CD Mailbag: The Stooges, Tom Lehrer, This Moment In Black History, Jeff Beck, Black Flag "Tribute", Mose Allison
Make no mistake: the eight songs at the core of this reissue are required listening for anyone more than casually acquainted with rock and roll, a declaration of total freedom that has hardly been equalled in the thirty-five years of punk rock that followed it. (And if that sounds like feverish praise, the album that came before it, Funhouse, is even better.) David Bowie’s original 1973 speed-freak mix is restored here in all its eccentric glory, James Williamson’s chainsaw guitar fist-fighting with Iggy’s vocals for center stage while the Asheton brothers’ white-hot rhythm section thumps away from underneath a carpet. It’s a bizarre approach, but it actually works for the over-amped material at hand, better than Iggy’s 1996 remix, which failed to improve the pudding flavor even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
So yes, you need a little Raw Power in your life. The only remaining question is how much. The two-disc Legacy Edition comes with a superb hour-long live set from Atlanta in late 1973 that includes a number of unreleased songs, along with two first-rate studio outtakes. For about forty-five bucks more, the Deluxe Edition fattens up the accompanying booklet and adds another CD of studio rarities, a “making-of” documentary on DVD, and a reproduction of the Japanese “Search And Destroy” 7-inch single. The rarities disc contains four more songs (all very good, but only two of which haven’t been heard before by collectors), two of the LP tracks from Iggy’s remix (which anyone shelling out $60 for a Stooges box set already owns,) and two more LP tracks from a third mix of unknown origin, used by CBS’ Embassy imprint in the late seventies (interesting but still no improvement on the original.)
Given the short length of the CDs, folks who shell out the big bucks may find it annoying that a lot of well-known material from the period is missing, most notably the “I Got A Right”/ “Gimme Some Skin” single, possibly the greatest thing that band ever did. The 45-minute DVD resembles an episode of Classic Albums, chock full of talking head interviews with the surviving musicians talking about those wild times, along with luminaries like Chrissie Hynde and Henry Rollins expounding on what a good album Raw Power is. The only performance footage from back in the day is about a minute of silent super-8 film - still thrilling - and there’s also a minute of the reformed band rocking “Raw Power” in Brazil last year. It’s worth seeing but only fanboys will watch it more than a couple of times.
So while the Legacy Edition belongs in every American home, the Deluxe probably belongs with the kind of people who couldn’t sleep at night knowing that somewhere in the world, someone else had two unreleased Stooges songs and a nicer companion book on their shelves. Then again, if you’re going to overpay for music, why not do it for one of the better albums ever made?
Tom Lehrer - The Tom Lehrer Collection CD/ DVD - Shout! Factory - April 13
Mathematician Tom Lehrer refused to acknowledge that he even had a career as a singer/ songwriter/ humorist - by his own estimate, in twenty years, he played about a hundred concerts and wrote just thirty-seven songs. But that career continues, even without his continued involvement, as succeeding generations have discovered his work. Lehrer combined catchy showtune melodies with Ogden Nash-style wordplay and gut-punch tastelessness, and a song like “National Brotherhood Week” still feels edgy today, even if its references to Lena Horne and Sheriff Clark are out of date. Anyone young enough to have avoided living through nuclear paranoia can check out “We Will All Go Together When We Go” and “MLF Lullaby” and get a vivid sense of what they missed.
The audio CD in this set compiles songs from his three live albums (strangely there’s nothing from his first album, the only one recorded in a studio), and adds the small handful of non-LP tunes Lehrer recorded after the sixties. The DVD presents a 30-minute live concert from Oslo in 1967, apparently the only performance footage of him in existence, and tacks on all of his videos for The Electric Company, explaining how to properly use “Silent E” and “L-Y” in sentences, along with a few glimpses of him coming out of retirement in the eighties and nineties. Lehrer’s not the most dynamic performer, and the Norwegian audience doesn’t seem to get most of the jokes - language barriers can make pun-based comedy a tricky proposition. But the Electric Company cartoons are still a hoot, and there’s also a new song about how to calculate derivatives, accompanied by visuals of the equations, that might just prove useful to the higher-educated in the audience.
This Moment In Black History - Public Square - Smog Veil - Available now
Finally a punk record that sounds like it would rather blow up the mall than have a pop-up store in it. TMiBH are a noisy bi-racial punk outfit from Cleveland that plays rock on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Underneath the chaotic assault, though, are some tough, funky songs, punctuated by blasts of organ, that manage to sound fresh even while suggesting hardcore veterans like Die Kruezen and Void, and carrying on the sense of righteousness found in Refused and Nation of Ulysses. Based on the evidence, we need more bands that sound like they’ve been set on fire. Fierce, unpredictable and unstoppable, it’s the most thrilling punk record I’ve heard in years.
Various Artists - Gimme Gimme Gimme: Reinterpreting Black Flag - The Secret Life Of Records - April 20
A different kind of tribute record, this 6-song EP features actual former members of Black Flag - none of which is Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski or Henry Rollins - serving up country and surf-styled versions of the songs they once made famous. Kira Roessler’s takes on “Nervous Breakdown” and the title track, bolstered by the lovely harmonies of the Chapin Sisters, are the most successful revisions, with Roessler singing lines like “I won’t apologize for acting out of line” and “Standing here like a loaded gun, waiting to go off” in a Patsy Cline purr. Dez Cadena, with Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri lending a hand, does “Rise Above” as a surf anthem, pretty cool but misses the sorely-needed Beach Boys harmonies on those singalong choruses. Cadena and Destri also offer boom-chicka-boom outlaw country remakes of "Six Pack" and "Thirsty And Miserable", while Keith Morris declines to do a Flag song at all, instead honky-tonking his way through Jimmie Rodgers’ “In The Jailhouse Now” with a band that includes SST vets Mike Watt and Joe Baiza. It’s a fun project that actually transcends its novelty value, more than you can say for a lot of tribute records. For sheer easy-listening pleasure, it beats the pants off the lounge stylings of Black Velvet Flag.
(Available on Itunes April 20.)
Jeff Beck - Emotion and Commotion - Rhino Records - April 13
After the full-bore hystrionics of 2008’s Live At Ronnie Scott’s, I was expecting Jeff Beck’s latest studio album to contain more of the same hyperspeed widdly-woo he’s been dishing out since around the time of Guitar Shop. Instead, Beck’s pulled a Wes Montgomery: hired an orchestra and a couple of dynamite female singers, started covering familiar songs, and produced what might be the most accessible record he’s ever made. Finally, here’s a Jeff Beck album for people who enjoy good guitar playing without acrobatics, with the emphasis on melody, tone and coloration rather than fast finger picking. The orchestral pieces are suitably grandiose, Beck playing the melodies of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” like the featured soloist at Carnegie Hall. There are a couple of new-agey instrumentals, and a solid funk workout called “Hammerhead” that gives Beck fans the chance to hear him show off for at least a few minutes. But the highlight comes near the end on “There’s No Other Me”, with Joss Stone pleading over a track that could have been lifted from Prince’s “heavy guitar” catalog. Shred fans will probably call it a sellout maneuver, but for the rest of us, it’s a surprisingly varied and consistently enjoyable record.
Jeff Beck performs at the Nokia Theater on Saturday, April 17 with special guest Zappa Plays Zappa. Tickets at Ticketmaster.
Mose Allison - The Way Of The World- Anti-Records - Available Now
Eternally hip at a ripe old eighty-one, Mose Allison returns to the studio for the first time in over a decade and finds himself with a good amount left to say. Producer Joe Henry expands the sonic palette, adding unexpected elements like slide guitar and mandola to Allison'd trademark, shuffly piano-and-voice arrangements. The hilarious “I’m Alright” is sure to enter the canon of kiss-off songs to fomer lovers, as Allison sings a reverse blues to the onetime object of his affections: “Woke up this morning, didn’t feel that bad/ Last night was not the worst I ever had...I’m alright, alright without you.” This is quintessential chill-out music, and a worthy addition to a legendary artist’s catalog.