Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lucky Thirteen!

It’s hard to believe, but my website Rarebird’s Rock and Roll Rarity Reviews is now 13 years old. May 31st of 1999 was the day the site “went live”, with just six album reviews on four pages. I didn’t think the site would grow much bigger than that, but once I started building it, I didn’t want to stop. I am proud of the site I’ve created, and I intend to keep it alive as long as possible.

I remember receiving an e-mail back in 2006 saying this:

Thanks…for keeping the spirit of the (record) search alive. There is nothing like going from record store to record store in search of the unique. Now (because of) eBay and the internet, the “rock and roll Lewises and Clarks” are extinct…Keep your head above water because you are one of the last.

I knew exactly what this person meant. Back in the ‘90’s, I loved shopping around in indie and used record stores in search of hard-to-find items, a hobby that led to the creation of my site and blog. In the late ‘90’s and early ‘00’s, the indie music stores that I loved to visit rapidly disappeared. Of course, eBay and the internet made it easier to find out-of-print recordings. When I first started using eBay and GEMM, I quickly obtained albums that I had previously thought I would never see in my lifetime. The downside of this modern convenience is that independent music stores have become a dying breed. (Not to mention the big-name music retail chain stores, which are also vanishing at an alarming speed).

In the mid-‘00’s, it indeed seemed that the art of searching for rare recordings had become a thing of the past. And, of course, I was convinced that vinyl records had finally been forgotten. But a lot has changed in the last six years or so. Besides the much-discussed vinyl resurgence, a new appreciation has apparently arisen for independent record stores. There is now an annual tradition called Record Store Day, which began in 2007. Still, that won’t bring back the stores that are gone. I can remember a time in the ‘90’s when there were no less than five indie record stores within ten miles of my home. Now, I have to drive at least ten miles just to find one. (Again, I won’t even mention the number of major music retailers that have disappeared in my area).

Also, thanks to the vinyl resurgence, it has become easier to find record players and parts, and record plants now have much more work to do in the midst of a sluggish economy. Still, there are fewer record plants than there were 25 years ago, and it is said that the number of people who are able and experienced in the craft of cutting and pressing records has greatly declined. Indeed, considering that vinyl records were almost obsolete for two decades, it’s a wonder that this particular line of work has survived at all. Only time will tell if the new interest in vinyl will encourage more investment in such businesses, or if it will cause more people to learn the skills involved.

I hope these trends will continue, because they seem to defy the current wisdom that digital music is putting an end to all physical formats. I hope that vinyl records, CD’s, and even cassettes will survive and that it will be common for people to own devices to play them on. And, in the words of that person who sent me that memorable e-mail years ago, I hope that the "rock and roll Lewises and Clarks" will live on in some way. Support your local record stores! They need you.

Having said all of that, I want to celebrate my site’s 13th birthday with this song by Big Star.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 11

Last week I received the eleventh 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, and is now a solo artist as well. 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 May 18th. I received it on the 21st.

This eleventh set of items consists of a 3-LP compilation of Third Man Records singles released in 2011, and a 7” single containing alternate takes of two songs by the White Stripes. The bonus item is a black t-shirt with a reflective white Third Man logo that turns yellow in sunlight.

The White Stripes single contains early versions of two songs, both of which were recorded in 1999: “Dead Leaves”, which was re-recorded as “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” for the 2001 White Blood Cells album, and “Build a Home”, which was re-recorded for the 2000 album De Stijl. Both of these alternate versions have a work-in-progress feel. The early version of “Dead Leaves” doesn’t exactly sound like a demo, but the guitar-and-drums combo has less punch than on the final version, to the point where it almost resembles a ballad. That’s not a bad thing; the song works equally well on this slightly quieter level. The early version of the sub-two-minute “Let’s Build a Home” also packs less punch. The final version is distinguished by a solid brick wall of sound; this early version is simply not as tight.

The 3-LP set Third Man Records Single Releases 2011 compiles the A-sides and B-sides of the singles released on Third Man that year. (This excludes the exclusive singles included in the earlier Vault packages, as well as the spoken-word singles by Amy Walker and Jerry King, and the Record Store Day exclusives). The discs are pressed in colored vinyl in the official Third Man colors: the first disc is black, the second disc is white, and the third disc is yellow (although it looks somewhat orangey to my eyes). All of the compiled tracks are produced by Jack White.

Included among the compiled tracks are two tracks from Karen Elson, who is Mr. White’s most recent ex-wife. Her A-side is a basically faithful though stylized cover of Lou Reed’s vicious glam-rock classic “Vicious” that fits her personality surprisingly well. Its B-side is the Elson original “In Trouble With The Lord”, which was an iTunes bonus track from her 2010 album The Ghost Who Walks. The song is in keeping with the tone of that album’s moody tales of murder. Another familiar Third Man act who appears on this compilation is the all-female quartet Black Belles. The A-side “Honky Tonk Horror” is a standout track from their self-titled debut album, and “Dead Shoe” is a non-LP B-side. The instrumentation is reminiscent of late-‘60’s garage rock, while the vocals owe more to alternative girl groups from the last two decades. The Nashville duo JEFF The Brotherhood also play rock and roll that is reminiscent of the ‘60’s garage variety. Their A-side “Whatever I Want” has a ‘90’s alternative sense of humor mixed into its classic-rock-inspired sound. The B-side, “Everything I Need”, is propelled by an efficiently simple riff until it climaxes with a wild Neil Young & Crazy Horse-like jam.

One surprising recording artist who had singles distributed by Third Man last year is screen actor John C. Reilly, who had already demonstrated his musical ability in Chicago (2002) and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007). (Jack White had a cameo as Elvis in the latter film). Reilly recorded two singles for Third Man, each as one-half of a vocal duo. These two singles are both pressed on Side Six of this set. One of his duet partners was singer-songwriter Tom Brosseau, with whom he covers two Grand Ole Opry antiques from the Delmore Brothers. Reilly’s other single was recorded with indie-folk artist Becky Stark, with whom he covers other country classics by Ray Price (“I’ll Be There If You Ever Want”) and Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner (“I’m Making Plans”). Reilly has good chemistry with his musical partners, just as he often does with his movie co-stars, and the playing is basically faithful to the songs’ old-fashioned country roots, although White’s production makes them sound clean and modern instead of vintage or rustic. I guess that’s the Hollywood way.

Another surprise Third Man recording artist is political satirist Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s Colbert Report, who talk-sings a jokey song called “Charlene II (I’m Over You)”. With backing by the Black Belles, Colbert comically explains how he is supposedly no longer obsessed with the girl he’s stalking. It’s mildly amusing, but I expected better from a professional humorist. Cutting records is a whole different ball game for him, I suppose. The song’s prequel, “Charlene (I’m Right Behind You)”, was also penned by Colbert, but he left the vocals to the Belles, which causes it to lose all of its satirical bite. Not one of the great comedy 45’s.

As always, this Third Man compilation keeps me on my toes about my knowledge of music history. The Swedish band Dungen delivers two well-crafted early-‘70’s-style progressive rock tracks; the instrumental B-side “Highway Wolf” suggests folk styles from the band’s native land. The sister duo First Aid Kit, who also hail from Sweden, recorded an innocent cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s ‘60’s anti-war folk ballad “Universal Soldier” for their A-side, and a quasi-‘70’s-country-pop interpretation of the old blues standard “It Hurts Me Too” for their B-side. The Japanese female trio called the’s seem to be reaching back further to evoke ‘50’s-style country music on “Charumera Sobaya” and rockabilly on “Sho-Jo-Ji”, but both songs sound very unique coming from these ladies. And then there’s the engagingly eccentric Americana of the Missouri-based Pokey LaFarge, who draws his inspiration from various American genres of the 1940’s and earlier.

The duo of Chris Thile (formerly of Nickel Creek) and Michael Daves contribute two lively bluegrass covers, with vocal support from Ruby Amanfu. Ruby also assists 70-year-old white blues singer Seasick Steve, on the first of two songs he covers from Mississippi Fred McDowell. Steve himself comes off better on the B-side “Levee Camp Blues”, where he is less drowned out by the musicians around him. Lanie Lane, a quirky Australian jazz musician, resembles a nicer Amy Winehouse on her A-side “My Man”, and sounds like a peppier Norah Jones on the B-side “Ain’t Hungry”.

White’s production makes the goth-punk band We Are Hex sound very similar to the Dead Weather on their A-side, on which singer Jilly Weiss bears a striking vocal resemblance to Alison Mosshart. The B-side is more representative of this band’s usual Cure and Banshees tendencies.

I honestly could have done without the two hip-hop artists featured on Side Four. Black Milk (aka Curtis Cross) benefits from instrumental backing that is reminiscent of mid-‘70’s funk, but he proves to be an average rapper at best. Still, average hip-hop is arguably better than awful hip-hop, which is what we get from the tiresome Insane Clown Posse. Their A-side is a self-amused piece of crudity based on a scatological composition by Mozart(!). Some real musicians can be heard wasting their time in the background. Their B-side, “Mountain Girl”, is an equally dumb hillbilly joke that isn’t much easier to take.

Third Man Records Single Releases 2011 is reportedly intended to be the last year-end singles compilation issued through the Vault, but here’s hoping they reconsider. Each year’s collection of singles has proven to be an improvement over the last. In 2012, Third Man has so far released singles from Tom Jones, Beck, Alabama Shakes, and (of course) Jack White. Wouldn’t it be cool if…?

Another 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. Side A of the White Stripes single has “a prince Vince big muff regret” carved in the dead wax; the B-side has “Latolippe loves it” carved. The triple-LP has the following messages etched in the runout grooves: “overseas”, “heartland”, “gone blue”, “raptastic”, “Nashville reps”, and “Hollywood shuffle”.

Various Artists “Third Man Records Single Releases 2011” (Third Man TMR133) 2012

Track Listing:


1. OGA NASA MUN – Dungen (TMR 065)
2. HIGHWAY WOLF – Dungen
3. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER – First Aid Kit (TMR 074)
4. IT HURTS ME TOO – First Aid Kit
6. SHO-JO-JI – The’s


1. CHITTLIN COOKIN’ TIME IN CHEATHAM COUNTY – Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three (TMR 082)
2. PACK IT UP – Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three
5. VICIOUS – Karen Elson (TMR 090)


1. MAN IN THE MIDDLE – Chris Thile & Michael Daves (TMR 083)
2. BLUE NIGHT – Chris Thile & Michael Daves
3. WRITE ME A FEW LINES – Seasick Steve (TMR 098)
4. LEVEE CAMP BLUES – Seasick Steve
5. CHARLENE II (I’M OVER YOU) – Stephen Colbert (TMR 105)
6. CHARLENE (I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU) – Stephen Colbert


1. BRAIN – Black Milk (TMR 101)
2. ROYAL MEGA – Black Milk
3. MY MAN – Lanie Lane (TMR 108)
4. AIN’T HUNGRY – Lanie Lane
5. LECK MICH IM ARSCH – Insane Clown Posse (TMR 109)
6. MOUNTAIN GIRL – Insane Clown Posse


1. HONKY TONK HORROR – The Black Belles (TMR 094)
2. DEAD SHOE – The Black Belles
3. WHATEVER I WANT – JEFF The Brotherhood (TMR 110)
4. EVERYTHING I NEED – JEFF The Brotherhood


3. I’LL BE THERE IF YOU EVER WANT – Becky & John (TMR 113)
4. I’M MAKING PLANS – Becky & John

The White Stripes “Dead Leaves” b/w “Let’s Build a Home” (Third Man single TMR134) 2012

Track Listing:

a. Dead Leaves
b. Let’s Build a Home

Saturday, May 26, 2012

White Duck (1971)

On the John Hiatt page, I reviewed the second album by an early-‘70’s country-rock band called White Duck, titled In Season, because that was the first recording that Hiatt played on. Hiatt had not yet joined the band when they recorded their self-titled debut album White Duck from 1971. I’ve finally listened to this album after being curious about it for many years. I must say I am disappointed.

The Hiatt-less album does feature the other three musicians who would soon play on In Season, all three of whom hailed from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin: Don Kloetzke, Paul Tabet, and Mario Friedel. They were rounded out by brothers Lanny Fiel (formerly of Willie and the Red Rubber Band) and Rick Fiel (who played with an apparently unsigned band called Prince of America). Reportedly, all of these musicians (as well as producer Buzz Cason) had worked with the then-unknown Jimmy Buffett shortly before recording this album.

Unlike the later album, on which all of the members took lead vocal turns, this album is dominated by Kloetzke, who is also a painter. As was the case on the later album, Kloetzke’s work is inconsistent. He alternately comes across as being clownish (as he does on “Billy Goat” and “Don’t Mix With Politics”) and sincere. When he romps on the simple and repetitive “No” and pines on the ballad “Lonely”, he does prove to be a capable performer. Friedel takes the lead vocal on “Anna Belle”, but he sounds somewhat disinterested; he made a better impression on In Season.

The album’s real downfall is its thin material, which is often just as simplistic as the song titles suggest. “World (Keep On Turnin’)”, “No Time”, and “Black-Eyed Susan” are obvious imitations of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and they do not come up to that trio’s level. This album is far less satisfying than its follow-up. One must wonder if replacing the Fiel brothers with Hiatt was a major causal factor of the band's improvement; it seems that Hiatt’s involvement may have been key to elevating White Duck’s depth and craftsmanship in time for their second album. Whatever the case may have been, In Season is the White Duck album that is worth searching out, while the self-titled White Duck is destined to remain forgotten in the ash heap of music history.

10/8/14 update: Both of the White Duck albums were reissued on CD in South Korea in 2014, on the Big Pink label. Thanks to Perfectly Good Cigar: The Unofficial German John Hiatt Page for this information.

White Duck “White Duck” (Uni 73122) 1971

Track Listing:

1. Billy Goat
2. World (Keep On Turnin’)
3. No
4. Lonely
5. Black-Eyed Susan
6. Really
7. Don’t Mix With Politics
8. Anna Belle
9. No Time
10. I Never Wanna Go

This album is certainly not the psychedelic or progressive opus that its cover art suggests.