Jan 252015

Breakfast music for a Sunday morning. I dug this little gem off the shelf. ’20 Super Hits by Them’ featuring a very young Van Morrison. It’s a German pressing on the Decca label, probably from the 80’s sometime.

10854214_800634180009277_9024995333385223558_oFor some reason, when the topic of the British Invasion comes up, these guys tend to get lost in the shuffle when talking about great groups influenced by American blues and R&B (the Stones, Animals, Yardbirds, etc.). However, they were no less great and with Van’s distinctive vocal out front they could really deliver the goods. Plenty of great covers on this one: “Baby Please Don’t Go”, “Turn On Your Love Light”, “I Put A Spell On You”, “Bright Lights, Big City”. Also a wonderful cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” that really showcases Van’s pleading vocal style and four Van Morrison originals, “Gloria”, “Mystic Eyes”, “You Just Can’t Win” and “Friday’s Child”. The last one is the most obscure but for me most has the beginnings of the sound that would come to define his solo career.

Great stuff. Not to be overlooked.

Jan 252015

I arrived at the University of Illinois in Urbana in the fall of 1974 for my freshman year. Not too far from my dorm I found the Red Herring Coffee House. I can’t remember all the details, but I believe it was in the basement of a local church. At least on the weekends they had live folk/bluegrass music from local artists, and at times had an open stage as well. I spent probably too many nights there listening to the music instead of studying.10917146_10203685932095519_5034640225399033099_o

At that time the Red Herring had Spring and Fall folk festivals. The fall festival of 1969 had several tracks live tracks recorded and pressed by Century Records and sold at the coffee house. There were only about 2000 of these albums made. I had grown up in Chicago suburbs, and had not much exposure to this type of music before, so of course I bought this album when I saw it on sale there to expand my horizons.

Several songs were covers, including Crucifixion, a song by Phil Ochs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_%28song%29) that was my favorite song on the album. There was also a song Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, that is a variation of a song by Anne Bredon from the 1950’s that Led Zeppelin covered on their first album.

10918948_10203685933295549_1127224221181104590_oMy second favorite song on the album was The Actress and the Artist. This was performed by a young and unknown Dan Fogelberg. Since Dan wasn’t that popular yet in 1974, and my tastes turned more harder rock rather than folk, it was several years after he well-known that I realized he had played on this alum. If you look closely at the upper right corner of the back of the record jacket, you can see a picture of him.

I recently saw this album for sale on eBay. The owner was asking $125 for it, but it doesn’t look like it sold.

Audios (although not sure there are videos) of The Actress and the Artist can be found on You Tube. At least one is a demo. Another one sounds like it might be this recording, but hard to tell for sure.


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Jan 252015

I recently began ripping my SACDs for streaming. Even with a fairly decent transport (Oppo BDP-83SE NuForce Edition) I have found (my opinion) that well created digital files, in lossless formats, provide superior sound quality even when run through the same external DAC. Your mileage may vary but my point here is that I have been going back and listening to some of my older catalog.

Before someone jumps into my Sh*t, I am not saying I think any format is necessarily better.

My testing lead me to a classic that I have not actually sat and listened to for decades, The Alan Parson Project – Turn of a Friendly Card. Anyone growing up in the 80s heard ‘Games People Play’ no less than 1,452,712 times. Even so I always had a copy or two, in different formats, I know how damn good it is but I was so damn tired of hearing it. I am ready to spin it again.

The Turn of a Friendly Card is the fifth album by progressive rock band The Alan Parsons Project, released in 1980. It focuses on gambling, and loosely tells the tale of a middle-aged man who grows restless and takes a chance by going to a casino and betting all he has, only to lose it all. The album has a 16-minute title piece, which was broken up into five tracks (except the West German CD pressing), with the five sub-tracks listed as sub-sections. The Turn of a Friendly Card spawned the moderate hits “Games People Play” and “Time”, the latter of which was Eric Woolfson’s first lead vocal appearance.

Jan 232015

I have been so fully vested in my SoulFunkAfroLatinination that I decided I better look in my stack of unopened CDs and the first one a flip over is The Old 97s – Most Messed Up. These guys have been rocking for 9 albums now without losing the punkish hillbilly edge that made me love them so long ago.

Rhett Miller occasionally watches the clock when he’s onstage. That’s just one of the revelations he makes on “Longer Than You’ve been Alive”, the opening track from the Old 97’s’ ninth album, Most Messed Up. He also fesses up to washing down “mountains of weed, a handful of pills” with “oceans and oceans” of booze. “None the hard stuff, that shit kills.” He jumps off risers he shouldn’t even attempt to climb at his age, bickers with the other guys in the band like they’re old married couples, and still sometimes dreams of being the kind of rock star that simply can’t exist in today’s industry. “Rock stars were once such mythical creatures, up there with presidents, Playmates, and preachers,” he explains. “Now you just do it cause it’s what you do.” When Miller sings, “I’m not crazy about songs that get self-referential,” the universe threatens to collapse in on itself.

Most Messed Up puts the “old” in Old 97’s’ bandname. The guys are all now in their 40s, alt-country survivors who have the gumption to admit they can’t keep singing about romantic vindictiveness when they’re all married with kids. Bad backs and disillusioned fans are one thing, but finding happiness can be disastrous for a band like this. So Miller tries to spice up his songwriting the way spouses try to spice up their marriages, addressing the difficulties of maintaining a spark with your bandmates as well as your mate. “Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On” opens with him propositioning a woman post-show with a bottle of booze, but it ends with him booking a room with a bottle of chilled champagne so he and the missus can have some time away from the kids.

Self-aware and self-deprecating, Most Messed Up seems like the kind of album that signals a comeback, and certainly the band rumble through these songs like they’re not tired of each other. Songs like “Give It Time” and “Wheels Off” sound like the Olds at their rowdiest, but they can’t really sustain that sense of abandon over a dozen tracks. “This Is the Ballad” and “The Disconnect” are far too fussy and clever from a guy who claims to hate self-referential songs, and “Guadalajara” sounds utterly embarrassed as it recounts the tale of a businessman tempted by a woman losing her bikini top. And the title track closes the album with the least persuasive line Miller may have ever penned: “I am the most messed up motherfucker in this town.” Does anyone, even Miller himself, actually buy that?

But the Olds were never a songwriter project. As distinctive as his lyrical voice can be, Miller is still blessed beyond measure to have these three guys backing him. Ken Bethea still plays like he still thinks you can surf in Texas, blending the Ventures and the Sir Douglas Quintet into super-melodic, super-concise guitar lines, and the rhythm section of drummer Philip Peeples and bassist Murry Hammond still swing just enough to give these songs some aggression. Sure, the twitchy alienation of their earliest records is long gone, but the Old 97’s are still fighting the good fight against respectability.

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Jan 232015

Now Playing: Erma Franklin – Soul Sister

During an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, the hostess asked Erma Franklin, “What is it like to be the sister of Aretha?” Before Erma could answer, her sister, Aretha interjected, “Erma is her own woman!” “Her Own Woman” could be the title of Erma Vernice Franklin’s biography. It seems that, through the years, the eldest daughter of The Rev. Clarence and Barbara Franklin did her own thing and achieved her own individual success, though her musical accomplishments were always overshadowed by those of her younger sister. Erma had her chances to record for Chess and to join Motown’s early roster, but it was in 1961 that she successfully auditioned for Epic. Unfortunately, she was frustrated with the label’s choice of directions for her and waited out her contract while spending 1961-1966 on the road. Then, when Aretha’s career suddenly took off at Atlantic, Erma signed with producer/songwriter Bert Berns’ Shout Records. ‘Piece of My Heart,’ a song Berns had co-written with Jerry Ragovoy, became Franklin’s first Top Ten R&B hit in 1967; sadly, before Franklin could begin work on a proper LP, Berns died suddenly of a heart attack, throwing the company into chaos. In the meantime, Franklin backed her sister on many Atlantic recordings, and toured the U.S. and Europe. She signed with Brunswick in 1969 and scored a minor R&B hit with ‘Gotta Find Me a Lover (24 Hours a Day),’ also releasing her second LP, Soul Sister. On this album, she worked in Chicago with Johnny Pate, Sonny Sanders, and Willie Henderson for a harder-hitting sound than Aretha’s, really in the groove with the best of Brunswick from the late ’60s. But once again Franklin found herself with a label that didn’t know what to do with her; after Brunswick nixed a proposed session with Aretha in the producer’s chair, Franklin waited out her contract and moved back to Detroit in 1972 to work at a public relations firm. She performed with Aretha off and on through the ’80s and ’90s, and eventually took an upper-level job at the Boysville children’s charity. She passed away in 2002, after a battle with cancer.

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