Posts Tagged ‘Memphis’

Baker

Memphis, TN-based songwriter Julien Baker is the latest addition to the Matador Records roster. The 21-year-old’s devastating and vulnerable debut album, Sprained Ankle, which was originally released in 2015 and now gets re-released by Matador. The album was recorded at Spacebomb Studios, though Julien’s songs don’t share the down-home gloss of the other albums produced there. Instead of beefing up her honest tunes with rich layering like Natalie Prass or Matthew E. White, Baker pares her songs down to their simplest possible format: alone, singing and playing acoustic guitar directly into the microphone, sometimes in a single take.

That decision resulted in a remarkable record, one full of beautiful, personal explorations revealed in stark intimacy. That choice makes a lot of sense for Baker’s voice, both in the literal and figurative sense. Rather than Prass’ sweet, soaring tones or White’s blue-eyed soul, Sprained Ankle is delivered in reedy whispers and chilled coos. Released just before she turned 20 years old, the record still sounds raw – not that her voice lacks control or power, but rather that the weariness of songs about death, breakups, and existential questioning are sung with incredible presence. They’re coming of age songs from someone still coming of age, the wounds still fresh, the big truths currently being revealed. There are the struggles of depression, drugs, loneliness, but the clear-eyed way she faces it all supersedes any platitude.

LP – The album comes with a new 7″ Funeral Pyre. Only Baker can make a song with such a darkly macabre title so heartbreakingly gorgeous, with her signature hushed-yet-lofty vocals soaring over a quietly fingerpicked melody that crescendos into layered, almost-orchestral beauty. The B-side, Distant Solar System, is another unheard song from the Sprained Ankle sessions.

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John Kilzer, a singer and songwriter from Tennessee whose music career spanned 30 years and who became a pastor after undergoing drug recovery, has died. Kilzer’s death was disclosed Tuesday by St. John’s United Methodist Church in Memphis, where he served as an associate pastor for recovery ministries. A cause of death was not disclosed. The church said in a statement that it was a sudden death.

Throughout his life, Kilzer struggled with his drinking, often courting trouble with the law. It was after an arrest in the early ‘90s that he began his path toward finding sobriety and his religious faith.

A native of Jackson, Tennessee, Kilzer was born in 1957. An All-American high school basketball player, Kilzer came to the City as a highly touted shooting guard for the basketball team Memphis State University in 1975, playing four years for the Tigers.

He eventually became an English teacher at his alma mater, and later began a new life as a musician — in part inspired by a chance dorm room encounter with Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, the famed Hi Records guitarist and songwriter. Hodges had come across Kilzer messing around with a guitar, took an instant liking to him and became his mentor. “If he hadn’t walked in the room that night, I wouldn’t be a songwriter,” Kilzer has said.

Kilzer’s musical career took off in the late 1980s, when he was signed to the Geffen label, releasing a pair of roots-rock records for the company, including his 1988 debut, “Memory in the Making,” I bought this album on vinyl in 1988 when it was originally released and subsequently on CD a number of years later. John Kilzer possesses one of the world’s finest voices, not only does he have a natural ‘gravel over honey’ tone he is one of the finest singers you will ever hear in terms of his ability to effortlessly ‘tell his story’. He communicates emotion in every song that does everything from make you want to get up and dance to conversely breaking your heart. Lyrically Kilzer’s songwriting is incredibly diverse, every song feels natural, thought provoking, beautiful and real, he is an incredibly clever songwriter who never strays into being crass or pseudo intellectual. There are so many poignant moments on this album which hasn’t aged in almost 30 years, the next album In 1991’s “Busman’s Holiday.” including Kilzer song the minor rock radio hit “Red Blue Jeans” — brought him exposure on MTV and television shows like “Melrose Place.”  Roseanne Cash, Trace Adkins and Maria Muldaur are among artists who recorded his songs.

John Kilzer should have been a star, possibily mentioned in the same breath as Tom Petty and especially Bryan Adams. I have loved this album since I first clapped ears on it in the late 80’s , the years have not diminshed the quality of the songwriting and the playing. The obvious reference point is Bryan Adams circa Reckless but you can pick out influence of blue collar rockers like John Mellancamp in some of that fine songs and guitar playing.

Memphis power pop cult hero and Big Star contemporary Van Duren is the subject of the new documentary “Waiting”, and Omnivore has the companion CD soundtrack!  Featuring Van Duren favorites and previously unreleased tracks (including one recorded live at Ardent Studios in 1981 and one with Big Star’s Jody Stephens from 1975), the soundtrack boasts new liner notes from the artist.  All tracks are original masters (no re-recordings).  Look for Waiting – The Van Duren Story is out today on vinyl

“I’m not one of those people who dwells on the past very much” isn’t the first thing you expect to hear from a man whose 1978 debut album is at the center of a new documentary. “That was the strange part to me, to celebrate something that happened 40 years ago,” says Van Duren about Are You Serious?, the record that commands the undying affection of ’70s power pop obsessives, but has otherwise slipped between history’s cracks. Wade Jackson and Greg Carey’s film Waiting: The Van Duren Storyand its soundtrack album, however, aim to right that wrong.

In the first half of the ’70s, Duren was one of the most promising talents on the Memphis rock scene, along with power pop compatriots Big Star. He was even invited by Big Star drummer Jody Stephens to audition for the band after singer/guitarist Chris Bell’s departure, though the match was somewhat star-crossed. “It was a disaster,” Duren rather less diplomatically recalls. “I wasn’t a lead guitar player. Jody thought my vocal abilities and songwriting would really help the band in the direction he wanted to go. Meanwhile, they were cutting [dark, offbeat album] 3rd, which obviously had nothing to do with anything that I’d ever jump in on.”

Nevertheless, Duren seemingly never left Stephens’s mind. “When Big Star was kind of crumbling, he reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to do something,” remembers Duren. At Memphis’ legendary Ardent Studios, the pair cut demos of several Duren tunes. With famous admirers like Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham in his corner, Duren eventually cut a deal with a tiny label out of Connecticut and released his debut, Are You Serious?, in 1978.

The record introduced a man with a plaintive voice and an unerring knack for the almighty hook. The stomping riffs of “Chemical Fire,” the yearning piano balladry of “Waiting,” and the McCartney/Rundgren vibe of the pumping pop-rocker “Grow Yourself Up” reveal an artist already fully matured in his mid-20s, bouncing off the same basic musical touchstones as his Big Star buddies but processing his influences in an utterly personal way. Though it earned some great reviews, it pretty much sank into obscurity, and when the follow-up album was scuttled in 1980 due to acrimonious label relations, Duren’s promising career seemed to flame out.

“It was a very dark situation and it was very tough to get through that,” says Duren. At that point, he pretty much dropped below the radar of the wider world. Some three and a half decades later, Sydney singer/songwriter Wade Jackson and his friend Greg Carey discovered Are You Serious? by accident. “It was everything I love about music,” says Jackson. “I was completely hooked; within a week, that was all I was listening to. I heard Big Star in there, I heard Todd Rundgren, and McCartney of course, I also heard that Emitt Rhodes thing, and I just felt like it was exactly what I was looking for. And the delivery of the vocal, I think, is so genuine. There’s something about the desperate delivery that I love. It’s very real, in my opinion.”

Jackson and Carey were so flabbergasted they decided they had to tell Duren’s story in a documentary despite having zero film experience, learning as they went. “Being so naïve about how it all works is probably what got me through it,” Jackson says.

But Duren’s been burned enough to operate from a place of caution when people approach him about his music. “Every now and then people reach out to me on social media,” he says, “and I’m pretty wary of it because many times it doesn’t go well, for whatever reason.” Consequently, he remained guarded when first-time filmmakers Jackson and Carey first emailed him from Australia. “It took a couple of months for Van to want to chat with us on the phone,” confirms Jackson. Over time, though, the well-intentioned Aussies earned Duren’s trust, and came to Memphis to meet him.

They eventually learned that while Duren never earned national attention, he never quit recording and performing. In the ’80s he formed Good Question, earning regional renown. “We started in August of ’82 and the band ran for 17 years,” Duren says. They released two albums and had a local hit with “Jane.” “Good Question almost immediately became one of the most popular live bands around here,” Duren remembers. “We worked all the time. It was the first time in my entire career I worked enough to actually go in the black.”

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After the band’s breakup in 1999, Duren kept working, releasing duo albums with fellow Memphian power pop hero Tommy Hoehn, as well as subsequent solo records and collaborations with others. “It was a real shock, to be honest,” says Jackson about learning of Duren’s post-’70s output. “It was great to hear that he’d never given up on writing tracks and releasing albums. We like to call it the music disease—once you’re struck with it, it’s there to stay.”

Hidden in plain sight, Duren paradoxically wasn’t even well-known enough to really be considered a cult hero. “In my experience,” he explains, “if you can rise to the level of what they call ‘obscure,’ then that’s some level of success. You do it because you feel compelled to do it, and it’s not because you’re trying to please anybody else.”

Jackson and Carey’s film is a compassionate portrait of Duren’s rocky road through the music business, and even the buzz over its first few festival appearances has already brought Duren more attention than he’s had in decades. Equally important is the release of the soundtrack album, containing early Duren gems, Good Question material, and even one of those Duren/Stephens demos.

Boutique reissue label Omnivore, renowned for its Big Star-related releases, turned out to be the perfect home for Duren’s music. “They did such a wonderful job,” Duren enthuses. “The mastering on that soundtrack album is phenomenal. Never in my wildest dreams would I think that those recordings would sound like that.”

Jackson and Carey helped facilitate not only the soundtrack’s release, but a publishing deal for Duren with Australia’s Native Tongue Publishing, as well. “It’s excellent for Greg and I,” says Jackson, “because we were so heads-down in this project we’d sometimes go, ‘Is the music as good as we think, or are we going crazy?’ Having a great label like Omnivore and a great publishing company like Native Tongue get behind it [we feel like], ‘Yeah, we’ve done the right thing.’”

The film’s sold-out premiere at the Indie Memphis Film Festival on November 3rd, 2018—complete with a five-minute standing ovation at the end—was a full-circle moment for Duren. “It was really heartwarming and very surprising to me,” he says. “After the showing we walked across to a different theater where we had set up for a live performance, and we did about a 45-minute set of songs from the film with a band, including my son on drums.”

Full theatrical releases for both Australia and the U.S. are in the works for the film. Duren’s future plans include recording new songs and taking his live show to audiences beyond his hometown. “I’m very grateful to Wade and Greg for finding me,” admits the once-wary songsmith, “because I wasn’t looking for this, I didn’t seek it out. That made it very pure to me, very honest. I’m grateful for that more than anything. Meanwhile, forward. There’s more to come, absolutely.”

Van Duren

Once the intro to opener “Human” gives way to its fully-realized sonic purpose, it’s obvious that Harlan T. Bobo’s fourth proper album, A History of Violence, is quite different from his previous body of work. The classic historical emotional heft of a songwriter trying to make sense of life’s chaos, think mid-70s Lou Reed, especially Coney Island Baby, is a thread that can be heard running through the album’s mid-tempo tracks like “Human” and the miniature literary tragedy that is “Nadine”. The punchier tracks on the album, like “Spiders”, might conjure very early Green On Red, what X’s mid-80s output could have been, or even the roots-rock tendencies of overlooked genius.

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Though this is the first proper full-length by Harlan since 2010’s Sucker, the last eight years have in no way framed a musical hiatus of any sort. Bobo contributed to The Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s conductor-less “Opus One” project for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, in which his original songs were classically arranged by participating MSO players and performed as chamber pieces for non-traditional audiences at rock clubs. Also in 2011, Harlan, and fellow Memphis music notables Jack Oblivian and Shawn Cripps (Limes) successfully Kickstarter-funded a 40-show “Memphis Revue” style tour through Europe. Already splitting his time between Europe and the States as this decade opened, Bobo continued to perform solo and tour Europe as such while also forming a Memphis super-group of sorts known as The Fuzz in 2013, which included former members of 90’s scuzz-punks Action Family and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments. Playing 2013’s Goner-Fest 10 and subsequently releasing a self-titled album of garage-ragers on Italy’s Munster Records later that year, The Fuzz (not to be confused with Ty Segall’s band of the same name) expanded Harlan T. Bobo’s musical frame of reference nicely. 

Bobo established his base of operations as Perpignan, France, in 2014, the hometown of his then-wife and where Harlan has also been busy raising their son. 2014 also saw the re-release of Bobo’s much-heralded 2006 album, Too Much Love, via both Goner Records stateside and France’s Beast Records.

By 2014, Harlan T. Bobo had amassed two album’s worth of solo material for the planned follow-up to Sucker. However, as they say, life has a way of intervening in dramatic and not entirely positive ways. If the new album’s candid gloom is any indication, the last few years in Europe raising a son and trying (unsuccessfully) to keep a marriage together has been difficult, to say the least.

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A History of Violence still highlights Bobo’s whiskey-and-cigarette-informed vocal style, and on the more intimate tracks, it’s a distorted ear candy that warbles into increasingly sunken, uncomfortable places, like that of the songwriter with which comparisons have followed Bobo throughout his career: there is a richer canvas on which to work this time out, not to mention a decidedly heavier and darker one. The album was recorded in Memphis with Doug Easley, who has previously worked with Cat Power, Pavement, Wilco, Sonic Youth, Jon Spencer, and Jeff Buckley. Bobo also brought in Steve Selvidge (The Hold Steady, Bash & Pop) on bass and Jeff “Bunny” Dutton (Action Family) on guitar, along with regular contributors Jeff Bouck (Polyphonic Spree) and Brendan Spangler (Viva l’American Death Ray). The result is a naturally dynamic album that seems equally at home with howling guitars and heavy bass lines as it does with haunting piano and humble pleas. A History of Violence is Bobo’s most complex — and complete — album to date.

Released June 22nd, 2018

Recording in Memphis, TN by Doug Easley
Harlan T. Bobo – vocals, guitar
Steve Selvidge – bass
Jeff “Bunny” Dutton – guitar

In 2015, 20-year-old Memphis singer-songwriter Julien Baker stunned folks with her debut album, Sprained Ankle. The spare arrangements, plaintive vocals, and candidness about how she relates to everything from significant others and herself to times of trouble and God’s mysterious presence in her life were all striking revelations, especially from such a young voice.

Her follow up album release Turn Out the Lights finds Baker seasoned far beyond what you’d expect two years later. Her growth as a lyricist astounds, and she’s expanded her still-minimalist instrumentation to include piano and ambient parts and now trusts her voice to harmonize and draw attention to itself by raising her volume as songs call for it. No record out this year boasts a more affecting and beautiful one-two punch than singles “Appointments” and “Turn Out the Lights”, and few emerging singer-songwriters have us as excited as Baker.

The 2nd video from Julien Baker’s long-awaited 2nd album, the titular track “Turn Out The Lights”, directed by Sophia Peer. ‘Turn Out The Lights’ is available now.

From the new album ‘Turn Out the Lights’ out October 27th on Matador Records, Essential Tracks: “Appointments”, “Turn Out the Lights”, and “Everything That Helps You Sleep”

Praised as “one of the unsung heroes of American pop music” Despite a life marked by tragedy and a career crippled by commercial indifference, the singer/songwriter’s slim body of recorded work proved massively influential on the generations of indie rockers who emerged in his wake.”

He was one of the pioneers of power pop – and his catalog of proto-alternative rock has inspired the likes of Beck, R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream, Afghan Whigs, Pete Yorn, Wilco, The Posies, and The Replacements, all of which have covered his music or name-dropped his band, Big Star, in the press. His name was Chris Bell.

Christopher Branford “Chris” Bell (January 12th, 1951 – December 27th, 1978) was born in Memphis, Tennessee to a well-off family. He was a sharp, funny, deeply introverted and sexually confused young man, who dreamed of rock stardom.

Omnivore Record’s Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star Featuring Chris Bell was the first of several planned releases from the Grammy Award-winning label showcasing the talents of Big Star co-founder Bell, who passed away in 1978. The label recently announced their next two Bell projects: a new expanded edition of the quintessential Bell collection I Am The Cosmos, and a definitive archive of his work as a 6LP box set.

Prior to Rykodisc’s I Am The Cosmos in 1992, only two of the tracks (the title cut and “You and Your Sister”) were released during Bell’s lifetime; both tracks were pressed on a single released shortly before a car crash took the Memphis hero’s life. (Much of it was recorded long before that, after Bell had departed Big Star and decamped to Paris in 1974 and 1975.) In 2009, Rhino Records also issued a double-disc Cosmos set that featured not only alternate versions and mixes of the album’s original tracks but also cuts by Bell’s pre-Big Star bands Icewater and Rock City for context. As those tracks (and more) are now a part of Looking Forward, this new double-disc edition sweetens the deal with another 10 tracks, most previously unreleased. Compilation producer Alec Palao and writer Bob Mehr provide liner notes, and a clear vinyl version of the original album (the first release of this material on the format in years) will ship day and date alongside the 2CD set.

The material of Looking Forward and I Am The Cosmos will also be featured on a comprehensive vinyl box set, The Complete Chris Bell, to be released later this fall. That set includes the vinyl premiere of Looking Forward (reconfigured to include only the Icewater and Wallabys tracks, plus Bell’s solo “Psychedelic Stuff”); a separate vinyl debut of the material from Rock City, the I Am The Cosmos vinyl (as well as the material from the bonus disc on two LPs); and, exclusive to this set, a newly-discovered career-spanning interview with Bell, conducted by journalist Barry Ballard in 1975 and sourced from his own personal copy of the conversation.

Palao and Mehr again offer notes for the box (alongside an excerpt from Rich Tupica’s forthcoming biography of Bell), all tracks are remastered by Michael Graves, vinyl was cut at Ardent Studios by Chris Jackson and Adam Hill, and Palao, Hill and Omnivore head Cheryl Pawelski serve as the box set’s producers, with the full cooperation of Bell’s estate (as run by his brother David). I Am The Cosmos is back in print , while The Complete Chris Bell is available November 24th!

In 1964 and 1965, Bell played lead guitar in a British Invasion-influenced group called the Jynx (the name is a takeoff on The Kinks) with local musicians, including lead vocalist Mike Harris, rhythm guitarist David Hoback, drummer DeWitt Shy, and bassist Bill Cunningham, and later, bassist Leo Goff. Other lead vocalists at some of the group’s shows and rehearsals (though not present on their recordings) included local teens Ames Yates, Vance Alexander, and Alex Chilton. Chilton, who attended many Jynx shows and sang lead vocals at a couple of gigs, soon joined the Box Tops with Cunningham, as the Jynx split up in 1966. Here are the Jynx, with Bell on lead guitar, performing Little Girl:

Bell continued to perform and record in Memphis throughout the rest of the decade, including a stint in the heavier psych-rock band Christmas Future. By the late 1960s, after attending UT in Knoxville, he had turned his focus toward writing original songs. The group later known as Big Star stemmed from two Bell band projects that began in the late 1960s, while he recorded and performed live in groups, named Icewater and Rock City. These groups featured a revolving set of musicians including Jody Stephens, Terry Manning, Tom Eubanks, Andy Hummel, Richard Rosebrough, Vance Alexander, and Steve Rhea. Here are Icewater and All I See Is You:

Bell asked Alex Chilton to join several months after the group had started performing. Eventually, during a period of recording demos and tracks for their first album, the group settled on the name “Big Star.” The lineup for Big Star’s first album was composed of Bell (guitars/vocals), Chilton (guitars, vocals), Hummel (bass, vocals), and Stephens (drums, vocals). Bell and Chilton wrote most of the group’s songs, with occasional writing contributions from Hummel and Stephens.

Big Star were, in the words of Robyn Hitchcock, “a letter posted in 1971 that didn’t arrive till 1985.” Crowned the inventors of power pop, they were, over the course of three critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful albums, much more than that. Nobody could turn pain into beauty like Big Star.

In 1971, the 20-year old Alex Chilton has already been a star. He was the front man of The Box Tops, a manufactured rock combo who had one the biggest hits of 1967 with The Letter. His teenage stardom meant that he’d already met Charles Manson, toured with the Beach Boys, and watched Hendrix from the side of the stage before he could legally drink. He was an “art brat” who’d been given peyote as a kid and was already living a remarkable life. But witnessing the guitar shredding, five-part harmonizing experimenters of rock had left him feeling uncomfortable. He was essentially in a boy band. He needed to step up and make his own music. So he quit The Box Tops and after a brief spell in New York, returned to his hometown of Memphis to make music he wanted to listen to.

Just to remind you what a great pop group The Box Tops were, here are a few of ther hits. Their first hit was their biggest, surely one of the classic singles of the 60s (and of all-time). Here’s The Letter, with 16-year-old lead singer Alex Chilton:

Here’s their third single, which was their second-biggest hit, “Cry Like A Baby”:

Chris Bell obsessed with creating perfect, multi-layered pop music. To do this, he had the studios of Ardent Records, run by whizz kid engineer John Fry, who let the local musical kids use it at night for their own sessions. Fry taught Bell how to multi-track. Ardent had become a subsidiary of the legendary Stax Records, taking on some of its recording sessions and, in return, agreeing to be its pop/rock imprint. The studios and – bizarrely -TGI Fridays, were the twin pillars of a raucous Memphis counter-culture scene that was big on drinking, sexual experimentation and drugs, particularly ludes, Mandrax and related pills.

“That pill culture is unique to Memphis”, says director and screenwriter Drew DeNicola. “It’s what killed Elvis and it’s what those Big Star boys were doing too. Everyone knew a crooked doctor. Polite society would go to bed and then, in the margins, the alternative kids could do what they wanted, as long as they made it to Sunday lunch with Momma.”

It was out of this southern stew that Big Star’s first album, #1 Record, came. The band’s name had come out of desperation, taken from a chain of supermarkets, one of which sat across the street from Ardent. Chilton and Bell put their heart and soul into the album, with Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel on drums and bass respectively. It’s an album of perfect pop songs, suffused with pain and melancholy, up-tempo and down-tempo, beautifully layered, subtle and all over the place genre-wise.

On its release in June 1972, #1 Record immediately received widespread acclaim, and continued to do so for six months, although an inability by Stax Records to make the album available in stores meant it sold fewer than 10,000 copies. Record World called it “one of the best albums of the year”, and Billboard commented, “Every cut could be a single”. It was described it as one where “everything falls together as a total sound” and one that “should go to the top”. In 2003 it was ranked on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Eight years earlier in 1964, when their home town of Memphis, Tennessee became a tour stop for The Beatles, primary songwriters Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were thirteen years old. They went to the show together – and it made them see the light. Thirteen, a song Chilton wrote nearly six years after he first witnessed that Beatles performance, referred to the event with the line “Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay”.

Heavily influenced by the UK band, the pair – Bell in particular -wanted to model their songwriting on the Lennon–McCartney partnership, with the result that they credited as many songs as possible on Big Star’s debut album to “Bell/Chilton”. In practice, they developed material incrementally in the studio, each making changes to the other’s recordings. Drummer Jody Stephens recalled, “Alex would come in and put down something rough and edgy and Chris would come in and add some sweet-sounding background vocals to it.” The pair also each contributed songs individually composed before Big Star was formed, Bell bringing Feel, My Life Is Right, and Try Again, and Chilton, The Ballad of El Goodo, In The Street, and Thirteen.

Here’s Feel, the album’s opening track:

… and here’s the song with which Alex “auditioned” for the band: Watch the Sunrise.

The album’s short closing track, ST 100/6, is the only song where Alex Chilton and Chris Bell share lead vocals (lead vocals are divided among them on the rest of the album).

The critics loved the album but the public couldn’t get their hands on it. Press attention focused on former teen star Chilton. Chris Bell, the driving force behind the album, was relegated to the sidelines.  The failure of #1 Record devastated him. He was tormented by his sexuality: he was probably gay but was unable, in Tennessee, to deal with it, and there were rumours in Memphis that he was in love with Chilton and that the latter’s lack of reciprocation hastened his departure from the band, which came not long after #1 Record.

The frustration at #1 Record’s obstructed sales contributed to tension within the band. There was physical fighting between members: Bell, after being punched in the face by Hummel, retaliated by smashing Hummel’s new bass guitar to pieces against the wall. Hummel took revenge at a later date: finding Bell’s acoustic guitar in the latter’s unattended car, he repeatedly punched it with a screwdriver. In November 1972, Bell quit the band. When work continued on songs for a second album, Bell rejoined, but further conflict soon erupted. A master tape of the new songs inexplicably went missing, and Bell, whose heavy drug intake was affecting his judgment, attacked Fry’s parked car. In late 1972, struggling with severe depression, Bell quit the band once more, and by the end of the year Big Star disbanded.

After a few months Chilton, Stephens, and Hummel decided to reform Big Star, and the three resumed work on the second album. The title chosen, Radio City, continued the play on the theme of a big star’s popularity and success, expressing what biographer Robert Gordon calls the band’s “romantic expectation”

Although uncredited, Bell contributed to the writing of some of the album’s songs, including O My Soul and Back of a Car. Shortly before the album’s release, Hummel left the band: judging that it would not last, and in his final year at college, he elected to concentrate on his studies and live a more normal life.

For all the trouble surrounding it, Radio City met with general acclaim. Critics judged the musicianship “superb” It was called “a collection of excellent material”; giving it an “A” rating, Robert Christgau calls the album “Brilliant, addictive”, observing meanwhile that “The harmonies sound like the lead sheets are upside down and backwards, the guitar solos sound like screwball ready made pastiches, and the lyrics sound like love is strange,” concluding his review with, “Can an album be catchy and twisted at the same time?”

However, sales were thwarted (again!) by an inability to make the album available in stores. As a result, the album achieved only minimal sales of around 20,000 copies at the time.

September Gurls is the best track on the album, almost as good as their best track overall, Thirteen.

Before returning to Bell’s solo career, I would be amiss not to present Big Star’s legendary third album known as Third or Sister Lovers. It was recorded in 1974. Though Ardent Studios created test pressings for the record in 1975, a combination of financial issues, the uncommercial sound of the record, and lack of interest from singer Alex Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens in continuing the project prevented the album from ever being properly finished or released at the time of its recording. It was eventually released in 1978 by PVC Records.

After two commercially unsuccessful albums, Third documents the band’s deterioration as well as the declining mental state of singer Alex Chilton. It has since gone on to become one of the most critically acclaimed albums in history and is considered a cult album.

You have to take into account that most of the songs in Third/Sister Lovers are practically demos. I wonder what would be the final form of these songs, had Alex decided to properly complete the album…

Chilton went on to have an interesting solo career, but commercial success always eluded him. In truth, he wasn’t really aiming for it. He also briefly reformed Big Star, as well as regrouped with the original Box Tops for a number of tours. He was taken to the hospital in New Orleans on Wednesday, March 17th, 2010, complaining of health problems, and died the same day of a heart attack. Four months later, Hummel died of cancer.

Back to our man, Chris Bell. After leaving Big Star, Chris would attempt suicide, abuse strong sedatives and use religion to suppress doubts around his sexuality amid an inherently homophobic Deep South.

Vocally, to some, Bell was an icon trapped in the wrong era. “At times Chris could be so punk rock and he’d just make this painful noise from the back of his throat like a Cobain,” beams Adam Hill, an engineer at Ardent, who remastered Bell’s recordings for posthumous collection I Am The Cosmos. “On grungy solo track Better Save Yourself, Bell contorts his voice, sometimes shouting, to bellow: “You should’ve gave your love to Jesus, it couldn’t do you no harm. You better save yourself, if you wanna see his face.” This was songwriting that had little time for affectation. Whereas on a song like Though I Know She Lies you could be listening to Dylan on Lay Lady Lay. He always pushed his vocal cords to their very limit.” On the delicate You And Your Sister, Bell pours his heart out about an unrequited love. When he reflects “Plans fail every day,” to backing vocals by Chilton, who remained an acquaintance, you sense heartbreak of both a romantic and professional nature. And Speed of Sound – with its existential dread of “The plane goes down, it will not land. The pilot’s dead, nowhere to be found”—hits you right in the gut, writing the angsty blueprint Elliott Smith would later follow to a tee.

Seen by friends as an intervention, Bell’s brother David took him across Europe in the mid-70s, armed with these solo demos. Bell, an anglophile who imported copies of NME, would get the chance to work with hero Geoff Emerick—a pivotal engineer on all the best Beatles albums—at the legendary Air Studios. “It was good for him to go to Europe but I sense he was still in a really dark place. He was an impatient artist after Big Star,” says Van Duren, a fellow Memphis musician. With a record deal not forthcoming, Bell accepted he needed a regular 9-to-5 upon his return to Memphis. For a while, he worked for his father’s hamburger chain Danvers—a heartbreaking scene for friends who understood his talent.

While Bell was back home flipping burgers, Big Star were blowing up in the UK, with NME unable to keep up with reader letters requesting copies of their first two albums. In fact, demand for both albums was so high they were eventually reissued in a gatefold release. “I called Chris and it was one of the only times I remember him being really happy, as all those Beatles Parlophone pressings he loved had the same address on the back,” remembers Stephens, noting that the reissue said “Pressed by EMI at Hayes, Middlesex” on the back. However, Bell’s adulation would be short lived.

“When I came back to Memphis we made plans to meet at the studio. However, when I arrived he had already left,” recalls Stephens. Friends and family still don’t know for sure what happened in the early hours of December 27th, 1978, the dark mystique of Bell’s music holding even in death. “What’s weird is I decided to drive back and when I got to the Sears department store, I could see police cars with their lights flashing and there was this car in the middle of the road. A pole had fallen and completely crushed the left side of the roof. I immediately thought ‘I shouldn’t look.’ The next day John [Fry] phoned to say Chris had died in a car accident. I had passed by Chris.” He was 27, that fateful age.

Unreleased for over 15 years, I Am the Cosmos, Bell’s only solo album, is nevertheless an enduring testament to the brilliance of Chris Bell; lyrically poignant and melodically stunning, this lone solo album is proof positive of his underappreciated pop mastery. The title track is a harrowingly schizophrenic tale of romantic despair:

We end this story with the album’s highlight, You and Your Sister – which features backing vocals from none other than Bell’s Big Star mate Alex Chilton – which is simply one of the great unknown love songs in the pop canon, a luminous and fragile ballad almost otherworldly in its beauty.

Thanks to Yianna/John

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Julien Baker’s music is poetic and intensely personal, written from her perspective as a young, gay, Christian from Memphis, Tennessee. The surprising thing is how well her music resonates with a crowd of all ages, genders, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations,

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From the album “Sprained Ankle” out via 6131 Records. Perhaps part of the appeal of Sprained Ankle is the liberating feeling that comes from hearing someone tackling these subjects with such eloquence,
Recorded at Spacebomb Studios in Richmond, VA

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Julien Baker continues to rise thanks to the strength of her 2015 debut album “Sprained Ankle” and her mesmerising live sets . It’s now been announced that she’s signed to the wonderful indie label Matador Records  So big congrats to Julien, its awesome news and gives hope for some UK festivals or shows this year. .

Her first release for the label is the new single, “Funeral Pyre”  a song that you may remember she debuted in an Tiny Desk Concert last year. The studio version is just as gorgeous as the version she played on NPR. Here’s what she tells NPR about it in a new interview:

Obviously, drinking gasoline incurs bodily harm on you, but also, being an accessory to that kind of behavior and having to decide — it incurs harm upon you, too. And then, are you responsible for permitting that? If you stay, are you responsible for permitting it? And if you leave, are you responsible for not intervening? If you intervene, are you out of your bounds? Everything about the song is figuring out how you should act in your level of responsibility for your own health and to others in the dynamic of a relationship, which is a difficult lesson to learn.I feel like I would have put myself into an unfavorable or unhealthy position for this person and maybe recognizing from an outside perspective that that destructivism is a more healthy thing to do than to stay in it for the sort of, romantic, admirable belief that subjecting yourself to this kind of sacrificial, fatuous love would be more of the right thing to do.

“Funeral Pyre” won’t be out until March with “Distant Solar System,” an unheard song from the Sprained Ankle sessions, on the flip. Matador Records will also reissue Sprained Ankle, originally released on 6131 Records, that day (but not in the US or Australia).

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Julien Baker has contributed a new song to Punk Talks’ holiday album, “Jingle Yay! Punk Talks”, an organization that provides musicians and industry workers with free mental health services, was founded in 2015.

Baker’s new song, “Decorated Lawns,” is the perfect song to get you in a reflective, somewhat nostalgic mood just in time for the holidays. It’s slightly more upbeat than her debut album, “Sprained Ankle”, but remains characteristic of the singer-songwriter. (It wouldn’t be complete if someone didn’t crash a car!) The album is available for purchase now via Bandcamp

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Listen to “Decorated Lawns” via 36Vultures .

Memphis-born singer-songwriter Julien Baker has gained a lot of traction online blogs from her emotionally honest tracks, which detail near-death experiences, substance abuse and spirituality. Though the 20-year-old artist originally self-released her heart-wrenching debut “Sprained Ankle” on Bandcamp while studying at college, she later signed to indie label 6131Records for an official release .

“Sprained Ankle” begins with gentle pin drop-like guitar plucking and it’s lent additional weight by her burning lyrics (“Wish I could write songs about anything other than death”), rather than additional instrumentation. In fact, the line isn’t even true, the 20-year-old singer songwriter from Memphis has many other subject matters, although they aren’t exactly light hearted. The album, released towards the end of 2015, was inspired by the loneliness felt whilst at university, finding herself for the first time away from family and friends. The result was nine songs, beautiful in their simplicity, brave, honest, tackling subject matter including car crashes, depression, substance abuse, and anxiety.

Onstage with just a microphone and her telecaster, the singer’s presence is just as unassuming as her songs. A loop pedal allows for a bit more depth in sound, and it is clear from the outset that Julien Baker is an accomplished guitarist. Singing a long way off the microphone, the resulting breathy vocal delivery adds to the ethereal quality of the songs. Subtle and simple, yet beautifully melodic, her music is devastating in its honesty.

Careful, Julien Baker could easily become one of your all time favorite artist.

In June she played her unreleased song Funeral Pyre , Somewhere In Munich. Live…

Watch singer-songwriter Julien Baker perform “Sprained Ankle” the title track off her debut album, during soundcheck at the Drake Hotel on Exclaim! TV. April 19, 2016.

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From Lucero’s new album “All A Man Should Do” available on Sept 18th. Lucero is an American country-punk rock band based in Memphis, Tennessee. Lucero’s sound has been described as a “synthesis of soul, rock, and country [that] is distinctly Memphisian