Wednesday, July 26, 2023


Irony isn’t dead. In fact, it’s a living yet intangible part of the odd vibes that abound after the disasters of the worst human assumptions being acted upon. It feels like some smirking ghost at the side of the road laughing at us while we scratch our heads wondering what happened to our best-laid plans. Occasionally, it takes decades for some ironies to become revealed, noticed, observed, as in what, I think, was some of a barely noted reversal of mainstream attitudes about the right and wrong ways of making music. In the early Sixties, around the time of the British Invasion, I remember all sorts of cartoons and jokes about citizens and music fans attempting to commit suicide when they were exposed to the vocal styles of Jagger, Dylan, or a good number of gruff, nasally singers in the pop world. I remember the Rolling Stones’ appearance on the old Hollywood Palace variety show on ABC in 1964.

Hosted by Dean Martin, who was either entirely drunk and on his fourth sheet to the wind or doing a brilliant impersonation of a stumbling sot, The Stones performed their songs for the first time to an American TV audience, an historic event enhanced by Martin’s slurred insults to the British band. There was a trampoline act at mid-show, I remember, a circus act that had a leotard-clad family doing impressive tricks of the bouncing variety. When they were done, Martin came on stage again and announced that the elder man in the troupe was the father of the Rolling Stones and had been trying to kill himself with this trampoline act for years. That was a real gasser. Why the hate? The answer was obvious. The Stones were reintroducing America to a native art, black music, that it had all but forgotten about and found the renditions by the Rolling Stones of classic blues and soul songs alien, offensive, immoral and dangerous. It wasn’t good singing and offensive to the idea of music! It wasn’t even music.

Somewhere along the line all the stoned hippies and rebellious teens grew up, got jobs, had families, and in effect became both their parents and THE MAN, and the same gag now substitutes MOR performers like Dionne Warwick, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, and some others for the old guard. These folks can certainly sing but the kind of music they make is antithetical to the true liberating and expressive poetry of what REAL music is. Authenticity as criteria for judgment (an ever-vague and elusive concept) has advanced over technical competence and romantically “pretty” offerings. I have had this debate on both sides over the decades: first with my parents, aunts, uncles, and school teachers defending Dylan’s music and especially his singing; and through the decades arguing with young people that boy bands, pop tunesters like Dionne Warwick and slow jam funk were criminally commercial junk that was without conviction or soul.


Saturday, July 22, 2023



Released in 1969, the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed is the centerpiece of my round up of favorite albums. It's a grand crescendo of the styles, personas, and attitudes they've been developing in the years before this, easily displaying less a fusion of acoustic folk and blues traditions than an early Americanish "blend" of the plugged in and unplugged traditions. It's fair to say that every element of sound we hear sounds as if it's always been there, perfectly formed, waiting to be discovered. Jagger is in peak form as a vocalist--there seems little in the way of traditional and more contemporary styles at the time he couldn't make his own--and his lyrics were never better, subtler, wittier, more British eccentric oddball. In an interview some time ago in Rolling Stone, Mailer found fine writing in the lyrics of "Live With Me" when the interviewer played him this record, praising the baroque and telling detail, the scene shifting line to line, the quick outlines of an upper class family's secret insanity fully exposed. The only track that doesn't work is "You Can't Always Get What You Want", intended seemingly as a grand , showstopping statement with just bit of philosophy delivered in the chorus. Overwrought, drawn out, very slow, anticlimatic, Jagger's singing uncharacteristically falls flat here--he sounds winded --and the not-quite surreal gibberish he usually excels at suffers in a determination to be "poetic".

Theoretically the Blind Faith super group, comprised of Eric Clapton,Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Gretch, should have worked, as they brought a demonstrated array of talents to the fold around instrumental chops, vocal strength and in songwriting especially. Though commonly felt by many to be a failure at the time of release, the lone Blind Faith studio release yielded an impressive number of all time gems--"Can't Find My Way Home", "Presence of the Lord", 'Well All Right". Even lesser material such as the structurally awkward "Had to Cry Today" and Ginger Baker's everybody-gets-a-solo excursion "Dow What You Like" provide sufficient joy. The Baker tune especially is worthwhile for Clapton's guitar solo, which to myhears has him revealing , maybe, a bit of influence from Mike Bloomfield's solo on "East West". The reason for abandoning this project would seem to be the expected issues of drugs, egos, and most likely that their hearts just weren't into it. A shame, they could have been one of the best.

Miles Davis is known as a man with great taste in highlighting the work of great sax players in his bands--Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Sonny Rollins. Add Sonny Stitt. Often derided as a knock off Bird, a grossly unfair charge, Stitt is shown here as lyrically expressive, technically sublime and engagingly melodic improviser for establishes his ideas of bebop chromaticism to the music's superb body of energy. Davis, in fine form here with his brief statements, quick , surgically inserted note clusters and his pure, nearly vibratoless tone --not to mention his genius use of space between his solos--has made it working habit to pare his minimalist expressiviseness against busier second voices like Coltrane and later John McLaughlin. With his band, with peerless support from alto and tenor saxophones, Wynton Kelly, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums--we have Stitt in that position. His choruses are choice, crowded but not crowding. Recorded sometime during the 1960s, according to some vague notes on the CD.

I went looking for a relevant live set by a great fusion band to post here and decided to post this very elegant and , yes, at times searing live set from the Gary Burton Quartet , IN CONCERT, featuring an early appearence by the late guitarist Larry Coryell, who man consider the man most responsible for laying a foundation for the jazz fusion to come. In any respect, this record hasn't aged at all since it's its release in 1968--that are no ugly fuzz tones , fake sitars or faux poetic-philosophical lyrics one needs to rationalize about--but is , rather, a vivid statement of what a innovative unit had been up to that moment and being able to reimagine their inventions yet again. The rhythm section of Steve Swallow on bass and Bob Moses on drums, navigate a variety of musical ideas and rhythms, buoying the remarkable contrasts between primary improvisers Coryell and Burton. LC's blues intonations seamlessly merge with rapid fire bebop complexity and an unfailing classicist precision, the same no less from Burton, who makes his percussive instrument reveal tones, undertones, and shades in a rapid flurry that might make you think of the dense fabric of an Art Tatum solo. A band remarkable that helped clear the ground for a stretch of great jazz rock.

Side two  of Mountain's 1971 release Flowers of Evil is live for nearly forty minutes and is pretty much the Leslie West Show. West wasn't the most fluid of blues rock guitarists--nearly anyone else could play circles around him in terms of speedy cliches and such--but what he had was phrase, taste and tone and a killer hand vibrato , featured here oh so brilliantly on the Dream Sequence segment of the side: "Dreams of Milk and Honey" by Leslie West and Mountain, from the second side of their album Flowers of Evil, recorded at the Fillmore East in NYC in 1971. It is one of the great moments of Hard Rock guitar, with a great, lumbering riff that distorts and buzzes on the low strings with crushing bends and harmonics squealing at some raging pitch that might make one think of natural calamity, a force that cannot be withstood. West, never the most fluid guitarist, had, all the same, a touch, a feel, a sense of how to mix the sweet obbligato figures he specialized in with the more brutal affront of power chords and critically nasty riffing. The smarter among us can theorize about the virtues of amplified instrumentation attaining a threshold of sweetness after the sheer volume wraps you in a numbing cacophony, but for purposes here it suffices to say, with a wink, that is a kind of music you get and accept on its own truncated terms, or ignore outright. There is an aesthetic at work here, but it might as well come to saying that you had to be me, at my age, in 1971 when I was struck by this performance to understand a little of why I haven't tossed the disc into the dustbin. He is in absolute control of his Les Paul Jr., and here he combines with bassist Felix Pappalardi and drummer Corky Laing in some theme and variation that accomplishes what critic Robert Christgau has suggested is the secret of great rock and roll music, repetition without tedium. There are no thousand-note blitzkriegs, no tricky time signatures, just tight playing, a riffy, catchy, power-chording wonder of rock guitar essential-ism. I've been listening to this track on and off since I graduated from high school, and it cracks me up that my obsession with this particular masterpiece of rock guitar minimalism caused a number of my friends to refer to me listening yet again to my personal "national anthem."

Monday, July 17, 2023

a CD review from 1976, the genuinely faddish Axe squats for the crowd


Axe is a rare example of Sixties psychedelia that ranks with the best of the Blues Magoos, 13th Floor Elevators, The Music Machine, The Count Five, The Electric Prunes, The Seeds, The Leaves, The Ambouy Dukes, The Barbarians, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Frijid Pink, David Axelrod and other obscure bands that have been shelved with other rock arcana. Psychedelic music occurred in the late Sixties when drugs, most notably LSD and other chemicals that transfigured one’s perception into a parabola of surrealism, became the latest fashion among youth culture. Many young rock bands flirted with the effects of these substances, and in their need to make their music more than throwaway pop culture (a symptom from the release of Sgt. Pepper), looked to express their “insights” and “understandings” in song. The results were naive lyrics about love, peace, the search for inner essences, fantasies about hijacking starships, the effusiveness of nature, paens against violence and in general expressions about the need to escape from the bummer of reality. To amplify the themes and the art-consciousness of the music, there were guitar solos with fuzz tone effects, sitar playing, classical quotes, serious singing that sounds like the mewling of a spoiled kid and so on. Sixties psychedelia, for all its seriousness and cerebral assertions, was a time of innocence that’s been lost forever to history. Those bands’ efforts were the prattling of a child playing with advanced concepts that the child was incapable of understanding. Psychedelia hasn’t been lost completely. Axis, the former backup band for Rick Derringer, are on the surface one of the many competent but undistinguished heavy metal bands vying for Nugent’s spotlight, but lyrically they’ve placed themselves in a cosmic time warp, distinct from Nugent’s machismo or hard rock’s penchant for cock pride themes. On “Juggler,” lead guitarist/songwriter Danny Johnson sings: “Time is like a monster/ … .it can never be stopped/Turn it all around, turn it upside down/You just can’t break God’s clock.” Who else but a child of the Sixties psychedelic naturalism would have the gall to deliver a fractured sermon to an audience that expects its heavy metal lyrics to be as Hobbesian as the music itself? In " Ray’s Electric Farm” (a perfect title), Johnson posits the worn out notion that he can find an earthly utopia: "I’m going down to Ray’s electric farm/Where the nights last for days and/Guitars grow on the lawn … " Johnson is a visionary who thinks that rock and roll ought to be organic and free of bills. Presumably, all a rocker need do on the “electric farm” is plug into the nearest bush and let the music rip. Johnson has a subversive personality at heart, a mind that seeks to undermine the murder mentality nihilism that dominates hard rock and replace it with the cosmic effusiveness that rock audiences repudiated long ago in favor of either nostalgia or cynicism .Johnson is a dumb kid who has assumed the piousness of progressive rock bands like Yes and Kansas and is delivering the message in plainer language through a more understood motif. It probably won’t be long when Johnson and Axis will have their lyrics on the lips of hard rock fans. The thought of it should terrify all of us who’ve remained sane up to this moment.