Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

07
Dec
19

Skeeter Davis “The Best of Skeeter Davis”

There is a “Best of Skeeter Davis” record from 1983, and 1980, and 1973, and 1978, and 1965. There may be more, but I got tired of looking in the internet. For the most part, they are the same songs—I mean, the first one kept getting reissued—though I noticed some variations. Anyway, this one that I’m listening to right now is a fine vinyl copy from 1965, RCA Victor, mono, 12 songs, it sounds great. On the front cover there’s nice picture of Skeeter, kind of Olan Mills style, that’s in a squarish rectangle with rounded corners that resembles the screen of 1960s television. It says “The Best of Skeeter Davis” and lists the songs. The letters in her name is each a different color. People could get color TV in the early 60s, but 1965 is considered the year the damn burst. It was often advertised by making each letter a different color, such as with the “Color TV” signs at motels. There are brief, very introductory, uncredited liner notes on back, referring to her as a “vivacious blonde Kentuckian.” She was both young and old at this time (around 34) and was, of course, already a star, with half a dozen LPs, lots of singles, and some hit songs. A “best of” record already made sense.

Every song on this record is good, and I could write an article about each one, but I’m not going to even mention them, I mean, individually, at this point, since they’re all on other records that I’ve written about, or am going to write about. No… maybe should… I’m listening to this again. It’s such a great record… every song is good. It’s like the classic county record of all time. Twelve songs by 12 different people or songwriting teams (including one by Skeeter Davis and Carolyn Penick), but somehow, it’s like every song is a Skeeter Davis song, once she’s singing it. She’s like Sinatra in that way. I wonder if those two ever met. This record would be a great birthday or Christmas present for someone—someone who maybe isn’t already a big Skeeter Davis fan, and you want to introduce her to. If I ever see other copies of this for a reasonable price (or the reissued versions), I’m going to buy them and then give them away as presents. Instead of the guy who gives you books you don’t want to read, I’ll be the guy who gives Skeeter Davis records to people who don’t like country music and don’t have record players!

30
Nov
19

Lana Del Rey “Ultraviolence”

If you call your album “Ultraviolence” are you making a reference to A Clockwork Orange, either the book, or the movie, or both? Though maybe there was something (band, ad agency, hoagie) with that name—referring to the book, or the movie—in the vast cultural wilderness of the last four decades that I missed—and this record is actually referring to that. Is it a fragrance? If not, it should be! Well, in this case, it refers to a (seriously creepy) love song, on the album. I was happy to see a lyric sheet, but it isn’t a lyric sheet, it’s song by song credits, typed with a seemingly very, very small typewriter—I read some of them before my eyes hurt too much and I had to stop—but if you can find another woman’s name anywhere in the vast sea of dude-ness, Leave a Comment, and I’ll issue a personal apology. Like so many records by young people, this one has a thick cover, super heavy vinyl, and is a double record. I guess when I’m thinking back to some of the most exciting records of all time, like from the Seventies, quite a few were double records—I guess it was supposed to announce a spectacular surge of creativity, and also the record company’s boundless love for the artist. But for people who grew up in the CD era, maybe a record seemed like it should be 14 or 18 songs and well over an hour, and to put that on vinyl you need two records. Oh well, the important thing is, are there are good songs—and there are lots here. I think they’re all written by Lana Del Rey, along with someone else, in many cases. I like the songs, I like the sound, I like her singing—I should probably end this review here—the new concise and positive me. But I’m not getting paid by the word, so I’m also not getting paid for brevity.

“Cruel World” is pretty, and melancholy, and pretty damn melancholy, but at least, given that title, relatively free of irony? I love rhyming “Bourbon” and “suburban”—has anyone else used that rhyme? I’m sure, but I can’t recall any, offhand, you need the proper stars to line up. There’s a really familiar sounding song, maybe a hit? Or maybe it’s just growing on me from repeat listens. All solid songs here—I like this record—it’s just relentless in its dramatic, melancholy sound. You want to text her and say, “It’s not so bad. It’s all going to be okay.” But what if she texted back: “How do YOU know?” Well, okay, maybe not then. Keep doing what you’re doing. Apparently she has, with more records since this one, and they’re all hit records, I believe. It’s kind of hard to know, as least for me, anymore, the difference between relative stardom, and stardom, and superstardom, and the next thing. She’s definitely getting “paid by the tear,” as David Berman said. Of course, there can be a cost to that, of course, but maybe those bills have already been paid. Just last week I read an interview, by chance, online (as those things happen, these days, seemingly at random) with a woman singer and songwriter, apparently quite successful, though it was the first time I heard of her (and since forgot her name). What caught my attention was the seeming openness with which she talked about unhappy relationships—and it just struck me, made me kind of sad. I know these are rich people problems, but love is one place where we’re all equal, at least to a great degree—and being famous, or revered, or having money, doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Honey is wonderful, but it attracts everything, including dirt. I’m sorry I can’t remember who the interview was with, but Leave a Comment if you think you know, or maybe I’ll include it as a comment here, later, if I remember. Oh, also, that reminded me of Randy Russell’s excellent short story about falling in love with a singer’s songs, then meeting the person. It’s called “Fiddle o’ Blood,” and I recommend it.

It’s a good album cover, with big, casual photos. It’s kind of refreshing in that the photos on both the front and the back take up the the whole covers, with white letters superimposed, and they are both black and white, and look like from the same day, same photo session. Lana Del Rey is wearing the same kind of white, V-neck T-shirt I wear to work under my white work shirt, though hers looks pretty new, not gnarly like mine, and also, she’s wearing a bra under hers, which is a nice look—though not one I could pull off. On the front it looks like she’s getting out of a car, though I can’t tell what in the world is going on here, or what kind of car it is—from the small details, I’d say it’s a 1970s crap car. It’s a nice, kind of blurry photo—she looks like she’s about 20. Maybe she was at the time. It looks like there’s a tattoo on the outside of her left hand—the part you’d use to karate chop something. Then on the other photo you see a tattoo on the inside of her left hand. Or maybe they’re not tattoos at all, but simply reminders, written with a Sharpie (“Remember photo shoot,” and “Call Speen”). I’m kind of hurt that she needs a reminder, but on the other hand—well, I’m not sure what it says on her right hand. There should be a website that just tells you what famous people tattoos say. Oh, right, there probably is one. I’ll check that out now. On the other hand, no, that’s gross. I’d rather not know.

22
Nov
19

Gene & Debbe “Hear & Now”

I spotted this record used, a beat up but playable copy, and it was the first I heard of Gene & Debbe. It’s a great cover, with the words in a slightly psychedelic font, each a different color: ghost green, hot pink, acid orange, and boring blue. Mostly, though, it’s this big b&w photo of Gene & Debbe—Gene staring at the camera like you’ve got exactly four minutes to get this photo, and Debbe just in front of him in profile (she’s quite beautiful) with her hair up in a beehive that won’t quite behave. You know there’s an empty can of Aqua Net very nearby. Liner notes on back (as well as two songs, the saddest ones) are by my man, Mickey Newbury, short, but concrete dense. Not one for the light touch. Though he does slip a little—perhaps unnerved by Debbe’s luminance—and says, of her: “Like the cream in a morning’s first cup of coffee.” I, for one, forgive him. Gene Thomas and Debbe Nevills were a Nashville pop/folk/country duo who had a hit song (“Playboy,” on this record), a handful of other singles, and one album, this one, from 1968.

Odd LPs with great covers are often bummers musically, but I’m liking this one a lot. I’m guessing the hot playing by some uncredited Nashville pros doesn’t hurt. The eleven songs are all catchy, and six are by Gene Thomas. The cover song of greatest note is “Let It Be Me”—which happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time—recorded by everyone and their mother. Gene sounds more than a bit like Sonny Bono. Debbe doesn’t sound like Cher, that would be weird, but her voice is similarly striking—her voice is great. It makes this record, really. It’s kind of like the morning’s first cup of black coffee. You know, my life has been so much better since I got used to drinking coffee black. It wasn’t easy (kind of like quitting smoking), but now I prefer it. Truthfully, this record, as pleasant and listenable as it is, really comes to life every time Debbe sings. Gene’s a tad whole milk, or even 2%. I guess I’ve kind of developed a crush on Debbe, as I listen to this again. “Go With Me” sounds really familiar, I wonder if someone else did it? Debbe takes these kind of simple words (“take my hand”) and just twists them, so they just pierce your heart—and I don’t even think she knows. I guess they were a couple, for awhile, then broke up. I suppose it wasn’t easy, being either a duo or couple, with people like me trying to steal Debbe away from him—but who can blame us?

17
Nov
19

Mott the Hoople “Mott”

My random system for picking records to write about landed on this one, which I may have touched on before, and hopefully will again, since it was such a huge record in my life. Then a couple of days later, in a thrift store, I saw this British pressing with a totally different cover—not that rare, or anything, but I’ve never seen it before, in person, somehow. This is the cover with a die-cut head-shape hole (which, I’ve read, was the bust of Augustus printed on transparent plastic! That part now gone. Also, why?)—and inside, a kind of amazing photo collage. The cover also looks like it was half spray-painted this shade of day-glow pink I didn’t think existed in 1973. I still prefer the US version, which is nothing special—four Seventies rock guys standing there with some stage lights—it’s almost comic in its datedness—but for me, pure nostalgia in its magic. I’ve forgotten a lot of my childhood, but I remember Scott Suter telling me to buy this record—we were in 7th Grade—and I did, intrigued by that band name that made no sense. The opening piano on “All the Way from Memphis”—that weird sound, something off about it, almost like the tape is slowed down or slightly manipulated (I’ll read about this somewhere, someday)—it just burned an indelible memory in my brain, and when I put it on now, it takes me right back there. There are a handful of things like that in your life—usually music is involved—and so I value those things like nothing else.

I think Mott the Hoople is the only band whose last two records are their best two, and it’s somehow not coincidental that they were named “Mott” and “The Hoople,” or that they came out in 1973 and 1974 (the two best years of popular culture, at least in the century surrounding my existence). In a way, they were both last records, because this is the last one with Mick Ralphs, who went directly from this to forming Bad Company. “The Hoople” is both remarkably the same and different than this record. I’ve long struggled and finally given up trying to pick my favorite of the two. Both versions of the band are great all the way through, but it’s Ian Hunter who’s at the center of the mess. It’s hard to make any sense of that guy. You can hear the Bob Dylan influence in everything he does, yet he sounds nothing like Dylan. I’ve gone through periods where I thought he was someone else in disguise, or even thought he was actually a woman. The conclusion I’ve finally come to is that he’s the most normal guy in the history of rock’n’roll, and also the strangest. It turns out it wasn’t Bowie who was the space alien, it was Ian Hunter. Though he might not be a space alien, but instead a ghost, or an android. I did something I never do, last year, and went to see an aging rock band live show—which was Mott the Hoople (with three of them from the ’74, “Hoople,” record) and so I did see the 80 year old Ian Hunter in person, and sure I was a few seats away, but it was like, next stop, Jesus. So the mystery just deepened (also hope—for what one can do at 80 years old).

A funny thing about this record is I’ve just kept listening to it over the years, never really got tired of it (though I don’t, you know, play it to death). When I was a lad, I liked the songs that rocked out more, while the ones with those alienating words (Hymn, Ballad) in their titles put me off a little. Now, those are my very favorite songs, just beautiful slower rock songs, with fairly incredible lyrics, worth checking out, if you never have—songs that I will most likely listen to again tomorrow, and next month, and early next year. Those, along with “I Wish I Was Your Mother” are now my favorite songs on the record. The whole thing is listenable, and also quite an oddity. The best rock music, for me, has always been that which is, how would you say it? Ill-fitting. Also, Ian Hunter’s voice, that’s just going to be knocking around in there, in my skull, like a cave painting, for the rest of my days, and after that, who can say.

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.

31
Oct
19

Skeeter Davis “My Heart’s in the Country”

This record has the best cover of all the Skeeter Davis records I own (which is a lot, but not nearly enough of them). It’s a full cover color photograph of Skeeter sitting in a barnyard wearing a red and white gingham dress, holding a baby pig. As cute as she is, the pig’s even cuter. The photo is weirdly cropped, as in it doesn’t look cropped—I’m guessing they took a few, but there weren’t a lot to chose from that had sufficient focus when blown up that large, because, I’m no expert, but I believe those little pigs are kind of squirmy. It’s a great cover. There’s also substantial liner notes on the back, by Skeeter Davis, which I’ll read in a bit. I was going to say this isn’t my favorite of her records, which it isn’t, but now that I’m listing to it a few times, while writing this, it’s growing on me. Skeeter Davis records will do that. The title song (by Larry Kingston and Felton Jarvis) is about a singer who has big city success, but nevertheless, she sings, “My heart’s in the country, on a farm in O-hi-o.” Which, of course, strikes a chord with me, as an Ohioan. She is from Kentucky, so this song is a character, but also her, and southern Ohio and Kentucky do have a border, but it’s not necessarily the one drawn up by The Man. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the Ohioan in her (as well as the Kentuckian in me) that draws me to her so intensely. This song also has one of those spoken parts, which I’m sure some people find corny, but I love that, especially when Skeeter Davis does it.

One thing that’s interesting about Skeeter Davis is that she had success with both pop and country audiences, which is something she talks about in the liner notes, maintaining that her roots are in the country (and this country music). I’m personally not partial to either the pop music or the country music she’s recorded—I must say, I like both equally—and sometimes you can’t really hear a line between them (but sometimes you can). As I’ve said before, above all, I’m song oriented, so it matters little, the genre or style—I’ll like a song, or not so much. The biggest generalization I make when I’m categorizing music I like or don’t like is the degree of jauntiness—and I’m sure people are tired of me using that word, but it best expresses the thing that often turns me off. (Of course, I’m sure there’s a jaunty song out there that I do like, but I can’t think of one right now.) Naturally, both country and pop songs can be jaunty. On this record, which is all hardcore country songs, we have the jaunty and the not jaunty. The not jaunty ones tend to be sad and melancholy—those are my favorites. A few of my favorites here are “Put It Off Until Tomorrow” (by Dolly Parton and Bill Owens), “I’m Living in Two Worlds” (J. Crutchfield) (not about the two worlds of pop and country—it’s a relationship song—and a sad one). And “Before I’m Over You” by Betty Sue Perry, another in the tradition of losing one’s mind (going crazy, insane, etc.) over a love gone wrong. Of course, there are songs that are kind of in between sad and jaunty, the clever country songs—one here I like a lot is “Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart,” by Liz Anderson (I always liked that expression, about eating, and there’s nothing I like better than the tradition of inserting “heart” in every expression imaginable).

These liner notes are Skeeter answering the question, “What’s the country like?” She goes on and on with nostalgic descriptions of the things she remembers and loves about country life—sure, it’s sugary and sweet, but really kind of touching, too—at least to me. My favorite part of it is where she’s talking about mothers and fathers, now gone, their particular smells, and she says, “And they were smells you’d like to smell again, but can’t.” I guess that reminds me of what I like about Skeeter Davis—there is this simplicity, clarity, a kind of innocence, but never without an underlying melancholy and world weariness. It also reminds me that I have this autobiography she wrote, called Bus Fare to Kentucky, which I still haven’t read—I’ve got to read it sometime.

18
Oct
19

Joy of Cooking “Closer to the Ground”

I had never heard of this band, and the cover—a stoner painting of an easy chair in the woods—didn’t exactly say, “buy me,” but the back cover—a full-sized photo of five hippies—pretty much dated it (1971)—and that’s a good date. Three men and two women, and not Fleetwood Mac. I was expecting the worst hippie folk imaginable, but figured it was worth checking out. A band name like “Joy of Cooking” could mean you have songs about making bread and lentils, or it could be a major drug reference, or it could mean, as band, you cooked, you got down, you rocked out. To my delight, for the most part, the latter is the case. I mean, there are still plenty of hippie folk elements, but even that’s not always a bad thing, and sometimes a good thing. Some of the songs are pretty hard, and some are soulful. It’s not Janis Joplin, but then, who is? There are a lot of musical influences, and the songs are kind of all over the place, kind of hard to pin down, and I don’t mind that at all. It’s a record worth listening to a few times, and what I hear of the lyrics, initially, is also intriguing. Actually, as I listen more… some really good lyrics. So, it turns out the songs, vocals, guitars, and keyboards are by the two women in the band, Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite. This is their second LP, and from what I read, personnel has changed since the band formed (in Berkeley)—but it’s Toni and Terry’s band.

There’s seriously a lot of interesting stuff going on here. I’m kind of surprised they weren’t a much bigger band—but then, they are on a major label, and I bet they have their enduring fans. I’m going to check out the lyrics more, now. The record folds open, and there are lyrics and black and white photos inside. Also, there’s a separate lyric sheet—I’m confused for a moment, then realize it’s to their first record. No doubt some shelving confusion with the record’s previous owner. Maybe that means I should make a point of finding their first record. Anyway, not much about lentils or bread, and as a band, they do pretty much cook. One song in particular stands out like a sore thumb, or should I say, the opposite. There are not any bad songs, but this one, called, “Sometimes Like a River (Loving You)” was somebody’s (Toni Brown’s) very good day on the songwriting magic path—it’s so good, it’s the song when the record is over, you go back and play that one again. I may be wrong (1971 was a weird-ass time), but I’m guessing when they played live, this was the song where a few notes in, the audience would be hooping a hollering, people would get up to dance, people would sing along—that love-making thing between the band and the audience. Excellent lyrics, too, check out this line: “Sometimes like a new wind you touch my hand / And I can feel the sudden pleasure in not knowing.” That makes me want to cry. I feel like I’m being kind of annoying, loving one song so much more than the others, but then, for me, songs are what it’s all about. All songs were not created equal. Everyone knows that, but we tend to forget it when we’re bored on uninspired. It takes a truly excellent song to remind you that, yes, music is the best thing there is, better than love, sex, hash brownies, and even bank accounts.




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