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....