Archive for the ‘ Country Rock ’ Category

Doc Watson “Doc and the Boys”

There’s little doubt folk and bluegrass lost one of its legends in Doc Watson, a self-taught founder of flatpicking and popularizer of traditional American music for 60 some years. While you can’t miss on any Doc record, this one is my go-to favorite.

Though Doc and the Boys was Doc’s highest charting LP (41 on US Country), little mention is heard of the record today. A lot of the early pickers are subjugated to compilations, best-ofs, and box sets. Fortunately, this LP comes from a time when singles were eschewed for album length statements, and Doc and the Boys delivers a rock solid 35:00 straight from the prime of that funky, in-the-groove Nashville country of the mid-70s.

Starting from the studio recording side, we get a smoking kickoff in “Darlin’ Corey,” Jim Isbell’s zip-tight rhythm dispelling any doubt that a drum kit belong in a bluegrass tune. Merle trades lines with Doc’s harp on the deep-in-the-pocket “Cypress Grove Blues” and Doc proves his gifts with a song on Tom Paxton‘s very sweet “Can’t Help But Wonder (Where I’m Bound),” an easygoing “Girl I Love,” and a bouncy number called “Natural Born Gamblin’ Man.” Side one closes with the hottest rendition of “Little Maggie” I’ve yet to hear. He may be known for his picking, but Doc may have had one of the best rounded and perfectly suited vocal tones in the history of country music. Such a comforting, deep, and rooted voice.

Recorded live at the Hub Pub in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, side two doesn’t skip a beat in its sound. It took me a year to even realize the sides were split between live and studio! If anything, the live atmosphere only adds to the octane in the picking and harmonies. In any case, tunes like the a capella “Southbound Passenger Train” clearly had to be recorded live and we are treated to honest takes on gems like Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spikedriver Blues” and a fine original from piano player Bob Hill in “Southern Lady.” Cash may have done better with “Tennessee Stud” but it’s nice to hear Doc close with a happy take on a hit.

If you’re a fan of “honest, down-to-earth” and damn good country music, track this one down. We’ll miss you, Doc!

mp3: Cypress Grove Blues
mp3: Spikedriver Blues

:D Reissue | 2003 | 2fer w/ Live & Pickin | buy here ]
:) Original | 1976 | United Artists | search ebay ]

Douglas Dillard “The Banjo Album”

Douglas Flint Dillard died in a Nashville hospital on May 16th, 2012, at the age of 75. He never became a household name – doesn’t even rate a personal Wikipedia page – but that was probably fine by this self-effacing, self-mocking virtuoso musician. On the plus side, he survived to an age not achieved by so many of his peers whose names are more widely celebrated. Sometimes it’s better not to become a rock’n’roll legend, especially if it’s posthumously.

Hailing from deepest Missouri and starting out as a bluegrass purist along with guitarist brother Rodney as the eponymous Dillards, Doug became part of the West Coast country-pop revolution of the late 60s, initially as a session player (it’s probably him on the Monkees’ “What Am I Doing Hanging Round”, although Peter Tork could handle the five-string instrument quite capably) and then as a band member touring Europe with the Byrds playing the Sweetheart Of The Rodeo material. Prior to the tour Doug struck up an enduring friendship with former Byrd Gene Clark, contributing to Gene’s album with the Gosdin Brothers, and on his return jam sessions with Gene, Bernie Leadon and Don Beck led to his own Banjo Album.

Coming as it does between Sweetheart and Dillard & Clark’s peerless Fantastic Expedition, the humdrum-titled Banjo Album occupies a seminal place in the evolution of country-rock, as the instruments and players of the standard bluegrass ensemble go in search of new and uncharted musical areas to occupy whilst taking a rockin’ sledgehammer to the traditional lightweight bluegrass sonic envelope. The historical notes by Joe Foster to the present CD put it more dramatically: “Eclectic is certainly a good description . . . jazz drums, harpsichord, djembek, tablas and various sound effects, as well as a manic attack poised somewhere between Earl Scruggs and the Ramones”. Amen to that. And yet despite the frenzied presentation of the numbers – most of the tracks rush along at breakneck pace and clock in at around two minutes – the oddball instrumentation and the thick rock production, this remains an instrumental bluegrass music album at heart. Bill Monroe fans have nothing to fear.

Whilst credited to Douglas Dillard, this is a genuine band effort: Doug on the five-string plus the core combo of Leadon on acoustic and electric guitars, Beck on Dobro, John Hartford on fiddle and Red Mitchell on upright and electric basses. LA session veteran Andrew Belling contributes the harpsichord licks, future longtime Ry Cooder companion Milt Holland adds drums and exotic percussion and there’s a cameo from Gene Clark on harmonica. Departing on “Train 4500”, surely one of the best musical train simulations ever recorded, the journey takes us through a landscape of familiar and rare traditional tunes spiced with Dillard’s piquant arrangements. Sometimes only the timbre of the instrument reveals who’s soloing, as Beck and Belling can both whack out the triplets damn near as fast as Doug. The other high spots are “Clinch Mountain Back Step” on which Doug slurs the notes like the skirl of bagpipes, never missing a triplet roll even through the deliberate lurch in the rhythm, and the closing Dillard/Leadon original “With Care From Someone” with its distinctly non-bluegrass descending chromatic minor chord progression, on which all the protagonists get a chance to solo and Belling produces some revolutionary rock harpsichord. The bonus track on the Rev-Ola reissue is “Runaway Country”, the one-off track Doug contributed to the movie Vanishing Point with scorching assistance from Byron Berline and Billy Ray Latham of Country Gazette.

After the high-water-mark of Fantastic Expedition Doug’s career would settle into a comfortable stream of sessions with just about every country-flavoured performer in California and subsequently Nashville, intertwined with recordings and live appearances with a procession of reformed Dillards, New Dillards, Doug Dillard Bands and Rodney Dillard Bands until Doug became too ill to perform around 2010. If his epitaph be sought, it’s probably fair to say that every subsequent outfit from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Bela Fleck & The Flecktones that’s twisted the tail of banjo-powered country music into new and unfamiliar shapes can be said to owe a debt to what Doug and Co. did on The Banjo Album.

mp3: Train 4500
mp3: Clinch Mountain Back Step

:D Reissue | 2012 | Floating World | buy here ]
:) Original | 1969 | search ebay ]

Skip Battin “Topanga Skyline”

It took a while longer to appear than expected, but Skip Battin’s second solo album has finally surfaced on CD after thirty-nine years. The explanations for its shelving in 1973 include, depending on whom you read and believe, (a) the vinyl shortage resulting from the oil embargo following the Yom Kippur War, (b) the cancellation of the fall-of-‘73 national tour featuring Skip, Gene Parsons, Gram Parsons, Clarence White and Country Gazette through various city fathers vetoing the presence of “longhairs”, or (c) loss of heart in the recording project following the death of Clarence. Following Skip’s own passing in 2009, his son Brent negotiated with California’s Sierra Records to issue the “lost” album posthumously in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of Skip’s first appearance with the Byrds. Three years further on, we finally have it, and it’s been worth the wait despite the sad circumstances of its gestation and publication.

Clarence was killed on July 15, 1973, three days before recording was due to begin, but the sessions went ahead nevertheless. In place of the various Byrds alumni who backed Skip on his eponymous debut set, he received the services of members of the redoubtable Country Gazette and assorted friends: Bob Beeman and Herb Pedersen (acoustic guitars), Chris Etheridge (RIP April 23, 2012 – bass), Byron Berline (fiddle), Alan Munde (banjo), Roland White (brother of Clarence – mandolin) and Mike Bowden (drums), and in Clarence’s place came Al Perkins from the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band on electric guitar, pedal steel and Dobro. A more capable combo could not have been wished for, and the album resonates with their flawless musicianship behind Skip’s down-home Dylanish vocal and piano. If there was an atmosphere of sadness and loss in the studio, it doesn’t show in the music, which is relentlessly upbeat and powerful on the fast tunes and warm and sympathetic on the ballads. The bluegrass players shine both ensemble and as soloists, and Perkins’s contributions are remarkably assured given his last-minute drafting. Production by Skip’s longtime writing and recording partner Kim Fowley is exemplary, as you’d expect.

The CD package as released by UK imprint Floating World on licence from Sierra includes the nine original studio tracks completed before the decision to abandon. These are split between typically idiosyncratic Battin/Fowley country-rock originals – “Bolts Of Blue”, “Don’t Go Down The Drain”, “Stoned Sober” – and supercharged bluegrass covers – the Morris Brothers’ “Salty Dog Blues”,  A.P. Carter’s “Foggy Mountain Top”, the traditional ”Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” – plus a truly inspired reworking of the old 1959 Olympics hit “Hully Gully”. In addition to these there are several bonuses. “Willow In The Wind” and “China Moon” are taken from Skip’s 1981 album “Navigator”, an Italian-only release featuring Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel. The ghost of Clarence walks on an alternative version of “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and on “Old Mountain Dew”, two rehearsal tapings which are thought to be the last recorded work Clarence ever laid down. Rounding the package out is a short mpeg of a clean-cut Elvis-quiffed Skip performing solo on a 1965 Californian TV show similar to Ready Steady Go on which he lip-synchs a couple of pre-British Invasion teenypop songs, “Searchin’” and “She Acts Like We Never Have Met”. All in all, then, a lot of Skip for the money and well worth the investment if you’re interested in the long and varied career of this fine musician, in which case you’ll also want to see this astonishingly comprehensive history, rare photos and discography.

mp3: Bolts of Blue
mp3: Salty Dog Blues

:D Reissue | 2010 | Sierra | buy here ]

Country Funk “Country Funk”

Country Funk was a folk-rock/country-rock group whose members at one point played in earlier psych pop combo Adam.   The group materialized in Los Angeles but then moved out to Boston where they played all the well known venues of the day. Country Funk shared the stage with many of rock’s biggest names and because of their affiliation with Beantown, the group are usually remembered (unfairly so) as part of the Bosstown Sound.   From 1968 to 1970/1971 they recorded quite a bit of studio material, enough to fill out two albums.  In 1970, Polydor would release Country Funk’s only album in a generic blue sleeve with a black and white photo of the band.  While no classic, Country Funk is still a very good album (kind of a mini gem) thats appeal lies in its consistency (no weak tracks) and timeless sound – think Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, CSN&Y and Poco.  The group clearly had a knack for blending the blues, country, hard rock, folk, and psych into something that’s refreshing.  The members of Country Funk could also play and write with the best of them, never overextending their songs or falling prey to dated 60s cliches.

The album opens with “Apart of Me,” a track that was issued as a single in 1970 and some years down the line, sampled by alternative pop star Beck Hansen.  Clearly one of the LP’s highlights, this excellent track begins as a care-free country folk-rocker, exploding midway through into a soulful fuzz guitar rave-up.  The vocals are a dead ringer for Stephen Stills circa Buffalo Springfield Again – definitely a compliment here.  Other winners are the trippy folk-rock of “Phoebe,” a track that recalls David Crosby’s work on the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday and the spritely country-rock of “A Way To Settle Down.”  Country Funk tempers the album’s softer moments with hard edged fuzz tone guitar workouts such as “Another Miss” and “When I’m Without You.”  These cuts give Country Funk an attractive classic rock/psychedelic edge.  Also, songs like “Poor Boy,” “For Me,” and “Really My Friend” deliver the classic West Coast style folk-rock goods with aching melodies and harmonies to spare – not to mention tambourines and fine, world weary vocals.  Given the quality of Country Funk, one wishes the group had stuck around long enough to record a follow up to this very promising LP.

Solid songs and thoughtful songwriting, succinct guitar solos, good use of fuzzbox and spirited vocals make Country Funk one of the finer, unsung American LPs of it’s time.  Its been reissued no less than three times but our nod goes to British label Slipstream, who is now offering a group authorized version of Country Funk, which includes the single sides by precursor group Adam.  In addition, CDBaby offers a CDR version of Country Funk on their website while the Fallout reissue from a few years back is an unauthorized vinyl rip bootleg.

mp3: For Me
mp3: Apart Of Me

:D Reissue | 2012 | Slipstream | buy from slipstream ]
:) Original | 1970 | Polydor | search ebay ]

Guy Clark “Old No. 1”

Guy Clark waited a long time to get himself on record, despite a proven pedigree as a songwriter penning sometimes joyous, sometimes bittersweet, frequently autobiographical, always poetic narratives of Western life. Jerry Jeff Walker had cut Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” and “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train” for his eponymous 1972 album, whilst Townes Van Zandt included “Don’t Let The Sunshine Fool Ya” on his sublime The Late Great Townes Van Zandt the same year. Meanwhile, Monahans, TX, native Clark had held down a day job as a TV station art director in Houston whilst playing the city’s folk clubs with the likes of Townes and K.T. Oslin, and, during a brief unhappy spell in Los Angeles, worked as a staff songwriter for Sunbury Music and as a luthier building Dobros. It wasn’t until several years after he moved to Nashville that he finally signed to RCA and released his own first album in 1975, effectively “covering” some of his own tunes that others had put down years earlier.

Under his RCA contract Clark turned out two country-meets-folk albums of such homely, unassuming beauty that it’s amazing in retrospect to think it took him so long to find his own voice on vinyl. On the first, Old No. 1 , Clark’s own belated versions of “Desperadoes” and “Freeway” proved peerless, and other future classics such as “Texas 1947”, “Let Him Roll” and “A Nickel For The Fiddler” rounded out a faultless ten-track set taking in folk, bluegrass, honky-tonk and the most lonesome of torch ballads in a respectful, authentic fashion that contrasted with both the bland country-pop of Chet Atkins’s Nashville roster and the hyperactive rawk’n’roll of Waylon Jennings’s Outlaw clique. Alongside Clark’s own masterful acoustic guitar picking, the album featured gorgeous, restrained accompaniments from a bevy of Music Row sessioneers including Reggie Young (guitar), Johnny Gimble (fiddle), Micky Raphael (harmonicas), David Briggs (piano) and Hal Rugg (pedal steel and Dobro) plus almost all of Emmylou Harris’s entourage as guest backing vocalists, with Harris’s own crystal soprano harmonies embellishing Clark’s warm, cracked Texas brogue in similar fashion to the way she’d counterpointed the fragile warblings of Gram Parsons.

None of which, sadly, provided Clark with a hit; there were no singles released and the album itself struggled only to a lowly 41 on the Billboard country chart. The next year’s follow-up Texas Cookin’ similarly made no commercial impact despite being of nearly as high a quality and including such wonderful waxings as “Virginia’s Real”, “Don’t Let The Sunshine Fool Ya” and the incomparable “The Last Gunfighter Ballad”, and that did it for Clark’s RCA contract. It would be another two years before he resurfaced on Warner for his third long-player, since when he’s put out infrequent albums on that and no fewer than seven other imprints with no-better-than-modest sales all the way. Yet his songs have been repeatedly covered by country royalty: Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Rodney Crowell, Alan Jackson, Bobby Bare, Jimmy Buffett and the Highwaymen. In 2011 a slew of the aforementioned plus Steve Earle, Joe Ely, Roseanne Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Sexsmith, Townes’s son John and others returned the compliment with a double CD of Clark’s best known tunes entitled This One’s For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark. Rarely has such a tribute been so genuinely justified, but if this sounds just too gratulatory, treat yourself instead to the twofer CD containing Old No. 1 and Texas Cookin’.

mp3: Texas, 1947
mp3: She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

:) Original | 1975 | RCA | search ]
:D Reissue | 2fer | 2002 | Bmg | buy ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Townes Van Zandt “The Late Great Townes Van Zandt”

There are numerous passing references to Townes Van Zandt in these pages, but until now the nearest he’s come to a dedicated post is the uReview of his 1968 freshman album For The Sake Of A Song which examines its debatably elaborate orchestration and production. But whatever the issues concerning the debut, there’s no doubt that by this 1972 offering, the last from his fertile five-year period on Poppy/Tomato, he’d got his recording process exactly right. The accompaniments on this collection display a variety appropriate to the varying nature of the songs, yet the playing is so restrained and spare and the production so sympathetic that they never intrude: indeed, the fiddles, Dobros, mandolins, pianos, electric guitars, bass and drums, whilst played by a coterie of lesser-known Nashville virtuosi, are often almost ghostly in their presence. This of course suits what another reviewer called Townes’s “thin maudlin voice” down to the ground and results in as atmospheric an outing as anyone in the country-rock genre had ever produced up to that time. The subsequent long line of haunting Americana featuring such luminaries as the Cowboy Junkies, Uncle Tupelo and Lambchop could be said to start here.

Beyond the two covers of fifties country standards and one Guy Clark number, Townes’s own songs generally evoke the solitude and destitution of his chosen beat/hobo life and are inevitably coloured by his prodigious alcohol intake and substance abuse; indeed the album title itself, though actually about twenty-five years premature, is a wry reference to the near-death episode prior to this recording in which fellow toper Jerry Jeff Walker discovered him comatose after a cocktail of heroin, cocaine and vodka and obtained medical assistance just in time. Townes harks back to the debut album with a less limpid reworking of “Sad Cinderella”, relying mainly on a gentle piano to support the more homely vocal. The peerless ballad “Pancho And Lefty”, probably his best known composition and covered by enough A-list country artists to guarantee him a modest pension had he survived long enough to draw it, juxtaposes his own Kerouac-style wandering existence with those of the bandit/folk hero Pancho Villa and Lefty, a blues singer who ends up broke and busted in Cleveland; the disconcerting chord changes in the verses are soothed by gorgeous Mariachi trumpets on the choruses. “If I Needed You” is perhaps the simplest and most effecting yearning country love song since Dylan’s “If Not For You” and has also been covered by the likes of Emmylou Harris. Townes makes one of his occasional offhand forays into acoustic blues on “German Mustard” accompanied only by fine slide guitar from one Rocky Hill, who presumably also provides the Dobro on the cover of Clark’s almost-optimistic “Don’t Let The Sunshine Fool Ya” and smooth lap steel on the respectfully authentic rendering of Hank Senior’s classic “Honky Tonkin’”. The penultimate “Silver Ships Of Andilar” is an untypical maritime folk ballad recalling Coleridge’s Rime Of The Ancient Mariner with unexpectedly powerful orchestration and choral decoration. To my mind the only weak track on the album is the closing “Heavenly Houseboat Blues”, a flaccid spiritual not quite rescued by fine fiddle and mandolin playing.

If Cecil Ingram Parsons was the tragic Crown Prince of country rock, Townes Van Zandt was its Great Pretender, forever waiting in the wings and seemingly resigned to doing so. Despite a much longer career than Gram, he remains one of country rock’s better kept secrets. Gleaners of his legacy can do a lot worse than starting here, but anyone strongly into this sort of music who decides to go straight for the amazing-value Texas Troubadour box set won’t be disappointed.

mp3: Pancho and Lefty
mp3: If I Needed You

:) Original | 1972 | Poppy | search ebay ]
:D Reissue | 1994 | Tomato | buy ]

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 ]

Southwind (Self-Titled)

The 1968 self-titled debut by California based country rock group Southwind is a rather obscure little gem.  The unique combination of country, psych, soul, funk, and just good old rock & roll turns this record into a stew of great listening, and really makes this record stand out.

The band’s origins can be traced back to Norman, Oklahoma, while members were attending the University of Oklahoma.  Coming together first as a rockabilly-flavored band known as “The Disciples,” the group comprised John “Moon” Martin (guitar, vocals), Jim Pulte (bass, vocals), Phil Hope (organ), and Eric Dalton (drums).  Soon after forming, the band scored an opportunity to play at several venues in Wisconsin to delighted audiences.  In 1967, the band headed out for the musical promised land of Los Angeles, with The Disciples changing their name to the more contemporary-sounding “Southwind.” The newly-named band started incorporating psychedelic rock, country, blues, soul, and funk into their sound.  After playing gigs in and around L.A. for a while, in 1968, Southwind were signed to the tiny MGM subsidiary Venture records, which was a label known for giving lesser-known soul/R&B acts a shot.  Nevertheless, the band headed into the studio and laid down tracks for their debut.

The opening tune, the outstanding cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Been On My Mind,” is a blend of country-tinged pop with lush strings.  The song features wonderfully beautiful and expressive vocals, and doesn’t sound too far from something an early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band may have cut.  Next up is the rave-up soul flavored number “Get On Board The Train,” which asks the listener to get on board of the soul (love?) train before it takes off, undoubtedly leaving them behind in the dust.  Track three is the rather dark “I’m Proud To Be,” and is a bit of a psychedelic mini-masterwork, containing very creepy sounding vocals and guitar playing.  The last track on side one is also another stand-out, “Got To Get Myself Together,” a plaintive tune of love gone bad and the choice of finally moving on.  To my ears, the best track on the album is on side two.  “New Orleans (Mardi Gras)” is a song that was deserving of hit status, and was also recorded by Del Shannon for his “The Further Adventures Of Charles Westover” album.  The song had the typical late ’60’s flower power sound, complete with very hallucinatory and vivid lyrics, and eerie and dissonant harpsichord and guitar work.  The song gives off a definite “loss of glory and happiness of days gone by” vibe.  This whole album is full of great tracks.

Southwind released this and a handful of singles before replacing organist Phil Hope with longtime pal Dugg (Fontaine) Brown as a full time member.  The group left Venture records for the eccentric and now-legendary Blue Thumb label, releasing their second album “Ready To Ride” in 1970.  Southwind’s final effort was the more blues-influenced “What A Strange Place To Land” album in 1971, and not long after the release, the group disbanded.  John Martin (now going by his newly-adopted first name of “Moon”) went on to back artists such as Linda Ronstadt and later recorded several solo albums, all of which received little attention.  Martin is probably best remembered for writing Robert Palmer’s huge hit “Bad Case Of Lovin’ You (Doctor, Doctor).”  Jim Pulte made a couple of solo albums for United Artists, and virtually dropped out of radar.  Little is known of the whereabouts of original organist Phil Hope or drummer Eric Dalton.  Dugg (Fontaine) Brown has been in the music scene for years, and was at one time connected to music legends Del Shannon and Bob Seger.  Brown still writes and records music today.

Sadly, no label to my knowledge has picked up this album to be reissued on CD.  The two tracks provided for this review were recorded straight from my personal copy of the vinyl, so you may hear some pops and clicks in places.  Search online auction sites such as eBay or scour your local record shops and thrifts in hopes of finding an original vinyl copy.  I will say in full confidence that this is an album worthy of the reissue treatment, and it is definitely an album worthy of picking up if you can find it cheap enough.  Not a disappointing moment on this record.

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“You Been On My Mind”

:) Original | 1968 | Venture | search ebay ]

PODCAST 25 Southbound Train

trs podcast

Running Time: 59:00 | File Size 81 MB
Download: .mp3
To subscribe to this podcast: http://therisingstorm.net/podcast.xml [?]

1.  Yukon Railroad – The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – 1970

2.  That’s Alright By Me (Previously Unreleased) – Gene Clark – 1968

3.  Southbound Train – Graham Nash & David Crosby – 1972

4.  Just Yesterday – Weird Herald – 1967

5.  Rosana (Previously Unreleased) – Hearts And Flowers – 1968

6.  Little Boy Blue – Charlie Daniels Band – 1970

7.  Banjo Press Conference – Beachwood Sparks – 2001

8.  Strange Ways – Cherokee (The Robbs) – 1971

9.  Coalminers – Uncle Tupelo – 1992

10.  Birmingham – The Camel’s Hump (post Mike And The Ravens) – 1969/1970

11.  Homemade Songs – Bobby Charles – 1972

12.  Beware Of Time – The Corvettes – 1969

13.  Scorpio Woman – Mordicai Jones (aka Bobby Howard with Link Wray) – 1973

14.  Nothing At All – Tim Dawe – 1969/1970

15.  Modessa – Bluebird – 1969/1970

16.  Sweet Mama – Blue Mountain Eagle – 1969

17.  Brokedown Palace (live) – The Grateful Dead – 1970