Tag Archives: 1960s

[169] Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

18 Mar

Well, this one takes me back.

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When I was a kid, my Mom, Dad, brother and I would regularly take road trips from the suburbia a couple of hours outside of London to the suburbia immediately outside of the city proper to visit with the extended family that stayed put when my Grandma and Grandpa moved to “the back of beyond” in the ’50s.  And on those road trips my folks would always play one of the same four cassette tapes:  an Elaine Page collection, a Lloyd-Webber cast recording, an album by Israeli folk singer Topol, or Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits.

It turns out that my Dad is a big Cash fan.

So I’ve known and loved these songs since before I had long hair, before I could choose my own soundtrack.  It’s probably fair to say that, however subliminally, “The Man in Black” helped to form my fashion sense, and predisposed me to gravitate towards outlaws and rebels, at least sonically.

At Folsom Prison is an album I have owned and listed to for years, perhaps decades, although I can’t actually recall the last time I hit play on it before revisiting those road trips for the 1,000.  And the sense memory of sitting in the back of our red Toyota Cressida, singing along especially to the comedy songs “One Piece At A Time”, “The One On The Left”, and “A Boy Named Sue” is immediate, and almost overwhelming.  The deeper-than-deep voice which still somehow finds range for melody, the inviolable boom-chikka rhythm of guitar and drum, the lyrical wordplay, the moments of laughter, the connection to the listener.  They are all immediately remembered, and immensely comforting.

The selection of tracks on this live recording is fascinating. There are the prison songs “Cocaine Blues”, “25 Minutes To Go”, and of course the track which brought the performer to this particular venue.  There are the traditional mournful sounds of “Green, Green Grass Of Home” and “Send A Picture Of Mother.”  There is the silliness of “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog” and “Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart.”  And there is the precise fire of the duet with June Carter, “Jackson”, perhaps my favorite song on the album.

Cash giggles his way through a number of tracks, teasing the inmates about not laughing during the songs since they are recording, so he “can’t say hell or [exletive deleted].”  His relaxed banter is as much a part of his persona as the songs, the image.  And the album is occasionally interrupted by announcements from the warden, making this a singular experience.

Listening to the range of 16 songs across 45 minutes I am as ever struck by the wide variety of styles that Cash perfects, how the raw warts and all recording elevates the whole, and how many signature songs are still missing.  Listening to At Folsom Prison makes me want to listen to a lot more Cash.

Could there be a better recommendation to listen to an album?

Next Time:  Johnny Cash – American Recordings

Owned before blogging? Yes (13 of 169 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? Yes (22 of 169 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes (141 of 169 = 83%)

[163] Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick – Byker Hill

27 May

Sometimes, no matter how many times you listen to an album, it makes absolutely no impression.

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That’s what has happened to me here, with the pretty period instrumentation and the admittedly accomplished vocals passing me by entirely despite a dozen and more plays.  I start up Spotify, I hear the first notes, and some time later I realize that the album has ended and once again I have failed to notice.

This has happened on occasion with bands I love where, on revisiting an album years later, I discover what it was I had missed – P.H.U.Q. by The Wildhearts was a complete bust for me when it first came out but recently revealed as a minor masterpiece.

Of course there are other albums which were a disappointment on first listen that have not fared any better with age.  I’m looking at you, Subhuman Race by Skid Row, although a better example might be GnR’s Chinese Democracy which left me with this same *shrug* feeling (rather than the disgust which led to Subhuman Race being the first and to date only album I have ever returned to the store for being terrible . . .)

So why am I reaching back twenty-plus years to discus hard rock near hits and clean misses in this post?  Is it possible that I have almost literally (in the original literal sense of the word) nothing to say about Byker Hill?

In the immortal words of the narrator from Hong Kong Phooey, “Could be.”

I would bet on the Chinese Democracy scenario being closer to the likely truth than P.H.U.Q. this time.  Except that I really can’t foresee a future where I even remember the name Martin Carthy long enough to give this record another spin.

What’s next?

Next Week: Cartolo – Cartolo

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 163 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 163 = 13%)
Recommend? No. (136 of 163 = 83%)

[160] James Carr – You Got My Mind Messed Up

6 May

Another artist that time appears to have passed by.  Another record I find myself falling in love with.

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Despite the derivative sounding up-tempos, despite the lack of a signature hit, there is more than enough heart and soul, passion and pain on You Got My Mind Messed Up to catch my attention midway through the first listen and not let up for a week or more.

It is the evocative down-tempo tunes which initially enchant, not as catchy or heartbreaking as those of Arthur Alexander, but polished and profound nonetheless.

As usual for this era, the session musicians backing Carr are phenomenal, building him up and keeping out of his way, never pulling focus but oh-so accomplished when you do actually notice them.

For once, although I fully endorse Tom Moon’s inclusion in the thousand, I understand why Carr’s name is not a household one.  There is no single song here that demands attention, nothing that makes a listener sing along with more than perhaps just the evocative song titles themselves.  The rest is beautiful, but there is no urgency, no immediacy.

If this sounds like a lukewarm recommendation, then I am not doing this album justice.  It is the kind of record that gets into your head and under your skin – it certainly got into and under mine.

For all its apparent shortcomings You Got My Mind Messed Up is the kind of album that gets played again and again.  And if I am not accurately articulating the reason why, you’ll just have to go have a listen for yourself . . .

Next Week:  The Original Carter Family – 1927 to 1934

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 160 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 160 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (134 of 160 = 84%)

[158] Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica

22 Apr

As weird and as random as its title, there is much to ponder and perplex in this 80 minutes of avant garde something or other.

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Color me unsurprised that Zappa was involved (as producer.)

There is an aura of experimental wonderfulness throughout this recording.  It is certainly not for everyone, or for every occasion, but there is so much to interpret and explore that I do not think I will ever grow tired of hearing the Rock-y, Blues-y, Folk-y, Jazz-y, Spoken Word sounds that skitter all over the place on each play.

The vocals at time remind me of Shel Silverstein’s wonderful, not safe for work or kids interpretations of some of his stories – both engage in very much the same way.

The guitars are in constant motion, twiddling in concentric circles.  The horns when they are featured squeak and squawk and demand attention.  And every now and then a nugget of wisdom or a moment of sublime discomfort peeks through the stream of consciousness lyrics.

It is loose and messy and sprawling, and despite the potential for negative connotations in all these adjectives, I am a fan.

Next Week: The Caravans – The Best of The Caravans

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 158 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 158 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (132 of 158 = 84%)

[144] Buffalo Springfield – Retrospective

15 Jan

I, like so many others, was first introduced to Buffalo Springfield by the magical cover of “For What It’s Worth” on The Muppet Show.

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If that were the sole output of the band, there would still be an argument for inclusion on Tom Moon’s list.  That the rest of this Best Of album is as accomplished and enjoyable as it is makes this one of the easiest recommendations to date.

The guitar attack that anchors the entire record is at times laid back melody, at times frenzied distortion, and always foreshadowing the guitar innovations that were to follow – it inspired the sound that I discovered and adored a more than a decade later.  That the music also calls to mind earlier Beatles harmonizing as well as an older Folk aesthetic places Buffalo Springfield at an important crossroads in Rock, and musical, history.

The songwriting is varied and inspired, not surprising considering the personalities doing the composing.  The Folk sensibilities are toughened up by Rock edges, jam band noodling made relevant by the righteous anger of youth.

Buffalo Springfield almost sound like a proto-version of the bands and artists I idolized in my own angry (but not overly so) youth.  I may have leaned to slicker, less earnest iterations of this everyband, and certainly never explored beyond “For What It’s Worth” at the time.  But, thankfully for me, those bands certainly knew Buffalo Springfield and soared from their lofty foundations.

“Everybody look what’s going ’round . . .”

Next Week: The Bulgarian Women’s National Radio and Television Chorus – Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 144 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 144 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (119 of 144 = 83%)

[142] Tim Buckley – Dream Letter: Live in London, 1968

25 Dec

At the crossroads of Folk and Rock, Tim Buckley uses his voice more as instrument than lyric delivery system.

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In this long and winding live recording, Buckley whines and wails in unfettered and unapologetic sweeps, showing astounding vocal range and control.  It is quite fascinating to hear the things he makes his voice do.

Unfortunately – despite its unique character, its originality and style – I find that this aspect of the album quickly fades into the background, along with the rest of the music.  As impressive as the tone and talent on display from all on hand may be, I find myself constantly tuning out.

Nothing here holds my attention once the novelty of Buckley’s voice falls to familiarity.

It is a shame, because I really want to enjoy this.  There is certainly nothing wrong, nothing I dislike to be heard.  But it seems odd to recommend a recording as indispensable when I consistently forget all about it even while it is playing.

It is, I fear, perhaps a reflection of the songwriting aesthetic that it is only when a snippet cover of the hugely familiar “You Keep Me Hanging On” reaches my ears that I notice there is music on at all . . .

Maybe the studio albums are tighter, more engaging than Dream Letter.  But it is far more likely that in walking such a tightrope between Folk and Rock, Buckley has watered down both, served neither.

Which makes me sad.

Next Week: Buckwheat Zydeco – Buckwheat’s Zydeco Party

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 142 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 142 = 14%)
Recommend? No. (117 of 142 = 82%)

[137] Ruth Brown – Miss Rhythm

20 Nov

Fair or otherwise, this is the recording I wanted the Marian Anderson entry into the 1,000 to be.

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Ruth Brown has the tone and technique of Anderson, and showcases it in this collection of Jazz and Blues tinged compositions rather than wasting them on stilted songs of praise.  She leads her band and her listeners on an energetic romp through standards and torch songs that are full of warmth and joy.

Surrounded by top notch musicians, it is clear to hear why Atlantic Records was labeled “The House That Ruth Built” (a riff on the Ballpark in the Bronx and a man named Babe . . .)

Known as “The Queen of R&B”, Brown’s sound was far cleaner, more restrained than the messier, more passionate output of “The Queen of Soul” (who arguably dethroned her) or even “The King of Rock and Roll” and later “The King of Pop.”

It seems we prefer our musical monarchs to have a little more edge.

Despite her brief reign (if an initial career spanning three decades can be described as brief) Brown’s professional sound pleasure to spend some time in.  It’s not the most earth-shattering , not the most ground-breaking album I’ve ever heard, but the seeds of the gospel-rock fusion which was just around the corner is on display and oh-so enjoyable.

Next Week: Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 137 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 137 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (113 of 137 = 82%)

[136] Oscar Brown, Jr. – Sin & Soul

13 Nov

How many more times am I going to be shocked to the core at the holes in my musical education?

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The combination of Brown’s vocal prowess, his silky instincts for entertaining, and his sharp social commentary is an unforgettable cocktail.  Many of the songs are smoothly infectious – as cool as anything the Rat Pack ever did – but Brown almost casually throws in biting, searing moments like the chilling “Bid Em In” where he unflinchingly, straight faced plays the slave owner selling off a 15-year-old girl.

As my wife commented, “Sammy Davis never touched a song like that.”

Brown slides back and forth across the album between clean crooner vocals and the accented African annunciation, a fascinating and certainly deliberate decision.  Here you’ll find a more or less definitive version of the standard, “Straighten Up And Fly Right” sung with crystal clarity and sunny smile, alongside the affected patter – almost unrecognizable as English – of “Rags and Old Iron”.

This is followed closely by the hugely comedic howl of, “But I Was Cool” . . .

There is a magnificent juxtaposition here, a tightrope balance between warming embrace and squirming discomfort, tragedy and hilarity.

For all the astute blending of assimilation and non-, in the end all of the choices Brown makes are right on the money – by turns thought provoking, moving and amusing, but always entertaining.  The arrangements span from lush orchestral to non-existent and every stop along the way, with Brown’s expressive voice conveying every emotion and capturing every nuance of a number of insanely catchy melodies.

So, yet again, why does it take an honestly insane endeavor (an album a week for over 20 years?  What was I thinking?) for me to even hear the name, let alone the music and the mind associated with it?

Now I’ve heard Oscar Brown Jr. sing “Forbidden Fruit”, it is an earworm which will stay with me forever more and I am glad of it . . .

Next Week:  Ruth Brown – Miss Rhythm

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 136 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 136 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (112 of 136 = 82%)

[134] James Brown – Soul Pride: The Instrumentals, 1960-1969

30 Oct

I think I enjoy these mostly instrumental and wholly impressive session jams even more than the familiar tunes that made Brown a household name.

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The whole thing, almost two and a half hours of freewheeling music, sounds like the soundtrack to an exceptional action movies with adrenaline and passion informing every note.  I can almost see the movement and color on the screen as Brown drives his buddies on in these late night recording binges, wailing occasionally or leading from the keyboard as every instrument imaginable takes its turn in the spotlight, adding its piece to the story.

This is the good stuff – artists performing for other artists, having fun, showing off.  The result could have been masturbatory but instead manages a wide-eyed “look what I can do” vibe as everyone shines, everyone soars.

There is so much joy in Brown’s music, and this is never more evident than in these 36 tracks spanning a decade.  You could throw this album on at almost any party, with almost any crowd and make your guests happy.

Whether it is hot horns, raging guitars or wandering electric piano riffs there is always something cool happening, technically excellent, subjectively pleasing regardless of the time or place or players.

The one constant is Brown, his recognizable aesthetic and legendary work ethic.

Next Week:  James Brown and the JB’s – “Sex Machine”

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 134 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 134 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (110 of 134 = 82%)

[133] James Brown and the Famous Flames – Live At The Apollo (1962)

23 Oct

Short and oh so sweet, this tight and tiny live set is an amazing primer for anyone wanting to hear for themselves why James Brown was known as the hardest working man in show business.

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Barely half an hour long (even after including the spoken word introduction and instrumental opening track) it is not clear that the audience could have taken much more of this high octane, passion filled performance. From the very first lines sung by that instantly recognizable voice nothing is left to chance and nothing is left in reserve.

The notoriously demanding Apollo crowd laps up every note and it is easy to understand why.

The band is admirably sharp, keeping up with Brown’s energy and providing the canvas on which his whooping and wailing can appear as an artist painting with vocal color rather than just a crazy man screaming at a wall.

Assigned by Moon to his R&B category, this could as easily be seen as prototypical Rock n Roll, with the Blues (of the Rhythm and Blues) buried pretty far in the mix, and the guitar placed well forward in the mix, often dueling mightily with the powerful horn section.

But whatever you call it, this opportunity to experience “Mr Dynamite” (to use one of the titles bestowed on Brown during the introductions) in the early blush of his full powers and success is well worth listening to.

Next Week: James Brown – Soul Pride: The Instrumentals, 1960-1969

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 133 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 133 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (109 of 133 = 82%)

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