2007 Records To Die For Page 2
JIMMY ROGERS: Ludella
Antone's ANT0012 (CD) 1990. Clifford Antone, exec. prod.; Kim Wilson, prod.; Derek O'Brien, asst. prod. No engs. listed. ADD? TT: 52:27
MARCIA BALL, LOU ANN BARTON, ANGELA STREHLI: Dreams Come True
Antone's ANT0014 (CD). 1990. Clifford Antone, exec prod.; Mac Rebennack, prod.; Stuart Sullivan, eng.; Joe Gracey, Larry Soyer, Spencer Starnes, asst. engs. ADD? TT: 40:22
Despite the lawyerly, bean-counting, and often despicable thing it has become, the music business was once a different place, populated by genuine characters, and few were as rare and generous and full-throttle devoted to music as Clifford Jamal Antone. In 1975, he opened the first Antone's club in Austin, Texas, with a show by Clifton Chenier. Although it moved locations several times, Antone's became a routine stop for road shows and the nexus for Austin's once-vaunted blues scene, cultivating such local talent as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the great Lou Ann Barton, whose 1989 album, Read My Lips, on the Antone's Records label, is a stone classic. Though he lost control of the club thanks to brushes with the law in 1984 and 1996, Antone remained active in booking it, and also in the larger Austin music scene. This past spring, following a South By Southwest at which he was energized and ebullient, Antone died unexpectedly on May 23 in Austin at the age of 56. As anyone who ever heard one of his rhapsodic stage introductions knows, there will never be another like him. I dedicate this "R2D4" entry to this bear of a man, who, while he may have had some smarmy sides—he was a club owner, after all—was also a blues nut of the first order: what Austin writer John T. Davis called "as much an evangelist as an entrepreneur."
Released at what was arguably the peak of his now-dormant but still-in-print label, this pair of albums represents the work of some of Clifford's favorite musicians. Jimmy Rogers' Ludella, recorded half in the studio and half live at the club, is electric Chicago blues at its best. The proceedings are enlivened by players like pianist Pinetop Perkins (who's now 92, and was in Austin being looked after by Antone when he died), harp player Kim Wilson, and, on the live cuts, guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Rogers standards like "Rock This House" and "Chicago Bound" have never sounded better. And you gotta love the unreadable black-on-dark-blue cover art.
No one but Clifford Antone could have cajoled along a project like Dreams Come True for five long years and still have come out of it with this kind of record: Angela Strehli, Marcia Ball, and Lou Ann Barton, three Austin blues divas of the same vintage, sharing the spotlight on one 12-cut album? Ouch! The ego babysitting that went on must have totaled in the thousands of hours. Besides Antone's coddling, the key was bringing in Mac Rebennack, Dr. John, as producer, who had the musical weight to keep a lid on the proceedings. With a rock-solid, all-star Austin band of Sarah Brown (bass), Derek O'Brien (guitar), and George Rains (drums), and guests like saxman David "Fathead" Newman and guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, this session, while perhaps not the blockbuster everyone hoped for, still packs a pretty steady wallop. Two Ike Turner tunes—beginning with the opener, "A Fool in Love"—as well as three Ball originals and Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me," make this dream pairing the highpoint of Clifford Antone's career as a label mogul. Clifford may be gone, but thanks to records like these, his mojo is workin'.
LOVE THAT LOUIE: The Louie Louie Files
Ace CDCHD 844 (CD). 2002. Alec Palao, prod.; Nick Robbins, mastering. AAD. TT: 72:34
Of the several "Louie Louie" collections that have been released—including Rhino's out-of-print, two-volume Best of Louie Louie set, and the hard-to-find First Louie Louie Spanish Compilation, from Madrid—this is easily the finest. Besides relatively familiar renditions of the 1960s party anthem by the Beach Boys, the Kinks, and Toots and the Maytals, it includes obscure but entertaining takes by the Sandpipers, Travis Wammack, and Sounds Orchestral. But the album's real value is in tracing the song's evolution from Richard Berry's 1957 R&B original through a succession of garage-rock covers by bands from the Pacific Northwest, among them Rockin' Robin Roberts and the Wailers, Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Sonics, and, of course, the Kingsmen, whose salaciously slurred 1963 version became the chart-topping standard against which all others are measured. Also included are such precursors as René Touzet's "El Loco Cha Cha," which furnished the distinctive "Louie" chord progression, and Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon," which inspired Richard Berry's patois-style lyrics.
MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT: Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings
Columbia/Legacy CK 64986 (CD). 1996. Lawrence Cohn, prod.; David Mitson, mastering. AAD. TT: 38:17
Rediscovered in 1963, Mississippi John Hurt enjoyed three years of fame on the folk circuit before his death at the age of 74. He recorded a few albums during his comeback years, but his reputation still rests on these 13 tracks, which he cut for Okeh in 1928. A self-taught musician who never traveled far from his home in Avalon, Mississippi, Hurt developed a gently rolling finger-picking technique that's closer to old-time banjo playing than to the harsh bottleneck style of his fellow Delta guitarists. He performed blues and spiritual songs, but drew heavily on a repertoire of topical ballads that date from the ragtime era. His sweet singing and smooth picking lend an eerie air of innocence to murder ballads like "Stack O'Lee" and "Frankie" (his riveting transformation of "Frankie and Johnny"), and he gives vivid poignancy to the John Henry legend on "Spike Driver Blues."
East/West 0630 16761 2 (German CD). 1996. Vangelis, prod.; Phillippe Colonna, eng. DDD? TT: 50:41
Impressive when it was released a decade ago, Oceanic has worn extremely well, and become a Vangelis classic. It's filled with memorable, accessible melodies, lush orchestrations, and a wide variety of musical moods and shadings. "Spanish Harbor" is a particular favorite, with some mighty low bass synths providing contrast to the "guitar," played with remarkably faithfulness by Vangelis on a synth. Mellow and relaxing, yet with some real musical substance, it will provide a spatial-resolution test for even very good systems. The sound is typical for Vangelis: spacious, luscious, and beautifully recorded.
PARTCH: Delusion of the Fury
Danlee Mitchell, Ensemble of Unique Instruments
Columbia M2 30576 (2 LPs), innova 406 (CD). 1971/1997. John McClure, prod.; Jack Lattig, Ed Michalski, engs. AAA/ADD. TT: 72:08
Harry Partch himself supervised the recording of this legendary work. A two-act play set to music, Delusion's music is entirely in Partch's scale of 43 notes per octave, played exclusively on instruments designed (and mostly built) by the composer. The music itself has an eerie alien beauty, and is surprisingly approachable given just how far it is from any "normal" conception of formal music. That's not to say that it's not for the unadventurous or closed-minded. The percussive nature of many of Partch's instruments provides a two-LP trial of a system's transient characteristics. The sound is spectacularly spacious and extremely broadband. A bonus LP includes the composer's commentary and demonstrations of the Partch instruments. I haven't heard the CD reissue.
PAUL HILLIER & NIGEL NORTH: The Rags of Time
Paul Hillier, baritone; Nigel North, lute, guitar
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907257 (CD). 2002. Robina G. Young, prod.; Brad Michael, eng. DDD. TT: 64:31
For this year's R2D4 I've selected another wonderful early-music disc. Paul Hillier and Nigel North have teamed up to offer an ethereal disc of 17th-century English lute songs and dances. The allure of this music is the poetry of John Donne (1572–1631). Donne's thoughts and expressions weave throughout the fabric of the music in such an intelligent fashion that we are swept back in time to the age of cathedrals and dirt-floor homes on English county paths. I find this music a mandatory part of my listening repertoire—it soothes my soul and rekindles my spirit. In track 2, Hillier reads in his beautiful baritone a poem of Donne's. He's spot-on perfect in cadence, and the words transcend the old language to give us a seemingly modern view of the warmth of the golden sun. Harmonia Mundi's typically fine signature sound is second to none.
KRAFTWERK: Tour de France Soundtracks
Astrelwerks ASW0178-2 (CD). 2003. Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, prods.; Fritz Hilpert, eng. DDD? TT: 53:93
Long before Lance Armstrong popped up on the international sporting scene, there existed a kingdom of cycling Gods in Europe with names like Coppi, Hinault, and Merckx. Roadside fanatics over there—kids and beer-guzzling adults alike—worship them as we do Mantle, Aaron, and DiMaggio. Two of these kids, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, were obsessive cyclists themselves. They were also classically trained, had a passion for technology, and in 1970 combined computers and music to form the avant-garde group Kraftwerk.
Kraftwerk's music explores the sounds of the rhythmic underpinnings of modern life, as represented by automobiles (their first hit album was the aptly named Autobahn, 1974), computers (Computer World, 1981), and sport (Tour de France, 2003), which commemorates the Tour de France's 100th anniversary. Followers of Kraftwerk suggest that the band's recorded output is indirectly related to (read: diminished by) the amount of cycling activity Hütter and Schneider engage in. The opening track begins with an electronic squeak squeak squeak that represents the sound of a racing bike's chain rings (the big gears next to the pedal crank arms). The tracks increase in intensity, like the Tour itself, and build to a frenzied crescendo. The sound is reference-quality electronica, with huge dynamic swings and low-frequency thwacks. Its ambient spaces and computer-generated rhythms will mesmerize you.