Archive for the 'Folk' Category

03
Dec
17

Bob McFadden and Dor “The Mummy” / “The Beat Generation”

Oh, no!—another novelty record. I suppose when you’re picking records up at thrift stores and yard sales, that’s what you’re going to get a lot of. These are two very different, but both goofy songs, by Bob McFadden (a singer and voice-actor—most significantly, to me—the voice of Franken Berry) and Dor (stage name for Rod McKuen, who wrote the songs, and was one of the few poets during my lifetime that I recall having household-name status). On “The Mummy” he uses an exaggerated silly monster voice, and the whole deal is not that interesting. I like “The Beat Generation” more, because the affected “hipster” delivery is a lot funnier to me. Also, I had no idea that this is the song that inspired Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation”—which is pretty inspired. This single is taken from the album “Songs Our Mummy Taught Us” which probably includes more of the same, though it does have a song called “Noisy Village.” Ha! Also of note: Bob McFadden shares a birthday with Randy Russell (as well as Edgar Allan Poe, Cindy Sherman, Larry Clark, Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin, one of the Everly Brothers, Frank Anderson, and Franke Martin)! He’s from East Liverpool, Ohio (which should not be confused with Liverpool, England) home of the Elite Diner!

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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.

16
Jun
16

James McCandless “Faultline”

Again with the goofy fonts; I thought it said “Asscandles”—but closer examination clarifies: James McCandless, someone I’ve not heard of before now. This record is from 1985, which to me seems like yesterday, and I have to keep reminding myself it’s over 30 years ago. Also, magic-markered on the front and back cover are the letters, WNKU, which sounds like a radio station to me, and research reveals it’s on the Kentucky/Cincinnati border. Somehow this record escaped.

Further research turns up a James McCandless website. Apparently he died in 2013, nearing the age of 70. He lived most of his life in the Chicago area, playing all over the place, folk music, and this is his first record, on his own label, St. Christopher. There’s a lyric sheet, which is nice, because the lyrics are worth checking out, even though you probably can understand them as his voice is clear as a bell. This is the good kind of folk music; it’s plenty serious but doesn’t take itself too seriously. Songs are funny and they are grim. Some just voice and acoustic guitar, and some with a full band and some fine musicians.

I could go on and on but I’m trying to keep things short, and many of you will see the word “folk music” and go no further. You’re making a mistake. But go to your grave close-minded if you want to, there’s plenty of eternity to come around to things. Anyway, I personally cannot resit a verse like this: “Last night after work we all went to a restaurant / I ordered my usual BLT and fries / and while I was hunched over my friend Jerry put on his sunglasses / he said the glare off my skull was hurting his eyes.” It’s from a song called “Kareem and Me” about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and going bald.

14
Jun
16

Billy Bragg and Wilco “Mermaid Avenue Vol. II”

This record caught my attention because of the life-size photo of a tabby cat slightly out of focus in a crude, black and white photo-collage of some old cars and buildings, presumably depicting Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. I was just there, and had I known, I might have made a pilgrimage, and had a little more focus rather than just being sad. But this is the first I’ve heard of this record, which is a project initiated by Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, to put music to some of Woody’s tons of lyrics he left behind when he died. I imagine that any number of songwriters would have loved to get a chance to write music to these lyrics, but it was Billy Bragg and Wilco (including Jay Bennett)—and then they made some fine recordings, and albums and box sets were released, all too involved for me to go into, but anyway, this is Vol. II, with a huge cat on the cover.

There is so much variety here I can’t even begin to mentally encapsulate it. I wonder what Woody Guthrie would think! On my first listen I felt a little annoyed, just because there is so much all over the place, and so much confident instrument playing that I thought, these are a bunch of guys you probably can’t tell anything. And while that is probably true, I warmed up to it more on subsequent listens, like right now. Some I like way better than others, but some songs I’m liking a lot. There are a few songs that sound VERY familiar, so I must have heard them somewhere, and I’d imagine most likely in some coffee shop. Anyway, I feel like I’m committing the largest sin in not paying much attention to the lyrics, and that’s where you could go very much deeper, of course. There’s a lyric sheet, which is nice for those of us with hearing/making out words problems (if there’s a word for that). And if you want to go deeper, there’s Vol. One, of course, and then I guess there’s a complete set with outtakes and other stuff, so you can really get emerged. And I suppose if you wanted to go even further, as a songwriter, you could contact Nora Guthrie about possibly making another record of more songs based on more of Woody’s lyrics. I’m sure you won’t be the first one to make such a request.

20
Oct
08

Joan Baez

This is Joan Baez’s first record, on Vanguard, from 1960, and it’s serious and pure, and old-seeming; it has the feeling of a record that came out in some year more like 1860 than 1960. I mean it’s hard to argue with this record, for what it is, but I feel no more compelled to put it on again than I do to dutifully eat my vegetables. I think my problem with the performance here is that it seems like it is playing way too fast; to me it sounds like an LP played at 45rpm. I really wish I had one of those old record players that actually had “16” speed, roughly half the speed of a 33 and 1/3! Did anyone ever actually have a 16rpm record? Someone must have. Or maybe that speed was just put on turntables for reasons such as this: so the listener could shape the music to their needs. Though really, I don’t want her voice lower. I like her voice. I just want it slower. Okay, this is pointless. Forget I even said anything.




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