Ian Johnston presents the latest of his monthly roundups of vital releases from Ace Records, one of the best reissue labels in the world.
Various Artists – Celestial Blues – Cosmic, Political and Spiritual Jazz 1970 to 1974
Compiled and noted by Dean Rudland, and issued on CD and as a fabulous double album, Celestial Blues – Cosmic, Political and Spiritual Jazz 1970 to 1974 could well be the best compilation album of the year to date. Drawing upon the type of jazz that has always inspired the likes of Jah Wobble, Mark Stewart, James Chance, James Blood Ulmer, John Lydon and most recently Kamaski Washington on his The Epic album, Celestial Blues features late 60s and early 70s jazz pieces that were equally influenced by funk, soul, pop, rock, African and Middle Eastern music – as much as by the landmark recordings of Miles Davis, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane.
These recordings, mostly originally issued on Prestige, Muse or Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Records, were never openly embraced by blinkered jazz critics of the era (who viewed the recordings as a corruption of ‘true’ jazz) or sold in massive numbers. Yet since the late 1980s, European record collectors and American hip hop artists, searching the albums for samples and break beats, have brought the music back into sharp focus today. This radical, challenging music also reflected the anger and dissatisfaction of African Americans in the wake of the death of John Coltrane, the Herculean struggles of the civil rights movement, urban riots and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Celestial Blues opens with the track from which the compilation title is taken. ‘Celestial Blues’ by Gary Bartz NTU Troop, featuring the redoubtable living legend bassist Ron Carter, underrated jazz vocalist Andy Bey and produced by long-time Thelonious Monk associate Orrin Keepnews, sets the tone for the rest of the compilation – socially concerned, deep spiritual grooves that could be included on an Isaac Hayes or Marvin Gaye album. ‘Fire’, Blue Note tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s collaboration with pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane (the widow of the jazz giant), is as mercurial and swift as the song title would suggest. Tenor and soprano saxophonist Azar Lawrence was a featured player on Miles Davis’ classic 1974 live album Dark Magus. The dazzling intensity and invention of that recording is apparent on Lawrence’s own composition, ‘Warriors of Peace’.
Organist Charles Earland’s track, ‘Brown Eyes’, taken from his aptly titled 1974 album Leaving This Planet, is simply exhilarating. This is hardly surprising as Earland’s band features such jazz luminaries as Joe Henderson, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and Headhunters drummer Harvey Mason. Yusef Lateef and Horace Silver drummer Roy Brooks produces arguably the most hypnotic 12-minute groove included on Celestial Blues – ‘The Free Slave’. Though adventurous, compelling and highly danceable, Brooks’ The Free Slave album unbelievably failed to sell in 1972. Blue Note drummer Joe Chambers’ composition ‘The Alomoravid’, the title referring to an 11th Century Berber Imperial dynasty that covered large areas of North West Africa, evokes a convincingly exotic ethnic feel, while Art Blakey, Mingus and Miles’ On The Corner sax player Carlos Garnett produces an incredibly successful fusion of the best of funk and jazz on ‘Let Us Go (To Higher Heights)’. This track, originally featured on Garnett’s 1974 Journey To Enlightenment album, would not be out of place on any of the first three Funkadelic albums. The same could also be said of Bayete Umbra Zindiko’s joyous and propulsive ‘Let It Take Your Mind’.
To top it all off, Celestial Blues’ striking black and white cover artwork shot of a crescent moon is a simple yet highly evocative indication of the sounds contained within. The power and significance of this groundbreaking music (the echoes of which are heard in everything from Public Image Ltd to hip-hop and all manner of contemporary dance music) endures. Celestial Blues is an instant classic compilation that will hopefully inspire yet another generation of musicians.
The Damned – Machine Gun Etiquette
The Damned, the original punk outcasts, have never really been accorded the respect they deserve for helping kick-start the upheaval rendered by the British ‘punk movement’ in the mid 70’s. Then again, they probably wouldn’t want it anyway.
The Sex Pistols, the real ‘punk’ instigators whom everybody was either inspired by or found revolting, and The Clash may have occupied the serious moral high ground, but The Damned were always brimming with excitement, fun and humour, with an undercurrent of pure, unadulterated anarchy. At their best, this was always fuelling their Stooge/MC5/Pink Fairies/Screaming Lord Sutch/British Glam, Prog, Metal and Mod inspired musical assault. The Damned blended all their influences into exhilaratingly fast, dynamic songs, which were surprisingly well arranged and played. Steering clear of any then fashionable overt political sloganeering, The Damned’s raging wall of noise was their message to the world.
After an inflammatory opening bombardment with the first British punk single, ’New Rose’ (1976) and the first British punk album, the landmark Damned Damned Damned (1977), they made the inconsistent Music For Pleasure (produced by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, after they failed to secure the services of the wayward Syd Barrett), all for Stiff Records, and then promptly broke up.
Debatably, it was when they re-formed in 1979, without original guitarist/songwriter Brian James, that flamboyant guitarist Captain Sensible, manic drummer Rat Scabies, dapper proto-Gothic lead singer Dave Vanian and new recruit, bassist Algy Ward (formerly of the seminal Australian punk band The Saints), that the band really came into their own. Independent London label Chiswick (from which Ace Records would flower) would be the perfect launching pad for their return with The Damned’s razor-sharp pop/punk/psychedelic third album, Machine Gun Etiquette. Produced by the band and Ace’s Roger Armstrong, Machine Gun Etiquette, originally released in November 1979, is reissued now on shiny, brand new vinyl in 2016.
The jubilant, energetic ‘Love Song’, which opens the album and was the first of their sterling Chiswick singles, acting as the perfect antidote to the general misery of the period. The pop sensibility of The Damned’s punk couldn’t be denied and the record was a Top 20 hit in April 1979. Machine Gun Etiquette closes with their September ‘79 follow up, ‘Smash It Up’, which is just as infectious. Predictably, the BBC banned the record for its perceived “subversive” content.
In-between these bookends is the triumphant album title track (which contains echoes of The Glitter Band in the song’s breakdown), the mournful, post-Thatcher election single ‘I Just Can’t Be Happy Today’, the rampaging ‘Melody Lee’ (which commences with a solo piano, reminiscent of Elton John), the mischievous ‘Anti-Pope’ and the genuinely unhinged fairground waltz of ‘These Hands’, inspired by the activities of the infamous American ‘killer clown’, John Wayne Gacy.
Side Two kicks off with a moody proto-Gothic tribute to Ed Wood’s notorious 1959 B-picture Plan 9 from Outer Space, ‘Plan 9 Channel 7’. The album continues with ‘Noise Noise Noise’, which urgently restates the band’s unshakable creed (“Noise is for heroes, music is for zeros”), a rollicking cover of the MC5’s ‘Looking At You’ and the quintessential British punk of ‘Liar’.
A classic of its kind, the voodoo punk magic of Machine Gun Etiquette abides. It’s good to have it back on vinyl.
The Damned – The Black Album
1980. Algy Ward left, Paul Grey (formerly of Eddie &The Hot Rods) joined and The Damned entered an even more ridiculous era on Chiswick. A single cover of Jefferson Aeroplane’s ‘White Rabbit’, the pomp rock epic ‘History Of The World Pt 1’, over-produced by future film score composer Hans Zimmer and a deliberately overblown, sprawling double LP set, called The Black Album and recorded at the remote Welsh Rockfield studio, set the band’s course for the next decade. The diverse Black Album, acknowledging The Beatles’ White Album and now reissued on wonderful vinyl, indisputably proved that The Damned could no longer be simply categorised as a mere ‘punk’ band.
Side One and Two of the set feature eleven songs, with only ‘Drinking About My Baby’, ‘Hit Or Miss’ and ‘Sick Of This And That’ fitting into the British punk mould that The Damned had shaped before. ‘Wait For The Blackout’ is as melodious a pop song as The Damned have ever recorded, ‘Lively Arts’ is as sardonically humorous as a Kinks song, the brooding ‘Twisted Nerve’ and ‘Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde’ tread the same dark corridor as Siouxsie and The Banshees, while ‘Therapy’ carries the charge of late period MC5. One 17-minute prog-punk epic number, ‘Curtain Call’, dominates side 3 of the record. Carrying traces of early Pink Floyd/ Syd Barrett, The Doors, Neu! and Pet Sounds era Beach Boys, the ominous, mind-bending marathon ‘Curtain Call’ is a fine example of contemporary psychedelia.
Perhaps to placate more traditional Damned fans, the fourth side of The Black Album consists of six Machine Gun Etiquette songs and a version of ‘New Rose’, performed and recorded live at Shepperton Studios on 26th July 1980. Their Chiswick Records career finished suitably enough with The Black Album, but what a way to go. Purposely built to divide opinion and boldly mark new ground upon its original release, The Black Album has aged remarkably well.
Various Artists – Rhythm ‘n’ Bluesin’ By The Bayou – Nights Of Sin, Dirty Deals And Love Sick Souls
Taken from the tape vaults of Louisianan label bosses JD Miller, Eddie Shuler, Floyd Soileau and Joe Ruffino, this is remarkably the fifteenth volume in Ace’s acclaimed By The Bayou series of CDs. A wondrous collection of late 50s/early 60s Southern rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, suffused with hot New Orleans R&B and Cajun boogie, the By The Bayou discs are magnificently compiled and noted by Louisiana rock ‘n’ roll expert Ian Saddler. Here Saddler’s focus is again upon the South Louisiana ‘Rhythm ‘n’ Bluesin’’ end of the musical spectrum, and as with much of the By The Bayou series most of the recordings are previously unreleased.
This compilation kicks off in high style with doomed blues man Chris Kenner’s rollicking ‘Grandma’s House’. Supposedly backed by Huey Smith, Kenner’s two-fisted, shit-kicking 1956 jump blues must rank as the sleaziest track ever recorded with ‘Grandma’ in the title. Among the other numerous highlights on this disc is Tabby Thomas’ superb rendition of the traditional blues standard ‘C.C. Rider’ (featuring much darker lyrics than in Elvis’ 70s version), Billie Holiday band veteran Smilin’ Joe’s downbeat number ‘Living On Borrowed Time’, Joe (Mr. ‘G’) August’s mysterious 1955 rocker ‘Strange Things Happening In The Dark’ (cut in New Orleans, but issued on the LA-based Flip label), Charles ‘Mad Dog’ Sheffield’s crazed dance tune ‘Shoo, Shoo Chicken’ and the fabulous Barbara Lynn’s version of Earl King and Dave Bartholomew’s ‘One Night Of Sin’ (recorded as ‘One Night’ by Elvis in 1959, with less suggestive lyrics).
Nights Of Sin, Dirty Deals And Love Sick Souls certainly lives up to its great title. It is fervently hoped that yet more editions of By The Bayou will be forthcoming from the sterling archival work of Ian Saddle.
Jeanette Jones – Dreams All Come True
Compiled, researched and sleeve noted by Alec Palao, this is a magnificent compilation, pressed on cool white vinyl with a pictorial inner bag, featuring the complete recordings of inexplicable San Francisco singer, Jeanette Jones. Recorded at Golden State Recorders in San Francisco, between 1968 – 1974, extraordinarily only one single from these tracks was released at the time – the rousing ‘Darling, I’m Standing By You’ and the reflective ballad ‘The Thought Of You’ were issued on the Golden Soul label in 1969. Yet the remaining cuts have been issued on Kent and BGP compilations and singles down the years, and subsequently a large Northern Soul fan base has developed for the deeply talented but elusive Jeanette Jones.
Palao relates that the owner of Golden State Records, Leo Kulka, discovered Jones when she was a featured vocalist with the Voices Of Victory gospel choir. At the outset, Jeanette Jones was very reluctant to sing secular works, but by late 1967 she had been persuaded by her new manager and aspiring songwriter, Jay Barrett.
Jeanette Jones’ impassioned gospel roots shine through on these recordings. ‘Cut Loose’ is a tough Northern Soul-style dance number and a declaration of independence, while Jones’ delivery of ‘Jealous Moon’ carries traces of older upbeat doo-wop. ‘I’m Glad I Got Over You’ is a blasting, frenetic groove, ‘Break Someone Else’s Heart’ should have issued by Motown, her 1974 cut ‘You’d Be Good For Me’ brings funk to the table and ‘What Have You To Gain By Losing Me’ is heartbreakingly sad, perhaps revealing the torment of this marvelous singer unable to get a break.
The ‘Darling, I’m Standing By You’ /‘The Thought Of You’ Golden Soul single did not shift a 1000 copies and unbelievably Kulka was unable to pitch Jeanette Jones’ recording to other companies. By the early 80s, Jeanette Jones had disappeared from the scene. Hopefully, Dreams All Come True will bring her the recognition she so richly deserves.
All words by Ian Johnston. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.