Awesome-ness!

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Here is a fun 45 to brighten up this dreary Monday morning. You will almost certainly recognize the voice.

Jim Henson was one of the most universally beloved celebrities in America at the time of his sudden and tragic death in 1990, but he was hardly an overnight success. In fact, Henson’s slow rise to fame is an inspiring tale of perseverance and passion. It was a few years after the release of this single that Henson, as Rowlf the Dog, became a regular character on The Jimmy Dean Show – You can watch him clown around about one minute into this episode. He even makes a joke about his host having “a new hit record.” Henson himself, performing as Ernie, hit #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1970 with the single “Rubber Duckie.” This is one of several times Sesame Street produced an unexpected hit record.

One of Henson’s magical legacies is the way he, along with Sesame Street‘s musical directors Jeffrey Moss and Joe Raposo, revived the music of Vaudeville and early American theater. This was carried on when The Muppet Show debuted in the fall of 1976, and throughout the franchise’s ongoing films. This included performing early 20th century hits like “The Bird in Nellie’s Hat” and “The Varsity Drag” as well original songs like Henson’s incredible duet with himself in “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along.”

All of this was still in his future when Henson released “The Countryside” in 1960 with its ridiculous credit “Orchestra conducted by Frank Sinatra.” Of course, years later Ol’ Blue Eyes did record Henson’s signature tune, “Bein’ Green,” which was written by their mutual friend Joe Raposo for Sesame Strret with the simple instruction, “We need a song for the frog.”

We have been so busy with all the collections coming in already this summer that we haven’t had a chance to listen to all the exciting records around here. We’re also surprised and glad to have expanded our selection of tapes as of late, and we have been borrowing a few to listen to in our van when moving records.

One of the exciting things that happened around here recently is that we met John Penny, a jazz guitarist and composer whose impressive resume includes on of our favorite local LPs from the 70s. After we told him what fans we were of the self-titled Soltice album which originally appeared in 1977, we was kind enough to give us a copy of a recent remastered CD by Riverman Music in South Korea. The disc is packaged in one of those mini LP cases which are popular with East Asian record collectors, and the sound is stunning. They’re available, along with one of his albums from 1997, through Mr. Penny’s website here.

 

solstice 1

He also let us know a little about what the rest of the band is doing these days, and also added that a recent reunion reminded them all about how the band had been one of their greatest musical experiences. From a message he sent about the band today:

Drummer Tim Pleasant first went east and became a fixture on the New York and later, the LA jazz scenes. Bruce Henry went on to an international solo career as a jazz and pop singer. Guitarist John Penny pursued opportunities as a composer for film and television, with a solo artist career. Bassist Jay Young stayed in Minneapolis, where he is a highly sought after mainstay on the local jazz scene and educator. Saxophonist David Wright went on to be part of the three time Grammy Award winning band Sounds of Blackness while maintaining an active freelance career. Trumpeter Jim Gauthier pursued an academic career and now devotes most of his energies to performance and composing.

We were impressed to learn (though not at all surprised) that the Soltice LP received a five-star review from Downbeat, who called it “intergalactic funk.” Above we have a song recorded from our copy of the album — which seems to have been ‘borrowed’ sometime since by a friend — called “Men from Mars.” I was written by Mr. Penny’s bandmate, Jim Gauthier.

Copies of this album turn up here in the Twin Cities from time to time, and you could also purchase an original on Discogs for a pretty reasonable price. We recommend it to any fan of Minnesota jazz.

In Chris Reimenschneider’s Star Tribune story about the Suicide Commandos new album, out last week, Chris Osgood quipped that the band is “one the one-album-every-39-years-plan. It’s worked well for us so far.” The album’s release also marked a revival of the Twin/Tone label, always a subject of local music lore.

For the Suicide Commandos, who earned more attention for adopting a highway in 2015 than for their reunion recordings on a 10″ split record with the Hold Steady released by the Current a couple years earlier, Time Bomb should merit some much deserved recognition outside of the Twin Cities. Truth is, we might like it even more than that 1978 classic, The Suicide Commandos Make A Record.

The Suicide Commandos were Minnesota’s punk rock pioneers — bands like Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs and the Replacements came in their wake. While the Commandos have said it was the passing of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original Ramone, who inspired their decision to record again, it can’t help but have been influenced by the recent reunions of the ‘Burbs and ‘Mats.

But Time Bomb is everything that Songs for Slim, the hodgepodge Replacements ‘reunion,’ wasn’t. It’s a helluva record you’re proud to put next to those ultra-rare local classics, whereas Songs for Slim is a record you feel stuck with because, well, it was for a good cause. The twelve new Commandos tunes are laden with wry humor and the sort of insight that comes with age, all laid over riffs and hooks most bands would love to add to their repertoire. The trio has been playing occasional shows together for at least a decade, but its still amazing that Time Bomb sounds like the work of a tightly-rehearsed act working a regular gig.

The single was posted on Youtube earlier this year and although it’s not as incendiary as their legendary “Burn it Down” video it sure whet our appetite. And absolutely everything about Time Bomb delivered on the promise.

Any record which cheerfully name-checks the great Dave Ray is going to satisfy us, but its actually the darker descriptions of being in a band (in “Hallelujah Boys” and the small-town bar portrait “Pool Palace Cigar”) which stick to the ribs, if you’ll pardon the expression. The album also offers descriptions of disastrous relationships in Dave Ahl’s brooding “Frogtown,” and the ensemble written “If I Can’t Make You Love Me” (which concludes, naturally, with “I’ll make you hate me”), but its overall impression is sealed by the final two tracks by Steve Almaas and Osgood, respectively.

Time Bomb isn’t an especially political album, but there are unsurprising undertones. Ahl and Osgood performed on the streets during the 2008 R.N.C. protests in St. Paul, after all. The closer, “Late Lost Stolen Mangled Misdirected” is a catchy anthem in the Social Distortion tradition about holding on to some hope even though you may feel all of those things in the title because sometimes “broken things get resurrected.”

And his fourth album is forty-six years old. Of course, most of the songs on his albums were already hits for other artists. In addition to his long association with Dionne Warwick, he also wrote songs for artists like Marty Robbins and Dusty Springfield. He is probably one of the most-covered songwriters in American history.

Actually, if we had to choose a favorite Burt Bacharach record, it would be the soundtrack to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but all his movie scores are pretty great.

Andy Warhol didn’t design the cover of this Impulse Records LP by Dannie Richmond, although he certainly inspired its eye-catching design. Credit for the photograph of Campbell’s soup cans goes to Chuck Stewart, who took hundreds of photographs for the label. He also worked for Reprise, Mercury, Verve and Chess Records in a career that included work on over 2,000 LP jackets.

Jazz fans would recognize many of his iconic pictures, notably many of Coltrane’s middle 60s albums such as Impressions and A Love Supreme. Our favorite of Stewart’s photographs is the one of Richmond’s regular employer, Charles Mingus, lighting a pipe in his coat and hat on the cover of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.

Dannie Richmond played drums in Charles Mingus’ groups for more than two decades, and even led Mingus Dynasty after his friend passed away in 1980 from complications associated with ALS. Most collaborators came and went through the Mingus Workshop, some leaping off to larger careers and others leaving for personal differences, so Richmond’s tenure is particularly remarkable. We recall reading that it was after a show in Minneapolis when Mingus went off on the band and one of our favorite jazz musicians of all time, pianist Jaki Byard, left. We couldn’t find that story, so it may be one of the many apocryphal tales of his temper.

This is his Richmond’s LP as a leader, and he brought in Byard, and also two different distinct guitar players, Toots Thielemans (heard on this track) and Jimmy Rainey. You’re hearing “High Camp,” a Gary McFarland tune, but much of the rest of the album is hammy pop covers.

Richmond appeared on a number of jazz albums outside his work with Mingus, including Chet Baker’s classic Chet Baker Sings album in 1958 and about a dozen records by George Adams and Don Pullen. He briefly toured with Elton John’s band and played the drums on three early albums by the Mark-Almond Band.

Interestingly, Richmond was a little older when he began playing the drums, having first been a saxophonist in R&B groups before he met Mingus, who encouraged him to take change instruments. He often performed as a sort of sidekick, as in his backing vocals on “Fables of Faubus.” In his sprawling autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, Mingus describes Richmond as his “heartbeat.”

 

Early last year we welcomed Fletcher Magellan‘s debut disc Became a Stranger as ” an inventive pastiche of the country tradition” and added it to our regular rotation of local favorites to play here in your friendly neighborhood record shop. In that post we wrote, in part, “there’s a sense that Became a Stranger is a labor of love — not just for the settings of its eleven songs, but the great arch of country music from its early roots in string tunes like Kelly Harrell’s “Charles Guitteau” recorded in 1927, to its revival as “Americana.”

And we invited Fletcher Magellan to join a much less historic tradition, our in-house label’s series of traditional American music at 45rpm. The two new songs out this weekend join singles by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade and Tree Party, as well as a growing collection of LPs by local artists we have released.

The ‘double A side’ single includes a song which would have fit nicely into Became A Stranger last year, as well as this song, “Lady Tarantella,” which has shades of Fletch’s earlier work as a member of El Le Faunt and his Traveling Circus. The picture sleeve drawn by Whitney A. Streeter are in the style of classic storybook records.

We thought “Lady Tarantella” felt like a sort of a photo negative of the Stones’ “Spider and the Fly,” and likewise features a shared lead but instead of two guitars weaves an electric guitar part with a distinctive singing saw. Fletcher Magellan’s band has grown since releasing the CD last year, and they have become one of the Twin Cities must-catch Americana acts. We’re thrilled to add this single to our catalog!

Fletcher Magellan’s release show for the new “Lady Tarantella” single is an early matinee this Sunday at the Icehouse. Details on their website here. Our old friend Ross Fellrath will open with his famous flamenco guitar.

Last week we put this jazz compilation on the turntable, expecting a set of live recordings from the famous Savoy Ballroom. The album is actually just some classic recordings by groups who frequented its legendary stage, including Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, who perform this tune titled “Ebony Silhouette.”

The recordings on A Night at the Savoy date from 1935 to 1941. “Ebony Silhouette” was recorded during Dizzy Gillespie’s stint as a sideman with the group, which is a period of his career we were just learning about a couple weeks ago. He doesn’t solo on this tune, though — what’s really remarkable about it is the awesome playing of bassist Milt Hinton, who is the star of the show.

Hinton was about twenty-five years old when this tune was recorded, and already considered one of the best in his field. This and a 1939 recording called “Pluckin’ the Bass” were some of the earliest features for the string bass in swing jazz.

Hinton had been married for sixty-one years when he passed away in 2000. He and his wife Mona spent as much time together as possible, and she even accompanied him on the road in those early years, which was not common at the time. They had one daughter. A couple other interesting things about Milt Hinton is that he loved photography, and took thousands of pictures throughout his career. They are collected together in a New York City archive. The other interesting thing about Hinton is that he never drove. He was in an accident when he was young and chose not to drive a car.

The compilation, incidentally, has a very similar layout and design to the Stash Records collections, with the notes on the back even in the same font. It appears on what we think is one of our favorite new labels, however: Tax Records! It’s both a hilarious name and also a hilarious label design.

 

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