Archive for the ‘Album’ Category

Another From Darden Smith

May 18, 2022

Originally posted September 10, 2009.

As I wrote in February 2007 (for Saturday Single No. 2!):

[T]o be honest, Darden Smith these days is not strictly country. That’s where he started some twenty years ago, but he’s evolved to where his music occupies a place somewhere near the intersection of country, folk, pop and rock.

That’s an interesting place to live, musically, but it’s an awful place for the marketing and promotion folks to figure out. So they don’t try. That’s the only reason I can figure out to explain the public’s failure to elevate Smith to the level he deserves.

That was all true then, when I was writing about “Levee Song” from Smith’s Little Victories CD, a 1993 release, and it remains true as I try to figure out what to say about Deep Fantastic Blue, a CD Smith released in 1996.

Well, it’s got plainspoken songs, with a few nifty metaphors – “Somebody’s pride and joy turned out to be the broken branch on the family tree” for one – and some fairly muscular musical backing (not muscular in a rock sense, with lots of loud, but in a country-folk sense; I think you’ll hear what I mean when you listen).

Here’s what All-Music Guide had to say about Deep Fantastic Blue (and about Smith’s career, ca. 1996):

“When CBS (now Sony) signed Darden Smith in 1987, they may have hoped they were getting another country-pop singer-songwriter like Rodney Crowell. By the time a couple of albums had suffered undeserved anonymity, however, they may have been hoping for a critics’ favorite with a modest commercial breakthrough like John Hiatt. But major labels do not wait forever for even the most promising artist to start exceeding his advances, and with this, his fifth album, Smith is now recording for his manager’s indie label. It turns out this is all for the better, artistically, anyway. Darden’s well-written songs are sufficiently straightforward enough to answer to any one of several production ideas. A good country producer could take them in a Garth-like direction, and a good rock producer could find another Tom Petty. Instead, Stewart Lerman has assembled a stellar backup unit of relative unknowns — anchored by bassist Graham Maby from the old Joe Jackson Band, and guitarist Richard Kennedy and drummer Stanley John Mitchell from the late, lamented Drongos — for a restrained folk-rock treatment that emphasizes the songs. Smith’s lyrics cover familiar ground, touching on restlessness, hopelessness, hope, despair, freedom, aging, and, oh, yeah, lust. But he often has unusual ways of putting things, and he sings with conviction. There may not be a place for him on a major anymore, but he continues to grow as a songwriter and performer, and perhaps an audience will find him yet.”

Okay, so who are the musical referents in that review? Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, Garth Brooks, Joe Jackson and the Drongos, (who were – and I had to look this up – a pop-rock band that released two albums during the mid-1980s). That’s a wide swath of influences and reflections. No wonder it seems hard to figure out what kind of performer Darden Smith is.

It’s easy for a listener, actually, once you get hold of one of his CDs. Put the sucker in the player and let it run, Track 1 through 10. Wash, rinse, repeat. Listen to it the way people used to listen to music, as an entire piece of work. And during a quiet time on the next Wednesday evening or something like that, you’ll have a melody running through your head, and you’ll realize it’s “First Day of the Sun,” or it’s “Drowning Man,” or maybe it’s “Hunger.” Whatever it is, it’s one of Smith’s songs from Deep Fantastic Blue that’s worked its way inside you, the way the best music does.

(That’s always a risk, of course. If a listener’s life is in turmoil or worse, the music may attach itself to that time of his or her life and how it felt to be there. I came across Darden Smith during a difficult portion of my life, and some of the songs on the first CDs of his I bought pull me back to my apartment on Bossen Terrace in Minneapolis and to a time that, well, wasn’t very pleasant. Somehow, though, Darden’s music only lightly recalls that time; even though his CDs were never far from the stereo then, they are, thankfully, not reminders of grief. On the other hand, Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia, which I loved and put into the player about as frequently, is these days still nearly unlistenable for the sonic reminders it brings.)

In any event, Deep Fantastic Blue is a worthwhile listen. I checked at Amazon this morning, and it’s available – one copy through standard means, others through other dealers. There’s also an import version available. (Those listings seem to change from day-to-day.) And most of Smith’s other work is available there as well, with all of it save Little Victories still in print.

If you like what you hear, explore the rest of Smith’s catalog. I’ve posted most of what he recorded up to 1996. (I don’t recall if I’ve ever posted Little Victories, but next week might be a good time for that.) He’s continued to write and record, though it’s been three years since his last release, Field of Crows.

Deep Fantastic Blue by Darden Smith [1996]

Tracks
First Day of the Sun
Broken Branches
Running Kind
Skin
Silver & Gold
Drowning Man
Different Train
Chariots
Stop Talking
Hunger

Deep Fantastic Blue by Darden Smith [1996]

Afternote:
I got an email the other day from the operator of the fine blog The Vinyl District, asking me if I’d tell last week’s tale of Echoes In The Wind for a feature he calls “TVD Pop Over.” I did so gladly, ripping five favorite tunes from vinyl to accompany my words; the post went online today. My thanks to Jon. And some advice for regular readers here: If you don’t already do so, you should make TVD one of your regular stops in blogworld.

Hick-Pop From Good Homes

May 17, 2022

Originally posted August 24, 2009

Not quite a year ago, I wrote about finding a CD called From Good Homes on a bookstore’s clearance shelves during the year or so the Texas Gal and I lived in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth. Intrigued by the rootsy, sometimes bluesy, pop of the band, also called From Good Homes, I looked closely at the clearance shelves the next time I was in the store, and found another CD by the group, Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya! If anything, I liked it better.

I’ve never dug deeply into the catalog of the Dave Matthews Band for some reason, but what I have heard – generally on radio – I’ve liked. And I’ve found the music of From Good Homes reminding me a little – sometimes more, sometimes less – of what I’ve heard of the Dave Matthews Band. (The DMB has long been on a list of groups and artists that I want to explore further; given the length of that list, I’m not sure when that exploration will begin.)

It turns out that Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya! was From Good Homes’ first album, released in 1993 on the GRRrrrr label. The band then got a deal with RCA and released two CDs: Open up the Sky in 1995 and From Good Homes in 1998 before calling it quits in 1999. (A CD of highlights of the band’s last performance in 1999 was released in 2002 as Take Enough Home.)

I’ve found myself listening to From Good Homes quite a bit lately. A month or so ago, the Texas Gal and I moved some stuff around and wound up putting a CD player in a room where there hadn’t been one previously. I spend a fair amount of time there, so I’ve begun listening to full CDs more than I had in a while, and I’ve dug through the CD collection to find stuff I want to know better. The two CDs by From Good Homes ended up on that list, as did The Living Daylights, which I offered here recently.

And the more I listen to Hick-Pop, the more I like it. It’s maybe a little less polished than From Good Homes, and in this case, that’s not a bad thing at all. A few rough edges on the rootsy sound of the band makes the music better, I think. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Here’s part of what JT Griffith of All-Music Guide said about Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!

“The ten tracks here are the loosest and most inspired of the band’s albums . . .  ‘Drivin’ and Cryin’” is a fast and furious song that any fan of Allgood and Rusted Root will find instantly familiar (and easy to dance to). Critics get apoplectic when Dave Matthews reigns in his jamming sensibilities and records a tight, song-oriented album. From Good Homes did the same thing with this underappreciated album of great pop songs that lent themselves to awesome live jams – in 1993! . . . The real shame is that Hick-Pop Comin’ at Ya! is an out of print, self-released CD from 1993 by a band few know about.”

The highlights for me? “Drivin’ and Cryin’” is a great opener, seeming to shift gears several times as it rolls along. “Suzanna Walker” is a good story song (and one that the band likely could jam with when it played live). But my favorites are “Here Comes the Rain” with its saxophone riff, its celebratory sound and its enigmatic, slightly disturbing lyrics; and the melancholy “Scudder’s Lane,” with its harmonica and its sad tale:

Scudder’s Lane

me and lisa used to run thru the night
thru the fields off scudder’s lane
we’d lay down and look up at the sky
and feel the breeze, thru the trees

and I’d often wonder
how long would it take
to ride or fly to the dipper in the sky

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

I stayed with my love lisa
thru the darkness of her days
she walked into the face of horror
and I followed in her wake
and I often wonder
how much does it take
’til you’ve given all the love
That’s in your heart
and there’s nothing in its place

as I drove back into hainesville
I was thinking of the days
when my dreams went on forever
as I ran thru the fields off scudder’s lane

i’m afraid of the momentum
that can take you to the edge of a cliff
where you look out and see nothing
and you ask
it that all there is

still I drove back out of hainesville
and I asked myself again will there ever come a day
when you drive back home to stay
could you ever settle down and be a happy man
in one of the houses that they’re building thru the fields
off scudder’s lane

Tracks
Drivin’ and Cryin’
Here Comes the Rain
Suzanna Walker
I’m Your Man
Way Down Inside
The Old Man and the Land
Comin On Home
Black Elk Speaks
Scudder’s Lane
Maybe We Will

Note: From Good Homes has a website, The Fruitful Acre, with a link to an archival site; the current site seems not to have been updated for some time. Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya! and From Good Homes seem to be out of print, as are Open Up The Sky from 1995 and Take Enough Home from 2002. The latter two albums, however, are available as downloads through iTunes, and CDs of Take Enough Home and Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya! can be ordered at the From Good Homes website. If you like what you hear, go buy the CD!

Was It 1964 Or 1965?

May 14, 2022

Originally posted August 14, 2009

Memory is a slippery creature. I read or heard somewhere about recent research into memory, and the theory was – and this is necessarily a paraphrase – that when we remember an event, our brain overlays the original memory with our new memory of that event, so the next time we recall that specific moment, we’re processing a second-generation memory and creating a third-generation memory. (Without any irony, I have to say that I cannot at all remember where I read or heard that bit of information.)

That seems to make some sense, even though it means our memories eventually become thinner and possibly distorted, like a favorite recording that’s seven generations removed from the original tape.

I got to thinking about this after Wednesday’s Vinyl Record Day post about the development of my LP database. Art D., a reader in Michigan, emailed me that afternoon and asked if I had the right date for Beatles’ ’65, after I said my sister and I received it for Christmas in 1965. He said the record had been released in December 1964. I nodded to myself, having verified that date at All-Music Guide that morning. I emailed back.

I said, in part, about Beatles ’65, that my sister and I got the record in 1965, about a year after it came out. I added:

“That’s what the red ink on it says, and that inscription dates from the day I began marking my LPs in 1970, and I suppose I could have erred then, and we actually got the album in 1964. At this point, we’ll never know for sure. I think, though, that I would have remembered – given the way I recall odd details – the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964.”

And writing those words – “I think, though, that I would have remembered . . . the paradox of getting a record titled Beatles ’65 when it was still 1964” – triggered another memory, a recollection of a very young whiteray looking at the record jacket that December night and wondering about that very paradox. It’s not the kind of memory that jumps up and says, “Here I am and here you were!” It’s more like it’s dancing on the edge of clarity, so I’m not sure about trusting it.

Earlier this week, when recalling the day I began marking my LPs, I wrote “I knew for certain that Beatles ’65 came to my sister and me for Christmas 1965.” Well, we all, at one time or another, know things for certain that just ain’t so. This could be one of mine. I imagine that on that summer day in 1970, I looked at the title of the album and just assumed it came out in 1965 and thus showed up in our house that December. I might have been wrong; the record might have been there a year earlier.

But I’m going to be gentle with the kid I was back then. I examined the record and its jacket this morning, and there’s no copyright date on either, no hint of the year of issue. Beyond that, I would have had no idea in 1970 where to go to find out when Beatles ’65 was released. As I think of it today, I probably could have gone out to Musicland at the mall or to the library at St. Cloud State and learned something in either one of those places. Knowing the correct release date might have changed my mind about when we got the record. But at sixteen, I didn’t think of that. I did the best I could.

There is one thing I do know for certain about that December night when we found Beatles ’65 next to the stereo. I’ve seen the photographic evidence: Somewhere among all the slides in Mom’s storage unit is a slide showing me sitting in Dad’s chair, wearing my Beatle wig, holding Beatles ’65 in my lap and quite possibly putting my fingers in my ears as a jest.

I wrote to Art D. that “we’ll never know for sure.” But we might. If I ever find that one slide among the thousands in the storage unit, and if Dad wrote the date on the cardboard, we’ll know. I do have a hunch that, if I ever find that picture of me and it has a date on it, I’ll be changing the acquisition year in my database to 1964. But that’s just a hunch, so I’ll leave it for now.

Note from 2022: We do know now. The photograph – a print, not a slide – turned up in a package of things I got from my sister a few years ago, and the date on the back of the picture – in my dad’s hand – clearly says “Christmas 1964.” Here it is:

Given my preoccupation for the past few days with Beatles ’65, it was easy to decide what to post today. The album was, of course, one of those created by Capitol Records here in the U.S., in this case by taking portions of two Beatles albums released in the United Kingdom and adding two sides of a UK single not released on an album there. So it’s an aberration, although it was a popular one; it was the No. 1 album for nine weeks in the U.S. during early 1965.

It was also the first Beatles LP I owned, and the sequence of songs on it lingers inside me. When I play Beatles for Sale on the CD player, I start out hearing Beatles ’65 because the first six tracks are the same on both. But I’m always startled after “Mr. Moonlight,” when Side One should be over, because here comes “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!” And Side Two of Beatles ’65 – cobbled together as it was with two tracks from Beatles for Sale, the lovely “I’ll Be Back” from A Hard Day’s Night and the single mentioned above – exists in modern form only on a CD that’s included as part of the 2004 box set The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1.

So I decided this morning to drop my mono copy of the LP (stereo cost more in the mid-1960s, and Dad was a thrifty man) on the turntable and offer Beatles ’65 as two mp3s, Side One and Side Two. There are a few pops and snaps, but hey, it’s forty-five-year-old vinyl.

Tracks, Side One
No Reply
I’m a Loser
Baby’s in Black
Rock and Roll Music
I’ll Follow the Sun
Mr. Moonlight

Tracks, Side Two
Honey Don’t
I’ll Be Back
She’s a Woman
I Feel Fine
Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby

‘Every Heart Is On Parade . . .’

May 13, 2022

Originally posted August 7, 2009

Welcome to the Ocean. Welcome to the Sea of Meant to Be.
Ferris Wheels. French Brocade. Every Heart is on Parade.
All These Things We Dream. All These Things We Dream.

Those are some of the first lines from “All These Things We Dream,” a song by the Living Daylights that I posted two days ago. Since then, the song’s been downloaded only thirteen times. That’s what happens, generally, when I post something that’s not ever been very popular. And the Living Daylights was not a popular band.

The band was, to be honest, utterly obscure. So obscure that there are very few references to the band on the ’Net. (I searched using the name of the band coupled with the name of each band member. The search was complicated by the existence of the James Bond film of the same name: The Living Daylights.)

There is an entry for a band called the Living Daylights at All-Music Guide, with a different album listed for a different year, and the description of the band and its work is entirely at odds with how the CD I have sounds. It’s not the same band.

A search under “Song” at All-Music Guide for “All These Things We Dream” comes up empty. The Living Daylights is a band that seems to have made almost no impact on modern life, and that’s happened during an era when one can hardly avoid coming to the attention of Google even by accident.

So why am I writing about the Living Daylights and what seems to be the band’s only CD? Because even though it’s always a joy to hear songs and write about songs that I’ve heard for forty years – that’s seventy-one percent of my lifetime – it’s also a distinct and rare pleasure to find something new, something I’d not heard when it came out, and be able to enjoy it to the same degree as I do the music I’ve carried around in my head for years.

And that’s what happened when I came across The Living Daylights on the discount shelf of a bookstore in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, almost eight years ago. All one can judge by in those circumstances is the cover and the song titles. None of that was familiar, but the impulse to buy the CD and bring it home is something that I’m sure every music lover has faced: This CD wants me to buy it, and I don’t know why.

I’m certain that the CD cost me no more than two dollars, a minor investment. And when I got home and heard the first strains of “All These Things We Dream,” I was hooked and the hook set in as the rest of the CD played on.

What’s the frame of reference? Who does the Living Daylights sound like? I called the Texas Gal into the study this morning and played her snippets of four or five tracks. Her overall judgment was that “it sounds a little like Darden Smith,” and of course, over the last two-plus years, I’ve made well-known my affection for Mr. Smith’s work. But her first reaction, her first thought on hearing the Living Daylights was “It sounds like America.” (I asked her later if the meant the band – the “Horse With No Name” boys – or the country, and she said she meant both: “It sounds a little like the band, but it also sounds like life in America.”) Looking for guidance, I checked Darden Smith’s entry at AMG, and the first style listed is “Americana.”

And maybe Americana is as good a tag to slap onto the Living Daylights as any. Years ago, I might have called it folk-rock, balancing the intersection of the acoustic guitars with the rock rhythm section. But that’s a crowded intersection at which to stand, and it’s too easy a label. Maybe it is Americana. Whatever it is, from the opening moments of “All These Things We Dream” through the end of “Anna,” The Living Daylights is one of those CDs that – without being self-consciously and artificially hushed – provides me with a gentle place from which to view the world.

Ten of the eleven songs on the CD were written by the group, with acoustic guitarist and singer Rick Barron being the chief writer, having been credited on all of them. The only cover is a version of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine.” (It’s a decent version of a song that I’ve never particularly liked.) The highlights? Beyond the opener, “All These Things We Dream,” I like “I’ll Be Good To You” with its organ foundation and fills; I also find the wordy “Life Is,” the spare “Medicine Lake” and the melancholy closer, “Anna,” worth attention.

Members of the Living Daylights were: Rick Barron, vocals and acoustic guitar; Paul Peterson, vocals, upright and electric bass, keyboards and percussion programming; Joe Finger, vocals and drums; Troy Norton, vocals and electric and acoustic guitar; Wayne Cullinan, vocals and percussion; and Don LaMarca, acoustic piano, Hammond organ and keyboards. [Note from 2022: Both websites are now gone. Note added May 13, 2022.]

Tracks
All These Things We Dream
I Am Here
We All Shine On
I’ll Be Good To You
Sunshine
All These Tears
Strong Man
Somebody’s Gonna Love You
Life Is
Medicine Lake
Anna

The Living Daylights by the Living Daylights [1996]

Afternote

I should mention the two sites I’ve found that mention the Living Daylights. One is the website of Paul Peterson, also known as St. Paul Peterson, a former Prince protégé. A page on his site about his album Blue Cadillac notes that Rick Barron of the Living Daylights helped on his album. (Thanks for reminding me, Steve!) The other is a site called Professional Drum Tracks, which lists the Living Daylights and shows the CD cover.

A Mixed But Worthwhile Bag

May 25, 2014

Originally posted June 1, 2009

I suppose the first time I became aware of Richie Havens was at St Cloud’s Paramount Theatre sometime in 1970. On what seems in memory a spring evening, my parents gave me permission to sit through Woodstock, the documentary film chronicling the vast music festival that had taken place the summer before in upstate New York.

(The parental permission was required, if I recall correctly, by the theater’s management, as the movie had several scenes showing naked hippies either at play or washing up in lakes and ponds. I’m not sure if my folks knew about those scenes. Being sixteen at the time, I of course didn’t mind glimpses of naked gals – hippies or not – but I honestly went to the film for the music.)

And Havens’ exhausting show-opener was stunning. I knew about most of the other musicians whose performances were shown in the film: Sly & The Family Stone; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Sha Na Na (does anybody else think it odd that in 1969, Sha Na Na was viewed on the same level as the other acts at Woodstock?); Arlo Guthrie; Santana; the Who; and more. But I’d been unaware of Richie Havens.

I came out of the theater that evening fascinated by a lot of the music I saw but most of all by Havens. (I find it fascinating that thirty-seven years later, I saw Havens perform live in the same theater where I’d heard his music for the first time.) I didn’t rush out and buy a lot of it, but I was a lot more aware of those performers when I heard them on the radio, and their names went on a long and informal list of artists whose music I wanted to explore when I had time and resources. It took a long time before I got around to some of them. And Richie Havens was one of those whose work waited a long time for me to find it.

It happened, finally, in the late 1990s, during the years when my record collection grew at an alarming rate. During one of my regular visits to Cheapo’s in late May of 1998, I came across Haven’s 1977 album, Mirage. Listening to it reminded me that I’d once planned – however vaguely – to explore Havens’ catalog. I went back the next day and got another Havens’ LP: 1987’s Simple Things. And as the year moved on, I kept looking for Haven’s stuff in the new arrivals bins and sorting through what was already there in the bin with his name on it. By then end of 1998, I had ten of his LPs, and I’d add four more in the years to come.

Among them was 1974’s Mixed Bag II, in title and style a sequel to his first release, 1967’s Mixed Bag. Even in a time when I was bringing home an average of one new LP a day, both of those stood out. I found Mixed Bag during the summer of 1998 and Mixed Bag II that December, and both of them stayed near the stereo for a month or two, as I played them frequently.

Mixed Bag is still in print on CD, so I will forego posting it, but I’ve had a request for a repost of Mixed Bag II. Here’s what I wrote about it a little more than a year and a half ago:

Highlights of the album are Havens’ take on “Ooh Child,” which had been a Top Ten hit for the Five Stairsteps in 1970; his somewhat meandering version of “Wandering Angus,” a poem by William Butler Yeats set to a folk melody; a sprightly version of McCartney’s “Band On The Run,” and the album’s moving finale, “The Indian Prayer,” written by Roland Vargas Mousaa and Tom Pacheco.

But the album’s center, literally and figuratively, is Haven’s performance of the Bob Dylan epic “Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands).” Reflecting perfectly the organic feel of the entire album, the track pulls the album together. It may be called a mixed bag, but it holds together pretty well. It’s the kind of album Richie Havens specializes in to this day: Mostly acoustic, melodic, thoughtful and warm.

Mixed Bag II by Richie Havens [1974]:

“Ooh Child”
“Headkeeper”
“Wandering Angus”
“Sad Eyed Lady (Of The Lowlands)”
“Someone Suite”
“Band On The Run”
“The Loner”
“The Makings Of You”
“The Indian Prayer”

Coming Attraction:
A member at a board I frequent asked if anyone had Kate Taylor’s Sister Kate album, which I posted here more than two years ago. When I replied, someone else noted that it would be nice to have her later, self-titled album. To my surprise, I found it in the stacks, and I’ll be ripping it to share sometime this week. At the same time, I’ll repost Sister Kate. (And if anyone has a line on Taylor’s third album recorded in 1979 at – I believe – Muscle Shoals, it would be appreciated.)

From A Yodel To The Wool Hat

October 3, 2012

Originally posted May 18, 2009

I never was much of a Monkees fan. I knew the hits, and I likely could have named the four guys, but I doubt if I could have ever matched names to pictures. Later on, after the hoopla was over and I actually was listening to Top 40, along came a song that I quite liked: “Joanne,” credited to Mike Nesmith and the First National Band. After that, I kept my ears open for anything else by Nesmith, but nothing else hit the Top 40, and I – being not very adventurous in my record shopping – pretty much forgot about Mike Nesmith (though he continued to produce records in a country-rock vein).

Jump to 2007: A rock journalist and enthusiast named Mitch Lopate discovers Echoes In The Wind and leaves a note and sends an email now and then. A friendship develops, and in emails and the occasional phone call, Mitch notes his favorites from over the long sweep of rock and all its musical relatives. Among them is Mike Nesmith. On his advice, I buy a couple of CDs and listen. Still persuading me, Mitch makes sure I have a copy of Nesmith’s 1977 album From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing. I listen, but the magic eludes me. So I’ve asked Mitch to explain it. Here’s his response:

A music journalist has to be careful when accepting an offer to write an essay about his or her favored musician of choice. In my case, I was caught by my own trap (the term is “hoisted by one’s own petard,” and I think it was used on an early Star Trek episode with Captain Kirk). What simply happened to me is that whiteray threw the idea back in my lap and asked, “What makes Michael Nesmith more interesting than any of the other country-folk-rock musicians from the same time period in his genre?” It took a few days to let it simmer until I found an answer – or several. For one, he yodels.

No, not the pastry; the way he sings, of course. He yodels – and that clued me in to some of the Nez magic. It’s his way of carrying along the legacy and tradition of those singers who incorporated that method into their work in the country vein of musical bloodlines. Jimmie “The Singing Brakeman” Rodgers, for one – and absolutely, there’s a big hunk of Hank Williams, too. They would surely be included – it’s part of Nesmith’s heritage as a native son of the Republic of Texas; it’s that mix of refined/respectable gentleman and hell-raisin’ rascal. It’s also a mix and blend of Nashville, but it comes through other locations and fellow musicians as well. It goes as far as the Pacific Northwest region where Danny O’Keefe comes from (listen to “I’m Sober Now”) – and then you can count in Boz Scaggs down at the Muscle Shoals studio in 1969, working on “Waiting for a Train.” Nez, however, makes it a staple part of his production – and it just fits naturally, as though he knew he was born to yippee and whoop. And no, I already know how much influence folks like Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Pure Prairie League had – I mean it’s different when Nesmith plays because it’s like he was singing about himself and not some distant ideal or goal like a busted romance and how to fix it.

If you really want to hear how far back he made it clear, turn it back to the Monkees’ first album and slip on “Papa Gene’s Blues.” That James Burton-like Nashville lead guitar is, I think, where Mike’s heart has been right from the start. Follow that with “Sunny Girlfriend” from the Headquarters release, and you’ve got the next clue. Forget all that foolishness that was part of the group’s act: Michael Nesmith was always a serious musician who honored his country roots. And backing that up is the whine of a pedal steel guitar – it’s found on almost all his songs (“Mama Nantucket” is a great example – and not the kind of title I’d associate with the instrument.)

That’s another part of the man’s appeal: He had a businessman’s approach to writing songs and lyrics in an honest but earnest way that lacks any fancy gimmicks. It was his approach to acting as well; for what it matters, there was no other option with the clowning antics that made the other three Monkees seem so cute. Even the Beatles needed George Harrison to be serious at times. Nez, on his part, keeps his production basic and focused – but adds just a tad of mischief. My favorite tune is “Rio,” partially because he deliberately rearranges words and images to create a fantasy of escaping to South America for the adventure of it – and the way he plays on the title itself when a woman’s voice proclaims, “Not Reno, dummy! Rio! Rio de JIN-ero!”

See? It’s not an obvious thing; it’s more simple than all the elaborate parts. He sings and plays like a musical collection of old movie stars: he’s sort of a singing mix of the best characteristics of Cary Grant and Gary Cooper: polite, firm, and funny, and quiet when it counts. That is, quiet until he writes a song – and then he’s out for a good laugh and a good time on the town. Heck, maybe it’s that Mike Nesmith is and always has been a man who knew what he wanted and how to do it – and he lets the music do his walking and talking. Or maybe it’s just that confidence that comes from – can I say – “a home on the range”? Any way I try to pin it down, it just comes down to a man who knew what he could do and how to make it fit his needs and his music as well as his life story. Can’t argue that with a man in a wool hat.

From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing by Mike Nesmith [1977]

Tracks
Rio
Casablanca Moonlight
More Than We Imagine
Navajo Trail
We Are Awake
Wisdom Has Its Way
Love’s First Kiss
The Other Room

Mitch adds, by way of closing:

“I enjoyed the project a whole lot because I really admired that guy. I mean, he was the only one in the group who made sense – most of the time.  Photon Wing really is a good album – when I first heard ‘Rio,’ I thought, ‘What clever writing; kind of a sensible Warren Zevon.’”

A Sad Springtime Scene

June 20, 2012

Originally posted May 8, 2009

Early this morning, the Texas Gal called me to the dining room window. “Look at the end of the driveway” she said, pointing.

And there, not far from the sidewalk and moving parallel to Lincoln Avenue – a fairly busy street – was a mama duck followed by her ducklings. We couldn’t tell how many there were as they pushed through the grass to keep up with her, but all of them were making pretty good time across the lawn toward Thirteenth Avenue, which is a less busy street.

I wandered outside and down near the edge of the lawn, just to see which way she’d take her brood. My guess was that she’d eventually have to cross Lincoln and, after that, the railroad tracks: About a half-mile up, there’s a large drainage pond in front of the public works building on the far side of the tracks from us.

Mama and her ducklings stepped down from the curb into the street as a car sailed past. I looked both ways and saw no traffic coming, and Mama scooted across the street, her brown and gold fluffballs following. I counted nine of them. Once across the street, Mama hopped up onto the cure and into the taller grass. The ducklings tried to follow. The last one in line jumped up, fell and flipped on his back. He (it could have been a she, I know) lay there thrashing his wings, unable to get up.

I’d not intended to interfere when I went down to watch, but I couldn’t stand to see him like that. I dashed across the street and lifted him up to the grass. As I did, the other eight ducklings headed left, along the gutter, parallel with mama’s path on the grass above. And they were heading straight toward a storm sewer grate. I got five of them before they fell in; three tumbled into the water some feet below. I looked down into the grate and could not see them in the dimness. But I could hear them.

And Mama would not leave. She was confused: She could hear her lost ducklings chirping from below the street, but she could not find them. She waddled back and forth, past the grating in the street, pausing every once in a while to keep her other ducklings in a group in the taller grass. Eventually, the mama duck stopped pacing and stood guard on the curb above the grate, her remaining six ducklings huddled around her. I watched for a few moments, then sadly walked back across the street and up to the house where the Texas Gal was waiting.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have gotten involved,” she said.

“There are storm drains everywhere,” I said. “And other risks.” She nodded.

I came back into the house, wondering if I’d made things worse. And I don’t know. As I watched from the dining room window, the Texas Gal stopped her car next to the storm drain on Lincoln and got out. I couldn’t tell what she was doing. She called after she got to work.

“I saw her standing on the curb,” she told me, “and I thought that if I could get her to move far enough away so she couldn’t hear the ones in the drain, she might move on.” So she’d moved slowly toward the mama duck and her ducklings, gently guiding them on a path toward the public works building down the street and across the tracks. The diminished family did move on, the Texas Gal said.

I called the city’s public works department and told them what I’d seen, and the man I talked to said he’d get word to the folks who handled such events. “I don’t know what their policy is,” he told me, “but I’ll get word to the right people.”

I don’t have much hope for the three that fell, but I sure hope that Mama Duck and her remaining six babies got to the pond at the public works building.

The Band: Jubilation

The first thing one notices about Jubilation, the 1998 CD that turned out to be the last album in The Band’s long history, is the sound of old: fiddles, snare drums, accordion and – perhaps the most important – voices that sound weary or at least long-used. Is this rock ’n’ roll? Americana? Looking back from eleven years after the CD came out and nearly ten years since the death of Rick Danko, the label doesn’t really matter. It comes to mind that this is how music – in a lot of ways – sounded in small American communities before we all listened to the radio and the stereo and our mp3 players.

The Band was always a little out of step with the rest of the musical world, its five original members comprising a band of brothers who all stepped to the rhythm of Thoreau’s distant drummer. On the cover of their second album, The Band, the photo of the five of them – Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson – looks as if it comes from a Civil War history or an account of desperate men on the American frontier of about the same time. And their music – from Music From Big Pink in 1968 through Jubilation – was the same: Out of touch (sometimes less so, sometimes more) with the trends and styles of the day and utterly in touch with something deeper in the American soul.

Yes, I know the original group was made up of four Canadians and one U.S. citizen; but, to take care of the linguistic point first: Canada is a part of North America. Beyond that, for all our differences – and there are some significant ones – the rural portions of English Canada are not that far different from the rural portions of the southern U.S., and the experiences of those communities as they grew were not that dissimilar. I’ve read over the years some accounts of growing up in rural Canada shared by Danko and Richard Manuel that sound very much – in terms of community and music – like tales from Levon Helm’s South. If those experiences had been too much unlike, then Robbie Robertson could never have written the songs for the group’s first incarnation as well as he did, as many of the songs were inspired by Helm’s tales of his native South.

To underline that, consider what All-Music Guide says about the area of Ontario where Danko was born and raised. It is, AMG says, “populated by a large number of families descended from expatriate Southerners from the United States, and the echoes of Southern culture ran through the music and language in the area, with a special emphasis on country music.”

Well, not to belabor the point, but The Band always sounded unlike any other group, and the roots of its music were found in rural Canada as well as in the rural U.S. And Jubilation is not far at all from those roots. As writer Greil Marcus says in the notes to the CD: “[T]he rickety feeling of the faster rhythms, the way voices curl together around lines than can carry no date (‘Ain’t that somethin’/The big doghouse thumpin’’) is at once old and unheard, a sound that only has to be heard for the first time to feel as if it’s being remembered.”

It’s obvious that I like Jubilation. I’ve enjoyed every one of The Band’s albums since I first heard The Band nearly forty years ago. (Well, I don’t listen to Cahoots a lot.)* It’s a relaxed album, easy to listen to and easy to like. The highlights? Well, I particularly like the opener, “Book Faded Brown” and two others: “Last Train To Memphis” and “Kentucky Downpour.” And there’s only one track on the CD that doesn’t work so well for me: “Spirit of the Dance” seems somehow trite.

One of the things notable about Jubilation is that much of the material is written – or at least co-written – by members of The Band. The only tracks that are covers are Paul Jost’s “Book Faded Brown,” John Hiatt’s “Bound by Love” and Allen Toussaint’s “You See Me.” The other eight tracks have at least one and sometimes more members of the group credited as writers (sometimes writing with folks from outside the group).

Two famous friends show up during the proceedings: Eric Clapton adds his guitar to “Last Train to Memphis,” and Hiatt takes a vocal turn on his own “Bound by Love.”

Finally, one notable track is “White Cadillac,” which is subtitled “Ode to Ronnie Hawkins,” the rockabilly singer with whom the original members of The Band got their start so many years ago.

Tracks
Book Faded Brown
Don’t Wait
Last Train to Memphis
High Cotton
Kentucky Downpour
Bound by Love
White Cadillac
If I Should Fail
Spirit of the Dance
You See Me
French Girls

Jubilation by The Band [1998]

*I should also have noted Islands as one of The Band’s albums that gets little playing time here. Note added June 20, 2012.

‘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.

Tracks
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]

Reposts
Rick Danko [1977]
Original post here.

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

R&B In The Fog

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Return Of A Familiar Sound

May 16, 2012

Originally posted April 6, 2009

After I utterly missed Rick Danko while looking at a 1980s video of The Band Thursday, I thought a little bit about the version of the group that formed in the 1990s, releasing three CDs and touring several times. And I wondered what songs, if any, I should offer here over the next month or two. So I clicked on over to All-Music Guide and then to Amazon.com to refresh my memory on who wrote what on the three 1990s albums.

And I learned that all three of those CDs – Jericho from 1993, High on the Hog from 1996, and Jubilation from 1998 – are out of print. There are copies for sale out there, but the three pages at Amazon noted that “This item has been discontinued by the manufacturer.”

I’m of two minds about that. First, I think it’s a shame. There’s a lot of music from the 1990s still in print that’s not anywhere near as good as The Band’s three albums from that decade. I acknowledge that the albums released by The Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s were far superior to what came later, especially the first three: Music From Big Pink (1968), The Band (1969) and Stage Fright (1970). But the three 1990s albums had their moments, too, and I think they deserve better. On the other hand, their being out of print frees me to share them here. We’ll start with the first of the three, 1993’s Jericho.

The 1990s group was made up of three original members of the group: Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and the now-departed Rick Danko. They were joined by Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell, who passed on in 2007.

And Jericho had a guest/ghost vocalist: The group recorded a backing for a vocal performance of “Country Boy” laid down by Richard Manuel in 1985, a year before he killed himself. I saw The Band in the mid-1990s in Minneapolis, and the best of a number of great moments in the performance came when the six musicians played the backing track to “Country Boy” with no vocal in front of it, their tribute to Manuel.

I got the album on cassette for Christmas in 1993, shortly after it came out, and it was difficult at the time to assess how good the album actually was. It was such a treat to hear the three members of the original group again, to hear Danko and Helm switch off vocals, to hear Hudson’s keyboard and woodwind artistry, and to hear the three of them collaborate with the three new players to create the rootsy sound that always defined The Band.

Digging past the sound and into the credits, the first thing one notices about Jericho is that the group wrote very few of the songs. In the original incarnation of The Band, of course, Robbie Robertson had – by The Band in 1969 – become the group’s main songwriter. (There’s some disagreement about that among members of the original group, but I’m just going by the writing credits as listed on the albums.) On Jericho, only three of the twelve tracks – “Remedy,” “The Caves of Jericho” and “Move to Japan” – list members of the group as writers, and always in collaboration with others.

That said, however, The Band’s collegial approach to music – both vocal and instrumental – makes the nine other songs, covers all, work just fine. Highlights to me are Bob Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” along with “Country Boy” and the elegiac “Too Soon Gone.”

What doesn’t work? Well, nothing fails spectacularly. “Move to Japan” is kind of silly, but it clunks along all right. And “Amazon (River of Dreams)” doesn’t always work in its attempt to be atmospheric.

At the time the album came out, though, I don’t think there were a lot of quibbles from listeners and fans. The first track I heard was “Atlantic City,” which came on the radio late one evening as I was driving back to Minneapolis from Rob’s home. The mandolin introduction caught my ears, and I listened carefully as I drove. Then Helm began his vocal, and when I realized who it was – it took no more than ten seconds of surprised thinking – I grinned. I imagine a lot of other folks were grinning, too, at the return of a familiar sound.

Tracks:
Remedy
Blind Willie McTell
The Caves of Jericho
Atlantic City
Too Soon Gone
Country Boy
Move to Japan
Amazon (River of Dreams)
Stuff You Gotta Watch
Same Thing
Shine A Light
Blues Stay Away From Me

Jericho – The Band [1993]

Reposts
The Hawk – Ronnie Hawkins [1971]
Original post here.

Living By The Days – Don Nix ([971]
Original post here.