Thursday, April 28, 2011

Richie Havens Richard P. Havens,1983 1969

I was never a huge fan of Richie Havens, but this record stuck in my craw. I purchased it in 1969 or shortly thereafter, and I loved it because it was so different that it made me cool.

Then I got tired of it, and retired the pretense that made me love it in the first place. And I sold it off.

Twenty years later I'm in a used record store and they have a pristine copy. How else could this end?

That was almost ten years ago, and I've revisited the record many times. I don't usually make it through the entire double LP, but there's always some tracks that are uniquely Havens in a good way.

Four Beatles covers, one Dylan, one Donovan, one Cohen, and still, the two best songs- Stop Pulling And Pushing Me and Indian Rope Man- are Havens originals. Pretty impressive. His covers are fairly straight versions of the songs, but always go somewhere new. Sometimes to alarming effect, sometimes to the sublime.

This music is very much of it's time, and Haven's voice goes from interestingly captivating to annoying pretty fast. But Haven's guitar tunings are different, and his rhythmic sense is almost jazz-like. And it's folk music. As folk music, it was pushing the boundaries, and that can only be a good thing for folk music any time.

A remarkable artifact of the sixties, and at least half the songs are good. The original Verve vinyl is a sonic delight, and the record sold fairly well, so there are usually used copies around to be snapped up. A risky purchase perhaps, but sometimes therein lies a unique reward.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Melody Gardot My One And Only Thrill 2009

You haven't heard this? Well, it's time to rectify that.

Melody Gardot is a perfect cross between Diana Krall and Norah Jones. How could you not like that? O.K., there a bunch of ways to not like it. Maybe you're mostly into Urban Contemporary. Nothing wrong with that. This might not be your thing.

But if you're into Jones and love Krall, you're going to like this. It's not all about execution (but the talent here is remarkable), it's how it feels. Soulfull, rhythmic, jazzy, lusty, smoky, and both deep and easy to listen to. Yipes.

Like Jones, the songs are Gardot compositions, and the mere fact that she can both write this stuff and sing it this well is exceptional. If you liked that Robin Stine record I recommended, this is significantly better. The songs have luscious string arrangements, the players are skilled, the recording is meritorious. Sometimes you think of Joni Mitchell in a jazzy mood, sometimes Nat Cole, other times Gardot is uniquely her own creation.

It has languid moments. But mostly it's just plain killer mellow jazz female vocal with ace accompaniment. If you like that sort of thing, this works. In spades.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Rubinoos The Rubinoos 1977

Perfect pop music. One part Raspberries, one part Beach Boys, one part Beau Brummels, and a dash of The Monkeys. Songwriting. Check. Singer. Check. Guitarist. Check. Tight band and pitch perfect harmonies. Check check.

Impossible to describe, but even the sad songs (and they are few) sound happy. The band is a quality four-piece that could play anything, but choose this cross between hard power pop and bubblegum. Jon Rubin's clear, high voice is ridiculous, like a much stronger young Brian Wilson.

While power pop often hearkens back to British roots, there are nothing except All-American influences on display here. California sunshine, top down cruising music, first love. A fine cover of Tommy James' I Think We're Alone Now. And the rest of the songs, all original, are even better.

The follow-up, Back To The Drawing Board 1979, is every bit as good.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Swan Dive Swan Dive 2000

I've always been a sucker for great pop. Bacharach, David and Warwick are the kind of pop I'm talking about. Dusty Springfield. Jackie DeShannon. This band, from Nashville, are rock author, songwriter and musician Bill DeMain and singer Molly Felder, and they recall all of those references and more.

The record is almost the same as the Japan-only Circle from 1998, with a few changes, including a fine Heart Of Glass, with Felder getting as much out of the song as Debbie Harry's original.

There's catchy beats, swinging rhythms, cool harmonies, excellent production and arrangements, Felder's outstanding singing, and DeMain's incredible songs, that are at once derivative and uniquely his own. They sound like the spirit of those fine pop acts of the sixties and early seventies have come back to life, but in something new and contemporary.

What more could you need? The ballads are soft and evocative. The rockers/swingers are too much fun, Circle and Moodswinging leading the pack. DeMain is both pop/rock historian and reconstructionist. Felder has a beautiful voice, and she can sing with it, feel with it.

It's a bright sunny day on a little silver disc, it's magic.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Christy McWilson The Lucky One 2000

Christy McWilson's The Lucky One is a remarkably solid country-rock record that sounds (in a good way) like the best of Emmylou Harris' and Linda Rondstadt's better moments from the seventies. Only better.

What makes it better is the rocking production of Dave Alvin of Blasters fame, and the exceptional band that Alvin put together for the session, including Peter Buck, Rob Glaub, Don Heffington, and Greg Leisz. McWilson has a beautiful, strong voice and she is a fine songwriter. The songs could have sounded like typical quality country music (obviously not the stuff on "country" radio), but instead, they rock hard with Alvin's production and relatively quick tempos. Which is even more appropriate given the generally sad nature of McWilson's lyrics. Let these songs be presented in slow, delicate arrangements and you've got a recipe for disaster of the boring kind.

But no boredom here. A crack ace band, a producer with a punkabilly background, and great songs sung with taste, verve and feeling. The rockers- Little Red Hen, Someday, The Weight Of The World, Cryin' Out Loud - are all big fun, and rock hard. The more country material- The Lucky One, Wishin', Apple Doll, Fly Away- all benefit from playing, singing and arranging at very high quality levels, and tempos that while slower, aren't particularly slow. Her cover of Brian Wilson's 'Til I Die is sumptuous, rich and luxurious. If you're going to slow down for something, 'Til I Die is perfect.

If you'd like to hear a country singer in a slightly different (and significantly better) setting than most of what passes for country music these days, here's a delightful option.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lee Michaels 1969

OK, there is no reason to bring up this album, or the wacky history of Michaels' career, but my iPod, just a little while ago, played his remarkable version of Stormy Monday from this 1969 jewel of a record, while in the midst of one of those amazing iPod shuffle moments. The crazy twenty-minute Tell Me How Do You Feel medley that is the first side of the record is manna from hippie heaven. Who Could Want More and Heighty Hi are pretty good, too.

Michaels was quite a character. A footnote in rock history today, he tried to sabotage his own career on several occasions, and he in fact succeeded. Hardly the first, but Michaels did it in style. After two mostly neglected baroque-rock records in 1968, Michaels took to the Hammond B3, and with drummer "Frosty" Smith-Frost, recorded this amazing record live in the studio. And they did this record live every night. I was fifteen when I saw them open for Jethro Tull, doing most of this record. That's probably why I love it more than you might.

After this effort, Michaels came back with Barrel in 1970, and played more piano than organ. As a snapshot into 1970 it's pretty good, and it has a great cover of Moby Grape's Murder In My Heart For The Judge. Michaels fifth record, Fifth, brought his greatest chart success with Do You Know What I Mean, a top ten single. Lee Michaels, Barrel, and Fifth 1971 are all worth hearing. But especially Lee Michaels.

From 1972 it was crash and burn time for Michaels. 1972 saw Space And First Takes, a terrible record on which Michaels played guitar. Huh? Guitar? And he's only a passing guitarist. 1973's Live tried to repeat the third record's formula with limited success. Switching to Columbia in 1973 he released Nice Day For Something. I can't remember much about it. At one time I owned all three of these 72-73 records, and they have all been removed from the stacks many moons ago. He made a couple more in the mid seventies before disappearing altogether.

But for two years between 1969 and 1971, he made some pretty good records, and one wild organ rock classic. He also had a fine voice with an incredible high register. I can't really recommend these records to you, because maybe you had to be there. But if you'd like to try something different, even if it's a little dated, there is treasure buried here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spinning Vinyl

If you've read this blog before, you know I like vinyl. It's not just that it sounds warmer and more rhythmic than CD, it's also that the records I love from the sixties and seventies, some of my favorite stuff, is on vinyl in my collection. Last night I got home early from work and my wife called to say she would be late. Opportunity knocks. Turn it up.

I started with Springsteen's The River 1980, side two, with Hungry Heart, Out In The Street, Crush On You, You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch), I Wanna Marry You, and The River. Talk about your classic album side. Like most two-LP affairs, The River is a sprawling effort, but side two is perfect. From there I pulled out The Best Of The J. Geils Band 1979 for Southside Shuffle and Give It To Me. Hey, it was Friday- need I say more? This also explains Mountain's Mississippi Queen from their 1970 debut Climbing!

I slowed things down for a steamy blues (Go-Go Boots) and a country weeper (Dancin' Ricky) from The Drive-By Truckers latest Go-Go Boots 2011. While doing the southern thing, I played One Way Out from The Allman Brothers Eat A Peach 1972. One of their hottest moments, even with so many to choose from.

How I then chose The Electric Flag An American Music Band 1968 is a mystery, but Hey Little Girl with Nick Gravenites' great vocal, and Buddy Miles' Mystery were both fun to hear, if just a bit dated. Quickly back to Friday night territory, I played Funk 49 by the James Gang from The Best Of The James Gang 1973. Joe Walsh is a spectacular guitarist. Period. Midnight Man from the same record was fun, as I hadn't heard it in a while.

Australia from The Kinks Arthur 1969 has always been a favorite. Another great guitar song. Dave Davies' lead/jam on the song's four-minute "fade" is wonderful, and an unusual extended form for the Kinks. This lead into Bob Weir's Ace 1972, and I listened to the hilarious Mexicali Blues, the rocking (especially for the Dead) One More Saturday Night, and the gorgeous ballad Cassidy. This record qualifies for top five Grateful Dead studio records easily in my book.

I haven't listened to Santana in a while, so I listened to Samba Pa Ti, Hope You're Feeling Better, and El Nicoya from Abraxas 1970. I could have chosen better Santana material, frankly, and by then my wife was due home, so I switched gears to Norah Jones for side one of The Fall 2009. This record keeps growing on me. It's mellow, but it pulsates. And her singing and writing and the arrangements are all strong.

Then I stumbled upon George Harrison's swansong Brainwashed 2002, and I listened to Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, Rocking Chair In Hawaii, and Brainwashed. Like all of Harrison's records, it's not perfect, but there are some fine moments.

As we sat down to dinner my wife asked me to play that record I had on the other night, so I dropped the needle on John Hiatt's 1987 gem Bring The Family. There are not many records that come this close to perfect. We listened to the whole record. Bring The Family has it all- Hiatt's best collection of songs ever (and he's done much outstanding songwriting), his consistently great singing, the most amazing "back-up band" ever (Jim Keltner, Ry Cooder, and Nick Lowe!), and an outstanding, clean recording with weight and depth.

Dinner was delicious. But that's for some other blog.