Skull Snaps back
The highly sought-after 1973 debut of New York's Skull Snaps, whose hard-battering beats helped define the sound of mid-school hiphop, has finally been legitimately reissued on disc by Australia's Aztec Music with well-researched liner notes - who knew that Ramones producer Ed Stasium engineered the sessions? - and two super-dope bonus tracks.
I'm happy to report that the Skull Snaps' classic It's A New Day (famously sampled by Dooley-O, Ol' Dirty Bastard and Craig Mack) and the outrageously funky I'm Your Pimp have lost none of their original punch. According to the notes, there's more unreleased material yet to come, and the group's core members, Erv Littleton Waters, Samm Culley and drummer George Bragg, are reuniting for select live Skull Snaps dates. Watch out.
Alela's all the rage
When Alela Menig was hand-wrapping CD-Rs of The Pirate's Gospel, her album of backwoods-bent folk hymns, 650 copies seemed like an ambitious undertaking. But that was two years ago, and things have changed since even the New York Times has discovered freak folk.
Now Menig has moved to Portland, Oregon, and her Pirate's Gospel disc has been reissued - with four fewer tracks - by Holocene (www.holocenemusic.com) under her new handle, Alela Diane, to glowing reviews hailing her as the forlorn folk goddess most likely to be the reincarnation of Karen Dalton. And to further enhance her cult status, a limited-edition vinyl 10-inch called Songs Whistled Through White Teeth (Names) with six spooky-great tunes is out in the UK, but you'd better grab it quick because there are only 500 copies. www.myspace.com/alelamusic.
HackTone for the hardcore
Warner Music Canada has just inked a distribution deal with the HackTone label, which might not sound terribly thrilling. But for fans of overlooked classic recordings of the past - like David Allan Coe's 1970 outsider country corker Penitentiary Blues, which the label's just reissued - the sudden availability of HackTone's releases is very good news.
Also out on HackTone, which is run by former Rhino Records employees David Gorman and Michael Nieves, is the soundtrack to the 1976 documentary Heartworn Highways, boasting the first known recordings by Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle and John Hiatt along with some stellar performances by Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Young.
But they're not just about reissues. HackTone is behind the entrancing new Last Town Chorus disc, and they have plans to release the first new recording by reunited Jayhawks main men Gary Louris and Mark Olson since Olson left the group in 1995. They're actually in the studio together right now.