Archive for the ‘1990’ Category

A Self-Explanatory Six-Pack

June 12, 2014

Originally posted June 5, 2009

“So Tired” by the Chambers Brothers from The Time Has Come [1967]
“Sick and Tired” by Chris Kenner, Imperial 5448 [1957]
“So Tired” by Eva from the Vanishing Point soundtrack [1971]
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand [1990]
“Things Get Better” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends from On Tour With Eric Clapton [1970]
“Got To Get Better In A Little While” by Derek & The Dominos from Live at the Fillmore [1970 performance, 1994 release]

R&B In The Fog

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 10, 2009

After a few days of relative clarity – with the medication dosages for my ailing leg diminishing – I am once again in a fog this morning.

Yesterday afternoon, when the Texas Gal came home from work, we stood in the driveway and watched a squirrel dig in the ground, seeking some sort of treat. We routinely toss bread crusts out for the little guys, and I laughed as the Texas Gal told me about one she’d seen that morning, carrying a whole slice of bread in his mouth as he leaped from tree to tree.

Then we went to the back door and found all three cats waiting for us and hoping for a chance to slip outside. The Texas Gal blocked Oscar’s path, and I held off Cubbie Cooper. As we were distracted by the other two catboys, Clarence bolted between my ankles and out the door. I reacted instinctively, pushing Cubbie into the kitchen, then pivoting on my right foot and starting to run, pushing off with my right leg.

Not a good idea. My right leg is, of course, the leg that I hurt a week ago.

I managed to corral Clarence, and we got all three cats inside. But my leg was throbbing as it hadn’t for about three days, and twenty minutes later, I had to take a muscle relaxant and a pain-killer. And this morning it’s taking more effort to focus than I can spare for very long.

So I’m going to suggest that you folks do exactly what I did last evening and will do again today: just listen to some good music. Not long ago, a track popped up here from Dreams Come True, the R&B supersession album by singers Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton. (All of those links are to corresponding pages at All-Music Guide.) Last evening, I listened to more of the album, and I liked it even more than I did the first time I heard it. So here’s Dreams Come True.

Track list
A Fool In Love
Good Rockin’ Daddy
It Hurts To Be In Love
Love, Sweet Love
Gonna Make It
You Can If You Think You Can
I Idolize You
Dreams Come True
Bad Thing
Turn The Lock On Love
Something’s Got A Hold On Me
Snake Dance

Dreams Come True by Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli & Lou Ann Barton [1990]

My thanks go to azzul, as I found Dreams Come True at his excellent blog, nongseynyo. Sadly, azzul has quit posting new material; the blog now offers its archives without download links and lists current posts at a few other bluesy blogs. I – along with many others, I’m sure – miss the original nongseynyo. Thanks for everything, azzul!

And I thought that as long as I was sharing Dreams Come True in the middle of my repost festival, I’d make today “Lou Ann Barton Day”!

Reposted:
Old Enough by Lou Ann Barton [1982]
Original post here.

Forbidden Tones by Lou Ann Barton [1986]
Original post here.

Read My Lips by Lou Ann Barton [1989]
[With bonus tracks]
Original post here.

Just Like A Baseball Bat . . .

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 3, 2009

Every once in a while, as I follow sports, I come across an athlete talking about pulling a hamstring. “It was like being hit with a baseball bat in the back of my thigh” is a description I’ve read – or heard – many times. And I’ve thought two things:

First, that has to be overstatement. And second, even if it is overstatement, it can’t feel good.

Well, I learned late last evening that it’s not overstatement. And no, it doesn’t feel good.

I was helping the Texas Gal bring some things inside the house. As I turned to go up the short staircase that leads into the kitchen, something happened to my right leg. And it did in fact feel like I’d been hit with a baseball bat squarely in the back of my thigh. I grabbed at my thigh as I shouted and fell, my momentum leaving me sprawled on the kitchen floor with the cats backing away in alarm.

After a few minutes, it was obvious I’d done some severe damage, as I couldn’t straighten my leg without a lot of pain. The Texas Gal helped me get some shoes on, and we headed to the emergency room. Two hours later, we were on our way home, stopping at a pharmacy along the way.

The ER doctor told me that I managed somehow to put a good-sized tear in one of the muscles in the back of my thigh. The good news was that the tear came in the middle of the muscle, not where it attaches to the bone at either end. That, I’m sure, would have meant surgery. As it is, I’m on a regimen of pain killers, muscle relaxants and rest.

I can hobble around the house, and my thigh will heal. What with the pain killer, though, the world is in soft focus today, so I’m not going to write much more. We’ll let the following songs tell the tale.

A Six-Pack of Hurt
“Hurt So Bad” by Little Anthony & the Imperials, DCP 1128 [ 1965]

“It’s Gonna Hurt So Bad” by Doucette from Mama Let Him Play [1977]

“Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” by Linda Ronstadt from Hand Sown…Home Grown [1969]

“The Big Hurt” by the People’s Choice, TSOP 4769 (B-Side) [1975]

“It Hurts To Be In Love” by Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli & Lou Ann Barton from Dreams Come True [1990]

“It Hurts Me To My Heart” by the Soul Children from Genesis [1972]

The Little Anthony track is one of the classics of Brooklyn soul/R&B, with Anthony weeping and wailing above a maelstrom of strings and what sounds like tympani. The group’s fifth Top 40 hit in a string of seven hits that began in 1958, “Hurt So Bad” went to No. 10 in early 1965.

Doucette was a pop rock group from Quebec, Canada, that released a couple of decent albums in the late 1970s. Led by Jerry Doucette, the band is one I’d not heard about until a little bit ago when a fellow blogger mentioned it in an email. I went digging and found a rip of Mama Let Him Play and gave it a listen. To me, it falls into the Pablo Cruise/Little River Band category, with lots of smooth edges and tight harmonies. There are times when I prefer a few more rough edges, yes, but there are also days when Seventies smooth is quite nice.

“Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad” came from Linda Ronstadt’s first album, during a time – says All-Music Guide – when Ronstadt began “to abandon the folk leanings of the Stone Poneys for a relaxed country-rock approach.” According to the liner notes for The Best of Linda Ronstadt: The Capitol Years (which gathers her first three albums and some extra tracks on two CDs), Ronstadt and producer Chip Douglas didn’t really find the country sounds Ronstadt was seeking. Nevertheless, she did a good job on “Bet No One Ever Hurt This Bad,” a Randy Newman tune.

“The Big Hurt” by the People’s Choice was the B-Side to the group’s single, “Do It Any Way You Wanna,” which went to No. 11 in the summer of 1975. Produced by Leon Huff, “The Big Hurt” sounds to me more like Chicago or Memphis than Philadelphia. It’s still good, though.

“It Hurts To Be In Love” is a track from a glorious grouping of three bluesy women singers: Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton. The entire Dreams Come True album is worth checking out, as the three women still hew to the roots while displaying some remarkable harmonies, backed by a band led by Dr. John (and including Jimmy Vaughn). Lou Ann Barton’s music has showed up here (and some will be reposted this month), but if anything by either of the other two women has showed up here, it’s been only in passing. That’s likely going to change. (Thanks to azzul for this one!)

The Soul Children have popped up here a couple of times before. A two-man, two-woman vocal group, the Children recorded several albums for Stax in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A slow and moody ballad, “It Hurts Me To My Heart,” is pretty representative of the Genesis album, which to my ears was a bit more subdued than the rest of the group’s body of work.

Repost:
Here’s an album that several people have been anxious for me to offer again, Coming Back For More by William Bell. The original post is here.

Coming Back For More by William Bell (1977)

Fun With Sedatives

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 25, 2009

A couple of years ago, I began having some difficulty getting to sleep. Every ten weeks or so, I’d have four or five consecutive nights where sleep eluded me until three or four o’clock in the morning. Tired of having my body clock miscalibrated and wanting to be awake during the same hours as the Texas Gal, I went to Dr. Julie. She recommended Ambien, which I take to this day.

I’ve read – as I’m sure my readers have – about folks under the influence of Ambien wandering away from home, driving vehicles, or cooking and eating meals without recalling anything. I’ve had no difficulty with those things or anything like that . . . until Monday evening.

Generally, I take my pill about forty minutes before I retire, than play a few computer games and call it a night. But just after eleven o’clock Monday, with the Ambien beginning to do its work, I stopped by The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, the blog where my pal jb hangs his hat. I downloaded his offering of the day, “Annabella,” a more-or-less lost single from Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds. And I left a comment.

I only vaguely remember doing that. I do remember having difficulty typing, my fingers feeling as if they were as large – and as responsive – as bratwursts. In the morning, with those vague memories circling, I went to see what I had written at jb’s blog.

I found:

“‘Annabella’ is a fine song, but this is — unaccountably — my first hearing of. That means that the nearly four-decade headstart the other hits have takes effect. I likely would have loved “Annabella” had I heard it regularly way back. But I didn’t, and ‘Don’t Pull Your Love’ stays in the top spot in my utterly figurative radio statiom. [sic] Nice look at a group that tends to get ignored.”

Relieved that it wasn’t utter gibberish, I sent a note to jb, telling him of my Ambien-influenced adventure. He replied, noting that I’d used “some interesting sentence structure.” He concluded: “Lucidity is often overrated anyhow.”

I haven’t yet gone back to “Annabella” to see if it sounds as good as I thought it did.

A Six-Pack of Sleep
“Tired of Sleeping” by Suzanne Vega from Days of Open Hand, 1990
“Sleeping in the Ground” by Blind Faith, unreleased, 1969
“Sleep” by Crack the Sky from Crack the Sky, 1975
“Sleep Baby Jane” by Over The Rhine from Eve, 1994
“Talking In Your Sleep” by Crystal Gayle, United Artists 1214, 1978
“Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” by Jackson Browne from The Pretender, 1976

I listened to a lot of Suzanne Vega’s work when she first came to attention in the late 1980s, especially her Solitude Standing album. I’ve kind of lost track of her in the past few years, but I still like her early stuff. “Tired of Sleeping,” with its plucked strings (mandolin, I think) and its organ, has a rootsier sound than a lot of Vega’s stuff. The lyrics are precise and literate, as always, and the vocals are a little austere and somehow distant, which makes for a nice contrast.

“Sleeping in the Ground” is from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads box set and comes from the Blind Faith sessions, with Steve Winwood handling the vocal. From time to time, Clapton returns to the song, credited on Crossroads to Sam Myers. (I’d check it on All-Music Guide, but that site seems to be having problems today.) Clapton and Winwood are on tour this spring and summer, and I wonder if “Sleeping on the Ground” is on the set list.

“Sleep” is the epic closing track on the self-titled debut album by Crack the Sky, a group described at Wikipedia as a “progressive rock band” (though who knows what that really means). The group, which came out of West Virginia, has continued to record, says Wikipedia, albeit with some changes in personnel. I’ve not listened to a lot of the group’s work, but from what I have heard, I hear bits of Styx and Journey and, I think, Jefferson Airplane.

Over the Rhine is a Cincinnati-based group that I came across through the budget stacks at a St. Paul bookstore, finding a copy of the group’s Good Dog, Bad Dog, which I enjoyed a lot. The group – essentially the husband-and-wife team of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, backed by whoever they happen to find, I guess – continues to release albums, the most recent being The Trumpet Child, which was independently released. “Sleep Baby Jane” has the dreamy and disturbing sense that seems to pervade a lot of the group’s work.

“Talking In Your Sleep” is no doubt pretty familiar to most readers, and it marks the second time Crystal Gayle has showed up here in less than a week. Even after nearly thirty years, I remain astounded at the purity of Gayle’s voice. “Talking In Your Sleep” went to No. 18 on the pop chart and was No. 1 for two weeks on the country chart in 1978.

Jackson Browne’s The Pretender haunts me still, from the opening strains of “The Fuse” through the end of the title tune. “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” precedes “The Pretender” and remains sweet and sad as it tells of those moments we all have one night or another: “Sometimes I lie awake and night and wonder . . .”

The Music Behind The Movies

March 21, 2012

Originally posted March 11, 2009

My long-time fascination with film soundtracks began – as I shared here in the first few months of this blog – with Goldfinger, the third of the James Bond films. As I wrote, my parents were reluctant at the time – I was eleven – to let me either see the movie or read Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. But the soundtrack to Goldfinger was available through our record club, and I spent hours listening to it.

By the time I saw the film, maybe a year later, I practically had the score memorized, and I was fascinated with the way the music enhanced the movie, highlighting passages and underlining transitions. I began to pay close attention to the music whenever I went to a movie.

And I have done so ever since. Sometimes I felt like the only one. “Did you notice the music during the scene when they’re taking the car to Syracuse?” I’d ask my friends over a post-film drink.

“What about it?” one might reply.

“It echoed the main theme and also brought in the theme the composer created for the girl from Jersey.”

“Oh. No, I didn’t really notice.”

I kept listening and buying the occasional soundtrack LP (and later on, CD). My library of them isn’t large – I’ve focused far more over the years on rock, pop and soul – but generally, it’s music I still find interesting. Some of the soundtracks haven’t aged well. I bought the soundtrack to Country, the 1984 film that starred Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley, just days after I saw the film. But the New Age music – the musicians on it recorded frequently for the Windham Hill label – hasn’t worn well, I don’t think. Some others have lasted. And I think those include the three soundtracks that I absolutely love.

The first of those is the first soundtrack I owned: Goldfinger. Written by John Barry, the score for the third of the James Bond films provides a lesson in contrasts, from the blare and rumble of the main title to the insistent music that accompanied the film’s dawn raid on Fort Knox, followed by the hushed background to the arrival of a nuclear weapon before the pounding countdown begins. Matching the music, which I knew well, to the action on the screen was like reading a primer in film-scoring.

(I dabbled with the idea of scoring and soundtrack work as a career, but nothing came of it except a deeper love for the craft.)

The second of my three favorite soundtracks is Bill Conti’s work for Rocky, the first in what became a ridiculous series of films. Conti’s use of repeated motifs, often identified with one character, remains astounding, as does the variety of moods and arrangements he finds for each motif. How much of my affection for the score is a result of the film’s ultra-romantic story of the man who was almost destined to be “just another bum from the neighborhood”? I don’t know. I have a suspicion that it might be just as accurate to say that my affection for the movie is the result of the score. Rocky might have the prefect symbiosis between story and score: Each enhances the other.

The last of the three scores that sit atop my list is Randy Newman’s work for the 1984 film, The Natural. It’s true that the film’s story – especially its ending – bears only a passing resemblance to the Bernard Malamud novel from which it was adapted. (In the novel, given a chance at redemption, Malamud’s Roy Hobbs strikes out at the critical moment and his life and career unravel.) But given the producers’ decision to make Malamud’s cautionary tale into the Great American Fable, Newman came up with a score that was tragic, triumphant and Coplandesque.

So here is one selection from each of those soundtracks and four more from soundtracks that I enjoy, if not to the degree I love the first three:

A Six-Pack of Soundtrack Selections
“Dawn Raid on Fort Knox” by John Barry from Goldfinger [1964]
“Lara’s Theme” by Maurice Jarre from Dr. Zhivago [1965]
 “No Name Bar” by Isaac Hayes from Shaft [1971]
“Going The Distance” by Bill Conti from Rocky [1976]
“Blade Runner [End Titles]” by Vangelis from Blade Runner [1982]
“The Natural” by Randy Newman from The Natural [1984]
Bonus Track
“Hymn to Red October (Main Title)” by Basil Poledouris from The Hunt For Red October [1990]

A Six-Pack Of North

November 30, 2011

Originally posted January 14, 2009

Readers from other areas than the United States’ Upper Midwest must sometimes wonder if my clear obsession with weather – especially cold weather and its travails – is mine alone or if I share it with others.

Let me be clear: Nearly all of us here in this northern tier of the U.S. are obsessed with our winter weather. We shudder at the thought of it every autumn, celebrate its leaving in the spring and remember it fondly during the warmest part of summer. And during the actual season of winter, we shiver, we kick clusters of accumulated dirt and ice from the wheel wells of our vehicles, and we cock our ears for the latest wisdom from our local television forecasters: “It’ll be brutally cold tonight here in the metro area, colder still in the outlying areas. Bundle up, and make sure you have your emergency kit in your car if you need to drive. If you don’t need to go, stay home.”

We talk wintertime survival with the folks next to us in line at the hardware store: “A fella could do a lot worse than to have a couple sets of jumper cables in the car, you know,” said one of the parka-wearing customers the other week when I was waiting to pay for my new show shovels. Three similarly clad customers – chilled cheeks and noses glowing red in the store’s fluorescent lights – nodded. Most of us, I think, settle for one set of jumper cables in our vehicles, but the man who advised us was correct: There are worse things that having two sets. You could have none and be stuck in the shopping mall parking lot with a dead battery as the day’s light fades.

Even the national news folks noticed our current cold snap. Our weather was the lead item yesterday on the CBS Evening News. The piece showed pretty accurately the perverse pride we take in surviving and maybe even thriving in brutally cold conditions. Later last evening, during one of those little chat moments that happen during local newscasts, the anchorwoman on another Twin Cities television station told her colleagues that friends of hers had moved to Minnesota from Florida in the past year. She said she’d had a difficult time getting those friends to understand what they’d be facing come this cold season. I got the sense that the truth had startled the newcomers and that the newswoman was taking at least a little satisfaction from her friends’ chilly bewilderment.

From what the weather mavens tell us, tonight and tomorrow will be the coldest in this particular siege. Here in St. Cloud, the temperature will drop to -27 Fahrenheit (-33 Celsius), and with winds coming from the north, the wind chill will range from -36 to -46 Fahrenheit (-37 to -43 Celsius). It doesn’t look as though we’ll be setting any records, though. On February 2, 1996, folks in the little northern town of Tower, Minnesota, kept heading outside every few minutes to check the outdoor temperature, hoping to establish a new state record. They succeeded: The thermometer reading dropped at one point to -60 Fahrenheit (-51 Celsius).

This cold snap won’t bring with it any such extreme, from what I understand. And that’s fine, except for those folks in Embarrass, Minnesota, who would like their record back. As for me, sometime this afternoon, I will head out into the chill wind to run a few errands. I won’t be out long, and I’m not going far. But as I walk from the car to the stores, I’ll hunch my shoulders against the wind and – metaphorically if not literally – look back over my shoulder to see what’s coming at me from the north.

A Six Pack of North
“Girl From The North Country” by Joe Cocker and Leon Russell from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]

“North Star” by Jesse Winchester from Third Down, 110 To Go [1972]

“Northern Sky” by Nick Drake from Bryter Later [1970]

“Song for the North Star” by Jorma Kaukonen from Quah [1974]

“North, South, East And West” by the Church from Starfish [1988]

“Theme from Northern Exposure by David Schwartz [1990]

A few notes:

The Cocker/Russell duet, though it gets a little ragged at the end, is one of my favorite highlights from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen album. I sometimes wonder if Cocker and/or Russell thought for a split-second: “Oh, my god, Bob Dylan’s come to listen to us!”

The Jesse Winchester track comes from the second album Winchester recorded in Canada while he was exiled from the United States for evading the Vietnam-era draft. It’s a pretty good album, if a little bit inferior to his self-titled debut.

Nick Drake wasn’t utterly unknown during his lifetime, but he was a pretty obscure singer/songwriter. Now, in the age of CD re-release, he’s better known than even he might have though possible before his death in 1974. Bryter Later was the second of the three albums he released during his lifetime and is not quite a bleak as the other two records.

Quah was the first solo album by Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist for the Jefferson Airplane. Since 1974, Kaukonen has released a string of good albums in a style that leans more and more toward Americana, with 2007’s Stars in My Crown being the most recent. (A new album, River of Time, is set for a February 10 release, according to All-Music Guide.)

Some Voices Suggested By Readers

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 20, 2008

I thought that this morning, I’d head to YouTube and find some clips from a few of the many names readers suggested yesterday that might belong in the top ten list of the best singers of the rock era.

The first one I came across was one of my favorites, Maria McKee, in a 1990 live performance of “Show Me Heaven” – from the film Days of Thunder – on Top of the Pops. (The ending is a little truncated.)

Video deleted.

Then, here’s a powerful live performance of “Why” by Annie Lennox during the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of Arista Records. The celebration took place April 10, 2000, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California.

Here’s an intriguing clip: Elvis Costello, accompanying himself on a ukulele, performing “The Scarlet Tide,” which he and T-Bone Burnett wrote for the soundtrack of Cold Mountain. The performance took place on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson but I’m not sure of the date. Maybe 2003?

Here’s Christina Aguilera covering Etta James’ “At Last” live in London in November 2003:

And we’ll close with Mavis Staples – with Dr. John on the piano – performing “I’ll Take You There” as the closer on a 1988 episode of Sunday Night.

An interesting mix, I think. Enjoy!

Saturday Singles Nos. 95 and 96

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 11, 2008

JB from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ left a comment about Wednesday’s post, the Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s. He wrote: “Biggest question unanswered by your post: the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir?”

Well, the quick answer would be that Bulgarian choral music has become a somewhat hot property among world music fans since 1987, when Marcel Cellier recorded the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir and then released the recordings on an LP titled Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices).

Interest was honestly so large that in 1988, a second Cellier album, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2, was released; it included recordings by several small ensembles – some of them archival – as well as performances by the BSR&TFV Choir. Volume 3, which I have never seen, followed, as did Vol. 4, which I only have as mp3s. I do not know if Volume 4, for which I have no documentation, was recorded entirely by the choir or whether it also includes various small ensembles, as did Volume 2. At the very least, though, the tags on my copy of Vol. 4 are partly wrong, so in the absence of any other information, Wednesday’s offering should have been credited to the original group, the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir. But that’s a quick answer.

A longer answer starts with records in the 1960s and 1970s on the Nonesuch label, which included In the Shadow of the Mountain: Songs and Dances of Pirin-Macedonia, which was recorded in Bulgaria. I’m not sure of the date on that one; I found a 1970 date online when I was cataloging my vinyl, but I’m not entirely certain that’s right. I do know that there were earlier releases of Bulgarian choral music, whether by large choirs or small ensembles. How do I know?

I recall reading – I think it was in one of the Rolling Stone record guides, but I cannot put my hands on the piece this morning – that David Crosby gave at least partial credit for the close harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash to his having listened to the impossibly close intervals in Bulgarian singing. And that happened before the 1968 formation of CS&N.

It was, in fact, reading that statement by Crosby that got me interested in Bulgarian choral music. I have two different editions of the first record as well as the second on vinyl. I’ve found the first on CD and got rips from friends of the second and fourth.

I’m by no means an expert on ethnic music, and I have to acknowledge that I rarely listen to the albums all the way through. But the songs – with their odd-to-western-ears harmonies and intervals – make a nice break when they pop up during random play.

When I was pondering this post this morning, I took a look at YouTube, and found a clip of the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir performing in 1990 on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show:

I’m sure there are holes and gaps in this brief account. Anyone who has more, or more accurate, information is welcome to leave a comment. I’ll just say that I find the music fascinating.

And here are two songs. First, a 1957 recording, “Ovdoviala Lissitchkata (The Fox Has Lost His Cubs)” by the Orchestra Yvan Kirev from 1988’s Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2 and the second, “Polegnala e Pschenitza” by the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir from Cellier’s original effort, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, today’s Saturday Singles.

Orchestra Yvan Kirev – “Ovdoviala Lissitchkata (The Fox Has Lost His Cubs)” [1957]

Bulgarian SR&T Female Vocal Choir – “Polegnala e Pschenitza” [1987]

Still Catching Up On The ’90s

August 19, 2011

Originally posted October 8, 2008

I got to the CD party way, way late.

As the 1990s dawned, folks all around me were buying CDs of new music as well as replacing their long-suffering LPs (and then selling those LPs at places like Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis). Meanwhile, like a man watching a lake dry up, fearing the drought to come, I was watching the amount of new music available to me diminish seemingly day by day.

I’d seen the first signs of drought when I lived in Minot, North Dakota. Several stores that sold new records when I moved to town in the late summer of 1987 sold only CDs and cassettes by mid-1989, when I loaded another truck and moved back to Minnesota. Other music stores I’d frequented had far less vinyl for sale when I left town than they’d had two years earlier, all except the pawnshop, where the amount of vinyl increased greatly (though I spent little time there, for some reason).

By the time I lived in the Twin Cities, beginning in the autumn of 1991, new vinyl was rare. There might have been more, but I can recall right now only five newly released albums I found on vinyl during the 1990s: Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town, Human Touch and The Ghost of Tom Joad; the box set of Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings; and Counting Crows’ Recovering the Satellites. Not being in a position to buy a CD player, I turned to cassettes to keep up on new music.

Radio helped, too. Not Top 40; I’d lost interest in hits sometime during the 1980s, but I listened frequently to Cities 97, a station that I think has a deeper playlist than most available in the Twin Cities. There, I heard some familiar stuff and a lot of new stuff by artists I was interested in learning about. Through radio and cassettes, I kept up with my old favorites and some new friends from the 1980s – Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega and a few others – and got pointed toward some new performers: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Toad the Wet Sprocket, the Waterboys, October Project and the BoDeans come easily to mind.

But cassettes are awkward things, a declaration that will be news to nobody. It’s difficult to cue up a specific song or to skip one. So I didn’t invest in tapes the way I had already invested in vinyl. The result was that I learned a little less about new music during the 1990s than I had in previous decades. Since I got my first CD player in 1998 and then ventured on-line in early 2000, I’ve learned a fair amount about the decade that I spent mostly in Minneapolis. A little more than ten percent of the mp3s in my collection come from the 1990s, so here’s what the decade sounds like when I do a random program:

A Baker’s Dozen from the 1990s

“Sweet Spot” by Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris from Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, 1999

“Children in Bloom” by Counting Crows from Recovering the Satellites, 1996

“Ghost of Johnny Ray” by Boo Hewerdine from Ignorance, 1992

“Thunder” by Jimmy Witherspoon from Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay, 1993

“Shake That Thang” by Long John Baldry from It Still Ain’t Easy, 1991

“Bordertown” by the Walkabouts from Setting The Woods On Fire, 1994

“Blue Yodel No. 9” by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and John Kahn from Songs of Jimmie Rodgers, 1997

“Do You Like The Way” by Santana featuring Lauryn Hill and Cee-Lo from Supernatural, 1999

“Need A Little Help” by Billy Ray Cyrus from Trail of Tears, 1996

“Follow” by Paula Russell from West of Here, 1999

“Skies the Limit” by Fleetwood Mac from Behind the Mask, 1990

“Ghel Moma” by the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir from Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 4, 1998

“Lives In The Balance” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

A few notes:

The Linda Ronstadt-Emmylou Harris collaboration, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, is a gem. The two had worked together before, of course, most notably during the Trio sessions with Dolly Parton that produced two albums. The result of this collaboration is the sound of two voices and two souls performing in harmony.

Back To The Streets: The Music of Don Covay is one of the multitude of tribute anthologies that began to pop up in the 1990s. Covay’s catalog of soul and R&B songs is immense and truly great, though I believe he’d be immortal if “Chain of Fools” had been the only thing he ever wrote. And the CD is a delight, featuring some intriguing choices for the vocals, such as Todd Rundgren, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Womack, Iggy Pop and others. Witherspoon’s fine performance on “Thunder” was likely one of his last recordings. The Covay tribute was released in 1993 and Witherspoon crossed over in 1997 at the age of 77.

I don’t know much about the Walkabouts. I came across “Bordertown” on another blog – I forget which one – and liked it a lot. Having it pop up at random today is a nice stroke of luck, as I’m going to add Setting the Woods on Fire to my short list of CDs to find soon. All-Music Guide says the album is a “sweeping, stately record” that “owes a great deal to the Stones’ Exile on Main Street.” Sounds like a good deal to me.

Mention Billy Ray Cyrus and most folks flash back to 1992 and “Achy Breaky Heart,’ which dominated the country charts and made it to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. I looked for his Trail of Tears album simply because it includes a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” which turned out to be a pretty good version. Trail of Tears turned out to be a pretty good and surprisingly rootsy country album, which surprised me.

“Skies the Limits” (which makes no sense as a title to me) is the opening track from the album Fleetwood Mac recorded after replacing Lindsey Buckingham with Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Behind the Mask is a pretty uninspired effort with a couple of good tracks on it. Unhappily, neither “Save Me” nor “Freedom” popped up.

Jackson Browne’s 1986 song “Lives in the Balance” was still relevant in 1994 when Richie Havens made it his own on Cuts to the Chase, and it’s still relevant today.

The Year Of Three States

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 10, 2008

The year of 1990 was an odd one: I ended up living in three different states.

I spent the first three and a half months working for a chain of newspapers based in Osseo, a small town northwest of Minneapolis, around which suburbs had grown since World War II. I spent half of my time reporting government and school events for the newspaper in the suburb of Champlin, an area then entering a boom phase. The rest of the time, I did odd jobs and tasks for the parent company, from researching and buying a new fax machine to filling in for the chain’s sports reporter when he took a vacation. I had an apartment in Anoka, a city about eight miles away, and spent most of my free time reading and listening to music at home.

In mid-April, I packed all my things to move. The Bekins guys did double-takes when they saw the boxes of books and records on a Monday morning. (I’m not sure how many books I had at the time, maybe three hundred, but I was up to nearly seven hundred records when I left Anoka.) When they drove their moving van down the street, I packed the three cats into the car, waved at my landlady, and headed south to a small town in Kansas, where a lady friend was waiting for me.

How small a town was it? Well, I got there Tuesday. My lady friend had girls in school, and we went to a school event Tuesday evening. Wednesday and Thursday, I spent driving from town to town in the area, looking for a newspapering job. The van with my stuff arrived early Friday, and I spent the morning beginning to put things in place. So when I walked down the street to buy a can of beans for lunch, I’d been out in public in this little place for maybe three hours.

And as I stood at the cash register, the clerk looked at me sharply for a second and then relaxed. “Oh,” she said, “You must be Candi’s friend from Minnesota!” I stammered, nodded and grinned, then headed back to my apartment stunned.

As it turned out, things did not go well in that small town. I wrote for newspapers in two towns about twenty miles away, heard a lot of country music in the restaurants and cafes, learned I didn’t care for the dry prairie heat, and struggled to build something lasting before we both surrendered and I headed east to Columbia, Missouri.

There, I did some free-lance writing, taught journalism at a women’s college, finished a master’s degree and breathed a sigh of relief to be back in an environment where rock and pop were the dominant forms of music. (I was tired of twang and drawl, although I have to admit I like country more now than I did then.) In the spring of 1991, when tax-filing season came around, I had the interesting experience of preparing three state returns, for Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri. So 1990, to me, has always been the year of three states.

It’s also always been the year of Lowen & Navarro. I’m not sure when the duo’s album, Walking On A Wire, was released, but in memory, it seems to me that Cities 97 played either the title track or “We Belong” nearly every day during the first portion of the year as I made my morning drive from Anoka to Osseo. (“We Belong” had been covered to great effect, of course, by Pat Benatar, whose version went to No. 5 during the winter of 1984-85, and Richard and Linda Thompson had covered “Walking On A Wire” on their remarkable 1982 album, Shoot Out The Lights.)* And when I got to Columbia after my brief exile in cow and wheat country, one of the radio stations in that university town happened to number Lowen & Navarro’s versions of “Walking On A Wire” and “We Belong” among its favorite tracks.

For some reason, I didn’t go look for the LP – it was Lowen & Navarro’s debut recording – but instead just enjoyed the tunes whenever the radio gods sent them my way. Maybe that was just as well. I got the CD at a garage sale a few years back, and the rest of the CD doesn’t stand up to the quality of the two songs mentioned above.

Oh, it’s not an awful CD. Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro – assisted with the writing in various combinations by Rick Boston, Jim Scott, Rik May, Gerry Polci and Preston Sturges – know their way around a melody. But the words sometimes fail them. Many of the lyrics on Walking On A Wire are tired, predictable and trite, with the still remarkable exceptions of the two songs that drew me to the album to begin with. Of those two, Lowen & Navarro wrote “We Belong,” and they were joined in the writing of “Walking On A Wire” by Boston.

Beyond the writing, the CD sounds good. Lowen & Navarro and their various friends – including Dan Navarro’s brother Dave, who adds some guitar – came out of the studio with an album that has an appealing acoustic pop-folk sound to it. To me, it’s the kind of CD I load into the player with the rest of the stuff I’ve got and let tracks come up at random.

And every time I hear either “We Belong” or the title track, there I am, either driving toward Kansas or getting the hell out of there, back to where I belong.

Musicians on the CD were:

Eric Lowen, guitar and vocals; Dan Navarro, guitar, vocals and percussion; Simeon Pillich, acoustic and electric bass; Tim Timmermans, drums and percussion; Richard Dodd, cello; Jim Scott, omnichord and percussion; David Navarro, guitars on “What I Make Myself Believe” and “Someone Like You”; Didi Navarro Cortez, flute on “Seven Bridges”; Preston Sturges, dobro on “Hammerhead Shark”; and Richard Hardy, tin whistle on “What I Make Myself Believe.”

Tracks:
Somewhere Far Away
Walking On A Wire
Oh Mary
The Spell You’re Under
Seven Bridges
What I Make Myself Believe
Someone Like You
We Belong
C’est La Vie
She Said No
Hammerhead Shark

Lowen & Navarro – Walking On A Wire [1990]

*That statement about the Thompsons is, of course, in error. Their “Walking On A Wire” is an entirely different song. Note added August 5, 2011.