Archive for the 'Reinventions' Category

07
Feb
19

Easy Williams “Easy Does It”

I never heard of “Easy Williams” but I saw this record in a thrift store and no way I was not going to buy it, based on the cover alone, which is a highly arranged portrait, set up in a studio, I guess (there’s no background). A woman (we’ll presume Easy Williams) is stretched out on her stomach on couch pillows, and just behind her, a young boy wearing what looks like a jockey uniform is fanning her with a huge fan made out of some kind of giant bird feathers. The whole setup is a reference to something, I guess, but I don’t know it, so I’m not getting it, I suppose. It’s possible it could all be highly offensive. But at face value, it’s just plain weird. And on the other hand, not really weird at all. She’s taking it easy, and a servant of some kind is fanning her. My favorite thing, though, are all the details in the set-up. The cushions she’s lying on are yellow, red, and blue—cleverly, the same colors as the letters on the “Dot” record label (one of my favorite labels)—though the blue might be green—but there is a blue one, too—these random, brightly colored cushions. She’s dressed casually, jeans, no shoes, though her jewelry might weigh several pounds. She’s sipping some champagne and looking off somewhere to the left. Theres’s also a bowl of fruit, and a lit cigarette in a long, long holder, resting across an opened box of chocolates. The red pillow is actually more of a queasy orange (unless the cover is faded) which matches pretty much the shimmering, satiny pants of the boy with the fan. Now that I look more closely, maybe it isn’t a boy after all, but perhaps a “little person”—possibly of some difficult to determine ethnicity. Maybe it is offensive, after all, but I’m sure it’s all in good fun. Though we’ve heard that before.

The record sounds a lot like you’d expect from the cover—12 vocal numbers with minimal jazz arrangements, some with guitar and vibes and flute. I know some of the songs, like the first one, “Easy Street,” which sounds like Julie London’s version, but even more sultry. “Mean To Me” is another of my favorites. “Easy Come, Easy Go” is also a killer, here, as well as “A Woman Needs So Little.” They’re all good—I prefer the slowest and the quietest ones. Her voice is great—they didn’t really need to drown you in reverb, but I guess that’s part of the “Easy Does It” feeling they’re going for. Looking quickly on the internet I don’t see anything about Easy Williams, so I’ll have to go with what’s here. The brief liner notes mention that it’s her debut. Where she went from here, I have no idea. It occurs to me that maybe there is no “Easy Williams”—I mean, there’s a fine singer here, singing, but not credited, and of another name. After all, would a woman in 1957 call herself “Easy” Williams? It’d be like, if you were a guy, going by something like “Martin Everhard.” Maybe this is one of those records made to exploit the young people with hi-fi lifestyles, like those mood music, “Music for…” records—(you know, “Music for Dining,” “Music for Cleaning,” etc.) I could see this going on the turntable at make-out time—just maybe keep that album cover hidden! Still, I want to believe there’s an Easy Williams out there somewhere—maybe someone will let me know.

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05
Feb
19

Tony Bennett “No One Will Ever Know / I’m The King Of Broken Hearts”

An old 45 that must have been bouncing around in that Easter basket—I’m not sure if I have any Tony Bennett albums—there are so many!—I’ve never gotten a handle on which are the best—but I did see him live, once, years ago, in an old theater in Portland—and it was a great show. It feels like a big deal to have seen him live (never saw Sinatra live, or the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Mott the Hoople, or Elton John). This is a record that’s so scratchy, I’d highly recommend it for a scratchy record effect in a movie (you can fake those things, but faked things are never as good). “No One Will Ever Know” was, I guess, a country hit, recorded by everyone and his/her cousin, but here, with an orchestra and strings, it sounds like a Tony Bennett song. With that title, if it had been, say… a Dean Martin song, you might think the “no one” in question was her husband—but this isn’t that kind of song—and the sentiment is that he’s got a broken heart and and no one will know that he was in love with his true love (at least, of course, until this song comes out, and then it’ll be quite obvious—at least to those who know who the “you” in the song is).

The song on the other side, “I’m The King OF Broken Hearts,” is another proclamation of a broken heart, this time beating to death the whole royalty metaphor—even to the extent of beginning and ending the song with a corny horn fanfare, which is just annoying. A similar title could have a very different sentiment if it was by, say, a cad, a ladies’ man—running around, breaking hearts. But this song is about a guy whose heart has been broken, so technically it should be singular. I guess he’s so sad he doesn’t stop to think about that, or how dumb the royal theme is (“my castle’s a room where each night I’m alone.”) I guess once you establish that as the song’s game, there’s nowhere much else you can go with it, and you end up getting lines like: “the scarf that you left is now my royal cloak.” It’s pretty bad, but still, I like hearing Tony’s voice. I’d probably enjoy hearing him sing “Hotel California.” That was a joke, but he has sang so many songs, it could exist! I’m not going to look it up, though, because I don’t feel like revising these last few sentences.

30
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “New Morning”

I’m not exactly sure where this record fits in the BD timeline—it seems to be one of his Nashville records, produced by Bob Johnston, there’s studio musicians, and David Bromberg plays on it, and Al Kooper, and there’s a lot of piano. This is a great record; I kind of wish it was the first Dylan record I ever heard and then based my whole BD experience on the foundation of that experience. Somehow I’ve never heard much of it—though “If Dogs Run Free” somewhere came to me in a weirdness care package. I think it’s pretty likely that this record was released well after BD’s replacement with the new Dylan, but some of the songs here are from the original Dylan vault. That said, the new one is pulling off some pretty good replication of the old one, to the extent that I don’t even feel confident offering my track by track guess on who is singing. Somehow I never heard the song “The Man in Me” until I heard it in the movie, The Big Lebowski—and it’s a great song, and really important to that movie.

23
Oct
18

Bob Dylan “Nashville Skyline”

There is the theory that there have been two Bob Dylan’s, the Robert Zimmerman who made the music up through Blonde on Blonde, and then the one who “became” Bob Dylan after he was killed in the motorcycle accident (likely no motorcycle accident, but a more mundane or sordid death, and the motorcycle accident was an invented story for the time away, to recover, but there was no recovery, just death). The second Dylan is a guy, probably a talented but unsuccessful Nashville musician (who sings a lot like Jim Nabors) who looked like Dylan (a guy who “fit the jacket”—as in the Greg Brady fitting the jacket Brady Bunch episode) and could play, and saw this as a weird gig he’d be able to step away from eventually with some cash—but later realized it was actually the Devil’s Opportunity of the Century, and there was no escape until the escape of death, ultimately.

Which is a long way around of saying this record sounds like nothing that Dylan had done before, while sounding exactly like what he had done before—which is of course, keeping in line with what he (both of him) has always done. (Actually, the multiple Dylans in Todd Haynes’ movie, I’m Not There (2007) is a much better conspiracy theory, kind of like the Shakespeare being-a-collective theory—and I realize that movie is not a theory, it’s an innovative and brilliant approach to Dylan—but often from art arises not just metaphorical but actual truth.) Anyway, I think I heard this way back when I was in high school and I didn’t like it—the Jim Nabors voice freaked me out, and I didn’t like country and western, yet, at that time—but now, this is one of my favorite BD records, and “Lay Lady Lay,” a song I once couldn’t stand, is one of my favorites, as well as “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.”

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.

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.




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