Saturday, February 14, 2009

posted by O.W.

(originally written for Side Dishes)

Don't say I'm not romantic or anything but as we're about to get buried underneath an avalanche of saccharin lovey-dovey-ness because of Valentine's Day, I thought it was fair to point out that, really, the best love songs are about falling out of love, not into it. New love is great and blah blah blah but nothing says passion and desperation like heartache does. That's why, for V-Day, I threw together a special Tears On Your Pillow set of songs for those who know that no love is so sweet as that which you no longer have.

William Bell: I Forgot To Be Your Lover
From Bound to Happen (Stax, 1968).

I don't know if you can properly call this single "unsung" considering that it appeared on two different William Bell albums and was covered by Jaheim a few years back but to me, it's always a bit of a sleeper song, certainly nowhere near as well-known as Bell's early hit, "You Don't Miss Your Water." Regardless, it has one of the most memorable opening guitar lines I've ever heard, ringing with a melancholy that suffuses the entire song as Bell bemoans his lack of attention and affection.

Darondo: Didn't I
From Let My People Go (Ubiquity, 2006)

An erstwhile singer turned pimp turned talk show host, the Bay Area's Darondo was an enigma until recently, when aficionados of his early '70s sweet soul and funk singles rediscovered him living in Sacramento and helped to resurrect his career. "Didn't I" is the crown jewel of the handful of singles he recorded back in the day, a super-stripped down yet incredibly powerful ballad of wistfulness with just a hint of desperation. Makes you wonder how anyone could have left someone who could sing with that kind of intimacy and intensity.

Lezli Valentine: Love on a Two Way Street
From 7" single (All Platinum, 1968).

Long before Sylvia Robinson put together "Rapper's Delight" in the late 1970s, she was a successful singer and songwriter in the '60s, creating a massive R&B empire in New Jersey. She helped pen "Love on a Two Way Street," a memorable ballad which makes good use of its transportation metaphors (how often does one get to say that?). It was a decent hit for the Moments but originally recorded by Lezli Valentine, a little-known singer signed to Robinson's All Platinum imprint. The two versions are very similar, musically, but while the Moments' falsetto approach works well enough, it's different hearing an actual woman's voice tackle it, especially one as rich and nuanced as Valentine's.

Binky Griptite: You're Gonna Cry
From 7" single (Daptone, 2008)

Just to show you that soul artists today can still knock out a good tearjerker in the tradition of the classic R&B troubadours, the Dap-Kings' guitarist, announcer and emerging vocalist Binky Griptite turns in a beautiful, slow burner of a break-up tune. Make sure to listen to the end as Griptite delivers a coup de grace of a line.'s chilly!

The Kaldirons: To Love Someone (That Don't Love You)
From Twinight's Lunar Rotation (Numero Group, 2007)

One of the rarest singles ever released on Chicago's incredible R&B label Twinight, "To Love Someone" is one of those songs that deserved to have gotten much more shine that it did in its day. It's a masterful, midtempo arrangement of strings and hints of piano, meshing perfectly with the soaring, falsetto voices of the Kaldirons who lament the impossibility of unrequited love. I have to admit - the song feels surprisingly uplifting despite its dour subject matter and it's one of the few "love lost" songs that I can honestly describe as "feel good."

Nancy Holloway: Hurts So Bad
From Hello Dolly (Concert Hall, 1967)

To close out, I went with the hammer blow that French singer Nancy Holloway delivers on her cover of Little Anthony and the Imperials' 1965 hit, "Hurts So Bad." Producer Daniel Janin gives the tune a slight funk makeover with those dramatic basslines and brass section but it's Holloway who is the undeniable force of nature here, pouring what feels like a lifetime of desperation into a little less than four minutes.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Caroline Peyton: Donkey Blues
From Intuition (Asterisk, 2009)

Numero and its subsidiary Asterisk always seem to dig up some fun bits. While primarily known for soul comp reissues, they have also put out several intriguing folk comps. Caroline Peyton made her Numero debut on the Wayfaring Strangers compilation but sees a more expansive treatment on these full lengths, albums originally released in 1972 and 1977, respectively. Fall Out had reissued Intuition in 2007, but Asterisk one ups them with a release that features 7 bonus tracks.

Whereas Mock Up is more in the traditional folk vein, Intuition has more variegated tones. While the latter has a fleck of country here and a smidgen of blues there – and even a hint of disco, the voice is still the star of the show. The prime example shows up on the bonus video on Mock Up where she sings “Call Of The Wild,” a track that appears on Intuition, at a small nightclub . The album version is a nice piece, but after hearing the live acoustic version, you keep going back to it for more. She's so vocally diverse that she can pull off guttural soul sister sass on “Donkey Blues” while the harmonica wails and not sound like she's overstretching her bounds.

I was reminded of Carole King (especially on Mock Up), Laura Nyro, and Linda Ronstadt while listening to these albums. Caroline's voice has so many rich, warm tones that can bend to whatever the arrangement calls for, and she sings with such unassuming confidence. It's no wonder that she's remained in the industry, albeit in a place you wouldn't expect – singing for Disney movies.

Edd Hurt has written excellent liner notes detailing the backstory featuring her roots in the Bloomington, Indiana, scene with musical writing partner Mark Bingham. While she never hit it in the bigs, she shouldn't be relegated to obscurity. Unheralded doesn't have to go hand-in-hand with unappreciated; it just means that we have to dig a little deeper.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

posted by O.W.

My man Beto puts together a small V-Day Latin mix: 8 Canciones Del Amor (songs of love).

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

posted by O.W.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

posted by O.W.

Next in the Timeless series, following on Mulatu Astake's performance from the other week, is "Suite for Ma Dukes," a four-part suite celebrating the career and life of J-Dilla (whose birthday would have been tomorrow) by Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.

I admit, I was a bit skeptical as to what this would sound like - the idea of having a 36 piece orchestra playing compositions inspired by J-Dilla felt like it could be an aesthetic mish-mash, like when bands try to recreate hip-hop beats. But I was very pleasantly moved by the songs I heard from the EP which, far from trying to work in a hip-hop vein, are fully fleshed out jazz compositions that borrow aspects of Dilla's tracks without being strictly beholden to them (or their original samples).

Here's some streaming audio of one of the Suite's best songs:

The EP itself is currently available on iTunes and will be released on LP/CD in April (pre-order here).

The performance will be on February 22nd (Sunday night) at the Luckman Center (Cal State LA campus). I should have some tickets to give away for it as we get closer to the date.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

posted by O.W.

Carolyn Franklin: I Don't Want to Lose You
From Baby Dynamite (RCA, 1968)

Carolyn Franklin: You Really Didn't Mean It
From Chain Reaction (RCA, 1970)

Both on Sister Soul: The Best of the RCA Years.

Carolyn Franklin: Deal With It
From If You Want It (RCA, 1976)

(Originally written for Side Dishes)

The fates of the Franklin sisters - Aretha, Erma and Carolyn - comprise a classic American tragedy. One, Aretha, would go onto spectacular fame and worldwide acclaim (big bow and all) while her sisters, Erma and Carolyn, had brief careers as recording artists but never enjoyed anywhere near the same success. Far worse though, both succumbed to cancer - Erma survived into her 60s, but Carolyn passed away at only 43.

The youngest of the three, Carolyn may have been in her sisters' shadows but she also contributed to both their careers as a songwriter. Especially for Aretha, Carolyn helped co-write her enormously successful "Save Me" and was also behind the mesmerizing torch song, "Ain't No Way." This video (alas, the quality is quite degraded) shows Aretha and Carolyn rehearsing an early version of the song and Aretha makes a special point to big up her little sis.

Carolyn released a handful of singles in the mid-1960s but it wasn't until 1968, when she signed with RCA, that she had her first major opportunity to make it on her own. What is readily obvious from any of her recordings in that era is that she was not trying to follow Aretha's footsteps in either singing or sound. Carolyn wasn't blessed with the singular voice that her older sister had but she shows the influence of good training and natural ability to project herself with power and clarity.

"I Don't Want to Lose You" was one of her first singles for RCA and the very beginning reflects Carolyn's deep gospel roots with a slow-building opening of multi-part choral harmonies that then shifts into a slinky mid-tempo funk tune that allows her to demonstrate why her debut LP was called Baby Dynamite.

"You Didn't Really Mean It" comes from Carolyn's second album, Chain Reaction and this power ballad shows some of the creative production and arrangement details her collaborators Wade Marcus, Jimmy Radcliffe and Buzz Willis (amongst others) put into the effort. Listen to the force of the brass section which is used sparingly but wisely and Carolyn flows into the song with passion and intensity.

I end with a song off of Carolyn's 1976 album, If You Want Me. With a feel reminiscent of Aretha's "Rocksteady," Carolyn lays down a slice of funky soul that's become a favorite amongst connoisseurs. Alas, this would be one of her last albums; she stopped recording on her own after this point and within 10 years, she was gone, undersung but not unaccomplished.

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posted by O.W.

Blossom Dearie: I Like London In the Rain (edit)
From That's Just the Way I Want To Be (Fontana, 1970)

Blossom Dearie: Sunday Afternoon
From Blossom Dearie Sings (Daffodil, 1973)

Undoubtedly, one of the most unique voices in jazz history - you wouldn't think something so seemingly delicate and girly could hold a tune but year after year, Dearie proved us otherwise. She'll always form an indelible part of my youth thanks to this classic from the Schoolhouse Rock series:

Rest in peace, Dearie.

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posted by O.W.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Beams of Heaven + Ain't No Grave Hold My Body Down
Both available on The Original Soul Sister.

For your reading pleasure: Shout, Sister, Shout: The Untold Story of Rock-And-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Update 2/8/09: Tharpe has a grave marker now! Long overdue but better late than....

I came from a talk at USC on Friday given by one of my favorite music scholars, Gayle Wald of George Washington Univ. Wald was there to talk about her new book, a biography of gospel/blues/rock n' roll/R&B great Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

A gospel powerhouse (overshadowed by Mahalia Jackson) and rock n' roll pioneer ("borrowed from" by Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry), Tharpe transcended easy genre categorizations; perhaps one reason why her legacy hasn't been as widely recognized or cherished as other contemporaries. I think she's a fascinating icon of cultural liminality - someone who never fit cleanly in any one category and as a result, was often too ahead of their time to earn the recognition that, in hindsight, we pay people like her, Betty Davis, Joe Bataan, etc. During the talk, Eric Weisbard suggested during the Q&A that perhaps Tharpe could be better understood as a pioneering pop star - not in terms of her musical sound but because she was so literate in different musical styles and this helped propel her to superstardom in both the U.S. and Europe. (Wald talked about Tharpe's third wedding, a huge public event in Washington D.C., held at a baseball stadium. She was doing arena rock before the term became known!)

There were some interesting parallels between her life and that of blues giant Bessie Smith: both were these larger-than-life musical figures, Black women (and bisexual) who ended up being buried in Philadelphia, in an unmarked grave. Wald is starting to organize a campaign to buy a gravestone for Tharpe; if you're interested in contributing, go here. (See above)

Of the two songs I included, both are available on one of the recent boxsets that have been devoted to Tharpe. One of the songs is "Beams of Heaven," a song that also features Tharpe's long-time musical partner Marie Knight (and Wald selected this as as one of her two favorite Tharpe songs). As for the other...I figure the title is self-explanatory, a statement on the power of Tharpe's presence and legacy. Can't stop, won't stop.

For a great bonus, check out this 1960s video of Tharpe performing "Up Above My Head" on a gospel t.v. show. It's one of the few surviving films of her performing. Dig that guitar solo in the middle! You can see how striking a performer she was, especially in an era where most Black women were seen as torch singers or maybe stands Tharpe with an electric guitar, with a raspy, piercing voice, perfectly comfortable seizing center stage.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

posted by O.W.

I've never tried out the Ion turntable before so I can't speak from direct experience but I'm assuming it's probably a decent, usable portable player. Obviously, not some high-end, audiophile model but if you've been thinking of getting a basic turntable, here's a good opportunity.

On Woot but only for today.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

posted by O.W.

Huey Lewis and the News: Power of Love (unreleased alternative recording)

This one's for the guy who keeps requesting Huey Lewis!


Monday, February 02, 2009

posted by O.W.

Wayne Gorbea Y Su Conjunto Salsa: Dejame Un Lado
Fruko Y Sus Tesos: Fruko A Lo Compadre
From The Rough Guide to Salsa Gold (World Music Network, 2008)

Fruko Y Sus Tesos: Fruko Que Banda Tiene Usted
From Fruko El Bueno (Fuentes, 1975)

Another We had someone asking for "salsa songs for beginners" and someone else wanted "more Fruko!" and I'm happy to oblige both ways. I should include the disclaimer: given that I've had about one or two salsa lessons, max, in my lifetime, I'm not actually sure what songs are good for beginners but I took my best swing.

As it happens, I recently received a copy of the Rough Guide to Salsa Gold which is part of the Rough Guide's larger series of salsa-related comps (including decent ones on Salsa Dura and Salsa Colombia)) and the idea behind the Salsa Gold series was songs and artists off the beaten path - in other words, don't expect the Fania All-Stars.

I picked two cuts to highlight. The first is "Dejame Un Lado" (leave me aside? My Spanish is terrible) by Wayne Gorbea Y Su Conjunto Salsa. Gorbea was one of the many post-war Nuyorican musicians to come of age in New York, coming of age right around the birth of the salsa movement. "Dejame Un Lado" originally came out in 1978 and what I liked about this cut is the dark but slick feel of the piano and horns and a relatively easy rhythm to fall into.

And since someone wanted to Fruko, this comp actually includes one of this songs, "Fruko A Lo Compadre" (Fruko the Godfather?), which has that classic Fruko/Latin Brothers/Fuentes sound - think prominent piano montunos, a heavy brass section and those shattering timbales. I decided to pair that with another song - coincidentally - off the same original Fuentes LP, Fruko El Bueno - which has an even more infectious piano riff, not to mention those handclaps (which you wish they kept longer into the song). I got to say too - a lot of these Fruko LPs have had songs off of them comped like crazy but strangely, the albums themselves are rarely reissued. Track for track, I'd put El Bueno up there with El Grande in terms of the most consistent of Fruko's 1970s Fuentes albums.