Good Music We Can Know

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Arch-Duke of Exotica: A Martin Denny Barrage

So begins this deluxe Martin Denny post. If you haven't heard his seminal Exotica records, Exotica I, II, and III, then by all fucking means, sir or lady, get and hear them. They are among the most prototypical sounds of the genre, and should be considered essential. This post is dedicated to the best of the rest of his early albums, which find ways to slightly (ever so slightly, usually) deviate from the small-combo soft-jazz+"exotic"-instrument formula of his Exotica records. This is his weirdest and most fun stuff.
Forbidden Island might as well be called Exotica 2.5, but it does squeak in some insane compositions, the luridly middle-eastern "Cobra" being the most arresting. Needless to say, this being Denny in his prime, the music here is stunningly gorgeous. Definitely a must-have. 320 rip.

Again, this record is pretty much straight out of Denny's usual playbook (perhaps more so than the previous, which has an Arabic tinge throughout), but it's so thoroughly excellent that it merits the highest regards. Not just more of the same, this is more of the Mega-Same. If anything, the bird calls that are a staple of Denny recordings are even more insane on this record, and every track is a classic. Also, dig this sublime cover, featuring Sandy Warner ("The Exotica Girl"), the model whom Denny would use for most of his early album covers. Her face and bust are as associated with Exotica as bird calls and Tiki masks. 192 rip.

This one starts to get pretty strange, exploring a sonic palette slightly darker and trippier than the usual Denny outing. An attempt at opium hallucination exotica, and the tracks are fat with sweet smelling smoke and languid sex. It gets a little goofy from time to time, but it thankfully finds Mr. Denny doing some welcome experimenting. Essential, as you might expect. 192 rip.

Here we find Ms. Warner posing as a blonde (the natural choice for this more African-leaning record, of course). This record contains one of my favorite compositions and an Exotica standard, "Baia." Also, the off-the-rails crazy "Swamp Fire," and "Ma'Chumba," with its loony, delightful vocals. Look, here's the thing about a good early Denny record: All the songs are always good. All the songs here are so fucking good. 320 rip.

"Quiet Village" is one of the most famous and most oft-recorded compositions in the Exotica canon, a shady slice of paradise and a deceptively simple piece of perfection. Les Baxter wrote it, but Denny found a lot of success with it as well. This is not the first time he would record it (or the last), but this record, named after the tune, is a typically strong showing from an unusually consistent master. 256 rip.

Here we find Denny and his crew in a fairly sedate mode (and Ms. Warner both wet and brunette again), lushly and sleepily describing the seductive calm of the titular enchanted sea. It doesn't quite achieve this task as well as Les Baxter's similar effort, Jewels of the Sea, and the small-combo doesn't pull off the necessary depth of lushness in the way Baxter's orchestra can, but it is a very nice collection of soothing sounds. There's some nice brush-on-cymbals work, emulating the sound of waves. Good VBR rip.

After 1961, Denny would create many other tunes worth hearing, but Exotic Percussion is one of the last truly great albums of his career. Creating 10 or more stone-cold classics, chock-a-block with great songs and great instrumentation, in a period of just a few years is a staggering feat. Denny is more than just an American saint, he is also an international angel.
This record is about what you'd expect, which is very good (and at a nice VBR rip). Add all these records to what is hopefully a growing Exotica library.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Breathless Journey Into A World of Exotica: Frank Hunter- White Goddess (1959), Stanley Wilson- Pagan Love (1961)

White Goddess has become a coveted item and a cult desirable among aficionados, and for good reason. Beyond its excessive rarity, it also boasts a rare excellence. It's one of the best you could ever hope to get. It is so insane and deep-magical, with a really amazing and unique pallette of sounds. Quote from Space-Age Pop: "it incorporates space age pop's favorite odd couple, the Ondioline and wordless vocals, as well as other space age pop regulars like chromatic bongos, Chinese bells, and the buzzimba. It's something of a cross-over between jungle exotica and space music and right up there with the very best in both categories."

This is a true masterpiece.


Pagan Love is slightly more cartoonish than (and really, nowhere near as good as) White Goddess-- a bit more Hollywood-sounding, perhaps-- with a very dramatic string section and more of an adventurous, slightly comic soundtrack quality. It has a great thematic hook, however: each song describes a mating ritual in a different part of the world.
Check it out:

Enlarge this image of the back cover and read the text. I love this kind of writing, with all its purple prose and dubious information on rituals of fetishized "exotic" cultures-- told in the confident voice of the ever-reasonable, paternally curious White Man. It's pretty decent stuff, and the vocal arrangements are occasionally rather exciting. Also, I'm just a sucker for records that promise to take me on a journey, especially if it's to a sampling of different geographic locations.

Add these to your Exotica library, my friends.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yearning, Just For You: Leon Redbone- Champagne Charlie (1978)

This has been in my record collection since childhood, and by God, it's never lost its sparkle. Champagne Charlie is a collection of early 20th century blues, jazz, and popular songs, recorded with remarkable taste (for 1978), and sung with a massively empathetic bullfrog croon by Mr. Redbone. Simply put, it's damn near impossible to find something to dislike about this recording, the songs being as eternally endearing as they are, the band's playing damn near perfect, and the sound quality simultaneously fresh and murky. An old noise yodeling and howling its way out of the deep past and into your Now.

Never less than mournful even at his most exuberant, Redbone veers between deep-hole depression blues and yearning romantical ditties, with plenty of droll, dry humor abounding. Of the former, "I Hate A Man Like You," cuts deep with its bracing directness, and "T.B. Blues" qualifies as the best song sung by a white man about T.B. since Van Morrison's "T.B. Sheets" (and Jimmie Rodger's original, of course).

"Alabama Jubilee," a dixieland jazz rave-up, is a real highlight, sounding like a slow-motion party on a Mississippi riverboat cruise, full of banjos, clarinets, and croaking multi-tracked vocals. Also a lot of fun is ""Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)," a comical ditty about the changes occurring in a town badass under the tyranny of marital bliss. But perhaps the finest song is "Sweet Sue," which features extended whistling and an interjection of sax-n-banjo raving before Redbone gets to the utterly mournful declaration of romantic devotion, a potent combination of impossibly deep love and impossibly deep sadness that works wonders on subsequent songs, such as "One Rose (That's Left in My Heart)" and "Yearning (Just For You)".

Perhaps what I'm getting at is that all the songs are good, here. Grab this record now, and get your gin fizz on to this Sweet Old Man Music.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pretty Mermaid of the Southern Sea, An Exceptional Hawaiiana Exception: Johnny Pineapple and His Orchestra- Hawaiian Holiday (1960)

When searching for Exotica records, one will inevitably stumble across a sublimely exotic piece of cover art, become excited, then realize, with crushing disappointment... it's a Hawaiian cash-in record. That blonde gal on the cover, standing by the volcano, humping a stone parrot? Just a ruse to trick you into buying another set of the same twelve fucking Hawaiian songs, usually played in precise, unimaginative arrangements. Nothing against Hawaiian music, understand, it's just that you already have those songs, most likely on a couple of records, probably a few more than you needed (Oh, this one's on red vinyl! With a hula instruction booklet! I will never listen to it but I must have it!).

Hawaiiana is a huge, huge part of the history of Exotica, and of course traditional Hawaiian music is a mighty genre in it's own right, but when one is digging for the strangest possible Exotic Sounds, it's a bitter bait-and-switch to realize that the beautiful Tiki Majesty you just picked up at the thrift store can not, will not, surprise you. You know all the damn songs, and none of the cultural mix-n-match that makes Exotica so thrilling and occasionally weird or hilarious or sublime will be present.

There are numerous exceptions of course. Arthur Lyman is quintessentially Hawaiian but also so much more. Some installments of Hawaii Calls are absolutely top-notch. S'Pacifica also comes to mind.

Johnny Pineapple and His Orchestra, too, separate from the pack. Most of the selections on this record aren't exactly deep cuts or obscurios, but fire and brimstone are they played well. I picked this record up years ago because the cover art was too adorable pass up (you and your eyes should spend some time with it, just lookin'), but it turned out to be utterly fantastic. A winningly gorgeous rendition of "My Tane" is the highlight here, but there's not a loser in sight. The instrumentation throughout is persistently pleasant and of surprisingly high caliber; not particularly eclectic or strange in any way, just somehow unique and felt, as though Mr. Pineapple actually loves these songs and has a personal idea of how they should be played.

I've been loving this one for years. If you get only one Hawaiiana record, make it this one; if you already have too many-- well, hell, there's gotta be room for one more if it's this good. Get it, friends.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray: Patsy Cline- Three Records from the Life of a Genius

Here are the three albums the inimitable Mrs. Patsy Cline was able to make before her death in 1963.  They are essential and masterful.  You probably already have this material if you like music, but I thought I'd throw it up for those of you who don't.  If you've never read about this powerful gal, take a minute to get into her weird story, then dissolve your soul in her perfect music.

This is her first.  Perhaps not as strong as the two that would follow it (and featuring the fine Anita Kerr singers rather than the stellar Jordanaires), it nonetheless yielded the unforgettably great single, "Walking After Midnight."  It also contains one of her best songs, and certainly one of my absolute favorites, "Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray."  Let's be clear: it's a fucking good record.

Her second.  Every track is a winner, with special mention going to "Crazy," an honest-to-God eternal masterpiece on every level, from production to inflection.  Witness a master singer and interpreter of material just totally firing a teardrop rainbow more perfect than a hundred angels right into the face of God,  and behold the tears of a deity as he's forced to admit the imperfection of all his works next to a little ditty called "Crazy."

(This is pretty much common knowledge, but in case you didn't know, Willie Nelson wrote "Crazy."  Compare his demo to her delivery to see the difference between good and divine, decent and genius.)

Showcase also finds Cline and her excellent crew (now including the Jordanaires on vocals) developing her version of the "Nashville Sound," something so lush and sophisticated that it's hard to comprehend.  Like I said, all the songs are dynamite and purty ribbons, but another track needs to be singled out: "I Fall To Pieces."  An undisputed masterpiece.  Jesus Christ, you guys, she is a great singer.

Her last album before her wildly tragic airplane crash in 1963, offering up another serving of sterling country pop, including the excellent "Heartaches," some incredible Hank Williams covers, "Anytime," "Strange," and "She's Got You," a personal favorite.  Oh dang, all, these are some sumptuous, delightful little masterpieces, delivered by a charming Giant & Genius of Country music.  Irreplaceable, Impossible to Replicate.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Driving Music for the Apocalypse: Tony Carey- Yellow Power (1982)

Sorry it's been such a long while, I had to journey away from my Mexican refuge to attend a wedding in the states. Happy Married Life to you, J&L. The day and night of your union was a top good time of my life.

Tony Carey has made some of my favorite synth-instrumental records, and this one is likely his most appealing and enduring. After leaving the band Rainbow (which I can find virtually nothing about), Mr. Carey seems to have said hell-with-it-all and devil-may-care, and just started pumping out solo instrumental projects. In 1982 alone he put out five records in his name, and this is the first. Yellow Power.

Definitely a tad chintzy, with a feel not unlike that of a b-grade sci-fi/action flick from 1982, it embraces the fun and sugary pleasures of such "low" sounds and gets back in your face with some entirely-too-delightful, cinematically tuff, playful electro-pop. It's a winner, indeed. Check the faux-operatic vocals on tracks such as the stellar "Queen of Scots," and relish them. Pop it into the tape deck of a car with a bad stereo, and drive through an abandoned industrial complex.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Behold An Awesome Tape From Africa, Brothers: Penny Penny- Shaka Bundu (1994)

Here's a narcotically delightful find from the fine fine fellow at Awesome Tapes From Africa. If you've never passed the time strolling the rich pastures of awesome tapes featured there, then perhaps it's time you payed it a visit. It is truly a gift to humanity.

Penny Penny (born Eric Kobane, in South Africa) is one of 68 children, his father having taken 17 wives. After working in the gold mines, and apparently garnering some acclaim for breakdancing there, he moved to Johannesburg and eventually managed to enter the recording industry through some luck and ingenuity.

This tape, from 1994, is a style of music apparently called Tsonga Disco, or Shangaan Disco. I don't know a lot about this genre (although this guy certainly appears to), or its history, but I can report experiencing an intense personal thrill listening to these fat beats, thickly delicious female backup vocals, cheap n' sexcellent keyboard sounds, and gruff interjections from Papa Penny himself. This is pure, uncut ear candy. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we can call it what it is: an Awesome Tape From Africa.

Note: even if you don't think this sounds like it would be up your alley, try it out. Feel the expansion of your alley. Feel it making room for Penny Penny.