SST Records, one of the great independent record labels that started in the late 70’s that introduced the world to such great punk rock bands such as Black Flag, Minutemen, Subhumans, and Hüsker Dü to name a few. It was founded by Black Flag’s Greg Ginn to release their records and quickly expanded to be the main label for other acts from the same scene. But what some people don’t know, is that the label also released what I would consider Punk Jazz. What is Punk Jazz? The best example I can think of is Frank Zappa… yes, he was more of that avant garde and progressive rock but he used jazz and jazz structures throughout just about everything. And a little gem within the SST realm are Tar Babies.
I was in Washington DC in May of 2013 with my friend Tony. As I mentioned in the Ttotals. Silver on Black post, we were there to catch The Breeders. And on one of our treks around the city, we ventured into Som Records. No Contest (1983) was picked up after going through the first batch of records, where I found Ttotals. The difference is, Ttotals was grabbed because of artwork and then sampling the record. Tar Babies was picked up because of the SST logo on the back of the sleeve. Remember those days? When the only confirmation that you were getting a great album was because of the label it was released on! I still hold somewhat of a commitment to specific labels, but not like before. Wax Trax!/TVT Records was one of them… But now, everyone swaps labels or gets dumped or just goes completely independent. Anyway, this was to be my first SST record… everything else from that label was either borrowed back in the day or recorded onto a cassette – which let’s face it, from way back when to now, those tapes have grown legs and walked out of my life.
Tar Babies were formed in the early 80’s. Their second album for SST, No Contest, is a mix of funk and jazz, with punk rock aggression. A lot of which is instrumental, which makes it a very easy listen. The musicianship is really tight and sounds much like an improv session, as what most jazz records sound like. The band consists of Bucky Pope (guitar and vocals), Tony Jarvis (sax, clarient, flute, guitar, piano, and vocals), Robin Davies (bass), and Dan Bitney (drums and vocals) who all make it sound so effortless. The rhythm section is easy to follow and grabs your attention from the beginning. While the melodies are forward sounding and interesting. But no one over shadows anyone, they all work and compliment each other. One of the things that bothers me about jazz is that there’s always a lead that outshines everyone else. Within this album, you can hear how each instrument pushes and lifts the song to where it’s supposed to be.
If you’re a fan of Zappa and if you’re a fan of Primus even, this is an album that you’re going to enjoy. Both of which are perfect examples of having great, big instrumental breaks throughout their songs. On No Contest, half of the album is instrumental and half has vocals. And they flow nicely together, so at no point does it feel too empty or too lyric heavy. Great examples of their jazz talent are Catch My Fall, Wisdom Grill, Lay of the Law (album opener), and Lupe. Nice tight funk and jazz that is sure to make you move at its rhythms. To me, none of these songs are filler so it’s an easy listen from beginning to end. Especially on a Sunday, where you’re just hanging out and want a great soundtrack for the day. The only thing I can find bad about this album is that it should be a bit longer! These are great jams that are long enough individually, but collectively I think two more songs would’ve been great.
Shannon Ridge Playtime [Lake County, California 2012]
Red blends are becoming more and more popular, aren’t they? Since we’re hanging out this Sunday, lets open this bottle and enjoy! Playtime is a blend that consists of Zinfandel with small amounts of Grenache, Petite Verdot, and Barbera. This combo makes it quite fat and full bodied. So be ready to be bombarded with a lot of flavor, perfect for someone who loves to drink heavy reds from Italy or Australia but mellow enough for those who enjoy American red wine. It really is an enjoyable wine by itself or with a meal, probably a bar-b-que or a heavy beef stew. Apologies to those who are in the cold, I’m in Miami and although winter is approaching, it still feels like summer! Hopefully this record and wine will brighten up your day!
Vinyl & Vino rating: 4 out of 5
TOP FAVORITE TRACKS
Lay of the Law
Catch My Fall