Archive for the ‘2007/04 (April)’ Category

A Baker’s Dozen (Plus) From 1977

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 25, 2007

Today’s Baker’s Dozen actually numbers twenty songs. I decided to add some bonus material because I won’t be posting again for a little more than a week. The Texas Gal and I are heading south tomorrow to visit her family in the Dallas area and do some touring in San Antonio and around Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

So I thought I’d give you some extra tunes today. Don’t listen to them all at once! (I couldn’t help it: My dad used to give me similar warnings about my allowance, back when a quarter really could buy something.)

A note about how I compile the Baker’s Dozens: I generally sort the year’s songs by running time and set the RealPlayer on random. If I don’t have a selected starting song – I did not this week – them I start with the shortest song I have for that year (usually a television theme or something negligible) and then go from there. The only rules I have are not to post something I’ve posted since I began the blog in January, and only one song per artist.

But I screwed up midway through this batch. I have a lot of odd stuff in the collection – fight songs, commercials, television themes and other stuff – and at about No. 10, the RealPlayer landed on a 1977 recording of the national anthem of the Soviet Union. I found it recently at a site that offers hundreds of mp3s of songs from that nation’s 74-year existence. When the anthem popped up, I thought, “That’s just a little too odd for my audience,” and I hit the advance button, got a repeat performer, got another repeat and another repeat and got lost.

So I started over again, somewhere around the entry from Chicago, and when I got to the end of eighteen songs, I thought, well, I should put the Soviet anthem in anyway, so I made it a twenty-song selection, adding the Thelma Houston tune through a random jump.

And I got to thinking about the Soviet anthem. About forty years ago – which is not that many years ago, as these things go – acknowledging some affection for that particular piece of music could have left one open to criticism. Anything that had even a slight whiff of respect or affection for the USSR was suspicious. I recall a presentation to one of the local civic organizations – Elks, Moose, Lions, Eagles, Rotary, I don’t remember which one – sometime in 1969, I think, when the speaker pointed out that the Beatles, by opening their 1968 self-titled album (the “White Album”) with “Back In The USSR,” were proclaiming their intent to indoctrinate their listeners with their Communist views. While the kids in the audience snorted and rolled their eyes, our parents nodded and made mental notes to see what we were listening to.

(For the record, my parents were far more upset by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” than they were by “Back In The USSR,” which was a Chuck Berry/Beach Boys pastiche/tribute, anyway!)

But I do acknowledge a fondness for the Soviet anthem, partly because it is a stirring piece of music, to my ears, and partly because hearing it reminds me of watching the Olympics during my younger years and seeing red-clad athlete after athlete standing atop the awards platform with a gold medal as the anthem echoed through the arena. (I especially recall the Soviet gymnasts and my admiration for the dark elegance of Ludmilla Tourischeva.)

Anyway, here’s today’s augmented Baker’s Dozen, from the year of 1977.

“Native New Yorker” by Odyssey, RCA single 11129

“Wings” by Rick Nelson from Intakes

“The Trumpet Vine” by Kate Wolf from Lines On The Paper

“Velvet Green” by Jethro Tull from Songs From The Wood

“Jammin’” by Bob Marley & the Wailers from Exodus

“Kitty Come Home” by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from Dancer With Bruised Knees

“Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing)” by Johnny Rivers, Big Tree single 16094

“I Got The News” by Steely Dan from Aja

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” by the Sanford-Townsend Band from Smoke From A Distant
Fire

“Morning Man” by Toni Brown & Terry Garthwaite from The Joy

“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters from Hard Again

“Mississippi Delta City Blues” by Chicago from Chicago XI

“Sunshine Day” by Osibisa from Welcome Home

“Hog Of The Forsaken” by Michael Hurley from Long Journey

“Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne from Running On Empty

“Fantasy” by Earth, Wind & Fire from All ‘N All

“Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees from Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

“Something So Right” by Phoebe Snow from Never Letting Go

“Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, Tamla single 54278

National Anthem of the Soviet Union by the Red Army Choir.*

A few notes:

“Wings” is pretty indicative of the country-rock direction Rick Nelson was taking during the 1970s. He didn’t have a lot of chart success, but he was still recording music well worth hearing, and did so until his untimely death in 1985.

Speaking of musicians and untimely deaths, Kate Wolf is not nearly as well known as most of the musicians here, and that’s a shame. “The Trumpet Vine” is from her second album, Lines On The Paper, and – like much of her work – is a quiet celebration of domestic harmony and simplicity. Her folk-influenced work – which ended with her death from leukemia in 1986 – is well worth seeking out.

“Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)” is, I think, the Sanford-Townsend Band’s attempt at cataloguing and criticizing the excesses of L.A. It’s not a bad recording, but the guys seem to have their tongues thrust pretty firmly in their cheeks, which doesn’t work. You either preach against the decadence or you celebrate it, I think. And the S-T Band doesn’t pull it off nearly as well as the Eagles did a few years earlier with “Life In The Fast Lane” or as well as David & David did in 1986 with “Welcome To The Boomtown.” Still, it’s a fun cut.

I’ve posted some work by Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite here before and talked about their work with Joy of Cooking. “Morning Man,” from what I think was their final piece of work together, has some of the ambience of their Joy of Cooking recordings.

Muddy Waters’ performance on this version of “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is a delight. Produced by Johnny Winter – who also plays guitar – the album Hard Again marked a late-in-life comeback for Waters, one of the five or six largest figures in Twentieth Century American music.

I did not know about Michael Hurley until a few years ago, when the producers of HBO’s Deadwood used “The Hog Of The Forsaken” in one of the show’s first-season episodes. It’s odd, all right, and I plan to explore Hurley’s music further.

I wondered, as I let the RealPlayer run, which – if any – of the hits from Saturday Night Fever would pop up. That it was “Stayin’ Alive” seems appropriate. Although many of the songs from the movie’s soundtrack are fun to hear, “Stayin’ Alive” has an iconic power that sums up the movie – and the era the movie celebrated and created – in a way that nothing else from the soundtrack could (with the possible exception, I guess, of the Trammps’’).

*After a few years of digging and listening, I’m almost certain that the performance of the Soviet National Anthem is by the Red Army Choir, so I’ve changed the listing and the tag  from  “unknown choir.” Note added June 12, 2011.

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Giving Chi Coltrane Another Listen

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 23, 2007

I dithered and dithered about this most of the weekend, and now, even as I’m about to post it, I’m still dithering.

Last week, at her marvelous blog, The Wolfman Howls Again, my blogging colleague Mephisto posted “Go Like Elijah,” a single cut from Chi Coltrane’s self-titled 1972 album. I hadn’t heard anything from the album for a while except “Thunder And Lightning,” the single that went to No. 19 that autumn. And, as often happens, hearing Coltrane’s voice reminded me that I had the LP in the stacks and that I hadn’t looked at it since I began ripping mp3s from vinyl and posting many of the results here.

So I pulled Coltrane’s album off the shelf and took a look at it. It looked okay for a cheapie; I bought it for fifty cents during a 1993 spree split between Down In The Valley in Richfield and Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis, a spree I’ve already mentioned here before. I played a little of the Coltrane over the weekend before ripping it this morning, and I hesitated. There are more bits of noise than there usually are in things I post here, especially in the opening cut, “Thunder And Lightning.”

But . . .

I checked the files, and I already had a clean mp3 of the opening cut, ripped at 192 kbps. And I decided to go ahead.

That’s because Chi Coltrane has a unique sound to it, one that places it securely in its time, and one that I think still holds some interest for those who were around then and would also interest those who’ve never heard it.

Chi Coltrane was a Wisconsin girl, born in 1948, says All Music Guide. After Columbia released Chi Coltrane, for which she wrote all eleven songs, AMG says that stardom seemed assured, given her style, which it called “a sort of ultra-sophisticated take on Carole King and Elton John,” and her song-writing, which it praised both musically and lyrically.

(Her debut album brought her some attention and a Top 40 hit. But Let It Ride, Coltrane’s 1973 release, failed to find an audience, say AMG, and she put her career on hold for a few years, eventually releasing Road To Tomorrow in 1977. After that, AMG says, she moved to Europe, where she released three albums in a new wave, euro-rock style during the Eighties. She did some soundtrack work and then collaborated with Tangerine Dream in 1990. There’s been nothing from her since.)

Musically, Chi Coltrane was very good, showing Coltrane with the vocal and instrumental ability – she played all the keyboard parts on the record – to handle a diverse number of styles, from the white soul of “Thunder And Lightning” and the gospel of “Go Like Elijah,” to the quiet confessionals of “Goodbye John” and “It’s Really Come To This.” In addition, Coltrane was secure in writing about her faith without sounding preachy. AMG says she was “allegedly fiercely committed to bible study, and Jesus, but disinclined to follow organised religion,” which would not have been uncommon at the time. Her faith-based songs – “The Tree,” especially, but also portions of her anti-war “I Will Not Dance” and the album closer, “The Wheel Of Life” – remind me just a little of the clear-eyed but somewhat naïve faith expressed in other pop songs of the time, most notably “Put Your Hand In The Hand,” the No. 2 hit by the Canadian group Ocean.

I think it was that quality in her lyrics – a slight bit of naïveté balanced with that clear-eyed and clear-headed assessment of the life choices she’s facing in her songs –that attracted me to this album again as I listened over the weekend. Coltrane’s lyrics are not sophisticated. They’re not witty. Nor are they simplistic or vague. They sound very much like the efforts of an intelligent young woman trying to make sense of the world, which should really be no surprise. And, listening to them for the first time in years, I found them charming.

Combine that with her music – she shows a sure sense of melody, seeming so at home in her music that it must have been scary and thrilling for Coltrane’s producers thirty-five years ago – and Chi Coltrane is a record that I thought I just had to share. It’s not without flaws: As charming as they are, her lyrics could have used a little more craft in terms of rhythm and rhyme, and a couple of the more contemplative songs sound a little similar.

The musicians backing Coltrane on her debut included some of the major studio players of the time: Jim Gordon on drums, Larry Knechtel and Lee Sklar on bass and horns arranged by Jim Horn.

As I indicated above, there are more pops and snaps in these mp3s than there usually are in the things I post. But I thought the album was interesting enough to put up with a little extra noise.

Chi Coltrane – Chi Coltrane [1972]

Saturday Single No. 10

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 21, 2007

Well, what a nice evening we had: dinner out and a concert, something we don’t do all that often.

We spent an hour at one of our favorite St. Cloud eateries – the Mexican Village downtown. The Texas Gal had chicken quesadillas and a piña colada without rum; I had a burrito (custom-made with corn, not flour tortillas) and a large draught of Dos Equis Amber. The food, as almost always at the Mexican Village, was very good.

I’ve always liked the Mexican Village. It opened in about 1979, shortly after I left St. Cloud, but I got there on occasion during my years living away. There’s been a restaurant on that location for as long as I can remember. Before the Village, that site was the location of the OK Café, the only place in St. Cloud when I was growing up where one could get Chinese food. Well, American versions of Chinese food, for the most part; authenticity was not a major issue for adventurous diners in the 1960s and 1970s, and in St. Cloud, the OK Café was about as adventurous as it got. A place like the Mexican Village or any of the ten or so restaurants that serve fairly authentic Chinese food would have been hard to sell in those years. And something like the Sawat Dee, which serves Thai food just a few blocks from the Mexican Village, would have been unthinkable!

Anyway, after a fine dinner – and a good beer; I like Dos Equis Amber pretty well, although I am leaning these days toward porters and pale ales – we headed down St. Germain, St. Cloud’s main street, to the Paramout Theater and the Wailin’ Jennys.

The Jennys originally came from Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Canada’s prairie, and two of the original three singers – soprano Ruth Moody and mezzo Nicky Mehta – are still with the group. Heather Masse, an alto, is on her first tour with the group; she is the third singer to fill that third spot since the Jennys formed in 2002. (Masse noted while introducing one of the songs that during a recent show, Moody introduced her as being from New York City. To generous laughter, Masse said she made it clear afterwards that she is not from New York City but rather from Brooklyn.)

It was a marvelous show, with the Jennys – augmented by the addition of fiddler Jeremy Penner, who also played mandolin on a few songs – running through a repertoire of folk, gospel, blues and countryish tunes presented with some of the best three-part harmonies I’ve ever heard. From the opening song – Leadbelly’s “Bring Me L’il Water, Sylvi” sung a capella – to the closing “The Parting Glass,” a traditional Irish tune that the Jennys sang without microphones from the lip of the stage, it was wonderful.

Not only were the vocals extraordinarily good, but the Jennys’ instrumental musicianship was exquisite: Moody played guitar, banjo, accordion and on one tune, the Irish drum called the bodhran. Mehta played guitar, ukulele (yes, and it worked!), harmonica and blues harp and a brushed snare drum. Masse played string bass, which Moody noted before one song that she’s only played for a very short time. The same was true, Moody said of Penner on the mandolin. If that’s the case (and I have no reason to doubt), Masse and Penner are very quick studies.

The group did two sets of about forty-five minutes each, drawing from their two full-length CDs – The Wailin’ Jennys from 2004 and Firecracker from 2006, as well as from a 2003 EP titled The Wailin’ Jennys. Minnesota audiences are notoriously generous with their standing ovations, but the Jennys earned theirs last night, and the full house at the Paramount was happy to provide it.

And after a Friday evening like that, what else could I present here but something by the Wailin’ Jennys? So here’s “Begin” from their 2006 CD Firecracker, today’s Saturday Single.

The Wailin’ Jennys – “Begin” [2006]

Herbie Mann Gets Gritty

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 20, 2007

One of the fun things about the mp3 player I use – RealPlayer – is the ways it allows me to sort my collection. Some of the results tell a lot about me and what music I truly cherish.

For instance, I can sort by the songs by artist. When I do that, this is what I get:

Bob Dylan, 457
Bruce Springsteen, 288
Beatles, 223
Nanci Griffith 189
Eric Clapton 185
Fleetwood Mac 182
The Band, 177
Gordon Lightfoot 141
Moody Blues, 137
Howlin’ Wolf, 135
Richie Havens, 131
Everly Brothers 122
Muddy Waters, 107
Rolling Stones, 95
George Harrison, 93
Donovan, 87
Darden Smith, 86
Allman Brothers Band, 85
Elvis Presley, 85
John Barry, 82
Paul McCartney 82
John Hammond, 80
Taj Mahal, 75
Bonnie Raitt, 73
Sebastian 73

Well, that’s the top 25, and it’s a pretty good indicator of my favorite artists, and of my favorite years, too, if you think about it. It’s not that I don’t listen to new stuff. I’m always interested in new artists and new music. Just like the DJ over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, I try to “stave off terminal geezerhood.” (And thanks to the DJ for the tip on Amy Winehouse; her album is a fine one!) But I guess I am inherently conservative. I wait for some time, letting new sounds settle into me slowly, before fully adopting them.

And anyway, looking at the top of the list of performers will never tell you which new performers I’m interested in. To use a baseball analogy, that’s like looking at the list of career leaders in home runs and trying to determine who is the best current home run threat. The careers – both for new ballplayers and new musicians – haven’t been long enough yet to build those kinds of numbers.

What might be more telling is looking at the numbers of songs by decades.

1950s – 950
1960s – 4,524
1970s – 5,422
1980s – 1,406
1990s – 2,619
2000s – 2,245

While a large chunk of my music comes, not unexpectedly, from the decades of my youth – the 1960s and 1970s – those numbers indicate that I’m far more interested in music being produced today than I was in music produced during the 1980s. I’m not a fan of rap or hip-hop, but I do recognize the social importance and impact of both genres, and both are represented in my collection. And there are other types of music in which performers are releasing new works, sometimes reinvigorating genres (see Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse; Joseph Arthur, Jack Johnson and Ray LaMontagne), sometimes building on traditions long in place, as in the cases of Dylan, Springsteen, Nanci Griffith and others from the list above, as well as other musicians. A quick run through my collection shows current releases from artists as diverse as Anna Nalick, Big Bill Morganfield (Muddy Waters’ son), Chris Thomas King, the Corrs, Delta Moon, Eric Bibb, Five For Fighting, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (check ’em out!), Jimmy LaFave, KT Tunstall, Ollabelle, Mindy Smith, the Wailin’ Jennys (whom the Texas Gal and I will see in concert tonight) and many more.

So I don’t think I’m declining into geezerhood yet, although I suppose I’d be the last to know. I do know that the two college girls who live in the apartment above us think that the Texas Gal and I are a “cute older couple.” But I do try to stay current.

That’s never going to be reflected, however, in the music I share here. There is too much music worth listening to that is either out of print, never released on CD or otherwise forgotten, and that’s the niche I’ve chosen for this blog.

As for today’s album, like many that I share here, it was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Alabama, and in fact, took its title from the studios. Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty by Herbie Mann is one of the flutist’s explorations in pop jazz. Funky and soulful, the record was recorded in 1970, when Mann was exploring the limits of jazz and the places where jazz met other genres.

For the sessions, Mann brought along his bandmates: Roy Ayers on vibes, Miroslav Vitous on bass and Bruno Carr on drums. Joining them was the Muscle Shoals rhythm section: Roger Hawkins on drums, David Hood on bass and Barry Beckett on piano. Also lending a hand were Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson on guitar (listen for Hinton’s bottleneck work on “Panama Red’s Panama Hat”). In addition, the Memphis Horns – Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love, Ed Logan and James Mitchell – pitched in on four of the six cuts on the album.

Highlights of the record, for me, are the funky title cut; “Blind Willy,” with Hawkins coming out from behind the drum set and picking up a jew’s harp; and the slithering, smoldering version of the Beatles’ “Come Together.”

Track listing:
Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty
Claudia Pie
Can You Dig It
Blind Willy
Come Together
Panama Red’s Panama Hat

Herbie Mann – Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty  [1970]

A Baker’s Dozen From 1969

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 18, 2007

As I began to write this morning, I started the file with the date, as I always do, and as I typed “April 18,” I was sorely tempted to revisit 1975 for this week’s Baker’s Dozen.

Why? Because of this:

“Listen my children and you shall hear
“Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
“Hardly a man is now alive
“Who remembers that famous day and year.”

Of course, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was referring to a different “Seventy-five” – 1775 – when he wrote “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” And because I ran a Baker’s Dozen from 1975 just a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d hit a few other years before I begin repeating, as I am sure I will do at some point. So with the Texas Gal already off to work before providing any guidance, I’m going to choose 1969 and start with one of my favorite recordings of all time. 

There was an old hotel not far from the Mississippi River in downtown St. Cloud when I was growing up, the Grand Central. Historical rumor had it that it had been a stopping place for numerous famous people over the years, including Buffalo Bill Cody (a rumor that I believe was verified by a guest register discovered during the building’s demolition). It may have been a truly grand establishment at one time, but by my first year of college, it was pretty much a flophouse, and its first floor retail spaces were filled with small and generally short-lived shops that sold used records, posters, and equipment and accessories for pharmaceutical recreation.

It was in one of those shops in the spring of 1972, just a few months before the hotel came down and the lot was paved over for a lot for city bus service, that I pawed through a stack of records and found Joe Cocker’s self-titled 1969 album, in decent shape for a reasonable price. I grabbed it and went off to one of the college dorms, where I dropped in on some friends to share my find.

It’s a good record, with several songs that have become Cocker standards: “Delta Lady,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” and “Dear Landlord” come quickly to mind. But the best cut on the album – I thought on first hearing and still think today, more than thirty years later – is Cocker’s take on John Sebastian’s “Darling, Be Home Soon.” With a feel of gospel-powered celebration, Cocker gives the song a joy that neither Sebastian nor anyone else has ever found in it. It thrilled me, even though I have to confess that at 18, I did not grasp the entire meaning of “the great relief of having you to talk to.”

I do now, and the song remains a favorite of mine and is the starting point for this random Baker’s Dozen from 1969:

“Darling, Be Home Soon” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker!

“Wild Child” by the Doors from The Soft Parade

“Songs To Aging Children Come” by Joni Mitchell from Clouds

“That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)” by Dusty Springfield, Atlantic single 2637

“Will You Be Staying After Sunday” by the Peppermint Rainbow, Decca single 32410

“Gentle On My Mind” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis In Memphis

“The River Is Wide” by the Grass Roots, Dunhill single 4187

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” by Linda Ronstadt from Hand Sown . . . Home Grown

“Goodbye” by Frank Sinatra from Watertown

“I’m Easy” by Boz Scaggs from Boz Scaggs

 “Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, Atlantic single 2648

“What Are You Trying To Do” by Mother Earth from Make A Joyful Noise

“Dirty Old Man” by Delaney & Bonnie from Accept No Substitutes

I chuckled when the Doors’ “Wild Child” popped up right after “Darling, Be Home Soon.” It’s quite likely that when I took my Joe Cocker album to the dorm that long-ago Friday evening, “Wild Child” – or at least The Soft Parade – was playing on the stereo in my friend’s room; it was one of his favorite albums, and that specific song was to some extent an anthem for our freshman year.

Despite that, I also cringed a little at “Wild Child.” For some time, I’ve believed that the Doors were the most over-rated of all the well-known bands of their time, and much of The Soft Parade, in particular, is difficult to listen to with much pleasure these days.

There are two versions I like of Joni Mitchell’s “Songs to Aging Children Come” – this one, and the one by Tigger Outlaw in the 1969 film Alice’s Restaurant. Mitchell’s version – the original – is probably more accomplished, but there is an awkward earnestness in Outlaw’s version that is somehow endearing. Check it out if you get the chance.

The Sinatra tune, “Goodbye,” is from Watertown, a song cycle that’s one of the more idiosyncratic recordings of Sinatra’s long career. The songs on Watertown came from Bob Gaudio – writer of many of the Four Seasons’ hits – and Jake Holmes, the singer-songwriter/folk-rocker who was also the composer of “Dazed & Confused,” which Led Zeppelin appropriated as its own work. The album is, as All-Music Guide notes, Sinatra’s “most explicit attempt at rock-oriented pop.” It’s also a rather depressing piece of work, as the mood throughout is one of unrelieved (and unrelievable) sadness.

Elvis Presley’s version of “Gentle On My Mind” comes from his sessions in Memphis in 1969, which were regarded at the time as some of the best work he’d done in years. That was likely true, but, to me, “Gentle On My Mind” was one of the lesser efforts from those sessions. The best-known songs from those sessions, of course, are the three hits: “In The Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Suspicious Minds.” For my part, the best performance from those sessions is the King’s take on “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road.”

“I’m Easy,” the Boz Scaggs tune, comes from his self-titled solo debut, which was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Probably the best-known cut on the album is “Loan Me A Dime,” which features – as do a few other cuts – Duane Allman.

“Dirty Old Man” features the classic line-up behind Delaney and Bonnie: Leon Russell, Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle, Jim Price, Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner, Rita Coolidge and a few others.

At The Ends Of The Mississippi

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 16, 2007

In the midst of a pine forest in northern Minnesota, a trickle of water flows out of a lake and heads northeast. Most days in the summertime, folks cluster around the stream, which is less than a yard wide as it leaves the lake. Kids and some adults ford the small stream on a trail of rocks that looks too neatly spaced to be natural, the kids usually stepping gracefully from rock to rock while the adults generally look a little more awkward.

Carved into a signpost nearby is the legend: “Here, 1475 feet above the ocean, the Mississippi River begins to flow on its winding way 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.”

I would guess I was seven or so when I first saw that trickle of water heading out of Lake Itasca. I don’t recall if I tried to ford the river on the rocks. I just recall that we went to Itasca State Park as part of a summer vacation, seeing there not only the headwaters, but the small herd of bison the park kept and some artifacts from the times when the only visitors to the park’s forests and lakes were the Ojibwe. After a few days of touring in the area, we headed back to St. Cloud, where we lived no more than three blocks from the Mississippi River, and I headed to second grade at Lincoln School.

If I’m correct, and it was the summer of 1960, then that was forty-seven years ago, which sounds pretty distant as it is. But it was also long ago enough to be on the other side of a massive cultural divide, that clashing era we call the Sixties. I’ve long thought that the Sixties, as we think of them today, began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and ended with the fall of Saigon to North Vietnam in 1975. Thus, even though the calendar said 1960 during that year I turned seven, I think we were still, culturally, in the Fifties.

Let’s look at the pop culture of the time, of those months that made up second grade for me:

Television shows that premiered in 1960 (likely in the fall, as almost all shows did then) were: Route 66, Sing Along With Mitch, My Three Sons, The Flintstones, The Andy Griffith Show and the first Bob Newhart Show. (I have no idea what the premise of this Newhart show was, but this was neither the psychiatrist show nor the innkeeper show; those came later.)

Also in television that year, Howdy Doody ended its thirteen-year run, and Clarabell the silent clown finally spoke, saying “Goodbye, kids!”

Popular films in 1960 included The Apartment, The Alamo, Spartacus, Exodus, The Magnificent Seven, Elmer Gantry and Where The Boys Are.

As for music, well, here’s a list of the songs that reached No. 1 during the months when I would have been occupied by the rigors of second grade:

“It’s Now Or Never” by Elvis Presley
“The Twist” by Chubby Checker
“My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own” by Connie Francis
“Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne
“Save The Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters
“I Want To Be Wanted” by Brenda Lee
“Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles
“Stay” by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs
“Are You Lonesome Tonight” by Elvis Presley
“Wonderland By Night” by Bert Kaempfert
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles
“Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk
“Pony Time” by Chubby Checker
“Surrender” by Elvis Presley
“Blue Moon” by the Marcels
“Runaway” by Del Shannon
“Mother-in-Law” by Ernie K-Doe
“Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson

It’s not as grim a list as it easily could have been for the early 1960s. No Fabian, no Bobby Vinton, no Annette. And songs by Roy Orbison, the Ventures, Sam Cooke and the Miracles bubbled near the top of the Top Ten list through that winter. But so, on the other hand, did records by Floyd Cramer, Ferrante & Teicher and Kathy Young & the Innocents!

I was pretty much unaware of all of it, though “The Twist” was unavoidable. I suppose I might have heard the Bert Kaempfert single on KFAM, the more conservative of St. Cloud’s two radio stations at the time; my dad had a transistor radio at his bedside, and he turned it on for about twenty minutes each evening before retiring. And I probably heard some of the other tunes around the neighborhood as older kids listened to their radios.

One of the sounds I know I did not hear was that of Huey Smith and the Clowns, who were recording during those years of 1960 and 1961 for New Orleans’ Imperial Records, down at the other end of the river that I might have walked across and that flowed not that far from our house. Smith was only a couple of years removed from his only Top 40 hit – 1958’s “Don’t You Just Know It,” which hit No. 9 – but the four singles released during his work at Imperial didn’t touch the charts. As John Broven observes in the liner notes to The Imperial Sides, 1960-61, at the time Smith moved from his earlier label, Ace, to Imperial, “the New Orleans rhythms were changing to a funkier soul sound; somehow Huey and his group needed a rocking backbeat and a fat horn sound to bring out their very best. With Huey caught in a musical no-man’s land and with promotion lacking, the Imperial singles were commercial failures.”

Commercial failures, perhaps. Artistic failures? Not a chance.

Even as times and styles changed and Smith held to his old forms, he and the Clowns – aided by production from New Orleans’ own genius, Dave Bartholomew – recorded some nicely done bits of R&B during their Imperial sessions. The sound is very clearly that of 1950s New Orleans – not all that far from the work Bartholomew did with Fats Domino and others – and as such, the songs are echoes of a time that was passing even as they were recorded. But they still provide a mighty nice listen, because there were very few that did New Orleans R&B better.

The recordings as I present them here were released under the Imperial label on an LP pressed by Pathé Marconi in France in 1983. “Snag A Tooth Jeanie,” the two parts of “Behind The Wheel” “More Girls,” “Sassy Sara” and the incredibly titled “The Little Moron” were released on Imperial singles. The remaining cuts were recorded during the same period of 1960-61 at Cosimo’s Studio in New Orleans.
 

Track listing:
Sassy Sara
Why Did I Do (Wa-Do-Do)
Somebody Told It
More Girls
Psycho
The Little Moron
I Didn’t Do It
Behind The Wheel (Part 1)
Behind The Wheel (Part 2)
Heart Trouble (Part 1)
Snag A Tooth Jeanie
The Hill Ain’t Far
Able Mabel
I Don’t Play Like That

Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns – The Imperial Sides, 1960-61 [1983]

Saturday Single No. 9

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2007

Like most lovers of pop and rock music, I imagine, I love radio. During my college years, I worked at the SCSU radio station for a while, and spent a lot of my class time with folks who went into radio (while I ended up working for newspapers and occasionally in public relations).

And, given that I have a prodigious memory and rapid recall, one of the things I’ve loved the most about radio is the trivia contests they often offer. Over the years, I’ve won quite a few.

During my final summer of college, I was picking up a few last credits by taking a television news workshop, producing stories and newscasts side by side with some of those who were going into radio and television production. One of those folks was a fellow named Jim who was the nighttime DJ at WJON, the station not far from the house where I grew up. One evening, just after the film Star Wars was released, Jim had a copy of the soundtrack to give away; it would go the fourth caller with the correct answer to the question: Who wrote the music that was used as a main theme in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey?

I was sitting in my mobile home writing a letter or something; I remember typing at the kitchen table right next to the wall phone. I grabbed the phone and dialed the WJON studio line. “Hi, Jim,” I said.

“Hey, how goes?” he asked, having recognized my voice.

“Just fine,” I said. “And the answer is Richard Strauss.” Strauss was the composer of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the dramatic trumpet and tympani fanfare used in the film.

“You’re correct caller No. 1!”

I hung up and dialed again. And again. And again. I was correct caller No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4. (I have a sneaking suspicion that if another caller had slid in with the correct answer after I was No. 3, Jim would have deflected him or her, waiting for my fourth call.) And I got my Star Wars soundtrack. Later that summer, I also won the Beatles’ Live At The Hollywood Bowl although I don’t recall the question I answered for it. And still later that summer, I won Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Works, Vol. 1, although when I went to the station to pick it up, I was told they’d run out and they would call me when they got more copies in. I never got a call. (I’m living no more than two blocks from the station again, and I sometimes wonder if I should drop in some day and see what the folks there can do for me about my lost copy of Works, Vol. 1.)

I’ve won a few other trivia contests over the years. While I lived in Minot, North Dakota, one of the stations there ran its Mystery Oldie of the Day contest at 7 a.m., right when I was about ready to head out the door to the university where I taught. As the DJ introduced the daily contest, I’d pick up my phone and punch in the first six digits of the station’s number. When the song started, if I recognized it, I’d hit the final digit and go for victory. That particular station limited listeners to one contest victory in every four-week period, so I began to keep a note by the stereo listing the date when I’d be eligible to win again. The prize was usually a free dinner at one of the local restaurants; I ate a lot of free meals during my two years in Minot.

Once, when I was working for a banking corporation in downtown Minneapolis, I happened to be between tasks when one of my favorite stations of all time, Cities 97, ran its morning trivia contest. I don’t recall the question, but I won a pound of coffee beans from a local coffee house and a Grateful Dead necktie.

But my favorite trivia contest happening has to be what took place one afternoon in Columbia, Missouri, during the summer of 1991. I was spending the summer working on a final project for my master’s degree in journalism, and I’d fallen into a nice routine. I’d do interviews and research and some writing from about 8 a.m. to, oh, about 4 p.m., when I’d get into my car and drive to a nearby convenience store to get the evening papers.

One day in July, I got into the car and headed out, my favorite local station on the car radio. When I was a block from the store, the DJ said, “Well, here’s today’s trivia question, and I’m going to make you guys work for this one a little bit.”

I listened carefully.

The DJ said, “Who was Norman Smith, what was his hit, and what groups was he associated with? Now, take your time and do your research with this one.”

I pulled into the store’s parking lot, got out of the car and headed to the pay phone near the store’s entrance, fishing in my pocket for a quarter and reciting the station’s phone number in my head. I called the station, and the DJ answered, no more than ten seconds after he’d finished his question.

He answered with the station’s call letters, which I’ve forgotten, and then said, “Whaddaya got?”

I said, “Norman Smith was known as Hurricane Smith, his hit was ‘Oh, Babe, What Would You Say’ in 1973, and he was associated with the Beatles and Pink Floyd.”

There was a three-second silence. Then: “That’s disgusting!” He laughed ruefully. “Are you a disc jockey somewhere or something?”

No, I told him, just a music fan, and he’d happened to hit on one of my all-time favorite singles. 

He sighed and said, “I really thought that one would make people work for it.”

A couple days later, I stopped by the station and, from the choices offered, picked up a copy of R.E.M.’s Out Of Time, which has turned out to be one of my favorite albums from the 1990s.

To fill in the blanks: Norman Smith worked for EMI in London at the famed Abbey Road studios. He was an engineer for the Beatles’ sessions up through 1965’s Rubber Soul, and he was the producer for Pink Floyd’s first three albums. In early 1973, as Hurricane Smith, he reached the Top Ten in the U.S. with his quirky, retro-styled hit, “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say,” today’s Saturday Single.

Hurricane Smith – “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say” [Capitol 3383, 1972]

Working At The Trapshoot

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 13, 2007

There weren’t a lot of ways for a kid to make money in St. Cloud when the 1960s were turning into the 1970s. Supposedly, you could work when you turned sixteen, but with a state college in the city and two small private colleges within twelve miles, there were plenty of college-age kids available for employers; younger kids didn’t get many of the jobs.

I suppose there were paper routes, and one always saw ads in the back of comic books for stuff that could be sold door-to-door, but I never tried any of those. My first crack at any kind of employment was a hot, dirty, somewhat dangerous job that I got through my pal Rick.

There was – still is, for that matter – a gun club southeast of the city that hosted the state trapshooting championships every year in early to mid-July. Rick went to school with one of the club owner’s sons and worked at the gun club for various events. By the summer of 1968, he managed to get me a job at the gun club for the four days of the state trap shoot. I was what they called a “setter.”

Trapshooting, as you might know, involves contestants with shotguns trying to shoot clay targets that fly through the air, propelled there by a machine located in a small structure dug into the earth. It was my job to sit in one of those little structures for about ten to twelve hours a day. As the whirring machine threw each target out into the open for the contestants to aim at, I took another clay target – called a “bird” – from the stack in front of me and placed it on the machine’s arm, which oscillated slightly from right to left to provide differing angles for the bird’s trajectory. The small pit was filled with boxes full of birds, and along with making sure to place a new bird on the machine every fifteen seconds or so, I had to open the cardboard boxes and make certain I had access to more birds when the stack from which I was currently working ran out. 

Every once in a while, I’d be a little slow getting the bird onto the machine, and the throwing arm would hit the bird as I was lowering it in place, shattering it and leaving me worrying about the safety of my hand. If that happened too many times, the gun club manager would mention it, not out of concern for my hand but out of concern for the convenience of the shooters, who were annoyed when their call for a target brought no target. It was even worse during the doubles competition, when a setter had to get two birds onto the machine, first with the left hand, then with the right hand.

A sonic digression: The traditional call for a target is for the shooter to shout out the word “pull,” probably from the time when targets – live birds at one time – were released by the pull of a rope. Shooters tend to develop their own versions of that traditional call, much in the same way umpires develop their own calls for strikes and balls. It’s hard to guess how to spell some of the sounds I heard shooters use as they called for a target, but this is what some of them sounded like: “Wheeeeeeeeeent!” “Poooooooooooowell!” “Hrant!” “Houp!” “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” And so on. Some of them, of course, just said, “Pull!”

I only got to hear the shooters for a limited time, during my three or four breaks a day. The vast majority of the time, I was down in the pit, unpacking boxes of birds and setting them on the machine arm. I did that for, as I said, ten to twelve hours a day for the four-day run of the trap meet. It was boring, and it was dirty, as the targets were made out of what I would guess was some kind of petrochemical mix that resulted in a substance very much like hard tar. I’d come out of the pit at night with my face and hands covered with the thick black dust the birds gave off. There was something toxic in the dust, so that about a week after the trapshoot, the skin on my face would turn dark and brittle and then peel off in wide strips. I doubt if it did much good for my long-term health.

So why do it? Well, as I said, there weren’t a lot of ways for kids to make money back then. And I got $40 for my first state shoot in 1968, $50 in 1969 and $60 in 1970, pretty good money for four days back then, when the minimum wage was less than $1.50 an hour. I don’t recall what I did with the cash from the other two years, but in 1969, I used my money to buy a cassette tape recorder.

So why am I writing about the state trap meet and toxic clay birds? Because one of the ways in which we setters – those of us consigned to the pits with their oscillating machines – kept our sanity was by bringing radios. Tuned for the most part to either KBWB or WDGY, the two Top 40 stations in the Twin Cities, our radios gave us at least something to listen to above the whirr of the machine and the sound of shotguns going of along the line all day long.

As a result, there are songs that I call “trap shoot songs.” Those are songs that I either heard for the first time or else heard so frequently during a trap shoot, that when I hear them now, almost forty years later, I am for an instant back down in that dusty pit, keeping a stack of birds in front of me, taking advantage of a lull to open a new box of birds and doing my best to make sure that the whirling arm of the trap machine does not have a chance to whack at my fingers as I place another bird.

Some of those songs are: “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams; “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors; “People Got To Be Free” by the Rascals; “Get Together” by the Youngbloods; “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & the Shondells; “Make It With You” by Bread; “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War; and the song that leads off today’s album rip, “Are You Ready?” by Pacific Gas & Electric.

The version of the song on the album – also titled Are You Ready – is longer and a bit different than the single was. The slow recitation at the start of the song was edited off for the single, and I imagine that some of the repeated choruses might have been, too. As a whole, the album is a pretty good piece of San Francisco blues-rock, with the highlights being the title cut, a good, gritty version of the traditional tune “Staggolee,” and an interesting cover of “When A Man Loves A Woman.”

Not many of the members of Pacific Gas & Electric remain well known (the best known would be lead singer Charlie Allen), but the group got some help from a few well-known friends: Rusty Young of Poco provides steel guitar on “Mother, Why Do You Cry?” and the background chorus on both “Are You Ready?” and “When A Man Loves A Woman” includes session singers extraordinaire Merry Clayton, Venetta Fields and Clydie King.

(Thanks to Peter Patnaik at Honey, Where You Been So Long? for reminding me I had this album by posting “Staggolee” the other day. It’s a fine blog, focusing mostly on pre-World War II blues. Check it out!)

Track listing:

Are You Ready?
Hawg For You
Staggolee
The Blackberry
Love, Love, Love, Love, Love
Mother, Why Do You Cry?
Elvira
Screamin’
When A Man Loves A Woman

Pacific Gas & Electric – Are You Ready [1970]

A Baker’s Dozen from 1970

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 11, 2007

I’ve been dithering back and forth for a few days, trying to decide what year to feature in today’s Baker’s Dozen. I spent some time sorting out the tunes from various years on the RealPlayer (in the process realizing that I might need to beef up the number of tunes for some of the years prior to the British Invasion and for the 1980s) trying to decide.

I was thinking about 1969 and about 1970 but I couldn’t make up my mind. Finally, as the Texas Gal was pulling on her coat to leave for work this morning, I gave her the choice between those two years and 1966. Without hesitation, she chose 1970. So I looked at my list of love songs that I sometimes use as a starting point. Two were from 1970: “It Don’t Matter To Me” by Bread and “Long, Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt.

Without telling her which songs they were, I asked her to choose between Love Song No. 1, Love Song No. 2 or a random start. And she chose a random start.

And I think we came up with a pretty good set of songs for the year, which is truly one of my favorite years for music, as it was the first full calendar year when I was listening consistently to pop and rock. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my first two album purchases with my own money – as opposed to gifts – were the Beatles’ Let It Be and the double album with the silver cover that was labeled simply Chicago and has since come to be called Chicago II.

By the end of the year, the collection had grown to include albums by the Bee Gees, by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Band as well several more LPs by the Beatles. I also spent a lot of time listening to Top 40 radio; looking at a list of the year’s major single releases in Norm N. Nite’s Rock On Almanac is like looking at a roster of old friends.

So here are thirteen old friends:

“Arizona” by Mark Lindsay from Arizona

“Please Call Home” by the Allman Brothers Band from Idlewild South

“Heavy Church” by Three Dog Night from Naturally

“The Mob” by the Meters from Look-Ka Py Py

“Blue Boy” by Joni Mitchell from Ladies of the Canyon

“Built for Comfort” by Howlin’ Wolf from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions

“New Morning” by Bob Dylan from New Morning

“Casey Jones” by the Grateful Dead from Workingman’s Dead

“Sunny Skies” by James Taylor from Sweet Baby James

“Down Along The Cove” by Johnny Jenkins from Ton-Ton Macoute!

“Let It Be” by Aretha Franklin from This Girl’s in Love With You

“Do You Remember The Sun” by It’s A Beautiful Day from Marrying Maiden

“Upon The Earth” by Illustration from Illustration

A few notes about this Baker’s Dozen:

Mark Lindsay, as you might know, had been the frontman for Paul Revere and the Raiders, which had thirteen Top 40 hits – four in the Top Ten – during the 1960s. I’ve always thought that “Arizona” was one of the last gasps in the Top 40 of the hippie sensibility with its references to San Francisco, rainbow shades, posting posters and Indian braids. And “Arizona” was a perfect self-adopted name, in an era when hippie children called themselves Sunshine and Harmony and Wavy Gravy and Heloise and Abelard.

I’ve thought for years that “Please Call Home,” a Gregg Allman original, was nearly the perfect blues song, and it’s still surprising, almost forty years after the fact, to realize that when it came out, the Allman Brothers Band had been together for only a year or so (although all of its members had been woodshedding in other bands for years).

The Meters, as All-Music Guide says, “defined New Orleans funk, not only on their own recordings, but also as the backing band for numerous artists,” including Allen Toussaint, Paul McCartney and Robert Palmer. Look-Ka Py Py was the second album by the group headed by Art Neville.

Howlin’ Wolf’s “Built For Comfort” comes from the sessions recorded in London in 1970. The Wolf, who was not healthy, brought along his long-time guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Joining them in the studio were such British luminaries as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones. Former Stones pianist Ian Stewart pitched in, and a dummer credited only as “Richie” but better known as Ringo Starr came by for a track or two. Blues purists don’t care much for the resulting album, but I think it’s fine. Highlights include Clapton quietly asking the Wolf to demonstrate to the players how he wants the opening to “The Red Rooster” to go, and a rousing version of Big Joe Williams’ classic “Highway 49.”

“Down Along The Cove” was originally intended to be part of a Duane Allman solo album that never came to fruition after the creation of the Allman Brothers Band. The backing tracks already in the can were presented to Jenkins for Ton-Ton Macoute. That’s Duane on guitar here, and fellow Allman Brothers Butch Trucks, Jaimoe and Berry Oakley also worked on the sessions.

The boys from Muscle Shoals provide the backing for Aretha on This Girl’s In Love With You, and the saxophone solo comes from King Curtis.

Illustration was a horn-rock band fronted by Bill Ledster, and “Upon The Earth” was the opening cut from the group’s self-titled debut on the Janus label. (The group also released Man Made in 1974 on Good Noise.) According to the website of band member John Ranger, the group was formed at the Fontain Bleu in St. Jean, Quebec in 1969. You can listen to both of Illustration’s albums – and a few other things – at Ranger’s website.

The Long Road To Country

April 18, 2011

Originally posted April 9, 2007

For a long, long time, I didn’t care much for country music.

Part of that was the era of my youth: In the later 1950s and through the 1960s, country was – as it had been since its rise in the 1920s – the music of kinship for those on the land, almost certainly giving those Americans whose lives were still rural a stronger sense of identity. (The fact that the rise of country music also gave performers, producers, radio stations and record companies a strong source of income is not lost on me, but country music had, I believe, as strong a social function as it did a commercial one.) And as I grew up in a small city during that time – St. Cloud had a population of just more than 30,000 in the early 1960s – the last thing we city kids wanted to be was country kids.

I imagine that not many of us were more than one generation removed from the land ourselves – my mom grew up on a farm and my dad spent at least part of his childhood living on a farm. But it seems to me, looking back, that being from the country – even in elementary school – laid a burden on kids. I know for sure that by the time junior high rolled around, the hotshot cool kids – whose contempt for others, I imagine, was nothing more than an attempt to persuade themselves that they were okay – had no greater insult for another kid than to call him or her “farmer.”

And none of us listened to country music. Most kids, by the time, say, 1965 rolled around, were listening to rock and pop; the administration at my junior high school allowed us, when we were finished with lunch, to walk down to the gym and listen to records. I have a vivid memory from seventh grade of a young woman named Marlys dancing energetically, perhaps to the Stones’ “Get Off My Cloud,” in her short-for-the-times skirt, chartreuse tights and glistening silver boots. (I recall teasing her about her tights and boots at a reunion years later; she replied, “But you noticed me, didn’t you?”)

The point is that none of my contemporaries listened to country. Nor did I. I listened to lots of things that weren’t rock: Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass and Al Hirt were my favorites, which left me outside, listening in, a lot of the time, but not as far outside as I would have been had I loved country music.

Oh, there were country radio stations around. The adjacent small town of Sauk Rapids was home to WVAL, which played country from the time it came on the air at sunrise to the time it went off the air at sunset. And on Saturdays when my dad would putter around in his basement workshop or do something out in the garage, his radio was tuned to 800 on the AM dial, WVAL. I’m not entirely sure if he really liked country music or if his choice of WVAL was because he didn’t really understand the music beginning to be played at all times of the day on other local stations. Or maybe he liked the reactions he got from me and my sister when we had to ride somewhere with him in his cherished ’52 Ford and had to endure the sounds of Dottie West, Buck Owens and Marvin Rainwater, whom Dad once saw in concert.

I didn’t listen. Even when I was in the old car and I heard the music, I didn’t listen. I guess I didn’t really listen to the music until I was in college, and then only sparingly. I went one evening to a showing on campus of the film The Last Picture Show, which uses for part of its soundtrack country from the era of the film, the late 1940s and early 1950s: songs by Frankie Laine, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell and more. I was caught by the music, filed away in my head the idea of sometime checking it out, and then forgot about it.

Time moved on. I spent some time in the late 1980s romancing a lady who was living in Kansas, and I spent three months in a small town there. I heard a lot of country music, certainly, but it didn’t grab me, although I was polite when my lady played selections from her cherished Alabama collection. I was back in Minnesota when country boomed in the 1990s. I was aware of the boom but still didn’t listen much. I knew by then, certainly, that country was one of the two major well-springs from which much of American popular music arose (the blues being the other). But it wasn’t until two separate events occurred at about the same time that I began to pay any more than polite attention to country.

When the Texas Gal entered my life in 2000, she brought with her a long appreciation for country. (She listens to other things as well, certainly: Her favorite group all-time is the Doobie Brothers.) And I began to listen more closely than I ever had, and I enjoyed a lot of the country I heard, finding myself especially drawn to Brooks & Dunn. And about the same time, I discovered Darden Smith, a Texas native who began his career as a straight country singer and has since moved, as I wrote in my notes on an earlier Saturday Single, to a place near the intersection of country, folk, pop and rock.

In many ways, the LP I’m sharing today – Native Soil, Darden Smith’s 1986 debut – reminds me of the bedrock country music that was used for The Last Picture Show, although it doesn’t quite have that level of grit. But like the music of the neo-traditionalists that filled the airwaves in the mid-1980s, Native Soil stays close to the roots of country. The sound is guitar, voice and fiddle and a few other stringed instruments for the most part, with piano and drums, and on rare occasion, some horns coming into the mix; along the way, Smith gets some help with harmony vocals from Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith. Smith wrote all the songs, and the writing is clear and eloquent in its marshalling of day-to-day events and images, especially in “Two Dollar Novels” and “Painter’s Song.”

Track listing:

Bus Stop Bench
Red Sky
Little Maggie
Veteran’s Day
Sticks and Stones
Keep An Open Mind
Painter’s Song
Two Dollar Novels
God’s Will
Clatter and Roll

(There is a skip – maybe two – near the end of “Sticks and Stones” that I could not repair.)

Darden Smith – Native Soil [1986]