Archive for May, 2008

28
May
08

Led Zeppelin – The Fourth Album (aka Runes, Zoso or IV)

When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be easy.

I like music and I like writing, but really…how does one sit down and decide which Led Zeppelin album is the greatest?  I had the same problem recently with The Beatles before settling on “Let It Be,” mainly because I really like the rooftop concert footage and it was on YouTube.

I could get into making charts and graphs detailing the petty intricacies of consumer and critical response to the album as opposed to songwriting and musical craftsmanship, but then you’re gonna get one of those music blogs full of details that only the geekiest of us will understand…let alone want to know about. It’s best to keep it simple.

Yet, even when I try and simplify the process down to just the album that ranks as my favorite it doesn’t make it easier.  Luckily in such situations I tend to drink a lot while brainstorming (I call it “beer-storming”) and eventually do something lame like flip a coin.

This week it came up heads…so I bring you Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album.  Some call it “Led Zeppelin IV”, others call it “Runes,” “Signs” or even “Zoso.”  I’m gonna go with the first because, based on the previous albums, it just makes more sense…but it goes to show what happens when you don’t give the public a way to designate the album name.

Released in 1971, the band had been a little pissed at the harsh critical judgment passed on  Led Zeppelin “III” so Jimmy Page decided to do something as non-commercial as possible, an album with no title. You don’t get much more non-commercial than that. Instead there was only group of four symbols…each representing a different band member. I could go into all of them, but it’s really long and boring shit.  What matters is that they wanted to fuck with people…and they succeeded.

But what’s more important is that this is Jimmy Page’s masterpiece.  Before he joined Zeppelin, he was already a seasoned studio guitar player, and on the forth album his fingerprints are everywhere.  Not only did he produce the album, but he co-wrote all 8 songs, played guitar and mandolin as well as coming up with all the symbols.  As for the ‘Stairway’ lyrics and image on the inner sleeve? Jimmy found that font in some old book from the 1800’s and had someone make it up for him.  What a bad ass!

As for the album, how could you go wrong with a song line-up that has no filler???

You can’t.

For God’s sake this is the album that gave us ‘Black Dog,’ ‘Rock and Roll’ and motherfucking ‘Stairway!’  This is the album that turned Zeppelin from rock stars into rock gods!  If you have none in your stack, this is where to start.  Here.  Have a video of ‘When the Levee Breaks’ to tide you over.

21
May
08

Fern Jones – The Glory Road

I’ve mentioned before that my parents aren’t the biggest music fans in the world, and I’ve mentioned that I hate it when people try and give me music (because whatever it is, it usually sucks.)  So when my Mom came to visit last year and told me she got me a CD I sort of cringed because…well, I figured it would suck too.

To my surprise, Mom hit the jackpot.

Not only did she discover Fern Jones for me, she also discovered the Numero label as well.  That’s a two-fer!

First off, a word about the Numero group. these guys are truly a cut above the rest and you should visit their website HERE and buy everything they put out because it is all solid gold.  There are few reissue labels out there that put out this much quality, so when I tell you this one is near the top of my list, I’m not shitting you.   Their goal was to rescue extremely rare and mostly unknown artists, painstakingly research their history, remaster their work and release it for all to see.  I think this quote from their site sums it up:

“The mission was simple: to dig deep into the recesses of our record collections with the goal of finding the dustiest gems begging to be released from their exile on geek street. No longer would $500 singles sit in a temperature-controlled room dying for a chance to be played. No more would the artists, writers, and entrepreneurs who made these records happen go unknown and unappreciated.”

So there you have it!

But back to what I was saying before, the CD my Mom handed me was one of the labels first full length releases: Fern Jones “The Glory Road.” And man, is this one sweet piece of Country Gospel.

Born into a poor southern family in 1923, Fern got a guitar at age twelve and taught herself to play and a little piano too.  While she loved the popular music of the day, she (Like Elvis) found herself drawn to racial music.  When she was 14 she lied about her age and got a gig at the local honky tonk where she began to hone her craft. It was there that she met her husband Raymond Jones, and at age sixteen she married him.  But she never strayed far from music, even when her husband announced that he wanted to preach.

Traveling through the South on the tent revival circuit, Fern and Ray made a name for themselves preaching all along the bible belt.  Fern had insomnia and would often stay up all night writing songs and composing on her guitar.  It was during a two year spell that she wrote her one big gospel hit ‘I Was There When it Happened'(below) which was later covered by such luminaries as Johnny Cash and Jimmy Swaggert.  Fern recorded her first album at a Vanity Press (an old timey studio you could rent and record personal records at) and sold them from the trunk of her car before being picked up by the Dot label.

She recorded a single album for Dot, called ‘Singing a Happy Song,’ but it produced no singles and caused little stir in a rapidly changing world that had moved on from the gospel sound.  Her work would have eventually faded into obscurity if not for Numero’s diligent work…and their work is your gain.

So if you like Patsy Cline or Elvis, or any of that that good old gospel sound…pick this up!

For the love of God!

Amazon!

14
May
08

Darrell Banks – Darrell Banks Is Here!

My friend Andrew always checks out his music before he buys it, which is totally understandable with the economy being what it is and all. I on the other hand like to play a little musical roulette from time to time.  Sometimes I’ll buy an album just because I like the cover (which has actually served me pretty well,) other times I’ll grab it just because of a compelling review or because I want more music from a particular genre and it happened to come up first.  Of course I don’t do this as often as I used to because $$$ is tight right now.

Thank God for the internets, huh?

It was during a game of musical roulette that I discovered Darrell Banks in the soul section and I was pretty much blown away. Born and rasied in Buffalo New York, Darrell spent his formative years singing gospel in his neighborhood churches.  After splitting off to pursue a career as a soul singer in the early sixties, he moved to Detroit and was picked up by Revilot Records who released his first hit single ‘Open the Door to Your Heart’ in 1966. After releasing a string of other non chart-topping singles, he moved to the Atco label in 1967 and soon released his first full length album “Darrell Banks is Here!”

A while later he moved to Stax Records and released his second and final album, ironically titled ‘Darrell is Here to Stay” in 1969. In March of the following year he was shot and killed by an off duty policeman who was having an affair with his estranged girlfriend.  And so ended the short and sad tale of Darrell Banks…except for the timeless music he left behind.

This is the kind of soul that fans of soul music point to when asked what real soul sounds like.  A raw vocal sound with tight production that sums up all that was good and right with the genre. Take a listen below to the sweet strains of ‘Here Come the Tears’ and see for yourself.  The whole album is that good and seems to fall under the “Why wasn’t he famous” category.  His voice may have been drowned out by the flood of artists at the time, but it’s never too late to catch up.

Buy it now!

12
May
08

Charles Hilton Brown – Owed to Myself

So I went shopping for my birthday last weekend with some birthday money.  Got a few shirts and that was nice, but I really wanted a nice looking messenger bag…maybe one that will even hold records!  Both of the bags I found looked awesome, but were going for about $700.

$700 for a shoulder bag!?!?

That don’t even make sense!  I could get a 24 inch LCD screen for less and that would be much more functional! Luckily I made a pass through Urban outfitters and they had the new Lasonic MP3 boombox that I had been drooling over online.  It was $200, but fuck it…that’s the price you pay for awesomeness of this caliber!  And for the price of that stupid bag I could get three of these bad boys!

What does any of this have to do with Charles Hilton Brown and his amazing 1974 album “Owed to Myself?”

Not a damn thing.

But I just had to tell someone about my boombox.

That and there isn’t a lot of info on Charles or his album out there.  What information I do have comes from the blurb on Dustygroove and the minuscule liner notes.  From what I can tell Charles spent some time in England where he met up with a scathing Afro-Funk band called Assagai and they decided to record a album that Charles felt was “Owed” to himself.

I found a note somewhere that it was recorded in Italy as well…and that would make sense, since it was reissued by Italian super label Schema.

His deeply soulful sound is reminiscent of Otis Redding mixed with Tom Jones…and the results are just magnificent.  Whether he is covering classic tunes like ‘Ain’t no Sunshine’ or ‘Love Train’, or plowing through silky smooth originals like ‘Tell Me Once Again’ (first track below) Hilton Brown delivers like UPS on this rare slice of funky soul.

Also notable are Assagai’s sick instrumental jams ‘Maddox’ (second track below) and ‘GRF.’ Check out the samples below for some of that sweet sweetness!

Who was Charles Hilton Brown?  No one seems to know…and he never released another album again.

But thank God he released this one!

Download it off Amazon for $6!

09
May
08

The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo

When people ask me where I get my musical tastes from, I have to give it up to the musical folks that I’ve ended up hanging out with over the years,  Most had radically different taste than I did, but they all had one thing in common…a love for the music.

For a while in the late nineties, I really got into the LA country scene.  My good friend Mike was living in Studio City with the rest of his band, The Six Shooters, and playing a pedal steel guitar he purchased from some shady Greek music store that we were certain was a front for the mob. The pedal steel didn’t even come with pedals…or legs, Mike built those himself, although I’ll never figure out how.

It was an excellent time hanging out with some amazing musicians like Mike Stinson, Sarah Guthrie, and Tim Ferguson…and a lot it was spent smoking too much, drinking too much and listening to a lot of country music.  Of all the music we discussed at the time, no album was as revered as The Byrds “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”

Released in 1968, it was known as the first country/rock album, which I think is a little misleading. It’s an all country album, made by a rock band. After the 1967 sessions for “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” ended, David Crosby and Michael Clarke left the band rather suddenly…leaving remaining members Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman with finding some replacements to help record a concept album that would become “Sweetheart.” They brought in Hillman’s cousin Kevin Kelley on drums, and in a move that would change the genre forever, they picked up a young Gram Parson’s to fill David Crosby’s shoes.

McGuinn’s original idea for the album was a double LP journey through American music that began with old time bluegrass and Appalachian music, and would move through the proceeding decades until it ended with some kind of cosmic space music. It was ambitious, but the final product didn’t quite come together like they planned.  Hillman and Parson’s had both come from country backgrounds though and hit it off immediately…although it soon became evident during the recording that Parson’s personality and talent were in danger of over shadowing the band and the album.

Before joining The Byrds, though, Parson’s was in a band called The International Subnmarine Band on Lee Hazelwood’s label.  When Hazelwood discovered Parson’s was playing with the Byrds, he claimed that he still had him under exclusive contract…scaring columbia Records into toning down Gram’s presence on the album.  If not for that…it may well have become Gram Parson’s “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” which might not have been such a bad thing upon hearing his renditions of ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ (hear below) and ‘One Hundred Years from Now.’

This is music for back porch sitting.  Pure Americana distilled into moonshine and poured deep into mason jars for your sipping pleasure (Or guzzling.)  Better yet, it was country music made by men who truly loved country music and all it’s roots…and recognized that it was the cornerstone that rock and roll was built on.

The album was released, the band toured, but soon the Byrds were no more.  Parson’s left to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Hillman, and Kelley threw in the towel…leaving McGuinn to call it quits.   But for a few months, it looks like country might just rule the world.

Cheap on Amazon!

08
May
08

The Beatles – Let it Be

So, I’m up in Northern California visiting my folks and I’m driving them to Costco.  Of what music I have in my car at the time, The Beatles “Let It Be” is as close to something they’ll like as I can find, so I pop it in for the drive.  A few blocks from Costco, my dad asks what we’re listening to.

“The Beatles!” I cheerily reply.

“Which album?”

“Let It Be.”

There is a short silence be fore my father says:

“Must’ve been the album they made after they got bad.”

I stopped the car in the middle of the street and pointed at my Dad.

“I’m going to pretend you never said that.” I declared.  Five years later, we still haven’t spoken.  True story! (except for the not talking part…but you can see how I was tempted)

What’s funny about “Let It Be” is that it wasn’t even The Beatles final recording, “Abbey Road” was, it was just released last. Originally titled “Get Back,” the album went through more than a few incarnations before being released in 1970.  Made up of tracks recorded from as far back as “The White Album” and a lot of material from the “Abbey Road” sessions, the tracks began to come together in 1968 when the band was tinkering with the idea of playing a reunion show, two years after abandoning the idea of ever touring again.

The concept also included a film to be made about the recording of the album. Rehearsals were disastrous as the band was already beginning to split over creative and artistic differences…something that really comes across in the film if you’ve gotten a chance to see it (it’s been out of print since the seventies…the print I saw was a VHS copy off video disk- no shit!) The group recorded hundreds of songs during the sessions, and many like ‘Mr Mustard’ and ‘Sun King’ ended up on “Abbey Road” while others were kept by individual members for future solo projects.

The first batch for “Let It Be” was given to Glyn Johns who produced a rough draft in 1968. By the time the Beatles heard it though, they had mostly lost interest in the project and it was shelved. In 1969, they tried again in order to release the album and film together with a TV special, but ended up releasing “Abbey Road” instead. The album was given a third chance again in December of that year, after Lennon had left the band…but had little success and was pushed back for a third time.

Finally in 1970, McCartney reluctantly gave the tacks to Phil Spector who produced them into the final product.

REVISION: “Paul didn’t even give the tracks to Spector – Klein brought him in and Paul was sent an acetate of the LP about a month before the release date. Paul sent back a series of requests (including the stripping of many of the instruments in “The Long and Winding Road” ;) but they were ignored.” – Thanks Peter!

The album did get the Oscar for Best Song Score for the Film that was released, who knew?

McCartney hated what Spector did to a few of his songs, but even Lennon admitted that Spector took what he considered to be a pile of rubbish and “made something out of it.” McCartney would have to wait until Spector was in court for the shooting of Lana Clarkson until he grew a pair big enough to try and undo Spector’s work.  And while this isn’t the greatest album The Beatles ever released, it’s a fitting end piece to a glorious career.

06
May
08

Nickodemus – Endangered Species

You know what Hip Hop?  You’re really disappointing me right now.  I mean, when was the last time a truely awesome album dropped?  Sure Kanye’s new album is good and he’s got a superb tour going on from what I hear, but it’s starting to look like you’re starting to lose ground.  Not that I blame you…you’ve had a good run.  We all had a good time together…remember that pool party in Manhatttan Beach in 93?  The good times we had in the eighties?  Even the jiggy era!

Now that I think about it, my booty call House Music hasn’t done much for me either.  Sure, she makes a good appearance from time to time…but she’s kind of flakey.

But, I’m afraid we’ve grown apart.   It’s not you…it’s me.  I need something more….and I’ve met someone new.

No it wasn’t on Ashley Madison.

Her name is Midtempo and she’s a really cool genre.  In fact, one of the best purveyors of the scene is a nice kid from New York named Nickodemus , and if you check out his first full length album ‘Endangered Species,” you’ll see what I mean.

Nickodemus came up from the burbs, riding the wave one catches after getting a first set of turntables.  He spent years honing his craft and playing numerous clubs like Giant Step before setting up his own gigs with other musicians and friends.  The driving force behind their nights was a complete abandonment of a single musical style or genre.  You would hear Drum and Bass alongside Rare Groove, Dub right next to African rhythms with live musicians…and it was this genre bending atmosphere that shaped Nickodemus and his musical tastes.

He and his compatriot Mariano founded the world famous club Turntables on the Hudson in 1998, which took place on the Chelsea Pier, and have been rocking the party ever since.  The thing about their dance parties is that you won’t hear anything you recognize…but you won’t care.

Unless you’re one of those people who can’t dance unless they know the song.

Which brings up a good point.  What’s up with those people?

I run into them at gigs all the time, and no matter how freaking awesome a track you throw down, they refuse to dance unless it’s something they know from the radio. Then again, these are the same folks that will walk up to world famous DJs at a club to make requests for the new Fergie song, so I guess that tells you right there.

So to revise…this is music for the more adventurous of the bunch.

Hip Hop usually occupies the 90-100 BPM range…House and electronic, around 120-130.  Midtempo hangs around the 106-118 neighborhood and it’s a pretty groovy place to be. So if you’re looking for something that isn’t hip hop and not as fast as electronic or house…look no further.

Amazon!




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