Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll by Preston Lauderbach

(Norton) In the introduction Lauderbach explains what "chitlin' circuits" he won't be talking about, and hopelessly fumbles his handful of words about the contemporary black theater circuit (he makes a misleading statement about the relationship between the venues and works of Tyler Perry and August Wilson) and the old time black comedy circuit (he misspells Redd Foxx), so I was wary...until I read the next 202 thrilling pages (in pretty much one sitting). In this riveting book the first time author pontificates about the R&B southern circuit of the early-to-mid-20th century, of which he has done amazing research, conducted fascinating oral histories with survivors, and profoundly understands. The infamous Natchez Rhythm Club fire, in which over 200 clubgoers and musicians lost their lives, has been spoken of and written of often, but never with the vivid, incredible detail in this book. The stories of R&B superheroes like Johnny Ace, Gatemouth Brown, Little Richard (in drag queen glory), Louis Jordon, and Houston's slick Don Robey are told with detail and love, and even if some of my heroes only make brief cameos (the Treniers are mentioned but never detailed, although that may have a lot to do with their successfukl graduation to L.A. nightclubs) I can say without hesitation that this is a great, informative read. Lesson: Don't judge a book by it's introduction!

Thursday, March 29, 2012


(Corleone) This mysterious, ominous, bountiful double LP features 48 inches of covert destructive powers, with four tantalizing servings of  gourmet soundfood that slowly build to their devastating doom noise crescendos, so that the listener, like the blissfully unaware gradually boiling frog, barely realizes that audio  Armageddon  is upon him or her. Packaged with artworks (both the gatefold and the screenprinted insert book) that function as narcotic-free psychedelic enablers, this is also a good deal for the budget-minded escapist!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Snake Pit by Aaron Poliwada

Aaron, a zinefest staple, has stapled his most ambitious work together, an epic, graphic novel-length account of teenage sports card shop crime and punishment that is genuinely riveting and a great read, even if the (computer rendered?) linework isn't his most expressive. Morals: stop snitching! And don't hand over your cards!

Echo Location by Krystal Difronzo

( This brain-blast of inky goodness is about a bat dude's primal urges coming up against a moth-maiden's dignified reason, and may be about gender roles or nature's follies or being funny, but it's also (like the comic) about a sublime meeting between a thick-lined cartoony style that often is utilized by macho, nasty comix-ists being subverted by lovely writing. If you say you dig this, I echo!

Comics for Something, Mindful Eating (both by Drew Damron)

( The well-named Drew drew a bunch of daily diary comics for his Comics for Something project and what's most impressive about them is how it demonstrates his skill as a writer, adept in the rhythm of comics, the structure of vignettes, and the impact of the last panel. John P. of King Cat Comix also had some nice diary comix in his last issue that really read well (unlike, say, Ben Snakepit and James Kochalka, who often sacrificed good writing in their daily diary comics), and Damron also shares John P's interest in Buddhism/zen/comtemplative comix...of which his eating comic is a good example. But unlike some cartoonier cartoonists, he also seems to be using the form to figure out how to be a better observational renderer, and his December 2011 comix are way better than his December 2010s!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The English Softhearts "End It"

( What happens to you if you get bitten by the Pillsbury Doughboy? During the full moon you turn into a Were-Dough! Pop'n Fresh must have chomped all over these dudes, because this is the music of rabid, brilliant, gloriously creepy weirdos!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tim Carroll "Look Out!"

( Slightly damaged pop with top chops pulling out all the junk shop stops. Like Rockpile jamming with Tom Petty, everyone off their meds, and using Fat Albert's bands gear.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Alamo Igloo, Leg and Bob DND Gel by Keith G. Herzig

( Genius genuinely is not the word to describe Keith Herzig...but it is definitely a word and he is definitely someone who needs to be described. The right word just does not seem to exist.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jumpsuit comics

( The reason KISS' comics are never good is they are never a rock band in them anymore, they are always mystics or spirits or vengeful creatures or carneys or weirdos...why not be a rock band! At least in Jumpsuit's comic they are a band, even if all they do is buy deviant porn and talk on the phone.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gaylord Phoenix by Edie Fake #6

(POB 891231 Chicago IL 60608) Makes the Fort Thunder guys seem like they are on Garfield, make that Heathcliff level.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


The reviews and articles and absurdity come to life when Roctober Magazine has its 20th Anniversary Party in Brooklyn this Friday!

WHAT:            ROCTOBER MAGAZINE 20th Anniversary Party

WHEN:            Saturday March 24, 2012, 7pm

WHERE:             BookCourt    163 Court Street Brooklyn NY/718.875.3677

Urban Folk Art® Studio/Collective presents the 20th Anniversary party for Roctober magazine, featuring a reading and video from FLYING SAUCERS ROCK N ROLL (Duke University Press), the new book by JAKE AUSTEN, Roctober publisher, and the New York debut of Roctober #50, the anniversary issue. Mr. Austen will briefly read from his anthology of interviews and profiles of unjustly obscure musicians, followed by the New York premiere screening of Flying Saucers Rock!, a video adaptation of the book created especially for this event featuring rare performance footage by the artists featured in the collection, OSCAR BROWN, JR., SAM THE SHAM, SUGAR PIE DESANTO, ZOLAR X, DAVID ALLAN COE, GOOD RATS, BILLY LEE RILEY, THE FAST, GUY CHOOKOORIAN, & THE TRENIERS. Some footage will be from Austen’s cult cable access show CHIC-A-GO-GO. In addition there will be a Q&A, about the history of Roctober, with Mr. Austen, and UFA® members/Roctober contributors Jason Mitchell and Adam Suerte.

Herman's Hermits "Hold On," "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" soundtracks

(ABCKO) (Guest review by Gary Pig Gold) In the utterly go-go, trans-media flurry which was mid-Sixties pop(ular culture), every television star worth their Nielsens was expected to not only chase spies and rope steers, but compete with those rock 'n' rollers of the moment upon the Top Forty to boot. To cite but two examples, Lorne Bonanza Greene and his 1964 chart-topping "Ringo," not to mention Captain James T. Kirk's similarly Beatle-busting Transformed Man album. Which contained the possibly definitive version of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," I kid you not.
Conversely, the real rock stars of the day were fully expected to make their own stabs upon the silver screen as well, all the better an opportunity to cross-promote their latest singles, albums, custom lunchboxes and/or coast-to-coast public appearance tours. The Beatles, as they usually were, being first and foremost with their cinematic debut A Hard Day's Night, which truly does remain the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals as no less an authority as Andrew Sarris anointed it in 1964. Next up were Beatlepals Gerry and the Pacemakers on their own Ferry Cross The Mersey (complete with an original score by Gerry Marsden; his greatest musical moments ever), followed by the Dave Clark Five's darkly cynical Having a Wild Weekend (directed by a young John Boorman, it featured the longest hair and most abundant use of marijuana then displayed in a jukebox musical).
Meanwhile over on the circa-1965 AM radio dial, it's not often recalled that a young band of upstarts from Manchester were actually out-selling those Beatles all over the North American charts, and they just happened to not only record for a label which conveniently owned its own movie studio, but were also fronted by a picture-perfect posterboy who (a) reminded their producer of a young John F. Kennedy, and (b) already possessed previous acting experience on British television.
The band was Herman's Hermits, the label/studio MGM, the mop-topped JFK in question the one and only Peter Blair Denis Bernard ("Herman") Noone, and the movies? Why, none other than those full-color, action-and-music-packed, guitar-beating romp 'n' rolling gems Hold On! and Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter.
Now it's not quite known what, if anything, Andrew Sarris thought of these two spectacular quickies – I can find neither even mentioned within his landmark The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, for example – but both films more than achieved their goals in helping move still more seven-inch slices of monophonic vinyl while fitting perfectly alongside Harum Scarum and How To Stuff a Wild Bikini at the neighborhood drive-in slash make-out lot. Mission, then, Accomplished.
What is quite pleasantly surprising, however, is that the Original Motion Picture Soundtracks for both films have been re-released courtesy of the good folk over at ABKCO. And they honestly do contain more than their fair share of fab, fanciful, and fully-Hermanly numbers which, thanks in no small part to producer Mickie Most not only hold on, but hold up quite well against such period rock scores as Help! and even the Monkees' magnificent Head.
The Hold On! soundtrack especially, featuring four great P.F. Sloan/Steve Barri compositions, is shoulders above most of the 4/4 fluff then filling teen exploitation fare. In fact three of its numbers, "A Must To Avoid," "Leaning on the Lamp Post," and the "Hold On!" title number itself duly joined the slew of other multiple-million-selling Hermits records then dominating the North American airwaves. The Hold On! score also features, it should be noted, the debut appearance of Sloan/Barri's "Where Were You When I Needed You" (which was soon to launch the career of The Grass Roots) plus a cinematically ultra-cute cut by co-star Shelley Fabares called "Make Me Happy" (Ms. Fabares, by the way, was then married to record bizzer Lou Adler who, not at all coincidentally in the incestuous world of Sixties pop, also managed and published the aforementioned Sloan and Barri). You should also all make it a point to witness Shelley's big fantasy number with Herman, "The George And Dragon," which for three minutes launches Hold On! into flights of surrealism only hinted at during Magical Mystery Tour.
Two years later, the late, extremely great Davy Jones had swiftly replaced Herman upon teenage American bedroom walls and television screens, and the Hermits were banished back to their homeland to eek out a few more hits – and one more movie under the auspices of their new manager (and major MGM stockholder) Allen Klein – before the bubbly inevitably burst. That movie, 1968's Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter, may not have been set in outer space like some of Hold On! but was, quite refreshingly, much more down-to-earth. Literally… as it concerned the plight of the Hermits and their missing racing greyhound known as, yes, Mrs. Brown. Nevertheless, the music (arranged by a just-pre Zep J. P. Jones) is as bouncy and colorful as the Hermits' post-mod wardrobe – we're treated to a revival of the band's U.S. swansong "There's a Kind of Hush (All Over The World)," for example – and, as for the film itself, I'd just have to agree with Bruce Eder, writing in Hollywood Rock, when he calls it "much more fun than Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy For The Devil," another 1968 A. Klein production by the way.
So! Two vintage-Sixties original motion picture soundtracks, twenty songs in under fifty minutes (plus a surprise "Mrs. Brown's Daughter" session excerpt), great singing and playing by Peter Noone, Karl Green, Keith Hopwood, Barry Whitwam and the also late great Derek "Lek" Leckenby, and all newly available on disc and for download via ABKCO.
PS: plus both the Hold On! and Mrs. Brown films themselves are back on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, so you can once and for all find out precisely why NASA wanted to name its latest Gemini space capsule "Herman's Hermits," and how Stanley Holloway got Herman a job as a fruit peddler in a London grocery stall. Where in hell is Andrew Sarris when we really need him?!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hanetration "Tenth Oar"

( Lifestyles of the Glitch and Aimless. Turns Ambient into Ambi-oomph!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Archie Powell and the Exports "Great Ideas in Action"

( I bet all the other guys in the band have the same first name, because these kids jangle enough to be called the New Archies!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shuyler Jansen "voice from the lake"

( Should be called ShuylEST! Because when it comes to slinky, lush, off-center Americana odd-pop, you can;t get any Shuyl-ier than this!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Wet Friend "Wet Pet"

(Corleone) Sloppy, slightly mean drunk-core that makes you simultaneously bob your head and look over your shoulder.

The Illness "A Monument to Our Gilded Age"

( What's the time? It's time to get nauseous! Thanks to bagpipe-style guitars, sour stomach singing, and the power of Ill will!

Friday, March 16, 2012

P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S. "Make It Through the Night"

(Doomtown/Static Age) Punk Rock Oscillating Between Loud Energy/Manic Speed!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Satan is Real - the Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin with Benjamin Whitmer

(!t/Harper Collins) [Guest Review by Jake Austen] This book is genuinely fantastic -- honestly it may be my fave country music book I've ever read. Here's my full length review from the new issue of Time Out, which is one of the better book reviews I've written, hope you click it:, but there's a few things I'd like to add. There's some tasteful and riveting name dropping in the book, including a nice parallel of the young Louvins hanging outside a Roy Acuff show they can't afford to get into, and a young Johnny Cash doing the same at a Louvins show, plus there's some really funny and wild backstage Opry politics  recalled. And there are delicious descriptions of Ira Louvin's onstage meltdowns, where he'd smash his instrument to splinters, then later meticulously glue it back together. Plus some of their best lyrics are reprinted, the photos are awesome, and the design, looking like an old, beat up dime pulp novel, is as seductive as Old Scratch himself.

Lazy Magnet/Father Figure split 7"

(Corleone) Two hearty helpings (unidentified on the label, so I don't know which is which...and they are too philosophically akin to tell them apart) of nightmare new wave music that will make you blip your wig. Electronic dreamscapes and sad 80s singing combine to make you feel weird inside.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mothers News

( I just discovered this amazing Providence monthly broadsheet newspaper that's basically just eight pages of absurdist comics, bizarre lists, art, jokes, and dozens of tiny, beautiful ads for businesses so cool and amazing I am challenged to believe they actually exist. If they had this instead of USA Today at hotels maybe I'd stop crashing on couches when I travelled.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sarah J. Ritch "String Theory

(Pan Y Rosas) String of Consciousness! Un-silly string! String Queer-tet!  Stringe Attractor!  String Being!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Harmonica Lewinski "Who the fuck is Harmonica Lewinski?"

( I didn't listen to this for a week fearing from the name that  it was some corny, white, bearded blues-er with bad punnery and Sweet Home Chicago-syndrome (and the wrong Zappa records in his collection). But it's actually corn-fed (and pooped) filthy-sounding surf-trash-garage slop rock that's ridiculously righteous! The dumb ass name may not be descriptive but it really fits this irreverent, loose, joyful mess! Includes maracas chaos and guitar wickedness (and it's a free download, so totally worth the price!).


We will be delivering Roctober #50 to Chicago stores by this weekend, and sending it around the country over the next 4 weeks. We have parites in Chicago and New York (check but the main reason I'm mentioning that here is because 1.) all the reviews written prior to this are in that issue, and all the reviews after this will be in the next issue (or maybe some will be just online, we're working that out). And 2.) to explain why we took  a week off during production. We will try to have a new review or two up every day now.

Friday, March 2, 2012

“Lost Souls Volume 3 – Arkansas Garage Psychedelic Rock 1963-1971"

( There are more regional psyche series than you would think, and too often the definition of psyche is just any 45 or demo from the 60s by a teen, cover, or party band that hasn’t been comped yet. And while 10,000 Norton-unearthed acetates may indicate otherwise, most of these suck! Which is why this CD is a triple treat. First of all, nothing sucks, all of these American Legion Hall-rocking unknowns had something special. Second – these tracks are more than 50% psyche adjacent, which is a high percentage for this kinda thing – even the covers are of Love and Hendrix! They even get kinda psyche when they ain’t getting psyche, thanks to gear acquisitions. Notably there’s one super faithful, twang-heavy version of “White Lightning” that could be (and certainly was) played for a honky-tonk full of good old boys…but then the guitar solo is played through a fuzz box from Venus! It’s followed by a fairly traditional rockabilly-ish take on “Bony Maronie” that at one point has the guitarist hit a pedal that turns his instrument into a functional Star Trek weapon! But the third thing that makes this comp great is that the regional is legitimately regional. Jamie Holmes’ version of “Gloria” breaks down into a spoken rap where they are just trading jokes and boasts with natural drawls, making it sound like teenage Homer & Jethro’s garage band. The highlight on here is actually about a regional incident, and even if it’s far from the best track, the Fouke Monsters win this battle of the bands. There song (called “Fouke Monster”) is a weird, spooky romp, with Zappa freakouts meets Shel Silverstien goofs…but the key is that even though Fouke, AR (where a bigfoot was sighted) is not pronounced “Fuck,” they knew what a “Fouke” record label looked like! The fact that the reproduced label (on “Monster” records) has a scribble drawing of hippy bigfoot, and is printed on the CD face, puts this over the top. Plus, now we know how Bill Clinton got that nickname…

Monsters in America – Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting by W. Scott Poole

Monsters in America – Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting by W. Scott Poole (Baylor) Like monster movies, comics, and stories, reading this book that retells the history of the United States through its relationships with monsters is a lot of fun…and may or may not mean something more. The fun is in Poole’s pool of knowledge, and the excitement he has in sharing it, connecting research into witch trials, sea monster sightings, and Indian-curse animal women with slasher flick, EC comics, and horror host ephemera, analysis, and jazzy juxtapositions. Not only does this draw on the monster magazine tradition of gushing with unexpurgated creature love but also the equally enjoyable (for a certain caste) academic journal fun and games of using theory, jargon, and training to do awesome intellectual gymnastics, made more impressive here by Poole forgoing the monster = meaning softballs of vampire sexual taboo razzmatazz and other standard metaphors, and going for uglier, more intense discussions of how our interest in monsters relates to lynchings, serial killing, religious expression, war, and “cryptid hunting” (folks who took that Leonard Nimoy In Search of… shit too seriously), and everything else from Plymouth Rock to Barack. The best thing about the book is the subtext that monsters are real. Mwa ha ha ha! Yayyyy…academic presses!

Personal Space – Electronic Soul: 1974-1984

(Chocolate Industries) I was a handed a no-frills preview CD of this, sans liner notes or manifesto or explanation, and I have to say, the experience of listening to this (over and over, I literally have played this over 50 times in the last two weeks) is akin to hooking up with a woman way out of your league who doesn’t speak English – you enjoy every second but you sure wish someone could explain what the hell is going on! Apparently the definition of “Electronic Soul” here is either private press records or demos made by black people (“Soul” is not so much a genre here, unless it’s the most vaguely defined genre ever) who recorded at home and used some kind of keyboard or something vaguely electronic, although often the Afro-Futurist vibe is not a result of using low-grade Devo gear, but rather of having an interstellar brain. There are a few tracks here that may sound sort of like actual songs/recordings that exist in the earthly plane of the music industry. Cotillion’s slinky, bass-popping groover “If You Give a Dance” is vaguely akin to that tune in The Wiz that plays while the colors in the Emerald City keep changing. The Makers “Don’t Challenge Me” is a pro-sounding approximation of what you think regular music sounds like when you are super high and super sleepy. And if it wasn’t recorded with nothing but Casio presets, Jeff Phelp’s smooth vocals might convince you “Super Lady” could be a radio song. But almost everything else here is so off-center and one-of-a-kind I can’t really find comparison points. The most impressive thing is how cohesive this audio gumbo is. Jerry Green’s urgent soul (which sounds like it was recorded inside one of those isolation tanks from Altered States) smoothly transitions into the conscious conga rap of Key and Cleary, which sounds fine beside the electro-paranoid passion play that is Spontaneous Overthrow’s “Money.” I could describe all of these weird, wonderful tracks at length, but, again, I don’t know a goddamn thing about them, and though I suspect a lot were found in boxes at thrift stores and warehouse basements and nobody knows much about them, basically the main knowledge you need can only be garnered by hearing these beautiful bizarrities yourself. Don’t go into the future without this!

Eccentric Soul: The Nickel & Penny Labels

(Numero) As Bill Dahl’s solid liner notes make clear, no Chicago southsider needs an introduction to Richard Pegue, the Dusty Record Man. A fixture on the radio since the 60s, and one of the only jocks to maintain an idiosyncratic aesthetic and playlist no matter where he spun, the bespectacled cool cat record nerd is just as loved for his powerful radio jingles. They were so powerful that after Pegue’s 2009 death ended his decades long side-gig of recording weekly radio spots for the Moo and Oink meat warehouse store, the business shut down within two years. But his amazing career as an R&B 45 crafter – as producer, engineer, writer, label impresario, talent scout, audio experimenter, and occasional vocalist - is less known, and rightly celebrated here. Of the sorely insufficient 25 tracks here, the best known (locally, not nationally) may be Little Ben and the Cheers magnificent recording “Never More.” Pegue knew who could sing, and he knew what songs to couple them with, he really knew how to showcase vocals, keeping the vox-framing backing tracks soulful, be they spare or extravagant, and he was a master of whimsical trickery, like the rattling “knock on your front door” on this gem. But it’s his less known lost masterpieces that make this collection essential. The South Suburban Electric Strings’ psychedelic soul exploration “Sign of the Zodiac” is mesmerizing…consistently weird with out ever losing a populist groove. The South Shore Commission, who had more success after leaving Chicago, are represented by the powerful “Shadows,” a soul rock burner that should be in constant rotation on black and white oldies stations. But if there’s a hero on this collection other than Pegue it’s the whereabouts-currently-unknown Jerry Townes. His deep, smooth vocals on one of Pegue’s best songs, “Never More” (with surprisingly not-incongruous outer space sound effects!) is wonderful, but better yet is an ass-kicking version of Ray Charles’ arrangement of “You Are My Sunshine” that is unquestionably superior to Charles’ super expensive session, and Margaret Norfleet puts the Raelettes to shame on her response verse. Townes also sings the strangely seductive “Three Sides to a Triangle” and the CD opener, “Just Say the Word,” in which his easy, rich singing matches the brilliant, bells-and-whistles production. But every track on here could be praised to the heavens, and no descriptions could equal hearing Pegue’s eccentric production style. The fantastic photos in the booklet not only tell the tale of one of Chicago soul’s greatest insiders/outsiders, but add rare documentation to the late 60s/early 70s era of black Chicago music, one that is too rarely celebrated (after Chess music historians seem to lose interest). There’s some decisions here I wouldn’t have made…Pegue produced a super funky Chipmunks-style record by a creature called the Matta Baby, and while the b-side instrumental transcends novelty, I can vouch for the A-side. The same (other than the Chipmunks part) goes for his weird recitation record  “Tale Of Three Monkeys,” which also appears here only as a killer instrumental.  And I, of course, wish some of his most famous jingles were on here, though they do include the record Sidney Barnes recorded with Pegue that was given out with purchases at Ember furniture. And if you want something heavier than a Ember Furniture bedroom set, check out this collection!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ohioan “balls deep in babylon”

( Makes the blues dark without pretending to be dark-skinned. Weird backwoods freak folk traditional incantation music that is chilling and thrilling. And comforting, in an “we’re all gonna die anyhow” way.

Pistolbrides "Witchcraft"

( I envy the pistol, because if this band wasn't already hitched, this 80s/90s power pop/psyche/suave weirdo music would make me wanna marry it!

Radiator Hospital “Nothin’ In My Eyes”

(Lafayette) Talented nerd make heart-having nerd girls (and boys) swoon. With his music!

Amazing Grace by Aaron Cohen

 (Continuum) That the 1972 double-LP live gospel album Amazing Grace is Aretha Franklin’s best selling, despite not containing any of her canonized classics, is no surprise. I can’t really think of any other successful Aretha record that feels like a cohesive album. Despite her rise to superstardom overlapping with the Sgt. Peppers-era of album-oriented concept art grandness, Franklin was really a singles artist, though she’s rarely thought of that way because “singles artist” implies some kind of pop/AM radio/bubblegum/Dick Clark fleetingness. Her hits don’t brand her as a Top 40-chaser because Franklin’s remarkable voice imbues the weight, depth, and profoundness of another artist’s double album into three minutes. So it’ makes sense that the church-trained vocalist achieves full-length glory when she addresses something bigger than herself, mortal love, and the music industry. The spiritual/political (though still personal/familial) Amazing Grace was amazing and graceful because Franklin was returning to the church in a big, sincere, loving way, and as Cohen argues, she is accepted by the pew-sitters mainly because Rev. C.L. Franklin’s daughter truly never left. One of the most straightforward explorations of an LP in the 33 1/3 series of brief books (each devoted to an iconic album), Cohen explores the recording process, talks to the surviving musicians (though not Franklin, herself) about the technical and conceptual aspects of the recording, and goes through the album track by track, giving critical, historical, and technical info. However, the book never feels dry or record-collector centric. Maintaining a casual, short tangent-amenable, lively tone, and folding in a meticulously researched history of gospel music (with Franklin legitimately connected by blood, love, or professional experience to every major player since the genre’s birth), Cohen makes his experience as an editor at Downbeat (and his obsessions with gospel music) count. The author has crafted a study of one of the greatest recorded examples of praise music that is, indeed, praiseworthy.

Root For the Villain by J-Zone

(Old Maid) Underground rapper J-Zone opens his self-published memoir with salutes to his two grandfathers, one a quiet, righteous man whose archives revealed some secret radical writing, the other less of a saint, but also possessing a distinct second personality. This schizophrenic nature describes the book pretty well. Athough J-Zone’s humorous, sarcastic, weary but proud worldview remains intact throughout, the book is very much delineated into two parts. The heart of it is a devastating account of his commercial failures and a “career” in hip hop that kept him in day jobs for decades. While there are optimistic tales of his early days apprenticing in studios and having sell-from-trunk success with his atypical comic compositions, the bulk of his stories are about meager sales, disastrous tours (including terrible travel tales of playing to handfuls of disinterested folks on the chitlin’ circuit) and disrespect. Even his greatest triumphs – European club tours where fans and groupies unfamiliar with his work were excited just to see American rappers – would be sub-asterisks in a successful artist’s memoir. However, there’s so many superstars’ memoirs, and their perspectives are always skewed by success. How often can one read a completely thorough breakdown of the mechanics of the industry as seen from the bottom? Less compelling are his blog-like accounts of day-to-day travails, which include a fair amount of crass misogyny. But even those musings are OK, especially his rundown of the best used record buys he ever experienced in his life. Although J-Zone likely did better than he would have in his modest career by staying independent, I wouldn’t have minded a professional editor guiding this project, but of course, no commercial press would have taken a chance on something like this, so I’m glad J-Zone went for it. Also, he loves his grandma, so that should make you buy this book.

Visual Vitriol – The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation by David A. Ensminger

(University Press of Mississippi) Ensminger is a punk rock lifer, which in itself isn’t that rare: though the punk scene has always had plenty of tourists and folks going through “a phase,” many participants are either so committed to punk’s do-it-yourself ethos, or are too damaged or in love with the lifestyle to ever get on the office cubicle track. But what makes the author unusual is that he seems to be the rare punk not wearing blinders that only allow him to see the era he came up in. Though Visual Vitriol has a constantly ringing lament about how internet social network culture provides a less organic, expressive means of communication than the Xerox-generated flyers, zines, and visual art that was the Pony Express of past generations, he has genuine respect and interest in not only the canonized punk and hardcore scenes of the late 70s and early 80s, but also 90s scenes and contemporary scenes, not to mention global scenes across eras. This reverence for a wide field allows the photocopied punk flyers that are the heart of this study to represent decades of expressive, visceral art/promotion, and the only thing that could make this collection of art better would be if there were more of it…what’s with all those words? An English/Humanities professor at Lee College (in addition to being a zine editor and playing in punk bands, including one with Biscuit from the Big Boys, whose voluminous Texas punk flyer collection is drawn from here), Ensminger actually does an amazing job addressing both punks and academics in his text, and perhaps the most radical thing about the book is that in addition to interviews with many punk luminaries, he is using a professor’s approach to data collection that is still willing to cite zines and underground sources, resulting in a bibliography revealing that data from Maximumrocknroll far outweighs info culled from academic journals. Combining a social and aesthetic history, Ensminger convincingly argues that unlike the posters that promoted the 60s music scene, which used florid visuals and drew from celebrated art history, the amateurish, cut n paste, raw, hand-lettered, imperfect, startling flyers taped to poles advertising shows by the Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies, Scream, Limp Wrist, and AOF, truly represent a reaction to modern fears and disorder in a way that beautiful 60s posters (and to a degree, the contemporary screenprint poster scene) never could. Concentrating less on specific artists, the author plays down visually sophisticated participants in the scene like Raymond Pettibon, Art Chantry and Gary Panter, and celebrates the inspired, clumsy-fingered teens with rubber cement and wheatpaste. When arguing for this art, and positioning it in the context of punk’s ethos and history, the book is remarkable (there’s actually a whole chapter devoted to a thoughtful exploration of skull imagery). Just as impressive, but perhaps not quite as integrated into the art book context, are the author’s explorations of punk amongst non-white/male/hetero communities. While his research, analysis, examples, and balance of “the scene” and “The Academy” is on point in these chapters, it is a step away from the study of artistic expression that seems to be the thesis here. Then again, he did say “and” in the title, plus, if he was trying to trick The Man into paying to publish two books in one, that’s pretty damn punk.

It’s So Easy + and other lies+ by Duff McKagan

(Touchstone) The former Fastback who went on to become Guns n Roses’ bassist, and a hard drinker who seems pretty sure the Simpsons producers told him that their fictional beer was named for him, Duff lived it ruff in the years following the phenomenal success of Appetite for Destruction.  What’s probably most interesting about this book is that it’s an addiction diary/memoir told from such a sober/removed perspective that, while still painful and honest, it’s neither boastful nor blurry about the facts of the ridiculous alcohol consumption that ravaged his body, and the cocaine he took primarily because it allowed him to stay awake to drink more booze. What’s classy about this book is that McKagan, the punk rocker of the Roses, who you’d expect to have d.i.y. integrity, is brutal in his tales of his own fuck ups, but does not really engage in dirt dealing on his famous bandmates. Sure, he mentions all the famous mischief and mayhem Axl caused (already public knowledge) and might drop the word “dictator,” but he’s pretty respectful and discrete, and portrays his colleagues as caring about his well being (and any humanizing of Mr. Rose at this point is interesting). It’s interesting to learn that Appetite took a year to peak on the charts, and that slow ascent meant that the band, at their artistic and commercial peak, were actually still slogging it out like low budget also-rans, and the road tales are more gritty and down to earth than you’d expect. I had forgotten about them coming to Chicago to write Use Your Illusion. I wonder if his bad memories of Wrigleyville will keep Duff from singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the Cubs broadcast booth?

Dirty Deeds – My Life Inside/Outside of AC/DC by Mark Evans

(Bazillion Points) You might think a thick book by the bass player of AC/DC who was only in the band two years might seem like a minor work, more of a personal memoir (or indulgence) than an important look into one of the biggest rock bands ever. But you would be wrong. I already have two hefty AC/DC books weighing down my shelves, and I can honestly say I got fresh insight into the feel and dynamic of the band from this. That Evans was in the band during its most crucial years, when their best material was recorded, and they rose to superstardom, helps quite a bit (though Australians already had an AC/DC album to call their own when Evans joined, the U.S. debut is mostly comprised of tracks with Evans…including “It’s A Long Way to the Top,” so there’s a nice recounting of the history of that infamous bagpipe solo here). That Evans seems to be a natural storyteller, likely honing these stories for decades in pubs with pals, doesn’t hurt either – the flowing, conversational style, and the confidence that lets him tell even wild sex stories without a braggart’s sense of exaggeration makes this an easy, intriguing read. And if those elements weren’t enough, having a body flying every ten pages or so, either via fistfight, suicide jump, concert riot, or mini-orgy, certainly sweetens the pot. Evans was in a band of brothers who clocked ridiculous road time and played countless rowdy, lowly gigs during their long way to the top, yet he doesn’t portray them as super close, and it’s believable that this wasn’t a misconception he had due to his only being there a short stretch: Angus Young, though consuming sweets and tobacco like the naughty school kid he dressed as, avoided booze and drugs, so didn’t go out drinking with the guys, and Bon Scott was considerably older than the rest and had his own age-appropriate running mates. But despite some distance, Evans really knew the personalities of his bandmates, and the anecdotes, glories, and downfalls (there’s some legal gag order on discussing all the ins and outs of his exit from AC/DC, though the actual firing -- Angus said they needed a bassist who could sing backup -- is done by the band in a brotherly, communal manner, not left to managers or poison phone calls). To Evans’ credit, however, his raconteur-ship allows for his early years pre-band and the brief post-AC/DC chapters to be just as compelling. For those about to read, we salute you.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

(Abrams Comicarts) Although he’s done several graphic novels, scores of illustrations, and a few great album covers (most recently for Ralph Carney), Derf’s main claim to fame is his long-running syndicated comic The City. The humor strip, which takes aim at the hypocrisy, absurdity, and inanity of hipsters, slackers and other urban dwellers, is funny, but considering the thick, even linework, the blank expressions on his characters, and the fish-in-a-barrel nature of his satire subjects, some readers may be shocked by the depth and visual impact of this masterful historical memoir. Backderf went to high school in Ohio with Jeffrey Dahmer, and the future mass-murderer’s strangeness appealed to the future cartoonist and his friends. Though (as revealed in the comic’s omniscient eye, it’s vision made clear by the author’s extensive research and interviews) the private life of the young cannibal-to-be was as ugly, dark, and animal torture-ish as any serial killer’s, with Derf’s clique Dahmer was social to a degree, entertaining his friends (and pulling pranks) with bizarre impressions of the disabled, and inspiring the posse to dub itself the Jeffrey Dahmer Fanclub. Though alcoholism, repressed homosexuality, and bubbling-up murderous urges paint a depressing portrait of teen Dahmer, this riveting snapshot of a 70s teen wasteland has several rays of light and hope in it, and ultimately Backderf, while not sympathetic to his killer classmate, is genuinely upset that no adult ever cared enough to see the warning signs. Visually, the sterile eyes that flatten out The City add profound depth to My Friend Dahmer, as Dahmer’s dead gaze is mesmerizing and speak volumes Derf’s gag comix never hinted at the artistic capabilities of its creator. The compositions here are remarkable, and there is one splash panel -- a young Dahmer guzzling booze outside his classroom as the oblivious teacher lectures inside, the window pane breaking up the word balloon inside to illustrate Dahmer’s disconnect…that is one of the most powerful comic pages I’ve ever seen. Not only the best graphic novel of the year, this is one of the most disturbing and memorable books you will ever read.

Slick Shoota “8 Bit Beauty”

(Loose Squares) This electro booty disco juke orgasm EP shot its slick all over my hard drive and now I have some explaining to do down at the Genius Bar.

Casual Hearts “Primetime Trauma”

( Melodic emo Hip Pop that will give you a casual heart attack.

Everliven Sound & Inf "Everlations"

(Beats Broke) Laid back beats that balance hip hop traditional spareness with some lush production flourishes is coupled with some old school emcees who could have spit in a cipher in ‘83, ‘93, ‘03 or ‘13 and done fine. The best song is a cowboy-themed ode to self, as Lone Ranger, which wouldn’t sound bad next to Oscar Brown Jr.’s Lone Ranger cut.

The Mad Pride “Scary Poppins”

( Nightmare soundtrack music that owes a little to pre-T Rex Marc Bolan folk psyche and a lot to post-Pee Wee’s Big Adventure Tim Burton soundtracks. Madness apparently overtakes pride-ness!