Rock

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

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

Golem “Orion Awakes” (Psi-Fi, 1996)

This album is draped in mystery and has been suspected of being a hoax. It allegedly was recorded in 1972-73, but some production touches make it sound more like it was done in the ’90s. In an interview reproduced in the liner notes of the 2016 vinyl reissue on Mental Experience, producer Toby Robinson can’t remember any of the details—and the same edition’s credits bear a “℗ 1976.” They can’t keep their stories straight… All the musicians recorded under pseudonyms, but are reputedly well-known krautrock figures. Alan Freeman, author of The Crack In The Cosmic Egg krautrock encyclopedia, speculates that members of Dzyan, Birth Control, Baba Yaga, and Sixty Nine may have been involved. All the rest of the CD reissues from the ’90s on the Pyramid imprint (Nazgul, Galactic Explorers, Cozmic Corridors, etc.) have similar murky origins.

Someone on Discogs wrote, “I have sources from a musician that he confirms played on this record wich [sic] was recorded back in 1995 in Croydon near London.” I can believe that! But ultimately, the music on Orion Awakes is so good, its back story is beside the point.

Whatever the case, if you dig freaky, vocal-free krautrock, you’re gonna want Orion Awakes. The title track approaches tentatively and ominously with delayed guitar shivers, then slowly blooms into a glimmering, methodical psych-rock stomp, replete with thick organ swirls. I can’t help thinking of the ’90s band Sundial and their awesome Other Way Out album when I hear this song. Similarly, “Stellar Launch” is a contemplative space-out that meanders with menace, marked by subtle wah-wah guitar and wispy Mellotron sighs. Gradually, though, it achieves a semi-funky midtempo groove and ascends to sublime heights of cosmic chaos. The shortest track at 6:32, the aptly titled “Godhead Dance” will get you spazzing and throwing ridiculous shapes. It features an unstoppable groove powered by over-the-top Hendrixian wah snarl. If you hear “Godhead Dance” under the influence of hallucinogens, all bets are off. No wonder it’s my go-to Golem track in DJ sets.

The three-part, 14-minute suite “ Jupiter & Beyond” is powerful, surging psychedelic rock music geared for large venues. The album’s finale, “The Returning,” probably should’ve been left off of Orion Awakes. The fat drum sound and trademark indie-rock guitar tones really give away the ’90s provenance of Golem. This song sounds like something on Drag City, Matador, or Merge more than any subterranean German label. It’s also the least interesting work here. It’s not a good way to persuade anyone who suspects this LP is (mostly) a well-executed prank. -Buckley Mayfield

Chicago “Chicago VI” (Columbia, 1973)

If you were conscious during the ’70s, you couldn’t help being aware of the music made by the unimaginatively named band Chicago. It was in the air like perfume and cigarette smoke and summer breezes, dominating the airwaves with soulful, jazz-inflected rock and heart-melting ballads. Some of those ubiquitous hits were damned good, some tilted the schmaltz meter into the red. But it was all impeccably played and produced and usually housed in gatefold sleeves, and it somehow appealed to hip folks and squares.

By the time the seven dudes in Chicago had reached their fifth album, VI (odd, I know, but they were called Chicago Transit Authority on their first LP), they were surefire chart-dwellers who had their shit down pat. But they weren’t averse to bringing in some outside help for this one, tapping Brazilian percussionist Laudir De Oliveira (Sérgio Mendes, Marcos Valle) to accentuate the rhythms. The results on VI, though, are a mixed bag, which you can expect when you have four songwriters angling to get ideas expressed.

The album begins unpromisingly with “Critics’ Choice,” an acerbic, Elton John/10cc-like ballad that dissects said critics’ negative traits. But that meh start quickly gets whisked down the memory hole as “Just You ‘N’ Me” enters earshot. Yes, it’s a warm power ballad you’ve heard 18 million times, so it’s curdled into an innocuous bauble that reminds you more of shopping for deodorant in a chain drugstore rather than as one of the classiest, slinkiest, and most earnest love songs ever to top a chart. It helps that composer/trombonist James Pankow pulls a “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” sucker punch that elevates the track to a much higher level.

Keyboardist Robert Lamm’s “Darlin’ Dear” is horn-heavy funk-rock with a festive, Dr. John-like air, enlivened by Terry Kath’s sizzling, snarling guitar solo. Kath’s lone writing credit, “Jenny,” sounds like the Band’s earthy roots rock, but with more rhythmic complexity. The album’s best deep cut is Pankow’s “What’s This World Comin’ To,” whose boisterous, busy funk rock bumps somewhere between Funkadelic and Grand Funk Railroad. I wish Chicago explored this vein more often. Similarly deep and not oversaturated by radio, “Rediscovery” is a midtempo funk jam with low-key jazz chordings, as Kath channels Eddie Hazel’s fluid, wah-wah squawk.

Like a lot of smart groups, Chicago saved the best for last. No exaggeration: Peter Cetera and Pankow’s “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” stands as one of the greatest pieces of music ever. This magnum opus has about five or six distinct parts, and each one is dazzling. The song begins like a fairly typical inspirational, casually strolling rocker, but you can sense it’s going to build to something much more majestic. Sure enough, about halfway in, “Feelin’ Stronger” accelerates into a magnificent chug and then things just get insanely sublime from there on out. The massed, swaggering horns, the crazed, galloping drums and mad tom-tom fills, the “YEAH YEAH YEEEEAAAAH,” the soaring backing-vocal vortex, Cetera’s aerated “We get stronger today” refrain that rides till the fadeout… Put the coda on in a loop in your brain while running and you’ll never fail to break your personal record. Trust me… I’ve tried it. -Buckley Mayfield

The The “Uncertain Smile” (Some Bizzare, 1982)

As someone who’s only listened to The The up through 1986’s Infected, I can’t claim to be an authority on leader Matt Johnson’s musical career. However, I can confidently state that I am an expert on The The’s 1982 EP, Uncertain Smile. I bought it soon after it came out on British import during the grim Reagan/Thatcher era and proceeded to listen to its three sui generis songs obsessively, while putting the title track on many a mixtape. Uncertain Smile may not be the most popular or revered release in Johnson’s catalog, but I maintain that it deserves repeat plays and a lofty place in your musical pantheon.

“Uncertain Smile” itself begins with some of the most urgent, warped marimba you’ve ever heard, before suavely shifting into a midtempo dance-rock groove augmented by a plangent guitar and mournful flute motifs of utmost poignancy. The flute solo is mellifluously melancholy enough to earn a spot on a Moody Blues LP. Johnson sings like an introverted, less narcissistic Morrissey here, relating a fraught internal emo-drama with intimate equanimity. You will feel Matt’s pain.

The song’s long instrumental bridge coasts into mysterioso jazz territory, with brooding sax and sly bass laying a foundation for another madly undulating marimba solo. As the song progresses, more elements enter (sumptuous synth swells, heavily FX’d harmonica, an intriguing sound I can’t pinpoint), adding to the sensation that this is a once-in-a-lifetime epic that transcends its early-’80s British milieu. Make no mistake: “Uncertain Smile” is The The’s peak and one of the greatest songs ever. The truncated version on the 1983 LP Soul Mining pales beside this one.

By contrast, “Three Orange Kisses From Kazan” is a weirdly ominous yet enigmatically beautiful piece of art pop, like some amalgam of Tuxedomoon, early Clock DVA, and Tin Drum-era Japan. “Why do people never say what they mean? / Why do people just repeat what they read?” Johnson gripes, and that sentiment still resonates 37 years later. Another example of Johnson’s unique way with songcraft and vocal modulation, “Three Orange Kisses” presents a perfect balance between melodiousness and cacophony. It’s some of the most gorgeous chaos that appeared on record in the ’80s. “Waitin’ For The Upturn” can’t help sounding somewhat anticlimactic after the preceeding two classics, but it’s still a gem of low-key, chilling balladry, like a master class of muted Sturm und Drang. The production on Uncertain Smile by Mike Thorne (Wire, John Cale, Laurie Anderson, Soft Cell) is spacious and dynamic, abetting Johnson’s idiosyncratic ideas about timbre and atmosphere. -Buckley Mayfield

Grand Funk Railroad “E Pluribus Funk” (Capitol, 1971)

E Pluribus Funk is probably the greatest album ever to be packaged to look like a silver coin. Admittedly, there’s not a lot of competition for that honor, but still… respect is due. Speaking of which, Flint, Michigan’s finest never have received much of that stuff from critics, but Grand Funk Railroad’s extravagant commercial success (multi-platinum records, hit singles, selling out Shea Stadium in 72 hours, etc.) shouldn’t detract from you enjoying their genuine strengths.

Produced by Terry Knight, E Pluribus Funk is an unabashed par-tay record. Being as it’s made by dudes from the central part of a centrally located Rust Belt state, the album pummels with a ferocity that comes from folks who have to endure six months of shitty weather per year. (As a native Detroiter, I speak from bitter experience.) Whatever was fueling drummer/vocalist Don Brewer, guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Mark Farner, and bassist Mel Schacher in 1971, it was pretty potent.

Opening tracks don’t get much better than “Footstompin’ Music.” This uptempo boogie bomb does what it says on the tin, pretty much running head-to-head with the Bohannon funk burner of the same title. Put this on at a party and watch rivalry turn into revelry. “People, Let’s Stop The War” is tough-as-hell funk-rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on the crucial Chains And Black Exhaust compilation of black psychedelia. The sentiment—see the title—may be simple-minded, but it was righteously on point during the Vietnam conflict. “Upsetter” is burly, uproarious party rock that’s very clever with maracas (no, it doesn’t sound like Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire”), while “I Come Tumblin’” peddles rugged, churning rock that’ll whip you into a sweaty frenzy, if you’re open to its rude, thrusting nature.

That’s a hell of a side 1, so side 2 can’t help seeming a bit lacking in comparison. The best thing I can say about the middling hard rock of “Save The Land” is that it must’ve burned a lot of calories during the recording of it. For better for worse, the bombastic hard rock of “No Lies” sounds like a blueprint for Guns N’ Roses circa Appetite For Destruction. The LP ends with “Loneliness,” a pensive, strings-augmented ballad that sometimes tilts into bloated melodrama as it strives for a momentous climax. Nevertheless, it’s a bold tangent in this context and is pretty ambitious for GFR.

Given its fantastic, circular packaging and dynamite first side, E Pluribus Funk merits space on your shelf. File it next to Small Faces’ Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. -Buckley Mayfield

Dick Hyman “The Age Of Electronicus” (Command, 1969)

Even some of the best Moog albums have a fair amount of cheesy camp elements littering them, and Dick Hyman’s The Age Of Electronicus is no different. While Robert Moog’s invention tends to time-stamp music with as much finality as Auto-Tune has done in this century’s first two decades, some of the former material has endured beyond cheap nostalgia thrills. And that includes this cover-heavy opus.

Now a spry 92, Hyman was 42 when Electronicus came out, and he’d established himself as a jazz pianist who once played with Charlie Parker. Dick also was the in-studio organist for the stunt game show Beat The Clock, which sounds like a very fun gig. So, dude has chops. He applied his dexterity and ingenuity to the then-novel Moog synthesizer with both virtuosity and opportunistic glee.

Electronicus boasts the obligatory Beatles covers (“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Blackbird”), two Booker T. & The M.G.’s cuts (“Time Is Tight” and “Green Onions”), Hair show-stopper “Aquarius,” an interpretation of James Brown’s “Give It Up Or Turn It Loose,” a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” and merely one original. Sure, Electronicus smacks of Moog-hysteria cash-in, but Hyman’s inventiveness with this familiar and relatively eclectic material raises the record high above most of its counterparts now moldering in bargain bins.

The album starts with one of the Beatles’ most insufferable tunes, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and Hyman squirts chintzy Moog sauce all over the gratingly ingratiating dud. Thankfully, this poor start’s obliterated by the über-funky “Give It Up Or Turn It Loose,” which has more freaky libidinousness than you’d expect from suit-and-tie-wearing, middle-aged white guy who likes to twiddle nobs. Yeah, I’ll still drop this heater into DJ sets. “Blackbird”’s solemn beauty survives Hyman’s wonky timbres and insistent, synthetic pulsations—barely. I bet McCartney dug it.

“Aquarius” is “Aquarius”; it’s hard not to smirk when any version of it is playing. Hair-raising it isn’t. However, “Time Is Tight” and “Green Onions” strut with alpha-male bravado while flaunting extremely flute-y tonalities. Hyman finds a quite annoying setting on the Moog for the folk standard “Both Sides Now,” so I usually skip over it. The sentimental Bacharach-David movie theme “Alfie” fares a bit better, but is still inconsequential. However, the lone Hyman composition, “Kolumbo,” is an epic excursion into complex, swarming oscillations and delayed percussion. It’s by far Electronicus‘ most serious and psychedelic effort. I wish Hyman would’ve unknotted his tie and frolicked in this direction more often.

One good thing about Electronicus: It hasn’t become a hipster totem nor received a fashionable deluxe reissue, so you can still find used vinyl copies for under $10… for now. -Buckley Mayfield

Patti Smith Group “Wave” (Arista, 1979)

The final entry in Patti Smith Group’s tetralogy, Wave is not as highly rated as their first three full-lengths. Much of it’s pretty bombastic, melodically turgid rock that sounds stodgy, particularly after PSG’s mercurial, poetic burners Horses, Radio Ethiopia, and Easter. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Wave preceded a seven-year hiatus during which Patti married MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith and started a family. It’s not a total dud, though—otherwise I wouldn’t be spending precious time reviewing it.

Basically, you need Wave for its first three songs. Talk about a front-loaded LP… “Frederick”—which retreads Smith’s biggest hit, the Bruce Springsteen collab “Because The Night”—is a tribute to Patti’s soon-to-be husband, Mr. Sonic. It’s a sweepingly romantic rocker that sounds nothing like her beau’s band. Co-written with guitarist Ivan Kral, “Dancing Barefoot” is a low-slung rock mantra in which Smith sings as if she’s in a trance. The easy-going, undulant ramble foreshadows R.E.M. and certain Feelies tracks. No wonder the latter covered it, as did Simple Minds, the Celibate Rifles, Pearl Jam, U2, and others.

Wave crests on Roger McGuinn/Chris Hillman’s “So You Want To Be (A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star).” PSG’s is my favorite version of this much-covered song—I like it even better than the Byrds’ original. Smith and company execute an irrepressible interpretation whose main riff is a masterpiece of minimalism that hints at the transcendental, tidal rock of late-’90s Boredoms. (Highest compliment!) Patti surely could relate to McGuinn and Hillman’s cautionary tale and their lyrics’ overarching cynicism—even as she’s singing the hell out of the song in a display of sheer bravado that’s very rock-star-like. The guitar solo is also striving for the sort of glory against which the words are warning. Irony!

Unfortunately, the stretch from “Hymn” through “Broken Flag” is hard going. “Revenge” is lumbering, slow-blooming, dramatic rock about a dying relationship, as Smith sings, “All the gold and silver couldn’t measure up my love for you/It’s so immaterial.” “Citizen Ship” and “Seven Ways Of Going” are hugely bombastic tunes that make Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds seem like shrinking violets. The former’s a Sturm und Drang political song while the latter is so over the top, it qualifies as PSG’s “L.A. Blues.” “Broken Flag” is a swaying, lighters-aloft anthem that sounds like music for a political rally—but ironically rendered.

Yeah, Wave is kind of a disappointment, because we have such high expectations from Patti Smith and her crack band. But that opening triumvirate of classics is sufficient to make it worth your while. -Buckley Mayfield

Steve Miller Band “Circle Of Love” (Capitol, 1981)

You’ve probably seen this album 593 times while rifling through bargain bins without thinking much about it; no way it could be as wonderful as Fly Like An Eagle, amirite? Well, I certainly zipped right by it for many years. Until one day I didn’t. I finally let my curiosity about the sidelong track on side two get the best of me and… sometimes your instincts lead to positive outcomes. Such was the case with me investigating the 18-plus-minute “Macho City.”

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. First we have to dispense with side one, which is pretty disposable. “Heart Like A Wheel” is happy-go-lucky rock harking back to ’50s innocence and sincerity. This sort of regression just sounds depressing to me. Miller gives the traditional song “Get On Home” the synth-sheen treatment that commonly afflicted early ’80s records. It’s an inconsequential bauble. So is “Baby Wanna Dance,” a doo-wop-inflected, early-Beach Boys ditty that suffers from the same insipid cuteness as “Heart Like A Wheel.” “Circle Of Love” is an innocuous love song that bears a slight resemblance to Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac (non-Lindsey division). So far, so uninspired.

But all of that tedium is worth it for “Macho City,” which begins as if it were “Fly Like An Eagle” on amphetamines, working up a frothy head of disco steam. Miller’s stilted spoken-word “rap” disparaging various forms of military machismo lands awkwardly, but that eventually subsides and the band locks into a jam that’s as far out as anything the hugely popular guitarist/vocalist has ever done.

While Miller limits his contributions to some sparse e-bow sighs and a few psychedelic, flanged riffs, bassist Gerald Johnson and keyboardist Byron Allred are the track’s real standouts. The former fingers out a staunch, Holger Czukay-esque funk foundation with drummer Gary Mallaber (including an homage to the famous riff from David Byrne-Brian Eno’s “Regiment”) while the latter produces a series of whooshes and drones that wouldn’t sound out of place on your favorite kosmische krautrock record from the ’70s.

“Macho City” closes with a few minutes of rain and thunder sounds. I bet Capitol execs were not happy with that, but this decision does make it easy for DJs to segue out of and offers a respite for listeners to wonder what the hell they just heard: classic-rock fixture Steve Miller creating an epic club classic that went on to be spun by underground disc jockeys such as David Mancuso. Nobody saw that coming. -Buckley Mayfield