Thursday, April 30, 2009

Charlie Christian - First Master of the Electric Guitar (JSP, 2002)

What I find consistently interesting about the greatest musicians of all time is the fact that so many of them accomplished a great deal in very short life spans. We all know about the significance of 27 since it was the star-crossed age at which Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Robert Johnson departed from this world. But even more amazing are the accomplishments of Charlie Christian, who died from tuberculosis at 25. Although he was not the first musician to use the electric guitar, most jazz scholars agree that he was the first to employ it as a lead instrument instead of using it strictly for rhythmic accompaniment. Pretty much every jazz guitarist who followed in his footsteps - from Wes Montgomery to Pat Martino - owes something to his style.

The fact that Christian never officially recorded as a band leader has limited the number of recordings released under his name. For the longest time, my collection included only Solo Flight: The Genius of Charlie Christian and the jam session recording Live At Minton's Playhouse 1941. This four-CD box set practically doubles the amount of material available from the man who can truly be called First Master of the Electric Guitar. Other than the first-rate quality of the performances herein, the most impressive thing about this collection is that none of its tracks are previously released studio recordings. Literally everything comes from radio broadcasts, concert performances, and recordings at jam sessions. It's pretty incredible to imagine that jazz enthusiasts were bootlegging live material at such an early date, but that's essentially what the jam session tracks are. Considering that no one before had ever played guitar like Charlie Christian (his single note runs were truly revolutionary) and that his instrument was still a novelty at the time, the cognoscenti must have realized that they were witnessing the birth of a truly groundbreaking new sound.

Although the stories about his early life vary somewhat and have been subject to numerous revisions, there seems to be a consensus that legendary record industry giant John Hammond, Sr. became aware of the guitarist's talent after making a reputation for himself playing with bands in Oklahoma City. Hammond, in turn, connected Christian with swing clarinetist Benny Goodman, who ultimately recruited him for his band. While I hold Goodman to be somewhat indirectly responsible for the cringe-inducing swing revival of the mid to late 1990s, there is no denying that his performances with Christian really cook. Perhaps the fact that the guitarist wasn't content merely to strum along with the rhythm section and instead fancied improvisational leads helped bring out the best in the otherwise relatively square clarinetist. Indeed, the first disc of this set primarily consists of NBC Radio live broadcasts of Benny's sextet from 1939 which also included legendary vibraphone player Lionel Hampton and pianist Fletcher Henderson. Yes, there are multiple interpretations of "Flying Home," "Stardust," "Memories of You," and "AC/DC Current," but since this is jazz, they all feature their own unique improvisations, and it's interesting to note the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in each version. Tracks 4, 5, and 6 present Christian in a slightly different context, this time playing as part of a quartet (that also included bassist Oscar Pettiford) during a jam session in Minneapolis.

The second disc sandwiches Christian's appearances with the Benny Goodman Sextet, the Kansas City Six, and Count Basie's big band at John Hammond's celebrated From Spirituals to Swing concert between more first-rate NBC Radio broadcasts. The broadcasts present the guitarist with a slightly reformulated Goodman Sextet, with Johnny Guarnieri having replaced Fletcher Henderson on piano. Of particular note are the two versions of "Gone with What Wind" that showcase Christian's differing approaches to improvisational soloing. "Till Tom Special" features some especially fluid guitar work. The From Spirituals to Swing performances (which temporarily brought Henderson back into the fold on piano) are at their best on the sublime "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Honeysuckle Rose." The mind boggles at the Count Basie big band lineup that performs on the epic "Oh! Lady be Good" (clocking in at more than 10 minutes), a group that included legends Lester Young and Buddy Tate on saxophones, Christian on guitar, and Basie, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, and Albert Ammons all taking turns on piano. Even more amazing is the fact that these tracks were all recorded during a five month period between December 1939 and April 1940. Most musicians don't lay down this much good music in five years.

Disc C consists of material from 1940 and 1941 broadcasts from NBC, WNEW, and the Mutual Radio Network. All things considered, the sound quality is quite good on most tracks which capture Christian at the height of his powers while playing with Goodman's band. The driving "Seven Come Eleven" practically rocks, and it's difficult to choose a favorite among the three versions of the cleverly-titled "Six Appeal." "Gone with What Wind" (track 7) is a superb rendition of this oft-performed number that took place during the Democratic Campaign Rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I guess FDR was a Charlie Christian fan, and it's amusing to hear the announcer use the title of the song to poke fun at Republican opponent Wendell Wilkie. Tracks 8-10 find Goodman expanding the size of his outfit to good effect with the addition of Georgie Auld on tenor saxophone and Cootie Williams on trumpet. "Flying Home" (track 12) is a veritable supersession that includes no less than a dozen musicians, including Red Norvo on prominent xylophone. "Solo Flight (Chonk, Charlie, Chonk)" suffers only from its brevity. The final two tracks, "Flying Home" and "Good Enough to Keep (Air Mail Special)" find drummer Gene Krupa with the Goodman-led band, and you can easily hear his little percussion flourish toward the end of the former.

The concluding disc includes material from April, May, and June of 1941. The fact that Christian's instrumental prowess can make even the trite "Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider" worth your time is yet another testament to his artistry. His opening guitar work on "Song of the Islands" is absolutely gorgeous. Tracks 6-11, all recorded at jam sessions in Harlem (without Goodman's band), alone justify having this collection. "Topsy," " "Honeysuckle Rose (Up On Teddy's Hill)," and the two interpretations each of "I Got Rhythm" and
"Stomping at the Savoy" are swing on the verge of becoming bop. This isn't just great music; this is musicians making history, folks. The final three tracks find Christian back with Goodman and, with the exception of another fine take on "Solo Flight (Chonk, Charlie, Chonk)," sound a bit tame compared to the aforementioned jams.

Disc A - Broadcasts with the old Benny Goodman Sextet

1. Flying Home
2. Stardust
3. Flying Home
4. I Got Rhythm
5. Stardust
6. Tea for Two
7. Flying Home
8. Stardust
9. Memories of You
10. Rose Room
11. AC/DC Currrent
12. Flying Home
13. Soft Winds
14. Memories of You
15. Shivers
16. South of the Border
17. Seven Come Eleven (Roast Turkey Stomp)
18. AC/DC Current
19. AC/DC Current

Disc B - Broadcasts and "Spirituals to Swing" Concerts

1. Dinah
2. I Got Rhythm
3. Flying Home
4. Memories of You
5. Stomping at the Savoy
6. Honeysuckle Rose
7. Paging the Devil
8. Way Down in New Orleans
9. Good Morning Blues
10. Oh! Lady be Good
11. Pick a Rib
12. Till Tom Special
13. Gone with What Wind
14. Gone with What Wind
15. The Sheik of Araby
16. Soft Winds

Disc C - Broadcasts with the new Benny Goodman Sextet

1. The Sheik of Araby
2. Seven Comes Eleven
3. Six Appeal
4. Honeysuckle Rose
5. Six Appeal
6. AC/DC Current
7. Gone with What Wind
8. Benny's Bugle
9. Wholly Cats
10. Honeysuckle Rose
11. Wholly Cats
12. Flying Home
13. Gone with What Draft
14. Breakfast Feud
15. Gone with What Draft
16. Six Appeal
17. Solo Flight (Chonk, Charlie, Chonk)
18. Flying Home
19. Good Enough to Keep (Air Mail Special)

Disc D - Broadcasts and Jam Sessions

1. Wholly Cats
2. Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider
3. Breakfast Feud
4. Song of the Islands
5. Flying Home
6. Topsy (Swing to Bop)
7. Stomping at the Savoy
8. Honeysuckle Rose (Up on Teddy's Hill)
9. I Got Rhythm (Rhythm-a-Ning, Paging Dr. Christian, Down on Teddy's Hill)
10. I Got Rhythm (Guy's Got to Go)
11. Stomping at the Savoy (Lips Flips, On with Charlie Christian)
12. Benny's Bugle
13. Rose Room
14. Solo Flight (Chonk, Charlie, Chonk)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tim Buckley - Works in Progress (Rhino Handmade, 1999)

Damn, it's hard to believe that this came out ten years ago. I don't think I had even heard of Rhino's boutique subsidiary label when this CD was first issued until a friend of mine, who knew that I was a hardcore Tim Buckley fan, made me aware of this release. I first became a fan of this fantastic musician during my year as a study abroad student in England as the English often have better taste in American music than most Americans do. By the time I was done with college, I had acquired all of Buckley's albums. Despite his short lifespan, I wondered why such a relatively prolific artist did not have more unreleased material available. Sure, there were the excellent posthumous concert albums Dream Letter: Live in London 1968 and Live at the Troubadour 1969 that became available in the mid-1990s, but what about putting out some of his demos, outtakes, and alternate versions of songs from his studio releases?

My prayers were answered when Works in Progress became available. I could hardly wait until this disc arrived in the mail since Rhino Handmade releases are not available in stores. When it finally did show up in my mailbox, I turned off my phone and got in the proper mental state so I could devote my full attention to the enjoyment of this album. Keeping in mind that it consisted of, as the title indicates, works in progress - and not completed projects - I was, for the most part, extremely satisfied with my purchase.

For the most part, this collection consists of material recorded in 1968 that would eventually be polished and refined and appear on Happy/Sad, my favorite of Buckley's albums and arguably his best. If you're not familiar with this folk-jazz masterpiece, you need to track it down and listen to it right now. "Danang" and the three takes of "Ashbury Park" offer the listener an opportunity to hear how "Love from Room 109 at the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)" came into being. The first version of "Sing a Song for You" (track 2) features Lee Underwood's enchantingly mellow guitar work that is curiously absent from the released version that appears on Happy/Sad and here as track 6. The two embryonic versions of "Buzzin' Fly," probably my all-time favorite Tim Buckley song, are intriguing and demonstrate how he kept working this composition to ultimate perfection. "Song to the Siren" is yet another earlier version of the artist's oft-covered exercise in melancholia and bears great similarity to his performance in The Monkees epsidode "The Frodis Caper." "Happy Time" and "Chase the Blues Away" would both later find a home on Blue Afternoon (probably my second favorite Buckley album). These earlier recordings are both of high quality, althought the arrangements on the latter sound a bit cluttered. "Hi Lily, Hi Lo" is a rare example of Buckley doing material by a songwriter other than himself or Larry Beckett. Oddly enough, the original, with music by Bronislau Kaper and lyrics by Helen Deutsch, appeared in the 1953 film Lili, which may have been something he saw as a child. I always thought this song was just a bit too precious, both here and the similar version on Dream Letter: Live in London 1968, but even Buckley's lesser performances are better than most musicians at their best. "Wayfaring Stranger," an old folk song primarily associated with Burl Ives, also appears on Dream Letter, and both renditions are powerful and superb. "Dream Letter" (the song) is the same version that appears on Happy/Sad. As much as I like this piece, I don't understand why it and "Sing a Song for You" (take 8) are included on this release other than to serve as filler, even if it is filler of the highest order. Prior to the release of Works, "The Father Song" was a completely unknown compostion and had not appeared in any form anywhere else. Perhaps the rawest of the tracks that appear here, it is a mystery why Buckley did not develop this song further. Perhaps the possible subject matter - his allegedly strained relationship with his father or the fact that his own son Jeff had been born out of wedlock - was just too sensitive of a topic. Yes, the song is underdeveloped, but there is still an austere beauty to it. The CD closes with "The Fidler," which is actually an instrumental rough mix of the sublime "Phantasmagoria in Two" from Goodbye and Hello (probably my third favorite Buckley LP) and begs the question, "Isn't there any more unreleased material from the recording sessions for this album?"

The minor quibbles about tracks 6, 7, 8, and 14 aside, Works in Progress is an extremely enjoyable listening experience. The performances may, for the most part, be scraps and leftovers, but they are definitely gourmet scraps and leftovers that Tim Buckley fans will relish.

Note: If you have not already done so, check out Tim Buckley's fantastic 1968 concert recording, The Copenhagen Tapes, here. And be sure to do the same with Live at The Folklore Center, NYC - March 6, 1967 here.

1. Danang (takes 7 + 8 intercut)
2. Sing a Song for You (take 11)
3. Buzzin' Fly (take 3)
4. Song to the Siren (take 7)
5. Happy Time (take 14)
6. Sing a Song for You (take 8)
7. Chase the Blues Away (take 3)
8. Hi Lily, Hi Lo (take 7)
9. Buzzin' Fly (take 9)
10. Wayfaring Stranger (take 4)
11. Ashbury Park version 1 (take 8)
12. Ashbury Park version 2 (take 14)
13. Ashbury Park version 2 (take 25)
14. Dream Letter (takes 17-16 intercut)
15. The Father Song (take 3)
16. The Fiddler (rough mix)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Oud Artistry of John Berberian (Mainstream, 1965)

The equally magnificent follow-up to Expressions East, Oud Artistry of John Berberian consists of tracks recorded during the sessions that ultimately yielded material for both albums. The first LP was a hit having sold in excess of 50,000 copies, and Mainstream Records was eager to continue this success, although they changed their sales tactics somewhat. While the artwork on Expressions depicts a belly dancer (it was common for many records of this genre to exploit the cheesecake factor), the cover of Oud Artistry actually focuses on the musician, or more specifically the musician's instrument. As Ravi Shankar and his ubiquitous sitar were becoming more popular in the West, Mainstream was hoping the same phenomenon would occur with John Berberian and the oud, and that this, in turn, would lead to even greater record sales for the label.

Berberian and ensemble launch right into things with the propulsive opening track, "Azziza," which features some lightning runs on the oud and driving polyrhythms throughout the performance. "Bir-Demet Yasemen" has more of a stop-and-go beat and provides kanun player Jack Chalikian an opportunity to show off his chops. "Sevan 5/4" is an Armenian instrumental standard that was also recorded by Kaleidoscope as "Sefan" during the sessions for their eponymous third album (aka Incredible!). (Although not included on that LP, it appeared as a track on the Egyptian Candy retrospective from the early 1990s.) Despite the different arrangements, both versions compare favorably with each other. "Savgulum" is the highlight of the album's first side and one of the best all-around examples of belly dance music at its finest. Despite my inability to understand Bob Tashjian's vocals, the conspicuous emotional power of his singing needs no translation. Berberian lays down an absolutely scorching oud solo which is expertly complemented by Souren Baronian's wailing clarinet and more first-rate kanun work. "Yarus" has a gentle and introspective quality to it with more of a focus on the singer than the instrumentalists. "Sevasda" picks up where "Savgulum" leaves off. The interplay between Berberian's blazing oud leads and Chalikian's kanun playing is nothing short of stunning. I've been playing this one over and over as I write this entry. The intensity of "Sevasda" is nicely balanced by the mellow "Rast Taksim," a starkly beautiful solo oud improvisation that will echo in your brain for days. The concluding piece, "Rast Sazsemi," is reminiscent of the music heard in the courts of Ottoman nobility in the days of old.

Another astounding LP from the world's greatest living oud player.

1. Azziza
2. Bir-Demet Yasemen
3. Sevan 5/4
4. Savgulum
5. Yarus
6. Sevasda
7. Rast Taksim
8. Rast Sazsemi

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blues from the Western States 1927-1949 (Yazoo, 1972)

The title of this release is somewhat of a misnomer. By "Western States" the compilers do not mean California, Arizona, or Colorado. Instead, this LP collects the sides of musicians who hailed from Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana which, granted, were west of blues hotbeds such as the Mississippi Delta, Georgia, and the Eastern Piedmont. Geographic nitpicking aside, this is a fine prewar blues compilation that is up to Yazoo's typical high standards.

The idiosyncratic slide guitar playing and equally bizarre falsetto singing
of King Solomon Hill (nee Joe Holmes) is fully evident on "Down On My Bended Knee," recorded for Paramount in its last days. His work has been reissued on both Mississippi and Louisiana blues compilations since he evidently was born in the former state but spent most of his adult life in the latter. Regardless of his origins, Hill was extremely difficult to pigeonhole because of his unique performing style. On "Sunrise Blues," singer Will Day is backed by an unknown clarinetist and and an anonymous guitarist playing a variation of the "West Texas Blues" idiom. Willard "Ramblin'" Thomas plays in a somewhat meandering fashion on most of his recordings, and "Lock and Key Blues" is no exception. The origin of his style is unclear as he was originally from the Louisiana-Texas border region and, as his nickname indicates, had a propensity for traveling, thus exposing himself to a wide variety of musical influences throughout the country. In my estimation, his brother Jesse "Babyface" Thomas, often associated with Oklahoma, was the superior musician. Although he possessed a singing and playing style somewhat akin to Willard's, he seemed to favor finger-picking over the slide technique often utilized by his elder sibling. Both "No Good Woman" and "Blue Goose Blues" display his impressive thumb work, unconventional chording, and, as the liner notes indicate, a similarity to the performing characteristics of Eugene "Sonny Boy Nelson" Powell and Bo Carter. Despite dating from 1949, the two sides by Willie Lane sound as if they could have been recorded some 20 years earlier. Both "Howling Wolf Blues" and "Black Cat Rag" are charmingly slapdash, the former being a nice update of Funny Papa Smith's signature tune. New Orleans native Richard "Rabbit" Brown's "James Alley Blues" is the earliest recorded song on this album and my personal favorite. It boasts some exceptional bass string snapping (equalled only by Willie Brown's "Future Blues") and a verse ("I been giving you sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt, I'll give you sugar for sugar, let you get salt for salt, and if you can't get along with me, well it's your own fault") that was semi-appropriated by Dylan for "Down in the Flood." Research suggests that Brown was from the songster (black musicians born in the 1870s and 1880s) generation, that which immediately preceded the period when most prewar blues musicians were born, and was probably well into mid to late 40s by the time this song was recorded. Perhaps the most technically adept of all the musicians to appear on Blues from the Western States, Dennis "Little Hat" Jones displays a flamenco influence and a thumb-and-three-fingers picking technique according to the notes. Since he apparently spent much time in southern Texas, it is conceivable that he learned such skills from Mexican musicians who were familiar with Spanish guitar stylings. In addition to his own "Cherry Street Blues," "Little Hat Blues," and "Cross the Water Blues," Jones also provides extremely sympathetic instrumental accompaniment on Texas Alexander's "Double Crossing Blues." Little is known about Texan singer-guitarist Otis Harris, but his "You'll Like My Loving" has a surging rhythmic quality that is similar to the material of many Mississippi bluesmen. Shreveport, Louisiana's Oscar "Lone Wolf" Woods plays lap style slide guitar on the intriguingly-titled "Don't Sell It, Don't Give It Away" which, as the liners suggest, may bear a Western swing influence. Indeed, Woods seemed to have had an affinity for white music of his era as he also backed country singer (and future Louisiana governor) Jimmie Davis of "You Are My Sunshine" fame on a number of recordings made in the 1930s.

1. Down On My Bended Knee - King Solomon Hill
2. Sunrise Blues - Will Day
3. Lock and Key Blues - Ramblin' Thomas
4. No Good Woman Blues - Jesse "Babyface" Thomas
5. Howling Wolf Blues - Willie Lane
6. James Alley Blues - Richard "Rabbit" Brown
7. Cherry Street Blues - Little Hat Jones
8. You'll Like My Loving - Otis Harris
9. Don't Sell It, Don't Give It Away - Oscar Woods
10. Little Hat Blues - Little Hat Jones
11. Blue Goose Blues - Jesse "Babyface" Thomas
12. Black Cat Rag (unissued take) - Willie Lane
13. Double Crossing Blues - Texas Alexander
14. Cross the Water Blues - Little Hat Jones

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rock Me All Night Long - Aladdin Records 1945-1958 (EMI America, 1986)

This exemplary collection of rhythm & blues and proto-rock & roll songs does a nice job of showcasing the incredibly deep roster of Aladdin Records, an independent West Coast label notable for being among the first to document the emerging new sounds of post-World War II America. Unlike the earthier music that was emerging from Sun Studios in Memphis and other places in the South, this Los Angeles-based company featured artists who, for the most part, displayed a more sophisticated style that was influenced by jump blues, jazz, and big band music of the preceding years. That's not to imply that these selections don't rock - because they do - but there is just as much emphasis on the roll.

Things start off with Helen Humes' "Be-Baba-Leba," which sounds quite ahead of its time for 1945. Indeed, Big Joe Turner, another one-time Aladdin artist, was clearly influenced by this number when he recorded "Feelin' Happy" in 1950 as it also contains the "Oh well, oh well, I feel so fine today" refrain. This performance, in turn, would help inspire Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA." The oft-covered "Let the Good Times Roll" still sounds best in its original version by Shirley and Lee, which was recorded at Cosimo Matassa's studio in New Orleans, Aladdin's major outpost in the South. Yeah, you've heard this song hundreds of times before, but check out the definitive embryonic version of this early rock & roll standard. Their "Feel So Good" is its artistic equal and contains many of the same winning attributes. Peppermint Harris gave the label one of its early #1 R&B hits in 1951 with "I Got Loaded," distinguished by his smooth vocals and the sublime piano accompaniment.

Louis Jordan was already an established recording star by the time he signed with Aladdin and keeps up his penchant for humorous songs with the wonderfully-titled "Messy Bessy." While Peppermint Harris was getting loaded, Amos Milburn was imbibing "Bad Bad Whiskey." Maybe the booze wasn't good, but his understated piano and the beautiful complementary work of his guitarist are simply outstanding. "Chicken Shack Boogie" is another one of those songs that sounds ahead of its time for the year of its release (1947) and is just on the verge of being rock & roll. The drinking continues with The Five Keys' "I'm So High," which in my estimation is about as good as doo-wop gets. Remember, that in the vernacular of the time, "high" and "drunk" were synonymous.

Big "T" Tyler's "King Kong" is a fine novelty rock number with an infectious beat, rollicking piano, and mean honking sax. If Thurston Harris' "Little Bitty Pretty One" sounds familiar, it may be because you've heard the Jackson 5's version. As good of a cover as it is, it doesn't hold a candle to the original. Speaking of covers, his "Hey Baba Leba" picks up where Helen Humes left off 13 years earlier. Gene and Eunice, a couple in the studio and in real life, contribute with the Latin-tinged "Ko Ko Mo" and the weepy "This Is My Story." After having some success with Specialty in the early 1950s, Marvin and Johnny moved over to Aladdin and cut eight sides, with "Yak Yak" arguably their greatest.

1. Be-Baba-Leba - Helen Humes
2. Let the Good Times Roll - Shirley and Lee
3. I Got Loaded - Peppermint Harris
4. Messy Bessy - Louis Jordan
5. Bad Bad Whiskey - Amos Milburn
6. I'm So High - The Five Keys
7. King Kong - Big "T" Tyler
8. Little Bitty Pretty One - Thurston Harris
9. Ko Ko Mo - Gene and Eunice
10. Chicken Shack Boogie - Amos Milburn
11. Feel So Good - Shirley and Lee
12. Yak Yak - Marvin and Johnny
13. This Is My Story - Gene and Eunice
14. Hey Baba Leba (Be-Baba-Leba) - Thurston Harris

david alexander hess -- last house on the left ost (usa, 1972)

one of the most interesting (and, of course, disturbing) aspects of wes craven's "last house on the left" is the intermingling of some truly vile events on screen with gently-strummed folk-rock ballads on the soundtrack. even more interesting is that said ballads (and all other tracks) are performed by none other than actor david hess, who portrays the lead villian, krug (a character who makes his quasi-namesake freddy kreuger in director craven's "nightmare on elm street" look like a complete wuss [well, if we're talking one of the umpteen sequels, plenty of characters make kreuger seem like a wuss...but, as usual, i digress]).

anyway, the soundtrack flits through moods just as uncomfortably as the film does, from the aforementioned ballads, to hick-twang, to italian giallo-like synth-moans, and is very much worth your time. "now you're all alone", in particular, is profoundly haunting.

for further listening, david hess has a compilation of his work available on diggler entitled "climbing up the sunshine path", which i'd also recommend to '60s soft-rock fans (the bonus track here called "promised land" appears on that compilation as "hey hey he's a friend of mine").



01 intro/opening credits
02 little cows lookin' for some grass
03 wait for the rain
04 baddies' theme (instrumental)
05 mari's birthday surprise
06 water music/sadie & krug
07 phyllis spills her guts
08 now you're all alone
09 ada's chickens
10 the chase
11 daddy, put your coat of many colors on
12 mayhem montage
13 ice cream song
14 urban snatch
15 blow your brains out
16 etude for chainsaw/goodbye dick
17 aftermath/end credits
"last house on the left-overs":
18 daddy, put your coat of many colors on (vox mix)
19 new york times
20 promised land

1 [one] -- s/t [aka, "come"] (usa : grunt, 1972)

absolutely wonderful, sadly underrated album from jefferson airplane's grunt label (and, a search engine's worst nightmare; i made an effort several years ago to purchase a copy online, and gave up in frustration when my search results invariably turned up every single band in the history of the universe with "1" or "one" in their name [an exaggeration, of course, but still...]. ultimately, i ended up grabbing it from ezhevika fields [download link expired]).

i was going to make a sarcastic comment about accuracy (or, lack thereof) in wikipedia entries, since i had never known this album to be called "come" except for there. however, the very reliable website both sides now publications (a fantastic resource, incidentally; linked in the first paragraph) refers to it by that title as well, so your humble scribe needn't head down that foot-inserted-squarely-in-mouth path (he'll just relate it anecdotally, in the third person [and heavily digress, as is often the case]).

anyway. enjoy.


01 one of a kind
02 ii car raga
03 free rain
04 3 songs
05 old englishhh

[note: i've seen track two alternatively transcribed as "il car raga" (fonts make it hard to tell); bsn publications transcribes it as "ii car raga", so that's what i'm trusting.]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

John Berberian Concert - Sunday, April 19, 2009

For those of you who have been wondering why I've been remiss in my posting duties, I have a good excuse. I just got back from a long weekend in Massachusetts. My girlfriend and I were in Boston on Saturday and were the only visitors not in town to see or participate in the city's marathon. We did, however, have some wonderful seafood at Atlantic Fish. The real reason we went back east was to travel to Worcester the next day. When we got there on Sunday, we were the only visitors not in town to see the Dead concert. No, we were there to experience some far more interesting music: the legendary oud master John Berberian and Ensemble.

I was fortunate enough to find out about For You, Armenia, a concert organized by the Armenian Students' Association at College of the Holy Cross where he was slated to perform. Berberian and his group - consisting of Mal Barsamian on clarinet and guitar, Harry Bedrosian on keyboards, and Bruce Gigarjian on dumbeg (hand drum) - did not disappoint in the slightest.


I consider this man to be a giant in music, as important for the oud as Hendrix was for the electric guitar and Coltrane was for the saxophone, and I just could not pass up this opportunity to see him live. Berberian and his group played two sets of astounding traditional Armenian material, split between tranquil pieces and intense polyrhythmic numbers intended for belly dancing. And of course, John unleashed some jaw-dropping solos on his oud that sent chills up and down my spine.


I think they did about a dozen pieces in total. The concert also featured Ani and Fr. Untzag Nalbandian
, a talented daughter and father musical combo whose performances were more on the classical side of things, but still definitely entertaining. She helped me get tickets for the show, and for that I'm eternally grateful.


t's still sinking in that I actually got to see one of my musical idols perform live, in a very intimate 200-seat theater no less. The icing on the cake was that I got to interview him at his home for nearly two hours after the show. I'm happy to say that he's a gracious host and a truly nice guy. My real-life alter ego will be publishing our discussion in at least one publication in the near future.

Nothing to download here, but I thought some of you might want to see the photos.

I'm gonna do my darnedest to post some music tomorrow. Honest.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Gospel Classics 1927-1931 (Document, 1993)

This outstanding collection goes to show that early gospel music was an ingredient just as essential as blues in the recipe that eventually gave us rock & roll. In fact, the driving rhythms that are readily apparent on several of the tracks sound more like the familiar backbeats that would emerge in the 1950s than what most blues guitarists were playing in the 1920s and 1930s. Although most gospel musicians made great efforts to differentiate themselves from their blues-playing counterparts, the fact remains that they had as much influence on modern-day secular music as they did with that of a more spiritual nature.

Jessie May Hill sets the tone with seven flawless sides that feature an unknown guitarist and a fantastic piano player who is most likely the legendary Arizona Dranes. Hill simply belts out the lyrics with her powerful yet beautiful voice and sounds similar to Aretha Franklin had she been a gospel performer in this era. Do I really have to pick a favorite track here? I guess it would have to be the propulsive "The Crucifixion of Christ" with its distinctive refrain of "Hall
elu!" Somehow she makes the event in which Jesus got nailed to a cross sound like a joyous occasion. The equally potent "God Rode In the Windstorm" recounts the story of Jonah and the whale to good effect, while "Earth Is No Resting Place," "This World Is Not My Home," and "I'm Going to Lift Up a Standard for My King" maintain the same high standard. Even "Untitled" and "Sunshine In the Shadows," which were curiously unissued in their day, are guaranteed to get you in the spirit. The next four tracks were performed by an unknown group and were previously unreleased. Their mysterious nature only adds to their appeal, but again, it is puzzling why they were never made available to the record-buying public at the time. "Lonesome Valley," "My God Don't Like It," "On the Other Shore," and "There's a Man Going Round Taking Names" all feature an ominous-sounding male accompanied by two enthusiastic female singers in some incredibly heartfelt call-and-response vocals. There is also an extremely gifted anonymous slide guitarist on these sides, and it's a pity that his identity will be forever consigned to oblivion. This group's version of "There's a Man" may be the most apocalyptic take on this song that you've ever heard. Blind Willie Davis may be the most relatively well-known artist on this collection with his breathtaking rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" having previously appeared on Yazoo's The Voice of the Blues - Bottleneck Guitar Masterpieces. Despite his slide guitar virtuosity, some of Davis' performances are somewhat tainted by the poor sound quality of the original 78s. Still, if you can get past the frying-bacon-like surface noise, you will especially enjoy "Rock of Ages," "I Believe I'll Go Back Home," and the truly inspirational "Your Enemy Cannot Harm You." The more polished-sounding sides of Laura Henton bear a similarity to contemporary Dixieland jazz recordings. Indeed, her latter four titles - "Lord, You've Sure Been Good to Me," "I Can Tell the World About This," "Plenty Good Room in My Father's Kingdom," and the old gospel warhorse "Lord, I Just Can't Keep from Crying Sometimes" boast early jazz pianist and bandleader Bennie Moten as well as guitarist Eddie Durham. This set concludes with the boisterous large group, the Louisville Sanctified Singers, who provide charmingly raucous renditions of "God Give Me a Light" and "So Glad I'm Here."

Amen, brothers and sisters.

1. Earth Is No Resting Place - Jessie May Hill
2. The Crucifixion of Christ
- Jessie May Hill
3. God Rode In the Windstorm
- Jessie May Hill
4. Untitled
- Jessie May Hill
5. This World Is Not My Home
- Jessie May Hill
6. Sunshine In the Shadows
- Jessie May Hill
7. I'm Going to Lift Up a Standard for My King
- Jessie May Hill
8. Lonesome Valley - Unknown Artists
9. My God Don't Like It
- Unknown Artists
10. On the Other Shore
- Unknown Artists
11. There's a Man Going Round Taking Names
- Unknown Artists
12. When the Saints Go Marching In - Blind Willie Davis
13. Rock of Ages
- Blind Willie Davis
14. Your Enemy Cannot Harm You
- Blind Willie Davis
15. I've Got a Key to the Kingdom
- Blind Willie Davis
16. Trust In God and Do the Right
- Blind Willie Davis
17. I Believe I'll Go Back Home
- Blind Willie Davis
18. He's Coming Soon - Laura Henton
19. Heavenly Sunshine
- Laura Henton
20. Lord, You've Sure Been Good to Me
- Laura Henton
21. I Can Tell the World About This
- Laura Henton
22. Plenty Good Room In My Father's Kingdom
- Laura Henton
23. Lord, I Just Can't Keep from Crying Sometimes
- Laura Henton
24. God Give Me a Light - Louisville Sanctified Singers
25. So Glad I'm Here - Louisville Sanctified Singers

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ian and Sylvia - So Much for Dreaming (Vanguard, 1967)

I'm not going to lie. This is probably the weakest album the Canadian folk duo recorded for the Vanguard label. That said, I'm such a big fan of Ian and Sylvia that even their lesser recordings are still worth a listen as far as I'm concerned. My two favorite albums of theirs, Early Morning Rain and Northern Journey, were recently posted on other blogs, and since I want to avoid redundancy, I'm going to keep those LPs on my shelf and instead make So Much for Dreaming available in spite of its shortcomings.

Late 1966, the time of this LP's release, undoubtedly found Ian and Sylvia's audience dwindling. Many folkies by this time had traded in their acoustic instruments for amplified electric models and became hippie rock & rollers. It's clear that the couple wasn't quite sure what direction to follow at this point, and their confusion is reflected by this album's schizophrenic combination of traditional, baroque contemporary, and attempted folk-rock material. Although their efforts to branch out are commendable, their earlier LPs - which focus on folk songs, British Isles ballads, an original composition or two, and the occasional Dylan, Cash, or Lightfoot cover - were more effectively tailored to Ian and Sylvia's strengths. They were better interpreters than songwriters, with notable exceptions such as Sylvia's "You Were On My Mind," and the preponderance of self-penned performances unfortunately drags this album down a bit.

However, there are good things to be found here. The tastefully orchestrated cover of Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game" is my favorite version of this excellent song. I can still remember the impact it left on me while coming down from a psychedelic experience back in the mid-1990s. It is followed by the overwrought title track, which is balanced by the pleasant "Wild Geese," a piece with prominent autoharp that recalls the couple's earlier work. The overly-busy drums on "Child Apart" distract the listener from what is an otherwise solid performance. "Summer Wages" sounds like an autobiographical attempt by Ian at a latter-day Canadian folk song. Although it features some good electric guitar, "Hold Tight" is a pretty trivial composition from Sylvia. "Cutty Wren" gets back to what the duo does best: traditional folk songs. Great vocals on this one, too. "Si Les Bateaux" continues their tradition of occasionally including a French song on their LPs. Canada is a bilingual country, after all. "Catfish Blues" is a surprisingly outstanding version of an old blues standard. David Rae lays down some mean electric guitar, and Sylvia sings her heart out. "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies" is more traditional folk goodness and hearkens back to the sound of their previous releases. "January Morning" is probably the best of the folk-rock tracks but could use some backing vocals by Sylvia. Things conclude with another "morning" song, "Grey Morning," that is nothing special and seems to fade out too early. But maybe that's just as well.

Interesting at times, frustrating at others.

The superb Four Strong Winds is available here as an earlier post. Also, you can check out Ian and Sylvia's first foray into country rock, Great Speckled Bird, here.

1. Circle Game
2. So Much for Dreaming
3. Wild Geese
4. Child Apart
5. Summer Wages
6. Hold Tight
7. Cutty Wren
8. Si Les Bateaux
9. Catfish Blues
10. Came All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies
11. January Morning
12. Grey Morning

Drop Down Mama (Chess, 1970)

Drop Down Mama conclusively demonstrates that Chess Records' roster of blues singers was extremely deep and focuses on artists other than the "Big Four" of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Sonny Boy Williamson #2. Some researchers and embittered musicians have contended that Leonard Chess deliberately signed other performers to contracts and then withheld the release of their recordings so as not to undercut the success of his established hit-makers. The high quality of many unreleased sides that have appeared on numerous subsequent Chess anthologies over the years lends some support to that theory. However, it should be noted that the material on this compilation was recorded between 1949-1952, long before Wolf, Walter, and Sonny Boy had achieved star status.

Indeed, the variety of styles exhibited by the bluesmen featured on Drop Down Mama demonstrates that Chess Records was still searching for a formula that would bring them consistent sales. This willingness to experiment led the label to record several down-home musicians whose styles were deeply rooted in the prewar Delta blues tradition. Robert Johnson disciple Johnny Shines (performing under the moniker of "Shoe Shine Johnny") recorded only one record for Chess, and "So Glad I Found You" and "Joliet Blues" with Little Walter on harmonica and Big Crawford on bass bear a superficial resemblance to Muddy's early sides with the exception of Shines' distinctive keening vocals. Robert Nighthawk (nee McCollum) is an underacknowledged influence on Muddy Waters' slide guitar playing (check out his licks on "Anna Lee") in addition to providing the inspiration for B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel" with his "Sweet Black Angel." "Jackson Town Gal" and "Return Mail Blues" are two additional recordings that are lesser known but cut from the same cloth. Arthur "Big Boy" Spires is perhaps the most down-home of all the musicians profiled here, with a sound like that of an amplified prewar Delta blues band if there had been such a thing. He uses his coarse vocals to good effect on the chilling "One of These Days" and provides an updated version of Tommy Johnson's "Big Fat Mama" on "Murmur Low." The ancient David "Honey Boy" Edwards performs another rendition of an earlier composition, "Mama Don't Allow It" recorded by Papa Charlie Jackson in 1925, which is recast as "Drop Down Mama." Floyd Jones' "Playhouse," "You Can't Live Long," and "Dark Road" are all performed by four-piece groups that would become more typical for Chess Records as the label matured. These recordings still display a strong country blues influence, especially "Dark Road," which was clearly inspired by the work of the aforementioned Tommy Johnson and, of course, covered with great success by Canned Heat as "On the Road Again." The most technically adept of all the musicians to appear on this comp, Claude "Blue Smitty" Smith allegedly taught Muddy Waters, already an accomplished slide guitar player in the 1940s, how to finger the fretboard of his instrument. Smitty's lightning runs on "Crying" are simply breathtaking, and "Sad Story" possesses a sophistication that was rare for the label at that time.

If you are a fan of late 1940s-early 1950s Chicago blues, Drop Down Mama is an essential addition to your collection.

1. So Glad I Found You - Shoe Shine Johnny (Shines)
2. Sweet Black Angel - Robert Nighthawk
3. Anna Lee - Robert Nighthawk
4. One of These Days - Big Boy Spires
5. Drop Down Mama - Honey Boy Edwards
6. Playhouse - Floyd Jones
7. Murmur Low - Big Boy Spires
8. You Can't Live Long - Floyd Jones
9. Joliet Blues - Shoe Shine Johnny (Shines)
10. Jackson Town Gal - Robert Nighthawk
11. Return Mail Blues - Robert Nighthawk
12. Crying - Blue Smitty & His String Men
13. Sad Story
- Blue Smitty & His String Men
14. Dark Road - Floyd Jones

Monday, April 13, 2009

Siren & Kevin Coyne--Lets Do It (DJC Rec., 1994)

This semi-bootleg disc was oddly my introduction to the late, great Kevin Coyne. I was sold on a description at long-gone Chi-town record store "Quaker Goes Deaf" in 1996, which exclaimed: "1969-70 recordings from eclectic British musician/writer/artist, whose eccentric genius is manifested through his first band Siren, in the form of peculiar lyrics, some raw blues, poetic rants, and a completely unique voice. Possible comparisons to Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, and early Van Morrison." Well, the Syd-reference alone would have been enough, and even though this is seemingly an odd mishmash of studio outtakes, this disc was not a bad place to start.

When I interviewed Coyne later (and got to open up for him--pinch me!), he confirmed this "import" disc and others I had were bootlegs put out without his knowledge by old Siren bandmate Nick Cudworth, but he didn't seem to really mind, and he even signed them all for me-- along with a bunch of LPs (though not as many as a particular spazzed-out, mulleted superfan who must've literally had EVERYTHING the man ever recorded). Coyne was a singular talent of epic proportions beloved by famous "Johns" like Peel, Langford and Rotten, and his rich voice and old-school blues-with-his-thumb playing made him the real deal--and inventor of the genre "pub rock", which definitely inspired the punks. The man even turned down the replacement lead-singer slot for The Doors!!

This disc has some great stuff, ranging from the Siren boogie of "I'm So Happy" and the title track to solo Coyne pieces like the jagged, murderous blooz of "Black Minnie" (I asked him about this cut, andI guess he sorta appropriated it from an old bluesman)--and spoken creepy rants like "Rabbits" and "Television Life." All around, a must for the serious fan or beginner...

1. I'm So Happy
2. What is Your Name
3. I Drove Your Car
4. In My Room
5. Rabbits
6. Money
7. Liver
8. Blue Suit
9. Mr. President
10. Television Life
11. Influence of the Past
12. Black Minnie
13. Set Me Free
14. Anybody Know Me
15. John The Baptist
16. I'm Going
17. Sandy
18. Once
19. Married Woman
20. Let's Do It

Siren & Kevin Coyne -- Rabbits (DJC Rec., 1994)

Another Cudworth-produced boot of prime Coyne/Siren stuff. This one contains the first Siren singles on John Peel's Dandelion label, "Mandy Lee" and "Stride" as well as stabs at traditional numbers like "Whole Lotta Shaking," "Trouble in Mind," and "Bottle Up and Go." The whole Siren band appears on more numbers than the Let's Do It disc, so there is a full-rocking clatter on jams like "Hot Potato" and "Forked Lightning." Also, the more spare madness-tinged side of Coyne (he did work in a mental institution) is explored on tracks like "The Lunatic Laughs" and "John the Baptist." Again, essential stuff for the fan....

1. Stride
2. Mandy Lee
3. Marilyn
4. Why, Why, Why
5. Cheat Me
6.Whole Lotta Shaking
7. Flowering Cherry
8. Trouble in Mind
9. God Bless the Bride
10. Bottle Up and Go
11. Blues Before Sunrise
12. I Need You
13. John the Baptist
14. The Lunatic Laughs
15. Big Pistol Mama
16. Hot Potato
17. Start Walking
18. Let's Dance
19. Forked Lightning
20. Wait Until Dark

Friday, April 10, 2009

Emperors of the If! - A Compilation of Galactic Zoo Cassettes #1-4 (Drag City, 2000s)

If you're searching for truly obscure underground sounds from the 1990s, look no further. Emperors of the If! is the accompanying CD to The Galactic Zoo Dossier Compendium, which was a reprint of the publication's incredibly rare and out-of-print first four issues. The original printings each came with a cassette chock full of mind-expanding sounds exclusive to the magazine. Emperors is like a best-of of those compilations, culling the stand-out tracks and assembling them in a digital format for 21st-Century listeners to enjoy.

There is an emphasis on avant garde sounds and twisted instrumentals here. Some might think of this stuff as bad-trip music, others will consider it to be pure genius. Among the most compelling cuts, Two Man Psycho Jam's "Badalementi" presents us with some evil sounding drums, primitive synths, sound bites, and the sampled exhortations of a money-grubbing born-again evangelist yakking away in the background. "Minx" by Un sounds not unlike an early Velvet Underground drone performance. "Light Western Shining"'s swirling organs, backwards guitars, and hand drums contribute to a nice 1960s vibe on this piece by Teegarden Downs. The atmospheric "Hours Are Counted Most" by Glassine has a Soundtrack to More-era Pink Floyd feel, while Plastic Crimewave's otherworldly incantations over the ominous-sounding aural background on "Ghost Ships" is guaranteed to send chills up your spine. What exactly is the connection between Speak & Spell and Cher's former husband may not be immediately evident, but if you listen to Orgie Clown's "The Legend of Sonny Bono" enough times, you may become enlightened. The cacophonous "Mind Control Frenzy," courtesy of Inner Throne, sorta sounds like Big Brother & the Holding Company's take on "In the Hall of the Mountain King," but a 100 trips later. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Words fail me in trying to describe some of these other way, way out there performances, so you'll just have to listen for yourself.

The newest issue of The Galactic Zoo Dossier is set to come out this summer, probably in July. If you're not hip to this excellent music occasional, become enlightened here and there.

1. Intro
2. Badalementi - Two Man Psycho Jam
3. Minx - Un
4. Focus Upon Continuity - Magnog
5. Molten Idol - Pscientologists
6. Black Oblivion - Boom Tube M
7. Light Western Shining - Teegarden Downs
8. To the Human Race - The Chocolate Simulation
9. Lullabye - Fur Saxa
10. Hours Are Counted Most - Glassine
11. Ghost Ships - Plastic Crimewave
12. The Choo Choo Man - The Glass Heads
13. Homestead - Scumkid
14. The Mills of Empty Skulls - Utopia Carcrash
15. Nerve Index Machine - Coeur de Gaz
16. Are Adults Harmoniums? - Company of Big Beats
17. Very Small Strawberries 30 - Organic Sequencer
18. The Legend of Sonny Bono - Orgie Clown
19. The Envelope - Hagen
20. Mind Control Frenzy - The Inner Throne
21. Mega-Ripped Kit - Moleculad
22. G Is for Gesus - Semolina Freezetag
23. Christo - Hayes Homes
24. Hugh's Boogie - Hugh Williams
25. Zero Gravity Floral Panorama - Joy Poppers

Memphis Swamp Jam (Blue Thumb, 1969)

Released to commemorate the 1969 Memphis Blues Festival, Memphis Swamp Jam features 20 songs by the event's most notable performers. However, this is not a live album. Although the tracks date from the same period as the festival, they were recorded at Ardent Recording Studio and Royal Recording Studio in Memphis. Chris Strachwitz produced this two-LP set, and it marks one of the few occasions (if not only) when he worked in this capacity for a company other than his own Arhoolie Records. The likely idea behind this production was to release it on a label with greater distribution capability than Strachwitz's in an effort to give the musicians wider exposure to the record-buying public. 1969, of course, was a year well known for its numerous music festivals. The blues revival that had begun earlier in the decade was at its apex. With many in the counterculture embracing old blues singers as the spiritual fathers of particular rock & roll musicians, the timing seemed right for a release such as this.

Judging by the quality of the performances, the artists on Memphis Swamp Jam seemed to sense the importance of this project. Sure, you've probably heard different versions of these same songs on other releases by the featured musicians. However, they all seem to go that extra mile on this album perhaps aware that they were now recording for something other than small specialty labels. Bukka White starts things off in fine fashion with his characteristic slide playing on the resonator guitar and powerful gravelly singing voice on "Christmas Eve Blues," "Columbus, Miss. Blues," and "Sad Day Blues," with the last of these bearing a strong similarity to his version of "Po' Boy"
recorded at the infamous Parchman Farm penitentiary in 1939. The two numbers by the redoubtable Piano Red (nee William Lee Perryman), "Mobile Blues" and "Abel Street Stomp," show his style to be somewhere between that of Roosevelt Sykes and Little Brother Montgomery. In other words, he's good. Having been discovered only the year before and passing away in 1970, Nathan Beauregard is probably the most obscure performer on this album. Combining an archaic playing style with a modern electric guitar, he provides interesting takes on blues standards "Bumble Bee" (a rambling 10+ minute version) and "Spoonful." The legendary Sleepy John Estes chips in with "Need More Blues" and the JFK tribute "President Kennedy Stayed Away Too Long," while Tommy Garry does an excellent job of playing in the style of the bluesman's long-time harmonica player Hammie Nixon on both tracks. Even if Mississippi Fred McDowell seemed to do renditions of "Shake 'Em On Down" and "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" on just about every album he recorded, I can never get enough of his beautiful, one-of-a-kind bottleneck guitar playing. On these two tracks, in addition to "Fred's Blues," he is backed by the capable harmonica of Johnny Woods. The three Napoleon Strickland performances - "Back Water," "Other's Piece," and "Shimmy She Wobble" - are representative of the northern Mississippi hill country's drum-and-fife band tradition, the most African sounding of all proto-blues. Furry Lewis' "Judge Boushay Blues" is an update of his "Judge Harsh Blues" and features some nice slide guitar. "Walking Blues" is not a cover of the Robert Johnson classic but instead an amalgam of floating verses patched together in a compelling stream-of-consciousness fashion. If you consider yourself a blues aficionado but can't say that you've heard of R.L. Watson & Josiah Jones, there's good reason for that. These names are in fact pseudonyms for John Fahey and Bill Barth (guitarist for The Insect Trust), who were assistant producers for Memphis Swamp Jam. "Memphis Rag," "St. Louis Blues," and "Praying On the Old Camp Ground & Lonesome Blues" are all elegant instrumentals that are perhaps just a bit too rarefied to have been performed by genuine black blues guitarists. That's not to denigrate these selections, but their refined nature makes them stick out in comparison to the earthier, down-home styles displayed by the other musicians on this album.

1. Christmas Eve Blues - Booker "Bukka" White
2. Columbus, Miss. Blues - Booker "Bukka" White
3. Sad Day Blues - Booker "Bukka" White
4. Mobile Blues - Piano Red
5. Abel Street Stomp - Piano Red
6. Nathan's Bumble Bee Blues - Nathan Beauregard
7. 'Bout a Spoonful - Nathan Beauregard
8. Need More Blues - Sleepy John Estes
9. President Kennedy Stayed Away Too Long - Sleepy John Estes
10. Shake 'Em On Down - Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods
11. Fred's Blues - Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods
12. Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning - Fred McDowell & Johnny Woods
13. Back Water Rising - Napoleon Strickland
14. Other's Piece - Napoleon Strickland
15. Shimmy She Wobble - Napoleon Strickland
16. Judge Boushay Blues - Furry Lewis
17. Walking Blues - Furry Lewis
18. Memphis Rag - R.L. Watson & Josiah Jones
19. St. Louis Blues - R.L. Watson & Josiah Jones
20. Praying On the Old Camp Ground & Lonesome Blues - R.L. Watson & Josiah Jones

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Babylon (The Third Eye Bootleg, 1990s)

I can't really add much to the body of knowledge about Quicksilver Messenger Service other than telling you that they are in my Holy Trinity of favorite 1960s San Francisco bands which also includes the Charlatans and Moby Grape.
I'm also a huge fan of John Cipollina, who was one of the most extraordinary rock guitarists of all-time. Just listening to him tune his custom Gibson SG would even be interesting to me. The band's eponymous first LP and the live Happy Trails still sound as fresh to me when I first discovered Quicksilver about 20 years ago.


is a collection of demo and alternate versions of songs that would for the most part appear elsewhere in more polished form. Although the excellent two-CD Unreleased Quicksilver Messenger Service: Lost Gold and Silver features several of these same tracks with much better sound quality, there is still enough material here that doesn't seem to have been compiled elsewhere to interest completists such as myself. The performances probably date from early 1968, before the release of their first album, up to mid-1969 during the recording sessions of Shady Grove.


"Codine" seems to be a bit different and shorter in length than the version that appears on the soundtrack to Revolution and may be an alternate take.
"Your Time Will Come" and "Who Do You Love," which both feature the vocals of occasional member Jim Murray, appear on Lost Gold and Silver in much higher fidelity. "Too Long" is an earlier version of "It's Been Too Long," which opens the second side of Quickilver's first LP. As with the aforementioned two tracks, Murray handles the singing duties and blows a little harmonica as well. "Walkin' Blues" was cleaned up and placed on Lost Gold and Silver with better sound quality. Although "Dino's Song" and "Acapulco Gold & Silver" seem at first to be the same as what is on the aforementioned official comp, a closer listen will reveal some key differences. "Dino's Song" is a different mix that features an organ and different guitar bits from Cipollina, while the whistling and harpsichord in "Gold & Silver" are buried so low that they are nearly inaudible. "I Hear You Knockin'," possibly recorded during the sessions for the Revolution soundtrack, is identical to what appears on another fine two-CD Quicksilver anthology, Sons of Mercury. I've heard these demo or alternate versions of "Light Your Windows" and "The Fool" on other bootlegs with material from sessions for the band's first album. The fascinating splicing of out-takes of earlier attempts at "Calvary," which display a strong Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack influence, made its debut on Babylon and was also included on Lost Gold & Silver. The concluding four pieces are probably all demo versions of tracks from Shady Grove, although "Edward, The Mad Shirt Grinder," while still showcasing Nicky Hopkins' manic piano playing, does not have the organ overdubs heard on the album version.

While hardly a desert island disc, this will still be of interest to Quicksilver Messenger Service fanatics. Happy trails.

1. Codine
2. Your Time Will Come
3. Too Long
4. Who Do You Love
5. Walkin' Blues
6. Dino's Song
7. Acapulco Gold & Silver
8. Light Your Windows
9. I Hear You Knockin'
10. The Fool
11. Calvary
12. Edward, The Mad Shirt Grinder
13. Joseph's Coat
14. Holy Moly
15. Shady Grove

Monday, April 6, 2009

W.C. Fields...His Only Recording Plus 8 Songs by Mae West (Proscenium, early 1970s?)

This album was something that I found at an estate sale many, many years ago. When I was a kid, one of the local UHF television stations showed a lot of old movies, shorts, and serials from the 1930s and 1940s
. Mixed in with the ubiquitous adventures of the Three Stooges and Our Gang as well as Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. horror films, they broadcast several of W.C. Fields' movies such as Poppy, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. Why these particular motion pictures appealed to my 9-year old brain, I'm not sure, but there was just something cool about the old curmudgeon and the way he could despise people in such an amusing fashion. One Saturday afternoon, the channel showed another one of Fields' classics, My Little Chickadee, which co-starred the one and only Mae West. I felt weird about it, but she really had an impact on me. While the rest of my friends were busy lusting over Catherine Bach on The Dukes of Hazzard, I had a thing for the reigning female sex symbol of pre-World II America. Yeah, I was weird kid.

Fast forward about 15-20 years. After looking through stacks and stacks of mostly uninteresting 45s and LPs, the cover of this album caught my eye and brought back a flood of black-and-white memories. With the bulk purchase discount, I think I paid about ten cents for it. I was a little surprised to find out that such an album even existed, but a record collector friend of mine told me that the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s had rediscovered Fields and West and came to view them as anti-establishment heroes
. Consequently, record labels put out releases that compiled bits of Fields' misanthropically humorous lines and stories as well as West's singing performances that were featured in their respective movies. (West, of course, also recorded a few rock albums in the late 1960s, but that's another story).

...His Only Recording Plus 8 Songs by Mae West includes sides from the late 1940s, a few years after both entertainers had seen their careers in motion pictures pretty much come to an end. Despite their pairing on this release, Fields and West worked together only once, in My Little Chickadee. Whereas Fields and alcohol were practically inseparable, West abstained entirely and felt that his drinking made him too difficult to work with for another movie.

The two tracks by Fields were recorded during a 1946 session in Les Paul's studio and may have been his last performance of any type as he died shortly afterwards. Fields' impending demise notwithstanding, he still sounds to be in typical form on each recording, which both deal with one of his favorite subjects: the consumption of alcohol. With its piano accompaniment, "The Temperance Lecture" is reminiscent of some of the more humorous tracks on the legendary Poetry for the Beat Generation album by Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen. A section of this particular piece, unbelievably enough, is sampled on one of the all-time freakiest garage-psych records, "Flight Reaction" by the Calico Wall! I'm not kidding. Just listen to the part (from approximately 1:28 to 1:55) where Fields says,

The first instance of federal authority in this country was when George Washington put down The Whiskey Rebellion in Penn-syl-van-i-ay. I imagine George put down a little of the vile stuff, too. There was a fella that really lived. What a guy, what a man. Now, before I go any further, please do not labor under the misconception...

Then, listen to "Flight Reaction." You'll notice that from about 1:13 to 1:41 it's the same bit of the monologue. Either that, or someone in the Calico Wall could do a dead-on W.C. Fields impersonation. Does anybody out there know the story behind this?

No, "The Day I Drank a Glass of Water" was not sampled in "I'm a Living Sickness," but in a very roundabout fashion it addresses the danger that Fields saw in imbibing this particular liquid. (Remember, this is the man who once quipped, "I can't stand water because of the things fish do in it.") Accompanied by male and female voice actors and what may be the guitar picking of Les Paul himself, "Glass of Water" sounds similar to some of the skits that Fields performed on radio during the latter part of his career. Humor does not always translate well over time, and Fields certainly was nothing like modern-day comedians. Nevertheless, these two performances can at least be appreciated as bizarre curios if nothing else.

The Mae West tracks are more than just novelty numbers as they are musically compelling in their own right. Like Fields, West began her career in vaudeville and had already achieved fame long before she appeared in her first movie role. Her sexual frankness made her extremely controversial in an age when entertainers could be jailed for violating morality laws. Indeed, she was given a ten-day sentence in 1927 because Sex - a play that she wrote, produced, and directed - was deemed to be responsible for corrupting the morals of youth. The idiots who put Madonna up on pedestal would be wise to learn a little bit about West, a woman who was much more ahead of her time and who operated in an era when being sexually explicit carried far greater risks than it does today. Most of her songs on this LP seem to date from 1947 when she recorded several sides for the Mezzotone label. Because of her vaudeville background, West was no stranger to jazz and black American culture in general. Having previously performed with notables such as Duke Ellington, she is able to pull off these numbers quite convincingly. There is no information on the backing musicians, but whoever the boogie woogie pianist and organ player are, they provide her bawdy and double entendre-laden lyrics with extremely capable accompaniment. "Frankie & Johnny" is a rendition of an old standard as only West can do. "My Man Friday" casually details the various men she has for different days of the week. It sounds like Mae is up to a little naughty reading in "Page 54." In "That's All Brother," she reminds the listener that, "It's not what I wear but the way that I wear it. It's not what I share but the way that I share it." "Pardon Me for Loving and Running" neatly summarizes her love-him-and-leave-him modus operandi. The suggestive "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" and "Slow Down" respectively deal with one man who procrastinates on his love-making responsibilities and another who moves too quickly. "Come Up and See Me Sometime," of course, is one of West's most famous lines and a fitting theme song.

At first, Fields and West's material may seem very tame by today's standards. On the surface, it is. But if you scratch away that surface and actually use your imagination instead of having the message spoon-fed to you, it is possible to appreciate the clever ways in which these entertainers deal with previously taboo subject matter that we take for granted today.

Marko Melkon (Traditional Crossroads, 1996)

Oud player "Marko" Melkon Alemsherian (1895-1963) was one of the most important early figures of Middle Eastern and belly dance music in the United States. An ethnic Armenian born in Izmir (formerly Smyrna), Turkey, he settled in America in 1921 after having spent time in Greece to avoid serving in the Ottoman army. In many ways, Marko was typical of the great Anatolian musicians of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries in that although he was Armenian, most of his songs' lyrics were sung in Turkish. Since he was originally from Izmir, which at one time had a large Greek population, and had spent time in Greece as a young man, he was also comfortable singing in this language as well. Such versatility demonstrates the mixed heritage of Middle Eastern/belly dance music. The genre is not the sole product of any one group from the old Ottoman Empire but instead a combination of musical styles of both the dominant Turks as well as that of minorities such as Armenians and Greeks who lived in Anatolia. This is why belly dance music can be found throughout the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean areas. Any region ruled by the Ottoman Turks tended to reflect their cultural influence filtered through the indigenous population's own musical folkways.

The source material for practically every track on this wonderful anthology consists of the original 78s on the Metropolitan, Kaliphon, Me-Re, and Balkan labels from the 1940s that were painstakingly cleaned up and remastered. As with the other the Traditional Crossroads release (Istanbul 1925) posted on this blog, the sound quality is nothing short of excellent considering the age of the recordings. My only quibble is the lack of recording dates. The booklet notes include information on the supporting musicians for each track as well as translations of the original Turkish lyrics. But why is there nothing about when these performances were recorded? Anyway, in addition to playing the oud, Marko seems to handle all of the singing duties and is provided with instrumental accompaniment from Kanuni Garbis Bakirgian on kanun (harp), anonymous percussionists on dumbeg (hand drum), and either Nick Doneff, Nishan Sedefian, or A. Zervas on violin. As noted in the album's notes (written by daughter Rose), Marko took great pride in his role as entertainer and considered his music to be best suited for dancing as opposed to that of more technically adept oud virtuosos such as Udi Hrant Kenkulian. Consequently, he was one of the most popular acts to appear at Egyptian Gardens, Port Said, and other Middle Eastern nightclubs on New York City's 8th Avenue during the 1940s and 1950s.


Most of the tracks feature vocals with an oud-violin-dumbeg lineup including personal favorites "Oglan Oglan" (a hit in the ethnic music market), "O Asil Gozleri," and "Bahcelerde," as well as the beautiful "Aman Arap Kizi" and "Mecnum Oldum Bir Guzele" (both aided by the presence of Bakirgian's kanun). Another excellent piece worth noting is "Capkin Capkin," which at times sounds like the Greek rebetika standard "Misirlou." "Hicaz Taksim" and "Huzzam Taksim" are mesmerizing solo oud improvisations which demonstrate that Marko was being modest about his technical ability on the instrument. One could enjoy his music not only by dancing to it, but by just listening to it as well. Other superb instrumental performances include the belly dance piece "Cifte Telli" and the spellbinding "Hanim Oyunu." The closing track may be the least authentic but perhaps the most interesting to appear on this compilation. Recorded in the late 1950s under the direction of trumpeter and producer Roger Mozian, the ground-breaking "Asia Minor" fuses Middle Eastern music and American jazz to great effect. Although it was previously unreleased, it is evidently similar in style to the material that appeared on Marko's only LP to have been released during his lifetime, Hi-Fi in Asia Minor, which was also produced by the aforementioned Mozian. Does anybody out there have this album? I'd really, really like to hear it.

1. Yandim Yandim
2. Oglan Oglan
3. Allan Gel
4. Ekinim Harmonim Yok
5. Hicaz Taksim
6. O Asil Gozleri
7. Gideceksin Gurbet Ele
8. Cifte Telli
9. Aman Arap Kizi
10. Oglan Yalanlar Duzme
11. Nazli Kadin
12. Capkin Capkin
13. Hanim Oyunu
14. Huzzam Taksim
15. Mecnun Oldum Bir Guzele
16. Bahcelerde Ben Gezerim
17. Puskullu Bela
18. Kadifeden Kesesi
19. Bu Gece Camlarda Kalsak
20. Seviyorum Ayip Midir?
21. Asia Minor