Friday, April 4, 2008

Them Changes

I've been doing the Soul Shack for a while now. But as I suspected and announced the blog covered much more than just Soul music. One artist in particular got a bit more attention relatively speaking. I'm a huge Bruce Springsteen fan as many of the regular reader may have noticed by now. So more than just once in every great while a post on the Boss crept into the Shack. Time to give them a place of their own I figured.

Recently I started collecting 45s of songs covered by Springsteen. One of the main attractions to Springsteen for me is how his work covers much of R&R's rich history. In covers alone the man has done over a thousand songs ranging from Buddy Holly to Pearl Jam. In recent years he's been digging even further into the roots of American music. So I've decided to start Boss Tracks where I'll review every new find and where I'll continue the Bosscast I've been doing for the past few months.

I hope to meet you there!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Bruce Springsteen Bosscast, April 2008; Boogie Chillun

The Bosscast has moved to the all new Boss Tracks. I'll meet all you saints and sinners there for a regular dose of the Boss!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Let's Spend The Night Together

Sometimes you come across a Soul record that makes you frown. Much like R&R, Soul music often delivers best on the very edge of good taste. Some of Soul's greatest records are very dubious in that respect indeed. Are the records of Barry White still good taste, despite their candle lit pornographic aura, sure enough they are! But its a fine line. And sometimes the finest talents in Soul trip over that line. One of those rather embarrassing yet strangely entertaining examples is Joe Simon's cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together". The track is buried on Joe Simon's 1976 album "Today". The record that would definitely take Joe Simon into the Disco age. Before that Joe Simon had been one of the great Southern Soul singers. His version of "Chocking Kind" is still the definitive rendition of that song, no matter how many Joss Stones you throw at that sucker. His Gamble & Huff produced albums are bonified Soul classics out of period where Disco still meant putting a bow tie on the Funk. But shortly after those Philly productions things started to go downhill for the like of Joe Simon, maybe even Soul in general. Philly Soul evolved into Disco, a lawyer designed genre that according to George Clinton of Funkadelic fame was trying to fax it in. Countrified Soul shouters like Simon simply couldn't adapt.

Popular myth has it that Punk destroyed Rock. I think that premises is false. Punk revived some of R&R's core values. If there's anything that "destroyed" Rock, as far as it was ever really tore down, it was Disco, F.M. Radio and mega multi million sales. F.M. Radio, which was at first a vessel for R&R, soon became predictable and overly formatted. As multi million dollar enterprises they seem to have one objective, not to offend and push as much meaningless drivel as they could. Disco suited the job just perfectly. It had none of the grits and gravy either R&R or Southern Soul had. Hell even Motown would soon prove to be too raw for the new radio formats. For the longest while F.M. wouldn't get more risky than the Eagles or Bony M. Acts like the Stones and Joe Simon suffered. But where the Stones cleverly adapted with discofied Rock as "Miss You", Simon was left stumbling through the studio with Bob Clearmountain at the production wheel. Though Clearmountain has a good reputation for producing and mixing good and solid R&R albums in a period when they were a dying breed, even he couldn't help a Soul shouter like Simon find his groove. "Today" is marred by the same problems may of the Soul albums seem to have in that era, a sense of detachment. Not quite Soul, not quite Disco and not quite the Quiet Storm that would soon come yet. On "Stay" we hear an artists clinging on to Country Soul while trying to make Disco, trying to remain true to himself while trying to blend into a crowd where he suddenly looks like the ugly duckling.

The result of that strain is unfortunately an uncomfortable piece of cheese. Maybe if F.M. radio and the record business would have had the guts to invest in tail end sales as well artists like Joe Simon would have survived into the next decade. The backlash at Disco might not have been so great and might not have taken down Soul in its demise. Maybe it would have given Joe Simon enough breathing space to produce truly great records. In theory his version of "Let's Spend The Night Together" should have kicked David Bowie's ass. Unfortunately the practice of the second half of the seventies was different. Over the course of just a few years the music industry, Soul and R&R turned into an embarrassing mess. Sometimes it seems Soul never truly recovered.

"Let's Spend The Night Together" - Joe Simon

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Platter's That Matter; WAR!

Producer Norman Whitfield is of such notoriety that one could argue that he is an artist in his own right. Although his songs were sung by others, although Gladys Knight, the Temptations and Edwin Starr scored his hits for him, his sound was so recognizable, so distinct, that you're able to pick a Whitfield production out of the thousands. The Edwin Starr single "WAR" might be his biggest triumph. Recorded and released in 1970 it is still the biggest selling protest song of all time, one of the few to hit that much coveted #1 spot on the Billboard charts. Though not the first song to deal with the war in Vietnam, few songs dealt with it so poignantly and blunt as "WAR". It is one of the few occasions where a song spawned a popular phrase; "War, what is it good for" is engraved in our collective conscious and lives a life of its own outside of the smash 45.

Whitfield had been Motown long before the labels main money makers Holland-Dozier-Holland would leave the fold over contractual disputes. Almost single handedly Whitfield would fill the gap that the golden trio left and change the face of Motown. Although Whitfield started with material that fit the label's clean teen image like a glove he would exploit the lessened grip Berry Gordy had on Motown's musical division to the max. Together with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye Norman would give Motown a decidedly more edgy image while Gordy was busy producing movies. The Temptations would be Whitfield's main showcase. As such they were the first to record the classic single that is subject of this post. The song was part of Norman's ground breaking "Psychedelic Shack" album. The title song of that album was filled with implicit references to the hippie movement and conscious expanding drugs. Yet when Norman discussed releasing War with the Temps, the explicit nature of that song proved to be a bridge to far for the group. Being too outspoken in America, with its strong patriotic (almost nationalistic) environment, could costs recording artists their career. The Temps had just broken into the exclusive club circuit and weren't about to put all that on the line. Gordy with his eyes fixed on the green might have had some to do with the Temps decision to decline as well. Next to the Supremes, the Temps were Motown's flagship. He wasn't about to compromise them.

The single was then given to Edwin Starr. Although Star had scored a few hits, he wasn't quite the money machine the Temps were. Putting his career on the line wasn't as big a gamble, Starr had more to win than to loose. Starr would later recall in an interview "It was a message record, an opinion record, and stepped beyond being sheer entertainment. It could become a smash record, and that was fine, but if it went the other way, it could kill the career of whoever the artist was." The gamble paid of. With Edwin's mighty pipes and his ruff and gruff delivery "WAR" struck a very powerful chord at the time. By 1970 the Vietnam war had escalated and the draft was looming over many young men's lives. As a conflict it was unclear what America was doing there in the first place. Though the song's lyrics may seem a little hokey and to straight forward at times lines like "war, has shattered, Many a young mans dreams, Made him disabled, bitter and mean, Life is much to short and precious, To spend fighting wars these days, War can't give life, It can only take it away" hit home hard.

"WAR" is one of those songs that stood the test of times even though its production is undeniably a product of the seventies. Norman was highly influenced by Funkadelic and Sly Stone, a product of his times. Yet when Springsteen revived the song in 2003 (Springsteen had a hit with it in the mid-eighties) after the invasion in Iraq during his Rising tour, the song sounded like it was written to comment on that colossal blunder. Still 5 years in the Iraq war has yet to find its own anthems. The war has striking parallels to the war in Vietnam. America again got itself in a senseless conflict it doesn't seem able to win. As the Dixie Chicks controversy proved protests is still a high risk to one's career. But I don't think that is why there's hardly any base for protest. The big difference between today and Vietnam is that there's no more draft. The cannon fodder of Iraq signed up voluntarily.With Vietnam because of the draft the base for protest was broader, the war harder to ignore, because it could easily come knocking on your door. Add to that an almost McCarthy like pressure to support the war, criticism seems to equal anti-Americanism these days, have silenced the popular producers. There have been a couple of high profile protesters like Eminem and Springsteen. But none of them have been as poignant as Norman Whitfield or have the reach Motown had. "WAR" is still king of all anti-war songs and I suspect it will stay that way for quite some time.

"WAR" The Temptations

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Persepolis; The Real Iran.

The biggest brow raiser to the Oscar ceremonies a few weeks back was the passing by of "Persepolis" in favor of Disney's light and breezy film "Ratatouille". It is not very often that an animated film comes a long that tackles complex issues in an accessible way. Of course the nomination alone was an enormous support to the movie. It is questionable if the film would have gotten the distribution and attention it has now if it weren't for that nomination. Even though the Oscars are hardly any indication on the merit of a film, a nomination and especially a win is still a very important promotional tool. The nomination is probably what got the movie out of the festival and art house circuit into a heavier rotation or is at the very least what got the art houses to fill up. "Persepolis" is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Marjane Satrapi. As a work of art it is most easily compared to "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. The book is highly autobiographically in nature and, like "Maus", gives us a window into the human aspect of oppression.

In a day and age where the debate surrounding the Arab world mainly focuses on extremism politicians and the general public risks loosing side of that aspect. President Bush's one liners on terrorism and his "axis of evil" have caused a dehumanization of the Arab world, maybe even the entire Muslim world. In the current debate there seems to be very little room for the many human differences between individual Muslims. Especially with the debate surrounding the perceived terrorist and nuclear thread of Iran we tend to loose sight of such aspects. The media focuses mainly on the insanity of the Mullahs and the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In the complex dynamics surrounding the terrorist debate and the fundamentalist threat the perception of Muslims sometimes tends to take the nature of a caricature not unlike those used in Nazi Germany to portrait the Jew. Ironically it is a comic book that is now helping to give us a more realistic perspective.

"Persepolis" is a cultural and historical lesson, a coming of age story, a comedy and a tragedy all in one. It is against the backdrop of oppression, first by the USA supported Shah and later by the religious fanatics, that Marjane grew up. Though the film gives an insight in the terror of oppression and its mechanisms the film doesn't dwell on that. Through the terror we follow Marjane trying grow up, we get her child like perspective on Iran but we get to see a delightful charming little girl growing into a beautiful woman as well, going through most of the stages of growing up every girl goes through. As a little girl Marjane has imaginative conversations with God, who picked her to become the next profit, we see her rocking out on Iron Maiden as a teen ager, pumping herself up on "The Eye Of The Tiger" as a young adolescent. Especially funny and frightening at the same time is the scene were Marjane hits the street with her "Punk is not ded" jacket sporting a Michael Jackson button. Apparently in Iran, with its ban on music, both have an equally rebellious nature. It is that nature that get Marjane into trouble, openly opposing her religious teacher as a 13 year old, causing her parents to send her to Europe where she is faced with bigotry and the challenge of trying to fit in as a girl growing up.

Though the film and the comic are done in black and white the way it deals with the themes is hardly that. Marjane herself has called her film a color production using gray tones. Her approach to the characters is much the same. In the book there's the Mullah who approves her application for art school despite her unorthodox view on religion, she stays with the ignorant but heartily welcoming parent of a friend in Austria, in the film she shows herself using the terror of the state to her advantage when she's in a rough spot (endangering an innocent by stander) and neighbors who are suddenly religious over night. As the characters pass through Marjane's life at the family table and the illegal parties with black market wine and lipstick the complexities of human nature comes sharply back into focus. With witty, wry irony and an almost poetic animation Marjane demonstrates how normal average people go on their way in times of dictatorship and fanaticism. She effectively shows how the terror of few can dominate the life's of many. In short, in these cynical times where one dimensional views seem to prevail, we need a one dimensional comic to gain some perspective again.

Se also this interview with Marjane for book slut and the this article from the NY Times.

The Dirty Dozen Is What's Going On!

Take a tuba, a fat drum beat, add a scorching guitar and you've got the foundation of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band as seen in Amsterdam last Thursday. Flesh it all out with a raving horn section and you've got a combination that is guaranteed to make you sweat. The Dirty Dozen are one of those bands that is keeping the Jazz scene vibrant. Leaning heavy into the traditional music of their native city New Orleans, the Dirty Dozen keep pushing the envelope. There's a reason why they worked with everybody from Dizzy Gillespie to Elvis Costello, from the Guru to Bettye LaVette. Few other bands today are able to expand on the great Jazz traditions of New Orleans quite like them. Few bands can tackle a classic masterpiece like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and get away with it. The Dirty Dozen did and pulled it off. Not just that they made an entirely original wok out of Marvin's album. So my expectations were high for the Dozen's first appearance in Amsterdam. The half filled venue made it apparent that true talent often goes unrecognized in today's music business. Unimaginative programming on the radio and MTV leave stellar bands in the realm of connoisseurs. Jazz has a high (f)art aura to it that is off putting to a lot of people. A shame, because it denies them the raving party Jazz can be.

If there is one thing that the Dirty Dozen seem to understand is that Jazz has a strong tradition of being party music. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" is a lesson some Jazz combos seem to have lost sight of. While experimental forms of Jazz are not without their own merits, they are hardly ever fun and cooking quite in the original sense of the word. Most Jazz clubs or performances today attract people who quietly sit and listen, stroking their chin in contemplation while secretly fighting sleep and boredom. The Dirty Dozen may not be as subtle live as on record but they do bring the Funk. The Dozen live drop bomb after bomb. Drummer Terence Higgins has a high Hip Hop sensibility, pushing and pulling with an approach that is both sloppy, loose and incredibly tight. You can't help but throw your hands in the air, wave em like you just don't care. The horn section adds a booty shaking grease that makes it impossible to sit down. If the Dirty Dozen don't get you off your ass it is advised to check your vital signs. You might be dead.

The material the Dozen picked to play was aimed at getting the audience into a sweaty Funk. After they were done my arm pits reminded me of the true meaning of the word. With the chops of the Dirty Dozen a classic like "When The Saint Come Marching In" sounds as fresh and funky as "Fire On The Bayou" or "Feet Can't Fail Me Now". Although the band was struggling with the acoustics of the venue some, they paid their dues and then some. The Dirty Dozen is the kind of band that doesn't play for you, they party with you. They are there for their own pleasure as well as yours. Though very accomplished musicians they never loose themselves in pointless solos for musicians sake. Still their music is adventurous and incredibly original. With the Dirty Dozen the music of New Orleans is as vital, challenging and cooking as it was a hundred years back.

"What's Going On (live)"

The Dirty Dozen "Live At Paradiso" is available through the Dime.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Take A Good Look At What You Missed All These Years

A squealing farfisa, barely in time hand claps, raggedy harmonies, the Fleshtones are back!!!! "The who?!?" you might ask yourself. I feel for you. Asking that very question is admitting your life has been devoid of the purest brand of R&R up till now. The Fleshtones have been giving it up for years. They played CBGB's when Kurt Cobain was still crapping his pants. They blew the Ramones and Blondie off stage when the word Punk had yet to be invented. The Fleshtones were still R&R by the time the Stones traded their sex & drugs for spring water and health spas. They outlived many of Punk Rock's heroes and there seems to be no stopping them yet. Though years of scrambled together tours and albums, through years of high spirits and the lowest of lows, through thousands of sweat drenched R&R dives and dozens of guaranteed hitless albums, the Fleshtones have been the uncrowned kings of R&R. So you'd better take a good look at what you missed all those years.

The Fleshtones have come a long way since they spawned from Brooklyn's seediest of basements. Their brand of Garage took them all over the world touring in obscurity. For some strange reason they became super stars in Paris. But then again the French are strange. But in any other country in the world they've been R&R's biggest promise for the last thirty odd years. Some bands would change their formula when confronted with the amounts of set backs the Fleshtones had to deal with. But they are not your ordinary band. They will simply keep doing what they do best, just as long as it takes for you to get it stupid! The minute the needle hits the first groove on the record, you'll know the boys haven't changed their game, though they might have perfected it a little further. Make no mistake, the raggedy mess you'll hear on "Take A Good Look" is the Fleshtones at their slickest. This album finds the band playing tighter than they ever have, finds them crashing into their songs with the greatest conviction, with a production that is on par with their finest work. In other words, they are still trying to keep up with their R&B heroes and failing gloriously. Taking you down with howling harmonica solos, blazing sax honking, rollicking piano strides, scotching guitar riffs, worn down vocals and just a little more sweat for comfort. This is what R&R is supposed to be, what it needs to be. R&R isn't pleasant, no matter what your FM radio is trying to tell you, R&R is the jumbled mess that is the Fleshtones.

It is rare to find a band so consistent as the Fleshtones. You can pick up almost any record of theirs and get exactly what you expected. The best dose of pure R&R that will have you bopping through the room. The Watusi, the Penguin, the Funky Chicken, the Tighten Up, you'll find yourself doing all those crazy dances even if you never knew how. "Shiney Hiney" is a piece of R&R poetry that would make the Ramones proud, "Going Back To School" with its throbbing base will have the Stones hiding in shame, "New York City" is the great classic Gary 'US' Bonds never wrote, "Jet Set Fleshtones" makes the Faces look like they don't know Pub-Rock. In a better world the latter would rocket up to the top of the charts. The rudimentary farfisa licks, the vicious guitar riffing, the clunky tambourine, are catchier than they should be. Look out! They are indeed the Jet Set Fleshtones, everybody move on up and take a real good look at what you denied yourself all those years. Take a good look, because the Fleshtones are breaking through, dragging you into their world howling and screaming. Pick up the record and get cool online extras from their record company Yep Roc records, see them in a town near you, let them sink in through a blue wale haze. Don't try to fight it, the Fleshtones will make it feel good to feel!!!

"The Jet Set Fleshtones"

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Fela Kuti; Music As A Force

Music is often a cultural and political force as much as it is entertainment. It is a means to get views of a counter movement across to a mass audience. Music has derived that power from its Folk roots all over the world, when music was the primary a source of communication for the poor. Before there was recorded music that made musicians into stars, musicians were simply carriers of the messages, story tellers. No one knew who originally wrote the songs they were singing, in a time before publishing this was not important. When music came into the recording/publishing age this political aspect became more personalized, associated with the artist. It also started to become diluted in favor of commercial interests. Rarely there was an artist so political in the recording age as Fela Kuti. Rarely there was an artists who refused to compromise as much as this African force. Rarely there was an artist so close to the Folk roots of music while pushing the boundaries of music at the same time. Fela Kuti revolutionized in music as much as he did in thought and politics. Even though is ideas were often unrealistic and far fetched he played the confrontational game like no other. During his career he was living proof that Music can be a life changing and political force.

The Nigerian Kuti, produced album length singles that literally seemed to start revolutions. His Afro Beat was an explosive mix of African Rhythms and James Brown Funk, cooking and sweating in a way that might have even made the God Father jealous. Although in his biography James Brown denies being aware of African music before seeing Fela play in Nigeria, it is clear that his JB's picked up on that beat. After visiting Africa, James Brown's Funk seemed to grow more ferocious, getting into locked into the beat even tighter. Fela Kuti's Afro Beat seemed to suit the radicalizing atmosphere of Funk in the seventies like a glove. Nothing quite took the message home the way Fela's relentless and hypnotic Rhythms did. Fela's records often start with a beat, slowly building rhythm on rhythm. Punching horn lines start to spar with each other, the pulsing rhythm getting thicker and thicker. It would not be uncommon for you to be in a sweat drenched dance, minutes into the song before the vocals would even start. But when it did Fela's voice commanded immediate attention. Maybe that's why Fela was feared as much by the various regimes in Nigeria he lived through. The powers that be must have realized Fela got people to listen. Fela told the story the politicians of Nigeria refused to tell, blinded by their power. Fela tapped into the realities of the average Nigerian during shows that would stretch on for hours while explaining where their poverty came from. Although Fela aimed at the powers that be, in songs like "Colonial Mentality" he addressed the apathy of the common African as well. Kuti's music was designed to move more than your feet, he wanted elevate the political conscious of his audience as well, get them to confront their rulers.

Name dropping vice president Moshood Abiola, former ITT employee (an American manufacturer with large defense contracts), in his single "International Thief Thief" got Fela arrested in the late seventies for the first time, but it wouldn't be the last. Fela's politics didn't stop there. Kuti was highly influenced by the Black Power movement and Malcolm X in his political thinking. A glance at Kuti's political career makes it apparent that Kuti took Malcolm's "By all means necessary" quite literally. Kuti claimed independence for his large estate in 1974, declaring the Kalakutu Republic, building a large fence around his estate. In '77 his "republic" was overthrown by the Nigerian government in an attack by a 1.000 soldiers. The attack left Fela's skull fractured. This however didn't stop Kuti, he formed his own political party in 1979 and tried to run as president. His campaign spearheaded one issue, he'd make every Nigerian citizen a police officer. Claiming that would stop police brutality since you cannot beat a colleague. His candidacy was denied. Fela was no doubt feared by the political establishment, his music had literally incited a riot in 1978 during the Accra show when he performed "Zombie". No telling where Fela would have ended up might he have run.

Kuti eventually died of AIDS in '97, though his supporters claim that he died because of government harassment. Fela was paid tribute on the excellent "Red, Hot and Riot" AIDS benefit lp. The guests on that LP stand as a testimony of his influence on modern music. The likes of Sade, Roy Hargrove, Common, Meshell N'Degeocello and D'Angelo all contributed to this Hip Hop infused LP that did Fela the justice he deserved. Bootsy Collins and Ginger Baker were amongst his early admirers but his legacy continues even today. A few years back Damon Albarn from from Blur fame produced an album for Kuti's drummer Tony Allen, bands like Antibalas made their careers by copying Fela's sound, while his own son Femi Kuti continues to carry the torch with his own ban the Positive Force. His legacy also means countless compilations that often need to be approach with caution. The nature of Fela's music means that his songs would often stretch over two album sides. I believe they are best enjoyed that way. But it does leave the starting listener with quite the challenge on where to begin. Wrasse records' recent release offers a good starting point. Mind you, much of Fela's most notorious work is missing from this collection, but it does give you a good sense of the force that was Fela. It comes with a DVD to boot. The two disc Universal compilation Universal released in '99 does much better on picking key tracks, and since there is hardly any overlap between that one and the Wrasse's anthology I simply recommend buying both. For those who want the complete picture try to find the LP boxed sets Barclay issued some ten years ago reproducing the original LPs. Where ever you start, you'll find that diving into Fela's music is an addictive journey leaving you wanting more, more, more.......

See also the interview with Fela on the Shrine.

"Colonial Mentality"

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buddy Miles; Tracing R&B History

Buddy Miles's death was reported today in the NY Times and with him an important part of R&B history is closed for good. To trace Buddy's career is almost like tracing the history of R&B. Like all great R&B performers of the sixties and seventies, Miles had a solid foundation that was steeped in Doo Wop. Miles built his skill backing numerous acts on the chitlin circuit and in the studio, on vocals. Something often overlooked. Miles is mentioned in various biographies as the one who lend his pipes to the likes of the Inkspots and the Delfonics. Sweet harmonizing groups, where the instrumentation was an after thought. In Doo Wop the singers were both bass, drums, percussion and melody. Later in his career Miles would become best known for his drumming of course. But I think his harmonic schooling that laid the foundation for his entire career. While touring with the Wislon Picket revue, Buddy was discovered by Mike Bloomfield, who included him in his Electric Flag. A rather odd outfit playing Big Band Blues with a pinch of Jazz and Fusion. After recording a sound track for a psychedelic film, "The Trip" and one decent album "Long Time Comin'" the band quickly fell apart. Buddy picked up after that by forming the Buddy Miles Express which had its first album produced by one Jimi Hendrix.

Most people will know Buddy best for his work with Jimi Hendrix. The pair had met on the chitlin circuit years before Hendrix started his successful career with the Experience from England. Their best known work together is the stellar live album "Band Of Gypsys" recorded on New Year's eve 1969 at the Filmore. By that time the Experience was falling apart and Hendrix started using Miles on some key tracks for his "First Rays Of The New Rising Sun" project. The inclusion of Miles in the band has been subject to a lot of speculation. From the black community Hendrix was as much criticized as he was influential. Hendrix made his mark on Funk through his influence on Eddie Hazel and Ernie Isley but was often seen as too white because of his association to the Experience and his popularity amongst mostly white audiences. Especially in the quickly radicalizing atmosphere after Martin Luther King's death. Some have seen the inclusion of Buddy Miles in his Band of Gypsys as a move to broaden his audience by showing color. This is however much debatable. Author's on Hendrix often point out that he refused to align himself along racial lines and if he did he was prone to stress his native American heritage. Funnily enough Buddy's studio work with Hendrix wasn't even all that funky. The most notable recordings were the loose rockers, "Room Full Of Mirrors" and "Ezy Rider". Mitch Mitchell was still on drums on the decidedly more funky tracks like "Dolly Dagger".

Though Buddy's work with Hendrix and his own work with the Buddy Miles express was moving away from traditional R&B to something that was closer to Rock or Fusion, there has always been that undeniable Doo Wop influence. Unlike many Fusion artists Miles never lost his sense of harmony, of coherence. Even though his work was marked by a remarkable creative freedom, with alternating success, Miles understood the importance of melody. Where other Fusion drummers would sometimes loose themselves in rhythmic masturbation, Miles always kept his eye on the tune. Buddy pushed and stretched the principles he was taught while performing with the Delfonics but he never really abandoned them. Miles was at the same time a relentless straight forward Funk drummer as he was a free spirit. This might explain his broad appreciation. After his work with Hendrix, Buddy became a much welcomed sparring partner for many musicians ranging from Clapton to Santana, from Umar Bin Hassan (from the Last Poets) to Nils Lofgren. Though Miles was never as prominently visible as Hendrix was he became almost as influential and was an integral part of the history of "black" music, or rather music period. Buddy became 60 years old. He will be missed.

"Room Full Of Mirrors" - Jimi Hendrix
"Them Changes" - Buddy Miles

The Bosscast March; Magic Returns To Hartford

Welcome to the second Bosscast. With the tour starting again today in Hartford we'll celebrate Magic in a themed pod cast dedicated to the roots of Magic. So get your ticket and your suitcase.....

I'd like to ask your attention for one track specifically, "Hobo's Lullaby". The track from the "Give Us Your Poor Album" deserves a further look. It was part of a charity project I feel strongly about. All proceeds from that CD will be going to an organization to help fight poverty in the US. The entire album is worth every dollar you'll spend on it and then some. Check them out at their site and support them how you can.

All live recordings used in this show can be found on the BTX mp3 Index. Thanks again to all the people who made that one possible.

01. Radio Nowhere, Bruce Springsteen from Magic
02. 867-5309 (Jenny), Tommy Tutone from 867-5309/Jenny
03. Rosalita, Bruce Springsteen from 2003-08-31 Giant House Party In Jersey

04. Man On The Moon, Bruce Springsteen & R.E.M. from 2004-10-02 Cleveland Ohio
05. At My Most Beautiful, R.E.M. In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003
06. Sloop John B, the Beach Boys from Sounds Of Summer
07. You're Own Worst Enemy, Bruce Springsteen from Magic

08. Hobo's Lullaby, Bruce Springsteen & Pete Seeger from Give US Your Poor
09. Long Walk Home, Bruce Springsteen & The Sessions Band from 2006-11-11 Wembley Session First Night
10. My Home Town, Bruce Springsteen from 2007-09-28 Today Show NBC
11. Promised Land, Bruce Springsteen from 2007-12-17 Paris

12. People Get Ready, The Impressions from The Definitive Impressions
13. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Ben E King from One Step Up/Two Steps Back

14. Girls In Their Summer Clothes, Bruce Springsteen from 2007-12-17 Paris

Bosscast feed.

The pod cast unfortunately will not be available through Itunes as I hoped. But with the help of this feed you should be able to get the future installments.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

No Country For Old Men; A Return To Form

After a series of disappointing movies the Coen brothers have finally returned to form with "No Country For Old Men". Recent years had "demoted" the Coen brothers back to the art house under the category interesting directors. Problem was of course that you can start your career that way, but once you established your name it is kind of awkward. "The Man Who Wasn't There" was still an amusing film, but "The Lady Killers" was simply embarrassing for men with the talents of the Coen brothers. After that I might have missed a film or two. But the buzz around their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's book I decided to pay the theater a visit to see if the flick was worth all the hype. I've never really seen what the fuss about Cormac's books is. His last novel "The Road" struck me as filled with one dimensional characters, addressing themes that hadn't been urgent since the Cold War. Granted "No Country For Old Men" was a bit better but McCarthy's books are inhibited by characters of who's motivations remain unclear. His novels always seem a bit too close to black and white notions of good and evil to me. I enjoy the sparsity of McCarthy's writing and his ability to set the seen in as little as possible words, but I always found his characters to be lacking a certain amount of depth. McCarthy never was the writer John Fante and Charles Bukowski were, who were able to combine bare bone writing with a strong sense of what moved the characters that inhibited their novels. McCarthy's works are of a different genre than those two of course, but I feel he could pick up a thing or two from those two authors.

But as the Coen brother's recent flick testifies, McCarthy's novels might prove to be excellent movie scripts. Movies work very different from novels. In movies the director has the non-verbal expression he can work with to give the viewer more of a sense of what moves the character. A movie director doesn't need to use words, he can let the images do the talking. Voice overs in films are often very unnecessary things that are best used very sparsely. The Coen brothers do just that. Although the movie opens with a voice over from sheriff Tommy Lee Jones reflecting on the times his father and grand father held office, simpler times when they didn't need to carry guns. Neither does Jones for the major part of the movie, that is until he ventures into the city. Tommy Lee Jones resorting to his gun seems a key moment in the film. The whole movie seems to radiate a world in which innocence and simplicity is lost. Something that seems to be a main theme in McCarthy's book. His view on the world strikes me as very bleak, a sense masterfully translated to the big screen by the Coens. McCarthy's books generally seem to portray the world coming to an end, portray that we've lost our moral, they're apocalyptic even if the scenery isn't. McCarthy seems to rehash this theme every novel, which basically isn't more than a cynical form of nostalgia. The Coen brother use their trademark dark humor to take the edge of that message. Throwing you of balance all the while. There is something very uncomfortable about finding yourself bursting out in laughter during scenes of extreme violence, you almost feel like an accomplice.

For a thriller "No Country" follows a slow and dragging pace in which the outbursts of extreme violence achieve maximum impact. Other than most high action thrillers that Hollywood churns out these days, "No Country" excels in restraint. You won't find fast action car chases or major shoot outs in this movie. Yet the film keeps you on the edge of your seat. "No County" is filled with unexpected twists in plot. Those changes are often so brutal that the film manages to evoke a level of suspense I haven't seen in movies for a long time. The plot seems a cliché at first. A Vietnam veteran (Josh Brolin) finds 2 million dollars in drugs money in the desert and tries to get away with it. Of course the hardened drugs criminals won't let him and chase him, leaving a trail of blood. Nothing new here. Yet where in McCarthy's novels the one dimensionality of his characters seem to work against him, they become the films major strength. Javier Bardem plays the sociopath chasing Brolin. He manages to radiate such an evil and threat that he becomes uneasy to watch, exactly the kind of feeling you want from a thriller. The scene in which Bardem forces a gas station manager to call heads or tails for his life should not have worked, as it seems something from a cheap B movie. But the casting, acting and cinematography work together so well that you find yourself wanting to look away. The looming evil is so thick and present through out the movie that the almost idyllic closing scene comes as the biggest shock of all.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Drive By Truckers: Not A Pretty Sight

The Drive By Truckers were an integral part of Southern music before even releasing their first album. Patterson Hood, one of the Trucker's founding members is the son of base player David Hood from Muscle Shoals fame. As such his father was present on many of Southern Soul's most shining moments recorded at the Fame studios. Patterson continued that family tradition by backing and producing Soul diva Bettye LaVette on her last album, "The Scene Of The Crime". Spooner Oldham, also from Muscle Shoals fame, was asked to play keyboards on that project and a few others sat in. At first glance the whole project seemed a little odd. The Drive By Truckers themselves were better known for their Lynyrd Skynyrd type southern Rock, never really an act quickly associated with Southern Soul. But from an historic perspective the project made perfect sense. Southern Soul like Southern Rock is deeply seeped in Country. Down South Soul and Country would often be bouncing of each other and session players would as easily be found on a Aretha Franklin album as they would be on a Linda Ronstadt recording. Singers would take a song from one genre and record it in the other. All great Southern Soul artists have been known to record Country songs and visa verse. Even though the South was a highly segregated society, ironically the music scene was one of the most integrated their ever was. So of course the Truckers were cut and tailored for the Bettye Sessions.

On their new album "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" Spooner Oldham is present again. Although Spooner Oldham is best known for his work on classic Soul records from Arteha Franklin and Percy Sledge or his writing with Dan Penn on songs as "I'm Your Puppet" and "Sweet Inspiration", he sounds like a fish in the water on this new Truckers album. No big surprise here as well though. After the Southern Soul scene collapsed when Martin Luther King was assassinated and Stax went bankrupt, Oldham was most commonly found backing the likes of J.J. Cale, Bob Dylan or Neil Young. Artists to which the Drive By Truckers are more than a little indebted. "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" is again the kind of album you'd wish Neil Young would still make with his Crazy Horse. Crank up the volume on your stereo and you'd swear that's vintage Gray Horse you hear blasting out of your speakers, especially on "That Man I Shot", a gripping portrait of a soldier in Iraq. Though the Truckers are lacking in originality that is not necessarily a bad thing. They're filling a gap left by the great Southern Rockers like Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival or rather stepping into a long tradition. Though R&R has always had this progressive image, much of it proved to be highly conservative. To me acts that try to built on the foundations of other always sounded better than bands that take great strain and pain to be absolutely original. As such the Truckers not only fall into the tradition of mentioned acts but are proving to be as lasting as Pearl Jam, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams. All acts who rely heavily on R&R's past and solid songwriting.

Surprisingly that is where this album truly excels. Despite the departure of Trucker tune smith Jason Isbell, the band once again manages to present a collection of vivid portraits. The main theme to the album seems to be the struggles of every day people. Each new lyric transports you to a new life. Its almost like your passing from town to town. The theme the Truckers picked on this album has already led reviewers to compare them to the likes of Bruce Springsteen. No mean feat and I'm prone to agree. The songwriting on "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" has those same cinematic qualities Springsteen's best work possesses. The main difference between Springsteen and the Truckers seems to be that the first cannot help but instill his work with some hope and grandeur. In contrast the songs on this album are bleak confronting tales of people trying to on by a thread or who have already given up. The Truckers seem to have little illusions on what life has to offer for some folks. The song here are filled with alcohol and drugs abuse, gambling addiction, prison and poverty. To the people in these songs the American Dream proved to be an empty promise. "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" is borderline nihilistic at times. Though that will soon make you a critics darling, I doubt that it will bring the Drive By Truckers major commercial success any time soon. For that the Truckers miss the optimism that seemed trademark to Southern Soul. And although their song writing is highly emphatic the Truckers also seem to lack the fragility and tenderness that gave Neil Young and Willie Nelson their careers. The sparks of hope are there. In "Perfect Timing" the protagonist cheerfully exclaims "I used to hate the fool in me, but now I tolerate him all day long". But the albums darkness is mostly balanced out by the occasional wryly comical observations like "Bob" who's got more dogs than friends. Those moments are sparse and few. Good as every individual song may be I must wonder if the album shouldn't have been condensed into 45 minutes to be more effective. As it is now one needs to be able stomach 75 minutes of American drama. The Truckers hold a mirror to America's face and it isn't a very pretty sight.

"That Man I Shot"


The Springsteen comparison doesn't seem all that odd after all. Someone was kind enough to direct me to Patterson covering the Boss on yet another fine blog.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here My Dear; Divorce Devine

Marvin Gaye's last great album turn 30 this year an Universal celebrates with a two disc expanded edition. The story of "Here My Dear" is probably one of the most fascinating ones in the history of Soul. As is well know Marvin married into the Motown family when he tied the knot with Berry Gordy's sister Anna. When that marriage turned sour and the couple filed for divorce they settled out of court. Instead of Marvin paying Anna the sum of a million dollars he'd pay her the advance for his next album and the royalties that the album would reap. Gaye had little choice, he was broke. He snorted a fortune in coke and the IRS was after him. What Gaye intended to be a trite Pop album became his last masterpiece.

Anna was Gaye's muse though out his career. It was with Anna in mind that Gaye wrote Pop Soul gems as "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow" or "Pride And Joy". When Gaye sang them he simply closed his eyes and thought of Anna to get the feeling across. It was Anna that made his songs come to life, that gave them a heart and soul. Put like that their romance sounds idyllic, a match made in heaven. But nothing in Gaye's life was ever easy. His childhood was troubled to say the least. His father was a cross dressing abusive preacher who scarred Marvin for life. His mother he placed on a pedestal, she was his Madonna. In the excellent David Ritz book "Divided Soul" Marvin basically confessed that he married his mother when he gave Gordy, 17 years his senior, his vows. Marvin was in his twenties at the time, coming to terms with both success and the failures of his youth, looking for a consoling mother figure. Though Marvin masked his uncertainties with his suave Casanova crooner image he suffered from terribly insecurities. Anna was his comfort, his ego boost. Gaye needed her to dominate her as much as he resented that. The relationship was uneven from the get go, destined to fail.

The catalyst for the separation would be the 16 year old Janis Hunter ironically as old as the age difference between the two. Gaye first laid eyes on her while recording "Let's Get It On". He would later claim that it was this sweet sixteen that enabled him to sing the silky balled "If I Should Die Tonight" like he meant it. Janis would become his obsession. Though she may have been the catalyst the seeds for the divorce from Gordy were sown far before that, maybe on the onset of their relationship even. The closing piece on Marvin's second masterpiece was the biting "Just To Keep You Satisfied". Interestingly enough co-written with Anna. It was as if the couple was telling each other their relationship was bound to crash years before it actually did. The songs was filled with vicious indictments, a testimony of a relationship that was suffocating instead of liberating. Theirs was an ambivalent relationship at best. The song was one of Marvin's greatest artistically triumphs. After that his career would gradually slide into a slump. Although often a heralded album "I Want You" was a mere shade of the brilliance that was "Let's Get It On". Though not without its own merits, the near pornographic and coke infested suite never even nearly scratches the divinity of its predecessor.

It was never Gaye's intention to break that slump with "Here My Dear", but Anne proved his muse for better or for worse. As Gaye confessed to Ritz the record became his deep passion, it became an obsession, one of his many. The couple hadn't spared each other in court, their divorce had turned into the mud fight of the ugliest kind. At one point Anna even denied Marvin access to his children. That's how sour their union had turned. Neither could seem to stop that train and resolve things in a civil matter. "I knew I'd explode if I didn't get all that junk out of me" Gaye later confessed to Ritz. Allegedly Gaye went into the studio unprepared and had the engineer simply open up the microphones, the words and melodies simply came oozing out of him, exorcizing all the anger and frustration surrounding the divorce. The result would be an ego document covering two LPs. "Here My Dear" is Marvin Gaye at his most loose and honest. He literally opens his Soul by letting the songs chronicle the divorce. The unstructured nature of the recording sessions allowed "Here My Dear" to be the ultimate Soul confession going beyond the natural emotional exhibitionism that's trademark to the genre.

Given the loose nature of the sessions it is remarkable that the album is as cohesive as it finally became. Over four sides the album takes the listener on a journey through the relationship of Marvin and Gordy and their eventual demise. Marvin makes it clear on the opening track the album is his confession to Anna, giving the record a voyeuristic edge. Smooth as the arrangements may be at times the album gives that uncomfortable feeling you get when you're watching a couple fight at a dinner party. Through out "Here My Dear" Marvin delivers vicious stabs to Anna, accusing her of taking his money and children, while screaming out the next moment to his Anna in desperation, like the scared little boy she married. The album's centerpiece "When Did You Stop Loving, When Did I Stop Loving You" comes back three times, its that tormenting question that Gaye uses to express his anger, frustration, desperation. It's the track by which he tries to remember the good times they must have had and tries to pin point the moment where things started to turn sour. As a listener you're dragged from pure venom to almost absolute devotion and every emotion in between. Anybody who's ever gone through a painful separation will find some common ground on "Here My Dear". Maybe it is the confrontational nature which caused the critics and audience to shun the album, maybe its theme was simply too uncomfortable for a quick embrace, because on its release reviews and sales were disappointing to put it mildly. It nowhere near got Anna the money she had hoped for. Yet over the years this slow burner has reaped recognition slowly but steadily. So much it even wound up on the Rollingstone top 500 albums of all time. The tragedy of Gaye and Gordy would ultimately prove to be one of his greatest artistic triumphs, not to be missed in any record collection.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fidel Castro; Hasta La Victoria Siempre?

I'm not about to make this blog political in any sense, but when it comes to the news of Fidel Castro resigning I just have to respond. The revolution of Cuba and the subsequent isolation of the island has been much better documented by the papers and the historians over the years. There's nothing that a simple blogger like me could possibly add. Yet Castro is one of those political and historical figures that fascinates me immensely. There's no doubt that Cuba is a dictatorship, that Castro takes human rights and freedom of press lightly. One visit to Amnesty's Internet site tells you enough and one must wonder if the argument that Batista's reign (the dictator Castro toppled) was worse still stands ground. But it is undeniable that Castro has an enormous amount of charisma. So much in fact that the left intellectuals of the West were so much infatuated with him that they failed to see his flaws. And maybe sometimes still do. Not to long ago Michael Moore took Cuba as an example for America's failings. Even though Cuba's health care system is impressive, especially for Caribbean standards, trying to make Cuba as a standard was an odd choice to say the least. Maybe Moore intended it as a means to instill shame in American leaders, I don't know. Maybe Moore just fell for Fidel the Rock star as well. Because if Fidel Castro is one thing its just that.

R&R in a sense is the little man rebelling, the average Joe getting himself heard. Amidst American dominance their was that little island that defied them, led by a staunch cigar smoking militant with an almost character defining beard. Castro is an iconic image paralleled by the likes of those other great images of the sixties such Martin Luther King, Kennedy and Bob Dylan. That is not to say that Castro is cut from quite the same kind of wood, but he is one of those people who's image transcend his person. Castro's image is more than that dictator he is on Cuba. He's that image of David and Goliath in his defiance of the US. Together with Che, Castro's image is the patron saint of any revolutionary. The image of Castro is the promise that a people can stand up to its dictators and overcome. The ideal image of Castro is bigger than life, better than the revolution ever was. In truth Castro is a textbook case of broken promises, yet he radiates the opposite.

I traveled Cuba some five years back and tried to make some effort to get a sense of the people there. Quite easy since I was traveling alone, something that's impossible in Cuba. At every opportunity the locals tried to catch my attention despite the fact that mingling with the tourists is forbidden for the locals. Every body seemed to have something to sell. For a communist country the level of entrepreneurship I encountered was striking. Everything seemed for sale, from coffee to cigars, from guided tours to women. You name it and it is offered on the streets of Cuba. Though every Cuban has a home, there are no shanty towns, food on the table and clothes on their back, it struck me that a society where the main income for women seemed to be prostitution is sick to the core. Everywhere you turned you seemed to see bloated aging Americans with stunningly beautiful young women on their arms, oblivious to the struggles of the country. Yet I must admit that it was hard not to be tempted when at every bar two or three beautiful women were trying to get your attention. Some were just hustling for drinks, others were offering more. I went for the first option since it was a pleasant way to get to know more of that thrilling and exciting country.

What struck me in my conversations with local Cubans was how well loved Castro was with the elderly. They remembered Batista's iron reign and the poverty that came with it. The young people of Cuba were a lot more impatient with the bread, as they would call him in contempt. The younger generation was eager to get their hands on some of those luxuries that trickled in from the Cubans in exile or were available in the dollar stores. Cuba has a very dual economy where tourists pay with dollars and locals in pesos. It seems a national sport for Cubans to hustle as many dollars as they can from tourists in order to get some hip new Adidas shoes from the dollar stores. This doesn't necessarily mean that the young generation is dying to become part of the capitalist world. Their attitude towards the US struck me as very ambivalent. Though they glamored for Mickey D's and designer clothes, they seemed very much aware of the downside. Even the staunched opposer of Castro ventilated their concern about what would happen if he would ever die. A capitalist society didn't seem to be on anyone's wish list. Flawed as the revolution may be in the eyes of the younger generations even they had some admiration for the beard. Castro starting the revolution from that tiny boat the Granma proved to be the kind of legendary imagery that speaks to anyone's imagination.

The landscape of Castro's revolution is scattered with broken down Buicks and Cadillacs, left over from the fifties, still functioning as taxis. The buildings in the cities are collapsing, the bars in desperate need for some fresh paints. Hotel air conditioning is an unheard of luxury. Coffee and sugar out of reach of many of the Cubans. Gas stations all seem to be without gas and farmer markets only offer what's fresh of the land that day. Maybe the revolution and Castro's accomplishments are captured best in a joke I was told by an old man on a bench while we were sipping rum. After a day of fishing a husband returns to his wife, beaming with pride. He just caught a fish big enough to feed the entire family. Much to his surprise his wife looks to him with a sadness in her eyes. "What's wrong my love" he asks, "aren't you glad I caught you this big fish". The woman shakes her head and confesses she'd love to prepare him the fish but she doesn't know how. The hard economic times have left the stove without gas and her without matches to make a wood fire, there's no oil to bake the fish nor means to boil the water to cook it. Frustrated the man sets the fish back into the sea. Before swimming off the fish turns and shouts "Viva La Revolution". Of course that joke cost me a dollar.

Castro's resignation in the NY times and articles from the archives.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The King Of Pop; Surviving On Nostalgia

Let's forget for a moment his nose is falling off, pretend there were never any pedophilia cases, no Never Land, no dangling babies of a balcony. Let's forget all that for one moment. Let's forget I do not even have to mention his name and people will know who I'm talking about just from those examples. Let's forget all that and go back 25 years. Mention "Thriller", "Billy Jean" or "Beat It" to anyone and they're just as likely to know you're talking about the King of Pop. 25 years ago Michael Jackson earned that title with the ground breaking album "Thriller". Strange and shocking as his reported personal live may be, I feel that an artist is best judged by the merit of his music. With the re-release of that land mark album that really is the question at hand. Flip open any paper or magazine recently and you'd think we're back in the time of Jackson mania. A time where "Thriller" sold a hundred million plus records. Figures that still make other super stars from the eighties like Prince, Madonna and George Michael look like dwarfs. Jackson outsold them all with the album that spawned 7 top ten singles. Still "Thriller" proved a mill stone around Jackson's neck. Where the others mentioned went on to have lasting and satisfying careers, the King of Pop could only (and did) go down hill. No Jackson album after that quite satisfied as much while his private life started to overshadow his art increasingly. Google Michael Jackson these days and you'll find nothing but picture intent on ridicule and a seemingly undying fascination with the King falling from his throne.

Question at here is though, was "Thriller" all that good, or was it a product of its hype or rather hysteria. When the album hit the market I was in primary school. Like all my class mates we were in thrall of Jackson. There was a time when almost every kid's room was plastered with posters with his diamond gloved image. "Thriller" is the textbook case of mass media's influence on public taste. Michael wasn't to be escaped. You know what they say, "If you can't beat them, join them". That mechanism seems a large part of his success looking back on the phenomenon now. But tempting as it is to break the album down, to discard it as a piece of Pop fluff doesn't quite cover it. Maybe its nostalgia but listening to "Thriller" now, I'm surprised how much of its freshness it has sustained. The sound of the album is undeniably eighties, but that really isn't much of a sin if you ask me. Even the Beatles sound locked in the sixties listening to them now. That has never stopped people from thinking their shit is chocolate. Even today there are simply moments where you can't deny the album's Pop brilliance. Drop the needle and the album opens with the contagiously funky "Wanna Be Starting Something". Though stripped from any grease and nastiness, you can't have but move to its infectious beat. "Billy Jean" and "Beat It" still achieve similar reactions as well. Tracks like that are simply brilliantly produced Pop, no denying as much as you might want to. Their influence on the current day music scene cannot be underestimated. For good or for bad, it was Jackson that launched the teen star think. Artists like Justin Timberlake owe their careers to the man.

But I am afraid that the brilliance of "Thriller" stops there. Listening to the title track today and I can't help but feel that it's hockey. Worse even is the teeth shattering sugar cane sweetness of "The Girl Is Mine" with Paul McCartney. Those tracks simply haven't outlived the hysteria. With the dust settled down some 25 years on there simply isn't a whole lot there. Though Jackson didn't over emphasize his trade mark "Shamoan!" and "Hi Hi!!" yet and though he hadn't yet locked his voice entirely into kindergarten mode, the emotional subtext is missing to many of the songs and they don't really sound as inventive now as they did then. Simply kind of bland really. Which basically is the problem with the entire album. Go beyond the sugar cane coating, the record falls apart. Jackson writes a good Pop song, sure, but he hardly ever wrote a good song. His material simply lacked the depth of albums that might have sold less in their time but seem to last longer now. If it hadn't been for the 25 years marker, there isn't much in the songs to merit its re-release. Ironically one of the album's "lesser" hits hold up best. "P.Y.T" is still the same infectious and playful Pop song as it ever was. But I'm afraid that at the end of the day "Thriller" survives mostly on our sense of nostalgia.

The original NY Times review

Monday, February 11, 2008

Searching For The Snake

Year ago I owned a cassette which featured a song called "The Snake". It was one of those compilations somebody gave me with all kinds of obscure nuggets. When I moved about 5 years ago I chucked all my cassettes out in an ill conceived cleaning mood. My tape deck had broken down and cassettes were slipping into obscurity. Mp3 downloading and CD burning were taking over. Call me sentimental, but looking back on it now I miss tapes. But even more so I miss taping. There was a time when nothing was better than crawl back into your stereo corner with a 90 minute cassette, a bottle of wine and stacks of singles to create the ultimate compilation tape. Making a tape was hard work. It wasn't the five minute process that creating a CD is. No mouse clicks and dragging to make your work easy. Avoiding sound gaps when working with vinyl is not easy, let me tell you. The sequencing on a tape needed to tell a story as much as the individual songs on the tape. That story varied with whom you intended the tape for. Tapes could be your ultimate sunny day collection, it could be a musical biography to your favorite artist to convince a buddy he had to hear this!!! It could be the necessary lubricant in wooing a special lady as well of course. Tapes were labors of love with sometimes as much work going into the label as the taping as well. Armed with a flash light to see how much space there was left on the tape, cassettes were built brick by brick. At one point I got to be so trained that I could tell by the space left on the tape if it would fit a 2.30 or a 2.40 minute song at the end. The most frustrating moment of course was when the play back revealed that the carefully laid bricks made the house collapse. But just as many times though it would be something you would wear down in your Walkman till it got stuck in the wheels. So what ever prompted me to chuck the tape with "The Snake" is still beyond me.

Today I was in my favorite record store in Amsterdam. Backbeat, one of those thrilling dark and dusty places. Backbeat is run by Dick. The kind of guy who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Soul and played bass with Arthur Conley no less. Here I finally picked up a copy of "The Snake" again. This time I struck the Jack Pot. Two years back I found a CD by Oscar Brown Jr. which also featured "The Snake". One of those finds that make your heart skip a beat. Once home I had to fight a rather silly sense of disappointments when I found out that this wasn't "The Snake" that I had on that tape I had so foolishly thrown out. But here on this fine new Kent release there it was. Not Oscar Brown but Al Wilson was "The Snake" I was looking for. That the rest of the album is simply brilliant as well is just a bonus to boot. Apparently "The Snake" that slithered away from my life came from Al Wilson's album "Searching For The Dolphins". At first listen you'd think its just yet another fine Southern Soul album featuring one of the finest versions of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" I've ever heard. But step by step, groove by groove, note for note, this albums opens up its secrets to you. Al Wilson's brilliant album (yes truly brilliant) is where Percy Sledge and Frank Sinatra meet. Wilson has a meticulous delivery that nears Frank's perfect sense of timing, his voice has a rare flexibility to adapt itself to the material yet it maintains a certain grit. At times "Searching For The Dolphins" is as reminiscent of the Four Tops as it is of the Byrds. The Sergeant Pepper Beatles, the great country singers and crooners of the fifties all seem to clash here with that Southern Soul sound. Instead of the album falling apart into an incoherent mess it all blends together to something that instantly sounds like it should have been one of the great classic albums. In a better world "Searching For The Dolphins" would have been the kind of album that would reappear in every subsequent Rolling Stone Top 500, somewhere in the highest regions. Yes folks it is that good. But that is all just a bonus to finding "The Snake".

"The Snake"
"Poor Side Of Town"