The Drag City Newsletter/March 23, 2011

posted March 23rd, 2011


And we’re off! Are we ready? No. Willing? SUPER-YEAH, man! We’re running with what we’ve got or claim to have and the dare is on “” catch us if you can.

The Drag City schedule has got so much out there “” like as of today, we’re shipping new records from Baby Dee, Ed Askew, Gary Higgins and Sophia Knapp “” and so much on the way, like Bill Callahan, High Llamas, the return of Bonny and Sweeney and an audiobook of Rudolph Wurlitzer’s Slow Fade read by Will Oldham — and that just takes us through flippin’ April! Then there’s the incredible Mickey Newbury box-set so titanic in it’s conception that we can’t seem to fit it through the doors here. And then there’s Bachelorette, These Trails and a single by Ty Segall. That gets us through May. And then in June “” that’s it! The cart’s in front of the ever-lovin’ horse — now we just have to get it to water. And get that water reverse-ionized before we put it in the horse. We’re not animals here. Not all the time anyway.


The slides of march finds us right between a couple blotches on the annual face of the industry circa now — SXSWSUX and Record Store Day. They always say that south-by’s good for business, but we’ll never know how. Everybody goes down there and no business gets done at all! The texts pile up all around us as shit goes on hold for like, a fortnight or somethin’! A fortnight to a struggling young business could mean life or death, you know? And for us, it’s worse! We’re looking obscurity in the face every week here! We don’t need people disappearing just so they can work on their spray tans and their coke habits and their taste for that fine bar-be-cue. And do connections get made? Do great shows get seen? No! Hard-earned cash is forked over and doesn’t make it back to the hard-working bands...this is a nightmare of old-school proportions! Face it, South By Southwest is killing music.

And then, barely a month later, we’ve got Record Store Day. Ah, Record Store Day, how can we hate you? You’re encouraging people to come to your shops for event-based consumering. This ain’t bad. But what is bad is the way you’ve created another peak in the calendar that once allowed lazy minds to conceive of bits of time such as “the post-holiday slump” and a sales drought that occurs before “the kids come back to school.” (where did they go, did they leave the planet?) Sure there’s some truth to these things, but there’s also truth to be found in making one’s own opportunities! And not bitching about things like seasons. They’re gonna come. So damn you, RSD — you’ve given our dull, flabby sensibilities another excuse to give up without even trying! The records business can’t take many more days like this and Christmas and shit... (And don’t forget to look out for our special Record Store Day surprises at your fave disc-merchant! -- Rashomon-style ed.)


People are seriously fucked, people! We’re talking about records and how it’s so awful they can’t be sold, but we’re telling you this from inside an undestroyed shelter, and you’re probably (who knows) reading it inside another. Sure, we realize if you’re reading us here, you’re probably pretty interested in spending money on buying records, and we’re interested in you doing that, but at the same time, please refer to some of the information and here and here and here before you do so again. The people in the blasted north of Japan and the people within the ever-growing nuclear spillage zone are in need of help and as they say (no matter who they are), every little bit helps. If you can, please do.

And now back to our head-trippin’ currently in progress...


So, as the world turns round and crushes more lives with every revolution, what do we have to show? A moody set of titles for the end of the month of March as we know it. The releases begin with Baby Dee Regifted Light, produced by Andrew WK, whose piano made it all possible to begin with at the onset in the first place. His Steinway D concert grand sounded so...uh, exalted, under Dee’s veteran touch that he loaned it to her! It was easier than lifting into the far reaches of the NYC skyscape where his current penthouse/HQ is located, anyway — but there’s also this urban myth about great players making great pianos even greater. Whatever the case, we’re glad it went down, since this recording, made in Dee’s living room and featuring a cut-down chamber orchestra of brass, woodwind, strings and percussion, is a one-of-a-kind record for 2011 and just about any year really. Because, Dee was so delighted with the sound that she began to spew forth with little concertos! No, not songs with vocals that had a classical tilt — bright, sparkling instrumental works is what we’re talkin’! Long story short, this record’s twelve movements are three-quarters instrumental, and sprightfully arranged with cello, tuba, sousaphone, bassoon, glockenspiel and a couple others that I forget, interspersed with a couple of Dee’s classic three-hanky weepers, like ”On the Day I Died,” and the title track which won’t leave a dry eye in the house. There’s also ”The Pie Song,” which will wet the eye mirthfully, we promise and will be a staple on Dr. Demento for years to come. All of this is magisterially mixed by Andrew WK, whose presence behind the boards creates a sweep to the sonics that they richly deserve. It’s unlike any other Dee album to date — which also means it’s unlike anything else either. So get ready to get Regifted Light. And then re-get to gift it. And then...well, one step at a time already, okay? But please, no regifting, this isn’t Christmas or Record Store Day (yet)!

Also cerebral, broody, tuneful and generally indispensable are two archival works from two heroes of the 60s-70s underground. One is well-known to Drag City punters — Gary Higgins, whose 1973 album Red Hash gained belated acclaim around the world when we reissued it back in the summer of 2005. Gary went on to make an album of new songs, Seconds., a few years later — but this new release finds him back in his early-70s tape vault. ”A Dream A While Back” is a six-song EP catching Gary deep in the pre-Red Hash (Green Hash?) country , troubadouring with little more than a guitar or two to accompany his wary, searching songs, whose alienation from the world at large have a unique place within the weary world of post-Woodstock song craft. Emoted with numbed, slow-rolling melodies, ”A Dream A While Back” is a disclosure saved from the dead-letter office of yesteryear as well as another knife in the clichÉ of the benign era of the love generation. Good listening!

The second of our barrel-catches is from Ed Askew, whose1968 release Ask The Unicorn on ESP-disk certainly captured the exalted qualities of the era that Higgins found himself decrying just a few years later. Songwriting and singing that were a little bit self-taught, a little bit medieval and a little bit Dylan (maybe the best thing to ever happen to Dylan before the endless detoxes and rehabs) helped shepherd Ed Askew into the marketplace, but once there, he wasn’t enough of a commercial force to engender further speculation — a second album was recorded and not released and then years went by (and then De Stijl made Little Eyes a reality a few years ago - right on Minnesota!). In 1984, Ed was ready to leave the world of singing songs behind, having found greater acceptance as a painter. Before he did that, he bid farewell with a batch of songs that were recorded on cassette and released on the same, under the title Imperfiction. The vibe isn’t as valedictory as the one offered some fifteen years back, can you imagine? Still, this is a wistful and intimate record, a more honest portrait of the artist as songwriter, and one that should have caught on more in the DIY scenes of the 80s. Standing up there with the best self-released pop of that era and every other is Ed Akskew’s lost-and-found third album, for the first time on vinyl and digital, Imperfiction.


And yes, at long last, the sweet, silky sensation of the Sophia Knapp single can be yours! Now you can know about the soft sensual nature of this record which we have only been able to describe to you for so long. It’s a song and a remix of the song on the other side — but worlds are within the worlds of sound on Sophia’s record, transforming a sweet sentiment into a psychic devotional. Unlike the high-electric sound former Lights and future Cliffie Swan, ”Nothing To Lose” will insinuate itself in your soft places...c’mon kids! We’re trying to set a mood here, can the chuckling! We meant soft emotional places. Ah, for Christ’s sake...

And - scene! We’ve down what we can — from this point on, March etc is what you make it.


Oh, timing is all about the timing which is everything, ain’t it? Like when the Springfield wrote about that song about what it was worth — they were just talking about kids getting wild outside their bedroom window and soon, everyone had taken it as a song about Vietnam! The same thing happened with that song “Ohio” — I mean, everytime I drive through there I want to write a protest song, but that “Young” kid does it and voila, you got a hit. Well, what if lightning strikes again when Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse hits our rebellion-torn, war-weary, wind-blown, shake-and-baked (clearly) goddamned nuclear freakin’ planet? He’s just writing about, well not his life, but lives like his maybe (he’s a songwriter, understand? A writer of fiction, okay?) but because it’s called Apocalypse, maybe we’ll get all the people in the world who want to hear songs about how their house blew down or how their life blew up when they blew the last of their dope, or how they blew off their girlfriend after she blew their best friend. Or maybe some old-testament freaks, ready to hear their favorite psalms put to song. Or rubberneckers! Come on, come all! But not you, kids. You’re in this l’il scammerino, ’kay? Keep it between us - and let the conspiracy commence!


Coming down the pike is old Bill Callahan, with his brand-new album Apocalypse. Clearly, he knew something we didn’t when he wrote this one up — but you knew that he knew that already, didn’t you? If his career in music is like a book, then Apocalypse must be the latest chapter — and it’s a got a different tone than the chapter called Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle — but despite that, it still finds Bill way out in the country, with the chickens and those other things, galloping madly across the open spaces while giving thought and vent alike to his private meditations. They include things you could call personal and things you could call political and fictional and poetical and so forth. The combination of all this embodies a character that is either Bill or his creation, but the music that comes forth has the Americana flavor and sings what we can only read out as state-of-the-state type material. This can only create relief for the citizens of nations crying out for release from their current state. You’ll have full access to Bill’s Apocalypse on April 19 — but until then, you’ve got a fine preview track to sample — and ruminate upon.


Also springing forth on April 19 is the first High Llamas record since the late aughts! Talahomi Way picks up the pieces where they lay since nobody but High Llamas can really work this puzzle but High Llamas themselves. You know, we were listening to some of the classic Llamas material from the 90s just today and it sounds almost nothing like this new album. For the past few records really, the Llamas have had much more color in the music, more deeper focus and the textures that emerge with such filters in place. As ever, Sean O’Hagan’s melodies are insistent and his songs are elusive, giving us a view to something that it’s gonna take some time to work through. Our minds are a part of the picture, see? And this is why we’re not in need of a Llamas record every year. It’s a pleasure to get them and go through them, and then a few years have passed and it’s time for another excursion. Talahomi Way is a community of the future, a new place to live and worth the wait. Buckle up and let’s go!


We here at Drag City are champions of the less-known and the even less known. But Hell, we like the known as well. Before we go too much further down this line and get lost, we’re pleased to be representing to the world a classic yet underrated book from one of the best writers of our epoch — Slow Fade by Rudolph Wurlitzer. By the time of this book’s publication (1984), Rudy had already logged a career as a novelist and in Hollywood, producing the print works Nog, Quake and Flats (all amazing and recently restored to print on the Two-Dollar Radio imprint) and scripts for Two Lane Blacktop, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Walker , among others. Slow Fade looked back at the madness encountered on the sets of the 70s and took a trip around the world and to the heart of the dysfunctional artist family behind the scenes.

We’ll be reissuing the book over the summer, but as a fun entry point to the Wurlitzer ouvre, we’ve got our first-ever audio book for you! Yes, you guessed it — the very same Slow Fade book we’ve been talking about here. As read by Will Oldham, Slow Fade is a rough-shod trip into the mystical realms of art and faith and self-hood and pussy and the whole lot! Also reading is Hollywood script-doctor D.V. DeVincentis, who reads script-pitch sections with letter-perfect tone. Punctuated with a few notes at the top and bottom from the lyrical guitar of Ben Chasny, the Slow Fade audio book the perfect accompaniment to a road trip — or the perfect substitute for one, creating its own travelogue in the word flow. The words of Rudolph Wurlitzer live again — this time in a format they’ve not previously inhabited.


More?!? Sure there’s more. There’s always more, kids. But don’t be greedy — you’ll get yours in time. We’ll tweet you when the moment is right, you can be sure of that. Or there’ll be some writing in the sky — that would be prefereable, don’t you think?

See you in April, May, June and December — and the others in between,

Rian Murphy

Drag City Inc.

March 2011