Saturday, July 14, 2018

Exploring the Vinyl Omniverse: Part One

Welcome back dear readers / listeners. Before I proceed further, allow me to qualify – the records I am using for this segment (and its eventual sequel) were cobbled together over a period of several years. I am a busy human. I have a day job, family and all the pressures of modern life bearing down unrelentingly. The vinyl and writing thing are part of my entertainment. I don't watch TV and I haven't been to the movies in a whole lot of years! THIS IS MY DOWN TIME ACTIVITY. There are also a few months out of the year I have slightly more time to devote to my hobbies so what follows is a product of several years of research and reflection.........

Like a lot of folks, I like music. Certainly what appeals to me mainly is stuff of bygone days, but I've been checking out some new music the last bunch of years and I can dig some modern stuff too. I've even been to see some new artists in concert lately – I got to see White Denim, for instance. Great show! I will report more on that another time. Especially since the opening act was fantastic! That band was called UNI - from New York City. I enjoyed them so much I bought the three 7” discs they were selling at the show (unsure if they have other releases). Check them out!

My tastes in music really do run the gamut so I figured borrowing a term from Sun Ra might help illustrate what could be called THE OMNIVERSE of interests. Some of this is motivated just from fascination with records themselves. Albums that look offbeat, fringe and truly bizarre always catch my eye even if I've never heard the music before. I'm always on the lookout for cheap thrills especially – stuff that looks interesting that is cheap enough to take a chance on. I've had some real good luck at thrift stores and also in the dollar and five dollar bins at local used record shops. It dawned on me that I haven't really passed along some home runs and whiffs from this category I've managed to experience over the years. Keep in mind I have some very varied tastes – I can find enjoyment in nearly any genre – especially in those gray zones: groups or singers trying to cross over into some uncharted territory or maybe into a style they don't quite have a knack for. Good and bad can be very relative terms when it comes to music. Sometimes I'll take a chance and get burned. There are plenty of turkeys, but the golden nuggets are out there too. All set then?

Lets start with central Europe. A few years ago I stumbled upon a clutch of import LPs in a thrift store that looked kinda prog-esque to me. It also seemed like there was a larger collection they came from which must have been plundered by luckier folks than me. Still, I found this:
 Novalis – Visionen:
 This record is all-instrumental and was released in the early 80s, by which time Novalis had moved on from the label they called home in the 70s – BRAIN. I reckon most German rock band historians would agree that Novalis were past their heyday when VISIONEN came out, but I love this record!! It's become one of my most-played dollar-acquired LPs ever. I've managed to score a few earlier Novalis records on the BRAIN label, but VISIONEN is still my favorite. Not that I'm put off by German language's another dollar record I really like from Germany in the early 80s....
Bap - Fur Usszeschnigge! 
  Bap is a great band name, first of all. The album has fantastic sound quality and reflects good pop/rock songwriting standards of the era. I don't know what the songs are about, but I like the music for sure. With so many overplayed 80s hits – the sound of quality early 80s rock that I don't know by heart is a breath of fresh air. It helps that I don't get hung up on having to understand lyrics. At the end of the day, it's the composition / performance / production that gets my attention. I have no idea how big of an act BAP was, but I'd have gone to see them back in the day!

Moving a bit further East.......the band OMEGA from Hungary
  The sleeve credits mention the album being recorded in West Germany in 1974. It was released on Passport Records in the USA in 1975 and mastered by the great Bob Ludwig! It is an excellent hard rock / prog type album with all the great production values of the mid-70s. Wonderful sound quality and plenty of mellotron included! What's more – the vocalists sang in English! Very enjoyable – though I didn't pay $1 yet still a “blind” purchase for me. Highly recommended.

Yet, even rock music from other countries is still rock music. I do like other vibrations – perhaps more conventional to the times in which the records were released, yet rarely heard these days. Let's move across the English Channel............

First up – the great Vera Lynn! Who could resist a pristine copy of Hits of the Blitz for $1? Not me!
Like most people I only knew Vera Lynn for her evergreen WWII hit “We'll Meet Again” - yet she is a wonderful singer and her talent is abundantly evident on this excellent LP. This LP really is a wonder to hear these days – and just think Vera Lynn is still alive in England to this very day. Think of that – she outlived Bowie!

Perhaps history will remember Val Doonican as a popular Irish singer (he certainly was Irish), yet he had a long-running TV show on BBC. And, of course, he was immortalized by the Bonzo Dog Band in their classic “Intro and the Outtro” - where I first heard the name.....and Val Doonican as himself! Hello there!!

So what was I going to do when I saw The Many Shades of Val Doonican for $1? 
 This is very middle of the road folksie pop music yet it is refreshing today to hear such simple heartfelt music. And this LP includes Val's version of “Elusive Butterfly” which reminds me – I sent Bob Lind a facebook friend request that he has yet to respond to – the wonk! As if he has better things to do! Harrumph. At any rate, I'm likely to keep the Val Doonican record since hearing his brogue reminds me of the many happy times I spent at the Keegans' house down the street from where I lived in Queens – where Suzy was my earliest friend. Her parents sported thick accents that were quite musical to hear – wonderful people to me as a young lad growing up in New York City. Managed to re-connect with Sue before she married in the fateful year of 2001. Where's she gone now? Lost track. Ah, well.......

Speaking of the Bonzo Dog Band.........I was lucky to score a vinyl copy of their reunion LP from 2007 Pour l'Amour Des Chiens
I remember well the excitement of reading how the Bonzos were reuniting for some shows in England during that time. I so wanted to hop a plane and score a ticket to witness firsthand, yet it was not to be. I got the DVD and LP instead. I wish I'd have ordered the Pink Half of the Drainpipe T-shirt being offered on the website..........blast! Ah, with my luck I'd have worn it to a bare thread by now anyway. Why don't I see these being sold on ebay? Please don't tell me the unsold stock was destroyed. Oh, the horror! Anyway, some folks didn't like the new album. Tough noogies – I did. So there you go.

Other notable British bands I've checked out without hearing the music first have been:

DRUID (I like this better than YES “Relayer”)

FAMILY – Bandstand (really knocked me out) 

GREENSLADE (gets better with each spin) 
 In each case I saw the LP in the bins and just bought it without sampling on youtube first. I know this seems like reckless behavior or just plain stupid. However, there is a certain thrill of being confronted with a record or group you've not heard before and exploring right from the vinyl get-go. Literally, some classic albums do not translate onto digital well AT ALL. And I'm not one of those holier-than-thou, analog-only types. I love my CDs and I do like hearing things on youtube if I haven't seen the records before. But at least two albums did not really spark with me until I broke down and ordered original LP copies: Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom and Judy Henske & Jerry Yester's Farewell Aldebaran both puzzled me until I heard the vinyl records. Maybe I just heard bad digital copies – who knows? So I like to at least give music a first chance on vinyl if I can.

But it isn't just about rock music. Speaking of Judy Henske – she's one of my favorite folkie / rocker border creature singers. While she would ultimately define her own style based on her own unique personality, she began in the folk idiom in the early 60s. One of her first appearances on vinyl was as a member of the Whiskeyhill Singers. There was only one LP on Capitol and I have both mono and stereo copies (stereo platters were much less common in those days – surprised I scored one in nice condition):
 The record sticks quite close to the typical cheerful folk group formula all the rage in the early 60s. Though not as cloying as this record I pulled out of the dollar bin for laughs –  
The Serendipity Singers were not too many paces removed from Up With People! Oh well......nice early stereo sound on this record though, if that's your bag........... 
 My bag for folk is more likely to include Judy Henske and Fred Neil than The Cheerful Chirpees that's for sure. I know I've written about my fascination with the “folk” category before. It seems to me that the “folk” tag means you can start out with an acoustic guitar and eventually wind up doing all manner of crazy stuff. In some ways, Townes Van Zandt was folk. Marc Bolan was folk. Donovan was folk. And they all surely got up to pretty strange stuff along the pathways of their varied careers. Certainly by the late 60s and early 70s, the notion of the folksinger would give way to the singer-songwriter. The influence of Dylan and the Beatles would be evident since the singer-songwriters would mostly perform original material instead of public domain material or evergreen folkie chestnuts. In some ways, the folk boom of the early 60s was a way for white singers to remind white audiences that there were songs from varied cultures they might enjoy. Yet, the versions the white audiences heard were the white singer interpretations mainly. By the late 60s, many listeners were able to experience the original music from the original artists – no matter the ethnic origins. So the shift could then move to – the interior of the heart and mind of each songwriter instead of a musical geography lesson. Exploration of inner space instead of outward space (as opposed to outer space – something very different). Here's an example of a record that sits uncomfortably around several possible genres which makes it fascinating for weirdos like me. And I bought it because the album cover tipped me off that this could be interesting. Certainly is!!

Andy Zwerling – Spiders in the Night
 These days I imagine the music might be described as psych-folk. Not a bad description, yet I reckon at the time of release (1971) Zwerling was considered just another singer-songwriter. The instrumentation is sparse and focused on acoustic guitar / electric bass instrumentation. Really - not far off the folk path. Yet, the music has something in common with the third, self-titled Velvet Underground album stylistically speaking. Zwerling's album was produced and birthed by two folks who would later contribute to the punk music movement within a few short years: Richard Robinson and Lenny Kaye. Zwerling is not exactly punk though the lyrics can be unsettling – more in the Velvets style than the Ramones, certainly (though Zwerling does have a bit of a Joey Ramone vibe going visually). It is a fascinating record and well worth checking out if you've been feeling far too secure and comfortable and social. It will cure you fairly quickly of all that stuff! Ha!

Now, not all folk music involves acoustic guitars. Some is made entirely with shakers, oil can drums and the human voice. Behold – George Coleman “Bongo Joe” 
 This has to be heard to be believed, hence the clip here:
 Yes, the whole record sounds like this. Frig it – I call it “folk music”. You can call it blues. I don't care. George Coleman was pure, undiluted, straight-up - I mean we're talkin' FOLKS here! I searched for a long time for this album. It was more a matter of figuring out where it came from! Since there aren't many oil can bangers out there it was only a matter of time – courtesy of internet searching. Thanks to my good friend Pete who tortured my mind for a few decades by including a snippet of this on a tape he made for me a long time ago. It was nearly as bad a mystery as the Inez Andrews mystery I had to solve, but that story will wait for another time..............

When I spotted this next LP in a $1 bin I was aware of Jim Glover's long association with Phil Ochs. It could be argued that had there been no Jim Glover, the Phil Ochs that we all know may not have emerged as he did. Jim Glover was a friend from early times and reportedly showed Ochs how to play guitar and introduced him to left-wing politics. Jim would record several LPs in the 1960s with his wife as a folk duo – Jim and Jean. There were a few albums released on Vanguard Records that I haven't bumped into yet. Jim's solo album  No Need To Explain looks to be a private pressing, yet his professional chops are intact. 
 The songs are uncompromising in their allegiance to 60s-era values and perhaps not suited to either the radio or the ethos of the times. Glover is his own man here. If the popularity of his outlook was on the wane when this record came out, his true believer status would surely lead him to the right people to support him. While never reaching stardom, his artistry is worth checking out. At the end of the day I really like Glover's voice, his songs and his guitar playing. What else can we ask for? This record is kind of like the extra album everyone hoped Fred Neil would put out, but never did. Jim Glover kept it going and that's appreciated – even if it is a long time away from when this record was released to now.

Glover's influence on Phil Ochs' political interests are echoed in the next record I pulled out of a $1 bin. Little did I know that Violetta Parra was a respected folksinger from Chile in the early part of the 20th century when I rescued her album. 
 She was also a major influence on the Chilean folksinger Victor Jara who was brutally murdered in 1973 as a result of the Pinochet overthrow of the Allende government. Victor Jara was a friend of Ochs and later in the 1980s, Paul Kantner immortalized Jara on the first track from the KBC Band album. It is interesting to note that Jara's murderers have finally been brought to justice THIS VERY MONTH!! About friggin time. See here:

At any rate, Jara's mentor in folk music is a fascinating character in her own right, though she led a troubled life and had a similar end to Ochs, alas. I have to say as I listened to her record I didn't quite understand the lyrics, but the urgency and artistry of her music came across loud and clear – I need to track down some English translations of her lyrics. Violetta Parra is a seminal figure in the folk music of Chile and, indeed, world music. Her contributions to music continue to reverberate. Check her out!

Now, here are two examples of feminist-inspired creativity, but in my view one done RIGHT and one done, well, let's say “I don't think so”. Let's start with the good news..........
 Mountain Moving Day is a split-artist record. Side One features The New Haven Women's Liberation Band and Side Two features The Chicago Women's Liberation Band. This is a fairly early release from Rounder Records in 1972. Rounder would issue many quality titles from a wide variety of premier artists and continues to do so – NRBQ, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Lowell Fulson – and many more. Rounder continues to be one of the longest-surviving independent music labels around. This early women-centric release may appear to be too topical to take seriously, however there is a LOT of great creativity happening in the playing. Both groups contribute extended song forms with direct and forthright lyrics, yet the music itself has a fantastic looseness and freedom to it – though not in the free-jazz sense. It is especially noticeable in how the ensemble performances unfold. I'll bet both groups were awesome to hear live. This is a record which takes the Women's Movement seriously and elevates the cause. Released at a time when male groups dominated the charts and the industry, these brave musicians would lead the charge that has resulted in more involvement of women at all levels of the music industry today. Bold creative music is always great to hear.

On the other hand, the women's liberation movement must have seemed like a new trend to play up to – maybe not unlike the folk music boom of the early 60s. Musical trends can be fleeting things – why not try to attach oneself to a current wave of interest? This notion wasn't lost on Charles Mingus. He once purposely identified his music as “folk” in the early 60s. If it sells the product – who cares what you call it? In Mingus's case he already knew the value of his art. The marketplace is fickle, the longer trajectory of music history is time-tested. When music becomes too attached to a movement or a trend there is the very real possibility it can lose its impact years later. Such, I think, is the case with The Deadly Nightshade
Clearly this women-oriented trio had talent and the passion to bring their music before the public. And it must have been enough of a priority for Felix Cavaliere to put his energy into the record as the producer to pull on board a host of top notch musicians of the mid-70s and rock and roll legends to help in the proceedings. Steve Gadd, the Brecker Brothers and even Leslie West all play on this album. The credits read like a who's who of mid-70s modern music. As I'm starting to find out with projects like this – that should have been a red flag. As the songs roll by, I'm having a tough time trying to figure out who the intended audience was. There are so many cliches of the women's movement packed into each song lyric – yet the delivery is so jokey and lighthearted it makes me wonder who the joke is really on. Not that there is anything wrong with humor, it just sounds so misplaced here I am almost to the point of wondering “Are these women making fun of the women's movement itself?” Maybe I'm wrong, but despite all the effort by all the famous names involved the end product just sounds too silly to take seriously. What's even more concerning is the name / image used for the record label. I will resist the urge to include a photo (since I don't want people to draw the wrong conclusion about ME) – but why on earth would a major parent label (RCA in this case) sign off on a subsidiary label with an image of a white hooded figure with two holes cut out for eyes as a RECORD LABEL LOGO in the 1970s fer crissakes?? And for a supposed women's liberation record to boot? Sorry, but if I was a woman in this band and I was told the label my music was coming out on had that kind of image on the record I'd be insulted to say the least. Now I'm not suggesting there actually was a connection between this group and a violent hate group, but wow. Bad luck, maybe? I don't know anything more about the band, the musicians involved, where they wound up later on......yet the album raises more questions for's a puzzle for sure!
(Alright – I couldn't stand it anymore – I went poking around and sure enough Robert Christgau pretty much cut to the chase in a few sentences with his curt review: ). Wow. I was going to write something along the lines of The Deadly Nightshade makes Helen Reddy sound like Lou Reed, but hey I think Christgau threw the gauntlet down there didn't he? Oh well.........

As for thrift store $1 finds in the 70s female folksinger category I'd have to give a nod to 
The Magic Garden duo Paula and Carole  
for not only entertaining me as a wee lad, but also for having great voices and, rightfully, cheerful personalities. I think I liked this record more than my grandson did. Your mileage may vary.............
 Now I wish I found this Colonel Sanders record in a thrift store! I think this is one of the more well-known record covers made famous by the internet, so I was persuaded to grab this even though I had no idea what the music was on it. Not to worry! The music is actually very faithful to the original recordings of Herb Alpert hits by some other group. Actually it makes me wonder how Colonel Sanders got away with it. The tracks here sound VERY close in style and execution to the Herb Alpert versions. Well, I know which record cover I'd rather be looking at if I'm listening to this kind of music. No contest! 
 Actually, Herb Alpert had a much better sound – especially with guys like Hal Blaine on drums and all the other Wrecking Crew characters too. I really love the Herb Alpert records – and not just for the covers. I have to say – the Whipped Cream cover really is an iconic album cover. Anyone who doesn't have this in their collection – I can't fathom why not. There are still absurd amounts of these things sitting in thrift shops. And the music really is great – as far as easy listening goes. Highly recommended. Now if you're a record cover fanatic, you're likely to snag one of these too. 
Unfortunately, Pat Cooper's brand of comedy hasn't aged well. It's really saying something when I have to admit I enjoyed the side of the record with the goofy songs on it more than the comedy routine side. Actually, the first song on side two is called Pepperoni Kid and has an unusually similar storyline in the lyrics to Jim Croce's “Bad Leroy Brown”. Was Croce influenced by Pat Cooper? I'll leave that to you. At the end of the day, the album cover is still the best thing about the whole deal and that isn't saying much either.......oh well!! 
 Almost as thrilling as the Pat Cooper record is Grandpa Jones Yodeling Hits. Now I don't mind some good old fashioned down home yodeling every so often, but I can't decide if this record promised too much or too little. Everybody who watched TV in the 70s knew him from the Hee Haw show (though I imagine he was on the lower end of the reasons why folks tuned into that program!). I reckon his stature in the country music world was more respected than what was seen on 70s variety shows, but this record didn't do much to convince me he had more to offer than a pedestrian voice with the polite yodel thrown in – probably far too often for repeated listening. If anything, this album sounded a lot like a 60s Roger Miller album recorded on a day when Roger just wasn't feeling very funny, witty or inspired. Is there some unknown maverick side of Grandpa Jones' career that I'm not aware of? I wouldn't be sad to find out, but it sure isn't on this platter..........too bad!

Now, I'm not pulling the cynics card on the next two records since I happen to like a lot of faith-based music. Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Inez Andrews and the Staple Singers are just essential listening in my book. Even Elvis's gospel records are awesome. Love it. When I was in junior high school, I was exposed to a genre I never knew existed – modern Christian rock music. Sure, I'd heard songs like Spirit In The Sky on the radio. And Jesus is Just Alright. Good tunes. But I never knew there was a whole circuit of professional Christian rock musicians. At one point I was invited to see the group Petra up in Albany. They put on a great show, even if the music wasn't terribly memorable. What I liked less was the roundup at the end of the show where they – who were “they”? - pulled the “unsaved” people to designated areas so they could be “saved”. I was a person of faith at that time and I took offense to be identified as someone who wasn't and said as much. There's nothing quite like being herded up by a bunch of people who have decided you are not enough like them in some bizarre ritual to magically MAKE you like them (to satisfy some unseen fetish you can only guess at). Well, I suppose there certainly is WORSE than that, but it sure taught me something about people in general and those folks in particular. I'd sooner take the Groucho Pledge – not sure I want to be in a club that would extend membership to a fool like ME (that kind of thing). 
 All of that aside, I was astounded to see an entire industry designed to offer safe alternative sonic options – supposedly in a style of music normally associated with concepts like rebellion and freedom and just being crazy in general?? I'm still confused and fascinated by the whole thing, so when I spotted a couple of early 80s Christian Rock albums in the $1 bins – had to investigate. Amazingly, the Rick Cua album was a totally rockin', professional sounding and catchy-as-hell (oh God, sorry!). I really liked the song about the Holy Spirit and the song Crossfire too. On some tracks the drummer listed was Joe English – hey! He was in Wings for Paul McCartney's return to the concert stage in America in 1976 (good concert film – catch it if you can). I'd heard Joe English found religion a long time ago. He certainly was a talented drummer. This record was super enjoyable from a musical standpoint. Like I mentioned – anything well recorded and performed from earlier decades of music can be interesting regardless of the popularity, etc.... So this is a fascinating artifact. If the record really sucked I would have pulled it off the turntable. But I kept it on. Alright! 
 Now, much to my own surprise I had the same reaction to the Pat Terry record. The cover and the title really made me chuckle. Gangster? Terry was looking pretty mild and safe on that cover. I was ready to make fun of this record, but once again I was won over by the overall musical quality of what was on those grooves I just kept the platter spinning. If anything, Pat Terry's songs were just as faith-oriented yet his delivery was a lot less preachy than Rick Cua. Despite this – both records reflected more commercial talent than The Deadly Nightshade album! These two guys sure could construct excellent modern music – stuff that was radio-ready in those times. Yet, the only radio that might play them would be the faith-based radio. It's a whole industry and circuit unto itself.

Annnnndd.....for the thrilling conclusion of this overly-long entry is the POLAR OPPOSITE of the above two albums. I discovered a whole pile of the following record at a thrift store many years ago and was saving it for just the right moment. I only bought two – one for myself and another for a good friend of mine who I had a feeling might get a kick out of it. Yet – I'd never heard it before because it has to be one of the most DIY things I've ever seen in my life.......
 John Konopa - Praise the Lard!
 The record itself was professionally pressed – that is obvious. However, the cover....oh wow. This was an obvious labor of love and lack of funds. Plain white sleeve with cutout hole to reveal song titles – alright, fine. The other lettering.....hang on. These things were printed on an old DOT MATRIX printer. Okay, well the copyright date states 1987. Yep, that's about right. My family had a pretty kickin' dot matrix printer. Used to do all sorts of fancy banners and stuff. Yeah – different fonts just like this. Wow. What is really impressive is the BACKWARDS printed section - “X-rated” backwards?? That's pretty sophisticated in a low-budget kind of way. I really should have bought all of the records that were dumped there. Dangit! I had a hunch this was going to be good. And sure enough - John Konopa delivered in the songwriting department. The music itself sounds like early karaoke / Computer music in the 1987 style. But its those lyrics. Konopa was a very harsh critic of religious belief. Hilariously so! He also has a Holy Spirit song (like Rick Cua above), but Konopa uses fun analogies like “Sacred Sparkler” - I'm DYING!!! There are a lot of unexpected lyrical twists throughout the album. In a way he was a like a one-man irreverent They Might Be Giants. Heavy on the irreverent!

But the religious side of the record is nothing compared to the, um....other side. I really don't want to post the titles because I'm still trying to keep this blog as family-friendly as I can. Suffice to say, if the material on the second side has any grounding in autobiography I learned way more about Konopa than I ever needed to know. Unfortunately I also found an obituary for John online. He left the planet in 2010 and there were some very pleasant reminisces from his neighbors posted on the obit page. There was reference to his being an accordion player and composing music on synthesizers – though no mention was made of the record above. Should I be surprised? Honestly – as unsavory as the material is John certainly had a sense of humor, didn't give a hoot about speaking honestly of his criticisms of religion and didn't mind making himself the subject of his own jokes. I can't say his music was for everyone, but this is the kind of stuff that keeps me digging in those unusual places.

I'm still on the lookout for fringe thrills from the dollar bins. And there's MORE to the story here because this is only Part One and I've bombarded you enough for one entry. So until next time – keep seeking and keep listening!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Long Haul

Whew! Just snapped this photo at the end of side 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 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:

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:

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: 

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!

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..............