Saturday, February 28, 2009

Texas Blues Volume 1 (Arhoolie, early 1960s)

The blues performances on this LP are the musical equivalent to a late-night desert wind blowing across the lonely plains of Texas. Stark yet beautiful, these songs are representative of the state's prewar blues tradition that was being preserved by certain singers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Texas Blues Volume 1 collects 14 classic sides from the vaults of Gold Star, the legendary Houston label owned by Bill Quinn. Dating from 1948-1951, the tracks assembled on this album showcase bluesmen Lightning (or, depending on the album, Lightnin') Hopkins, Lil' Son Jackson, Lee Hunter, Leroy Ervin, Thunder Smith, and L.C. Williams at the height of their powers.
Unlike more sophisticated-sounding recordings like those of T-Bone Walker, these songs hearken back to the styles of 1920s and 1930s singers like Texas Alexander, Willie Reed, and Black Ivory King. Although there are amplified instruments on some sides, these are all solo or duo performances that tend to display minimalist production values.

The selections by Hopkins have appeared on other comps and should be familiar to most blues aficionados. Even after hundreds of listens, I still love the simple yet driving instrumental dance piece, "Big Mama Jump." Lil' Son Jackson is probably this collection's next best-known performer and chips in with the fine "Gambling Blues" and "Homeless Blues" which both feature his prominent churning rhythm guitar technique. Leroy Ervin, Lee Hunter, and Thunder Smith are all capable pianists who sound as if they were all cut from the same musical cloth. Interestingly, Ervin was primarily a drummer but could also tickle the ivories, and Smith often teamed up with guitarist Hopkins as a twosome known as (what else?) "Thunder and Lightning." L.C. Williams, a skilled singer, dancer, and drummer, was obviously influenced by his musical godfather, Hopkins. If "Strike Blues," "You Never Miss the Water," and "I Wonder" sound similar to Lightning's style - not only in the singing but in the instrumentation as well - it's because Hopkins is sitting in playing the guitar on these performances. It's no wonder that Williams was often billed as "Lightnin' Jr." The prophetically-titled "I Won't Be Here Long" changes things up and features the singer accompanied by pianist Elmore Nixon. Williams, unfortunately, would die from tuberculosis complications in 1960 at the tragically young age of 36.

1. Gambling Blues - Lil' Son Jackson
2. Homeless Blues - Lil' Son Jackson
3. Back to Santa Fe - Lee Hunter
4. Strike Blues - L.C. Williams
5. Blue, Black, and Evil - Leroy Ervin
6. Rock Island Blues - Leroy Ervin
7. Grievance Blues - Lightning Hopkins
8. You Never Miss the Water - L.C. Williams
9. Santa Fe Blues - Thunder Smith
10. Big Stars Are Falling - Thunder Smith
11. Big Mama Jump - Lightning Hopkins
12. I Wonder - L.C. Williams
13. Death Bells - Lightning Hopkins
14. I Won't Be Here Long - L.C. Williams

Friday, February 27, 2009

Eddie "The Sheik" Kochak, Hakki Obadia, and their Amer-abic Orchestra - Ya Habibi! Exciting New Sounds of the Middle East (Decca, early 1960s)

Eddie "The Sheik" Kochak, an American of Syrian ancestry, and Hakki Obadia, a former child musical prodigy from Iraq, teamed up to record several LPs of "Amer-abic" music on the Decca label in the early 1960s. While the packaging may be a bit on the kitschy side, Ya Habibi! is a fine album of belly dance music and should appeal to those who are fans of John Berberian and other similar artists. Kochak apparently plays the hand drums and perhaps other percussion instruments on this LP while Obadia, "a master of instrumental talent" capable of playing the oud, piano, guitar, as well as mandolin (and presumably violin judging by the cover photo), seems to vary his role on a track-by track basis. Unless Obadia overdubbed his performances on various instruments by multi-tracking, there must be other musicians in the duo's Orchestra, although their names are not listed in the generally uninformative liner notes. Although I don't hear piano, guitar, or mandolin in any of these pieces, someone is also providing accompaniment on clarinet, flute, and/or saxophone on certain tracks. Assuming that it's Obadia on the oud, he shows himself to be an adept player on this stringed instrument. While not in the same class as Berberian, who is my personal favorite oudist, ol' Hakki still lays down some pretty mean licks.

Although there is the occasional shouted exhortation on certain tracks, these are all purely instrumental performances without the wailing vocals in Turkish or Arabic that appear on other similar albums. While I am not a musician myself, I assume that the term "Amer-abic" refers to the fact that this is not completely authentic Middle Eastern material. While obviously inspired by belly dance as well as other related musical styles and played with certain instruments unique to the region, many of the tracks seem to incorporate jazz arrangements, especially on "Village Feast" and "Red Sea Blues." Overall, the performances all possess the same high standard of musicianship whether it's the propulsive title track or the atmospheric "Desert Wanderers." While purists might poo-poo this as jive Middle Eastern music, this still sounds damn good to my ears.

The album cover is classic belly dance cheesecake, although the leering musicians behind the girl do admittedly look a bit creepy, especially Kochak, who is clearly relishing the opportunity to check out her ass.

1. Ya Habibi
2. Ripples of the Nile
3. Flowers of Beirut
4. Village Feast
5. Camel Hop
6. Mediterranean Fantasy
7. Dance of the Happy Bride
8. Happy Jordan
9. Red Sea Blues
10. Desert Wanderers
11. Gardens of Baghdad
12. Moroccan Delight

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Conversation with the Blues (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Conversation with the Blues is the title of both the fascinating book by venerable English blues scholar Paul Oliver as well as its companion LP on Decca, the two of which were originally released in 1965. The publication's second edition, from 1997, includes a CD version of the album which features tracks from a wide variety of urban and country blues musicians. Recorded in 1960 during an extensive field trip across the United States, these audio documents represent the cream of Oliver's research in Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Memphis, Houston, Dallas, and rural Mississippi and Louisiana. As its title implies, the idea behind the book was to allow blues singers an opportunity to define the music and the conditions that produced it in their own words. In some cases, the musicians provided insightful answers to interview questions, while in others, they let their music do the explaining. In the end, what makes this book such a compelling reading experience is the fact that it is simply a collection of transcribed narratives from the practitioners of blues culture itself instead of a bunch pretentious nonsense written by some naive white guy.

The tracks on the Conversation CD consist of spoken-word pieces in which the singer talks about his thoughts on the blues, musical performances, or a combination of the two. The songs have an off-the-cuff feel to them and sound like they were mostly recorded in the singers' homes or in other intimate settings. These are either solo or duo performances played with unamplified instruments and in many cases hearken back to some of the artists' earliest musical memories. For example, it is doubly interesting to hear pianist Otis Spann play outside the context of Muddy Waters' electric band and to listen to his recollections about the first time he had played the blues. Other well-known musicians such as J.B. Lenoir, John Lee Hooker, and Lightnin' Hopkins make appearances as well. This collection also features tracks by piano players like Roosevelt Sykes, Little Brother Montgomery, Whistling Alex Moore, Jasper Love, Edwin "Buster" Pickens, and the obscure Boogie Woogie Red; rural blues singers such as Robert Curtis Smith, James "Butch" Cage, Willie Thomas, and Mance Lipscomb; founders of the prewar St. Louis blues scene, Henry Townsend and Henry Brown; Memphis Jug Band alumnus Will Shade; and legendary Chicago street singer Blind Arvella Gray, whose photograph taken on the corner of Maxwell and Halsted adorns the cover of this book. All in all, this is a great way to hear blues singers like you've never heard them before.

1. So Much Good Feeling - Boogie Woogie Red
2. A Little Different - Willie Thomas
3. Kill That Nigger Dead - James "Butch" Cage & Willie Thomas
4. The Onliest Way - Lil Son Jackson
5. My Father's Style/So It Rocked On/Move to Kansas City - J.B. Lenoir
6. When She Come Back/Poor Country Boy - Otis Spann
7. Ain't No Easy Thing - Lightnin' Hopkins
8. Evil Heart Blues - Mance Lipscomb
9. A Roughneck - Blind Arvella Gray
10. West Helena Blues - Roosevelt Sykes
11. Days of 1900/Newport News Blues - Will Shade
12. Chock House Days/Come and Get Me - Whistling Alex Moore
13. Move Back! For What? - Brother John Sellers
14. Been Down So Long - J.B. Lenoir
15. A Place They Call Boots' - James "Stump" Johnson
16. Henry Brown Blues - Henry Brown
17. They Called Us Gandy Dancers/Work Songs/John Henry - Blind Arvella Gray with Blind James Brewer
18. Santa Fe Train -
Edwin "Buster" Pickens
19. Most Reason I Sing - Robert Curtis Smith
20. Santa Fe Blues - Jasper Love
21. Somewhere Down the Line - John Lee Hooker
22. I Hope One Day My Luck Will Change - Robert Curtis Smith
23. Only Places They Can Go/People Call Me Lucky - Otis Spann
24. What Have I Committed? - Henry Townsend
25. 'Tween Midnight and Day - James "Butch" Cage
26. Walking Basses/Dud Low Joe/The First Vicksburg Blues - Little Brother Montgomery
27. They Call Him "Pork Chops"/Forty-Four Blues - Roosevelt Sykes
28. Blues in the Bottle - Mance Lipscomb
29. To Have the Blues Within - Edward "Buster" Pickens
30. Colorado Springs Blues - Edwin "Buster" Pickens

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

MGM Rockabilly Collection Volume 2 (Polydor UK, 1981)

Compilations such as these remind us that country music stars like Conway Twitty and Don Gibson started out as rockabillies when they were young whippersnappers and that they were damn good even if they were just following in the footsteps of Elvis. However, these future hitmakers are not really the focus of MGM Rockabilly Collection Volume 2, which instead throws the spotlight on the performances of the underappreciated and versatile Marvin Rainwater, whose songs make up nearly one third of the tracks that comprise this LP. "Gamblin' Man" features an almost fuzzy lead guitar in conjunction with the work of a rhythm guitarist whose style is similar to that of Luther Perkins from The Tennessee Two. "Hot 'n' Cold" seems to have dueling lead guitars, one of which sounds like the steel variety. "I Dig You Baby" apparently was a Top 20 hit in the UK from 1958 and deservedly so. "She's Gone" and "Dance Me Daddy" sound less like conventional rockabilly and more like the kind of music that was being produced by contemporary black rhythm and blues groups. "Why Did You Have to Go Leave Me?" even sounds like downhome gutbucket blues, especially with its spare production values. The aforementioned Twitty checks in with "Long Black Train," which is a nifty knock-off of Elvis' version of "Mystery Train" complete with Scotty Moore-inspired lead guitar lines. Ron Hargrave's contributions, "Drive In Movie" and "Latch On," sound more like novelty and pop tunes, and the fact that he was a Los Angeles product and more successful as a songwriter (e.g. "High School Confidential" performed by Jerry Lee Lewis) make his rockabilly credentials somewhat questionable. Bob Gallion's "Baby Love Me" has moments that sound almost Chuck Berryish, albeit more like the more experimental stuff from the late 1950s.

"Country Cattin'" by Jimmy Swan, "Who Shot Willie?" by Arthur Smith, and "Travelin' Blues Boy" by Gary Williams sound more like refined hillbilly than its typically more uptempo progeny, although the last of which has a really nice vibe to it. I don't know how Canada manages to produce its share of fine country and rockabilly musicians, but it does. Bernie Early's "Rock Doll" is yet more evidence. "Midnight Line" is alright, but the singer's vocal mannerisms are a bit annoying. According to the liner notes, Bob Riley was known as "the Elvis of New England." Figures. That's sort of like being the most hardcore gangster rapper of Alaska. If you can't put your finger on the unique sound of "Long Gone Lonesome Blues," it's because the record is an example of a black blues singer, Jimmie Newsome, covering a Hank Williams, Sr. tune. Cecil Campbell offers an excellent instrumental, the self-descriptive "Rockin' Guitar," and "I Ain't A Studyin' You, Baby" is fine, almost unrecognizable early Don Gibson. Despite their less-than-promising group name and song title, the Berry Kids' "Rootie Tootie" is actually pretty good and will definitely appeal to fans of the Collins Kids. The album closes with a piano instrumental of which Jerry Lee Lewis would be envious. Very surprisingly, "Rollin' the Boogie" is by the very middle-of-the-road Dick Hyman (go figure), who was otherwise notable only for having one of the greatest terrible names in pop music history.

1. Long Black Train - Conway Twitty
2. Gamblin' Man - Marvin Rainwater
3. Drive In Movie - Ron Hargrave
4. Baby Love Me - Bob Gallion
5. Hot 'n' Cold - Marvin Rainwater
6. Country Cattin' - Jimmy Swan
7. Rock Doll - Bernie Early
8. I Dig You Baby - Marvin Rainwater
9. Travelin' Blues Boy - Gary Williams
10. Midnight Line - Bob Riley
11. Long Gone Lonesome Blues - Jimmie Newsome
12. She's Gone - Marvin Rainwater
13. Latch On - Ron Hargrave
14. The Rockin' Guitar - Cecil Campbell
15. Dance Me Daddy - Marvin Rainwater
16. I Ain't A Studyin' You, Baby - Don Gibson
17. Who Shot Willie? - Arthur Smith
18. Why Did You Have to Go Leave Me? - Marvin Rainwater
19. Rootie Tootie - Berry Kids
20. Rollin' the Boogie - Dick Hyman

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The New Lost City Ramblers - The Early Years 1958-1962 (Smithsonian Folkways, 1991)

As the title implies, this collection focuses on the first lineup of the New Lost City Ramblers, which featured Mike Seeger on fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, and guitar as well as John Cohen and Tom Paley, who could both play guitar and banjo. Seeger, of course, is the younger half-brother of the more sanctimonious and less musically adept Pete Seeger. Resolutely noncommercial, the Ramblers were less concerned with the political aspects of the Folk Revival and more interested in accurately recreating hillbilly and vintage string band material.

Although the original recordings from the 1920s and 1930s that inspired them are, for the most part, impossible to improve upon, one cannot fault this group's staunch commitment to the music they obviously loved. The playing is faultless and respectful to the original performances but not to the point of sounding like slavish imitations. It's probable that many aspiring coffeehouse troubadours who would later become folk-rockers in the mid 1960s first became exposed to such material from listening to the numerous New Lost City Ramblers albums released in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Although he did not originally set out to create a folk-rock group, George Hunter of the Charlatans was reputedly influenced by the Ramblers' repertory and use of the authoharp, for example.

Seeger, Cohen, and Paley maintain a high standard throughout this compilation and provide the listener with an idea of what prewar country music would have sounded like had modern recording equipment and studios been available. Highlights include versions of Charlie Poole's "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?", Shortbuckle Roark's "I Truly Understand You Love Another Man," Blind James Howard's "The Old Fish Song" (a retelling of the Jonah and the whale story), the Delmore Brothers' "Brown's Ferry Blues," and Sam McGee's "Railroad Blues."

For those who prefer the more traditional acts of the Folk Revival, you can't do much better than this.

1. Colored Aristocracy
2. Hopalong Peter
3. Don't Let Your Deal Go Down
4. When First Unto This Country
5. Sales Tax on the Women
6. Rabbit Chase
7. Leaving Home
8. How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?
9. Franklin D. Roosevelt's Back Again
10. I Truly Understand You Love Another Man
11. The Old Fish Song
12. The Battleship of Maine
13. No Depression in Heaven
14. Dallas Rag
15. Bill Morgan and His Gal
16. Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
17. The Lady of Carlisle
18. Brown's Ferry Blues
19. My Long Journey Home
20. Talking Hard Luck
21. The Teetotals
22. Sal Got a Meatskin
23. Railroad Blues
24. On Some Foggy Mountain Top
25. My Sweet Farm Girl
26. Crow Black Chicken

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blues Images Presents...1920s Blues Classics Vol. 2 (Blues Images, 2005)

Since 2004, I've been purchasing the excellent calendars produced by record collector John Tefteller's company, Blues Images, which feature commercial art for blues records from the 1920s and 1930s. These advertisements are absolutely amazing and offer you a fascinating glimpse into a world that is now completely lost to us. Each calendar also comes with a free CD which features the 12 songs that correspond with the relevant artwork for each month of the year, not to mention four to six additional bonus tracks. The sound quality compares favorably with the mastering techniques used on Yazoo releases.

Most, if not all, of the first 12 tracks should be familiar to aficionados of prewar blues. Son House's "My Black Mama" became one of the most influential blues records of all time, as did Charlie Patton's masterpiece, "Pony Blues." Other gems include the quirky "Mamlish Blues" by the underrated Ed Bell; the excellent Frank Stokes-Dan Sain guitar duet, "Half Cup of Tea," which was recorded under the moniker the Beale Street Sheiks; and J.D. Short's finest performance, "Lonesome Swamp Rattlesnake."

Of greater interest, however, are the four tracks that close this collection, since this was the first time any of them had ever been reissued. Recently discovered circa 2004, these recordings serve to demonstrate that, incredibly, there is still buried treasure out there waiting to be unearthed by 78 collectors. The two sides by the Memphis Jug Band are lively good-timey numbers that are consistent with the type of material in which they specialized. Blind Joe Reynolds, best known for his "Outside Woman Blues" famously covered by Cream, offers a unique interpretation of the "Fat Mama" idiom with "Ninety Nine Blues." Meanwhile, the idiosyncratic King Solomon Hill performs a moving tribute to the then recently deceased Blind Lemon Jefferson with the haunting "My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon," featuring his incomparable lap-style slide guitar technique.

Check out Blues Images' website and give them some business. In addition to their lovely calendars, they sell posters and t-shirts featuring prewar blues heroes like Charlie Patton and Blind Blake.

Get Vol. 3 here.

1. Drunken Spree - Skip James
2. My Black Mama Parts 1 & 2 - Son House
3. Blues Oh Blues - Ma Rainey
4. Jungle Man Blues - Papa Charlie Jackson
5. Mamlish Blues - Ed Bell
6. Sitting on Top of the World - Mississippi Sheiks
7. Pony Blues - Charlie Patton
8. Lonesome Swamp Rattlesnake - J.D. Short
9. Depression's Gone from Me Blues - Blind Blake
10. Midnight Hour Blues - Ida Cox
11. Half Cup of Tea - Beale Street Sheiks
12. Christmas Eve Blues - Blind Lemon Jefferson
13. My Buddy, Blind Papa Lemon - King Solomon Hill
14. Ninety Nine Blues - Blind Joe Reynolds
15. You Gotta Have That Thing - Memphis Jug Band
16. Bottle It Up and Go - Memphis Jug Band

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Love Is the Song We Sing - San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970 (Rhino, 2007)

Had I not received this four-CD set as a gift, it probably wouldn't be in my collection. I remember when it came out a couple of years ago, and I looked at the track listing. In one form or another, I already had 95% of the songs featured on this extensive compilation. In some cases, there was stuff that I never really wanted in the first place. While I'm pretty obsessive about all the great music that came from the San Francisco Bay area circa 1965-1970, I never really considered Love is the Song We Sing - San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970 to be a must-have.

And now that I have it, I'm still of the same opinion. Don't get me wrong. This is still a fantastic collection representing what is often inaccurately referred to as "The San Francisco Sound." There's a lot of great music here. The handsome packaging, which is essentially a hardcover book with first-rate essays, detailed song-by-song notes, and a spectacular section of photos, almost justifies the price. But in the end, this is still disappointing. Box sets and collections like this need to feature more rare material to justify such an expensive price tag. While Love is the Song We Sing occasionally delivers the goods in spades, it just doesn't do it often enough.

In similar fashion to the original double-LP Nuggets anthology that inspired the like-named box set of the late 1990s, this collection has its roots in the San Francisco Nights compilation from 1991. The first disc, "Seismic Rumbles," features reappearances of "Johnny Was a Good Boy" by The Mystery Trend, "You Were On My Mind" by We Five, and "Hello Hello" by the Sopwith "Camel." Ho-hum. These songs didn't do much for me the first time around and don't necessarily sound any better here. As I've grown to appreciate Dino Valenti more over the years, his original folkie version of "Let's Get Together" sounds better and better. The two Country Joe & the Fish tracks from their early EPs are wise inclusions as they are both superior to their later incarnations that would appear on the Vanguard albums. "Number One" is a favorite of mine but more of an early Mike Wilhelm solo piece than something definitive of the early Charlatans. The otherwise lackluster "Can't Come Down" at least demonstrates that members of the Grateful Dead could play rock 'n' roll, even garage rock, at one point in their lives. "Don't Talk to Strangers" is a beautifully jangly number and an underappreciated part of the Beau Brummels oeuvre. No problem with the pleasant "Anything" by the Vejtables. Jefferson Airplane Takes Off remains my favorite album by that group, and "It's No Secret," an example of the more organic sound that could have characterized them had Marty Balin remained at the helm, still appeals to me in all of its folk-rock glory. They should have used used the alternative version of the Great! Society's "Free Advice" that opened Sundazed's Born to be Burned CD instead of the released version with the lame overdubbed drums featured here. One could make the claim that the Grass Roots have no business being on this collection, but "Mr. Jones" is actually a damn fine Dylan cover. "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Blackburn & Snow is good but not the best thing they did. The demo version of "Who Do You Love" pales in comparison to the magnum opus treatment Quicksilver gave it on Happy Trails, although it remains an interesting listen nonetheless. I still think the Mojo Men suck despite the fact that "She's My Baby" isn't that bad. I'd like the Wildflower's "Coffee Cup" a lot more if they hadn't included those somewhat annoying bongos which just don't work that well in a folk-rock context. The Family Tree's "Live Your Own Life" is solid, while the fuzz guitar and powerful blue-eyed soul vocals of "Fat City" make it my favorite Sons of Champlin song. Being a huge Moby Grape fan, I was eagerly looking forward to hearing "Human Monkey," a single by the Frantics featuring Jerry Miller, Don Stevenson, and Bob Mosley. Unfortunately, it doesn't really go anywhere. Bummer. ("Uncle Willie" by Mosley's earlier group, the Misfits, remains the ultimate pre-Moby Grape artifact.) The Tikis sound as wimpy on "Bye Bye Bye" as they would after their transformation to the super-lame Harper's Bizarre.

The second disc, "Suburbia," which mostly focuses on bands from the surrounding population centers of the Bay area, surprisingly may be the strongest group of songs in this collection. While "Psychotic Reaction" is a great single and the best thing Count Five did, does it really need to appear on two different volumes of the Nuggets series? Raise your hand if you think "Merry-Go-Round" or "Revelation in Slow Motion" would have been better choices. The Front Line's "Got Love" is awesome but too short, while the Mourning Reign's "Satisfaction Guaranteed" is actually pretty good. OK, we're probably all familiar with "Foolish Woman" by pre-Kak/Blue Cheer band the Oxford Circle, but it's one of those songs that psych-garage lovers can't get enough of. For me, the real revelation on San Francisco Nuggets is the beautifully baroque folk-rock masterpiece "My Buddy Sin." I always thought the two LPs by the Stained Glass were mixed bags, but the arrangements, first-rate vocal harmonies, and excellent harmonica make this the group's crowning achievement. I've always loved "Streetcar" by the Otherside as well as "Suzy Creamcheese" by Teddy & his Patches, the latter sounding a million times better than what's heard on the bootleg Acid Dreams Epitaph CD. The Immediate Family's "Rubiyat" and Syndicate of Sound's "Rumors" are OK but nothing special. The Harbinger Complex offers the fine, almost sensitive "Sometimes I Wonder," while the New Breed gives us the overly-twee wannabe Beatles tune "Want Ad Reader." I never cared much for Cold Blood (featuring Lydia Pense), but the original version of "I'm a Good Woman" by the Generation really cooks. "No Way Out"
by the Chocolate Watchband is, of course, rightly regarded as a garage-psych classic , and I can't say enough good things about Butch Engle & the Styx's "Hey I'm Lost." "I Love You" by People kinda sucks, but Public Nuisance's "America" is absolutely exhilarating. I was smitten upon first hearing the four Country Weather songs that appeared on the California Acid Folk bootleg double-LP. The improved sound quality on their best composition, "Fly to New York," helps make for a transcendent listening experience. "Thing in 'E'" is pretty damn close to transcendent too and probably the best thing from the overrated eponymous Savage Resurrection album. I love Frumious Bandersnatch. Let that be recorded in heaven's unchangeable heart. They were like Quicksilver Messenger Service crossed with Moby Grape. I like "Hearts to Cry" a lot. But I think I would have chosen "Chesire," "Woodrose Syrup," or "45 Cents" to represent them instead.

The term "Summer of Love" is somewhat cringe-inducing for me since it marked the beginning of the end for the truly underground nature of the Haight-Ashbury scene, but that's the title of the third disc. The version of "Alabama Bound," the Charlatans' signature song which leads things off, is the greatest piece of psychedelic folk-rock of all time. Even my friends who are Deadheads bow to its magnificence. What's with producer Alec Palao's fixation with The Mystery Trend? Why do we need two tracks by them on this collection? They were an obscure band not because they were ahead-of-their time iconoclasts but because they just weren't very good. "Carl Street" sucks. The Great! Society's live version of "White Rabbit" would have been preferable to this live rendition of "Somebody to Love," which ain't bad but still the lesser of two compositions that would later become part of the Jefferson Airplane canon. OK, "Superbird" is probably one of the better Country Joe & the Fish songs from their Vanguard LPs. "Two Days 'Til Tomorrow" is decent later-period Beau Brummels. While perhaps an overly-obvious Moby Grape selection, one cannot deny the rightful place that "Omaha" occupies in the pantheon of the all-time greatest psychedelic songs. The charming nature of "Up & Down" has made me reconsider my initial assessment of the Serpent Power, and "The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)" remains just about the only Grateful Dead song that I actually like. As much as I love Quicksilver, this overwrought rendition of "Codine" is decidedly inferior to The Charlatans' definitive version. "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" would have been a much better choice to represent this phase in the band's history. Big Brother's live take on "Down on Me" is good, but you all know what I think of Janis Joplin, even though she's in pretty restrained form during this performance. "Think Twice" represents Salvation at their best. Damn if this song isn't really good. Did the Airplane's version of "White Rabbit" really need to be on another 1960s comp? I'm not the biggest Steve Miller fan, but "Roll with It" is mighty fine. Notes from the Underground never really interested me that much, and "Why Did You Put Me On" doesn't persuade me to think any differently. "Underdog" is a pretty underwhelming Sly & the Family Stone song that is representative of their early phase when they were still honing their sound. I always thought Blue Cheer's version of "Summertime Blues" was just stupidly loud (as opposed to intelligently loud, which can be done), and it's not an incredibly imaginative selection for this anthology. "Glue" demonstrates that the hippie chick group Ace of Cups had their moments but overall were better in theory than in practice. "Soul Sacrifice" is Santana at their best, but more on them later. "The Bells" by The Loading Zone typifies a mediocre song by a mediocre band.

In response to the title of the fourth disc, "The Man Can't Bust Our Music," I say perhaps not, but he can bust us for downloading it or making it available for others through bit torrents or blogs. Santana's "Evil Ways" ranks just a little too high on the overfamiliarity meter to be included in this collection. If you're going to put two cuts by Santana on a comp like this, at least come up with selections a little less predictable. You know, surprise us. "Red the Sign Post" certainly is a great song by Fifty Foot Hose. I would have preferred "Fantasy" instead, but its length probably prevented it from being chosen. Just about every song on Kak's lone album is a masterpiece, so I guess "Lemonaide Kid" is as good of a choice as any. While "1982-A" is pleasant, I've come to the conclusion that the earlier the better for material by the Sons of Champlin. The overly-cute "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away" was better when Dan Hicks performed it as a member of the Charlatans. Had it been my decision, I would have instead picked "Canned Music" or "I Scare Myself" as a selection from Dan Hicks & his Hot Licks' first album. The EP version of "Amphetamine Gazelle" is better than the version from Mad River's debut LP that appears here, and "Quicksilver Girl" is a nice, mellow piece by early-period Steve Miller Band. I'm usually not big on horns in bands from the Bay area, but I must admit I like Mother Earth's "Revolution." I'll confess that I'm biased when it comes to Moby Grape. They're one of my most beloved bands. So I'll spare you from an essay on why I think "Murder in My Heart for the Judge" is so great. I'll also spare you from an essay about how this collection should be accused of providing Quicksilver Messenger Service a major disservice. (OK, lame pun, I know.) "Light Your Windows"? Are you kidding me? Clearly, "Pride of Man," "Gold and Silver," or even "Dino's Song" would have been a far better choice. The playing is not bad, but Gary Duncan and David Freiberg just don't have the pipes to pull off this kind of song. "I'm Drowning" is a fine slice of early, Roy Loney-era Flamin' Groovies, a good band that was cursed with one of the worst names in rock history. I really dig "Portrait of the Artist As a Young Lady" by Seatrain despite the band's superficial resemblance to It's a Beautiful Day, whose "White Bird" is an example of the kind of shit that helped give hippies a bad name. I never liked any of the epic live versions of "Dark Star" my Deadhead friends forced me to endure, and the Grateful Dead's single version is better if only for its relative brevity. However, the 45 version of "Fool" makes one realize how much Gary Yoder improved Blue Cheer after he had joined the band. "Mexico" demonstrates that the Airplane could still come up with a good tune even this late in their career. "Mercedes Benz" only serves to reinforce all the negative stereotypes about Janis Joplin, so why bother? And finally, I guess you gotta come full circle and close a collection like this with the Youngblood's version of "Get Together," even if you really don't need to hear it for the millionth time.

Two closing comments: First, since the text and photographs are the most appealing aspect of San Francisco Nuggets, I have included full PDF scans as a download for your reading and visual enjoyment. Second, I really had to laugh at the anti-copying statement on the CDs themselves which reads, "FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: Unauthorized copying is punishable by law...and also really isn't groovy!" Can you imagine Haight-Ashbury in an alternate universe where the counterculture had file-copying and downloading technology? "No, man! Don't rip and upload that new Quicksilver album! The FBI says it ain't groovy! And don't bogart that joint!"

Disc 1: Seismic Rumbles

1. Let's Get Together - Dino Valenti
2. I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag (EP Version) - Country Joe & the Fish
3. You Were On My Mind - We Five
4. Number One - The Charlatans
5. Can't Come Down - The Warlocks
6. Don't Talk to Strangers - The Beau Brummels
7. Anything - The Vejtables
8. It's No Secret - Jefferson Airplane
9. Johnny Was a Good Boy - The Mystery Trend
10. Free Advice - The Great! Society
11. Mr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man) - The Grass Roots
12. Stranger in a Strange Land - Blackburn & Snow
13. Who Do You Love (Demo Version) - Quicksilver Messenger Service
14. She's My Baby - The Mojo Men
15. Coffee Cup - The Wildflower
16. Live Your Own Life - The Family Tree
17. Fat City - The Sons of Champlin
18. Human Monkey - The Frantics
19. Bye Bye Bye (Warner Bros. Single Version) - The Tikis
20. Section 43 (EP Version) - Country Joe & The Fish
21. Hello Hello - The Sopwith "Camel"

Disc 2: Suburbia

1. Psychotic Reaction - Count Five
2. Got Love - The Front Line
3. Satisfaction Guaranteed - The Mourning Reign
4. Foolish Woman - The Oxford Circle
5. My Buddy Sin - The Stained Glass
6. Streetcar - The Otherside
7. Suzy Creamcheese - Teddy & his Patches
8. Rubiyat - The Immediate Family
9. Rumors - Syndicate of Sound
10. Sometimes I Wonder - The Harbinger Complex
11. Want Ad Reader - The New Breed
12. I'm a Good Woman - The Generation
13. No Way Out - The Chocolate Watchband
14. Hey I'm Lost - Butch Engle & the Styx
15. I Love You - People
16. America - Public Nuisance
17. Fly to New York - Country Weather
18. Thing in "E" - The Savage Resurrection
19. Hearts to Cry - Frumious Bandersnatch

Disc 3: Summer of Love

1. Alabama Bound - The Charlatans
2. Carl Street - The Mystery Trend
3. Somebody to Love (LP Version) - The Great! Society
4. Superbird - Country Joe & the Fish
5. Two Days 'Til Tomorrow - The Beau Brummels
6. Omaha - Moby Grape
7. Up & Down - The Serpent Power
8. The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion) - Grateful Dead
9. Codine - Quicksilver Messenger Service
10. Down on Me (Live) - Big Brother & the Holding Company
11. Think Twice - Salvation
12. White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
13. Roll With It - Steve Miller Band
14. Why Did You Put Me On - Notes from the Underground
15. Underdog - Sly & The Family Stone
16. Summertime Blues - Blue Cheer
17. Glue - The Ace of Cups
18. Soul Sacrifice - Santana
19. The Bells - The Loading Zone

Disc 4: "The Man Can't Bust Our Music"

1. Evil Ways - Santana
2. Red the Sign Post - Fifty Foot Hose
3. Lemonaide Kid - Kak
4. 1982-A - The Sons of Champlin
5. How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away - Dan Hicks & his Hot Licks
6. Amphetamine Gazelle (LP Version) - Mad River
7. Quicksilver Girl - Steve Miller Band
8. Revolution - Mother Earth
9. Murder in My Heart for the Judge - Moby Grape
10. Light Your Windows - Quicksilver Messenger Service
11. I'm Drowning - Flamin' Groovies
12. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Lady - Seatrain
13. White Bird - It's a Beautiful Day
14. Dark Star (Single Version) - Grateful Dead
15. Fool (Single Version) - Blue Cheer
16. Mexico - Jefferson Airplane
17. Mercedes Benz - Janis Joplin
18. Get Together - The Youngbloods

Funky Music is the Way (Soul Patrol , 1996)

Soul Patrol Records is to late 1960s-early 1970s funk as Eva Records is to 1960s rock and psych: bootleg labels from France featuring albums with occasionally spotty sound quality and lame or non-existent liner notes. Be that as it may, the brains behind both operations have pretty damn good taste in music if those genres are your cup of tea.

Funky Music is the Way is a collection of lesser-known artists' rare 45s on obscure labels most likely from the 1968-1973 era judging by the arrangements and production standards. Approximately half of the tracks are instrumentals while the other half feature singers who sound like low-rent James Browns. Not that that's a bad thing, but these recordings fall more on the JB end instead of the P-Funk end of the funk spectrum. There tends to be more emphasis on horns than guitars, so for those of you who care about such things, take this into consideration.

My favorites in no particular order: "What Goes Around Comes Around," "Charge It Up Baby," "Mr. Chicken" (which features some really good guitar work and super-tight drumming), "Soul and Sunshine," and "Peter Pan." All in all, this is a solid compilation of booty-shaking grooves even if the fidelity of the recordings leaves a bit to be desired.

1. What Goes Around Comes Around - Arthur Monday
2. Gettin' Soul - Aalon Butler and the New Breed Band
3. Funky Chick - The Majestics
4. Charge It Up Baby - Soul Chargers
5. Right On Right Of - Alfros Band
6. Jamming with Shorty - Shorty and the Junior Kools
7. Farm Song - Leon Gardner
8. Mr. Chicken - The Soul Seven
9. Kickin' - The Kickin' Mustangs
10. Soul and Sunshine - Harvey and the Phenomenals
11. Jelly Roll - The Granby St. Redevelopment
12. Peter Pan - Soul Patrol

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mohammed El-Bakkar and his Oriental Ensemble - Port Said: Music of the Middle East (Audio Fidelity, 1958)

Mohammed El-Bakkar was instrumental in ushering in the belly dance music craze that began in the late 1950s. The American record-buying public was becoming increasingly receptive to music from other parts of the world due to the success of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and other practitioners of exotica. More specifically, there was a growing appetite for sounds from the Middle East as well as belly dancing which were both featured prominently in the hit Broadway musical Fanny. The Lebanese El-Bakkar had a role in the production as did Turkish dancer Nejla Ates who was featured prominently on the cover of this LP. Sadly, El-Bakkar did not live long enough to see the continued interest in the music he had helped introduce to Americans. After recording several other albums for the Audio Fidelity label (whose releases were not merely LPs but studies in high fidelity sound, mind you) in a rather short time span, he died from a brain hemorrhage while performing onstage in 1959.

Although he is pictured with an oud in the above photo, El-Bakkar was better known as a tenor singer. In fact, I can barely hear any oud at all on this album. However, that's not to say that the performances are without merit. Even if you can't understand Arabic, El-Bakkar does indeed possess a fine voice. Most of the instrumentation on Port Said seems to consist of hand drums, finger cymbals, and violins (or the Middle Eastern equivalent thereof), although my favorite cut, "Rahks Port Said," features welcome but brief solos on oud and kanun.

1. Port Said
2. Sauda Sauda (Dark Eyes)
3. Bint Il Geran (Girl Next Door)
4. Banat Iskandaria (Girls of Alexandria)
5. Al Jazayair (Dance of Algiers)
6. Hela Hope (Be Careful of Love)
7. Haun Meelee (Sway Here)
8. Balady (Native Girl)
9. Rahks Port Said (Dance of Port Said)
10. Hygalo (They Say I Love Her)
11. Geena Ghanneelak (I Sing of Thee)
12. Ah Ya Zain (Beautiful One)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bo Diddley - The Originator (Checker, 1966)

Despite its mid-1960s release date, The Originator features tracks that, for the most part, seem to have been recorded earlier in the decade as well as during the 1950s. Unfortunately, the liner notes don't offer any information on the recording sessions other than stating that this LP is a collection of "rusty dusty's (sic), moldy oldies, golden gassers and blasts from the bast which have been collecting dust in the musical museum and golden archives of Checker Records for the past decade and more." Despite the lack of data, this album, as does anything that compiles Bo Diddley's material from the Chess vaults, proves itself to be a fantastic listening experience.

Although this is unmistakably a Bo Diddley record, on some tracks you can hear him incorporating elements of early Motown and even exotica into his mix. "Pills" and "Puttentang (Nursery Rhyme)," from 1961 and 1959 respectively, are probably the best known cuts from this LP, having made appearances on other compilations. "Jo Ann" is a solid rocker featuring call-and-response vocals that list the names of all the different dances this girl can do. "Two Flies" and "Background to a Music" are two humorous spoken-word pieces cut from the same cloth as "Say Man" and "Cops and Robbers" which also feature some exquisite guitar work like only Bo could do. "Yakky Doodle" is yet another rhythmic variation on the shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits theme that still somehow manages to sound fresh in the hands of "the Originator." "What Do You Know About Love" is a ballad that could have used the vocal accompaniment of The Moonglows or a similar group. "Do the Frog," based on its title and the presence of a garagey-sounding keyboard, sounds like an early 1960s piece exhorting the listener to engage in a gimmicky, amphibian-inspired dance. "Back to School," a positive-message rocker, urges its listeners to stay in the classroom and to make their parents proud. "You Ain't Bad" is a distinctly Diddleyian put-down song, while "Love You Baby" comes off lyrically as a number Chuck Berry could have written. "Limbo," with its wicked rhythm guitar and honking sax, sounds like a musical cousin of "Cadillac" from the Gunslinger LP. For lack of a better description, "Africa Speaks" is Bo Diddley meets Martin Denny, an ahead-of-its-time piece complete with tribal chanting and jungle rhythms. Long before Sly Stone thanked Africa for talking to him, Bo was already giving the continent a voice. And finally, "We're Gonna Get Married" is an absolute killer with that one-of-a-kind guitar playing and funky background singing of the Bo-ettes. In short, if you like Bo Diddley, this is essential.

Get Bo Diddley Is a Lover here and Bo Diddley here.

1. Pills
2. Jo Ann
3. Two Flies
4. Yakky Doodle
5. What Do You Know About Love
6. Do the Frog
7. Back to School
8. You Ain't Bad
9. Love You Baby
10. Limbo
11. Background to a Music
12. Puttentang (Nursery Rhyme)
13. Africa Speaks
14. We're Gonna Get Married

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gene Clark - American Dreamer 1964-1974 (Raven, 1992)

Back in the 1990s, particular import labels were especially coveted by collectors of music from the 1960s and early 1970s. If one was on a tight budget and could afford only one CD by a certain musician, Raven was the way to go. This Australian label specialized in making definitive single-disc compilations with impeccable track selection and engaging booklet notes. In addition to excellent collections by Love, the Master's Apprentices, and Fred Neil, their catalog includes this gem-packed anthology focusing on ex-Byrd Gene Clark.

The man needs no introduction. He could have been a bigger star had he been able to overcome his fear of flying and problems with touring. Nevertheless, he left behind a fairly large recorded legacy. American Dreamer covers his most fruitful period and features the usual well thought out song choices. Most of what's here has probably been reissued one way or another over the past few years, but there still may be a rarity or two. If you're not already familiar with the three Byrds tracks, go away until you are. "Echoes" and "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" are probably the two finest cuts from Clark's first solo album with the Gosdin Brothers. My favorite selections from this comp are the first four Dillard & Clark Expedition songs which come from their fabulous debut LP. The double entendre of the line "I don't know what I might be on" featured in "Train Leaves Here this Morning" is pure lyric genius. It's a pity the Expedition became so lame so quickly as demonstrated by the last two songs by this group, both being a bit too syrupy for my tastes. There are three interesting experiments with early 1970s incarnations of the the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers that merit a listen. Gene's White Light and No Other albums are ably represented with songs like "Spanish Guitar" and "From a Silver Phial." The title track and "Outlaw Song" are folky solo performances featured in the Dennis Hopper documentary, The American Dreamer. And "Full Circle" (as well as the alternate mix that concludes this collection) demonstrates that there was at least one redeeming track on the otherwise underwhelming 1973 Byrds reunion LP.

1. I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better - The Byrds
2. Set You Free this Time - The Byrds
3. She Don't Care About Time - The Byrds
4. Echoes - Gene Clark & The Gosdin Brothers
5. So You Say You Lost Your Baby - Gene Clark & The Gosdin Brothers
6. Radio Song - The Dillard & Clark Expedition
7. With Care From Someone
- The Dillard & Clark Expedition
8. Out On the Side
- The Dillard & Clark Expedition
9. Train Leaves Here this Morning
- The Dillard & Clark Expedition
10. Something's Wrong
- The Dillard & Clark Expedition
11. Through the Morning Through the Night
- The Dillard & Clark Expedition
12. She's the Kind of Girl
- The Byrds
13. One in a Hundred
- The Byrds
14. Here Tonight - Gene Clark & The Flying Burrito Brothers
15. The Virgin - Gene Clark
16. With Tomorrow
- Gene Clark
17. White Light
- Gene Clark
18. Spanish Guitar
- Gene Clark
19. American Dreamer
- Gene Clark
20. Outlaw Song
- Gene Clark
21. Full Circle - The Byrds
22. From a Silver Phial
- Gene Clark
23. Silver Raven
- Gene Clark
24. Full Circle (original Roadmaster mix) - The Byrds

Thursday, February 12, 2009

St. Louis Blues 1929-1935: The Depression (Yazoo, 1972)

Being from the Chicago area, I don't have much use for most things associated with St. Louis. Anyone from the Midwest will tell you that the rivalry between these two cities is pretty fierce. However, I've got to give credit where credit is due. St. Louis had a thriving blues scene during the 1920s and 1930s with musicians that were the artistic equals of their counterparts up in Chi-Town. While prewar Chicago blues singers such as Big Bill Broonzy and Papa Charlie Jackson are better known and justly celebrated, those from St. Louis certainly were no slouches.

As in Chicago, many St. Louis blues musicians originally came from the Deep South, although there were also some who had migrated from other places such as Kentucky and southern Illinois. Another fine Yazoo collection, St. Louis Blues 1929-1935: The Depression exclusively features guitarists or singers with guitar accompaniment. Oddly enough, the musician featured on the cover is none other than Peetie Wheatstraw (aka "The Devil's Son-in-Law) who was much better known as a pianist. However, "Sleepless Night Blues" finds him playing guitar much in the same manner he played piano, with a strong emphasis on the rhythm. And of course, there's his one of a kind vocal delivery. The four sides by Henry Townsend demonstrate his distinctive approach to playing blues guitar and ability to craft unique lyrics, all of which are rightly praised in the album's liner notes. "Henry's Worried Blues" is haunting, and "She's Got a Mean Disposition" proved to be such an influential piece that the great Muddy Waters would cover it some 13 years later in 1948. Charley Jordan, who was also a paraplegic and bootlegger, features an impressive technique even if he does tend to do variations on the same musical theme over and over. The best example of his style is the somewhat risque "Keep It Clean," which features one of the most memorable refrains ever to appear in blues lyrics. Jordan also plays second guitar on the Hi Henry Brown tracks, including one of the all-time greatest historically-based songs of the genre, "Titanic Blues." J.D. Short (under the pseudonym of Joe Stone) plays a more primitive-sounding style of blues guitar relative to the other performances on this LP, especially in "Back Door Blues." He also provides accompaniment on competent female blues singer Georgia Boyd's "Never Mind Blues."

In short, an excellent compilation of material from the underappreciated prewar blues scene of Saint Looey.

1. Sick With the Blues - Henry Townsend
2. Gasoline Blues - Charley Jordan
3. Preacher Blues - Hi Henry Brown
4. Mistreated Blues - Henry Townsend
5. Raidin' Squad Blues - Charley Jordan
6. She's Got a Mean Disposition - Henry Townsend
7. Never Mind Blues - Georgia Boyd
8. Titanic Blues - Hi Henry Brown
9. Henry's Worried Blues - Henry Townsend
10. Big Four Blues - Charley Jordan
11. Back Door Blues - Joe Stone
12. Poor Man Blues - Henry Townsend
13. Keep It Clean - Charley Jordan
14. Sleepless Night Blues - Peetie Wheatstraw

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Leb i Sol - Leb i Sol (RTB, 1978)

I'm not sure how to describe this album. Yugoslavian progressive rock? Balkan fusion? Coming up with a descriptive label is not so easy. I found this in a record shop in Zagreb when I was on vacation in Croatia during the summer of 2002. The proprietor wouldn't volunteer any information about the band. "If you buy it and like it, you like it. If you don't like it, you don't like it," he said.

What I can tell you is that, judging by their names and what little information I can translate from the liner notes, these guys are a Macedonian group consisting of guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums.
Additionally, a friend of mine tells me that "Leb i Sol" translates to "Bread and Salt." Most of the album consists of instrumentals played with breathtaking speed and in what sound like jazz times signatures. "Devetka," "Pod Vodom," "Kokoska," "U Senci," and "Damar" all have a certain amount of polished funkiness to them. The guitarist is bold and loud; the drummer is unerring; the bass player is a monster; and the keyboardist at times sounds like Herbie Hancock. "Pesma O Sonji H..." is quite mellow, perhaps more classically or folk-music inspired than the aforementioned pieces and features a melodic flute or some other similar woodwind. The tracks with vocals, "Utrinska Tema" and "Nisam Tvoj" both sound like ballads, while "Cudo Za Tri Dana" has some really nice Moog and guitar work.

I merely dabble in rock from the former Yugoslavia. If you want to visit an excellent blog that specializes in this genre, check out Najpogodnije Mesto (aka YuRock). There was a surprisingly fertile music scene there during the 1960s and 1970s, and many of the albums from that era will be of interest to like-minded music collectors.

1. Devetka
2. Pod Vodom
3. Utrinska Tema
4. Kokoska
5. Nisam Tvoj
6. U Senci
7. Cudo Za Tri Dana
8. Pesma O Sonji H...
9. Damar

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wally Richardson - Soul Guru (Prestige/BGP, 1968)

Under-heralded guitarist Wally Richardson, who could twang with the best of them, covers a lot of musical territory on this 36-minute album. Originally released by Prestige in 1968, Soul Guru showcases his amazing versatility and capacity to lead two different groups: a more conventional guitar-piano-bass-drums quartet as well as an interesting larger band with various combinations of lead guitar, twelve-string guitar, bass clarinet, bass, Fender bass, drums, and conga/Israeli drum. The four-piece performances, not surprisingly, are more straight-ahead blues instrumentals of varying tempos. "Elbow Blues" is a slower number and sounds like equal parts T-Bone Walker and Albert King. "Surf Side Shuffle" and "Square Heels, White Stockings" will, at the very least, move you to toe-tapping as Richardson effectively uses the ultra-tight rhythm section as an appealing backdrop for his tasty guitar chops.

The large group performances tend to be funkier or more experimental. Both of the "Boogaloos" - "Senor" and "Khyber Pass" - are reminiscent of similar groove-laden material by Grant Green and Ivan "Boogaloo Joe" Jones. The instrumental cover of "Monday Monday" features some imaginative guitar overdubbing while on "Lonely Rider" (an interpretation of a piece originally from the soundtrack of the Charlton Heston Western Will Penny), Richardson unexpectedly produces an impressive sitar-like sound with his instrument. The Indian and Middle Eastern-infused title track, again featuring that wonderful sitar-esque guitar and sounding like a Sandy Bull-Quicksilver Messenger Service hybrid, ranks among the finest examples of raga-rock that you'll find on any record from the late 1960s.

1. Senor Boogaloo
2. Elbow Blues
3. Monday Monday
4. Surf Side Shuffle
5. Soul Guru
6. Lonely Rider
7. Khyber Pass Boogaloo
8. Square Heels, White Stockings

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Big Brother & the Holding Company - Tribal Stomp (Head bootleg, late 1990s)

When it comes down to it, Janis Joplin may very well be the most overrated figure in 1960s rock. I'm not saying she was without talent, but I always felt that many times she just got in the way of the musicians in Big Brother & the Holding Company. I mean, Sam Andrew and James Gurley are two of my favorite Haight-Ashbury guitarists based alone upon the group's version of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from a KQED 1967 television broadcast, without Janis of course. For any of you out there who have not seen this footage, you need to right now.

I would love to hear any pre-Janis recordings of these guys just jamming like this. Anybody out there have anything? Well, on to this collection of live recordings. They're pretty good for what they are and all feature Janis, for better or for worse, on vocals. Tracks 1 and 2 are from a
January 12, 1968 Shrine Auditorium performance in Los Angeles. Tracks 3 through 6 are taken from various San Francisco concerts in 1967. Tracks 7 through 10 are the best batch of performances here and originally a radio broadcast on KSAN from 1967. The version of Moondog's "All is Loneliness" is scintillating and hypnotic in addition to being a far more adventurous take on the song than what appeared on the band's Mainstream LP. The final three songs, tracks 11 through 13, are from another radio broadcast, this time a January 16, 1968 show on KPFA.

Another record collector once told me the cover photo of this release was what the band originally wanted for Cheap Thrills. Good thing they ended up getting R. Crumb to do the job instead. His rendition of Janis is far more appealing than what appears here. And what's the deal with Peter Albin's shit-eating grin? Perhaps because he's the only one not nekkid? Crazy fuckin' hippies.

1. Light is Faster than Sound
2. Bye Bye Baby
3. I Need a Man to Love
4. History
5. Summertime
6. Piece of my Heart
7. Women is Losers
8. All is Loneliness
9. Call on Me
10. Ball and Chain
11. Moanin' at Midnight
12. Comin' Home
13. Down on Me

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Great Labels of the South - Original 50s Recordings (White Label, early 1980s?)

This rockabilly comp focuses on releases from the obscure Trepur and Ridgecrest labels from La Grange, Georgia. Dating from 1954-1959, this material tends to be on the more ragged side of the genre, but that's certainly not a bad thing. The Jaybee Wasden sides are pure late 1950s: one deals with Elvis Presley's recent induction into the army, the other with a certain revolutionary who had just taken power in Cuba. The cuts featuring Chuck Joyce and his Chain Gang Boys (pictured below) serve as fine examples of rockabilly in its early stages where white country bands started speeding up the tempo of their performances and transformed hillbilly and blues-inspired material into something new.

Fuzzy Lofton, Jimmy Wydemon (whose "Vulcan Song" unfortunately has nothing to do with Star Trek), and Worley David represent musicians who were on the cusp between country and rockabilly as evinced by the presence of steel guitars and fiddles on their records. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Whereas "Don't Cry Little Darling" by the Carpenter Brothers is a rocker, pure and simple. The star of this collection, however, is Lee "Red" Melson who closes out the album with some fine up-tempo numbers ("Carmen Sue Rock" and "Tunnel of Love"), a weeper ("I'm Being Haunted"), and a humorous talking blues ("Mean Ole Bartender").

1. Elvis in the Army - Jaybee Wasden
2. De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden
3. Let's Rock - Rusty Howard with Chuck Joyce and his Chain Gang Boys
4. I'm Gonna Do You Like You Are Doing Me -
Rusty Howard with Chuck Joyce and his Chain Gang Boys
5. Milkman Blues -
Chuck Joyce and his Chain Gang Boys
6. Bounce Baby Bounce - Fuzzy Lofton
7. I've Been Down this Road - Jimmie Wydemon & the Vulcaneers
8. The Vulcan Song -
Jimmie Wydemon & the Vulcaneers
9. Don't Cry Little Darling - The Carpenter Brothers & Rhythm Boppers
10. The Day I Heard You Say Goodbye - Worley David
11. Carmen Sue Rock - Lee "Red" Melson and the Missouri Nighthawks
12. I'm Being Haunted -
Lee "Red" Melson and the Missouri Nighthawks
13. Rockin' Thru the Tunnel of Love -
Lee "Red" Melson and the Missouri Nighthawks
14. Mean Ole Bartender Blues -
Lee "Red" Melson and the Missouri Nighthawks

Ian and Sylvia - Four Strong Winds (Vanguard, 1963)

This Canadian duo just does not get the respect that they deserve. Even the folk revival from earlier this decade failed to rekindle much interest in them. Which is a shame. Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker occupied the nebulous territory between more overtly commercial folk acts like Peter, Paul, and Mary and underground Greenwich Village characters like Fred Neil. That is to say they could do polished cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot, but their repertory also contained many blues and gospel pieces, British Isles and French Canadian folk songs, and even their own compositions. Granted, this is very clean and immaculately produced material, but I've always been a sucker for good vocal harmonies, acoustic guitars, and autoharps. So there you go.

I've been a fan of Ian and Sylvia for quite some time. My kindergarten teacher was a former folkie and activist during the 1960s. I remember him regularly playing folk revival records during class singalongs and exposing us to the Weavers, the New Lost City Ramblers, and, yes, these two. On special occasions, his wife would pay our class a visit with her zither and their adopted Cambodian daughter in tow. My teacher would bust out his twelve-string guitar and, with his wife accompanying him, proceed to lead the class in a good old-fashioned hootenanny. Ah, those were the days.

Four Strong Winds, Ian and Sylvia's second album, features the well-known title track (covered by Neil Young), surprisingly capable versions of black gospel songs "Jesus Met the Woman at the Well" and "Every Time I Feel the Spirit," the obligatory Dylan tune ("Tomorrow is a Long Time"), black ballads "Poor Lazarus" and "Ella Speed" (perhaps the finest cut on this album), as well as an a cappella version of the infanticide ballad "The Greenwood Sidie" (which also makes an appearance on Kaleidoscope's Beacon from Mars), among others.

If you like this LP and want to hear it in the original glorious analog, you can probably find it for $1.99 in the record bins of your local thrift store.

Get So Much for Dreaming here and Great Speckled Bird here.

1. Jesus Met the Woman at the Well
2. Tomorrow is a Long Time
3. Katy Dear
4. Poor Lazarus
5. Four Strong Winds
6. Ella Speed
7. Long, Lonesome Road
8. V'La L'bon Vent
9. Royal Canal
10. Lady of Carlisle
11. Spanish is a Loving Tongue
12. The Greenwood Sidie
13. Every Night When the Sun Goes Down
14. Every Time I Feel the Spirit

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Istanbul 1925 (Traditional Crossroads, 1994)

If you're into vintage Middle Eastern sounds, this is one damn fine comp. For fans of belly dance records, John Berberian, Kaleidoscope, the Devil's Anvil, and the like, listening to Istanbul 1925 for the first time is an experience analogous to an electric blues enthusiast being introduced to the songs of Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Skip James. At first, the listener is surprised that such old recordings can sound so familiar, but then there is the realization that the music is part of a vast tradition going back hundreds of years and that the time span between the 1920s and 1960s is not that significant after all.

The sound quality of the music presented here is amazing, due largely to the fact that the original metal master discs were used as source material. The accompanying notes are a fascinating read and make clear that these recordings are examples of Anatolian - not just simply Turkish - music. As the country made the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic under the rule of Kemal Ataturk, the aftermath of World War I and a modernization movement caused the mass migration of people from rural areas to cities like Istanbul. These transplants, many of whom were ethnic minorities such as Armenians, Greeks, and Roma (Gypsies), brought their folkways, including their music, with them. This music became popular in the nightclubs of Istanbul, and the city became a melting pot of regional styles from not just Anatolia, but the entire Middle East.

To my ears, the ensemble performances are the most interesting and enjoyable. Oud pioneer Udi Hrant, violinist Kemani Nubar, and clarinetist Sukru Tunar all lead small groups in variations of the belly dance ("Cifte Telli") theme. Other favorites include "Raks Bedia" and "Arap Oyun Havasi" by Kemani Haydar Tatilyay; "Karslama" by Sukru; and Hrant's mesmerising solo oud improvisational pieces or taksims - "Hicaz," "Huzzam," and "Kurdili Hicazkar." Istanbul 1925 also features clarinet taksims by Sukru, the sublime kanun (Middle Eastern harp) playing of Kanuni Artaki Candan-Terzian and Kanuni Ahmet Yatman, and the distinctly Middle Eastern vocals of
Munir Nurettin Selcuk, Suzan Yakar, and Perihan Altindag. And if you don't understand what they're singing about, consult the translations of the lyrics in the booklet scans.

1. Huzzam taksim - Sukru Tunar
2. Neva Hicaz Gazel - Mahmut Celalettin
3. Cikar Yuclerden - Munir Nurettin Selcuk/S. Kaynak
4. Cifte Telli - Udi Hrant
5. Daktilo - Deniz Kizi/Kanuni Artaki
6. Raks Bedia - Kemani Haydar Tatliyay
7. Hicaz taksim - Udi Hrant
8. Sevda Zinciri - Suzan Yakar
9. Yuzu Pembe - Mahmut Celalettin/Udi Marko
10. Suzinak taksim - Sukru Tunar
11. Karslama - Sukru Tunar
12. Neva Ussak Gazel - Mahmut Celalettin
13. Huzzam taksim - Udi Hrant
14. Leyla - Munir Nurettin Selcuk/S. Kaynak
15. Agladim Aci Cektim - Kucuk Nezihe Hanim/Sukru Tunar
16. Bahriye Cifte Telli - Kemani Nubar
17. Kurdili Hicazkar taksim - Udi Hrant
18. Arap Oyun Havasi - Kemani Haydar Tatliyay
19. Rast Neva Gazel - Mahmut Celalettin
20. Ne Bahar Kaldi Ne gul - Perihan Altindag/R. Elkultu
21. Kessik Kerem - Hanende Agyazar Efendi
22. Cifte Telli - Sukru Tunar

Monday, February 2, 2009

Blind Blake - All the Published Sides (JSP, 2003)

There really isn't anything that I can add to the body of knowledge concerning Arthur "Blind" Blake because so few biographical details are known about him. This is rather odd considering the fact that he was one of the most prolifically recorded prewar blues guitarists
. We don't even know the year of his death.

If you're not familiar with Blind Blake, you should be. He's one of the giants of American roots music. His playing technique is flawless, and he may have been the most adept of all blues guitarists from the South-east during the 1920s-1930s. Blues guitarist is a somewhat inaccurate term for Blake since he may have been even more well known for his ragtime material and recordings with contemporary jazz musicians. This collection features nearly all of his entire output from the Paramount label with the exception of two sides that were recently discovered in 2007 and not known to exist at the time of this box set's release. There are too many great songs here for me to list my favorites, but I will say that "Hastings St." (with Charlie Spand) may be the finest prewar blues guitar-piano duet ever recorded. While I have to admit a slight preference for Mississippi Delta blues because of its greater emotional intensity, blues from the south-eastern states is well represented by this exhaustive collection of recordings by the regional style's acknowledged master.

Disc A

1. Dying Blues
2. Ashley St. Blues
3. West Coast Blues
4. West Coast Blues
5. West Coast Blues
6. West Coast Blues
7. Early Morning Blues
8. Early Morning Blues
9. Too Tight
10. Blake's Worried Blues
11. Come On Boys, Let's Do that Messin' Around
12. Come On Boys, Let's Do that Messin' Around
13. Tampa Bound
14. Skeedle Loo Doo Blues
15. Skeedle Loo Doo Blues
16. Stonewall Street Blues
17. State Street Men Blues
18. Down the Country
19. Back Biting Bee Blues
20. Wilson Dam
21. Buck-Town Blues
22. Black Dog Blues
23. One Time Blues

Disc B

1. Bad Feelin' Blues
2. Dry Bone Shuffle
3. Dry Bone Shuffle
4. Dry Bone Shuffle
5. That Will Never Happen No More
6. Brownskin Mama Blues - Take 1
7. Brownskin Mama Blues - Take 2
8. Hard Road Blues
9. Hey Hey Daddy Blues
10. Sea Board Stomp
11. You Gonna Quit Me Blues
12. Steel Mill Blues
13. Southern Rag
14. He's In the Jailhouse Now
15. Wabash Rag
16. Doggin' Me Mama Blues
17. C C Pill Blues
18. Hot Potatoes
19. Southbound Rag
20. Pay Day Daddy Blues
21. Elzadie's Policy Blues

Disc C

1. Good-bye Mama Moan
2. Tootie Blues
3. That Lovin' I Crave
4. That Lonesome Rave
5. Terrible Murder Blues
6. Leavin' Gal Blues
7. No Dough Blues
8. Lead Hearted Blues
9. Let Your Love Come Down
10. Rumblin' and Ramblin' Boa Constrictor Blues
11. Bootleg Rum Dum Blues
12. Detroit Bound Blues
13. Beulah Land
14. Panther Squall Blues
15. Elzadie's Policy Blues
16. Pay Day Daddy Blues
17. Walkin' Across the Country
18. Search Warrant Blues
19. Ramblin' Mama Blues
20. New Style of Loving
21. Back Door Slam Blues
22. Notoriety Woman Blues
23. Cold Hearted Mama Blues
24. Low Down Loving Gal
25. Sweet Papa Low Down

Disc D

1. Poker Woman Blues
2. Doing a Stretch
3. Fightin' the Jug
4. Hookworm Blues
5. Slippery Rag
6. Hastings St.
7. Diddie Wah Diddie
8. Diddie Wah Diddie
9. Too Tight Blues No. 2
10. Chump Man Blues
11. Ice Man Blues
12. Police Dog Blues
13. I Was Afraid of That Part 2
14. Georgia Bound
15. Keep It Home
16. Keep It Home
17. Sweet Jivin' Mama
18. Lonesome Christmas Blues
19. Third Degree Blues

Disc E

1. Guitar Chimes
2. Blind Arthur's Breakdown
3. Baby Lou Blues
4. Cold Love Blues
5. Papa Charlie and Blind Blake Talk About It Part 1
6. Papa Charlie and Blind Blake Talk About It Part 2
7. Stingaree Man Blues
8. Itching Heel
9. You've Got What I Want
10. Cherry Hill Blues
11. Diddie Wah Diddie No. 2
12. Hard Pushin' Papa
13. What a Lowdown Place the Jailhouse Is
14. Ain't Gonna Do that No More
15. Playing Policy Blues
16. Righteous Blues
17. Fancy Tricks
18. Rope Stretchin' Blues Part 2
19. Rope Stretchin' Blues Part 1
20. Rope Stretchin' Blues Part 1
21. Champagne Charlie Is My Name
22. Depression's Gone from Me Blues