Category Archives: Music

. . . from the “Hungry i” The Kingston Trio

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From the Hungry i . . . The Kingston Trio.  I used to listen to this one a lot as a kid. I was only about 20 years behind the times.  What kept bringing me back to this album is the energy of the live performance. Back then, and now to a lesser extent, I am of course drawn to the funny stuff– the silly songs and bits humor in between. Mom and Dad also had the greatest hits album, and 35 years later I still remember the words to some of the fun ones there–MTA, in particular, and of course the not so funny Tom Dooley. But that album is nothing compared to listening to three guys and their acoustic instruments in a nightclub carrying that audience along that journey of emotional and musical highs and lows, comedy and drama, from the raucous to soft and sweet and back again. It’s a master class in audience control, if one is interested in such things. And even if you’re not, and I guess most people aren’t, it’s a great ride to be taken on, one that I have traveled and enjoyed dozens of times, even on a low quality recording, by today’s standards, that has to be flipped over and restarted in the middle of the act.

The show (album) starts out with the quiet and funny Tic, tic, tic. (Back then my mom had to explain the joke to me).

And it ends with the audience joining in on the party rock anthem Oh When the Saints.

And sandwiched between, as I’ve said, is that musical journey.  Here are a couple of my favorites (I like the silly upbeat ones best).  Enjoy.

And of course M.T.A.

Bachman Turner Overdrive – Not Fragile

Bachman-Turner Overdrive / Not Fragile LP 1

I like to think that I was a rock guy back in high school, but I listened to a lot of pop. And it was the 80s, so the new wave was happening. And some funk. And we listened to a lot of Lionel Richie when our high-school-boy hearts were broken. Also, I wasn’t much of an album guy as a kid. I had a few. But, with a couple of exceptions, the albums I had didn’t exactly rock. And BTO was just a bit before my time.

Given all that, I tried for a couple weeks to get into this album which I picked up at a garage sale a while back. I couldn’t seem to do it. Then I discovered the problem.  You’re going to think I’m making this up or quoting a 1970s t-shirt or paraphrasing Dr. Johnny Fever, but it’s true. It wasn’t loud enough. When I put this album on and cranked it, it was a beautiful thing. The first cut comes on like Spinal Tap. It’s that earnest driving unrepentant rock that Spinal Tap parodied so well. Not only is nearly every track on this album is a great rock song (there are a couple that are just ok), but each one is unique and rocks in its own way. “Rock is My Life” is a talky messagey ballad about living the rock and roll life.  “Roll on Down the Highway” is a rambling moving-on-down-the-road song with a hook that sounds like it was borrowed from the Archies. “Freewheelin'” is a bluesy freestyle rock jam. “Giving it All Away” is fun.  And even the hit “Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” is not the best song on the record, but is still good.

The reason I pulled BTO out to listen to and write about is that I needed a break from the jazz and blues. The Bachman brothers and their friend Turner and Thornton certainly provide that. Here’s a couple for you to sample. And don’t forget–turn it up!

Ella Fitzgerald sings the Gershwin Song Book Vol. 2

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A quick review because frankly, I didn’t care for this one much. I pulled it out of my dad’s collection on a recent trip home because of course Ella’s good, and also this record is on the Verve label. In my mind Verve carried some cache as a publisher of hip jazz. My research shows Verve and Ella made some great records. This just isn’t one of them. This record is, in a word, boring. It’s hard to believe anyone ever enjoyed this album. I picture some guy in 1959 (my father?) picked this up because it was Ella and The Gershwins, and he put it on his hi-fi to impress his date, and the music put them to sleep on the couch. At the end of side one, she wakes up and quietly tunes off the record player and let’s herself out. She does find herself humming “Someone to Watch Over Me” on her way home, something I did yesterday after listening to this record. So I guess that’s something.

The Music from Peter Gunn

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The Music from Peter Gunn, 1959.

Who knew that this album would bring up such memories and send me down so many rabbit trails.

Another of pop’s old record club albums, The Music from Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini is one that I listened to a lot as a kid.  As kids, elementary aged kids, the only records we had were children’s records and my folks’ old records. It wasn’t until 5th grade that I received my first three singles of contemporary music.

I remember one vignette from childhood.  I don’t remember who the older kids were, a boy and a girl if I remember right, but their parents were visiting ours. I think I was in the third or fourth grade. We were all sitting around the record player, and the girl, the older of the two, was disparaging our record collection, all kids records, meh. I reached for one of dad’s old records, Thereby Hangs a Tale by Eddie Arnold. This is another record that my brother and I listened to a lot, and had the A side pretty much memorized, especially “Tennessee Stud,” “Battle of Little Big Horn,” and “Wreck of the Old 97.” My brother probably still has those songs memorized. So I put Eddie on the turntable. “How’s this?” I asked, already reaching for another in case this one didn’t receive her approval. I remember her nodding her head along with Eddie. No, this good. Even then I remember being a little surprised. It was the 70s, I guess, and the folk/country sound was pretty prevalent in popular music. Or maybe her dad listened to Eddie Arnold too.

Anyway, in revisiting the Peter Gunn album, I was surprised how much I remembered of this album. When one song ended, I was able to hum the opening bars of the next tune during the space between. That’s something that is mostly gone in the days of shuffle and Pandora. Too bad.

And this is great jazz music. It’s popular.  It was popular at the time–in 1959 this album was the first to win a Grammy for album of the year.  And it’s certainly stood the test of time. The Library of Congress entered this album into the National Recording Registry in 2010.  But perhaps more tellingly, search YouTube for covers of the Peter Gunn theme, and you’ll find a lot of them, some of them quite bizarre.  Try to look away from this.

This popularity can make some of us snobby folks suspicious.  But this music is really beautiful, fun, and of course the main theme may make you want to drive a long car into a seedy neighborhood to shake down a punk for information on a recent kidnapping (or put on your go-go boots and go for it). Of course that may just be me.  The best thing to do, of course, is to listen to it. Here are a handful of tunes from this album.  Enjoy.

Luther Allison Luther’s Blues

Front Cover copy

Luther Allison, Luther’s Blues, 1974, Motown

I believe this is another that I got from the radio station, and one that I remember listening to quite a bit back in the day. There’s something to be said about having a short stack of records and limiting your listening to just those records. You get to know and love those records. Of course there’s also something to be said for having easy access to almost every piece of music ever recorded just about any time you want to hear it. It’s the old depth vs. breadth tension. And like most of us, I don’t plan on going back to only a short stack of music. I think that’s why we enjoy the “What would you take to a deserted island?” game. We played it in the car just the other day. What records, books, television series, movies, restaurant’s menu? It’s fun to toy with the idea of going deep because we know we don’t have to.

Back to Luther. My research tells me that with this album, Luther’s Blues, Luther Allison was just beginning to hit his stride. I agree with one reviewer who wrote that there are hits and misses on this record. But the hits are amazing. I think my favorite is the opening track, “Luther’s Blues.” It opens in standard blues structure with what I thought was a classic riff. Upon a second listen, I don’t know if it’s a classic riff or if I’d just listened to it so often in my “depth days” that  to me that’s what the opening of a blues song ought to sound like. I’m not educated enough to describe musically what’s going on here. But it’s one of the most transcendent 50 seconds of music I’ve ever heard.

I love it when he’s having the conversation with his guitar. It totally works. For me this album works best when Allison is playing his own tunes. A couple of these are pretty funky like “Now You Got It” and “K.T.” But it’s the bluesy ones that I love. They just touch me somehow.Here’s another like that. “Let’s Have a Little Talk.” It’s a standard style blues tune, but Allison makes it his.

As of this writing, you can hear all of Luther’s Blues on Youtube. I would suggest that you take advantage of this amazing bit of fortune.  And if you can listen to the title track just once without returning to it, then, wait, you did what now, how did, how could, I don’t understand.

Norman Blake/Tut Taylor/Sam Bush/Butch Robins/Vassar Clements/David Holland/Jethro Burns

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Norman Blake/Tut Taylor/Sam Bush/Butch Robins/Vassar Clements/David Holland/Jethro Burns is a fun find in the record collection.

(Yes, I have records that I don’t even know I have or haven’t listened to.  And that’s not because it’s a big collection.  I bet I don’t have a linear yard of albums. (Yes one way to measure a record collection is by the number of albums. Another, which doesn’t require walking into the other room and spending 20 minutes counting records, is to estimate their width on a shelf.  Look it up.))

A 1975 release on the Flying Fish label, Norman Blake/Tut Taylor/Sam Bush/Butch Robins/Vassar Clements/David Holland/Jethro Burns is a recording of a bunch of bluegrass musicians getting together in the studio to play some bluegrass and to just jam. There’s not much better than improvisational bluegrass. This is a strange album with no liner notes or cover notes or any notes at all to let us know what’s going on here. At least my copy doesn’t have them. In searching the cyber webs, I haven’t come up with much more information than what I’ve already shared with you. Even a YouTube search doesn’t reveal any tracks from from this album. However, there are a couple by some of the same musicians that will give you a pretty good idea of the swinging bluegrass to be found here. Enjoy.

Denny Zeitlin – Cathexis

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This used to be one of my favorite albums. In listening to it again to write about it, I realize that I almost exclusively listened to the A-side. It’s a great side. I got this album when I was doing time in Chanute, Kansas.  I was the news director at a little radio station there. There was a bit of fun to be had; it’s what you make it after all. But I still refer to that time in my life as the dark days. I was a 23-year-old man in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where my extremely low paying job was to come up with 15-minutes of news about the middle of nowhere every day.

One of the bright moments of this existence was coming upon a big box of jazz and blues albums that the station was throwing out. At that time the station mostly played music, music that came preprogrammed on these giant reels of tape. Throughout most of the day these giant reels spun playing the mildest and most popular songs of the previous decade or two, pausing occasionally for commercials or a time check or news. I asked if anyone was interested in this box of jazz and blues records. Of course they weren’t. So back to my furnished top floor of a crappy old house they went.

Of that box of albums, Denny Zeitlin was the one I liked best and listened to most. I love the opening track, Repeat, and it’s  repeated opening phrase. I’ve sung along with it dozens of times. It makes me happy, and I’m sure that it’s uplifting quality is one of the reasons it got so much play in Chanute.

The rest of side one, continues to be joyful, if not so bouncy and sing-along as that first tune. Any jazz album, I suppose, can be enjoyed in the background while you’re doing something else. (I know there are those that are less musical, and more, is there something wrong with the sound system, but for the most part I’m saying.) And Zeitlin’s record is fine for that. And most days it may be best for that.

For it seems to me that Zeitlin’s music has a lot in common with classical music. Maybe this is true for most, or at least a lot of jazz, but I really noticed it here. Now bear with me. I had one required music appreciation class (and for years after I had repeated dreams about sleeping through the final of that class). But in the same way that a novice music lover might say to himself while listening to classical music, hmmm, what’s that little phrase quietly making it’s way from the background and slowing taking control of the piece, or, oh, that’s the tune from earlier, only now it’s sad and slow; you find those kinds of things going on throughout this album. This makes listening to this record, really listening to it, which I try it do before writing about a record, a bit of work. There’s a lot to miss if one is making dinner or playing words with friends while this album is on. I guess I’m saying this was an easier album to enjoy back in Chanute when I had little else to do other than sit and listen.

The back of the album cover has a lot to say about Zeitlin. As he was beginning his music career back in 1964 he was also perusing the field of psychology. A Google search for Zeitlin shows that he’s been successful at both. So if you’re interested, you can find more of his stuff out there. While it doesn’t see the play it once did, I’m glad I have this album. And today I’m going to give side A one more listen before it goes back into the music box.

 

ViceVersa

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The other unexpected and happily received Christmas gift I got this year was the 2014 ep by my favorite L.A. based band ViseVersa. I should say that one of the reasons that I love this band is that I had the drummer in class for several years. Hers was the class that had to put up with me for at least four years as I followed them from junior high to high school. She was also one of my yearbook babies.  So I like her a lot. Oh, and she tutored my boy In drums for a short time, and now she’s a rock star, so, you know, no big deal.

Anyway, this album. Four tracks. Four great funky rock songs. I’m hearing straight ahead driving rock like the Hives and such, but it’s also funky. Zeke’s dirty guitar reminds me of Hendrix or Lenny Kravits.  I’m not educated enough to analyze all the influences.  “Great funky rock songs” aught to be enough.

Three of the four songs are about what three-fourths of all rock songs are about, trying to get some loving. The third is a stick-it-to-the-man political number where the drummer delivers some sweet speed rap.  All four songs rock hard while providing an opportunity for the musicians to noodle a bit as well. I like that. A great example of this is the last song on the ep, Next One.  That’s also their first video.

You can hear all four songs here or right here.

As far as I can tell, the band stays busy in the Los Angeles area, so if you’re out there and you want to see them, it shouldn’t be to difficult.  I’m looking forward to catching them in K.C. sometime.

ViseVersa’s official website

The Piano Scene of Ahmad Jamal

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One of my favorite albums in my collection is The Piano Scene of Ahmad Jamal.  It’s a favorite for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s a great album and Jamal is a great jazz pianist.  First issued in 1959, there are a dozen tunes that with the help of a cigarette (not recommended) and maybe an old fashion or martini (recommended) will transport you back to what is now often referred to as Mad Men Times. This is great cocktail lounge music, but as Miles Davis will argue in the copy on the back of this album, Jamal is more than a cocktail pianist.  In my research, he’s always cited as an influence on Davis.  So that’s cool. We’ll get back to that coolness in a bit.

The other reason I love this album is that it used belong to my dad.  Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s (Mad Men Times) my dad was a student at Kansas State.  While there he was a member of one of those 5-albums-for-a-penny music clubs.  You get free music up front and then have to buy more music in the coming months.  (This was back when people bought music.) As a result, we have a lot of cool old albums, all labeled on the back with a giant S for Sears.  There are a variety of artist from his music club days.  The most numerous are Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and old movie soundtracks. The coolest, I think, is this Ahmad Jamal record.  Dad says he saw Jamal perform back then in Manhattan, Kansas or maybe Columbia, Missouri.  I imagine that influenced this purchase.  So it’s fun to think of dad in his short hair and dorky 1950’s glasses, seeing some live jazz in 1960 in a smoky little room, listening to a guy that had an influence on Miles Davis, and being able to say years later, “I really used to like his early stuff.” When I listen to this album, I enjoy vicariously a little of my dad’s 1960 cool.

Jamal is still around.  This album was actually reissued last year, which is probably why the youtube links to these songs are all broken.  There is one great youtube clip of early Jamal which I’d like to share.  Enjoy.

Ok. One more.

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Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul, 1969

Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul, 1969

I realized as I was putting the songs into this post that my comments are kind of spoilers.  I’d encourage you to listen to the album first, and then if you care, come back and see what I thought about it.

I picked this up a month or so ago at a thrift store. I knew of Isaac Hayes, mostly from South Park, but I wasn’t at all familiar with his music, except I guess Shaft.  What I first notice when I put this album on my turntable was it contains a total of four tracks, two on each side.  At first listen I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and it didn’t really hook me.  On second listen, I found some things I liked.

One is Hayes’s voice.  Hayes oozes sincerity when he sings of the hurt that’s associated with love and heartbreak.  And if you’re a jaded old man who’s forgotten that a man can feel that way because of a woman, Hayes’s voice reminds you want it means to hurt like that.  The first track, “Walk on By” is a great example of this.  Hayes puts it all out there, “If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time we meet, walk on by, walk on by. Make believe that you don’t see the tears.  Oh just let me grieve, in private ’cause each time I see you I break down and cry.” Powerful lyrics, and he pulls it off. He sounds like he means it, like he feels it.  And he makes the listener feel it some too.

Second, the music on this album is provided by the Bar-Kays.  That means amazing fuzzy guitar, bass, drums, piano, electric organ and on and on.  This is showcased by my third point.Third, the long tracks allow for some amazing orchestral-like arrangements.  These songs are allowed time to grow and build and fade, and then come back for a big final build, to then finish with a long slow fade out.  These tracks finish with the Bar-Kays jamming ,and even after a 10-minute long track begins to fade, and I’m still not quite ready for it to be over.  The second track, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” which starts out as a bit of a novelty song I guess, ends with Hayes stepping away from the microphone and letting the Bar-Kays just jam for minutes, which is great.

Track three, “One Woman,” would be the single from this album I suppose, mostly because it’s the only song, coming in at five minutes, that would fit on an old 45.  It’s a sad song about a man torn between his wife and his mistress.  I suppose we’re to feel for this man, torn between two women, and maybe we would have 40 years ago.  Nowadays, however, we recognize, I think, that the narrator is a jerk for treating his wife this way.  However, Hayes is able to express the sadness of the situation, so that at least for a few minutes we feel bad, even if when the music stops we want to slap him and tell him to go back to his wife and to stop seeing “the woman making him do wrong.”

The album ends with a 19-minute version of “By the Time I get to Phoenix.” Yes, that one, by Glen Campbell. The first half of that 19 minutes is Hayes telling his version of the story behind the song, of the man who gave his wife many chances to stop cheating on him before he couldn’t take it any longer and had to leave.  The story goes on a bit long.  Unlike the rest of the album, it’s not going to hold up to repeated listenings, for me at least.  The last nine minutes of that one are pretty good though.  Hayes sings the three minute song.  Then he sings his own material, improvised maybe, about the woman that drove him away, and how sad he is that he had to leave.  The last couple of minutes feature the Bar-Kays.  Once Hayes stops talking and gets on with it, its a good tune.

In researching this album on youtube, I found one review that said this was one of the greatest albums ever.  I do think it’s one that will grown on me.  Mostly.