Monday, October 31, 2011

Waylon Jennings - Leavin' Town (RCA Victor, 1966)


On a song-by-song basis, Leavin' Town qualifies as my favorite Waylon Jennings album from the 1960s. There's not a bad track on here (indeed, every song is at least very good) if you like the kind of country music that I do. The "Folk Country" emblem to the right of the title on the album cover provides a more or less accurate description of the record's musical contents and was possibly an attempt by RCA to milk the commercial success of his like-titled debut for the label, which had been released earlier in 1966. In similar fashion to Waylon's other contemporary releases, the only issue with this LP is its brevity, with a total running time of just under a half-hour.


Even though Jennings was still being forced into a mold at this point in his career, one has to give credit to whoever was responsible for assembling this impeccable mix of material by other songwriters and the singer's own compositions and co-compositions. Intentional or not, several selections combine to make Leavin' Town something of a thematic affair since these pieces possess an air of, well, leaving about them. This is especially true on the first three songs in the lineup: the irresistibly twangy title track, the anthemic "Time to Bum Again" (another Harlan Howard gem), and an excellent interpretation of Delbert McClinton's timeless "If You Really Want Me to I'll Go." The firm-yet-sensitive "Baby, Don't Be Looking in My Mind" says everything that women should know about male psychology better than any relationship book on the New York Times best seller list ever could. Side one closes on a gentle note with the soothing "But That's Alright" and "Time Will Tell the Story," which Outlaw-era Jennings fans might find a bit to cloying for their tastes. To my ears, "You're Gonna Wonder About Me" best represents the "Folk Country" sound advertised on the LP sleeve. The Nashville treatment works well on Gordon Lightfoot's classic "For Lovin' Me," while the deliciously mellow "Anita, You're Dreaming" and "Falling for You" further explores Waylon's tender side. The moving "Doesn't Anybody Know My Name," which relates the story of a blinded veteran who experiences a rather bleak homecoming, gets my vote for the album's best performance. The closing track "I Wonder Just Where I Went Wrong" ends thing rather majestically due in large part to the piano and stately organ at the fore of the mix, which was an unusual arrangement in country music at the time.

WAYLON "DEPARTING THE MUNICIPALITY"

1. Leavin' Town
2. Time to Bum Again
3. If You Really Want Me to I'll Go
4. Baby, Don't Be Looking in My Mind
5. But That's Alright
6. Time Will Tell the Story
7. You're Gonna Wonder About Me
8. For Lovin' Me
9. Anita, You're Dreaming
10. Doesn't Anybody Know My Name
11. Falling for You
12. I Wonder Just Where I Went Wrong

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Waylon Jennings - Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan (RCA Victor, 1967; mono version)


With Waylon Jennings' songwriting talents becoming more evident later in his career, an album like this one was a logical move during the early part of his tenure with RCA Victor. Various sources have mentioned the affinity Ol' Hoss had for prolific but under-recorded tunesmith Harlan Howard, whose compositions were also held in high regard by other country musicians as well as the Nashville establishment. Thus, Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan can be enjoyed as an excellent compromise between Jennings' musical inclinations and what was deemed acceptable by the powers that be (were?) in Music City, USA during the 1960s.


Although some of the titles on this LP might be more familiar to readers through better-known interpretations recorded by Buck Owens (who receives co-writing credits on two cuts) and Johnny Cash, each of these dozen songs fits Waylon's performing style like a glove. The accompanying musicians (who might be either Jennings' backing band the Waylors or various Nashville studio cats; the liner notes don't specify) provide outstanding support on every track, helping to make Sings Ol' Harlan an extraordinary record even if it does clock in at only around 28 minutes. The respective singing and songwriting strengths of Jennings and Howard are on full display throughout the album, which emphasizes material that deals with the trials and tribulations of love, including "She Called Me Baby," "Woman, Let Me Sing You a Song," "She's Gone, Gone, Gone," "Beautiful Annabel Lee," "Heartaches by the Number," "Tiger by the Tail" (arguably the definitive version), "Heartaches for a Dime," "Foolin' 'Round," and "In This Very Same Room." The remaining selections - including "Sunset and Vine," "The Everglades," and the poignant "Busted" - are superb examples of Howard's expertise at crafting story-songs with a uniquely Southern flavor and assist in keeping the album's subject matter from becoming one-dimensional. Four or five additional performances of this variety (and goodness knows that there was no shortage of Harlan Howard material from which to choose) would have made this album a genuine masterpiece and given it a running time of approximately 40 minutes, but that's not the way record labels did albums back then. Nevertheless, Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan ranks as one of the best ever LPs of any genre to feature a musician exclusively covering the works of a particular songwriter.

OL' HOSS & OL' HARLAN GONE FISHIN'

1. She Called Me Baby
2. Sunset and Vine
3. Woman, Let Me Sing You a Song
4. The Everglades
5. She's Gone, Gone, Gone
6. Busted
7. Beautiful Annabel Lee
8. Heartaches by the Number
9. Tiger by the Tail
10. Heartaches for a Dime
11. Foolin' 'Round
12. In This Very Same Room

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Waylon Jennings - Folk-Country (RCA Victor, 1966)


I spent this past summer listening to a lot of Waylon Jennings. So many of his songs really seemed to hit home with me then, and, as usual, I kept going back to his pre-Outlaw albums, which many of his fans undervalue because of their adherence to the rules of the Nashville establishment at the time. My 1996-1998 residency in Mississippi was a period during which the number of country LPs in my vinyl collection increased significantly because good, if not rare, stuff from the 1960s and 1970s could be found at local resale shops, yard sales, and flea markets in abundance and for low prices. I scored this Waylon Jennings record and five others for a grand total of 15 dollars one day somewhere outside of Tupelo.

A FRESH-FACED WAYLON JENNINGS CIRCA 1965-1966

Folk-Country
was Jennings' fine debut album for RCA. Released in 1966 and consisting of material recorded the previous year, its title could have been more accurately changed to Folk-Country-Rock in reference to the sound of several tracks. This initial effort established the formula that most Waylon Jennings LPs from the 1960s would follow: six tracks per side with a 75%/25% ratio of good-to-great/mediocre-to-lame material (mostly by other songwriters but featuring a few Waylon originals as well) and a total running time of approximately one half-hour. Folk-Country's best moments are those that to my ears sound closest to rock/folk rock ("Stop the World [and Let Me Off]," "Look Into My Teardrops," "Just for You") or are simply examples of prime mid-1960s country (the Marty Robbins-ish "Cindy of New Orleans," "Down Came the World," "That's the Chance I'll Have to Take," "What Makes a Man Wander," "What's Left of Me"). Although Jennings' interpretation of the traditional "I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow" provides a first-rate example of genuine "folk-country," the more deliberate sentimental material ("Another Bridge to Burn," "I Don't Mind," "Now Everybody Knows") only sometimes works. All in all, a very good inaugural major label effort that indicated even better things were still to come.

POSING WITH ACOUSTIC 12-STRING & CUSTOM TELECASTER

1. Another Bridge to Burn
2. Stop the World (and Let Me Off)
3. Cindy of New Orleans
4. Look Into My Teardrops
5. Down Came the World
6. I Don't Mind
7. Just for You
8. Now Everybody Knows
9. That's the Chance I'll Have to Take
10. What Makes a Man Wander
11. I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow
12. What's Left of Me

PRODUCER CHET ATKINS (L) WITH JENNINGS IN THE STUDIO CONTROL ROOM

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Jack Kerouac Collection (Rhino, 1990)


During my teenage years, Jack Kerouac was a person whose name kept coming up as I gravitated toward particular authors, musicians, and movie directors. Due to these influences, I eventually read the obligatory On the Road and liked it so much that by the time I graduated from college I had acquired copies of most of the writer's other novels for my personal library. I was never the kind of fan who claimed that reading his best-known book was a life-changing event for me, nor did I ever have any desire to emulate his nomadic modus vivendi. What I always liked about Kerouac's best works - with my favorites being On the Road, Maggie Cassidy, Visions of Cody, Big Sur, and Vanity of Duluoz - was how he told a story, even if the typical plot was usually on the surface nothing more than a series of relatively ordinary events interspersed with exercises in deep introspection. Additionally, there is no author other than Kerouac who has really made me feel like he saw the world much in the same way that I do. However, what ultimately makes him such a compelling writer is his ahead-of-its-time postmodern view of postwar America, which, whether he liked it or not, helped lay the groundwork for the 1960s countercultural explosion.

JACK KEROUAC ABOUT TO GO ON THE ROAD

I played the contents of this box set to death when I first got it in the early 1990s, but it remains one of the most treasured items in my collection even if the CDs don't get much rotation these days. Reading poetry has never much appealed to me, but hearing it read aloud can be a revelatory experience if done properly, which is definitely the case here. These three albums not only feature Kerouac reciting poems with and without musical accompaniment, they also contain some fascinating recordings of his unique stream-of-consciousness-style prose. If you ask me to choose a favorite, I'm going to cop out and tell you that these three discs are all equally great in their own ways. The first, Poetry for the Beat Generation, is probably the most easily accessible due in large part to Steve Allen's impeccable ivory tinkling. In fact, of all the instrumentalists who worked with Kerouac, I think that this pianist (and all-around entertainer) was the most sympathetic. Allen always seems to provide just the right kind of backing on every performance, whether it's a reminiscence of the author's brakeman days ("October in the Railroad Earth"), tributes ("Charlie Parker," "One Mother," "Abraham," "The Moon Her Majesty"), humorous bits ("Deadbelly," "Goofing at the Table," "Dave Brubeck" "I'd Rather Be Thin Than Famous"), meditations on transcendentalism ("
The Sounds of the Universe Coming in My Window," "The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception" - how are those for thought-provoking titles?), New York-centric pieces ("Bowery Blues," "McDougal Street Blues"), or the album's centerpiece ("I Had a Slouch Hat Too One Time"), which sounds like a fascinating excerpt from the memoir of an early 20th-century drifter/petty criminal. The fantastic bonus track presents Kerouac reading passages from On the Road and Visions of Cody with full band accompaniment on a Steve Allen Show broadcast from 1959 and leaves the listener pining for more. Blues and Haikus comes off as perhaps the most stereotypically beatnik-sounding of these three LPs, especially on the opening track "American Haikus," which consists of alternately deep or amusing short poems separated by brief solos by saxophonists Al Cohn (who also plays piano on some tracks) and Zoot Sims. "Hard Hearted Old Farmer" brings attention to Kerouac's awkward singing but endearing French Canadian/New England accent ("Hahd Hahted Old Fahmah"), while the sometimes rambling and chaotic "The Last Hotel & Some of Dharma," "Poems from the Unpublished Book of Blues," "Old Western Movies," and "Conclusion of the Railroad Earth" are perhaps best appreciated while in an altered state of mind. A lot of fans rally around Readings on the Beat Generation as the best of this bunch, believing the optimum way to experience the writer's voice is by itself. Indeed, Kerouac's natural rhythm makes itself evident to such an extent throughout this album that all those literary theories which cite the influence of jazz on his writing style don't seem so ridiculous after all. "The Beat Generation" remains the definitive spoken word piece on the movement, while "Poems (Fragments)" can be considered this record's equivalent to "American Haikus," - i.e. short compositions that often speak volumes. The two-part "Lucien Midnight" qualifies as the most abstract work here and is utterly inscrutable at times. "Fantasy" though it may be, "The Early History of Bop" presents a more convincing a theory on the origins of this jazz sub-genre than any scholarly musicological treatise ever could. In short, it's an utter masterpiece of recorded monologue. "Excerpts from The Subterraneans" utilizes one of the best sections from an otherwise so-so book, whereas the gripping but slightly bowdlerized "Visions of Neal: Neal and the Three Stooges, Pts. I & II" is an essential part of my all-time favorite Kerouac book, Visions of Cody. As its outlandish title suggests, it covers everything from Neal Cassady to Moe, Larry, and Curly and all points in between. Finally, "Is There a Beat Generation?" from the like-named academic conference at Brandeis University in 1958, may not provide a clear answer to the question, but at the very least it allows Kerouac to provide his audience with some laughs while also leading them on a heartfelt nostalgic trip through his childhood memories of prewar America.

Disc 1 - Poetry for the Beat Generation - with Steve Allen (Hanover, 1959)
1. October in the Railroad Earth
2. Deadbelly
3. Charlie Parker
4. The Sounds of the Universe Coming in My Window
5. One Mother
6. Goofing at the Table
7. Bowery Blues
8. Abraham
9. Dave Brubeck
10. I Had a Slouch Hat Too One Time
11. The Wheel of the Quivering Meat Conception
12. McDougal Street Blues
13. The Moon Her Majesty
14. I'd Rather Be Thin Than Famous
Bonus track
15. Readings from On the Road and Visions of Cody (from The Steve Allen Plymouth Show)

Disc 2 - Blues and Haikus / Featuring Al Cohn and Zoot Sims (Hanover, 1959)
1. American Haikus
2. Hard Hearted Old Farmer
3. The Last Hotel & Some of Dharma
4. Poems from the Unpublished Book of Blues
Bonus tracks
5. Old Western Movies
6. Conclusion of the Railroad Earth

Disc 3 - Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation (Verve, 1960)
1. The Beat Generation
2. Poems (Fragments)
a) San Francisco
b) Street Scene
c) Money Honey
d) Westinghouse Elevators
e) Old Age
f) Praised Be Man
g) The Sad Turtle
3. Lucien Midnight: The Sound of the Universe in My Window, Pt. I
4.
Lucien Midnight: The Sound of the Universe in My Window, Pt. II
5. Fantasy: The Early History of Bop
6. Excerpts from The Subterraneans
7. Visions of Neal: Neal and the Three Stooges, Pt. I
8.
Visions of Neal: Neal and the Three Stooges, Pt. II
Bonus track
9. Is There a Beat Generation? (from the Is There a Beat Generation? forum at Brandeis University)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ian and Sylvia - Play One More (Vanguard, 1966)


With this being the ninth post devoted to Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia, I'm getting pretty close to running out of things to write about them in general. Obviously, I'm a big fan, a situation aided by their prolific nature as recording artists during the 1960s. One can still find used copies of their LPs without extraordinary effort and at reasonable prices. While Ian and Sylvia always remained faithful to their folk roots, they also were not apprehensive about letting their music evolve and embracing the changes of that aforementioned decade on their own terms. Such an approach did not always yield successful results, although more often than not it did. The 1960s folk revival produced few other musicians who not only wrote much of their own material but could also cover old British Isles ballads and new compositions by Greenwich Village troubadours with equal skill.


Released in 1966, Play One More marks a transitional stage of the pair's career in between their earlier, more straightforward folk albums and the baroque folk rock/country efforts that came afterward. Even though some tracks feature the all-acoustic instrumentation that typified the sound of previous Vanguard releases, others are conspicuous by their inclusion of organ or orchestral arrangements. Additionally, this is the LP on which Ian's former profession as a rodeo rider really makes itself apparent in many of the songs, giving it a pronounced country-and-western-by-way-of-Canada flavor. Performances of this variety include originals "Short Grass" and the title track (which effectively utilizes horns much in the same manner as "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash), readings of the traditional "When I Was a Cowboy" and "Molly and Tenbrooks" (the latter being a showcase for some outstanding banjo picking by Eric Weissberg), and fantastic covers of the more recent (relative to the mid 1960s, that is) "Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa" and "A Satisfied Mind." While perhaps not as well-known as "Four Strong Winds" and "You Were on My Mind," the dolorous "French Girl" (on which bassist Felix Pappalardi arranged the string section) proved to be influential enough to warrant interpretations by contemporary folk rockers Gene Clark and the Daily Flash to name but two. Speaking of cover versions, Ian and Sylvia's take on Phil Ochs's "Changes" compares extremely favorably with the original, and they even manage to make lightweight Scott McKenzie's "Hey What About Me" palatable. The pleasant "Lonely Girls" and "Friends of Mine" recall performances from their earlier albums, although my least favorite track, "Gifts Are for Giving," would have been an awkward fit on just about anything in their discography.

IAN AND SYLVIA SOMEWHERE ON THE PLAINS OF ALBERTA

1. Short Grass
2. The French Girl
3. When I Was a Cowboy
4. Changes
5. Gifts Are for Giving
6. Molly and Tenbrooks
7. Hey What About Me
8. Lonely Girls
9. Satisfied Mind
10. Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa
11. Friends of Mine
12. Play One More

Product Plug: Beau - Creation Recreated (Cherry Red, 2011)


NOTHING TO DOWNLOAD HERE...WELL, AT LEAST NOT FOR FREE

Among the great things about being a music blogger are the opportunities I've had to make connections with some of my favorite recording artists whose albums I've reviewed here. Pursuant to my post on his transcendent debut LP, I've begun corresponding with Trevor Midgley (aka "Beau" aka "John Trevor"), who was kind enough to grant my request to be interviewed for an upcoming biographical article that is tentatively slated to appear in issue #33 of Ugly Things magazine. In exchange, I told him that I would be more than happy to help promote the re-release of his mind-blowing followup effort Creation (retitled Creation Recreated), which was recorded with Dandelion Records labelmates Jim Milne and Steve Clayton of The Way We Live/Tractor. It's truly an album like no other and has been enhanced with the inclusion of 11 bonus tracks.

So without any further ado, here are the pertinent details from Trevor's website:

CREATION + 11 BONUS TRACKS,
AVAILABLE FOR THE FIRST TIME AS
A DOWNLOAD!

(Click here for full lyrics, song stories, and all recording details.)

Described by one US radio station as
“the first psych-folk album”, the original Creation recordings from John Peel’s Dandelion label have now been remastered and made available to download for the first time.

Four tracks have been remixed for this Cherry Red release of Creation Recreated.


Of the ELEVEN BONUS TITLES, ten have never been released before, including four songs from 1972’s High Mass sessions (with The Way We Live / Tractor®) and three from 1975’s Twelve Strings To The Beau.

The set is downloadable from Amazon, Amazon.co.uk, iTunes and all your favourite distribution services (more distribution services listed here).

Two thoughts, with several decades between:

In his 1971 Creation review, Al Clark concluded;

“Beau (is)… a direct descendant of folk music before stardom moved in.”
(Time Out)

Almost forty years later, Simon Crisp had another perspective;

“‘Silence Returns’… descend(s) into a frenzied 3-minute guitar thrash that fades out with some ethereal and chilling 12-string … ‘Blind Faith’ brings a depth of emotion that simply shouldn’t be possible … Beau (is) a talented singer-songwriter with a superlative 12-string technique …”
(Galactic Ramble, 2009)

Neither of these guys had heard Creation Recreated!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta 1926-1941 (Yazoo, 1974; 1991)


A key title in my development as a fan of this kind of music, Lonesome Road Blues: 15 Years in the Mississippi Delta 1926-1941 ranks among the best compilations of its kind ever assembled. Then again, what else would you expect from Yazoo Records, the greatest of all blues reissue labels? For whatever reason, Shanachie used different cover artwork when they reissued this album on CD in the early 1990s. You can check out what the original vinyl version looks like over at Stefan Wirz's website, one of the Internet's most valuable resources for research on recorded blues.

SAM COLLINS

This fantastic collection focuses on both legends of the genre as well as some less-celebrated but nonetheless important prewar Mississippi Delta bluesmen, although approximately half of those featured on this disc had relocated to Chicago by the time they started making records. One such figure is the prolific nine-string guitarist Big Joe Williams, whose "Little Leg Woman" dates from his very first session for Bluebird in 1935 and finds him making some of the rawest and most interesting music of his career, due largely to his unique sense of rhythm and utilization of Charlie Patton-inspired string snapping. Although Arthur Pettis had also transplanted himself to the Windy City from the Delta, his musical approach on the melodic "Good Boy Blues" is more akin to that of Big Bill Broonzy as discussed in Stephen Calt and John Miller's worthwhile booklet notes. Eugene "Sonny Boy Nelson" Powell is arguably the most neglected of all prewar Mississippi blues guitarists, and his superb "Street Walkin'" should be better known than it is. Sticklers for detail might object to the inclusion of Sam Collins (a so-so guitarist but a fantastic singer) on this comp since he hailed from the southern part of the state, which is outside the Delta region. Moreover, his repertory, including "Lonesome Road Blues" and "My Road Is Rough and Rocky," leaves him sounding more like a songster than someone who focused exclusively on blues as we understand the musical style today. Regardless, his two sides at the very least provide some variety. To be precise, Caldwell "Mississippi" Bracey (no apparent relation to Ishmon) was a blues singer and guitarist from the central part of the state instead of the Delta, but this should not detract from the magnificence of his two best sides, the haunting "Cherry Ball" (with Charlie McCoy providing accompaniment on second guitar) and the hypnotically rhythmic "Stered Gal," whose title, according to the notes, is "a recording executive's translation of 'stir it, gal.'" Often mentioned in the same breath as the less-interesting Tommy McClennan, Robert Petway recorded some of the finest blues of the early 1940s as his definitive version of "Catfish Blues" makes abundantly clear. According to Gayle Dean Wardlow's research, Freddie Spruell lived in Lake Providence, Louisiana before coming up to Chicago sometime before waxing some of the earliest-ever country blues sides for the OKeh label in 1926. (While his previous residence lay beyond the Mississippi state line, one should remember that the Mississippi Delta properly refers to the flat Southern former swampland that borders both sides of the Mississippi River, thus explaining the inclusion of certain parts of eastern Louisiana and Arkansas in the Delta region.) His unique instrumental style is well represented on the percolating "Milk Cow Blues" (with an amusing spoken-word introduction provided by an unknown associate) and the menacing 12-string guitar tour de force "Tom Cat Blues." Isaiah "The Mississippi Moaner" Nettles for the most part qualifies as a biographical blank, but he did at least leave us with perhaps the best Blind Lemon Jefferson cover ever attempted, an interpretation of "Long Lonesome Blues" retitled "It's Cold in China Blues" and played at breakneck speed. Despite Skip James's dismissal of his one-time student as a "dummy," Johnnie Temple sublimely reworks "Devil Got My Woman" as "The Evil Devil Blues" with assistance from the supporting guitar work of the ubiquitous Charlie McCoy. Essentially a cover of "Sweet Home Chicago," "Take a Little Walk with Me" finds Robert Lockwood, Jr. still firmly under the musical sway of his "step-father" Robert Johnson, but his precise fretwork is an enjoyable listening experience all the same. And what more really needs to be said about Skip James's unparalleled frantic guitar masterpiece "I'm So Glad"? As a non-musician, I can't even begin to imagine how someone could play this piece.

ROBERT PETWAY

1. Little Leg Woman - Big Joe Williams
2. Good Boy Blues - Arthur Pettis
3. Street Walkin' - Sonny Boy Nelson
4. Lonesome Road Blues - Sam Collins
5. Cherry Ball - Mississippi Bracey
6. Catfish Blues - Robert Petway
7. Tom Cat Blues - Freddie Spruell
8. It's Cold in China Blues - The Mississippi Moaner
9. The Evil Devil Blues - Johnnie Temple
10. Take a Little Walk with Me - Robert Lockwood
11. My Road Is Rough and Rocky - Sam Collins
12. Stered Gal - Mississippi Bracey
13. Milk Cow Blues - Freddie Spruell
14. I'm So Glad - Skip James

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mac Gayden - Skyboat & Hymn to the Seeker (ABC, 1976; 2008)


Guitarist extraordinaire, superb singer-songwriter, veteran Nashville session musician, and alumnus of Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry: McGavock "Mac" Gayden is all these things but remains sadly underappreciated by everyone other than the record-collecting cognoscenti. I first became aware of this cult artist through his involvement with those two aforementioned groups. Although Gayden's brief tenure with Barefoot Jerry ended after the release their first album, his contributions were what made Southern Delight the group's greatest achievement and, for that matter, an absolute masterpiece of the Southern rock sub-genre. His background as a native Tennessean obviously bolstered his country music credentials, but rock and especially soul exerted just as strong an influence on his writing and performing style. Like all great guitarists, Gayden has an immediately recognizable trademark sound made possible through dual utilization of slide and wah-wah techniques that is familiar to most people through his work as a sideman on numerous JJ Cale albums. In a nutshell, I'd describe his instrumental approach as being similar to that of Duane Allman but without the amphetamines.

IT'S A BIRD...IT'S A PLANE...IT'S A SKYBOAT?

This two-CD set includes Gayden's second and third solo albums, which were both released on ABC in 1976 but met with little commercial success. Both exhibit an eclectic blend of musical ingredients, with some of the material being logical extensions of the work he did with Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry, while other more groove-laden tracks might catch the listener somewhat by surprise. Its slick production notwithstanding, Skyboat (whose title Gayden would adopt as the name for his backing band) comes off as the more interesting of the two LPs. The best tracks are those that could be described as a sort Southern rock and emphasize his unmistakable guitar style, including the gorgeous "Morning Glory" and the equally compelling "Waterboy." The gentle, more-rural sounding "Gettysburg" and "Appalachian Fever" allow Gayden to show off his chops on banjo, whereas the atmospheric "Southwind" and the mellifluous "Sunfall" (a B-side not originally included on the album) focus more on his ethereal vocals. "Everlasting Love" bears distinction as his best-known song due largely to numerous hit interpretations done by other musicians, including Robert Knight, the Love Affair, Gloria Estefan(!), and, most recently, Jamie Cullum. In the composer's own hands, it sounds like something that is very much a product of the time when it was recorded. Those who can deal with its disco-like arrangements will be rewarded with hooks aplenty and more of Gayden's awe-inspiring fretwork. The same can more or less be said for "Freedom Drum" and "Sweet Serenity." Decent takes on "Don't Look Back" and "It's All Right" (a rip of the latter from my vinyl copy of Skyboat is included because it sounds like there is a mastering glitch on the CD version) furnish Gayden with an opportunity to indulge in covering two indisputable soul classics. The album's original finale, the ten-and-a-half-minute "
Diamond Mandala," is best described as an epic piece of orchestrated acid folk, which, as an exercise in musical mysticism, probably would have appealed to more record buyers in the 1960s than in the 1970s. Gayden's followup effort, Hymn to the Seeker, unfortunately lapses further into disco-era glossiness on many of its tracks. While there is nothing truly terrible about these particular performances, the shoogity boogity nature of songs such as "Steppin' Stone," "Someone Whispered," and "Life Is Just a Pantomime" leave me longing for the more rock-and-country-derived material from his Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry days. Somewhat incongruously, the dance-floor-friendly cuts are interspersed with instrumentals ranging from the Fuzak of "Rejoice the Dawn" to the mesmerizing banjo-and-clarinet raga of "To Our Ancestors" (by far the best thing on Hymn) to the stately pipe-organ-and-flute duet of the title track. Elsewhere, there is decent 1970s blue-eyed soul ("Standing in the Background"), idiosyncratic nods to Gayden's Southern roots ("Here We Meet Again" and "Colors of the Rainbow"), a fine if not superior remake of a Barefoot Jerry tune ("The Minstrel Is Free at Last," which features some much-needed guitar soloing that is largely absent elsewhere on this album), and a lovely but frustratingly short closing track ("If I Could I'd Set You Free").

MAC GAYDEN (CENTER) & SKYBOAT SPORT THEIR FUNKY 1970s THREADS

Disc 1 - Skyboat
1. Morning Glory
2. Gettysburg
3. Southwind
4. Everlasting Love
5. Freedom Drum
6. Don't Look Back
7. It's All Right
8. Sweet Serenity
9. Appalachian Fever
10. Waterboy
11. Diamond Mandala
Bonus tracks
12. Sunfall ("Morning Glory" B-side)
13. It's All Right (24-bit vinyl rip)

Disc 2 - Hymn to the Seeker
1. Rejoice the Dawn
2. Steppin' Stone
3. Someone Whispered
4. Standing in the Background
5. Life Is Just a Pantomime
6. Here We Meet Again
7. To Our Ancestors
8. Colors of the Rainbow
9. The Minstrel Is Free At Last
10. Hymn to the Seeker
11. If I Could I'd Set You Free