“The Raven” kind of loses something in this 1960 interpretation by Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra.
At one point yesterday afternoon it was sunny and snowing at the same time, one of those weird weather phenomenons only us Minnesotans would understand. Just a few days earlier it was damn gorgeous and sunny afternoon here at Hymie’s for our fifth annual block party — that’s the way it is here. If you don’t like the weather, just wait a couple hours.
And that brings us to one of our favorite records to arrive this spring, which has been the second album by Exotik-A-GoGo, the band which has been enjoying a long run as the weekend house band at Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge. Our friend Jezebel Jones once hosted a tiki party in the middle of the winter to stick it to the season, and this album would have been the perfect soundtrack. We have loved this group since its inception even though we’re widely known to rarely make it up to northeast, and we’d really like to welcome their new album with a lei and a piña colada.
“Barbarians at the Gate”
The band dug into the fertile fields of Martin Denny-soaked vintage lounge on Go Ape! a few years ago (which made our ‘top ten’ list that year) but only offered a peek at their collective century of experience — on this second record the seeds they started bloom beautifully. Where Exotik-A-GoGo works best is not in lounge music or exotica but in its excellent and interesting jazz. The arrangements draw more focus on vibraphonist Vince Hyman and the guitar parts shared by multi-instrumentalists Tom Cravens and Andy Nelson. Nelson’s tenor sax takes the lead on the riffy and driving “Lounge Leopard Lenny,” and on the flute he salutes “The Girl with the Raven Hair,” the album’s smoothest ballad.
“The Girl with the Raven Hair”
Drummer Craig Gallas founded the group and the percussion on tunes like “The Girl with the Raven Hair” is as sensitive as work by Chicago’s great avant garde drummers Hamid Drake and Kalil El’Zabar. When the band plays hard bop Gallas provides both an excellent timekeeping groove and exciting fills. Jeff Willkomm plays the bass and essential to the fast tunes like “Shaka Shake” the opening track, “Barbarians at the Gate.”
At its best Exotik-Agogo revive the inspired feeling of really great 90s jazz records like the Dave Holland Quintet’s Prime Directive and Dave Douglas’ tribute to Mary Lou Williams, Soul on Soul. The album works best in this direction, although there are still fun nods to vintage exotica and lounge music like the amusing chant-along vocals on “Emerald Flame,” which could have come from a Les Baxter soundtrack, or “Señor Juan,” a theatrical ensemble piece which leans more towards other favorite 60s film composers like Schifrin and Mancini.
The band celebrated the release of the album with a show at the Icehouse last week — and we really wanted this to be something we posted in advance, but with the block party and all we fell behind on local releases. We sold out of copies of Exotik-A-GoGo on record store day, which tells us there’s a lot of enthusiasm for local jazz. The album is back in stock and continues to be one of our favorite recent releases. Now if the weather would just get the message and warm up!
Here’s some of the pictures people have sent us from yesterday’s block party. We’ll have more to share by and by, but right now we’ve got to start cleaning up.
Thanks to everyone who was here. It was a really wonderful day.
We’ve unpacked and organized all of this year’s special Record Store Day releases (and in spite of what Dave said to The Star Tribune, we’ll have copies of the A-ha single). There were more titles than ever before this year, and we have the largest selection of special releases we’ve ever had for the event.
We have it all organized and we’ll do our best to let you know how many copies we’ll have available if you give us a call or email today.
In addition to setting aside some gems for the day — including the cache of Replacements albums at the left — we’ve got some giveaways from our neighborhood comic book shop, Nostalgia Zone, and from Red House Records, who brought us a whole box of 45s by Charlie Parr, whose new album next week will be his first for the label.
The folks at Modern Radio Records also have a special single, which we’ll have for sale in limited quantities: It’s a reissue of the ultra-rare single by Smart Alex, a legendary late 70s Minneapolis band. Modern Radio only made 100 copies of the reissue!
As we have in the past, there will also be thousands of free records on 39th Avenue. Boxes and boxes, more than we can count and surely more than we want to haul around ever again — we just can’t toss ‘em out. Sure, there’s an awful lot of Mitch Miller in there, but also a gem or two hidden just for fun. You know you can resist digging a little — you’ll probably even find an A-ha single!
What we’re most excited about is the bill of live music this year, which is split between returning friends and acts new to our annual block party. On Monday we featured the Dumpy Jug Bumpers, who are not only making their Hymie’s debut tomorrow but are releasing their first album, too. We’ve also got both the bands whose records we’ll be releasing later this year — Jack Klatt and Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band!
Once again the one and only DJ Truckstashe will be providing music in between sets. This year you’ll also be able to enjoy drinks and food outside at Peppers & Fries, our new neighbors across 39th Avenue who are as excited for the event as we are. If you haven’t already visited them we hope you’ll try out East Lake’s latest awesome restaurant!
And now a word from our sponsors…
We couldn’t put together this block party year after year without help. We’d like to thank Pabst Blue Ribbon and Radio K for their ongoing support. You’ll find the Radio K crew here again this year — you can always count on them to support local music.
Across the street at the Frattallone’s Ace Hardware they’ll once again have activities for kids, including a bouncy castle and, by popular demand, the return of Terry Odegaard’s World of Reptiles from 11AM to 2PM.
Sound for our fifth annual block party is provided by Mother of All Music, and most of the tables and tents we use on 39th Avenue are provided by our East Lake neighbors, Northern Sun. Posters for the event were created by two of our vendors, Vinyl Afterlife and Dwitt.
(No. 1, Moderato)
American work longer hours, more days, and take fewer breaks than nearly every other nation in the world. Turns out the forty-hour work week is actually on average nearly a full day longer, forty-seven hours. We’re not making much more (at least those of us down here at the bottom) but we’re sure working for it. What’s worse is that we take fewer vacations — we don’t even have the option of paid leave when we become new parents. We’re one of few countries which offer no paid parental leave, whether through employers or through the government (the others include Papua New Guinea and Liberia).
Rather than ease our burdens, our technological toys allow us to bring our work with us wherever we go. Many of you are reading this on the little screen on a phone or ipad, and this is supposed to qualify as ‘leisure time.’ We’re working ourselves so hard we don’t have time to enjoy the time we don’t have.
(No. 2, Andante)
What does this have to do with Franz Schubert’s Moment Musicaux, which we have been hearing today? It’s the closest we’ve come to a ‘driveway moment.’ That’s a phrase coined by Public Radio for the moment you can’t get out of your car because you’re so engrossed in the story you’ve to to hear the end even though you’ve reached your destination. Truth is, we’re not talk radio people — we’d rather walk than ride in a car listening to talk radio.
But there are records in which we have found the same ethereal repose. One, for instance, is this 1952 recording by Rudolph Serkin. Its not the first recording of Schubert’s six part piano piece published in 1828, but it is our favorite. Serkin may be best known for his interpretations of Beethoven, but on this record he succinctly shows the innate beauty of Schubert’s songs.
Just a year before making this album for Columbia Records, Serkin founded the Marlboro School of Music near his dairy farm in Vermont, along with his father-in-law, Adolph Busch. Both world-class musicians were for America what you could call the spoils of war, along with a generation of top writers, scientists and others. Although neither were Jewish, both left their homes in Germany after the rise of the Third Reich, unable to tolerate Nazism (Busch once declared he would “return with joy on the day that Hitler, Goebbels and Göring are publicly hanged”). The two became naturalized American citizens and through the Marlboro School mentored a generation of classical performers.
Their greatest influence has been in modern chamber music, beginning in Europe when they performed together in the Busch Quartet, making the first recordings of some Beethoven quartets. The famed Guarani Quartet was formed at their Marlboro School of Music, and Serkin’s son Peter was a member of the Tashi Quartet, whose recording of Oliver Messian’s Quartet for the End of Time we posted a couple years ago.
(No. 3, Allegro Moderato)
Franz Schubert’s own short thirty-one years on Earth were shockingly productive: he composed hundreds of songs and in the process built the foundation for the three-minute pop song we, as record collectors, revere. He also wrote nine extraordinary symphonies (seven complete, two so magnificent that it’s never mattered they were unfinished), several operas and a substantial repertoire of piano music. When he died in 1828, only a year after Beethoven, he might have been overshadowed by the great maestro, if it weren’t for the enormous wealth of innovative melody in his music.
Schubert never composed a piano concerto, nor a concerto of any other kind, so his compositions for solo piano are of especially great interest. Moments Musicaux is a six-piece work for solo piano published shortly before his death which suggests in several places (especially in No. 1, Moderato, and No. 5, Allegro vivace) what a Schubert piano concerto may have sounded like.
(No. 4, Moderato)
In other places Moment Musicaux captures the composers uncanny ability to create simple, sincere and captivating songs. There is a melody in the fourth part that might have been the dominant theme of a symphony, had the composer lived longer. Schubert’s devotion to his work is evident in the consistency of his catalog – we cannot think of a pop group with a solid a success rate as Schubert had as a songwriter, except for maybe Hickey.
We enjoy playing copies of Moment Musicaux whenever they pass through the shop. People often ask what it is they have been enjoying – Some are disappointed it isn’t some somber post-bop pianist like Bill Evans (whose own solo pieces, like those on Everybody Digs Bill Evans for instance, suggest Schubert’s influence) or a fashionable French outsider like Erik Satie. Others leave the shop with the record that had been playing, and we hope they enjoy it as much as we do our own slightly worn copy Rudolf Serkin’s 1952 recording for Columbia.
(No. 5, Allegro vivace)
Moment Musicaux is an antidote for anxiety, opening as brightly as a fresh cup of coffee before providing the listener with opportunities for introspection as well as invigoration. Schubert’s graceful Adante, our favorite of the six, is arrestingly serene.
Some say Schubert invented the three minute pop song as we know it. There’s no doubt he refined it as surely as the cup defines the shape of the coffee inside. Bill Evans played Schubert as a young man. Beyoncé from her borrowed from him on her third album. Just this week the BBC launched a documentary by composer Howard Goodall which includes a comparison between Adele’s 21 and Schubert’s song cycles. “Strip away the cultural differences, the clothes and anything that dates them, and there is a strong connection,” Goodall explains in From the Stone Age to the Digital Age. “The musical shape, the architecture of it, the kind of chords, the way the accompaniment works and the voice sits on it, even the subject matter, are remarkably similar.”
(No. 6, Allegretto)
Maybe some other set of songs provides you the same opportunity for escape. We don’t just collect our records on shelves, we live with them, we care for them and they for us for a period of time. Whatever it is which gives you a moment’s rest, we say play it. Enjoy it and share that record with your friends.
We’re feeling overworked and stressed as we prepared for our fifth annual Record Store Day block party on Saturday. This is our much-needed moment of solace, listening to Schubert in the otherwise silent and dark record store before opening up for the day. Any day which starts like this is going to be a very good one indeed.
Soul singer Percy Sledge passed away yesterday at the age of seventy-four while in hospice care in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is survived by his wife of thirty-five years and twelve children, a few of who became singers themselves. He is remembered in surely all obituaries for his 1966 ballad, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
Even before the song became Hollywood shorthand in the era of major label mining for licensing gold, Sledge’s hit was the subject of a ‘response song’ by Esther Phillips, also recorded for Atlantic. We posted her song, “When A Woman Loves A Man,” in Part II of our series of sequel songs here. That post also included a riotous glimpse at the riotous variety of amateur video you’ll find on Youtube of people performing “When A Man Loves a Woman” at wedding receptions. There are pages of performances of varying levels of awkwardness when you search for the song on Youtube with the word “wedding” added — it brings out something in people like no other song.
The song was recorded at the legendary FAME Studio, subject of the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals. Its authorship is disputed between Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright (credited on the single) and the singer, who says he wrote the original tune as “Why Did You Leave Me?” after a breakup. The disagreement is made all the more amusing since the song is based on a melody by Bach which was some two hundred and sixty years old at the time — In fact, Bach’s Air on the G String was one of the first of his pieces to find its way onto a record, having been recorded by Russian cellist Aleksandr Verzhbilovich in 1903. The lovely melody, so called because it is played solely on the G string, is second only to Pachabel’s Canon in D as the most eye-rollingly boring wedding music in the world. It also familiar as the basis of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which was released a few years after “When A Man Loves a Woman.”
The organist who played the slow descending riff was Spooner Oldham, who was also a successful songwriter along with Dan Penn. They wrote many successful songs together, including one of Sledge’s later hits, “It Tears me Up.” The horns are not quite in key but it doesn’t seem to matter. “When A Man Loves A Woman” was one of the earliest records to capture the unique quality of the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Sledge’s success continued through the sixties, and he enjoyed a surprise revival after his song became a huge hit in England because it was used in a blue jeans commercial. In the 90s he released a blues album which featured Steve Cropper and Bobby Womack and received rave reviews. He recorded his last album, The Gospel of Percy Sledge, just two years ago.
Its no surprise, however, that obituaries today begin and end with his first single, which Atlantic Records released almost exactly forty-nine years ago on April 16, 1966. “When A Man Loves a Woman” is a beautiful song, but you’ve probably heard it plenty of times (and if you clicked on the Youtube link above you’ve likely heard it too many times!) — we thought we’d close today with a different song.
Percy Sledge’s recording of “Any Day Now,” a Bacharach tune (co-written with Bob Hilliard) came a couple years after “When A Man Loves A Woman,” but features his familiar full-throated delivery. It’s our favorite version of the popular song, and seems like a fitting farewell for the soul legend who sang it.
“Any Day Now”