Archive for the 'Folk' Category

24
Jul
18

John Prine “Diamonds in the Rough”

This might be the first John Prine record I bought, many years ago, though I’m pretty sure I’d heard John Prine via some other source first, though I can’t remember now, when or where. Anyway, I had bought a thrift-store copy of this one, with a water-damaged cover, and I didn’t expect much, and by the time I got to the song “The Frying Pan” I was hooked and it became regular rotation listening, and I even learned to play some of the songs just because I liked them so much—or at least, “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”—which has to be about the best simple tavern crowdpleaser I can imagine. There is some good stuff on this record, indeed diamonds—“Worth its weight in gold,” as Marilyn Monroe says in Some Like it Hot. The picture on the cover of, I guess, a fairly young John Prine, is during a live show bathed in that horrible red performance light, and he looks like someone else, though I’m not exactly sure who—another musician, an actor, or a friend, I can’t place it, but I’m glad I got this record when I did, even though it was probably about 30 years after it came out, because it’s made my life better.

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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.

28
Jun
18

Michael Hurley “Land of Lo-Fi”

If I was in my 70s (I think that describes the relative age of Michael Hurley) and someone called “Mississippi Records” wanted to put out, on albums, my recordings, then hell yes. It makes me want to move back to Portland, actually (there are a lot of things, day to day, that make me want to move back to Portland—maybe my favorite place I’ve lived, aside from the lack of snow and thunderstorms). Also, on all Michael Hurley records you get cover art that’s essentially his art, paintings, etc. (I’m assuming)—so that’s twice the reason to buy these records. Some of the songs, however, I can do without, like the ones that feature instrumentation that consists of air blowing through a reed-type sound maker (well, one sounds like a pump organ, which is nice, though I’m not sure). His lyrics are always worth paying attention to, if you can make them out. I best like the songs where he plays guitar—he has a pretty nice sound and style. “Old Doc Gieger” is my favorite one here.

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.

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.

08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.

19
Mar
18

Bob Lind “Don’t Be Concerned”

I picked up this album knowing nothing about Bob Lind except that he’s probably that young, clean-cut guy on the cover with an acoustic guitar, so I assumed it would be acoustic guitar and singer music, but I was wrong, as there is a full band and instrumentation on these songs, and in fact a very big sound. I don’t know who is playing on it, so I’ll assume studio musicians. I like the sound, and I’m thinking: I would have liked it less if it was just Bob Lind and his guitar, though we’ll never know, now, will we? The record is from 1966, on the World Pacific label. There are liner notes on the back by Jack Nitzsche, who also produced and arranged the record, and is quite a familiar name, though I realized I don’t know that much about him—and just got sidetracked reading about him on the internet—and you should, too. He worked with Phil Spector, which doesn’t surprise me, listening to this record. I like the liner notes a lot, too, pretty funny, but then ending with this lovely sentiment (about Bob Lind): “His songs will remind you of summer, a love you once knew, autumn smells, bad times turned good with age, and yourself.” I’ll tell you right now, I’m going to steal the phrase “Bad Times Turned Good With Age”—in fact, that might end up being the title of my autobiography.

While you’re reading about Jack Nitzsche, check out the same internet for info about Bob Lind, because it’s pretty fascinating. His Wikipedia page doesn’t have any of those warnings like, “This reads like a novel”—but it does, kind of; dude has had a pretty interesting life. He also has a website, and as of this writing is out there on tour—so if you’re lucky you could check him out—maybe even have a word with him. Someone made a documentary about him, too, which I’m going to try to find after writing this—I don’t want to keep being sidetracked—back to the album. Apparently the song “Elusive Butterfly” preceded the album and was a huge hit, and was covered by a ton of big name artists. Somehow, even though I’m kind of old, the song has eluded me, over the years, and even now, I find its charms elusive. I’ll have to listen more closely to the lyrics, later.

As for the rest of the songs, I like several of them better than “Elusive Butterfly.” The second song, “Mister Zero,” has a nice atmosphere, with some haunting strings, and lyrics that go on bizarrely long. Then the next one, “You Should Have Seen It,” is even better, with this kind of forward urgency and big sound. More interesting lyrics, and same with the next one—I’m not taking the time to take in all the lyrics on this listening, but I’m making a mental note to sit down with it sometime. This is definitely a record that I’ll put on again, on purpose. Hey, then the next one, “Drifter’s Sunrise”—this one is very good too, and has a line about drinking coffee, which is sure to get through to Speen.

Side two has three songs that feature women’s names (Julie, Dale Ann, and Cheryl). Assuming these were written about real people, I wonder if any of them were jealous. Then my favorite song on the album, “It Wasn’t Just the Morning”—which is kind of scary, and addresses someone called “you.” Which is common for songs, now that I think of it. I’d imagine it’s hard to be romantically involved with these romantic singers. Which got me to thinking: have I ever felt like I was referred to in a song (not directly by name, of course, but possibly)? Yes, I have, and it’s kind of a weird experience!

Now back to the song, “Elusive Butterfly.” Okay, it’s about how love is elusive like a butterfly. Kind of lame, but I read somewhere that there were lots and lots more verses, so who knows—it could have gotten more interesting—but apparently they wanted it shorter, to have a chance at being a hit record—and only Bob Dylan was allowed to do those songs with like 80 verses. I want to hear about how he catches the elusive butterfly (of love) in a net, and then tries to take it out of the net and accidentally rips its wings off, or pins it to a board and then realizes it’s no longer beautiful, wild, and free—just a sad, gruesome taxidermy version of what was once beautiful. That’s a love metaphor I could get behind.




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