Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Coked-Up Caribbean Disco Jive

Mexican horns, tinges of Margaritaville-style faux reggae filtered though the haze of some sort of stiff gin drink or rum-based fruity cocktail, a vague country twang blending with the ganja smoke blowing off the Gulf Stream breezes perhaps, and Sir Mick’s ridiculous rebel-chic bone-head street-fighting radical mumbo-jumbo. It’s hard to know if "Indian Girl" is an abomination or a stroke of post-colonial, post--alcohol-addled genius (often the case here in Driftwoodland). One thing’s for sure: Freddy Fender would be proud, since (if you subtract Mr. Jagger) it sort of embodies his sound. Freddy’d be smiling down on us like some syncretized nimbus-headed roots-music hybrid dada diety – half Gertrude Stein, half Virgin of Guadalupe, and one more half Sai Baba. And what is all that business about "fighting on the streets of Mt. Zion"? Someone please tell me. One more thing, I'm not sure if there's an established science to this, but I feel like by listening closely to Bill Wyman's bass line on this tune one can almost successfully diagnose him as a pathological predatory perv. Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Late-era Stones is the litmus test, it’s the witch-dunker. It’s what divides families, ends parties. There’s always some bozo going on about the greatness of Exile. But it’s only the true kindred spirits who can really come together over the coked-up Caribbean disco jive of Black and Blue, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. Obviously, Some Girls is an easier sell.

Once you let the full glory of "Indian Girl" sink in – and you will be plucking it out on acoustic guitar and doing your own fake lime-juicing rasta/Angolan patois before it’s over, then open yourself up to "Memory Hotel." Listen close to the seemingly off-the-cuff vocal refrain from Keef. Listen for it, and, yes, you’ll hear it, I don’t know, four times, and, no, it must not be so off-the-cuff if he keeps repeating it like that. And why, why, exactly is he saying "She got a mind of her own, and she use it well, yeah, she’s one of a kind"? It adds layers of inscrutable mystery to the masterpiece.

Finally, I think that Duke Ellington said once that it's not plagiarism if you're stealing from yourself. I'm not sure what John Fogerty would say about that, but the premise seems to apply to "Ain't No Use in Crying," parts of which sound suspiciously like "Time Is On My Side," which, come to think of it, wasn't actually written by the Glimmer Twins, so, hmmm.

One could go on. One mustn't go on.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Of Mules and Men (and Women)

     Consider the mule.  Is there any other beast of burden that is more humble, yet has been such an integral part of this nation's development?  The United States of America was built on the back of this animal.  (Okay, so there were some Chinese and Irish workers who contributed too, and yeah, there was slave labor as well...)  But as far as animals go, the mule occupies a special place.  The Erie Canal, the levees, 40 acres and one of them, etc. etc.  It's become part of this country's four-legged mythology.  And the poor things can't even have children.
     These songs don't really celebrate the mule, they just offer an excuse to write about them.  Really, though--"Hold My Mule"?  That's gotta be one of the best song titles ever.  It's a great story, too.  And man, how that woman can scream!  She puts James Brown to shame.  It's enough to make me reconsider my atheistic ways for a second or two.  Her version of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" is good too, in case anyone hasn't heard it yet.  The other Tom Waits tune sort of relates to the theme, but it's mainly just a great, creepy one that I've been enjoying of late.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Real Thing

One of the best rock bands I ever saw was the first. Not exactly the first, if you count huge arena shows (The Who, Van Halen, Genesis, ugh). But when I saw the real thing I realized what a sad reproduction they were selling in those hazy echo-domes.

My friends and I met Edgar Reynolds when he was working at the record store in the mall by our high school. Edgar was hip, funny and in a band. Further separating us from everyone else at school, he turned us on to stuff like The Sonics and The Easy Beats. We started referring to Edgar as The Coolest Guy in the World.

The Coolest Guy in the World said we should come see his band sometime, but this seemed impossible. We weren’t allowed to stay out late at night, and beside that, how would we get in? Everything was easy for Edgar. “Lie to your parents and tell the door guy that you’re my friends.”

That’s how my friends and I got to see very last show of The Wild Giraffes. It turns out Edgar was in one of the great Cleveland rocks bands of the time. That riotous night in a small bar in Cleveland’s suburbs will always be what I think of when someone says, “They blew the roof off the place.”

These tracks are from The Wild Giraffes’ only LP, Right Now (1980).

Right Now

In and Out

The Real Things

Monday, January 21, 2008


     I suppose it's become a truism here on The Driftwood Singers Present that Alabama is the real semi-secret ground zero of American music (Lefty's recent post on Shelby Lynne reminded me of this, and Mr. Poncho has written on the subject).  I mean, jeez--there's Hank Williams, Sun Ra, the Commodores, Tammy Wynette, the Louvins, Taylor Hicks (kidding!)-- the list goes on and on.  You can add Candi Staton to said list.  She hails from the town of Hanceville (pop. 800), and had the archetypal Southern upbringing--picking cotton, singing in the church choir, growing up poor but happy, as she says.  She started out singing in a gospel group while still a child and wound up touring with various combos into her teen years.  She quit the gospel game in her late teens due to the difficulty of life on the road, got married and started raising a family.  Unfortunately, her husband was the prototypical jealous jerk, and it wasn't long before Candi left him and started singing again--but now she was singing soul instead of gospel.  She was hired by  Clarence Carter to sing in his band, and eventually this lead to Rick Hall getting her into FAME studios in Muscle Shoals to record some songs.  She had a bunch of hits on the R&B charts in the early '70s, but her biggest one came after she left Alabama and went to California to record (it was the disco smash "Young Hearts Run Free").   After a number of years of drug & alcohol abuse she bottomed out, quit drinking and went back to singing gospel.  She recently recorded a disc of soul tunes here in Nashville, and it's okay but it just doesn't compare to her classic FAME recordings (oddly enough, a guy I used to work with at a local record store plays acoustic guitar on it).
     This is great stuff.  Candi's voice is just so full of  grit and emotion, and the little-known players and backup singers on these records were so good.  There's a real country feel to her stuff, too (as a matter of fact, she does a version of "Stand By Your Man").  To be sure, there are some Aretha-isms (check out the way the backups sing "wo-man" on "Another Man's Woman").  But listen to the way she pronounces the phrase "my poor heart" and then how she enunciates the word "captivity" in "I'm Just a Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin')".  I love that.  It just gets you right in the gut (or , well, the heart).  Some fine examples of down 'n dirty Southern soul.   

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Southern Comfort

Ever since the Driftwood Singers annual board meeting in Hobbit country, when his case was brought before the appeals committee, the enigma of Joe South has remained. As Lefty pointed out, this super-charged "electric-finger music" raised as many questions as it answered. South, we learned, was a session player in Muscle Shoals and Nashville (he played bass on Blonde on Blonde) and a songwriter (he wrote "Hush" AND "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," for God’s sake) in addition to being a successful performer. I scored this record, Walkin’ Shoes, a few weeks before I started reading Tearing Down the Wall of Sound, a Phil Spector bio, and I half expected to find South showing up in the story; he seemed to fit right in somewhere around the squabble between Lee Hazlewood and Spector (Hazlewood thought that Spector had stolen some of his studio tricks). But where do you file your Joe South records? Is this wannabe counter-culture folk-pop with a toothsome corndog sheath? Is it swamp soul bouncing off the wall of sound? Is it quasi-Roy Orbison trans-gendered vocalizing fused with wind-blown Brian Wilson cherubim harmonies, Duane Eddy twang and Bobbie Gentry Spanish-moss-draped melodrama? It may be electric-finger music, but it’s also headphone handclap music. It’s tuned-bongo music. Water-logged-in-reverb music. Insider-outsider sonic art. Idiot savant bubblegum. All that.

Papa, What Happens in Heaven?

Well, dear child, let me show you ...

Courtesy of Agent Eliot in our Cleveland bureau, this video is like a lost DVD extra from the major motion picture that is Paradise. Just added to our To Do list: Find out everything we can about Hermeto Pascoal. This must be seen to be believed. (And while you're at it, you better go ahead and watch this, too, because it's INSANE.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Das 1990s

[Postscript added]

Gosh, we had no earthly idea what lay ahead of us, did we? All cosseted in the soft, flannel laundry pile that was the 1990s? And yet, in hindsight, to judge by the sound of the indie-rock 45s I bought at Earwax Records back in 1995, we sure were ... depressed! As SM had it, rattled by the rush. I guess that's not so much the exclusive domain of the 1990s as it is being in your twenties, but somehow the moody navel-gaze of the twenties and the moody navel-gaze of early 1990s America seemed to rhyme, as if you actually had to be 25 to fully understand the zeitgeist. Even before 9/11, we kind of sensed our generation was at the finale of something, not the beginning, which didn't do much for our sense of optimism. So much style and it's way-sted. Maybe that's why these Pavement and Palace 45s conjure a premature self-pity about something lost before it was ever found. They seem to rock and sulk, strut and shrug in equal measure, dropping non-sequiturs with the force of revelation, like they're the same thing. In a way, it only proves that even when we live in perfect peace, ignorant of world affairs, in a nation presided over by a relatively liberal leader, we can't escape the existential gloom of simply trying to grow up. With the distance of time, these songs still have a power. If nothing else, they remind me of that distant country I once lived in, the impossible shelter of youth, when all was adrift 'neath an imminent sky, waiting for something ...

Epee of My Heart 45" (Matador):

Rattled by the Rush - Pavement b/w:
False Skorpian - Pavement
Easily Fooled - Pavement

Father to a Sister of Thought 45" (Matador):

Father to a Sister of Thought - Pavement b/w
Kris Kraft - Pavement
Mussel Rock (is a horse in transition) - Pavement

Stable Will 45" (Drag City):

Stable Will - Palace Music b/w:
Horses - Palace Music

POSTSCRIPT: Did you know that Old Man Lefty was a pioneer in music pirating on the Internet? Not long after Al Gore invented it, I was working as an intern at Rolling Stone magazine, where, beside myself with joy, I procured a promo copy of Wowee Zowee two months before it was released in 1995 (on cassette tape!). As an early adopter of AOL, I frequented a message board of Pavement fans, to whom I offered dubs of the unreleased album for $5 a piece, plus shipping. As it turned out, the combined effort of buying blank tapes, dubbing copies, packaging them and mailing them at the post office was not even close to worth it, although I earned the undying love of my message board friends and was happy to fan the early buzz around the record. To this day, it's my favorite Pavement album, the only one I own on vinyl (double album). For my friends and I, it served as the official soundtrack to our tumultuous early days of struggle and rapture in New York, where we spent and misspent our formative adulthoods. What were you doing then?

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Way It Was

Another 99-cent Salvation Army find from last week: The Happy Forest, an EP by mid-80s college-rock obscurity, The Reverbs. This duo, I've learned, is remembered mainly as the early project of Eric Menck, who went on to wider (but only barely) fame as the pop mind behind Velvet Crush. Critics generally dismiss this album as a Murmur-era REM ripoff, all morose jangle-pop with nasal vocals and stripped-down drum and bass. Well, that might have been damning in 1984, but this is the 00's, bub! We've made shameless imitation and historical revisionism the defining standard of our time (cf. The Strokes, et al). So I believe the world is now safe for The Reverbs.

All in all, there's a charming Midwestern discretion to the Reverbs, an ascetic approach to pop endearing for its lack of well-defined hooks. You can tell these guys are meandering and murmuring along on aimless jangly riffs almost out of an intellectual superiority to Top 40 radio. If these songs were too quick and catchy, it would be, you know, decadent. The overall atmosphere is of two alienated undergrads cocooned in their parents' basement on summer break, reading Voltaire and obsessing on, well, Murmur, but also XTC. You can almost listen to this LP as a field recording of a time when there was still an underground in America, when the disaffected could only find obscure bands through 'zines and when wearing black really meant something. I think the snapshot on the back of the album was worth the 99 cents, don't you? Something tells me The Dizzies will go ga-ga for this.

The Happy Forest EP - The Reverbs (.zip file)

Trusted Woods
Picture an Eye
Envision Seven Seeds
Diana, Yes
Railroad Ties

PS: The weird dips in volume on "Picture an Eye" and other songs is actually like that on the album. Cheap pressing, I guess.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bugatti & Musker: Complete!

Well, here it is: by special request, the entire 1982 album by Dominic Bugatti and Frank Musker, the movie-soundtrack soft rock eunuchs known for a brief and magical moment as "The Dukes." Aside from the soundtrack to Grease 2, you simply will not find this much Bugatti & Musker in one single location. Take a gander at the mysterious DJ promo cover (above) and you'll understand (maybe) why I decided on a lark to plunk down 99 cents for this.

Anyway, here's every track, lovingly transferred to mp3 from the glorious vinyl (with the occasional glitch), saving you weeks and weeks of waiting for the Japanese-only import. For your convenience, you can also download the entire album in one single .zip file. As I was telling Mr. Poncho earlier, the whole album has the feel of doing cocaine in the stereo department at K-Mart at 3 in the afternoon. Special!

Mystery Girl - The Dukes

Survivors - The Dukes (Fantastic use of robot voices)

Thank You for the Party - The Dukes (Essential Bugatti & Musker)

Memories - The Dukes

The Excitement of the New - The Dukes

Love Dance - The Dukes

Soul Mates - The Dukes (Note the use of quasi-African jibberish vocals, a cross between Lionel Richie's "Hey, jumbo jumbo" from "Dancing on the Ceiling" and Michael Jackson's "mammasay mammasa mamakusa" from "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'".)

So Much in Love - The Dukes

Fate - The Dukes (This was a radio hit for Chaka Khan)

Nite Music - The Dukes (More robot vocals -- serious dance music for white people.)


BUGATTI & MUSKER: COMPLETE! (.zip file, very large)

UPDATE: Turns out we're not quite complete here. There are some UK 7-inch albums by Bugatti & Musker from the late 70s that I had not accounted for, as seen here. Also, I found this Billboard article containing the only relevant bio material I could find on these fine fellows:

The story began back in the '70s when Musker was writing with Dominic Bugatti, and [music publisher Johnny] Stirling, heading Pendulum Music at the time, signed them. The duo penned a string of hits including "My Simple Heart" and "A Woman In Love" for the Three Degrees; "Dancing With The Captain" and "Grandma's Party," recorded by Paul Nicholas; and "Modern Girl" by Sheena Easton, plus successful cuts by Chaka Khan and Bette Midler. "Every Woman In The World," recorded by Air Supply, was their biggest American success with over 2 million plays logged by BMI.

Pendulum won the rating of top U.K. independent publisher during the early '80s and had a co-publishing deal with Chappell Music, including use of the latter's demo facilities.

"Those were stimulating days," recalls Musker, a Cambridge University law graduate. "Chappell had four studios on the premises as well as a musical instrument store, and you could also get Chappell executive decisions on your songs the same day that you demoed them."

... Meanwhile, Bugatti, Musker's collaborator, had gone to live in France. Musker moved to Los Angeles for 10 years, where he worked with Arif Mardin and Quincy Jones, among others. After 10 years Musker decided it was time to return to the U.K.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's a Strong Man Who Can Stand Up to the Excitement of the New

This weekend I was prepared to declare the vinyl selection at the Salvation Army on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn officially scrubbed of anything worthwhile -- but lo! After wading through scratched-up classical records and the lesser Barbra Streisand albums, there it was, in a plain white promo cover, this mysterious LP with the words "The Dukes, Bugatti & Musker" printed in faded blue ink. For 99 cents, I figured I could afford the risk. But when I put the needle down later, I experienced that special frisson of delight and horror that can come only from ... Yacht Rock. Indeed, what I'd tripped upon is the Holy Grail of the genre, the songwriting team of Dominic Bugatti and Frank Musker, who wrote hits for Air Supply and Chaka Khan, having their own one-off supersession of early 80s soft rock and blue-eyed R&B. They employ only the best of that era's precision LensCrafters LA session players, resulting in the distilled essence of Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Christopher Cross, Air Supply, Toto, Al Jarreau and even Sade. I seriously doubt there's an electric bass used on this album that has frets or a headstock. The light-funk guitar licks and slap bass combo are ubiquitous throughout, as are quasi-Gibb Bros. vocals, cosmic synth filigrees and brittle disco beats. It's all here, in spades.

It takes some serious pretzel logic to justify this music as "good," of course, but you can find your own circuitous, taste-busting route to it. I'm sure Bumrocks has already trod this territory, knowing them. The best song, by far, is "Thank You for the Party," which I'd bet cash money was the inspiration for Ween's "Your Party," the David Sanborn-fueled ultralight soft rock tune from their latest, La Cucaracha. The nugget of eternal wisdom in the headline of this post comes from "The Excitement of the New," which sounds like the love theme for a Rocky sequel. Another lyrical highlight: Love is like a record/it's bound to get stale/if you play it over and over again. (That's a debatable metaphor, considering how many times I can keep listening to Hall & Oats' first album.) I've also included "Mystery Girl" (smooove) and "Love Dance" (R. Kelly, eat your heart out) because you'll invariably be begging me to post more of this once you've tasted the poison.

Thank You for the Party - The Dukes

Mystery Girl - The Dukes

The Excitement of the New - The Dukes

Love Dance - The Dukes

PS. This album is available only on Japanese import these days. Consider that Homeland Security at its best.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Soul Placement

In the fall of 2006 the NY Times did a story on, the web radio site where listeners enter in favorite songs or artists, and the software selects other related tracks that might be of interest. It sounded amazing. It also had the doomed whiff of a musical "key to all mythologies" to it, as well. An intelligent jukebox. I set about trying to get the machine-mind to navigate some sort of divine course between the Louvin Brothers, Duke Ellington and Blue Cheer, to chart a sonic path to the musical Indies. A voyage of discovery. But I learned quickly that the program would only follow one thread at a time, alternating between the three, never synthesizing them into a garland. You’d get one degree of separation from each, maybe Porter Wagoner, Count Basie and Hawkwind – all good, but not the mystery unifier between big band, brother harmonies and psychedelic garage rock. Still, I thought 2007 would be the year of Pandora. More and more folks at work seemed to be using it. I occasionally resorted to it when all else failed. And I made a few discoveries.

Though I’d heard soul crooner Joe Tex before, and I had a few of his tracks on compilations, I’d never really paid much attention, until he started showing up on my Percy Sledge strand on Pandora. So, domo arigato, Mr. Roboto. (Oddly enough, recently everyone who had a Chicago Tribune IP address seems to be encountering a strange problem on Pandora: the station no longer plays music when you log on, instead there’s just the burbling murmur of what sounds like low-volume cafeteria conversation transmitted over an intercom.)

It’s a songwriting axiom that Jimmy Webb and Sufjan Stevens know well: people like songs about places. And, as with Chuck Berry and "The Promised Land" and Johnny Cash and "I’ve Been Everywhere" or countless other songs, anytime you can name more than one city name in the lyrics, your chances of getting the locals to respond is that much higher. Joe Tex knew how it was, and "She Might Need Me," from Tex’s 1970 record Joe Tex Sings With Strings and Things, skips across the map from Dallas, to Las Vegas to L.A. Glen Campbell would have done well with this one. Employing some skeletal guitar filigree that has a melted, dripping-clock effect, and a little soul flute, in addition to the strings, this song seems to start off in the middle of the drama. And listen for the big dramatic coda. Giving you a little extra, and then some.

"She Might Need Me" - Joe Tex

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Girl After My Own Heart

There's a great, fascinating profile of Shelby Lynne in The New York Times Magazine, focusing on her forthcoming album of Dusty Springfield covers. What we learn is that the woman is a pistol -- a bone fide hellraiser and likely a bisexual and a drunk. She's also really into grammar. That's old school. I shouldn't have to sell anyone on her seminal I Am Shelby Lynne (2000) at this point, it's exquisite and has really aged into one of my favorite albums (please revisit, Mr. Poncho). And if you need further proof that she's Driftwood material, there's this:

When she’s not on the road, a typical Friday night for Lynne means having some friends over for a bottle of wine and playing records, just as the family used to do in Alabama. “I don’t have an iPod,” she said. “I have a computer that I turn on occasionally. I still have all my vinyl. Sissy” — her nickname for [her sister, Allison] Moorer, who lives in New York with her husband, the alt-country singer Steve Earle — “says she has no room in her apartment for records, but I’d keep mine even if I had to sleep on them. You can’t roll a joint on an iPod.”

No, you really can't.

Where I'm From - Shelby Lynne

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Talkin' Post-Holiday Stress Disorder Blues

     Well friends, it was an epic Xmas journey to VT for Frankie Lee and family.  Most of one whole day was spent behind the wheel (and that was just on the to part of the journey)--it turns out it really is 20-plus hours from Nash Vegas to the old home place.  By the last hour I was babbling incoherently and hallucinating--at least I think I was.  (Here's a travel tip:  Don't joke about missing an exit when you've been on the road for nineteen hours). But it was worth it!  There was snow, and lots of it.  At least one car got stuck & unstuck (thanks to Triple A) in the driveway.  We went sledding, and soon found out how out of shape we really are.  (Sliding down a snowy hill is one thing, but climbing back up is quite another).   There were twin babies & a puppy (ours) for maximum cuteness effect.  There was yet another chapter in a continuing family drama, and there was much consumption of substances both licit and illicit.  (There may be some kind of corollary between the two).  I learned what a Nureyev is, and enjoyed a few in the early morning hours of Mrs. Frankie Lee's birthday (the 24th).  (It's just champagne with a dollop of vodka--try it, you'll like it).   Of course, we had to tromp into the woods and find a poor, defenseless balsam tree and cut it down and drag it out of the woods and set it up in the living room and cover it with lights and decorations for some reason.  A bonfire was made using all the wrapping paper from all the Christmas presents, and a whole lot of wood that my brother and I collected.  There's something deeply satisfying about cutting down a bunch of trees with a hand saw, burning them in a big pile, and then going off into the woods in the dark (after many beers) and cutting down more trees, and burning them too.  After visiting a friend who raises goats and makes goat cheese, Mrs. F.L. became convinced that we could move to Vermont and live off the fat of the land.  Who knows?  We'll see.  In short, lots of good food was cooked and eaten, lots of drinks were made and drunk, and lots of good times were had by all.
     As I'm usually wont to do, at one point I found some time to paw through the stacks of records that we've all left behind for one reason or another, plus all the random ones that have accumulated over the years, from sources known & unknown.  A Utah Phillips record caught my eye, I think because I recently read the Steve Martin book and he mentions Mr. Phillips in passing.  Good Though was actually recorded in Vermont, and released on Philo records.  I know there's an Ani DiFranco connection, but just try to put that out of your mind.  This track starts with a joke that Bob Dylan would appreciate (it had me chortling), and ends with a killer punch line.
     Another record that I made off with is Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories, which I think actually belongs to my dad, so I probably should return it at some point.  He's been a Sandburg fan for many a year--in fact, he has a framed letter from the man, a response to one that my dad sent to him.  These are stories that Sandburg made up for his kids, full of great phrases, names, and playful language with some dark passages as well.  I don't know if he's been credited with inspiring the name "Google", but he should be.
      This isn't from a record I found in VT, but since his house was ransacked by drunken teenagers recently I thought I'd include this too.  I love the way his voice sounds at the very end.
     And finally, to a different kind of poet--John Denver.  What to do with poor old John?  I remember Lefty and I sort of half-heartedly mourning his untimely passing  back when I was living in Gotham.  I found this early disc--I think it came out in 1970--called Whose Garden Was This, with my sister's name and the year she got it--'75--written on the cover.  (I'm looking forward to ribbing her about that one).  It includes an unfortunate cover of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", which features some histrionic line-delivery and no harmonies, for some reason.  He also does "Mr. Bojangles".  I didn't listen to that track.  The one that I'm including is one that always cracked my brother and me up.  He wasn't actually at Woodstock, so he wrote a song about it?  It's one of those funny/sad things.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Northern Exposure

During dark, starless, subzero nights in northern Maine, when gloom and inertia bore down on our sanity, my British friend Leon and I would drive the icy streets of Orono in the wee hours of February while puffing a reefer cigarette, the heat cranked, the dashboard lights giving our faces a blue-white glow. I'd always come prepared for these escapes: In 1991, I was spending every Sunday afternoon in my college library's listening center sampling jazz albums. For whatever reason, the record that really thrilled me was 1974's In Concert by Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine. Looking back, I probably only liked it because it approximated a Blues for Allah-era Grateful Dead drums-and-space jam -- a dubious aesthetic benchmark, to be sure. But I'd never heard 70s fusion before, so although I now realize this sounds like Bitch's Brew Lite, it did exactly what I needed it to do at the time. That is: When we needed to teleport finally away, I'd put this in the tape deck and the result was guaranteed: every instrument emerged clear, stark and alive in the darkness, like alien voices warbling secret conversations in our private cave, the inside of my brain becoming a quantum physics factory. By the time Herbie Hancock turned the space-out effects on his electric piano at the end of the 19-minute "Gilbraltar," we were deep inside the Babylonian hieroglyphics, speaking in tongues, destination, as they say, OUT.

It's probably ill-advised to revisit music you liked while high in college. It's downright embarrassing when you get right down to it. But in a weak moment, I sought out and found an unopened vinyl copy on eBay last week and it arrived today. It's out of print, last issued on CD in 1991, evaporating with the now-defunct CTI Records. I've decided it's not half bad in the sober light of adult life -- in fact, it's pretty groovy if you can excuse Turrentine, whose sax solos constantly backslide into Night Court theme music riffs. But I love the echoing, overlapping horn lines at the start of "Povo" and the way it launches off Ron Carter's funk bass riff. The drum solo in the middle of "Gilbraltar" has a surprisingly heavy, Moby Dick quality to it. And Hubbard has a real chemistry with Herbie (see also: Maiden Voyage, 1965), with scintillating and edgy keyboard solos twinkling against the open frontier of a live audience. There are only two songs here, one per side. The vinyl was virgin until I put the needle down and recorded it to mp3:

Povo - Freddie Hubbard & Stanley Turrentine

Gilbraltar - Freddie Hubbard & Stanley Turrentine

>> Here's the lineup: Freddie Hubbard/trumpet, Stanley Turrentine/alto sax, Ron Carter/bass, Herbie Hancock/keys, Jack DeJohnette/drums, and Eric Gale/guitar.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Revolution May Be Downloaded

Since we live in an age when everything – EVERYTHING – is broadcast and shared, or at least posted on YouTube, you name it, stupid cat tricks, all the porn in the world, car wrecks, people getting attacked by animals, prisoners dancing, cute toddlers, a web-cam universe, it’s hard to imagine that, as the great and long-suffering Gil Scott-Heron said, the revolution will not be televised. The truth is always the same. Or at least this one is. It’s all about turning off and turning in. GSH is so right on target, yet so completely unhinged, so Driftwoodsian, that I can’t quite figure out how we’ve neglected to pour digital ablutions for the man. One part Stevie Wonder, one part Last Poets, one part Aaron Neville and one part Nina Simone, Gil had the scientifically blended mix of black power, tender uplift, outrage, buttery mellisma, soul angst and existential shiver.

If you want to go down a wormhole of how-it-used-to-be only to be left scratching your head in wonderment, not even sure if we, with all our knowing nonsense and apathy, are even the same kind of people today as these near giants of indignation and activism, you can watch footage on YouTube of Gil Scott-Heron from 1990, still singing potent stinging truth.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" is Gil Scott-Heron’s anthem. I love how he trots out Glen Campbell AND Rare Earth (!) as examples of MOR lameness. Also name-checked for derision and general suckiness are "hairy-armed women liberationists," "Englebert Humperdink" and "Hooterville Junction."

But Gil Scott-Heron is way more than just message. There’s one little vocal/compositional trick of his that I’ve come to love. It’s when he has the band change keys while he’s in the middle of repeating a phrase or a word. Listen at minute 1:49 on "I Think I’ll Call It Morning," check out how pushes the line "knowing that I’ve got to live on," knocking it up and back a bit. He does it again at 3:08 with the "your troubles" on "Lady Day and John Coltrane." One other tidbit: this record was produced by Impulse maestro Bob Thiele and it includes Ron Carter on bass, Bernard Purdie on drums and Hubert Laws on flute and sax. Dig the reverb on the vocals.

You can listen to an interview with the man, aired on Dec. 11 on WFUV. He performs, too. This man is a genius.

As he wrote on the inside of Pieces of a Man:
"inside you is where life is and not at woolworthless5&10"

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Raffel Ticket

I recently unearthed a treasure given to me by a friend a few years ago -- a CD called "The Ticket" by Ron Raffel, a subway musician most New York commuters have seen at least once on the F train platform at 14th Street, where he's always bashing out songs on a beaten-up acoustic. He was recently featured in a documentary called "Downtown Locals," a scrap of which is featured on this YouTube clip. As the accompanying text explains:

Ronnie came to New York thirty years ago, leaving behind a house, a girlfriend, and a day job to pursue a career in music. Instead this led to a ten-year heroin addiction and life on the streets, eventually bringing him underground. DOWNTOWN LOCALS documents the unbreakable cycle between drug use and dependency, which makes a livelihood elsewhere impossible.

All that hardship is self-evident when you see Ron: stringy-haired, toothless and almost skeletally thin, he looks like Keith Richards without the money. But he's also animated by a preternatural rock'n'roll force, a pure, shamanistic spirit that's totally riveting, not least because it's a little bit scary to behold, in the desperate way he squeezes every note he sings like it's the last one his throat will cough up and hammers chords out of his guitar like he's working out some major demons. I once overheard him tell a guy he used to be in a band in the 1970s called Earth, but I've never been able to find any evidence of that band online. In any case, he's a local treasure, the sort of grizzled vagabond troubadour you don't typically think of as existing in our glossy Starbuckian information age. But there he is, every single day, bashing away, singing his broken heart out. Sometimes I catch just a glimpse of him as my train stops at 14th Street. When the doors open, a few stray notes drift in, that familiar wail over the roar of the trains. I don't even have to look, I can envision the way he stands upright with his foot launched forward, his face looking skyward, totally immersed. Listen to the closing chords of "I'm Just One of the People" for a undiluted taste of what Ron Raffel is all about. The dude is for real, a bona fide driftwood singer.

Love Got Its Own Way - Ron Raffel

If It's Gotta Be Like This - Ron Raffel

I'm Just One of the People - Ron Raffel

Paint Me Blue - Ron Raffel



Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Money Jungle

In honor of all ye who must today venture back into the income-earning jungle after the holidays, here's something to ease the pain of reentry. A Friend of Driftwood Singers sent this track yesterday, a supple, seemingly centerless meditation featuring a trio of jazz superpowers in '62: Duke on piano, Max Roach on drums, Mingus on bass. May it serve as your psychic machete today.

Fluerette Africaine - Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach (The link was broken before, but it's fixed now.)