense” (our homemade demos for Present Tense).  We are also discussing plans to release our latest album, Ignition on vinyl (as a gate fold/double LP).  You can read more about these releases here;

“Over the years, there have been pricey, European vinyl releases of One In Versailles (Germany 2010) and Black Vinyl Shoes (Spain 2009) as collectors-type, limited-edition LPs, but The Numero Group is dedicated to offering these LPs at regular prices ($15) so that more folks can experiment and discover our music.

“In 1991 our album Stolen Wishes was released on vinyl in France and in 1984 there were separate releases of our Silhouette album in England (Demon Records), Germany (Line Records) and France (New Rose Records).

“Of course, the initial releases of our Elektra albums Present Tense (1979), Tongue Twister (1981) and Boomerang (1982) were released on vinyl, as was a live, 6-song EP called Shoes On Ice (1982).  There were also numerous singles released domestically and abroad from these albums.

“We originally released 300 copies of One In Versailles in 1975 on our own label and in 1977 we released 1,000 copies of the original version of the Black Vinyl Shoes LP on our own Black Vinyl Records label.

“It’s great to see that vinyl has had a resurgence in popularity lately among collectors and even new record buyers!  The large format graphics and tactile and aromatic sensation of opening a new vinyl LP provide a different experience for fans that is like no other.  The feeling of social interaction from hanging out in the local record store and searching through record bins still conjures up great memories for those of us that experienced it in our formative music years!  It’s very cool to know that there are still fans that seek out alternatives to simply downloading music files in the solitude of their home, while they sit and interact with nothing more than a computer.”

You gotta love a guy who brings aroma into the whole vinyl debate!  A totally ignored part of the experience, if you ask me.  And the detail?  Two things the music industry cared little about when the whole business blew up in the late-sixties and early-seventies— release dates and quantities pressed.  That little “c” with the circle around it (ahem, the copyright icon) was more important than many labels knew, giving people who really cared about the music a bit of history and a time frame.  And if you don’t think it’s not important knowing the year an album was released, then you are obviously not a vinyl junkie.  As regards quantities pressed, labels have seemingly prided themselves in keeping pressing quantities a secret.   Those sneaky bastards.

And by the way, Ignition blasted its way into the best of the year’s album choices of its own volition.  The album conjures up days of future passed when the music was really the key and only a handful had it together enough to buck the trends of a corporate-controlled industry.  Deja vu all over again?  Seems like it, doesn’t it?

Truth be told, I am almost afraid to end this.  Just as I did last week with The Shoes, I feel like I’m missing something.  Many somethings, more than likely, but such as it is, I must needs move on.  Like an idiot, I clicked past a this-site-may-contain-dangerous-material warning (and, no, it wasn’t a porn site but one which had just posted music I really wanted to hear for possible inclusion in this column) and am now suffering the wrath of Odin.  The computer is limping along and my attitude along with it (What was I thinking?!).  So wish me luck.  I may have blown a few of my best not-yet-posted articles all to hell.  But what the hell.  It’s not like it’s the end of the world (though you wouldn’t know it by all of the hatemongers and bigots and religious fanatics who refuse to accept reality).  Then again, maybe it is.  Perhaps we should all be heading to Wal-Mart to stock up on survival gear.  I mean, if it isn’t the end of the world, it could still be the end of the world as we know it.  With that said, it’s time for some…..

Notes…..  In this strangely warped world we live in, I am forced to listen to the obsessive drooling of various people about the various superstar musicians who have gained God-like status.  Missing among those, and I think this odd as hell, is one of the biggest bands of the late-seventies, Supertramp.  I have no idea why people choose one group over another, but how the hell Supertramp gets tossed aside for Dylan and the Stones and Johnny Cash and the like just plain evades me.  I mean, they were HUGE!  And, oddly enough, I liked them.  Well, before the ten-millionth listen.  Why I’m saying this is that tramp Roger Hodgson is touring and I ran across this interview (with music) and thought you might like to hear it.  Fascinating interview and the music is solid.  Click here…..  The word is out.  There will be a release of Badfinger‘s Pete Ham‘s lost tapes.  I say lost only because I didn’t know they existed.  It will be titled Keyhole Street: Demos  1966-67 and you can pre-order your copy through Pledgemusic by clicking here…..  This via Australia’s chanteuse Hannah Gillespie:  a song and video from a guy who is fascinating in his subtle approach to his music.  Munro Melano‘s Somersault.  The more I listen, the more I like.  Click here…..  Sometimes I plain feel like kicking Charlottesville’s ass.  Here is a video by Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule no one told me about.  Recorded and posted toward the first of the year.  I guess they don’t consider me worth contacting.  But it’s so good, I’ll give you the link anyway.  They cover The KinksSee My Friends.  Click here…..  It had to happen.  Friend and rockster Jeff Gold has gone off and written a book:  101 Essential Records.  If it was just about anyone other than Jeff, I would be mortified, but Jeff is not just a friend but an expert on areas of the rock world of which I know so little.  At one time, he was known for having the largest collection of David Bowie records in known existence.  More importantly, he had rare items by Mick Ronson that Ronson didn’t even have.  But to the point.  Looking over his choices for this book, he lists items I would not list and yet he includes so many off the grid albums that I can hardly dismiss the effort or the book.  For instance, he lists Genesis’s Nursery Cryme (my choice would have been Foxtrot) and Big Star’s #1 Record (I’m sure he regrets not having enough numbers left to list Radio City, as well).  There are surprises and omissions, yes, but that is what makes books like this intriguing.  I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will.  I’m sure Jeff supports his choices well.  He knows his shit.  Check out the book site here…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”


One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: The Best of 2012, Vinylly— The Shoes!, and Notes…..”

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