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American Scream

Ugly American • (Last Vestige)

Ugly 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.

—Kirsten Ferguson

BBC Sessions • (Universal)

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. Cool.

—David Greenberger

Daniel Lanois
Shine • (Anti-/Epitaph)

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.

—Carlo Wolff

The Venue
Mmhm! • (Bella Union)

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 parents’ generation.

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.

—David Greenberger

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