Friday, February 26, 2010

The Hokum Boys - You Can't Get Enough of That Stuff (Yazoo, 1975)

This title seems to be the only Yazoo 1000-series LP that does not contain any liner notes. Stephen Calt must have been on vacation when they were working on the album's packaging. Despite such a glaring omission, this is another typically excellent release by the label that is further enhanced by R. Crumb's beautifully provocative cover artwork. I wonder what 78s he acquired from Nick Perls in exchange for his efforts.

There were many aggregations of black musicians in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s who used the name the Hokum Boys or, in some cases, the Famous Hokum Boys. Although some of the later versions included prewar blues stars like Big Bill Broonzy, Casey Bill Weldon, and Washboard Sam, the sides compiled on You Can't Get Enough of That Stuff were all recorded by earlier incarnations of the group for the Paramount label (and possibly Okeh) in 1929. The various lineups included a revolving door of personnel including: pianists Alex Hill, Jimmy Blythe, and Leroy Carr; guitarists Alex Robinson, Dan Roberts, Bob Alexander, Scrapper Blackwell, Tampa Red, and Blind Blake; and Bob Robinson on banjo and clarinet.

As such, the Hokum Boys were less an actual group and more of a term that race labels could use to market ensemble recordings of material with salacious lyrics that were filled with sexual double entendre and references to vice. Although the subject matter was typically ribald, the arrangements were sophisticated, and the performances straddled the line between urban blues and jazz. Those who have a preference for the more lowdown prewar Mississippi Delta blues may find these sides a bit too sweet and jovial. But if you can also appreciate the more uptown sounds of the late 1920s, then you will find much to enjoy here. Alcohol, which was still illegal because of Prohibition when these tunes were recorded, is the subject matter of the title track, "Went to His Head," "We Don't Sell It Here No More," and "Selling That Stuff" (apparently the lone track from 1928), whereas sex is the focus of "Put Your Mind on It," "Let Me Have It," and "Pat-A-Foot Blues." Other songs, such as the two-part "I Was Afraid of That," "Hokum Blues," "Ain't Goin' That Way," and "It's All Gone Now" are a bit more vague and seem to deal with both of the aforementioned in addition to other so-called morally questionable issues. "Gambler's Blues" (a retitled version of "St. James Infirmary") and the unissued "Only the Blues" are more serious in tone but still have that recognizable early-period Hokum Boys sound.

1. You Can't Get Enough of That Stuff
2. Gambler's Blues
3. Put Your Mind on It
4. Went to His Head
5. We Don't Sell It Here No More
6. I Was Afraid of That Part 1
7. Let Me Have It
8. Hokum Blues
9. Pat-A-Foot Blues
10. Only the Blues
11. Selling That Stuff
12. Ain't Goin' That Way
13. It's All Gone Now
14. I Was Afraid of That Part 2

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tim Buckley - Blue Afternoon (Straight, 1970; Rhino, 1989)

Next to his masterpiece Happy/Sad, Blue Afternoon is my favorite Tim Buckley album. In fact, it is arguably the most mature and assured LP in his discography. With the assistance of Site Meter, I've noticed that there have been some visitors to Record Fiend in search of this particular title. Although I've seen it posted elsewhere, I figured that there must be at least a few people out there interested in having it in either 320 kbps MP3 or FLAC format. Certainly this man's albums should be listened to in the highest possible sound quality.

Blue Afternoon was the first of Buckley's LPs for the Straight label, an enterprise established by Frank Zappa and music industry veteran Herb Cohen. Recorded in 1969 and released the following year, it dates from around the same time as Lorca, the musician's final recording for Elektra. Although the two long experimental compositions on the first side of that album give a clear indication of the avant garde direction that Buckley would pursue more extensively on his 1971 album Starsailor, Blue Afternoon finds him still firmly rooted in the folk-jazz style that he had pioneered on Happy/Sad. Indeed, many of the songs that appear on this LP were compositions the singer had been developing during the preceding year or two but had never had the opportunity to record for commercial release. Although Buckley seems to have been aware that he was stylistically treading water on this record, I've read conflicting accounts regarding his feelings about these songs. Some believe that he still thought highly of this material and used it because he intentionally wanted to make Blue Afternoon an accessible debut recording for his new label. Others have claimed that he no longer had an affinity for these compositions and simply used them to help him fulfill contractual obligations. Given Buckley's mercurial nature, it's likely that his assessment of Blue Afternoon at any given moment depended upon what kind of mood he was in. Great artists can be like that when evaluating their own work.

With the able assistance of familiar accompanists Lee Underwood on lead guitar, David Freedman on vibraphone, and Carter C.C. Collins on congas (as well as a first-rate rhythm section of John Miller on bass and Jimmy Madison on drums), Buckley delivers eight amazing performances regardless of what his opinions were about them. Even if he was just going through the motions on these songs, most listeners would be none the wiser. "Happy Time" (aka "Coming Home to You") had been in Buckley's repertory for some time with earlier versions appearing on The Peel Sessions and Works In Progress. Although I've always been partial to the aforementioned version recorded for BBC radio, its more ornate counterpart on Blue Afternoon is equally superb in its own way. Do you sometimes find yourself having trouble expressing intimate feelings to your girlfriend? Put on "Chase the Blues Away," and let Tim be Mr. Sensitive for you. "I Must Have Been Blind" features some gorgeous singing from Buckley as well as outstanding vibes from Freedman and would not have sounded out of place on Happy/Sad. In addition to the singer's poetic lyrics, the outstanding percussion work from Madison is the most notable component of "The River" as is Underwood's deft guitar playing on "So Lonely." The ethereal "Cafe" sounds like another piece that could have been a good fit for Happy/Sad. I wrote a paper that analyzed this song's lyrics for an Introduction to Poetry class at the University of Illinois and remember thinking how cool my professor was for mentioning in his comments that he had also become a fan of Tim Buckley and Blue Afternoon while in college. (We also later exchanged cassette dubs of albums by the Fugs, but I digress...) I've encountered at least one article on Buckley that described how he got some of his ideas for his unique singing techniques from the playing styles of jazz trumpeters and saxophonists. This can clearly be heard on the sublime "Blue Melody," which is also distinguished by Underwood's capable handling of piano duties. The Latin-influenced closing track, "The Train," builds up to a brilliant climax that finds Underwood back on guitar and unleashing some scorching solos that go toe-to-toe with Buckley's wailing vocals. Definitely a work that justifies its nearly eight-minute running time.

Old fans of this artist already know how great this album is. For newcomers to the Buckley canon, Blue Afternoon is an essential listening experience.

1. Happy Time
2. Chase the Blues Away
3. I Must Have Been Blind
4. The River
5. So Lonely
6. Cafe
7. Blue Melody
8. The Train

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sky "Sunlight" Saxon/Fire Wall - Destiny's Children (PVC, 1986)

Well another not-necessarily-the-greatest-era-for-garage-rock LP by the always-great Sky "Sunlight" Saxon--still worthy of reappraisal and definitely a spin now and again. This one is seemingly svengalied by producer Frank Beeson--I have to admit I have no idea who he is, but his "trying to look cool in shades" pose a la Phil Spector on the back comes off a bit more the Spinal Tap's manager nerdy little brother (minus the cricket bat and rugby shirt). The album art is a bit of a head-scratcher too, with the artist surely having slept with someone to get this amateurish magic marker effort used, but alas, I love it, I actually think it's one of the album's best and most authentic features (and I have no idea what the bottom text about "Destiny's Children" is about). The whole album could benefit from such analog technology, as it sounds a bit too 80s crisp/tinny for the intended audience, methinks. Still there's some fascinating songs, and with only 4 tracks a side there is room to spread out and dirge a bit, which is always a good thing. It also makes room for another cast of perhaps too many guests, but ruling Steppenwolfer Mars Bonfire is always welcome, as is Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate, Roy McDonald of Redd Kross (making for some snappy drumwork), and even Peter Case too? But once again a lot of garage revival also-runs drop in, like members of long forgotten wobbly acts like Thee Fourgiven, the Droogs, Yard Trauma and never-knowns like Threw the Lookinglass (yeesh) and Dream 6.


Anyhow, the first cut, "Starving for Your Love" is classic Sky as he rants/namedrops flower power, garage power, and even God power (Ya Ho Wha?) over a classic garage chord progression and dinky organ. "Burning Down" might just steal a Seeds riff (but is it "No Escape" or "Out of the Question"? hmmm), and "Spirit of the 60s" is pretty wack, with even weirder shout outs to the Doors, Cream, "
The Beat Goes On" and a rousing patriotic "We're all Americans" stanza....hmmm. Bonfire is billed on the LP as playing "cheesey keys" and he sure proves it here--the overly compressed fuzz guitar and drums don't help as well--and "Love Dog" is a sort of novelty "Dirty Water"-ish trudge that doesn't quite take off either. Side 2 starts off a little better, with a fairly thick sound, and a huge catchy chorus on "House of Mine." Sir Mars actually nails it here with flowing Doors-y (there they are again) keyboard tinkles too. The ending medley, "Over-Reaction/Hollywood Blvd." sorta tears me up, as once again a cool old lick is pilfered, there's some nice squealy guitar, and Sky is definitely "going off" and launching into his trademark exaggerated vocal technique here--sounding pretty damn inspired even. The lyrics are a bit daft though, some truly low-grade mysticism and ruminations on why, well, Hollywood Blvd. is so happening...hmmm...and Mars really outdoes himself on "cheese" with the keyboard bridge on this one....hold on tight.

1. Starving for Your Love
2. Burning Down the Walls of the City
3. Spirit of the Sixties (Return to the Sixties)
4. Love Dog
5. House of Mine
6. Sha La La La It's a Groovy Thing
7. Medley: Over-Reaction/Hollywood Blvd.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eugene McDaniels - Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse & Outlaw (Atlantic, 1971 & 1970; 2002)

Based upon Gene McDaniels' early 1960s success as a pop singer (his hits "A Hundred Pounds of Clay," "Tower of Strength," and "Chip Chip" all made the Top Ten during the 1961-1962 period), the two albums he recorded for Atlantic (as "Eugene") a decade later must have been quite a surprise to an unsuspecting public. Not to take anything away from the man's earlier material, but Outlaw and Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse stand as remarkable achievements in their ability to tackle weighty issues such as racism, gender, religion, politics, and genocide and present them in an eminently listenable rock-funk-jazz context. Extremely controversial in their day, it is only within the last ten years or so that people are finally recognizing them as the masterpieces that they are.


, released in 1970 and featuring the singer in his "Left Rev. Mc D." persona along with two countercultural female militants in the cover photo, can be listened to as McDaniels' unique interpretation of the events and social changes that had occurred during the last few years of the preceding decade. Although any traces of 1960s idealism were absent from the LP's songs, the presence of stellar supporting musicians such as guitarists Eric Weisberg and Hugh McCracken in addition to bassist Ron Carter (an alumnus of Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet) keeps the material enjoyable even if the lyrics often concern themselves with serious and/or unpleasant subject matter. The title track deals with the newly-liberated American woman - be it a "nigger" or a "whitey" - and the consternation among the mainstream that her emergence was causing. Other reviewers have rightfully noted its Rolling Stones-like vibe. "Sagittarius Red" is a glorious work of mellow beauty, while the wry observations contained in the lyrics of "Welfare City" provide some of the most compelling commentary on urban living that you're likely to hear. My personal favorite on Outlaw is the hard-hitting "Silent Majority," which takes the term Richard Nixon had used so effectively in his infamous speech from 1969 and spits it right back in his face. In inquiring whether the views of this demographic were even morally defensible with lines like "Silent Majority is calling out loud to you and me from Arlington Cemetery," this piece earned McDaniels a place on Tricky Dick's shit list. "Love Letter to America" continues the Left Rev. Mc D.'s assault on everything that was (and still is) wrong with this country but places it in such a disarming musical framework that its full impact may take awhile to sink in. The funky if word-heavy "Unspoken Dreams of Light" offers further analysis of the human condition on planet Earth, and the ethereally jazzy "Cherrystones" offers a sneak preview of the sound that the singer would pursue more fully on his follow-up album. On the possibly autobiographical "Reverend Lee" (McDaniels' father was a preacher), he takes on the subject of religion in his own inimitable style. With its psychedelic intro and outro, this performance is the most mind-expanding track to be found on Outlaw. The album concludes with "Black Boy," a lovely acoustic ballad that is the result of McDaniels' adaptation of John Blair's original lyrics.

If Outlaw merely annoyed the tyrannical Nixon administration, McDaniels' next project, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, caused major outrage. Depending on which story you read, either the supremely despicable Vice President Spiro Agnew or the equally contemptible Chief of Staff Harry Haldeman contacted Atlantic Records and demanded that the label stop recording the singer after the album was released in 1971. Listening to these uncompromising performances, it's not surprising that the paranoid regime then occupying the White House was so offended. As with its predecessor, Headless Heroes features an outstanding group of backing musicians including bassist Miroslav Vitous, ace drummer Alphonse Mouzon, and unheralded guitarist Richie Resnikoff, whose collective contributions are simply outstanding. "The Lord Is Back" deals with a wrathful Jehovah, obviously incensed over the abundance of injustice that existed in the world during the early 1970s. (And to think that was the mess into which I was born.) "Jagger the Dagger" is an excellent tribute to the Rolling Stones' frontman and features some truly phenomenal guitar work from Resnikoff. "Lovin' Man" is an engaging Jesus parable, while the album's title track focuses on the futility of war - most memorably with the observation, "Jews and the Arabs...left wing and right wing...niggers and crackers...pawns in the master game. The player who controls the board sees them all as the same. Basically, cannon fodder." - all while keeping it real funky. "Susan Jane" covers some of the same territory as "Outlaw" and is apparently about one of McDaniels' real-life friends, who is the submachine gun-wielding hippie chick pictured on the cover of his first album. The singer displays some especially fine vocals on the message-laden "Freedom Death Dance," which sounds Gil Scott-Heronesque to my ears. Mouzon's performance on drums is nothing short of breathtaking. Intentionally or not, "Supermarket Blues" is a pretty hilarious take on racism - especially with its "God-DAMN!" refrain - told from the perspective of a black man who encounters nothing but trouble at the local grocery store. Finally, the bleak "Parasite" (dedicated to Buffy Sainte-Marie) tells the story of white settlement of America from the Native American perspective, seeing it accurately for the invasion it was. Although not entirely historically correct (e.g. not every white person who settled North America was a criminal), the song is still an eloquent reminder that one of the core issues of US hypocrisy is the the country's virtual extermination of its indigenous inhabitants.

Seldom does music with this much groove possess lyrical content with an equal amount of intelligence. There really aren't any other albums out there that are truly comparable to Outlaw and Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse. Unfortunately, due to the pressure from Washington DC, Atlantic did not release anything else by McDaniels, although he continued to have a successful career as a songwriter. Both of these LPs were heavily sampled by the hip-hop crowd over the years, and it's not hard to understand why. But you're better off sticking with the recordings from where the samples originally came and keeping things old school with the Left Rev. Mc D.

Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971)
1. The Lord Is Back
2. Jagger the Dagger
3. Lovin' Man
4. Headless Heroes
5 Susan Jane
6. Freedom Death Dance
7. Supermarket Blues
8. The Parasite (For Buffy)

Outlaw (1970)
9. Outlaw
10. Sagittarius Red
11. Welfare City
12. Silent Majority
13. Love Letter to America
14. Unspoken Dreams of Light
15. Cherrystones
16. Reverend Lee
17. Black Boy

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chicago Stone Lightning Band - 2008 & 2009 Recordings

Chicago has been associated with indie rock for so long now that most people under the age of 30 aren't even aware of the fact that the city at one time had a genuinely thriving blues scene. While it is true that the indie rocker population has contributed to the existence of the numerous used record stores and club venues throughout Chi-Town, most of the music by and for this community does not appeal to me. The majority of what I've heard is ball-less and soulless. Even though there are exceptions to the rule, such anomalies are still hampered by the limitations imposed by cheap digital recording techniques.

So just when I had all but given up hope that there would ever again be any local groups who could play proper blues-based rock 'n' roll, along came the Chicago Stone Lightning Band and restored my faith that music like this does still exist. Consisting of Ben Pirani on vocals, lead guitar, and keyboard, Nick Myers on rhythm guitar, Gabe McDonnough on bass, and John Dugan on drums, this aggregation conclusively proves that blues rock (or if you prefer, R&B-boogie) is not a completely lost art form. CSLB is retro without being pretentious about it and eschews digital equipment and other forms of modern musical technology that have rendered impotent the sound of so many other groups in existence today.

In the words of frontman Pirani, "
I think we all definitely came to blues in much the same way as the US garage R&B boomers by listening to Brit bands copying American musicians. Sort of ironic. We all now have a much more serious interest in US blues since we started the band. Peter Green is my biggest influence. No doubt about it. You know, we're just taking a back-to-basics approach, just guitars plugged into tube amps turned up loud. Guitar music has been missing from the world for awhile now, and we think of ourselves as the messengers of boogie. It's about time the world boogied once more." Even though he's preaching to the choir here, I nevertheless wholeheartedly say, "Amen." Most importantly, one can clearly hear the influence of blues, R&B, and boogie on the sound of the Chicago Stone Lightning Band and yet discern that they are not mere slaves to those styles of music.

Regarding the tunes presented on this sampler, half of them are studio tracks from a 2008 recording session. "The two studio tracks were our first studio effort, "Pirani explains. "I think we had been a band maybe nine months when we recorded this stuff. I wrote the two studio songs." "My Love Is a Good Look" has a nice swagger to it and, with its slightly muddy live-in-the-studio ambiance, succeeds where so many blues rock bands from the 1980s had failed. The lonely, mournful sound of "Need a Woman" makes for excellent late-night mood music, while the two live tracks from the Empty Bottle here in Chicago exhibit that aforementioned early Fleetwood Mac influence with spirited cover versions of Peter Green's "Stop Messin' Round" and Danny Kirwan's "Like It This Way" (which I always thought sounded like it had been inspired by Otis Rush's "Keep On Loving Me Baby").

Here's hoping they come out with an official release in the near future. For the time being, however, this Record Fiend exclusive will have to suffice. Check 'em out.

**Catch CSLB live Saturday, March 13 at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake Street, here in Chicago.

1. Please Stop Messin' Round (live at the Empty Bottle, December 15, 2009)
2. My Love Is a Good Look
3. Need a Woman
4. Like It This Way
(live at the Empty Bottle, December 15, 2009)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Two Poor Boys - Joe Evans & Arthur McClain 1927-1931 - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order (Document, 1991)

For those readers who are as fascinated by racially ambiguous music from the 1920s and 1930s as I am, this CD will definitely be of interest to you. Joe Evans and Arthur McClain, aka the Two Poor Boys, hailed from eastern Tennessee, a region of the state that, unlike Memphis and the surrounding area, is geographically and culturally part of Appalachia. As blues historian Chris Smith points out in his excellent booklet notes, this territory around Knoxville (also one-time home to bluesmen Carl Martin and Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong) has traditionally had populations in which whites have outnumbered blacks on a twelve-to-one ratio. As a result, the minority musicians from this part of the state tended to share repertories with their hillbilly counterparts, unlike most of the African Americans in the Mississippi Delta who developed their more rhythmic style of blues in relative isolation. The Two Poor Boys are no exception to this rule.

What is debatable is the racial identity of Evans and McClain. Although some writers are convinced that they were black, others feel just as strongly about them being white. The fact that the Two Poor Boys could convincingly play blues, ballads, and hillbilly material as well as being proficient on several instruments does not make such a determination any easier. In the end, their ethnological classification is not really that important considering the excellence of their recorded legacy. If nothing else, the existence of Evans and McClain clearly demonstrates the extent to which white and black American musical styles are irrefutably intertwined. Since the Two Poor Boys are such mysterious figures, we also don't know who played which instruments on their recordings. Smith theorizes "that Joe Evans was the multi-instrumentalist of the duo, and Arthur McClain the backup guitarist." If that contention is correct, then the former was apparently proficient on guitar, violin, mandolin, piano, and kazoo - no small feat, to be sure.

As for the performances, they provide a fascinating glimpse of, as Smith puts it, "material from, and for, both black and white communities, in styles that were idiomatic to either." Further, it "continues to challenge our notions of what 'black music' was in those days." Indeed, the Two Poor Boys display an amazing diversity in their repository of songs. "Little Son of a Gun" dates from their first recording session in 1927 and was unfortunately the only title released from the six masters that were produced on that day. On this performance, Evans and McClain manage to take a frivolous 1920s pop song and transform it into an engaging two-guitar, two-kazoo tour de force. "Oh You Son of a Gun" is a more laid-back version of the same tune that has piano and guitar accompaniment and was recorded during a 1931 session that yielded the remainder of the material assembled on this release. Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" almost definitely inspired the superior "Two White Horses In a Line," an interpretation that features excellent vocal harmonizing as well as sublime guitar and mandolin accompaniment. Both takes of "John Henry Blues" follow the same formula and rank among the finest versions of this venerable ballad about the legendary steel-drivin' man. "Cream and Sugar Blues" and "So Sorry Dear" further exhibit the Two Poor Boys' prowess on guitar and mandolin to good effect. On "New Huntsville Jail" (also presented in two different takes), the duo adapts Darby & Tarlton's "Birmingham Jail" to their own performing style. Other examples of hillbilly material such as "Old Hen Cackle" and "Sourwood Mountain" (both normally played on fiddle by other performers) also prove to be ideal to their guitar-and-mandolin modus operandi. In similar fashion to "Little Son of a Gun," Evans and McClain reconstruct "Who Cares What Somebody Said" (another 1920s pop hit) into the far more interesting "Take a Look at That Baby," due in large part to their exuberant singing as well as their guitar, mandolin, and kazoo instrumentation. "Mill Man Blues" and "My Baby Got a Yo-Yo" are interesting primarily for their similarities to sides recorded by relatively insignificant bluesman Billy Bird, with the former being nearly identical to that musician's like-titled piece from 1928. It is possible that the name "Billy Bird" was simply a nom de disque used by McClain while recording for a different music label. "Georgia Rose" is an updated version of an old coon song with some gorgeous piano arrangements, while "Sitting On Top of the World" is a capable cover of the Mississippi Sheiks' big race record hit from 1930. The remaining material - "Early Some Morning Blues," "Down In Black Bottom," and "Shook It This Morning Blues" - features Evans and McClain on piano and guitar and show them to be nearly in the same league as Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell.

1. Little Son of a Gun (Look What You Done Done)
2. Two White Horses In a Line
3. John Henry Blues (take 1)
4. John Henry Blues (take 3)
5. New Huntsville Jail (take 1)
6. New Huntsville Jail (take 2)
7. Take a Look at That Baby
8. Mill Man Blues
9. Oh You Son of a Gun
10. Georgia Rose
11. Early Some Morning Blues
12. Cream and Sugar Blues
13. Old Hen Cackle
14. Sitting On Top of the World
15. My Baby Got a Yo-Yo
16. So Sorry Dear
17. Sourwood Mountain
18. Down In Black Bottom (take 1)
19. Down In Black Bottom (take 2)
20. Shook It This Morning Blues

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Civil War - Original Soundtrack Recording (Elektra Nonesuch, 1990)

Forget the facts that Ken Burns is a big nerd, that his documentaries have followed the same formula for the last 20 years, and that he insists on trying to grow a beard when he doesn't have a sufficient amount of facial hair to do so. His epic project, The Civil War, is an outstanding work that remains his crowning achievement and is perhaps the ultimate video narrative of one of the most definitive chapters in the history of the United States. One thing this filmmaker is not given enough credit for is his ear for good soundtrack material. Although the cover of this CD may appear to be something resembling an audio history lesson, the reality is that this recording not only features some compelling spoken word pieces from the film but also some interesting selections of 19th century American popular and roots music.

Although it predictably contains examples of period material such as "Dixie/Bonnie Blue Flag," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," these are among the most inspired versions that you're likely to hear. The guitar and violin showpiece, "Ashokan Farewell," is the documentary's signature tune and, with its beautiful yet melancholy character, serves as extremely suitable theme music. If you can listen to this CD's closing track, a version of this instrumental that also features Paul Roebling's reading of the last letter written by a Union soldier who would be killed at the First Battle of Bull Run, without tears welling up in your eyes, then you are one cold-blooded individual. The a cappella rendition of "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" is extremely moving as are the piano pieces played by Jacqueline Schwab (and in some cases, with accompaniment) that include "Battle Cry of Freedom" (both versions),
"Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier," "All Quiet on the Potomac," "Weeping Sad and Lonely," and "Marching Through Georgia (lament)."

Don't be surprised if listening to this inspires you to watch or re-watch the ten-hour documentary in which these performances are so effectively utilized.

1. Drums of War - The Old Bethpage Brass Band
2. Oliver Wendell Homes (quote) - voice: Paul Roebling
3. Ashokan Farewell - Fiddle Fever
4. Battle Cry of Freedom - Jacqueline Schwab
5. We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder - Bernice Johnson Reagon
6. Dixie/Bonnie Blue Flag - The New American Brass Band
7. Cheer Boys Cheer - The New American Brass Band
8. Angel Band - Russ Barenburg & Molly Mason
9. Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier - Jacqueline Schwab & Jesse Carr
10. Lorena - Matt Glaser, Jay Ungar, & Molly Mason
11. Parade - The New American Brass Band
12. Hail Columbia - The New American Brass Band
13. Dixie - Bobby Horton
14. Kingdom Coming - Matt Glaser, Jay Ungar, & Art Baron
15. Battle Hymn of the Republic - Matt Glaser & Jacqueline Schwab
16. All Quiet on the Potomac - Jacqueline Schwab
17. Flag of Columbia - Jacqueline Schwab
18. Weeping Sad and Lonely - Peggy James, Jacqueline Schwab, & Jesse Carr
19. Yankee Doodle - The Old Bethpage Brass Band
20. Palmyra Schottishche - The New American Brass Band
21. When Johnny Comes Marching Home -
The Old Bethpage Brass Band
22. Shenandoah - James Levy & John Colby
23. When Johnny Comes Marching Home - Matt Glaser et al.
24. Marching Through Georgia - Matt Glaser et al.
25. Marching Through Georgia (lament) - Jacqueline Schwab
26. Battle Cry of Freedom - Jacqueline Schwab
27. Battle Hymn of the Republic - The Abyssinian Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir
28. Ashokan Farewell/Sullivan Ballou Letter -
voice: Paul Roebling, narrator: David McCullough

Friday, February 12, 2010

Move! The Guitar Artistry of Hank Garland (Euphoria, 2001)

Hank Garland (1930-2004) was an amazing guitarist who could play just about anything, although his association with Nashville and early hit "Sugarfoot Rag" led many to categorize him as a country musician. And while it is true that he provided accompaniment to artists of the genre such as Conway Twitty, Marty Robbins, and Patsy Cline, he is probably best known for his rock 'n' roll work with Elvis Presley in the late 1950s and early 1960s (e.g. "A Big Hunk o' Love" and "A Fool Such As I"). Yet even in these milieus, Garland's sophisticated technique could not hide the fact that he was at heart a jazz guitarist.

Studio session work and club appearances kept him busy during this time but also brought him to the attention of industry executives, most notably legendary producer Don Law, who signed him to Columbia Records. The resulting contract yielded three LPs, Velvet Guitar, Jazz Winds from a New Direction, and The Unforgettable Guitar of Hank Garland, which are included in their entirety (along with some previously unreleased bonus tracks) on this exceptional anthology. The first of these albums was recorded in 1959 and featured the guitarist with only the accompaniment of a bassist and drummer. Although its title and the female model pictured on the album cover suggest an easy listening affair, the material is actually quite sophisticated even if their briefness (no performance clocks in longer than three-and-a-half minutes) prevents Garland from stretching out into true improvisational jazz territory. Nevertheless, this is still impressive stuff, with one track being favorably compared to the work of Barney Kessel in Rich Kienzle.'s informative booklet notes. In fact, fans of that aforementioned musician's guitar-bass-drums trio Poll Winners recordings will probably also enjoy "Autumn Leaves," "Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)," "Like Someone In Love," "Ain't Nothing Wrong With That," "Tammy," "Green Sleeves," "Blame It On My Youth," "Ed's Place," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," and "Secret Love." Of further interest are the previously unreleased earlier versions of the last three titles as well as "Some of These Days," which date from the scrapped initial sessions for Velvet Guitar.


Garland recorded his second album, Jazz Winds from a New Direction, in 1960 with an impressive crew of jazz musicians that included bassist Joe Benjamin, drummer Joe Morello (from the Dave Brubeck Quartet), and a very young Gary Burton on vibraphone. Arguably the finest of the three LPs he waxed for Columbia, this record includes inspired renditions of "All the Things You Are," "Move," "Always," and "Relaxing" as well as two superb originals, "Three-Four, The Blues" and "Riot-Chous." The unerring rhythm section of Benjamin and Morello perfectly complemens the alternating lead work of maestros Garland and Burton. Jazz Winds is simply an outstanding album and compares favorably with any of Wes Montgomery or Grant Green's releases from the same era.

Recorded a mere week later, the album that became The Unforgettable Guitar of Hank Garland is a fine collection of instrumentals, even if some of them are leftovers - albeit tasty ones - from Velvet Guitar ("Why Not?") and Jazz Winds ("Unless You're In Love"). Let me explain the "album that became" part. The remaining material was originally recorded for an LP released by a song licensing company and intended for radio broadcast. As a result of its target audience, most of these pieces are not as adventurous as the improvised material on Jazz Winds. Be that as it may, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the performances turned in by veteran Nashville studio musicians such as bassist Bob Moore, pianist Bill Pursell, and Doug Kirkham (not to mention the reappearance of Burton) on "Call D. Law," "It's Love, Of Course," "Not For Me," "(Tell Me) What Am I To Do?," "You're Here Again," "Pop Goes the Weasel," "Just for Tonight," "Close Your Eyes," and "Rainy Afternoon."

Unfortunately, Garland was involved in a serious car accident the following year in which he suffered injuries that caused brain damage. Although he recovered sufficiently to relearn how to play his instrument, he was only a shadow of the musician he had once been. With the inclusion of "Three Four, The Blues" from Jazz Winds to the tracks discussed above, Columbia released this material as Unforgettable Guitar in 1962, which helped maintain the guitarist's legacy during his recuperation.

Disc 1

1. All the Things You Are
2. Three-Four, The Blues
3. Move
4. Always
5. Riot-Chous
6. Relaxing
7. Call D. Law
8. It's Love, Of Course
9. Not for Me
10. (Tell Me) What Am I to Do?
11. You're Here Again
12. Pop Goes the Weasel

Disc 2

1. Autumn Leaves
2. Why Not?
3. Ed's Place
4. Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)
5. Like Someone In Love
6. Ain't Nothing Wrong With That
7. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
8. Tammy
9. Secret Love
10. Greensleeves
11. Blame It On My Youth
12. Unless You're In Love
13. Just for Tonight
14. Close Your Eyes
15. Rainy Afternoon
16. Ed's Place (early version)*
17. Polka Dots and Moonbeams (early version)*
18. Some of These Days*

*previously unreleased

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sulukule: Rom Music of Istanbul (Traditional Crossroads, 1998)

Even if you are not usually interested in the Middle Eastern recordings that I occasionally post, you might want to make an exception for this one. The music on this CD is simply mesmerizing. One might even say psychedelic, though certainly not in the traditional 1960s Haight Ashbury/Swinging London sense of the word. This release gets its title from the Sulukule (Turkish for "water tower") district of Istanbul, a Roma (Gypsy) neighborhood that at one time was renowned for its musicians and performance venues. Unfortunately, the night clubs were closed down in 1992, and the area was tabbed for redevelopment after subsequently falling into a major state of decline. As the neighborhood has deteriorated, the traditional Roma musical ensembles have largely disappeared, which is a tremendous pity when one considers their contributions to Turkish culture. Nevertheless, some members of the old guard remain, none more notable than Kemani (Turkish for "violin master") Cemal Cinarli.


The tracks featured on this album were recorded sometime during the 1970s and originally released on cassette in Turkey, although Traditional Crossroads has reissued them in CD format (which includes a typically outstanding set of booklet notes) under the title of Sulukule here in the United States. Despite the fact that Kemani Cemal's ensemble includes musicians who play instruments such as oud, clarinet, kanun (Turkish harp), and darbuka (a type of goblet drum) that are characteristic of most other Middle Eastern groups, their sound is totally sui generis. Just as the Gypsies of Europe had a tremendous impact on the music of the countries in which they settled, so too did their counterparts in the Ottoman Empire. I suspect that the unique nature of this type of music has something to do with the Indian origins of the Roma, who may have combined elements of raga with Turkish and Arabic musical modes
. Additionally - and perhaps my imagination is just getting carried away here - the percussionist often sounds more like a tabla player who would not have sounded out of place accompanying Ravi Shankar rather than an archetypal Middle Eastern drummer on dumbeg. Also featured on this CD are several vocalists, including veteran Roma bellydancer (and violinist) Berguzar, who greatly contribute to the overall atmosphere of the performances.


Even though this is not a live album, it still sounds as if it was recorded in a hashish smoke-filled Turkish night club. It just has that kind of feel to it. The music is hypnotic and spellbinding while the singing of Berguzar and the other vocalists is beautifully haunting. Moreover, as Sonia Seeman describes in the notes, "In several tunes, you will hear typical kinds of shouted improvised calls by female Roman (sic) singers exhorting the musicians to inspire their performances." Throughout the proceedings, Kemani Cemal unleashes some awe-inspiring extended improvisations on his violin, with the swoops of his instrument seemingly capable of expressing every range of human emotion. Kanun player Sencal
Ismail and clarinetist Ahmet Bigali provide superb accompaniment and are nearly the violin master's equal. Sulukule is truly a five-star album, so there's not a bad performance to be found here. That said, my favorite tracks are the opener, "Bu Yil Bekar," as well as "Mavisim," "Kirkpinar Ciftetellisi" (an instrumental that slowly uncoils like a cobra responding to a snake charmer), "Yedinci Cocuk," and "Karsilama."

I can't say enough good things about this CD. But for the sake of brevity, I'll stop here.


1. Bu Yil Bekar Kalalim
2. Mavisim
3. Kirpinar Ciftetellisi
4. Aksaray'in Taslari
5. Gel Beriye Beriye
6. Yedinci Cocuk
7. Ne Yalan Soyleyeyim
8. Aslan Bacanak
9. Gelin Havasi
10. Karsilama

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Count Bernadino - Calypso Bacchanal (Carib, 1962)

One of the main differences between prewar and postwar calypso is that the former primarily came from Trinidad, while the latter, more often than not, was made by musicians from the Bahamas. Indeed, this particular type of music was part of the exotica fad during the 1950s and early 1960s and was marketed accordingly by the record labels of the day. Unfortunately, the target audience had changed during this time, which often had a negative effect on the quality of the performances. Whereas the calypso 78s from the 1930s were intended for natives of the Caribbean living in the West Indies and in the expatriate communities of New York City and London, many of the postwar albums recorded by Bahamian musicians were clearly produced for white LP buyers whose tastes in music were slightly more adventurous than average. Little wonder, then, that so many of these releases were recorded in the hotels of Nassau where many of the calypso bands regularly performed to the delight of numerous American tourists. Without a doubt, a large number of these albums must have been sold as souvenirs to those who wanted a memento of their Caribbean vacations.

Which brings us to this LP, which ranks among the better postwar calypso recordings and demonstrates that not everything in this genre had to be bland and watered-down for American consumption. Count Bernadino originally hailed from Abaco, one of the more remote islands of the Bahamas, but later spent time living in Nassau, Jamaica, and New York and further developed his singing and guitar skills in these locations. Bernadino received his big break after relocating to the Big Apple in 1947. While working at a restaurant as a dishwasher, the establishment's owner took note of his talent and allowed him to perform for customers during his breaks. Around the same time, Bernadino fell in with a group of Caribbean musicians and enrolled with them at the New York School of Music. This brought the band, the Bacannals, to the attention of booking agents who, in turn, helped established them as professional touring musicians in the United States for the next few years. Bernadino returned home to the Bahamas in the mid-1950s, where he performed regularly at clubs and other popular night spots. By the beginning of the following decade, he had been recruited by the country's Development Board to tour internationally in an effort to attract more visitors to the Bahamas. Thus Calypso Bacchanal, recorded in 1962 when Bernadino was regularly globe-trottining and playing the hotels of Nassau, finds him at the height of his powers.

While the tracks on this album may not possess the raw power of ska (which was just starting to establish itself in Jamaica at the time) or the supernatural bizarreness of fellow Bahamian Exuma's first four LPs, it gives the listener an indication of the heavier music from the West Indies that was to come in the following years. Certainly, this can be heard on the more rhythmic numbers like "Come On," "Go Down to Bimini," "Red Shoes," "Chinese Baseball" (?), and "Mama, Lay, Lay, Lay," which all showcase the expert contributions of Little Sparrow on steel pans, Rudy Pinder on drums, Roy Shurland on maracas, and a horn section that included Eddie White, Charles Emlok, and Lord Lynn. The remaining material consists primarily of story songs with Caribbean themes, which makes for good background music the next time you're sitting around with your friends and drinking white rum and Coca-Cola. The most interesting exception in this batch of songs is "Love Alone," an updated version of Trinidadian calypsonian the Caresser's "Edward the VIII," whose subject matter concerns the romance of the United Kingdom monarch (who, after his abdication, was the Governor of the Bahamas during World War II) and American socialite Wallis Simpson. Obviously, this story had made quite an impact on the British Empire's colonial subjects throughout the West Indies.

1. Come On
2. Love Alone
3. Convoy
4. Mable
5. Sha-Bop
6. Go Down to Bimini
7. Red Shoes
8. Time Marches On
9. Back to Back
10. Chinese Baseball
11. Water She Garden
12. Mama, Lay, Lay, Lay

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sky "Sunlight" Saxon and Fire Wall - World Fantastic (Skyclad, 1988)

Well, I gotta come clean and say this sure isn't the best S.S.S. record, but of course when one loses a legend to the thereafter, a total reassessment of their body of work must begin--warts and all. There are certainly some interesting and "fun" tracks on this record though, some great performances by Sir Saxon, and guests stars galore, making it a sort of curious time capsule of 1980s "paisley" LA. A lot of old-schoolers appear, like Tony Valentino (The Standells), Mars Bonfire, Rodney Bingenheimer, and even friggin" Mitch "God" Mitchell! Some "new schoolers" crash the scene too, from the paisley underground (Rain parade, 3 O' Clock) and the less celebrated/adventurous 1980s garage revivalists (Miracle Workers, Fuzztones, Real Impossibles, The Moberlys, uh-who?). Shit, even the guitarist of the Church literally chimes-in on one cut--I instantly spotted Steve Kilbey's tastefully delayed spirals on side one's lovely dirge, "Put Something Sweet Between Your Lips." Kilbey actually adds a very then-modern touch of class to this VERY 1980s-sounding LP (did I mention the members of Dramarama on here too? ugh.), which I think is trying to be more of a 1960s bubblegum/garage-rock supersession LP. The sickeningly reverb-gated drum sound alone sends the whole party screaming into the late 1980s, as do the tinny way-too-high-in-the-mix keyboards/thin guitars hiding in the background. BUT, as i said, there is some magical charm here--side 1 is particularly good times, with Sky sounding pretty damn inspired and urgent on cuts like "Driver Fantastic" and the monumental "Lightning, Lightning." Of course a "Pushin' Too Hard" rewrite MUST be thrown in, it just wouldn't be a Sky affair without one, and we all love it to death, so "Baby Baby (Be Patient)" is welcome to the canon. I'll go to bat for the pure-pop gooeyness of "Blueberry Frosting" too, why shouldn't this have been a hit in 1988? Sure it's a bit fluffy and regressive, but we had Bananarama running rampant with "Venus" and Tiffany taking on "I Think we're Alone Now" at that time, and moldy-oldies like Steve Winwood and J.Geils Band suddenly farting out hits--I'd take this jam any day! Ok, that said, side 2 is a bit more dire, "Kick Kick" sounds like something Wham! abandoned as a fetus and let die, and "Barbie Doll Look" is just embarassing 3rd Grade social commentary--but again, even Sky's throwaways are still fascinating. His update on his own creation, "flower-punk," in the form of "Paisley Rocker" is decent enough, and the whole side is way worth it for Sky and Firewalls's epic take on Roky Erickson's "Don't Slander Me"--a perfect vehicle for Saxon's own fire-and-brimstone voice, and for Mitch Mitchell to throw down on! Yes, it actually rocks!

1. Driver Fantastic
2. Blueberry Frosting
3. Baby Baby (Be Patient)
4. Lightning, Lightning
5. Come On, Pretty Girl
6. Put Something Sweet Between Your Lips
7. Kick Kick
8. Barbie Doll Look
9. Paisley Rocker
10. The Big Screen
11. Come A-Here Right Now
12. Don't Slander Me