Filed under: A Red Black Green Production, Alfonso Lovo, Buttons, Codeine, Eccentric Soul 45s, Lou Ragland, Love Apple, Omnibus, Record Store Day, Shirley Ann Lee, WTNG
While the rest of the world polls minor celebrities and hipster-douchebag record label owners, we quietly sent out an email last week to our staff asking them to rank their top ten Numero releases for 2012. The surprising results are as follows:
Close your eyes and Imagine The Doors backing The Prophet Omega. Now open them upon a picture of Thorn Oehrig, the mind and voice behind Circuit Rider. The first thing that may pop to mind is “student council president.” He’s white, well-groomed and lacks the requisite thousand yard stare of a paranoid outlaw on the lam. And yet the music contained here is so defiled that you can imagine that if he did hold the power seat in high school, it brought forth his inner cult leader, biker gang honcho, and 19th Century sharecropper. Power driven by powerlessness; John Brown. Oerig’s vision is like civil war re-enactment applied to the sixties underground, sounding more like a field recording from the remnants of an Appalachian slave clan moved to the cheap side of Laurel Canyon than a perilously corralled Paul Rothchild production of drunken film students holed up in Morrison Hotel. Thoughout it all, it’s obvious that the guy isn’t kidding. He has been transformed. Beware. It’s contagious.—Tom Lunt
Back in the spring of 2006, Ken Shipley, Rob Sevier and I holed up in a downtown Chicago studio and transferred a myriad of tapes from Ecorse, Michigan’s Revival Records label. At the time it was the biggest excavation that Numero had ever encountered. After listening to over 150 tapes and thousands of songs that year, we produced a remarkable compilation and created a new series with Local Customs: Downriver Revival. By far the star of this release was Shirley Ann Lee, the gospel singer from Toledo, Ohio. There were more tapes in the Revival cache of Shirley Ann Lee than any other artist that Felton Williams recorded at his home studio…and for good reason. Her voice is like none other that I have ever heard before. At times she sounds like a constant contradiction: raw and poetic, bitter and sweet, sinful and sacred. After years of listening to hundreds of tracks by her, we were proud to present Shirley Ann Lee: Songs of Light in 2012 (the 3rd album in our Numerophon series). It is comprised of 16 exceptional tracks that are both experimental, evocative, and forthright in their own special ways.—Michael Slaboch
Part A: On Facebook, re: Julian Leal’s “Get Away,” my brother Neal wrote: “Our mission is to make everybody like this song, if it’s the last thing we do.”
Part B: “Get Away” isn’t even my go-to track on this. It’s still Tom Orsi’s “Where Are You Now,” as power pop as that may not be.
Part C: Pro Packaging Personalization: Take your 2LP gatefold and put it in a plastic LP sleeve. Then select your favorite of the Buttons 7×7 artist promo slicks and put it in the front within the smaller plastic sleeve they all came in (I’m currently using The Names, for example). Next, position your slicks sleeve at bottom left, inside your Buttons LP sleeve, so that it decorates a corner of the Buttons front cover, partially obscuring Ken’s shirt-and-vest getup (but not the yellow Illinois lapel button) and allowing you, the obsessed owner, to tell the world which Buttons track is currently owning every synapse of your power pop neural network. —Judson Picco
When the idea of taking a run at the ’90s first came up, the Numero office found itself at something of an ideological crossroads. Discussions about “catalog purity” gave way to arguments about our label’s scope, mission, and vision. Terms like “post-songwriting” were thrown out and thoughts of yet another label were pondered. Eventually we realized Numero was more like software, something that could be applied to anything with positive results. We’ve made DVDs, covered salsa, and soon will make our first foray into hard rock. If we couldn’t handle a sleepy early-’90s group from Manhattan, how could we expect to ever really chase our personal muses?
I’ll be the first to admit that Codeine was a passion project for me. I’d loved the band since high school, sneaking out to see them in Petaluma, California, on their last tour. Their three record arc remains a shining example of what happens when a band quits while they’re ahead. The idea of reissuing their smallish catalog came to me upon discovering that our one-time sales maven JR Robinson had made a record with former Codeine drummer Chris Brokaw. A few months later, Chris was sitting in my office. A few weeks later I was on the phone with Jon and Stephen. Then Sub Pop. A personal journey was completed in a matter of weeks, as I went from fan to piece of a complex puzzle. I was no longer just a proud owner of a Loser t-shirt, I was in the process of turning the Sub Pop logo on its head.
The unique packaging concept began with a question from Rob Sevier: Why can’t bonus CDs slide out of a little pocket in the same fashion an LP does? Henry Owings took that question, and, with the help of Jeff Kleinsmith’s original art, reinvented Codeine’s classic trilogy of records for a new generation. Judson Picco and myself spent weeks drafting and redrafting the liner notes, pulling on every thread until we were satisfied we’d told all the story there was to tell. Jeff Lipton grabbed victory from the jaws of DAT failure, rescuing a great many crunchy tracks over the process of remastering the 6LP/3CD set. The result feels like a Numero record, but has a distinct out of house flavor. Not quite a “Group” effort, but a Herculean one nonetheless.—Ken Shipley
Love Apple may be this year’s best kept secret. A single LP in Kraft paper jacket this dinghy is easily lost behind the armada of flagship releases this year. Don’t let its modesty fool you, the Ragland produced, Boddie recorded sketches of three Cleveland sisters over a lone guitar and drums has seen heavy play in our headquarters this year. With unique melodies that sway from elegant to eerie and sparse instrumentation this is the record MPC junkies dream of. Seriously, how has this not been sampled yet?—Nate Meiners
In 2011, the world caught just a glimpse of D.C.’s Robert “Jose” Williams and his studio wizardry when we released Father’s Children: Who’s Gonna Save The World. That album represented but a few tapes amongst a treasure trove of D.C. soul, including released and unreleased works by the Summits, Skip Mahoaney & The Casuals, Promise, Dyson’s Faces, and the Exceptions. Dithering down the 30-odd tapes was no easy task, as originally this was slated to be a a four, possibly five, CD set with full albums by Dyson’s Faces, the Exceptions, Skip Mahoaney, and Father’s Children, with another disc of extras (including this femme falsetto gem). This unprecedented access to the source material gives RBG (as it’s lovingly referred to around the office) a polish and sheen not found on many other Eccentric Soul compilations. If you’re a sucker for low rider ballads, we encourage you to put your rub-off tear drop tattoo on, roll down the windows, and cruise.—Zach Myers
As Numero’s web specialist, I see lots of things float by our digital domain. I’m privileged (and sometimes horrified) to hear snippets of works-in-progress where I’m completely unaware of what the work actually is. That’s how I originally came across Lou Ragland. I was listening to a random swath of songs when I noticed several stand-out tracks which seemed to be related, but I wasn’t sure. These songs were tied together semi-stylistically, but what grabbed me was the warmth and depth that pervaded each and every track. When Lou Ragland: I Travel Alone landed on my desk at Numero’s New Jersey office, all was clear. I clearly need to get the fuck out of New Jersey.—Jonathan Land
Had La Gigantona surfaced during my college years, it would be fossilized into the bedrock of my musical identity today. Between gravity bong hits of Lee Perry and keg stands of Herbie Hancock, Alfonso Lovo would have provided the perfect crossfade between my intensifying interests in jazz and Caribbean psychedelia.Then I would be able to reminisce with random classmates over the holidays—modern lawyers, bankers, sales reps—and they’d say, “Dude, remember how we used to listen to Alfonso Lovo ALL THE TIME?! We were obsessed with that record! I play it for my wife now and she hates it!”—Jon Kirby
For those select fans still holding to the misguided notion that Numero Group is a “soul music” reissue label, 2012 must have been quite sobering. Sure, there have been multitudes of non-soul or gospel titles on the label over the past ten years…Pisces, Lonestar Lowlands, and our two volumes of power pop via the Buttons series, but nothing could have prepared anyone for what we came up with for Record Store Day. Inspired by radio station compilations released throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the idea was to compile a sampler for our own (quasi fictitious) WTNG station; a literal “who’s that?” of a silky smooth style we lovingly refer to as “easy glide.” After hundreds of hours of listening to potential inclusions, the eleven tracks that finally made the cut still found themselves on repeat play around the Numero office. This is the sort of record I never knew that I NEEDED in my life until it existed. I need more.—Dustin Drase
One box to rule them all. We thought many things about last year’s #1 set, the Boddie Recording Company. We thought we’d never spend longer on a project (wrong, some of this research started even before there was a Numero to release it). We thought we’d never see such a shipping nightmare in person (extraordinarily wrong, note the multiple injuries in the shipping department). And furthermore, we thought that any such project that would top last year’s #1 would surely blow its release date (on that point we were correct.) We present the 045 Eccentric Soul: Omnibus… 45 singles, 90 songs, 45,000 words of liner notes, 96,000 tears, 3 bottles of Adderall, one nervous breakdown, all packaged lavishly in a handy classic 45 case. Now we’re really wondering how to top ourselves.—Rob Sevier
When Numero wrapped the track list of 2009’s Local Customs: Downriver Revival, we knew there was a smaller second record buried in the mountains of tape rescued from Felton Williams’ Ecorse, Michigan basement. As the Revival label’s lone “star,” Shirley Ann Lee was afforded dozens of opportunities to record, but only six sides managed to trickle out on 45 between 1967- 1969. Frustrated with a lack of even minor success, Shirley ceased recording altogether in the early 1970s. Using Revival’s aborted “Shirley Ann Lee Radio Hour” program as our guide, we’ve taken the best of her proper studio recordings, in the moment sketches, out of tune piano demos, and rehearsals with young kids talking in the background and created the Shirley Ann Lee album that never was.
The Numerophon label, as much of our audience has already ascertained, is our home for raw Americana and unvarnished vernacular music. In the future, expect to hear more gospel, ethnographic recordings, folk songs, and experimental compositions. Get caught up with our first two releases, Niela Miller’s Songs of Leaving and Linda Bruner’s Songs for a Friend.