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Monthly Archives: October 2015

Are you ready for the night train?

Dear music writers of America:

I hope you haven’t submitted your Album Of The Year ballots yet … because, as 2015 approaches its twilight, the voice of the diddley bow is once again heard in the land.

NIGHTTRAIN

Yup. Proud to announce the arrival of Night Train To Sideways as a name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp.

It’s the fifth Kurt Blumenau recording (I hesitate to call them “albums”), and the second to feature the unaccompanied growl of the diddley bow.

Why do I do this? Mainly because I like the noises I make, and think somebody somewhere else might like ’em too.

So, I raise a one-stringed (though not one-fingered) toast to somebody somewhere else.

PS: Screeds-and-links for my previous recordings are here, here, here and here.

PPS: Anyone sending me a screenshot of a Night Train To Sideways track playing in their iTunes, phone or other digital music outlet wins lunch and a beer if we’re ever in the same place at the same time, as well as my undying gratitude.

Fire Island of the mind.

Not much new here. I haven’t felt like looking backward at anything, and there’s nothing interesting in the present or future.

I did come across a nice online resource that I’ll share a link to, on the off-chance one of my readers doesn’t know about it. (I tend to assume anything I discover has already made the rounds four years ago. But, one never knows.)

This site has a whole bunch of disco and dance mixtapes — like club playlists, with the tunes faded together for continuous play and all.

Some apparently date to the ’70s and early ’80s (though I am dubious of at least one of the dates), while others were created in later years in tribute to the older style. Quite a few of them are credited to well-known DJs and mixers.

I’m just starting to listen to these, but I’m getting the idea that most every clip is like Instant Discotheque. Just add a computer (and a leisure suit if you’ve got one) and you can turn your basement, office or woodworking shop into Studio 54.

I didn’t know I was in the mood for ass-shaking escapism until I found this. But my fondness for disco goes back a long way, so I think I’m gonna spend some time getting to know what’s here.

The sound quality is hit-or-miss; the mix I’m listening to now has the sort of volume changes you’ll get from an old cassette, as well as a couple of skips that could only have come from a vinyl source.

That tends to deflate the disco vibe a little bit. The really good discotheques were known for their killer sound systems, and no self-respecting disco operator would have allowed warps or sonic oddities on the dance floor.

I can live with it, though, for the nonstop party vibe, and for high-stepping obscurities (to me, anyway) like the Andrea True Connection’s “N.Y., You Keep Me Dancing” and Roberta Kelly’s “Zodiac.

(The summer 1974 Tom Moulton/Fire Island mix tape I raved about in July is here, too, and sounds as good as I remembered it. And, using Audacity, I can turn the downloadable .rm file into a more travel-friendly MP3.)

So, until you hear from me next, I’ll be in the Carter Administration. Be good.

Peanut butter, meet chocolate.

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If I had the necessary software to make mashups, I might never leave the basement.

(This assumes that Real-Life Me ever actually does leave the basement, which most of you do not know for a fact. Well, OK, my man Jim Bartlett recently discovered that I will put on pants and leave the house for a good cause.)

I’m busy, and rather amused, tonight making mental mashups from the following list: Noteworthy albums that happen to share a release date.

(All dates sourced from Wikipedia, so they could be complete nonsense.)

See if you can imagine what some of these would sound like for yourself if cut-and-pasted together.

Cosmo’s Factory, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Free Your Mind … And Your Ass Will Follow, Funkadelic (July 25, 1970)

Church of Anthrax, John Cale and Terry Riley, and Tapestry, Carole King (February 10, 1971)

Live-Evil, Miles Davis, and A Nod Is As Good As A Wink … To A Blind Horse, Faces (November 17, 1971)

Approximately Infinite Universe, Yoko Ono, and Holland, the Beach Boys (January 8, 1973)

Head Hunters, Herbie Hancock, and Quadrophenia, the Who (October 26, 1973)

I Got A Name, Jim Croce, and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Black Sabbath (December 1, 1973)

High Voltage, AC/DC, and Rastaman Vibration, Bob Marley and the Wailers (April 30, 1976)

Blue Moves, Elton John, and Night Moves, Bob Seger (October 22, 1976)

Ahh … The Name is Bootsy, Baby!, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and Low, David Bowie (January 14, 1977)

Damn The Torpedoes, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and One Step Beyond…, Madness (October 19, 1979)

Live! Coast to Coast, Teddy Pendergrass, and Metal Box, Public Image Ltd. (November 23, 1979)

Nightclubbing, Grace Jones, and Shut Up N’ Play Yer Guitar, Frank Zappa (May 11, 1981)

Five For The Record: Hot Tuna, “America’s Choice.”

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A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Fifth album by Jefferson Airplane spinoff band led by guitarist/singer Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, who chose the occasion to morph from a singer-songwriter/ragtime-blues collective to a wall-shaking hard-rock band. Released May 1975. Reached No. 75 on the U.S. album charts. Included “Hit Single No. 1,” but no actual hit singles. Contained obligatory ’70s “play loud for maximum effect” warning. They loved it in Columbus.

Tuna

And here’s why I like it:

1. Oooh, sudsy. I love the album cover. Love love love it. Right up there with Chicago X in the band-as-brand sweepstakes. Except Chicago was a platinum-selling juggernaut — the Top 40 equivalent of a corporation, and just the sort of band you’d expect to adopt a fancy sell — while Hot Tuna was a scraggly bunch of noncommercial post-hippie freaks.

Seriously, that cover is wicked eye-catching. Plus, by likening the band to laundry detergent (an odd linkage, but whatever), it implies that America’s Choice belongs on the shelf in every home. It’s not just an album — it’s a household necessity. What, you don’t have one yet? You must have … ring around the collar.

2. Plastic blues. I will probably not find the words to describe exactly what I’m thinking … but track three, a throttling of Robert Johnson’s “Walkin’ Blues,” attains a plastic-blues nirvana that I find oddly appealing.

For all its distortion, the song carries the soul and passion of a glass of Tang, and feels just as processed. It is polished, professional and perfunctory. These are musicians who can spit out 12-bar variations in their sleep, and for five minutes and twenty-four seconds, they might well be doing just that.

I’m not making much of an argument as to why anyone should like that … then again, there aren’t a lot of arguments for why people should like Tang, either, and it’s still on store shelves.

Maybe it’s the lack of hot-dogging or over-emoting. I’d rather hear Kaukonen’s understated drawl than somebody who sounds like his toenails are being pulled out.

Or maybe it’s a sort of nostalgia. This is State-Of-The-Art 1975 Rock-Blues, flawlessly recorded (and available in quadraphonic, if you care to look!), and listening to it has a certain period charm for those with imagination.

Just as Tang is the pure distilled essence of laboratory-created orange flavouring, “Walkin’ Blues” is the pure distilled essence of famous people in the Ford Administration playing the blues. So make Hot Tuna part of your nutritious breakfast!

3. Tones. Speaking of “Walkin’ Blues,” Kaukonen achieves a tone on his second solo I don’t think I’ve ever heard come from a guitar. As a guitar freak, I’d say that’s worth the price of admission all by itself. (You can hear it here, starting at about 3:05 in. I’m sure it’s some fairly common effect, but it perked up my ears when I heard it.)

If you’re a tone aficionado, the album is full of cranked-up, tube-glowing guitar sounds. Check out the spitting-hornet wah licks about 5 minutes into “Funky #7,” for instance.

4. Firmly committed to their limitations. Hot Tuna would have been much more commercially successful — and a measurably better band — if it had hired a good singer and songwriter and confined Kaukonen’s contributions to guitar. (Marty Balin, who filled both bills, was briefly a member in the group’s earliest days, but it didn’t stick.)

And yet, for most of the Seventies, the band plugged on, apparently content with what it was, rather than pursuing what it could have been.

This could represent anything from stubbornness, to self-centeredness, to the band’s Zenlike peace with its own essential identity.

As long as I don’t have to hear Kaukonen’s pinched, nasal singing every day, I prefer the last of those explanations.

A turtle does not aspire to fly, nor a stone to conduct an orchestra; nor should an assemblage of musicians aspire to become anything more than the sum of its parts, however frustrating or one-dimensional that sum might be.

(Hot Tuna was not completely immune to outside pressures: The producer of the band’s last Seventies studio album, Hoppkorv, press-ganged them into doing Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly covers. Perhaps it was that soul-wounding acquiescence to the market that ultimately pushed Hot Tuna to the sidelines, rather than the group’s limited sales and apparently eternal banishment to the small-theater-and-college-gym circuit.)

5. Speed-skating. This last item has nothing at all to do with what’s on the record … but truly, I am hard put to find five objectively good things to say about America’s Choice, even though I feel kindly toward the album, have had it in semi-regular rotation since I bought it, and will probably break down someday and buy Yellow Fever and Hoppkorv to keep it company.

Anyway, the liner notes of the CD restate a story I’d heard from other sources:

During Tuna’s glory years, Kaukonen and Casady became hooked on speed skating, to the point where they’d knock off from work starting in November, go up to Scandinavia, and spend a couple of months of winter on the ice oval.

(In his book about the Airplane, writer Jeff Tamarkin reported that David Freiberg — the Bay Area multi-instrumentalist drafted into the band during its dying days — took up speed skating himself in an attempt to befriend Kaukonen and Casady and draw them back toward the Airplane. It didn’t work … but that must be the furthest any rock n’ roll musician has ever gone to foster interpersonal harmony.)

Kaukonen apparently picked up the sport from his Swedish wife, while Casady became interested while watching the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. That in and of itself is a vision worth pondering — Casady, as purely Frisco-hippie as any musician ever, sitting in front of his TV with an Anchor Steam and a joint, glued to the short-track action.

I guess that’s one thing you can say about America’s Choice: It’s the best heavy-blues album ever recorded by speed skaters.

Hey, somebody’s record had to be, right?