Sunday, February 28, 2010

Today was a Day for "Gotta Groove" by The Bar-Kays (1969)

As history turns out, Gotta Groove is a somewhat influential album of the 60s in terms of album samples later incorporated into a fair number of high-profile rap/hip-hop albums (by Ice Cube most notably). And it signaled where one strand of funk and R&B was going to be headed in the 1970s--with some rock/pop cross-over song selection and a hard-driving rhythm section. The Bar-Kays, a Stax band through and through, put out Gotta Groove 18 months after four of the original members of the band died in a plane crash near Madison, WI on December 10, 1967. Also killed in that crash was Otis Redding. The members of the Bar-Kays were touring with Otis and serving as his backing band. Two surviving members, trumpet-player Ben Cauley (who survived the crash) and bassist James Alexander (who wasn't on the flight), reformed the band. Gotta Groove came out in 1969 and contains some nice vintage funk grooves:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Illustrate Out the Jams, Mofo: "Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country" by R. Crumb [book review]

A couple of good friends were kind enough to give me a wonderful addition to my music book collection last month. R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country was first published in 2006.  The book contains the collected prints (108 of them!) by Crumb from his 1980s illustrations that were featured on 3 different sets of trading cards of classic blues, jazz, and country musicians.  Each illustration is accompanied by a capsule biography of the artist in question.  A fan of these types of music, Crumb pays his tribute to the legends of the genres, but also selected some relatively obscure artists.  Every turn of the page is a feast for the eyes.  The book also comes with a CD of some of Crumb's favorite selections from 21 of the artists--7 each from the jazz, blues, and country sections. 

Here is a cut from one of Crumb's featured artists--"Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" by Skip James from 1931. It is a favorite song of mine as well:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Today was a Day for Cheap Trick's "Heaven Tonight" (1978)

I picked Heaven Tonight up on NM vinyl recently at an area thrift store.  This is the third album by the Rockford, IL band that rose to some arena-rock prominence in the late 70's and into the 80's.

In early November of 1998 in Minneapolis, after walking out of the Target Center following a Bob Dylan concert (which we attended with front row tickets!), I was given a bunch of comp tickets by some First Avenue (the downtown Minneapolis nightclub that helped to launch the careers of Prince, the Replacements, Husker Du, etc.) volunteers. I am not sure if it is still common, but during the mid-90's to the early-00's, 1st Ave. would circulate a fair number of complimentary concert tickets to boost crowds at their wintertime shows. On this particular night after the Dylan show across the street from 1st Ave., we secured a couple of handfuls of comp tickets, including a pair for a Cheap Trick show that was coming up later in that week, in early November of 1998.

At the time, Cheap Trick was on a nationwide tour of select cities where they were playing a 3-night stand of their first three complete albums from the 1970s in each town. They played a complete album, track by track, on each of the nights (album 1 on night 1; album 2 on night 2, etc.). A good friend and I went to one of the 3 shows on their Minneapolis stop. We saw night #2 and 1977's In Color album. The opening act was local art punks (and Devo/Talking Heads carry-the-torchers) Flipp.

The show itself was pretty good. I had never been a big fan of Cheap Trick and, to be honest, my core knowledge about them revolved around memories of slightly skanky older girls in my high school wearing "Cheap Trick 86", etc. shirts while they smoked cigs around the corner from the school gym. But anyway, the show was pretty darn fun. We got to see them play In Color straight through, and then they played another half-hour of other songs. The real magic of the night happened in the encores, however. They introduced their friends who had played across the street earlier (at the much larger Target Center) and asked us to welcome them to the stage. Out bounded Steven Tyler and the rest of Aerosmith! Cheap Trick and Aerosmith proceded to kick out the "Train Kept a Rollin'" jams for a while. It was maybe the most amazing rock moment of my concert life. And this is coming from a guy who isn't really much of a fan of either band and who has seen several hundred concerts over the last 2 decades. It was mofo-ing awesome!

For what it is, Heaven Tonight is a very fun listen. It is CT's best album and the wall of heavy, crunchy sound is set within a nice production job that was done in the studio. Listen to some late 70s arena rock from Rockford's finest, mofo:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Today was a Day for Dylan's "Street Legal" (1978) in general, and "Changing of the Guards" (Side A, Track 1) in particular

Sixteen years,
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves.
Desperate men, desperate women divided,
Spreading their wings 'neath the falling leaves.

Fortune calls.
I stepped forth from the shadows, to the marketplace,
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down.
She's smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born,
On midsummer's eve, near the tower.

The cold-blooded moon.
The captain waits above the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication.
The captain is down but still believing that his love will be repaid.

They shaved her head.
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo.
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale.
I seen her on the stairs and I couldn't help but follow,
Follow her down past the fountain where they lifted her veil.

I stumbled to my feet.
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending 'neath a heart-shaped tattoo.
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I'd given to you.

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected,
The endless road and the wailing of chimes,
The empty rooms where her memory is protected,
Where the angels' voices whisper to the souls of previous times.

She wakes him up
Forty-eight hours later, the sun is breaking
Near broken chains, mountain laurel and rolling rocks.
She's begging to know what measures he now will be taking.
He's pulling her down and she's clutching on to his long golden locks.

Gentlemen, he said,
I don't need your organization, I've shined your shoes,
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.

Peace will come
With tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire
But will bring us no reward when her false idols fall
And cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating
Between the King and the Queen of Swords.

--Copyright ©1978 Special Rider Music

Rare live vid from Nashville '78 (tracks fast but we'll take what we can get):

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Today was a Day for "Rare Funk Liberation, Vol. I" by Various Artists

The 1999 release Rare Funk Liberation, Vol. I by the UK label Goldmine/Soul Supply contains two things in spades that make it a fantastic listen:  1) 18 tracks of rare, deep, hard funk from a bygone era (late 1960s & early 1970s).  2) A relatively large percentage of female vocalists.  While the CD is out of print, you can find downloads of it various places online.

Track 1, "Good Things" by Pearl Dowell:

Track 6, "Strike" by Union:

Friday, February 19, 2010

13.69% of the Way Through 2010: Any Good Albums Yet?

Well, we are nearly 14% of the way through 2010 and I have yet to hear an album that impresses me to any great extent, but there are two that are right on the cusp of clinching positions on my best of 2010 list...

What are some of the 2010 albums that I have listened to thus far and disliked?

*Vampire Weekend - Contra: I find them to be very, very boring. I thought their first album was lame but this one is even worse.

*Spoon - Transference: Ho-hum, painting by numbers by this Austin-based band. Maybe they will lift from the holding pattern sometime again soon, though this might be a band that has simply exhausted the supply of possibilities.

*The Magnetic Fields - Realism: Arrghh, I had such high hopes. Just makes me want to put on 69 Love Songs instead. Not bad, but just disappointing. Still better though than most new stuff I have heard.

*Beach House - Teen Dream: Can I have that 20 minutes (before I switched to something else) back? Do we really need a new Cocteau Twins?

*Cold War Kids - Behave Yourself EP: They seem to be headed in the wrong direction

*Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring: I know this has gotten good reviews, but sounds like LC! tune retreads mixed with "oh-so-edgy-lyrics" to my ears. I liked Hold on Now, Youngster but these last 2 have been tepid.

What have I listened to from 2010 thus far and find growing on me?
*Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM: I might even love this album if it wasn't for Beck's overproduction and "studio cleverness" which gets in the way on some of the tracks. Beck oftentimes suffers from the "Lanois Overeach Syndrome (LOS)" which is the tendency to use too many bells and whistles (figuratively and literally) in the studio just because you can. Sometimes soundscapes can add to the music; sometimes they can subtract. Luckily the album doesn't suffer from the rarer "Manu Chao Siren Syndrome (MCSS)" which is the tendency to employ a siren on every 4th song on any album he records or produces.

*Ray Wylie Hubbard - A. Enlightenment B. Endarkenment (Hint: There is No C): While currently in the lead for worst album title of 2010, I like the music on this album a whole bunch but need to listen to it more.

What am I missing? I haven't had a chance to hear too much new stuff yet this year as I have mostly been listening to 1970-77 funk and 1975-79 Brit and American avant-punk for the last many weeks.

I am holding out hope for new and upcoming releases from:

*Gil Scott-Heron
*Watson Twins  [edit/update Feb. 24:  Ok, well, this album isn't so good]
*Peter Gabriel [edit/update Feb. 24: Ok, well, this album isn't so good]
*the final Johnny Cash American Recordings album [so says Rubin; but we have heard this twice before (after the Unearthed box and American V); this time he promises] (I have preordered it on vinyl)
*Robert Pollard
*David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (a concept album about Imelda Marcos? I am so there!)
*Drive-By Truckers
*The Hold Steady (though I am worried about what Franz's departure means for albums and shows by the band)
*Jimi Hendrix (I have already preordered "Valleys of Neptune" on double-vinyl)
*Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
*New Pornographers
*Willie Nelson (new one produced by T-Bone Burnett that comes out mid-April)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Today was a Day for "Midwest Funk -- Funk 45s From Tornado Alley" by Various Artists

Incredible 2004 Jazzman/Now Again Records compilation of 1960s and 1970s singles that were released from the heartland on 45s. Midwest Funk -- Funk 45s From Tornado Alley can be found on CD at and at various places online. I'll let the official album introductory notes do my work for me:

This time collector Malcolm Catto and I drove 1000s of miles across the endless cornfields of the American Midwest, a vast expanse of farm land that covers the region between the Rockies in the West and the Appalachians in the East. Summer is typically stifling hot and winter extremely harsh - Tornado Alley also runs through the entire region. We worked hard but were lucky too - not only did we avoid the tornadoes, but we also found some incredibly rare 45s and some amazing unreleased master tapes! And we've presented the best of them here in this CD/double LP.

It was great to be the first people to meet and hang out with the often-bootlegged Soul Toranodoes, guzzle whiskey in Henry Peters’ basement, and chill out in one of Jessie Wallace's vintage white Cadillacs. We chatted about their wild gigs and gruelling recording sessions in the ‘60s & ‘70s, they gave us amazing photos, told us fascinating stories and shared priceless anecdotes filled with their inspirations and their failures. Their life story in music was often captured on one solitary, but brilliant, 45, and that musical story is told here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Hank Williams: The Biography" by Colin Escott [book review]

The first music book I read in 2010 (back in early January) was the definitive Hank Williams biography by Colin Escott that first came out in 1994. I read the "updated" edition that was released in 2004. I cannot recommend this fine book enough if you are at all interested in early country music. Or, to be more accurate, interested in the time period in the late 40s to the early 50s when hillbilly music and western music were becoming the "Country & Western" genre.

You can't tell this story without placing Hank in the center of your tale. While he didn't make it to 30 years-old, his impact on country music, Nashville, the nature of songwriting, etc. cannot be overemphasized. Escott provides great detail on recording sessions, tours, the history of what would become the ‘Nashville Scene' (and other scenes like Shreveport and the 'Lousiana Hayride' show in particular), and the currents of country music that were flowing in the late 40s to the mid-50s. As well, there is some interesting “gossip” along the way: like tales from the house that Hank and Ray Price shared in Nashville, the parameters of the fallout from Hank stealing Faron Young’s girlfriend at the time, and the best existing account of what probably took place in Hank's final weeks and days.

I would suggest that you start reading the book with a copy of the 1998 10-CD box set The Complete Hank Williams at the ready, or at a minimum, a copy of his 40 Greatest Hits compilation. During the discussions of the Fred Rose-produced recording sessions, you will feel an overwhelming need to set down the book and listen to the relevant track(s).

Overall verdict: Highly (highly!) recommended.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Today was a Day for "What's Up Front that Counts" by The Counts (1971)

Wow. Another recent album find that brings the funk. What's Up Front That Counts by The Counts came out on the funk-famous, and Detroit-based, label Westbound Records (home in the early 1970s to Funkadelic and the Ohio Players) in September of 1971. Though The Counts would release two more average albums in the next few years, their first LP is one of the grooviest funk albums ever recorded.

The album is still in print on CD, and can be found many places online. And, if you are real lucky, maybe you will score this gem on vinyl when perusing your local record store. If you like Funkadelic, the Ohio Players, or the Bar-Kays, you need to hear The Counts. This Michigan-to-Atlanta band brought the thick-groove-funk in late '71, mofo.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Opening the Mailbag, Volume I

The emails have been streaming into our "Jams, Mofo" headquarters in recent days asking questions like: Why such a focus on older albums? Where are some references to newer releases? Etc. etc. I think this is a fair line of questioning. For the most part, my listening habits have been stuck in the 1960s to the 1990s for the last 7 or 8 weeks to compensate for how much 00s-era music I listened to in the waning weeks and months of 2009. I spent a lot of time listening to 2009 releases for my Best of 2009 list and the whole decade's music for my Best of 2000s list.

As a result, I have needed to spend some time digging around my vinyl, CD, and digital collections for some older stuff that I hadn't listened to since before mid-autumn. I expect that this trend of listening to older albums (the 70s in particular) will continue for the near future. That said, I have heard a dozen or so albums from 2010 and I will crank out a couple of capsule reviews of the new year’s disappointing (thus far) releases sometime soon.

Keep the emails coming. I have especially liked the haikus and the riddles, mofo.

Today was a Day for "Pink Flag" by Wire (1977)

Wire's 1977 album Pink Flag is an album that would probably go on every "influential albums" list of British punk albums (and perhaps of music in general). After Wire released this album, they started pushing the edges of their style in quite interesting directions on 1978's Chairs Missing, and 1979's 154, and left Pink Flag's more minimalist approach by the wayside. Reasonable people can disagree about how that turned out, but I think everyone can agree that this album kicks out the jams, mofo.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Today was a Day for Axiom Funk - "Funkcronomicon" (1995)

Is there a better funk album from the last 20 years? This Bill Laswell-produced collection of some 1989-1993 recording sessions gets the prize IMHO, and the fact that it is a double-album makes it #1 by a funk mile. 

For Funkcronomicon, we have what constitutes a reunion of Parliament-Funkadelic, plus an array of all-star guests across the 16 tracks. These are the last known Eddie Hazel recordings before his death in 1992. Other participants include: Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Anton Fier, Buckethead, Herbie Hancock, Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar, Nicky Skopelitis, Jerome "Bigfoot" Brailey, Maceo Parker, Sly Stone, Umar Bin Hassan, Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste, Brain, Fred Wesley, and more!

It turns out that my CD copy is worth a bit of money.  Used copies of this now rare 2-CD set go for $60 used to $125 new online.  Heck, the original cassettes go for $45! That's funked up!  Glad I have my copy as it is worth its wait in funk, mofo:

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Today was Another Day for a Roir Records Re-release on Vinyl: Bad Brains by Bad Brains (1982)

The other album that arrived in the post a couple weeks back with the Skatalites double LP set: a new vinyl copy of the best hardcore album of all time (Bad Brains - Bad Brains - 1982, 1 LP).  Just your typical album recording of a group of religous D.C.-based African-American Rastafarians with musical roots in reggae, progressive rock, and free jazz getting together to help launch a new subgenre of music.  Only play if you want to hear Bad Brains kick out the groundbreaking-speed-punk-hardcore (with sprinkles of reggae) jams, mofo.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Today was a Day for Dinosaur Jr. (or, An Answer to the Question, 'Can a 90s-era Band Reform after 10 Years and Kick Maybe More Ass Than they Did Way Back When?')

Late period, career resurgence Dino Jr., "Over It" from the album Farm (2009):

Beyond from 2007 is basically just as good, if not better. Two remarkable albums by Dino Jr. since the reunion. So nice that the J. Mascis/Lou Barlow détente of the last 5 years has worked out. I never expected it, but I am very glad it happened.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Today was a Day for "Fire" by the Ohio Players (1974)

As mentioned in the listing of albums I purchased one day in Austin, TX last month, I recently picked up the Ohio Players 1974 album Fire on vinyl. This was the 7th album by the funk warhorses from Dayton, Ohio. Not content to be known solely for their suggestive and risqué album covers [read about the controversy surrounding their 1975 album cover for Honey here], the Ohio Players also kicked out the jams, mofo, in the early to mid-1970s.

Over the course of the late 60s to the mid 70s, the Ohio Players went from local funk heros, to black radio royalty, to widespread appeal. 1974/75 finds them near their career peak in terms of radio airplay and song popularity.

35 years ago this week (and last week as well), this song was #1 on the Billboard R&B Chart--the album's title-track "Fire" (Side A, song #1):

"What the Hell" (Side B, song #3):

If you dig classic period funk grooves, start your Ohio Players collection now. Get a hold of 1974's Fire then move on to Pain from 1971, acquire 1972's Pleasure, and definitely find Skin Tight from earlier in 1974. Then, spread that funk, mofo.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Today was a Day for "Prairie Home Invasion" by Jello Biafra/Mojo Nixon (1994)

"Are You Drinkin' With Me Jesus?" from 1994's Prairie Home Invasion:

Mojo Nixon, king of Texas Alternative Goof Roots Psychobilly (TAGRP), and Jello Biafra, of Dead Kennedys fame, put out this fine album in 1994. Jello doesn't need any introduction and remains active as a recording artist to this day (new album out in October of 2009), and is highly visible in his Green/lefty political circles. [And down the line maybe we'll investigate the current status of the Jello/DK back catalogue dispute and repercussions.] On the other hand there is Mojo Nixon. Somewhat of an Underground Shitkicker College Radio Star (USCRS) in the mid 80s and into the 90s, he had two minor hits with 1989's "Debbie Gibson Is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child” and 1990's "Don Henley Must Die". He is mostly retired as a recording and touring artist, though in late 2009 he did release a digital-only album of "lost hits" and performed a handful of shows to promote the release. In addition, he has a weekly radio show on Sirius radio on the "Outlaw Country" station. Here is a live version of "Don Henley Must Die" from 1994:

Full Prairie Home Invasion album stream:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The End is Near (or, Warning: Impending Metal Machine Apocalypse)

Didn't Lester Bangs predict this would signal the end times? [Note: Seriously, you have to click on that last link. It might be one of the best record reviews in the history of recorded music.] It looks like Lou Reed will be touring parts of Europe this April with his Metal Machine Trio and playing shows "drawing from" the 1975 album.

Note to self: run up credit cards and stop paying bills as this world can't stand long.

[Edit: PS. Lou, I give you such a hard time 'cause I luv ya!]

Monday, February 1, 2010

Today was a Day for "The Modern Dance" by Pere Ubu (1978)

Like a weirder, less refined version of the Talking Heads meets Beefheart meets Faust meets Syd Barrett meets the Ramones.

Did art punk get any stranger or more compelling than early Pere Ubu? From the mean streets of Cleveland in January, 1978 came their first album The Modern Dance. Here is Side A, song #2:

And, let it be known, David Thomas could have outdanced David Byrne in a dance-off.