Scientists with the LIGO Collaboration (Lazer Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) at Louisiana State and Washington State Universities have announced the documentation of gravitational waves. The discovery — which was recorded as a chirping sound rising to a middle C before suddenly ceasing — will, if replicated, prove the final postulate of Einstein’s theory of relativity, first proposed a hundred years ago.
There is sound in space, which is what Sun Ra spent decades telling help us understand.
You can read more about the discovery here. Without hyperbole, reporters have said if proven, the discovery will be the greatest sound advance in science since Sputnik was heard from orbit, and Alexander Graham Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here.”
Jackson Browne released in 2014 (his fourteenth for those counting) which sold well, was reviewed well, but received little attention here at Hymie’s. There is still a copy left from our original order, but also one which finds its way back to a turntable once in a while. This week we put Standing in the Breach on the platter because its remarkable how little Jackson Browne has changed over the years.
For contrast, consider David Bowie. While we focused on his ambition and perseverance early in his career when we posted about his passing (here), the common thread of eulogies for the Thin White Duke was his capacity for reinvention. The phrase “chameleon-like” was used more often in print than ever before. Not so with Browne, whose voice may be a little wearier but hasn’t changed. Neither has the sound of his songs, let alone their subject. Personalizing the political, and politicizing the personal, Standing in the Breach sounds undeniably like The Pretender. What’s different is that while the latter seems on the breach of despair, the former seems more like a friendly farewell.
Take “Leaving Winslow” for instance. This song came to mind last month — it was probably a mistake to share this clip from a Jeff Bridges movie after Eagles singer Glenn Frey passed away, but we’ve never been known for our reverence to baby boomer icons. This is probably why we’re more likely to listen to Jackson Browne than the Eagles (who, incidentally, were actually Eagles, not the Eagles, owing to either Frey’s insistence or by some accounts complaints from a band already named the Eagles, possibly best known for this tune covered by Elvis) — Browne has been ambivalent at best about his generation and it’s values.
“Leaving Winslow” is a rollicking, slightly self-depreciating s’long to the “corner in Winslow, Arizona” from the song Browne co-wrote with Frey, then his neighbor, early in 1971. Browne was working on his first album (another misnomer, the self-titled record is commonly called “Saturate Before Using,” because of the text on the original jacket — this is especially amusing when one finds a water-damaged copy of the album). “Take it Easy” was the first Eagles single, an epic hit which established the band and became its signature number. Browne’s reliable fatalism is recognizable in the first verse, and Frey’s fraternity-friendly party pop in what follows. There is, remarkably, a statue of a lonely country rocker looking a little like either on a corner in Winslow, Arizona (if it weren’t for Mary Tyler Moore we’d make fun of the crossroads town for putting up such an absurd monument).
In a well written review of the album for Rolling Stone, Anthony Decurtis describes it as a “conversation between lovers trying to reassure each other of their commitment in a world that devalues human contact of any kind in favor of profit.” It’s a little preachy, but so is every Jackson Browne album.
Standing on the Breach has become one of our favorite Jackson Browne albums. We were surprised to read he had only made fourteen albums — other artists have made twice as many over the same time. We can’t bear to listen to The Pretender (too heartbreaking and too close to home) and as people who rarely travel Running on Empty is only relevant to our lives in that line from the title track: “Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive / Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive.” Our favorites of his records are the first and I’m Alive, which was released in 1993. In these and this latest he’s approached the world with his usual pessimism, but also a sense of responsibility. We’re not allowed to give up because there are people counting on us. Sometimes its a hard road, sometimes we have to take the long way around.
Love Unlimited were Barry White’s backup singers — two sisters and a cousin — who became a successful act on their own in the middle 70s. This single from their second album, Under the Influence of Love Unlimited, seemed perfect for this week, at least as far as the happily married couple who run your friendly neighborhood record shop are concerned.
We hope you’re staying warm too, and while we’ve been tempted to have a ‘snow day’ the doors at the record shop are still open every day at 11.
Anyway, the best part was getting to share some artists we really have been listening to. The most recent of these was online earlier last year, but we only heard it shortly before the band’s release show at 7th Street Entry in December. That’s Time Will Come by Tabah, a five piece band who caught our ear with a tight live set which was more of an Allman Brothers-type jam than their EP.
Guitarist and singer Cecelia Erholtz has a captivating stage presence, but its the clear camaraderie that makes the quintet such a great live act. Erholtz’s delivery of the dense lyrics reminded us of 70s folkie Joan Armatrading — the EP’s opener, “Curtain Call,” called to mind “Down to Zero” but Armatrading never had a backing band as bright and inventive as Tabah.
Elsewhere on the EP is the guitars and organ which take center stage, as in the driving riff of “Myth,” where second guitarist Jeff Ley and keyboardist Andrew Seitz help propel the track. This song also includes a very satisfying bass and drums interlude that highlights the rhythm section of Charlie Bruber and Murphy Janssen. “Wargasm” is the song you can hear here, which was the one we chose to share on the Current last week — you can hear the whole EP on the band’s Bandcamp page here. Our only complaint is what we often say about EPs, we wish Time Will Come were longer. Hymie’s is definitely known for having band crushes, and this is our latest. We can’t wait to hear more from them.
In August 1927, Victor Records sent thirty-five year old Ralph Peer to the town of Bristol on the Tennessee-Virginia border with a carload of recording gear. There he leased a former furniture shop and set up a studio, where he began to recorded performers who were known to the label. They also held open auditions, and when a local paper published how much money Ernest V. Stoneman and his band had made singing country music, they were flooded with amateur talent.
“The Bristol sessions,” as they’ve come to be called, provide us with a rare opportunity to hear history as it happens. These recordings represent the birth of the American country music tradition, and with them Peer “discovered” two of the most significant stars in the emerging genre: the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.
Highlights from the seventy-six recordings Ralph Peer made at 408 State Street in Bristol can be found on this double LP collection. Ernest Stoneman had already made as many as a hundred records for various companies by 1927, and he was the biggest name to visit Peer’s makeshift studio. Peer had previously met A.P. Carter and made plans to record he and his wife, Sara. Along for the ride was eighteen year old Maybelle.
One of the songs the Carters recorded with Peer was “Married Girl, Single Girl,” a song Sara said she had learned from a boy in Russell County around 1905. This is a song we have since heard performed several times by Corpse Reviver, a local trio who perform songs heard on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.
Young Maybelle is, of course, remembered today as Mother Maybelle Carter, and her three daughters (Helen, June and Anita) would become a successful act in the 1940s and 50s as the Carter Sisters. Those recordings made on August 1st, 1927 launched the first country music dynasty.
On August 4th, Jimmie Rodgers arrived to record with Peer after having auditioned earlier. He and his band had a disagreement the night before and so Rodgers arrived alone (some account claim the argument was over how they would be billed on their record, and other accounts suggest it had to do with Rodgers having sold a guitar which didn’t belong to him). He was paid $100 for recording two songs, which were later released as a single by Bluebird Records.
While Jimmie Rodgers has long held the title “Father of Country Music,” the honorific might also be applied to Peer, who several years earlier engineered the earliest country music recording. That was a single by Fiddlin’ John Carson, which was recorded in Atlanta on June 19, 1923.
Peer also recorded a seminal blues recording in 1920: “Crazy Blues” by Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds. This single, also issued by Okeh, sold at least 75,000 copies in its first month. The word “blues” had appeared in many song titles before, but this is generally considered the first record marketed as the blues, even though it doesn’t follow the chord structure we associate with the genre today.
The Bristol Sessions reflect Peer’s interest in what he called “holy roller music.” He recorded gospel songs by Blind Alfred Reed (best known for writing “How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?” which appears on volume 4 of the Harry Smith anthology), Alfred G. Karnes and Ernest Phipps, a Pentecostal preacher. The recordings also reflect the importance gospel music had on the developing genre of country music.
Peer was a shrewd businessman, and ran a publishing company called Southern Music Publishing. His list of clients included Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and classical composer Charles Ives. Southern also controlled the publishing for Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on my Mind.” Peer continued to run his publishing company, which was later re-named Peermusic, but devoted much of his time in his later years to gardening.
We love out-take collections which give an extra look into our favorite albums. This track from The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal sounds like it came from the same recording session as his 1968 album, The Natch’l Blues. That is one of our favorite albums of all time.
The only problem with this collection is that there’s no liner notes, so it’s hard to tell when the songs were recorded, or who may have played on them.
“All I really need is a friend” sings Fletcher Magellan about halfway through Became A Stranger, an album set throughout the frontiers of American history.
The title fits — making a sentence like The Suicide Commandos Make A Record, for the lack of a better local example– because through eleven tunes Fletcher Magellan finds himself rejected, dejected, rendered homeless and hanged. A stranger indeed.
We can’t help but think of Hank Williams’ ironically familiar “I’m a Stranger Here” which, were it not for his black mare, would be about as timeless as a country tune can be. Some of the songs on Became A Stranger are just as anchored by details, while others have an any time/any place quality. At its best the disc is a thumb-burning collection of short stories, and even at its worst a success: an inventive pastiche of the country tradition, somewhere between friendly Tex Ritter and brooding “cosmic American music.”
We’ve heard a few of Fletcher Magellan’s songs so many times over several years they’ve become familiar, but they haven’t sounded as rounded out as on this new album. By day Fletcher Magellan is Cody Fitzpatrick, Old Fashioned Records engineer and drummer for the apparently defunct circus troupe El Le Faunt. His studio skills come in handy throughout the self-produced album, which relies on a variety of instrumentation to paint the scenery.
The album’s most enjoyable period piece is “Olive Green,” which finds Fletcher falling for a lady blacksmith. It’s also the only happy ending to be found in Became A Stranger. Arranged around nearly every trail song cliche known — pay attention to what drummer Jordan Hedlund is doing in this tune, not to mention the guitar line Don Rich would have loved –Fitzpatrick’s delivery is rightfully wry. This gem of a tune reminds us you can still teach an old dog new tricks.
Where “Olive Green” rides like a lighter trail song from the Marty Robbins catalog, “His Right Hand” is a darker western tale, more Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven than John Huston’s. The presence of these songs, some set in the 1970s as surely as the 1870s, lends a timeless quality to other songs like “Larry’s Lament,” which finds Fitzpatrick singing the line which we used to open this post.
You can hear the whole album on Bandcamp here after its release this weekend, and the songs work best together rather than singled out, again like a collection of short stories. On of our favorites is “Grant’s Farm,” apparently an eminent domain dispute which leads to a presumed assault on Ulysses S. Grant. Like “Olive Green” it’s a little tongue in cheek, but entertainingly set. The honky tonk piano played by Marc Bromaghim is especially helpful in setting the scene.
Written with John Prine’s self-depreciating swagger, the solo song “Like to Think” might serve as a suitable epitaph for the various outcasts and outlaws on Became A Stranger. Some are likable, some not so much. “I like to think I’m better above ground,” sings Fitzpatrick in its last verse, “But uncertainty clings to me with the whole world crumbling down / I like to think I’m better above ground.” So much is the fate of Charles Guiteau, hardly a household name today but once, through the winter of 1881-2, just about the most despised bastard in America during the winter of 1881 as President James Garfield lay dying from the bullet Guiteau placed in his back.
Fitzpatrick is not the fist to write a song about the assassin — the earliest recorded version appears on Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music — but his is one of the kindest, clinging closely to Guiteau’s death poem. Whatever the reason for his affection, the spiritual serves as a farewell for Fletcher Magellan, who heads somewhere else after these eleven songs we suppose.
We read over breakfast about the FBI’s arrest of those occupying Federal property on a national wildlife refuge in Oregon. At least one of the anti-government activists (read: domestic terrorist) was killed. Not really so different from Charles Guiteau or the would-be assassin in Fletcher Magellan’s “Grant’s Farm,” Robert LaVoy Finicum lived by the gun and died by it, like a character from the old west. Somewhere under his zealotry there’s a story, and there’s a longstanding tradition of telling those stories through song here in America. Like nearly everyone else in this country, we won’t mourn Finicum’s death, but rather the circumstances he created which led to the end of the standoff last night. Some people write songs about the old west, and others are trying to bring us back to there.
We’re proud of our friend for finishing his album after all his hard work. 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.” Fitzgerald’s Fletcher Magellan isn’t likely to let the grass grow under his feet, but there’s no doubt he hasn’t told his tale.