Sunday, October 26, 2014

End of This Blog - Birth of Two New Blogs

This blog is on permanent hiatus until further notice.  I just can't keep this thing going any longer at this point.  Blues fanatics, however, take heart and check out out my two new projects:

Monday, May 7, 2012

REPOST: The Oxford American Southern Sampler 1997 Music Compilation

It's hard to believe that The Oxford American has been doing their annual music issue for 15 years now because it seems like I bought the first installment from 1997 only yesterday.  For those already familiar with this magazine, you know how great these editions are since they include the usual top-notch writing in addition to a CD that showcases the music of artists with varying degrees of Southern roots.  In situations where I don't care for particular tracks, I still find myself reading the corresponding articles because they are typically enlightening even if the performances are not.


This anthology dates from the time when the music issue first began, back when the magazine was actually published in Oxford, Mississippi and they were still calling these collections Southern Samplers instead of Southern Music CDs.  As with other discs that would follow, this compilation is a decidedly mixed bag but includes enough quality material to make it an enjoyable overall listening experience.  Not surprisingly, the more recent stuff generally holds less interest for me, whether we're talking about what modern-day critics call Americana (e.g. Steve Forbert's "It Sure Was Better Back Then," Lucinda Williams's "Pineola," and Kate Campbell's "When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas"), neo-blues (e.g. Ted Hawkins's "The Good and the Bad" and Corey Harris's "Fish Ain't Bitin'"), country music of more recent vintage (Rosanne Cash's "Price of Temptation" and Blue Mountain's "Bloody 98"), a painful reminder of the unfortunate swing revival from the 1990s (in this case, the Squirrel Nut Zippers trying to sound old timey on "St. Louis Cemetery Blues"), or postmodern zydeco (in the form of "Good Times" by Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin').  Even so, selections such as these might be right up the alley for some of you readers - and if that's the case, more power to you.


Even though "Got It Made in the Shade," "Give Me Back My Job," and "I Take It on Home" might not respectively represent prime-period bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin and Sun Records veterans Carl Perkins and Charlie Rich, they still have much to recommend to them.  Gospel doesn't get much better than Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Nobdody's Fault but Mine," and the more recently-recorded instrumental "Matthew 7:7" by the Graceland McCollugh Tigers is moving in its own way as well.  Not surprisingly, the prewar blues tracks, Skip James's influential tour de force "I'm So Glad" and Charley Jordan's superb "Keep It Clean," qualify as my favorite items on this collection, while cult musician Jim Dickinson demonstrates why he was held in such high regard by the Rolling Stones and many others on "Down in Mississippi."  His steady producer's hand graces a fine piece of Memphis R&B, "Sho' Do," performed by Ollie Nightingale & the Hodges Brothers.  Regarding the New Orleans funk nugget "Pungee," if you're not already acquainted with the Meters, don't come back here until you are.  On the other hand, I'll cut some slack for those not familiar with blackface minstrel Emmet Miller.  Granted, his voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but his interpretation of "St. Louis Blues" remains intriguing.  And finally, Phineas Newborn, Jr. demonstrates why he might be one of the most unfairly neglected jazz pianists in history on the ivory-tinkling workout "Abbers Song."


1. It Sure Was Better Back Then - Steve Forbert
2. Pineola - Lucinda Williams
3. Got It Made in the Shade - Jimmy Martin
4. Nobody's Fault but Mine - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
5. The Good and the Bad - Ted Hawkins
6. Give Me Back My Job - Carl Perkins
7. I'm So Glad - Skip James
8. Down in Mississippi - Jim Dickinson
9. When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas - Kate Campbell
10. I Take It on Home - Charlie Rich
11. St. Louis Cemetery Blues - Squirrel Nut Zippers
12. Fish Ain't Bitin' - Corey Harris
13. Pungee - The Meters
14. Sho' Do - Ollie Nightingale & the Hodges Bros.
15. Good Times - Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin'
16. St. Louis Blues - Emmett Miller
17. Abbers Song - Phineas Newborn, Jr.
18. Price of Temptation - Rosanne Cash
19. Bloody 98 - Blue Mountain
20. Keep It Clean - Charley Jordan
21. Matthew 7:7 - Graceland McCollough Tigers

Thursday, May 3, 2012

REPOST: String Ragtime - To Do This You Got to Know How (Yazoo, 1974)

String Ragtime - To Do This You Got to Know How qualifies as one of the more unusual albums in Yazoo Records' original L-1000 series of LPs as the featured musicians come from various racial backgrounds, all of the tracks are instrumental, and it was never reissued on compact disc.  As one can surmise from the title, this collection focuses on ragtime, but not the piano variety (e.g. Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag"), which is what most people think of when discussing this variety of music.  The performances, recorded between the mid 1920s and mid 1950s, convincingly demonstrate that the genre lent itself well to all manner of stringed instruments, including guitar, banjo, violin, and many others.  The common thread that unites these performances is the breathtaking combination of speed and precision that nowadays is something of a lost art.


One of the things that makes this album so fascinating is the aforementioned diversity of the musicians who included ragtime pieces in their repertories, which demonstrates the wide-ranging appeal it had throughout the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Moreover, it is interesting to note the staying power this musical style possessed since these 14 tracks were all recorded anywhere from 15 to 45 years after its commercial peak.  Only on an anthology such as this would one find a recording by a couple of Hawaiian guitarists (Jim & Bob's interpretation of "Sweet Georgia Brown") compiled alongside material by a Jewish mandolinist from Kiev (Dave Apollon's "Mandolin Blues" and "Russian Rag").  Less surprising but no less enjoyable selections are those by Western swing groups and hillbilly string bands:  the East Texas Serenaders' "Arizona Stomp," John Dilleshaw & The String Marvel's "Cotton Patch Rag," Walker's Corbin Ramblers' "E Rag," and Harald Goodman and His Tennessee Valley Boys' "Banjo Rag."  That three of the tracks by black artists - "Somethin' Doin" by Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater, "State Street Rag" by Robert "Louie Bluie" Armstrong & Ted Bogan, and "Dallas Rag" by the Dallas String Band - sound as though they could have been done by whites provides further evidence that early American music resulted from a common heritage between the races.  Robert Maxwell's "Spaghetti Rag" and Bob Roberts' "Persian Lamb Rag" represent a pop music (or perhaps, more accurately, a novelty tune) take on ragtime.  The former was recorded circa 1956 (although the original sheet music dates from 1910) and features a harp-tenor banjo-tuba arrangement.  In similar fashion, the latter seems to have been first published in 1908 and, in this case, waxed in 1954 by a band that sounds like it included a tenor banjoist, pianist, drummer, and a small horn section.  "Banjo Rag" by Chauncey C. Lee (which is totally different from the like-titled track by Harald Goodman) and "To Do This You Got to Know How" by blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson are, quite simply, tours de force that will leave the listener awestruck.


1. Sweet Georgia Brown - Jim & Bob (The Genial Hawaiians)
2. Somethin' Doin' - Nap Hayes & Matthew Prater
3. Arizona Stomp - East Texas Serenaders
4. Banjo Rag - Chauncey C. Lee
5. Spaghetti Rag - Robert Maxwell
6. Cotton Patch Rag - John Dilleshaw & The String Marvel
7. To Do This You Got to Know How - Lonnie Johnson
8. Mandolin Blues - Dave Apollon
9. Russian Rag - Dave Apollon
10. E Rag - Walker's Corbin Ramblers
11. Banjo Rag - Harald Goodman and His Tennessee Valley Boys
12. Persian Lamb Rag - Bob Roberts
13. State Street Rag - Robert "Louie Bluie" Armstrong & Ted Bogan
14. Dallas Rag - Dallas String Band


Thursday, April 5, 2012

REPOST: In Praise of Oxala and Other Gods - Black Music of South America (Nonesuch, 1960s)

One must tread carefully when delving into ethnic, international, or world music - whatever you want to call it.  A lot of it just sounds like stuff intended for the ears of tourists. nevertheless, every now and then, a record collector strikes gold and finds something as mind-blowing as the trippiest psych LP. Elektra subsidiary Nonesuch Records' Explorer Series consistently delivers the goods with field recordings made in the furthest reaches of the planet. In Praise of Oxala and Other Gods documents the music of African-South American groups in Colombia.  Ecuador, and Brazil. The lyrics are in Spanish or Portuguese but the music retains a very strong African influence in the chanting and rhythms. This is real voodoo or Santeria music and, as the title indicates, serves as praise songs for the tribal gods of the musicians' ancestors who were worshiped in the guise of Christian saints.

Addendum:  I don't think that I listened to In Praise of Oxala since around the time of the original post way back on January 27, 2009.  While working on a new vinyl rip, the music quickly reminded me why it deserved to be in my initial batch of reviews.  These performances feature irresistible, driving rhythms and may very well represent the sound of the earliest African diaspora music in the Americas.  I acquired this album from a private dealer who I first met in 2004 at the now sadly discontinued record shows at the VFW Hall in the Chicago suburb of Summit.  Although my earliest dealings with him were worthwhile, his supply of quality LPs quickly dried up, and he made matters worse by calling me all the time to rave about recent acquisitions in which he knew that I would have no interest.  I finally just had to tell him to fuck off to stop him from bugging me with his excessive junk peddling.  Anyway, at least this album can enjoy a prominent place in my collection in exchange for my troubles.


1. Arrullo San Antonio
2. Los Cholitos
3. Oigame Juanita
4. Capoeira
5. Samba da Roda
6. Candomble
7. A Adorar a Antonio
8. Salome
9. Me Voy a Belen
10. Voy a Bando
11. Currulao Cantado

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

REPOST: The Charlatans - From the Red Dog to Straight Street - Live in the 60s (Bootleg, 2003)

The Charlatans are on the list of my top three favorite San Francisco bands from the 1960s. While some critics will argue that the group was more important historically than musically, I still think the sum is greater than the parts. The Charlatans' mixture of rock, folk, blues, country, cannabis, and LSD essentially created West Coast psych and Haight-Ashbury as we understand it today. Authoharpist George Hunter's vision and guitarist Mike Wilhelm's virtuosity still don't receive enough accolades.


When I first started really getting into psych, I had to make do with crappy sounding bootleg recordings of the Charlatans. By the mid-1990s, I was overjoyed when their unfairly dismissed Philips LP from 1969 was legitimately reissued and Big Beat Records released the thoroughly excellent The Amazing Charlatans CD. So imagine my excitement when I heard about this collection of live tracks that came out about six years ago. Unfortunately, it's mostly a bum trip. "I Saw Her," "I Always Wanted A Girl Like You," and "When I Go Sailing By" are among the few songs in the band's repertory that never really did much for me, and these live versions don't change my opinion. "Folsom Prison Blues" is a competent version of the Johnny Cash classic. "Lulu's Back In Town" is an unremarkable instrumental that clocks in at barely more than a minute. "Interview" is an audio clip featuring, if I remember correctly, George Hunter from the documentary The Life and Times of the Red Dog Saloon, which is definitely worth a rental or download. "Wabash Cannonball" is a fraudulent track that the album "producers" would have you believe was recorded at the aforementioned landmark watering hole in Virginia City, Nevada during the legendary summer of 1965. While the onstage banter before and after the music seems legitimate (and provides evidence of the technical problems that seemed to plague the Charlatans at many of their live performances), the song itself is obviously cut from the Philips LP and pasted into the audio file. Even though I love that version of "Wabash Cannonball" - where Mike Wilhelm weaves together the disparate threads of psych, the Carter Family, and Chuck Berry - even bootleggers shouldn't try to pass off a studio track as a live recording. Caveat emptor.



So what are we left with? Three live versions of the Charlatans' signature tune, "Alabama Bound." Actually, it's only two versions since tracks 2 and 10 are identical, although the latter seems to be a higher fidelity recording, relatively speaking. Track 2/10 to my ears sounds the same as the live version that appeared on the Alabama Bound LP on the notorious Eva label from France. According to the less-than-reliable liner notes, this recording dates from a Family Dog event on June 13, 1969. It is performed by the third lineup of the group, and is pretty much the same arrangement as it appears on the Philips LP. This rendition gets pretty far out there and contains a great part where you can hear Richard Olsen playing his effects-laden woodwind instrument and foot-pedal bass simultaneously. Track 3, an earlier version apparently from 1967, features the Charlatans' original lineup and is very similar to the Golden State Recorders version featured on The Amazing Charlatans. Yeah, it's a bit ragged and Wilhelm's amp sounds like it's bleeding feedback, but it still takes me to the promised land every time I listen to it in the right state of mind.

So the sound overall is not great, and there are really only two exceptional tracks here. But if you're a Charlatans completist like me, you'll still want this. To make up for the other somewhat lame tracks, I've also included a PDF version of Jud Cost's exhaustive "The Saga of the Amazing Charlatans" article from the second issue of Cream Puff War in the file for your perusal. It's a fascinating piece on the band, the Red Dog, and early Haight-Ashbury. Definitely worth a read for the historically-minded head.

Be sure to check out the superb documentary The Life & Times of the Red Dog Saloon, produced and directed by Mary Works. 

1. I Saw Her
2. Alabama Bound
3. Alabama Bound
4. Folsom Prison Blues
5. Lulu's Back In Town
6. I Always Wanted a Girl Like You
7. Interview
8. Wabash Cannonball
9. When I Go Sailing By
10. Alabama Bound


Other Charlatans Live Bootlegs?


If you read "The Saga of the Amazing Charlatans" (included with the corresponding download for the post above), you'll see a discography at the end of the article which includes track listings for two soundboard recordings from shows at the Matrix.

April 17, 1966

1.We're Not on the Same Trip
2. On the Road Again
3. She's Movin' On
4. I Got Mine
5. By Hook or by Crook
6. By and By
7. Mojo

July 28, 1966

1. Sweet Lorraine
2. Canned Music
3. On The Road Again
4. Alabama Bound
5. Codine
6. 32-20

Anybody out there have these shows and is willing to share or trade? Please let me know as I'm dying to hear them.


The Big Reboot Project and Other News

Yeah, I'm still alive if anyone wants to know. It's been a long time since I've posted an album review or really anything else for that matter. The cause of my recent inactivity is threefold. First, my day job has kept me really busy during the last six months with no sign of things letting up until possibly this summer. That's a good thing. When I started this blog three years ago, I was hardly working at all due to the lousy economy, which meant that I had plenty of free time to devote to Record Fiend. Now the opposite is true. Although I don't think that I'll ever again be able to post as frequently as I did in 2009 and 2010, having a steady cash flow is a fair tradeoff. The second factor that contributed to my absence was the MegaUpload debacle, an incident that sent some major shock waves through the music blogging community. Some of my fellow electronic scribes threw in the towel after deciding that the environment was just too hostile to continue operations. Others, perhaps most notably the late lamented Holy Warbles (best regards if you're out there, brother owl), had their sites taken down by whatever hosting entity they were utilizing, actions that were more likely deliberately preemptive than coincidental. While we are fortunate that SOPA and PIPA were never enacted by Congress here in the US, the realist in me views this victory as only a temporary setback for the bloated entertainment industry. If it feels like it's just too risky to keep this thing going, I'll probably have to retire from music blogging on a permanent basis. That said, I'm willing to test the waters and see what happens. The final reason for my hiatus from Record Fiend has to do with the publishing opportunities in print media that this site has provided for me. Having contributed two articles to Ugly Things magazine and with a third piece in the works, I'm finding that I now have to budget my time for writing projects, regardless of whether they're attributed to yours truly's legal name or my more colorful blogging moniker. I also have some contributions appearing in the debut issue of Flashback magazine, which hits the newsstands next month, and am very proud to be part of what promises to be an outstanding periodical that primarily covers mind-expanding music from the 1960s and early 1970s. And then there's a blues-related labor of love that I've been working on since last summer but is regrettably moving at a snail's pace. The long and short of it is that having to multitask several different writing assignments has also been a major reason why there hasn't been a lot of recent activity in these parts.


As many of you have astutely noticed, the aforementioned MegaUpload affair significantly affected this blog, and I will start addressing that issue with a major reboot of Record Fiend. This will involve reposting every album review and, where necessary, making new CD and vinyl rips in a lossless audio format. Of course, there will be a few other tweaks here and there, all with the purpose of contributing to your reading, viewing, and listening pleasure. I will be going back to the very beginning and reposting the reviews in the order in which they originally appeared. A number of you have e-mailed me or left comments requesting that I repost something in particular that is no longer available for sharing. I ask that you excuse me for not having the time to respond to these queries. Rest assured that everything will eventually be restored here, but the reposts will be appearing in the fashion that I previously detailed. As a result, some of you will have to be a little more patient than others, and I hope that you will understand my decision to handle matters in this fashion. There are also still many albums in my collection that I would like to review and share for your benefit in the future. When time is available, I will try to include some new material among the reposts during this big reboot project.