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"

No comments: