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December 29, 2008

Jo Ann Kelly - Blues and Gospel

Looking like this, who wouldn't guess Jo Ann Kelly was a belter of a blueswoman?

Well, I had a request for some "rare blues, the kind only found on your blog". Well I hope this fits the bill, having both 'rare' and 'blues' in the title: Jo Ann Kelly - Blues & Gospel: Rare & Unissued Recordings. Actually, I'd been planning to post it all along, but just hadn't gotten round to writing/illustrating the post yet. Those of you who listened to Jo Ann Kelly's self-titled album from the last great post this year will need no introduction to her. A powerhouse of a voice, housed within the most unsuspecting body and face, and no dainty tricks in the guitar-picking either. She's got a full-bodied tone to her voice and guitar; the kind of sound that slips past your cerebral cortex and finds a happy home in the resonance of your gut. This is bowel-music, not brain-music, and it moves you in a way that no mere mind-music ever could.

While she never accomplished the guitar-feats of Rory Block or the vocal nuances of Maria Muldaur, she could still be called the best white blueswoman, because more than anyone else, she channelled the essence of singer-guitarists like Memphis Minnie, Charley Patton and Son House, and distilled their music through her own life-experience. Like the best of the bluesmen, she shakes you to your bones and makes the plainsong of her lyrics strike the deepest chord in our body. She'll make a believer outta you.

This album has some outstanding tracks featuring the accompaniment of Stefan Grossman and Sam Mitchell (their version of Make Me Down a Pallet is by far the best I've ever heard). In fact, listening to those tracks, you realize that while Grossman never really became a compelling composer, singer, or guitar-soli performer in the manner of John Fahey or the bluesmen he adored, he is one of the best folk-blues accompanyists in history. So long as he's sitting beside someone else who is singing, the results will be brilliant.

This collection also hints at some other musical arenas in which Kelly was equally gifted (besides guitar-driven country blues). There's some piano blues and boogie, and some bonafide Rock&Roll inclueded here which hint at the paths she would take on other recordings in her too-brief lifetime.

Allmusic Biography by Chris Nickson
The rock era saw a few white female singers, like Janis Joplin, show they could sing the blues. But one who could outshine them all -- Jo Ann Kelly -- seemed to slip through the cracks, mostly because she favored the acoustic, Delta style rather than rocking out with a heavy band behind her. But with a huge voice, and a strong guitar style influenced by Memphis Minnie and Charley Patton, she was the queen. Born January 5, 1944, Kelly and her older brother Dave were both taken by the blues, and born at the right time to take advantage of a young British blues scene in the early '60s. By 1964 she was playing in clubs, including the Star in Croydon, and had made her first limited-edition record with future Groundhogs guitarist Tony McPhee. She expanded to play folk and blues clubs all over Britain, generally solo, but occasionally with other artists, bringing together artists like Bessie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe into her own music. After the first National Blues Federation Convention in 1968 her career seemed ready to take flight. She began playing the more lucrative college circuit, followed by her well-received debut album in 1969. At the second National Blues Convention, she jammed with Canned Heat, who invited her to join them on a permanent basis. She declined, not wanting to be a part of a band -- and made the same decision when Johnny Winter offered to help her. Throughout the '70s, Kelly continued to work and record solo, while also gigging for fun in bands run by friends, outfits like Tramp and Chilli Willi -- essentially pub rock, as the scene was called, and in 1979 she helped found the Blues Band, along with brother Dave, and original Fleetwood Mac bassist Bob Brunning. The band backed her on an ambitious show she staged during the early '80s, Ladies and the Blues, in which she paid tribute to her female heros. In 1988, Kelly began to suffer pain. A brain tumor was diagnosed and removed, and she seemed to have recovered, even touring again in 1990 with her brother before collapsing and dying on October 21. Posthumously, she's become a revered blues figure, one who helped clear the path for artists like Bonnie Raitt and Rory Block. But more than a figurehead, her recorded material -- and unreleased sides have appeared often since her death -- show that Kelly truly was a remarkable blueswoman.

Jo Ann Kelly - Blues & Gospel: Rare & Unissued Recordings
Year: 2004
Label: Blues Matters!

AMG Review by Jo-Ann Greene
The Jo Ann Kelly archive has been very poorly treated over the years, with only Indigo's occasional forays during the late 1990s truly spotlighting one of Britain's most underrated, but highly-treasured, blues vocalists. Into this sorry state of affairs weighs Blues Matters!, the label wing of the magazine of the same name, with a collection that totally lives up to its title. Sixteen tracks, recorded between 1967-1984, are bundled up within, and capture Kelly ranging across the stylistic spectrum. The set kicks off with four numbers taken from a rare Harlequin blues EP compilation, recorded with Tony McPhee in 1965. This was not Kelly's first session, she'd done an earlier one for Mike Vernon's Purdah label, but that remains unreleased, and thus this was the music with which Kelly was introduced to the world. Also featured are a pair of tracks from another scarce blues Harlequin compilation, this one released by the label in 1968, as well as a few more taken from other various rare collections. However, the bulk of the album boasts a stream of superb unreleased material, including no less than five songs recorded with guitarist Stefan Grossman during his U.K. tour in the summer of 1977. Kelly guested at several of his shows during that outing, and her performances -- captured for posterity on-tape by Grossman's own tape recorder, and unveiled here for the first time, are as powerful as any of her own period recordings. A wonderful album that hopefully will bring Kelly the acclaim she so justly deserves.

blues and gospel
mp3 320kbps | w/ covers | 2 parts - 49 & 60 mb

and track 11 - Special Rider Blues w/ Stefan Grossman
[which curiously, nobody noticed was missing for quite a while.]

and here's a slightly expanded version of her self-titled album from in the last great post.

Jo Ann Kelly
Label: Epic
Year: 1969

1 Louisiana Blues
2 Fingerprints Blues
3 Driftin' & Driftin'
4 Look Here Partner
5 Moon Going Down
6 Yellow Bee Blues
7 Whiskey Head Woman
8 Sit Down On My Knee
9 Man I'm Lovin'
10 Jinx Blues
11 Come On In My Kitchen

come on in
mp3 vbr 224+ | front & back covers included

Jo Ann Kelly & John Fahey - young love?

thanks to Wirz' Jo Ann Kelly Discography

December 26, 2008

Seventy-Eight Records

Hey everybody. There's a great new blog that's just popped up, especially for you Old-Time and Fahey fans. It's called Mr. Kev's Old Time Tunes. It's the latest of the Grapevine-inspired blogs, so welcome Mr. Kev into our blog-family and pay him a visit at Toad Hall. Who knows, you may even leave with a few presents in your pocketses.

Update: Blog removed, read about it in the comments. He's down but not out, you'll just have to be a super-sleuth to find him now.

Thanks Mr. Kev!

December 24, 2008

It Came Upon a Midnight Queer...

Christmas time is usually marked by a frenzy of crazed consumers out trying to placate their gods of money, desire, and spiritual materialism. And this crazed frenzy is fueled by the incessantly jovial, nostalgic, and sentimental music that have come to be known as 'holiday standards'. Spurred on by this deceitfully toxic sound, people go nuts buying things they hope will appease some need, gratify some desire, and make themselves feel more generous. How's that for a 'Bah Humbug'? Well, they don't call me Irate for nuthin'...

Seriously though, so much Christmas music is like candy canes -- reminds us of snowballs, winter, and childhood, but it's so sweet it'll make us sick. And most of those familiar tunes have been played so many times that we no longer actually hear them, we just associate them with that familiar need to buy things. You can usually tell when an artist has run out of musical vision and/or income, because they release a Christmas album, the ultimate act of selling-out.

Well, this year I compiled a few tunes that will not be used to market products, by artists who didn't sell-out. Some of them are ironic, cynical, or otherwise hillariously blasphemous, others are driven by a desire to connect with the real musical beauty of those traditional tunes and present it in a pure, fresh context.

The music in this collection ranges from hipster jazz to guitar soli to progressive bluegrass to Tuuvan throat-singing to jug band music, so if you're a reader of this blog, chances are you'll enjoy it. And I don't think any of these tracks have been posted elsewhere in the blogosphere. Names like John Fahey, Dan Hicks, David Grisman, Béla Fleck, and Louis Armstrong are all represented. Some unknowns & surprises too, such as one of my favorite xmas-related songs ever, "Beatnik's Wish" by the otherwise unknown Patsy Raye.

From "Aye" to "Ewe", Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, Cool Yule, Chappy Channukah, Krazy Kwanza, Rad Ramadan, & Cheerful Children's Day!

The Irate Pirate presents: It Came Upon a Midnight Queer...
A different sort of Christmas
better than coal in your stocking
not as good as a fat man in your chimney
2 parts - 65 & 61mb | w/ cover | assorted bit rates

Tracklist below:
If you like the music, support the artists - most of the guys here are alive and working, and they certainly deserve the money for not selling out come yule-time.

And check out The Christmas Jug Band myspace page, for more on that ingenious Dan Hicks yearly raucus.

Click this picture to enlarge and dig that crazy santa claus.

Alan Lomax Collection - Songs of Christmas

The winter solstice sunrise in Newgrange, Ireland

I've got two seasonal holiday posts for ya. This, the first, is mainly historical in interest. It should give you an idea of some of the ways that different western cultures celebrated Noel in the time before shopping malls and plastic jesi. Some of these rhymes, bits of plays, songs, dances, etc go back hundreds or thousands of years. I wouldn't really want to listen to this album a lot, but it's fascinating to hear this stuff once or twice (or perhaps once a year). A couple of the tunes though, are totally captivating and unlike anything I've ever heard (and I've heard a lot of things). It can transport you to another time and place, when we really experienced the dark of winter and embraced its impenetrable stygian gloominess at the same time that we called forth to the return of effulgent daybreak.

From Rounderstore:
Songs of Christmas From the Alan Lomax Collection was recorded by Alan Lomax and several of his colleagues in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Spain, the Southern U.S. and the Caribbean between 1950 to 1964. At the time, commercial forces were overwhelming local traditions, and many folk cultures stood on the brink of great upheavals that would forever alter their ways of life. Lomax always made a point of seeking out the music that epitomized the old Christmas spirit that was closest to his own heart. English Mummers, Italian bagpipes, lullabies, carols, and stories express the unquenchable fun, faith, and good times of Christmas and the immemorial good-luck rituals of the New Year. With Bob & Ron Copper, Ewan MacColl, Seamus Ennis, Vera Ward Hall, the Alabama Sacred Harp singers, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, the Putipu Band of Capri, Norman Edmonds, the Symondsbury Mummers and many, many more. Containing 31 tracks in all, the album comes with extensive liner notes and photographs and complete song and dialect translations from the Spanish, Italian, Latin and Irish.

Songs of Christmas from the Alan Lomax Collection (1940-1964)
Label: Rounder
Year: 1998
arise, shepherds
mp3 128kbps | w/ cover | 61mb

December 17, 2008

R.I.P. Davy Graham (22 November 1940–15 December 2008)

We lost one of the true originals, folks. The John Fahey of Britain, and more. Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, not to mention rockers like Jimmy Page and Roy Harper - all of them looked up to him. Everyone who plays in DADGAD owes a debt to Davy, though he devoloped it as much as a way to play oud music on guitar as for Celtic music.

He was tirelessly inventive, constantly challenging himself to bring more depth and breadth into his music. He soaked up the music of Spain, Morocco, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Germany, India, Ireland and the British Isles, as well as classical, jazz, American folk and blues musics, and then he brought all those influences into an integrated, original whole. He called this synthesis "Folk Baroque" referencing not the Baroque period of European music, but Baroque as a concept of inclusivity. A pearl of irregular shape.

And for all that, he was always ahead of his time, and so he was never commercially successful. By the time other artists had hits ripping off his compositions & ideas, Davy was already deep into some new discovery, never looking back, never selling out his artistic

He was roots, he was fruits, he was a seed, true and true.

want to listen?

(Thanks to The Lake Band)

and @ Merlin in Rags

want to watch?
here's Davy Graham - Cry me a River, as captured in a 1959 BBC documentary. 1959!

And here's a great mini-documentary from BBC's Folk Britannia:

and Part 2
which you may be able to dl from the comments of the Merlin in Rags post.

see also "Sita Ram" & "40 Ton Parachute"

Official Site

stay posted; in a couple of days there may be some more.

here's some more:
Davy Graham - The Complete Guitarist
Year: 1977/1999
Label: Kicking Mule / Shanachie

Davey’s mid-1970s album, The Complete Guitarist, featured blues, jazz, Celtic tunes, classical pieces, hymns and some brilliant original instrumentals. Bonus tracks from his album Dance For Two People and the anthology Blues Guitar Workshop round out this overdue reissue

Allmusic Review by Alex Henderson:
To those who are unfamiliar with Davey Graham's work, The Complete Guitarist might seem like a lofty title for this album. But it's a title that the Scottish musician, who has commanded a lot of respect in U.K. folk circles since emerging in the 1960s, lives up to on these unaccompanied acoustic solo-guitar recordings from the late 1970s. Diversity is the rule on this album, and Graham successfully turns his attention to an abundance of traditional Celtic songs (both Scottish and Irish) as well as everything from Bach's "Ein Feste Burg" to blues classics like Big Bill Broonzy's "When I Been Drinking" and Memphis Slim's "How Come You Do Me Like You Do." Whether it's Celtic music, classical, blues, or jazz, Graham has no problem tackling a variety of styles and demonstrating that he really is the complete guitarist. Originally released as a vinyl LP in the late 1970s, The Complete Guitarist was, in 1999, reissued on CD with eight bonus tracks from 1979-1980 added.

complete me!
mp3 320kbps | w/ cover | 86mb

December 15, 2008

Doc & Merle Watson's Guitar Album

And now for something from that other family of 3 generations of guitar wizards: The Watsons. Not quite so world-famous, not so many compositions dedicated to them, but I would argue they have played an equally important role in the evolution of the guitar in the 20th century.

I've talked about the incredible instrumental genius and warm character of Doc Watson before. He never missed a note, and he never played one where one wasn't needed. He turned a generation of folk musicians and guitar players on their heads and took all their praise and imitation in stride. He had no secrets: if you wanted to know how he played a lick or a song, well he'd sit down right there and show you (but you'd better be quick, because he didn't repeat himself, even to his own backup musicians).

His son, Eddy Merle Watson was just as good, but largely unrecognized. Perhaps because his style wasn't as uniqely original as docs (it was sort of a country-boogie-blues fingerpicking with one foot in the waters of the Mississippi delta and the other in the fires of southern rock). Listen to Talking to Casey and you'll realize he belongs among the great slide-guitarists. Or perhaps ne never became famous because he just plain didn't care to be. He was quite content to sit in the background and let his father bask blindly in the spotlight. He held no resentment, that's just the way he liked it.

Tragically, Merle died around the time I was born, whilst joy-riding a tractor on the family farm. But before he departed this world, he gave us the latent gift of his son, Richard Watson who has grown up to be a fine guitarist in his own right. Any recording with Doc & Merle is a treasure, for it captures the same sort of united father-son dynamic that the Romeros have.

On this album, they're joined by the always-welcome fiddler extrordinaire Mark O'Connor, the sometimes-too-loud bassist T. Michael Coleman, and a completely unneccesary drummer. And on one track, they're accosted by jingly chime sounds, no doubt due to the nefarious producer falling asleep at his station.

The tracks are mostly instrumental, and span a wide stylistic field, from hard-driving bluegrass-rock to swanky jazz ditties to soundscapes of Americana (they rearrange Take Me Out to the Ball game in much the same way that John Fahey rearranged hymns and Christmas songs).

As bass-player T. Michael Coleman says, "The tunefulness and ensemble of these two are just marvelous, and the album is recorded in excellent sound, clear and never strident. The superb fiddling of Mark O'Connor is the icing on the cake. No fan of great guitar playing should be without this album. "

And the Allmusic Guide has this to say:
"Like Pickin' the Blues, Guitar Album features Doc and Merle Watson supported by a small band and playing blues. Both guitarists play with deft, nimble grace, spinning out surprisingly hard-edged lines that are simultaneously fluid and gritty."

This album is the first of several contributions by IncaRoads, a generous blog-reader.

Doc & Merle Watson's Guitar Album
Label: Flying Fish
Year: 1972
take me out.
mp3 320kbps | w/ cover | 76mb

thanks IncaRoads!

Los Romeros - Carmen & others

"The Royal Family of the Guitar" they're called. The mighty Spanish family of classical guitar virtuosos, led by their fearless patriarch Celedonio Romero. He and his 3 boys, Pepe, Angel, and Celin rose to fame in the late '50s or early '60s as the greatest guitar quartet in the world, and have been going strong ever since. It's difficult to immagine contemporary groups such as the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet without the precedent of the Romeros.

What made them so good? Well, perfection would be the obvious answer, but it's a vague and heavily-loaded word. The perfection that the Romeros achieved has to do with timing. You see, they not only play cascades of perfect 16th and 64th notes, but they do so in total unison so that the four become as one -- you cannot immagine pulling any one guitar out of the mix, because you cannot even here where one ends and the next begins.

This perfection of timing and unity did not come overnight. Celedonio, loving taskmaster that he was, would practice with his children for two hours before breakfast. And you can just imagine what they did with the rest of their day. All the while, the blessed matriarch of the family, Angelita, was no-doubt slaving away in the kitchen. But Mrs. Romero, angel that she was, was no stay-at-home mom. She was a cultural and artistic mecca all to herself, travelling the world with them and accompanying the more passionate, spanish guitar pieces with her impeccable castanet-playing (her castanets were even blessed by Pope John Paul II). "An avid reader and philosopher, she enhanced their education with weekly trips to art museums. In teaching the young Pepe, she dictated the entire text of Cervantes' Don Quixote to him. She kept his hand-written copy as one of her greatest treasures."

All the members of the original quartet have had distinguished solo careers, playing with many of the best orchestras in the world. Celedonio has written many enduring compositions for the guitar that stand on an equal level with his technical skills. And the grandchildren of the family have picked up guitars and joined the group too (though it still remains a quartet -- Celedonio died in '96).

As for the qualities of this music, well, it's thouroughly classical and mostly Spanish. I say mostly because Georges Bizet's "Carmen" suite isn't really spanish, it's a French romantic opera with Spanish tinges. And, legendary as it is, it still has a certain upper-class 19th-century French flavor to it (though in truth, it stands high above most other works of the genre). And though it is impeccably adapted and played, and though it has a compellingly addictive melody, I'd say it's actually the weakest part of the album. Manuel de Falla's dances are fantastic and ruthlessly passionate. Notice the difference between the Romero's interpretation of Danza Española from La Vida Breve with Pablo Casals' version of the same, posted a while back. While Casals draws forth the mournful qualities, the Romeros inject it with the kind of drive and vitality (enhanced by Angelita's vigorous hand-claps) that makes you realize why the Spanish are such legendary lovers.

But the Romeros are not without depth and subtlety. They draw forth a vivid desperation from Torroba's Sonatina Trianera that brings to mind a walk through the poverty-torn streets of a ravaged post-war Spain. But even in these slum-tunnels, chins are held high, people are celebrating the fruits of life. The music carries the listener through the sweat and bruises of daily life to glimpses of the raw beauty that those cuts and bruises disguise.

Los Romeros - Bizet: Carmen; de Falla: Dances; Torroba: Sonata
Label: Phillips
Year: 1984
cast a net.
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 71mb

I'm pretty sure this one's out-of-print. Very difficult to find, anyway.

December 13, 2008

The Mystery Album

Well, the boat's been shaken a bit, but I think we need to get back to the task at hand: sailing the seas of music. But to acknowledge the great, bleak unknown storm that broods on the horizon, I thought I'd try something a little different.

This album is top-notch. Both musicians are at the top of their game, and one is a world-class virtuoso. And yet, chances are, you haven't heard of them. And I'm not going to tell you about them. In fact, I'm not even going to tell you they're names, or the name of the album. And there aren't any ID3 tags to help you either. The iTunes database won't tell you, and unless you have a very sophisticated ear, you won't be able to guess.

Which means my post won't be deterring any potential sales of the artist's music, and the artist also won't have any chance to benefit from the publicity.

And for you, o gregarious listener, it means you won't have any pre-conceived notions or expectations when you listen. Imagine a black disc arrived in the mail with the instructions: listen.

Really, just listen. Having no name, it has no collection-value, no genre-limitation, no historical background -- essentially, no conceptual attachment. Just experience it for what it is.

And enjoy it. I do.

December 11, 2008

Gone but not forgotten

Another blog done gone...

Well the other day the great Broke Down Engine went off the rails and out of the blogosphere.

But someone was watching carefully, and took some detailed snapshots.

The nefarious privateer known as "Grapeseeder" seems to have a knack for crafting impeccable look-alikes (he even looks like me!). He salvaged a complete map of the treasure from the burning Broken Down Engine, before it disappeared.

He has also offered to let me begin unloading my chests full of musical treasure onto his blog-ship. So links may begin to disappear from this blogship soon (in order to stay afloat in these tempestuous waters), but fear not, they'll resurface over at the Trout Mask Replicator.

Make sure you bookmark it too, because this post may self-destruct after a period of time, if things get too hot.

You see, Broke Down Engine is just the latest in a series of recent blog-closures. And I'd rather not see the Grapevine be next, because there's a lot of work in it and I consider it a valuable resource to the community (links or no). So when you don't see a link you're looking for, check at the Replicator before asking after it in the comments. It doesn't pay to advertise pillaged booty.

I hope you understand the writing between the lines here. I know it may be difficult for some of the international readers, but those who want to figure it out will.

Enjoy. I'll be posting again soon.

December 6, 2008

Chilling Effects...

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December 5, 2008

Rounder Guitar

Rounder Records is a label named after the first 'freak folk' band, the Holy Modal Rounders. They've released about two solid tons of great contemporary traditional music, encompassing a great many genres and traditions, giving a lot of artistic control to the musicians.

This collection focuses on their roster of incredible acoustic guitarists. Most of the guitarists here are flatpickers, each adding their own dimension to the foundation laid by the mighty Doc Watson and the never-satisfied Clarence White. A few notable others include the world king of the National Steel Guitar, Bob Brozman, and the stupendous stride guitar of Gus van Duser. All the pieces here pushed the boundaries of the musical norms of the time, and many are in that vaguely-defined genre-crossing style known as 'New Acoustic' or more commonly, Newgrass.

So give these guys a listen. Technically, they abound in skill and musically, there's some compelling (though often subtle) stuff happening here too. And if you like someone, well, go browse the Rounder website and get some more. Almost all of the artists here are still alive and performing. The exception is the late Clarence White, who's polyrhythmic Bury Me Beneath the Willow is enough to make any guitar player quit or get back to practicing (he's flatpicking and fingerpicking simultaneously, and syncopating like django).

VA - Rounder Guitar: Acoustic Guitar
Year: 1988
Label: Rounder
rounder, flatter, blacker
mp3 192kbps | w/ cover | 96mb

1 Tipper - Tony Rice - 3:36
2 Cowboy Calypso - Russ Barenberg - 3:49
3 Shambhala - Artie Traum - 2:27
4 Jalapeños - John Miller - 1:46
5 Viper's Drag - Guy VanDuser - 3:21
6 Obc, No. 3 - Norman Blake - 5:46
7 Pickin' in the World - Mark OConnor - 3:14
8 All in Good Time - Eric Schoenberg - 4:43
9 Oh, Lady Be Good - John Miller - 1:57
10 Halloween Rehearsal - Russ Barenberg - 4:15
11 Bully Samba - Jon Sholle - 3:48
12 Texas Gales - Norman Blake, Tony Rice - 3:36
13 Pretty Little Indian - Dan Crary - 4:56
14 It's Dark - Mike Marshall, Darol Anger - 5:22
15 Port Tobacco - Tony Rice - 4:45
16 Hawaiian Heat Waves Medley - Bob Brozman - 2:20
17 Black Beauty - Guy VanDuser - 3:18
18 Sídh Beag Agus Sídh Mór - Eric Schoenberg - 2:57
19 President Garfield's Hornpipe - Norman Blake - 2:24
20 Bury Me Beneath the Willow - Clarence White - 1:58