Rock

Nazz “Nazz” (SGC, 1968)

Look at that cover—four heads floating in inky darkness—and try to distinguish the individuals, besides leader Todd Rundgren. Damn near impossible. That’s because Nazz were going for a unified look in haircuts, clothes, and, it seems, even facial features. This Philadelphia quartet basically started in the mid ’60s as a boy band geared for the teen-pandering rags of the time. But the songs on their debut LP were anything but LCD fluff. On the contrary, Nazz is chockablock with stunners of varying styles. Right here, the 19-year-old Todd established his prodigy bona fides with some of the most dazzling work of his long and idiosyncratic career.

Rundgren’s genius smacks you upside the noggin from the first seconds of lead-off song “Open My Eyes.” When I first heard this on the radio as a teenager, I was in a hypnagogic state; I thought it was a cover version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” whose weird, supercharged energy had sent the song whirling off its axis. It’s simply one of the most exciting specimens of garage-psych ever waxed. The swerving rhythm, the mind-melting bass and guitar riffs careening around the bend, the handclaps, the cymbal splashes, the flanged vocals on “eyes” and “mind,” Rundgren’s sizzling guitar solo—it’s all too much, and yet you never want it to end. If Nazz had only recorded “Open My Eyes,” they’d still be all-time legends. And yet it only peaked at #112 in the singles chart. I’ve heard this song over 100 times, and each new listen turns me into a hyper ball of hyperbolics.

Despite such a blazing start, the album’s remaining tracks don’t at all seem anti-climactic. I think people underestimate how heavy Nazz were, because “Back Of Your Mind” finds them crafting hooky hard rock with a proto-grunge riff that Mudhoney surely lifted over 20 years later… and about which Blue Cheer must’ve felt jealous in real time, assuming they heard it. Another case in point is “Wildwood Blues,” a proto-glam strut that overtakes the titular blues, like some strange melding of Cream with prime-time Slade, years before the latter rose to prominence. I can imagine the freakout crescendo coda making a young Tony Iommi shout “Cor blimey!” Nazz‘s third-best song on the album, “She’s Goin’ Down,” is another proto-grunge adrenaline-burner with a killer chorus that foreshadows power-poppers Shoes. The action packed into its five minutes is off the charts (literally): wicked zig-zagging dynamics, freewheeling guitar solo, flowery and fiery prog keyboard action, euphoric vocal harmonies, Blue Cheer-like guitar/bass detonation, and a robust drum solo, to boot. The second-best song here, “When I Get My Plane,” aptly soars during the chorus, with the word “plane” extended and falsetto’d to dazzling effect. The dynamics are ingenious, with the build up to the chorus perfectly engineered for optimal vertiginous splendor. Plus, the “ba ba ba”s and “la la la”s are to die for.

Of course, Nazz had a tender, mellower side, too, as anyone who’s heard their most popular single, “Hello It’s Me,” knows. “See What You Can Be” offers complexly harmonic pop that could segue relatively smoothly with a Mamas & The Papas or Turtles deep cut, while “If That’s The Way You Feel” is a sumptuous ballad that strives for a Left Banke baroqueness, but isn’t quite as melodically inviting or subtle as that group. The strings bear a harshness and overbearing desire to knock you out with emotion, although the vocal lead and harmonies are luscious. As for “Hello It’s Me,” I prefer this version over the lusher, more MOR-radio-friendly one Todd issued on his 1972 solo album, Something/Anything? Nazz’s rendition is a lovely, spare ballad bolstered by Rundgren’s crucial vibraphone accents, gorgeous vocal layering, and heart-melting sincerity. “It’s important to me to know that you know you are free/’Cause I’d never want to make you change for me” is a pretty mature and reasonable sentiment for a 19-year-old male songwriter.

In his liner notes, Jon Landau observed, “To listen to the Nazz is to understand immediately what rock and roll is all about. There is an exhilaration and joyfulness to what they are doing which expresses completely the attitude that rock has always sought to express. They play with such finesse and solidity, it amazes me that anything can be so simple yet so complex at one and the same time.” I don’t often agree with a Rolling Stone writer, but Landau nailed it. -Buckley Mayfield

High Rise “High Rise II” (PSF, 1986)

Japan has produced a fair number of musical units who go to sonic extremes that you rarely hear in the West. To name just a handful, Merzbow, Massona, Boredoms, Fumiya Tanaka, and even Teengenerate boast catalogs that often make their Anglo-American counterparts seem a tad restrained. High Rise, too, occupy a lofty place in the pantheon of tinnitus-inducing terrorizers from the Land Of The Rising Sun. Their sophomore full-length, II, pushes rock to a precipice of oblivion where few have gone, straining song form to near-bursting point and going so far into the red that they push the needle into oxblood on the VU meter. It’s a helluva thing.

The 53-second opener “Cycle Goddess” offers a revved-up, raucous appetizer to tip you off to the ramalama banquet ahead. The next song, “Turn You Cry,” could almost be an early Ramones or Clash tune; this is what passes for a radio song in High Rise land. Bassist Asahito Nanjo’s vulnerable, slightly reverbed vocal gets buried beneath a squealing, pummeling rock avalanche that sounds like guitarist Munehiro Narita has two more axmeisters supplementing his barbed-wire wall of rococo squealing and metallic sheets of clangor. Dr. Euro’s wrecking ball drums miraculously punch their way through the ultra-thick guitar/bass lava flow. Hard to believe only three humans are creating this monstrous sound.

The dense, adrenalized rock of “Cotton Top” roils in the tradition of MC5’s “Black To Comm,” Spacemen 3’s “Revolution,” the Stooges’ “L.A. Blues,” and Blue Cheer’s “Parchment Farm.” Rolling and tumbling relentlessly toward a termination station, “Cotton Top” is noisy hard rock distilled to a lethal essence. You know the drill, but you’ve never felt it this hard and this intensely. “Last Rites” ups the ante yet again, its bulging, aggressive rock making you feel as if you’re on top of the world, even as High Rise are intent on blowing it up. Narita proves himself a guitar guerrilla, spraying bullets and throwing flames in every direction at once, mowing down apathy and inertia with killer instincts. He crams in more ideas per minute than most guitarists do over a full LP.

Even though it’s over 13 minutes long, “Pop Sicle” is the album’s single, a quasi-’60s-style beat song that’s as hooky as anything on Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy and almost as blurred and riddled with feedback and fuzz. High Rise knew they’d hit on a seductive riff here, and they wring every last drop of psychedelic-groove juice out of it. “Pop Sicle” accelerates in the second half until your eyes are pinwheeling in their sockets and your ear drums are pulsating at 180 bpms. The song’s a psychedelic speed freak apotheosis and makes nearly everything else in the rock canon seem earthbound and moribund.

In 2018, Black Editions did a beautiful remixed and remastered vinyl reissue of II. Even that may be hard to score now, but you should put in the effort. Streaming is not the proper way to absorb High Rise’s shock tactics. -Buckley Mayfield

Love Battery “Dayglo” (Sub Pop, 1992)

Love Battery are the semi-forgotten men of Seattle’s early-’90s rock explosion. And that’s not right. Too psychedelic for grunge purists despite having Sub Pop’s imprimatur and too grunge-y for psych-rock purists despite cutting a righteous cover of Pink Floyd’s “Ibiza Bar,” Love Battery never caught on like some of their Emerald City brethren: Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, etc. But it was not for lack of quality songs and albums. Sometimes shit just doesn’t break for a band—even with major-label backing, which they received from PolyGram subsidiary Atlas after departing Sub Pop. (/sarcasm)

But Love Battery—who were named after a Buzzcocks song off 1978’s Another Music In A Different Kitchen, although they don’t really sound like that British pop-punk group—released at least one dynamite full-length: Dayglo. Now tragically out of print on both vinyl and CD (prices for the latter are outrageous), Dayglo holds its own with the strongest early-era Sub Pop releases: Bleach, Prison, Superfuzz Bigmuff, Pigeonhed, Severe Exposure, etc.

Right away on “Out Of Focus,” Love Battery establish the bossness of their twin-guitar attack, with Kevin Whitworth and Ron Nine’s radiant fuzz tones intertwining in perfect disharmony. The song moves with a juggernaut stateliness, exuding psychedelic vibes that sting rather than mollify. Nine’s exasperated vocals are like a less abrasive cousin to Kurt Cobain’s. He even had the Nirvana frontman’s blond hair, making Love Battery’s lack of commercial success seem like a cruel conspiracy. I mean, listen to “Foot,” with its speedy, surging rock geared to put said appendage to the pedal to the (heady) metal. More exhilarating than “Rusty Cage” and “Even Flow” combined, it should have been a hit, but maybe it was too exciting for radio. “Damaged” wows with a woozy slide guitar motif that leads into a riff/chord progression that alludes to Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine,” and the Whitworth/Nine guitar army proves it’s just as mighty as that of Mark Arm/Steve Turner.

Talk about a strong opening triptych. But then “See Your Mind” raises the bar even higher. It’s pure fucking adrenaline, mercurial, revved-up biker rock with liquid acid in its gas tank. The way Nine and the band sing “mind” here will blow yours. By contrast, “Side (With You)” is a massive, lurching power ballad on which Whitworth peels off a wonderfully serpentine solo. Things return to uptempo fireworks with “Cool School (Trane Of Thought),” a slamming, turbulent tribute to jazz and Beatniks that sounds closer to James Blood Ulmer playing Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” than to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or Charlie Parker, all of whom are name-checked on this bad boy. The vicious coda will flip your wig and then incinerate it. “Sometimes” and “23 Modern Stories” prove that even Love Battery’s ballads hit with a bludgeoning beauty and a slurring majesty. “Blonde” boasts fantastic, swerving dynamics and melismatic guitar riffs with horn-like tones. It’s a real tour de force of their dueling guitar alchemy. By album’s end, you realize why Dayglo is an apt title; because this record stood out from Seattle’s grunge status quo, soaring above its muddy jams purling in the garden of sound.

The main goal of this review is to spur a quality label to reissue Dayglo on a physical format, with liner notes, previously unseen photos, bonus tracks… the whole (Ron) Nine. It’s too good and important to be relegated to the streaming services. Jonathan Poneman, white courtesy telephone… -Buckley Mayfield

Nancy Sinatra “Boots” (Reprise, 1966)

It must’ve been great to be a young Nancy Sinatra. She had father Frank’s DNA, the gilded singer’s music-biz connections, and an easy in with his record label, Reprise. On the other hand, it must’ve been awful to be a young Nancy Sinatra. She had to perform in the shadow of the 20th century’s most celebrated vocalist, an entertainer whose accomplishments she could never come close to matching. And she was a woman trying to assert a degree of autonomy in an industry and an era not conducive for female artists to do so.

Despite all of those hindrances, Nancy Sinatra carved out a nice little niche for herself as a quasi-kitsch pop-cult icon who parlayed a brief but brilliant creative partnership with Lee Hazlewood into at least three all-time classic songs—two of which are “Some Velvet Morning” and “Sand.” Sinatra’s 1966 debut album contains the other tune and, woman oh woman, has she ever gotten a lot of mileage out of those walkin’ boots. More on that later.

With the wily composer/producer Hazlewood, Sinatra transitioned out of her bubblegum image into something more sophisticated. Her debut album, which peaked at #5 in the US, was produced by Hazlewood and arranged by Billy Strange. It starts unpromisingly with “As Tears Go By,” the Andrew Loog Oldham-Jagger-Richards ballad. Done as a bossa nova with persistent, mellow shakers and rimshots as percussion, “Tears” proves that lachrymose melancholy is not Nancy’s best mode, although she really nailed it with her interpretation of Dolly Parton’s “Down From Dover” on Nancy & Lee.

Day Tripper,” the first of two Beatles covers here, is Vegas-y but not annoying about it, with horns and women backing vocalists singing “ba da ba ba” in place of the famous guitar riff. The drums stomp like Motown’s Funk Brothers on steroids and I’m guessing Lee decided to sneak in the “Boots” bass line. When DJing, I like to follow this with Hazlewood’s “In Our Time,” which was his sly homage to “Day Tripper.” (Nancy did “In Our Time,” too, but with less pizzazz than Lee.) The other Beatles cut is “Run For Your Life.” Sinatra reverses genders on Lennon’s problematic, stalker-ish rocker from Rubber Soul as the musicians give it a proto-Austin Powers-esque treatment: brash horn charts, swinging piano, twanging guitar. Sinatra emphasizes every “little boy” with withering disdain, and that took ovaries at a time when the Beatles were indisputable gods.

The second best Hazlewood song on the record, “I Move Around” is one of Lee’s, uh, most moving songs. The backing “ooh”s and “ah”s are to swoon for and though the expensive session-player sheen that glazes these songs suggests a desire to win over mid-’60s squares, it can’t dim the song’s poignancy. Lee’s “So Long, Babe” is swanky country rock with a deceptive middle finger raised. You can imagine Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval drawing deep inspiration from this. A cover of the Knickerbockers’ sassy Nuggets standard “Lies” fits snugly in Sinatra’s wheelhouse, with its wronged romantic partner perspective. However, the backing vocals verge on Chipmunks-level hilarity.

And now for “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” Reviewing this song is like critiquing Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In logo or Johnny Carson’s nicotine chuckle or Richard Nixon’s jowls. It’s so ingrained in American Boomer consciousness that describing it seems superfluous—and that’s exactly why I’m writing about it. It’s music that makes the lizard brain wiggle, thanks largely to that descending, twangy double-bass line. “Boots” is perhaps the most seductive anthem of vengeance ever penned, and Sinatra owns it, her take-no-shit, deadpan delivery a distaff simulacrum of Hazlewood’s. The “Boots” single deservedly sold over a million copies.

Interestingly, the original plan was for Hazlewood to release “Boots” himself, but Sinatra suggested that she sing it to change the power dynamic to a vengeful woman, which at the time had a more radical charge than vice versa. She was so right. (Lee later did it, too, because those expensive vices of his weren’t going to pay for themselves.) “Boots” has been covered dozens of times, including by the Supremes, Megadeth, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Crispin Glover. And just by reading the title, you’ll have the song stuck in your head for hours. You’re welcome.

Light In The Attic Records recently kicked off a Nancy Sinatra reissue campaign by releasing the great 2xLP comp, Start Walkin’ 1965-1976. -Buckley Mayfield

Loop “The World In Your Eyes” (Head, 1987)

Loop’s heyday was brief (1987-1990), but it burned intensely. Over three studio albums, 11 singles and EPs, and a few compilations, the British group—who were named after an obscure Velvet Underground track—combined the best qualities of indomitable rock icons the Stooges and Hawkwind. (Many listeners and critics in the ’80s accused Loop of ripping off Spacemen 3, but the latter were such blatant emulators of older rock legends that the claim strikes me as absurd. Both Loop and Spacemen 3 siphoned inspiration from similar unimpeachable sources and possessed similar sonic aesthetics, so no wonder their music bore close resemblances. It was not at all hard for me to embrace both artists with conflict-free gusto.)

Why am I reviewing The World In Your Eyes—a comp of early singles that later grew to an odds-and-ends triple CD release in 2009—instead of a studio album proper? Because it most impressively represents Loop’s strengths and range and it contains my favorite track by them: “Burning World.” They are the rare band whose every release is worth copping, though, so if you see anything bearing that wavy Loop logo, grab it.

The World In Your Eyes begins with Loop’s weakest track, “16 Dreams,” whose linear, fuzz-and-grind guitar/bass attack (Suicide-al throb transposed to Neanderthal rock dynamics) is the closest they came to the C86 indie-rock aesthetic that still lingered in Britain then. John Wills—who later formed the sporadically great Hair And Skin Trading Co. with Loop bassist Neil Mackay—brings the boxiest drum sound ever, and it’s not right (Stooges reference intended) for Loop. Better is “Head On”’s methodical, serpentine rock—on the prowl like Iggy’s younger, less confident brother. Bandleader Robert Hampson lets off a wonderfully elastic wah-wah guitar solo, but again, the 4-square beats sound as if they’re coming from a lethargic drum machine.

The aforementioned “Burning World” slows everything the fuck down to an opiated plod and piles stacks and stacks of delayed and phased guitars over tambourine-enhanced beats that clomp out a laggard tempo. Mackay’s bass line is sly seduction itself, bobbing elegantly eastward. The band leverage a lysergic, languorous whorl that rhymes perfectly with Opal’s “Soul Giver.” Nine minutes is just a tease for the gilded eternity that this blissfully apocalyptic song betokens. Hard to follow that, but Loop made their cover of Suicide’s “Rocket USA” even more ominous than the original through the armada-of-wasps buzz that the guitars and bass generate. Hampson & co. were utterly in synch with Alan Vega and Martin Rev’s unstoppable monomania, so it was no surprise they took a stab at this song. (Side note: Loop had fantastic taste in covers: Can’s “Mother Sky,” Pop Group’s “Thief Of Fire,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” Godflesh’s “Like Rats”; you can hear ’em all on that triple-disc comp mentioned earlier.)

With “Spinning (Parts 1 & 2),” Loop really hit their primal-rocking stride. One guitar drones and one emits solar flare solos over the memorably buoyant bass line and brute, Klaus Dinger-esque Apache beat. Now they wanna be Iggy’s dogs. “Deep Hit” is the most Spacemen 3-like song here, a sexy, sloping head-nodder that induces total understanding of the raptures of heroin without ever having to inject it. I could wander pleasurably through all of eternity amid these shivering, fuzzed-out guitars that are funhouse-mirrored to heaven and back. “I’ll Take You There” is not the Staple Singers song, but rather a pinwheeling orb of caustic guitar radiation that hovers with malevolent intent. The insistent maracas action seems to be lifted from Steve Reich’s Four Organs, which I appreciate.

Brittle Head Girl” is essentially a tribute to Faust’s “Jennifer,” its see-sawing bass line and woozy guitar shimmy complementing Hampson’s earnest paean to a… brittle head girl. It was the closest Loop ever came to writing a pop song (even if “Black Sun” was their “Black Hole Sun”), but dense, regressive radio programmers weren’t ready for such hushed sublimity.

As their name implies, Loop were all about the trance-inducing power of repetition. They blew out the minimalist exoskeletons of their songs to firmament-filling dimensions, troweling on the guitar effects, generating the most brutal yet mind-expanding textures, and Moebius-stripping themselves—and you—into deep, asteroidal space. -Buckley Mayfield

Meat Puppets “Up On The Sun” (SST, 1985)

Kurt Cobain’s favorite Meat Puppets album was II. Obviously. And it’s not hard to understand why Nirvana covered three songs off of it (“Plateau,” “Lake Of Fire,” and “Oh, Me”). Its combo of poignant, desert-fried mysticism and virtuoso, Tasmanian Devil punk packed a distinctive punch—especially for 1984. As great as II is, though, I like Meat Puppets’ follow-up even more.

When Up On The Sun tumbled off the SST Records conveyor belt of awesomeness in 1985, it hit fans like a solar flare. Curt Kirkwood (guitar), Cris Kirkwood (bass), and Derrick Bostrom (drums) had taken another great leap forward, leaving behind their punk roots for a bizarre agglomeration of psychedelia, country/bluegrass, and prog rock. I’m happy to report that Up On The Sun still blazes as hot as it did over 35 years ago. Either that or I’m stuck in my 23-year-old mindset. Anyway

The opening title track finds Curt in mellow stoner sage vocal mode (think Jerry Garcia crossed with Steve Miller) as the group slouch into a Grateful Dead-like, implied-funk amble. Then the buoyant chorus shocks you into a body-wide alertness, as if you’ve actually found yourself on the titular star. Helluva way to begin your best album. The intro to “Maiden’s Milk” barges in with a Zappa-esque motif of absurdly frilly prog-jazzitude, then the song shifts to a swift, Leo Kottke-esque bluegrass romp, with bonus chipper whistles. Here, we become aware that Curt switches into different styles and tones with an unparalleled, speedy nonchalance that would make Frank’s mustache curl with envy.

The album’s greatest achievement, “Away” recalls both the Police’s “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” and the Feelies’ “Away” (what are the odds?). There’s a faint undercurrent of swerving, Möbius-strip insistence in Curt’s guitar riff that speaks of Afrobeat knowledge, and the track feels as if it’s going to fly right out of the grooves into that fiery orb in the sky. The mercurial country funk of “Animal Kingdom” is awash with wonder about said domain, and the bridge features Cris’ bass mimicking noises of imaginary creatures. Nice!

Another highlight is “Swimming Ground,” which combines head-spinning country-rock euphoria and touching nostalgia for a childhood idyll. It’s as if the Puppets spiked the concept of “Americana” with the strongest amphetamines and LSD—both of which it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine the band consuming in those heady days. “Buckethead” is not a tribute to the Guns N’ Roses guitarist, as he didn’t hit public consciousness till the early ’90s, but the fleet, fluttering filigrees Curt peels off here would surely make him doff his KFC container in respect. The song sounds as if Fear Of Music-era Talking Heads had lost their uptightness and put pedal to the metal. It gives quirkiness a good name.

Up On The Sun‘s remaining five songs offer nonstop excitement. “Enchanted Porkfist” is a clunky pun, but this fast and furious instrumental zooms and curlicues like an American Southwestern Gentle Giant. It’s a new breed of prog rock in which unpredictable tempo changes and virtuosity sound as natural as getting a sunburn in Arizona, Meat Puppets’ home base. Throughout, Curt flaunts superhuman reflexes yet an unbelievably gentle touch that enables him to generate riffs that zip by at an astonishing clip while also sounding velvety, twinkly, and pliable—it really is miraculous, like the Dead’s “Dark Star” at 78rpm. “Creator” abounds with Curt’s faux-wise gobbledygook about deities—which is just as valid as any “good book”’s gobbledygook, and it boasts the advantage of rocking way harder than the Bible or Koran.

Every Meat Puppets release after Up On The Sun receded farther away from its unprecedented incandescence, and that’s okay. Cobain and company knew that trying cover anything on it would be a fool’s errand, because the songs here are too dauntingly sui generis. You have to know your limitations. -Buckley Mayfield

Brute Force “Brute Force” (Embryo, 1970)

People of dubious maturity levels like to ridicule Herbie Mann for posing shirtless and exposing his man pelt on the cover of his very good bargain-bin LP Push Push. But listen up: Besides being a savvy musician with a keen ear for prevailing trends, Mr. Mann flaunted sharp A&R acumen for the Atlantic Records subsidiary Embryo in the early ’70s. (Oh, by the way, the flautist also released at least six great albums as a bandleader—which is six more than the mooks who mock him have made.)

Anyway, one case in point for Herbie’s acute scouting skills are Yellow Springs, Ohio’s finest, Brute Force, a sextet whose best-known member was Sonny Sharrock… who guested on some of Mann’s own records. Now that I have your attention, let’s discuss why you need this overlooked album by this obscure group.

Produced by the Herbster himself, Brute Force immediately busts out of the gate like a thoroughbred with its ass on fire. “Do It Right Now” is a rock-and-soul “seize the day” anthem with bandleader Richard Daniel’s vocals swathing heads in warmth in the mellow-vibrant vein of Terry Collier and Lou Bond. Sharrock’s fiery guitar filigree really launches this song skyward. The anti-conformity song “Some Kind Of Approval” bubbles somewhere between early-’70s Curtis Mayfield and Stark Reality. Daniel gets off a sublime keyboard solo and Sharrock adds zonked guitar roughage for this soul-jazz gem that’ll raise your spirits and heart rate.

The Deacon” rambles soulfully like peak Booker T. & The MGs, with its rapid conga slaps and peppy horns making me want to watch NFL highlights from the ’70s. “Right Direction” moves in said place, and you’ll want to shoot its euphoric Latin rock into your veins—percolating congas, sweeping horns, and Daniel’s vocal flights of unstoppable positivity and all. On “Monster,” an incredibly cool bass and conga intro leads into an uptempo horn-rock jam with guitar fibrillations stroked from the instrument’s nut. It sure sounds like Sharrock’s diabolical handiwork, although he’s not credited. Still, I’d bet your stimulus check that it is indeed Sonny shredding. The playing recalls his outré work on his and wife Linda’s Paradise LP. The song builds to an intensity and wildness that bear the Sharrockian stamp, so it can’t help being a highlight.

Speaking of which, “Ye-Le-Wa” is another one. 14.5 minutes of balletic free jazz that waxes and wanes with brassy verve, this track’s not unlike Pharoah Sanders‘ output of that same era, but with more of a grounding in out-rock protocols. Daniel’s soulful vocals may not match Leon Thomas’ high-flying yodelics from “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” but they’re certainly moving, even if they simply repeat the title. The record closes with “Doubt,” a tranquil, flute-enhanced comedown after the previous blowout. Strangely, it recalls the beautifully placid “Love Sketch” by Paul Revere & The Raiders side project Friendsound. Will wonders never cease?

So, whether you’re a Sonny Sharrock completist or someone who simply enjoys soul jazz that rocks with finesse and fiery interplay, you need Brute Force. Herbie Mann would never steer you wrong, shirt or no shirt. -Buckley Mayfield

David Crosby “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (Atlantic, 1971)

This major-label album has emerged through nearly five decades of fluctuating interest and apathy to become at once a bargain-bin staple and a cult favorite. You don’t see that happen very often. My used copy’s cover is torn and frayed as much as David Crosby’s life has been, and that ugly exterior somehow makes the music within the grooves seem that much more special.

If I Could Only Remember My Name arose in the aftermath of Crosby’s emotional devastation following the death of his girlfriend, Christine. The former Byrd was eight miles low when he entered the studio. Emotionally and artistically buoyed by friends in high places (and high friends in spaces), Croz manifested a record that was like a miraculous mirage of folk-rock jamming and heart-string-tugging lyrics.

Name might have been the greatest pity party ever thrown, and it proved that a dozen or so millionaire musicians can set aside their egos and create an enduring work of healing spirituality, in order to mend a damaged psyche. It’s also the rare LP that has influenced middling indie-rock artists such as Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens as well as delighted lovers of rarefied psychedelia.

It begins with “Music Is Love,” a pinnacle of hippie rock. The song rides an easygoing acoustic-guitar riff and hand percussion/handclap rhythm, bolstered by a simple, indisputable message/mantra: “Everybody’s saying music is love.” Everybody was saying no such thing back then or at any other time, but isn’t it lovely to think so? Through the pure beauty of the tune, though, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Written by Crosby, Graham Nash, and Neil Young, this tune must’ve made Stephen Stills very jealous.

Then comes the “Cowgirl In The Sand”-like “Cowboy Movie,” which sounds like a laid-back James Gang with its subtle, clipped funk undertow. Grateful Dead members dominate here, with Jerry Garcia on guitars, Mickey Hart on drums, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on tambourine. Over their Haight-Ashbury groove, Crosby relates a harrowing tall tale about an Indian woman who’s not what she seems. Not sure this track needs to be over eight minutes, but maybe the drugs were kicking in real nice when Croz and company cut it. “Tamalpais High (At About 3)” is a mellow, wee-hours CSN tune with gorgeous wordless vocal harmonies—a motif on Name. With Nash joining Croz on vocals, the song goes airborne thanks to Garcia and Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen unspooling liquid gold filigrees.

For a lot of people (maybe even me), “Laughing” is the LP’s peak. You have the goddess Joni Mitchell and Nash on silken backing vocals, Garcia getting glorious on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on bass, and Kreutzmann on drums. They all lock into synch for this languorous sigh of a song that’s like a more rhythmically easygoing version of “Cowboy Movie.” Think of it as the aural analogue to the LP cover, on which the descending sun glows above the ocean that’s superimposed over Crosby’s pensive stare. The album’s most menacing track, “What Are Their Names” starts with spare, “Dark Star”-esque intrigue, thanks to Garcia’s spindly, stellar picking. With Mitchell, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, and David Freiberg on backing vocals, Croz and the crew intone lyrics about the evil men who run the country/world. Timeless stuff, unfortunately. Bonus: Seattle resident and Santana star Michael Shrieve’s on drums.

The album’s final four songs are marked by some of the most beautiful and majestic vocal arrangements and performances of the ’70s. The traditional “Orleans” is a showcase for Crosby’s soaring choirboy voice and delicately gorgeous acoustic-guitar strumming. You can hear its profound influence on Fleet Foxes, for what that’s worth. This track bleeds seamlessly into “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here,” whose vocal origami of ancient-sounding majesty prefigures Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard. Yep.

There are fewer rougher bummers than losing a lover to death, obviously, but Crosby and his posse of West Coast all-stars turned the sourest lemon into the sweetest lemonade on If I Could Only Remember My Name. -Buckley Mayfield

Nancy Priddy “You’ve Come This Way Before” (Dot, 1968)

Nancy Priddy had a one-and-done solo career in music, but You’ve Come This Way Before stands as one of the best albums by an actor—perhaps a low bar, but still. (Priddy acted in TV shows such as Bewitched, Matlock, and The Waltons, and gave birth to another actor, Christina Applegate.)

Before she retired from music for good, though, Priddy racked up impressive credits with the great, grave folk singer/poet Leonard Cohen and synth master Mort Garson. For Cohen, Priddy sang backup on three tunes from his 1967 debut LP, Songs Of Leonard Cohen, including “Suzanne” and “So Long, Marianne.” With Garson, she flexed thespian prowess to recite astrological insights over Mort’s abstract Moog emissions for myriad Signs Of The Zodiac records. On the gossip tip, Priddy briefly dated Stephen Stills and inspired the Buffalo Springfield song “Pretty Girl Why.”

It was while working with NYC folk group the Bitter End Singers that Priddy met producer Phil Ramone, as well as arrangers Manny Albam and John Simon, all of whom would contribute considerable skills to You’ve Come This Way Before. The musicians are uncredited, but the internet reveals that Bernard Purdie mans the drumkit, and you can tell that’s true from the subtly funky beats on the album-opening title track. Whoever else is backing Priddy’s dulcet, coquettish singing, they’re a killer crew.

Now, most women making records in the ’60s didn’t have much autonomy with regard to songwriting, but Priddy pens every tune here, and the lyrics bear a poetic depth about the vagaries of romance and existence. They’re closer to Joni Mitchell, Bobbie Gentry, and Nico than to those of the evanescent pop stars of the time, e.g., “A chess game played by gods/In which there are no odds/A Master Plan directing man to something more/Our pathways are magnetic/Our logic is synthetic/Our struggle is so pathetic, and a bore.”

Those lyrics to “You’ve Come This Way Before” add luster to the hip, understatedly funky sunshine pop that spectacularly blossoms, thanks partially to the ever-resourceful Purdie. The arrangers whip up exquisite quiet/loud/quiet dynamics while Priddy expresses kittenish charm with sporadic forays into dulcet belting. She’s not quite Dusty Springfield or Bobbie Gentry, but Priddy’s a capable conveyor of subtle emotions.

If you dig orchestral pop à la Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Claude Vannier, you’ll love “Ebony Glass,” which achieves a majestic moroseness through harpsichord, violins, harps, and glockenspiel. “Mystic Lady”is an arty ballad with lush melodies, surprising, intricate vocal arrangements, and prog-like dynamics—a tour de force with soul. Named after the famous Andrew Wyeth painting, “Christina’s World” is as ornate and sweeping as the Left Banke, thanks to the arranging and conducting of Everett Gordon. The album’s most uptempo song, “My Friend Frank,” is almost as quirky as Lothar And The Hand People and as swinging as the United States Of America’s “Hard Coming Love.” Respect to whoever plays the madly swirling, spiritual organ solo.

Two of the LP’s highlights remind me of another late-’60s woman singer-songwriter who should’ve been much bigger: Margo Guryan (see my review of her Take A Picture album on this blog). “We Could Have It All”’s towering feel-good pop also recalls the 5th Dimension and it makes you feel as if you’re soaring to your final reward. Another should’ve been hit, “On The Other Side Of The River,” offers nonstop excitement, hip-swiveling rhythms, and melodic sweetness, much like Guryan’s “Love,” which is highest praise.

Modern Harmonic reissued You’ve Come This Way Before on vinyl in 2020 and the UK label Rev-Ola re-released it on CD in 2005. Grip this jewel before it slips out of print again. -Buckley Mayfield

Harvey Mandel “The Snake” (Janus, 1972)

The fact that you often see Harvey Mandel’s albums in the used bins is yet more proof that the world’s full of fools. The Detroit-born blues-rock musician is a guitarist’s guitarist who played with some of the best blues-rock musicians of the ’60s (Canned Heat, John Mayall, Charlie Musselwhite) and was thisclose to joining the Rolling Stones. You can hear Mandel auditioning for the slot given to Ron Wood on 1976’s Black And Blue, on which Harv knocked it out of the park on “Hot Stuff” and “Memory Motel.” I can’t be the only one who thought Mick and Keef blundered with their pick (pun intended).

Anyway, Mandel’s string of albums from the late ’60s to the mid ’70s is strong, with The Snake being its peak. Right from go, “The Divining Rod” alerts you to Mandel’s six-string mastery, with its dynamic, swerving rock powered by righteous cowbell. He wrings serpentine, silvery lines of dazzling intricacy and elasticity, and you can tell Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood was listening intently. The zig-zagging, Gábor Szabó-esque jazzadelia of “Pegasus” assumes a Romani tinge thanks to Don “Sugarcane” Harris’ spirited violin coloration. As for “Peruvian Flake,” I learned from the Urban Dictionary that the title’s a slang term for cocaine, so it’s apropos that this song’s quicksilver rock of mind-boggling technical proficiency. It’s kind of shocking that Steely Dan didn’t hire Mandel after this came out.

Some other highlights include “Ode To The Owl,” a moving blues-rock solo guitar tribute to Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson, who died in 1970 at the tragically young age of 27 and “Levitation,” whose sly jazz rock is elevated by Charles Lloyd’s flute, Freddie Roulette’s sublime, pointillistic steel guitar solo, and Kevin Burton’s flamboyant soul-jazz organ solo. My fave cut is “The Snake” (a slightly less sublime and psychedelic version appeared on Mandel’s 1968 debut LP, Christo Redentor). This might be the coolest, most funkadelic track in Mandel’s canon, and as I’ve discovered as a DJ, it segues very well into Herbie Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” Mandel saved the fieriest for the last with “Bite The Electric Eel.” This is a fried blues-rock jam that can hold its own with Peter Green’s The End Of The Game. The song’s full of staggering showboating, but there’s nothing at all annoying about it.

I paid $1 for my used copy of The Snake, but as it’s the zenith of one of America’s most virtuosic and tone-smart blues-rock guitarists, the album’s worth at least 30 times that. Hot stuff, indeed. -Buckley Mayfield

A.C. Marias “One Of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing)” (Mute, 1989)

A.C. is Angela Conway, the mysterious chanteuse who cowrote the 10 songs on One Of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing) with Wire/Dome guitarist Bruce Gilbert. She’s also appeared on Wire bassist Graham Lewis’ He Said records and Gilbert’s The Shivering Man LP, as well as these Wire dudes’ Dome and P’o projects. Clearly, Conway was a key figure in the Wire diaspora throughout the ’80s, so it makes sense that she would cut her own full-length with those in their orbit. And what a quiet little treasure One Of Our Girls is.

With a voice pitched somewhere between the Dream Syndicate/Opal’s Kendra Smith and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Conway radiated an ethereal gravity with A.C. Marias. The group included Paul Kendall (studio wiz who’s worked with Gilbert and Loop and Main’s Robert Hampson), John Fryer (producer of This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Nine Inch Nails, etc.), and Gareth Jones (producer of Depeche Mode, Wire, Diamanda Galás, Einstürzende Neubauten, etc.). Conway’s singing may not be technically extraordinary, but she optimizes her narrow range with an intriguing delivery and glazed timbre. She keeps her emotions close to the vest, forcing you to lean in to try to discern the details.

Case in point is the opener, “Trilby’s Couch.” It begins with a melancholy woodwind melody redolent of seaside desolation. Then a stealthy walking bass line and woodblock taps appear as Conway sings about a hypnosis session. When the avian synth twitters surface, you can’t help getting chills. “Just Talk” furthers the hypnotic quotient with a simple yet transporting guitar riff that cycles over a high-pitched, majestic drone. Conway croons in hushed tones about an enigmatic scenario featuring two lovers and a gun, while meditating on the nature of language and time.

“There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air” might be the album’s oddest highlight, a mix of pneumatic beats, gaseous gusts, faraway airplane-engine drones, and spidery, glinting guitar accents, like if the Edge had shown more restraint on The Joshua Tree. Another highlight and an outlier is “Give Me,” a serious stab at dance-floor domination, similar to the propulsive yet cool-browed cover of Lou Reed’s “Vicious” from a previous A.C. Marias single. The warped, spiraling guitar filigrees and punchy drum-machine beats form a foxy foundation for Conway to request a “stolen kiss” and a “little bliss.” Hell, she’s earned it.

One Of Our Girls (Has Gone Missing) climaxes on the title track, one of the greatest songs of the ’80s. Powered by a valiantly galloping rhythm and buoyed by softly stroked guitar and sighing synth undulations, the song bears a melody as sublime as that of Wire’s “Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW.” After playing “One Of Our Girls” hundreds of times, I can attest that it’s one of the most satisfying syntheses of happiness and sadness in songform.

Following Conway’s sole album as a songwriter, she went on to direct several music videos, including those by Wire, Nick Cave, and Bryan Ferry. We’re fortunate that she dropped One Of Our Girls before finding her more lucrative calling in film. This album is one of those cult artifacts that make aficionados feel as if they’re in on a special secret. Unlike you and me, it never gets old. -Buckley Mayfield

Lothar And The Hand People “Presenting…” (Capitol, 1968)

Look at that cover. The five members of Lothar And The People seem like the high-school students most likely to join a benign cult based on the plot of a ridiculous fantasy novel. Yet after they moved from Denver to New York City, the quirky quintet signed to Capitol Records… and the rest is cult-rock history.

LATHP cut two surprisingly good albums and then adios’d. But they had the distinction of being the first rock group to tour with synthesizers and one of the few to manipulate Theremins. These nerds had an air of gimmickry about them, but they also had talent. Their 1968 debut album, Presenting…, abounds with high-quality, Moog-enhanced novelty rock.

Produced by Robert Marguleff of the excellent synth duo Tonto’s Expanding Head Band (who later worked studio magic on Stevie Wonder’s best albums), Presenting… begins auspiciously with “Machines.” A Mort Shuman composition originally cut by Manfred Mann in 1966, the track rides a ludicrously chunky, mechanical rhythm while the singer belts a cautionary tale about said machines transforming from things that serve humans to becoming our enslavers. The grim message almost gets lost in the robotically bouncy joy the music induces.

A jarring transition occurs with “This Is It,” an easy-going, jazzy charmer that carries the air of a sly Mose Allison tune. The melody is sophisticated yet attention-grabbing, immediately burrowing itself into your memory bank and wiggling adorably there forever more. More catchiness ensues on “This May Be Goodbye,” a psych-pop tune toggling between endearing and annoying, thanks to John Emelin’s nasal, forceful vocals, and “That’s Another Story,” which feels at once old-timey and as hip as Pentangle-esque folkadelia, thanks to its wonderful see-sawing melody.

LATHP could go hard, too. “Sex And Violence” is a groovy, heavy jam featuring the title chanted and sung menacingly. Rusty Ford’s bass line is sick and the guitar solo anticipates Butthole Surfers freak Paul Leary. The tough yet baroque garage rock of “You Won’t Be Lonely” evokes Detroit’s SRC. “It Comes On Anyhow” is the most psychedelic and disjointed moment on the record, full of “OM”s, warped harpsichord motifs, Paul Conly’s synth drones, Tom Flye’s huge beats, and mutterings of “It doesn’t matter.” Imagine a more concise “Revolution 9.”

For Moog-lovers, Conly shines on “Milkweed Love,” an ominous ballad in the vein of Mort Garson and Jean-Jacques Perrey, and “Paul, In Love,” a beautiful reverie à la Garson’s Plantasia. Plus, nearly every song here is capped by little Moog filigrees.

A cloying wackiness occasionally mars Presenting… “Kids Are Little People”’s goofy children’s-television rock and “Woody Woodpecker” (yes, the cartoon theme) especially annoy. But the loony-bin-bound pop of “Ha (Ho)” at least has the decency to end with an enticing electronic coda that foreshadows Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. Thankfully, most of this LP hits the sweet spot between sublime and silly. These songs may carry an indelible late-’60s timestamp, but that only adds to their charm when heard in 2020. -Buckley Mayfield