In Concert – The Best of Jimmy Cliff is not only one of the best live albums of the 70s, its one of the best ‘best of’ albums as well. This record is guaranteed to brighten a gloomy, rainy morning like today from “You Can Get It If You Really Want” through the nine tracks that follow.
At the time, Reprise Records wanted to capitalize on Cliff’s hits with a ‘best of’ album, but instead he recorded this gem during shows in New England with former Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham at the board. Cliff’s excellent band is led by ska legend Ernest Ranglin, who puts together arrangements which extend far beyond the original hit singles.
Ranglin’s epic arrangement of “Many Rivers to Cross” provides an opportunity for Cliff to provide one of the most moving performances we’ve ever heard on a live album. One of us saw Jimmy Cliff perform in the late 90s, and remember it today as one of the best shows we’ve ever seen. He recorded another live album in 1994, and in 2013 released a stunning set recorded live at Santa Monica’s famous KCRW studio.
What makes this first live album one of our all-time favorites is that it highlights Cliff not only as an incredible singer, but as one of the great songwriters. His songs transcend reggae music, and have been covered by artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Stiff Little Fingers. “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” provide positive messages, and “Struggling Man” and “Vietnam” recognize reality. Bob Dylan once called the latter the best protest song he’d heard. This collection doesn’t even include some of our favorites in Cliff’s catalog: “Time Will Tell,” “Trapped,” “The Price of Peace,” and “World Upside Down” (co-written with Joe Higgs). There’s so much in his music to make your day a little brighter.
We enjoyed reading Ross Raihala’s review of Don Henley’s performance at the Grandstand earlier this week, although we ourselves can’t imagine a worse way to spend an afternoon than a Don Henley show at the State Fair. Honestly, this is why we’ve always admired the great music writers for the Cities’ two major papers — Raihala and the Star Tribune’s Chris Reimenschneider — because they’re out there ‘taking one for the team.’
One Pioneer Press reader didn’t appreciate Raihala’s lukewarm response to the former Eagle and apparent American legend:
Ever since Jeff Bridges spoke for the countless millions who have quietly suffered in the cabs of the world (not to mention the waiting rooms and shopping malls) in The Big Lebowski, the Eagles have become a cultural flash-point. The Eagles are one of the easiest bands in the world to hate, and you wouldn’t believe how often we hear “I hate the fucking Eagles, man!” in our record shop.
We received similar messages of righteous outrage after making light of the Big Lebowski scene after Henley’s bandmate, Glenn Frey, passed away last year. Legends to a certain generation perhaps, the Eagles are to many the absolute apex of elite indulgence, arrogance and bombast. Henley, in particular, ought to have gone to prison after an underage prostitute overdosed in his home.
Raihala’s review of the show makes no mention of the wellspring of loathing for Henley’s coke-fueled and vapid music, but only his well-documented wooden stage presence. And of course of Henley’s HISTORY of record-setting price gouging. It’s not like he sang this song…
One of the most esoteric subgenres in American music may be eef, a turn-of-the-century Appalachian precursor to beatbox which enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame in the early 60s with a single minor hit (“Little Eeefin’ Annie” by Joe Perkins) and recurring appearances by Jimmy Riddle (accompanied by hambone “artist” Jackie Phelps) on Hee Haw.
You may be surprised to read that record companies were not lining up to sign eef acts, and so actual recordings are fairly uncommon. A sole single by the Goodlettsville Five from 1964 may be one of the only eef records which has turned up here at your friendly neighborhood record shop in the better part of a decade.
Its often said that culture moves in cycles and things once discarded will come around again — and Lord knows no one here could have predicted there’d ever be enough demand for Eagles records that they’d actually start making more of them — but eef seems like an art form lost to the ages.
We’ve already posted that we’re excited for the next release in our catalog, a 45 with two new songs by Tree Party, but tonight’s show at the Cedar Cultural Center will also celebrate the release of even more new music. The Brass Messengers, have treated us to a long-overdue new album.
We listened to it last night while we were working on assembling the Tree Party singles, and one of them had just the right assessment of the Messengers’ new album: “This is such happy music!” The eleven new songs (plus a “Dancehall Remix”!) are filled with such joyous energy Thigmonasty has already become our cure for the rainy day blues…and there have been a few of those kinda days around here lately.
The first half of the disc is recorded live in Creation Studios with an enthusiastic audience, which is essential to the celebratory nature of the Messengers’ music. The group evolved out of the brass bands that played the Heart of the Beast‘s May Day parade, which is one of the biggest celebrations in the Twin Cities. Their two earlier discs present their interest in brass music from around the world, including Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America, and Thigmonasty has really successfully blended this with the dozen members’ other experiences in different bands around town.
While they often play covers ranging from cajun classics to Black Sabbath, Thigmonasty is entirely originals by the duodecet.* Trombonist J.B. McLain, who also performs around town as a solo guitarist, contributes several original songs which have more of a street band, New Orleans feeling. These are definitely the sort of songs which gets you moving, and which have that energy which vibrates within you when you see a performance by the Messengers. Tony Randazzo, the band’s tubist and also the album producer, offers songs with more of the Eastern European feel, highlighted by inventive, suspensful arrangements (especially the brief tune “Leo Nursha”). Another song in this vein is a re-recording of the title song from Paul Fonfara’s 7 Secrets of Snow, which we featured here. One last tune is by composer Andy McCormick (of Dreamland Face), and pays tribute to the ruler of Wisconsin’s mythical colony of dwarves. Or so we assume.
The second half, recorded without an audience features some of these more intricate arrangements, but there is still a lot of energy behind them, especially in Randazzo’s “Leo Nursha.” And as we mentioned, there’s a remix at the end of the album. It’s a surprisingly sweet conclusion, and works very well.
We think this is one of the best local albums of the year so far, but the best way to appreciate the Brass Messengers is surrounded by other celebrants smiling and dancing. We’re looking forward to doing just that tonight.
*Had to look that one up!
The Brass Messengers and Tree Party have a joint release show for their new music at the Cedar Cultural Center tonight. Details on the Cedar’s website here.
In May we posted about on of our favorite Duke Ellington standards, “Caravan,” which was co-written with trombonist Juan Tizol. We cannot resist an interpretation of this song, and came across another while cleaning a stack of 45s earlier this week.
This time around the tune is performed by Ralph Marterie and his ‘Down Beat’ Orchestra, who presumably borrowed the exotic guitar arrangement of the Ellington classic from an earlier recording by the Esquire Boys.
This harmless novelty single was presented to us recently as “something really cool” after we’d purchased someone’s collection of albums. It features a parody of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” by WLUP FM radio host Steve Dahl, who is most famous as the personality behind a promotion at Comiskey Park on June 12, 1979 known as “Disco Demolition Night.”
Dahl’s vendetta against disco began the previous Christmas Eve, when he was fired by WLUP’s rival, WDAI when the later switched formats. His show, with bits like dragging a needle across a disco album, became so popular he organized a group called “The Insane Coho Lips” to protest disco’s dominance over the airways. This short documentary by EPSN tells the story of their infamous “Disco Demolition Night.”
What’s missing from this video about “Disco Demolition Night” is the underlying militarism of Dahl’s Cohos. Describing their cause as a war, and calling disco things like a “disease,” Dahl definitely tapped into racism, sexism and homophobia in a way which advanced his career. The same month as “Disco Demolition Night,” Dahl’s Cohos protested at an Indiana radio station when it switched formats, and occupied a teen disco in the Chicago suburbs. Coho supporters also chased a WDAI van and cornered its driver in a park, and another one of the groups events on July 1st required fifty police officers to restore calm.
Dahl’s military attire and Jeep add to the ominous appearance of the event. Nor did the account of one African American who was at the ballpark that night: “I was faced with some guy rushing up to me, snapping a record in half in in my face and going, ‘Disco sucks! Ya see that?'” Lawrence says. “Like an overt statement to me like I was inherently disco.”
Criticism of the promotion in the general press focused on White Sox owner Bill Veeck, and the team’s poor management of the situation, but Dahl’s demagoguery wasn’t lost on music writers. In December of that year, Rolling Stone published a retrospective by Dave Marsh titled “The Flip Side of ’79” which is particularly critical of Dahl and WLUP:
…white males, eighteen to thirty-four are the most likely to see disco as the product of homosexuals, blacks, and Latins, and therefore they’re the most likely to respond to appeals to wipe out such threats to their security. It goes almost without saying that such appeals are racist and sexist, but broadcasting has never been an especially civil-libertarian medium.
It was years later that Nile Rodgers, guitarist from Chic, put it more succinctly. “It felt to us like Nazi book-burning,” Rodgers sighs [in story about Chic in The Independent from 2004]. “This is America, the home of jazz and rock and people were now afraid even to say the word ‘disco’. I remember thinking – we’re not even a disco group.”
This is mostly true, although to provide full disclosure, we do put the Chic records in our disco section here at Hymie’s. The band’s rise coincides with disco’s, but Rodgers rightfully lamented that disco’s decline thereby became theirs as well. Posting on his own website ten years later, he says, “All we’d ever wanted was to be part of the pop music community, which despite the factionalism, it’s basically all rock and roll – the music that gives a voice to the voiceless – and power to the powerless.”
An NPR story from earlier this year captured Rodgers concerns when it included the recollections of a then-teenage Comiskey Park usher named Vince Lawrence, who was hoping to get a few of the records to take home. He believes he was one of few African Americans in the ballpark that night, and he describes the sort of records people were bringing: “Tyrone Davis records, friggin’ Curtis Mayfield records and Otis Clay records. Records that were clearly not disco.”
That NPR story is covering Dahl’s new book, Disco Demolition Night: The Night Disco Died, which was co-written with Dave Hoekstra (who once wrote a story about our little neighborhood record shop). There isn’t a copy in the Hennepin County Library system yet, and we don’t feel comfortable giving Dahl a dime of our money, so we can’t say how the event is portrayed in the book. We can say we’re uncomfortable Dahl’s history of claiming that racism, sexism and homophobia didn’t play a significant role, and that to say otherwise is revisionist history.
Its difficult to not see the event the way Lawrence does in this Chicagoist story posted last month., particularly when he tells writer Stephen Gossett that “he ‘absolutely’ still feels the same way today, finding a corollary between Dahl’s ‘speaking in code’ rhetoric and today’s ‘xenophobic’ political landscape.”
Postscript: Whether or not disco ‘died’ on June 12, 1979, and whether or not Chic was even a disco band, Rodgers did did prove there is life after Dahl. His reunited Chic just received praise from The Star Tribune‘s Chris Riemenschneider, who saw them at the Xcel Center in St. Paul on their current tour opening for Duran Duran.