Archive for the 'Country and Western' Category

20
Jun
18

Kinky Friedman “Kinky Friedman”

This is a true story. I went through a Kinky Friedman phase when I was living in New York. I read one of his mystery novels, and liked it a lot, and then read some articles about him, some interviews—maybe there was some particular thing I read or watched that I can’t remember now. Anyway, I didn’t go as far as seeing a live show or buying a bunch of old records, but I did find his website and order a kind of gift set of Kinky Friedman cigars, coffee, and coffee mug. He’s really into all that good stuff. So, one of the cigars was one of those big-ass killers, and I saved it for a particular evening, smoked it, and then had a horrible pain in my lower back, on one side, that lasted for like a year. I was too afraid to go to a doctor and admit I’d smoked a Kinky Friedman cigar and that’s what brought it on. Can you die from smoking one cigar (that isn’t an exploding assassination cigar, I mean)?

This record from way back in the gold year of 1974 (it may be his first, given the title) is pretty straightforward, like here’s a guy with songs he wants you to hear. There’s a picture of him on the cover either relighting a cigar or looking at a text on his flip-phone; neither option makes much sense, as I don’t think he’s a guy likely to let a cigar go out, unless of course he going on about some subject he’s more passionate about than cigars, which, who knows? The back cover has him holding a cigarette. An unrepentant smoker, as of this writing Kinky Friedman is still alive (though there are still three days left in 2016, so I’m nervous saying that). (It’s now one day before Summer 2018, and if we’re to believe Internet, he’s still puffin’ away!) The songs feature some fine musicians, but I think the lyrics are the thing, so I’m going to have to listen closely. A couple are too jokey—this was before the time people had discovered that humor isn’t best underlined by goofy accompanying sounds.

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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
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.

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.




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