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California Sounds: A new East Africa-inspired album from Dexter Story, and a quartet of Paisley Underground bands cover each other

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Dexter Story.
(Farah Sosa )

Dexter Story, “Bahir” (Soundway).

Those unaware of Story or the story behind his ambitious new album might have a hard time figuring out where his music’s coming from, geographically speaking.

The Los Angeles-raised multi-instrumentalist, composer and connector was named after jazz great Dexter Gordon, and over an accomplished career has performed with a mix of jazz, soul and beat-based artists including Sa-Ra, Gaby Hernandez, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Kelis, Les Nubians, Madlib and Quadron.

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“Bahir” is Story’s third studio album, and as with its predecessor, 2015’s “Wondem,” the composer writes with an ear aimed at what he describes in release notes as “the music of the horn of East Africa with a strong focus on the traditional sounds of Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.” Story has long been intrigued by both the musical similarities and the differences among the countries, and his desire was to honor “the beauty of the underlying spirit there even in dynamic socio-political times.”

That’s a lot of context, but drop on “Electric Gurage” “Chemin De Fer,” “Desta’s Groove” or any of the album’s 13 tracks and all that explication flies away like a flock of starlings going airborne. It’s exquisitely co-produced with Story’s longtime collaborator Carlos Niño, so when the record’s ridiculous rhythms intertwine with brass, keyboards and, especially, vocalists — as on “Gold,” which features singer-producer Sudan Archives — the pieces ascend.

Various artists, “3 x 4: The Bangles, the Three O’Clock, the Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade” (Yep Rock).

It’s been a good year for fans of first-generation underground L.A. post punk, and it’s only March. Already in 2019, a reformed Flesh Eaters saw founder Chris D. and members of the Blasters returning for a new studio album; the Long Ryders reuniting for a roots-driven effort; and X reissuing its classic early albums.

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Next month, former Green on Red bassist (and Future Music owner) Jack Waterson will issue “Adrian Younge Presents: Jack Waterson” (April 12); and True West’s Russ Tolman has announced a forthcoming record (“Goodbye El Dorado,” April 19).

Add in four more: The Bangles, the Three O’Clock, the Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade, all of whom recently reconvened in service of “3 x 4.” The bands were part of the so-called Paisley Underground movement of the early ’80s, and they achieved various levels of renown — the Bangles hit the biggest — across the decade. Though each was distinctive in its own way, all professed an affection for the psychedelic pop and rock music that came out of the region in the mid- and late 1960s.

That’s why this celebration makes sense. On it, the bands cover each others’ songs: The Dream Syndicate, whose drone- and feedback-heavy psychedelic rock drew on the Velvet Underground’s darkened sound, works through the Bangles’ “Hero Takes a Fall,” the Three O’Clock’s “She Turns to Flowers” and the Rain Parade’s “You Are My Friend.” In doing so, Dream Syndicate singer and guitarist Steve Wynn brings a chugging, moody energy to each.

The Bangles tangle with “That’s What You Always Say,” from the Dream Syndicate’s classic album “The Days of Wine and Roses,” with Annette Zilinskas working a grim bass line, Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson hitting hard, chunky riffs and drummer Debbi Peterson keeping time. The Bangles’ take on the Three O’Clock’s “Jet Fighter” is nearly as insistent as the original.

Most striking, though, is the Rain Parade’s cover of “When You Smile.” Best known for original member David Roback’s later work as one half of Mazzy Star, the Rain Parade adds harsh jangle to the Dream Syndicate’s obsessive love song. That’s due in large part to guitarist-cofounder Matt Puicci’s distinctive way with a guitar line and bassist (and David’s brother) Steven Roback’s humming tone.

For tips, records, snapshots and stories on Los Angeles music culture, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit. Email: randall.roberts@latimes.com.

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