Saturday, October 24, 2009

Early: The Late Edition

Unlike some of my fellow Star Makers, I do not have a collection of rarities to draw upon. So I have had to approach this theme differently. But just as rarities have their stories, so, sometimes, do first albums. Before we leave our early theme, let’s hear some of those stories.

Michelle Shocked: (Don‘t You Mess Around With) My Little Sister


Michelle Shocked made her recording debut, quite by accident, in 1987. She never knew she was making an album until she heard that, not only had it been released, but it was charting in England. The album was The Texas Campfire Tapes. Shocked attended the Kerrville folk festival in 1986. She brought her guitar, and was singing and playing for her own pleasure when she was overheard by a producer named Pete Lawrence. Lawrence asked Shocked if he could record her, and made a tape of 21 songs with Shocked’s comments. Given that the recording was made on a cheap cassette recorder, (with low batteries, it turned out!), Shocked had no reason to think the tape would ever be released.

But Lawrence chose a sampling of the songs, left out all of the comments, made up his own titles to songs he didn’t know the names of, and released the album without Shocked’s consent. Eventually, Shocked gained possession of the tapes. And in 2003, she released the full recording, with the sound adjusted to compensate for the low batteries, and with all of her comments restored, as The Texas Campfire Takes.

One song included in both versions was (Don’t You Mess Around With) My Little Sister. If you are familiar with Shocked’s career, you may know the full band version she recorded on the album Captain Swing.

Billy Joel: Falling of the Rain


Billy Joel made his debut as a solo artist with Cold Spring Harbor in 1971. He had previously been in two unsuccessful bands, The Hassles and Atilla. His bad luck would continue a little longer. There was a mistake in the mixing of Cold Spring Harbor. It was released at the wrong pitch, giving Joel’s voice a high whiny sound. The album was the first of a ten album contract with Family Records. Family owner Artie Ripp, (who I hasten to add is no relative of mine), owned the master tapes. Cold Spring Harbor, as originally released, went out of print fairly quickly, and remained that way for many years as Joel’s popularity grew. Finally, in 1983, Joel’s contract with family was running out. Ripp decided to capitalize by releasing a remastered version of Cold Spring Harbor. Ripp stripped out the original orchestration and added synthesizer and drum machine parts to “give the album a more up to date feel”. This was done without Joel’s consent, and is the version of Cold Spring Harbor that we have today. Despite this, the songs are worth hearing. The album features the original recording of She’s Got a Way, as well as Falling of the Rain and several others that are as good as anything Joel ever wrote.

Jane Siberry: The Mystery at Ogwen‘s Farm


Jane Siberry is a Canadian artist. Far too many worthy Canadian artists never have there work released here in the United States. Others have their work released here, but without real marketing support. Siberry was luckier than most. Her self titled debut, which includes The Mystery at Ogwen’s Farm, was originally released only in Canada. She debuted in the United States with her second album, which established her here as an artist with a “cult following”. And her third album cemented this status. Her American label decided that that was enough to justify releasing her Canadian debut here, and I for one snapped it up immediately.

The debut is different from anything else of hers that I have heard. It is mostly acoustic, and has an innocence and simplicity to it that I find quite refreshing. Where her later work would often make my jaw drop in amazement, this one always makes me smile. And sometimes, that is all that is needed.

Early: In Spite Of All The Danger

The Quarrymen: In Spite Of All The Danger


Sometime in 1957, either in July or sometime in October or November, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lowe and Colin Hanton walked into the small shop and home recording studio of one Percy Phillips at 38 Kensington, Liverpool. With one microphone in the middle of the room they recorded That‘ll Be The Day and a tune written by McCartney and Harrison titled In Spite Of All The Danger. Sung by Lennon this little doo-wop ballad was recorded directly to vinyl in order to save money, avoiding the fee to transfer a master tape to acetate. The original 78 was lost until in 1981 when it was rediscovered by Lowe. The plan to auction it off at Sotheby's changed when McCartney paid him an undisclosed amount of money. McCartney later had 50 copies pressed to give to friends as Christmas presents. Here then is one of the earliest recordings by the Beatles, before they even knew they'd be the Beatles. And in spite of all it's scratchiness, it still leave a great preview of what was yet to come by one of the all time greatest bands in recording history.

Actually posted by Bert, technical issues will hopefully be resolved soon.

Early: Anti-Procrastination Edition

Let's face it - I'm not only never early for anything... but I'm rarely even on time. I seem to go through life with a 15-minute Bermuda Triangle of "how did it get to be (insert _____ o'clock I was supposed to be somewhere) already?!?". To that end, I'm attempting to be Early in all definitions of the word (rather than my usual 11:59 Saturday night post) - I think Stephen Wright said it best: "The early bird gets the worm... but the second mouse gets the cheese." (ha!)...

James Taylor: Rainy Day Man


Rainy Day Man was originally released in 1971, on his James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine album (of the four vinyl covers, I have the one that's plain white with penciled titles) - however, I'm including a version of the song from a bootleg of his October 29, 1970 Paris Theatre show in London, England with Joni Mitchell...

Joni Mitchell: Eastern Rain

[purchase] (never officially released/not commercially available)

The Joni Mitchell website lists her Early Unreleased Songs, many of which have been compiled on a CD for list members (thanks, Bob!) - from AllMusicGuide:

"At the beginning of her career, Joni Mitchell wrote so many songs that she never got around to recording a few of the ones she regularly performed on stage in the late 1960s. One of those was "Eastern Rain," which was covered by Fairport Convention as a highlight of their second album, What We Did on Our Holidays." More here...

Todd Snider: Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues [plus intro]


Boyhowdy covered this one over a year ago but, since it's the first song of Todd's that turned me on to his music (as the hidden track on his 1994 debut CD Songs for the Daily Planet), I had to revisit - however, rather than the studio track, I'm posting a live version from his August 19, 2001 performance at the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest in Lyons, Colorado, which includes an hysterical introduction, as well as a few extra verses admitting he "borrowed" the talkin' blues style from Bob Dylan... but Dylan got it from Woody Guthrie!

Mary Chapin Carpenter: The Opening Act

[purchase] (never officially released/not commercially available)

From Country Universe:

"In a rare coup for a new artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter earned a coveted performance slot on the 1990 Country Music Association Awards [a YouTube video can be found here], and she used it to establish her identity as one of country music’s left-of-center talents. She decided to perform the biting “You Don’t Know Me (I’m the Opening Act),” a cutting dismissal of country star power gone awry. It was a risky move, with the less-than-famous artist taking a stab at the music industry who would determine the fate of her career...

She received a standing ovation at the end of the semi-scandalous story of a rising musician’s struggle. But Carpenter didn’t struggle for long. Two years later, she won the first of back-to-back Female Vocalist of the Year trophies in a CMA career that included 12 nominations, among them, a nomination for Album of the Year and Single of the Year (for the similarly sharp “I Feel Lucky”) in 1992."

Dave Carter: You Must Slumber


From my friend Ron's wonderful website:

"This is a song that Dave wrote when he was 17 years old, and which Tracy indicates was recorded for – but eventually left off – the "Tanglewood Tree" CD. Although it was never released on an official Dave & Tracy album, a recording of it is now available on the Signature Sounds 10th Anniversary Collection disc."

Early: Six-Song Set Edition

One thing I miss about being a DJ is putting together a a good set of music. This week I had a lot of songs I wanted to post but didn't really have a lot to say about them, so I thought I'd put a bunch of them together in one post. So, these songs are meant to be listened to sequentially.

The Squires: Aurora


You may not have heard of the Squires, but you know their guitarist quite well: Neil Young. He was quite enamored with the Shadows' guitarist Hank Marvin when he recorded this instrumental single in Winnipeg in 1963 at his first recording session.

Vashti: Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind


Before she recorded her seminal Just Another Diamond Day album, Vashti Bunyan released a few pop singles as "Vashti" under the tutelage of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. This one, her first, was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and released in 1965.

Lyme and Cybelle: Follow Me


Warren Zevon didn't hit his stride until the late '70s, but he started out his musical career in the sixties as one half of the duo Lyme and Cybelle, along with Violet Santangelo. "Follow Me" hit 65 on the pop charts in 1966. Zevon went on to release a little-heard solo album in 1969, then work as the Everly Brothers' musical director in the early '70s before he finally found his groove.

The Parliaments: (I Wanna) Testify


George Clinton's 1970s Parliament/Funkadelic empire started as a simple doo-wop quintet from New Jersey known as the Parliaments. "(I Wanna) Testify", from 1967, is probably the most well-known the the Parliaments' singles. It's already a long way from their doo-wop beginnings, possibly because Clinton was the only member of the group able to travel to Detroit for the recording. When the song became a hit, he assembled a new group of musicians to tour, and the P-Funk dynasty began.

Kaleidoscope: Egyptian Gardens


In the late '60s, there were two important bands named Kaleidoscope--one in the UK and one in California. This is from the California band, who are most well known for giving the world multi-instrumentalist David Lindley. Before he was sideman extraordinaire to the '70s California singer-songwriter movement (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Crosby & Nash, etc.), he was part of this eclectic psychedelic group. The Middle Eastern-influenced "Egyptian Gardens" is the opening track on their 1967 debut album, Side Trips, an album that also takes in blues, psychedelic pop, old timey music, and vaudeville.

Red Onion: African Mask

[out of print]

Red Onion brings us back to that fertile New Brunswick music scene in the 1990s. Frontwoman Laurie Berkner went on to greater fame as a maker of music for kids, but I've always liked this psychedelic-influenced song from a cassette EP Red Onion released in 1995. Smokin' bass provided by All Gods' Children's Adam Bernstein.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Early: Inman Square

Bela Fleck: Inman Square


Béla Anton Leoš Fleck - named for three modern European composers - had already mastered a vast array of jazz, blues, folk and bluegrass styles at the tender age of 21, despite having only picked up the instrument at 15 while a student at the NYC High School of Art and Music. Two years later, he would join newgrass pioneers New Grass Revival; from there, it was a short journey to becoming perhaps the world's best-known fusion banjo player.

That his 1979 solo debut Crossing The Tracks aptly demonstrates his technical prowess even at that young age is undeniable: the music may be measured here, but from traditional bluegrass to more slippery jazztunes such as this one, the songs are exquisitely arranged, thoughtfully composed, and performed almost flawlessly. It's not Bela's best work, by a long shot, but there's more than a glimmer of his later genius, even if it would take a year or two more to truly loosen up.

As a total personal aside, this song is named after the small Cambridge, MA village where, at 21 myself, I had my first legal drink.

Early: Baltimore

Tori Amos: Baltimore

Tori Amos would probably be none too pleased that I was giving this song any air time at all considering she doesn't consider it one of her finest moments (she's been quoted as calling this song "fucking horrible" and "disgusting"), and it came from a time before she had found her own voice. In fact, it was written before she was even Tori Amos, it was back when she was still going by Ellen Amos (her given name being Myra Ellen Amos). "Baltimore" was written for a contest. She and her brother Mike wrote the song for a contest the Baltimore Orioles baseball team had commissioned for a theme song for the city back in 1980, when Tori was about 14 years old. Tori grew up in Maryland and was a sports fan, so it seemed natural, with her musical talents, to give it a go.

It was her first recording. There were 500 copies of the 7" printed, she won the contest, which included a citation from the mayor and a cash prize. The song is nothing of what we know of the long-standing, grammy-nominated songwriter now, other than her voice. She went on to perform in clubs and hotel bars throughout high school in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area before turning 18 and making her way out to Los Angeles.


I’ve been absent here at SMM for quite some time now. At first, it was because I was having trouble keeping my own blog current. But I realized that back when I was consistently posting here my blog was seeing multiple posts per week. So I will make my return and hopefully inspire more activity overall.

One of my original goals here was to try to find a Ryan Adams song to fit every theme – with the piles of unreleased sets and nonsense recordings he’s unleashed, that’s not a farfetched idea. And this week’s theme is a perfect fit to resurrect that mission.

Blank Label: Non-Existence

[Out Of Print]

Ryan Adams began his musical career at age 14 at the place most overactive punk teens seem to gravitate to: the drums. In 1991 Adams, Shane Duhe (guitar/vox), Michelle Horn (bass), and Jere McIlwean (guitar) formed a garage band that, according to Ryan, “practiced like once a week.” The group was formed out of necessity after Ryan discovered a Black Flag record. They saved up a few bucks and recorded 3 tracks that were released on very limited 7-inch vinyl pressing by Fishbeat Records. I can’t quite say I endorse this music, but it is the earliest recording from Ryan Adams.

The Patty Duke Syndrome: Texas

[Out Of Print]

Ryan’s first turn at center-stage came two years later in the form of The Patty Duke Syndrome. Ryan provided fierce, Husker Du type guitar work, the aforementioned Jere McIlwean played bass (or as noted in the liner notes, ‘thunder broom’), and Brian Walsby took Ryan’s place on the drums. While still very punk-influenced, you can hear hints of what would become Whiskeytown in the provided track. ’Texas’ and ’History’ were originally released on a split 7-inch with the band GlamourPuss. Of course Ryan got his money’s worth in the studio and a full disc of demos from the session have since surfaced.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Early: Finest Lovin' Man

Bonnie Raitt: Finest Lovin' Man


I'm embarrassed to admit that for most of my adult life, I had no idea that Bonnie Raitt started her career with such a sweet, clear, authentic voice. At least I'm in good company: as Wikipedia confirms, though critics loved her work from the moment her first album hit the scene in '71, it wasn't until her sixth release that she finally began to hit the singles charts.

By then, of course, though she was still only 27, the years of heavy boozing had long taken their toll, leaving her vocals breathy by comparison, and her preference in production had turned much father towards pop-lite. The critics would never sound so strongly in her favor, but the public had spoken, and - given her string of hits ever since - we can only assume she prefers the limelight to the bottleneck blues.

Bonnie has built her career on the lyrics and melodies of others, so it's worth noting that Finest Lovin' Man is one of only two of Raitt's own compositions on her self-titled debut. But the album, which features straight-up blues renditions of well-selected tunes from Stephen Stills, Robert Johnson, Spider John Koerner and others, is redemptive, an effective antidote to all those years of cheesy late-night ballads.

Early: Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye

Leonard Cohen: Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye (Live in London, July 2008)


I'm late for this week's Early theme because I'm only just now recovering from a religious experience I had this past Saturday night - I admit to hyperbolic tendencies but... I swear it was the best concert I've seen in my entire life (all 55 years' worth!)...

Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye was released in December 1967 on The Songs of Leonard Cohen album... but I didn't become aware of him until a year and a half later when, as a high school sophomore, a friend played me Roberta Flack's version - I of course liked her voice... but I adored *his* songwriting, and went on a mission to find the original. I still love to tell the story of typing term papers to put myself through college... and one guy didn't have quite enough cash so he offered up his copy of New Skin for the Old Ceremony... and we called it even...

My husband reminded me I turned him on to Cohen's music when we started dating - Cohen Live retains a place of honor in the 5-disc CD changer in our bedroom, 33 years later...

We spent a ridiculous amount of money for 2 ninth-row floor seats last weekend but, for all my devotion, I'd never had the opportunity to see him live... and it was the proverbial no-brainer as he had recently returned to the stage after a 15-year absence (since his manager had embezzled all his money) - I swayed, I swooned, I swore (f*ck me - is this a dream?!?) as he preached to the choir, turning the many-thousand-seat arena into an intimate lounge, connecting with each of us on a generous and gracious level, grateful that we still cared enough for his music to be in attendance...

I could go on (and I probably will, over at my own blog later this evening)... but enough to say that sometimes coming face-to-face with one's icon (even in a crowded concert hall) can not only meet but exceed one's expectations - I'm even more of a fan than I was, if that's at all possible...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Early: The One Thing

INXS: The One Thing


It was 1982. It would be another year before MTV went on the air, another year and a half before we had it on our local cable system. I found new music in those days in a few ways. I listened to our local college radio station. I saw a band I had never heard of on Saturday Night Live. I read about them in Musician magazine, and bought an album on spec. Normally, I did not find new music by channel surfing.

But one night, I was up entirely too late. It must have been at least one in the morning. And channel surfing is just what I was doing. I kept coming across this concert by this band, and they looked different. And I kept passing it by, knowing that the show was Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert, and the music must therefore be crap. But finally, the look drew me in, and I stopped and put the sound on.

The background was entirely black, and the band was entirely in white, and their instruments were white. There was the usual drums, bass, and guitar, and there was one band member seated at a bank of keyboards. The sound of the band was echoey in the manner of a pipe organ in a huge cathedral. Indeed, the overall effect of the guitars, bass, and keyboard was not unlike the awe inspired by a pipe organ, and the baritone vocals only enhanced the effect. The drums pushed the whole thing along beautifully.

The band, of course, was INXS, and the first song I heard was The One Thing. As I recall, there was one more song, Don’t Change, and they were done. Remember, I came in late. After the commercials, another band came on, and they were as lame as I had expected. But the sound of INXS stayed with me, and I made sure I got the album. It was just as good as the two songs I knew.

Of course, INXS went on to be one of the biggest hit makers of the 80s, and I enjoyed their later work. But, after there first album, they never sounded like this again. Did I still like the band? Well, Rock Star: INXS is the only reality show I have ever watched. But the wrong person won, and the band and I parted ways at that point. Their work with original singer Michael Hutchence is still great though.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Early: Early Morning Rain

Grateful Dead: Early Morning Rain


It's kind of funny, isn't it? The theme this week in "Early", yet we're late in getting the theme started.

So let me start it off with a song that is an early recording, but coincidentally also has "Early" in the title. The Dead's take on this Gordon Lightfoot song was recorded in late 1965, while they were still known as the Warlocks, and more than a year before their debut album came out. The jangly pop presented here is a long way from "Dark Star", but it has its own innocent charm.