Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mr. Flood's Party - Mr. Flood's Party - 24-bit 96 kHz FLAC original vinyl rip (Cotillion, 1969)


As one of the last truly great psychedelic albums of the 1960s, the eponymous debut (and only) LP by Mr. Flood's Party remains an exquisite listening experience more than 40 years after its was unleashed upon a generally unresponsive record-buying public. Although its intermingling of various musical styles in an experimental fashion was no longer a novelty by this point in the decade, it achieves a grandeur that few other contemporary releases achieve due largely to the group's considerable vocal and instrumental talents. There were still a lot of great mind-expanding records coming out in 1969 even if psychedelia was approaching the end of its commercial rope, and Mr. Flood's Party definitely qualifies as one of them.


An aura of obscurity continues to surround the group due to a scarcity of information about them, a somewhat surprising situation considering that they were signed to major-label Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion and apparently hailed from Long Island in New York. The personnel consisted of Tom Castagnaro, Michael Corbett,
Jay Hirsch, Rick Mirage, Marcel Thompsen, and Freddy Toscano, although I cannot locate much in the way of details about what instruments they played. A Myspace page (remember those?) respectively identifies Catagnaro and the Dutch-born Thompsen as a drummer and guitarist and describes some of the other members (the "two 'Principal's'" [sic]) as college professors! Corbett and Hirsch (the rocking academicians?) probably handled a significant amount of the vocals since they would later record an album with guitarist Hugh McCracken on which their singing has been favorably compared with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. According to one source, Toscano subsequently functioned as a singer, guitarist, and keyboardist in the little-known mid-1970s band Frogs, and it is quite possible that he served in the same capacity with Mr. Flood's Party. While these two aforementioned offshoots have their musical virtues, neither of them bear much of a resemblance to the band that recorded the subject of this review.

MR. FLOOD'S PARTY, 1969 - L TO R: JAY HIRSCH, RICK MIRAGE, MARCEL 
THOMPSEN,  FREDDY TOSCANO, TOM CASTAGNARO, & MICHAEL CORBETT
(WITH THANKS TO CATHY FOR HELPING ME FIGURE OUT WHO'S WHO)

So what does Mr. Flood's Party sound like? As with quite a few albums recorded circa 1966-1969, it is a very eclectic affair and displays a great number of influences including guitar-intensive West Coast psych, orchestrated baroque rock, and harmony-vocal-heavy British Invasion groups to name but a few. The record boasts impressive production standards as well as effects supplied by what sounds like a Moog or Mellotron synthesizer and a Leslie amplifier, while the songs range from delightfully weird hard rock tunes to exquisitely crafted exercises in mind expansion. Even though some critics claim that an overabundance of musical variety prevented Mr. Flood's Party from establishing a concrete musical identity as a band, I beg to differ and believe that their lone effort should be recognized as a challenging and multilayered work that will reward the listener with repeated spins on his or her turntable. Not that I necessarily advocate such things, but indulging in some mind-altering drugs will probably make this record even easier to appreciate. A discernible feeling of sadness pervades much of the album, which should not come as a surprise since the group's name is derived from "Mr. Flood's Party," a piece by the notedly gloomy American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. (I assume the cover artwork depicts the drunken old sod Mr. Flood himself.) That's not to suggest that Mr. Flood's Party the LP should be considered a tearjerker, although it's certainly an introspective listening experience since the songs explore much of the same thematic territory as Robinson's works. Some of the tracks have an engaging schizophrenic quality to them, in particular "Northern Travel" (an LSD metaphor?) and "Deja Vu," which sound as if they were constructed from several different songs and glued together with psychedelic paste. Wailing lead guitar, soaring strings, and heavenly vocals grace "Advice," while "Prince of Darkness" finds the band sounding somewhat like an East Coast equivalent to the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band to my ears. The delicate but not overly-precious "Simon J. Stone" features more gorgeous harmony singing in addition to lyrics that could pass for one of Robinson's own poems. The Moog showcase "Stanley's Tea" finds Mr. Flood's Party at their most Anglophonic, while "The Liquid Invasion," with its searing lead guitar work, is just as psychedelic as its title implies. The dreamy "Garden of the Queen" returns the band to British-inspired material and intentionally or not comes off as something resembling psych folk. "Mind Circus," the complex closing track, can best be described as a musical interpretation of someone's descent into madness, concluding with a haunting fadeout that will stay with you for days.


TOM CASTAGNARO (L) & MARCEL THOMPSEN WITH STUDIO
TAPE DUB OF THE MR. FLOOD'S PARTY ALBUM

1. Northern Travel
2. Deja Vu
3. Advice
4. Prince of Darkness
5. Simon J. Stone
6. Stanley's Tea
7. The Liquid Invasion
8. Garden of the Queen
9. Mind Circus

 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blues Images Presents...1920s Blues Classics Vol. 1 (Blues Images, 2004)


Looking for a great last-minute Christmas present to give to your favorite prewar blues record fiend? My suggestion: the 2012 Blues Images calendar. In addition to 12 months worth of fantastic vintage advertising artwork, you also get a tastefully compiled CD featuring classics of the genre (most of which correspond with the illustrations) in perhaps their best ever sound quality. And if that's not enough, each sampler usually boasts at least one recently-discovered exclusive track.


TOMMY JOHNSON

So here's the accompanying disc to the calendar that started it all, the 2004 edition. While listening to it in preparation for this review, I was reminded that not only is it a first-rate collection, but moreover it would serve as an excellent introduction to anyone interested in getting their first taste of blues from the 1920s and 1930s. While it might come off as nitpicking, one must acknowledge the large number of Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson sides that have appeared on these Blues Images CDs over the years. Although it could be argued that these musicians have been over-represented, let's also not forget that they sold a lot of records during the 1920s, resulting in a greater number of print advertisements compared to other blues singers. Blake's "He's in the Jailhouse Now" (an outstanding duet with Gus Cannon on banjo) and "Bad Feeling Blues" and Lemon's "Rising High Water Blues" (interesting for the piano-only instrumental backing from George Perkins) and "Black Snake Dream Blues" may not be the most well-known songs by these visually-impaired guitarists, but they certainly have never sounded better. The complete discography of Louisiana slide guitarist Willard "Ramblin'" Thomas can be a tedious listening experience, but he committed a few really good performances to wax, including "No Job Blues." Anyone care to argue with my contention that "22-20 Blues" is the greatest of Skip James' piano sides? In similar fashion, one could also canonize Charlie Patton's "Down the Dirt Road Blues," which essentially provided the musical foundation for Howlin' Wolf's performing style. "Death Cell Blues" ranks among Blind Willie McTell's more notable recordings from the early 1930s, while Bumble Bee Slim's debut from 1931, "Rough Rugged Blues," qualifies as perhaps his most compelling moment, even with the original disc's obvious surface noise issues. Speaking of surface noise, such sonic imperfections have always plagued most of Son House's Paramount 78s, but his impassioned voice and guitar typically shine through the audio haze, as can be heard on "Dry Spell Blues Part 1." The galvanic "Beale Town Bound" deserves mention as one of the best of Frank Stokes and Dan Sain's sides attributed to their "Beale Street Sheiks" moniker and contains one hell of a great putdown: "Say fella, don't you know she's mine, she's yours, she's somebody else's, too?!" Ma Rainey's "Dead Drunk Blues" owes much of its spare nature to the unadorned piano accompaniment of Hop Hopkins, whereas the sentimentality of Tommy Johnson's "
I Want Someone to Love Me" results as much from his hillbilly-esque singing as it does from its maudlin lyrics. This compilation's crown jewels, the then-recently unearthed "Cold Woman Blues" by Blind Joe Reynolds and "Times Has Done Got Hard" by King Solomon Hill, are saved for last. Simply put, these exhilarating sides exhibit radically different approaches to slide guitar by a pair of singular blues artists whose primary similarity was their Delta origins. Consequently, the performances further support the view that the term "Delta blues" is more accurately applied in a geographic sense rather than a stylistic one.


1. He's in the Jailhouse Now - Blind Blake
2. No Job Blues - Ramblin' Thomas
3. 22-20 Blues - Skip James
4. Rising High Water Blues - Blind Lemon Jefferson
5. Down the Dirt Road Blues - Charlie Patton
6. Death Cell Blues - Blind Willie McTell
7. Rough Rugged Road - Bumble Bee Slim
8. Dry Spell Blues Part 1 - Son House
9. Bad Feeling Blues - Blind Blake
10. Beale Town Bound - The Beale Street Sheiks
11. Black Snake Dream Blues - Blind Lemon Jefferson
12. Dead Drunk Blues - Ma Rainey
13. I Want Someone to Love Me - Tommy Johnson
14. Cold Woman Blues - Blind Joe Reynolds
15. Times Has Done Got Hard - King Solomon Hill

ENIGMATIC AND CONTROVERSIAL PHOTO SHOWING A GUITAR PLAYER WHO
MIGHT
BE KING SOLOMON HILL POSING WITH A PIPE-SMOKING FRIEND

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Omar Khorshid - Belly Dance from Lebanon (Voix de l'Orient, mid 1970s; 1990)


I'm ending this series of Middle Eastern-Belly Dance posts (if you hadn't already noticed, I've primarily been reviewing recordings of particular genres or artists in groups of three for the last several weeks) with an excellent album by the greatest guitarist - and one of the overall finest instrumentalists - that the Arab world has ever produced: Omar Khorshid. Although he was Egyptian by birth, Belly Dance from Lebanon owes its title to the musician's 1970s residency in Beruit, which was enjoying a period of stability that fostered a flowering of art and entertainment unparalleled in region's recent history. I don't know if someday I'll be fortunate enough to score any original copies of Khorshid's LPs, so CD reissues on the Digital Press Hellas label (can anyone tell me if they are a legitimate outfit or not?) such as this one will have to suffice for the time being.

KHORSHID WITH UNKNOWN PERCUSSIONIST

Although purists might object to the non-traditional instrumentation featured on these 11 tracks, I can forgive the cheesy synthesizer arrangements because Khorshid's always impressive fretwork more than makes up for the music's occasional forays into "Disco Arabia" territory. As with any other virtuoso, he possesses an instantly recognizable sound that leaves the listener with no do doubt about the identity of the performer. Most guitarists are lucky if they can come up with a signature lick; Khorshid essentially created an entire musical sub-genre with his singular electric take on Middle Eastern music. "Hassan" and "Karoun Karoyn" represent inspired interpretations of traditional Arab material and contain themes that will likely be familiar to aficionados of belly dance music. "Aziza" (cf. John Berberian's version) and "Ya Salat Ezzein" pay tribute respectively to Egyptian musical giants Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Sheikh Zakaria Ahmed and are performed in a manner that probably would have been inconceivable to their composers. Nevertheless, the unique fashion in which they are executed makes them magnificent. "
Arrissassa," "Al Hob El Awal," "Wadil Muluk," "Sabirine," "Ommil Habiba," "Raksat El Kheyl," and "Raksat El Jedane" display the guitarist's own estimable composing skills, and several of these tracks were apparently featured in contemporary films from Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. While it contains some duplication of material with the definitive Guitar El Chark anthology, Belly Dance from Lebanon still qualifies as a worthwhile acquisition for Omar Khorshid fanatics.

GUITARIST AND RECORD COLLECTOR

1. Aziza
2. Arrissassa
3. Hassan
4. Al Hob El Awal
5. Wadil Muluk
6. Ya Salat Ezzein
7. Sabirine
8. Karoun Karoyn
9. Ommil Habiba
10. Raksat El Kheyl
11. Raksat El Jedane

OMAR AND HIS MAGIC GUITAR WITH FEMALE ADMIRER

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ray Mirijanian's Music for Belly Dancing Vol. 1 (Mirta, 1970s)


I'm not sure about the exact figure, but it seems like oudist and clarinetist Ray Mirijanian recorded quite a few albums during the 1960s and 1970s for the tiny Mirta label, which was a joint venture between him and Middle East Restaurant proprietor Jim Tayoun. Although this establishment has been closed for quite awhile now, at one time it was among Philadelphia's preeminent locations for Middle Eastern cuisine, music, and belly dancing. Mirijanian and his various groups performed at this venue on a regular basis, and I believe that this was where a significant number of his records were sold. It must have been quite an experience to visit a restaurant where one could tell the waiter, "Yes, I'd like baba ghanoush, fattoush, felafel, chicken shawarma, and Ray Mirijanian's most recent LP, please."


While the liner notes don't provide any dates, my educated guess is that Music for Belly Dancing Vol. 1 must have been recorded sometime in the mid 1970s. A strong Greek musical feel permeates the performances on this album due to the presence of singer-clarinet player Alexandros Zaharias and guitarist John Koutsouros, whose instrument often sounds like a bouzouki to my ears. Mirijanian also provides vocals on some tracks and exclusively plays oud throughout the record, with his band being rounded out by a rhythm section including Mardiros Sarajian on tambourine and Joey "Zap" Lewis and Jim Thomas on dumbegs (here referred to by its Arabic equivalent, derbekee). The 18-minute "Belly Dancer's Show" seamlessly blends together Greek, Turkish, and perhaps other musical material and, according to Tayoun's notes, is "a belly dance instructor's dream staged in four parts featuring two drum solos put in to please the request of dancing instructors who have corresponded with Ray from around the country." "Anatolian Medley" and "Ya Kita Kosma Ena Korme" (a piece intended for a dance known as karsilamas) display the mixed Armenian, Greek, and Turkish heritage common in a great deal of Middle Eastern music, whereas "Arabian Debki Dance" represents another aspect of the wide-ranging genre. My favorite tracks are the two near-identically titled improvisations listed as "Tsifte Teli" (a Greek variation on the more common ciftetelli spelling, which is Turkish), with the second featuring an elegant clarinet solo at the beginning of the performance.

**If you enjoy this album, be sure to check out the review of The Ray Mirijanian Oud and Clarinet Volume 1, No. 1.

TOP ROW L TO R: ALEXANDROS ZAHARIAS, JOHN KOUTSOUROS, & RAY
MIRIJANIAN - BOTTOM ROW L TO R: JOEY LEWIS & MARDIROS SARAJIAN

1. Belly Dancer's Show
-Yar Satch Larin
-Madouvala
-Helvaci
-Te Na Ta Kano Ta Lefta
2. Anatolian Medley
3. Tsifte Teli
4. Ya Kita Kosma Ena Korme
5. Tsifte Teli (clarinet solo)
6. Arabian Debki Dance

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Souren Baronian - Hye Inspiration (Carlee, mid 1970s; 2008)


Hye Inspiration* can be considered something of an offshoot of oudist John Berberian's classic 1960s albums for the Mainstream (Expressions East and Oud Artistry), Roulette (Music of the Middle East), and Verve Forecast (Middle Eastern Rock) labels in that it features clarinetist extraordinaire Souren Baronian and vocalist Bob Tashjian, who were both integral members of the groups who recorded those LPs. As I understand it, the three had a professional parting of ways around 1970. Berberian moved from New York City to suburban New Jersey, where he built a home studio and recorded three self-produced private press traditional albums during the mid 1970s in addition to performing primarily at Armenian weddings, picnics, and dances. Baronian and Tashjian continued to work at various clubs in the Big Apple while the former also carried on with experiments of fusing Middle Eastern music with jazz, Latin, and other eclectic styles.

L TO R: BOB TASHJIAN, JOHN TARPINIAN, & SOUREN BARONIAN

Judging by the haircuts and clothing featured in the accompanying photographs, I'm guessing that Hye Inspiration must have been recorded in 1975 or thereabouts. In addition to Baronian and Tashjian, the musicians on this affair include former John Berberian student John Tarpinian on oud, Steve Knight (who had also played with Mountain, the Devil's Anvil, and the Feenjon Group) on electric bass, Jack Zarzatian on acoustic guitar, Jerry Tarpinian (presumably John's brother) on dumbeg, Orhan on kanun, and belly dancer Shamira Shahinian on finger cymbals. Released on the tiny Carlee label, original vinyl copies of the album are somewhat scarce, but a CD reissue that came out a few years ago remains in print.

TAKING A BREAK FROM RECORDING (L TO R): JERRY TARPINIAN,
BARONIAN, TASHJIAN, SHAMIRA, JOHN TARPINIAN, & STEVE KNIGHT

While not quite in the same league as the aforementioned quartet of titles by Berberian, this album bears distinction as one of the best Middle Eastern records of its era, especially since it does not succumb the ersatz funk-disco rhythm arrangements that occasionally appear on - and consequently diminish - similar LPs from the same period. Nevertheless, Hye Inspiration remains something of a progressive effort since six of its eight tracks are original compositions by Tashjian and/or Baronian, although they certainly don't sound out of place next to the remaining material that is of more antiquated vintage. Even if English is your only language (as is the case with me), Tashjian's singing talent makes itself readily apparent on the vocal numbers. As an ethnic Armenian born and raised in Syria, he proves to be equally adept on performances sung in his native language ("Khorodig," "Siroon," and "Eench Anem") as well as in Arabic ("Min Elek Hub" and "Aghli-Jen," with the latter featuring some outstanding solos from Baronian and Tarpinian). However - and with apologies to Tashjian - my favorite tracks are the instrumentals "Hye-Ena," "Herosi Bar," and "Mesrobi-Bar," all of which qualify as belly dance music at its finest.

*"Hye" is the Armenian word for "Armenian."

TARPINIAN, TASHJIAN, & BARONIAN SIT FOR A POSED PHOTO

1. Khorodig
2. Hye-Ena
3. Siroon
4. Min Elek Hub
5. Eench Anem
6. Herosi Bar
7. Aghli-Jen
8. Mesrobi-Bar