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Here’s a post from 2011 about Superchunk. Their 10th album, I Hate Music, came out this week. Here at Hymie’s we’re already sold out but we’ll have more next week.

Superchunk put out a rockin’ new album this fall, Majesty Shredding, their first in nearly a decade. They also played First Avenue, regaling the faithful with a set list drawn largely from their early 90s classics. With their personal, strangely ambiguous lyrics, Superchunk was the soundtrack to my formative years – Everybody I knew had to listen to my explanations of their grandeur, although nobody really seemed as impressed as I was. Near the end of Indoor Living, Superchunk admits just about the same – “I care about the dumbest things,” Mac repeats several times.

MY TOP TEN SUPERCHUNK LYRICS

A “best of” compilation would certainly leave out several of these tracks. A lot has already been said about Superchunk’s tight arrangements of melody and noise – These are the characteristics that make tracks like “Throwing Things” indie rock classics. Even more has been said about the often meaningless lyrics of earlier bands like REM, while Superchunk’s simple, honest songs get little consideration.

(10) You been suckin’ wind so long it makes you feel full
“Skip Steps 1 &3″

For years I thought they were singing “that second went so long”. I guess that’s where it all becomes subjective because the lyrics to most Superchunk songs are ambiguous at best. Either way the message is the same – Laura Ballance did an interview earlier this year when No Pocky for Kitty, Superchunk’s second album, was reissued, in which she explained the song. “Step one is talking about doing something. Step two is doing something. Step three is talking about what you just did.”

Breakneck speed and the passage of time are recurring Superchunk themes. “Skip Steps 1 & 3″ opens No Pocky for Kitty with both in mind. Its almost like a presequel to the manic single “The Question is How Fast” from their next album. A while later Mac would sing “I wish I could have frozen time this year” (In “Silver Leaf, Snowy Tear”) but Superchunk in 1991 was in a hurry.

The chorus to the first track on their self-titled debut is “Well I thought that / Well you said that / We were gonna / So come on!” It doesn’t even matter what’s going to happen, it just needs to happen faster.

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(9) When you said you were sorry you did it without blinking / You can’t pretend to not know how that hurts
“Without Blinking”

Foolish is a remarkably dark record, but its not like this was a secret. Laura’s morbid painting on the cover shows a woman, presumably herself, in front of a skinned rabbit. Inside listeners find a picture of a live rabbit. There’s a back story to Foolish surrounding her breakup with bandmate Mac. The two continue to record together and also to run their joint venture Merge Records (Now one of the nation’s most successful independent labels but then a small operation) but civility seems to be an enormous struggle on Foolish, an album teeming with even more frustration and anger than their other records.

“Without Blinking” is a heartbreaking song when you give it a thoughtful listen – Foolish was the album that lost Superchunk a lot of fans for not being “hyper enough” but its also the album that endeared me to them. I suppose it could have fairly fit with the other break up albums I included in a recent post about divorce records, although I know a lot less about the back story behind this album than I do about Bob Dylan’s or Marvin Gaye’s. I guess I’ve always identified with Mac, Laura, Jon and Jim in a way I never could with dinosaur rockers and never elevated them to the same untouchably lofty status. They’re real people and it makes their real people problems none of my business.

Foolish was recorded after Superchunk left Matador Records because it had been purchased by Atlantic. As a teenager I always associated a lot of the frustration and anger in the disc to the band’s fight against the current of mainstream conglomerations like Atlantic, although songs like “Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything?” can’t really be anything but a fight between committed, exhausted people. Still, the chorus of “Water Wings” could rightfully be about the band’s internal conflicts or its external ones: “She pointed to a black cloud in the sky / And said that’s what happens when you’re learning to fly”.

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(8) Hit self destruct / Its marked specially / It’s easy to read
“Cadmium”

I think self-destruction is the most recurring Superchunk theme. Fuck, its easy to read. Here’s the song that should have been their anthem.

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(7) You’re in the car and you’re on the phone / Think you better follow that cord back home
“Shallow End”

Maybe its not an accident that the only Superchunk track issued on a major label was “Shallow End”, featured in the soundtrack to the Jerkey Boys movie. Its not a great soundtrack, and adrift in a sea of corporate alternative rock and metal, its a shame Superchunk launched themselves with this song and not something stronger. Still, the malice is far from subtle as Mac sings “I know you think you’re deep / But you should stay in the shallow end”.

I recall a few years ago that Carly Simon agreed to tell the largest donor to a charity fundraiser who she was singing about in “You’re So Vain”. Theories abound. I guess I’m more curious about the the record label promoter being slammed by Superchunk in this track.

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(6) I don’t have to tell you / They’re charging admission now / But you don’t care, but you never cared
“Song for Marion Brown”

I have no idea what this song from Indoor Living is about but I am fascinated by it. If its a tribute to the avant garde saxophonist I don’t get it. Marion Brown is probably most remembered as one of the performers on John Coltrane’s Ascension, but he put out several very good Impulse! albums himself. His 1975 album, Vista, isn’t avant garde at all but really just mellow, fender rhodes-steeped 70s jazz.

I don’t think anybody’s charging admission for a look at his baby teeth.

Adding to my confusion is their use of the distinctive chords from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” at the end of this track. Alongside another song about the music industry, “The Popular Music”, I feel Indoor Living was trying to make a statement about music and art and I never got it.

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(5) And I’m sorry if the ride has been so disappointing / Because to tell you from my side / I can’t remember much
“Here’s Where the Strings Come In”

A couple Superchunk albums have a title track that came later. “Foolish” and “On the Mouth” are great Superchunk songs you can hear on Incidental Music. Here’s Where the Strings Come In has eleven great songs and this time around one of them is the title track – “Here’s where everything comes together / Either that or it all falls apart” sings Mac near the end of the group’s most successful record – Hard to say what happened because I can’t remember much about it.

Unclear recollections of yesterday’s events are a pretty reliable Superchunk theme. A video for “Driveway to Driveway” captured this recurring theme as well as a humorous take on the band’s ongoing internal conflicts. “I guess I remembered it wrong,” they say on On the Mouth‘s strongest track. “I think that my memory’s strong but whatever you say.”

(4) Don’t get uppity with me / I’ve seen things that you’ve never seen / I’ve been seeing them for years / Let me whisper in your ear
“Cast Iron”

While “In A Stage Whisper” is actually performed in a mumbling, Michael Stipe-influenced whisper, the last line here is shouted. A song so nice they recorded it twice, “Cast Iron” is a punk rock come on with fantastically tight hooks. Always overshadowed by those twin classics on No Pocky for Kitty (the venerable “Seed Toss” and “Throwing Things”) this track is the heart of the only Superchunk album likely to make a critic’s list of classics.

The lyrics to “Cast Iron” are unique in the larger Superchunk canon because there’s some genuine confidence behind them rather than the typical fumbling self-depreciation. “I’ll tell you about my special friends / I only wish you were there,” is a great chorus to sing along with, whether or not we ever knew what it was about.

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(3) I tried to make a list / But there was only one
“Home at Dawn”

“Home at Dawn” was originally issued on a 7″ record that came with Speed Kills, a fanzine now fairly described as obscure. It became a more well-known Superchunk track with its inclusion on their second singles compilation, Incidental Music. Its a little stepping-stone between their punk rock roots on No Pocky for Kitty and On the Mouth and the more expansive guitar-y sound the explored on Foolish.

So we’ve all come home at dawn at some time or another. Sometimes its at the end of a long night that was great but usually its something we’re not feeling particularly proud of.

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(2) How honest can I be? / How honest can I be?
“Tiny Bombs”

A lot of Superchunk’s best lines are repeated with characteristic intensity, as on this track from the second side of Come Pick Me Up. To be honest, I really didn’t like this song when the album came out and in fact the entire thing disappointed me. The new tracks didn’t mesh well with classics like “Sick to Move” and “Throwing Things” when they toured and the whole album seemed pompous. “Tiny Bombs” was lost on me when Superchunk toured in 1999, but somewhere years ago I found this acoustic arrangement of it that captures the lyrics more simply.

Superchunk has a history of acoustic re-recordings, most of which I’ve found disappointing. A lot of their best tracks (“Seed Toss”, “Driveway to Driveway” and “Detroit Has A Skyline Too” for instance) have been re-recorded as “sensitive acoustic tracks” but none of them have captured Superchunk’s idiosyncratic energy like this one from an in-store appearance.

The general premise of “Tiny Bombs” seems to be the same chaos theory we all learned from Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park. “Tiny bombs send bigger waves / Across your once glassy sea” sings Mac. Maybe Superchunk is coming of age and regretting the consequences of the drunken exploits of the past. Hard to say, as the song ends with the anxiously repeated phrase “How honest can I be? / How honest can I be?” – The more likely conclusion leads to greater anxiety.

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(1) I’m workin’, but I’m not workin’ for you
“Slack Motherfucker”

I could write a big explanation of this song but I don’t wanna. What are you gonna do about that?

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We’re re-visiting some posts from back in the Hymie’s archive (two years back to be specific. We’ve added a new track from one of our favorite albums of 2013 to this one.

Yesterday we explored the phenomenon of “Top 40 Jesus” and today we’re taking a cue from this scene from the 1999 Kevin Smith movie Dogma. Cardinal Glick (George Carlin, in the role he was born to play) introduces Buddy Christ, the revamped Savior (“A booster!”). Of course, those of us with a collection of rock and roll records are already familiar with Buddy Christ…

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“Plastic Jesus” gets around, although of it’s many versions my favorite is still this obscure one by Mantanooska Thuderbuck on a 1976 compilation from Stash Records (Pipe, Spoon, Pot and Jug). It was originally written as a jingle for WWVA, a West Virginia AM radio station still on the air today (87 years strong by my count).

The Buddy Jesus in pop songs is a little more approachable, maybe – if possible – a little more forgiving. Sometimes he’s sort of a regular guy, as in Kris Kristofferson’s “Jesus Was a Capricorn”:

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The album Jesus Was a Capricorn also included “Why Me?”, a sincere country gospel song which topped the country chart and peaked at #16 on the pop chart (it probably should have been included in yesterday’s post).

Kristofferson seems lost or at least struggling in “Why Me?” but in this next song it’s Buddy Jesus himself who is having a rough night – This is “Jesus at the Kenmore” by Duluth’s own Charlie Parr:

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Charlie Parr’s Jesus is a lot more approachable than the Top 40’s Jesus, even as he’s being dragged from the bar saying:

You better straighten up and fly right
You know I can take you out

Actually, the recurring theme in “Buddy Jesus” songs is that the Savior struggled with his humanity – He was as lost as you and I, even when He didn’t let on (damn Capricorns). In some songs “Buddy Jesus” is really approachable, as in the lonely “I Am the Way” above (a Loudon Wainwright III song based on Woody Guthrie’s “New York Town”) of “Jesus Was a Wino” (by Lydia Loveless from the 2011 album Indestructible Machine):

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The best Buddy Jesus song could also have been included in yesterday’s collection of top 40 Jesus songs (it hit #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1969). This song was the only hit for Lawrence Reynolds, who continued to sing it until he died in 2000. Here’s “Jesus is a Soul Man”:

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Since we first posted “Buddy Jesus” in 2011, Charlie Parr has released a couple albums, including Barnswallow, which has become a favorite around the record shop — if you’ve been in and out this summer a couple times you’ve probably heard a track or two from it. The album features some of the most compelling original material Charlie has written, including “Jesus is a Hobo”:

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While we work on a glitch with the Hymie’s blog we’re going to re-run a few favorite posts from 2011.

spirit in the sky

There used to be a lot more religion in popular music – the roots of rhythm and blues and country music drink from the same watershed of gospel music, whether you like that sort of stuff or not. The very best performers in each genre, from the early years to the present, can perform comfortably in the church and in the watering hole. Rock and roll, though, has always had a tenuous relationship with Jesus, and since it’s arrival so has pop music. Sometimes a relationship that leads to strange bedfellows…

Take, for instance, “Spirit in the Sky”: A 1973 hit that peaked at #3 and sold more than 2 million copies – one of the most kickass 70s rockers, and also about the most cynical piece of gospel garbage this side of Swaggart. Singer Norman Greenbaum was Jew who saw Porter Wagoner sing the praises of redemption of TV and saw dollar signs. The only thing “Spirit in the Sky” set Greenbaum up with was a life without work (he admits as much to the New York Times here).

Guitarist Russell DaShiell, then with the under-rated band Crowfoot, provided the memorable fuzzy guitar work that drives “Spirit in the Sky”. He recorded three albums with Crowfoot, one solo record and worked here and there as a session guitarist (notable a favorite of Laura’s, Tom Fogerty’s kickass solo album Myopia). Greenbaum, who long ago sold the rights to his single hit, still pockets five figures every time Hollywood puts “Spirit in the Sky” in some dumbass movie, but DaShiell gets nothing. It may be true that the Lord takes care of old folks and fools, but he’s overlooking one old man and overcompensating another, if you ask me.

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George Harrison, too, phonied his way into top ten standing (all the way to #1) – “My Sweet Lord”, one of his first post-Beatles singles, borrowed substantially from the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine”, leading to a long legal conflict ending with Harrison’s lawyer buying the rights to the Chiffon’s song.

But it’s controversies didn’t end there, as the uppity set couldn’t stomach the “Hare Krishna” mantra over which the song’s back nine are laid. Harrison was a follower of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and not a Christian, leaving “My Sweet Lord” like so many of the Savior’s top ten hits: Indelibly tainted. As a “George guy” myself, I have always heard in “My Sweet Lord” the best of intentions, and the album from which it came – All Things Must Pass – helped me through the grief and depression that followed my brother’s death. I think it is one of the great albums of it’s era.

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(“Jesus is Just All Right” by the Byrds and by the Doobie Brothers)

My brother, incidentally, was a musical sort of guy in a semi-serious sort of way. He loved to sing, especially compulsively repetitive songs. “Jesus is Just All Right” by the Doobie Brothers was a favorite. It was actually first done by the Art Reynolds Singers, and earlier covered by the Byrds (creeping into the charts at #97). The Doobie’s rockin’ version reached #35 a few years later.

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It’s not clear the one lighting up Debby Boone’s life was Jesus, but Marge Simpson says so and I’m not one to argue with television’s awesomest blue-haired mom. It’s a cover of a song from the movie You Light Up My Life, originally sung by Kacey Cisyk. I never much liked it or understood why it was such a big hit, but I have to admit she sings the hell out of that song.

If indeed the Lord is lighting up her life (and why the hell not?) it’s the longest He sat atop the world He holds in His hands (ten weeks at #1).

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“Jesus Walks” took the Son of God back up the chart (to #11) in 2004, courtesy of Kanye West and a well-worked sample from the ARC Choir’s “Walk with Me”. West laments that he can sing about anything – “guns, sex, lies, videotape” – except Jesus.

If I talk about God, then my record won’t get played
Huh?

Somebody, somewhere, has downloaded Neil Sedaka’s 1960 single “Stairway to Heaven” and been super, super disappointed. This playlist is for that guy.

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“Lean on Me” by Harry Belafonte with Machito & his Orchestra

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“Mother’s Little Helper” by the Sinfoneta di Milana, under the direction of William Gunther – from the popular album already featured here on the Hymie’s blog, Music to Make Housework Easier

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“Candle in the Wind” by George McCannon III

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“Communication Breakdown” by Junior Giscombe

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“Time after Time” by Jim Nabors

pink cadillac

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“Pink Cadillac” by Rusty Draper

 

It’s tough to be a bee. People are always shooing you away and screaming when you come around to say hello, and you’re just trying to do your job. And its an important job, too. According to a UN study quoted by Bee Guardian (here) our little black and yellow friends pollinate seventy percent of  the 100 crops that supply food to ninety percent of the world. Thats a complicated fact with a lot of numbers but also really stunning when you think about it. So the next time you see a bee, pat him on his little head and say ‘thanks!’ or better yet sing him a song…

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“Honey Bee” by Tom Petty

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“Honey Bee” by Muddy Waters

 

bone 1bone 2

(Images from Bone #7, February 1994 – Fone Bone discovers the bees in the mysterious valley are larger than expected)

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“Honey from the Bee” and “Love Buzz” by Willie and the Bees

 

Sting in this old Bee by Hank Thompson

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“A Sleepin’ Bee” by the Bill Evans Trio

trio 64

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“Never Swat a Fly” by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band

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“Don’t Bug Me Baby” by Milton Allen

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“Love Bug Crawl” by Jimmy Edwards

If you and your new bee friend settle in for a visit you could invite him for tea (with honey, of course). While visiting on your patio, show him the greatest website ever made, he’s sure to enjoy seeing it.

honey bee

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“Honey Bee” by Billy Myles

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“Honey Bee” by Lee Pepper and his Orchestra

back in your life

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“Buzz Buzz Buzz” and “Hey There Little Insect” by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers

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B Side by Loudon Wainwright III

I had a conversation about country music with one of our regular customers the other day that stuck with me. He and I share a lot of the same favorites, but when it came to Jimmie Rodgers he said, “I like the way he yodels, but does he have to yodel so goddamn much?!”

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“Blue Yodel #3 (Evening Sun)” by Jimmie Rodgers

My friend also told me that he had watched a television documentary about yodeling (you can find anything on cable these days) and it made absolutely no mention of country yodeling. Rodgers’ singing style, of course, was one of the most influential to come out of the depression era, and you can hear it in generations of performers since, from later legends like Lefty Frizell (who did a tribute album in 1951) and Merle Haggard (whose tribute album came out a couple decades later) to the Cactus Blossoms’ Page Burkum, who can yodel awfully fine himself, although he doesn’t do it very often.

There are, unfortunately, no yodels on the Cactus Blossoms’ first album (hear it here). Maybe there will be on their next album. The song I’d like to hear them play would be “My Lovin’ Gal Lucille” (ie “Blue Yodel #2). Here’s a recording from the 30s by the Rhythm Wreckers.

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“Blue Yodel #2 (My Lovin Gal Lucille)” by the Rhythm Wreckers

Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodels” are a national treasure, as much a part of our cultural heritage as the bullshit they made you memorize in junior high school about minutemen or the Boston tea party. Jimmie Rodgers is high culture now, in one of the most ironic of ironic transformations.

What could possibly be more ridiculous than hipsters looking for Jimmie Rodgers records…
Maybe this…

4f55ea3c558fe-Yodeling-In-HiFi-500x483

Electric Guitar

George Barnes is credited with the first recorded performance on the electric guitar, playing the new instrument on two tracks by Big Bill Broonzy. His performance predated Eddie Durham’s recording with Count Basie’s Kansas City Five by fifteen days – a stupid distinction because Durham’s recording is so much more interesting. In fact, the very best of the early innovators in the history of the electric guitar were jazz musicians, most of all Charlie Christian who was first recorded six years later.

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(“Wholly Cats” by the Benny Goodman Sextet)

Amplification shifted the guitarist from the rhythm section to the forefront of the jazz ensemble, but Charlie Christian’s few recordings are remarkable because he was already ahead of the new fold, preforming a primordial bebop on the guitar before the horns had even imagined it.

Charlie Christian, taken by tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five, finally got his due in the early 70s when Columbia compiled his best solos into a double disc set called Solo Flight: The Genius of Charlie Christian. The set exemplified all the best of 70s archival LP releases – great sound, great selections, great notes. It also highlighted a previously overlooked innovator in the short-lived Christian, who was taken by tuberculosis at the age of 25 in 1941.

Representing Christian’s contribution to the development of the electric guitar are “Wholly Cats” from a 1940 Benny Goodman session that also featured Count Basie on piano (up above) and a roarin’ take on “I Got Rhythm”, which Charlie Christian recorded with a quintet here in Minneapolis in 1940:

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(“I Got Rhythm” by the Charlie Christian Quintet)

Electric Sitar

Dozens of bands – from Yes and Genesis to the Clash and Van Halen – have used an electric sitar for color and effect. The instrument is actually closer to a guitar than a sitar, being built and fretted in a way familiar to guitarists. Most still have a “buzz bridge” to help recreate the sitar’s distinctive sound, and many also retain the sitar’s “sympathetic strings” although the electric sitar does not generate enough resonance to create the rich sound “sympathetic strings” add to a traditional sitar’s tableau.

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(“Don’t You Try to be my Baby” by Moonquake)

Joe South played an electric sitar on “Games People Play”. He is one of the most underrated innovators of his era, and we’ve already written about his awesome-ness before (click here to read it) – so I chose a track by the short-lived prog group Moonquake instead. The electric sitar is played by Havaness Hagopian,

Electric Saxophone

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(“Listen Here” by Eddie Harris)

Eddie Harris is heard here performing on the Veritone, an electronically amplified saxophone introduced by Selmer in 1965. Controls put a variety of effects at the performers fingertips, including an echo, tone control and – significant in this recording – an octave divider.

Harris reworked “Listen Here” several times in the several years that followed the success of The Electrifying Eddie Harris – My favorite record by Eddie Harris, The Reason I’m Talking Shit, features some great work on the instrument (sampled by De La Soul in “I Be Blowin'” years later – although most of the album is actually Eddie Harris talking shit).

Electric Cello

The Twin Cities own Aaron Kerr (the Sleeper Pins, the Swallows, JazZen) performs as often on the electric cello as on acoustic instruments, and often in unique settings.

His instrumental collaboration with the Swallows, Dissonant Creatures, captures the surprisingly big sound that comes from the small instrument.

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(“Doctor Phibes” by Aaron Kerr and Swallows)

Electric Violin

It’s not really fair to everyone else to end with a track from this album – Violinski’s first album was distinguished on the cover for it’s inclusion of ELO’s Mik Kaminski, but it’s not really as awesome as an ELO album. Here is the title track, “No Cause for Alarm” – Kaminski is featured on the Barcus-Berry electric violin, which I think was actually blue.

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