04
Apr
20

Lani Hall “Sun Down Lady”

This may be one of the strangest album cover photos I’ve ever seen—it’s simply a color profile photo of (presumably) Lani Hall, blown up to billboard size—so large that the full-size album cover can only contain the area between her eyebrow and bottom lip. On top of that, it’s pretty color-saturated. Had she a zit on her right cheek, you’d have had to name the record “Mount Vesuvius.” But she looks nice—not many of us could stand up to such enlargement scrutiny. I wonder what she thought about the cover? Anyway, once I saw it, in the used record store, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy it. I had no idea who Lani Hall was—I didn’t remember that she sang with Brazil ’66—and I didn’t know that she was married to Herb Alpert—maybe still is—or that she sang a James Bond theme song. This record, from 1972, is her first solo record—and she recorded a bunch more.

I like this one a lot, actually, and it’s going in my regular listening pile (I actually have an old end table with a thing that holds either magazines or record albums—that’s where I put my regular listening stack.) Herb Alpert is the producer, and naturally there’s some first-rate session players on it, and a pretty interesting collection of songs, including “Tiny Dancer” and another by Elton John, “Come Down In Time”—this is a really nice version of it. There’s also songs by Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Paul Williams, and more. One Lani Hall composition—a pretty intense love song. The Lesley Duncan song, “Love Song” is a standout, probably my favorite on the record. “Sun Down” is a very familiar sounding song (it’s written by Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote “Muskrat Love”)—could this song have been playing on the AM radio in the morning while I ate my Cap’n Crunch before another horrific day of 7th Grade? I like it, now, though—it pretty much puts me on a beach, looking out over the Pacific as the light fades, with a beautiful woman and a rum drink. You know, pretty much my life.

28
Mar
20

Matt Dennis “Welcome Matt”

I kind of expected the worst from this record, pop music corny-ness, and it is pretty friendly, but also, it kind of strikes me as odd, how it’s recorded—Matt Dennis’ smooth, crystal clear voice is recorded so loud relative to the orchestra—he sounds more like he’s in the room here with me than if he was in the room here with me. Maybe that’s how pop vocalists were recorded in 1959, and I’ve just listened to so much Sinatra everything else sounds kind of crude in comparison. I’m not sure, though, as I don’t listen to a lot of comparable stuff. Maybe this reminds me a little of someone like Mel Tormé? Anyway, good songs, some standards like “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and “Cheek to Cheek,” and there’s a particularly nice song called “Home” that I’m not sure I’ve heard by anyone else. Then there’s “Welcome Mat” by the man himself—it’s a little goofy. The version of “My Blue Heaven” sounds really weird to me—like he’s flattening the end of each line—maybe that’s a style. Maybe that’s how the song was written. I don’t know know—I wish I knew more—I’ve got more questions than answers about this one. But I like it. My favorite, though, is “A Cup of Coffee a Sandwich and You”—a song I’ve never heard before, and probably for good reason—it’s insane. I mean, a sandwich? I guess the idea is, the simple things in life are good enough for him—but then where does that put “you?”

The cover particularly cracks me up—it’s a photo, taken in an actual apartment, of Matt Dennis in formal wear entering, carrying a welcome mat on which “Welcome Matt Dennis” is crudely rendered. There’s a woman standing there (who presumably put out the mat) who looks either annoyed or overwhelmed by the Matt Dennis sex appeal. Her long dress is an odd design of brown and gray plaid—it’s a really weird print for a dress—I have no words for it, I’m no expert. It looks like some kind of curtains or a tablecloth, to me, more than a dress, but what do I know? She’s wearing more pearls than can possibly be healthy—which are kind of overwhelmed by the plastic doorbell, peephole, and three brass doorknobs also visible in the photo. I mean, there was absolutely no art direction involved at all here (other than that cheesy “Welcome Matt”)—which, when I think about it—makes it actually more interesting than if a lot of care was taken to make it look not weird. I miss these times, from the past, when things didn’t have to get worked over and homogenized by a team of boring, frightened, accountants. When a doorstop was a doorstop, and “I love you” meant… Okay, maybe I should just stick to talking about the cover art, here.

13
Mar
20

Mickey Newbury “The Sailor”

I probably mentioned this before—I heard a Mickey Newbury song on the radio, never had heard of him, so kind of got obsessed with him, then bought half a dozen records—none of which stood up to that song (or the memory of it). Still, he’s an interesting guy, a successful Nashville songwriter and recording artist, without being a big star. I suppose fans of his consider him a big star, but you know, not one of that handful everyone knows—and if you think about it, what’s this obsession we have (in this cultural time and place) with being known even by the people who don’t really care about your art? I guess it’s about money, then, right? This is a nice country record, low key, solid songs, straightforward, Nashville studio pros, I guess, the usual themes. Actually, I’m not listening all that close to the lyrics. “A Weed is a Weed”—yes it is. The cover cracks me up—kind of a half-assed nautical mishmash. It made me think of the one room in my parents’ house that was decked out in a kind nautical, “Polynesian” (influenced, no doubt, by a visit to Disney Polynesian Village), and Tiki bar (influenced by visits to the Kon-Tiki in Cleveland and the Kahiki in Columbus). The closest music they played to country was nothing; I had a Johnny Cash 45, “A Boy Named Sue”—but that was more of novelty record. I don’t remember when I started to really like country music—I believe it was with Merle Haggard. At a certain point I just became open to anything. I can listen to this record, but it doesn’t do much for me. It’s just not weird enough, on any level, to really comfort me in any way. And that subtle harmonica doesn’t help, it’s just so easy on the ears (in a bad way). It just occurred to me that the cover could be the background art for the menu of cheesy seafood restaurant—that made me laugh.

29
Feb
20

5 Stairsteps & Cubie “Love’s Happening”

I didn’t know this band at all, and saw a beat-up copy of this LP in an antique store—but it plays fine and sounds good. It reminded me of the Jackson 5 on the first song, but then I don’t know the Jackson 5 other than the hits, and they were a few years later? Most of the songs are by Curtis Mayfield, and are all good, plus he’s the producer. They are proclaimed “The First Family of Soul” on the back of the record, so I’ll buy it—they even list their names and ages on back, kids from 15 to 19, plus Cubie who’s 3, and called “the old man.” I love the picture on the cover, the 1968 fashions—and it looks like it’s taken in the storage room of a department store—some truly bizarre details in this photo—something that would never happen now in this age of overthinking, over editing, over photoshopping. The little guy, I assume that’s Cubie, is wearing a yellow, red, and blue Mondrian scarf—I swear I had that same scarf when I was about the age of this record! It’s on Curtis Mayfield’s “Curtom” label, and the label art is very cool—kind of bizarre—there’s what looks like a tiny scorpion as part of the logo. “Don’t Change Your Love” jumps out as a killer song. But I like them all. They’re be an upbeat number, then a slower, more soulful one, back and forth, and that works well here. I like this record a lot, second or third time through, I’m liking it more. This is the best four dollars I’ve spent in awhile—I think I’ll keep this one out for listening.

28
Feb
20

Big Bay Band “Heathsville”

This is one of those records that makes no sense, as nothing on the front cover, back cover, or label matches up that well—you’d almost think it’s in the wrong cover, but the songs actually match up. According to the label, it’s “The Big Bay Band,” who sound to be an accomplished swing band, and do put some flair into some of these songs. Of course, some of them are too corny and unlistenable, but others, like “I’ve Got the World on a String” are pretty inspired (well, it’s a great song). The cover is a $1.98 photo session out in the woods with three women holding up various horns, jubilantly. If you squint, they actually look like zombies in a scene from Dawn of the Dead. Only the closest woman’s grin gives it away—not zombies—jubilant. Which makes me think about all the people who have been playing zombies, or extras as zombies. It’s probably a little harder than it looks, to get the facial expression and the movement just right. Though it’s beyond me, at this point, why anyone cares.

26
Feb
20

Shane Leonard “Strange Forms”

This record looks like it could have come from the 80s, maybe—or could be any number of decades old, but there’s a sticker on the cover that says: “Includes Download Card”—which, that’s kind of a recent thing, isn’t it? Maybe not so recent. Anyway, the dude on the cover is standing in front of a “Load Star II”—which looks to be a commercial washer or dryer (is he in a laundromat?)—maybe “Includes Download Card” is about some free laundry promotion. This record got my attention because (besides the fact that it was sitting out, here in the cabin, like someone had recently played it) because the picture of the guy on the cover, who we’ll assume is Shane Leonard, looked really familiar to me. Like, have I met this guy somewhere? Maybe he was the guy that rang up my gas and pork rinds back there in Rhinelander. No, that guy had a beard. Well, I’ll probably figure it out later and be embarrassed—sorry, Shane! The memory is fading.

There’s varying degrees of subtle accompaniment on each of these songs, but they’re all pretty quiet, minimal, and take their time—in short, my kind of music. Good songs, too, catchy songs. Some really remind me of something else—which probably means they are just good songs—not usually a problem, unless they remind you of “My Sweet Lord.” Good lyrics, too, and I can understand them without the lyric sheet, but I like the lyric sheet. There’s one called “Bloomington, IN,” where he says his memory’s fading, too, and he’s good with faces and bad with names—weird! Isn’t that what I just said? I’m not joking—sometimes I just have connections with things I do no understand. (Yesterday I read a reference to “Petals on a wet black bough” in a book I was reading, then heard someone say that phrase later the same day in a totally unrelated podcast! Though I guess you could say they were tied together by Ezra Pound (but it wasn’t a book or podcast about Ezra Pound)—it was just by chance, and on the same day?—this kind of thing happens all the time.) There’s also a reference to Bowling Green in that song, a town I used to visit, occasionally. I once was in a race there (running, this was high school), and the bass player from Brownsville Station (remember “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room?”) was, too. Also, I saw a Doobie Brothers show there.

There’s a song about looking out the window of the “Empire Builder”—and if you’ve ever rode the Empire Builder (it’s a double-decker Amtrak train), you probably remember a similar looking out the window experience (unless you were on your damn phone the whole time). Wow—a reference to Jude Law—nothing against him personally, but does Jude Law really bug the shit out of anyone else? I guess this is a good record for bringing up these things I’ve been thinking about, which is interesting because it seems intensely personal. Also, as far as I can tell, there’s a lot about a very young kid, likely his kid—and as I’ve never had kids, it’s not something I can relate to on that level. But maybe that’s the reason that music is such a great thing—it’s that connecting force that helps us reach each other, regardless of shared experiences and backgrounds—regardless of language, even—regardless, even, of time.

25
Feb
20

Wang Chung “Points on the Curve”

For some reason I decided to put on this Wang Chung record—maybe because there’s a boat on the cover—though most of the cover looks like the green, gridded drafting table it was designed on. I guess you could say that’s “cutting edge.” Or just ugly. The picture of the guys on back look exactly like some people I knew in Kent, Ohio, where I was living in 1983, when this came out—guys who were in new wave bands who really had the hair thing going on. I did not like those people. Wang Chung has a massive hit (you remember the one) which you could not escape, for awhile, so I despised them. But listening now, I don’t mind this record at all—well, especially this first song, “Dance Hall Days”—which must have been a hit, as well, right? I feel like I can see a movie scene when I hear it—one of those movies starring Rob Lowe. The record is on the Geffen label—does anyone else get totally creeped out by that old (I noticed it’s totally different now) Geffen logo? For some reason it just makes me think of slimy dudes snorting coke—no good reason for that—it’s just that the little ball with the ridge on it—just perfectly evokes expensive drugs. At any rate, it’s funny how a lot of music you revere from the past, if you listen to it now, sounds totally different. Like, The Clash sound just like Bob Seger. And this Wang Chung doesn’t sound nearly as bad as I remember—well, at least not this “Dance Hall Days” song, which I’m liking right now. Also, it’s nice to see the lyric sheet, because I always thought he was singing: “We were ghouls on Christ”—like, I don’t know—kind of about Christian zombies? But now I see what he actually says is: “We were cool on craze.” Which makes less sense? A guy in my high school was nicknamed “Craze,” but chances are the Wang Chung songwriters didn’t even know him. But I’ve got it—seeing how there are as many slang words for blow as Eskimos have for snow, it’s understandable that I wouldn’t have been familiar with “craze.” Big, big difference there, in meaning, then, from being kind of Christian Goth to being skeezy, coke-fueled Geffen zombies.




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