Darrell Banks-Is Here!

August 19, 2008

Darrell Banks

Is here! (Atco 1967)


This is an album of pleading. Darrell Banks may venture into upbeat territory and belt a few over a bed of Stax horns and rhythm guitar, but his specialty is emoting to his heart’s content. He belongs in the esteemed company of contemporaries like James Carr, Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke and Otis Redding, but his life was cut short when he was shot by an off-duty Detroit police officer who was cuckolding Banks. He only released two albums and seven singles, but his limited output is so heartsick and yearning for love that it makes his untimely death even more tragic.

Darrell Banks Is Here! may be his debut album, but his weathered and weary voice sounds as if he has recorded dozens more and been wronged more times than he can bear. The highlight and most painful track is “I’m Gonna Hang My Head and Cry” which captures the feeling one has when they fuck up a relationship and finally realize that you only get to screw up once and it will never be the same again. Innocence has been lost and he knows he can never regain it.

“Here Come the Tears” is another plea for a return to the status quo. I view it as a sequel to the aforementioned song as Banks becomes obsessed with the memories of this woman he lost long ago. His love is still strong, but there is no way to bridge the gap to when this love was mutual. He reads old letters and bawls like a baby and prays for a way to fix the cracks and make it right. However, there is a resignation in his voice that signals a realization that he is forever doomed to only have mere letters to remind him of better days. He pleads in vain, but cannot help doing so because he cannot reconcile the fact that he ruined a good thing.

There was an abundance of classic r&b albums released during this time, but none were as desperate and full of remorse as Darrell Banks Is Here.

David Tudor-Rainforest

August 19, 2008

David Tudor

Rainforest (1968 Mode)


This is my favorite work of Tudor’s as it emulates the sounds of a natural habitat, but the end result is alien to any environment on this planet. Originally commissioned for the influential Merce Cunningham Dance Troupe, Tudor avoids the usage of field recordings and ambient frills in favor of utilizing the vibrations of hanging objects through a contact mic and loudspeaker. This setup creates a variety of electro-acoustic phenomena that results in a hopelessly complex pastiche of chattering, beeps, chirping and rich textures that create a bizarro rainforest. It is easy to get lost in the weaving patterns of sounds during these 74 minutes of ambient sound. There is something alternately soothing and jagged about these two compositions that keeps me returning to them. Depending on my mood, it either soothes me into a slumber or agitates me to no end. I would love to see a video of Cunningham’s dance troupe navigating their way through such abstract territory. If anyone can point me in the right direction, it would be greatly appreciated.

Davis Redford Triad

Mystical Path of the Number 86 (Holy Mountain 1997)


Not a triad, but a solo project from Faust member Steven Wray Lobdell, the Davis Redford Triad is a heavy listen. It is not heavy in a sludgy metallic manner, but in a way that scrubs your synapses with steel wool. Supposedly released after a stay in a mental institution, Mystic Path of the Number 86 contains some truly majestic guitar riffs buried beneath primitive electronic swells and warm drones that build in intensity until it is just a wash of white noise. It is a harsh album, but there is a lot of beauty hidden beneath these dark, claustrophobic constructs. At times, it kind of reminds me of Skullflower’s more “mellow” moments mated with loud hippie jams because it has this loner psych vibe going on, but Lobdell isn’t afraid to bash gorgeous moments into the ether.

I like his later albums for Holy Mountain, Blue Cloud, Code Orange and Ewige Blumenkraft, but none of them contain anything approaching the grandeur of “Hymn of the Virgin Sun Queen” which may be one of the best instrumentals I’ve ever heard. It is like Keiji Haino attempting to channel Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and Cul De Sac’s ECIM albums. It is a ridiculous analogy, but it makes sense to me. This music comes from a place most guitarists cannot tap into without serious psychic damage. It’ll blow your boo-boo loose to be sure.


70s:From Acoustic to Wall of Sound (Ace 2004)


Listening to this compilation of Dion’s work between 1969-76, it is impressive to see how far his muse had traveled from 50s hits like “A Teenager in Love”, “Runaround Sue” and “I Wonder Why” once the age of Aquarius struck. Yesterday’s heroes were now regarded as squares, but Dion had larger demons to battle than the British Invasion. His career and very life was threatened by a heroin addiction, but Dion eventually conquered his habit and reinvented himself as an earnest folk-rocker with a social conscience on his comeback hit “Abraham, Martin and John.” Listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll hear a fatalistic submission to the fact that the boundless optimism of the 60s was destined to succumb to darker forces. There are assassins in our midst who are ready to claim our prophets and visionaries and leave us with only the drug addled and fried.

I digress since that song isn’t even on this compilation, but it does represent his last bout with a big hit before a series of inconsistent albums that found him settling into the 70s singer-songwriter movement. These albums didn’t sell very well, but his four albums for Warner Brothers had their moments and his collaboration with Phil Spector is alternately brilliant and totally pretentious and overblown. Supposedly, Dion despised it, but Spector had it released on his own label. None of these albums really stand out enough to deserve much of a reappraisal, but this collection of his best material between 1969-1976 filters out the slop and really showcases another side of Dion that seemed impossible during his days with the Belmonts.

This compilation is filled with that 70s mellow, country rock vibe that seems to speak to me too much. Take a look at this blog and about a quarter of it falls under this category. However, there are some nods to T.Rex on his ode to the power of music on “Doctor Rock and Roll” and “I Do Believe My Race is Run” wouldn’t sound out of place on Exile on Main Street. It’s kind of a schizophrenic collection that seems to alternate between utter downers and exuberant celebrations, but the downers kind of win out here. Soul is such a nebulous term to ascribe to music. It cannot really be quantifed, but you know it when you hear it. I hear it in many of these songs and the troubled tales weaved therein.

Michael Nesmith

Nevada Fighter(Pacific Arts 1971)


Before I finally heard Michael Nesmith’s string of classic country-rock albums, I was entrenched in my narrow view of him as the Monkee in a stocking cap and a Liquid Paper fortune. I read positive reviews of his 70s solo work, but marked them up as twaddle on par with endorsements of Utopia or Nilsson. I couldn’t break free from his association with bubblegum pop and zany antics and the idea of Nesmith as Byrdsian troubadour was just plain crazy talk. However, a friend taped Nevada Fighter for me and it knocked the door ajar and let some light shine on my cloudy judgement. After further purchases and tape trades, I fell in love with everything Michael Nesmith released between 1968-1977 and what came after isn’t anything to shake a stick at either.

I love how Nevada Fighter starts off n such a jaunty note with the rollicking country-tonk of “The Grand Ennui.” It kind of reminds me of Link Wray’s “La De Da” which is ironic since they were both released in the same year and marked new directions for both artists. The opener isn’t representative of the bulk of Nevada Fighter since Nesmith is in an introspective mood here. The abundance of pedal steel helps to accentuate the bruised sentiments and pensive pace of Nevada Fighter and it showcases Nesmith’s ability to really milk the emotion from a song. It is his saddest album, but not his best work as that title belongs to Magnetic South or Loose Salute. I may post some more of his early work as time goes by, so check back here if you enjoy this one.