Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Days of Wine and Vinyl

I sometimes like to pretend that a song recorded 30-odd years ago was actually recorded in the last six months. Given that so many freak folksters and retro-whozits sound so authentically like people you might have heard in 1972, the reverse can also be true, right? For instance: What if Bobby Charles were a 19-year-old indie folkster who posted "Small Town Talk" on MySpace five minutes ago? You'd probably be pretty impressed! You might also believe it. Something about the way the organ pulses and shadows the vocal melody almost sounds like the Beta Band to me.

The musical time-space illusion is doubly interesting considering Bobby Charles wasn't some runaway 60s moonbeam by the time he recorded this. He'd been rocking for 17 years, having penned the golden oldie "See You Later, Alligator," which became a hit for Bill Haley back in '58. But then the groovy times came and Bobby drifted invariably to Woodstock, New York, where he got in with the Band, specifically Rick Danko. Let's just say he spent some time in the hammock out back and whatever wasn't packed in tight when he arrived got packed in nice and tight. "Small Town Talk" was co-written by Danko with Dr. John on the organ and it has all the urgency of a sloth with a bong in its paws. I got this off a Warner Records compilation called The Days of Wine and Vinyl, a showcase of artists on the label and its smaller subsidiaries. This one is from the Bearsville label, which must have been for all the wandering rustics who showed up on Danko's door mat.

From this same comp, you can also try the MySpace mind trick with America's "Head and Heart." Again, the minimilist organ/guitar element gives it a quasi-modern sound, but the vocals are probably too 70s AM sweet and "Horse with No Name"-like to keep up the illusion for long. For some reason, none of the neo-folkies likes to sing quite as prettily as anybody in the 1968 to 1972 period. Why is that? It's like crystalline male harmonies are somehow bogus now. Or maybe just too much effort.

There's a few other gems off this compilation, each of interest for different reasons. I've promised to hold off on any expository blogging on Bonnie Raitt -- that's Dewey Dell territory -- but this tune, "Too Long at the Fair," should be absorbed and appreciated as a teaser to more sweet SoCal country-blues to come. Dewey, do your magic.

"Virginia Plain" is a sensational Roxy Music song, first heard by me on the soundtrack to the wrist-slashingly tragic Lars Von Trier film, Breaking the Waves. The whole thing quivers like a gay jelly fish with Elvis's severed hand inside it. I'm not sure why that image came to mind, but there it is. (Sorry for the sloppy editing at the end, that's 3 seconds of slide guitar by Norman Greenbaum, the "Spirit in the Sky" guy.)

Finally, this early David Bowie song, "Can't Help Thinking About Me," has a peculiar Kinks quality to it, perhaps because of the story-like lyrics, the sad tale of a guy who "blackened the family name." He never says what said name-blackening incident is -- drugs? gayness? playing drug-and-gay-promoting rock music on the Village Green? -- but he's getting booted into the cold, cruel world of glam rocking. You'd never ever mistake a guy who's feeling guilty about thinking about himself with anybody on MySpace, so don't bother pretending this isn't from the 1966.

1 comment:

moose & squirrel said...

The first time I heard "Small Town Talk" was when Geoff Muldaur sang when he was a member of Paul Butterfield's Better Days at a concert in Kansas City, Kansas. It blew me away. I did at that time know who Bobby Charles was, but what mattered was Muldaur's soulful performance. Though it was many years ago, it stands vividly in my memory. Thanks for bringing attention to the stellar song that it is.

My first comment here, btw.