Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Long Haul

Whew! Just snapped this photo at the end of side one........man it had been awhile since I'd spun this Dylan record. Infidels was released in 1983 - that's 35 years ago! Longer between then and now compared to when Dylan's first LP came out (1962) and the above LP (21 years). Bob Dylan was younger in 1983 than I am now. Ain't time a beeeach? Yet, there is stuff on this album that sounds eerily current, at least topic-wise. One of the least-loved songs on Infidels is the track "Union Sundown" - essentially lamenting in 1983 that nothing is made in the USA anymore. If the effects of globalization were just emerging in 1983 when Dylan wrote the song, those effects are still reverberating down to our present times in ways all too obvious. Even on a personal level it is astounding to hear this song all these years later having lived through the fallout and watched its consequences on my family. It certainly provides a sobering sense of context - what is evident in the current climate has been a LONG time in the works.

Funny enough - I have some nice memories connected to this Dylan record, as cynical and bitter as most of the songs may be. I played a cassette tape of the album in the family car around the time I learned to drive - especially the summer of my graduation from high school. Driving gave me a new sense of freedom - a hope for the future I hadn't felt before. And Infidels provided some of the soundtrack to that time in my life. And, on an objective note, this Dylan record was one of the best of that era for him. Probably the best Dylan record before his 1997 comeback with Time Out Of Mind (though I think his upswing started with the first Traveling Wilburys album and the 1989 release Oh Mercy!). Infidels is a strong release with memorable material. I don't know how often it comes up among the Bob experts, but I dig it. But it sure is a long time away from 1983 to now.............

Time. It has also been awhile now since I started this blog. Back in 2011 the vinyl LP revival had not yet hit its stride - now the whole Record Store Day event happens twice a year. There are more local record stores thriving in the last few years - certainly more than there were in 2011. There is plenty of great new music and old music coming out on vinyl - no shortage of great discoveries to plunder for years and years to come. And the new product isn't letting up. I am confident my thirst for new sounds will continue to be satiated for, well, the rest of my natural life - with any luck a good long while down the road!

Speaking of Record Store Day 2018, I didn't realize a release of particular interest was seeing the light of day - a nice LP collection of Beverley Martyn's early singles pressed on cloudy-clear vinyl!
Luckily, my local RSD connection had what was most likely the ONLY copy available and I bagged it. Between listening to this excellent collection and the first of the two John and Beverley Martyn records released on Warner Brothers in 1970 (Stormbringer!) I gained a renewed appreciation for Beverley's wonderful voice.
She really had something special going on - not just a lovely sound, but a particular edge to her delivery that sets her apart from the other great English girl singers of the era (Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson and Jacqui McShee being the others). I really can't get enough of what happened when Beverley stepped up to that microphone - totally unique and brilliant. So glad I scooped up that Record Store Day release! And just as a reminder, Beverley put out a nice LP of new material a few years ago titled The Phoenix and the Turtle. Any new music from this special lady is a cause for celebration. If you haven't heard it - check it out!
Now, just to illustrate I haven't given up on new music quite yet, I decided to take the plunge on a few new LPs from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. This new band from Australia is pushing the boundaries of music and how it is consumed in some surprising ways. I hadn't quite realized the band made a decision to release FIVE new albums during the course of last year (2017). I bought two of these and am close to snagging the other three and ANY OTHER albums they have out because:
A. The music is awesome    and.......
B.  The records look fantastic!!! See here:

The LP directly above - Gumboot Soup - is the latest release. Excellent progressive neo-psychedelic jazz-rock is the best description I can come up with. The LP above that, titled Polygondwanaland is a totally unique situation. Follow the link to get the whole story, but suffice to say it was released as a totally Public Domain item to encourage anyone who wanted to press their own copies on vinyl. The version I bought was merely one of what some estimates suggest are up to 169 different variations on this record. And, oddly enough, the music is WONDERFUL. This is a totally unique approach. I certainly never heard of such a thing. Yet, I get it. Good on these guys. Where does it all lead? Only time will tell. I actually saw a clip of the group performing on a late-nite TV show (can't remember which) and was fairly baffled. With two drummers and lots else going on from a pretty large ensemble, it really seemed like cacophonous racket. Which is all well and good, but I figured (accurately) perhaps not all these folks had to offer. What will future people make of all this? Well, I just hope there's a future available for inconsequential concerns like that to exist in. Remaining hopeful in that regard...................

A few weeks ago I took an opportunity to try something different. I snagged a ticket to see Steven Wilson live! It was the first show in the US for his "To The Bone" tour. The venue was one I'd known of forever but had never been to - The Egg in Albany, NY. There were some tickets available for a reasonable price so I took the plunge. Now, the only Wilson album I have heard to date is the one pictured above - The Raven That Refused To Sing and other stories. As much as I enjoy vintage prog I hadn't really been exposed to much modern prog. The Raven release was very much influenced by classic prog and I'm sure did a lot to bring new fans to Steven Wilson's music. In the meantime I also got a copy of The Raven on blu-ray disc (for the 5.1 mix) and I got the next album Hand.Cannot.Erase on blu-ray as well. Trouble is - life changes and responsibilities have left me with not a whole lot of time to listen to the many surround sound titles I have including these. I haven't even played the regular stereo version of the Hand album - in fact still haven't heard the thing AT ALL. Under those conditions I haven't even made the move to get the new To The Bone album, right? So he's playing a show nearby.....what do I do? I decided I would just go see the concert without bothering to get familiar with any of the new music. I like doing that sometimes - then when I finally hear the record proper I have the memories of hearing the music live first. It's kinda cool to do that every so often. What I didn't expect was what the venue was like.............
 Now, the path from the highway to the parking area of The Egg couldn't have been easier or more enjoyable. Total breeze to get there! And a very pleasant, modern-styled venue to see a show at. Trouble for me was - my seat was kicked just a bit too much to stage right and my view kinda sucked! I couldn't see the drummer at all, nor any of the screens behind the stage where films were projected to go along with the songs. A bit disappointing, but live and learn I suppose. Musically the concert was good, however. And I was won over by the music enough to look forward to hearing the new album soon. I didn't manage to stay for the whole performance, but I'd like to check Steven Wilson out again. Just have to make sure I can see the WHOLE stage to get the full visual effect. And I'd like to see more shows at The Egg too. Just have to make sure to get one of the "good" seats in the future!!

More recent vinyl adventures have included some great jazz music scores like these:

Some of these artists I'd enjoyed for many years - Miles and Mingus, though I didn't have these LPs until recently. The rest I'd heard OF, yet never had any of their recordings (at least as leaders) like John Handy, Hubert Laws, Sonny Criss, Sonny Stitt and Chico Hamilton. Oh, man that Chico Hamilton album really got under my skin - in a good way! Now I want to hear everything he ever did and he made a LOT of records! That's the danger in a sense - just what I need......more records! Well, I will give the big thumbs up on just about any jazz - these albums especially did the trick for me. Just get some jazz in your life - that's the best I can tell you. If you don't dig it - you might eventually. Don't give up on a great art form.

Well, there's a fair more to tell eventually - more great stuff to put the word out for. I'm kinda tired out for now though. No worries......I'll be back. I'm in it for the long haul. Catch you next time.......

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Keeping the lamp lit - music is the light in the darkness!

Original artwork by John - who I'll always remember as one cool dude
Many years ago, when I was a young lad in Queens, it wasn’t unusual to be playing outside with friends all day while the parents were inside. As long as you checked in when you were told to – all was good. New York City – like a lot of places I guess – just isn’t the same. Maybe some places weren’t too safe, but my old neighborhood was. Or so it seemed to me then. I have lots of great memories of those years I lived in the city. A good number of them involved music, of course. Like one day when an older kid I knew from the neighborhood was walking toward me with his portable 8 track player – he always seemed to be carrying that thing around playing his favorite music (mostly what we call classic rock today). He was on his way to his best friend’s house down the street, but he stopped to talk to me. Even though he was older he knew I liked music and probably thought my Dad was cool since he rode a motorcycle so I was okay to talk to. That day, he had a tape in the 8 track player – it looked like this:
I knew it was cool music because my friend was cool. So I tucked that image away in my mental file cabinet and eventually knew enough to pick up my own copy, on record. All I needed to remember was the prism image – no need to think about the band name or whatever:
I don’t know how many 7 year old kids had a copy of Dark Side of the Moon, but I did! Thanks to my friend Johnny for showing me what was cool. When my family moved away from the city I lost contact, naturally. Even when I reconnected with other childhood friends from those days I never quite knew what became of Johnny from the neighborhood. Yet, I was saddened to find out he died last month. He was still living in the area and I was happy to see pictures of him with a motorcycle and some riding pals. He left behind a lot of people who cared about him. It’s funny the kind of impact older kids can have on younger kids when a little kindness is extended. I don’t know what his demons were, but I hope and pray he’s at peace – where there’s nothing but open roads, bikes and great music…………ride on Johnny………
I’d been thinking about a much older John from the music realm lately. Papa John Creach may have been one of oldest psychedelic rockers of the late 60s scene, though his roots were in jazz and r&b of previous decades. Yet, his career flourished in the 1970s and remained active into the 1990s. So not too long ago I re-discovered this Papa John Creach album in my archives.
Yeah – I went looking at one point and eventually found it a few months later. I’d filed it in the Jefferson Airplane section as I sometimes do with “solo” records from an Airplane member, even if a latter-day one. In fact, as I’d be reminded via some internet research, Papa John was brought into the Airplane first by drummer Joey Covington (who replaced Spencer Dryden in 1970). A bit later Papa John would also join Hot Tuna which I think is the act most folks associate him with – maybe? Well, unlike Jorma and Jack, Papa John was part of the first few Jefferson Starship lineups too – at least through the Red Octopus album. Yet, the first I knew of Mr. Creach was on the truly wonderful Hot Tuna album BURGERS.
This is one of my desert island discs – a classic for all seasons. I can’t tell how excited I was to get a copy of Burgers on QUAD 8 track a bunch of years ago. And, how equally pissed off I was that my 8 track machine ATE the friggin’ tape……ugh! I still have the guts of that cart with the determination of putting it back together someday. (I really need to update my 8 track tape repair skills one of these days….) At any rate I did find a “free” version of BURGERS in quad so I’m all good there – heh! I just love this record in whatever format you serve it up – always a tasty treat!

So when I saw this Papa John solo album at a flea market for a dollar – heck yeah! And I was pleasantly surprised at the overall quality – wow! A great album! Interestingly enough, Papa John’s guitar player in this band was Kevin Moore – who in the 1990s would launch his own renowned solo career as KEB MO’. Far out! Anyway – I thought this was Papa John’s only solo record. Of course – WRONG! A few years ago I bumped into this one:
Also pretty darned good! So, that had to be all of them right? Nope – there were records that came out before and after both of the ones I’d found. Now I want to scoop them all up. Especially since I can say I had the pleasure to see Papa John in the early 90s with Hot Tuna and he darn near stole the show! So glad I had the chance to see him perform before he left the planet. So I was happy to re-connect with the “Playing My Music For You” record and I decided to feature Papa John Creach here. He was a good, entertaining musician who obviously loved performing.

Did any of Papa John’s albums ever get issued on CD? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know his first LP got reissued recently along with some other Grunt / RCA albums. Actually saw a copy in a record store recently, though I didn’t snap it up quite yet. I may hold out for an original which is not unlike my way of thinking, generally.

But I’m no snob when it comes to reissues. In many cases I’ve been easily satisfied with reissues, as long as they’re done with care. And sometimes the reissues are more cost effective as in the case of Sun Ra. If a person has a hangup when it comes to finding only original pressings of Sun Ra albums, that person better be a hedge fund manager! A cursory glance at the prices original Sun Ra albums command on ebay and elsewhere is all a person needs to know – ASTRO-nomical prices for the original Astro Black and Cosmo Dark records, people!!
Thankfully, there is a cool and cost-friendly Sun Ra reissue program underway over at Bandcamp.com. I scooped up the above LP from this series and it’s a winner! Of course, the downloads are cheaper and more plentiful. In spite of the digital-centric nature of the overall enterprise (of the Enterplanetary Enterplan?) I have a funny feeling I’m going to be cherry picking some of those downloads over time. If I can get vinyl pressings – well and good, but the new reissue series looks to be done with care generally and that’s where it’s at as far as I’m concerned. See the official Bandcamp site here: https://sunramusic.bandcamp.com/

Now, in another instance – a pending reissue may be the best option as well, yet the nature of the release has raised a few eyebrows along with the well-deserved interest. Only last week the announcement came from the Frank Zappa Family Trust and Third-Man Records that a new reissue deluxe version of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica was due to drop – though only available as part of a subscription to a Third-Man “Record of the Moment” program.

 Well, being a long time fan of this (in?)famous album – I had to at least peruse the merch…. aaaaannnnd…….  ** sigh **. On the one hand – I get it. Why not celebrate this amazing piece of art with a deluxe release? Okay, so maybe the Sgt. Pepper-esque “Trout Mask” cutout might be a bit “jumping the trout” for my taste, but it IS the title of the LP, right? Yet, I think I’m going to sit this one out…….here’s why:

First of all – I have this on LP and CD already. So I don’t need it. Another reason for me is – once again, the players who contributed to the music are not being compensated for the work. The tapes are owned by the ZFT and somehow even the original negatives for the cover pictures are in their possession as well. So, in a legal sense, the ZFT has every right to license all of this to Third-Man Records for manufacture and whatever. Yet, it’s STILL a deal made in “Frownland”. So much suffering went into this album – as detailed in several accounts from those who were there – it really is heartbreaking that some folks will continue to make money on music they had no hand in creating while those that DID will continue to get bupkiss.

Now, for the average consumer, the new Trout Mask Replica reissue may be a welcome alternative since even crappy, grey-market reissue vinyl copies have been going for big bucks on the used market recently. That, too, is a total travesty. So, here’s my advice: if you really want this album in its newly reissued form because you want the best available new copy – dig in. Then, while you’re at it – take a few more steps:

Seek out some very worthwhile product from current living members of the Magic Band and BUY SOME GREAT STUFF from them. Here are some links to what is offered from the folks who made Trout Mask Replica. They are still here and active and their work will delight you to pieces – if you are a Beefheart fan. Click away and get some more good stuff from the source(s):

Seriously! Buy their stuff! They have to put food on the table. The good Captain himself has moved to the great beyond and isn’t worried about feeding a family or paying the bills.

 Ya dig Zoot Horn Rollo?
Buy his album if you haven’t already. It kicks ass. Buy his book too – it’s a treat! Go here:    https://www.zoothornrollo.com/

Ya dig Drumbo?
 Buy his book – and CDs and DVDs. Do it. Don’t wait. Click below:

How ‘bout Rockette Morton?
 You can buy original artwork from him along with original music too! Go here:  https://www.facebook.com/beefheartbassistrockettemortonart/ 

You’re shelling out for the deluxe Trout Mask? You can spend some extra bucks for good stuff from the ACTUAL PLAYERS. And while you’re at it – head over to Cal Schenkel’s website and get a personalized piece of art from the ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHER (and Zappa cover designer) of the Trout Mask album cover we all love so much from the GUY HIMSELF!


How cool is that? At least as cool as Jack White (I think cooler, really).

Not to down Jack White, since he is obviously a Beefheart fan and a music fan. I’ve even given his music a chance too (though I was kinda suckered in by the gimmicky LP he put out a few years ago – that Lazaretto album with the backwards-etched grooves and so forth).
 Jack White is a good artist, musically. Yet, I think his contribution will be seen more in terms of his business savvy, which is not a bad thing, but it isn’t an ARTISTIC thing – first and foremost – either. Here’s what I mean…….

Trout Mask Replica is – what I like to call – the most high-profile piece of true avant garde music ever unleashed on a semi-unsuspecting public by a major music outlet (Warner/Reprise). Even though the original release was via Zappa’s Bizarre / Straight imprints – these were just designer labels for the Reprise parent company that was owned by FRANK SINATRA. Let that sink in for a minute………

Trout Mask would be reissued with regular Reprise labels in 1977 as part of the severance agreement between Zappa and Herb Cohen (former manager who had rights to some Bizarre / Straight stuff). Since Beefheart was back as a currently-contracted artist to Warner Brothers by 1977, it was probably considered good business to strike whatever deal was struck to re-affirm Reprise’s rights to Trout Mask in that time period –which extended well beyond the 1970s into the 1990s and the CD era. Truly – I wish I still had the CD longbox that came with the CD copy I bought all those years ago – DUH! Can you imagine what that thing would be worth today??? Ugh……..Anyway – consider that part of Trout Mask’s “magic” was being released by a major record company –WORLDWIDE! Right alongside of Frank Sinatra records and Sammy Davis Jr. records. I don’t care what obscure platter you can dredge up from the same time period – 1969/ 1970 – there is nothing close to Trout Mask.

To illustrate my point, I like to call the track “Revolution 9” on The Beatles White Album the most widely-heard piece of true avant garde music / art  ever in the history of the 20th Century. Yet, Revolution 9 was the glaring exception to the otherwise accessible rule of The Beatles popular music – even in those hyper-excited times of 1968. If that baffling track reached the MOST people it was only a part of a larger, more accessible work. Trout Mask, by contrast, was a through-composed entity. Maybe not as widely heard, but certainly as AVAILABLE to the same public that would have purchased The Beatles White Album. That’s my point – is the new release on Jack White’s boutique label anywhere near the intent of the original release: to hyper-beam this uncompromising piece of total weirdness through the massive conduits of industry of the 20th century? I don’t think so. I mean, really – does Jack White occupy the same position in our current culture that Frank Sinatra held in 1969? I thought that position already belonged to BECK! Ha ha!

Okay – maybe I think too much about this stuff. Fair enough. Though, lately I’ve been feeling slightly more in tune with new music than I’ve had for a while. Taking risks on new sounds has been a rewarding experience for me the past few years. Some discoveries have been more compelling than others, but that’s to be expected. I haven’t been totally offended or let down by the new music purchases I’ve made, thankfully enough. Maybe the most critical thing I might say in some cases would be “lackluster” or “predictable”. Yet, music is such a subjective thing when it comes right down to it. Like Duke Ellington said – its either “good” or “bad” and that’s up to you.

A bunch of entries ago I was mulling over whether or not I would buy a new release from Calexico were that to appear. Well, appear it did:
And buy it I dutifully did. What I noticed about the new record -  The Thread That Keeps Us – is a strange downturn in sound quality (considerably more mushy and compressed – the sound of the vinyl is indistinguishable from the download) YET an improvement in material. The songs are better, yet the sound is compromised. Or you could say more suited to radio? I would bet (because I don’t know) Calexico gets more exposure on internet radio / streaming services than even FM college radio. There are two FM stations in my area that would probably play Calexico – maybe they do. It’s just a guess though, since I can’t pull the signals in decently enough to know.
It’s a funny thing – listening to this album again it seems that the ethnic element of the band is played down to give greater attention to the modern alternative rock sound. The identity of the band sound is retained which creates continuity at least across the three albums I’ve listened to. Within that core sound there are slight deviations from the formula that creates a bit of variation, but not too out there – just enough to be interesting, but not jarringly different. The safety zone.

What I’ve also discovered with this band is – I don’t get sucked into the songs so much as the overall sound of the music. Songs from one album could easily be from another album – and I can’t say any of the songs grab my attention and communicate something that I’ve never considered before. It’s pleasant music with little “depth”. The singer has an enjoyable – if emotionally detached – voice. Or its safe to say – there isn’t a wide RANGE of emotion. The dominant emotional vibe is – calm sadness. Even when the music picks up the tempo the vocals are mellow and calm. Not bad, just unexcited. It has a function, for sure. Sometimes that’s exactly what I want to hear. In some ways it may be the best soundtrack for the current climate of things……

Yet, I think this is where I hit the exit ramp with Calexico. I have three albums of a style I like to hear once in awhile, though no one song jumps up and says “play me again – aren’t I AWESOME?!” Nice albums, though I’d hate to be the guy with the task of picking a “single” off any given LP. If anything I’d be interested to hear the earlier albums – how consistent has their sound been and for how long? Well, aside from that level of curiosity I think I’m ready to say “Thanks amigos! Been fun following you for a few years. Best of luck to ya! Cheers!”

The record pictured above is credited to a band called WHITE DENIM. It is their most recent LP (called STIFF) from 2016. I found a sealed copy in a thrift store last year. While I was initially skeptical that this was going to be some goofy alternative pop it was nice to be proved wrong! This record ROCKS! White Denim serves up a great modern rock album here with some bluesy / rootsy influence - but in a good way. I have to admit I don't know too much about the band, but I'd go see 'em live for sure. The above record was produced by Ethan Johns - son of the well known British music producer Glynn Johns. The family legacy for excellent record production continues very much in evidence here. Way more pumped up and rockin' than Calexico if that's what you need to get up and rock out to. Highly recommended!

And saving my favorite new music for last - THE PINEAPPLES new LP "Twice on the Pipe"!
Years ago I spotted a 45 - the only 45 release - from The Pineapples in the early 1990s. This band from New York was ready to be the Next Big Thing in rock. I remember those days before Nirvana was all over MTV and the radio. Nobody was sure where music was headed for the next big style. It could have easily been The Pineapples from New York. Their first single was put out on Kokopop Records - a subsidiary of the infamous Shimmy Disk label run by New York scene-maker Kramer (of Bongwater and other projects).
I posted this record here a long time ago. Well, wonder of wonders - The Pineapples have a new LP out (above) AND two new 45s as well.........

The new singles are excellent and well worth adding to your order of the new LP. This is your chance to celebrate the return of a great band from the pre-grunge days - ready again to get your town rockin'! Go to The Pineapples website to order their great new music! http://pineapplesband.com/

And keep an eye out for their live performances - I hope to catch them soon myself! I've only waited 20 years!!

Until next time - keep that lamp trimmed and burning..............

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Jim Dean from Indiana, Lightning Rose and what blows against the Empire now?

One of my favorite conundrums is the whole art for art’s sake versus art for good’s sake thing. From the dawn of human culture, I would reckon it to have been a pretty constant theme through the ages. Most recently I’ve found my thoughts circling back to Phil Ochs again. Last year, a pretty passionate article ran in the Washington Post lamenting the need for a Phil Ochs-type voice for today’s troubling climate.


Ochs was arguably the most melodic yet uncompromising socially conscious songwriter of his time. Not a small accomplishment given the level of sophisticated competition he was up against – from Bob Dylan to Arlo Guthrie and beyond. Although he never managed to score an evergreen hit song to carry him to the next level of fame and stardom, Phil Ochs did write some genuine classic songs and timeless melodic material. If any criticism could be laid at his doorstep, it would be an occasional restlessness in his melodic singing lines. Well, if you had as wonderful a voice as Phil had, you’d probably want to show it off too! What’s more – he had the literary chops (way better poet than Jim Morrison for sure!) AND a visionary idea of melding the folk tradition with a more sophisticated, “serious” (classical?) music tradition. His brilliant album Pleasures of the Harbor was a bold statement lyrically and musically. Was the decision to place his songs in a more mature, sophisticated kind of production a result of this idea to “beautify” the art to contrast the ugliness of the times?

When I was just getting out of high school I had the opportunity to see the reformed FUGS in Woodstock NY (close to where I lived). Over time I started adding Fugs records to my collection. The earlier albums were more raw and rock-n-roll oriented. When I found an import LP of “It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest” I was surprised at the somewhat overproduced nature of the material.
There was one genuine good ol’ psychedelic rock song - “Crystal Liason”. Aside from that, the record struck me as oddly mature sounding for a group known as the “East Coast” version of The Mothers. I was a few years off hearing the live Fugs at the Fillmore East album (which captured the more rocking and uninhibited side of the band). So it puzzled me why The Freaky Fugs went kinda softee for some tracks – or so it seemed to me then. Of course I really like “ICIMHH” a lot now. What I came to realize only a few years ago was the likely inspiration – the influence of Phil Ochs on the Fugs to incorporate more sophistication in the presentation of the music. One of the relevent vocal refrains on the Fugs album can be found on the song “When the Mode of the Music Changes”. Ed Sanders sings the line “when beauty barks I heel….” – a slightly wacky way to express the effect of art on the “savage beast” I suppose. If the goal for Ochs and The Fugs was to possibly infiltrate the mainstream airwaves with a more polished production, the outcome unfortunately fell short. They were both too sophisticated – and arty – for mainstream America. And the glossier sound didn’t win over the rock and roll freaks. A commercial miscalculation, alas. 

As John Fahey once pointed out  - it is more commercially viable to write songs about the vague, sentimental side of American life (like happy train songs) than it is to write about the difficult topics like what fears people harbor that prevent them from speaking up when fellow humans are being mistreated or worse (A Small Circle of Friends)! Phil’s talents – as potent as they were – didn’t generate that one song to endear him to mainstream America. His audience was specialized and held him to a particular standard. Did this impose a limit to his appeal? He was good at being who he was. To be something else would be false. Maybe this partly explains the “Greatest Hits” album?
The irony would have been amazing if that record did contain some surprise hits! Was he courting fate or was it an admission of his own limitations? Perhaps both! For me, this record contains a truly transcendent piece of work - “Jim Dean From Indiana”. God, what a beautiful melody – beyond fantastic. Something that could easily place him in the category of Brian Wilson (in the Pet Sounds era). Listen here:
Folks have theorized Jim Dean is not only an obvious play on James Dean the actor, but of Phil himself – a semi-autobiographical song. I can’t verify the accuracy on that assumption. What impresses me most is the brilliant combination of craft and heart. Phil Ochs put his life into his work – and lived every note he sung. With a firm belief that his work made a difference – to uplift those struggling against the oppressive modern forces of the world. His songs still resonate, perhaps sad to admit. We are fortuntate to have them to shore up our spirits today.
A somewhat different legacy was left by Paul Kantner – whose music and work I admire greatly, though sometimes I like to think of him as “the luckiest guy in rock and roll”. Why? Paul managed to pilot two successful bands – the Airplane and the Starship – despite never writing a hit song himself! And he wasn’t much of a singer either. Yet, he was a visionary with a purpose! Actually he did have a hit album – Blows Against The Empire which won a Hugo award as a science fiction work. It would make sense then with the implosion of the Jefferson Airplane, the new group formed in its wake would be called Jefferson Starship (the name was first used as a “tag” for his solo LP in 1970).  In both cases of the Jeffersons Airplane and Starship – Kantner managed a successful formula that worked to support his grander ambitions of rock and roll revolutionary songwriting. The formula went like this: every album would have at least ONE radio-friendly “hit” while the rest of the record (or major parts) were devoted to the socially-conscious and experimental aspects of his vision. That’s it. Sounds easy, but amazingly he rode that wave in such expert fashion – quite a legacy! I was reminded of this when listening to the last Jefferson Starship LP on the RCA / Grunt imprint – Nuclear Furniture.
This record is almost universally loathed – especially by the Jefferson Airplane fans – as the final step in the transformation of a once great radical 60s hippie band to a bland 80s pop hit joke (as just “Starship”). Yet, what drew me to the record were the hit songs I heard on the radio – liked them then and like them now, thanks in part to the great production of Ron Nevison. Jefferson Starship were hardly the only 60s act seeking radio hits in the early 80s. Santana was doing it and had hits. Yes totally updated their sound and had the biggest hits of their career, right? So why doesn’t Kantner get any respect? In fact, Kantner’s material on Nuclear Furniture is co-written with the legendary Weavers singer Ronnie Gilbert – the thematic songs about Paul’s sci-fi heroine Lightning Rose. The Rose character made her debut on the 1979 LP Freedom At Point Zero (which led off with the blistering hit song “Jane” – if you don’t think that song rocks I feel sorry for you!).
On Nuclear Furniture, Rose is cast as a survivor of a nuclear holocaust – a topic that roared back to life in the early 80s and pretty much scared the shit out of anyone with a pulse. Even Sun Ra got inspired to compose his anti-nuclear war song in those years:
Even though Jefferson Starship doesn’t get much hipster attention these days, it ought to be noted that Paul Kantner managed to grab the brass ring Phil Ochs kept leaping for – and rang that bell for all it was worth – to make way for his message music. And those message songs are, like Phil Ochs songs, still relevant and necessary to hear today. I’m so glad I got to see Paul Kantner live a few times before his exit off the planet. Even though the shows I saw were not the Jefferson Starship in its prime, there still is nothing like the sound of Paul Kantner’s glorious acoustic 12 string guitars and eletric Rickenbacker guitars chiming through a nice loud concert soundsystem. God I sure miss that sound! Along with his idealism which never wavered – his calls for progressive, humanistic society – a true Great Society. Paul Kantner was pure rock and roll punk to the core. An unapologetic, critical thorn in the side of The Establishment. Of course, I didn’t know him as a person. Yet, from his work I feel confident to believe he was on the RIGHT side of the fight.

Between the release of Nuclear Furniture and his re-generating of the Jefferson Starship in the 1990s, Kantner wasted no time in re-assembling some Airplane alumni for a record as the KBC Band. And what is the very first song on side one of that album? A brave homage to Phil Ochs’ musician friend from Chile – Victor Jara – who was brutally murdered during the Pinochet overthrow in the early 70s.
 Please name me ONE current musician who gets regular play on major radio – with a release on a major record label – who is doing anything nearly as amazing as what Paul Kantner did on that KBC album! Ummmmmmm….. here’s your answer: not a fucking ONE! Bono? Oh, please.

So – for any of Paul Kantner’s critics who say he sold out with all those Jefferson Starship hits – it wasn’t Kantner who sold out. Those hit songs were good radio friendly songs and if they lured people into buying the albums with the message songs on them – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Maybe Kantner’s stuff wasn’t always melodic and catchy music – true enough. As a vehicle to get people to the Jefferson Starship shows, those hit songs were essential to the cause. And, at least until the 1990s, Kantner had enough clout with major record companies who were willing to put out his stuff with the less commercial material intact. In the continued era of “lowest common denominator music” such a feat is unthinkable. What major company would be willing to take that kind of calculated risk now? All that’s left is the steady corporate hummmmmmmmm of complacency and apathy. Or so it seems. I’m convinced Gil Scott-Heron was right – the revolution will NOT be televised. The corporate conglomerates would never allow that to happen. 

Over the past bunch of years I’ve been checking out some new bands and new releases just to see if there is anything worth listening to. And, certainly from a musical standpoint, there is a LOT of great new music. Even if I’m missing where the protest music is hiding (does it exist at all??) – here are some musically worthwhile platters to take note of:

Spoon – Hot Thoughts
I took a chance on purchasing this LP "blind" - no exposure to the music before the money changed hands. I had a hunch this band might be influenced by my favorite German band CAN and I was right (Spoon was the record label for Can). Although Spoon (the band) is more commercial than their inspiration I was pleasantly surprised to hear an enjoyable blend between modern pop and experimental-esque modern rock music. Of course, I'm a bit late to the party since Spoon has been around awhile. What this really means though is - plenty of back catalog releases to plunder in the years ahead. Works for me!

Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
I have to admit I've only played this a handful of times and, as such, have merely scratched the surface of what's in the grooves. Aimee Mann has had a long and acclaimed career since her debut with the 80s group 'Til Tuesday. Liked her then and I still like her now. This beautiful LP was delivered to my door for about $13 - a steal! I look forward to more spins in the near future. For that price, why not grab one too?

The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
The much-anticipated new release (and major-label debut) from this great new (to me) band. This record builds where Lost in the Dream left off, but doesn't re-tread the same territory. I didn't get the nifty limited-edition green vinyl pressing, but at this point I'm more interested in the music. Gads, I can't remember the last time I bought a new vinyl LP from a new group on the Atlantic record label. Wonders never cease. A bit bummed I didn't get to see them live back in the fall, but maybe next time!

Randy Newman – Dark Matter
Oh, I've really gone head over heels about Randy Newman in the last year. The new record is great - especially if one is looking for some balance to the current state of the Union! Some very emotional songs included here as well. Not just discontent. Newman is a pro, folks! Catch an earful while you can. Missed seeing him live as well - bugger!

Buffy Sainte-Marie – Power in the Blood
I did NOT miss seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie live back last February. And that show - attended the night after I saw Arthur Brown in New York City - was the second hit of a ONE - TWO punch of live music intensity I hadn't witnessed in a long time. Holy Moly was she awesome. I am a major fan of hers - and the new album (top picture) is first rate stuff. I can also recommend her first album (bottom picture) - her talent was a force to be reckoned with right out of the gate. I'm so smitten with Buffy Sainte-Marie I have to save more stories for next time. I understand she has a totally new album coming out soon. I hope to see her live show again too! Oh, yeah!!

Beck – Colors
Okay - so I really liked the last album and bought this on the strength of that. Yet, I don't feel this is up to the same standard. Way more poppy and that's okay to hear. It just hasn't grabbed me so far. Not giving up, of course. I'll get back to you on this one............

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
Okay - this may be my favorite of 2017. Courtney Barnett I'd heard before (have a download of one of her other albums) - Kurt Vile not until this. Guess what? Love it! These two compliment each other so well it's a joy and wonder. Been playing it a lot. Don't wait to get this album - highly recommended!!

The Above – There Is A Reason
Here's a great new garage-rock independent release from The Above. I ordered this via their bandcamp website. Totally catchy rock and roll. I'd love to see these guys live. They also make great videos! Watch and listen here:  http://theabovebrooklyn.com/videos.html

Dany Laj and The Looks – Alive & Kicking
The new LP from Dany Laj and the Looks takes refreshing new chances in the songwriting department as well as the production. Overall a much more cohesive and rocking release than their previous LP Word on the Street - though I love that record too! I also look forward to checking them out live. Can't wait to rock out with this great band! Buy their records so you know all the words to sing along when you go see 'em near you!!

Terry Adams – Talk Thelonious
Terry Adams is one of the greatest living interpreters of Thelonious Monk's music. He has studied, performed and championed Monk's art for decades. This LP is a few years old now, but it sounds fresh and vital. Even if you don't know who Monk is - or who Terry Adams is (the longtime leader of NRBQ) - just get this record. It will blow your mind in the most enjoyable way imaginable.

Heron Oblivion – The Chapel
Heron Oblivion is apparently a bit of an underground rock "supergroup". Again - I bought this "blind" and was totally shocked! Get this - drummer Meg Baird is also the lead vocalist and sounds a lot like (though not identical to) Sandy Denny! Add to that a heaping amount of molten, flowing beefy toned psych-grunge guitar playing - this album was recorded live and just blew my doors down! Are there any vinyl copies left from the limited edition run? Better grab one while you can, squire!

Willa and Company – Better Days
Speaking of great singers - please do yourself a favor and snag a copy of this wonderful blues and soul singer's first release at the website above. Willa is a very talented singer and songwriter. Her songs have appeared on the blues charts since the summer and continue to generate well-deserved attention. Few new artists are taking American roots music forward like Willa is doing. Highly recommended for positive vibrations in rough waters ahead!

Thanks again for stopping by my little spot on the net. Take care and keep listening!