It’s true that Bill Frisell’s companions here have considerable seniority over him, with Dave Holland having backed both Miles Davis and Chick Corea in the early 70s, and Elvin Jones having backed Coltrane in the 60s, but Frisell is clearly leading the sessions, providing all the compositions, save a cover of “Moon River” and Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”. Jones was probably one of the more aggressive and propulsive drummers of his time, and Frisell’s slippery, slow motion moves provide a lot of tension in the other direction. Where they all seem to interlock are the more blues-based selections (like opener “Outlaws”), when they relax mutually, while the country-ish material that Bill loves doesn’t jive so well with Elvin’s more ahead of the beat approach (as on “Hard Times”). But Elvin hangs back and just swings as needed on other tracks, often barely touching his kit. Holland is elegant and tasteful throughout, present primarily for structure rather than showing off. A bit of overdubbing has Frisell building on the arrangements with loops and acoustic/electric combinations.
Atlantic Records signed Dusty after a long (and successful) spell of heavily-produced hits done in the UK, which merit as excellent examples of 60s girl-singer pop. But under the spell of the Southern studio team that had been cranking out soul hits with Aretha and others, the intent here was to remake Dusty as a soul singer. Legendary for her perfectionism and insecurities, Dusty freaked out at the casual recording sessions down South and didn’t actually sing a note in Memphis, but the backing band nailed the basic tracks, with Dusty’s vocals added later New York sessions. The results range from string-laden, adult pop tracks like Randy Newman’s “Just One Smile”, to medium tempo soul grooves like the hits “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Breakfast and Bed”. Rhino more than doubles the length of the original LP with the addition of outtakes done at Memphis, as well as sessions for 2 other followup albums, including Gamble & Huff produced tracks intended for her later “Brand New Me” (those aren’t Southern soul at all, but have their own uptown charms).
Sir Victor Uwaifo originally worked very successfully in Nigeria with the popular “Highlife” style in the 60s (one of his hits from that time provides part of the title here, “Guitar Boy”), but this collection on Soundway takes a look primarily at his “Ekassa” series of releases from the early 70s. These tracks took their rhythm from a ceremonial dance dating back to the 16th century for the coronation of kings in Benin (where Uwaifo was born and raised). The rhythm is driven by the sound of stones inside shells worn by ceremonial dancers, and you’ll hear the rattle of those stones on nearly every track, along with Uwaifo’s distinct guitar style, employing echo, wah-wah and percussive effects. Saxes and wheezy electric keyboards add counterpoint here and there, as well as call and response vocals, but mostly this is dance music first and foremost, with some riffs borrowed from songs like “Twist and Shout” and “Tequila” grafted to the Ekassa rhythm. Uwaifo later dipped his toe into funk and disco projects, but he’s all about taking his own heritage to the dance floor here. CRIMES
A Nonesuch Explorer release of field recordings done in the nation now known as Burkina Faso. Western African instruments such as the balafon (gourd marimba) are heard here, but this music is distinct from the styles heard in neighboring countries like Mali and Niger, where the multi-stringed kora is often the featured instrument. Instead we hear a single string bow, as well as flutes, and the orchestrated percussion that is vital throughout Africa. Call and response vocals are featured on some tracks, some with Islamic content. And praise songs written for specific individuals are also included, another tradition heard throughout the African continent, serve as tributes to local heroes or benefactors. These recordings give you a sense of being there, walking through a land rich in musical culture. So get your feet dirty!
The Canterbury Music Festival were a New York-based band that fell under the tutelage of early 60s group The Tokens (???The Lion Sleeps Tonight???), whose label BT Puppy released this mega-rare LP (150 copies in original pressing) in 1968. It???s now re-issued on vinyl by Korean label Beatball in an edition of 500, with a groovy full color poster and full lyrics in English and Korean. The mood here is a bit schizoid, reflecting not only the style of the three songwriters in the group, but also the Tokens??? own writers and a former Token, Stephen ???Brute Force??? Friedland, who had solid pop songwriting credentials working for Del Shannon and the Cyrkle. The overall tone is baroque pop a la Left Banke, with harpsichords and strings… pretty sophisticated stuff for a group that barely got this record out at all. Lots of attention to textural detail and Beach Boys / Beatles creamy harmonies, but bits of psychedelia appear via comically distorted guitar (see track 6, an inane rave-up titled “Super Duper Trooper”) and electric sitar (see track 10, which is a stylistically questionable cover of “Son of a Preacher Man” that would be more at home on a “60s Smash Hits Not By Original Artist” LP).
The Swedish instrumental folk group Vasen honors the 300th anniversary of that early pioneer of plant and animal biology (and a fellow Swede), Carl Linnaeus, by performing some of his favorite melodies dating from the 18th century, as well as tunes composed by his friends and relatives. Using viola, guitar, some dramatic percussion and the Nordic “keyed fiddle” or Nyckelharpa, this is mostly dance music but distinctly Swedish, favoring polskas rather than the more Germanic polkas. It’s all nicely recorded and expertly performed. Linneaus himself did not have much of a knack for music but did own a “barrel organ” which could play back preprogrammed melodies, much like a player piano, by turning a crank. Linneaus’ very own restored barrel organ makes an appearance here.
Fiddle-heavy band from Finland performs instrumental music drawing from Finnish folk tunes and other influences, ranging from Swedish to American styles. Polskas (not the same as polka ??? it???s a different rhythm), as well as actual polkas, waltzes, swing, and tangos are explored here; this is primarily music for dancing, although there are more meditative tracks as well (see #4). It???s all beautifully played, with a rowdy live track at the end.
Steve Mann released a few LPs in the 60s highlighting his renditions of traditional (such as John Hurt, Blind Lemon Jefferson) and contemporary (Mose Allison) blues, and he spent some time as a session man in LA backing artists like Dr John and even Sonny & Cher, but he???s often been sidelined by mental illness and has only recently been performing again. It???s a shame he hasn’t had more attention, as his guitar playing is quite distinctive, almost pianistic in scope rather than just a duplication of traditional blues styles. These recordings are mostly taken from non-commercial sessions at clubs and settings like apartment rooms, with tapes offered up by longtime fans like Stefan Grossman. Three tracks with a pre-Big Brother Janis Joplin date back to 1964 and feature her doing traditional blues. One new track, the instrumental ???Hasta Luego???, was recorded especially for this release, and shows that Mann???s playing skills are not diminished. You can also find Steve on the first “Imaginational Anthem” collection, where he’s featured on 2 tracks.
You know Meg Baird from her solo release last year, and her work with Espers. But the Baird Sisters have been performing off and on for as long as Espers, probably even longer, and they are still gigging now and then. Meg & Laura Bairds’ home-made release is a casual session recorded by Dad. Despite the humble production, the sound is nice and clear as they run through a program of traditional favorites and a few of Laura’s originals. Although traditional songs are always welcomed by this reviewer, these performances don’t all capture the darker side of the story (and there always seems to be a darker side), with “Willie Moore” sounding so cheerful despite its tragic tale. But since the Bairds sing with that wonderful blend one finds with siblings, the result is undeniably a lovely thing. They accompany themselves on guitar, banjo, and cello.
Another well-packaged Soundway collection of 70s tracks from Nigerian LPs and singles, this time with the bulk of them in English and clearly under the influence of American and UK rock styles. The Ginger Baker collaboration with Fela in the 70s had some impact on Nigerian bands, with some of the players featured here having worked with Baker in his post-Cream band “Salt”, during a period when he was living in Nigeria. In general, electric guitars are brought to the foreground on these tracks, rather than the horns and dance rhythms featured on the Soundway “Disco Funk Special”. The Funkees and Mono Mono both have been featured on other Soundway collections with their more pop-oriented rock sound, while BLO and Ofo are hipper bands with social comment on their minds, not so much dancefloor. As for psychedelia, Nigerian tracks titled “Acid Rock” and “Freaking Out” were maybe trying too hard to catch up with the popular culture of the time, but by adding their own local rhythms and vocal styles, they ended up with something distinctive and still interesting 30 years later.
A reissue on vinyl of Scottish songwriter & guitarist Bert Jansch’s first LP, originally out in the UK on Transatlantic in 1965. The audio verite production by folk specialist Bill Leader, with the session taking place in Leader’s Camden home, provides a snapshot of Jansch when he was starting to take his career more seriously, after having been a busker and a folk club regular for a few years, greatly influenced by the pioneering acoustic guitarist Davey Graham (who had introduced some middle eastern sensibilities into his playing after his travels to Morocco), American jazz (Nat Adderly and Jimmy Guiffre are covered here), and American blues. Jansch would later develop a greater interest in traditional British folk songs, but here he writes almost all of the tunes himself, with “Needle of Death” to become perhaps the best known of his originals. “Do You Hear Me Now” would later be covered rather successfully by Donovan on one of his early UK releases. There are a few instrumentals here as well. The British folk scene was full of distinctive guitarists in the 60s, but Jansch has remained one of the best regarded, both for his complex guitar work and his vocal style which (although an acquired taste) remains unmistakable for anyone else.
An official CD issue of Rose’s 2002 short-run CD-R release, presenting him performing with guitarist Glenn Jones of Cul-de-Sac (another player with Fahey influences) and some of Rose’s former associates from Pelt on other instruments such as banjo and harmonica. Not quite the hoe-down that the title might suggest, but the tunes are more upbeat perhaps than on Rose’s other releases. They draw on earlier styles, with a cover of Sam McGee’s “Buckdancer’s Choice”, Sylvester Weaver’s “Soft Steel Piston”, Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues”, and there’s some gospel as well.
This reissue is packaged by Tequila Sunrise as a 2 disc set with an earlier Rose effort that had gone out of print, “Jack Rose”, aka “Self-Titled”. Both CDs feature the tracks “Miss May’s Place” and “Revolt”, but in different versions. Additionally, some of the tracks were out on a single in 2005 under the “Dr. Ragtime” name. Alas, the two Dr. Ragtime tracks released on a limited edition of only 6! 78 r.p.m. discs in 2005 are *not* here!
A CD reissue of Rose’s out-of-print vinyl release from 2006, “Jack Rose”. but referred to here matter-of-factly as “Self-Titled”, this solo effort is a good overview of his interests, as he tackles some blues-based tracks and also explores his Fahey-esque side on the lengthy “Spirits in the House”. Like Fahey, Rose favors the mystical side of early bluesmen, such as the Blind Willie Johnson classic “Dark Was the Night” (also featured on Rose’s 7″ release for the “Sacred Harp” label under his alter ego, “Dr. Ragtime”, as well as on his full length “Red Horse, White Mule”, from a few years ago, so this is a track near and dear to his heart.). But he also finds value in the purer blues forms, as in “St. Louis Blues”, a tune that wasn’t crying out for another version but benefits here from Rose’s approach.
This reissue is packaged by Tequila Sunrise as a 2 disc set with another Rose reissue previously on vinyl only, “Dr. Ragtime and His Pals”.
[coll] Living Is Hard: West African Music in Britain, 1927-1929
Much as ???Race Records??? in the US were opportunities for record companies to pursue niche markets by recording and promoting early blues artists, this Honest Jons collection compiles 78 rpm releases from the Zonophone label in the UK drawn from their recordings of West African immigrants. The musical styles here focus on specific regions of Africa, and the promo materials in the sleeve show how carefully Zonophone was courting the West African communities, with a huge catalog of releases in specific dialects. Recorded some eighty years ago, this lively African folk music performed in the UK draws from the styles of these immigrant’s homelands, while also considering life in the ???Modern World???. The liner notes, although fascinating regarding details of the Zonophone label and some of the key African artists of the time, are not strong on specific track information, but translations are provided for a number of tracks.
[coll] Nigeria Disco Funk Special: The Sound of the Underground Lagos Dancefloor, 1974-1979
Another Soundway collection of Nigerian releases from the 70s, this time concentrating on 70s Funk, with the “Disco” in the title referring to the place, not the musical genre. These are mostly longer tracks that what we heard on Nigeria Special Part 1, as these tracks were from albums rather than singles. There are influences from the US funk scene, with some keyboard touches that wouldn’t be out of place on a late 70s Parliament/Funkadelic track, and the Meters are another reference here (Jay-U Experience’s “Some More”). Most of these tracks immediately lock into a groove and don’t let up, perfect for the dance floor and a great palate cleanser for radio. As is the case with Soundway, ample documentation is included for labels, dates, and some of the original sleeve art.
[coll] Nigeria Special, Part 1
(Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds & Nigerian Blues 1970-1976) 33-1/3
First of 2 Soundway sets drawing from Nigerian singles and album tracks in the 70s. Part 1 features the early 70s period following Nigeria???s independence, with new approaches to the earlier Highlife style (Sir Victor Uwaifo, St Augustine, Celestine Ukwu, Harbours Band), the influence of American Soul & Funk (Funkees, Mono Mono), ideas from Fela???s Afrobeat work (Don Isaac Ezekial, Semi Colon), and some updated folk tunes (Dele Ojo). What???s nice is there are some 7??? single-only tracks that haven???t been reissued previously, in the Funkee???s case with Parts 1 & 2 stitched together for non-stop dancing pleasure. Plenty of info inside that sets the stage for this interesting era in Nigeria???s recording history, and nice pix of picture sleeves and labels, too.
Kevin Ayers ???The Unfairground???
As a founding member of the Soft Machine and a longtime ???Canterbury Sound??? conspirator, Kevin Ayers has had a long career in the UK and Europe but hadn???t released any new products in many years. But the time seemed right for a resurgence, with old friends (Phil Manzanera, Bridget St John) and younger artists (members of Teenage Fanclub, Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, Ladybug Transistor) paying respect by often recreating authentic baroque-psych-pop sounds of the 60s, with lavish backing tracks of horns, strings, and cooing female vocals for Ayer???s rumbling baritone to lumber over. He responds with charm and melodic flair. And Robert Wyatt gets sampled, becoming an instrument on Track 2: the Wyattron.
A 1981 Mango LP with selections from Leslie Kong’s Beverly’s label, produced in Jamaica from the late 60s up until 1971, when Kong died of heart failure (some say due to a curse placed by Peter Tosh over some bad business with Kong early in the Wailer’s career). These are tracks from the dawn of reggae (“Israelites” being among the first US/UK reggae hits), with little of the Rasta ethics that we would be hearing later, although there’s some talk of social movements. Mostly, driving beats are the business of the day here, with less of the overt American R&B influence heard in the earlier Rock Steady style. Some of these tracks have been over-anthologized (the 2 Desmond Decker tracks, The Melodians’ “Rivers of Babylon”) but there are enough less-heard hits here like The Maytals’ “Peeping Tom” and Ken Boothe’s “Freedom Street” to justify this addition to KFJC’s bulging reggae stacks. And a couple of tracks were issued for the first time on this collection, including an instrumental from session pianist Ansell Collins, best known in the US for his 1971 hit “Double Barrel” when he was part of the duo, Dave & Ansell Collins.
Wayfaring Strangers: Guitar Soli
The Numero Group has expanded beyond the amazing soul reissues it became famous for, with the series “Wayfaring Strangers,” devoted to obscure folk artists from the 60s-70s. This one explores the world of instrumental music for steel string guitar, along the lines of your John Faheys, Leo Kottkes, and Robbie Bashos, but way more mysterious. Unfortunately our pre-release version doesn’t have the booklet to explain where these folks came from and why we’ve never heard of them. But for anyone who loves those overtones on a colossal Guild 12 string that ring for days on end, this is your bag. Most tracks here strictly avoid folkie convention and instead make pioneering moves towards new methods of composing and playing acoustic guitars, with studio trickery largely avoided in favor of audio honesty. Fans of modern-day folks like Six Organs… and Jack Rose should find this worthwhile.
A reissue of a super-obscure limited pressing by the Chicago-based group Boscoe, originally released on the group’s own Kingdom of Chad label. Japanese crate diggers built up the allure of this forgotten release, and Numero Group once again outhipped the hippest by finally getting this out on a wider basis than when it first hit the streets in 1973. Boscoe combined the social commentary of the Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron with some dashes of O’Jays-style funk, innovative horn arrangements, and a few slow jams for good measure. The playing is a bit harder than the mainstream soul of those days, and the great singing and ensemble work here paints a picture of a hard-working group with lots of interest in moving beyond cookie-cutter soul. So throw your fist in the air and fight the power with Boscoe.