Archive for the ‘1996’ Category

‘If We Don’t Understand It . . .’

June 20, 2012

Originally posted April 20, 2009

I don’t often comment here on public affairs. Not all folks who love music the way my readers and I do will agree when it comes to politics or current events, and I want to keep this a place where the only conflicts come from differing views on, say, the White Album.

But two comments in separate reports aired on the CBS Evening News Saturday and Sunday caught my ear, and I thought both were worth mentioning:

First came a piece aired Saturday by Jeff Glor, looking at why “Canada is the only industrialized nation in the world without a single bank failure in the current economic downturn.” Glor talked to, among others, Ed Clark, the chief executive officer of the Toronto Dominion bank. Glor and Clark talked about subprime mortgages and the related topic of toxic mortgage-backed securities, which Glor described as “risky loans that were chopped up and resold in countless different ways.”

Many banks, Glor said, “gobbled up the now virtually worthless investments. Ed Clark got out four years ago saying they were just too complex.”

Clark told Glor: “As soon as you see that complexity, you say, ‘How can I possibly think I actually can guess whether this will work or not?’ And as soon as I hear that, I say, ‘Get out of it.’”

Then on Sunday, CBS’ Sheila MacVicar filed a piece on the only financial institution in Iceland that did not lose money for its customers during the near-collapse of that nation’s banking system. The company, Audur Capital, happens to have been founded by two women, which is where MacVicar found her hook for the story. MacVicar asked Audur’s Halla Tomasdattir – one of the two founders, one assumes, though she was not identified as such – and others whether our current economic woes might have been avoided if more women had been involved in finance.

MacVicar reports that the answer is “maybe,” bringing in research involving the impact on trading results of high testosterone levels among male traders as well as research looking at the performances of offices with more women in them than is generally the case. All of that is interesting, but I think MacVicar glossed over a key point that she herself mentioned early in her report.

While showing Tomasdattir in a meeting with two men and another woman – the other woman being, one assumes, the other founder of Audur – MacVicar says in a voice-over that the firm was founded on the principle of “If we don’t understand it, we’re not buying it.”

So, to recap:

Toronto banker Ed Clark says “As soon as you see that complexity, you say, ‘How can I possibly think I actually can guess whether this will work or not?’ And as soon as I hear that, I say, ‘Get out of it.’”

And the founding principle of Iceland’s only financial institution not to lose money for its customers is: “If we don’t understand it, we’re not buying it.”

Sounds like common sense to me. Too bad there wasn’t more of that around.

And Now, To Some Music
Thankfully, I understand music well enough that I can buy it. And I do so frequently.

I celebrated my increasing mobility Saturday by walking into the Electric Fetus with only the barest hint of a limp and heading to the portion of the used CD stand that holds the new arrivals. And there, waiting for me, were two sweet finds: Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind from 1997 and Honky Château, the 1972 album by Elton John. Both fall under the category of albums I already have on vinyl that I wanted to duplicate on CD.

Eventually, I imagine, I’m going to try to collect the entire works – mainstream releases, anyway – of Bob Dylan on CD. I have, I believe, every official LP release of his stuff, and I’m well on the way to gathering in his work on CD. The Time Out Of Mind album was a pleasant surprise. I knew it was out there, but I’d never looked for it, given its relatively recent release date. (I got the album on vinyl when it was released; its availability on vinyl was a relief to me, as had been the vinyl release in 1995 of MTV Unplugged because two earlier releases in the mid-1990s – World Gone Wrong and Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 – had not been released on LP.)

As for Honky Château, it’s one of John’s few full albums that I enjoy, and it seemed a reasonable addition to the stacks, where Madman Across the Water already resided. We also have a couple of John’s hits packages on CD, and – with the possible addition of Elton John and Tumbleweed Connection – that will likely suffice.

There aren’t a lot of groups or acts that compel me to assemble a complete set: That pretty much comes down to Dylan, the Beatles and The Band. The vinyl work was completed on all three of those long ago, and the CD collections are under way. In fact, the first CD I bought for myself was one by The Band.

For Christmas 1998, my sister and her family gave me my first CD player, an Aiwa portable, along with Across The Great Divide, a three-CD box set of highlights from The Band’s career.

And one of the first purchases I made on CD was The Band’s High On The Hog, the second album of new material released by the 1990s version of the group. (I already had Jericho, the first 1990s release, on cassette, so I thought the CD could wait a bit.)

I recall wandering through the aisles of a Best Buy store in the southern Minneapolis suburb of Richfield one Saturday morning in February of 1999.( I’m not sure why I ended up at a Best Buy several miles from my home instead of the nearby Cheapo’s.) But in short order, I found the right spot in the CD aisles. And I found myself put off a great deal by the cover art for High On The Hog. Looking at it now, it’s not all that bad, but at the time, I thought it was a grotesque cover design. Still, it was The Band, so I pulled the CD from the shelf, paid for it and headed home for a listen.

How was it? Overall, it wasn’t as good as Jericho had been. Once again, the group relied almost entirely on covers for material, but in general, those covers worked well with the ensemble-style voices and with the genial Americana-inflected arrangements. The two songs with writing credits that include the group are “The High Price of Love,” credited to Stan Szelest, Jules Shear and The Band, and “Ramble Jungle,” a loose jam that is credited to Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, bassist Rob Leon, Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and blues legend Champion Jack Dupree, who does a guest spot.

Neither of those tracks is among the CD’s highlights. Those would be the group’s versions of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” and J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” as well as “Where I Should Always Be,” a song written by Blondie Chaplin, who adds guitar to another track on the CD, “I Must Love You Too Much.”

As on Jericho, Richard Manuel makes a posthumous appearance, this time in a performance of “She Knows” recorded with the now-deceased Rick Danko and Garth Hudson in 1986 at New York City’s Lone Star Cafe in January 1986. The inclusion of “Country Boy” on Jericho was a nice touch, but to my ears, “She Knows” adds very little to High On The Hog.

Still, it’s a pretty good album. The playing, as was almost always the case with The Band, is stellar, with the three new members – drummer Ciarlante, guitarist Weider and keyboard player Richard Bell – having settled well into an ensemble with original members Helm, Hudson and Danko.

Stand Up
Back To Memphis
Where I Should Always Be
Free Your Mind
Forever Young
The High Price Of Love
Crazy Mama
I Must Love You Too Much
She Knows
Ramble Jungle

High On The Hog by The Band [1996]

Rick Danko [1977]
Original post here.

Danko/Fjeld/Anderson by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld & Eric Andersen [1991]
Ridin’ On The Blinds by Rick Danko, Jonas Fjeld & Eric Andersen [1994]
Original post here.


On Time Spent Scanning The Skies

October 12, 2011

Originally posted December 10, 2008

I glanced out the kitchen window last evening right around sunset and saw what must have been Jupiter in the southern sky. It might have been Venus, I suppose, but I think it was too far from the horizon and the sunset for that. I didn’t think much about it, just noticed the intense point of white light in the sky and wondered for a moment: Jupiter or Venus? And then I poured myself another cup of coffee and went back to the study.

But it got me thinking about the night sky in winter. If I’d poked my head out into the chill last evening, I would have had a good view of Orion, the huge – and most easily identifiable – constellation that dominates our sky in winter evenings. And I thought of the winter of the telescope and of star names and of fledgling astronomy.

I got the telescope for Christmas in 1970, my senior year of high school. It was a Tasco, and I used it many evenings that winter, lugging it out into the cold back yard, scanning the craters and plains of the moon and straining to see detail in the fuzzy and distant nebula just below Orion’s belt. I focused on Jupiter and saw as well the large planet’s four largest moons, the moons first seen by Galileo in 1609: Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa. (How amazing it is that those names remain in my memory!)

And I learned the stars, through my telescope, my own reading, and through an astronomy course offered at St. Cloud Tech during the second semester of that school year. Along the way, I became fascinated by the names of stars and by being able to tie those names to what I saw: Betelgeuse, with its dull red glow at the upper left corner of Orion, and diagonally across, in the lower right, Rigel with its sapphire gleam. Vega, glowing like an emerald in the constellation Altair, and Arcturus, another reddish star in the otherwise faint kite-shape of Boötes.

I read about stars and planets, looked nearly every night at one or more of them in the sky and listened in class as we talked about them and about the physics and math that lie behind the science of astronomy. I imagine it was my study of astronomy that led me to my years-long passion for science fiction. And – as I demonstrated above with the names of the four largest moons of Jupiter – much of that has stayed with me for nearly forty years.

I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. But it did last evening as I thought about Orion. In my head I named the stars of the constellation: Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix and Saiph in the main rectangle, and in the belt, the three stars with names bestowed on them long ago – as were many other stars’ names – by Arabian astronomers wandering the desert: Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka. Strange-sounding names for something we can see every night, if we only tilt our heads to the sky.

I know where my telescope is. It’s in the basement, in its original box. Something broke on the tripod a few years ago, and I’d have to have it repaired to be able to scan the skies again. I might do that.

A Six-Pack of Stars
“Stars in Heaven” by Comfortable Chair from Comfortable Chair, 1968

“Song of the Stars” by Dead Can Dance from Spiritchaser, 1996

“Everybody Is A Star” by Sly & the Family Stone, Epic 10555, 1970

“I Found Her In A Star” by the Guess Who from Wheatfield Soul, 1969

“I’m In Love With A German Film Star” by the Passions, Polydor POSP 222 (UK), 1981

“Good Morning, Starshine” by Oliver, Jubilee 5659, 1969

A few notes:

I don’t know much about Comfortable Chair. The group was a so-called psychedelic group from California, according to All-Music Guide and recorded only one album for Lou Adler’s Ode label, which – reading between the lines at AMG – wasn’t much of a label. The most significant thing about the album, AMG notes, is that its producers were Robbie Krieger and John Densmore of the Doors.

“Song of the Stars” is one of those long trance-like pieces mixing world music influences with what comes off – from a distance of twelve years – as sophomore year philosophy. Like most of the long pieces Dead Can Dance came up with, it can be interesting listening, but in the end, it seems a little hollow. As it played this morning, I was reminded of how some friends and I listened intently during our freshman year of college, trying hard to catch every nuance of the Doors’ long track, “The Soft Parade.” I think “Song of the Stars” should age better than “The Soft Parade” has.

As happens so often with songs from the winter of 1969-70, the first strains this morning of “Everybody is a Star” resurrected in my mind the old RCA radio that sat on my nightstand long ago. It offered through music the comfort and reassurance that I could endure junior year and that I really wasn’t any more of a dork than anyone else. “Everybody is a Star,” – the flipside of the No. 1 single “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” – might be the sweetest tune that Sly Stone and his pals ever offered up, and it’s a favorite of mine.

The Passions “I’m In Love With A German Film Star” didn’t make the Top 40 on this side of the Atlantic, but I assume it did so in Britain. Its production flourishes, coupled with an archly offered lyric, make it a track that screams “Eighties!” And that’s okay – that oft-maligned decade provided worse.

“Good Morning Starshine” originally came from the musical Hair, one of four cover versions from the musical that made the Top 40. (The Cowsills’ “Hair,” the 5th Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” and “Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night were the others.) “Good Morning Starshine” went to No. 3 during the summer of 1969.

Walkabouts, Jackson & David, Long John

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 9, 2008

I went looking for stuff by the Walkabouts at YouTube this morning and chanced upon a video for the song “The Light Will Stay On,” the opening track from the group’s Devil’s Road album, released in 1996. The song and the video are somber and gorgeous. Regarding the CD, All-Music Guide said: “Half of the tracks comprising Devil’s Road feature the string arrangements of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, giving greater depth to a sound that’s already impossibly rich. Recorded in Berlin, the album is dark and soulful, the work of a band at the peak of its powers.” ‘’

Here’s the video for “The Light Will Stay On.”

I was also looking for a video of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris performing something from their Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, but I kept running into their performance of Jackson Browne’s “For A Dancer,” which was recently posted by my friend Paco Malo over at Gold Coast Bluenote. So I shifted gears and went looking for a video my pal Schultz told me about last evening: Jackson Browne with David Lindley performing the same song. The performance took place in December 1976 in connection with the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test.

Then I went in search of Long John Baldry, as he showed up in yesterday’s random Baker’s Dozen. I came across this little gem, a video for a song called “Silent Treatment,” which was released as a single in the U.K. in 1986. The song showed up on CD as the title track to a Baldry compilation in 1999.


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.


Saturday Singles Nos. 85 & 86

July 27, 2011

Originally posted August 9, 2008

So the Olympic games began in China yesterday, at eight p.m. local time on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the millennium. I’m not feeling particularly Olympiccy, to coin a bad word. I imagine I’ll watch some of the proceedings in the next few weeks, but I won’t be as invested in the games as I have been some other years.

I don’t think my lack of interest has anything to do with any of the political considerations that surround this edition of the Olympic games. I do admit to wondering since the games were awarded to China if the Chinese government and the international Olympic movement would eventually come to regret their partnership. I’m not predicting anything dire, just thinking to myself that societies that try to maintain tight control are finding it increasingly difficult to do so, especially when the entire world is looking into their windows, so to speak.

I guess I haven’t really watched the summer Olympic games with much joy since, oh, the Munich games of 1972. That date provides a dividing line in a number of ways: By 1976 and the Montreal games, I was deep into my college studies, even during summertime, and the games that followed that – Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984 and all the rest since – found me even more entrenched in adult concerns. The Munich games were the last ones that found me unencumbered by adult responsibilities.

Any thought of the Munich games also carries with it a sense of sorrow, too, and that certainly colors my attitude toward the quadrennial games that came after.

I also find these days that I tend to watch the winter Olympics more closely. There are more sports that interest me, a good number of the athletes usually come from Minnesota, and the winter games don’t yet seem to be the overblown spectacle that the summer games have become.

And while I have – since 1972 – no striking memories of the Olympic games themselves, yesterday’s beginnings in China reminded me of something. In 1984, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, and the route of the ceremonial Olympic torch – making its way from Olympia, Greece, to Los Angeles – followed Interstate 70 across the state from St. Louis to Kansas City, right through Columbia. I was going to graduate school and working at a newspaper, and I recall wondering idly if I should head out to the north edge of town to see the torch as it went past.

I didn’t. If I recall correctly, the torch made its way along the north edge of Columbia sometime shortly after sunrise, about 7 a.m. I didn’t bother to get up and drive across town to see it. And that evening when I saw a picture in the newspaper of the torch being carried past the crowds along the highway, I regretted staying home. I looked at the photo and thought, “Well, that was a once in a lifetime thing. I should have gone.”

Fast-forward twelve years to the summer of 1996. The summer games that year were in Atlanta, and again, I’d paid little attention to the gathering momentum as the games approached.

But one Saturday morning, I opened the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and saw that the Olympic torch would be making its way through Minneapolis that evening. Its route would bring it along Thirty-Sixth Street South, three houses away from my apartment building.

I was there that evening, in a large crowd of my neighbors, watching and applauding with them as a local volunteer carried the torch down the middle of the street. I don’t recall any wellspring of emotion. I just watched the runner carry the torch, and then I went to the neighborhood coffee house with a few people. But as I wrote to a close friend in the next few days, “What I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime event turned out not to be so, and that amazes me a little. How often do any of us get a second chance at something so rare?”

Here are two songs that were on the charts at those times, songs that remind me of those summers, one from 1984 when I let the torch pass unnoticed and one from 1996 when I took advantage of my second chance.

Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face” (Chrysalis 42786) peaked at No. 4 in 1984 and was at No. 11 on August 4 as the Los Angeles games were halfway done. And twelve years later, Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” (Reprise 17621) was featured in the soundtrack to the film Phenomenon and peaked at No. 5. It was at No. 6 on August 3, 1996, as the Atlanta games were less than a week from their closing ceremonies.

And those songs are today’s Saturday Singles.

Billy Idol – “Eyes Without A Face” [1984]

Eric Clapton – “Change the World” [1996]

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.


Into The Junkyard On Friday Morning

June 29, 2011

Originally posted May 23, 2008

I’ve got plenty of things waiting in the pile of music I eventually intend to post here. There’s one last Patti Dahlstrom record, three albums by Redwing, a country-rock group from the Seventies. Bonnie Bramlett, John Stewart. Michael Johnson, Kim Carnes, Gypsy. Malo, Romeo Void, Shawn Phillips and Steve Forbert.

That list could go much longer, as the records line up in the study, patiently waiting to be spun and heard once more. They’ll get their chances, but not today, at least not this morning.

In anticipation of the holiday weekend, the Texas Gal has taken the day off. While she will likely check in with her office via her newly issued laptop sometime during the day, we also plan to spend some time doing nothing together. And to get to that sooner, I won’t be ripping an album this morning or writing anything too deep or detailed.

Instead, here’s a random Walk Through the Junkyard, starting with a group that, surprisingly, has only popped up here three times, once with Bob Dylan.

“Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead from American Beauty, 1970

“Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys, Capitol single 5009, 1963

“Cattle and Cane” by the Go-Betweens from Hollywood, 1983

“A Thousand Miles” by Joy of Cooking from Closer to the Ground, 1971

“Ball of Twine” by Lightning Hopkins, Ash Grove, Hollywood, August 1961

“North Country Blues” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

“Rise and Fall” by the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band from The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, 1974

“A Sense of Deja Vu” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double” by Emmylou Harris from Elite Hotel, 1975

“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” by Michael McDonald, Warner Bros. single 29933, 1982

“For Your Love” by the Yarbirds, Epic single 9790, 1964

“Wallflower” by Doug Sahm from Doug Sahm and Band, 1973

“To The River” by John Mellencamp from Human Wheels, 1993

“Crystal” by Buckingham Nicks from Buckingham Nicks, 1973

“I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine, ABC single 12117, from the soundtrack to Nashville, 1976

A few notes:

“Truckin’” was released in two forms – the album version here and a single (Warner Bros. 7464) that ran 3:16, almost two minutes shorter than the album track. Considering the state of radio and the state of the culture at the time, I find it amazing that the single didn’t crack the Top 40, with its loopy and matter-of-fact tale of druggies and narcs, travel and blissful crash-pad paranoia. (When I hear the song, I can’t help flashing to Cheech & Chong a few years later: “Dave’s not here, man.”) All of which proves the truth in the song’s tagline: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

The Go-Betweens were a highly successful band in their native Australia and in Great Britain but were almost unknown in the U.S. during their early 1980s peak period. (The releases from those early years have since been released on CD in the U.S.) “Cattle and Cane” is a ballad with lush moments and an underlying edge that insinuates itself into one’s memory. For me, at least, it’s created an appetite for more.

Bob Dylan’s “North Country Blues” tells a tale of the iron mining milieu in which he grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota (home, for example, to the world’s largest open pit mine, essentially the world’s largest man-made hole in the ground). The song resonates with me, as I still see the occasional news piece about the hard life of mining in the northern part of the state and the hard times that come more and more regularly as the quantity and quality of the ore remaining in the ground continue to diminish.

The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band – made up of the criminally ignored country rocker J.D. Souther, Chris Hillman of the Byrds and Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield – released three pretty good country-rock albums from 1973 to 1977. The self-titled first was likely the best, but the group never seemed to catch the attention of the listening public. All-Music Guide tags the ten songs on the album as a “collection of ten pleasant, if overall unremarkable tunes in the singer/songwriter, country-rock vein.” I think the record is a little better than that.

“For Your Love,” the single that drive Eric Clapton out of the Yardbirds because of its commerciality, is actually a pretty good record; it went to No. 6 in the U.S. No, it’s nowhere near the blues, but it’s a catchy tune, sonically (the lyrics are serviceable but nothing remarkable), and its memory can stay in a listener’s ear for a long time. For me, the song puts me in the halls of my junior high school, which is okay. As far as musical memories go, I’ve had better, but I have certainly had worse, too.

The sessions for Doug Sahm and Band, according to All-Music Guide, were something of a superstar jam session, with lots of famous friends of Sahm’s dropping in to hang out and lend a hand. Sahm, who first came to major public attention as the leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet in 1965 (“She’s About A Mover” went to No. 13), was a roots music enthusiast years before roots music (or Americana, if you prefer) was in vogue. Doug Sahm and Band is nothing other than roots music, ca. 1973. And yeah, that’s Bob Dylan on vocals; he wrote the song.

Back in the days when his manager called him Johnny Cougar and the Rolling Stone Record Guide called him “Meat Head” (1983 edition), who’d have thought that John Mellencamp would become an elder statesman of heartland rock? With his Rolling Stones meets Appalachia sound, Mellencamp has turned out a pretty good series of albums in the past twenty years (and some clinkers, too, but that happens in a long career). Human Wheels is a pretty bleak album, but it’s a good one, and “To The River” might be the best song on it.


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.


A Baker’s Dozen Of Winter

May 25, 2011

Originally posted December 5, 2007

Through the window, I hear the skrik-skrik of someone scraping ice from a vehicle in the parking lot. We got another six inches of snow yesterday afternoon (on top of the six or so inches from Saturday), and it came in the afternoon, causing havoc during what passes for rush hour here in St. Cloud.

It looks like this winter is going to be a tougher one than the past few have been. At least, it’s starting out that way, with two six-inch snowfalls in four days and another storm heading our direction for tomorrow. The past few years haven’t seen much snow at all, and it’s generally come later in the season. And some of those winters have seemed to bring fewer days of sub-zero cold, the kind of cold that makes snow squeak under your feet and makes your cheeks burn.

Were winters colder when I was a kid? I don’t know. I remember walking in some pretty cold weather during my elementary school days. For the seven years I went to Lincoln School (kindergarten through sixth grade), I walked the five blocks from Kilian Boulevard to the school almost every day. On those winter days when the wind came from the north or northwest, we’d turn around and back our way to school, whole clusters of kids walking in reverse along Fifth Avenue Southeast.

(One very clear recollection that points out how times have changed is that the girls were still required to wear skirts or dresses in school. They could wear slacks under their dresses or skirts when they walked to school, but those slacks had to come off once they got inside.)

On very frigid days, those snow-squeaking days when the temperature was at twenty below zero or colder (that’s about twenty-nine degrees below zero Celsius), my mom or dad would drive us – my sister was three years ahead of me – the five blocks to school, often picking up classmates of ours along the way. And on occasion during my first few years of elementary school, I’d get a ride to school from Ed, the college fellow who lived in the next block and was the quarterback for the St. Cloud State Huskies football team.

Do kids still walk to school in any season? I don’t know. I do have a sense that kids no longer do as much outdoors as we used to do. Forty years ago, there were two city-maintained outdoor skating rinks within walking distance of our house: one right across the highway from Lincoln School (with a walking bridge over the highway providing easy access), and another about six blocks south of us on Kilian Boulevard. I was never a very good skater, but I spent my time with Rick and the other neighborhood kids scuffling around the two rinks. And on occasion, we’d go downtown where the city maintained a skating surface on Lake George.

And once every couple of weeks, we’d grab our saucer sleds and head down to the big hill in Riverside Park for a weekend afternoon of sliding, coming home cold and wet, tired and happy.

The rink on Kilian is long gone now, its location having become part of a permanent rose garden. I don’t think there’s a rink near Lincoln anymore. The open area that was flooded each winter is still there, but the warming house is long gone. And the old warming house on Lake George came down years ago, too. I suppose kids who want to skate do so in the ice arenas that were built during the years I was gone.

I would imagine, though, that kids still slide down the hill in Riverside Park. I hope so. And this year, it looks as if there will be plenty of snow for them.

A Baker’s Dozen of Winter

“The First Chill of Winter” by Boo Hewerdine & Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Winterlude” by Bob Dylan from New Morning, 1970

“A Hazy Shade of Winter” by Simon & Garfunkel from Bookends, 1968

“Song of Winter” by Françoise Hardy from One Nine Seven Zero, 1970

“Winterlong” by Neil Young, unreleased, 1974

“Wintery Feeling” by Jesse Winchester from A Touch On The Rainy Side, 1978

“The Coldest Winter in Memory” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“In The Winter” by Janis Ian from Between the Lines, 1975

“Song For A Winter’s Night” by Gordon Lightfoot from The Way I Feel, 1967

“The Winter is Cold” by Wendy & Bonnie from Genesis, 1969

“Lion in Winter” by the Bee Gees from Trafalgar, 1971

“Winter Winds’ by Fotheringay from Fotheringay, 1970

“Sometimes In Winter” by Blood, Sweat & Tears from Blood, Sweat & Tears, 1969

A few notes on some of the songs and artists:

I’ve posted the Hewerdine and Smith album Evidence here before, but I could not resist starting this list with “The First Chill of Winter,” which is one of my favorite songs.

The album One Nine Seven Zero, the source of French chanteuse Françoise Hardy’s “Song of Winter,” was originally released in 1969 in South Africa under the title of English 3. A year later, it was released in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand as One Nine Seven Zero. In the U.S. and Canada, the album’s title was Alone. I don’t think there’s any difference between the albums, but the source I had for the album called it One Nine Seven Zero, so that’s what I’ve called it.

The Neil Young track, “Winterlong” was included on Decade, his 1977 retrospective. The only other place the song shows up officially is on the 2006 release, Live at the Fillmore East, which documents a 1970 performance by Young with Crazy Horse.

Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song For A Winter Night” may be more familiar in a version by Sarah McLachlan. Her nicely done cover of the song was released on the soundtrack of a 1994 remake of the Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street, although the recording was not used in the film.

“The Winter Is Cold” comes from one of the more remarkable one-shot recordings of the 1960s. Genesis came from San Francisco-based sisters, Wendy and Bonnie Flowers, who were seventeen and thirteen, respectively, at the time. It was released on the Skye label, which folded soon after the record came out, dooming any chances for the record to gain any attention. “The Winter Is Cold” is one of the lesser tracks on the album, I think, but the album – re-released on the Sundazed label in 2001 with bonus tracks – is worth finding.


A Baker’s Dozen of Ghosts and Witches

May 18, 2011

Originally posted October 31, 2007

I can’t help but think about how Halloween used to be less complicated. Very few of us had fancy store-bought costumes during the years I went up and down the streets of our neighborhood in search of candy. We’d put on a mask and something that kind of made us look like a ghost or a skeleton or some comic book character. Or we’d make do with stuff we had at home, for the most part.

And we were unsupervised as we wandered through the neighborhood alone. South on Kilian Boulevard as far as the skating rink and back, and then north on Fifth Avenue as far as Lincoln School and back. Just hundreds of kids out in improvised costumes, wandering through the October evening. We’d gather under street lights to look into our bags and see what kind of candy bars were popular this year and then scurry through the mid-block shadows, going from house to house, skipping those few houses whose residents, we knew from experience, did not have treats to give.

Costumes are more elaborate now, and not nearly as inexpensive. Kids don’t wander alone these days, either. Parents hover at the edges of the groups, understandably. And the treats are examined closely at home, I would guess, before the feast can begin.

I imagine Halloween is still fun for the young folks, though, and that’s what matters. So here are some songs whose titles, at least, fit into the feel of the day.

“Ghost” by the Indigo Girls from Rites of Passage, 1992

“Season of the Witch” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger from Open, 1967

“Ghosts of Cape Horn” by Gordon Lightfoot from Dream Street Rose, 1980

“Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, Asylum single 11008, 1972

“Ghostly Horses of the Plain” by Al Stewart from Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, 1996

“Witch Doctor” by Spencer Bohren from Full Moon, 1991

“Ghost Riders In The Sky” by Johnny Cash from Silver, 1979

“Witch Queen of New Orleans” by Redbone, Epic single 10746, 1972

“Ghost of Hank Williams” by David Allan Coe from 1990 Songs For Sale, 1990

“She Rides With Witches” by Wizards From Kansas from Wizards From Kansas, 1970

“The Ghost” by Fleetwood Mac from Bare Trees, 1972

“Witches Promise” by Jethro Tull, Chrysalis single 6077 (UK), 1970

“Ghosts” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age, 1981

A few notes on some of the songs:

“Season of the Witch” came from the pen of Scottish folk-rocker Donovan, of course, and was on his Sunshine Superman album. The version here was on Open, an odd album that featured Brian Auger and the Trinity’s instrumental visions on one side, and vocal efforts by Julie Driscoll backed by Brian and the boys on the other side. The vocal side seemed to work best, but the album, from what I gather, got less attention than expected. (I dithered between including this version of the song or the version released in 1969 by Lou Rawls. The idea of Rawls and the song sounds at first as if it would be the musical equivalent of a left shoe on a right foot, but Rawls was such a pro that he made the song work for him. Maybe I can post it another time.)

Spencer Bohren is likely the least known name on this list although to my mind he deserves a larger audience. He’s a Wyoming native who’s spent a lot of time living in New Orleans and some time living in Europe. His music – blues and folk – is well worth seeking out. The album “Witch Doctor” comes from – Full Moon – was released only in France, and seems, based on the lack of listings at the standard Internet sites, to be fairly rare.

David Allen Coe was a country music outlaw long before anyone else, living and performing outside the Nashville mainstream from the time he was released from prison in the late 1960s through today. He’s had only a few hits, but a good number of his songs have been successes for other singers in the 1970s. He continues to record outside the mainstream, as a look at his website seems to make clear.

The Wizards From Kansas’ self-titled debut album was recorded in San Francisco in 1970, and, not too surprisingly, sounds a lot like something the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service might have come up with. Amazon notes: “The Wizards From Kansas’ eponymous album finds this Midwestern group sounding more like a West Coast hybrid combining rambling, melancholy country-rock elements with harder psych-rock sounds.” It’s kind of fun, though.


Atmospheric Pop, Light & Airy

April 25, 2011

Originally posted July 9, 2007

This will be brief today. I have other tasks awaiting me, and I’m a tad under the weather.

Last week, I wrote about finding pretty much by accident Evidence, the 1989 album by Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith. I enjoyed it so much that I began to seek out the solo work of the two artists. As I indicated, I’ve found myself more drawn to Smith’s work than Hewerdine’s. But Hewerdine’s albums have their moments, too.

The first Hewerdine album I found was Baptist Hospital, a 1996 release named – if I recall correctly – because Hewerdine, who is English, wrote the material for the CD while living near Memphis’ Baptist Hospital during a stay in the Tennessee city. Despite the Memphian origins of the songs, though, there’s nothing of the south in Baptist Hospital. This is atmospheric pop, often light and airy. A few of the songs – “Joke,” “A Song For A Friend” and “Greedy” – have a little weight to them, but most of the songs have a delicate, intricate sound.

It is a bit different than the stuff I usually post here, but it is a nice listen. I have three Hewerdine CDs – Ignorance and Thanksgiving are the other two – and I pop them into the player when I’m seeking something quiet and mellow. The effect can sometimes be melancholy, to be sure, but there are moments when one might need that. Melancholy or not, the writing, performance and production on all three – Baptist Hospital included – are assured and very well accomplished.

A note: Among the friends who stopped by to help Hewerdine during the recording of Baptist Hospital was Richard Thompson, who adds his guitar to the tracks “World’s End,” “Holy Water” and “Greedy.”

World’s End
The Love Thieves
Last Cigarette
Baptist Hospital
Song For A Friend
Sycamore Fall
Holy Water

Boo Hewerdine – Baptist Hospital [1996]