Song of the Week – Plastic Hamburgers, Fantastic Negrito

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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.

Song of the Week – My Pledge of Love, The Joe Jeffrey Group

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today’s SotW is squarely in the category of “restored” songs.

I recently picked up a very large box of 45’s of rock and soul music from the ‘60s, gifted to me by my second cousin Donna.  I had as blast looking through them, organizing them, and playing a few as I went along.

I picked up a 7 incher on the Wand label called “My Pledge of Love” by The Joe Jeffrey Group.  What is this, I thought to myself.  I dropped the needle and recognized it immediately.  I have to admit, I don’t think I ever knew who the artist was, but the song I couldn’t forget!

So I did some research for you and here’s what I found:

The Joe Jeffrey (born Joseph Stafford Jr.) Group was an R&B outfit based in Cleveland, Ohio and took “My Pledge of Love” to #14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.

The song is driven by a relentless rhythm guitar and, of course, Jeffrey’s powerful vocal performance.

Partway through (at about 1:35) Jeffrey starts to riff on the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving,” a song that had hit the charts 5 years earlier, in 1964.  But making a musical reference to a Motown hit could never hurt.

Despite that reference, this song strikes me as more of a rock song than soul number.  The buying public in 1969 must have felt the same way.  “My Pledge of Love” failed place on the Billboard soul chart!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Onion, Shannon and the Clams

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Shannon and the Clams is a band based out of Oakland, CA that played the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco last night.  Next, they’re off to Europe.

The band is shaped around songwriters Shannon Shaw (bass/vocals) and Cody Blanchard (guitar/vocals), and supported by Nate Mahan (drums) and Will Sprott (keyboards), 

Their latest album, Onion, was released last February.  I’ve been listening to it a lot.  If you think you would enjoy a modern take on ‘60s girl group music, you need to check them out.

Onion was partially inspired by the December 2016 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in their hometown that took the lives of 36 people.  This touched the group deeply because the Ghost Ship was a haven for local artists and musicians – and was a place that Shannon and the Clams had performed.

It was hard to decide which cut to feature as today’s SotW, but I settled on the title track.

“Onion” contains all of the elements that make me a fan of Shannon and the Clams’ music.  It’s part Del Shannon, part garage rock (fuzzed guitar), part soul, with a power pop twist.  It straddles the space between the campiness of The Cramps and the oldies covers recorded by Blondie (“Denis Denis” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too”).

The lyrics to “Onion” are simple, but interesting – dealing with the “layers” of personality of those afflicted with mental illness.

Well I’m working on it
Holy shit I avoid so many problems
Holy shit this isn’t it
No one told me I was just an onion
I’m just a kid oh so I thought
Please doc, make it stop
Let me go home
I’ll keep working on it
But I’ll be gone before I peel this old onion

But the music keeps the tragic lyrics from becoming depressing.  You may still want to dance to it.

Onion was produced by the omnipresent Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), at his Nashville headquarters.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Street Fighting Man, Rolling Stones; Peace Frog, The Doors; Peace Dog, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Did anyone watch the four-part series on CNN called 1968 – The Year that Changed America? It was very good and highlighted the turmoil that gripped the country the same year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy as well as marches against the Viet Nam War, the violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention and the civil rights protests by American athletes at the Summer Olympics.

And the strife wasn’t confined within the borders of the US. Events that took place in the summer of ’68 converged in rock music.

“Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones was written about Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political activist, after he marched on the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square in 1968 in a demonstration against the Vietnam war.

Keith Richards guitar part on “Street Fighting Man” was famously recorded using an acoustic guitar overloaded onto a cassette tape. No electric guitars are on the cut.

It took another 18 months for the Doors to weigh in, but they contributed “Peace Frog” from their Morrison Hotel album.

Wikipedia says the “lyrics were adapted from a couple of Morrison’s poems, one being entitled “Abortion Stories”. Guitarist Robby Krieger has told the story of writing (and then recording) the music for “Peace Frog,” and then working with Morrison to look through his notebooks of poetry until the lyrics came to the song.”

But many listeners interpreted the song as a response to the Chicago Convention protests or to Morrison’s arrest in New Haven for lewd behavior onstage. (He does refer to New Haven in the lyrics.)

I’m all in on the Chicago Convention theory because the first and last verse say:

There’s blood in the streets, it’s up to my ankles (She came)
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my knee (She came)
Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago (She came)
Blood on the rise, it’s following me
Think about the break of day
She came and then she drove away
Sunlight in her hair

We could use more of this 50 years later, in 2018!

I don’t really know if The Cult’s “Peace Dog” has anything to do with The Doors recording but the stylistic and title similarities will forever connect these two songs in my mind. So I’ll throw that one in here too, for good measure

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Avenging Annie, Andy Pratt

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Debbie Doherty. Debbie has been a lover of rock music since her childhood and has extensive knowledge of the subject. She’s always been partial to men that have some connection to the music world – though she’s no groupie. And not only does she know how to properly handle a vinyl album, she’s my wife!

“Stairway to Heaven,” “Jungleland,” “Free Bird.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” all epic rock songs for the ages. In my humble opinion, “Avenging Annie” by Andy Pratt should have achieved status in this elevated playlist.

Written in ’72 by Pratt, a recent Harvard graduate and a skilled studio engineer, “Avenging Annie” combines passionate piano with a strong bass line throughout. A colorful ballad loosely based on a “Pretty Boy Floyd” story line. Pratt’s alternating falsetto and tenor voices provide a strong female narrative in the telling of Annie’s love for Floyd, “the avenger from Oklahoma,” her decision to join up with her outlaw, and the terrible consequences that lay ahead. You feel Annie’s emotions and passion thru Pratt’s in-character voice.

I’m not a musician so I can’t speak to how the song was created. You do hear a mix of very intricate play, a western flavor, lots of complicated piano, not unlike similar sounds by ELP and Rick Derringer from that time period.

In 1973 I was a sophomore at a Catholic high school – we listened to WGTR a small, kilowatt, daytime station in Natick, Massachusetts. “Avenging Annie” was recorded in part, in nearby Southboro. Maybe they dropped a copy off at the station? All I know is that when I heard this song I thought it rocked and I loved the emotional roller coaster it took me on. It initially became popular when a bootleg copy was aired on WBRU at Brown University. Columbia records got wind of the song and signed Pratt. “Avenging Annie” only made it to #78 on The Billboard 100 but it did reach #1 in Providence and New Orleans.

Fun fact, guess what appeared on the B side of “Avenging Annie” on a 1973 Columbia promo disc? “Blinded by the Light” by Bruce Springsteen. Anyone have a copy of that? Ten minutes of music bliss.

Enjoy… until next week.