Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yep, It's That Time of Year Again: SNAP, CRACKLE & POP, VOLUME 7

I love vinyl record albums -- a LOT. But when you're approaching 40, it starts to get a little embarrassing, doesn't it? It's like, dude, get a job and raise your frickin' children stedda taking up shelf space and piping off about Gilbert O'Sullivan, will ya? Believe me, I know. But to paraphrase Woody Allen trying to justify his affair with Soon-Yi, the ear wants what the ear wants. So here's what mine wanted this year, more or less: an assortment of crackly old vinyl tracks pulled from hither and yon, from stray stacks on sidewalks in Brooklyn and crusty old smoke-stained street vendors, from a Chinese woman in an upstate Amish village, a salvage warehouse in Queens, Gimme Gimme Records in the East Village and eBay after my itchy clicker finger followed some foolish fancy. Mr. Poncho delivered a couple gems, especially the Charlie Rich track, which may be the best on this the seventh annual Snap, Crackle & Pop. There was a vague attempt at a recessionary vibe and, curiously, the year 1972 seemed to keep popping up, but there's really no rhyme or reason to the selection, except that in the case of each and every song, a needle bit into a vinyl groove and beautiful analog sound came out (before promptly being converted to crappy mp3). What's sort of pathetic and hilarious is how much of the year I spend thinking about this mix, hustling to find something lovely or amusing or just soulful to hear. It gives form and shape to the pursuit, I guess, a circuitous road and a destination. Anyway, here it is. Hope you dig it.

You can download and print out the CD cover by clicking

>> HERE <<<

Then download all 22 songs by clicking

>> HERE <<

Here's what you'll find:

Street People - Bobby Charles (Bobby Charles, 1972)
Lost Paraguayos -Rod Stewart (Never a Dull Moment, 1972)
God Help the Girl - God Help the Girl (God Help the Girl, 2009)
Break Your Promise - The Delfonics (The Delfonics Super Hits, 1972)
Running Close Behind You - Dion (Suite for Late Summer, 1972)
Let Me Kiss Ya - Nick Lowe (Nick the Knife, 1982)
Yellow Star - Donovan (Essence to Essence, 1973)
Juste Quelques Flocons Qui Tombent - Antione (Je Reprends La Route Demain, 1965)
Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye -Freddy Fender (Before the Next Teardrop Falls, 1975)
Work to Make It Work - Robert Palmer (Pressure Drop, 1976)
Just A Gigolo - Thelonious Monk (Thelonious Monk Trio, 1954)
Bird of the World - Bill Fox (1996)
Dixieland Delight - Alabama (The Closer You Get ..., 1983)
He Was Too Good to Me - Nina Simone (At The Village Gate, 1962)
Sandy - The Hollies (Another Night, 1975)
I Don't Believe in Miracles - Colin Blunstone (I Don't Believe in Miracles, 1982)
Milk Train - Jefferson Airplane (Long John Silver, 1972)
For Your Precious Love - Aaron Neville (Orchid in the Storm, 1986)
Patches - Jerry Reed (The Man With the Golden Thumb, 1982)
Come to Me - The Travel Agency (The Travel Agency, 1968)
I've Lost My Heart to You - Charlie Rich (Lost Weekend, 1960)
Thank You for the Party - Bugatti & Musker (The Dukes, 1982)


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blah Blah Blah Top Ten of 2009 (Minus Four)

I listened to more new music this year than I have in a long while. Not sure why. A new phase. Obama. End of the World. But even so, music made by people under 40 (or for that matter, living people) still constituted only about 15% of the music in my life. Most of it was still crackly old jazz and soul albums. I only supply this Top Six list out of some misguided need to tell people I still care about social conventions and hierarchies and 20th Century magazine year-end roundups and, generally speaking, other human beings. I'll supply mp3 downloads if requested, but you can easily find any of this stuff at

1. Dirty Projectors "Bitte Orca" - I could just as easily put the Bill Callahan or Girls album here, but in the tussle between supreme ambition and uncanny intimacy, I'm tilting slightly toward the former. This sounds like what would happen if Yes came from Senegal, were born in 1990 and tried making music that a girl might like. This record surprises again and again and manages to just avoid feeling suffocatingly indie and rockist. I shook my head in disbelief through the entire thing and, crucially, still do. It's a huge achievement, especially for people who love listening to entire records on headphones.

2. Bill Callahan "Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle" - Completely strange and original, yet as warm and comforting as a Navajo blanket sewn by Neil Young. The lyrics are as like abstract poetry held in a glass of water in the sunlight; sounds like: Gen-X getting serious as a heart attack. And it's recorded so beautifully, with such depth and dimension and breadth, it makes other "folk" albums feel 2D. How about this: It's the "Avatar" of indie folk. Go find "Too Many Birds" and see what I mean.

3. Girls "Album" - I try really hard not to get caught up in Pitchfork's buzz making, but if the shoe fits, wear it. This album is extraordinarily beautiful and lushly emotional. Sounds like: a bisexual skateboarder runaway who's never heard anything but quivery 50s doo wop ballads. Imagine if Jonathan Richman and Antony were smashed together in a particle collider and then outfitted by American Apparel. I'm STILL obsessing on it. Go find "Hellhole Ratrace" and sit and listen to it.

4. Flaming Lips "Embroyonic" - I'll always have a soft spot for psychedelic music, especially raw, garage-y, Nugget-y, Floyd-y primitive freakouts that seek to shock your stoned mind with vision maps and vortex revelations and revealed mind hearts. It's as old as the hills, this stuff, but much harder to do than it appears, and most people fail. Like some epic Stan Brakhage film, this record just expands and and ripples and curves and confounds and implodes just right. It felt like the last two albums were cotton candy meant to lure the new generation into a sweat lodge. Ka-POW! Again, headphone heaven.

5. The Clientele "Bonfires on the Heath" - My fascination with this band may be peculiar to me, but I love their smooth-as-silk, wispy-as-Monet, airy-as-autumn 60s sound so. The well-tempered drums and deceptively plangent, interwoven guitars, the whispered poetry of it all. The best word I can use to describe everything about the Clientele is "leafy." If ferns had audio, they'd sound like the Clientele.

6. Sunn O))) "Monoliths & Dimensions" - Saying you love this record is like saying you love a forbidding mountain off in a cold distance. It's utterly abstract, but the fascination is so profound and lingering, like you're being shown an unexplored valley full of ghosts and ledges that leads, circuitously, to everything Alex Ross wants you to like, like modern classical and Mahler. I kept listening and listening, simultaneously amused by how boneheaded the whole thing really is, and awed by how wonderful it is that boneheadedness can actually take you to interesting places like this. Isn't that what Sabbath taught us?

See the People Run and Gather, Something High Has Caught Their Eye

I stumbled on Jim Sullivan, streaming on dinky speakers on my laptop. It's shaggy music, with one toe water-logged in the rippling, sometimes scum-topped, pool of soul-folk -- some damaged DNA shared by Van Morrison, Joe South and maybe even Mac Davis. The other toe, I don't know. It's an adult portion. Sullivan sings in places with that wonderful self-limiting effect used by people like George Jones, it's like applying a volume pedal to your vocals, so that the signal sort of swells and then fades, with a weird tapered curve. The energetic strumming brings to mind Gordon Lightfoot. There's promiscuous harpsichord and strings poking through in places. There's something almost heavy metal about this tune, "Johnny." And Sullivan's singing here reminds me of Ozzy and Ian Anderson. This record, U.F.O., sounds very Blind Faith-ish. The drumming is jazzy, but in that British, overzealous way -- getting busy with the triplets -- that turns from cool to menacing. And the groove starts to come unhinged in places. There's upright bass lurking, not saying much, but shadowing the whole affair. And then the creepy Bobbie Gentry strings come in, adding negative energy to the vocal lines, ballast to the airy subject. Turns out that Jim Sullivan has some major ties to titans of rock and pop. He played on a Walker Brothers record. Get this, he played on "Itchycoo Park" by the Small Faces, he played on "Ferry Across the Mersey" by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Played on Vashti Bunyan tracks. Friends with Tom Jones and Elvis Presley. Got Jim Marshall to make amps. Dude looks like Meher Baba. Evidently Sullivan appears in the commune scene (one of my favorites) in Easy Rider.

"Johnny" - Jim Sullivan

"Roll Back the Time" -- Jim Sullivan

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Just Let Go of Your Mind

The first step is admitting you have a problem. There's also a step involving the realization that you don't have control. I just reached the step where I find some scrap of music on my iPod and I don't know where it came from (I have this feeling that Lefty may have dropped it on me, or maybe even posted it here already) or who it is, and I have to accept that it's the abiding mystery -- and the vaporous otherworldly shapes that form between my ears when I put this music on: the assertive tambourine, the lush-and-lumpy horns, the billowing backwards shit, the funky drummer business put to the service of soulful sap-rising psychedelic soft pop -- that keeps blowing sparks off the dusty coals.

This is music made by a Canadian teenager in the late '60s. The record was re-issued in 2001.

"Fly" - J.K. & Co.

"Christine" - J.K. & Co.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This Is Not Only A Test

      Today I am reminded of the famous Herman Melville quote:  "To produce a mighty blog, you must choose a mighty theme."  Done and done.  I didn't get on the bus until it was down the road a ways, but I'm enjoying the ride.  Thanks, boys.
Part One
     Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let's get down to brass
tacks.  Every so often I like to perform a test on myself (no, not that kind, silly!).  It's quite simple:  I listen to the Billy Joel song "Uptown Girl", and try to register my reactions in a brutally honest fashion.  I did this a year or so ago--well, I should say that I attempted to, but I just couldn't bear it for more than, I dunno, 45 seconds or so.  Last night I tried again, and lo and behold, I was able to listen to it all the way through.  Granted, I periodically burst out laughing every few bars, but the fact remains that I listened to the whole song.  You may be wondering (and well you should): Why would someone do such a thing?  And what does it all mean?  Well, I've been wondering that myself.  I admit that I've crossed many a line in the last few years:  the Huey Lewis line, the REO Speedwagon line, the Foreigner line.  (You get the picture).  And when you realize that you no longer have any shame (or at least possess very little), naturally your thoughts turn to Billy Joel.  "But wait!"  I can hear you saying.  "This is madness!  Is there no limit?  Is there not a line that shall never be crossed?!?"   Okay, whoa--calm down... I believe there is, or at least I hope so.  I do this in the spirit of fearless research into the deepest recesses of human consciousness.  Future generations will benefit, I assure you.  [An aside:  I just reread Lefty's post on BJ (still can't get over that ankle watch), and recommend his take on the issue].  Okay, I admit that I also listened to "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)", without many feelings of revulsion.  It made me realize something:  The only Billy Joel album that ever crossed the threshold of the family home (if memory serves) was one that one of my older sisters borrowed from a friend, and I'm pretty sure I heard that song being played a few times when I was a wee lad.  (I've been blessed--and I use that term unironically--with four older siblings who all had positive influences on the formation of my musical tastes).  So I'm thinking there must by some sort of subconscious--oops, not anymore!--deep-rooted Billy Joel aversion dating back years, simply because none of my siblings ever bought one of his albums.  Quite the revelation, I know.  So where does this leave me, or any of us?  It's hard to say.  I still don't really understand why I now enjoy listening to certain songs that I used to sneer at when I was a high schooler.  Maybe it's just the fact that the shame/cool factor has slowly whithered away.  Some might say I'm the better for it.  I'm not sure.  Anyway, go ahead and do the "Uptown Girl" test--it's fun, and the results are always interesting!  (And hey, "Movin' Out" isn't so bad, really...)  (Uh-oh...)...  (I almost forgot--check this clip out--it still cracks me up every time...)
Part Two
     We decided to take a different route, and ended up driving through a small town called Graniteville.  We passed some old factories that looked like they had been dormant for a while, and rows of small, tidy houses that were probably built for the no-longer-working factory workers.  We crossed a canal and some railroad tracks, and saw a few nice old houses.  We found out later that there had been a terrible accident there a few years ago, something involving railroad cars and chlorine.  That didn't stop us from driving back through a few days later, though.  After a few miles we happened upon an old junk store.  It was really a classic, straight out of central casting.  Old black guy sitting in a chair on the side, staring.  A ton of mostly useless stuff.  I asked the lady who ran the place if there were any records, and she pointed me in the right direction.  Like a junkie desperate for another fix, I started pawing though the musty, dusty stacks of vinyl, and soon that old familiar feeling started to set in.  It's sort of like nausea, or maybe nausea is just one component of the over-all feeling.  You could say it's existential, I suppose.  (But who would want to?)  It's partly due to the physical sensations--the dimness, the dust.  But there's also that feeling of pointlessness, and the thought "Am I really that much of a loser?" never fails to creep into the brain.  Sometimes, there's really nothing, not even a funny album cover, and that's pretty depressing.  But then sometimes, like this time, you find a record like the Raspberries' first one, and all those thoughts of loserdom vanish.  I had known about the Raspberries for a while, Eric Carmen, etc., but I never listened to them before.  More importantly, I never knew that this album had a scratch 'n sniff sticker on the front.  You heard me right.  How cool is that?  Yes, I scratched, and I sniffed, and there it was--I could still smell the scent of raspberries (or at least, manufactured raspberry aroma).  Sometimes the album jacket is more interesting than the music inside.  It reminds me of the Hargus "Pig" Robbins album I found one time--it's got Braille on it.  Him being a blind pianist and all.
     I also found this Ambrosia album, which I hadn't even realized I wanted.  I love the lame high-school-art-class-psychedelia cover.
It was 1975, but they didn't care!  Perhaps psychedelic art never goes out of style, for some people.  Apparently these guys all played on an Alan Parsons record.  So there you go.  The one hit is "Holdin' On To Yesterday", which I believe is the perfect tune for this here blog.  For isn't that what we're all doing?  Holding on to the music of yesterday,  in a vain attempt to [fill in the blank]?
(Come to think of it, I can't believe that no-one's ever written about the Raspberries or Ambrosia on this blog.  Strange).  Besides those two albums, I also found a Hall & Oates record--the one with "Kiss On My List" and "You Make My Dreams" (a must-have, in other words); The Best of Freddy Fender (which features a picture of him with a huge fake cactus between his legs); and something called Les Baxter's Jungle Jazz.  The beat goes on.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Here's a Driftwood statistic worth noting: this site's authors have made five children since we began four years ago on Nov. 1, 2005, at 8:45 p.m.

A lot has happened, but perennial themes tell a story: controlled spoilage, the curdling of tastes, aesthetic relativity, the world-weary shrug one eventually adopts in the face of overwhelming evidence that things probably aren't going to get much better than they are right now. You'd think we would have quit by now.

But always, eventually, somewhere in the hidden folds of the crow's feet of a leathery gaze into the sunburst desertscape of our spiritual condition, we find reasons for joy and hope. In records, albums, songs, melodies, beats, lyrics, riffs, barbaric yawps, fay whispers, harmonic convergences, thunderous licks, melted time signatures, all manner of stoned philosophy, rough mixes, ripples of phaser and dollops of wah-wah, sonic wizardry of pretty much every stripe and stipple. If there's a sparkle in the groove, we'll fish it out. We're as moved by an epic failed attempt as by the soulful note perfectly struck.

As people, we grow ever more barnacled and bloated, what with jobs and kids and mortgages (gulp), untethered from a long-lost center that didn't hold and was never destined to hold. We need stronger liquor now, it's true. A revelation: people our age, Gen-X, have realized we're finally just a subset of the Baby Boomers, our cultural circuit-board built to believe we were extending the 20th Century narrative on some inevitable arc to somewhere (over the rainbow?), never suspecting we'd just end up digitizing the whole human drama and folding it all into an archival box for a flattened, airless age. End of History and all that. We're still a bit stunned that it turned out this way, aren't we? I think that's what The Driftwood Singers has always been about: for us, old LPs and quasi-salvageable bygone pop isn't just the flotsam and jetsam of a faded generation, it's a flotation device to keep us from going under the waves. We collect them like scrap metal for some kind of floating junkyard paradise where we can hang out and talk shit, drink bourbon and eat beans around a fire when the rest has turned to Waterworld. Inside a grain of sand, a universe: here's ours. A little reefer in a hand-rolled cigarette, settle in for the gauzy journey to the stereo, the blue-green glow, the first shocking notes, the quivering vocal, the tremolo guitar trembling between the speakers like a shimmering sun, the enveloping rapture of a musical moment.

It'll do in a pinch. Here's to four more years ...

Divine Daze of Deathless Delight - Donovan

Yellow Sun - Donovan

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Modern Love

1.) It's hard to believe, but the rate of retro exploitation has sped up so fast that it's now acceptable to cop Pavement records, as if new listeners were too young to actually pick up on it. This either signifies that I am officially ancient or history is folding in on itself so fast that 2012 will indeed herald the end of the world. Never had I imagined a day when my own generation's music would become source material for boutique replicators. Then I heard this band Cymbals Eat Guitars, which sounds so much like Pavement I'm almost convinced Stephen Malkmus invented these guys in his basement in some kind of a cloning experiment gone haywire. I sound like I'm complaining, but it's actually pretty amazing!

Tunguska - Cymbals Eat Guitars

2.) Lefty is presently loving two albums: the new Flaming Lips, Embryonic, which is so heavy with deep-dish psychedelia it's basically an ode to the impending legalization of pot in California; and the new Clientele album, Bonfires on the Heath. These records are great for entirely different reasons, the first for undermining all expectations, the Clientele for continuing to sound exactly like they always have, like the Byrds, the Zombies and the Left Banke were poured in a vat of green cough syrup, which you drank before falling asleep in a park in suburban England. It's perfect.

Silver Trembling Hands - Flaming Lips

Wonder Who We Are - The Clientele

3.) Mr. Poncho pointed me to the music of Ernie Graham, which seems to merge Bobby "Santa Claus" Dylan with Bobby "I live in a trailer on the Bayou" Charles. More acurately, it sounds like Ernie rolled up the year 1971 in a Zig Zag and smoked it.

So Lonely - Ernie Graham

4.) I'm not sure if I'll be the first to observe this, but Julian Casablanca may be the first of Gen-Y's retro-refurbishers to mine Eddie Money. Watch his much ballyhooed appearance on the Tonight Show and then compare:

(Can't really touch Eddie though, right? Casablanca needs a touch more Rodney Dangerfield to pull it off; JC's drummer is working some outer borough retard magic though.)

5.) Somebody dropped this track on me a few months ago and it keeps coming up in my shuffle. It's getting under my skin, slowly.

Modern Love - The Last Town Chorus

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ain't No Velvet Glove

As I mentioned, my brother dropped by the other week. He had his external hard drive. There was a lot of data dumpage going on. I retrieved some tidbits from the memory banks. I'm still excavating and unpacking. This was one of those tracks that I remembered from a mixed tape. It got played over and over. Etched in. Intaglio of the air. Wax print on the brain folds. Sonic seepage. There was so much transpiring in so little real time. Southern-fried tabla. Synth squiggles, muskrat sounds, circuit-board didgeridoo. Cornmeal drone. And the lyrics: "milquetoasted love." I could never sign on fully for the heavy-lidded beach music vibe of Little Feat, and Lowell George's Zappa connection always seemed like as much of an indictment as a point of pride. Bonnie Raitt's rec means more to me. This is one of those songs that point to all kinds of frightful possibilities.

"Kiss It Off" - Little Feat

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I Give Up, Why Can't They?

I had one of those mystical communions with this song, years ago. In a piny subdivision, watching a video documentary about the band. Maybe having smoked some weed. Probably. The tuneful summing up. The strange uplifting hopelessness.
DJ Bonebreak was one of the great drummers. Muscular and crisp and driving, without ever being showy or too spastic.
Shocking how much John Doe and Exene sound like Grace Slick and Marty Balin. Billy Zoom was like a robot god inhabiting a punk greaser.
Shocking, too, how much this sounds like a lost track from the cast recording of Hair.
The title always seemed like the best, most sound punk rock advice you could ever get. The So-Cal name-checking is so "positive scene."
X was exploring the punk/hippie symbiosis/continuum long before it was sanctioned. They were like some deformed Platonic ideal of a band.
Did you know Exene was married to Viggo Mortensen?

My brother stopped in last night. Down from Quebec. He got out the external hard drive and did a major excavation/plundering from my music files. I did the same. Found this, and many other nostalgic nuggets.

"I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" - X

Friday, October 02, 2009

Dap This

     Last night my dear wife and I went to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.  I happened to stumble upon this cd a while back, and we both liked it a lot.  Then she was on Austin City Limits, and pretty much tore it up live.  So it was a must-see situation.  (Plus it was free!  And it was on our anniversary!)  Charles Walker and the Dynamites opened (I guess it was an and the kind of evening).  Mr. Walker is a veteran soul artist who's been recording since the '60s, and he's having a late-career resurgence backed by a bunch of young Nashville musicians.  He's pretty amazing.  Sharon Jones was great too--she's probably only, what, five feet two, but she has this incredible energy, and her band is tight and funky as hell.  At one point in her show she has to take her shoes off so she can really, truly get down--I mean, she just goes off in this paroxysm of stomping, shaking soul dancing.  It's a sight to behold.  The (mostly white) crowd was way into it.  (One could probably write a dissertation about old-school funk & soul bands and the makeup of their audiences, but I won't go into that here).  I'll just say it was a great night of music here in Music City.  Sharon Jones is a force of nature, my friends.  You should see her live if you ever get the chance.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Visions of Bacharach


The thing about loneliness is that everybody is lonely differently, in their own way. Which is either, a) why it's called loneliness to begin with, or b) doubly lonely, when you think about it, or c) both. It's like when a song comes on the radio and you're suddenly filled with the sweetest reverie for a bygone moment and the person you're with says, "I hate this song."

By now I've accepted that I'm alone in certain things. And one of those is my continuing fascination with the instrumental albums of Burt Bacharach. I just found a copy of Make It Easy on Yourself from 1969. Upon first listen, a lot of people, Dewey Dell included, immediately reject what they're hearing. The 1960s "period" sound strikes people first and usually blots out any further consideration. That's fair. It sounds like muzak or something your parents once heard in a hotel lobby in Vegas.

But bear with me.

What begins to happen when I listen for a while, with imagination, even meditation, is that I can start to feel like I'm walking in a museum of pop gestures, a melodic Pop Art exhibit with huge canvases of glockenspiel and trumpet and tremolo surf guitar. That probably sounds like an "ironic" experience, Warhol lite. And occasionally it is. But sometimes a revelation can happen when a mellow horn line or a leisurely piano melody suddenly bonds with a personal association, like an image seen in a musical Rorschach: a green vacuum cleaner being run over an orange carpet by a brunette in curlers in a cool, sunless room, white curtains, a Hawaii Five-O re-run in the background; the brightly-lit popcorn maker at Sears; a sea-green counter at a Woolworth's diner on a winter afternoon; the silhouette of a man in a long burgundy Buick driving at dusk across a flat landscape in warm 35 millimeter. I'm reminded of the photographs of Stephen Shore, the Warhol acolyte, who drove around America in the 1960s and 70s taking pictures of hotel rooms and empty parking lots (see above, Room 110, Holiday Inn, Brainerd, MI, July 11, 1973).

When you let this music sit like a still life, without received judgment, the inspired images can have an oddly emotional tincture, the distillation of some faded American loneliness, like a recovered memory belonging to someone else, but no less sad for that. And maybe sadder. The real irony of this music is not in its cliches, but in the embedded human sympathy that's somehow revealed in these faceless orchestral vistas. I start to imagine Burt Bacharach as the loneliest man who ever lived while making these songs. Because nothing in the music is about him, personally. He's utterly solitary with a full studio orchestra, painting these lush and gleaming landscapes. And we can see ourselves in them, lost in time.

[Editor's Note: links to these songs were taken off to satisfy copyright warnings.]

She's Gone Away - Burt Bacharach

The Guy's In Love With You - Burt Bacharach (Listen for Bacharach humming along to the melody

Pacific Coast Highway - Burt Bacharach

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Scottish Georgics

These days, my life, my anxieties, my hopes, my whole scene, could be summed up, or put in place, or undermined by its own essence, with any number of vaguely agricultural get-up-and-go aphorisms. The early bird gets the worm. You reap what you sow. The sun also rises. Make hay while the sun shines. Ecclesiastes. Etc. It's either birds, worms, seeds, sun or hay. Throw in a little "Muck is the mother of the mealbag" and you've got it covered. Shit be elemental.

But talk of shit and talk of sun and talk of hay always makes me think back to the characters I spent time with on farms. Ernst Larson, Buck, Kenny. Dudes who whose proximity to the life force seemed to place them farther from actual civilization. Hoisting grease guns, getting augers and hoppers and silos all lined up. Birthing calves. Weening. Putting up fence. Standing in fucking frigid and fetid water with rats scurrying around, trying to hack into a frozen pile of silage. More than anything, bailing hay. It was hellish. Infernal. All itchy and rashy on your arms, shirt soaked with sweat. Blowing beats of sweat off your nose. Bailing twine tearing through your fingers. These guys seemed powered by some kind of mute masochistic energy. They'd work until their hands, lungs, muscles, backs, brains and skin were just shot. Then they'd get up and do it again. They wanted to see you pass out from heat stroke so they could laugh at your college-boy ass.

I remember Kenny sneering and offering what to him was the harshest put-town he could make of the wealthy wanna-be farm-boy son of the wealthy businessman owner of the farm. "The sun's not his blood," he said.

There's a lot to be learned from putting up hay, aside from the lessons of the punishing labor required. You really do have to act when conditions are right. It's a shit load of work at a time when everyone else is vacationing, but you're stacking away loads of stored-up energy. You've got to cut it, you got to let it dry, rake it, bail it. It's like the feeling of stacking cord wood while the weather is still hot in September. You're so in touch with the seasons and the cycles that you practically want to just stop speaking altogether. The sun is your blood.

We've been big fans of Gerry Rafferty here. I'm not sure if the sun was his blood. But there was definitely something other than blood in there. That might be why he wound up at a London hospital being treated for liver problems last year. And then the story of his escape to Tuscany showed that the Scottish singer had a lot of sense. Maybe he'd stored up some energy years before and was getting the last laugh, living off his labors from earlier days.

This tune, "Jose," is off of Stealers Wheel's greatest hits. I love the fact that these guys were produced by Lieber and Stoller, doesn't make any sense, but I love it. This tune is in fact written by Joe Egan, the other half of the band. I'm officially on the lookout for Egan's 1979 solo debut, Back on the Road, if anyone spies any moldy vinyl by that name.

"Jose" is great for a number of reasons. It starts out with about three red herring instrumental blues-zombie parts, none of which actually make sense as lead-ins to the actual tune. And the song is really about how it's time to turn the hay. There's some hard-learned Scottish focus in there. Your life is a mess, but you got to get up and get to it.

"Jose" - Stealers Wheel

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Say Uncle, Part Two: Here's Johnny!

     A while back I wrote this post about Uncle Bill, an old family friend (my parents just visited him and his wife in Germany, and they had a great time).  On a recent visit to NYC and VT, I found this record (I still have some in my old apartment in the city, where my brother and his wife reside) and it made me think of another uncle--Uncle Johnny, my mom's younger brother.  He was an erstwhile folk-singer back in the '60s and '70s--the kind that scoffed at Neil Young's success with "Heart of Gold".  More of an amateur ethno-musicologist, I guess.  He'd come up to visit us in his orange VW bus (which eventually caught fire somehow and burned up) and at some point he would haul out his hammered dulcimer--the big guns. He played guitar too, and wrote some pretty clever songs--there was one which gently lampooned the back-to-the-land types:
                         Marvin tills the soil, he's livin' naked out on the land
                         He only eats what he can grow, they call him Organo-Man
                         The strangest thing about Marvin is, I'll never understand
                         I saw him out just the other day with an ice-cream in his hand
     There was a time when Uncle Johnny was breeding Siamese cats, and he brought a couple with him.  One of them got so freaked out that it ran up in the rafters of our still-unfinished house and refused to come down.  So, we ended up with a pet Siamese cat by default.  In short, a real character:  Tall, with long black curly hair, glasses and eyes that always seemed to be bugging out of his head.  But a really good-hearted person.  He would always send us records at Christmas, and they were invariably by people we had never heard of--obscure folkies, primarily.  That's how we got the Joe Hickerson disc.  I'm not sure how it ended up at my brother's apartment.  (He gave us a couple of records by a guy named Ed Lipton, who did children's songs--"Fly, Hippopotamus, Fly" and "Jump, Elephant, Jump" are two song titles that spring to mind.  I don't think he ever experienced Raffi-type success).  
     My brother and I were always inclined to make fun of the music on the records Uncle Johnny sent us (then again, we were inclined to make fun of just about anything), but I eventually grew to like some of Joe Hickerson's stuff.  It probably requires growing up and becoming interested in music of the old, weird America.  Hickerson's delivery is a bit stilted--he really sounds like the folk scholar that he is--but there's something sort of charming about that.  Anyway, the songs don't suffer too much from it.  I like Rolling of the Stones in particular.  It has a really haunting melody and lyrics that leave you scratching your head (I'm pretty sure it's a Child ballad).  Shingling the Rum-Seller's Roof is funny--it's both an anti-alcohol tune and a good drinking song, and it's a metaphor I want to start using more often.  The record came out in 1976, on the Folkways label (appropriately enough).


Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Dream Lives On

I heard this track on WFMU the other day and was so bowled over I emailed the DJ, Todd-o-phonic Todd, who directed me to the source, the 1974 Hollies album Another Night (above). Just when you think you can't be surprised and delighted by another third-tier, off-track moldy-oldy, along comes the disco-era Graham Nash-less Hollies covering Bruce Springsteen. Prepare to be wowed, it's a major winner.

4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) - The Hollies

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mind Games

1. The other night I was telling Dewey about a new band called Lake who had a new song I really loved, called "Madagascar." In the course of this same conversation, the so-called Monsters of Folk also came up, that supergroup featuring Jim James, Bright Eyes and M. Ward. Next thing you know, Dewey plays a song clip from the iTunes store and I couldn't believe what I was hearing: the Monsters of Folk had evidently taken a wildly artistic left turn into "Wasted on the Way"-era CSNY, complete with sleek disco-era production, pristine and feather-light six-part harmonies and Styx-like prog instrumentals. I thought, Brilliant move, fellas. Wow. Who's the genius in the group? Jim James?

Well, of course, it wasn't Monsters of Folk at all. It was Lake -- but NOT the new band called Lake, who are on K Records. Dewey had tripped upon a 30-year-old German prog-pop group called Lake, who some apparently consider "one of the great unknown bands of the 70s." As it happens, two days later I was flipping through some vinyl in Manhattan and happened upon their second album, which I bought immediately, if only to make Dewey laugh. It's entitled Lake 2 (1978). Without saying too much, let me ask that you simply listen to this from beginning to end. Yeah, I know, unbelievable. Paging Ween! But then imagine for a moment that it's a brand new Monsters of Folk single -- and then see how you feel about it. For a moment, if you can suspend disbelief, it almost reveals something corrupt about postmodern taste-making and the way the mind forgives when it forgets.

Scoobie Doobies - Lake

2. A long time ago -- in fact, my very first post in 2005 -- I surmised that my musical tastes might have been formed listening to AM radio in the back of my parents' VW microbus on family vacations in the late 70s and early 80s. But there was another sacred location: laying on a sheep skin rug in front of my dad's Kenwood in the living room at night while gazing at LP covers and listening through those massive 1970s headphones. Some of the first inklings of what adult love and lust must be came to me while staring at the pictures of Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt inside the gatefold of the Endless Love soundtrack. I was 10. When I hear it now, wow, it envelops me totally, revealing an unexpected pocket of warmth beneath the cold surfaces of present life, one so deep and pure that calling it nostalgia doesn't even begin to touch it. It seems to bend time like light through curved glass and suggests for a brief moment the impossibility of mortality. So close, yet so far away. This, my friends, is why I love pop music.

Dreamin' - Cliff Richard

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


For the first time ever I plunked down a large sum of money for a record. As a rule, I pay no more than $15, usually between $1 and $10. I'm what is known as a "bottom feeder" by the record store geniuses who sell vinyl LPs. What happened was I was walking down a hot August street thinking of other things when blammo, here's this record store. A RECORD STORE! A rare discovery in Manhattan, where rents have killed off most of them. So next thing I know I'm flipping through the stacks and listening to this clerk, a pink-Izod-wearing 50-something effete stereophile snob in Lenscrafters faux-architect glasses, groan to a customer about people who think they're getting a "bargain" off the Internet only to find the rare Blue Note album they ordered has a huge gash in it when it arrives. "Idiots!" he declared. "They get what they deserve! Yeah, I'm sure an album graded 'excellent' sounded super on a $99 record player in Texarkana."

OK, on-site perusing has its virtues, sure, but this is a guy who charges $65 for a Glenn Danzig album on vinyl. If I could sell my own collection for the prices he's charging I could retire right now. Thing is, so rare are these bonfires of 20th-century vanity in the digital age, these record stores, it takes very little time for you yourself to become warped into thinking this is a reasonable reality. The kids are really into vinyl nowadays, this guy argues to a customer, so the prices are going up, up, up, up, UP!

All of which is to say I bought Money Jungle, a 1962 United Artist import of Duke Ellington with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, for $60.


I don't know why. I was about to stick with a $10 copy of a lesser Jerry Butler album, but then I saw this sitting up there on the wall, beckoning. I'm sure Mr. Poncho bought this album 10 years ago for about $7, if that. And it's not like I wanted to impress the Pink Architect. I pretty much despised him from the minute I walked into the place. But I despised him for a very specific reason: out of a visceral fear that we shared some essential DNA. Or rather, a rare and alarming disease that leads to the belief that collecting vinyl LPs is a worthy way to pass the time -- a life's pursuit in which there are winners and losers, and not just a bunch of suckers all the way around.

A bright spot: the Ellington record is totally and utterly awesome! And Mr. Poncho says we might fund our kids' college degrees when the vinyl bubble comes and an early Bee Gees record is suddenly worth $50 (thanks for that, Mr. Poncho, but here's my projection for that scenario: the year 3033). In any case, the very least I can do is bring pleasure to my friends now. Herewith, the sound of three giants of jazz in a bare bones trio, egos a-blazing, bass, piano, drums, sparring, ribbing, jabbing, winking, rocking, tearing it up, then going placid and blue and profound, Mingus and Roach making room for master Ellington, Ellington trying to prove he's still got chops beyond the conductor's baton. Mingus levels entire modes of Western thought with his fiercely monosyllabic bass solos against Duke's basso-profundo left-hand jabs and Roach's shimmering minarets of cymbol-work. The name of the record feels right, too, timely, fatalistic and ultimately clear-eyed, an agreement on plight, a killer jam session the only route to existential detente. And maybe that's what I'm seeking from it: a vision of clarity and piercing recognition of what matters in the age of meltdown and reappraisal and thrift. Money is what ails us, but music is what matters, what cures, what calls. Right? I hope so. I just spent $60 for it. Anway, listen.


Money Jungle
Le Fleurs Africaines (African Flower)
Very Special
Warm Valley


Wig Wise

Recorded: New York City, Sept. 17, 1962

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tropical Hot Dog Day Day

Everything’s all moldy. We got ourselves an airborne toxic event up here in New England, wet wise. A white-nose fungal situation. Trench foot, on a spiritual level. But with the high spore count comes a kind of equatorial mush-mind, a humid/tumid world-view. Tropical hot-dog night. We mostly like to keep our eyes cast behind us, against all the best ancient advice. But the dust blows forward and the dust blows back. And, though it is not now as it hath been of yore, same is true of how it will be. I’ve had a few ear-glimpses that make me less forlorn. The apiary, the aviary, the binary barber shop. People turning the melt on, full-force; people working their face-painted shaman thrum; people letting/getting the brittle post-punk get cross-contaminated with/by the polyrhythmic call-and-response aural-quilt patternings.

“Apology to Pollinateurs” – Karl Blau

“Sunlight” – tUnE-yArDs

“Digital Haircut” – dd/mm/yyyy

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Midlifery

The crush of middle age is upon me, folks. Full bore! And I've got blogger's block something fierce too. Bad combo. But I'm giving it a go here, attempting to snatch victory from the jaws of spiritual defeat. Look at me: buying some real estate and adding another social security number to the rolls during an economic depression. Dicey! [Breaking News: Actually TWO new SS #'s!!].

Remember when your whole M.O. was to avoid living a life of "quiet desperation"? Books and music were going to save us. By the time you realize your liberal arts education was designed to fulfill the self-indulgent solipsism of youth, you've become a "content provider" scraping for a shred of dignity in the digital age. How poetic! Then one day you wake up and find yourself on your knees on the sidewalk flipping through boxes of crappy $1 vinyl like some vagrant off his meds: Hey, maybe this Strawbs album will be good. Pathetic. (Btw, it's horrible.) Can't remember who said it, but life is

just one

I Don't Believe in Miracles - Colin Blunstone


Goin' Down to Laurel - Steve Forbert


Oh Yes My Lord - Voices of Conquest


Calico Silver - Write Me Down (Don't Forget My Name) - Kenny Rogers & the New Edition

Well, it'll do in a pinch.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Two-Fold Spooge

Back when I traveled around playing music, we were once staying in Huntsville. Alabama (northern Alabama in general, and The Tip Top Café in particular, is where I had some of my most anarchic, rowdy and most “rock-and-roll” rock-and-roll experiences.) We had friends there who would put us up. The husband was a scientist – a cryonics expert – at NASA. And one night he took us to the lab to fuck around with some liquid nitrogen, flash-freezing bananas and turning them into brittle things that would shatter on the floor – shit like that. Back at their house I remember reading an essay – maybe in a Robert Anton Wilson book or something – about an optics experiment in which subjects are shown a series of letters displayed on a wall just at the outer limits of what they can decipher. So the subjects basically can only see a hazy blur of unreadable text. But researchers found that once the subjects were told what the letters spelled out, they could then somehow “read” the letters. The point being that what was once beyond their ability to process and read would somehow become readable, even though all that had changed was that they were told what the letters were. The experiment demonstrated something that was maybe obvious to a lot of people: basically that your brain does a big part of the work of making sense of the data that your sense organs take in. So if you know what you’re looking at, you can then understand it. I think the same is sometimes true of music and desire; if you know what you’re wanting to hear, your mind will spooge in the mortar between the bricks. In this case, the spooging was two-fold. My mind wanted to like this Chris Darrow record in part because of his having been on sessions with people like Leonard Cohen, Gram Parsons and others. I also learned coincidentally a few months back that Darrow was an early guitar teacher (maybe the first?) for Stan Ridgway, of Wall of Voodoo. The cover art on this re-issue of Darrow’s early solo stuff is awesome – the country-hippie existentialist “I advance masked” element. (I’m still not sure if it’s “good”.) There was also a mondegreen situation at work. My copy of this disc didn’t have any song titles on the CD sleeve, and I kept hearing the chorus of the first track as something like “there’s a crooked rainbow shining in my eyes,” which just seemed like a pleasantly absurd image in a kind of country-fried soft-rock scenario. There’s lots of endearingly questionable production on this record – pillowy toms are rolled on in sleepy tribal elaborations, cymbals seem to have been in short supply at times (thankfully), at one point a Moog-ish synth provides out-of-place futuristic robot-swamp bass lines to a booze-boogie jam. There are strange dueling fiddles. Nasally bag-pipe-type things drone in places. “Take Good Care of Yourself” sounds like “The Harder They Come” transmuted on an ethanol-powered Nitty Gritty Dirt Band quantum molecule swap.

“Albuquerque Rainbow” – Chris Darrow

“Take Good Care of Yourself”- Chris Darrow

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Ballad of Benji Hughes

There are a plethora of conflicts of interest and quasi-ethical issues in telling our dear readers they should check out a story in THE BELIEVER magazine this month. One of us may have written it, another was probably the source for it and possibly the drummer in a rock band mentioned therein. But what the hell, we've never billed ourselves as objective. So: It's a profile of Charlotte, NC-based singer-songwriter Benji Hughes, who is, besides being a gorgeous chunk of hirsute humanity, a pop savant of the criminally unsung variety. If Randy Newman and Prince were put into a particle accelerator built on a NASCAR speedway you'd probably end up with Benji. There are music samples in the story, but here's a download of "So Much Better," the song that tipped me into a full-on rabid fan.

"So Much Better" - BENJI HUGHES

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Too Hot To Come Up With A Clever Title



It's hot.  Blisteringly, mind-numbingly, hallucinatingly hot.  This morning my wife said, "The high today is supposed to be 91."  "Oh, good", I responded, "it's cooling off."  That's how hot it is--I can't even think of a good joke to make about it.  I'm reading Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer (thanks Mr. P), the first part of which takes place in Venice, and it's incredibly hot there.  So it's kind of nice how that's jibing with the actual weather here.  Also too, it provides a good excuse to stay inside and read, listen to music, paint, which is what I prefer to do most of the time anyway.  So don't get the wrong idea--I'm not complaining.  Heaven forbid.
     So what does that have to do with the subject of this post?  Nothing really, just a way to kick things off I guess.  It's just my favorite song of the moment.  It's got some clever lyrics, some of which refer to the CBC and hockey (yes, she's Canadian, bless 'er), and it sounds like the Jayhawks are backing her up, though I don't think any of them play on the cd.  I like the languid pedal steel lines.  Her voice reminds me of someone, I can't quite pin it down, and the way she sings makes it seem like she isn't trying too hard, which I tend to like in a singer.  Maybe she is but she hides it well.  This is from Asking for Flowers, which came out last year.  I haven't figured out whatever in hell she's saying in this song, but it sure stimulates the pleasure center in my little brain.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Metal Buffoonery

Welp, just watched the Anvil documentary last night. Devastating. I know everyone keeps talking about how Spinal Tap it is, but you can't even begin to grasp it until you start soaking it in. There's riffage, there's tour retardation, there's lots of wasted time, energy and talent. But there's also some redemption -- just enough -- and some real emotional spots: family coming through; reckoning with parents; trying to maintain dignity when there's little to allow it.

It made me think of this Manowar documentary that a friend had worked on years ago. He gave me a VHS copy back in the 90s, which I mistakenly loaned to a former co-worker who never returned it. This is metal buffoonery Phase VIII, where it's all headed. Trying to decode whether the band is being ridiculed by the film-makers they hired to celebrate them is half the fun. When they visit Wagner's estate you know it's for real.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thoughts on MJ

When I saw him do the moonwalk for the first time on TV in 1983, sitting in my living room with my parents in Ohio, I gasped. We all did. Everybody tried it at school the next day, EVERYBODY.

Now it's over and one of the big iconic American storylines of our lifetimes is officially written. So much like the Elvis story it's almost a Joseph Campbell archetype at this point. Uncanny talent. Innocence lost. The self-made prison. Money, high walls, the weirdness, then the curdling darkness. Marries Elvis's daughter! Multiple personas, story lines, periods, myths, rumors, faces, all constantly at odds till the images of the man escape the man entirely, leaving a wretch, a ghost, a bad dream. Felt like he died before he actually died. What remains are his songs, which are like pure charisma captured in sound. They're cultural bedrock now. Feels like a cord to the past was cut today.

The New York Times has a poll asking readers to pick their favorite of MJ's No. 1 hits. In the comments section I said this: "'Rock With You' splits the difference between the innocent years and the evolving adult incarnation of MJ. There's a sweetness to it, pre-weird, romantic, yet still has the sharp, ultra-tight Quincy Jones production that let's MJ's quirky funk angles poke through. Makes me miss him."

Rock With You - Michael Jackson

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Washed Away By Magnitude

JP and the kids and I just got back from a week at the beach in NC. Kure Beach, near Wilmington. We had a duplex with loads of family – moms, in-laws, nieces and nephews, siblings. We just drank and watched the little ones pretend they were super heroes, spies, or nurses during a catastrophe. I love how people just set up chairs and blankets and shady structures and just hang out facing the ocean. The sun and wind, the sound, the salt breeze, the sting and stupor of the heat, the powerful push and pull of the water, the grinding going round, the drop-off expanse of horizon – there’s plenty of reason to stand vigil there, but I just appreciate the air of spiritual pilgrimage to the whole affair. It’s not Varanasi or Canterbury, but it works. It helps if you’re sozzled from bloody marys or sleep-deprivation or just in a baked stupor. I always thought of going to hear loud music as being kind of the urban, dark, smoky, night-time, electric version of a day at the beach. You face the noise, and soak it up. It can hurt you, but it feels good. It’s a doom aesthetic. But everything is, as Lefty has noted.

I’ve recently had a mid-life return to criminal file-sharing. I guess I have pangs of guilt. Anyway, one thing I had been looking for forever and finally "found" was this tune by Don Covay. If you’ve never heard Covay, listen to just how much he sounds like a famous big-lipped singer from England. Mick has spelled out his debt to Covay in places, I think, but once you know to look for it, the connection is almost distracting at times. But beyond that, this tune operates with the one of the mystical core values of musical greatness: the slowness. It’s got an elemental, glacial, unperturbability. It’s really meant for surprise exposure in the Driftatron, a stealth sonic attack, spring it on a muddled friend, stump the host, but this will have to do.

The absurdist deconstructed horn accents. The warped reverb guitar filigree. The ghostly choir. I had hoped to have this tune handy when I did my wind-themed (it recurs with me) post a while back, but here it is now.

"It's in the Wind" -- Don Covay

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Speaking of Bert Jansch

And speaking of getting your roots of Led Zeppelin on, and speaking of infinite revival, and speaking of great band names, and speaking of folks who look like the ecstatic crowd shots (floppy felt hats) from the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, and speaking of potent Scottish situations, here’s a track from Trembling Bells. Listening to the vocalist, it drives home just how few people sing without affect these days. The drumming – a bit like Pentangle – is heroically jazzy and brawny, not something one expects from thoughtful folk revivalists. Even the repurposed Dylan Thomas-ism of the chorus points to some fruitful throwback. I understand that the lead singer is also a student of medieval and Renaissance music, so the band is clearly ready to dredge where they need to. The record, Carbeth, is leavened nicely, with bits of festive madness, filtered through a free jazz perspective, to keep the museumy aspect in check.

“When I Was Young” – Trembling Bells

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Exultation of Despair

Roscoe Holcomb is a sonic memento mori. A skull on the desk. Switching between banjo and guitar and employing a style on each that evokes the other, Holcomb sounds like Dock Boggs superimposed on a Skip James jam. It’s bluesy, but it’s also high lonesome, deep holler, mountain madness – stretching back to hermit monks in beehive caves, the rocky coast of some desolate fringe of Ireland or Scotland, waiting for the invaders to wipe away history. And he looked like William S. Burroughs leading a scouting troupe. This version of “Moonshiner” makes me think of Cormac McCarthy, both because of the bug-juice theme, the backwoods spookiness, the revenue coming to get you, stilling up all his corn, etc, but also for the bone-dry aesthetic, the compressed-into-dust austerity. Cat Powers, Uncle Tupelo and Dylan (all of whom have done versions of the song) need to take it home and work on it for a while longer. Someone once referred to Holcomb’s “exultation of despair” and I think that’s about right. You can see footage of Holcomb on YouTube -- and there's a movie, The Lonesome Sound, which features him as well. I love the thought of Holcomb sitting alone on his front porch in Daisy, Kentucky, not far from the lumber camp, singing Old Regular Baptist hymns. I’m not sure what the physical-physiological factors are, but this one of those performances that always sets up sympathetic vocal harmonies in my head whenever I hear it. I’ve seen others express the sentiment about Holcomb’s music and I share it: it’s what you want played at your funeral. But even more, it practically makes me want to hop on a pyre and light a match.

“Moonshiner” – Roscoe Holcomb

“The Wandering Boy” – Roscoe Holcomb

Monday, May 11, 2009


Here's a tale that readers of The Driftwood Singers may find familiar: a curious writer takes a trip into the sub-basement of heavy metal and lives to tell about it. A look at Boris and Sunn O))) in this week's New York magazine.

Meanwhile, Dewey Dell and I saw the Japanese psych rockers Ghost over the weekend. We're too old to be standing on our feet for that long, but I have to say, they were really sensational. They had the cello player/singer from freak-folkers Espers with them, a woman who looks like a hollow-eyed Gilda Radner in an Edward Gorey skit. They played all manner of Japanese wood instruments and also clarinet and saxophone to build these expansive psychedelic suites that sounded like Fairport Convention and Jefferson Airplane and Can, but all of it off by whatever subtle number of degrees that Eastern culture is off from Western. The singer/shaman, Masaki Batoh, was a quiet force of mysticism, swinging what looked like a wooden lantern on the end of a rope and producing a ghostly drone, swaying about like he was in a trance. And when guitarist Michio Kurihara, who I discovered through his work with doom metallurgical stars Boris, went into his off-the-chain solos, it was like you were driving through an electrical storm at night, except later you realize you're in that submarine in Fantastic Voyage and you're actually inside the nerve center of a wizard's brain. Here's some hazy pictures I took using my new iPhone (click through for larger versions).

Ghost - Hazy Paradise

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Curious Case of Scott Walker

     My dear wife and I saw the Scott Walker documentary 30 Century Man recently, and it left me befuddled and bemused.  Many of you may be familiar with the Walker Brothers, thanks to oldies radio (I heard the song included below the other day whilst perusing the used clothing and records at Goodwill).  They weren't brothers, and none of them were named Walker.  But that was swinging London in the '60s, I guess.  Scott was born Noel Scott Engel in Hamilton, Ohio, and found pretty major success and fame in England as part of the aforementioned group.  Scott was clearly the auteur, the artistic one, and couldn't stand the strictures of pretty-boy pop stardom for long.  Before you could say "Jaques Brel", he was off on his own, recording album after album with only his first name and a number as the title.  Pretentious?  You betcha.  Here's a sample song title, from Scott 4: "The Old Man's Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime"). And dig these lyrics from "It's Raining Today", off of Scott 3: "It's raining today/And I watch the cellophane streets/No hang-ups for me".  It's like the Carpenters for denizens of the Left Bank.
     The Walker Brothers eventually reunited and put out a few albums in the latter half of the Seventies; one of them is called Nite Flights (David Bowie, one of the famous or semi-famous Scott fans featured in the documentary, included a song entitled "African Night Flight" on his album Lodger, which I suspect is a tribute).  The stuff from Nite Flights that they put in the doc sounded pretty good to me, but the album is out of print and prohibitively expensive so I probably won't own it anytime soon (unless I happen to stumble upon it in the crazy cat lady's store).   In the last twenty-five years or so Scott has only recorded sporadically--he's the Thomas Pynchon of pop, occasionally surfacing to lob another musical missive at a largely unresponsive public (which doesn't seem to bother him very much).
     I was struck by a few thoughts while watching 30 Century Man: it's probably not a very good idea to have people listen to music and film them while they're doing it (does anyone really want to watch Radiohead listen to the music of Scott Walker? Not me!); a side of beef makes an intriguing visual statement in the recording studio, but it's not the best percussion instrument (take a listen to "Jolson and Jones", from the 2006 album The Drift, and you be the judge); and is it possible to get around that vibrato of his?  It's pretty off-putting to me, disturbingly so.   "Jolson and Jones" is nightmarish, there's no other word for it.  (It also features the braying of a donkey).  It's like one of the people featured in the documentary said--he finds a chord, and then finds the dischord.  (You gotta love the line "As the grossness of spring lolls its head against the window", though).  This is music for a bad, bad trip--a far cry from the perfect pop 
of "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore", which I prefer. I know he's considered to be a brilliant artiste by some, but still.  He comes across as a thoughtful, intense guy in the film, and his music is definitely unusual, but I find it borderline unlistenable, and therein lies a problem--it all but screams, "Listen to this!  This is difficult, brilliant music, and you should listen to it simply for that reason!"  It's kind of hard to believe these two songs were done by the same person.  Maybe it's persons.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Got a Bag of Red Man and a Bottle of Beaujolais

Being ahead of your time in 1989 could mean any number of things. It could have meant that you were making the kind of bad rap-rock garbage that became prevalent 10 years later in the 90s. It could have meant you were a testosterone-spewing proto-nu-metal meat head. But in the case of Urge Overkill, I think it meant something about understanding the fundamental silliness of all the established big-rock gestures while at the same time realizing the transformative power of the bombast. Instead of signing on for the punk-grunge Dogma-style refutation of stagecraft and riffage, UO came up with some noms de rock, put on medallions and jumpsuits and pretty much fused arena preening and hooks with the sonic sneer of Chicago noise rock. These guys were rocking ascots and cummerbunds, smoking cigars and hoisting snifters, long before anyone thought that was okay. I’m feeling nostalgic, I guess, and so I’ve got to share – these tunes are fist-pumpers and booze-swilling anthems. If Polvo warned their fans that they’d “just got a sitar, so be prepared” on Celebrate the Next Dark Age, Urge Overkill went practically as far, maybe further, by rocking the fake-sitar-sound guitar solo on “Positive Bleeding.” I still find myself thinking of the Darkness and the Hold Steady when listening to these. A weird midpoint.

“A Ticket to L.A.” –Urge Overkill

“Out on the Airstrip”- Urge Overkill

“(Now that’s) the Barclords” – Urge Overkill

“Positive Bleeding”- Urge Overkill

Friday, May 01, 2009

Exit Reality

Hearing Rodriguez’s debut record when it was re-issued last year served to rekindle the idea that not everything had been dredged up and pawed over yet – there’s still gold in the hills, you just got to dig. The people at Light in the Attic are sonic saints in my book. Selflessly preaching to the barnyard animals, mortifying the flesh to fortify the ear holes. Light in the Attic is releasing Rodriguez’s sophomore record from 1971, Coming From Reality (out next week), a genius title, I think you have to agree for its ambiguity. (Is the music rooted in reality, or are we entering a realm outside of reality?) And title of this track – “Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour Ride” – sounds like something from the coffee and bongwater-caked scrapbook of Robert Pollard. Rodriguez still sounds a lot like Donovan here, but the folkie troubadourisms of Cold Fact (his first record) have given way to a more softened soft-rock pantheism. He sounds like Dion. At the rate he’s going, his third record will likely just sound like Don, which will be cool, too.

“Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour Ride” -- Rodriguez

Saturday, April 25, 2009

King and Queen

This record -- Juju Music by King Sunny Adé and His African Beats (1982) -- is amazing. It's hard to believe I've gotten this far into life without hearing it, but I got it on vinyl today for $1 at a yard sale and it's like I just heard Bitches Brew for the first time or tripped upon a bootleg of a secret jam session involving Animal Collective and Steve Miller Band. At times it sounds like drums/space for Mensa members. Other times like Blues for Allah as interpreted by a supergroup composed of Lee Scratch Perry and Yes. Or it's as if Girl Talk is blending together rare outsider funk samples from Ohio and later it turns out it's just one band playing all the samples and they're Nigerian. You get the idea. A revelation.

Sunny Ti De Aribya - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats

Mo Beru Agba - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats

Eje Nlo Gba Ara Mi - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats << If you just want to dip your toe, start here.

Samba/E Falabe Lewe - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats

The more I've listened to Betty Davis, the closer I've come to deciding that she is a major musical figure. Majorly unsung, certainly. I can't think of anyone else who sounds like her. It's funk rock stretched to near-Beefheartian looseness, the singing just wig-out, bat-shit crazy, almost 3D. She wields estrogen power like a rocket-propelled grenade. Booty will move. The bass player on this track (Larry Graham, from Sly & the Family Stone) is so monstrous, so assertive and in tune with Davis' funk, it's like they're having an affair behind Miles's back.

Don't Call Her No Tramp - Betty Davis