2012 is at its end, and just like I did last year, I thought it would be good fun to try and recap the reissues and compilations I couldn't seem to get off my phonograph this year. So here they are: The 10 reissues and compilations I dug most in 2012.
Half String, Maps for Sleep [Captured Tracks]
Don't worry if "shoegaze" isn't the first thing you think of when someone says "Tempe/Phoenix rock in the '90s."
Most of the national spotlight might have been directed toward the jangling alternative rock coming off Mill Avenue, but make no mistake: There was a thriving underground scene too, exemplified by bands like Half String. Comprising Brandon Capps, Tim Patterson, Matt Kruse, and Kimber Lanning (known for indie record store Stinkweeds and small business coalition Local First Arizona), Half String's complete recordings were reissued this year by Brooklyn-based Captured Tracks, and the 18 selections are stunning, shadowy compositions inspired by 4AD-style indie rock, the emerging Britpop movement, and featuring a unique desert rock quality.
Laurie Spiegel, The Expanding Universe [Unseen Worlds]
You know you're on to something when no less an authority than astronomer, cosmologist, author, and science poet Carl Sagan deems your work worthy of inclusion on the Voyager Golden Record as representative of the human race.
Electronic pioneer Laurie Spiegel's version of Kepler's "Harmony of the Worlds" did receive such an honor, and it's not even the most compelling work on Spiegel's 1980 album, The Expanding Universe. Crossing the wires between Steve Reich's ever-repeating glitches, Terry Riley's pulsing minimalism, the American Primitivism of John Fahey, and threads of wordly folk music, Spiegel's record is gorgeous, enveloping, and wholly meditative.
Tim Maia, Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia [Luaka Bop]
It is incredible that Brazilian songwriter Tim Maia's music can actually match his singular story in quality.
Maia effortlessly mixed samba and baião with American R&B, soul, funk, and rock in the early 1970s, and the songs presented on Luaka Bop's excellent retrospective are prime groovers. Maia lived his life as a radical, dedicating himself to the Cultura Racional cult, a fringe group that believed humans were from outer space and needed to dedicate themselves to the instructions laid out in the book Universo Em Desencanto (Universe in Disenchantment). Sci-fi psychedelicism aside, Maia's work is irrepressible: "Let's Have a Ball Tonight" is a sublime party jam, with cresting horns, clipped snare hits, and layers of woozy synth. The tender "Where Is My Other Half" is a gorgeous heart-breaker, and the album's closer, "Rational Culture," would sound just as stellar cruising down the freeway in a lowrider as it probably did soundtracking some UFO-obsessed fireside chat.
Elton Duck, S/T
It took a little time -- over thirty years worth of "little time" -- but the recordings of L.A. -via-Phoenix power pop group Elton Duck finally saw the light in 2012.
Featuring bassist Micki Steel, who went on to join The Bangles, singer/guitarist Mike McFadden (Goose Creek Symphony/Superfine Dandelion) , drummer Andy Robinson (Invisible Zoo), and guitarist Mike Condello (The Wallace and Ladmo Show), Elton Duck signed to Arista in the late '70s, but the band's tight collection of pop tunes was shelved. But this year, Phoenician Lee Cooley launched and successfully funded an Elton Duck Kickstarter project to release the material, dubbed "The Greatest Album Never Heard."
The proceeds went to the Phoenix Union Foundation for Education, and a donation to the PUFE is the best way to get a copy.
Karen Dalton, 1966 [Delmore Recording Society]
Folk singer Karen Dalton was never crazy about recording, though her ambivalence about heading into a studio did nothing to damper the beauty of her two LPs, 1969's It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best and 1971's In My Own Time.
But 1966 finds her far removed from the trappings of a proper recording console, instead featuring her simply strumming her 12-string at her cabin in Colorado while her husband Richard Tucker manned the reel-to-reel. The takes, of standards like "Cotton Eyed Joe," "God Bless the Child," and "Katie Cruel" demonstrate her unique voice, which haunts like no one else.
Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984 [Chocolate Industries]
The music collected on Personal Space represents creative freedom. Just like they do now with laptops and readily accessible recording gear, the young people showcased here have no limitations.
Cheap synths, 4-tracks, and drum machines presented a parallel universe for the funk, blues, soul, and R&B musicians here. The tribal funk of "A Man" by Key & Cleary reworks a Bo Diddley boast into a poignant civil rights speech; Starship Commander Woo Woo's self-titled track explores the grey space between disco sheen and New Age gloss; "Are You Ready to Come? (With Me) Pt. 1&2" by US Aries will make you blush.
Memphis Soul, "Don't Put Me Down People Pt. 1&2" (Single) [Numero Group]
The good folks at Numero Group have long gone out of their way to spotlight the thriving soul sounds of Phoenix in the 1960s. Their Eccentric Soul series has featured the Liggins Brothers, We the People, The Soulsations, and more Phoenix acts. This selection, from the curiously named Memphis Soul, is a scorcher that took awhile to get around to. Lead by a teenaged George Bowman, Memphis Soul gets in a good guitar lick and a heavy groove.
"It was pretty raw, you know?" Bowman said when we asked him about it. "The recording back then ain't nothing like today. But it was a good song. We put our guts in it."
Country Funk 1969-1975 [Light in the Attic]
Not to be confused with the killer band of the same name, Light in the Attic's Country Funk compilation devotes itself to the cross pollination of funk, country, honky tonk, blues, soul, and rock that occurred in the early '70s, when country musicians went to the city and cosmopolitan players headed for the swamps. The music here pays no mind to gender or race: Bobby Charles gets down next to Bobbie Gentry; Tony Joe White plays alongside Johnny Jenkins (covering Dr. John, no less).
Sensations' Fix, Music is Painting in the Air [RVNG Intl.]
The recordings that make up Music is Painting in the Air stretch across cities, genres, and time.
Led by Italian-born Franco Falsini, Sensations' Fix recorded in nontraditional spaces in Virginia, Florence, New York, and Paris throughout the '70s, embracing prog rock, Krautrock, New Age, and pop. The recordings here are presented collage style, with no regard for continuity. It is simply how Falsini felt like doing it; a theme that congruent with everything else about the mysterious career of Sensations' Fix.
Lee Hazlewood, The LHI Years: Singles, Nudes, & Backsides (1968-71) [Light in the Attic Records]
You know Lee Hazlewood, the mustachioed man hanging out with Nancy Sinatra, armed with a powerful baritone. You know Lee the Hit Maker, the one responsible for crafting "These Boots Are Made for Walking."
Slightly less known is Lee Hazlewood post-Nancy, the Lee of the "Cowboy in Sweden" days. LHI Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides, from primo label Light in the Attic, explores that Lee, the reverent revolutionary of "Trouble Maker," the louche of "Hey Cowboy," the chronicler of stone rider "Califia." The Hazlewood here is a stranger in a strange land, navigating pop charts and cultures foreign to him, but succeeding with every booming turn at the microphone.
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