Synthesiser-led Hi-NRG disco twaddle occasionally punctuated by shrieks and murmurs attributed to Bruce Lee, this is a “tribute” in only the most southpaw of ways to the man patronisingly labelled a “teenage punk, martial arts superstar, colossal egoist, Hollywood screen idol and philosopher extraordinary (sic)” in correspondingly ridiculous liner notes. I was expecting such silliness but naïvely hoped for better when I bought “Dragon Power” this morning from Bernardos in Hythe.
When I lived in Bristol during the dying days of the last century, Banksy art was all around. I was spoiled and, not knowing he was unique, assumed every British city had its own anarcho-daubist. Now you can buy reproductions of his work at TK Maxx and charity shops and the once-provocative style has itself been co-opted by everyone from insurance companies to children’s yoghurt. I’m sure the irony is not lost on the man.
In the meantime, Banksy designs have graced some three score album/singles covers, with most utilising extant images and many unauthorised. While the image used by Blaktwang on his “Kik Off” 12″ is genuine and bespoke, it hits nowhere near as hard much of his work being a fairly standard gansta conceit slightly amped-up with a Molotov cocktail.
The music is a good, stuttering anticipation of wooziness later perfected by Flying Lotus, et al. Blak’s flow resembles Mos Def and Ty, if not quite so nimble. As for the content, well, someone should tell these so-called rappers that potty mouth bragging is a sign of insecurity and doesn’t really impress anyone.
I can’t tell from the (autographed!) sleeve and research is inconclusive, but I believe this is a compilation of 60s singles by Virginia country musician Teenie Chenault released around 1969-1970 and may have been produced by Pete Drake. And 90˚straight edge high-lonesome country it is with pedal steel cryin’ in every alcohol consumption/relationship troubles song; the only exception to the good lovin’ gone bad scenerio is “You’re No Inspiration” and that’s about a woman who doesn’t cheat, run around, beat time, etc. on her man and is therefore “no inspiration, Gracie, for a hit song.” Nice little turnaround there.
While the song-writing and vocal delivery inevitably lack the panache of the first-rate country singers of the day, the band is very good and there’s something otherwise heartwarming about this nifty regional C&W Lp: In a sense, it’s real folk music, you know.
Awesome cover that I have to suppose is of an earlier vintage; even country singers, who are, almost by definition, several years behind the times, wouldn’t look like that by the turn of decade, though, funny enough, Bryan Ferry certainly looked like Teenie (below) a couple years later. Chenault’s band were regulars at Wheeling, West Virginia’s Jamboree USA, which is just a few miles from my Grandparents place, so it’s possible that I would have seen the Country Rockers advertised as a young boy.
The most interesting piece of writing I found about Chenault comes from the book, Tourette – That’s What Makes Me Tic, starting on page 108.
What this record was doing in Faversham, I don’t know; but what I was doing in Faversham was looking for records like this.
I had reasons for dismissing this record in particular and Mickey Newbury in general. First among these was Elvis Presley and his overblown, blustering version of the Newbury-arranged “An American Trilogy”, which for me is among the most misguided perfomances of Elvis’ career. Second was the slavering of Mojo, et al. accompanying the recent (it has to be said, handsome-looking) box set re-issue of the trio of Lps either side of and including ‘Frisco Mabel Joy. That sort of critical consensus for a relatively obscure work smacks of muso exclusivity and I’m with Groucho Marx about joining a club that would have me as a member.
Well, I was wrong to dismiss Mickey Newbury in general and this record in particular.
True, the mood is almost unrelentingly sombre and the pace is slow, but so well articulated is the mood and appropriate is the pace that the effect is one of genuine existential rumination giving even the notionally “happy” songs an air of desperation about them. As a songwriter, the man certainly knows his way around a metaphor, rhymes often occur internally and he scans them interestingly across the verses (i.e. what you never hear in a Noel Gallagher song), the story telling is concrete-poetic and has the bite of personal truth, the music constantly surprises by landing on the relative minor or another unexpected, but natural sounding chord.
At the heart of ‘Frisco is Newbury himself, specifically his voice and his guitar. Like Gene Clark and Nilsson, other popularly underappreciated critics darlings from the American South, his tenor is quiet-strong, but not hushed (as opposed to Tindersticks or Black Swans, both of whom share Mickey’s kind of darkness). Newbury’s delicately appegiated acoustic leads the musical proceedings, somehow not overwhelmed by strings, pedal steel, choirs, etc. The production is thoroughly idiosyncratic, an unlikely, but perfectly judged art rock-C&W blend all the more remarkable for its unobtrusiveness: Heavily-reverbed choirs provide an atmospheric, ghostly pillow; bass harmonica/pedal steel/strings/keyboards/stylophone(?) combine to form a disturbing ambient noise shockingly prescient of the unsettling Bowie/Eno experiments on Low; songs fade out and in with false endings; and so on. It makes Joe South‘s earlier similarly ambitious country-psyche crossover seem even more jive.
The players certainly sound like they knew they had something special on their hands and strike not a cheap lick or obvious fill anywhere on the record.
In short, ‘Frisco Mabel Joy is a five-star album and if you’re lucky enough to find a VG++ first edition US press for £1.50, as I did this weekend in Faversham, then I suggest you buy it.
NB: This was not the same record alluded to here.
The very definition of bandwagon jumping mitigated slightly by the fact that the UK’s Symarip (Pyramids near palindrome) were the premier passengers on the Skinhead carriage. With tracks like “Skinhead Jamboree”, “Skin Flint”, “Skinhead Girl” (“Her hair cut short, boots set firm/She was my height, my weight, my size, she wore braces and blue jeans”–WTF?), not to mention the hit title track* and a Nancy Sinatra recast (“These Boots Are Made For Stomping [sic]”), my guess is that this relatively unsubtle take on reggae/ska was big fun in the clubs among the target demographic, with the Skins feeling a certain vindication, even liberation, that comes with recognition however ham-fisted, but the novelty wears thin on Lp for anything more than party listening. Purchased, by coincidence, for the virtual equivalent of 19’11 in 2012 money from my favourite Sandwich chaz, Toots & the Maytals, it ain’t.
The practice of putting Caucasians on the front cover of Lps produced by black people was not new in 1969, but usually the job fell to an attractive blonde female (see Miles Davis, Otis Redding, et al); in fact, the rhetorical point was less arbitrary and more meaningful here.
*This is a version of Derrick Morgan’s “Moon Hop”, though it’s here carelessly credited to Symarip’s singer and keyboardist.
Producers don’t usually get front cover credit, but such was Norman Whitfield’s command over urbanspacegroup The Undisputed Truth that he’s namechecked in centered, 36-pt. type for all to see on premier face of the final UT Lp sleeve. Not that it seems to have done them much good, the record didn’t even chart and the album’s only single (“Show Time”) struggled to #55 US R&B. As it happens, while many of the right funky moves are made and not that this is a total washout by any means, there is a let-down, second-tier silliness about Smokin’–I mean, talk of their funk being “a brand new thing” and “Tazmanian monsters” and whatnot, not to mention guff about “there’s life on other planets”–that smacks of trying-to-hard-with-things-we-don’t-really-believe careerism.
So: more smoke than fire.
Another £1-still-in-its-original-plastic googah from this afternoon’s ransacking of the Lord Whiskey Cat Sanctuary Tea Rooms*.
*I did not make this place up.
Yet another Average White Band Thrifty Vinyl post and yet another sparkling funk-soul album it is, too; though perhaps slicker, more L.A. than earlier Lps, a result, I think, of the Brecker Brothers horn sound. Apart from a general regard for AWB, one reason I was specifically interested in Soul Searching was hearing a studio cut of the Hamish Stewart/Ned Doheny song “A Love of Your Own” (a live take is on the Best Of), previously mentioned here. Having got used to Doheny’s tempered blue-eyed soul approach, Stewart’s more animated technique sounds a bit overheated, though after only two listens, I’m already getting used to it. Nothing is quite as distinctive as that song, but all of it’s good and it all sounds great thanks to legendary producer Arif Mardin. I thrifted the still-in-plastic US press Soul Searching this afternoon at the Lord Whiskey Cat Sactuary Tea Rooms in Rhodes Minnis on the way to Canterbury for but one pound sterling.
“You are cursed, son of Douglas,” gravely intoned Pythia, the Oracle at Delphi, “to speak naught but the Truth for the common man, to give voice to his troubles, to be a bastion of critical respectability even unto AM radio.”
Bruce Springsteen had come to Mount Parnassus to learn his fate. He’d been troubled by the mass acclaim of his most recent proclamations, known collectively as ποταμού, or, more colloquially, The River. As a result, audiences for his sermons swelled to unmanageable, if not terrifying proportions. He wanted to escape the rising expectations now plaguing him
“My parables are being diluted and misinterpreted even as more of the faithful flock to hear me deliver them,” he explained desperately, his hands outstretched and fingers spread wide.
“Sacrifice unto Demos–the God of acoustic sound,” exclaimed the priestess, whose frenzied imagination was now positively inflamed with ethylene vapors leaking through chasms in the floor of her cave. “Scale down the Olympian auditory of your message, lest you invite the wrath of the Gods!”
“What, abandon the wide-screen, Spectorian vistas which characterise my music?” he cried. “What folly is this?”
“Quiet, son of Adele!” the prophet commanded. “And I mean that literally.”
“Next,” she added.
“But how…?” began the New Jersey college drop out.
“Next!” interrupted the Oracle pointedly.
No more enlightened than when he’d entered, the man whose name means “jump stone” stumbled out of Pythia’s lair, blinking in the glare of the Greek mid-day sun.
‘Quiet’, ‘Scale Down’, ‘Acoustic,’ ‘Demos’. He repeated the priestess’ words over and over trying to find sense in them.
What did the Oracle want him to do?
Finally, he sat down against a wall, cradled his head in his hands and had to admit he didn’t know.