Archive for the 'Blues' Category

12
Feb
19

Ten Years After “Cricklewood Green”

Ten Years After is another one of those bands from the Sixties whose name is familiar—but I know absolutely nothing about them. Their biggest hit song was “I’d Love To Change The World” which I’ve heard 1768 times, and it always stimulated that part of my sensibility where song hooks sink in—a nice guitar part, and then the rest of it, including a chorus that sounds like they recorded it through an aluminum vacuum cleaner extension. That song also always made me a little queasy, too, because, just what are they saying? But anyway, that song came out ONE YEAR AFTER this album, Cricklewood Green (1970), which is a record my parents would have had if they listened to folk or rock in the Sixties, but they just didn’t get suckered in until John Denver. This record came out TEN YEARS AFTER I was born, and I was in my Bubblegum period at that time (though soon to transition to Glam and Glitter). By the title, I probably would have thought this was a Kinks record. We had a creek running behind the house where I grew up, but we called it a “crick”—that’s how we pronounced it—I wonder to what extent that’s a regional thing? Not important. I did 46 seconds of internet research on the naming of this band, and read that they called it that because they were Elvis fans and they formed TEN YEARS AFTER some peak Elvis period. I’m not sure I buy that, but it did make me wonder if the band ’68 Comeback (referring to Elvis’s ’68 Comeback Special) was somewhat in reference to the naming of Ten Years After? Also, not important. It also made me direly wish I had some ’68 Comeback vinyl to write about, and made me vow to put a little more effort and dollars into my record collection.

The band at this point consisted of the principal songwriter, lead guitarist, and singer Alvin Lee (not his birth name), drummer Ric Lee (not related), on bass Leo Lyons (not a Leo), and keyboards, Chick Churchill (a guy). Bunch of comedians. I guess Lee is one of those names that if you’re afflicted with the blues you kind of want to have, either as a first name, a last name, or most desirable of all, the middle of a three name name. Like, if I decided to grow my wig out again, go back to electric guitar and lite strings, and just give into that terminal blues rock black t-shirt purple drank wankiness (believe me, it would come too easily, though I’m not saying I’d be any good), I could change my name to R. Lee Speen. I continue to pile sandbags against that particular midlife crisis levee compromise though by closely examining the efforts of the guys who came ten years before me.

The thing about blues based hard rock is that there is a fine line between a blistering hot guitar part and noodle wet wankiness, and FOR NO TWO PEOPLE is that fine line the same. That fine line is as unique as a fingerprint. It could be used in forensics—well, it probably has been. The first two songs have the word “road” in the titles, and the third song is called “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain.” Then there’s one called “Year 3,000 Blues.” The last song starts with the word “As,” and there is indeed a song called “Circles.” Only eight songs, and two of them are over seven minutes long, which means there is a good chance they go on for too long. One of those fades out, finally, only to fade back in for some more—a joke which wore out its welcome the first time anyone conceptualized it. There’s a song that sounds like they needed to wear bowler hats and suspenders to play it, and a jaunty blues song that makes you feel like you’re at the Times Square TGI Friday’s. When there’s finally a song I think I might like, it reminds me of The fucking Black Keys, which is no fault of Ten Years After, I guess, but I guess you could say The fucking Black Keys are partially the fault of bands like Ten Years After. Maybe I’m being too harsh—at least they avoided doing a train song, and they didn’t let anyone get ahold of the dreaded harmonica. Also, it’s a cool album cover, which is why I bought it, sucker that I am.

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03
Oct
18

Sarah Vaughan “The Lonely Hours”

I didn’t know I had this 1964 Sarah Vaughan record, and it’s a good one—I should be putting it on regularly. Twelve bluesy, dramatic songs, arranged by Benny Carter, roughly on the theme of lost love. Sarah Vaughan doesn’t hold back. It’s a nice copy, too, on Roulette records, with that lovely two-tone target checkerboard label. The cover looks like it’s part of an actual painting (no one painted square paintings) that has more deep blue color than any record I own. It’s what looks like a NYC row-house apartment, big steps going up to a darkened front door. The only light is from the bay window, in which a woman, wearing a neglige, I think, is standing, looking out (presumably, in this context, for an absent lover). She may or may not be smoking—a cigarette, that is—one might say she’s “smoking,” as in hot. I don’t talk that way, personally, but I do think it’s odd that she’s white, while Sarah Vaughan, who’s record this is, after all, is black. You’d think they could have found an image that more closely reflected the artist at hand. I wonder if there was a discussion at the label about it. Maybe that’s not so weird, there are sometimes women on the cover of Sinatra records, it’s not always him. White women, of course. No, it’s fucked up.

Quite unrelated, I noticed that there is a Wikipedia page for, besides Sarah Vaughan, a Sara Vaughn—which just struck me as funny because her name is like the more famous singer, but without the “h” in Sarah, and without the second “a” in Vaughan. Sara Vaughn—a middle-distance runner of sufficient success to get a Wikipedia page. She’s 32 years old, five foot one (like the Iggy Pop song), and her race seems to the the 1500 meters—which was close, in distance, to my best race (the mile—but we hadn’t gone metric, yet). Oh, that’s interesting—her best mile time is 4:27—that’s exactly my best mile time! I make nothing of this coincidence—I just take every opportunity to brag about that personal best, since it was not bad for a high school kid in the 1970s. “I’ll Never Be the Same”—is a standout on this record—it’s a familiar song, no doubt I’ve heard Sinatra do it—same with “If I Had You.” “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is another familiar one—I think I know the Kay Starr version—but that song (written by Walter Donaldson) goes back to 1930, the year my dad was born, and was recorded by well over a hundred artists. It makes you wonder if that was even an expression before this song—and if so, where’d it come from? Anyway, I could go on and on—I love all these songs. “(In My) Solitude” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” are standouts. It’s a real mood record—I’ll have to keep it in mind for the next time I break up with someone… if ever… again… A notion so distant… I’m sure there’s a song about that.

10
Jul
18

Dave Van Ronk “Dave Van Ronk Sings Ballads, Blues & a Spiritual”

I never really listened to any Dave Van Ronk before, aware of him primarily as a name in the early Sixties (was it late-Fifties, as well?) NYC folk music scene—a time, place, and music I’ve pretty much ignored as not being my bag, exactly. But DVR had come to the forefront of my attention because of the movie, Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), which was supposedly inspired primarily by Dave Van Ronk—though the main character, Llewyn Davis, doesn’t seem to resemble DVR in appearance, sound, or biography—at least not too much, to my knowledge. Anyway, these are some pretty serious folk tunes, performed well and reverently, and this is a serious record, put out by the label DOXY, full title: “dave van ronk accompanying himself on guitar sings ballads, blues & a spiritual”—and includes liner notes by DVR and detailed track by track analysis on the inner sleeve by Kenneth S. Goldstein.

I just listened to the whole record and it’s very good, surprisingly compelling. (I mean, for me, not a real cheerleader for traditionally played traditional music and seriousness, etc.) DVR’s voice is pretty great—it’s unique and expressive, and I especially like the more blues oriented stuff. Anyway, I’m not going to get too much into the history of this right now; there are lyrics and notes about each song on the inner sleeve, but I’m not taking a college course here! It’s just nice to know that I feel like I’ve had a big, heaping, hot meal of Van Ronk, and next time he’s on the radio I won’t change the station.

14
Jun
18

Bob Dylan “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits”

If you subscribe to the theory that BD died after Blonde on Blonde (1966) and was replaced with “Dylan 2,” then this record makes a lot more sense—the cover is a big, dark, head silhouette (which decades later would become a “thing”)—which makes you think of nothing so much as a statue, a monument to a legend, dead and gone, and the white lettering and song titles right over his head announce nothing so much as “this is a product.” The photo (BD in concert, blowing on that dreaded harmonica) looks oddly contemporary—even more so if you imagine he’s looking closely at a smartphone, which is how I’d suspect kids these days would interpret it.

This is possibly the most unlistenable Dylan record for me, as it starts with the dreaded “Rainy Day Women” and is pretty much made up of the songs that have been played to death—which I don’t even think are close to his best songs. About the only one here I can still stand to listen to is “Like a Rolling Stone,” and then only on Nostalgia Thursday, and then preferably with a frivolous drink. If I had the internet right now I’d look up how many times in articles over the years someone has said, “I wish at an early age someone had stuck that harmonica right up his ass,” or “He really puts the ‘harm’ in harmonica.” I suppose it’s supposed to sound like a train whistle, but personally, any time someone tries to make a rock song sound like a train, I’m yawning like the Grand Canyon, and even a mention of a train has me nodding off. And I love trains.

19
May
13

Traffic “Mr. Fantasy”

I’ve been aware of the band Traffic without knowing a thing about them for my entire adult life, so when I let the needle hit the vinyl and the room filled with aural imagery, I thought, wow, there’s probably a few experiences for me left in this fully lived life if I bother to open my mind and somehow come up with the money to pay for it all. Nowhere on this record is a date, but my sources tell me it was released in 1967 and was indeed the band’s first album. This is one of those album covers that open up, and inside there are a lot of pictures – what looks like a misconceived photo session with a jester, and then portraits of the band members. Dave Mason’s is the most pretentious of the four, sitting in a stark room, back to the camera, playing some instrument (he’s credited with sitar, tambura, shakkai, and “meletron” – as well as guitar, vocals, and “bass guitar.” The photos of Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood are classic “hey girls!” dude-in-band pics. The fourth photo is uncredited, but process of elimination tells me it must be Steve Winwood; he’s in a meadow, an axe held high above his head, about to take a vicious swing at something just off camera – one might assume the art director, or jester, or perhaps Dave Mason.

The songwriting credit is spread around and the songs are all over the place, exercising show-off virtuosity while maintaining a whimsicality that pushes the message: “We don’t take ourselves all that seriously, we’re just having a good time! Though actually, you should take us seriously.” False starts, Cheech and Chong joint lighting sounds, wacky lyrics (“My bed is made of candy floss, the house is made of cheese”). Each song is a new adventure. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” steals that riff from the Jimi Hendrix version of “Hey Joe” – though, who knows where these things originated. Maybe Hendrix is Mr. Fantasy! We needn’t assume “Mr. Fantasy” means “drugs.” Though side two does start out with a song called “Dealer” –  a bit of a corny “south of the border” thing. The song “Coloured Rain” starts out sounding just like “Pinball Wizard” (which didn’t come out until a couple years later), but then it goes into a really nice, heavy saxophone, organ, and percussion dominated jam that’s my favorite thing on the album.

You’ve got to wonder about the name of the band, as I generally don’t think of “traffic” as something in any way good or unique. It would be kind of like naming your band “Headache.” Which I’m sure someone has done. I wonder if back in 1967 they thought of traffic differently, like how they would always have the photo of the huge highway “cloverleaf” in the grade school social studies books, like those were the coolest things ever, and not the ecological and aesthetic nightmares they are. Then again, there is drug “trafficking” – not to keep on about the drug references here. Oh, and the final thing – the album cover is a pretty remarkable photograph – and it’s one of those that opens up, so it’s like 24″ x 12″ – with a fire blazing in a brazier on the left side (or back) and the band members on the right, with candles in Chianti bottles. The band members are all looking at – seemingly in awe – in the middle of the photo – a guy sitting cross-legged with an acoustic guitar – and if I’m not mistaken, it’s “Papa” John Phillips! Now why would these guys, Traffic, put John Phillips on their album cover? Hey, this was The Sixties.

 

31
Jan
10

Ja Bluezy at the Delta Lady

The murky black and white cover of this record matches its homemade sound and I mean that in a good way. The back cover looks like something much older than 1980, but that’s when it came out. The band is Paul Bouillet, singing and guitar, Max Koster, bass, and Mitch Purdy, drums. The record is pressed by Apollo Music Company, and it says it can be obtained directly by sending $6 to them at 184 Eastlawn, Detroit, Michigan. But I’d contact them first before risking that $6. A lot can change in 30 years.

Has it really been 30 years since Ja Bluezy recorded this record live at the Delta Lady in Ferndale, Michigan on March 1st and 2nd? Not that I was there, but I was a few hundred miles south in my dorm room drinking a six pack of Strohs, listening to “London Calling,” and it feels like it was yesterday. I wonder if I would have liked Ja Bluezy as much as I do now. Probably not– it’s pretty traditional guitar blues, pretty heavy on the guitar– some instrumental, some vocal– songs by Paul Bouillet and a few covers like “St. James Infirmary” and “Big Boss Man.” I like it now because it sounds live and real and it is what it is. It’s actually recorded very well. And the photograph on the cover is great, pretty much an uncomposed low contrast snapshot in a dingy atmosphere with lots of hair and beards. It kind of warms my heart.

I didn’t look too long, but I didn’t see anything in the internet world about these guys. I did see this record for sale somewhere for $250! Oh, and by the way, it came in number 126 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 500 records of all time. No, it didn’t, but those Rolling Stone rankings things really get on my nerves. Talk about taking the life out of something. It’s good to know there are records out there like this that haven’t been neutered in the wax museum.




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