Archive Page 2

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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06
Feb
19

The Jonah Jones Quartet “Swingin’ at the Cinema”

This is a thrift store record if ever there was one—well, actually, I don’t see it as often as “Jumpin’ with Jonah” (from the same year)—but this must have been next to a few hi-fis in the late 50s and early 60s. This particular copy is in really good shape considering it’s over 60 years old—how do these things survive? Jonah Jones plays trumpet, and he put out a lot of records of popular songs for wide audiences. The theme here is songs that were featured in or made popular by particular movies—though I couldn’t tell you, for sure, looking at the list of 12 songs, which movies. I could look it up, but I’m not going to. The liner notes on back are anonymously written, and in two paragraphs use a variation of the word “swing” about nine times. It also describes the record as “perky”—and Jonah as the “jaunty man at the helm.” That’s a pretty fitting description of the musical approach here, and anyone who knows me is aware that “jaunty” is a word I like to use to describe things I find jaunty—and it’s not for me. Perky is worse, but I don’t even use that word. If that’s your preference, I think no less of you. My favorite two songs are the two that Jonah Jones sings on—maybe he’s not a great singer, but that’s where perkiness has its charm. The cover is a pretty great full color photo of two jaunty women in a beautiful movie theater lobby sharing a seemingly candid laugh. One is holding a box of popcorn. I thought of that movie theater scene, with Micky Rourke, in the movie, Diner (1982), then felt ashamed of myself.

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.

04
Feb
19

Gale Garnett “Variety Is the Spice of Gale Garnett”

I had never heard of Gale Garnett even though she apparently had a hit in the Sixties—so I probably heard her on the AM radio in the kitchen before school, which never enamored me to anyone. The only garnet I know is the gemstone, which I’m partial to since it’s my birth month stone; also, it’s most famously ruby red, but the color theme on this album cover is green (green print on a green background)—so I think my nutty brain immediately made this weird association with The Wizard of Oz (1939), because I’m always getting Dorothy’s ruby slippers mixed up with the Emerald City—like, for the longest time I thought she had emerald slippers! Also, Dorothy’s last name is Gale. So can you blame me for my confusion? The other thing is, I would have guessed this record was from at least the late Seventies, if not the Eighties—by the cover—I can’t say why exactly—but it doesn’t look like 1966, to me, that’s for sure. And then there’s the photo of Gale Garnett on the cover, wearing one of those hats that’s always tilted, but her head is tilted at such an extreme angle, the hat is almost straight. It’s a little disturbing, but not as much as her eyeliner, which is so severe it would make Robert Smith jealous. And her eyes look so much like they’re popping out of the cover I had to touch them to make sure. This is some album cover photo—it’s almost life-size, and it could give you nightmares—or maybe happy dreams—depending.

An apter title was never conceived, and the detailed liner notes by Gale Garnett go on to explain how important it is to her to perform in so many different styles. While I agree with her in theory, it’s a little hard on the listener when there are some songs you want to put on repeat (to use that weird notion of the digital age), while other songs make you want to throw a shoe at the turntable. I’m not going to go through the songs song by song—and neither am I going to mark up my record with notes. I suppose I don’t mind the idea of having the same experience every time I put this record on (if I keep it) where I’ll think, “Why did I keep this record?” and then, “Oh, yeah, because that song is great.” The internet tells us Gale Garnett was born in New Zealand and then moved to Canada when she was young—I think that’s about all the biographical material I can handle right now. She writes lovingly about these songs (many of which she wrote)—I might like her writing more than her singing. The best part, though, is her story about the song Carrick Fergus—she said it was taught to her by Richard Harris, who said he learned it at his mother’s knee. But later, Peter O’Toole told her that he wrote it with Domenick Behan—and at press time, no resolution had/has been landed upon. If I ever have the pleasure of meeting Gale Garnett, I’m going to tell her I wrote that song and see if she gets the joke.

03
Feb
19

The T-Bones “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)”

I bought this record in an antique store (cheap) awhile back, never having heard of it (since, I seem to run into it constantly, either mentioned, or physically) because I thought the title was so bizarre—I mean, that title is just kind of weird. And then the cover is broken up into 12 squares, four consisting of words, but the other eight are black and white photos of various stomachs. I never really sat down and catalogued them, but it’s a boxer, ballerina, miniskirt, belly dancer, jack hammerer, businessman, and chubby guy in a hurry. The first song is the title song, and then the second is a version of the Chiquita Banana commercial—and either there is some kind of well-timed scratches on this song, or there is someone playing that wooden fish you scratch with a stick, a little off, and directly into the recording process, without benefit of filtering or mixing. I mean, I really don’t know. There’s also versions of the hits, “Fever” and “Let’s Hang On” and a song called “What’s In The Bag, Goose.” All of it is really pretty cornball, kind of sounding like some studio musicians came in on a Saturday for a little under the table cash for one-take-on-the-side work. There isn’t really a band called The T-Bones, is there? I’m guessing the moonlighting musicians took their cash and drove a few blocks (I’d say walked, but this is LA) to Musso & Frank and had a few cocktails and T-Bone steaks, and thus the name.

But why make all that up when there is some definite liner notes (though micro-font) on the back, sandwiched in-between a larger version of the the two businessmen (doing God knows what) from the cover. Actually, all that it is about is how there are actually some television commercials that are so good—that people want to watch them. Funny, because I’m listening to this during the Super Bowl, and people have talked about (at least in the past) how they watch that dull and plodding game just to see the commercials. Personally, I find the commercials even less watchable than the boring game. But both infinity better than the halftime entertainment, which—I mean, if you were like tied to a chair with your eyes propped open with toothpicks—could be considered a humanitarian violation.

02
Feb
19

Muggsy Spanier “Tiger Rag / South”

This is an old Mercury 45 I got in an Easter basket of discarded sleeveless seven inch records which, for the most part, I’ve yet to listen to. Both songs are instrumentals, energetic, jaunty, dixieland jazz. This is music I admire, and I like it in a kind of intellectual way, trying to make out what the instruments are and how they play together, but it doesn’t really make me feel anything, except jaunty, which for me is like ketchup on waffles. I’d never heard of Muggsy Spanier, so I looked him up with Internet. He was from Chicago, and was a successful and prominent jazz cornetist. I guess it was after I tried taking piano lessons and failed, my second attempt at an instrument, in school band, was cornet. I’ve kind of had it in for that thing ever since. It’s a word that seems to be missing a syllable, or a trumpet that seems to be missing a few inches. I really should make a point of checking out the awesome cornetists through the years (Bix Beiderbecke comes to mind) in order to try to get over my grudge, which was no fault of the horn’s. I guess this is a good start. Anyone named Muggsy is okay with me. (It occurs to me that I’ve probably seen this name before, in passing, and thought it said “Muggsy Spaniel”—leading me to think he was a cartoon dog.) So, I’ve got that straightened out. Perhaps some other Muggsy Spanier records will come my way. In the meantime, I have this one in the record box.

01
Feb
19

The Chico Hamilton Quintet “Sweet Smell of Success”

This is a soundtrack record, more completely titled: The Chico Hamilton Quintet Plays Jazz Themes Recorded for the Soundtrack of the Motion Picture “Sweet Smell of Success” (and there’s an even longer version on the actual label, which sounds like someone’s Oscar acceptance speech). If you’ve never seen the movie Sweet Smell of Success (1957) you can keep reading, because I’m not going to talk about it, and also consider yourself lucky because it’s a great movie, even if it might take all your strength to get to the end, drama-wise. It’s grim! But it’s one of the most beautiful black and white movies you’ll ever see, and it’s got two of the most over-the-top performances, by two actors who probably would have paid to deliver what is some of the most over-the-top dialogue you’ll ever hear. It’s also got a great score, and in fact there are two soundtrack albums—one is Elmer Bernstein, and the other, this one, with music from the movie played by The Chico Hamilton Quintet—who actually appear in the movie, quite prominently, as the jazz band that one the characters (not one of the above two) plays guitar with. I knew nothing about Chico Hamilton before I saw this movie, and I still don’t know much, except he was a jazz drummer who then started this band that featured a cello. I’ve never heard any of their records, but if this one is any indication, they might definitely be worth picking up.

The album cover has a wallet-size picture of the band, but is mostly taken up by a big photo of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster (actors referred to, above) who both look like they’re on the verge of actually exploding. They don’t, literally, anyway, but they come as close as an actor can without special effects. There are extensive liner notes on back, nicely written, though anonymous, which is too bad, because the beginning of the third paragraph makes this statement: “Side Two is one of the most unusual recordings ever attempted.” Ever attempted! It goes on to elaborate, but I’m neither going to retype it nor paraphrase, here. I didn’t find it as such, on first listening, but then I think there are things going on here that I’m not yet attuned to, so hell yes, I’m going to put it on again. It could be a great record for painting abstract paintings, or writing, abstract or not, or even cooking a decidedly not abstract dinner, which is what I’m going to do right now.




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