Archive for the 'sublime' Category

04
Apr
20

Lani Hall “Sun Down Lady”

This may be one of the strangest album cover photos I’ve ever seen—it’s simply a color profile photo of (presumably) Lani Hall, blown up to billboard size—so large that the full-size album cover can only contain the area between her eyebrow and bottom lip. On top of that, it’s pretty color-saturated. Had she a zit on her right cheek, you’d have had to name the record “Mount Vesuvius.” But she looks nice—not many of us could stand up to such enlargement scrutiny. I wonder what she thought about the cover? Anyway, once I saw it, in the used record store, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy it. I had no idea who Lani Hall was—I didn’t remember that she sang with Brazil ’66—and I didn’t know that she was married to Herb Alpert—maybe still is—or that she sang a James Bond theme song. This record, from 1972, is her first solo record—and she recorded a bunch more.

I like this one a lot, actually, and it’s going in my regular listening pile (I actually have an old end table with a thing that holds either magazines or record albums—that’s where I put my regular listening stack.) Herb Alpert is the producer, and naturally there’s some first-rate session players on it, and a pretty interesting collection of songs, including “Tiny Dancer” and another by Elton John, “Come Down In Time”—this is a really nice version of it. There’s also songs by Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Paul Williams, and more. One Lani Hall composition—a pretty intense love song. The Lesley Duncan song, “Love Song” is a standout, probably my favorite on the record. “Sun Down” is a very familiar sounding song (it’s written by Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote “Muskrat Love”)—could this song have been playing on the AM radio in the morning while I ate my Cap’n Crunch before another horrific day of 7th Grade? I like it, now, though—it pretty much puts me on a beach, looking out over the Pacific as the light fades, with a beautiful woman and a rum drink. You know, pretty much my life.

26
Feb
20

Shane Leonard “Strange Forms”

This record looks like it could have come from the 80s, maybe—or could be any number of decades old, but there’s a sticker on the cover that says: “Includes Download Card”—which, that’s kind of a recent thing, isn’t it? Maybe not so recent. Anyway, the dude on the cover is standing in front of a “Load Star II”—which looks to be a commercial washer or dryer (is he in a laundromat?)—maybe “Includes Download Card” is about some free laundry promotion. This record got my attention because (besides the fact that it was sitting out, here in the cabin, like someone had recently played it) because the picture of the guy on the cover, who we’ll assume is Shane Leonard, looked really familiar to me. Like, have I met this guy somewhere? Maybe he was the guy that rang up my gas and pork rinds back there in Rhinelander. No, that guy had a beard. Well, I’ll probably figure it out later and be embarrassed—sorry, Shane! The memory is fading.

There’s varying degrees of subtle accompaniment on each of these songs, but they’re all pretty quiet, minimal, and take their time—in short, my kind of music. Good songs, too, catchy songs. Some really remind me of something else—which probably means they are just good songs—not usually a problem, unless they remind you of “My Sweet Lord.” Good lyrics, too, and I can understand them without the lyric sheet, but I like the lyric sheet. There’s one called “Bloomington, IN,” where he says his memory’s fading, too, and he’s good with faces and bad with names—weird! Isn’t that what I just said? I’m not joking—sometimes I just have connections with things I do no understand. (Yesterday I read a reference to “Petals on a wet black bough” in a book I was reading, then heard someone say that phrase later the same day in a totally unrelated podcast! Though I guess you could say they were tied together by Ezra Pound (but it wasn’t a book or podcast about Ezra Pound)—it was just by chance, and on the same day?—this kind of thing happens all the time.) There’s also a reference to Bowling Green in that song, a town I used to visit, occasionally. I once was in a race there (running, this was high school), and the bass player from Brownsville Station (remember “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room?”) was, too. Also, I saw a Doobie Brothers show there.

There’s a song about looking out the window of the “Empire Builder”—and if you’ve ever rode the Empire Builder (it’s a double-decker Amtrak train), you probably remember a similar looking out the window experience (unless you were on your damn phone the whole time). Wow—a reference to Jude Law—nothing against him personally, but does Jude Law really bug the shit out of anyone else? I guess this is a good record for bringing up these things I’ve been thinking about, which is interesting because it seems intensely personal. Also, as far as I can tell, there’s a lot about a very young kid, likely his kid—and as I’ve never had kids, it’s not something I can relate to on that level. But maybe that’s the reason that music is such a great thing—it’s that connecting force that helps us reach each other, regardless of shared experiences and backgrounds—regardless of language, even—regardless, even, of time.

23
Feb
20

The Dell Trio “Cocktail Time”

I expected this to be one of those corny records, like “Music for…” (“Music for Dressing Deer,” “Music for Cleaning Game”) like you’ll find in the open-one-day-a-week antique stores in the North Woods, and are sometimes on the sound-system of supper clubs—but this isn’t corny at all, it’s just a great record. Since the record has no info on it whatsoever (except song titles, and ads for about 50 other Harmony (the label) records, I’ll just have to make up a bio: The Dell Trio consists of Grandma Eunice Dell on the church Hammond, local handyman Charlie Bill Pike on accordion, and Bob Flippen mixing the cocktails, occasional jug, and glass percussion. No, wait, there’s a guitar on there, too. I suspect that the organ is playing bass and also doing the percussion. But like I said, I just made that up—there are actual real people playing on this record, not fictional characters, and a real Dell Trio somewhere in the past. Or maybe they’re still together, playing in an early spot at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. But most likely they are elderly, not touring much, or passed on. I’m not even sure I’ll be able to find anything about them with the internet.

This is a really good record, though, and worth picking up if you see it in a thrift store. It’s got a racy album cover, what looks like a man’s legs and a woman’s legs protruding from a sofa, though we don’t see the rest of them, they’re out of frame, but we’re led to believe they’re making out. The room is over-lit by a hanging paper lamp, and there’s green and orange/pink pillows on the floor, suggesting bohemianism. A little table is holding two cocktails, a Martini and an Old-Fashioned, and there’s a standing ashtray with a cigarette that has gone out. There’s also a little clay-potted plant on the table—I don’t know what the plant is, but I think it’s supposed to suggest, but not advertise, marijuana. Songs include “Cocktails for Two” and “Stumbling” (never heard that one before!), two moon songs in a row, and also a couple of my favorites, “September Song” and “Laura”—nice versions. One could have a worse hobby than collecting all the recorded versions of “Laura”—there’s a lot, and they’re pretty much all good. I’m obsessed with that movie, if I haven’t mentioned that recently.

22
Feb
20

Parliament “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”

“Funk is its own reward.” “May frighten you.” I think someone speaks those words, in a kind of intro, or did I just imagine that? There’s a giant list of credits that reads like a funk all-star band, so I’m not sure who is doing what on any song, but I assume there’s a lot of George Clinton. There’s a couple of short songs, then the epic song, “Dr. Funkenstein,” which is a fairly slow, laconic, extremely funky whole-world of a song, with a chanted chorus and voices coming in from all over the place, speaking, singing, stream-of-consciousness. There is this pretty simple but genius repetitive guitar part that runs through it that I just want as the theme song for my life. The song is six minutes, but I wish it was a lot longer. I never do this, but I’m going to buy this song for my computer (sometimes I listen to music there, at home, when I’m not playing records) so I can just play this on repeat for hours. It’s like a TV show theme song, or a whole TV show, or movie. This record came out in 1976, and I may have heard it at a party, but probably not. I was in the phase of progressing directly from prog-rock to punk rock, but I missed the boat here. A few years later, one of the funniest and most offensive punk records I’ve ever heard, Black Randy and the Metrosquad’s “Pass the Dust, I Think I’m Bowie,” has songs that just lift directly from Dr. Funkenstein. I don’t know why, exactly, but I just keep listening and listening to this song. With all the sound effects, and odd vocals—spoken parts, some in annoying cartoon voices, some in frog-voice—stuff that would normally get on my nerves—but here it sounds like a symphony of good insanity. All of the songs on this record are good, including one of those super-long-title ones, “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body),” and “Let’s Funk Around,” which exploits that tireless and seemingly inexhaustible tradition of using the word “funk” in place of the word “fuck.” The cover (front and back) is also first-rate, with members of the band, presumably, dressed for the stage, or the lab, in some kind of a 1970s television sci-fi set, a good one. I remember looking at a partial discography for Parliament—just the list of titles from the Seventies—all just excellent, mysterious titles. I wonder if these are easy to find—I mean, not for hipster prices, normal person prices—I’ll keep an eye out for them. It’s like a crime against my sensibility that I don’t own any Parliament Funkadelic vinyl.

09
Feb
20

Frank Sinatra “Watertown”

In an attempt to keep these reviews shorter, I’m going allow myself the option to write about a record and then return to it if I feel like I have something to say—and this is one where I’m sure that will be the case. I am currently obsessed with this record, which Frank Sinatra put out in 1970, quite possibly to a bit of head scratching. I think it’s one of those records that has been “rediscovered”—though that’s probably kind of annoying to people who were big fans of it all along. I would always group it with the later, sometimes weird and goofy Sinatra albums (like the one where he sings about Uranus), but I was wrong about how much I’d grow to love it. In fact, as of this Saturday, I have roughly 400 vinyl records (I had many more at one time but lost almost all of them) and this, right now, is my number one favorite, which also means it’s my favorite Sinatra record—and I have a lot of favorites.

The album cover looks like the menu of a vegetarian restaurant in 1979—though, I actually love the cover, and will buy an extra copy to hang one on my wall—but it sure isn’t a glossy photo of Frank in a hat with a cocktail. The lyrics are inside, and the lyrics are crucial. This is a concept record, produced by Bob Gaudio and written by him and Jake Holmes. It’s not so unusual for Sinatra, a concept record of sad love songs—except this is not standards, but late Sixties pop. It’s somewhat similar to what was previously my favorite record, Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb’s The Yard Went On Forever, in both themes and style, and seeing as that came out two years earlier, I wonder if it was an influence for this one? I also wonder (and I’m sure I can find this out someday) if Sinatra and Richard Harris were friends or rivals? Anyway, Bob Gaudio was one of the Four Seasons, which almost sounds like a Spinal Tap-ian joke when you say it that way, but look at his songwriting credits. He’s no less legendary than anyone who’s written a pop song, yet his name was not familiar to me until very recently. It seems weird to say that people like him and Jimmy Webb are underrated, but that’s our culture for you—and the Dylan and Beatles world we live in. If anyone ever wants you to explain that fuckin’ black rectangle in 2001: A Space Odyssey, tell them to think of the Beatles—not so much what they were, but how our culture creates these things that suck up all the light, rendering us blind to everything else, and create so much noise it also deafens us. Then those are those things, and there are very few of them at that—and everyone else is washing dishes at Applebee’s, if they’re lucky.

Since I’m a song person, I can love a record for one good song, or hate it because it only has one good song. A collection of great songs, especially in order, and creating a story—that doesn’t come along very often, but here it is. I’m going to have to write about this again just so I can go through song by song and really appreciate each one. I’d say half of them should have been major hits, as standalone songs—and would have been if our world wasn’t bullshit. The other thing I want to do later is read more about this record—I think there might be websites and newsgroups about it—has anyone done one of those 331/3 books yet? This would be perfect for one of those. Maybe I’ll finally do a proposal. But it would be daunting, too, because there’s got to be some people out there for whom this record is it. Maybe I’ll meet one of those cats sometime, maybe online, or we can write a good old-fashioned letter. Or maybe I can start a Watertown meeting in my town. Oh, one thing I do want to mention right now—after I bought this record and was immediately impressed by it, for about the first hundred listenings I felt that it kind of pooped out at the end—didn’t finish as strong as I’d have wished it to. That was before I paid close attention to the lyrics (as much of a lyric fanatic as I am, sometimes when the music is strong enough, I just kind of ignore the lyrics for the longest time). You’ve got to pay attention to the lyrics on this record, and especially on that last song. It’s just devastating.

02
Feb
20

The George Shearing Quintet and Orchestra “Black Satin”

This George Shearing Quintet record is a little different than some others I have in that there is orchestra, arranged by Billy May. There’s something about it that I like almost better than any I’ve heard—it’s hard to say why. There’s something kind of odd about how that Shearing sound—his distinctive piano, coupled with vibes and guitar—sounds with the orchestra. Maybe it’s just that this was one of the records my parents had, and I heard it a lot as a kid. I don’t remember at this point exactly which Shearing records they did have, but pretty much every time I hear any of them, it takes me back to childhood more completely than anything—I can smell what the house smelled like, the carpet just after vacuuming, the late-afternoon sun coming in the west-facing picture window. There’s always something a little sad about it, but comforting, too. I could probably put this record on once a week for the rest of my life. No weak spots—but then there rarely is (that I’ve found) with Shearing. The drawing on the back cover, with the brief liner notes, is a formally dressed rich, young, white man and woman sitting on one of those round couches, like a plush couch wrapped around a post, like the ones in the lobby of the Hotel Breakers, in Sandusky. The joke here is: “Get a room,” because if you ever tried having sex on one of those round couches… what am I saying? No one’s tried that! The cover photo shows a young woman in a slim back dress with some kind of crazy beads draped around her neck that looks like a dead fish, if you squint. She’s reclining on, maybe partly under, what’s supposed to be, of course, “black satin”—but if you really look at it, it more resembles a photo-studio setup of black, plastic trash bags! I’m not sure this doesn’t represent a very bad day in a Capital records photo studio. The woman looks pretty great, like she’d just as soon kick your ass as make out—and if you use your imagination, you could comfortably put this cover photo on a movie poster about alien pod people or a punk rock album various artist collection called, “Straight Outta Da Trash.”

19
Jan
20

Lena Horne “Stormy Weather”

This is a record I imagine a lot of people having in their collections in the late 50s—it’s got a classy cover, a photo of Lena Horne spotlighted in the darkness, maybe next to a piano—what I’d imagine to be a studio photo replicating a concert setting, but I don’t know. She was a huge star—the liner notes on back talk about how she was a star of first name recognition, like Ella and Frank—and those two come to mind listening to this record of standards—as her singing is every bit as singular as theirs—though none of them sound remotely like each other. So I like to think about a time when this record was on the normal person’s turntable—it’s anything but a boring record. I wonder if younger people know her? I suppose when you say “Lena,” now, more people think of Lena Dunham. As familiar as she is, I know nothing about her really—she lived into her 90s, had a 70 year career, passed away 10 years ago. She was at some point married to Lennie Hayton, who was known to wear captain’s hats, and conducted the orchestra on this record. One wonders if they are an inspiration to the Captain & Tennille. This LP is beat to hell, yet it plays—and just takes me back to a time before I was born. The first song, “Tomorrow Mountain” (Duke Ellington/John Latouche) is spectacular—crazy lyrics—the first I’ve ever heard it. Some of my favorite songs are here, including “Summertime,” “Stormy Weather,” “I’ll Be Around,” and “Just One of Those Things.” All 11 songs are good—nothing bland here, actually—you can’t really call this easy listening—there’s nothing easy about it. It’s out there, it’s jazz, it’s art—even a little challenging. I guess I’m going to have to keep an eye out for other old Lena Horne records now—I’m certainly happy to open another door to the richness of the past.




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