Archive for the ‘1991’ Category

Some Work

February 11, 2019

Originally posted June 23, 2009

Hi. I ran some errands this morning, and my to-do list is approaching an unmanageable length. So here’s an appropriate selection for today. See you tomorrow!

A Six-Pack of Work/Busy
“Working In The Vineyard” by Jesse Winchester from Let The Rough Side Drag [1976]
“The Working Hour” by Tears For Fears from Songs From The Big Chair [1985]
“The Work Song” by Maria Muldaur from Maria Muldaur [1974]
“I’ve Been Working Too Hard” by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes from Better Days [1991]
“Working On A Groovy Thing” by the 5th Dimension from The Age of Aquarius [1969]
“Work To Do” by the Average White Band from Average White Band [1974]

Time To Rake Some Leaves

June 1, 2012

Originally posted on April 17, 2009

Our home sits on a fairly large lot, probably the equivalent of half a city block, as a guess. The other day, as I wandered across the lawn, I counted thirty-four oak trees. And there are a few others: one ash tree, some evergreens and two elms that have somehow managed to survive the ravages of Dutch elm disease. And there’s still room for a few shrubs. It’s a pretty good-sized patch of ground for one house in the city.

A couple of weeks ago, after winter retreated and the snow disappeared, the Texas Gal and I looked out at the leaves that had been buried under the snow and the branches that had fallen during the winter. It was quite a mess. And she, with the burden of work and school, and I, with my lame leg, looked at each other. “We need to get some rakes,” she said.

I nodded glumly. For some reason, there are few chores of yard work quite as daunting to me as raking. If I could stand to be in the exhaust fumes, I wouldn’t mind mowing the lawn. (As it happens, though, the fumes from almost any engine put me to sleep.) I won’t mind watering the few flowers we’ll have this summer, and a small vegetable plot, if we decide to invest in some peppers and tomatoes. (Of course, having been apartment dwellers, we’ll need to get gardening tools and a hose. We are lamentably unprepared for tending our garden.)

But the thought of trying to rake a lawn as large as ours filled me with something close to despair. It needed to be done, I agreed. I wondered if we should call our landlord and ask what’s been done in other years. We could, the Texas Gal said. Or we could go ahead and start working, little bits by little bits, and if our landlord showed up to clear the leaves, well, he’d know we had some initiative and that we care about the place.

So one of the tasks scheduled for this weekend is a trip to Handyman’s, our nifty East Side hardware store, for a rake. As it turns out, we won’t have to do the entire lawn. Late the other afternoon, as the Texas Gal came home from work, our landlord pulled up into the driveway with his lawn tractor, and he spent a couple of hours clearing the leaves and branches. The lawn looks pretty good, with the grass beginning to green.

We’ll still need a rake. There are still leaves packed into the flower beds, and there are a few piles of leaves close to the house that we’ll have to deal with. And I imagine we’ll soon make some decisions about what we might want to tend in our garden this summer.

A Six-Pack for Yard & Garden
“Sticks & Stones” by Joe Cocker from Mad Dogs & Englishmen [1970]
“Tall Trees” by Crowded House from Woodface [1991]
“Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela, Uni 55066 [1968]
“Leaves That Are Green” by Simon & Garfunkel from Sounds of Silence [1966]
“Wildflowers” by Tom Petty from Wildflowers [1994]
“Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James & the Shondells, Roulette 7028 [1968]

“Sticks & Stones” is Cocker’s live cover of the Ray Charles tune from 1960, with Leon Russell and the best big rock band ever assembled racing Cocker to see who can get to the end of the song first.

I’ve heard/read the label “Beatlesque” attached so many times to the 1980s and 1990s work of Crowded House that it’s ceased to mean anything. (I acknowledge that I may have attached said label to said work myself and thus contributed to my own confusion.) If the label is shorthand for “concise, melodic songs that insinuate themselves into the listener’s brain and heart,” then the label-users have it right.

I’ve written before about working at the state trapshoot, sitting in the little concrete hut and putting targets on the machine while listening to the radio. I wasn’t entirely familiar with everything I heard during my first trapshoot in 1968, but the cowbell announcing Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass” soon became a familiar and welcome sound. And I imagine I had a few chances to hear it over the four days I sat there: The record was No. 1 for two weeks in late July, right about the time of the trapshoot.

I’m actually not that big a fan of either the Simon & Garfunkel or Tom Petty tracks offered here. There’s nothing particularly wrong with either song or either record. In the case of “Leaves That Are Green,” I think I overdosed on the song during my early days of listening to Simon & Garfunkel, and in the case of the Petty tune, it came along at a time when I wasn’t listening to his stuff. In addition, both S&G and Petty had so many offerings that were better than these two. But these two had titles that fit into today’s package.

The occasionally cryptic lyric of “Crimson and Clover” fit in perfectly in the late 1960s and is still kind of goofily fun today. The record was one of several big hits for James and the Shondells (“Hanky Panky,” “ Mony Mony,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” as well as “Draggin’ the Line” for James on his own), and it spent a couple weeks at No. 1 in February 1969. Beyond the lyric, some of the record’s other vestiges of the time, like the phasing, might not have aged as well. Still, as I said, it’s fun.

Reposts
Levon Helm & The RCO All-Stars [1977]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1978]
American Son by Levon Helm [1980]
Levon Helm by Levon Helm [1982]
Original post here.

Still Mastering New Skills

November 9, 2011

Originally posted January 5, 2009

Another new skill! We hung curtains in the bedroom yesterday. Actually, I hung the curtains while the Texas Gal oversaw the operation, making certain that I got the curtain rod as high on the wall as it needed to be.

We’d had the curtains – washed, ironed and hanging in the closet – since mid-December, and had planned to hang them in the days before Christmas. But we kept putting the chore off. Okay, I kept putting it off, being worried about mis-measuring and drilling errant holes in the wall. But that part went okay. One of the three sets of holes is, I think, just a little higher than the other two, maybe by an eighth of an inch, meaning that to my critical eye, the curtain rod is slightly aslant.

But still, the curtains – striped in blues and beiges – look very good in the bedroom. They match the royal blue on the walls (a color we inherited from the house’s previous tenant but one we like, thankfully) and the blue and beige backing of the new quilt that the Texas Gal made for the room. (The front of the quilt is panels of blue, maroon and gold, some of which show logos of railroads, many of them long gone. It’s quite likely that we’ll be looking for other art based on railroads for the room.)

The Texas Gal says that besides looking nice, the curtains will also cut down drafts in the room. They seemed to do so last night, which was a good thing. The outside temperature dropped to –21 F (-29 C) during the night.

So I’m pleased. I’ll no doubt have more curtain rods to hang in the future and will likely do so capably. I have a sense, though, that whenever I think about it, I’ll wonder about that eight of an inch. The Texas Gal says no one will know if I don’t mention it. Well, it’s too late for that, so if you ever see our blue curtains, pretend you don’t notice that the rod slants just a tiny bit.

(I checked for songs about curtains and found only two, so here’s an acceptable substitute.)

A Six-Pack of Windows
“Rain on the Window” by the Hollies from Evolution, 1967

“Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge from Yes I Am, 1993

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Steamy Windows” by Tony Joe White from Closer to the Truth, 1991

“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!, 1969

“Cars Hiss By My Window” by the Doors from L.A. Woman, 1971

A few notes:

Evolution was likely the Hollies’ most adventurous album, a blend of pop and psychedelia that fit neatly into the year of 1967. ”Rain on my Window” was typical of the record in that it tells a tale more complex than the Hollies’ music had dealt with up to that time, and it does so with some adventurous instrumentation, especially the horn interludes. “Carrie-Anne,” supposedly written for Marianne Faithful, was the hit off the album (No. 9). The rest of the album was a bit more challenging.

“Come To My Window” was one of several striking songs from Melissa Etheridge’s Yes I Am, an album about which All-Music Guide says: “Melissa Etheridge wasn’t out of the closet when she released Yes I Am in 1993, yet it’s hard not to notice the defiant acclamation in the album’s title. This barely concealed sense of sexual identity seeps out from the lyrics, and it informs the music as well, which is perhaps the most confident she has ever been. It’s also the most professional she’s ever been (perhaps not a coincidence) . . .” “Come To My Window” went to No. 25 in the spring of 1994; “I’m The Only One,” also from Yes I Am, reached No. 8 that autumn.

“Sign On The Window” has showed up here in two other versions: Bob Dylan’s original from New Morning and Jennifer Warnes’ cover version from 1979. Melanie’s version takes off at times in a hoedown, maybe finding in the fiddle a different center to the song than did Dylan and Warnes. It’s always seemed to me as if both Dylan and Warnes, as they sing wearily about finding a cabin in Utah and all the rest, were singing about things that they should have done in a distant past. Melanie’s country-style exuberance brings the song into the present.

Tony Joe White’s “Steamy Windows” fits right into the swamp groove that brought White some renown as a songwriter (“Rainy Night In Georgia”) and one hit (“Polk Salad Annie,” No. 8 in 1969). Actually, the entire Closer to the Truth album sits pretty much in the middle of the swamp, which in this case is a good place to be. Nevertheless, like most everything White has done since the early 1970s, it was ignored by most folks. I imagine White just shrugged. He’s released a cluster of worthwhile albums since then, a good share of them from live performances.

It continues to amaze me that Joe Cocker found as much of a song as he did in “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” a Paul McCartney tune that was first paired with John Lennon’s “Polythene Pam” on the Beatles’ Abbey Road. As much as I like the song and its place in the mini-suite on Abbey Road, when I first got the Cocker album, I had doubts that the song could stand on its own. But Cocker – with the help, no doubt, of producer Denny Cordell – made it work. (Leon Russell is also credited as a producer on Joe Cocker!, but I’m assuming that “Bathroom Window” came from Cordell; it doesn’t sound like a Leon Russell track. I could be wrong.) In his book Beatlesongs, William J. Dowlding notes that McCartney originally wanted Cocker to record the song before the Beatles did. I love the zig-zaggy ascending introduction.

The Doors’ track is a grim and spooky blues number done well. I’d say that the gloomy mien of the song might have presaged Morrison’s exit from the world in just a couple of months, but I think gloom, dread and weariness had been the Doors’ watchwords for quite some time beforehand.

As The Year Wanes

November 9, 2011

Originally posted December 31, 2008

No music today, but I thought I’d share – for the first time – one of my lyrics. When I was living in Missouri a while back, I realized that Christmas had all, or at least most of, the songs. So I wrote a lyric for a New Year’s song:

Twelve O’Clock High

Headlights on the avenue; footprints in the snow;
“Auld Lang Syne” is written on the wall.
Cards from distant strangers who were friends not long ago
Are standing on the bookcase in the hall.
The stereo plays Motown as our conversation wanes.
We calculate our losses and consolidate our gains.
The year is quickly passing on; not much of it remains,
And much of it we’d rather not recall.

Dancers in the living room are fragments of the past;
The twist is resurrected for the night.
Remember when they told us that our music wouldn’t last?
It’s sad to say, but maybe they were right.
We can’t be sure we’re living in the present when we dance.
We leave behind maturity and seek a second chance
At all the sophomore dreams we left behind without a glance.
The record ends, and dreams can’t stand the light.

So the old year departs by the window
As the new one comes in by the door.
We hide from our failures with wine and with masks.
We season our lives with endurable tasks,
And we can’t tell the truth so we hope no one asks
If we know what we’ve been living for,
And it’s twelve o’clock high once more.

Every year, the party seems to feel more like a wake,
With party streamers trying to conceal
Our weariness and wariness at what we couldn’t make;
We act like what we’ve made is how we feel.
But celebrating Janus means we have to look ahead;
We’d like to do the things undone and say the things unsaid,
To give our dreams some nourishment and put our fears to bed,
And leave the artificial for the real.

So the old year departs by the window
As the new one comes in by the door.
May directions in living come thankfully clear;
May all of us find we have nothing to fear.
May peace be upon us. May this be the year
That we know what we’ve been living for
When it’s twelve o’clock high once more.

Copyright 1991 Garth Street Songs
and 2008 Greg Erickson

Heading To The Doctor’s Office

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 26, 2008

I fully expect to be lectured this morning.

Very shortly, I’ll drive across town to the clinic, where Dr. Julie will give me my annual physical. I expect everything to be fine, except my chronic ailments, which require some management, and my cholesterol, which I expect to be high. And that’s where I anticipate the lecture, or at least discussion.

Some of the problem is out of my control. One of the things my father bestowed to me in the dice roll of genetics was high cholesterol. It’s exacerbated, as well, by one of my chronic problems. But there are some things within my control: diet and medication. Although I probably eat healthier now than I did when I was living alone, there could be improvements; I like a cheeseburger with bacon and special sauce as much as – maybe more than – the next guy. I could eat better.

As to medication, well, I have on my desk a bottle of pills intended to help lower my cholesterol level. All I have to do is remember to take them. That happens about half of the time, maybe, and that needs to improve, obviously. I expect to hear about it this morning from Dr. Julie.

A Six-Pack of Doctors
“Midnight Doctor” by Willie Clayton from No Getting Over Me (1995)

“Dear Doctor” by the Rolling Stones from Beggar’s Banquet (1968)

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon (1991)

“Doctor” by the Bliss Band from Neon Smiles (1979)

“Witch Doctor” by David Seville, Liberty 55132 (1958)

“Doctor” by Wishbone Ash from Wishbone Four (1973)

A few notes:

Willie Clayton came out of Indianola, Mississippi, as a teen-ager in 1971 and ended up in Memphis, recording for Hi Records’ Pawn subsidiary, but nothing hit until 1984, according to All-Music Guide. Since the late 1980s, Clayton has recorded a string of bluesy R&B albums for a series of labels. Every time his music pops up on the player, I realize how good he is.

“Witch Doctor” is a slightly spooky track from Spencer Bohren, who had a conversation with Dr. John in the early 1970s that spurred him to move to New Orleans for a decade. Since then, Bohren’s music has explored the cross-currents of that most unique of American cities. If you’ve heard nothing but the occasional Bohren track that shows up here, do yourself a favor and check out his catalog. For some reason, Full Moon was released only in France and can be hard to find, but there are plenty of other albums to check out.

A while back, I offered the first album by the Bliss Band, 1978’s Dinner With Raoul. “Doctor” is from the group’s second album, a 1979 issue titled Neon Smiles. It’s also pretty good, and I’ll likely post it very soon. A big “thank you” to walknthabass.

The David Seville “Witch Doctor” is, of course, the novelty record with the “Ooh eeh, ooh ah ah, ting-tang, walla-walla-bing-bang” chorus. The record spent three weeks at No. 1 during the first half of 1958. Seville then took the technology for increasing the pitch of recorded voices without altering the tempo – as I understand it – and created the Chipmunks, who had their own No. 1 hit the next winter with “The Chipmunk Song,” which has become a perennial. I heard it the other day while driving across town.

Great Voices: Some Readers’ Suggestions

October 7, 2011

Originally posted November 24, 2008

Well, Wednesday’s look at the top ten voices listed by Rolling Stone magazine in its “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” generated a good discussion and some interesting names, some of them coming from the post-1970 era I had suggested be looked at, some of them coming from earlier years in the rock ’n’ roll timeline.

So I thought I would list all the names that were listed in the comments and comb through the Rolling Stone list to see if those performers were listed, and where. Here goes:

David Bowie was listed at No. 23.
Christina Aguilera was listed at No. 58.
Paul Rodgers was listed at No. 55.
Ann Wilson was not listed.
Chris Cornell was not listed.
Michael Stipe was not listed.
Bono was listed at No. 32.
Bruce Springsteen was listed at No. 36.
Ranking Roger was not listed.
Brad Delp was not listed.
38 Special (Donnie Van Zant, Don Barnes) was not listed.
Elvis Costello was not listed.
Joe Strummer was not listed.
Annie Lennox was listed at No. 93.
Etta James was listed at No. 22.
Mavis Staples was listed at No. 56.
Dusty Springfield was listed at No. 35.
Sandy Denny was not listed.
Kate Bush was not listed.
Emmylou Harris was not listed.
Kirsty MacColl was not listed.
Maria McKee was not listed.
Grant McLennan was not listed.
Elton John was listed at No. 38.
Tracey Thorn was not listed.
Shirley Manson was not listed.
Linda Thompson was not listed.
Harriet Wheeler was not listed.
Jon Anderson was not listed.
Morrissey was listed at No. 92.
Bruce Cockburn was not listed.
Boz Scaggs was not listed.
Graham Nash was not listed.
Robbie Robertson was not listed.
Al Green was listed at No. 14.
Michael McDonald was not listed.
Shannon McNally was not listed.
Ruthie Foster was not listed.
Lucinda Williams was not listed.
James Hunter was not listed.
Erykah Badu was not listed.
Meshell Ndegeocello was not listed.
Chrissy Hynde was not listed.

Of those suggested from the post-1970 era who didn’t make the list at all, I’d probably give the nod to Michael Stipe. I don’t particularly care for R.E.M., but I think he has a great voice. (I do love Ruthie Foster’s voice and work, but I think a larger body of work is required before assessing her.) Two names from that era that readers did not mention that I would have liked to see on the Rolling Stone list were Natalie Merchant and Darius Rucker.

Of the names pre-dating 1970 that were suggested by readers, the one that absolutely should have been on the magazine’s list was that of Sandy Denny. And a voice that reader’s didn’t mention from that era that should have been there was Rick Danko’s. (Levon Helm was the only member of The Band on the list, being listed at No. 91.)

R.E.M. (with KRS-1) – “Radio Song” [1991]
(From Out Of Time)

Sandy Denny – “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” [1968]
(From All Our Own Work [with the Strawbs])

The Night The Trivial Streak Ended

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 20, 2008

I’ve got an extremely good memory, as I may or may not have related here before.

I know I’ve written about my love of detail – as in the nine-inch pan – before.

Combine the two, and I was absolutely enthralled with the game Trivial Pursuit when it came out twenty-six years ago. I received as a Christmas present the board game with its original set of questions, and over the years, I’ve collected other question sets and a couple of other game boards in different boxes.

For a time in the late 1980s, when I was single, living first in St. Cloud for a brief time and then in Minot, North Dakota, and spending my quarter-breaks in St. Cloud, my friends and I played a lot of Trivial Pursuit. I’m good at the game, good enough that my friends instituted new rules for me. As you know doubt know, the point of the game is to move around the game board by answering trivia questions and get your playing piece to certain spots on the game board. At those spots, you answer questions that earn you little plastic wedges.

When you have six different colored wedges – for the six categories of questions – you maneuver your playing piece to the center of the board, at which point your opponents decide on a category for one final question. If you’ve shown a disinclination for science and nature questions, for example, your opposition will likely select that category for your final question.

My friends upped the ante on me: Instead of answering one question at the points where I could collect a wedge, I had to answer two questions. And at the end of the game, instead of answering one question from the six on the card my opponents drew, I had to answer all six. I shrugged and spent chunks of late 1987 playing more Trivial Pursuit . . . and winning. We started keeping track after a while, and my winning streak – before and after the whiteray rules went into effect – was nearing one hundred games.

My lady friend of the time and I spent New Year’s Eve in 1987 at my apartment in Minot. Aside from the likely appearance of a ghost – a story I may tell another time – it was a quiet evening. About ten o’clock, we got out the Trivial Pursuit board. My lady friend was pretty good at history, geography, some entertainment and the basics of science and nature; being in the process of seeking a master’s degree in English, she was very good at arts and literature.

Her downfalls generally were sports and leisure and rock music. When she got a question that seemed to call for the name of a rock musician for the answer, she regularly said, “Bob Dylan.” She explained: “Eventually, I have to get a question where ‘Bob Dylan’ is the answer.” As to sports and leisure, she generally left her one required question in that category for the end of the game. And during my winning streak, she never had to try to that category.

On New Year’s Eve in 1987, things went differently. With the northwest wind rattling the living room windows and Gordon Lightfoot playing on the stereo, she got a music question and answered “Bob Dylan.” I don’t recall what the question was, but that was, in fact, the answer. A few turns later, as I was about halfway through collecting my wedges (by answering two questions per wedge), she landed on a sports and leisure wedge spot. The question defined a sport played on ice with large stones, and she identified it as curling.

We were laughing as she moved her piece toward the center of the board and as I tried to collect the rest of my wedges. I wasn’t worried, as she’d have to answer another sports and leisure question when she got to the center of the board. I don’t recall how many wedges I was short as she reached the center of the board; I might have had them all, might have been maneuvering to the center of the board myself, when she reached the center and asked for a final question.

I chose a sports and leisure question. It asked for the name of a sport that combines running with the use of written directions and a compass.

She thought for a moment and said, “Orienteering?”

I nodded. The streak was over.

She laughed. “You mean I actually beat you?” I laughed, too, pleased by her delight.

We put the game away and marked the New Year by watching an old movie. She left Minot the next morning, returning to St. Cloud. But before she did, she made me sign a sheet of paper that she could show our friends, a statement attesting to the fact that she’d defeated me at Trivial Pursuit.

The tale came to mind this morning for a couple of reasons. First, over the weekend, I saw a commercial for a new edition of Trivial Pursuit. Second, I was pondering what to post today, and just as my long-ago lady friend turned to Bob Dylan when in doubt, so do I turn to Richie Havens.

Havens’ Now, a 1991 release, was one of the first of his albums I got on CD, evidently finding it during a Saturday morning of visiting garage sales in the western suburbs of Minneapolis in August of 2002. Finding it reminded me that I had very little of Havens’ music in mp3 form (I had plenty of Havens’ work on vinyl, and I had a good turntable, but I was still some years from being able to convert vinyl to mp3s). So I began to haunt libraries and to check for Havens’ work at used music stores. I found a few things and began to build a library of Havens’ work that now numbers a hundred and seventy-four mp3s.

Now is a good album, if not quite to the level of some of the work Havens was doing twenty years earlier. Johanan Vigoda produced the CD, with several musicians creating the background tracks and getting co-production credits. For example, Tim Moore – the same one who wrote “Second Avenue”? I don’t know – is listed as composer of three songs and is credited for the music tracks and given a co-production credit on those recordings. Other music track and co-production credits went to Fuzbee Morse, David Grow and Nick Jameson.

Also credited are Gordon Barnes for guitar on two tracks, Stephen Parsons for drums on two tracks and Lee Howard for bass on one track.

Highlights? Well, the opener, a subtle reading of Jimi Hendrix’ “Angel,” stands out. I also like Haven’s work on Grow’s “After All These Years” and on “Let The Walls Fall Down,” written by Morse. And Havens also does a nice job with “Time After Time,” the Cyndi Lauper tune.

If there’s a flaw with the CD, it’s the reliance on drum machines. It makes the album sound too mechanical and not nearly as organic as one expects Havens’ work to be. Still, the voice – a classic – pretty much overcomes even that flaw. It’s not a great album, but it’s a good one.

Here are Havens’ liner notes for the album:

Now
A moment sheared on both sides.
By the past and the future . . .
A second within which happens . . .
A billion things,
Yet is unperceivable in conscious memory . . .
A flash idea; a revelation; a miraculous change . . .
Never to return to that place again . . .

Now
An increment of life seeking expression
As form-meaning-advancement . . .
Reversing Now (Won)
We can leave this world in The Rightful Hands
Those who know they’ll live on a planet
And have eyes that see no borders
In the eyes of others
Those who are living Now . . . The Children

Tracks:
Angel
You Are The One
That’s The Way I See You
After All These Years
Love Sometimes Says Goodbye
Message From The Doctor
Time After Time
You’re My Tomorrow
Let The Walls Fall Down
It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

Richie Havens – Now [1991]

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.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Power

June 28, 2011

Originally posted May 19, 2008

I don’t play a lot of games on the computer. The Texas Gal and I – when she was still in Texas – used to go into the Yahoo! or Microsoft game sites and play spades and cribbage. We haven’t done that for a while, probably because the computers on which we would play are in adjacent rooms.

She plays more games than I do – I often hear beeps, whistles, gongs and other sounds coming from her precincts while I’m downloading something or wandering blogs or trying to learn the label and catalog number of an obscure 1969 single. I do have a few games. I played Sim City a lot soon after I got my first computer, and right now, I’ve got Sim City 4. I enjoy it, but I don’t play it as much as I used to.

I have a similar game called Pharaoh, about building a civilization in ancient Egypt. I’ve played it a couple of times, but I can never seem to get my little village’s residents to do anything but wander around in the mud of the Nile Delta. It makes some sense, I guess. For every imperial city, for every Memphis of the pharaohs, there had to be hundreds of little villages where the biggest event of the week was catching enough fish for lunch. I’ve about given up on my villagers, which – if they had any awareness at all – would likely be a relief for them.

My new game – the result of spending a couple of hours Saturday morning wandering through a few garage sales – is Civilization: Call to Power. According to the book that came with the disc, I’m supposed to be able to build an empire and thrive in competition with other empires, through war or trade or a combination of those two and other things I have not yet read about.

It looked interesting, so I grabbed the game for a very low price. I’ve heard of the series before, of course; my friend Rob had played other games in the Civilization series and says it’s possible to get very involved in them for hours at a time. Well, we’ll see. I loaded the game and opened the tutorial, which is set in the Italian peninsula. I got Rome built and then Pompeii, but I couldn’t seem to get much done after that, except send soldiers tramping over the same bits of land. As far as I could see, no one caught any fish. But I’ll keep trying. And as the game’s subtitle is Call to Power, I thought we’d see what we find in an appropriate Baker’s Dozen.

A Baker’s Dozen of Power
“Blues Power” by Koko Taylor from Blues Power, 1999

“Power of Love” by Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel from Lovers, 2007

“Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls from Swamp Ophelia, 1994

“The Power of a Woman” by Spencer Wiggins, Goldwax single 330, 1967

“Power Of My Love” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969

“Power in Music” by Maria Muldaur from Meet Me At Midnite, 1994

“Power to the People” by John Lennon, Apple single 1830, 1971

“Love Power” by Dusty Springfield from Dusty . . . Definitely, 1968

“High Powered Love” by Emmylou Harris from Cowgirl’s Prayer, 1993

“Zero Willpower” by Dan Penn from Do Right Man, 1994

“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” by the Chi-Lites, Brunswick single 55450, 1971

“Full-Lock Power Slide” by Boz Scaggs from My Time, 1972

“The Power Lines” by Nanci Griffith from Late Night Grande Hotel, 1991

A few notes:

The Koko Taylor track come from an Eric Clapton tribute, covers of his songs performed by blues artists. First released on the House of Blues label in 1999, the album has been re-titled several times. The most recent title seems to be Songs of Eric Clapton: All Bluesed Up! Taylor is one of two women on the album, and her version of “Blues Power” is reasonably good. The other woman is Ann Peebles, whose performance of “Tears in Heaven” is a revelation. Of the other tracks, maybe the most interesting, mostly on historical terms, is by Honeyboy Edwards, who gets from help from harp master James Cotton as he runs through the song that Clapton borrowed from his old friend Robert Johnson: “Crossroads.”

Even after almost twenty years of listening to their melodies, their lyrics, their vocals and their instrumentals, I’m blown away by the Indigo Girls almost every time I hear them. There are a few albums that sounded like missteps to me, but Swamp Ophelia isn’t one of them.

As All-Music Guide notes, “Spencer Wiggins had the poor fortune of being a great soul singer in a place where and at a time when there were more than enough of those to go around — namely Memphis . . . during the mid-’60s when Stax Records was the biggest name in town, Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records was on the rise, and Atlantic had practically made the town its second home.” But Wiggins’ work – mostly for Goldwax – was good listening, even if he didn’t have the pop chart success that many of his contemporaries did. I found “The Power of a Woman” on The Goldwax Years, a collection of twenty-two of Wiggins’ best performances that Kent released a couple of years ago.

Maria Muldaur’s been around for a long time, but I think her work has been widely ignored for a long time, too, especially by those who think that “Midnight at the Oasis” – her 1974 hit – defines her music. As catchy as the single was – and I liked it plenty – Muldaur’s music almost always had more to do with roots and Americana than pop, from her work with then-husband Geoff in the mid-Sixties through her albums of the mid-Seventies (including Maria Muldaur, the source of “Oasis,” which was an anomaly on the album just as it is in her career) and on into some great albums in the Nineties and this decade. Meet Me At Midnite is an excursion into the music of Memphis, and well worth a listen. (I’ll be writing more about Muldaur in the next couple weeks, I think.)

The name of Dan Penn might be the least well-known of the performers on this list, but since the mid-Sixties, Penn has been one of the great songwriters in American music. First in Memphis and later in Muscle Shoals, Penn – along with his writing partners, Spooner Oldham and Chips Moman – spent the 1960s and 1970s crafting songs that any fan of soul and R&B recognizes in an instant: “Do Right Woman,” “Dark End of the Street,” “A Woman Left Lonely,” “I’m Your Puppet” and many more. Do Right Man is Penn’s stab at recording his own versions of ten of those songs; with help from friends at Muscle Shoals and from Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, he does a pretty good job.

The Chi-Lites are remembered mostly as a sweet-sounding vocal group from Chicago whose love songs did pretty well going head-to-head with the similar sounds coming out of Philadelphia at the time. It might be somewhat surprising, then, to realize that “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People,” with its eerie opening synthesizer and its sociological rhetoric, was the group’s first Top 40 hit, going to No. 26 in the spring of 1971. Five months later, “Have You Seen Her” went to No. 3, and the Chi-Lites became a soft soul group. Too bad.

Of Heartsfield & Sneezes

June 27, 2011

Originally posted May 12, 2008

Last November, I posted a Saturday Single from The Wonder Of It All, a 1974 album by a Midwest band called Heartsfield, a group I’d run across more or less by accident. (I have a sneaking suspicion that we find most of the musicians and groups we listen in that way: pure happenstance.) And I received a few notes from fans of the group, some of them offering assistance in helping me find the rest of Heartsfield’s oeuvre.

I took one of those readers up on that offer this weekend. Mark of St. Louis posted links for me of Heartsfield from 1973, Foolish Pleasures from 1975 and Rescue the Dog, a 2005 album by a band newly organized by one of Heartsfield’s co-founders. (Thanks much, Mark!) That brings me close to a complete Heartsfield collection. A 1977 album, Heartsfield Collectors Item, appears to be an album of new material rather than the compilation the title might imply.

Normally, on Monday, I’d post an album or some kind of themed collection as a Baker’s Dozen. But the pollen has attacked – I read in the Twin Cities newspaper last week that this is the worst year for spring allergies in some time. Well, I already knew that. And I spent much of the weekend wheezing and sniffling and not putting much time at all into thinking about what I would offer this morning. I have some interesting albums in the stack of things to rip, and I will get to one or two of them this week, as well as offer the rest of the week’s regular features.

For now, however, I’m going to let the universe do my work for me this morning. We’ll start with a song from one of the Heartsfield albums Mark provided for me, and from there, we’ll take a fifteen-song walk through the 1950-1999 junkyard.

A Walk Through The Junkyard
“I’m Coming Home” by Heartsfield from Heartsfield, 1973

“Kaval Sviri (The Flute Plays)” by Ensemble Trakia from Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2, recorded at Plodiv, Bulgaria, 1982

“Naturally” by Fat Mattress from Fat Mattress 2, 1970

“By Today” by Batdorf & Rodney from Batdorf & Rodney, 1972

“Redneck Rhythm and Blues” by Brooks & Dunn from Borderline, 1996

“Abraham, Martin & John” by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith from Interchords radio show, live, 1991.

“Pacific Coast Highway” by the Mamas & the Papas from People Like Us, 1971

“I’m A Woman” by Maria Muldaur from Waitress In A Donut Shop, 1974

“Ain’t It Hell Up In Harlem” by Edwin Starr from Hell Up In Harlem soundtrack, 1974

“Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1969

“Changes” by Gordon Lightfoot from Lightfoot!, 1966

“I Still Miss Someone (Blue Eyes)” by Stevie Nicks from The Other Side of the Mirror, 1989

“Back Stabbers” by the O’Jays, Philadelphia International single 3517, 1972

“The Moon Struck One” by The Band from Cahoots, 1971

“Lullaby” by Wishbone Ash from Pilgrimage, 1971

A few notes:

Visitors sometimes snort when I tell them I listen at times to Bulgarian choral music. But should one of the tracks pop up from one of the several such albums I have ripped to mp3s, well, my visitors’ eyes widen and their mouths open as they hear the odd intervals and impossibly close harmonies. The sound is alien to Western ears, and I don’t listen to a lot of it at one time, but it never hurts to know what other places sound like, and the musicianship on all of the Mystère Des Voix Bulgares albums – and on the Nonesuch label albums that preceded them – is impeccable.

Fat Mattress is where Noel Redding went in the late 1960s after his time as bassist with the Jimi Hendrix Experience was over. The group’s music was different from that of the Experience: far more based on the British folk-rock tradition and the psychedelic and progressive rock sounds that stemmed from that tradition. The two albums the group did are well worth hearing, if those sounds intrigue you. The group’s second album – from which “Naturally” comes – was slightly inferior to the first album, says All-Music Guide, but from a distance of more than thirty-five years, the differences don’t seem that significant.

John Batdorf and Mark Rodney made three albums in the early 1970s in a singer-songwriter/soft rock vein. The albums are pleasant but not very consequential. One of the joys of having a 500-gig external hard drive is that there is room to keep bits and pieces of pleasant marginalia if one so desires. The duo is similar to, but not quite as good as, Seals & Crofts.

The Boo Hewerdine/Darden Smith performance of Dick Holler’s wondrous “Abraham, Martin & John” is, to me, a highlight of both singers’ careers. The Interchords appearance had Hewerdine interviewing Smith along with performances by both. I’d love to hear the entire show. And I’d love to know who Stephen (Steven?) was. Listen to the song, and you’ll know what I mean.

The Mamas & the Papas, who had broken up in 1968, reunited in 1971 to record the album, People Like Us, simply to fulfill a contractual obligation. The album is better than one might expect of such an effort, but the group’s time had passed and the product sounded out of date and went nowhere.

Wishbone Ash is one of those bands I knew about in my youth but never listened to (given the vast number of groups at the time and since then, there are many such, I am certain). I ran across a track by Wishbone Ash at The College Crowd Digs Me about seven months ago and since then have slowly been taking in the group’s body of work. “Lullaby,” along with the album it comes from, is far more mellow than the sounds I’d expected when I began digging into the group’s work.

Edited slightly during reposting June 27, 2011.