American (Last Vestige)
American is the first, last and only (so far) album by
the Extras, an erstwhile Albany punk trio who sprouted from
Albany’s local punk scene during the early 1980s. The story
behind this release would make for a great rock & roll
docudrama: A week before Extras singer-bassist Mark DeForge
was sentenced to prison in 1982 on a trumped-up drug charge,
he and his bandmates (drummer George Lipscomb and guitarist
Eric Van Sleet) were shepherded into the studio by Jim Furlong.
An Extras fan and a fellow punk musician, Furlong produced
Ugly American for musical posterity’s sake, before
DeForge’s lockup rendered the band no more. The album sat
in studio vaults until last year, when Furlong (now the owner
of Last Vestige record stores in Albany and Saratoga) released
the 17-track disc to coincide with the 21st anniversary of
the band’s first gig.
Recorded live in the studio, and much of it done in one take,
Ugly American’s rudimentary (in the best possible way)
rock & roll is firmly rooted in its era: early ’80s, D.I.Y.
hardcore punk. Unlike many punk vocalists, however, DeForge
actually has a great voice: He sounds a bit like Kevin Seconds
of melodic punk band 7 Seconds and has a penchant for self-loathing
in the vein of, say, James Moreland of the Leaving Trains
(the Extras presaged both of those bands by a couple of years).
The literate DeForge, a poet and English teacher who later
taught in Taiwan after his time in the joint, writes lyrics
that are entertaining in a crudely humorous, world-hating
sort of way (“Somebody got killed today . . . that’s okay/It
was no one that I liked anyway.”). Two of the band’s best
musical moments bookend the album: The fast-driving title
track, which sounds like it was recorded in a missile silo
(that’s a compliment), is the quintessential punk ode to self-hatred,
while the closer, “Italian With an I,” succeeds at being both
touchingly bittersweet and shockingly ribald in a way that
few songs ever have.
Recorded for the BBC from 1966 to 1968, the 22 songs on Cream’s
BBC Sessions find the band at their most concise. Only
two songs barely break the four-minute mark, something of
a rarity for a trio that blazed a trail as a live act with
all three members soloing furiously for hefty durations. Recorded
live specifically for radio broadcast, the mono recordings
offer up their unadulterated interplay. The earliest sessions
predate the release of their debut (Fresh Cream) by
a few months. However, the band don’t use these recordings
to reinvent the wheel, as with similar collections focusing
on the Who, the Beatles and others. Rather, Cream’s BBC
Sessions is an opportunity to hear the band playing live
in the studio, with production elements peeled away.
While blues—both covers and originals—make up a significant
portion of Cream’s offerings, some of their stabs at their
own brand of radio fare are the most riveting. “Tales of Brave
Ulysses,” “N.S.U.,” “Wrapping Paper” and “Strange Brew” have
a richly unique character that makes them stand completely
on their own terms, not linked to the era’s blues revival.
The most dated element on this disc is announcer Brian Matthew,
who calls them the Cream and lets loose with intros
such as, “All right all you groovy, tuned-in, turned-on, way-out
fans, here’s a sample of your kind of music!” And I don’t
know whether anyone else has noticed this, but BBC is also
the initials of the last names of the three band members.
On his first solo album in 10 years, our Canadian of the Sorrows
pulls off a ton of ambience, calls in some prestigious cameos,
and ultimately delivers too few real songs. Shine is
a collection of moods more than melodies, and even though
Emmylou Harris and Bono help out on some tracks, in too few
cases does tune trump texture.
Best known for his production work for Harris, Willie Nelson,
Bob Dylan and U2, Lanois has released intriguing solo albums
during the past 14 years; the keeper is his shimmering debut,
Acadie. Here, however, he too often resembles other
artists, and his wispy voice rarely rises above the material.
There are some fine tunes, particularly “As Tears Roll By”
(sampling Charley Patton helps), the oddly rocking “Power
of One,” and the title track, which shifts gears intriguingly.
But there are also too many instrumentals—their frequency
suggests Lanois ran out of ideas before he ran out of textures—and
“Sometimes,” the maundering “Slow Giving” and “I Love You”
evoke other, more aggressive soft rockers (“Sometimes” sounds
like Paul Simon trying on James Taylor’s “Handyman” for size,
while “Slow Giving” conjures the most saccharine Crosby Stills
& Nash). Emotional sensitivity is the currency here, not
power, making Shine an ambiguous experience at best.
Remember Spirit? “Mechanical World,” “I Gotta Line on You,”
“Nature’s Way,” etc.? Since the album experience (whether
LP, CD or any other format presented with some sort of cover)
starts with the outside visuals, working your way in to the
audio heart of the matter, that ’60s-’70s band comes to mind
as a reference point for Swedish quintet the Venue. The basis
of comparison has absolutely nothing to do with their sounds
and everything to do with a fact about their drummers. Spirit’s
drummer was Ed Cassidy. Besides being the one shaven-headed
member of an otherwise longhaired outfit, he also originally
was a jazz drummer and was twice the age of his bandmates.
Now here come Thorell brothers Jonas, Anders and Frederik
and their pal Charley Rivel—and whom do they recruit to chair
the trap set? Veteran jazz drummer Hans Ekman. Sporting a
full head and face of gray hair, he’s quite clearly of their
With that bit of trivia out of the way, let me cut to the
chase and fully endorse the noble sounds of this gloriously
loud and rocking combo. With a sound that harks back to the
Small Faces, the Creation and the Move, the Venue write snappy
songs, sing them with careful aplomb and pummel each measure
with surefire wallop. Two guitars, bass, drums and a singer
who shakes a tambourine—as they sing in one number, “So much,
too much, so much, too much, yeah!” It’s solid, it’s direct,
it was then, but it’s oh so now.