Friday, April 25, 2008

Omnivore grab bag

It´s another grab bag Friday, and I´ve got a great variety of styles for all you musical omnivores tonight. There´s blues featuring Lightnin´Hopkins and electronica with the amazing Silver Apples, while Bonnie Prince Billy takes care of lofi and the Heptones provide roots reggae and dub. And then we´ve got the country contingent: Gram Parsons, The Flatlanders and Joe Ely. Great songs all of them, so check it out.

Let´s get going with some old electric blues. Lightnin´ Hopkins recorded his Herald sessions in April ´54 in Houston, and he never played a meaner guitar. With just Ben Turner on drums and Donald Cooks on bass, the overall sound is remarkably open and airy. Life I Used To Live sees Hopkins looking back on a life of sin: "I´m gonna change my way of living, I´m gonna join the church again". He doesn´t sound like he actually will go through with it though... Lightnin´s Special is a furious instrumental that´s hard to beat. You can find them on Lightnin´And The Blues: The Herald Sessions (Buddha records).

Lightnin´Hopkins - Life I Used To Live MP3
Lightnin´Hopkins - Lightnin´s Special MP3

The Silver Apples were unique. Two guys from New York City who made electronic music that was way ahead of its time. The duo built its own instruments: a huge percussion kit called the Taylor drums and the Simeon, some kind of oscillator set which was played with hands, elbows, knees and feet. Contrary to most bands the Apples didn´t play their first gig in some small club. Their manager secured them a place on the bill for a huge free festival in Central Park, so they debuted for 30.000 people... They recorded two revolutionary albums for the Kapp label in the late sixties that didn´t sell but became hugely influential on lots of bands (think Suicide for instance). Both are compiled on one wonderfully weird cd on MCA.

Silver Apples - Oscillations MP3

Here´s two songs about country hicks taking their true loves to the big city. Both fail. In Gram Parsons´ Streets Of Baltimore (written by Tompal Glaser and Harlan Howard btw) the protagonist even decides to go back home after a while, leaving his baby behind in the largest city in the state of Maryland. "I soon learned she loved those bright lights more than she loved me..." It´s from that wonderful showcase of ´cosmic American music´ called G.P. (Reprise ´73). The Flatlanders (featuring the mighty triumvirate of Joe Ely, Jimmy Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock) take their Rose from the mountain to L.A. "where the air ain´t clean" but money talks. They soon hoof it back to Colorado however, as the rose is slowly but surely wilting. Well, at least they go back home together. Find it on their ´72 gem More A Legend Than A Band (Rounder).

Gram Parsons - Streets Of Baltimore MP3
The Flatlanders - Rose From The Mountain MP3

Joe Ely made his first claim to fame with the Flatlanders, although that seminal band never made it big. More a legend than a band indeed. Why this guy is still a cult hero at best I simply can´t understand. Take the exemplary compilation No Bad Talk Or Loud Talk ´77-´81 (Edsel ´95) for instance. Ely writes great songs and can handle honky tonk, rockabilly and pure country with ease. The melancholic Tonight I Think I´m Gonna Go Downtown, a song written by co-Flatlander Jimmy Dale Gilmore, is a good example of the latter. And that accordeon sure is a nice touch.

Joe Ely - Tonight I Think I´m Gonna Go Downtown MP3

I finally managed to track down a copy of the extremely limited Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy cd Wai Notes. Released on the tiny Sea Notes label, it contains demos (in lofi quality with quite a lot of tape hiss) of songs that later ended up on Billy´s wonderful last outing The Letting Go. Great stuff, but for hardcore fans of the Louisville bard only I guess. Nice touch: there´s a real polaroid glued to the sleeve.

Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy - Wai MP3

Let´s call it a night with some reggae from one of my favorite vocal groups, The Heptones. Youngsters Earl Morgan, Barry Llewellyn and Leroy Sibbles started out in the sixties as a rocksteady ensemble in Trenchtown, Jamaica. They proved one of the few groups that could make the transition to roots reggae in the seventies with ease. Cool Rasta is a good example of their fluent style. And the dub version, produced by the great Harry J, is irie too. Buy it on the Cool Rasta album (Trojan).

The Heptones - Cool Rasta MP3
The Heptones - Rasta Dub MP3


Patriq Allyn said...

I come here often and link people from my blog here... I just want to thank you because this is really a wonderful wonderful blog and is always very interesting. And also... brings joy! Some amazing songs here. So thanks!

Anonymous said...

Dang, this is a great post. Love the Bonnie Prince Billy, the Flatlanders, Heptones...

Brendan said...

i see you are digging the flatlanders as much as i have been. my favorite album i picked up within the last 2 years.

found you (again) researching silver apples.