Archive for February, 2019



21
Feb
19

Nina Simone “I Loves You, Porgy / Love Me or Leave Me”

I was listening to the radio early this morning before work, WKCR, via the internet, and someone was playing a long set of Nina Simone songs. They don’t do a lot of talking that early. Then after work, half of a perfectly good ruined day later, back home, I turned on the same station (Thursday early evening is always good for jazz)—and in just one note—vocally, I mean—not even a syllable—I could tell it was Nina Simone again. She has such a recognizable, singular sound and style. So then I realized that today is her birthday, so they were playing pretty much all Nina Simone today. I don’t have any albums by her, at this time, unfortunately, but I remembered seeing this 45 in my random, found, 45 stack, so I used my random record selection system and willed it to fall on this one. “I Loves You, Porgy” is a Gershwin standard, and this is a really beautiful, quiet version, really nice. There were no doubt a lot of these 45s pressed, though it was very early in her recording career, I think, and I guess it was up there on the charts. It came out the year before I was born. Maybe I heard this on the radio, very young. This is my favorite music, stuff like this, and pretty much has been my whole life (besides brief forays, you know, into this and that). I wonder if music you hear before you were born, or your first year of life, sticks with you? “Love Me or Leave Me” is considerably more upbeat, and a good song, too—I know if from somewhere. Well, interesting Thursday night—I’m gonna go back to the radio for awhile, more Nina Simone. If the radio was always this good I’d never get around to listening to records.

20
Feb
19

Jefferson Airplane “Bark”

The art department did a good job on this album cover—it totally fooled me. I am not that familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s discography, so when I saw this odd album cover with a fish head, I thought that someone had scrawled “BARK” on the cover just so they’d remember what it was—but it’s actually the album cover—very good job of replicating a black marker scrawl. (I was not, however, fooled into thinking it was an actual fish wrapped in paper—if that was the case I would have smelled it long before seeing it.) So apparently the original album cover looked like a shopping bag (or was a shopping bag) brown paper, with a “JA” logo meant to replicate the “A&P” grocery store logo—which would mean very little to people now—I barely remember that logo. Or maybe they still use it? Are there still A&P stores? Anyway, it’s a weird choice, but these were out-of-control San Francisco hippies and releasing an album in a shopping bag is probably very mild compared to the ideas they probably did have but someone with relative sanity stepped in. So I don’t know when this glossy replica of a fish wrapped in paper came out, but it’s a really good album cover, and even better is the lyrics “flyer” inside (in pink, what is meant to be, I guess, butcher paper). Each song title gets a different font (this is long before “font abuse”—and subsequent font sanity). It’s nice to have the lyrics, very readable (it folds out to 12×24 inches)—but then even better, on the other side is a kind of concrete poetry thing, titled with crudely cut out paper bag paper letters: “What you can do with the bag”—below which are about 100 or so suggestions about what you can do with the bag. I can’t type it all out since I don’t have the “good speed” they had when they composed this thing, but I’ll read over it quickly and tell you my favorite(s).

Fans of this band’s history will probably correct me, but this seems to be a later version of JA—some band members changed, I guess—but still well before the dreaded “Jefferson Starship.” I’m wondering now if they’re really dreaded (my memory, of back then, was dreading them—but now I do like a lot of stuff I once hated). But what I’m wondering is if they almost called themselves something else, like what’s between an airplane and a starship? Maybe a dirigible? Could they nearly have been temporarily named Jefferson Zeppelin? I was playing this record the other night and I felt like either it was really fucked up (the recording, or the actual vinyl) or my stereo was fucked up, or my needle, maybe, or maybe it was me because the apartment was 80 degrees. Or maybe a young Tom Cruise was in here fucking with my equalizer. It seems like every song was written by a different band member, but I’m not going to go through them one by one. I’m not going to say life it too short for that—it isn’t—but February is too short. The one song that kind of freaks me out though is “Feel So Good”—and I can’t really put my finger on why, but it seems to bring back these strong memories of how intimidating the Seventies were—when everyone over the age of 12 had a moustache, and people wore hats and scarfs, and the cool guys had little leather satchels tied to their belts—and what was in them? Suddenly everyone was several inches taller (shoes and hair) and you could see the ocean in their blue eyes, and they knew something they weren’t going to tell you, and somehow there just seemed to be more people than ever with wide gaps between their two front teeth. All that from that one song, for no good reason, either.

I really do like this record—I don’t mean to be negative about the fucking up sound—I actually like that, a lot. Just to be clear. (But is she singing in German on this one song, over a background of tortured ghosts?) And I like the all-over-the-place-ness of the record—which maybe has something to do with all the songwriters present—it’s like everybody gave it a shot. Maybe there’s a song by the guy who brings the acid over, and one by the guy at the deli. Some day I’ll put all these JA names together, in a proper order, and associate them with faces and instruments. I love the scenes of them playing at Altamont in Gimme Shelter (1970)—they are all both really intense and like just normal cats. Plus, didn’t one of them get punched by one of the Hell’s Angels? And then I’m especially fascinated with Grace Slick—even through all the concert footage, records, and reading about her, I could never get a sense of what she’s all about—like she’s just outside any kind of personal reference (comparison with another person). Maybe I’m wrong about that, and she’s just kind of like a cross between someone and someone else, but I guess I want to believe she’s alone in Grace Slick-ville. This record is kind of growing on me, actually—I might have to write about it again, later, and I can do that, because I make the rules here. Here’s a fine example of what you can do with the bag: “Call it Chester… call it loose… call it nester… call it Goose.”

19
Feb
19

David Bowie “Diamond Dogs”

Pretty much the first 14 years of my life I was dead-set on a future career as either an engineer or a manager—it was all studies, math, things in their place, doing what they were supposed to do—I didn’t waste time, wore socks to bed, pajamas tucked into them. Then I got this record and the next thing you know I saw something in the night sky—and after that, there wasn’t going to be any life for me in which I wasn’t some kind of an artist. That story isn’t exactly true—in fact it isn’t true at all—I really don’t know what happened to me, when, or why—that prevents me from having any kind of normal happiness. I’m just struggling here, thinking about how to possibly write about this album that even comes close to expressing how much I like it. I can say that I love it even more than snow on my eyelashes, sex, beer, and five o’clock on Friday, but all I ever hear from anyone is that it’s not even in their Bowie top five, and the album cover seriously freaked them out, and they like “Rebel Rebel” okay. Bowie fans are probably the hardest to convince, actually. And what do I care? I’m not trying to make people agree with me, after all, and everyone has their favorites here and their particular problems with this and that. Like the way the record ends with, “RockRockRockRockRock”—I mean, kind of embarrassing to me, even. And that opening, mutant wolf howl, and all that sci-fi bullshit. Well, I like that, of course—whenever I take a photograph of a weird landscape that reminds me of the inside album cover, I post it on Instagram and then recite “Future Legend” to Siri and see what she does with it. I mean, I even named my band Love Me Avenue—and don’t tell me there’s another band called Love Me Avenue out there—and if there is, you can speak to my attorney.

But how do I express why I love this record so much? That question has a lot of similarities to trying to explain why a good song is a good song. Maybe I should take a few minutes to see what a few other Bowie fans say about this record (I mean the ones who love it). Is there a 33 1/3 book about this one yet? (Not that I would want to attempt one of those books about this record—I don’t feel like I’m up to that task, and I don’t mind admitting it.) I know someone wrote one of the 33 1/3 books about Bowie’s album Low (which makes me, now that I think of it, want to read that book and revisit Low). I don’t think there is… I look it up, and holy shit! There is a book on Diamond Dogs! It’s only fitting that I listened to this record, just now, sitting under this insane February full moon, and it sounded better than it ever has—and now I see there is a book about it! It came out in… November 14, 2019. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that approximately nine months in the future? Insane. It’s by a guy named Glenn (with 2 n’s) Hendler (with an “e”). What the hell, Hendler? How can you do this to me? Oh, well… that’s okay, and kind of fitting, in a way. I have always felt—and always known—that there is something freaky and special about this record—and it’s almost as if the weird cover, the dystopian sci-fi lyrics, the whole package really, is some kind of smoke-screen for something even more weird below the surface. If we could say what it was, it wouldn’t be below the surface—elusive, unknowable, and mysterious—but, you know, the thing. The reason we’re here. Anyway—so, it’s just kind of fitting that this hopefully groundbreaking and vital text about this record (no pressure, Hendler!) has come out… in the future.

I wish I could remember the circumstances around buying this record, but 1974 is a confusing jumble of memories, a confusing time for sure. Maybe a record that I didn’t understand was the perfect thing. I didn’t understand the cover, with the steel and bronze dog-people. The album folds out and it looks like a scene from Blade Runner, which hadn’t been made yet—there is plenty of room for lyrics, but the only thing printed are the lyrics to the first song, a goddamn poem! (Though I recited “fleas the size of rats…” at every opportunity, for years.) Then I was confused by the song “Diamond Dogs”—why did it sound like the band was playing waist deep in a swamp, and why did I like that so much? And then why did the record shift to a slow song, that sounded like it was from a musical? And then why a song called “Candidate” (not into politics at the time). And then why a (reprise)? (I’m not sure when I was first aware of the pretentious prog-rock bands I listened to around then putting a song reprise on their records, but I’m pretty sure I pulled that same shit in my first band, somewhat ironically.) I liked “Rebel Rebel” (how could you not?)—but why two rebels?

I was pretty much worn out by the first side, and wore out the first side, going back again and again, trying to figure out what it was about this record. Why did Bowie drop the “David” and play guitar, saxes, Moog, etc.—so many instruments—and what in the hell was a Mellotron? Was the bass player really named Herbie Flowers? Finally, after many, many plays, or maybe days, (the days felt like months), I flipped the record, and side two was just so disappointing after side one. It starts with a ballad love song, yuck. But then, a few months, maybe years later, something happened and I liked side two more than side one! This might have coincided with the change in my life where I suddenly liked beautiful songs—was it drinking? Weed? Love? Maybe just the progression of music in my life. A song like “We are the dead” (even slower) was making an impact on me, even though I could only make out about 10% of the lyrics. And then “1984” is like a straight-up disco song (I hated disco, remember?) but there are these little parts that drop out, little lyrical parts, where I’m thinking, how does he even think of stuff like that? And then the song “Big Brother”—which maybe my brain couldn’t even handle at that point. Even now, like 40 some years later, after listening to this record thousands of times, I still can’t even comprehend, put my finger on, even describe, much less figure out, what happens in that song, musically or lyrically. It ends abruptly, too, just blending into, you know, the chant of the ever circling skeletal family. Nothing unusual there.

18
Feb
19

Gene Krupa “Gene Krupa”

I’d picked up a battered copy of this record and had it laying around for awhile (it’s got a great cover—and action photo profile of Gene Krupa playing drums, and a very modern layout)—I’m not really sure what I think about Gene Krupa one way or another, maybe thinking he was on the flashy side, or the show-biz side—you know—but this is Gene Krupa as bandleader, with his orchestra and a lot of really excellent musicians. And when I put it on, finally, I said, “Oh, no!” as it starts with a raucous, even jaunty bit—the trumpet is playing “Yankee Doodle”—but it’s a bit of a fake out, audience yelling, “No!” (I don’t know the motive, though!) And then they settle into a nice version of “After You’re Gone,” and then the second song, “Murder He Says,”—woman singer, who is that?! So I had to look, and it’s Anita O’Day—which reminded me of why, at one time, I called Anita O’Day my favorite singer—her singing has that quality on this song—I don’t know what it is—it’s: “that quality.” Then the band goes into a slow, atmospheric, instrumental version of “Tuxedo Junction.” It’s not until the end of the next number (that has a vocal by Irene Daye—pretty interesting that both Anita O’Day and Irene Daye sang with Gene Krupa) that G.K. gives us a little drum fireworks, but just a taste—then a little more on the next song, a very swinging, “Disc Jockey Jump,” and finally the song “Massachusetts” features Anita O’Day again—it’s a train song, but a good one, another great vocal. And so at this point, I’m thinking I actually hit a home run with this record—almost afraid to turn it over.

But I do, and it’s starts out with “Let Me Off Uptown,” with conversational vocals, back and forth, Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge (who then goes into a trumpet solo, of course) great song! Then “Slow Down” another nice vocal by Anita O’Day, and same with the next one, “Boogie Blues”—“Don’t the moon look lonesome shining through the trees.” And then another one—this turns out to be the Anita O’Day album I don’t have (there’s a lot of them I don’t have, like all of them). And then, what’s like a really unexpected bonus, the song “Knock Me a Kiss” sung by Roy Eldridge, which I know, of course, from Louis Jordan, who I also don’t have any records by. (Anita O’Day and Louis Jordan—reminders to get out my cassette tapes.) Anyway, overall, this is a great record with a lot of surprises. It’s only later that I see the extensive, serious liner notes on back, which covers who played and sang one what, and the recording dates—which are a-while back. Sometimes you get a record that has great promise, and it turns out to be a real bummer, but other times, like this one, you get a record not really hoping much one way or another, and it turns out to be one of the better things, at least on that given day, in your mortal possession.

17
Feb
19

Slim Dusty “The Answer to a Pub with No Beer / Winter Winds”

“The Answer to a Pub with No Beer” is a fairly simple song, minimal acoustic guitar, and this guy’s crystal clear, piercing voice that could cut through an iceberg like a laser knife, or iceberg lettuce like a Ginsu knife, or London fog like a wailing banshee or a fog cutter cocktail (gin, rum, cognac, orgeat, lemon juice, orange juice, amontillado), just verse after verse after verse until the story is over. I’m going to have to listen again and pay attention to the words, much to the pleasure of my neighbors, since his voice cuts through plaster and drywall like a Sawzall. I can’t place his voice, actually; he sounds a little hillbilly and a little Oxford educated. The other side, “Winter Winds,” is a celebration of winter, when, you know, out on the range, and in this one he does a little yodeling, which is not my favorite use of the vocal chords, but it is pretty impressive and otherworldly, sounding like some kind of banshee. I shouldn’t have used the word “banshee” earlier, now I feel like I can’t use it here. Oh well, I guess that’s why they invented editing. Back to the first song, a story song, about the pub with no beer—I’m trying to concentrate on the story, and it sounds like plain English, but I can’t figure out what in the hell he’s talking about. I could listen to it over and over, and try to write out the lyrics, and start the department of Slim Dusty studies, but I’m not going to, and instead will resort to the dreaded internet to see if I can find out anything about this singer.

So it turns out that Slim Dusty is Australian and was a huge star there and this was a number one record, so now I feel like a dumb-ass. I tried reading the lyrics, but still can’t figure it out—or just don’t want to take the time—maybe it’s just sour grapes that I can’t drink beer—though I was known to consume a few of those Australian oil cans of beer, whatever those were called, in my time. I’m reading the lyrics, and they are kind of insane—I mean, there’s a driver, and a drover, and a blitz wagon—really great stuff, actually. I like this song a lot—I was trying to think who it reminded me of, and Red Foley crossed my mind—not that I have a lot of Red Foley records—a couple on cassette, but they’re really good. I guess this particular 45 I have is a New Zealand pressing—it’s a green Columbia label—it looks really ancient, but it’s just 1958—though that is kind of ancient, I guess. My favorite thing of all is the full artist name on the record: Slim Dusty “The Dusty Trail Yodeler” And His Bushlanders. That’s just excellent.

16
Feb
19

Traffic “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”

This is another band that I always mixed up with every other band from the late Sixties and early Seventies whose name was one, everyday word. This is a really enjoyable listening record, though, and it would probably have been in my high school record collection if I was a little older, but in 1971 I was still in my bubblegum period. Who am I fooling, I’m still in my bubblegum period. I believe I wrote about an earlier Traffic record on this site—but I’m not going back to look—maybe later. This version of the band is a six-piece, and they use the variety of instrumentation well (the usual, plus really prominent additional percussion, saxophone, and flute)—while managing to keep a fairly minimal sound, which means no one is horribly overplaying. No one sounds the least bit in a hurry, either, which I quite appreciate at this juncture. There are only six songs on this record, the shortest being over 4 minutes. The longest, which is 12 minutes, is the title track, and it’s such a nice song, it feels half as long, and I could have listened to it twice as long. I have no idea what the hell it means or what it’s about, and after reading something on the internet about where the title comes from and what it refers to, I still have no idea.

The album cover is another die-cut atrocity (pretty much all album covers that aren’t the usual square shape are atrocities)—it’s supposed to look like a cube, but of course wouldn’t even fool or impress even the most stoned among us. If you’ve seen one painting depicting a blue sky with misty clouds above a black and white checkered floor, you’ve seen them all. I probably made one myself in high school art class. Even on back, with the band photo taking up most of it, the dumb black and white checked floor cuts their feet off (just not really thought-out at all). Most likely everyone who has ever rented an efficiency apartment in a college town has had that very black and white checkered floor, and depending on your level of making peace with the past, just this graphic will either depress you or fully nauseate you. The only good thing is that the inner sleeve (in this used version) is still intact and matches the shape of the cover. Also, the band photo on back (should have just been the cover) is pretty amusing, the six guys standing there, either looking at the photographer, or each other, or laughing, or serious—seems like it could have been the first of this style of band photo—though it was probably the ten-thousandth, or so (and of course has been emulated millions of times since). One odd detail, the guy who is either the sax player or is just wearing that sax strap around his neck to attract girls (I’ve been guilty of that myself) is holding, in his left hand, what looks like a cordless phone—you know, an old one, gray plastic, with a long antenna—something that’s beyond dated now, of course, but did it even exist in 1971?—I guess it had to, or maybe it’s something else entirely, but I sure don’t know what.

Side two starts out with the one bummer song on the record, which made me feel like I was watching the local blues rock band at the county fair (not a lot of fond memories there—the fair yes, the bands no). The last song on this side is another extended one, and it starts out with a really inane art rock feel, with the singer repeating “rainmaker, rainmaker” over and over until you expect to see little fairies dancing in your room—and then just when you’re about to throw a shoe at the turntable, they suddenly shift gears and it goes all abstract and dissonant to the point where you think it’s just falling apart—but then settles into a moderately funky groove—it plays out the rest of the song like that, fading out way too soon, actually. I really wish the whole second side would have just been this for 26 minutes. These guys—when they’re not piddling with the wizard bullshit—can play.

15
Feb
19

The Bon Aires “La Versatile”

Rams Head Inn, Milwaukee

I’m not exactly sure what the name of this record is. It’s by The Bon Aires (or Bon-Aires) on a label called “Pro-Gress Records.” Besides the band name, the cover also says, “La Versatile”—what’s that all about? And also, “Rams Head Inn, Milwaukee”—apparently where the band had their tenure. The most advanced date I see anywhere in print on the cover is 1968, and the song, Evil Ways! (recorded by Santana) came out in 1969, so I’m just going to go with 1969 as a date for this record.

If you saw the cover of this record you’d have bought it, too—it looks like it’s pasted up by someone’s insane aunt, including “framed” photos of the band members, and a cartoon graphic of a naked woman with ram’s horns grappling with a cocktail glass as big as she is (fortunately only a couple of inches tall, or it might have never cleared the myopic decency mafia). On back is a little feature about The Rams Head Inn where The Bon Aires were the house band, and it sounds like a great place—I’d be there right now if it had survived. It even gives the address: 2023 S. Kinnickinnic, Milwaukee—is it still there? A quick look at the internet map—oh. That’s the corner of Kinnickinnic and Becher where now there’s that hideous BP station, “Go” Mart, and Laser Touchless Carwash. That’s just tragic. I can’t find anything on the internet about this record, so I’m not going to try that hard—I’ll just go by what’s here. There’s an extensive bio for each band member—this was a regular supergroup. Their names are: Dennis Jurkowski, Fred Haldemann, Gary Chaney, and Frederick Stadler. Also on the back of the cover is their band press release. You could probably spend a day or a lifetime, if you wanted, tracking down everyone and everything here, and why not? But I’m just going to move on to the music.

This is one of those records that (short of doing some heavy-duty research, which I’m not going to do because I’m too lazy) the best way to approach it is on a track by track basis, and just give my impressions, or what each song made me think of or feel. “A Man and a Woman” is my favorite track on the record, with some really bizarre organ—I could listen to a whole side of this—it sounds like the soundtrack for one of my sci-fi noir nightmares. A really atmospheric version of “Summertime,” with sax coming down a block-long tunnel and a nice vocal. This would be the last song of side one of a collection of the most extreme versions of this standard. “Rain Rain Polka” takes the jauntiness to “10,” including some tortured “yee-ha’s.” Kind of back to the movie the first track evokes, is a corny yet evocative version of “Laura’s Theme (from Dr. Zhivago).” I guess “La Bamba” is always going to sound like “La Bamba,” whether it be Latin, Polka, or Space Alien. The insane classic “Five-Foot-Two” reminds me that Iggy Pop did “Five Foot One” AND a version of “Summertime” on the same record, and why am I not listening to that right now? “Yellow Bird” whisks us off to, naturally, Hawaii, even though it’s snowing outside. “Vienna, My City of Dreams” sounds like you think it might, with a vocal by Edwin Wasilewski, the man, apparently, behind The Rams Head Inn! “Quando Quando” is another of those familiar songs from decades of corniness exposure—this version on speed (prob. coffee?)—organist, drummer, and flautist are OFF THE HOOK. “Whipout” is a cross between the surfer standard, “Wipeout,” and the DEVO classic “Whip It”—which didn’t come out until TEN YEARS AFTER—Time Machine! “Stranger on the Shore” is another blast of nostalgia that takes me back to no doubt a sleazier time, esp. with that evocative licorice stick wailing. And finally, “Evil Ways!” had to be the song of the day when this was recorded, and they actually do a pretty hip version of it—I mean, very very cool, laid back and still edgy, with both sax and guitar solo. These guys could probably have pulled off “Stayin’ Alive,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had they still been playing—but then, maybe they were, maybe they did, and maybe they are!




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