Monday, June 30, 2014

IT'S ALL OVER NOW





Soul legend Bobby Womack, whose career spanned seven decades, died Friday at age 70. While the cause of death is currently unknown, Womack had been battling  Alzheimer's disease and had been treated for cancer in recent years.



Perhaps best known for his song "It's All Over Now," covered by the Rolling Stones, my introduction to Womack came with his cameo on Todd Rundgren's Nearly Human album, where he sang on the song "The Want Of A Nail."

Womack was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2009.

Rest in peace, Bobby.















Sunday, June 29, 2014

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO (JUNE 29, 2014) QUINCY; SMASH PALACE; MARY LEE'S CORVETTE



Exploring the cobweb-laden upper shelves...



The CD's I'm listening to today all have roots in the City of Brotherly Love.
Having spent my first three decades and change as a resident of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, I still have a soft spot for Philly bands, vintage and new. 


Back when I was exiting the institution of high school, one of the bands that was getting a lot of buzz was called Quincy, led by brothers Stephen and Brian Butler. 



The band recorded an LP for Columbia Records in 1980 but their momentum was curtailed when producer/performer Quincy Jones saw the name 'Quincy' on the marquee at the Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles, CA. He sent the band a trademark infringement 'cease-and-desist' order and Quincy were no longer allowed to use the name and broke up soon afterward. 

The Butler brothers quickly formed a new band, Smash Palace, and signed with Epic Records in 1985. Their first self-titled LP was released in the fall of 1985 along with an MTV video of the first single, "Living On The Borderline." 




When Smash Palace's A&R man left Epic Records in 1985 he convinced the band to follow him, but once the band left Epic, the offer from Polygram melted away.

After a decade of work as staff writers at CBS and BMG, the Butler Brothers reunited Smash Palace in 1999, and have continued to record and tour.




The band deftly combines 60's jangle-pop, 70's rock swagger and 80's new wave with a dash of 90's Brit-pop, and blends it all together with a hint of Philly attitude.




Mary Lee’s Corvette is a New York-based band led by Michigan-born singer-songwriter Mary Lee Kortes.


Although Kortes was already writing songs and poetry when she moved to New York, if was after her move that Amy Grant recorded Kortes’ song "Everywhere I Go" for her 1985 album Unguarded.



It's not every artist who can put out a low-budget, direct-to-two-track debut CD and land on the 1997 Top 10 list of the editor-in-chief of Billboard magazine. But that's exactly what Mary Lee's Corvette did.



Rolling Stone critic David Fricke once described Kortes’ voice as having “the high-mountain sunshine of Dolly Parton with a sweet-iron undercoat of Chrissie Hynde."


In recent years, Kortes’ band included Steven Butler (of Philadelphia’s Smash Palace), and I can hear you readers having an epiphany as you realize what connects the two bands.

Sadly, I could not find any clips of studio versions, so you'll have to settle for live versions.



If you're poring through a used CD bin and see one of the band's discs, I'd recommend it highly. Or you can go to their website



Until next time...

Friday, June 27, 2014

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO (JUNE 27, 2014) ANNE MCCUE ; LOU MARINI




Diving into the deepest corners of my CD room...


Here are a couple of CD's that made their way off the shelves and into rotation.


Wikipedia describes Australian Anne McCue as an “alternative-country-singer-songwriter.”

Wow-that’s a mouthful!

If she’s country, she’s one of the few who does not have the dreaded twang-I’d have just called her “singer-songwriter,” “folk,” or maybe “roots.”




In any event, I took her 1989 solo debut, Amazing Ordinary Things, off the shelf and gave it a spin one day while working from home, and was pleasantly surprised-it was a lot better an album than I remembered. 

In fact, I liked it enough to play it twice!

McCue had toured this album with Lucinda Williams, which could be where the “alt-country” label originated.

Take a beautiful voice, blend in well-written songs with great lyrics and melody, and add a pinch of expert production, and you’ve got the recipe for a great album.

It feels like every note is in the right place-no filler.

Sadly, McCue remains a well-kept secret.





I followed Anne up with one of the few jazz titles in my collection, Lou Marini’s Starmaker, a collection of eight originals ranging from jazz to blues and other related genres.




Known by the moniker "Blue Lou," Marini was in the original "Blues Brothers" ensemble and has played with pretty much everyone (Blood, Sweat and Tears, guitarist/composer Frank Zappa, singer/songwriter James Taylor).


Marini alternates between turns on three different saxophones with soulful vocals, laying down some funky grooves and setting the stage for some incredible solos. 

All in all, the album is engaging, although a little short on thematic unity. 

Still, it makes for an enjoying listen. 

I could not find anything from the album out there, and still have not figured out how to get my own sound files onto this blog (anyone who can help, I have a lot of music to share...), so you will have to settle for this live rendition.





Wednesday, June 25, 2014

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO (JUNE 25, 2014) SLO LEAK



Boldly exploring the outer limits of this CD collection...


Another CD I pulled off the shelves after a long absence from the CD changer is the debut album from Slo Leak.


Slo Leak was (is?) the nearly decade long musical collaboration of Charlie Karp and Danny Kortchmar.  It combines a mix of blues, rhythm and blues and funk.








Danny Kortchmar is one of the most famous people you've likely never heard of. He has either been in, played on, toured with, written or produced Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Don Henley, Linda Rondstadt, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi and more.


Charlie Karp was a 15 year-old prodigy who left school to play guitar for Buddy Miles. He recorded and toured with Buddy for years, in addition to Meatloaf and Aerosmith among others



Together, they produced three albums worth of blues that were all well-polished diamonds-in-the-rough.


This is blues from that strange breed of Americans that worship the genre.

Sadly, the albums went largely unnoticed.


Below are the only clips I was able to find on You Tube.















Monday, June 23, 2014

THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST CANADIAN MUSICIANS


On his recent Battle Of The Bands post, Arlee Bird of Tossing It Out fame posed the question, "do you think there is a bias by the U.S. audiences or the entertainment industry toward a good many Canadian music artists?"

I thought it fit in nicely with this post, that I was already mulling over, because the documentary the post is based on made the same claim about bias against women vocalists who were black or overweight.

The documentary I am referencing is all about the voices behind some of the greatest hits of all time, but no one knows their names.

The lead singers in popular music get the glory, but knowledgeable music fans will tell you the backing vocalists often add the touches that make a performance truly memorable.

Though many backup singers have the respect of their peers in the music business, they're all but unknown to the average listener.



Twenty Feet From Stardom shines the spotlight on some of these unsung heroes.



Darlene Love (the un-credited lead voice on some of Phil Spector's most memorable productions of the 1960s)



Merry Clayton (who contributed a striking vocal cameo on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter"



Lisa Fischer (who has appeared on albums by Sting, Tina Turner, and Aretha Franklin, as well as touring with the Rolling Stones and winning a Grammy for her only solo effort), 



Claudia Lennear (who has worked with Ike and Tina Turner, Humble Pie, Joe Cocker and Leon Russell, but is probably best not known for being the inspiration for the Rolling Stones' hit "Brown Sugar")



Judith Hill, who had been given the nod as Michael Jackson's duet partner for "I Just Can't Loving You" prior to his untimely death, and who has worked with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Josh Groban, as well as contributing her own songs to the Red Hook Summer soundtrack. Judith sang "Heal The World" at Michael Jackson's memorial service.



Director Morgan Neville tells of their triumphs and heartbreaks with behind-the-scenes footage, vintage live performances, and interviews with superstars Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler.

I enjoyed this documentary enough to order my own copy, although one thing really stuck in my craw.

Many of the singers featured are black, and a couple are full-figured.

And a couple of them blamed their lack of mainstream success on one or the other.

I’m sorry, but that’s a cop out.

Last time I checked, Aretha Franklin was full-figured and black, nor were Ella Fitzgerald or Etta James little white Barbie dolls, and these are just the few that come immediately to mind.

Plus how do you explain, that in a world of ever-diminishing CD sales, Susan Boyle sells enough to top the charts, and gets nominated for three Grammys in a row, winning on her third time at bat.


No offense meant to Susan, but I do not imagine that clothing designers are beating down her door.

She can sing! And the team behind her records knows what they are doing! 

So enough with playing the race and gender cards! 

All of these singers released albums-heck, Lisa Fischer won a friggin’ Grammy-and all have music available right now-and they did not make millions.

I’m sorry for that, but that’s the music business.

Since they were vocalists, they had a lot riding on choice of producer, song selection, and yes, marketing from the label. 

But this song, from one of Merry Clayton's records, is an example of how not to choose a song to cover.


If you listened to the clip, you have undoubtedly heard why I did not save this for a future Battle Of The Bands post-Merry's voice is great, but when they played this in the film, all I kept thinking was "really?"

"Southern Man," Neil Young's song about racism in the south, was an ill-timed release in 1971 in the aftermath of a pretty successful civil rights movement in the country.

Why Ms. Clayton (or her production team) picked this song mystifies me-who did they think would embrace it?

To a middle-aged white man (me), it would have felt like half of rap does to me these days-"kill Whitey." For the record, the other half of rap sounds like "back that ass up" to me. 

Not saying much for the message in rap lyrics. 

Was it meant to be a rallying cry to blacks in 1971? Talk about bad timing-why would a record label want to push that? And how ironic that a couple of years later, Merry sang background vocals on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama?"

In spite of all this, Merry did have five singles under her own name that cracked the top 100. That's more than a lot of other artists.

Claudia Lennear did not share the same success.


While certainly many albums have sold on less physical appeal than Ms. Lennear shows in the photo above, her lone solo effort did not sell.



She had the looks. She had the voice. She did not sell, and left the music business to become a teacher.



Every time an artist fails to sell, they blame the label’s marketing efforts. 

Does anybody really think the label does not want to sell records?

Sometimes changes at a label may cause a record to fall in between the cracks, and that is unfortunate, but the fact remains is that if the public does not want to buy your record, your record does not sell.

One of the ladies did finally acknowledge that.

It is unfortunate that good music sometimes fails to catch the public ear, but it happens.

Sometimes it's just about luck. 


Lisa Fischer was the most realistic of the artists profiled, as she did have success, but was unwilling to do what it took to keep that train going.

And Darlene Love's story was the most tragic, because her songs did sell, but Phil Spector never gave her credit and blocked her attempts to reestablish herself on another label.

But compared to what Phil did to Ronnie Spector, Darlene got off easy. And thankfully, neither lady suffered the fate of Lana Clarkson.


Thankfully, Phil is in a place where he won't be able to rape other women, financially or physically-although in what would be poetic justice (although I still would not even wish it on him) he may be getting a taste of what being violated feels like.

To circle back to Arlee Bird's question, I think the same industry reality holds true for artists from the Great White North.

About sales, I mean, not Phil Spector.

There is no bias against Canadians by the labels.

There are literally hundreds of Canadian musicians who have achieved success in the US-on my comment on his blog, I listed several, but I honestly do not think the American music listeners have ever given much thought to where an artist hails from.

I think if a Taliban rapper came out with a song entitled 'Back That Hijab Up,' it would be a hit in clubs all over the country, probably starting a whole new fashion trend at the same time.



The record labels want to sell records (well, now it's downloads, but they want to sell.

If you come out with a good enough song, people will like it and maybe you will sell.

Sadly, sometimes a voice is not enough.




Or the lady in this song (stay with it until the end-it is worth the wait) would be a household name instead of a rock footnote.

Sadly, Clare Torry does not get a mention in the film, although she is an unsung heroine on one of the biggest selling and iconic rock albums of all time.

Friday, June 20, 2014

WHERE ARE THE WORDS?




Gerry Goffin died yesterday at age 75.

He was one of the greats, and while his was not a household name, along with his former wife and songwriting collaborator (whose name is a household name), Goffin wrote lyrics for such early rock-era classics as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” and “Up On the Roof.” songs that have remained in the pop canon for decades.

You may have heard of Goffin’s co-writer, Carole King, with whom he penned more than 50 top 40 hits, among them Little Eva's “The Loco-Motion,” The Drifters' “Some Kind of Wonderful” and The Monkees' “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

The couple, who were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, split up in 1968.

Goffin collaborated with other songwriters, among them Michael Masser, with whom he crafted such hits as the Oscar-nominated “Theme From Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)” and Whitney Houston's “Saving All My Love For You.”

“Gerry was a good man and a dynamic force, whose words and creative influence will resonate for generations to come,” said King in a statement. “His legacy to me is our two daughters, four grandchildren, and our songs that have touched millions and millions of people, as well as a lifelong friendship.


"His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn't know how to say," King continued in her statement, "If you want to join his loved ones in honoring him, look at the names of the songwriters under the titles of songs. Among the titles associated with me, you'll often find Gerry's name next to mine."

Today, what I'm listening to, are songs written by Goffin and King.







Thursday, June 19, 2014

LEFSETZ HITS THE SPOT(IFY)

Bob Lefsetz has been publishing the “The Lefsetz Letter” for more than 25 years. I began subscribing a few months ago, and find his commentary interesting, even when he goes on a rant, which is often.




Even when he's on a tear, the letter is informative and entertaining.

Lefsetz’s insights are fueled by his experience as an entertainment business attorney and as the former chief executive of Sanctuary Music’s American division.

You can check out Lefsetz's site here and subscribe to his newsletter here

Arlee Bird at Tossing It Out should like it-it's a Wordpress blog!

Many of Lefsetz's recent posts have discussed the diminishing importance of the album format (and I am sugar coating his posts with that sentence), and the rising importance of online streaming services.


Lefsetz appears to be a fan of streaming music, most notably the Spotify service.


According to Lefsetz, the CD format is responsible for the demise of the album concept due to the sheer volume of music it contained, much of which was not good.


While I am not sure I agree with that universally, there were plenty of CD's released with an awful lot of filler. 

Some of them even came out on the Sanctuary label.


Lefsetz also speaks to people who are fighting the technology, and while I would not lump myself into that category, I certainly am holding on to the "old school" delivery methods.

I still buy CD's, but although the physical format sales diminished dramatically over the last 14 years, there was a spike among teenagers last year (see my post HERE).


Vinyl sales have steadily grown over the past decade, although still clearly a niche market (although a bigger niche than the numbers show, as I would still imagine that used vinyl transactions outnumber new unit sales by a substantial margin).

So while I acknowledge Mr. Lefsetz' industry experience, based on my read of the trade publication, I don't know what to think about how long a future the CD (or vinyl, for that matter) has.


That said, I did decide to check out the Spotify service based on his commentary.



My first visit left me unimpressed. I'd done a search on Todd Rundgren (who else?) and it came back with three songs.

At that point, I was ready to condemn the service. 

Later that week, I decided to look again, thinking that there was no way a man with Lefsetz's background would champion a service that had so little content.

I am happy to confirm that he would not. 

I must have done something wrong, or simply been impatient. When I re-performed the search, Spotify even had an archival Todd release that I had preordered but not yet received.

I spent a fair amount of time on the site, doing searches for established artists and looking for the out-of-print titles, as well as some obscure acts.

While I was able to stump the site, there is no question that for most people, this site has almost everything they would want to listen to (although AC/DC, Bob Seger and The Beatles were not available).

Even a couple of recent blues discoveries (Bob Corritore and Damon Fowler) were represented, as was Popa Chubby.

Am I ready to scrap my collection and go all digital?

No.

But if I were starting out today, I would probably use a service like Spotify in lieu of digital downloads.

I like owning the CD or the album. Many people prefer to go to iTunes.

At that point, unless you have a connectivity issue, what's the difference between having a digital download from iTunes or access to it on Spotify?

Lefsetz has a point. 

And his other point is also correct-technology is the future. While I always have thought they did not have to be mutually exclusive, there is no question that digital music has increased the portability of music.

I grew up in the 60's and 70's. Music was something you listened to in your house.




Then came the Walkman. Good.




Then came the CD. Even better.




Then came the MP3 player. Better still.




And the record labels fought the MP3 tooth and nail, while Apple came up with the best device for playing digital files, and took over the industry.




The labels lost.

Of course, iPods gave way to iPhones, and android phones have entered the fray, and all of this makes music more portable and accessible, which is a good thing.

Is Spotify to streaming music what the iPod was to digital?

I don't know. But it's free. Hard to argue with free.

While I did not investigate what the upgrade costs or gets you, I would imagine it's something like ten bucks a month, which may be less than you spend on downloads. I would imagine there are ads with the free version that the upgarde frees you from.

I still have a home stereo, and have not heard a computer set up that rivals even my lower end system (although I'll bet Bose is working on it, if they have not marketed it already).

The downside to iPods was always the cheap headphones and compressed music (it loses something that I can hear).

Once those quality issues are solved, audiophiles will start to embrace streaming.

And the better quality will come (again, if it is not already here).

There are already audiophile download sites. Audiophile streaming sites are just a matter of time.

You can't fight the future.

I just hope my CD players last as long as I do. Because I have too much past upstairs in my spare bedroom to discard it anytime in this life!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WHAT I LISTENED TO ON JUNE 12, 2014-MARC COHN

Last Thursday night (June 12, 2014), I went to see Marc Cohn at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.


Marc Cohn


While I own all of Marc's albums (big suprise there, huh?), I, like you, am mostly familiar with his signature song, "Walking In Memphis."


Add to that the fact that I'd not listened to any of his music in quite some time (meant to try that week but never seemed to get around to finding the CD's and they're not up on my cloud drive yet), I was not sure what to expect.

I was seated in row K, but in the MIM, no seat is a bad seat (there are only 300). 

A gentleman came in and sat in the row in front of me, a few seats to my left. I felt bad because I was staring a little-he had sideburns in that distinctive style Nils Lofgren wears. 

In fact, he looked a lot like Nils Lofgren. I got a look that I took to mean "what're you lookin' at?" from him as he at down with his lady companion.


Marc came out accompanied by keyboardist Glen Patscha; Marc alternated between guitar and piano, while Glen played organ and piano.


After a few songs, they called Nils Lofgren to the stage.


See? They are distinctive sideburns!


As it turns out that there was a good reason the gentleman in front of me looked a lot like Nils Lofgren. He was Nils Lofgren! And me without my brand-spanking new Japanese pressing of Night After Night!

It dawned on me that he knew I'd recognized him and was waiting for me to say something, but alas, I am DiscConnected, Lord Of The Idiots.

Nils' guitar work really augmented the keys, and the show reached the ninety-minute mark (the norm for shows at the MIM) all too quickly.

Marc's voice was in excellent form, his between song patter was funny (not Todd Snider funny, but his self-deprecating humor kept things light) and the playing from all three musicians was excellent.

Marc has not been what you call prolific, with a mere five albums over the course of almost a quarter century, but his output certainly is an example of quality over quantity.

Here is the official video for his signature tune...



...and here is Walk Through The World, from his second album... 


All this listening to songs about walking is kind of making me tired, so I'll give you Listening To Levon next, a song he wrote about Levon Helm (may he rest in peace).




 Finally, I'd like to share a live clip from the Musical Instrument Museum. 

This clip is actually from Marc's 2013 MIM show, but gives you a sense of the intimacy of the hall and the performance.




As much as there is to poke fun of in and about Arizona, the MIM really is a treasure. If you are ever in town, I highly recommend you check it out! 

And if you can, see a show-the venue really is something else! Who knows? Maybe Marc will be in town...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

FAREWELL TO SHAGGY



We may have liked to poke fun at him, but there isn’t one of us who did not at one time or another listen to the voice of Casey Kasem, the voice of the syndicated show “American Top 40” for more than three decades.



Weekly beginning in 1970, Kasem counted down America’s “hits from coast to coast.” The result was must-hear radio.

Before the Internet, “American Top 40” was, along with television’s “American Bandstand,” the most prominent and enduring stethoscope monitoring the country’s musical heartbeat.

And like Bandstand’s Dick Clark, it seemed that Kasem would always be with us.



As he counted down from 40 to 1, Kasem offered trivia on chart position and the artists’ place in the music world, information that was hard to find in the pre-Internet era.

As a trade magazine, Billboard wasn’t geared toward the audience, and record store charts varied from town to town.

Kasem’s “American Top 40” was the definitive source, and each week as he ran through Billboard’s pop singles chart there was a palpable sense of anticipation.

How far up the charts could the song we liked ascend?



Through soft rock, disco, new wave, rap, grunge, dance-pop and beyond, Kasem was there chronicling the songs that were hits. As pop music and technology evolved and Kasem’s generation matured, his show became less relevant, and he retired in 2009.

Kasem died this morning (June 15, 2014) at age 82.

And for all of us aging boomers, we just lost one more piece of our childhood.


Make that two more pieces-Kasem was also the voice of Shaggy!


Zoinks! Rest in peace, dude!

BOTB: YESTERDAY






Started on the Far Away Series, and refined by the bloggers noted below, I've been somewhat of a renegade player in the Battle Of The Bands blogfest, which happens on the first and fifteenth of each month. These guys are the brains in this outfit:

Far Away Series

Ferret-Faced Fascist Friends

Tossing It Out

Your Daily Dose

The way it works is, I put up two versions of a song and you tell me which one you like better.

Simple right? If you look at past comments, some people agonize over this decision, but I'll let you in on a little clue.....there's no wrong answer! Whatever you like IS the right answer!

Where I fail to follow rules is, there's supposed to be a post in five days or so where I tally up the votes and disclose my preference.

Usually I disclose my preference in the comments, I assume anyone who can get to this site can also count, and I'm generally not motivated enough to do that second post. 

Plus, I stink at following rules!

"Yesterday" was originally recorded by The Beatles for the Help! album, and is a melancholy acoustic guitar breakup ballad. 

The song has gone on to be (allegedly) the most covered song in the history of recorded music (with more than 2,200 cover versions).

Some of you who were following my Todd Rundgren posts may have some concerns here, but rest assured that I will not post all 2,200 versions.

Let's start off with the Beatles version...




And second, Philly's own Boyz II Men with their version from their second album, titled, oddly enough, II:



A different take, to be sure....if neither one is to your liking, I can post a few hundred more...




Saturday, June 14, 2014

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO (JUNE 14, 2014) SIREN "ALL IS FORGIVEN"

Once again, I'm going through the racks and rediscovering old acquisitions that have been collecting dust.



1989's All Is Forgiven was the debut album by the band Siren, an effort that went unnoticed by most.



Even though listeners may not have discovered the band, the courts did, forcing  the band to change their name to "Red Siren” after the debut album’s release (the name "Siren" had already been claimed by another group.)

A big reason I bought this album way back in the early 90’s was the fact that this was the first album that was digitally recorded (directly mastered to a hard drive)-up until then, recording was done in analog and digitally mastered after the fact.

Did that make it sound better?

Probably not, but it seemed really cool at the time.

While the cover artwork suggested a progressive rock album, and the band photo looked eighties metal, Siren's sound fell into the mainstream (think Heart).



There are a lot of similarities to artists like Private Life and Robin Beck; singer Kristen Massey's vocals fall somewhere in the realm inhabited by Stevie Nicks and Belinda Carlisle.

Listening to it now, this album has a dated sound-it's a solid pop/rock album, with some very good moments, but not a lot to make the band stand out from the pack.

Massey has a decent voice, the songs are good, but typical of that era and nothing remarkable. I am glad to have had an excuse to play the disc again, but it will probably be the next time I realphabetize before I think to listen to it again.


Out of print, and not worth paying a collectible price for, but for fans of 80’s rock, pick it up if you see it at a discount price.