Music Reviews

Santo & Johnny – "Hawaii" – [Canadian-American Records, Ltd.]

Cousin Mary   7/29/2021   12-inch, B Library

Santo and Johnny are of course known for their classic Sleepwalk. This 1961 album featuring many Hawaiian cornball tunes is saved by their fine steel guitar work. The Hutch Davie Orchestra and Chorus add some campy harp glissando and vocals that are almost too much, but there is a sweetness here that will take you to a different time and place. I especially liked the tracks written by Santo and Johnny – Sea Shells, Reflections and Isle of Dreams. A fine way to cool off on a summer day or warm up in the winter.

Cale, John – “Academy In Peril, The” – [Edsel Records]

Max Level   3/21/2017   12-inch, B Library

This mostly instrumental album (1972) was Cale’s second solo effort, and it’s a transitional work in that he had been writing songs for a while–“Vintage Violence” was his previous solo record and that one was all songs–but he was not ready to leave behind the 1960’s avant-garde instrumental sounds he had been known for before the Velvet Underground came along. So there is some of that here. Cale was also classically trained on viola and piano, and that’s another influence that plays a big part on this record. There are three nice, medium-length piano pieces, and The Royal Philharmonic appears on an 8-minute orchestral suite on Side 2 and then joins Cale on the final track. There are a few oddball tracks: “The Philosopher” is all slide guitar, trumpet, and junk percussion; “King Harry” has actual lyrics but Cale delivers them in a creepy whisper; and there is a track on Side 1 that features Legs Larry Smith (of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) giving instructions to someone at a television studio with Cale’s overdubbed violas underneath. Ron Wood appears to be on this record someplace. I wouldn’t call every track strong, but if you’re a Cale fan, or even just curious about him, you’ll find some things to like here.

Belafonte, Harry – “Mark Twain and Other Folk Favorites” – [RCA Records]

humana   4/12/2016   12-inch, B Library

Belafonte keeps our attention with the skill of a true raconteur. These folk songs are classic and educational (I never knew the origin of the pseudonym “Mark Twain”). Read the liner notes to discover how Belafonte had to travel a tough path to success, largely due to his race. His honeyed voice is well suited to these songs, and his role is an amazing one in perpetuating the folk tradition.

Birds and Brass – “Golden Hour of – Birds and Brass” – [Golden Hour]

Sir Cumference   7/1/2015   12-inch, B Library

A bunch of session singers (the birds) and a bunch of session horns (the brass) collide for a cheesy hour of music. Not to be confused with Keith Roberts’ Birds ‘N Brass albums from 1970 & 1974, this 1976 album from Stan Butcher has been called inferior by those who have heard the other releases and the quality of the 60-minute playtime also doesn’t help this release.

That being said, I do love me some cheese; and while this hunk of cheddar may not get you rolling down hills any time soon, it has a few tracks that will put a smile on your face (or maybe indigestion, depending on your inclinations). Tucked into these 24 tracks are many recognizable covers, plus a handful of original songs from Stan Butcher. My Philly raised better half was surprised to hear “I Can Sing a Rainbow”, as it was the end theme to the Captain Noah show (though not this version).

Richman, Jonathan – “No Me Quejo De Mi Estrella” – [Munster]

humana   7/25/2014   B Library, CD

Singer-songwriter Richman likes the Spanish language and flamenco guitar. He likes simplicity in his music and straightforward lyrics. There is an innocence to them that allows me to him get away with saying anti-depressants are evil and a copout from feeling (6 and 7). Sometimes the melodies fall flat for me, but then there is an upbeat song with percussive joy that more than redeems any low-key malaise. Read the liner notes as they are great.

Nowik, William – “Pan Symphony In E Minor” – [Guerssen]

Cousin Mary   1/14/2014   12-inch, B Library

Reissued in 2009, originally out in 1974, this is William Nowik’s suite inspired by readings about the Greek god Pan. Nowik plays most of the instruments including piano, acoustic and electric guitar, pump organ, and violin. Some tracks are pure 1970’s psych, others are dreamy musical poems, some hint at jazz and even gospel. At one point the composition was targeted as a soundtrack which would have worked very nicely. A satisfying listen, well played, not dated in any outmoded way.

PGM: Tracks can stand on their own but playing a whole side works as well and gives an opportunity to sample the variety of sounds.

Moby Grape – “Place and The Time, The” – [Sundazed Records]

Art Crimes   2/12/2013   12-inch, B Library

Sundazed Records had briefly reissued the Moby Grape Columbia catalog, a run of several LPs from 1967-1970, and added numerous bonus tracks to all of them. Shortly thereafter, one-time Moby Grape manager Matthew Katz, who remarkably still owns the name of the band, allegedly forced those reissues off the market by claiming rights to the album artwork that Sundazed used from the original releases. But the bonus tracks remain, as they were never actually part of the Moby Grape album catalog and they are now assembled by Sundazed into this 2 LP set. These range from their auditions prior to their first LP, demos, alternates of tracks released in other forms on the original Columbia releases, and live versions of songs previously released in studio form only. Some tracks are here in multiple forms. Moby Grape was the odd duck in the SF scene, being a group that had multiple singers and songwriters rather than a single charismatic front person. Their three-guitar front line shared similarities with the equally talented Buffalo Springfield down in Hollywood, with both bands favoring short, dynamic songs with a bit of country flavor, although they could also churn out psychedelia as needed. Sadly, the Grape never really topped their first LP, and some say they were never the same after acid casualty Skip Spence left the group for some jail time and a spell in Bellevue Hospital. There’s another Sundazed release that simulates a live Moby Grape set comprised of a number of different gigs, but the tracks here are more a demonstration of their songwriting and craftsmanship.

Chilton, Alex – “Free Again: The 1970 Sessions” – [Omnivore Recordings]

Art Crimes   2/12/2013   12-inch, B Library

Chilton, Alex – “Free Again: The 1970 Sessions” – [Omnivore Recordings]

Alex Chilton’s first solo LP was briefly released in 1996 on Ardent and Revola but it was actually recorded in 1969-1970 at the end of his Box Tops career and the formation of Big Star. This newly assembled LP uses some different mixes and adds one track not included on the Ardent version. Chilton had burned out on the Box Tops after tiring of being used only as the lead vocalist but not as a writer. His early songs got recorded for this album while he was still in the Box Tops but his own songs weren’t so hit conscious as the Box Top’s assembly-line material had been. The styles run the range from Beatlish to Nuggets-style garage, Southern white trash R and B, and onwards to introspective melancholia. There’s a distinct country thread here with pedal steel and a bit of banjo. Viewed from the remoteness of 2013, it’s not far from the R and B infused version of country that we associate with some of Solomon Burke’s work and other soul artists who dabbled in country arrangements. Vocally, Chilton can do it all, but there’s a certain exaggeration to the rockier numbers that point towards the sloppy cover songs lurking ahead in his later career. It was probably best that this was not released back in 1970 as heads would have been scratched over his inability to commit to a specific approach. ((( crimes )))

St. John, Bridget – “BBC Radio 1968-1976” – [Hux Records]

ArtCrimes   12/14/2011   B Library, CD

Singer/songwriter Bridget St John was a favorite of the late John Peel, who presented her on the BBC frequently… his voice resides here in numerous spoken intros. Stylistically, St John is not so traditionally-0riented as other British singers of the time; her influences instead draw from Donovan, Joni Mitchell, John Martyn, and Buffy St Marie. Her voice is reedy and pitched much lower than most female singers of the time, and when she’s heard dueting with Kevin Ayers, he often sings a higher part than she. Her guitar playing is quite accomplished (nothing fancy, but very detailed and appropriate) and some tracks add backing from players associated with 10 Years After, King Crimson, Soft Machine and “Tubular Bells” — a little heavier company than perhaps you might expect. These tracks are all BBC recordings, some actually derived from over-the-air transmissions recorded non-professionally. The first disc contains the best sounding audio, with the second being quite lo-fi at times. St John released a few albums on Peel’s “Dandelion” label (you’ll find one of them in the KFJC B Library vinyl stacks). She now lives in the US and still is active, if only a bit. ( crimes )

Kicks & Chicks Vol. I [coll] – [Eleventh Hour Records]

humana   10/6/2010   12-inch, B Library

???Original 1960s Acidpunk!??? says the cover of this album that took me right back to my childhood when I???d hear the second-hand sounds of 45s from my older siblings??? turntables. This music is a period piece, composed of covers and originals–the sound is folk-rock and brings to mind the early Brady Bunch era–not the themes, but the styles. A groovy slice of life.

Pylon – “Chomp More” – [Dfa Records]

Max Level   5/3/2010   B Library, CD

Hey, remember the spare, jagged, Athens, GA sound of Pylon’s 1982 record “Chomp”? Well, here it is again, re-mastered and re-released in 2009 with some bonus material (alternate mixes, etc) that never got out before. I don’t know if the record was re-issued as a tribute to Pylon guitarist Randy Bewley, who passed away in 2009, or if it was going to be coming out anyway, but whatever the reason it’s a good chance to revisit (or discover for the first time) what this influential band was up to nearly 30 years ago. The final track is a slow, dubbed-out sound collage that originally came out as a limited release B-side. It’s pretty rad, and different from everything else here.

Hendrix, Jimi – “Jimi Hendrix Experience, The” – [Mca Records]

Hawkeye Joe   3/27/2010   12-inch, B Library

Sure, an 8-lp boxed set of even more Hendrix alternate takes, unissued material & (finally!) miraculously restored live bits might seem like overkill to a cynic. Even worse, the thought that such re-issues are based on more of a motivation for heirs, labels & copyright owners to rake in more flthy lucre on the bones of a dead artist may come to mind. Be that as it may, if you are an aficionado of Jimi as am I, this is one hell of a find. Extensive notes in the accompanying booklet detail when each cut was recorded, session player info and colorful photos of the band add to the fun. Tracks such as “Cherokee Mist”, released for the first time on this collection are the ones that stand out for me. Kudos to the Hendrix family trust, the “suits” at the label & the KFJC Music Dept. for having the open-mindedness & good taste to make this possible to play on the radio in the 21st century.

Hendrix, Jimi – “Valleys of Neptune” – [Legacy]

ArtCrimes   3/16/2010   B Library, CD

The Jimi Hendrix catalog has moved again, this time to Sony’s reissue label, Legacy. The first batch of reissues have no audio additions over and beyond the previous remasterings from several years ago (although they do have documentary DVDs added), but the one truly brand new title, “Valleys of Neptune,” is all unreleased takes and remakes from various sessions (mostly in 1969) with performances by the original Hendrix Experience, the “new” Experience with Billy Cox replacing Noel Redding, and members of the short-lived Gypsy Sun & Rainbows group that rehearsed in Woodstock with Mitchell, Cox, and others. This is not a “lost” album, but rather a collection of orphaned tracks recorded during a period when Hendrix was broadening his palette, trying different songwriting and studio approaches with different sidemen. Several tracks here were new versions of older songs, some of which had been first recorded and performed years before with the original Experience group (“Stone Free,” “Red House,” “Fire”). A few tracks make their official debut here, studio efforts that weren’t actually finished during Jimi’s lifetime, such as “Valleys of Neptune” and “Ships Passing Through the Night.” Some of the tracks sound a little modern for ears used to the noisier, rougher sound of Jimi’s original recordings from the 1960s, and there are a few overdubs done in the 1980s by Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, thus “reuniting” the original Experience many years after Jimi’s passing. A lot of this music was never intended for the public (rehearsals, demos, rough mixes), and this won’t widen Jimi’s audience much, but it does offer insights into how he viewed the studio as an instrument, one just as important as his guitar. (( crimes ))

Ayers, Kevin – “What More Can I Say…” – [Reel Recordings]

lombard   1/21/2010   B Library, CD

30+ years ago musician Kevin Ayers passed along a pile of unwanted reel-to-reel recordings to guitarist G.F. Fitz-Gerald, thinking that maybe he could re-use them. Eventually Fitz-Gerald took a listen and it turned out that the tapes housed some lovely 1970s-era demos by Ayers. A well-known figure in the English psychedelia scene, Ayers was a founding member of Soft Machine. According to his website, upon hearing these newly unearthed recordings, Kevin Ayers “…found them to be a refreshing reminder of a musical innocence, unique to the nineteen seventies.”

“What More Can I Say…” is a beautiful collection of lo-fi material, with some spoken interludes, a work-in-progress descriptive demo of his “Doctor Dream” piece, spare guitar, piano, and organ. Archie Legget, Eddie Sparrow, David Bedford, Mike Oldfield and Robert Wyatt also appear on various tracks. It’s a quite satisfying time capsule.

Denny, Sandy – “She Moves Through The Fair” – [Stamford Audio]

ArtCrimes   8/23/2009   12-inch, B Library

Sandy Denny achieved her greatest fame as the primary vocalist for Fairport Convention, and through her solo work that followed. But prior to joining Fairport, she had put in time as an authentic folk artist in the London folk club scene of the sixties that featured a few other hugely influential folkies, including Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, and Anne Briggs. The music here dates to 1967-1968 and were informal home recordings of Sandy accompanying herself on fairly competent guitar, and the sound quality ranges from merely adequate (the title track) to reasonably good. Although only 5 tracks are included, they do span the full range of Sandy’s interests: two traditional numbers (one of which, the title track, would be recorded later with Fairport), two originals (again, one of which, “Box of Treasure”, would be recorded with Fairport although with a new set of lyrics), and one song by her friend Anne Briggs. (Anne Briggs was later acknowledged in Sandy’s later song “The Pond and the Stream”). These tracks were licensed from Fledg’ling Records’ extensive box set of Sandy’s work, “A Boxful of Treasure,” and appear here on vinyl for the first time. (((crimes)))

Zappa, Frank – “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol.3” – [Rykodisc]

ArtCrimes   5/18/2009   B Library, CD

Volume 3 of the 6 part “You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore” series focuses primarily on FZ’s mid-80s touring bands, playing mainly material from “Sheik Yerbouti,” “The or Us,” “You Are What You Is,” “Ship Arriving Too Late…,” and other vocal-oriented albums that may not be everyone’s favorites. However, these groups were all highly skilled and received ample solo opportunities, especially on the instrumentals: “Zoot Allures,” most of “Drowning Witch,” and a very lengthy “King Kong” that is a composite of completely different bands performing the same song, much as “Hands With a Hammer” is a composite of Terry Bozzio’s drum solos. A reggae-inflected “Sharleena” features Dweezil Zappa, making his stage debut with his father; he shreds with dignity (if perhaps relying too much on the Floyd Rose tremelo). There are also many highly amusing vocal ad libs throughout, some of which are explained in the booklet, and many that are not necessarily appropriate for tea-time. (crimes)

Zappa, Frank – “Imaginary Diseases” – [Zappa]

ArtCrimes   5/18/2009   B Library, CD

Zappa’s Grand Wazoo & Waka Jawaka LPs were made with a huge ensemble that was clearly too unwieldy for much road work (a short summer tour of just a few dates was staged), so the subsequent touring band for the Fall 1972 tour was smaller: the “Petite Wazoo.” Heavily armed with winds and brass, they played primarily instrumental music that included new Zappa compositions that would rarely be performed again. Some of the tracks are actually one-time-only jams from specific cities, hence the titles, while bits of “Rollo” and “Farther O’Blivion” were eventually recycled into the “Yellow Snow” suite on “Apostrophe.” It’s interesting to hear FZ perform these large scale works and also deploy some of his typical spontaneous improv techniques with a group nearly twice the size of the previous edition of Mothers. None of this tour was ever available in any form until this release, not even on the 12 CDs comprising “You Can’t Do That on Stage…” so this captures a unique period in FZ’s career, a brief spell of mostly-serious music with nary a mudshark or poncho in view. -crimes-

Lennon, John – “Sometime In New York City” – [Emi Records Ltd.]

ArtCrimes   5/18/2009   B Library, CD

Lennon’s New York residency found him recording with Elephant’s Memory, an already established band, and continuing with Phil Spector as producer, guaranteeing a big sound, although not necessarily Lennon’s best batch of songs. For the most part, these are topical rants about this and that (the unjust persecution of activists John Sinclair and Angela Davis, the riot at Attica State prison, the Irish troubles, etc.) and clearly not continuing the utopian ideals heard on his previous hit, “Imagine”. Yoko is fairly integrated here, turning in concise songs that mostly follow conventional structures, rather than sprawling vocal experiments. No hits here, although “Woman is the Nigger…” was out as a single and probably got a few plays in more-enlightened regions. To be fair, a lot of these songs have spontaneous sounding, Dylan-esque arrangements that were probably a lot more fun for Lennon than the endless sessions with studio musicians that was the case on “Imagine.” The second disc pairs two live gigs, one in London in 1968 with a cast of thousands that is mostly devoted to Yoko’s squeals over a static blues groove, and the other side joining Zappa & Mothers at the Fillmore East in 1971, with the blues track “Well” being the standout and the balance being Zappa-conducted improvs with snippets of “King Kong.” Some years later Zappa released much of this material with a different mix and titles, the last track referred to as “A Small Eternity With Yoko Ono.” -crimes-

Martyn, John – “Solid Air” – [Island Records Ltd.]

ArtCrimes   2/25/2009   B Library, CD

Starting out as an acoustic folkie troubador in Glasgow, John Martyn had recorded a few albums (with and without his wife of the time, Beverly) before he began using the distinctive characteristics that defined the rest of his career: slurred, almost growled vocalizing, and echoing guitar work. “Solid Air,” a 1973 release for island in the UK, is where these techniques first flowered, especially with his thundering remake of Skip James’ “Rather be the Devil” and the jazz-inflected title track, a tribute to his good friend Nick Drake. Van Morrison and Tim Buckley are probably the closest comparisons with Martyn during this period, with their semi-jazz scatting and use of vibes, horns, and acoustic instruments rather than more rock-ish support. Pentangle’s Danny Thompson is featured on double bass for most tracks, and the tidy production by John Wood lets you hear every note. Martyn wrote a number of songs that were successful for other artists in more commercial arrangements, and Martyn himself had some ill-advised flirtations with the middle-of-the-road later in a relatively long career, but this is the one everyone turned to after his recent passing at age 60, on January 29, 2009. (crimes)

Ayers, Kevin – “Unfairground, The ” – [Lomax]

ArtCrimes   5/13/2008   B Library, CD

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.

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