Mark Lang – Strawberry Man

Minnesota native Mark Lang began playing music with his brother Peter in the late 1960s, and both began pursuing a life in music once the family moved to California. While Peter was able to record a number of albums, initially with John Fahey’s Takoma Records, Mark’s lone commercial release was Texas John Boscoe released by Symposium Records (early home of Leo Kottke) in 1976. This track appears on one of the comps in Numero Group’s Wayfaring Strangers series, Guitar Soli, which features a whole host of forgotten and unsung guitarists who released instrumental material in the American primitive vein of John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Mark Lang’s fingerpicking and slide guitar work is on display with Strawberry Man, but he played maracas, banjo, and mandolin on that record as well. Texas John Boscoe was well-received within its somewhat niche market, and Mark Lang signed a deal with Capitol records at the start of the 1980s. Unfortunately nothing came of the deal, but he sure left a gem of a record behind.

Mind & Matter – Sunshine Lady

Mind & Matter coalesced around James Harris III, better known to fans of the Minneapolis Sound as Jimmy Jam, in the late 1970s. Though Jimmy Jam is perhaps best known as a producer, his work with Mind & Matter is a high point of the excellent Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound compilation from Numero Group. In addition to appearing a few times on that release, Numero also put out a separate collection of just Mind & Matter material called 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement) that is just begging for heavy rotation this summer and any future summers. Sunshine Lady was the b-side to I’m Under Your Spell, the only single Mind & Matter put out while active, which was also reissued by Numero Group. That should be good news for collectors since the original single is currently listing for around $650 on Discogs. You can watch the group perform at Uncle Sam’s, the precursor to First Avenue in Minneapolis, in this awesome video that the heroes at Numero Group found during their research for their compilation. As the title of their comp suggests, this material foreshadows a lot of the Minneapolis Sound that would gain popularity later in the 1980s, particularly the use of synths and other electronics in otherwise more traditional R&B forms. That video confirms what I’ve always a suspected as a Minneapolis-born music fan: Minneapolis will never be cooler than it was in the late-70s and early 80s. If you dig this track I’d encourage you purchase the entire comp over at Numero Group site because it is a treasure trove. I purchased the LP set during a recent sale and not only is the music great but the supplemental book that comes with it is full of archival pictures and other goodies that are more than worth the price.

Jordan De La Sierra – Music for Gymnastics

Jordan De La Sierra was a classically trained pianist who began his recording career with a double LP of hypnotizing long form ambient works in the minimalist style of Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and La Monte Young. It anticipates a lot of the work that would make Windham Hill a new age juggernaut, but his debut record, Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose, was released on a small label called Unity Records in 1978. Though it received little attention at the time, it has luckily been given the Numero treatment since then, and I would argue the world is a better place for it.

The original release came with a 16 page booklet which includes some original artwork, an essay by the artist called “The Tableau of Space” and a greeting from the artist (image from Discogs):

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Now who isn’t charmed by that kind of earnestness. It reminds me of the art of Gilbert Williams, who really embodies the sort of hypercolor utopia that I find so irresistible:
 
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In short, put on your peasant shirt and dangly earring, get out your crystal prayer bowl, and become a being of pure light.

The Tonettes – My Heart Can Feel the Pain

The three members of The Tonettes travelled to San Antonio from the wilds of Odessa, TX with their English teacher-turned-manager Virgil Johnson to record this and another single for Abe Epstein’s Dynamic Label. Despite its mild reception in the mid-1960s, its one of the strongest tracks on a great Numero group compilation, Eccentric Soul: The Dynamic Label. “My Heart Can Feel the Pain” was penned by Johnson, who also formed a male soul group called The Velvets when he heard some male students harmonizing in the hallway. While the Tonettes only recorded one 45, The Velvets lasted a bit longer and were eventually signed to Monument Records. I’d recommend picking up the compilation because it’s good from start to finish. It’s available on vinyl, CD, and digitally on the Numero Group website.