John Fahey

The Yellow Princess (Vanguard 1969)

http://www.mediafire.com/?nyiq2mhieod

There are so many facets of John Fahey’s career that it is hard to pick a favorite. I love Red Cross the best of his late period due to its exquisite mix of ambient smears and Gershwin and Irving Berlin Covers as well as the brass band excursions on Of Rivers and Religions. Of course, his early albums occupy a dear place in my heart due to their role in opening my eyes to the land of Folkways, Vanguard and a cadre of shaggy dog folkies and burnouts. However, The Yellow Princess is the one listened to most because it is positively overflowing with melancholy and members of Spirit are on hand to spin the bottle in some unforseen directions.

This rare collaboration pays dividends on “Dance of the Inhabitants of the Invisible City of Bladensburg” which begins with the crash of drums before transitioning into familiar finger picking until the coda breaks into a bluesy swagger. Spirit drummer Kevin Kelly also twists Fahey into new shapes on “March! For Martin Luther King” where a mournful, funereal beat keeps the time while a beautifully evocative series of strums pay tribute to a fallen hero. You can almost envision a casket being carried while the duo exorcised their sadness in song.

Fahey always had a predilection for odd musique concrete by way of the acoustic guitar. Some of my favorite tracks of America, Womblife and City of Refuge were his most unhinged, but “The Singing Bridge of Memphis, Tennessee” takes the cake. It sticks out like a sore thumb amidst the folksy meanderings, but a whistling refrain humorously mimics the cry of a train as spare percusssion mimics the chug of a broken down train. An ominous buzz hovers over the short instrumental and provides an eerie atmosphere to accompany the wholesome whistle that echoes throughout it. It ain’t much, but it has stuck with me long after it is removed from the stereo.

I guess The Yellow Princess stands out among the rest because it tackled new horizons for only a moment, but left me wanting so much more that was never fulfilled. Yes, he made countless other albums, but none quite like this.

Alex Chilton

Like Flies on Sherbert (Peabody 1979)

http://www.mediafire.com/?g5wwmyfxwlj

What happens when a pop genius goes on a bender and tries to give a middle finger to his record label?  The answer is found on Like Flies on Sherbert. If you are looking for utter dourness of Sister Lovers, the punchy pop of the Box Tops or the power pop of Big Star’s most accessible tunes, you will be sorely disappointed. It is a drunk and drugged ode to the origins of rock and roll that is evenly split between moments of utter brilliance and sloppy bar band chaos. However, I even like the unrehearsed and thoroughly fucked versions of classics as well as sabotaged originals that are deformed into some base form that sound like little else I’ve heard.

Somehow my teenaged self heard a radio show on Brave New waves where Yo La Tengo played their favorite songs for a bit. This was in the early 90s before I even knew about Big Star or the “The Letter” was a byproduct of Alex Chilton. They played the title track and it was an epiphany. There is so much going on in this song. It is a combination of apathy and passion. He attempts to ruin it with high-pitched vocals and intoxicated piano chords, poorly placed chourses and synthesizer mayhem, but I swear it is one of the most beautiful things thine ears have had the pleasure of hearing. Chaos suited him and his increasingly mannered follow-ups to Like Flies on Sherbert suggest that he should despise the world more often.

“I’ve had It” reminds me of John Cale circa Paris 1919 after too many whiskeys and a stick removed from his anus. It has the grandiose chorus and piano chords of Cale’s prime period, but Chilton fucks it all up in the right ways. it lacks in the intricacy and orchestration of Cale’s work, it makes up for in a shaggy dog charm that Cale would probably revile with all of his heart.

To be honest, some of the album misses the mark and descends into a charmless middle finger, but I wish there were more albums that could hold a candle to Chilton’s mangling of R&B, soul, 50s and 60s rock and roll. I find it hard to believe that this was intended as a throwaway since it brings out previously unseen qualities in his work. Sadly, they were never seen again. If anyone can suggest a great 1980-2008 Chilton, please email us at magicistragic21@yahoo.com because we would love to hear it.

Oblivians-Sympathy Sessions

October 14, 2008

Oblivians

Sympathy Sessions (Sympathy for the Record Industry 1996)

http://www.mediafire.com/?4wozdutmtii

Outside of the Buzzcocks, Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, I never really got into the poppy punk anthems of contemporaries like the Clash and Ramones. All of the 77-82 punk bands have moments which leave me humming like the fool I am, but I feel more kinship with those who twisted it into grubbier forms. Whether it be the bizarro concoctions on Wire’s first three albums or the Killed by Death series, punk just seemed like it should be alien, aggressive and ugly in its own beautiful manner. My wussy teen years led me to ignore the 60s Nuggets, Pebbles and Back from the Grave comps, but they felt like a stirring slap in the face once I heard the roots on punk in all its catchy and primitive glory.

One of the bands that opened my eyes to the gruff history of punk were the Oblivians. At the time, I had no inkling of their influences and garage rock had more to do with Animal House than anything else. However, their debut singles and eps captured what I always wanted from a punk band. It had a nasty streak a mile wide and the band played the living shit out of each song.  It was fast, shitty-sounding and their live set was a simple reminder that rock and roll can stir you like a gospel anthem in a church full of hopped up folks speaking in tongues.

Sympathy Sessions collects their early singles and eps for the Sympathy label and includes some of their absolute peaks and only a few meager valleys. Their collaboration with Quintron stands as the pinnacle of their career, but this is a great representation of what made them so immediate and special. No frills or ambition to make a grand statement; Sympathy Sessions is a reminder of punk’s kinship with 60s rock, gospel, R&B and the power of a bad attitude. It is a revival session for folks with a hankering for trouble.

Phil Manzanera-Diamond Head

October 11, 2008

Phil Manzanera

Diamond Head

http://www.mediafire.com/?zi2g2awumfw

As an English teacher, I always gravitate towards a strong introduction. Amidst the dreck, there are those essays that begin with a statement of purpose that gets your full attention while setting the stage for the story to come. Since I am also a music junkie, there is something compelling about the rare album that grabs you by the wazoo and informs you that this artist means business. It seems like an easier task if you traffic in the genres of punk or metal as you can blaze through the opening minutes, but a prog-pop album with Tropicalia influences has a much higher handicap in the first at-bat.

Diamond Head was Phil Manzanera’s debut and it is kind of surprising when you consider that he made his name as the guitarist for Roxy Music. It is less surprising when you dig deeper to find that he contrinuted to Brian Eno’s solo albums as well as leading 60s psych outfit Quiet Sun. Even when you take this all into consideration, his debut is a surprising twist in a successful career. “Frontera” is the opener is question and it derives most of its strength from Robert Wyatt’s tour de force of Spanish gibberish accompanied from a driving riff that hits the high notes one always desires from a debut, but rarely receives.

To be honest. the rest is a slight letdown from the heights of the first few minutes, but the lazy prog riffs are pretty excellent and much of the album is predictably reminiscent of Eno’s first vocal albums. Other moments remind me of a more sleazy soundtrack to Boogie Nights, but that is ok with me too. It is a scattershot affair, but Diamond Head finds its way onto the stereo because of its schizophrenic nature. It kind of wants to be loved, but Manzanera dips his toes into all sorts of 70s sleaze that it is rendered somewhat pock-marked and damaged. It is supposed to be accessible, but there is something awkward about it that draws me to it.

The opener is worth the price of admission since it may be one of my my favorite Robert Wyatt tracks, but the remainder is interesting to say the least. Diamind head is a big old frog that only got a reacharound instead of a kiss.

Wrist and Pistols

Wristopolis (Unreleased 2006)

http://www.mediafire.com/?hgnjijpvjiq

Have you ever heard a song that speaks to you in such a way that it seems improper to ever stop listening to it? Most of the songs that fall into this category are very familar ones like Michael Hurley’s “Tea Song”, COB’s “Let it Be You”, Antony and the Johnsons’ “Hope There’s Someone” and the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” This is why it is so wonderful to hear a friend’s band record a song that speaks to me in such an intimate manner. There are certain songs in one’s life that feel more like companions instead of a collection of notes and chords and it goes beyond your ears and settles in a heart where thousands will never tread. There is a song on the Wrist and Pistols’ Wristopolis that will remain in constant rotation until the day I shuffle my scruffy coil.

The song in question is cover of the folk standard “Willie o’ Winsbury”  Meg Baird of the Espers makes a guest appearance here and adds a grace that perfectly suits this ode to fairness and chivalry. The ballad details a situation where a king wants to hang his servant for getting his daughter pregnant. He rethinks this path when meeting the servant and realized he is a good match and allows them to run off and elope. The imagery of this song sticks with me because the daughter is ordered to strip naked before her father to discern her physical state while he slowly becomes dejected at the revelation it was no lord, duke or night, but a servant who has impregnated his child. He immediately calls for the man to be hanged, but reconsiders his decision once he lays eyes on this handsome gent clad with a blonde mane clad in red silk. His appearance and demeanor disarms him to the point that he realizes that he is man worthy of his daughter’s hand. It’s a fairy tale about the power of love. Her version in her debut album is wonderful, but this version captures the simple romanticism that the song deserves. It shouldn’t be produced, it should humble and rough.

My appreciation for this album may be colored by my friendship with many of the involved parties, but my musical judgment tells me that it’s pretty great no matter who was involved. Wrist and Pistols are an offshoot of the Lucky Dragons and count Brendan Greaves, Pablo Colapinto and William Pym as its members. Part if its charm is derived from living next doo from their practice space where I heard multiple red-hot messes progress to sketches and bloom into song. Plus, there was the occasion where I waltzed in unannounced to convince them that a song should be written from the perspective of a stern disciplinarian. However, that was just another in a traffic jam of bad ideas fueled by a few too many beers. The rest of Wristopolis is great as well. Friendly folks exploring their folksy loves. I won’t lie. That one song eclipses the rest, but it is a gross oversight to ignore the rest of this album.

“Wristopolis” is a digital nest for several separate wobbly records: “Blessings” (2003 CD), “Apologies” (2003 7″); “Choke at Will” (2005 unreleased); “E Pluribus Unicorn” (2005 7″); and Lakeside demos (2006 unreleased.) Interested parties check in here for more Wristoleros:

http://deathrayboogie.wordpress.com/2008/10/03/wristopolis/

http://www.wolftype.com

http://www.thevanities.org/vanity13.html

Tim Hardin

This is Tim Hardin (Edsel 1967)

http://www.mediafire.com/?jjn1ml3htwm

My true love is the folk/psych/country scene of the late 60s and early 70s, but I haven’t really tackled much of it on this blog as of yet. However, I was listening to Tim Hardin tonight and figured that this is the time to usher in a series of posts devoted to the drug-addled and all-too sensitive souls who battled their demons in song. Tim Hardin springs to mind as my first post since his heroin habit cut short a career that should have wormed its way into more hearts and minds that it did.

Tim Hardin definitely falls into the esteemed camp occupied by Fred Neil and Tim Buckley. His bluesy, soulful and psychedelic take on folk is just as moving and soul destroying as Howling Wolf and Robert Johnson. History places too much weight upon the classic bluesmen and ignores the emotional depths that the fucked up detritus of the hippy-dippy hedonism of the 60s.produced. To be sure, these singers draw from a wholly different pool of pain than Mississippi Fred McDowells or Robert Johnson, but the end result is just as devastating to my biased soul. One party suffered from oppression, poverty and a variety of social ills and the other were just fucked up and a bunch of soft-boiled eggs, but the pain and emoting is equally resonant in both camps.

This is Tim Hardin is his second album and is mostly comprised of covers, but that doesn’t matter since tradition was the bread and butter of both parties. In light of his eventual overdose, his version of “Cocaine Bill” is especially poignant and heartbreaking in hindsight. His take on the tune is all too respectful as if he takes pride in the moments those late night mistakes where so much was ingested that self-destruction became romatnic. It is a paean to wrongdoing and the ignorance of consequence. Ignore the history of Tim Hardin and the subject material and it is sung as a love song to bad intentions.

Peel away the context and This is Tim Hardin is a showcase for a voice that was one of the most disctinctive and versatile of the 60s folk artists. Put the skin back on that onion and it is a devastation prelude to a genius who whittled away at his tool until there was nothing left but an empty legacy.

Matt Suggs-Amigo Row

October 3, 2008

Matt Suggs

Amigo Row (Merge 2003)

http://www.mediafire.com/?tmym3nmd9lc

It warms my cockles when readers send word that they truly loved something I posted. However, I was unprepared for the onslaught of three emails asking for the followup to Matt Suggs’ first album. Yes, three requests seems lonely to the likes of you, but I assure that they arrived in a fast and furious fashion that made me sweat a drop or two. I agree with all three of you. Matt Suggs’ solo album suggest what Stephen Malkmus actually wanted to achieve after he broke from Pavement. These are well-written, literate, moody ablums that keep one foot in the ironic 90s while poring through 60s psych in a way that somehow maintains the personal voice of the artist. I did love the odd arc taken by Malkmus on his Pig Lib album, but Suggs appropriations seem so natural and unforced instead of a decision to mine the past while sucking the teat of the profitable legacy.

Anyhow, Amigo Row is a close second if this anonymous lout had to choose between the two. There was a joy to be free of his previous band that lacks here. However, this one meanders in some more progressive directions. It’s a looser album due to the fact that he has used up his punchiest tunes of the debut and now must feel his way around to discover the next plateau. Fir the most part, it is successful. If the debut has suckered you into its humble grasp, then this is a wholly satisfying way to dig deeper into an artist who successfully broke free from his paper-thin shackles.

Matt Suggs

Golden Days Before They End (Merge 2000)

http://www.mediafire.com/?zy8b1bbiqvb

Matt Suggs comprised one half of Butterglory, a 90s indie-rock band that aimed for a comfy niche occupied by Pavement, twee and the Kinks. I always liked the band and their live shows were always appealing, but so were many other bands of their ilk. I know it sounds like a cliche, but their early singles were infectious in a way that their full-lengths were not. They were a good, but not great band that never rose beyond their influences.

I cannot really think of many 90s indie-rock artists that successfully managed to emerge from their fey, ironic cocoon, but Matt Suggs is the first that comes to mind. I ignored this album upon its release since I expected more of the same. However, Matt Suggs somehow channelled the spirit of the Davies brothers and recorded a thoroughly original take on the Kinks’ Something Else album. It lacks the bite and satire of this classic, but Suggs somehow found his voice and made one of the most unsung albums of the decade. Maybe I overrate it because it was so unexpected, but Golden Days Before They End kind of symbolizes a mid-life crisis for indie-rock to me. The old influences no longer held as much weight and Suggs responded with a gem that puts his love of country, Kinks, and melancholy tear jerkers on display. It’s an honest to goodness singer-singwriter album that tells a diverse array of sappy, sad tales while mixing in enough toe-tappers to keep things out of bi-polar territory. There is nothing about the album that leaps in your lap, but it is one of those albums that mimics an old friend and warm memory. It reassures me and I listen to it more than most album on my shelves. It’s a reminder of the moment when you realize that there is more than the music than the genre you embraced as a teen or young adult and discover that classic rock wasn’t quite the boogeyman you expected.