Sunday, July 29, 2007

How High The Moon

A good trip to the Salvation Army has inspired a revival here. First up, The Nearness of You, a compilation of Frank Sinatra tracks from his Capitol era on a mid-70s budget Pickwick release (the rule in thrift-shopping is you buy any Sinatra on Capitol but this is stretching the point a bit). The collection is quite listenable however - of note are Rodgers and Hart's "Lover", "You Brought A New Kind of Love to Me" (its earliest appearance may have been a 1930 film called The Big Pond with Maurice Chevalier), "It Could Happen To You" (done at a rather slow tempo - I prefer June Christy's brisker take on Something Cool, a desert-island disc of mine, as it happens) and the Mercer/Arlen "That Old Black Magic".

Next is the Jan Garbarek Group's Photo With Blue Sky, White Cloud, Wires, Windows and a Red Roof (ECM, 1979). The principal incentive to get this was the presence of Bill Connors, who was the guitarist in the first electric version (superior to the Al Dimeola incarnation) of Chick Corea's Return To Forever, but his contribution doesn't quite solve the problem, the problem being that this mid-late 70s ECM stuff is the musical equivalent of Impressionist painting.

A Willie Nelson/Leon Russell double-LP called One For The Road (CBS, 1979) seemed best approached with no expectations and lo and behold, with that as the context, it is just fine. The choice of material ("I Saw The Light", "Heartbreak Hotel", "Don't Fence Me In") didn't cause anyone any sleepless nights but the combination of two of the most distinctive and appealing voices in American popular music of that era goes a long way toward mitigating a bit of laziness in the "R" half of the A&R equation. The 1979 date also means no crap-sounding digital recording techniques were employed.

Picked up a few more items, not all of which can be commented on without listening to them, but The Incredible String Band's The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, of which I already own at least one copy, is on its way to some other lucky recipient's collection and Emmylou Harris's 1981 Evangeline fulfils another dollar-bin shopping rule, namely that there are no Emmylou Harris records that aren't good. This one seems to be no exception so far with impeccable song selection, including "Hot Burrito #2" (co-writer Chris Ethridge plays bass on the Nelson/Russell album in fact), two Rodney Crowell songs, Paul Siebel's "Spanish Johnny", the title track by Robbie Robertson and so on.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Formerly Harmony Burlesque

Picture if you will a vision of the future from 40 years ago, a Jetsons-styled robot in the process of exploding, with springs and sprockets flying out. Now imagine the robot is the Feelies fronted by Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna trying to imitate Joan LaBarbera and you’ve pretty much got the idea of Baltimore's Ponytail. (Or you could elaborate and liken them to Don Caballero imitating the Feelies [still exploding], a comparison I thought of while watching them, then dismissed, then found out they are going on tour with Battles, who are, I don't need to tell you, ex-Don Cab). About three of their songs fulfilled the promise implicit in all the above - I'd see them again!

The headliners were Japan's DMBQ. Based on the couple of records I'd heard, I thought they might deliver the straight-up early 70s stoner rock in a more uncut fashion - as it happens, their divagations into more noodle-y space jams were not unwelcome and they pulled it all together with a 5-minute closing wall of sound feedback blare from the guitars and bass while disassembling the drum kit and thrusting pieces of it into the crowd, finishing with most of its parts heaped up in almost vulnerable looking little monument.

The other main feature of the evening was the Pakistani Tea House on Church Street, courtesy of Tahir - you can read what these Yelpers have to say about it, but ignore the ones who are grumpy about the decor - it doesn't aim to be anything more than a fluorescently-lit steam table joint with exceptionally tasty food.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Far From the Madding Crowd

Headed to DUMBO for a show at an improbable venue, the Water Street Restaurant and Lounge, which is the sort of place for which the term "fern bar" was invented - unambitious cuisine served in a genteel decor whose pretensions to fine dining are somewhat at odds with the large television over the bar showing sports. The music was in their downstairs space which is large and generally a fine place to hang out - lots of oddly placed columns, though, which must serve some structural requirement as they don't serve any other and generally make the stage end a bit cut off.

In any event, some ambitious young promoters chose the spot to assemble an evening around Jarboe (now styling herself The Living Jarboe). Anyone who followed the evolution of the New York underground rock band the Swans through the 80s and 90s has a pretty good notion of who she is and what to expect at a show. Her voice is quite low-pitched and she has a strongly emotive-expressive style. On the continuum of singers comparable in one way or another, she falls somewhere between Nico and Diamanda Galas - more technically proficient than the former, not trying to be so dazzling as the latter. Her set was quite perfectly balanced - not much more than seven or so long-ish songs, totalling around 40 minutes, accompanied by adept but not flashy acoustic guitarists (with effects pedals) and Michael Evans (once of God Is My Co-Pilot) on a pared-down drum kit. Although her credit on the first Swans record on which she appeared was "scream", she is quite a conventionally beautiful singer when she wants to be.

Her aesthetic ambience (and that of her audience) is quite noticeably "goth" - while her music is not stylistically so different from what you get at the average "freak folk" show, the far greater incidence of tattoos and black fingernail polish in the crowd and onstage stakes a certain claim (although the distribution of seasonally unsuitable headgear between indie rock and goth shows is comparable).

The promoters also livened up the between-band segments with the short films of Czech neo-surrealist Jan Švankmajer, who I also didn't realize was quite so gothic - more literally so than the black nail crowd as his work includes filmic realizations of several Edgar Allan Poe short stories and Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, the ur-text of the 18th and 19th century Gothic literary school. I'd recommend a newcomer to Švankmajer start with "Dimensions of Dialog" currently available on Youtube in two parts, although it seems like something that might not last long - while you're at it this excerpt from the film with music by astonishing French bassist Joëlle Léandre also merits a gander.

The show was well worth the trip and, stepping out just after midnight into the third consecutive perfect evening of early summer weather (a balmy 75°F), I ascended to the Brooklyn Bridge promenade, thanked God I wasn't at the beach or anything, and took in the immensity of the city night.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Yksi, Kaksi, Kolme

I stopped by Artists and Fleas on North 6th Street in Williamsburg and had a poke through someone's dollar bin which yielded a post-Mutantes solo Rita Lee (circa 1980) about which there isn't much to report - if the term BraPop doesn't exist, I hereby coin it. If the most interesting thing that can be said about a record is that it was allegedly popular with the British royal family...

A better score was Shalamar's second from 1979 called Three For Love - their records are always worth picking up because they usually contain a couple of keeper songs that wouldn't necessarily make it onto a greatest hits collection. The band itself (best known subsequently, if at all, for launching Jody watley's solo career) typifies what I consider the golden era of disco music which actually started circa 1979 when the Comiskey Park Disco Demolition Night was supposedly signaling its end. After all the Studio 54 mania, Time magazine stories, your aunt taking disco dancing lessons etc, the serious dancers and clubgoers (Blacks and Latinos, gay whites) whose music it had been to begin with, resumed dancing and never really stopped.

The early 80s brought the Paradise Garage and West End records, S.O.L.A.R. records in Los Angeles (Shalamar's label), and the first few Madonna singles (not to forget Taana Gardner, Fonda Rae, some of Sylvester's best work, Teena Marie, The Weather Girls etc) and was also the last time dance music recordings were made by live musicians (improvements in electronic instrument technology and the changing aesthetics which spawned house and techno left, by the mid-80s, Washington D.C.'s go-go music as the last genre exempt from the drum machine).

Anyway, Shalamar are pretty easy to return to periodically and I do, though Jody Watley's solo work never caught my attention to the same extent and while her exercise video was not her finest aesthetic hour, she's become sufficiently financially independent that she no longer deals with record companies and puts out her records herself, which I can only applaud. Slowly this is bringing me around to her 2006 release The Makeover which only has one really remarkable song but I've returned to it quite a few times as well, called "Bed of Roses", a collaboration with jazz-inflected electronica group 4 Hero that shows her and them to great advantage - which is really all I meant to say.

Internal Combustion

Listened twice today to Internal Combustion by percussionist Glen Velez - an excellent record! The CD is a 2003 reissue on the Schematic label of what was presumably a vinyl release in 1985. The record is almost entirely solo percussion pieces for various frame drums - North African and Central Asian variants of the humble tambourine, the Irish bodhran and so on.

The pieces are generally repetitive with a regular pulse and no extreme dynamic shifts - a gentle avantgarde-ism that should appeal to anyone who likes Steve Reich's early percussion work (on which Velez has played). The exquisitely precise timbres of the instruments and the fact that the recording captures all their nuance is where much of the beauty lies. Often in Western music, popular and in the concert hall, "exotic" percussion instruments are employed for a bit of passing color and are tucked off to the side of the stage or recorded listening field. In this case, they are in the foreground and miked with such detail that your head could be inside the drum (in a good way!). Every snare rattle and ping of finger on taut goatskin drumhead is delicately rendered.

I also very much like the fact that such quintessentially acoustic music keeps reminding me of experimental electronic "dance" music, particularly Thomas Brinkmann, a similarity that probably hasn't escaped the folks at the Schematic label, whose usual stock in trade is just such music.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Monitor Street

The corner of Monitor Street and Greenpoint Avenue is the location of Uncle Paulie's, a modest truckers' coffee-shop/pizzeria by day and recently the scene of live underground rock shows put together by the redoutable Todd P. Its location is right across the street from the Newtown Creek-Greenpoint Sewage Treatment Plant, the daytime aspect of which is suitably post-apocalyptic (you can check this Flickr set for more views) but at night, when the tops of its towers are illuminated in some kind of ultraviolet light and the neighboring buildings are all scrap metal yards with guard dog signs and concrete structures with their gates left open because they really contain nothing but the most unsalvageable refuse, you can feel that you've just arrived outside Mordor.

Fortunately a quick right turn (as you dodge the sweeping eye of Sauron) places you amidst friendly faces and interesting rock bands - most recently, on April 7th, Double Dagger drove up from Baltimore (I'll let you find their MySpace page yourself - hints for Googling: they are called Double Dagger and they are from Baltimore - you may not however, immediately find singer Nolen Strals' collaborative art blog 99 Drawings In 99 Days, well worth a look), Metalux drove in from elsewhere in Brooklyn and Green Milk From The Planet Orange flew in from Japan.

As the sole band about which I had no notion, Double Dagger proved to be the unexpected surprise which every evening out should have. A vigorous drummer and bassplayer, as the sole instrumentation, provided a necessarily minimalist but tensile backdrop to Nolen Strals' vocal and physical method acting - on record, his singing seems a little more conventionally emo, but live it's all pretty much transformed by his interaction with the audience. At first his persistent caroming around, singing right into people's faces and bumping into them seems like predictably confrontational tactics, but it becomes clear that he's too gentle about it for that analysis. Ultimately the effect he creates is more like one of the more manageable forms of autism, as if he is operating by a different set of rules about how to interact with people. It's still a bit disconcerting but any number of factors (from his between song remarks to the implicit social contract of the young artist circles in which the band travels where the weirdness tends to be rather contained) combine to make it feel more collaborative than threatening. Of the various approaches to challenging the performer-audience relationship, from G.G. Allin's ordure-flinging to Robert Fripp perching unceremoniously on a high stool, this one seems worth a return visit.

Also worth a return visit (now that I've completely run out of steam for writing about the evening) are Metalux, an electronics duo you should also have no trouble locating on the Web (add the term "carbon" to your search) - part of why they are great is they are not "electronica" - they play electronic music without an Apple logo in sight or an audible rhythmic pattern that could function on anyone's dance floor anywhere. Jenny Graf plays some guitar and has this amazing looking homemade synthesizer with alligator clip connections and a pre-digital era touch-pad controller, while M.V. Carbon combines keyboard and reel-to-reel tape loops made on the fly, which she then modifies by manipulating the metal reels as if they were turntables.

Green Milk From The Planet Orange are yet another Japanese power trio, of which there are currently quite a number - not as alien as Fushitsusha, as inventive as Minimokoto or as needles-in-the-red as High Rise, the three nonetheless purvey a high energy brand of drone/hard-rock psychedelia that was thoroughly convincing while it was happening. They sit down to play as well, which in a packed venue with no stage was a bit of limitation, although occasionally at the start of a song, they stood up on their amps, made the devil horns hand sign to the audience, swung their hair around - generally conveyed "we come to rock" - and then sat down again to resume their intricate finger motions.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Back On The Horse

Sorry for the gap - too much to write about rather than too little!

Just finished George Gissing's New Grub Street, a late Victorian novel focused on the struggle between art and commerce, with the latter, justifiably or no, the clear winner. No character in the book who does not have money ends up anything other than dead or obscure and the characters who become well-to-do by luck, initiative or both, continue to prosper as we wish harder and harder that the novel's deeply cynical point of view were not so vindicated.

It is also, in a sense, a meta-novel, as the characters themselves, all striving in the literary world of their time, continuously debate the relative merits of M. Zola's naturalism versus Dickens' use of farce and melodrama to make his novels tick. Gissing himself, considered a naturalist who evolved into a realist (someday I'll really understand that distinction) is not above a bit of farce and melodrama himself when it serves to keep the plot moving, ennoble an otherwise doomed character with a dignified death and so on.

Although it is not an accepted literary school, Gissing might best be called a pessimist. He is not dispassionate enough in his presentation of grim realities to hide the fact that his sympathies lie with the losers, yet the two main characters who come out on top at the finish (and who he has constructed skillfully enough that we can't actually despise them, at least I don't think we are supposed to), end the book with this bit of dialog:

"Ha! isn't the world a glorious place?"
"For rich people."
"Yes, for rich people. How I pity the poor devils!"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Busman's Holiday

Club music songs are very much like Marimekko fabrics - a few elegantly simple design ideas in sort of modular pieces that can be reliably recombined and usually work out, as long as you're not expecting anything other than what they are.

Pulling a mid-90s UK house 12" named "I Believe" by an ensemble called the Happy Clappers out of the "to be listened" pile pretty much guaranteed a certain kind of listening experience, with the only variable being whether it would actually be good or not (it proved to be pretty good).

Were there any doubt that this was to be a well-crafted specimen of its time and place (and not much more), a glance at shows that they had two hits, "I Believe" and "Hold On," which they rereleased in endless 12" vinyl and CD configurations and then recycled them through a series of compilations, most containing the word "Ibiza" in the title.

The lyrical phrases "I believe" (sometimes punctuated with "in love") and "comin' to ya" alternate over a 4/4 kick drum, some congas, the standard slightly gospel-inflected three-chord piano vamp and some synthesized strings, and, of course, hand claps.

None of this explains why these records are sometimes convincing and often not - the precise tension and release structure (where the kick drum drops out for a bit, the piano chords pause or accelerate and so on) is not obviously quantifiable. For that matter why is "If You Should Need A Friend" by Fire Island (hmm, who are they appealing to?) better, or in what ways is it better?

For one thing the piano part has four chords and more chromatic motion between them and there are synthetic horn blats in place of the strings. The lyrics, although banal, attempt to be about something rather than just generic feel-good dance floor hollers and singer Mark Anthoni injects a little gritty expressiveness. At the opening, before the lyrics start, he takes a simple two-note wordless melodic fillip and jumps back and forth between his falsetto head voice and high tenor register to very good effect.

The record label, by the way, is Junior Boy's Own which I've found to be pretty reliable - I'll have to see what else is kicking around here on their imprint - in the meantime, should you (for example) find several hundred in a dumpster, give them a listen!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Brass Monkey

There was a flurry of rediscovery around here centered on The Acoustic Folk Box, which was inversely inspired by missing Martin and Eliza Carthy (and Norma Waterson) at Symphony Space a couple of weeks ago.

The box itself has many pleasures, one of which is a track from Martin Carthy's early 80s quintet called Brass Monkey. The group combined Carthy's guitar and voice with fellow Albion Band alumnus John Kirkpatrick on concertina, along with percussion and brass instruments, trumpet, trombone and saxophone (sorry not to list everyone's name and dozens of other affiliations). They made two vinyl records on the legendary Topic label in 1983 and 1986 and the two were combined onto one CD, The Complete Brass Monkey, in 1993.

The Acoustic Folk Box includes "The Maid and the Palmer," the single best piece from their eponymous first LP, and the second LP, See How It Runs, has one equally astonishing song, called "The Handweaver and The Factory Maid." On both, Kirkpatrick's playing on the various small accordion-type instruments (concertina, melodeon, button accordion) has a remarkable propulsive quality - you can feel the air pumping in and out of the device, urging on the rhythm like a bellows stoking a fire. The brass parts, lending throughout an air of the concert hall or military band which takes us away from the farmyard, have an almost modernist edge, with their repetitiveness and the slightly off-kilter folk metric patterns - lots of dropped crochets and two beat measures. The parts, to my wildly free-associative way of thinking, are reminiscent of Rhys Chatham's marvelous "Waterloo, No. 2" (try this snippet on which should give you the idea).

Finally, the lyrics to "The Handweaver and The Factory Maid" are intriguing as, according the liner notes, the song was originally titled "The Handweaver and The Chamber Maid." The change of focus from petty rural class rivalry to the industrial revolution, the factory maid now representing the new class that is replacing the handweaver, is quite brilliant. Furthermore, despite his family's disdain for factory girls, the narrator seems only too happy to give up the "wearisome trade" of the weaver who is "so bent that he's like to crack" and instead "trudge to the mill in the early morn", where the girls are!

The other big reminder upon revisiting the box was find out more about Eliza Carthy - her closing track, "10,000 Miles," is one of its high points and her 2002 release Anglicana, currently digitally unspooling for my delighted ears, suggests that was no fluke - more to come!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Pourquoi Je Chante

I was browsing through the track list of "Ultra Chicks Vol 1: Filles In The Garage!" (a collection of French 60s female pop - there were at least 6 volumes in a bootleg series) and noted "Stella" among the many first name-only noms d'étape. I recalled that this was almost certainly the same Stella who subsequently married Christian Vander and they founded the still extant progressive rock band Magma in 1969 and with a few seconds of Web searching, my recollection was proved correct.

Rather than repeat myself on Magma, you can read a quick and entertaining summary in this Time Out New York piece and I'll do a post culled from my secret desert island discs catalog on my two favorite Magma albums at some later date.

Meanwhile it is Stella Zelcer Vander who is of interest today. One of the so-called Yé-yé Girls, Stella apparently became disenchanted with the superficiality of the musical style, hence her eventual move to a rather more esoteric musical realm and now bills herself as "the anti-yé-yé girl" on this rather elegant MySpace page (it's so rare that these things look good, it's sort of a cause for celebration when they do - compare Magma's own page).

My friend's digital copy of "Ultra Chicks..." proved to be corrupted on her track "Nouvelle Vague Blues" - it was just white noise, and surmising this not to be the original intent, I went on the hunt, only to find everyone on Soulseek had the same corrupted copy. Finally, I tracked down a 2-CD compilation that came out in France in the late 90s called La Collection Sixties des EPs Français. Forty tracks of this stuff may be more than the casual fan needs, but it is thoroughly enjoyable in the right doses.

The "Nouvelle Vague Blues" itself fulfills the promise of its title, with a jazzy backing track and lyrical references to "Jules et Jim." The song "Beatniks d'occasion" (audible on her MySpace page) also takes an ironic look at fashionable Bohemianism, although some of the songs recorded when she was very young (she started at age 13) are charming for the opposite reasons - "Douée Pour La recré" is a schoolgirl complaining about how tedious all her academic classes are and she's best suited for recess, and "Les parents twist" is (I'm assuming) a complaint about oppressive parents based on some sort of Americanized teenage slang ("Mon Dieu, que c'est triste, d'avoir des parents twist!") - just the sort of linguistic borrowing Jack Lang campaigned against during his tenure as Minister of Culture!

Finally, don't miss this interview. Also, I noticed a lot of this French 60s pop is tagged with "velocipede radio" on, a phrase I can't find anywhere else, so I'm going to contribute to its spread by using it here (but not on which doesn't support two-word tags!).

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Name Of This Blog

The phrase Sold By Volume is the title of a 10" vinyl record by the band Tono-Bungay (which I am in). It was actually coined by Robert Dennis, so I am hereby giving him credit, even though I have now appropriated it.

You can hear a track from the record on the band's MySpace page, read clever blog entries there, look at long lists of experimental rock bands - and so on!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Bought A Ringtone

Like any self-respecting music fanatic, I prefer to have heard of or heard everything first (preferably before it comes out) but awards like the Grammys serve an effective winnowing function for figuring out what to listen because it is culturally significant in some way that might not have to do with musical merit. With that in mind, I still couldn't get past the third song of Stadium Arcadium, but the Dixie Chicks' Taking The Long Way Around (a band I always wanted to like but never quite made the jump) has proved to be a keeper. The title track retells the classic American rebel/road myth with economy and style. There's the self-consciously girly but still charming "pink RV with stars on the ceiling" and a passing reference to the anti-war remarks upscuttle (belabored subsequently on the song "Not Ready to Make Nice") but also a couple of awkward lyrics - the opening quatrain's reference to "...houses in the same zip codes/Where their parents live" is a little too sociological and "wouldn't kiss all the asses that they told me to" is sort of trite Nashville vulgarity, "take this job and shove it" redux.
My absolute favorite songs, the ones currently on endless repeat, tend to be where the vocal harmonies are so dense and gorgeous that I don't even notice what the songs are about ("Bitter End" and "Silent House", the former distinguished also by 12/8 meter, which I favor unreasonably). "Lubbock Or Leave It" is powered by a grainy Telecaster riff that evokes the Bakersfield modern of Dwight Yoakam, for me a preferable California country-rock reference point to the Eagles from whom I have a lifetime prejudice against the word "easy". Apparently the seemingly thin-skinned country music audience has a problem with this one too - I'm just reminded that I need to find and relisten to Terry Allen's semi-legendary Lubbock (On Everything). Finally, I was struck by the use of banjo (presumably played by Emily Erwin) - we are, I hope, through with the authenticity police scolding pop-country bands for using traditional country instrumentation as window dressing, and in fact the staccato, tactile timbre of the banjo tends to sit in the mix more like whatever the East Asian sounding stringed instrument is on the East Flatbush Project's "Tried By 12" (perhaps having Rick Rubin as producer has something to do with it).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dumpster Diving

One step below the dollar bin trawling, certainly in price and possibly in dignity (though rarely in degree of satisfaction), is picking records straight out of the trash. One recent foray turned up a number of items which may delight us over the coming days; Leonard Bernstein conducting his own three symphonies and Ravi Shankar on Apple Records performing the soundtrack to a film called Raga, which I suppose must be a documentary about Ravi Shankar (circa 1970, Howard Worth director), but this evening's high point is Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's "Missa Romana in F", as beautiful a baroque mass as you could want (for "6 Solo Voices, 2 five voice choirs, and double orchestra"). The sacred works that get their own chapters in history books are those like Bach's Mass in B Minor, which are monumental like Michelangelo's Medici Tomb Moses but sometimes you don't want something quite that heavy, and Pergolesi provides quite a refreshing contrast.

Also appealing is the fact that the record label credit is Harmonia Mundi/BASF. I believe the current multinational chemical corporation called BASF is the same - I once thought of them (when I thought of them at all!) principally as manufacturers of magnetic recording tape who branched out into the music industry by funding and distributing smaller record labels, most famously the German jazz labels Saba and MPS which yielded several fruits of my teenage forays into the ever more obscure, particularly Association P.C.'s Erna Morena.
Further aesthetic pleasure comes from the Unipak sleeve, a style which all BASF productions I've seen came in (I suppose they held the patent), a gatefold LP jacket with the slot for the record only accessible from the middle of the inside. There's a comparable CD sleeve design - reaching randomly towards the shelf, I find the Wiretapper 14 compilation came in such a package.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Good Will Hunting

The best vinyl dollar bin trawling on the Upper West Side is (in descending order) Gryphon Books at 81st and Broadway, the church basement thrift store at 96th and Amsterdam and the Salvation Army store on 96th Street west of Broadway, with the Goodwill on 79th street a distant fourth (or fifth if you count the amount of good stuff I've gotten from sidewalk vendors), but the headline was hard to resist.

Recent acquisitions in this realm include Carolyn Hester's self-titled 2nd LP from 1960 on Tradition Records. She has the vibrato-laden soprano which, particularly through Joan Baez, came to exemplify the earnestly ethnomusicological approach to folksong "collecting" that characterized the folk revival until Bob Dylan came along and injected a dose of scruffiness. Were you to write a formula for the model early 60s folksong LP (one cover of "House of The Rising Sun", check, one song in Spanish, check, one spiritual with liner notes about the performer's great respect for the American Negro, check), you would probably come out with this record. On the other hand, you can never have too many versions of "She Moved Through The Fair" and Hester chooses to go with the version of the last verse in which the young bride is dead and appearing in ghostly form.
The most iconic photo of Hester from the period is this one with a pre-fame Bob Dylan at her side and ubiquitous 60s folk session bass player Bill Lee (Spike's dad) to the right.

Also worth its dollar is Exuma's fifth record, Reincarnation, from 1972, on Kama Sutra/Buddha. Exuma (birth name McFarlane Anthony McKay, of Bahamian origin) was one of not too many black performers in the mid-60s Greenwich Village folk scene and sounded enough like Richie Havens that it would be hard to skip the comparison altogether. Working from a high sandpapery tenor and rapidly strummed acoustic guitar, his arrangements on this record include lots of percussion, and keyboards as needed. Starting with a bit of Belafonte-ish hokum called "Brown Girl" (which reminds you of the Buddha label's bubblegum origins), he takes an unexpected turn into a fairly faithful version of Paul McCartney's "Monkberry Moon Delight" distinguished from the original (which had only come out a year earlier) by escalating the comically aggressive surrealism of McCartney's vocal performance to a more genuinely crazed level. What could be fairly standard early 70s folk rock gets a lift from Exuma's broad range of vocal styles and the somewhat dark, mystical edge to a lot of his lyrics, with frequent references to Obeah, the Bahamian flavor of the syncretistic Afro-Caribbean religion called Santeria or Voodoo elsewhere.
Exuma's whole story is readily available at wikipedia and elsewhere - the record collector in me is, of course, intrigued by the stories of lost early 80s albums in micro-editions on barely extant labels that were anthologized in 1986 by ROIR records on Rude Boy, his final release.


I think this blog will be principally about what I listen to and read, with some mention of my own modest additions to the world's mountain of words and music.

Today's words of choice belong to Margaret Drabble. "The Millstone" is her third novel (of 17 so far), published in 1965. I have read close to a dozen of her books, and the biographical blurb at the front of each always mentions that The Millstone won the Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize (a fine Welsh name, I don't need to tell you). (The description of this prize and who has won it seems as good as any other).
In any event, the frequent invocation of the prize caused me to assume (in an unexamined kind of way) that this book must be somehow slightly better than some of her others, so I started it thinking I might be dazzled. This is in general not a good way to start anything, since it tends to increase the chances of disappointment. In this instance, we know, or suspect we know, that prizes are given for all kinds of reasons other than intrinsic merit, or cannot be regiven to subsequent and possibly better works as they must be spread around to newcomers.
Also, there's something slightly jejune about the notion of "a prize" attaching itself to anything, carrying as it does connotations ranging from gold stars in kindergarten to blue ribbons for the finest pigs, plastic toys in cereal boxes and so on. In thinking about it, I free-associated my way over to Johann Gottfried Herder's 1772 essay "On The Origin of Language" ("Über den Ursprung der Sprache") which is invariably referred to in histories of linguistics and the philosophy of language as "Herder's prize-winning essay" - apparently a nod from the Berlin Academy was career-making in late 18th century Germany, as Kant was also to discover.

All of which has distracted me a bit from just reading the book - I'll get back to it and let you know how it turns out. After having recently finished her Radiant Way trilogy, which is quite grand in scope, I find returning to her 60s books, enjoyable as they are, tends to shrink the world back to the emotional lives of well-educated young mothers coping with tiny cars and grim National Health waiting rooms.

As for listening, I continue to plow through a small mountain of 90s club music 12" vinyl that came my way, discarding about 10 for each one I hold on to. Today's keepers include "The Copper Groove" by Freestyle Man (aka Morris Brown aka Sasse, real name Klas Lindblad) which is quite melodic and highly repetitive, with a sort of hushed spoken male vocal whooshing in and out, never grabbing the center of attention - pretty characteristic of late 90s German electronic dance music. The sticker on the sleeve tells me it's "House, Deep" and who am I to argue?
Also of note are six quite stylistically disparate mixes of UK soul singer Jaki Graham's version of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody". One mix that stands out is by Dave Way (who I hadn't heard of but has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Macy Gray to the Spice Girls - all the big names!). His approach is comparatively sparse, with that kind of loping West Coast hiphop groove, punctuated by an angular five-note melody that is on the verge of being in the wrong key. It's a refreshing contrast to the Development Corporation remixes which are busy and entertainingly anachronistic in some ways - surely even in 1994, those synthetic horn blats that seem borrowed from a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis Janet Jackson production sounded dated.

Finally in the CD walkman (someone looked at me holding it today and asked "what happened to your ipod") was a CD combining two (1970-71) releases by Australia's The Master's Apprentices (or The Masters Apprentices - no two sources of info, including their album covers, are in agreement about the apostrophe), called "Choice Cuts" and "A Toast to Panama Red." Most people would put these two on any short list of essential Australian rock albums of the progressive rock era and they earn their spot. Despite a few period-specific tendencies for which your tolerance may be limited (a Tull-ish flute moment here, a 7/4 time signature there, massed high vocals that almost hint at Queen), there's a lot of straightforward blistering guitar-playing that tends to carry the day more often than not.

By the way, the site linked to in the preceding paragraph appears to be the spot on the Web for Australian music info, now that Ian McFarlane's Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop is no longer online. I was slightly annoyed after having purchased the latter to find the whole thing was available online. Now that I've put the book in storage, I am double-crossed that it is no longer there!