Album of the Week: Shuggie Otis’ Freedom Flight (1971)

17. How’s that for writing “Strawberry Letter #23”? Yes, Shuggie Otis was 17 when he sported that cool mustache and wrote and recorded Freedom Flight, the predecessor to his masterpiece Inspiration Information and an excellent album in its own right. It’s one of his only records, as he essentially disappeared after 1975.

According to a 2016 profile in The Guardian, the guitarist “admits he enjoyed being out of the spotlight, away from the pressures of being Shuggie Otis, the erstwhile teen prodigy who never quite managed to capitalise on all the acclaim”. It is not often that an artist takes over 40 years to release their next album, but that is exactly what happened with Shuggie Otis. 2018’s Inter-fusion proves that he never lost his guitar-playing chops (or, you know, died or anything), but the songs aren’t there. The only track with vocals is “Ice Cold Daydream” a pale remake of the first track on Freedom Flight.

The Freedom Flight version of “Ice Cold Daydream” starts things off with pep. Then we have the classic “Strawberry Letter #23”, an all-time love song that became a hit for the Brothers Johnson several years later. Shuggie plays “Me & My Woman” with a blues expertise that would make B.B. King proud. “Purple” is a bit formless, but it still rips. Then there’s the title-track. “Freedom Flight” is a stoned 70s classic, a peaceful psychedelic odyssey. None other than George Duke plays keys here, and his assistance gives the track some rhythm after a few minutes.

As a listener, you can’t help but feel a little frustrated that there isn’t more to Shuggie Otis’s discography. Maybe his youthful spark didn’t last. Maybe he was too hard-headed about playing solo, or the alcohol got in the way. Whatever the case may be, Shuggie is a living legend, and Freedom Flight is a standout album of the rich 70s.

Listen to Freedom Flight here.

Album of the Week: 187 Fac’s Fac Not Fiction (1997)

Sometimes an album cover just pulls you in, y’know? When I saw Fac Not Fiction it was like, no question, I have to hear this. Not only are these guys lounging in their own personal hot tubs, but the tubs are in the San Francisco Bay. Amazing! I like the little sailboat in the background, too, good detail.

Enter 187 Fac. A weird name for sure, and it’s no great wonder this duo didn’t take off. But if you’re a fan of 90s Bay Area rap, you’ll find some gems here. As you can see from the cover they were tight with Spice-1, who executive produced. Ant Banks, who frequently worked with Spice and Too $hort, takes the wheel on production here, and the results are excellent.

Opener “Tha Frontline” sets the tone right, with a nice balance of ominous and chill. DJ Screw did justice to “Peer Pressure” on one of his tapes, and the original is great. One thing I like about 187 Fac is their quick flows, and over the g-funk instrumentals the combination is super smooth. They also like to say “facadelic”.

Would it be a Bay Area 90s rap album without a feature from someone in E-40’s Click? Of course not, and that’s why B-Legit shows up on “All Head No Body”. Unfortunately this is a weak track, just some ugly sex raps (this is one of the worst trends in west-coast hip-hop). “Graphic”, though, with what is as far as I can tell the only 187 Fac video, is a slapper. The bass lines are fat, and the mid-tempo bump suggests a lowrider with hydraulics.

“2 Geez”, the single, is a concept song about what the rapper’s personal lives might look like at the turn of the millenium. The guest (I believe it’s the brilliantly named Almon D) wonders if he will be “living like a Flinstone or a Jetson” in the year 2000. He fantasizes starring in a sitcom, “some shit that’ll make your mother laugh,” and owning a hovercraft. Excellent 3-year plan.

The closer “Paul Masson” is a redux of the Beasties’ “Paul Revere”, and we didn’t really need another “Paul Revere”, did we? This and the aforementioned “All Head No Body” are the only obvious skips to me. That means a solid, groovy Bay Area rap album. Since it’s a rarity, finding a physical copy can be expensive – Google the album and you will find copies offered for well over $100! In the year 2Geez, 187 Fac changed their name to DenGee and released one more album, DenGee Livin’. Rapper G-Nut passed away in 2018.

Fac Not Fiction is not streaming as of this write-up.

Album of the Week: Alton Ellis Sings Rock and Soul (1967)

“Mr. Rocksteady”. “Godfather of Rocksteady”. If you Google Alton Ellis, these are the sobriquets you will see again and again. The rocksteady subgenre of reggae lit a fire in the heart of a million lovers, and the late Ellis is certainly one to thank for this. Recording at producer Coxsone Dodd’s legendary Studio One in Kingston in the 1960s, Ellis was at the forefront of the rocksteady movement, and his first album Sings Rock and Soul is all killer, no filler.

A mix of Jamaican originals and (as the title implies) rock covers, “I’m Still in Love With You” is the album’s most recognizable classic, having been later covered by Marcia Aitken and (much later) Sean Paul. This riddim also served as the backing track for Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking” and Trinity’s “Three Piece Suit”. Ellis sings the track with confidence and ease. The Beegees ballad “Massachusettes” is given a chill spin, and “Baby Now That I Found You” might be impossible to not sing along to. Later, “Opression” finds Ellis rocking a killer falsetto.

These are all winners, but Ellis’s take on Procol Harum’s signature song “Whiter Shade of Pale” is my favorite track here. The song’s nautical lyrics are well-suited to a Jamaican interpretation, and the organ as filtered through the relatively lo-fi Studio One production sounds so damn good. The track also fades out unexpectedly, which fits the surreal vibe of the song overall. Gold star goes to whoever decided on this cover.

In a late interview, Ellis had this to say on Coxsone Dodd: “He reminds me a lot of Moses. He was doing so much good things but at the end of his days he blasphemed against God… The sin that he committed was getting so carried away with the money aspect of it all. At the end he was completely blinded and mesmerized by the amount of money he was earning and he became a very hard and greedy person.” Jamaican singers were often exploited by producers in this era (as you can see dramatized in the classic movie The Harder They Come), and Ellis was no exception. But Ellis’s success lasted beyond his early years, as he moved to England and found success among a number of Jamaican expats living there. He passed away of cancer in London in 2008. While I haven’t heard other albums by Alton Ellis, this debut is an outstanding collection of rocksteady classics and recommended to anyone with an interest in the genre.

Listen to Sings Rock and Soul here.

Album of the Week: Champion Jack Dupree’s Blues From the Gutter (1958)

“I was born in New Orleans on July 4, 1910. My father and mother were burned up in a fire when I was a kid, and I was sent to an orphanage.”

So begins the life of Champion Jack Dupree, according to the original back cover of Blues From the Gutter. A couple months ago on GSG, Jackson C. Frank told you that blues run the game, and poor Jackson dealt with a devastating fire early on in his life too. But the clearest difference between them is apparent from one glance at their album covers: Frank was a white man from New York, and Dupree was a black man from New Orleans. And it doesn’t get more Bluesy than down at the mouth of the Mississippi.

As a young man in the Depression-era South, Dupree learned piano from his mentor Willie “Drive ‘Em Down” Hall. Playing in clubs for $1.50 an hour, Dupree said he “was lucky to get [even] that”. To make ends meet, Dupree took up boxing, which is how he earned the nickname Champion. “In 1940 I fought my last match,” he said. “It was in Indianapolis and I knocked out Battling Bozo in the tenth round.” Around this time, Dupree started recording for the legendary Okeh label (they had a novelty hit in the 20s with the bizarre “OKeh Laughing Record”), before studio albums really existed.

Dupree plays deeply-rooted Blues, but one thing I really enjoy about him is his sense of humor. “Man, slow down, don’t walk so fast!” are the first words heard on Blues from the Gutter, Dupree’s first album. “Walkin’ Blues” had existed for a couple decades already, but Dupree gave it a stroll. The “Gutter” title likely comes from the inclusion of several songs about drugs. This concept wasn’t totally new, but Dupree certainly possessed a lyrical and vocal dexterity to the subject that stands out among 50s recordings. He demonstrates the two sides to the life of a drug user: “I hung around my friends that smoke reefer, I thought I was doin’ alright… But this dope is killin’ me” he sings on “Can’t Kick the Habit”. Then later, on “Junker’s Blues,” “Oh yes, I’m a junker… but I feel good all the time!”

In terms of the music, it’s tight as can be. Dupree was famously noted as a “Boogie-Woogie” pianist, but this only really comes through clearly on “Nasty Boogie”. It’s great, but I’m glad we get more hard-line blooze on most of the album. The backing band puts in work: that electric guitar on “T.B. Blues” rips, and “Bad Blood” contains a thrilling solo as well. The records wraps up with “Stack-O-Lee”, one of the most covered blues standards out (even The Grateful Dead made it a live staple for some years).

A little Google searching led me to this wonderful video of Champion Jack Dupree playing live in 1990. Starting slowly with “Bring Me Flowers While I’m Living”, the 80 year old Dupree sings with a wry smile, “I can’t use no flowers when I’m dead”. At about the 3:25 mark, none other than Allen Touissant sneaks up behind him and starts playing the piano’s highest keys. Their faces are both shining with joy. A couple minutes later, they’ve moved on to “Shake the Boogie”, and Toussaint takes over on piano while Dupree stands up to dance. Shaking his hips back and forth, he has the crowd in the palm of his hands. Sipping a beer and twinkling the keys away into a finale, the people erupt with applause. “The Champion,” Touissant says, “The Undisputed Champion.”

Listen to Blues From the Gutter on Spotify.

Album of the Week: Kool & The Gang’s Light of Worlds (1974)

wrrrrrrrrrrrrrWRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrWRRRRRRAAAAAAWRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Is there any song quite like “Summer Madness”? Those rising synth notes (presented in my best written attempt above) are jolting; they raise the hair on your arms. The track is iconic enough that it’s been sampled hundreds of times (I heard it years ago in Digable Planets “Jimmi Diggin Cats”), and remains a highlight on Light of Worlds, the fifth album from Kool & The Gang.

Yes, it’s Kool & The Gang, of “Celebration” and “Ladies Night” fame. Light of Worlds finds them pre-Chart Toppers, but post-“Jungle Boogie”. In other words, they weren’t yet a total sensation but they knew how to make a hit. Light of Worlds, then, bubbles with under-the-radar jazz-funk flavor. As an ensemble, they rival Earth, Wind & Fire in their ability to blend funk and pop.

Fans of J Dilla’s Donuts will instantly recognize “Fruitman” from “The Diff’rence”. It’s a groovy, horn-filled jam and an early highlight. The rhythm section is super tight throughout the album, but the title track especially feels like the Gang in top form. The late Ronald Bell, who fronted the group, whips out his fat ARP synth on the second side, and oh boy does this thing rip. Listen to “Whiting H. & G.” and tell me you don’t feel like you’re cruising down the coast with shades on in a convertible. The seagull sounds at the end don’t hurt either.

I’m kind of surprised “You Don’t Have to Change” wasn’t released as a single: it’s as mellow and accessible as most anything else released in ’74. The melody in the verses to me recalls The Spinners’ “It’s a Shame”, which is another classic. “Higher Plane” was the album’s biggest hit on the R&B charts, and its tight funk guitar reminds me of another “Higher” song by one Stevie Wonder. “Here After” closes things on a stellar note, with a great voice-over and a spiritual-jazz leaning instrumental, complete with kalimba! I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this album to any fan of 70s soul music, whether pop, funk or jazz is your thing. Light of Worlds does it all and does it well.

Listen to Light of Worlds here.

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BONUS ROUND: YouTube comments on this live “Summer Madness”

“this version sounds clean and smooth like the album version, i love to smoke weed to this song” (from user masterbate23)

“i am seriously High and im loving this live version!” (from user DontPanic2008)

“Kool and the Gang are definitely cool.” (from user Shanedango32)

Album of the Week: Grateful Dead’s Download Series Volume 4: 6/18/76 & 6/21/76 (2005)

After nearly a decade of touring that only became bigger and bigger, the Grateful Dead took a then-indefinite hiatus in late 1974 that lasted approximately a year and a half. Their 1976 June tour was something of a low-key comeback. Instead of playing massive arenas, they sold mail-order tickets for shows at smaller theaters in only 7 cities. Thanks to the Download Series, which is easily streamed, you can hear great recordings of a couple of these shows. Volume 4 presents the 6/18/76 show at Passaic, New Jersey’s Capitol Theatre (which is now a Pizza Hut), as well as the show three days later at the Tower Theatre west of Philadelphia (which is still standing, about 25 blocks from my current apartment).

The 6/18 show is not their tightest night, but it has its highlights. The sound described in one word? Sloooowwww. The band seemed to be in reggae mode, which may be the reason AllMusic described it as a “low-energy… lazy stroll through a fairly familiar set list.” It sounds like they’re zonked off the honey slides that Neil Young cooked up a couple years earlier for On the Beach (and guessing they’re very, very stoned is not a bad bet). “Crazy Fingers” moves at a turtle’s pace, but it’s like, beautiful, man. I love this song, it’s a gem lyrically and musically. “Row Jimmy” is another total vibe.

The big highlight for the Capitol Theatre show is the super-rare Jerry tune “Mission in the Rain,” which was played by the Dead only 5 times! I find this version fantastic. This trifecta of slow-burners has made the show something of a go-to “mellow” Dead set for me. Later, a nice, jazzy “Eyes” with a long intro jam, and an almost nonexistent “Drums” (yay!) lead into “The Wheel”. Apparently “Tennessee Jed” was left off this reissue due to technical problems, although one Archive.org reviewer surmised it was just not a very good performance and thus cut.

I get the criticisms. They would improve on many of these performances (notably “St. Stephen” > “NFA” which sounds a little lackluster here) in 77. Mickey had joined the band on percussion for his first tour in 5 years, and the rhythm section sounds sluggish. I think the Dead were finding their sea legs again.

The Tower Theatre set, played 45 years ago on this very date, is tighter. The “Candyman” sparkles, and the “Playin'” jam is an exploratory treat. To round out the excerpt of this show we get a great version of “High Time”, one of my favorite Jerry ballads.

With 1000+ shows, millions of fans and an uncountable number of memories forged and formed over the past 56 years, there is sure to be an endless variation of interpretations on what the Dead did best, where they faltered, and everything in-between. I just like to, y’know, chill and jam out, man. This snapshot of June 1976 is nice for the Heads in no hurry.

Check out Download Series 4 on Spotify.

Album of the Week: Presenting Isaac Hayes (1968)

Isaac Hayes was the man before he was the man. At 22, the Tennessee native was playing keys on Otis Redding records and writing songs for Sam & Dave. Fast forward a few years and we arrive at his breakout Hot Buttered Soul (1969), one of those records to end all records, a consummate soul masterpiece. Stand it up next to What’s Goin’ On, Innervisions, what have you. Hot Buttered Soul is a monolith.

But it wasn’t Hayes’ debut. That would be the previous year’s Presenting Isaac Hayes, a surprisingly unknown soul-jazz session that deserves more props. The back-cover details the story of a typical 60s night in Memphis with Big Ike: “A few years back, Isaac strolled into Currie’s Tropicana Club in Memphis and sat in with the group, which included drummer Al Jackson, Jr. He sat down at the piano and began rambling over the keyboard. His offerings were an instant crowd success.” This was the Stax/Volt Records house band, essentially Booker T. & The M.G.s augmented with Isaac Hayes instead of Booker, who was in school at the time.

Presenting finds Hayes on piano and vocals, with the aforementioned Jackson Jr. on drums and Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass guitar. The trio’s Stax sessions for the album were improvised with no additional musicians. I’d love to hear more from these sessions, since the original album with 5 tracks is only half an hour long.

Once you’ve heard the full version of “Precious, Precious”, the album edit doesn’t really work. It’s sort of like if you took a 20-minute Coltrane session and cut it down to 3 minutes. Like its perfect follow-up Hot Buttered Soul, Presenting Isaac Hayes works best outside the confines of radio-friendly time constraints. The longform tracks here are just excellent – “I Just Want to Make Love to You” is raw: the sound is live and intimate, like you’re in the studio with the three players. With alcohol on his breath, Ike has a vocal swagger that pushes the track to the next level. It’s blues, as blue as Willie Dixon’s original, but Hayes’ chops on piano take it to the ever-transcendent realm of soul-jazz.

The “Going to Chicago Blues” track is another rambling wonder, with a fantastic vocal from Hayes at the end of the conjoined “Misty”. The closer “You Don’t Know Like I Know” is one of two Ike originals (though he makes every song his own), and the instrumental piece wouldn’t sound out of place on an Ahmad Jamal Trio record. There’s something in the timbre of the drums here, they’re just so warm and organic. While I wouldn’t mind vocals, it’s a great cut nonetheless.

And then, on streaming and reissue versions, we conclude with the long version of “Precious, Precious”. Wow! Big Ike is feelin’ it here! It’s no wonder he has that top hat and baton on the cover, because this is 20 minutes of magic. Sorry for the corny line, but listen! The man mumbles and wonders, the band carries the driving theme and the music just flows and flows. I love Isaac Hayes wordless vocals, it sounds like he’s making love to the music. Or, as Lil Wayne would say 45 years later, “I just fucked this piano”. Probably another reason they cut it for the first release.

If you like jazzy R&B, soulful jazz, soul-jazz, improvised blues jams or otherwise groovy tunes, don’t hesitate to give this one a spin. It’s an overlooked debut by an underrated master.

Listen to Presenting Isaac Hayes on Spotify.

Album of the Week: Ludacris’s Word of Mouf (2001)

If you’re around my age, this CD cover haunted your childhood. It’s so ridiculous: Ludacris’s meteor-sized fro branching out over his snarling maw, slapped on a bobblehead-body, wad of cash in hand. And that dog, that fucking cartoon dog. The dog’s face is so eye-popping, you might never notice that he’s perched atop a trash can, or that there’s an Atlanta street depicted behind Luda, the city’s evergreen canopy poking out from the blank spaces. Lurking behind this wacky cover is an outstanding album, Luda’s sophomore release and arguably his greatest effort.

Ludacris likes cars. 2 years before co-starring in 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), Ludacris told an interviewer about his writing process for Word of Mouf, “most of the time I write [while] just driving in the car. When I’m driving alone and I’m listening to my music is where I write most my stuff. It’s usually dangerous because I’m writing and driving at the same time.” This clearly translates to the smash hit single “Move Bitch” – “I’m doin’ 100 on the highway / so if you do the speed limit, get the fuck outta my way!“. This banger (those drums!) was tailor-made for Mystikal, who delights in his absurd delivery (“Hold up wait up shawty ooh aw whazzap…”). While I-20 dilutes the track a little bit, it’s still a classic. Plus, the Wiki page currently contains this incredible description: “In the song, the rapper exhorts a person to move.”

The Nate Dogg assisted “Area Codes” is another classic single. Jazze Pha (Mr. “1, 2 Step”, if you didn’t know) provides the perfect laid-back groove for Luda and Nate to slide on. No less than 43 area codes are name-dropped (shoutout to the 215) and thanks to Wikipedia you can see a complete list of them. Years later Luda would reflect, “The song could only be but so… long. And yes, there are many area codes that I wish I could’ve put in there. However, I tried to get the ones that were as honest to the actual hoes I had in those area codes as possible.” Honesty!

And then there’s “Rollout”. A Timbaland production both brash and glittery allows Luda to be as pompous as he wants, lyrically predating the barrage of media questions on Drake’s “HYFR” by about a decade. On the note of production, the lineup throughout this disc is stacked, with major contributions from Organized Noise and, perhaps most notably, a young Bangladesh. The producer who would go on to make Weezy’s “A Milli” has 5(!) contributions here. I particularly love the deep cut “Freaky Thangs”, with an exceptional chemistry between Ludacris and Twist. Cris matches Twista’s signature triplicate flow with both rappers in peak form, (also, both are Chicago natives). It’s a fitting follow-up to the classic “What’s Your Fantasy”.

“Growing Pains” is also incredible. A collective reminiscence on growing up in the 80s, Lil Fate and Ludacris detail the toys they played with, clothes they wore, dreams dreamt and friendships forged. It’s a track with refreshing emotional depth amidst lots of (effective) bravado and sex raps. “Cold Outside” has weight to it too, with a relatable refrain: “I’m hidin’ out and smokin’ herb / Cause my boss is gettin’ on my motherfuckin’ nerves / but I gotta take it, cause it’s cold outside”.

Jermaine Dupri’s “Welcome to Atlanta” serves as a victory lap of a bonus track. At this point in the album, Ludacris has proven himself a multi-faceted talent with humor, vulnerability and technical skill in spades. Throughout the next decade he would remain a tried-and-true hitmaker, as inescapable as any other rapper on the radio. It’s been 6 years since he released an album, and the 43-year old seems content to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor, deservedly so. On Word of Mouf, you can hear him transitioning from local phenom to superstar, and the sound is sweet.

Listen to Word of Mouf here.

Album of the Week: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Inventions’ One Size Fits All (1975)

The prolific Frank Zappa did enough musically to accumulate the kind of cult following that sees continued interest decades after his death – It’s only been half a year since the release of the Zappa feature-length documentary. While I haven’t seen it yet, I do consider myself a fan, albeit more selective than the kind of superfans who can rank 25+ Zappa releases.

Rather than the breakout Mothers of Invention records of the 60s (like Freak Out! or We’re Only in It for the Money), I am partial to Zappa’s 70s output. One Size Fits All is a particular favorite, and this is largely because of two words: George Duke.

George Duke was a pioneer in jazz-fusion, disco, pop, and whatever the hell kind of music Zappa made (occasionally a mix of all three). While his solo albums are incredible in their own right, Duke repeatedly excelled as a session musician and sideman. He played keys on such classic records as disparate as Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine and Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. Duke collaborated with Zappa throughout the 70s, and One Size Fits All represents a peak in their musical union.

For better or for worse, this is one of those albums that starts off with its best song. Duke’s lead vocals and Farfisa get “Inca Roads” off to a rollicking start, and then two minutes in the song transmutes itself into a Zappa guitar jam as groovy as the work of Jerry Garcia. The late Duke once told an interviewer that he didn’t even want to sing, but he did so at Zappa’s request. That’s a good band member! He further described the recording process: “Well, One Size Fits All and Apostrophe, those albums were basically me and Frank in the studio for hours! I mean, it was just us, and the engineer carrying the amp. We would be there at Paramount Recording Studios, or wherever, just recording like from 1 or 2 in the afternoon, until 5 or 6 in the morning.”

“Po-Jama People” is another showcase for Zappa’s guitar work. I don’t know what he’s talking about in the vocal verses, but that guy sure could rip. Zappa had this ability to make these stupid fucking lyrics that are really fun to sing along to: “She lives in Movaje in a winnebagoooo!” The ridiculous “Florentine Pogen” is as much about a cookie as it is a person.

Johnny “Guitar” Watson (Mr. “Superman Lover”) adds another dimension to a couple of tracks in the back half here. He assists on the rocking “San Ber’dino” and croons on “Andy”, which along with “Inca Roads” is the other mini-masterpiece of the album. Once again, Duke does his thing and Zappa shreds. Those Duke vocals just get me every time (see also – “Sofa No. 2”).

For my money, One Size Fits All is about as good and concise a Zappa album as you’ll get. If you can handle the trademark silliness and cartoonish marimba rolls, you’ll be jammin’ like it’s 1975.

Listen to One Size Fits All here.

Album of the Week: This Mortal Coil’s Blood (1991)

If you love the 4AD sound anywhere near as much as I do, then you truly cannot go wrong with This Mortal Coil. Essentially the label’s in-house cover band, TMC formed in 1983 under the aegis of label president Ivo Watts-Russell (the namesake of Cocteau Twins’ classic “Ivo”).

One of their first songs as This Mortal Coil (and still their most popular) was the Cocteau’s (or 2/3, Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie) take on Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren”. Its popularity is really a no-brainer – a straight-up gorgeous track with one of the inimitable Fraser’s all-time vocal performances, “Siren” was used to great effect in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. He intended to use it even earlier for Blue Velvet, but that proved too expensive.

Although TMC’s “Siren”-containing debut It’ll All End in Tears is their go-to classic, this week I’ll be focusing on their last record, 1991’s double-album Blood, which is nothing to sneeze at. No Cocteau kids to be found here, but there’s no lack of talent: This Vulture article likened TMC to “a dream-pop version of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group”. Amazing.

The late Caroline Crawley of Shelleyan Orphan starts things off, breezing through the TMC original “Lacemaker” and owning it on their version of The Apartments’ “Mr. Somewhere”. If you’re going to check out one track from Blood, though, make it “You and Your Sister”. Holy shit this song is good! Written by Chris Bell of Big Star for his excellent solo album I Am the Cosmos (the title-track is also covered on Blood), it is masterfully interpreted by The Breeders’ Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly. With its heart-on-sleeve directness and honey-sweet vocals, this one even eclipses the great original version, and rivals “Song to the Siren” as the best TMC track.

Elsewhere, “Bitter” is a whirlwind mix of guitar solos, Colourbox-like sampling and lush vocals. “Several Times”, a standout from the lost ambient classic Sleeps With the Fishes, is included here with vocals and lyrics, a welcome update to a key 4AD instrumental. Oh, and back to that Colourbox-like sampling I just mentioned. It is very dated and not very good, which is why nobody knows about Colourbox. Take “The Lacemaker II”: why are there samples of a barking dog in it? And “Ruddy & Wretched” is about as good as its title implies. Safe to say the best TMC songs are rarely instrumentals.

On the whole though, the production stands the test of time. I’ve mentioned before (probably too many times) how I love drum-less music, and most of Blood is like this: straight atmosphere. “Late Night” is a Syd Barrett song suspended in air. “Inside me I feel / Alone and unreal”. No doubt. The country classic “Til’ I Gain Control Again” is a deep-cut tearjerker, helping to round out the back half.

Like most-double albums, Blood might be better if you pared it down to its best songs. But If you’re in no hurry, it’s one to get lost in.

Listen to Blood here.