Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fifty Foot Hose - Ingredients (Del Val, 1997)

is an album of early recordings by Fifty Foot Hose from 1966 and 1967 as well as both sides of the only single released by the pre-Hose group the Ethix, which dates from 1966. Originally released on the private press Del Val label, these recordings present a much different sounding version of the band than what appeared on the pioneering Cauldron LP. First, group leader Cork Marcheschi is primarily a bass player on these cuts. While there are treated vocals and the occasional primitive electronic squiggle here and there (mostly at the end and beginning of the songs), Ingredients does not feature the more impressive array of effects heard on Cauldron, where such sounds are much more effectively integrated with the performances. Second, vocalist Nancy Blossom appears on only one cut here ("Fly Free"), with guitarist Larry Evans handling most of the singing duties instead.

Back when this was released in the 1990s, it was really hyped in certain record collecting circles. While I prefer Cauldron as the definitive Fifty Foot Hose album, this still definitely has its moments. Even though "Bad Trip" was previously released as a bonus track on the Cauldron CD reissue, it also makes an appearance here and lives up to its name. There are two long jams, "War" from 1966 and "Desire" from 1967, with the latter being the standout track on this LP. The other material is not bad, but nothing that will give you an orgasm or anything.

1. War
2. Good Morning Girl
3. Fly Free
4. Skins (The Ethix)
5. Bad Trip (The Ethix)
6. Desire
7. Low Down Nasty

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pig Newton & the Wizards from Kansas - Still in Kansas (Rockadelic, 2003)

Despite the lame cover art, this is still a pretty cool LP if you're into the Wizards from Kansas, some of the finest practitioners of psychedelic rural rock. I've always been a big fan of their lone self-titled album on Mercury which, in contrast, has one of the best covers to appear on any psychedelic record. The blazing guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies don't hurt, either. One of my friends who's a recovering Deadhead really liked the LP when I put it on the turntable one day, and I got him to admit that he wished the Grateful Dead could've sung like that.

Still in Kansas documents the band's early days with songs from 1968-1969, some of which would appear as more polished versions on the aforementioned Mercury album. At this point, while still residing in the college town of Lawrence, they were known as Pig Newton and, later, as Pig Newton & the Wizards from Kansas. A wah-wah-heavy version of "All Along the Watchtower" that's more Hendrix than Dylan is the only cut from 1968. "Clouds of Exchange" seems to have been recorded next in 1969, and the band never did anything further with it.

The remaining six tracks, also from 1969, are demo versions of songs that would ultimately appear on the Mercury LP. While they are all interesting for the sake of comparison, one would have to agree that these earlier renditions are not quite as good, especially in the case of "She Rides with Witches" which features some pretty weak vocals. Still, "Flyaway Daze" ("Days" on the Mercury LP), "Misty Mountainside," and "Country Dawn" all give indications of better things to come. "Codine" and "High Flying Bird" are nearly the equals to the Wizards' better-known, later versions. The most interesting thing about these two songs is that they had been staples in the set lists of the first Haight-Ashbury bands as early as 1965, and here are these Midwestern hippies still taking these standards in new directions some four years later. This is evidence of the time lag that was prevalent in more isolated parts of the USA during the 1960s in absorbing the musical and cultural influences of the West Coast. But when it comes to preserving psychedelic culture, sometimes isolation is indeed a good thing.

Overall, this is good, but not great. At least we now know why it states "Pig Newton (May He Rest In Peace)" on the back of the Wizards from Kansas' eponymous album for Mercury.

1. Flyaway Daze
2. She Rides with Witches
3. Misty Mountainside
4. Codine
5. High Flying Bird
6. Country Dawn
7. All Along the Watchtower
8. Clouds of Exchange

Alabama: Black Secular & Religious Music 1927-1934 (Document, 1993)

While not as synonymous with blues as Mississippi, Alabama still produced its share of excellent prewar black musicians. This collection features some of state's finest songsters, bluesmen, and gospel singers to be recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. The Wiley Barner tracks are just plain weird with the singer, guitarist, and pianist going off in all types of directions but still displaying enough cohesion to keep the songs from descending into total chaos. Moses Mason (aka Red Hot Ole Man Mose) was a street singer whose material suggests a dual profession of food vendor ("Shrimp Man" and "Molly Man" - the latter of which is a corruption of "Tamale Man") and preacher ("Christ Is Coming Again" etc.). Some songs were performed a cappella and others with guitar or banjo accompaniment. Edward Thompson is the star of this set with his skillful guitar playing and mostly original lyrics in songs such as the intriguingly-titled "Showers of Rain Blues," "Florida Bound," "Seven Sister Blues," and "When You Dream of Muddy Water." A true original and perhaps the finest of Alabama's prewar blues guitarists, it's a pity so little is known about this guy. Slim Duckett and Pig Norwood offer a quartet of somewhat bland gospel songs, while ancient songster Marshall Owens (allegedly born around 1880) performs two archaic-sounding proto-blues pieces. The songs by Tom Bradford were recorded for the Library of Congress in 1934, and despite the limitations of the primitive portable recording equipment (q.v. the noticeable speed fluctuations), he puts down some pretty mean slide guitar, especially in the epic (nearly five-and-a-half minutes) traveling blues, "Going North."

1. My Gal Treats Me Mean (But I Can't Leave Her Alone) - Wiley Barner
2. If You Want a Good Woman - Get One Long and Tall -Wiley Barner
3. Molly Man - Moses Mason
4. John the Baptist -
Moses Mason
5. Go Wash in the Beautiful Stream -
Moses Mason
6. Christ Is Coming Again -
Moses Mason
7. The Horse Paweth in the Valley -
Moses Mason
8. Judgment Day in the Morning -
Moses Mason
9. Red Cross the Disciple of Christ Today -
Moses Mason
10. Shrimp Man -
Moses Mason
11. Showers of Rain Blues - Edward Thompson
12. Florida Bound -
Edward Thompson
13. Seven Sister Blues -
Edward Thompson
14. Up on the Hill Blues -
Edward Thompson
15. When You Dream of Muddy Water -
Edward Thompson
16. West Virginia Blues -
Edward Thompson
17. When the Saints Go Marchin In - Slim Duckett & Pig Norwood
18. Sister Mary Wore Three Lengths of Chain -
Slim Duckett & Pig Norwood
19. I Want to Go Where Jesus Is -
Slim Duckett & Pig Norwood
20. You Gotta Stand Judgement for Yourself -
Slim Duckett & Pig Norwood
21. Texas Blues - Marshall Owens
22. Try Me One More Time - Marshall Owens
23. Going North - Tom Bradford
24. I Can't Get No Hearin' from My Babe - Tom Bradford

All the Paths Lead Nowhere - Galactic Zoo Dossier Compilation #5 (Drag City, 2001)

Wide-ranging comp from long out-of-print issue #5 of The Galactic Zoo Dossier, the world's foremost hand-drawn mind-expanding music magazine and brainchild of Mr. Plastic Crimewave. All the Paths Lead Nowhere features many exclusives and other tracks you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Like the publication itself, this comp focuses on both vintage psychedelia and more recent material.

So here you've got 1960s selections from the likes of the Whatt Four, Edouard, Grupa ABC, and Crackerjack Society; Japanese madness from Musica Transonic and Acid Seven; contributions from Bevis Frond and Bardo Pond; and let's not forget the tracks representing the mid-to-late 1990s underground Chicago music scene performed by the Joy Poppers, the Unshown, and Lawrence of Euphoria (whose song is a tribute to Record Fiend hero Alexander "Skip" Spence). And that's just scratching the surface.

Not familiar with The Galactic Zoo Dossier, you say? Become enlightened by visiting Crimewave's website as well as that of the magazine's publisher, Drag City. Don't miss issue #8 which will be available sometime this spring!

1. Mystery Track
2. Alkimiya Uptight - Musica Transonic
3. Girlfeast - The Goblins
4. 232 - Metalux
5. I Am the Delusion - The Unshown
6. Live Track - Acid Seven
7. Brown Ant - Bevis Frond & Abunai!
8. You're Wishin' I Was Someone Else - The Whatt Four
9. Les Hallucinations d'Edouard - Edouard
10. Bosco the Geek - The Joy Poppers
11. Somebody (Ktos) - Grupa ABC
12. Slinky - Sled Dog
13. Untitled Tutorial - Drekka
14. Listen to This Side - Crackerjack Society
15. The First Lowering - Mirza
16. Triole - Michael Karoli & Sofortkontakt
17. Mushroom Dawn - Dr. Uggz
18. Magic Princess Trip - Fur Saxa
19. Attack by Muse - Lawrence of Euphoria
20. Philadelphia Session - Un & Gate
21. The Migration of the Duck-billed Platypus to Australia - Bardo Pond

John Berberian - Expressions East (Mainstream, 1964)

Among the seemingly endless number of belly dance LPs to have been released during the 1950s-1970s, albums by Armenian-American oudist extraordinaire John Berberian consistently stand out as among the best of the genre. Expressions East, his first major release, is no exception. Featuring a top-notch group of supporting musicians (playing other exotic instruments such as the kanun, dudoog, and dumbeg) and a diverse group of Armenian, Turkish, and Arabic music selections, this album impeccably displays the many facets of Middle Eastern music, from the scorching version of the belly dance standard "Siseler" to the haunting instrumental "Dzage Bunch." The closing track, the improvisational "Taksim," allows Berberian to stretch out and display his utter mastery on the oud, the Middle Eastern lute and forerunner to the guitar. If you close your eyes while listening to this album, you may think you're in a nightclub in old Istanbul. An indispensable introduction to John Berberian and Middle Eastern music in general.

I came across this album several years ago while searching for his groundbreaking Middle Eastern Rock LP thinking that this would merely be an OK consolation prize. I had no idea what awaited me inside those vinyl grooves. While this is a more traditional record than Middle Eastern Rock, the performances are no less impassioned and, in fact, perhaps even more so. Even though I don't understand what the hell vocalist Bob Tashjian is singing about, it doesn't really matter. The emotional conviction of his wailing vocals is still palpable and can be appreciated as an instrument nearly as powerful as Berberian's oud. For those of you who dig Kaleidoscope's Middle Eastern-influenced pieces ("Egyptian Gardens," "Taxim," "Seven-Ate Sweet"), this is the real deal. Pack up the hookah and enjoy!

Note: John still performs regularly and has his own record label. Check out his website and buy a CD or two. You can get his follow-up album Oud Artistry here.

1. Siseler (Turkish)
2. Laz (Turkish)
3. Nubar Nubar (Armenian)
4. Basha Bella (Turkish)
5. Arabaya (Turkish)
6. Dzage Bunch (Armenian)
7. Whyek (Arabic)
8. Taksim (Oud Improvisation)

Chicago Blues - The Early 1950s (Blues Classics, 1965)

Blues Classics was essentially a bootleg label run by Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records and used as an outlet to compile blues recordings from the 1920s-1950s. Unlike Yazoo and Document LPs, which were reissued on CD, Blues Classics albums were never rereleased in this format. No matter, since these are still excellent compilations for the most part even if other labels would eventually learn to improve upon the sound quality of vintage recordings such as these.

Many of these songs are available on other comps, and the sides by Baby Face Leroy, Little Walter, and Junior Wells should be familiar to anyone with a fancy for early electric Chicago blues. There are also some more obscure recordings here, such as the tracks by J.B. Hutto, Little Willie Foster, and Robert Nighthawk, which is an updated version of "Kansas City Blues" first recorded by Jim Jackson in 1927. Worthy of investigation.

1. Homesick - Homesick James
2. Boll Weevil - Baby Face Leroy
3. Rollin' & Tumblin' Part II - Baby Face Leroy
4. Muskadine - Little Walter
5. Dim Lights - J.B. Hutto
6. Things Are So Slow - J.B. Hutto
7. Five Long Years - Eddie Boyd
8. Rollin' & Tumblin' Part I - Baby Face Leroy
9. Hoodoo Man - Junior Wells
10. Falling Rain Blues - Little Willie Foster
11. Stockyard Blues - Snooky & Moody
12. Money Taking Woman - Johnny Young
13. Dark Road - Floyd Jones
14. Hard Hearted Woman - Big Walter
15. Kansas City Blues - Robert Nighthawk
16. Tough Times - John Brim

Calypso Breakaway 1927-1941 (Rounder, 1990)

This ain't no "Banana Boat Song." Forget what you think you know about calypso - Harry Belafonte, 1950s kitsch, etc. The real thing from Trinidad in the 1910s-1940s is powerful stuff. I look at it as the musical predecessor of ska, rock steady, and reggae in much the same way that 1920s-1930s blues was the forerunner to electric blues, rhythm & blues, and rock 'n' roll. Like Trinidad itself, calypso is an interesting mixture of African, Spanish, French, and British culture found nowhere else in the world. My personal favorites from this superb comp include "Don't Le' Me Mother Know," "Dynamite," and "The More They Try To Do Me Bad (The Better I Live in Trinidad)."

1. Don't Le' Me Mother Know - Keskidee Trio
2. Ma Maria - King Radio
3. Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen - Felix and his Krazy Kats
4. An Excursion to Grenada - The Growler
5. Tina - The Lion
6. Seven Skeletons Found in the Yard - Lord Executor
7. Little Gal, Mother is Calling You - Al Philip Iere Syncopaters
8. Maraval Girls - The Tiger
9. Anacaona - Lord Beginner
10. Dynamite - Atilla the Hun
11. Caro at Point Cumana - Lord Invader
12. Violets-Venezuelan Waltz - Lionel Belasco's Orchestra
13. Guests of Rudy Vallee - The Lion and Atilla the Hun
14. How I Spent My Time at the Hospital - Lord Executor
15. Old Men Come Back Again - King Radio
16. Johnnie Take My Wife - Wilmoth Houdini and his Caribbean Orchestra
17. The More They Try To Do Me Bad - The Caresser
18. Love Thy Neighbor - The Lion
19. Tropical heat-paseo - Codallo's Top Hatters Orchestra
20. The Whe Whe Banker Wedding - The Tiger