Album Reviews

Timmy Thomas “Why Can’t We Live Together” (Glades, 1972)

If you only know Why Can’t We Live Together for its stirring, racial-harmony-desiring title track (which peaked at #3 in the singles chart in early 1973), you’re in for a treat. This is a damn strong album all the way through—and reputedly the first record to prominently feature a rhythm machine instead of a drummer. A session musician for Miami’s T.K. Records, Timmy Thomas played and sang every damn thing on Why Can’t We Live Together, and he deserves way more respect for this LP than he’s received. (The gifted soul singer and multi-instrumentalist passed away in 2022 at age 77.)

“Why Cant We Live Together” was Thomas’ only pop hit, although he earned several R&B chart placings. Recorded in mono, this track cut through the commercial-radio clutter with its stark production, the plaintive soulfulness of Thomas’ vocals, the distinctive timbres of the Maestro Rhythm Master drum machine and Lowrey organ, and the simple power of TT’s peace-mongering lyrics. Throughout the LP, Thomas plays bass lines with his organ’s foot pedals, and he creates an incisive one for this all-time classic. For what it’s worth, “Why Can’t We Live Together” has racked up more than 31 million plays on $p0tify—with the album’s next most popular track clocking only 725k. In other trivia, the song’s been covered by Sade, Santana, and Steve Winwood, among others, and was sampled by Drake for his “Hotline Bling” hit. Putting money in Thomas’ bank account is the best thing that that Canadian hip-hop mediocrity’s ever done.

“Rainbow Power” follows with a low-slung paean to ethnic diversity, calling for Americans to “love… your brother,” no matter one’s race; its message remains evergreen. “Cold Cold People” soulfully excoriates soulless ghouls over a drum-machine pattern that ticks methodically and ominously while Thomas gets rococo on the organ. “Dizzy Dizzy World” is a wistful ballad about status-climbers while “Opportunity” comes over like a pep talk given by the most soulful and funky striver you’ve ever heard. By far the most uptempo track here is “Funky Me,” an instrumental that has an almost proto-techno propulsion and swiftness. I recommend it to DJs who urgently need to get the crowd moving.

The LP’s two covers are phenomenal. Inspired after hearing it in the movie Play Misty For Me, Thomas turns Roberta Flack’s awesome interpretation of Ewan McColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” into a low-lit, instrumental with fibrillating, vibrant organ tones carrying the weight of the heartbreaking melody. A mournful tour de force! Thomas follows it with a rendition of the Chi-Lites’ “The Coldest Days Of My Life,” one of the saddest ballads ever conceived; he inhabits its rueful doldrums with natural panache. Thomas’ minimalism wrings maximal sympathy and he equals the original masterpiece—something most listeners would’ve thought improbable.

One drawback to Why Can’t We Live Together is the relative similarity and lack of spontaneity of the beat patterns, but Thomas’ yearning vocals and moving melodies more than compensate for that. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Can “Ege Bamyasi” (United Artists, 1972)

The recent passing of vocalist/lyricist Damo Suzuki (may he rest in peace) reminded us that his short run with krautrock gods Can (1970-1973) constituted the peak for the greatest rock group ever, if consensus opinion holds any water—and I think it does, for a change. Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days—what an unfuckwithable triumvirate of albums! Each one is phenomenal in different ways, exemplifying Damo’s incredible ability to adapt and catalyze. (Suzuki’s crucial contributions to songs on the Soundtracks and Unlimited Edition collections should not be overlooked, either.)

As much as I love Tago Mago and Future Days, I have to pick Ege Bamyasi as my favorite of the Damo era. It captures Can at their most concise and funky and, at times, downright catchy. How many times have you caught yourself bellowing along to Suzuki’s “Hey you! You’re losing, you’re losing your vitamin C”? Too many times to count, no doubt.

Ege Bamyasi begins seemingly in mid jam, as “Pinch” instantly plunges the listener into a vertiginous vortex of torqued funk rock. Talk about an exciting welcome into the closest thing I can think of to a perfect album… Suzuki is in rare tough-guy mode on the mic on this tensile, rugged track, with everyone in the band at the absolute pinnacle of their powers. It’s hard to imagine any other drummer than Jaki Liebezeit executing this kind of complexity and controlled power while keeping the funk bumpin’. In a 180º turn from “Pinch,” the subtly suspenseful “Sing Swan Song” bubbles into life, its aquatic tranquility foreshadowing 1973’s Future Days, but its loping funkiness belongs exclusively to this LP. The seductive cha-cha funk of “One More Night” represents some of the most understated party music ever created, with Irmin Schmidt’s obliquely pinging keyboard motif elevating the song into rarefied status. Suzuki’s sotto voce intonations are a blessing for stressed-out heads, even if toward the end he clenches up.

The record’s best-known song by far, “Vitamin C” is the staccato funk bomb that’s detonated a million acrobatic breakdance moves. This track possesses a strange anti-gravitational pull; it seems to hover five feet off the floor and also contains a passage of oddly moving, old-world melancholy. And then comes a bizarre coda featuring a chorus of crickets and a piercing keyboard drone that bleeds into the album’s longest cut, “Soup,” which eventually breaks into a jagged funk juggernaut not unlike “Halleluwah.” “Soup” goes off on tantalizing tangents, including an agonizing noise interlude that sounds like a pitched-up cement mixer. Then it gets even weirder, with Damo seemingly trying to speak Italian without knowing how, while the rest of the band go on a stridently abstract bender that could break the spirit of the staunchest avant-gardist.

A huge contrast ensues with “I’m So Green,” whose featherlight funk makes you feel as if you’re levitating. Liebezeit’s beats are at once militarily precise and designed for hedonism, while Michael Karoli’s guitar carries a surprising Hawaiian sway and sigh. As for Suzuki, he’s in supplest form. This is one of my go-to Can tracks in DJ sets. Ege ends with the paradoxical “Spoon”: so light yet so ominous, so spooky yet so funky. Schmidt’s head-spinning keyboard swirls entwine with Karoli’s spidery spangles while bassist Holger Czukay and Liebezeit lay down an earthy, girthy rhythm. Thus ends one of the most spellbinding albums ever, one whose pleasures are infinitely renewable. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Mel Brown “Chicken Fat” (Impulse!, 1967)

Impulse! Records, of course, is revered as one of the world’s preeminent jazz labels, with a roster boasting Alice and John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, Charlie Haden, Archie Shepp, and many other legends. However, Impulse! is less celebrated as a champion of blues and funk (and funky blues). But with Mel Brown’s dynamite 1967 LP, Chicken Fat, the company proved it could hold its own with the best in those fields.

Born in Mississippi and based in LA, Brown—who passed away in 2009—was an in-demand session musician throughout the ’60s, playing with Brenda Lee, Nancy Wilson, T-Bone Walker, the Olympics, and B*ll C*sby. Impulse! must have been looking to branch out stylistically when it signed Brown for his debut album. Whatever the case, they got a doozy with Chicken Fat.

The record begins with “Chicken Fat,” which is as gritty and funky as the title is gross. The guitar interplay between Brown and Herb Ellis is complex and soulful and full of fowl squawks, and the groove is absolutely raunchy. I’ll be spinning this in DJ sets for years to come. Written by Brown, Ellis, drummer Paul Humphrey, and bassist Ron Brown (no relation), “Greasy Spoon” follows with some fleet and elite blues-funk, distinguished by a killer descending bass line by Ron Brown. Mel is in scintillating form on guitar, spraying brilliant glinting chords over the sexily torqued groove. Here and elsewhere, maniacal instrumental prowess abounds. “Slalom”—written by popular session trumpeter Jules Chaikin—brings a staccato, churning strain of funk that foreshadows Medeski, Martin + Wood by over 20 years. “Shanty” is careering blues funk of exceptional fluidity and action-film-soundtrack wizardry.

On the bluesier end of the spectrum, “Home, James” is a lackadaisical, louche number laced with flashy Brown soloing. This tune would segue well into David Lynch’s “The Pink Room,” although Gerald Wiggins’ curiously dinky electric-organ sound is almost comical. The Oliver Nelson composition “Hobo Flats” features either Brown or fellow guitarist Arthur Wright going buck-wild on the wah-wah pedal over a languidly libidinous blues saunter. Such a sick display of virtuosity—it gave my ears vertigo. Chicken Fat ends strongly with “Blues For Big Bob,” a choppy, Booker T. & The MGs-like head-nodder with an unstoppable groove, a loopy organ solo by Wiggins, and a guitar solo of head-spinning intricacy.

Portland’s Jackpot Records reissued Chicken Fat in 2023, so it should be relatively easy to find and affordable. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

MC5 “Back In The USA” (Atlantic, 1970)

When MC5’s Wayne Kramer passed away on February 2 at age 75, it reminded me of Jeff Beck’s death last year at a seemingly too-young 78. Both masterly, septuagenarian guitarists exuded vitality and appeared to have a lot of creativity left in the tank when they shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s a sad state of affairs, but the treasure trove of life-enhancing music both made softens the blows.

As part of Detroit’s MC5, Kramer helped to draw the blueprint for both metal and punk with their cataclysmic 1969 debut, Kick Out The Jams. Their bombastic sonic attack combined with lyrics of personal and political revolution (plus explosive covers of Sun Ra, John Lee Hooker, and Ted Taylor tunes) resulted in one of the most dynamic first LPs in rock history. Elektra Records had a real monster on its hands.

But trouble ensued with vocalist Rob Tyner’s exhortation on the title track to “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” which some dweebs in high places simply could not tolerate. When MC5 placed a newspaper ad displaying Elektra’s logo that profanely admonished Detroit department store Hudson’s for not carrying Kick Out The Jams, the label dropped the band.

Picked up by Atlantic Records and working with producer/Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau, MC5 cut the much cleaner-sounding and more streamlined Back In The USA. Landau was a proponent of back-to-basics rock & roll, and he likely abhorred Kick Out The Jams‘ chaotic noisiness and freewheeling fervor, its striving for revolutionary sonic and lyrical content. Despite seeming like a poor fit for MC5, Landau tightened up the group’s songwriting and playing and many great songs spilled forth, albeit not without some corniness, too.

Back In The USA is bookended by enthusiastic covers of Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti” and Chuck Berry’s “Back In The USA.” Both are good, important songs, of course, but we don’t go to MC5 for R&R revivalism, do we? No. However, Landau and/or Atlantic seemingly demanded this return-to-roots concession. Similarly, the peppy, preppy MC5 original “High School” sounds out of character for the hell-raisers who a year earlier wrote and performed “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa).” I like it anyway, but it’s sort of square for members of the White Panthers, you know. “Let Me Try” is a rare MC5 ballad with the same downer vibe and laggard tempo as Love’s “Signed D.C.” “Tonight” kicks off with Rob Tyner imploring, “All right, kids/let’s get together and have a ball,” before the band grinds out some rowdy, good-time rock that celebrates getting down in the USA—not tomorrow or in a week, but tonight, damn it.

“Looking At You” is where MC5 finally relocate their balls and blast out one of the most potent hooks in garage-rock history. Kramer’s wild, high-pitched, filigreed guitar solos lift this classic to godly heights. “Call Me Animal” is gnarly and ominous garage rock that Alice Cooper Group surely dug, while the proggy “The Human Being Lawnmower” could segue well into an Iron Butterfly deep cut.

“The American Ruse” stands as one of MC5’s peaks, using old-school rock & roll machinations to comment on US government scams and hypocrisy, of which they had first-hand knowledge, thanks in part to their presence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where they joined in the Vietnam War protests and were the only band to play. Notable for Rob Tyner’s mispronunciation of “stasis” to rhyme with “molasses,” “The American Ruse” pairs poorly with the title track’s chorus of “I’m so glad I’m living in the USA.” “Shakin’ Street” remains a zenith of cruising, masculine rock energy; it’s one of those tightly constructed, hooky songs that do everything you want in under two-and-a-half minutes. That “Shakin’ Street” didn’t top the charts is a damning indictment against Atlantic Records.

MC5 would loosen up and jam more freely and fiery on their swan song, High Time, but for a perceived “sell out” move, Back In The USA mostly holds up very well. Rest in power, Wayne Kramer.

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Marlena Shaw “The Spice Of Life” (Cadet, 1969)

Jazz and soul singer Marlena Shaw—who passed away on January 19 at age 81—was a true American musical treasure whose abundant vocal charms and moving lyrical skills peaked on The Spice Of Life. Produced and arranged by Cadet Records geniuses Charles Stepney and Richard Evans, The Spice Of Life boasts two of Shaw’s greatest and best-known songs, “Woman Of The Ghetto” and “California Soul.” The album would be worth the price of admission just for these two classics, but it contains some other lesser-celebrated gems, too.

But first, “Woman Of The Ghetto.” Talk about putting your best foot forward… This street-level, soul-funk classic has been sampled 204 times, and that makes sense. A tense, riveting song that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead,” “Woman Of The Ghetto” finds Shaw relating a tale of woe in wrenching detail: “How do you raise your kids in the ghetto/Feed one child and starve another.” The female backing vocals scat in vibrant consolation with Shaw while kalimba accents reminiscent of those early Earth, Wind & Fire LPs, a memorably trenchant bass line, and eerie, hysterical harmonica interjections multiply the drama. Damn, this cuts deep.

As for the cover of Ashford & Simpson’s “California Soul,” it’s simply one of the most uplifting orchestral-soul masterpieces ever waxed, with Stepney and Evans’ deft fingertips all over it. If you aren’t smiling and floating to this within the first 10 seconds of this billowing beauty, go see a shrink. It’s not hard to hear why this rendition’s been sampled 35 times. “Liberation Conversation”—co-written by Shaw and Bobby Miller—is a feisty, funky highlight in the Marva Whitney vein, featuring more of that delightfully buoyant ga-ganga scatting that Shaw also emitted on “Ghetto.” “Blues ain’t nothing but a good woman gone bad,” she declares, as if speaking from bitter experience.

T-Bone Walker’s “Call It Stormy Monday” gets transformed into swanky jazz blues with gorgeously anguished guitar and harmonica parts while “Where Can I Go?” is a languidly funky ballad in which Shaw’s voice effortlessly evinces subtle shades of pride, melancholy, and regret. The loping gospel funk of “I’m Satisfied” would appeal to fans of Pastor T.L. Barrett—a very great thing, indeed. Similarly, the freewheeling paean to liberation, “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free),” peddles rollicking gospelized soul. Credits are damnably scant on this LP, but that rococo, quicksilver guitar solo sure sounds like Phil Upchurch and whoever’s on organ just blazes.

A few schmaltzy cuts penned by the celebrated songwriters Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, and Johnny Marks don’t hit with this critic, but they don’t detract much from The Spice Of Life‘s overall greatness. This album shouldn’t be too hard to find nor should it be very expensive; Verve did the last official vinyl reissue in 2018. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Odetta “Odetta Sings” (Polydor, 1970)

Polydor valiantly tried to make vocalist/guitarist/civil rights activist Odetta Holmes (1930-2008) a crossover star with Odetta Sings. And while that didn’t quite pan out, the album has yielded many spicy samples and very interesting cover versions.

The label roped in some of the era’s top session musicians for “the queen of American folk music” (as deemed by Martin Luther King Jr.), including drummers Russ Kunkel and Roger Hawkins, pianists Carole King and Barry Beckett, guitarists Eddie Hinton and Bernie Leadon, bassist David Hood, and backing singers Merry Clayton and Clydie King. The sessions happened at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama and Larabee Sound in LA, and you can hear the premium quality in every minute. Overall, Odetta Sings was a stark departure from the ‘bama-born Renaissance woman’s usual repertoire of folk, jazz, blues, and spirituals, and it’s a cool curio in her large discography.

Few Odetta fans could’ve anticipated her doing Elton John’s “Take Me To The Pilot,” but she takes this rousing rocker to church, bolstered by her crack crew of backing vocalists. Randy Newwman’s sleazy, sly rock classic “Mama Told Me Not To Come” is not really a good fit for upstanding citizen Odetta, but I’m always down to hear this tune interpreted, no matter the outcome. And while I’m not sure we needed to hear Odetta lend her warm, soulful pipes to the minor Paul McCartney ballad “Every Night,” surely the former Beatle appreciated the royalties.

The rendition of Spanky And Our Gang’s “Give A Damn” enables Odetta to express righteous sympathy for “your fellow man” over serviceable folk-rock. She returns to familiar territory with a bombastic run through John Buck Wilkin’s “My God And I,” though this agnostic remains unmoved. James Taylor’s “Lo & Behold” easily transforms into a gospel arm-waver in Odetta & co.’s hands, with shocking bonus sitar accompaniment. Don Cooper’s “Bless The Children” is a spring-legged delight that would segue well into Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man.” Covering the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” seems like a solid choice, but ain’t no way anyone’s gonna top the OG. (See also the Dirtbombs’ attempt.) Odetta’s drags where it should soar.

Ms. Odetta really shines on her two original compositions. “Movin’ It On” is inspirational rock with sublime organ swells and crackin’ beats. Speaking of which, the über-funky opening break from “Hit Or Miss” has been sampled over three dozen times, and rightly so. (It’s also been streamed over 17 million times on $p0t1fy, far outstripping every other track on the album.) A slab of swampy Muscle Shoals funk, “Hit Or Miss” sets the scene for Odetta to stress the importance of representing her authentic self, no matter what. I, for one, will never stop playing this jam in DJ sets.

The time is overdue—it’s been 54 years!—for a US company to reissue this sporadically brilliant record on vinyl. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Lou Reed “Hudson River Wind Meditations” (Sounds True, 2007)

Lou Reed’s final album—originally released only on CD, but receiving a vinyl reissue by Light In The Attic on January 12—was as much an outlier in the revolutionary rocker’s catalog as Metal Machine Music. Hudson River Wind Meditations‘ title telegraphs its sonic tranquility; the four-track album’s essentially a 180º counterpoint to the beautifully abrasive 1975 noise opus mentioned above. It’s Reed in “IDGAF about anything but my own peace of mind mode,” and, after all of the groundbreaking work he did with the Velvet Underground and the occasional shafts of brilliance of his solo career, Lou certainly earned the right to go as insular as he did here.

Reed generated these ambient compositions to soundtrack his recited meditations that his acupuncturist had recorded for him. Gradually, they morphed into music to score his Tai Chi and yoga sessions. Wind Meditations‘ value lies primarily in its two longest pieces, totaling an hour of beatless peacemongering. “Move Your Heart” consists of nearly 29 minutes of wombient swells that wax and wane with solemn dignity. The track is, in fact, meditative as well as a soothing soundbath to ease you into slumber. There’s a desolation at the core of “Move Your Heart” that makes me think it could have come out on Pete Namlook’s ambient label, FAX, if Reed had released it in the mid ’90s. The piece changes very minutely throughout its epic duration, so those with short attention spans or who thought that “Sister Ray” was a grueling endurance test will bow out well before its end.

“Find Your Note” offers yet another marathon listen (31:35—make yourself comfortable). Its interiorized drones, refrigerator-on-the-fritz hum, and microbial feedback sculpting recall Coil’s Time Machines project, all of whose tracks were named after hallucinogenic drugs. It also reminds me of Folke Rabe’s What??, which I’ve used for many an acid-trip comedown. “Find Your Note” is a supreme zone-out performance, to be sure.

The final two much shorter works somewhat come off as afterthoughts. “Hudson River Wind (Blend The Ambience)” combines recordings of sea breezes with wisps of piercing synth or guitar tones while “Wind Coda” is a striated and muted chiaroscuro of high and low frequencies that’s as austere as an Éliane Radigue piece, with waves of aquatic ambience gradually overtaking the composition.

Let’s not kid ourselves: Hudson River Wind Meditations will only appeal to a small fraction of Reed’s rock-loving fan base. The main audience for this record? Those who appreciate Metal Machine Music‘s conceptual perversity, hardcore ambient heads, and Lou completists. It’s a fascinating curio in the career of an artist whose creative restlessness yielded many more interesting experiments than uninspired flubs. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Hovercraft “Experiment Below” (Mute/Blast First, 1998)

Seattle trio Hovercraft have unjustly vanished from the Discourse™. You never see them mentioned during discussions of greatest bands/albums of the ’90s or even talk of best groups out of Seattle, which is a shame. Not even opening for Mike Watt in their early days—with Eddie Vedder on drums—lifted Hovercraft’s profile very high, though it likely helped them to get signed to Mute Records.

During Hovercraft’s existence (1993-2001), guitarist Campbell 2000 (Ryan Campbell), bassist Sadie 7 (Beth Liebling), and drummer Dash 11 (Ric Peterson) piloted a unique strain of space rock that was as psychedelic and baffling as a chemical equation. Their second and final (and best) album, Experiment Below, features seven tracks that all segue into one another—a series of outrageous jams that ebbs and flows like rivers of magma down a volcano.

Hovercraft were masters of quiet-and-loud dynamics, their lulls portending imminent terror, their crescendos explosive and extreme. The band forever kept you on edge, waiting for the next comet on fire or supernova to come to pass. Everything on their records (and during their live performances, if you were lucky enough to catch them) seems spontaneous, yet also precision-tooled. It’s a wonderful paradox.

Experiment Below‘s songs are rather long and vocal-free, and their intricacy and spurts of sculpted noise, power chords, and ice-pick tinglings never let you fully get your bearings. Some folks might flash on the longest cuts from Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn or the French band Spacecraft’s 1978 LP Paradoxe as Hovercraft touchstones, but Experiment Below hits with more brutality and scientific rigor than those classic works. Plus, Hovercraft’s fascination with technology’s effect on human physiology and psychology—judging from their song titles—sets them apart from most of their sonic peers.

Experiment Below has never been reissued, probably because it didn’t sell well during its initial run. That’s a sad commentary on the music public’s taste, but most things are. Last year would’ve been opportune for a 25th-anniversary edition, but alas, no. As with most ’90s records, you’ll likely have an easier time scoring the CD than the vinyl (one US dealer is selling the LP on Discogs for $200!), but as the Pop Group sang, where there’s a will, there has got to be a way. Lastly, if you dig Hovercraft, you should seek out the self-titled record by Schema, their 2000 collab with Stereolab’s Mary Hansen. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Rotary Connection “Peace” (Cadet Concept, 1968)

As an agnostic and person of refined taste, I loathe damn near all Christmas music. Always have, always will. However, I do find an infinitesimal percentage of recordings made to celebrate this bloated holiday to be tolerable. On my short list of listenable albums dedicated to xmas, Peace by the Chicago psychedelic-soul ensemble Rotary Connection certainly deserves a special spot under the tree. The fact that they focus on originals amid their freaky interpretations of “Silent Night” sure helps nudge this LP into the victory column, as do the impeccable arranging skills of Charles Stepney.

Beginning with expected solemnity, the first of three versions of “Silent Night” softly explodes into an elegantly chaotic guitar solo, frenetic, Keith Moon-like drumming, and a concatenation of bells. Somebody spiked the eggnog with LSD, praise Jesus! The second rendition’s more traditional in structure, but again boasts some outré guitar fireworks. Finally, “Silent Night Chant” deploys a slinky, funky rhythm in its serpentine, psych-rock reconfiguration of this overplayed Austrian carol. I just might spin it in my next DJ set.

Elsewhere, “Last Call For Peace” is wild-spirited orchestral soul that will make you want eradicate war forever. “Christmas Child” is smooth, progressive soul that challenges the lushest Supremes songs of the era for over-the-top production and arrangement honors. With Stepney and vocalist Minnie Riperton in tow, nothing succeeds like excess. The ballad “If Peace Was All We Had” sweeps and soars like peak-era Brian Wilson and Scott Walker and is a silky wonder of vocal layering.

The record’s not all good, sadly. “Shopping Bag Menagerie” and “Sidewalk Santa” are over-egged schmaltz. Overall, though, Peace performs the miraculous feat of nullifying my perennial “bah humbug” attitude for about 40 minutes. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Dorothy Ashby “Afro-Harping” (Cadet, 1968)

What are the odds that two of the greatest jazz harpists would hail from Detroit? Pretty damn small. But Alice McLeod (later Coltrane) and Dorothy Ashby did indeed come from the Motor City, and both helped to define this rarefied instrument, which, of course, heard more in classical-music concert halls than in jazz clubs. In another parallel between Ashby and Coltrane, both artists have gained much greater notoriety after their deaths than during their lifetimes. Better late than never, I guess…

Ashby established a modest rep in the 1950s and ’60s as an improvising, versatile harpist, playing with jazz luminaries such as Richard Davis, Jimmy Cobb, Ed Thigpen, and others, and releasing solid albums such as Hip Harp and In A Minor Groove. As the ’60s progressed, she began to move from bop to soul, funk, Middle Eastern, African, and Brazilian styles. The ’70s saw Ashby garner high-profile session dates with stars such as Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton, Billy Preston, and Bill Withers.

But it was Afro-Harping, recorded for the hip Chicago label Cadet, that really turned on folks—especially hip-hop producers and crate-diggers—to Ashby’s rich catalog… albeit posthumously (she passed away in 1986 at age 53). It’s frustrating that the LP bears no detailed credits, as the unidentified orchestra (conducted by Richard Evans, who also worked with Rotary Connection, Marlena Shaw, Ramsey Lewis, and Soulful Strings) and other instrumentalists are in phenomenal form here.

The record begins with the Evans-penned “Soul Vibrations,” one of the greatest opening tracks ever. Orchestral funk that swaggers with cool menace, the song’s lightened by Ashby’s pointillistically pretty harp plucks, like diamonds decorating an encroaching tank. This unique banger has dazzled up many a DJ set of mine. Not gonna lie: it’s surprising that “Soul Vibrations” only been sampled seven times, according to Whosampled.

After that early peak, things get a bit lighter in tone. “Games” is stealthy, oddly metered cha-cha that casts an utterly delightful spell, while “Action Line” peddles debonair, breezy samba-jazz in the Cal Tjader/Gary McFarland vein. The feathery and alluring “Theme From ‘Valley Of The Dolls'” (written by André and Dory Previn) and the Bacharach/David standard “The Look Of Love” prove that Ashby could thrive in a pop context. Ashby certainly put her delicately tantalizing stamp on the latter. And the way her serene harp flourishes interact with the aggressively bobbing bass line and trilling flute is breathtaking.

Those seeking high-quality funk should gravitate toward the title track, which was cowritten by Rotary Connection’s godly session guitarist/bassist Phil Upchurch. This groovy and swinging jam would segue well out of Ramsey Lewis’ “The ‘In’ Crowd.” Another funky nugget is “Come Live With Me,” whose languorous, seductive funk almost sounds like a precursor to trip-hop. Unsurprisingly, it’s been sampled over two dozen times.

If you dig Afro-Harping, you’ll likely also flip for Ashby’s less poppy and more global-music-savvy The Rubáiyát Of Dorothy Ashby (1970). You’re most likely to encounter the unofficial 2022 reissue of Afro-Harping on Audio Clarity and the 2018 reissue on Geffen. Fans may also be interested in this year’s 6xLP Ashby box set, With Strings Attached (1957-1965). Every era of Ashby’s truncated career has treasures to offer. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Telex “This Is Telex” (Mute, 2021)

I’m not in the habit of reviewing greatest-hits and best-of releases for this blog, but sometimes the curation is so strong and the discography of the artist diffuse enough in quality that it makes sense to do so. Such is the case with This Is Telex, a 14-song overview of the influential Brussels trio Telex.

Belgium’s answer to Yellow Magic Orchestra and Yello, Telex consisted of of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman, and Michel Moers. Before he formed Telex, Moulin was a prog-jazz genius in the group Placebo, whom crate-diggers/hip-hop producers worship with a reverence usually reserved for the likes of Melvin Bliss and Incredible Bongo Band. Few musicians from Moulin’s realm made the transition to synthwave-pop/cult status, which in itself is innately fascinating. (Rainbow keyboardist Tony Carey comes to mind, but even that’s a stretch; Kraftwerk obviously were influential on synthwave, but were never of it.)

Telex come across as arch keyboard/drum-machine virtuosos slumming it in the nascent synth-pop scene (they even entered that bastion of fromage overload, the Eurovision contest) and then realized that, “Hey, we’re enjoying this more than we thought and the hipsters are slurping it up.” It seems like this comp should’ve come out 10-12 years ago, the better to capitalize on the renewed interest in minimal/synthwave, but better late than never—Mute probably had to cut through thickets of record-company red tape to seal the deal.

This Is Telex begins grandly with a a radical reinvention of Sonny Bono’s ubiquitous 1967 hit “The Beat Goes On,” turning the groovy pop nugget into a chunky, bleepy slab of electro-funk, its rhythm uncannily foreshadowing Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit, “Back To Life.” (This album’s the only place you can find “The Beat Goes On/Off.”) The interpretation establishes Telex as masters of transformative covers. Another excellent example of this is “Dance To The Music,” in which the trio transform Sly &The Family Stone’s 1968 hit into silver-lamé’d robo-disco with diseased talkbox vocals. Telex excised the soul and funk from the original, but their makeover is still a riot that’ll have crowds laughing as much as they’re dancing. They’ve reproduced the absurdist, poker-faced effect that Flying Lizards had with “Money” and Devo had with “Satisfaction.”

More alchemy occurs on “La Bamba,” as Telex convert this traditional Mexican folk song into laggard trip-hop—no easy feat. On “The Number One Song In Heaven,” they bring a dash of poignancy to Sparks’ ebullient, Giorgio Moroder-produced original while slowing the tempo to an elegant shuffle. Speaking of Sparks, this comp features two collabs with the Mael brothers: “Drama Drama” and “ Exercise Is Good For You.” This joint venture—the Maels wrote the lyrics, Moers composed the music—makes sense as both groups revel in camp and humor, flamboyant melodies, and sly dance beats. Trivia: ZZ Top, of all people, used to cover “Exercise” live, often using it to close out their shows. One diversion from Telex’s usual tongue-in-cheekiness is “Dear Prudence” (which is exclusive to this compilation). Telex appear to be playing it straight, exhibiting authentic love for one of the Beatles’ most sublime psychedelic ballads. Their version’s synthetic to the core yet still hits deeply in the heart.

As for Telex’s original tunes, “L’amour Toujours” sounds at once like a parody and a genuine specimen of suave continental disco; Yello pulled the same trick. It exemplifies Telex’s penchant for creating music of artful ambiguity, as does “Eurovision,” a sincere-seeming stab at trying to win the titular songwriting contest in 1980. The result is more like a saccharine homage to Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights,” though, and it nearly came in last place—which was the group’s goal. The wonky electro-funk of “Radio-Radio” slaps hard, proving itself to be a Belgian counterpart to Zapp’s “More Bounce To The Ounce.” Telex’s best-known song is “Moskow Diskow” from 1979’s Looking For Saint Tropez. An influence on techno, it zips through the club like a speedier “Trans-Europe Express,” replete with a synth mimicking a train whistle and percussion emulating said vehicle’s rhythmic chug. No wonder Detroit techno great Carl Craig jumped at the chance to remix it on the 1998 remix album of Telex cuts, I Don’t Like Music.

A cursory listen to Telex may lead some to regard them as a quasi-novelty band, but the impact that their deceptively advanced and detailed music had on electronic music from the ’80s onward is no joke. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Melvin Jackson “Funky Skull” (Limelight, 1969)

Chicago-based Melvin Jackson—who served as the bassist for popular soul-jazz-funk saxophonist Eddie Harris and played on John Klemmer’s 1967 album for Cadet, Involvement—released but one solo LP, Funky Skull, but oh, what a cool platter it is.

Jackson had access to several amazing musicians, who helped to elevate Funky Skull to cult-classic status. The roster includes guitarists and Cadet Records session studs Pete Cosey and Phil Upchurch, trumpeters Lester Bowie and Leo Smith, saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Bobby Pittman, and drummer Billy Hart. Despite some of these musicians having reps as serious jazz cats, they contribute to a record to which you can get down. “Funky Skull (Parts 1 & 2)” delivers churning, ebullient funk marked by Jackson’s trademark quacking bass and party-igniting horn charts by Pittman, James Tatu, Tobie Wynn, Tom Hall, and Donald Towns. Similarly, “Cold Duck Time – Parts 1 & 2” (written by Eddie Harris) offers more torqued, uproarious funk with slapstick “bee-ow bee-ow bee-ow”s from Jackson’s hooked-on-helium bass. (The unique timbres he achieves are instant smile-inducers.) “Cold Duck Time” is the cut you play when you want to launch the party to the next debauched level.

“Funky Doo”—a cowrite with the album’s producer, Robin McBride—boasts vocals by the Sound Of Feeling, but it’s eccentric feel-good funk in a slightly less exuberant mode than “Funky Skull” and “Cold Duck Time.” Another Harris tune, “Bold And Black,” melds Rotary Connection-like soul sublimity with groove-centric jazz, as singer Maurice Miller adds gospelized power. It’s inspirational, but kind of low-key with it. I like the cut of its jib.

“Dance Of The Dervish” is an excursion into abstraction, an opportunity for Jackson to flex exploratory muscles on his array of effects and to thereby disorient those who came to simply blow off steam. It’s a psychedelic curve ball, replete with Echoplexed, robust laughter. Another outlier is “Say What,” low-slung spy jazz on which Jackson’s bass sounds more like a distraught, weeping violin. “Silver Cycles” (which Jackson cowrote with Harris) is a cover of one of the saxophonist’s most transcendent and trippy compositions. No, it doesn’t top the original, but it’s a bold attempt.

Heads up: the Verve By Request label is reissuing Funky Skull on December 8—nice timing for that Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Xmas gift. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.