Song of the Week – Suite: Cashing Out / Sigh of Relief / The Midnight Dancer / All the Time / Distant Lands, Garcia Peoples

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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.”

Indeed!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – One Meatball, Ry Cooder & Josh White

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Falling Song, Chris Barber

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Viva La Vida, Marty Balin

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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.

Marty Balin – Viva La Vida

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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Plastic Hamburgers, Fantastic Negrito

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Autumn Song, Van Morrison

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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.

Hard Nose the Highway?  Unloved no more.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Black Cloud, Trapeze

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Tell Me All the Things You Do, Fleetwood Mac

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Halfwit in Me, Ryley Walker

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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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Melody, Serge Gainsbourg

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Serge Gainsbourg was a French Renaissance man.  He made his mark in music (singer, composer, pianist, guitarist) and film (screenwriter, director, actor) but he was also a writer, poet and artist.

In the music world, his most renowned work was the 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson.  In seven tracks over about 28 minutes, the album tells the story of a middle-aged man that crashes his car into a 15 year old girl, Melody Nelson, on her bicycle. The accident leads to seduction and an affair.  Eventually Melody meets her demise in a plane crash.

Today’s SotW is the album’s opener, “Melody.”

This is an astounding piece of music.  It combines a rock guitar with a funky bass and an orchestral string arrangement.  Gainsbourg’s vocal is more spoken than sung, like many of Leonard Cohen’s recordings.  The track as a whole is simply mesmerizing.

The link below to a blog post by YellowOnline provides more detail about the album and handy translations of the French lyrics into English.

YellowOnline – Histoire de Melody Nelson

Histoire de Melody Nelson has influenced many other musicians, including Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Portishead and Stereolab.  Beck found inspiration from Histoire… for his own “Paper Tiger” on his breakup album, Sea ChangeHistoire… was also cited by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys as an inspiration for their recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.

Enjoy… until next week.