Jim Dickinson, who passed away in August 2009, and Jay "Reatard" Lindsey, whose death followed a few months later in January 2010, were two of the most compelling and uncompromising forces in recent Memphis music. And though their respective catalogs have been well-explored, this month brings two collections of unreleased or obscure material that's more worthwhile than you might expect.
Though his legend — and moniker — was first forged with his teen band, the Reatards, Lindsey's best music before his late-life solo flowering came via the Lost Sounds, a musical partnership with co-frontperson Alicja Trout, drummer Rich Crook, and a rotating cast of fourth members.
The band's novel mix of no wave and new wave channeled the garage thrash of the Reatards and the springy synth-rock of Trout's the Clears into its own style — a dark, propulsive, carnivalesque sound wrung out of salvaged instruments. It was punk rock on their own terms. For those who missed the band in its own time, the 2010 compilation Blac Static — released via the Mississippi indie Fat Possum and drawing from the band's first three proper full-length albums, 2000's Memphis Is Dead, 2001's Black-Wave, and 2002's Rat's Brains & Microchips — is an essential snapshot. And the new The Lost Lost: Demos, Sounds, Alternate Takes & Unused Songs 1999-2004 is a companion piece of sorts to Blac Static, combing through the band's vaults for highlights beyond the band's album output.
Trout provides song notes for the collection — available on July 17th as a 23-track CD, a vinyl LP with a seven-inch bonus single, or digitally. She notes that the opening "A Foreign Play" was recorded by Snowglobe founder Brad Postlethwaite for his then-new indie label Makeshift's first, handcrafted compilation. (The gentle Postlethwaite and the ostensibly combative Lindsey were then roommates.) The Ramones-style "Wanna Be Used," a surging standout from Trout, was inspired by the cover of a gospel album (Lord, Please Use Me) owned by the Oblivians' Greg Cartwright. The brittle "Look at Me," she notes, may have been the last thing Trout and Lindsey recorded together.
Lindsey and Trout both made airier, poppier music post-Lost Sounds — Lindsey as a solo artist, particularly after his spiky debut Blood Visions, and Trout via her band Mouserocket (initially a "side project" of sorts that I believe began before Lost Sounds' demise). And one of the interesting elements of The Lost Lost is hearing the duo closer to that form: A stripped-down version of the Rat's Brains & Microchips highlight "Black Coats/White Fear," with Lindsey wailing "My head hurts and it's killing me," sounds nearly acoustic by comparison. Trout's vocal on a cover of the Crystals' "Frankenstein Twist" is perhaps the most girlish she ever sounded on a Lost Sounds recording. And several other songs here feature the band in the process of building songs up, with more space and less noise in the mix. The clincher: the previously unreleased "No Count," a heretofore unknown — at least to me — Lindsey testament that Trout accurately praises as a "killer song."
Out this week, Dickinson's I'm Just Dead, I'm Not Gone is a nine-track, 43-minute live album recorded at the New Daisy Theater on Beale Street on June 2, 2006, just a month after the release of his career-best Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger album. A de facto "best of" for Dickinson's final-decade rebirth as a solo performer, the album features spirited, growling workouts on some of the covers that Dickinson made totally his own: Mack Rice's "Money Talks," which Dickinson heavily embellishes, Bob Frank's incendiary "Red Neck, Blue Collar," the country road-song classic "Truck Drivin' Man," and the blues stomper "Never Make Your Move Too Soon" standing out.
An overly dramatic reading of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Cod'ine" might be a misstep, but Dickinson and his sons — including "spiritual son" Chris Chew and favored vocalist Jimmy Davis — slinking around Furry Lewis' "Kassie Jones" is ultimate Memphis music if anything is. — Chris Herrington