Good Music We Can Know

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Here Come the Night Owl: Horace Andy- Skylarking (1972)


The mighty Horace Andy's first LP; you could scarcely ask for a sweeter slice of roots-reggae soul.  Andy's voice is here as crystal-sharp and precise as a stream of icy springwater, and the whole affair is handled with a perfect simplicity.  Tidy trails of echo around the vocals, a crunchy exactness in the guitars, and deep soul grooves with a nascent sense of dread menace emanating from the bass.

The title track is just monstrously classic-- I mean, seriously, it does not get any better than "Skylarking," in terms of Jamaican soul-- but it's far from the only stunner.  Nearly every track is a frank stunner in fact, but the highlights include the stupendous cover of the classic French single, "Mamy Blue" (here "Mamie Blue"), the sexy come-on/break-up of "Night Owl," and the prophesying "Every Tongue Shall Tell."  The album-opener, a surprising, meandering cover of Cat Stevens' "Where Do the Children Play," is likely among the weaker selections on record, but nonetheless fascinating and really quite lovely.  You can't lose with this one.

SKYLARKING (320)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mouth Harp on the Beach: Tommy Morgan- Tropicale (1958)


  Beneath all the obvious Exotica classics-- the monstrous, mysterious, weird, perfect-- there exists a beautiful paradise of sly little LPs.  Not particularly ambitious, bombastic, or even original, but nonetheless exquisite.  Along with all the regular programming (Jungle Shadows 4 and Dub Hot Dubs 3 coming very very soon, among others), I'm going to be highlighting a few of these in the coming weeks-- I know a lot of them can be found elsewhere on the web, but I'm here to convince you not to overlook them in favor of other more well-known records.

Of these unsung heroes, Tommy Morgan's Tropicale is one of my very favorites.  Mr. Morgan, a well-known and oft-used harmonica man for hire (you can hear him on "Good Vibrations," which is awesome) is here backed by the Warren Barker orchestra, and together they turn in a subtle and unique Exotica LP with harmonica as the lead instrument.

Don't expect the vast primeval vistas of mouth-harp as employed by Sven Libaek (him being particularly well-known for composing with harmonica in mind), or the honkin-n-tootin of any number of easy-listening harmonica trios of the the time; Morgan's sound here is fluttering and dreamy, a pleasant ghost in a misty pastoral scene.  This, in conjunction with the lush but fairly basic orchestral arrangements from Barker, does lead to the occasional moments on the record where things start to feel bogged down in slushy melodrama, but there's more great tracks than not on Tropicale, and it always redeems itself with a big winner.  "Baia" and "Taboo," which bookend the album, are predictably excellent, but in some rather unpredictable ways, and "Bali Hai" is particularly ghostly.  "Miserlou," too, is quite a highlight, and it's a pleasure to hear Morgan's harmonica wind its way through that classic snakelike melody.

Paradise music.  Use it well.
 
TROPICALE (192, it sounds pretty good but feel free to help me upgrade this one)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fire Music in the Shadow of the Moon: Gato Barbieri- Under Fire (1971)


"Gato's great strength lies in the huge, wild high tone he coaxes from the tenor instrument and in his novel mingling of South American concurring rhythms and melodic traditions with the searing energetics opioneered by Coltrane, Coleman and Albert Ayler.  The great appeal of his music is the apotehosis of heartbreakingly gorgeous melodic lines... into churning imploding kegs of rhythm and the soaring expression of feeling via the tenor saxophone." - Stephen Davis, quoted in the liner notes for Under Fire

"...I sing sometimes, not because I like to sing but because the music needs singing.  And when I scream with my horn, it's because the music needs screaming."- Gato Barbieri

I have talked before about Gato Barbieri's sweet spot, between the 60's spent sessioning (usually exquisitely) for the likes of Lalo Schifrin and Don Cherry and his eventual late-70's latin-lover endgame into bombastic mediocrity.  This is Barbieri in that sweet spot, his classic early/mid-70's prime as bandleader, blending spiritual and passionate modal jazz with experiments into Latin folk tradition and cinematic romanticism.  Under Fire finds him blowing his trademark pink-hot, sweaty fire-music sound with Lonnie Liston Smith at his side making cool breezes on piano and Airto Moreira on percussion (Moreira being most famous for his work on Bitches Brew-- further proof of his genius in this thrilling video).   

This record is very much in line with others of the time, especially those I've shared here (Latin America Chapter One and Bolivia certainly come to mind, particularly the latter).  Evocative and smoldering, with deep grooves; studious use of South American popular music elements, in this case with a soft focus on Brazil; experimental and restless without getting too far out into free-blowing brain-splitting material (which might be said of the same year's howling Fenix, which gets pretty bonkers, admittedly to considerable rewards).  This LP stands with the best of Barbieri's work in terms of quality and consistently sublime mood, even if it doesn't have a track as transcendent as Bolivia's "Bolivia" or the majority of Latin America-- or the stunningly unique vitality of either of those records, honestly.  Still, it's basically a minor masterpiece, a slow-creeping and near-perfect set.

UNDER FIRE (320)

Sorry I was away so long.  I'm back now, and I've got some things lined up that I hope will be just right for the summer that is here now, including the newest Jungle Shadows mix, if anyone's interested.  I guess I oughtta shine up Dub Hot Dubs 3 too, as it's gettin' hot out there, my god.  Anyway, please do stick around.