Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Happy Songs Sell Records

Today we're gonna go way, way back to 2007.

I'd been meaning to pick your ears about a couple of reissues from last year that I figgered deserved a little more attention than some other more highly profiled second acts. Thought I'd take the time now, before heading back to the hills for that old timey stuff we all love and cherish.

So, outside of the lavishly, and deservedly, discussed Miles Davis "The Complete On The Corner Sessions" Box Set, these are my fave rave reissues from 2007.

Betty Davis:
"Betty Davis" and "They Say I'm Different"

Jim Ford:
"The Sounds of Our Time"

Jim Ford died in November of last year. It's a damn shame, as Bear Family had just released the collection "The Sounds Of Our Time". The collection contains his lone, classic (perfect?) album "Harlan County" and a slew of previously uncollected singles and unreleased tunes. I wrote about "Harlan County" way back in the day here.

Ford was a master songwriter, and Country Soul vocalist. He counted Sly Stone among his closest friends, and influenced everyone from Nick Lowe and Dan Penn, to The Drive By Truckers.

Here's what the Bear Family website has to say about the record:
"'Harlan County' inhabits the same territory as 'From Elvis In Memphis' or Dan Penn's 'Nobody's Fool,' and his record was every bit their equal. It occupies the land where R&B meets country, Memphis and Nashville meet Louisiana, and the Mississippi Delta meets Appalachia. Jim Ford blended the ingredients in a way that had never, and would never, be done again."

Yep. All true. Country Soul at it's very finest. It's a lost classic that deserves much wider recognition.

The first two songs below are from "Harlan County" proper. The last two are from the "unreleased/uncollected singles" portion of the record. The song "Happy Songs Sell Records..." is hardly representative of Ford's sound or genius, but it makes us smile. If you download only four songs from The Mountain this year, make it these.

Jim Ford: Harlan County (mp3)

Jim Ford: Working My Way To LA (mp3)

Jim Ford: She Turns My Radio On (mp3)

Jim Ford: Happy Songs Sell Records, Sad Songs Sell Beer (mp3)

Betty Davis is nasty. Completely filthy. The former Mrs. Miles Davis (she kept his last name, though only married for a little over a year) made some of the sleaziest, greasiest soulfunk records of the early 70's, full of blatant, almost pornographic sexuality and a commanding feminism that surely shocked some listeners at the time of their release. Lucky for us, Light In The Attic Records has rescued those first two records ("Betty Davis" and "They Say I'm Different") from the dustbin of obscurity.

Featuring songs with titles like "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up", "He Was A Big Freak", and "Don't Call Her No Tramp", Davis purrs, hollers, and wails her way through rubber-banded wah-wah grooves, and slimy bass thump, making Grace Jones look and sound like a little kitten. They're records for a night on the town. The kind of night where you finally draw up the courage to walk into that club without a name, behind heavy doors. You're not sure what's behind those doors, but the people going in sure are interesting to look at, and a little bit scary. Once your inside, it's the best night of your life, but you'll never be able to talk about it in decent company.

Betty Davis: Don't Call Her No Tramp (mp3)

Betty Davis: Game Is My Middle Name (mp3)

Please support your local, independent jukejoints and dance clubs.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mining For Gold

First, please accept our apologies for the random changes in the appearance of this site over the next few weeks. I'm trying to make it more interesting to look at, but since I am woefully ignorant of web design, things could get a little funky looking for awhile, while I tutorial myself through various issues. Any missing links will be shortly fixed, also.


I promised last week I wanted to pay tribute to what I consider one of the few "perfect" albums ever made. Everyone, of course, has an opinion on what makes a "perfect" album, and everyone, I'm sure, has at least one or two records that they consider essential, if not perfect. I wouldn't pretend to have the inside track on what constitutes a perfect album for all ears, but, you know, I know what I like. (Feel free to insert any other cliches that spring to mind). For me, I have a small handful of records, maybe 10, I'd consider perfect (Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours" to name but two), and about a thousand or so "essential" records that fall just short of perfect (REM's "Automatic For The People", for example, could have been perfect if not for the abysmal and abysmally placed "Ignoreland"). There's no point in boring all y'all with the specific criteria as to what I think constitutes a perfect album (filler ratio, sequencing, etc.), since we live in an individually subjective world, but I'll tell you why the following album is.

The Trinity Sessions
by The Cowboy Junkies.

20 years ago, The Cowboy Junkies released "The Trinity Sessions", an album recorded into a single microphone at the Gothic Church Of The Holy Trinity, in Toronto. I was well into my punk and college rock years, scoffing at anything that sounded remotely country (with the exception of Hank Williams, 'cause he was, you know, kind of punk rock in his own way). But the reviews of the album were intriguing, there was a cover version of the holy "Sweet Jane", and their name had a certain cachet that interested my wannabe hipster high-school self. So, what the hell, right? I'd give it a try. In the space of a year I wore out three cassettes of the album before investing in a copy on that newfangled technology, the CD.

Most of the damage caused to those three cassettes was in the shitty tape deck of my '72 Chevy Nova, rambling aimlessly through the country roads of middle Ohio in the dead of night.

It's that kind of album. Spare and intimate, hushed and built for radio static, the angelic and sleepy voice of Margo Timmins. And I'm obsessed with voices, not the "perfect" voice, but the voice that sounds the most human, or contains the most humanity. Margo Timmins is both, and she melted my teenage heart, sad, sultry, and sublime. The band, and ancillaries, hovering around the mic, you can picture it, with the lonesome accordion, the muted, solitary harmonica, and the 2 A.M. canyon echo of pedal steel, breathing a heartbeat of enclosed space ("Mining For Gold") and the freedom of open roads ("200 More Miles"). Music to fall in love to and with ("Dreaming My Dreams With You"), and music to be alone to. And with.

There is not a wasted note, breath, or vocal intonation on The Trinity Sessions. Every song belongs, and flows naturally into the next, even "Sweet Jane", reimagined as a lament ("heavenly wine and roses seem to whisper to me when you smile"). The acoustics of recording in a cathedral add to the late nite vibe, the (into the) mystic hovering like a sweet perfume over the proceedings, blessed and cursed by the things not seen, not known, and not explained.

What's striking is how well the album holds up 20 years later. It's timeless. It could have been produced by Owen Bradley in the 1950's, could have come down from the Appalachian Mountains in the 1920's, could have passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years from Europe to the Americas and back. It's still my go-to album in the still of night ("Blue Moon Revisited" indeed), whiskey in hand, the lights off, and only the sound of the crickets, the scattered cars on the street, and the Cowboy Junkies to keep me company. Perfection.

What's your perfect album?

I couldn't choose a favorite song from The Trinity Sessions. Below are three tunes that struck me most immediately at the moment I had to upload them onto my server. Five more minutes and I would have offered up three separate tunes. Do yourself a favor. If you don't already own the album, pick it up. If you already do, dust it off and give it another spin. You deserve it.

Cowboy Junkies: 200 More Miles (mp3)

Cowboy Junkies: Misguided Angel (mp3)

Cowboy Junkies: Dreaming My Dreams With You (mp3)

Thanks for stopping by. See y'all next time.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

We interrupt our regularly scheduled posting for a quick reminder. Half of all y'all out there in the U.S. of A get to vote today, on Super Duper Monster Tsunami Tuesday. So get up off yer asses already!

See you at the polls.

Vic Chesnutt: Super Tuesday (mp3)

The Staple Singers: Long Walk To D.C. (mp3)

Being in Chicago, I plan on voting at least 4 or 5 times.