Monday, April 28, 2008
"I often just sit and listen to him," says Q-Tip, "because he teaches truth. He's my mentor."
In the 4 years since I've discovered Weldon Irvine (and most of the jazz music I have), I have found it strange to find how relatively unknown this man is outside of the hip hop world (and still not even known THAT well there).
If we're talking strictly stream of influence, Weldon Irvine has to be among the jazz greats like Miles and Coltrane and Sun Ra. His soulful electric piano-based albums have been sampled by hip hop heavyweights for years and yet, he is still looked at as a legend.
Liberated Brother is Weldon's first album as a band leader and though it lacks the funk and experimentalism of some of his later albums, what we have here is something so incredibly beautiful and smooth. Throughout the album Weldon takes us on a journey through many different sounds. Whether a slow grooving, meditative piece, or a latin-influenced sound, Irvine does everything to near perfection.
When we get to "Juggah Buggah" we get to hear some fusion and funk sounds, and gives an indication where Weldon's music is headed.
Weldon's music is spiritual in imagery, and would become so later in life as well. He was deeply involved with African-American politics and looked at as a mentor for many of hip hop's biggest names. Weldon is a legend and it is time to take notice.
I'm including a link to a great piece/obituary about him. Really well written and informative:
Nathanial Turner - Weldon Irvine
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Credit goes to Different Waters for uploading this first. Great blog if you like avant-garde and world music.
I don't really know much about the release and can't find info online (I must be searching wrong), but it's great Indian music again, this time for Sitar and Shenai. Really really great. I'm going to post his description too. Again, credit goes to original uploader/blogger over at DW.
Bismillah Khan (shehnai) with Vilayat Khan (sitar) (and unknown tabla player) recorded in the early 70s for RCA, but was never released in the west. the friend in Singapore who gave it to me says it is the most famous jugalbandi in indian history. my friend goes on a bit about Vilayat (i was actually hoping to hear stories about Bismillah):
"Vilayat Khan was drunk beyond drunk during this session. he was a notorious drunk until 1981. when he quit drinking his music changed also, settled down. he said he couldn't play at that level if he could think, so he had to get shitfaced just to play that fast. a huge majority of indian musicians have hardcore drug/alcohol problems. when ali akbar khan was 12 he was already considered best in the world, but he later destroyed his playing from substance abuse.
vilayat khan was notroious though for giving shit to people. he cursed ravi shankar in public countless times. once threated to kill allah rakha. if rakha played a tabla solo during a session, he would say "you aren't playing for george harrison".
this concert in the recording, by the end of the night he doesn't give a fuck. he's playing all over everyone. bismillah will start a line and vilayat will just play over him. and play this dark, scarey ugly angry shit too. vilayat was as angry and insane as he played. also had the most incredible melodic style. never sloppy. his nephew is best sitarist alive today - shahid parvez, really graceful and clear.
i've got some vilayat khan from the sixties too where he's trying to kill the tabla player by playing at insane speeds, fastest i've ever heard a human play. to where it actually becomes a drone as you can't even hear the notes anymore. the only shit you can buy of his is all from the early 90's, ten to twenty years after his peak. it's still really good but no comparison to the earlier"
A Rare Jugalbandi
Saturday, April 26, 2008
This is the first album in this "A To Z" series that I don't absolutely adore. However, don't let that detract you from listening, because it is still a good record.
Kool Moe Dee is probably best known (unfortunately) for "Wild Wild West"...both his version and Will Smith's. Knowledge Is King is the follow up to the album with that track, released in '89 and follows closely the very things that make Moe Dee great and also why none of his albums are stone cold classics.
The beats are never great, never. It is typical 80's fare, I suppose, but many of his songs seem to hit even softer than a lot of the other stuff in his genre, which does not work for his voice and flow. Which, if you have never heard Moe Dee rap, he definitely has one of the best flows in the history of hip hop, and is probably one of the best braggadocio rappers of his time, it's just a shame that his hard hitting rhyme style typically isn't matched by the production.
If you like people like old LL Cool J or the bragging Big Daddy Kane tracks, then you should have no problem enjoying Kool Moe Dee, but if you are looking for something that is very substantial, like Public Enemy (who was releasing music at the same time, hard to believe), then this might not be your thing.
Overall, it's a fun record, and worth a listen for all hip hop fans, but like all Kool Moe Dee records, a handful of improvements would make it a classic.
Knowledge Is Here
Friday, April 25, 2008
A look at my Last.Fm profile would reveal Bonnie 'Prince' Billy at the top of my most played artists. Granted, compared to many music fans like me, the number of plays is not anything to write home about, but he's still at the top. I have a certain obsession with Oldham's voice. I don't know what it is, it's not great, but it is still the best. I have an affinity for his beard, for his lyrics, for his acting in Old Joy.
Joya is an album where Will Oldham is...himself. Under his actual name, not the Palace or Bonnie moniker. The album isn't vastly different from his other recorded work, but it still retains the quality that we come to expect with an Oldham release.
As a reference point, I would say the album that sounds most similar to this record is 2005's Superwolf record with Matt Sweeney, primarily because the guitar work on this album. These aren't acoustic-in-an-unlit-room songs. These are plugged-in-but-playing-in-the-backyard-at-night songs. It's beautiful stuff, and is as essential as just about every other Oldham release, which is to say that it's very essential.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Very few artists will I call undisputed geniuses. Musicians whose contributions to the world at large so greatly influence what we heard after their prominence and what we hear today.
Miles Davis is an undisputed genius.
Much like Dylan in his body of work, Davis is perhaps the most celebrated artist in jazz and also one of the most reviled. Aren't all geniuses?
Whereas contemporaries like Sun Ra, Coltrane and Ornette were about the future, pushing the boundaries of jazz to the outer most extremities, what makes Miles truly unique is that though he is always on the cutting edge of whatever jazz movement is about to happen, he is alway a product of the now. Each album he cuts is a look into the sound that is happening and usually executed better than anyone else could even imagine.
In his immense catalog, In A Silent Way has probably become my favorite recording of his that I have heard (and there is a whole lot I haven't heard). Foreseeing the coming fusion movement, In A Silent Way is an album of unfettered perfection and one of the finest jazz albums these ears have ever heard. As a preface, the lineup is amazing. Playing with Miles we have Wayne Shorter, three of the absolute best keyboardists ever in Joe Zawinaul, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock and maybe most importantly, the recording debut of John McLaughlin. Here's a review from RYM
Shh. Listen. Calm, Peaceful, Elegant, Graceful. Those are the perfect words to describe the amazing music Miles' packs into just 38 minutes on In a Silent Way, his second greatest album and most accessible gateway to his fusion genius.
The music that graces IASW is perfect, an amazing fact considering the way it's structured. The first side, a single 18+ minute track entitle 'Shh/Peaceful,' consists of vamps and solos. No melody is ever present. All that is played is an unbeatable groove in which Miles and his sidemen-who I'll get to in a minute-solo delicately over.
The same is true for side two, but only half of it. Once again, one side yields one track, except this track is actually a three piece medley with one piece acting as bookends. 'In a Silent Way' opens, 'It's About that Time' follows, and 'In a Silent Way' closes. The title track is so simple, yet so beautiful. Just each musician taking turns playing the melody line, with each one joining at the end. Simple, but oh so lovely. 'It's About that Time' is essentially the same set-up as 'Shh/Peaceful,' featuring more great soloing and what may be the most infectious groove known to man. The whole album is so simple on the surface, but so amazingly complex below it any fan of any music can appreciate it.
The musicians Miles works with are incredible, as is the format they inhabite. The band is Miles on trumpet, John McLaughlin on guitar, Wayne Shorter with his debut on Soprano Sax, Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea on electric piano, Joe Zawinul on organ, Dave Holland on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. You read that correct. In a Silent Way features THREE piano players. The sound of that makes all the music I wrote about sound idiotic, but trust me, it's not! What seems to be muddled, messy music is actually organized, pronounced, and defined. The three keys work effortlessly around eachother, with Hancock and Corea brilliantly trading off runs while Zawinul juts in and out. They really create the back drop over the rock steady rythm of Williams and Holland that makes the music so awesome.
The soloing is stunning. Miles never sounded better. His phrasing is lyrical as ever, his tone beautiful, and his dynamics are incredible. McLaughlin is just as good. In his first recording EVER, he follows both the path of Zawinul and is his own soloist. He juts in and out, and finally gets his own opportunity to solo away, experiencing a serenity never heard on his Mahavishnu Orchestra recordings. Wayne Shorter is every bit as good. Though his main ax is tenor, he is still quite good on Soprano, and his lines are lyrical, precise, and oh so soothing. The delicate soloing on In a Silent Way only further accent it's calm nature.
It really is amazing. How such an unorthodox line-up and such a sketchy plan can produce such beautiful music is simply a testament to Miles Davis the visionary. Every second of this music screams genius at the top of it's lungs, and every precious note played displays perfection. This album is silent. And silence is the sound of brilliance.
In A Silent Way
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
In a catalog full of records in which opinions are divided, maybe no other record in Bob Dylan's career is more divided than his 1974 live disc, Hard Rain.
A look at the AMG review of the album, and one gets a 2-star rating, dismissing it as a record of excess without the sound quality to match. A mess of a record, yes. That's why it is great. This, perhaps as much as his Royal Albert Concert Hall performance, is Dylan the punk.
In his catalog it follows Blood on the Tracks, probably one of his more mellow and contemplative records. However, where that record is full of the insight of his failing marriage and brutally honest, with Dylan sounding emotionally torn, Hard Rain is a big FUCK YOU and takes the songs (with the help of the Rolling Thunder Revue) to a level of near insanity.
Most of the songs are screamed and shouted, not sung. This is a passionate performance that holds nothing back. Songs of break-up, with new lines that shed light on the shambles that Dylan is in. One listen to "Lay Lady Lay" will show you that this is different. It pleases in the way that a live Stooges record does, or a live Stones record. This hardly sounds like Dylan, it's loud and raucous.
So while opinions are certainly going to continue being divided, this record is an important document into the career of Bob Dylan. And I love it.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Just a change of pace. Imrat Khan is part of the illustrious Khan family from India in which just about everyone totally rips everything they do on record. Dude plays sitar on this recording and is insane on it. This album is comprised of 2 30-minute pieces and both are extremely beautiful. One is "Solo Sitar" which is just that. The second is "Sitar & Tabla" which features Imrat's son on the tabla, and he is great too. I'll type up the liner notes:
Imrat Khan is one of the most well known Indian musicians of our time. He traces his lineage back through a family of musicians to the court of the great Moghul Emperor Akbar of the sixteenth century. He trained on the surbahar with his uncle Usta Waheed Khan, and studied sitar with his older brother, the celebrated Ustad Vilayat Khan.
Gayecki Ang [a vocal style of playing stringed instruments] has become a trademark of the gharana (musical "house") of Imrat and Vilayat Khan. Gayecki Ang involves an extensive use of a technique called meend wherein a player pulls sideways across the frets and allows for an entire musical phrase to be produced with a single stroke of the plectrum.
Imrat Khan is renowned throughout the world, and maintains a busy travel and touring schedule. He performs regularly in the major cultural centers of Europe and the Americas, as well as in India, where he makes his home.
Shafaatullah Khan accompanies his father on tabla with a sensitivity that is characteristic of the entire Khan family. Shafaatullah first began his training in sitar and surbahar, and later studied tabla in order to provide accompaniment for his father and his brothers, all of whom are string players. He performs regularly with them in international circuits, as well as with other well known musicians. He currently resides in the United States.
Indian Classical music is one of the most developed forms of music to have emanated from our world. In many ways, especially as regards scale and rhythmic structures, it is far more complex than Western Classical music. Its improvisational aspects require and encourage performers to inject their own personalities into the music, without ever straying very far from the set melody and rhythm. In this way, a classical raga written hundreds of years ago may be rendered somewhat differently by any number of musicians over the years. These characteristics afford Indian Classical music a certain timelessness, and allow for a wide range of interpretations of a given composition.
It has always been a sensitive issue as to when a musician should feel comfortable enough to compose his own rag. A musician might attempt this only after a long period of his life, after a thorough knowledge of perhaps hundreds of rags has been attained. A musician of such stature might then present his own composition. It does not suffice however, to merely compose a rag because in order to be thoroughly absorbed into the musical system, a piece must be played regularly and passed on through the generations until it achieves recognized status.
Rag Madhur Ranjani is a rag of Imrat Khan's own design, but is based on two well known traditional rags, Madhuvanti and Shivranjani. Set in a minor key, Rag Madhur Ranjani echoes the pathos of Shivranjani, but also expresses fulfillment, as of finding one's beloved after a long period of absence. Rag Madhur Ranjani is performed on this recording in alap, villambit, madhyalaya and drut. The scale, in ascending and descending forms is as follows:
Rag Madhur Ranjani
Actually titled "Guitar Vol. 4" the album is subtitled "The Great San Bernadino Birthday Party" and features the 19-minute song of the same name as the leadoff track.
This is probably the most experimental release of Fahey's early years on Takoma, and gives a good indication where he would expand his sound in the years that followed. The title track is epic in every sense of the word, sounding like the soundtrack to an old west silent film that we've never seen. His guitar picking going between incredibly thought out raga's and moving to very simplistic modern classical sounding pieces, the song retains the romantic feeling of the city and area of California from long ago.
From here, the rest of the record gets much more experimental.
"Knott's Berry Farm Molly" employs the use of crazy tape loops that Fahey created with a standard mobile tape recorder. He tunes his guitar to an usual sound, starts picking and then suddenly starts using the backward loops, giving the track an entirely different feeling. The track goes back and forth between the two, and is a bit uneven, and not smooth in execution, but it pretty interesting regardless.
His take on "Will The Circle be Unbroken" one of the more famous traditional folk songs sounds unlike any version of the song at the time. The recording sounds like it was done in an open room with really cheap equipment. A field recording in a graveyard almost. The track is dominated by an organ played by Flea (not RHCP), and though it is far out itself, the organ line is the only way to tell this is the song the title states.
"Guitar Excursions into The Unknown" is wonderful. It's harsh, terribly tuned guitar, but glorious picking. It really sets up what is known as that whole "free folk" movement out of Finland that has been really popular in the last years. Again sounds like a field recording or on terribly warped tapes, it truly is a track that sounds like it is recorded for the "unknown"
on "900 Miles" we get a beautiful track, but one in which the guitar is not at the forefront. Again Fahey puts himself in the background, framing the track around Nancy McLean's flute playing.
Other than the tile track, "Sail Away Ladies" is probably the best track on the entire collection. Featuring Al Wilson of Canned Heat on veena, the middle eastern feel to the track changes the course of old America, but is really beautiful on it's own merits.
"O Come, Oh Come Emanuel" is another traditional and goes back to the old Fahey style. Clean guitar picking, a perfect way to close out the record.
Fahey later went on to regard the record as one of the worst in his discography, but many critics of him, myself included, feel it belongs among his very best work. A retrospect on the genius that had been producing music for a decade and it also lays a blueprint for where he was about to go with his music.
Great San Bernadino Birthday Party
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Not many bands can say they gave a genre its name, but that is more or less what New Grass Revival did. Though they have gone through many incarnations and are most known for helping to launch perhaps the most famous banjo player in the world, Bela Fleck, it is their earlier albums that I truly enjoy.
Fly Through The Country and is that 70s bluegrass (or "new grass") sound that was made somewhat popular by them and fellow bands like The Seldom Scene and Hot Rize. It is pretty traditional sounding and not breathtakingly fast, but remains solid the whole way through.
The album is a great combination of instrumental prowess, slower romantic songs, and great harmonizing. It can be almost cheesy at first, but repeated listens reveal small revelations about how the musicians use their instruments to truly frame the vocal parts. It sounds natural, and though the sound is clean, it doesn't sound like their is too much studio trickery on the album. You seen those old-timey bluegrass guys on the corner of the market having a good time? That sound stems from New Grass Revival, and for anyone remotely interested in the modern bluegrass sound, this is a great place to start.
Fly Through The Country
Friday, April 18, 2008
Released in 1968, basically the height of creativity in popular music, Don Ellis' album Electric Bath has somehow found its way near the top of my favorite jazz albums ever. He employs 21 musicians, but this is no big band recording. It's a great summer record and it's all over the place. Just really enjoyable and varied. Two reviews included:
When trumpeter-composer-arranger-bandleader Don Ellis and his 21-piece assault force stepped on stage at the '65 Monterey Jazz Festival, they dragged the big band format into the modern era. The golden age of big bands, roughly framed by World War II, was well over. Duke Ellington and Count Basie, though active, were simply refining a style perfected years before.
Young Turks like Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson, with whom Ellis apprenticed, reinvigorated the format but did not reinvent it. Their modernized spin on big band jazz will forever be defined, sadly, by the unmistakably slick, processed delivery of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show orchestra. Outside the walls there was a musical revolution going on; Ellis and crew were first to hit the street and help storm the barricades.
Electric Bath, recorded in 1967, showcased a relentless creativity which, when combined with precision playing and unbelievable energy levels, delivered something totally new - and wild. The Ellis Orchestra fused rock with jazz, boasted truly bizarre and technically dazzling time signatures, introduced exotic musical influences that added an otherworldly quality, and played with joyful exuberance. Ellis could show off with the best of them, using a four-valve trumpet to split notes into quartertones, bending and teasing with the panache of a rock guitarist.
The Don Ellis Orchestra was masterful at making the most of dynamics; they went from poignant, soft, and gentle to hurricane velocity with effortless ease. As a bandleader, Ellis was exacting, he had to be, when you've got 21 guys playing in 19/4 time there's little margin for error. In this regard, Ellis was a marvelous anomaly; he combined the fearless experimentation of the late 60's with a rigorous discipline conspicuously absent from most of what was in the air back then.
Discovering a more scintillating, groundbreaking CD than Electric Bath by The Don Ellis Orchestra is certainly possible, but far from easy. It is perhaps a notch below Tears Of Joy, the DEO 2-CD masterwork. But comparing the two is rather like asking which is the better Vermeer, View Of Delft or Girl With A Pearl Earring? Once you've hit that level of quality, who cares?
Electric Bath, which was nominated for a Grammy award and also earned an "Album of the Year" award from Down Beat magazine, quickly became Ellis's most popular release to date. The recording was Ellis's first studio album with his orchestra and also his first on the Columbia label. The 5/4 "Indian Lady," from the Electric Bath session, features passages of Indian-inspired textures and became a fan favorite. A shortened version was released as a single. Another selection on the recording, titled "Open Beauty," features psychedelic webs of electronic effects, including creative trumpet improvisation by Ellis utilizing an echoplex tape-loop.
The studio environment of Electric Bath provided Ellis the ability to control every aspect of the recording. This control resulted in a more sophisticated production and tighter performances than that of his first two live recordings. Regarding Electric Bath, Henry Mancini commented, "My rock-oriented teenage son, Chris, and I have both flipped out over Don Ellis's new band. Anyone who can reach these two opposite poles at once must be reckoned with and listened to."
Of the same recording, noted jazz critic, Digby Diehl, commented in the liner notes:
"Conceive, if you can, an aural collage created by the Beatles, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ravi Shankar and Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz. And then, imagine that creation churning through the high-powered talents of twenty-one young musicians, like a rumble before you open the door of a blast furnace. Electric Bath runs this scope of ideas and intensity [ . . . ] Don's use of a funky 7/4 or a blues in 5 gives us a delightfully renewed sense of tension in rhythm. New tempos change our awareness of accents, break down the cliché phrases based on 2/4 or 4/4, and [ . . . ] make us listen in very real natural extensions of a modern musical conception. The Don Ellis Band has no academic hang-ups about its music – it just radiates good vibrations in a refreshing contemporary idiom."Download Here:
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
If you asked me to give you a list of my favorite roots vocalists, Dennis Brown would most likely be the 2nd or 3rd name to come out of mouth. You could throw people like Cornell Campbell, Sugar Minott, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs whatever, since I started listening to reggae outside of Bob Marley (I still don't listen to a whole lot), Dennis Brown has always been one I just love to latch onto.
Deep Down isn't necessarily a special album. For my money, I can't find a review of it on the net, but I can find some ratings here and there. It's not critically praised or anything, and it in fact ISN'T the best Dennis Brown release there is, but I still love his voice. This is good roots from '74 and worth listening to. Summer is approaching, and there's not much better music to bring the season in than that of Dennis Brown.
Roots Archive Info on "Deep Down"
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
More or less the scrapped "bootleg" album by Neil Young in 77. Probably in my top 5 Neil albums, which is saying a lot. Huge story behind it, but the truth of the matter is that it just rules.
Neil Young was on a creative high in 1975. By the end of the summer, Zuma was finished, though still not released. Yet Neil carried on recording his new songs. Sometimes he recorded solo and sometimes with Crazy Horse. Lots of these songs would remain unheard by the public until quite a while later, but by late ’75, Neil had already written and recorded versions of such future classics as Like A Hurricane, Powderfinger, Sedan Delivery, Pocahontas and Ride By Llama.
He carried on recording in 1976. More great songs were put down on tape, such as Will To Love, Stringman and Campaigner. Some of us may feel that the Long May You Run album with Stephen Stills robbed us of the natural successor to Zuma, but Stills always suspected that Neil was holding back his best stuff for his solo album. That solo album was a work in progress throughout this period. Titles were reported in the press: Ride My Llama, In My Neighborhood, American Stars ‘N Bars, Chrome Dreams.
When American Stars ‘N Bars was released in 1977, Neil had scrapped most of the material he’d been recording since late ’75, replacing much of it with a series of rough hewn cowboy songs. Fun stuff to be sure, but had Neil committed the latest in a series of difficult to explain career suicides? Who else, except maybe Bob Dylan, would sit on a stash of such quality songs and not let the public hear them?
Tracks 1 to 12 of this compilation are thought to be the unreleased Chrome Dreams album, readied for release weeks before Neil recorded those country hoedowns and rethought his strategy. Some of these song titles will be more than familiar to you, but the actual performances may surprise you.
Powderfinger is performed as an unadorned solo acoustic song; Sedan Delivery, a second song destined for Rust Never sleeps, is presented in its pre-punked up arrangement and, in many people’s opinion, sounds all the better for that. You’ll also find the definitive Stringman, a song not given an official airing until Neil’s Unplugged set, heard here in a 1976 live performance enhanced by subtle yet beautiful studio vocal and guitar overdubs; Hold Back The Tears is another solo performance, longer and more ghostly that its later remake for American Stars ‘N Bars; Pocahontas is the same performance as the one that made Rust Never Sleeps, but in its original "Naked Mix;" Too Far Gone wouldn’t be officially released until the Freedom album in 1989, yet here’s a version from 14 years earlier with Poncho Sampedro adding a tasty mandolin part.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Oh those Detroit rockers. For my money, Punk basically started with the MC5's Kick Out The Jams along with the Stooges' Stooges. Debate with me if you want, I won't follow it up. Back In The USA is the second album by this group of faster than fuck rockin' dudes. It's much cleaner than the first album, and plays much like a Chuck Berry tribute record. It's the softest of their 3 records, bu it's also the most accomplished, and sounds the most like an actual album. Regardless if it's 5 stars or 4 stars or whatever, it definitely influenced the power pop and punk sounds that were around the corner. Wayne Davis wrote a great review in 1972, a couple years after the album was released. I'll just post that.
I could well be the world's foremost authority on this LP. On the way it sounds, at least, having played it in it's entirely between three hundred and five hundred (who counts?) times. In fact, I just saw this record in a cut out rack which suggested two things to me--(1) I'd better replace my worn out copy now while I can still find it (I did) and (2) WHAT THE HELL IS THE GREATEST AMERICAN ROCK 'N' ROLL ALBUM OF MODERN HISTORY DOING IN A CUT OUT RACK??
I'll tell you why. Because it didn't sell, that's why. And that's a pity, too, because here's an LP that absolutely DRIPS brilliance off its grooves. An LP that, had it been a hit in early 1970 when it was released, would have been influential enough to have spawned a whole flock of blessfully incompetent imitations & thereby change the course of musical history forever. Or if not forever , then at least for a couple of years, anyway. Long enough to ensure that turning on the radio in early 1972 wouldn't have to be the real drag that it usually is.
It doesn't help, really, that most of the critics who literally blasted the shit out of this album have come back to it now. Now it's a bargain bin oldie, when it could have been a real landmark record. It got the shaft for all kinds of reasons, all of which had one thing in common: none of them had anything to do with the music contained on the album. And that's all that counts! If I told you that the Rolling Stones were hippie cult murderers who supported the Vietnam war & were responsible for 85% of the world's pollution, would it make BETWEEN THE BUTTONS sound any different ? Nope. it might make you stop listening to it, but it wouldn't change the fact that it's a great album. Well,. that may be hypothetical (maybe not) but the point is this: all that counts is what happens when that needle hits the grooves, and nothing else.
I mean people were criticising this record because it signified that the MC5 wanted to be pop- stars, because the MC5 deserted John Sinclair because the lyrics contained no revolutionary rhetoric, because Jon Landau was producing it (rock critic envy on that one) and because--this one floors me-- IT WAS PRETENTIOUS. Pretentious ? What on earth is pretentious about a great rock and roll band trying to make a great rock and roll album? It might be pretentious for Simon & Garfunkel or James Taylor to try it, BUT THE MC5? WHAT ELSE COULD THEY DO?
Listen gang, I'm here to tell you DON'T PAY ANY ATTENTION TO THESE ROCK CRITICS! What do they know? Not one of'em has bought an album in the last four years, they all get free copies. What do they know about spending your last four bucks on some supposed masterpiece, only to get home & find out it's a dud ? Nothing, that's what! And don't listen to me, either, in a couple of months when FLASH is on everybody's promo lists. But right now, we're not and I paid the full fare for BACK IN THE USA and just a couple of days ago spent another two bucks for a fresh copy out of the cut out racks, so I've given Atlantic Records six bucks and what they given me?
A great, great album. Man, I just love it. It's been #1 in this house for almost two years and playing it is a daily ritual, just like brushing your teeth or lighting up a cigarette in the morning.
After three or four hundred plays, one no longer hears it as merely a brilliantly executed rock and roll extravaganza; it becomes more, somehow. Sort of like the Band's second album. It's a portrait of America, but not the civil-war America that the Band dealt with which nobody alive today can relate to or refute, but 1960-70 America, the one everybody lives in. And instead of another "America Eats It" album, this one's a rock 'n' roll celebration of everything that's made us great. It's about McDonald's and jukeboxes, and fast cars, and highschool, and teenage lust, and basically HAVING FUN. You know, all the things that so many intellectuals have been trying to tell you was WRONG with America, that it has no culture, no depth, no tradition, no class. You know, the same type of people who don't dig the Seeds. .Well, fuck them, Jack, this may be the hamburger culture, but it's the only thing we've ever known so those of us who dig it should tell these assholes to beat it--to go read a book or something for crissakes, to just LEAVE US ALONE. We wanna have some fun!
(Hey, wait a minute. Is this a record review or is this a THINLY VEILED POLITICAL DIATRIBE??)
Yeah, 'cause this record is chock full of real honest-to-goodness authentic NEW American rock 'n' roll, and we haven't had any since the original kings stepped down. Or at least since the Beach Boys started meditating and the Standells hung up their guitar picks. None of this British shit. Give the English credit for copying American rock so well, from the DC5 to Shakin' Stevens &. the Sunsets to the Beatles-- I dig it, they're all great. They remembered what we forgot, and earn our thanks for that. But who could be better qualified to write and sing rock and roll than one of us?
Well it sure ain't some late-blooming adolescent in England who was eating tea & crumpets five years ago while reading about gardening and had ever-so- nice manners while training as an apprentice baker so he could perhaps raise his social status that they're all so concerned with. Wouldn't you rather hear it from a bunch of American punks like yourself who've eaten at McDonald's and spent whole portions of their life cruisin' down Shakin' Street, and gone to highschool and dodged the draft? A bunch of kids who grew up in a land where rock and roll was a daily reality through a six inch speaker and not a rumor floating off the coast in a pirate radio station, or a half- hour a day thrill on the BBC.
What they need over there is a string of beautiful McDonald's & Jack In The Boxes. & Shakey's Pizza Palaces & Bob' s Big Boys and all the-rest, from coast to coast. I mean if they're really serious about playing our music, well then they're just gonna have to understand what it's all about. They're WRONG, see. And now we're paying for the fact that we paid so much attention to them for the last six years because by and large they've grown tired of altering the old American jams of 15 years ago and have gone back to the only music they can REALLY understand: the Elton John. Cat Stevens, new John Lennon, Paul McCartney type of English schmaltz/folk/ballad shit. But for some inexplicable reason these radio programmers & record companies still think that England is fab or something and when they're not dominating the charts, then their influence is.
Who needs Cat Stevens and his "Peace Train " or Lennon's "Imagine?" Not only are they lousy rock songs (which disqualifies them right off the bat) but they're so incredibly simple minded that they constitute a massive insult to the intelligence of anyone old enough to buy a transistor radio. "Everybody wants peace," Nixon says, and for once he's right (maybe everybody but him, but that' s beside the point). But is listening to Cat Stevens going to bring peace any sooner? Oh fuck,no it isn't and we both know this. When everybody wanted a hot rod they gave us hot rod music. So everybody wants peace and they give us peace music. And you can bet your balls that if Cat Stevens had been around back then, he'd have been churning out hot rod music by the truckload. And as for Lennon, who hasn't imagined that kind of world? It would be real nice, sure, BUT IT JUST AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN, and it would be a much healthier country if some more people would accept this. It's just as true as the fact that if you played "Imagine" for your landlord when he wants to know why the rent's two weeks late, that he'd bop you over the head with that fucking album. And with good reason, too, 'cause anybody that really and truly gets off on that song is a daydreaming fop, anyway. That's why they call it "Imagine," isn't it?
The point is this: the Swinging Medallions are smarter, better, and have more respect for you than either Lennon or Stevens because they KNOW that war is evil, that pollution is bad, that it would be really neat to live in a non-mercenary world, and all the rest, but even more important, THEY KNOW THAT YOU ALREADY KNOW THIS. The Swinging Medallions have that all-important awareness, but Lennon and these other clowns think you need this information, they think you're some kind of feeble brained idiot who prefers war to peace! Who prefers soot to clean air! Doesn't this make you mad?
The Swinging Medallions say "fuck it, we both know what's going on, why write a dumbshit folkie song and send out weird vibrations to innocent people, when we can write "Double Shot Of My Baby's Love" and give these kids something to dig forever." And I thank 'em for that.
What does all this have to do with BACK IN THE USA ? A lot, that's what. But I'm not gonna disect it cut by cut, if you try to get clinical with this album it'd get up off the turntable & walk away laughing. Who could blame it?
But just listen to "High School," with it's great cheerleader chorus. Ain't no gear English band in the world who could write a song like that. Eric Clapton may be the best guitarist on earth, but has he ever dated a cheerleader? Or take "Shakin' Street," the best song on the album, all about that estatic drag in your very own home town! I mean, could they get any closer to your own experience? And it's a fantastic song too. Listen to "Tonight," and tell me it wouldn't sound beautiful coming out of an AM radio in your car at 60 m.p.h. And dig the beautifully true lyrics of Chuck Berry' s "Back In The USA" itself:
Looked hard for a drive-in,
Searchin' for a corner cafe,
Where hamburgers sizzle
On an open grill nite & day
Yeah, and the jukebox is jumpin'
With records, like back in the USA!
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Over on a message board there was a challenge to put together an 80's mix. Get 20 songs together, create a mix, upload it, whatever. Songs that meant something to you, expose the decade etc etc. I didn't spend much time on mine, maybe an hour. I decided to do it chronologically, with 2 songs from each year (1980-1989). I left out a ton of great stuff and all, but I tried to make a cohesive mix with this method. It turned out pretty great, I think. Doesn't fit on a cd, (1hr 32 mins), but you should get it anyway. Some are weird, some are obvious. Just enjoy.
1. Colin Newman - & Jury
2. Wipers - Is This Real?
3. Gang Of Four - A Hole In The Wallet
4. Black Uhuru - Utterance
5. The Clash - Straight To Hell
6. Mission Of Burma - Trem Two
7. ESG - You Make No Sense
8. Plimsouls - A Million Miles Away
9. Replacements - Sixteen Blue
10. Art Of Noise - Beat Box
11. LL Cool J - I Need A Beat
12. Too Short - Don't Ever Stop
13. Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force - Looking For The Perfect Beat
14. Talk Talk - April 5th
15. Prince - Le Grind
16. Guns N Roses - Mr. Brownstone
17. Talking Heads - The Facts Of Life
18. EPMD - Let The Funk Flow
19. Stone Roses - Waterfall
20. Spacemen 3 - Lord Can You Hear Me
Probably the best solo album from a member of the band, Levon Helm's 1980 masterpiece is one of the true gems of the country-rock sound.
The album came to be during Helm's work covering "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" for the soundtrack of Coal Miner's Daughter where he played the father of Loretta Lynn. The song and session went so well with Fred Carter Jr. that they just decided to go ahead and cut an album of other lesser known traditional songs (none are original here). What resulted from these sessions is Levon getting down to what he does best, the more country-oriented sound rather than the funky stuff he was trying to do prior. Tracks like "Violet Eyes" will wrench your heart out, but subsequent songs like "Stay With Me" will get your head bobbing and foot stomping.
American Son is the most Band-like album by Helm and just one really fun listen. This version I have uploaded has a couple pops in the sound, but they are hardly noticeable. Enjoy and leave comments.
James Tappenden reviews American Son