Tag Archives: USA

[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%)

[168] Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

25 Feb

I was extraordinarily excited at the opportunity to explore this album, completely ready to be blown away. A drummer-singer-songwriter in the country-indie-punk world? Where do I sign?

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But the first play through was neither what I expected nor what I wanted. It all sounds so safe and bland – an engaging voice which speaks of a mind that has listened to a lot of Patsy Cline, over wandering guitars and drums.

Where is the fire? Where is the attitude? I tap along to “Margaret vs. Pauline”, then carry on with my day without noticing that the music has continued.

It is clear very quickly that I am going to need to take a listen to the lyrics to see what it is Moon is singling out here.

And while the lyrics are unusual and interesting, I find them disconnected from the music. It is all very pleasant (even the moments of unpleasantness) but again I’m left wondering why Moon chose Neko Case over Tori Amos in his 1,000?

It’s not the first time that the omission of one of my Top 10 albums – Little Earthquakes – is perhaps unfairly coloring my response to an apparently important and seminal female recording artist who came after Tori.

I would be surprised if it is the last, and for that I apologize.

So, before finally posting this entry, I give Fox Confessor . . . another spin, and it appears that the songs made a little more of an impression on first listen, since each track is now comfortable and somewhat familiar, if still lacking the hoped for fire.

I think this one might be on me rather than Moon – overlaying unrealistic expectations on top of an album that is one thing, and blaming it that it is not something else.

Next Time: Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

Owned before blogging? No (12 of 168 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No (21 of 168 = 13%)
Recommend? No (140 of 168 = 83%)

[161] The Original Carter Family – 1927 to 1934

13 May

Country music, perhaps even America as we know it, would be profoundly different without The Carter Family.

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Cataloging and recording the songs handed down the generations throughout the South, A. P. Carter preserved a legacy and honed a sound which is still relevant and recognizable today.  The range of musical ground covered is dizzying, well over five hours of songs of praise, of despair, of celebration, of love, of longing.

Spiritual or sea shanty, ballad or barroom romp, each song is anchored by a metronomic rhythm section usually consisting of nothing more than a single guitar which lays down an unbreakable beat.  Over this foundation, fascinating story songs unfold, cleanly melodic and enhanced by close harmony whenever a chorus rolls around, by strict unison singing elsewhere.

For nearly ninety-year-old recordings, the sound quality here is quite astounding.

I love the way just two voices and one guitar can fill a room.  I love the sheer quantity of found music in evidence here.  I love that I can enfold myself in the sound that  Johnny Cash and June Carter (and a multitude of others) heard, that so inspired them to create music of their own.

And I hate how often otherwise open-minded people will casually admit that “I like all kinds of music except Country . . .”

Next Week:  Elliott Carter – Symphonia

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 161 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 161 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (135 of 161 = 84%)

[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%)

[159] The Caravans – The Best of The Caravans

29 Apr

I know I’m going to be recommending this recording about 10 seconds into the first track.

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This is what I think of when I think of Gospel – fervor and phenomenal ability inextricably linked, outstanding talent married to energetic intent.  The vocals are so good, so searing and moving and committed.  The organ backing is so crisp and uplifting.

Everything is so bouncing and behaving.

More than anything, these songs confirm that I was correct in my assessment of The Abyssinian Baptist Choir way back near the start of this journey.  The Caravans clearly illustrate how Gospel should sound – there is just no reason or excuse for accepting any musically inferior imitation, historical importance be damned.

Not when I can hear soloist after soloist roaring and wailing their magnificent stuff, paving the way for the crossover to come.

Here is the sound that Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and so many others co opted into the secular world, changing music for the better.  Here is one of the most obvious influences on early Rock and Roll, and so eventually on all of my favorite artists, songs and sounds.

This is what it’s all about.  It’s so good I don’t even care that the performers are praising god.

Next Week:  James Carr – You Got My Mind Messed Up

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 159 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 159 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (133 of 159 = 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%)

[152] David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

11 Mar

“It’s got a beat, and you can dance to it.”

byrne

Names I know, a sound balanced somewhere between those I tend not to seek out and those I have actively studied, this experimental mix of found sounds and sampled beats is a wild mix of hit and miss, of cerebral and base.

Byrne and Eno had both already shown an ear for a cutting edge tune – separately and in collaboration – before this 1981 release, and it is that understanding of how listeners respond to rhythm and repetition which combines here to meld the weird and unexpected parts of each track into a coherent whole.

Beyond the looped guitar stabs and snippets of talk radio hosts and callers, sermonizers and exorcists, the pair also sample Middle Eastern vocals and African beats.  I don’t think Rock, certainly not Pop, and not even World when I’m listening to this sprawling and complex recording, but I do think long and hard about the sounds that are playing.

I think it is entirely possible that I don’t actually *like* this.  That does not stop me spending an engrossing week exploring and experiencing it, enough so that I have no problem recommending it.  I hear the experimentation, the craft, the artists’ choices.  I also hear the influence it had on the next decade plus of popular music, even if I did not always enjoy the sounds so influenced.

Would I rather hear “Psycho Killer” or “Once In A Lifetime”?  Absolutely.  (And I will, 18 letters down the line.)  In the meantime, I fall back on my longtime answer to the question, “What kind of music do you listen to?”

I listen to anything that took real passion and talent to compose and perform.  Also late-80s, early-90s Rock which I acknowledge at times took neither . . .

Next Week: Cafe Tacvba – Cuatro Caminos

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 152 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 152 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (127 of 152 = 84%)

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