Listening Post

SHELDON INFUSION: It's strange to consider that less than a decade ago the Sheldon Concert Hall was in jeopardy of being torn down. Today it's a thriving arts and music center, a space that on any given day may have two or three events taking place simultaneously. And it recently received some additional boosting in the form of a $650,000 grant from the Danforth Foundation to renovate the raw third floor of its adjoining annex, known as the Emerson Electric Galleries building.

The space is huge, 10,000 square feet, and when it's finished it'll house a multipurpose room to be used for educational programs and workshops for aspiring young musicians; rehearsal space; and as a rental facility for fancy functions. (RR)

RADIO RELEASES: Alternative country's moguls of hype, the folks at Bloodshot Records, have launched a potentially fascinating reissue series. The label has linked up with Soundies (a Chicago-based jazz outfit) and will be reissuing radio transcriptions of country legends Spade Cooley, Ernest Tubb, Tex Williams, Sons of the Pioneers and Hank Thompson. Many of these recordings have never been available in any form. The first release focuses on Rex Allen, "the last of the singing cowboys," who with his gifted, almost operatic baritone, had some monster hits in the '40s. Allen's catalog has fallen into the dustbin of the major-label vaults and is currently available only in skimpy greatest-hits packages or as a Bear Family import. The Bloodshot Revival release is due out March 23.

If you're unfamiliar with radio transcriptions, here's the concept: When radio was king, country performers often recorded simulated programs -- in lieu of traveling across the country -- which would then be licensed to a limited number of stations. Some of the Louvin Brothers' most gorgeous performances can be heard on their radio transcriptions, and Bob Wills' nine volumes of the Tiffany Transcriptions are generally considered his finest recorded work. Bloodshot has lately been floundering, and a revival series of this kind is just what the label needs to redeem some of its more questionable artistic moves. (RK )

REQUIRED READING: Some of you may remember a strip the RFT ran a few years ago called Great Pop Things, a weekly jaunt through the history of rock & roll written and drawn by Colin B. Morton and Chuck Death. For those of you who do and miss seeing it, good news: Great Pop Things is now in book form as Great Pop Things: A Real History of Rock and Roll from Elvis to Oasis (Verse Chorus Press).

For those unfamiliar with the strip, it's a raucous, take-no-prisoners history of rock viewed through the wonderfully skeptical eyes of the authors, one of whom, Chuck Death, is the nom de plume of Jon Langford, of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers. The authors attack everyone from Elvis (see below) to the Velvet Underground, Morrissey, P.J. Harvey, the Clash, Oasis -- all rock stars who need a bit of deflating every now and then. The result is pure punk rock; in the same way the British punks of the '70s spit venom at Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, Death and Morton climb up on their targets' high horses and give them a mouthful; one strip is even dedicated to attacking Langford's own Mekons. The artists seem to both loathe and love their subjects, at once honoring them and their musical achievement enough to acknowledge them but then poking them in the belly and glaring at them. Highly recommended bathroom reading. (RR)

Contributors: Roy Kasten, Randall Roberts

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