I usually look into my wallet, and stand outside the record stores and say “just one, on sale.” Then a day like Saturday comes along, and next thing you know, you’re in the hole a thousand, covered in shrink wrap, and waking up somewhere between G and M in the Jazz section.
So here’s what I got — after the jump (and all from the Sound Fix, by the way).
Jimi Hendrix Experience – The Jimi Hendrix Experience Live at Clark University.
Arguably the biggest tease among the Record Store Day promotions, this is still a fantastic release, even if unjustly short. This one is actually a re-release of a live album released by Dagger Records in 1999. However, this vinyl re-release cuts four tracks out of their original package — all of them interviews, a pre-show with Jimi and then post-show interviews with each band member — and drops you in the middle of the action. Kicking off with a slow-starting version of “Fire,” the momentum soon picks up and remains through out the end. “Red House” is fiery and passionate, while “Foxey Lady” is given an almost menacing stomp by Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding behind Jimi’s melodic noodling. “Purple Haze” is extended into an appropriately exploring slice of acid rock, all capped off by an absurdly cool cover of “Wild Thing.” However, it’s that cover that suggests there was more to the show, as there are pieces of “Star Spangled Banner” that make an appearance through the jam, and to think that the Jimi Hendrix Experience only played a half-hour set is absurd, even if it is a college show.
The liner notes on the sleeve put it all into a rather humorous context. Recorded on March 15th, 1968, the band had already released Are You Experienced? and Axis: Bold as Love, and were relegated to playing the university’s Atwood Hall, an extremely intimate show space. Again, the legend preceding the band in retrospect puts the idea of seeing Jimi Hendrix at $4.00 (for the best seats! Just to get in was $3.00!) seems cosmically unfair. However, given the masterful mixing and production of what is referred to as an ‘official’ bootleg of the Experience when their popularity was skyrocketing, and even if this is a scaled-down release, it is a fantastic album.
Roky Erickson (with Okkervil River) – True Love Cast Out All Evil.
This album was released in advance to celebrate Record Store Day, and I must admit, I had not heard about this collaboration until I finally saw the list of material being released — that was only the day before. So knowing Roky was releasing an album, I was psyched (no pun intended) to finally get my hands on some new material from the legendary leader of the 13th Floor Elevators, the band that invented the American version of psychedelic rock.
Anyone anticipating a fun, trippy affair as I was will be shocked to learn that instead of being a collaborative effort between a legend and his admirers for a turn to form, True Love Cast Out All Evil is an intense, intimate experience. It’s rock and roll, to be sure; however, it is not a psychedelic trip (besides a few flourishes of found sounds here and there), nor is it the horror-punk of Roky’s releases from the 80s with the Aliens. This is Roky in singer-songwriter folk mode, and doing so with the help of a few fans.
The extensive liner notes written by Okkervil River’s own Will Sheff details virtually the entirety of Roky’s life, from his childhood, to his first band, lingers (appropriately) on the details of the 13th Floor Elevators and the affect Tommy Hall had on Roky’s life, to his life in and out of mental institutions, his deteriorating health, to his recovery, redemption, all leading up to this record.
There are three songs here where Okkervil River adds nothing, and simply uses the original demos as Roky recorded them, which are supposed to provide a snapshot of him at different times in his life. The tracks where the band is present are appropriately spare. Okkervil River do not play tribute to Roky’s career, nor do they try to overpower his songs with their own stylistic choices or embellish anything. These songs are minimalist (even with horns, strings, a Wurlitzer, etc. etc.), and powerful, relying only on the strength of Roky retelling his life’s story through abstraction, Bible study, and heady poetry. Most vital of all is Roky’s voice, which even at the age of 63, is a potent and quintessentially American voice. It is worn, it sometimes creaks and, at times, evokes Captain Beefheart singing “And the Wind Blows Back.” But in more uptempo numbers like “Bring Back the Past,” he still has that trademark wail that gave “You’re Gonna Miss Me” its punkish bite.
Grade: A. While being almost too intense at times due to the subject matter at hand, there is no denying that this album is an artistic achievement from a broken man. All of the songs were written at various points in his life, yet all play within the same themes that purvey the details of Roky’s entire life’s story. This is an autobiography recorded to magnetic tape, and has the desperate, optimistic qualities that a recovering madman cling to all over the details. There are sound collages meant to reflect the televisions and radios Roky had on in his house to drown out the voices in his head; there’s the angered stomp of “John Lawman,” and pleading anguish of “Please Judge” that reflect his initial incarceration; and the anxious reach of “Good Bye Sweet Dreams” that realizes a majority of his potential is gone forever. Yes, the two sides are a little uneven, wherein side one is downtrodden, and the other is completely optimistic and hopeful, but so was his life. From the “Alice in Wonderland” tribute painted on the album’s back cover, to the lyric “And, too, as Jesus is not a hallucinogenic mushroom / Don’t wait for Christ to come,” this is a unique album from one of rock history’s most enigmatic characters.
Bring Back The Past by ElectricComicBook
The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights.
Oh, this wasn’t a part of the promotion, but the good folks at Sound Fix decided to reduce the price even further from sixteen dollars down to eleven. Personally, I’m glad I waited on this one.
There’s no thing as a “bad” White Stripes concert. It simply doesn’t happen. Jack White is too great of a showman, and Meg White is too vital to their dynamic that just can’t be replicated no matter how many other band members you squeeze around Jack White. However, I cannot say Under Great White Northern Lights is as good as so many others are claiming because it is not an official live album culled from a single (or even two) shows, but a multitude of performances — which is a shortsighted move for so many reasons.
The packaging itself treats this as a selection of material, a soundtrack from the documentary, rather than as one concert, which would have been fine if some of the more unique aspects of the Stripes’ whirlwind tour of Canada were included. Mentioned in the list of performances (there were usually two a day) are the band’s performances at pool halls, bowling alleys, and even a public bus (I’d provide a link to that last one, but all known videos are incredibly annoying because fans never shut up about how awesome it is — and it is, but still, if the White Stripes get on your bus and play, you kindly shut the fuck up! But they’re on YouTube.). Yet, none of them are included. Surely, someone must have been recording, yet we get mostly the big concert shows, which does not seem to have the same charisma as one show does. Jack White has said that when performing, they will do songs they do strictly when it’s a good show, and skip them if he’s not feeling like the audience is reactive enough. At 16 tracks, this would suggest a particularly listless performance if this were one show.
At this point, I must stop and wonder if I am being too hard on the album considering it really is supposed to be a companion to the documentary and not a proper album. Or if I’m expecting too much from the bootlegs of their incredible live shows. And they are legendary live performances — “Under Great White Northern Lights” documents the fact that they are the first band to have played every providence and territory in Canada (Rush hasn’t even done that, and they’re natives!), and can actually get people to show up to hear you play ONE NOTE.
Personally, I think I’m expecting too much from the White Stripes given the strength of their first live DVD, Under Blackpool Lights, recorded over two days in England after the release of Elephant. Those two nights, compiled into one, form a more consistent experience than this album does.
Still, I am not judging the album for it’s own merits, and for that, I must apologize and begin again by saying that it may not be a good thing when the first note Jack sings is screeched out from a voice pushed to it’s limits. Opening with one of their earliest songs, “Let’s Be Friends” is still a torrent of manic garage-punk energy, and is a terrific intro to a show that attempts to prove of the band’s vitality. They stick to a playlist consisting mostly of greatest hits with some slight variations, including an organ-based “Ball and Biscuit,” a slower, blues version of “Fell in Love with a Girl” and a sing-along version of “I’m Slowly Turning Into You.”
Grade: C. For seasoned Stripes fans, you may be disappointed by the playlist (there is NOTHING off of De Stijl, and only “When I Hear My Name” from the first album makes an appearance) and the brevity of the whole experience. However, despite the missteps toward making this a great first live album, you cannot deny the energy of the show, and that’s where the majority of the hype comes from in terms of the White Stripes’ live shows. In a band of just two people, there’s garage-punk, slow-burning blues, great solos, intense washes of feedback, intimate folk (of both the American and Scottish variety), and idea that all of this is taking place now on the international stage brings the entire world on what may be American rock and roll’s worst-kept secret. This is a fine introduction to what a Stripes show may be, but it fails to live up to expectations. Perhaps hearing it after a viewing of the doc may help augment the entire affair to something bigger than this. Regardless, it proves that the world needs the White Stripes now more than ever.