Archive for the ‘ Americana ’ Category

Michael Bloomfield “Analine”

By 1977 Michael Bloomfield was well past his glory days as a stellar sessioneer on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and as one half of the Butterfield Blues Band’s fearsome two-pronged guitar attack with Elvin Bishop. Disillusioned by the guitar-star pressure resulting from the Fillmore supersessions with Al Kooper and his brief tenure as figurehead of the crazily over-hyped Electric Flag, and succumbing to increasing depression and substance abuse, he’d drawn in his horns and largely retired to his San Fran home, emerging occasionally to record low-key albums with friends including John Hammond Jr, Barry Goldberg and Dr John, or to play low-profile gigs with pickup bands in the Bay area. After a prolonged spell of not playing at all due to the effects of heroin, psychological disturbances and arthritis, Bloomfield re-emerged in ’77 to cut a series of four albums over three years for John Fahey’s Takoma label, in which he returned largely to the pure Chicago blues of his formative years, now leavened with soul, gospel and jazz influences.

The first Takoma album, Analine, finds Bloomfield stretching out in leisurely fashion alone in the studio, playing all the instruments himself on a selection of self-penned tunes and covers in enough styles to delight any Ry Cooder aficionado, and airing a tenor voice with a slightly cracked heroin edge and a wicked and very necessary sense of humour on the opening “Peepin’ An’ A-Moanin’ Blues” and on “Big ‘C’ Blues” whose decidedly non-PC lyrics deal with sexual perversions and cancer respectively, and on a wonderful ragtime rendition of the ancient murder ballad “Frankie And Johnny”. Most of the guitars are acoustic and sublimely played, with nods to Django Reinhardt on the swinging twelve-bar “Mr Johnson And Mr Dunn” (on which Bloomfield’s jazzy rhythm comping is a delight), to Stefan Grossman on the effortless Scott Joplin-syle “Effinonna Rag”, and to Cooder on the beautiful Tejano “Hilo Waltz”, forefronting Dobro and tiple. Bloomfield also offers an effective bluesy piano, an instrument with which he’s not usually associated, on the sombre gospel instrumental “At The Cross” and on a maudlin but stylish reading of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo”. The only disappointments are that he lets rip only once in his legendary electric blues style, on “Big ‘C’ Blues”, and that his expeditions on electric slide guitar tend to be a bit weedy and undisciplined, as on “At The Cross” and on the concluding, soulful, title track. The latter is the only cut to feature other musicians, including old supersession colleague Nick Gravenites on vocal, and is a pointer to the following albums which would be recorded in a band milieu.

Hopelessly out of sync with the prevailing musical industry trends, the four Takoma outings predictably sank without trace saleswise. After a couple more desultory albums and a one-off reunion on stage with Dylan at SF’s Warfield Theater in November 1980 at which he contributed to a stirring revisitation of “Like A Rolling Stone”, Bloomfield was found dead from a massive heroin OD in his car two months later, his body allegedly having been removed from a party and driven to a different location in a gruesome echo of Gram Parsons’s demise. Sic transit gloria mundi, or in Mike Bloomfield’s case perhaps the finest white blues guitarist ever. Analine can be found with the subsequent Michael Bloomfield on the first of Ace’s 2007 twofer reissues of the four Takoma albums.

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“Effinonna Rag”

:) Original | 1977 | Takoma | search ]
:D Reissue | 2007 | Ace | 2fer | buy ]

Addie Pray “Late For The Dance”

Addie Pray, otherwise known as Bill Lincoln, was part of an American (LA/Texas) rock n roll group called Euphoria.  In 1969, to little fanfare or label support, Capital Records released their explosive sole album, A Gift From Eurphoria.  This disc is commonly referred to as one of the best LPs from the period –  it’s that good.  After this great album, the main members of Euphoria, Wesley Watts and Bill Lincoln, went on to several other interesting studio/side projects.  One of them was this unreleased album that Bill Lincoln quietly recorded in 1970/1971, titled Late For The Dance.

Late For The Dance doesn’t have the wild guitar playing of Wesley Watts nor Euphoria’s over-the-top 60s experimentation.   Replacing these sounds are quiet country-rockers and fragile, broken folk-rock songs.  It’s all good listening too.  Late For The Dance’s closest reference (in production, sound and style) is probably the Everly Brothers’ Stories We Could Tell, a record that was also released around the same time – 1972.  One of the album’s better cuts, “Kentucky”, even sounds like something that would have come off Stories We Could Tell or 1968’s Roots.   Two of the album’s hard rocking tracks, “Train” and “Will You Miss Me?” are clear highlights that have a care free country-rock ambiance that brings Poco to mind.

The low key songs are the real meat of this fine disc.  “Free,”  “Sad Eyed Broken Man,” “Wings In The Wind,” “It Just Keeps Rollin,” and the gospel tinged “Sail On” are all quiet pleasures – excellent tracks that are on par with any big time country-rock productions you care to name.  So while this disc isn’t as experimental as A Gift From EuphoriaLate For The Dance is a really good, straightfoward country-rock record that deserved an official release back in 1970/1971.

CD Baby offers Late For The Dance in cd and mp3 formats.  If one were to jugde Euphoria on their early garage era singles, unreleased material, the A Gift From Euphoria album and the various solo/collaborations of Bill Lincoln and Wesley Watts, you could easily make a case for this group being one of America’s great lost 60s bands.

Also, here’s an interesting interview (via WPKN) with Bill Lincoln, regarding the Euphoria story and the Addie Pray album.  Bill Lincoln put together Late For The Dance with the help of his wife.

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“Free”

:D Reissue | 2008 | Euphoria Records | buy ]
;) MP3 Album | download ]

Country Joe McDonald “Thinking of Woody Guthrie”

During the reigning years of San Francisco headband Country Joe and the Fish, singer and songwriter Joe McDonald took some time out to head to Nashville and record a pair of solo albums with the city’s top session men. Released on the iconic Vanguard Records, these two albums saw McDonald take a broad left turn, away from psychedelia and deep into the traditional folk and country music that had helped inform his earlier years as a radical-political folksinger. Indeed, the first of these two albums, Thinking of Woody Guthrie, was a heartfelt, play-it-straight tribute to the daddy of them all (the radical-political folksingers, that is).

With Nashville aces such as Grady Martin, Norbert Putnam, and Buddy Harmon on board, nobody can accuse McDonald of doing the country thing half-assed. The band lends a warm Opry-house vibe to the wide range of Guthrie material on display, from the weary “Blowing Down That Old Dusty Road” (see “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”) to “Tom Joad,” the seven minute Steinbeckian epic that closes the first side of the album. The music tends to be dense, but the sound is always crisp, with sharp guitar and steel lines darting in and out across McDonald’s plainspoken singing. Martin’s electric sitar lines in “Pastures of Plenty” and the woven acoustics that drive “Tom Joad” are particularly notable. At some points in the proceedings, one does wish that McDonald’s voice was a little more emotive, but as it stands he does a fine job at conveying what is otherwise well-worn material.

All things considered, it would be a stretch to suggest that Thinking of Woody Guthrie is an essential record, but for what it is it manages to stand remarkably strong. Anyone putting together an electric album of Guthrie songs risks missing the point completely and overdoing the material, but McDonald’s take is understated enough to avoid this misstep. He is always sympathetic to the song. In fact, as he himself notes in the spoken introduction to “This Land Is Your Land,” the magic in Woody Guthrie’s songs lay in the fact that Guthrie “never gave you the feeling that he was better than you in any way, and he never gave you the feeling that he was worse than you. But that he loved you, because you were just like him and he was just like you.” I’d argue that the same can be said for old Country Joe here.

An unusual release such as this often risks being forgotten, and left to rot in the vaults, but fortunately Vanguard Records has been remarkably good about keeping their material in print, and their reissue from the early nineties is still widely available. I’d definitely recommend giving it a spin; this is a great record if you’re looking to take some Guthrie songs on the road.

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“Pastures of Plenty”

:D Reissue | 1991 | Vanguard | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | Vanguard | search ebay ]

Timbercreek “Hellbound Highway”

Timbercreek, a young band of ruffians who hailed from the small town of Boulder Creek (pop. 4081), nestled deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California, recorded this lost country-rock gem with a for-real-not-ironic-rural-vibe in 1975. The small California indie label Renegade Records released the lp, and depending on who’s story you choose to believe, somewhere between 100 and 3,000 copies of Hellbound Highway were pressed. Needless to say, this record is very rare, and very, very good. If you’re a fan of The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, or Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty era Grateful Dead then today is your lucky day.

Larry Ross, Jon Hicks, Carl Holland, Bill Woody, and Frank Gummersal met in the Santa Cruz Mountains area and began, along with the help of lyricist Frank Andrick, writing tunes not unlike those being churned out some fifty miles north by the great songwriting team of Garcia/Hunter. Before long they were playing the Bay Area circuit, hitting clubs from Santa Cruz to Palo Alto to La Honda, the one time home of The Merry Pranksters and the site of numerous acid tests. By the time the group of friends entered The Church in San Anselmo, Ca to record their debut record they had developed a solid rural country-rock sound complete with twanging telecasters, bluesy benders, Big Pink harmonies, and tales of life on the road and the fight to take it easy.

The title track is the highlight of the bunch, the story of a highway kind enjoying the finer pleasures in life–jukebox tunes, honky tonk saloons, and of course the midnight special with the truck stop girl. The narrator seems to know that the life will kill him eventually, but he’s trying to make the most of the cards that he’s been dealt. Complete with a few sounds of the road, a killer opening and closing riff, and a nauseous phased out bridge, this song surely delivers. “Nobody on the Streets” has that funky backwoods bootcut sound, complete with wah-wah guitar and a groovy bassline–played by bassist Jon Hicks on his completely homemade bass guitar no less! “Hell in the Hills” is a wonderful album closer that really shows off the band’s jammier side.

After working the circuit, opening for groups like Kingfish and The Sons of Champlin, and even receiving radio play in the San Francisco Bay Area, the members went their separate ways. Fortunately we have Hellbound Highway to remember them by. If you’re looking for a tasty tonic to satisfy your craving for more laid-back West Coast country-rock, Timbercreek’s Hellbound Highway will get you drunk on funky rural vibes straight from the backwoods hill country of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Avoid the unlicensed Radioactive Records bootleg cd release and score an original pressing on vinyl, you won’t regret it!

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“Hellbound Highway”

:) Original | 1975 | Renegade Records | search ebay ]

Bob Carpenter “Silent Passage”

Bob Carpenter’s Silent Passage was a Warner Brothers release from 1984. Supposedly, the sessions for this album were cut between 1971 and 1973 but the Riverman Records reissue OBI strip dates Silent Passage at 1975.  Artists as diverse as Tom Rush, Billy Joe Shaver and Emmylou Harris have covered Carpenter’s material.

Bob Carpenter’s rustic, gritty vocals will probably be an acquired taste but don’t let this deter you from listening to this fine album. There’s a certain spirtual vibe that cloaks Silent Passage, also, it’s not the cheeriest record but not many country-rock albums are. The lyrics usually deal with depression, isolation, loss and the occasional religious overtone but these themes are common among many early 70s country rock/Americana/singer songwriter releases. It’s closest cousin is probably Bob Martin’s classic Midwest Farm Disaster.

Key tracks are the great, eerie Americana of “Gypsy Boy,” a spiritual highlight titled “Morning Train,” the desolate “Down Along the Border,” and the depressing but strangely optimistic “The Believer.” Some tracks such as “Miracle Man” and “Old Friends” offer up a more commerical rock sound while “First Light” is a folk gem with strings and organ.

Overall this is a very good, overlooked LP with many strengths. A quiet gem for the folk-rock and country-rock fans.

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“Gypsy Boy”

:D Reissue | 2009 | Riverman | buy here ]
:) Original | 1975 | Warner Reprise | search ebay ]

Hungry Chuck “Hungry Chuck”

I discovered Hungry Chuck serendipitously via Bobby Charles’s eponymous 1972 album. Beyond Charles’s inspirational songs I was fired by his core backing outfit’s astonishingly sympathetic funky swamp-rock playing. I knew Amos Garrett already from his liquid-fingered guitar solo on Maria Muldaur’s sublime worldwide hit “Midnight At The Oasis”, but the other guys were strangers to me. On researching Garrett further with a view to identifying yet more stuff on which he’d played, I came across Hungry Chuck.

Former Eric Andersen sideman Garrett, original Remains drummer ND Smart II, ex-Bo Grumpus bassist Jim Colegrove and peripatetic New York pianist Jeffrey Gutcheon had backed Ian and Sylvia Tyson on their fine country-rock album Great Speckled Bird, recorded in Nashville in 1970. From there the four journeymen musicians moved to Woodstock, NY, and became effectively the house band for Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records, whence their contribution to the Bobby Charles opus, inter alia. With moonlighting pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith from Neil Young’s alternative backing combo Stray Gators and, curiously, session trumpeter Peter Ecklund, they became Hungry Chuck, presumably jokily named for underground cartoonist Dan Clyne’s repulsive character Hungry Chuck Biscuits (unconfirmed – feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). In between backing Grossman’s extensive register of talent the guys found time to assemble their own album, which appeared eponymously as Hungry Chuck in the US in 1972 but did not find a release in the UK until retrospectively put out by See For Miles in 1988 as South In New Orleans.

Typical of most albums recorded by aggregations of talented sidemen, Hungry Chuck is a slow burner which rewards repeated listening: such outfits by definition don’t usually include chartbusting songwriters or throat-grabbing lead vocalists, but the quality of such works invariably shines through with a little aural rubbing. (To see what I mean, listen to anything by Area Code 615 or Barefoot Jerry, or any of David Lindley’s solo and El Rayo-X waxings.) Most of the songs are penned by Gutcheon; musically they’re an eclectic stew of country rock, Memphis soul and New Orleans jazzy swing, and lyrically they’re joyous deprecatory pokes at 1970s American post-hippie culture and obvious parodies of The Band, Zappa and even James Brown, all recorded with a high sense of humour and absolutely no commercial ambition. Garrett’s playing is comparatively restrained compared to his Speckled Bird output, though gloriously tasteful throughout; Colegrove’s bass is less quirky, more solid than on the Charles outing; and it’s Gutcheon’s virtuoso piano and Ecklund’s multitracked trumpet, cornet and fluegel that largely shape the arrangements. As well as the ten “proper” songs there are three episodes of playful studio nonsense credited to Smart and Garrett, presumably to give them a writer credit. Again typically for albums by such aggregations there are no real standout tracks, but the highlights include the swinging opener “Hats Off, America!” (which includes the splendidly prescient line “Tell your kids, don’t worry ‘cos the banks will never fail!”), the obvious Eagles skit “Watch The Trucks Go By” with great guest harmonica from Paul Butterfield, and the splendidly po-faced “All Bowed Down” which caricatures The Band at their most morose.

After this freshman album Hungry Chuck recorded a second, which to date remains unreleased – why? – and soon afterwards went their own ways, all being highly valued as sessioneers. Most notably, Garrett worked extensively with Maria Muldaur; Smart thumped the tubs for Gram Parsons’s Fallen Angels; Gutcheon was musical arranger for the disparate likes of Gladys Knight and Ringo Starr; and Keith stroked the strings for seven years with Uncle Neil. Proving that the split was not rancorous, the Chuck members also intermittently toured and recorded in various combinations almost until the turn of the century, and most still remain active in the business.

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“All Bowed Down”

:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Bearsville | search ebay ]

The Brazda Brothers “The Brazda Brothers”

By the early 70’s Slovakia-born brothers Bystrik and Andy Brazda had relocated to Ontario, Canada in search of greener pastures. Shortly after settling down in their new home they began writing music together. Canadian owned Dominion Records released their first and only lp, The Brazda Brothers, in 1974. Rumour has it that the brothers laid the entire album to tape in a marathon six hour session at RCA Studios in Toronto. Marathon session or not, The Brazda Brothers is one of the finest psych-folk lps ever pressed to wax.

The first track, “Walking Into the Sun”, sets the warm and peaceful pace that permeates the album when a lightly strummed acoustic guitar gives way to a gentle soft-psych tune that comfortably slinks by–full of melodic, wistful vocals, crystal clear electric guitar, thumpy tubby drums, and a wonderful appearance by what sounds to be a calliope, but is credited as a Cordovox–the same keyboard that shows up frequently to add its unique touch to much of the record. Right off the bat it’s clear that the brothers had a vision to share and they do so in an innocent, heartfelt way. This homegrown feel sets their record apart from the pack, earning it a place at the table with other lost classics of the era.

“Share With Love” is an upbeat number that encourages the listener to consider the needs of their fellow brothers and sisters. With its reverb drenched guitar and minor key refrain this tune has an almost garage flavored folk-rock sound, and its slightly eerie vibe adds a different taste to the record and shows a different side of the brothers’ sound. Midway through the album the brothers turn the volume up a bit with “Gemini”. Complete with gloriously fuzzed-out electric guitar and an almost-boiling Hammond Organ that adds something exotic to the mix, this tune definitely delivers in the psych category and comes out as one of finest cuts on this collection. The entire song has a subtle Eastern-European vibe that becomes most apparent when the brothers harmonize on the refrain. On the next track, “Nature”, Andy dreams of a carefree life spent living in the country, singing “the sun will shine all day/Mother nature will be our neighbor”. Reminiscent of “Hello Sunshine” and other tunes off of the Relatively Clean Rivers lp, this song has a great late sixties soft-psych vibe as well as a catchy chorus, and continues the acid-rural-pastoral-folk vibe that begins with the album opener.

“Lonely Time” is a beautifully sad little gem that finds Andy again longing for the peace and serenity of a home surrounded by nature and the familiar faces of friends and loved ones. In 2008 Panda Bear of Animal Collective fame payed tribute to these Slovak brothers when he released a remix of The Notwist’s “Boneless” that uses the opening riff of “Lonely Time” to fine effect.

The only criticism of this album is that several of the songs, such as “My Little Girl” and “Nature” have a very similar sound. However, it’s hard for it to bother you when it’s such a great sound! In the end, the pure and honest nature of the album along with the wonderfull vibe trumps any criticism.

The Brazda Brothers is a great album that stands shoulder to shoulder with other similar sounding lost classics of the time such as Relatively Clean Rivers, Rodriguez’s Cold Fact, and Jim Sullivan’s UFO. With their laid-back attitude, sunny rural vibe, and unique voices, the brothers crafted the perfect album for a lazy summer afternoon full of good vibes. As you’ve already guessed, original copies are rare, and sell for a very pretty penny when they do pop up. Hallucination CDs out of New Jersey re-released the album on cd with a limited pressing of 1,000 copies, and Void Records has reissued the album on vinyl. Pick up a copy while they’re still available!

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“Walking Into The Sun”

:) Orig Vinyl | 1973 | Dominion Records | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Hallucination | buy here ]

Little Feat “Dixie Chicken”

Dixie Chicken (1973) is when Little Feat came up with their signature sound.  Many fans cite this as the group’s best LP.  I’ve always thought their debut was one of the best albums from the time (Sailin’ Shoes is also superb), so I’m not really sure which side of the fence I stand on.

Dixie Chicken is a more produced (rich, full sound), laid back affair when compared to the raw eccentricity of those first two albums.   Most of the tracks are Lowell George originals but to give you an idea of the influences at work here, the group covers Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down.”  This means there’s a strong New Orleans aroma throughout Dixie Chicken.  Classics like the title track and “Two Trains Running” while great songs, feature soulful backup vocalists, which make them sound a bit more produced than the group’s earlier efforts.  That being said, this is certainly one hell of an album – one of the defining roots rock discs.  On Dixie Chicken, the group incorporated funky, almost danceable rhythms within many of the song structures while other tunes such as the excellent “Kiss It Off,” replete with ominous synth or “Juliette,” feature dark, intense vibes.  Dixie Chicken is also notable for featuring one of Little Feat’s greatest songs, the much loved “Fat Man In The Bathtub.”

Impassioned vocals, great lyrics, piano, slide guitar and a rock steady beat make this track one of classic rock’s great legends – there’s nothing like it.  My picks are the acoustic (and slide guitar) piece “Roll Um Easy” and the jumpin’ “Fool Yourself.”  Both songs have the feel and style of Little Feat’s earlier triumphs.  All told, Little Feat came up with their third masterpiece in as many years.  Essential.

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“Kiss It Off”

:) Original Vinyl | Warner Bros | 1973 | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Tiny Tim “God Bless Tiny Tim”

Love him or hate him, there was no one else like Tiny Tim in the late 60’s.  John Lennon was reportedly a fan, and Tim was a staple on late night television of the time. In 1968 he released his debut album on Reprise- a blend of American popular songs and extreme weirdness that often veers into psychedelia.

God Bless Tiny Tim was promoted as a joke record, but beneath all the camp and novelty there are some stunning gems on this very musical album.

This is an early example of outsider music and Tim did exactly what he wanted here, aided with expert production by Richard Perry. Some moments recall the whimsy of Van Dyke Parks’ debut, or even that of Randy Newman’s first with dense dynamic orchestral arrangements supplementing a full band. Tracks like “Strawberry Tea” and “The Coming-Home Party” and the brilliant version of Irving Berlin’s “Stand Down Here Where You Belong” are completely straightforward pop songs and would have been coveted by any self respecting psych band of the era.

The creepiness of “Daddy Daddy, What is Heaven Like?” is overpowered by Tiny Tim’s sincerity. His knowledge of American musical tradition and dedication to music hall and vaudeville allow these songs to come to life in very satisfying ways. It’s somewhat prophetic that in 1968 Tim was singing “The ice caps are melting…”, and there is a definite vibe that Tim’s not only in on the joke, but is really the one laughing here (which he does hysterically at one point).

The between-song narration occasionally stifles the flow, but it gives us a little glimpse into Tiny Tim’s mindset- his intentions were clearly to open himself up to the world and put on a show; his tastes, interests, showmanship, and quirky personality are all clearly present here. It’s the perfect production and it’s Tiny Tim’s consistently entertaining performances that really elevate this record above mere musical comedy status.

God Bless Tiny Tim is available from Rhino Handmade as a single disc or the 2006 “God Bless Tiny Tim: The Complete Reprise Studio Masters . . . And More” box set.

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“Strawberry Tea”

:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Rhino Handmade | buy here ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1968 | Reprise | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Dale Hawkins “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”

Dale Hawkins, cousin of the legendary rockabilly raver Ronnie Hawkins, is most commonly remembered for writing and recording the original version of the swamp-rock standard “Suzie Q” in 1957. Born and raised in Louisiana, Hawkins had reached a milestone at the beginning of his career by bringing the sound of the swamp to the masses. However, Hawkins was much more than just a writer or a singer, and he spent the next ten years recording more singles for Chess Records and working behind the scenes as a producer and A&R man.

By 1967 Hawkins was itchin’ to cut an lp of his own again and headed into a small studio in Los Angeles where, he began work on what was to become L.A, Memphis, & Tyler, Texas. Holed up in bassist Joe Osborn’s basement studio, Hawkins began laying the framework for his new record along with the help of Taj Mahal, James Burton, Ry Cooder, and Paul Murphy. Hawkins had established a practice of playing with up and coming musicians when he successfully enlisted the help of a young James Burton for the twangy signature lick on “Suzie Q”, and things were no different this time around with youngbloods Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal along for the ride. Hawkins would later travel to Memphis, TN where he worked with Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, and Wayne Jackson & the Memphis Horns at Ardent Recordings and then to Tyler, Texas where Hawkins hunkered down in a funky little studio and finished the record with the help of Texas Garage Rock obscurites Mouse & The Traps. When all was said and done he had managed to lay down ten slices of pure swamp-funk genius, even getting songwriting help along the way from Bobby Charles of “See You Later Alligator” fame and the writer of “The Letter”, Wayne Carson. Pretty impressive.

L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas sounds like the front cover looks. That is to say, laid back, down-home, stoned, and restless all at once–it’s a deep fried oddball of an album that takes the genre to new levels and doesn’t sound exactly like anything else out there. The closest points of comparison for Hawkins’ funky noise would no doubt be the kindred spirits of Jim Ford, Link Wray, and Bobby Charles, although the kinda eerie haunted vibe that possesses part of the album brings to mind Skip Spence’s acid masterpiece “Oar” more than the music of Dale’s cousin Ronnie Hawkins or Dale’s former Chess Records labelmates. Simply put, L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas is weird, in a totally wonderful way.

The title track is an instant southern juke joint dance floor classic–throw it on the turntable and watch the hips begin to shake! A perfect introduction to the record, right on par with the title track off of Jim Ford’s excellent “Harlan County” lp; the equation begins with an undeniably funky Levon Helm-esque drum beat and ends with a fat and brassy horn part courtesy of The Memphis Horns, with some slinky slide guitar from Ry Cooder and some twangin’ tele from James Burton thrown in for good measure. “Heavy On My Mind”, co-written with the help of Carson, has a great muggy southern vibe and rollicks along at a brisk pace, aided by more excellent guitar work from his young dream team of killer pickers.

Things get freaky on “Ruby, Don’t You Take Your Love To Town”, a song about a disabled Vietnam vet and his unfaithful wife, which Kenny Rogers later scored a hit with. Along with the help of his friends in Mouse & The Traps, Hawkins managed to record a version of this song that really nails the subject matter. It’s deep, dark, murky, and weird, like a bad trip put to wax. Hawkins and the boys must have been chowin’ down on some mighty strange gumbo in that funky little Texas studio to cook up something this chewy. Meanwhile, Bobby Charles co-write “La-La, La-La” is a catchy little winsome pop ditty, and “Little Rain Cloud” is a swamp masterpiece that simply must be heard to be believed. The only place Hawkins comes close to missing the mark is on his cover of the great Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, which falls just short of the high level of excellence set by Reed’s original version. Nevertheless, the tune fits in pretty perfectly with the freaked out funky vibe of the whole album.

The late 60’s and 70’s were a time when handfuls of great record producers such as Alan Parsons, John Simon and Jack Nitzsche were spending time on the other side of the glass recording albums of their own. Hawkins’ background as both a musician and a producer allowed him to make a record that’s distinctive and exciting in “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”. There was nothing like it before, and nothing’s come along since. Dig in, y’all.

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“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”

:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Bell | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Revola | buy here ]