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Sunday, December 15, 2013



Presented for your approval, in strict numerical and alphabetical order so as not to show any favoritism, is Jeffrey Morgan’s 2013 Top Ten List Of Records, as they appear on my official ballot for this year’s Village Voice rock critics poll, which I’ve been voting in annually ever since Robert Christgau was kind enough to give me the nod five decades ago. In other words, and I’ve got a million of ’em, these are my Sizzling Platters Of The Year, all of which deserve a spin on your Victrola.

42 – Levin Minnemann RudessLevin Minnemann Rudess (Lazy Bones) :: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it three times: a chronological glance at your record collection will prove that, as rock ’n’ rollers get older, it’s utterly inevitable that they get softer—and I’m not talkin’ about virility in the sack, I’m talkin’ about volume in the studio.

As maxims of maturity go, TURN IT DOWN seems to be their overriding axiom of aging because, with the obvious aberrant exception of Jeffrey Beck, every single raucous rock musician who ever lived has lived to see the day come when their sonic six-guns were hung up in exchange for a pipe and slippers.

Even such much-vaunted volume advocates as Neil Young and Jimmy Page have had disconcerting bouts of flaccidness recently—assuming that they even bother to wake up to show up. And don’t you start me talking about former noise boy Miles Davis, who prematurely blew all his goo on Dark Magus only to thereafter be reduced to the sad spectacle of shooting blanks, as evidenced by such sterile secretions as You’re Under Arrest and Doo-Bop.

But there’s always an exception to the rule, and this fourteen track all-instrumental album is it, with a certifiable emphasis on the mental because Levin Minneman Rudess takes everything that you thought you knew about complex progressive art rock and effortlessly transmutes it from traditional fusion into a new element of audio contusion that you won’t find on any heavy metal periodical table. But please don’t let me be misunderstood: I’m not talkin’ about mental as in crazy coo-coo mental, I’m talking mental as in sonically supernatural Magneto-style metal manipulating mental. I could go on, so I will.

“Marcopolis” is the scene-setting first track and it’s the heaviest Wired outtake that Jan Hammer and the aforementioned Mr. Beckola never had the radical wherewithal to wax.

“Twitch” is the aptly-named second track and it’s an epileptic stutter-step that easily evokes Rick Wakeman as his most operatically speed freak soused.

“Frumious Banderfun” is the frisson-fusing third track and it’s an eerily evocative echo of Frank Zappa during his hellacious jazzbo phase with a side order of Oriental-themed crunge-o-phonics thrown in for bad measure.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s just the first three frames and already we’re talking about a skillfully impressive Heinie Manush-style on-base slugging percentage—with eleven innings left to play. So break out some peanuts and Cracker Jack and hear for yourself how effortlessly the spasm-inducing All Star team of Levin Minneman Rudess takes the field and commands a one-sided rout that rookies a quarter of their age only wish they could muster. Batter up!

11 – Johnny McLeodIf You’re Living (self released) :: In a perfect world, Johnny McLeod would need no introduction. But since this is a less than perfect world, allow me to set the audio table for you by reiterating what I said about him in the August 1985 issue of CREEM: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine, wherein I wrote:

Johnny MacLeod with The Young PioneersDynamite In The Stove (True North/CBS) :: Even though I live in Toronto, you can count on one hand the number of times I’ve bent your ear about Canadian talent in the ten years I’ve been writing for CREEM, so bear with me on this one because Johnny is the only singer-songwriter I’d put serious money on. He released one album (Every Twist Reminds) in 1980 with his former band the G-Rays, and has spent the last half decade leading up to this triumphant moment. The man’s lyrical and musical depth knows no equal, so I’m not going to give you a comparison against which you can judge him. But considering the current value of the U.S. dollar against the Canadian dollar, I’d say that a trip across the border to but this album would be more than worth your while.”

Thirty years later I stand by those words—especially the parts about the money and the lyrical depth. However, with the release of this new album, I would add one extra word which is not to be bandied about lightly:


I happen to know a few things about poetry, which is I’d like to point you in the direction of a few song titles which grace this heartfelt confessional because they alone should give you a good indication of the kind of emotional insight we’re dealing with here: “Never Is Your Soul Alone.” “The Pleasures Life Reveals.” “If You’re Living.” “More Than I Can Do.”

Oh, and then there’s “Here’s Your Moment” which begins:

“Your reluctance is feeble and thin. Soon its weight will cave itself in. Go and bid your reward to begin. Here’s your moment. Here’s the offer that hangs from your name.”

And that’s why I’d still put serious money on Johnny MacLeod—and so should you because, both spiritually and intellectually, odds are you won’t get a better rate of return for your dollar.

To get a copy of If You’re Living, contact Johnny at: Box 113, 31 Adelaide Street East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5C 2H8

78 – Ollie VeeLonesome Girl (Dang Snapit) :: Here’s a tattooed up the wazoo chicka-boom trio that knows how to slap an album design together and then slap a like-minded record inside it that easily evokes the album cover aesthetic that shows a tarted up solitary skirt longingly looking out a hotel room window at the obligatory blinking red neon sign that’s bathing her deep blueness in shards of cascading crimson like she’s in an Edward Hopper painting.

Lissen, any song that begins with the line: “Well, we get hopped up every night” like “Looking For A Fast Time” does is my kinda album. But lest you go thinkin’ that this is some kinda Tonight’s The Night dour downer, lemme tell ya that it’s an uptempo rock-a-billy rave up that owes its more melancholy moments to the David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti produced Floating Into The Night album that songstress Julee Cruise waxed way back in 1989. In fact, this entire baker’s dozen of slinky swinging songs would be right at home on the jukebox at the Double R Diner. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Norma Jennings the next time you drop by for a slice of cherry pie and—excuse me—a damn fine cup of coffee.

So if any wiseacre tries to brace you into thinking that Ollie Vee’s Lonesome Girl is some kinda tremolo tribute to the late lamented likes of Roy Orbison or Handsome Ned, well, you just blow a thick pardon my dust plume of second hand smoke into their smug mugs ’cause hep cats like us, we both know a whole heckuva lot better, don’t we? That’ll be the day.

35 – Art DecadeArt Decade (self released) :: If you screw on your thinking cap, you just might remember what I said about these cat’s début long player back in MB353 but, if not, I’ll reiterate for ya:

Art DecadeWestern Sunrise (Eldest Only) :: A lesser league of leeches woulda called themselves “Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family” or “Homo From Aldebaran” but, the way I see it, if you’re gonna name your band after an obscure ’70s David Bowie instrumental, then choosing the atmospherically arch decadent “Art Decade” is definitely the way to go—and, boy howdy, does this excellent album ever live up to that makeshift moniker and go go go!

“The first two seconds sound like a James Brown intro before everything suddenly switches into a string-soaked Beatlesque art rock escapade which owes more than a lush nod to Queen Mercury in the vocal arrangement and songwriting department. There’s also an admirable element of ’80s symphonic synthesizer pop in place to spice up the proceedings—but don’t think they’re not capable of breaking out the big audio dynamite because the longer you listen, the louder things get.

“Bonus points for including a glossy full color twelve page booklet that contains nothing but twelve full bleed paintings which are completely devoid of text—and that’s an extreme visual treat that even Eno and Peter Schmidt never attempted to do at their Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and Before And After Science art rock peak of perfection.”

That’s how they began the year last February and, wouldn’t you know it, here they are again with a year-ending roundhouse to polish things off and lemme tell ya that it’s a good ’un. If anything, it’s even more of a string-soaked Beatlesque art rock escapade (Greylock Hill”) which owes more than a lush nod to Queen Mercury (“Boredom”) in the vocal arrangement and songwriting department. And while many a band from Badfinger and ELO to Cheap Trick and the Knack have successfully mined that particular pop vein at various points during their careers, keep in mind that it’s by no means as easy to do as it sounds—just ask Brian Wilson.

So if you didn’t take my advice at the beginning of the year, now’s your chance to make amends unless, of course, you’re waiting for the band to gnaw some blotter acid and “head” into their psychedelic period—which might not be such a bad idea. I mean, think about it, man. Aren’t you curious about what a lysergically-soaked Freddie Mercury would sound like? I’m curious. I’m very curious. Are you curious?

99 – Blackmore’s NightDancer And The Moon (Frontiers) :: Wherein, sixteen years and seven albums later, guitarist Richie Blackmore and songstress Candise Night continue to record intelligent epic audio adventures which aesthetically embody everything that folk-fueled contemporary medieval music should be—and this outstanding album of enlightened enchantment is their best one yet. If a part of your soul has ever responded positively to the ornamental elements offered up by Robert Plant in “The Battle Of Evermore” or by Ian Anderson in “Songs From The Wood,” then this renaissance record has your name engraved on it. And should you find that your soul is unnaturally inured to such sentiments, then let this be the introductory album to set your wandering spirit straight.

01 – David FranceySo Say We All (Laker Music) :: Although it doesn’t happen as often these days as it used to, every once in a while a record will be released that’s so exceptional and intelligent it actually defies criticism—and this album happens to be one of them.

From its admirably understated front cover photo of the artist walking away from us into the Light, to its last muted note, folk singer David Francey’s thoughtful So Say We All is about as honest and authentic an offering as you’re likely to hear; one that’s imbued throughout with a surfeit of universal Truth.

Light. Truth. No ordinary words, for what they denote are no ordinary values. And, poet that he is, Mr. Francey profoundly understands the power of these words because he knows that they have no frame of reference within which to exist without their contrarian opposites of darkness and lies—and David Francey is intimately familiar with those words as well.

Yet, but because he is a poet, Mr. Francey is able to use his insightful lyrics and expressive voice to cathartically transcend the pensive past and look beyond today’s frailties toward a more hopeful future for himself and, by extension, for us all. That’s why So Say We All is nothing less than an enriching audio affirmation of life and the indomitable power of the human spirit to endure—but don’t take my word for it when you can heed those of the artist himself:

“The songs on this album,” Mr. Francey writes in the album’s introduction, “seem to me to encompass what proved to be a very difficult year. From the heights of joy to the depths of grief, the lesson learned was to celebrate every day spend on this side of the soil and to keeps marching no matter what comes our way.”

So when one or more of these fourteen heartfelt songs makes you laugh or cry or simply smile with a knowing nod of recognition—and one or more of them will—it’s because they speak not just of who we were yesterday or who we are today, but of who we would like to be tomorrow. That’s because they also encompass yet another extraordinary word: Faith. Faith, and a renewed belief in the future and what you can do to be a positive part of it.

It’s easier than you think. David Francey’s already done the hard work. All you have to do is listen.

69 – Kate ReidQueer Across Canada (self released) :: Whadda gal. Goes from Stand-up Folkie (I’m Just Warming Up) to Shepherding Activist (Doing It For The Chicks) to Social Educator (Queer Across Canada) all within the span of three albums—faster than the time it would take you or I to change a futzed fuse.

But that’s the point. Always the brightest bulb in the box, incandescent Kate wasn’t whistling in Dixie when she said she was just getting started ’cause even then she had a far-flung audio agenda of acceptance in mind that’s finally come to full-blown fruition on her latest long player, which is nothing less than an informative curriculum of facts and a sonic support group.

Vocally, Kate’s pipes are in fine fettle and equally as emotive whether she’s breaking the verbal speed limit on “The Mothers’ Day / Fathers’ Day Conundrum” or getting down with a funkified cover of the venerable Sister Sledge unity anthem “We Are Family.” Musically, Kate breaks new ground by adding an expertly arranged plethora of horns; woodwinds; strings; and choir, all to good effect—especially during the more introspective passages which’ll have you daubing your eyes.

Much has been made of the charm which radiates throughout her albums—and rightly so, because Kate’s refreshing sense of humor has always been the spoonful of sugar that makes the tolerance go up. And while Queer Across Canada is no exception to that rule, Kate admirably aspires to up the ante by taking her message of love out of the intangible ether and into the physical classroom where, like any life lesson worth learning, it can be rationally discussed and expertly applied without censure.

But for those of you who are of the opinion that humor has no place when dealing with such a serious societal topic, I’d like to draw your attention to the comics section of the world’s newspapers on August 7th, 1952—a mere 61 years ago.

For it is there, in the great Walt Kelly’s legendary comic strip Pogo, that the following prescient exchange takes place between the eternally poetic Churchy LaFemme and the eternally practical Howland Owl:


“Why don’t women marry people what understands them?”


“Like who?


“Like other women.”

54 – Daphne Lee MartinMoxie (Telegraph Recording Co.) :: There ain’t nothing I like better than ringing in the new year by listening to a brand spanking new album that gives me renewed hope that all is well in Recordville—and, strangely believe it, this happens to be that album in that it lives up to its ballsy name and double dares ya to crank it up all the way up to maximum volume with your noodle wedged right between the speakers.

Y’see, not since the good old white label advance test pressing days have I been so blindfold flummoxed by an audio outing. That’s because, devoid of an album cover or track listing or anything else to guide me along except for a plain white sleeve and textless disc, I’m forced to do the free-association poetic stutter-step instead—something I ain’t done since I reviewed 801 Live and Low.

So just what the heck is this mutant offspring anywho and where the heck do I begin to get a greased handle on it? With track one’s melodramatic operetta that fuses Casio casino music with a spooktown carnival hoedown?

Or mebbe track two’s sultry Peggy Lee meets the Doors feverish black coffee combo?

Or how’s about track three that opens with a syncopated “Memo From Moxie” backbeat which then melodically fuses “Down By The River” with a brace of bubbly Telex synthpoptronics?

Or with the Bennett-cum-Gurdjieff-ish voice overs of track four?

Track five’s Hitchcockian country hoedown?

Track six’s clandestine Tarantinish tryst?

Track seven’s surreal dub confab?

Track ten’s swanky vo-de-oh-do night club megaphonics?

And speaking of keeping track, you may have noticed that I’ve omitted two prime numbers; that’s because they’ve been left vacant for you to describe. To play along at home, all you need is a copy of Daphne Lee Martin’s versatile new album Moxie and two cranked up speakers for you to wedge your noodle between; your rejuvenated spirit will thank you for it in the morning—and remember kids: Neatness counts!

24 – The 24th Street WailersLive In Halifax (self released) :: Way back in the good old golden days of vinyl (ask your Mom), this is the kind of live “blues” album that would automatically get filed away in the “rock” section of your friendly neighborhood record store right alongside such other supersonic scorchers as Johnny Winter’s live on the stage Live: Johnny Winter And and Jimmy Cavallo’s live in the studio The Houserocker!—which should you give you a pretty good idea as to the kind of rarified jumpin’ jive that eagerly awaits you within these groovy grooves.

Powered by Emily Burgess on guitar; Michael Archer on bass; and Jonathan Wong on sax, this up-tempo high octane offering will have you bouncing off the walls with such unbridled stucco-slamming gusto that you’ll never want the proceedings to end.

But what really makes this merry go-round such a stellar standout is the sensational singing of traps mistress Lindsay Beaver, who has a vivacious voice that’s the most octavely outrageous since Grace Slick first stormed the Fillmore. Just one listen to her note-perfect performance on the self-penned “Never-Ending Day” will have you building a candle-lit shrine next to your Victrola in honor of her pluperfect pipes.

And should you happen to burn down the joint by mistake, fire up the 24th Street Wailers’ Live In Halifax on your portable audio delivery device and you’ll be too busy bouncing down the block to give a good cahoot.

44 – My Gold MaskLeave Me Midnight (Goldy Tapes) :: Word on the superhype street has it that MGM “singer Greta Rochelle has been compared to Siouxie Sioux and Courtney Love” and that “their sound has been called goth garage”—which is all well and good if you’re looking for a snappy press release pull-quote. Me, I dimly recall them saying similar things about Japnopop band Sandii And The Sunsetz back in the ’80s and they missed that refugee boat by a country mile as well.

That said, there’s no denying that MGM do have a distinct Banshees sheen to their dense echoing sound, but I’m here to tell ya that the proceedings ain’t all angsitified doom-laden gloom by a long shot because on tracks like “Burn Like The Sun” I hear an atmospheric power pop patina worthy of The Diodes just aching to break free. And “Lost In My Head” is nothing less than a subconscious tip of the Hatlo hat in the direction of above-noted Hula mistress Sandra O’Neale via the Sadistic Mika Band—not that they’d ever admit it, of course.

So forget what all the experts say and listen to me instead when I tell you that My Gold Mask’s Leave Me Midnight defies all expectations by taking you where you least expect to go along the most sonically scenic route your ears will ever hear—and if that’s not a snappy press release pull-quote, then I don’t know what is!

Be seeing you!

Sun, December 15, 2013 | link 

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