So, it's Valentine Time again and you're under pressure to treat your loved one to wine and roses. Or chocolates. Or, so hope the marketing types who never run out of reasons for us to spend our hard-earned money, Champagne.
I understand your resistance. I hate forced celebrations the same way you do. Especially Valentine's Day, and its inherent insistence that the human race conveniently pair off into shiny happy (and hungry) couples every February 14th. (February, of all northern Hemisphere months! This is the pits of the winter, when the days are short, the nights are cold, and the Scandinavians are busy committing suicide. This is when relationships traditionally fall apart. Why don't the marketing people just move Valentine's Day to the middle of August?)
And then there's the issue of Champagne. I like the stuff, I really do, but generally speaking, I'd sooner spend that hard-earned money on fine wine. Most champagne is insultingly over-priced and distressingly unsatisfying. And that's because, as the champagne houses know all too well, the majority of non-vintage bubblies either get watered down with orange juice for mimosas/bucks fizz, poured over fellow sportsmen's' heads in celebration or knocked back on Valentine's Day without comment for fear of offending one's generous other half. What motivation do these houses have for improving the taste if nobody's stopping to actually taste in the first place?
Jean Lallement. Gives small Champagne growers a big name
Here's your answer: the steadily growing number of small growers from Champagne opting to bypass the big houses and bottle and market their estate-grown grapes themselves. Not only are these champagnes more distinctive than those of the familiar brands, they're often also cheaper. Go to any semi-decent wine store and you'll see what I'm talking about: alongside Veuve-Cliquot, Mumm, Perrier-Jouet and the like, you will see other Champagnes from individual names. People like Nicolas Feuillate. Pierre Brigandat. Henri Billiot.
And this man: Jean Lallement. Operating out of the Grand Cru village of Verzenay, in the Montagne de Reims area of Champagne, Lallement produces two wines a Brut and a Brut Cuvée Reserve, each bottled as non-vintage, each comprising 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. Production is limited just 1700 cases a year, of which less than 10% are marked for the United States (those courtesy of renowned specialist importer Terry Theise). But the price is right: a bottle of the regular Lallement Brut was found for $30 in New Jersey and generously brought along to open up a recent dinner in New York.
And? It was a show-stopper. You certainly wouldn't have known this was Non-Vintage: the golden color and toasty, dry nose suggested some considerable bottle age. The flavors were cakey, doughy, honey-coated, leather-wrapped and almost gingerbread like, with good weight, full body, a serious or is that joyous? - fizz and a long, focused finish with some sweetness revealing itself right at the back end. This is the kind of champagne that refuses to be watered down with OJ, or wasted as trophy-winner's shampoo. It's the kind of champagne that stands up to all manner of fine food. It's the kind of champagnes that rivals wines of similar price as a drink of real class and complexity. It's the kind of champagne that will hopefully shake the major champagne houses in Reims and Epernay out of their lethargy. It's certainly the kind of champagne to give small growers a big name.
Oh, and it's a great way to get laid. Happy Valentine's.
MUSIC? Match this aphrodisiac with appropriately romantic music. From iJamming!'s February Hitlist, drink the Lallement alongside 'Fall In Love' by Tim Booth, 'Because Our Love Is Real' by Erasure, 'Because Of You' by Willie Hightower, and 'Stay With You' by Lemon Jelly. If you're recently jilted, crack open this heartbreaker of a bubbly anyway as you crank out Johnny Thunders' 'You Can't Put Your Arm Around A Memory.' Or The Slits' 'Love And Romance.' Or Graham Coxon's 'Bitter Sweet Bundle Of Misery.' Or just get like Miles in Sideways and take it to your local diner to spite the one you
(All these records and more reviewed here.)
We all know, instinctively, that we should boycott Awards Shows. Art is in the eye of the beholder, and for those who insist on placing a price on it anyway, there's always the validation that comes with the record charts, the box office, the bestseller lists and so on.
Still, even if we don't take the actual Awards too seriously, it's hard not to be suckered into the promise of the Ceremony. Which is why millions watched the Brits last night. Did any but the hardcore fans of any nominated band really care whether Keane or Franz Ferdinand or Scissor Sisters took this, that or the other award? No. Primarily, they just wanted to see a number of high-profile performances in close succession, along with the hope that one of the presenters or winners would swear, expose or otherwise embarrass themselves on national television. Fat chance on the latter: the show was broadcast 24 hours after the actual event. And I have no idea whether the performances were any cop either: The Brits have about as much of an impact in the States as an England-Holland friendly.
A few hours after The 25th Brits Awards took place in London, the first ever Plug Independent Music Awards were held at Webster Hall in New York. Plug is a contradiction in action: Independent music, to the extent such a term can be categorized, is not a pissing match. Those artists who make a conscious decision to record for (or return to) independent labels usually do so because they don't want to be embroiled in marketing campaigns or become slaves to sales figures. They just want to be able to make their music, play to their audience, and make enough money to keep the process rolling along another year. That said, everyone likes a little peer approval, and the Plugs pitched to that desire with the tag line "Plug is about the independent community coming together to recognize its own."
The nominees for Plug were selected by a small core group of industry insiders, but the actual votes were thrown open to the Internet public at large which raises suspicions of ballot-stuffing. Even an optimist like myself can't help but marvel that two of the five acts booked to perform at the Webster Hall show - RJD2 and Dillinger Escape Plan also won awards (for best DJ album and best metal album, respectively). Perhaps Plug just got lucky, in the same way The Grammys and The Brits also have a habit of conveniently booking for performances the same acts who end up winning the awards.
Fortunately, the event at Webster Hall was primarily a live performance celebration of diverse, 'independent' music, open to the public for $20 though primarily filled by young industry hipsters on the guest list. There was no podium, and no actual awards were handed out: even TV On The Radio, who won Album of The Year (?), and were in attendance, were not invited on stage to make fools of themselves. That was left to a particularly invigorated and occasionally annoying host who announced winners in-between the live sets with a welcome lack of self-consciousness and embarrassment. (You can access the list of winners here.)
RJD2 playing turntables and synth pads like Moonie on the drums...
Of the live sets, I missed Saul Williams, nominated for Best Hip-Hop Album. (That category was won by Madvillain). But I did make it to see RJD2's stunning display of turntablism. Those who think that DJing is a dying art (like myself) need to get out more (like myself): armed with four turntables, two mixers and a synth pad, the man christened Ramble Jon Krohn created a veritable avant-garde symphony, using his scratching techniques to mix in hallucinogenic sound effects on top of spy-breaks, mid-tempo dance grooves and the occasional old-fashioned hip-hop beat. Such was his work load that you could see him sweating even from the back of the hall, but such was his deftness that I could have sworn he was on backing tapes. After twenty minutes of astounding sounds, he brought on Defnitive Jux label mate Aesop Rock, part of a thriving school of underground rappers, who delivered his new single 'Fast Cars.' And no, it wasn't a Buzzcocks cover.
Sufjan Stevens: pretentious, perhaps. Beautiful, for certain.
Sufjan Stevens, whose Seven Swans was nominated for Album Of The Year, then performed two songs of angelic, delicate, and absurdly quiet acoustic music. Those who paid attention heard him introduce the second of these songs as 'Chicago'; given Stevens' declaration of intent to write an album about every State in America, one can only assume that he's following up 2003's Greetings From Michigan with an album set in Illinois. Sure, that's pretentious - but no more so than Conor Oberst releasing two Bright Eyes albums on the same day as if he's already Bruce Springsteen.
For those who came to rock, Ted Leo/Pharmacists appeared not a moment too soon. Ted Leo shows have been a bit like London's number 3 bus for me you wait forever and then three come along at once. At Bowery Ballroom in December, at the conclusion of a national tour, Leo could be forgiven for the occasional self-indulgence. At Rothko last month, the solo Leo floundered through forces beyond his control: a ludicrously late set and a broken amp. But confined and aided alike at Webster Hall by the short set length and a small stage space, Leo was a man possessed. He kept introductions to a minimum, rendered his usually eclectic choice of covers conspicuous by their absence and focused on a non-stop delivery of the 'hits': 'Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?', 'Me and Mia,' 'The High Party,' and the guitar-less conclusion of that vibrant "Yankee in Europe" essay, 'The Ballad Of The Sin Eater.' This is Ted Leo as I had always imagined him to be: focused, fierce, consumed, electric. And as a lesson in keeping sets short for maximum impact, it was invaluable.
Spot the American independents: Ted Leo/Pharamcists play no frills set at Plug Awards
Green Day get lost amidst the fireworks at The Brits. (Said with full recognition that I voted American Idiot ahead of Shake The Sheets as 2004 Album of the Year.)
Over in London, just a few hours earlier, performing live at The Brits, Green Day had presented the public face of American punk. But it's Ted Leo who represents the real American hardcore. He proclaims no desire to receive major label sponsorship or international awards, no eagerness to shill for the greater public at large. Passionate without being pretentious, prolific without stooping to mediocrity, and (overly?) literate in a culture that largely celebrates the cheap slogan, he is the absolute antithesis of Green Day's American Idiot. More than anyone who comes to mind amidst my musical milieu (and it's all the more welcome for his evident British influences: Strummer, Bragg, Costello, Lynott, Dammers, Weller and the like), Ted Leo represents the thriving State of American Independence.
Which makes it amusingly appropriate that, despite being nominated in three categories, Leo did not win a Plug Award. But then, as the plug web page notes, "It aint about the scans or the scrilla, its about the music. Its about the artists who inspire and the music that disrupts the artistic and corporate mediocrity that dominates our culture." In which case, Leo's a winner several times over.
"Artists and creative types are always wondering where their next check is coming from. Were a bit lazy, show disdain for authority and mediocrity, and are incapable of showing up anywhere on time. That, in and of itself, makes us bad employees."
Dan Martino, NY Press club correspondent aka Soulstatik, explains, on his web site, why some of us never "got" full time jobs. (And why my WebFriends Day is a day late this week!)
'In the circular universe we inhabit, it may turn out that chardonnay will be the new chardonnay, given that many (most?) people still don't realise it is the Chablis grape (not a problem) and some who think it's a fitting name for their baby girl (big problem). "Chablis - the new chardonnay", the experts will urge. Daughters will be called Chablis - "She's a bit like Chardonnay, but slimmer and with more finesse."'
IJamming! Pub member Zak explains on his beerboy site why Viognier will never be the new Chardonnay. (And thank the Lords for that!)
"You are no doubt aware of the widespread popularity of historical re-enactment societies, you may also be aware of moves to re-enact more recent events in history. The London Riot Re-enactment Society was inspired by the idea that we can re-enact not the distant past, but events that we remember and may actually have taken part in."
The London Riot En-enactment Society explains why it should not be taken seriously. Anyone want to start a New York chapter and re-enact the Draft Riots? On second thoughts, having read in some detail about that highly embarrassing incident in New York's otherwise harmonious existence, let's not
But we could riot against those greedy landlords around the world who force out the community's best and most interesting clubs to make way for high-rise apartments and government offices...
"Our lease will be ending at the end of this month on Ludlow
Street. We are looking for a new building, but so far we have not found a suitable new location. The building that we have been in for the last 10 years is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new luxury high rise."
The Luna Lounge closes its doors at the end of this month. About a decade ago, Luna opened on a Lower East Side street that was considered both unsafe and unsound, with the then novel concept of having a bar, with a back room for live music by local bands, with NO ADMISSION FEE. Hundreds flocked, imitators spawned everywhere, and Ludlow Street turned into a weekend zoo for the B&T frat crowds. Aren't the greatest ideas always the most simple? Luna will be sorely missed by the thousands of bands whose friends are too cheap to pay a cover charge. Owner Rob Sacher will no doubt stay busy with his free, online staton Indie-Pop Radio. This month: listen to (and tape?) the new Interpol album Antics in its entirity, and decide which side you're on: God or Dog?
"Our rent has doubled since 1998, our insurance costs have tripled, weve been robbed, and weve been plagued by the expense of maintaining a building in ill repair including the collapse of our main sewer line.
Any of these things would be challenging on their own but together theyve taken a more serious toll and we are now facing the threat of eviction."
Another Lower East Side club, Tonic, is in grave danger of closing its doors for good. It needs to raise $100,000 in the next few weeks. That's a LOT of money. But anyone who's ever been to Tonic and experienced iits VERY downtown mix of jazz, hip-hop, avant-garde rock, poetry and other literary ventures will know that this is the kind of venue that enables New York(ers) to thrive. Do we want to live in a the greatest city on earth or merely the biggest suburb on earth?
"We hereby disclose that on 16 April 2005 Tresor Club will celebrate the last party in its Leipzigerstrasse location.
The property landlord Bauwert Development Delta GmbH & Co. has amiably allowed this last extended time limit. After that an office structure for the Volksfürsorge will be constructed on the premises."
Legendary Berlin club Tresor is also forced to shutter. Anyone who knows the first thing about techno should know the name Tresor if not as the hardest of hardcore Berlin venues, then for its compilations in the early 1990s and subsequent single releases. I visited Tresor just the once following the Berlin Love Parade in 2000. It was one of the most cosmic experiences of my life. Seriously. And emerging from that venue in daylight to find that I had been dancing all night in the heart of the new Government district, with Ministries all around (and remains of the Berlin wall alongside) was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had. It was like coming out of a night club on Whitehall. Or Pennsylvania Avenue. Tresor, which was born in the post-Wall free-for-all, knew it could not last for ever in such a precious location. Still, it too will be missed.
Ever wondered about the chord pattern that opens Pinball Wizard? Ever pondered how to play Blue Red and Grey on the ukelele? Ever wondered what the hell John Entwistle was doing on The Real Me?
BUY THE SHEET MUSIC! But if you're too cheap for that, visit TheWho.net's Who tabs. They've got the lot.
Ever wanted to play drums like Keith Moon? Quit dreaming! Still, Simon Phillips wrote the introduction to Mick Berry and Jason Gianni's The Drummer's Bible, and as Simon came relatively close to playing drums like Keith Moon, the book must be on to something. It includes sections and tablatures on all styles of drumming from Funk to hard Rock to
Drum & Bass. Not to quibble, as I haven't seen the relevant section, but most drum and bass is not actually played on the drums. (Or the bass.)
"I hear a voice I had long presumed M.I.A. - Pope's. His voice is clear and deliberate. "One last time, one last caper, a big one." "No, I'm retired, ...." .! ARE YOU SAYING 'NO' !!?"
The call ended as abruptly as my world. Even through my fogged-up, fucked-up haze I knew I had barely an hour to gather my peasant possessions and flee. Forty three minutes later I opened my door to seek sanctuary....and realised that my timing was as fatally flawed as ever...Pope stood, menacing as a rabid raccoon, on the threshold. He brandished his Gibson like a cutlass, a flurry of lyrics grasped in the other hand, a head full of as yet unrealised tunes in his head.... ........ ....... .................NO?'
. "WHAT DO YER MEAN 'NO'?!! "
Buddy Ascott, former drummer with much-maligned mod-revival-era greats The Chords, explains how he came to be commandeered by the group's former guitarist and songwriter Chris Pope for a new album recently finished at Pat Collier's studio.
Chris writes to me
"It's taken us bleedin' ages to finish ( 25 years to be exact) .. full- time jobs !! .. self-financed .. !! .. any other excuses...!!!"
Believe me, I know the feeling!
The Village Voice publishes its annual Pazz and Jop Poll today. It's culled from the Top 10 Lists of 793 supposed "critics," myself among them, each of whom distributes 100 points amongst his/her Top 10 Albums of the Year. It's certainly the largest annual writers' poll in America, and is therefore considered the most authoritative.
Here's the Top 10 Albums:
1 Kanye West The College Dropout
2 Brian Wilson SmiLE
3 Loretta Lynn Van Lear Rose
4 Franz Ferdinand Franz Ferdinand
5 Green Day American Idiot
6 Arcade Fire Funeral
7 Streets A Grand Don't Come For Free
8 U2 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
9 Modest Mouse Good News for People Who Love Bad News
10 Danger Mouse The Grey Album
And here's my Top 10, followed in each case by the points I awarded that album out of a possible 100, and then its overall position in the Poll.
1. THE FUTUREHEADS THE FUTUREHEADS - StarTime (20 points), 47
2. GREEN DAY - AMERICAN IDIOT - Reprise (13 points), 5
3. RADIO 4 - STEALING OF A NATION City Slang/Astralwerks (11 points), 948
4. CANDI STATON - CANDI STATON Honest Jon's (11 points), 187
5. FIERY FURNACES - BLUEBERRY BOAT - Rough Trade (10 points), 17
6. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS - ABATTOIR BLUES/LYRE OF ORPHEUS - Mute (8 points), 25
7. MORRISSEY - YOU ARE THE QUARRY - Sanctuary (9 points), 36
8. BRIAN WILSON PRESENTS SMILE - Nonesuch (7 points), 2
9 TIM BOOTH - BONE - Koch/MonkeyGod (6 points), 1715
10 THE SPONGEBOB SQUARE PANTS MOVIE: MUSIC FROM THE MOVIE AND MORE -Sire/WEA (5 points), 702
Regular readers will already have seen my list from when I posted it at the Site same time as I sent it to The Voice. I initially supplied the exact above list, then realized I'd missed out on The Streets' A Grand Don't Come For Free and Ted Leo/Pharmacists' Shake The Sheets, sent over an e-mail asking to have those two replace Tim Booth and the SpongeBob SquarePants soundtrack at the bottom of the chart, and got an immediate reply confirming that that would be done. Looks like it wasn't. But that's alright. As I wrote at the time, SpongeBob's producers and the many fine artists who took part in the soundtrack - know that we shouldn't take our music TOO seriously. It looks like The Streets did just fine without me; Ted Leo, with an extra five points from your truly, however, would have been in 49th place, rather than the equal 50th place he shares with Sufjan Stevens.
...But then he wouldn't be able to marvel at this synchronicity. The Plug Awards take place tonight, either accidentally or provocatively on the same day as the Pazz and Jop Poll gets published, and among the performers at Webster Hall are... Ted Leo and Sufjan Stevens. At least they'll have something to talk about with each other.
The Voice Poll is available online, all the way down to those albums that received votes from just the one critic
of which, I'm either proud or embarrassed to say, I managed to nominate two: Tim Booth, not surprisingly (and somewhat accidentally), and also Radio 4. This last one shocks me: am I really on my own with this act?
The most fun I have with the poll now we have this thing called the Internet and search engines within, is to check the ballots see how my friends (and non-friends) voted. This can be useful for when you meet with them at a gig or other event and want to bust their chops for their bad music taste. It also serves as an instant reminder that we can have some form of electronic voting in this country - and a paper trail to confirm our votes were counted. At this point in the 21st Century it's not exactly rocket science, is it?
The very most fun I had with the poll was logging on to its front page this morning and finding a Google ad for DC Young Republicans. Given the Voice's extremely pronounced left-wing stance (try some of the "critics" comments to see what I mean) and Google's supposedly superior algorhythms this is nothing short of hilarious.
It's spring cleaning time at the Fletcher household: the basement has become a veritable obstacle course of unkempt boxes and apart from the poor use of the space, it's obvious that treasured items are going to become damaged unless we get them organized. I spent the weekend going underground, retrieving all manner of artifacts, some of which I knew were worth more than others - emotionally, at least. Still, it was quite a heavy trip down memory lane last night when I opened a box that contained, among other things
a) The center page Fanzines spread from Sounds of 10 Sep, 1977, which inspired me to start Jamming! in the first place.
b) Letters from Paul Weller, Adam Ant and Tom Robinson from back when I first wrote to them all asking for interviews. (The Weller correspondence then continues over the years, as you might expect
c) The school notebook in which I kept a list of every show I attended from 1974 through 1981 neatly (some might say fastidiously) cross-referenced down to price of admission and the number of times I attended certain venues each year!
d) All the press cuttings I accrued during my teens but never got in to any scrapbook, let alone any order.
e) More Apocalypse cuttings and photos. (This one is kind of funny: we finally signed off on the artwork yesterday, only for me to find all manner of extra imagery last night. But just was well I left it too late: we've spent long enough on the CD reissue designs already!)
f) A school project about my background, including my deceased uncle's seven page typed interview with himself on growing up in the Shetland Islands, a fascinating piece of history that deserves a proper home.
You want more???
I could probably spend the rest of my life scanning this stuff in for the web site. And if I was a man of leisure, that's exactly what I'd do. For now, I hardly know where to start but it makes sense to do so at the beginning. As you can see below, this Sounds spread did not survive in one piece (though I particularly like that it's ripped and torn right through the cover of Ripped & Torn!), but it was painstakingly re-assembled through last night while the baby actually slept. I can't say that, without this feature in Sounds, Jamming! would never have existed: something else would surely have inspired me within the following couple of months. But still, this is the spark that lit the flame. Click on the image below to see it full size...
I'm interested what people want to see next. The letter from Paul Weller from summer 1978 inviting me down to the studio for an interview? The various letters from Tom Robinson explaining why he can't do an interview? The letter from Paul Weller slagging off Tom Robinson? The gig list, which confirms that I went to five shows in five nights the week of my 15th birthday! Or details of those Lyceum shows that we were recently discussing in The Pub? Or should I just get on and post another archived Jamming! Interview? Your call. And my response which will probably prove belated. The main task for now is to get this stuff better preserved while it's still in semi-decent shape.
Two quick observations about the above feature:
1) You'll note the piece is by Jon Savage, who went on to chronicle punk rock in the essential book England's Dreaming. Savage is also on record disparaging Jamming! for its professionalism. Sorry, Jon, it's all your fault in the first place!
2) You'll note the major image is of a fanzine called In The City. Anyone who's been to the Jamming! Magazine archives will have seen that the first issue of Jamming! was also called In The City. Quite how I managed to be so inspired by this Sounds piece as to start a fanzine only to name it after the fanzine that received the biggest profile in that piece is beyond me right now. Does seems very punk rock though! And anyway, it didn't stop The Chemical Brothers from calling themselves The Dust Brothers in open imitation of a west coast production team called
The Dust Brothers. Imitation, as they say
And talking of The Chemical Brothers you know me, I can segue out of anything! I was real pleased to see Push The Button (reviewed here) go straight to number one in last week's UK album charts. Proof positive that the British dance scene will continue to thrive as long as the music is good. But I was even more happy to see, in this week's chart, that the Lemon Jelly album '64-'95 (reviewed here) made it straight into the Top 20. I was starting to worry that I was alone in championing these cheeky British cut-and-paste merchants and their superb accompanying DVD and in the States, where interest in British dance music is at a low ebb, that may be the case. Fortunately, the Brits have rewarded Lemon Jelly for such an ambitious work of art with something called success.
This week's number 1 UK album is the new one by Athlete, Tourist. Yet to hear it but based on the quality of their live show at the V Festival last year, especially the two new songs they aired, I'm not surprised it's been received so well.
We start the week with a few capsule reviews to round out the January 25 Hitlist. The first three of these - each of which involves Damon Albarn, if only by his absence - were released in the UK some time last year, and held over in America, presumably to avoid getting lost in the End Of Year "crush." Given the depth of competition they faced during their week of release, that may prove to be a mistake especially as the week of January 25 also saw eagerly-anticipated and well-received albums by American acts Low, Bright Eyes and
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.
It says too much for iJamming!'s demographic (mine and the readers') that I didn't get to receive or review those latter American acts for the current Hitlist. Instead, it looks like we keep playing here to our strengths at this site and that includes some very interesting and educational responses over in the Pub to my Friday troll question, Why did The Smiths succeed in America where The Jam failed? Thanks to everyone who's posited their theory: collectively they seem to be forming an authoritative answer.
Also in the Pub: Which One Gig Do You Wish You'd Attended? It has to be something you haven't seen countless times on TV/Video/DVD....
And now back to the Present Day...
Does Coxon regret leaving Blur? He says not, but based on this solo album his fifth, and the first to sound like he means it - maybe his old band will be begging for his re-enlistment. Because, now that he's enlisted producer Stephen Street to help him leave his Lo-Fi imagein the dust, it's apparent that Coxon, as well as being a masterful guitarist, was Blur's core song-writer. On tracks like 'No Good Time' (a rightfully disdainful look at Hoxton hipsters and cocaine addicts) and 'Bitter Sweet Bundle Of Misery,' he not only writes like Blur at their best, he even sings like Damon Albarn. Life In Magazines has the occasional self-indulgency - and the U.S. bonus track 'Right To Pop' suggests that Coxon has never fully gotten over his fall from public idolatry - but it easily qualifies as the best Blur-like album since Coxon quit the band.
At least Damon Albarn has spread his future options way beyond Blur. The Candi Staton retrospective CD launched his Honest Jons reissue imprint in essential style; consider this compilation of Willie Hightower's career the male equivalent. (An interim Bettye Swann CD was less impressive.) In his Sixties heyday, Hightower was so evidently continually in thrall - vocally, lyrically and musically - to Sam Cooke, that he was not always viewed as his own man. Now that the decades have passed and we can hear the two artists side by side, it's clear that Hightower was a tall talent in his own right. His searing ballad 'Time Has Brought about A Change,' for example, should be viewed less as an imitation of Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' than a compliment/compliment. That single was released on Harlem entrepreneur Bobby Robinson's label Enjoy, (later the home to Grandmaster Flash and The Treacherous Three, believe it or not); following a stint on Capitol, Willie was bounced down to Muscle Shoals label Fame (home to Candi Staton, more plausibly), where, in 1969, he recorded a sterling version of Joe South's 'Walk A Mile In Your Shoes.' Those two and sixteen other (mostly self-composed) songs that make this album a Southern Soul essential and indicate that the Honest Jons label may just be carving out a niche as the 21st Century Kent.
Since launching her second comeback in 1995, Marianne Faithfull has released albums at a rate to shame those half her age, which means they won't, inevitably, all be corkers. Before The Poison was written largely by PJ Harvey, partially by Nick Cave and, in one place, by that musical everyman, Damon Albarn; each tries to tailor their talents to the singer's (Harvey and Cave producing their respective tracks), but none is able to extract a vocal performance to rival those on 1999's Vagabond Ways or 2002's Kissing Time. The peak comes mid-album, with Albarn's impressive ballad 'Last Song' leading into Harvey's emotionally deep, musically sincere 'No Child Of Mine.' Things don't stay so strong however, and the chorus to the penultimate 'Desperanto' is so patently a Bad Seeds composition that it sounds jarringly out of place - proof, perhaps, that a singer, however distinctive, is only as unique as the songs she's served.
Most discerning iJamming! readers will own these tracks already perhaps, like me, on the 'Blank Generation' CD from the venerable Rhino 9-CD 'DIY' box set of 1993. A few songs are dropped from that compilation, and two have been added: The Velvet Underground's 'Rock & Roll,' which serves as an apt introduction , and Johnny Thunders' solo cut 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory.' Neither quite qualifies as "punk," even by the loose standards of the New York scene, but they do pass as 'classics.' So too do the other dozen songs presented here, including 'X Offender' by Blondie, 'Cars & Girls' by The Dictators, 'See No Evil' by Television, the ever-jarring 'Cheree' by Suicide and 'Sonic Reducer' by The Dead Boys
Not to forget a truly punk classic by a certain band whose founding members have passed on to the Blitzkreig Bop in the sky. Where the Rhino DIY album put Wayne County's 'Max's Kansas City 1976' in the middle of its running order, New York Rocks holds it rightly until the end. Then you can hear Wayne (now Jayne) offering a marvelous snapshot of a magical moment in time, name-checking in just one prescient verse (among many), Blondie, Dee Dee Ramone, The Heartbreakers, the New York Dolls and his own Back Street Boys proving that you can't put your arms around a decent band name (unless you own the copyright), but you can be considered a "classic" long after boy bands have passed into irrelevance.