Archive for February, 2020

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.

24
Feb
20

The Young Gods “The Young Gods”

I thought this record might be contemporary—even though it’s not 800 gram vinyl and a triple album with no information whatsoever—because the cover is really effective at looking exactly like the name “The Young Gods” is carved into a rock face, like you can almost taste it. But on back there is a date: 1987—which means over 30 years old—kind of shocking. There are three stick figures carved into the rock on back, which I think indicates either there are three members of the band… or something else. This record actually sounds like the Mid-Eighties to me, I can’t exactly say why. It kind of reminds me of a band my contemporaries might have had back then—heavy, noisy, yet sparse, a little corny, industrial, and the singing is this guttural style I’ve heard a lot of—which always makes me want to say: “You don’t have to be so guttural.” But I guess they want to get across the idea that this is Satan speaking. Ever since that Exorcist (1973) movie, we’ve had to entertain this idea that that’s what Satan sounds like (okay, well, maybe it comes from way back, even). Oh, wait, there’s lyrics—in some language that looks like French, and English next to it—that’s kind of cool. I had just assumed that I couldn’t understand the lyrics because I can almost never understand lyrics. There is indeed three band members, simple credits: vocals, samplers, drums. What’s that mean, samplers? It that like a Whitman Sampler? Is this music, essentially, cream filled chocolates, live drums, and Satan? 1987—I wonder if they ever played on a double bill with Sonic Youth? I wonder if they’re still around, still playing, and if so, do they still call themselves The Young Gods, or The Old Gods, (or Thee Olde Gods)—or maybe something else entirely?

23
Feb
20

The Dell Trio “Cocktail Time”

I expected this to be one of those corny records, like “Music for…” (“Music for Dressing Deer,” “Music for Cleaning Game”) like you’ll find in the open-one-day-a-week antique stores in the North Woods, and are sometimes on the sound-system of supper clubs—but this isn’t corny at all, it’s just a great record. Since the record has no info on it whatsoever (except song titles, and ads for about 50 other Harmony (the label) records, I’ll just have to make up a bio: The Dell Trio consists of Grandma Eunice Dell on the church Hammond, local handyman Charlie Bill Pike on accordion, and Bob Flippen mixing the cocktails, occasional jug, and glass percussion. No, wait, there’s a guitar on there, too. I suspect that the organ is playing bass and also doing the percussion. But like I said, I just made that up—there are actual real people playing on this record, not fictional characters, and a real Dell Trio somewhere in the past. Or maybe they’re still together, playing in an early spot at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. But most likely they are elderly, not touring much, or passed on. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to find anything about them with the internet.

This is a really good record, though, and worth picking up if you see it in a thrift store. It’s got a racy album cover, what looks like a man’s legs and a woman’s legs protruding from a sofa, though we don’t see the rest of them, they’re out of frame, but we’re led to believe they’re making out. The room is over-lit by a hanging paper lamp, and there’s green and orange/pink pillows on the floor, suggesting bohemianism. A little table is holding two cocktails, a Martini and an Old-Fashioned, and there’s a standing ashtray with a cigarette that has gone out. There’s also a little clay-potted plant on the table—I don’t know what the plant is, but I think it’s supposed to suggest, but not advertise, marijuana. Songs include “Cocktails for Two” and “Stumbling” (never heard that one before!), two moon songs in a row, and also a couple of my favorites, “September Song” and “Laura”—nice versions. One could have a worse hobby than collecting all the recorded versions of “Laura”—there’s a lot, and they’re pretty much all good. I’m obsessed with that movie, if I haven’t mentioned that recently.

22
Feb
20

Parliament “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”

“Funk is its own reward.” “May frighten you.” I think someone speaks those words, in a kind of intro, or did I just imagine that? There’s a giant list of credits that reads like a funk all-star band, so I’m not sure who is doing what on any song, but I assume there’s a lot of George Clinton. There’s a couple of short songs, then the epic song, “Dr. Funkenstein,” which is a fairly slow, laconic, extremely funky whole-world of a song, with a chanted chorus and voices coming in from all over the place, speaking, singing, stream-of-consciousness. There is this pretty simple but genius repetitive guitar part that runs through it that I just want as the theme song for my life. The song is six minutes, but I wish it was a lot longer. I never do this, but I’m going to buy this song for my computer (sometimes I listen to music there, at home, when I’m not playing records) so I can just play this on repeat for hours. It’s like a TV show theme song, or a whole TV show, or movie. This record came out in 1976, and I may have heard it at a party, but probably not. I was in the phase of progressing directly from prog-rock to punk rock, but I missed the boat here. A few years later, one of the funniest and most offensive punk records I’ve ever heard, Black Randy and the Metrosquad’s “Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie,” has songs that just lift directly from Dr. Funkenstein. I don’t know why, exactly, but I just keep listening and listening to this song. With all the sound effects, and odd vocals—spoken parts, some in annoying cartoon voices, some in frog-voice—stuff that would normally get on my nerves—but here it sounds like a symphony of good insanity. All of the songs on this record are good, including one of those super-long-title ones, “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body),” and “Let’s Funk Around,” which exploits that tireless and seemingly inexhaustible tradition of using the word “funk” in place of the word “fuck.” The cover (front and back) is also first-rate, with members of the band, presumably, dressed for the stage, or the lab, in some kind of a 1970s television sci-fi set, a good one. I remember looking at a partial discography for Parliament—just the list of titles from the Seventies—all just excellent, mysterious titles. I wonder if these are easy to find—I mean, not for hipster prices, normal person prices—I’ll keep an eye out for them. It’s like a crime against my sensibility that I don’t own any Parliament Funkadelic vinyl.

21
Feb
20

Psychedelic Furs “Midnight to Midnight”

The Psychedelic Furs were a band I liked a lot at one time but never bought any of their records. Why was that? I have to ask myself about these bands who I remember liking a lot in the Seventies and early Eighties, when I bought a lot of records, but never bought any of their records. I can’t figure that one out. Anyway, I only remember seeing one album (maybe their first), from sometime in the early Eighties—and I feel like that was it for me—I either got sick of them, or just made the executive decision that they began to suck on record number two and never recovered. I had pretty unmovable opinions back then, often wrong even more than I am now. I pretty much despised “new wave” bands—though I suppose there were a few exceptions. By the time this record came out in 1987, I would have dismissed it just because the cover looked like an ad for hair gel. Who was my favorite band around that time? I remember liking Half Japanese a lot. Certainly nothing as slick as this record, had I heard it. But I do have this vague memory of being kind of haunted by that guy’s voice, the singer, Richard Butler. I have no idea of what he’s all about. What a distinctive voice, though—who would I compare him to, as a singer? Maybe Lou Reed? It’s not like he’s singing opera, but there’s no one in the world who’s going to sing like Richard Butler better than Richard Butler. What else could the guy do, anyway, be a telemarketer? You’d answer the phone and just have to say this is too surreal. I wonder what he’s doing now? Hopefully not pushing up daisies. Anyway, that’s a lengthy introduction just to say that I really like this record. It kind of surprised me, actually, because of the big sound, the Eighties production, etc.—not something I’m nostalgic for, but the songs are just really good—some of them, anyway—some way better than others. I don’t like everything about it—like some of that sax, yikes—that guy Mars could find himself on the sax offender registry. But I’m generally pretty forgiving about all the parts, here, as the whole is listenable, and sometimes even compelling. I wonder what the guys are doing now—maybe working at haberdasheries. Maybe one owns a corner pub, and maybe one runs an ice fishing camp up here, like the one I’m visiting tomorrow. I’ll be buying bait… “Wait, weren’t you in that band? For a while, back then, you made me believe in love.” “You and me both,” he says. “You want some wigglers?”

19
Feb
20

Perrey & Kingsley “Kaleidoscopic Vibrations: Electronic Pop Music from Way Out”

This is one of those early electronic music records that I like a lot better in theory than for actual listening—though it’s okay, really, if you’re in the mood for that kind goofy, beeping, semi-comic synthesizer stuff—you know exactly what it sounds like without hearing it. There’s a handful of very familiar cover songs—some of which one wishes one may never hear again in any version. Theres’s few original compositions by Perrey and Kingsley, this French and German electronic geek odd couple who released a few records of this kind and were apparently influential. There’s an entire back cover of liner notes, but what got my attention is the mention of this early electronic keyboard called the Jenny Ondioline—which I’d never heard of—though there was a woman I had a crush on by that name. I was never sure if it was her real name, but suspected that it wasn’t. There is also a record by the band Stereolab by that name.

I guess now is a good time to disclose that I’m listening to records while staying at a rustic cabin in the “North Woods”—it’s as big as a castle, has a pretty nice record player, but the vinyl is somewhat eclectic. Probably more than I’ll have time to check out, though, if this rabbit-hole is any indication. Fortunately, there’s no internet up here so I have to rely on my crap memory. (Once a day or so, I’ll be heading into the nearby town, Elk Shores, to the Red Apple Cafe, with wi-fi, where I can post a review or two.) In this case I’m just as happy not to disclose the location of the cabin because I just realized I’m sitting here with an exceedingly rare record: the label is Vanguard, which says: “Recordings for the Connoisseur” and also “Stereo”—but on this particular disk it says: “Stereolab”—so I’m pretty sure this is one in which the band by that name traveled into the past in order to make their branding mark. So impressive is that fact, I was prompted to read the liner notes by Elmer Jared Gordon, and about the Jenny Ondioline he makes this rather cryptic claim: “…a minute keyboard electronic, requires a skilled playing technic inasmuch as the whole keyboard is manually vibrated as its notes are depressed, and the vibrational variants can characteristically color and subtly alter the sound produced. This ondioline typically suggests a tenuous and oddly plaintive quality so unique that even the highly sophisticated Moog mechanism with its infinite faculties cannot duplicate it.” Now I know why she called herself Jenny Ondioline.

12
Feb
20

Boots Randolph “Boots with Strings”

I’m not sure where this record came from, but if I bought it, it was on the strength of the cover photo, a moody closeup of a guy looking into the bell of his saxophone like he’s trying to figure out what got in there. One presumes it’s Boots Randolph. He plays in that style that sounds like he’s trying to get it out, whatever it is, somewhat forcefully—which is okay, just not my favorite use of that horn. With anything you blow into, there’s a lot of danger involved, and there’s a fine line between passable jazz horn and melodica atrocity. Boots Randolph was close to my dad’s age, which doesn’t really put anything in perspective or anything, but he is a Midwestern guy, too, and put out his first record the year I was born. This record came out in 1966, the year my first car was built (it was a VW Squareback). He put out “Country Boots” the year I first smoked weed, and “…Puts a Little Sax in Your Life” the year I graduated from high school. The dude put out a lot of records. He’s got a Wikipedia page, no surprise, but the weirdest thing there is the sentence: “Early in his career, he often billed himself as Randy Randolph.” Which refers back to nothing, and “Randy Randolph” is BOLD—and why? It’s not a link. I’ve never seen anything bold on a Wikipedia page—just the name of the page—so maybe it’s just when it’s someone with two names? Anyway, the fatal flaw here is (and this is entirely subjective, but then what isn’t?)—there’s not one but two Lennon-McCartney songs, one on each side, so they lie there like queasy little time-bombs. I love John and Paul and the Beatles, but there was a time period when it seemed like everyone had to include one of their songs—in everything from a bar mitzvah to a creepy garden serenade—and the most overplayed ones, no less. Rarely if ever do you hear an inspired cover of a Beatles song—in fact, it’s so rare, when you do hear one, fresh, inspired, or in some way better than the original, it’s worth making a great big point of it. Not here, I’m sad to day. My favorite song on the record is “Days of Wine and Roses” which starts with a little choir bit, which comes back later, and the sax lays back, more or less, just kind of squeezing out like a tube of toothpaste.




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