Posts Tagged ‘John Stewart’

A Baker’s Dozen Of Roads

July 13, 2011

Originally posted June 18, 2008

Although music has always been a part of my life, I’ve not always been very active in finding the music I liked; I let it come to me. I listened to the radio, to the jukeboxes at places that had them, and occasionally went out and bought a record or two. With the exception of the Beatles – whose entire Capitol/Apple catalog I had before I turned nineteen – I made no attempt for many years to focus on any one performer or group. I bought a few records here and there, but not many, as I wandered from my college days into the first years of adulthood.

That changed in 1987, when I spent time with a woman whose love of music equaled mine. We spent many hours of our brief time together in record stores and listening to music new and old in our apartments in St. Cloud. I moved to Minot to teach in the late summer of 1987, hopeful in all ways and renewed in my love of music. As a result, there are a few albums that I bought during my first year in Minot that, for me, carry in their grooves that sense of hope. That hope did not survive into the next summer, but I still love those albums despite that and even though they may not be the best work of the artists or groups involved.

Four of those albums that come most immediately to mind are Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night, Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Memphis Record by Elvis Presley. The first three of those were new albums, and I enjoy them still; the best of them is likely the Springsteen. The Presley album – a two-record set – collects the studio work he did in Memphis in 1969, much of it released that year on From Elvis in Memphis. Some of it was released on the awkwardly titled From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis and two tracks, I believe, were released as non-album singles.

For someone who paid little attention to Elvis while he was alive, The Memphis Record was a revelation. This was not the bloated Elvis who’d been the butt of too many unfunny jokes during his last years. The photos on the ornate double record jacket – made to look like a newspaper – confirmed that, but all one had to do was listen to the music to hear a lean, hungry and talented performer trying his best – with success – to make himself relevant again. Looking back, I recalled that I’d always liked the singles from those sessions – “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain” and “In The Ghetto” – but I’d never thought much about them. So here I was, almost twenty years later, realizing that those singles were the tip of a musical iceberg that was larger and better than I’d thought possible.

I listened to all four sides of the record frequently that first autumn in Minot and came to love the music. One song – new to me – stood out, though. I’m not at all sure why, but Elvis’ version of “True Love Travels On a Gravel Road” is to me one of the best things he ever recorded, and it remains one of my favorite tracks ever. So I’m going to use it as the starting point today.

A Baker’s Dozen of Roads
“True Love Travels On a Gravel Road” by Elvis Presley from From Elvis In Memphis, 1969

“The Long and Winding Road” by Richie Havens from Sings Beatles And Dylan, 1987

“Eternity Road” by the Moody Blues from To Our Children’s Children’s Children, 1969

“Seven Roads (Second Version)” by Fanny, from the sessions for Fanny, 1970

“The Road Shines Bright” by John Stewart from The Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Rocky Road” by Peter, Paul & Mary from In The Wind, 1963

“Dark Road” by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee from Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Sing, 1958

“Roadhouse Blues” by the Doors from Morrison Hotel, 1970

“On the Road” by Michael Johnson from There Is A Breeze, 1973

“The Road to Cairo” by David Ackles from David Ackles, 1968

“Tobacco Road” by Bill Wyman & The Rhythm Kings from Struttin’ Our Stuff, 1998

“Six Days On The Road” by Taj Mahal from Giant Step, 1969

“Too Many Roads” by Carolyn Franklin from If You Want Me, 1976

A few notes:

I chuckled when – one day after sharing my negative assessment of the Beatles’ version of “The Long And Winding Road” – Richie Havens’ version of the song popped up. Even from Havens, one of my favorites, it’s only just okay. I’m coming to the conclusion – long overdue, no doubt – that it’s the song I don’t care for, not necessarily the singer. The album that the track comes from – Sings Beatles and Dylan – is nevertheless a good one, well worth finding.

I tend to think that one either loves the Moody Blues or detests them. I like them, even as I acknowledge that their hippie philosophy – which could induce eye rolls even forty years ago – is sometimes a bit much. But I do like their sound, and it’s only when the MB’s get into thoughts truly too heavy to carry – as in “Om” from In Search of the Lost Chord – that I begin to roll my own eyes. To Our Children’s Children’s Children is one of the group’s better albums musically and lyrically.

The version of Fanny’s “Seven Roads” that popped up here is an alternate take, a little bit shorter and a little bit tougher than the version that closed the group’s self-titled first album. Fanny didn’t hang around long – the all-woman group recorded five albums between 1970 and 1974 – but what the group left behind is pretty good. A limited edition box set – First Time in a Long Time: The Reprise Recordings – came out in 2002 and covers everything except the group’s final album, which came out on Casablanca. If you can find it – the box set is available online for prices starting around $70 – it would most likely be all the Fanny you would need.

“Dark Road” is a typical track from a typical album by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. There’s nothing fancy about it, just the two of them, guitar and blues harp (and a little bit of help from drummer Gene Moore). But it’s folk blues about as good – and authentic – as you can get them, recorded before the blues revival of the 1960s.

I don’t know much about David Ackles – I need to do some digging – but I’ve heard a few things and I like them. “The Road to Cairo” is a haunting song and record.

Carolyn Franklin was, of course, Aretha’s sister – she crossed over in 1988 – and If You Want Me was the last of five albums she released on RCA. From what I can tell, only her first album, 1969’s Baby Dynamite, has ever been released on CD. If You Want Me is the only one I have, and it’s pretty good.

(I should note that The Memphis Record is out of print but available if you dig online. The CD release of From Elvis In Memphis has some bonus tracks to go along with the original album. Both have been supplanted by a 1999 release called Suspicious Minds, a two-disc set that has – I believe – everything Elvis released from those 1969 sessions in Memphis as well as a good number of alternate takes and bonus tracks. It’s a good one.)

From A Muscle To The Junkyard

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 22, 2008

As some cliché writer once said, there’s a first time for everything. I’m still not sold on the “everything” in that, but I do seem to have cataloged a “first time” that I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days, and last evening, while sneezing, I pulled a muscle in my ribcage. I never knew one could do that. But I did, and one of the results is that I’m not very comfortable writing. So I’m not going to do much of that today, beyond a short introduction and some comments about some of the songs that pop up.

Several of the online outlets where I buy CDs have had sales and promotions lately, so there is an appreciable pile of CDs waiting to be logged into our collection here. Most of them are albums from the 1960s and 1970s, as I continue to fill gaps. In an effort to fill one such empty space, I finally picked up last week Wanted, the first album by the country-rock group Mason Proffit. So we’ll start today’s walk through the junkyard with “Two Hangmen,” the Vietnam-era protest song dressed up as a Western morality play. In the year it came out, I used to hear it through whispers of static on KAAY in Little Rock.

A Walk Through the Junkyard
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted, 1969

“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan from The Royal Scam, 1976

“Wolves In The Kitchen” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Hurt So Bad” by El Chicano from Viva Tirado, 1970

“Everything Is Gonna Be OK” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente, 1968

“Stranger Than Dreams” by Lowen & Navarro from Scratch at the Door, 1998

“Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man, 1983

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters, Chess single 1571, 1954

“Poems, Prayers & Promises” by John Denver, RCA single 0445, 1971

“So Easy” by Aztec Two-Step from Aztec Two-Step, 1972

“Love at the Five & Dime” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“That Girl Could Sing” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out, 1980

“One Fine Day” by Carole King, Capitol single 4864, 1980

“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy, 1970

“Moses” by the Navarros, GNP Crescendo single 351, 1965

A few notes:

I’ve learned from conversations and correspondence with radio folks that “Two Hangmen” is one of those songs that brings a buzz when it is aired: The phones light up as listeners have questions, comments and just plain gratitude for being able to hear the song one more time.

Steely Dan’s sound was unique and so consistent from album to album that sometimes the group’s body of work can blend into a whole. While the Dan never released a truly bad album, there were a couple that weren’t as good, and I think The Royal Scam was one of those.

I’m not sure if Lowen & Navarro were as popular elsewhere in the 1990s as they seemed to be in Minnesota. Every two or three months, it seemed, the duo would stop by Cities 97 for a live-in-studio performance. Their acoustic folk-pop was well-done, and I enjoy the couple of CDs I have, but there never seemed to be much change or growth: the songs on 1998’s Scratch at the Door could easily have fit into Walking On A Wire, the duo’s 1991 debut CD.

I have seven LPs and three CDs of Billy Joel’s work in my collection. I’m not sure I need that much. That said, An Innocent Man is a good album, and if “Keeping the Faith” isn’t the best track on the record – I think that title goes to “Uptown Girl” – it’s nevertheless a good one. Maybe someday I’ll write a post examining why I’m not all that fond of Joel and his work, and maybe by the time I’m finished with that post, I’ll understand the ambivalence he brings out in me.

Aztec Two-Step was a folk-rock duo that released four albums during the 1970s and a few more sporadically since then, including 2004’s Days of Horses. Their self-titled debut in 1972 created some buzz, but by the time the duo recorded 1975’s Second Step, folk-rock was falling out of favor. The first album is the best, though all of their work is pleasant.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a Nanci Griffith song among either a Baker’s Dozen or a Junkyard, it almost always has fewer hits than the other tracks posted that day. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Love at the Five & Dime.” I think that if I were to make a list of the one hundred best songs in my mp3 collection – which now numbers around 23,600 – “Love at the Five & Dime” would be one of them. I know that Nanci Griffith is not as well known as other artists whose recordings are posted here. I know that her delivery can be quirky. But the woman can write a song, and this one is most likely her best, from where I listen.

The Carole King track was the single pulled from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King, a 1980 record for which King recorded some of the songs she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin crafted during the Brill Building days in the early 1960s. I’d call the album a must-have.

The Navarros’ “Moses” is not quite a novelty record, but it comes close. I almost skipped over it when it popped up at the tail end this morning, but then I decided it’s a good day for a little bit of a chuckle.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1971, Vol. 3

June 11, 2011

Originally posted February 6, 2008

I know some bloggers plan and write ahead. My friend caithiseach, over at The Great Vinyl Meltdown, has his posts planned for the entire year, if I’m not mistaken, and he likely writes months ahead. I’m sure many other bloggers also have their post topics planned and thus know what they are going to comment on ahead of time. Well, that’s not I.

Given the general structure of the blog, I know what types of posts I’m going to make: albums, generally, on Mondays and Fridays, a cover song on Tuesdays, a Baker’s Dozen (focusing on either a year or a topic) on Wednesdays, a video on Thursdays and a single of interest on Saturdays. If I’m stuck for an album on either Monday or Friday, I’ll substitute with a Baker’s Dozen or a Walk Through the Junkyard (which is a random draw from all my music from the years 1950-2000). So there is that much structure, at least.

But I never know what I am going to write, and most of the time I have no idea of the topic until I put my fingers on the keyboard sometime after the Texas Gal heads off to work, between seven-thirty and eight o’clock. Then I let my fingers loose and see what I think that morning. It has always been thus.

During my best years in newspapering, when I was at Monticello in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then when I was at Eden Prairie during the 1990s, I frequently wrote a column, with the topic ranging from sports to social commentary to politics to life in a small town or an urban area to memoir to whimsy. Both papers were printed on Wednesdays, with the last writing generally needing to be completed around nine o’clock that morning. For most of my time at both papers, I’d sit down to write my column at, oh, eight o’clock on Wednesday morning. And there were times when I had no idea what my column would be about when I put my fingers on the keyboard.

My boss at Monticello didn’t seem perturbed by that, but I think that kind of high-wire writing is something I developed there, and he saw it grow, just as he saw the rest of my skill set grow during my first years as a reporter and writer. By the time I got to Eden Prairie, I was confident in my ability to come up with a readable column pretty much on demand, but I think it took some time for my editor there to trust that. By the time I’d been there a year or so, however, he would often come into my office on Tuesday after looking at the space available in the paper and at the amount of copy we needed to fill that space.

He’d ask, “Got time for a column tomorrow?”

I’d nod. “About 650 words?” I’d ask, that being the length he usually counted on when he did his planning.

He’d nod, and I’d go back to writing, beginning the internal – and generally subconscious – process that would bring me a column topic by the next day. And in the morning, I’d get to the office before seven, finish my late sports writing and then start my column and learn what it was I wanted to say that day.

I generally approach this blog that way, too. Of course, the stakes were higher in the world of weekly newspapers than they are here. If I failed to come up with something at least readable – good storytelling was my aim and eloquence and insight were frosting – then there was a space that would end up being filled with an ad for our own newspaper or something like that. I think that happened once during the nearly ten years I was at those two newspapers.

The consequences of not finding anything to write about here are much less. So, if I fail to come up with something that I think is readable – again, I hope to tell a good story and if I find eloquence and insight, that’s a bonus – I will simply make my excuses and post the music and some commentary about it. (If I’m not writing because of my health – and that has happened and will happen at times – I will simply say so; if I’ve found nothing to say, well, I’ll say that too.)

Now, on to the music:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1971, Vol. 3
“You’ve Got A Friend” by Carole King from Tapestry

“Questions and Conclusions” by Sweathog from Hallelujah

“Dust Filled Room” by Bill Fay from Time of the Last Persecution

“Let Me Go” by Batdorf & Rodney from Off the Shelf

“Lonesome Mary” by Chilliwack, A&M single 1310

“The Road Shines Bright” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Strikes Again

“On The Last Ride” by Tripsichord Music Box from Tripsichord Music Box

“Anytime” by It’s A Beautiful Day from Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime

“Too Late, But Not Forgotten” by Joy of Cooking from Joy of Cooking

“Eugene Pratt” by Mason Proffit from Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

“Let Your Love Go” by Bread, Elektra single 45711

“Beware of Darkness” by Leon Russell from Leon Russell & The Shelter People

“1975” by Gene Clark from White Light

A few notes:

Carole King’s Tapestry was, of course, inescapable during the warm months of 1971. It reached No. 1 in the middle of June and stayed there until October. Its songs remain fresh and vital to this day, which is remarkable, considering how familiar even the album tracks have become over the years. It’s one of the truly great albums, and almost certainly in my Top 30 of all time, if I ever take the time to put together a comprehensive list.

“Questions and Conclusions” from Sweathog has the punchy, vibrant sound that made the group’s only hit – the title track from Hallelujah – reach No. 33 in December. The whole album is similar and a pretty good listen, and the sound was a good one for the times – maybe kind of a Steppenwolf Light –and I wonder why Sweathog never had any greater success. The horns at the end of the song work nicely, but are uncredited, as far as I can tell.

The enigmatic “Dust Filled Room” by Bill Fay is of a piece with the bulk of the album it comes from, Time of the Last Persecution. While maybe more of a period piece than something one might listen to often these days, the British folk-rocker’s second album is noteworthy for its brooding tone and apocalyptic stance and for the effective guitar work – sometimes bluesy, sometimes just suitably noisy – by Ray Russell.

By the time Tripsichord Music Box – don’t you just know it was a San Francisco group from the name alone? – released its only album, the group was calling itself simply Tripsichord. But the copy I got used the group’s original name as its title, and I’ve kept the tags that way. It’s not a badly done album. If you’re into the late ’60s hippie vibe, you’ll like it, as I do, at least one track at a time. The whole album at once, well . . . The best summation of the music comes from All-Music Guide: “It isn’t bad, and not too indulgent. It’s just pretty derivative, with the characteristically angular S.F. guitar lines, folk-influenced harmonies, and lyrics hopefully anticipating a new order of sunshine and possibility.”

The Mason Proffit track, “Eugene Pratt,” is an over-earnest anti-war, anti-draft song that nevertheless sounds good. Better known for “Two Hangmen” from the Wanted! album, Mason Proffit is often cited as one of the best bands of its time never to make it big. Any of the five country-rock albums the group released between 1969 and 1973 is a good listen, although the earlier ones are perhaps a shade more inventive.

Gene Clark was the lead vocalist and one of the chief songwriters for the Byrds from 1964 to 1966 and again briefly in 1967, but his greatest contribution to pop music came after that, as one of the founders of country rock. His work with the Gosdin Brothers and with Doug Dillard provides some of the foundations of that branch of rock, and his solo work often followed in that vein. White Light is an album that finds Clark presenting a set of songs that are intense and sometimes surprisingly intimate.

Some Stability & Some John Stewart

May 22, 2011

Originally posted November 19, 2007

As I was recording today’s album, I got to thinking about small town living and stability.

The album, John Stewart’s Bombs Away Dream Babies, came out in 1979, and as I pondered the year, I realized that 1979 was the first year since 1972 that I had not moved at least once during the year.

That’s not that unusual for folks in their twenties, I guess. I’ve long been aware of the transient nature my life took later, during the years from 1987 into 1992, a stretch I’ve mentioned here before that saw me move eight times in a little less than five years. What made that stretch stand out, I guess, was that I was in my mid-thirties. The earlier stretch, when I moved nine times during the years from 1973 through 1978, came during my twenties, and neither I nor my family and friends seemed to think there was anything odd about my shifting homes and locales as frequently as I did.

And so stability came to mind when I thought about 1979, living in the same place, with the same neighbors and the same job of being a reporter for a weekly newspaper in a small Minnesota town. Weekly newspapering can be demanding, but the job was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had, covering the news – large events and small – that went on in Monticello and also in the nearby small town of Big Lake. It was hard work, and it frequently ate up more than forty hours of my time in a week, but it was rewarding, too.

As I wrote a little more than two years ago in a “Where are they now and what did they learn here?” column for the Monticello paper, “I learned much during my time there, from my colleagues and from the Monticelloans I wrote about and lived with. I learned about perseverance, about the value of effort and attention to detail, about the worth of belonging to and believing in something greater than one’s self – whether that be a business, a civic organization, a community or the cosmos. I learned that one can overcome setbacks and repair the damage of errors, in work and in life both.”

I was just beginning to realize those things in 1979. Another thing I was continuing to realize – having been with the paper for just more than a year as 1979 dawned – was that reporters at a small town weekly are pretty visible around town. Early on, perhaps a week after I’d gotten to town, I stopped off at a small grocery store on my way home for milk or cigarettes or something. The store was nearly empty, and the proprietor glanced at me as I came up to the counter. He nodded. “You must be the new fellow at the Times,” he said. Startled, I nodded, then introduced myself.

That happened at least five more times in the next four weeks. Eventually, of course, I was no longer the new fellow, but through my entire tenure of nearly six years, wherever I went, I was recognized. That’s typical, as I say, of small towns, and Monticello at the time had a population of about 3,000. It took some time for me to adjust, having come from a city of about 40,000 (and that didn’t include all of the 12,000 students at St.. Cloud State).

So I was settling into small town life in 1979, the year that John Stewart’s “Gold” began to burble from radio speakers, reaching No. 5 in the middle of the year. What else was coming out of the radio on those evenings when my significant other of the time and I sat home on a Saturday evening?

Well, the Bee Gees were still hoofin’, with “Too Much Heaven” hitting the top spot on the charts in January, followed by Rod Stewart’s nadir: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Gloria Gaynor reassured herself and us in “I Will Survive,” and the Doobie Brothers sang “What A Fool Believes.” Later in the year, Donna Summer told us about “Bad Girls” and Anita Ward asked someone to “Ring My Bell.”

Until I turned the pages, checking out 1979, I’d forgotten about The Knack and “My Sharona.” (How soon can I forget again, please?) Robert John got (or stayed, many would say) wimpy as he sang about “Sad Eyes,” and the Eagles hit No. 1 with “Heartache Tonight” at the same time as The Long Run topped the album charts for nine weeks.

And in October, Fleetwood Mac released its long-awaited Tusk, the follow-up album to 1977’s Rumours. Like the earlier album, Tusk was Lindsey Buckingham’s product and carried the sonic marks of his intricate and idiosyncratic production techniques. It was, in fact, a sound similar to the one that Buckingham had provided at mid-year for John Stewart’s Bombs Away Dream Babies.

With Buckingham playing a fair amount of guitar and he and Stevie Nicks providing backing vocals, Stewart’s album sounds a little like a Fleetwood Mac product with Stewart singing lead vocals. If the track “Gold” were not so familiar, allowing a listener to ground him- or herself in Stewart’s identity, listening to the album could be disconcerting.

As it is, however, it’s a pretty good album. Buckingham’s productions have never been anything less than professional, of course. The three singles from the album are nicely done – “Gold,” the lovely “Midnight Wind” (No. 28) and “Lost Her In The Sun” (No. 34) – and Buckingham brings some nice touches to some of the album tracks. Those that stand out particularly for me are “Somewhere Down The Line,” with its kalimba, and the driving “The Spinning Of The World.”

I’ve included in the zip file the single edit of “Midnight Wind.” There are a few pops throughout the album, but I think it’s listenable.

Tracks:
Gold
Lost Her In The Sun
Runaway Fool Of Love
Somewhere Down The Line
Midnight Wind
Over The Hill
The Spinning Of The World
Comin’ Out Of Nowhere
Hand Your Heart To The Wind
Heart Of The Dream
Midnight Wind single edit (RSO single 1000)

John Stewart – Bombs Away Dream Babies [1979]