Album Reviews

Emil Richards & The Microtonal Blues Band “Journey To Bliss” (Impulse!/ABC, 1968)

Sometimes you can judge a record by its cover. Check out Journey To Bliss by Emil Richards & The Microtonal Blues Band. Dig the Sanskrit font on the front cover, as well as the hypnotic patterns in the painting, and Richards wearing a beatific grin and a top native to India. The back cover features a Van Gogh-esque painting of a swami. And though it’s a Bob Thiele production bearing the Impulse! imprint, Journey To Bliss ain’t your father’s typical jazz record… unless your pop is Timothy Leary. This is a venerable jazz label trying to cash in with a psychsploitation elpee. It didn’t quite win over the kids, but heard over 50 years later, Journey To Bliss still has the power to charm.

Impulse! helpfully provides a list of all the instruments used by the Microtonal Blues Band (who include Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco; Richards was a well-connected LA session muso). It runs to 57 items. Some of the more obscure ones include flapamba, tumbeg, crotales, dharma bells, temple blocks, surrogate Kithara (a variation of a Harry Partch invention), and boobams. So there you go. Buckle up for a strange ride the likes of which you likely have never experienced, unless you’re familiar with the catalog of the aforementioned Partch.

“Maharimba” instantly launches into a jaunty jazz-exotica gait in 7/4, piquant percussion timbres flying everywhere; big ups to those tuned wastebaskets. This song could segue nicely out of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” even though it’s in a different time signature. “Bliss” proves that 11/4 is a very good time. It tumbles headlong into the titular state with an array of sublimely slapstick percussion timbres (22 tone xylophone and who knows what else). The peppy and peripatetic “Mantra” (in 5/4) unsurprisingly comes across like Brubeck meeting Partch at the cantina. “Enjoy, Enjoy” is a strangely undulating tune just rippling with extranjero percussion. Periodically you’ll hear Hagan Beggs narrating some mystical mumbo jumbo that was in vogue during the late ’60s over the music. This may be a deal-breaker for some, but I like the dude’s sense of wonder and sonorous delivery.

Side two is dominated by the 18-minute “Journey To Bliss,” and what an oneiric odyssey through intriguing paths of Eastern music it is. “There is a river running through me and sometimes I let it pull me in/it cradles me in its ever-so-gently rocking current and carries me along to bliss,” Beggs intones in a hypnotist’s cadence, not too different from Timothy Leary’s on Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out. It works well over the faux-gamelan ritual procession.

The final two parts of the six-part suite build to a tumultuous climax, with scorching sitar riffs and Rashied Ali-esque drum splatter—and loads of dissonant bell tones. If this is bliss, it’s a particularly hectic strain of it. Beggs proclaims, “My heart is the sun/My body is the universe/My soul iiiiiisssssssss” [cacophony engulfs everything] “Jai guru dev.” (Translation: Victory to the Greatness in you.) And scene.

Goodness gracious. It’s all too much… thankfully. -Buckley Mayfield

The Chambers Brothers “The Time Has Come” (Columbia, 1967)

The Chambers Brothers—who included four actual African-American brothers and, oddly, a white drummer named Brian Keenan who lived in England and Ireland as a child—are best known for their hit single “Time Has Come Today.” And rightly so. Recorded in 1966, released a year later, and covered many times since by artists as diverse as Joan Jett, Me’shell Ndegoecello, Smashing Pumpkins, Bootsy Collins, Pearl Jam, and Ramones, “Time Has Come Today” is a landmark in psychedelic rock—especially the full 11-minute version. But more about that later. The Time Has Come has many other great songs on it besides that monster tune.

The Chambers Brothers’ debut LP busts out of the gate fantastically with “All Strung Out Over You.” With its bobbing bass line worthy of Motown session immortal Bob Babbitt, a barrage of cowbell, handclaps, and rough soul belting, this is a full-tilt expression of romantic expression—certified dance-floor dynamite. It’s followed by “People Get Ready,” a faithful cover of the Impressions’ Curtis Mayfield’s gospelized ballad of political resistance, which was deemed by Martin Luther King as the unofficial anthem of Civil Rights movement. But coming right after “All Strung Out Over You” makes it a momentum-killer. Because it’s more moving than a mover, it would’ve fit better at side’s end.

With “I Can’t Stand It,” the Chambers Brothers fling us back into uptempo heart-/groin-throb action, a potent slice of Northern soul slathered with of harmonica and elevated by possessed backing vocals. Dozens of acts have covered Steve Cropper and Wilson Pickett’s Stax soul classic, “In The Midnight Hour,” and unfortunately the Chambers Brothers’ attempt is merely functional. Another cover that doesn’t play to the Chambers Brothers’ strengths is “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s popular 1965 sanguine ditty. I could easily live without this stodgy rendition. The album’s best cover is “Uptown,” which was written by Betty Mabry (aka funk goddess Betty Davis). This is a sleek, slithering soul gem full of diamond-hard guitar jabs and boisterous vocal interplay. It’s one of Betty’s greatest compositions.

The Chambers Brothers definitely saved the best for last: the aforementioned “Time Has Come Today.” Joseph and Willie Chambers wrote this masterpiece, which must have made Lester and George mad jealous. Everything about this track is fire: the tick-tocking cowbell, the rambling main guitar riff, the massed shouts of “TIME,” the lead vocal’s righteous sagacity, the bizarre bridge during which time slows and dilates to nightmarish dimensions, the delayed “TIME”s, the serpentine guitar solo, the build up to the first climax, the most audacious “OOOHHHH” in rock history, the line “my soul’s been psychedelicized,” the conclusive warped-guitar explosion. I could go on, but your eyes are already glazing over.

This song has special personal meaning, as it opened my ears to psychedelic music when I heard it on the radio as a 6 year old. I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since. Eternal gratitude to whichever radio programmer decided the country was ready for such an outré specimen of rock—and to the Chambers Brothers, too, of course. -Buckley Mayfield

Mandré “Mandré” (Motown, 1977)

Michael Andre Lewis, formerly of soul band Maxayn, reinvented himself in the mid ’70s as Mandré, a helmeted and masked synthesizer savant (Roland TB-808, among others) to whom Daft Punk paid homage (or “ripped off,” if we’re being honest) with their look and, to a degree, sound. His first album in this guise is a cult classic among smart club DJs. Bolstered by excellent musicians such as James Gadson (drums), Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and former Maxayn saxophonist Hank Redd, Mandré has become one of Motown Records’ greatest anomalies—and an influential blueprint for a lot of quality electro-funk and Detroit techno in the decades hence.

“Keep Tryin’” kicks off the album with brash, horn-ballasted space-funk made for seduction and gliding travel. Mandré’s not a very distinctive vocalist, but that’s not really an issue when the music’s this transportive… plus, he gets some women singers behind him to add luster. The LP reaches an early peak with “Solar Flight (Opus I).” A classy club classic that makes Barry White’s lush opuses sound modest, this pell-mell jam fools you into thinking you’re about 73 percent more sophisticated than you are. It’s a silver-dusted whirlwind of interstellar funk, geared to inspire roller-skaters on Neptune to move faster. Play it in a DJ set and watch the crowd go elegantly wild. (Interestingly, it briefly appeared as the theme for ABC’s Wide World Of Sports.)

Almost as great is “Third World Calling (Opus II),” whose ominous electro-funk features wonderfully squelching synth, flanged chikki-wah guitar, clavinet, and dreamily soulful vocals. Most importantly, Mandré’s trademark solarized synth vapors that make you feel as if you’re getting a spray tan in outer space. I get the sense that Prince loved the hell out of this track and tried to emulate it, but couldn’t quite master its menace. Thus ends a killer side 1.

Side 2 skews goofier and not as sublime as 1, but it definitely has its charms. Co-written by Watson, “Masked Music Man” is a snaky, slow-burning funk cut full of his eloquent ax action. Oddly, it recalls Dr. John’s voodoo-haunted classic Gris-Gris. As a show of gratitude to his label boss, Mandré interprets Berry Gordy’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” This paean to greed has been covered often, but not quite like how Mandré does it. He blows it out to an elastic, P-Funk jam that would make Bootsy Collins’ sunglasses levitate.

“Wonder What I’d Do,” aptly enough, is a languid love ballad not too different from Stevie Wonder’s ’70s work in the same vein. The LP’s shocker is “Dirty Love,” a cover of Frank Zappa’s lascivious funk-rock goof. Mandré is surprisingly well-suited for this snide lewdness. “Masked Marauder”—another Watson co-composition—flexes some broad, winking funk that ends the LP on a somewhat flat note. But what comes before is so damn good and ambitious, we can cut Mandré some slack. -Buckley Mayfield

Tangerine Dream “Phaedra” (Virgin, 1974)

A lot of smart people—and yours truly, too—think Phaedra represents peak Tangerine Dream. With a catalog as vast as this German electronic group’s, you’ll never get a consensus on said peak, but for this blog’s purpose, let’s go with Phaedra.

While I dig the four preceding Tangerine Dream opuses, it always seems like I need stronger drugs to truly understand what the hell’s going on with albums such as Electronic MeditationZeitAtem, and Alpha Centauri. Not so with Phaedra. It’s as if Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, and Peter Baumann clarified what the group does best and then magnified it to infinity.

The opening sidelong title track is a case in point. It’s a 17-minute masterstroke of oscillations, arpeggios, fibrillations, whooshes, woobs, whistles, and phantom choirs criss-crossing and intertwining across the firmament in dramatic arcs. Ever so subtly, Tangerine Dream’s three VCS 3 synth and Mellotron maestros modulate the sounds to optimize tension and release. I once played “Phaedra” in a large club where I was DJing, and it might’ve been the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like a god.

Side 2—which reputedly was accidentally mastered backward—isn’t quite as momentous, but it is great. The Froese composition “Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares” exudes an enigmatic orchestral grandeur—which explains why it was used in the 2018 film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Sounding like a harsh meteorological event transpiring in an aviary by the sea, “Mysterious Semblance” is pretty dang disorienting. “Movements Of A Visionary” offers a menagerie of tantalizing tones and timbres—icicle-tinkling, motorized twittering, Doppler effect arpeggios and drones, etc.—to which any sensible person would want to dose. Finally, Baumann’s piece “Sequent ‘C’” closes the record on an elegiac, haunting note.

Tangerine Dream would go on to do a lot more good work—Rubycon, Sorcerer, Thief, Exit, etc.—but none as stunning as Phaedra. -Buckley Mayfield

Land Of The Loops “Bundle Of Joy” (Up, 1996)

Seattle-based indie label Up Records put out some overlooked gems during its 1994-2008 run. One of the finest and quirkiest is Bundle Of Joy by Land Of The Loops (aka East Coast musician/producer Alan Sutherland). Deploying beats, bass lines, and synthy FX as well as guest singers and an array of samples, Land Of The Loops created a wonderful hybrid of bedroom indie-pop and hip-hop. Bundle Of Joy is probably Sutherland’s peak.

The aptly titled “Welcome” starts as a kooky collage, before some of the fattest, funkiest beats ever to appear on an Up release (is that Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat”?) enter the fray. These beats engage the delayed, dulcet vocals of Simone Ashby in a cagey duel in a cut as minimal as early Run-D.M.C. Ashby resurfaces on the phantasmal, disorienting “Burning Clutch (five-speed dub),” her vocals recalling the dreamy tenor of Dorothy Moskowitz of the United States Of America. What a heady trip.

Speaking of guest vocalists, Beat Happening’s Heather Lewis appears on “Growing Concern,” delivering her trademark child-like vocals over an easygoing funk charmer, bestowing a distinctly PNW innocence to the album. She also adds darling singing to the sparkling, stuttering funk of “My Head (leaks)” and to “Cruisin’ For Sentient Beings,” which is powered by a classic, urgent break (close to Skull Snaps’ “It’s A New Day,” but not it) that you’ve heard on at least a dozen hip-hop tracks. Nevertheless, the results are fresh.

More evidence of Sutherland’s kaleidoscopic vocal sampling trickery occurs on “Mass Ave. And Beyond,” on which he sprinkles enchanting bleeps and bloops over a starkly funky foundation, and “I Dream Of Ghosts,” which evokes the eerie, spacey dub of early Seefeel, thanks to the sampled angelic sighs. Perhaps LOTL’s best-known track, “Multi-Family Garage Sale (bargain-bin mix),” presents ludicrously bubbly and loping suburban funk with a staccato female vocal sample, snippets of children talking (“Don’t leave me”; Where are we anyway?” etc.), and beats not unlike those in George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” No wonder Miller licensed the track for a beer commercial. I bet Sutherland significantly upgraded his studio after this transaction.

Other highlights include “Help For Your Aching Back,” a swirling, psychedelic workout that might should be playing in hipper chiropractors’ offices, and “Day Late & A Dollar Short,” a fantastic sampladelic agglomeration of Buddhist monk chants, children jauntily singing, twangy guitar from the James Bond theme, archetypal sci-fi analog synth emissions, and very rugged, funky beats. Play this in a DJ set and watch people lose their shit—while looking befuddled.

Discogs prices for Bundle Of Joy have jumped up in recent years. It seems odd that no label’s reissued this wonky wonder since its first issue 23 years ago, but perhaps this review will nudge somebody into doing that. (Gotta dream big!) -Buckley Mayfield

Marva Whitney “It’s My Thing” (King, 1969)

It’s My Thing is the closest thing we’re ever going to get to a female-fronted James Brown album. The fact that it was cut in 1969 when the Godfather Of Soul and his crack band the JBs were absolutely on fire during one of their creative peaks means that It’s My Thing is an essential document of hard-hitting soul and funk and the occasional bravura ballad.

The album kicks off with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ über-funky and precise “It’s Your Thing,” buttressed by Whitney’s brazen vocal sass and the JBs’ ultra-tight funk churn and roaring horn surges. There’s a good reason this song’s been sampled over 70 times, including by Public Enemy, N.W.A., Ice Cube, and EPMD. “It’s My Thing” is so good, it needed a second part on this record. Speaking of oft-sampled tracks, “Unwind Yourself” has had its opening break sampled by the 45 King for the club smash “The 900 Number” and by Aphex Twin for “Taking Control,” among many others. This dance-floor heater struts with a massive swagger.

On the tight, punchy, and greasy R&B of “Things Got To Get Better (Get Together),” Whitney proves she’s an overwhelmingly passionate diva to whom you’d better bring your A+ game if you want a chance of getting together with her. In a similar vein, “What Kind Of Man” flexes classic, boisterous soul on which Whitney shows she’s the epitome of the assertive soul diva. “You Got To Have A Job (If You Don’t Work, You Can’t Eat)” is a paean to productivity and industriousness, with numerous extravagant shout-outs to Maceo Parker and it foreshadows the killer groove from Brown’s “Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing.”

Some anomalies include “In The Middle,” an extremely cool funk instrumental written by saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and Bud Hobgood that you wish were at least twice as long as it’s 2:45 and the heart-on-sleeve ballad “If You Love Me,” which is the only time I’ve heard a sitar on a James Brown production. The fleet and nimble “I’m Tired, I’m Tired, I’m Tired” is one of Brown’s most moving and eloquent compositions, a soulful condemnation of racism and a plea for racial justice. On the sentimental, strings-enhanced ballad “I’ll Work It Out,” Marva sings her huge heart out. She just lays it all out there, demonstrating that she’s damn near the equal of her mentor.

(It’s My Thing has been reissued several times over the decades, with the last legit-looking one coming from the UK label Soul Brother in 2015.) -Buckley Mayfield

Joe Walsh “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” (ABC-Dunhill, 1973)

After he left James Gang (great band!) and before he joined the Eagles (hugely popular band who are not my bag, though I like a few of their songs!), Joe Walsh cut a few albums with Barnstorm, including The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get, perhaps the guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist’s peak with that band—and the title that most resembles a line from a Firesign Theater routine.

The LP is distinguished by its opening track, “Rocky Mountain Way,” which reached #23 on the US singles chart in 1973. One of the most iconic guitar riffs of the ’70s—nay, of all time—kicks off this spaced-out, blues-rockin’ party tune. Yes, you’ve heard it 9 billion times, but its widescreen grandeur, crystalline crunch, and wonky, wah-wah-heavy solo refuse to pall, even after all that exposure. It’s a tough act to follow, but the rest of The Smoker… bears some low-key treasures.

“Wolf” is a spare, bleak ballad in the vein of Aerosmith’s “Season Of Wither” and some of Robin Trower’s ’70s output, generating some chilly melancholy. Written by keyboardist Rocke Grace, “Midnight Moodies” surprises with its elegant jazz-rock vibe, bolstered with piano, cowbell, and flute by drummer Joe Vitale. Another shockingly pleasant tangent comes courtesy of bassist Kenny Passarelli’s Caribbean-spiced rock cut “Happy Ways,” with its sprung rhythm and killer bass line. The song really blossoms into a rousing rocker during the choruses, bursting with “la la la”s and “na na na”s. It’s the feel-good non-hit of the record.

The second side of The Smoker… is more subdued and less interesting than the first side, but it has its moments. “Meadows” is tender, melodious rock with beefy-riffed power surges, while “Days Go By” (another Vitale composition) brings the sort of flute-augmented baroque rock that, oddly enough, sounds more like the Left Banke than anything else.

The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get is the sort of wildly popular major-label album that litters nearly every bargain bin in the country, but don’t underestimate it. It reveals Walsh and company’s instrumental depth and aptitude for emotionally resonant songwriting beyond of the radio staples for which they were known and loved by classic-rock radio programmers and the people mesmerized by them. -Buckley Mayfield

Klark Kent “Klark Kent” (I.R.S., 1980)

For a few years in the ’70s and ’80s, Stewart Copeland moonlighted from his main gig as drummer for new-wave/reggae mega stars the Police to cut some records under the alias Klark Kent. Some of them were super, man. The most substantial of them is this nine-track, 10-inch mini-album. An accomplished film composer (Rumble Fish, Wall Street, etc.), Copeland/Kent plays all of the instruments—drums, guitar, bass, piano, typewriter, kazoo—with bravura facility.

Opener “Don’t Care”—which was a top 50 single in the UK in 1978—originally was intended for the Police, but Sting reputedly couldn’t relate to the sneering, bratty lyrics. But the song triumphs with its insanely catchy, speedy new wave heat, its smooth propulsion, unpredictable dynamics, and sneering lyrics. It sounds as if it’s going to fly right off the grooves and smack your face. The yobbish reggae rock of “Away From Home” reveals Copeland’s voice as the album’s weak link; it’s a bit too proud of its gawky geekiness. As a singer, he makes a great drummer. But the track does boast a wonderful, curt, corkscrewed guitar solo.

“Ritch In A Ditch” [sic] is tensile, slightly quirky rock in the vein of early Police. The line “I wanna be rich/I don’t wanna work in a ditch” is funny because Copeland was likely well on his way to having a fat bank balance by this time. “Grandelinquent” is a slashing, skewed instrumental with a manic piano solo and wicked Snakefinger-/Fred Frith-esque guitar solo.

Things get really interesting on “Guerilla,” whose brilliant, proggy new wave moves are not too far away from what Robert Fripp was doing in the late ’70s/early ’80s. “My Old School” toggles between breakneck new wave and well-meaning Causcasoid reggae and is laced with revenge-fantasy lyrics. The song proves that Copeland is better at the former than the latter. The lean, swerving, Police-like rock of “Excess” comes replete with sizzling guitar solo and crucial cowbell accents as Copeland laments, “my excesses are getting the better of me/I’m ready to go home.”

Klark Kent peaks on the closer, “Theme For Kinetic Ritual.” Rhythmically brash and melodically heroic, this instrumental sounds like a score for the best sports TV show that’s never been aired. Seattle radio station KEXP used to use this track as a bed for its concert announcements, and it was perfect for stoking anticipation. I love to drop this one in DJ sets and then see the baffled look on people’s faces when they ask what it is. -Buckley Mayfield

Minoru Muraoka “Bamboo” (United Artists, 1970)

Recent years have seen several labels—Light In The Attic, Palto Flats, Jazzman, We Release Whatever The Fuck We Want, et al.—reissuing obscure gems from Japan. England’s great Mr Bongo imprint also has gotten into the act, most recently with jazz shakuhachi player Minoru Muraoka’s Bamboo coming out this summer. That’s a relief, as original copies of this idiosyncratic 1970 crate-digger’s classic go for hundreds of dollars.

Six of Bamboo‘s nine tracks are covers, and the quality varies among them. Jazz musicians covering Beatles songs was practically law in the ’60s and ’70s, but few artists have attempted to interpret the sentimental 1964 ballad “And I Love Her.” Minoru exoticizes the somewhat sappy melody and takes this middling cut from A Hard Day’s Night to a higher level. Similarly, Minoru does interesting things with the oft-covered folk ballad “The House Of The Rising Sun.” His is probably my favorite rendition—partially because there are no overbearing vocals, just four or five instruments burnishing a poignant melody that, it turns out, is ideal for the shakuhachi’s timbre.

Minoru also excels at archetypal lightweight mid-’60s pop such as Bacharach/David’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” and Tony Hatch’s “Call Me,” an EZ-listening standard made famous by Chris Montez and Petula Clark. Minoru transforms these overfamiliar melodies into something more touching through his serene blowing. The latter is the epitome of suave coolness in Minoru’s hands and mouth. These covers display Minoru’s instinct for tackling songs that have been frequently interpreted and injecting them with elements of distinctiveness. You can also hear this when he bathes Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” in a holy penumbra; it’s unbearably touching and somehow more powerful for not having a singer, even one as gifted as Art Garfunkel.

Perhaps Bamboo’s finest cover is that of Paul Desmond’s “Take Five.” It’s a fantastic version that illuminates and slightly accelerates Dave Brubeck’s famous, sprightly rendition. Like every song here, “Take Five” gains a sheen of freshness thanks to the airy coolness of the shakuhachi, a flute-like instrument popular in Japan. The unexpected robust and rapid drum solo three-fifths of the way in is a nice homage to Brubeck drummer Joe Morello.

Minoru’s originals rule, too. “Nogamigawa Funauta” is a gorgeous, courtly piece in which Minoru’s shakuhachi wafts and spirals into sacred space, twining around some phenomenal koto ornamentation. (The koto sounds like some magnificent compromise between a banjo and a harp.) “The Positive And The Negative” bears incredibly funky drum and bass breaks, which have made this track a holy grail for hip-hop producers. Lord have mercy, the beats are rotund on this one. Above the irrepressible grooves, shakuhachi and koto engage in a celestial dance, a mellifluous dream soundtrack. The other original, “Soul Bamboo,” sounds like one of the inspirations for DJ Shadow’s mystical-funk masterpiece, “What Does Your Soul Look Like?”

It’s so great to have Bamboo back in circulation at a reasonable price. Don’t sleep. -Buckley Mayfield

Pell Mell “Flow” (SST, 1991)

Before such a thing was facilitated by digital files, Pell Mell wrote songs by sending ideas on cassettes to members via snail mail. Once everyone in the scattered group—Robert Beerman (drums, guitar), Bill Owen (guitar), Steve Fisk (keyboards), Greg Freeman (bass, guitar), David Spalding (guitars) for Flow—had contributed to the track, they convened to finish it in a studio; in Flow‘s case Lowdown in San Francisco. Not that you need to know this method to appreciate Pell Mell’s sonic sorcery, but it does increase one’s admiration for the final product.

While their major-label debut, Interstate, is Pell Mell’s best-known full-length, Flow is their peak. There’s something poker-faced and quietly intense about Pell Mell’s music, even when they’re in swaggering, heroic, quasi-surf-rock mode, as on album-opener “American Eagle.” Sounding a bit like Contortions spin-off group the Raybeats, the song is a fitting tribute to the regal bird—or the clothing company, as the case may be. “Breach Of Promise” downshifts into a pensive brooder, revealing guitar tones of deep warmth and expressiveness, the melody so moving yet so minimal. “Bring On The China” boasts a chunky chugger, suggestive of industriousness and purposeful motion while “The Devil Bush” purveys wickedly torqued surf-rock, again evoking the Raybeats.

Smoke” is Flow‘s highlight, featuring the most psychedelic guitar tones, the most resonant bass line, the most sublime chord progressions, and the most dramatic dynamics. I don’t say this lightly: It’s one of the greatest songs of the ’90s… or maybe ever. Pretty bizarre that it’s never been licensed for a film. It’s followed by the LP’s second-most exciting track, “Aero.” This is ultimate driving music, a West Coast American motorik road-burner with crashing metallic percussion accents. “Flood” is the funkiest track here, flaunting an almost Madchester/baggy rhythm with crystalline guitar interplay, subtly menacing atmospheres, and a Tuvan throat singing sample.

Things become a bit less thrilling toward the end of Flow, but “Little Blue Dance” is a poignant meditation recalling some of Tom Verlaine’s solo work from the ’80s and ’90s while the valedictorian “Mopping Up” closes the record with a tune that oozes gorgeous resignation.

Because Flow came out on SST, its chances of getting reissued legitimately are slim, due to label boss Greg Ginn having some weird kink that involves not wanting to make money or please fans of great music. Let’s hope that one day Pell Mell can find the legal wherewithal to wrest their music from Ginn’s obstinate hands. -Buckley Mayfield

Norma Tanega “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” (New Voice, 1966)

Though she had a single that reached #22 on the charts in 1966 and wrote songs for British pop-soul diva Dusty Springfield (with whom she also had a long-term romantic relationship), Norma Tanega has remained an obscure cult figure. Call me an optimist, but I think that situation might be remedied by Real Gone Music’s recent green-vinyl reissue of Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog, a delightfully quirky folk-rock record that quickly charms its way into your heart—especially that chart-dwelling title track alluded to earlier. I mean, RGM only produced 1,000 copies, but maybe this review will tip the scales in Tanega’s favor. (HAHAHAHA.)

All kidding aside, you gotta love the moxie of opening your debut album with a song title “You’re Dead.” Tanega grabs you from the get-go with a matter-of-fact voice that’s somewhat flat yet alluring, like Bobbie Gentry (or indeed Springfield), with a lower timbre and less breathy flamboyancy… or like Buffy Sainte-Marie without the stentorian vibrato. Tanega’s music is urgent, stripped-down folk-rock that gives Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs’ songcraft a run for its trenchancy. “Treat Me Right” is upbeat folk with gospel-vocal call-and-response uplift. “Waves” and “Jubilation” form a diptych of feel-good, intimate anthems that celebrate coupledom, in waltz time.

The dramatic orchestral pop of “Don’t Touch” features a chorus paraphrasing that of Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” It should’ve been a hit! What did become a hit, “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” is simply one of the greatest songs of the ’60s, a lolloping melody that makes you want to tear off all of your clothes, wad ’em up, and throw ’em in the air. Mutedly euphoric, the song sounds like Martha & The Vandellas gone folk, and it reflects Tanega’s genius for surprising song structures and idiosyncratic harmonica tones. “A Street That Rhymes At Six A.M.” offers another Motown simulacrum, but in off-kilter folk mode. So damn fresh.

For variation, there’s “What Are We Craving?” (a stomping, martial tune with Nico-like vocals), “No Stranger Am I,” (an Astrud Gilberto-esque saudade folk tune in an odd time signature), and “Hey Girl” (a cover of the 1870s Appalachian folk standard “In The Pines,” which was made famous by Lead Belly… and then more famous by Nirvana and Mark Lanegan). Oddly, the album closes with its most conventional track, “I’m The Sky,” whose jaunty poppiness recalls the 5th Dimension.

Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog is one of the most welcome reissues of the year. The fact that the latest edition of it already has sold out bodes well for its rehabilitation. Now get to repressin’, Real Gone Music. -Buckley Mayfield

High Speed And The Afflicted Man “Get Stoned Ezy” (Bonk, 1982)

A self-described “hippie punk,” British guitarist/vocalist Steve Hall cut this cult classic during the waning days of post-punk’s zenith. It must’ve sounded extremely out of time in that milieu of severely angular and often funky rock that frequently agitated for leftist/progressive political causes. Here was an unabashed, heavy-as-fuck psych-rock beast built for reckless—if not wreckless—speed that practically made listeners grow mutton chops while it was playing. Its three long songs hit you with Hell’s Angels-on-a-tequila-bender brutality.

Get Stoned Ezy sounded nothing like, say, post-punk touchstones such as Joy Division, the Pop Group, or Raincoats. Unsurprisingly, High Speed And The Afflicted Man pretty much vanished without much fanfare… until the reissues started materializing in the 2010s. (Thanks, Guerssen!)

The six-minute title track sets the tone; it’s dominated by primitive, ram-rodding riff, fuzzed and metallicized and run right into the ground, till it hits the earth’s core. Hall boozily bellows about getting blunted with not much difficulty, his guitar sounding like Ron Asheton trying to blend Jimi Hendrix and Tony Iommi at their brashest.

Zip Ead” offers 14 minutes of slightly slower Neanderthal rock in which Hall’s guitar bleeds way outside the lines of decorum, like early Blue Cheer jamming with Japanese speed freaks High Rise. It’s another exercise in repetition as redemption, the road of excess leading to the chalice of (six-string) jizzdom [sic].

The 12-minute “Sun Sun” is a burly, fuzzed-out mantra that pummels its way into the delirious jam-band zone where Hapshash And The Coloured Coat, Ya Ho Wa 13, and Magic Hour dwell. Let us take a moment to praise bassist Paul Mason and drummer Billy Frater, who get the motherfuckin’ job done with minimal fuss. They’re the rock-solid foundation beneath Hall’s flagrant guitar wankery. And no, that is not a diss in my book, if the person musically masturbating has talent and cunning. Hall has just enough of those things to make his caveman rock punch above its weight. -Buckley Mayfield