Blues

Half Japanese “Music To Strip By” (50 Skidillion Watts, 1987)

After beginning their career with noisier, more inaccessible albums such as 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts, Loud, and Our Solar System, Half Japanese eventually became more proficient on their instruments, wrote more structured songs, and enlisted pro producers such as Shimmy-Disc boss Kramer to oversee their recordings. All of these changes led to their greatest LP, Music To Strip By.

Half Japanese’s wild sixth album rambles all over the musical spectrum like a sugared-up toddler. Led by guitarist/vocalist Jad Fair, Half Japanese animated their blues, jazz, speedcore, R&B, and No Wave with a wrongheaded, primitive minimalism that threw a new light on these styles.

Throughout the record, Fair seems like the kind of guy who got taunted throughout his school years and for revenge later channeled his pent-up venom into music. He possesses the ultimate nerd whine (Fair’s influence manifested in Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano); on Music To Strip By, he uses it with devastating effect on his quirky songs about a mother who needs to strip to support her family, hot dogs, intellectually slothful teens, demonic ouija boards, prehistoric animals, and FBI gigolos, among many other things.

The album starts with the amazing “Stripping For Cash,” a euphoric gush of high-energy rock that extrapolates upon the peak parts of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.” The rock-ribbed blues of “Thick And Thin” won’t make anyone forget Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, but for a bunch of geeky Caucasians, it’s pretty tough. “Hot Dog And Hot Damn” sounds like Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, as interpreted by riled-up 5th-graders. “Sex At Your Parents’ House” channels the Contortions, albeit without the reckless rage of their late frontman, James Chance. This piece broke new ground for Half Japanese.

A shocking departure, “The Price Was Right But The Door Was Wrong” is a J.J. Cale-style speed boogie. Similarly, “US Teens Are Spoiled Bums” manically rambles like something off Meat Puppets II. “Silver And Katherine” is another shocker—a tender, sincere ballad with the feathery gravitas of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” but augmented by blissful sax ripples. The relatively straightforward cover of “La Bamba,” a Mexican folk song that Ritchie Valens made famous with his 1958 hit, is somewhat out of place here, but charming nonetheless. My favorite cut on the album is “Diary,” on which Fair’s voice seethes with what seems like a lifetime of bitterness over the leanest white-boy blues ever: “I’ll write in my diary/What you did to me/And leave it on the table/For all the world to see/… I might even make it into a movie.” Damn.

On much of Music To Strip By, Half Japanese sound like a twisted pop band working on a miniaturist scale. Ex-Butthole Surfer bassist Kramer’s sparse production is ideal for this approach. In this case, less really is more. These tunes will leave you laughing, crying, and disbelieving in gasps. It’s quite possibly the greatest 22-song album ever. -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.

Scientists “Blood Red River” (Au Go Go, 1983)

Considered by some to be harbingers of grunge and by others as goth, Scientists always struck me more as Australia’s Stooges. Now, that remote country has fostered many bands with Iggy & company’s DNA, but nobody outside of Birthday Party captured the Stooges’ menacing, seething quality with as much pizzazz as Scientists.

Led by vocalist/guitarist Kim Salmon, Scientists released a self-titled debut album in 1981 whose bubbly power-pop/punk songs didn’t hint at the brooding heaviness that animates their 1983 mini-album, Blood Red River. To these ears, they sounded like lightweight also-rans on that first LP. In retrospect, it makes sense that soon after The Scientists was released, two members left to join the Hoodoo Gurus. Bringing in drummer Brett Rixon, bassist Boris Sujdovic, and guitarist Tony Thewlis had a salubrious effect, as Scientists transformed into a very different and much ornerier beast.

“When Fate Deals Its Mortal Blow” stands as one of the greatest openings to a record ever. Salmon sneers a revenge tale like Lux Interior’s meaner, Down Under Döppleganger while the guitars squeeze out radiated sparks and the rhythm section metronomically marches down a muddy trench with grim certitude. Swagger overload right out of the gate! “Burnout” motors down the garbage-strewn alley with a brutal grunt of a bass line, staccato, pugilistic beats, and guitars like zipping wasps. The song eventually accelerates into a thuggish yet disciplined freakout.

“The Spin” starts exactly like Birthday Party’s sinister blues-rock churn “King Ink,” making it one of the least-surprising moments on Blood Red River. Following in BP singer Nick Cave’s footsteps, Salmon gets off a pitch-perfect, feral Iggy howl. “Rev Head” foreshadows British heavy psychonauts Loop, with some maniacal, Suicide-like repetition (hence the Martin Rev-referencing title) and Alan Vega-esque shouts thrown in for good measure.

One of the coolest songs of the ’80s, “Set It On Fire” forces your mouth agape with jaw-harp-enhanced Stooge-adelia, powered by a thrusting, lascivious bass line, plus well-timed, Jimi Hendrix-meets-Andy Gill guitar explosions. The title track ends the record with sparse, menacing blues rock that, if you saw it stalking toward you, you’d cross the street to avoid it.

Scientists would get trashier and thrashier on 1986’s Weird Love, but for my money, they decisively peaked on the short yet potent Blood Red River. (In 2015, Numero Group reissued Blood Red River. That’s probably the easiest and most cost-effective way to obtain it.) -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.

Eddy Senay “Hot Thang” (Sussex, 1972)

As a guitarist from Detroit coming up in the ’60s and ’70s, Eddy Senay had to deal with some tough competition. Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel, the Funk Brothers’ Dennis Coffey, the MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer, etc. But Senay held his own among these heavy Motor City axe-slingers on his two lone albums for Sussex, Step By Step and Hot Thang (both released in 1972). He wasn’t as incendiary a player as the aforementioned musicians, but Senay ruled as a purveyor of mellow finesse, a virtuoso of blissful licks.

Hot Thang bears similarities with Mel Brown’s Chicken Fat (reviewed on this blog earlier this year). Both records eschew vocals (let us give thanks) and possess a sinuous, sinewy approach to bluesy funk. Sometimes the best way to start an album is to ease your way into it. Fig. 1 is “Just Feeling It,” a laid-back psych-blues charmer that would make Khruangbin flip their wigs. “Down Home” bears Steve Cropper/Booker T. & The M.G.s vibes. Country funk of the highest order, the song rewardingly chews the aforementioned Chicken Fat.

Written by Donny Hathaway and Richard Evans, “Zambezi” remains one of the coolest funk cuts ever, with Senay operating at his flashiest and most dexterous, working in perfect tandem with the uncredited, flamboyant organist. It’s the album’s peak and my go-to cut from it for DJ sets. Almost as great are “Jubo” and “Reverend Lowdown.” The former’s hard-hitting, elastic funk screaming to get on a blaxploitation-film soundtrack; the latter’s stripped-down, James Brown-ian funk with tambourine-augmented beats. Scorchers, both.

Senay’s such an ingenious musician, he can make even an over-covered hit such as Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” sound necessary. He does it with requisite solemnity, but also a peppier tempo and funkier rhythm. It’s one of the best versions of this song, which, given how many there are, is serious praise.

Modern Harmonic reissued Hot Thang on vinyl and CD in 2017. Get it on all formats -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.

Tony Joe White “Tony Joe” (Monument, 1970)

The late Tony Joe White should’ve been at least 75% as popular as Elvis Presley. He had the deep, sexy voice, the knack for telling vivid stories in songs set in his Louisiana swampland youth, the tight guitar playing, a sly sense of humor, and the rugged good looks. TJW was the whole package, and he was more versatile than Elvis (who charted with White’s own biggest hit, “Polk Salad Annie”). So while Tony had some commercial success (the aforementioned hit in the last sentence and “Rainy Night In Georgia”) and wrote a couple more blockbusters for Tina Turner ca. 1989, he didn’t come close to the fame and fortune of his fellow Southern stud. Life ain’t fair, etc.

TJW’s first five albums from 1969-1972 are all great and representative of his prodigious sangin’ [sic], songwriting, and guitar-pickin’ skills. I could’ve written about any of them, but I chose his third LP, Tony Joe, because I dig the poncho Tony’s wearing on the back cover and the horse he’s riding looks cool. I also picked Tony Joe because it starts with one of White’s toughest tracks, “Stud Spider,” which Light In The Attic Records placed on the first comp of its essential Country Funk series. In conjunction with Muscle Shoals hotshots Norbert Putnam (bass), David Briggs (organ), and other session-musician ringers hanging around Nashville studios at the time, White weaves a lustful tale of love via the metaphor of spider behavior while he and the boys erect a slow-burning funk edifice to accentuate the lyrics’ drama. Kanye West and Common have sampled Jerry Corrigan’s drums from this one, and it’s surprising more hip-hop producers haven’t.

Further excursions in grooviness occur with “Save Your Sugar For Me,” a paragon of country-funk accessibility, with White’s trademark libidinousness leading the way and female backing vocalists (uncredited, unfortunately) adding that titular sweetness. With natural gusto and grunting lasciviousness, Tony embodies the Southern-fried braggadocio of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle.” Clearly, TJW was born to perform this soulful crotch-scorcher. “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” (previously done by Jr. Walker & The All Stars) reveals White’s tender side with mellifluous harmonica playing and a confidential singing tone.

Another highlight occurs on “Conjure Woman,” an ominous pounder about a swamp-dwelling witch whom the narrator feared would put a spell on him. The album’s low point is Donnie Fritts/Spooner Oldham’s “My Friend,” a string-heavy ballad that unfortunately tumbles into the maudlin column. White’s better when he straps on the acoustic for some minimalist blues, as he does with “Stockholm Blues” and “Widow Wimberly.” Speaking of blues, White really rises to the occasion with his take on John Lee Hooker’s lean, menacing 1962 original of “Boom Boom.” He lays on the hambone-tough-guy persona thickly while playing mean harmonica and subtly savage electric guitar over the top of the classic’s pitiless lope. This version’s nearly eight minutes long, and it’s all gripping. Ain’t no way Elvis could do it better… -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.

Eugene McDaniels “Outlaw” (Atlantic, 1970)

Eugene McDaniels’ outré political-protest-album era was short, but yielded two classics: 1970’s Outlaw and 1971’s Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse. These records deviated from his previous output as a relatively conventional R&B singer, becoming treasure troves of samples for hip-hop producers and earning love from counter-culture types, too. His rabble-rousing 1969 anthem “Compared To What” was turned into a hit by Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and it somewhat foreshadowed Outlaw. By 1975, though, McDaniels was in full-on loverman mode with Natural Juices. While Headless Heroes has been sampled more and garnered more critical accolades, Outlaw is just as powerful an artistic statement.

To achieve this lofty work, McDaniels enlisted elite session players Ron Carter (bass), Hugh McCracken (guitar), Eric Weissberg (guitar), Ray Lucas (drums), and Buck Clarke (percussion), plus musical director Williams S. Fischer. This team served as exceptional facilitators of soulful, rock-oriented ballads and occasional forays into funk and gospel. Eugene threaded the needle with songs that double as fascinating character studies and trenchant sociopolitical commentary.

“Outlaw” portrays rebellious women who don’t wear bras nor fry their hair, but rather live with nature and not with the law. Surprisingly, “Outlaw” sounds like one of those elegantly stumbling, blues-rock gems from the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet. “Sagittarius Red” offers more Stones-like balladry, flaunting McDaniels’ vast range and emotional depth as a singer, a rich combo of soulfulness and rock bravado.

“Welfare City” is an absolutely joyous ode to flouting convention, hanging out with the kids in Washington Park, and smoking joints. It’s powered by a total earworm of a melody that moves in huge, sugary loops and possesses some of the most infectious “yeah yeah yeah”s and “la la la”s. The gospel intro of “Silent Majority” gives way to a lean, staunch protest song that gathers strength with each passing bar. The guitar interplay between McCracken and Weissberg glints and coils with glorious tension in a tune that’s a perfect merger of Shuggie Otis and Phil Ochs. The song segues seamlessly into “Love Letter To America,” a devastating condemnation of the USA. “Hey, America, you could’ve been a real democracy/You could’ve been free/You could have had me for your friend and not your enemy/The only thing you can respect is violence now/You lost the gift of love, don’t ask me how.” McDaniels renders this brilliant concept with tough tenderness.

In “Unspoken Dreams Of Light,” McDaniels loquaciously castigates the genocide of indigenous peoples (called “Indians,” in the parlance of the time) to a backing in which heartfelt balladry and incisive jazz-funk alternate. It’s a fantastic roller-coaster ride. With its über-funky opening drum break, “Cherrystones” unspools into a low-lit, laid-back charmer in which McDaniels sarcastically lambastes greedy, apolitical assholes. Reminiscent of the sidewinding seductiveness of the Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues,” “Reverend Lee” relates a tale about a clergyman who succumbs to the fleshly temptations of “Satan’s daughter.” The album closes with “Black Boy,” a trembling ballad in which McDaniels shows the rare ability to simultaneously project vulnerability and strength.

On the record’s back cover, McDaniels wrote, “under conditions of national emergency, like now, there are only two kinds of people—those who work for freedom and those who do not… the good guys vs. the bad guys.” Evergreen truth. -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.

The Doors “Waiting For The Sun” (Elektra, 1968)

Waiting For The Sun is the Goats Head Soup of the Doors’ catalog. It followed their two most beloved albums—The Doors and Strange Days—and was considered a letdown by most critics and fans upon its 1968 release. Nevertheless, it reached the top of Billboard‘s LP chart. But, as with Goats Head Soup (which had the difficult task of following Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St.), time has been kind to Waiting For The Sun. Over the decades, the deep tracks on both records have risen in esteem and they’ve proved to be some of the best work by both groups. (Read our review of Goats Head Soup here.)

You can’t say that Waiting For The Sun lacks range. This album contains “Love Street”‘s feathery, filigreed, and quaint romantic pop that threatens to float right off the grooves and “Five To One,” perhaps the toughest and most ominous Doors song—which is saying something in a catalog that boasts “The End” and “Horse Latitudes.” Hip-hop stars J Dilla and Jay-Z and Plunderphonics prankster John Oswald all sampled “Five To One,” which provides a helluva climax for Waiting For The Sun.

Waiting For The Sun also possesses the Robby Krieger-dominated “Spanish Caravan,” in which the guitarist flexes his considerable flamenco chops. The melody eventually gets as convoluted and bombastic as anything ELP or Yes would do a few years later. Then you have “My Wild Love,” which is constructed like a work song, with backing chants, claps, and stomps. Like it or not, there were very few tracks that sounded like this on rock records of the time—especially on those released by major labels.

You got “Yes, The River Knows,” an intimate jazz-pop beauty, not unlike Tim Buckley ca. Blue Afternoon. and also the relentless earworm of big hit “Hello, I Love You.” Bizarrely, the Doors may have unknowingly blueprinted a strain of synth-pop on “Hello, I Love You,” with its sassy automaton shuffle. Yes, the rhythm resembles that of the Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night,” but Manzarek’s keyboard drives it instead of distorted guitars and it’s stiffer in the joints, and that makes all the difference. This development was concurrent with Silver Apples’ first LP, which also foreshadowed synth-pop, but in a more blatant manner. “Hello, I Love You” also possess the coolest sound on any Doors record—those three seconds of futuristic, spaced-dusted keyboard wizardry at 1:16.

I have a fondness for the maligned “Summer’s Almost Gone,” because of how it foreshadows Opal‘s “Happy Nightmare Baby.” A swaying, wistful ballad about romantic doubt and confusion, “Summer’s Almost Gone” features Krieger’s bottleneck-guitar sighs sailing over Manzarek’s Ramsey Lewis-esque keyboard curlicues. Less successful is “Wintertime Love”‘s baroque, waltz-time puffery that’s somewhat similar to Love’s “Stepanie Knows Who,” but with much less thrust and excitement.

If you dig sophisticated, multi-part anti-war tunes, “The Unknown Soldier”—which peaked at #39 with a bullet—is the bomb. “Not To Touch The Earth” stands as one of the Doors’ eeriest, most suspenseful, and psychedelic tracks. Krieger forges a mesmerizing guitar motif while Manzarek creates a proto-Suicide throb that intensifies throughout the song. Despite reports of him being a drunken mess for these sessions, Jim Morrison roars at his most portentous and croons at his most suave. The coda is almost as nerve-shattering as that of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” When people diss the Doors, I like to counter with “But have you heard ‘Not To Touch The Earth'”? If that doesn’t convince ’em of the Doors’ worth, nothing probably will.

I get it: some listeners have trouble with Morrison’s try-hard “poetic” lyrics and self-serious demeanor. But I filter out most of that noise and enjoy Mr. Mojo Risin strictly as a disruptive performance artist who’s competing for attention with the exceptional music behind him. More often than not, Jimbo rises to the occasion and—bonus!—sometimes delivers unintentional humor. -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.

Sugarloaf “Sugarloaf” (Liberty, 1970)

Cheap-heat alert! You’ve probably passed over this ubiquitous bargain-bin dweller by Denver band Sugarloaf more times than you care to count. But please reconsider. I copped mine for a buck years ago, and I’m happy to report that I got way more than expected from these two-hit wonders.

Sugarloaf’s debut album peaked at #24 in the US, thanks largely to its hit single, “Green-Eyed Lady,” which reached #3 in the singles chart. After an instantly magnetic intro featuring Bob Webber’s luminous guitar wails and Bob Raymond’s bubbly, bulbous bass line, things excitingly change for the duration of the song’s 6:50. Allegedly, the suspenseful main riff derived from a scale exercise in a music-theory book. Works for me. As paeans to emerald-orbed girlfriends go, this is unsurpassable. It’s a minor miracle that radio lavished so much love on such a non-LCD, unconventionally structured jazz-rock opus—although the Doors kind of, uh, opened the door for such airplay largesse. Whatever the case, those were different times.

Next, Sugarloaf turn in a suitably turbulent cover of the Yardbirds potent blues-rock warhorse, “The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On).” Another zenith occurs on “Bach Doors Man/Chest Fever.” It opens with a momentous classical-music overture that will curl the toes of Iron Butterfly fans. This then segues smoothly into a grandiose rendition of the Band’s greatest song, “Chest Fever” (nobody can compete with Richard Manuel on the mic, so the decision to go instrumental makes sense.) Sugarloaf transform the original’s propulsive, proto-house rhythm into a staccato blues-rock behemoth full of swirling organ, trenchant guitar stabs, and wicked bass ostinatos, while drummer Myron Pollock gets baroquely funky. It’s a complex banger, for damn certain.

Now, a lot of critics have dismissed side two of Sugarloaf, but “West Of Tomorrow” is a striking bit of musicianship. The track boasts the sky-punching air of a Guess Who hit (partially due to singer Veeder van Dorn’s vocal resemblance to Burton Cummings), but it’s more progtastic than those Canadians, with its intricate beats and dynamic interplay among Webber’s guitar, Jerry Corbetta’s keys, and Raymond’s bass.

After this song, though, the record flags. “Gold And The Blues” is trudging (not walking) blues with plenty of guitar fireworks, but ultimately it sounds like flashy filler. There’s no good reason for it to last more than seven minutes. Last comes “Things Gonna Change Some,” middling waltz-time rock with fruity vocals by van Dorn. There’s an urgency here, but overall the effect is not gripping, although Corbetta breaks off a vibrant piano solo in the last minute.

Sugarloaf‘s hit/miss ratio is 66.6%, which is higher than that of many pricier albums. Stop riffling past this one. -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.

Lee Moses “Time And Place” (Maple, 1971)

It’s damn near impossible to quantify soul with regard to male vocalists, but consensus has built over the decades. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Bobby Caldwell generally top the lists of singers who can make you break down and cry with a few syllables. Rarely, if ever, though, do you hear Lee Moses’ name among the elites. But if you learn one thing from this review, it’s that Moses—who died in 1997 at age 56—ranks as one of the best excavators of deep emotions in music history. The pain and grain of his pipes were just profoundly wrenching. That he died relatively young and unheralded only adds to the pathos when you listen to his records.

A major figure in Atlanta’s soul scene in the ’60s, Moses played guitar for some live gigs with Gladys Knight & The Pips; they wanted him to become a full-time member, but Moses yearned to make it on his own. He had high hopes for his sole album, Time And Place, but it stiffed in the marketplace upon its 1971 release. Nevertheless, true heads knew it was loaded with specialness. There’s a reason that Light In The Attic subsidiary Future Days Recordings has reissued Time And Place on vinyl four times since 2016, including this year. Once you hear Lee Moses sing, it’s like crack for your soul-starved ears. Plus, the originals and the covers that Moses selected cut you deep. You shall be moved.

The opening 1-2 gut punch of “Time And Place” and “Got That Will” should swiftly convince you that Moses was emoting on a level that few could equal. The former lopes into the frame with some horn-laden, laid-back funk as Moses testifies his obsessive love to an inamorata; it also possesses the greatest “mmm hmmm” ever to kick off a song. The latter finds Lee reeling off names of his fellow musicians who made it, and then proclaims that he’s eventually going to join them in the pantheon. Alas, that didn’t come to pass, but the song sure is soul-funk gold. “Every Boy And Girl” is a doom-laden, church soul belter that exudes “House Of The Rising Sun” vibes while “Would You Give Up Everything” is a momentous funk/soul ballad with a complex, corkscrewing bass line—a pretty rare thing. The buoyant, open-hearted melody of “Free At Last” totally embodies the title. And if you dig heart-shredding ballads, Moses sings the shit out of the staggering “Adorable One.”

The album’s best covers are among the most frequently attempted in pop/rock history. Moses puts his indelible stamp on them and makes you wonder why more people don’t consider them definitive. He slows down “California Dreaming” and alters the arrangement into stormy soul, and gruffs it up on the vocal tip. Moses doesn’t so much blow away the Mamas & The Papas’ original as he does transform it into his own joint. Then there’s one of the greatest “Hey Joe”s I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard over a dozen. In the intro, Moses explains how he was trying to dissuade Joe from going down to shoot his old lady, who was messin’ around with another man. “This is a song about a soul brother named Joe. Joe was a good friend of mine.” Etc. When Moses gets around to singing, he outshines even Tim Rose’s bruised and blustery delivery on this classic. The backing is greasy, Southern blues funk of the highest order.

Time And Place should’ve made Moses a star, with his guitar playing as gritty and expressive as his voice. Plus, he got that will to learn. But all of this somehow wasn’t enough. That the LP’s still in print a quarter century of Moses’ death, though, is a testament of sorts. (Also highly recommended: Future Days’ 2019 comp How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965-1972.) -Buckley Mayfield

Groundhogs “Hogwash” (United Artists, 1972)

Groundhogs leader Tony “T.S.” McPhee passed away on June 6 at age 79, and the outpouring of love and respect that followed on social media was gratifying. Though he never became a household name in the US, the British guitarist/vocalist earned renown from discerning listeners for his inventive, explosive guitar playing and incisive, sociopolitical lyrics, as exemplified on albums such as Thank Christ For The Bomb, Split, and Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs. McPhee was a cult guitar hero’s cult guitar hero, and he shined hard on one of Groundhogs’ best—and most underrated—records, Hogwash.

As many English musicians had done in the early/mid ’60s, Groundhogs began their existence as a blues-inflected rock group. In 1964, they even backed American blues legend John Lee Hooker on some of his UK dates and later cut an LP with him titled …And Seven Nights. Auspicious! Unsurprisingly, Groundhogs’ first two albums—1968’s Scratching The Surface and 1969’s Blues Obituary—trawled in traditional, gritty blues territory, but they began to expand beyond those strictures with 1970’s Thank Christ For The Bomb.

On Hogwash, the addition of Egg drummer Clive Brooks enabled Groundhogs to venture into more complex realms. This becomes apparent from the opening track, “I Love Miss Ogyny,” whose unpredictable, slow-fast dynamics and strange guitar tunings and riffs mark a bold move into prog-rock. McPhee not only sang like a more blue-collar Richard Thompson and wielded electric and acoustic guitars, but he also messed with an ARP 2600 synthesizer, Mellotron M400, ring modulator, and assorted FX pedals. These weapons allowed Tony to spice up Groundhogs’ tough and twisty rock, lifting it further out of their earlier bluesy muck.

“You Had A Lesson” is ominous rock that verges on Van Der Graaf Generator bombast, with Peter Cruickshank’s riveting and girthy bass plowing a devastating groove. “The Ringmaster” is an 83-second experimental interlude centering on a heavily FX’d drum solo. Some people can’t handle this sort of anomalous abstraction from a rock group, but those types are a drag; this is cool. The album’s longest and perhaps best song, “3744 James Road” contains over seven minutes of metronomic, Can-like bass and drum interplay, torrid guitar expressionism, and a surprising earworm chorus. “Sad Is The Hunter” rocks as ruggedly and threateningly as John Lennon’s “Well Well Well,” but with flashier solos and extrapolations by McPhee and Cruickshank.

The ridiculously fun and intricate “S’one Song” is a party-rockin’ tune for people with high IQs while “Earth Shanty” is chest-puffing, Mellotron-enhanced prog that makes you feel more heroic than you have any right to. It’s like the Moody Blues with wilder instincts and bigger biceps. The LP ends with “Mr. Hooker, Sir John,” a heartfelt homage to the god John Lee Hooker, fueled by McPhee’s hard and nasty acoustic guitar strumming. McPhee sings, “You taught so many people how to play/Your music is as timeless as a mountain and as earthy as clay/Your voice is clear and resonant as a bell.” Tony really lays it on thickly, and it’s touching. The song’s a curiously retrograde end to a forward-thrusting record, but, hell, JLH deserves all the tributes and Groundhogs had broken so much new ground before, so slack is cut. Call this album “hogwash” at your peril. -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.

Savoy Brown “Raw Sienna” (Decca, 1970)

British blues rock was damn near everywhere in the ’60s and early ’70s, and Savoy Brown were in the thick of it, releasing very good records from 1967 to 1972. Unfortunately, they failed to gain the substantial traction in the US that artists such as Cream and Fleetwood Mac achieved. Instead, Savoy Brown were more of a connoisseur’s band, and the consensus among those sage heads is that they peaked with Raw Sienna.

Led by pianist/vocalist Chris Youlden—who left the group after Raw Sienna—and guitarist Kim Simmonds, Savoy Brown expanded blues rock’s parameters on this nine-track LP. One of Simmonds’ three compositions, “That Same Feelin’” is fabulous, marauding rock powered by Roger Earl’s funky percussion solo, Kim’s stinging guitar solo, and Terry Noonan’s bravura brass charts. Another Simmonds anomaly is “ Is That So,” which is not so much blues rock as it is a proggy quest in busted waltz time—a nice surprise! The spy-flick-soundtrack-y instrumental “Master Hare” (also by Simmonds) excites with blaring horns and Youlden’s tension-building piano. Tone Stevens’ bass lines are insanely groovy and complex and Simmonds wrings rampant guitar leads that might’ve made Peter Green with envy. [sic] A freaky rave-up coda ices this blues-rock cake.

Many of Youlden’s songs slap, too. The alluring opener “A Hard Way To Go” instantly ensnares you with Stevens’ intriguing bass line and Youlden’s golden, vocals, which reach Steve Marriott levels of wracked soulfulness. The sotto-voce, mellow blues of “Stay While The Night Is Young” features “Lonesome” Dave Peverett’s acoustic-guitar strum and Simmonds’ fluid, pointillistic electric-guitar solo. (Incidentally, this cozy, subliminally funky music was sampled by a California-based friend who releases excellent instrumental hip-hop under the name DJ Frane.) “When I Was A Young Boy” is that rare specimen—orchestral blues rock—and moving it is.

If I’m hearing this right, “Needle And Spoon” is a bustling, horn-powered paean to heroin. But if it’s sincere, this song pairs poorly with Neil Young’s “The Needle And The Damage Done.”A dynamic blues ballad with the brassy brashness of early Chicago, “I’m Crying” sounds like a hit single, aided by Youlden’s confessional, conspiratorial vocal delivery. Alas, even though their records sold pretty well in America, Savoy Brown never scored a hit here, but smart record collectors can score their best albums for a reasonable price in most used-vinyl bins. -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.

J.J. Cale “Naturally” (Shelter, 1971)

J.J. Cale’s debut LP sounds as if it were recorded while the leader was on the verge of nodding off to sleep. Even though Naturally is a party album, a driving album, a sex album, a crying album, a mourning album, everything on it sounds muted, swaddled in fluffy blankets, as intimate as pillow talk. The record established from the get-go that ain’t nobody as laid-back as Tulsa, Oklahoma’s J.J. Cale, and ain’t nobody ever leveraged that posture to such sublime songs which somehow achieved commercial success—mostly in the hands of other artists (Er*c Clapt*n, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, et al.).

Now, Cale was relatively old for an artist making his debut full-length (32), but that’s fitting when you take into account the man’s proclivity for doing things unhurriedly. The advantage to this is, Cale’s music burst into the world fully formed and honed to perfection. Naturally proffered all of J.J.’s styles and tics in one 12-song, 33-minute platter, and he spent the ensuing 40-plus years further polishing these modes (country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, and rockabilly, with sly nods to funk). But for many fans, Naturally remains Cale’s peak.

“Call Me The Breeze”—Cale’s first song on his first album—could be his definitive work, something that rarely happens in the music world. In it, J.J.’s spindly, rapid blues-guitar calligraphy wreathes the metronomic drum-machine beats, like Canned Heat in mechanized-mantra mode. It could be classified as “hick motorik,” as one writer for The Stranger put it in a 2009 feature on Cale. Even Cale’s driving songs choogle at a relatively slack pace. This friction-free, country-rock ramble was covered/homaged by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, Spiritualized, Bobby Bare, and others.

Cale’s blues songs don’t seem very brutal, but rather something with which he handles with a minimum of fuss. Nevertheless, his sentiment seems genuine and the spare architecture of tracks such as “Call The Doctor,” “Don’t Go To Strangers,” and “Crying Eyes” convey a light gravitas that appealed to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, among many others. Cale’s intimate, gruff vocal style makes every word seem confidential and crucial. Even as he sounds as if he’s a second away from napping, Cale rivets on these blues tunes with his hushed, sandpapery tones. You can hear this to stunning effect on the unlikely single “Magnolia,” a spare, dewy ballad of exquisite beauty. The song is as evanescent as a teardrop, with Cale’s voice so full of regret it can hardly attain audibility.

But Naturally shows that Cale can also go jaunty and celebratory, too, as he does on the Dr. John-like “Woman I Love,” “Bringing It Back,” and “Nowhere To Run,” Cale’s idea of a rowdy Rolling Stones rocker, but still as laid-back as a yogi after a cup of camomile tea. And then there’s “After Midnight,” a subdued party jam that Clapt*n made famous even before J.J.’s album dropped. The subliminal funk of “After Midnight”— thanks largely to Norbert Putnam’s bass, Chuck Browning’s drums, and David Briggs’ piano—turns this classic into a boudoir-friendly slow-burner. (Grateful Dead comrade Merl Saunders covered it on Fire Up. You can read a review of that album here.)

Now let us reflect upon “Crazy Mama,” Cale’s only Top 40 hit and perhaps my fave song by him. From today’s perspective, it seems like a miracle that a tune as minimal and unobtrusive as this would chart, but those were different times. Even mainstream ears had the capacity to cherish music with subtlety in 1972. Despite its hedonistic title, “Crazy Mama” is prime hammock-lazing blues rock, with a slide-guitar solo by Mac Gayden that embodies libidinal ache as articulately as anything I’ve heard in my long life. “Crazy Mama” exemplifies the less-is-more ethos in rock.

Some artists try strenuously to reinvent themselves with every new release. Cale was completely at ease doing his own thing, with minor tweaks, decade after decade. Like the protagonist in “Call Me the Breeze,” Cale “[kept] blowing down the road… Ain’t no change in the weather/Ain’t no change in me.” So gloriously chill, that man and his music were, and the peacefulness that emanates from the latter is priceless. -Buckley Mayfield