MAGNET’s Kevin Friedman works next to a record store, which on Sundays is manned by a man named Marty, who puts out vinyl LPs from his own collection for a couple bucks each. Marty doesn’t adhere to any specific genre; the emphasis is on classic rock but there’s plenty of jazz, soul and funk in there, too. Kevin goes over at least twice a month with about $20 to see what he can find. Here is what he picked up this week:
Sonny Stitt Bud’s Blues: $4
It’s not everyday that you name your album after one of the players on it that isn’t you, but when that player is Bud Powell, the greatest pianist in the world at the time, you make exceptions. While this remains Stitt’s album, Powell’s presence is constant, at least on the a-side. Stitt and Powell go at each other on several cuts, eager to display their virtuosity, in particular on “Bud’s Blues” and “Sonny Side.” Side two features future Modern Jazz Quartet founder John Lewis on piano and trombonist J.J. Johnson, who as a leader and sideman played with just about every jazz musician of note from the big-band era on, sharing the soloing duties. His mellow and rich tone provides excellent contrast to Stitt’s more brash and reedy sound. It also offers two takes of each of the four tracks. Stitt, who was originally an alto player often compared to Charlie Parker, switched to tenor in order to further establish his own identity. By this time he had, and his solos are extremely fluid and confident but still retain obvious characteristics in common with Parker: the upper-register bebop speed trials and the nearly effortless reharmonization of the changes. Max Roach, widely considered the greatest and most influential drummer of all time, plays on both sides. Lewis, Roach and Johnson were all integral members of the “Cool” sound that was emerging, but Stitt and certainly Powell found it too straight for their tastes, both preferring the fiery elements of bebop improvisation on display here.
Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks: $1
If you’re ever going through a tough break up and need the perfect soundtrack, this is it. Dylan incorporates all the heartbreak and bitterness he was feeling during the demise of his relationship with his wife Sarah (mother of Jakob) and puts it all on the album. As a work of art, culling words and music from emotion, it stands as one of his greatest achievements. The jaunty narrative of “Tangled Up In Blue” marks the beginning of the relationship, but things quickly go south. By the second song, “Simple Twist Of Fate,” his enthusiasm has been replaced by an acceptance of the end. Acoustic guitar, electric bass, harmonica and vocals are instruments aplenty to accompany the weight of his words. And it doesn’t stop. “You’re A Big Girl Now” captures the changes in persona and power that take place so often in love. “Idiot Wind” is Dylan at his most vindictive, applying one of the more direct verbal slap-downs put on wax. But his vitriol, like most, burns off quickly, replaced by leaden sorrow and sentiment. “If You See Her Say Hello” captures the bittersweet reminiscence over one now gone, though the alternate version available on volume one of his Bootleg Series is superior in its arrangement. Dylan’s lyrical nimbleness sometimes led him to be a bit too cute for his own good, not unlike John Lennon, but here he throws his irony out of the door and writes from his heart from start to finish. So when he says, “I’m going out of my mind/With a pain that stops and starts/Like a corkscrew to my heart/Ever since we’ve been apart,” he’s not kidding at all. There’s some hope to be found throughout, but even tracks like “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” are tinged with fatalism. Dylan leaves us on an up note though with “Shelter From The Storm.” He’s moving on, the only way he and just about everyone else who has ever been there knows is the only way.
Bobbie Gentry Ode To Billy Joe: $1
This record is awesome, although the track listing on the back cover is in a different order than the album. Regardless, it’s got this country grind to it, starting right out with nearly garage-y “Mississippi Delta,” which is down and dirty swampy funk. This was supposed to be the single from the album, and it kind of recalls Kenny Rogers’ “I Just Checked In To See What Condition My Condition Was In,” but after hearing the title track, Capitol Records realized “Ode To Bilie Joe” was the hit, though not until they edited it to nearly half its original length, thus adding to the ambiguity of the lyrics. There’s a specific rhythm that finds its way onto many of these songs, a syncopated swing that lands hard on the one, then adds extra emphasis to the second beat of each measure. There are slightly dissonant string arrangements by Jimmie Haskell, such as on the title track, “Papa Won’t You Let me Go To Town” and “Bugs,” that add an impressionistic, dark undercurrent to the music.
Merle Haggard The Best Of Merle Haggard: $3
Haggard portrays the human condition with a layman’s poeticism. “I’m A Lonesome Fugitive” and “Sing Me Back Home” are songs about prison and death row—as a frequent inmate at San Quentin, these were places that Haggard had firsthand experience with. But ultimately this is folk music. These are songs of love, work crime and death, but not necessarily in that order. His songs, usually accompanied by expressive pedal-steel guitar, were as influential on the folk scene of the ’60s as the Smithsonian Folkways albums of the Deep South. Even Joan Baez covered dead-man-walking ballad “Sing Me Back Home” and sounded great doing it.
Alun Davies Daydo: $4
I recognized Davies as the guitarist on most of Cat Stevens’ albums. Stevens produced this album and plays on several tracks. It’s an uneven LP, but the first two songs, “Market Place” and “Old Bourbon” are beautiful and original folk. There’s a gently, dreamy quality to them, like precursors to Mojave 3 or even Sigur Rós (if it was an acoustic band). On the latter, Davies sings in a high tenor voice, and it’s a plaintive and peaceful ode to New Orleans. After this auspicious start, I’d begun to think I’d stumbled upon something great, but he doesn’t maintain the mood. It gets a tad corny and then unremarkable with only Stevens-esque acoustic ballad “Vale Of Tears” (from side two) standing out. Apparently, Davies is playing with Stevens again.
The Dave Clark Five Having A Wild Weekend: $2
The DC5 were, at least at one point in the ’60s, bigger than the Beatles, knocking “I Want To Hold Your Hand” from the top of the charts with “Glad All Over.” It didn’t last of course, but they had a claim to fame as the second biggest British Invasion band at the time, appearing on Ed Sullivan 18 times or so and garnering a string of hits, only a few of which people could readily place. But they had something. This is the soundtrack for a film they made (on the heels of the success of A Hard Day’s Night) called Catch Us If You Can, which was directed by John Boorman. But for some reason they changed the name for the U.S. audience. I suspect that the film is derivative crap, but the album is totally cool. Not Beatles cool, mind you; it’s not like they were visionaries, but they were a still a great band. This is “Jailhouse Rock”-style rock ‘n’ roll mixed with a John Barry-esque guitar twang. Their sound is rougher than the mop tops, who were playing bubblegum pop during this period. There are a handful of instrumentals, like “Dum Dee Dee Dum” and “On The Move,” that include King Curtis-like boss tenor matching the distorted surf-guitar leads. These are pulp-fiction-style scorchers. “No Stopping” is another crime-scene soundtrack with a Peter Gunn-style guitar lead and a sweet overdriven organ solo that conjures images of car chases and go-go dancers. The production and arrangements are totally pro, and there’s only a couple clunkers, like maudlin harmonica instrumental “Sweet Memories,” but songs like “New Kind Of Love” and “I Said I Was Sorry” are just great ’60s British Invasion rock.
The Band Stage Fright: $2
Despite the fact that most of these guys are Canucks, the Band are one of the seminal Americana rock bands of all time. This is primarily the result of Levon Helm’s influence. As the sole statesider, he introduced the band to the music, roadhouses and hookers that the South had to offer. The others inhaled it like the speed that kept them on the road back when they were called the Hawks. Stage Fright was their third album and continued their progress in writing prideful anthems in the rootsy rock vein that they helped establish. Along with the hits “The Shape I’m In” and “Stage Fright” are mournful serenades like “Sleeping,” “All La Glory” and “Time To Kill,” which capture the delicate sensitivity of these hard-living road warriors. Engineered by a young Todd Rundgren and mixed by Glyn Johns, it’s a classic.
Johnny Winter Johnny Winter: $2
Winter is a total badass. This was his first official solo album, released in 1969, though he’d previously released an LP under the rather clunky name the Progessive Blues Experiment. This is generally considered Winter’s introduction to the world as a white-hot (literally, as he’s an albino) blues-rock guitarist. Despite his rather awesome technique and flashy speed, Winter is no wanker. His tone, note selection and phrasing are just dirty and mean. That’s probably why blues legend Willie Dixon had no problem sitting in on the track “Mean Mistreater” and likely explains why Muddy Waters tapped him for his albums Hard Again and I’m Ready. With songs like “I’m Yours And I’m Hers,” “Leland Mississippi Blues” and “Back Door Friend,” Winter exhibits his dark shredding with a litany of riffs that display both originality as well as a deep knowledge of the genre. His version of Ray Charles’ “I’ll Drown In My Own Tears” highlights his soulful signing as well.