Archive for the 'explanations' Category

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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13
Sep
19

Sonny Criss / Gerald Wiggins / Erroll Garner / Stan Getz

The reason I have a random system to choose records to write about is because if I didn’t I’d never get to one like this where it’s a nightmare to even know what to call it much less to alphabetize it or catalog it. Those four jazz musicians are listed on the cover, but that’s all the information we get. The actual label lists those four names, but in a different order, and also includes Wardell Gray. What the fuck, people, I give up. It’s a Crown Records release from 1963 with two songs on each side, jazz, of course, and I guess it would be considered be-bop. It’s kind of a classic thrift store record because no one can sell it for anything and the cover isn’t even interesting, just the four names in various colors. There may have been some insert or info on a sleeve, but it’s gone now, if it existed. The back cover is just a Crown Records catalog in tiny print—kind of fascinating in itself, just to see all these records listed and categorized. But who is playing what on this one, I have no idea. I’d be tempted just to funnel it back to the thrift store, except you can just put it on and enjoy listening to it. Each song has a full combo, so I have no idea who else is playing, or who is playing on what or not playing. There’s also drums and bass, naturally, but also guitar and vibes on some songs. I’m sure some jazz expert could tell me, but I don’t really care, when it comes down to it. I’d rather know who was drinking coffee and who was drinking wine, who was smoking, and who was eating bagels.

The second side is a couple of standards, “Hot House,” and “How High the Moon,” with both songs sounding like they’re recorded live, and murky as hell. Not unlistenable, I guess, that is if you’re in the mood for murky bullshit. The first side, though, sounds like studio recordings, very crisp, well-recorded, great recordings. Good songs, too, that I don’t know—the first is called “I’ll get Away” and the second, “Miss Beat”—I didn’t immediately find anything about them on the internet, but didn’t dig too deeply. I asked Siri what each song was, and she named them, but instead of listing an artist, she gave me some squiggly lines. “What’s that all about?” I asked Siri, but she didn’t answer that, and instead gave me some sarcastic hipster bullshit talk. I asked a friend who said it’s probably Japanese. He’s not Japanese, though, and doesn’t read Japanese, but it’s a good bet, I suppose, so I’ll go with that. It’s not like we’re identifying mushrooms in the wild or anything. I’m thinking these songs were released on some kind of Japanese re-release, and that would explain that. Kind of. I also asked Shazam, and it got the first one, but told me the second one was “Photon” by Deetron—uh, I don’t think so—I don’t know who that is, but it’s emphatically not this. So I guess I’m just going to let this record’s mystery reign, and maybe some day some info will come to light, but I’m not holding my breath. Well, I might be—holding my breath—but that’s another story, and not related to anything about this record.

06
Sep
19

Electric Light Orchestra “Out of the Blue”

I’m pretty sure I had this record in high school—I had a few ELO records—though I can’t remember exactly which ones, now. I didn’t remember it was a double album, though, so maybe not. Also, I didn’t remember that the rainbow space station cover opened up to reveal the inside of the space station—it actually looks pretty cool, you’d think I’d have remembered that. As an insert, there’s an awkwardly vertical poster included, with these kind of creepy, black and white, almost photo-realist portraits of the band members—and I totally remember that—there’s something strangely off about the portraits—which kind of makes them both repulsive and compelling. In my memory, this was the record, or maybe the one after, when I stopped liking ELO—but now I’m thinking I was totally wrong about all this, or maybe my tastes have changed. (Obviously, both of those things are true—everyone’s tastes change, over time, and I have been wrong about nearly everything.)

Anyway, forget the past, because I’m really loving this record now, and you could even say I’ve become a little obsessed with it. I put it on kind of randomly while cat sitting, along with some others, and this became the one that defined the time there, away from home, this point in time. You never know if, or with whom, it will happen—but it’s kind of like falling in love (ha, if it [falling in love] was only that easy). Because of the space station album cover and the occasional aural buzzes and beeps, shimmering synth sounds, and restrained use of the dreaded vocoder, you kind of think it’s all a sci-fi theme, but it’s not—it’s all over the place, really, with a healthy amount of love songs. The funny thing is, when I glanced at the song titles, the only two I remembered were “Turn to Stone” and “Mr. Blue Sky” (hits)—so I’m glad I even put the record on, because those are my least two favorite songs on the entire album!

As it turns out, there’s one great pop song after another on this record—I’m not even going to list my favorites—just say, all of them but the above two. Then I noticed what I consider the most significant feature of this record—side three is kind if set off as its own thing—a mini-opera, called the “Concerto for a Rainy Day,” as there is a weather theme running through the four songs. Weather! Is there a subject I love more? So, then I had to read a little bit about it—and I didn’t find much, nor dig too deeply, but what I read was that Jeff Lynne went to a chalet in the Swiss Alps to work on this record (didn’t he ever see The Shining?) and it just rained and rained and he had writer’s block! He thought he was washed up, was likely on the verge of running amok, when the sun broke through and he began writing like a madman. Now, anyone will tell you, there’s an inherent bipolar-like thing that runs through the creative process, it’s all valleys and peaks, and sometime the low lows lead to the explosions of creativity—if you’re lucky—and he certainly was, here.

For me, though, the real find on this record is the song “Big Wheels”—with that one, I was immediately in love—so much so that I figured it had to be either a past life thing, or maybe the song was used in some really genius way by an opportunistic, manipulative filmmaker—servicing an emotional story with strong images and the enormous shorthand of this beautiful song. I looked it up but could not find any evidence that it was used anywhere, so I don’t know. I did see that “Mr. Blue Sky” was used like many, many, many times in movies and on TV. Everyone loves “Mr. Blue Sky”—interesting, because I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that song. I mean, it’s okay, but it’s jaunty as all fuck. It kind of highlights that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who like the jaunty and those who don’t. Those who like sunny skies and those who like stormy skies. Those who like happy songs—while a sad song brings them down—and those who live for sad songs. And I suppose, never the twain shall meet. Well, it’s not just sad songs I like, but sad and beautiful, and the two are often hopelessly intertwined. And this song, “Big Wheels,” is not only the most beautiful ELO song I’ve ever heard, but one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard by anyone.

I could just leave it at that, but I can’t—I need to listen again and look at it a little more closely—why does this particular song affect me like it does? And what’s it about?—sitting there in the middle of this mini-opera, as it is, in-between songs about weather and love? First of all, what does “Big Wheels” mean, anyway? And why don’t people love this song? First of all, it doesn’t refer to the plastic toy that the kid’s tearing through the hallways of the mountain chalet where Jeff Lynne’s trying to write. My first thought is, because of the album cover, is it’s the space station, as the music has that smooth, slow-rolling feeling, but I don’t know—then what does the space station mean? I suppose it’s the Earth turning, and, you know, “I let the Earth take a couple of whirls,”—the patience that comes with maturity, knowing that things will change. I suppose the song does have a lot of sadness in it (“It was not enough for you” / “It’s rather sad” / “I think I’m gonna have to start again”), plus, there’s the silent tear, cold dark waiting days, and lots and lots of pouring rain! Plus, my favorite: “no one knows which side the coin will fall.” There is the sense of not being in control—that your fate is in others’ hands. And that the other side of “tomorrow is another day” might be, no matter how good things are going, it’s no guarantee they’ll continue. Most sad songs start with the sadness, but has anyone ever written one that says, tomorrow will likely bring heartbreak—it’s as inevitable as death. I guess this one. The more I listen to it, the darker it becomes—it really is kind of an amazing force of nature, the sadness in this song, right up there with the weather. But it’s just so beautiful.

04
Sep
19

Michael Dinner “The Great Pretender”

I bought this record, used, because I had never heard of it, or him, Michael Dinner, nor could I recall any person, living or dead, having the name of “Dinner” (or Supper, Breakfast, or Lunch, for that matter). When I looked him up on the internet I found who I thought was another Michael Dinner, a successful director and screenwriter, still working—but it turns out it’s the same Michael Dinner! I guess he put out a couple of records in the mid-Seventies (this one is 1974) and then no more. Without further biographical information, I don’t know if his recording career died and then he went into pictures (looks like mostly TV), or if he went into pictures, found success, and was too busy to continue his recording career. We’ll have to ask him to clear that up. (Though, of course, sometimes, that kind of stuff is not very clear, even for the person involved.) You also might wonder why he ended up behind the camera, because if this album cover is any indication, he was pretty hot.

He’s what you’d call, I guess, a singer-songwriter, and the music is, I suppose you could call it, LA country, or California country—it was recorded in LA, and the list of musicians is impressive, lots of familiar names (I’m not going to list them, but it includes Linda Ronstadt). The songs are good, and I have the feeling that they will grow on me after a few more listens. Now it’s a week later—that’s the way things go here at the unpaid, under-appreciated, overly-emotional HQ and Center for Misfit Culture. We don’t care much what you think, but we love you anyway. Anyway, this is definitely a record in which repeat listenings are rewarded, and aren’t those the best kind? “Sunday Morning Fool” is a standout. Dinner has a pretty interesting voice, I mean subtly interesting… he’s a good singer, but more than that, there’s something there that reminds me of Willie Nelson—maybe I’m imagining that, it’s not really pronounced—but I hear that.

Another interesting thing, to me—I feel like I can divide the songs up between the sad and the jaunty (okay, this goes for everyone) and I just really like the ones that are a little more melancholy. I often wonder if the jauntiness is not sometimes coke-fueled, and remember, the years I seem to often focus on—early Seventies—is when the coke flowed like bad puns on grandpa-time. Or so they say. Another interesting observation, Dinner’s two albums were called The Great Pretender (this one) and Tom Thumb the Dreamer. One wonders if he never felt quite at home in this world—and that had something to do with him moving into pictures. But really, this record is pretty good (I’m curious about the other one, now) and you have to wonder about him walking away from a career—if this felt like a career to him, anyway. Also, you have to admire his restraint with respect to not naming this or any other record something like: “Dinner Time,” or “What’s for Dinner,” or “(Call me anything you want, just don’t call me) Late for Dinner.” It probably took great resolve to resit that temptation, and who among us can honestly say they’d have done the same.

23
Aug
19

Dave Major & the Minors “Second Record Album”

I did not expect much from this one, just based on the cover—which consists of the band name printed repeatedly in a sports-bar font with bright colors—so bright, in fact, that I would have guessed it was a few years old—but it’s 1972! On a tiny local label, and recorded in Milwaukee. Inside the sleeve there’s also a couple of color glossy band promo photos with the management company on the bottom—one fairly close-up, the other a wide shot of the band surrounded by a music-store-worth of musical instruments. They are wearing dried-blood-red, wide lapel blazers, and matching ties big enough to use as curtains. It’s so perfect that I also assumed this was contemporary—and also ironic—but no, it’s the real thing. Before even putting the record on I looked them up on the internet and the first thing I find is this story about how, later—not sure when—band leader Dave Perry broke into the house of an ex, shot her husband and his mother, and then tried to shoot it out with the police and was killed. That just depressed me so much I didn’t even want to put the record on. And then I noticed one of the photos is signed by Dave Perry, which frankly kind of creeps me out. I don’t find homicide the least bit interesting (or whatever even more fucked up qualities people attribute to heinous acts—entertaining?)—and it really makes it hard to write about this record. These were real people, with their lives ended stupidly, and there were kids involved, and a tragedy like this partly shapes your life, whether you want it to or not.

But still, I had to listen to it—I figured maybe once, and then to the thrift store—but it turns out the record is so fascinating, I’m kind of instantly obsessed with it. So I’m going to try to pretend I never heard about these tragic events. After all, I only saw this story one place online—maybe it’s one of those obscure urban legends made up by some neo-dadaist smart-ass like that one about Morrissey drinking Rolling Rock with kids in Ohio. Still, though, it’s probably going to color my experience—but it really is an interesting record. First of all, it’s kind of schizo and all over the place—a good example is in a two minute version of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” which is pretty hot while also being corny, and listenable, except for the Uncle Remus impression at the end. This is a lounge act, after all, and on some songs they sound like it, just in the cheesiness of the approach and the absolute erect jauntiness. But on the other hand, the playing is all not only tight and accomplished, but also really pretty inspired. If you were going out to see this band at some supper club, consider yourself not only lucky but also probably spoiled for all time. This is the kind of band that musicians like, I think—you’d have to, unless you were just jealous. But also, the casual fan, or Saturday nite dancer, or Friday fish fry eater—everyone’s going to like this band. From what I read, and a few online videos, the band put on a great show—they’d have 40 or 50 instruments on the stage with them, then keep switching off instruments—right in the middle of songs, even—with well-rehearsed choreography and highly entertaining and sometimes humorous showmanship.

There’s a big block of liner notes on back that, if you just read, you’d probably say, holy shit, and then dismiss it as someone’s manic attempt at a band description parody. I mean, it just goes on and on about the band members and all the instruments they each play. As impressive as this bit of writing is, it’s even more impressive when you believe it’s all true—and then some. They can sing and they can play! “Proud Mary” almost sounds like a typical lounge band cover, but on subsequent listenings you hear more, there. Most stunning is their version of the “Theme from Fistful of Dollars”—done well enough that it could have been used in the movie. Also, there’s a cover of a favorite of mine, “Sonny”—a fine version. But most notable of all are the original numbers by Dave Perry (one’s co-written by Steve Joyce)—there are five originals interspersed with the covers—that’s half the record—and they’re all good—all reminiscent of other stuff, naturally—but good, compelling songs and performances. In fact, as you listen through the record, each of the originals is better than the previous one—they kind of oddly build on each other. I’m really loving this record by this point, and I’ve listened to it a dozen times! But then, it occurs to me—do I really like it that much, or am I being seduced by the lore of the tragedy—the very thing that initially put me off? I know that sounds contradictory, but then contradiction is the foundation of appreciation, of infatuation, of desire, of love. Can you really ever trust your feelings about anything—even a 47 year old LP by a local lounge band? Oh this world.

14
Jun
19

Jimmy Swaggart “I’ve Got Nothing To Lose”

I used to have a lot of Jimmy Swaggart albums, believe it or else, because they were easy to find at the thrift-store, and I can listen to them. It’s solid gospel music with—as I hear it—an interesting edge. This record’s official title is: “I’ve Got Nothing To Lose Featuring Jimmy Swaggart and His Golden Gospel Piano.” On a lot of these songs it sounds like Brother Jimmy is barely reigning it in, about one shot of rye away from transforming into his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, right before our eyes. Good and Evil, or “two sides of the same coin?”—I say the latter. This is not meant, at least in this context, to be an indictment—I’m just saying there’s some hot music on Swaggart albums, and there’s a lot of them. I lost all mine—in the move, the flood, the bankruptcy. I think all or most of his records are on JIM records, one of my favorite label names. (Maybe I should start a record label called Randy. Wait, someone already did.) They all have pretty good covers, too, but maybe I managed to hang onto this one because it’s just the best. A fairly young Jimmy (no date can be found, but I’m guessing it’s got to be near 1960) is sitting at the piano, on a little raised stage protected by a tacky wrought iron railing, no doubt in a church. Behind him is an enormous, floor to ceiling, shimmering mauve curtain. And below him, and WAY in front (it’s framed as if by someone who loved this carpet more than Jimmy) is kind of a ratty looking (at least in the photo) carpet—in the identical shade of mauve! There seems to be a lot of disagreement over what is the color mauve, and it’s often used incorrectly, but if you want to see mauve, this is fucking mauve, baby! (Obviously I feel kind of strongly about it.)

This might be a good time to bring this up. A number of years back, like a pretty big number (I’m guessing 25 yeas ago, but I’m not even sure), someone anonymously mailed to me a videotape that was simply titled “Camp Meeting” and on it was the most amazing segment of Jimmy Swaggart’s television gospel ministry that I’ve ever seen. This is the one where he goes on a long tirade about, who else, The Lord, that ends with the claim, “He can unscramble scrambled eggs!” Why I didn’t immediately market a T-Shirt, I have no idea. There still may be time. The segment was featured in my 6 hour epic video, Seafood, so you may (not) have seen it there. It’s probably on youtube—I guess there’s very little that isn’t. But anyway, if it was you who sent me this gem, now’s the time to own up! That was pretty much the best mystery mail I’ve ever received (not counting the videotape of The Sweet Ride (1968), that arrived at Franklin Street, in Kent, that historic autumn of 1987 (homebrew, The Sweet Ride, MAMA art movement, the Browns were watchable). Could it be possible the same person sent The Sweet Ride and “Camp Meeting?” Lot’s of questions, and as time passes there will be more, like What’s videotape, and What’s mail?

07
Jun
19

Jon Astley “The Compleat Angler”

Official title is “Jon Astley : The Compleat Angler.” (Colon between artist and album name, Angler italicized, complete spelled “Compleat”—as in the 1653 book by Izaak Walton). I was working on one of my own songs the other day, in which I stole the sentiment from the song “Glad to Be Unhappy”—one of my favorite standards, so I listened to a version by Sinatra, and then Billie Holiday, thinking about the essence of the song—which I’m not going into right now, as this is a review of Jon Astley. But also, I thought, who wrote this, by the way? (I don’t always remember who wrote a lot of standards), and it was, no surprise, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Then I picked a record to write about, with my random system, and it’s this one I know nothing about, maybe listened to once, or never? I put it on, painfully clear lyrics, and in the fifth line he says, “You’re not Rodgers and Hart.” This is the kind of thing that happens in my life all the time. I no longer think of it as a coincidence, or a random thing, but also I don’t even make a big deal out of it. It’s about being connected, tuned into the rhythms of the world. It’s like, when you’re not tuned in (I’m not, a lot of the time), you walk into a lot of walls. When you are tuned in, you can walk through walls. But it’s not just an all or nothing thing, either. I spend a lot of my life not tuned in, and it’s okay. You work through it. And it’s usually more a matter of degree, sometimes sharper, sometimes duller. Most of us couldn’t deal with being totally tuned in all the time, anyway, because you’d be reading minds and sometimes seeing a little more than you can handle.

I’d never heard of Jon Astley, and I suppose I picked up this record for one, because of the cover: a super high-contrast color photo of an Eighties-looking dude holding a really big fish and looking up to either God or something about to fall on him. It’s evocative, especially if you’re drawn to images of fish, for whatever reason. Also, the title is taken from the old meditation on fishing that I used to have a copy of, but never read… lost somehow. I wanted to find out if this famous, enduring book was really about fishing, and if it was, what are the hidden charms of fishing that have thus-far escaped me. Or if it was a metaphor—what was it about. Did it have anything to do with Ricard Brautigans’s Trout Fishing in America? And if so, what it that about. (Also, I suppose, in part, to carry on the fish tradition. I made an epic 6 hour long video, called Seafood, while I lived in Portland, Oregon, in the late Nineties. It is the major accomplishment of my time there, and will likely disappear entirely with the loss or degradation of the single VHS copy that exists.)

It’s interesting, the LP label (Atlantic), instead of saying, Side One and Side Two, it says Digital One and Digital Two. I guess in 1988, we hadn’t had “digital” shoved up our asses for several decades, right? The thing that’s kind of weird is that, since I’m stuck in the Seventies, to some degree, this record sounds hopelessly futuristic to me. As in a future I don’t want to walk into. But it’s actually old, by most anyone’s account, and I think: while I’d never have put on a CD of this record, because it’s vinyl, there’s a certain charm that’s making me pay attention. The lyrics are crystal clear, provocative, and sometimes funny. The songs are catchy. The whole thing is about 20 times cleaner and tighter than my neighbors are used to hearing come out of Room 432, and I’m worried someone might come by and ask to borrow a cup of sugar, or Jägermeister. I’m kind of making fun of it, but actually, these are some very good songs, so even if it does sound like they’re being played by robots, I’m rather enjoying it. Bravo Jon Astley! (And no, that’s not actually my room number.)




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