Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

John Denver: Leaving on a Jet Plane

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

John Denver’s pre-superstar years as a pop folkie

Six years before John Denver catapulted to fame with 1971’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” he was a hard working folkie on the Los Angeles club scene. In 1965, when Chad Mitchell left his eponymous folk trio for a solo career, Denver survived the audition process to assume the group’s leadership. The new lineup issued a pair of studio albums and a live set on Mercury, and when the last original member, Mike Kobluk, left the group, Denver carried on with recent addition David Boise and the newly added Michael Johnson, as Denver, Boise & Johnson. The latter trio released only one single, Denver’s “Take Me to Tomorrow,” but recorded additional material, of which three previously unreleased selections are included here.

The Mitchell Trio’s legacy of humor is heard in the 1967 single “Like to Deal with Ladies as Sung in the Shower Accompanied by a Twenty-Seven Piece Band,” as well as a live performance of “He Was a Friend of Mine.” The latter, stretching to nearly eight minutes, finds Denver intertwining smart-aleck stage patter with an audience sing-along and the trio’s superb harmonizing. Denver’s early years found him writing several of his most beloved songs, including “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” originally self-released in solo form as “Babe, I Hate To Go (Leaving On A Jet Plane).” The retitled song is offered here in both a poorly conceived, band-backed studio single, as well as a beautifully sung acoustic live performance from 1967.

Denver, Boise & Johnson’s single “Take Me to Tomorrow” is a terrific up-tempo original, while it’s B-side, “‘68 Nixon (This Year’s Model),” sung in barbershop harmony, carries on the satirical social criticism of the Mitchell Trio. The set includes three previously unreleased tracks from Denver, Boise and Johnson, including superb vocal arrangements of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Tom Paxton’s “Victoria Dines Alone,” and a 1968 take on Denver’s “Yellow Cat” that’s more sedate than the version recorded for Rhymes & Reasons. The disc closes with the unison singing and banjo of “If You Had Me in Shackles,” capping a set that highlights the folk roots that preceded Denver’s transformation into a “far out!” ‘70s superstar. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

John Denver’s Home Page

Jimbo Mathus: Incinerator

Thursday, May 9th, 2019

The healer lays hands on himself

The laying on of spiritual hands offered up on 2016’s Blue Healer is now turned inward, with a dramatic album that finds Mathus moving from guitar to piano, and enriching his musical brew with space. Space for the vocals and lyrics, and space for instrumental backings that aren’t exactly spare, but often stray from the thick gumbo of his earlier albums. He ranges easily and authoritatively through Americana, folk, country, R&B, rock and electric swamp, turning his lyrics inward to explore the underpinnings of his own artistic life. The songs often drift into being, as though Mathus is gathering his thoughts as he addresses the microphone; he’s relaxed, confident and intensely present as he reveals himself. There’s an immediacy in this approach that casts a new light on his earlier records, suggesting they may have been more of an outward manifestation of the internal truths he mines here.

Some of these personal revelations are delivered directly in the lyrics, but elsewhere, such as the title track, poetic images are rendered with expressive singing and backed by instrumentals that essay mood rather than narrative. The basic revelation of “Really Hurt Someone” is heightened by intense violin runs and vocal dynamics that suggest Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” The drifting piano and backing chorale of “Been Unravelling” add a meditative counterpoint to a palpably lonely vocal – as if Joe Cocker was fronting the Friends-era Beach Boys. Mathus turns to an R&B groove for “Sunk a Little Loa,” swampy electric blues for “Alligator Fish,” trad-jazz for the story song “Jack Told the Devil,” boozy C&W on “South of Laredo,” and tips his melodic hat to Jimi Hendrix’s “Angel” on “Sunken Road.”

The album’s lyric sheet reveals how Mathus reduced his words to increase focus. The songs are typically three or four minutes in length, but with lyrics that may be only ten or twelve short lines. Instead of traditional verse/chorus, he lets emptiness have its say, highlighting what’s said by not saying too much. “Never Know Till It’s Gone” lays out its lament in eight lines, surrenders its sorrow and longing to an instrumental interlude, and repeats itself for good measure, and the closing cover of A.P. Carter’s “Give Me the Roses,” offers an insight illuminated so clearly as to belie its intellectual depth. The latter is emblematic of the album’s offer of deep, almost subconscious thoughts brought to the surface to be mulled over in the explicit light of day. This is a powerful new approach for Mathus, one that his fans will find both emotionally and intellectually captivating. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Gordon Lightfoot: The Complete Singles 1970-1980

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Thirty-four A’s and B’s from Lightfoot’s hit years on Reprise and Warner Brothers

Gordon Lightfoot wore many hats as a musician. Initially signed to United Artists in the 1960s, he subsequently arrived at Reprise as a songwriting album artist, where he spun off a series of hit singles that included “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and many others. His international commercial success cooled a bit after moving to Warner Brothers and releasing 1978’s Endless Wire, but he remained popular in his native Canada and on the concert circuit. Real Gone’s thirty-four track anthology collects Lightfoot’s singles from 1970’s “Me and Bobby McGee” through 1980’s “If You Need Me,” including several hard-to-find single edits and mono mixes, but leaving out the latter part of his run at Warner Brothers. Lightfoot’s music was typically grounded in singer-songwriter folk, but the productions variously add a backing band and singers, strings and even pedal steel, all without distracting from the emotional directness of his lyrics and vocals. With remastering by Mike Milchner at SonicVision, new liners by Richie Unterberger, and the pairings of A- and B-sides, this is an interesting alternative to a standard greatest hits package, and a treat for Lightfoot’s longtime fans. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Uncle Walt’s Band: Uncle Walt’s Band

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Legendary acoustic harmony band’s 1974 debut, with 11 bonus tracks

The fusion of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing this trio developed in the late ‘70s isn’t without near-term antecedents (e.g., Dan Licks and His Hot Licks) or parallels (e.g., David Grisman), but the joy with which these three talented musicians – Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball – meshed their influences and voices is in many ways without equal. Although there was fine solo work to follow – and commercial success for Ball in Nashville – there was something greater than the parts in their collaboration. With three star-quality singers blending their voices in harmony, their talents as instrumentalists might have receded into the background, had their gifts not been so substantial. Their acoustic playing is gentle, but substantial, and provides perfect backing and decoration to their singing.

Omnivore began the digital restoration of the group’s catalog with the 2018 anthology Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing, and now digs deeper with this reissue of the group’s debut. Recorded in North Carolina (in a single day, in mono, and with no overdubs!) and originally released in 1974 as Blame it on the Bossa Nova, the album was reordered and reissued eponymously in 1978, as the group was settling into Austin. Their run would last five more years and turn out another studio album (An American in Texas), a live set (Recorded Live) and a cassette collection of studio material (6-26-79). Reissues have come and gone, including the numerous versions of this debut that are documented in the liner notes, but the band’s impression on its fans has never faded.

The trio’s harmonies take in the sounds of country music’s early family acts, close harmony pop of the ‘40s, and the jazz vocal groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their repertoire includes superb original material that mingles easily with lovingly arranged covers of the Delta Rhythm Boys’ jivey “Give Me Some Skin,” Robert Johnson’s “From Four Until Late,” Professor Longhair’s “In the Night,” the late ‘30s blues “Undecided,” the folk staple “Little Sadie,” and a wonderfully crooned take on the film theme “Ruby.” The trio’s harmonizing on “High Hill” is unbelievably lush, Ball’s falsetto is striking throughout the album (as are Hood’s acoustic guitar leads), and Hyatt’s “Aloha,” which opened the original LP, now closes out the album’s eleven track lineup.

Omnivore’s reissue doubles the track count with eleven previously unreleased bonuses that mix period demos and live recordings, including covers of Turner Layton’s early twentieth century “After You’ve Gone,” an a cappella version of “Rock Island Line,” and a wealth of original material. The group’s vocal arrangements and instrumental prowess shine brightly on the demos, a few of which were covered by others, including Lyle Lovett’s 1998 rendering of “Lonely in Love.” The live recordings show that the fraternity the trio achieved in the studio was just as potent on stage, and that their lighthearted stage banter and effortless musicality instantly drew the audience into their groove. The twenty-page booklet includes photos, remembrances by the band’s musical associates and famous fans, and new liner notes by Mark Michael and Heidi Wyatt. This is an all-time classic, reissued in great style. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Love’s Middle Name

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Love’s highs, lows and vexing in betweens

Sarah Borges has never been one to be pigeonholed. As both a solo act, and leading the Broken Singles, she’s explored country, rock, rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, psych, pop and numerous points in between. Her third album fronting the Broken Singles – the first in nine years- continues to indulge a variety of musical muses, including hard-charging rockers and mid-tempo laments, as she explores separation, loneliness, desire and dysfunction. The album opens with “House on a Hill,” immersing herself in the dichotomy between lingering feelings and the growing apprehension of an unraveling marriage. Similar tensions animate the balance of need and want in “Lucky Rocks,” the sober retrospective of “Are You Still Takin’ Them Pills” and the introspective closer “I Can’t Change It.” The latter contemplates what’s changed, what remains, and in the chorus, the effort needed to distance the present from a troubled past. Borges’ protagonists aren’t shy about their questionable choices, including problematic hookups and a murder ballad, but with “Grow Wings” she suggests that it’s songwriting that allows her introverted soul to freely express its troubles. Borges’ music has been likened to Sheryl Crow meets Joan Jett, but her music might also be likened to the emotional rock of New England compatriot Robin Lane and her 1980s band the Chartbusters. A little bit country, folk and blues, and a whole lot rock ‘n’ roll. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Sarah Borges’ Home Page

Jackie DeShannon: Stone Cold Soul – The Complete Capitol Recordings

Friday, March 16th, 2018

DeShannon’s short, artistically rich early-70s stop at Capitol

After an eight-year run on Liberty/Imperial that included the Bacharach-David-penned “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and the original “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon made a brief stop at Capitol before moving on to Atlantic. Capitol initially sent DeShannon to Memphis to record with producer Chips Moman and his American Sound studio regulars, but other than the single “Stone Cold Soul” and the LP track “Show Me,” the sessions were shelved. Her second session, recorded in Los Angeles with Eric Malamud and John Palladino, resulted in the album Songs, and just like that, DeShannon was off to Atlantic. Eleven completed Moman masters appeared in the UK on RPM’s 2006 reissue of Songs, all of which is collected here along with five additional previously unreleased Memphis tracks, and liners from Joe Marchese that include a fresh interview with the artist.

DeShannon arrived in December 1970 at 827 Thomas Street to record at a studio that had put itself on the map with iconic records by the Box Tops, Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley. Though she’d previously tapped into her childhood love of R&B with a cover of Holland, Dozier & Holland’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” settling in with Moman and his “Memphis Boys” house band afforded an opportunity to fully fuse her love of soul music with original songs and well-selected cover material. One of DeShannon’s lasting artistic assets is her dual excellence as a songwriter and an interpreter of other writers’ songs. Here she shows off her interpretive abilities with selections from William Bell, Goffin & King, Emitt Rhodes, Arlo Guthrie, Van Morrison, and the non-charting title track by Mark James, the writer of Elvis Presley’s American Studios recording of “Suspicious Minds.”

The set opens with a short, previously unreleased take on Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water (Til Your Well Runs Dry),” establishing the Memphis session’s southern credentials with DeShannon’s soulful vocal and the piano and guitar “goodies” (as DeShannon calls them in the liner notes) of Bobby Woods and Reggie Young. The band plays as a tight, adaptable unit, providing thoughtful backing for the rural struggle of “West Virginia Mine,” and a more optimistic mood for the poetic look at the Israeli settlements of “Now That the Desert is Blooming.” The arrangements take the cover songs in subtly new directions as the guitar, strings, horns and backing vocals of Carole King’s “Child of Mine” gently frame DeShannon’s rough-edged vocal, and an upbeat soul treatment separates the cover from Emitt Rhodes’ original of “Live Till You Die

Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn’s “Sweet Inspiration” might seem like a gimme for the American Sound crew, but DeShannon leads them with a gentler vocal groove than the Sweet Inspirations’ original, and Arlo Guthrie’s B-side “Gabriel’s Mother’s Highway” fits easily into the album’s gospel vibe. The collection features five previously unreleased Memphis recordings, including keyboardist Bobby Emmons’ “They Got You Boy” and a cover of George Harrison’s deeply moving “Isn’t It a Pity.” While the Memphis tracks don’t necessarily jump out as hit singles, the material was well picked, DeShannon was in fine voice and found real chemistry with the house band, so it’s hard to imagine why Capitol didn’t hear the commercial potential, and scrapped the sessions.

But scrap them they did, and DeShannon moved on to record in Los Angeles with a different set of studio hands. The results would be released as the Songs album, opening with one of the two songs salvaged from the Memphis sessions, “Show Me.” Written by session guitarist Johnny Christopher, the song’s musical hall style was at odds with the soul of the Memphis sessions, but indicated the variety the Los Angeles album would bring. In addition to her downbeat folk “Salinas,” upbeat funk “Bad Water” and a new arrangement of “West Virginia Mine,” DeShannon picked up Bob Dylan’s “Lady, Lady, Lay,” Hoyt Axton’s “Ease Your Pain,” McGuinness Flint’s “International,” a blistering version of the traditional “Down By the Riverside,” and original material from the session players.

The Los Angeles sessions didn’t have the regional flair or musical centeredness of Memphis, but the individual tracks were well picked and thoughtfully performed. DeShannon returned to Memphis to record Jackie for Atlantic, and edged a few singles onto the bottom of the chart, but like her earlier Memphis session, the material remained largely unknown to all but dedicated fans. Real Gone’s 25-track collection includes all of the finished tracks DeShannon recorded for Capitol, highlighted by five previously unreleased Memphis selections (1, 3, 7-9). Joe Marchese’s liner notes feature fresh remembrances from DeShannon and the booklet includes previously unpublished photos. Fans finally have the full story of DeShannon’s short lived, but artistically rich Memphis-to-Los Angeles ride with Capitol. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Jackie DeShannon’s Home Page

Doc Watson: Live at Club 47

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Newly discovered Doc Watson live set from 1963

At the time of this February 1963 appearance at Boston’s Club 47, Doc Watson was a regional country and pop performer, but not yet the international exponent of traditional folk music he’d soon become. Folklorist Ralph Rinzler had started Watson on the path to fame with home recordings issued by Folkways in the early ’60s, and as his renowned grew, he began performing for urban audiences in New York, Boston and other outposts of the folk revival. His career took off over the next year with a performance at the Newport Folk Festival and his debut record on Vanguard. The seeds of that success are all here, as Watson strums, picks and sings a widely drafted catalog of folk tunes, embellishing each with both the song’s history and his history with the song. Watson flat- and finger-picks guitar, plays the autoharp and harmonica, and entertains the audience with stories and stage patter throughout the set. This is a terrific document of a deeply talented musician on the cusp of turning his artistic mastery, encyclopedic knowledge and affable stage presence into long-lasting influence and stardom. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Doc Watson Fan Site

Tim Buckley: Venice Mating Call

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Expanded look at Buckley’s 1969 stand at L.A.’s Troubadour

The early years of Buckley’s performing career are surprisingly well documented in posthumous releases, including a set at New York City’s Folklore Center in 1967, a London set from 1968, and a gig at Los Angeles’ Troubadour from 1969. Manifesto Records expands greatly on the latter with two new releases that dig through an extended cache of materials from the three days of shows at the Troubadour. Issued as a double-LP (and single-CD) as Greetings From West Hollywood and a double-CD as Venice Mating Call, the new materials provide songs that had yet to be released commercially, and performances that have never been released before. The song lists overlap most of Live at the Troubador 1969, but often provide radically different improvisations. And for the Buckley completists, the LP and CD editions, though also overlapping in song titles, largely offer performances unique to each volume. This is a great opportunity not only to hear Buckley in an artistically experimental period, but to hear how that experimentation manifested itself in performance on stage. Buckley sings and guides the band with exploratory freedom, turning the performances into deeply personal, in-the-moment expressions. The double CD, house in a tri-fold slipcase with a 20-page booklet, provides a valuable addition to Buckley’s live catalog. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Tim Buckley’s Home Page

Carmaig De Forest: I Shall Be Re-Released

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Reissue of 1987 political folk-punk debut with eleven bonus tracks

In the mid-80s, the Los Angeles-born, UC Santa Cruz-educated Carmaig De Forest was shuttling up and down the California coast, strumming an electric ukulele and singing his pithy, politically-pointed songs. His delivery suggested the emotional spittle of Elvis Costello and Gordon Gano (the latter of whom took in De Forest as an opening act for the Violent Femmes), the tuneful monotone of Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman, and the iconoclastic musical freedom of his producer, Alex Chilton. De Forest takes frequent, very personal aim at then-president Ronald Reagan, wishing for age to claim him, scathingly recounting his sins alongside those of Hitler and Jim Jones, and imagining their fiery afterlife on “Hey Judas.” He sings of corporate hegemony and decaying social liberties, and offers the sideways love song “I’d Be Delighted.” De Forest plays his ukulele on most of the tracks, but it takes a back seat to his songs, voice and the band. Chilton’s production, and the backing of Chilton on guitar, Greg Freeman on bass and Eddie Sassin drums are at turns funky, jazzy, rocking and blue, adding flesh to De Forest’s songs and amplify the edginess of his idiosyncratic performances.

Omnivore’s reissue supplements the album’s original fifteen tracks (which include a raggedly rocking cover of “Secret Agent Man”) with material from the album’s aborted first pass, a leftover from the completed session, and seven contemporaneous live tracks recorded at San Francisco’s Paradise Lounge and Kennel Club. The additional material includes covers of the nineteenth century murder ballad “Bank of the Ohio,” the pop standard “”One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” and the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” alongside original material that didn’t make it to the debut album. The live tracks are especially compelling as De Forest feeds off the club atmosphere, and the band stretches out the short studio productions with solos. Pat Thomas’ detailed liner notes include fresh interviews with De Forest, Freeman, Gordon Gano, and others, telling the story of how the album came to be and the scene in which it was set. It’s been thirty years since this album was in print, and it’s as fresh today as it was in 1987. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Coachmen: Subways of Boston

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Early-60s San Francisco folk revival trio

“The Coachmen” was a popular name in the ‘60s, having been used by garage rock bands from California and Nebraska, but it was also the name of this San Francisco-bred folk trio. The group began when Don Koss and Doug Tanner joined together to play for their City College fraternity. The duo soon became a trio with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Doug Brown, and gigged as the Coachmen in Bay Area venues, including San Francisco’s legendary Purple Onion. Within two years they’d signed a recording contract with the Hi-Fi label and issued their debut, Here Come the Coachmen! The following year they released this second and last album, Subways of Boston; founding member Doug Tanner was subsequently drafted, and the group parted ways.

This sophomore release is built mostly from variations on traditional material, such as the title track’s play on the Kingston Trio’s hit recording of Steiner and Hawes’ “M.T.A.,” itself based on “The Ship That Never Returned” and its variant “Wreck of the Old 97.” The track list draws in Frank Loesser’s WWII-era “Rodger Young,” Blind Willie McTell’s “Delia” (itself a variant of the Delia Green story, more recently told in Johnny Cash’s cover of Blind Blake’s “Delia’s Gone”), Leadbelly’s “Rock Island Line” and “Almost Done (on a Monday),” Oscar Brand’s bawdy “Zulika,” and Harry Loes’ gospel “This Little Light of Mine.” They also pull in folk revival versions of material with international origins, including the British and Irish “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet” and “I Will Never Marry,” and the South African ceremonial “Bayeza.”

The Coachmen sang and played well, though on record they sounded like a regulation issue folk revival group. They had good ears for material, picking up songs from others in the scene, and adding their own variations. If you enjoy the sounds of the 1960s folk revival harmony groups like the Kingston Trio, the Coachman’s two albums are also available as the two-LPs-on-one-CDs Hootenanny and Essential Folk Classics with the non-LP track “Soldier’s Joy.” Like others of Essential Media’s reissues, a few audio artifacts (groove distortions, in this case) suggest the remastering was from vinyl. But this is still quite listenable mono, and given the relative obscurity and rarity of the Coachmen’s records, a nice add to a folk revival collection. [©2017 Hyperbolium]