Song of the Week – Hollow Reed, Seals & Crofts

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In the early ‘70s, Seals & Crofts (Jim Seals and “Dash” Crofts) had a string of hit singles in the style of soft rock – now often called Yacht Rock.  The hits included “Summer Breeze” (#6), “Hummingbird” (#20), and “Diamond Girl” (#6).

Those hits came from their 4th and 5th albums.  The first few were much less popular, even though they contained some pretty good tunes.

The early album that always interested me was record #2 – Down Home (1970).  The thing that initially interested me in Down Home was their backing band.  John Hall of Orleans and No Nukes fame played guitar.  John Simon played piano.  He produced The Band’s first two albums and Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills with Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Harvey Brooks played bass.  You may recognize Brooks’ from his work with Bob Dylan (Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited) and as a member of Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s Electric Flag.  And let’s not forget Paul Harris who played organ with Stephen Still’s Manassas and Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm.  That’s quite a group!

My pick for the SotW is “Hollow Reed.”

In the oral history The Yacht Rock Book, by Greg Prato, Hall conveys his role in the recording:

Seals & Crofts wanted me to be the ‘coloration guy.’  So, I would not only take solos, but I would set up some weird sound effect stuff in the background, with feedback and slide guitars, through all kinds of effects – I’ve got an Echoplex and a compressor into a Leslie, and play the guitar with a slide through all that stuff.  It wound up being… especially there is a song called ‘Hollow Reed’ on that record, that I did some of the most out there guitar playing that I recall doing.

Earlier this month, Seals died at the age of 79.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Sensual World, Kate Bush; TV Or Not TV, Firesign Theatre

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Bloomsday was last Thursday, June 16th.  Bloomsday you ask?  Yes, Bloomsday celebrates the date that Leopold Bloom’s adventures take place in the renowned novel, Ulysses, by James Joyce.  Joyce picked this date as the setting for his novel because it was also the day he had his first date with the woman that was to become his wife, Nora Barnacle.

So how does James Joyce or Ulysses connect with the SotW?  Kate Bush recorded a great song titled “The Sensual World” that was inspired by the famous last chapter of Ulysses – Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.  The soliloquy captures Molly’s stream-of-consciousness thoughts as she lies in bed next to her husband Leopold.  It is written with little punctuation to illustrate the s-o-c technique, and for many years held the record as the longest sentence in published literature.

Bush’s original idea was to set the soliloquy to music but the Joyce estate nixed that idea.  So she wrote her own lyrics to capture the essence of the soliloquy, allowing Molly to jump out of the pages and have a voice.

Stepping out of the page into the sensual world
Stepping out, off the page, into the sensual world

And then our arrows of desire rewrite the speech, mmh, yes
And then he whispered would I, mmh, yes
Be safe, mmh, yes, from mountain flowers?
And at first with the charm around him, mmh, yes
He loosened it so if it slipped between my breasts
He’d rescue it, mmh, yes
And his spark took life in my hand and, mmh, yes
I said, mmh, yes
But not yet, mmh, yes
Mmh, yes
Mmh, yes

In 2011, the Joyce estate granted her permission to use the actual text and she rerecorded “The Sensual World”, renamed “Flower of the Mountain”.

Molly Bloom’s soliloquy was also captured in popular culture by The Firesign Theatre, my favorite comedy group.  Their routine  “How Can You Be In Two Palces At Once, When You’re Not Anywhere At All” is the “odyssey” of the character Ralph Spoilsport.  The bit ends with phrases lifted directly from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy (just like Ulysses ended).  Brilliant!!!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Pulse, Ten Wheel Drive

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In the late ‘60s, at the height of the “horn band” craze, musician/songwriters Aram Schefrin and Michael Zager hooked up with Genya Ravan to form Ten Wheel Drive.  The name refers to the 10 person lineup in the band.

Ravan was a pioneer woman in rock with her all-female band Goldie and the Gingerbreads.  Except for Ravan, the ability to read music was a requirement for joining the band.  These were serious musicians.

In her 2004 autobiography, Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs of a Rock and Roll Refugee, Ravan tells of an early gig at the Fillmore East where she aroused her audience when she shed her see-through jacket and continued to perform with her painted breasts exposed.

I have the band’s first two albums in my collection and I’m partial to the second – Brief Replies (1970).  It contains their version of “Stay With Me”, the original of which was released by Lorraine Ellison and was the subject of a SotW post on September 19, 2015.

Today’s choice for SotW is “Pulse.”

It features a driving beat and exploits the group’s great horn players.

Brief Replies has the sax player Dave Liebman in the horn section.  Liebman went on to record and release several excellent jazz fusion albums that are worth checking out, including Lookout Farm (1974).

Ravan currently hosts a SiriusXM show, Goldie’s Garage, on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Call Me, St Paul and the Broken Bones

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A few weeks ago I saw St Paul and the Broken Bones for the second time at the Fox Theater in Oakland.  Paul and the band are at the top of their game.  Paul is a terrific singer and entertainer and the band is tight!

St Paul (Janeway) got his nickname from his bass playing bandmate, Jesse Phillips, because he doesn’t have many vices.  Janeway has said “I’ve never drank, or smoked, or anything like that. He thought that would be funny and, of course, with the preacher background, it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek.  And the Broken Bones comes from the first song that me and Jesse ever wrote in his living room. It was called ‘Broken Bones and Pocket Change,‘ and the line goes ‘All she left me with was broken bones and pocket change. So all she left me with was hardly any money and this band.’ So it kind of worked out that way.”

Yes, it’s true that growing up in Alabama, St Paul was raised in the church with little exposure to the outside world.  “The only secular music that I heard at all was a ‘70s group called the Stylistics, and Sam Cooke. That was about it. The rest of it was all gospel music. When I was about 10 years old, I was groomed to be a minister. My goal in life until I was about 18 years old was to be a preacher.”

He later spent time working as a mechanic and trained to be an accountant, all the while dabbling in music.  When his first EP, recorded with Phillips, gained some notice, they decided to go all in.

Today’s SotW is “Call Me”, a concert favorite from his 2014 release Half the City.

The Music Musings and Such blog raves about “Call Me” writing:

From the first seconds, horns burst and pervade against a plinking guitar line. At first, it is quite tender and composed; delicate strings and emotive brass do their work, before the song is opened up and strikes. With its Motown-flavoured sounds, there is an energy whipped up that not only gets you to your feet, but puts you in mind of some of the late, greats- Otis Redding came to mind, initially. Janeway, however, is his own man, and with a powerful and crackling soul tone, he lays bare his emotions. Early words talk of realisations and emotional ground; with some ambiguity and mystery laid in, cards are being kept close to chests: “This ain’t the heartache/That I thought I knew/This ain’t the party/That I thought we do“. The band aptly and deftly support out hero, eliciting a smooth, sexy and powerful composition, that blends their components together. Percussion is steady but driving; guitar and bass is uplifting (and funky, somehow); in the midst of brass notes which swirl and sway. In the video for the song, our hero stands by the mic., side-stepping and arm-waving. Entranced by the rhythm (and perhaps his own voice) the band play around him- the boys never let the smile drop. Whether the song is surveying a broken relationship or is a calling card to a desired sweetheart, I am unsure, but you get some oblique- yet evocative- images and words summoned up; everything is pure but filthy; direct yet withdrawn. Sentiments such as “You got your limit/Baby I got mine/Six Eleven/Three Three Six Nine” perhaps have a lot more sweat than sweetness; our hero roars and powers through each line, ensuring that it fully hits home. It seems that there is some resistance around town; that some tongues are talking- causing ruction and anger in Janeway’s mind. Leonine of voice, evisceration and laceration are words that come to mind; truths are being laid down, and a weight is exorcised from his soul.

St Paul and the Broken Bones have appeared on all the late night TV shows and performed “A Change is Gonna Come” with Lizzo at SXSW in 2014.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Sweet Black Angel & All Down the Line, The Rolling Stones

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This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ classic double album, Exile on Main Street.  I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to verify the exact date of release.  I recently read a review by Robert Greenfield that was in Rolling Stone magazine dated April 27, 1972.  In the article, he says that the album will be out on May 7th.  But it’s very plausible that the release was delayed after he wrote that.

An article in the WSJ claimed the release date was May 12, 1972.  Wikipedia says it was May 22nd.  I think part of the confusion may be related to the US versus UK releases.  It could have been the 12th in the US and the 26th in the UK.  I guess it doesn’t really matter!

The backstory of the making of Exile is well known so I won’t be pedantic in telling it.  The short version is that the Stones were living in France in 1971-72 as tax exiles from England.  Unable to find an acceptable recording facility in France, the band decided to record from the basement of Keith Richards southern France villa (Nellcôte) using their mobile studio.

Describing this arrangement, Keith said “It was nice for me making this album.  At the end it got a little hectic in the house what with playin’ all night in the blazin’ heat… but with the 16 track truck always outside and ready, we’d go downstairs whenever we felt like it and work on a riff.”

My choices for SotW are the b-sides to the two singles released from Exile.  “Sweet Black Angel” was the flip to “Tumbling Dice” and “All Down the Line” was on the other side of “Happy.”

“Sweet Black Angel” was written in support of Black activist Angel Davis.  At the time, Davis was on trial for murder because she had purchased the gun used in the courtroom killing of a judge and the three black defendants (The Soledad Brothers) on trial for killing a prison guard.

But the gal in danger
Yeah, de gal in chains
But she keep on pushin’
Would ya take her place?

She countin’ up de minutes
She countin’ up de days
She’s a sweet black angel, woh
Not a sweet black slave

For a judge they murdered
And a judge they stole
Now de judge he gonna judge her
For all dat he’s worth

I skipped one verse that makes me cringe and probably makes the song unplayable in concert for the same reason “Brown Sugar” is avoided.  It just ain’t politically correct.

Ten little niggers
Sittin’ on de wall
Her brothers been a fallin’
Fallin’ one by one

“All Down the Line” is an R&B influenced rocker.

It features some smokin’ horns and a bluesy, rockin’ slide guitar solo by Mick Taylor.  It was originally recorded in an acoustic version during the Sticky Fingers sessions and is available on bootlegs.  I’ll include it here because I can.

Clearly, the Stones made the right decision to table it until they could record a version worthy of release!

Exile has survived the test of time. Upon its 1972 release the messy, beautiful album was met with mixed reviews.  Rock journalist Nick Kent summarized his review with this:

On Exile the Stones have picked up on the old idea of ‘when in doubt, get back to your roots’ – there is no spirit of adventure or any real variety and for a double album that’s bad.  But by concentrating on what they’ve always been good at, they’ve proved once and for all their capabilities as rockers.  For that alone, Exile on Main Street should not be ignored.

Exile is often in the top 10 of lists of the greatest albums of all time. In Rolling Stone’s most recent list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (October 2020) Exile earned the #14 slot.  Not bad!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Wine, Wine, Wine

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Later today I’ll be enjoying a wine tasting at the fabulous Hafner Winery in the Alexander Valley region of Sonoma County.  I thought it would be fun to make a “wine music” playlist to listen to on the drive up.  So why not share it with you?

The selection here isn’t my complete playlist, but it has a few of the highlights.  It covers a broad range of genres; from R&B to reggae, blues, rock, and even jazz.

I’ll pass on making my usual commentary and analysis.  This is just for fun!

If you’re interested in hearing the complete playlist, you can check it out here on Spotify:

“Wine” Spotify playlist

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Gold Coast Sinkin’, Blake Mills & Rack of His, Fiona Apple

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Today’s SotW was written by my buddy, guest contributor Steve Studebaker.  His band, Blind to Reason, gigs regularly in San Francisco’s East Bay.  He’s also fun to be with when exploring the music and food scene in New Orleans.

Electric guitar players are tone seekers and gear junkies, always searching for that next piece of kit that will transform their thin, plinky sound into the psychedelic roar of Hendrix or the down and dirty funky blues of Billy Gibbons.  There are many Youtube channels dedicated to this quest.  One of my favorites is ‘That Pedal Show’ hosted by Mick Taylor and Dan Steinhardt.  They do deep dives into pedals, amps, and how to combine them to find that magic tone.  They also will shout out guitar players that have sounds that move them.

I was watching a show from 2019 where they were hosting the guys from Walrus Audio, a boutique pedal company.  Mick started blasting fuzz and delay and harmonic tremolo and some other cool stuff mixed together.  He then said he was getting all ‘Blake Mills’, and the Walrus guys mentioned Blake and the ‘Heigh Ho’ album.  I said, “Hmm, maybe I should check this out.”  Which started a deep dive into all things Blake.

According to Wikipedia:

Blake Mills was born in Santa Monica, California, and grew up in Malibu, where he attended Malibu High School with Taylor Goldsmith.  Mills and Goldsmith began their musical careers in a band they co-founded called Simon Dawes.  After the band broke up in 2007, Goldsmith and his younger brother, Griffin, formed the band Dawes with Simon Dawes bassist Wylie Gelber, and Mills went on to serve as a touring guitarist for Jenny Lewis.  He went on to tour with Band of Horses, Cass McCombs, Julian Casablancas and Lucinda Williams.  As a session musician, Mills has collaborated with Conor Oberst, Kid Rock, Weezer, The Avett Brothers, Paulo Nutini, Norah Jones, Carlene Carter, Jesca Hoop, Dixie Chicks, Zucchero, Pink, Lana Del Rey, Dangermouse, Vulfpeck, and more.  He has been nominated for two Grammys for producing, including the sophomore release from Alabama Shakes. He also famously produced Fiona Apple, who he has also toured with, and who legendarily recorded the not-so-happy song A Rack of His about him.

From time to time, Mills hosts invite-only musical performances at Mollusk Surf Shop, in Venice, California.  Previous shows have seen Mills accompanied by musicians such as Jackson Browne, Billy Gibbons, Jenny Lewis, Charlie Sexton, Benmont Tench, and Tal Wilkenfeld.

This SotW is focused on his 2014 album Heigh Ho.  Guests include Fiona Apple, Jim Keltner, Don Was, Benmont Tench, Jon Brion, and Mike Elizondo.  Mills recorded Heigh Ho at the legendary Ocean Way Recording studios in a room built for Frank Sinatra.  Every song on the album is good, ranging from indie ballads to fuzz-drenched roots music.  It’s hard to pick one, but the track I keep coming back to is “Gold Coast Sinkin”. It’s got a cool, mid-tempo groove, some fuzzy guitars, and a feel that somehow makes me think of one of my favorite Beach Boys songs and a former SotW, “Feel Flows.”

For me, a song is usually 80-20 music to lyrics, so I didn’t know what the song was about until I sat down to write this.  With Blake being a California surfer, it’s not a stretch to figure out why he would be on the Gold Coast of Australia:

Ain’t no better way to spend our time
Warm my bones with your steady breathing
Put a worm out on a line
Make a home that we’re never leaving
A door wide open all the time

Go to Spotify and check out the rest of Heigh Ho. It’s a lost gem full of good writing and cool guitar sounds with superstar drummer Jim Kelter’s drunken grooves throughout.

If you like what you hear, go deeper and check out the Tiny Desk Show with Blake and superstar bassist Pino Palladino.  Freeform jazz from outer space?  Maybe, but very cool nonetheless.

An interesting read is the 2020 Washington Post article “How Blake Mills became good at everything.”

WaPo – How Blake Mills Became Good at Everything

I hope you dig this record as much as I do.  If not, there will be another SOTW next week.

Link: The White House Record Collection

In 1973 Johnny Mercer selected 1,800 pieces of vinyl for the White House with as much Pat Boone as the Beatles. Six years later John Hammond with John Lewis, Kit Rachlis, and Bob Blumenthal created a second set that included the Ramones and Parliament Funkadelic among others.

Jimmy Carter’s grandson became a little obsessed about what happened to all these disks, and tracked them down, eventually having a bit of a listening party in a White House conference room, playing I’m So Bored with the USA while President Obama governed upstairs.

This story is that story and it’s kind of neat. Read it here.

Song of the Week – Thumbs, Lucy Dacus

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Lucy Dacus is a talented singer/songwriter that released her first album, No Burden, in 2016 when she was just 21 years old.  It received significant critical acclaim as have her other works, including albums Historian (2018), Home Video (2021), and EP Boygenius (2018), her collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker.

One of the best songs on Home Video has a particularly interesting backstory.  “Thumbs” was written about a night when Dacus went out to a bar with a friend to a meeting with the friend’s ne’er-do-well, mostly absent father.  By the end of the get-together, she was fantasizing about killing the man.

I would kill him
If you let me
I would kill him
Quick and easy
Your nails are digging
Into my knee
I don’t know
How you keep smiling

Then she tries to give agency back to her friend by reassuring her:

I wanna take your face between my hands and say
“You two are connected by a pure coincidence
Bound to him by blood, but baby, it’s all relative
You’ve been in his fist ever since you were a kid
But you don’t owe him shit even if he said you did
You don’t owe him shit even if he said you did”

The minimalist musical accompaniment adds to the drama of the scene.  The tone of it reminds me of Suzanne Vega’s a cappella “Tom’s Diner.”

In an interview with MOJO’s Victoria Segal, Dacus was asked “Your songs (on Home Video) are so personal and specific, do you worry about the subjects coming to find you?”  Dacus replied:

“That’s one of my biggest sources of anxiety right now because there’s a lot of songs that are on the record that are about people I haven’t spoken to for a really long time,  I think in my previous records I’ve been really careful about not writing about people that I wouldn’t want to hear from, but that cut me off from a lot of material.  If people reach out to me, I am prepared to talk to them – it just makes my stomach hurt to think about it.”

But it doesn’t necessarily turn out bad.  For  “Thumbs”, Dacus was quoted in Rolling Stone saying:

“… my friend that it’s about told me, ‘The song is about the fact that you were there for me on that day.  And that’s not sad at all.’”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Think (About It), Lyn Collins

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Fifty years ago a singer named Lyn Collins released a funk record that would become a very influential song in hip hop; samples from it were used in dozens of rap songs.  That record, written and produced by James Brown, was “Think (About It).”

“Think (About It)’ only made it to #66 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but did reach the top 10 on the Soul chart.

If you’re familiar with “It Takes Two” by Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, you will instantly recognize the distinctive “Woo-Yeah” sample that is the heart of “It Takes Two.”  A 1989 article in Spin magazine ranked it as the greatest single of all time!  (Spin was obviously trying hard to be hip.)

On its own, “Think” is a fun listen.  The grooves are funky and support Collins’ muscular growl.  Her performance is worthy of the female empowerment lyrics.

Hey, fellas
I’m talking to you, you and you too
Do you guys know who I’m talking to?

Those of you who go out and stay
Out all night and half the next day
And expect us to be home
When you get there

But let me tell you something
The sisters are not going for that no more
‘Cause we realize two things
That you aren’t doing anything for us
We can better do by ourselves

So from now on, we gonna use
What we got to get what we want

So, you’d better think, think
Now’s the time when we have
That’s the thing I never will forget

Collins died in 2005 at the age of 56, from heart disease.

Enjoy… until next week.