Archive for the ‘ Blues ’ Category

Almendra “II”

Yet another classic group out of Argentina’s inspirational seventies rock scene. Almendra is probably one of the country’s most legendary groups, if for no other reason than for laying roots for the career of Luis Alberto Spinetta, who has become the country’s most celebrated pop/rock songwriters. Almendra has more value than as some sort of origin story, however (hell, I’d go so far as to argue that this is the raddest music the man has ever made). The band’s two self-titled records are heavy, eclectic slabs of late-sixties psych grounded in smoky, Buenos Aires blues, with brief acoustic flourishes that hint at the mellower sounds to come from the quartet’s principal exponent. In fact, Almendra runs a pretty similar current to the work of fellow travelers Vox Dei.

Though the first of these two vinyl slabs is the most celebrated, its follow up is just as worthwhile. What sets this one off from the first, however, is the fact that this thing is a monster: a twenty-one track double record brimming with enough riffing and rumbling to last you halfway to the Mojave and back. Though those more familiar with European and North American hard rock might find these South American kids’ jams to be a little on the raw and unvarnished side, I find it’s that very characteristic that makes Almendra stand out from the pack. This could very well have been just another overloaded grab-bag of biker rock miscellanea, but Almendra has enough character and songwriting power to turn a now worn-out format into something earthy and reinvigorating.

That being said, the record’s finest moments do come with its occasional deviations from the norm. “Los Elefantes Saben Descansar” is a memorable slice of semi-acoustic psychedelia, brushed in warm bottleneck and wah-pedal guitar playing, while the short, late-period Beatles venture “Jingle” proves that the band could be as subtle and charming as the best of them. My particular favorite here, however, arrives when the band finally comes in and lays all these sounds down together on the fourteen-and-a-half minute opus “Agnus Dei,” which makes up the bulk of the first LP’s second side. Songs seem to bleed in and out, as a loopy acoustic groove slowly descends into a choogling electric improvisation. The bass work is a particular highlight here, especially during in the number’s rather chaotic final segment.

Almendra II may not be a perfect record – very few double albums like this are – but it manages to rise above its less successful moments (the silly interlude “Verde Llano,” the obnoxiously loud bongos on the otherwise excellent “Carmen,” and a couple of somewhat generic blues-rock cuts) and reward repeated listening. This one’s best listened to the way it was intended, either on wax or with a good break to refresh your senses in-between records (for those of you digging this one on compact disc or otherwise, this would fall right after track ten, which I may as well note is another highlight, despite failing to receive a mention in the preceding paragraph). Reissues of this one are remarkably easy to come by at budget prices for whatever reason, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and dig it.

mp3: Toma El Tren Hacia El Sur
mp3: Los Elefantes (Saben Descansar)

:) Original | 1970 | RCA Vik | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2008 | Sony | buy here ]

Oliver “Standing Stone”

There’s nothing new under the sun, the old adage goes. Particularly in music, anything that eventually comes to be seen as groundbreaking can usually be traced back to earlier influences: Beethoven to Haydn, Dylan to Woody Guthrie, the Beatles to Carl Perkins and early Tamla Motown. What makes the new product distinctive is the way the influences are combined, remoulded and extended. Oliver’s über-rare psychedelic folk-blues opus Standing Stone clearly takes in the likes of Robert Johnson, Syd Barrett and Captain Beefheart, but his synthesis and development of these already abstruse sources is so imaginative that the end product is truly like nothing else, and that’s no exaggeration.

In early 1974 hippie musician Oliver Chaplin and his brother Chris, a BBC sound engineer, retreated to their parents’ farm somewhere in Wales “within shouting distance of the Standing Stone”, as the reissue booklet note puts it, to produce this totally unique, enigmatic collection. Oliver laid down vocals, acoustic, electric and slide guitars, hand percussion and occasional recorder and harmonica on a four-track Teac. Chris, a veteran of the Beeb’s Hendrix sessions, overlaid the various threads and added numerous sound effects, aided and abetted by occasional unsolicited input from various farm and wild creatures.

Oliver’s compositions give the effect of being totally spontaneous but are clearly carefully built up given the amount of overdubbing required. The material ranges from tiny, delicate fingerpicked acoustic numbers (“Off On A Trek”) via quirky Barrett-esque acid-pop ditties (“Getting Fruity”) to rambling, effects-laden one-chord blues extrapolations (“Freezing Cold Like An Iceberg”) and whacked-out marijuana-inflected nonsense (“Cat And The Rat”). Oliver’s guitar skills are manifold and dextrous and his sound palette seemingly boundless, sometimes sparklingly pure but at others bolstered by a battery of sound effects ranging from simple flanging to backwards taping and what sounds like Les Paul-style vari-speed recording. The lyrics are frequently incomprehensible but it doesn’t matter; Oliver uses his voice as another set of instruments, moaning, warbling and scatting, varying its timbre widely and sometimes distorting it electronically. As testament to Chris’s skills, the sound quality of the final recording is simultaneously utterly low-fi and outstandingly clean.

The end product was to be offered to the then fledgling Virgin label, but the reclusive Oliver’s reluctance to engage with the record industry scotched the deal and only a handful of private-press copies were produced, housed in plain bilious-green jackets. Around fifteen years later one of these surfaced at a car boot sale and the burgeoning psychedelic collector circuit sat up and noticed, applying the retrospective “acid-folk” appellation to it. Such was the demand created by the appearance of this single example that Oliver was tracked down and found to have several more copies still in his possession. These fetched crazy sums until the album was licensed to the tiny UK reissue label Wooden Hill and appeared in that imprint’s own habitual very-limited-edition format, firstly on vinyl in 1992 and then on CD in 1995. Appropriately enough, in truly serendipitous manner I stumbled on a copy gathering dust in a Bath charity shop earlier this year; I took it home and it blew my mind. If you decide that you want one you may have to search hard and long and pay top dollar, but if you’re lucky enough to find one it’ll be worth it. Meanwhile several tracks can be found on YouTube.

mp3: Off On A Trek
mp3: Cat And The Rat

:) Original | 1974 | Private | search ebay ]

Cold Blood “Cold Blood”

San Francisco/East Bay area’s Cold Blood were one of the first bands of its kind, combining a smooth blend of psych, horn rock, jazz, soul, and R&B with front woman Lydia Pense’s Janis Joplin-esque vocal growlings.  People have often compared the group to the more well-known Californian outfit Tower Of Power, and with good reason.  Even so, Cold Blood have held their own ground and place in rock history, because of their energetic live shows, and the quality of material on their albums.  In 1969, Bill Graham signed the band and made them regulars at his legendary Fillmore West auditorium in San Francisco.  Their fan base quickly grew, and soon the band landed in the studio to record their eponymous debut, Cold Blood.

The album starts with the gospel-feel of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”, and has become one of my all-time favorite opening tracks of any album.  The song captures a longing for personal freedom and independence, which was a major dream for the people of the 1960′s dealing with civil rights, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam war.  Lydia Pense’s powerful and emotional vocals shine on this one, perhaps owing a bit more to Aretha Franklin than Janis Joplin.  Their rocked-up, funkier version of Sam & Dave’s “You Got Me Hummin’” could have been a huge hit single with the right promotion, and contains some VERY flashy bass work, courtesy of Rod Ellicott.  Their cover of Muddy Waters’  “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, is one of the best cover versions of the song, with the horn section just soaring, and the whole feel of the song positively oozing with passion and sexual desire.  The album ends with the semi-obscure Bobby Parker early soul classic “Watch Your Step”.  The saxophone reaches almost an other-worldly plateau, with a super funkified rhythm backing that leaves the listener with sublime aural satisfaction.

Cold Blood went through various incarnations, with several members passing away or moving on to other projects.  The band finally called it quits in the 1970s, with Lydia Pense recording solo material, and then deciding to retire from music indefinitely in the 1980s to raise her daughter.  The band reformed, have a strong cult following, and still continue to perform and wow audiences.

Cold Blood is so chocked full of great songs that it was very difficult to try and pick the “very best” to review.  Truth be told, this entire album is fantastic.  The original vinyl of the album is surprisingly easy and inexpensive to find on eBay, Discogs.com, etc.  “Oldies” label Collectibles reissued the album in 2001 as a two-album set, paired with their second album Sisyphus, which is also highly recommended.  From a personal standpoint, I’d suggest getting the original vinyl version.  It’s one of the best sounding albums, sonically, that I’ve ever owned, and is almost mandatory to crank to the highest possible volume to get the full experience.  Grab this one if you come across it.

mp3: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free
mp3: Watch Your Step

:) Original | 1969 | San Francisco | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2001 | Collectables | buy here ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

John Mayall “Looking Back”

Despite the incredible amount of critical acclaim afforded to John Mayall’s mid-sixties recordings with the Bluesbreakers, the mainstream seems to have left him behind by the time 1969 rolled around. It’s a little tempting to assume that popular taste had simply drifted away from Mayall’s trademark strain of rhythm and blues, and yet the band-leader’s affinity for experimentation has always given testimony to his willingness to run with the times. Indeed, 1968 saw the release of both Blues From Laurel Canyon and Bare Wires; unusual masterpieces filtered through a kaleidoscopic tangle of American roots music. The man’s earlier material was still more-than relevant, however, a fact to which Looking Back would firmly attest the following year.

Looking Back was originally released by Polydor Records in order to draw together an odd assortment of singles and unreleased sides, most hailing from an earlier era in Mayall’s career. From tightly-wound Chicago wailers to rambling slices of back-porch blues, Looking Back ultimately manages to touch on pretty much every facet of Mayall’s style. In fact, there are even a few numbers that would not be all that out of place on Laurel Canyon, such as the atmospheric “Jenny,” in which Peter Green’s reverbed guitar sends out lazy pulses and foreshadows later masterpieces such as “Albatross” and “Heavy Heart.” The clickety-clacking “Sitting in the Rain” is more or less exactly what you’d think of looking at the album’s fantastic cover, with a choogling electric guitar and thumping bass line accompanied by a trotting drumstick rhythm, while “The Picture on the Wall” is the obligatory country blues cut, with grooving Dobro playing and a typically lazy Mayall vocal.

Most of the material to be found here is more upbeat and rambunctious, however; solid Marquee Club rockers from the height of the British revival. “Blues City Shakedown” rides a fun, heaving guitar figure as Mayall lets his amplified harmonica rip. Recordings of the blues standards “Stormy Monday,” “It Hurts Me Too” and “Double Trouble” are all righteously tackled – in all honesty you could hardly ask for a better interpreter on these songs. Between the crack ensembles assembled here and Mayall’s enviable talents as both bandleader and musician, these otherwise-overworked tunes are given fresh life. The instruments eschew just enough blues conventions and cliches to keep the train rolling all the way down the the end of the track. Dig the weird, warbled vocals on the latter cut, potentially bordering on the psychedelic but far too raw to fit in any one bag. Hell, there’s a lot to digest here, and it’s easy to see why it was Mayall’s groups that kept young musicians in England and the States on their toes and so  hungry to learn the trade back in the day.

So waste no time, go and check this one out! Deram Records has managed to keep Looking Back in print, and though it is technically only available as a British import it ain’t going to set you back any more than a domestic release would. The album cover may make it worthwhile to find a full-sized vinyl copy, however, and with this kind of music in the grooves its hard not to be pushed towards investing in the real deal. If there’s any extra selling point needed, might it be that I’ve heard said that the guitar solo on “Stormy Monday” is one of Eric Clapton’s all time bests? Surely we have some thoughts there.

mp3: So Many Roads
mp3: Sitting In the Rain

:) Original | 1969 | Deram | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | Universal | buy here ]

Jesse Ed Davis “Jesse Davis”

While Jesse Ed Davis’ legacy has finally started to see the light of recognition, there is still a long way to go in establishing his rightful place in the pantheon of rock and roll legends. The Kiowa guitarist’s career encompassed work with everyone from Conway Twitty to John Lee Hooker to Bob Dylan, and his time served in the original Taj Mahal band would be highly influential on up-and-coming guitar slingers like Duane Allman (he being the inspiration for the latter’s taking up bottleneck-style guitar in the first place). Davis never really managed to establish himself as a commercially successful singer in his own right, but that did not prevent him from cutting a series of strong and invigorating records in the early 1970s, the first and foremost of these being Jesse Davis.

Davis has surrounded himself with a real who’s-who of rock and roll musicians here, including Eric Clapton, Joel Scott Hill, Gram Parsons and the oddly-omnipresent Leon Russell. This is a hearty American brew; it’s only too bad that the liner notes do not include a track by track breakdown of who is playing what on which songs. Davis’ voice may be an acquired taste – being slightly nasally and, yes, sometimes a little pitchy – but it also has a lot of character, and its hard not to give the guy a break; in the end, whatever vocal limitations the cat may be accused of are more than made up for by his exemplary musicianship. In his guitar playing I have noticed that Davis exhibits a certain degree of Curtis Mayfield influence (similar to that of Woodstock-era Robbie Robertson) in his ability to always serve the song and the rhythm; that is, until it comes time to let loose into a sharp and jagged solo, such as that which leaps out from the end of the otherwise lethargic “Reno Street Incident” – an original composition which was also recorded by Southwind’s Jim Pulte. The expansive horn arrangement on “Every Day Is Saturday Night” falls somewhere between Memphis boogie-woogie and red dirt dixieland, with Davis’ sharp staccato guitar leaping and swerving through the collective improvisation until its gleeful collapse. Make a joyful noise, indeed.

Perhaps the most memorable number here is “You Belladonna You,” which not only manages to lock into a serious groove, but also boasts an inescapable vocal hook. The extended jam at the end is the reason I harbor such ill will towards “the fade-out” on rock and roll records: is this not where the real magic happens? On the other hand, the oddest moment on the record comes with “Golden Sun Goddess,” which is an uncharacteristic detour into Los Angeles yacht rock replete with groovy electric sitars and a lava lamp vocal choir. It sounds like the album’s closest thing to a hit single, though its Steely Dan-isms are pretty jarring. Pretty much everywhere else Davis leans on an earthy, deadpan charm that betrays his deep Oklahoma roots. “Redheaded woman wants me to get a haircut,” Davis grumbles at the end of Pamela Polland’s “Tulsa County” before cracking, “man, I can’t get no haircut. Redhead? That’s a redneck.” Alright, so the Byrds may have cut the definitive take on this one, but they never let themselves have this much fun in the studio. Davis may be criticized for relying so heavily on other people’s material for his own albums, but his takes on these songs are always individualistic, and anyways, the guy’s got some good taste.

Jesse Davis has been reissued both individually and as a set with the follow up release, 1972′s Ululu, but somehow both are currently out-of-print and demanding ridiculously high prices. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for some original vinyl or else sucking it up and purchasing a digital copy, which may in fact be the most affordable choice at the moment though it does entail missing out on the righteous jacket artwork.

mp3: Washita Love Child
mp3: You Belladonna You

:) Original | 1971 | Atco | search ]
:D Reissue | 2006 | Wea | amazon ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Mother Earth “Make a Joyful Noise”

Mother Earth has to be one of the best American rock and roll bands to have ever been forgotten. A hot act in its day, it seems folks have tended to overlook the group in recent years. Perhaps the band’s aesthetic center in 1960s blues and soul music makes them just a little too straight for today’s “forward-thinking” music listeners more hip to the weird, experimental sounds of bands like Faust or The Incredible String Band than righteous electric combos like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (now that I mention it, East/West really does beg review on these pages). No matter, though; let us take the first steps in reintroducing listeners to the wild, rootsy sounds of Mother Earth.

Make A Joyful Noise is the band’s second album, and marks a clear evolution in the band’s dynamic by containing both a “city side” and a “country side,” the latter recorded in Nashville with legendary pedal steel player and country music producer Pete Drake. Whatever new angles the band was introducing to their sound, however, they certainly hadn’t lost sight of their strengths, for there is soul enough aplenty across both sides of this collection. Dig the explosive opening number, “Stop the Train,” starring part-time Mother Earth shouter The Reverend Ron Stallings. Though the band is best remembered for Tracy Nelson’s fiery vocal talents, they were actually an extraordinary collaborative ensemble, also including among their ranks the enigmatic Powell St. John, occasional lyricist with The 13th Floor Elevators and whose stunning “The Kingdom of Heaven” the band had recorded the year before.

The “country side” here introduces Tracy Nelson’s talent for Music City soul, which would really shine on her first solo record Country, itself recorded around the same time as the Pete Drake selections on Joyful Noise. The band’s recording of Doug Sahm’s slow-grooving “I Wanna Be Your Mama Again,” a song purportedly written with Nelson in mind, really cooks and includes some tight picking. Dig the way the fiddle, pedal steel and electric guitar weave together during the instrumental breaks; rocking, rolling, backwoods bliss. Powell’s lazy, West Texas vocal spot on “Then I’ll Be Moving On” further highlights the appeal of the communal group organization, one which would eventually be discarded when the band turned into Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth.

All of the early Mother Earth albums are go-to records for me when I’m in the mood for beautifully honest, down-to-earth music (and yeah, I reckon that’s pretty often). If you’re really digging the rhythm and blues here, look for a copy of the band’s follow-up Bring Me Home; if you’re more into the country half, you absolutely need to get your hands on Nelson’s aforementioned solo record. Fortunately for all, every one of these records are still in print and readily available.

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“I Wanna Be Your Mama Again”

:) Original | 1969 | Mercury | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2004 | Wounded Bird | buy ]

John Baldry “It Ain’t Easy”

Most folk who remember “Long” John Baldry at all recall only his chart-topping single of 1967, the maudlin crooner ballad “Let The Heartaches Begin”. But if the mettle of a performer is measured by the affection and respect of his fellow professionals and their willingness to participate in his art, then this album is a testament to a musician who’d been an industry favourite from his earliest days as the original vocalist and occasional guitarist with Alexis Korner’s pioneering Blues Incorporated. To proffer just two examples, the virtually unknown Baldry was an invited guest on the Fabs’ 1964 international TV spectacular “Around The Beatles” – which is where I first heard him – and is credited in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” after he dissuaded John from suicide following the latter’s distraught realisation of his sexuality. Himself openly gay, dazzlingly handsome and at six foot seven a magnificent, elegant figure, Baldry’s talent deserved wider commercial success than it ever achieved.

After his misguided, though briefly successful, flirtation with middle-of-the-road music Baldry angled to get back to his folk-country-blues roots and in 1971, via former Steampacket and Bluesology colleagues Rod Stewart and Elton John, signed with Warner Brothers for whom he would cut two albums, It’s Not Easy being the first. The then nascent rock superheroes Stewart and John produced one side of the album each, and the result is a mildly schizophrenic opus with the Stewart topside comprising mostly rollicking bluesy outings and the John flipside more thoughtful, soulful fare. Baldry’s warm, abrasive tenor delivery makes the best of both. The lists of musicians also signify the esteem in which Baldry was held; among many other front-liners, the Stewart sessions feature Rod’s old muckers Ron Wood and Mickey Waller from the erstwhile Jeff Beck Group, while the flip includes Elton himself on piano plus his early sidekick guitarist and organist Caleb Quaye. The eclectic list of writers includes Baldry’s original muse Huddie “Leadbelly” Leadbetter, Tuli Kopferberg of the Fugs, Lesley Duncan, Randy Newman, the John/Taupin axis and Stewart himself.

The opening recitative “Conditional Discharge”, in which Baldry wryly relates an encounter with the Metropolitan Police during his Soho busking days over an effortless boogie-woogie piano backing, segues brilliantly into the thunderous “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie On The King Of Rock And Roll” with everybody in the band rocking out like there’s no tomorrow. Baldry’s faithful homage to Leadbelly on “Black Girl” is a duet with chainsaw-voiced chanteuse Maggie Bell over piano, Dobro and mandolin, whilst the title track is a rolling country boogie with Bell again in tow and a great Delaney-And-Bonnie vibe. “Mr Rubin” is a beautifully understated piano-led take on Duncan’s plangent appeal to the militant Yippie founder. The final track of the original ten is a splendid extended cover of the Faces’ “Flying” with great piano from Elton and soaring, gospel-inspired ensemble backing vocals.

The album sold sparingly in the US and barely at all in the UK, and received its first CD reissue only in 2005 when Warners put it out with a clutch of bonus outtakes and a panegyric booklet note by Sid Griffin. The extras included alternative, less-produced takes on three of the originals plus four delightful classic acoustic blues covers which contrast with the densely-produced originals and showcase Baldry’s voice and guitar in a setting otherwise unadorned but for an anonymous harmonica player (Stewart?). The second and last Warner album Everything Stops For Tea in 1972 made no showing and Baldry’s career thereafter was uneven and mostly unedifying, with continuous health problems, and sporadic, patchy albums and live appearances alternating with commercially more successful placements as a bit-part actor and voiceover specialist. He relocated to Vancouver in 1978 and died there from pneumonia aged just 64, just a month after this album was reissued.

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“Flying”

:) Original | 1971 | Warner Bros | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2005 | Rhino | buy ]

Terry Callier “The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier”

This record is like a river, ebbing and flowing. That may sound vague, but it’s probably the best way I can think to describe the music contained on the 1964 recordings that make up Terry Callier’s debut record The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. Every time I put this music on I drift away, caught up in the slow, rolling rhythms and sad, rambling lyrics. Though Callier is best known for his run of unique psychedelic records in the early seventies, it’s his earliest material that has taken the strongest hold on my soul: a molasses-thick concoction of traditional American folksong and jazz, with Callier’s warm, deep croon practically floating across the stripped-back musical arrangements. Aside from Terry’s own finger-picked acoustic guitar, the record’s only other contributors are Terbour Attenborough and John Tweedle dueting on the bass.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of The New Folk Sound is in its ability to cast popular traditional songs in an entirely new light. I can guarantee you that you have never heard a more heartbreaking, soul-wrenching rendition of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in your life. Time-worn lines such as “dying is easy/it’s living that’s pain” suddenly come weeping wildly back into focus, illuminating the bleak underbelly to American folk art that is so often taken for granted in these days of glossy history textbooks and institutionalized blind-patriotism.

What makes this all so intensely compelling, however, is Callier’s hypnotically beautiful voice. There are so many layers of honesty and emotion here that’s its impossible to describe. When the man sings the otherwise inconspicuous lines “oh dear, what can the matter be/Johnny’s so long at the fair,” you somehow know Johnny is never ever coming back. It’s remarkable that Callier manages to harness the raw, spiritual impact of the Southern blues singers without surrendering any of the crystal-clear purity inherent to his Chicago folk background. Even the cackling black humor of “Johnny Be Gay” is offset by the barely-veiled sadness in Callier’s voice and the song’s startlingly violent conclusion.

Recent reissues of The New Folk Sound include a wealth of bonus tracks which add to the album in almost every way, all having been cut around the same time as the album proper and all encompassing the same moods and rhythmic pulses as the previously released material. The music here may be too wide and mellow for the majority of today’s listeners, but to those with an ear for this kind of stuff this is a record you simply cannot afford to miss. If an additional hook is needed, it may be that two songs here, “Spin, Spin, Spin” and “It’s About Time,” are probably already familiar to Storm readers through renditions cut by the popular Chicago rock band H.P. Lovecraft.

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“It’s About Time”

:) Original | 1968 | BGP | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 2003 | Prestige | buy ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Dion “Wonder Where I’m Bound”

Dion DiMucci may not be a name often associated with underground rock and roll. As the New York teen behind such inner city oldies as “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue,” Dion is usually branded as representative of the slick, early-1960s pop sound that came to replace teenagers’ grittier rock and roll heroes like Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry. Through the years, however, the singer has shown himself a cat of many clothes, whether through rediscovering life as a soft-rock songwriter in the early 1970s or acting muse to Phil Spector’s wall-of-sound later in the decade.

DiMucci’s peak, however, was probably the most obscured era of his multifaceted career. In the mid-to-late-1960s the singer underwent a serious bout of heroin addiction that temporarily silenced his music and sent him spiraling in search of direction. Sobriety would find him with a hit recording of Dick Holler’s topical “Abraham, Martin and John” in 1968, but in the interim Dion recorded off-and-on with legendary Columbia producer Tom Wilson, backed by a razor-sharp band dubbed The Wanderers. The results of these sessions were not to see the light of day until 1969, when they were released among assorted outtakes from earlier in the decade in order to capitalize on the success of “Abraham, Martin and John”. The result was the slapdash collection Wonder Where I’m Bound, which is at once the most chaotic and most exciting album in Dion’s discography.

Wonder Where I’m Bound makes no secret of its piecemeal construction, careening from panoramic, harmony-drenched folk-rock to backwoods country blues to old unreleased Belmonts-era doo-wop. Somehow, though, it all works. In fact, I daresay that had this album had been purposely constructed in this way, it would have been something of a masterstroke. DiMucci’s beautiful voice cuts through the many styles of attack and imbues every cut with a sense of desperate yearning, while the exploration of genres is actually quite in tune with the era’s sense of Sergeant Pepper eccentricity.

The record’s title track, penned by songwriter Tom Paxton, should have been the piece to return Dion to the radio. The recording has everything the song demands, and while the arrangement is dense, it is not overdone. Meanwhile, DiMucci’s own “Now” is vintage folk-rock at its most righteous, featuring a latter-day Everly Brothers arrangement and scratchy guitars. Both this cut and later “Wake Up, Baby” prove that Dion was the real deal, as a songwriter as well as a performer.

The most startling revelation on Wonder Where I’m Bound, however is clearly Dion’s treatment of the blues standards “Southern Train,” “Seventh Son,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” The story goes that Dion was first turned onto the blues in the early 1960s by the pre-war music of Robert Johnson, and it is obvious that since that point the man has gone back and done some serious listening. Each song is taken in a completely different direction, for while “Southern Train” is constructed around stripped-back bottleneck guitar and gutsy vocals, “Seventh Son” is layered deep with tremolo-soaked electric guitars and a heavy Electric Mud arrangement. It’s hard to believe this cat’s versatility. Set at the tail end of the record, the nimble piano work and vocal phrasing on “Baby, Please Don’t Go” even make it clear that DiMucci has been digging the genius jazz vamps of old Mose Allison.

This lost classic was just re-released in 2010 by Now Sounds Records, and if you have any inclination for 1960s rock and roll you probably owe it to yourself to locate a copy. The biggest wonder of all is how it has managed to stay so far off of people’s radars for so long.

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“The Seventh Son”

:D Reissue | 2010 | Now Sounds | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | Columbia | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Bamboo “Bamboo”

Bamboo is in large part the work of guitarist David Ray, formerly one third of legendary folk-blues shouters Koerner, Ray and Glover. Blues enthusiasts coming into this later project should be warned, however, that this is a far cry from the rural acoustics of Ray’s previous group. Instead, Ray and pals traverse a weird, labyrinthine conglomeration of jazz, blues, country, and psychedelic rock that makes for a disorientating yet eminently enjoyable listen.

Singing and songwriting is split here between Ray and his two principal accomplices, Will Donicht and Daniel Hall, though it is clearly Ray who leads the proceedings. For some reason Hall only makes it as an unofficial member, for despite writing and singing two of the funkiest numbers his photograph is absent from the cover. The band is rounded out by a number of west coast session players, including a welcome appearance by esteemed First National Band steel player Red Rhodes.

The songs here are all great, though some ultimately prove less memorable than others. I’d say that Ray’s “Tree House” takes the title for worst offender, marred by its tacky vibes and uninspired lyrics. His “Virgin Albatross,” however, is a serious slice of late-sixties country rock, while the band delves deep into Band-style Americana with Donicht’s “The Odyssey of Thadeus Baxter.” One of my favorite elements to this record – and one that it oddly enough shares with fellow Koerner, Ray and Glover alumni John Koerner’s landmark Running, Jumping, Standing Still - is its extensive use of honky tonk tack piano. Though the playing isn’t quite as remarkable as Willie Murphy’s ragtime runs on Running, it still lends the music a subtle, saloon-band edge.

Daniel Hall’s two contributions are at once the bluesiest, worst-spelled, and most explicitly electric. The catchy shuffle of “Blak Bari Chari Blooz” has some great Hammond organ work, while “Sok Mi Toot Tru Luv” features the record’s deepest grooves. Repeated listens prove rewarding here, so anyone that finds themselves off-put by this collection’s many eccentricities should try spinning it again a little later on down the line – there’s a good chance something will stick before long. This one tends to be underrated by most critics, making it among the easier Elektra Records rarities to hunt down.

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“Blak Bari Chari Blues”

:) Original | 1969 | Elektra | search ebay ]