Friday, October 31, 2014

Those We Missed October 1974

   Bobby Bland was having a hell of a year, releasing Dreamer and touring off his classic California Album. But the blues was hitting a slump with audiences , so Bobby joined "B"on tour. This double album documents their friendship and knowledge of the blues lexicon. Contrary to reviews I've read, this doesn't sound at all like they've been playing together for years. It sounds like two immense talents hanging out informally on stage. And that's pretty cool.

   Al Green's Hi Records label mate Syl Johnson gets the Willie Mitchell/Memphis Horns treatment on Diamond in the Rough.  Setting himself apart from Green wouldn't be easy, especially after his biggest hit was a 1975 note for note cover of "Take Me to the River".

   The most accessible of Carlos Santana's highly spiritual journey into jazz fusion, Borboletta has a Brazilian vibe courtesy of Return to Forever percussionist Airto Moreira and his wife Flora Purim. Bassist Stanley Clarke also performs on a number of songs.  Try this one before Caravanserai, Welcome or Lotus. If it's not your cup of tea, you're not alone. The record label would soon force Santana to go back to the Latin rock that won millions of fans.

   The most enjoyable recording from George Harrison's nascent Dark Horse label is Splinter's The Place I Love.  Harrison produced and played on the duo's debut album, which sounds not unlike, well,  George Harrison. "Costafine Town" was a Top 20 hit in the UK.

   Paul Simon produced this album by the Argentine/Peruvian band he first met when they played with  him on the recording "El Condor Pasa" and then when they joined him on his 1973 Live Rhymin' Tour. Instrumentals all recorded in New York with Phil Ramone engineering.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

40 Year Itch : Way Back in Shady Lane

   On Veedon Fleece, released in October of 1974, Van Morrison returns, in song at least,  to his native Ireland, the place that inspired the masterpiece Astral Weeks. "Going away and coming back are the themes of all Irish writing, " he once said. 

   At the time Morrison was an Irishman in exile -- living the bi-coastal life of an American rock star in both Woodstock, NY and Fairfax, California. As a family man, that made sense. But as an artist he must have been missing something. A three week vacation to Ireland inspired seven songs that appear on Veedon Fleece

Main Street, Arklow

  Lyrically, there are several accounts of Irishmen missing their homeland. "Linden Arden Stole the Highlights" is about a tough Irish lad living in San Francisco. Both "Bulbs' and "Cul de Sac" are about people moving from home.  "Streets of Arklow" is a tribute to the Irish city Morrison visited on his vacation.

The music can wash over you. This is a fine album to play on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Critics weren't so warmly receptive. A Rolling Stone critic, writing that the album "flounders in Morrison's own cliches", calls Veedon Fleece "another aberration in fitfully inspired career."

Morrison's response would be a three year recording hiatus, a period Morrison described as full of highs, depressions, starts and stops. He did no interviews. Van the Man was tired of being the mysterious rock star.

Back in 1974, Morrison's own take on his career was summed up in a "It's the Music, Stupid " quote that appeared in full page ads for the album:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

40 Year Itch : Bowie's "Awful" Live Album

   October 29, 1974  saw the release of David Bowie's first live album, a fairly bland set highlighted by Bowie's version of  "All the Young Dudes", the hit he gave Mott the Hoople.  The low light was probably the TV commercial made for the album.

  Critics were harsh, prompting Bowie's close personal friend Mick Jagger to reportedly say he  thought Knock on Wood was "awful" and "if I got the kind of reviews that he got for that album, I would honestly never record again. Never."

  And with friends like that...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

40 Year Itch : Bucket Full of Sin

   In October of 1974, Tom Waits followed up his critically praised debut, Closing Time, with a brilliant follow-up that inhabits the rainy, late night world of desperado truck drivers, neon lit bars and drive-ins, and rambling beat poets smoking on stage. 

  The Heart of Saturday Night just may be the best album of the early Waits era, before he gave up singing to scat and growl. In his liner notes, Waits lists among his influences Randy Newman, Frank Sinatra and Jack Kerouac.

   That Tom Waits person is captured on a PBS series "Soundstage" shot in 1975. A Tom Waits concert is one part comedy monologue, one part eat poetry jam and one part concert.  Everyone needs to attend at least one of his shows.

  For many artists, the years spent struggling are an obstacle, preventing them from becoming who they are and saying what they want to say. Tom Waits was always paying attention. To the characters that staggered through the Heritage nightclub where he worked the door. To the men and women  he he met in the United States Coast Guard. And to every downcast loser he met on the road. He found the poetry in their lives and is still sharing it with the rest of us.

  What sets Heart apart from Closing Time are the jazz inflected rambling poetry, highlighted by "Diamonds On My Windshield":

  Oceanside ends the ride
  With Sam Clemente cummin up.
  And Sunday desperadoes slip by
  And cruise with a dry buck
  Orange drive-in the neon billin' 
  Theater's fillin' to the brim 
  Slave Girls and Hot Spur
  Bucket Full of Sin 

Monday, October 27, 2014

40 Year Itch : Far Above the Troubled Sky

In the Fall of 1974, Gene Clark, released No Other, a confounding album that cost $100,000 to make, contained no singles, and needed decades to pass before it would be declared one of the great masterpieces of 1970's rock.

   A founding member of The Byrds, Clark had written "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better", "Eight Miles High " and one of my all-time favorites "Here Without You".  He left the band in 1966, at their height,  because of his fear of flying. His country-rock solo recordings with The Gosdin Brothers and Doug Dillard are all worth checking out. In 1973, Clark played on The Byrds, a reunion album, which charted Top 20. His contributions caught the attention of Asylum head David Geffen whose label had become home to some of the best singer-songwriters of the age, including Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan ( for one year at least)  and Tom Waits. 

   Produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, who liked to spend money, No Other sounds like no other album of its time. With session musicians like Butch Trucks, Chris Hillman, Danny Kortchmar and Timothy B Schmidt, Clark ventures into country rock, choral music, psychedelia and blues...often in the same song.  His lyrics are mystical, written as he sat at a window overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  These songs soar and make No Other the ultimate "grower". 
   That the album never sold broke Clark's heart but if you listen closely you will hear the blueprint for future albums by everyone from Fleetwood Mac to the Fleet Foxes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

40 Year Itch: A Reason to Leave Home

   How did a guy we've never heard of get Jackson Browne, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and the best session musicians in the world to play on his album Home At Last, released in October of 1974? I mean guys who worked in Muscle Shoals, Area Code 614,  and with former Beatles ( namely Jesse Ed Davis).  Well, Berry was a well-traveled musician and songwriter who made a lot of friends in the South where he grew up and in LA where he befriended both Browne and members of the Eagles.

   It was Wayne Berry's turn to get a shot and he made the most of it. RCA took out a full page ad in Billboard Magazine . Unfortunately, halfway through touring the album, things fell apart. Badly. His story can be found here. In the meantime, Berry's  highly sought after singer-songwriter classic, Home at Last, sells for more than $100 a copy. Or you could check in with my friend Willard...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

40 Year Itch: Dreadlock Congo Bongo I

   On October 25, 1974 Bob Marley and the Wailers released Natty Dread. This was the first album by Marley since the original Wailers broke up. Their final concerts in England were met with poor attendance and Peter Tosh and Marley came to blows during one argument. ( It has been written that Tosh referred to the bi-racial Marley as a "white man's son"). They played one more gig together, opening for Marvin Gaye at Jamaica's Carib Club in May of 1974. After that both Tosh and Bunny Wailer set off on solo careers.

     Tony Wright, who did the cover art of Traffic's best albums, captured the new Wailers perfectly with his airbrushed portrait of Marley. Natty Dread's cover seems to say Bob Marley IS The Wailers. 

   To make up for the lost harmonies of Bunny and Tosh, Bob Marley is joined by the I-Threes, a vocal trio made up of his wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. Their contributions , especially on  "Them Belly Full",, "Bend Down Low" and "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)",  are what give Natty Dread that classic sound to these ears.

   The studio version of "No Woman No Cry" doesn't hold up to the Live! version that came out a year later and the album loses some steam on Side Two. But Natty Dread is a great album.

   Recorded at Harry J's studio in Kingston and mixed in London, Natty Dread was also Marley's breakthrough album. Some of the credit may have to go to Eric Clapton who made Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" a worldwide hit ( and even to Barbra Streisand for her cover of "Guava Jelly" on ButterFly)

   Co-producer Chris Blackwell, who mis-named an album that was supposed to be called Knotty Dread, has nothing but praise for Marley :

   The first two records Catch a Fire and Burnin' didn't do too well in Jamaica, but Natty Dread was a hit there and outside. Natty Dread was a killer record. It really delivered the goods. But it was a very different sound from the first two , with Peter and Bunny's harmonies...Natty Dread got everybody talking, and then Catch a Fire and Burnin' start to sell like never before, because it was Natty Dread that made these records popular.

      At the time of the Natty Dread's release, Bob Marley was not the most popular performer in Jamaica. That distinction belonged to Jimmy Cliff, U-Roy or  possibly Marley's rival Peter Tosh. Missing two out of the three co-founders of his band, Marley had a lot to prove and he delivered a home run that would forever make him the King of reggae royalty.