Band Americanus: The Best of Charlie Pickett and . . .
Pickett and his band of South Florida hotshots were the missing
link between X and Tom Petty when they electrified the bar
circuit in the ‘80s. Sparked by Pickett’s thick voice and
the barbed guitar of Johnny Salton, Pickett bands known as
the Eggs and the MC3 played music about country discomforts,
domestic bile (and occasional bliss) and an America that seemed
permanently lost to them.
Born in Meigs County, one of the poorest areas of southern
Ohio, Pickett grew up in Florida, cutting his musical teeth
on the Stones, the Velvets and the New York Dolls. You can
hear all of these in his music, along with the curdled power
pop of the Flamin’ Groovies, one of his key inspirations (the
Groovies’ twisted junkie paean, “Slow Death,” and their signature
“Shake Some Action” are among the best of these 19 tracks).
Some critics have called Pickett’s work punk, but it’s closer
to classic rock, and there’s country to boot, as in the wacky
“If This Is Love, Can I Get My Money Back?” There’s something
deeply primitive, too, in tracks like “Phantom Train” (a kind
of update of Elvis’ “Mystery Train”) and the Kingsmen-inspired
novelty “Marlboro Man.” This collection brings together several
EPs, parts of an LP recorded for punk-new wave label Twin
Tone, and several live tracks. It’s quintessential bar-band
stuff, indeed—and more. The kicker is, Pickett’s now a lawyer.
Sea and Cake
Alarm (Thrill Jockey)
After a four-year break in record ings, the Sea and Cake’s
eighth album comes practically on the heels of last year’s
robust Everybody; in fact, this 40-minute set continues
on from its predecessor. Car Alarm again showcases
what a supple and gently powerful ensemble they are. With
Sam Prekop’s quiet vocals pushed to the fore, attention is
at first diverted from the powerful engine that’s flying him
down the road. The roiling exuberance of the band’s rhythmic
drive is subtly disguised, as if camouflaged. Like a painting
that refuses to offer a narrative, their music is rife with
alluring riddles and questions. The rewards they offer are
unique to each listener’s response. Full of human pulsing,
the Sea and Cake show that measured, considered approaches
to creating songs can be as emotionally rich as overtly demonstrative
avenues—or even more. Bottom line: The Sea and Cake are a
potent band at their finest.
Original Jacket Collection (RCA Red Seal)
During the final decade or so of the LP days, I accumulated
every Heifetz recording I could get my hands on, an obsession
that amused my friends and no doubt contributed to my date-free
weekends. But I had a shelf of the LPs that the Sony-BMG Original
Jacket Collection series reproduces in its new Jascha Heifetz
It’s the latest in a series that pays 10-disc tributes to
Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, Igor Stravinsky, Vladimir
Horowitz and others; last year, all of Glenn Gould’s Columbia
recordings were issued in a gorgeous 80-CD box (check out
originaljacket.com for more info).
It’s an excellent boomer-grabbing concept: Each set houses
its reissued discs in cardboard CD-sized sleeves that reproduce
the corresponding LP’s cover in miniature. Of course, we’ve
been retrained since we packed away our record players, and
no longer expect to enjoy a mere 40 minutes of music, record-flip
The Heifetz set departs from that precedent by filling out
the CDs with more than an LP’s worth of material, and the
jacket art has been accordingly tweaked. This means that the
Bach Double Concerto isn’t (improbably) paired with Beethoven’s
Kreutzer Sonata, as it was on the record: two more double
concertos (by Mozart and Brahms) are added, which has been
the case with the four previous CD releases of this work.
It’s a concerto-rich set, so you get Heifetz’s benchmark 1950s
Living Stereo versions of the staples by Beethoven, Brahms,
Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Mendelssohn, which, a tiny amount
of legacy tape hiss aside, still sound fantastic. Overstuffed
critics still quarrel over his interpretations of those works,
but Heifetz’s stereo recording of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy
is at the top of everyone’s list, and it’s included here with
Bruch’s Concerto No. 1 and the fluffy Concerto No.
5 by Vieuxtemps.
Heifetz had a barnstorming way with chamber music, and made
dazzling recordings of Schubert’s String Quintet in C
and the Mendelssohn octet, but you won’t find any of that
here. Nor are the scores of encore pieces he recorded over
the years, often in his own arrangements, such as the celebrated
“Hora Staccato.” We get a taste of them in the short works
comprising the second half of his final recital, a 1972 live
performance that finds him audibly past his peak.
Making up for that are the complete sonatas and partitas by
Bach, the most glorious and challenging works in the violin
repertory, recorded in one October week in 1952. Fiddlers
aplenty have tackled these works, and I’ve collected dozens
of other recordings, but I’ll take the Heifetzian brio and
austerity any time. And here’s a trivia challenge for the
ardent Bach fan: In one of the sonatas, Heifetz inserted an
low F (below the violin’s lowest string) so that a particular
passage would make more musical sense.
Whether you’re still unloading old LPs (as I am) and want
CD versions of the records, or looking to make a first acquaintance
with the 20th century’s greatest violinist, the Heifetz set
is a well-assembled and attractive way to go.