Lately I’ve been listening a lot to an album by a New Jersey based band called Garcia Peoples. The name of the band betrays their main stylistic influences, primarily the Grateful Dead.
The album, Cosmic Cash, is their debut. For the most part, the band on record avoids the temptation to give us long jams, instead opting for more concise, 3-5 minute tracks. The one exception is today’s SotW, “Suite: Cashing Out / Sigh of Relief / The Midnight Dancer / All the Time / Distant Lands.”
A review of the album at Psych Insight Music says this about the Suite.
“[It] begins with a really rather punky overture before segueing into one of the most powerful parts of the album, ‘Sign of Relief’, which is the sound of a band straining at the leash yet containing itself… that sense of wanting to break out yet remaining on the edge itself is a skill in itself. ‘The Midnight Dancer’ is a funky slow groove of a movement that goes off-kilter in a Talking Heads sort of way before segueing into ‘All The Time’ with Garcia Peoples twin guitar attack really coming to the fore. Again elements of blues and rock are nicely folded into an overall feeling of love for the music the band are playing. This before bringing the whole thing to a close with ‘Distant Lands’ with its infusion of southern heat that really helps this track and, again, the album generally radiate warmth and a certain generosity of spirit. This ‘suite’ is a terrific fourteen minutes of music that, for me is worth the admission fee on its own.”
I’ve long been a fan of Ry Cooder. He’s the coolest guy. His long career includes early work with Taj Mahal in the influential Rising Sons, as well as with Captain Beefheart, Randy Newman and the Rolling Stones, to name just a few.
His own solo albums are compendiums of American roots music that exemplify his exquisite taste in music. Take, for example, today’s SotW, “One Meatball” from his eponymous 1970 debut album.
“One Meatball” is an 1944 update by Lou Singer and Hy Zaret of an 1855 song written by Harvard Latin professor George Martin Lane called “The Lone Fish Ball.” (Sadly, Lane is better known today for his silly ballad than his academic work.)
The song tells the tale of a poor dude that goes into a restaurant to eat but can only afford one meatball and encounters a derisive waiter.
A little man walked up and down, To find an eating place in town, He read the menu through and through, To see what fifteen cents could do.
One meatball, one meatball, He could afford but one meatball.
He told the waiter near at hand, To sample dinner he had planned. The guests were startled, one and all, To hear that waiter loudly call,
“One meatball, one meatball?
This here gent wants one meatball.”
(Cooder final verse)
The little man felt very sad, For one meatball is all he had And in his dreams he hears that call “You gets no bread with one meatball.”
(Original, third verse that Cooder skips)
The little man felt ill at ease, Said, “Some bread, sir, if you please.” The waiter hollered down the hall, “You gets no bread with one meatball.
There are numerous other versions to check out on YouTube or Spotify. I’ll treat you to one more of my favorites, by folk/blues artist Josh White.
For those of you in the Bay area, you can catch Cooder with Roseanne Cash at the War Memorial Opera House on December 5-6.
I’m a loyal supporter of MOJO magazine, trying to convince any music lover I can that they should be a subscriber. Why do I promote the magazine so reliably? Because I still find it to be the very best source for discovering great, new music that I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. So if your thirst for new music is as voracious as mine, MOJO offers listening ideas as plentiful as candy corn at Halloween.
For instance, the “Buried Treasure” article in the October 2018 issue featured an album called Drat That Fratle Rat! by Chris Barber, the British, traditional jazz trombonist. At the time of its release in 1972, Barber was already 42 years old, which made him an unlikely collaborator with some of the hot rock ‘n roll talents of the day, including Irish guitar slinger Rory Gallagher and Stone the Crows drummer Colin Allen.
Intrigued, I had to check this out. And I’m glad I did!
My choice for SotW is the second cut on the album – “The Falling Song” — and features a vocal by Tony Ashton who performed (vocals, keyboards) with a who’s who of British rock royalty with various bands and as a session player
What really grabs me about “The Falling Song” is its sophisticated, jazzy horn arrangement. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since this is really Barber’s gig. The result is a British sounding version of the David Clayton-Thomas era Blood Sweat & Tears.
This is music worth hearing that I likely would never have discovered without MOJO.
Today’s Song of the Week (SotW) was written by guest contributor Ron Marcus. This is Ron’s third trip around the track as a SotW author. Ron is a very knowledgeable musicologist and a mega fan of the late Marty Balin. In fact, he met Balin and even shared some of his song lyrics with him.
My name is Ron Marcus and I am honored that Tom has asked me to guest contribute a SotW in honor of the late Marty Balin. Most of you know his history as the founder of Jefferson Airplane and a hitmaker with Jefferson Starship. In 1965 he formed the Airplane and opened a nightclub in San Francisco called The Matrix. He hosted all the original San Francisco bands and gave birth to the San Francisco sound that came out of the Haight Ashbury. Even before Bill Graham, Marty is credited with creating a scene that actually changed the western world and beyond.
His hits with Jefferson Airplane included “It’s No Secret,” “Today,” “Coming Back to Me” and “Volunteers.” With Jefferson Starship he wrote their smash hit “Miracles,” along with “Count on Me,” “St. Charles” and “Runaway.” His voice became legendary and he is still regarded as one of the greatest singers in rock and roll.
Then a funny thing happened in the 1980s. Although he had two hits in 1981, — “Hearts” and “Atlanta Lady” — after that he slipped into obscurity. He no longer could get a record deal and had to rely on small labels to release his catalog of 16 albums as a solo artist. However, what lies so hidden in these gems are some of the best, heart felt love songs ever recorded. And (sadly) virtually no one has heard them!
Today’s SotW is called “Viva La Vida.” It is from a 2010 disc called Blue Highway.
It was inspired by the story of Frida Kahlo. In fact, Mary Balin was also an excellent painter and has incredible portraits of the rock stars he shared a stage with. I chose this song because it presents a sense of optimism and a love of life, music and art. The horn section is especially vibrant. I have heard nearly every song Balin has recorded and I can assure you that none sound remotely like this.
I urge you to check his website at martybalinmusic.com where you can see 10 of his ultra rare CDs and his artwork. Although often Ignored and Obscured, Marty Balin was BY FAR the most creative and productive of all the original Jefferson Airplane members. His voice, spirit and his Viva La Vida (long live life) will be missed by millions, though only a few has really heard the full extent of his music.
In 2015, Fantastic Negrito (Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz) won a contest to be the first NPR, undiscovered artist, Tiny Desk performer. The Oakland based musician was initially signed to Interscope in the ‘90s, but became disillusioned with the record industry and was further sidelined by a car accident that caused serious injury and left him in a coma for several weeks.
Fast forward to 2014 when the socio-political state sparked FN to revive his musical career. He’s recently released his second album from his second round in “the business,” called Please Don’t Be Dead.
The opening song on the album is “Plastic Hamburgers.”
“Plastic Hamburgers” is a powerful blues track that brings masters like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters into the 21st century. I hear a contiguous line from Led Zeppelin to Lenny Kravitz to Jack White.
The lyrics speak to the current American social condition:
Americans pills will wreck and kill American pills will wreck and kill Automatic weapon in a twitching hand The 50-foot wall of addiction, man Do you, do you understand? Let’s break out these chains, let’s burn it down
You don’t have to be a genius to understand what he’s getting at! He told NPR “I wanted to come out swinging. With everything happening in the world, I wanted to take it head on. Addiction, guns, censorship, overconsumption. I wanted people to feel like this is our song, our rallying cry: Let’s tear down the walls that separate us and face who we really are.”
The music world could use more artists with the courage and integrity to make recordings like this.
Back in the early ‘70s I would scour the “cut out” bins for discounted records wherever they were sold. If you knew what you were doing you could pick up some real bargains – often albums by great artists that were overstocked because they didn’t meet sales expectations, for whatever reason.
I distinctly remember scoring The Great Lost Kinks Album and Van Morrison’s Hard Nose the Highway, both released in 1973. They are both excellent albums that are considered minor efforts in each artists’ catalog.
Earlier this year, MOJO magazine published an article entitled “20 Unloved Albums… and Why We Love Them.” Hard Nose… was one of them. The article points out that upon release the record suffered mostly negative reviews. The most scathing may have been from Charlie Gillett. MOJO reports Gillett criticizing Morrison for “’flabby’ lyrics, ‘boring vocal[s]’ and ‘lack of … melodic focus.’” According to Wikipedia, Robert Christgau rated the album a B-, and Rolling Stone reviewer Dave Marsh called it “a failed sidestep, a compromise between the visionary demands of Morrison’s work and his desire for a broad-based audience” and gave it only one star.
But MOJO also pointed out that Lester Bangs wrote that it had an “entire side of songs about falling leaves.” I’m not sure if that was meant as a compliment, but it is certainly accurate. And that leads me to today’s SotW – “Autumn Song.”
“Autumn Song” is my favorite cut from HNtH. The song is a 10+ minute exercise in autumnal mindfulness. Close your eyes, clear you mind, and roll with his honied, ecstatic excursion through the simple joys of life.
Little stroll past the house on the hill Some more coal on the fire will do well And in a week or two it’ll be Halloween Set the page and the stage for the scene
Little game the children will play And as we watch them while time away Look at me and take my breath away
You can almost see and hear the leaves falling.
Leaves of brown they fall to the ground And it’s here, over there leaves around Shut the door, dim the lights and relax What is more, your desire or the facts
Pitter patter the rain falling down Little glamor sun coming round Take a walk when autumn comes to town
Jef Labes’ piano trills and John Platania’s guitar fills perfectly compliment the melody and sentiment of the song. And, as usual, Van’s singing is superb. About halfway through Van starts to riff on the lyrics in a sort of stream of consciousness that evolves into a melodic “da da, da da da, dah da-da” then back into the riffing through to the end.
The imagery is so vibrant that you might assume the song was written and recorded in New England. But the album was recorded at a studio he had built near a home he once owned in Fairfax, California.
Trapeze was a ‘70s British blues rock band that was led by Glenn Hughes (lead vocals, guitar), Mel Galley (guitar, primary songwriter), and Dave Holland (drums). Aside from the success these musicians had together in Trapeze, each burnished their artistic pedigree with other prominent heavy metal bands – Hughes with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, Galley with Whitesnake, and Holland with Judas Priest.
To my ear Trapeze sounds more like Free, cousin Bad Company, or maybe Humble Pie, than any of those harder rock bands that the members graduated to. Take, for instance, today’s SotW – “Black Cloud” — from the second Trapeze album, Medusa (1970).
The song blasts off with a heavy, electric guitar riff, then transitions into the acoustic guitar driven verse. By the time the chorus comes around the fuzz is back with a cowbell emphasizing every beat.
Hughes delivers an especially soulful performance on “Black Cloud.” Galley delivers a funky blues rock boogie to drive it. Drummer Holland holds it all together. The Trapeze power trio — a very popular format in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s — proves that it could be very powerful and effective. Though they’re no equivalent to the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream, they can run with Mountain or Grand Funk.
I recently learned that Danny Kirwan, one time guitarist and songwriter for an early version of Fleetwood Mac, died last June. I was very surprised that I missed the announcement of that news until now.
Fleetwood Mac has been around since 1967 but many fans are only familiar with the band as it has been constituted since Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975 and released a string of major hit singles and albums including Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk.
But the history of the band is way more complicated than that, having gone through at least 3 or 4 other major phases before the Buckingham/Nicks formation. You can read a summary on Wikipedia, but he best way to get a comprehensive, thumbnail appreciation of the various personnel combinations of the band is through a copy of Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees.
But back to Kirwan… He joined the band after they released their second album, as their 18 year old, third guitarist. (Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer were the other two.) Kirwan had built a reputation as a guitarist for his ability to play a pure vibrato.
The first single Mac released with Kirwan on it was their signature “Albatross” (UK #1). Band leader, and guitar hero Green said of Kirwan’s contribution to the recording, “If it wasn’t for Danny, I would never had had a number one hit record.”
By 1970, Green had left the band, so Kirwan and Spencer soldiered on. The first release without him was the band’s fourth — Kiln House – that contains today’s SotW, ““Tell Me All the Things You Do.”
“Tell Me…”, a jaunty rocker, showcases Kirwan’s guitar playing and also features him on lead vocal.
Unfortunately, Kirwan’s later life became another sad story of a famous rock star that ended in years of destitution. In 1993, The Independent reported that he was found sleeping on a park bench and sometimes living in St Mungo’s – a homeless shelter in West London. He later found his was to a South London care home where he died in his sleep, aged 68, of pneumonia.
Ryley Walker is a Chicago based guitarist and songwriter that is known for his interest in an eclectic mix of musical styles – including folk, rock and jazz. He developed a finger picking style of playing guitar along the lines of predecessors such as John Fahey and John Martyn.
Today’s SotW is “The Halfwit in Me” from Walker’s third LP Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.
“Halfwit…” is 6 minutes of breezy, guitar-based music that reflects all the influences referenced above. It harkens back to some of Tim Buckley’s jazzier recordings. But it doesn’t stay in one place for the entire 6 minutes. It meanders into some very unexpected places. The surprises are what infuses it with charm and prevents it from becoming a bore.
Lyrically, the song is full of clever wordplay:
Go on ahead Build another home For lean mean eaters Everything but the bone Call yourself lucky, we never use the phone
Walker was quoted in MOJO saying “Halfwit…” is “still the coolest song I’ve ever written.” I agree. But that doesn’t mean you should stop here. Go ahead and stream more of his music to delve deeper into the catalog of an important new artist.
When I was in college there was a running battle between my roommates and me regarding our tastes, or lack thereof, in music. They called me a wimp for liking the art-pop of 10cc and I criticized their lack of musical sophistication because one of their favorite bands was Black Sabbath. Today I better understand there’s room for both — no shaming necessary
One of today’s SotW is “I’m Not in Love,” by 10cc. While this isn’t a typical SotW selection – it was 10cc’s most popular hit – I’ve selected it because it is part of a segue I played a couple of times when I had a radio show at WZBC.
“I’m Not in Love” in anchored by the “heartbeat” that starts the song. But it is most notable for the multitracked vocals that give it its unique character. Wikipedia has a vivid description of the process:
Stewart spent three weeks recording Gouldman, Godley and Creme singing “ahhh” 16 times for each note of the chromatic scale, building up a “choir” of 48 voices for each note of the scale. The main problem facing the band was how to keep the vocal notes going for an infinite length of time, but Creme suggested that they could get around this issue by using tape loops. Stewart created loops of about 12 feet in length by feeding the loop at one end though the tape heads of the stereo recorder in the studio, and at the other end through a capstan roller fixed to the top of a microphone stand, and tensioned the tape. By creating long loops the ‘blip’ caused by the splice in each tape loop could be drowned out by the rest of the backing track, providing that the blips in each loop did not coincide with each other. Having created twelve tape loops for each of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, Stewart played each loop through a separate channel of the mixing desk. This effectively turned the mixing desk into a musical instrument complete with all the notes of the chromatic scale, which the four members together then “played”, fading up three or four channels at a time to create “chords” for the song’s melody. Stewart had put gaffer’s tape across the bottom of each channel so that it was impossible to completely fade down the tracks for each note, resulting in the constant background hiss of vocals heard throughout the song.
Lyrically, the singer says “I’m not in love” but goes on to make it clear that he couldn’t live without his lover:
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because
I like to see you But then again That doesn’t mean you mean that much to me So if I call you Don’t make a fuss Don’t tell your friends about the two of us
Now imagine as the song is ending, and the voices and “heartbeat” swell to a climax, it fades into “She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates.
“She’s Gone” also begins with an instrumental introduction that has a pulsating heartbeat and “oohs” sung in harmony.
“She’s Gone” is one of the best examples of blue eyed soul ever recorded. It is right up there with the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” and anything by the Rascals.
Much credit should be given to Arif Mardin for his stellar production work and the string and horn arrangements he devised to complement the song. Joe Farrell’s tenor sax solo is a thing of beauty.
Musically, “I’m Not in Love” and “She’s Gone” mix as perfectly as gin and tonic. But thematically they are also similar. “She’s Gone” is also a heartbreak song. The singer is trying to figure out how he’s going to be able to carry on now that it’s clear his woman has left him for good.
Everybody’s high on consolation Everybody’s trying to tell me what is right for me, yeah My daddy tried to bore me with a sermon But it’s plain to see that they can’t comfort me
Sorry, Charlie, for the imposition I think I got it (got it), I got the strength to carry on, oh yeah I need a drink and a quick decision Now it’s up to me, ooh, what will be
If you can find a way to play these two songs together, with a fade out between (I think you can do that on iTunes), you’ll never hear them the same way again!