There is a theory within evolutionary anthropology which posits that human language evolved from music, and that our earliest spoken communications were derived of songs imitating the sounds of the natural world around us. Darwin proposed this in The Descent of Man in 1871, although the idea was slow to gain traction or merit research.
One remarkable implication of this remarkable idea is that music may be one of our deepest connections to the natural world, and the most direct and genuine expression of our thoughts and emotions, transcending language.
Music has long played a central role in our ceremonial, civic and social rituals, and on a daily basis provides us a respite from those trappings which isolate us from our more primitive role in the natural world.
Pharoah Sanders’ 1969 album Jewels of Thought was on our turntable this cool morning, before we ventured out to get muddy cleaning up the garden after last night’s storm. The first song, “Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah,” is a prayer for peace sung by Leon Thomas, whose collaboration with Pharoah is best known by “The Creator Has a Master Plan” on Pharoah’s previous album, Karma. The band on this album is a particularly impressive assemblage of top jazz musicians.
Thomas’ prayer for peace is performed by sextet of Christians and Muslims together. There are two bassist and two drummers: Richard Davis, Cecil McBee, Idris Muhammad and Roy Haynes, who are all favorites of jazz fans. The pianist is Lonnie Liston Smith, who co-wrote the music with Sanders.
There is a rich history of racial unity in jazz. Imperfect at times, it is more often inspiring. The seven performers on Jewels of Thought all performed and recorded with white jazz musicians as well. Our favorite of Pharoah’s many albums (Sprits, recorded in 2000) has him backed by two percussionists, one black and one white. And Richard Davis performance on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, probably one of the white-est records of the era, is a classic collaboration.
Less often discussed is the role of jazz on the vanguard of religious unity. There are many Muslim jazz musicians who are some of the most successful and popular, such as Ahmad Jamal who we posted on Monday. Your record collection is just another way in which Muslim have contributed to this country.
Charlie Rich co-produced Wills’ debut album, Barrooms to Bedrooms, in 1975. In the liner notes, the Silver Fox wrote:
I’ve always felt that when a country artist attains a certain amount of success in the business, he should contribute to the industry by helping new talent get started. David Wills is 23 years old and as pure a country singer as I’ve heard. I’m very proud to have produced his first album and pleased he chose to record some of my songs. I must admit a little bit of jealousy because I think he sings better than I do. I hope you’ll enjoy this album. Thanks.
The album includes two songs which were top 10 hits on the country chart, “There’s a Song on the Jukebox” and the title track. Wills is as good a country songwriter as he is a singer, writing songs for major stars into the nineties (he wrote “Wild Horses” for Garth Brooks’ second album).
His first album features this song, “My Mountain Dew,” which can’t possibly be about the gross, bright green soda pop.
Turns out Mountain Dew was once southern slang for moonshine, and the undrinkable green gunk itself began as a homemade mixer, and was originally marketed with cartoon hillbillies. Yea hoo!
Voyager 1 is now in interstellar space, and its passage out of solar system has given us new insight into its outer boundaries. Solar rays are still reaching the probe, which will remain functional for about thirteen more years as it continues to drift away from us. Then it will be nothing more than a tiny, silent object in the vast openness of the interstellar expanse — so don’t worry too much about space creatures finding it.
Voyager 2 was launched first, but it’s different trajectory has it on a slower course. It is expected to enter interstellar space in a few years. By taking an alternate route out of the solar system Voyager 2 was able to take the stunning photographs of Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989. Voyager 2 will also pass near a star, Ross 248, in about 40,000 years. And in a mere 296,000 years it will come within a few lightyears of Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky. Sirius is commonly known as the “dog star,” and has been watched and worshiped by humans around the world for centuries.
Last week, IFLScience, one of the most entertaining blogs on the internet, posted Soundcloud links which allow us to hear what it would be like to listen to the Golden Records here.
We’re very excited to welcome Tuscon, Arizona folk singer Karima Walker to the shop for a performance on Wednesday night. She will be joined by Sterling Roots and Crow Call, one of our favorite local traditional groups. Today’s post is for them. Details about the show can be found on our events page here, and on Facebook here.
Crows lent their latin name to the constellation Corvus, a quadrilateral pattern seen in the southern hemisphere near Virgo and Hyrda. Its largest star is Algorab, which is the Arabic word for crow. Writing in The Fixed Stars and Constellations in 1923, Vivian Robson characterizes the star by its “destructiveness, malevolence, fiendishness, repulsiveness and lying.”
Crows have been with us since the dawn of history — Ovid claimed it was Apollo’s ire which made their feathers black, and aboriginals in Australia believed the birds performed the promethean task of the theft of fire itself. Crows are, in some ways, second to dogs as our first friends — although they remain distant relatives. Recent studies have proven crows can recognize and recall individual human faces. Its possible they can report to others the worst of us — crows may be one of the very few non-human animals capable of displacement, meaning they can communicate about things that are happening in a different spatial or temporal place than their current location. Crows can tell stories.
Creatures in the corvus genus has one of the highest measurements of relative brain size in the world (this is called the encephalization quotient, in case you’re wondering). In fact, we’re finding crows to be a smarter and smarter the more we study them, even capable of understanding causality, as demonstrated in this experiment.
While it was once believed crows lived for centuries, their actual lifespan is about twenty years — a captive crow named Tata was believed to be fifty-nine when he died in 2006, as reported in the Washington Post. Most crows are monogamous, and offspring remain with a breeding pair for several years to help protect the nest from raccoons, snakes and cats. Their communal roosts, commonly called a murder, can include as many as tens of thousands of birds. The poor residents of Danville, Illinois are believed to be outnumbered 4-to-1 by crows.
Crows are naturally curious and playful, clear signs of their intelligence. They will often toy with inedible objects such as litter, but they do not steal and collect shiny objects as is sometimes said. They would best be described as scattered hoarders, since they don’t keep their treasures in a single location such as a nest.
Inventor Joshua Klein presented a vending machine for crows at a technology conference in 2008. The crows would learn to pick up garbage and receive a treat in exchange. The indigenous crows on the island of New Calendonia create their own tools for extracting insects. Hooded crows in Israel have learned to use bread crumbs as fishing bait. Farmers have crafted a variety of traps to test the intelligence of crows for centuries, creating the anecdote of the counting crow. No account suggests any corvus could count as high as seven, however, as in the last song on the Counting Crows’ first album, August and Everything After.
The band likely takes its name not from crows who count, but from a once-familiar nursery rhyme. One could count crows to receive a premonition of the future. Here is one variation, which you’ll recognize reflected in the song.
One for sorrow, two for mirth, Three for a wedding, four for a birth, Five for silver, six for gold, Seven for a secret not to be told. Eight for heaven, nine for hell, And ten for the devil’s own self.
Given the crow’s role in human mythology and superstition, it’s not surprising they appear frequently in our music. For instance, one of the strangest songs on the early Dylan albums is “Black Crow Blues,” notably for being the first on which he accompanied himself on the piano.
Its surprising how the song presages Dylan’s sound from the late sixties and early seventies, where his jaunty and idiosyncratic piano style steps to the fore. That an alternate version more in the style of the other songs on Another Side of Bob Dylan was left on the cutting room floor suggests he was already interested in expanding the range of folk music as early as his second album.
Fans of local music surely remember Crow, the bluesy rock band from the late 60s whose early hit “Evil Woman” was covered by Black Sabbath. Crow has broken up and reunited several times over the years. The cover of their second LP, Crow by Crow, depicts a gigantic crow as a member of the band.
A “black bird” plays a lead role in the second song on Brian Laidlaw’s extraordinary concept album about Bonnie and Clyde, Amoratorium. A crow is seen on the cover of the album.
The crows in Walt Disney’s Dumbo were endowed with wit and insight, and while it has been suggested by some that their appearance is representative of endemic racism in classic Disney cartoons, it should be noted they are the only characters besides Timothy the Mouse who treat Dumbo with kindness. The tragic singer Cliff Edwards performed the lead on their song, “When I See an Elephant Fly.”
This last song is from Crow Call, who inspired this little expedition into the spooky awesomeness of our black feathered friends.
They’ve described this song from their self-titled debut disc as being “about crows as messengers, being aware of their presence as harbingers in our lives and listening to what they have to tell us.” We chose Crow Call as one of our favorite local albums of 2014, but our previous posts about the disc have hardly hit on its eerie darkness. “They Know” is a fine example of how their music feels like Black Sabbath if filtered through Charlie Parr.
Wednesday night’s show here at Hymie’s starts at 7pm and features The Sterling Roots, Crow Call, and Karima Walker from Tuscon AZ. While shows at Hymie’s are usually free, we are asking for a $5 donation since there is a touring artist on the bill.
The Osmonds have sold more than 100 million records, but these days they’re not of much interest to young collectors. What we find interesting is that the Osmonds are in a way the original vinyl purists: none of their 60s and 70s albums has ever been officially released on CD. Any you may have seen were European bootlegs.
That mainstream rock fans hardly held fast to the family group of nine siblings (two born deaf, didja know that?) is inextricable from their espoused faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Conservatives responded cooly to Mitt Romney’s Mormonism in 2012 — imagine how rock fans responded to the Osmond’s 1973 proselytizing rock opera, The Plan. It was uncomfortable and more off-putting than Pete Townshend’s love for Meher Baba.
When MGM granted the group its own imprint a year earlier, they named it for Kalob, the celestial body still undiscovered and alternately described by Mormon theologians as a planet and a star. It is the body nearest the Throne of God, where the Earth was created before being moved to its present location. This isn’t as weird as the Mormon plan for salvation, which requires a flow chart, but not exactly the kind of stuff music fans are dying to discuss.
The Osmonds’ first release on MGM/Kalob was Crazy Horses, a stark departure from the bubblegum pop sound which had made them best-sellers. They wrote their own songs and played their own instruments (Merril on vocals and bass, Wayne on lead guitar, Donny on the keys and Jay on the drums — in case you’re wondering). The result is a hodgepodge of sixties psychedelia and seventies rock which is surprisingly fun.
“Crazy Horses” is a response to the pollution caused by automobiles. Maybe it’s one of the first songs about global warming (we’ll let record store blogs of the future make that call) — either way the cut is a hard rock gem, although its hard to imagine rockers bringing a copy of the LP to the counter. Crazy Horses borrows from Willie Dixon on the title track and from Led Zeppelin (who borrowed from Chess Records blues regularly) on “Hold me Tight.” There’s also some Bread/Eagles light rock which fits the feel of the times. The psychedelia aspirations interspersed through the album fall flat, or at least feel phony — what are the odds these boys ever even smelled weed, let alone smoked it?! — but there’s some striking moments of solid rock and roll. And they hardly let Donny sing.
If the rest of the album had rocked like “Crazy Horses,” we’d probably all have this in our collections next to Sabbath or Rainbow or some other sludgy 70s jams. As it is the album is a weird relic, a surreal amalgam of the strange forces at work in those heady days of the early 70s. The kind of thing only a record collector could understand.