Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lazy Record

Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis - Blue Rabbit - 1964

What led the VVers to this album?  Honestly, it was the cover art.  The carrot dipped in blue ink and bunny foot prints leading off the edge is quite quaint.  Who doesn't love bunny tracks, and high contrast carrots?! The scripty header of the album is implied to have been written by the ink-dipped carrot.  Nice calligraphy skills bunny!  Secondly (and more importantly), it is on the renowned Verve Records - the label that recorded the most prominent jazz musicians of the 1940's to 60's.  To the VVers, the label is as good an indicator of the music inside as any.  Knowing nothing else about this record, except the aforementioned criteria, the VVers purchased it for a whopping $3 at local Joe's Record Paradise.  The price was right for testing out our buyer's instinct.

We have held onto this one a few months and given it quite a few spins, but the music didn't seem to be sticking.  Upon a recent spin we coined it "lazy jazz" and while writing this blog have also coined it "slouch-core."  The music that you first think of when you hear the term "lazy jazz" is exactly what this music sounds like.   Obviously, we are good at naming things.  On the vinyl, the players take a mighty stroll, set against the backdrop of Wild Bill's drawling organ.  Lolling tenderness in the guitar strumming, soft horn (soft porn?), and interplay of the organ gives these tunes a shuffling saunter.  Blue Rabbit is the cure for action.  Thank god there are no vocals.  Jazz vocals are the worst.  It seems that many of the songs are standards, but played in a slow, bluesy way.  The music is not bad or unlistenable, it just started to put VVers off.  This record would probably be good if you had a baby that you were trying to get to take a nap.

So what's the deal with the musicians who are recording this "lazy jazz"?  Are Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis just some one-offs, or do they actually have a respectable musical resume?  Turns out the later.  Johnny Hodges, also known as "rabbit" (ah-ha, things make more sense now!) played alto sax in Duke Ellington's big band orchestra.  He learned from the legendary Sidney Bechet and joined Ellington's band in 1928.  By the 1930's he had become the lead soloist alto sax and was featured on a number of Ellington's small group recordings.  Hodges, who was known for his soulful, blues, is also known for performing "Jeep's Blues" with Ellington (his second nickname was "Jeep").  He later left and started his own band for a time, and re-joined Ellington's band before the legendary 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, putting Ellington back in the lime-light.  Hodges even got his oft-collaborator and organist, Wild Bill Davis, to join Ellington's band in the late 60's.  Davis, who often wrote arrangements for Ellington and Count Basie, may very well be the precursor of the popular organ sounds of Jimmy Smith and Booker T.

Seems these guys are the real deal.  VVer's personal view is that perhaps this album was recorded at just the time in jazz's history when big-band had transitioned out, Hodges' style of soul/sultry blues was fading in, and when combined with Davis' organ, creates "lazy jazz."  Learning about Hodges' style of jazz prompted us to pull out our Ellington records to see if he is on our other records.  In fact, he is given credits on three of our four albums.  Apparently we are super fans!  Just for fun we were prompted to listen to "Jeep's Blues" occurring on Ellington at Newport.  Revisiting this track, after listening to Blue Rabbit, really exemplifies Hodges' musical style, which is very apparent.  How 'bout that!

This write-up was intended to be a parting farewell to this record, but we wanted to learn just a little something about it before it hopped away to its next journey.  Instead however, we are now considering keeping it, as we have gained an appreciation for the musicians and we even learned something about other albums in our collection.  Maybe we're just a couple of "lazy" VVers after all.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show - 1987

The vinyl of this album is so hard to find,
we had to photograph our own ratty-ass copy.
Chuck D, Flavor-Flav, Terminator X, and the Bomb Squad get things going in a nasty, nasty way on their debut LP.  Brought to you by the infamous Rick Rubin in his early producing days, Yo! Bum Rush the Show carries just as much bombast and bomb blasts as any album we've ever heard.  Similarities to Rubin's prior work with Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys are evident: there's the humor and swagger, the occasional guitar solo (Vernon Reid of Living Colour makes some nice contributions), and hard rock edge.   Still, Public Enemy is very much its own thing.  Plenty of echo, funk sampling, and vigorous verse punctuate nearly every track.  Yo! is replete with scratches, thumps, screeches, and explosions piled on over sirens and whining terror that drone and halt amongst the carnage.  It's surprisingly listenable, due to the dominant verbal stylings of Mr. Chuck D.  He gets in on the humor often and rhymes like a cocky, tough guy.  A lesser MC could easily doom the record, but Chuck comes off with power and a literary complexity that is well apart from his peers. "Suckers to the side I know you hate my 98!"  Flavor-Flav does his part as well, pitching in often clownish asides that help the listener to catch a breath in between screeds from Chuck D.  Flav is often referred to as "the hype man," but he more than holds his own on his verses here.  He flexes a style that is gritty and ridiculous, particularly on "Too Much Posse."  His voice sounds like he just ate a handful of gravel and nails.

"Megablast," an ode to horrors of the crack epidemic, is an ugly and rough-edged production that is in no way warm or inviting.  Flav and Chuck pass verses back and forth over the spare drum loop leading into a backwards verse and repeated chorus "Oh nigga nigga please, just give me one more hit."  The VVers are more familiar with its later incarnation: the track Tom Morello and Boots Riley (aka The Street Sweeper Social Club) did as a shout out.  Two totally different songs and both well worth your time.

Public Enemy Number One, One, One, One! samples our favorite wordsmith Kurtis Blow's "AJ Scratch" from Ego Trip on the namesake track (though, when listening to the two tunes back-to-back, we can't hear it, we tried).  Chuck brings fury and sick boasts one after the next.  It is relentlessly catchy.  You will be chanting "one, one, one, ONE!"

Check out "You're Gonna Get Yours" for some sweet underlying bass guitar in the hooks.  They even compare their 98 Oldsmobile to Green Hornet's Black Beauty:
  Smoke is comin' when I burn
  Rubber when my wheels turn
  Tinted windows--super bad
  Lookin' like the car the Green Hornet had
It's a pretty corny boasting and bravado track that could just as easily have been on a Sir-Mix-a-Lot album.  Why it holds up is due to Chuck D's flame-throwing interplay with Flav and the raw production.

The album is laced with lyrics that make you stop and think "Did I just hear that?" Take "Timebomb" where midway you hear, "I'll be the burger--you can be the bun, girl."  It's crass, but in no way mean-spirited. The album has a few lyrics that come off misogynistic, which can be a bit jarring. Thankfully they go by quickly. "Sophisticated Bitch" is the most obvious offender. It calls out uptight ladies that think they are all that, but are really closeted sex freaks. It's over the edge at times. If it's about a specific woman, then it's his personal view, but if it's a taken as a jab at women in general it's kind of ugly. The bulk of this album though is social commentary of urban life. Take this verse from "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)":
  I'm on a mission to set you straight
  Children-It's not too late
  Explain to the world when it's plain to see
  To be what the world doesn't want us to be
Chuck D has a knack for his verses sounding optimistic and menacing all at once.  He's all in for this debut.  As always the lyric sheet is useful for keeping up with the rapid flow, but it is fair to mention that often this sheet is way off.  Especially when things get going full force the typist just cannot keep up with Flav.

We picked this up at the Record Exchange that briefly existed in Takoma Park for two bucks; probably cheap due to the ratty condition of the sleeve.  We never see this record in stores and in trying to research anything about it, there is next to nothing to be found.  These VVers feel it just does not get the props it deserves.  And by the way, what's with "E" and "F" sides to the record?  Where's A, B, C, and D?  No one knows.  Last note: from the perspective of us vinyl lovers, the cover photo prominently features the members of the group reaching out for a turntable.  Flavor-Flav wants his vinyl!  

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Black Angels - Another Nice Pair/Indigo Meadow

Record Store Day from two years ago has worked its magic of introducing the VVers to a new band, The Black Angels.  Ka-Chunk! Records in Annapolis had a leftover 2011 RSD copy of Another Nice Pair sitting on the shelf waiting to be snatched up.  Although we had only heard of the band in passing, this was an easy purchase seeing as the cover art was attractive and the package not priced too high.  We really had no idea what to expect, but in the past two years this record has had frequent spinning action. The music is entrancing.  It will suck you into a vortex of methodical drum beats, guitar distortions, and ominous, yet catchy bass undertones.  This disc is actually a reissue of the band's first two EPs which apparently had not previously been released on vinyl.  Oh, and it's translucent red vinyl (yes, we are suckers for this).  Is Another Nice Pair named in homage to Pink Floyd's A Nice Pair where they also bundled-up and reissued their first two albums in one nice package?  Experiencing the psychedelic, retro vibe here...seems likely.

Great excitement hit the house of VV when we noticed The Black Angels were playing a show at the Black Cat, our local go-to venue.  We promptly snatched up tickets and convinced a bunch of friends to join along.  The show sounded stellar and was accompanied by a trippy light show.  We even found out they have a female drummer (the liner notes from the previous album are a bit sparse); regardless she killed it.  They brought along what was made out to be a mini-Moog or equivalent electronic, boxy device to emit waaa-waaaa-ing sounds.  Needless to say, we couldn't turn down buying their just-released LP Indigo Meadow.  The impressively hefty chunk of vinyl is accompanied by a song lyrics/picture book mounted in the cover, making for a nice little package.  Surprisingly, this LP features a more pop-friendly style, yet the band still manages a plethora of hazy guitar riffage and distorted vocals.  The vibe is more reminiscent of 60's surfer-rock than their previous stuff.  It is speckled with plenty of low-tuned chords, high pitched keyboards, and tambourines.  Many of the songs are heavy stompers with thundering rhythm sections and bass coming in hard at times.  The title track starts the album off with loud drums layered in with hypnotic, circular guitars, then semi-monotonal, fuzzy vocals which, when combined, create a very catchy, evil sounding tune.  "Black Isn't Black" channels Ray Manzarek on the keyboards to build up to a pulsing, yet menacing drone beat.  "Don't Play With Guns" is the first single from the album and it has one of those hooks that will stick with you.  It is unmistakably forward in sound even with all the retro touches.  "She lays down with her revolver.  She's so cold, my heat evolves her."  Black Angels lyrics are often vague, but we get a bit of hallucinogenic story telling here.  Vocalist Alex Maas has one of those old timey voices that haunts and occasionally warbles.  He tends to talk his songs which certainly helps for lyrical clarity.

Color runs throughout several songs on these records: Check out "Black Grease" and "Manipulation" from Another Nice Pair, and from Indigo Meadow the title track, "I Hear Colors," and "Black Isn't Black."  A truly visual listening experience (weird right?).  This isn't by accident.  The Black Angels make no bones about connecting to the LSD era of sonic exploration and make every effort to do it proud.  In their newest effort they keep their distinct sound found in their early work, but create a more concise format.  They are pulling from early Sabbath, Floyd, Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and early psych bands that we are yet to discover.  We would love to raid their record collection!  This VVer recommends that both albums should be played at escalated volumes to get the full experience.  But isn't that applicable to most records?  With such a high level of pounding fuzz you might be pissing off your neighbors (or perhaps the entire neighborhood), but it's worth it.