Archive for August, 2010

Kinky Friedman “Sold American”

Most country music is geared toward tear-in-the-beer stylings, but no other country album makes me sob into my Budweiser quite like Sold American. And not because it’s overtly sad – Kinky Friedman is a fearless humorist who turns racist rednecks and rough treatment into comedic gold – but because too much of this 1973 album still rings true nearly four decades later. In the vein of comedians like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, Friedman shines a bright light on the bigoted, hypocritical underbelly of the land of the free, and uses every taboo word in the book to get the effect he’s after.

“Kinky Friedman… is on his way to becoming the first Texas-Jewish country music star,” proclaims Newsweek from the back of the album cover. And if the delicious absurdity of that statement appeals to you, the songs surely will too. ‘We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To You’ recounts Friedman being slurred and insulted out of a “bullethead cafe” by an intolerant restaurateur. ‘Highway Cafe’ has a chorus of “oh make it a corned beef on rye” and features two rednecks recounting a fatal trucking accident with infectious dumb laughter (“AHAHAHAHA AHEEHEEHEEHEE”). ‘Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed’ is an anti-feminist rant the likes of which is unimaginable today, while the title track is a wistful, beautiful ballad about a fading America, that could serve as the theme song for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow. Like the rest of Sold American, ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ is both lovely and ludicrous.

In 2006, Friedman mounted a serious, and seriously offbeat, campaign for governor of Texas. Campaign slogans included “He ain’t Kinky, he’s my Governor” and “My governor is a Jewish Cowboy” and Friedman qualified himself thusly: “Musicians can run this state better than politicians. We won’t get a lot done in the mornings, but we’ll work late and be honest.” He pulled a respectable 12.6% of the vote and finished fourth out of six candidates. Friedman might be a funny Jewish cowboy, but he’s a also a thoughtful, driven Texan who has made Lone Star statements like “If you ain’t Texan, I ain’t got time for you.”

Like his politics, Friedman’s music might appear silly, but it’s ultimately serious stuff. His band featured top-notch Nashville session musicians like guitarist Norman Blake and pianist David Briggs, and this music is as polished as a new mandolin. But nobody else in Nashville (or anywhere else for that matter) was singing ballads about Texas Clock Tower shooter Charles Whitman or suggesting we roll Jesus into a big fat doobie and get high on religion. Friedman’s funny, but in the end the joke’s on us – racism, mass murder, religious intolerance, misogyny, hyper-materialism. Kinky Friedman may have held his fun house mirror up to this country in 1973, but the songs remain the same…

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“Sold American”

:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Vanguard | search ebay ]
😀 CD Reissue | 2003 | Vanguard | buy at amazon ]

The Four Seasons “The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette”

The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette is as good as (if not better) than many of the more vaunted psych pop creations.  The songwriting is dense, adventurous and very strong this time around.  Like all great legends, Frankie Valli comes through in a big way, delivering some of the best vocal performances of his career.  The harmony singing is breathtaking, never straying too far from what made the Four Season’s such a great mid 60s vocal group (they were often called the Beach Boys of the East!).  Three songs exceed the 6 minute mark and are epic productions but the shorter psych pop numbers are just as good.  The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette is no cash-in effort or group attempt at jumping on the psychedelic bandwagon, it’s the real deal.  Backward cymbals, phasing and other means of studio experimentation simply add to the group’s strong pop sensibility.  Great hooks, quirky ideas and powerful performances keep this LP grounded – things never sound forced, bloated or too psychedelic. Great pop songs like “Something’s On Her Mind,” “Mrs. Stately’s Garden,” “Saturday’s Father,” and the extended title track expand on the group’s mid 60s sound.

Consistent and original, The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette is a terrific LP that always seems to slip thru the cracks. It goes without saying that this is the best LP the Four Seasons ever released.   This is also the achievement that Frankie Valli is most proud of;  in 2002, Goldmine interviewed Frankie Valli who reflected on the album’s lack of success: “We talked about some of the social problems on that album. Nobody was expecting anything like that from us. The record company wasn’t very pleased with the fact that we turned in an album like that. They didn’t do very much work on it. It certainly is an album that I’ve always been very proud of. I wouldn’t call the album exactly psychedelic, [although] it did have kind of a flow or a taste of that. “Wall Street Village Day” was an incredible song. “Soul Of A Woman” was another really great song, and the title song, “Genuine Imitation Life,” is also great. Of all the bands out there, we have touched on almost every kind of music that there is. Everything from “Sherry” to the album Genuine Imitation Life Gazette to touches of jazz with “Swearin’ To God” to “My Eyes Adored You” to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” to “Who Loves You.” I don’t know many acts out there who have done it as successfully as we have done it.”  Four Season main songwriter Bob Gaudio also had some thoughts on the record: “One of the disappointments of our career for me on a creative level was the Genuine Imitation Life Gazette album. It was just something that I had to do at that time. It got wonderful reviews, but obviously it was not an acceptable piece from us. Everybody was expecting Top 40.”

Long time fans usually write Gazette off because it’s a departure from the group’s signature sound.  Dealer’s tend to overlook this classic because it’s an LP by a group who was never considered to be hip, making Gazette a cheap, easy to find score.  Prepare to be surprised.

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“Saturday’s Father”

:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Phillips | search ebay ]

Freedom “Nero Su Bianco (Black On White)”

The history of this MIA sixties popsike gem seems to be better known than the music itself, possibly
because it’s such a quirky tale. Almost immediately after the runaway success of Procol Harum’s
first 45 rpm outing, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, in the summer of 1967 drummer Bobby Harrison
and guitarist Ray Royer left the band for reasons undisclosed but amid very public rancour, in the
wake of co-manager Jonathan Weston who had been fired just previously. Enlisting the youthful but
experienced Mike Lease on Hammond and piano plus unknown teenager Steve Shirley on bass and
lead vocal, Harrison christened the new outfit Freedom, possibly as a snipe at Procol. While they
rehearsed at Weston’s house, the manager somehow obtained for them a commission to produce
the soundtrack for an upcoming erotic movie by Italian avant-garde director Dino Di Laurentiis. This
would be virtually dialogue-free, with the soundtrack’s lyrics providing the principal characterisation.
The recordings for this challenging project took place at London’s Olympic Studios over two months,
produced by Lease and engineered by Glyn Johns, no less, and Eddie Kramer, future producer to
Jimi Hendrix. The film was entitled Nero Su Bianco (or Attraction/Black On White for release outside
Italy). The band actually appeared in the film, miming the songs as a commentary to the action. It’s
not explained how Italian audiences were expected to cope with the English lyrics.

The movie predictably stiffed everywhere outside its native country, and found only an art-house
audience at home. The music would have disappeared along with it, no release on record ever
having been intended. However, Atlantic Records had issued an album of the soundtrack in 1969
in Italy only, totally without the band’s cognizance, and this was picked up thirty years later by
the new generation of UK psych rarity anoraks, finally finding a general release as Black On White
on the Angel Air reissue label. As for Freedom, Weston had finally secured them a recording deal
with Mercury in 1968 under which a single “Where Will You Be Tonight” appeared, but its chart
failure and that of a subsequent single “Kandy Kay” on EMI’s German Plexium imprint, plus rising
antagonism between founder members Harrison and Royer, led to the band’s demise early the
following year. Harrison went on to lead a new and very different Freedom which produced several
albums in a typical early-70s hard-rock style.

The music on Black On White will not sound unfamiliar to Procol Harum devotees, being heavily
keyboards-based with Shirley’s soulful lead vocals reminiscent of Gary Brooker, although perhaps
nearer to Greg Lake. The general feel is however more funky and less bombastic than Procul of the
same period, maybe closer to early Traffic. It owes its psych credentials to the mildly lysergic lyrics
and to the use of string-quartet backings, harpsichords and other pop-Baroque touches, rather
than to studio trickery, this being limited to modest if ubiquitous flanging. There are no obvious
highlights, all tracks being of a uniformly excellent quality both in the songwriting and in the playing.
The 2009 CD re-release includes all thirteen cuts from the original soundtrack, plus both sides of the
Mercury single and some alternative mixes.

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“The Better Side”

😀 CD Reissue | 2009 | Angel Air | buy at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Atlantic | search ebay ]

Fairport Convention “Full House”

Full House marked the consolidation of Fairport’s transition from West Coast-styled, hallucinogenics-
influenced outfit – a British Jefferson Airplane, perhaps – to purveyors of rocked-up, electrified
British traditional folk, a courageous move tentatively started with the inclusion of “A Sailor’s Life”
on Unhalfbricking and triumphantly completed on Liege And Lief, perhaps the most influential and
important UK rock album to appear since Sergeant Pepper. But Fairport had then lost arguably its
two most important contributors, founder and direction-setter Ashley Hutchings and crystal-voiced
frontwoman Sandy Denny. New bassist Dave Pegg proved a valuable acquisition with his rocky style,
but the other members had to close ranks and take on the vocal chores themselves. They did so,
with an initial naïvité that retrospectively evinces considerable charm, Richard Thompson and Dave
Swarbrick proving to have distinctively different rural vocal deliveries and Simon Nicol reluctantly
airing a melodious tenor that would eventually see him become the band’s leading voice.

The other element that newly marks Full House out is the humour and looseness which its illustrious
predecessor lacked. With talented but earnest female vocalist Denny no longer having to be
accommodated and adulated, the boys were free to have some fun, and it comes across in these
grooves, notwithstanding the doomy themes of some of the lyrics: songs about sexual exploitation,
sin and death can be funky, as “Doctor Of Physick”, “Sloth” and “Sir Patrick Spens” show. I recall
seeing this line-up play the Bath Festival Of Blues And Progressive Music at Shepton Mallet in 1970,
and the high jinks on stage would not have been on display a year earlier.

“Walk Awhile” is a wonderfully swinging opener, with all three lead vocalists taking turns at the
verses and fine, fiery harmony and octave work between Thompson’s guitar and Swarbrick’s
violin. “Sloth” is an ominous, downbeat death march that builds to an almost unbearable tension in
the lengthy instrumental break as Thommo’s edgy Strat and Swarb’s compressed, wailing fiddle duke
it out in opposite stereo channels: perhaps the best instrumental work the band ever produced. The
two cheerful jig medleys offer a variety of familiar and little-known traditional tunes, forefronting
Swarb’s and Peggy’s duelling mandolins on “Flatback Caper” and all four string players on “Dirty
Linen”. “Spens” is a gloriously disrespectful, steady-rollin’ take on that revered Scottish traditional
ditty, while Nicol’s amplified dulcimer provides the backbone for that country’s mournful anthem
for the dead, “Flowers Of The Forest”. The Island CD re-release offers a number of bonus tracks,
including the unnecessarily lugubrious “Poor Will & The Jolly Hangman” that had been removed
(probably wisely) from the original pressing at the last moment at the insistence of its writer,
Thompson, and the brief but excellent non-album single “Now Be Thankful”, one of the band’s
evergreens.

Full House is arguably Fairport’s last really great album, its release being followed by the departure
of Thompson for a solo career and his replacement by Jerry Donohue, whose elegant Nashville style
prefaced a gentle slide in the direction of country rock. Henceforth Swarbrick would take over the
band’s direction as the quality gradually declined until his own departure, when Nicol as the last-
standing original member would take the reins. After countless further line-up changes and albums
the band remains extant and much-loved to this day, with its annual outdoor reunion at Cropredy in
Oxfordshire attracting swarms of the faithful.

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“Walk Awhile”

😀 CD Reissue | 2001 | Island | buy at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1970 | Island | search ebay ]