Archive for the 'North Woods' Category

30
Nov
18

Jefferson Airplane “Volunteers”

If you want to give some kid an introduction to 1969, this would be a good place to start. The album cover is modeled after an activist newspaper, and the foldout, insert lyric sheet is as well. There is that equal amount of humor, deadly seriousness, surrealism, practicality, insiderishness and outsiderishness in unequal but workable measures. The music, too, of course—that style of vocal harmony, everybody singing, and jamming, and pretty excessive lead guitar that is often impressive once you’re in the mood. If I have time later, I’m going to go back and read some of this stuff, but I’m nearing the end of my time here (as we all are). I am actually pretty unfamiliar with Jefferson Airplane—I know the names (if you came across them for the first time, you might think they were a law firm, or a deli), but not much about them. I probably have had more contact with the band through the movie Gimme Shelter (1970) than any other way. Oh, one really important thing is that this is one of the few records I know of that uses the inside album cover (it’s one of those that fold open) to good use: there is a giant (as big as the album cover, X2) photo of peanut butter and jelly on bread (it looks like crunchy PB and straw-or-raspberry jelly-or-jam, with a liberal amount of butter). So it’s an open-faced, PB&J—and then when you close the album cover back up, it makes a sandwich. Get it?

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24
Nov
18

Palace Brothers “Palace Brothers”

This one is definitely a person in shadows, head and shoulders—it looks like in a room, in front of a window, the background blurred out. This one also has a sticker on the shrink-wrap—it says “Palace.” The spine says, simply, “Palace Brothers.” There is no other info except for the list of ten songs on the back cover, white on black. On the label it says Palace Brothers, and the song titles, and the date—but the oddest thing is that there is the most vinyl space (i.e., without grooves, between the last song and the label) I’ve ever seen—you could plant crops there, there’s so much room. Maybe it’s all part of what seems to be a minimalist approach. The songs are pretty much all acoustic guitar and singing. Good songs, some of them pretty repetitious, and others with long, dense lyrics.

I am pretty sure I know this, that Palace and Palace Brothers is Will Oldham (though what I don’t know is if and when there is someone else playing with him, like one of the “Brothers”—or if there even are brothers, or even band members). The first time I ever heard of Will Oldham is when someone who I just met (can’t remember who, or the circumstances, exactly, except that I think it was in Seattle!) said that I was a dead ringer for Will Oldham. I had no idea who that was, but you can believe I looked him up later, since they were kind of adamant about it. I personally don’t see the resemblance (for one thing, he’s younger and better looking)—except to fall into that broad category: “Bald guy with a beard.” Anyway, it did lead me to listen to some of his music, which I have admired, though I haven’t tracked down all of his output—seeing how I’m not, like, a millionaire with unlimited time.

One thing that occurred to me, again, listening to this record (which is not meant to be a knock on WO, just happened to think of it)—in these songs that are like, or based on, traditional blues songs, where a line is repeated several times—what’s up with that? You wouldn’t write that way in prose. You wouldn’t write that way in prose. You wouldn’t write that way in prose, Lord! At least you shouldn’t. If you talk that way, you’ll lose all your friends. How hard would it be to write another line? It’s not like rhyming is real difficult, and lines don’t need to rhyme, anyway. I realize this is a tradition, but so is (in order to achieve wealth and power) fucking those less fortunate than you in the ass. It doesn’t make it right. Again—not meant to be a knock on Will Oldham! He’s excellent!

 

23
Nov
18

Endless Boogie “Long Island”

Uh oh, the next one is another Endless Boogie double album. That’s okay, it’s good… I’m listening now. This one has a cover image that looks like it could be a creepy landscape, like a huge hill, kind of a Lord of the Rings, unnatural, geological formation that is a hill and also a dude’s head. The first thing I saw was the head, in silhouette, and a face, big nose, long hair, beard and mustache, and one white glowing eye. I only know the record is called Long Island because of a sticker on the front, on the plastic shrink-wrap which is still intact, which also keeps me from opening up the album cover to see what’s on the inside. (Like song titles, credits, a poem, more stoner art?) I can’t open it though, so I try to peer in the crack—it looks like it might be a treasure map or possibly pornography, but who will ever know with this shrink-warp? Goddamn record collectors. I shouldn’t complain, since I’m a guest here at the cabin, and it’s nice of the owners to let me listen to the stereo. But it does make me think about the kind of toy collectors who collect toys that are still in the packages, never opened. Something about that seems totally wrong. I think there is a special place in Hell for those kind of toy collectors, and that is: Commander and Chief of Hell.

At least it’s possible to look at the label, which tells us that the band is Endless Boogie and the album is called Long Island (which makes me think of two things: one of the sequels to Harriet the Spy, The Long Secret; and Long Island Iced Tea, a cocktail I first drank c.1986 in a sleazy Eighth Ave/42nd Street cocktail lounge with cockroaches crawling on the liquor bottles. (I think the New York Times might be in that spot now.) Also, the year the record is released, and an infinity symbol/two dimensional rendition of a Mobius Strip. And song titles, my favorites being: “Taking Out the Trash,” “The Artemus Ward,” and “The Montgomery Manuscript,” which aren’t necessarily my favorite songs—I haven’t matched them up yet—I haven’t gone that deep—and I’m not going to, because I want to move on to the third big shadowy head record.

22
Nov
18

Kayla Guthrie “Blue”

Okay, I just noticed among the records here there were three with really similar covers—that look like photos of dark forms that resemble shadowy, out of focus, silhouetted heads, or faces, from the shoulders up——so I decided I have to listen to all three of these in succession to see if there is any connection, or if this is a “thing”—or what. The first is someone named Kayla Guthrie, who I have never heard of, but that sounds like a woman’s name, and the head looks like it could be a woman. The record, called Blue, is on a really beautiful blue vinyl (make a note, if I ever press a record, to consider that color). It’s kind of plodding, kind of industrial sounding music with a really depressed, drugged out singing style—can’t make out the lyrics, or even tell if it’s English. The cardboard inside—the inner wall of the album cover is also blue. What’s the name of this record, again?

Oh—I went to turn it over and noticed that it’s actually 45 RPM—it was printed small, I didn’t see it. Okay, that makes sense, it sounds more normal now. I know this goes against my rule to not write about 45s or EPs—but this ship has already left the Earth’s orbit. Four songs, definitely a woman’s voice singing, not a zombie, like I first thought, and there are lyrics and notes. Some of this music might be described as “industrial”—it’s really good—and some reminds me of that later Tom Waits stuff. Other songs sound like I’d imagine Nine Inch Nails to sound, though I’ve never heard NIN, so I’m probably wrong—so I don’t even know why I said that. Anyway, there are only four songs, but I like them. Further inspection reveals credits, lyrics, and an extended inner sleeve with notes by Kayla Guthrie, kind of a bio/artist’s statement, and is a bit more than I want to know. It reminds me of why I hate the internet. But you love the internet. I go both ways.

20
Nov
18

Jim Croce “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

It must have been a major milestone in Jim Croce’s career when he felt that a critical mass knew how to pronounce his name, I mean, if he ever felt that was the case, because people probably kept mispronouncing it. But he was huge at one point, due to a couple of really big hit songs, on the radio all the time. The one on this record is “Time in a Bottle”—which is a song that tormented me, age 12 or so, I suppose, hearing it on the AM radio constantly, one of those songs I will forever associate with getting ready for school in the morning, since my parents always played the AM radio in the kitchen. It’s funny, because it seems like there are two Jim Croces, the one I’m familiar with who had the hits like that “Bad Leroy Brown” song, and then all these songs I’ve never heard, a lot of which don’t sound anything like the hits and are some pretty good songs. A lot of them seem to be about being poor, being on the road, being a poor guitar player and singer on the road. Once you can afford your “Time in a Bottle” Lear Jet or tour bus, what do you write about then? Or maybe he got screwed out of his hit record money like so many musicians.

He’s looking out from a church window on the cover with a stogie in his mouth, and sitting on his guitar case, on the road, on the back cover, wearing some serious walking boots and a jean jacket with a CAT Diesel Power patch. He’s also holding a stogie—again an album cover with a guy smoking on the front and back cover. Smoking was really important to a lot of people’s identities back in the day, and I guess it might still be. One interesting note, this song, “New York’s Not My Home” (about living in NYC for a year and not liking it)—I had never heard, and then while working on a Franke Latina movie he was considering it for the soundtrack, so I had my brother, Jeff, do a rendition of the song, which he did, a couple versions—great song! And he did a really great cover, nothing like the original– and so for me, that song is always going to be his version, which I think is a lot better than JCs—but don’t tell Croce I said that because you don’t want to mess around with Jim.

16
Nov
18

John Prine “In Spite of Ourselves”

This is a record I know well, since I made a cassette tape of it late in the last millennium, from the CD source—one of my favorite albums in recent years (last two decades)—but it’s the first thing I put on up here in the cabin, as I noticed there is a sticker on the record that says, “First Time On Vinyl!”—so apparently it was only available on CD before, and it’s reissued by OHBOY Records on 180 gram vinyl. If you thought your record collection was a bitch to move back in the old days, wait until everything is on 180 gram vinyl—your friends are gonna become scarce on moving day. One thing that bugs me sometimes when an album originates on CD and then is put out on vinyl, it retains the track numbers, like in this case, 1 thru 16, rather than side one, 1 thru 8, side two, 1 thru 8, etc. A small thing, but it’s another reminder about another facet about CDs that sucked.

This is a record of all duets, a great tradition of country and western music, where a man and woman can do something together more intimate than sex and no one gets divorced or shot (at least we hope). It’s also a covers record, with an incredible collection of great songs, some fairly familiar and some pretty obscure (at least to me, before this record). It makes sense that a great songwriter like John Prine would come up with an amazing group of songs to cover—and they are all songs that lend themselves to duets. One song by JP, “In Spite of Ourselves,” is maybe the best one on the record. My next favorite here is “Let’s Invite Them Over,” by Onie Wheeler, which is fairly twisted—you’ve just got to listen to it. John Prine’s distinctive singing voice really works well with these strong women singers, among them: Iris Dement, Connie Smith, Lucinda Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Melba Montgomery, Emmylou Harris, Dolores Keane, Patty Loveless, and Fiona Prine. The most and my favorite are with Iris Dement, not surprisingly, since she is my favorite living singer in this whole fragile world. My only complaint here at the cabin is that there’s not more Iris Dement records—I’ve spent more time searching for them than I have looking for hidden marijuana.

15
Nov
18

Grateful Dead “Workingman’s Dead”

I know less about the Grateful Dead’s discography than about fine wines—totally, exactly, nothing—but I’d like to know more, and I’d like to find a way to like them someday, because I feel like they could be an acquired taste—that is acquired through listening to them—but putting in the time might pay some kind of dividends consisting of a pleasurable knowledge and depth of appreciation. But for now, to me, they still sound like a bunch of annoyingly stoned commune hippies. What a great band name, though!—who was around on band naming day? I can never get a handle on their sound—I can’t pick out individual singers or musicians—its a large band, but they usually sound like just a few people are playing. This record is another one like that—it all kind of blended together like a way too healthy smoothie—the exception being the last song, which is that famous, “Ridin’ that train, high on cocaine,” song, which is named, “Casey Jones”—I never knew that.

The first time I ever heard one of their songs, that I’ve been aware of, was on this early-seventies collection I bought—sold to me by TV commercials—when I was like 11, and it had the song “Truckin’” on it, which pretty much fascinated me, the breezy style of playing and singing, but even more, the lyrics—something about a salt machine, and livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine. The lyrics are all credited to someone named Robert Hunter, which fascinated me, as he was not a musician in the band. I read somewhere (probably Rolling Stone magazine) that he was the Dead’s lyricist, which seemed so bizarre to me… though, same thing with Elton John and Bernie Taupin, right? But this Robert Hunter, what was he like? I wanted to find out more, but we were a long way off from having the internet, not unlike me here in the “North Woods”—and, in fact, it occurs to me that the perfect scenario would be for the Grateful Dead (I mean, in a perfect world where they were still together and all still alive) to join me here in this cabin and play for about 12 hours straight while I put this old turntable to rest for awhile. I suppose if that happened I’d become either a huge fan or the harshest critic, but I’m guessing they’d all be cool and we’d have a good time and I’d finally gain some crucial insight into this music.




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