16
Nov
18

John Prine “In Spite of Ourselves”

This is a record I know well, since I made a cassette tape of it late in the last millennium, from the CD source—one of my favorite albums in recent years (last two decades)—but it’s the first thing I put on up here in the cabin, as I noticed there is a sticker on the record that says, “First Time On Vinyl!”—so apparently it was only available on CD before, and it’s reissued by OHBOY Records on 180 gram vinyl. If you thought your record collection was a bitch to move back in the old days, wait until everything is on 180 gram vinyl—your friends are gonna become scarce on moving day. One thing that bugs me sometimes when an album originates on CD and then is put out on vinyl, it retains the track numbers, like in this case, 1 thru 16, rather than side one, 1 thru 8, side two, 1 thru 8, etc. A small thing, but it’s another reminder about another facet about CDs that sucked.

This is a record of all duets, a great tradition of country and western music, where a man and woman can do something together more intimate than sex and no one gets divorced or shot (at least we hope). It’s also a covers record, with an incredible collection of great songs, some fairly familiar and some pretty obscure (at least to me, before this record). It makes sense that a great songwriter like John Prine would come up with an amazing group of songs to cover—and they are all songs that lend themselves to duets. One song by JP, “In Spite of Ourselves,” is maybe the best one on the record. My next favorite here is “Let’s Invite Them Over,” by Onie Wheeler, which is fairly twisted—you’ve just got to listen to it. John Prine’s distinctive singing voice really works well with these strong women singers, among them: Iris Dement, Connie Smith, Lucinda Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Melba Montgomery, Emmylou Harris, Dolores Keane, Patty Loveless, and Fiona Prine. The most and my favorite are with Iris Dement, not surprisingly, since she is my favorite living singer in this whole fragile world. My only complaint here at the cabin is that there’s not more Iris Dement records—I’ve spent more time searching for them than I have looking for hidden marijuana.

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15
Nov
18

Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”

I know less about the Grateful Dead’s discography than about fine wines—totally, exactly, nothing—but I’d like to know more, and I’d like to find a way to like them someday, because I feel like they could be an acquired taste—that is acquired through listening to them—but putting in the time might pay some kind of dividends consisting of a pleasurable knowledge and depth of appreciation. But for now, to me, they still sound like a bunch of annoyingly stoned commune hippies. What a great band name, though!—who was around on band naming day? I can never get a handle on their sound—I can’t pick out individual singers or musicians—its a large band, but they usually sound like just a few people are playing. This record is another one like that—it all kind of blended together like a way too healthy smoothie—the exception being the last song, which is that famous, “Ridin’ that train, high on cocaine,” song, which is named, “Casey Jones”—I never knew that.

The first time I ever heard one of their songs, that I’ve been aware of, was on this early-seventies collection I bought—sold to me by TV commercials—when I was like 11, and it had the song “Truckin’” on it, which pretty much fascinated me, the breezy style of playing and singing, but even more, the lyrics—something about a salt machine, and livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine. The lyrics are all credited to someone named Robert Hunter, which fascinated me, as he was not a musician in the band. I read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone magazine) that he was the Dead’s lyricist, which seemed so bizarre to me… though, same thing with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, right? But this Robert Hunter, what was he like? I wanted to find out more, but we were a long way off from having the internet, not unlike me here in the “North Woods”—and, in fact, it occurs to me that the perfect scenario would be for the Grateful Dead (I mean, in a perfect world where they were still together and all still alive) to join me here in this cabin and play for about 12 hours straight while I put this old turntable to rest for awhile. I suppose if that happened I’d become either a huge fan or the harshest critic, but I’m guessing they’d all be cool and we’d have a good time and I’d finally gain some crucial insight into this music.

09
Nov
18

Rolly Gray and Sunfire “Be Somebody”

I had to make a few rules for myself when embarking on the internet-less, extended, “north woods” cabin, vinyl exploration, just because there are so many records to choose from in crates and boxes and more crates: I’m ignoring the 45s, just because I don’t have years here; and I’m ignoring 10 inch records, for much the same reason; and I’m also ignoring “EPs” and 12 inch singles. This record would probably fall under the EP category because there seems to be only four songs on it, but I couldn’t resist it because the cover and back photos are so great, with band members posing on what looks like the porch of a stage set of a white house, the inside of which is illuminated totally in red. On the cover, alone, is who I’ll assume is Rolly Gray, sitting in a wooden rocking chair with an electric guitar. What is striking is the photo is taken at knee-level so you really notice that he’s wearing loafers (or slippers) and baggy dark red socks that match his large-sleeved shirt. The back cover is even better, with who I assume is the band with Rolly—just their pose, kind of leaning on the house, is kind of awesome, but would take too many words to describe it properly. One of the guys is particularly stylishly dressed with a kind of tropical jac-shirt, matching shirt and pants, in a kind of earthy pink.

I don’t even know what kind of music this is, but next to each musician in parentheses it says “Trinidad and Tobago” so I’m going to assume that’s where they are from, wherever that is, I think the Caribbean. The music is good, very driving, upbeat and happy sounding. The most striking thing to me is the bass, which is prominent, like a lead instrument, and really reminds me of some early punk band’s bass, but I can’t place it right now—I’ll try again later. (Yeah, right, there is no “later.”)

08
Nov
18

Tangerine Dream “Stratosfear”

I’m pretty sure I used to have this 1976 Tangerine Dream record and was not too crazy about it, so it’s worth revisiting—perhaps I have grown mature, or electronic, or German, or mellow, or nostalgic. The front and back and inside images are some photo-collage nonsense that is embarrassingly dated. The first song, “Stratosfear” sounds really familiar, like maybe it was used in a movie soundtrack or maybe soundtrack music has been directly inspired by this. I can see some wintery, European landscape with an expensive car traveling over desolate roads that should be beautiful, but because of this music and the the exaggerated blue color temperature of the scene we understand that something tragic either just happened or is about to. It seems like half, or more, of the movies I see are incredibly, annoyingly blue—and my theory about this is that it’s because of the current pharmaceutical landscape in which we live. I thought about this while working at a recent grocery store job where the workers (the ones who didn’t get “laid off”) worked with a seemingly speed-fueled intensity—in spite of their being NO coffee offered in the workplace—and very little coffee brought in from outside, even. Which led me to think about all the people who are diagnosed with ADHD, etc. and are prescribed Adderall, etc. and are essentially like speed freaks all the time. I don’t know this, but it would explain a lot. So, likewise, I’m thinking, with so many people on anti-depressants, maybe this has caused an overall shift in the acceptable color temperature of commercial cinema—in order to just look “normal”—it has to be very, very blue.

The first side is astoundingly under 15 minutes long (the second is closer to 20, but still…) aren’t these progressive rock guys famous for really long songs and albums? Maybe I’m just thinking of Genesis, whose records were always like 60 minutes long. But come on, it’s not like anyone is working up a sweat here, it’s just kind of programmed and then it trickles along like a 1970s movie (that you can’t believe was allowed to take its time like that, and would never happen today). But come on, guys, a lot of trees died so this album cover could open up to reveal the letters “TD” 24 inches wide (and a photo-collaged, little, black and white, blond, German kid as big as your fingernail). Side two is so quiet and low-key I think it would only work on that original, really good LSD I’ve heard about—and playing through tube amplifiers the size of a VW, and Altec-Lansing “Voice of the Theater” speakers that would turn the 1812 Overture into a weapon of mass destruction—but here functions to expose the subtlety that is necessary for this record to make any sense at all.

03
Nov
18

Herbie Hancock “Headhunters”

I’ve never been a huge Herbie Hancock fan, though I’ve always liked him more or less, but kind of a lukewarm love (Herbie Hancock fans don’t want to hear this)—like, I’ve owned a few of his records over the years, but I’m not usually burning to put them on. But this one has such a weird cover that it kind of screamed out to me (not necessarily a good scream, but a loud and got my attention scream). Anyway, I think HH has done some soundtracks over the years (can’t be entirely sure with no internet to reference) and I can really imagine a lot of this music as a soundtrack—but a really strong one, like, I’d watch that movie just to see a guy driving an early-Seventies LTD thru Harlem with this music playing. In fact, I’m guessing a 1973 LTD, gold with a green faux fabric top—a lot about this whole scenario says 1973 (I’ll see if there’s a date on the disk when it stops spinning…)

The cover is a kind of photo collage of HH at the keyboard with his band behind him in blue shadows, but it’s not HH really—or it is HH, I guess, but instead of his head there’s a huge orange circle, that from a distance looks like an orange with eyes and a mouth and some kind of insect pincers on the top of the head—but upon closer examination it’s evident that the eyes are knobs and the mouth is a VU meter. I can’t tell if the pincers coming out of the tip of the head are like antennas, or grabbers, or if it’s organic or mechanical—regardless, it’s all kind of creepy. I’m listening to the record a few times through as I’m writing, and I’m actually liking it more and more—maybe this is the HH record for me. It’s got some weird instrumentation and some pretty hardcore repetitious grooves (I mean as opposed to all the stopping and starting kind of stuff I don’t like as well). I’ve been working at a grocery store where the muzak system plays such a bizarre mix of about a dozen or 20 songs (seems like less, but is probably actually more) that it could have only been selected by a computer algorithm. But what if they just played this record? I wouldn’t be working, I’d be partying—couldn’t have that.

01
Nov
18

Silver Jews “The Natural Bridge”

This record feels very contemporary, maybe because I just heard it, but it’s 22 years old—I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the idea that 1996 is twenty-two years ago—by the time I get used to it, it will be 30 years ago. And by that time either I’ll be dead or need ten more years to get used the idea that it’s a third of a century ago. This could have been my favorite record any given year of my life, and had I heard it in 1996 maybe it would have inspired me to take musical direction in my life rather than a cinema direction; maybe it would have inspired me to take a poetry direction rather than just all work, work, work, making millions—what good does that do me now? I blame the invention of the CD with destroying my appreciation of music over the years. But it’s not too late to get back to the magic.

This record is as sad as the saddest George Jones and Tammy Wynette, and as catchy as the Beatles at their catchiest, and as clever and twisted as the Reediest Lou Reed. Once you get the songs ingrained in your mind, at low-level, late-night, secretive, intimate liaisons (there is some music you don’t want to play loud, it just seems too dangerous), you can put it on for cleaning, if you want to, or cooking, or before or after work, I suppose, but it might be best if you have a day for it once a month or so. Every song is good—some songs are better than others, but it plays best as an album. Eventually, if you’re strong enough, you might want to listen to the lyrics, but watch out, they are kind of devastating. David Berman is as good of a song lyric writer as anyone who has ever written song lyrics.

30
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “New Morning”

I’m not exactly sure where this record fits in the BD timeline—it seems to be one of his Nashville records, produced by Bob Johnston, there’s studio musicians, and David Bromberg plays on it, and Al Kooper, and there’s a lot of piano. This is a great record; I kind of wish it was the first Dylan record I ever heard and then based my whole BD experience on the foundation of that experience. Somehow I’ve never heard much of it—though “If Dogs Run Free” somewhere came to me in a weirdness care package. I think it’s pretty likely that this record was released well after BD’s replacement with the new Dylan, but some of the songs here are from the original Dylan vault. That said, the new one is pulling off some pretty good replication of the old one, to the extent that I don’t even feel confident offering my track by track guess on who is singing. Somehow I never heard the song “The Man in Me” until I heard it in the movie, The Big Lebowski—and it’s a great song, and really important to that movie.




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