Saturday, May 14, 2016

PAUL SIMON GOES SOLO



Following a very successful run of LPs with his partner, Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon entered the 1970s as a solo act. His first effort in this capacity was par excellence.

"No, I would not give you false hope, on this strange and mournful day."

Stylistically, the loping, reggae inflected "Mother and Child Reunion" opens this phenomenal set with a knuckleball. Coming on like an old spiritual, without alluding to any religious theme, there is something deeply familiar in the groove. The atmosphere belongs to Kingston while the author voices the lyric in a very staid manner.

Know where the words came from on that? You never would have guessed. I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called "Mother and Child Reunion." It's chicken and eggs. And I said, 'Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.' I fell into Los Incas, I loved it. It's got nothing to do with our music, but I liked it anyway. The Jamaican thing, there's nobody getting into a Jamaican thing. Jamaicans have a lot of good music, an awful lot.

Cissy Houston leads the backup singers with soulful precision.

Los Incas provides the solo breaks in the acoustic-dominated tale of "Duncan", similar to the Andean touches that they had added to "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)." World Music was not in the purview of the majority of pop artists of the period, though it works well here. Brian Jones would have been proud. There are lines that are quintessentially Simon, intoned in a way that almost seems like he's passing on a secret.

Displaying an incredible economy with words, that concision is used to great effect in "Everything Put Together Falls Apart". Clocking in just shy of two minutes, the delicacy of the playing coupled with a lilting melody belies the darker message of the downside to taking pills. This is a tune to play for songwriters that have only a nodding acquaintance with subtlety. Arrangements are uncluttered, with a deliberate attempt to shun the big production job that colored Bridge Over Troubled Water. Very little augmentation is present and the focus is, rightfully, placed on the songs themselves.

"Run That Body Down" is my personal favorite, standing out from the pack. This song builds beautifully, supported by Hal Blaine's brushed groove and airy vibes, virtually lifting off when Jerry Hahn takes his tasteful, wah-wahed solo. Hinting at domestic troubles, he name checks himself and (then) wife Peggy, though any pointed references are gracefully sidestepped, leaving the listener to speculate as to what meaning is intended.

Butchered by countless guitar players during late night sing-a-longs, "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" is one that everyone knows, sounding like it is being delivered with a wink.

What was it that mama saw?

Something sexual is what I imagine, but when I say 'something', I never bothered to figure out what it was. Didn't make any difference to me. First of all, I think it's funny to sing--"Me and Julio." It's very funny to me. And when I started to sing 'Me and Julio,' I started to laugh. I like the line about the radical priest. I think that's funny to have in a song.

Simon was ahead of the curve by employing exotic instrumental flavoring (inspired work by percussionist Airto Moreira) that manages to enhance the scattershot wordplay of this memorable song.

It's carbon and monoxide, the ole Detroit perfume, that hangs on the highways in the morning and it lays you down by noon...

Delicate chord progression, harmonium pad and jaunty bass harmonica (reminicient of "The Boxer") move "Papa Hobo" along. Nice vocal texture. Close-up to the mic, with no reverb. Stomping bass drum pushing violent acoustic slide work announces the arrival of "Paranoia Blues". "Whose side are you on?" asks the author as he moves from people talking behind his back to getting the shakedown by the customs man "in that little room" to someone stealing his chow fong.

Paranoia is just a heightened state of awareness.

Isn't it?

Closing this flawless record is another sketch of a troubled relationship.

"Congratulations, seems like you done it again. I ain't had such misery, since I don't know when."

Ouch!

Ending with the question, "Can't a man and a woman live together in peace?" some beautiful electric piano by Larry Knechtel provides the soft landing. Meticulous in every way, I don't think that he has ever made a better record. Bigger commercial splashes would follow, though artistically, it was all done best here.

I viewed Simon and Garfunkel as basically a three-way partnership. Each person had a relatively equal say. So in other words, if Roy (engineer Roy Halee) and Artie said, Let's do a long ending on "The Boxer'", I said, two out of three, and did it their way. I didn't say, Hey that's my song, It wasn't until my own album that I ever started to think to myself, What do I really like?" On my own album, I learned every aspect of it has to be your own judgment. You have to say, wait a minute, is that the right tempo? Is that the right take? It's your decision. Nobody else can do it.

Left to his own devices, he would not disappoint.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

DONOVAN AT 70



With so many great musicians leaving the planet of late, it is great to see one ready to make another trip around the sun. Donovan Leitch celebrates his 70th today. He is caught in the act here in his late twenties.

Friday, April 29, 2016

AND NOW, A WORD FROM THE PRESIDENTS...

Twenty years (and change) pass in the time that it takes a ninja to overtake you in a shady grove.

Monday, April 25, 2016

DIG, IF YOU WILL, THE PICTURE OF ME, MARVIN GAYE AND THE KIDS...

When Prince started to grab the mass libido in the eighties, I didn't pay proper attention to what he was doing. Caught up a couple of years later, only to find the fingerprints of multi-faceted genius all over the music. "Alphabet Street" and "Hot Thing" are my two favourite individual tunes, though there is so much to explore. (The Black Album and Sign of the Times are great audio spaces to get lost in for awhile.)



If you pay attention to the message being sent, you gain greater insight into the person and their perspective.



This type of artistry is not commonplace and that voice will truly be missed.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

RECORD STORE DAY!!!



Can't think of a better way to celebrate record store day than paying a visit to Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco. Flipping through the bins, hunting for albums has been one of the great pleasures/obsessions in my life since childhood. It was truly fantastic to see multi-generational representation on display, especially with respect to those snapping up vinyl.

For a paltry $2.99, I replaced my long lost copy of Pete Townshend's 1982 solo LP, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, a review of which you will find here



Also scored this 1959 classic.



Sincere thanks to those who actually take time to drop by and read these posts. Thousands of hours of listening time have inspired every word.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

HOUSES OF THE HOLY



Representing a massive creative step forward, Zep's fifth saw the "blues" subtly muted in favor of experimentation. There are one or two missteps into genre-hopping, though the other tracks make you forget about that.

Carrying the torch passed from power-trios-with-a-singer (their template being The Jeff Beck Group), Zeppelin upped the ante considerably. Having multi-instrumentalists who play everything equally well is especially fortunate.

Despite this, astringent sarcasm generally crept into any critical evaluation of this band while they were active. "A limp blimp" was one of many dismissals of "Houses of the Holy", however difficult that is to imagine.

Hindsight isn't just for breakfast anymore.

Key to the strength of these tunes are the impeccable arranging talents of Page and Jones, Bonham's rock solid foundations and the instrumental prowess of all three. Plant's singing shows greater maturity and style.

"The Song Remains the Same" stands as one of Jimmy Page's finest creations. Multi-part 12 and 6 string overlays do battle with the bass over an almost prog like series of time changes. Exquisite textures color "The Rain Song" which strongly echoes Tony Iommi's employment of mellotron string parts in "Laguna Sunrise". Hard rock detours into "Moody Blues" territory here, though it has an extremely warm vocal track with Page using a Gsus4 (D-G-C-G-C-D) tuning.

Dynamic performances lift "The Ocean" and "Over the Hills and Far Away", which gave guitarists iconic riffs to chew on in garages for years (that samplers could rip in 30 seconds.) "Dancing Days" remains my personal favorite with four on the floor Bonham kicking the ass of an odd chord sequence. Page's mid-eastern flavored refrain is the icing on the cake. While "The Crunge" is a fun James Brown tribute, neither it nor the lead-footed butchery that passes for reggae in "D'yer Maker" should have been included. These musical practical jokes would have been much funnier on "Coda".

Led Zeppelin pursued their craft while flying well below the radar, shunning the glare of the media spotlight. Letting the music take precedence over personality, they didn't even appear on the album jacket. Below is a photo of Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland where the cover was originally shot.



What the band had left on the cutting room floor from these sessions represents a huge missed opportunity. Had "Houses of the Holy" (song) and "The Rover" been substituted for the weaker cuts, it would have been a perfect disc.

It's still very fine.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

BORN TO BOOGIE

I drunk myself blind to the sound of old T-Rex
To the sound of old T-Rex, oh and Who's Next