Saturday, January 27, 2018

Paul Simon - 'Here's My Song' 1972 Self Titled Record

Playing today in the 'rock room' is a introspective singer songwriter classic.Released in January of 1972, Paul Simon’s self-titled solo album initiated his later extended travels into and through world music, while becoming an introductory document into his prolific 1970's output. Paul Simon contains its share of new explorations, but is also filled with deeper, acoustic ruminations that recall his recently dissolved partnership with Art Garfunkel. As such, it plays as a statement of independence, but also as well as a self reassessment of Simon’s own musical standing.
Simon’s 1965 release Paul Simon Songbook is his original and initial solo venture, recorded prior to the Simon and Garfunkel partnership. But it was this 1972 project that signaled Simon’s first true departure into a solo career. A conglomerate of unique island rhythms, spacious instrumentation, and Simon’s tasteful self analysis, Paul Simon is one of the first and finest singer/songwriter albums of the 1970s.
The record opens on the jittery reggae influenced grove of the well known cut, 'Mother and Child Reunion' recorded at Dynamic Studios in Jamaica using Jimmy Cliff’s backing group. The kinetic track is known as one of the first to feature a mainstream rock artist using elements of reggae in a song. Female backing vocalists support Simon’s clean and glassy lyrical lines, and his absolutely addictive melody. The track would go on to be one of Simon’s most recognized and earned him deserved attention for his incorporation of what would later be known as world-music elements.
'Duncan', the second track of the album, contains one of Simon’s finest and most fascinating character analyses, telling the tale of a fisherman’s son journey of discovery. The tune spotlights Simon on acoustic guitar with Los Incas, the South American musical group who’d earlier collaborated on Simon and Garfunkel’s 'El Condor Pasa', contributing flutes and percussion. The song follows Duncan’s coming of age and learning of life from a new found female companion who teaches him the ways of faith and love. The diversity of the salty seashore instrumentation of drums and flutes once again illustrates how this early album was a breeding ground for Simon’s accelerating and diverse musical references.
'Everything Put Together Falls Apart' follows, and is a sparse commentary on the worrisome and painful situation created by a partner’s substance abuse. A mirror reflection in content of Neil Young’s 'Needle and the Damage Done', and composed around the same era, 'Everything' balances the same tightrope. A serious and firm warning is stated, contrasted by the rocking-chair acoustic lines that run parallel with Simon’s frank and undulating tunefulness. 
Continuing in the same thematic vein, the camera of inspection is turned back onto the narrator with 'Run That Body Down', a gently swinging piece of self analysis. The realities of age, physical condition and lifestyle are inspected, initiated by lyrical warnings from the wife and doctor, all set against an introspective musical backing. Simon’s pensive but self-encouraging vocal lines make the song, with the musical bed lending a plush pillow for Simon to rest his worn-out head.
The first side of the album concludes with the exceptional 'Armistice Day', another stellar composition to be discovered in Simon’s collection of string-bending folk blues. Here gently alternating picking patterns shadow Simon’s tempered verses. Accompanied by percussionist Airto Moreira, the song dynamically enters a quasi-patriotic funk jam at its peak, as Simon travels to speak to his congressman.
Flipping the disc, the second and even more introspective side of the record begins with one of Simon’s biggest hits and most popular songs: 'Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard' which also lends its central striding acoustic riff and central groaning bass to the influence of reggae. It’s the second powerful opener of the record. The tribal thumping groove was completely unique to hear on FM and influenced many musicians’ forays into international music. All of the elements that comprise a perfect rock song are on display here.
'Peace like a River' flows as a straight-forward blues, becomes a starry twilight verse, and continues a falsetto dressed, blurry-eyed ballad, born of sleepless New York City nights. Simon’s instantly recognizable finger picking delivers a flurry of buzzing low note strikes and elastic bends.
'Papa Hobo' continues with the intimate theme of the second side of the record, with an instrumentation featuring Simon’s simple acoustic, a carnival harmonium and creaky bass harmonica. The song is a Rockwell portrait, its imagery as vivid and timeless as a hand painted capture.Fittingly, 'Papa Hobo' is then followed by the instrumental 'Hobo’s Blues' , a brief ditty composed by the duo of Simon and famed violinist Stephane Grappelli and recorded in France. The quick interlude is a perfect jazzy match for the organic series of song created on side two.
Possibly referencing Simon’s relationship with the 'big bright green pleasure machine', 'Paranoia Blues' is a bucket-kicking hand clapping stomp. Gritty horn interjections and silvery slide draw out the color as Simon sings and rattles percussion. The song nervously clicks and slides to the point of quaking like a wagon wheel about to fall off its axle. 
Concluding the record is the sly 'Congratulations', the title a sarcastic commentary on a deteriorating relationship. The lyrical content goes deeper, with Simon asking for peace while explaining the seriousness of the emotion of love. Plush blue keyboards work in conjunction with the understated backing by the band, adding up to a gentle R&B sway that makes for a fitting end.
By the conclusion, it’s clear that Simon is developing the next stage of his life and his career with the recording of this record. The music contained in the LP grooves blends familiar contexts with a new direction, combining Simon’s creative past while still keeping a hand in the contemporary world. Simon follows his already successful muse, but allows for outer influences and interpretations to guide the direction of his numerous compositions. The result of his artistic attitude is a record as warm as its principal pictured on the jacket cover, snug in a parka, as a slight knowing smile crosses his lips.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Cowboy - 5'll Getcha Ten - 1971 'Please Be With Me'

Revolving today on the turntable in the ‘rock room’ is the 1971 Sofomore album from ‘Cowboy’, 5’ll Getcha Ten, a timely collection of soulful denim sewn and whisky soaked tunes. Discovered and recommended by Allman Brothers Band founding guitarist Duane Allman, the Jacksonville, Florida-based group was introduced to Allman’s producer Johnny Sandlin and a beautiful musical relationship was formed. Exuding a laid back country gait and a hearty Muscle Shoals vibe, the underappreciated record can nestle nicely next to the likes of ‘Poco’ and the ‘Burrito Brothers’
5’ll Getcha Ten, the second recording made by the group for Capricorn Records, is one of those unique albums obscured by the dusty winds of rock history, only to be unearthed years later in hindsight and to be celebrated and reintroduced to a new era of fans.Recently,  Real Gone Music has thankfully revisited this seminal country rock LP to disseminate its values to a new audience with an upgraded CD release. Revitalized, remastered and reintroduced, 5’ll Getcha Ten can now claim its rightful place as a standard of country-rock and a pillar of early 1970s songwriting, collecting a plethora of amazing tracks.
While the appearances of legendary pianist and Allman Brothers Band alumni Check Leavell and band founder Duane Allaman increase the interest in Cowboy’s legacy, the true magic to be found is in the songwriting abilities of founding members Tommy Talton and Scott Boyer. There is a craftsmanship on display that illustrates just what attracted Allman to the songwriting duo. The hallmarks of the record are to be found in the relationships between sweet acoustic picking, spring water pedal steel, tightly woven harmonies and Leavell’s tasteful saloon piano which appears on over half of the albums tracks.
Cowboy, similarly to the group Badfinger and their relationship to the Beatles, will always be inextricably tied to the Allman Brothers Band. Fortunately, this musical relationship has caused the band’s music to endure the passing of time and to always have a listening audience.
The six-piece band opens the LP whimsically with Talton’s gently swaying maternal opus, “She Carries a Child,” and the foundation for the record is mortared. Innocent waves of pedal steel and stitched acoustic harmonies are the standouts, as the poignant track introduces the album in the same way and to the same effect as “Tears of Rage” opened the Band’s 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink.
“Hey There Babe” brings the barn dancers out of their seats sounding quite like the groups contemporaries, the aforementioned Poco. Deep brisk mountain water runs through the embracing acoustic guitars, with sweet songwriting the order of the day.
The slightly foreboding and descending introduction of the title track, “5’ll Getcha Ten” exhibits in a gently undulating groove that spins the melodic weathervane slowly into country dusk. The song is comprised of conjoined movements organically moving into one another, the pedal steel weeps in rich hearty drops over top. The band sings beautifully and harmonizes the ‘5’ll Getcha Ten’ mantra as the song drops over the horizon.
‘The Wonder’ follows and is the only song on the LP not composed by the group. The track is a pacifist anthem, delicately performed by the band and highlighted by guitarist Pete Kowalke’s vibrato lines.
The first side of the record concludes with the lacy sunshine groove of “Shoestrings” and the cool let down of “Lookin for You.” George Clark lays a warm island bass line down under the chugging acoustics of “Showstrings,” turning it into a sneaky hip swinger. Chuck Leavell’s playing is again a highlight, his talent unable to be contained and his piano additions essential. Duane Allman then makes a low key appearance offering just the right amount of understated guitar to the diffused and sparkling arrangement of “Looking for You.”
The second side of the album opens with the aptly titled ‘Seven Four Tune,’ which subscribes to that description appropriately. The song stumbles through swinging doors and opens the second half with a boozy waltz to get toes a tapping and glasses clinking.
Scott Boyer’s ‘Right on Friend’ keeps the mood light and moving with a tight hand in glove groove. This song quite possibly contains the most detectable Alllman’s influence to these ears, especially occurring during the guitar breaks. The track elicits a celebratory vibe and the groove of a simmering soul review.
Moving from one friend to multiple pals, ‘All My Friends’ follows, and is a heavy ballad making up the second song in a pair of Boyer penned tracks. The lacy arrangement features a stunning fiddle break followed by a Leavell recitation that ups the musical ante. ‘Innocence Song’ fades in covered in a gently finger picked crystalline veil. A clean sheet on the line, a breeze blows through the percussionless arrangement. The song does not reach two minutes, gone as quickly as it appeared but leaves a pure impression.
The most popular song on the record with fans and contemporaries follows in the next to closing spot. Scott Boyer’s ‘Please Be With Me’ was not only chosen by Eric Clapton to cover on his 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard, the song also spotlights Duane Allman on profoundly stunning dobro guitar. One of rock music’s beautiful lost classics, the song begs for companionship in a simple and unadorned arrangement. The definition of ‘deep cut’ both versions of the song deserve your undivided attention. The original though, featured here, is indeed most poignant.
5’ll Getcha Ten could have closed with ‘Please Be with Me,’ but the band follows perfectly with ‘What I Want Is You’, a song that would not sound out of place on a Crosby Stills and Nash album. It’s fitting that the recording ends as it began, with an intimate acoustic sway colored by spiritual and detailed glimpses of life illustrated through pastoral compositional ideals.
Cowboy’s 5’ll Getcha Ten is a record your fingers deserve to fall on while flipping through your collection or the crates in for favorite shop. The record still sounds as relevant as the day of its creation. Fantastic songwriting and honest musicianship can never be passé as this fine collection of music by the band Cowboy illustrates.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Grateful Dead -Dick's Picks Volume 15 - 'Lazy Summer Home' Englishtown September 3, 1977


Inspired by news that the next Grateful Dead vault release will hail from the Fall of 1977 (Binghamton November 6, 1977), today in the ‘rock room’ spins Dick’s Picks Volume 15, immortalizing the groups famed September 3, 1977 performance in Englishtown, N.J., long a favorite of Deadheads and myself. The soundboard recording is retrieved from one of the Dead’s most beloved and discussed touring years. As such, 1977 is very well represented with numerous official releases, most of them 'Betty Boards' coming from the legendary spring tour and from the month of November.

This particular concert is nestled in the middle and follows the Grateful Dead’s June Winterland shows, in addition to an unplanned three-month break that followed when Mickey Hart was injured in an automobile accident. Their return to the stage after foregoing a Summer tour was met by a collection of rabid fans that numbered between 100,000 and 150,000. Contrary to the band’s penchant for failing to live up to large concert expectations, on this particular night the Grateful Dead matched the crowd’s energy and then surpassed it with an performance for the ages.

For the astute Dead listener, Dick’s Picks Volume 15 features the band exhibiting the huge electric orchestra aesthetic that would carry the band through the end of the 1970s. During this period, the Grateful Dead gained a kinetic edginess to their performances, the improvisations became somewhat truncated, but the energy was dispersed in such a way that all of the songs performed contained a concentrated power. Bombastic drumming and crushing instrumentation was the hallmark of the Dead during the late 1970s.

This Englishtown, N.J. concert is a high water mark for the second phase of the band’s post retirement touring career, and a hallmark for their new approach and continued relevance. Dick’s Picks Volume 15 contains some of the finest versions of the Grateful Dead’s most beloved songs, many arguably the best they performed in the post-1974 era. ‘Eyes of the World,’ ‘Not Fade Away’ and ‘Truckin'' all feature unique and inspired playing, as well as instrumental passages never to heard from again.

The enormous raceway was lassoed by tractor-trailer boxes to help reign in the swelling crowd, as they enjoyed preceding Indian summer sets by the New Riders of the Purple Sage and Marshall Tucker Band. When the Dead finally took the stage, they revealed a dominant and authoritative first set where they played like a steel jack hammer shaking off the rust from a three-month respite. In fact, the Grateful Dead explodes right from the beginning, starting with a stone-cold rock and roll ‘Promised Land’ and do not let up for the remainder of the set.
Even the usually calm and collected ‘They Love Each Other’ displays an aggressive embrace and tight squeeze. The first set feature heavy-footed stomps through the flower bed, highlighted by a titanic ‘Mississippi Half Step’ that reached its musical maturity during this era. The concluding ‘Music Never Stopped’ revealed a small glimpse into what musical magic awaited the crowd in the upcoming second set.

Phil Lesh is especially ‘on’ this evening, detonating charges throughout the performance and driving the drummers into thunderous exclamations. The second set illustrates this perfectly as the band sprints into an incendiary pairing of “Bertha” and “Good Lovin.'” From there, the set continues building in momentum, stretching and expanding like a water balloon about to reach its nexus. The first example of this expansive ideal is the following “Estimated Prophet/Eyes of the World” pairing.
“Estimated” has an exploratory, but somewhat compact, outro jam that suddenly dissipates into one of the finest takes on “Eyes of the World” you will ever hear. Featuring an extended introduction, Jerry Garcia in particular elicits a melodic expressiveness that inspires chills in the listener. Each solo segment is highlighted by exclusive guitar excursions where Garcia slowly constructs a musical story, building in dynamics and culminating in all proponents of the band gathering in celebratory expression. This version spotlights some of Garcia’s most inspired guitar playing ever on the Grateful Dead standard.

Another highlight featured in this special second set follows a window smashing and brick throwing “Samson and Delilah.” The Grateful Dead take a brief breather and discuss the upcoming set before embarking on a 40-minute segment of music that once again finds members mining and then revealing some of their finest playing of the era.

The segment of music begins auspiciously with a slightly confused version of 'He’s Gone'. Garcia humorously mixes up the verses and the drummers plod along tentatively, until just following the vocal reprise the musical stew begins to thicken. The band coagulates and drifts away from the song form before locking into a distant relative of the Bo Diddley beat. The musicians’ soon begin to mirror statements from each other before collaboratively merging in a glorious improv.

What happens next is the stuff concert dreams are made of. A long and patient introduction to ‘Not Fade Away’ develops and eventually elicits a strummy, scrubbing percussion driven extravaganza. Segments of this 20-minute version bring to mind The Who illustrated by lush Bob Weir chording and a driven Garcia ringing big bells by hitting extravagant chords. Similar to the preceding “Eyes,” Garcia is a wealth of melody, pulling out endless variations on the theme. The band moves deftly through a syncopated Lesh/drummers breakdown where Garcia completely unravels in a multicolored rainstorm of phased notes. The Grateful Dead is balancing on the edge of magic and are no longer in control: The muse is directing the beast.

After this extraordinary reading of ‘Not Fade Away’ which could very possibly be the best of all time, where else could the band possibly go? In typical mind-blowing Grateful Dead fashion, an on stage whistle blows and the band as one, turn the key and enter the first take on ‘Truckin'’ in some three years. The crowd erupts and the band soon responds in kind bringing the ‘Truckin'’ jam to not one imposing explosion, but to multiple peaks so raucous that it seems the group may fall apart from the power dispersed. Holy Shit.

Following such a legendary display, both Garcia and Lesh thank the crowd, a somewhat rare occurrence, with both men usually quiet from the stage. Lesh introduces the rare encore choice as 'a ditty from our new record,' and with that the band leaves the swelling crowd with a perfect and regal ‘Terrapin Station.’ The song is a fitting send off, and this majestic rendition caps off one of the most special evenings in the Grateful Dead’s long and storied touring history. One of the early pulls from the Grateful Dead vault, Dick’s Picks Volume 15 finds rough and ready rock and roll rebels the Grateful Dead blowing away the big crowds.

Englishtown 1977