Archive for the 'Country and Western' Category

19
Dec
17

Vikki Carr “Nashville by Carr”

Vikki Carr has always been there, it seems like, but I realized I knew nothing about her. I was reasonably certain that Mr. and Mrs. Carr didn’t have a daughter and name her Vikki. Her story is kind of fascinating, and you too can read about her on the internet if you’re so inclined. I hoped for more from this record, the pun of the title kind of implying it’s her “country record,” but it’s not really very country, though she does do some great songs by some great songwriters, and it’s recorded in (you guessed it) and some heavy studio guys play, but overall, the arrangements strike me as flat as the photo collage on the back album cover. The problem is, the surface of this album cover is a very porous cardboard—actual textured surface, like something you do pastels on, but when you reproduce photos on it, especially smaller ones with a lot of detail, you get fuzzy, flat, sadly unimpressive images (and it doesn’t help that she has a Bride of Frankenstein hairstyle, like the guy singing with the James Gang in 1974—maybe he was influenced by Vikki Carr). The album opens up, revealing a 12 by 14 inch panoramic photo of Vikki Carr sitting on the white fence of a horse farm; the problem is, the art department was so obsessed with symmetry, they put Vikki right in the crease, making her look like a Mad Magazine inside back cover “fold-in.” It’s an appropriate album cover given the arrangements.

Overall, this record strikes me as so uninspiring that I’m listening to it over and over, thinking there must be buried treasure there somewhere, because I expect more from 1970. I keep listening, but no. I guess the one thing that’s good is I can play this record and not get annoyed by it—but is that what you’re shooting for, as a musical artist?—to not annoy people? Okay, here is one interesting thing—she does Kris Kristofferson’s pretty great and fairly over-the-top song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” Now, this isn’t a gender-specific song, but there is something about the imagery that you just really picture it being a man singing, there, in first person. Is that sexist of me to say that? I don’t mean that I disapprove—in fact, this is the world that I want: women wandering alone through the park, half drunk, watching a father with his son, smelling bacon cooking somewhere, and longing for something from the near or distant past. I guess if I was a DJ, like in public, what I’d aspire to do is play songs that blew people’s minds—just a little bit. So I could see playing this one. It’s a really vivid song—and I have no idea if Vikki Carr was a drinker or not—but it’s kind of hard for me to imagine her chugging beer for breakfast.

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18
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

This is a double album that—in the tradition of double albums—announces the celebration of an explosion of creativity that is unable to be contained on the traditional single LP format. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, seeing how it’s Bob Dylan, and who ever knows what he’s thinking? There is a self-portrait painting of him on the cover with no words or frame. The album opens and there’s a list of the songs, on four sides, and also a list of 50 names; on further inspection, this appears not to be a random list from the phonebook, but likely a list of musical collaborators. Quickly glancing through the alphabetical list I see: Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, all the members of “The Band,” and many more names I recognize, and many more that I don’t.

I never heard this one before. It sounds like a Bob Dylan record, kind of, or maybe a parody of one, which you arguably could say about any Bob Dylan record. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve been listening to this dude for 50 years and I keep hearing stuff I never heard—kind of like the original Star Trek broadcast. There’s a few covers on this record, including: “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” credited to a C.A. Null, who I don’t know, but I know the song as sung by Skeeter Davis, one of my favorites (she has an album by that title). The lyric goes: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about him.” Which is a woman singing to another woman, a rival, about a man, I believe, and when you change the gender it doesn’t quite work for some reason—but I also like to think of it as a general proclamation, to anyone, about anything.

It’s interesting—I must have been aware of this record—not when it came out when I was ten—but in later years when I started listening to Dylan records—it would have been in the record store bins, maybe even in cut-out bins like Planet Waves always seemed to be—but I avoided this one like a perennial golden turd in the sun. But listening to it now, on my third or fourth time through, I realize I’ve never heard a lot of this stuff and it’s some of the best Bob Dylan I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of like BD’s “Covers Record”—though a lot of the songs he covers are Dylan songs. (Idea: BD should do an entire record of Cat Power songs.) Here lies the best versions of both “Let It Be Me” and “Blue Moon” I’ve ever heard. A lot of this is BD singing in his “Jim Nabors” voice, which I’ve grown to love. Of course, this is the post-death-Dylan, or “second” Dylan, as the theory goes, and the future (1970 thru 2016) looks bright.

16
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”

This is apparently the soundtrack record for the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Rudy Wurlitzer—a movie I’m sure I’ve seen, but don’t remember too well (like, I didn’t even remember that James Coburn was in it, but there are credits on the back album cover. I love James Coburn). There is a scene I remember from a movie—and I’m not sure if it is this one—so maybe someone can help me out. A guy gets shot, and before he dies, his last words are something like, “I wish… wish…” Not sure if those are the words, or this is the movie, but it’s something that made a huge impression on me, that scene, and I hope to clear this up someday.

A lot of this is the usual kind of wanky western soundtrack stuff I can do without, with fiddles and “traditional instruments”—there is even something that sounds like the dreaded “pan-flute.” The first song, “Main Title Theme (Billy)” is the kind of music that sounds like it’s celebrating the grandeur and mythology of “The West”—which just strikes me as so much bullshit. I guess I’m not much of a fan of the western genre, as the lies jump out like all political lies, and I don’t believe there was anything good about the old west, just a lot of slaughter, rape, and pillaging, bullies and blowhards, and disgusting behavior all around. I’m guessing Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man gets about halfway closer than any other western. Anyway, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is a great, great song, and there’s a couple more here with Dylan singing (“Billy 4” and “Billy 7”) that make this record almost worthwhile.

17
Sep
17

Skeeter Davis “Sings The End of the World”

This 1963 LP starts out with Skeeter Davis’ 1962 hit single, “The End of the World,” written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee. The song was a huge hit, recorded by tons of people over the years (including the Carpenters), and used in countless movies and TV shows. You’ve probably heard it. I still like this version of it best (of those I’ve heard). The album, then, like most of her LPs, has six two to three minute country and pop songs per side. They’re all good. This is a solid Skeeter Davis record, through and through. If you were going to buy only one of her records, this could be the one.

There’s a picture of her on the back, in the studio with Chet Atkins, who produced a lot of her records. He looks like a bad-ass. The three B&W photos of Skeeter on the front and back of the album cover look like three different people—and two of them remind me strongly of other people. She had a lot of different looks over the years, and online now you can find about a million images of her; there must be other people out there as obsessed with Skeeter Davis as I am. The liner notes, by (it doesn’t say), start out talking about the thirteenth and sixth letters of the alphabet—M and F—and the significance of these letters, in standing both for “Many Fans” and “Mary Frances” (Skeeter’s given name). Those letters bring something else to my mind—yes, “My Friend”—which might be the best way to describe the way I feel when I listen to Skeeter Davis sing.

Had I read these liner notes in 1963 (and been a few years older), I might have been crushed to discover that SD was married to country music DJ, Ralph Emery (or maybe delighted to find out she had a Pekingese named Tinker)—and this may well have been the first time I put together the idea of equating the heartbreak of lost love with Armageddon. I appreciate, even now, the strength of the sentiment, but the years have only revealed the selfishness of this sentiment. You’re going to get over the heartbreak—no reason to upset the game-board for all of humanity. Though—only a year after this record—someone very close to me took this “all or nothing” crap very literally; not to get too personal, but it sickens me to this day. Not to end this review on such a grim note: my favorite songs (as well as the title song), here, are “Mine Is a Lonely Life,” “Why I’m Walkin’,” “Longing to Hold You Again,” and “(I Want to Go) Where Nobody Knows Me.” Yes, the sad ones—it’s always the sad ones for me.

15
Sep
17

Phil McLean “Small Sad Sam / Chicken”

I guess this is considered a “novelty record”—it’s a humorous, story song, backed with music. It seems like if you just pick up 45’s at random, like at yard sales and thrift-stores, you’re as likely to get novelty records as anything (like with Christmas records, for LP’s). Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound good and is not funny enough for me to have even focused on the story. I’ll try again. Okay. It’s the boring tale of a small guy who didn’t do something heroic. The B-side is called “Chicken”—which would normally be more promising, but it’s corny music with an annoying harmonica, and just going on and on—sounding like a musical interlude in a redneck moonshine and smokey movie—and then it pauses and Phil McLean’s low voice says: “I say you’re chicken.” It’s not funny and not weird enough to be interesting. On the other hand, there are much worse novelty records out there. The internet says it’s from 1961, and Phil McLean was a DJ on WERE radio in Cleveland, and this was put out as a parody of Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.” I suppose if you heard this on the radio when you were little, this might strike you as nostalgic—or it might just bring back annoying memories. If anyone wants this, I’ll fling it in your direction.

13
Sep
17

Randy Barlow “Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa”

I bought this 45 due to the weakness I have for buying records by any artist with the first name “Randy”—which has actually done pretty well by me in the past—Randy is kind of a goofball name, not necessarily someone you’d want to spend your life with, but well-equipped for theatrics, unhealthy deep-fried rings of sweet dough, or odd-ball songs with questionable lyrics. In my fiction writing, I named a character (based on me) Randy, and another (based on me) Barlow—so naturally, the name Randy Barlow intrigued me. I’d never heard of him, but it turns out he was fairly successful in country music, from the Sixties into the Eighties. He’s still out there, maybe still playing. Originally from Detroit, he was born Randall Moore, but I suppose that sounds like a guy who is sipping tea and writing sonnets, so he changed it to Randy Barlow. He’s got a solid singing voice. The label is Gazelle Records, which has a really nice logo where there the two L’s make the horns on a simple drawing of the gazelle. This record came out in 1976.

“Twenty-Four Hours from Tulsa” is a Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune, but I don’t really like it—it sounds like something that would have been on the AM radio when I was in grade school, like “Knock Three Times,”—it’s not terrible, but I picked up this record entirely because of the intriguing title of the B-side: “The Bottle Took His Mother (And My Wife)”— which struck me as kind of insane sounding—a bit of a brain-twister trying to figure out what that means. Offhand, it makes you think it’s going to be a situation like in Chinatown (1974 movie) (“My sister, my daughter… she’s my sister and my daughter!”)—but then when you listen to it and realize the “he” in the title is the singer’s kid… it’s like, oh, okay, my kid’s mother and my wife, right. Kind of boring. Though the bottle still took her. The song pretty much spells it out: The guy took the kid and left his wife, because of her drinking. She didn’t die, though, so I don’t know… it seems like he’s more upset because her drinking is exceeding what he deems Christian-level drinking. In a way, it’s fairly reprehensible—I get the feeling it’s a little selfish. I know that it’s not easy to deal with an alcoholic, but it’s not like she started drinking after you married her. Essentially, this song should he called, “Because the Bottle took My Wife, I took our Kid (and now we’re making the lawyers rich in this extended custody battle).”

10
Sep
17

Porter Wagoner and Skeeter Davis “Sing Duets”

I have more records by Skeeter Davis than any other recording artist, but I don’t have even half of the albums she released in a long career. If I had to name a favorite singer (please don’t make me do that) I would not hesitate to say Skeeter Davis. For some reason I can’t explain, she has a special place in my heart. And that is just based on the recorded music of hers I’ve been lucky enough to hear. She is firmly based in country and western, but crossed over to pop, and always sounds to me like a little of both, so maybe that’s part of the appeal. But mostly I just love her voice. It always strikes me as having an underlying sadness to it, but also an outward expression of hope, joy, and happiness. But there also is just a quality of someone singing at home, maybe, just one person to another. Or maybe in church, or while working. Her voice always strikes me as the opposite of slick, professional, over-produced. I guess in some sense, there is the same essence of what is essential to me about punk music in her voice, and that is at the heart of the music I love—that quality of “I’m doing it my way”—even when the smoother road might have been strongly suggested as the easier path to success.

This record, from 1962, is one of her earliest albums, and it’s a duet record with Porter Wagoner, who is, of course, one of the giants of country music. I’ve always been aware of him, but never a big fan, which doesn’t mean I might not be someday, if I’d take the time to get to know his music through and through. It starts out with a song that—if this was the song I was to judge Skeeter Davis on, that’d be my loss—not my kind of song. If there was one word I’d use to describe a style of music (any music) I don’t like, it would be “jaunty”—and so much do I despise jaunty music, it makes me wonder about the sanity and even human quality of fans of the jaunty (as in, are they pod people, or Stepford wives?) After that alarming start, though, they settle into really beautifully sung versions of some classic country songs—sweet, introspective, and melancholy. My favorites here are: “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You,” “Heaven Help Me,” “Sorrow’s Tearing Down the House (That Happiness Built),” and “There’s Always One (Who Loves a Lot)”—but really, they’re all good.

This is on the RCA Victor label (with the dog looking down the Gramophone horn) and has a very old-fashioned, color drawing of the two singers on the cover, in a style that makes me think of a young adult romance series book. The blond woman in a blue dress doesn’t match that much any likeness to any Skeeter Davis photo I’ve seen. A sliver of photograph on back (of part of the recording studio control board) accompanies some extensive liner notes in typewriter font by Bill Porter (legendary Nashville recording engineer) where he goes on about how much he loves these songs, but also thinks highly of the artists. It’s very nice, really, but then he goes on about especially one song, which happens to be the jaunty song on here I don’t like (“Rock-A-Bye Boogie”). Oh, well, I guess it’s all a matter of taste, and that’s what makes the world interesting. As I continue to listen, it strikes me—as well as these two voices compliment each other, Porter Wagoner’s is so straight-up country, that—and especially on the kind of duet where he sings a verse, and then she does—you really hear a contrast in their voices—and the quality of her voice (that’s an ongoing obsession with me, trying to understand why I love it so much) it occurs to me that it sounds a little unhinged—if you know what I mean. You probably don’t, but I mean that in the best way.




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