Archive for the 'sublime' Category

03
Oct
18

Sarah Vaughan “The Lonely Hours”

I didn’t know I had this 1964 Sarah Vaughan record, and it’s a good one—I should be putting it on regularly. Twelve bluesy, dramatic songs, arranged by Benny Carter, roughly on the theme of lost love. Sarah Vaughan doesn’t hold back. It’s a nice copy, too, on Roulette records, with that lovely two-tone target checkerboard label. The cover looks like it’s part of an actual painting (no one painted square paintings) that has more deep blue color than any record I own. It’s what looks like a NYC row-house apartment, big steps going up to a darkened front door. The only light is from the bay window, in which a woman, wearing a neglige, I think, is standing, looking out (presumably, in this context, for an absent lover). She may or may not be smoking—a cigarette, that is—one might say she’s “smoking,” as in hot. I don’t talk that way, personally, but I do think it’s odd that she’s white, while Sarah Vaughan, who’s record this is, after all, is black. You’d think they could have found an image that more closely reflected the artist at hand. I wonder if there was a discussion at the label about it. Maybe that’s not so weird, there are sometimes women on the cover of Sinatra records, it’s not always him. White women, of course. No, it’s fucked up.

Quite unrelated, I noticed that there is a Wikipedia page for, besides Sarah Vaughan, a Sara Vaughn—which just struck me as funny because her name is like the more famous singer, but without the “h” in Sarah, and without the second “a” in Vaughan. Sara Vaughn—a middle-distance runner of sufficient success to get a Wikipedia page. She’s 32 years old, five foot one (like the Iggy Pop song), and her race seems to the the 1500 meters—which was close, in distance, to my best race (the mile—but we hadn’t gone metric, yet). Oh, that’s interesting—her best mile time is 4:27—that’s exactly my best mile time! I make nothing of this coincidence—I just take every opportunity to brag about that personal best, since it was not bad for a high school kid in the 1970s. “I’ll Never Be the Same”—is a standout on this record—it’s a familiar song, no doubt I’ve heard Sinatra do it—same with “If I Had You.” “You’re Driving Me Crazy” is another familiar one—I think I know the Kay Starr version—but that song (written by Walter Donaldson) goes back to 1930, the year my dad was born, and was recorded by well over a hundred artists. It makes you wonder if that was even an expression before this song—and if so, where’d it come from? Anyway, I could go on and on—I love all these songs. “(In My) Solitude” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” are standouts. It’s a real mood record—I’ll have to keep it in mind for the next time I break up with someone… if ever… again… A notion so distant… I’m sure there’s a song about that.

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30
Aug
18

Mickey Newbury “Sweet Memories”

This is a 1985 LP put out by MCA Records of “previously released material”—there’s nothing wrong with that if the songs are good—but the presentation, the album cover, doesn’t feel like an artist’s album, but a record company product, which, again is okay, but I’m more interested in the LP as an art form that’s a direct extension of the artist from a certain time and place. This would be the ideal thing to find on cassette at a truck-stop during a nonstop cross country road-trip in a vintage automobile. This would be your 3am ’til dawn music. The back contains some concise liner notes written by Wesley H. Rose, president of Acuff-Rose Publications, and he calls Mickey Newbury one of the great songwriters of our time. You might not have heard of him, but if you were a Nashville old-timer, you certainly would have. I wonder what’s going to happen to Nashville. I’ve heard, repeatedly, lately, about how the population there is exploding. For whatever reason, it’s the place to move to. Which means, of course, that the people who are getting there now, or soon, are going to have a hard time finding a place to live, finding a job, making ends meet. I suppose many of those moving there are songwriters, trying to break into the songwriting, singing, playing, recording music business. Most won’t make it. Some will stay and work at the new microbrewery, or a call center, and some will go back to the town they came from, and some will try the next place. I wonder where the next place is, or going to be?

Anyway, this is a fine listening record, and maybe a good record to study a well-crafted Nashville style song, but I’m not going to focus on the songs right now because many of them are on other Mickey Newbury records I have and will write about later. This has the feeling of a post-career record (not the case) with a 7 inch single size portrait of him on the cover (with his great smile and hair) surrounded by an expanse of oppressive green background (a shade of green I’d call “basement rec-room”). I first heard Mickey Newbury just a few years ago during a WKCR NY radio country music marathon, and in particular, this one song (can’t remember what now) that struck me as being the kind of song I’d like to write. So then I got kind of obsessed, not recalling ever seeing his records—started looking for them and found them affordable, and before you know it, I have six of his LPs (from 1973 to 1979) plus this one. I’ll get around to writing about those records when they come up on my random review system. Let this be my introduction to Mickey Newbury and promise of more to come. In a quick perusal of his internet biography (which you never want to take as gospel) it sounds like he had great success as a songwriter at a relatively early age, but didn’t record until his late twenties (what some would consider “late”), but then put out a lot of records, until he suffered with health issues and died far too young. You can find quotes of the utmost respect for him by some great musicians and songwriters. I’ll look forward to really listening in depth to some of his records, here, in the near future.

17
Aug
18

Charlie Pickett and the Eggs “Live At The Button”

This 1982 record, full title: Charlie Pickett and the Eggs Live at The Button on Fort Lauderdale Beach, showed up at the Spindizzy record store in Kent, Ohio sometime in 1982 or 1983, probably as a promo, since we were a record store, or because the store was also the address of several zines that reviewed independently released records—though, honestly, I can’t remember how or why it got there. Because no one had ever heard of Charlie Pickett and pretty much associated Fort Lauderdale with “Spring Break,” and they didn’t look too punk-rock on the back cover, and most of the songs were covers, it’s kind of remarkable anyone ever put it on, but once we did, probably intending to make fun of it, we all flipped over it, and especially Keith Busch did, as it was his kind of thing. Immediately evident was that being live was not a drawback (no corny ass-kissing the audience, and excellently recorded) and it was raw and unpolished garage rock (essentially more “punk rock” than many of the bands calling themselves punk rock in what was already the waning days of punk rock).

I haven’t listened to this in years, so it’s a nice surprise how it still sounds great to me; Charlie Pickett’s voice reminds me of someone, but maybe it’s just the memory of listening to this album endlessly for awhile. The band is pretty hot. The album cover is a grainy b&w photo of what looks like a DMV, but it’s more than likely “The Button”—which is a weird name for a club, if you ask me. The liner notes on back—by Paul Beeman (like the gum)—are hilarious. Ten of the 13 songs are covers, though only two of which I knew at the time—and one of which (The Velvet Underground’s “Lonesome Cowboy Bill”) inspired us to do it, in our band (the Ragged Bags) at that time. I was just thinking about playing that song—while looking back through old notebooks—when I saw a Keith Busch quote I had scrawled there, about our version of it: “It’s bad enough that we don’t do the middle—we have to end it somewhere.”

Since I have the internet now, I can look up who some of the songs are originally by: The Velvet Underground, The Yardbirds, Flamin’ Groovies, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Peter Green, Freddy Cannon, and Crazy Cavan and the Rhythm Rockers. My favorites are “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I” and “Slow Death.” And there are some fine original songs. While looking this up I hoped to avoid seeing anything depressing, like everyone in this band died a grizzly death and/or worse, but what I did come upon was a very recent article about Charlie Pickett releasing a new record! So that kind of warmed my heart. It turns out that they were influential and loved by a few more people than just us, I guess—and people are dying to get this old record. Or, at least, a lot of people are dying, and this record often happens to be found at the scene of the crime. Nothing surprises me anymore. Anyway, it’s a great record. The only downside is that it ends with a train song, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

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.

08
Jun
18

Sly & The Family Stone “Greatest Hits”

I don’t think I ever owned a copy of earlier Sly and the Family Stone records, but I had this 1970 greatest hits record, it feels like, all my life, and everyone had it, and you know all the songs—they were on the radio, they were on TV, and they’re still being played here and there enough that you might hear one on any day somewhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. But if you put the vinyl record on your stereo and listen to it closely, like I’m doing, it actually sounds fresh, since the reality of the music is different from my memory—it’s actually rawer, more innovative, and generally more interesting than the version in my memory. Particularly the songs: “Everybody Is A Star,” “Life,” “You Can Make It If You Try,” “Stand!”—really, all of them. No matter how well you know them in your sleep, it’s amazing how much better they sound “in person” (just you and your hi-fi).

I remember this time in junior high or high school when Sly and the Family Stone were on some variety TV show the night before, and everyone was talking about it at school the next day. Imagine that! There was some kind of confusion when the band took the stage, because then, Sly, or all of them, left the stage, I think, before coming back and playing. I don’t know what was going on, and it might be possible to find a video of that now, and even people discussing it, but I remember that as a very unique, very real moment, that really separated itself from the usual, over-rehearsed bullshit. He seemed like he had a great sense of humor, was having lot of fun, and had great style. This record has a just terrible cover, you’ve seen it, but over time it’s become kind of a classic, I guess. But the back is better, just a huge picture of Sly with a red knit hat and the best teeth I’ve ever seen. And the album cover folds open (and there are some liner notes, which I don’t remember being there—pretty good, too) and there is a giant vertical picture of the band, kind of out of focus, grainy, weird perspective, and Sly with those great boots—really, one of the best band pictures ever.

25
May
18

Richard Harris “The Yard Went On Forever”

First of all I’ve got about five Richard Harris albums, which is four or five more than normal people. It’s hard for me to explain his appeal to me—I guess it starts with him not being afraid to be way over the top, even ridiculous, and without irony, or if there is irony, a very convoluted version of it. Part of it is Jimmy Webb—it’s probably more accurate to call this a Harris/Webb collaboration than a Richard Harris album—but R.H. does almost equally as well with Tony Romeo (but that’s another record). This one is Jimmy Webb, sounding like he’s trying to recreate the MacArthur Park glory on the very first song here, “The Yard Went On Forever”—of course it does’t come close—but perhaps what it is is an allusion to it—indicating that this record is a continuation of MacArthur Park—for all those people (like me) who, as epic as M.P. was, wanted more. I believe this was R.H.’s second album, the first being from earlier the same year (1968, a half century ago!)—A Tramp Shining. There are those who found MacArthur Park the “pinnacle of human achievement” (that was me), as well as a fair continent who, if time travel was invented, would get around to eradicating that song only after assassinating Hitler.

For some reason I’ve listened to this Richard Harris album less than the other ones I own, so I’m happy my random system chose it on this evening. I’ve probably been mildly scared off by it because it’s so confusing, pretty much on every level. After I write this, I’ll be curious to see if anyone on the internet has tackled it. Just the cover makes no sense at all; I won’t even try to explain it. Find a thrift store and see for yourself. In the gnarly profile photo on back, R.H. looks like he’s been rolling in the dirt with several layers of historically accurate movie rolls (remember, he’s even more well-known as an actor). If that’s not enough, the cover opens to reveal a giant-size portrait of R.H., full cop-look, and the photo is so huge I got out my tape measure to measure his ear—over eight inches! I wonder how many people got high, over the years, and focused in on that photo? The ear is one part of the human body that you really don’t want to isolate and think about too much.

No printed lyrics, but maybe that’s just as well, as it lets me off the hook a little, interpretation-wise. You can understand them anyway—this guy enunciates like someone with theatre training. The songs are apparently all by Jimmy Webb, who is also the producer; he’s a great songwriter, as you know, and even his non-hits sound like they’re probably hits somewhere, or should have been. This record has full arrangements, backup singers, strings, horns, and a lot of atmosphere. Only four songs per side—I love how they used to do that—there’s enough space between the grooves and the label that you could grow crops there. I can usually listen to a record once through and pretty much get it, but this is going to be a two day project—and I’m going to go song by song. This mammoth achievement deserves that, and it’s fun to do that once in awhile. Plus, I’ve always loved, as an expression, “the yard went on forever”—without knowing what it means. I borrow it, as a non-sequitur, from time to time.

The title song is first (I like when they do that) and it starts with an angelic choir sounding kind of ominous (“Has everybody got a place to hide?”) and then R.H. sings “Can you hear them singing, the women of Pompeii, with Kansas City housewives…” If that doesn’t baffle you, the song fades to silence, two minutes in, and then starts up again with him singing about “The volcanoes and tornados on doomsday.” Then the angels again, but now R.H. is standing with the Nagasaki housewives. Then the angelic choir singing something I can’t understand—is it Esperanto, or Latin? This is not a song, it’s an art film! “Watermark” then is equally hyper-dramatic, with full strings, and I have no idea what this is about either, but this line jumps out: “I keep looking through old varnish at my late lover’s body.” This is heavy stuff. Then “Interim” which sounds like a convoluted lover’s lament (addressed to “you”) with lines like: “We were wound about so tightly that we couldn’t touch each other with a straw,” and “I have several lives to live/and each one of them continues without asking/it’s all that I can do to count my skeletons/and take my paid vacations.” Insane. Finally, “Gayla” which I believe is a woman’s name (not “Gay L.A.”)—the song starts out quiet and sentimental, and then turns on a dime and goes into another show-stopper chorus (for the fourth song in a row), then back to being quiet—then again to an even bigger finale, singing “God damn you, God damn you, and your dirty joke.” Somewhat bitter and sad? And then a reprise of the angelic choir: “Is everybody safe”—all this in three minutes.

If all that wasn’t enough drama for one LP, the second side starts off with a monster nine minute epic called “The Hymns from Grand Terrace.” It’s another movie, a love story, lush and emotional, that begins with, “He married her…” and he’s not speaking in the second person, if you know what I’m saying. That’s interrupted by a jaunty western traveling sojourn, then some truly happy imagery of happier times: “Cars would pass, we were out of gas, and didn’t care.” Then a total fade-out followed by a kind of song-length bridge with a really cool guitar part that could have been the foundation of a hit song if it wasn’t in service of this monumental epic. Then back to the drama, of course: “If I could face the fate that waits to cast me into shambles/and sit across the velvet boards from God, then I would gamble.” And when the song ends you’re not sure it’s over, because the next one, “The Hive,” starts right in like it’s part of the previous song. I’m listening closely, trying to figure out what this “hive” is—it’s not real happy. “And now they’ll all get roaring drunk/pretending they’re essentially alive,” and “God blessed our happy cubicle/keep it safe and sanitized/homogenized and pasteurized/there’s no place like numb.” There’s an orchestral segue into “Lucky Me”—a sad song masterpiece: “Lucky me, there’s no more we,”—that post-breakup justification that it’s better now—“No more I love you’s I could not return”—not fooling anyone, of course. Maybe one of the purest expressions of misery known to man, how much happier he is now, without her. And we end with “That’s the Way it Was”—a totally corny lament about a past time, a far off town, an idealized childhood, with each image punctuated by “And the honey bees would buzz”—which—after just a song ago, sinking into the horror of the hive—is hardly convincingly happy. And it ends with an overlapping of the angels, now singing part of the chorus from the first song, while R.H. barely holds back the tears with, “There once was a town… where a man could fall in love,” and finally, “And the yard went on forever.” At which time it’s supposed to all make sense. And it does!




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