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?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

TAD's Top 11, once and for all

After a bad experience at a "Make your own Top 10 list" website (which shall go nameless here), I've decided to post my All-Time Top 11 Albums here and invite y'all to join in by posting your faves and criticizing mine, because criticizing each other's musical taste is one of the great un-taxed joys of life.
If you survive this list, feel free to submit a list of your favorites in the "Comments" section below. I don't care about format, toss in all the commentary you want. The more, the merrier. Because this is all supposed to be about discussion, community, sharing, communication. You can all join in. Don't be shy. Don't be lurking, now. Here we go.
TAD'S TOP 11 (this week):
1. Beach Boys: PET SOUNDS. Best pop album ever. Even if half the first side drags. The second side's almost pure gold. Timeless magic.
2. Beach Boys: SMILE SESSIONS. Gorgeous, amazing song fragments, sketches, even completed songs! Brian Wilson was a friggin musical genius. He shoulda been composing movie soundtracks. Too bad about some of those deadheads he hung out with....
3. Gryphon: RED QUEEN TO GRYPHON THREE. Best instrumental rock album ever. "Lament" itself will change your life ... if you can sit still long enough to hear all of it.
4. Go-Go's: TALK SHOW. More great pure pop for then people. Their best, punchiest, rockiest album. Much more than cheery good times, some stress and heartbreak too. And amazing tunes that will stay with you forever.
5. Bangles: DIFFERENT LIGHT. Still more pure pop. I admit I'm a sucker for women singing catchy songs. The second side's just about perfect.
6. Moody Blues: THE PRESENT. Their best, most consistent album ever. Mellow, nostalgic, reflective, gorgeous. They should have retired after this.
7. Pretenders: (First album.) Got me through 1980 alive! Great lyrics, amazing guitar, and the Attitude! "Lovers of Today" and "Mystery Achievement" will change your life.
8. Nick Drake: BRYTER LAYTER. Gorgeous folk-rock mood-music. Almost every song works its amazing magic. And it's not dark and it's not depressing.
9. Beatles: ABBEY ROAD. Well, what can I say?
10. Yes: YESSONGS. Best live album ever. So great you can throw almost half of it away and not miss a thing.
11. Providence: EVER SENSE THE DAWN. A kinder, gentler Moody Blues album full of great, unforgettable songs. Put it on and fool your Moodies-fan friends.
* Fleetwood Mac -- TUSK. Perfect to do housework by.
* Caravan -- FOR GIRLS WHO GROW PLUMP IN THE NIGHT. Swingin', rockin' big-band arrangements, sweeping melodies, great vocals, hilarious lyrics.
* Happy the Man -- CRAFTY HANDS. Gorgeous progressive rock.
* Group 87 -- (First album.) The second-greatest instrumental rock album ever. Soundtracks for your dreams.
* Gryphon: TREASON. A kinder, gentler Jethro Tull album for the punk-rock era.
* Renaissance -- LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL. Stuck-up, snobby classical-rock with beautiful tunes.
* Illusion -- OUT OF THE MIST. Modest, quiet classical-rock with beautiful tunes.
* Sky -- SKY2. Two discs of virtuoso progressive rock that could have used a sense of humor. But check out the hilarious liner notes....
* The Who -- WHO'S NEXT. "Lifehouse" could maybe have been better than this, but the charge and punch and melodies and playing are all unbelievably great. If you're not sick to death of hearing it all over and over on Classic Rock radio....
* King Crimson -- THE YOUNG PERSON'S GUIDE TO KING CRIMSON. Two-record set of most of their best from the '60s and '70s. Screeching, rocking, powerful, out-of-control guitar and twisted intellectual lyrics. This stuff will Change Your Life. And some of their very best work ISN'T HERE....
* King Crimson -- THE GREAT DECEIVER (LIVE 1973-74). Second-best live album ever, with some amazing playing. They weren't always inspired, but they were always powerful. And whatta sense of humor....
OK, there's a 22-item "Top 11" list for you to think over. Now it's your turn. I know this will require a little thinking, but no more than a minute or two. After all, why do we do this stuff if it isn't to strain our brains and show off a little?
I'll be looking forward to your lists....
(This means more than just you, Crabby. But you're invited too, of course....)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Dum and dummer (?)

Isn't this the dumbest presidential election campaign ever? Aren't you sick to death of it already? Isn't it even more boring than the Summer Olympics? And there's still three months to go!
Why do we always have to vote NO?!
Donald Trump will say ANYTHING to stir up trouble or get a response, or just to get 30 seconds on TV. That was fine during the primaries, when I think he was just trying to liven things up and get people talking. But now he's out of control and half the Republican Party wants to dump him.
You can't believe a word Hillary Clinton says, either. You can't trust her. She's a little distant. She's not the warmest woman of all time. No wonder Bill went looking elsewhere.
Neither of these candidates has any real solid plans for the future -- beyond getting themselves a paying job for the next four (or eight) years. They make claims, but they have no detailed plans on how to create jobs, cut taxes, help the homeless, keep the country safe, etc. They have absolutely NO plans on how to get Congress to work with whoever's in the Oval Office to help get the U.S. out of the complex mess it's in.
Both say things that are exactly what their core audience wants to hear. And they get cheers for that. From voters whose minds are already made up. But for the rest of us who are undecided, it just gets worse. Bernie, come back. Even though I wasn't sure about you. At least you'd be another choice. And who else is on the ballot?
LATEST FIASCOS: A couple days ago, Trump claimed Barack Obama was "the founder of ISIS," and he wasn't joking. At least one talk-show host thought Trump was speaking metaphorically -- that through Obama's actions in the Middle East, the Prez indirectly supported the climate that's allowed ISIS to spread.
Trump didn't want to be taken metaphorically. He wasn't joking. But NOW that his comments have taken some heat, he claims he was being "sarcastic." This on top of his recent comments that gun-owners could "take care of" Hillary Clinton's campaign....
Meanwhile, Hillary released her tax returns and dared Trump to do so. Her latest tax return shows Bill and Hillary are among the top one-tenth of one percent of American wage-earners, and that they gave more than $1 million to charity.
However, there are now claims that Hillary's health has been failing over the past couple years, and she and her campaign won't address those concerns.
Maybe we should have presidential candidates release their tax records AND their medical records, so we can make sure they're healthy enough to hold public office.... But not TOO healthy, of course....
BIASES: I don't think Hillary Clinton is the warmest, friendliest, nicest person in the world. She's a little grumpy. Her coldness puts me off. And I think she's just as impulsive as Trump. She says Trump's too negative -- but she's not very positive. I don't doubt that she wants what's best for the U.S., but I don't BELIEVE what she says.
Neither of these folks has any reason to claim the other "isn't qualified" or is "too temperamental" to be president. Neither are qualified -- or at least neither act "presidential." Both are temperamental.
Donald Trump sounds more and more like Barry Goldwater in 1964: We're gonna make America great again. We're gonna build a wall around America. We're gonna bomb everybody we don't like. We're gonna cut taxes. We're gonna create jobs. Anybody who wants our military protection is gonna have to pay for it up-front. We're gonna immediately throw out of the country anybody we don't like. Welcome back to 1955, Donald.
With these kinds of choices, who's left? And is this the best we can do?
Did you know more than 1,800 people have filed to run for president? Some of them are just jokes, like Han Solo, "Super Reagan" (Communist Party), "Some Lice" (Republican), or the non-partisan Coffee And Donuts.
I miss Carly Fiorina. I liked her anger. She seemed to really care -- which is more than I can say for Hillary and Donald. There was some passion there.
From the long list of other candidates, how about Jill Stein of the Green Party? At least she wants to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and make sure everybody has a job. Those are good places to start.
I don't know the solution to all this. Maybe I'm as dumb as the candidates. But I know that I'm tired of voting NO.
Ah well, football season's just around the corner....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The next invasion

Well, Thank Putin, the Russians have finally backed off.
But now it's the Arabs.
On Wednesday morning at precisely 6 a.m. Pacific Time, this blog had 90 visits from some unidentified peoples in Saudi Arabia, all at the same time. And they haven't been back.
I'm pretty sure they didn't visit because they're such big ELP fans and were dying to read my just-in stream-of-consciousness views on "Tarkus."
This on top of the hundreds of views from Russia a couple of weeks ago, and I'm starting to think I'm more popular overseas than I am in America. If only they were paying me.
What does it mean? What's it all about? What are they looking for?
And can I somehow make some money from this?
Did Donald Trump cause this? Do they think this is where Hillary Clinton's hidden e-mails are buried?
I don't get it. I sent Blogger an e-mail about this -- about the Russians, actually. So far, I've received no response. Maybe they're not concerned about it. Or maybe they're still investigating.
But as someone who recently had a fraudulent $35,000 loan application started on-line under my real name, I'm a little concerned.
What do they think they're gonna find here?
I'm sure it's not about me or my ravings.
Somehow in my head I see a room full of 90 little Arab teens (all boys, of course) in robes and turbans -- and somehow each of them has dunce caps on their heads -- sitting in front of a bank of computer screens. And at the front of the class, a very tall, skinny, bearded Arab man in robes and a turban is shouting (with a German accent, somehow): "We destroy The Great Satan now! One music blog at a time! Starting with TAD! Then we attack Crabby's!"
This might explain why Rastro's "La Historia de la Musica Rock" Tumblr site suddenly disappeared last week. Or why Groove Sandwich suddenly vanished a couple of years back. He claimed he was going to try to become a Serious Working Musician, but you never know. And if you're into conspiracy theories (which I have been lately), it isn't hard to see the dark, nefarious hand of ... well, who knows?
My girlfriend thinks this long-armed conspiracy also explains why a Best Of Chi Coltrane CD has been unconscionably delayed in arriving from Somewhere In Europe, while Amazon keeps telling us not to worry, that the CD isn't "officially" Overdue until the middle of next month.
This on top of the fiendish U.S. Postal Service shutting off the mail here for No Known Reason, just so some petty bureaucrat can exercise her limited amount of power....
You can see how this stuff piles up.
Of course, Crabby's still cranking out the posts -- a long one on the Beach Boys' classic PET SOUNDS earlier this week. I think Crabby'll still be doing this stuff after the rest of us are long gone. SOMEBODY has to. And Crabby's had to deal with the Russians before. Several times. And he doesn't know what it all means, either.
I think it is well past time for someone -- a weak link in the Arab or Russian cabals -- to Confess All. But I ain't holdin' my breath.
I think Donald Trump is somehow to blame for all this. I'll figure out HOW later. And if it's not him, it's GOT to be Hillary. Right?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Cleaning house!

OK, one last chance for the following CD's to impress me before I sell them all off at Half-Price Books in Tacoma. Lots of '60s/'70s jazz and off-the-wall stuff follows.

* Van Morrison -- TUPELO HONEY (1971). Just heard this all the way through for the first time ever a couple of days ago. "Wild Night" I knew well, and I'd heard the title song once 30 years ago and wasn't impressed. But overall, very nice bouncy music to relax by, not as dark and intense as ASTRAL WEEKS or MOONDANCE, and not as light as HIS BAND AND THE STREET CHOIR. Great drumming from Connie Kay, great sax from Jack Schroer, good guitars from Van and Ronnie Montrose, and excellent singing as always. I've read that Van was happy in his domestic bliss with Janet Planet (who sings backup here) when he recorded this, and happiness and contentment comes through on almost every track. And the title song gains momentum and emotional impact I'd never noticed before thanks largely to the great drumming. Good stuff.

* Vince Guaraldi Trio -- Linus and Lucy. From A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. Is it weird to be listening to "Christmas" music in August? Well, it's cooler than normal here.... This takes the irresistible PEANUTS theme music and elaborates the hell out of it. There's even a pure-jazz be-boppish midsection. Wasn't there a flute on the original version of this? Where's the flute? Doesn't matter. Tough to resist.
* Vince Guaraldi -- Christmas Time is Here. Tough to resist the PEANUTS kids' cute vocals. The backing is sorta standard piano-trio jazz, but very soothing. You can hear the snowflakes falling....
* Vince Guaraldi -- Skating. I don't remember this as the music for the kids skating on the pond in the cartoon -- I thought that music was more languid. This jumps around way more than I remember. Vince is skating across the keys....
* George Winston -- Cast Your Fate to the Wind. From LINUS AND LUCY: THE MUSIC OF VINCE GUARALDI. The repeating piano choruses are a lot of fun. This could almost be a PEANUTS song, too.
* George Winston -- Linus and Lucy. Yes, just like the other one, but with more ringing held notes on the piano and a more direct attack. Kind of stiff. And then he elaborates the sucker out to Mars. And where's the bass and drums? And there's still no flute.
* John Coltrane -- Acknowledgement. From A LOVE SUPREME. Is this CD stuck? Coltrane riffs on the same four-note phrase for five minutes before the quartet starts the deep-voiced album-title chant. But Elvin Jones bashes all over the drum kit and McCoy Tyner comps all over the place on the piano. Hmmm....
* John Coltrane -- Resolution. This is more like it, with Coltrane blowing strong and Tyner just as strong while twinkling away on the piano. Easier to listen to than the opening movement. A little screeching from Trane later on....
* Emerson, Lake and Palmer -- Tarkus. From the ATLANTIC YEARS best-of. Good Ghod, 20 minutes of this?! Active, forceful opening. Alternately horn-like and popcorn-machine-like busy synthesizer opening into Greg Lake's lovesong to the title armadillo-tank creature. Silly, dumb Deeply Significant lyrics, but OK if you're into bombast. Good cheap entertainment. "Karn Evil 9" is way better. But man, Keith Emerson could play the hell out of that keyboard. Then there's a rockin' bluesy midsection ... with more dumb lyrics. Couple of brief, dramatic keyboard-drums-guitar duels -- the best part of ELP: short, punchy, catchy phrases repeated at lightning-fast speeds. Good stuff. The lyrics are pretty unbearable, and they're delivered portentously, morosely, without any humor. Then more popcorn-machine synth, but it's cute. Maybe the joke's on me. Sounds sort of like a duck quacking. Emerson's having fun with it. And just when you think it's over, they bang a gong and bring back the opening theme. Overall: Silly, meaningless, but not bad. OK, survived that, what else we got around here...?
* Clannad -- Na Buachailli Alainn (I think). From FUAIM. In Gaelic. This is early, from 1982, and seems lighter than their often-somber later stuff. Enya's on here, too, on keybs and vocals. Very pleasant choruses, no idea what they're on about. Over too soon.
* Clannad -- Strayed Away. In English! More like their later stuff, but very pleasant ... and over too soon.
* Maire Brennan -- Ce Leis. From MAIRE. She's Clannad's lead singer. This is very soothing. Is it nap time yet? Sounds like Clannad, no surprise -- but quieter. Nice flute by Mick Taylor.
* Maire Brennan -- Against the Wind. This is more like it. An actual beat, angry-chanting backing vocals, some force. Nice mandolin from Donal Lunny. A battle song. Fairly dramatic.
* Maire Brennan -- Atlantic Shore. This also has a beat and it moves. A beat and a little drama seem to do Maire a lot of good. She should tell her relatives in Clannad.
* Frank Zappa -- You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here, Trouble Every Day. From FREAK OUT! "Trouble Every Day" is a way-ahead-of-its-time media-and-society critique, with some good FZ guitar. Not bad, and right on. "Wondering" is more silly munchkin-like social criticism.
* Frank Zappa -- It Can't Happen Here. Acapella weirdness.
* Frank Zappa -- Who Are the Brain Police? The Beach Boys on acid. Does Frank ever stop with the jokes? Did he ever take anything but his guitar-playing seriously? Devolves into serious noise.
* FZ -- How Could I be Such a Fool?, Wowie Zowie. More doo-wop comedy. I used to know somebody who did a better, funnier version of "Wowie Zowie" than Frank and the Mothers....
* FZ -- The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet. Oh, no....
* Richard and Mimi Farina -- Pack Up Your Sorrows. From TREASURY OF FOLK MUSIC. Could almost be a sweeter Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Mimi and Richard were briefly almost a big deal back in the mid-'60s. Sweet, talented, but not distinctive.
* Simon Sisters -- Winken, Blinken and Nod. Carly Simon?! This is cute, could almost be Clannad. Kids would love it.
* Pete Seeger -- Little Boxes. Cute and funny and true, this lecture about "levelling" and Everybody Ending Up The Same is over so quickly the point almost doesn't hit you.
* Jimmie Rodgers -- Kisses Sweeter Than Wine. Ray Conniff(!) does a better, more dramatic (frankly, CLASSIC) version of this, though this is OK....
* Ornette Coleman -- Lonely Woman. From THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME. Played this awhile back and survived, so thought I'd try it again. Rather nicely harmonized honking horn music.
* Ornette Coleman -- Eventually. This sounds more like Ornette. Speedy, honking all over the place, busy drums and bass.
* Ornette Coleman -- Peace. Laid back, nice harmonized horns, rather "normal." Restful. But I'm not gonna make it through 9 minutes of this....
* Billie Holiday -- Billie's Blues. From QUINTESSENTIAL, VOLUME 2. I'm told I should listen to her voice and ignore the music. And her voice is fine. But her backup is SO Dixieland-jazz.... Of course it WAS 1936.
* Billie Holiday -- With Thee I Swing, The Way You Look Tonight. "Swing" swings, and it's cute. "The Way You Look" is charming, though very short. I guess she sorta got through to me finally. But the liner notes to her QUINTESSENTIAL best-of are better than the music....
* Miles Davis -- Right Off. From JACK JOHNSON. Wow, this is more like it. Funky, with some nice John McLaughlin guitar. Then Miles comes in with his piercing trumpet. This is much more ALIVE than I expected, though I'd read rave reviews. Can it really hold up for 26 minutes? ... OK, I made it 11 minutes in, to where the rockin' guitar-and-trumpet duel winds down. Not bad. Pretty damn lively. I might even keep it.
* Miles Davis -- Miles Runs the Voodoo Down. From BITCHES BREW. Seems like Miles blowing piercingly over a rather sluggish background, though John McLaughlin does step up later, and there's some interesting twiddling on the keyboards from Chick Corea and Larry Young. But kind of aimless.
* Miles Davis -- Sanctuary. This was written by saxist Wayne Shorter, and is mostly quiet, pretty, distant. Might be time for a sandwich. Or a nap.
* Dave Brubeck -- Kathy's Waltz. From TIME OUT. Formal but pretty piano-and-sax jazz. Good dinner music. Sounds vaguely Christmas-y. Hmmm. Do we have a theme going here?
* Keith Jarrett -- KOLN CONCERT Part 1, Part 2c. I've tried to get into this, but I can't -- though I do enjoy some of Jarrett's other stuff very much. "2c" seems the best part of the concert to me, and it's brief for Jarrett -- only 7 minutes. At least it has a melody. It's pretty. But even it drags. The rest is too much like going to church. Except for the parts where it sounds like he's having sex with the piano.
* Keith Jarrett -- Long As You Know You're Living Yours. From BELONGING. Steely Dan claimed they mined the crap out of this to create the wonderful title track of GAUCHO. They maybe smoothed Jarrett's melody out and made it more distinctive. I don't hear much of "Gaucho" in this. It meanders. But Jarrett's all over the piano and Jan Garbarek really screams on the sax.
* Keith Jarrett -- Belonging. Very laid back. Garbarek's mournful sax dominates this brief piece.

COMING EVENTUALLY: "Cleaning House 2!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

On not-feeling-it musically

I'm getting bored again.
Yesterday's early-morning live-blogging session wasn't a complete success. For one, I was too tired. For another, nothing I played all morning was exciting enough, alive enough, Different enough to keep me from knocking off for a 2-hour nap and lunch before I finally gave up at 2 p.m.
Sorry for letting you down. I know you turn here for snarky musical comments about stuff that's already 20 or 30 years old, and I do my best to help you out, but.
I'll be trying to fix this in the future.
A year or so ago when money got tight (under $25 in the bank account), I sold-off a TON of Strange Music to Half-Price Books in Tacoma, to help pay for upcoming bills I hadn't planned far enough ahead for. A lot of stuff left the house then -- I figured if I could live without it, if I wasn't playing it every week, I wouldn't miss it, and it might be worth some cash. And it was.
So, out went a Caravan box set, Camel box set, best-of Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, Van der Graaf Generator, Strawbs, Al Stewart, a ton more -- nothing truly life-changing, I thought at the time.
Now I'd like to have most of it back. Because I'm bored.
I've added lotsa cheap used stuff over the past few months, thanks to my area Goodwills. But Goodwills around here are all about the timing. Though I've found some treasures there (complete Nick Drake collection, Clannad, Can best-of, everything by the Beatles except RUBBER SOUL and LET IT BE), some weeks they have NOTHING. Or the pickings are pretty slim. And with my need for a musical fix, I hate to go away empty-handed.
This weekend I even picked up a best-of by Tom Petty. Other recent purchases include best-of's by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Pat Benatar, Foreigner, and Styx for Ghod's sake (in descending order of quality). Just to maybe jolt me a little bit. Get me outta my rut, musically.
I bought a ton of early-'60s jazz awhile back, trying to educate myself. And what I mostly learned is that I can't HEAR most of it. Little of it has a melody strong enough to keep my mind from wandering....
I haven't felt like this since just before I stumbled over The Blues, a couple of years ago. The Blues (and R&B and Soul) kept me going for awhile. And somehow there aren't too many blues CD's up for grabs at my local Goodwills.
I have a few Strange things left in the house. But after my retro crash-course in Progressive Rock History a few years ago (for a book I wanted to write, may still finish writing), I now pretty-much know what to expect. I wish I could say it'd be worth my time.
I COULD put on ELP's "Tarkus" again and maybe learn and hear something new (Rastro at La Historia de la Musica Rock would say "Hell, YEAH! What are you WAITING for?!") -- but I already sat through that a couple times, and by this point I'm pretty sure that's a half-hour I'm never gonna get back.
Hell, I was lucky to get all the way through Yes's "Ritual" awhile back, and I doubt I'll be playing it again in the near future. Not sure I'd play "Gates of Delirium" again even if I had it right in front of me. Which I don't.
So, I will try to do better. Soon as I find something that will wake me up. I'll be looking beyond the usual locations soon for Something New And Different to stir me up.
Didn't seem to matter yesterday if it was something I'd heard before or not. And if it can't wake me up, I'm not gonna have much to say about it here.
Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe I need a break. Or a new format. Anybody else ever get like this?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Early-morning obnoxiousness!

Here's what I played between 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. --
* King Crimson -- The King Crimson Barber Shop. Here now, THIS'll wake you up. That Tony Levin, whatta joker. Only about the third joke they cracked in their entire career....
* King Crimson -- Three of a Perfect Pair. Love the jagged, angular sound and the sliding vocal harmonies. Is Adrian Belew talking about his marriage? Or his partnership with Rockin' Bobby Fripp?
* King Crimson -- Sleepless. Is this the disco remix? For some reason, the version on their best-of sounds different than the original on PERFECT PAIR -- more streamlined, longer, less jagged and annoying. This is not necessarily a good thing. This is still great, hypnotic trance music, and Adrian's line about looking for submarines in his ceiling gets me every time.
* Frank Sinatra -- The Lady is a Tramp. Of course, this guy was also on the Reprise Records label, just like Crimson. ... Hey, this is a hoot! Swingin' big-band arrangement, kinda rushed in a live setting, but it sounds like Frank starts enjoying himself as it goes on -- he starts messing with and ad-libbing the lyrics. The audience is too friggin' loud. Ain't they got no respect?
* Frank Sinatra -- Luck Be a Lady. Kinda formal at first, but then it lightens up and swings. Frank sounds in his element, and some of the lyrics are funny. OK, that's enough of that. What else have we got around here?
* Dean Martin -- Ain't That a Kick in the Head? Disappointing. I thought this was funnier. Sounds like Dino stole the band from The Chairman. Dean might be funnier if he was a little drunker. Some of the lyrics are OK, but Dino delivers it too straight-faced. Next?
* Patsy Cline -- Walkin' After Midnight, Crazy, I Fall to Pieces. Wow, what a voice! And the sound jumps right out of the speakers! "Walkin' After Midnight" sounds pretty tough. "Crazy" moves into Sinatra/Martin crooner territory. "Pieces" softens things out further with backing vocals. But what a pure-country voice. And of course "Crazy" was written by Willie Nelson....
* Kansas -- Journey from Mariabronn. Ah, THE great lost Kansas song.... OK, that semi-operatic "doo-doo-doo" middle-section is maybe a bit too much, but the rest is so perfect and so balanced -- WAY better than "Dust in the Wind." These guys were really good back in the day.
* Monkees -- Your Auntie Grizelda. The CD sound really cleans this up, to the point where you can tell clearly that Peter Tork really can't sing it. Which just makes it more charming. I prefer the noisy chaos of the original vinyl, but this cranky revolutionary track must have really spoken to its generation back in the day. Jack Keller and Diane Hildebrand teamed up to write this -- Hildebrand was really good at nonsense. She co-wrote the Monkees' "Gonna Buy Me a Dog" and "Goin' Down," and co-wrote the Partridge Family's classic "Singing My Song" with the great wordless choruses....
* Styx -- Suite Madame Blue. Grabbed Styx's best-of from Goodwill awhile back when I was feeling a shortage of basic rock and roll in the house. Also grabbed best-of's by Foreigner, Pat Benatar and Lynyrd Skynyrd, for gosh sakes. What was I thinking? Something to keep me motivated at work, maybe? What I want to know is: Why isn't "Lorelei" on Styx's best-of? At least "Fooling Yourself" and "Blue Collar Man" ARE on it. As for THIS, it's heavy-handed and overdone just like I always thought, a pretty dull metaphor for America and its place in the world. The massed-group vocals later on are OK. This is either too thin or they should've pushed the grandiosity EVEN FARTHER. I gotta be in a great mood to be able to take these guys....
* Iron Butterfly -- Flowers and Beads. An old not-quite-girlfriend of mine thought this was the greatest song ever, back in 1974. The vocals are kind of creepy, and the twiddly guitar and sparkly organ are SO 1968, man. And the CD sound cleans everything up way too much. Still, coulda been a hit. But if you think I'm gonna play "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" this early in the morning, you're outta your mind.
* Cat Stevens -- Oh Very Young. I remember not liking this much back in the day, but it sounds pretty good this morning, and the female backing vocals sweeten it up even more. It's a chilly 60 degrees and cloudy here and showers are expected later -- a big change from the sunny 85+ degrees we've averaged the past couple weeks. And I know the rest of the country's cooking....
* Cat Stevens -- Where Do the Children Play? This isn't too far from a gentle Jethro Tull song, especially during Cat's "play-ay-ay-ay" choruses. And it gets angrier as it goes. Then it sounds even more like Ian Anderson.
* Cat Stevens -- Sitting. Haven't heard this in years. Cat sounds so bitter and worried. Desperate. About nothing much. Compelling performance, though.
* Indigo Girls -- Closer to Fine. Great vocals and acoustic guitars, not sure about the protest lyrics. Could maybe have been simpler lyrically.
* Beatles -- Baby's in Black. Wow, this is really terrible -- until the GREAT harmony vocals on the choruses save it. And meanwhile, it's started raining outside. Jeez, it could be March out there....
* Beatles -- Rock and Roll Music. Can't turn THIS off.... Nice barrelhouse piano from George Martin, too.
* Beatles -- Mr. Moonlight, Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey Hey, Every Little Thing, Everybody's Trying to be My Baby. "Mr. Moonlight" is truly wretched, but somehow that cheezy organ sound grows on you like a fungus. "Kansas City" rocks and has these amazingly happy shouted vocals throughout. Too bad "Every Little Thing" doesn't have any of the flashy "Day Tripper"-riffy guitar that Yes's much-later version has -- probably because the Fabs wouldn't record "Day Tripper" 'til like 8 months later. Yes's version also, amazingly, LEERS more than the Fabs' -- "And you know the THING she does/She does for me...." "Everybody" features George's best, funniest vocal ever. Shoulda been a hit.
* Electric Light Orchestra -- Boy Blue, Birmingham Blues, Bluebird. Choruses on "Boy Blue" are OK, but the rest seems kind of stodgy, dull, awkward. And the string players sound like they're stuck in the mud. The only thing that grabs me on "Birmingham Blues" is the occasional acoustic-guitar strumming. "Bluebird" is more like it, coulda been a hit. Ghod knows what original album it's on -- I'd say something later, because it's really smooth. I'd read that Jeff Lynne had a "blue" fixation, but who knows what it means. No clues here.
* Trisha Yearwood -- Thinkin' About You. This is so restful. Trisha sounds so relaxed. And the guitar's great. But it ends too soon.
* Liz Phair -- Extraordinary. This is wonderful. Amazing. Great vocals and choruses, solid playing. Too bad it's the only thing of hers that's ever grabbed me. "Why Can't I?" was annoying, and EXILE IN GUYVILLE was a hype no matter what the "concept" was supposed to be.
* Liz Phair -- H.W.C. Well now, this is shocking. It's also playful, and you can sing along with the choruses ... if you want. And you'll NEVER hear it on the radio. Sure raised my eyebrows. Cute. Liz, you dirty thing.
* JoDee Messina -- Heads Carolina Tails California. Love these upbeat country women! Should've been a huge pop hit. Of course it's over with too quick....
* Harvey Danger -- Flagpole Sitta. I LOVE the "I'm not sick but I'm not well" choruses, and this is great to scream along with as you careen down the freeway. The lyrics are brutal and hilarious. And it's over too quick. Why does everyone think this is Green Day? Too bad(?) that they couldn't follow it up....
* Seals and Crofts -- We May Never Pass This Way Again. Well, this really sounds quiet next to Harvey Danger. But I loved it back in the day and it still sounds great. And I can finally hear all the words clearly....
* Seals and Crofts -- Hummingbird. This is almost too much. It's SO 1972. But something about the string arrangement and the voices building at the climax does its magic. Great production by Louie Shelton.
* Grateful Dead -- Uncle John's Band. Man, if only they could SING! Crosby, Stills and Nash or the Beach Boys they definitely were NOT. But the communal spirit carries them through despite the sometimes strained vocals. Tough to say no to this acoustic ditty. But it could've been an anthem. If somebody else had performed it.
* Grateful Dead -- New Speedway Boogie. And on this the strained vocals really hurt. There are better, more dramatic versions out there.... And I just noticed I've lost the Dead's best-of somewhere in my travels. Maybe I didn't care that much....