Archive for the 'Folk' Category

22
Nov
19

Gene & Debbe “Hear & Now”

I spotted this record used, a beat up but playable copy, and it was the first I heard of Gene & Debbe. It’s a great cover, with the words in a slightly psychedelic font, each a different color: ghost green, hot pink, acid orange, and boring blue. Mostly, though, it’s this big b&w photo of Gene & Debbe—Gene staring at the camera like you’ve got exactly four minutes to get this photo, and Debbe just in front of him in profile (she’s quite beautiful) with her hair up in a beehive that won’t quite behave. You know there’s an empty can of Aqua Net very nearby. Liner notes on back (as well as two songs, the saddest ones) are by my man, Mickey Newbury, short, but concrete dense. Not one for the light touch. Though he does slip a little—perhaps unnerved by Debbe’s luminance—and says, of her: “Like the cream in a morning’s first cup of coffee.” I, for one, forgive him. Gene Thomas and Debbe Nevills were a Nashville pop/folk/country duo who had a hit song (“Playboy,” on this record), a handful of other singles, and one album, this one, from 1968.

Odd LPs with great covers are often bummers musically, but I’m liking this one a lot. I’m guessing the hot playing by some uncredited Nashville pros doesn’t hurt. The eleven songs are all catchy, and six are by Gene Thomas. The cover song of greatest note is “Let It Be Me”—which happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time—recorded by everyone and their mother. Gene sounds more than a bit like Sonny Bono. Debbe doesn’t sound like Cher, that would be weird, but her voice is similarly striking—her voice is great. It makes this record, really. It’s kind of like the morning’s first cup of black coffee. You know, my life has been so much better since I got used to drinking coffee black. It wasn’t easy (kind of like quitting smoking), but now I prefer it. Truthfully, this record, as pleasant and listenable as it is, really comes to life every time Debbe sings. Gene’s a tad whole milk, or even 2%. I guess I’ve kind of developed a crush on Debbe, as I listen to this again. “Go With Me” sounds really familiar, I wonder if someone else did it? Debbe takes these kind of simple words (“take my hand”) and just twists them, so they just pierce your heart—and I don’t even think she knows. I guess they were a couple, for awhile, then broke up. I suppose it wasn’t easy, being either a duo or couple, with people like me trying to steal Debbe away from him—but who can blame us?

18
Oct
19

Joy of Cooking “Closer to the Ground”

I had never heard of this band, and the cover—a stoner painting of an easy chair in the woods—didn’t exactly say, “buy me,” but the back cover—a full-sized photo of five hippies—pretty much dated it (1971)—and that’s a good date. Three men and two women, and not Fleetwood Mac. I was expecting the worst hippie folk imaginable, but figured it was worth checking out. A band name like “Joy of Cooking” could mean you have songs about making bread and lentils, or it could be a major drug reference, or it could mean, as band, you cooked, you got down, you rocked out. To my delight, for the most part, the latter is the case. I mean, there are still plenty of hippie folk elements, but even that’s not always a bad thing, and sometimes a good thing. Some of the songs are pretty hard, and some are soulful. It’s not Janis Joplin, but then, who is? There are a lot of musical influences, and the songs are kind of all over the place, kind of hard to pin down, and I don’t mind that at all. It’s a record worth listening to a few times, and what I hear of the lyrics, initially, is also intriguing. Actually, as I listen more… some really good lyrics. So, it turns out the songs, vocals, guitars, and keyboards are by the two women in the band, Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite. This is their second LP, and from what I read, personnel has changed since the band formed (in Berkeley)—but it’s Toni and Terry’s band.

There’s seriously a lot of interesting stuff going on here. I’m kind of surprised they weren’t a much bigger band—but then, they are on a major label, and I bet they have their enduring fans. I’m going to check out the lyrics more, now. The record folds open, and there are lyrics and black and white photos inside. Also, there’s a separate lyric sheet—I’m confused for a moment, then realize it’s to their first record. No doubt some shelving confusion with the record’s previous owner. Maybe that means I should make a point of finding their first record. Anyway, not much about lentils or bread, and as a band, they do pretty much cook. One song in particular stands out like a sore thumb, or should I say, the opposite. There are not any bad songs, but this one, called, “Sometimes Like a River (Loving You)” was somebody’s (Toni Brown’s) very good day on the songwriting magic path—it’s so good, it’s the song when the record is over, you go back and play that one again. I may be wrong (1971 was a weird-ass time), but I’m guessing when they played live, this was the song where a few notes in, the audience would be hooping a hollering, people would get up to dance, people would sing along—that love-making thing between the band and the audience. Excellent lyrics, too, check out this line: “Sometimes like a new wind you touch my hand / And I can feel the sudden pleasure in not knowing.” That makes me want to cry. I feel like I’m being kind of annoying, loving one song so much more than the others, but then, for me, songs are what it’s all about. All songs were not created equal. Everyone knows that, but we tend to forget it when we’re bored on uninspired. It takes a truly excellent song to remind you that, yes, music is the best thing there is, better than love, sex, hash brownies, and even bank accounts.

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.

14
Aug
19

Sharon Van Etten “Tramp”

The black and white photo of presumably Sharon Van Etten on the cover of the LP is blown up so much you realize it’s almost abstract, maybe only makes sense with a little distance. Her head is about twice as big a normal person—in effect, you’d never see her this close up, even if you were making out with her. It’s a very beautiful photo, and album cover, but it really accentuates the quality of her eyes—it’s hard for me to describe—it’s more of a feeling, but for some reason I never feel like I can trust someone with eyes like that. My feelings like that are usually wrong, which becomes evident within one minute of meeting a person, and longer meetings further prove that, but since I’m not meeting SVE anytime soon, I’m just going to make the assumption that I’m wrong and chalk it up to the powerful—and often totally misleading—quality of photographs. There’s a lot of musicians and collaboration going on, but especially with a guy named Aaron Dessner (I’ll have to look him up), and there’s a picture of SVE and a guy (might be him?) on the inside cover, sitting on a bench, presumably outdoors, neither winter nor summer, pleasantly blurry and smiling, slightly disheveled, wearing every tasteful shade of blue known to man, their white hands looking like alien beings. In tiny white letters at the bottom it says, “for John Cale.” That could lead me to many, many more words, or I could just let it go.

The initial sound of these songs is, to me, entirely unfairly, off-putting, even though I like the sparse, subtle, and tasteful instrumentation. Maybe too tasteful. And sometimes blatantly eclectic, some with annoying arcane sounding instruments that only exist in Civil War museums and recording studios in Brooklyn. Sharon Van Etten’s voice has this liquid quality, both thick and thin, that just pours between the edges, and fills all cracks, sounding like it’s desperate to cauterize not only her wounds but those of everyone she comes in contact with. It’s a bit much, and I can’t say I’m enjoying it, but I know from experience that that’s a hasty, first-impression opinion, and I really need to listen to each song more closely, and listen to the lyrics, as well, before I make any judgment. So I’ll do that, and also, it seems at first glance that a lot of these might be love songs, and sad songs—and that’s something I’ve been kind of into lately. That’s a joke—for those people who know me.

The first song is a love song, a sad song, addressed to “you”—unless it’s a metaphor for a political situation, but I’ll leave it be. The next song, also addressed to “you,” has a tragic tone to it, along with this kind of devastating lyric that we can all relate to: “You’re the reason why I’ll movie to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Another song addressed to “you,” called “Serpents,” even more fraught, and this time she hopes “he” changes. Don’t hold your breath, SVE. Next is “Kevin’s”—which is the only use of a possessive version of a name without an object as a song title I can think of. No mention of Kevin’s what?—in the song—or Kevin—unless he’s “you” (in which case maybe means that she belongs to Kevin—in which case I hate him). Anyway, it’s a beautiful sad song, with some nice “ooohhhs”—long, drawn out—that sound like “yous.” Next is one about “Leonard” who eventually becomes “you” by the end of the song. I may be wrong, but it sounds like this Leonard was a pretty okay guy, but she fucked it up this time. So it goes. Finally, “In Line” is quite a haunting song, and I don’t just say that because the word “ghosts” is in it. I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s not about domestic bliss and talking about your future while in line at the Court Street Trader Joe’s.

New paragraph, second side, this is vinyl. I didn’t mean to go on this long with this, but once I committed to it, I was kind of sunk. That’s commitment for you—when you don’t have it, you’re sunk, and you’re sunk when you do. The first song is killer, one that probably sold me on this record (as if I needed to be sold, or anyone cares). It starts out quiet and slow, and then just builds in volume and intensity, with the line “we all make mistakes” running through it like veins of gold through the darkness. “We Are Fine” is an interesting title to a song, especially where the sentiment is “I’m alright”—another pretty and harrowing one, which could be about hypochondria, or hypochondria as love metaphor, or the other way around. “Magic Chords” just confuses me—it sounds like a funeral march, with the repeated lines: “You got to lose sometime” and then “Nothing to lose.” That’s too general—I mean, we’re all going to die, but I need to focus on something else, occasionally. “Ask” makes my stomach hurt, and I mean that as a compliment, as in, SVE can land a punch. Addressed to “friend” and “man” and, it feels like, me, the line, “It hurts too much to laugh about it” hurts too much to laugh about it. “I’m Wrong” asks to “tell me I’m wrong.” I don’t think you’re wrong. With a line like, “tell me all the miles that you put on your car,” I’d have to say you’re probably right, as sad as that is. The last song is slow and haunting, and I guess I want it to leave me with a positive note, at this point, sucker that I am, soft in my old age, wanting things to work out between her and one of these “you’s.” I think: “I could do better, couldn’t I?” In the romance department. Men are little boys, with tantrums, and egos, that want everything, but are just destined, you know, to either be kicked under a shed, or else allowed to be a monster. Anyway, it ends on a grim note, but it feels like truth, at least, and the light dims.

20
Jul
19

Eagles “One of These Nights”

There are worse album covers, though right now I can’t think of one. I mean, it’s okay, like if you bought an 8×10 framed version of that image at Wall Drug for $2.99, to put in the sleeping cabin of your truck, or a rec-room back home, nothing could be more appropriate. Who would name their band “The Eagles” or “Eagles” anyway? I mean, if you’re like ten years old, and/or it’s your first band, that would be cool. My first band was called The Chinese Electrical Band, and we made what could have been some hit music, but we just couldn’t get past that name, mostly because half of the potential fans thought we were communists, and half thought we were racist, and half thought we were Chinese, and half thought we were goofballs. Do the math. The song, “One of These Nights,” when not in conjunction with some heinous commercial or movie (I don’t actually know if it is; I don’t want to know) actually sounds pretty good. The song, “Take It to the Limit,” however, I hate with a passion, and I’m never going to come around to that one, even though I think it was sung by Randy Meisner, and I like him if for no other reason than he’s named Randy, and I’m somewhat partial to that name. This is a fairly early version of the Eagles, from 1975, when Bernie Leadon, who I like, was in the band. But this was the last album for him, I guess. Then Joe Walsh joined, and I like him, too. I guess on paper, I should really like the Eagles. But this is vinyl, of course, not paper, and some of the sound this particular vinyl makes rubs me the wrong way. I kind of had a theory that I like their more country tinged stuff, and don’t like their more metal tinged stuff, but there are exceptions. So many exceptions, in fact, that I realize that was a dumb thing to even say. I’d just delete that whole thought, but I get paid by the word for writing this crap. Somewhere I seem to remember the Eagles are considered “soft rock”—but that can’t really be a thing, can it? Maybe it was back when they kept trying to categorize different types of rock music with different dumb names. I hope to God that trend is long over. Oh, then there is this “I Wish You Peace” song on the end of the record, which is really pretty nice, a lovely song. Way to put the best song last, Eagles, and make me feel like an asshole for my negative review. But anyway, it really is nice to go out on a positive note, so there you have it.

25
May
19

Mickey Newbury “Heaven Help the Child”

This is a particularly intriguing album cover—it’s a rustic, matte surface, suggesting something real, with a larger than life, full face photo of Mickey Newbury on back, which, while artfully partially obscured in shadows, also exposes pores, divots, blemishes, and misplaced hairs—and remember, this is far before the days of hi-def, when many careers were ended voluntarily, while others just had to say, what the hell, here’s my zits. It immediately says that Mickey is going to open his heart for us. The front cover is trickier—it’s a 7 ½ x 5 ½ inch glossy photo of Mickey sitting on an old chair next to an old lamp in a room that could be a study, or could be a bedroom. This is essentially a cropped photograph, though, because as we remove the inner sleeve, we discover that this is actually a 12 x 12 inch photo that has been framed by the smaller, die-cut opening in the external cover. Now we see the larger room —which still could be a study, a bedroom, a living room, or a rec-room—or is it now too big for a bedroom? Now you can see the expanse of the old carpet, a stained glass window behind him, a couple of large photo albums on the floor, and that he’s wearing cowboy boots. When you remove the inner sleeve, which has lyrics on the other side, there is a smaller, more atmospheric, blurred version of the cover photograph behind—printed on the inside of album cover! You don’t see that too often. What does it all mean?

Mickey Newbury was a respected Nashville songwriter and recording artist who put out a couple dozen records. Even though his music is somber and his lyrics are dark, he’s good-looking in a way that probably appeals to in-laws and pets, as well as people his own age, and you feel like you could leave your kids with him, or would be comfortable in a car he’s driving. This record, from 1973, is not his first, and a company like Elektra doesn’t spring for the die-cut nonsense if they don’t think you’ll sell a few. There are only eight songs—two are three and half minutes, but the rest are long, quiet, pretty, and melancholy. I like them all, and pretty much everything I’ve heard by him, but I don’t know how passionate I’m going to get about the songs on this record—there is an overall flavor of the mainstream—even if it’s not what I’d imagine as “popular.” The other weird thing is there is a dedication scrawled on the large space at the bottom of the album cover in a red pen that matches the red frame around the die-cut hole, leading me to believe that this is part of the cover—yet when I look up images of this cover on the internet, it’s not there. It seems to say, “To a friend”—though I’m not entirely sure—and then a name—it could be Joe, or José, or Lori, or Josie, or even “you.” If you were giving this record as a present, that is not where you’d write a greeting—it’s so front and center—which leads me to believe this was written by the artist, himself. Mickey Newbury passed away, far too young, in 2002. You can find his records. I wonder what happened to the “friend” to whom he presented this record—which will likely outlive me, and find its way into another haunted record shop.

19
Apr
19

Allan Sherman “My Son, the Folk Singer”

I never heard of Allan Sherman before playing this 1962 record, but apparently he went through a period of widespread success and popularity, which is why this record exists and I was able to pick up a copy for nothing. According to the internet, his popularity declined after the JFK assassination 1963—is that true? Did the masses lose their taste for frivolous humor after that time, and if so, does that partly explain why I grew up only occasionally cracking a smile—I wonder. Anyway this is essentially a comedy record comprised of goofy folk songs with lyrics that are sometimes pretty obvious and sometimes rather obscure. Kind of typical of me, I find myself annoyed by the stuff I understand, and intrigued by the stuff I don’t. I supposed if I understood the stuff I don’t understand I’d be annoyed by that too. The overall tone is that kind of humor that says “this is humor”—but I actually really like the singing style of Allan Sherman, I guess because he sounds like an urban Jewish guy to me, like the kind of co-worker who cracks you up daily. Let’s see, where is he from? Chicago, moved around a lot. I guess a lot of these songs are parodies, where you have to know the thing it’s parodying to make sense—but again, I’m wondering if I personally like stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, it’s a live album, and the audience is finding it all hilarious—from the individual, tittering laugh, to bursts of uncontrolled laughter, to the full on roar. For me it’s pretty much torture to hear people laugh like that. Now that I think of it, I don’t much care for live recordings, in general, but live comedy is the worst. I mean, if you’re there, then it’s live, and when it’s a recording of something live, it’s not live anymore, is it—it’s just annoying. I don’t like recordings of live “specials” either, or podcasts that are recorded in front of a live audience—I can’t listen to them. The audience on this album is recorded really loudly, too, it’s just unbearable—I mean, just torture me, okay? The cover, though, is great—well, not that great, but there is a woman in a black dress holding a dead chicken, and a bagel lying on the floor, it’s goofy, and, yeah, it’s almost a good album cover.




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