Sunday, September 08, 2013

Music Library: Robyn Hitchcock, Rock Plaza Central, Rocket From The Tombs, Clara Rockmore, Rockpile, Rodriguez, Roger Miller, Rokia Traoré, Roky Erickson

Robyn Hitchcock - Black Snake Diamond Röle (1981), I Often Dream Of Trains (1985), Element Of Light (with The Egyptians, 1986), Queen Elvis (with The Egyptians, 1989), Jewels For Sophia (1999), and Spooked (2004). Hitchcock is such a fun songwriter and performer that even the six albums I have seem like far too few. Black Snake has most of the Soft Boys performing on it, and it sounds much more like his work with them than the folkier music to come. Trains is a near-perfect album. Well, it's a perfectly silly album, too. The great thing about Hitchcock is his ability to be ridiculously silly and still quite serious in the same breath. Anyway, Trains is all acoustic and actually pretty moody for such a silly album. His work with the Egyptians added a backbeat and band atmosphere and 80s production, but the work continued to be silly and brilliant. Sophia, released 10 years later, is sharper than ever.  Spooked is acoustic with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings backing Hitchcock.

Rock Plaza Central - "We've Got A Lot To Be Glad For" and "My Children, Be Joyful." The former: yes. The latter: blurg. The former, in fact, is pushing the line on the preciousness, but the second skips past the line and makes me hate all stringed instruments and the sensitive white men who abuse them.

Rocket From The Tombs - The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs (1975) and Rocket Redux (2004). Lo, did the Cleveland proto-punk scene coalesce in the midst of the 1970s about a band known far and (mostly) near as The Rocket From The Tombs, which didst include such luminaries as Peter Laughner, Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome, Johnny Blitz, and one Crocus Behemoth, also known as David Thomas. And yea, did this band labor upon the Cleveland rock scene for a year and a day, and then it split asunder and there was born the Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. P-Ubu was a punk outfit besotted with the artistic and from their creations came much of the interesting music of punk. The Dead Boys were young, loud, and snotty, and from their machinations came one great album full of rage and immediacy, even all of these years later. The Rocket From The Tombs never made a proper album, but they kept their practice and live recordings, which no one wanted to hear until the 2000s, when their genius was then finally recognized by a few. And lo, did the remaining members of Rocket From The Tombs enlist Richard Lloyd and member of Pere Ubu to replace the original members who were then deceased and undertook a rather unlikely tour and recording process. For while the concert did rock, it put them in the unlikely position of basically covering themselves. But it happened, and it wasn't terrible so much as a little unnecessary.

Clara Rockmore - The Art of the Theremin (1977). Maestro of the theremin and the surprise star of the documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. These are all classical tracks played with depth unusual to the instrument.

Rockpile - Seconds of Pleasure (1980). The only proper release by the rockabilly/power pop band fronted by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe. Unsurprisingly, it's pretty great. This version throws the EP Dave Edmunds And Nick Lowe Sing The Everly Brothers on at the end along with a few live Graham Parker covers.

Rodriguez - Cold Fact (1970). Rodriguez has an interesting backstory as a forgotten musician who had no idea that his albums were huge successes in South Africa until his daughter found a website dedicated to him in the late 90s. The album itself is okay 70s pop-psych with a little bit of soul mixed in to my ears.

Roger Miller - "King Of The Road." One of the greatest songs of the classic country era.

Rokia Traoré - Bowmboï (2003). Afropop singer from Mali. I have almost no opinion on this.

Roky Erickson - Mine Mine Mind EP (1977), Roky Erickson And The Aliens (1980), The Evil One (Plus One) (released 1981), Never Say Goodbye (recorded 1971-1985), Roky Erickson and Evil Hook Wildlife E.T. (recorded 1986), Holiday Inn Tapes (1987), You're Gonna Miss Me: The Best Of Roky Erickson (released 1991), All That May Do My Rhyme (1995), I Have Always Been Here Before: The Roky Erickson Anthology (recorded 1965-95). Roky Erickson is one of the greatest songwriters of the rock era, but his mental illness, institutionalization, and complicated family situation have made his recorded output erratic, to say the least. His is a sad story of a sensitive man being failed by the authorities and well-meaning family and friends for many, many years before his brother Sumner finally normalized his life, and the documentary You're Gonna Miss Me captures the ups and many, many downs of his story in great detail. Being a Roky fan is not easy, though. His solo output has trickled out slowly, often on shady labels content to release crappy nth-generation recordings of a live show. It's been hard to find the good stuff. That said, there have fortunately been a number of fantastic compilations released to help the neophyte sort wheat from chaff. Both You're Gonna Miss Me: The Best of Roky Erickson and I Have Always Been Here Before are excellent jumping-off points, with the latter being so definitive that it may be all the mildly interested parties ever need. The former is all Roky, with later versions of some of his early songs, while the latter has the original Spades and 13th Floor Elevators tracks, along with some of the best recorded versions of his solo songs. From the studio work, Mine Mine Mind and Roky Erickson And The Aliens both feature fierce versions of Roky's Buddy Holly-influenced horror-rock songs. The Evil One has poorer sound and a live disc that spends way too long letting Roky ramble with a troubled mind. Never Say Goodbye is an acoustic affair includes some tracks that Roky recorded while institutionalized and some from later, and it is both sad and beautiful. The Evil Hook Wildlife E.T. album has spirited versions of Roky's songs, but again far too much of the rambling crazy-talk. When the album feels it necessary to rub people's faces in Roky's mental illness, it is exploiting him, and I'm not a fan of listening to a great artist being exploited. The Holiday Inn Tapes have so-so sound quality but several of the songs are astonishing. All That May Do My Rhyme mixes new songs with old and is a pretty promising return to form. I haven't heard his 2010 album with Okkervil River yet, but writing this review inspired me to add it to my must-get list.


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