Archive for the 'Reinventions' Category

08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.

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28
Apr
18

Manu Dibango “Soul Makossa”

This is a curious record because I don’t know what to make of it, but my first impression is that every song is good, while sounding nothing like the one before it, or anything I’ve had on my turntable in the last 15 days. The cover has a kind of bizarre photo (as if the camera is pointed up from the belt-buckle level) of a black guy with a striped shirt and sunglasses playing a horn (some kind of straight saxophone?) who I can only assume is Manu Dibango—who the record label tells me wrote and arranged all the songs—as well as penned the liner notes. The label is Atlantic and the year is 1972 (a year I’m quite fond of, and just got fonder). On the cover there is also a little gold box containing bold letters: “THE ORIGINAL”—implying what? That there are pale imitations out there that one must be aware of, deal with, and fend off?

The liner notes provide clues about this music we’re listening to, but I’m not going to sit here and retype the liner notes, but it’s briefly about how the music has African roots but is influenced by all kinds of other music, and ends by saying, “I am told that in the United States our music is now called “Black Ivory Soul.” So there you go. He also credits eight musicians and lists what they play and where they’re from, which includes: Guadeloupe, the River Congo, Cameroun, and France. There’s a picture on the back of five guys playing music in a place that looks like the end of a closed off tunnel.

The first song, “New Bell,” is an irresistible, driving dance number, or in my case, a song that compelled me to find something to make rhythmic percussion sounds with, which, as long as no one else is listening, I can get away with. There are some far off vocals, not in English, so it left me wondering what the title referred to. “Nights in Zeralda” perfectly evokes nights in Zeralda—which might refer to a neighborhood in Algiers, or perhaps a very special lady. “Hibiscus” really slows it down, and it’s even kind of melancholy, or dire, or at least very serious. It means you’re going to get a drink and turn the record over, for “Dangwa,” which could refer to the flower market in Manila, or someone or something I don’t know about, and I’m not going to know until someone tells me. This is a strange song, since it starts out with an intro, kind of evocative of something, and then it takes you somewhere entirely else. “Lily,” then, is a three minute story song—at least it sounds like a story—it could be about a lady—or it could be a very condensed epic movie.

“Soul Makossa” starts out sounding like a familiar James Brown song, then doesn’t, and it’s just a really happy, four and a half minute repetitive, funk, dance number, with more of this very crystal clear sax (it’s on every song). I really like the sound of this horn—it’s hard to explain what’s so good about it—it’s fairly obvious sounding, yet there’s a little subtle something, maybe some kind of blatant feeling that seems less blatant in the context. Maybe the internet will tell me more about “Soul Makossa”—and it turns out there’s quite a story—which you either already know, or can read about for yourself—but since I find this kind of thing irresistible—okay, so someone started DJ-ing this 45 in New York in 1972, and then a guy heard it and played it on the radio, but since it was impossible to find, like 23 bands did covers of it. Eventually Atlantic records saw dollar signs and released it. The other interesting thing is how many bands used the repetitive vocal line (wordplay on “Makossa”)—you can start scrolling down that list, but make sure you don’t have anywhere to be.

Finally, “Oboso” closes out the record, and it’s again a pretty jaunty tempo, funky, repetitive funk number, this time with far off horn and some up front psychedelic electric guitar. I think Oboso might be a name, and interestingly, it occurs to me that it’s also the word “Toboso” without the “T.” Toboso is a town in Ohio, and a name that I eventually used for my publishing company—it’s a long story, how it came to that—and ultimately an incomplete one, because I never did look into the origin of that as a place name. I mean, there’s Dulcinea del Toboso, a character in Don Quixote, and I suppose people may have been more literary minded back when they were naming towns and all, because there was no TV, and yet people had to have something to do in the evening, when they came home from chopping down trees and killing the native people—but now I’m on a tangent that’s not doing anyone any good.

20
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Bringing It All Back Home”

I would have been too young to appreciate this record when it came out, I suppose, though I kind of wish my parents were Dylan fans and I would have heard all this. Or maybe not. This has to be a lot of people’s favorite Dylan record, it’s got some of his best songs and maybe a better overall early rock’n’roll sound than any of them. I’ve always just kind of ignored it, I don’t know why. Just read the liner notes on back, written by Bob with minimal caps and punctuation—surreal and cryptic but pretty good. The cover photo is BD and a woman in a red dress holding a cigarette, sitting with a bunch of records and magazines in front of a fireplace. BD is holding a grey kitten. They’re all staring right at the photographer with remarkably similar expressions. I wonder whatever happened to that cat. Or that woman. Or that fireplace.

I wouldn’t want to have to say what my favorite Dylan songs are (or maybe I would like to, and I should make one of those favorite 100 songs lists—but I’ll have to listen to them all, some rainy day)—but “Maggie’s Farm” has to be one of my favorites. Is this the record that marked Dylan’s shift to electric rock’n’roll and rejection of the folk scene? It does have “Mr. Tambourine Man” on it, but then ends with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Who is playing on this record, anyway? There is no listing of musicians.

There is, folded up inside, a huge poster of that classic BD drawing (is it by Milton Glaser?—that’s the name in the upper corner)—it’s his head in profile, with big multicolored hair. The colors are lovely pastel shades. Did this come with this record, or just happen to get stuck in here? It’s never been hung up—there are no holes or tape-damaged corners. I bet I could sell this for some serious bread on eBay, and the people who own this cabin would never notice. (I’d just have to remember to edit this before publishing it.) Does some cafe around here have wifi where I could run my sale? Could I make enough for gas money back to civilization? So many questions, today, and so few satisfactory answers.

18
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

This is a double album that—in the tradition of double albums—announces the celebration of an explosion of creativity that is unable to be contained on the traditional single LP format. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, seeing how it’s Bob Dylan, and who ever knows what he’s thinking? There is a self-portrait painting of him on the cover with no words or frame. The album opens and there’s a list of the songs, on four sides, and also a list of 50 names; on further inspection, this appears not to be a random list from the phonebook, but likely a list of musical collaborators. Quickly glancing through the alphabetical list I see: Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, all the members of “The Band,” and many more names I recognize, and many more that I don’t.

I never heard this one before. It sounds like a Bob Dylan record, kind of, or maybe a parody of one, which you arguably could say about any Bob Dylan record. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve been listening to this dude for 50 years and I keep hearing stuff I never heard—kind of like the original Star Trek broadcast. There’s a few covers on this record, including: “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” credited to a C.A. Null, who I don’t know, but I know the song as sung by Skeeter Davis, one of my favorites (she has an album by that title). The lyric goes: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about him.” Which is a woman singing to another woman, a rival, about a man, I believe, and when you change the gender it doesn’t quite work for some reason—but I also like to think of it as a general proclamation, to anyone, about anything.

It’s interesting—I must have been aware of this record—not when it came out when I was ten—but in later years when I started listening to Dylan records—it would have been in the record store bins, maybe even in cut-out bins like Planet Waves always seemed to be—but I avoided this one like a perennial golden turd in the sun. But listening to it now, on my third or fourth time through, I realize I’ve never heard a lot of this stuff and it’s some of the best Bob Dylan I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of like BD’s “Covers Record”—though a lot of the songs he covers are Dylan songs. (Idea: BD should do an entire record of Cat Power songs.) Here lies the best versions of both “Let It Be Me” and “Blue Moon” I’ve ever heard. A lot of this is BD singing in his “Jim Nabors” voice, which I’ve grown to love. Of course, this is the post-death-Dylan, or “second” Dylan, as the theory goes, and the future (1970 thru 2016) looks bright.

17
Jun
16

Silver Jews “Bright Flight”

I know something about this band Silver Jews, that it’s mostly this guy David Berman, and there have been a lot of collaborators, including Stephen Malkmus (in the past, not here), and they put out a few records and then broke up, or stopped playing, or recording (though I suppose that a band or person can just record a record again at any time, if they are still alive, and want to, no matter how much they are retired, so what does that even mean). Six albums, I guess, between 1994 and 2008, and this one is somewhere in the middle, 2001. But I’m pretending I know nothing, like I just picked this up out of a pile of random records (which I did, essentially) not knowing anything (which I don’t, essentially). The first song, the initial impression, is that this is country and western music (steel guitar, country piano, Nashville references, George Strait cover, picture on back cover wearing a too small western shirt with embroidered scorpions), that’s what it is, but something that would be considered “alternative country” in that David Berman’s singing has that quality that some people would call bad singing, but I call great singing—the closer you listen the more complex the person behind the voice gets. It also helps that the lyrics are at worst impossibly catchy and at best life changing poetry.

If one set out to create an uglier album cover than this one, just forget it, you’ve lost. It’s a flat, flash photograph of a nasty old couch with a tattered spiral bound notebook sitting on it, and there’s what looks like some colored stickers on the notebook creating an abstract design, and also what looks like the number “4” on the notebook. It occurs to me that it’s the 4th Silver Jews album and the cover photo and number 4 could be a reference to Led Zeppelin IV (if you squint, you can see a similarity between the two covers) (also, “Bright Flight”/”Stairway to Heaven”—get it?)—and now it occurs to me that IV is not just “4” it also means intravenous, and most likely “Stairway to Heaven” is about heroin. (If you ever find yourself on Jeopardy and the category is “popular song meanings”—just keep hitting the buzzer and saying, “What is heroin,” and you’ll probably come out ahead.) In fact, seeing how every other song on this record has a reference to horses, I have to assume either Berman is an avid equestrian or else it’s a lot about heroin.

All of my nonsense here is an attempt to not try and fail to express just how good these lyrics are, and how catchy these songs are, and how lovely it all is. I think this is my new favorite record of all time, no exaggeration. I think I just joined the club of nerdy, pathetic music fans who have “Silver Jews” tattooed on an important part of their brain. Now I know how people felt about JD Salinger. (Oh, wait, I was one of those people, too.) And it’s even worse with the internet. Look, I consider myself a songwriter, or former songwriter. I feel like there is no worse feeling in the world than to know you’ve come up with some kind of wonderful song, seemingly out of nowhere, and then not be able to do it again. It’s a wonder that any songwriter survives past the age of thirty. I guess the only thing to do, sometimes, is reinvent yourself. But then you probably already know all this. But if you don’t believe me, find a couple of these songs, like “Slow Education” or “I Remember Me” or “Tennessee”—and if they aren’t the best songs you’ve ever heard, go get yourself a new set of friends.

16
Jun
16

Nicholas Frank “Greatest Skips”

Not denying the irresistibility of a title such as “Greatest Skips”—my overwhelming hope was that inside this album cover with six pictures of people getting their picture taken (the inside sleeve is six corresponding pictures of people taking the pictures of the people on the cover, presumably) I would find a dozen well-crafted, personal, heart-wrenching songs performed by Nicholas Frank, perhaps with the help of additional musicians. For a moment, then, when immediately the familiar sound of a skipping record assaulted my ears, I thought PERHAPS this record has a skip right at the beginning, either coincidentally or as a kind of initiation joke, after which you’d move the needle onto the dozen well-crafted songs. But no. It’s a an entire record consisting of a collection of record skips. After looking around for a Nicholas Frank substitute to throw through the wall, for awhile, I relaxed a little and soon found myself enjoying the sound for what it was, as well as thinking about a few things.

I’ve never really thought about it, but the length of a record skip should be exactly the time it takes for the needle to get around the record once, right? And the record is turning at 33 1/3 times per minute, or so we’re led to believe. But when the needle gets down to the inside of the record, where it has less distance to travel to get around the record, shouldn’t it take less time? So how does that work? Why don’t records get progressively higher-pitched as they go along? It’s bad enough I’ll never REALLY understand what’s going on in those grooves, now I’m even confused about the speed. Anyway, it then occurred to me that in that this is a collection of record skips, played in succession, Mr. Frank had to make a decision on just HOW MANY skips (normally, one hears the number of skips it takes for you to realize the record is skipping, pull yourself out of the beanbag chair, spill your beer, and get to the turntable) he was going to allow us to hear before moving on to the next one, as well as the order they are presented. One wonders if the skips are a collection he compiled over a period of time or if he was able to manufacture or re-create record skips at will. And if, upon repeated listenings, I would be able to discovers a narrative or a message, or even a deep, weird secret, or instructions to unearthing a treasure.

I have to admit, I have my own collection of record skips, on a cassette tape that I kept handy for many years, available to pop in the recorder any time a skip randomly happened. I never listen to it, of course, but wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars. I also have a cassette tape I made from Lee Ranaldo’s lock-groove experiment record, “From Here to Infinity.” It would have been better to just buy the record, but cheapie that I am, I illegally home-taped it, but was then met with a decision to make on each track: how long to record the lock-groove? Now I’m thinking, how many people put lock-grooves on the end of their records, throughout history? There must be a list on the internet somewhere. And one more thing, it just occurred to me. What if THIS record gets an ACTUAL skip in it sometime? What exactly would that be like? I mean, besides annoying, would it blow your mind, if even for a few minutes? How does one create a skip in a record… peanut butter or something? But no, I won’t do it, this is not my record. I’m cat-sitting. But I suppose I could pick up my own copy somewhere, and figure out how to make REAL skips. It could be a project for a rainy day.

01
May
11

David Bowie “ChangesOneBowie”

This record, which came out in 1976, seems to want to mark a change from sci-fi androgynous freak to good-looking mature artist, but it just rubs me the wrong way. It comes off more as midlife crisis, even though Bowie should have been much too young for that. It’s essentially a “greatest hits” record that doesn’t have a cheesy title like “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Very Best of…” But rather than approach it in context of the records the songs came from, I have to (I mean right now, for the sake of writing this) listen to it as the complete and unique art object it is.

“Space Oddity” is pure nostalgia for me, like everyone is sick of me rehashing. Blacklight posters and rootbeer incense and bad pot. But it’s just a good song, right? I’m sure there is a story behind “John, I’m Only Dancing” but I don’t care, because I can’t listen to it because it’s crap. Though, I would, some day, love to write a song with the title, John, comma, something. “John, Help Me To A Toilet So I Can Throw Up,” or something. “Changes” is a great song, and I suppose worth creating this particular record to get it out to the record buying public in a new format. “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City”–more nostalgia, but this time there is beer drinking involved. Whenever “Jean Genie” comes on, I’m just glad it’s the last song of Side One so I can take it off without listening to it and go directly to Side Two. White blues, but really white, and not blues at all.

Everyone who knows me is sick to death of me talking about how “Diamond Dogs” is one of maybe six favorite songs of all time. For some strange reason I just NEVER GET TIRED OF IT. I made the mistake, once, however, of looking up the lyrics on the internet, which almost ruined it for me, because they were NOT CLOSE to what I’ve been imagining all these years. I’ve been slowly deprogramming myself to go back to the way I used to hear it. “You’re dead,  they call them the Diamond Dogs.” Maybe it’s the cowbell, maybe it’s the way it sounds like the soundwaves are coming through some kind of viscous fluid. Maybe it’s nostalgia. I wouldn’t mind, however, NEVER hearing “Rebel Rebel” ever again. “Young Americans” has that 1980’s, Saturday Night Live, vapid entertainment sound. I think of Chicago (the city), comedy clubs, and those big pretzels, which, last time I ate one, I threw up. “Fame” is up next, White Funk, but REALLY white, and not funky at all. “Golden Years” is like a non-song with a non-hook, played as blandly as possible, and pretty much the perfect fit to end this record. It occurs to me that the lyrics might be interesting if I listened to them– after all, how do you justify calling a song “Golden Years?”– but I can’t even listen to the lyrics because I can’t listen to the song.




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