Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sounds of the Summer - A Report from Eulipion #70888675309

 Music has been my refuge for as long as I can remember. As an only child I figured out how to get comfortable spending time alone though the radio and my growing record collection provided windows into other realities and dimensions. Likewise, my continuing involvement with music is not objective, but immersive. I "live there". Rahsaan Roland Kirk identified this part of the population as the "Eulipions" - the poets, artists and musicians. No need to have a card or badge, nor attend monthly meetings. It's a big club.

Yet, to those who "get it" there is no need to explain. For those who don't get it - there's always stuff to do like walking around looking at trees or something. For the music obsessives there is never a dull moment. Always something new to hear - to learn. As my interests and tastes have expanded over the years I have come to the conclusion that one lifetime just isn't enough. Here's hoping for reincarnation, as Roger Miller once put into song.
Well, unless human beings ever get the chance to be downloaded from one lifetime to the next - with no memory lapses or meltdowns - I reckon any time spent above ground is the bees knees.

Kinda like last time, I wrote and re-wrote several attempts at a "new entry" only to find myself disappointed and confused about what to write. So, instead I'll do a "What I listened to Last Summer" kind of a report. And, as it happens - there's a few good vibrations to pass along...................

First of all, the new Ron Howard Beatles' Movie - Eight Days a Week - was really fun to see. I actually went to a movie theater showing with a few members of a great band I play with and we just had fun geeking out on Beatlemania in general. To get psyched up I played a few live Beatles albums:

The Hollywood Bowl album was the very first Beatles record I ever owned. It was the "new release" when I officially became a Beatles fan - I remember the in-store displays at the shop where I got it with my pops in New York City. So even though the songs were live with lots of girls screaming, I never had time to form an opinion on the merits of the performances, etc......It was a BEATLES album, it was NEW and therefore - beyond criticism in my young mind.

Ditto for the Hamburg 1962 album. The sound quality was obviously funky as could be, but I really loved all the wacky antics, between-song banter and general sense of wild abandon captured before the Beatles hit it big across the world. As a kid, I also grew up hearing about my father's time in the army and how he was stationed in Germany in the same years as The Beatles' famous tenure there: 1961 - 1963 (or thereabouts). Of course, Dad was nowhere near Hamburg, but that didn't stop me from wondering what if he had taken a trip up there and stumbled into a club with those lads onstage who once would become famous. Instead, he went to Italy on his leave time and I never did get any good stories out of him about his time there. Oh well.

Anyway, all this Beatles hubbub got me thinking about Ringo again - what a great drummer. Obvious, of course. It is fascinating to consider how much Ringo contributed to the way drums (and music in general) sounded on record. Take a look at these photos of Ringo in the recording studio:

The top photo shows Ringo in 1963. The bottom is Ringo six years later in 1969. Not only is his drum set different, but notice the amount of microphones in both pictures. In 1963, I can only see one overhead mic and one mic set a bit in front of the bass drum. In 1969, there's now TWO mics on the bass drum (with padding inside) and goodness knows how many other spot mics (looks like the tom toms are mic'd underneath the drums - how weird!).

In those six years, the way popular music was recorded would cause ripples right down to the development of better home listening systems and hi-fi gear. A tell-tale sign is that microphone pointed directly at Ringo's hi-hat cymbals in the 1969 picture. As popular music gradually shuffled toward a modern, DISCO drum beat - the sound of loud hi-hat accents would play a prominent role in defining what that genre sounded like (apart from everything else). And, whether we like it or not - that dry, disco drum sound would dominate recorded music for years - maybe it still does.

Those loud, chirping hi-hats would, when cut to vinyl, give trouble for folks who hadn't invested in more sophisticated cartridges for their turntables. So, gradually people started to get the sense that their record players were bad and not compatible with modern music. If more people would have upgraded the stylus a few notches above what they had used for years, there might not have been so many who jumped at the Compact Disc as an immediate improvement in sound. Such was the case in my family. As much as my Dad loved music, he never upgraded that needle on his turntable. So, by the time I heard my first CD - it knocked me for a loop because the sound was so clean! I'm sure I was not alone, of course..........

When the Beatles albums started coming out on CD in the late 80s I was all psyched until I discovered the first four albums would be MONO only! To think of such a thing happening now is absurd. I grew up on the stereo albums and no matter how much I tried to convince myself to love those mono CDs I just didn't. It is astounding to realize this situation would not be rectified until 2009! In the meantime, it would also be The Beatles to lead me back to vinyl. In the mid-90s I ordered a stereo UK copy of A Hard Day's Night from a Goldmine magazine ad.

 The sound blew me away so much I was literally jumping up and down in front of the stereo laughing like a fool! Now THAT'S what I'd been missing all those years! Yet, as I'd come to realize - the compact disc also brought in a flood of music that had no chance of being reissued on vinyl anytime soon - and with some fantastic surprises!

See, in the current climate of "everything is on youtube now" - the way CDs brought rare music back into the shops is something current listeners might not understand. Case in point:  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
 Amazingly, I found a UK MONO pressing of this wild album at a flea market when I was about 12 years old. It totally blew my mind! Yet, my record was kinda chewed up. Didn't stop me from playing it often enough, though I sure would liked to have bought a new copy. That was certainly not an option in the 1980s. When I saw it had been reissued on CD in 1991 I nearly fainted! What was better - the first part of the CD release was made up of an alternate, mono mix of the ENTIRE FIRST SIDE of the LP. WOW! I certainly never heard that before. It was like getting a pristine sounding bootleg included along with the legitimate album on one disc.

So, CDs were a very welcome format despite some of the sonic limitations folks have been complaining about lately. Like any format, so many variables can determine how the music sounds. I have plenty of CDs that sound great and I wouldn't part with them for any vinyl counterpart. It just takes time and little research to find the best versions of music you might like. For instance, I've been making some headway with my 78 collecting lately:
When browsing around ebay for 78s I noticed this Little Walter disc had great songs on both sides - two I especially like. And the price tag wasn't so bad for a VG disc. It plays decently enough and I can add it to my esoteric collection. I managed to "mod" a Pro-Ject turntable with a motor pulley unit to make the thing spin at the proper speed (along with the right type of stylus for the Ortofon cart that was installed) so I am 100% ready for the big shellac throwdown! Heh. I'll leave the heavy collecting to others more obsessed than me. I sure like having a few nifty specimens to mess around with now and again!

I also got into a new (to me) German band from the 70s / 80s era called Novalis. The record pictured at the top was rescued from a Goodwill and is my favorite so far - titled "Visionen". It's an all-instrumental album whereas the others feature vocals in the German language. Very progressive stuff and how can you say no to a great looking record label like "Brain"? I could get addicted to this stuff, easily!

A couple of new colored-vinyl reissues walked in the door this summer as well. The Silver Apples record sounds great though I don't have an original to compare. The reissue was beautifully put together by Jackpot Records who seem to be making a play for the reissue market (though somehow there is a Universal Music logo on the thing as well). Jackpot also put out the early Wipers LPs with nice tip-on sleeves and well-pressed vinyl.

The Judy Henske / Jerry Yester "Farewell Aldebaran" reissue is also not to be missed! Excellent sound and a nice package (complete with booklet with new interviews and pictures). For this title I do have an original copy and I can report this new reissue gives the original a run for the money. I think the CD version also has some bonus tracks so I reckon that will end up in the mail somewhere along the way too. Well worth the listening time to hear this excellent, groundbreaking quirky classic!
 Some new sounds have hit the turntable as well - such as the new Ryley Walker LP - "Golden Sings That Have Been Sung". A good friend hooked me up with this along with the record pictured below:
 This project was titled "Electric Ladyland Redux" - a re-recording of the entire Jimi Hendrix classic by various new bands. Now, I will admit to being one of the more skeptical listeners when it comes to projects like this, but one earful blew any skepticism right out of my skull! A major highlight was the excellent cover of "Voodoo Chile" by the band All Them Witches. These folks NAILED this track - just perfect. The overall sound of the record and pressing quality is top-notch as well. Available from Magnetic Eye Records.
I found this Rainbow Jackson album - Perpetual Summer - in a thrift store. It happens to be #171 of a limited edition run of 500 pressed. Had no idea what the music was like, but I took a chance since it looked interesting. Very good melodic / indie / hard rock. Good playing, solid songs and a pretty radio-friendly sound. This band is from LA and I'd check them out live if I ever see 'em in this neck of the woods.

The other night I had fun doing some extreme genre-hopping between Black Sabbath, Skeeter Davis and John Hiatt. Three of my favorite records by anybody. I may be in the minority, but I tend to like Sabbath with Dio singing more than Ozzy (though Ozzy's voice is so iconic on those classic albums - can't deny that). For me, though, Dio remains in the top 3 of my favorite metal / hard rock singers of all time. Sometimes he's #1.

Skeeter Davis, likewise, is one of my favorite country singers. Of course I am biased a bit since she was a part of the NRBQ extended family (being married to Joey Spampinato for a good number of years). I really enjoyed reading her autobiography "Bus Fare To Kentucky" years ago and have a number of her albums in the stacks. RIP Skeeter!

And the last album pictured is the great John Hiatt comeback album of the late 80s. The story behind "Bring The Family" is so unlikely - he'd burned every bridge in the years leading up to this record and, newly clean and sober, was given one last chance at a record deal. Not only does he deliver, but he starts a run of albums with songs so brilliant it's mind-boggling. Like this one - if this song doesn't getcha you must have a HOLE in yo' SOUL!
John Hiatt will serve as the link to Part Two of What I Listened to This Summer following shortly. There's more to tell especially with reasons to keep Compact Discs on your radar - fantastic sounds to be had for cheap out there, people! Until next time - keep listening!!!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Back to the Beginning Again........

Who are we kidding? 2016 has been, so far, the year to wave goodbye to the 20th century. Sports, music, you name it - all kinds of prominent figures of the past 50 years have been cutting out. One loss after another – a lot like real life, isn't it? Disappointments abound. And let's not even think about what a sham-show the political landscape (national / world / u-name-it) has been this year as well. I really do my best to keep this blog upbeat and positive since music should wash away the dust bunnies of life, right? Well, as usual there is great music to pull us through, even in the saddest of times. Or in times of upheaval and uncertainty.

So far I've re-written this entry three times and I'm hoping the third time is the charm, as they say! I've tried to be philosophical, whimsical, a-political and even non-committal. Seems like no matter what I start writing it ends up going where I didn't intend it to go, but not in a good way. I haven't had a whole lot of time to think about writing, let alone actually doing it. The plate's been FULL – for months and months. I'm hoping for a little time to re-connect with my brain though I can't promise anything constructive will come of that! Reunions don't always work. Sometimes people, or life in general, can change so much that old chemistry is impossible to replicate. Ever hear that ill-fated Byrds reunion album from 1973?
 To be fair, there is some good music on this record. What is immediately apparent to even casual Byrds fans is how little the same five guys sound like what their classic period sounds like. The old Byrds sound – low-fi as it was – is nowhere within earshot on this platter. Heck, it would have been great if they decided to title the record “You Can't Go Home Again” because that is the lesson imparted here. The Byrds reunion LP also happens to contain what I consider to be David Crosby's least compelling song “Long Live the King” - a not-so-thinly-veiled screed to Nixon. Some of the lyrics are so silly they're “bad / good” - know what I mean? Aw, heck if you haven't heard it here it is:

Maybe it's just me, but I do get a few chuckles out of that one. I think it's the whole “Humpty Dumpty” business that sends the song over the edge. And, don't get me wrong – I really am a David Crosby fan. Loved his last album. I just think he wasn't bringing his “A-list” material to this project. Where the band really shines is on other people's songs – the Joni Mitchell and Neil Young tracks are the strongest. And, to be a bit more complimentary to Crosby – his lead vocal abilities on this Byrds album are far stronger (thanks to his CSN experiences) than on any classic Byrds albums. Maybe that was part of his own personal motivation. For that alone I'll give him the credit – a willingness to step out with his newfound vocal confidence. Can't argue with that. The overall effect, however, is a much less cohesive band sound which is too bad. Of course, this could easily veer off into a “people versus producers” argument. Not going there today, though..........

I reckon I could just as easily go on about other reunion album disasters though I think the point is illustrated sufficiently. And that isn't the intended focus here – not that I know just what that focus really is yet. I just know what it isn't. For the past year or so I've made it a conscious consideration to check out new music and support local music releases here. It's been fun and rewarding to engage with new vibrations. Of course I'll never be a John Peel, so from here on out I'm just following my own path with no preconceived idea of what this blog is supposed to be or not. If it's good (or bad) I'm passing on the word as I see fit. And, there is a lot of great music going on – old and new. The search is always on for that next source of inspiration and transcendence.

Well, before I get any further away from my own flimsy logic I want to pass along word about a new release from a new (to me) artist – and a regionally-oriented one at that. From north of the border – Canada to be exact – Dany Laj and the Looks. 
 Yes, that first name is spelled DANY, who happens to be the guitarist and lead vocalist here. The most recent release (on vinyl) is titled “Word on the Street”. I picked this up on a recommendation and was pleasantly rewarded with a fun listen! The real strength here is the sum of the parts: good, engaging songwriting, excellent harmonies and very energetic drumming! Now, I may not know jack diddly about whatever music scene(s) exists in the Great White North, but there seems to be a fair amount of no-BS, straight ahead good rock music coming out of Canada these days. And Dany Laj and the Looks are a winning example of this. I can put their LP on the turntable anytime and I'm having a good time. I managed to get my copy from amazon – better jump if you want one 'cause they seem to be going fast. Really would love to see these folks live. I have NO IDEA if they tour beyond their own turf. If they happen to be anywhere near you – just go, jump around and have a great time! That's what its all about at the end of the day............

Now I did promise to pass along word about the bad and the ugly too, so here goes.........and this one kinda hurts to have to report on, but what can I do besides offer my (shrinking) reader base THE HONEST TRUTH? 
  Buyer Beware: Michael Bloomfield – Crusin' for a Brusin' not a good record at all. Alright, there are some moments here and there, but Bloomfield was near the end of his life by the time this was being recorded and it shows, mainly in his already shaky vocal delivery. Some flashes of guitar brilliance sprinkled throughout the proceedings, but the overall effect is not terribly compelling. And such a shame too, since it was issued on John Fahey's TAKOMA label. I ended up poking around the internet looking for any info about this record and came across a posthumous review / obituary of sorts published in Mother Jones (an old hippie mag I think). Wow. Talk about bitter, scathing and just plain mean. I won't post a link here – I'm sure you can find it if you really want to. Maybe Michael Bloomfield was past his prime and not destined for a rebound, but give the man a little better consideration. He was a pretty fantastic talent in his heyday. Instead of the above record, I would sooner suggest checking out this 2LP set released by Columbia titled simply “Bloomfield”.
It's a good overview and cross-section of his more inspired moments with some genuine, down-to-earth banter from the man himself thrown in for humanization purposes. Perhaps his habits got the better of him, but Bloomfield was a true soldier in service to the music in my book.

Now, I ought to 'fess up since I'm being all brave-n-honest here: I had only a sketchy idea of who the heck Dan Hicks was when he split the planet back in March or whatever. In fact, I've since learned that he was more of a cult figure than anything else and his most high-profile album was released back in 1969. As luck would have it, I recently found a copy of that first Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks album in a thrift store so of course I brought it home. Now, I have also learned that Dan Hicks was first recorded as a drummer for the proto-psychedelic band The Charlatans in the mid 1960s. But, like Skip Spence he was more of a guitar player. So he got a deal with Epic Records and put out this thing:
 First of all – what a great, quirky record this is! Yet, if this was his most popular platter that really speaks volumes. I'd have to say not only would this record have been out of step with the times it was released in – it would have to be out of step with darn near any era, maybe post 1920. At least musically. Lyrically, these songs are imbued with weird, sardonic wit and humor. Maybe not exactly of the snarky Steely Dan mold, but not too far off the path there! Dan Hicks seemed to be the kind of character who kept his own counsel and didn't give much of a hoot about what was popular or not. Just did his own thing and kept true to himself.

Now, I've started to notice that some of the thrift stores I've been hitting up in recent years are getting hip to the hipsters out there and are now hiking up the prices of those LPs in the stacks. Ah, well. It was bound to happen. However, some shops are starting to mark down their used CDs! And there are plenty of great discs out there waiting for new homes to go to. I recently took home three of the early Ramones albums on CD – with bonus tracks – in nice shape for $1 apiece. I also filled a few gaps in my Elvis Costello CD collection for the same price. And that's not even counting the Grateful Dead blunder I pulled..........

One local shop must have taken in a whole collection of Dead CDs since a pile were out in the stacks. So I bagged a bunch I didn't have – mostly late era studio albums. But there were a LOT of those Dicks Picks double and triple disc sets for very reasonable prices. I shoulda bought them ALL. Dumb move. THOSE are the rare discs. Yet, I know some of those Dead shows are not always so hot – and how many versions of “Scarlet Fire” are you going to want to bring home all at once? Knowing me – I would never sell them anyway – I'd be stuck with them on my shelf waiting to be played for years. Maybe I missed investment material, but hopefully a true fan got them.

Even in the regular shops, CDs are the best deal going in the used market. I paid $5 for my copy of Eno's “Music for Airports” and that gets played pretty frequently these days. Compact Discs might not be as sexy as vinyl records yet there are certain situations where I prefer having the CDs. Case in point – as an erstwhile admirer of 78s, I have concluded that I will never quite become the discerning collector some determined folks have become. I would rather benefit from their research and hear that material collected on CD. One of the great, direct links to this avenue of knowledge is the label Joe Bussard is running out of his basement – selling excellent compilation CDs of his choice 78s for very reasonable prices.
 Of course, Bussard has been doing this kind of thing for years, but I'm a new convert. So I dipped my toe in and ordered a few CDs from him directly. A compilation titled "When Jazz Was Jazz 1920s" and another titled "Jubilo" which he also kindly autographed for me!

What a ball that music is! If I know what's good for me I will get my shit together and order all the other discs he's offering before it's too late. And I sure hate to talk like that, but we all know what this miserable year has been like. People, people, people of planet earth: DON'T SLEEP ON THIS OPPORTUNITY!! Get the goods from THE SOURCE while you still can! Go here, grasshoppers:

And that's my very best advice to you for now. Thanks again for stopping by my little island of near-sanity here. And I know I owe another King Crimson entry so expect that in the future. Other than that – keep those vibrations flowing, y'all! Bright Moments!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2015 / 2016 : Endings / Beginnings

As I sit in front of my computer screen working on the latest entry, I am confronted with yet another day of musician passings. Most recently we are bidding farewell to Dan Hicks. This spate of deaths in the music world lately has been such a massive series of losses – fairly traumatic stuff for fans to witness. Especially in the weeks that have followed the passing of Lemmy Kilmister, you'd think he was the Grim Reaper incarnate – taking a host of souls with him to the great beyond: Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glen Frey, Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson of the Jefferson Airplane (on the same day!), Maurice White and now Dan Hicks. And that's not counting lesser-known figures like Yardbirds manager Giorgio Gomelsky and giants of the classical world such as Pierre Boulez.

Most of our departed musical heroes managed to live long and productive lives before leaving us. I honestly find it a bit puzzling when I hear folks speak of those who pass on in their 70s as “so young”. I dunno – some can carry their age better than others, but making it to the 70s sounds pretty good to me. Things rarely remain smooth and groovy beyond that point so I think it's not a bad departure age, in general. Still, having so many pack up and split in such a short space is alarming stuff.
Doubly so for me, unfortunately. I lost my own father back at the top of September after a brief, yet intense hospital stay. Actually, the reasons for his death were exactly the same as those given for Paul Kantner – multiple organ failure. And, aside from a few lifestyle choices, my Pops was just as stubborn a German as Kantner was reported to have been. Uncompromising; went out doing his best to keep living how he wanted to live. There's an oddly romanticized celebration of such stubborn behavior that trickles into the public discourse – I suppose flowing from the maverick-minded, do-it-yourself, uniquely American attitude. Or what could be called a “rock and roll” attitude. Dad was certainly a true rock and roll fan – in the style of the 1950s. He was a motorcycle-riding greaser at heart to the end. Though that was only one aspect of his complex personality, as every human being contains a jumble of complexities, ultimately. Three-dimensional in a two-dimensional world. I suppose the biggest inconvenience to put on those close to us is to have the temerity to up and die – as if “what nerve”! However, I still maintain my final assessment on the topic after spending my father's last day on earth with him to the end - “Not recommended”. If only it were that simple. It's too early to calculate the loss for me. Modern adult life doesn't help much either. That's where music can intervene.
For years I've pondered the significance of the fact that my biggest musical heroes were the same age as my parents. Funny how, as young folks, we tend to dismiss the “wisdom” of our parents, yet we feel we're getting the “truth” from their peers in the music world. Of course, Brain Wilson, Paul McCartney and Lou Reed didn't have to raise me. Plus, their line of work was to challenge the status quo – my parents were too busy trying to navigate the status quo to keep adversity at bay and the wolf from the door. Hard to appreciate the sacrifices many of our parents make when we're young. Our loudmouthed uncles and aunts of rock and roll are much more exciting prophets, by far. Yet, as it was for me, my parents' rebellious peers did provide that alternate advice and perspective – illustrating the diverse possibilities of “how to live”. So as the inevitible continues to visit us in the coming years – the question remains, “What, if anything, of value is there to preserve? What do we cast to the wind?” Keep the good stuff, pitch the bad stuff. So here's some of the good stuff...............
Dad liked to listen to a cassette of The Eagles' Greatest Hits when riding his motorcycle. I'm pretty certain I bought this LP copy for him to play on the stereo at home. Plus, if his tape ever got ruined I could make him a new one from the record. Not sure I ever had to do that though – he really took care of his stuff. Glen Frey was, by far, my favorite vocalist in The Eagles, though I never really thought much about the different personalities in that band. At some point I also had a used LP copy of the Hotel California album. It's a telling thing for me if I say “I once had.......” when referring to old records – guess I decided all I needed was the Greatest Hits album. Good enough for me then and it still is!
Funny enough – as much as I appreciate Lemmy as a rock and roll original, I still don't have a single Motorhead album. Yet, I do have his work with Hawkwind. Perhaps the peak of which is the Space Ritual double album. 
 Since I've had a renewed interest in heavy metal over the last few years, I'm sure the Motorhead catalog will slowly filter onto the stacks in time. I reckon most folks who are familiar with Lemmy have the reverse problem. If you've been holding off on Hawkwind – take the plunge! Lemmy called his experiences with Hawkwind “like Star Trek on acid”! Having grown up watching reruns of the original Star Trek series with Dad, I would wager a bet the creators of that show WERE on acid! And speaking of acid..........
  How strange that Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson – two of the original members of Jefferson Airplane – pass away at the same age on the SAME DAY. If you haven't heard that first album – Jefferson Airplane Takes Off – check out the mono reissue from Sundazed. Signe Anderson was a singular talent and unique vocalist. I wish I had the chance to hear her sing live, though I am glad I got to hear Paul Kantner with the latter-era Jefferson Starship a few times. I sure will miss that ringing, chiming electric 12-string Rickenbacker of his – nothing sounded remotely like that thing cranked up loud in a concert environment. He was a true American original..........
Of course, the big shocker was David Bowie. I never got to see him live, though I missed a golden opportunity years ago when he gave a surprise concert / warmup gig at a local club (one I played several times before and since he did) back in 2002. At that point, Bowie had fallen off my radar since Tin Machine sputtered out. I never quite latched onto any of his 90s albums. And it wasn't until the release of his second-to-last LP “The Next Day” that I really picked up my interest again. 
Around the same time I heard a few tracks off the “Heathen” album which blew me away – I now have that album on regular CD, vinyl AND the long out of print (and now expensive) 5.1 Super-Audio CD edition. 
The strength of that record and “The Next Day” had me all ready to pounce on the new LP and I was ready to snag one of the limited edition clear vinyl copies on the way home from work Monday morning – that Monday.......when I got the news that morning he had died. Since there was no way I could leave work to hit up the shops I knew I was out of luck for the clear vinyl and just barely bagged a regular black vinyl copy from an online source before those too sold out. And after all that – know what? Still sitting sealed on the shelf. I'm just not ready. 
  So far a lot has been written about the new album “Black Star” being a carefully crafted farewell on Bowie's part to his fans. I get the impression Bowie decided to take the opportunity to use his art as a way to hold the mirror up on the death process for everyone to see - to turn his own passing into good, useful art. I imagine this music will have a particular resonance for me when I decide to listen. But, for now I just can't. Not ready. It always bugs me when great musical personalities leave us. Despite his many talents I will always think of him as a music figure. Here's a fun article / list he offered a music publication of some of his favorite records. It's a good read and shows just how much enthusiasm he had for the art. He definitely comes off as the kind of person ready, willing and able to shoot the breeze about music anytime with. See here:

In addition to Bowie's recommendations, I have a few of my own to pass along...................

Nils Frahm – Felt
I recently read about how this recording took shape – late at night at the composer's apartment with heavy sound dampening applied to his acoustic piano so as not to disturb his neighbors. Phrases are looped and maneurvered around the soundscape as modern music can be, but this technique is in the hands of a real composer here. The more I hear new cutting-edge music like this the less I feel compelled to keep looking for the next “band” to latch onto. I bought this LP based on the description of the music alone – yet it's become a recent favorite. This is not Frahm's most recent effort, but it may be his most popular. Now to seek out the rest of his stuff..........highly recommended!

Calexico – Edge of the Sun 
  I found myself really enjoying the previous LP “Algiers” often enough so I took the plunge with the most recent effort – on LP of course. Y'know, there is still something I really like about this band / artist / project / whatever the hell this is. Singer's got a good voice, solid songs, good production – a little extra sonic diversity in the mix this time (some guest vocalist peppered throughout the proceedings). Still, I can't quite figure this band out. It's kind of like really good film music for movies I've never seen – moody, film-noir type affairs with a little Tex-Mex flavanoid thrown into the mix. I don't really bother to pay attention to the lyrics (typical for me). Yet, I get the impression of sincereity in the music. Not that it matters if its true or not – it's just my reaction. These guys could be a bunch of Hollywood hucksters for all I know. Yet, there is a palpable absence of self-consciousness (sonic “selfie-taking”) that I hear in a fair amount of modern music otherwise. I know there are some earlier releases from this group and I am a bit intrigued to know what that material sounds like. I also wonder where this band is heading. It would be pretty easy to keep churning out similar sounding records or just pack it in. Where do they go from here? Does it matter? Does anyone care? Not sure if I want to take any bets on whether or not these guys have more records in them. If so, I'd probably sign up for another go-round before I'm ready to start making predictions for the future. I might even be compelled to see them live if that's an option. Nothing revolutionary, once again. Yet, ultimately musical.

Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom / Ruth is Stranger than Richard

A few months ago I saw a cheap download option for Rock Bottom and decided to see how I liked the music via that format. The download left me unmoved and unimpressed. Since I have been making an effort to check out more from the so-called “Canterbury” scene I didn't want to give up on Robert Wyatt just yet. He seems like such an interesting character! So when I won a viny copy off ebay recently I was hoping it would be a different (and better) experience. Thank goodness my hunch paid off. Hearing the music off the US vinyl LP was a whole new thing – the right way to hear it. There was depth, weirdness and aplomb aplenty. Still, I think Wyatt's voice is an aquired taste I'm still getting used to. The overall experience was much more involving and pleasant than the $3 download. I ended up with a UK pressing of the follow-up record to Rock Bottom, “Ruth is Stranger than Richard” in short order as well. 
Another brilliant slab o wax there too! Though I have to say, Rock Bottom has a slight edge in the department of “weirdness leading to further weirdness” courtesy of how Side Two winds up. Specifically with a highly bizarre incantation-piece from British eccentric Ivor Cutler, whom I'd only ever known to this point as Mr. Bloodvessel on The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film. Little did I know what else lurked behind that plain and pruney facade...........
Ivor Cutler
There are a number of records Ivor Cutler put out along the path of his long career from the late 50s to the early 2000s. Quite a few have been reissued on CD which is good news since the original LPs are now quite difficult to find. It is hard to pin a genre on Cutler – by his own admission he spoke of being a surrealist folk singer. That's not a bad description, though there is a fair amount of poetry and prose found on his albums too and not all of it humorous! As it happens, Cutler was no mere extra pulled onto the Magical Mystery Tour bus in random fashion. It seems that The Beatles had been aware of him via BBC television for quite some time. Some have even theorized that his influence on The Beatles went a bit further than his participation in that ill-fated movie. Cutler's main accompaniment device was the keyboard instrument known as the harmonium. Here is a what it looks like:

A few years before Magical Mystery Tour, the harmonium played a prominent role in the song “We Can Work It Out” - issued as a single in 1965. I'm sure just as many people were exposed to the sitar via The Beatles music, it is possible this song did the same for the harmonium. It provides a nice, unique effect which helps to give the song its distinctive flavor. I have no evidence of the influence, but I'd like to think McCartney's decision to include this instrument was a tribute of sorts to one of his favorite surrealist folk singers. 

  There is a nice compilation of Ivor Cutler's earliest records – made for Decca – on a very cheap CD. Great sound, full-on weirdness and what more could you ask. Get one here:
Also – from the “get it while it's hot” bag – watch the brilliant documentary on Ivor Cutler by following this link:
Cutler was in his 80s when the film was made and he has since passed on. Yet, he also lived a long and productive life leaving behind a full body of work to be explored and enjoyed by succeeding generations.

As time inevitably marches forward, I can't help but feel the tug of my own mortality here and there. Since time is a scarce resource with our collective visits on this planet being as brief as they are, it is of the utmost importance to sing that song, paint that painting, write that poem and yodel as loudly as you can now. There's no yodeling allowed in the great beyond, so I've been told. I'll leave the final word to Phil Ochs who did write a beautiful song about this very subject called “When I'm Gone”. This one goes out to all those we've lost and those we'll lose along the way – gone, perhaps, but never forgotten. Amen!


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Most Excellent Vibrations - Holiday Edition 2015

The past year has been a watershed one in a number of ways. It was finally the year I sought out and heard the most new music I'd heard since I was a teenager. And there are some great sounds to be had in a variety of formats now. Music lovers have never, ever had it so good. This year also finally saw the long-anticipated vinyl release of my own band's album which, in my opinion, has become the definitive expression of that work. So I am going to engage in some shameless self and non-self promotion for this entry. With a particular emphasis on NEW or new-ish music.

First off, I am very excited to announce the first release on my own record label NowPlaying On Vinyl: the self-titled debut from my surrealist rock band Afterconfusion Soupmobile. I may be biased, but I think it's a great album for fans of post-modern, heavy psychedelic rock music with a bizarre sense of humor.
 This is a vinyl-centric release though free digital copies do come with the analog rendering. I am looking to expand the horizons of the business down the line with releases from other bands – stay tuned for that in the future. In the meantime, if you want to sample the music on the Soupmobile album – all of the tracks (and more) are available on youtube here: 
  However, this music is meant to be heard and experienced primarily through the vinyl medium. The LP kicks butt – and the current limited edition release was pressed on random color vinyl. Whatever color you wind up with is known only when the seal is broken and each platter is essentially a result of a unique combination of colors. Plus – the pressing quality has been consistently excellent across the albums I have sampled randomly from the total run of 300. No off-center, cruddy pressings here folks! Buy with CONFIDENCE!
  With any luck, this will be the first in a series of fine alternative entertainment products from NowPlaying On Vinyl. The best place to access Afterconfusion Soupmobile is at the website Stop on by!
Now, what can you do if you don't have a turntable yet and you really want to be able to play that Afterconfusion Soupmobile album? Why not support American small business? Behold: the U-turn Orbit!
This small company out of Boston is giving consumers a lot of bang for their buck with new turntables aimed at listeners who want a more audiophile experience than what the other companies offer at the same price point. Plus, there are lots of upgrade options available. Now, to be honest I don't own one of these machines myself – not yet at least. However, the Orbit has generated quite a few positive reviews from reputable sources (such as Michael Fremer) that I feel comfortable recommending the product here. Plus – it's an American company! When was the last time you gave (or received) a gift that was made in the USA? Supporting doemestic small businesses can only be a good thing – one would hope! I wish I had a similar recommendation for an amplifier and speakers (though one can still find some decent used gear online or at thrift stores once in awhile). Visit the U-Turn website for details!

And, what's better – if you decide to give the gift of music this year, there are a number of great releases to keep toes tapping for months to come. Here are some favorite releases of recent vintage from artists old and new:

Special Mention: Topping the list of recommendations (aside from my own album) are two new releases that mean a great deal to me. If anyone reading this blog only picks up two of the following albums reviewed to give as gifts this holiday season – put these next two in “priority position”. Or just buy all of the following albums reviewed right down the list to be considered the coolest, hippest and grooviest by your loved ones this season! No, really!

It's My Life – The Roger Atkins Songbook 1963 - 1969
      I have to give mention to this fascinating release for several reasons. Not the least of which is the unique focus – songs written by Roger Atkins and his main collaborators of the era – the most notable being Neil Sedaka! You'll hear familiar recordings from The Animals, The Monkees, Gene Pitney and the Fifth Dimension right alongside relative unknowns in both demo and commercially available recordings. It is a treasure-trove of great 60s pop excellence. The extensive liner notes feature the inside stories behind each track from Roger Atkins himself. For instance, there is an incredible story about the song he wrote for The Animals which provided the title of the compilation – It's My Life. I won't repeat that story here, but I will say just that story alone is worth the price of admission.
      Oh, but add the other 30 (yes, THIRTY) great tracks on this disc – many of which had the ability to be hits right up there with The Animals and Monkees tracks. One of my favorites is “He Can't Hurt Me No More” by great singer Penny Carter. I'd never heard of Penny Carter before, but if she doesn't ring your bells and tug your heart-strings with her fantastic vocal delivery on this song you must not have a pulse, squire! Your life is just not complete until you've heard Penny Carter. For that alone, you need this disc.
     As if all that wasn't enough, I am pleased to relate that I helped contribute a track to the compilation via an acetate I found a few years ago at a thrift store! Compilation producer Kyler Schwartz spotted my post on a popular online music discussion forum seeking information about that demo acetate I found and one thing led to another! The acetate I found featured a song titled “If You Could Only Be Me” beautifully sung by legendary session vocalist Jean Thomas.
  I had never heard of her before and fell in love with both the song and her voice. So I was honored to provide a recording of that demo to be used for this CD release. And the studio magic used to clean up that demo makes the track sound the best it ever has. Thanks to Kyler for the opportunity to contribute to this great disc and the shout-out in the credits in the CD booklet too. This excellent compilation is tons of fun. If you think you've heard every great song and read every great story from that golden era of pop music – surprise! Order this CD right here.

Michael Chapman – Fish
Michael Chapman is one of the great, lesser-known acoustic guitar giants of the last 50 or so years. His late-60s, early 70s records were produced by Gus Dudgeon for Harvest Records and have been reissued in recent years to new acclaim. I had the pleasure of seeing Chapman in a small club setting in Albany, NY this past fall and I can tell you he still has the fastball in him. I was enthralled by his performance. Almost as thrilling was being able to purchase from him his latest album – Fish. Better yet – this has become my favorite release of 2015 hands-down. I love this album. I bought the CD from Mr. Chapman and later bought the LP version. My advice to you, dear reader, is to just get the CD. The label – Tompkins Square – is well-meaning, but the vinyl copy I ended up with was fairly off-center which is bad news for this music – lots of long-held chords and the like. The CD is the way to go with this material. And the material is the main event here. Introspective, meditative and ultimately beautiful instrumental guitar music – with some cello and other instruments peppered throughout the album. I have played this many times since I saw that show. I hope Chapman sticks around at least another few years for me to see him again – with any luck I can tell him how much I enjoyed the heck out of his most recent album. How many artists – old or new – could we say the same thing about these days? The show I saw paired Chapman with Ryley Walker – a great show overall , but I would love to see Michael Chapman paired up with Leo Kottke (whom I also saw back last winter). They could tell weird stories and jokes to each other between mindblowing tunes! The bottom line: see and support these geniuses while they are still with us. Fish gets 10 stars out of 5. Get it here.

Downloads of Distinction: Though my heart belongs to vinyl, I have to admit to having enjoyed some downloaded albums this past year. Sometimes the price point makes taking the risk a little easier, especially if I've never heard the artist before. I only hope the artists benefit from the sale somehow. I think artists should be compensated for their work though I wonder how much money they might earn from downloads offered at bargain prices. I don't think I paid more than $4 for any of the following albums. For the most part I was pleasantly surprised by the sound quality, though I'm sure CD or vinyl would have been an improvement.

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
 I actually considered the vinyl option here and I may eventually upgrade since I enjoyed the music more than I'd expected. Barnett is quite a talented guitar slinger, vocalist and songwriter. There's a welcome quirkiness to the proceedings here. Though I have to admit I like the slow, heavy and grinding numbers the best. I'd sure love to catch her live – I'd bet she puts on a great show!

Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
 Lucinda Williams is already working on a new album or is about to release a new one so I don't want this to slip by before I can say “most recent release”. I'm actually a new convert to Lucinda Williams and only have a smattering of her output at present. I was drawn to this latest work via a great poem written by her father (from which the title of the album is derived). I think it was posted from her facebook feed – something like that. This is really a double album and I've returned quite often for repeated listens over the past year. The music gets better every time. Lucinda Williams has all the ingredients for mass appeal – especially with her accessible blend of country/ folk / rootsy Americana alt-rock. Yet, her songs are like literary zen koans – clear swatches of white-lightning thought-awareness and emotional connection. Way above the typical fodder even from her biggest challengers. Her art is the needed mirror our troubled world needs to look into. Seems every song carries the sub-tag “We have met the enemy – and it is us!” I could be full of shit though. Maybe she's having a good go at our expense. I sincerely hope she laughs her way to the bank – she certainly works hard enough. She's one of the few true genius songwriters of our times. Buy her album and tell me I'm wrong.

Sloan – Commonwealth
 Although I'd heard of Sloan for a number of years (they've had a long career) I was intrigued by reactions to their last studio album which tended to be glowing. Attempts to bag a vinyl copy last year proved difficult so I decided to go the download route, though the results were mixed. The sound quality was on par with other MP3 downloads, however the crossfades between songs were compromised resulting in awkward pauses / edits when tracks advanced. Little things like this matter to music lovers. So in this case I wish I'd held out for the LP or CD. Especially since the music is so good! Although the music has no ambitions to push the boundaries we all expect from modern rock, I'd be hard pressed to think of a group working within the genre who is “doing it” better than these guys. Well worth the effort to catch a listen if you've never heard of Sloan before. I'd love to see this group live as well!

Elpees of Esteem: It is heartwarming to see how many new releases are available on vinyl records these days. My heart would be a lot warmer if the quality of these records was consistently good – as good as they used to be years ago. While there is always the potential for sub-par product to roll off the presses, it seems like many new vinyl releases are plagued by issues like off-center pressings, non-fill and other defects. In the past it was easy to return defective records to a shop where you'd get a refund or a credit for something else. These days that process is more time consuming and problematic. Still, I'd rather have the platters out there than not. Besides, most LPs come with download codes or free CDs inside for a digital-option if you can't be bothered with the return processs. Read on, folks..............

David Crosby – Croz
 This excellent offering from legend David Crosby came out in 2014 and clearly shows him hitting a new stride. Crosby is among the most talented individuals of his peer group – right up there with Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell. Though he has had his share of ups and downs, his consummate artistry is in full force on this fantastic new record. Don't pause to wonder – just dive in here and don't look back.

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
 I don't know what posessed me to buy this album. Um....oh yeah – label Sub Pop put it up on youtube to sample for free. I listened and was semi-fascinated. I heard a very well-recorded, catchy and generally enjoyable exposition of post-alternative-pop weirdo rock. I guess this Father John Misty personage is well-known to hip folks. To be fair – I really should hate this album. But something about the musical nature of the material keeps me from hating it and actually enjoying it, despite the hipster-trapping aesthetic permeating like postmodern patchouli. Father John Misty strikes me as the kind of guy who might be wearing a shaggy beard, but – realizing shaggy beards are overbearingly hipster-oriented at this point – makes the ULTIMATE HIPSTER IMAGE STATEMENT by..........shaaaaving. Holy shit that's so fucking avant-garde man! Yeah.......(I felt compelled to include the f-bomb in my review since FJM likes to pepper his lyrics with it – maybe my review will earn the same street-cred too?). Okay, okay...enough with my uber-snarkiness. This record is pretty musical at the end of the day, but the LP pressing was by far the worst I've experienced all year. Which is really part of the existential hipster cosmic jokiness of the whole proceedings since the record came as a double LP cut at 45 rpm for MAXIMUM AUDIOPHILE pleasure. Pity those extra rotations per minute are totally wasted on a warped, off-center couple of platters. In this case – buy the CD. Sorry – for the vinyl option,  SUB-POP = SUBSTANDARD.

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
 This record is a good example of atmospheric modern alt-rock at its finest. There are echoes of earlier decades of music found here – some re-evaluating of 80s keyboard textures and production values. Somehow distilling the essence of those echoes down to the most useful vibrations for the future. Aw, shoot – it's just a good record. Nothing earth-shattering or confrontational about it. Yet, it doesn't pander to any lower intelligence quotient the marketplace might demand. I have a reason to believe this is honest art here. Isn't that all we can ask for? Good pressing too. I wonder - did the name of the band repel anyone early on? I can only imagine what people might think reading that name on posters and flyers promoting live appearances. Yet, I think these guys are bigger than I realize as it happens. This was a blind purchase and I enjoyed the heck out of it. 'Nuff said.

Moon Duo – Shadow of the Sun
 This record was another blind purchase – mostly because I really liked the cover art and the music promised some connection to “psychedelic” somethingoranother. Well, I think the “Duo” part of this act is an accurate description of the “band makeup” since I'm hearing lots of keyboard and programmed drum tracks here. Yet, I still like this music. There is room for these kinds of sounds and I like the independent nature of the release. Perhaps not something I might spin in heavy rotation, but something I can play for a change of pace and I don't recoil from the end result. Whatever might be lacking in daring is made up for with a desire for consistent sonic vibe-focus. Is this SHOEGAZE? I have no idea. This LP came with an extra 7” single – which ended up being my two favorite tracks as it happens. Glad the band insisted on including them in the package. That in itself is pretty damn cool.

CeeDees of Consideration: All of the following compat discs were purchased at live shows from the artists who recorded them. This is the whole purpose of putting one's new album on CD these days. They make for good merch-table fodder. The main marketplace has unfairly given compact discs the slip – downloads have taken their place. Yet, nothing quite replaces the experience of hearing a great live show, purchasing a CD at said show and listening to the disc on the ride home in the car after the show. So if you see a great live band – go to that merch table and throw down the hard-earned for the CD. You'll be glad you did and so will your living artist you are supporting. It's a LOVE thing, people.

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown – Wild Child
 I saw this talented young lad opening up for Jeff Beck last year. For a one-man show he knew just how to work a crowd which is no small feat. He worked his butt off and had the talent to draw on to put his music over to the audience. I sincerely believe he will have a long and prosperous career as a performer – there is no question he is talented, motivated and in possession of the right attitude to advance himself. The CD he was selling at the show was a band-oriented project and to what degree The Shakedown is an ongoing concern I can only guess. The music and production is top-notch, yet.....yet.....(there's a “yet” bubbling under)...there's a tangible “safety zone” at work here. Having experienced Tyler Bryant's talent as a singer, guitarist and songwriter unfiltered in a live performance – hearing him in a more structured framework is a bit of a letdown. Yet, (yet!) I feel like such a curmudgeon for even writing such a thing. Especially since I know he's capable of something more challenging. I think that's it. So, I'd say keep your eye on this young lad – wish him the best and pray he lets his muse carry him to unknown regions like Marc Bolan once did.

The Spampinato Brothers – Pie in the Sky
 This is the most recent offering from the great Spampinato Brothers. Johnny and Joey are still delivering the best rock and roll vibrations anywhere around with the songwriting chops still firing on all cylinders. This music stands proudly alongside their best work of the last 40-some years and as a live act, they are not to be missed. Brother Joey is currently taking a break from performing to kick the shit out of the cancer that was discovered in him recently (early detection thank goodness). In the meantime – here is a link to help send a little sunshine his way: Give Joey Spampinato some sunshine!
And if you haven't yet picked up Pie In the Sky – do it soon so you are ready when The Spampinato Brothers are back and rockin in your town. All the best and brightest moments to Joey and his family and friends. Positive vibrations to them all!

Echotest – Le Fil Rouge
 Perhaps the most obscure of all the reviewed albums here, yet I have to give this release a thumbs up for being adventurous and accessible in its own way. Echotest is a side-project of fabulous bassist Julie Slick. Julie has performed with Adrian Belew and the “Three of a Perfect Pair” King Crimson alumni ensemble among other notable projects. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform with this ensemble for the past two summers up at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, NY. Last summer I decided to take one of her CDs home with me and this was the one. First of all – the “bag” this music gets placed in might be called “prog” yet there is a neat variety of material including a couple of great vocal-based songs that could be on the radio if radio these days was more adventurous. Which really got me thinking – why does any of this music have to be nailed to a genre? It's silly to put it in a box like that because of all the trappings – mostly mental – that might keep people from checking it out. Quite simply, this is great modern music from consummate musicians. This is the kind of modern instrumental music that I'd like to hear more often. Engaging, fun, creative and still entertaining. I can put this disc on anytime and not feel the need to pull it out of the player before it completes its cycle. I like Echotest and I hope Julie Slick keeps it going. Best of all – go see her play live. You won't regret a second of that decision – I promise!

Murali Coryell – Restless Mind
 Once again I might be biased here, since Murali Coryell is an old bandmate of mine from college days. Yet, I always knew he was crazy-talented though I have to admit hearing his newest release I must say he is at the top of his game! One thing that characterizes Murali's new album is the passion and devotion to his art – Murali sings and plays from the heart and soul. That is the way its always been with him and, if anything, he has increased his ability to tap into that energy and belt it out in such a way to convert any unbelievers within earshot. When Murali Coryell sings he is NOT KIDDING. He is not trying to hustle you into thinking he kind of feels a certain way – he is communicating his inner reality to you right in that moment! No matter whether he is singing or playing guitar it's all the same – full on commitment to communicating with his audience. The songs on his new album are a continual affirmation of this demanding aesthetic. It grooves, it rocks and it cannot be denied. Having known Murali for many years I can attest that his passion for music has not abated one iota - he is all about the music all the time. Restless Mind is a fantastic release – the best of his recorded work so far. Don't delay to check him out live and when you do – grab this new release. The time is right – the time is now. Get on the good foot – the right foot – the funky foot and groove, people!

Once again – thanks to everyone who has ever stopped by this little place to read my ramblings. I hope you all have found some new and rewarding vibrations to carry you along the path of life. Cheers and Bright Moments to all! Keep listening and seeking!