Monday, January 30, 2012

Jack White's debut solo album is coming in April

Almost a year to the day of the announcement of the White Stripes' breakup comes a more encouraging announcement: Jack White's first solo album, titled Blunderbuss, is going to be released in late April. The first single, titled "Love Interruption", is being released on February 7th, with the non-album B-side "Machine Gun Silhouette". The Jack White-directed video for "Love Interruption" can be viewed below.

The song serves as a very intriguing first taste of the album. It's a moody ballad that makes haunting use of an organ, acoustic guitar, and woodwind. White's lyrics use violent-sounding metaphors to describe how the singer feels about love. It almost sounds like a dark variation on the popular Fleetwood Mac sound from the '70's; Ruby Amanfu provides a Stevie Nicks-like harmony vocal that complements Jack White's disturbed Lindsey Buckingham. Let's hope that the rest of Blunderbuss is this strong.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Alex Chilton - "Free Again: The '1970' Sessions" (CD reissue)

Earlier this month, on January 10th, 2012, Alex Chilton’s 1970 album was reissued by the Omnivore Recordings label, under the title Free Again: The “1970” Sessions. My review of the original 1996 release is here; in my previous blog post, I discussed the vinyl edition of the new reissue. This post focuses on the new CD edition.

This CD features new liner notes by Bob Mehr, who gives new and welcome insights on the sessions. Contrary to the album’s title, these recordings were made during the second half of 1969, while Chilton was still a member of the Box Tops. The sessions for this album were recorded virtually in secret, because Chilton was still under contractual obligation to the Box Tops; the reason the album was titled 1970 when it was released in 1996 was to avoid any potential legal troubles that may still have arisen from the recording dates. Also, the liner notes tell the tale about the initial search for a distribution deal for the album when it was first recorded. Some label execs showed interest, but Chilton was turned off by an offer from Atlantic which was based upon the success of a single; Chilton felt that this was too much like the types of business decisions he had to deal with in the Box Tops. Also, he shopped the album to Carl and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who liked what they heard, but nothing came of it.

The 13 tracks from the 1996 version are here, in a slightly different sequence. The “original mono mix” of “Free Again” that opens the CD is the same version that appeared on the 1996 version. The instrumental “Funky National” is appended to the end of the Big Star-like ballad “Every Day As We Grow Closer”, but to my ears, it doesn’t sound like those two tracks really belong together.

The Free Again CD contains eight extra tracks, six of which were previously unissued, and two of which appeared on a U.K. release called Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story in 2008. The ballad “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” is described in more detail in my previous blog post. The stereo remix of “Free Again” has a different vocal that sounds very much like the one Chilton re-recorded for the Lost Decade album, and is less preferable. There are now at least four different versions of the song in existence; the “original mono mix” on this album, sung in Chilton’s gruff Box Tops voice, is the best one. The original mono mixes of four other songs are all inferior to their final mixes. “Every Day As We Grow Closer” has denser instrumentation, and is less effective. On the other hand, “All I Really Want Is Money” has less instrumentation, but is better off with more. “Come On Honey” has a less appealing vocal. “The EMI Song” sounds almost the same, but sounds a bit less creamy toward the end. The last two tracks are demos which will be of interest to Chilton completists. Both of them sound quite personal. The piano-based “If You Would Marry Me Babe” may have been sincerely addressed to his first wife Suzie Green, although their marriage ended quickly. “It Isn’t Always That Easy”, co-written by Chilton and his Box Tops bandmate Gary Talley, is a somber ballad that likens a hotel room to a prison cell. Resembling a song from Big Star’s Radio City album, the song provides another hint as to why Chilton was longing to be “free again” from his Box Tops obligations.

Alex Chilton “Free Again: The ‘1970’ Sessions” (CD) (Omnivore OVCD-13) 2011

Track Listing:

1. Free Again (original mono mix)
2. Come On Honey
3. Something Deep Inside
4. I Can Dig It
5. The EMI Song (Smile For Me)
6. All I Really Want Is Money
7. The Happy Song
8. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
9. Every Day As We Grow Closer / Funky National
10. I Wish I Could Meet Elvis
11. Just To See You
12. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain *
13. Sugar, Sugar / I Got The Feelin’
14. Free Again (stereo remix with alternate vocal) *
15. Every Day As We Grow Closer (original mono mix) **
16. Come On Honey (original mono mix) *
17. The EMI Song (Smile For Me) (original mono mix) **
18. All I Really Want Is Money (original mono mix) *
19. If You Would Marry Me Babe (demo) *
20. It Isn’t Always That Easy (demo) *

* -- Previously unissued

** -- Previously issued on Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story (Big Beat CDWIK2 273) 2008

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Alex Chilton - "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain"

This past week, on January 10th, 2012, Alex Chilton’s 1970 album was reissued by the Omnivore Recordings label, under the title Free Again: The “1970” Sessions. The sessions for this album were actually recorded in 1969, shortly before the breakup of Chilton’s popular blue-eyed soul band The Box Tops, and before the formation of his revered power pop band Big Star. The album was never released until 1996, when it was issued as a CD titled 1970 by the Ardent label. That CD has been out of print for some time. The reissue by Omnivore comes in vinyl, CD, and digital formats. This post focuses on the vinyl edition, as well as a 7-inch single associated with it.

Unlike the CD and digital versions of the album, which contain several bonus tracks, the vinyl LP version of Free Again features only one previously unissued track, in place of the omitted “Sugar Sugar/I Got The Feeling” medley. The song is a Chilton composition titled “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain”. It’s a somber folk ballad that would not sound out of place on Radio City, the second Big Star album. The lyrics are deeper than in most songs from Chilton’s bands, as he sings from the point of view of a person who (along with a companion) is left to live on the streets after being betrayed by friends. Chilton’s vocal is sung in a relatively low register that lies somewhere between his Box Tops gruffness and his Big Star high notes, and he effectively conveys the hopelessness of the characters in the song. Some of the songs from the 1970 sessions (especially “Free Again”) can be interpreted as songs about Chilton being freed from his Box Tops obligations. It’s possible that “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” might have reflected the downside of Chilton’s newfound freedom.

A limited-edition 7-inch single was issued at the same time as the Free Again album. It contained two alternate versions of “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain”. The first side featured the original mix, which makes it sound even more like a Big Star song. In fact, this mix reminds me very much of the song “Thirteen”, although the subject matter is clearly more downbeat. Chilton sang in a slightly higher register for this version, and the harmony vocal provided by producer Terry Manning in the song's final mix is noticeably absent from this mix. This mix has less emotional impact than the final one. The second side of the single features the song’s demo, which sounds surprisingly good. The sounds of passing cars and other street noises were dubbed in by Manning; those sounds and the raw recording quality add some extra realism to the song’s lyrics about living on the street.

The single was limited to 500 copies. The first 1,500 copies of the vinyl LP were pressed in clear vinyl, and 500 of those were sold in bundles with the single through the Omnivore website.

7/4/13 update: The 2013 soundtrack album for the Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me included a new 2012 "movie mix" of the song "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain". It was a polished-up remix of the demo version from the single's second side, with the street noises present, and with Chilton's vocals cleaned up for a cinematic effect.

Alex Chilton - Free Again: The

Alex Chilton “Free Again: The ‘1970’ Sessions” (vinyl) (Omnivore OVLP-13) 2011

Track Listing:

1. Free Again (original mono mix)
2. I Can Dig It
3. Something Deep Inside
4. Just To See You
5. The EMI Song (Smile For Me)
6. All I Really Want Is Money
7. Come On Honey
8. I Wish I Could Meet Elvis
9. Every Day As We Grow Closer / Funky National
10. The Happy Song
11. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
12. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain *

* -- Previously unissued

Alex Chilton - All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain

Alex Chilton “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” (single) (Omnivore OVS7-14) 2011

1. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain (Original Mix)
2. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain (Demo)

Monday, January 09, 2012

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 10

Last week I received the tenth pair of exclusive vinyl items offered to platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its platinum members every three months. According to the postmark, my package was sent on January 4th. I received it on the 6th.

This tenth set of items consists of a live album (pressed in black-and-blue split-colored vinyl) by the Raconteurs, recorded at the Third Man Records studio, as well as a 7” single containing “celebrity” remixes of two songs from Jack White-led bands, and a DVD documenting Third Man’s 2010 Halloween festival.

The single contains a remix of a White Stripes song by Beck (Hansen) on one side, and a remix of a Dead Weather song by Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan on the other. Both sides are labeled as A-sides, presumably so that one of the celebrity remixers will not be perceived as being more important than the other. Beck’s remix of “The Hardest Button To Button” is filled with heavily distorted techno beats that make it somewhat reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails. The staccato rhythms are sometimes striking, but are just as often annoying. For their remix of the Dead Weather’s “Hang You From The Heavens”, the guys from Queens Of The Stone Age rearrange the song into a duet between Mark Lanegan and Alison Mosshart, adding echo and filter effects to both voices. Most of the guitar work is mixed out, leaving long stretches of spare percussion that almost give the song an a cappella feel. Both sides of this single are basically hip curios for cognoscenti.

The Raconteurs’ Live At Third Man Records was recorded direct to 1” analog tape at the Third Man studio on September 14th, 2011. The usual quartet (Jack White, Jack Lawrence, Brendan Benson, and Patrick Keeler) were joined by Dean Fertita of the Dead Weather, who played keys and provided additional guitar and backing vocals. This was the Racs’ first show after a two-year hiatus, preceding just a handful of U.S. tour dates before the year’s end. The album sounds very much like a well-produced live album from the analog era. The performances are controlled, and the sound is clean, but it’s not clean to the point of digital-age sterility. There’s no new material here, unless you count the version of “Hands” with a few verses from the Who’s “I Can See For Miles” incorporated into it. But fans of the Racs’ two studio albums will not be disappointed by this well-played, well-recorded set. (For those who’ve been with the Vault service since its early days, this set has better sound quality than the Raconteurs’ Live In London album included in the second package, but has a less comprehensive selection of songs).

Update 1/11/12: The Raconteurs ended their set that night with a nearly-eleven-minute version of "Blue Veins", but this track clearly would not fit on the vinyl LP. However, as of this writing, an mp3 download has been made available at the Vault website for Vault members. It's a gloriously Zeppelin-esque extended jam that is worth hearing.

The DVD Devil’s Night at Third Man Records documents the Halloween party held at Third Man Records on October 30th, 2010, which featured performances by the Greenhornes and the Black Belles. (The term “Devil’s Night” has traditionally been used to describe the night before Halloween in Detroit, Jack White’s hometown). The half-hour “Feature Film” alternates between footage of the festivities – highlighted by the amusing interaction between hostess Elvira (a.k.a. Cassandra Peterson) and sword-swallowing performer Dan Meyer – and meatier parts involving the Greenhornes, whom we see rehearsing, discussing their then-forthcoming album titled ****, and performing songs for the studio audience while wearing ZZ Top costumes. The real pleasure of the DVD comes from the full live sets (accessed through different menu options) from the two bands involved. For their very first concert, the all-female quartet called the Black Belles (described by the hostess as “little baby Elviras in training”) played a fast-paced 10-minute set of four ‘60’s-style garage rock numbers. Both songs from their 2009 debut single are included (“What Can I Do” and the Knickerbockers’ “Lies”), but another song called “Casting My Spell On You” makes the strongest impression. Notwithstanding the ZZ Top gags, the Greenhornes’ set is no joke. Inspired by more vintage styles of ‘60’s rock, the band is able to cram 14 numbers (including six songs from ****) into a 44-minute time frame without short-changing any of them; they find enough time to deliver concise three-minute songs and British-style blues jams. Devil’s Night at Third Man Records is a fun DVD all around, but I do have one quibble: why is every aspect of this lighthearted event presented in arty black-and-white film? Some scenes just cry out for color.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the forgotten practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is evident on these items. The Beck side of the single has “a psycho disco killer” carved in the dead wax; the B-side has “Dude took my drum stick. Gave it back” carved. Side One of the LP has “There’s magic in my eyes” etched in the runout grooves; Side Two has “As if no time has passed” carved.

The White Stripes “The Hardest Button To Button (Beck Remix)” / The Dead Weather “Hang You From The Heavens (Josh Homme & Mark Lanegan Remix)” (Third Man single TMR126) 2011

Track Listing:

a. The White Stripes – “The Hardest Button To Button” (Beck Remix)
a. The Dead Weather – “Hang You From The Heavens” (Josh Homme & Mark Lanegan Remix)

The Raconteurs “Live At Third Man Records” (Third Man TMR127) 2011

Track Listing:

1. Consolers of the Lonely
2. Salute Your Solution
3. Hands / I Can See For Miles
4. Old Enough
5. Top Yourself
6. Many Shades of Black
7. The Switch and the Spur
8. Broken Boy Soldier
9. Steady As She Goes

Devil’s Night at Third Man Records (Third Man DVD TMR 130) 2011

With full live performances from:


1. What Can I Do?
2. Casting My Spell On You
3. Lies
4. The Witch


1. Instrumental
2. Saying Goodbye
3. Hard Times
4. Underestimator
5. Going To The River
6. Too Much Sorrow
7. Song 13
8. Shelter Of Your Arms
9. Things She Says
10. Jacob’s Ladder
11. La Grange
12. Better Off Without It
13. Need Your Love
14. Lost Woman