Good Music We Can Know

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Savage Mambo Fever Dream of Exotica: Perez Prado- Voodoo Suite (1954/55), Exotic Suite of The Americas (1962)

The King of the Mambo Universe: Perez Prado. This: his finest album. Voodoo Suite's first half is the title track, a side-long suite of epic proportions. Hard hard swinging brass, Afro-Cuban ferocity, wild chanting, and voodoo drums with a pummeling sensuality. I heard a story that Perez actually staged a fight in the studio to attain "authentic" or visceral sounds of some kind. This suite is a masterpiece, a terrifying and gratifying journey into that popular fiction of jungle darkness and taboo ritual, full of danger, pleasure, violence, and lust. This is one of my favorite Exotica selections ever, hands-down.

Side two opens on a furious rendition of "St. James Infirmary Blues," which is really just one of the Great Songs of the World, and the band slays it. It's awesome, in the way the Bible uses the word Awesome.

The rest of the album is good in the way Prado is always good. Hard-swinging mambos with a goofy pop touch, lush sensuality, superb production, and a surprisingly hard edge. Great, great record.


Made many years later, Exotic Suite has a similar format, and is sort of a companion piece to Voodoo Suite. It's not quite as electrifying, but it's still pretty incredible, resembling much more a traditional Exotica record, with its liberal and deft use of lush string arrangements-- and less frantic voodoo-mambo breakouts, for better or worse. 

Side two, again, is comprised of more standard pop/mambo instrumentals, but they're all really good. They will make you yearn to dance on an outdoor patio on a cool summer night.

Perez Prado is one of the greats, oh my friends, and these are two of his greatest works. Avail yourselves of his mastery, and revel in his art.

Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Robert Drasnin- Voodoo (1959)

Drasnin was not an Exotica pro, in the manner of Denny, Lyman, and Baxter-- until '59 he had mostly done TV themes and the like-- but when asked to pump out a record of that popular "exotic" stuff, he pumped out a juicy good one in the form of Voodoo. The great thing about a good Exotica record is how devastatingly archetypal it is-- it sounds just exactly like something specific, yet describes a period of time in the American zeitgeist that's as nebulous as it is recognizable. Americans may well know this music in their blood. It is the sound of the dreams of their ancestors....

This record is that way. It's one of the best Exotica records, bar none: precise, beautifully conceived miniatures of Tiki dreams, with lovely vocals, chimes, and everything else you would expect from an archetypal Exotica record. The first song, "Chant of the Moon," is worth the price of admission all by itself.


Friday, May 28, 2010

Let's Live Through This Night, Let's Just Kiss and Fight: Shankar Jaikishan- Bombay Talkie (1970)

Here's another great Indian film soundtrack, this one by the great Shankar Jaikishan. The title theme of the film is phenomenal, and there are several variations of it on the record (one of which was on soundtrack to The Darjeeling Limited). The first, which has disarmingly charming "doo-doo" wordless vocals, is perfect. The last puts words to the melody-- which, by the end, you've already heard so many times-- and they are simple, beautiful, hopeful (and English, which is nice for me as an English speaker).

Another great song (also used in The Darjeeling Limited) is the sublimely goofy "Typewriter, Tip Tip Tip," a wonderful tune that is apparently performed in the film while dancing on a giant typewriter. Or so I've heard.

The rest of the album is gorgeous incidental music. It's really good. I got this from Parties Sarees and Melodies, a great blog of Indian film music. Click the link to see that article on this record, as it's much more informed than mine.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Heartache in the Subcontinent: Satayjit Ray- Charulata (The Lonely Wife) 1964

Here is a really short, really beautiful record: the soundtrack to Charulata, by Indian filmmaker Satayjit Ray. I have never seen the film, sad to say, but the music is subtle, sophisticated, and heartbreaking in a gorgeous, quietly insistent way. Highly recommended.

One of the songs was used in the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited. Just so you know.

The Lonely Wife 192

Don Cherry: Om Shanti Shanti Om

Here is an excellent video of Don Cherry performing for television in 1976. I don't know anything else about the circumstances here, but the performance and music is electrifying. Don Cherry is one of my very favorites, and this is prime 1970s Cherry: international players and multi-ethnic traditions, spiritual pocket trumpet solos, and lots of vocals. At the end it segues into a bit of music from his album, Brown Rice, but the rest of it isn't on any album I've heard. Does anyone know if this track is on record anywhere?

Generous reader Joandleefe has left a link to the Don Cherry album Actions in the comments. Check it out. Fans of Eternal Rhythm will note a similarity in the scale Cherry is playing around with, and fans of European vocal jazz will enjoy the singing throughout. It's really cool, classic Cherry stuff.

Here's a newer link: ACTIONS (160)

Spiritual Jazz Obsession: Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda- Divine Songs (1987)

If you have never heard the fantastic spiritual jazz or devotional music of Alice Coltrane, then there is a universe of beauty in store for you. I think her best jazz efforts are on the fantastic Journey into Satchidananda-- a masterpiece in every sense which finds her playing mostly harp alongside some of the best work Pharaoh Sanders has ever done-- but Divine Songs, for me, is undoubtedly her best devotional record.  Not that that's an easy call.

Here is an amazing cassette rip of Divine Songs that I found at Ile Oxumare. Go there and get it from him, it's just amazingly good, then poke around his blog, which is full of treasures (edit: this is no longer possible, and his blog is now-invitation-only).

This tape is very rare and mostly consists of Alice's rich, soulful intonations and eastern-style gospel vocals over drones, choruses, and synths in a manner so achingly tasteful and spiritual and masterful and deep... I can't fathom a universe where it only exists in cassette form. Oh, God! It's like the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff with strong wind all around you yet somehow feeling no fear, only a transcendent exhilaration. Exceptionally good. So thank you, Il Oxumare, and the universe thanks you.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ain't No Hammer Ring Like Mine, Lord: Odetta- My Eyes Have Seen (1959)

This is hardcore folk. I don't mean that in a purist sense, but rather that it draws deeply from the well of tradition, translates its influences in a way both forward thinking and traditional, and has left its indelible mark on the folk that followed in its footsteps. Bob Dylan frequently cites her as an influence and the truth of it is plain, from the strumming style on his first album to the lines and inflections borrowed from her. The Band does a version of a song found here. Janis Joplin does a version of "Down on Me," Odetta's tough guitar and strong vocal presence a clear forbear of the kind of roots rock to come. She didn't write any of these songs but her renditions are highly influential.

All of this is beside the point, because even in a vacuum, this is a great sounding record. She plays great and she sings great, with such power and personality that it makes the traditional sound oddly revolutionary. A classically trained voice delivering emotionally raw, stark performances. The highlight is "Waterboy," an amazing song no matter who's hummin' it (I do quite like Harry Belafonte's version) but especially powerful here. Not only does she sing it with all the power of the most natural-born of men-- John Henry-- she does a wonderfully jarring vocal impression of a hammer hitting a spike that sends a tingle flushing through your spinal parts... it's the very definition of arresting. It sounds like a gasping hard dog bark, and it's un-believably good. Here is a video, to make my point.

(watch it here, it's completely worth the look, and very short)

The rest of the record is stunning as well, especially the outrageous "Ox-Driver Song," with its cowboy backup vocals and refrain of "timmero timmerow timmer-ridee-o, timmero timmerow timmer-ridee-o, timmer ridee-YAY.... YAH!" It is so bad-ass and unsilly in its way, and just one of the coolest songs there is.

Do the right thing for your life and listen to this record, friends.

My Eyes Have Seen(320)

Some Grave Apollo: David Bowie in Bertold Brecht's Baal (1981)

from allmusic:

Baal was not one of Bertolt Brecht's most appealing visions. The tale of a dissolute itinerant wretch whose natural talent for composing amoral ditties was mere accompaniment to his life of debauchery, it was the saga, according to David Bowie, of the original Super Punk...

From wiki:

In August 1981, Bowie had begun rehearsals to appear in the BBC version of Baal. The lyrics to the songs were all translated by Ralph Manheim and John Willett. Dominic Muldowney provided all new musical settings, except for "The Drowned Girl", which was a setting by Kurt Weill done originally for Das Berliner Requiem. In September 1981, Bowie and Tony Visconti returned to the Hansa studios in Berlin to re-record the five songs Baal performed in the play.
“Baal’s Hymn” is a combination of the vignettes spread throughout the play, and establishes Baal’s amoral character. “Remembering Marie A” concerns Baal’s reminiscences of a past conquest, where he can remember a cloud drifting overhead, but not the face of the girl he was with. “Ballad of the Adventurers” is Baal’s aggressive lament to the death of his mother. “The Drowned Girl” relates the suicide of one of Baal’s conquests – a video clip for this song was shot by David Mallet at the same time as the one for “Wild is the Wind”. “The Dirty Song” is a short number, with Baal humiliating his lover Sophie.

Thoroughly awesome for fans of both Bowie and Brecht-- certainly, this collection delivers a much richer combination of the two's talent than Bowie's version of the beaten-to-death "Alabama Song."

You can see a video of the performance here.

Read what the expert has to say here.


Unparalleled Moments of Beauty: Les Paul and Mary Ford- Brazil (1948)

Husband and wife Les Paul and Mary Ford were an unstoppable hit-making machine in the early fifties, racking up a whopping sixteen top-10 hits between 1950 and 1954, and selling six million records in '51 alone. Strangely, while there's no shortage of legacy when it comes to Mr. Paul and all his various works and guitar innovations, this wildly successful romantic duo is rarely mentioned today. Perhaps their most lovely record, Brazil, hasn't even been released on CD, left to linger so lovely in the shadows of history, waiting to be rediscovered as the gorgeous gem it is.

It's so damn beautiful. While it opens with a zippy bit from Paul that showcases the nutty quicksilver picking of his own innovation, it quickly settles into soft, romantic torch songs with lovely, smokey vocals from Mrs. Ford and a classic exotica feel. These songs are what this LP are all about. "Just One More Chance," specifically, is a thing of unparallelled beauty. One of the best songs I've ever heard.

The only problem is, the whole thing is a bit slight. At only 22 minutes, it almost seems designed to leave you with a keen sense of longing. Still , this is a hell of a great little record.

Brazil (320)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Supernatural Meditation, or, "Getting High Near A Stereo": Two Eyes From Different Worlds


Psychedelic jazz raga with sitars, tablas, electric guitar and saxophones. Formally trippy. I like these "psychedelic" records from this time period that just are what they are; no band ego, no message, just a solid piece of near-anonymous music for people to like, if they care to. That is, perhaps, the appeal of Library and Exotica records, among others. For all the adjectives you could ascribe to it, it's just, "Music."
Which isn't to say Dream Sequence is conservative. It's pretty crazy, but always accessible, a quality that's weird in and of itself when applied to this type of druggy space-out music. You know, it's a pretty great record.

Try Cosmic Eye

For Supernatural Meditation (1975)

This is a lot less professional, and a lot more weird, but still fits in the vein of "music to do weed to, in a room." Lo-fi tape effects, reverb guitar, dark ambient, and a miniature sense of the spiritually epic... I wouldn't suggest meditating to it, probably, but it's got to be good for something, like wandering around at dusk in a hooded robe. It's really cool sounding and really cult-y, so get it and put it on next time you go ghost hunting.


(both links 320)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I'll Kill Them in Their Cars: Neil Young- On The Beach, "Alternate Version"

I remember when On The Beach finally got put out on CD. I was a kid, and I had grown up with Neil Young (I worshipped Harvest and After The Goldrush), and I was freshly in love with Tonight's the Night, which struck me as the rawest, scariest, truest thing I had ever heard. This fellow is an undeniable genius, I thought, but there has to be some limits. I had already been vaguely disappointed by Zuma, which was cool, but just okay, and I didn't have super high hopes for On the Beach. The folly of youth (refracted through the dearth of accessible information to such a youngster in the early days of internet), had deceived me.

When it comes to the early 70s, there is no underestimating the prolific genius of Neil Young, and when I heard how good On The Beach was, it did not seem possible. It was another fucking masterpiece. A contemporary L.A. noir about the music industry, California, and the crazy hangers-on and fringe people, featuring Young as a typically unreliable narrator with a slightly atypical sun-baked hard-boil to his language-- Altman's The Long Goodbye, plus Dennis Wilson and the Manson Family, with Neil Young shadowing Elliot Gould's Marlowe as a spastic, surly journeyman musician prone to paranoia and nostalgia, known only as Shakey. This could be a ridiculous sentence, but I have typed it and here it lies. The only editor I have is this program which is telling me that "worshipped" has only one P. Truly it is the thinnest of thin red lines.

Anyway, I loved it. It would be years still before I got a copy of Time Fades Away, proving to my mind that there was still room within it for it to be blown. Oh my, but the dude was on a roll.

So here is what has been referred to as an "alternate version" of the album, but that's something of a misnomer. It's just a collection of live recordings of a lot of the songs from On The Beach, with enough repeats and variations to make it a regular bootleg and not some re-imagining of the record. It's all live. Also: it's all pretty much awesome, and it has three great versions of "Revolution Blues," which is one of my favorites.

If you are into this type of thing, consider it essential. Otherwise, go get On The Beach and have a great time hearing it for the first time.

On The Beach (320)

I'll post Time Fades Away and its "alternate version" soon if you ask nicely.

Martyrs to Melodrama, Lions in Winter: Bee Gees- Trafalgar (1971)

A startling percentage of people tragically have no concept of the existence of the Bee Gees prior to the emergence of their over-played and oft-(unfairly, perhaps)maligned disco period-- but make no mistake: the Bee Gees were towering princes of pop music long before disco was even a thing. How this revision to history occurred is beyond me-- for a time in the 60s, the Bee Gees were one of the most well-known talents in the world (if not so much America), jockeying with even the Beatles as top dogs on the charts and in sales. To my mind, they are one of the strangest and most wonderful pop acts in history, blending harmonies like the bleating of three brother sheep, high melodrama, twee/baroque historical references, and an oddly singular yet unpredictable sense of sheer creativity.

If all this is news to you, I recommend starting with The Bee Gees First, their full-length debut. Marvelously conceived (with a consistency that would be surprising-- if they hadn't been honing their craft since childhood as an extremely popular Australian brother act), the songwriting, paired with esoteric imagery and allusions, and gallons and gallons of mellotron, gives mid-period Beatles a run for their money, or at least an analogue. It's a genius album, and two of the songs were such good white soul, Nina Simone covered them... which I would have considered the highest compliment. I bet they blushed.

Your next stop should be Odessa, a sprawling double album that finds the band operating brilliantly even as they splinter from within, quarreling like brothers. Lush orchestration, deep-digging cellos, powerfully strummed acoustic guitars, inventive harmonies, impenetrable lyrics, sweeping melodrama, and quirky little song sketches with bizarre flourishes all coalescing into a great, underappreciated masterpiece. Odessa is one of The Great Albums.

Which brings us to Trafalgar. Not a great entry point to the genius of the Brothers Gibb, it's nonetheless a wonderful record worth attention. Not as layered as their prime work, and undeniably sentimental (as they always were, really, even at their best), and not too varied in the types of songs-- nearly each song is a dramatic mid-tempo ballad, some sweeping, some tragic. Fortunately, nearly all of them are awesome, if occasionally a bit in spite of themselves, and very very soulful in the most lily-white of ways. Loving the Bee Gees means being okay with smiling at the bombast and rank sentimentality, while simultaneously getting off to it, knowing that if they really mean it (and they do), you can throw them a bone and really feel it, at least a little.

This is the Bee Gees in their comfort zone: each song deals with sorrow, defeat, and struggle, with Robin Gibb sounding, as he always does, as if he's singing from the very depths of despair and pain, a voice simultaneously small and sad and surprisingly large and strong and choked and tremulous and mournful and soulful-- a strange and wonderful instrument indeed. Ridiculous as he is at times, I call him, without reservation, one of the great singers.

One song in particular is a minor shock, and a revelation: "Lion in Winter," set to a minimal, clumsy drum beat and acoustic guitar, sports a falsetto vocal on the chorus so wild and jarring it has to be heard. Listen to him sing this song: he fucking is believing in whatever it is he's saying, so hard. And that is the true pleasure of the Gibbs. True earnestness, even if it's embarrassing. They have no choice, this is what they have to do, their beliefs have brought them here, and they will martyr themselves for this cause.

Another standout is "Israel," a ridiculous, overwrought love song to the titular state. And the usual esoteric references to baroque European subject matter is represented on this album in the stellar "Walking Back to Waterloo" and "Trafalgar." The monster hit, of course, is "How Do You Mend A Broken Heart," and it's exactly an early Bee Gees hit: grand sentimentality out the fucking wazoo, delivered quiveringly by Robin, who sounds like the look in the watery eyes of an abused dog, seeking love.

The Bee Gees are so awesome. Do not doubt this.

Monday, May 10, 2010

From the Australo-Symphonic Adventure Library: Sven Libaek- Australian Suite (1969)

A pop symphony in six parts from the brilliant Mr. Sven Libaek. Supposedly the most expensive record ever made in Australia at the time, but this is a fact I likely will not check. Essentially the same tone and instrumentation as his other work, which is mostly for TV and film (some of which can be found elsewhere on this site), the music benefits from an opportunity to stretch out its themes and leitmotifs in much longer, more complex, compositions. The effect is, as one might expect from Libaek, grandly cinematic, well-meaning and adventurously optimistic, like a Tintin book. It's not quite as distinctively otherworldly as the best of his work, but in a way that I find hard to pin down... it's still unmistakably Libaek, with all the vibes and harmonica and jazzy shuffling that implies, but with less of the gentle electronic effect, and not as hip, perhaps. To be pat: less "modern," more "classical." Anyway, it's really great. Very sophisticated, pleasant stuff. A real expedition for a relaxed and active mind.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Got the Fever in My Pocket: The Velvet Underground- Live at The Gymnasium (1967)

Here is a live recording of the Velvet Underground in 1967. There are very few live recordings of the Velvets during this period, and hello! what the fuck! here is this. Not only does it feature an otherwise-unrecorded song ("I'm Not A Young Man Anymore") it also boasts a very early version-- the "debut," supposedly-- of "Sister Ray," played with great intensity, showcasing those jabby dagger guitars alongside a clumsy and awesome first draft of the lyrical delivery. Not as long as the later renditions would grow to be, and not as fast or loud as the album version, this recording is most remarkable for the youth of the band and the unguarded live performance. Or, perhaps its strength lies in the sheer number of times Reed enthuses about the sucking on of ding dongs, with palpable delight.

The highlight, for me-- even more than "Sister Ray"-- is the really street hard performance of "Run Run Run," an awesome but often somewhat-overlooked track which is here allowed room for some smack nasty guitar interplay. Also on Gymnasium is a good version of "Waiting For the Man," and a clear, rocking "I Guess I'm Falling in Love," a fairly uncommon track with very few good vocal recordings (the most widely heard being the instrumental from Another View). The sound quality throughout is a bit faded and murky around the edges, but overall remarkably clear (especially around the vocals), making it a true treasure, a real gold god damn nugget.

A Workout at the Gymnasium

Deep Cry of a Baritone Brazil: Nelson Ferraz- Lamento Negro (1956)

Here is another Brazilian record from Loronix, and what a doozy it is... a collection of slightly theatrical tunes sung in a chocolatey-rich baritone, like a roof mournfully tarred in black molasses. Although a bit unwieldy at times, the title track and a stunning piece called "Navio Negreiro" make it worth a listen. The arrangements by Maestro Radames Gnattali are great, and the supporting vocals are cunningly organized. There's not a lot I can say, because there's not a lot I know, but with a cover like that, how much yakkin' do you need?

Try it out or don't. Mr. Ferraz is beyond caring.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Kraut Fishing in America: Can- Peel Sessions (73-75)

Ask me point blank who the best band is, and I will say Can. Of course I would balk at having to make such a snap decision, on such a broad topic-- but even after deliberating lengthily I would come to the same conclusion. Can is the best band.

If you are unfamiliar with Can, I suggest for your sake that you end your age of personal darkness, and begin life anew with the aid and knowledge of the best band to fall under the "krautrock" tent, and possibly the best band of the 20th century. Featuring one of the greatest and most inventive guitarists of all time, Michael Karoli, the best drummer in the world (a human drum robot with encyclopedic ethnic rhythms and total genius: Jaki Liebezeit), absolute all-round genius Holger Czukay, and keyboard warlock Irmin Schmidt, these wizards, new gods, and pupils of Stockhausen rewrite psychedelic rock as a high art form of avant-ethno-minimalism while keeping all the primitivism, improvisation, and lost-in-space mega-jamming that tends to characterize the genre and give it its pulpy allure.

I would suggest starting out with Tago Mago (avant-garde primitive bashing psych), Ege Bamyasi (trippy, almost pop incarnations of Tago Mago's savagery with a touch of future jazz), or Future Days (a stunning work of unfathomable beauty and atmosphere, a perfect record in my opinion): the three proper albums to feature the mad Japanese dervish of vocal improvisation, Damo Suzuki, on vocals. Those three albums are clear-cut masterpieces, but everything they put out-- from Monster Movie to Landed, anyway-- is brilliant.

Whether you're just starting out or looking to take your Can obsession to further depths and deeper heights, this Peel session is gonna make you happy. Only one of the six tracks is a previously existing song, which means this is basically a new Can album from some of their prime years. This is such good news. Being compiled from sessions which took place over a few years means it has no cohesive "album" feel, but it ends up playing like an alternate universe version of a greatest hits record, starting with a Damo song and ending with a song from Landed and something that sounds like it should have been on Flow Motion, except it's too good.

Typically, when recording, the band would improvise, then edit; this being a Peel session, it has a loose, live feel and gives you a sense of how the band might sound before they take their knives to the songs, before Czukay starts playing tape tricks. It's not better, per se, but it's interesting and very enjoyable. One might get a similar sensation when listening to Captain Beefheart loosen up a bit on The Mirrorman Sessions.

This is worth it for the first track alone, a blistering workout with Damo Suzuki on vocals and a blasting guitar that's heavier and wammier than you usually hear from Karoli during this period.
Oh, you should get it, man, but also go get all the Can.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Born A Little Ugly: Lee Hazlewood- Trouble Is A Lonesome Town (1963), N.S.V.I.P. (1964)

"You won't find it on any map, but take a step in any direction, and you're in Trouble."

Here are two storytelling albums from Mr. Lee Hazlewood. Trouble is a portrait of the titular town, told in vignettes: each song begins with Lee drawling drolly about this-and-that character from the town, then lackadaisically transitioning to a song-sketch more or less on the theme of the story. Absent from these songs is the artful production value he had developed with Duane Eddy, and which he would expand further with Nancy Sinatra and on albums like Love and Other Crimes. Here, it's nothing but a guitar, a voice, and the occasional harmonica, but it's rich like butter on a biscuit, and if the songs are a touch slight, the stories are delightful. Each one a quick, knowing look at a small-town personality told in a small-town way, they're mostly misfits and criminals, but they're described with, if not a love for the characters, a love for characters as a concept, and the way they enrich a dull situation, unwittingly building obscure myths in the lexicon of Americana. This is a great album, and it's really funny in its way.
And so is N.S.V.I.P.'s (Not So Very Important People). Not quite as strong musically or thematically, it's nonetheless pretty excellent, and a good bit funnier, even if that cheapens it a bit in places. One of my favorite songs of his is here, "Go Die Big City," which introduces itself with a yarn about a feller who just don't like cities, so the town sends him off to get psychiatric help (not from a psychiatrist, but a chiropractor who was prone to doing a lot of heavy thinkin'), and he comes back such a changed man that his wife "shoots him for a trespasser! .....It was a beautiful funeral, and you would never know from the look on his face that he had ever been a city hater." Just typing it out does not do it a molecule of justice, of course, but Hazlewood's delivery is the very definition of understated hi-larity, a masterclass in inflection. The song is just about as good, with the unexpected lyric of, "Go die big city..... cause I know, tomorrow, it's goooooonna blood."
Of all the things you can say about the man, and a lot can be said, the fellow is weird. Surprisingly weird. There's a story about a drunk who wrassles mules ("now you can't hardly keep a good mule around Henry..."), that shifts into a song, sung from the wrassler's point-of-view, called "Have You Made Any New Bombs Today?" that is basically just as sanctimonious as you would imagine... weird. There's another song about a woman named Emma Jean Dork, who has a funny-lookin' bush. No one knows what to call it but, "we all called it somethin.'"
Here is both albums, and I hope you like them, friends.

HERE is both of them, combined

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Hope You Don't Feel Too Unusual, Riding In My Flashcar: Donovan- Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)

What a fucking masterpiece. Opening on the well-known title track, it sets the stage for one of the most deceptively slight and beautiful pop albums ever made with a song heavier and more rock oriented than anything Donovan had done before. But even when rocking, Donovan has a gentle, soothing presence, and despite some scorching guitar (played by a young Jimmy Page, it has been suggested), the song's energy is about as aggressive as easing into the world's hippest bath. Part of this is due to the Eastern influence Donovan had begun sporting around this time, a result of his time out far-East with the Beatles and that crafty old Maharishi. This sound is expanded on immediately with the next track, a very Eastern-sounding Irish raga. The next song is "Entertaining of a Shy Girl," which seems a charming bit of pleasantry until you realize he's singing to a child, at which point it becomes kind of a perfect haiku of kindness. Just lovely. Some have balked at the jaunty show tune that follows, but it strikes me as something Nilsson, the Monkees, and Paul Mccartney would have jigged to, and I like it a hell of a lot. Donovan nails it, as he always does.

The next song, "Get Thy Bearings," is one of the coolest songs, ever. Easily the standout of the album, for me. A jazzy jazzy number with enough darkness in its corners to be no laughing matter, it sports a creaky, menacing stand-up bass, mercilessly echoed drums, a sax solo that could be an archetypal example of the junction of jazz and "cool"... with jangling guitar that tips the whole thing into very psychedelic territory... And old Donovan just being the coolest cat that ever there could be. This song is so awesome.

To follow it up with the twee-to-the-max ballad "Hi, It's Been a Long Time" seems almost perverse, except the song is so good. "I hope you don't feel too unusual, riding in my flashcar," delivered with a maximum of zippy zest, is only the best line of the song-- but far from the only one to delight. The lyrics detail a number of encounters with the same woman through the years, and by the time she's, "dragged as any hippie should be, in old hippie town," you know it's a tragicomedy delivered by a storyteller at the top of his game. A little elvish Randy Newman.

A few songs go by, a few a bit silly, all quite pleasant, just top-notch folk-pop... and you hit "Tangier," a dark and dangerous dirge of drone-raga-and-repetition that stops a fellow cold. It's hypnotic in it's goodness. Surprisingly unsettling and musically stark for a Donovan album. Incredible. There's something in there that almost sounds electronic, and as it speeds up, it's maddening.

He ends the album on three more gorgeous, light masterpieces in miniature (the last boasting such a Beatles-y vocal effect that it's practically homage, which is fair) and just like that, you accidentally just listened to one of the best, most unnoticed and underrated, 60's albums. It's so delicate and restrained, it would be easy to overlook how psychedelic it is, in the best possible sense. It's drenched in a pleasantly druggy atmosphere, and it would be almost impossible to have a bad trip while listening to it-- a rare trait, indeed, if you ask me. It's also one of the best pop albums you could hope to hear, especially of the folky variety so popular in the 60s, and it's the man-child at his best. It's a quiet, unassuming masterpiece that doesn't care if you notice it, but it would be your unfathomable loss if you didn't.

P.S. It is one hundred thousand time better than Surrealistic Pillow.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Genius of Free Jazz: Archie Shepp- Three Savage Sons of Shepp

Here's a trifecta of Archie Shepp records:

Yasmina, A Black Woman

A typical Shepp album, in that it starts with a free-blazing afro-inferno heavy on repetition and blowout saxing, then shifts to something more classical but still pretty wonky. The first track here is amazing, and the rest is just great.

(from wiki) Yasmina, a Black Woman is a jazz album by Archie Shepp, recorded in 1969 in Paris for BYG Actuel records. It features musicians from the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The first track, giving
its title to the album, is a long free jazz piece by an eleven-piece orchestra; in it, the references to Africa that Shepp had experimented with only a few weeks earlier in Algiers are to be found in the use of African percussion instruments, or the African incantations sung by Shepp himself at the beginning of the track. The other two pieces, a homage to Sonny Rollins written by trombonist Grachan Moncur III and a standard, played by a more traditional quintet and quartet respectively, are more reminiscent of the hard bop genre, although the fiery playing of the musicians, notably Shepp himself, gives them a definite avant-garde edge.


Blasé (1969): This is pretty bonkers even for Shepp, and one of my favorite of his by a long shot. Very little is blase about it, obviously. Opening on a dissonant harmonica and piano "blues" with an out-there vocal performance from Jeanne Lee, you can tell from the start that this is an intense and unusual record. A lot of people grumble about the primitive, musically unsound harmonicas, playing in the wrong key-- but I'm the kind of guy who says, hell with it, let the man be wrong and see how it sounds. Who cares about the rules of music when the jazz is free?

The next track is a menacing crawl with a great opening solo from Shepp...
it's all perfectly lazy, languid, even... then Lee starts in with the poetry: " who shot your sperm into me... I give you a loaf of sugar and you tilt my womb 'till it runs! All of Ethiopia awaits you!" It's pretty amazing, powerful stuff. It may suffer accusations of camp from time to time but its far too earnest and righteous (and, in my opinion, simply good) to qualify for such demerits. And with Shepp, it's always about passion and anger with a hint of intellectual restraint. Then the harmonica juts in, playing what may be "Frere Jacques", and the sax again gets lazy and loud all over everything, and it's a fever dream, a weird little thing that is perfect. This track is incredible.

Side two gives us the expected: a traditional with an off-kilter arrangement from Shepp, and a Duke Ellington composition, both vocal, followed by a blowout that almost feels like an afterthought until it cools down and reveals itself to have a fascinating little coda. This is a very very good Shepp album if you don't mind things getting a little weird. Why would you?

Blase (320)

Mama Too Tight (1966): Massive, massive blowouts with little revelations of calm and big smacks of marching tunes. Not one of my favorites, but certainly an excellent record. One of those monsters that shows as much sophistication and composition as it does savage savage improvisation.

wiki: Mama Too Tight is an album by Archie Shepp released on Impulse! Records in 1966. The album contains tracks recorded by Shepp, Tommy Turrentine, Grachan Moncur III, Roswell Rudd, Howard Johnson, Perry Robinson, Charlie Haden and Beaver Harris in August 1966. The Allmusic review by Thom Jurek states "Shepp had hit his stride here compositionally... lots of free blowing, angry bursts of energy, and shouts of pure revelry are balanced with Ellingtonian elegance and restraint that was considerable enough to let the lyric line float through and encourage more improvisation. This is Shepp at his level best"


More Shepp to come. I have more.
And of course if you want his best album, go here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Oh, Those Beautiful Brothers!: Moreno e Moreninho- Capelinha de Santos Reis (1950s)

Oh, boy. What a great cover. Two brothers, dressed like the fanciest fellows in Brazil... gazing off into space with utter and total contentment, hands ever so slightly touching... standing in a lovely swamp, near some cypress knees.

This is Moreno e Moreninho's Capelinha de Santos Reis. I don't really know anything about this record or these beautiful men, but this is some really great music. Some kind of Brazilian old-time folk music with ragged edges and raga harmonies. No picture of paradise painted here, and no smooth Portuguese-language suavity-- just the sound of a very rootsy carnival with a high lonesome wail and a really echoey sound system. Amazing.

Moreno e Moreninho 192

Lost in the Flood, Lost in the Fire: Lula Côrtes e Ze Ramalho- Paêbirú (1975)

This gem of Brazilian psychedelia is, or was, extremely rare-- supposedly because most of the original pressings were lost in a flood (according to wiki, others) or a fire (allmusic). But this cult item of intrigue needs no myth to validate it. It's just excellent.

A double album with each side addressing a different element, it jumps from free-folky jams, to achingly pastoral instrumentals, to ethereal psych-jazz, to almost krautrock in the vein of Can's ethnological forgeries... from improvisation to composition. In a way, it resembles the patchwork of Pink Floyd's studio section from Ummagumma, but, you know, way more beautiful. Maybe that's a useless comparison.

Anyway, this is an amazing record. It's just beautiful, surprisingly weird, undeniably savvy, both experimental and traditional.

Paêbirú 320

Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Les Baxter- Ritual of the Savage (1952), Sacred Idol (1960)

In an early post I expressed my passion for Les Baxter and wrote of what I feel to be his finest album, Tamboo! The only album capable of contesting the supremacy of Tamboo! is here, Les Baxter's first masterpiece of Exotica: Ritual of the Savage. This album marks the de facto birth of the genre, the truest moment of its invention, the alchemical synthesis of all its parts and prototypes into the golden, perfect thing. Just read the back cover notes below, and you will see an inadvertent yet self-assured manifesto for the genre. I'd quote it, but it's so perfect, you'll just have to see for yourself.

This record contains the original, often if not always superior, versions of many of the songs made famous by Martin Denny on his seminal early Exotica albums ("Quiet Village" being the most famous), but Denny's small band and more simple style can't quite compete with the intricate, masterful complexity of Mr. Baxter'-- and when hearing this album you know the songs belong to him alone. What Baxter invents here, in a pure and perfect form, I think he actually takes to an even more interesting level on Tamboo!, but if you only snag two Baxter albums, it is Tamboo! and Ritual of the Savage, the visionary blueprints for the whole of Exotica.

Update, 'cause I been thinking: Go back to the top of the post and click the cover of Ritual to enlarge. Look at the couple dancing in the background. I always thought they were dancing in an almost impossibly romantic fashion, the elegance and soft-focus of the paint contrasting the harder, more graphically rendered masks. But look at the body language: what I thought was his fluttering tie is actually her hand, flat on his chest, possibly pushing away. Her other hand grasping his arm tightly, her head thrust away from him, her mouth twisted with startled distaste as he leans in insistently, pulling her in to him by the waist. What is going on here? Is there any way they are just dancing pleasantly? Is this what is meant by the ritual of the savage?

Sorry to say, but I've been asked to remove this link by the copyright owner. This album is available in its entirety on the free market, so go get it. Or just look a little harder on the internet and get it that way, you deadbeat.

SACRED IDOL: "Strange and exotic music keyed to the mysterious legends of The Feathered Serpent of the Aztecs, from the motion picture The Sacred Idol."

Similar in sound to Tamboo!, with a darker overall palette and lots of vocal arrangements. Not as good-- it's less rich and varied, the recording quality is a bit murky, and the melodies are far less catchy. Still, this is sublime work from Baxter.

The beauty of Exotica is that, despite the colonial condescension that comes with indiscriminately appropriating vaguely ethnic rhythms and calling it "exotic," it seems to celebrate inclusively an international paradise of peace, sensuality, and exploration... this is not World Music, friends, it's just Music for the World.

I've also been asked to take this down, which is a shame, because I don't think this record is available in its original form or at a reasonable price. Use the internet to make this right for yourself. Someone else has it, I'm sure, in its intended form, and ripped from decent vinyl. Go look.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Job I Know I'll Keep: Neil Young- Chrome Dreams (70s)

The image of an awkward Neil Young wearing a bolo tie and standing next to a Blow Job Machine should tell you that this is not an official release, or even a "real" album (in fact, I've been informed in the comments that the photo was taken by Chester Simpson and is not "legally" reproduced here), but it's actually one of my favorite Neil Young records.

I love the man and his work, especially when he's at his most irascibly erratic, so a Neil Young bootleg from the 70s is potential gold to me, and this is golden gold. Like I said, I'm a fan, but not a fan of the encyclopedic variety, so I can't really tell you where all these songs were supposed to be or where they ended up, and in what version... I know that some of it pops up later on American Stars n Bars, Hawks and Doves, Rust Never Sleeps, and some others. And this I know as well: the version of "Sedan Delivery" found here is just god damn great, a muscular, bad cocktail of drugs and desperation that chugs sweatily at a slower pace than any other version I've heard, making it punky and unique and really really dangerous sounding. You might say, the narrator seems unreliable.

"Look Out For My Love" shows up here in an alien and immaculate version that blows the more sentimental renditions out of the water. These selections, along with "River Of Pride," "Too Far Gone" and "Star Of Bethlehem" exemplify the coolest aspects of Young in the 70s: paranoid but elegant, menacing guitars with a folky embrace, comforting traditions laid out in dangerously thin and dark performances, and raw, nervy emotion wrapped in enigmatic weirdness. Of a kind with Tonight's the Night, On the Beach, and Time Fades Away.

This is a bootleg, so it's very uneven, containing live performances, outtakes, and lost, finished tracks, but the easy joke is there to make: it's hardly any more uneven than had it come from the man himself, who seemed to be planning records, sequencing them, and making career choices with a hack gypsy and a bag of chicken bones.


Kraut Fishing in America: Sand- Golem (1974)

This is a truly puzzling krautrock curiosity. Creaky, dated, and slightly fanstastical, it has a hint of proggish woodland magic and a smattering of industrial avant-noisemaking as a counterbalance... not required listening but for a krautrock junkie it's very rewarding. Produced by Klaus Schulze, which is extremely notable. Honestly, I don't know what I think of it yet, except that it's definitely something. Julian Cope, whose krautrock authority is often dubious in my opinion, has a pretty good piece about it on his site, so here's a link, and a sample quote:

...And so Sand was born - a cosmic and drummerless trio with a lead singer who played VCS3 synthesizer and sang mysterious and pedantic English lyrics in a voice like a Frisian Puritan reared on Melanie Kafka and David Bowie. Sample lyric? "He is an old loggerhead - actually long ago he is dead." Reviewer’s comment: Nuff said.
On arrival in Berlin, these three longhairs beat a path to Klaus Schulze’s front door and asked him to produce their first LP, to be entitled
Golem. Why did they want to call it Golem? Well, Golem was a mysterious Jewish figure from the 16th century who had been fashioned out of the earth. The members of Sand used ‘Golem’ as a verb to describe the transmutations which occurred when they played together. In the words of Johannes Vester:
"To experience with the unknown, to give life... that was our impulse... [those lyrics expressed] exactly what was in our mind when we Golemned."

Get Golemned, you'll probably like it

Sophisticated Daydream of Exotica: Les Baxter- Tamboo! (1954)

When I was a younger man, I picked this record up at a waterside thrift store in Maine. I had heard Martin Denny's Exotica several times and it had begun to pique my interest in the genre, but I still had no idea who Les Baxter even was. Baxter, I now know, is basically the main genius of Exotica. At his best, he elevates the escapist vacation and musical tourism of of the genre to the level of sublime. It is the complexities of this, his best album, that initially made me believe in this type of music as an art beyond kitsch-- a notion I now can refute entirely.

Baxter was, at heart, an unpredictable experimentalist. And while no one could be too surprised at the kind of music to be found on Tamboo, dig a little deeper and you find unbelievably complex and delicate arrangements perhaps unlike anything else he has ever done. Cinematic, evocative, and lushly exotic with velvety strings, deep dark drums and scampering bongos, haunting flutes, and "native" instruments lurking in every shadow... ominous yet friendly vocal arrangements with that heads-of-Easter-Island sound, complemented by extremely white, lovely female harmonies, humming and ahh-ing with heart melting loveliness.

This is too good to be easy listening, too complex to be a musical vacation: this is a sonic adventure, exploring a mangrove swamp in a dugout canoe, a jeep caravan across the Serengeti, hunting Tigers in India, lounging with island girls, searching for Aztec idols... this is an amalgamation of the perfect journey through all lands exotic; India, Africa, South America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, all rolled into one cleverly forged piece of popular music for white American dads. This is a forgotten masterpiece, and the tip top of the genre.

Too bad: I've been asked to remove this link by the copyright owner. I highly encourage you to go buy this album or find it for yourself. It's out there, and it's worth the trouble.

Prayers From Father Yod: Ya Ho Wha 13- Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony (1974)

This is one of my favorite albums of all time. Recorded by cult leader Father Yod and the musical arm of his following, the Source Family, it's a powerful treasure of primal, tribal, psychedelic, and ultimately spiritual higher-plane seeking. There are actually a number of LPs by Ya Ho Wha, but perhaps only this one achieves the transcendence its members were attempting to realize. A large part of its success is the uncharacteristic restraint of Father Yod, who, on other recordings, had a tendency to chant and "sing" somewhat non-musically. His vocals can sometimes be thrilling in their batshit insanity, but more often than not, they're just distracting and a little embarrassing.

Yod was a former Marine who started a successful but small utopian cult in California. It financed itself with a popular vegetarian restaurant called The Source. They all lived together communally and "shared" women-- Father Yod himself eventually amassed 13 wives. There were a number of musicians in the family, so they built a studio and began attempting to make music "free of ego" (likely not an easy task when dealing with musicians, no matter how free their minds), overseen by The Father-- who, despite no notable musical ability or training, began to take part in the sessions as shamanistic ritual leader and vocalist.

A number of recordings were made in this style, until the Family relocated to Hawaii, where Yod died in a hang gliding incident. Apparently, he just jumped off a 1300 foot cliff on a hang glider-- which he had not bothered to calibrate to his weight in any way-- and plummeted to the earth. He landed on the beach, and died after a long ritual vigil. There is sort of a Source Family myth that no doctor could determine the cause of death, but... I bet it wasn't too hard.

Anyway, while the whole saga of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wha, and The Source family is fascinating (and you should look it up, there's a lot to read about and it's gripping stuff even if it's contradictory and often inaccurate), you don't really need it to appreciate this unbelievable record. It's not unlike tribal krautrock, some of the more free-form psychedelic albums, or the more recent wave of free-rock or freak-folk or what have you-- but it's set apart from these reference points by a palpable conviction in the spiritual gravity of the whole affair, a true sensation of mysticism in the music.

As I mentioned earlier, Yod acts more as a shaman than a singer on this record, humming, omm-ing, softly wailing, and whistling to great effect. The whistling is especially powerful, believe it or not. The interaction between the musicians of the group is truly great, as well, seeming to spring from a psychic/spiritual connection-- it's also just good cosmic improvisation, very deep and very solid. The star of the show may be the guitarist (cult-named Djin), whose razor-sharp lines cut the atmosphere like a fearsome god's red-hot lightning cock, boiling the clouds and wandering the sky with a watchful eye. This guy make a guitar sound like the expression on a Tibetan demon-sculpture's face.

This is a giant masterpiece. Get on it. (160)