Archive for the 'mellow' Category

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.

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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.

31
Jan
18

Captain & Tennille “Love Will Keep Us Together”

I was kind of excited to put this one on, as I’ve never been able to bring myself to pick it up at a thrift store because of the bludgeoning familiarity of that title song, and the hideous cover—which is actually a pretty great album cover with beautiful dogs, one of whose head is bigger than Toni Tennille’s. And her teeth (TT’s, not the dog) are amazing and not airbrushed looking. The Captain is wearing some horrible sunglasses and an expression that looks like he’s barely able to hold back from punching the photographer. Tennille is actually wearing bib overalls, and a shirt that looks like it was sewn from someone’s kitchen curtains.

I did not realize that Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield wrote the title song, which had to be one of the biggest songs of the year (1975), and it’s a good enough song, I guess, that I get some genuine nostalgia from it. It’s interesting, it seems like their official name is “Captain & Tennille”—though he’s known as “The Captain”—and also, his real name is Daryl Dragon. If your name was Daryl Dragon—if you were that lucky—wouldn’t you go by Daryl Dragon, and not some cheesy stage name like “The Captain?” (Though the captain’s hat is a nice touch, for anyone.)

Tennille and Dragon wrote a few of the songs, together, and separately, and there are also some Beach Boys present (a nice cover of “God Only Knows”), and Bruce Johnston’s “I Write The Songs”—which was a monster hit for Barry Manilow—and so bland that I never really thought about it—but hearing Tennille sing it kind of highlights the lyrics, since it’s obviously written from the point of view of a man, who claims to now be “very old,” and maybe even God—I mean, it’s supposed to be metaphorical, right? He wasn’t really writing a song, as God, I don’t think? It does say, “I am music, and I write the songs”—but if “music” wrote the first song, who wrote music? (If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so heavy that even He Himself cannot lift it?)

Most of the record is, unfortunately, fairly forgettable, and I’ll probably not be compelled to pick up a copy. If you never have to hear the song “Broddy Bounce,” consider yourself lucky—I thought the room had been invaded by animated trolls. And “Disney Girls” isn’t much better. For me, the real standout on the record is “The Way I Want To Touch You,”—written by Toni Tennille—I mean, it’s kind of sexy, even, if kind of dumb, but has that really killer chorus, “you are sunshine, you are shadow” etc. That takes me right back to somewhere. I don’t know where exactly, but I was maybe drinking grape Kool-Aid, or eating Lucky Charms (saving the marshmallows for last), newly in love, and there was an AM radio playing.

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?

19
Dec
17

Vikki Carr “Nashville by Carr”

Vikki Carr has always been there, it seems like, but I realized I knew nothing about her. I was reasonably certain that Mr. and Mrs. Carr didn’t have a daughter and name her Vikki. Her story is kind of fascinating, and you too can read about her on the internet if you’re so inclined. I hoped for more from this record, the pun of the title kind of implying it’s her “country record,” but it’s not really very country, though she does do some great songs by some great songwriters, and it’s recorded in (you guessed it) and some heavy studio guys play, but overall, the arrangements strike me as flat as the photo collage on the back album cover. The problem is, the surface of this album cover is a very porous cardboard—actual textured surface, like something you do pastels on, but when you reproduce photos on it, especially smaller ones with a lot of detail, you get fuzzy, flat, sadly unimpressive images (and it doesn’t help that she has a Bride of Frankenstein hairstyle, like the guy singing with the James Gang in 1974—maybe he was influenced by Vikki Carr). The album opens up, revealing a 12 by 14 inch panoramic photo of Vikki Carr sitting on the white fence of a horse farm; the problem is, the art department was so obsessed with symmetry, they put Vikki right in the crease, making her look like a Mad Magazine inside back cover “fold-in.” It’s an appropriate album cover given the arrangements.

Overall, this record strikes me as so uninspiring that I’m listening to it over and over, thinking there must be buried treasure there somewhere, because I expect more from 1970. I keep listening, but no. I guess the one thing that’s good is I can play this record and not get annoyed by it—but is that what you’re shooting for, as a musical artist?—to not annoy people? Okay, here is one interesting thing—she does Kris Kristofferson’s pretty great and fairly over-the-top song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” Now, this isn’t a gender-specific song, but there is something about the imagery that you just really picture it being a man singing, there, in first person. Is that sexist of me to say that? I don’t mean that I disapprove—in fact, this is the world that I want: women wandering alone through the park, half drunk, watching a father with his son, smelling bacon cooking somewhere, and longing for something from the near or distant past. I guess if I was a DJ, like in public, what I’d aspire to do is play songs that blew people’s minds—just a little bit. So I could see playing this one. It’s a really vivid song—and I have no idea if Vikki Carr was a drinker or not—but it’s kind of hard for me to imagine her chugging beer for breakfast.

06
Dec
17

Stan Getz “Reflections”

This is a 1964 Stan Getz record, with “arrangements by Claus Ogerman/Lalo Schifrin” on Verve Records—11 short songs (I wish they were all longer!)—all really nice—what would be a great make-out record, except you have to get up too often to turn it over—but that’s one of the drawbacks of records, in general, for making out. I don’t know why this made me think about making out—I was not thinking of that; I suppose it’s because there is certain evocative appeal of these songs, and these arrangements, and this playing; that tenor sax is so out front at times it’s almost obscene. Or maybe it’s the songs with the choral arrangements, that sound like a movie (some of it is, such as Charade)—from a pre-rock’n’roll corner of the Sixties—a montage with beautiful people driving in a sports car with the top down, Cary Grant with a sick tan, or maybe Tony Curtis acting semi-inappropriate.

The cover has Stan Getz (I assume; he looks like that one character actor, you know, Jimmy Stewart’s cop friend in Rear Window) lying on a hillside in a seersucker jacket, smoking a cigarette, with an expression of either cool or defeat. It looks to me like the art department blacked out the area directly behind him so he wouldn’t just blend in with the grass, but it ends up looking more like we’re seeing a cutaway of him entombed in a fairly spacious grave. If you were to interpret it that way, you might interpret his expression as “not giving a shit.” You could even imagine this cover as one of those early anti-smoking ads, except he doesn’t look miserable enough, even for a man buried alive. Seeing how the album is titled “Reflections,” I’d have to say he’s… reflecting.

There are some serious liner notes on the back (three columns) by Jack Maher—I’d like to read it all, but maybe tomorrow after coffee. Okay, it’s now the next day. Have any of you reached the point in your life where coffee really does nothing as far as keeping you awake? I mean, it works in that it makes me feel normal, but say, to keep awake while reading three columns of text on the back of an album… no. Isn’t it great that someone would think it was cool to put three columns of text on the back of this album? I’d love to read it all, discuss it intelligently, but I don’t really feel like doing any kind of research right now. I know Lalo Schifrin from film scores, but I don’t know much else. I don’t know the Bossa Nova from a Chevy Nova, and I think the Samba is a pocket of dough, deep-fried and filled with something delicious. I read somewhere that everyone was all pissed off at Getz for “selling out” with this record—and I kind of love that idea, in its quaint sincerity—kind of like the folk people getting mad a Dylan for “going electric.” It’s a good reminder for anyone, in any time period, to step back and realize that even if you could look into the future, you have no idea just how bad things can and will get.

30
Nov
17

June Christy “Something Cool”

My dad had an identical copy of this 1962 record, so I kind of grew up with it, but don’t remember playing it a lot; more, I remember the distinctive album cover—a black and white (actually blue and white, for “cool”) illustration of June Christy with a three drink, closed eye smile, and an icy, sweating, tall drink in the foreground—so it’s bigger than she is. With an album cover like that you’re just asking for the ironic tag once the inevitable struggle with alcohol becomes public knowledge. The back has an even more stylized drawing of a highball and some brief biographical notes. I guess June Christy was famous for singing with Stan Kenton’s band and is most associated with “cool jazz.” This record, recorded with the Pete Rugolo orchestra, first came out in the Fifties, and was re-released many times in different versions and was ultimately her most successful album.

The internet tells me she was from Illinois and her real name was Shirley Luster, which is a great name, and you kind of have to wonder why she changed it, but it seems like people in entertainment all changed their names back then. This is a pretty upbeat, poppy record, and I always liked it; it’s got a few of my favorites: “The Night We Called It A Day,” “I Should Care,” “It Could Happen To You,” and the title song, by Bill Barnes, is really nice. I never listened that closely to her voice before, though I liked it okay, but now I’m paying more attention and finding it really captivating, kind of low, and very sexy, with a lot of personality. At times she reminds me a little of Anita O’Day and a little of Ella Fitzgerald, but also someone else—but I can’t figure out who. Maybe it’s not even a singer she’s reminding me of, but someone I know, or once knew. Oh, boy, I said I wasn’t going to fall in love again this year, especially with disembodied voices haunting lonely rooms above downtown shops, wind swirling early snow under a streetlamp. So much for promises.




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