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April 29, 2008

The Roots of John Fahey

So, about 9 months ago I started working on this compilation. Several months and nany hours of searching, listening, and sequencing later, I found out that someone had already done a more complete version of the same task. Until yesterday, however, I hadn't seen a tracklist from the mysterious 10-cd set called the VrootzBox, so this is not a derivative work, however similar it may be.

The inception of the project came when I heard Frank Hutchinson playing K.C. Blues on the A Lighter Shade of Blue: White Country Blues (1926-1938) compilation. I read the booklet to Return of the Repressed, and found all these mentions about musicians he had copped licks from. I looked at The Fahey Files, the crowning achievement of the International Fahey Commission. Then I found Old Time Mountain Guitar on El Diablo Tun Tun, and that propelled me further. Some trips to the library for Béla Bartók and Charles Ives cds proved pretty revealing too.

Some time back someone left a comment on my post of Fahey's God, Time & Causality saying something to the effect of "This version of I Am the Resurrection pales in comparison to the version on The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death". Well, while that's true, it's also true that I Am the Resurrection pales in comparison to Jesse Fuller's Hark from the Tomb, upon which it was based. In fact, a lot of these performances are more raw and idiosyncratic than Fahey's versions, though Fahey, to his credit, adds a harmonic complexity absent from the originals. And if you think Fahey was a bizarre visionary living on the fringes when he released Blind Joe Death in 1959, consider that Harry Partch created his own scales, built his own instruments, and crafted totally unique, beautiful, complex, difficult-listening music in the '40sm while living as a hobo. And, through a curious chain of personal connections, Fahey heard some of this music and was very inspired by it.

I should mention that not all of these songs are songs that he covered or copped licks from. Most of the music he has made mention to, though a few of the songs were recorded after his formative years and one or two he never would have heard. But they are presented to give an illustration of the styles he drew from (such as gamelan, which he grew up playing in his neighbor's back yard).

Originally I was going to write something about each song on the compilation, but as it swelled to 5 cds and I prepared to leave the country, I just settled on the daunting task of finishing the damn thing and posting it. So what you hear is what you get, though additional info can be found at the Vrootz! info page.

Many of the artists on here can be found on other "roots of" compilations (Roots of Rock, Roots of Robert Johnson, Early Blues Roots of Led Zeppelin, etc), underscoring the fact that, as Willie Dixon said, "The Blues is the roots. Everything else is the fruits." But as a record-collector, Fahey's roots were deeper and more obscure than those of the blues-rockers who got rich ripping off Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters (both of whom ripped off Son House & others).

I thought about grouping the music into styles (hillbilly music, country blues, modern classical music, etc), but decided that in Fahey's world and music, these genres were not so disparate and could in fact flow seamlessly into one another. Reading R. Anthony Lee (aka Flea)'s account of the early life of John Fahey confirms this, as even early on "he had developed his famous eclecticism, and would follow Sibelius’s Second symphony with the Stanley Brothers’ White doves will mourn in sorrow with no sense of disjunction." Plus, this way I could highlight certain connections, such as beautiful modal dissonances found in the music of both Son House and Bartók, the shimmering just intonality of Southeast Asian gamelan ensembles and the homemade microtonal music of Harry Partch. Also I've grouped songs to show how Fahey would pull from several disparate sources to form a new song, so you'll hear building block such as Walter "Buddy Boy" Hawkins' A-Rag, Carl Perkins' Matchbox and the flamenco of Sabicas, all of which can be heard in Fahey's Lion. And, in true Fahey-fashion, I ended each album with a hymn of a sort.

I've been collecting music and making eclectic and themed mix-cds since high school, but this is the first time I've put extensive research into it. I guess my hope is that other aspiring musicians and inactivists will hear this music and enter a new realm of musical enchantment, irresponsible unproductivity, and hapless record-collecting.

There are a few artists and songs that ought to be on here but aren't because I assume that everyone knows about them (e.g. Robert Johnson, Christmas music, California Dreamin', and The Beatles' Rain, Blueberry Hill, Hank Williams). Also, I didn't really trace his latter-day influences such as Einsturzende Neubaten, as that's not really my area of expertise (nor his, despite his self-aggrandizing claims). I didn't include the version of Railroad Bill on Pete Seeger's guitar-instruction album, which was the first song Fahey learned to play, though I do have it. I also left off songs that are only related by title (no copies of Charley Patton's Some Summer Day had surfaced when Fahey took the title, and Fahey's Wine and Roses and Night Train to Valhalla bear very little similarity to Henry Mancini's Days of Wine and Roses or Roy Acuff's Night Train to Memphis). Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Legend Of The Invisible City Of Kitezh was left off, though Stravinsky's Dance of the Infernal Subjects of Kaschei was included.

If you like this music and are interested in delving further, check out some of the blogs listed here. El Diablo Tun Tun is where I got a lot of this stuff. For serious blues lovers, check out Merlin in Rags and The Blues Club forum (registration required). For classical stuff, see Le Roi S'Amuse, or check out your local library. The Ravi Shankar piece upon which Fahey based On the Banks of the Owchita can be found at Singer Saints. The gamelan vinyl came from A Closet of Curiosities. A bunch of Fahey-related stuff can be found at grown so ugly and the usenet group alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.acoustic is excellent. A lot of related music is also posted on this blog; if you search the archives, you'll find some Harry Partch, some Jug Band music, some Son House, and others. Also check out the releases on Fahey's Revenant Records, for a stunning mix of arcane rural musics and raw avant-garde improvisation.

There are 5 mix-cds in this set, plus a bonus disc which consists of Sibelius' 7th Symphony and Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin and Music for Percussion, Strings, and Celeste, all of which deserve to be heard in their entirety. I thought about including works by musicians working on parallel lines (Rahsaan Roland Kirk's fusion of Dvorak's Going Home and Stephen Foster's Old Folks at Home, or Brij Bhusan Kabra, the first musician to play ragas on a guitar). But these will have to come another time.

I also was going to type out the tracklist, but you'll have to settle for snapshots of my itunes playlists. An advantage, of course, is that you can see which albums I got the tunes from, and search out the ones that inspire you.

The Roots of John Fahey

The whole set:

Disc 1 - Vampires in Valhalla *new link

Disc 2 - The Chthonic Blues *new link

Disc 3 - Duelling Kitheras *new link

Disc 4 - Dance of the Subjects of the Great Koonaklaster *new link

Disc 5 - The Turtle's Waters *new link

Disc 6 (bonus) - Requiem for Blind Joe *new link

All have the bitrates at which I found them; those I converted from AAC and my cd rips are as always at >192vbr. No covers are included. What you hear is what you get.

for much of the information I used to build this compilation, see the Fahey Files.

for more fahey trivia, unreleased songs, record labels, etc, see the John Fahey blogspot

which includes R Anthony Lee "Flea"'s piece The Wolves are Gone Now, which recounts Fahey's early life from the eyes of a friend, organicist, and fellow musical miscreant.

and see VROOTz! : FAHEY SOurCEs AND INFLUENCES tracklist and notes in the Wall of Fahey (word document) or see it in html here. thanks to Paul Bryant, Andrew Stranglen and Mitchell Wittenberg, for their contributions to the project.

oh, and the photo used above is by Dick Waterman, manager of Son House and many other great blues artists of the '60s. Incidentally, it was largely his photos and stories, found within Between Midnight and Day: the Last Unpublished Blues Archive, which led me to artists like Son House and Skip James in the first place. the photo, like everything else here, used without permission.

and if you appreciate my endless unpaid toil, leave a comment!

April 19, 2008

Tom Cora - Gumption in Limbo

Tom Cora stands as the greatest improvisational cellist ever recorded. His music is totally unique and non-generic, i.e. universal. In his playing, you hear all the sweet mournfulness of Pablo Casals, all the joyful idiosyncracy of Joseph Spence, and all the discordant exuberance of Albert Ayler, rolled into a highly virtuosic and singular style. And seriously, how often to avant-garde cellists come around? The world became a poorer place when he died of melanoma in 1998. The beauty of this music is insurmountable. It fills me -- body, soul, and mind.

it has been said:
The late Tom Cora produced far too few solo albums in his lifetime. Gumption in Limbo is among the few documents of his astonishing musicianship as a solo cello performer. Involved extensively in avant-garde and improvised music, his solo work is outstanding for its lyrical and melodic qualities that touch on folk, classical and avant-garde, not to mention that on stage he could create a deeply personal music that is beyond genre and into realms of pure beauty.

A longtime fixture of the New York City downtown music scene, cellist, composer and improviser Tom Cora was best known in avant-jazz circles, although his eclectic pursuits led him in a wide variety of musical directions.

Raised in Richmond, Virginia, Cora began studying cello while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, later honing his craft under the tutelage of vibraphonist Karl Berger. His 1979 arrival in New York City coincided with the emergence of a new and fertile era for experimental music, and he quickly fell into a circle of like-minded artists which included John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, Andrea Centazzo, Butch Morris and Fred Frith; influenced by progressive rock, jazz, and avant-garde composition, Cora developed a distinctive style, playing guitar-like sawed chords and percussive riffs while amplifying his cello for maximum noise power.

A mainstay at the famed Knitting Factory club, he was a member of the group Curlew, and also collaborated with the Dutch anarchist rock band the Ex on a pair of LPs, 1991's Scrabbling at the Lock and 1993's And the Weathermen Shrug Their Shoulders. After suffering from melanoma, Cora died in the south of France on April 9, 1998 at the age of 44. One month later, a benefit concert was held at the Knitting Factory with appearances by Fred Frith, George Cartwright and Zeena Parkins.
-- Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide

Tom Cora, 44, New-Music Cellist With Flair for the Avant-Garde Tom Cora, a cellist, composer and improviser who was a mainstay of the new-music scene in New York City, died on Thursday at a hospital in Draguignam, in the south of France, where he lived with his wife and son. He was 44.

The cause was melanoma, said his brother, Henry Corra.

Mr. Cora, whose original surname was Corra, grew up in Richmond and took up the cello while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. He studied under the vibraphonist Karl Berger at Creative Music Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., when
came to New York City in 1979. It was a ripe and chaotic moment for improvised music in Manhattan, well before the Knitting Factory provided a frequent venue for musicians like Mr. Cora, who were influenced by progressive rock, jazz and avant-garde composition and who were able to consolidate absurdist humor and structuralist thinking in the same composition.

Mr. Cora fell into a circle that included John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, Andrea Centazzo, Butch Morris and Fred Firth, and he became known for highly amplifying his cello and for playing sawed chords and percussive riffs on it as if it were an electric guitar. Best known as part of the long-running band Curlew, he also played with the groups Skeleton Crew and Third Person, and collaborated with the Dutch anarchist rock band The Ex.
--New York Times, Tuesday, April 14, 1998

Tom Cora - Gumption in Limbo
Year: 1980
Label: Sound Aspects
drop your jaw. *new link
mp3 192kbps | w/ cover (a slightly different one than above) | 60mb

April 14, 2008

Best of the Memphis Jug Band

The modern literary work is largely a work of reference. Therefore, I shan't waste my time and yours trying to say what has been said before and better.

Instead, here's a bio from a grateful dead site:
The Memphis Jug Band was the most recorded (over 100 sides between 1927 and 1934) and one of the most popular of the jug bands to spring up in Memphis in the 1920s (along with Cannon's Jug Stompers). The jug band craze started in Louisville, Kentucky around 1905. By 1910 there were a number of bands active in Louisville, including string bands and jazz groups that had added a jug player to cash in on the craze.

The central figure in the Memphis Jug Band was Will Shade (aka Son Brimmer, a knickname from his grandmother, Annie Brimmer, who raised him). Will Shade (Born Feburary 5, 1898 Memphis TN) first heard the records of a Louisville jug band called the Dixieland Jug Blowers in 1925. He convinced a local musician called "lionhouse" to switch from blowing an empty whiskey bottle to a gallon jug, added Tee Wee Blackman on guitar and Ben Ramey and the Memphis Jug Band was born. Shade played guitar, harmonica and "bullfiddle", a stand up bass made from a garbage can, a broom handle and a string.

The Memphis Jug Band was a loose knit outfit with a constantly changing membership. They played local events and were one of the main attractions when they played at Handy's Park in Memphis. By the late 1920s they were managed by Howard Yancey of Yancey Booking Agency at 326 Beale. He was able to get them well paying gigs at the Chickasaw Country Club, the Hunt Polo Club and at conventions at the Peabody Hotel. They were also hired regularly by Edward H Crump, the local political boss, for private parties and by food stands and restuarants to attract people. They played on the back of trucks advertising Colonial Bread and Schlitz.

By this time a number of jug bands had organized in Memphis, including Cannon's Jug Stompers, Jed Davenport's Beale St Jug Band, The Three Js and Jack Kelly's Jug Band (later known as The South Memphis Jug Band). The Memphis Jub Band was the most recorded of the local jug bands, recording over 60 sides for Victor between 1927 and 1930. The majority of these sessions were held in Memphis, with some recordings done in Chicago (1927) and Atlanta (1928). The final recordings of The Memphis Jug Band were made in Chicago in 1934 for Okeh/Vocalion and exhibited a more jazzy sound than their earlier recordings.

By the late 1930s Memphis was in decline, know as the "murder capital of the world" it was rife with corruption. Local politicians tried to combat the problems by closing down the gambling houses and brothels. This signaled the end of the jug band era in Memphis. Will Shade continued to put together jug bands in the 1940s, often with Charlie Burse. The two were rediscovered and recorded by blues researcher Samuel Charters in 1956. Will Shade died of pneumonia on September 18, 1966 at John Gaston Hospital and was buried in Shelby County Cemetery in Memphis.

and this expert review by from mustrad:
This band was the subject of my Opus 1; the first published piece that I’d wish to acknowledge. Memphis Shakedown, The Memphis Jug Band on Record (in Blues-Link issue 2, 1973), has the earnest pedantry and the naive enthusiasm of youth, and if the years have done no more than remove the adjectives from the nouns, that will be enough for me. On the other hand, I did pick a good subject. Don Kent and Bengt Olsson begin their notes with the sweeping assertion that ‘The Memphis Jug Band is not only the greatest jug band ever recorded, but is the greatest representative of traditional music of its time and place, crossing all boundaries.’ The first of these claims is marketing rather than scholarship; I wouldn’t argue the MJB’s greatness, but for me, relative positions on the ladder depend on what I’m looking for at any particular time. Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers found emotional depths in the blues that the MJB never quite plumbed; if there’s a more moving jug band performance than their Viola Lee Blues, I’ve yet to hear it. The Louisville bands led by Earl McDonald and Clifford Hayes achieve at their best an extraordinary blend of sophisticated jazz and pungent alley music. Among less extensively recorded outfits, the raucous Birmingham Jug Band, the crazily exuberant Jed Davenport’s Beale Street Jug Band, and Jack Kelly’s violin-led South Memphis Jug Band all have unique merits of their own, but I’m in danger of straying too far from the record at hand. What about ‘the greatest representative of traditional music of its time and place’? It depends, I suppose, on what you mean by greatness. Kent and Olsson base their view on the breadth of the MJB’s repertoire, and the assurance with which they handled it, and it’s actually rather hard to argue with that. If they never achieve the magnificent artistry of a Robert Johnson or a Blind Willie McTell, they certainly tackle blues, pop, rags, breakdowns, waltzes, blues-ballads and songster material with equal assurance.

But an extensive repertoire means nothing without an appealing delivery, both artistically and commercially. The Memphis Jug Band’s long association with RCA Victor (1927 to 1930) was largely down to the talent spotting, organising and rehearsing skills of the band’s leader and business manager, Will Shade. In Shade, Victor’s Ralph Peer clearly recognised a man who could be relied on to round up the available musicians and bring them along, usually to the temporary studios which Victor set up on their field trips to Memphis, but occasionally on the train ride to Atlanta or Chicago. Shade’s collaboration with Peer seems to have extended into general talent scouting, and even co-production ‘Mr Peer and Will Shade present,’ the Victor logs sometimes note, the presence and absence of an honorific neatly encapsulating the racial attitudes of the time.

The band’s personnel was semi-stable, but Shade seems to have tried to recruit the best musicians on hand at any given time. Himself apart, the most consistently present member up to 1930 was Ben Ramey. In Blues-Link, I described Ramey as ‘one of the best kazooists ever to record’ and, oxymoronic though it may appear, that was a good judgment; play Sound Cliphis buzzing, chugging rasp is a key ingredient in the band’s sound. This is no surprise on energetic, up-tempo numbers, but the way that Ramey enriches the texture on songs like the wistful Stealin’ Stealin’ is much less predictable. Harmonica, kazoo and jug (the great Jab Jones) are here playing versions of the same melody line, not quite in unison, and the unexpected beauty that results is reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s ability to create unusual textures and tone colours. This may seem like an absurd comparison, but the fact that Ellington’s instrumental and compositional resources were much more extensive than Shade’s does not in itself invalidate the point.)

The CD under review darts back and forth within the Memphis Jug Band’s recorded history, rather than going through it chronologically. The latter approach makes it easier to discern changes in the material the band favoured at different times, and to hear how their sound changed as members came and went; but the MJB’s combination of stylistic versatility and high musical standards makes them ideal candidates for a carefully compiled selection of highlights. Yazoo have certainly done the job well; there is a preponderance of Victor material, with only two titles from 1934, when the band went to OKeh, and radically reinvented itself, stressing manically extrovert breakdowns, with the fiddle of Charlie Pierce strongly featured. This may simply reflect the fact that the 1934 recordings are less common, thanks to the effect of the Depression on sales; play Sound Clipit’s a pity that there seems to be no clean copy of Mary Anna Cut Off, a feature for Jab Jones’s barrelhouse piano, but any disc which includes the disciplined insanity of Memphis Shakedown has got to be a good thing. There’s also plenty of the bubbling banjo-mandolin of Vol Stevens, and the ebullient singing of Charlie Nickerson; both of them are prominent on He’s In The Jailhouse Now, play Sound Clipwhich was credited on issue to the Memphis Sheiks. They cleverly updated the old song, with references to band member Benny Ramey, and to the political corruption that made Memphis a wide-open town in the days of Prohibition. (Local politician Edward ‘Boss’ Crump was among the Memphis Jug Band’s white patrons; in 1940, Crump took 1,000 Memphians to the races in Hot Springs, Arkansas by private train, with the MJB aboard to supply music for dancing. Life magazine published some remarkable pictures of the band, which are reprinted in Mr Crump and the Memphis Jug Band by Guido van Rijn (Blues & Rhythm 62, July 1991).

Other guest stars on Yazoo include Memphis Minnie, performing her grimly autobiographical Meningitis Blues (‘Then the nurses all began to stand around me, the doctors had done give me out; Every time I would have a potion, I would have a foaming at the mouth’). Four tracks feature the blowsy, erotic voice of Hattie Hart, of which the weakest is Ambulance Man; her voice and Shade’s don’t fit well together, fascinating though the song’s Freudian obscurities are (‘Can’t you see I’m cut in the stomach? That’s the reason I’ll mend your pain with ease’). Better is the languidly sensuous Memphis Yo Yo Blues (‘Bring yo’ yo yo, wind the string around my thumb, Mama knows just how to make the yo yo hum; play Sound ClipBring yo’ yo yo, daddy, and we will have lots of fun). Best of all is her masterpiece, Cocaine Habit Blues, a strutting anthem to psychotropics which harks back to the days before World War I, when cocaine was legal and endemic in Memphis, and Lehman’s drugstore on Union the main supplier.

The Best Of The Memphis Jug Band is, of course, really some of the best of the Memphis Jug Band; it would be perfectly possible to compile another CD, almost as good, with 23 different tracks - Sun Brimmers Blues, Jug Band Waltz, Lindbergh Hop - well, you get the idea. There is, indeed, a double CD currently available on Classic Blues, retailing for a tenner or so, and with good sound. It does not, however, have Yazoo’s quality annotation and discographical details. Equally, Frog’s three ‘complete in chrono’ discs are available for those who want to hear it all, and benefit from the remastering skills of John R T Davies. For those who must have everything, there are four volumes on Document (with notes by the present writer), and a collection of ‘associates and alternate takes ’ on Wolf, which is far from the barrel-scraping exercise you might expect. Spoilt for choice of Memphis Jug Band reissues - that can’t be bad! Yazoo’s collection is a very good one; my only complaint is that the cover photograph has been ineptly colorised, and thereby robbed of its historical context, and its artistic and iconic power. It appears to be nature’s law, however, that people will not buy records with black and white covers. Go figure!
Chris Smith - 2.9.01

Memphis Jug Band - Best of the Memphis Jug Band
Year: 2001
Label: Yazoo
steal it here.
(pretty momma don't you tell on me)
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 95mb

and while you're Stealin', get Memphis Jug Band - Double Album at Merlin in Rags

April 12, 2008

Leon Redbone - Double Time

Biography by Jason Ankeny:
While his gravelly baritone and omnipresent fedora, dark glasses and Groucho Marx moustache made him one of the more distinct and recognizable characters in popular music, little is known about the neo-vaudeville crooner Leon Redbone. Throughout his career, he steadfastly refused to divulge any information about his background or personal life; according to legend, Redbone's desire to protect his privacy was so intense that when he was approached by the famed producer John Hammond, the contact number he gave was not his own phone, but that of a Dial-A-Joke service.

Because Redbone first emerged as a performer in Toronto during the 1970s, he was believed to be Canadian; his work, a revival of pre-World War II ragtime, jazz and blues sounds, recalled the work of performers ranging from Jelly Roll Morton and Bing Crosby to blackface star Emmett Miller. He made his recording debut in 1976 with On the Track, which featured legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti as well as singer/songwriter Don McLean; his 1977 follow-up Double Time even reached the U.S. Top 40 charts, largely on the strength of his frequent appearances on television's "Saturday Night Live."

AMG Review by Lindsay Planer:
Leon Redbone followed up his debut long-player On the Track (1975) with Double Time (1977), an equally enchanting, if not somewhat eclectic blend, of jazz, folk, blues and pop standards -- all in Redbone's undeniably distinct throaty baritone. While the tunes may be familiar, these renderings are steeped in the artist's unique sensibilities. The results are uniformly ingenious and commence with a New Orleans ragtime flavored interpretation of Blind Boy Blake's dirty "Diddy Wa Diddie" blues. Augmenting Redbone's acoustic guitar is an extended cast of session stalwarts and a host of other musical notables -- such as Milt Hinton (bass), Jonathan Dorn (tuba), Vic Dickenson (trombone) and Jo Jones (drums). Don McLean (banjo) sits in, supplying his criminally underutilized instrumental versatility on the endearing revamp of Jimmie Rodgers' "Mississippi Delta Blues." The decidedly demented reading of "Sheik of Araby" is nothing short of inspired insanity. Redbone incorporates a Screamin' Jay Hawkins-esque persona belting out a variety of hoots, snorts, howls and hob-gobbles set behind a hot-steppin' fret board flurry à la Django Reinhardt. Among the album's most affective numbers is a cover of a second Rodgers' penned and similarly titled "Mississippi River Blues." This is one of the more intimately emotive performances on the record and features another jazz legend, Yusef Lateef (soprano sax) -- who provides a sweet understated counterbalance to Redbone's dogged delivery. The track is likewise enhanced with the additional textures of the orally generated "throat tromnet" [read: a cross between a trombone and trumpet] contrasting his lyrical yodels and warbles. Also worthy of mention is the languid ragtime of the Jelly Roll Morton classic "Winin' Boy Blues." Bob Greene's ramblin' piano inflections aptly complement the vocals -- which have been electronically manipulated to reproduce a sound likened to that of a vintage victrola. Rounding out the stack is the sublimely reverent "If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven." The backing harmonies are courtesy of the incomparable Dixie Hummingbirds whose rich blend oozes from behind the minimalist lead and acoustic piano accompaniment. Potential enthusiasts are well served to begin their discovery of Leon Redbone here.
and this from an astute customer:
These great old songs regain all their appeal thanks not only to Leon Redbone's intrinsic talent but also to his always fresh, sometimes "tongue-in-cheek", even irreverent approach towards choice material he genuinely loves and understands. Listen to him whistling through Mamie Smith's 1920 "Crazy Blues" before conjuring a swing jazz depiction of country singer Jimmie Rodgers ("Mississippi Delta Blues") before finding his way through pistol shots (!) on the wonderfully double-entendre "Mr. Jelly Roll Baker" (a Jelly Roll Morton composition). He can also be delightfully tender, but never maudlin, on tunes like "My Melancholy Baby" (a 1912 composition made famous by Judy Garland in the aforementioned "A Star Is Born").

Leon Redbone - Double Time
Year: 1977
Label: Warner Bros
from vinyl, over-cleaned by someone | mp3 192kbps | w/ cover | 50mb
direct links in comments.

and you can get Leon Redbone - On the Track at Sugar Plum Fairy.
Once you hear that album and this, I'm sure you'll be a convert and you'll have to go and get the rest of his records from his official site

on disreputable sources, I have this information:
Leon Redbone
AKA Dickran Gobalian

Born: 26-Aug-1949
Birthplace: Cyprus

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Musician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Vaudevillian with mysterious background

believe at your own risk

Peter Lang - American Stock: A Guitar Collection

Peter Lang is an American Primitive Guitarist in the true sense of the word. His technique is rooted in open-tuned, pre-blues guitar styles dating back to revolutionary times. His music looks forward, however, and combines the deep, mysterious, memory-inducing melodies and dark chords of John Fahey with the agility and precision of Leo Kottke. He draws these influences together with strains of classical guitar, Joseph Spence, ragtime, country blues, and timeless American folk melodies. You can hear all these influences, along with the white-collar folk-blues of Koerner, Ray & Glover, but Lang's style is unique and instantly recognizable.

He recorded an LP for Takoma in 1973, and was featured on their "Fahey, Lang, Kottke" release. Then he made some albums for Flying Fish and Waterhouse records, which began to augment the classic, stark, solo guitar sound with other instruments and vocals. These albums are somewhat uneven; Lang's singing is a warm and muddy baritone not unlike Kottke. The presence of other instruments sometimes enhances the guitar, and sometimes sounds totally dated.

American Stock: A Guitar Collection was released in 1986, and recorded on several dates from 1976 to 1986. On it, he revisits many of the songs and styles that he premiered on other albums, but with a new understanding and maturity. It stands out as a return to the classic instrumental sound. The few tracks augmented by other instruments are integrated more successfully. The interplay between National Steel guitar and screaming electric violin on "Halloween Blues" is amazingly spooky, and his solo cover of Joseph Spence's version of "There Will Be a Happy Meeting in Heaven Tonight" is classic.

After releasing this album, Peter Lang went into semi-retirement, and didn't release another album until 2001's Dharma Blues.

Peter Lang - American Stock: A Guitar Collection
Year: 1986
Label: Aspen
get it here.
from vinyl | mp3 >192kbps vbr | no cover | 79mb

This album is out of print, but you can get most of his others from his website/itunes.

for guitar tunings and discography, check out

April 8, 2008

Albert Ayler - Love Cry

"He carried the gift, the voice, a reflection of God." -Don Cherry

And if you like jug band music, why not try out this avant-garde jazz? Seriously. It has the same freewheeling spirit, the same abundant joy and chaos. I chanced upon Albert Ayler when I found the 9-CD box set "Holy Ghost" by Revenant. I listened and I was totally blown away. Here was this music that was totally challenging and avant-garde, yet totally beautiful and spiritual. His music sounds like a marching band that has travelled to the future, become enlightened, and then forgotten all about it as they stumble back into the 60s, all screaming ecstasy in different tongues. Sometimes these tongues are harmonious, sometimes dissonant. Sometimes in time with each other, sometimes unhinged and flying in different directions. But always free, soulful, and beautiful. Not pretty. Beautiful. There's a difference.

Of all the musical geniuses who died in the prime of their life, Albert Ayler is perhaps the most like Icarus. With one subtle difference: Ayler made it to the sun.

"By 1958, Albert Ayler and his horn had made some rounds: from boy prodigy to teenage member of Little Walter's Blues Band, from "Little Bird" of Cleveland to featured US Army Band soloist. Then he resolutely set out to forget everything he'd ever learned about how to properly play the sax so that he could really PLAY it -- unhinged, free from strictures of pitch and form, drawing on spirituals, folksong, marches, and other big whopping chunks of collective musical memory -- to channel symphonies to God out his horn.

Seeking nothing short of Truth in music, Albert Ayler became THE catalytic force in defining the sound of the tenor in Free Jazz, and was a heavy influence on John Coltrane's later work." -Revenant

"A genius of the tenor saxophone." -Cecil Taylor

Biography by Scott Yanow
One of the giants of free jazz, Albert Ayler was also one of the most controversial. His huge tone and wide vibrato were difficult to ignore, and his 1966 group sounded like a runaway New Orleans brass band from 1910.

Unlike John Coltrane or Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler was not a virtuoso who had come up through the bebop ranks. His first musical jobs were in R&B bands, including one led by Little Walter, although oddly enough he was nicknamed "Little Bird" in his early days because of a similarity in sound on alto to Charlie Parker. During his period in the army (1958-1961), he played in a service band and switched to tenor. Unable to find work in the U.S. after his discharge due to his uncompromising style, Ayler spent time in Sweden and Denmark during 1962-1963, making his first recordings (which reveal a tone with roots in Sonny Rollins) and working a bit with Cecil Taylor. Ayler's prime period was during 1964-1967. In 1964, he toured Europe with a quartet that included Don Cherry and was generally quite free and emotional. The following year he had a new band with his brother Donald Ayler on trumpet and Charles Tyler on baritone, and the emphasis in his music began to change. Folk melodies (which had been utilized a bit with Cherry) had a more dominant role, as did collective improvisation, and yet, despite the use of spaced-out marches, Irish jigs, and brass band fanfares, tonally Ayler remained quite free. His ESP recordings from this era and his first couple of Impulse records find Ayler at his peak and were influential; John Coltrane's post-1964 playing was definitely affected by Ayler's innovations.

"Man, what kind of reed you using?" -John Coltrane

However, during his last couple of years, Albert Ayler's career seemed to become a bit aimless and his final Impulse sessions, although experimental (with the use of vocals, rock guitar, and R&B-ish tunes), were at best mixed successes. A 1970 live concert that was documented features him back in top form, but in November 1970, Ayler was found drowned in New York's East River under mysterious circumstances.

"The dynamite sound of our time!" -Amiri Baraka

Review by Al Campbell:

From the time he was signed to Impulse in 1966, it was assumed that Albert Ayler's releases on that label would be motivated by an attempt at commercialism. While the music was toned down from his earlier ESP recordings, by no means did Ayler ever make commercial records. Much in the same way John Coltrane's later-period Impulse releases weren't commercial, Ayler simply took advantage of a larger record company's distribution, trying to expose the music to more people. Ayler's uncompromising musical freedom mixed with his catchy combination of nursery rhythms and brass band marches remained prominent on Love Cry. The interplay between the Ayler brothers also remained fiery as younger sibling Donald is heard playing trumpet for the last time on a recording with his brother. Donald was fired from the band (at the suggestion of Impulse) and, unfortunately, was committed to a mental institution for a short stay after these sessions were made. The rhythm section of Alan Silva on bass and Milford Graves on drums continually instigates and propels this music into furious militaristic march territory. Unhappily, the four tracks in which Call Cobbs is featured on harpsichord tend to drag the music down; it's unfortunate his gospel-inspired piano or organ playing couldn't have been utilized instead. The CD reissue contains alternate takes of "Zion Hill" and "Universal Indians."

Albert Ayler - Love Cry
Year: 1967
Label: Impulse
catch that band!
mp3 192kbps | w/ cover | 74mb

for westwardwall - bio, disco, music, stories, etc etc

Revenant Records: Albert Ayler - Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962-70)

"If people don't like it now, they will." -Albert Ayler

Clifford Hayes & The Dixieland Jug Blowers

The Dixieland Jug Blowers were the finest of the city jug bands.
~Sam Charters

More of the Same, only different.

Biography by Craig Harris:
The Louisville, Kentucky-based Dixieland Jug Blowers were one of the first jug bands to record. Led by violinist Clifford Hayes and jug player Earl McDonald, the Chicago-based group, which featured clarinetist Johnny Dodds, left a legacy of twenty-three tracks, including "Boodle Am Shake", "Memphis Shake" and "Skit, Skat, Doodle-Do", recorded between December 1926 and June 1927. Recording as the Louisville Jug Band, they cut such tunes as "She's In The Graveyard Now".

South Carolina-born McDonald moved to Louisville, at the age of two, in 1885. He formed the Louisville Jug Band while still in high school. The product of a musical family, Glasgow, Kentucky-born Hayes moved to Jeffersonville, Indiana in his teens. He joined McDonald's band in 1913.

Although McDonald and Hayes formally separated, over financial conflicts, by 1919, they continued to hire each other to play on recordings and live performances.

Clifford Hayes & The Dixieland Jug Blowers
Year: 1927-28 (rec); 1976 (comp); 1991 (reissue)
Label: Yazoo
boodle-am-boo. (re-post 11-08)
mp3 192kbps | w/ cover | 50mb

Jugs, Washboards, & Kazoos

Some of the very fines of the early jug band sides. This music is carefree and highly buoyant. It is hipster music from the days of the first hipsters. Really it was much closer to the dixieland jazz of New Orleans (King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, etc) than it was to folk music or country blues, despite the rather do-it-yourself instrumentation of kitchen implements turned music-makers. Why the jugs, you may ask? Well they were cheeper than tubas, and in plentiful supply due to the amount of bootlegging that was going on. Likewise, a washtub was cheaper than a double bass, and a washboard was a great alternative to a sack full of drums (actually, come to think of it, there are no washtubs in these recordings). Kazoos were the obvious response to the trumpet, and harmonicas were already becoming a readily accepted and viable musical instrument. Though these instruments would become novelty items in decades to come, here they shine as brightly as the guitars, pianos, fiddles, banjos, clarinets, and saxophones which they accompany. And their particular tones are exploited perfectly, sounding wonderfully unlike anything before or since (check the sweet interplay between fiddle and jug on the Dixieland Jug Blowers sides). Couple this with an irresistibly insistent rhythmic groove that gets you hopping up and down whether you like it or not, and you have the makings of some seriously good-time music. Reefer has done some great things for the musical evolution of this century, let me tell you.

This disc shines for its spectacular selection. There's plenty of surface noise, so be warned, but the levels are fully present, having been ripped from vinyl on some professional recording equipment, so the music is really there and it sounds great (you soon won't even notice the clicks and pops, or the fact that you've been bouncing and stamping unconsciously for 40 minutes). There's some great ironic vocal deliveries (What Makes My Baby Cry), and even a mock-sermon on bootleggin' and short skirts (House Rent Rag) that parodies the sanctified jug bands. The standout tracks on this album are by the Dixieland Jug Blowers and Tiny Parham and his Musicians, all of which approach jazz and are both extremely contagious, fun-wise.

VA - Jugs, Washboards, & Kazoos
Dixieland Jug Blowers, Five Harmaniacs, Memphis Jug Band, Tiny Parham, Washboard Rhythm Kings
Year: 1967 (comp)
Label: RCA Victor
from old, scratchy vinyl | mp3 ~180kbps vbr | w/o covers | 60mb

out of print, though you can get the Complete Recorded Works of these guys from Document Records.

see also many jug band posts at Broke Down Engine, Merlin in Rags, and El Diablo Tun Tun. Do a search.

April 7, 2008

The Microphones - Little Bird Flies Into a Big Black Cloud

Well, now, I do a lot of badmouthing of sensitive singer-songwriter types, partly because they are inexplicably popular right now, and partly because by and large they are mediocre musicians and rather whiny, self-centered egoists. Yes, there is a certain undeniable charm to Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Iron & Wine, and those folk. Yes, there are certain songwriters who are good enough writers and restless enough spirits to never become a walking cliché (Bob Dylan until 1975, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos). But by and large, it's mostly precocious pop music disguised in a slightly more literate, reflective shell.

But I am not a one-sided coin, and there are a few singer-songwriters and indie musicians who, despite being sloppy musicians and quavering singers, I really love. Phil Elvrum, AKA The Microphones, AKA Mount Eerie is one of those restless spirits who never lets questions of pitch and tempo get in the way of his music, and never lets music get in the way of his divinely inspired but remarkably down-to-earth lyrics. Like e.e.cummings, his humility and lo-fi aesthetic allow Phil to craft little gems of natural mysticism without ever getting pretentious.

His music is filled with the dissonant chords, heaping waves of sound, and odd phrasing that you'd associate with the avant-garde, and yet is very accessible, nay, universal, in its persistent glowing wonder. Like medieval devotional music as conceived by a wandering nomad of the post-consumer desert, filtered through the lens of a very gentle child of the punk age. This album in particular is like a cross between a church service delivered by William Blake and a children's story as conceived by Cecil Taylor. Or vice-versa. Or something.

With a highly idiosyncratic set of personal recurring symbols to populate his songs, many of which become characters in their own right (fog, the moon, the sun, buoys, trees, blood, ships, the mountain), he is guaranteed not to tread the cliché-ed territory of that most overtrodden of symbols, the rose. He is to this date, the only artist in any medium who has communicated the way I feel when I'm in love: totally excited by the magic of it, totally devoid of conventional romance, and with an underlying current of profound sadness. Phil Elvrum is one of the few people I have met who is unafraid to show how afraid he is, when he is afraid that is. He is, above all else, honest, and his integrity is so naked and compelling that I can't help but let fall my own desperately concocted costumes of chic, my machinations of machismo. It is his vulnerability, coupled with vision, idiosyncrasy and persistence, which make me finally lay down my mountain, bare my fragile hardened heart heart, let flow my precious blood, and say "enter."

Cause why shouldn't I live as God in a glowing canyon?
My life could be a fruit bowl with my hand in.
Stuck with arrows, tarred and feathered,
In a tigers jaw, loving living raw,
I get my truce through open stares and steady open palms.

The Microphones - Little Bird Flies Into a Big Black Cloud
Year: 2002
Label: St. Ives
bloody songs and sunny beams.
mp3 256kbps | w/o cover | 70mb

All the tracks are untitled, though you can find the lyrics and some of the song names at the Mount Eerie Preservation Society. Or, if you simply must have names for all your songs, this tracklist has been suggested, though plenty of the titles are just the most notable verse from the song.
This album was released in a vinyl edition of 400 copies, each with a different hand-painted cover. They were well-gone by the time I heard it, so don't expect to find one. But you can get several of his albums from P.W. Elverum and Sun (including a free downloadable album of another OOP vinyl, Seven New Songs of Mt. Eerie)!.
K. Records hosts a number of similar musicians and has several Microphones albums as well, with a deluxe edition of The Glow, Pt.2 just released, as I write this, right now.

And here's a good review by Tiny Mix-Tapes:
In a world dependent on synthetic pills and dot-coms, it's nice to know Phil Elvrum (aka The Microphones) is out there. He is like a breath of fresh air in the middle of Boston Chinatown, a pitchfork hidden in an array of electronic tuners. He faultlessly transforms the basic rock elements into extensions of his creative impulses. With an impulse here and an impulse there, the creative juices ebb & flow as often as he sings about the moon, the fog, the wind, the water, and the mountain tops-- which is a lot.

On Little Bird Flies into a Big Black Cloud (the sonic version of a book he wrote last year of the same title) never have these impulses been so lucid. Throughout its ethereal compositions, you'll hear new songs, old songs, and pretty much everything in between. Cram previously released albums like Song Islands, The Glow pt. 2, It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water, and Don't Wake Me Up into a pencil sharpener, sprinkle the shavings on a nearby lake, and you're getting closer to being a complete idiot that just ruined some great albums. But don't fret, with this record by your side, you'll never want or have reason to leave your house again, if only to repurchase the albums you ruined.

The beauty of the record lies in its simplicity. Recorded with a Neumann U67 microphone (set on cardioid) and a Sony Cassette Recorder, Little Bird reflects Elvrum at his most sincere, and perhaps, his most vulnerable. It's incredibly intimate; you can't help but feel as if you are staring over the shoulder of a man writing the rough draft of a magnificent novel. Every piano chord, every organ hit is like Elvrum himself poking you in the stomach with his fingers. By the end of the record, you'll feel as if his whole hand is stuck inside the gooey goodness of your voluptuous belly.

Relinquishing the acoustic guitar and stereo experimentalism for strictly piano and organ, Elvrum bequeaths a relentless batch of songs that transcend simple pop conventions. He recorded 40min of music with 40min of time; there's no layered tracks, no patches, no re-recorded parts. Replete with wavering time rhythms and fluctuating notes, the record has a relaxed, apathetic disposition. It makes you feel comfortable and invites you to listen to its entire natural splendor. Despite the "low" fidelity, these songs are far from mere demos or blueprints or live versions; they are the sound of a process, a performance; the sound of a song in its most naked state.

Generalizing the two sides of the record, the first is more "song" based, as most of the tracks have a distinct beginning and end. Traces of past melodies from previous albums ("I Want Wind to Blow," "The Glow pt. 2," "I'll Not Contain You") haunt throughout, as Elvrum alternates between organ and piano. The tracks on side two prove harder to discern from one another. With the exception of the first two tracks (which are fucking amazing, mind you), the rest are built around a somber chord progression. One moment he'll be singing above slow organ notes ("There's No Invincible Disguise that Lasts All Day"), the next he'll be singing a capalla ("Phil Elvrum's Will"). Though, despite the familiar melodies, all 18 tracks are simply titled by its track number enclosed in brackets.

If anything, Little Bird is essentially a stripped-down Microphones album. And if you are familiar with the Microphones, then you know you don't have to strip down much to get to its core. As the trend with many great albums of late, Little Bird is limited to only 400, all of them on vinyl, each of them hand-painted and letter pressed. Every cover will be essentially different, which is refreshing considering that nearly every other album cover is pressed on a mass scale. (Mine features two floating heads on the back of a Simon Joyner EP turned inside-out.) Once the 400 are gone, they are not coming back. So, if you act quickly and do a little sifting on the web, you too can have one of the most genuine albums released this millennium.

April 6, 2008

Larry McNeely - Rhapsody for Banjo

Another fine Flying Fish album of bluegrass-meets-jazz. Larry McNeely was a lifetime session player and backup man to schlocky musicians (Glen Campbell, Roy Acuff, et all), this album shows he really had some ideas in addition to his sparkling chops. His banjo picking is very chromatic and exploratory, delving into jazz and eastern european musics while maintaining the piledriving rhythmic force of Earl Scruggs. One of the tracks (Space Circus) actually sounds decently close to the Peter Lang end of the Takoma spectrum of fingerpicking guitar.

AMG Review by Eugene Chadbourne:
That this guy is one of the flashiest and technically adept banjo pickers around would be a fact many bluegrass fans would be happy to wager a set of fingerpicks or two over. Many tracks on this album are simply killer, and the presence of mandolinist Jethro Burns will definitely be of interest to listeners who would like to hear more of his fine, serious picking outside the wacky confines of the famous Homer and Jethro unit. The originals by McNeely, highlighting fast-moving developments with a particularly aggressive sense of time, would predict the later work of artists such as Bela Fleck, and younger fans of this latter artist should definitely check out the playing of artists such as McNeely who have received a whole lot less hype in their lifetime. However it is something of a shame that McNeely also chose to play guitar in a hot jazz or swing style, his work vastly in the debt of jazz picker supreme Django Reinhardt, to whom he dedicates a tune. When it comes to these tracks the music is just much less original and exciting, unless the listener is a bluegrass fanatic who has never heard any other styles of music before, in which case it might be difficult to predict what the reaction might be. Nashville session king Roy Husky is solid on bass, no doubt smoking a cigar the whole time.

Larry McNeely - Rhapsody for Banjo
Year: 1979
Label: Flying Fish
bedazzled. [re-post 12-08]
not my rip (vinyl) | mp3 128kbps | no cover (and none can be found on the interweb) | 31mb

1 Black Room
2 Slipped Disc
3 To Django
4 Red Haired Boy
5 Honeysuckle Rose
6 Edson Breakaway
7 Blue Jazz
8 Bonjo Nova
9 Spell Zubenelgenubi
10 Limehouse Blues
11 Sinstone
12 Rhapsody for Banjo #1

also see Norman Blake/Vassar Clements/Tut Taylor/Jethro Burns/Dave Holland/et all for more great bluegrass jazz from Flying Fish.