Archive for the 'North Woods' Category

21
Sep
18

Stephin Merritt “Obscurities”

My name is Randolph (Randy) Russell, and more often than I can recall it’s been misspelled—I’ve seen Rusell, Russel, Rousel (and more), and Randolf, Randi (etc.)—so I’m thinking, if your name is Stephin Merritt, you’re pretty much resigned to never seeing your name spelled correctly. A sticker on the still- intact shrink-wrap says: “Rare & Unreleased tracks by The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, and others”—which I assume are SM’s bands. (I know, pretty well, that Magnetic Fields record, 69 Love Songs—which I was really into until I was, like, overnight, sick of it.) I think when someone has an unusual, highly distinctive, or some might say, annoying, singing voice, it’s possible to very suddenly get sick of them. That’s okay, I still really value those kinds of singing voices. The cover photo is a slightly blurry, almost abstract photo of what looks like an octopus invasion. The back cover is a nice, b&w photo of a guy I assume is Merritt with his head in his hand, looking like he has a migraine. (Is he a migraine sufferer like Jeff Tweedy?) You might get a migraine if you try to read the song credits on back, which are almost the same color as the background. Fortunately, the inner sleeve also has lyrics and credits, as well as a large photo of what looks like a pretty dreamy children’s music room, c. late-nineties. My favorite song on the record, “When You’re Young and In Love,” has a terrific rhyme (carousal and Hell) that ends: “Never even knowing you’re in hell/When you’re young and in love”—which is a great sentiment. It goes on to say, “When you’re not (in love) it almost seems a crime not to go insane.” Which makes no sense, and therefore is, I guess, perfect.

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11
Sep
18

Fleetwood Mac “Tango in the Night”

Now, I know better than to ever put the needle on ANY album released in 1987 (unless I already know it’s one of the very few good ones), but I thought I’d take a chance and against all odds this would be the underrated Fleetwood Mac record of all time. And it is quite remarkable, but not in the way I’d hoped; it is maybe the worst thing I’ve ever heard. How can this even exist? It’s the same lineup on those two classic F.Mac records—there is a picture of them on the back cover looking like they stepped out of the movie, St. Elmo’s Fire (except for Mick Fleetwood, who seems to have grown another foot and is wearing a hat that looks like it’s about to fly off to its home planet)—interesting, because the stoner cover painting of a tropical paradise also features a UFO, no bigger than half a Valium, indeed so small that the same pic reproduced on the CD cover would reduce the UFO to microscopic size.

After suffering through an eternity of songs—each one a punishing barrage of what I guess is the 1980s production style (which reminds me why I stopped listening to ANY popular music in the 1980s)—the last song was actually halfway catchy and kind of pretty, and so against my better judgment I’m putting it on again and taking a look at the lyrics sheet; after all, these are what must be interesting and decent people who wrote some great classic songs, and maybe there is something revealed in the lyrics about what they are going through here—whether it be insanity, drug impairment, or some kind of cultish trip we need to know about. Oh, no—that was a mistake. I won’t get through a second listening. Any record that makes me get up from my chair and remove it from the turntable isn’t likely to see daylight in this lifetime. Right now I’m regretting this brutal sound memory of the most horrible decade, culturally, I’ve yet endured.

25
Aug
18

David Bromberg “Demon in Disguise”

I probably would have ignored this one but I just heard a conversation with David Bromberg on WTF podcast—and I really liked him—so this was a good chance to get some background via a recording he did; I have no idea of his discography, but this record sounds remarkably confident and alive. Some of the songs are credited to him, some are traditional and arranged by him, and then there is Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. Bojangles”—a live version, with DB telling a story—in the middle of the song—about the origin of the song—which reminded me of another time I heard a recording with someone telling the story of that song—in a live version—was it possibly this one? Or am I just tripping?

Much of this record I really like, especially songs where he is singing. He has a kind of unlikely and unique singing voice. I don’t like some of the more traditional stuff that feels more serious or reverent (not that that was the intention, it just comes off that way, to me). For some reason fiddle music just really bugs me—I guess maybe due to a long childhood of TV crap, and whenever you’d see someone playing fiddle music their eyes would be bugging out like some insane hillbilly, and it always seemed like someone would have to yell “Hoedown!”—like announcing it, as if you don’t know. It’s kind of like if someone is having sex and one person has to keep yelling, “We’re fucking! We’re fucking!” I suppose some people could be into that, but me, personally, I’m a little more reserved.

05
Aug
18

Link Wray “Link Wray”

Maybe this is the first Link Wray record, as it doesn’t have a title other than “Link Wray”—though, didn’t he put out records in the 50s?—and this looks seriously 70s, but there’s no date on it (the only thing I’m going to look up, once I’m reunited with the internet, is the dates each of these records came out). Anyway, here is another reminder to look more deeply into the early work of people you feel you have an idea of what they’re about; I’ve always been a Link Wray fan based on the few songs I know, and his sound, but really know very few recordings or anything about him. This record is on Polydor so he must have been well known enough, plus the cover is unusual in that it’s his head in profile, but die-cut along his face, and it opens that way. I thought the record companies reserved the fancy, die-cut covers for well-established gold sellers. Upon opening, a small photo is revealed—of a ramshackle structure, crudely painted with the sign, “Wray’s Shack 3 Track”—which is, according to the credits, the studio where the record was recorded, in Accokeek, Maryland. It would have been interesting to have been a neighbor to Link Wray and “The Family”—the credited musicians, several of which have the last name Wray. One name, Steve Verroca, plays drums, and also has half the songwriting credits. It makes me wonder when, if, and how the decision was made to call the band “Link Wray” and not something more band-like, such as “The Family” or “The Accokeek Noise Ordinance.”

29
Jul
18

Bob Dylan “Street Legal”

I’ve never heard this record before and I’m guessing, but not sure, that when it came out in 1978—the year I graduated from high school and was avidly reading Rolling Stone magazine—it got a less than favorable review—or maybe I was just over Dylan by that time, temporarily—or maybe his previous album was too weird and inscrutable—who knows. Anyway, the first thing that’s striking to me is that in the live performance, black and white, photo on the back, he looks just like Freddie Mercury—did people, when this record was released, talk or write excessively about about how he looks just like Freddie Mercury? It looks like a picture from the Renaldo and Clara/”Rolling Thunder Revue” era, but wasn’t that years earlier? Anyway, it’s just a bit of a mystery. On the front cover there’s a picture of him standing in a doorway wearing some really awful jeans and a black leather vest, looking left, down the street like he’s waiting for someone, or a bus.

“Baby Stop Crying” is a nice song, pretty soulful (though the sax break does sound a little St. Elmo’s Fire (my shorthand for lameness). I just noticed the photos on the inside sleeve, two out-of-focus, B&W photos of Bob and a dark skinned man (really wish I had the Big I to look this up) at what looks like a really great tea shop. Bob’s wearing that polkadot shirt you see in a lot of photos (I’m assuming he had more than one, but who knows). It almost looks like a much earlier photo. Can you date Dylan pics by his shirts?

24
Jul
18

John Prine “Diamonds in the Rough”

This might be the first John Prine record I bought, many years ago, though I’m pretty sure I’d heard John Prine via some other source first, though I can’t remember now, when or where. Anyway, I had bought a thrift-store copy of this one, with a water-damaged cover, and I didn’t expect much, and by the time I got to the song “The Frying Pan” I was hooked and it became regular rotation listening, and I even learned to play some of the songs just because I liked them so much—or at least, “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”—which has to be about the best simple tavern crowdpleaser I can imagine. There is some good stuff on this record, indeed diamonds—“Worth its weight in gold,” as Marilyn Monroe says in Some Like it Hot. The picture on the cover of, I guess, a fairly young John Prine, is during a live show bathed in that horrible red performance light, and he looks like someone else, though I’m not exactly sure who—another musician, an actor, or a friend, I can’t place it, but I’m glad I got this record when I did, even though it was probably about 30 years after it came out, because it’s made my life better.

21
Jul
18

Silver Jews “American Water”

There is more minimal packaging, I suppose, but not much—the cover looks like a computer drawing (or could be a painting, but as a reproduction it looks like computer art) of a Western landscape with a pink highway extending to a butte strewn grey horizon. All letters are in a font called “not my favorite font”—the same font on other Silver Jews records, I think. Fonts were never a big deal until there were choices, and then came the problems. This record, on Drag City records in Chicago, is from 1998 (I only know that later, when the one thing I’m later using the internet for is the dates, because inexplicably, a lot of records contain no date whatsoever, which really kind of drives me crazy). There is absolutely no information on this record except the name of the band, the name of the album, the song titles, and their times. Oh, wait, I just discovered a one page insert (I swear that it wasn’t in there before—is someone fucking with me?) with lyrics, some drawings, copyright date, recording info, and five names of band members. There’s David Berman, of course, and this incarnation of the band included Stephen Malkmus, who co-wrote a couple of songs. I’m not sure where this record sits in the Silver Jews timeline, but it’s not the first and not the last.

This is a remarkably good record, and the only reason it’s not my favorite is because I’m pretty sure I like that Bright Flight one more, but that could change the more I listen to this. David Berman’s lyrics are so good it’s worth your time listening for awhile (you can generally understand them when he sings) then going back to read along while listening, because it’s probably going to increase the depth of your understanding. Try “Buckingham Rabbit”—holy shit. A couple of songs are co-written by Malkmus and you can tell, they sound like his kind of songs, and I think on those they sing together, like a duel lead vocal. I might be wrong, I wasn’t there. My favorite is “Blue Arrangements”—listen to the first two verses, the lyrics with the sleepy singing, the guitar, and if you don’t fall in love with that combination of words, images, sounds etc., you and I aren’t going to be taking a cross-county car trip anytime soon.




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