Sunday, May 6, 2012

Time for a Change

This blog is on permanent hiatus, but lives on with a slightly different focus.  Check out my latest blog, Songs That Stand Out, which features cuts that stand out from great albums.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Howlin' Wolf

Album: Sings the Blues
Format: LP
Label/Info: Crown CLP-5240. Later released as the Custom LP "Big City Blues" (CM 2055) and from United Superior, also as "Big City Blues" (7717). 1951-52 recordings for the Modern label and its subsidiary RPM records. Features Willie Johnson on guitar as well as a very young Ike Turner on piano (same lineup as tracks on the Sam Phillips Memphis sessions included earlier on this blog).

Christian Scott

Album: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow
Format: CD
Label/Info: Concord CJA 31412-02.
Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's classic studio. Is that a 60s-era Westrex 3D disc cutter pictured inside? Warm and trip-hoppy with hints of Tony Williams' Lifetime.

Abner Jay

Album: Folk Song Stylist
Format: LP
Label/Info: Mississippi Records MR-068. There must be an Abner Jay album on this blog. Thanks to Mississippi Records for making that possible. More great music from rural Georgia.


Album: Pink Flag
Format: CD or LP
Label/Info: Originally Harvest ST-11757 (1977). A perennial favorite. Includes "Ex Lion Tamer" which is about fish sticks, or so I am told.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Frank Sinatra

Album: In the Wee Small Hours
Format: LP (and only vinyl will do)
Label/Info: Capital W 581 (1955)
180-gram audiophile remaster "from the Capital vaults." Nelson Riddle's finest arrangements and quite possibly Sinatra's finest. period.

The Crickets

Album: The "Chirping" Crickets
Format: LP
Label/Info: DOY609 180-gram reissue. Originally Brunswick LB 54038 (1957).
Indispensable American music: teenage cold war angst, hiccups, drive-ins, crushes and crashes on the prairie.

V/A - Gospel

Album: In the Storm So Long
Format: LP
Label/Info: Mississippi Records MR-066.
One of many gospel collections that hold up. This time it's selections from the Pitch/Gusman Label of Savannah from 1961-1978. Electrified ring shouts from from rural Georgia and the South Carolina lowcountry. Soul-stirring, toe-tapping, smile-producing.

Nathan Abshire

Album: Pine Grove Blues
Format: LP
Label/Info: Swallow 6014.
There was time when I was digging on a regular basis and purchasing Cajun records that nobody seemed to want. (Many thanks to Jonathan at Voltage Records in Asheville, NC, for hooking me up.) Many were duds, but then I hit this one from my man backed by the Balfa brothers. Ce disque est formidable (I gar-on-tee).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kenny Burrell & Jimmy Raney

Album: 2 Guitars
Format: LP
Label/Info: OJC-216. Originally Prestige 7119 (1957). I've got a number of OJC/Fantasy reissues on LP. They were cheap (still are) back in the '80s when I frequented Charlemagne and Wuxtry in Birmingham, AL, and they still sound great. I return to this 1957 session fairly often. Cool vibe, nice originals, great sidemen. But it's Jimmy Raney that brings me back. A complex and subtle player. Joining the guitar duo are Donald Byrd (t), Jackie McLean (as), Mal Waldron (p), Doug Watkins (b), and Art Taylor (d).

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pastor T. L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir

Album: Like A Ship... (Without A Sail)
Format: LP
Label/Info: Light in the Attic LITA 056 (2010) reissue. Originally released as M.Z.G.P. 8126. 1971 soul gospel under the direction of Barrett, community leader and pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Chicago, IL. I was truly blown away the first time I put this record on. The original pressing was limited to a few thousand copies and distributed at church socials and choir concerts. The sound and songwriting are outstanding for a home-grown recording, albeit one supervised by Chess/Cadet producer Gene Barge and backed by some of the best players in town. Not surprising that Donny Hathaway and members of Earth, Wind & Fire could be found in pews each Sunday drawn to Pastor Barrett's brand of sanctified jam.

V/A - Jamaica

Albums: Studio One: Roots - The Original; Vol. 2 and Vol. 3
Format: CD (also on LP)
Soul Jazz SJR CD56, CD114, CD168

While reggae and dub fans may eat this stuff up, there is much more going on here than reverb and riddims. It's certainly Rasta to the core -- representing some of the earliest recordings from Studio One, Jamaica's influential studio -- but this is much more than reggae, with diverse world grooves could easily be found on one of those excellent comps of West African highlife from Analog Africa or Soundway. There's even some American R&B and soul thrown in this rundown (Jamaican stew).

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Kinks

Album: Arthur, Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
Format: LP
Label/Info: Sanctuary UK (forthcoming May 2010?)

Got word that Sanctuary is planning a 2-LP reissue of this essential album. Important because the Earmark reissue from a few years back is so shallow and muddy -- clearly mastered from digital sources. Same mistreatment with Something Else. The greatest rock band of all time deserves better.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rolling Stones

Album: 12X5
Format: CD or LP
Label/Info: ABKCO Hybrid SACD Reissue, 2002. Original U.S. release in 1964 as London LL 3402 (mono) and PS 402 (reprocessed for stereo).

Picking just one Stones album to blog about is like choosing just one Kinks album. Too many indispensable records. But I've been listening to this 2002 remaster of 12X5, and it's better than I ever remembered. 12X5 was their second American release, some of which was recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago (note Side B's opener "2120 South Michigan Avenue") while on their first U.S. tour. This was their pilgrimage to Mecca. All the bluesmen and rock'n'rollers the lads idolized were regular fixtures there, and their influence is palpable. (The recording engineer, Ron Malo, had worked with Bo Diddley, Etta James, and Sonny Boy Williamson, among others.) The set kicks off with a classic Chess side by Chuck Berry, but ultimately it's Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q" that steals the show.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Feelies / Joseph Spence

Format: LP
Update on two essential albums mentioned earlier. It's been a good month. First, The Feelies' Crazy Rhythms (Stiff Records, 1980) is reissued by Bar/None on vinyl and the sound is incredible. (Nice work, Andreas Meyer at Tangerine Mastering in Weehawken.) And then, if that weren't enough, devoted philanthropists Eric Isaacson, Warren Hill, and Tim Stollenwerk at Mississippi Records reissue Joseph Spence's otherworldly classic, Good Morning Mr. Walker (Arhoolie, 1972). This album also holds up (or will hold up) as an artifact: thick cardboard jacket with pasted-on cover in Folkways fashion.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sam "Mr. Soul" Cooke

Album: Night Beat
Format: LP
Label/Info: RCA/Victor "Dynagroove" LPM-2709 (mono) or LSP-2709 (stereo), 1963.

This is one of those LPs made for those big sounding hi-fi consoles from the Mad Men era that put the singer smack-dab in your living room. A pleasant divergence for Cooke at the time, it's quiet, understated, and perhaps even a little risque in a couple of places ("Little Red Rooster," "Shake, Rattle and Roll"). There's a definite after-hours thing going on, with vocals so close you can practically hear each inhalation and just enough accompaniment -- piano, bass, brushes, guitar, and a little Hammond B3 -- to encourage the mood along. Good luck in finding an affordable copy in VG or better condition, and it's a shame it has not been reissued on vinyl.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

V/A - Moroccan

Album: Gnawa Music of Marrakesh: Night Spirit Masters
Format: CD
Label/Info: AXIOM (Island Records) 314-510 147-2

I recently attended a talk with Nathan Salsburg of the Alan Lomax Archive and Twos & Fews Records who shared some incredible documentary footage of Gnawa musicians in Marrakesh made by filmmaker Caitlin McNally. (Salsburg and Twos & Fews plan to release a CD/DVD set of Gnawa performances later this year. More info here.) His presentation inspired me to track down this 1990 AXIOM disc produced by Bill Laswell, which was supposedly given 4 stars by Rolling Stone. It's all I listen to in the car right now, that is, until the Twos & Fews set comes out.

The Modern Lovers

Album: The Modern Lovers
Format: LP
Label/Info: 2004 red vinyl Get Back reissue (Get 90066). Originally released 1976 as Beserkley LP BZ-0050

Compiled from 1973 sessions with John Cale. This essential record should have been included earlier in this blog, especially since I already mentioned The Stooges' first record, its proto-protopunk sister also produced by Cale. In many ways this album holds up more. Certainly the mood is lighter and more playful. (If Iggy represented leather, drugs, and debauchery, then Jonathan Richman was more comfy sweaters, health food, and holding hands -- although "She Cracked" has a certain snarky snarl.) Subsequent CD reissues contain unnecessary bonus tracks that take away from the freshness and immediacy of the original 9-song playlist.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Julius Hemphill

Albums: 'Coon Bid'ness and Dogon A.D.
Format: LP
Label/Info: Arista Freedom AL 1012 (1975) and AL 1028 (1977)

Both albums contain material recorded February 1972 in St. Louis, Missouri, with 'Coon Bid'ness containing additional selections from January 1975 in NYC. 'Coon Bid'ness appears earlier on this blog as the Reflections CD, but since I just picked it up on vinyl along with Dogon (for five bucks each!) at Princeton Record Exchange during a recent record hunting trip, I had to revisit it. Mystical and challenging music you can get down with -- West African juju meets East Texas hambone. Check out the alto ping-pong match with fellow griot Black Arthur Blythe on "Hard Blues" ('Coon Bid'ness) And no, that's not a bass you hear, but the superbad Abdul Wadud on cello. (P.S. - Why can't anyone write liner notes like Robert Palmer anymore?)

Gabor Szabo

Album: The Sorcerer
Format: LP
Label/Info: Impulse AS-9146 (1967)

The hypnotist Hungarian. Szabo recorded some wild stuff in the '60s, bouncing from raga to psychedelia to cheeseball. This is his most satisfying set, although he still manages to throw in one pop movie song. Recorded live at the Jazz Workshop in Boston, April 14-15, 1967. Interesting interplay between Jimmy Stewart and Szabo, especially on Side 2.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Howlin' Wolf

Album: The Legendary Sun Performers
Format: LP
Label/Info: Oxford 3214 (Charly Records, London)

1951 and 1952 Memphis sessions recorded by Sam Phillips. Is this the blues, rock 'n' roll, R&B, or something new altogether? Well, whatever it is, it's some of the most raucous material to come out of the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue. [Wolf (Chester Burnett) would soon leave for Chicago and sign with Chess Records, while Phillips would go on to found Sun Records shortly thereafter.] Holy smokes, what a voice. Enough to melt a Shure 55. Also features some wild guitar work by Willie Johnson. If this LP is unavailable, the Bear Family CDs are ok substitutes. See Memphis Days: Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (Bear Family 15460) and Vol. 2 (Bear Family 15500).

Big Star

Album: Radio City
Format LP
Label/Info: Ardent/Stax reissue (2009)

Power pop from Memphis. Like most people I know, I've had that #1 Record/Radio City twofer CD since the early 1990s. Great stuff, but the sound quality wasn't all there. This new vinyl reissue breathes new life into this music.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blind Willie McTell

Album: The Classic Years 1927-1940
Format: CD
Label/Info: JSP7711A-D (4-disc set)
Indispensable American music. Surprisingly, the overall sound quality on this JSP collection is better than the more expensive Document set (DOCD-5677) covering much of the same material with the added bonus of the 1940 John Lomax recordings. Disc 3, with its bawdy hokum ("Let Me Play With Yo' Yo-Yo") and heartfelt spirituals ("Ain't It Grand to Be a Christian") contains some of my favorite sing-a-longs of all time, particularly the gospel duets with wife Kate McTell recorded in Chicago in 1935 for Decca. It so happens that I do a fairly decent Kate McTell impersonation which adds to the fun.

Monday, June 8, 2009

John Lee Hooker

Album: It Serve You Right To Suffer
Format: LP
Label/Info: Impulse AS-9103 (1966). There is also a 180 Gram Speakers Corner reissue available new for around 35 bucks. Too pricey for me, but I bet it sounds great. A perfectly recorded laid-back set with jazz musicians who know how to hold back and let the star of the session shine. John Lee Hooker (voc, g); Dickie Wells (tb); Milt Hinton (b); Barry Galbraith (g); Panama Francis (dr)

(Why did MCA feel the need to change "Serve" to "Serves" on the CD reissue? Leave Mr. Hooker's grammar alone. )

Friday, June 5, 2009

V/A from VA

Grammy-nominated Virginia Traditions series from the Blue Ridge Institute, Ferrum College
Format: LP or CD

While all the BRI releases are worth your while, I'm particularly partial to their blues and African American offerings:

Non-Blues Secular Black Music. BRI LP 001/Global Village CD 1001

Western Piedmont Blues. BRI LP 003/Global Village CD 1003

Tidewater Blues. BRI LP 006/Global Village CD 1006

Southwest Virginia Blues. BRI LP 008/Global Village CD 1008

Granted, this is a highly idiosyncratic blog -- jumping from Q-Tip to Virginia blues -- which I do primarily for my own benefit. I own a lot of blues comps, but these are some of the best regional music collections ever put together. Included are some rare and interesting 78s from the 1920s and '30s, but it is the later stuff -- like the 1970s sessions by Kip Lornell -- that really show off that raggy Piedmont/East Coast style. Contact the good folks at the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum about availability.