Archive for October, 2019

31
Oct
19

Skeeter Davis “My Heart’s in the Country”

This record has the best cover of all the Skeeter Davis records I own (which is a lot, but not nearly enough of them). It’s a full cover color photograph of Skeeter sitting in a barnyard wearing a red and white gingham dress, holding a baby pig. As cute as she is, the pig’s even cuter. The photo is weirdly cropped, as in it doesn’t look cropped—I’m guessing they took a few, but there weren’t a lot to chose from that had sufficient focus when blown up that large, because, I’m no expert, but I believe those little pigs are kind of squirmy. It’s a great cover. There’s also substantial liner notes on the back, by Skeeter Davis, which I’ll read in a bit. I was going to say this isn’t my favorite of her records, which it isn’t, but now that I’m listing to it a few times, while writing this, it’s growing on me. Skeeter Davis records will do that. The title song (by Larry Kingston and Felton Jarvis) is about a singer who has big city success, but nevertheless, she sings, “My heart’s in the country, on a farm in O-hi-o.” Which, of course, strikes a chord with me, as an Ohioan. She is from Kentucky, so this song is a character, but also her, and southern Ohio and Kentucky do have a border, but it’s not necessarily the one drawn up by The Man. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the Ohioan in her (as well as the Kentuckian in me) that draws me to her so intensely. This song also has one of those spoken parts, which I’m sure some people find corny, but I love that, especially when Skeeter Davis does it.

One thing that’s interesting about Skeeter Davis is that she had success with both pop and country audiences, which is something she talks about in the liner notes, maintaining that her roots are in the country (and this country music). I’m personally not partial to either the pop music or the country music she’s recorded—I must say, I like both equally—and sometimes you can’t really hear a line between them (but sometimes you can). As I’ve said before, above all, I’m song oriented, so it matters little, the genre or style—I’ll like a song, or not so much. The biggest generalization I make when I’m categorizing music I like or don’t like is the degree of jauntiness—and I’m sure people are tired of me using that word, but it best expresses the thing that often turns me off. (Of course, I’m sure there’s a jaunty song out there that I do like, but I can’t think of one right now.) Naturally, both country and pop songs can be jaunty. On this record, which is all hardcore country songs, we have the jaunty and the not jaunty. The not jaunty ones tend to be sad and melancholy—those are my favorites. A few of my favorites here are “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” (by Dolly Parton and Bill Owens), “I’m Living in Two Worlds” (J. Crutchfield) (not about the two worlds of pop and country—it’s a relationship song—and a sad one). And “Before I’m Over You” by Betty Sue Perry, another in the tradition of losing one’s mind (going crazy, insane, etc.) over a love gone wrong. Of course, there are songs that are kind of in between sad and jaunty, the clever country songs—one here I like a lot is “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart,” by Liz Anderson (I always liked that expression, about eating, and there’s nothing I like better than the tradition of inserting “heart” in every expression imaginable).

These liner notes are Skeeter answering the question, “What’s the country like?” She goes on and on with nostalgic descriptions of the things she remembers and loves about country life—sure, it’s sugary and sweet, but really kind of touching, too—at least to me. My favorite part of it is where she’s talking about mothers and fathers, now gone, their particular smells, and she says, “And they were smells you’d like to smell again, but can’t.” I guess that reminds me of what I like about Skeeter Davis—there is this simplicity, clarity, a kind of innocence, but never without an underlying melancholy and world weariness. It also reminds me that I have this autobiography she wrote, called Bus Fare to Kentucky, which I still haven’t read—I’ve got to read it sometime.

18
Oct
19

Joy of Cooking “Closer to the Ground”

I had never heard of this band, and the cover—a stoner painting of an easy chair in the woods—didn’t exactly say, “buy me,” but the back cover—a full-sized photo of five hippies—pretty much dated it (1971)—and that’s a good date. Three men and two women, and not Fleetwood Mac. I was expecting the worst hippie folk imaginable, but figured it was worth checking out. A band name like “Joy of Cooking” could mean you have songs about making bread and lentils, or it could be a major drug reference, or it could mean, as band, you cooked, you got down, you rocked out. To my delight, for the most part, the latter is the case. I mean, there are still plenty of hippie folk elements, but even that’s not always a bad thing, and sometimes a good thing. Some of the songs are pretty hard, and some are soulful. It’s not Janis Joplin, but then, who is? There are a lot of musical influences, and the songs are kind of all over the place, kind of hard to pin down, and I don’t mind that at all. It’s a record worth listening to a few times, and what I hear of the lyrics, initially, is also intriguing. Actually, as I listen more… some really good lyrics. So, it turns out the songs, vocals, guitars, and keyboards are by the two women in the band, Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite. This is their second LP, and from what I read, personnel has changed since the band formed (in Berkeley)—but it’s Toni and Terry’s band.

There’s seriously a lot of interesting stuff going on here. I’m kind of surprised they weren’t a much bigger band—but then, they are on a major label, and I bet they have their enduring fans. I’m going to check out the lyrics more, now. The record folds open, and there are lyrics and black and white photos inside. Also, there’s a separate lyric sheet—I’m confused for a moment, then realize it’s to their first record. No doubt some shelving confusion with the record’s previous owner. Maybe that means I should make a point of finding their first record. Anyway, not much about lentils or bread, and as a band, they do pretty much cook. One song in particular stands out like a sore thumb, or should I say, the opposite. There are not any bad songs, but this one, called, “Sometimes Like a River (Loving You)” was somebody’s (Toni Brown’s) very good day on the songwriting magic path—it’s so good, it’s the song when the record is over, you go back and play that one again. I may be wrong (1971 was a weird-ass time), but I’m guessing when they played live, this was the song where a few notes in, the audience would be hooping a hollering, people would get up to dance, people would sing along—that love-making thing between the band and the audience. Excellent lyrics, too, check out this line: “Sometimes like a new wind you touch my hand / And I can feel the sudden pleasure in not knowing.” That makes me want to cry. I feel like I’m being kind of annoying, loving one song so much more than the others, but then, for me, songs are what it’s all about. All songs were not created equal. Everyone knows that, but we tend to forget it when we’re bored on uninspired. It takes a truly excellent song to remind you that, yes, music is the best thing there is, better than love, sex, hash brownies, and even bank accounts.

10
Oct
19

Thelonious Monk “Underground”

I got ahold of a nice copy of this record somewhere and it makes me happy to own it and to listen to it. I am not a collector, nor do I spend much money on records. As big of a superstar as Thelonious Monk was and is, you don’t see a lot of his records, and when you do, you have to pay for them. It’s kind of crazy he was so well-known because I don’t hear his music as at all mainstream, and I don’t personally know that many huge fans of his. A lot of his music is too challenging for the average person, even the jazz fan. I’m not a big jazz fan, generally—well maybe I am, but I can’t talk about it with too much knowledge. But there is something about all of this music—all Thelonious Monk recordings—that just connects with me on an almost subconscious level—or unconscious, or preconscious level—like from before my birth, if that holds any water for you. I have said, and publicly, that Thelonious Monk is not only my favorite musician and recording artist, but my favorite artist, period. That might sound like hyperbole, but then, who else would it be? I am writing this brief mention, of this 1968 record, Underground, one of his later ones, on the eve of his birthday, October 10, which for me is the major holiday of the year. They always play Thelonious Monk all day on his birthday, on WKCR in New York, and I can’t think of a better day to call in sick, stay home, play the internet radio, and draw or something.

There are seven songs on this record, none of them near my favorites by or recorded by him, but I like them all. I have never really heard a Thelonious Monk recording I didn’t like, I don’t think, which makes me feel like maybe I’m not a very sophisticated listener, which maybe I’m not—or maybe he just never made a bad recording. Of course, I haven’t heard them all, so I guess in that way I am somewhat unsophisticated. “Ugly Beauty” is on this record, which is actually one of my favorite Monk compositions, and this is a fine recording of it. That song could be the theme song to pretty much anything—in fact, just start with that song and build a world around it. I guess all the songs here are Monk compositions, except for “Easy Street,” which is a song I love and have heard a billion versions of. It’s funny, it really doesn’t matter if he plays standards or his own compositions—they all end up sounding like his songs. The band here includes Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums, as well as Charlie Rouse—sax on about half the songs. I’ve mostly only heard Charlie Rouse with Monk, but he’s one of my favorite horn players ever—there are some recordings on which he almost makes me forget to listen to Monk’s piano. An odd thing here, for a Thelonious Monk record, the last song, “In Walked Bud,” has vocals by Jon Hendricks. It’s a great song, and though I can’t say I like it better than some earlier versions without vocals, I love ending the record with this song, and I love Jon Hendricks.

I imagine people made a big deal out of this album cover, and even the goofball liner notes on back are mostly about the cover. It’s a photo shoot somewhere that’s dressed up to look like a French Resistance hide-out, with a piano, lots of weapons, bombs, and wine, and Monk and a woman in a beret with machine guns, a Nazi tied to a chair, a cow, and quite a lot more. The cow might be a live cow. This was some art director person’s dream day at work. It makes me think about how the album cover size is the absolute perfect format for certain art, it really is. Thelonious Monk had some great album covers, I mean a lot of them, and this one is right up there, and it’s right up there with all album covers ever, really. He always looks great, too, which seems to be effortless to him, but was it? I mean, his playing sounds effortless, too, and I’m sure it was not. I’ve lived in New York a couple of times, and like most people, it’s kind of exciting for me to see a celebrity, but imagine running into Thelonious Monk walking down the street—back when he was walking down the street—that would have been like the thrill of a lifetime.

04
Oct
19

The George Shearing Quintet “Burnished Brass”

My parents had this 1958 record and played it a lot, along with other George Shearing—but there may be no other music that sounds like my childhood than this particular record—George Shearing Quintet “with Brass Choir”—songs arranged by Billy May. I’ll always get a weird feeling from this particular, singular, George Shearing sound—a combination of nostalgia, comfort, and a little bit of sadness and even some queasiness. I mean it’s so present from my childhood, he almost seems like a distant uncle or something. Yet I know nothing about him, except that he was blind from birth and put out an insane amount of records. Once in awhile I’ll read something, then forget it—like I forget that he was English, born in London, and came to the US after the war. I’ve tried to figure out what that “Shearing Sound” is all about—it has something to do with how what he’s playing on the piano works with the vibes and guitar—but I don’t really understand it—it’s over my head—maybe some patient music person can explain it to me someday.

George Shearing was popular enough, sold enough records, that you can find beat-up copies for nothing, and I’ll pick them up when I see them, like this one. I’ve hardly ever paid any attention to the front cover, which is a woman in a sparkly red dress lying on some golden satin sheets—she’s looking up seductively while exposing the full length of one of her long legs. On the bed with her is a trumpet, a trombone, and a French horn. I wonder if this record was subliminally responsible for me attempting the cornet as my first instrument—though I totally failed to get anywhere with it. I should have taken up the French horn—is there a cooler instrument out there, when you really think about it? I loved the picture of Shearing on the back cover so much I put it on the cover of one of my zines (an early issue of The Sweet Ride, from the Eighties). I never thought too much about the individual songs on this record—they all just kind of melt into each other with ultimate smoothness—but this is probably the first place I heard the standard, “Memories of You”—and I’ve always really loved that song. The rest of the songs, except for “Cheek to Cheek,” I couldn’t name, off-hand, but they are all so familiar, it’s like they’re DNA—the song “Burnished Brass,” for instance, with this smooth horn part that drops in and out with the piano—it could be the main theme for the documentary on my life. Yet, listening now, I feel like I might have gotten annoyed by this record, then dismissed it entirely. Now, it almost holographically recreates the space I grew up in so vividly that it’s somewhat overwhelming.




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