Archive for the 'mellow' Category

21
Jun
19

Paul Horn “Visions”

I should have known who Paul Horn was, or maybe I did, kind of, but forgot or wasn’t thinking about it when I picked up this record. I was drawn to it because it looks like someone made the album cover while either on acid or in a therapeutic situation while being detained—whether it be by the authorities, caregivers, or cultists. Apologies to cover designer Glen Dias. That sounds too harsh—and it really is quite stunning and beautiful, but also kind of fucked up. It’s really pretty bizarre, and not slick, and if it wasn’t for the prominent “Epic” logo in the corner, I might think this record was totally homemade. That’s a compliment. There are liner notes on the back, by producer Henry Lewy—neatly typed, not scrawled in blood or anything, but laid out in the shape of a butterfly (or a bat? Or a concretion?—anyway, I can’t read it). There’s a reason that writing—which is just an already rather difficult-to-translate code of communication—is laid out with the end of each line continuing on a justified left margin. These liner notes are telling me they want to be admired as a design, but not read. Or maybe it was just someone’s—over there at Epic—bad design idea.

Another record from 1974—I seem to be drawn to that year without even trying. I’m not sure what to make of this record, actually, some of it sounds just right on, with a mellow groove, and some fine playing, and of course some really nice flute by Paul Horn. I could imagine putting this on quite regularly. But then it will get to a part that sounds just kind of insipid to me. It’s interesting, this record is all cover songs—David Batteau, Joan Baez, two by Joni Mitchell, three by David Crosby, and three by Stevie Wonder—but it sounds like a real unified band sound—so you kind of recognize the songs, but the style is Paul Horn (or his band on this record—I don’t know enough Paul Horn to say if this is a deviation). I’ll have to pay more attention to see whose songs translate best to this style. But right now, I’m having trouble paying attention to anything. Still can’t sleep, headache every day. The headaches are getting worse. Can’t concentrate. Where was I? Oh, yeah, I started to imagine putting this record on with a dinner guest over. Maybe I’ve just cooked some, I don’t know, some quinoa, kale horseshit. Borrow a corkscrew from the front desk and open the best bottle of red $12 will buy. If I started drinking again, I think the last thing I would be able tolerate is red wine. Like, for some reason, I really associate red wine with depression. Anyway, one song comes on, and it’s prefect mood music—and yeah, I guess I’m talking about a date. Then the next song comes on and creeps me out! I guess one song will make me feel like a very suave guy, kind of liquid, mind and body as one. And then the next one will make me feel like I’m in a commercial for a 401(k) Plan. It’s totally schizo, this record. I’ve heard movie soundtracks this schizo—in fact most movie soundtracks are, which is why I rarely listen to movie soundtrack records. Maybe I won’t write about this record now. But then, I might put it on a year from now and have the same exact reaction—so maybe I should write about it, get it over with, as a kind of warning, or an antidote… for my future self.

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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.

04
May
19

Kris Kristofferson “Jesus Was a Capricorn”

It’s not my favorite Kris Kristofferson record, but it’s got the best title and best cover of any record you’re probably going to see in a thrift-store for a dollar, so there’s really no excuse not to own it. Plus it’s a good record. My favorite songs are, “Nobody Wins” and “It Sure Was (Love)”, but they’re all okay—I especially like the ones that Rita Coolidge is singing on. I guess that’s her on the cover, kind of outdoing KK at the cool look, not any easy thing to do, and I read that they were married not long after this record came out. The back cover is either a clever art department fake of photos pinned to a bulletin-board, or else it’s just a black and white photo of the real thing. The thing is, I didn’t think push-pins were invented yet in 1972—but then, what do I know about history, apparently? There are also some pretty literal liner notes, handwritten and tacked up there, too. It reads as pretty genuine, and one would presume written by KK, but then, the one time I contributed liner notes to a record they claimed to be written by someone else, so who can say what is legit in this slippery show business world? Kids growing up now, who learn how to use Google before they even smoke or cuss, must live in a very different world. For the longest time, when younger, I thought Kris Kristofferson was a fake name or stage name, because—well, he was already larger than life, and it’s kind of a goofy name. But now, he was born Kristoffer Kristofferson. (One wonders if one of his kids is named Kristofferson Kristofferson.) When my parents admitted to considering naming me Russell Russell (Russ) Russell, I thanked them for not saddling me with a Looney Tunes handle. Anyway, it was many years until I took Kris Kristofferson seriously—also, maybe, because there was a time when the only guys with beards were Fidel Castro, Charles Manson, and Santa Claus. Eventually, of course, I realized Kris Kristofferson, who was born the same summer as my mom, was like the coolest dude who walked the Earth, and as of the writing of this, continues to do so. I don’t know if he’s a religious man, but I might consider buying all nine of his records from the Seventies, just because I think it’s interesting that the titles include, besides the name Kristofferson, the words: Devil (twice!), Lord, Jesus, Spooky, Bless, Surreal, and Easter. It may be hard to tell exactly where he’s coming from, but it’s definitely not the vanilla frozen yogurt counter of the Boring, Illinois Safeway.

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

06
Apr
19

Julie London “Calendar Girl”

This is one of the best theme records of 1956, if not ever, as each song represents a month of the year. Naturally, some months have more than one song written about them, while others needed an obscure song dug up, or a new one composed for this record, I’m guessing—so a lot of work had to be done and hard decisions had to be made. Like, it starts out with “June in January”—representing the first month of the year. The other aspect of this theme thing is that the album cover, both the front and back, are each decorated with six calendar style pinup photos of Julie London in skimpy costumes. Older people reading this might have an indelible image of Julie London in a nurse’s uniform, from the TV show, Emergency! in which she convincingly played a nurse, and about which I have no nostalgia. Her husband, Bobby Troup, played a doctor, but in real life he wrote “Route 66” as well as some of the songs on this album.

The best way to approach this record, then, is song by song, with visual accompaniment of the cheesecake photos—and to make matters richer, there are liner notes by Richard Breen (screenwriter of Tony Rome 1967), a man who needs no introduction, as I’m not going to paraphrase any, busy as I am writing my own. “June in January” is a song I’m well-acquainted with, and JL’s calendar photo is with balloons and a noisemaker, presumably after hours of the New Year’s party. February is a valentine, naturally, a big heart and a bear-skin rug, but a sad song, “February Brings the Rain.” “Melancholy March” is another sad one, the bear rug again, a see-through nightie, a feather duster, and green telephone (reminding me of how sad it is that cell phones will never be cool or beautiful objects). “I’ll Remember April” (especially this one) and she’s donning a polka-dot bikini and a parasol. “People Who are Born in May” is a goofy song that I’m not going to try to make sense of. JL is wearing a gingham bikini and is posing with basket of flowers. “Memphis in June” has some really nice imagery, and the pic is of her wearing a wedding dress, but one that wouldn’t be appropriate at a first wedding, a church wedding, or really any wedding, outside of the Playboy Mansion.

Side Two: “Sleigh Ride in July” is a nice compliment to the first song on the record, and the Preston Sturges movie, maybe, but it’s a weird song—the expression “I’ll take you on a sleigh ride in July” sounds at best too aggressive, and possibly felonious. In the picture she’s holding a firecracker big enough to destroy a house. Also, what this reminds me of is when, in grade school, I mixed up the spelling of the month of July and the name Julie (who I had a crush on), and I never got over being mortified. “Time for August” is a sultry song, and the pic is JL in a very small bikini sitting on some tangled fish nets, holding some kind of a large ball which I have no idea what that is! “September in the Rain” is about springtime, which for some reason feels like September? Another fishing theme, and this time she looks like Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. “This October” is another Bobby Troup song, and she’s wearing probably the most sexy Devil Halloween costume ever attempted, and of course there’s a pumpkin. “November Twilight” is a beautiful, melancholy song, and JL is wearing tasteful black lingerie and sitting on satin draped over something, maybe a large compost bin? Finally, she’s a scantily dressed Santa Claus with wrapped presents, and tells us that she’ll keep us warm in “Warm December.” Wait, but there’s one more, “The Thirteenth Month,” the “month of remember”—a very sad tune—perhaps she’s a ghost—but the picture—(this one full-size, on the inside as the cover opens, facing the liner notes) is flesh and blood—but especially flesh, as there is no costume to speak of, this time, just some tastefully draped ermine.

29
Mar
19

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross “The Best of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross”

I feel like I had another record by them awhile back, and I feel like I wrote about it, but I can’t find it. I picked up this one fairly recently—a little against my better judgment because it’s a “best of” record—and the cover (a stylized silhouette drawing of three howling cats) made me think this was released like, yesterday. Also because it’s a very clean copy. It’s also on that most common of all labels, the red Columbia one. So I was kind of shocked to see the record came out in 1974—that’s 45 years ago! Oh, now looking at the small print… this record was previously released as their record, “The Hottest New Group in Jazz” in 1959—so it’s essentially a re-release. So, as an object, it’s brand new—that is, if 1974 was now, but, well, the music… that makes more sense to me… it sounds like 1959.

The music on this is all good, I like every song, and I can listen to this at every meal. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross are—well, you know—a vocal group consisting of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross. (I’m not sure if they considered calling themselves: Annie, Jon & Dave.) I first heard one of the songs from this record, Annie Ross’ song, “Twisted,” when Woody Allen used it as the title song in his movie, Deconstructing Harry (1997)—along with jump cuts of Judy Davis in a murderous rage. It’s the best opening of any of his movies (well, except for maybe Manhattan). Though the very first place I ever saw her was acting, playing a singer in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993). I believe you can find some old footage of her, maybe on YouTube (I’ll look), yeah, on some kind of old TV show that is made to look like a casual party, where you know, Count Basie happens to be playing and people (Annie Ross, then Lambert and Hendricks and Joe Williams) break out into some jazz singing. I’ve already said something else is the “best thing on the internet”—but really, this may be. It’s great. And this album’s not bad, either—like I said, all the songs here are good—they’re fun, and all pretty unique while fitting together like anything. My favorites here being Cloudburst, Twisted, and, really, just all of them. And Summertime (some day I will make a mix tape of all the versions I can find, and this is a particularly killer one).

I just noticed that there are some extensive liner notes on the back cover, written by Jon Hendricks, which I failed to read before, so I will now—written for this re-release in 1974 (he mentions Watergate)—really good liner notes, kind of a poetically conveyed history of the band, ending with his poem (“the shortest jazz poem ever heard.”) “Listen.” I’m going to steal that. That’s perfection, poetry-wise. But where do you go from there? I guess imperfection, which is also beautiful, and contained in all my favorite stuff. As part of his brief history of each of them, and them getting together, he tells us that he’s from Toledo, Ohio (interesting to me since I’m from non-literally a stone’s-throw from there), home of Art Tatum, among others, and also the expression “Holy Toledo”—which he says: “derives from the fact that there are only two bad weeks in show business: Holy Week and a week in Toledo. And if you happen to be booked in Toledo during Holy Week, well—’Holy Toledo!’”

28
Feb
19

Richard Harris “Slides”

This record is thrift store gold, not because it’s a rare find and worth anything, or even that it’s a great record, but because you will see it in thrift stores—usually recycling back through several times because people will buy it on a whim because of its whimsical cover (designed to look like a photographic slide, but record album size, with a clear plastic window revealing a very corny photo of Harris in a matching denim jacket and hat). Then they find they can’t deal with Harris-world, and send it back into the system. But if you do see a copy—and if you haunt the thrift store record bins long enough, you will—you should really buy it and give it a chance, because maybe, like me, the Harris-switch will flip in your brain and you’ll understand him as the genius that he is. I normally will never use the word genius—even for an undeniable one like Thelonious Monk—though sometimes I’ll use the word in a somewhat ironic way, like the genius who drives his car through something destructive but non-life-threatening. But then there is a certain type of genius where the word must be used hyperbolically to make your point, because pretty much no one agrees with you (though in the case of Ricard Harris, I bet there is a legion of people who do agree with me, but they’re people kind of like me—old guys, smoking pipes, who generally complain a lot, but love a few things passionately about which they spout their feeling via blogs to a totally indifferent and uncaring world wide nothingness).

This may be the first Richard Harris record I bought—though I’m not sure. I can’t really remember if I realized I was in love with “MacArthur Park” and then sought out Richard Harris records, or if it was the other way around. I think maybe I had this record for awhile before I figured out that I loved Ricard Harris records—I think for a long-ass time I didn’t really play it—and just was aware of the pretty ridiculous song, “Gin Buddy.” I mean, that is a great song, but it’s pretty silly, too. “He ain’t drunk, he’s just foggy, so one more gin toddy, and then I’ll take my old gin buddy home.” A lot of Richard Harris’ earlier stuff is written by and in collaboration with Jimmy Webb, one of the best songwriters of all time, and certainly the greatest weird one. There’s no J. Webb on this record, but who there is a lot of is Tony Romeo—in fact you could pretty much call it a Tony Romeo album with Ricard Harris singing—he wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs, produced it and played on it. A great and prolific songwriter, he’s best known for the Partridge Family hit “I Think I Love You” (a song I think about every year on this (almost) date, the birthday of the first girl I ever had a crush on (never got over it) and for that, T. Romeo will always hold a place in my heart).

If you are one of the impatient youth, and don’t take the time to fully digest an album like you need to do with this one, you might just drop the needle on the title track, “Slides” which has a kind of really nice intro, just Harris singing to harpsichord. Then he goes onto narrate an actual slide show (we get slide projector sound effects, and some visual accompaniment and lyrics on the back cover). I like it, but I can see how it might kind of freak out the casual listener. But then the last song, “There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross” (the only one written by Harris) is essentially spoken word (aka poetry) with orchestral accompaniment that sounds like the soundtrack for a very grim period war tragedy. It’s well-done, over the top, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It would be a crime to judge the album by these last two songs, though, because there are some really beautiful pop songs earlier, and if you don’t believe me, play them one at a time. “Roy” sounds like it’s going to be a Partridge Family song, and it builds to an emotional climax, a great pop number. “How I Spent My Summer” is also good, and sounds eerily like a Jimmy Webb song. “I’m Comin’ Home” is almost ridiculously catchy, one of those songs that you find yourself singing along with the chorus the first time you hear it. “Once Upon a Dusty Road” is another one that starts out quietly and then builds dramatically, then subsides, then explodes again, which Richard Harris can really pull off. The song that really snuck up on me on this record, because it’s just kind of hidden in the middle of the first side, is “Sunny-Jo”—it’s a very emotional love song (and no, I never even have been in love with someone named Sunny-Jo) that just kills me. It’s my favorite song late in the evening on the last day of February. I like it so much I’m going to put it on again, and I don’t joke about things like that.




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