Today, we’re looking at two of Run Out Groove’s most recent releases! Now is also the time to order the label’s next release: Vagabonds: Expanded Edition, from Gary Louris of The Jayhawks! Pre-orders close on June 7, so don’t miss out, and don’t forget to vote on ROG’s next release. Will it be Luna’s Lunafied, Fred Neil’s Bleecker & MacDougal, or Billy Byrd’s Lonesome Country Songs? Vote now!
It’s not called Funknology for nothing! Run Out Groove’s recent release from Dr. John, Professor Bizarre’s Funknology (RGV-020) is a hearty helping of gris-gris from New Orleans’ resident guru of blues, funk, and just plain mystical, magical music. Mac Rebennack has been stepping into his Dr. John persona since 1968, when he released his first recordings on Atco Records after an already-impressive career around the Crescent City as a musician, songwriter, artist, and A&R man. ROG’s release brings together 15 tracks on four sides of vinyl. Despite the presence on the first two sides of seven released tracks adding up to some of Dr. John’s best Atco recordings, this isn’t a “greatest hits” set. (For instance, “Right Place, Wrong Time” is nowhere in sight.) Nor is it solely a rarities set, though eight of the 15 tracks are previously unreleased. Professor Bizarre’s Funknology is a fine, curated sampler of that musical voodoo he does so well.
The first LP in the set is mostly dedicated to previously released recordings: two from 1968’s Gris-Gris (“Mama Roux” and “Jump Sturdy”), two from 1970’s Remedies (“Loop Garoo” and “Wash Mama Wash”), one from 1972’s Dr. John’s Gumbo (the rousingly delightful “Iko Iko”), and two from 45s (1972’s non-LP side “Wang Dang Doodle” and the single version of the vaudeville soft-shoe “Such a Night” from 1973’s Allen Toussaint-produced breakthrough In the Right Place).
These classics are joined by a host of never-before-released tracks, all recorded in 1970 in a variety of studios including Trident in London, Dimension Recorders in Hollywood, and Criteria in Miami. The tracks were originally recorded for the 1971 album The Sun, The Moon, and Herbs. It’s long been reported that The Sun… was conceived as a 3-LP concept album, with one platter representing each of the titular objects. It was ultimately released as a single album with seven songs. Now, a fuller portrait of what might have been has come into sharp focus thanks to the premiere here of a number of songs that may have been considered for that album.
A slow, bluesy version of Professor Longhair’s New Orleans standard “Tipitina” is rasped by the good Doctor with scorching guitar accompaniment from Eric Clapton. Rebennack has made no secret of his debt to Longhair, evidenced by everything from his piano playing and vocal style to his unique treatment of the English language. It’s a “heavier,” less raucous sound than Longhair’s original version, though Dr. John’s fleet piano solo near the end of the six minutes is as graceful as anything he’s recorded. “Look What You’ve Done” was recorded at the same July 10, 1970 session in London as “Tipitina,” and like that track, has an authentic Louisiana vibe despite the unlikely setting. The dark, spare and swampy first take of “Craney Crow” from London lacks the brass and fuller production of the final version, lending it an even eerier quality.
“Quitters Never Win” will be familiar to Rebennack devotees from its inclusion as the opening track of 1974’s Toussaint-helmed Desitively Bonnaroo. Funknology presents the original 1970 version recorded in Hollywood and subsequently tweaked in Miami; it’s not only more than twice as long as the 1974 iteration (clocking in around eight minutes) but is more than doubly enjoyable with a tight, killer groove. That’s not all from the Hollywood/Criteria sessions. There’s also “Yip Aye,” propelled by stabbing organ licks and hard-hitting drums, and a revival of “Go Ahead On,” an early composition Rebennack had recorded in his pre-Atco years with notorious producer Huey P. Meaux (a.k.a. The Crazy Cajun), at Criteria Studios. The almost eight-minute version here is quintessential Dr. John, dryly addressing an errant lover over a N’awlins backdrop led by organ and woozy horns. The breezy R&B diversion “Wash Mama Wash” is an extended, alternate take to the one on 1970’s Remedies, which can be heard on the first LP in this set.
In his informative liner notes, Pat Thomas informs readers that one track remains a mystery. A catchy and uptempo instrumental with prominent guitar and happily honking saxophone was labeled simply on the tape box as “Dr. John Take 1.” Whatever its provenance and intended title, it’s a worthy inclusion to this collection.
Professor Bizarre’s Funknology is up to the same high standard ROG has set with its previous releases. It’s been beautifully designed by John Sellards in a gatefold, tip-on, Stoughton-printed sleeve; the liner notes are in the gatefold, and there are two additional inserts, as well. The vinyl LPs, derived from lacquers cut at Sam Phillips Recording Studio in Memphis, were pressed on 180-gram black vinyl at Record Industry in the Netherlands; they’re housed in protective sleeves and feature period Atco labels. Jeff Powell and Pete Weiss have mastered the collection for optimal sound on vinyl. There’s never been an artist quite like Dr. John, and this set is both an enjoyable introduction to his offbeat prescriptions and a must-have for collectors.
In a very different vein, Run Out Groove has also delivered a never-before-released live album from power-pop cult hero Marshall Crenshaw. Thank You Rock Fans!! (ROG-019) was recorded live at San Francisco’s Keystone on June 4, 1982, less than two months after the release of Crenshaw’s Warner Bros. debut album. At first glance, Crenshaw resembled Buddy Holly (or Elvis Costello). With just the right amount of knowing humor and the occasional wink, Crenshaw embraced pure, old-fashioned rock-and-roll and traditional songcraft in the wake of new wave and punk. Such a brave gambit wasn’t particularly commercial in 1982, but today, the unabashedly melodic results sound happily timeless. Supported by brother Robert Crenshaw on drums/vocals and Chris Donato on bass/vocals, Crenshaw ran through his emerging repertoire in brisk and potent fashion at the Keystone.
The intimate concert opens with an energetic version of “Brand New Lover,” the closing track off Crenshaw’s self-titled debut. All told, ten of the twelve songs on Marshall Crenshaw are reprised here (“I’ll Do Anything,” “There She Goes Again,” “Mary Anne,” “Rockin’ Around N.Y.C.,” “Soldier of Love,” “Girls….,” “Someday, Someway,” “The Usual Thing,” and “She Can’t Dance”), with only “Cynical Girl” and “Not for Me” left behind. The Crenshaws and Donato, all of whom played on the studio album, don’t deviate far from those original renditions, but there’s plenty of life in their catchy and compact three-minute guitar-pop confections; the live audience (rather unobtrusive in the mix) spurs the band members on to bright, strong, and altogether polished performances.
Crenshaw peppers the setlist with well-chosen, off-the-beaten path oldies covers. “Soldier of Love” was the lone outside composition on Marshall Crenshaw; Buzz Cason and Tony Moon’s song was introduced in 1962 by R&B great Arthur Alexander and later covered by The Beatles for the BBC. Ian Samwell’s “Move It” was Cliff Richard’s first single, a Chuck Berry-inspired slice of rock-and-roll. (Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” also seems a direct antecedent to Crenshaw’s own “The Usual Thing.”) Aaron Schroeder and Ben Weisman’s “Got a Lot o’ Livin’ to Do” was plucked from the soundtrack to Elvis Presley’s 1957 film Loving You. It’s given an appropriately bouncy treatment by Crenshaw and company.
ROG has packaged Thank You Rock Fans!! in a glossy, Stoughton-printed jacket. An insert has a brief note from Marshall Crenshaw and images of the original Westwood One master tape boxes. Chris Stamey of The dB’s has newly mixed from the multitracks, and Jeff Powell and Pete Weiss have mastered for vinyl. The 180-gram black vinyl pressing is clean and quiet, and ideal for turning it up and playing it loud! The LP itself, decked out with period Warner Bros. labels, is housed within a protective sleeve. Fans may well be saying Thank You Run Out Groove!!, as this set’s crunchy musical nuggets will likely lodge themselves in the brain for days to come.
ROG’s limited edition titles are all available at finer retailers including: