Sunday, May 12, 2024

Scarlet Ribbons - Carolyn Hester


Scarlet Ribbons
Carolyn Hester
Coral Records  CRL 57143

This was Carolyn Hester's debut album.  Although it contains no production info, I've read that it was recorded by Norman Petty in his studio in Clovis, New Mexico and I think I recall seeing a copy of the album in the Petty museum in Clovis from my visit there several years ago.  I'm a big fan of Hester and I wanted this album for many years but it took me awhile to find a copy in collectible condition at a price I was happy with.  As is so often the case when I wait a long time to get a record, I built up a bunch of high expectations about it, so when I finally heard it I was disappointed that it was not what I was expecting.  It sounded languid and genteel to me with none of the energy, earthiness and emotional impact of her 1960s folk albums which are among my favorite of the genre.  I've come to appreciate its loveliness but it is not the album I usually reach for when I want to hear Hester.  It features arguably the least interesting set of songs on any Hester album I have heard with a heavy dose of commercial folk standards.  The album opens with the title track which is much more of a pop standard than a folk song.  It was written by Evelyn Danzig and Jack Segal in 1949.  Jo Stafford had a pop hit with it and then Harry Belafonte had a hit with a commercial folk interpretation which I assume was the inspiration for Hester's version.  I don't like the song much but Hester sings it beautifully.  "I Know Where I'm Going" is an old folk ballad of Scotch or Irish origin.  It is a love song expressing desire which Hester conveys effectively with her tender impassioned vocal which sounds surprising mature considering that she was only about 20 when she recorded it.  The album gets a welcome infusion of humor and liveliness with "The Texan Boys" which is a folk song collected by John Lomax.  It is also commonly listed as "The Texian Boys."  It describes the crude courting practices of the amorous lads of Texas and Hester delivers it with winning verve.  "Danny Boy" is the venerable Irish classic which we've all heard a gazillion times.  Hester certainly has the pipes to put the song over, but I find her version deficient in emotion.  "Ye Banks and Braes" is the 18th century song by Robert Burns also commonly known as "The Banks O'Doon" which is a lament about a false lover.  Hester's vocal is very pretty but again I find it lacking in feeling.  My favorite track on the album is "The Wreck of the Old Ninety-Seven" which is the country classic that has been covered by many artists.  I know it best from the Johnny Cash version which is my favorite although I also really like the Seekers' version as well.  It is a highly propulsive song with compelling lyrics.  I don't think Hester brings anything new to the song, but she sounds very engaged and I think it is one of the few songs on the album that resembles her work in the 1960s.  George Attwood's bass lines give the song some extra oomph.  Side two gets off to a rough start as Hester tackles "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" which is a traditional song that John Jacob Niles wrote a new tune for.  I first heard the song on "Joan Baez in Concert Part 1" where I didn't like it.  I have to admit I don't like Hester's version either.  I find it dull and lifeless.  The only version I like much is Nina Simone's performance of it. "The Riddle Song" is another much-covered folk song that I have little use for.  We called "I Gave My Love a Cherry" when we sang it in elementary school.  As you undoubtedly already know it consists of a bunch of odd riddles and their answers.  Hester sings it glacially slow which does let her shine as a vocalist, but aside from that I find the performance tedious and lethargic.  This is my least favorite track on the album.  The album comes back to life with the much faster paced "Lolly Too Dum" which is a silly folk song popularized by Burl Ives.  The song is too repetitious for my taste but I still find Hester's vocal spritely and appealing.  "Little Willie" is another childish folk song about courtship.  The song is a bit too cute for me, but I appreciate the lightness and humor it brings to the album.  "Hush-A-Bye" is a charming lullaby that is not the famous song of the same title that is also known as "All the Pretty Horses."  I've never heard this song before and like it better than its more famous counterpart.  The album concludes on a down note with "I Wonder as I Wander" which is a folk style hymn written by John Jacob Niles.  I generally have little use for folk hymns and this is no exception but Hester does deliver a powerful vocal that holds my interest even when the words do not.  Hester's debut shows a lot of promise.  She demonstrates her compelling vocal strength and prowess but the material is often either pedestrian or overly familiar and she sometimes struggles to invest it with sufficient feeling.  Her work in the 1960s was a lot more confident and much less stilted and genteel.  For that reason I'm a bit hesitant to recommend this album.  On the other hand Hester is one of my favorite singers and I'm happy to listen to anything she chooses to sing.  My only regret about buying it is that I waited so long to do it.  So if you are a Hester fan or a commercial folk music fan it is worth seeking out.  Recommended to fans of early Joan Baez.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Folkesange - Myrkur

Relapse RR7426

I was driving around listening to one of my favorite DJs Pat Murphy on KXLU when I heard him play a stunning version of "House Carpenter" the Child ballad I first heard on "Joan Baez in Concert Part One" back when I was in college and which I have loved ever since.  I had never heard of the artist, Myrkur, but thanks to the internet I soon took a crash course in her music.  Myrkur is the nom de disque for a Danish woman Amalie Bruun who has had a lengthy music career that I somehow missed.  She made a pair of delightful jangle pop albums with Brian Harding under the name Ex-Cops.  I bought both of them and find them very engaging.  She also made several albums as Myrkur which are generally labeled black metal.  I have the third one, "Mareridt" which was released in 2017.  I know very little about black metal, I have only heard enough to know that it is not my jam.  To me "Mareridt" sounds goth, rather than metal which I consider a good thing.  In any case I dig the record quite a bit and the folky ballad "De Tre Piker" and the string-driven instrumental "Kætteren" clearly foreshadow this great album of mostly traditional Scandinavian music, which has become one of my favorite folk albums of all time.  It is dark and moody like "Mareridt" but it is also ethereal and graceful like dream pop.  It opens with "Ella" which is Bruun's own composition written in a folk style.  Its Danish lyrics abound in pagan imagery poetically describing the birth and development of a witchlike woman.  It is a majestic and stirring song that I find moving even when I don't understand the words.  Like most of the album it is string driven with a pulsing almost tribal drumbeat that evokes primitive music.  Bruun's evocative vocal is mesmerizing and the song absolutely slays me.  A great track.  "Fager som in Ros" is a Swedish folksong that means "Beautiful as a Rose."  It is a short and sweet tale of seduction in which the young woman takes the initiative. It sounds more like a conventional folksong with its repetitive structure bolstered by a rich string sound and more stirring percussion.  Bruun's wordless crooning at the end heightens the pagan feel of the song.  "Leaves of Yggdrasil" is Myrkur's own composition with English lyrics. It is a gorgeous piano driven song with highly romantic lyrics tinged with paganism and full of poetic imagery.  It is arguably her most successful effort at creating a modern folk song and it is one of my favorite tracks.  "Ramund" is an old Danish folk saga that dates back at least to the 17th Century.  Myrkur delivers a greatly abridged version that recounts the bloody exploits of the title character.  The song has an appropriately somber and heavy arrangement with more tribal drumming and droning strings pushing it.  "Tor i Helheim" is Myrkur's abridged adaptation of an epic poem by the 19th Century Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger based on Norse mythology.  It recounts the encounter between the gods Thor and Loki with Hel, a witchlike woman who rules the underworld eternally punishing dead cowards.  It begins with some a cappella yelping from Bruun that evokes the otherworldly environment described by the lyrics. The music is melancholy and hypnotic, the perfect accompaniment for a dark journey.  Side one concludes with "Svea" which has no actual lyrics but rather features Myrkur wordlessly crooning.  The song is driven by the haunting strains of the viola of Stefan Brisland Ferner of the Swedish band Garmarna who introduced me to Swedish folk music many years ago.  It is easy to imagine it as the soundtrack to some Viking ritual.  Side two begins with "Harpens Kraft" which translates as "Power of the Harp."  It is another old Danish folksong about Villemand and his future bride.  She fears crossing the river with him to their wedding because the river claimed her two sisters when they tried to cross it to go to their weddings.  Myrkur has truncated the song omitting the concluding section where Villemand does indeed lose his bride to the river and discovers a troll has taken her and her sisters.  He slays the troll and wins back his bride.  "Gammelkäring" translates as "The Old Lady" and it is a short song about an old woman who makes fine wool.  It sounds almost like a silly children's song although Bruun delivers it with such seriousness that until I saw a translation of the lyrics I had no idea it was so innocuous.  "House Carpenter" is of course the old English ballad collected by Francis Child that is known by many titles including "The Daemon Lover."  There are numerous recorded versions of the song, but as I mentioned above, I know it from Joan Baez's recording and since Myrkur thanks Baez in her liner notes I assume that is how she knows it as well.  It is about the wife of a carpenter who is seduced away from her family by the ghost of her former lover who leads her to her doom.  The percussion drives the song at a brisk pace and the moaning strings enhance Bruun's superbly expressive vocal.  I love Joanie's version but darkness was never her thing and Bruun eats it for breakfast.  For me this is the definitive version of the song.  It gave me chills when I first heard it and it still does after many listens.  "Reiar" is an old Norwegian folksong that Myrkur translated into Danish.  The title character is a drunk who has no luck with the ladies but who wins a bride by giving her a silver cup.  The lyrics are humorous and a bit crude but Bruun solemnly performs them as though she were embarking on a journey to Valhalla.  "Gudernes Vilje" means "The Will of the Gods" and was written by Myrkur.  The song evokes the experience of being pregnant in vaguely pagan terms.  Bruun herself was pregnant while making the album and obviously it was something very much on her mind.  The lyrics clearly were resonating with her and she delivers the song with tremendous feeling.  It is another song that gives me chills.  The album concludes with the lovely piano driven "Vinter" which features wordless vocalizing from Bruun evoking the sensation of a winter soundscape.  It sounds more new age than folk to me but I'm not complaining.  It does give the album a delicate and enchanting finish.  I consider this album to be a flawless masterpiece.  Although it is generally not explicitly pagan and the closest it comes to witchcraft are the runes on the cover art, it does subtly evoke that culture and spirit.  Since I rarely can understand the words I am mostly responding to the sound of the vocals and the music itself which is consistently dark and melancholy, even funereal at times.  I have no interest in paganism, but the spiritual and mystical quality of Bruun's vision impresses me.  She almost makes me want to become a warlock.  Even if you have no affinity for this stuff, I think Bruun's sincerity and commitment will impress you.  She has a great passion for this style of music and she has triumphantly succeeded in breathing life and vitality into old folk songs. This music is timeless and I suspect it will still sound wonderful 100 years from now.  I enjoy folk music more than the average person, but this transcends the genre.  You needn't have any appreciation for folk music to enjoy this album.  It may very well be the most beautiful album that I own and you definitely need to have it.  Recommended to fans of Sandy Denny and Loreena McKennitt.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father - Various Artists

Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father
Various Artists
New Musical Express  NME PEP LP-100

I picked this up several years ago largely because "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" has been the seminal album of my record collecting life.  I've worshipped it since I was a young teen.  I had my doubts about this album because I only knew about half the artists on it.  I'm a big fan of Sonic Youth and the Wedding Present and a fan of Billy Bragg, Michelle Shocked and the Fall so I figured it would at least be decent although I probably would have bought it even if it was full of covers by the likes of the Eagles, Kansas and Styx.  I feel like the original album is indestructible, it resists even the lamest of covers with its indomitable greatness.  Actually the album is better than decent and I am happy I bought it.  It was a charity record benefiting a child welfare telephone line in England which seems like a very worthy cause although I bought my copy used so my money only benefited a record store.  It sticks to the original running order with the title track delivered by the British hip hop trio the Three Wize Men.  I don't think that hip hop is a suitable style for the song, but it is certainly different as well as adventurous and sounds better than I would have predicted.  The Scottish pop group Wet Wet Wet performs "With a Little Help From My Friends" in a slick poppy style that I find even more disconcerting than the previous hip hop track, but it is done very well if you like that sort of thing.  The British soul group the Christians play "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" in a manner that retains much of the psychedelic flavor of the original and it is largely faithful to the Beatles' arrangement.  I like it but it is one of the least memorable cuts on the album.  The Wedding Present are joined by the wonderful Amelia Fletcher (of my big faves Heavenly and Talulah Gosh) for "Getting Better."  Their hyped up version of the song sounds more like the Wedding Present than the Beatles but I love it anyway.  It is my second favorite track on the album.  The Scottish duo Hue & Cry are given the task of interpreting "Fixing a Hole."  It is an interesting jazzy arrangement of the song that is far more dynamic than the original.  I'm impressed by it.  Billy Bragg is joined by his regular collaborator pianist Cara Tivey for the difficult job of covering "She's Leaving Home" which was a double A-side chart topping single in the U.K. backed with the Wet Wet Wet track (which I suspect drove most of the sales.)  Tivey's evocative piano lines carry the song and I consider them an improvement over the orchestrated arrangement of the Beatles' version.  Bragg's thick accent and heavy voice undercut the sentimentality inherent in the lyrics and I prefer this version to the Beatles's own version.  Chris Sievey's oddball alter-ego Frank Sidebottom closes out the side with "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite."  I have to admit I don't get the Sidebottom schtick and find his whiny voice irritating.  The arrangement of the song is similar to the Beatles' one minus the psychedelic sound effects, although Sievey inserts a bit of "Twist and Shout" into the middle of the song for some reason.  I'm utterly charmed by the way the song reproduces the run-off gibberish from the Beatles' original ending of the album only to be admonished with a sneering "that's on the other side, stupid!"  Side two opens with Sonic Youth's spectacular version of "Within You Without You" which is my favorite track.  The band is faithful to the original arrangement, but supercharge it with guitar noise and tribal-style drumming.  This thrilling track is one of my all-time favorite Beatles covers and the album is worth picking up for it alone.  The British jazzers the Courtney Pine Quartet are a well-chosen choice for "When I'm Sixty-Four."  They do it as a swinging instrumental taken at a faster tempo than the original.  I find it very invigorating which is certainly not the case with the original version although it completely lacks the original's charm.  Michelle Shocked sings "Lovely Rita" as a low-key folk song which places the focus on her lovely vocal.  I find it very appealing but I do miss the psychedelic stylistics of the original.  The Australian alt-rock band the Triffids perform "Good Morning Good Morning" which sounds very 1980s with the mannered vocals and big drums people liked for some reason back then.  It sounds more like U2 than the Beatles but I like it anyway especially the rumbling bass line that drives the song.  The Three Wize Men return for the reprise version of the title track which sounds a lot like their title track version except that the vocals are heavily processed to the point of being almost indecipherable.  It is also more than twice as long as the original reprise version for no good reason that I can discern.  The Fall close out the album with my favorite song on the original album, "A Day in the Life."  The Fall stick pretty close to the original to my surprise only Mark E. Smith's distinctive voice and vocal style bare any resemblance to the Fall's typical sound.  There is yet another version of the run-out gibberish to finish the song, this time in the appropriate place.  I find the track a little disappointing yet I have to admit I'm pleased that the song is respectful of the original.  Although I would say this is actually a very good album, I feel it proves my theory that "Sgt.Pepper" is indestructible.  These tracks are all over the place, often wildly different than the original and yet the result is still coherent and compelling.  I think it validates the idea of the concept album since it can survive such a massive disparity of style and sound.  Also it is just plain fun to listen to.  It is made with love and spirit and I would recommend it to all Beatles fans with open minds and a taste for sonic adventure.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Trouble with Jackie Dee - Jackie DeShannon

Trouble with Jackie Dee
Jackie DeShannon
Teenager Records 609

I bought this Danish import in a used records store that does not generally carry bootlegs and I see it is also available on Discogs which prohibits the sale of bootlegs, but I find it hard to believe that this is a legitimate release.  This is mostly a collection of DeShannon's early singles many of which were issued by Liberty Records but there is no mention of any licensing agreement with EMI who owned the label at the time.  Also the cover artwork is a straight ripoff from DeShannon's debut album "Jackie DeShannon" including the liner notes which makes no sense since none of the songs mentioned in them are on this album.  So this may be considered "legal" in Denmark but I consider it a bootleg.  Nonetheless I also consider it a very useful album and even if JDS is not collecting royalties from it, I'm still happy to have it.  The record begins with her self-composed first single for Liberty "Buddy" backed with "Strolypso Dance" from 1958 when she was still billing herself as Jackie Dee.  The rockabilly style "Buddy" is lots of fun and the album is worth purchasing for that song alone.  JDS rocks out big time with lots of passion.  The flipside is more subdued but I love the hiccupy vocal.  The single seems very influenced by Brenda Lee.  This is also true of JDS's cover of the Leiber and Stoller song "Trouble" which was the b-side of a 1959 single for P. J. Records where she was billed as Jackie Shannon.  JDS has a pronounced southern accent on the song and I find her performance very charming.  JDS leaves rockabilly behind with her own "So Warm" which was a 1960 single on Edison International.  It is a lively song but more in the vein of a girl group sound.  The self-penned "I Wanna Go Home" was the b-side and it is similar in style.  "Teach Me" by D. Abrams and B. Helms and JDS's "Lonely Girl" was a 1960 single for Liberty.  "Lonely Girl" is the better of the two and has a rhythm and blues flavor with a delightfully husky vocal from JDS.  "Teach Me" is a romantic doo-wop style ballad that JDS sings with a lot of feeling.  Side one concludes with "Back-Talk" (listed as "Back Track") which JDS recorded with Bobby Vee for the 1966 film "C'mon Let's Live a Little."  It is a rocking little number that JDS sings a lot more convincingly than Vee.  Despite its late recording date it fits in with the early 60s rock and roll vibe on the rest of side one.  Side two opens with the JDS composition "Try To Forget Him" which was recorded in 1961 but first released on JDS's 1965 album "You Won't Forget Me."  It features a big vocal from JDS that cuts through an overly fussy arrangement.  It is followed by the 1962 single "You Won't Forget Me" written by JDS and Shari Sheeley.  I consider it one of the best early songs in the JDS discography and her vocal is delivered with a lot of spirit.  JDS's cover of the Goffin-King classic "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" is taken from the 1966 album "Are You Ready For This?"  The song is taken at a faster tempo than normal and JDS has a very smooth and sweet vocal that reminds me of Diana Ross.  It is a little too slick for my taste, I prefer the earnestness of the Shirelles' hit version.  "After Last Night" was written by P. J. Proby and appeared on JDS's 1965 album "This is Jackie DeShannon."  It is pure girl group with an appealing vocal from JDS.  The Buddy Holly covers "Maybe Baby" and "Oh Boy" both appeared on "You Won't Forget Me."  I think Holly was probably an influence on JDS and her covers are respectful of his originals.  I like them both but neither adds anything interesting to the originals.  Randy Newman's "Did He Call Today, Mama?" was the b-side to the 1963 "Needles and Pins" single.  It is another girl group type song but JDS doesn't sound very engaged by it.  The album concludes with another soundtrack song, "Glory Wave" by William Dunham and Jimmy Haskell from the 1964 film "Surf Party."  It is a rocker with a gospel flavor that JDS delivers with verve.  Given that the soundtrack album is pricey and hard to find, I'm happy that the album's curator decided to add it to the collection.  This is a real hodgepodge of a collection but it does have a consistent sound since it focuses on the pop music styles of the early 1960s.  I would have preferred that it feature more of her early singles and fewer album tracks but overall I find it very satisfying.  Fans of the more sophisticated pop styles JDS employed later in the decade might find this collection a bit primitive or crude, but personally I love everything she sings.  Recommended to fans of Brenda Lee.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Have Yourself a Rockin' Little Christmas - Lucinda Williams

Have Yourself a Rockin' Little Christmas
Lucinda Williams
Highway 20 Records H20011-1

This is one of a series of covers albums that Lucinda Williams recorded in 2020 during the pandemic prior to the stroke she suffered in November of that year.  Happily she seems to have recovered from that.  This was my go-to album last Christmas.  My wife thinks it is not Christmassy enough and I can see that, it is definitely more rocking and bluesy than sentimental and traditional but that suits me just fine.  Also if you think Christmas should just be about the birth of Jesus, well this is definitely not the album for you.  The album opens with Buck Owens' "Blue Christmas Lights."  Although the song still retains some of the original's country flavor, Williams' performance sounds more R&B and has some nice guitar noise.  Up next is Chuck Berry's "Run Run Rudolph" which bares little resemblance to the rock and roll original.  It opens with a guitar line that sounds like it was lifted from a James Bond soundtrack and the song itself has been slowed down and given a swampy seductive feel that I find entrancing.  It is right in Williams' wheelhouse and she crushes it.  It is my favorite track.  "Christmas Tears" was originally done by Freddie King.  Williams follows the original blues arrangement which is completely compatible with her style and her guitarist Stuart Mathis acquits himself well with the solo.  Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" is one of the gloomiest Christmas songs I've ever heard.  It is about a parent who has lost their job and can't afford to give a proper Christmas to their child.  Williams keeps the country flavor and sounds even more miserable than Haggard.  It is well done, but a real downer.  The blues return with Charles Brown's R&B classic "Merry Christmas, Baby" which Williams gives a sultry and smoky treatment.  Mathis again provides a solid guitar solo that gives the song a big lift.  Williams reaches back to the 1930s with Irving Berlin's "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm."  Technically the song isn't a Christmas song but it fits the season.  Williams gives a loose, even a bit sloppy, performance quite different from the typical crooner versions I've heard in the past.  I like it though, it reaches me better than most of the old-fashioned ones.  "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" was originally done by Albert King and Williams keeps it in the same blues rock arrangement.  Her band's rocking performance and the urgency of her performance makes it one of the strongest tracks on the album.  "Christmas in New Orleans" was released by Louis Armstrong in 1955.  There is not much point in trying to copy the inimitable Armstrong so Williams abandons his recitative style and the big band jazz arrangement in favor of a rollicking yet slinky R&B performance that works just as well if not better.  "Please Come Home For Christmas" is another Charles Brown song.  It is a bluesy number that is ideal for Williams' style.  I have never heard a better version and don't you even dare mention to me the Eagles' cover of this.  "Little Red Rooster" is the Howlin' Wolf classic written by Willie Dixon.  As you probably know the original song has nothing to do with Christmas but she has inserted Christmas references into the song that fit surprisingly well.  The song is perfect for Williams and she delivers the goods.  It is one of my favorite tracks.  The Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" makes an unlikely appearance next.  It is not as rocked up as the original (which I prefer to this) but it is still a blast of high energy that she sings convincingly.  The album closes with the venerable standard "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" given a silky bluesy treatment that bares little resemblance to the famous Judy Garland version.  This is probably wise since although I adore Williams she doesn't really have the pipes to put over an emotional and sentimental performance like Garland's.  Williams' performance is arguably too laid back to do the song justice, but it does make for a mellow and appealing finish to the album.  From a strictly musical standpoint this is an outstanding Christmas album.  Williams has terrific taste and she has chosen songs that work really well for her.  On the other hand I was playing this while trimming the tree and while it gave me plenty of energy it didn't provide much seasonal atmosphere.  I don't like Christmas enough to be very bothered by this and I appreciate that I can listen to it out of season (which I have done) and it still holds up.  Recommended to atheists who would rather listen to Freddie King than Nat King Cole. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Shapes of Things - Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds

Shapes of Things
Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds
Springboard  SBD-4039

I was very sad to learn of Jeff Beck's passing.  After Hendrix he was my favorite rock guitarist and I worshipped him like a god when I was a teenager and I still consider his music to be an important part of my life.  This is hardly the record to honor him by, I think "Yardbirds" or any Yardbirds comp would be more appropriate not to mention "Truth" by the Jeff Beck Group or "Blow by Blow."  However this is the album I've chosen and it was also the album I reached for when I heard he died even though it is a skimpy and shoddy record by a low budget record label that was slightly above bootleg level.  Cratediggers of my generation may recall seeing bargain priced albums by Springboard in the bins.  They put out records with obscure music by famous artists of the time generally from early in their careers and of dubious legality.  I think it highly unlikely they were paying royalties on this stuff.  To some degree you were getting what you paid for, as I recall the albums didn't even have inner sleeves to protect the vinyl.  They were rip-offs, but if you were a fan of the artist, the music was often quite interesting and hard to find.  I bought a bunch of them.  "Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds" was the first Yardbirds album I ever bought since all the Epic albums were out of print when I became interested in the band.  It is an abridged version of the show released as "Five Live Yardbirds" but it actually sounded better than that album (at least until it got remastered) and featured stage patter not on that album.  This was the second Yardbirds album I bought.  I picked it up in the mid-1970s shortly before Epic restored the band to its catalog with "The Yardbirds Great Hits" which is a better introduction to the group.  Nonetheless hearing this record for the first time blew my teenage mind.  Beck's guitar solos took my breath away.  Not having many records yet, I was accustomed to listening to mid-1970s AOR or top 40 on the radio which I largely regarded as bland, so Beck's explosive and frenetic guitar work combined with the Yardbirds' pop smarts was a revelation to me.  Only the Beatles with their superior songwriting excited me more.  There are a mere 9 tracks on the album and Beck only appears on 8 of them since "I Ain't Got You" was recorded when Clapton was the lead guitarist in the group although I love it and consider it one of his best Yardbirds tracks so I'm not complaining.  The record begins with the band's soaring 1966 single "Shapes of Things" written by band members Keith Relf, Jim McCarty and Paul Samwell-Smith.  It widely considered to be one of the first psychedelic songs although its swelling riff, driven by feedback and power chords, could also be seen as a heavy-metal prototype.  Beck's fiery solo embraces raga and jazz while fully rocking out and ends way too soon.  It is followed by an unreleased track that is a lively instrumental version of "What Do You Want?" which appeared in a vocal version on "Yardbirds."  McCarty's crisp drumming powers the song while Beck delivers a noisy smoking hot riff that culminates in a shrieking solo.  The song is far more exciting than the release track.  Relf's humorous "New York City Blues" was the b-side of "Shapes of Things."  It is a rare foray into straight blues for Beck but he delivers the goods big time.  His solo section is very compelling and majestic.  "Someone to Love" is an unreleased track that is essentially a punchier version of "Lost Woman" from "Yardbirds" with different lyrics.  Beck's solo is curiously subdued in comparison to the release version.  "For R.S.G." is actually Bo Diddley's "Here 'Tis" which the band had previously recorded live with Clapton on "Five Live Yardbirds."  This is a studio version that the band apparently recorded for the British tv show "Ready Steady Go" hence the odd title.  Both the studio and live versions are very exciting, but I give this version the edge for Beck's dazzling guitarwork.  He works all over the fret board and the call and response solo section is longer and more elaborate than the Clapton version.  This is one of the songs that impressed me the most when I was a kid and even now it still gets my heart racing.  Mike Hugg's "Mr. You're a Better Man Than I" had appeared on the American LP "Having a Rave Up with the Yardbirds" where it was one of my favorite tracks.  It is driven by a hypnotic riff and Beck's fuzz-toned solo is among his best with the Yardbirds and I would argue that it was the best rock guitar solo that had ever been recorded at that time.  It is followed by an unreleased instrumental version of "Someone to Love."  This elongated performance gives Beck plenty of room to operate and he responds with one of the most amazing guitar solos of that era or any era for that matter.  Beck begins riffing over a thunderous rhythm track driven by Samwell-Smith's throbbing bass line and McCarty's explosive drumming.  His riffing grows in strength and then erupts into orgasmic blasts of feedback and raw guitar noise.  I would say this is the greatest moment in the illustrious history of the Yardbirds.  I remember listening to this song wearing headphones as a teen and literally trembling afterwards.  This song alone justifies this record's existence.  The aforementioned "I Ain't Got You" appeared originally as a b-side and was on the U.S. album "For Your Love."  The album ends with "I Ain't Done Wrong" which also was on "For Your Love."  This is another one of Beck's best moments with the Yardbirds.  He handles the blues section and the rave-up with equal aplomb.  His soloing is so inspiring I can't resist breaking out my air guitar to play along.  So with this album you get five legitimately released songs presumably stolen without credit from Epic/EMI four of which are essential (and easily available on legitimate releases.)  You also get four unreleased songs which are extremely interesting and I would argue that "For R.S.G" and the second version of "Someone To Love" are also essential.  They have appeared on a modern CD, Sony's comp "Blues, Backtracks and Shapes of Things" and there are a bunch of foreign versions of this LP so you don't have to buy this stupid record necessarily to get this music.  However it is pretty easy to find and I love the cover picture and had it on display in my room when I was a teen.  If you are a fan of Jeff Beck or the Yardbirds this is a must-have in some form.  Maybe because I bought it so early it has an outsized importance in my mind, but it was the album that made me a fan of Beck and the Yardbirds and listening to it now about 48 years after I bought it it still sounds fresh and vital to me.  Rest in peace Jeff Beck and thank you for being such a big part of my musical life.  Recommended to people who prefer "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" over "For Your Love."  

Saturday, October 1, 2022

If I Could Only Remember My Name - David Crosby

If I Could Only Remember My Name
David Crosby
Atlantic Records SD 7203

I picked this up in a thrift store many years ago in order to hear how awful it was.  When I gave it a spin however I was pleasantly surprised, astonished even, to find that I enjoyed it.  I am far from a Crosby fan (I've mocked him in the past on this very blog) but I find this album consistently entertaining.  Given how little use I have for his recordings with Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) I suspect the big reason for this is evident in the photos in the gatefold.  I imagine if you or I went into a studio with most of the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead along with Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and a couple of guys from Santana we would probably come up with a listenable album too.  I may be a little prejudiced against Crosby, but I don't think this is an unfair assessment.  The songs he contributes to the album are mostly slight, lyrically they make "Almost Cut My Hair" sound like poetry in comparison and musically they mostly sound like unfinished demos or jams.  The album opens with "Music Is Love" which is credited to Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young which seems like overkill for a song that mostly consists of the phrase "everybody's saying that music is love" sung over and over.  "Cowboy Movie" sounds like an outtake from "Déjà Vu."  It is one of the few fully formed songs on the album and recounts a misogynistic tale of outlaws in the old west.  I find Crosby's vocal overwrought and annoying but since he is backed by the Grateful Dead on the song it still has a lot of power with a hypnotic bass riff from Phil Lesh and very tasty guitar licks from Jerry Garcia.  If I don't pay close attention to Crosby's singing I find it one of the most compelling songs on the album.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that "Tamalpais High (At About 3)" is not about the high school in Mill Valley but rather about a place where Crosby liked to do drugs.  Hard to say for sure since the song has no lyrics consisting instead of Nash and Crosby crooning wordlessly in their inimitable manner.  It sounds very mellow as we used to say although Jorma Kaukonen and Jerry Garcia briefly energize the song with some trippy guitar runs over Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann's rumbling rhythm track.  This is the part of the song that most appeals to me.  "Laughing" is my favorite track on the album.  The lyrics are hippie hogwash with Crosby looking for enlightenment and finding confusion and disappointment instead.  I find Crosby's vocal engaging and subtly emotional and I consider it one of his best post-Byrds performances.  The song was written while Crosby was in CSN&Y but it reminds me of the music he was making during his final year with the Byrds.  It has an ethereal yet slightly country sound to it with psychedelic overtones and I particularly enjoy Garcia's steel guitar licks.  Side two opens with "What Are Their Names" which is credited to Crosby, Garcia, Lesh, Young and Michael Shrieve of Santana.  Given that it is an inane song about Crosby trying to find who is in charge of the world and wanting peace, I'm guessing that the song emerged from a jam with the five songwriters and nobody was too concerned about the lyrics.  The song sounds a lot like Paul Kantner's "Blows Against the Empire" album, perhaps because Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg are singing on it (although half the musicians in San Francisco are apparently singing too along with Young, Nash and Joni Mitchell.)  Obviously with that kind of firepower the vocal is extremely dynamic, arguably far more powerful than this silly song deserves.  For me the best part of the song is listening to Garcia and Lesh do their thing which sounds very much like vintage Grateful Dead.  "Traction in the Rain" is laid back psych-folk with very trippy lyrics from Crosby that sound like he really put some effort into composing for once.  Laura Allan enriches the song with her autoharp strumming and gentle background vocal.  The aptly named "Song With No Words (Tree With No Leaves)" features Nash and Crosby wordlessly crooning in a lovely manner although the real action in the song comes from Kaukonen and Garcia along with Gregg Rolie on piano who easily blow away Nash and Crosby's contribution.  Crosby is on his own for "Orleans" which is an excerpt from an old French children's song.  Crosby's vocal is multi-tracked to give it a richer sound.  It is very pretty but I'm happy it is also very short.  "I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here" is Crosby's own song but it sounds just as old as "Orleans."  It has no words that I can decipher and is delivered acapella with Crosby multi-tracking his vocal creating a rich polyphonic sound reminiscent of medieval church music.  It gives the record a spiritual conclusion which is not what I would be expecting from Crosby.  This album is pretty much as stupid as I anticipated when I bought it, but it is never boring and rarely annoying which I was definitely not anticipating.  I am not going to say that this is more to Lesh and Garcia's credit than Crosby's although I might be secretly thinking that.  Actually aside from "Cowboy Movie" I find Crosby's singing appealing throughout the album, although not appealing enough for me to keep the record if it didn't feature his heavy friends.  The music may be underdeveloped if not outright lazy, but with Crosby I'm not sure that is a fault.  I prefer most of this to his more fully developed music on "Crosby Stills and Nash" or "Déjà Vu."  It leaves a lot of space for his collaborators and since I generally do not dig his lyric writing, wordless crooning suits me fine.  The album sounds wonderful late at night and I imagine it sounds even better if you are high.  I have to admit that when I first heard this album I had to reassess my opinion of Crosby and it certainly provides some context for his generally admirable recent records.  I'm never going to be a fan, but I do respect him more.  Along with his work with the Byrds, I consider this the highlight of his career although admittedly I have not done a deep dive into his solo work and never will.  I bought this album for all the wrong reasons, but Crosby decisively proved me wrong.  I can't recall ever being so surprised by a record and I'm grateful to him for that.  Recommended to fans of "Workingman's Dead" who wish it had less words and more jams.