Archive for June, 2013

Flaviola e o Bando do Sol

Flaviola e o Bando do Sol

Interest in Brazil’s 1960s/1970s music scene is pretty much dominated by Tropicalia these days, but behind this popular front lay a bevy of fantastic psychedelic rock albums that don’t otherwise fit in with the kaleidoscopic coastal sounds of folks like Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa or Os Mutantes. One of these is the self-titled release by Flaviola e o Bando do Sol, an ethereal slice of psychedelic folk music put together by many of the same cats who made Lula Côrtes and Zé Ramalho’s Paêbirú such an enduring classic.

There is a lazy, mellow vibe to the proceedings here that really puts you in a midnight, beach campfire vibe, with jangling acoustic guitars and wispy flashes of percussion bedding Flaviola’s warm, reassuring vocals. Flute, dulcimer, and what sounds like a harp also make appearances here, as well as several other instruments that sound distinctly Brazilian, though I’ll be damned if I can name them. The rare, rapid-fire semi-electric number “Asas” and the catchy “Balalaica” are definitely the numbers to play to Tropicalia fans, featuring the record’s most energetic rhythms, with Flaviola and friends cheerily chanting out the title on the latter (whether or not the song actually makes use of a Russian balalaika I have no idea). Slower pieces like “Noite” and the autoharp punctuated “Canção de Outono” are more personal numbers, with sleepy sways to them and delicate finger picking.

The record is pretty short, at just under half an hour long, so I’ll keep the review short in turn. After all, this isn’t exactly an album that you can say very much about, as it’s more about the magic of hearing all these simple acoustic sounds come together – there is nothing shocking or avant-garde here, simply beautiful music that is bound to stick with you long after the needle’s been lifted. British-based reissue label Mister Bongo has done us all a favor by repressing this one on 180 gram vinyl, though if that’s not your thing (and it should be) then they also have copies on compact disc. Don’t miss this one.

mp3: Canto Fúnebre
mp3: Do Amigo

:) Reissue | 2012 | Mr. Bongo | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2012 | Mr. Bongo | buy here ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

 

Grateful Dead “Birth of the Dead”

birthofthedead

It’s no secret that the Grateful Dead jumped the shark many, many times during the course of their long career. In fact it’s pretty easy to dismiss the group outright as figureheads of the sixties counterculture’s gradual descent into hippie/yuppie oblivion, as their constituency dropped back into the mainstream American fold during the rather nihilistic, Cocaine-fueled post-Nam years and carried the band along with it. But behind the burden of all this history lies a remarkable early career that, while by no means providing the most extraordinary music of the times (our articles here should have made that one clear enough by now), managed to give us a good run of righteous records. Now Birth of the Dead, a relatively generous two-disc set released by Rhino Records back in 2001, adds another, perhaps even more exciting piece to the puzzle that is early Dead.

Split between studio and on-stage material, the material found on the former represent some of the band’s earliest forays into the recording studio, and the sounds they waxed during these sessions are a revelation. The band here is raw, frazzled and gnarly, still rooted in the blues and folk traditions they emerged from and free from any of the light funk fusion flavors that would come to tarnish their jams in the proceeding decade. The tempos here are fast, the guitars brittle and Pigpen’s Vox Continental dripping with garage cool. Had it come from any other group, “Mindbender” (possibly the crown jewel of the collection) and “Can’t Come Down” would be regarded as psychedelic folk-rock nuggets of the highest caliber. One almost wishes that some of the instrumental takes of these songs would be shuffled around the disc instead of being placed back-to-back with their masters, but the lack of vocals here help alleviate any repetition irritation. The most unusual cut on the first take is probably “Fire In the City,” in which the band is found backing jazz singer Jon Hendricks on a political number originally written for use in a mid-sixties documentary feature. The combination works much better than one might expect, with Hendricks letting his hair down a little beside Jerry Garcia’s piercing blues leads.

The live disc is a further joy, painted in surprisingly crisp sound quality and featuring a lengthy anthology of 1966 concert recordings apparently culled from a number of sources. Some of the usual suspects are to be found here, numbers which would follow the Dead onto their debut album such as “Viola Lee Blues” and “Sitting On Top of the World,” but these are backed with some rarely-heard material from the era, including a solid rendition of Dylan’s oft-covered “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and the traditional ballad “In the Pines.” The blues and R&B numbers in-between are all solid, if not particularly exhilarating, but are definitely worth their weight for hearing this band in its prime really cut loose. The seven-minute closing romp “Keep Rolling By” has some razor-sharp Garcia guitar action going – at times sounding more like fellow Bay Area pickers John Cippollina or Jorma Kaukonen than his own latter-day self – and a bevy of endearingly ragged group vocal shouting. Merry Prankster Dead like it should be.

So if you’ve never really given the band their due, put off by their mythological hokum and alarmingly obsessive legacy, give this set a shot and see where you end up. There’s a lot of great rock and roll to be found here, and it deserves to be taken on its own merit. And if you’re digging this and haven’t already jumped into the band’s self-titled debut (released a year after the material contained herein was recorded but born of many of the same impulses), maybe now you’ll have the proper context to digest that often underrated set.

mp3: Mindbender
mp3: One Kind Favor

😀 CD Issue | 2001 | Rhino | buy here ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Gene Clark “Two Sides To Every Story”

Two Sides To Every Story

It was three years after Gene Clark’s infamous, cocaine-fueled mid 70s masterpiece No Other, teaming again with Thomas Jefferson Kaye as producer and employing the best musicians of the era, Doug Dillard, Emmylou Harris, Jeff Baxter, Al Perkins, John Hartford to name a few, Clark took things down a notch while retaining a tight (but not overly slick) studio sound on 1977’s Two Sides To Every Story. Even judging the albums by their cover, the excess of No Other gets stripped away to reveal a regular, humble Gene Clark in its wake. On the surface what appears to be a late, perhaps too-safe offering from a washed up Gene Clark (it did turn out to be another commercial failure) in hindsight is one of his finest moments on record.

A little bit a country, a litte bit rock n roll, a heavy dose of Gene’s trademark ballads and tender vocal deliveries, you’ll probably fall for one of the styles offered up on Two Sides more than another, but the varied mix works. Album starter “Home Run King” is an oddly great track as good as anything from the Fantastic Expedition, though Dillard’s pronounced banjo picking will surely turn off the less country inclined. In the same kind of feel, the band lends traditional “In The Pines” as much a ‘Gene Clark’ sound as Nirvana would do for themselves some fifteen years later. I’m less inclined to stay around for the barroom rock sound on his own “Kansas City Southern,” previously recorded for Dillard & Clark’s Through The Morning Through The Night, and a cover of Young Jessie’s “Mary Lou,” but these are still strong cuts.

The key to this record is to not let the soft ones sneak by. Like all good Clark tunes the slower numbers here are moody, dynamic, dramatic rides that pay off more and more with each new listen. The beautiful “Sister Moon” could have easily found a home on No Other.  “Give My Love To Marie” is a tender take on a sad track penned by the underrated James Talley. The final trio of ballads, “Hear The Wind,” “Past Addresses,” and “Silent Crusade” all originals where he does his thing; the growing beauty of this album further solidifies Gene Clark as one of my favorite singer/songwriters (a shame I hadn’t found this one sooner).

Perhaps a little more thought on the sleeve design (not that Gene’s big goofy grin on the back is without its charm) might have ensured Two Sides would be properly recognized as the classic it is. On the other hand, most of Clark’s material remains woefully unrecognized today, Two Sides no exception.

The fairly new High Moon Records issued Two Sides To Every Story on vinyl (with 16-page booklet) earlier this year. They plan to also put it out on CD for the first time this spring, included with an extra disc of bonus material. Apparently vinyl buyers will eventually be able to get their hands on the extra material as well through a download card. You can’t be a Gene Clark fan without this one.

mp3: Home Run King
mp3: Sister Moon

:) Reissue | 2013 | High Moon Records | buy from highmoon ]
:) Original | 1977 | RSO Records | search ebay ]