A Taste of OIL OF DOG
11 Wednesday Sep 2013
Posted Music I Lovein
11 Wednesday Sep 2013
Posted Music I Lovein
24 Friday May 2013
Posted Music I Lovein
019890, 48 Thrills, 999, Allied Propaganda, Alternative Ulster, Anarchy in the UK, Auguste Pages, Aunt Helen, Biff Bank Pow, Big Hits, Big Star, Billboard, Bomp, Bondage, Bored Stiff, Boston Groupie News, Boston Rock, Brainwash, Cashbox, Chainsaw, Count Viglione, Cowabunga, Electronic Media, Eurock, Extra Cheese, For Adolphs Only, Fuggit, Future, Gabba Gabba Hey, Gary Storm, Guilty of What, Hard Korps, I Wanna Be Your Dog, In the City, International Anthem, Jamming, John Holmstrom, Kill Your Pet Puppy, Live Wire, Melody Maker, Mouth of the Rat, Necrology, Negative Reaction, New Age, New Beat, New Music Review, New Wave Journal, New York Rocker, NME, Oh Cardiff Up Yours, Oil of Dog, OP, Panache, Pig Paper, Private World, Punk, punk fanzine, punk magazine, punkzine, Radio and Records, Radio Free Rock, Record World, Ripped and Torn, Ripper, Rising Free, Rockers, Rolling Stone, Rotten to the Core, S'Punk, Scene, Search and Destroy, Shy Talk, Skum, Slash, Sniffin Glue, Syne, Teenage Rampage, The Good, Touch and Go, Trouser Press, UpBeat, Varulven, Woof, Worcester Rock and Roll News, Young Fast and Scientific, ZigZag
Learn more about punk fanzines on this page: Punk Fanzines
Learn more about music industry publications on this page: Industry Publications
My song, “(The Cover of a) Punk Magazine” is a celebration of independent punk journalism. It is also a wink and a nod to Shel Silverstein who wrote Dr. Hook’s hit, “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”
Punk rock was a return to the garage roots of real rock’n’roll. It was a repudiation of the music industry of the late 1970s.
Thus, punk was a revolt against the inflexible control of the record industry by four colossal corporations: Warner, CBS, RCA, and EMI.
Punk was also a mutiny against commercial top 40 and classic rock radio stations that stringently resisted any new sounds.
And punk was an uprising against the journalism that gave press only to music released by the four record company monoliths.
The punks said, We will create our own record companies. And they did, and thousands of tiny labels, many with only a single 45 rpm in their catalog, popped up all over the world.
The punks said, We will find radio stations and clubs that will play our music. And they did, and non-commercial radio and punk clubs became havens where the punkers could listen and dance to their music.
And they said, We will publish our own fanzines. And they did, and thousands of rags, type set with scissors and glue and typewriters, printed by mimeograph and photocopy, and distributed by hand, popped up in thousands of towns.
My song, “(The Cover of a) Punk Magazine” is about this massive outpouring of punkzines.
On the pages linked to this post, I present, for your review and examination, all of the fanzines that are imaged in my song’s video. Not all the fanzines are strictly punk magazines, but they were all part of the independent music journalism that the punks promulgated. They can all be seen on this page: Punk Fanzines
I also mention in the song the bad guys: the major commercial publications that, with few exceptions, never recognized the importance of the punk movement. Images and information about some of the industry publications can be found on this page: Industry Publications
I hope that anyone who was responsible for any of these great fanzines realizes that my video, my song, and these images are a celebration of your accomplishments. If you object to being a part of this project please contact me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will remove you.
Please share my song “(The Cover of a) Punk Magazine.”
10 Friday May 2013
Christian, Commandment of Love, Crayon Angels, Jesus, Judee Sill, My man on love, Phantom Cowboy
Proof that great Christian Music can be created outside of classical conservatories and the palaces of Europe.
Looking at the photographs of her on her albums, I thought Judee Sill was a hippy nerd. Her clothes are tomboyish, practical, and modest. Most notable, on the cover of her first album, is the gold fleur-de-lis Christian cross poised on her shoulder beneath her long straight brown hair. In her second album, we see her in a black-and-red striped knit top and blue jean jacket, holding a baton, wearing headphones, conducting an ensemble in the studio. She stares expectantly innocently through rose-tinted wire frames.
The arrangements, instrumentalisations, and decorative polyphony are derived from classical music, but her singing is sweet and simple, unadorned, even plain. She sometimes affects a country-western drawl. Every song evokes feelings of peace and hope and grace and, sometimes, fulfillment. All the time I played her on the radio – and I played her often – I thought she was an intellectual Christian square who wrote profoundly disturbing poems and baroque country-western folk music. All I knew was her music and the album art. She was great. What more was there to know?
How could I have been unaware of the heartbreaking tumult of her life, her adolescent escape from parental abuse, her time in reform school for armed robbery, her drug-dealing friends and her psychedelic dereliction, her descent into smack and prostitution, her imprisonment for narcotics and forgery, the devastating demise of her brother while she was incarcerated, and her rotten death from an overdose. When did she have the time to become such a fantastic musician?
But now, looking at her songs in the context of her life, the waywardness is the unarticulated subtext of all her songs. She does not dwell on her life’s grief, but rather the redemption therefrom. Being so far from god, being so sullied and low, who can bring you back, who can redeem you, but that noble distant magical savior.
Take this song, “Crayon Angels,” for example. There are only four instruments in this song: Judee’s voice, Judee’s guitar, an oboe, and, at the end, a shaker. Her loping finger picking opens the song, and the oboe whines a simple tune. And then she sings the story, just her and her guitar, but for a few interpretive fills on the oboe.
Crayon Angel songs are slightly out of tune
But I’m sure I’m not to blame.
Nothin’s happened but I think it will soon,
So I sit here waitin’ for God and a train,
To the Astral plane.
Crayon angels are divine guardians that never materialize. They do not appear when you need them the most. The shaker adds strange quiet drama to the end of the song.
Phony prophets stole the only light I knew,
And the darkness softly screamed.
Holy visions disappeared from my view,
But the angels come back and laugh in my dreams,
I wonder what it means.
If Judee ever found the “truth and a ride,/To the other side” that she seeks in this song, it was through her particular Jesus. Judee’s Jesus is a mystical cowboy, a bandit, a heartbreaker, who loves her and then flies away to go fight evil in a rapture-drenched world. He is not in this world, he never touches the ground, and yet she sings about hitching a ride with him some day. Unlike the ineffectual crayon angels, this cowboy is the only one who ever came through for her. For Judee, the one truth that survives in all the emptiness is what her man has to say about love. “Have you met my man on love?”
I discuss the Commandment of Love elsewhere in these writings.
Judee Sill, “Crayon Angels,” Blimp Music (BMI) (1969); “Jesus Was A Cross Maker,” April-Blackwood Music (BMI) (1971); “The Phantom Cowboy,” Blimp Music (BMI) (1970); “My Man on Love,” Blimp Music (BMI) (1969). From Judee Sill, Judee Sill, Asylum Records, SD 5050 (1971). Album design – Gary Burden; Photography – Henry Diltz.
09 Saturday Feb 2013
Posted Music I Lovein
I’m listening to “The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party” which runs into “Knott’s Berry Farm Molly,” a long guitar solo with many different movements, including segments in which the tape is played backwards.
The first time I saw John Fahey, the opening act was a lighthearted bluegrass band, whose name now escapes me.
And then there was a long pause.
And then John Fahey came out with his guitar. And he sat with his legs akimbo, and he set the guitar on the stage, and opened a can of Sprite. And he looked at no one in particular at the audience. And he drank from the can. And he looked with no particular interest at us again. And he drank more from the can. And he looked with indifference at the crowd. And he drank from the can. And the audience laughed. And he kept looking and drinking. And the audience laughed nervously. And he looked and gulped. And the audience tittered. And he looked and took a swig. And the audience didn’t know what to do.
And when he finished the can of Sprite, he set the empty can down, and kind of clumsily and kind of slowly picked up his guitar, and we noticed, for the first time, it was a really big guitar, like bigger than you have ever seen, and dark, strangely dark. And he looked at us.
And he struck a string, and a bottomless yawning cavern opened beneath our feet and below us streams of lava bubbled and stars flickered and the kind of radiance you cannot see erupted through us and the auditorium ceiling floated up and dispersed and swinging galaxies ululated overhead and deities above allowed themselves to be seen, and we were never again the same persons who bought tickets and sauntered down the sloping walkway into that concert hall.
The second time I saw John Fahey, he was bombed out of his nut long before he ever hit the stage.
And he stood up, and I swear to god, when he stood up, if he didn’t hold up those jeans below his bulging beer belly they would have fallen down. And, I don’t even remember why, but for some reason he thought the sound guy was messing with him. He stood up, his round belly puffing, and shouted, Common up here! You mother fucker! Get up from that mixing board. Common Sound Man. You wanna take me on! Common! Get up here!
Oh god John, shut up sit down and play, you filthy drunk moronic fat slob.
And then he did.
And nothing else, nowhere else, only here, only this, only everything, only everywhere, only nowhere, only nothing, only now.
John Fahey, John Fahey Vol. 4, Takoma Records, C 1008 (1966). Album design: David Goines.
04 Friday Jan 2013
A Porky Prime Cut, Anticipation, Bethan Peters, Delta 5, George Peckham, Julz Sale, Kelvin Knight, lacquer-cutting, Matching Tie and Handkerchief, Monty Python, Ros Allen
Among the great secret delights of punk-era 45-rpm records are the inscriptions etched into the runout grooves of the records. Sometimes there are only serial numbers and record-company codes. But many of them contain mysterious cipheric words, adulatory opinions about the music on the disc, and messages meant for one single unknown individual and no one else.
It was John Farrell who alerted me to one of the most important inner-groove inscriptions: “A Porky Prime Cut.” Any record that featured this caption was guaranteed to be GREAT!
And right now, I am playing a 45 that is has been bestowed with the “A Porky Prime Cut” approbation on both sides. It is by Delta 5 on the Rough Trade record label. Delta 5 is a girl-dominated punk band from Leeds in England. This is their second single. In addition to the “Porky” inscriptions, the inner groove on the A side says “Where’s the goat?” and on the B side, “And the kids!” These comments are probably a private joke between Porky and one single solitary other person.
Like Gang of Four, Delta 5 had the musical acumen to punch up the band by using two bass players. The group on this record is singer Julz Sale, Ros Allen on bass and vocals, Bethan Peters as the second bass player, and Kelvin Knight on drums. The production is spare, the guitar is dry without distortion, the vocals bump around in a small boxy room.
The song, “Anticipation,” begins with a thudding solo bass groove. The other instruments join one at a time: complementary thumps from second bass, driving drums, dissonant guitar, and the two girl vocalists singing in a working-class British accent whose enunciation is not always discernible. The words appear to be about how the expectations we bring to a looked-for event are always more pleasurable than the event itself. After deciphering the writing on the record sleeve, I have determined that the lyrics go something like this:
Days of your youth
Days of your dreams
Days and nights that might have been
Dreams reality has stolen
Anticipation is so much better
Anticipation is so much better
Anticipation is so much better
Time that was spent
In pleasant practices
No mood you realize
Made in advance
Those things that might have been
Are left to others
The music is freewheeling and oblique and the musicianship has that sloppy-tight wildness that threatens to collapse but always hits the beat spot on. The angst in their songs is usually personal, directed at such disappointments as a false friend or the violation of one’s privacy. But every song is grounded in the economic wretchedness that debilitated their home town of Leeds and all other British factory towns in the late 1970s.
We did not know it at the time, but “Porky” was George Peckham, a British lacquer-cutting and mastering engineer. The manufacturing of a phonograph record begins with a cutting machine that transforms the electronic signals of a musical tape into spiral grooves on a disc which is coated with a nail-polish-like substance called lacquer. The lacquer grooves are coated with layers of such metals as silver and nickel. The metal is peeled away resulting in a disc which is a mirror of the lacquer disc. Rather than sunken grooves, it consists of raised ridges. This negative impression of the record will be used at almost 200 degrees under tons of pressure to melt and press hunks of vinyl into magical black discs of music.
Peckham was primarily at the lacquer cutting end of the process. Many great records were mastered by Peckham, including those of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Genesis. In fact, the “Porky Prime Cut” blessing was not reserved only for punk records. It appears for example on some of George Harrison’s singles. It was Peckham who mastered Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief album, which is a three-sided disc. One side is a single spiral groove and the other has two parallel running spirals. You would never know if your needle would select the “side” starting with “The Background to History” or the one beginning with “Minister for Overseas Development (aka Mrs. Niggerbaiter explodes).”
Delta 5, “Anticipation,” No publisher (No licensing) (1980). From: Delta 5, Anticipation b/w You (45 rpm single), Rough Trade Records, RT 041 (1980). Sleeve design – Jon helped by Ralph.
19 Wednesday Dec 2012
Apartheid, Bright Blue, Josh Groban, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Ma Melodi, Mamelodi, South Africa, The Voice, Vusi Mahlasela, Weeping, When You Come Back
This is one of those albums that is perfect from beginning to end. Every song is an epiphany.
Vusi Mahlasela is known in South Africa as The Voice. And he sings high and tremulous and sweet, and you know he could not cease singing any more than can a Citril or a Sugarbird. He accompanies himself with wonderful finger picking on his acoustic guitar.
He is The Voice of Mamelodi. Vusi was born in the Mamelodi Township in South Africa which was named after a female German doctor who cared for the people. When she arrived the place was known as Vlakfontein. As she provided medical care, she would sing the tunes she had heard when she visited the celebrations, weddings, and shebeens of the country side. The people came to call her Ma Melodi, which means “Mother of Melody.” She must have been a great healer and a great singer because the people renamed the township after her. Can you imagine?
Vusi is The Voice of the people. As he explains in the liner notes: “This album is dedicated to all in every walk of life who are the voice against any injustices committed to men, women and children of the world, and the ignorance of those suffering the indignity of man – let everyone who cares become a voice to preach for a world of cultural Peace.”
And so now we are listening to “When You Come Back,” a joyous celebration of the emergence of African culture after the downfall of the Apartheid system of segregation. The song begins with a rhythmically free acapella solo by Vusi – his voice soaring from his high euphoneous natural range to ringing falsettos.
This is the unknown grave
The one who died maintaining his might
His will being so strong and musically inclined
His sad melodies coming out like smoke from the woodfire
And he sang:
Sing now, Africa
Sing to the people
Let them give something to the world and not just take from it.
The music and art of those who were destroyed by Apartheid will never be lost. But this song is not just about the South African heroes whose legacy will endure. It is also about how the culture of all Africa – the music, art, social systems, economics, laws, and spirituality – so long crushed by racism and greed, will forever endure, and will be reborn and flourish when the subjugation has been vanquished. And Vusi, The Voice, will lead the way, even as the tyranny persists.
Our lost African music, will turn into the music of the people
Yes the people’s music, for the people’s culture
And I’ll be the one who’ll climb up the mountain
Reaching for the top of our Africa dais
While the poor women working for the lazy lord, sing!
Also included on this album is a powerful version of that incomparable you-must-not-die-without-hearing-it song, “Weeping.” This song was originally composed and recorded by a South African group of white musicians called Bright Blue. Americans became acquainted with this song from Josh Groban’s splendid performance with Ladysmith Black Mambazo on his Awake album. It is an unequaled account of the stupidity and futility and cruelty and heartbreak of bigotry and I say it again: you must not die without hearing it.
Vusi Mahlasela, “When You Come Back,” Vusimuzi Music c/o BMG Africa Music Publishing (ASCAP) (2003). From Vusi Mahlasela, The Voice, ATO Records, ATO 0011 (2003). Album Design – Emily Philpott/The Mill; Photography – Costa Economedes, Martin Beck, Lance Nawa.
01 Wednesday Aug 2012
Barbra Streisand, Been On A Train, Blood, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, Emily Dickinson, Fifth Dimension, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Laura Nyro, Paul & Mary, Peter, Sweat & Tears, Sylvia Plath
Laura Nyro was a child prodigy. She released her first album, More Than a New Discovery, in 1966 when she was 19 years old. It included “Blowing Away” and “Wedding Bell Blues” that were hits for the Fifth Dimension, “And When I Die” that was a hit for Peter, Paul & Mary and Blood, Sweat & Tears, and “Stoney End” and “Flim Flam Man” that were hits for Barbra Streisand.
When she was 21 she ripped open the pop music world with Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, a secular revivalist R&B operatic Philly-soul tinpan tour de force. She released an album a year – New York Tendaberry, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, Gonna Take a Miracle – each one a masterwork, until her brief retirement from the music business at the age of 24.
This is “Been On A Train,” from Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. Just Laura and her piano. It is a conversation between her and a junkie. I think of great dialogues in literature in which the conversants represent abstractions: Emily Dickinson’s “Death is a Dialogue Between.” Sylvia Plath’s “Dialogue Between Ghost And Priest.” And especially, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor,” because, even though Jesus does none of the talking, the Inquisitor undermines his argument with his own words, as does the junkie in Nyro’s song.
In many such dialogues, the dispute is really between the urgings within a single soul. Nyro is the one who is addicted to smack, or whatever addiction is metaphorically implicated:
been on a train
and I’m never gonna be the same
The piano is sparse, forlorn, and then relentless, banging. She says to a junkie, the embodiment of her addiction:
You got no guts, no gospel
and you got no brain
He said, “I got just one thing
gonna soothe my pain”
She damns him and drags him out of the door and vows she “won’t go north no more.”
Her wailing assaulting voice, she is breathy, airy, stark. She has won, she has defeated her junkie, but the feeling in the music is joyless, desolate.
Laura Nyro, “Been on a Train,” Tuna Fish Music, Inc. (BMI) (1970). From Laura Nyro, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, Columbia Records, KC 30259 (1970). Album Design – Not Credited; Illustration – Beth O’Brien.
07 Saturday Jul 2012
Andy Hernandez, Coati Mundi, Cri Cri, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, Kid Creole, Kid Creole and the Coconuts
His real name is Andy Hernandez but he names himself after the coati, sometimes called coatimundi, a mammal of the raccoon family, the various species of which dwell in South and Central America. His instruments are vibes and marimba, and with Kid Creole, he played in Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band before becoming a primary conspirator behind Kid Creole and the Coconuts. His publishing company is Cri Cri Music, and I wonder if it is named after the great Mexican children’s musician, Cri Cri.
This is not children’s music. It is like a one sided yo mama contest, a merciless rapping putdown of Coati’s lying girl friend who gave him VD, is “uglier than an ulcer,” who tries to dismiss his insults with “intellectual constipation,” whose love lingers like dandruff and pollution, and who snacks on “number two.” (Yuck, a coprophage.)
The shrill female chorus sings his thoughts: “Me no Popeye, you no Olive Oyl.” No love lost here.
Unlike the words of Twilight 22 or Grandmaster Melle Mel, there is no social critique in this song. It is just wacky party music. And also unlike those urban rappers the music is not driven by techno beats, mixing, breakbeating, and scratching. This is warped Ricky Ricardo madcap rumba Latin jive with a heavy dollop of rap on top.
Andy Hernandez, “Me No Pop I,” Cri Cri Music (BMI) (1980). From Coati Mundi, Kid Creole & The Coconuts Present Coatimundi (12-inch single), Antilles Records, AN 807 (1980). Album Design – Not credited.
03 Tuesday Jul 2012
Bruce Cockburn is a Christian. I have never seen him perform, and I don’t know what he is as a man. But, in his records he expresses a faith that is revealed by love and fierceness and liberalism and care for the unfortunate and reverence for the natural world and rage at injustice. Cockburn is no prophet, but the sensibility of his music puts shame to anyone who would follow the false prophets, like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, that I discuss elsewhere in these writings.
But without the music his message would be lost. Listen to the fluid purity and sweet vibrato of his tenor voice.
This song, “Let Us Go Laughing,” is in two parts with an instrumental interlude. The first is a meditation on nature that is illustrated by languid finger picking on his Martin D-18. He sings of sitting in a canoe at twilight watching and listening to the bones of the day, a pale protectress moon, ragged branches vibrating in the wind, silent distant lightning – he is contemplating his own mortality.
In the instrumental part of the song he plays a duet with Eric Nagler on mandoline banjo, which is hybrid banjo that is strung in courses (double strings) and is tuned like a violin. Their picking is luminous, meticulous, and vibrant, but they loosen up the folk and classical progressions with bluesy modalities. And then in the third part he primarily forgoes finger picking for folk strumming. He offers an answer to the problem of mortality.
As we grow out of stones
on and on and on
so we’ll all go to bones
on and on for many a year
but let us go laughing — o
let us go
We know where we will end up, but until then, life should be about laughter. Hah, I know laughter. I wonder if Bruce Cockburn likes to hang out in taverns and tell ribald jokes. I think Jesus did.
Bruce Cockburn, “Let Us Go Laughing,” Golden Mountain Music (BMI Canada) (1971). From Bruce Cockburn, High Winds White Sky, True North Records, TN-3 (1971). Album design – George Pastic; Photography – George Pastic.
23 Saturday Jun 2012
Black Sheep was a local band from Rochester, New York featuring a nice Italian boy as lead singer named Louis Grammatico. They put out three albums that received little notice. Then at the invitation of Mick Jones, of Spooky Tooth, Louis auditioned for an, as yet, unnamed band. The result was the corporate rock phenomenon, Foreigner, for which he changed his name to Lou Gramm. He became the cloying archetypal voice of stadium rock.
But before all that, I loved this naked song, “When It All Makes Sense.” Electric piano. No drums. Simple beautiful guitar solo, threading a single line. The quietness of the arrangement manifests the feeling of lying awake at night. And Gramm displays consummate virtuosity in his singing. The song opens in a vibratoless scratchy voice, as he whines about the ordinary travails of getting along with his lover. But then in the chorus he realizes:
When the moon is alone in the sky and weeping
And the one you love lies beside you sleeping
That’s when it all makes sense.
And the fullness and passion and warmth fill his voice. Mellifluous high tones. Perfect phrasing. Beautiful.
Larry Crozier, Louis Grammatico, “When It All Makes Sense,” WB Music Corp. and Open Love Music Inc. (ASCAP) (1975). From Black Sheep, Encouraging Words, Capitol Records, ST-11447 (1975). Photography – Lavey-Pincus.
10 Sunday Jun 2012
Dando Shaft came out with three albums in the early 1970s. How this song prances: “Kalyope Driver.” They pronounce it “KÁL-ēē-ōp.”
The original calliopes produced music by forcing steam through banks of whistles. They were played by a keyboard or by mechanical means, after the workings of a player piano. Carried on wagons drawn by teams of horses, driven by a teamster, they were a standard feature of circus parades and, because they were extremely loud, would alert people from miles around that the circus was in town. The shining calliope pipes were arranged in rows from tallest to shortest and the wagons were gaudily painted.
In this song, the Kalyope Driver is much more than a teamster. He is a mystical or godlike pied piper who calls all humanity to a better world. As I hear the words:
Kalyope driver guard the train
Ignorance will strike again
As darkness tries to hide the rows
Of rose that bloom among them
Take your time the world is spreading
Heading down toward the answer
Kalyope driver blow your horn
If only for to warn them
For to warn them
For to warn them
This song is in the aeolian mode, and the minor harmonies mingle hope and foreboding. At the heart of the aesthetic ideology of Dando Shaft is a renunciation of electricity. As far as I know, they never used electric instruments. The guitars, the drums, the fiddle, and even the bass are all unamplified, except by studio or stage microphones. The music is structured with layers of texture. Overlaying the ornate tabla beats, the patterns plucked on the mandolin are counterpoised against the picking on the guitar, creating complex polyrhythms.
Dando Shaft, “Kalyope Driver,” No publisher (No date). From Dando Shaft, Dando Shaft, RCA/Neon Records, NE5 (No date). Album design – Not credited.
02 Saturday Jun 2012
She is so strong, she can be completely vulnerable. Some of her songs, like this one, “Dry Land,” make me weep without tears. She is rough and imposing and yet tells such wondrous tales of the heart.
Clear back to land I’m rowing
Clear the deck let me touch your soul
Maybe I’ll bring you back a gift of love
I’ll promise you so much more
Never has there been another song that describes a yearning for true love with such piercing beauty. The song turns on the metaphor of being long away to sea. She craves peace and calm in the object of her love. Her singing aches with desire. She asks to touch the soul of another. But, surprisingly she says, “maybe” she will bring a gift of love. There is, even in this deep passion, a hint of reticence. And this guardedness is of a piece with the remainder of this album in which she talks to or sings about another person, who in two instances is named Jesus, and she has been rebuffed more than once and is clearly wary of reaching out.
From one song to the next, from one album to the next, Joan Armatrading explores great diversity of style and arrangements that range from her solo guitar or piano to an ensemble that seems to embrace all humanity. At times her voice is deep, almost growling, and then she quavers high and pure. While the songs speak of a spiritual longing, they arouse numinous understanding in those of us lucky enough to listen.
It is possible to interpret this album, Back to the Night, as an allegory for a Christian spiritual journey. But I think this album is response to a troubled relationship or unrequited longing. The religious yearning she invokes is, I think, metaphorical. Yet I feel she is calling us all, as privileged companions on her quest to understand the true nature of human love.
Joan Armatrading and Pam Nestor, “Dry Land,” Almo Music Corp./Essex Music Inc. (ASCAP) (1975). From Joan Armatrading, Back to the Night, A&M Records, SP 4525 (1975). Art direction – Fabio Nicoli; Photography – Clive Arrowsmith.
26 Saturday May 2012
So here we are in Flamenco Land. Charlie on an acoustic steel string, descending figure, ascending figure, descend, ascend, and then what are those blues riffs doing in there? And it loosens up and drifts away into impossible improvisations, and how could any fingers ever put those chords together, and then here we are back at the zingaro campfire. It sounds like Buddy Deppenschmidt begins playing the drums with his hands, compounding the gypsy feeling, and then sparse insistent rapid taps and quiet clinks around the drumset. And Keter Betts’ bass isn’t walking those blues – it’s swinging and strutting and twirling and sashaying and pattering that soft shoe and leaping in big arches.
The great D.C. jazz DJ, Felix Grant, used to sign off the radio with the words, “So Long Old Shoe.” This song is called “Scherzo for an Old Shoe,” a tribute to a great friend of Charlie’s, and every other jazz musician. It is the third and last movement of Charlie’s “Blues Sonata.” It closes with a return to a phrase from the slightly off kilter polonaise of the first movement, and ends with a very courtly A major chord.
Charlie Byrd, Blues Sonata, Offbeat Reacords, OLP 3009 (1961). Album design – Ken Deardoff; Photography – Ken Deardoff, Steve Schapiro.
20 Sunday May 2012
Hapsash and the Coloured Coat, Michael English, Mike Batt, Nigel Waymouth, psychedelic, Spooky Tooth, T. S. McPhee
What the hell is this? Thumping screeching jamming with drums and guitars and piano, like we’ve all done late at night bombed out of our nuts in a living room. Except these wackos released it on vinyl. They sound like a bunch of rich kids who could hardly play any instruments got into a studio did a bunch of drugs and banged and strummed and whooped. They hoot “H-O-P-P Why?”
I don’t know if Michael English and Nigel Waymouth were rich but the rest of my presumptions hold. They were actually founders of a design company called Hapsash and the Coloured Coat that created spectacular iconic psychedelic posters for many British groups like Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, and Spooky Tooth. They put out what has become one of the most collectible albums from the psychedelic era: Hapsash and the Coloured Coat Featuring The Human Host and The Heavy Metal Kids. The Heavy Metal Kids were the musicians who went on to form Spooky Tooth.
Waymouth continued as Hapsash and recorded a second album called Western Flyer which was produced by the brilliant and sophisticated Mike Batt. It also has become a consummate collector’s item. It was at least as wacky and sloppy as the first Hapsash album. The great slide guitarist, T. S. McPhee (later the leader of the Groundhogs) noodles away on his strings, clearly saying with each note, “Well, at least I’ll get paid (I hope).”
Guy Stevens, Nigel Waymouth, Michael English, “H-O-P-P Why?,” (BMI) (No date). From Hapsash and the Coloured Coat, Hapsash and the Coloured Coat Featuring The Human Host and The Heavy Metal Kids, Imperial Records, LP-12377 (No date). Art Direction – Woody Woodward; Album design – Gabor Halmos; Photography – Ekim Adis.
19 Saturday May 2012
Osei Tutu is one of the leading modern proponents of highlife music. He is named after the legendary 18th century warrior king of the West African Empire of Ashaniti, and he is a member of the modern Ashanti Tribe in Ghana. The present day King of the Ashanti shares the same name – Otumfuo Osei Tutu II – but I have not found anything to suggest the two are related, except through the love of music.
Highlife is a musical mutt. It began in Ghana in the early 1900’s as a mingling of rhythms and percussion of West Africa, the blasting horns of European military brass-band music, and happy melodies of Pacific islands. Into its musical mashup, highlife has, through the decades, accreted calypso, son cubano, American swing, rock and roll, Western pop, reggae, R&B, gospel, hiphop, and any other genre that caught the ears of its devotees. All the while, it has been rooted in the wild dancing party beats that keep its fans jumping until the sun rises.
Osei Tutu’s voice is almost conversational, the melodies are sweet and simple, and every syllable is discernable, which contrasts beautifully with the frantic insistent syncopated rhythms on a multitude of percussions. Even a romantic duet with Hannah Lee is underdriven by dynamic patterns on the drums.
This album is a collaboration between Osei and Claude Di Bongué, the noted Cameroonian guitarist, who arranged the tunes and also plays keyboards and percussion. The album was recorded in Paris, where the two met. Take this beautiful song, “Enyimema.” Perhaps he is singing in the Twi language, but the words are translated:
Do not leave me
Don’t you think
A second chance?
In the middle of the instrumental, Léandro Acouncha on piano suddenly spins off into a Keith Jarrett-like jazzy interlude. The trumpet and sax blow out blazing accents. Underlying the simple ballad sung by Osei is some of the most amazing drumming I have ever heard. Hubert (The Groove Man) Colau on a trap set and Patrick Gorce on percussions create a completely unexpected rhythm track, finding the beats between the beats and poising pauses of unanticipated brevity, all the while driving a rhythm that requires joyous jumping, sultry swinging, and temerous twirling.
Claude Di Bongué and Osei Tutu, “Enyimema,” No publisher (No date). From: Osei Tutu, Awakening, Tinder Records, 42854832 (No date). Album design – Christine Lemeur and Shaun James; Photography – Emmanuelle Margarita.