There is something really amazing about the RCA Victor label I just realized. Every time I look at it I am 12 or 13 opening that Columbia record club box with my Dad to see what was inside, usually it was Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones or even John Denver. One fateful day however we opened it up and inside was a copy of The Kinks Preservation Act II.
In no way is this even close to being considered a classic Kinks album. It is a strange musical concept that I still to this day have no idea what it is about, gangsters, molls, politics and big brother watching is as close as I can ever get.
I have no idea how this strange record got ordered by my Dad but he never sent it back, maybe it was just too much trouble. I cannot recall any of the songs on the album, I can however picture that lurid cover with it’s purples and pinks and slightly deranged Ray Davies on a billboard. It was part two and it took about 20 years before I heard Part I. Part I is a better album and contains one of the Kinks great lost songs in Sweet Lady Genevieve.
The point of all this was I was trying to decide how to pack for my return visit to the UK this year. How much stuff do you need to bring really was going through my head. No I haven’t begun to pack, this was just the getting myself ready mentally to do the act.Yes sometimes I have a tendency to overthink this stuff.
In order to calm down I thought some music would do it. Reaching into the pile of to be played records I pulled out Mussel Hillbillies, it has after all one of the most English album covers ever, inside however is a strange blend of musical genre’s from music hall to, jazz to country and rock, a melange of sounds to blow your mind.
However what blew my mind was that RCA Victor label staring back at me.
Once again I was 12 or 13 stood next to my Dad, smelling his after shave and Old Holborn tobacco as he opened that box and placed the album on the Philips radiogram. The days when your turntable was a piece of furniture that was likely to become an heirloom.
Yes it is a better album than Preservation Act II but for a moment it may as well have been that album slipping onto the mat and spinning. I shall have to ask my Dad why that album and not a Greatest Hits compilation. It’s likely he will not even remember the album unless it is up in the attic space for me to discover.
This was a nice grounding album after the week I have had listening to Dick’s Picks 10,11 and 12, but more if that later, unless I am up at some god forsaken time again.
Insomniac’s unite to the strains of acoustic guitars. It was 4:15 am when I began writing this and then I took the doors of the jeep and drove around in the building heat waving to other idiots and smiling a lot as I drank my morning coffee. Sunny days have that affect on me it seems as does ice cold water in the heat and Fatboy Ice Cream sandwiches.
I own a fair bit of Leo Kottke but absolutely too little John Fahey and no Peter Lang. You have to love any musicians who’s genre is American Primitive Guitar. I have an image of Fahey and Kottke wondering the woods tracking down game to slay with their guitar licks, dressed in loin cloths and hairy bare chests naked to the world as they scream their defiance to the woods. The truth is Fahey spent the last part of his life in a cheap motel about 10 miles from where I am sitting and Kottke is touring still, I am not sure about Lang although Wikipedia tells me he is still around.
It is not too funny to think of the genius of Fahey wasting away in cheap motels, this afternoon I drove along 99E and looked at the line of cheap motels filled with transients and those too poor to pay for better but not poor enough to join Portland’s homeless. No I did not trawl the mean streets in a voyeuristic way, I was on my way to something boring to do with work and then home.
The other day rooting around in the crates in the back room I found a Takoma Records sampler featuring Fahey, Kottke and Lang. It has fast become my go to late night/early morning album although the playing is not exactly quiet at times as Kottke finger picks the 12 string like a demon. Fahey’s four tracks at the end stand on their own as being unique and totally different. Lang and Kottke are great players but Fahey’s tracks have an otherworldliness that makes them transcend the others. He also has a nice way with a title, On the Sunny Side of the Ocean and Revolt of the Dyke Brigade being my two favorites.
There is something a little disconcerting about Fahey’s playing. It is almost as if he drank from the same well as Robert Johnson but managed to evade the consequences for longer. All of this when listened to right before bed makes for some interesting dreams.
There is something about those moments when you are alone and listening to music. I am not lucky enough to have a designated place to listen to music, maybe this is a good thing. I have the stereo in the living room as my parents would call it, even my parents kept the radiogram in the “sitting room” how novel that would be now to have a room just to sit in.
I have no man cave or rumpus room, the wonders of music all happens on full display. Apart from those times when the rest of the household is asleep or out. Over the last couple of days I have been for some reason waking at 4a.m. or so, today I managed to 5:18a.m. must be a Sunday thing. I can find no reason for this other than I wake and want to get up. I feel reasonably rested and my mind is no more pr-occupied than normal.
So for the last week or so I have had a solid couple of hours alone to sit and listen. I have made the conscious decision not to watch the news, this can be an upsetting experience as the tragi-comedy that is US politics unfolds in all it’s glory. I also have to play at a lower volume than I may normally choose or these moments of solitude will change to less than pleasant experiences as I explain my decision to my wife. Somewhat for this reason my choices of listening has been on the quieter spectrum.
When you have to listen at a lower volume then it becomes almost an intentional practice to hear everything as well as you can. Todays choice was Martin Simpson’s Grinning In Your Face. The album I finally managed to really hear the banjo, also my re-introduction to Dylan in the 80’s and the first time I ever heard Peter Gabriel’s Biko performed in an acoustic format. Somewhere along the way I lost the cover but kept the vinyl. I have a few of these lost souls in my collection and have to wonder is it like socks in the dryer or something.
This was also the album that opened my mind up to country and blues. Yes I had dabbled and pretended to appreciate all these types of music but remained loyal to prog and rock, with occasional forays into folk. I remember being spellbound watching Simpson playing in his red boots sitting surrounded by three or so guitars and a banjo and then he played slide on his guitar and the world changed. There is a difference to sitting listening to someone play slide on a record and then experiencing this in a room with the player.
There is so much on this album to discover and the odd thing is I had forgotten until this morning as I slid it out of the dust jacket and placed it on the turn table.
To end a few pictures of last weeks visit to the high desert as I was thinking about that as I sat listening and sorting through pictures on my phone.
So there you go, last Saturday’s hike in the desert which was considerably cooler than it is going to be here today and we still never managed to get to the river yet.
The force of nature that was Dave Swarbrick has gone. I have no words to describe what this man and his music have meant to me over the years.
This is a video of the very first Cropredy I went to and the first time I understood the brilliance of the fiddle as a rock instrument. I remember standing there with shock on my face as he coaxed sounds that were a little scary and somewhat indescribable from an instrument that in my mind was genteel.
Swarb was truly unique, the Hendrix of the fiddle:
A landmark moment happened today as I wandered the thrift store aisles searching for that special brand of black gold that is vinyl. I found a copy of Freedom by Neil Young. This was the first Neil Young album I bought on CD when it was released, it is now the most recent Neil Young I have bought on vinyl.
This may be one of my favorite Neil albums. It still has the horns from This Notes For You and that weeping pedal steel from Ben Keith, some heartfelt lovelorn songs, social commentary and the apocalyptic guitar solo on Don’t Cry. I have loved this album since the day I sat next to the speakers in my flat in Brighton intently absorbing it all as I was afraid of playing it too loud in fear of waking the neighbors.
I also have an indelible image of a beautiful woman swaying along to Eldorado one evening as I tried to explain my somewhat obsessive devotion to Neil Young, and she still married me after all that and still sways along to Eldorado. She has also braved many a Neil Young show and been very patient as I recreated a collection of albums she remembers me tearfully handing to Dave as we packed for the USA.
So here I am full circle and 27 years later with a pristine vinyl copy of Freedom in the dim evening light, trying to remember why I got up at 4am and considering going to bed but realizing that I may have to play this again.
Damn it’s 4a.m. and I can’t sleep. Maybe because I went to bed at 8:30 last night and I am now rested, the downside of this is that I will be tired again by 8 tonight.
What to do? Of course the answer is brew some coffee and listen to the Dead.
So year of the Dead part?????
I have always associated music with dark smoky bars or concert rooms. The Dead however have a real morning feeling about them.
Especially the American Beauty album. All killer and no filler this may be the Dead’s most satisfying studio album. Some serious Crosby help with the harmonies apparently and the band are tight and Jerry rocks the pedal steel throughout.
Every time I hear this album I am reminded of the deep desire I have to get back to the country and raise goats and organic produce somewhere in the foothills of the Cascades. The album opens up possibilities for the future that are idyllic and somewhat inspirational, so maybe one day you will find me a grizzled mountain man raising hemp, goats and kale in the shade of an old growth fir tree.
The triple whammy of the first three tracks opening from Box of Rain, to Friend of the Devil and ending with Sugar Magnolia may be the most satisfying musical statement made by any band in 1970. Side two has the guitars and mandolins of Ripple the reflective Brokedown Palace and Attics of My Life and ends with the hit Truckin’ which although I have heard it so many times still manages to be an enjoyable listening experience.
Here I am then on a quiet, maybe before the storm of work, Thursday morning .As I gather my thoughts with American Beauty I have to get ready for the day, I almost put the news on but who needs more Trump and Hillary in their lives.
That first line of the album really speaks to me this morning as I prepare myself for another 80 plus degree day here in the Pacific North West as we plunge into a weekend that may get lose to 100 and the climate goes crazy. It may be time to head upriver and soak in the snow melt for awhile and get away from the phone so I can “listen to the river sing sweet songs.”
So here I am now at 5:20 as the grey dawn light comes through the windows. I really think I need to get an outdoor speaker so I can sit on the deck these mornings, this however may annoy the neighbors which is just another reason to get back to the country.