Archive for the 'Milwaukee' Category

27
Feb
19

Sammi Smith “Mixed Emotions”

It might be hard to believe, but I had never heard of Sammi Smith (well, I probably had—after all, I used to listen to the radio and watch Hee Haw—but over the years a lot of brain cells have been eradicated, I’m afraid, and Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout had more prominently ghosted my radar, apparently), but I saw this older record of hers at the used bookstore (I haven’t written about it yet) and it had a very personality-rich cover, so I bought it, expecting it to be unlistenable, but it was great. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for Sammi Smith records. She was country and western singer who put out 17 or 18 albums in the Seventies, then moved on to other things. You can easily find a brief history on the internet if you’re interested. But I have a feeling that, just with my brief exposure to her, she was a fascinating person—maybe someone will write a biography about her.

The cover of this album (on Elektra records) is odd in that I would have guessed it was from the Eighties, just by the layout and graphics, the colors, the style. I admit I’m considerably more of a fan of things from the Seventies than the Eighties, in all forms of culture—including record albums and album covers. So I almost didn’t pick it up, but then I noticed it was Sammi Smith, and I looked at the back expecting to see a later date, and was kind of surprised that it was 1977. There is actually a really great photograph on the cover, but for some reason it is kind of weirdly cropped and vertical, with several inches of border on either side— why? A square version of this photo, blown up, would have been a much better cover.

The first song scared me because of its prominent use of a kazoo—never a good sign. Never judge an album by the first song, though. The next song is great—it’s called “Touch Me” and is a classic Nashville sounding song—I tried looking it up, to see who else did it—but do you know how many people have recorded songs called “Touch Me?” When I start writing songs again, the first thing I’m going to do is write a song with that title! Then a really nice, slow, old-fashioned sounding version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” the Don Gibson classic that I most associate with Ray Charles. Next is “De Grazia’s Song,” written by Sammi Smith—I don’t know who De Grazia is (a painter), but he/she wrote the brief, but glowing liner notes. The last song, then, is jaunty to the point that she refers to someone as “you little booger”—making this one of those famous, “skip first and last song records”—though that’s just the first side. What will the second side hold in store for us?

“I’ve Seen Better Days” is a good one—it’s written by Red Lane and Danny Morrison—I’m sure I’ve heard it, but I’m not sure where—a lot of big names in country music did it—but I’m going to say, hearing this version, if someone can show me a better version than this one, it might be my favorite all-time song. “Hallelujah for Beer” is a song that you probably get the idea from the title—a song that is probably playing right now on a jukebox in Milwaukee. “Days That End in ‘Y’” is another beautifully heartbreaking country song—but I’m getting tired of looking up who else did these songs. It’s another title I’m going to steal, but change it to: “The Days That End in Why” (if no one else has). “A Woman Left Lonely” is my favorite song on the record—it’s just undeniably a killer song, written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham—the most famous version, of course, being Janis Joplin’s. And I love Janis Joplin and her version of this song, but it’s an interesting comparison, her version and this one, because I’d argue that Sammi Smith’s is better, because it’s more about the song, while Janis Joplin’s is more about Janis. I don’t mean that critically, I love that about her—she could sing “Old MacDonald had a Farm” and break your heart. But I love how this version is also emotional, heartbreaking—but really, you love the song and the singer in equal parts. The last song, then, is the Tom Jans song, “Loving Arms,” and a beautiful, lovely way to end the record.

Advertisements
15
Feb
19

The Bon Aires “La Versatile”

Rams Head Inn, Milwaukee

I’m not exactly sure what the name of this record is. It’s by The Bon Aires (or Bon-Aires) on a label called “Pro-Gress Records.” Besides the band name, the cover also says, “La Versatile”—what’s that all about? And also, “Rams Head Inn, Milwaukee”—apparently where the band had their tenure. The most advanced date I see anywhere in print on the cover is 1968, and the song, Evil Ways! (recorded by Santana) came out in 1969, so I’m just going to go with 1969 as a date for this record.

If you saw the cover of this record you’d have bought it, too—it looks like it’s pasted up by someone’s insane aunt, including “framed” photos of the band members, and a cartoon graphic of a naked woman with ram’s horns grappling with a cocktail glass as big as she is (fortunately only a couple of inches tall, or it might have never cleared the myopic decency mafia). On back is a little feature about The Rams Head Inn where The Bon Aires were the house band, and it sounds like a great place—I’d be there right now if it had survived. It even gives the address: 2023 S. Kinnickinnic, Milwaukee—is it still there? A quick look at the internet map—oh. That’s the corner of Kinnickinnic and Becher where now there’s that hideous BP station, “Go” Mart, and Laser Touchless Carwash. That’s just tragic. I can’t find anything on the internet about this record, so I’m not going to try that hard—I’ll just go by what’s here. There’s an extensive bio for each band member—this was a regular supergroup. Their names are: Dennis Jurkowski, Fred Haldemann, Gary Chaney, and Frederick Stadler. Also on the back of the cover is their band press release. You could probably spend a day or a lifetime, if you wanted, tracking down everyone and everything here, and why not? But I’m just going to move on to the music.

This is one of those records that (short of doing some heavy-duty research, which I’m not going to do because I’m too lazy) the best way to approach it is on a track by track basis, and just give my impressions, or what each song made me think of or feel. “A Man and a Woman” is my favorite track on the record, with some really bizarre organ—I could listen to a whole side of this—it sounds like the soundtrack for one of my sci-fi noir nightmares. A really atmospheric version of “Summertime,” with sax coming down a block-long tunnel and a nice vocal. This would be the last song of side one of a collection of the most extreme versions of this standard. “Rain Rain Polka” takes the jauntiness to “10,” including some tortured “yee-ha’s.” Kind of back to the movie the first track evokes, is a corny yet evocative version of “Laura’s Theme (from Dr. Zhivago).” I guess “La Bamba” is always going to sound like “La Bamba,” whether it be Latin, Polka, or Space Alien. The insane classic “Five-Foot-Two” reminds me that Iggy Pop did “Five Foot One” AND a version of “Summertime” on the same record, and why am I not listening to that right now? “Yellow Bird” whisks us off to, naturally, Hawaii, even though it’s snowing outside. “Vienna, My City of Dreams” sounds like you think it might, with a vocal by Edwin Wasilewski, the man, apparently, behind The Rams Head Inn! “Quando Quando” is another of those familiar songs from decades of corniness exposure—this version on speed (prob. coffee?)—organist, drummer, and flautist are OFF THE HOOK. “Whipout” is a cross between the surfer standard, “Wipeout,” and the DEVO classic “Whip It”—which didn’t come out until TEN YEARS AFTER—Time Machine! “Stranger on the Shore” is another blast of nostalgia that takes me back to no doubt a sleazier time, esp. with that evocative licorice stick wailing. And finally, “Evil Ways!” had to be the song of the day when this was recorded, and they actually do a pretty hip version of it—I mean, very very cool, laid back and still edgy, with both sax and guitar solo. These guys could probably have pulled off “Stayin’ Alive,” “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had they still been playing—but then, maybe they were, maybe they did, and maybe they are!




You can type the name of the band you'd like to find in the box below and then hit "GO" and it will magically find all the posts about that band!!!

Blog Stats

  • 14,175 hits

a

Top Clicks

  • None
June 2019
M T W T F S S
« May    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
Advertisements