With most of the music industry having had a four-day holiday for the Fourth, this is the slowest week of 2023 since January. I review new albums from Chris Stamey (The dB’s) and Baxter Dury collaborator Delilah Holliday, plus reissues of The Fall‘s early-’90s albums for Fontana, and tribute album The Endless Coloured Ways: The Songs of Nick Drake that features covers by Fontaines DC, John Grant, Liz Phair, Radiohead‘s Phil Selway and more.
Over in Notable Releases, Andrew tackles this week’s biggest albums, including PJ Harvey, ANOHNI, and Julie Byrne.
Chris Stamey – The Great Escape (Car Records)
The dB’s cofounder embraces his jangly past on his wistful ninth solo album
Born and raised in North Carolina, Chris Stamey came up in the region’s powerpop scene that was led by Big Star devotees who were also turned on by the nascent punk scene. Stamey played in Alex Chilton’s solo band, formed Sneakers with Mitch Easter, and after moving to NYC formed his own label, Car Records, that released among other things Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos” / “You And Your Sister” single. More accolades: his solo debut, 1977’s “The Summer Sun,” was released on legendary punk label Ork, and most famously he co-founded The dB’s where his nervy contributions to their first two albums, 1981’s Stands for Decibels and 1982’s Repercussion, are a nice balance to Peter Holsapple’s sweeter creations.
Over the last 40 years, Stamey has continued to make music in much the same fashion, with jangly, chiming guitars and big earworm choruses. It’s an evergreen sound but The Great Escape, his ninth solo album, feels just a little wistful and nostalgic. There are songs about visiting New York after being “away too long,” a chance encounter with Van Dyke Parks, and a look back at his “Greensboro Days,” as well as a cover of Alex Chilton’s “She Might Look My Way,” which he played with him back in the day. The album also has him surrounded by many old friends including Mitch Easter, his dB’s bandmates Peter Holsapple & Will Rigby, Don Dixon, and more. It’s not quite “remember when” rock, and at 68 and 50 years in the business, Stamey deserves a moment to reflect. The Great Escape is another winning collection. There’s also a little late-’60s sunshine pop in songs like “Realize” that could’ve been performed by The Turtles or The Association, while a twangy breeze also runs through much of the album thanks to ace pedal steel players Eric Heywood and Allyn Love. These songs sound like a summation of everything he’s done to date. (This album also marks the return of Car Records!) This escape may be great, but there’s no outrunning your past and Stamey has in turn chosen to embrace it.
The Fall – Extricate / Shift-Work / Code: Selfish vinyl reissues (Proper)
The Fall’s three synth-forward early-’90s albums on major label Fontana get their first vinyl reissues
The Fall were never a band you’d call “commercial,” but in the mid-to-late-’80s, they had a string of minor UK hits thanks to the pop instincts of Brix Smith — one of the band’s guitarists as well as frontman Mark E. Smith’s wife — and also a few choice covers as singles. It was not to last, though; MES and Brix divorced in 1989, which also marked the end of The Fall’s contract with indie label Beggars Banquet. The band then did what no one was expecting: signed to major label Fontana Records where they made three albums in as many years that dabbled in dance music alongside Smith’s love of rockabilly, garage and krautrock. You don’t hear people talk about those albums — 1990’s Extricate!, 1991’s Shift-Work, and 1992’s Code: Selfish — much these days, but the band were still in top form and they deserve a revisit. You can do just that with new vinyl pressings of all three, their first since the original release 30+ years ago.
The sting of divorce runs through Extricate! — tumult has always served the Fall well (and often) — and with the exit of Brix came the return of Martin Brammah (the band’s original guitarist). The album includes covers of two songs by cult garage band The Monks, and one by The Kinks, as well as collaborations with sample wiz duo Coldcut (who produced Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in Full [Seven Minutes of Madness Remix)]”) and mutant dub wizard Adrian Sherwood. It’s also got the wonderful Frank Zappa tribute, “I’m Frank,” and one of Mark E Smith’s most heartfelt creations, “Bill is Dead.”
Martin Bramah was sacked (again) during the early stages of Shift-Work, and in his place came violinist Kenny Brady and, crucially, keyboardist Dave Bush who brought a ravey element to the band’s sound. Ironically, the album includes “Idiot Joy Showland,” an evisceration of the “baggy” scene that blew up in their hometown of Manchester in the wake of Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses and opens with these lines: “Idiot groups with no shape or form / Out of their heads on a quid of blow / The shapeless kecks flapping up a storm / Look at what they are: a pack of worms.” There’s also a rare moment of genuine placidity (“Edinburgh Man”) and a few thoughtful songs about relationships past (“Rose,” about Brix) and present (the title track). There’s even a song about a TV weatherman (“A Lot of Wind”). What more do you need? Shift-Work hits all the Fall bases.
The Fall’s final album for Fontana, Code:Selfish, stands as the most electronic album in their massive discography, with Bush (who would leave not long after to join Elastica) giving nearly every song a squelchy, acid house vibe. The album also has The Fall’s catchiest songs since Brix left, including single “Free Range,” hangover lament “Everything Hurtz,” and “So Called Dangerous.” Nestled in among the bangers is a terrific cover of Hank Williams’ “Just Waiting” with lyrics rewritten by MES to include a few digs at U2. One of The Fall’s most underrated albums.
The Extricate!, Shift-Work, and Code:Selfish vinyl resissues are out August 4 and can be pre-ordered here.
Delilah Holliday – Invaluable Vol.1 (One Little Indie)
Former Skinny Girl Diet singer goes solo on her captivating debut EP
London artist Delilah Holliday used to lead band Skinny Girl Diet, and went on to make an album in 2018 with Baxter Dury & Etienne de Crecy under the name B.E.D. (She also sings on Baxter’s great new album.) She’s now struck out on her own, signed to One LIttle Indie (home to Bjork) and released the first of a two-part EP series she made with producer/engineer Raphael Ninot.
Like Baxter, Delilah has a voice that sounds bred on the streets of South London that can be both tough and innocent. It immediately draws you in, while the modern production — gritty but sleek — keeps you there. Invaluable Vol. 1 is a perfect introduction, with six tracks that each bring their own charms while feeling part of an overall musical vision, from low key dance numbers to more hazy, ambient creations. Best of the bunch is “Silent Streets,” which feels like a late night tour of a bustling metropolis after too much partying, though the dreamy, ethereal ballad “Everything I Ever Wanted” is a close second. I can’t wait to hear Vol 2.
Various Artists – The Endless Coloured Ways: The Songs of Nick Drake (Chrysalis)
Fontaines DC, Feist, John Grant, John Parish & Aldous Harding, Liz Phair and more offer their takes on Nick Drake classics on this double-length tribute LP
Tribute albums, where a bunch of disparate musicians all cover the songs of one artist, always seem like a good idea but in reality are usually a mixed bag at best. They ruined these songs! This is too different! This is too similar to the original! It’s especially tough with someone as distinct and mercurial as Nick Drake, who is cultishly loved and often placed on an impossibly high pedestal. He’s so distinctive, so influential, you’re kinda damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That said, there are some lovely recordings on The Endless Coloured Ways which features 32 artists offering their interpretations of 23 Nick Drake classics.
The 95-minute double album was shepherded by Cally Callomon, Manager of the Nick Drake Estate, and Jeremy Lascelles, CEO of the recently reactivated Chrysalis Records. Artists were told to ignore Nick’s original recording and “reinvent the song in their own unique style.” Chances are you’re not going to like everything here — if you’re lucky you’ll like half of it — though which songs you like will probably come down to personal taste. I’ll just name a few of my favorites:
Feist and Nick Drake are a perfect fit, and her version of “River Man” (one of my favorites), made with Blue Cable, is sublime and swoony; John Parish & Aldous Harding turn Five Leaves Left‘s “Three Hours” into droney, groovy krautrock; Guy Garvey (Elbow) and Mike Lindsay (Tuung, LUMP) deliver a warm and woozy rendition of “Saturday Sun” that feels both vintage and futuristic; John Grant sends “Day is Done” into outer space; Nadia Reid’s cover of “Poor Boy” hews close to the original but is terrific all the same; and Fontaines D.C. totally reinvent “Cello Song” into a propulsive rock song that somehow stays pretty.
There’s also Liz Phair, Joe Henry & Meshell Ndegeocello, Christian Lee Hutson & Eleanor Moss, Skullcrusher & Gia Margaret, Ben Harper, Bombay Bicycle Club, Emeli Sandé, and more. You will certainly find something to love here and perhaps put on a playlist. And if it turns fans of these artists onto Nick Drake, the real job of this tribute is done.
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