Saturday, January 30, 2010

Buffalo Springfield - Sell Out (Aurora Borealis bootleg, 2002)


The material featured on this bootleg CD should have been what was put on the fourth disc of the Buffalo Springfield Box Set instead of the somewhat pointless appearance of the band's first two albums. Don't music companies understand that the only way to justify the exorbitant price tags on these ornately-packaged anthologies is to stuff them full of rarities and previously unreleased recordings? And not just on some of the discs, but on all of them? OK, maybe I'm being too hard on Rhino because I'll admit that the first three discs in that box set are pretty damn spectacular, but still... Am I the only one who has a problem with the fact that the extended version of "Bluebird" still has never received a proper digital release? Well, thank goodness for bootleggers and CDs like Sell Out.

CIRCA 1966 (L TO R): RICHIE FURAY, STEVE STILLS,
NEIL YOUNG, & BRUCE PALMER


Put simply, this is an amazing collection of Buffalo Springfield tracks, regardless of its legal legitimacy. Admirers of "Bluebird" (arguably Stephen Stills' finest moment as a songwriter and musician) will rejoice as Sell Out contains not only the aforementioned nine-plus-minute magnum opus but also an alternate of that version plus two outstanding live interpretations. The opening cut was previously included on the two-LP Buffalo Springfield compilation album from 1973, which remains its only official appearance. Apparently, Stills never thought too highly of this version and may still be upset over the radio exposure it received after a disc jockey had stolen the recording from his house, according to legend. Just goes to show that some musicians are not always the best judges of their own work. And although this extended rendition doesn't quite live up to the hype that you'll hear from some record collectors - to my ears, it sounds like it was created by simply tacking on a lengthy studio jam to the end of the more radio-friendly edit from Buffalo Springfield Again - it's still a pretty magnificent performance. The alternate extended version of "Bluebird," which is the last track here, is the real treat. Despite the fact that the source is a scratchy acetate, it features some breathtaking guitar overdubs from Neil Young and gives the listener an idea of how the band may have originally envisioned this piece in its full psychedelic glory.

CIRCA EARLY 1967 (L TO R): YOUNG, JIM FIELDER (?),
FURAY, DEWEY MARTIN, & STILLS


This disc also unearths some other interesting studio artifacts. The demo recording of "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" featuring Young alone on acoustic guitar and vocals makes for an interesting comparison with the version from the band's first album on which Richie Furay is the lead singer. "Sell Out" is a fully-realized song from Neil that for some reason never made it to LP, while "Raga" merely consists of some leftover scraps from the more interesting "Buffalo Stomp" instrumental that had previously been compiled. Of greatest interest is the alternate 45 mix of "Mr. Soul." I've always loved this song, and it's fascinating to hear the subtle differences in this interpretation, the official release from Again, and the other previously unreleased version on the box set.

1968 (L TO R): JIM MESSINA, YOUNG, MARTIN, FURAY, & STILLS

Why Buffalo Springfield never released a live album is a mystery. Listening to the material from the Huntington Beach, California and Dallas, Texas shows from 1967 and 1968 respectively that is presented here will quickly dispel the myth that Los Angeles bands from the 1960s could not compete with their San Francisco counterparts when it came to live performances. I'll concede that the audio quality on these tracks is not the greatest, but it's still pretty damn good all things considered. Marvel at the different live versions of "For What It's Worth" and "Bluebird," and hear what Buffalo Springfield can do when given the opportunity to stretch out on "Mr. Soul." Their glorious vocal harmonies are still evident on "Go and Say Goodbye," "Rock and Roll Woman," "A Child's Claim to Fame," "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing," and "Uno Mundo," even if the recording equipment wasn't always as cooperative as it should have been. Until something better comes along, these tracks are the best way to enjoy Buffalo Springfield's live legacy.

1. Bluebird (extended version)
2. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing (demo)
3. Sell Out
4. Raga
5. Mr. Soul (alternate 45 version)
6. For What It's Worth (live in Huntington Beach, CA; 1967)
7. Go and Say Goodbye
(live in Huntington Beach, CA; 1967)
8. Mr. Soul
(live in Huntington Beach, CA; 1967)
9. Bluebird
(live in Huntington Beach, CA; 1967)
10. Rock and Roll Woman (live in Dallas, TX; 1968)
11. A Child's Claim to Fame
(live in Dallas, TX; 1968)
12. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
(live in Dallas, TX; 1968)
13. Uno Mundo
(live in Dallas, TX; 1968)
14. For What It's Worth
(live in Dallas, TX; 1968)
15. Bluebird (live in Dallas, TX; 1968)
16. Bluebird (alternate extended version)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis (Yazoo, 1970)


Although I've always had a preference for prewar blues guitarists over their piano-playing counterparts, thoughtfully compiled records like this one are perfect for when I'm in the mood to listen to the genre's more compelling ivory ticklers. Document Records has released two volumes of Cripple Clarence Lofton's total output as well as seven volumes covering Walter Davis' complete recorded works, but for most people, listening to nine CDs of this material would get pretty tedious. And that's exactly why Yazoo remains the greatest prewar blues reissue label of all time: their quality-over-quantity approach (not to mention their superior mastering techniques) typically makes their albums much more interesting and enjoyable listening experiences. Cripple Clarence Lofton & Walter Davis is no exception.

Lofton (1887-1957) was born as Albert Clemens in Tennessee, although he is most closely associated with his adopted hometown of Chicago, where he was a popular entertainer noted for his energetic performing style that, in addition to piano playing and singing, included tap dancing, whistling, and finger-snapping. Owing his nickname to a limp from which he suffered, he became a favorite of early jazz collectors during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930s along with Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and many others. Indeed, the performances presented here (with the exception of "Brown Skin Girls," a fantastic duet with Big Bill Broonzy) come from a private recording session conducted sometime around 1937 and presumably by a well-endowed boogie-woogie enthusiast. "Juke Joint Stomp" is an engaging, uptempo instrumental featuring a prominent walking bass line as well as some impressive right-hand action. Willie Mabon, of course, had a huge hit in 1952 with "I Don't Know" and acknowledged Lofton as the source from whom he learned it. Named respectively after one of Chicago's more storied thoroughfares and the section of the city in which most black neighborhoods have historically been located, "State Street Blues" and "South Side Mess Around" are both pleasant steady-rolling instrumentals done in the pianist's characteristic style. Although "Change My Mind Blues" features vocals, it is predominantly another instrumental performance somewhat akin to the two aforementioned pieces. Lofton imaginatively utilizes Cow Cow Davenport's "Cow Cow Blues" as the inspiration for "Streamline Train" on which he namedrops the Windy City enough times to leave no doubt where the musician made his home.

This LP's liner notes, written by Stephen Calt et al., discuss in great length the technical attributes that make Walter Davis' playing style unique among blues pianists. If you want to learn more about arcane matters such as his utilization of the Mixolydian mode, please consult them for further information. Davis (1912-1964) was a product of Mississippi but for most of his life lived in St. Louis, where he often played with Henry Townsend, Big Joe Williams, and other guitarists who resided there during the 1930s. Although his voice is something of an acquired taste, the seven tracks on this LP ably demonstrate his instrumental prowess and distinctive approach to blues piano. In contrast to Lofton, Davis eschews using briskly-paced time signatures and the walking bass technique in the solo pieces "Why Should I Be Blue," "Jacksonville Part 2," "Call Your Name," "Please Don't Mistreat Me," and "Can't See Your Face." Clearly, these performances are not intended for dancing but rather alcohol-fueled introspection what with the air of melancholy that characterizes them. An unknown guitarist joins Davis on the Christmas blues "Santa Claus," while the liner notes identify Milton Sparks as the guitar player on "I Can Tell by the Way You Smell." In my opinion, this latter composition is the standout track among the pianist's material presented here. Although Sparks' instrument is a bit muffled throughout the performance, it still complements Davis' unorthodox playing style to good effect.


1. Juke Joint Stomp - Cripple Clarence Lofton
2. I Don't Know
- Cripple Clarence Lofton
3. State Street Blues
- Cripple Clarence Lofton
4. Change My Mind Blues
- Cripple Clarence Lofton
5. Streamline Train
- Cripple Clarence Lofton
6. South Side Mess Around
- Cripple Clarence Lofton
7. Brown Skin Girls
- Cripple Clarence Lofton
8. Why Should I Be Blue - Walter Davis
9. Santa Claus
- Walter Davis
10. Jacksonville Part 2
- Walter Davis
11. Call Your Name
- Walter Davis
12. Please Don't Mistreat Me
- Walter Davis
13. I Can Tell by the Way You Smell
- Walter Davis
14. Can't See Your Face
- Walter Davis

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pee Wee Crayton - Rocking Down On Central Avenue (Kent, 1982; 1985)


One of the finest guitarists of the early postwar West Coast blues scene, Connie Curtis "Pee Wee" Crayton today is a largely forgotten figure - a most unfortunate situation given the man's talent and legacy as a one-time hitmaker. Although born in Texas, he relocated to California as many other blues musicians from the Lone Star state had done during the 1930s and 1940s. Crayton received guitar lessons from T-Bone Walker while living in the San Francisco Bay area and started playing in Ivory Joe Hunter's band around 1946. Not long afterward, he came to the attention of Jules Bihari, who signed him to Modern Records. The guitarist had an immediate smash for the label in 1948 with the instrumental "Blues After Hours," which became a #1 R&B hit late in the year. As with a lot of other artists whose popularity peaked early on, however, Crayton spent the rest of his career trying to duplicate that early chart success without any luck.

CRAYTON POSING WITH AN EARLY-MODEL FENDER STRATOCASTER

That's not to say, though, that the guitarist did not continue to sell records. Numerous other sides were released during his tenure with Modern between 1948 and 1951, and he continued to record for various labels into the 1970s. Rocking Down On Central Avenue collects many of Pee Wee's lesser-known and previously unreleased recordings for the Bihari brothers, many of them equal in caliber to his signature performance. Never a particularly strong singer, Crayton excelled at instrumentals on which his fluid guitar lines were perfectly complemented by the work of studio musicians such as pianist David Lee Johnson, trumpeter Ernie Royal, tenor saxophonists Buddy Floyd and Ben Webster, bassists Bill Davis and Joe Comfort, and drummer Candy Johnson and Alvin Stoller among others. Of course, there are the obligatory but still excellent "Blues After Hours" sequels, "Answer to Blues After Hours" and "Long After Hours." Additionally, there is some sublime fretwork to be found on "Austin Boogie" and the lowdown "Crayton's Blues," while the stompers "Huckle Boogie" and "Pee Wee's Wild" ride the cusp between R&B and early rock 'n' roll.

PEE WEE LOOKING EXTREMELY DAPPER

As for the material with vocals, the engaging "Tired of Travelin'" was obviously influenced by Walker's "T-Bone Shuffle," while the blues ballads "Change Your Way of Loving" and "When a Man Has the Blues" display the guitarist at his most sophisticated. "T for Texas" is not a reworking of the "T is for Texas, T is for Tennessee" theme but rather a commentary on a "mean mistreatin' woman" who moves to California and doesn't "seem to do things (she) should." "Rockin' the Blues" is exactly what its title promises and features some really nice moments that showcase Crayton's trademark blazing guitar. "Central Avenue Blues" makes reference to the street on which many of Los Angeles' premier blues clubs from the 1940s and early 1950s were located, establishments where the guitarist and his band often performed to large audiences. Although "Louela Brown" and "Please Come Back" both contain Crayton's typical guitar artistry, liner notes writer Ray Topping points out that these sides also rank as some of his best vocal efforts, and I can't say that I disagree with that assessment.


1. Austin Boogie
2. Tired of Travelin'
3. Crayton's Blues
4. Change Your Way of Loving
5. Answer to the Blues After Hours
6. T for Texas (Mistreated Blues)
7. Rockin' the Blues
8. Huckle Boogie
9. Central Avenue Blues
10. Long After Hours
11. Louela Brown
12. When a Man Has the Blues
13. Please Come Back
14. Pee Wee's Wild

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Detroit Blues (United Superior, 1969; 1970s)


Recordings originally made for the Bihari brothers' Modern label in the 1940s and 1950s were subject to several reissue campaigns throughout the following decades. Kent Records, established by the Biharis after Modern had gone bankrupt, was the most qualified company to take on this task, especially in contrast to the efforts of more cut-rate outfits such as United Superior and Crown. For example, this particular compilation of early postwar Detroit blues recordings was originally part of Kent's Anthology of the Blues series and featured gatefold packaging. On United Superior, however, the same album was included in their misleadingly-titled Original Folk Blues group of Modern reissue LPs and came in a standard sleeve with no liner notes whatsoever. Well, at least the music - all of it dating from the fertile late-1940s-early 1950s period - still sounded good.

EDDIE KIRKLAND

There certainly is no shortage of John Lee Hooker material available in the blogosphere, and I'm sure that you can find these particular sides on other more comprehensive collections devoted to Mr. Boogie Chillen. Be that as it may, these tracks are still worth discussing because of the quality of the performances. "Women in My Life" is an interesting variation on the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" theme, with "Reach My Goal" and "Playing the Races" both displaying the bluesman's idiosyncratic guitar style to good effect.
The unknown second guitarist on the driving, up-tempo "Looking for Romance" meshes perfectly with Hooker's playing and foot-stomping. Eddie Kirkland was an associate of Hooker and bears the distinction of being the only blues musician of note to have been born in Jamaica, although he grew up in Alabama before eventually relocating to Detroit. He displays a ragged guitar style influenced by his mentor on "That's All Right" and "Time for My Lovin' to Be Done," and it sounds like Hooker himself singing backup vocals on the latter title.

EDDIE BURNS (L) & JOHN LEE HOOKER

Eddie Burns was proficient on both guitar as well as harmonica and played that second instrument on some of Hooker's early sides for Modern. Although he devoted himself exclusively to the guitar later in life, the titles on this collection find him as a band leader capably blowing harp and handling the vocal chores. Although "She Keeps Me Guessing" and "I Love to Jump the Boogie
" both have their respective merits, "Sitting Here Wonderin'" is his most compelling performance on Detroit Blues. Of all the musicians presented here, Sylvester Cotton is the most obscure, with no biographical information seemingly available. One writer posits that his guitar style on "I Tried," "Brown Skin Woman," and "Sak-Relation Blues" (is this title a typo?) suggests a Texas origin. Regardless of where Cotton came from, he definitely achieves a lonesome sound on these excellent unaccompanied performances.

1. Women In My Life - John Lee Hooker
2. Reach My Goal - John Lee Hooker
3. Looking for Romance - John Lee Hooker
4. Playing the Races - John Lee Hooker
5. That's All Right - Eddie Kirkland
6. Time for My Lovin' to Be Done - Eddie Kirkland
7. She Keeps Me Guessing - Eddie Burns
8. Sitting Here Wonderin' - Eddie Burns
9. I Love to Jump the Boogie - Eddie Burns
10. I Tried - Sylvester Cotton
11. Brown Skin Woman - Sylvester Cotton
12. Sak-Relation Blues - Sylvester Cotton

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rural Blues Vol. 1 (1934-1956) (Document, 1993)


With the exception of a few tracks, Document Records'
Rural Blues Vol. 1 features material by musicians who recorded during the postwar period (i.e. 1945 and beyond) but whose playing styles were firmly rooted in the folkways of rural prewar America. Despite the radical changes that occurred in the genre during the late 1940s and early 1950s, there were still a significant number of blues artists who did not follow in the footsteps of Muddy Waters and B.B. King and accordingly modernize their sound. Fortunately, the large amount of independent labels in existence at the time ensured that many of these archaic stylists would be documented, even if their records were not big sellers.

Willie Lane was a Texas blues guitarist who recorded five sides in 1949 and displays the influences of Ramblin' Thomas and J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith respectively on "Prowlin' Ground Hog" and "Howling Wolf Blues." In fact, he had accompanied Smith during a 1935 recording session for Vocalion (with the results never being released) under the moniker "Little Brother," giving speculation that this was the same "Little Brother" who John Lomax had recorded in the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville during the preceding year. Listen to "Up and Down Building K.C. Line," and come to your own conclusions. James "Black Diamond" Butler seems to have been another bluesman with Texas origins, as the lyrics of "T.P. Railer" suggest. In his booklet notes, blues scholar Mike Rowe theorizes that the mysterious pianist Goldrush hailed from Texas as well and that the vocal encouragements that can be heard in the background of "All My Money Is Gone" (originally done by Roosevelt Sykes) may have been provided by the aforementioned Black Diamond. The fact that both musicians recorded for the tiny Oakland, California-based Jaxyson label certainly makes this latter supposition a possibility. The gruff-voiced Monroe Moe Jackson was evidently a white singer and guitarist who straddled the line between late hillbilly/early country music and blues as demonstrated by his cover version of Hank Williams, Sr.'s "Move It On Over." The surreal "Go 'Way from My Door" is cited as a Captain Beefheart influence and is also included on the Gimme Dat Harp Boy: The Roots of the Captain compilation. Kinda hard to believe that something this wacked was recorded in 1949. Johnny "The Blind Boy" Beck is a biographical nonentity, a pity since it would be interesting to know more about the artist who performed the starkly beautiful "Locked In Jail Blues" and "You've Gotta Lay Down Mama." The most compelling group of recordings on this disc belong to Alabama blues guitarist John Lee (pictured on the booklet cover above), an artist deserving of much greater recognition. "Baby Blues" seems to have been based on "Florida Bound," a prewar recording by fellow Alabamian Edward Thompson. The pan pipes on Lee's interpretation of "Baby, Please Don't Go" are a nice touch, while his slide guitar work on "Down at the Depot" and "Blind's Blues" is marvelous. Suffice it to say that "Alabama Boogie" really cooks. Although I could do without his kazoo playing, Julius King shows himself to be an interesting prewar-style blues musician who recorded four sides in 1952. "Mississippi Boogie" is based on the ancient "Hesitation Blues," with, as Rowe points out, "If You See My Love" and "I Want a Slice of Your Pudding" (nice double entendre there) recalling the work of Blind Boy Fuller. The driving guitar instrumental "One O'Clock Boogie" is King's finest moment, even if he is slightly out of tune. Although D.A. Hunt was a Sun Records artist who must have lived in the vicinity of Memphis, "Lonesome Old Jail" and "Greyhound Blues" find him sounding more like Lightnin' Hopkins than any of the other blues musicians who recorded for Sam Phillips during the early days of his label. And finally, we have two extremely bizarre recordings by One String Sam Wilson that sound downright primordial, despite the fact that they were recorded circa 1956. Granted, such material is an acquired taste, but how can you pass up the opportunity to hear a version of Little Walter's "My Babe" and the apparently original "I Need a Hundred Dollars" performed on the one-stringed diddley bow? The answer - especially if you're interested in music of the African diaspora in its various forms - is: you can't.


ONE STRING SAM (ABOVE AND BELOW) PROBABLY AT THE 1973 ANN ARBOR
BLUES AND JAZZ FESTIVAL WITH HIS NAMESAKE INSTRUMENT


1. Up and Down Building K.C. Line - Willie Lane (as Little Brother)
2. Prowlin' Ground Hog
- Willie Lane
3. Too Many Women Blues
- Willie Lane
4. Howling Wolf Blues
- Willie Lane
5. Black Cat Rag
- Willie Lane
6. Black Cat Rag (alt. take)
- Willie Lane
7. T.P. Railer - Black Diamond
8. Lonesome Blues - Black Diamond
9. All My Money Is Gone - Goldrush
10. Move It On Over - Monroe Moe Jackson
11. Go 'Way from My Door - Monroe Moe Jackson
12. Locked In Jail Blues - Johnny Beck (The Blind Boy)
13. You've Gotta Lay Down Mama
- Johnny Beck (The Blind Boy)
14. Baby Blues - John Lee
15. Baby Please Don't Go
- John Lee
16. Down at the Depot
- John Lee
17. Alabama Boogie
- John Lee
18. Blind's Blues
- John Lee
19. Mississippi Boogie - Julius King
20. One O'Clock Boogie
- Julius King
21. If You See My Lover
- Julius King
22. I Want a Slice of Your Pudding
- Julius King
23. Lonesome Old Jail - D.A. Hunt
24. Greyhound Blues - D.A. Hunt
25. My Baby Ooo - One String Sam
26. I Need a Hundred Dollars - One String Sam

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blind Connie Williams - Philadelphia Street Singer (Testament 1974; 1995)


By request.

In addition to the rediscoveries of the blues revival in the 1950s and 1960s, there were also several notable discoveries - that is, African-American musicians who had not made any recordings in the 1920s and 1930s but whose playing styles and repertories had been developed during the prewar years. Some, such as Mance Lipscomb and Robert Pete Williams, achieved a degree of celebrity among the folk festival crowd, while others remained obscure to all but the most erudite of the blues intelligentsia. Blind Connie Williams is one such forgotten figure.

According to Pete Welding's booklet notes, Williams was born blind in southern Florida circa 1915 to parents who were migrant farm workers. During his youth, he attended the St. Petersburg School for the Blind (also Ray Charles' alma mater) and became sufficiently proficient on guitar to begin a career as a street musician in the 1930s. He eventually settled in Philadelphia in 1935 and often traveled to New York City, where he plied his trade in Harlem during his visits. It was there that he met Rev. Gary Davis, whose influence can be heard in Williams' guitar and singing style. His repertory was an extremely eclectic one. As a street musician, he primarily performed sacred material, although he knew a number of proto-blues folk songs and topical material from the 1930s and 1940s as well. He was also familiar with a few blues compositions, but as the booklet notes point out, he preferred "8- or 16-bar blues to the more widespread 12-bar form." Welding discovered Williams performing sanctified numbers to accordion accompaniment in a historically black neighborhood of Philadelphia sometime in 1961. After striking up a friendship, Williams revealed to the music writer that he had originally been a guitarist but used an accordion because it could be more easily heard and required less physical effort to play, both being important characteristics for an aging street musician's instrument to have. Not long afterward, Welding purchased a guitar for him. After reacquainting himself with the instrument, Williams was ready to record the material that appears here. Although the blind street musician may have been one of the first artists that Welding recorded, the results of this session were not released on his Testament label until 1974. The CD version includes seven bonus tracks that were not featured on the original album.

Despite the familiarity of many of the songs featured on this album, Williams displays the characteristics of any good folk musician by interpreting them on his own terms.
Throughout the proceedings, he displays a deft touch on his National Steel Guitar, and his accordion playing isn't bad, either. Although the aforementioned influence of Rev. Gary Davis is apparent on many of the performances, his one-time associate was very much his own man in terms of material and guitar techniques like bass-string snapping and utilization of a slider. The first third of the album primarily consists of folk material - such as excellent renditions of "Careless Love," "See See Rider," and "John Henry" - as well as songs associated with early blues singers - for example, "St. Louis Blues" (Bessie Smith) and "One Thin Dime" (which Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded as "One Dime Blues"). "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt" is a World War II-era piece commemorating the death of FDR that was originally done by gospel singer Otis Jackson, while "Stop by the Woodside" was apparently composed by an old friend from Williams' youth. With the exception of the Pearl Harbor reminiscence "Oh What a Time," the remaining tracks are old vintage sanctified songs including the outstanding "Crossed the Separated Line," "I Can See Everybody's Mother, Can't See Mine," "Through the Years I Keep on Toiling," "I Shall Not Be Moved," and "I'm Gonna Talk for My Savior." "Take Your Burden to the Lord," "Motherless Children," "He Watches Over Me," "I'll Fly Away," and "He's the Lily of the Valley" are especially interesting for featuring Williams on accordion as you're not likely not to have previously heard any of these titles performed on this particular instrument.

1. St. Louis Blues
2. Careless Love
3. Trouble in Mind
4. Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt
5. See See Rider
6. One Thin Dime
7. Stop by the Woodside
8. John Henry
9. Crossed the Separated Line
10. I Can See Everybody's Mother, Can't See Mine
11. Will the Circle Be Unbroken*
12. Take Your Burden to the Lord
13. Oh, What a Time
14. Mother Left Me Standing on the Highway
15. Through the Years I Keep Toiling
16. Motherless Children
17. I Shall Not Be Moved
18. Milky White Way*
19. Gonna Talk for My Savior*
20. When the Saints Go Marching In*
21. He Watches Down Over Me*
22. I'll Fly Away*
23. He's the Lily of the Valley*

*previously unreleased

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lookey Dookey (Honk-It, circa 2000)


This LP is a mighty fine party platter of houserockin' tunes guaranteed to give you nonstop listening pleasure. Similar in approach to the excellent Stompin' series, Lookey Dookey features material that was recorded during the days (mostly in the 1950s, presumably) before white guys came along and began their obsession with classifying black music and trying to fit it into preestablished categories. Therefore, depending on whom you ask, these tracks might be labeled as blues, R&B, or rock 'n' roll. But in the end, it doesn't really matter.

BIG MAYBELLE

The artists featured on Lookey Dookey are for the most part obscurities, but blues and 1950s music aficionados will certainly recognize at least some of the names presented here. Since many of these sides were recorded before the electric guitar became the signature instrument of rock 'n' roll bands, there are a number of performances here that utilize the saxophone as the featured solo instrument, including the Nightriders' "Looking for my Baby," Bobby Louis' novelty number "Fire of Love," King Coleman's title track "Loo-Key Doo-Key," Big Jay Mercer's "Bermudas," L.C. McKinley's "Nit Wit," the Premiers' "Run Along Baby," and Sammy Fitzhugh's "Sadie Mae." Piano players are well represented by Champion Jack Dupree's astounding "Shim, Sham, Shimmy" (which also features some scorching leads by an uncredited guitarist) and Piano Red's "Right and Ready" and "Wildfire," which both conclusively demonstrate that he should be given more credit as a founding father of rock. R&B personalities such as Andre Williams and Big Maybelle turn in some excellent performances respectively with "Don't Touch" and "That's a Pretty Good Love," while there is an emphasis on guitar solos on Rex Garvin's "Oh Yeah!," the Continentals' "Don't Do It Baby," and Joltin' Joe Howard's "Searchin' for My Baby." Bobby Long & his Satellites' "Mojo Workout" and Guitar Crusher's "The Monkey" both sound as if their titles were derived from popular dances of the day, and Jerry McCain's harmonica adds a nice downhome touch to "Run Uncle John." Let's see...what else? Well, there's Bunker Hill's "The Girl Can't Dance," on which he sounds like a more coarse version of Little Richard without the piano, in addition to another novelty number, Louis Jones' "Rock 'n' Roll Bells," which includes the all-time best utilization of (you guessed it) bells in this particular musical context.

JERRY McCAIN

1. Looking for My Baby - Nightriders
2. Shim, Sham, Shimmy - Champion Jack Dupree
3. Don't Touch - Andre Williams
4. Fire of Love - Bobby Louis
5. Loo-Key Doo-Key - King Coleman
6. Mojo Workout - Bobby Long & his Satellites
7. Run Uncle John - Jerry McCain
8. Bermudas - Big Jay Mercer
9. Right and Ready - Piano Red
10. That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle
11. The Girl Can't Dance - Bunker Hill
12. The Monkey - Guitar Crusher
13. Oh Yeah! - Rex Garvin
14. Don't Do It Baby - Continentals
15. Wildfire - Piano Red
16. Nit Wit - L.C. McKinley
17. Rock 'n' Roll Bells - Louis Jones
18. Run Along Baby - Premiers
19. Sadie Mae - Sammy Fitzhugh
20. Searchin' for My Baby - Joltin' Joe Howard

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bo Diddley Is a Lover (Checker, 1961)


Unlike a lot of other rock 'n' roll stars who had gotten their start in the 1950s, Bo Diddley kept going strong into the 1960s and even the early 1970s for that matter. Although Bo Diddley Is a Lover did not contain any smash hits, it is nevertheless an excellent album full of vintage material from the man with the funny-shaped guitars. As with some of my other recent posts, this LP has previously been made available in the blogosphere, but to my knowledge, this is the first time it appears in both 320 kbps MP3 and FLAC formats.

With the assistance of a female backing chorus, "Not Guilty" tells the continuing adventures of Bo Diddley, who finds himself in a courtroom setting for this installment of the ongoing saga. Fortunately for all concerned , the ruling is a favorable one. Two briskly-paced rockers, "Hong Kong, Mississippi" and "You're Looking Good" (featuring the supporting vocals of the Moonglows?) follow this opening track and prove conclusively that music with a backbeat had not completely gone belly-up in America during the pre-British Invasion years of the early 1960s. "Bo's Vacation" is one of those goofy spoken-word pieces in which Diddley specialized and had earlier pioneered with "Say Man." However, this performance does not feature its characters engaging in "the dozens" but instead finds one talking about what the other's wife might be doing while he's been away from home. The pulsating instrumental "Congo" showcases some jaw-dropping guitar effects, while "Bo's Blues" displays Diddley's ability to get low down. "Moon Baby" describes a future where even rocket travel cannot overcome the difficulties posed by a long-distance relationship. The album's title track is Bo Diddley braggadocio at its finest. 'Nuff said. The flamenco-inspired instrumental "Aztec" sounds like Quicksilver Messenger Service about seven or eight years ahead of schedule. It's material like this that makes one realize what a huge influence the man was on not only British rock bands from the mid-1960s but what is commonly described as the "San Francisco Sound" as well. "Back Home" serves as yet another fine example of the seemingly endless things that Diddley could do with the "shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits" rhythmic structure. Few musicians are worthy enough to mention the names of their earlier works in the lyrics of other songs, but on "Bo Diddley Is Loose," the man born as Ellas McDaniel shows why he is deserves such a privilege. The female chorus that is prevalent on some of this album's other tracks becomes a little tedious on "Love Is a Secret," which is about the only non-essential cut to be found here. "Quick Draw" is another hip-shaking instrumental enlivened by Jerome Green's maracas, and "Sick and Tired" finds Diddley employing a sound more in league with blues musicians of the day than the polyrhythmic rock that he had single-handedly created - not to suggest that it's a bad thing.

In short, an indispensable title in the man's discography. Get Bo Diddley (1962) here and The Originator here.

BO DIDDLEY WITH ANOTHER ONE OF HIS WICKED-LOOKING
HOMEMADE GUITARS AND MARACAS MAN JEROME GREEN

1. Not Guilty
2. Hong Kong, Mississippi
3. You're Looking Good
4. Bo's Vacation
5. Congo
6. Bo's Blues
7. Moon Baby
8. Bo Diddley Is a Lover
9. Aztec
10. Back Home
11. Bo Diddley Is Loose
12. Love Is a Secret
13. Quick Draw
14. Sick and Tired

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jim Pepper - Pepper's Pow Wow (Embryo, 1971)


Here's another album that's been posted in the blogosphere previously, apparently even in FLAC. But in my not-so-humble opinion, you're better off getting it here than anywhere else.

The social changes that the tumultuous 1960s ushered in made it possible for the voices of America's disaffected minorities to be heard on a much wider scale, with such responses ranging from riots to artistic statements.
The ongoing struggle for Native American rights culminated earlier in the decade with the establishment of the American Indian Movement (or AIM), whose increasingly bold tactics included seizure of the Mayflower replica in 1970 (which marked the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims), the occupation of Mount Rushmore in 1971, and the bloody siege at Wounded Knee in 1973. As much as these events helped bring attention to the shameful treatment of many Native Americans by the United States government, one should not discount the impact of media such the Billy Jack movies (apparent favorites of blog contributor the north star grassman) as well as albums like Xit's Plight of the Redman and this one, Pepper's Pow Wow.


Saxophonist Jim Pepper, originally a member of the groundbreaking jazz fusion group the Free Spirits during the 1960s, was of Creek and Kaw heritage, and it is on this album that he fully embraced his tribal ancestry in a musical sense. In doing so, he crafted performances that are arguably the most effective examples of Native American psych in existence. Released on Herbie Mann's Atlantic imprint, Embryo Records, in 1971 and featuring guitarist and Free Spirits alumnus Larry Coryell as well as a host of crack studio musicians, Pow Wow is quite a remarkable listening experience. The opener, "Witchitai-To," a Southwestern tribal peyote chant, had first been recorded by Pepper a couple of years earlier while a member of the band Everything Is Everything, who released one LP during their brief existence. This prior version had received quite a bit of underground radio airplay, which led to it being covered by the likes of Harper's Bizarre and Brewer and Shipley. However, the definitive recording of this song - complete with chanted intro and outro and appearing in its seven-and-a-half minute glory - is presented here. Pepper's saxophone playing is a true cri de couer, and Coryell's guitar techniques are simply stunning. The similar and equally potent "Yon A Ho," which begins side two, was written by Pepper's father, Gilbert "Gib" Pepper, who was another key performer and contributor on this album. Indeed, the elder Pepper was also the creative force behind Native American music-rock fusion showpieces "Squaw Song" and "Newly-Weds Song" as well as more traditional-sounding tracks such as "Rock Stomp Indian Style," "Slow War Dance," and "Fast War Dance," the latter of which serves as an introduction to the brief free form freakout "Now War Dance." Moreover, he was responsible for the arrangements on the traditional gospel tune "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," giving it a uniquely Native American flavor as "Nommie-Nommie." Additionally, Gib provides the narration on a stirring cover of "Senecas (As Long as the Grass Shall Grow)," a song written by underappreciated folk singer Peter La Farge, whose "Drums" (also memorably performed by Johnny Cash) serves as the LP's concluding track.

If you haven't already heard this album, do yourself a favor, and get it.


1. Witchitai-To (chant)
2. Witchitai-To (song)
3. Witchitai-To (chant reprise)
4. Squaw Song
5. Rock Stomp Indian Style
6. Senecas (As Long as the Grass Shall Grow)
7. Yon A Ho
8. Slow War Dance
9. Nommie-Nommie (When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder)
10. Newly-Weds Song
11. Fast War Dance
12. Now War Dance
13. Drums

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Africa - Music from "Lil Brown" (Ode, 1968)


If this album's cover and title remind you of something else, that's because it was planned that way. Apparently, Music from "Lil Brown" was a black response to the Band's Music from Big Pink. Indeed, the liner notes inside the gatefold read, "'LIL BROWN' A brown garage squatting in the shadows and sun of the Baldwin Hills in South Los Angeles. And 'Lil Brown' gave birth, possibly caesarean, certainly not prematurely to this music. As witness, we offer this album conceived and born (also recorded) within its brown walls. Any similarity to any other album package was purely calculated and our thanks to all those concerned. Be sure and listen to the Band. SKAO2955." Hell, there's even a painting on the back cover done in the same style as Bob Dylan's artwork on Big Pink, as you can see below.


So does this album sound anything like the LP whose packaging inspired it in the first place? Nope, not in the slightest. Instead, what we have here are some extremely imaginative cover versions of songs originally done by white artists coupled with some compelling soul performances. Africa (the name of the band who recorded this album, not the continent) consisted of doo-wop veterans Brice Coefield, Gary Pipkin, Chester Pipkin, Ed Wallace, and Freddie Wills. According to Marv Goldberg, certain members of this aggregation had already performed together in vocal groups such as the Sabres, the Valiants, the Untouchables, the Electras, and the Alley Cats in the 1950s and the earlier years of the following decade. During this time, they rubbed elbows with producers Phil Spector, and more importantly, Lou Adler, who apparently was instrumental in putting this album together and releasing it on his own label, Ode. With the exception of Chester Pipkin (cousin of fellow group member Gary Pipkin), who was a guitarist, it is unclear what instruments are played by whom. Such information would be nice to know because even though Africa featured some truly impressive vocalists, their instrumental chops weren't anything to underestimate, either. To wit, Chester Pipkin's fretwork is superb throughout the proceedings, and the conga player (whoever he may be) is definitely first-rate, giving these performances a distinctive Los Angeles Latin rhythm flavor. Soul? Funk? Rock? I'm not sure how one would classify this album, but it doesn't really matter because it's so damn good.

"NEXT OF KIN"

Music from "Lil Brown" opens with an absolutely amazing version of "Paint It Black" and is perhaps the finest cover of a Rolling Stones song ever recorded. Clocking in at nearly seven-and-a-half minutes , this track is a true psychedelic adventure which covers so much territory that Africa even manages to bring it all back home by including lines from the Isley Brothers' "Your Old Lady." Although most people reading this probably got their fill of the Doors' "Light My Fire" during their heady high school and/or college years, the fresh interpretation of the well-worn classic to be found here is nothing short breathtaking. Imagine fellow Los Angeles band War with even better vocalists doing this song, and you'll at least get an idea of what it sounds like before treating your ears to a listen. "Here I Stand," more of a straight-ahead soul number with some heavenly vocal and instrumental arrangements, was written by Billy Storm (nee Spicer), a vocalist who had also been a member of the Sabres and the Valiants. Additionally, Storm co-wrote "Widow" and "Savin' All My Love" (first-rate performances that are more or less on the same wavelength as "Here I Stand") with Coefield and both Pipkins, which suggests that, in addition to providing material for this LP, he may have even been an uncredited contributor to the "Lil Brown" recording sessions. Either that or these three soul compositions had been in the repertories of those aforementioned vocals groups and were reprised for this album. I don't know for sure and can't find any discographies that either confirm or refute this possibility. Does anyone out there know one way or another? As for the sensational "Louie Louie - Ode to Billie Joe" medley, any band that can pull off a fusion of these two seemingly incompatible songs deserves high praise. Can you believe that I heard this rendition of "Billie Joe" before I even knew who Bobbie Gentry was? "Lil Brown" concludes with another soul number, the sweet "You Take Advantage of Me," which was penned by Maria Tynes. Who she is (or was) is a complete mystery to me, and I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who can provide information about her.

AFRICA (L TO R): BILLY MANN (NOT ON ALBUM), FREDDIE
WILLS, GARY PIPKIN, BRICE COEFIELD, & ED WALLACE

1. Paint It Black
2. Light My Fire
3. Here I Stand
4. Medley: Louie, Louie - Ode to Billie Joe
5. Widow
6. Savin' All My Love
7. You Take Advantage of Me

Monday, January 11, 2010

Moby Grape - The Place and the Time (Sundazed, 2009)


There must be a really bad mojo on Moby Grape. With their legal troubles seemingly behind them a few years ago, it looked like Sundazed Music was going to do the band right by reissuing their first four albums, each with the addition of several mouth-watering bonus tracks, many of which were not even included on the glorious but out of print Vintage - The Very Best of Moby Grape compilation from 1993. All appeared to be fine when they were first released, and then...a particular lawyer who has been making life difficult for the band since their inception and depriving the world of the opportunity to hear them as they should be heard, struck again with some maneuvering that caused their first two releases, Moby Grape and Wow, to be withdrawn. Fuck you very much, Matthew Katz. You deserve a slow, agonizing death for what you've done to this group and their devoted fans. True, the excellent Moby Grape '69 and Truly Fine Citizen albums remain available, but that's just not good enough. One would also have to believe that Sundazed's attorneys did a shoddy job in performing the due diligence necessary to ensure that the reprehensible Katz would not be able to do what he ultimately did. Nice job, idiots. In sum, there seems to be a lot of blame to go around.


BEFORE THE DREAM FADED (L TO R): BOB MOSLEY, PETER LEWIS,
SKIP SPENCE, JERRY MILLER, & DON STEVENSON

In an attempt to extend an olive branch to Moby Grape's obviously disgruntled fans, Sundazed decided to repackage all of that aforementioned bonus material and compile it on The Place and the Time, a 24-track CD or 25-track two-LP set. As fantastic as this odds and sods collection is, there is one performance that originally appeared on Vintage that was inexplicably never included in the label's reissue campaign: the first alternative version of "Bitter Wind," recorded during the sessions that took place immediately after the first album's release.
Featuring the kind of magnificent vocals that writer David Fricke referred to as the "Moby Tabernacle Choir," it simply blows away the other alternative version of this song dredged up and included on this compilation. As a result of this glaring omission, I have decided to take matters into my own hands by supplementing the 25 cuts from the vinyl edition of Place with additional material that is unique to Vintage just in case there are Grape fans out there who don't have that older anthology and desire to have all of Moby Grape's non-album recordings in one place. Most of these tracks are unedited or mono single versions of songs that appeared on the group's first LP, the former including often humorous dialogue between band members and producer David Rubinson. In the case of the outtake "Big," such banter adds considerably to the overall performance, something lost on the people who put together Place. And just for kicks, there's the studio chatter including Rubinson, Arthur Godfrey, and Skip Spence during the recording of the introduction to "Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot" as well as a radio promo for Truly Fine Citizen.

"HEY DON, MIND IF STOP BY WITH A FIRE AXE LATER ON TODAY?"

So what about everything else? Well, the audition version of "Indifference" absolutely kicks ass. It's more garagey and features different lyrics than the better-known version that closes Moby Grape. In other words, it's just as good but different. Of the band's numerous interpretations of "Looper," the audition version (in mono on Place and in stereo on Vintage) is still the most appealing and preferable to the later demo recording that also appears here. Peter Lewis' "Stop" has its moments and, had the group been able to develop it further, could have been another Moby Grape classic. Skip Spence never did write a bad song. Even the instrumental version of "Rounder" is quite compelling, and the live version featured further on is absolutely transcendent. (Another knock on Sundazed: couldn't their researchers have determined whether "Rounder" and the other live cuts, "Miller's Blues" and the awe-inspiring "Changes," featured the four-man or five-man lineup of the band? I swear that I can hear Spence singing on the first and last tracks but don't know for sure. Slightly more detailed liner notes would have been nice.) You'll have to decide whether the edited or unedited version of the Hendrixy "Sweet Ride" is more to your liking. "Loosely Remembered" is decent blue-eyed soul courtesy of Bob Mosely, while the earlier take on "The Place and the Time" is better than its counterpart that appeared on Wow. The eerily skeletal alternate version of "Seeing" is reason enough to buy this album. If it's something that sounds interesting to you, listening to it is somewhat like hearing Skip Spence's personality dissolve before your very ears. It's either disturbingly fascinating or fascinatingly disturbing; I haven't decided which, but it certainly makes for an interesting comparison with the finished product on '69.
The next track, the second alternative version of "What's to Choose" (track number 10) complete with its backwards guitar ending, surpasses the first (track number 17), although it further begs the question why this collection didn't also include both alternative versions of "Bitter Wind" as well. Both the studio alternate take and the live performance of "Miller's Blues" are competent white boy blues, but even the mighty Moby Grape and guitarist extraordinaire Jerry Miller can't do this kind of music as well as the original black masters. The hard-rockin' "Soul Stew," featuring some nicely ragged vocals by Mosely, may have been partially inspired by Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul," although it sounds like that's less the case on the instrumental rendition. The acoustic demo of "If You Can't Learn from My Mistakes" is lovely, and I've heard quite a few Grape fans tell me that they prefer it to the group version on '69. "You Can Do Anything" is a Skip Spence song that could have become another "Omaha" had it been fully realized, and "Skip's Song" shows where the psychedelic adventures of "Seeing" began. The demo of "It's a Beautiful Day Today" compares favorably with the final draft on '69, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of "Hoochie." Things wrap up with "Cockatoo Blues," an early version of Truly Fine Citizen's "Tongue-Tied," notable primarily for Mosley's handling of lead vocal duties in the place of Don Stevenson.

Overall, this is more interesting than essential, although certain tracks are truly exceptional.

A VIEW THAT I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE SEEN IN PERSON

Part 1

1. Indifference (audition version - mono)
2. Looper (audition version - mono)
3. Stop (demo)
4. Rounder (instrumental outtake)
5. Sweet Ride (Never Again) (unedited)
6. Loosely Remembered (demo)
7. The Place and the Time (alternate version)
8. Bitter Wind (alternative version #2)
9. Seeing (alternate version)
10. What's to Choose (alternative version #2)
11. Miller's Blues (alternate version)
12. Soul Stew (demo)
13. If You Can't Learn from My Mistakes (solo demo version)
14. You Can Do Anything (demo)
15. Skip's Song (
demo version of "Seeing")
16. It's a Beautiful Day Today (demo version)
17. What's to Choose (alternative version #1)
18. Hoochie (demo version)
19. Big (edited version)
20. Rounder (live)
21. Miller's Blues (live)
22. Changes (live)
23. Looper (demo version)
24. Soul Stew (instrumental outtake)
25. Cockatoo Blues (demo version of "Tongue-Tied")

Part 2

26. Looper (audition version - stereo)
27. Bitter Wind (alternative version #1)
28. Studio Chatter (with Arthur Godfrey)
29. Big (unedited version)
30.
Truly Fine Citizen Radio Spot
31. Fall on You (unedited version)
32. 8:05
(unedited version)
33. Someday
(unedited version)
34. Sweet Ride (edited version)
35. Hey Grandma (single version - mono)
36. Omaha (single version - mono)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mark Fosson - The Lost Takoma Sessions (Drag City, 2006)


By request.

A minor revelation when this came out a few years ago, Mark Fosson's guitar stylings will definitely appeal to fans of John Fahey and Leo Kottke's instrumental work. A Kentucky native and son of a blues record collector, Fosson possessed the right background to produce the roots-inspired material that graces this album. It remained unreleased for nearly 30 years despite Fahey's initial enthusiasm for the project. After receiving a demo tape from Fosson, Takoma Records' head honcho authorized studio time for recording the album sometime in late 1976 or early 1977. Not long after the sessions were in the can, however, the label was sold to Chrysalis Records, and plans for the album were scrapped. Fahey gave the master tapes to Fosson, who had the foresight to keep them for posterity. And finally in 2006, these recordings saw the light of day.

Obviously, Fosson is a damn good musician and displays a deft touch on his 12-string guitar throughout the proceedings. It would be pretty pointless to try to describe one great instrumental after another, so I won't. Although he's very much his own man, there are times where his playing is reminiscent of Fahey's, especially on tracks such as "Jubilaya," "Quarter Moon" and the remarkable "Gorilla Mountain." Other writers have noted the similarities of "All the Time in the World" and "Frozen Fingers" to the works of Leo Kottke, and I can't say that I disagree. In my opinion, the probing "Cosmic Hiccup" is The Lost Takoma Session's finest moment. All in all, this is music of a timeless beauty. Let it wash over you like a gentle ocean wave.

FOSSON WITHOUT THE AWFUL PERM THAT
HE SPORTS ON THE ALBUM COVER

1. Jubilaya
2. Wind Through a Broken Glass
3. Variations on a Thumb
4. Quarter Moon
5. Cosmic Hiccup
6. Chillicothe

7. Arrival of the Grand Picayune
8. Gorilla Mountain
9. All the Time in the World
10. Sky Piece
11. Frozen Fingers
12. Nancy's Waltz

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dave Apollon - Mandolin Virtuoso (Yazoo, circa 1980)


The greatest mandolinist of all time? This LP certainly presents a compelling argument for that claim. Dave Apollon was not only remarkable because of the speed at which he could play his instrument, but also, as David Grisman's liner notes point out, because of his significance as "the first New World mandolinist," a title that he earned from his technical mastery of the instrument, wide-ranging repertory, improvisation skills, and fondness for the Gibson F-5 flat-back model.


Born to a Jewish family in Kiev, Ukraine in 1898, Apollon displayed an aptitude for music at a young age. His talent helped him avoid front-line duty in the Russian army during World War I as well as assisting in his survival during the Bolshevik Revolution. After escaping from the chaos of his homeland and staying for awhile in the Philippines and Japan, he arrived in the United States in 1919. Establishing himself in New York City, he quickly found work in vaudeville where he brushed shoulders with Mae West and other entertainers from that era. In 1925, he took on a Filipino string band (pictured on the album cover above) as his backing group, and together they became known as Dave Apollon and his Manila Orchestra. With this aggregation - which included musicians on mandolins, mandolas, guitars, bass guitars, and accordion - or variations thereof, he achieved his greatest level of fame during the following 15-year period. Apollon's first recording session took place in 1932 and, not surprisingly, featured a diverse group of performances including South American tangos ("A Media Luz" and "No Te Enganes Corazon"), the Rachmaninoff-inspired "Russian Rag," and "Mandolin Blues," which Grisman describes as "an original amalgam of blues, ragtime, and Russian gypsy themes." From 1929 until 1939, Apollon and his orchestra appeared in a number of musical shorts that were popular with the movie-going crowds of the day. Two excerpts from these films, which can be faulted only for their brevity, can be viewed below. Prepare to be amazed.


"SWEET SUE"


"WHEN A GYPSY MAKES HIS VIOLIN CRY"

The 1940s found Apollon performing and recording with different accompanists. In 1940, he recorded an incredible "jam session" (his own description) version of Jerome Kern's "Who" with his new outfit, the Apollonians, who were comprised of several members of his previous string band in addition to a trumpet and clarinet player. One year later, Apollon entered the recording studio again - this time with only a guitarist and pianist in tow - and produced graceful renditions of Gypsy-influenced material ("Two Guitars," "Czardas," "Gypsy Airs," and "Dark Eyes") and contemporary pop standards ("Perfidia," "Stardust," "Begin the Beguine," and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"). 1943 yielded two more interesting sides: the solo mandolin flamenco of "Spanish Fantasy" and a mandolin-piano duet version of "St. Louis Blues." Apollon stayed busy in the 1950s and 1960, playing at lucrative parties and club dates as well as having a five-year residency at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. Although he also made a few LPs during this time, the general consensus is that as technically impressive as the performances may be, they lack the emotional intensity of his earlier recordings. One exception, the mandolin-piano duet "Love Me or Leave Me" from the 1956 album Lots of Love, is included on this typically excellent Yazoo compilation to demonstrate that Apollon was still capable of greatness when he felt so inclined.

Dave Apollon passed away in 1972.

1. Who
2. Perfidia
3. Two Guitars
4. St. Louis Blues
5. A Media Luz
6. Czardas
7. Star Dust
8. Mandolin Blues
9. Russian Rag
10. Begin the Beguine
11. Love Me or Leave Me
12. Spanish Fantasy
13. Gypsy Airs
14. No Te Enganes
15. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
16. Dark Eyes

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Terry & the Pirates - The Doubtful Handshake (Line, 1980)


Terry & the Pirates have that indescribable something that I find so appealing in rock bands with cult followings. Maybe it has to do with the fact that their music is so American that the historian in me can't help but to be drawn to their material. That's not to imply that the songs of group leader Terry Dolan are the least bit pedantic, but his lyrics are clearly inspired by the American experience and especially the Old West. His ability to combine a unique vision with wide-ranging musical talents makes him a true original. Although Terry & the Pirates have always had a devoted following in the San Francisco Bay Area, they've generally found a larger audience in Europe where there tends to be a greater appreciation for this kind of Americana, the kind that most Americans don't care about.

TERRY & THE PIRATES (L TO R): GREG DOUGLASS, JEFF MYER,
TERRY DOLAN,
JOHN CIPOLLINA, & DAVID HAYES

When this album was recorded in 1980, the band was at the height of its powers as a result of continuous performances at smaller Bay Area venues throughout the 1970s. Indeed, some of the tracks were newer versions of songs that had been in their repertory for many years
and, in some cases, previously recorded as demos. Featuring a lineup of Dolan on vocals and rhythm guitar, guitar hero John Cipollina (formerly of Quicksilver Messenger Service) on lead, Greg Douglass (formerly of Country Weather) on second lead guitar, David Hayes on bass, and Jeff Myer on drums (as well as being supplemented by the able assistance of Pete Sears on keyboards), this is arguably the Pirates' finest LP in spite of the late 1970s-early 1980s production standards prevalent in the overall sound. Borrowing its title from the like-named C.M. Russell painting on the cover, The Doubtful Handshake may very well be Dolan's definitive statement as the musician with an imagination fueled by America's Great Frontier.

Things start out strongly with the excellent "Ain't Livin' Long Like This," sung from the confessional perspective of a troubled desperado and further enhanced by some superb solos from Douglass and Cipollina. More dual lead guitar goodness makes "Inside & Out" a compelling listening experience, and the fretwork on "Into the Wind" ain't too shabby, either. With its history going back to at least 1971, "Inlaws and Outlaws" is clearly one of Dolan's favorite compositions, and rightly so. With possibly autobiographical lyrics about coming from the East Coast to San Francisco (he was originally from Connecticut), this song not only tells a gripping story but also features some incredible instrumental performances. Dolan's furiously strummed rhythm guitar supplies the rest of the band with a musical anchor, providing Cipollina in particular with the opportunity to go off into several extended solo flights that you won't want to end. Don't be surprised if you find yourself listening to this one over and over because I'm guilty of having done that quite a few times myself. The gorgeous "Montana Eyes" will conjure up images of Big Sky Country in your head, while the rocking instrumental "Highway" allows Cipollina and Douglass to trade one impressive riff after another. A worthwhile cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" is a nod to an early rock 'n' roll influence, and the closing track, "All Worth the Price You Pay," typifies everything that is great about this album: a well-written song that is just long enough to showcase the musicians' chops without having to venture into endless jam territory.

If you haven't done so already, get the Terry & the Pirates Oh Boy Bootleg here.

TERRY & JOHN

1. Ain't Livin' Long Like This
2. Inside & Out
3. Into the Wind
4. Inlaws and Outlaws
5. Montana Eyes
6. Highway
7. I Put a Spell on You
8. All Worth the Price You Pay

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Johnny Darrell - Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town (United Artists, 1967)


The late, great Johnny Darrell's second album is nearly as strong of an effort as his outstanding debut, As Long as the Winds Blow. In what would prove to be a recurring trend, the singer had a respectable hit on the country charts (#9) with this LP's Mel Tillis-penned title track in 1967, only to pave the way for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition to have an international smash with it two years later. A similar fate had befallen "Green Green Grass of Home" (which was included on that first album), with that particular song becoming a hit for Porter Wagoner and an even bigger hit for Tom Jones. Nevertheless, Darrell's versions of these tunes (and others that he was the first or among the first to commit to wax) remain definitive due largely to his magnificent singing voice and the excellent Nashville studio musicians with whom he recorded.


If you think about it, the fact that Darrell even had a hit on the country charts with "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" is fairly amazing. I mean, here's a song about a wounded soldier on the verge of losing his woman because of his recently incurred disability. The line about "that old crazy Asian war," a Vietnam reference, is hardly an endorsement of that particular ill-fated military adventure, but patriotic and conservative Nashville (especially so in the 1960s) didn't seem to care, and people bought the record anyway. Noticeably different than Rogers' aforementioned later version, "Ruby" is the kind of song that Darrell was born to sing. Not only are his vocals superb, but so is his churning 12-string guitar playing. Another country standard written by Mel Tillis and one of the best put-down songs of all time, "Mental Revenge" is more closely associated with Waylon Jennings, although Darrell's interpretation is arguably just as good, especially with its fine, stinging lead guitar work from an uncredited studio cat. "She's Mighty Gone" makes it three excellent performances in a row. As he did with so many other songs, Darrell takes the work of another songwriter (in this case, Johnny Cash and June Carter) and makes it his own. (By the way, does anybody know if Johnny Cash ever recorded this tune himself? I've never seen it on any of his albums or compilations.) If you're of the opinion that the old country music warhorse "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" cannot be covered too many times, the version on this album will strongly support such a belief. "Come See What's Left of Your Man" is another great performance that should have been a hit for the singer. Although Tommy Cash's rendition of this song is probably the best-known, at least Darrell didn't have to suffer the indignity of it being a huge hit. Side One concludes with the somewhat mawkish "I Must Have Got Something in My Eye," which unfortunately provides a sneak preview of the kind of material that would occasionally blemish the rest of this album (cf. "The Little Things I Love" and "I Never Could Add") and the remainder of his recording career. Still, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the terrific "Heaven Help Your Soul" and "Cold Hard Facts of Life," neither of which depend upon bathos to get across their messages. "It's a Rough Old Road to Travel" is another exquisite performance that failed to chart, although not for lack of quality. The album ends on a curious note with the reappearance of "Green Green Grass of Home," which, as noted previously, had also been placed on Johnny's preceding LP. Then there's the matter of Porter Wagoner's liner notes that appear on the back of this album. Did somebody in Nashville feel guilty that the music star earned a hit with a song that Darrell had recorded first? The combination of these facts certainly suggests such a possibility. Regardless of the actual reason, you can at least take the opportunity to hear what this song sounds like in stereo since my copy of As Long as the Winds Blow that I had posted last year is a mono pressing.

Get his 1969 LP, Why You Been Gone So Long, here.

1. Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town
2. Mental Revenge
3. She's Mighty Gone
4. I'm a Lonesome Fugitive
5. Come See What's Left of Your Man
6. I Must Have Got Something in My Eye
7. Heaven Help Your Soul
8. The Little Things I Love
9. Cold Hard Facts of Life
10. I Never Could Add
11. It's a Rough Old Road to Travel
12. Green Green Grass of Home

Sunday, January 3, 2010

John Vartan Ensemble - Spotlight on Belly Dancing (Monitor, 1980)


Multi-instrumentalist John Vartan got his professional start playing guitar and duduk (an Armenian double-reed wind instrument noted for its distinct, haunting sound) on John Berberian's first two albums for the Mainstream label in the mid-1960s. Because of his dual Italian-Armenian heritage, he performed under the name "John Valentine" for these recordings, while taking on the name "John Vartan" (Vartan presumably being his middle name) later in his career when he had become a bandleader and released his own LPs. On such albums from the 1970s and 1980s, Vartan usually played oud, although he occasionally demonstrated his proficiency on saz, kanun, and other Middle Eastern instruments as well.

Spotlight on Belly Dancing was his ensemble's second and last album for Monitor, a somewhat cut-rate label that specialized in ethnic music. Each side of this particular LP featured a complete belly dance routine where several Armenian, Turkish, Arabic, and Kurdish tunes are combined to create an epic 15-odd minute performance with a variety of tempos. Listeners experienced with Middle Eastern music will no doubt find some of the melodies to be familiar, and the musicians' smooth segues from one piece to the next is truly impressive. The livelier numbers, of course, feature some impressive polyrhythms, and their mellower counterparts serve as nice, tranquil mood pieces. There is a good balance of both to be found here. Due to the nature of the performances, I have not divided the individual sections into separate MP3s, instead opting to let each routine run as one long track. If I had to choose one over the other, I'd give the nod to Side Two. This album features an impressive variety of traditional instruments with some nice solos by the various musicians. The only thing that somewhat detracts from the otherwise outstanding performances is the occasional presence of a cheesy late-1970s synthesizer.

THE ENSEMBLE - STARING FROM BOTTOM LEFT AND GOING CLOCKWISE:
JOHN VARTAN, JOHN DOLBASHIAN, UNKNOWN, BOB TAKOUSHIAN &
CHRIS MARASHLIAN

1. Routine #1: El Hob, Ipeksi, Ye Dela, Kaval Chiftetelli, Regeha
2. Routine #2: Samaree, Cleopatra, Geldi, Tanubr Chiftelli, Ayub, Anla Demki