Friday, December 30, 2016

Check her out

Hey, The Girlfriend just started a blog. It's called THINK and you can find it here. She said she's wanted to start blogging for years. Well, now she's started.
This is not exactly Strange Music- and books-related -- The Girlfriend has some strong opinions about the recent election and how we treat people in this country. After living through the Civil Rights Movement and the Feminist Movement, she's concerned about the drift of this country right now, and her background and travels give her a range of experience I certainly don't have.
Her opinions and how she views Reality were among the things that first attracted me to her. This is the woman who got me to vote in a presidential election for the first time in almost 20 years.
So naturally, I hope she keeps going. Check her out if you feel so inclined....

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Strange Music with no coffee!

OK, here's the scam: i just woke up. I'm groggy. I haven't had any coffee yet. Girlfriend doesn't get home 'til after noon. So i thought I;d use this drugged condition to try out some new music and see how it sounds. Might sound different. might get some insight into these strange sounds I love. Could be fun. yeah, sure. Hell, I can hardly even type. Where's the coffee??? Onward. I won't even edit to put it in English.
* Gong -- Master Builder/A Sprinkling of Clouds. From YOU. OK, I'm cheating with these. i've heard both these tracks a few times before. But with Gong it always sounds like the first time.Nice hypnotic snythesizers from Tim Blake eventually opens out into a group jam. Blake's the star here. as the jam picks up momentum, his synthesizers get ever-more-further Out There. Til it explodes in a ferocious, sizzling, skirling Heavy Riff. Nice guitaring from Steve Hillage. Is it too early for this. watch out, neighbors. Then Didier Mahlerbe joins on sax -- he's always great and usually quite melodic. and his light sax work sets the whole thing off perfectly. For me, probably their best piece. And it makes a very quick 15 minutes.
* Gong -- The Pot-Head Pixies; Zero the Hero and the Witches' Spell. From ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OF. "Pot-Head Pixies" is REALLY silly, but I can almost stand the lighter-than-air group vocals, and one line SEEMS to say "Open on Fridyas from 7 to 9." Well, it made ME laugh. Just a cute little ditty with verses and a refrain. "Witches' Spell" opens with another instrumental jam, and thank Ghod for Didier Mahlerbe's sax, which always makes it SOUND like all this makes sense. Then some of that 'space whisper" vocalizing from Gilly Smith. Hmmm. Dogs can hear this better than I can. Then another, more ominous riff with more solid sax. Then it gets more insistent. Louder, more out of control. Then stops suddenly. Hmmm, almost like sex. Well, for some of us.
* Stackridge -- Do the Stanley. from EXTRAVAGANZA. Well, I'd heard of these folks. Let's go back to 1935. Very old-style vaudeville-ish musical setting, with maybe '50s-English-music-hall-type vocals. This seems to be about a dance craze. uh huh.
* Stackridge -- Who's That Up There With Bill Stokes? Well, this lightens up. Nice bouncy sax-led instrumental. Could almost be 1974. Then some opera vocals to keep me guessing. Sorta light and airy with nice sax from Keith Gemmell. Supertramp coulda sounded like this once, if they hadn't gone for totally commercial songs. Pretty nice.
* Stackridge -- The Indifferent Hedgehog. Now this is closer to the Incredible String Band. Which i also have waiting here.... Odd but pleasant.
* Stackridge -- Rufus T. Firefly. Another lite instrumental, led by keybs and guitar. Very light-but-complex sound. Nice clear production. More guitar as it progresses.
* Stackridge -- No One's More Important Than the Earthworm. a big, dramatic ballad, but very silly. Opens with some rather intense guitar then moves into something like Pink Floyd territory. Then more sax. With some heavier lyrics these guys could have been Something. Written by Gordon Haskell, who was bassist and singer for King Crimson for awhile....
* Stackridge -- Fundamentally Yours; Pinafore Days. From PINAFORE DAYS. "Fundamentally" is pleasant, but over with before it went much of anywhere. "Pinafore Days" is closer to Gryphon or Amazing Blondel, though with that British-music-hall sound again. This is all pleasant, though not stunning. Good-timey music, not sure about rock and roll.
* Stackridge -- The Last Plimsoll. Nice guitar, light vocals. This has some force to it. When they have a framework and don't get too silly, there's a lot of talent on display here. Pretty good little pop band. And it sounds like somebody listened to a lot of SMILE bootlegs -- with Wilson and Parks' 1880s throwback outlook -- before pulling this together.
* Stackridge -- Humiliation. Very gentle ballad. Maybe shoulda quit while I was ahead....
* Audience -- Jackdaw. From THE HOUSE ON THE HILL. My Ghod, seven minutes of this? Sounds sorta like AC/DC with an added sax. Howard Werth is a powerful singer. And the sax and flute -- by Keith Gemmell again -- do add to the agitated atmosphere. Definitely something different.... The sax-led jam in the middle could almost be King Crimson. Which naturally leads into....
* Audience -- It Brings a Tear. Comparatively gentle and brief, though led by Werth's operatic vocals.
* Audience -- Raviole. Orchestrated instrumental led by Werth's acoustic guitar. Arranged by nick Drake's old buddy robert kirby. OK, but not rock and roll.
* Wishbone Ash -- Blowin' Free. From ARGUS. Nice guitars, nice vocals. Lyrics are kinda dull. But I was told this was closer to the Strawbs or fairport Convention than metal. And I think i was misinformed.
* Wishbone Ash -- Throw Down the Sword. OK, the twin guitars work better here. Actually wished this was longer....
* Robert Fripp and Andy Summers -- What Kind of Man Reads Playboy? From BEWITCHED. Well, neither of THESE two gentlemen, I'm sure. early-'80s King Crimson meets Discotronics. maybe wouldn;t be bad if it weren't for the computerized handclaps. fripp musta decided he wanted to dance. am i typing even worse after more coffee? ... OK, made it most of the way through, but the melodic interest is kind of minimal.
* Incredible String Band -- Log Cabin Home in the Sky. From WEE TAM. Gong without electronics. Like the fiddle, and am amused by the way Robin Williamson and Mike Heron's voices clash with each other. This actually has more of a structure than some of their stuff. Gimme a hit of that....
* Incredible String Band -- My Father Was a Lighthouse Keeper. From EARTHSPAN. Now this is the kind of weirdness I expect from these old hippies....
* Incredible String Band -- My Blue Tears. From NO RUINOUS FEUD. This is a Dolly Parton song? And they play it straight, except for the keening vocals.
* Incredible String Band -- Weather the Storm. Adds sax and keyboards and a Bob Dylan-like vocal. But where's the Incredibles?

Friday, December 23, 2016


It's sleeting outside, there's been an inch or two of snow here a couple times already, and I have to work a long day on Christmas. So what's new?
This: The Girlfriend has changed jobs, and her being around more often means I've been blogging less because I don't want to waste any time when she's here. Also, I'm happier, so I feel less driven to mouth-off as often.
However. There's still SOMETHING working. To celebrate the holidays, over several recent trips I've probably brought about 50 cheap new-to-me vinyl albums into the house, lots of stuff I've never heard before, in one last effort to maybe get that "Strange Music" guide written that I've been putting off for 20 years. Maybe I can actually get it finished in 2017 before I'm too old to bother with it anymore. Blog posts from now on are likely to be first impressions of new-to-me albums and updates on my progress. And by posting this here maybe I can force myself to finish it.
Just hope this goes better than my last dive back into Prog and "Strange Music" a few years back, in which I learned that most of the new stuff I picked to listen to was ... overall, pretty disappointing. And I spent enough on that adventure to fund a small third-world country.
Have listened to a little bit of this haul so far:
Kevin Ayers: "Connie on a Rubber Band" and "Gemini Child" from ODD DITTIES -- Found a $15 copy of ODD DITTIES at a hole-in-the-wall record store called Quimper Sound in cute old Port Townshend's small "underground" downtown. Some decent vinyl prices, and a few interesting oddities.
Hadn't heard "Connie" since I stupidly traded OD off a decade ago. A bouncy, silly, lighter-than-air piece of British reggae, probably not worth $15 to you all by itself. "Gemini Child" is a charming and direct mid-tempo rocker, more straightforward than Ayers usually is. And I'll vouch for the quality of half a dozen other songs on OD. Above-average in charm, good stuff from ol' deep-smooth-voice. But not worth paying $30 for a copy like some folks are asking.
Genesis: THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY, side one -- Got most of the way through the first side of this epic "rock opera." Would have liked "In the Cage" more if I hadn't heard Phil Collins' ferocious vocal on THREE SIDES LIVE. Production seems kind of muddy and flat, even for 1974.
Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood and Michael Shreve: GO, side one -- Airy, spacey, funky prog-fusion with Winwood's occasional vocals. I like the synthesizer atmospherics, not too sure about the more earthbound, funkier stuff. A nice-enough surprise; I'll have to play side two.
Jean-Michel Jarre: "Oxygene, Part 4" -- Bouncy synth piece with just enough melody to keep it interesting. But after 4 minutes, Jarre slows it down and he loses me. Shoulda kept it upbeat and bouncy.
Jethro Tull: THICK AS A BRICK, side one -- Love the folky first four minutes or so, which I'd already heard on various Tull best-of's. Then they got heavy and I went for the reject button. But I'll be getting back to this....
Kate Bush: "Under the Ivy" from THIS WOMAN'S WORK. My Ghod, when Kate isn't busy showing off her range and her singing lessons, she's pretty amazing. Much better when she just SINGS rather than being all studied about it. One of several great overlooked tracks on THIS WOMAN'S WORK. Also played a handful of songs from Kate's THE RED SHOES awhile back and have yet to find anything that sticks.
Gerry Rafferty: "The Royal Mile (Sweet Darlin')" and "Bring it All Home" from SNAKES AND LADDERS. OK, this isn't Strange at all, but it's beautifully produced by Hugh Murphy. Hadn't heard "Bring it All Home" in 30 years -- still sounds great. And I'd never heard "Royal Mile," which grew on me pretty fast. And the pennywhistle riff that hooks the song is played by my hero Richard Harvey from Gryphon.
Alan Parsons Project: TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION/EDGAR ALLAN POE, side one -- I've always liked their rather predictable smoothness, but that's messed up pretty badly by Arthur Brown's crazed vocal on "The Tell-Tale Heart." "The Raven" and "Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether" are both pretty great, not sure about "Cask of Amontillado," and maybe I should play side two....
Alan Parsons Project: "Hyper-Gamma-Spaces" from PYRAMID -- Pretty funky instrumental, kept my attention. Why wasn't this on INSTRUMENTAL WORKS?
Supertramp -- "The Meaning" and "Two of Us" from CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS? -- Pretty much the chirpy upbeat stuff I expected. These could almost fit in on BREAKFAST IN AMERICA, though maybe they have a little more edge.
Reports on more new-to-me stuff soon.

BOOKS: Still getting educated. Colin Larkin's VIRGIN ENCYCLOPEDIAS OF 60'S AND 70'S MUSIC both seem pretty solid, all the way down to one-hit wonders and folks I thought everybody'd forgotten about. That's why I picked them up. Maybe not enough humor.
Musichound's ESSENTIAL ALBUM GUIDE (edited by Gary Graff) puts the humor back in -- very direct advice about what albums to buy, with WOOF! ratings for the true dogs.
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO ROCK seems geared for a much later generation than mine -- what, no Moody Blues? But lots of humor in the career recaps and photo captions, and a few careful recommendations about what to buy.
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE BEST MUSIC YOU'VE NEVER HEARD (edited by Nigel Williamson) does a nice job presenting one- or two-page bios of artists and bands you really should check out, plus tosses in detailed write-ups on albums awaiting rediscovery. Just enough Strange Music acts to make it compulsively readable for me.
More soon!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Prog-rock histories and guides

While I put off finishing my own guide to Strange Music (and wonder if I was put here to compile an oral history of progressive rock before some other '70s prog-rocker dies), here's a look at all the prog-rock histories and guides out there that I've had a chance to read. Let the buyer beware....
* Will Romano: MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY. The place to start. Beautifully produced, graphically flashy, well-organized, solid history of prog, with interviews of some of the genre's outstanding talents. Not everything in the book is prog (some British folk-rock acts), Romano doesn't always focus on an artist's best work, and a few errors slip in at the very end of the book, but overall a pretty superb job. I have problems with Romano's "Top 300" prog albums, but most of his opinions are very sensible.
* Mark Powell: PROPHETS AND SAGES. Powell takes a detailed look at nearly 150 prog albums, many of which I guarantee you've never heard of. Many misspellings and typos (I volunteer to proofread his next book), but I learned a LOT, and the behind-the-scenes stories of bands and studio adventures are priceless. A treasure-house of facts.
* Will Romano: PROG ROCK FAQ. Sort of a sequel to MOUNTAINS, with a few off-the-map artists, interviews with more musicians, in-depth looks at prog's concept albums and long compositions, and much more. There's plenty of room for more solid work like this.
+ Stephen Lambe: CITIZENS OF HOPE AND GLORY. Solid, detailed, down-to-earth history all the way up to the current Internet-based revival of prog. Lambe goes year-by-year surveying prog releases and hits most of the major titles -- though he doesn't always review in-depth a band's best work, and sometimes includes albums for their "historical significance" even if he doesn't think they're that great. An OK overview -- if you can't afford MOUNTAINS or PROPHETS, this is a solid place to start.
+ Paul Stump: THE MUSIC'S ALL THAT MATTERS. Possibly the first prog-rock history book, this is pretty solid and good-natured for as far as it goes (through the late '80s), but it could really use an update. Stump focuses entirely on British and European acts, but includes close-up looks at folks like Brian Eno and Van der Graaf Generator's Peter Hammill. Stump's gone on to write books on Gentle Giant and Roxy Music -- wonder if he's considered updating and expanding this...?
+ Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell: BEYOND AND BEFORE: PROGRESSIVE ROCK SINCE THE 1960's. Deep-think prog history by two British scholars. Looks at historical and social forces and their impact on prog's ups and downs. Lots of info on more recent acts and their albums, plus long sections on the works of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Good stuff here, but sometimes pretty heavy reading.
= Edward Macan: ROCKING THE CLASSICS. OK but dry recounting of the prog-rock era and some of its acts. Macan is a musicologist and takes apart some of prog's epics to see how they work ("Close to the Edge," "Tarkus," etc). Not bad, but heavy going on the technical details.
= Charles Snider: THE STRAWBERRY BRICKS GUIDE TO PROGRESSIVE ROCK. Snider reviews more than 100 prog albums in a "timeline" format from SGT. PEPPER to THE WALL. I think his timeline could have gone on a couple years longer. He has sentence-structure and punctuation problems, and sometimes mangles musicians' names and album titles. This makes me doubt his info when he mentions bands and albums I've never heard of. Discography mentions even more album-titles and artists, sometimes with more errors. Could have used a proofreader.
- Jerry Lucky: THE PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES. Oh no. I read an early version of this and was so disgusted I've never bothered with Lucky's later updates. Lucky needed a proofreader badly -- he gets names, dates and titles wrong. There are MASSIVE misspellings, punctuation and sentence-structure mistakes that make the book a huge chore to read. TONS of opinions disguised as facts in a massively opinionated year-by-year recap. And Lucky spends way too much time defining prog and defending it from critics. BUT the whole last half of the book is a LONG list of prog artists and their albums, and Lucky includes dozens of acts I'd never heard of. This discography might be worth the price of the book.
- Joe Benson: UNCLE JOE'S GUIDE TO PROGRESSIVE ROCK. Uncle Joe thinks he knows a few things about prog because he's read the backs of a few album covers. But he didn't read far enough. This thin book covers the prog stars -- Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, ELP, Moodies, etc. -- but the information's available elsewhere, the discographies are paper-thin and the mistakes are huge. Don't bother.
AND: Amazon lists at least three expensive new prog-rock histories or overviews, at least one of which appears to be little more than a printout of Wikipedia web-pages about prog. Watch out....

ADDED 8 Jan 2017 -- Hey, I forgot about Jim DeRogatis's KALEIDOSCOPE EYES, a history and guide to psychedelic music. But DeRogatis isn't much of a progressive-rock fan -- at the end of his section on Prog, he says he considers most of it to have been "a bad trip." And it's a pretty spotty history from a rock critic who knows as much as DeRogatis does. Not heavily recommended. (Much later -- in the prog-rock essay collection YES IS THE ANSWER -- I learned DeRogatis is a closet Genesis fan. Strange....)

Monday, December 5, 2016


Thinking of starting a new blog for music fans with short attention spans. Like me. If I do it, I'll let you know. Suddenly I'm dying to write a bunch of SHORT reviews of albums I've got here in the house, reviews that cut through all the BS. Maybe I'll try a couple of experiments here.
Books first:
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCann's PLEASE KILL ME (1996) -- An oral history of Punk Rock, amusing and involving, and I read the whole thing (sort of from the middle outward) and had a good time. Some truly appalling and hilarious behavior detailed inside. But it wasn't really my scene. Still think somebody should compile an oral history of progressive rock, and then we could see if the behavior by musicians a generation earlier was any worse. (I think it was probably just as bad, they just didn't ANNOUNCE it.)
Bill Martin's MUSIC OF YES (1996) -- Proves that it's way possible to THINK TOO MUCH about this stuff. Martin's a professor and a guitarist, and he's pretty solid on Yes's early days (when they were way more interesting covering other people's songs than doing their own) and their "main sequence" of albums in the '70s. But man does he take their work WAY too seriously. He hardly seems to know how to react when the band cracks a joke -- like they did on the title track of GOING FOR THE ONE. But what was TORMATO if not a comedy album?
Martin seems to think Yes were being absolutely sincere all the time -- when they were at their best. He seems to think their lyrics actually support a "philosophy." He's the second commentator I've read who thinks "Yours is No Disgrace" is a Vietnam War protest.
I think Yes at their best is like sound-painting -- not that far removed from the Roger Dean artworks that have adorned their album covers. Really good mood music that paints pretty landscapes in your head, but not so much to think about. And certainly not as deeply as here.
Chris Welch's CLOSE TO THE EDGE: THE STORY OF YES (1999/2008) -- Will likely tell you more about the band than you ever wanted to know, especially about the comings and goings of various band members. The best, most revealing comments in the book come from former drummer Bill Bruford. If you want to know what being a member of Yes was like, read Bruford's great AUTOBIOGRAPHY instead.
Speaking of autobiographies, Rick Wakeman's FURTHER ADVENTURES OF A GRUMPY OLD ROCK STAR (2009) will tell you very little about Yes, but will fill you in on the kind of amusing troubles rock stars can get into during their careers. An hour or two of light reading, not quite as funny or fresh as Wakeman's first book, GRUMPY OLD ROCK STAR.

I've also been listening, in bits and pieces.
Spent a couple hours awhile back digging through Tacoma's Half-Price Books' tons of "clearance" albums for a dollar or less. Found lotsa stuff I'd either never heard or wanted back in the house. More trips planned for the future. Was bummed to find lots of old Moody Blues and Al Stewart albums in the cheapies. I assume people must have outgrown them. But it also did my heart good to see lots of old Loverboy albums there....
Solution: CORDON BLEU (1975) -- A Dutch or German jazz-rock band on Elton John's Rocket Records label. Very nice sax and keyboards -- they also sing, not as impressively. Best on long instrumentals. Could be a keeper.
Automatic Man: (first album) (1976) -- Dramatic vocal jazz-rock, lots of show-offy playing, leaning towards stadium-rock. Not sure about the singing and lyrics yet.
Be-Bop Deluxe: "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape" from LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE (1977) -- The words go right through me, but the guitar and keyboard solos are gorgeous. Gonna havta play the rest at some point, though I already know most of the other songs from studio albums....
Phil Manzanera and 801: LISTEN NOW (1978) -- Disappointing. All this talent, and all they could come up with was lame, limping disco take-offs? An all-star cast (Eno, Francis Monkman, Mel Collins, Godley and Creme, Eddie Jobson, Tim Finn, Dave Mattacks, Simon Phillips) and I haven't found any decent tunes, let alone any flashy guitar. And ROLLING STONE called them something like "the ultimate art-rock group" at the time....
Styx: "Why Me?" from CORNERSTONE (1979) -- Guilty Pleasures Department. We all have our "things." I bought a cheap copy of PIECES OF EIGHT, too....
Kate and Anna McGarrigle: (first album), (1975) -- Oh, I dunno. Seems kinda simple, even though Joe Boyd produced. Cool, distant north-country voices. "Kiss and Say Goodbye" has one cute line in it. I've been trying to figure out why Linda Ronstadt covered "Heart Like a Wheel." I'll havta get back to this....
Tim Buckley: HAPPY SAD (1970) -- His voice is deeper than I expected, somehow. "Love From Room 109 at the Islander" is certainly interesting. Makes for a pretty quick 11 minutes....
Rick Wakeman: CRIMINAL RECORD (1977) -- "The Breathalyzer" is still cute. But I couldn't make it more than three minutes into "Judas Iscariot"....
Electric Light Orchestra: "Confusion" from DISCOVERY (1979) -- I've always been a sucker for this, and for them. Second side's pretty solid.
Pete Townshend: "Zelda" and "Melancholia" from SCOOP (1983). Why weren't these on Pete's best-of?
Paul Winter: COMMON GROUND (1978) -- I swear this album has some sort of hypnotic, pounding tribal-drum piece on it somewhere. But I can't find it now and may never find it again.... The version of "Icarus" here sounds kind of thin to me....
Ry Cooder: "Fool for a Cigarette/Feelin' Good" from PARADISE AND LUNCH (1974). As a non-smoker, I find this hilarious.
Jayhawks -- RAINY DAY MUSIC (2003) -- Bought this after it played at one of my favorite CD stores, Tacoma's HI-VOLTAGE (good CD prices, some OUTRAGEOUS vinyl prices). Nice sorta country-folky-Eagles sound. Was impressed with the first seven songs and have yet to play the rest....
Argent: HOLD YOUR HEAD UP sampler (2000) -- Some nice bits and pieces here, pleasant enough without ever getting to stunning, still makes me think I should investigate them further.
Genesis: "Supper's Ready" from THE PLATINUM COLLECTION (2006) -- Not bad, kinda primitive, thin production, though the keyboards and guitars sound just like they do on the only other version of this I've ever heard, from SECONDS OUT with Phil Collins singing. I'm getting used to Peter Gabriel's voice. Wonder why they didn't remix this?
David Bowie: "John I'm Only Dancing" from CHANGESBOWIE (1990). Hmmm. He is a strange one, isn't he?
Yes: "Changes" from 90125 (1983) -- Probably my favorite "later" Yes song, nice mix of Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson vocals and good drama.
Mum: SING ALONG TO SONGS YOU DON'T KNOW. Hmmm, this is not at all what I expected. I thought they were some kind of Icelandic choral group. This seems kind of low-key and primitive, though it's lightly pleasant....
Hollies: "King Midas in Reverse" from GREATEST HITS. I think it's funny, I love the melodramatic lyrics, and my girlfriend can't take the keening vocals.
Peter Gabriel: "Come Talk to Me" from US (1992) -- Reportedly written to his estranged daughter, this is full of drama and martial guitar, keybs and bagpipes -- the emotional open-heart-surgery I expected. Right up there with PG's devastating "Family Snapshot" for me.
...An album I passed by at a local Goodwill -- Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll's OPEN -- I now see is selling for $300 at Amazon....
More eventually....

Thursday, November 17, 2016


About halfway finished reading Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's PLEASE KILL ME (1996), "the uncensored oral history of Punk" -- it's hilarious and horrifying, and there is some truly appalling behavior outlined in this book along with some great funny stories....
And a couple days ago it popped into my head that somebody should compile an oral history of progressive rock. There are several histories of prog out there, of various levels of reliability -- but no history yet from the people who made it happen.
Folks like Keith Emerson of ELP and Chris Squire of Yes have died, and most of the other big names are getting up there. Some of them have written autobiographies (Emerson, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman of Yes), but it seems like an oral history of prog is overdue. It would recount an era and would undoubtedly be useful and valuable as a document of How It Was.
I'm probably on the wrong side of the Atlantic to tackle this -- but SOMEBODY should do it. I'm surprised there wasn't a prog oral history out already. If I were still in the newspaper business and a subject like this smacked me upside the head I'd already be off and running with it. Hmmm....

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thinking too much

Been reading a pile of books on music, progressive rock, etc., most of which have been disappointing in some way.
During that Portland trip back in August, picked up three of 33-1/3rd's series about classic albums -- on the Beach Boys' PET SOUNDS and SMILE, and on Van Dyke Parks's SONG CYCLE. I figured maybe the three could shed some light on each other.
Well, not really. Didn't learn much new from Luis Sanchez's SMILE or from Jim Fusilli's PET SOUNDS, though Fusilli maybe made me appreciate a few little touches on PET SOUNDS a little more. Sanchez's book unfortunately came out before the SMILE SESSIONS box-set. I'm sure he could have written a better, stronger book with that box in hand. But this is all pretty well-covered ground.
Did learn a few things from Richard Henderson's SONG CYCLE. I remember the Van Dyke Parks album as being so insubstantial it barely seemed to exist even while it was playing on the turntable. But that was a long time ago, and I might feel differently if I stumbled over a copy today.
I do know that it was too arty to be rock and roll. And that was back when I thought I was open-minded. While I'm still open to musical experiments today, they'd better have a point and a goal -- and I lean much more toward a catchy tune with a memorable chorus. I barely have the attention span to sit through a 20-minute experimental opus today.
Did learn more about Parks's subsequent career, and those of the folks around him who helped make his first album happen. And it's always good to reread the stories about Stan Cornyn's hilarious print ads for Warner Brothers albums back in the day -- about how the WB spent $35,000 on Parks's album ... and only about 200 people heard it.
But overall, 33-1/3rd's series seems kind of thin. I always want MORE. The books should be longer, more detailed, something. The books seem better when the best sections are featured in 33-1/3rd's GREATEST HITS volumes.

Ah, progressive rock. After YES IS THE ANSWER and PROG ROCK FAQ, I couldn't stop myself. Went ahead and ordered Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell's BEYOND AND BEFORE (2011) and Stephen Lambe's CITIZENS OF HOPE AND GLORY (2013), both of which try to be prog-rock histories. Maybe should have stopped.
Hegarty and Halliwell's book is scholarly and distanced -- they are more likely to tell you about the cultural and social impacts of prog rather than whether the music is any good. I'm not sure that I WANT to know that Yes's "Yours is No Disgrace" is a protest against the Vietnam War. (How could they tell?) But there is a nice long section on Kate Bush and other prog-rock women singers and songwriters.
This book will take a heckuva lot more heavy reading before I can come to a final judgement about it. Enjoyable, but....
CITIZENS OF HOPE AND GLORY is more down-to-earth -- even though Lambe thanks Jerry Lucky of THE PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES and Charles Snider of THE STRAWBERRY BRICKS GUIDE TO PROGRESSIVE ROCK, two of the weaker prog books out there, for their research in getting him started.
Lambe charts prog's course through a bunch of notable albums -- some of which he doesn't even like, some of which aren't even a band's best work. And a bunch more albums are noted in passing. There's a section on how and why prog fell out of fashion, a section on neo-prog, prog-related artists (Roger Dean, etc.), prog-associated instruments (the Mellotron, etc.), and a coda on prog's rebound today.
I don't buy Lambe's assertion that prog peaked in 1971 -- too much good work came after that -- but I like that his definition of progressive rock is wider-open than some, and I enjoy his capsule album-reviews and wish there had been more of them.
Though this one will also take more in-depth reading, of these two books a knowledgeable prog fan should start here.
My own book on progressive rock may get finished one of these years real soon now -- but I keep thinking I haven't quite heard ENOUGH to be a real authority yet....

No disappointment here: Alan Reder and John Baxter's LISTEN TO THIS! (1999) (great title, I was gonna use it myself) interviews more than 100 rock, blues and R&B performers from Gregg Allman to Robert Wyatt and gets a list of their all-time favorite songs and albums, plus their picks of the best of their own work. This is a lotta fun and you'll be surprised at some artists' faves. Hours of browsing here. A good book to wake up with.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Two prog-rock keepers

Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell's YES IS THE ANSWER (AND OTHER PROG ROCK TALES) (2013) is a collection of 20 essays, mostly hilarious, mostly about classic progressive-rock acts and why we still love them so much. Or not.
Not all the essays are great, and some of them are only distantly connected to prog-rock. But the spirit of the book -- the deep affection that most of the contributors have for prog -- make it hard to stop reading in one big gulp. It's awfully tough to put down. I laughed all the way through it, and if you're a prog fan, you'll probably love it too. Even if you still keep your weakness for prog locked in the closet.
FAVORITE PARTS -- Novelist Rick Moody is hilarious from the first sentence while trying to defend the MANY ego-driven excesses of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. At the same time, he shows why those same excesses made ELP ... pretty great. For awhile. Rock critic Jim DeRogatis contributes a long, affectionate remembrance of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Wesley Stace is hilarious about prog's biggest weakness -- its silly lyrics -- and also shows why some of those lyrics are pretty marvelous. Joe Meno writes about why he STILL can't listen to Rush while driving -- because he was involved in two life-altering car wrecks while Rush songs were playing on the radio. (This essay is funny too, believe it or not.) Jeff Gordinier talks about how seeing a Styx concert converted him overnight from prog to punk. (Which seems a perfectly legitimate response, to me.)
There are several essays about Genesis -- one made me consider again why I had problems with Peter Gabriel's gravelly, guttural voice back in the day, something that's always been a blank spot for me. Several writers also talk about Rush -- how geeky they are, how there seem to be NO WOMEN in their universe, and yet we love them still. At least sometimes.
Many other bands and genres are also discussed -- Be-Bop Deluxe, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, Caravan, Robert Wyatt, the Canterbury scene, Focus, Pink Floyd, Steve Howe, Peter Banks, The Nice, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, the Incredible String Band, Henry Cow, Magma, and lots more.
The least successful essays are those that are farthest removed from prog. I admit I didn't finish all the essays. But I got a lot of enjoyment out of YES IS THE ANSWER. And it was especially nice to read a bunch of writers whose hearts were in The Right Place about this stuff. They know that some of the things that make prog embarrassing are also some of the reasons why we fans love it so much and hate to see it abused. That's pretty uncommon to find in writing about this genre.

Will Romano's PROG ROCK FAQ (2014) doesn't include everything else you'd ever want to know about prog after you've tackled DARK SIDE OF THE MOON and THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY. I think much of FAQ reads like a sequel to Romano's prog-rock history from a few years back, MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY. And that's a good thing.
There are chapters on early prog-rock pioneers I guarantee you've never heard of, and some later chapters that read like they were dropped from MOUNTAINS. (There was a rumor that at least one chapter dropped from the earlier book was about Van der Graaf Generator, left out because they were just a little too obscure. There's a long interview with their great saxophonist David Jackson that talks about WHY VdGG were never much more than a cult act.)
FAVORITE PARTS -- There are long looks at prog-rock "epics" (THE LAMB, DARK SIDE, "Echoes," TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, RELAYER, THE WALL, etc.), concept albums that really aren't (AQUALUNG, THICK AS A BRICK, etc.), interviews with prog-rock designers and artists (album-cover art was a key part of the package), a long history of Happy the Man (one of the great overlooked prog acts, their CRAFTY HANDS still sounds great), why prog went out of style, prog's intense bashing from critics (Romano missed some great putdowns, and even critic Lester Bangs sorta liked ELP), and much much more. Hey, there's even a chapter on Asia in here. But not Styx.
I'd be thrilled to read a whole lot more of this kind of stuff....

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tedeschi Trucks Band LIVE!

They're awesome.
Saw the Tedeschi Trucks Band at Seattle's McCaw Hall last night, and they were pretty freakin' great. There was a lot of instrumental showing-off, and that's what the audience seemed to want. But it was all good fun.
TTB did several songs from their last album LET ME GET BY -- they opened with the great "Anyhow," still the best thing I've heard this year -- and all those songs sounded stronger live than they did on the CD. "Things Ain't What They Seem" and the title song are still going around in my head.
The rest of the show was covers and unusual choices. Their cover of B.B. King's "How Blue Can You Get?" featured an excellent gutsy vocal from Susan Tedeschi. Susan and two backing singers did a sweet old George Jones tune whose name I've forgotten -- it was a break for the rest of the band, performed as a vocal trio with just Susan's guitar.
The band also did a nice version of George Harrison's hypnotic "Isn't it a Pity?" and two Beatles songs -- the silly "I've Got a Feeling" (the opening section was dramatic and effective, took me a long time to ID the song), and the closer: Susan doing a great Joe Cocker on "With a Little Help From My Friends." Brought tears to my eyes, seriously. Brought the house down. The crowd LOVED it.
The live setting allowed the band to stretch out, and that's a good thing. But after a couple of extended numbers, it became expected that guitarist Derek Trucks was going to take the extra room to play as lightning-fast and high as he could. He can really PLAY that thing. And though the fans loved it, it got ... a little predictable. In a good way. But a couple rounds of that would have been enough.
Extended guitar-keyboard-and-drum excursions became the rule for the middle part of the show. One piece developed into a sort of Santana-like jam, ending up sounding a bit like "Soul Sacrifice." Another piece ended with a pounding, hypnotic, Cream-like guitar-and-drums duel -- this was effective, but (I hate to complain about this) it was SO LOUD I sort of went deaf for a minute and my mind wandered.
There were other, lighter moments. Each of the horn-players had a brief solo spot at the end of "Things Ain't What They Seem" -- this included the saxophonist freaking out in an Ornette Coleman-style barrage of squonks, looking like he was going to short-circuit. I THINK this was meant to be funny. I laughed a lot. And the woman trombone-player NEVER stopped moving in time to the music throughout the show. A couple of the backing singers got quite into the music, too. A long keyboard flight midway through another song convinced me that these folks would also make a pretty good progressive-rock band.
But there was so much more I wanted to hear by them -- "Made Up Mind," "Down in the Flood," "Wade in the Water," "Come See About Me," maybe a couple more songs with Mike Mattison singing lead, like "These Days are Almost Gone"? Maybe TTB have Too Much Good Stuff to choose from. Less instrumental showing-off would have made room for some of these songs, but....
Don't know if you could call this a blues band. Sounded like good, loud rock and roll to me. A huge, clear, powerful sound. At their best, this is what a great rock band should sound like. And they knew their audience well. They played for more than two hours. I didn't see anyone who went home unsatisfied.
About that audience: You could almost have posted a sign at the front door that said NO ONE UNDER 35 ADMITTED. Though there were a few young folks in the crowd, most were in their 40s, 50s, or older -- there was lots of white hair, bald heads and wrinkles. And they all got into the music -- there were lots of heads bobbing, and a few brave souls found a little room to dance down on the floor in front of the stage. For the rest of us, if you felt like dancing you had to remember that this was an old opera house with narrow seats and tight spaces between the rows of seats. If you slipped and fell behind the seat in front of you, nobody would hear you scream.... The house was only about half-full at 7:30 p.m., but by the time TTB came on the place was packed.
Openers Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers (yes, you read that right) were also good -- more country than bluesy, with a few good dramatic songs and a heckuva lead guitarist. Nicki's voice was sweet but strong, and the band gained confidence as they went. Best songs were (I'm guessing at titles) "Gimme Something Good" and "The Lie," "Jetplane" really took off, and anything with ominous heavy guitar worked really well. They were friendly and informal with the audience and weren't afraid to have fun with their performance. Vocal harmonies were solid too. Lotta potential with this band. Worth seeing all by themselves.

COMING SOON -- Detailed reviews of two books about progressive rock, Will Romano's PROG ROCK FAQ and Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell's collection of prog-inspired essays YES IS THE ANSWER.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Late-Summer Strange Music Fest!

* Waylon Jennings -- Lonesome On'ry and Mean. From GREATEST HITS. Wow, does he sound like Merle Haggard, or is it just me? Nice guitar.
* Billy Joel -- Vienna. From THE STRANGER. Heard this on the radio awhile back and it sounded pretty good. But maybe I just didn't pay attention the first time around. Why wasn't this a bigger hit?
* Queen -- I'm Going Slightly Mad. From INNUENDO and CLASSIC QUEEN. Haven't heard this since 1991. Still sounds pretty great, with some extra drama I could hear even back then. Slowly builds in tension and momentum, ending's a bit of an anti-climax. Do you realize Freddie Mercury would be 70 years old now?
* Queen -- The Show Must Go On. Now HERE'S some drama! This is a helluva vocal performance from a sick man. And the band's in great form. Nice but brief guitar from Brian May. Weak ending. I still think INNUENDO's one of Queen's solidest albums.
* The Brains -- Money Changes Everything. From NEW WAVE GOLD. Wow, this sure ain't Cyndi Lauper. Sneering new-wavey lead vocal by leader Tom Gray, good driving choruses, not as many melodic hooks as Cyndi's version. It rocks, and it's over too quick. Kinda sounds like a blueprint for Cyndi's hit version.
* Adam Ant -- Goody Two-Shoes. From NEW WAVE GOLD. Good Lord, haven't heard this since 1983. Hilarious lyrics, great guitar and horns. Lotsa fun. Where's "Stand and Deliver"?
* Tears for Fears -- Change. From NEW WAVE GOLD. Haven't heard this since '83. Not bad. Haunting choruses. Better playing than writing or singing. But these guys have potential, could go far.
* Yes -- Something's Coming. From the YESYEARS best-of. Good Lord, seven minutes of this? Starts with a dull-but-brief Bill Bruford drum solo, then the band joins in squonking, elaborating all over this tune from WEST SIDE STORY. Maybe they shoulda done "America" instead. Then they get to the theme, and it's not bad. Jon Anderson does his Frank Sinatra impression on the lyrics, and the group vocals sound young and excited. Kind of charming.
* Yes -- Everydays. BBC session from YESYEARS. Stephen Stills wrote this. I've always liked early Yes's fresh, young, excited sound -- I thought YESTERDAYS was full of great songs, though the selection from their first two albums could have been even better. Jon Anderson sings in a lower vocal register on some of this earlier stuff, and they sound just "progressive" enough.
* Yes -- The Gates of Delirium. From RELAYER. OK, The Big One. I've been putting this off long enough. Opening's rather pretty in a sort of heavy-ornate way. Then the singing starts -- and this is a million miles away from "Something's Coming." Nice guitar break from Steve Howe before things start moving faster -- this is the ferocious speediness I've heard about? It certainly MOVES. Patrick Moraz joins in on lightning-fast keyboards -- this must be the "battle scene." It SOUNDS like a huge, ugly battle. You can hear cannon-fire and swords clashing. Some very far-out guitar and keyboard work in a long and stately middle section. Then a break.... The "Soon" section has an especially beautiful melody at the end. ...But that's all? Where's the rest of it? ...I guess that's proof that it's all over too quickly. Hmmm, far out, but not as noisy as I'd expected.
* Cat Stevens -- If You Want to Sing Out Sing Out. From his CLASSICS best-of. Haven't heard this since I saw the movie HAROLD AND MAUDE sometime toward the end of highschool. Charming as always, and way light.
* Cat Stevens -- Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard. Synthesizer on a Cat Stevens song? Wasn't this almost a hit? Light of course, but Cat was trying to lighten-up on purpose back in '77.
* Cat Stevens -- Katmandu. No, not the Bob Seger song. Definitely. This is Cat with acoustic guitar, keeping it simple back in 1970, before the production started taking over.
* Cat Stevens -- Oh Very Young. I pretty-much hated this back in the day, but it sounds like a classic now.
* Gentle Giant -- Think of Me With Kindness. From OCTOPUS. Still think the ping-ponging vocal midsection is lame, but the rest is pretty freakin' great. One of their best, and simple enough it coulda been a hit.
* Go-Go's -- La La Land. From GOD BLESS THE GO-GO'S. Opens with as big a rush as their great "Head Over Heels." They sound great! And of course this was 15 years ago. Why'd I never hear this?
* Go-Go's -- Unforgiven. As gutsy as anything on their great TALK SHOW, which is still my fave Go-Go's album. This is alive and energetic and pushy, driving. Great stuff.
* Go-Go's -- Kissing Asphalt. OK, not as impressed here. The lyrics are kinda dumb. But the energy level's still high, and it's over with quick.
* Steely Dan -- Only a Fool Would Say That. From VERY BEST OF. Light jazzy keyboard sounds and some tense lyrics.
* Steely Dan -- Show-Biz Kids. The "You go to Los Wages" backing-vocal chant has always annoyed me. And there isn't much else here. Though they did sneak the F-bomb into the lyrics once, if I'm hearing things right. To make room for this, I don't get "Berrytown" on their VERY BEST OF?
* Steely Dan -- Any World That I'm Welcome To. OK, this makes up for it. Not quite as great as "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," but in the same time-zone.
* David Bowie -- Heroes. From the CHANGESBOWIE best-of. My hero Bob Fripp's on guitar, somewhere in the heavy, loud mix. And though I was never much of a Bowie fan, I don't doubt that he means it here.
* Hawkwind -- Assault and Battery Part 1. From WARRIOR ON THE EDGE OF TIME. Moves nicely, nice washy synths, and Nik Turner's light flute adding just enough melody to separate them from your average sludgy heavy-space-rock band.
* Hawkwind -- Kings of Speed. Sounds like a Motorhead song title. And not unlike a Motorhead song -- simple and almost catchy. All it needs are vocals that stand out a little more....
* Hawkwind -- Motorhead. Speaking of which. This is bassist Lemmy's baby, before he was asked to leave this band. "Motorhead, remember me now...." Best part is actually Simon House's screeching violin. And it's over too soon.
* Jethro Tull -- Requiem. From MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY. One of Tull's lighter, folkier, more reflective pieces, much like "One White Duck" on the same album. I've always liked their lighter stuff more. This is the only thing on the first half of MINSTREL that I can get all the way through.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Now I'm Here

Coming to you live from my new home with The Girlfriend, where I've been blogging from for the last three months. But now it's Official.
Got all moved-in on Monday and Tuesday, getting all the furniture and endless boxes transferred on Monday, and going back for the cleanup and leftovers on Tuesday. Woke up on Wednesday with aches in places I didn't know I HAD, but was happy I got it all done. Took longer than I thought, and it was messier than I expected, but. Now I'm here. And this is where I want to be.
The worst part was the books. Yeezus -- 19 big boxes of books (and clothes and etc). Awhile back my Old Roommate asked me why I had SO MANY goddamned books. And on Monday I told him that RIGHT THEN I didn't KNOW why I had so many goddamned books.... And I meant it.
Good thing I'd already moved a good-sized pile of them over here.... Good thing all the CD's were already here....
Right now all my stuff is sitting in The Girlfriend's garage, and I'll slowly be moving it into the house -- once we figure out where to put it all, and once I make sure all my body-parts still work like I thought they were supposed to. Luckily, the garage is pretty dry -- even with the fall-starting rain we got in the last few days. I don't think it will hurt stuff TOO much to sit in the garage for a couple days. Besides, we're supposed to have a stretch of 70-degree sunshine here for the next week....
It's a lot quieter here. More time for me to mull things over or play music or read, or blog at my leisure. Who knows -- I might even have time to finish another book, since I haven't gotten anything new out there in the last 18 months, not that my worldwide legion of fans is screaming for more RIGHT NOW or anything like that.
The Girlfriend and I are happy. We've been talking about me moving in since June. And Ghod knows her house is quieter than the Old Roommate's. We sit and cuddle and talk and laugh like loons, and because of our sometimes clashing work schedules, we spend a lot of time wishing we had more time together. But we cherish the time we have.
With the move and all, I haven't had much time to listen to music, though I'm slowly taking in that batch of new stuff I grabbed in Portland (see last installment).
Am almost finished with YES IS THE ANSWER, and I recommend it. I've read all but a couple of the essays, laughing all the way. Only a couple pieces don't quite seem to fit the concept of the book -- one is about how a Prog fan immediately converted to Punk after seeing a Styx concert. Seems like a totally legit reason to me.
A couple other pieces are either personal reminiscences or are more into Metal than Prog. But they're still enjoyable. There are even -- shocker! -- WOMEN Prog fans in the book! Amazing! And all the writers have such affection for progressive rock that it makes the book a helluva lotta fun to read.
Just got in Will Romano's PROG ROCK FAQ (2014), part of that FAQ series I've become hooked on -- I reviewed their volumes on Pink Floyd and The Who back around April, I think. Romano wrote the solid Prog history MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY a few years back, and I'm glad to see someone wanted him to write more about the subject. Though I gotta tell ya -- just browsing through FAQ, I think the book is less about What Else You Need To Know About Prog than it is a platform for introducing you to overlooked Prog artists. And I'm OK with that.
There's also a recommended list of LONG Prog compositions ("Close to the Edge," "Gates of Delirium," "Echoes," etc.), and a long look at Prog concept albums. So I can see this book is gonna take awhile to digest. And that's OK. I got nothin' but time....

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Still more short takes!

Hey there. It's a beautiful day, my 12-day marathon at work ends tonight, tomorrow I Officially Move In with The Girlfriend. So to celebrate, let's play a ton of mostly-new-to-me music and see what wild off-hand first impressions I get....
* Grateful Dead -- Passenger. From TERRAPIN STATION. Probably my fave Dead song ever. It rocks, it has some drive, it's over with fast, and having Donna Godchaux sing with them helped immeasurably. Nice Garcia guitar, too. Coulda been a hit. Don't know why it wasn't. Maybe they took too long to get to the first chorus. And I've got no idea what the lyrics mean.
* Cab Calloway -- Minnie the Moocher. From his ARE YOU HEP TO THE JIVE? best-of. Friggin' awesome! The rockin' High Priest Of Hi-Dee-Ho! Not only are the lyrics hilarious, Cab really belts 'em! It's so silly! And the sax is pretty ... uh .. avant-garde...? Is that the right word? Great backing chorus, too!
* Cab Calloway -- Who's Yehoodi? Great clarinet on the middle break. Isn't this about Yehudi Menuhin? Who cares? Great manly debonair vocal by Cab. So sophisticated. Funny, too.
* Ry Cooder -- 13-Question Method. From GET RHYTHM. Hilarious. Not only are Chuck Berry's lyrics funny and clever, it's worth it all for Ry's collection of silly voices. And he's awesome on acoustic guitar. A freakin' classic.
* Hawkwind -- The Demented Man. From WARRIOR AT THE EDGE OF TIME. Shocking, acoustic-guitar-led ballad to the space aliens. Sound effects, washy keyboards, and guitarist Dave Brock's droning voice. Not bad for a change of pace.
* Hawkwind -- Magnu. OK, now THIS sounds much more like Hawkwind, complete with Nik Turner's droning horns and Simon House's nicely screeching violin. Mildly spacey and heavy. Could've come off of HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL, which is still my favorite Hawkwind album. Question: Why did Hawkwind have TWO drummers? Couldn't be because one couldn't keep up...? Their songs were all in 4/4, right? No, there's a little bit of polyrhythmic goings-on toward the end of this....
* Hawkwind -- Standing at the Edge. Sounds like Robert Calvert sitting in on the declaiming vocal here, could be the direct sequel to his great, hilarious "Sonic Attack," though it's not as threatening and ominous. Lyrics by science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock.
* Hawkwind -- Warriors. Moorcock does the reciting here, and he sounds like Calvert. Spacey, but a little bit of this stuff goes a long way....
* Hawkwind -- The Wizard Blew His Horn. Moorcock again, this time sounding like he's got a head cold. But at least he doesn't sound like Bob Calvert. If the spoken "poems" were your least favorite parts of Moody Blues albums, you won't like this. At least it's over with quick.
* Magma -- Weidorje, Dondai. From SPIRITUAL/LIVE. *deep breath* OK, the one song I heard previously by Magma I described here awhile back as "a goblin opera." That was perhaps a bit unfair. After the Nazi-like chanting and martial sound at the start of "Weidorje," it settles down into a nicely bubbling, rolling piece with some nice keyboards. The almost-pretty "Dondai" almost seems to MEAN something, even though these folks made up their own language to sing their songs in. Nice piano here, too. But some of the vocals are VERY far-out and silly. When their lead singer moans "Monday Monday Monday Monday" (in their made-up language, Kobaian), they come THIS CLOSE to being understood. You'll relate. They do create their own bouncy, silly world. And they're better at it -- catchier, more involving -- than the original Gong was back in the day. If this is a cult, I might have to join....
* Magma -- Hhai. Wow, this is actually pretty good. The group-vocal chanting still kind of puts me off, but a lot of this is taken up by some great keyboard soloing that sounds like it coulda come straight out of National Health or Hatfield and the North. Especially the Health -- wonder if Dave Stewart sat in with these guys? The vocals are silly and meaningless, but....
* Magma -- The Last 7 Minutes. Well, they certainly sound upset about SOMETHING. The vocals veer from Hitler-like pushiness to an extremely fruity falsetto that it's impossible to hear without laughing. The liner notes refer to this song as "a rampant roar," and I sure don't hear THAT here. But I'd like to strangle that lead singer. If that hasn't happened already....
* Magma -- Lihns, Udu Wudu. I GET IT! It's a comic opera, like something by Mozart. "Udu Wudu" has a bouncy melody and NICE group vocals. And it MOVES -- the start sounds kind of like Blondie's "Heart of Glass" on speed! Nice keyboards and horns, too. "Lihns" is CUTE, starting with the way the singer mimics the twinkly keyboards. I wouldn't say I'm COMPLETELY convinced, but it's DEFINITELY Something Different. A pretty good return on the money for $4.
* Kevin Ayers -- Clarence in Wonderland. From the BANANA PRODUCTIONS best-of. This is the MUCH shorter original version of "Connie on a Rubber Band," which was on my long-traded-off copy of Kevin's ODD DITTIES -- now available for Big Bucks at ...But I missed ODD DITTIES and because eight of the songs on ODD are also here, I bought this as a $3 replacement. But I prefer "Connie," which is much more relaxed and bouncier and sillier. Havta look into some re-purchasing options that won't require me to mortgage the house I don't own. THAT'll teach me....
* Kevin Ayers -- Soon Soon Soon. Ah, this is more like it. Sounds freakin' great, too. Kevin is backed by Soft Machine here.
* Kevin Ayers -- Singing a Song in the Morning. This silly lighter-than-air singalong is so simple it's impossible to resist. Kevin is backed by Caravan here. There was a rumor that Syd Barrett played guitar on this....
* Kevin Ayers -- Irreversible Neural Damage. Lotta intense acoustic strumming here before Kevin finally starts singing, then is joined by the distant Nico (formerly from the Velvet Underground and her own solo career). Psychedelic, phasey, twisted. Then it lightens up into some good guitar and violin(?) jamming that unfortunately doesn't go on long enough. Hmmm. Best, huh?
* Kevin Ayers -- Song From the Bottom of a Well. Lotta dorking around on phased electric guitar before Kevin's creepy vocal starts. This is also Very Different, not at all like his light-hearted stuff I'm used to. Could that be Mike Oldfield's guitar making that ungodly racket? And then it cuts off in mid-screech!
* Gentle Giant -- The Power and the Glory. Haven't heard this in years. Briefly released as a single and only available previously on the Giant's GIANT STEPS best-of. This rocks, and it's direct. Forceful guitars, bouncy tune, pushy vocal by Derek Shulman, coulda been a hit. And it's over too soon.
* Fats Waller -- T'ain't Nobody's Bizness if I Do, Everybody Loves My Baby But My Baby Don't Love Nobody But Me. From PORTRAIT OF. Cab Calloway's next-door neighbor. Great hammy vocals, nice sax, jumpy piano from Fats. Good stuff.
* Beatles -- Two of Us. From LET IT BE. This is nice, intimate, friendly. Not major. But I can see why it led off the album.
* Beatles -- I've Got a Feeling. Now THIS is noisy....

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Invasion from within!

Sounds like a David Cronenberg movie title, don't it?
OK, after the last invasion by the Russians a month ago, things have just gotten weirder here at the Back-Up Plan. This seems a very small thing to complain about, but....
Clearly influenced by that notorious world-grabbing international terrorist conspiracy Procol Harum, a group of misguided underemployed Americans has been bombing this blog every three or four hours, 30 or 40 simultaneous "hits" at a time, for the last four days.
It seems they only stop to sleep. And maybe not even then.
God Only Knows what they're looking for, but it ain't here. Probing for weaknesses, perhaps? Trying to dig out hidden debit-card information? Trying to empty my already pathetically-empty bank account? Trying to catch a look at my gorgeous girlfriend? Dream on.
Are there really Americans who are so bored all they can find to do is bomb lame and harmless music blogs in search of hidden weaknesses that might (dream on) somehow let them get their hands on more cash? If it was me, I'd be out enjoying life. While I'm young.
What they HAVE been doing is bumping up my "pageview" numbers, so now I really DON'T know how many people visit this blog to read every day. Thought I was averaging about 15 to 30 looks at each new blog post. Now I have to take whatever total Blogger gives me, divide by 20, subtract 10, add 15, cross my fingers, spit into the wind, and take a guess.
According to Blogger, I'm now getting more than 200 visits a day here. That's wonderful, but I'm sure it's not because all those new folks who are visiting are all such big Van der Graaf Generator fans. Maybe they just can't wait to read my deathless prose about VdGG's 1971 cult classic PAWN HEARTS? Right....
Blogger has never responded to my paranoid e-mail about the last attempted Russian takeover, so clearly they're not too worried.
Guys, there's nothing here other than me ranting and babbling. With the 200 hits a day and all, I'm flattered. Really.
But I'm not really this good. Or this popular.
Gimme a break.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Marathon 4 not that bad

Suddenly it's fall here. Pouring rain, windy, temperatures down around 50 at night. And just two weeks ago it was 95 degrees. Ah, global warming. This is the new normal.
Marathon 4 at work hasn't been so bad. My feet are numb, but the work itself hasn't been too terrible, and my two long days this past Monday and Tuesday were actually a nice break -- just enough to disrupt my routine in a good way. Tonight will be Night Number 10 out of 12, so maybe I'm just delirious by this point. Sometimes that's not a bad place to be. But sleeping in late today sure helped balance things out.
I've been pretty cheery and haven't had to raise my voice at work in a week ... but I had a real challenge in the store last night. Good thing I was in a good mood.
He came in at 10 p.m. with a hoodie over his head and a backpack on his back -- clearly he was either homeless or had been thrown out. He angrily demanded that I sell him two packs of smokes. Didn't tell me what KIND of smokes -- it took three more questions to get that information out of him.
Then he about broke our card-reader when he discovered we didn't have a chip-reader to speed up his transaction. He about tore the bottom off of the machine while trying to force it to work.
"I am SO FUCKING PISSED OFF!" he shouted.
"OK," I said, "easy, easy -- we don't have a chip reader, just slide your card down the side."
He didn't tell me if he preferred debit or credit. That took three more questions to get out of him.
Then he needed a lighter. We agreed a couple free packs of matches would be better, so he didn't have to fight with the card-slider again.
Then he left, and began circling around the building, shrieking into his cellphone. Clearly he was upset about something. But he wasn't done.
A few minutes later, he returned with an empty beer can he'd found in the parking lot.
"I want to pay for this," he said.
"You don't have to pay for that," I said. "It's empty. But thanks for picking it up for me...."
"No, I want to BUY this. Will you just SCAN IT so I can PAY you for it?!"
No point arguing. So I scanned it. And naturally, the cash register came up with the six-pack price of almost $6 after tax.
"Normally we charge 99 cents for a short can like this," I told him. "You don't have to pay me six bucks for an empty beer can. You don't have to pay me AT ALL. I'm not gonna charge you for this."
He forced $7 cash into my hand and left. And I took his money. Because there's no point arguing with a deranged person over something this silly.
I thought he'd left, but he wandered back in at ten minutes before closing and asked if there was somewhere he could sit down for a minute.
"I've been on my feet all night and my feet are burning up," he said.
So I gave him our step-stool to sit on, and he set it up back in the corner next to the soda machine. I went back to closing up the store and the next thing I knew he was trying to get water out of the soda machine.
"That machine's already closed down for the night," I told him. "If you try to get water out of it, it's going to spray everywhere."
"I just want some water," he said.
"I can fill it up for you quicker here behind the counter."
"I'll get it HERE."
"It's going to spray everywhere...."
No point arguing. He was already trying to fill an ugly-looking plastic gallon bottle with water, and it sprayed all over him and the machine and the floor.
And I sighed and went back to work.
A couple minutes later he shrieked "I just want some WATER!"
"I can fill it for you in the sink here behind the counter. Only takes a minute."
"I'll get it HERE!"
OK, no point in arguing. He got his water bottle filled and I cleaned up the spilled water after he left.
But as it got closer to midnight, I wondered if he was going to be a problem to get out of the store so I could close. It's happened before, though not in a long time.
I thought maybe he was finished, but I was wrong. I had the news playing on the radio, and maybe that set him off.
He walked over to where I was perched on the edge of the counter.
"Hey, have you seen it before?" he asked.
I wasn't sure I'd heard him right, so I turned the radio down. "What?" I asked him.
"Have you SEEN it before?"
"Seen WHAT before?"
"The MACHINE! Have you seen the MACHINE before?!"
He seemed to be referring to something outside. But there were no machines or vehicles out there. The parking lot was empty. What machine was he seeing?
"I'm not understanding you," I said. "...And I have to close this place up in about three minutes."
This deflated him. "Oh. OK." And he slowly gathered up his stuff and shambled out the door. He was no trouble at all. I told him to be careful out there, and I meant it. And I was grateful that he was no serious trouble while he was in the store.
Now this was clearly a person in distress. And there wasn't much of that distress that I could help with. Or that he seemed to WANT help with. He was already furious when he walked into the store. I sure couldn't help with THAT. All I could do was be careful with him.
But I wonder about these homeless folks -- where they come from, why they always seem to come out more when the rain starts pouring down, what kind of weirdness has messed them up so badly. I wonder why so often they seem to be guys who don't know when to shut up -- guys who've gotten into ugly fights with their Significant Others and then been tossed out. There's a lot of weird, ugly, knee-jerk behavior going on out there these days. Doesn't anybody ever relax anymore, or is everything grounds for an ugly argument?
Did you know Washington is among the Bottom 10 in the U.S. when it comes to mental-health services and funding? The feeling is that if folks who need help can deal with Reality, they should be out there dealing with it 24/7. And maybe that's why there are so many people roaming the streets here. And most of them don't seem to want any help.
Coincidentally, our famous former Regular "Bike Guy" (also homeless) met me in the parking lot when I got to work Thursday afternoon. The last time I saw him, a couple of winters back, he had a BAD case of shingles and was WAY distraught about Everything. You couldn't ask him a question without him freaking out.
After that, he disappeared. I was pretty sure he'd died. He'd refused to go to the emergency room or see a doctor at a free clinic. He refused to go to a homeless shelter. He said all they'd do was mess with him.
Yesterday, he looked WAY happier and healthier than I'd seen him in years, maybe ever. He'd moved to a town 10 miles up the road and was WAY more hopeful about his future. He agreed he'd been in bad shape, but things were MUCH better now....
But I wonder about the future for Bike Guy and that guy last night ... and even for me in five years if things go wrong. I have no idea of the challenges homeless people face every day. I have no idea what I can do to help. Most of those I've met don't seem to WANT any help.
There are no safety nets for anyone. Not really. We shouldn't kid ourselves. We never know what's going to happen. And winter's coming soon....

Happier things, now. I have a ton of new-to-me music in the house, mostly from the recent Portland trip, that I've barely had time to even sniff at. I'll be listening to and reviewing it in the near future. Artists include Hawkwind, Magma, Camel, Gong, Cat Stevens, The Strawbs, Gentle Giant, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Grateful Dead, The Go-Go's, Bob Seger, The Drifters ... and some guy named Frank Sinatra.
More soon....

Sunday, August 28, 2016

News flash: YES IS THE ANSWER!

I'm reading YES IS THE ANSWER ... AND OTHER PROG ROCK TALES (2013), a collection of 21 essays about progressive rock, edited by Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell.
And it's freaking HILARIOUS.
Because these writers UNDERSTAND. They know what a great, gorgeous, hilarious, nonsensical Guilty Pleasure prog was, and they all love it.
Just from a quick browse, I've already found several sections of this book that guarantee it will never leave the house. So far, I think it's the best book on music I've read in YEARS.
Because they are all so affectionate about prog, the writers are willing to admit its many flaws right up-front -- pretension, horrible lyrics, self indulgence, showing off, long-windedness, you know the list. And they admit that's part of what attracted them.
The essays are so direct, down-to-earth, open and honest -- that they make me laugh like a loon. This could happen to you too.
So far, I've loved Wesley Stace on Canterbury bands and lame lyrics (and why those same lyrics are also great), Matthew Specktor on the many wonderfulnesses of Yes, Jeff Gordinier on how Styx made him give up on progressive rock, Peter Case on the attractions of the Incredible String Band, Marc Weingarten's hilariously honest and direct introduction, and more. Rick Moody trying to defend Emerson, Lake and Palmer will have you laughing with the first sentence.
This book also tells me some things I need to investigate. Like that Gryphon has ANOTHER album out there somewhere: PAWN TO GRYPHON FOUR ... ? Really?! What??!! Have to confirm this....
It also points out some stuff I clearly missed while listening to Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Matching Mole, Robert Wyatt and others. And makes me wonder what ELSE I missed while I was allegedly listening closely.
If you're not a Prog fan this probably won't work for you. Or maybe it WILL if you need some good laughs. And there's nothing wrong with that.
I'll be back eventually with more about this. Meanwhile, there must be a cheap second-hand copy you can find somewhere. It'll be worth it....

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SMILE again

Hey, I read a book! Yesterday!
Luis Sanchez's SMILE (2014) is a look at the Beach Boys' "lost classic" album of the mid-'60s, one of 33-1/3rd's ongoing series of short books about classic rock albums.
The series has varied in quality. Some of the books are Everything You'd Ever Want To Know about a classic album -- Warren Zanes' DUSTY IN MEMPHIS is a pretty good, solid peek behind the scenes with lotsa details you probably never heard before. Gillian Gaar's IN UTERO is pretty-much a moment-by-moment recap of how that Nirvana album got made. I found Andrew Hultkranz's FOREVER CHANGES pretty frustrating -- it takes a look at Love's 1967 psychedelic classic and makes a bunch of speculations based on ... not much, I thought.
Some of the books are straight history, others are reminiscences, some are about what an album meant to the writer. In some, the writer just sort of dances around the album for his own entertainment. You might not be entertained by this.
Sanchez's book on SMILE has been slammed by some Beach Boys fans -- which is one of the reasons I wanted to read it. Sanchez treats SMILE as a finished album, a finished fact -- both as a complete artwork and a significant rock achievement, apart from the fact that its release was delayed by 45 years. He treats it more as an Artistic Object or a Cultural Artifact than as an album. His book is sort of an overview of What SMILE Means, Why It's Important.
He's taken some beatings for this. This is not straight history -- much of the SMILE story is here, though not all of it. There's almost nothing on how the SMILE SESSIONS album finally got released, how the folks behind the scenes pulled the parts together to give us the box set that came out in 2011. And if you're looking for a song-by-song analysis, that DEFINITELY isn't here.
Other books do that -- David Leaf's THE BEACH BOYS AND THE CALIFORNIA MYTH tells most of the story, Dominic Priore's LOOK! LISTEN! VIBRATE! SMILE! pulls together lots more bits and pieces in incredible detail, and Priore's later SMILE tries to give a historical overview. Lewis Shiner's novel GLIMPSES has a clear, idealized view of what the SMILE adventure must have been like. Much of the story has come down to Beach Boys fans as Brian Wilson's personal adventure in the wilderness. The story's so well known, is there much need to repeat all of it? Only if you can add something new.
Sanchez picks out the pieces he wants to illuminate, and adds comments from lyricist Van Dyke Parks and others who were around for these happenings. He adds a TON of Beach Boys history, more than was really necessary, I thought. Any serious fan already knows most of that stuff. The section on SMILE itself takes up maybe 30 pages of a 118-page book. The rest is background and overview.
That doesn't make the book bad, or weak. I think Sanchez's writing is pretty solid for what he wanted to do. There are a lot of different ways to approach this story, and the long history of this album. Relating the history of the Beach Boys' music and SMILE's place in American pop-music history is as legit an approach as any. While this book doesn't tell me Everything I Need To Know about a great album, I'm OK with what it DOES tell me -- even if I didn't learn much that's new.
I have other problems with the book, and they're technical. The book shows signs of being rushed. The proofreading is hideous in places, especially toward the end. One of Bob Dylan's best-known albums is mis-named HIGH 61 REVISITED. You might want to look that album up, could be fun. Comedian-actor-writer-director Mel Brooks's last name is spelled wrong. These should have been obvious, easy, simple fixes. Words are dropped here and there, sentences are mangled. The folks who proofread this book did the writer no favors. Usually you can infer what the writer intended from what you're reading. Here you can't always.
At the end, Sanchez is shocked that if SMILE were this good and this close to being completed back in the fall of 1966, why didn't Capitol Records just go ahead and release it? Couldn't they have insisted? Surely they wanted the money -- and they expected the album to be BIG.
But Brian said releasing the album then would have killed him and tore his family apart, and clearly he didn't want to be responsible for the emotional pain and potential economic impact if this experimental album flopped -- like PET SOUNDS basically did just a few months earlier (it just barely reached the Top 10).
That sorta sounds like Mike Love talking, don't it? "Stick to the formula, Brian -- girls and cars and surfing, catchy simple upbeat songs that I can sing and the fans can dig."
SMILE might have changed the musical landscape at the end of '66, coming after PET SOUNDS and "Good Vibrations" and BLONDE ON BLONDE and REVOLVER, and before SGT. PEPPER. But there's no way to know. It might have gone right over the heads of the audience. There were lots of BB fans who thought PET SOUNDS was "too weird" at the time: "You can't play it at parties. You can't dance to it. Where's the songs about cars and girls and surfing?"
SMILE's still a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind musical experience. As for what might have been ... well, maybe it's about time someone wrote an alternate history in which SMILE came out on time and the world DID change....
PS -- This is one of three 33-1/3rd books I grabbed at Powell's Books in Portland -- the other two are on PET SOUNDS and Van Dyke Parks' SONG CYCLE, all recorded in roughly the same era. Maybe they can shed some light on each other....

Friday, August 26, 2016

An Interruption In Service

Jeez, where to start?

WORK: First 2 nights of Marathon 4 have gone very smoothly. No complaints from me. And at least the AC is still working, as it remains hot here -- in the mid-to-upper 90s. The Girlfriend has me relaxed and thinking about work differently. Like it's OK if I can't fix something in the next 30 seconds, maybe the world won't end. Only 10 more nights to go. And at least two of those 10-hour nights will be ALL OVERTIME....

MOVING: It's Official. I will be completely moved-in with The Girlfriend on Labor Day. Talked it over with The Old Roommate -- he knew it was coming, wasn't surprised, even had a replacement already lined-up. I'm ecstatic, and The Girlfriend is thrilled, and this is actually going to happen within our lifetime. I know where I want to be, and it's right here. The Old Roommate even offered to let me use his truck so I can get the move done all at once, rather than carting a few boxes over now and then and fighting with the furniture. He's really a pretty great guy. Life is really good. I'm so happy I hardly know what to complain about....

TRIP: Portland is the Future! Well, maybe not, but it was a great break -- and I brought back a TON of CD's and a half-ton of books, all of which I'll probably be reporting on here, eventually. Powell's really IS the biggest bookstore I've ever seen, and within an hour I'd easily blown my modest budget.
Also visited one very nice CD shop -- Everyday Music, somewhere on Portland's west side -- and could easily have spent the rest of my life THERE, too.
There were lots of other things I liked about Portland: The pace somehow seems much slower there, MUCH slower than the Seattle area. In two days, I didn't see a single instance of road rage, horns honking, people screaming at each other, anyone driving anyone else off the road, etc. -- stuff I pretty much take for granted in this neighborhood. When we were stuck on the freeway in 90-degree heat, it was just The Girlfriend and I who were getting cranky. And a break for dinner took care of that.
I'm not naive -- there were a number of homeless people, but they weren't aggressive like they are here -- I wasn't held up for spare change. I only saw one meth freak, at the end of the second day, who began shouting threats for no reason and was immediately bounced from the restaurant we were sitting in ... and 10 seconds later the police arrived. I was impressed. It seemed almost ... civilized, there.
I'm not an idiot about stuff like this. And I can be miserable anywhere. But it sure was a nice break. Just getting out of town for awhile maybe did me more good than my vacation awhile back. I sure am relaxed, now. I'm hoping it lasts....

LOVE: Well, it's freakin' great. I have never felt so relaxed and at-ease with anyone, a woman who really GETS me, who has many of the same interests and obsessions, even some of the same hang-ups. We can talk for HOURS and laugh like loons and it's freakin' great. It seems like we've always known each other. She's my best friend. We've been seeing each other for four months -- together pretty-much 24/7 for the last three, and there hasn't been a cross, angry, ugly word between us. So THIS is what all those lovesongs were talkin' about. I recommend it heavily. Five stars.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

More laffs!

The Firesign Theatre: SHOES FOR INDUSTRY! (1993). Two CD's, 31 tracks, excellent liner notes/interview stuff by Steve Simels of STEREO REVIEW, lotsa laffs, some filler.
OK, The Beatles Of Comedy. No argument. This two-CD set pulls together some of the best of the Firesigns, including 11 minutes (not quite enough) from DON'T CRUSH THAT DWARF HAND ME THE PLIERS, the greatest comedy album of all time, more like a mind-movie than a comedy record.
What else do you need to know? Maybe you need to know that back in the day, Columbia Records sometimes sold the Firesigns' albums at bottom-budget prices -- $2.99, so cheap the record didn't even come with a paper sleeve! That's how I got my first copy of DWARF, back around 1978.
Then to take it home, play it and discover it was this psychedelic comedy trip -- well, quite a surprise. DWARF isn't perfect, it takes awhile to get going -- but once it gets rolling it's a dark, daring look at life NOW, now that everything's fragmented, you spend half your life switching channels on the TV, and nobody delivers pizza after dark up in the hills or to Sectors R or M anymore. In the end, along with being screamingly funny and even kinda scary, DWARF is surprisingly moving.
*Ahem.* Sorry about the raving. On here you get just enough of DWARF to make you want to hear the rest. There's lots of other good stuff too. "Temporarily Humbolt County" is a hilarious and brutal Native American history lesson. "Beat the Reaper!" is a hysterical game-show parody. "Ralph Spoilsport Motors" is surreal and twisted -- and check out the talking roadsigns. They sound just like the announcements that come out of the walls at the Atlanta airport. "The American Pageant" is a deeply twisted American history extravaganza. All the stuff from the Firesigns' radio show excerpted from DEAR FRIENDS is hysterical.
I can't take "Nick Danger," but I'm sure that's just a failing in me. The stuff from I THINK WE'RE ALL BOZOS ON THIS BUS leaves me kinda cold -- the sci-fi/clone setting of the story never really worked for me. DWARF is weirder and more surreal.
All the stuff with Reebus Caneebus is hilarious. The "Army Training Film" is sick. All the later solo stuff is lame -- how about the rest of DWARF instead?
There is filler here -- there are whole sections that bore me. Some of them are listed above. But the good stuff is SO good, so funny, words fail me. If you've never heard these guys, you owe it to yourself to check this out. Or just get DWARF and dive in deep. Worth expanding your mind for, either way. Four stars.
And thanks to Crabby for mentioning this package on his blog, or I never would have noticed it was out there!

Woody Allen: STANDUP COMIC (1978/1999). One CD, three different comedy "sets," 25 "routines," recorded 1964-68, minimal liner notes.
This was originally released in '78 as a cheap United Artists Records twofer called THE NIGHTCLUB YEARS. And though I hadn't heard this stuff since at least 1980, I played it all the way through awhile back and remembered all the jokes from 35 years ago and still laughed like a loon. That might happen to you, even if you know this material already.
Should note that this stuff was recorded before Woody became a movie star and an Academy Award-winning writer/director, and long before his adventures in court. He seems here to be taking himself much less seriously than he does nowadays.
Best moments? Well, anything regarding dating, sex, marriage, stuff like that. "The Vodka Ad," "Mechanical Objects," "The Moose," "The Great Renaldo," "Eggs Benedict" -- they're all great. Back in the day, I laughed 'til I cried. It's still pretty freakin' funny. Four stars.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Marathon 4 looms

NOW: It's hot here, mid-90s, damn hot for western Washington -- 95 here is like 105 in Idaho. The nights especially remind me of Idaho -- warm but dry, not hideous. It could be worse -- it could be way muggier. But the days are like an oven. There's at least one more 90-degree day coming before summer gives up here. And all the people who were whining that it rained too much in June and July are screaming for relief now.

COMING UP: My 57th birthday is tomorrow, and to celebrate I'll be spending my weekend in Portland, Ore., location of what I'm assured is the World's Biggest Used Bookstore. If I survive that, I'm told there's at least one decent record store in town, too. And I'll be spending all weekend with the woman I love, the best birthday present of all. Can't wait.

NEXT: After Birthday Weekend, I'm scheduled to work the next 12 nights in a row leading up to Labor Day. A couple of those will be longer work-nights than normal. Can't wait. Have been stocking up on new music in preparation for this upcoming stretch. I ain't no spring chicken however, and with the heat most customers at work seem even more pushy than usual. I'm a little pushy these days myself, but I'm trying to watch it.
If things should get too crazy or exhausting at work, you may see an Interruption In Service here at the Back-Up Plan, but I will be doing my best to carry on....

LISTENING: To keep myself sane, have been listening to lots of Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan. Have especially gotten into the choruses of the Dan's "Dirty Work": "I don't want to do your dirty work no more/I'm a fool to do your dirty work, oh yeah." I probably should have been fired years ago. That and the silly non-sequitur comedy of "Pretzel Logic." The angry guitar and lyrics in "Don't Take Me Alive." And of course nobody can top Aretha.
Speaking of non-sequiturs, right now am listening to the Firesign Theatre's SHOES FOR INDUSTRY! best-of. Sometimes unaccountably hilarious. I laugh for reasons I can't explain. The Theatre's DON'T CRUSH THAT DWARF HAND ME THE PLIERS is an old high-school favorite of mine, the greatest comedy album of all time, even if you're not stoned. And this best-of features a big slug of it, thank Ghod, or Columbia/Legacy, or whoever. But I can't stand "Nick Danger."

READING: Trying to read Clive Davis's THE SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE (2012). I really enjoyed his much-earlier CLIVE: INSIDE THE RECORD BUSINESS, especially the parts where he tried to take credit for EVERYONE'S success while he was running Columbia Records in the '60s and '70s.
Hey, maybe Clive DID edit and splice-together all those great early Chicago hits. SOMEBODY had to. I can just hear him telling the band, "Guys, if you take out all the dead horn parts and useless solos, you might just have something GOOD here." Too bad he couldn't save stuff like "Just You 'n' Me" or "Saturday in the Park." But at least he let them get away with stuff like "In Terms of Two" and "Critic's Choice."
Clive seems much more modest and much less self-serving in SOUNDTRACKS. But I'm only 10 chapters in, so there's plenty of time for that to change....

Friday, August 19, 2016

Aretha and Steely Dan best-of's

Aretha Franklin: THE QUEEN OF SOUL (2014). Four CD's, 87 songs, lots of rarities and outtakes, budget price, no liner notes or musicians' credits.
Aretha sort of snuck up on me a few years back. I knew she was great, but I didn't know she was freakin' GREAT. If you're in the same state of woeful ignorance that I was, you need to educate yourself. And this amazing best-of will do the job. Aretha's had lots of other best-of's. But they don't have what you'll get here.
I'd heard most of Aretha's old hits and loved some of them -- "Until You Come Back to Me" and "Daydreaming" were two of my faves in the early '70s. But I sort of took her for granted. Sure, I said, everybody knows Aretha's great....
Then KPLU's "All Blues" played "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You." It was one of the first things I heard on that show. I'd never heard it before. And I was absolutely KNOCKED OUT. Had to hear it again, had to have it to put on the CD player at work or scream along with in the car.
Since then, I've heard lots of other new-to-me Aretha greats thanks to "All Blues" -- "Dr. Feelgood," "Try Matty's," "The Night Life," "The House That Jack Built," "Good to Me as I Am to You," "You're Taking Up Another Man's Place," and more. They're all here. They're pure gold. You'll love 'em. And you'll be floored by how this amazing woman throws everything she's got into these unforgettable songs.
What was I thinking? Were my ears plugged back in 1971 when "Spanish Harlem" came on the radio? Why did it take me years to get hooked by -- or even notice -- "Rock Steady"?
Set yourself straight. This package is available cheap -- it's the old QUEEN OF SOUL: THE ATLANTIC RECORDINGS box set without a historical booklet or a pretty box, the songs are remastered again, and it'll be worth the five hours it's gonna take you to hear all of it. And you'll pick out your own life-changing favorites, trust me. Five stars.
(NOTE: The live version of "Night Life" included here doesn't beat the studio original, but it's still nice in its sorta laid-back way. And then there's "Oh Me Oh My I'm a Fool for You Baby," and "Since You've Been Gone," and "So Swell When You're Well," and ALL the early hits and....)

Steely Dan: THE VERY BEST OF (2009). Two CD's, 33 songs, hilarious liner notes by Neil McCormick, no musicians' credits.
There have been several Steely Dan best-of's, all incomplete in one way or another. This one they seem to have assembled almost exactly right. Everything I want to hear by the Dan is here, except for "Barrytown" and the gorgeous title song from GAUCHO. You get huge chunks of their albums -- five out of seven songs from AJA, four out of seven from GAUCHO -- and I could live without three of those. I like very much the non-overplayed stuff included: "Don't Take Me Alive," "Bodhisattva," "Pretzel Logic," "Third World Man," "Dirty Work," "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," etc. "My Old School" never wears out. "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" has been growing on me the past couple years -- I hated it back in the day.
Neil McCormick treats the Dan-ites as musical aliens from another planet, who gave up when they thought their message to Earth didn't get through. Only major lapse: McCormick mentions that some of the greatest studio musicians in New York and LA played on these songs, and he names a couple -- but the CD booklet doesn't tell you who the rest of them were. Another page for musicians' credits wouldn't have hurt anyone -- especially for music this complex. For the selection of great music included: 4-1/2 stars.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

More new stuff!/Cleaning house 2!

Well, this is liable to be a mishmash, but whatthehell. The girlfriend is gone at work and it's hotter than normal here (though it's gonna get hotter), and what else have I got to do but clutter up the Internet with my opinions? So here's another attempt to clean house and check out some new-to-me music. Ghod knows what I'll dig up....
* Camel -- Sahara. From RAJAZ. Opens as another placid, laid-back guitar instrumental like we've come to expect from Andy Latimer, but gains loudness, speed and intensity later. Maybe takes a little too long to get started. Solid, fluid, sometimes-fiery playing from Latimer, good support from the always-changing members of latter-day Camel. Nice show-offy climax.
* Camel -- The Final Encore. Now this DOES sort of sound like a camel caravan travelling across the desert ... along with lyrics using previous Camel song-titles indicating some kind of metaphor, Latimer maybe saying Goodbye To All That. Strong vocal. What does it mean?
* Gordon Lightfoot -- Canadian Railroad Trilogy. From UNITED ARTISTS COLLECTION. Ghod, I haven't heard this in years. And it sounds better than ever. Great vocal, sparkling acoustic guitar, marvelous energy, visions of clear rivers flowing, hills covered with pine forests. Great stuff!
* Gordon Lightfoot -- Pussywillows Cat-Tails. This is kinda silly. Nice cello. A little too light. Couldn't Al Stewart or Tiny Tim have pulled this off better? An old girlfriend once quoted me these lyrics -- I wonder where she heard them?
* Gordon Lightfoot -- Black Day in July. This was written about the Detroit riots in the late '60s. Bob Dylan could have done this. But he might have come up with better choruses.
* Gordon Lightfoot -- Seven Islands Suite. From SUNDOWN. I admit I'm a sucker for this -- I love Gordy when he gets Ambitious. And I love the way he sneaks in that "Shit out of luck" line. Nice strings and backing vocals, great eerie bubbly synthesizer from Nick DeCaro. ... Ah, but where's "Knotty Pine"? That must be on some other Warner Bros album -- it's sure not on the UA collection....
* Beatles -- Doctor Robert. From REVOLVER. My Ghod, do these bad Beatles songs ever END? Vaguely country 'til the psychedelic middle section. John and Paul's vocals later help a bit. At least it's over with fast.
* John Coltrane -- Impressions. From THE VERY BEST OF. Nice honking. Nice clonking on the piano by McCoy Tyner. What exactly are these impressions OF? Oh, I'm not supposed to ask? Goes totally abstract later, Ghod forbid. But great drumming from Elvin Jones. Tough to keep up with Trane....
* Miles Davis -- Yesternow. From JACK JOHNSON. Laid-back, funky, squonky moon-vacation music with lotsa honking from Miles, and there's no way I'm gonna get through 25 minutes of it....
* Jimmy Smith -- Walk on the Wild Side. From FINEST HOUR. No, not THAT "Walk on the Wild Side." Swingin' big-band jazz. Where's the organ I thought Smith played? Oh, THERE it is, a couple minutes in -- funky, bubbly, like it. Very lively. The tune could be from WEST SIDE STORY....
* Jimmy Smith -- The Sermon. Mostly very laid-back. Cool guitar from Kenny Burrell. Smith goes quite a ways out with it later on....
* Mason Williams -- Classical Gas. From MUSIC 1968-1971. This is a stripped-down remake minus the orchestration and huge production, because Warner Bros refused to let Mason put the hit version on this best-of. You can actually hear Mason's pickin', because there's nothing in the way. Quiet, modest, pretty, but not a blockbuster.
* Mason Williams -- The Smothers Brothers Theme. A little '30s soft-shoe number, very quaint.
* Mason Williams -- Baroque-a-Nova. "Classical Gas"'s alter-ego? "Classical Gas Part 2"? Actually, it's better than that, once it gets going....
* Mason Williams -- I've Heard That Tear-Stained Monologue You Do There By the Door Before You Go. Mason sings! Cute lyrics.
* Bonnie Raitt -- Angel from Montgomery. Original studio version from STREETLIGHTS. The duet version she does with John Prine on her Warner Bros best-of is better. This has nice piano, Bonnie's vocal is fine, and it builds as it goes, but it's still just a little too laid-back. The later version with Prine is heartbreakingly great.
* Seals and Crofts -- East of Ginger Trees. From SUMMER BREEZE. Nice acoustic guitars, nice vocal harmonies, pretty midsection, but it doesn't seem to go much of anywhere. Wonder why it's on their best-of?
* Seals and Crofts -- The Euphrates. This is more like it. A mellow, reflective number that builds. Nice production by Louie Shelton.
* Rush -- Stick it Out. From COUNTERPARTS. Wow, heavy! Angry, cynical lyrics. Much rougher than I expected.
* Rush -- Leave That Thing Alone. Mid-tempo guitar instrumental, nice but nothing to get excited about. Drummer Neil Peart does a little fancy tapping around. With a title like that, who needs a tune?
* Chuck Mangione -- Children of Sanchez. From the CLASSICS best-of. The live-concert version's better. But the theme's pretty haunting. That's why it's repeated a couple of times on Chuck's LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL. This slice isn't long enough.
* Chuck Mangione -- Hill Where the Lord Hides. Why did I ever think this was a good tune? The original (minor-hit) version's on Mercury. This is a live cut, with too much brass and strings and too much chicka-chicka early-'80s guitar. WAY-too-lite jazz. I can't finish it. And if you think I'm gonna play "Feels So Good," you're out of your friggin' mind.
* Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny -- Waltz for Ruth, Our Spanish Love Song. From BEYOND THE MISSOURI SKY. Way-delicate acoustic-guitar-and-bass numbers. "Spanish Love Song" is better, more melodic, but my mind still wanders. Wrong day for this stuff.
* Pat Metheny -- Orchestrion. From ORCHESTRION. Jazz-guitarist Pat and his wind-up-toy band. This seemed like an intriguing idea, but Pat also has his own Group, and I can't tell the difference between them and this one-man-band-thing, so.... Light, pleasant. This ain't no WICHITA FALLS, but it's livelier than MISSOURI SKY....
* Pat Metheny -- Spirit of the Air. This is more like it! Pat, you bastard! This sounds like an outtake from FIRST CIRCLE. The only thing missing is Pedro Aznar's airy, wordless vocals. After sampling every other tune on ORCHESTRION, finally this one, the last track, actually works! Or seems to. There's a sorta aimless middle section.... If you'd dropped that, this would have been almost perfect. Still pretty light, though....
* Emerson, Lake and Palmer -- Toccata (live). From the ATLANTIC YEARS best-of. Hyperactive, noisy, completely over-the-top. Is this music? Ah hell, why not? Whooping, screaming synthesizers, pounding percussion, good cheap thrills.
* Emerson, Lake and Palmer -- Pictures at an Exhibition: Promenade/The Hut of Baba Yaga/The Curse of Baba Yaga/The Great Gates of Kiev/The End. Speaking of noise.... Nice synthesizer on "Hut." Then it goes all sour on "Curse." But Keith Emerson is just STARTING to show off. Nice strong keyboards, pounding drums, too bad Greg Lake's vocals get in the way. Can't understand a word he's shouting. Nice sour keyboards follow. But it all explodes on "Great Gates of Kiev," when Emerson rips his keyboard apart to the delight of the fans -- in perfect digital sound. That's what I'd been waiting for. The rest is pretty-much mush.
* Miles Davis -- Saeta. From SKETCHES OF SPAIN. Rather martial-sounding horn fanfare. Then Miles's lonely, isolated trumpet. With an underlying murmur of tension. Ominous mood music.
* Miles Davis -- Solea. More of the same. Mysterious, ominous -- but good-quality soundtrack-style orchestral music with Miles riding on the surface. Depicting Spain at the time of the Spanish Civil War, perhaps?

Monday, August 15, 2016

New stuff!

OK, new music! Well, new to ME, anyway. Mostly.
* John Fahey -- The Fahey Sampler. From BEST OF VOLUME 2. Crystal-clear acoustic guitar. Pretty. Hypnotic. Thin repeating melody that gains strength, speed and interest as it goes along. I think there's a limit to how much of this anyone can take, but I got all the way through its 13 minutes without drifting off too far. Pretty good waking-up music, which Ghod knows I need this morning....
* Justin Hayward and John Lodge -- Blue Guitar. Bonus track from the BLUE JAYS CD. The album itself is worth four stars, an absolute MUST for Moody Blues fans. But this 1975 single is a little too languid and laid-back, which was always the weakest side of the Moodies. There's no drama, there's no drive. No wonder I've been able to ignore it for all these years. The album-closer "When You Wake Up" is WAY better....
* Camel -- Flight of the Snow Goose (alternate single edit). Bonus track from THE SNOW GOOSE. Released as a single in England in 1975. Driving but melodic, with lots of swirling synthesizer from Peter Bardens, and not quite enough Andy Latimer guitar. Opening and closing are drawn-out a little more than on the original album. Maybe not a sure thing for radio, though this is the most immediately-catchy tune on the album. This version seems somehow flatter, less dramatic than the original version I'm used to. Is that just the CD remastering? Or is it my ears?
* Richard Thompson -- Don't Sit on My Jimmy Shands. From RUMOR AND SIGH. Hilarious! Great oom-pah sound, funny lyrics. Where'd that accordion come from? Strange, it sounded much rock-ier in the CD store....
* Richard Thompson -- I Misunderstood. Also from RUMOR AND SIGH. This is more like it. Richard being his usual grim self. Sounds like actor Alan Rickman with a guitar. Great, brutal lyrics, excellent hypnotic choruses. And great guitar, of course. Pretty quiet for the dramatic lyrics. Restrained. Intense.
* Richard Thompson -- Mystery Wind. Nice brooding atmosphere, vocals, lyrics and guitar, but it doesn't seem to go much of anywhere.
* Richard Thompson -- Backlash Love Affair. Very "Arabian Nights"-ish opening. Richard gets overcome by a Nazi dominatrix? Trashy! And catchy. Charming by the second chorus. Some nice screechy guitar, too.
* Polyphonic Spree -- Have a Day/Celebratory. From THE BEGINNING STAGES OF... Well, they look like a bunch of Moonies, chanting in long white robes. But they don't SOUND like that, exactly. They sound vaguely like Yes! Vocally, at least. And they're definitely chanting the same lyrics over and over. Light and cheery, gaining in complexity. And then the choir kicks in. And the horns! This is too silly to be real, but it works. And I can't help smiling.
* Polyphonic Spree -- It's the Sun. Whatta choir! There's like 36 of them, so no wonder they make a huge sound. This is like a hippie musical, or like Up With People or something. Positive, so positive it's loopy. Arty, but the lyrics are silly. The horns and strings really work, and the mass-choir vocals are impressive -- but they'd work better with better lyrics. Still, it makes me smile. What the hell IS this? OK, that's enough. Before I get addicted. Maybe more later. But definitely Different.
* Camel -- Three Wishes. From RAJAZ. Now this IS The Arabian Nights. Andy Latimer's usual languid, pretty guitar mood-music. Picks up intensity later. Latimer's pretty reliable for good tunes. This could be off of MIRAGE or MOONMADNESS or even BREATHLESS. OK tune with lotsa quick changes, pleasant, diverting, standout guitar solos.
* Tangerine Dream -- Coldwater Canyon. From ENCORE/LIVE. "Monolight" is the unforgettable, melodic stoner classic on this former two-record set now on one CD. I picked THIS because it supposedly has Edgar Froese's longest guitar solo ever. Most of this is metronome-like trance music, though OK if you're in the mood to trip-out. Pretty simple sounding, now. Some undersea whale-song-like stuff later. Apparently lots of the themes used in these live concerts were sort of recycled from the Tangs' soundtrack for the movie SORCERER. I always preferred the drift of their non-soundtrack work, though their soundtracks could get pretty intense -- try "Igneous," the guitar-meltdown piece on THIEF.
BY THE WAY, while I have a chance, the Tangs have a best-of box set, TANGENTS, that covers their '70s output on Virgin Records. Bought it used (but pricey) last spring and expected to spend months listening to it. Big disappointment -- half the tracks were remixed or re-recorded by Edgar Froese and sound nothing like the originals. A beautiful package, but avoid at all costs. Extra bonus review, no extra charge....
* Motorhead -- Killed by Death (live). From ENCORE/EXTENDED VERSIONS. Wow, Lemmy sings in a higher pitch here than on the original. You can hardly hear him over the guitar and drums. How did he hit those high notes? He's hoarse! Shut up! Luckily, the rotten sound doesn't cover up the killer guitar, and whoever's bashin' the drums is doin' a helluva job. This sumbitch MOVES. Later, Lemmy croaks like a frog! And then he gets even worse! Hilarious! Great rock and roll comedy! I always loved these guys....
* Motorhead -- Born to Raise Hell (live). Great choruses, the rest of the lyrics are mush. And Lemmy's voice is SHOT. He sounds like he's 95 years old, probably using a cane. To beat you to death with. Hilarious. More great guitar and drums. Screaming down the freeway this'd probably sound pretty freakin' great. This isn't as funny as the original, but.... This stuff is damn hard to turn off.
* Motorhead -- Ace of Spades (live). My Ghod, can't understand a WORD. Except for the title-chorus. Maybe that was Lemmy's Songwriting Secret. But this stuff will sure as hell WAKE YOU UP. And the guitarist and drummer (whoever they are, the CD package doesn't say) flat burn it UP. OK, that's enough. I might even keep it.
* Meredith Brooks -- What Would Happen? From BLURRING THE EDGES. Heard this a few times back when, but didn't pay real close attention. She pretends she can't sing until the choruses, which are hypnotic and intense and really work. Course this sounds really quiet compared to Motorhead....
* Meredith Brooks -- Bitch. Sounds like Michelle Branch. Or was it Avril LaVigne? ... Oh, NOW I recognize this. I thought this was done by somebody else, like Berlin or somebody. Hate the choruses. I'm done.
* Faces -- Ooh La La. From THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION. This is pretty charming, and it sounds great. Coulda been a hit, especially if they'd used that "Wish I knew then what I know now" tag-line more often. Ends too soon. Sorta put together backwards. Nice, though. Don't know who's singin', but it ain't Rod Stewart.
* Faces -- Memphis Tennessee. Sorta boozy, wobbly version of the old Chuck Berry tune, with Rod Stewart singing a not-very-inspired lead. Lotsa nice guitar and piano. If I didn't know Johnny Rivers's version this'd be OK I guess. But I'm an old square, so....
* Sinead O'Connor -- Troy. From THE LION AND THE COBRA. My Ghod. This just in: She howls, she screams, such melodrama! Is THIS what critics were freaking out about, back in the day? It's funny and it's scary, and it's freaking great! And unfortunately she could almost be Alanis Morissette ... screeching about her man leaving the toilet seat up. If anything it's over with too quick. But Wow.
* Sinead O'Connor -- Jerusalem. A little bit too much whooping, but this bounces along nicely, could have been a hit. Edgy, but not as harrowing as "Troy."
* Sinead O'Connor -- I Am Stretched on Your Grave. From I DO NOT WANT WHAT I HAVEN'T GOT. Whatthehell, I feel brave, why not? Maybe shouldn't have -- an eerie funeral dirge. Her intense vocals don't save it.
* Beatles -- The Word. From RUBBER SOUL. Yeah, this is mildly familiar. I know the choruses, love the vocals on the choruses. Simpler and rockier (and SHORTER) than I expected. And what are they getting at with their use of "Spread the word"? As if I didn't know. Good thing they were so damn lovable and clever or they never would have gotten away with it.
* Beatles -- You Can't Do That. From A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. Pretty simple, though John sounds fairly angry. Good thing there were 10 (other) classic songs on this album....
* 'Til Tuesday -- Are You Serious? Bonus track from VOICES CARRY. Placed on the CD between the melodramatic greats "Maybe Monday" and "Don't Watch Me Bleed," this must have been the B-side of "Voices Carry" or something back in the day. Pleasant choruses, but that's about all -- I can see why it wasn't on the original album. I always thought these folks had potential, but judging by the one Aimee Mann solo album I tried to listen to awhile back, she hasn't stopped me in my tracks since the eight above-average songs on VOICES CARRY....
* Van Morrison -- Blue Money. From HIS BAND AND THE STREET CHOIR. Way light and relaxed. Sounds like this was tossed off in the studio, and the backing vocal is silly. An outtake from that album of children's songs that Van's always wanted to do....
* Van Morrison -- Call Me Up in Dreamland. More structured, with nice sax from Jack Schroer and relaxed group-vocal choruses. The lyrics are still kind of silly.
* Van Morrison -- Street Choir. Even more structured, but still kind of an anti-climax, even at the end of a relaxed, lighter-than-air album.
* Beatles -- Rain. Wow, this jumps right out of the speakers. Super-saturated sound. Sparkling guitars and vocals. Does this slow down as it goes? Or is it just me?