Archive for August, 2019

23
Aug
19

Dave Major & the Minors “Second Record Album”

I did not expect much from this one, just based on the cover—which consists of the band name printed repeatedly in a sports-bar font with bright colors—so bright, in fact, that I would have guessed it was a few years old—but it’s 1972! On a tiny local label, and recorded in Milwaukee. Inside the sleeve there’s also a couple of color glossy band promo photos with the management company on the bottom—one fairly close-up, the other a wide shot of the band surrounded by a music-store-worth of musical instruments. They are wearing dried-blood-red, wide lapel blazers, and matching ties big enough to use as curtains. It’s so perfect that I also assumed this was contemporary—and also ironic—but no, it’s the real thing. Before even putting the record on I looked them up on the internet and the first thing I find is this story about how, later—not sure when—band leader Dave Perry broke into the house of an ex, shot her husband and his mother, and then tried to shoot it out with the police and was killed. That just depressed me so much I didn’t even want to put the record on. And then I noticed one of the photos is signed by Dave Perry, which frankly kind of creeps me out. I don’t find homicide the least bit interesting (or whatever even more fucked up qualities people attribute to heinous acts—entertaining?)—and it really makes it hard to write about this record. These were real people, with their lives ended stupidly, and there were kids involved, and a tragedy like this partly shapes your life, whether you want it to or not.

But still, I had to listen to it—I figured maybe once, and then to the thrift store—but it turns out the record is so fascinating, I’m kind of instantly obsessed with it. So I’m going to try to pretend I never heard about these tragic events. After all, I only saw this story one place online—maybe it’s one of those obscure urban legends made up by some neo-dadaist smart-ass like that one about Morrissey drinking Rolling Rock with kids in Ohio. Still, though, it’s probably going to color my experience—but it really is an interesting record. First of all, it’s kind of schizo and all over the place—a good example is in a two minute version of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” which is pretty hot while also being corny, and listenable, except for the Uncle Remus impression at the end. This is a lounge act, after all, and on some songs they sound like it, just in the cheesiness of the approach and the absolute erect jauntiness. But on the other hand, the playing is all not only tight and accomplished, but also really pretty inspired. If you were going out to see this band at some supper club, consider yourself not only lucky but also probably spoiled for all time. This is the kind of band that musicians like, I think—you’d have to, unless you were just jealous. But also, the casual fan, or Saturday nite dancer, or Friday fish fry eater—everyone’s going to like this band. From what I read, and a few online videos, the band put on a great show—they’d have 40 or 50 instruments on the stage with them, then keep switching off instruments—right in the middle of songs, even—with well-rehearsed choreography and highly entertaining and sometimes humorous showmanship.

There’s a big block of liner notes on back that, if you just read, you’d probably say, holy shit, and then dismiss it as someone’s manic attempt at a band description parody. I mean, it just goes on and on about the band members and all the instruments they each play. As impressive as this bit of writing is, it’s even more impressive when you believe it’s all true—and then some. They can sing and they can play! “Proud Mary” almost sounds like a typical lounge band cover, but on subsequent listenings you hear more, there. Most stunning is their version of the “Theme from Fistful of Dollars”—done well enough that it could have been used in the movie. Also, there’s a cover of a favorite of mine, “Sonny”—a fine version. But most notable of all are the original numbers by Dave Perry (one’s co-written by Steve Joyce)—there are five originals interspersed with the covers—that’s half the record—and they’re all good—all reminiscent of other stuff, naturally—but good, compelling songs and performances. In fact, as you listen through the record, each of the originals is better than the previous one—they kind of oddly build on each other. I’m really loving this record by this point, and I’ve listened to it a dozen times! But then, it occurs to me—do I really like it that much, or am I being seduced by the lore of the tragedy—the very thing that initially put me off? I know that sounds contradictory, but then contradiction is the foundation of appreciation, of infatuation, of desire, of love. Can you really ever trust your feelings about anything—even a 47 year old LP by a local lounge band? Oh this world.

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17
Aug
19

The Addrisi Brothers “We’ve Got To Get It On Again”

This Addrisi Brothers LP interested me because I had no idea who were The Addrisi Brothers—interesting because I should have known immediately, because I’m literally obsessed with the song “Never My Love”—which they wrote, though The Association had the big hit with it. I must have looked up who wrote this song, within the last couple of years, at least, but the Addrisi name didn’t stick. It will now. Do you know that “Never My Love” (by some BMI reckoning) is the second most played song on American radio and television of the Twentieth Century? That’s particularly interesting to me because I actually love the song, and I’ve looked up and listened to countless cover versions of it. I’ll save you, if you’re reading this, from looking up what’s number one, because you’ve got to know—it’s not surprisingly a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil composition, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”—of course Phil Spector shoehorned his way in there as co-writer as well (perhaps at gunpoint?). How is Phil Spector doing, anyway?—at least according to Wikipedia? Oh, he’s eligible for parole in about six years, and you can bet if he gets out (one would hope not playing with guns would be a condition of parole) that hungry young bands will still line up to work with that nut job. I guess, in one sense, I can’t blame anyone for wanting something to rub off from the co-writer of the greatest song in rock’n’roll history (“Be My Baby”), but also, sadly, we’re now in an era where history is forgotten as fast as it happens—well, maybe faster—maybe we’ve crossed the event horizon of memory.

I’m fascinated with siblings (my novel, The Doughnuts (20??) has not one but three sets of brothers) and unlike many popular acts called “Brothers” or “Family” they are actually brothers—they are Don and Dick Addrisi, born around the same time as my mom—and at press time Dick is still with us, though Don sadly died very young, in 1984. The internet claims that as youngsters they were part of the family’s acrobatic group, The Flying Addrisis—and while that’s exactly the kind of bio I would write for myself in an inspired moment (and still may)—who knows, it might be true. The closeup photo of the two on the front and the wide shot on back are obviously from the same session, outside, in front of searing blue sky. If you stop and look at the back cover photo, you’ve got to wonder where in the hell are they? It looks like it could be a desert anywhere in the world, or a seashore (but who takes a photo with their back to the water?) or maybe a vast, recently bulldozed and graded lot waiting for the construction of a new mall. I’m not sure which one is Don and which is Dick—they are roughly the same height and build—one has hands awkwardly folded, while the other is doing that hands partially thrust into tight pockets thing where one finger is either inadvertently or intentionally pointing to his Johnson. In the closeup, the family resemblance is unmistakable, yet they look totally different—which is something fascinating about siblings. They are both handsome, and it could be an interesting party question—which one would you make out with? They are both wearing brown leather jackets, though one is shiny and one is suede. And most significantly, they are both wearing these GREAT matching yellow turtlenecks that look pretty similar to the one Frank Sinatra wears in Tony Rome (1967).

I admit, on first listening, this record did nothing for me, at least until the last song, “Never My Love,” and my realization that I’m in the presence of greatness. That made me want to listen to the whole thing over again, with that perspective. I realize how unfair that is—it’s reminds me the scene in Christmas in July (1940) where, because they think he’s won the slogan contest, some top ranking executives listen to Jimmy’s ad ideas, but as soon as they realize it was a mistake, they dismiss him as a schmoe. This is an old story, and it’s obviously unjust, but it’s the way the world works. To their credit, they don’t put a spoken word intro on “Never My Love” or anything—they do throw a lot of weight into it, with strings and horns, and there’s lot going on with those voices, but they don’t go totally Wisconsin cheeseball, and they keep it reverent and bring it in at a modest 3:26. The first song on the LP (never judge an album by its first song!) however, is a bit of a bummer, as hopeful as the lyrics are—it’s about as convincing as a salad bar. Fortunately, every other song are what the brothers and pretty much every other popular songwriter in the popular era do best—love songs.

There’s a good reason that we attribute love to an internal organ most of us won’t ever have to see firsthand, but stylize with an easily rendered symbol. I don’t know what that reason is, but I’m convinced that if we replaced the heart with say, three wavy lines, civilization would implode—or at least social media would. Most of these songs (including the golden egg) are addressed to the immortal “you”—though the title song addresses “Hey Girl”—it’s one of those about needing to rekindle the flames by any means necessary (though it stops short of any specific suggestions, like animal costumes). A couple songs refer to “She”—including “Twogether”—which is an inspired title, why didn’t I think of that? (Though, if it hasn’t already been attempted, I’m totally going to steal that and write a song called “Threegether.”) This is not an original or brilliant observation, but concrete language and painful specifics are often what makes a pop song pop. That’s why I’m always a little torn about songs that come just short of rhyming the Social Security Number (“Angie,” “Rosanna,” “867-5309”) because stalkers are out there. Also, rarely do they address men—can I think of any?—“Dan” (can’t even remember what song that is), “Lola” I guess. Randy, but only when Randy is a woman. Anyway, this song called “Windy Wakefield” cracked me up, because there’s obviously no one with that name—or is there? Maybe there’s a story there (I’ve never, ever met anyone named Windy, have you?)—but I’ll have to look into that later. For now, it also amused me that, you remember, The Association had a hit with “Windy” (I had a 45 of that one)—and that was in 1967. The word “stormy” is not in the lyrics of this one, but when your name is Windy, weather imagery is never far behind. But actually, this is quite a beautiful song, and—though I’m not going into details, listen to it!—quite weird.

14
Aug
19

Sharon Van Etten “Tramp”

The black and white photo of presumably Sharon Van Etten on the cover of the LP is blown up so much you realize it’s almost abstract, maybe only makes sense with a little distance. Her head is about twice as big a normal person—in effect, you’d never see her this close up, even if you were making out with her. It’s a very beautiful photo, and album cover, but it really accentuates the quality of her eyes—it’s hard for me to describe—it’s more of a feeling, but for some reason I never feel like I can trust someone with eyes like that. My feelings like that are usually wrong, which becomes evident within one minute of meeting a person, and longer meetings further prove that, but since I’m not meeting SVE anytime soon, I’m just going to make the assumption that I’m wrong and chalk it up to the powerful—and often totally misleading—quality of photographs. There’s a lot of musicians and collaboration going on, but especially with a guy named Aaron Dessner (I’ll have to look him up), and there’s a picture of SVE and a guy (might be him?) on the inside cover, sitting on a bench, presumably outdoors, neither winter nor summer, pleasantly blurry and smiling, slightly disheveled, wearing every tasteful shade of blue known to man, their white hands looking like alien beings. In tiny white letters at the bottom it says, “for John Cale.” That could lead me to many, many more words, or I could just let it go.

The initial sound of these songs is, to me, entirely unfairly, off-putting, even though I like the sparse, subtle, and tasteful instrumentation. Maybe too tasteful. And sometimes blatantly eclectic, some with annoying arcane sounding instruments that only exist in Civil War museums and recording studios in Brooklyn. Sharon Van Etten’s voice has this liquid quality, both thick and thin, that just pours between the edges, and fills all cracks, sounding like it’s desperate to cauterize not only her wounds but those of everyone she comes in contact with. It’s a bit much, and I can’t say I’m enjoying it, but I know from experience that that’s a hasty, first-impression opinion, and I really need to listen to each song more closely, and listen to the lyrics, as well, before I make any judgment. So I’ll do that, and also, it seems at first glance that a lot of these might be love songs, and sad songs—and that’s something I’ve been kind of into lately. That’s a joke—for those people who know me.

The first song is a love song, a sad song, addressed to “you”—unless it’s a metaphor for a political situation, but I’ll leave it be. The next song, also addressed to “you,” has a tragic tone to it, along with this kind of devastating lyric that we can all relate to: “You’re the reason why I’ll movie to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Another song addressed to “you,” called “Serpents,” even more fraught, and this time she hopes “he” changes. Don’t hold your breath, SVE. Next is “Kevin’s”—which is the only use of a possessive version of a name without an object as a song title I can think of. No mention of Kevin’s what?—in the song—or Kevin—unless he’s “you” (in which case maybe means that she belongs to Kevin—in which case I hate him). Anyway, it’s a beautiful sad song, with some nice “ooohhhs”—long, drawn out—that sound like “yous.” Next is one about “Leonard” who eventually becomes “you” by the end of the song. I may be wrong, but it sounds like this Leonard was a pretty okay guy, but she fucked it up this time. So it goes. Finally, “In Line” is quite a haunting song, and I don’t just say that because the word “ghosts” is in it. I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s not about domestic bliss and talking about your future while in line at the Court Street Trader Joe’s.

New paragraph, second side, this is vinyl. I didn’t mean to go on this long with this, but once I committed to it, I was kind of sunk. That’s commitment for you—when you don’t have it, you’re sunk, and you’re sunk when you do. The first song is killer, one that probably sold me on this record (as if I needed to be sold, or anyone cares). It starts out quiet and slow, and then just builds in volume and intensity, with the line “we all make mistakes” running through it like veins of gold through the darkness. “We Are Fine” is an interesting title to a song, especially where the sentiment is “I’m alright”—another pretty and harrowing one, which could be about hypochondria, or hypochondria as love metaphor, or the other way around. “Magic Chords” just confuses me—it sounds like a funeral march, with the repeated lines: “You got to lose sometime” and then “Nothing to lose.” That’s too general—I mean, we’re all going to die, but I need to focus on something else, occasionally. “Ask” makes my stomach hurt, and I mean that as a compliment, as in, SVE can land a punch. Addressed to “friend” and “man” and, it feels like, me, the line, “It hurts too much to laugh about it” hurts too much to laugh about it. “I’m Wrong” asks to “tell me I’m wrong.” I don’t think you’re wrong. With a line like, “tell me all the miles that you put on your car,” I’d have to say you’re probably right, as sad as that is. The last song is slow and haunting, and I guess I want it to leave me with a positive note, at this point, sucker that I am, soft in my old age, wanting things to work out between her and one of these “you’s.” I think: “I could do better, couldn’t I?” In the romance department. Men are little boys, with tantrums, and egos, that want everything, but are just destined, you know, to either be kicked under a shed, or else allowed to be a monster. Anyway, it ends on a grim note, but it feels like truth, at least, and the light dims.

02
Aug
19

Lionel Hampton “Silver Vibes”

For some reason, I never put this record on, most likely because the cover makes you think it’s not all that much. I mean, a photograph of what I assume is a vibraphone, closeup, from the top—and you know, it may as well be a boardwalk. Or some shit stacked in a warehouse. The vibraphone is one of the coolest looking instruments—but not from the top. I mean, it could be stairs, or a fence. If it was out of context, you’d have no idea what it was at all. Terrible cover. Come on Columbia records! You know how they say “you can’t judge a book by its cover?” That goes for everything, metaphorically or not, and certainly vinyl records. Do I, Mister Smart Guy, have a better suggestion? I certainly do: Lionel Hampton playing the vibes. Lionel Hampton with the musicians on this record. Lionel Hampton partying. Lionel Hampton getting tea. Lionel Hampton and Lionel Ritchie getting tea. Lionel Hampton playing with Lionel Trains. Lionel Hampton in The Hamptons. Lionel Hampton eating breakfast. Lionel Hampton sitting across the desk from some jackass at Columbia Records pleading to have a better album cover. In short, any photograph of Lionel Hampton at all would be better than this cover.

Of course, I am familiar with Lionel Hampton, and as soon as I put this on, I knew it was a mistake to not have worn this record out. Incidentally, me and this record, we’re like the same age. But if I was half this fresh, I’d be getting slapped so much I’d need a weekly dentist appointment. Can’t afford it. Anyway, the liner notes are good and almost make up for the cover. I’ll type a bit: Jangling nerves? Here’s music with a wonderful, silvery tone, varied by the darker colors of trombones. This is smooth, easy-going music, that swings, nevertheless. It goes on. I love the description of the trombones having a “dark color”—it makes total sense when you think about it, and it really does sound lovely on this record, the trombone heavy arrangements with vibes over the top. It’s cool, kind of earthy, and simultaneously breezy and melancholy. Some standards I know, some I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, this is just the perfect record for a Friday night (which it is) to unwind (which I’m doing) while mixing a cocktail from your well-stocked bachelor bar (not exactly doing that; having coffee), waiting for your date to arrive (waiting being the top-heavy part of that sentiment). After this, maybe I’ll put on one of those thrift-store, easy-listening, budget classics: Music for Waiting.




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