Archive for the 'mellow' Category

30
Jun
20

Glen Campbell “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”

I was not a fan of Glen Campbell as a kid, as he was all over the radio, and I’m sure I first heard the song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” every morning on the kitchen AM radio while I choked down my Crunch Berries and dreaded the day ahead. So this great song, by one of my favorite songwriters, Jimmy Webb, had a real hill to climb. Grade school, 8 a.m., Crunch Berries, over-played county song. Now, of course, I love the early morning, am nostalgic for grade school and the kitchen radio, and somewhere along the line I became a fan of country music and Glen Campbell. Can’t eat the Berries. I suppose the first time I realized this was a great song was when I heard Nick Cave do it—a super over-the-top version. (There’s a song on this record called “Bad Seed”—I wonder if that influenced his band name?) Not long after that, I heard another fine version by The Mad Lads, on this huge Stax collection I had. And then I heard Isaac Hayes’ amazing 19 minute version, which might be my favorite at this point—but you know, I want to hear them all (there’s like a million).

I’m not crazy about this album, but it’s okay—some of is a bit country on the corny side for my taste. “Hey Little One” is a nice song, as is “My Baby’s Gone.” I can do without the Paul Simon. If you can’t find this record in a thrift store, you aren’t looking. I like the over, Glen with his guitar case on a bench in a bus station (on his way to Phoenix). In the picture on the back, he looks more ready for lunch than sad, as intended. But he’s got a wristwatch with one of those bands that are wider than the watch face—remember those? You might have to be 50 or older to remember that style, but that reminds me that I did have such a watch band—they kind of seem absurd now, but cool, as well. Of course, this was before watch faces got as big as dinner plates. I wonder if I could find one of those, though… Just shopped for 15 seconds—Etsy, $53. Okay! (Next time I see a dude around town with one, I’m gonna stop and talk.)

22
May
20

Albert Hammond “It Never Rains in Southern California”

The first two songs really remind me of some old Cat Stevens songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s just that I haven’t been able to listen to a few of those songs since they were playing all the time at at job I had in 1982. No fault of either of these guys. The third song reminds me of a Mott the Hoople song, at least the beginning of it—so I like that better—and the line: “California tastes so good/like coffee should/I can’t put it down” speaks to me. The next one is a corny folk-rock song that I find a little annoying. The last song then, starts out: “Anyone here in the audience/with a pad that I can crash in?” It’s a begging song!—from the perspective of the “poor musician.” First verse asking for shelter, second for food, and third for love—though it’s hard to be sure if that means “love” or merely sex. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume he’s asking for a place crash, something to eat, maybe some booze or drugs, hot sex, and true love. I mean, if you’re putting it in a song, why not? If you get half of that, it was worth it.

On the other side, then, is the hit, the title song. So, this is another song that brings back eating cereal at the breakfast table before school, this would be Junior High or so. I had no idea Albert Hammond is who was responsible for another of these 1973, Ohio, AM radio, 7:30 a.m. flashbacks. Plus, I never had any idea what it means: “It never rains in Southern California… but it pours.” Offhand, I’d say it means it’s always sunny, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a broken heart—but I’m not even sure, because there’s a part about not getting enough to eat, again. Then there’s a song called “Names, Tags, Numbers & Labels” which is about exactly that. Then “Down by the River,” which is not the Neil Young song from a few years earlier. This one is jaunty (sounds kind of like Tommy Roe) but I suppose that’s ironic because the lyrics are actually pretty grim—it’s an environmentalist song, and doesn’t paint a pretty picture. The next song is kind of beautiful, but lyrically grim, again—I’m not sure if it’s about a relationship, or general problems with being a person, or maybe trying to cover both at the same time. The last song is quiet and melancholy, nice—it sounds a bit like a Beatles song that slipped out the back door. Overall, I feel like this is an impressive work, even as dated as some of it is, and there’s some fine musicians playing, and I like that I could spend more time trying to figure where he’s coming from on some of the songs, but for whatever reason, I find some of it unbearable. I’m sure this is someone’s favorite record of all time, and I don’t mean to say you’re wrong—it’s just that it’s simultaneously too weird and not weird enough for me, if that makes any sense.

I knew nothing about Albert Hammond, so I thought this record would fill in a bit of that missing part of my past—and it does a good job of that. It’s got one of those covers that annoyingly opens sideways, so that you can tack it vertically to your wall—just in case you want a tall, black and white photo if this good-looking, kind of hairy, guy with his shirt open, a small medallion, and leather pants that just keep going. So the internet tells me he’s from England and this was like his first record, hadn’t had a big hit at the time they recorded it, so some of these laments about being a hungry musician very well might be literal (and if you want to take it metaphorically—about love—aren’t we all). He’s only in his seventies now, and still out there playing, sounds like, at press time. He recorded a lot of records, wrote a lot of songs, and I’m sure has fans all over the world. I’m glad I could finally shine some light on this missing piece of the big puzzle. What you’ll find, I think, is generally—if you keep looking—is that you (meaning all of us) don’t know half of about 99.9% of the world. Old records are out there, and they’re for you.

03
May
20

Martin Denny “Exotica”

I’ve had a lot of Martin Denny records over the years—I must have left some behind when I moved, here and there—they’re relatively easy to find, cheap—kind of your classic thrift-store record that is worth picking up, even if scratchy. They must have sold a lot of them. This one is the first “Exotica” genre record, apparently—from which Exotica got its name. It’s a good name for anything. It would be a good name for a soap review website: Soap Exotica. Oh, wait, that exists (it’s mine). It would be a good name for a restaurant, say Egg Exotica, or Exotica Taco. Martin Denny kept putting out several records a year all through the Sixties and beyond—I don’t know how many in all. I suppose there are some real connoisseurs of this music who might have their favorites, might have them all ranked, even! Those kind of nuts walk among us! I will, at some point, try to find some good writing about Martin Denny, and Exotica in general, and see if there is a consensus “best” record. I believe I have a few more, right now, but I’m not sure. As a fun exercise, I’m going to try to imagine I’m hearing this (and this type of music) for the first time. First, there’s the novelty of the birds, the sound effects, the jungle sounds. Depending on who you are, that might get old, say, anywhere from one listening to never. Then, I guess, somewhat, it reminds me of stuff I’d hear as a kid, like the Latin rhythm George Shearing records that my parents played. I can’t remember if they had any Martin Denny, or Arthur Lyman records, but I don’t think so. Anyway, I could listen to this stuff all day long, when I’m in the mood for it, but who can predict one’s moods? I would probably be a much bigger fan, overall, if my apartment was decorated to look like a Tiki Bar (something I could do), and if I was mixing up an occasional rum drink with tropical fruit (something I’d be better off not getting back into, at this point).

04
Apr
20

Lani Hall “Sun Down Lady”

This may be one of the strangest album cover photos I’ve ever seen—it’s simply a color profile photo of (presumably) Lani Hall, blown up to billboard size—so large that the full-size album cover can only contain the area between her eyebrow and bottom lip. On top of that, it’s pretty color-saturated. Had she a zit on her right cheek, you’d have had to name the record “Mount Vesuvius.” But she looks nice—not many of us could stand up to such enlargement scrutiny. I wonder what she thought about the cover? Anyway, once I saw it, in the used record store, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy it. I had no idea who Lani Hall was—I didn’t remember that she sang with Brazil ’66—and I didn’t know that she was married to Herb Alpert—maybe still is—or that she sang a James Bond theme song. This record, from 1972, is her first solo record—and she recorded a bunch more.

I like this one a lot, actually, and it’s going in my regular listening pile (I actually have an old end table with a thing that holds either magazines or record albums—that’s where I put my regular listening stack.) Herb Alpert is the producer, and naturally there’s some first-rate session players on it, and a pretty interesting collection of songs, including “Tiny Dancer” and another by Elton John, “Come Down In Time”—this is a really nice version of it. There’s also songs by Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Paul Williams, and more. One Lani Hall composition—a pretty intense love song. The Lesley Duncan song, “Love Song” is a standout, probably my favorite on the record. “Sun Down” is a very familiar sounding song (it’s written by Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote “Muskrat Love”)—could this song have been playing on the AM radio in the morning while I ate my Cap’n Crunch before another horrific day of 7th Grade? I like it, now, though—it pretty much puts me on a beach, looking out over the Pacific as the light fades, with a beautiful woman and a rum drink. You know, pretty much my life.

13
Mar
20

Mickey Newbury “The Sailor”

I probably mentioned this before—I heard a Mickey Newbury song on the radio, never had heard of him, so kind of got obsessed with him, then bought half a dozen records—none of which stood up to that song (or the memory of it). Still, he’s an interesting guy, a successful Nashville songwriter and recording artist, without being a big star. I suppose fans of his consider him a big star, but you know, not one of that handful everyone knows—and if you think about it, what’s this obsession we have (in this cultural time and place) with being known even by the people who don’t really care about your art? I guess it’s about money, then, right? This is a nice country record, low key, solid songs, straightforward, Nashville studio pros, I guess, the usual themes. Actually, I’m not listening all that close to the lyrics. “A Weed is a Weed”—yes it is. The cover cracks me up—kind of a half-assed nautical mishmash. It made me think of the one room in my parents’ house that was decked out in a kind nautical, “Polynesian” (influenced, no doubt, by a visit to Disney Polynesian Village), and Tiki bar (influenced by visits to the Kon-Tiki in Cleveland and the Kahiki in Columbus). The closest music they played to country was nothing; I had a Johnny Cash 45, “A Boy Named Sue”—but that was more of novelty record. I don’t remember when I started to really like country music—I believe it was with Merle Haggard. At a certain point I just became open to anything. I can listen to this record, but it doesn’t do much for me. It’s just not weird enough, on any level, to really comfort me in any way. And that subtle harmonica doesn’t help, it’s just so easy on the ears (in a bad way). It just occurred to me that the cover could be the background art for the menu of cheesy seafood restaurant—that made me laugh.

29
Feb
20

5 Stairsteps & Cubie “Love’s Happening”

I didn’t know this band at all, and saw a beat-up copy of this LP in an antique store—but it plays fine and sounds good. It reminded me of the Jackson 5 on the first song, but then I don’t know the Jackson 5 other than the hits, and they were a few years later? Most of the songs are by Curtis Mayfield, and are all good, plus he’s the producer. They are proclaimed “The First Family of Soul” on the back of the record, so I’ll buy it—they even list their names and ages on back, kids from 15 to 19, plus Cubie who’s 3, and called “the old man.” I love the picture on the cover, the 1968 fashions—and it looks like it’s taken in the storage room of a department store—some truly bizarre details in this photo—something that would never happen now in this age of overthinking, over editing, over photoshopping. The little guy, I assume that’s Cubie, is wearing a yellow, red, and blue Mondrian scarf—I swear I had that same scarf when I was about the age of this record! It’s on Curtis Mayfield’s “Curtom” label, and the label art is very cool—kind of bizarre—there’s what looks like a tiny scorpion as part of the logo. “Don’t Change Your Love” jumps out as a killer song. But I like them all. They’re be an upbeat number, then a slower, more soulful one, back and forth, and that works well here. I like this record a lot, second or third time through, I’m liking it more. This is the best four dollars I’ve spent in awhile—I think I’ll keep this one out for listening.

26
Feb
20

Shane Leonard “Strange Forms”

This record looks like it could have come from the 80s, maybe—or could be any number of decades old, but there’s a sticker on the cover that says: “Includes Download Card”—which, that’s kind of a recent thing, isn’t it? Maybe not so recent. Anyway, the dude on the cover is standing in front of a “Load Star II”—which looks to be a commercial washer or dryer (is he in a laundromat?)—maybe “Includes Download Card” is about some free laundry promotion. This record got my attention because (besides the fact that it was sitting out, here in the cabin, like someone had recently played it) because the picture of the guy on the cover, who we’ll assume is Shane Leonard, looked really familiar to me. Like, have I met this guy somewhere? Maybe he was the guy that rang up my gas and pork rinds back there in Rhinelander. No, that guy had a beard. Well, I’ll probably figure it out later and be embarrassed—sorry, Shane! The memory is fading.

There’s varying degrees of subtle accompaniment on each of these songs, but they’re all pretty quiet, minimal, and take their time—in short, my kind of music. Good songs, too, catchy songs. Some really remind me of something else—which probably means they are just good songs—not usually a problem, unless they remind you of “My Sweet Lord.” Good lyrics, too, and I can understand them without the lyric sheet, but I like the lyric sheet. There’s one called “Bloomington, IN,” where he says his memory’s fading, too, and he’s good with faces and bad with names—weird! Isn’t that what I just said? I’m not joking—sometimes I just have connections with things I do no understand. (Yesterday I read a reference to “Petals on a wet black bough” in a book I was reading, then heard someone say that phrase later the same day in a totally unrelated podcast! Though I guess you could say they were tied together by Ezra Pound (but it wasn’t a book or podcast about Ezra Pound)—it was just by chance, and on the same day?—this kind of thing happens all the time.) There’s also a reference to Bowling Green in that song, a town I used to visit, occasionally. I once was in a race there (running, this was high school), and the bass player from Brownsville Station (remember “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room?”) was, too. Also, I saw a Doobie Brothers show there.

There’s a song about looking out the window of the “Empire Builder”—and if you’ve ever rode the Empire Builder (it’s a double-decker Amtrak train), you probably remember a similar looking out the window experience (unless you were on your damn phone the whole time). Wow—a reference to Jude Law—nothing against him personally, but does Jude Law really bug the shit out of anyone else? I guess this is a good record for bringing up these things I’ve been thinking about, which is interesting because it seems intensely personal. Also, as far as I can tell, there’s a lot about a very young kid, likely his kid—and as I’ve never had kids, it’s not something I can relate to on that level. But maybe that’s the reason that music is such a great thing—it’s that connecting force that helps us reach each other, regardless of shared experiences and backgrounds—regardless of language, even—regardless, even, of time.

23
Feb
20

The Dell Trio “Cocktail Time”

I expected this to be one of those corny records, like “Music for…” (“Music for Dressing Deer,” “Music for Cleaning Game”) like you’ll find in the open-one-day-a-week antique stores in the North Woods, and are sometimes on the sound-system of supper clubs—but this isn’t corny at all, it’s just a great record. Since the record has no info on it whatsoever (except song titles, and ads for about 50 other Harmony (the label) records, I’ll just have to make up a bio: The Dell Trio consists of Grandma Eunice Dell on the church Hammond, local handyman Charlie Bill Pike on accordion, and Bob Flippen mixing the cocktails, occasional jug, and glass percussion. No, wait, there’s a guitar on there, too. I suspect that the organ is playing bass and also doing the percussion. But like I said, I just made that up—there are actual real people playing on this record, not fictional characters, and a real Dell Trio somewhere in the past. Or maybe they’re still together, playing in an early spot at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. But most likely they are elderly, not touring much, or passed on. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to find anything about them with the internet.

This is a really good record, though, and worth picking up if you see it in a thrift store. It’s got a racy album cover, what looks like a man’s legs and a woman’s legs protruding from a sofa, though we don’t see the rest of them, they’re out of frame, but we’re led to believe they’re making out. The room is over-lit by a hanging paper lamp, and there’s green and orange/pink pillows on the floor, suggesting bohemianism. A little table is holding two cocktails, a Martini and an Old-Fashioned, and there’s a standing ashtray with a cigarette that has gone out. There’s also a little clay-potted plant on the table—I don’t know what the plant is, but I think it’s supposed to suggest, but not advertise, marijuana. Songs include “Cocktails for Two” and “Stumbling” (never heard that one before!), two moon songs in a row, and also a couple of my favorites, “September Song” and “Laura”—nice versions. One could have a worse hobby than collecting all the recorded versions of “Laura”—there’s a lot, and they’re pretty much all good. I’m obsessed with that movie, if I haven’t mentioned that recently.

22
Feb
20

Parliament “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”

“Funk is its own reward.” “May frighten you.” I think someone speaks those words, in a kind of intro, or did I just imagine that? There’s a giant list of credits that reads like a funk all-star band, so I’m not sure who is doing what on any song, but I assume there’s a lot of George Clinton. There’s a couple of short songs, then the epic song, “Dr. Funkenstein,” which is a fairly slow, laconic, extremely funky whole-world of a song, with a chanted chorus and voices coming in from all over the place, speaking, singing, stream-of-consciousness. There is this pretty simple but genius repetitive guitar part that runs through it that I just want as the theme song for my life. The song is six minutes, but I wish it was a lot longer. I never do this, but I’m going to buy this song for my computer (sometimes I listen to music there, at home, when I’m not playing records) so I can just play this on repeat for hours. It’s like a TV show theme song, or a whole TV show, or movie. This record came out in 1976, and I may have heard it at a party, but probably not. I was in the phase of progressing directly from prog-rock to punk rock, but I missed the boat here. A few years later, one of the funniest and most offensive punk records I’ve ever heard, Black Randy and the Metrosquad’s “Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie,” has songs that just lift directly from Dr. Funkenstein. I don’t know why, exactly, but I just keep listening and listening to this song. With all the sound effects, and odd vocals—spoken parts, some in annoying cartoon voices, some in frog-voice—stuff that would normally get on my nerves—but here it sounds like a symphony of good insanity. All of the songs on this record are good, including one of those super-long-title ones, “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body),” and “Let’s Funk Around,” which exploits that tireless and seemingly inexhaustible tradition of using the word “funk” in place of the word “fuck.” The cover (front and back) is also first-rate, with members of the band, presumably, dressed for the stage, or the lab, in some kind of a 1970s television sci-fi set, a good one. I remember looking at a partial discography for Parliament—just the list of titles from the Seventies—all just excellent, mysterious titles. I wonder if these are easy to find—I mean, not for hipster prices, normal person prices—I’ll keep an eye out for them. It’s like a crime against my sensibility that I don’t own any Parliament Funkadelic vinyl.

02
Feb
20

The George Shearing Quintet and Orchestra “Black Satin”

This George Shearing Quintet record is a little different than some others I have in that there is orchestra, arranged by Billy May. There’s something about it that I like almost better than any I’ve heard—it’s hard to say why. There’s something kind of odd about how that Shearing sound—his distinctive piano, coupled with vibes and guitar—sounds with the orchestra. Maybe it’s just that this was one of the records my parents had, and I heard it a lot as a kid. I don’t remember at this point exactly which Shearing records they did have, but pretty much every time I hear any of them, it takes me back to childhood more completely than anything—I can smell what the house smelled like, the carpet just after vacuuming, the late-afternoon sun coming in the west-facing picture window. There’s always something a little sad about it, but comforting, too. I could probably put this record on once a week for the rest of my life. No weak spots—but then there rarely is (that I’ve found) with Shearing. The drawing on the back cover, with the brief liner notes, is a formally dressed rich, young, white man and woman sitting on one of those round couches, like a plush couch wrapped around a post, like the ones in the lobby of the Hotel Breakers, in Sandusky. The joke here is: “Get a room,” because if you ever tried having sex on one of those round couches… what am I saying? No one’s tried that! The cover photo shows a young woman in a slim back dress with some kind of crazy beads draped around her neck that looks like a dead fish, if you squint. She’s reclining on, maybe partly under, what’s supposed to be, of course, “black satin”—but if you really look at it, it more resembles a photo-studio setup of black, plastic trash bags! I’m not sure this doesn’t represent a very bad day in a Capital records photo studio. The woman looks pretty great, like she’d just as soon kick your ass as make out—and if you use your imagination, you could comfortably put this cover photo on a movie poster about alien pod people or a punk rock album various artist collection called, “Straight Outta Da Trash.”




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