Archive for the 'mellow' Category

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.

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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.

26
Feb
19

Randy Newman “Sail Away”

I first heard Randy Newman’s song “Sail Away” on a Warner Special Products box set LP called Superstars of the 70’s that came out in 1973 and was sold on TV. I heard a lot of music for the first time via that thing, but they placed “Sail Away” directly after Seals & Crofts “Summer Breeze” and The Beach Boys “Surf’s Up” so I kind of dismissed it as “Yacht Rock” (which wasn’t invented, or at least named, yet) and didn’t bother to listen closely enough to the lyrics to realize it wasn’t about… “sailing.” I’m sure I understood irony at the time, but at 12 and 13 I was (like a lot of kids) kind of a raging maniac, and it wasn’t until my first year in high school—when my English teacher Mr. Kimble used a lot of popular songs in his class—that I started to listen to song lyrics a little differently. It’s interesting how kids kind of mature at different rates—I mean it’s both different for each individual and each person has different parts of them maturing—so it’s all out of whack. I think this is fascinating, and can also be scary. Pretty much everyone is born into the pain of a raging narcissist, and you can even keep that childhood part of you vital—I think it’s really built into what’s necessary for “success”—and it’s possible to find a mate who supports it. It might even really not be a problem until you become a parent, or a boss, or the President. Other people keep other child parts vital, which can both make you happy, and suffer (often both simultaneously). I pretty much go by feelings more than intellect, to a fault, and my music listening often reflects that. Like, on that Warner collection, “Tumbling Dice” was my favorite song, and still holds me under its spell, and I still have no idea what Mick Jagger or the backup singers are singing. What’s it about? Tumbling dice, I guess, but also an unspeakable desire.

Anyway, this record is great, I love it from beginning to end. I feel like these songs will work on your computer, or MP3 player, at home, or while walking, but it’s nice the album has the lyrics inside—I think it’s one where you can eventually get more out of reading along at some point. I don’t know about you, but I never like to read lyrics when I first hear a song—I’d rather really get to know a song before I ever go to the lyrics. But it does have some value, I think, reading lyrics, to appreciate songs on different levels. You can find this one in a thrift store, too, but you might overlook it because it has one of the murkiest album covers you’ll ever see, of Randy Newman looking a lot like Ian Hunter—and it’s one of those that annoyingly folds out sideways—so no one ever knows how to put it on a shelf or in a bin. Opened up, it’s like a super closeup photo of him sitting at a piano wearing sunglasses and corduroy jacket in extremely low light, as if the photo was taken surreptitiously with a telephoto lens through door opened only a few inches without his knowledge. In the act, no doubt, of writing a song. Or maybe thinking about writing a song, which, I guess, is the same thing.

This is a record I’m still only scratching the surface of, and it could easily accompany me to my grave (I mean in a good way). A few years back I discovered the Randy Newman song “Wedding in Cherokee County” (from a different LP) and it became my favorite song for about a year, and an example of what songwriting can, could, should (and maybe never, for me, would) be. The twelve songs on this album are sitting there like the complete works of some (pick your favorite) writer, heavy on the shelf, but nothing but wallpaper until you tackle them with all the parts of you working as best as you can aspire to (at this point). What’s kind of amazing is 1972 is getting near half a century ago, and this music feels contemporary (at least to me). Also, several of these songs are under two minutes long and only one is barely over three and a half. The richness can’t be taken in all at once—I mean it can, it’s enjoyable—but to really get at it. I’ve got to go in for just a little bit, and then come back for more later. The title song is a complete experience, it’s just so beautiful on the surface and so angry and caustic just underneath. Randy Newman is an LA guy, but spent a lot of time in the South, has a kind of accent, writes a lot about the South, but it’s interesting there are a couple of songs on this record referencing Ohio. For one thing, he probably understands that southern Ohio is the South, and maybe he even knows, like I do, that so is all of Ohio. His song “Burn On” sounds like it’s in the tradition of southern river songs, but it’s about the Cuyahoga River which famously caught on fire in Cleveland (even much younger people might know about that). It kind of caught people’s attention about pollution, at the time, and provided fuel for those annoying environmentalists. Of course, now we’ve got a genius in the White House, who, if the river was to catch on fire again, would tweet that the river didn’t catch on fire, it was FAKE NEWS, and his supporters would believe him—shit, dude’s got it figured out.

22
Feb
19

B.J. Thomas “Everybody’s Out Of Town”

On the cover of this record, B.J. Thomas is standing on a corner in front of a plaque in the shape of the state of Ohio—commemorating the Northwest Ordinance and the establishment of the state in which I was born—which is on the side of a building on the corner of Wall Street and Broad or Nassau, I think, in New York City, presumably very early in the morning sometime around 1970. He’s wearing a Russian gangster leather jacket, definitely concealing firearms, grey slacks, black boots, and sunglasses, even though it’s still pre-coffee and post-photoshoot breakfast before he’ll need them. He looks like a character from Mean Streets (1973), waiting for someone, for either signing papers, exchanging a large amount of money, or sex, or Jap adapters. On the back cover he’s moving on, to where the bagels might be, and on the inside cover he’s all the way up to Times Square—it has just rained, and this looks more like a scene from The Omega Man (1971), Matthias and the Family have retired for the day, and B.J. is looking for a matinee, maybe a screening of Woodstock (1970), for the 80th time.

So you might think there’s an Ohio connection, but no, B.J. is Billy Joe Thomas, from Texas (if he’d been from Ohio he’d maybe have been “Brian James Thomas”) and though some say that Texas is just Ohio with oil and cows… (no one ever said that). A quick bio: “Success, Love, Drugs, Jesus.” Though no man’s life can be summed up in four words (nor one: “Rosebud”)—(though it’s been argued that mine can be nailed down in five: “It sucks, you stole it.”) One of his earliest hits was recording a Hank Williams song, so obviously this guy knows a good song when he hears it, and that seems to have served him well. On this record we can find Fred Neil, Bacharach/David, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Paul Simon, among others. Every song on this record sounds kind of inevitable, like either I’ve heard them before (likely… either these versions or someone else’s) or will be hearing them sometime soon. It’s all very pleasant, even if it doesn’t blow my mind. I suppose I could put this record on when having someone over on a first date, or at least in my normal life fantasy I like to indulge once in awhile.




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