Posts Tagged ‘Chi Coltrane’

Down From The Shelves

January 16, 2015

Originally posted June 8, 2009

Once more into the Valley of the Unplayed!

Wondering what marvels – or otherwise – might be found today in the crates atop the bookcases, I reached up and pulled down a clutch of LPs this morning, and then I added one that had recently arrived in the mail. From those, I hoped to find six songs with minimal noise. And that’s what I came up with.

En route, I had to regretfully skip over several LPs that had too much surface noise: Tighten Up by Archie Bell & the Drells; Blues and Bluegrass by Mike Auldridge; Stranger on the Shore by Mr. Acker Bilk; Born Free by Andy Williams; and Golden Hits by Roger Miller. The greatest disappointment in that bunch would have been the Archie Bell & the Drells album, based simply on the expectations raised by the title track, one of the great singles of 1968. I was, in fact, a little relieved when Track Four, “You’re Mine,” turned out to have too much noise, as it was a pretty bad piece of filler. So I happily moved on.

I thought I’d start off with the one record I chose purposefully this morning: Chi Coltrane’s little-known third album, Road to Tomorrow arrived in the mail last week. Not long ago, someone left a note here about it. I did a quick Ebay search and found a copy for sale at a remarkably low price. And a week later, the mail carrier dropped it off.

I’ve listened to only bits and pieces of it, but I’m not impressed. I guess I didn’t expect to be, however, as Coltrane’s second album, Let It Ride, was also mediocre, with only one good track, her version of “Hallelujah” (done earlier by Sweathog and by the Clique). All in all – and I’m not sure why I sometimes dig into an some artists’ catalogs so deeply; I guess I’m hoping to hear something others missed – one can classify Coltrane’s work into three categories: One great single (1972’s “Thunder and Lightning”), her decent take on “Hallelujah” (offered here once before) and the rest.

Anyway, here’s Track Four of Coltrane’s 1977 album, Road to Tomorrow. It’s an okay piece of pop.

“Ooh Baby” by Chi Coltrane from Road to Tomrrow [1977]

One of the media storms of early 1978 concerned the film Pretty Baby, a fictional account of the lives of a photographer and several working girls during 1917 in New Orleans’ Storyville, the city’s red light district. There would have been little ruckus about the film, I imagine, had it not been for the inclusion of several nude scenes featuring the then-twelve-year-old Brooke Shields as the daughter of a prostitute who was, in effect, in training for the life herself.

The film, by Louis Malle, won the Technical Grand Prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. More to the point for our purposes here, the film’s score won an Academy Award in the “Adaptadion Score” category, with its mix of jazz, ragtime and blues echoing the sound of New Orleans in the first decades of the Twentieth Century. I’ve had a copy of the soundtrack sitting around for more than ten years and have never felt compelled to listen to more than a track at a time or so. Maybe I’ll rip the whole thing now that it’s out of the crates.

“Pretty Baby” by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra from the soundtrack to Pretty Baby [1978]

As I’ve noted here before, during 1998 and 1999, I was stockpiling records faster than I could play them. A couple of those showed up in the cluster of LPs I pulled from the crates today, including one that might never have been played by anybody.

When I pulled Patti La Belle’s Winner In You from its jacket and put it onto the turntable, I had to push fairly hard, as if it had never been placed on a spindle before. That, combined with the sheer gloss of the record and the lack of any noise as it played, told me that the record might be utterly new. At any rate, it had not been played often.

I’ve never been much of a Patti La Belle fan. I liked her work with LaBelle in the 1970s. (Who didn’t love “Lady Marmalade” and its lesson in essential French? It went to No. 1.) And I thought “On My Own,” her duet with Michael McDonald (another No. 1 hit), was okay. But for some reason – most likely the simple volume of records I had available to listen to – Winner In You, which included “On My Own,” stayed in the crates. I don’t think it will go back there; I’ll almost certainly listen to it and put it in the regular stacks this week, even if I don’t rip all of it to mp3s. Here’s Track Four:

“Kiss Away The Pain” by Patti La Belle from Winner In You [1986]

About once a year, since we moved to St. Cloud in 2002, the Texas Gal and I head down to the Twin Cities for some major shopping. That means fabric stores for her, bookstores for both of us, and, usually, a couple hours at Cheapo’s on Lake Street for me. During one of those visits, in 2005, I began to remedy a major gap in my collection.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the best-known bands in the Twin Cities area was the Lamont Cranston Band (sometimes styled as the Lamont Cranston Blues Band). I knew of the band although I’d never seen it perform. But amid all the other music to collect and listen to, the hard-driving Lamont Cranston Band never seemed to make it onto my list. During one of our first summers in St. Cloud, the Texas Gal and I went to see the River Bats, St. Cloud’s team in a summer college baseball league.

And among the music used to rev up the crowd was Lamont Cranston’s “Upper Mississippi Shakedown.” Reminded of the band’s artistry, I put several of the group’s albums on my list, and during a 2005 visit to Cheapo’s, I found Up From The Alley. I put it in one of the crates to await its turn, and then I had absolutely forgot that I had it until this morning. A couple of the tracks from the album ended up on a 1993 CD of the band’s best work, including Track Four. But, holding true to the intent of this feature, I ripped the track from the vinyl this morning:

“Oughta Be A Law” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Up From The Alley [1980]

Michael Franks had one quirky near-hit in, I think, 1976 – “Popsicle Toes” – and I have three of his albums: I’ve listened to The Art of Tea and Sleeping Gypsy, but I’ve never pulled Tiger in the Rain, his 1979 album, out of the crates until this morning. And I’ve concluded this morning that the meandering quality that made “Popsicle Toes” seem pleasantly quirky in the mid-1970s now seems wearisome. I can’t fault the musicianship, but nothing about the track I ripped this morning grabs me at all.

“Hideaway” by Michael Franks from Tiger in the Rain [1979]

Quarterflash had one very good hit, “Harden My Heart” in 1981, amid a string of four albums that took the band into 1991. Having listened to a fair amount of the group via mp3s that other bloggers have sent me, nothing from the band’s self-titled debut seemed likely to surprise me. But “Valerie,” the fourth track on the record, did.

“Valerie” was written by Marv Ross, but as sung by his wife, Rindy (who plays the saxophone that gave Quarterflash its distinctive sound), it’s a little eye-opening for 1981: The song is an exploration of a budding same-sex relationship that startled the narrator enough that she passed up the chance for a romance and now seems to regret having done so.

The sound and production are clearly that of the Eighties, but the track has aged well, and Ross’ saxophone solo is a nice way to close.

“Valerie” by Quarterflash from Quarterflash [1981]

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A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 2

May 27, 2011

Originally posted December 19, 2007

In my first visit to the year of 1973, I wrote about my internal world, about the changes I could catalog in myself from my academic year in Denmark.

This time, I’m going to take a look at the larger world in which those changes took place: What was happening in 1973? Two events that dominated the news come to mind: Watergate and war.

Watergate: In the U.S., Americans were beginning to learn for the first time about the venality and utter rot at the center of the administration of President Richard Nixon. Week after week of testimony before a Senate select committee and day after day of headlines transfixed most Americans. Those hearings were followed in the autumn by the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew – the result of corruption charges dating to his time as governor of Maryland – and the Saturday Night Massacre, during which Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus resigned rather than fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, whose office was investigating the events that stemmed from the original Watergate break-in in 1972.

(Solicitor General Robert Bork, the third in command in the Justice Department, fired Cox at Nixon’s behest; the resignations and the firing were key moments in the trail of events that led to Nixon’s resignation during the summer of 1974.)

War: On October 6, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the armed forces of Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. For the first week, the Arab armies advanced, but by October 26, when a United Nations-sponsored truce went into effect, Israeli forces had regained territory and gained control of the battlefield.

From the distance of thirty-some years, one can see numerous effects of the war, but perhaps the most visible effect comes when we go to the service station to pump gasoline into our vehicles. During and after the war, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – OPEC – decided to stop shipment of oil to those nations that were supporting Israel: The U.S., the Netherlands (the source for much of Western Europe’s oil) and several other nations. At the same time, OPEC raised the price for oil going elsewhere in the world. The embargo caused, among other things, long lines at service stations in the U.S. and government-mandated bans on driving on Sundays in Europe. The embargo was the first step among many in the long and steady increase in the cost of oil, resulting in the prices we pay for all petroleum products today.

Enough of the serious stuff (although there were plenty more serious things going on during 1973) – what were we doing for fun that year?

The Top Ten television shows were: All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son, M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-O, Maude, Kojak, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Cannon.

At the movies theaters, we saw, among others, The Sting, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, Mean Streets, Sleeper, The Way We Were, The Last Detail and Blume in Love.

In the U.S., the top ten singles of the year, according to Billboard, were:

“Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack
“Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
“My Love” by Paul McCartney and Wings
“Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson
“Crocodile Rock” by Elton John
“Will It Go Round In Circles” by Billy Preston
“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“Touch Me In The Morning” by Diana Ross

Most of those are pretty obvious (and only a few are depressing), when one thinks about 1973. On the other hand, I’ve never heard the Kristofferson, which hit the Top 40 in early July and reached No. 16 in a nineteen-week stay on the chart.

The top five albums of the year, listed at the Billboard web site, were:

The World Is A Ghetto by War
Summer Breeze by Seals & Crofts
Talking Book by Stevie Wonder
No Secrets by Carly Simon
Lady Sings the Blues by Diana Ross

Oddly enough, that list is at odds with some other lists I’ve looked at. Even The Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums lists a different No. 1 album of the year: Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The Carly Simon and War albums listed above are included in the alphabetical list of 1973’s Top Ten albums in Norm N. Nite’s Rock On Almanac. The rest of Nite’s list is:

Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite by Elvis Presley
Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper
Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers Band
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd
Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player by Elton John
Goats Head Soup by the Rolling Stones
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon by Paul Simon

Nine of the albums on Nite’s list went to No. 1 during 1973. The only one that didn’t was Paul Simon’s, which went to No. 2

As confusing as that may be, however, it gives a pretty good look at what was popular during 1973. But when I crank up my RealPlayer, what does 1973 sound like? Here’s one possibility, random after the first tune:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1973, Vol. 2

“Hallelujah” by Chi Coltrane from Let It Ride

“So Many Times” by Manassas from Down The Road

“Lay Me Down Easy” by Three Dog Night from Cyan

“Good Vibrations” by Bonnie Bramlett from Sweet Bonnie Bramlett

“The City” by Fleetwood Mac from Mystery to Me

“Ship Ahoy” by the O’Jays from Ship Ahoy

“Desperado” by the Eagles from Desperado

“All My Friends” by Gregg Allman from Laid Back

“Mrs. Vanderbilt” by Paul McCartney & Wings from Band On The Run

“Call Me (Come Back Home)” by Al Green from Call Me

“Cam Ye O’er Frae France” by Steeleye Span from Parcel of Rogues

“Sunset Woman” by B.W. Stevenson from My Maria

“Qualified” by Dr. John from In The Right Place

A few notes on some of the songs and performers:

The Chi Coltrane track is the opener to the Wisconsin-born singer’s second album, which went nowhere on its release in 1973. The track, many will note, is a cover of the song originally recorded by Sweathog, which went to No. 33 on the Billboard chart in late 1971. (I just got the Coltrane album in the mail yesterday, and ripped this track as an appetizer, as I’ll be posting the entire album within a week or so.)*

“Ship Ahoy” is a remarkable track by the O’Jays. Here’s what the website Pop Matters had to say about it: “The song ‘Ship Ahoy’ examines what scholars and activist have referred to as the ‘middle passage’ – the literal voyage that enslaved Africans made across the Atlantic Ocean in slave ships destined for the Americas and the Caribbean. The song brilliantly personalizes the ‘voyage’ in ways that few black popular artifacts had previously done so – some three years before the publication of Alex Haley’s Roots. The fact that [producers Kenny] Gamble and [Leon] Huff were comfortable enough to use the tragedy of the middle passage and the subsequent enslavement of people of African descent in the West to frame a pop recording speaks to how seriously the duo viewed popular music as a vehicle to ‘teach and preach’ and a sense of the autonomy that they perceived as the heads” of Philadelphia International Records.

“Call Me (Come Back Home)” was the fifth of six straight Top Ten hits for Al Green (based on records entering the Top 40) and is an example of what Willie Mitchell accomplished during his years at Hi Records in Memphis. The sound is immediately identifiable but – to my ears – never seems repetitive, whether the singer is Al Green or any of the other singers who recorded at Hi but didn’t have anything near the success that Green had. The Hi sound is to me a good part of what the early 1970s sounded like; nevertheless, it still sounds fresh to me today.

Steeleye Span was one of the British groups that formed after the early success of Fairport Convention in recording traditional British folk and eventually presenting those early folk songs with modern instruments. Parcel of Rogues, which was Steeleye Span’s fifth album, marked the first time that the group used rock instrumentation prominently. All Music Guide notes: “[T]he ominous and dazzling ‘Cam Ye O’er Frae France’ would not have succeeded half as well without amplification, and every fan of the group should hear this track at least once.”

The lyric to B. W. Stevenson’s “Sunset Woman” are unsettling, at first dismissive and bitter and then – at least a little – gentle and hopeful. But the music – melody and arrangement both – is country-ish and better than pleasant and is indicative of Stevenson’s all too slender output. Better known for his single hit, 1973’s “My Maria” and for writing “Shambala,” which Three Dog Night took to No. 3 the same year, Stevenson released eight albums between 1970 and 1980. He died after heart surgery in 1988 at the age of 38.

*As it happens, Sweathog’s version of “Hallelujah” was not the original. The original version of the tune was done in 1969 by the Clique. Note added May 27, 2011.

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]