Posts Tagged ‘Neville Brothers’

It’s Time To Get A Little More Healthy

June 22, 2011

Originally posted April 14, 2008

Our joining a gym last week was a last-gasp maneuver in the Battle of the Waist Line.

Neither of us – The Texas Gal or me – has ever been very active. I played some recreational softball, tennis and racquetball in my twenties and rode my bicycle on occasion during my late thirties and forties. But some chronic health problems – now under control – and the expected changes in lifestyle since I quit smoking about eight years ago have resulted in my gaining about fifty to sixty pounds.

I’m not pleased. And sitting on the couch, pondering how to lose weight while American Idol played out on the TV screen, didn’t seem to be solving the problem. So last week, the Texas Gal and I made our way to a new fitness center about six blocks away. It’s a pretty low-key place, and it has the things we need: treadmills for her, stationary bikes for me, and a reasonable collection of circuit training equipment. Our plan to is get to the center three times a week and see how it goes. While one of my goals is to lose some weight, my overall goal is simply to become more active and feel better doing it.

And so far, I’ve enjoyed our two visits. I like the stationary bicycle, and I’m learning about the circuit training. The fatigue I feel when we leave the center is a good feeling. But there are some things: The cardio machines – treadmills, bikes, and other training machines – face a wall on which there are four television monitors. Folks with mp3 players that have FM radios in them can listen to the televisions on specific frequencies. As I didn’t have one of those during last week’s two visits, I watched the monitors that showed closed-captioning, ESPN’s Sports Center on the first visit and That ’70s Show the second visit. The ESPN was okay, as it usually is, but it was a slow day. I was never impressed with That ’70s Show when I could hear it, and watching it with captions was no better. The Texas Gal – who was closer to the wall and had a good view only of one monitor playing some game show, agreed. We needed something to battle boredom.

So yesterday, we made another small step into the current world: I wandered out to one of our major electronics dealers and bought two portable mp3 players. They’re by Creative, a firm I’d never heard of before, and the model is called Zen V Plus; they seem perfectly adequate to our needs. Each has two gig of storage (actually, 1.89), and it was simple enough to install the software and have mine pull 384 songs at random from my computer. After figuring out the random function, the only way to celebrate this one small piece of my commitment to better health was to take a fifteen-song walk through the junkyard:

“Sweet Cocaine” (live) by Fred Neil from Other Side of This Life, 1971

“Love Song” by Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection, 1970

“Will The Circle Be Unbroken” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac from Then Play On, 1969

“My Home Is A Prison” by Lonesome Sundown, Excello single 2012, 1960

“TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by MFSB with the Three Degrees from TSOP, 1974

“White Dove” by the Flowerpot Men from Let’s Go To San Francisco, 1967

“Sweet Sixteen” by B.B. King from Live in the Cook County Jail, 1971

“Comin’ Back To Me” by Richie Havens from Cuts to the Chase, 1994

“Sign on the Window” by Melanie from Good Book, 1971

“Old Brown Dog” by Ralph McTell from You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here, 1971

“Overall Junction” by Albert King from King of the Blues Guitar, 1969

“Devil Got My Woman” by Bob Brozman from Golden Slide, 1997

“Adam’s Toon” by Trees from On The Shore, 1970

“Just Like A Woman” by Bob Dylan from Before The Flood, 1974

A few notes:

Fred Neil’s Other Side of This Life was the last record released by the reclusive singer/songwriter during his lifetime. Cobbled together from a live performance and from bits and pieces that seemed to be studio outtakes, it didn’t draw much attention. But some of the live performances were among the best versions Neil had ever done of some of his songs. “Sweet Cocaine” falls into that category, as does Neil’s performance of his most famous song, “Everybody’s Talkin’” Considering the slenderness of Neil’s discography, Other Side of This Life is a pretty good record.

The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon was the first album the New Orleans-based group released on A&M, and it was a pretty good effort, with some updated sounds being blended into the Neville’s traditional R&B/funk mix. The Nevilles even try something that sounds like hip-hop dragged through the swamp on “Sister Rosa.” The version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” does pretty well, too, in a far more traditional vein.

The Fleetwood Mac of Then Play On is made up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and guitarists Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green and Danny Kirwin. The group was no longer a blues band, per se, although blues still informed a lot of the material. But longer pieces like the nine-minute “Oh Well” showed that the group was clearly listening to other music being recorded around them in England circa 1969. It’s a fascinating piece off a pretty good album.

I know nothing more about Lonesome Sundown than what All-Music Guide can tell me: Born Cornelius Green in 1928, the singer recorded numerous swampy blues like “My Home Is A Prison” between 1956 and 1965, when he retired from blues to devote his energies to the church (coming out of that retirement for one album in 1977). Green died in his home state of Louisiana in 1995 at age sixty-six.

“TSOP” was in fact the sound of Philadelphia and – in a very short time – the sound of all America. The brainchild of Philly producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the song – originally produced as the theme for the television show Soul Train­­ – went to No. 1 in March 1974 and helped set the stage for the disco explosion to come. The version here is the album track, which was 2:15 longer than the single edit. Still makes you wanna dance, doesn’t it?

The Richie Havens track is an excellent version of one of the better songs Jefferson Airplane ever recorded. “Comin’ Back To Me,” a Marty Balin composition, was one of the best things on 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane’s second album and first with Grace Slick. I remember, during high school, reading the words to “Comin’ Back To Me” in a book of rock lyrics assessed as poetry and being blown away by them. More than thirty years later, their effect is the same. And Havens pretty much steals the song with his performance.

The three blues performances here – by B.B. King, Albert King and Bob Brozman – are pretty good. Brozman is certainly the least known, and I’m not going to say he rises to the level of the two Kings, who need no words from me about their brilliance. But Brozman’s pretty good. I’m not sure where I stumbled across his album, Golden Slide, but Brozman’s name went pretty quickly onto my list of performers I want to hear a lot more often.

A Baker’s Dozen Of Moons

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 20, 2008

I must have been about seven, which would put it sometime during the winter of 1960-61, when my dad showed me the darkened and red moon.

I’d been in bed a few hours, I imagine, with bedtime for a seven-year-old being about eight o’clock back then. But Dad woke me and had me look to the south, out the bathroom window. Floating above the trees, there rode the Moon, looking larger than usual, its normally pale white face colored a dusky red.

“It’s a total eclipse of the moon,” he told me. “The Earth comes between the Sun and the moon, and we can see the Earth’s shadow on the moon.” We looked for a while. I asked why the moon was red. He said he thought it had to do with the atmosphere, with the weather. (He was right.)

We looked at the moon for a little while longer and then went back to bed. It’s been nearly fifty years since Dad showed me the red moon. I imagine other total eclipses have come and gone, maybe many times, since then. There’s another one tonight, visible in most of North America. Starting at 7:43 Central Time, the Earth’s shadow will fall across the Moon. From 9:01 to 9:51, according to NASA, the eclipse will be total.

I hope lots of dads show their kids the darkened moon tonight.

A Baker’s Dozen of Moons
“Under the Darkest Moon” by Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith from Evidence, 1989

“Moon River” by Henry Mancini from the soundtrack to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961

“Neon Moon” by Brooks & Dunn from Brand New Man, 1991

“Love on the Moon” by the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver from Reach For The Sky, 1975

“Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck, Private Stock single 45,036, 1976

“Blue Moon” by Elvis Presley , RCA single 47-6640, 1956

“All Around The Sun And Moon” by Joy of Cooking from Castles, 1972

“Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” by Bob Dylan from Self Portrait, 1970

“Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Levon Helm, from Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack, 1980

“Desert Moon” by Dennis DeYoung, A&M single 2666, 1984

“Yellow Moon” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon, 1989

“Underneath the Harlem Moon” by Randy Newman from 12 Songs, 1970

“Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fantasy single 622, 1969

A few notes:

“Under the Darkest Moon” comes from one of my favorite albums, one I shared here a while back. When I found it, I began to follow the solo careers of the two artists. In the past few years, though, I’ve pretty much quit following Hewerdine while continuing to track Smith, whose music continues to inhabit the intersection of rock, country and folk. (He’s issued nothing since 2005’s Field of Crows, so I’m waiting patiently.) Why did I quit following Hewerdine? His melodies are artful, sometimes beautiful, and his words are often eloquent, but, to me, the more I listened, there was a lightness in his work that was unrelieved; they needed a little more weight.

When I was working at the newspaper in Eden Prairie in the early 1990s, one of my colleagues, an ad man, was a country music fan, though he liked oldies as well. On his recommendation, I ordered through my music club one of Brooks & Dunn’s albums. I listened to it a couple of times, shrugged, and passed it on to Alan. Since the Texas Gal came into my life eight years ago this month, I’ve listened more to country music than I ever had before, and Brooks & Dunn are quite likely my favorite country performers. (Whenever they pop up on the RealPlayer, the little message box tells me that the only recording duo that has sold more records than Brooks & Dunn is Simon & Garfunkel. If that’s true, and I have no reason to doubt it, that’s an astounding fact.)

For most of the summer of 1976, the Starbuck tune was as inescapable as it is catchy. It spent fourteen weeks in the Top 40, beginning in mid-May, going as high as No. 3. It has to be one of the few Top 40 hits with a marimba solo. (I think it’s a marimba.)

When it was released in 1970, Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait was greeted with confused stares and derision. Among other things, critic Greil Marcus wrote, “I once said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing hard. But I’d never said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing softly.” “Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” has been one of the few tracks that, over the years, has been given some respect. Wikipedia reports that it was written by “Alfred Frank Beddoe (who was ‘discovered’ by Pete Seeger after applying for work at People’s Songs, Inc. in 1946).” (Exactly who was doing the applying there is unclear, but never mind.) To me, “Copper Kettle (Pale Moonlight)” is not just the best track on the album, but one of Dylan’s best tracks ever.

I was never a Styx fan, but I found I enjoyed 1984’s Desert Moon, the first solo album by the band’s keyboard player and vocalist, Dennis DeYoung. Part of that was no doubt familiarity with the title track, as the song’s video was in heavy rotation on MTV that year, the first year I had cable. It’s still a nice song, but it sounds a little bit slight after twenty-four years.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

June 4, 2011

Originally posted January 9, 2008

At last we reach 1989, the year that I’ve long envisioned as the outer limit for these musical glances backward. Why stop there? Perhaps because music released after that might be too recent for me to have any perspective on it. After all, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that my calendar was telling me we were heading into the Nineties.

But a moment’s reflection tells me that it truly has been nineteen years since I woke up one January morning in Minot, North Dakota, and realized that two years was long enough to spend among strangers on the prairie. They’d been friendly strangers for the most part, but they were strangers nevertheless. I began preparing a summertime exit, either to Columbia, Missouri, or to the Twin Cities. (It wound up being the latter.)

That gap of nineteen years is a longer span than it felt like as it passed, and that tells me that time might allow me some perspective on the music of the 1990s after all. So I will likely extend this series of posts and mixes into that decade, albeit gingerly. Still, the focal point of this blog will remain the 1960s and 1970s simply because that’s where my musical heart lies.

So what was happening in 1989?

As related here nearly a year ago, two trips to the weekend flea market at the State Fair Grounds in Minot turned me from a casual buyer of old records into a collector and – by default – a researcher. Spurred by that, and by a relatively brief romance with a woman whose love for music approached mine, my record collection had grown accordingly. I’d brought just more than 200 LPs with me when I came to Minot in August of 1987; when I left there the first day of July 1989, I took 586 records with me.

I’d noticed in the past six months, though, that LPs were disappearing from retail shelves. There were maybe three places where I shopped for records in Minot, and by the spring of 1989, they were no longer bringing in much new vinyl, and the area of each store devoted to records was dwindling in favor of floor space for CDs. But there were a couple of used record stores in Minot, and there were many of them in the Twin Cities, which is where I decided to plant myself come July of 1989.

So what were we listening to that year? A look at the No. 1 songs for the year makes it abundantly clear that I was not listening much to what was popular. The records that reached the top of the Cash Box singles chart in 1989 were:

“Don’t Rush Me” by Taylor Dayne
“When I’m With You” by Sheriff
“Straight Up” by Paula Abdul
“Lost In Your Eyes” by Debbie Gibson
“The Living Years” by Mike + the Mechanics
“Eternal Flame” by the Bangles
“Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli
“She Drives Me Crazy” by the Fine Young Cannibals
“Like A Prayer” by Madonna
“I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi
“Real Love” by Jody Watley
“Rock On” by Michael Damian
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
“Satisfied” by Richard Marx
“Good Thing” by Fine Young Cannibals
“Express Yourself” by Madonna
“Batdance” by Prince
“Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
“Cold Hearted” by Paula Abdul
“Don’t Wanna Lose You” by Gloria Estefan
“Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” by Milli Vanilli
“Cherish” by Madonna
“Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson
“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” by Tears For Fears
“Listen To Your Heart” by Roxette
“When I See You Smile” by Bad English
“Blame It On The Rain” by Milli Vanilli
“(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me” by Paula Abdul
“We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel
“Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins

That’s thirty songs at No. 1 in a calendar year. That wasn’t quite a record: Thirty-five songs hit the top spot (according to Billboard) in both 1974 and 1975. Cash Box shows thirty-two songs at No. 1 in 1986 and 1988. That puts 1989’s thirty No. 1 songs in fifth place among the thirty-five years since Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” reached the top spot and provided a (somewhat artificial) starting point for the rock era.

But if thirty records at No. 1 wasn’t the largest total ever, it was nevertheless a lot. And to me, it was one more indication of the fragmentation of the music audience that continues to this day. More styles meant more popular performers, which eventually meant more radio formats, each with a smaller audience. I mean, my friends and I were still listening to radio and to a lot of recorded music, whether that was LP, CD or tape. But for the most part, the songs listed above were not what I was listening to. (Some, like the tracks by Mike + the Mechanics and Billy Joel, were inescapable, no matter what format one listened to.) During the nine or so months that I lived in Anoka – north of Minneapolis – I began to listen to Cities 97, a Minneapolis radio station that still plays a splendid mix of old and new music. But it’s not Top 40.

So what did 1989 sound like at my house? Take a listen:

A Baker’s Dozen from 1989

“The Ballad of Hollis Brown” by the Neville Brothers from Yellow Moon

“Too Soon To Tell” by Bonnie Raitt from Nick of Time

“Storms” by Nanci Griffith from Storms

“Trouble in Paradise” by Bruce Springsteen, at Soundworks West, Los Angeles, Dec. 1

“No Alibis” by Eric Clapton from Journeyman

“Shooting Star” by Bob Dylan from Oh Mercy

“I’d Love To Write Another Song” by Van Morrison from Avalon Sunset

“Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon from Rhythm of the Saints

“Commonplace Streets” by the Jayhawks from Blue Earth

“Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls from Indigo Girls

“Shangri-La” by Don Henley from The End of the Innocence

“Where the Hawkwind Kills” by Daniel Lanois from Acadie

“Tequila Quicksand” by Alex Taylor from Voodoo in Me

A few notes:

The Neville Brothers track is one of two Dylan covers on Yellow Moon – the other is “With God On Our Side” – and both add some depth to an album that stands up well to repeated listening, even nineteen years later. Other highlights of the album – the first the Nevilles recorded for A&M after more than a decade of bouncing from label to label – include their take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Sister Rosa,” a tribute to civil rights hero Rosa Parks that takes hip-hop into the Louisiana swamp.

“Trouble in Paradise” comes from Tracks, the box set of previously unreleased material put out by Springsteen in 1998. Its 1989 recording date places it squarely between 1987’s Tunnel of Love and the pair of albums he released in 1992, Human Touch and Lucky Town. To me, “Trouble” could easily have been an outtake from Tunnel of Love, as it sounds as if it comes from much more near the heart than did any of the songs on the 1992 albums.

Bob Dylan has strayed from and returned to form time and again throughout his recording career. I think Oh Mercy is the best of all the albums that were greeted with one variation or another of “Dylan is back!” Working for the first time with producer Daniel Lanois (the pair of them would cop the Grammy for Album of the Year with Time Out Of Mind in 1997), Dylan put together a solid set of songs and performances for the first time in a long time, maybe since Desire in 1976. “Shooting Star,” the album’s closer, ranks among Dylan’s best songs of love gone awry.

The Jayhawks came out of Minneapolis with their hard-to-find – only a few thousand copies were ever pressed – self-titled debut in 1986, playing a mixture of rock, alternative rock and country rock that sounded like very little else being issued at the time. Blue Earth, the group’s second album, was basically a collection of demos given a little bit of tweaking in the studio. It gave listeners an idea of what the Jayhawks were about, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall that the ’Hawks hit their marks. Still, Blue Earth is worth a listen.

One afternoon in August 1989, I was lingering over a cup of coffee in a restaurant in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, looking at the LPs I’d just scored at a nearby used record store. As I glanced over Roxy Music’s Avalon, I heard the college girls in the booth behind me talking about a new group they’d heard at someone’s home the night before, a duo with the odd name of the Indigo Girls. I jotted the name down, paid for my coffee and went back to the record store, where I found Indigo Girls on vinyl. Ever since, I’ve bought most of what the duo of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have recorded, and I’d like to thank those long-ago college girls for the tip.

A Baker’s Dozen From 1981

April 30, 2011

Originally posted July 31, 2007

One of the over-used epigrams of the 1960s was the quotation from Plato: “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” It seemed hip at the time to envision the structure of society crumbling when faced with the works of the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and the Rolling Stones (among many, many others). One wonders how the denizens of Woodstock Nation – or Altamont Nation, for those with a darker, more cynical bent – would have fared had the “walls of the city” truly been shaken.

It’s an interesting idea: Had the late 1960s actually been an era of revolution, how would the followers of tie-dyed fashion, the children of the suburbs, have fared in the new society following a true revolution? Probably pretty poorly, I would imagine. The new leaders, those deemed sufficiently pure ideologically, would most likely have found the vast majority of the so-called revolutionaries to be dilettantes at best, bent on changing their personal circumstances rather than the societal structure that gave them generally comfortable lives. I have the mental image of thousands of young people banished to bleak farms in the countryside, undergoing education and orientation to revolutionary ideals as they grow strawberries and potatoes. “This ain’t what I signed up for,” I can hear one or another say. “I just wanted to drop out and find a chick in San Francisco!”

It’s hard to say how close America was to an actual revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One can read the histories and memoirs of the era – Todd Gitlin’s The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage comes to mind – and not get a real sense. Despite the forty-year-old regrets on the far left end of the political spectrum and the still-potent rage that resides on the far right, it seems to me that the political upheaval of the times flared out without having much impact. (The civil rights and women’s movements, on the other hand, changed American life immensely, but those are other topics for perhaps other days.)

The real revolution, when it came along, was cultural, and it was in Plato’s “mode of the music.” I’ve seen a number of reviews, analyses and think-pieces in magazines and newspapers over the past couple of years – sorry, but I don’t have specific citations – that indicate that once more an American music form has become the world’s predominant music. Those pieces note that in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, rock ’n’ roll became the world’s music (though rock was recycled for a time through British sensibilities) and the same thing has happened in the last twenty years with hip-hop.

Now, I’m not anything like an expert on hip-hop and its stylistic cousins. I like some of it, have some in the collection, but it’s not my music. I do note its importance, though. And these thoughts about modes changing and the quaking walls of the city came about today because of the last track that came up while I was compiling my random list of thirteen songs from 1981.

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five was one of those tracks that changed the music universe and continue to echo into the world at large. In his 1989 book The Heart of Rock and Soul, Dave Marsh puts the track at No. 179 and calls it “the Birth of the Nation” of hip-hop. He also notes, “play this first masterpiece of hip-hop at the crushing volume at which it was intended to be heard and s**t will start shakin’ you never imagined had any wobble in it.”

Marsh goes on to say that “hardly anybody outside the New York City area has ever even heard the damn thing.” That may have been true in 1989, when copyright difficulties – arising from the multitude of clips taken from other performers’ tracks – got in the way of Grandmaster Flash and his colleagues. But if nothing else has, the advent of the ’Net in the [eighteen] years since Marsh wrote has spread “The Adventures . . .” and other, similar, compiled tracks worldwide. So, if one accepts the idea that hip-hop has in the last [twenty-six] years become the soundtrack to the world, the last track on today’s Baker’s Dozen is what the real revolution sounded like when it began.

A Baker’s Dozen from 1981
“Old Photographs” by Jim Capaldi from Let The Thunder Cry

“I Can’t Stand It” by Eric Clapton, RSO single 1060

“Fire On The Bayou” by the Neville Brothers from Fiyo On The Bayou

“The Innocent Age” by Dan Fogelberg from The Innocent Age

“Carry On” by J. J. Cale from Shades

“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks from Belladonna

“This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, EMI America single 8079

“Waiting On A Friend” by the Rolling Stones from Tattoo You

“Queen of Hearts” by Juice Newton, Capitol single 4997

“Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band from Shakedown

“I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do)” by Lulu, Alfa single 7006

“Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC single 02536

“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Sugar Hill single 577

A few comments on some of the other tracks:

Jim Capaldi’s “Old Photographs” is a beautiful song, tinged with regret the way most memoirs should be. But it’s a long way from the sometimes edgy work Capaldi and his mates in Traffic did once upon a time.

Just like Harry Chapin – whose song “Sequel” showed up here the other week – Dan Fogelberg is a polarizing musician: One either finds his work compelling or finds it overblown. In general, I like it, though I did think that his double album The Innocent Age flirted with lyrical pomposity. Even so, it was musically gorgeous.

If the Gary U.S. Bonds track sounds like Bruce Springsteen, well, there’s a reason. Springsteen and Miami Steve Van Zandt produced the track and a good portion of the album it came from, Dedication. Springsteen’s admiration for Bonds, and his love of Bonds’ early 1960s recordings of “Quarter to Three” and “New Orleans,” is no secret, of course.

I was glad to see “Upper Mississippi Shakedown” by the Lamont Cranston Band make the random list. St. Cloud has a baseball team in a regional summer college league, the River Bats, and hearing the Cranston track while sipping a cold beverage and taking in the early evening sights of a small baseball park is a fine experience, indeed!