Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's New?: 2.21.2012

Let the birthday record bonanza begin!  I should say that a good chunk of this haul was courtesy of the 25¢ record sale over at Grassroots.  Yes, they have gems of this calibre all the time.

Leo Kottke — Mudlark (1971)
Wow, why did I skip the Leo Kottke for so long, again?  It's like this wonderful conglomeration of John Fahey-inspired acoustic instrumental music meets the more whimsical aspects of British folk rock.  When that first track, 'Cripple Creek' kicks in with the drums, it's an eyebrow-raising moment.  The tunefulness, the speed of his playing. . . just, wow.  The extra folky rendition of 'Eight Miles High' as a follow up just seals the deal: badassery of the highest order.  I've read a lot of criticisms of Leo's vocals, but I honestly don't mind Leo the singer (and I should say that, after digesting this initial batch of introductory albums, I do prefer his guitar playing to his singing).  I don't quite know what to consider Leo after getting into his music.  Is he folk?  Is he rock?  Is he jazz?  I have no idea.  'Hear the Wind Howl' is the highlight off of this album.  

Leo Kottke — Greenhouse (1972)
Wow, 'Tiny Island' is an excellent song, isn't it?  Wow.  That thing is just an introspective masterpiece, isn't it?  I have to be honest: I never anticipated such an emotionally weighty song from a Leo Kottke album.  Seriously, I don't know how he does it.  The album starts off with the jumpy solo guitar instrumental 'Bean Time' and then launches into 'Tiny Island' like nothing special at all.  The rest of the album contains pretty much a repeat of the formula for what made Mudlark so great: solo instrumental tune here, quirky vocal number there, excellent execution all around.

Leo Kottke — My Feet Are Smiling (1973)
A live recording.  And it's clear right up front that Leo is an earnest dude.  After a great little slide intro, he stops suddenly and blurts out, "Boy, I blew that!" and then launches into 'Hear the Wind Howl' amidst audience laughter.  The slower, more meditative pieces 'Easter' and 'The Fisherman' are uniformly excellent and, as a live album is supposed to do, it paints the picture of the artist as the people's champ, unafraid to appear venerable.  Really hard to not get on board with that.

Cal Tjader — San Francisco Moods (1958)
Pure class from Cal's Fantasy years.  When he's not playing piano (a first for Cal on this album; and he's actually a rather decent player), the harmony is filled out by Eddie Duran on guitar.  Always a sucker for ballads and headier material, I prefer the more thought provoking numbers like 'Coit Tower' and the multi-movement seven minute album closer 'Grant Avenue Suite.'  Rare to hear an entire album these days inspired by a specific locale (needless to say, one that the listener can easily acquaint themselves with).  And, furthermore, to hear that locale rendered such a great (and beautiful) audio tribute, even though it's seriously in contrast with my own impression of the place, is a really impressive feat.  I guess it helps to adjust your mind to 1950's San Francisco in order to appreciate the album (though, that's not really necessary, as the music is self-evidently good).  

Bert Jansch — A Rare Conundrum (1977)

I've delved plenty into the John Renbourn discography over the years, mainly out of convenience, and I've always said that I would scoop up a Bert album with Superman quickness if I ever saw one.  That day finally came and I made good on my promise to myself.  To be up front about the whole thing: I expected nothing more and nothing from a Bert Jansch album than what I got here.  'The Curragh of Kildare' sums things up just about as good as anything could.  A number than runs through many acoustic shadings and paints the picture of our storyteller as a traditionalist who has been preserved for about the previous fifty or sixty years.  Just love that sound.  Instrumentals or full-on folk rock tunes; doesn't matter.  Everything is excellent.  The whole thing is tuneful as hell and when it hit the introspective monster 'Looking for a Home' I knew I had hit paydirt.  Just, man. . .  everything I hoped for from a Bert album.

Lindisfarne — Back and Fourth (1978)

I have a couple other Lindisfarne albums from the early 70's and I like them just fine.  They were actually considered pretty new and hip at one point from what I understand.  I guess, from reading up on them,  this was their "comeback" album, as the group had been dormant for a few years previous.  To me, it sounds quite a bit removed their initial folk pop and more in tune with the soft rock scene of the time.  It's not especially good nor bad, but it is nicely presented — and maybe that was the point.  'King's Cross Blues' is the most reminiscent of their earlier albums, but I actually don't mind the softer rock direction that this album takes on.  I mean, it's strummy and kind of faceless, but it's certainly not gimmicky or poorly played.  Yeah, the earlier albums were better, but this is hardly an album to be skipped if you liked those records.

Poco — DeLIVErin' (1970)

"Let's here it for the good guys!" is the introduction of the band on this live album.  I've had the first few Poco albums for some time now, but I've gone back to them recently because of current interests.  As much fun as this album makes them sound, it's essentially just a live album (and, while you will probably enjoy it eventually, you're much better served by the studio albums).  That being said, the rendition of 'Kind Woman' is probably closer to what Richie Furay had initially intended than what Buffalo Springfield did with it (even though their initial version is good too).  Overall, I can't say this isn't an essential album for Richie Furay fans — the medley at the end of side one is a crowd-pleaser of the highest order and worth it on its own.

The Pentangle — Open the Door (1985)

I saw this in the rack and didn't recognize the cover, so I figured it must be a compilation.  Looking at the back, I didn't recognize a single song title, so I investigated the liner notes.  Yes, it's a reunion album, of sorts (everyone except John Renbourn is on board — his replacement is the more than competent Mike Piggott).  When I saw this, I was skeptical and just figured it would be a collection completer of an album.  When it kicks off with 'Open the Door' I thought it must be a fluke.  By the time it hit 'Child of the Winter', I knew I had been wrong all along.  That has quickly, and fairly easily, become in my top five songs the band ever did.  They follow it with appropriately Durutti Column-esque instrumental 'The Dolphin' and I'm sold.  Even though John's not around, the whole album is done in the same vein as the band's classic run in the late 60's and early 70's.  Really had no idea a seemingly second tier album by these guys could be just as good as anything from their prime.

Tom Rush — The Best of Tom Rush (early 70's)

This should be titled "The Best of the Columbia Years" because it ignores Tom Rush's output up until 1970.  No complaints otherwise, though, as this is a fine introduction to his now completely (and unjustly) forgotten 70's work.  He is not very folk on these recordings.  Instead, his output from this era kind of uses the middle period Bob Dylan albums as a jumping off point for a sort of folk-informed soft rock.  At its best, it reaches these absolutely sublime mellow moments that sound pretty darn good to me these days.  I already had an album of his prior to this find, but this collection really laid it out there just how much I was missing.

Tom Rush — Tom Rush (1965)

And, like I said, that collection doesn't paint the whole picture.  This is a straight acoustic folk album, with a serious blues overtone.  There's no original tunes here, but the arrangements on tunes like 'Long John', 'The Cuckoo' and 'I'd Like to Know' are informative and fresh at the same time.  However, the winner here is eight minute epic rendition of Bukka White's 'Panama Limited.'  The tune is enjoyable as hell anyway, but Tom's guitar playing is absolutely stellar through the whole thing.  This just seems like music from another world to me right now.  Completely enthralling music.


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