The never-ending flow of Robert Pollard’s guitar-pop wizardry is so intense that it’s plainly beyond the ken of any one person’s thorough consideration. Instead, his huge gush of a discography seems designed to provide a sturdy surplus of material, so that at any given time fans from casual to rabid can safely grasp a fresh piece of Pollard’s pop mastery. However, some people feel affronted by their inability to stand atop the daunting pile of the man’s product, the rank vibes of their bad attitude similar to the disfavor directed toward the extensive output of industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle or the exhaustive recordings of jazz great Anthony Braxton, with the basic idea being that the endless stream of Pollard-related releases somehow damage his artistic legacy as a major performer and songwriting talent. Well I simply disagree, finding that his Tourette’s-like emissions spew forth to form a crystalline ocean of work, often brilliant, sometimes eccentric, and always personal. To my ears, THAT is his legacy, and Guided By Voices will likely always stand as the most enduring part of the whole affair. LIVE IN DAYTRON? 6º is the latest piece of the GBV puzzle, and it’s a formidable one. Three LPs worth of a typically marathon 2001 live set that finds a rowdy, drunken club crowd in the firm clutches of the band’s loud, heavy and soused late-period peak, the release serves as both a fine bounty for collectors and a worthwhile primer for the curious newbie. One of the band’s most impressive traits as they culminated in a 2004 nationwide victory lap was their wise inclusion of songs both old and new, so that the occasionally R.E.M.-ist ‘80s gold blended with both the supreme nuggets from their breakout ‘90s albums and the harder, Who-like glory of their TVT Records stuff (and the wise return to Matador in the new millennium), proving that it was indeed all good and ultimately of a piece. Furthermore, DAYTRON is an outstanding example of GBV’s well-earned distinction as one of rock’s best ever booze-fueled units, turning club after club into melees of hooch-drenched over-exuberance. This slurred yet always reliable splendor was elevated by many beyond mere fandom to the level of religious fervor, and Pollard’s bands never failed to meet those expectations. That type of intensity is what inspires the release of triple albums, and while sounding like neither, DAYTRON’s existence is comparable to both EUROPE ‘72 from The Grateful Dead (a gift to the devoted) and ALL THINGS MUST PASS from George Harrison (a document of one man’s intense devotion). Guided By Voices’ fans would very likely balk at being compared to Deadheads and Pollard might deny that he’s devoted to anything more than getting ‘faced and writing three to four albums a year, but LIVE IN DAYTRON? 6º proves to be a loving object derived from deep loyalty and delivered with purity of purpose. Grand bits of The Beatles filtered through Big Star with flashes of The (Small) Faces and early Bowie swagger is the essential template, but GBV are more aptly described as a working class state-college educated fulfillment of some promises made by The Replacements, later Hüsker Dü and the pre-stardom work of the aforementioned Athens boys. As they began filling larger halls with celebratory louts and giddy gals, they smartly applied the lessons of LIVE AT LEEDS to the sideways majesty of those performances, while casting aside any silliness concerning deaf dumb and blind arcade mavens. This limited edition issue is yet another chapter in the GBV/Robert Pollard saga, representing just one excellent night but reflective of so much more.
So much printers ink has been put into service to celebrate the life and career of the late Ray Charles that the very idea of adding to the discussion can reek of sheer redundancy. An instantly recognizable American icon, Charles is easy to take for granted since he needs nobody’s advocacy, and his importance as an architect of Twentieth Century music is established fact. In a nutshell, “The Genius” combined Gospel feeling with R&B form and Soul music was the grand result. Also, unlike other “crossover” artists like Johnny Mathis and Nat “King” Cole, Charles attained his level of success not by perfecting contemporary pop forms but instead by refining elements of the juke joint and the church, doing so on his terms and to a degree that mass audience’s found irresistible. He would later crossover again with a pair of vastly important Country albums for ABC, but it’s his Atlantic stuff on which his stature is rightfully based, and it was on those classic LPs where Charles proved repeatedly that he was part of the rare breed of musician that did three things exceptionally well: Singer, Pianist, Bandleader. On THE GREAT RAY CHARLES, his second record for Atlantic released in 1957, we are provided with a glimpse of an additional, less celebrated element of Charles’ artistry, specifically his ability as a jazzman. That means there’s no singing to be found on THE GREAT, but that absence is more than filled by his magnificent instrumental prowess, which draws on the earthiness of the barrelhouse and modernizes it with the sophistication of the supper-club, which is to say we’re neck deep in the blues, and amongst some fine standards are selections from then new voices Quincy Jones and Horace Silver. Six of the album’s eight cuts feature a septet derived from his big band, with the redoubtable David “Fathead” Newman contributing on tenor and alto. Each side of the LP gets a trio blues to fill out the program, with “Black Coffee” featuring the talents of bass virtuoso Oscar Pettiford (He’ll turn up again later on ‘61’s Charles/Milt Jackson classic SOUL MEETING). Jones’ “The Ray” opens side one, intertwining an urbane atmosphere with crisp playing and lithe soloing from Charles and Newman, and the stage is set. It’s smooth but never shallow, understand? “Black Coffee” is a really delicious tangle of achy improvising anchored by Pettiford and drummer Joe Harris’ faultless bedrock. Side two’s opener, Silver’s excellent “Doodlin’”, retains its composer’s sly mixture of warm accessibility and casual complexity, and as such is the one moment on this record that feels like it could’ve been derived from an unreleased late ‘50s Blue Note session. Quite the fine thing, and bettered only by the following track, a trio reading of Charles’ immaculate original “Sweet Sixteen Bars”. The kind of tune that can only be truly appreciated in the wee wee hours after suffering fresh emotional wounds, it shuffles with a pained dignity and is as strong as a bottle of distilled tears. The record closes with a nice reading of Charlie Shaver’s “Undecided” that sounds a bit like those primo all-star Swing-to-Bop Savoy dates from the late ‘40s. Based on the whole of this LP, it’s not hard to imagine Charles adding vocals to this superb jazzic motion with results similar to the laid-back, knowing hipster approachability of the perennially cool Mose Allison. He didn’t of course, having bigger fish to fry. And yes, I know I enthused about only five of this disc’s eight cuts, but trust me: the whole of THE GREAT RAY CHARLES is as sweet and natural as a bushel of ripened Georgia peaches. Occasionally it’s necessary to establish that certain beloved American institutions attained that distinction not through hype, hand-me-down wisdom or blind acceptance, but instead through a surplus of sheer talent and inspiration. Ray Charles is simply the truth. Accept no substitutes.