Friday, May 29, 2009

Peetie Wheatstraw - Volume 1 {1930-1932} (Document, 1994)

"I did more for you, then you understand / You can tell by the bullet holes / Mama now, here in my hands / Ev'ry night I gotta reap-a / Just what, what you sow"

". . . even more than sixty years after his death practically nothing substantive is known about him or his life, despite his ambitious recording schedule and tremendous popularity. For someone cultivating the legend of a deal with the devil, Wheatstraw's death was eerily appropriate -- celebrating his 39th birthday, Wheatstraw and some friends decided to drive to the local market to pick up some liquor, and on their way out they tried to beat a railroad train that was coming down the tracks at full speed. Needless to say, they didn't make it." - Allmusic

"Highly" recommended indeed!

"This is Peetie Wheatstraw / People wanna know where do I prowl / Sometimes I prowl a far distant land / Sometimes I prowl on the rising clouds"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Roza Eskenazi - Rembetissa (Rounder Records, 1996)

This is a "highly" recommended piece of Rebetiko that I really really dig. Great vocals with what I understand to be grand lyrics regarding sadness, partying, death, hashish, et al. Somethymes she seems to be crying when she sings . . .

Friday, May 22, 2009

Buck D.D. Black - Mississippi Bluze Mass (Greene Bottle, 1972)

I can't really tell you too much about this album or even Buck D.D. Black for that matter. Mississippi Bluze Mass has been classified as southern soul as well as funk, and I think that it occupies a space somewhere in between those two genres. As for Black, just about the only thing I could find out about him is that his true identity is Dave Dixon (thus the "D.D.") and that he has some sort of New Orleans connection with his name having appeared as a songwriter and/or backing vocalist on LPs such as Dr. John's Gris-Gris and Jessie Hill's Naturally.

This is a fine record, although I was expecting something a little more tripped out based on the artwork and song titles such as "Miss Veegalopps." There are no guitar freakouts to be found here or anything that will cause you to mistake this for a lost Funkadelic album. But any disappointment that I may have had was tempered by the minuscule price I paid for this combined with the fact that the music it contains is excellent on its own terms. This is a horn-intensive album that features a flawless rhythm section and Black's solid vocals and keyboards. "Love Is All" contains some socially-conscious lyrics typical for the time, while the aforementioned "Miss Veegalopps" (who's "a real humdinger, a real righteous swinger") features some sweet harmonica. "Only a Fool" is a morose, jazz-influenced number that showcases Black's singing at its finest. "You No Longer Care for Me" sounds like something Swamp Dogg could have done, and "If I Had You" demonstrates how well the horn and rhythm sections mesh together. "Stuff I Uze" is one of several songs where he mentions "Mississippi green," but whether this is a reefer reference or not, I just don't know. Is that sound Black makes supposed to be the simulation of him taking a hit from a joint? Anyway, this song has a great groove. "Something I Never Had" is pretty much in the same bag as "Only a Fool," and "You Ain't Smart" is a nice put-down song. "Back Home to You" features more of Black's smooth vocals and some nice piano. The closing track, "That's Why I Love You," is the album's strongest cut in spite of the unimaginative title. The band is in great form, and one of the backing vocalists lays down some good contributions.

I've seen Mississippi Bluze Mass described as a concept album. Indeed, Black's notes state, "Hencetoratherforthright, the Black Kross conception was the chief property of the original vision which presented this idea; the individual players were assembled through the direction of the vision invisioned (sic). The harmonic bind of souls can best be determined by the unified expression of the transcribed effort contexted herein." After listening to this LP several times, I'm still not sure what the concept is. To be honest, I'm not even sure I understand the significance of the title. I guess I'll just have to keep playing it, and maybe one day I'll figure everything out.

1. Love Is All
2. Miss Veegalopps
3. Only a Fool
4. You No Longer Care for Me
5. If I Had You
6. Stuff I Uze
7. Something I Never Had
8. You Ain't Smart
9. Back Home to You
10. That's Why I Love You

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bo Diddley (Checker, 1962)

I get the feeling that this is one of those albums that just about every American garage and British beat musician had in their record collection at one point or another in the early to mid-1960s. Even though Bo Diddley was never the hit-maker that label-mate Chuck Berry was, in many ways he had a more profound musical influence. A lot of white rock & rollers obviously learned a thing or two from this LP whether it was doing a cover version of one of the songs or just taking notes on what a proper rock & roll band should sound like.

Things start off with "I Can Tell," which makes it abundantly clear that Bo's woman ain't fooling him one bit. This song is simultaneously tough, menacing, and wise. The satirical "Mr. Kruschev" finds Diddley at his most patriotic and pledging his support for JFK. "Diddling" is one of several scorching instrumentals to be found on this album in addition to "Give Me a Break," "Bo's Bounce," the proto-psychedelic "Sad Sack" (hot!), and "Bo's Twist." Nobody was doing the things that Diddley was doing on the guitar at this point in musical history, and I mean nobody. "Please Mr. Engineer" is one of those weird story songs where he would assume the identity of multiple characters and use various, often humorous, voices. This time, the plot revolves around the exploits of a hobo riding the rails which is musically backed by some incredible train effects from the man with the square guitar. "Who May Your Lover Be" sounds like it might have been inspired by Howlin' Wolf's "Moanin' at Midnight," but interpreted in unique Diddley fashion. "You Can't Judge a Book By Looking at the Cover," of course, was the big single off this album and covered by too many bands to mention. If you haven't previously heard some version of this song, you must have been living under a rock in Papua New Guinea for the last several decades. "Babes in the Woods" is a bizarre adaptation of the similarly-named ballad and children's tale. Bo acknowledges the then-current "Twist" craze by updating the old blues song "Mama Don't Allow" and recasting it as "Mama Don't Allow No Twistin'." "You All Green" is a rockin' bad man ballad full of ridiculous boasts (like "a rattlesnake bit me, then he crawled off and died") and featuring some impressive wailing harp by an uncredited harmonicist.

As is the case with all vintage Bo Diddley, this is essential. Get his 1961 album, Bo Diddley Is a Lover, here and his 1966 album, The Originator, here.

1. I Can Tell
2. Mr. Kruschev
3. Diddling
4. Give Me a Break
5. Bo's Bounce
6. Please Mr. Engineer
7. Who May Your Lover Be
8. You Can't Judge a Book By Looking at the Cover
9. Babes in the Woods
10. Sad Sack
11. Mama Don't Allow No Twistin'
12. You All Green
13. Bo's Twist

Byzantine Secular Classical Music Vol. I - The Masterpieces of Ancient Pagan Music (Orata, 1990s?)

If I had to choose one word to describe the music on this three-CD box set, it would be "otherworldly." Really, this stuff is like nothing you've heard before. Those with a taste for incredibly strange music should like this quite a bit. The English translation of the booklet notes is not the best, so I'm not sure that I'm passing on the correct information about the history behind these compositions. Nonetheless, I'll try to summarize my understanding of the music the best that I can.

The Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, Empire was in existence from the 4th to the 15th Centuries A.D., and its territories included southeastern Europe, north Africa, Anatolia, and several provinces in what is now the Middle East. It prospered as the Western Roman Empire declined and collapsed. Its capital, Constantinople, flourished as cities in the West decayed and most of Europe descended into barbarism and chaos. Although the Byzantine Empire had a strong Greco-Roman foundation, it was also a sprawling multi-ethnic political entity whose diverse citizenry greatly influenced its culture. Despite the empire's Christian religious identity, the writer of the booklet notes contends that paganism remained strong in certain communities until the 10th Century. Additionally, the Byzantines inherited a musical legacy and tablature system from the ancient Greeks, and some of the selections on these discs were composed not just hundreds of years ago, but more than 2000 years in the past. As a result, the subtitle of these recordings - The Masterpieces of Pagan Music - reflects the fact that pre-Christian music remained popular long after the monotheistic faith became the official state religion. These compositions provide further evidence that societies do not become culturally Christian overnight but instead slowly evolve over time, all the while maintaining some semblance of their heathen roots.

These performances sound like they consist of equal parts ancient Greek music (e.g. the lyre playing that accompanied the readings of epic poetry such as The Iliad), early European classical music, Christian chants, and Middle Eastern music. Apparently, many of the compositions were found preserved in manuscripts stored away in old monasteries. Christodoulos Halaris, the brains behind this project, worked on interpreting the Byzantine musical notation system and assembling the proper instrumentalists to record this material. Great care was taken in selecting authentic instruments that would have been used by the musicians who originally performed this material centuries ago. Such instruments include Byzantine lutes (similar to ouds), Byzantine psalters (harps similar to kanuns), tambouras, fandouroses, kemanes, lyras, and Byzantine violas, which, in some cases, resemble their descendants that later became popular with Western musicians. Many of the stringed instruments are played with bows, and one can also hear unidentified woodwinds as well as chanted, nonsensical vocals on some of the tracks. Of additional interest is the fact that the names of several tracks indicate a non-Byzantine influence or origin. For example: "Voulgarikon" (i.e. "Bulgarian") is a work done in the style of the Bulgars; "Persikon Yeleyelei" literally means "Persian Song"; and "Frankikon" translates to "Of the Franks."

This music is extremely mellow and best enjoyed by just letting it wash over you. I can't really describe it any further than I already have. If you're looking to listen to something that is truly unique and a great example of East meeting West, look no further.

Disc 1

1. Lampadarios
2. O Pani Oraios
3. The Viola

Disc 2

1. Teretism
2. Horos
3. Voulgarikon
4. Persikon Yeleyelei

Disc 3

1. Vassileos
2. O Anyfantis
3. The Orphan
4. Frankikon

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Arab Music (Lyrichord, 1970s?)

This one is a lot different than most of my earlier posts of Middle Eastern and belly dance music. Whereas the other albums have primarily been recorded in America by musicians showing a strong Armenian and Turkish influence, the material on Arab Music sounds like it's more traditional and meant for native consumption as opposed to something intended to be enjoyed at a nightclub. Although the liner notes do a good job of providing translations of the lyrics and explaining technical details of the music (as well as identifying it as Egyptian), they don't provide any information about the musicians themselves. This is unfortunate since there are many first-rate performances to be found on this LP.

The first four tracks are identified as "Folk Songs" and feature the Arabic vocals of an unidentified female singer and, at times, a backing chorus. The musicians play instruments such as the oud, kanun, argul (double clarinet), tabl (drums), nai (reed pipe), rebab (violin), and tambourine. To my ears, these performances sound like less-polished and more organic versions of orchestrated Arab pop music from the 1960s and 1970s. While some of that stuff can come off as very overwrought to the untrained ear, these pieces sound more genuine in their delivery, especially on "Ya Saide" and "Asuit." The remaining material consists of instrumentals and sound similar to the improvisational taxims associated with Armenian and Turkish musicians. The two examples of Samaie, a distinct form of Arabic music composition in four parts, are simply mesmerising. "Samaie Agam" showcases the delicate touch of the kanunist in a solo performance, while "Samaie Thakiel Bayaty" adds the deft string-picking of the oudist to the mix. "Bayaty Mode Variation" is a medley of seven shorter works played on the kanun, with the tabl appearing toward the conclusion. Originally transcribed more than 200 years ago, "Bayaty for the Nai and Kanun" is an atmospheric piece typical of Arabic shepherds' music from that time. You can almost hear the sheep and howling desert wind in the background. Same goes for "Bayaty for the Oud, Kanun, and Nai," although the oud adds even more depth to this particular performance.

Although belly dance aficionados may notice the absence of the driving rhythms characteristic of that particular genre, this is still a great album that demonstrates the diversity of music from the Middle East. The instrumental performances especially are great for chilling out.

Folk Songs

1. Ya Saide (Night)
2. Yallet Baladna (The Night in Our Village)
3. Asuit
4. Auminaity Ashufeak Ya-alby

Instrumental Music

5. Samaie Agam
6. Samaie Thakiel Bayaty
7. Bayaty Mode Variation (Story of Love)
8. Bayaty for the Nai and Kanun
9. Bayaty for the Oud, Kanun, and Nai

Piano Blues - Vol. 1: The Twenties (1923-1930) (Story of Blues, 1990s)

Back when I started seriously collecting LPs and CDs of prewar blues recordings about 20 years ago, Yazoo and Document quickly became my favorite labels because of their variety, thoroughness, and excellent liner or booklet notes. I also became aware of other similar labels (usually imports) that seemed to be a bit low-budget in comparison but still featured the works of musicians that I wanted to add to my collection. Story of Blues, who I think is now defunct, was one such example, and their titles were often to be found in the cut-out bins at my favorite music stores. Later on, a 78 collector told me that the company came into existence after the divorce of Johnny Parth, the founder of Document Records. His ex-wife, Evelyn, apparently acquired numerous items from his collection as part of their settlement. It was these 78s (or dubs of 78s from other collectors) that became the source material for the Story of Blues catalogue. If you've ever wondered why the booklet for each release from this label mentions "By Kind Permission: Document Records, Vienna (Prod. Johnny Parth)," now you know. I'm not sure if the divorce was amicable or not, so the acknowledgement may be sincere or it may be a sarcastic joke from a real bitch. It's hard to tell.

For every Leroy Carr or Roosevelt Sykes, there were dozens of musicians like these who are featured on this disc, lesser-known blues piano players who recorded a few sides before fading away into obscurity. The first three titles are driving instrumentals, including "The Rocks," which displays the strong right hand of Clay Custer (a possible alias for Geroge W. Thomas, Jr.), and the jazz-tinged "Deep Sea Blues" and "Misery Blues" by Q. Roscoe Snowden. Clarence T. Walker is the pianist on L.C. Prigett's three performances. The latter's singing style and the songs' subject matter suggest a possible vaudeville background, especially on "When I Say Ta-Ta," where he is joined by his wife Martha in a vocal duet. An unknown piano-guitar duo backs Willie Johnson on his two sides. While the recording location of Indianapolis indicates the possibility of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell as the accompanists, the musicians featured on "Willie's Weary Blues" and " "Blue Buddies Blues" don't seem to be entertainers of quite the same high caliber. Dating from 1928, "Throw Me Down" is a previously unreleased test pressing by an unknown artist whom some have surmised to be Skip James. I have my doubts. Although the musician does feature a voice similar to James' eerie falsetto, his playing style seems to be quite different than what was recorded for Paramount in 1931. Granted, a performer's technique can change over a three-year period, but just because this could be a younger Skip doesn't make it so. Jack Ranger's three sides again find an anonymous piano-guitar duo backing a blues singer who are collectively at their best on "T.P. Window Blues." Nothing is known about Blind Clyde Church or his fine recordings other than that they were recorded in Memphis. "How I Feel My Love" and "I'll Be Mean to You" feature a pianist who may be St. Louis bluesman Henry Brown and the male-female vocal sparrings of George Allison and Willie White. Piano Blues Vol. 1 concludes with two sides by Jesse Clayton, who is backed by an unknown piano player and a guitarist whose slide work sounds a lot like Tampa Red's. "Station House" contains numerous Chicago references, while "Neckbone Blues" warns of the dangers from overindulgence in this particular culinary delight.

1. The Rocks - Clay Custer
2. Deep Sea Blues - Q. Roscoe Snowdon
3. Misery Blues - Q. Roscoe Snowdon
4. Sure As You Take a Woman from Somebody Else - L.C. Prigett
5. When I Say Ta-Ta, It Means Good-bye - L.C. Prigett
6. Frogtown Blues - L.C. Prigett
7. Willie's Weary Blues - Willie Jones
8. Blue Buddies Blues - Willie Jones
9. Throw Me Down - Unknown
10. Thieving Blues - Jack Ranger
11. T.P. Window Blues - Jack Ranger
12. Lonesome Grave Blues - Jack Ranger
13. Number Nine Blues - Blind Clyde Church
14. Pneumatic Blues - Blind Clyde Church
15. How I Feel My Love - George Allison and Willie White
16. I'll be Mean to You Blues - George Allison and Willie White
17. Station House Blues - Jesse Clayton
18. Neckbone Blues - Jesse Clayton

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shirley Collins - Sweet England (Topic 1959; 1999)

Sweet England was Shirley Collins' first commercial album, recorded in 1958 when she was professionally and personally involved with noted folklorist Alan Lomax. Originally released on Decca subsidiary Argo in the UK and by Folkways stateside, this LP was initially not well-received by the British folk revival crowd, probably on account of her utilization of the banjo, an instrument more associated with Appalachian music from America. Even at this early stage in her career, however, Collins was committed to experimenting with new formats in which to present what was often centuries-old material. It would just take awhile for others to catch up with and appreciate her innovations.

Without sister and fellow musician Dolly in tow, Sweet England is Shirley's most sparsely produced record. In addition to her gorgeous voice, the performances feature either Collins or John Hasted on banjo with the occasional guitar accompaniment of Ralph Rinzler or Guy Carawan as well. The title track, "Hares on the Mountain," "The Tailor and the Mouse," "Blackbirds and Thrushes," and "A Keeper Went Hunting" were originally collected by Cecil Sharp, who is widely considered to be the founding father of the British folk revival. "Hori-Horo" is an old Gaelic song Collins learned indirectly from a New Zealand soldier, while "The Bonny Irish Boy" is a nod to her own Irish ancestry. "The Lady and the Swine" originally appeared in a collection of nursery rhymes, and its origins are lost in the mists of time. "Turpin Hero" belongs to the large family of highwayman ballads, songs that commemorated the exploits of rogues who had captured the public's imagination during the 1700s. "The Cuckoo," "Omie Wise," and "Pretty Saro" are examples of British Isles ballads that had crossed the ocean to Appalachia and then returned to the land from whence they came. "The Bonny Labouring Boy" celebrates the archetypal English farm worker. The lyrics of "Cherry Tree" reveal it to be a Christmas carol with Joseph and Mary the main characters of its lyrics. "Sweet William" relates the tale of a sailor boy, and a variant, "A Sailor's Life" was recorded by Fairport Convention for the landmark Unhalfbricking album. Shirley was one of many folk singers to do a rendition of the well-known English-Irish piece "Polly Vaughn," although her version here may very well be the finest. Heartbreaking would probably be the most appropriate word to describe "Barbara Allen," which compares favorably with John Jacob Niles' version of the song, "The Ballad of Barberry Ellen." "Charlie" commemorates Charles Edward Stuart, the Jacobite "Bonnie Prince Charlie" who led an ill-fated uprising in an attempt to seize the British throne in 1745.

Collins clearly had an affinity for this material as many of these songs would appear on her subsequent LPs. While this may not be her greatest album, it served notice that even better things were on the horizon. Enthusiasts of British Isles folk material will find much to enjoy.

1. Sweet England
2. Hares on the Mountain
3. Hori-Horo
4. The Bonny Irish Boy
5. The Tailor and the Mouse
6. The Lady and the Swine
7. Turpin Hero
8. The Cuckoo
9. The Bonny Labouring Boy
10. The Cherry Tree Carol
11. Sweet William
12. Omie Wise
13. Blackbirds and Thrushes
14. A Keeper Went Hunting
15. Polly Vaughn
16. Pretty Saro
17. Barbara Allen
18. Charlie

78 Quarterly No. 1 & 2 Silver Anniversary Reissue (1967 & 1968; 1992)

At the behest of one of our most loyal readers, I've decided to start posting issues of 78 Quarterly magazine, the world's greatest publication when it comes to prewar blues, jazz, and hillbilly music. Published by Pete Whelan, founder of the legendary Origin Jazz Library label, it was not a true quarterly periodical as it did not come out four times a year. 78 Occasional might have been a more appropriate title. Indeed, after the first two issues appeared in 1967 and 1968, readers had to wait 20 years before No. 3 finally became available. Fortunately, the late 1980s and the entire 1990s were a very prolific time for this magazine in which eight additional issues were released, although - despite No. 11 and No. 12, which were published earlier this decade - it now seems to be back on a prolonged hiatus once again if not ceasing publication altogether. In contrast, 78 Quarterly makes more popular genre periodicals such as Living Blues look like People magazine. Instead of trying to water down its subject matter and make it appealing to the more casual enthusiast, 78 is a publication written by and for hardcore old-time blues (and related music) freaks. This is not a magazine for people who hold Kenny Wayne Shepherd in high regard or think that the blues began with Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Hell, they even got artist, record collector, and hater of amplified music Robert Crumb to do the logo. So that information plus the very title of this publication should give you an idea of its target audience.

The original printings of No. 1 and No. 2 are about as rare as some of the 78 rpm recordings that this magazine profiles, so I had to make due with this reissue that came out in 1992. If you dig blues and similar styles of music from the 1920s and 1930s, you will absolutely love this magazine. The quality of the scholarship and writing is high and advertisements are virtually nonexistent. The amount of information packed between the covers is mind-boggling. What is especially interesting is that when these issues were first published in the late 1960s, many of the details about the lives of particular musicians were still fragmentary as the research was still in progress at that time. Take for example, the excellent article about King Solomon Hill in No. 1 by Gayle Dean Wardlow. During that period, many 78 collectors still thought this name was just an alias for Sam Collins or Big Joe Williams. Wardlow's research demonstrates otherwise and marked the beginning of an ongoing feud with ethnomusicologist David Evans that was not resolved until some 30 years later. Another interesting bit of trivia is the fact that fellow blues scholar and sometime Wardlow collaborator Stephen Calt wrote his articles under the nom de plume of Jacques Roche. (I still don't know the reasoning behind this.) Additionally, this reissue features compelling pieces on the following:
  • Jacob Schneider, one-time owner of what was then the world's largest collection of 78s
  • The death of Charlie Patton and the evidence that he died from heart problems and was not a murder victim, which was widely assumed at that time
  • Parts One and Two of the ongoing and controversial feature, "78 Presents the Rarest 78s"
  • Interviews with Son House, Tommy Johnson's brother, Ledell, and Carl Martin
  • The Black Birds of Paradise, widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz bands to come out of the Deep South
  • Winston Holmes and the neglected prewar blues scene of Kansas City
And that's just scratching the surface.

They just don't make magazines like this anymore, so be sure to check this out, fellow old-time music fans.

Get issue No. 3 here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Adventures in Sound (Columbia, 1958)

Adventures in Sound is a promotional two-LP set that was put out by Columbia Records in 1958 to hype their series of the same name. Described as "a revolutionary concept in recording designed especially for the adventurous listener," these LPs included releases by musicians from around the world and were designed to appeal to exotica enthusiasts. A couple of the artists featured on this sampler will be familiar to most music collectors, but the rest are all obscurities who, for the most part, are worthy of further investigation.

The bizarre opening cut, "Java" by Elsa Popping was featured on the appropriately-titled Delirium in Hi-Fi LP and will appeal to fans of Esquivel and his ilk. Michel Legrand's "Chanson" is French-flavored orchestral film music typical of the day and is somewhat bland. Juan Serrano's cut, "Cana Brava," on the other hand, is a pulsating Spanish Caribbean piece, while Los 4 de Ruff's "La Luna Enamora" is decent mariachi music. "Portrait of Leda" has singer Leda Annest sounding like a more sedate Yma Sumac. The Sabu who recorded "Sorcery" is Sabu Martinez - not Sabu Dastagir of The Thief of Bagdad fame - who displays his rhythmic prowess on this atmospheric piece that would not sound too out of place on a Martin Denny record. Boris Sarbek's "Doina" is a piece of ersatz Russian orchestral music, and Jose Baselli offers a bit of Continental pre-rock & roll dance music with "Bambino" from his Grand Bal Musette LP. "Fantasia Ranchera" and "El Reloj" by Juan Manuel and Trio Los Panchos respectively are somewhat schmaltzy Mexican ballads, although the arrangements on the latter are pretty compelling. "Peanut Vendor" by the Royal Steel Band represents a time when Jamaican music was pretty much interchangeable with calypso, steel drum music, and other styles popular in the English-speaking Caribbean. Little did anyone know how much things would change during the following decade with the advent of ska, rock steady, and reggae. However, that's not take anything away from this engaging polyrhythmic performance, which is one of this sampler's highlights. The San Domenico Barbers of Taormina, a Sicilian mandolin group, provide a charming string band performance with "Tarantella Guiseppina." Los Chilenos' "Estrellita del Sur" and Ruben Fuentes' "La Negra" are additional Spanish-language performances respectively from Chile and Mexico. "Maru-Bihag" is performed by some Indian dude named Ravi Shankar who's apparently something of a sitar player. Only on a 1950s exotica comp would you find legendary bluesman Big Bill Broonzy featured side-by-side with musicians such as those mentioned previously, but I suppose that at that time there were almost as many people in whitebread America unfamiliar with blues as they were ethnic music from other countries. "Texas Tornado" is a fine late-period performance from Broonzy that was recorded shortly before his premature death. One can only wonder how much additional fame he would have achieved had he lived long enough for the blues revival of the 1960s with the backing of a major label like Columbia. "Mas Pire To Potami" is a nice Middle Eastern-tinged track by the Greek Folk Song & Dance Society that is unfortunately too brief in duration. Gianni Monese's "Anema e Core" sounds like Italian elevator music that is enhanced by the playing of his ensemble's mandolinist. If carillons are your thing, you'll love "Beautiful Dreamer." With the twittering of birds providing a pastoral backdrop, Arthur Lunds Bigelow's performance on the world's heaviest instrument is charmingly ethereal.

A mixed bag to be sure, but there is some good material here that might inspire you to seek out particular albums from the Adventures in Sound series.

1. Java - Elsa Popping & her Pixieland Band
2. Chanson de Gervaise - Michel Legrand
3. Cana Brava - Juan Serrano
4. La Luna Enamora - Los 4 de Ruff
5. Portrait of Leda - Leda Annest
6. Sorcery - Sabu
7. Doina - Boris Sarbek
8. Bambino - Jose Baselli
9. Fantasia Ranchera - Juan Manuel
10. El Reloj - Trio Los Panchos
11. Peanut Vendor - Royal Steel Band of Kingston, Ja.
12. Tarantella Guiseppina - San Domenico Barbers of Taormina
13. Estrellita del Sur - Los Chilenos
14. La Negra - Conjunto de Ruben Fuentes
15. Maru-Bihag - Ravi Shankar
16. Texas Tornado Blues - Big Bill Broonzy
17. Mas Pire To Potami - Greek Folk Song & Dance Society
18. Anema e Core - Gianni Monese
19. Beautiful Dreamer - Arthur Lunds Bigelow

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Charlie Parker - Charlie Parker Memorial Vol. 2 (Savoy, 1955; 1995)

I'll admit it. I'm a dabbler when it comes to jazz, but I know what I like. Far be it from easy for me to add anything relevant to what is already known about one of the genre's true giants, Charlie Parker.

The material on this disc dates from 1944-1948 and also features the work of illustrious sidemen such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Max Roach. These performances rank among the cornerstones of bop and most are undoubtedly available on other compilations of Bird tracks. What makes this Savoy release notable are the inclusion of several short takes, or aborted attempts of classics such as "Barbados," "Parker's Mood," "Marmaduke," and "Sipping at Bells." For the casual jazz enthusiast, the reaction will probably be "So what?" However, for those who believe Parker was an incarnation of the Buddha and that every false start, wrong note, and botched solo was a channeling of holy cosmic forces, Volume 2 of the Charlie Parker Memorial will be a very enjoyable listen. This may not be the ideal place to start for newcomers to Bird, but completists may find the outtakes to be of significant interest in comparison to the better-known finished products.

From a technical standpoint, these tracks are probably the best they have ever sounded on CD. During the 1990s, Nippon Columbia undertook an ambitious program of remastering Savoy's catalogue from the original 78 lacquer and analog tape masters. The extra effort is definitely noticeable to the trained ear when played on the proper audio equipment. For those listening to this material in the MP3 format, you probably won't give a damn, but I still think it's worth knowing should you ever decide to go and seek out the original CD reissues of albums from this legendary label. Aesthetically speaking, the packaging is about as cool as it gets for compact discs. Each title comes in a miniature album jacket on heavyweight paperboard with the original cover artwork and liner notes. And to keep the anally retentive happy, these miniature LP reproductions also feature a cloth sleeve for the disc and a clear vinyl slipcase to protect the jacket. All in all, it's almost as nice as having the real thing.

1. Barbados (short take 2)
2. Barbados (new take 3)
3. Constellation (short take 3)
4. Constellation (original take 4)
5. Parker's Mood (short take 2)
6. Parker's Mood (original take 3)
7. Perhaps (short take 2)
8. Perhaps (new take 3)
9. Marmaduke (short take 5)
10. Marmaduke (original take 6)
11. Donna Lee (new take 3)
12. Chasing the Bird (new take 2)
13. Buzzy (new take 1)
14. Milestones (original take 1)
15. Half Nelson (original take 2)
16. Sipping at Bells (short take 1)
17. Sipping at Bells (original take 2)
18. Billie's Bounce (original)
19. Thriving On a Riff (original)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Frumious Bandersnatch - Golden Sons of Libra (Get Back, 2002)

Of all the San Francisco Bay Area bands of the 1960s that did not receive the fame and fortune that they deserved, none were more talented than Frumious Bandersnatch. Sounding like a dream combination of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape, these guys had it all: blazing instrumental work, tight harmony vocals, and good songwriting. Even more remarkable was the fact that the band's members weren't even denizens of Haight-Ashbury but instead came from the sedate and somewhat square environs of the suburban area east of the Bay. Having released only an EP (available on the fantastic Berkeley EPs CD) during their brief lifetime, it was pretty amazing to discover that they had recorded enough material for 1960s specialists Big Beat Records to put out the brilliant CD retrospective, A Young Man's Song. After acquiring those two titles back in the 1990s, I figured that I would just have to be content and not expect any more material from this band to surface.

I figured wrong. Golden Sons of Libra (the title comes from part of the lyrics to "Woodrose Syrup") manages to unearth three previously unreleased versions of the Bandersnatch classics "Hearts to Cry," "Cheshire," and "Can-A-Bliss" just when I had given up hope of ever hearing any additional material from these guys. I guess I should learn to be more hopeful. The first two tracks were presumably recorded during the sessions for the Muggles Gramophone Works EP. "Hearts to Cry" is a true alternate version and sounds a bit more raw as well as featuring many spoken asides from band members as the piece builds up to a climax that has the letters L, S, and D written all over it. "Cheshire," on the other hand, is listed as a full-length version of the song, suggesting that it's the same, but just unedited. The extra two minutes or so are given over mostly to the guitarists, one of whom lays down some very John Cipollinaesque lead work. It's definitely not the same track that appears on A Young Man's Song as it clocks in shorter by about a minute. "Can-A-Bliss" is my favorite Bandersnatch performance, an epic that stands out among numerous Bay Area epics from the psychedelic era. It's one of those pieces that starts out at full-tilt and just never lets up. Not many bands can justify having three guitarists, but Frumious Bandersnatch joins the ranks of Moby Grape and Blue Oyster Cult as groups who knew what to do with a triumvirate of axemen. Although they had lineups that were subject to changes in personnel, it's here that lead guitarist David Denny, solo guitarist Jimmy Warner, and rhythm guitarist Bobby Winkelman make the band's definitive statement. The track featured here is the full-length 15-minute version, but the extra three minutes or so are primarily given over to the somewhat tedious drum solo that was mostly edited out on Young Man's Song. No matter, this still kicks ass.

"Chain Reaction," "Pulpit Hough," and "Woodrose Syrup" are the same as they appear on the aforementioned Big Beat CD. "Pulpit," however is spelled differently ("Hough" instead of "Huff"), and "Syrup" features some previously unheard in-the-studio banter before the song begins. Still, it doesn't hurt to listen to these magnificent performances yet again even if you're already familiar with them.

1. Hearts to Cry (alternate version)
2. Chain Reaction
3. Pulpit Hough
4. Cheshire (full-length version)
5. Woodrose Syrup
6. Can-A-Bliss
(full-length version)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Blind Arvella Gray - The Singing Drifter (Conjuroo, 1972; 2005)

The Singing Drifter is the only LP that Blind Arvella Gray (nee Walter Dixon) ever recorded and, other than a few 45s and tracks that appeared on blues anthologies, the sole document that attests to the immense talent possessed by one of the main musical draws of Chicago's old Maxwell Street Market. One of my older friends actually remembers seeing him perform in front of vendors' kiosks back in the early 1970s and deeply regrets never taking any photographs. Gray was an anomaly in the Chicago blues scene in many ways. First, he wasn't really a blues singer, being more of a throwback to the old songster or street performer tradition with a repertory that consisted heavily of spirituals and pre-blues ballads. Second, unlike most of the city's African-American population who had roots in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, Gray was from Texas, where he was born in 1906. Third, he did not play in the heavily amplified style favored by most Chicago blues musicians in the 1960s and 1970s but instead relied on his trusty National Dobro to help him deliver his musical message. The story behind how he lost his sight is not clear but was apparently the result of a shotgun blast which also cost him two of his fingers.

If you're not familiar with Gray, you may be surprised what you hear when you listen to this album for the first time. Looking at his photographs and seeing his hulking frame, I always figured that his singing voice would be gruff and booming, much like fellow Texan Blind Willie Johnson. Not so. In fact, his voice is almost gentle in tone and perfectly complements the deft slide guitar work displayed on these titles. Originally recorded in 1972 for the independent country music label, Birch Records, The Singing Drifter leads off with a tune more typically associated with C&W performers, "There's More Pretty Girls Than One." The epic seven-minute rendition of "John Henry" was Gray's signature piece, and he makes this traditional composition all his own with exhilarating guitar playing and by introducing Chicago-specific lyrics to the other more familiar verses. "Arvella's Work Song" and "Gander Dancing Song" are essentially a cappella field hollers and hearken back to his younger days as a rural laborer. "Those Old Fashioned Alley Blues" is a lengthy (seven-plus minutes) stream-of-consciousness performance consisting of numerous floating verses.

The remaining tracks - "Take Your Burden to the Lord," "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Standing By the Bedside of a Neighbor," "Stand By Me," "What Will Your Record Be," "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again," "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time," "Take My Hand Precious Lord," and " Cryin' Holy Unto the Lord" - are gospel songs for which Gray was most well known. Although I am not a religious person, I cannot deny the power of these performances. "Take Your Burden," "Standing By the Bedside," "Stand By Me," and "Take My Hand" especially give me goosebumps, but that's not to imply that the other titles are lackluster in any way, shape, or form.

This album is absolutely superb, and I recommend it highly to anyone who has a fondness for blues, gospel, and black ballads.

Note: If you like this, check out the previous post, Conversation with the Blues, which features an earlier performance by Gray accompanied by fellow Maxwell Street musician Blind James Brewer.

1. There's More Pretty Girls Than One
2. John Henry
3. Arvella's Work Song
4. Take Your Burdens to the Lord
5. When the Saints Go Marching In
6. Standing By the Bedside of a Neighbor
7. Those Old Fashioned Alley Blues
8. Gander Dancing Song
9. Stand By Me
10. What Will Your Record Be
11. If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again*
12. Motherless Children Have a Hard Time*
13. Take My Hand Precious Lord*
14. Cryin' Holy Unto the Lord*
15. Untitled Track*

*Previously unreleased

Friday, May 8, 2009

Naif Agby & his Orchestra - El Debke: Music of the Middle-East (Audio Fidelity, 1962)

I think that I first became aware of this album while perusing one of the Incredibly Strange Music issues of RE/Search back when I had a job at a used record store shortly after college in the mid-1990s. How can any guy not take notice of an LP with a cover like this? It's pretty crazy to think that record companies could even use such a photo back in 1962 when American morality was still very wholesome. Then again, this was also the era of exotica (although approaching its conclusion), when suburban dads liked to liven up their cocktail parties by playing a Martin Denny album on the hi-fi. The same mentality that made it OK for African or Polynesian tribeswomen to bear their breasts in issues of National Geographic also made it OK to put scantily clad harem girls on the covers of belly dance albums. Just as long as it was foreign females that were being exploited, then there was nothing immoral about it apparently.

But I digress. I found El Debke at an estate sale many years ago thinking that at the very least the album jacket would serve as good eye candy on the wall of my swinging bachelor pad's living room. As it turned out, I came to enjoy the music etched into the vinyl grooves as well. Stylistically, the music of Naif Agby, a native of Lebanon, falls somewhere between the work of Eddie "The Sheik" Kochak and Mohammed El-Bakkar. Although this album showcases his fine vocals, the members of his Orchestra are no slouches either. Notably absent, however, is an oud player, which renders the sound of the performances different than that of the Armenian-Turkish material favored by instrumentalists such as John Berberian. The album's liner notes, unfortunately, offer no information whatsoever about the instruments of the supporting musicians, which from what I can hear include kanun, violin, dumbeg, clarinet, and accordion. It's especially a pity that the kanun player is unknown because, whoever he might be, the guy is a virtuoso.

This is yet another LP where the vocalist sings in a language that is completely unknown to me. I don't speak Arabic, but the quality of Agby's voice can be appreciated even without an understanding of the lyrics. I'm sure I'd enjoy this material even more if I did understand his language, but I also don't have to be able to play guitar to enjoy the work of a good guitarist. The opening tracks, "
Btestahil and "Mawal" sound somewhat similar in terms of arrangement, so don't make the mistake of thinking that a track is repeating itself when listening to this album all the way through. "Rouh, Rouh" features a great clarinet solo, while the instrumental "Raksat Wadad" allows the kanun player and violinist to strut their stuff. There are some otherworldly vocals to be found on "Saffi El-Nia," "Sourtak," "Mili Ya Hilwa," and "Haji Teoulli," especially the ululations by one of the female backing singers, whereas "Samra Ya Jamili" and "Kabbir Aklatack" sound somewhat tame in comparison. The instrumental "Raksat El-Houria" features a rhythm common in many belly dance pieces, which provides an excellent background for the clarinetist and violinist to take off on their solo flights. The album closes with the pulsating "Mawal," which is a completely different performance than track 2.


1. Btestahil (You Deserve It)
2. Mawal (Solo)
3. Rouh, Rouh (Go, Go!)
4. Raksat Wadad (Amity Dance)
5. Saffi El-Nia (Fulfill Your Vow)
6. Sourtak (Your Portrait)
7. Samra Ya Jamili (Beautiful Brunette)
8. Mili Ya Hilwa (Swing My Beloved)
9. Kabbir Aklatack (Be Wise)
10. Raksat El-Houria (The Mermaid Dance)
11. Haji Teoulli (Don't Tell Me)
12. Mawal (Solo)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Guitar Wizards 1926-1935 (Yazoo, 1969; 1991)

Guitar Wizards 1926-1935 was Yazoo's second compilation to focus on bluesmen from the South's eastern states such as Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. Although it's not quite as essential as its predecessor, the superb East Coast Blues 1926-1935 (available here on the excellent El Diablo Tun Tun blog), this is still one damn fine collection of prewar blues sides. The definition of East Coast blues is applied a little more loosely here since it includes two musicians from Tennessee and another who was associated with Alabama, but these recordings bear enough stylistic similarity to render them distinctive from those performed by artists from Memphis, the Mississippi Delta, and Texas.

The four sides by Blind Blake are rendered redundant by my earlier posting of the five-CD box set by this guitar genius, but that still doesn't take anything away from them. "You Gonna Quit Me Blues" is a vintage performance that features prominent thumb rolls. "Panther Squall Blues" is notable as a rare performance on which Blake utilizes harmonica, while "Wabash Rag" served as an inspiration for Blind Willie McTell's "Georgia Rag." The harmonics he employs at the beginning of "Guitar Chimes" are simply amazing. If there is a prewar blues musician who is more criminally underrated than Carl Martin, I'd like to know about it. A one-time partner of violinist Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong in the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, Martin had moved on from the string band tradition and relocated to Chicago by the time he recorded the three sides from 1935 that appear here. "Farewell to You Baby" and "Badly Mistreated Man" display his light touch on lead guitar and, as the booklet notes rightly point out, a bit of a Big Bill Broonzy influence. "Joe Louis Blues," a paean to the boxing great, brims with racial pride and contains some truly clever lyrics. Throughout the performances, the unknown accompanying guitarist meshes perfectly with Martin's leads. I'm not the biggest fan of Tampa Red, but his two instrumentals, "Boogie Woogie Dance" and "Bumble Bee Blues" (a cover of the Memphis Minnie record), show his buzzing slide guitar technique to good effect and rank among the best of his recorded output. Sam Butler (aka Bo Weavil Jackson) seems to have been from Birmingham, Alabama and doesn't really belong on an East Coast Blues comp. No matter as these three engagingly sloppy sides are some of the finest early (1926!) prewar country blues performances that you'll ever encounter. "Jefferson County Blues" (a reference to the Birmingham area) is a cover of the like-titled record by Priscilla Stewart (which was also covered by the formidable William Harris as "Keep Your Man Out of Birmingham"). "Poor Boy Blues," which Butler recorded for Vocalion, is essentially a slightly inferior remake of "You Can't Keep No Brown," which he had recorded just a few months earlier for Paramount. Both feature his anarchic slide guitar work. "Some Scream High Yellow" is a tour de force and completely different in character than the preceding titles. Recorded for Paramount, the strange echo you can hear on this number is probably a result of the label's notorious use of substandard material in manufacturing their discs, but in my estimation actually enhances the performance. William Moore's "Ragtime Millionaire" possesses a superficial resemblance to the guitar work of Blind Blake but can also be appreciated on its own merits. The album closes on a somewhat weak note. Although there is nothing wrong with Billy Bird's guitar technique, I don't care much for his singing on "Mill Man Blues," even if the song does contain some decent double entendre lyrics.

1. You Gonna Quit Me Blues - Blind Blake
2. Farewell to You Baby - Carl Martin
3. Boogie Woogie Dance - Tampa Red
4. Panther Squall Blues - Blind Blake
5. Badly Mistreated Man - Carl Martin
6. Jefferson County Blues - Sam Butler
7. Wabash Rag - Blind Blake
8. Bumble Bee Blues - Tampa Red
9. Ragtime Millionaire - William Moore
10. Guitar Chimes - Blind Blake
11. Some Scream High Yellow - Sam Butler
12. Joe Louis Blues - Carl Martin
13. Poor Boy Blues - Sam Butler
14. Mill Man Blues - Billy Bird

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Invasion Funk Masters (Soul Patrol, 1998)

A funk comp with crappy cover art, a total lack of liner notes, and some seriously heavyweight groovin' instrumentals from the late 1960s and early 1970s? Well then, it must be another LP of dubious legitimacy on Soul Patrol Records from France. If you dug Funky Music is the Way, an earlier release from the same label that I posted back in February, you'll dig this collection, too.

Without any liner notes to crib from, I can't really give you that much information about this one. However, I'm sure there are some funk 45 collectors out there who could tell you all about the musicians featured here. Although there is nothing on this compilation that is truly mind-expanding in the same manner as the material on the first few Funkadelic albums, the sides on Invasion Funk Masters for the most part sound a little more out there than those on Funky Music is the Way. The guitarist on Timothy McNealy's "Sagittarius Black" displays some moves not unlike Eddie Hazel's work on "Music for My Mother." Despite their unwieldy group name,
Little Jr. Jesse & his Tear Drops & the Tears sound anything but unwieldy on "Funky Stuff," especially the drummer, who lays down some nice breakbeats. Wess & the Airedales pull off a convincing Meters imitation on "Black Out," while "Soul Freedom" by Ray & his Court sounds similar to a lot of the West African funk stuff that is currently making the rounds among world groove collectors and features a great extended woodwind (is that a baritone sax?) solo. With its prominent Hammond B-3 organ, Little Curtis & the Blues' "Soul Desire" bears a close similarity to Funk Inc.'s best moments. Carleen & the Groovers ask the musical question "Can We Rap," but it sounds like they'd rather play a booty-thumping instrumental (while someone in the band does a brief passable James Brown impersonation) instead. After sampling the Collegiates' "Red Beans & Rice," I'm curious to know if they do cornbread and ham hocks as well. On "Don't Give a Damn," the King Cain Silvertone Band sorta sounds like Booker T. & the MGs if Steve Cropper had been more inclined to play stretched-out blues guitar solos. Speaking of guitar solos, there's a pretty fierce one on "Broadway Exit" by the Martells. I actually remember hearing a DJ spin the Fascinating Music Experience track during funk night a long time ago at a now defunct bar in Chicago, and it's, well, truly a "Monster." One of the most rewarding experiences one can have as a record collector is to hear a great song where the title and artist are unknown and then to hear it again years later on a recently purchased record. And that's exactly what happened for me on this one. Rudy Robinson & the Hungry Five definitely get it together on "Got It Together," which showcases some fine saxophone, conga, and guitar playing. There's more excellent conga to be found on Duke Payne's intensely polyrhythmic "The Bottom," as well as vibes, wah-wah guitar, and a strange-sounding woodwind that's almost eerie.

1. Sagittarius Black - Timothy McNealy
2. Funky Stuff - Little Jr. Jesse & his Tear Drops & the Tears
3. Black Out - Wess & the Airedales
4. Soul Freedom - Ray & his Court
5. Soul Desire - Little Curtis & the Blues
6. Can We Wrap - Carleen & the Groovers
7. Red Beans & Rice - The Collegiates
8. Don't Give a Damn - King Cain Silvertone Band
9. Broadway Exit - The Martells
10. The Monster - A Fascinating Musical Experience
11. Got It Together - Rudy Robinson & the Hungry Five
12. The Bottom - Duke Payne

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Great Rarities from Various Artists - Original 50s Recordings (White Label, early 1980s?)

Here we have another great collection of second-tier rockabilly performances on White Label Records from the Netherlands. As with other releases in their catalogue, there is an emphasis on obscurities and one-shots whose material was released on small independent labels. While these cats aren't going to make you forget about Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, or Dale Hawkins, there is still some pretty rockin' stuff to be found here.

The opening cut, "Lookin' for Money" by Johnny Dove & the Magnolia Playboys is a cover of a song originally recorded by Al Urban, and its introduction is reminiscent of Johnny Burnette's "Lonesome Tears in My Eyes." The tracks by Bobby Wayne and the Warriors, who all apparently came from North Dakota, ably demonstrate that first-rate rockabilly was not limited to south of the Mason-Dixon line. Indeed, Wayne's "Sally Ann" and the Warriors' tough instrumental "War Paint" rock as hard as anything that came out of Sun Studios. The previously unissued demos by Joe, Ron & George, "Half Ton Mama" and "Roachie," bear the telltale crackles of an acetate recording which do little to detract from the quality of the performances. The former is a tribute to a fat girlfriend, while the latter is a hip-shaking instrumental. Jimmy Case's "High School Hall of Fame" features a Big Bopperesque introduction and some slightly cloying backing vocalists, but the singer's almost spoken-word style delivery and the fine guitar work combine to make it a winner. "Emanons Rock" by The Emanons is another excellent instrumental that features some superb tremolo-laden guitar. "The Trance," originally released on the Regis label, is evidently one of the lesser-known recordings by Gary Shelton, who also also put out some singles on MGM and Mercury. Al Oster, who hailed from the Yukon Territory, presents us with some fine Canadian rockabilly in "Midnight Sun Rock" and "Next Boat." Both sides address themes to which denizens of this frigid, isolated province could surely relate. As if Boney Moronie and Skinny Minnie weren't enough, the Ox Tones add to the early rock & roll pantheon of females bearing names preceded by rhyming adjectives with "Fatty Patty," the story of a girl obsessed with junk food. Unlike the novelty nature of the former, "Mickey" is a driving instrumental that gives them a chance to show off their chops on guitar and piano. The album concludes with the equal-parts-rockabilly-and-country "Blue, Blue, Blue" by Duke & Null and the rollicking piano instrumental "Honky Tonk Boogie" by Eddie Miller.

1. Lookin' for Money - Johnny Dove & the Magnolia Playboys
2. Sally Ann - Bobby Wayne with the Warriors
3. War Paint - The Warriors
4. Half Ton Mama - Joe, Ron & George
5. Roachie - Joe, Ron & George
6. High School Hall of Fame - Jimmy Case
7. Emanons Rock - The Emanons
8. The Trance - Gary Shelton
9. Midnight Sun Rock - Al Oster
10. Next Boat - Al Oster
11. Fatty Patty - The Ox Tones
12. Mickey - The Ox Tones
13. Blue, Blue, Blue - Duke & Null
14. Honky Tonk Boogie - Eddie Miller