Thursday, October 28, 2010

Buddy Boy Hawkins & His Buddies 1927-1934 (Yazoo, 1968)


Here's one more early Yazoo release that for some reason never received a CD reissue, much to the detriment of those who got into prewar blues during the 1980s and 1990s. Featuring some wonderful cover artwork and an irresistible title, Buddy Boy Hawkins & His Buddies includes one side devoted to this underappreciated singer-guitarist's most compelling performances and another that showcases the works of six different blues musicians who were more or less his contemporaries. At the time of its release, biographical details about many such artists were extremely scarce. Consequently, Hawkins was often stylistically grouped with bluesmen from Texas and the Southwest as on this record and another Yazoo LP, Don't Leave Me Here: The Blues of Texas, Arkansas & Louisiana.


Information about Walter "Buddy Boy" Hawkins remains quite fragmentary, but there does seem to be a consensus that he was probably born in Blytheville, Arkansas sometime in the 1880s or 1890s. Although much of the state bears cultural and geographic similarities to northeastern Texas and northwestern Louisiana, his hometown's proximity to the Mississippi River meant that it was more in the Memphis-Mississippi Delta sphere of influence. As Paul Oliver theorizes in his excellent notes for Document's William Harris & Buddy Boy Hawkins - Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order CD, Hawkins may have operated primarily in the Jackson, Mississippi-Birmingham, Alabama corridor since these two cities are prominently mentioned in some of his songs. He was unique among recorded blues singers in terms of his playing. Jerome Epstein, author of this album's liner notes explains,
First, he uses a harmonic structure incomparably richer than the typical three of four chord blues piece. Second, his guitar accompaniments are contrapuntally conceived, usually in four voices. In moving from one chord to another he will move an inner voice, usually the alto played on the second string, along a natural melodic line producing along the way highly dissonant harmonies. Also, traditionally in the blues, and in folk guitar generally, the right hand strum determines the bass notes and hence whether a triad is inverted or not. No conceptual distinction is made between root position and inverted chords. Hawkins, however, realizes, like any "classical" musician, that inverted chords result from moving the bass line in a natural melodic way, that is by treating the bass as a counterpoint line on equal footing with the tune. These two factors indicate a strong influence of "classical" music, that is the composed music of white western Europe. Third, there is in some of the material on this record (primarily on "How Come Mama Blues" and "A Rag") an unmistakable influence of the classical flamenco techniques.

One can only speculate on where Hawkins came in contact with this material. The best guess is that he was in Europe with the armed forces in World War I, as we know Son House was. Europe had no discernible effect on House's music, but Hawkins may have been more receptive. If he was in the south of France he would most certainly have heard Flamenco guitar as well as standard European harmonies. It is also possible that he was exposed to and absorbed some classical influences in the United States, possibly in Memphis. He also could have heard flamenco here, possibly in New Orleans. The story of his life is undoubtedly fascinating.
Since I'm not a musician, there is really no way that I could have regurgitated the above any better. Thus the lengthy block quotation. While some blues enthusiasts such as Epstein clearly were fascinated by Hawkins' approach, others were obviously not - as indicated by descriptions such as "slow, whiny singing, monotonous one-chord strumming" in one of Tony Mostrom's hilarious fake Paramount advertisements featured at the bottom of this post. While I'll concede that making it through all 12 of Hawkins' performances on the aforementioned Complete Recorded Works might test one's patience, these seven sides effectively demonstrate the man's genius. The material from 1927 unfortunately sounds like it was recorded in a shoebox, but otherwise merits serious listening. "Number Three Blues," "Snatch It Back Blues," and "Raggin' the Blues" are all railroad-themed songs suggesting that Hawkins may have worked as a tracklayer or regularly utilized the Great Southern line running between Jackson and Birmingham, according to Oliver. My preference is for Hawkins' 1929 sides because of their superior sound quality and more ebullient nature. In addition to the impressive string-snapping techniques displayed on "Snatch It and Grab It," one can also make out various bits of commentary from at least one other person in the Richmond, Indiana studio of Gennett Records, which was rented by Paramount for this June 14 recording session. Research has shown that labelmate Charlie Patton also cut several sides on this date, suggesting that the second voice might be that of the founder of the Delta blues himself. "How Come Mama Blues" starts out slow, but by the time Hawkins reaches its conclusion, it ends at an incredibly feverish pace. "A Rag" is simply amazing and serves as the best illustration of the guitarist's flamenco-style playing, while "Voice Throwin' Blues" is his singular interpretation of the venerable "Hesitation Blues," complete with examples of ventriloquism that give this piece its name.

THE ONLY KNOWN PHOTO OF BUDDY BOY HAWKINS

Most of the musicians on side two have a definite Texas pedigree (thus disputing the contention that they were actual associates of Hawkins) even if other biographical details are relatively scarce. Will Day is a nonentity, although his superb "Central Avenue Blues" - a rare example of a guitar-clarinet duet and a variation on the "West Texas Blues" theme - shows that he was anything but a non-talent. The risque "Easy Rider Blues" comes from one of the last prewar recording sessions by singer Alger "Texas" Alexander, whose accompanists include guitarists Willie Reed and Carl Davis. Reed's appealingly ragged "Texas Blues" is another interpretation of the standard "West Texas Blues." San Antonio-native Dennis "Little Hat" Jones ranks as my favorite prewar blues guitarist from the Lone Star State because of his unique guitar style as displayed on "Hurry Blues" and "Rollin' from Side to Side." John T. Smith - better known as J.T. Smith, "Funny Paper" Smith (a nickname that may have resulted from a misunderstanding of the appellation "Funny Papa" by white record company executives), or "Howling Wolf" - paints a chilling portrait in "Fool's Blues," in which he sings, "It must be the devil I'm serving, I know it can't be Jesus Christ." So why haven't the idiots in Hollywood made a movie about this guy selling his soul at the crossroads? Oh yeah, maybe because he doesn't have Robert Johnson's public relations team working for him. The identities of Blind Percy and his Blind Band are complete mysteries, and their connections to Texas are doubtful at best. Some people believe that the group's leader was actually gospel singer Blind Joe Taggart recording under a nom de disc. What is certain is that "Coal River Blues" sounds a lot like "Pennsylvania Woman Blues"
by Six Cylinder Smith, which may or may not have been another one of Taggart's pseudonyms. Regardless of who actually recorded it, this captivating ensemble performance seems to feature a guitar, violin, and perhaps a kazoo or other similar instrument, which gives it something of a hillbilly string band sound.

ARTIST TONY MOSTROM MAKES HIS FEELINGS FOR BUDDY
BOY HAWKINS' MUSIC QUITE CLEAR (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

1. Snatch It and Grab It - Buddy Boy Hawkins
2. Number Three Blues
- Buddy Boy Hawkins
3. How Come Mama Blues
- Buddy Boy Hawkins
4. A Rag
- Buddy Boy Hawkins
5. Snatch It Back Blues
- Buddy Boy Hawkins
6. Raggin' the Blues
- Buddy Boy Hawkins
7. Voice Throwin' Blues
- Buddy Boy Hawkins
8. Central Avenue Blues - Will Day
9. Easy Rider Blues - Texas Alexander
10. Texas Blues - Willie Reed
11. Hurry Blues - Little Hat Jones
12. Rollin' from Side to Side - Little Hat Jones
13. Fool's Blues - "Funny Paper" Smith
14. Coal River Blues - Blind Percy and his Blind Band

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (2001)


When I used to work in an administrative capacity for the University of Illinois at Chicago during the early aughts, I typically took the local Metra train from my home in the suburbs to the city and back, which made for a relatively easy commute. In some respects, I miss those days because the half-hour ride each way gave me the opportunity to read many more books and magazines than I do now. When the weather was decent, I enjoyed the 20-minute walk from Union Station through downtown and Greektown to my office on campus. Along the way, I would occasionally encounter street musicians, although most of them weren't that memorable. However, one day in 2001 (pre-9/11 as I recall), I happened upon no mere busker, but a large group that was a horn band in the truest sense of the term. The unit included eight horn players and a drummer, a configuration that I don't see very often. Since I was on my way to Union Station and had no pressing engagements that evening, I decided to stick around for awhile and take in the music. Although it was new to me, it still had a familiar quality to it - not as if I'd heard these compositions before, but rather as if I was familiar with other musicians who had influenced this group. Between performances, I found out that they went by the name Hypnotic and bought one of the self-made CDs they were hawking.


I later found out that these guys were properly known as the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and that the horn players were all sons of trumpeter Philip Cohran, best known for his work with the Sun Ra Arkestra in the late 1950s prior to their move to the East Coast. Such a connection partially explains why their music has a familiar ring to it, but I think that I can also hear strains of the Pharaohs and early Earth, Wind & Fire in their playing. In a nutshell, they could be described as a Chicago version of the Dirty Dozens Brass Band, at least in terms of their lineup if not their performing style.

Personnel include:
Jafar "Yoshi" Baji Graves - trumpet
Gabriel "Hudah" Hubert - trumpet
Amal "June Body" Baji Hubert - trumpet
Tarik "Smoov" Graves - trumpet
Seba "Clef" Graves - trombone
Saiph "Cid" Graves - trombone
Uttama "Rocco" Hubert - baritone saxophone
Tycho "LT" Cohran - sousaphone
Gabriel Wallace - drums

I'm almost positive that this CD contains the same material that is featured on their debut album. If brass bands are your thing, then I'm sure you'll agree that HBE is one of the most exciting modern-day practitioners of the genre. As is often the case in the Second City, they did not receive the appreciation that they deserved and moved on to the greener pastures of New York City and regular touring in Europe and Japan. Good for them, bad for Chicago.

1. Satty
2. She
3. Frankie Mae
4. Loudmouth
5. Flipside
6. 1347
7. Caravan
8. Reggae
9. Todd (In Memory Of)

Monday, October 25, 2010

After Hour Blues (Biograph, 1969)


Although albums by blues guitarists get a lot more rotation on my turntable than those by their piano-playing counterparts, After Hour Blues fits the bill when I'm in the mood for some inspired ivory tickling. I remember reading an article on Pinetop Perkins many years ago where he explained that he had become a pianist because he wanted to play an instrument that could be heard above the guitars in the bands with which he performed. But then he also said something to the effect that he "couldn't win" because eventually the guitarists all started using amplifiers. I think of those comments whenever I play this LP because most of the tracks were recorded during a transitional time in the late 1940s when the electric guitar was still establishing itself as the signature instrument of the blues. As a result, these sides can be listened to and appreciated as examples of a soon-to-vanish variety of postwar Chicago blues in which the piano was to the fore.

ST. LOUIS JIMMY ODEN

Among the three musicians profiled on this record, James "St. Louis Jimmy" Oden was probably the least technically proficient instrumentalist, although he achieved a certain degree of fame as a singer and was even more successful as a songwriter, with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf among the blues artists who covered his material. His own version of "Goin' Down Slow" had been a big seller for Bluebird in 1941, but Wolf's version recorded twenty years later proved to be far more influential. While Albert "Sunnyland Slim" Luandrew is rightly credited for helping Waters get his career started with the Chess brothers, such recognition unfortunately diminishes his own redoubtable talents as a pianist and stentorian blues shouter. Otis Spann gets all of the accolades, but Sunnyland was the true patriarch of postwar Chicago blues piano. The name of Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery is probably the best known of the trio by virtue of having a prolific recording career that began in 1929 as well as a work ethic that kept him performing well into the 1970s. His virtuosity on the piano was such that he could play blues, jazz, and gospel with equal aptitude.


LEFT TO RIGHT: LITTLE WALTER, SUNNYLAND
SLIM, & LITTLE BROTHER MONTGOMERY

With the exception of tracks 11 and 12, all of these performances were recorded in 1949. "Hard Work Boogie," "Your Evil Ways," and "I Sit up All Night" feature Oden's vocals, but it is likely that the pianist in the group (which also includes guitar, bass, and drums) is not him. However, liner notes writer Chris Albertson theorizes that St. Louis Jimmy does play piano on the spirited instrumental "State Street Blues." Although discographical details are not provided, I'm guessing that these sides were recorded for J.O.B. Records, of which Oden was originally a part-owner. Sunnyland Slim displays an R&B (in the late 1940s sense of the term) approach on the relatively uptown "When I Was Young," notable for its stop-time rhythm and prominent tenor saxophone. Two takes are presented here, both of which mark the first attempts to nail this song, which eventually saw release as "Shake It Baby" after being rerecorded for other labels. Unfortunately, information on the backing musicians is not available. "Vicksburg Blues" (the basis of "44 Blues"), "A & B Blues," "After Hour Blues," and "Little Brother Stomp" are stately instrumental performances from Montgomery, with the last number being an uptempo tribute to his mentor, Jelly Roll Morton. The last two cuts - "Vicksburg Blues" and "No Special Rider" - comprised both sides of the pianist's debut 78 on Paramount from 1930 and feature his vocals as well. The former makes for an interesting comparison with aforementioned wordless version recorded 19 years later.


LITTLE BROTHER SOLO

1. Hard Work Boogie - St. Louis Jimmy
2. Your Evil Ways - St. Louis Jimmy
3. I Sit up All Night - St. Louis Jimmy
4. State Street Blues - St. Louis Jimmy
5. When I Was Young (Shake It Baby-Take 1) - Sunnyland Slim
6. When I Was Young (Shake It Baby-Take 2) - Sunnyland Slim
7. Vicksburg Blues - Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery
8. A & B Blues
- Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery
9. After Hour Blues
- Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery
10. Little Brother Stomp
- Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery
11. Vicksburg Blues
- Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery
12. No Special Rider
- Eurreal "Little Brother" Montgomery

Friday, October 22, 2010

Clarence White - Tuff & Stringy/Sessions 1966-68 (Big Beat, 2003)


The most compelling reason to listen to late-period Byrds albums is the presence of guitarist Clarence White. I always thought the sum of that pioneering folk rock band was greater than its parts in terms of material. The loss of Gene Clark and David Crosby gave Roger McGuinn too much unchallenged power, but at least he had the good sense to bring aboard an extraordinary and unique lead guitarist in White. So while LPs such as Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, (Untitled), and Farther Along lack the memorable songs of the earlier albums, the band's instrumental chops were never better, due in large part to the string-bending virtuosity of their new featured soloist.

THE REASONS IN 1967 (L TO R): CLARENCE WHITE,
WAYNE MOORE, GENE PARSONS, & GIB GUILBEAU

If you ever wondered what White did in between his stints with bluegrass folk revival outfit the Kentucky Colonels and the Byrds, look no further. Tuff & Stringy/Sessions 1966-68 provides a fascinating overview of the guitarist's prolific work as a studio musician in southern California during this period. In this context, he operated as a sideman on recordings by a diverse group of Los Angeles-area acts, many of them practitioners of the West Coast country sound associated with Bakersfield. These sides also allow the listener to hear how White's electric guitar style evolved over the course of these years. Keep in mind that the acoustic virtuoso had been playing the amplified version of the instrument since only 1965, toward the end of the Kentucky Colonels' run. But it was during his time as a session player that he honed his skills on the heavily-customized Telecaster with which he became associated and earned a new reputation as an incomparable instrumentalist of a different variety.
What Tuff & Stringy is not, however, is a definitive retrospective of White's oeuvre, a fact upon which some detractors of this release have commented. But it's not supposed to be since this sampler covers only a two-year period in the guitarist's career. So although it might lack an overall cohesiveness that some people demand from their CDs, there are enough good-to-great moments that make this a worthwhile listening experience for anyone interested in the roots of country rock.

PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL FOR GARY S. PAXTON'S
"MOTHER-IN-LAW" SINGLE ON CAPITOL

A large number of the tracks feature White playing with the Reasons, his group from 1967 to 1968, which also included singer Gib Guilbeau, bassist Wayne Moore, and future Byrd Gene Parsons on drums. Gary S. Paxton, who was focusing on country music during this time, took the musicians under his wing and utilized them as the house band for his fledgling enterprise, the Bakersfield International record label (as well as its numerous imprints) and his like-named production company. The performances on this CD are compiled not only from 45s released by Paxton's various enterprises but also from previously unissued recordings such as shelved singles, demos, and backing tracks. Fans of middle-period Byrds, Gene Clark's first LP, the Dillard & Clark Expedition, and the Gosdin Brothers' Sounds of Goodbye will find much of this material to be cut from the same cloth and should enjoy numbers such as the mildly psychedelic "Make up Your Mind" by the Spencers, "Guitar Pickin' Man" and "Hey Juliana" by White's bandmate Wayne Moore, the Sanland Brothers' "Vaccination for the Blues," Leon Copeland's "Gotta Go See the World," Dennis Payne's "I'll Live Today," and the sunshine pop of "Why Can't We Be" by the Great Love Trip. Other notable inclusions are Paxton's humorous downhome-sounding effort "Mother-in-Law" in addition to other more straight-ahead country and country rock tunes like the tough "Don't Pity Me" and "If We Could Read" by Darrell Cotton (the highlights of this collection, as far as I'm concerned), Richard Arlen's "I'm Tied Down to You," Jack Reeves' "Not Enough of Me to Go Around," and Wayne Moore's "Rocks in My Head." Connoisseurs of twang will treasure the numerous instrumentals credited to White: "Hong Kong Hillbilly" ("Nashville West" in disguise), "Grandma Funderbunk's Music Box," "Tuff & Stringy," "Last Date," "Riff-Raff," "Buckaroo," "Adam & Eve" (a backing track for a LeGarde Twins song), and "Tango for a Sad Mood" - some of which is more Eastern-influenced than you'd expect. There are even a couple of recordings from the Kentucky Colonels' last days thrown in for good measure that show them heading in a more experimental electric direction, the previously unreleased "Everyone Has One but You" and "Made of Stone." Finally, "She's Gone" and "Nature's Child" feature the vocals of Paxton's wife Jan. The more complete-sounding first title finds her in a duet setting with Gib Guilbeau, while the latter is just her and White's guitar on an archetypal 1960s period piece that with the right production and backing could have been developed into a hit single. The four-star rating this item receives over at Amazon seems about right since not everything on here is necessarily a masterpiece. My one consistent criticism is the fact that so many of these performances clock in at under two minutes and often leave me wanting just a little bit more. That one reservation aside, this remains quite a compelling collection of Clarence White's less familiar efforts.


THE REASONS W/SINGER JACK REEVES (SEATED), 1968

1. Hong Kong Hillbilly (aka Nashville West) - Clarence White

2. Mother-in-Law - Gary Paxton
3. Make up Your Mind - The Spencers
4. Grandma Funderbunk's Music Box
- Clarence White
5. Guitar Pickin' Man - Wayne Moore
6. Vaccination for the Blues - The Sanland Brothers
7. Don't Pity Me - Darrell Cotton*
8. Gotta Go See the World - Leon Copeland*
9. Everybody Has One but You - The Kentucky Colonels*
10. She's Gone - Gib & Jan
11. Tuff & Stringy
- Clarence White
12. I'm Tied Down to You - Richard Arlen*
13. Hey Juliana - Wayne Moore
14. Last Date
- Clarence White
15. I'll Live Today - Dennis Payne
16. Not Enough of Me to Go Around - Jack Reeves
17. Riff-Raff
- Clarence White
18. If We Could Read - Darrell Cotton*
19. Rocks in My Head - Wayne Moore*
20. Made of Stone - The Kentucky Colonels*
21. Buckaroo
- Clarence White
22. Adam & Eve (backing track for LeGarde Twins)
- Clarence White
23. Why Can't We Be - The Great Love Trip
24. Nature's Child - Jan & Clarence
25. Tango for a Sad Mood
- Clarence White
26. If We Could Read (backing track) - Darrell Cotton*

All tracks stereo except (*) mono

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gayle Dean Wardlow Interview - June 6, 1998


With apologies to his occasional collaborator Stephen Calt, Gayle Dean Wardlow is the world's preeminent scholar on prewar blues from the South. Quite simply, there is no single person who has done more to contribute to the body of knowledge about this quintessentially American style of music and the people who created it. Unlike some other better-known writers who have shamelessly profited by overly romanticizing the history of the genre and its performers, the Texas-born and Mississippi-raised Wardlow utilizes his training as a journalist to write in a straightforward manner and to stick with the facts. I like such an approach because the lives of bluesmakers don't need to be embellished; they're interesting enough at face value.


I first became familiar with Wardlow's name when I noticed that he was one of the record collectors whose 78s were frequently used as source material for Yazoo and Document CDs that compiled prewar blues sides. After the former label released Charlie Patton: King of the Delta Blues in the early 1990s during my first year in college, I became aware that there was also a like-titled companion book that he had co-authored with Calt. By the time I was attending the University of Mississippi as a history graduate student several years later, I had become quite familiar with the numerous articles he had written for esoteric periodicals such as 78 Quarterly, Blues Unlimited, and Storyville. Despite a lack of support from the department chair, I was determined to write my thesis on a blues-related topic. That's why I had chosen to attend Ole Miss in the first place. My thesis director believed in what I was doing, but he was upfront in admitting that he was no expert about the blues himself. Consequently, the person who was most helpful in assisting me in my research was the director of the university's music library and blues archive, Edward Komara. Little did I know that he had also been working with Wardlow by editing his manuscripts and putting them together for what would arguably become one of the most authoritative books on rural blues, Chasin' That Devil Music. After a bit of maneuvering, Komara helped me arrange an interview with him. I think Wardlow first wanted to see what I was like before consenting. So sometime in April of 1998, I met him at Ed's office in the music library where I proceeded to demonstrate my sincere interest in the subject of his expertise. One of the chapters in my thesis on the history of the blues revival in the 1950s and 1960s was to focus on the importance of record collectors in the movement, and Wardlow was just the person who I needed to interview. So while he showed off an old Stella guitar he had acquired from Charlie Patton's widow, Bertha Lee, that had allegedly been owned by the legendary bluesman, we made arrangements to conduct the question-and-answer session later on that spring.


I
n early June, Komara needed a ride down to Meridian, Mississippi, where Wardlow maintained one of his homes, the house of his recently-deceased mother. Ed's car was not sufficiently roadworthy for the drive, and it was necessary for him to get downstate in order to complete the final edit of Chasin' That Devil Music. If I was able to oblige, I could interview Wardlow after their task was completed. Deal accepted, and it was about a three-hour drive from Oxford to Meridian. Not long after arriving, the two immediately got to work on their project at the kitchen table. Meanwhile, I was entrusted to play 78s from Wardlow's duplicate shelf on a vintage turntable in the adjoining living room, which had that distinctive smell that old peoples' houses down South always have. They worked on the final draft well into the night, and the book was ready for release later in the year. On the following day - Saturday, June 6, 1998 - after having a downhome supper at the Magnolia Restaurant, I got my tape recorder rolling and started going down my list of questions.

WARDLOW WITH SOME OF HIS ARTIFACTS

Wardlow, of course, is known for his comprehensive interviews with legendary prewar blues musicians and their associates, so it was interesting to have him switch roles and supply the answers for a change. What you have here is a still-somewhat naive 25-year old blues fanatic seeking information from a walking encyclopedia on the subject. Ed Komara occasionally chimes in, and the wonderfully atmospheric background noise you can hear are the sounds of a genuine Southern diner, its employees, and its patrons. In total, the interview is about 38 minutes long. We cover topics such as the canvassing methods Wardlow used to find old blues records, how he became acquainted with other 78 collectors like Bernard Klatzko, Nick Perls, and Stephen Calt, and stories about some of the musicians he had rediscovered. He also shares his thoughts on some issues regarding disputes with other blues researchers, which I would ask that anyone using this recording for scholarly purposes to refrain from citing since these were off-the-record comments that did not directly relate to my questions. For all of the fellow prewar blues freaks out there, I hope you find this interesting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Masters of Turkish Music (Rounder, 1990)


Although Masters of Turkish Music has made the rounds through the blogosphere to a certain extent already, I don't think that I've seen it reviewed on any English-language sites. Plus, several tracks from this CD are on my current iPod playlist and have recently been at the forefront of my musical thoughts. In many respects, this collection is a companion piece to Istanbul 1925, but I think that some of the sides featured here date from before World War I, during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, there is some duplication between these two titles, and the booklet notes for Masters are nowhere near as informative. Still, this is a fantastic compilation and a first-rate introduction to early 20th-century music from Turkey.

SAFIYE AYLA

In similar fashion to related anthologies already posted here, this CD includes not only performances by Turkish artists but by musicians from minority groups within the Ottoman Empire as well. The tracks are divided into four categories: gazel, sarki, ciftetelli, and taksim. Richard Spottswood and Karl Signell's booklet notes define a gazel as a type of improvisational vocal Ottoman court music with relatively minimal instrumental accompaniment. I would imagine that most people brought up on Western music will find such pieces to be the most challenging listening experiences included on this disc. Middle Eastern opera is the best thumbnail description that I can think of. However, once you've acquired the taste for this stuff, prepare to be amazed by the wailing vocals of
Tarsus'lu Abdulkerim on "Bekledim kac gece," Safiye Ayla on "Yarin bu kadar cevri gelir miydi hayale," Hafiz Sasi Osman Efendi on "Mahitabim beyi seyrane mi ciktin bugece," Isak El-Gazi on "Bi-karar olmkati sevmekten muradi gonlumun," and Nafi Bey on "Derdime vakif degil." To the untrained ear, a sarki will sound like the same kind of performance, although the notes classify it as "a light classical vocal composition," which suggests that it does not have the improvisational characteristics of its counterpart. Safiye Ayla's "Saatlerce basbasa kaldigimiz geceler," Hafiz Burhan Sesyilma's "Nim nigahin katle ferman," and Isak El-Gazi's "Bir katre icen cesme-i pur-hun-i fenadan" belong in the aforementioned category. I'm guessing that "Bozlak and Halay" (a Turkish folk dance and song, respectively) by Yozgatli Hafiz Suleyman Bey and "Bulbul-i surideyim gulden nasibim var benim" (a durak, which I've seen defined as a "mystical hymn") by Munir Nurettin Selcuk bear sufficient similarity to the gazel and sarki tracks to warrant their placement between the two groups. The second half of Masters of Turkish Music focuses mostly on instrumental works, with tracks 11-15 designated as ciftetelli - essentially, belly dance music. Typically played by Turkish Roma and other urban minorities, performances of this variety include a solo instrumental improvisation backed by steady rhythmic motif. "Ciftetelli" highlights Sukru Tunar's considerable skills on the clarinet, while "Karsilama" and "Oyun havasi" does the same respectively for Bulgarian Nick Doneff's and Haydar Tatilyay's impressive violin playing. The starkly beautiful "Mani" by Gulistan Hanim is the exception to the rule here what with the prominent vocals, but Zurnaci Halil's intense "Halay" more or less picks up where "Oyun havasi" leaves off. The last five selections are various examples of the taksim, a solo improvisation that is basically the instrumental equivalent of a gazel. These performances are nothing short of mesmerizing, regardless of the performer. If the tambour is your thing, be sure to check out the tracks by Refik Fersan and Cemil Bey. Fans of the kanun will enjoy the cut by Nubar Comlekciyan Tekyay, while those partial to the oud should find Marko Melkon's taksim to their liking.

STAFF OF THE BLUMENTHAL BROS. RECORD SHOP IN 1920s ISTANBUL, WHOSE
ORFEON LABEL ORIGINALLY RELEASED MANY OF THE FEATURED TRACKS

1.
Gazel: "Bekledim kac gece" - Tarsus'lu Abdulkerim
2. Gazel: "Yarin bu kadar cevri gelir miydi hayale" - Safiye Ayla
3. Gazel: "Mahitabim beyi seyrane mi ciktin bugece" - Hafiz Sasi Osman Efendi
4. Gazel: "Bi-karar olmkati sevmekten muradi gonlumun" - Isak El-Gazi
5. Gazel: "Derdime vakif degil" - Nafi Bey
6. Bozlak and Halay - Yozgatli Hafiz Suleyman Bey
7. Durak: "Bulbul-i surideyim gulden nasibim var benim" - Munir Nurettin Selcuk
8. Sarki: "Saatlerce basbasa kaldigimiz geceler" - Safiye Ayla
9. Sarki: "Nim nigahin katle ferman" - Hafiz Burhan Sesyilmaz
10. Sarki: "Bir katre icen cesme-i pur-hun-i fenadan" - Isak El-Gazi
11. Ciftetelli - Klarnetci Sukru Tunar
12. Karsilama dance - Nick Doneff
13. Oyun havasi - Kemani Haydar Tatilyay
14. Mani - Gulistan Hanim
15. Halay dance - Zurnaci Halil
16. Taksim - Refik Fersan
17. Taksim - Kemani Nubar Comlekciyan Tekyay
18. Taksim - Tanburi Cemil Bey
19. Taksim - Tanburi Cemil Bey
20. Taksim - Udi Marko Melkon Alemsherian

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Daily Flash - Psychedelia from Pseattle 1966-1967



The most important factor that contributed to the 1960s producing the most innovative rock in the history of the genre was the rapid assimilation of new influences made possible by the earlier folk revival, mass media, and experimentation with psychedelics. Not only did such ingredients give rise to folk rock, they also led to the development of an even more revolutionary sub-category, psychedelic folk rock. My passion for the groups who performed this kind of music - including the Charlatans, the Bluethings, and the Spike-Drivers - should be rather obvious at this point. But in case it's not, I'd like to present you with another band who merits inclusion in this pantheon: Seattle's finest, the Daily Flash.

THE DAILY FLASH CIRCA 1966 (L TO R): DON MACALLISTER,
JON KELIEHOR, STEVE LALOR, & DOUG HASTINGS


Although better-known for proto-punk outfits like the Wailers and the Sonics, the Pacific Northwest city was also home to a thriving folk music scene that, in 1964, helped bring together local bassist-vocalist Don MacAllister and guitarist-vocalist Steve Lalor, who was originally from New York state. After several false starts up and down the West Coast, they reconvened in Seattle, where they recruited Midwesterner Jon Keliehor to fill the drummer's slot for their newly-planned group. The lineup was completed with the inclusion of another area native, Doug Hastings, on guitar in the latter half of 1965. Christening themselves the Daily Flash, the band quickly developed a following among hip Emerald City natives as a result of their instrumental prowess, soaring three-part harmony vocals, and eclectic combination of folk, rock, pop, blues, and jazz influences. Although managing to release two singles and being well-received by cognoscenti and music industry figures in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, they were never able to hit it big anywhere other than Seattle.
Their inability to break through wasn't for lack of trying. The Flash played at storied venues and events such as the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco and the Vancouver Trips Festival and even made an appearance on an episode of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., but, more importantly, neither of their 45s made an impact on the national Top 40 chart. Their lack of commercial appeal as well as an over-reliance on traditional material and outside writers unfortunately consigned them to permanent second-tier status. As a result, Hastings quit in May 1967 and joined Buffalo Springfield in time to serve as Neil Young's substitute during their Monterrey Pop Festival Appearance. MacAllister and Lalor replaced him with Craig Tarwater, formerly of Los Angeles band the Sons of Adam. Soon afterward, they sacked Keliehor for non-attendance at a hastily-scheduled gig and brought in Tarwater's former bandmate Tony Dey as the new drummer. This lineup soldiered on until October, when the group broke up after returning from a series of engagements along the West Coast and in Denver. A reconstituted version of the band featuring Lalor, Dey, Doug Hastings, and his bass-playing brother Rick did a few shows in Seattle and Portland the following month before finally calling it a day. As a testament to the band's considerable collective musical talent, former members went on to join other groups such as Rhinoceros, Bodine, and the Other Half during the decade's subsequent years, and Lalor leads yet another incarnation of the Daily Flash that still gigs regularly in Seattle to this day. For a thorough history on this band and its many offshoots, I strongly encourage reading Nick Warburton's excellent article available on Rhinoceros' website. Also well worth checking out is Patrick the Lama's Daily Flash page at Lama Workshop, which was an invaluable aid in helping me assemble these tracks in what I believe is proper chronological order.


The definitive official Daily Flash anthology has yet to be released, so I've put together everything that I have, including four of their five singles sides, four demo recordings that were first compiled on a Sundazed EP from 1996, four tracks originally from the CD version of the I Flash Daily bootleg (the closest thing to a comprehensive collection of the group's recordings), and a live cut originally featured on the previously-posted High Times in Frisco. The thunderous folk song-derived "Jack of Diamonds" from their first 1966 single on the Parrot label is arguably the band's most psychedelic moment and was rightfully included on the Nuggets box set. Their pleasant if not exceptional reading of Dylan's "Queen Jane Approximately" (Parrot 308) featured here is actually their second attempt at a hit cover version of this song, after an earlier version (Parrot 305, also b/w "Jack of Diamonds") - and not part of this collection - failed to make an impact. The second go-around suffered the same fate, but the Flash kept it in their set lists as demonstrated by this live performance that was recorded in late 1966 (and possibly at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles) while they were on tour with the Byrds. The following track is another decent Dylan interpretation, "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," and is purported to have been recorded at the Matrix in San Francisco sometime in 1966. An extended stay in L.A. helped them earn another stab at stardom, their Uni single, "French Girl" b/w "Green Rocky Road," which seems to have been recorded at the end of 1966 and released early the following year to a considerable degree of success in California. Although the Ian and Sylvia cover might be just a tad overwrought, the imaginative rendition of the folk standard (also memorably done by Karen Dalton, Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil, and Tim Hardin, among others) features exceptional harmony singing and guitar work. Bolstered by information presented in the aforementioned writings of Nick Warburton and Patrick the Lama, I'm going to venture that the next four tracks were recorded sometime during the summer of 1967, and not in 1966 as has previously been reported. If I'm correct, these recordings include guitarist Craig Tarwater and drummer Tony Dey, and they ably step into their new roles without missing a beat. Their cover of the Youngbloods' "Grizzly Bear " (which itself was based on songster Jim Jackson's "This Morning She Was Gone") quite simply blows away the original what with vocals that are nearly the equal of Moby Grape at their finest. "When I Was a Cowboy" is an appealingly spacey treatment of a tune from Lead Belly's songbook, while "The Girl from North Alberta" (written by Billy Roberts of "Hey Joe" fame) features some of the most heavenly harmonies that you're ever likely to hear. Leave it to the Daily Flash to turn an old whaling song, "Bonnie Ship the Diamond" (not "Jack of Diamonds" as it's mistitled elsewhere) into a miniature psychedelic folk rock masterpiece. The orchestrated "Barbara Flowers" (dedicated to a girl from the Seattle scene) is a rare example of a self-penned composition by the band and has a whimsical, almost British-influenced sound to it. Lalor has stated that he had left by the time this piece was recorded, leading me to believe that it must have been waxed during the second half of 1967. The unfortunate dropout that can be heard in the middle of the performance comes from the original I Flash Daily CD. Eric Andersen provides logical cover material with the band's so-so take on "Violets of Dawn," which might date from the same recording session as "Barbara Flowers" or from the one that yielded "The French Girl" and "Green Rocky Road," but I'm guessing the former. The final track shows the little-documented jazz side of the band, a spectacular epic improvisation based on Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island." This tour de force, which conclusively shows that the Daily Flash could go toe-to-toe with any San Francisco jam band from the same period, was taped at an October 6, 1967 appearance at Eagles Auditorium in Seattle, where they also played at least four other numbers. It's also possible that the "It Takes a Lot to Laugh" from this collection actually comes from this gig as well. If anyone out there has the remainder of this show, please get in touch with me.

THE FLASH IN "THE DUBLEGRATZ AFFAIR"
EPISODE OF THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E.

1. Jack of Diamonds
2. Queen Jane Approximately (version two)
3. Queen Jane Approximately (live)
4. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry (live)
5. The French Girl
6. Green Rocky Road
7. Grizzly Bear
8. When I Was a Cowboy
9. The Girl from North Alberta
10. Bonnie Ship the Diamond
11. Barbara Flowers
12. Violets of Dawn
13. Cantaloupe Island (live)

THE BAND IN A REFLECTIVE MOOD


LIVE IN SEATTLE, EARLY 1967

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hit Parader - February, 1967


If you want to get an idea of how much the Top 40 scene has declined during the last 50 years or so, look no further than the mainstream music magazines of the mid to late 1960s. It's simply amazing to see the massive number of excellent singers and bands who were classified as pop artists during that era. Although a lot of people would like to consider the MP3 Generation to be the most sophisticated group of cultural consumers in history, the fact remains that no other age group was exposed to as much musical diversity as the youth culture of the 1960s. Consequently, pop music has never been more inclusive than it was during that tumultuous decade.

JILL GIBSON, WHO BRIEFLY REPLACED MICHELLE
PHILLIPS IN THE MAMAS AND PAPAS - REMEMBER HER?

Rolling Stone
would have you believe that there were no serious music magazines geared toward teens and twenty-somethings prior to its existence. This is simply not true, as a cursory glance through issues of Hit Parader from the 1960s will convincingly demonstrate. Growing up in the 1980s, I associated this periodical with hair metal bands and the other non-talents that were usually plastered all over the covers at that point in time. I had no idea that the publication had such an illustrious history until I developed an interest in music from the past and had an opportunity to look through vintage back issues.

SOME AMAZING PHOTOS FROM THE ARTICLE
ABOUT LOTHAR AND THE HAND PEOPLE

Blog team member vinylplastic has generously let me borrow the copies of this magazine that he has in his colossal periodical archive so that I can scan them as PDFs and make them more easily available in the blogosphere for research purposes. This particular issue is the February 1967 edition. However, back in those days, the date on the cover did not necessarily correspond with when the publication actually hit the newsstands. In fact, it was typical at the time for many periodicals to be released seemingly several months ahead of schedule. With this in mind and judging by the content of this Hit Parader, I'm guessing that it actually came out some time in the late autumn of 1966. Not only do its articles (which are better written than you might initially think) cover an extremely wide variety of musicians, but other intriguing features include letters to the editor, lyrics to the popular songs of the day, and, of course, priceless period advertisements such as "Don't Be Skinny!", "Learn To Play Guitar The Chet Atkins Way!", "For Instant Skin Beauty! Cover Up Ugly Blemishes," and "How to Make Money with Simple Cartoons," to name but a few.


PHOTO OF LOVE THAT WAS PLACED NEXT TO A LETTER FROM A
HUGE FAN IN THE "WE READ YOUR MAIL" SECTION OF THE MAGAZINE

To give you a better idea of what this issue has in store, what follows is a plagiarization of the table of contents:
-We Read Your Mail / Nice Letters From You
-The Scene / From Folk To Rock
-The Rolling Stones / Have They Gone Too Far?
-James Brown Contest / Win A Portable Phonograph
-The Beach Boys / Brian Wilson Talks About His Friends
-Jill Gibson / The One-Month Mama
-The Lovin' Spoonful / Joe & John Remember Their Childhood
-Larry Coverdale & The Horsemen / Watch Out For This Group
-The London Scene / By Miranda Ward
-Chad Stuart / Today & Tomorrow, An Interview
-New Stars / Keith, The Left Banke, Count 5, ? & The Mysterians
-New Albums / A Check List For You
-Music Spotlight / Some Newsy Baloney
-John Sebastian Interviews Fritz Richmond / Member Of The Kweskin Jug Band
-Tommy Roe / The Big Comeback
-The Four Tops / All The Groovy Sounds
-Lothar & The Hand People / An Interview
-Granny's Gossip / Did Diana Ross Really Get Married?
-Otis Redding / Swinging In London
-Steps To Stardom / How To Be A Singer
-Mike Bloomfield / Last Part Of An Interview
-Tempo / Composer-Arranger, Gary McFarland by Jim Delehant
-My Favorite Records / By Keith Relf Of The Yardbirds
-Platter Chatter / New Sounds On Plastic (reviews of Sunshine Superman by Donovan, East-West by the Butterfield Blues Band, Verve jazz reissues, Pretty Flamingo by Manfred Mann, The Sounds of India by Ravi Shankar, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore by the Walker Brothers, et al.)

PICS FROM THIS ISSUE'S FEATURE ON THE FOUR TOPS

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

String Bands 1926-1929 (Document, 1993)


By request.

One of the most intriguing aspects of race records from the 1920s is that they occasionally provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of 19th-century black music that otherwise would have remained undocumented. Although Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas was arguably the most significant and prolific artist to have recorded such material during this time, there were many other African American musicians who also waxed 78s that featured performances with origins in the 1800s. In many cases, this archaic music was preserved in the repertories of string bands that often continued to utilize violins, banjos, mandolins, and other instruments that had largely fallen out of favor with most black audiences by the 1920s.


String Bands 1926-1929 collects the recordings of seven ensembles whose material for the most part was already passe when it was recorded. For that we can thank the clueless white music industry executives who had no idea what was hip in black culture at the time. Sometimes ignorance works to the benefit of historically-minded record collectors. While some would simply classify these 25 sides as "blues" - indeed, many of these performances contain that term in their titles - further analysis shows that some are actually rags. Of course, these are not the same as the ragtime piano works of Scott Joplin, but they share a common ancestor in the black dance music played at country frolics in the rural South during the immediate postbellum era.


In most cases, information about the performers appearing on this CD is nonexistent. Such is the case with the Kansas City Blues Strummers, whose excellent lone 78 "Broken Bed Blues" b/w "String Band Blues" features a violinist, banjoist, guitarist, and - according to the booklet notes by Terry Zwigoff - a cellist(!). The same lack of biographical details applies to the delightfully-named Old Pal Smoke Shop Four. "Surprised Blues" and "Black Cat Blues" are essentially instrumentals that feature the musicians playing banjo, guitar, mandolin, and a bowed string bass. Due to the manner in which that last instrument is played, I find these recordings to be very similar to works by the Dallas String Band. If the four titles by Taylor's Kentucky Boys - "Gray Eagle," "Forked Deer," "Soldier Joy," and "Maxwell Girl" - sound like hillbilly breakdowns to your ears, that's because they more or less are. These sides are rare examples of a black musician (in this case, violinist Jim Booker) performing with rural white musicians Marion Underwood on banjo, Willie Young on guitar, and - on the last two titles - Aulton Ray on vocals. Booker's younger fiddle-playing brothers John and Joe are accompanied by guitarist-kazooist Robert Steele (collectively known as the Booker Orchestra) on the jaunty instrumental "Camp Nelson Blues." "G Rag" provides another instance in which a black musician recorded with a white string band, with Andrew Baxter supplying violin accompaniment to the Georgia Yellow Hammers, whose personnel included guitarists Clyde Evans and Phil Reeve, banjoist Charles Ernest Moody, and square dance caller Uncle Bud Landress. The next seven sides feature Andrew and his brother (?) Jim Baxter on guitar as well as vocals and are fascinating illustrations of material that sounds "white" but is played by black musicians. Judging by the photo below, I'm guessing that they were often hired to perform at white parties (note the Caucasian woman with the hat in the background) in Georgia much in the same fashion that the Mississippi Sheiks were regulars at similar society events in their home state. "Bamalong Blues," "K.C. Railroad Blues" (similar to the Memphis Jug Band's "K.C. Moan"), and "It Tickles Me" are reminiscent of guitarist Frank Stokes' duets with fiddler Will Batts, while the driving "Moore Girl" and "Georgia Stomp" are pieces that were obviously intended for square dancing. To wit, you can plainly hear Jim calling out instructions on the latter track. Their most interesting performances are "Forty Drops" and "Dance the Georgia Poss" as they were derived from rags that date back to at least the 1890s, according to researchers Doug Seroff and Lynn Abbott. Regarding the first track, they provide the following information:
Fiddler Andrew Baxter gives a roughed-out country interpretation of the essential theme, struggling through a muddy variation or two, while Jim Baxter posits a verbal elucidation of the song title: "Now this is the 'Forty Drops.' Forty drops of what? Forty drops of rye!...Who's gonna carry me home when the dance is over? 'Cause I'm getting about full of this rye." The Baxters were separated from the source of "40 Drops" by more than a generation, so the accuracy of their interpretation of exactly what was "the 40 Drops" is open to question. It might also have been morphine or laudenum, popular recreational drugs of the 1890s period, typically dispensed in drops.*
The "poss" in "Dance the Georgia Poss" is a corruption of "pas ma la," an early black folk dance whose name originated from pas mele, French for "mixed step." Seroff and Abbott state, "In 1929 the black fiddle and guitar duo Andrew & Jim Baxter recorded 'Dance The Georgia Poss' advising dancers to 'get way back and "poss"' [sic, "pass"], perpetuating a theme from the 19th century black string band dance heritage."* Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater's superb guitar-mandolin duets consist of recordings sourced from Scott Joplin's piano rags ("Somethin' Doin'" and "Easy Winner") in addition to blues instrumentals ("Nothin' Doin'" and "Prater Blues"). The Alabama Sheiks - violinist Eddie West and guitarist Ad Fox - contribute four competent performances that interpret material that was more contemporary to their recording session in 1931 (which is obviously not acknowledged in the 1926-1929 part of the CD's title). Thus, "Travelin' Railroad Man Blues" seems to be derived from "Travelin' Coon" to a certain extent, whereas they didn't even bother to change the name of their straight-ahead cover of the Mississippi Sheiks' "Sittin' on Top of the World." "The New Talkin' 'Bout You" is a variation on Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe's "I'm Talking About You," and "Lawdy Lawdy Blues" belongs to the same family of songs as Papa Charlie Jackson's "Cat's Got the Measles."

ANDREW (L) & JIM BAXTER

1. Broken Bed Blues - Kansas City Blues Strummers
2. String Band Blues - Kansas City Blues Strummers
3. Surprised Blues - Old Pal Smoke Shop Four
4. Black Cat Blues - Old Pal Smoke Shop Four
5. Gray Eagle - Taylor's Kentucky Boys
6. Forked Deer
- Taylor's Kentucky Boys
7. Soldier Joy
- Taylor's Kentucky Boys
8. Maxwell Girl
- Taylor's Kentucky Boys
9. Camp Nelson Blues - Booker Orchestra
10. G Rag - Andrew & Jim Baxter (w/the Georgia Yellow Hammers)
11. Bamalong Blues
- Andrew & Jim Baxter
12. K.C. Railroad Blues
- Andrew & Jim Baxter
13. The Moore Girl
- Andrew & Jim Baxter
14. Georgia Stomp
- Andrew & Jim Baxter
15. Forty Drops
- Andrew & Jim Baxter
16. It Tickles Me
- Andrew & Jim Baxter
17. Dance the Georgia Poss
- Andrew & Jim Baxter
18. Somethin' Doin' - Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater
19. Easy Winner
- Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater
20. Nothin' Doin'
- Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater
21. Prater Blues
- Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater
22. Travelin' Railroad Man Blues - Alabama Sheiks
23. Sittin' on Top of the World
- Alabama Sheiks
24. The New Talkin' 'Bout You
- Alabama Sheiks
25. Lawdy Lawdy Blues
- Alabama Sheiks


*Doug Seroff and Lynn Abbott. "100 Years from Today: The Origins of Ragtime." 78 Quarterly Vol. 1 No. 10 (1999): pp. 121-143.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Best of Ian & Sylvia (Columbia, 1974)


Despite the misleading title, The Best of Ian & Sylvia is not, in fact, a compilation of their greatest hits. This two-LP set, however, does compile the two albums that they did for Columbia Records, Ian & Sylvia (1971) and You Were on My Mind (1972). These were the last records that they released as a duo. Neither sold well, and they were reissued as a two-fer in 1974 in the format presented here. By the following year, they had divorced, both professionally and personally. Even though these LPs were recorded toward the end of their career as a husband-wife team, for the most part, both hold up rather well and sound considerably more inspired than one would expect. At this point in their history, Ian and Sylvia seemed to have developed a workable formula that allowed them to combine the country and country rock elements of Nashville and Great Speckled Bird along with the pop moves of Lovin' Sound and the baroque orchestrated folk prevalent on So Much for Dreaming.

COVERS OF THE ORIGINAL COLUMBIA ALBUMS

Not to be confused with their like-titled debut for Vanguard, Ian & Sylvia shows the pair comfortably adapting to the 1970s without completely abandoning their traditional roots, as many former folkies turned singer-songwriters had done. The agreeable interpretation of David Wiffen's "More Often Than Not" pretty much sets the tone for both of these albums, instrumentally speaking - acoustic guitars with an electric rhythm section supplemented by just the right amount of strings and steel guitar. Another cover, "Creators of Rain" (originally performed by Smokey & his Sister) is more of a team effort with Sylvia sharing the lead vocal duties, while "Summer Wages" finds Ian revisiting and improving upon a tune that had originally appeared on So Much for Dreaming.
Sylvia's lovely voice graces "Midnight" and is nicely complemented by the dobro playing of either Joe Renzetti or Stu Schaff. "Barney" is a touching tribute to an old horse that has to be put out of its misery. An affecting performance to say the least, you might want to skip this one if you have a soft spot for animals because the sorrow-tinged lyrics are rather graphic. "Some Kind of Fool" comes off as a nice straight-ahead country song, and despite the somewhat silly title, "The Shark and the Cockroach" puts the rock in country rock. "Last Lonely Eagle" features Ian and Sylvia's vocal harmonies at their most exquisite and is an excellent take on the New Riders of the Purple Sage's better-known original version. Although these two Canadians easily could have embarrassed themselves doing a musical narrative of an old slave's emancipation, "Lincoln Freed Me Today" (written by David Patton and also recorded by Joan Baez on the Blessed Are LP from the same year) succeeds by virtue of their sensitive but not overwrought performance. The string of excellent covers continues with Sylvia's haunting reading of Bert Jansch's "Needle of Death" before the album closes, appropriately enough, with an outstanding original by Sylvia titled "Everybody Has to Say Goodbye." (For those with a preference for compact discs, I recommend seeking out Beginning of the End, which contains Ian & Sylvia in its entirety plus four bonus tracks unavailable elsewhere. More info: here.)


The follow-up, You Were on My Mind was actually attributed to "Ian & Sylvia and The Great Speckled Bird" and features the second version of that group, who toured with Ian and Sylvia in the early 1970s but (with the exception of one holdover, drummer N.D. Smart) did not participate in the recording of the Great Speckled Bird album. (Again, more info: here.) I have to give the edge to this fine Canadian country rock outfit over the Nashville studio musicians who play on Ian & Sylvia and help make this album slightly the superior of the two. Things get off to a rousing start in which the duo out-Band the Band with a superb rendition of Robbie Robertson's "Get Up Jake." Unlike their first record for Columbia, which was more reliant on outside writers, the only other track not penned by Ian and/or Sylvia on You Were on My Mind is a pretty rocking version of the traditional "Lonesome Valley." "Old Cheyenne" and "Antelope" are Western-themed numbers evocative of the Great Plains, while the tastefully orchestrated "Miriam" serves as a showcase for Sylvia's graceful vocals. Even though I miss the original's trademark autoharp, this reimagined version of "You Were on My Mind" acquits itself rather convincingly as a twangy country tune. The all-but-a-cappella "Joshua" provides another opportunity for the couple to show off their vocal harmonies just as "You're Not Alone Anymore" exhibits Ben Keith's considerable skills on steel guitar. "The Beginning of the End," which foreshadows Ian and Sylvia's impending split, does both. With the exception of the prominent electric bass, "Salmon in the Sea" hearkens back to the sound of the early I&S albums on Vanguard. I'm not sure who it might be dedicated to, but "Bill (Won't You Please Take Me Home)" features Sylvia singing her heart out on the song that not only concludes the LP, but also one that marks the unfortunate end of Ian and Sylvia as a recording act.


Ian & Sylvia (1971)
1. More Often Than Not
2. Creators of Rain
3. Summer Wages
4. Midnight
5. Barney
6. Some Kind of Fool
7. Shark and the Cockroach
8. Last Lonely Eagle
9. Lincoln Freed Me
10. Needle of Death
11. Everybody Has to Say Goodbye

You Were on My Mind (1972)
1. Get Up Jake
2. Old Cheyenne
3. Antelope
4. Miriam
5. Lonesome Valley
6. You Were on My Mind
7. Joshua
8. You're Not Alone Anymore
9. Salmon in the Sea
10. The Beginning of the End
11. Bill (Won't You Please Take Me Home)