Posts Tagged ‘Questions

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.

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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.

26
Jan
19

Chicago “Chicago”

I bought a late-Seventies Chicago record when I was in high school and was so-so about it, then later I just didn’t like them at all, so it was a surprise to me when, a few years ago, I found myself compulsively listening to some of their early stuff, especially the hits. I bought this 1970 record, titled “Chicago” (but also referred to as Chicago II, I guess, because it’s their second LP) from a $4 bin—mostly fascinated because the cover was thin cellophane over what looks like a badly photocopied cover, and the label is this really exotic, old, Asian looking, beautiful silver printing on red, called “First.” What was it? I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out it’s from Taiwan, maybe legit, maybe a bootleg, who knows. I thought it might be unlistenable, but for $4, I was just curious. It turns out that it’s not only listenable, but a great record with great sound. I don’t know if it’s my imagination or not (and my stereo system is an ongoing adventure in inconsistency), but weirdly it sounds better than any other record—just really lush and warm. How much that has to do with the pressing, and how much is just the recording, playing, songs—I have no idea. One thing about the band, Chicago, that I really like, is how uncomplicated their early recordings are, while being tremendously complex—you know, in song structure and arrangements—but just all really organic sounding.

I finally got curious and consulted the internet about these Taiwanese pressings, and sure enough, people talk about the sound quality being really good. I didn’t want to go down that particular rabbit-hole though—you’ve got to protect yourself, you know, from the old rabbit-holes—but I did note that someone talked about the weird cellophane covered album covers that are just like covers printed on the back of other things and then wrapped in this plastic. Then, looking closely at the cover of this Chicago record, I could see this faint writing coming through, and it said: “Shaft’s Big Score!” So then I had to cut the plastic away to see what was going on, and it turns out the Chicago cover is printed on very thin paper, and the inner structure of the album cover is made up of a Taiwanese printed “Shaft’s Big Score!” LP, and a divider (it’s a double record) in the middle is the cover of “Blood, Sweat & Tears 3.” Just really bizarre. Anyway, not ever having heard this record, except for some of the hit songs, I just kind of thought maybe the whole thing was some kind of random bootleg collection, but as it turns out, it’s just their second record, and it is kind of bizarre, just all over the place, but really great from beginning to end. They sure were pretty ambitious for a new band. I guess their first few records were double records, like they just didn’t realize that most sane bands primarily put out single records. At first they were called Chicago Transit Authority, but wisely chose to shorten the name (seeing how it’s even more syllables than ELO, and probably could foresee a career of rock journalists’ cleverness: “elevated” or “missed the bus”) to Chicago, and adopted that dumb script logo that looks like the sign for a deli, or something printed on a fat guy’s softball uniform.

I don’t want to go down a Chicago rabbit-hole, either—well, I just did—looking over their discography, and history, about which I know nothing. I rarely consult other music writers (I read lots of music writers, but I mean, specifically, when writing a review), but I was compelled to check Robert Christgau’s “Consumer Guide” which is a great website, with no bullshit popping up, with an index, and searchable, tons of concise and insightful music writing (plus, he had the honor of getting a taste of his own medicine from Lou Reed, on that “Take No Prisoners” live record). Let’s see… Chicago… Christgau is… not a fan. To say the least. But I guess I am, now. Maybe I’ll pick up some more of the early records (I have a copy the their first “greatest hits” LP). Then, of course, I started reading about the tragic death of Terry Kath, and tried to remember what I thought about it at the time—1978. We didn’t have the internet, of course, and so we had to wait for any news to be on the radio or TV or in the papers, and then to really find out anything, next month’s Rolling Stone. I guess by that point I thought of the band as an insipid AM radio hits band, but still, it was pretty sad and senseless and depressing. Then later the same year, my hero Keith Moon died, and that really hit me hard. While I was legitimately sad, I remembered thinking that the intense public mourning for Elvis (the previous year) was kind of ridiculous (though it’s easy to forget that he was only 42). But Terry Kath and Keith Moon were barely into their early thirties. I don’t really believe that “only the good die young” thing (maybe it’s more that they haven’t had the time yet to become wretched), but considering another prominent 1946 birth… well, forget that (I try to avoid presidential politics on this site, but it is notable when someone goes from being merely a huge, reeking, cultural turd to a literal giant magnet for hate, racism, intolerance, and fascism).

A couple of years ago, when David Bowie died, and then a few months later, Prince died, I did feel pretty emotional, sad and devastated—again wondering if that made sense, not knowing them personally. But now, because of social media, you are very much aware of this as a shared experience. It is not at all unusual for people to mourn the loss of artists, public figures, who enrich their lives. Thinking about it now, when Terry Kath died, I was still in high school, living with my parents, and my shared experience about this kind of thing was primarily with them. And in those years, from the time of my birth, to the point at which I first moved away from home (which coincided, by chance, with Keith Moon’s death) my experiencing and dealing with the death of family members, friends, and public figures was a pretty intimate experience with my parents, and I feel like I was closer with them, on a communication level, than probably the average kid. So I’m thinking about that now… started out to write about this Chicago record… talk about your rabbit-hole…

11
Jan
19

Black Sabbath “Master of Reality”

A record that made a huge impression on me as a kid—I don’t remember when I bought it, but pretty close to when it came out in 1971. The first chords of “Sweet Leaf” still send me right into the time machine. And this was three full years (an eternity to a teenager) before I first smoked marijuana! Those had to be some yearning years—or maybe Carly Simon said it best (interestingly, from the same year)—“Anticipation”—which is about waiting for that damn ketchup to come out of the bottle—so a similar sentiment. We all know what “Sweet Leaf” is about—it’s the best song ever written about my favorite plant, thing that grows, food, smell, and God’s creation: basil. I love basil so much, if I could, I’d marry it—but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon because straight people are just so small minded. Anyway, this song! Whoever wrote these lyrics is of a like mind, though, obviously. At the end of the second verse lies what I consider one of the greatest lyric lines in all of rock music: “I love you sweet leaf—though you can’t hear.” Indeed.

“Children of the Grave” may be the first song I ever heard where the guitar does that thing that I can’t really put into words—but it’s kind of like chugging along, you know—chug-chugging along—dum-di-di-dum-di-di-dum-di-di… I’m not crazy about it. But then there is also this really weird kind of percussive sound that I have no idea what it is—I mean, it’s most likely drums, but it doesn’t sound like any kind of normal drums… it’s this kind of flapping noise, like the rear quarter panel of your car is loose. Or maybe it’s like some old gothic church shutter is hanging by a nail and flapping somewhat rhythmically to Satan’s whim. It also makes me think of the sound those androids made—I mean when you saw them alone—maybe it’s what they were hearing, actually—in the original Westworld movie (1973). It’s got to be drums, though, right? And I did listen to the conversation with Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on Joe Wong’s The Trap Set podcast—but I can’t remember if he shed any light on that song, so I’m going to have to listen to it again.

It really is one of the best stoner records of all time, regardless of what you’re smoking. You don’t even need to be high to appreciate it—it will make you high. I wonder, like back when this came out, how much really inferior weed got a free pass just because this record was doing all the heavy lifting. I’m pretty sure there’s one of those 33 1/3 books about it, and I might consider reading it—those books are all over the place, so you’ve just got to try each one. And I forgot to mention the cover—it’s one of the best album covers ever. I don’t have to describe it, do I? The wavy, block letters, slightly raised, on a black background. BLACK SABBATH in this really kind of low-key purple, and then MASTER OF REALITY in black—so it’s black on black! I think I’m as impressed with it now as I was when I was 11. Though maybe I’m still 11.

28
Dec
18

Bruce Springsteen “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle”

I was one of those Springsteen fans who, before I was a fan, was turned off by all the Born to Run hoopla in 1975 but finally bought the Darkness LP in 1978, loved it, became a fan then, then went back to the first three records. I listened to his first six records to death, but after that I wouldn’t give him the time of day (and that’s more about me than him)—so I’m guessing there’s some great music from 1984 on that I missed, but, oh well. Currently he’s “On Broadway”—I know nothing about that, but I’ll guess two things: It’s really good, and I can’t afford it. I rarely look him up on the internet, but I’ve noticed that he uncannily resembles Jello Biafra—maybe they are friends. One thing I feel certain about, even never having met the man, I feel like he possesses a genuineness of spirit that even sainthood can’t diminish. That is based on a couple of live shows I saw in the late Seventies at the Richfield Coliseum (now a ghost) that I attended even after swearing off large venue shows. His concerts are legendary, and for once, legendary got that right. Anyway, I lost all my Springsteen LPs while movin’ around, so I made a point of picking up a copy of this one after I decided it’s the best. Someday I’m going to make a list of all the recording artists whose best record was their second one—there’s a lot! Also, this was from 1973 (as was his first record), further making my point that that was a pretty good year. There are more than a few of us out there, actually, that think this record is Springsteen’s best. We meet once a month in the VFW basement over hardshell tacos and Old Milwaukee Light and Skype with the national chapter, which mostly consists of mini-memorials for our recently passed and dwindling membership.

One reason I wanted a vinyl copy of this record is that I love the album cover (not so much the front, gigantic portrait—though if you isolate his thumb and stare at it, it will make you feel weird) because of the band picture on back—one of my favorite band photos ever. I’m not sure if they were yet called “The E Street Band”—but I liked this lineup even better than the later ones—which is saying something, because they were all good—but I just like the overall playing, production, and sound on this record. And this band photo, it’s the best. (In my opinion, there should only be two things in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: this photo, and a closed/out of business sign.) First of all, it looks like a really hot day, and they were able to maybe move down half a block from the Taste-E-Freeze to take a photo in front of the pawn shop. They all look “bad” (as we used to say), and not surprisingly, Clarence Clemons, the baddest. Garry Tallent looks like he has a leg cramp. Danny Federici looks like he was the only one who knew they were taking a photo that day. And if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was David Sancious’ band. My favorite, though, is Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez, wearing cut-offs and an open Hawaiian shirt—for years I’ve used this photo as my summer fashion icon ideal—I just want to copy his look outright (though at this point, sadly, unless I’m able to trade in my stomach for some hair, it’s not ever going to happen).

Really, this sounds more like someone’s 20th record rather than their second—I mean in that it doesn’t sound like it’s trying too hard to please anyone as much as the people making it, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. There are only seven songs, but the three on side two are like 7, 8, and 10 minutes long! I like the production so much better than the later records, too—I guess it accentuates the songwriting. There’s no grandstanding, it sounds egoless, and it’s not too guitar heavy. On some songs the most prominent instrument is accordion—one of those being “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”—just that title!—which is one of my favorite Springsteen songs ever. Some of these songs—you presume before the record deals that these guys were playing in bars—but in what kind of bars could you play “Wild Billy’s Circus Story?” “Incident on 57th Street” might be prettiest Springsteen song ever, and just listening to it now makes me think about all the hearts he must have broken before getting his picture on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Listening to this record now confirms how much I like it; it’s the one I choose to put on if I’m in the mood for Bruce Springsteen. It’s also making me kind of curious, now, about what led up to the first two records. Maybe I’ll check out his autobiography. Anyway, I guess this record brings back some summer evening in the late Seventies, softly through my Advent speakers while sipping a rum drink, that fragrant, warm evening air, low lights in the “breezeway”—a room off the garage of my parents’ house that really was a time and place, and this record was part of it. Call it pure nostalgia, and I can’t argue with that, but that’s the sweet part of a good cocktail, and mixed with the right proportions of reality and weirdness, you get why the golden ratio is greater than the sum of its parts.

09
Dec
18

The Mamas and The Papas “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears”

The first Mamas and Papas record, and far from my favorite, though it has some great songs (each of their records has some of my favorites—though, if I was able to put together a “greatest” record for them it would probably not resemble anyone else’s version). My favorite here is “Somebody Groovy”—I can’t get enough of that song. Then “California Dreamin’”—a song I liked a lot when I kind of “rediscovered” (for me) the band, in the early Eighties—which is also, of course, probably the most overplayed of all their songs, and one I’d be in danger of being sick to death of if it wasn’t for it being used in several scenes in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994)—at which time it became forever connected to that movie, and those great scenes with Faye Wong working at the restaurant, playing the song on a boom box. The other one I really like here is “The In Crowd,” a Dobie Gray hit song (I also really love the Ramsey Lewis Trio version—one of my favorite songs) and this version is really an excellent one—they add a lot to it.

There are some bizarre liner notes, too, pretty long and wordy, written by Andy Wickham. Here’s a bit: “They live in a nutty world of semi-existentialism, of cuckoo-clocks and antique lampshades, of beat-up old cars and Indian boots…” etc.—great liner note style. The other thing worth mentioning is that I have two copies—I guess a stereo and a mono version—at this point I have no preference—but the covers are way different, and what’s weird is that it’s the same photo, cropped differently. It’s a photo where the four of them are sitting somewhat awkwardly in a dry bathtub. It’s a pretty good bathtub, too, in a tiled bathroom with a window right above the tub—I’d take that bathroom. On the right, the toilet would be very prominent except that it’s mostly covered by an art department signboard announcing the album’s singles. Too, bad—I want to see the toilet—is there an older version of the cover with the toilet visible? Anyway, on the other record the photo is cropped so that you can’t even see the bathtub—and if that one was the only one you ever saw, you’d think, why in the hell did they pick this odd, awkward photo in this weird tiled room? There must have been a handful of fun discussions, about all this, at Dunhill Records.

24
Nov
18

Palace Brothers “Palace Brothers”

This one is definitely a person in shadows, head and shoulders—it looks like in a room, in front of a window, the background blurred out. This one also has a sticker on the shrink-wrap—it says “Palace.” The spine says, simply, “Palace Brothers.” There is no other info except for the list of ten songs on the back cover, white on black. On the label it says Palace Brothers, and the song titles, and the date—but the oddest thing is that there is the most vinyl space (i.e., without grooves, between the last song and the label) I’ve ever seen—you could plant crops there, there’s so much room. Maybe it’s all part of what seems to be a minimalist approach. The songs are pretty much all acoustic guitar and singing. Good songs, some of them pretty repetitious, and others with long, dense lyrics.

I am pretty sure I know this, that Palace and Palace Brothers is Will Oldham (though what I don’t know is if and when there is someone else playing with him, like one of the “Brothers”—or if there even are brothers, or even band members). The first time I ever heard of Will Oldham is when someone who I just met (can’t remember who, or the circumstances, exactly, except that I think it was in Seattle!) said that I was a dead ringer for Will Oldham. I had no idea who that was, but you can believe I looked him up later, since they were kind of adamant about it. I personally don’t see the resemblance (for one thing, he’s younger and better looking)—except to fall into that broad category: “Bald guy with a beard.” Anyway, it did lead me to listen to some of his music, which I have admired, though I haven’t tracked down all of his output—seeing how I’m not, like, a millionaire with unlimited time.

One thing that occurred to me, again, listening to this record (which is not meant to be a knock on WO, just happened to think of it)—in these songs that are like, or based on, traditional blues songs, where a line is repeated several times—what’s up with that? You wouldn’t write that way in prose. You wouldn’t write that way in prose. You wouldn’t write that way in prose, Lord! At least you shouldn’t. If you talk that way, you’ll lose all your friends. How hard would it be to write another line? It’s not like rhyming is real difficult, and lines don’t need to rhyme, anyway. I realize this is a tradition, but so is (in order to achieve wealth and power) fucking those less fortunate than you in the ass. It doesn’t make it right. Again—not meant to be a knock on Will Oldham! He’s excellent!

 




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