21
Sep
18

Stephin Merritt “Obscurities”

My name is Randolph (Randy) Russell, and more often than I can recall it’s been misspelled—I’ve seen Rusell, Russel, Rousel (and more), and Randolf, Randi (etc.)—so I’m thinking, if your name is Stephin Merritt, you’re pretty much resigned to never seeing your name spelled correctly. A sticker on the still- intact shrink-wrap says: “Rare & Unreleased tracks by The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, and others”—which I assume are SM’s bands. (I know, pretty well, that Magnetic Fields record, 69 Love Songs—which I was really into until I was, like, overnight, sick of it.) I think when someone has an unusual, highly distinctive, or some might say, annoying, singing voice, it’s possible to very suddenly get sick of them. That’s okay, I still really value those kinds of singing voices. The cover photo is a slightly blurry, almost abstract photo of what looks like an octopus invasion. The back cover is a nice, b&w photo of a guy I assume is Merritt with his head in his hand, looking like he has a migraine. (Is he a migraine sufferer like Jeff Tweedy?) You might get a migraine if you try to read the song credits on back, which are almost the same color as the background. Fortunately, the inner sleeve also has lyrics and credits, as well as a large photo of what looks like a pretty dreamy children’s music room, c. late-nineties. My favorite song on the record, “When You’re Young and In Love,” has a terrific rhyme (carousal and Hell) that ends: “Never even knowing you’re in hell/When you’re young and in love”—which is a great sentiment. It goes on to say, “When you’re not (in love) it almost seems a crime not to go insane.” Which makes no sense, and therefore is, I guess, perfect.

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11
Sep
18

Fleetwood Mac “Tango in the Night”

Now, I know better than to ever put the needle on ANY album released in 1987 (unless I already know it’s one of the very few good ones), but I thought I’d take a chance and against all odds this would be the underrated Fleetwood Mac record of all time. And it is quite remarkable, but not in the way I’d hoped; it is maybe the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How can this even exist? It’s the same lineup on those two classic F.Mac records—there is a picture of them on the back cover looking like they stepped out of the movie, St. Elmo’s Fire (except for Mick Fleetwood, who seems to have grown another foot and is wearing a hat that looks like it’s about to fly off to its home planet)—interesting, because the stoner cover painting of a tropical paradise also features a UFO, no bigger than half a Valium, indeed so small that the same pic reproduced on the CD cover would reduce the UFO to microscopic size.

After suffering through an eternity of songs—each one a punishing barrage of what I guess is the 1980s production style (which reminds me why I stopped listening to ANY popular music in the 1980s)—the last song was actually halfway catchy and kind of pretty, and so against my better judgment I’m putting it on again and taking a look at the lyrics sheet; after all, these are what must be interesting and decent people who wrote some great classic songs, and maybe there is something revealed in the lyrics about what they are going through here—whether it be insanity, drug impairment, or some kind of cultish trip we need to know about. Oh, no—that was a mistake. I won’t get through a second listening. Any record that makes me get up from my chair and remove it from the turntable isn’t likely to see daylight in this lifetime. Right now I’m regretting this brutal sound memory of the most horrible decade, culturally, I’ve yet endured.

30
Aug
18

Mickey Newbury “Sweet Memories”

This is a 1985 LP put out by MCA Records of “previously released material”—there’s nothing wrong with that if the songs are good—but the presentation, the album cover, doesn’t feel like an artist’s album, but a record company product, which, again is okay, but I’m more interested in the LP as an art form that’s a direct extension of the artist from a certain time and place. This would be the ideal thing to find on cassette at a truck-stop during a nonstop cross country road-trip in a vintage automobile. This would be your 3am ’til dawn music. The back contains some concise liner notes written by Wesley H. Rose, president of Acuff-Rose Publications, and he calls Mickey Newbury one of the great songwriters of our time. You might not have heard of him, but if you were a Nashville old-timer, you certainly would have. I wonder what’s going to happen to Nashville. I’ve heard, repeatedly, lately, about how the population there is exploding. For whatever reason, it’s the place to move to. Which means, of course, that the people who are getting there now, or soon, are going to have a hard time finding a place to live, finding a job, making ends meet. I suppose many of those moving there are songwriters, trying to break into the songwriting, singing, playing, recording music business. Most won’t make it. Some will stay and work at the new microbrewery, or a call center, and some will go back to the town they came from, and some will try the next place. I wonder where the next place is, or going to be?

Anyway, this is a fine listening record, and maybe a good record to study a well-crafted Nashville style song, but I’m not going to focus on the songs right now because many of them are on other Mickey Newbury records I have and will write about later. This has the feeling of a post-career record (not the case) with a 7 inch single size portrait of him on the cover (with his great smile and hair) surrounded by an expanse of oppressive green background (a shade of green I’d call “basement rec-room”). I first heard Mickey Newbury just a few years ago during a WKCR NY radio country music marathon, and in particular, this one song (can’t remember what now) that struck me as being the kind of song I’d like to write. So then I got kind of obsessed, not recalling ever seeing his records—started looking for them and found them affordable, and before you know it, I have six of his LPs (from 1973 to 1979) plus this one. I’ll get around to writing about those records when they come up on my random review system. Let this be my introduction to Mickey Newbury and promise of more to come. In a quick perusal of his internet biography (which you never want to take as gospel) it sounds like he had great success as a songwriter at a relatively early age, but didn’t record until his late twenties (what some would consider “late”), but then put out a lot of records, until he suffered with health issues and died far too young. You can find quotes of the utmost respect for him by some great musicians and songwriters. I’ll look forward to really listening in depth to some of his records, here, in the near future.

25
Aug
18

David Bromberg “Demon in Disguise”

I probably would have ignored this one but I just heard a conversation with David Bromberg on WTF podcast—and I really liked him—so this was a good chance to get some background via a recording he did; I have no idea of his discography, but this record sounds remarkably confident and alive. Some of the songs are credited to him, some are traditional and arranged by him, and then there is Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles”—a live version, with DB telling a story—in the middle of the song—about the origin of the song—which reminded me of another time I heard a recording with someone telling the story of that song—in a live version—was it possibly this one? Or am I just tripping?

Much of this record I really like, especially songs where he is singing. He has a kind of unlikely and unique singing voice. I don’t like some of the more traditional stuff that feels more serious or reverent (not that that was the intention, it just comes off that way, to me). For some reason fiddle music just really bugs me—I guess maybe due to a long childhood of TV crap, and whenever you’d see someone playing fiddle music their eyes would be bugging out like some insane hillbilly, and it always seemed like someone would have to yell “Hoedown!”—like announcing it, as if you don’t know. It’s kind of like if someone is having sex and one person has to keep yelling, “We’re fucking! We’re fucking!” I suppose some people could be into that, but me, personally, I’m a little more reserved.

17
Aug
18

Charlie Pickett and the Eggs “Live At The Button”

This 1982 record, full title: Charlie Pickett and the Eggs Live at The Button on Fort Lauderdale Beach, showed up at the Spindizzy record store in Kent, Ohio sometime in 1982 or 1983, probably as a promo, since we were a record store, or because the store was also the address of several zines that reviewed independently released records—though, honestly, I can’t remember how or why it got there. Because no one had ever heard of Charlie Pickett and pretty much associated Fort Lauderdale with “Spring Break,” and they didn’t look too punk-rock on the back cover, and most of the songs were covers, it’s kind of remarkable anyone ever put it on, but once we did, probably intending to make fun of it, we all flipped over it, and especially Keith Busch did, as it was his kind of thing. Immediately evident was that being live was not a drawback (no corny ass-kissing the audience, and excellently recorded) and it was raw and unpolished garage rock (essentially more “punk rock” than many of the bands calling themselves punk rock in what was already the waning days of punk rock).

I haven’t listened to this in years, so it’s a nice surprise how it still sounds great to me; Charlie Pickett’s voice reminds me of someone, but maybe it’s just the memory of listening to this album endlessly for awhile. The band is pretty hot. The album cover is a grainy b&w photo of what looks like a DMV, but it’s more than likely “The Button”—which is a weird name for a club, if you ask me. The liner notes on back—by Paul Beeman (like the gum)—are hilarious. Ten of the 13 songs are covers, though only two of which I knew at the time—and one of which (The Velvet Underground’s “Lonesome Cowboy Bill”) inspired us to do it, in our band (the Ragged Bags) at that time. I was just thinking about playing that song—while looking back through old notebooks—when I saw a Keith Busch quote I had scrawled there, about our version of it: “It’s bad enough that we don’t do the middle—we have to end it somewhere.”

Since I have the internet now, I can look up who some of the songs are originally by: The Velvet Underground, The Yardbirds, Flamin’ Groovies, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Peter Green, Freddy Cannon, and Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers. My favorites are “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I” and “Slow Death.” And there are some fine original songs. While looking this up I hoped to avoid seeing anything depressing, like everyone in this band died a grizzly death and/or worse, but what I did come upon was a very recent article about Charlie Pickett releasing a new record! So that kind of warmed my heart. It turns out that they were influential and loved by a few more people than just us, I guess—and people are dying to get this old record. Or, at least, a lot of people are dying, and this record often happens to be found at the scene of the crime. Nothing surprises me anymore. Anyway, it’s a great record. The only downside is that it ends with a train song, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

05
Aug
18

Link Wray “Link Wray”

Maybe this is the first Link Wray record, as it doesn’t have a title other than “Link Wray”—though, didn’t he put out records in the 50s?—and this looks seriously 70s, but there’s no date on it (the only thing I’m going to look up, once I’m reunited with the internet, is the dates each of these records came out). Anyway, here is another reminder to look more deeply into the early work of people you feel you have an idea of what they’re about; I’ve always been a Link Wray fan based on the few songs I know, and his sound, but really know very few recordings or anything about him. This record is on Polydor so he must have been well known enough, plus the cover is unusual in that it’s his head in profile, but die-cut along his face, and it opens that way. I thought the record companies reserved the fancy, die-cut covers for well-established gold sellers. Upon opening, a small photo is revealed—of a ramshackle structure, crudely painted with the sign, “Wray’s Shack 3 Track”—which is, according to the credits, the studio where the record was recorded, in Accokeek, Maryland. It would have been interesting to have been a neighbor to Link Wray and “The Family”—the credited musicians, several of which have the last name Wray. One name, Steve Verroca, plays drums, and also has half the songwriting credits. It makes me wonder when, if, and how the decision was made to call the band “Link Wray” and not something more band-like, such as “The Family” or “The Accokeek Noise Ordinance.”

29
Jul
18

Bob Dylan “Street Legal”

I’ve never heard this record before and I’m guessing, but not sure, that when it came out in 1978—the year I graduated from high school and was avidly reading Rolling Stone magazine—it got a less than favorable review—or maybe I was just over Dylan by that time, temporarily—or maybe his previous album was too weird and inscrutable—who knows. Anyway, the first thing that’s striking to me is that in the live performance, black and white, photo on the back, he looks just like Freddie Mercury—did people, when this record was released, talk or write excessively about about how he looks just like Freddie Mercury? It looks like a picture from the Renaldo and Clara/”Rolling Thunder Revue” era, but wasn’t that years earlier? Anyway, it’s just a bit of a mystery. On the front cover there’s a picture of him standing in a doorway wearing some really awful jeans and a black leather vest, looking left, down the street like he’s waiting for someone, or a bus.

“Baby Stop Crying” is a nice song, pretty soulful (though the sax break does sound a little St. Elmo’s Fire (my shorthand for lameness). I just noticed the photos on the inside sleeve, two out-of-focus, B&W photos of Bob and a dark skinned man (really wish I had the Big I to look this up) at what looks like a really great tea shop. Bob’s wearing that polkadot shirt you see in a lot of photos (I’m assuming he had more than one, but who knows). It almost looks like a much earlier photo. Can you date Dylan pics by his shirts?




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