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Monday, March 18, 2019

The Lemon Pipers - "Green Tambourine" b/w "No Help From Me" 45 rpm single, 1967 (Pye International)

Is it even possible to loathe "Green Tambourine?" Which by the way, is a superb song/recording released in the latter half of 1967.  Sometimes considered to be 'bubble-gum rock' record, but to me, it's 2 minutes and 23 seconds of magic.  The group is The Lemon Pipers from Ohio, and the songwriters of the song are hardcore Brill Building culture.  Paul Leka wrote the song with Shelley Pinz but based on Pinz observing a musician playing and asking for money in front of the Brill Building.  It seems his main instrumentation was a tambourine.  With the help of Leka, he came up with the song, and it's a record that is very much tattooed on my soul.  I'm also fond of Leka's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye recorded by a fake band called Steam, but that's another tale. 

The beauty of 'Green Tambourine is the psychedelic touches that are totally commercial, due to the echo delay of some of the lyrics, as well as the use of the electric sitar.  The narrative of sorts is a musician who wants to play his 'green tambourine' which has a Piped Piper, almost gypsy touch to its melody.  It's sad, but the production and arrangement (by Leka) convey pathos as a concept.  A projection of inner-misery, which naturally is organic in the process of pop music.  I also recommend The Associates version as well, if one can find it.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Shirley Bassey - "The Fabulous Shirley Bassey" Vinyl, LP, Album, Mono, UK, 1959 (Columbia)

Shirley Bassey, famous in the United States for her recording of "Goldfinger" is an exceptional British singer.  Born in Wales, "The Fabulous Shirley Bassey, released in 1959, was her second album.  Always a big voice, she strikes me as a powerful wind machine, and even the orchestration around her has to go from 8 to 10 in volume control.  Which sounds a bit much, but the fact is her voice has a lot of warmth, and on the "Fabulous" album there are classic songs.   "The Man Who Got Away," "Cry Me A River,"  "I've Got You Under My Skin," and others on this disc are superb pieces of contemporary music. 

As part of my obsession with British pop music before the Fab Four, Bassey is a key showbiz figure that expressed the grit and soiled nature of pop music at the time.  Hearing the recordings of that period it sounds light and fluffy, but I suspect it's aural candy to disguise the roughness of the post-war U.K. years.   Bassey is not a light singer, but a performer of great attitude and brings magnificence to the main meal.  When one digs up the beautiful landscape of a part of the world that suffered greatly, one can find great art.  Shirley Bassey is such a fine, and the "Fabulous Shirley Bassey" is an album full of polished gems, but there is a lot of grit within its textures. 

Roxy Music - "All I Want is You" b/w "Your Application's Failed" 45 rpm Single, UK, 1974 (Island)

"All I Want is You" is the A-side, but of course what I'm interested in is the B-side of this single, the instrumental song "Your Application's Failed."   The beauty of the 45 rpm single are the b-sides that are not on an album.  Mostly they are a mere after-thought if anything else.  For whatever reason, Roxy Music usually put out interesting 'throw-a-way' songs on the b-sides, and "Your Application's Failed" is a small classic Roxy Music piece. 

It's a song by Roxy drummer Paul Thompson, and a great vehicle in exposing the band's talent and most important, a sense of play is on hand.  Most of the songs that end up on a Roxy Music album, or on their A-side singles, it's a very tight structure and there is a sense of seriousness on it all.  They're making commercial art.  Yet, the b-side songs are sometimes experiments or to see what happens, even if they allow their drummer to compose the song.  "Your Application's Failed" is fun.  The fact that Roxy Music or Bryan Ferry can show a lighter side of their record making is wonderful. One wishes that there were more pieces like "Your Application's Failed."  The classic Roxy is always great, but it's the B-sides that add the flavor or spice to Roxy Music. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

John White / Gavin Bryars - "Machine Music" Vinyl, LP, Album, UK, 1978/1976 (Obscure Records)

Although no one will mistake Brian Eno as precisely as a pop star, yet, he is in a sense, but of course with that something extra, which is his interest in Experimental or new music.  In the mid-70s Eno started a record label, Obscure Records, to focus on modern music composers, most of them are British, and very much in Eno's social and music world.   One interesting album (of many fascinating titles) is  the John White and Gavin Bryars album "Machine Music."  

White is by design a minimalist composer, but I find labels too limiting and not very accurate in the sounds one hears.   On side one he has four pieces.  The opening cut is "Autumn Countdown Machine" which is a playful series of notes between a Bassoon, Double Bass, and Tuba that has a sound of various percussion instruments and a metronome underlining the main instrumentation.  To me, I can tell it's British because of its character.  It's a funny piece, but beautiful as well.  Perhaps it's that dynamics that gives this work such character.  "Son of Gothic Cord" is a piano piece played by White and Christopher Hobbs.  It reminds me of a bit of a Steve Reich piano work, but usually, his music is based on another culture, this I think is more numeral orientated or with a strict system in place.  It has an echo that fills the room. One thought but with four hands.  "Jew's Harp Machine" is sort of a super session with White, Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars, and Christopher Hobbs (the Obscure house band!) all playing Jew's Harp, in a rhythmic fashion that has echo and delay (at least to my ears).  "Drinking and Hooting Machine" is a bottle blowing composition and it's eerie, and I can imagine this being heard over a rural countryside, with nothing but owls looking down on the musicians.  

On side two we have one composition by Gavin Bryars which is all guitars.  Played by Bryars, the great Derek Bailey, the amazing Fred Frith, and professional beginner Brian Eno, called "The Squirrel and the Ricketty Racketty Bridge."  A riff that reminds me a bit of White's first composition on the other side "Autumn Countdown Machine."   Four types of guitars that have separate and distinctive sounds that has a beautiful layered aural presence.  Not The Ventures or The Shadows mind you, but still a fresh piece of music.   

Obscure Records had only eight or nine releases but all of them are real gems, and it's excellent to re-hear them in 2019.   Eno should be applauded for presenting new music in such a fashion that's enticing and thrilling at the same time. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Philip Corner - "Satie Slowly" CD, Album, 2014 (Unseen Worlds)

Erik Satie is very much in my DNA.  I was raised with his music due that my parents played the Aldo Ciccolini recordings of Satie's music, especially volume one, that was released by Angel Records, with the Picasso portrait of Satie on its cover.   There are many other versions by different pianists making Satie's piano music, but I was devoted to only the Ciccolini recordings.  Due that they are the best?  Or just out of brand loyalty?  For whatever reason, I could never get fully behind other's interpretations of his piano music, I think at the time 'why bother?'  Recently I got Philip Corner's collection of Satie piano music called "Satie Slowly," and it enchanted me from the very first note to the last in this double CD set.

"Satie Slowly" can mean Corner is playing the notes and melody in a steady slow pace, or it can expect to enjoy the music on one's own natural slow pace.  Nevertheless, there is something organic about Corner's approach to Satie's music, that is never fussy, and the melodies ring out slowly like peeling a juicy orange and making sure not to have any moisture from the fruit land on your white pants.  Each cord he plays on the piano has a slight echo that rings to the next note, and it's a subtlety that is small in comparison of playing something significant, but the spacing allows the essence and beauty to come out of its music. 

A mixture of nightclub cabaret and reflection, this is where Satie lives, and Corner plays his music in the sense of grace, humor, and the essence of everyday life coming and going.   It makes sense that Corner is also a visual artist as well as a member of Fluxus, an art movement that is hysterical and serious at the same time.   These piano recordings, at this moment, are my favorite Satie performances.  I want to thank Alejandro Cohen of The Dublab Creative Cultivation for turning me on to this double-CD set.  It's marvelous. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Ron Grainer Orchestra - "The Prisoner: Original Soundtrack Music From The TV Series" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1986 (Bam-Caruso)

I never heard of Ron Grainer before, but clearly, I know his music due to my obsession with the TV series "The Prisoner."  I can spend hours just watching the opening credits to the show, where secret agent No. 6 (Patrick McGoohan) resigns in anger and is seen being kidnapped and taken to the island, which resembles a retirement home for lunatics.  Within two minutes one has the flavor as well as the narrative of the show.  Equally exciting is the soundtrack theme to "The Prisoner."

Ron Grainer wrote the central theme, and the rest of the music that was on the show is a combination of his work, and various British composers who worked in the Film Library world.  At times, playful, sinister, and classic Spy theme music all rolled in one package.  British sounding to the core, and not that different from the aesthetics of various English shows of the time:  "The Avengers," "Saint," and even McGoohan's old show "Secret Agent Man" (or in the UK "Danger Man").  Still, this is a spy TV show that hints of the avant-garde, or the theater of the absurd.  A limited run show that had a beginning, a middle, and an end.   In that format, it is like a structured version of "Twin Peaks," but with the intensity of McGoohan's participation.  It's odd that I have at least three albums that are based on Parick McGoohan's film/TV works.  Perhaps it's not the music itself, but the presence of this great actor/producer/director. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Philip Glass - "Music in Similar Motion / Music in Fifths" LP, Album, 1973 (Chatham Square Productions)

The early music of Philip Glass is interesting to me because they are genuinely sculptures made of sound. I feel the music is prepared to take physical space.   His later work is very melodic, but the early works are like classical garage rock.  Made in lofts for people who live in lofts.   "Music in Similar Motion" is three electric organs and two soprano saxophones, plus flute played by Robert Prado, who it seems passed away soon after this recording in 1971.  The music Glass wrote was from another culture, and not necessarily from the New York world.  In fact, the music is transported into that culture.  Still, I think both pieces (the other being "Music in Fifths") are sculptures more than music.

The repetition of the notes played together are a series of riffs, that combined with the other musicians is hypnotic, yet organic in that it has a hefty weight to it all.  The music doesn't roll, but clearly, it rocks.   Best to be played loud.