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'........is 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: http://www.joesvintage78.com/

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!