Posts Tagged ‘Liner Notes

20
Dec
19

Hampton Hawes Trio “The Green Leaves of Summer”

I picked up this 1964 record knowing nothing about Hampton Hawes—sadly never had heard of him—and I wasn’t expecting much, certainly not that it would be so good, and instrumental jazz—piano jazz trio. I suppose I was guessing by the cover that it was going to be kind of mild crooner pop—only because of the bold yellow font on a blurry, bright green background, and bigger than life-size photo of a very handsome man, presumably Hawes, himself. And because he kind of resembles a young Harry Belafonte, naturally I just thought he was going to be a singer. Of course, that’s dumb of me. By chance, those two were born a year of so apart, and a few years before my dad. Though Hawes died pretty young, in 1977. I see that he wrote a memoir, so I’m going to check that out. (Found the book at the library, haven’t read any of it yet.) Apparently this record came out after he was in prison for five years for heroin possession. This is a fine jazz trio recording; Hampton Hawes on piano, Monk Montgomery on bass, and Steve Ellington drums. Great names—if you throw all six of those names in a hat, with the exception of “Steve,” it just oozes jazz. The liner notes, on back, by Lester Koenig is practically book length—I’m not going to read it now, but intend to later, like maybe when I listen to the record again. It’s one I’m going to leave out for awhile, for listening. It’s good, but subtle. Nothing jumped out at me on first listening, except maybe the first song, a Miles Davis composition called “Vierd Blues.” But often, subtle is a very good thing, calm and simple at first visit, like the Blue Hole, this little duck pond in Ohio that doesn’t look like much, but turns out to be bottomless and legendary.

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?

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.

02
Aug
19

Lionel Hampton “Silver Vibes”

For some reason, I never put this record on, most likely because the cover makes you think it’s not all that much. I mean, a photograph of what I assume is a vibraphone, closeup, from the top—and you know, it may as well be a boardwalk. Or some shit stacked in a warehouse. The vibraphone is one of the coolest looking instruments—but not from the top. I mean, it could be stairs, or a fence. If it was out of context, you’d have no idea what it was at all. Terrible cover. Come on Columbia records! You know how they say “you can’t judge a book by its cover?” That goes for everything, metaphorically or not, and certainly vinyl records. Do I, Mister Smart Guy, have a better suggestion? I certainly do: Lionel Hampton playing the vibes. Lionel Hampton with the musicians on this record. Lionel Hampton partying. Lionel Hampton getting tea. Lionel Hampton and Lionel Ritchie getting tea. Lionel Hampton playing with Lionel Trains. Lionel Hampton in The Hamptons. Lionel Hampton eating breakfast. Lionel Hampton sitting across the desk from some jackass at Columbia Records pleading to have a better album cover. In short, any photograph of Lionel Hampton at all would be better than this cover.

Of course, I am familiar with Lionel Hampton, and as soon as I put this on, I knew it was a mistake to not have worn this record out. Incidentally, me and this record, we’re like the same age. But if I was half this fresh, I’d be getting slapped so much I’d need a weekly dentist appointment. Can’t afford it. Anyway, the liner notes are good and almost make up for the cover. I’ll type a bit: Jangling nerves? Here’s music with a wonderful, silvery tone, varied by the darker colors of trombones. This is smooth, easy-going music, that swings, nevertheless. It goes on. I love the description of the trombones having a “dark color”—it makes total sense when you think about it, and it really does sound lovely on this record, the trombone heavy arrangements with vibes over the top. It’s cool, kind of earthy, and simultaneously breezy and melancholy. Some standards I know, some I don’t, but it doesn’t matter, this is just the perfect record for a Friday night (which it is) to unwind (which I’m doing) while mixing a cocktail from your well-stocked bachelor bar (not exactly doing that; having coffee), waiting for your date to arrive (waiting being the top-heavy part of that sentiment). After this, maybe I’ll put on one of those thrift-store, easy-listening, budget classics: Music for Waiting.

04
May
19

Kris Kristofferson “Jesus Was a Capricorn”

It’s not my favorite Kris Kristofferson record, but it’s got the best title and best cover of any record you’re probably going to see in a thrift-store for a dollar, so there’s really no excuse not to own it. Plus it’s a good record. My favorite songs are, “Nobody Wins” and “It Sure Was (Love)”, but they’re all okay—I especially like the ones that Rita Coolidge is singing on. I guess that’s her on the cover, kind of outdoing KK at the cool look, not any easy thing to do, and I read that they were married not long after this record came out. The back cover is either a clever art department fake of photos pinned to a bulletin-board, or else it’s just a black and white photo of the real thing. The thing is, I didn’t think push-pins were invented yet in 1972—but then, what do I know about history, apparently? There are also some pretty literal liner notes, handwritten and tacked up there, too. It reads as pretty genuine, and one would presume written by KK, but then, the one time I contributed liner notes to a record they claimed to be written by someone else, so who can say what is legit in this slippery show business world? Kids growing up now, who learn how to use Google before they even smoke or cuss, must live in a very different world. For the longest time, when younger, I thought Kris Kristofferson was a fake name or stage name, because—well, he was already larger than life, and it’s kind of a goofy name. But now, he was born Kristoffer Kristofferson. (One wonders if one of his kids is named Kristofferson Kristofferson.) When my parents admitted to considering naming me Russell Russell (Russ) Russell, I thanked them for not saddling me with a Looney Tunes handle. Anyway, it was many years until I took Kris Kristofferson seriously—also, maybe, because there was a time when the only guys with beards were Fidel Castro, Charles Manson, and Santa Claus. Eventually, of course, I realized Kris Kristofferson, who was born the same summer as my mom, was like the coolest dude who walked the Earth, and as of the writing of this, continues to do so. I don’t know if he’s a religious man, but I might consider buying all nine of his records from the Seventies, just because I think it’s interesting that the titles include, besides the name Kristofferson, the words: Devil (twice!), Lord, Jesus, Spooky, Bless, Surreal, and Easter. It may be hard to tell exactly where he’s coming from, but it’s definitely not the vanilla frozen yogurt counter of the Boring, Illinois Safeway.

27
Apr
19

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond “At Wilshire-Ebell”

I didn’t even know I had this record, and I don’t have very many records, but then I regularly lose notebooks, and it took me months to find a particular pair of socks once, and then it turned out they didn’t grant me the gift of invisibility anyway. You can pick up Dave Brubeck albums in cheap bins, I suppose, because they made a lot, and he doesn’t have the collector appeal of certain jazz legends whose records you never see, like Coltrane and Miles Davis. I mean, you see those at record shops where you have to pay for them. Sometimes I question my cheapie approach to cheap records—why not just spend the money on ones I really, really like? But if I start questioning that, I have to question my whole life, like why can’t I figure out how to make above poverty level wages. And just, generally, why do I suck so much? This thinking is a vicious cycle. It’s much better to just try to keep moving.

I picked a random card, Ace of Spades, lined it up to my random record picking system, and this one came up. It’s got a glossy cartoon cover, a drawing of a proscenium, presumably the Wilshire Ebell theater in Los Angeles, with some little cartoon musicians, white guys with glasses, Dave Brubeck at piano and Paul Desmond with an alto sax. The drawing is small enough to fit full-size on a cassette, without the theater that dwarfs them, of course, but then you’d lose the effect. The back cover is covered with words, not one but two sets of anonymously written liner notes. It’s a delight, if not particularly entertaining or weird. This 1957 record is on Fantasy, who seemed often to favor the red vinyl, so if nothing else, when you’re having a guest over, the visual of putting the records on will mix well with a well-mixed cocktail and mood lighting. This record, in spite of its live recording format, could function well in that setting. All good songs on here, standards that don’t sound enough like classic versions to put them in the forefront of your evening’s activities. The massive but polite applause at the end of each number sounds like someone briefly turning on a water faucet full blast.

For me, I’ll always associate Brubeck with his most famous composition, “Take Five,” (written by Paul Desmond) which, if you’re a certain age, you’ll not be able to disconnect from its use commercially here and there, now and then. I seem to remember some really corny TV stuff from my childhood that used either Dave Brubeck music or very similar stuff, but I can’t remember what exactly—nor do I particularly want to return to it, as I consider the bulk of my TV watching as a mild version of childhood trauma. Not to be negative—I love Dave Brubeck. Maybe I should just have a Brubeck marathon someday, with all my thrift-store vinyl, to try to shake overplayed associations. Really, I could spend weeks, or even a season, listening to nothing but scratchy old “Cool Jazz” records—though it would be best in hot weather, preferably while staying at a beach house, overlooking the vast Pacific.

19
Apr
19

Allan Sherman “My Son, the Folk Singer”

I never heard of Allan Sherman before playing this 1962 record, but apparently he went through a period of widespread success and popularity, which is why this record exists and I was able to pick up a copy for nothing. According to the internet, his popularity declined after the JFK assassination 1963—is that true? Did the masses lose their taste for frivolous humor after that time, and if so, does that partly explain why I grew up only occasionally cracking a smile—I wonder. Anyway this is essentially a comedy record comprised of goofy folk songs with lyrics that are sometimes pretty obvious and sometimes rather obscure. Kind of typical of me, I find myself annoyed by the stuff I understand, and intrigued by the stuff I don’t. I supposed if I understood the stuff I don’t understand I’d be annoyed by that too. The overall tone is that kind of humor that says “this is humor”—but I actually really like the singing style of Allan Sherman, I guess because he sounds like an urban Jewish guy to me, like the kind of co-worker who cracks you up daily. Let’s see, where is he from? Chicago, moved around a lot. I guess a lot of these songs are parodies, where you have to know the thing it’s parodying to make sense—but again, I’m wondering if I personally like stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, it’s a live album, and the audience is finding it all hilarious—from the individual, tittering laugh, to bursts of uncontrolled laughter, to the full on roar. For me it’s pretty much torture to hear people laugh like that. Now that I think of it, I don’t much care for live recordings, in general, but live comedy is the worst. I mean, if you’re there, then it’s live, and when it’s a recording of something live, it’s not live anymore, is it—it’s just annoying. I don’t like recordings of live “specials” either, or podcasts that are recorded in front of a live audience—I can’t listen to them. The audience on this album is recorded really loudly, too, it’s just unbearable—I mean, just torture me, okay? The cover, though, is great—well, not that great, but there is a woman in a black dress holding a dead chicken, and a bagel lying on the floor, it’s goofy, and, yeah, it’s almost a good album cover.




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