Archive for the ‘Random’ Category

Saturday Single No. 434

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Having been roused early by at least one cat looking for either attention or food, I got up just after six this morning. After brewing a pot of coffee and scarfing down my customary breakfast of a peanut butter and apple butter sandwich, I looked around the kitchen, plugged my iPod buds into my ears and got the dishes out of the way.

While I cleaned, the iPod offered me six tunes from which we can select today’s feature. So let’s be off!

First up are Gladys Knight & The Pips with their second Top Twenty single, “Letter Full Of Tears,” written by the recently departed Don Covay. The single went to No. 19 in the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 3 on the R&B chart in early 1962. (“Every Beat Of My Heart,” credited to simply the Pips, had gone to No. 6 in the Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1961.) It would be more than five years before Knight and the Pips got that high in the charts again, with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” going to No. 2 (No. 1, R&B) in late 1967.

I’ve told the tale before: Rummaging in a record shop in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield during the summer of 1989, I came across an arresting album cover. The album was Avalon by Roxy Music. Not knowing much about the group except the names of Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno (who by that time had long since left the group) but intrigued by the cover, I grabbed the album for something like three bucks, blundering my way into a decent album with two great tracks. This morning, it’s “Avalon” that makes its warm and inviting way into my ears.

Much of the music of the 1980s sounds a lot better now than it did when I heard it coming out of my radio speakers thirty years ago. Is that a product of my having wider musical horizons than I had back then? Or is it simply the result of radio familiarity, with the hits of the 1980s now being packaged for niche radio along with the remnants of the 1970s and 1960s? I’m not sure, but I do know that I’ve almost always been behind the musical curve. Anyway, Pat Benatar’s “We Belong,” which went to No. 5 in early 1985, sounds a lot better to me this morning than it did when I was finishing up my grad school stay in Columbia, Missouri.

Speaking of being behind the curve, it took me many years to dip into the catalog of Led Zeppelin, puzzled as I was in the early 1970s by the few Zep tracks I did hear. “Whole Lotta Love,” “Stairway To Heaven” and “Immigrant Song” seemed, well, excessive to me. So it took years before I heard and appreciated “The Battle Of Evermore” from the band’s untitled fourth album, with its mandolins and its haunting vocal help from Sandy Denny. But however I got there, the song brings a nod and a smile this morning as I rinse the silverware.

Taj Mahal has showed up regularly in this space over the years, a tacit acknowledgment of how much I enjoy the man’s wide-ranging music and perhaps of how much that music had influenced my listening, especially with his explorations of vintage blues. This morning, I get the song “You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Bond,” which, with a slightly differing title, was either a traditional gospel song or was written by Texas musician Blind Willie Johnson. Wikipedia notes that Johnson recorded the song first in 1930 but that in 1929, Delta musician Charley Patton had recorded a similar tune titled “You’re Gonna Need Somebody When You Die.” In any case, Taj Mahal covered the Johnson tune on his 1969 album Giant Step, and that’s the version that the iPod gives me this morning.

Mary Fahl’s voice on her solo work is exquisite and haunting, just as it was when she was the lead singer for October Project, one of my favorite groups from the 1990s and beyond. When her music pops up at random, whether it’s from the 2,000 or so tunes on the iPod or the more than 80,000 on the computer, I almost always stop what I’m doing for at least a moment to marvel at the richness of her voice. That was the case again this morning, when the iPod gave me “Going Home” from Fahl’s 2003 album The Other Side Of Time. The stunning track was also used that same year in the soundtrack to the film Gods and Generals. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Six At Random

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

We’re going to put the cursor about in the middle of the 78,829 mp3s in the RealPlayer and see where we go on a random six-track trip. Here we go!

First up is “When She Loves Me” from the 1977 album Mama Let Him Play by the Canadian musician Jerry Doucette. It’s a sweet tune, and I wouldn’t have known it or anything about Doucette without the help of my blogging pal jb, who hangs out at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’. He asked me one morning if I had Doucette’s album, needing – I think – the title track. I didn’t, so I went and found it in the wilds of the Internet. It’s a decent late Seventies album, offering kind of a Canadian version of Pablo Cruise, and it got to No. 159 on the Billboard 200. I don’t often seek the album out, but when a track from it pops up on random, I hum along.

From there, we move back to 1957 and “Love Roller Coaster” by Big Joe Turner. “I ain’t never comin’ down to earth,” he sings. “I’m gonna stay up high, long as I’m up here with you.” The record wasn’t one of Turner’s greatest hits, and it came near the end of his charting days – it was the next-to-last record he placed in the R&B Top 40 – but it got to No. 12, and it sounds pretty much like a Big Joe Turner joint. In other words, you know what you’re gonna get when the record starts, and when it ends, you’re not disappointed.

Coldplay first came to my attention in 2001 when “Yellow” showed up on the playlist of Twin Cities radio station Cities 97. I remember looking askance at the radio the first time I heard it, wincing at some of the lyrics, which seemed not so much haunting (which I think was the goal) as vague. But “Yellow” brought Coldplay to my attention, which is good, as I’ve liked a fair amount of the band’s work since then. I know there are many who detest the band, and I don’t quite get that. But then, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t get, so I don’t spend much time worrying about Coldplay haters.

I paid no attention to T. Rex back in the day, except that there was no way anyone could ignore “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” during early 1972. But I missed out on everything else the band did, including “Jeepster” from 1971’s Electric Warrior album. The record went to No. 2 in the U.K. but was not released as a U.S. single. I’m not entirely sure what “Girl, I’m just a Jeepster for your love” means, but the track is catchy. And it’s very similar to Howlin’ Wolf’s 1962 single “You’ll Be Mine.” Wikipedia notes that T. Rex’s Marc Bolan acknowledged of “Jeepster” that he “lifted it from a Howlin’ Wolf song.” (Regular reader Yah Shure has since told me that “Jeepster” was in fact released as a single in the U.S., though it did not chart. My source for my statement was The Great Rock Discography, another volume that I have either misread or whose data I must now salt liberally.)

The late Larry Jon Wilson has showed up in these pages a few times, and I’m glad to see him pop up today as we wander randomly. “Loose Change” is a panhandler’s tale, the title track from Wilson’s 1977 album, and he tells the tale as he seemingly always does, with affection, with respect, and with an acute eye for detail. He released five albums – four in the 1970s and one in 2008 – and every one of them is a quiet gem. And as I write this morning, I feel as if I should listen to his music more than I do, because every time Wilson’s music pops up randomly, I’m drawn into it by his craft and his warm voice.

Among my musical idiosyncrasies is an affection for the music of Julie London, the 1950s and 1960s chanteuse who’s perhaps known for two things: her 1955 recording of “Cry Me A River” and her role as nurse Dixie McCall in the 1970s police drama Emergency! Today’s random jaunt brings up London’s performance of “I’m Glad There Is You” from her 1955 album Julie Is Her Name. It’s a quiet track, maybe not among her best, but if you want to know what the adults were listening to in 1955, it’s a pretty good example.

Saturday Single No. 392

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

It’s time to be random. We’re going to fire up the RealPlayer this morning and land on four random selections. After that, we’ll choose from those four a single for the day. We’ll ignore anything from before 1940, but weirdness will be embraced.

First up is “I Am Not A Poet (Night Song)” by Melanie from her 1972 album Stoneground Words. “I am not a poet, living is the poem. I am not a singer, I am in the song,” Melanie sings. It sounds like standard Melanie in her seventh charting album of new material since 1969, but the album is well-regarded by All Music Guide, which calls it “mature, intelligent and ambitious” and an “under-heard classic” on which Melanie Safka “effectively shed her cuteness but didn’t get cynical, either.” “I Am Not A Poet” is a pleasant song, mainly about the struggle to be heard and understood – “I’ve found a tearful language that translates what I am/And I cried out loud, but you didn’t understand” – and from more than forty years down the pike, its simplistic hippie mysticism, and its long mid-point vamp with its gradual sonic build-up and drop-out, still have their attractions.

We stay in that era for our second stop this morning, landing on “Watermelon” from guitarist Leo Kottke’s 1971 album on John Fahey’s Takoma label, 6- and 12-String Guitar. I often get this album confused with 12-String Blues, an album released in 1969 on Oblivion, and when tunes from either one of them pop up, I have to stop and sort them out. Also confused is Wikipedia, which has 6- and 12-String Guitar on the correct label but in 1969. Someone should correct that, I suppose, but it’s not going to be me this morning. I’m just listening to Kottke’s rhythmic thrumming as he makes his way through the instrumental. I know from having heard him three times in concert that his pieces can eventually all sound numbingly similar, but taken one at a time, the artistry and singular style is evident, and “Watermelon” is no exception.

Moving on, we don’t move far, staying in the Woodstock era with a visit to “Sons Of” from Judy Collins’ 1970 album Whales & Nightingales. Written by the imposing quartet of Eric Blau, Gérard Jouannest, Jacques Brel and Mort Shuman (Jouannest and Brel wrote the original French version and Blau and Shuman crafted the English lyrics), the song is one I’ve not noticed before (despite occasional listens to Whales & Nightingales). It’s an affecting piece:

Sons of tycoons, or sons from the farms
All of the children ran from your arms.
Through fields of gold, through fields of ruin,
All of the children vanished too soon.

Collins’ voice and delivery and the understated accompaniment work brilliantly, making the song something that draws on both her folk roots and on her late-1960s art song period. (Its sound reminds me very much of Wildflowers, the Collins album I know best.) It is folk? Is it art song? Is it pop? Who cares? It’s beautiful.

And we break from the late 1960s/early 1970s era in style if not in actual time by landing on “Winnie Widow Brown” by one of my R&B faves, Big Maybelle. The thumping tale of the woman with ball and chain who is “a widow ’cause she shot her man” chugs along with a blues harp riding high in the background. I’m not sure when the track was recorded, but it showed up in 1973, a year after Maybelle Brown passed away, on a collection called The Last of Big Maybelle. Some of the tracks on the album – which I found on CD – were from an entire 1969 album, and some were listed in the notes as having been released as singles over a period of ten years, from 1963 through 1973. Six of the tracks, however, were less well-documented, and sadly, “Winnie Widow Brown” is one of those. Its style is of a kind with Big Maybelle’s other work, and it’s a lot of fun, but I’d be happier if I knew more about it. If I don’t know where something comes from, I’m not very happy about sharing it.

And it’s really no contest this morning. The beautiful “Sons Of” by Judy Collins is today’s Saturday Single.

Six At Random

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Well, being a little tired from shoveling the first portion of a six-inch or so snowfall, and with the second portion waiting on the sidewalk for my attention, I’m going to let the RealPlayer do the work today and walk us through six tunes at random. (I will skip stuff from before, oh, 1940, as well as the truly odd). So here we go:

First up is “Treat Me Right” from Nothing But The Water, the 2006 album from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that was, I think, the first thing I heard from the New England group that’s become one of my favorites. The slightly spooky groove, the organ accents and Potter’s self-assured vocal remind me why I’ll listen to pretty much anything that Ms. Potter and her bandmates offer to the listening public. I have five CDs, some EPs, and some other bits and pieces of the band at work, and I find that all of that scratches my itch in the way that only a few groups and performers – maybe ten, maybe fifteen – have since I started listening to rock and its corollaries in late 1969.

I came across the North Carolina quartet of Chatham County Line via County Line, their 2009 collaboration with Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld. Today, we land on the cautionary “Sightseeing” from the group’s 2003 self-titled debut album. In reviewing the album, Zach Johnson of All Music Guide writes: “Centered around a single microphone, the band plays acoustic bluegrass instruments in the traditional style, but there’s a sly wink in the music – like in the trunk of their 1946 Nash Rambler there may be some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers records underneath the Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs LPs. Any nods to rock & roll are successfully stifled in their songwriting though, as the band specializes in purely honest and irony-free honky tonk bluegrass, earnestly sung and expertly picked as if ‘marketing strategies’ and ‘the 18-24 demographic’ never existed.”

The 1980s country group Southern Pacific featured a couple of ex-Doobie Brothers – guitarist John McFee and drummer Keith Knudson – and by the time the group got around to recording its second album – the 1986 effort Killbilly Hill – one-time Creedence bassist Stu Cook joined the group. Still, on “Road Song” and the rest of the group’s output (and there were a few more membership changes along the way), there’s less of a rock feel and more of a 1980s country polish that doesn’t always wear well nearly thirty years later. That would be more of a problem if we were listening to full albums here; one song at a time, it’s easy to overlook. And the group was relatively successful: Thirteen records in the Country Top 40 between 1985 and 1990, four of them hitting the Top Ten.

In early 1967, the Bob Crew Generation saw its instrumental “Music To Watch Girls By” go to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune, written by Sid Ramin, originally came from a commercial for Pepsi-Cola and was popular enough in that arena that it quickly attracted recording artists. Second Hand Songs says that the first to record the tune was trumpeter Al Hirt, whose version bubbled under the chart at No. 119, while Andy Williams saw his version – with lyrics by Tony Velona – go to No. 34. Other covers followed, one of them from a studio group called the Girlwatchers. Their version was the title track to a quickie album in 1967 that also included titles like “Tight Tights,” “Fish-Net Stockings,” “Tiny Mini-Skirt” and so on. “Green Eyeliner” is the track we land on this morning. I’m not sure how the album found its way onto my digital shelves, but it’s an interesting artifact, and I imagine I’d recognize the names of quite a few of the studio musicians who helped put it together.

Speaking of members of the Doobie Brothers, as we were earlier, during one of the band’s quieter times, guitarist Patrick Simmons released a solo album, Arcade, in 1983.To my ears, it sounds very much like early 1980s Doobies, with a glossy blue-eyed soul sound that – like the glossy country of Southern Pacific mentioned above – works fine as individual tracks go by but tends to work less well as an entire album. Simmons released two singles from the album: “So Wrong” went to No. 30, and “Don’t Make Me Do It” went to No. 75. A pretty decent record titled “If You Want A Little Love” was tucked on the B-side of “So Wrong,” and that’s where our interest is this morning.

And we close our morning wanderings with a tune from Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! That’s a 1956 effort that sometimes finds its way into the CD player late at night here in the Echoes In The Wind studios. The album came from the classic sessions that paired Sinatra with arrangements by Nelson Riddle, and “It Happened In Monterey” is pretty typical of those sessions: brass and percussion accents, the occasional swirling strings and more, all in service of one of the greatest voices and one of the greatest interpreters of song in recording history.

Saturday Single No. 360

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

We’re going to stay in 1975 again this morning, but rather than just dabble with October, we’ll open up the whole year – singles and album tracks, hits and obscurities – and take a six-step random walk in search of a single for a Saturday morning. We’ll skip something only if it’s been featured here recently. Weirdness, if it rears its head, will be embraced.

So, let’s go . . .

Siren was the fourth charting album for Roxy Music, and while it didn’t do quite as well as its 1974 predecessor, Country Life (No. 37), it still went to No. 50. The track that pops up for us this morning is “End of the Line,” the album’s second track. Sounding far less sleek than the rest of the album, the track kind of thumps along with a well-defined piano part and rhythm section and a wandering fiddle part sliding around Bryan Ferry’s vocal. I like it much better than I like a lot of the Roxy Music catalog.

I’m not sure if the Hollies were the first to cover a Bruce Springsteen song, but they certainly were near the head of the line when they recorded “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” from Springsteen’s 1973 album, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. The Hollies’ version – titled simply “Sandy” – was released as a single on Epic and was included on their 1975 album, Another Night. The single went to No. 85 in the U.S. and to No. 12 in the United Kingdom New Zealand. The album got to No. 123 in the U.S.

From 1963 and I’ve Got A Woman through 2002’s McGriff Avenue, the late Jimmy McGriff – he passed on in 2008 – kept his Hammond B-3 busy. How many albums? I’m not going to count the list at All Music Guide right now, but a friend passed on a partial collection of McGriff’s works not long ago, and that totaled forty-five albums. We land this morning on “Stretch Me Out” from 1975’s Stump Juice, an album that AMG’s Jason Ankeny says “forgoes warhorse pop and soul covers in favor of original tunes – these tabulas rasa are the ideal canvas for [Sonny] Lester’s bare-essentials production and McGriff’s sinuous grooves.” And “Stretch Me Out” does indeed stretch.

The French group Folkdove released a couple of mid-1970s album in a sparse sound reminiscent – to my ears, anyway – of earlier work by the Incredible String Band (minus some weirdness) and a few other British folk ensembles. The track “Sylvie” comes from the group’s self-titled 1975 album, a work that I must have found at the blog Mutant Sounds, which calls Folkdove a “legendary French acid folk album . . . Simple in its form but yet great” in its simplicity. “Sylvie” is fine on its own, but there is a droning quality to it – and to the rest of the album – that makes more than one track at a time from Folkdove a bit of a listening chore.

Next up, we get Petula Clark and “I’m the Woman You Need” from her album of the same name. By 1975, Clark’s presence in the U.S. charts had dwindled – her 1960s hits included, of course, “Downtown” and “My Love,” both of which spent two weeks at No. 1 – and her records, if I read the data at Wikipedia correctly, were being released only in her native Britain. I picked up I’m The Woman You Need to get Clark’s version of “Eres Tu,” and that cover, like the title song that popped up this morning, was tasteful and professional but a little less than thrilling.

When the progressive band Crack The Sky released its self-titled debut in 1975, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed it the “debut album of the year,” says Wikipedia, and the 1978 Rolling Stone Record Guide compared the group to Steely Dan. Listening this morning to “A Sea Epic” from the group’s debut, I hear more Strawbs and Humble Pie than Becker and Fagen. The track is not bad, but I find more interesting this morning the question of the band’s home town. Wikipedia says it’s Weirton, West Virginia, and Joel Whitburn, in Top Pop Singles, says Steubenville, Ohio (which has become well-known in the past year or so for something far less pleasant than a rock group). Since the two cities are separated only by the Ohio River, it really makes no difference, I guess. Nor, finally, does the band.

Well, those are our six options this morning, and this one’s easy. The Hollies’ record showed up here in 2009 as part of a selection of Springsteen covers, but that’s a long time ago in Blogworld, so here’s “Sandy” by the Hollies, today’s Saturday Single.

Wandering Randomly

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

It’s time for a random walk through the more than 70,000 mp3s that have somehow gathered on the digital shelves in the past thirteen years. We’ll set the RealPlayer’s cursor in the middle of the pack, hit the forward button and check out the next six tracks.

First up is Howling Wolf’s single of “Wang Dang Doodle” from 1960:

Tell Automatic Slim, tell razor-totin’ Jim,
Tell butcher knife-totin’ Annie, tell fast-talkin’ Fanny,
We gonna pitch a ball down to that union hall.
We gonna romp and tromp till midnight,
We gonna fuss and fight till daylight.
We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long.
All night long, all night long, all night long.

The song, written by Willie Dixon, might be better known from Koko Taylor’s 1966 version, which went to No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 4 on the R&B chart, but the Wolf’s version is the original. According to Wikipedia, neither Dixon nor the Wolf thought much of the song, with the Wolf quoted there as calling it a “levee camp” song. “Wang Dang Doodle” hit the charts again in 1974, when the Pointer Sisters’ cover went to No. 61 on the Hot 100 and to No. 24 on the R&B chart.

Eternity’s Children was a four-person pop group that evolved out of a group first formed in 1965 in Cleveland, Mississippi. The group’s self-titled debut album from 1968 has achieved some prominence over the years due to the co-production from sunshine pop gurus Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen, although All Music Guide notes that the album “does not rank among the Boettcher/Olsen duo’s crowning achievements – both producers were distracted by other concurrent projects.” “Sunshine Among Us” is the album’s closing track; released as a single, it bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 117.

In her lengthy career in the Hot 100 – from 1962 into 1980 – Jackie DeShannon hit the Top 40 three times, and all three records had the word “love” in their titles: “What The World Needs Now Is Love” went to No. 7 in 1965, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” went to No. 4 (No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart) in 1969, and “Love Will Find A Way” went to No. 40 (No. 11 AC) later that same year. Given the ubiquity of love as a topic for song, that might not be unique, but I thought it was interesting. The record we chance on this morning is the third one of those. “Love Will Find A Way” isn’t overwhelmingly good, and I don’t know that I heard it back in 1969, but it would have sounded nice coming out the radio between, say, the Beatles and Three Dog Night.

Chris Rea’s Blue Guitars is a 2005 release that consisted of eleven CDs, a DVD and a book that included liner notes, lyrics and Rea’s own paintings. “The album,” notes Wikipedia, “is an ambitious project with the 137 songs recorded over the course of 1½ years with a work schedule – according to Chris Rea himself – of twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Initially the project was inspired by Bill Wyman’s Blues Odyssey and can be called an ‘odyssey’ in its own right, for depicting a journey through the various epochs of Blues Music, starting at its African origins and finishing with modern-time Blues from the 60s and 70s.” We land this morning on “Ticket For Chicago,” a track from the Country Blues disc of the massive album. Complete with the crackle and hiss of an old 78 at its start, the track is a pleasant stop along the way and a reminder that I need to dig far deeper into Blue Guitars than I have so far.

Our fifth stop is a cryptic B-side to a Top 20 hit on the Apple label: Mary Hopkin’s “Sparrow” seems to be a tale of melancholy confinement and the hope of escape, with that famed Apple producer Paul McCartney framing Hopkin’s crystal voice with bells and choirs and – at the end – a meandering saxophone. The track – written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle in their roles as songwriters for Apple – was the flip side to Hopkin’s “Goodbye,” which went to No. 13 (No. 6 AC) in 1969. While it’s doubtful that “Sparrow” could have been a hit as the A-side, I like it much better than I do “Goodbye” or Hopkin’s two other Top 40 hits, “Those Were The Days” (No. 2 pop and No. 1 AC in 1968) and “Temma Harbour” (No. 39 pop and No. 4 AC in 1970).

And we end our brief journey this morning on a front porch somewhere in the Louisiana bayous with Tony Joe White’s “Lazy” telling us that he’s just not going to get much done today:

Today you know I feel so dog gone lazy.
I believe my get-up-and-go has done gotta be gone.
Today I just can’t get it on.

The mellow and bluesy track comes from White’s 1973 album Home Made Ice Cream, which is a decent enough piece of work. It’s an album with a nice, generally laid back groove, very much like, say, something from J. J. Cale. But only occasionally does it approach the swampiness of “Polk Salad Annie,” White’s No. 8 hit from 1969.

Saturday Single No. 343

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

As we sometimes do here, we’re going random today, but only in the 1970s. We’re going to let the RealPlayer bounce around the nearly 20,000 mp3s available from that decade, and – assuming it’s a tune that’s available and not an aesthetic crime – the sixth selection will be today’s featured record. So here we go.

Mama Lion was a blues rock band that released two albums during the early years of the decade although the band is more likely remembered today for the identity of its lead singer. She was one Lynn Carey, Penthouse magazine’s Pet of the Month in December 1972, and she was depicted suckling a lion cub on the inside cover of the group first album, 1972’s Preserve Wildlife. The track we land on to start this morning’s trek is “Griffins” from the group’s second album, 1973’s Give It Everything I’ve Got. “With griffins as my saviors,” sings Carey over a Zepp-like backing, “I fly through burning skies. I need your love no longer . . .” Carey’s bio at Wikipedia suggests that there was more to her than physical beauty and that greater exploration of her later solo career could be rewarding, but that’s something for another day. This morning, we’ll leave Carey and the other members of Mama Lion to their griffins and move on.

Despite my respect for her and her music, Ellen McIlwaine has been mentioned only a few times in this space during the past six years. A talented slide guitarist and an expressive singer, she’s recorded regularly but not frequently over the years, starting when she formed Fear Itself, a psychedelic blues rock band that released a self-titled album in 1969. Her solo career began in 1972 with Honky Tonk Angel, which is where we find her haunting take on Traffic’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” our second stop this morning. McIlwaine’s most recently listed credit is Mystic Bridge from 2006, on which she steps into Eastern-tinged jazz. Marking that for more exploration as well, we head on.

About five years and maybe a thousand posts ago, I wrote about the New York Rock Ensemble and its 1970 album, Roll On. It was, I noted, the first album of straight-ahead rock recorded by the group that had started business as New York Rock & Roll Ensemble, which on its first two albums had played “rock music on classical instruments and classical music on rock instruments.” Roll On, I noted, got wildly mixed reviews, with the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide offering the best, calling it a “tremendous rock & roll album,” and adding that “the band plays with good taste and fire.” We land on “Running Down the Highway,” which Rolling Stone said was one of the “top-notch” songs on the album. I have to concur this morning, but we can’t stay.

Valdy is a Canadian folk rock musician who came to my attention in the mid-1990s through a flea market find of his Family Gathering album, a 1974 effort. According to Wikipedia, he’s a well-regarded and honored Canadian institution, and I have to respect that. But his work – and I have a few of his numerous albums on the mp3 shelves – leaves me unimpressed. It’s probably me and not him. In any case, our wanderings today bring us to “Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm” from Valdy’s 1972 album Country Man: “And I’ll say Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm, that’s not the way things oughta be. And I’ll say Mm-Mm-Mm-Mm excuse me, I’m on the outside being free.” Underwhelmed again, we head to the next tune.

When A&M Records was beginning to promote Joe Cocker’s live Mad Dogs & Englishmen, studio versions of “The Letter” and of “Space Captain” were recorded in Los Angeles for a single release. In short order, the single was revised to offer the live versions of both tunes from the Mad Dogs album. The original single, with the studio versions of the tunes, was credited to Joe Cocker with Leon Russell and the Shelter People, with “the Shelter People” being the name Russell gave to the backing musicians he brought together for his second solo album, some of whom were part of the Mad Dogs tour. I wonder this morning if membership in the Shelter People wasn’t somewhat flexible and if folks who were on the Mad Dogs tour but not on Russell’s album also took part in the studio sessions for “The Letter” and “Space Captain.” (I’m pretty sure that’s the case.) And I wonder how the single was credited after the studio versions were replaced by the live versions. All of this comes up because our fifth stop of the morning is the studio version of “Space Captain” from those early 1970 sessions in Los Angeles. It’s a decent take on the song but it lacks the power – and the long-time familiarity – of the live take from Mad Dogs. (The tale of the single as related here is not quite accurate, but the information available as I wrote was at best confusing. See the note from reader Yah Shure – and my response – below.)

And we land at last on a track from one of the albums that I tend to take for granted by an artist I tend as well to take for granted. “Somebody Changed the Lock” is a slightly naughty track from Dr. John’s Gumbo, a 1972 album of New Orleans R&B from the good doctor. As the one original tune on the album, it fits right in nestled next to classic tunes “Iko Iko,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Tiptina” and “Stack-a-Lee.” Sometimes our Saturday morning random jaunts come up a little bit short, landing on tracks that are okay but no more than that. This morning, the random universe has served us well by giving us “Somebody Changed the Lock” by Dr. John for our Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 316

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

We’re feeling a bit random here this morning, so that’s the approach we’re going to take in finding a Saturday Single: As we occasionally do, we’ll wander six times through the mp3s in the RealPlayer and almost certainly use our sixth stop as our tune for the day. (The exceptions would be: Nothing weird for the audience, like Bulgarian folk music; nothing we’ve featured here recently; and nothing that cannot either be found or posted at YouTube.)

A few years ago, I ran across a vocal group called Mediæval Bæbes, which Robert Cummins of All-Music Guide describes as “a crossover vocal ensemble whose unique style features a deft mixture of medieval music, multi-language texts, modern arrangements, and both ancient and modern instrumentation. . . . Consisting of about six to twelve singers, Mediæval Bæbes are typically attired in long, sometimes provocative gowns or gothic-inspired costumes, and may wear, depending on the concert’s theme, vampiric teeth, flowered headwear, or other exotic accoutrements.” I was intrigued enough to find copies of Salva Nos (Save Us) and Worldes Blysse, the group’s first two CDs, and although a steady diet of the Bæbes would be a little wearisome, I’ve enjoyed having the tracks pop up now and then. This morning’s track, and our first stop today, is “Gaudete” from 1998’s Salva Nos (Save Us).

More than once (but not for a while, I believe), I’ve mentioned the music that the late Kate Wolf left behind when she passed on in 1986. With her band Wildwood Flower and then on her own, Wolf released five albums of melodic and lyrically wise and gentle folk music. Those who want a good cross-section of her work should check out Gold from California, a two-CD anthology, or perhaps the live Give Yourself to Love. The latter set is where I found the version of “Medicine Ball” that shows up this morning. And we move on.

About four months after this blog went online, I shared an album by the little-known artist Jerry Riopelle. Take A Chance was raw (and sometimes derivative) mid-Seventies country rock, but finding the vinyl in the stacks spurred me to dig a bit more into Riopelle’s catalog. A couple more unfocused (and not very good) albums later, I shrugged and moved on, but the mp3s lived on in the hard drive. This morning, we land on the title tune from 1975’s Take A Chance. Like a lot of the albums and CDs gathered in the cyberstacks – including the Mediæval Bæbes, as I noted above – one track at a time is fine, but that’s about all I need from Jerry Riopelle.

And we fly back to 1960, with a swirl of string and a flutter of persistent percussion introducing Brook Benton’s version of “Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread).” The record went to No. 24 (No. 5 on the R&B chart), and was the sixteenth of fifty-eight records in or near the Billboard Hot 100 for Benton. His biggest hits were “The Boll Weevil Song,” which went to No. 2 (No. 2 R&B as well) in 1961 and “It’s Just A Matter of Time,” which was a No. 3 hit (No. 1 for nine weeks on the R&B chart) in 1959. In these parts, the South Carolina native is fondly recalled for “A Rainy Night in Georgia,” which reached No. 4 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1970.

Bob Brozman is a guitar player and singer who handles with seeming ease not only current and classic blues and folk but also the genres and styles of other eras, perhaps most notably the 1920s and 1930s. His studies in ethnomusicology have also spurred him to explore a wide range of other musical environments. One example of that exploration was his work with local string bands in Papua New Guinea in 2003 and 2004; the results were released on the CD/DVD Songs of the Volcano in 2005. I’ve heard only a little of his work, but his name is on my very long list of performers whose work I want to explore further. This morning, our next-to-last stop brings us Brozman’s “New Vine Street Blues,” a 1930-ish piece from his 1997 album Golden Slide.

Earlier this year, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Amnesty International was celebrated with the release of Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan. The four-CD collection of Dylan’s songs includes performances from a number of obvious choices – Johnny Cash, Billy Bragg and Joan Baez – and from a number of not-so-obvious choices, including a take from Miley Cyrus on “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” (Cyrus actually does a pretty good job. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AMG notes that Cyrus “may not know who Verlaine and Rimbaud are, but she focuses on the melody and winds up selling the song in the process.”) The track from the massive set that shows up here this morning is “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” as covered by Cage the Elephant, a fairly obscure band from Bowling Green, Kentucky. It’s an effectively atmospheric take on the tragic tale of the kitchen maid and her death at the hands of a socially connected rogue, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 285

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

With chores and errands waiting for the second half of the day, it’s time for a six-track random walk through the junkyard this morning, and then we’ll select one of those six for this morning’s feature.

First up is “Ledbetter Heights,” the title track to Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s 1995 debut album, recorded while the blues guitarist was still in his teens. Thom Owens of All-Music Guide said, “It may still be a while before he says something original, but he plays with style, energy, and dedication, which is more than enough for a debut album.” I admit I’ve not kept up with Shepherd’s career as closely as I once thought I would. I’ll have to rectify that.

From there, we stop at “C’mon People (We’re Making It Now)” from Richard Ashcroft’s 2000 album Alone With Everybody. That was the first solo effort from the one-time frontman for the Verve, and it’s an album I find myself digging into more and more frequently. I never paid too much attention to the Verve at the time, but as I find Ashcroft’s solo work to be thoughtful and engaging, I’m tempted to go back to his group’s catalog.

I’ve written once before about Shelagh McDonald, whose tale is one of the strangest in pop-rock history and whose catalog – collected on the anthology Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – is beautiful and heart-breaking. Our third stop this morning is McDonald’s demo of her tune “Stargazer,” recorded in London in December 1970. The tune was recorded the next year with a full band and became the title track of McDonald’s second (and last) album. As nice as the album version is, there’s an amazing intimacy to the demo.

“Eclectic musical polymath” is a hell of a title to lay on anyone, yet it truly fits Ry Cooder. From the blues of the legendary Rising Sons through roots music to soundtracks (with some stops in between), Cooder’s  journey touches on just about every facet of American popular music (and a few other cultures as well). The track that popped up this morning was “Goodnight Irene,” the Leadbelly classic, which Cooder derivers with a touch of what sounds like Zydeco accordion. The track is the closer to Cooder’s 1976 classic, Chicken Skin Music.

No random journey here would be complete without at least one piece from a movie soundtrack. This time it’s “Creole Love Call,” a piece popularized by Duke Ellington but evidently written – according to Wikipedia – by Joe “King” Oliver. The track – with a haunting wordless vocal augmented first by a solo muted trumpet and later by full-throated trumpets and mellow woodwinds – is from the soundtrack to The Cotton Club, the 1984 film by Francis Ford Coppola. (The late John Barry is credited with the soundtrack work on the film, and he did compose several tracks. Did he also arrange “Creole Love Call” and other classic works for the film? I don’t know.)

Our final stop this morning is the late Sandy Denny’s “Bushes and Briars” from her 1972 self-titled album. Recorded with help from – among others – Richard and Linda Thompson, Allen Toussaint and Sneaky Pete Kleinow, the album is a delightful trip through folk-rock with a decidedly British tinge, and “Bushes and Briars” is one of its highlights.

Those are six fine candidates, but as soon as the Shelagh McDonald track popped up, I was leaning that direction, and nothing happened to change my mind. So, here’s McDonald’s December 1970 solo demo of “Stargazer,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

Saturday Single No. 263

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

It seems that yesterday, despite its being 11-11-11, was a normal day. Scanning the news on the Intertubes this morning, I see no accounts of ships seized by krakens, no tales of resurrected Mayan gods terrorizing tourists at Cozumel, no hint of even a disgruntled lobster holding a sous-chef hostage. It seems to have been an ordinary day.

As is today. The Texas Gal is in the kitchen this morning, poring over her cookbook and preparing to cook up a mess of spinach and bacon for canning. I’m not much in favor of spinach as a table vegetable – it has its place in quiche and some casseroles – but it’s a fact that bacon can make anything tasty. So I’ve got an open mind about canned spinach and bacon.

As to music here, I had thought to offer today a track I found on CD set called Night Train to Nashville, a collection of R&B recorded in that Tennessee city between 1945 and 1970. But some digging revealed that I’d be better off holding that track to a weekday, when I can look at some cover versions as well and then add one more item to the list of Jukebox Regrets. So now what do I do?

Well, as I looked yesterday at the music from a few years with what I call “jackpot dates” – 11-11-11, 7-7-77 and so on – I realized I’d not done much lately with 1977. I’ve touched on the year in a few chart digging exercises, but it’s been since October of last year that I spent an entire post in the year that, for me, defines the boundary between student life and adult life. So here’s a six-track random walk through 1977:

The Soul Children – says Wikipedia – were a group put together in the late 1960s at Stax Records by Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter. They had eight singles reach the R&B Top 40 between 1968 and 1978, with three singles reaching the Billboard Hot 100, including their best known tracks, “Hearsay” and “I’ll Be The Other Woman.” By 1977, the Soul Children had moved to Epic, and on the group’s second album for that label — Where Is Your Woman Tonight? – one finds “Merry-Go-Round,” which was the B-side of the title track when it was released as a single. “Merry-Go-Round” is a decent-sounding piece of late 1970s R&B but no more than that.

In the first year or so of this blog, I shared a couple of albums by the team of Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite, the two women who had been members of Joy of Cooking, the Berkeley-based band of the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of those albums was The Joy, which found Brown and Garthwaite writing and recording in a vein very similar to that of their old group. The record is one of my favorite obscure albums, and every time something from it pops up, I think I should write a post about, say, my five favorite obscurities. The tune that showed up from The Joy this morning was the lovely “Maybe Tomorrow,” so maybe that’s when I’ll think about those obscurities.

And then we land on a record with a gentle, rolling piano-driven introduction and a clearly country-ish texture and sense: “What can I say, girl, except I love the way, girl, you love me every time that we’re alone.” “Stay With Me” is a sweet tune, made poignant to me by its circumstances: Credited to Robert Parker Jameson, the RCA single was the last record released by my pal Bobby Jameson. And it’s our third stop this morning.

Fourth up is “The Saga of Pepote Rouge,” an album track from Islands, the last album The Band released in its original incarnation. The album was a collection of some leftovers, as I understand it, pulled together after the group called it quits on Thanksgiving in 1976 with the massive celebration of The Last Waltz. “Pepote Rouge” is, to my mind, one of the better efforts on the album: The musicianship and the vocal interplay that made the group so ground-breaking almost ten years earlier is still there, and if not all the songs on Islands are top-notch, that’s a concern that doesn’t affect this track.

When I do these random runs, I almost always stumble over a track that I had no idea I had. Sometimes it’s one that makes me smile; sometimes I wince, and sometimes I just shake my head. This morning, I’m shaking my head at “The Light of My Life” by the Starland Vocal Band. An album track from the group’s second album, Rear View Mirror, the tune is a sweet if undistinguished song about the wonder of a new baby. I’m not sure why I have the group’s second album – the first, from a year earlier, was of course anchored by “Afternoon Delight” – and I’m going to have to think about that a little.

Finally, we land on a track from Steve Winwood’s first solo album, a record I discussed and shared in one of the very earliest posts here. In that post, I noted that at the time of its release, many listeners seemed to dismiss the album with the complaint that it sounded too much like Traffic. My response was: Well of course it does! Beyond the fact that Traffic’s musical sensibilities mirrored those of one of its founders, Winwood’s unique voice is going to carry echoes of anything he’s ever done. Anyway, the track that popped up this morning is “Hold On,” a decent love song that’s more interesting for its musical textures – especially (surprise!) the keyboard work – than for its lyrics. Whatever its shortcomings, it’s a good tune. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.