Monday, November 30, 2009

louie kotva -- it used to be that not everyone was a lighthouse (usa : prism, 1970)

loner folk mega-rarity from urbana, illinois. very little is known about kotva (sometimes referred to as "louis"); a track off this album appeared on "teenage meadows of infinity" from galactic zoo dossier issue 7, and he also had a couple tracks released on folk music compilations by/through the red herring restaurant in urbana (a fine vegetarian eatery, still in operation). the songs here are perhaps a tad too earnest, yet, no less haunting or psychologically inward. very, very beautiful in spots.

[perfectionists/completists, please note: this isn't the greatest recording of the album (not my rip...i wish i had an original copy). it's a rather quiet LP in general, and a couple songs end a second or two early. (yeah, it's a bummer.) however, it took a bit of work and a lot of luck for me to even get this copy to listen to, so i am ultimately more than happy to have it at all, despite its slight imperfections. hopefully, you feel the same. [also note: there is a three second track, number 08, separating sides one & two; again, not placed there by me.]]


01 notes from london, july 11
02 many years from now
03 listen, jaynie
04 i should have left tomorrow
05 a young man of the city
06 six hundred men
07 suicidal tendencies
08 [intermission]
09 anubis
10 in a friendly room
11 prague: last time, this, and the next
12 and then i knew
13 song to the red, white, and blue
14 silent majority rag

variously sourced
bitrate unknown

url in comments.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mississippi Blues - Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1942 (Travelin' Man, 1973; circa 1990)

Thank goodness for Library of Congress archivists John and Alan Lomax as well as Fisk University musicologist John Work. Without them, Mississippi blues from the 1940s - with the exception of a few performers such as Robert Petway and Tommy McClennan - might never have been documented at all. Such material often makes for a fascinating listening experience because it can be viewed as the bridge between prewar styles and the amplified Chicago variety popularized by Robert Nighthawk, Muddy Waters, et al. that took hold in the late 1940s and early 1950s.


Mississippi Blues Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1942
serves as an excellent complementary piece to both Son House's Complete Library of Congress Sessions 1941-1942 and Mississippi Blues & Gospel 1934-1942 Field Recordings, which also consist of material recorded by Work and/or the Lomaxes. The former features musicians such as Leroy Williams, Fiddlin' Joe Martin, and Willie Brown as accompanists to House, although on this collection they perform as group leaders or solo. As with House's sessions, one can occasionally hear trains in the background, since these recordings from 1941 were made at the same location, a general store in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi that was in close proximity to a railway branch line. The latter title includes performances from 1940 by Lucious Curtis and Willie Ford recorded in Natchez, Mississippi in addition to a song by Willie Blackwell that was documented at Sadie Beck's Plantation in Arkansas in 1942. Mississippi Blues Library of Congress Recordings 1940-1942 contains the remainder of their material from these sessions as well as some other choice cuts. (Despite the fact that some of the tracks on these albums were not recorded in the Magnolia State, all of the featured musicians are classified as Mississippi bluesmen, thus the justification for the albums' titles.) Remarkably, there is no duplication between these three discs.


Not surprisingly - because of the era in which these performances were recorded - the lyrics of one title address the mobilization for the upcoming war (harmonicist Leroy Williams' "Uncle Sam Done Called," which also features guitar accompaniment by Willie Brown), while other songs deal with World War II itself (Honeyboy Edwards' "Army Blues" and Willie Blackwell's curiously-titled "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus," which features the backing guitar of Willie Brown). Although this CD maintains a consistently high standard throughout, the best performances belong to David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who amazingly is still alive aged 94 at the time of this post. Truth be told, prior to hearing his songs here, I didn't think that much of him and viewed him as something of a Mississippi Delta blues also-ran whose handlers just hyped his
connection to Robert Johnson to generate record sales. Listening to his more recent recordings as well as seeing him play live twice in the 1990s continued to leave me feeling a bit underwhelmed about him. However, the performances herein completely justify his reputation, and his dexterous guitar playing on "Water Coast Blues," the aforementioned "Army Blues" (which seems to have been the inspiration for Hot Tuna's "Uncle Sam Blues"), "Spread My Raincoat Down," "Wind Howlin' Blues," and "Roamin' & Ramblin' Blues" is nothing short of amazing. His engaging vocals and and harmonica blowing are icing on the cake. Fiddlin' Joe Martin (who, despite his nickname, played mandolin and not violin) apparently set down his usual instrument in favor of a washboard on the archaic-sounding "Going to Fishing" on which he also handles the vocal duties and is backed by Willie Brown on guitar and Leroy Williams on harmonica. The pre-blues "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" marks the only time Brown recorded under his own name other than the four sides he cut for Paramount in 1930. Guitarist Willie Ford also demonstrates a knack for songster material on "Pay Day" (a song with origins from 1901 that proto-bluesman Henry Thomas recorded as "Shanty Blues") as well as blues such as "Santa Field" ("Sante Fe"?) and "Sto' Gallery." His duet partner on the latter, Lucious Curtis, also demonstrates a diverse repertory with the excellent "High Lonesome Hill," "Train Blues," "Lonesome Highway Blues," "Mississippi River Blues," "Stagolee," "Farmin' Man Blues," and "Rubber Ball Blues." All of these titles, with the exception of "Train Blues" (a solo piece) feature excellent guitar interplay between Ford and Curtis. Finally, the resulting title of Willie Blackwell's sole performance on this disc must have resulted from a misinterpretation on the part of Alan Lomax. Blackwell was something of a one-trick pony when it came to his guitar technique, and so "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas," even with Willie Brown as an accompanist, sounds like much of the material he had recorded for Bluebird, rendering it interesting but not essential.

And if you were wondering, that's a Mississippi State Highway Commission map of Clarksdale on the cover.

1. Uncle Sam Done Called - Leroy Williams
2. Water Coast Blues - Honeyboy Edwards
3. Army Blues - Honeyboy Edwards
4. Going to Fishing - Fiddlin' Joe Martin
5. Spread My Raincoat Down - Honeyboy Edwards
6. Wind Howlin' Blues - Honeyboy Edwards
7. Make Me a Pallet on the Floor - Willie Brown
8. Roamin' & Ramblin' Blues - Honeyboy Edwards
9. High Lonesome Hill - Lucious Curtis
10. Payday - Willie Ford
11. Train Blues
- Lucious Curtis
12. Lonesome Highway Blues
- Lucious Curtis
13. Mississippi River Blues
- Lucious Curtis
14. Stagolee
- Lucious Curtis
15. Farmin' Man Blues
- Lucious Curtis
16. Santa Field Blues (sic) - Willie Ford
17. Sto' Gallery Blues - Willie Ford
18. Rubber Ball Blues
- Lucious Curtis
19. Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus (sic) - Willie Blackwell

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Blues Images Presents...1920s Blues Classics Vol. 3 (Blues Images, 2006)

This outstanding collection of prewar blues sides came with Blues Images' 2006 calendar. Their 2010 edition is available now and makes a great Christmas present (hint, hint). Get it now for your favorite blues fan.

If you're a serious 1920s and 1930s blues collector, you probably have most, if not all, of the songs featured on this compilation. However, even if that is the case, Blues Classics Vol. 3 is worth having for the superior fidelity in which these performances are presented. As much as I love the Document label for their comprehensiveness, the sound quality on their albums often leaves a bit to be desired, especially compared to what appears on Yazoo releases. Fortunately, Blues Images owner John Tefteller has the good sense to have these recordings remastered by Richard Nevins, who has done the same work for Yazoo since the death of Nick Pearls. So if you already have some of these sides on Document CDs, they definitely sound better here.

Skip James' "Devil Got My Woman" and "Cypress Grove Blues" are about as eerie as the blues gets. If you've never before heard his unearthly falsetto and complex guitar work, these are a good introduction. "Love My Stuff" is later-period Charlie Patton and one of many different variations on the "Maggie Campbell" theme that he recorded, but even a mediocre performance by the true King of the Delta Blues is better than most other bluesmen at their finest. Gruff-voiced Patton disciple Willie Brown pitches in with "M & O Blues" (the "M" and "O" being an abbreviation for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad), a considerably more subdued but no less compelling performance than his only other extant side, "Future Blues." Next up is the clever critique of preachers, "He Calls that Religion," by The Mississippi Sheiks, followed by one of Blind Blake's last records, "Champagne Charlie is My Name" and Ida Cox's parlor blues, "Lost Man." King Solomon Hill's incredibly weird "The Gone Dead Train" continues to astound with the guitarist's inimitable lap-style slide work and his keening vocals. He sounded like no one else and was one of the few prewar blues artists whose style was completely sui generis. "War Time Blues" is one of Blind Lemon's more worthwhile numbers, and if you're partial to classic female blues singers, I guess Ma Rainey's "Black Bottom" is about as good as it gets. "Skoodle Um Skoo" is a nice bit of hokum from Papa Charlie Jackson, while Roosevelt and Uaroy Graves usher in rock 'n' roll about 20 years ahead of schedule with "Guitar Boogie," which also features Baby Jay James on cornet and pianist Will Ezell. (This track sounds considerably better than its counterpart on the Document Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order CD.) Leroy Carr's "Christmas in Jail Blues" is appropriate for the upcoming holiday, although it may not get you in the right spirit. "Tallahatchie River Blues" by Mattie Delaney offers a female perspective of the 1927 flood in the Mississippi Delta, which was also the subject of Charlie Patton's two-part "High Water Everywhere." "How You Want Your Rollin' Done" showcases the nimble flat-picking guitar style of songster Louis Lasky, who was an early Big Bill Broonzy influence. (As with "Guitar Boogie," this one is featured in its best ever sound quality.) "Married Woman Blues" is an appealing member of the "Red River Blues" family by underrated guitarist George Torey, who unfortunately was not recorded as extensively as he should have been.

Get Vol. 2 here.

1. Devil Got My Woman - Skip James
2. Love My Stuff - Charlie Patton
3. M & O Blues - Willie Brown
4. He Call that Religion - Mississippi Sheiks
5. Champagne Charlie Is My Name - Blind Blake
6. Lost Man Blues - Ida Cox
7. The Gone Dead Train - King Solomon Hill
8. War Time Blues - Blind Lemon Jefferson
9. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - Ma Rainey
10. Skoodle Um Skoo - Papa Charlie Jackson
11. Guitar Boogie - Blind Roosevelt Graves & Brother
12. Christmas in Jail - Leroy Carr
13. Tallahatchie River Blues - Mattie Delaney
14. How You Want Your Rollin' Done - Louis Lasky
15. Married Woman Blues - George Torey
16. Cypress Grove Blues - Skip James

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Johnny Darrell - As Long as the Winds Blow (United Artists, 1966; Mono)

When Ed White quit his job as manager of the Holiday Inn near Nashville's Music Row, signed a deal with United Artists, and became country singer Johnny Darrell in the mid-1960s, he must have felt that he had finally gotten his big break. Gifted with a warm, expressive singing voice and a knack for recognizing great songs, it seemed like the sky was the limit for him. However, a number of factors prevented him from achieving the star status that he undoubtedly deserved. Lauded by many as one of the greatest country musicians to specialize in sad songs, Darrell unfortunately had to deal with his own misery caused by other singers having huge hits with material he had been the first to record.

As Long as the Winds Blow was an extremely promising debut and, in fact, is arguably Darrell's finest album, featuring a country-folk flavor that recalls other similar works such as Johnny Cash's Orange Blossom Special. The title track that opens the LP was the singer's debut single from 1965. A Curly Putnam composition, "As Long as the Winds Blow" has that forlorn quality to it that would mark nearly all of Darrell's greatest performances. (Regrettably, the version found on the excellent Raven comp, Singin' It Lonesome , has a muddy sound to it probably resulting from a poor remastering job, so be sure to get this great track here, and listen to it as it was meant to be heard.) The melancholy-infused "Love Me Till Then" and "Passin' Through" are notable for the former's anti-war sentiment (unheard of in country music at the time) and the latter's exceptionally sympathetic backing vocalists and musicians. The heart-wrenching "Don't Tell My Little Girl" is comparable in subject matter to Johnny Cash's "Give My Love to Rose" in that it deals with a narrator who comes across a dying man regretful for how his actions have adversely affected a loved one. Although the lyrics of "Little Girl" address the dying man's daughter instead of his wife, the emotional impact is no less potent. The simple but effective piano heard in the bridge perfectly complements the song's overall mood and is a really nice touch. "For Old Time Sake" and "Beggars Can't be Choosers" are two more weepers with Darrell's distinct lonesome sound.


The first and what is arguably the best version of "Green Green Grass of Home" (another Curly Putnam tune) inaugurates the second side of this LP. Although you may be familiar with Porter Wagoner's and/or Tom Jones' better known renditions, Darrell is able to tap into the pathos of the lyrics in a much more convincing fashion than either of his competitors.
Despite its title, "Johnnie Lose it All" is not autobiographical, although it is a beautiful song whose subject matter concerns the price of fame. Of course, fame was something that Darrell never really achieved in spite of all the dues he had paid as an entertainer. Having to face the upcoming winter may be a challenge for us all, but at least it doesn't necessarily bring on a flood of sad memories as described in the exquisite "The Deepening Snow." Consider yourself fortunate. Jack Clement's humorous "The One on the Right is on the Left" provides some welcome comic relief and is probably the most lighthearted thing Darrell ever recorded. "A Habit I Can't Break" returns the singer to more familiar territory, while "These Boots are Made for Walkin'" provides him with the opportunity to turn in a fine cover of a Lee Hazelwood tune that is most closely associated with Nancy Sinatra.

For fans of Johnny Darrell and 1960s country music in general, this album is absolutely essential.

Get Why You Been Gone So Long here and Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town here.

1. As Long as the Winds Blow
2. Love Me Till Then
3. Passin' Through
4. Don't Tell My Little Girl
5. For Old Time Sake
6. Beggars Can't Be Choosers
7. Green Green Grass of Home
8. Johnnie Lose It All
9. The Deepening Snow
10. The One on the Right is on the Left
11. A Habit I Can't Break
12. These Boots are Made for Walkin'

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bobby Bland - Turn on Your Love Light / The Duke Recordings Vol. 2 (MCA, 1994)

The fifty selections on Turn on Your Love Light - The Duke Recordings Vol. 2 (with material from1960-1964) represents Bobby "Blue" Bland at the height of his powers. By 1960, he had been ensconced at Duke for several years, and label owner Don Robey (who also wrote many of the musician's hits and best-known songs under the alias "Deadric Malone") had successfully assembled a musical crew that consistently worked wonders with the singer in the studio. Not surprisingly, this set contains the largest number of titles with which even the most casual fan of Bland will be familiar.


The arrangements for "How Does a Cheatin' Woman Feel" and "St. James Infirmary" sound similar, although the tone of the former is menacing, while that of the latter being more dolorous. Interestingly, "St. James" is a song of extremely old vintage. Although many black American performers doubtlessly became familiar with it through Louis Armstrong's 1928 recording, its origins may go as far back to an 18th century English folk song. The top-notch band that performs on these two sides probably features Wayne Bennett on guitar (who seems to play on everything featured here) and also provides Bland with accompaniment on "I've Just Got to Forget You," "Jelly Jelly Jelly" (an outstanding cover of this Billy Eckstine-Earl Hines piece), "Ain't that Loving You," "You're the One (that I Adore)," and "Who Will the Next Fool Be." Bland gives new life to the old standards "Blue Moon," "Blues in the Night," and "Stormy Monday Blues" (perhaps the most exquisite version of this song ever committed to tape), while "Twistin' Up the Road" is a thinly-disguised remake of
"Farther Up the Road" that also acknowledges the influence of the dance craze popularized by Chubby Checker's then-current hit. Is "Turn on Your Love Light" the singer's greatest record? One could persuasively make such an argument for this justifiably celebrated gospel-influenced number. Although covered by many, nothing comes close to Bland's magnificent original, which features his "Squall" (what liner notes writer Bob Merlis refers to as a "unique epiglottal gargle") put to good use. "Your Friends" and "The Feeling is Gone" sound musically similar to "Jelly" and "Stormy Monday," whereas "Yield Not to Temptation," with its choir-like female chorus, is another gospel-derived piece akin to "Love Light." Simply put, "You're Worth It All" and "No Sweeter Girl" are perfect songs for making out. The swinging "36-22-36" is a personal favorite of mine complete with its engaging introduction ("Ladies and gentlemen, here's the man! I mean the man! The sensational, the incomparable, the dynamic Bobby - Bobby Bland!") and chorus that shouts out the voluptuous measurements of the singer's girlfriend, to which "Blue" responds with the warning, "Eyes on, hands off because she's mine, all mine." Ah, the good ol' days of male chauvinism. "Call on Me" and "That's the Way Love Is" are romantic anthems with their own respective merits, while "Ain't It a Good Thing" (with an uncredited female singer who takes lead vocal duties for one section of the song) seems to be a gospel-derived performance based on "I'm So Glad (Trouble Don't Last Always)." As their titles suggest, "Cry Lover Cry" is a weeper, and "Queen for a Day" is an admonition to a woman not to get too high and mighty. "Honky Tonk" makes it clear to Bland's woman that he will perform wherever he damn well pleases - high-class joints, low-class joints, even the honky tonks. The driving "I Can't Stop Singing" ends the first disc on an uptempo note.

"Sometimes You Gotta Cry a Little" is one of those catchy lesson-of-life songs, while "Honey Child" is the closest thing to filler that you'll find here. The previously unissued "Ill Call You Tomorrow" may have been a better candidate for release than the latter. The macho-yet-sensitive "Dust Got in Daddy's Eyes" and "If I Hadn't Called You Back" perfectly matches the image Bland had cultivated for himself. The title of the next piece lets the you know that, when it comes to heartaches, there "Ain't Nothing You Can Do," and despite this tune's air of resignation, remains one of the artist's most soothing performances. The trio of "Share Your Love," "Care for Me," and "After It's Too Late" feature Bland at his most lush, and, although not flashy, Wayne Bennett's superb guitar work is the true centerpiece on "Today." More outstanding guitar work from Bland's axeman is to be found on both the album and 45 versions of the blues standard "Black Night," whose subtle differences make for interesting comparative listening. Why the excellent "For Men Only" and braggadocio-laden "I'm the Greatest" remained unreleased for all these years is anyone's guess as they are certainly of the same high caliber as "Blind Man" (another heavily gospel-influenced number), "Steal Away," and "If You Could Read My Mind." The two-part "Ain't Doing Too Bad" is more lyrical boasting with some fine instrumental accompaniment, and Bland's lovely crooning on "I Won't Forget," "Loneliness Hurts," and "When You Put Me Down" (with more gorgeous guitar from Bennett) ably demonstrate why he is sometimes referred to as "The Black Sinatra." Disc Two concludes strongly with "I'm Gonna Cry" (lots of "Squalling" on this one), a most capable version of Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby," and "Ain't No Telling."


Lots of great stuff on this collection. Vol. 1 can be found here, while Vol. 3 is available here.

Disc 1

1. How Does a Cheatin' Woman Feel
2. St. James Infirmary
3. I've Just Got to Forget You
4. Jelly Jelly Jelly
5. Ain't that Lovin' You
6. You're the One (that I Adore)
7. Who Will the Next Fool Be
8. Blue Moon
9. Blues in the Night
10. Twistin' Up the Road
11. Stormy Monday Blues
12. Turn on Your Love Light
13. Your Friends
14. Yield Not to Temptation
15. You're Worth It All
16. No Sweeter Girl
17. The Feeling is Gone
18. 36-22-36
19. Call on Me
20. That's the Way Love Is
21. Ain't it a Good Thing
22. Cry Lover Cry
23. Honky Tonk
24. Queen for a Day
25. I Can't Stop Singing

Disc 2

1. Sometimes You Gotta Cry a Little
2. Honey Child
3. I'll Call You Tomorrow*
4. Dust Got In Daddy's Eyes
5. If I Hadn't Called You Back
6. Ain't Nothing You Can Do
7. Share Your Love with Me
8. Care for Me
9. After It's Too Late
10. Today
11. Black Night (LP version)
12. For Men Only*
13. The Greatest
14. Black Night (45 version)
15. Blind Man
16. Steal Away
17. If You Could Read My Mind
18. Ain't Doin' Too Bad, Part 1
19. Ain't Doin' Too Bad, Part 2
20. I Won't Forget
21. Loneliness Hurts
22. When You Put Me Down
23. I'm Gonna Cry
24. Reconsider Baby
25. Ain't No Telling

*previously unreleased

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Country Weather (RD Records, 2005)

There are many groups in contention for the "Greatest Forgotten
1960s-era San Francisco Bay-Area Band" title, but, in my estimation, the clear-cut champion has to be Country Weather. I found about these guys back in the heady summer of 1995 when, as a newly-minted graduate from the University of Illinois, I was applying my degree in political science by...working at the now-defunct Village Green Records in downtown Champaign. In addition to my employee discount, one of the perks of the job was my boss letting me borrow albums from his collection so I could record them onto cassette tapes. Among the most treasured items from his stash was the California Acid Folk two-LP bootleg set. Although it contained a lot of interesting material, the tracks that intrigued me the most were the four cuts recorded by the then-mysterious Country Weather. Despite the fact that the term is difficult to define, their songs had that "San Francisco Sound" that most psychedelic rock connoisseurs know and love when they hear it.

Man, was I stoked when Swiss reissue specialists RD Records released this beautiful two-LP set a few years ago. It was a bit of an ordeal getting this release from some Italian mail-order music store (I don't recall the name), and I had to wait for what seemed like an eternity to have it shipped to me. When it finally arrived, I placed the first record down on my turntable, cued up the stylus, and quickly found out that it was everything I had hoped it would be.

Hailing from the San Francisco suburb of Walnut Creek, the band started out as the Virtues in 1966, but after establishing a permanent lineup - with Gregg Doulgass on lead guitar, Steve Derr on rhythm guitar, Dave Carter on bass, and Craig Nelson on drums - they came up with a more imaginative name at the behest of concert promoter Chet Helms, and became Country Weather in 1967. Although they had the right connections, played at all the major venues like the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium, and shared bills with all of the better known Bay-area bands, they were not signed by a record label and never achieved the success they deserved, ultimately causing them to call it a day in 1973.


Which makes it all the more amazing that they left behind such a relatively extensive recorded legacy. As their name might suggest, these guys do have a discernible country influence on their sound, more so on certain numbers than on others, although you wouldn't necessarily mistake them for, say, the Flying Burrito Brothers. Some tracks recall Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, or the Grateful Dead, although Country Weather's overall sound was distinct enough to give them their own unique musical identity. The first four songs are from their last recording session in 1971 and are representative of the late-period Haight-Ashbury scene. "Over and Over" has some excellent yearning vocals, and "Boy without a Home" choogles along nicely. "Out on the Trail" is a decent rocker enhanced by Douglass's tasty fretwork, while the country-ish "Yes That's Right" features fine slide guitar.

The next five selections were recorded in 1969 and originally appeared on the band's only demo record, which received some exposure on certain San Francisco radio stations. Most of this material also appeared on the aforementioned California Acid Folk bootleg. "Why Time is Leaving Me Behind" finds Douglass employing some interesting guitar tunings. There is also a strange section in the performance where it sounds like the record player's needle is stuck in a groove only to have the song resume when the listener least expects it. "New York City Blues" is a decent cover of the Yardbirds' white-boy blues number. The tough, blazing guitar solos are among the highlights of "Carry a Spare," a euphemism, apparently, for having more than one girlfriend. And here we come to Country Weather's masterpiece, "Fly to New York" (what was with this West Coast band's fixation on songs that reference the Big Apple?). Deservedly included on Rhino's Love is the Song We Sing - San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970, this one ranks up there with any other Haight-Ashbury band's epics like "Dark Magic" or "Who Do You Love." Featuring spacey guitar and dreamy vocals, "Fly to New York" delivers the psychedelic goods and - call me crazy - almost sounds like early Pink Floyd at certain moments. "Black Mountain Rag" is a brief minute-and-a-half version of an instrumental piece on which the band jammed when playing live, as you'll read about in a moment.


The remaining material consists of excellent live performances recorded during two concert appearances at the Walnut Creek Civic Center on July 31 and August 1, 1970, and leads off with "I Don't Know," an infectiously catchy rocker. The full-length version of "Black Mountain Rag" featured here follows through on the potential indicated by its shorter studio counterpart. Technically, I think this is more of a breakdown than a rag, but no matter. Douglass' lightning-fast leads mesh perfectly with Derr's sympathetic rhythm guitar, and this downhome-flavored jam justifies the "Country" in the band's name. Despite its title, "Pakistan" is not an Eastern-inspired improvisation but rather another capable rural music-influenced piece. The absence of studio-imposed constraints allows the band to stretch out on "New York City Blues" and "Yes That's Right," and in the case of "Fly to New York," to stretch out even further. Finally, the closer, "Wake Me Shake Me," is a blazing 14-minute-plus epic that was probably inspired by the Blues Project's version of the same song.

You can ignore the comments of critic William Ruhlmann at All Music Guide who states, "The appearance of Country Weather after all these years does not constitute the discovery of a great lost album by a great lost San Francisco band of the '60s," because he's flat-out wrong. This set is a great lost album by a great lost San Francisco band of the '60s. It's that simple.

1. Over and Over
2. Boy without a Home
3. Out on the Trail
4. Yes That's Right
5. Why Time is Leaving Me Behind
6. New York City Blues
7. Carry a Spare
8. Fly to New York
9. Black Mountain Rag
10. I Don't Know (live)
11. Black Mountain Rag (live)
12. Pakistan (Ring Around the Moon) (live)
13. Fly to New York (live)
14. New York City Blues (live)
15. Yes That's Right (live)
16. Wake Me Shake Me (live)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fun on the Frets - Early Jazz Guitar (Yazoo, circa 1979)

If I had to choose one word to describe the performances on this album, it would be "elegant." In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Yazoo started branching out into other styles of music recorded before 1950, and their albums of early jazz and ethnic music were just as compelling as their prewar blues LPs. As Richard Lieberson's liner notes explain, this collection focuses on the lost art of chordal style jazz guitar which was largely abandoned in the wake of Charlie Christian's innovations with amplification and single-note choruses. If you're a fan of Django Reinhardt, I think you will absolutely love the material on this album.


The first ten tracks, which come from radio transcriptions from 1941, are some fantastic duets between Carl Kress and Tony Mottola. Although both started out as banjoists, they, like many other early jazz guitarists, made the switch from one instrument to the other as the 1920s progressed into the 1930s. Despite their backgrounds as studio musicians and accompanists to such whitebread acts like the Dorsey Brothers, Perry Como, and other similar prosaic entertainers, their performances here qualify as art of the highest order. Mottola's leads and the rhythm work of Kress perfectly complement each other just like fine wine balances a gourmet meal, with "Nobody's Idea" being my personal favorite among an excellent bunch.


"Danzon" and "I've Got a Feeling You're Fooling Me" from the mid-1930s find Kress teamed up with Dick McDonough, an unheralded jazz guitar pioneer whose tragic early death at age 34 was brought on by alcoholism. These are exquisite performances, and the harmonies that their instruments sometimes produce are nothing short of amazing. Kress' two solo performances from the end of the decade ain't too shabby, either.


The legendary George Van Eps came from a musical family. His father, Fred, recorded as an early ragtime banjoist. Caught between the competing influences of his father and Carl Kress, Van Eps came up with the idea of extending a guitar's low-end range by adding another bass string. The end result was the production of the seven-string guitar by Epiphone in 1940. His four sides featured here date from 1949 (making them among the most recently recorded items to be found on a Yazoo release..."recently" being a relative term, of course) and find him accompanied by a bassist and drummer. Although the presence of this rhythm section causes Van Eps to employ the low seventh string less frequently than on subsequent recordings, it is still easy to discern his unique style, especially on the beautiful "Tea for Two."

1. Fun on the Frets - Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
2. Jazz in G
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
3. Sarong Number
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
4. The Camel Walks
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
5. Blonde on the Loose
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
6. Serenade
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
7. Squeeze Box Swing
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
8. Sharp as a Tack
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
9. Nobody's Idea
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
10. Boogie Woogie for Guitar
- Carl Kress & Tony Mottola
11. Danzon
- Carl Kress & Dick McDonough
12. I've Got a Feeling You're Fooling Me
- Carl Kress & Dick McDonough
13. Peg Leg Shuffle
- Carl Kress
14. Sutton Mutton (Taking it on the Lamb)
- Carl Kress
15. I Wrote it for Jo - George Van Eps

16. Kay's Fantasy - George Van Eps
17. Tea for Two
- George Van Eps
18. Once in a While
- George Van Eps

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Funky Funky Chicago (Funky Delicacies, 2004)

As music writer Bill Dahl's liner notes point out, this compilation of material from 1968-1977 (1973-1977 apparently being a typo) is especially interesting because some of the featured artists are better known for their blues and southern soul credentials, not surprising considering that a large segment of The Windy City's black population has their roots in Mississippi and other states in the Deep South. As a result,
Funky Funky Chicago includes a diverse group of recordings, some with a distinct downhome flavor and others that would have sounded appropriate at various South Side disco clubs back in the day.

Among the earthier performers on this collection, guitarist Jimmy Johnson (aka The Bar Room Preacher) is probably the best known (at least with blues aficionados) for his work with fellow axeman Jimmy Dawkins as well as for his own albums on Alligator and Delmark. As it turns out, Johnson had been playing a variety of styles before devoting himself pretty much exclusively to the blues in the mid-1970s. His three sides from 1968 for the Stuff label - "Get It" and both versions of "Let's Get a Line" - are essentially tough instrumental cuts with his backing band, the Lucky Hearts, providing some truly funky accompaniment. Fans of James Brown's late 1960s period will probably dig these tracks. Eddie Houston's "Away from Home" was recorded around the same time and demonstrates a strong Otis Redding influence. "43rd Street Bus Stop" may be this compilation's most interesting track in that it seems to have one foot in 1955 and the other in 1975. Nowadays, Mack Simmons is known strictly as a blues harmonica player, but his attempt to start a new dance craze (the "43rd Street Bus Stop," of course) features funky grooves as well as very dated-sounding synthesizer squiggles - and then - BOOM! - out of nowhere come some gutbucket guitar, harmonica, and sax solos. Weird but engaging.


Complete with throbbing bass, punchy horns, and scintillating wah wah guitar, the Chosen Few's "Cut Me In" and "We are the Chosen Few" sound like mid-1970s funk on the cusp of disco, as does Casey Jones' excellent "(Get Up Off Your) Rusty Dusty." Georgianna McCoy's voice is as sweet as honey on "I've Got to Space" and "I Don't Want Nobody Else" on which she is joined by capable backing vocalists and musicians, the Classetts. Released on Andre Williams' short-lived Scorpio label, "(Charlie Brother) We Got to Love One Another" is credited to a mysterious figure known as "The Rock," although it's Jo Ann Garrett's vocal chops that take center stage. In the liners, Dahl theorizes that Williams himself may contribute a line or two during the proceedings. Williams also had writing and production involvement with Artie White's seductive "A Love Like Yours (is Hard to Find)" from 1977. Finally, lines like
Funky funky Christmas,
Mama's fixin' food.
Papa's watchin' football,
Food sure smellin' good!
People comin' over,
Grandma's on the way.
Funky funky Christmas,
Sho' nuff, funky Christmas day!
help make Electric Jungle's "Funky Funky Christmas" this album's cheesiest moment. The passages where the instrumentalists quote "Little Drummer Boy" and "Deck the Halls" don't help, either. That said, you'd be thankful to hear this playing over a store's PA system instead of the usual holiday crap they pipe in during the upcoming Christmas shopping season, which is right around the corner, you know.

Get Funky Funky Houston Volume 1 - Rare and Unreleased Recordings from the Vaults of Ovide Records 1968-1969 here.

Cut Me In - The Chosen Few
2. I've Got to Space - Georgianna McCoy & the Classetts
3. (Charlie Brother) We Got to Love One Another - The Rock
4. A Love Like Yours (is Hard to Find) - Artie White
5. Funky Funky Christmas - Electric Jungle
6. Let's Get a Line - Jimmy Johnson & the Lucky Hearts
7. I Don't Want Nobody Else -
Georgianna McCoy & the Classetts
8. (Get Up Off Your) Rusty Dusty - Casey Jones
9. We are the Chosen Few - The Chosen Few
10. Away from Home - Eddie Houston
11. Get It
- Jimmy Johnson & the Lucky Hearts
12. 43rd Street Bus Stop - Mack Simmons & Jimmy Mitchell
13. Let's Get a Line
- Jimmy Johnson & the Lucky Hearts

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mike Sarkissian and his Cafe Bagdad Ensemble - Armenian Wedding (Audio Fidelity, 1958)

Mike Sarkissian is yet another Armenian-American from the Northeast's seemingly inexhaustible supply of musicians from that particular ethnic community. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, he was the rare example of a band leader who was a percussionist as opposed to an oud player, which was more typical during the 1950s-1960s golden age of belly dance records. To add to his distinctiveness, he specialized in the cocktail drum, while his brother Buddy played the more traditional dumbeg, the clay Middle Eastern hand drum. After serving in the US Army Air Corps Jazz Band during World War II, Mike made the transition to club owner (the Cafe Bagdad, of course, among others) as well as professional musician and signed with the Audio Fidelity label in the 1950s, where he proceeded to make three albums. John Berberian told me that during Sarkissian's heyday, he was known as "Mr. Show Business" among Armenian-Americans and was renowned for his headlining performances at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.


Armenian Wedding is a superb collection of performances that is representative of the material Sarkissian and his band were playing at the time. Unfortunately, the liner notes tend to focus on the perceived exoticism of Armenians and their folkways (with an emphasis on weddings, obviously) without discussing the tracks or musicians who appear on this album. The band seems to have been comprised of Sarkissian, his brother Buddy and half-brother Sam Akashian on dumbegs, Dick Shatanian on clarinet, Freddy Elias on violin, Zaven "Tak" Takvorian on viola, and Johnny Georges on oud. Unfortunately, the identities of the other musicians is a mystery. Regardless of who they are, they are first-rate instrumentalists nonetheless.


Given that this LP includes several typically propulsive performances intended for dancing, it is not out of the question that this is indeed authentic Armenian wedding music. Then again, the album title may have just been an excuse to have an attractive female model pose in somewhat provocative traditional attire. From the opening track, "Hye Gagan Bar," the listener can easily discern the numerous percussion instruments and the resultant polyrhythms that appear throughout this album. There is an exquisite violin solo on "Shilvani," while some impassioned vocals grace "Dari Lo Lo," "Agvor Aghchig," "Gamavor Zing Vor" (a song about the volunteer soldiers who fought the Turks during the genocide of 1915), "Lazbar," "Goghba Elam Selera," and "Hasagat Partzer." The instrumental "Tamara" is my favorite performance on this album, due in large part to the excellent oud, clarinet, and violin work by the musicians. "Halleh," "Tamzara," and "Jazayer" are bristling with so much energy that I would certainly enjoy seeing the lovely maiden on the album cover perform a belly dance routine to them. I guess I'm just easily entertained.


Note: A big "thank you" to Rich Takvorian for stopping by and properly identifying many of the musicians in the group photo above. (See comments.)

1. Hye Gagan Bar
2. Shilvani
3. Dari Lo Lo
4. Tamara
5. Agvor Aghchig
6. Halleh
7. Jazayer
8. Tamzara
9. Gamavor Zing Vor
10. Lazbar
11. Goghba Elam Selera
12. Hasagat Partzer

Thursday, November 5, 2009

78 Quarterly Volume 1 - No. 3 (1988)

By popular demand, here is the third issue of the world's greatest old-time music periodical, 78 Quarterly. I'm very flattered by how many of you left enthusiastic comments for my previous upload of issues No. 1 and No. 2. If it weren't such a bitch to scan these magazines, I'd post them more often. Be that as it may...

After a 22-year hiatus, editor Pete Whelan finally resumed publication of 78 Quarterly in 1990. It was worth the wait. A great deal of newly obtained information about prewar blues and jazz musicians had been gathered since 1968, and the magazine's editor brought back many of the same music researchers whose scholarship graced the pages of the first two issues. Stephen Calt begins his exhaustive history of the legendary Paramount label in "The Anatomy of a 'Race' Label - Part One." Including information about the company's origin as a furniture manufacturer, its executives, and the factors that contributed to its fateful decision to start recording blues, jazz, and black gospel material, this is everything you wanted to know about Paramount but were afraid to ask.

Perhaps the finest of many fine articles, Doug Seroff's "Polk Miller and the Old South Quartette" (whose recordings are available here), tells the story of one of the most important but forgotten artists in the history of American music. You can forget about everyone from Dock Boggs to Elvis Presley who is mentioned as the first significant white performer to be influenced by black musicians. As far as recorded music goes, that history starts with Polk Miller. A well-to-do pharmacist and Confederate Civil War veteran, Miller grew up on a Virginia plantation where he fell under the spell of his father's slaves. Not only did he learn to play banjo from them, but he also prided himself in being able to speak and sing in a perceived authentic black dialect. His passion for African-American culture and the antebellum South eventually led him to become a professional musician and entertainer and to recruit four black harmony singers, dubbed the Old South Quartette, as his backup group. Miller was especially remarkable in that he did not perform any of his material in blackface. Touring from 1893 until Miller's death in 1913, his "Old Times in the South" show was a success throughout the country. Billed as "An Evening of Old Plantation and War Time Stories and Songs," a typical performance included Miller's anecdotes told in "darkey" dialect as well as solo and group renditions of black spirituals, white hymns, folk material, and popular songs done a cappella or with banjo or guitar accompaniment. No less a distinguished figure than Mark Twain heaped praise upon "Old Times in the South," describing selections from the entertainers' repertory as "musical earthquakes" and referring to the production as "the only thing the country can furnish that is originally and utterly American."

Additionally, this issue features shorter articles such as Richard Spottswood's piece on ethnic records from the 1920s and 1930s, a summary of the only known biographical details about Mississippi bluesman William Harris by Gayle Dean Wardlow, and the first part of Tom Tsotsi's history of Gennett Records.

And finally, 78 Quarterly No. 3 includes a reminiscence of pioneering collector James McKune by Henry Renard, a list of the rarest 78s A to B, a fascinating transcription of Skip James' thoughts on race relations (parts of which were incorporated into the book I'd Rather be the Devil) courtesy of Stephen Calt, and an obituary for Yazoo Records founder Nick Pearls.

Dig in.

Note: Since I was multitasking while preparing this, I accidentally scanned pages 11 and 18 twice. Well, better to have two pages too many instead of two pages too few, right? Anyway, excuse the redundancy.

The Earliest Negro Vocal Quartets Vol. 1 1894-1928 (Document, 1991)

Although it would be impossible, the ultimate dream come true for a researcher of culture in the United States would be to discover the "Big Bang" of American music - that is, the exact moment in time when British Isles ballads and religious songs collided with African rhythms and improvisational sensibilities. This probably occurred in an 18th or 19th-century tobacco or cotton field on a Southern plantation when a slave of African origin combined those two musical influences and belted out the first field holler. From that, of course, emerged African-American gospel music, blues, jazz, and, eventually, rock 'n' roll, R&B, soul, funk, etc., etc.

Since we don't have recordings of any such field hollers from the 1700s or 1800s at our disposal, we must focus our attention on examples of subsequent developments in the evolution of uniquely American music. With the importance that sanctified music has held throughout black American history, it should not be surprising that some of the first African-American musicians to enjoy popularity with both whites and blacks were vocal quartets. Often referred to as "Negro Quartets" or "Colored Quartets," these groups from the late 1800s and early 1900s featured four-part harmony singing and usually performed unaccompanied religious material, although there were notable exceptions to this rule. The material typically performed by such quartets was often much more dignified than the repertories of other popular contemporary black entertainers who specialized in "coon shouts" and other degrading forms of music that emphasized negative stereotypes of the race. But again, this was not always the case.

The Earliest Negro Vocal Quartets Vol. 1 offers a fascinating glimpse of the ultimate in proto-blues, some of the earliest recorded examples of not just African-American music, but American music as well. Although it is difficult to hear much beneath the surface noise, the Standard Quartette's "Keep Movin'" is especially significant for its early recording date (1894!) and the occasional bursts of vocal exquisiteness that seep through the static like the wailing of a lost ghost in the mists of time. A popular touring act in their day, this quartet recorded a total of 22 cylinders, but only this recording has survived. The Dinwiddie Colored Quartet, formed at the John A. Dix Industrial School in Dinwiddie, Virginia, waxed six one-sided records in 1902, five of which - "Down on the Old Camp Ground," "Poor Mourner," "Steal Away," "Gabriel's Trumpet," and "We'll Anchor Bye-and-Bye" - have been discovered and are presented here. These are all powerful a cappella gospel performances marred only slightly by the recurring introduction "(Song title) by the Dinwiddie Colored Quartet" uttered by what sounds like some white guy (their manager perhaps?) before each song. Nothing is known about the Male Quartette or the Apollo Male Quartette who recorded their sanctified material respectively in circa 1910 and 1912.

As good as this CD's first nine tracks are, the remaining material by Polk Miller and/or his/the Old South Quartette is what's really the most compelling. No need to adjust your computer's monitor; you are seeing the above photograph correctly. Miller was a banjo and guitar-playing white pharmacist from Virginia who enjoyed a successful second career as an entertainer and leader of the "Old Times in the South" touring show. This nostalgic production featured Miller reciting stories spoken in an "authentic" black dialect as well as musical material of Southern white and African-American origin performed with the accompaniment of his Old South Quartette (which included James Stamper and Randall Graves as well as two other singers whose names are unfortunately lost to us). Such was the popularity of what was arguably America's first biracial musical group that they recorded seven cylinders for the Edison Amberol and Standard labels circa 1909-1910, and what variety these recordings demonstrate. "The Bonnie Blue Flag" was a Confederate war anthem from 1861, although not as well known as the more familiar "Dixie." One cannot help but note the irony of a group of black men singing the chorus, "Hurrah! Hurrah! For Southern rights hurrah! Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star" as Miller strums his banjo and handles the lead vocals which detail how Southern states

left the Union one by one during the 1860-1861 secession crisis. "Laughing Song" is a truly bizarre novelty tune that features some exquisite vocal harmonies and details the pleasures of having "oysters and wine at 2:00 a.m." On this recording and subsequent numbers, one might assume these to be the work of an all black group, so convincing are Miller's singing mannerisms. Perhaps Miller and the Quartette's finest number, "What a Time" is a powerful gospel performance with a driving one-two beat that will get even the most ardent atheist in the spirit. "The Watermelon Party" is a "coon shout" that would certainly be considered distasteful in this politically correct age, but it is still a fascinating historical document nonetheless. On the next set of cylinders - "Rise and Shine," "The 'Old Time' Religion," and "Jerusalem Mornin'" - Miller puts aside his banjo and guitar and performs a cappella with the group on sanctified material that is nearly the equal of "What a Time."

Miller's death in 1913 did not prevent the Old South Quartette from continuing to perform and record in the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, they waxed seven sides for the QRS label in 1928, their style essentially unchanged since the 1890s. "Oh What He's Done for Me" and "No Hiding Place Down Here" are two more top-notch gospel performances, while remakes of "Watermelon Party" and "Laughing Song" (retitled as "Oysters and Wine at 2 A.M.") are nods to their recorded past. "Bohunkus and Josephus" is another strange novelty piece with rather oddball words sung to music of "Auld Lang Syne." "Pussy Cat Rag" seems to be a bawdy song with double entendre lyrics, while "When De Corn Pone's Hot" is similar to "Watermelon Party" but much more respectful in tone and subject matter. In the words of early black music scholar Doug Seroff, the song is "a musical arrangement of a Paul Laurence Dunbar dialect poem, full of the most gorgeous folk imagery." Be sure to read his fascinating article on Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette in the accompanying post of 78 Quarterly No. 3.

1. Keep Movin' - Standard Quartette
2. Down on the Old Camp Ground - Dinwiddie Colored Quartet
3. Poor Mourner
- Dinwiddie Colored Quartet
4. Steal Away
- Dinwiddie Colored Quartet
5. Gabriel's Trumpet
- Dinwiddie Colored Quartet
6. We'll Anchor Bye-and-Bye
- Dinwiddie Colored Quartet
7. The Camp Meeting Jubilee - Male Quartette
8. Swing Low Sweet Chariot - Apollo Male Quartette
9. Shout All Over God's Heaven - Apollo Male Quartette
10. The Bonnie Blue Flag - Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette
11. Laughing Song
- Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette
12. What a Time - Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette
13. The Watermelon Party - Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette
14. Rise and Shine - Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette
15. The "Old Time" Religion - Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette
16. Jerusalem Mornin' - Polk Miller and his Old South Quartette
17. Oh What He's Done for Me - Old South Quartette
18. Watermelon Party
- Old South Quartette
19. Bohunkus and Josephus
- Old South Quartette
20. Oysters and Wine at 2 A.M. - Old South Quartette
21. Pussy Cat Rag - Old South Quartette
22. When De Corn Pone's Hot - Old South Quartette
23. No Hiding Place Down Here - Old South Quartette

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Great Speckled Bird (Ampex, 1969)

I gotta admit this is a strange proposition of a record, Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia embracing ragged electric country rock? Well, I guess it worked for Neil Young and Crazy Horse and The Band...The Toronto pair hinted at such countrified grandeur on their 1968 LPs Nashville (recorded in, well, duhhh) and Full Circle for it seems Ian Tyson had always been fond of western themes as a kid, but seeing a gloriously sloppy set by the Flying Burrito Brothers in NY changed everything. Hoping to take this sound to even heavier places, Ian enlisted a hot Canadian rock band--including drummer Norman "N.D." Smart who'd slammed for Mountain and the Remains. They recorded in Nashville again, with Todd Rundgren at the production helm, and this s/t LP was recorded in 1969.


Track one, "Love What You're Doing Child," kind of says it all, with thunderous drums and blazing guitars sitting neatly beside Ian and Sylvia's country/folk harmonies. The old-school Buck Owens-western vibe comes through on cuts like the "This Dream" and "Calgary"--while Sylvia holds down tracks like "Disappearing Woman." The Great Speckled Bird would go on to tour Japan and with The Festival Express, and even had their own TV show--but one more subdued album as "Ian and Sylvia and the Great Speckled Bird" was the last of their legacy...


Get Ian and Sylvia's Four Strong Winds here and So Much for Dreaming here.

1. Love What You're Doing Child
2. Calgary
3. Trucker's Cafe
4. Long Long Time to Get Old
5. Flies in the Bottle
6. Bloodshot Beholder
7. Crazy Arms
8. This Dream
9. Smiling Wine
10. Rio Grande
11. Disappearing Woman
12. We Sail