Saturday, October 31, 2009

Smokey Hogg - Deep Ellum Rambler (Ace, 2000)

Andrew "Smokey" Hogg may not get the accolades that fellow Texans T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Gatemouth Brown receive, but during the late 1940s, he was among the Lone Star State's most commercially successful blues musicians while recording for the Bihari brothers' Modern label, the future home of B.B King among others. As Ray Topping's booklet notes point out, Hogg had one foot in the prewar blues traditions of his home state and the other in the stylings of popular urban blues musicians of the 1930s such as Leroy Carr, Big Bill Broonzy, and Peetie Wheatstraw. Despite his postwar recording success, Hogg's sound remained rooted in the past and never evolved to a more sophisticated level as was the case with many of his contemporaries. As a result, his style and guitar techniques can come off as coarse and undisciplined to some ears. However, for those who are more forgiving about things like being slightly out of tune and occasionally striking the wrong note, Hogg will come off as a delightful throwback to the Texas blues of the 1920s and 1930s.

Named after Dallas' famed Deep Ellum entertainment district, this compilation features recordings from 1947-1951 with mostly rather sparse production standards. Some tracks feature Hogg solo with only his acoustic guitar, while on others he is accompanied by an electric guitarist, piano player, bassist, horn player, and drummer. His biggest influence seems to have been Big Bill Broonzy as demonstrated by his versions of the Chicago blues guitarist's "Too Many Drivers," "Black Mare Blues" (as "Black Horse Blues"), and "Truckin' Little Woman" (as "Jivin' Little Woman"). The rollicking "Little Leg'd Woman" is probably this disc's finest track with Hogg's guitar effectively weaving in and out of the musical backdrop provided by the accompanists. "Suitcase Blues" is another fine performance and features outstanding lead guitar work by an uncredited session musician. "Who's Heah" has a nice groove to it even if Hogg's problems with timing are sometimes apparent. "Look in Your Eyes Pretty Mama" (which seems to be based on Kokomo Arnold's "Red Beans and Rice") features the welcome addition of slide guitar, a technique that Hogg evidently learned from fellow Texas bluesman Black Ace. A Top 5 R&B hit in 1950, "Little School Girl" is a good interpretation of Sonny Boy Williamson No. 1's "Good Morning, School Girl," and "Golden Diamond" is an excellent blues in the Lightnin' Hopkins mold. "(I Wonder) Where Did My Boogie Go" is another first-rate uptempo performance, and even if the lyrics are a bit repetitive, the electric guitar and piano work are fantastic. The low-down "Long Tall Mama" was another big hit for Hogg in 1949, making it to #9 on the R&B charts. Both versions of "Brown Skin Woman" demonstrate the manner in which Hogg (who did not easily adapt to the constraints of recording sessions) operated in the studio and ultimately created a finished product. Deep Ellum Rambler concludes with the swinging "You've Been Gone So Long" (check out the sweet sounds from the uncredited saxophonist) that was recorded in 1951, Hogg's final year with Modern.

Unfortunately, Hogg was an alcoholic with health problems, which led to his untimely demise from cancer in 1960 at the age of 46. He died before the blues revival of the 1960s could bring him greater recognition, and as a result, the guitarist remains a relatively obscure figure in the genre. Although not a top-tier bluesman, Hogg did leave behind a compelling recorded legacy. While not something that you may want to listen to in one sitting, Deep Ellum Rambler does contain several tracks worthy of inclusion on your next blues-themed MP3 playlist.

1. Too Many Drivers (aka Little Car Blues)
2. Country Gal
3. Skinny Leg'd Woman
4. Unemployment Blues
5. Wood & Jackson Blues
6. Bad Life Blues
7. Suitcase Blues (aka Lowdown Blues)
8. Hard Time Blues
9. When the Drop Falls
10. Who's Heah
11. Going Home Blues
12. Clean Woman Blues
13. Black Horse Blues (aka Black Mare)
14. Jivin' Little Woman
15. Look in Your Eyes Pretty Mama
16. Little School Girl
17. Golden Diamond Blues
18. My Christmas Baby
19. Oh Woman, Oh Woman
20. (I Wonder) Where Did My Boogie Go
21. Long Tall Mama
22. My Train is Coming
23. You Gonna Look Like a Monkey (solo version)
24. Believe I'll Go Down on that M & KT Line
25. false start to Brown Skin Woman with chat
26. Brown Skin Woman
27. You've Been Gone So Long

Friday, October 30, 2009

Vincent Price - Witchcraft~Magic: An Adventure in Demonology (Capitol, 1969)

Vincent Price was one of those people who was blessed with a great voice - not a great singing voice, of course, but the kind of voice that was perfect for radio and spoken word records like this. His delivery was one that was simply a pleasure to listen to, much like the voices of Jack Kerouac, James Earl Jones, Leonard Nimoy, Ken Nordine, and Laurence Olivier. Seriously, these guys each have or had such a great vocal presence that I'd listen to them reading something as mundane as the list of ingredients from the side of a cereal box. Next to my Kerouac and Bill Hicks CDs, this is my favorite spoken word album in my collection. And with Halloween right around the corner, I thought that Witchcraft~Magic: An Adventure in Demonology would be a very appropriate post.

Even though it isn't a Halloween record per se, this two-LP set - billed as "The Secrets of Witchcraft & Magic Revealed by Vincent Price, Distinguished Actor & Demonologist"
- is probably creepier than anything else that was marketed as a horror album. If you have nosy, ignorant neighbors, you might want to keep the volume down when playing this lest they think you're preparing for a Satanic sacrifice or some other supernatural activity. Obviously, the producer of this project, Roger Karshner, could not have selected a more suitable narrator than Vincent Price, whose oratory skills and knowledge of the occult made him a perfect choice. In addition to his articulate Transatlantic-accented commentary, this album employs Douglas Leedy's primitive synthesizer work to create sounds such as bubbling cauldrons, howling winds, and other atmospheric effects. (There are sections wherein he creates sounds very similar to David Gilmour's electric guitar "seagull" effects featured in Pink Floyd's "Echoes.") In between certain passages there are chanting witches (a la Macbeth) with treated vocals, and throughout this audio adventure, the listener can hear Price's voice move from speaker to speaker, giving it a slight psychedelic flavor. This was recorded in the late 1960s, after all. According to one source, Price read the entire 122-page text on which this album is based in a single five-hour recording session. The best sections were apparently culled from these tapes to create what you are about to hear.


And so what can be learned from this 100+ minute lesson in witchcraft and magic written and directed by Terry d'Oberoff? Some of the sections are narrative, while others are instructional. I don't have the time to do fact-checking for this album, but even if certain parts are not necessarily historically accurate, they still make for entertaining listening. "Prologue - The Tale of Master Seth" provides a working definition of magic as well as a story from the youth of supernatural scholar Ronald Seth, who witnessed the consequences of not giving charity to a Gypsy beggar. "Hitler and Witchcraft - Witchcraft in History" features accounts of English witches who used their powers to help bring about the defeat of both the Spanish Armada in 1588 and Germany during World War II. The obsession that Hitler and other Nazis had with astrology and the supernatural is described in great detail as is the alleged story of how British military intelligence used such beliefs to their advantage. Price relates the history of the Old Religion and the primacy it bestowed upon women in "Women as Witches - Witch Burning." Judaism and Christianity, of course, were and continue to be its biggest foes since their male-dominated clergy are threatened by the female empowerment that witchcraft provides. Thus the popularity of witch burnings throughout Western history. It sounds like Price has a lot of fun with the "Witch Tortures" section wherein he provides graphic descriptions of the bogus methods used to identify witches as well as the devices used to coerce confessions such as thumb screws, the Spanish boot, and vinegar-soaked hairshirts that peeled off the victim's skin when removed. The manner in which our narrator says "hoisted up to the ceiling" during his explication of the strappado torture is, if you'll please forgive the awful pun, priceless. "The World of Spirits and Demons," "Preparation for Magic - Instruments of Magic," and "How to Invoke Spirits, Demons, Unseen Forces - The Magic Bloodstone" furnish the listener with a basic introduction of the proper procedures and equipment for witches and magicians. For example, users of magic must always conduct their craft in the nude or in robes with nothing underneath. A magic wand can only be made from from a virgin hazel, willow, or birch tree and must have certain symbols carved into it before it can be properly consecrated. It is necessary for a magician or witch to have a bloodstone (typically a garnet, ruby, or opal) kept on their person at all times as a talisman. Stuff like that. In "The Witches' Cauldron - How to Communicate with the Spirits - Gerald Yorke and Necromancy," Price describes the material acceptable for making a witch's cauldron and how to create a protective magic circle and pentagram to be used when summoning evil spirits to do your bidding. Gerald Yorke apparently was a student at Cambridge University who successfully conjured the ancient Egyptian deity Thoth. Price advises the listener "How to Make a Pact with the Devil" only in cases "of the most dire necessity." But it seems to be as simple as performing a proper conjuration in a desolate place (there is an emphasis on desolate places throughout this album) and using virgin parchment to draft a contract that states "I promise great Lucifuge to repay him in 20 years for all he shall give me in witness whereof I have signed 'X' in my blood." "How to Become a Witch" gives the listener pointers on how to join a coven and what to expect during the initiation rites. "Curses, Spells, Charms - Potions" is a guide on how to use magic and/or accessories to bring harm to your enemies, help your friends, and make the object of your desire fall in love with you. You'll also gain insight on herbalism and how plants such as belladonna, hemlock, and silverweed can be utilized for magical purposes. "The Hand of Glory" (a specially prepared hand amputated from the corpse of a felon who had been hanged from the gallows) details the steps necessary to make one of the most legendary of magic items, one which, among other things, has the power of mesmerizing all who behold it. A vivid description of an Old Religion ceremony from 12th century France provides the source material for "The Witches' Sabbat" in which Price seems to relish detailing the music, feasting, drinking, and orgiastic rites that took place at such an event. Based in England, the Merry Order of St. Bridget and the Order of Sybil are two "Satanic, flagellant covens practicing worship of the Devil, the Black Masque, communal whipping, ritual orgies, and the raising of demons for malefic purposes" and are cited as examples of "Witchcraft Today." "Epilogue," in which Price expresses hope that the advent of the Age of Aquarius will help reestablish many elements of the Old Religion, dates this album as a definite product of the late 1960s, one of the most culturally tumultuous yet interesting times in the history of the United States.
I don't know if many people today will even have the attention span necessary to sit through something like Witchcraft~Magic, but I'm posting it anyway. Originally, this album came with an accompanying booklet. However, when I found this at a garage sale many years ago, no such booklet was to be found. It's possible that the original owner misplaced it while trying to conjure a demon. Alternatively, my copy may never have included the booklet in the first place because it's a later pressing, such an omission being a cost-cutting tactic that would been typical for Capitol. If anyone out there has an original version of Witchcraft~Magic (or the less-than-legitimate looking CD reissue) with the booklet and would be willing to scan it and e-mail it to me, they would earn my eternal gratitude.


1. Prologue - The Tale of Master Seth
2. Hitler and Witchcraft - Witchcraft in History
3. Women as Witches - Witch Burning
4. Witch Tortures
5. Witch Tortures (continued) - The World of Spirits and Demons
6. Preparation for Magic - Instruments of Magic
7. How to Invoke Spirits, Demons, Unseen Forces - The Magic Bloodstone
8. The Witches' Cauldron - How to Communicate with the Spirits
9. How to Communicate with the Spirits (continued) - Gerald Yorke and Necromancy
10. How to Make a Pact with the Devil - How to Become a Witch
11. Curses, Spells, Charms
12. Curses, Spells, Charms (continued) - Potions
13. The Hand of Glory - The Witches' Sabbat
14. Witchcraft Today - Epilogue

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tim Buckley - Live at The Folklore Center, NYC - March 6, 1967 (Tompkins Square, 2009)

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you've probably figured out that I'm a huge Tim Buckley fan. His music moves me like few others can. Albums like Happy/Sad and Blue Afternoon literally helped me make it through my turbulent early 20s. What a tragedy that this modern-day troubadour didn't make it past 28.

Fortunately, there was a bit of a Tim Buckley revival during the early to mid-1990s, which saw the release of two excellent concert recordings, Dream Letter: Live in London 1968 and Live at The Troubadour 1969. I first became aware of this unplugged solo performance at Izzy Young's Folklore Center while reading a piece on the singer in a 1991 issue of Musician magazine. The same photo that appears on the cover of this CD was also featured in that article, although I had no idea that a recording of the event had been made by Young. You can imagine my surprise when, a couple of years ago as I first got into the downloading thing, I discovered a site that had posted a fragmentary version of this show. Even though it only featured two-thirds of the material on this CD release and had lousy sound quality at 128 kbps, it was the first new Tim Buckley material I had heard in several years. Now the good people at Tompkins Square have finally made this available as an official release, and they've done a great job with it. I feel somewhat guilty posting this, but if you're a hardcore Tim Buckley fan like me, you'll probably go out and buy the CD anyway.

This performance finds the singer/guitarist in a transitional phase. With his eponymous debut for Elektra already under his belt and Goodbye and Hello still a work in progress at this point, Buckley's repertory was in a state of development. It is very interesting to hear stripped-down acoustic renditions of material from his first album. Indeed, the versions of "Song for Jainie," "Wings," "I Can't See You," and "Aren't You the Girl" in their unadorned glory may even be superior to their heavily arranged counterparts on Tim Buckley. The songs that would eventually appear on Goodbye and Hello - "I Never Asked to be Your Mountain," "Phantasmagoria in Two," "No Man Can Find the War," and "Carnival Song" - offer a similar chance for comparison, and it is obvious that the artist was relishing the opportunity to perform new compositions in front of a most receptive audience. "Dolphins," of course, is a cover of a song by one of Buckley's influences, Fred Neil. In contrast to the more assured version from a year later that would appear on Dream Letter, this interpretation sounds a bit tentative. Despite Buckley's apparent fondness for "Troubadour," this composition never saw an official release during his lifetime. Here is yet another fine rendition of what many consider to be the musician's signature song.

Live at The Folklore Center is especially notable for the inclusion of six - that's right, six - songs that have never appeared anywhere else. Judging by their style, it is likely that these are early compositions from around the time of the first album and perhaps even earlier, with the exception of "Country Boy," which is another Fred Neil cover. "Just Please Leave Me," "What Do You Do," "Cripples Cry," and "I Can't Leave You Loving Me" all might be about the singer's relationship with his estranged wife, Mary Guibert, judging by their subject matter and/or titles. The lyrics of "If the Rain Comes" are a bit more opaque, but the song bears all the hallmarks of a typically fine Buckley composition. In fact, all of these songs are worthy additions to the singer's canon, and it is unclear why they were not developed further. Buckley was an artist of such high caliber that even his throwaways are better than most musician's masterpieces.

As long as you enjoy Tim Buckley as a solo performer as much as you enjoy his work with accompanying musicians, you will absolutely love this release. The booklet notes are primarily based on an interview that Izzy Young conducted with the singer, and, while interesting, could have been improved by including an analysis of the previously unreleased songs. But, as Nigel Tufnel said, "That's just nitpicking, isn't it?" Yes, it is.

* * * Postscript: I just recently became aware of the fact that the archivists at Rhino finally unearthed the tapes for Buckley's long lost single-that-never-was, "Once Upon a Time" b/w "Lady Give Me Your Key." Recorded in between sessions for his first and second albums, this was an attempt at a Top 40 hit. Although Buckley and songwriting collaborator Larry Beckett did not hold "Once Upon a Time" in high regard, and the lyrics are admittedly a bit prosaic by the singer's lofty standards, this is still an outstanding performance. Session guitarist John Forsha lays down some nice wailing solos, Buckley's voice is in fine form, and the song's kitchen-sink production features some interesting instrumentation. Again, even if this is one of Buckley's lesser efforts, it's better than most musicians at their best. Just released on Rhino's Where the Action Is! - Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968 boxed set, I'm including it as a bonus track for your listening enjoyment. Let's hope that the reissue specialist label finds a way to make "Lady Give Me Your Key" (which is apparently a superior and more ambitious recording than "Once Upon a Time") available on a future release.

More Tim Buckley on RF...

The Copenhagen Tapes (1968 concert recording) available here.

Works in Progress (previously unreleased outtakes, alternates, etc.) available here.

1. Song for Jainie
2. I Never Asked to be Your Mountain
3. Wings
4. Phantasmagoria in Two
5. Just Please Leave Me
6. Dolphins
7. I Can't See You
8. Troubadour
9. Aren't You the Girl
10. What Do You Do (He Never Saw You)
11. No Man Can Find the War
12. Carnival Song
13. Cripples Cry
14. If the Rain Comes
15. Country Boy
16. I Can't Leave You Loving Me

Bonus track:

1. Once Upon a Time

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Chambers Brothers - New Generation (Columbia, 1971)

I was putting together a playlist for my iPod the other day and decided that I needed to include the title track of this LP because it had been stuck in my head for the last few weeks. My assumption was that surely somebody had posted New Generation on a music blog somewhere out there in cyberspace. But after using Google, Captain Crawl, and numerous other search methods, I couldn't find it anywhere, much to my surprise. I'll admit that I was just being lazy. Even though I have this album on vinyl, I didn't want to go to the trouble of ripping it with Cakewalk and converting it to MP3. Since I had to go through with the conversion process for my own benefit, I figured that I might as well make this LP available for the listening pleasure of others as well.

If there are musical acts associated with the 1960s that are less appreciated today than the Chambers Brothers, I'd sure like to know about it. In some respects, they followed a similar path to that of Bob Dylan in that they were embraced by the folk community during their acoustic, gospel-influenced phase during the early part of the decade only later to adopt amplified instruments and become popular with the white rock 'n' roll crowd. As many other music writers have pointed out, they were one of the first black bands to have significant success with record-buyers and concert-goers on the other side of the racial fence. Justifiably acclaimed for their epic psychedelic masterpiece "Time Has Come Today" from their The Time Has Come LP from 1967, the Chambers Brothers were actually far ahead of the curve in creating mind-expanding music compared to more celebrated LSD-influenced African-American groups like Funkadelic. New Generation, their second-to-last album for Columbia, is their crowning achievement and perfectly fuses their rural Mississippi, gospel-derived roots with all of the musical advances and eclectic influences of the 1960s.


The backwards drums bit that starts off the opening track, "Are You Ready," provides the listener with a good idea where this album is headed from the very get-go. This one is a true psychedelic funk nugget with Joe or Willie Chambers laying down some wicked wah-wah guitar throughout the proceedings along with some fantastic percussion breaks on congas probably by brother Lester. "Young Girl" features some gorgeous vocal harmonies and sounds not unlike similar material that Curtis Mayfield was doing at the time. "Funky" is self-descriptive and perhaps while not as mind-expanding as "Are You Ready," it will at least get your feet tapping if it doesn't get your ass out on the dance floor. The orchestrated majesty of "When the Evening Comes" is perhaps the best example of the brothers' sensitive side but still doesn't come off as overly sentimental as far as my opinion goes. For some reason, "Practice What You Preach" reminds me of something the early Steve Miller Band would have done. Just in case you were wondering, that's a compliment. "Reflections," with its sighing strings and fine vocal arrangements, is a nice mellow mood piece, and the brief but heavy "Pollution" weighs in as a bit of social and environmental commentary. And that brings us to the sublimely mind-blowing "New Generation." Man, how do I find the right words to describe this 11-
1/2-minute magnum opus? It's certainly every bit the equal of "Time Has Come Today" and represents everything that was great about the Chambers Brothers. Other than that, all I can say is that the wonderful cover artwork by Abdul Mati Klarwein (whose paintings were also used to illustrate the jackets of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew and Santana's Abraxas albums) - complete with its explosion of surrealistic imagery - visualizes how this piece sounds. Trust me, if you haven't heard it before, it's absolutely fantastic. The a cappella "Going to the Mill" hearkens back to the group's earliest sounds with more excellent vocal work and some truly spirited hand clapping. A perfect closing track to a perfect album.

1. Are You Ready
2. Young Girl
3. Funky
4. When the Evening Comes
5. Practice What You Preach
6. Reflections
7. Pollution
8. New Generation
9. Going to the Mill

Friday, October 16, 2009

Every Day Since Sixty Six / Ascension Days (When We Rise) - Galactic Zoo Dossier Compilation #6 (Drag City, 2005)

Time to post another Galactic Zoo Dossier sampler that is chock full o' stuff you just aren't going to find anywhere else. Reflecting the magazine's expansive embrace of mind-blowing tuneage and all types of music from off the beaten path, issue #6 features an extremely eclectic two-disc set of rare cuts from past and more recent vintages. In addition to an article featured in the publication itself, yours truly also contributed a track to the comp's first disc, so I may not be the most impartial reviewer here.

The title of the first disc, Every Day Since Sixty Six, I believe, is derived from an answer that Michael Yonkers gave to Plastic Crimewave's question "How long have you been getting stoned?" Well, there you go. I think the Modern Expansive Sounds subtitle was intended for the other disc because most of the material here is from the 1960s and 1970s. What an interesting grab bag we have here. Garage-heads, psych fans, and connoisseurs of 1960s music will probably enjoy the incidental music from the forgotten counterculture-horror movie To Kill a Clown as well as the cuts by Jim Ford (now available as a bonus track on the CD reissue of
Harlan County), the mystery band responsible for the acetate recording, Four O'Clock Balloon, the Bitter End, Michael & the Mumbles (this will be of particular interest to folks who dig Michael Yonkers), Sound Company, Heavy Gunz Industries, the Act of Creation, A Little Bit of Sound, and the New Bag. If you prefer music of this variety - but from the UK - check out the BBC radio version of "Do You Ever Think" by Glass Menagerie or "Hole in My Shadow" by Denny Gerrard. Or, in the event that you want to hear some mind-expanding material with more of a Continental flavor, listen to "Plima" by Bosnian rock band Indexi. The guitar solo has considerable transportative powers, believe me. (For a bit of shameless self-promotion, this particular track comes from my collection and is from an album I found in a Zagreb, Croatia record store back in the summer of 2002 while on vacation.) The 32nd Turnoff perform an interesting funk workout on their untitled track, while "Message from the Man in the Saucer" is a wacked-out a cappella bit from the Legendary Stardust Cowboy. The 1980s are represented by curios from Partners in Wonder, Tool (no, not that Tool), and In Time. Come to your own conclusions about the tracks that I neglected to mention.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don't have much use for 99.9% of all music made after 1975 or so. That said, Ascension Days (When We Rise) doesn't hold as much interest to me, although I'm going to make it available because I know some readers of this blog who fancy neo-psychedelia and related music will probably enjoy it a great deal. Of course there are exceptions even to my rules, so thank goodness this disc features an absolutely transcendent track, "Darkstar Blues" by one of the few modern-day bands that I like, Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. "Wow" is the only other thing I can say about this one. Aficionados of Japanese stuff from this decade might also enjoy "Arayuru" by Miminokoto, which features some pretty wicked guitar. The underground scene from Chicago during the middle of this decade is well represented by the material from Chris Connelly & Plastic Crimewave Sound, Singleman Affair, and the Joy Poppers. Devotees of Can will probably like the live track by Michael Karoli & Sofortkontakt, which was the guitarist's last group before his untimely demise in 2001. Any Josephine Foster fans reading this? If so, investigate the mellow "Leader Soldier" by the former side project of hers, Children's Hour. Nashville's Cherry Blossoms lay down some nice rootsy Americana-inspired sounds on "And the Wind Did Blow" that will help cure any headaches some of the noisier tracks on this disc might cause. Check out the remaining material with an open mind and judge it according to your own tastes.

Other GZD comps can be found here and here.

Disc 1 - Every Day Since Sixty Six

1. John Renbourn says...
2. To Kill a Clown
3. Song for You - Jules Blattner & the Warren Groovy All-Star Band
4. Do You Ever Think (BBC Radio Session) - Glass Menagerie
5. Rising Sun - Jim Ford
6. Untitled Track - 32nd Turnoff
7. Unknown Acetate
8. Somebody to Love (live) - Four O'Clock Balloon
9. Kelly's New Song - Skog
10. I'm a Man (live) - The Bitter End
11. Smokestack Lightning (live) - Michael (Yonkers) & the Mumbles
12. Pippi Longstocking - Tool
13. Weird House - In Time
14. I Am Your Hour - Sound Company
15. You'll Lose - The New Bag
16. Plima - Indexi
17. Hole in My Shadow - Denny Gerrard
18. I've Just Seen You - Act of Creation
19. Recess - Heavy Gunz Industries
20. I Want You to Know - A Little Bit of Sound
21. Oklahoma Cotton Candy - Barking Geckos
22. To Be One - Electric Funeral
23. Silver Mode Test - Henry Flynt
24. Message from the Man in the Saucer - The Legendary Stardust Cowboy
25. Mutant Dance Craze - Partners in Wonder
26. Galactus speaks...

Disc 2 - Ascension Days When We Rise

1. Unsolicited Salutations
2. Darkstar Blues - Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
3. Melting Point - Oneida
4. No Title - Monostripe
5. Caress of Steel (live) - Hototogisu
6. Arayuru (live) - Miminokoto
7. I'm Coming Home (live) - Chris Connelly & Plastic Crimewave Sound
8. Words Going Around Then You're Fucked - Sawdust Caesars
9. ...And There You Go - (Sounds of) Kaleidoscope
10. Corpses Flicker (live) - Clyde Federal
11. You Took Me by Surprise - The Heads
12. Live at Barbican Center - Michael Karoli & Sofortkontakt
13. One Cut - Chris Corsano/Paul Flaherty Duo
14. Leader Soldier - Children's Hour
15. And the Wind Did Blow - The Cherry Blossoms
16. Dragonflies to Find - Singleman Affair
17. Drinking with Jack - Six Organs of Admittance
18. Naad - The Joy Poppers
19. Red-Split - Psychic Ills
20. The Ancient One speaks...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Johnny Darrell - Why You Been Gone So Long (United Artisits, 1969)

I'm certainly no expert on country music, but there are a few artists in the genre that I especially admire. Some are well-known figures like Johnny Cash, while others are underappreciated but no less talented performers like this guy. Johnny Darrell managed to achieve a degree of popularity in the latter half of the 1960s with a handful of singles that sold in respectable numbers, although he was better known for recording songs that would later become smash hits for other musicians (e.g. Tom Jones' version of "Green Grass of Home," Kenny Rogers & the First Edition's version of "Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town," etc.). For whatever reason, Darrell did not write his own material. Although his reliance on songwriters ultimately hindered his career, his taste in lyrics was impeccable. Moreover, he was gifted with an expressive voice, one that was as rich and smooth as finely aged Scotch whisky.

Released toward the end of his tenure with United Artists, Why You Been Gone So Long is typical of the generally solid albums he recorded for the label: a few truly extraordinary cuts alongside some decent if not mushy sentimental filler. "River Bottom" happens to be one of Darrell's finest moments with its gorgeous arrangements standing in stark contrast to the chilling lyrics about a man coming to grips with murdering his woman and disposing of her body. "A Woman Without Love" and "Jimmy Jacob" can be viewed as either beautifully sensitive performances or Countrypolitan fluff, all depending on your mood. Next to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," "I Ain't Buying" may very well the finest example of a country song that uses horns to good effect. "You're Always the One" is a bit too syrupy for my tastes. Despite the song's overwrought arrangements, Darrell's fine voice redeems it from being a complete waste of time. Composed by pop singer Jimmie Rodgers, "The World I Used to Know" is cut from a similar cloth, although the strings and other backing instrumentation are not quite as sickly sweet. Most closely associated with Bobby Bare (but written by Tom T. Hall), "Margie's at the Lincoln Park Inn" seems to be in the same bag as the two aforementioned pieces, but damn if this song's lyrics don't deliver a powerful message expressing a philandering husband's regrets about his extramarital activities. The title track of this LP is one of my all-time favorite songs of any genre. In fact, this album is worth owning for the definitive version of Mickey Newbury's "Why You Been Gone So Long" alone. With its combination of twangy guitar (courtesy of an unnamed Nashville session musician) and subtle strings, this performance represents everything good about late 1960s country music with a strong dose of rock. How's this for some heavy-hitting lyrics?
There ain't nothin' I wanna do,
Oh, I guess I could get stoned,
And let the past paint pictures on my head.
Kill a fifth of Thunderbird and try to write a sad song,
Tell me baby why you been gone so long.

"Hungry Eyes" is a fine cover of a Merle Haggard tune, but things close on a somewhat schmaltzy note with "The House on the Hill" and "Ain't that Livin'." However, all can be forgiven based on the strength of the album's more compelling tracks. A mixed bag to be sure, but when this album is good, it's really good.

Get As Long as the Winds Blow here and Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town here.

1. River Bottom
2. Woman Without Love
3. Jimmy Jacob
4. I Ain't Buying
5. You're Always the One
6. The World I Used to Know
7. Margie's at the Lincoln Park Inn
8. Why You Been Gone So Long
9. Hungry Eyes
10. The House on the Hill
11. Ain't that Livin'

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Memphis Jamboree 1927-1936 (Yazoo, 1970)

You've probably figured out by now that I have a bit of a fetish for the original Yazoo LPs from the 1960s and 1970s. In my estimation, the label had no equals when it came to reissuing prewar blues recordings, especially when founder Nick Perls was running the show with the able assistance of fellow 78 collectors Stephen Calt, Bernard Klatzko, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Don Kent, et al. That's not to say that Shanachie has done a bad job with this material since acquiring Yazoo in 1989. However, since all but phasing out the CD reissues of the original LPs and replacing them with their own newly compiled releases, the modern-day collector is stuck with having to purchase titles that lack the imaginative (and sometimes controversial) cover artwork and the detail-laden as well as quirky liner notes that helped make Yazoo popular with prewar blues cognoscenti.

The title of Memphis Jamboree 1927-1936 should give you a pretty good idea about the focus of this particular compilation. Although these tracks have probably found their way onto numerous Shanachie/Yazoo releases since the CD version of this album went out of print in the early 1990s, you will be hard pressed to find them as thoughtfully sequenced as they are here. (Another thing that Yazoo did very well was to place the songs in a compelling order, ensuring that the tracks complemented each other effectively and providing albums that flowed gracefully without any filler or dead spots, unlike the more completist-oriented Document, for example.)

Although better known for his violin work with Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band, "Highway No. 61 Blues" finds Will Batts in the role of vocalist and supported by erstwhile group leader Kelly and Dan Sane (Frank Stokes' accompanist) on guitars. This version compares favorably with the South Memphis Jug Band's own take on the song. What would any compilation of prewar Memphis blues be without a few tunes by namesake blueswoman Memphis Minnie? "Ain't No Use You Tryin' to Tell on Me" and "Drunken Barrel House Blues" feature her solo, while "Soo Cow Soo" and
"That'll be Alright" are duets with then-husband Kansas Joe McCoy. (Despite the latter duet piece being attributed to Minnie, the vocals are clearly McCoy's.) As the liner notes astutely point out, "Ain't No Use" bears striking similarity to "Truckin' My Blues Away" by Blind Boy Fuller and "Southern Can is Mine" by Blind Willie McTell, while the others are fine performances in their own right. "Coldest Stuff in Town" is an interesting ensemble performance by former occasional Memphis Jug Band vocalist Hattie Hart and guitarists Allen Shaw and Willie Borum in that it features all three musicians taking turns handling the vocals. While primarily known for his mandolin playing with Sleepy John Estes, "Squeaky Work Bench Blues" finds Yank Rachel capably playing the guitar and singing in a Peetie Wheatstraw-derived style. Details about the second guitarist, Dan Smith, are non-existent. Nor is there much information available on The Two Charlies who perform "I Couldn't Stay Here." Although some blues scholarship has identified them as Charlie Jordan and Charlie Manson, the musicians' guitar and singing styles don't really sound anything like St. Louis bluesman Charley Jordan or the obscure artist who recorded the unreleased "Nineteen Women Blues." The true identity of these performers is highly debatable as is their association with the Memphis blues scene. Whoever they were, they at least left us with some good music. "Joliet Bound" is another superb guitar duet between Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie (featuring vocals by the former) with the song's subject matter concerning the notorious and now defunct Joliet Prison in Illinois. On "Something Gonna Happen to You," McCoy sings and plays his instrument in a churning style derived from northern Mississippi guitarist Garfield Akers, best known for his classic of the genre, the two-part "Cottonfield Blues." Blues revival favorite Furry Lewis recasts the "Slidin' Delta" idiom as "Dry Land Blues," while Gus Cannon (of Cannon's Jug Stompers fame) humorously recounts the historic event from 1901 during which Teddy Roosevelt hosted Booker T. Washington at a dinner held at the White House. Performing under the name of Banjo Joe on this recording, Cannon is backed by Blind Blake on guitar. (I should also mention that the cover of this LP features a latter-day photograph of Cannon and one-time Jug Stomper and guitarist Hosea Woods, who does not appear anywhere on this album.) Similar in conception to the Paramount label's "Hometown Skiffle," "Jim Jackson's Jamboree" was a Vocalion "All Star" release that featured numerous musicians performing truncated versions of material associated with them. Apparently recorded in Memphis' well-known Peabody Hotel, this novelty 78 ironically had a lineup of musicians who were more associated with blues from Georgia and the Southeast: guitarist Tampa Red and pianists Tom Dorsey (who doesn't play but serves as narrator of the proceedings) and Speckled Red. Jackson, a proto-bluesman and medicine show performer from northern Mississippi who had settled in Memphis, barely appears, in fact. You can hear him speak at the beginning, and that's it. An obvious attempt to cash in on the popularity of the four-part "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues," "Memphis Jamboree" is still an interesting curio worth a listen. And finally, Sam Townsend is a biographical non-entity who displays an intriguing number of guitar influences on "Lily Kimball Blues."


1. Highway No. 61 Blues - Will Batts
2. Ain't No Use You Tryin' to Tell on Me - Memphis Minnie
3. Coldest Stuff in Town - Hattie Hart
4. Squeaky Work Bench Blues - Yank Rachel & Dan Smith
5. Soo Cow Soo - Memphis Minnie
6. I Couldn't Stay Here - The Two Charlies
7. Joliet Bound - Kansas Joe McCoy
8. Drunken Barrel House Blues - Memphis Minnie
9. Dry Land Blues - Furry Lewis
10. That'll be Alright - Memphis Minnie
11. Something Gonna Happen to You - Kansas Joe McCoy
12. Can You Blame the Colored Man - Gus Cannon
13. Jim Jackson's Jamboree - Jim Jackson & Co.
14. Lily Kimball Blues - Sam Townsend

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Feenjon Group - Belly Dancing at The Cafe Feenjon (Monitor, circa 1969)

Although most Middle Eastern/belly dance LPs from the 1950s-1970s tended to be the domain of Armenian or Arab musicians, this was not always the case. New York City's multi-ethnic Feenjon Group serves as an excellent example. Established by Israeli Menachem Dworman, the personnel of this band included Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, and Anglo-European Americans - quite a collection of nationalities. Dworman was also co-owner of Greenwich Village's Feenjon Cafe, a venue that was notable for regularly featuring ethnic music of this variety and as the place where trailblazing Middle Eastern-rock fusion band the Devil's Anvil got their start. During an interview with John Berberian back in April, he fondly recollected, "I used to go down - not only to play at, but just to have a great time with my friends - to the Feenjon. It was an Israeli coffee house. It had music every night of the week until like three, four in the morning. We used to have Arabs, Israelis, Armenians, Greeks - every nationality. They were jumping and dancing, and the bands would be playing all these different types of music. Talk about brotherhood! I wish we had that today. That one club had everything."


Thus, Belly Dancing at The Cafe Feenjon with its mix of Yiddish, Israeli, Russian, Greek, Arabic, Turkish, and even Spanish material reflects the melting pot of musicians that appear on this album. The Feenjon Group's lineup seemed to be constantly changing, but here it consists of Dworman on guitar and oud, Israeli singer Margalit Ankory, Jewish-American Jerry Sappir (and Devil's Anvil alumnus) on vocals and guitar, Greek guitarist Angelo Saridis, Moroccan percussionist Ali Hafiid, Greek accordion player Jimmy Linardos, American Steve Knight (who was also a member of the Devil's Anvil and Mountain) on guitar, and Armenian-American Lou Mavrogian on bass.


The material is as varied as the performers. Ankory's graceful voice is well-suited to the Yiddish "Bei Mein Rebbe is Givaizin a Ganayva," the Israeli "Erev Shel Shoshanim," and the Spanish "Doce Cascabeles." Sappir handles the singing duties on the Russian "Beryuzovye Kalyuchki," the Yiddish "Lomer Alleh Singen" and "Donna Donna," and the Turkish standard "Shishelai" (aka "Siseler" or "Shisheler"). Hafid, of course, handles the Arabic pieces, the propulsive "Aina Zorga" and "Mach Mach." Saridis represents his homeland quite well with "Biklibidia," "Efiges" and a vocal duet with Ankory on "Marinella." If you have a fondness for ethnic music, you will find all of these tracks to be outstanding performances, especially those that are from countries not normally associated with belly dance music. It is very interesting to hear these pieces recast in a Middle Eastern context.


One final note: It seems as though this album underwent a title change at one point or another. The liner notes and label on the record itself identify this LP as An Evening at the Cafe Feenjon, while the cover and spine read Belly Dancing at the Cafe Feenjon. Did Monitor think that using the term "belly dancing" would make it more easily marketable? If you look closely at the album's cover, you can see that the original font preceding "at the" appears to have been covered with "Belly Dancing" written in a different style. One assumes that this section of the title originally read "An Evening." Also, the hippie chick standing in front of a sign advertising a "Light Show" may be an attempt to appeal to the countercultural crowd. Who knows the story behind this record collector minutiae? Also, many thanks to VillageUnderground for making the hideously rare video clips of the Feenjon Group that I've posted here available on YouTube.

1. Bei Mein Rebbe is Givaizin a Ganayva
Beryuzovye Kalyuchki
Erev Shel Shoshanim
4. Aina Zorga
Lomer Alleh Singen
7. Marinella
8. Donna, Donna
9. Shishelai
10. Efiges
11. Mach Mach
12. Doce Cascabeles

Friday, October 2, 2009

New York to Chicago 1923-28 (Biograph, 1969)

Even though it does not appeal to me as much as prewar blues, jazz from the 1920s and 1930s certainly has its merits. Obviously, one cannot discount its importance in the history of American culture since recordings from that era are the earliest aurally documented examples of the closest thing my country has to a classical music art form. Some people view this material as pure genius, while others think it just sounds like soundtrack music to old black-and-white cartoons. An acquired taste to be sure; but once it gets a hold of you, you'll find yourself coming back for more.

And so here we have this 1920s jazz compilation on Biograph Records, a New York City-based label established in 1967 by 78 collector Arnold S. Caplin that was roughly contemporaneous with Yazoo and other similar reissue specialists. Whereas the Yazoo releases tended to focus almost exclusively on male, guitar-playing prewar blues artists, Biograph was a bit more eclectic and also featured LPs of female blues singers, 1960s blues rediscoveries, and Hot Jazz groups in its catalogue. As its title suggests, New York to Chicago 1923-8 presents recordings made in both the Big Apple and the Second City by some of the biggest jazz outfits of that decade. Although the majority of the musicians in these bands had New Orleans roots, after World War I, most of them had relocated to the aforementioned northern metropolises where they found plenty of work in the two cities' thriving nightclub scenes and were in closer proximity to the studios used by companies that released race records. (For those of you who keep track of such things, all of these sides were originally released on the storied Paramount label, with the exception of track 5 and 6, which were released on QRS.)


The first six tracks (side 1 on the original LP) are sides that were all recorded in New York. The charmingly titled Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools probably consisted of Johnny Dunn or June Clark on cornets, Jimmy Harrison on trombone, Garvin Bushell on clarinet, Samuel Speed on banjo, Bradford or Charles Smith on piano, and unknown tuba and tenor saxophone players. "Fade Away Blues," "Daybreak Blues" (with its military-style morning bugle call introduction), "Charleston, South Carolina," and "Hoola Boola Dance" represent recorded jazz in its earliest stages. Banjo would never again be so prominent. "Hole in the Wall" (a paean to a speakeasy) and "Don't Turn Your Back on Me" both feature singer Sara Martin (whose name may be familiar to prewar blues aficionados from her work with guitarist Sylvester Weaver) fronting Clarence Williams' Orchestra. Williams, a legendary figure in early jazz, plays piano while being supported by Ed Allen and (the equally legendary) King Oliver on cornets, Ed Cuffee on trombone, Arville Harris on clarinet, and Cyrus St. Clair on tuba.

The remaining tracks were all recorded in Chicago. The sides by Ollie Powers' (sic) Harmony Syncopators showcases the talents of bandleader Ollie Powell on drums and vocals, Alex Calamese and the esteemed Tommy Ladnier on cornets, Eddie Vincent on trombone, the highly regarded Jimmie Noone on clarinet, Horace Diemer on alto saxophone, John Basley on banjo, and Bass Moore on tuba. The listener is presented with one the most admired items among collectors of early jazz records, the outstanding "Play that Thing" as well as two takes of "Jazzbo Jenkins." Led by Chicago pianist Tiny Parham, the Pickett-Parham Appollo Syncopators' "Mojo Strut" and "Alexander Where's that Band" (?) are the highlights of this compilation and feature some outstanding interplay among the accompanists: B.T. Wingfield on cornet, Charlie Lawson on trombone, Leroy Pickett on violin, possibly Jimmy Bertrand on percussion, and an unknown tenor saxophonist. Another of Parham's groups, his "Forty" Five, had a different lineup with the celebrated Kid Ory on trombone, Artie Starks on clarinet, possibly Mike McKendrick on banjo, and an unknown cornetist. This aggregation recorded "A Little Bit Closer" as well as a tribute to early bluesman Jim Jackson and his influential hit race record, "Jim Jackson's K.C. Blues," a song also covered by William Harris, Robert Nighthawk, and many others.


1. Fade Away Blues (take 1) - Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools
2. Daybreak Blues (take 1) - Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools
3. Charleston, South Carolina (take 1)
- Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools
4. Hoola Boola Dance (take 1)
- Perry Bradford's Jazz Phools
5. Hole in the Wall - Clarence Williams' Orchestra
6. Don't Turn Your Back on Me - Clarence Williams' Orchestra
7. Play that Thing (take 3) - Ollie Powers' (sic) Harmony Syncopators
8. Jazzbo Jenkins (take 1)
- Ollie Powers' (sic) Harmony Syncopators
9. Jazzbo Jenkins (take 2)
- Ollie Powers' (sic) Harmony Syncopators
10. Mojo Strut - Pickett-Parham-Apollo Syncopators
11. Alexander Where's that Band
- Pickett-Parham-Apollo Syncopators
12. A Little Bit Closer - Tiny Parham and his "Forty" Five
13. Jim Jackson's K.C. Blues
- Tiny Parham and his "Forty" Five