Archive for the 'groove' Category

08
Jun
18

Sly & The Family Stone “Greatest Hits”

I don’t think I ever owned a copy of earlier Sly and the Family Stone records, but I had this 1970 greatest hits record, it feels like, all my life, and everyone had it, and you know all the songs—they were on the radio, they were on TV, and they’re still being played here and there enough that you might hear one on any day somewhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. But if you put the vinyl record on your stereo and listen to it closely, like I’m doing, it actually sounds fresh, since the reality of the music is different from my memory—it’s actually rawer, more innovative, and generally more interesting than the version in my memory. Particularly the songs: “Everybody Is A Star,” “Life,” “You Can Make It If You Try,” “Stand!”—really, all of them. No matter how well you know them in your sleep, it’s amazing how much better they sound “in person” (just you and your hi-fi).

I remember this time in junior high or high school when Sly and the Family Stone were on some variety TV show the night before, and everyone was talking about it at school the next day. Imagine that! There was some kind of confusion when the band took the stage, because then, Sly, or all of them, left the stage, I think, before coming back and playing. I don’t know what was going on, and it might be possible to find a video of that now, and even people discussing it, but I remember that as a very unique, very real moment, that really separated itself from the usual, over-rehearsed bullshit. He seemed like he had a great sense of humor, was having lot of fun, and had great style. This record has a just terrible cover, you’ve seen it, but over time it’s become kind of a classic, I guess. But the back is better, just a huge picture of Sly with a red knit hat and the best teeth I’ve ever seen. And the album cover folds open (and there are some liner notes, which I don’t remember being there—pretty good, too) and there is a giant vertical picture of the band, kind of out of focus, grainy, weird perspective, and Sly with those great boots—really, one of the best band pictures ever.

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28
Apr
18

Manu Dibango “Soul Makossa”

This is a curious record because I don’t know what to make of it, but my first impression is that every song is good, while sounding nothing like the one before it, or anything I’ve had on my turntable in the last 15 days. The cover has a kind of bizarre photo (as if the camera is pointed up from the belt-buckle level) of a black guy with a striped shirt and sunglasses playing a horn (some kind of straight saxophone?) who I can only assume is Manu Dibango—who the record label tells me wrote and arranged all the songs—as well as penned the liner notes. The label is Atlantic and the year is 1972 (a year I’m quite fond of, and just got fonder). On the cover there is also a little gold box containing bold letters: “THE ORIGINAL”—implying what? That there are pale imitations out there that one must be aware of, deal with, and fend off?

The liner notes provide clues about this music we’re listening to, but I’m not going to sit here and retype the liner notes, but it’s briefly about how the music has African roots but is influenced by all kinds of other music, and ends by saying, “I am told that in the United States our music is now called “Black Ivory Soul.” So there you go. He also credits eight musicians and lists what they play and where they’re from, which includes: Guadeloupe, the River Congo, Cameroun, and France. There’s a picture on the back of five guys playing music in a place that looks like the end of a closed off tunnel.

The first song, “New Bell,” is an irresistible, driving dance number, or in my case, a song that compelled me to find something to make rhythmic percussion sounds with, which, as long as no one else is listening, I can get away with. There are some far off vocals, not in English, so it left me wondering what the title referred to. “Nights in Zeralda” perfectly evokes nights in Zeralda—which might refer to a neighborhood in Algiers, or perhaps a very special lady. “Hibiscus” really slows it down, and it’s even kind of melancholy, or dire, or at least very serious. It means you’re going to get a drink and turn the record over, for “Dangwa,” which could refer to the flower market in Manila, or someone or something I don’t know about, and I’m not going to know until someone tells me. This is a strange song, since it starts out with an intro, kind of evocative of something, and then it takes you somewhere entirely else. “Lily,” then, is a three minute story song—at least it sounds like a story—it could be about a lady—or it could be a very condensed epic movie.

“Soul Makossa” starts out sounding like a familiar James Brown song, then doesn’t, and it’s just a really happy, four and a half minute repetitive, funk, dance number, with more of this very crystal clear sax (it’s on every song). I really like the sound of this horn—it’s hard to explain what’s so good about it—it’s fairly obvious sounding, yet there’s a little subtle something, maybe some kind of blatant feeling that seems less blatant in the context. Maybe the internet will tell me more about “Soul Makossa”—and it turns out there’s quite a story—which you either already know, or can read about for yourself—but since I find this kind of thing irresistible—okay, so someone started DJ-ing this 45 in New York in 1972, and then a guy heard it and played it on the radio, but since it was impossible to find, like 23 bands did covers of it. Eventually Atlantic records saw dollar signs and released it. The other interesting thing is how many bands used the repetitive vocal line (wordplay on “Makossa”)—you can start scrolling down that list, but make sure you don’t have anywhere to be.

Finally, “Oboso” closes out the record, and it’s again a pretty jaunty tempo, funky, repetitive funk number, this time with far off horn and some up front psychedelic electric guitar. I think Oboso might be a name, and interestingly, it occurs to me that it’s also the word “Toboso” without the “T.” Toboso is a town in Ohio, and a name that I eventually used for my publishing company—it’s a long story, how it came to that—and ultimately an incomplete one, because I never did look into the origin of that as a place name. I mean, there’s Dulcinea del Toboso, a character in Don Quixote, and I suppose people may have been more literary minded back when they were naming towns and all, because there was no TV, and yet people had to have something to do in the evening, when they came home from chopping down trees and killing the native people—but now I’m on a tangent that’s not doing anyone any good.

26
Jan
18

Beck “One Foot In The Grave”

I was happy to see a Beck album squirreled away here in this North Woods cabin, because it’s been drawn to my attention how unfairly I treated Beck in earlier reviews (just as an aside)—as well as Jeff Beck—and I say unfairly, because I’m actually a fan of both those artists, but they are both an easy target for some cheap laughs. But I do have the highest respect for both, and neither of them can help it if they have to share a name with Glenn Beck. What is Beck’s real name, by the way? Since the internet is still out, I’m going to guess: Johnny Langetree. I’m probably not far off. This 1994 album is on K Records, my favorite label of all time—and this was released around the time his first really huge record came out and made him huge—I can’t remember the name of it, but Beck fans know the one. I’ve never heard of this one. It’s what would be considered “Lo-Fi” I think, and I love the sound—a lot of it is like a guy with a guitar in a room—but some songs with additional instruments and musicians—and both approaches work here.

The front and back covers are black and white photos of Beck, looking very young, outside with bare trees in the background. On the front cover there’s an underage looking blond guy, and I have no idea who he is—maybe in town for a Gus Van Sant shoot. They’re standing in what could be a cemetery (which would be appropriate, given the title), in front of what could be a coffin, with what looks like a children’s book sitting on it. Beck is holding a Silvertone acoustic guitar, and he’s wearing a Kool-Aid scarf, which he probably didn’t get paid enough to wear, and maybe didn’t even make the Kool-Aid big-wigs happy, at least until his next record went gold (or was it called “Gold?”)

The record starts with a traditional blues number, and for my money (which would be $0, as I didn’t buy this) it is a perfectly nice cover—though if the whole record was more of the same, I wouldn’t be real thrilled. I imagine there were blues snobs who took the record off after this song and never even heard the rest. Well, that’s your loss, because the next song, “Sleeping Bag”—with some simple drums and slide guitar—would have made me fall in love with Beck, had I heard this back a quarter century ago. There are a couple of songs where he’s joined singing by Calvin Johnson (you can’t mistake his voice)—the singer for one of my favorite all-time bands, Beat Happening (and producer of this record). The song “Asshole” is another standout, not just for the why-haven’t-I-written-a-song-called “Asshole” title, but for its catchiness, as well.

There’s one song that kind of sounds like people doing their interpretation of early Pavement, and another song that makes me think of the Silver Jews. The album cover doesn’t credit the additional musicians, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were—or later became—well known for this or that (I mean, hopefully, good things, like music!) “Girl Dreams” is another good one. And “Painted Eyelids.” And the last one. Holy shit, this is a good record! And I might have missed out if I’d been able to go online and get tickets to the opera—that is, if there was opera around here, and I liked opera. Is that a Datsun, blurred in the picture on the back? Does anybody remember Datsuns?

17
Jan
18

Three Dog Night “Joy to the World: Their Greatest Hits”

I don’t usually care for greatest hits records (Chicago IX is a big exception) but I picked up a clean copy of this one for a couple of dollars for listening because I love some of their songs. I had a copy of the Harmony LP when I was little and I pretty much wore it out. It’s funny, this unadorned (no pics!) 14 song record strikes me as totally contemporary, in a physical object sense, but it’s 44 years old! The songs on here are from the years which I think of as the pinnacle of Western pop culture, and a few of these songs, to me, are as good as Top 40 radio has ever been. They were a huge band, but I don’t ever remember seeing them on any of those late night music shows, and I would not have recognized any of the guys. From the few pictures I’d seen, I thought it was a perfect band name because they all looked a bit lycanthropic and sleepless. I always assumed that the expression “three dog night” had something to do with heavy partying, but Internet tells me it means a night that’s so cold you have to take three dogs to bed with you for warmth! Thanks Internet.

This was a band with three lead singers with distinctive styles, but I never knew their names or who was singing what, and I still don’t, really. It’s a tight band, and I like the sound. What is most remarkable and interesting is the vast array of songwriters they did songs by. You can spend a rainy afternoon looking over their discography songwriting credits. My favorites here, first are the songs from Harmony, “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” written by Paul Williams, and “Never Been to Spain,” which is written by Hoyt Axton, as well as “Joy to the World,” another of my favorites. Probably my favorite song on the album is Allen Toussaint’s “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)”—which is one of those songs that’s a bit corny in your memory, but loud, through good speakers, is like a new song. The sad thing is, my favorite TDN song, Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” is not on this record. It was, however, on their first greatest hits album. If you think about it—for a band whose first album came out in 1968—that this was their second greatest hits album—that’s just totally nuts.

One other odd thing I’m reminded of is there are a couple odd things that always kind of drove me crazy, as much as I love these songs. One is in Harry Nilsson’s song “One,” the lyric, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” I guess that’s more on Nilsson than TDN, and I’m sure people think that’s great, but it makes me think of someone out at restaurant, saying, “I’ll do the wings with the Sriracha aioli dipping sauce”—for some reason that’s always bugged me. And on “An Old Fashioned Love Song,” on the wind-down toward the end, where they’re singing, “Just an… ol/love song, just an… ol/love song”—kind of mixing the word old and love… if you listen to it again you’ll hear what I’m trying to describe. For some reason that just always bugged the shit out of me. I mean it still does—it bugs the living shit out of me. And I love that song.

11
Jan
18

Endless Boogie “Focus Level”

Another double album, though there are only 11 long songs, some mostly instrumental, and some with singing that reminds me a little of the Chinese Electrical Band (my first band, not at all Chinese). I can’t make out a single lyric to save my life. The cover opens up to reveal, inside, a huge painting of a party consisting of a bunch of young people in an era several centuries past; it actually looks to me like a computer generated photo collage treated to look like a painting, but I don’t know, really, and honestly don’t care; I kind of like it, but then there was always something annoying to me about albums that opened to reveal more art—you’ve got the front and back cover! And then there is one of those annoying one sheet inserts for the credits, but it’s mostly more art and tells you very little, like who’s in this band and playing what?

Or who is even in the band. I heard one of these guys—or was it two?—or is there only one?—on the WTF podcast and it was pretty interesting, but I don’t remember any of the details. I’m not supposed to remember things, that’s what the internet is for! Anyway, some of these songs make me think of an annoying roommate who you want to take the guitar away from. But then some of them remind me of the first few times I went to see punk bands in Cleveland (at the Drome) and some of them sounded more like hard rock than punk, but that was okay because it was pretty severe, and heavy, and it was live. And then some of the other songs make me think of high school, going to see a local hard rock cover band at the marina or the county fair; one of those bands who has a cobbled together, homemade “light show” and is playing stuff like that “Slow ride, take it easy,” song (Foghat?) and that “Now you’re messin’ with a… sonofabitch,” song (Nazareth?)—not that any of this is a bad thing, it’s all about positive and visceral memories. In fact, those county fair bands made a much bigger impression on me than Blue Oyster Cult at a sports arena, capacity 12 billion. I thought BOC were pretty wanky, actually, though the bad pot didn’t help, nor the fact that they followed Bob Seger and ZZ Top. Anyway, I really like a lot of this stuff. There’s a fine line between wankiness and art, and if you take the chance to be wanky, sometimes, you might be able to make art you wouldn’t have been able to come up with if you didn’t venture into wankyville.

16
Jun
16

Nicholas Frank “Greatest Skips”

Not denying the irresistibility of a title such as “Greatest Skips”—my overwhelming hope was that inside this album cover with six pictures of people getting their picture taken (the inside sleeve is six corresponding pictures of people taking the pictures of the people on the cover, presumably) I would find a dozen well-crafted, personal, heart-wrenching songs performed by Nicholas Frank, perhaps with the help of additional musicians. For a moment, then, when immediately the familiar sound of a skipping record assaulted my ears, I thought PERHAPS this record has a skip right at the beginning, either coincidentally or as a kind of initiation joke, after which you’d move the needle onto the dozen well-crafted songs. But no. It’s a an entire record consisting of a collection of record skips. After looking around for a Nicholas Frank substitute to throw through the wall, for awhile, I relaxed a little and soon found myself enjoying the sound for what it was, as well as thinking about a few things.

I’ve never really thought about it, but the length of a record skip should be exactly the time it takes for the needle to get around the record once, right? And the record is turning at 33 1/3 times per minute, or so we’re led to believe. But when the needle gets down to the inside of the record, where it has less distance to travel to get around the record, shouldn’t it take less time? So how does that work? Why don’t records get progressively higher-pitched as they go along? It’s bad enough I’ll never REALLY understand what’s going on in those grooves, now I’m even confused about the speed. Anyway, it then occurred to me that in that this is a collection of record skips, played in succession, Mr. Frank had to make a decision on just HOW MANY skips (normally, one hears the number of skips it takes for you to realize the record is skipping, pull yourself out of the beanbag chair, spill your beer, and get to the turntable) he was going to allow us to hear before moving on to the next one, as well as the order they are presented. One wonders if the skips are a collection he compiled over a period of time or if he was able to manufacture or re-create record skips at will. And if, upon repeated listenings, I would be able to discovers a narrative or a message, or even a deep, weird secret, or instructions to unearthing a treasure.

I have to admit, I have my own collection of record skips, on a cassette tape that I kept handy for many years, available to pop in the recorder any time a skip randomly happened. I never listen to it, of course, but wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars. I also have a cassette tape I made from Lee Ranaldo’s lock-groove experiment record, “From Here to Infinity.” It would have been better to just buy the record, but cheapie that I am, I illegally home-taped it, but was then met with a decision to make on each track: how long to record the lock-groove? Now I’m thinking, how many people put lock-grooves on the end of their records, throughout history? There must be a list on the internet somewhere. And one more thing, it just occurred to me. What if THIS record gets an ACTUAL skip in it sometime? What exactly would that be like? I mean, besides annoying, would it blow your mind, if even for a few minutes? How does one create a skip in a record… peanut butter or something? But no, I won’t do it, this is not my record. I’m cat-sitting. But I suppose I could pick up my own copy somewhere, and figure out how to make REAL skips. It could be a project for a rainy day.

20
Jun
09

Blues Explosion “Extra Width”

I preferred to alphabetize the band as “Blues Explosion” rather than wait for later in the alphabet (and be faced with alphabetizing dilemmas–Spencer, Jon Spencer, The Jon Spencer?)– but this is indeed The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, one of my all time favorite bands, I’ll admit right away. This isn’t my favorite of their records (and I haven’t even HEARD all their records) but it’s pretty solid. Also nice is that it’s a record–one of the newest in the current collection I’m writing about– though it’s from 1993– which now seems as long ago as The Fifties. The boys look pretty young in their individual Richard Kern glamour portraits– Jon Spencer’s, on the cover, which should have sold a record or two, is particularly striking with all the stuff in his hair and his Kuchar-esque eyebrows. Hell– I’D buy that guy a double bourbon!

There’s even some pointless liner notes on the back, for an old-fashioned touch– by Herb Hitts– a description of a live show that is so generalized and cliché-ridden it may as well say, “they rocked” with one fist in the air. Is it meant to be ironic? While I think it is — the once ironic fist in the air, and heavy metal fist in the air, and expression “rocked!” — once intended to be ironic, is no longer taken, or even intended that way– so what you have instead is a willful reduction of the IQ by half. But with this band there is no discussing irony or sincerity, they are so far beyond those considerations, you can’t figure it out and you shouldn’t try. Though, I can imagine if I was in a band with Jon Spencer I might at some point beg him to “please sing normal for once!” I might roll my eyes violently when he comes into rehearsal with a song called “Back Slider.” It might lead to a fight, someone walking out on the session, sulking on a bar stool, but would any of that be real or just another episode in a cheap paperback version of the life of a blues band that’s a rock band and a punk band?

I guess the question with this band will always be (as it is with every band): are they just an act– are they merely ABOUT what they seem to be, or are they the real thing? I have had the benefit of seeing a live show a few years back (maybe the last live show I’ve seen) where that question was answered; either they were the real thing, or else the real thing doesn’t really exist. Which might be the case. As time goes on and layers of history are peeled away, and you closely examine what you considered the important bands from your past, you find out they were ALL acts. The only thing that is real are the rare moments when no one was looking, the mistakes, and the tiny miracles that occasionally transcend the cement weighted egos and vanities.

But enough about me. This record is the kind of record, unfortunately rare, that I always prefer to listen to all the way through. I love some of it and hate some of it, but to isolate individual songs seems pointless. It all runs together the way a record album should. I’ve listened to it now hundreds of times, but I couldn’t tell you what a single song title is or what any of them are about. There’s a lot of grunting, groaning, screaming, unsettling noises, and then suddenly you find yourself in a groove that you wish you never had to leave. The guy’s singing “typecast” but he may as well be singing “hotpants” – guitars are destroyed, and the side is over.

To all of you in the CD generation, you will, I’m sure, not believe me when I tell you that you will never, ever be able to understand the singular, sublime pleasure of turning a record over and putting the needle on the second side. After some Elvis from hell bullshit, we again find ourselves in a groove that is over far too soon. Then some kind of an incomprehensible plodding noise out of which suddenly can be heard the phrase: “a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich!” Probably the high point of my life. Then an instrumental funk groove that serves a similar function as when, in certain times and certain cultures, one would excuse oneself from the table to gracefully throw up. Followed by an unpleasant exorcism of a song– but it all works together, because then you get to the last song on the record, which is also the best, and it’s like you endured your dreadful vegetables, formalities, and pleasantries so that you can be rewarded with (your favorite dessert here). Bon appetit!




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