Monday, November 30, 2015
Dot Records DLP 3604
On our way home from our summer vacation this year I insisted on a detour to Clovis, New Mexico because I wanted to see the town where the great Buddy Holly began his recording career. As we pulled into town my wife thought I had lost my mind. Clovis has obviously seen better days. We went to the buildings that housed Norman Petty's recording studio and office which are now closed although still intact and largely untouched except for the decay of time and neglect. We then headed over to the Chamber of Commerce where I checked out the Norman Petty museum in their basement. It was full of wonderful artifacts including a re-creation of the Petty recording studio. I really enjoyed it and I recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in the area. While I was perusing the exhibits I was surprised to see a copy of this record. I've had it for years but never realized it was produced by Petty presumably in Clovis. When I got home I examined the record which contains no production credits but I noticed that Petty was mentioned in the liner notes. This album was Hester's first for Dot after Columbia dropped her after a pair of albums. The liner notes emphasize the Southwestern influence on the album noting that everyone who performed and produced the record was born or raised in Oklahoma, Texas or New Mexico (Hester is from Texas.) Also the notes claim that all but two of the songs were written by people from the Southwest or are concerned with the area. The album begins with "That's My Song" by George and Barbara Tomsco. George Tomsco was in the Petty-produced group the Fireballs and plays guitar on eight of the tracks of this record. The song has a jaunty, countryish melody and a cheerful vocal from Hester. One of my favorite tracks on the record. "Amapola" is identified as a Mexican song in the liner notes for the album but it was actually written by the Spanish songwriter Joseph Lacalle. Hester sings the first two verses in Spanish and then sings one of the English verses by Albert Gamse. Her vocal is fabulous and shows off her ability to hit the high notes with ease. It is a superbly romantic song and another one of my favorites. "Ain't That Rain" is another song by the Tomscos. The song is a farm worker's lament about life's difficulties that uses weather metaphors to convey its message. The song is slow and moody with a low key but expressive vocal from Hester. "Momma's Tough Little Soldier" is the first of three songs by Tom Paxton on the album. It is a lively song about a rambunctious child. It is silly but fun. "Lonesome Tears" is a Buddy Holly song. Holly of course worked with Petty and Hester met him when she was recording her debut album "Scarlet Ribbons" in Clovis in 1957. She and Holly became friends and made some unreleased recordings together. Hester imbues the song with a bluesy feeling that I prefer to Holly's more rock and roll style original. Side one concludes with "Stay Not Late" which was written by Hester. It is a lovely, enigmatic song that reflects on the transcience of life in poetic language. Side two opens with "Everytime" by Paxton. It is a somewhat sappy love song, but Hester's vocal is so pure and emotional that she makes it convincing. "Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound" is also a Paxton song. It is a familiar rambling-around-this-world type folk song that Hester once again makes sound deeper than it is by virtue of the sincerity and strength of her singing. Hester wrote "Ten Thousand Candles" which refers to a UNESCO statistic that 10,000 people died of malnutrition every day. It is a powerful protest song given an anthemic quality by Hester's forceful singing. "The Times I've Had" is an anti-war song by Mark Spoelstra. Hester gives it an old-timey, bluesy interpretation that is very effective. "Jute Mill Song" is a labor protest song of Scottish origin. Hester's vocal is typically gorgeous, but perhaps the gritty lyrics deserved a little more bite. "The Rivers of Texas" is credited to Irene Carlyle but I've read that she denied writing it and said she learned it from a Texan in the 1920s. It is a wonderful song describing an ill-fated love affair and the singer's determination not to love again using an assortment of rivers to narrate the song's story. It gives the record a charming finish. Hester is one of my favorite singers and I'd listen to her sing just about anything. This record is made stronger I believe by the continuity of theme and sound that it derives from its Southwestern focus. It feels like a statement rather than just a collection of songs. Hester's impeccable vocal technique and the tasteful musical accompaniment make it consistently stimulating and pleasing to listen to as well. Norman Petty was obviously an excellent collaborator for her. I have a limited appetite for folk music, but I never get tired of listening to Carolyn Hester. Recommended to Buddy Holly fans who dig folk music.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
I was in the middle of a different post when I heard about the Paris terrorist attacks. I lost all interest in finishing that post as a result. Music seemed trivial in the wake of such a tragedy. But for me music is also a comfort, so when I got over my initial shock and disgust, I reached for some French records to console myself with the greatness of France and its people. I fell in love with French culture when I was in high school and that has never changed. I first heard Piaf in my high school French class. I have to admit I didn't like her very much at first, but that changed when I got to college and my musical tastes expanded. When it comes to French pop I mostly listen to the music of the 1960s and early 1970s but whenever I feel like hearing traditional chanson-style French music, Piaf is my first choice. I have a bunch of her Capitol LPs all of which are worthwhile but I've opted for this one because I like its cover. The record is a compilation of recordings from the late 1950s. "Et Pourtant" by Michel Emer and Pierre Brasseur and "Marie la Française" by Jacques Larue and Philippe-Gérard date from 1956. "Et Pourtant" describes all the negative outside influences that impede a perfect love. I think it is a little silly but Piaf invests the song with so much feeling that it still works. I particularly like the dramatic piano accompaniment that punctuates the vocal. "Marie la Française" is a portrait of a street walker that is notable for its bleak tone and imagery. Despite the darkness of the lyrics, the music has a jaunty music hall flavor. Next up is a single from 1957, "Les Grognards" by Pierre Delanoë and Hubert Giraud. It is a strange song about the ghosts of soldiers from the time of Napoleon marching down the Champs Elysées demanding attention for their suffering from the revelers out for a good time. The song sounds like a relentless military march and Piaf sings with enormous passion, but it is not my kind of song. I find it a little creepy. A 1958 EP is the source for "Comme Moi" by Claude Delécluse, Marguerite Monnot and Michelle Senlis, "Salle D'Attente" by Monnot and Michel Rivgauche and "La Foule" which was a Spanish song by the Argentine songwriter Angel Cabral translated into French by Rivgauche. "Comme Moi" is about a woman excitedly awaiting the arrival of her lover. The song is tremendously romantic and Piaf croons with palpable yearning, it really gets to me. "Salle D'Attente" is a highly poetic description of a couple breaking up. Despite the unhappy subject of the song, the music is largely upbeat, particularly the punchy piano accompaniment. "La Foule" depicts a woman caught up in a crowd who finds herself thrust into the arms of a man she is wildly attracted to but then the crowd pulls them apart and she can never find him again. I believe it is an allegory about the transcient and unpredictable nature of love. The song was a hit for Piaf in France and I can see why. It has a sweeping waltz-like tune and Piaf sings it with a lot of verve and style. It is my favorite track on the album. Side two opens with "Fais Comme Si" from the soundtrack to the 1959 film "Les Amants de Demain" which starred Piaf. It was written by Monnot and Rivgauche. It is a highly romantic description of unrequited love being fulfilled through imagination. The music is atmospheric and Piaf's vocal is brilliant, it gives me chills. A great song, another one of my favorites on the record. Next up are a pair of songs by Jo Moustaki taken from the 1958 French EP "Édith Piaf chante Jo Moustaki." "Les Orgues de Barbarie" is a nostalgic evocation of the bygone days when lovers stolled the Parisian streets listening to the music of barrel organs. The music is light and rhythmic evoking the feeling of a street entertainer. In "Le Gitan et la Fille" a gypsy makes an impassioned declaration of love full of violent imagery and flamboyant promises. The dramatic music reinforces the crazed feelings of the lyrics and features a Spanish flamenco flavor as well which contributes to its stirring effect. Piaf offers up a richly nuanced vocal that moves fluidly from smouldering emotion to loud outbursts of fury. The album concludes with three more songs from "Les Amants de Demain." The first two were written by Monnot and Henri Contet. The title track describes how the lovers of tomorrow will love freely and completely without the burdens of today. I find the music excessively heavy, particularly the choir that backs up the vocal. "Les Nieges de Finlande" is a wistful song in which Piaf dreams of a fantastic trip around the world based on stories she heard from a sailor. It is a more subdued song that sounds like a lullaby with a restrained vocal from Piaf that I find charming. "Tant Qu'il Y Aura des Jours" is another Monnot/Rivgauche song. It describes how love has not changed through the ages, that lovers continue to say and do what they always have. The accordion driven song evokes the feeling of dance hall or a street performance and ends the record on an upbeat note. Although this music predates my birth, I still relate to it strongly. It evokes my idealized visions of France as well as a romantic view of the world that appeals to me more than the cynicism popular today. Most of all I'm attracted to Piaf's voice, its grainy thickness resonant with experience and emotion, the masterful way she articulates the words and conveys her attitude. Her music transports me and fulfills me. It reminds me of the pleasures and joys of living. When I hear her sing, I know that there is no way a bunch of savages whose highest cultural achievement is blowing up historical treasures and making murder videos can ever defeat a culture that produced someone like Édith Piaf. Vive la France! Recommended to people looking for a reminder of why Paris will always be the City of Light.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Colpix Records 493
David Jones is of course Davy Jones of the Monkees. This was his debut album which predated the Monkees by a year. I'd seen the record in the bins for years without ever considering buying it even though I'm a big fan of the Monkees. I just assumed it would not be very good. Then when Jones died in 2012, I finally bought a copy in a fit of sentimentality. I hate to admit it, but my first instincts were correct. I was appalled the first time I played it. I expected bubblegum or sunshine pop, but most of what I heard sounded like show tunes or music hall type songs all sung in an exaggerated English accent that made Peter Noone sound like John Wayne. Once I overcame my initial disappointment, I came to appreciate the album more, but I still don't like it all that much. "What Are We Going to Do" was the single off the album. It is a jaunty tune that sounds like Herman's Hermits. It was a stiff on the charts but I think it is one of the more appealing tracks on the record. It is followed by three straight music hall songs. "Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner" dates from the 1940s, "Put Me Amongst the Girls" goes back to 1907 and "Any Old Iron" is from 1911. "Any Old Iron" is given a rock treatment, but the other two sound old-fashioned. Jones excelled at this sort of stuff but it is not my cup of tea. I do like the energy of "Any Old Iron" which Jones sings with a lot of enthusiasm. It is back to the modern world for "Theme For a New Love" which is a corny love song that Jones recites rather than sings not unlike his Monkees' song "The Day We Fall in Love." I hate it but I imagine the teenyboppers liked it. Side two begins with a cover of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" that is modeled after the Turtles' folk-rock version. It is better than I would have expected, Jones sings it convincingly. "Face Up To It" sounds like early 1960's pop that builds in a "Bolero" like structure. The arrangement is overblown but Jones' vocal performance is strong. Van McCoy's "Dream Girl" is what I originally expected the album to be like. It is an inane song with a very poppy sound, very commercial sounding. Jones was always good at this sort of pop fluff and I think it is one of more successful tunes on the record. It is back to the music hall for a cover of Tony Hatch's "Baby It's Me" which Petula Clark released in 1963. The old fashioned arrangement makes it sound older than that. It is followed by a cover of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil's "My Dad" which was a big hit for Paul Petersen in 1962. Jones version is just as sappy as the original. The album concludes with "This Bouquet" which is a welcome return to bubblegum pop that reminds me of Gary Lewis and the Playboys. This album is an obvious effort to manufacture a pop star. Jones was being manipulated and groomed by record company lackeys which was probably ideal training for his early career with the Monkees. The record flopped largely I think because the songs were so pedestrian and out of touch with the 1965 music scene. Most of it sounds more like 1960 or even earlier. Nonetheless Jones' talent is evident throughout the album. He sings with verve and charisma. I'm not sorry I bought it, but I doubt that I'm going to be playing it very much. Recommended to Herman's Hermits fans whose favorite song is "I'm Henry VIII, I Am."