Archive for the 'Folk' Category

28
Dec
18

Bruce Springsteen “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle”

I was one of those Springsteen fans who, before I was a fan, was turned off by all the Born to Run hoopla in 1975 but finally bought the Darkness LP in 1978, loved it, became a fan then, then went back to the first three records. I listened to his first six records to death, but after that I wouldn’t give him the time of day (and that’s more about me than him)—so I’m guessing there’s some great music from 1984 on that I missed, but, oh well. Currently he’s “On Broadway”—I know nothing about that, but I’ll guess two things: It’s really good, and I can’t afford it. I rarely look him up on the internet, but I’ve noticed that he uncannily resembles Jello Biafra—maybe they are friends. One thing I feel certain about, even never having met the man, I feel like he possesses a genuineness of spirit that even sainthood can’t diminish. That is based on a couple of live shows I saw in the late Seventies at the Richfield Coliseum (now a ghost) that I attended even after swearing off large venue shows. His concerts are legendary, and for once, legendary got that right. Anyway, I lost all my Springsteen LPs while movin’ around, so I made a point of picking up a copy of this one after I decided it’s the best. Someday I’m going to make a list of all the recording artists whose best record was their second one—there’s a lot! Also, this was from 1973 (as was his first record), further making my point that that was a pretty good year. There are more than a few of us out there, actually, that think this record is Springsteen’s best. We meet once a month in the VFW basement over hardshell tacos and Old Milwaukee Light and Skype with the national chapter, which mostly consists of mini-memorials for our recently passed and dwindling membership.

One reason I wanted a vinyl copy of this record is that I love the album cover (not so much the front, gigantic portrait—though if you isolate his thumb and stare at it, it will make you feel weird) because of the band picture on back—one of my favorite band photos ever. I’m not sure if they were yet called “The E Street Band”—but I liked this lineup even better than the later ones—which is saying something, because they were all good—but I just like the overall playing, production, and sound on this record. And this band photo, it’s the best. (In my opinion, there should only be two things in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: this photo, and a closed/out of business sign.) First of all, it looks like a really hot day, and they were able to maybe move down half a block from the Taste-E-Freeze to take a photo in front of the pawn shop. They all look “bad” (as we used to say), and not surprisingly, Clarence Clemons, the baddest. Garry Tallent looks like he has a leg cramp. Danny Federici looks like he was the only one who knew they were taking a photo that day. And if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was David Sancious’ band. My favorite, though, is Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, wearing cut-offs and an open Hawaiian shirt—for years I’ve used this photo as my summer fashion icon ideal—I just want to copy his look outright (though at this point, sadly, unless I’m able to trade in my stomach for some hair, it’s not ever going to happen).

Really, this sounds more like someone’s 20th record rather than their second—I mean in that it doesn’t sound like it’s trying too hard to please anyone as much as the people making it, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. There are only seven songs, but the three on side two are like 7, 8, and 10 minutes long! I like the production so much better than the later records, too—I guess it accentuates the songwriting. There’s no grandstanding, it sounds egoless, and it’s not too guitar heavy. On some songs the most prominent instrument is accordion—one of those being “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”—just that title!—which is one of my favorite Springsteen songs ever. Some of these songs—you presume before the record deals that these guys were playing in bars—but in what kind of bars could you play “Wild Billy’s Circus Story?” “Incident on 57th Street” might be prettiest Springsteen song ever, and just listening to it now makes me think about all the hearts he must have broken before getting his picture on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Listening to this record now confirms how much I like it; it’s the one I choose to put on if I’m in the mood for Bruce Springsteen. It’s also making me kind of curious, now, about what led up to the first two records. Maybe I’ll check out his autobiography. Anyway, I guess this record brings back some summer evening in the late Seventies, softly through my Advent speakers while sipping a rum drink, that fragrant, warm evening air, low lights in the “breezeway”—a room off the garage of my parents’ house that really was a time and place, and this record was part of it. Call it pure nostalgia, and I can’t argue with that, but that’s the sweet part of a good cocktail, and mixed with the right proportions of reality and weirdness, you get why the golden ratio is greater than the sum of its parts.

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09
Dec
18

The Mamas and The Papas “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”

The first Mamas and Papas record, and far from my favorite, though it has some great songs (each of their records has some of my favorites—though, if I was able to put together a “greatest” record for them it would probably not resemble anyone else’s version). My favorite here is “Somebody Groovy”—I can’t get enough of that song. Then “California Dreamin’”—a song I liked a lot when I kind of “rediscovered” (for me) the band, in the early Eighties—which is also, of course, probably the most overplayed of all their songs, and one I’d be in danger of being sick to death of if it wasn’t for it being used in several scenes in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994)—at which time it became forever connected to that movie, and those great scenes with Faye Wong working at the restaurant, playing the song on a boom box. The other one I really like here is “The In Crowd,” a Dobie Gray hit song (I also really love the Ramsey Lewis Trio version—one of my favorite songs) and this version is really an excellent one—they add a lot to it.

There are some bizarre liner notes, too, pretty long and wordy, written by Andy Wickham. Here’s a bit: “They live in a nutty world of semi-existentialism, of cuckoo-clocks and antique lampshades, of beat-up old cars and Indian boots…” etc.—great liner note style. The other thing worth mentioning is that I have two copies—I guess a stereo and a mono version—at this point I have no preference—but the covers are way different, and what’s weird is that it’s the same photo, cropped differently. It’s a photo where the four of them are sitting somewhat awkwardly in a dry bathtub. It’s a pretty good bathtub, too, in a tiled bathroom with a window right above the tub—I’d take that bathroom. On the right, the toilet would be very prominent except that it’s mostly covered by an art department signboard announcing the album’s singles. Too, bad—I want to see the toilet—is there an older version of the cover with the toilet visible? Anyway, on the other record the photo is cropped so that you can’t even see the bathtub—and if that one was the only one you ever saw, you’d think, why in the hell did they pick this odd, awkward photo in this weird tiled room? There must have been a handful of fun discussions, about all this, at Dunhill Records.

20
Nov
18

Jim Croce “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

It must have been a major milestone in Jim Croce’s career when he felt that a critical mass knew how to pronounce his name, I mean, if he ever felt that was the case, because people probably kept mispronouncing it. But he was huge at one point, due to a couple of really big hit songs, on the radio all the time. The one on this record is “Time in a Bottle”—which is a song that tormented me, age 12 or so, I suppose, hearing it on the AM radio constantly, one of those songs I will forever associate with getting ready for school in the morning, since my parents always played the AM radio in the kitchen. It’s funny, because it seems like there are two Jim Croces, the one I’m familiar with who had the hits like that “Bad Leroy Brown” song, and then all these songs I’ve never heard, a lot of which don’t sound anything like the hits and are some pretty good songs. A lot of them seem to be about being poor, being on the road, being a poor guitar player and singer on the road. Once you can afford your “Time in a Bottle” Lear Jet or tour bus, what do you write about then? Or maybe he got screwed out of his hit record money like so many musicians.

He’s looking out from a church window on the cover with a stogie in his mouth, and sitting on his guitar case, on the road, on the back cover, wearing some serious walking boots and a jean jacket with a CAT Diesel Power patch. He’s also holding a stogie—again an album cover with a guy smoking on the front and back cover. Smoking was really important to a lot of people’s identities back in the day, and I guess it might still be. One interesting note, this song, “New York’s Not My Home” (about living in NYC for a year and not liking it)—I had never heard, and then while working on a Franke Latina movie he was considering it for the soundtrack, so I had my brother, Jeff, do a rendition of the song, which he did, a couple versions—great song! And he did a really great cover, nothing like the original– and so for me, that song is always going to be his version, which I think is a lot better than JCs—but don’t tell Croce I said that because you don’t want to mess around with Jim.

30
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “New Morning”

I’m not exactly sure where this record fits in the BD timeline—it seems to be one of his Nashville records, produced by Bob Johnston, there’s studio musicians, and David Bromberg plays on it, and Al Kooper, and there’s a lot of piano. This is a great record; I kind of wish it was the first Dylan record I ever heard and then based my whole BD experience on the foundation of that experience. Somehow I’ve never heard much of it—though “If Dogs Run Free” somewhere came to me in a weirdness care package. I think it’s pretty likely that this record was released well after BD’s replacement with the new Dylan, but some of the songs here are from the original Dylan vault. That said, the new one is pulling off some pretty good replication of the old one, to the extent that I don’t even feel confident offering my track by track guess on who is singing. Somehow I never heard the song “The Man in Me” until I heard it in the movie, The Big Lebowski—and it’s a great song, and really important to that movie.

21
Oct
18

Michael Hurley “Ida Con Snock”

In the Michael Hurley world, the word “snock” means something pretty significant, but since I can’t look it up on the internet I have no idea what—though I’m not even sure if the internet would help on this one (maybe the snock-net would help). (In the perfect “North Woods” world, I’d find, in this cabin, a dusty old volume of Complete Guide to Snock.) I’m going to guess it either means “drunk”—or it’s the name of his cat. So I have no idea why this record is called Ida Con Snock, and then says: Ida, again, as if it’s two records in one, though it’s only one. Anyway, this is a really good record. It’s pretty straightforward, kind of country folk songs, but very much Michael Hurly songs, and sounds like him, but with a full band, or at least drums and other instruments and other singers. The thing that really stands out right off is really good drums. Drums are often the first thing I’ll hear on a record, and this drumming is fine, and credited as Ruth Keating. Who is this Ruth Keating? There is a picture of her among the musicians (and pictures of other musicians, I assume members of Ida?) I almost can’t wait to get back to the city and that big, fast internet so I can do some research about the people playing on this record with Hurley. I’m guessing it’s a collaboration of MH with a band called Ida, of which no individual member is named Ida, which is okay, I guess, there was no Jethro Tull or Lynyrd Skynyrd, either.

Another thing I’m going to do with the internet is put dates on each of these records, since the record companies often seem to think that’s not important, or else maybe avoid it on purpose for some reason. But I’m not going to add notes or research; I figure anyone reading this can do that if they care to. The back cover of this record has photos of a bunch of musicians that look kind of like they’d be in 3-D if you had 3-D glasses. I’m guessing they are fairly young and hipsterish and Ida, though I have no idea where they are from, maybe Portland or Athens or the Twin Cites or Brooklyn or Richmond or whatever is the new place (Joliet? Covelo? Port Clinton?) This is another record I just keep playing over and over but kind of don’t want to dig too deep into any individual song because I feel like it might detract from my overall pleasure; the songs are all great, and the instruments sound live and organic—there’s a real immediacy to it. I even like the fiddle. Another good cover painting by Hurley. Maybe IDA is an acronym? (I’m Drunk Again.)

25
Aug
18

David Bromberg “Demon in Disguise”

I probably would have ignored this one but I just heard a conversation with David Bromberg on WTF podcast—and I really liked him—so this was a good chance to get some background via a recording he did; I have no idea of his discography, but this record sounds remarkably confident and alive. Some of the songs are credited to him, some are traditional and arranged by him, and then there is Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles”—a live version, with DB telling a story—in the middle of the song—about the origin of the song—which reminded me of another time I heard a recording with someone telling the story of that song—in a live version—was it possibly this one? Or am I just tripping?

Much of this record I really like, especially songs where he is singing. He has a kind of unlikely and unique singing voice. I don’t like some of the more traditional stuff that feels more serious or reverent (not that that was the intention, it just comes off that way, to me). For some reason fiddle music just really bugs me—I guess maybe due to a long childhood of TV crap, and whenever you’d see someone playing fiddle music their eyes would be bugging out like some insane hillbilly, and it always seemed like someone would have to yell “Hoedown!”—like announcing it, as if you don’t know. It’s kind of like if someone is having sex and one person has to keep yelling, “We’re fucking! We’re fucking!” I suppose some people could be into that, but me, personally, I’m a little more reserved.

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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