Songs

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ridgetop westernairesThis great single on Jet-Tone Records is an early recording by Wayne Hancock, whose tireless touring justifies his reputation as a modern day Hank Williams or Bob Wills. Hancock calls his recent records “juke joint swing” — a combination of honky tonk, western swing and rockabilly.

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“Looking for Better Days”

Hancock is one of the latest in a long line of outlaw characters recording for Bloodshot Records, who celebrated their twentieth anniversary last fall with a great compilation album of covers from their catalog (we posted Charlie Parr performing “Manifold” at the time).

And we love this song, which is tradition of fairly-well tunes like Woody Guthrie’s “So Long Its Been Good to Know Yuh.” When you don’t have the option of up and leavin’ it’s helps a little to hear someone singing about it.

When we first encountered the evolving creature Panther Ray, the band was knee deep in the hazy golden era of psychedelic rock, and we described their formative live sets as being pulled fourfold in different directions. Around the same time Dave described them as the Twin Cities’ “new psychedelic rock hope” in a story for the City Pages‘ local music blog. It might have been a long time coming but the release of the band’s formal debut, Ripple, lives up to any lofty expectations.

panther ray

Ripple runs frantically through eleven tracks with minimal spacing, placing the jingle jangle combination of electric twelve-string and strung out fuzz of their early EPs into a more modern lo-fi foundation. We have loved this band through its steady evolution for its innate ability to build arrangements around memorable pop hooks and Ripple is filled with them — some, like “Speaking to a Tone” and the standout track “I Want You” strike a chord with their pre-psychedelia pop roots (we should mention here that you can hear the entire album on their bandcamp page here). Others fuse this with fuzz, feedback and studio experimentation without leaving melody on the floor.

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“Don’t Hold Me Down”

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“I Want You”

It’s a guitar-driven record in more ways than most recent local releases, and filled with so many unexpected, inventive moments that things still leap out on the tenth or twentieth listen. Local label Forged Artifacts put forward “Get To You,” with its sweeping seventies solos, as a single, but the tracks which caught our ear were the reverb-rich “Natural Girl” and “Inside Out,” where guitarists Dan Ries and Hannah Porter are awesomely eerie.

 

 

 

 

Ripple‘s largely anonymous vocals alternate between Ries and Porter, with bassist Andy Rockwood providing some support (he was a founding member along with Ries). The effect is at first alienating, but increasingly fits with the album’s fusion of fuzz and pop. Our favorite tracks capture the most interesting combination of these.

We were late to post about this album when it was first released, but Panther Ray has been playing pretty often in the Twin Cities for some time now. Their next show is Thursday night at the Kitty Cat Club in Dinkytown along with Graveyard Club.

Everyone here at your friendly neighborhood record store loves local songwriter and bandleader Gabe Barnett, which is why his album Old As the Stars was included near the top of our list of favorite albums of 2014. Barnett has a way of placing contemporary ideas into classic arrangements which makes him equal parts folk troubadour and bonafide crooner a la Crosby. The best of Barnett’s songs cut to the bone, a quality which hits home here at Hymie’s.

He’s just released a new single with an ‘electrified’ version of his backing group, Them Rounders — just in time for the band’s July residency at the 331 Club in Northeast. They’ll be there each Thursday night with a great bill of guests.

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“Old Dogs”

We’ve always offered a 15% discount on pride weekend, but with the recent Supreme Court decision it seems like this year it’s more special than ever.

Probably, there are more appropriate pride-themed records we could post but we’ve always been fans of the Dynamic Superiors. Lead singer Tony Washington expressed his homosexuality in a way which went beyond the fairly timid early 70s standards at Motown. The group waited a decade for their break, and didn’t waste it with several hit off the four albums they made for the label — all of which were ahead of their time. We think they’re the single most under-rated Motown group.

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 “Romeo”

Their biggest hit was “Shoe Shoe Shine” — one of the best new songs to come out of the seventies throwback to doo wop and vocal groups. This performance from Soul Train captures the group’s showmanship and old-fashioned devotion.

Our favorite Dynamic Superiors songs is “Nobody’s Gonna Change Me.” We never really understood why it hasn’t been adopted as an anthem, except that its not as catchy as “I Will Survive.” The group’s performances (check the choreography in that Soul Train appearance!) and class were legendary. Washington passed away in anonymity in the early 80s — we were told someone somewhere in Hollywood was working on a biopic about him.

In the meantime we have some records: four on Motown and one on another label. It wouldn’t be fair to pigeonhole the group as a “gay group,” but Washington is an unrecognized icon. Also, their albums were some of the best stuff Motown released in the mid 70s.

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“Nobody’s Gonna Change Me” by the Dynamic Superiors

sesame street liveWe love Sesame Street Live because there’s a few reasons its a rarity in the Sesame Street catalog: for starters it was the last to be originally issued by Columbia Records (all subsequent releases were on CTW’s own Sesame Street imprint). It features the only appearance on album of the second Gordon, Hal Miller, who sings “Show Me How You Feel.” Miller was replaced by Roscoe Orman soon after, and Orman still plays the role today. We’ve already posted the most well-known album by the original Gordon, Matt Robinson, here.

The last reason Sesame Street Live is a special album is this song performed by Emilio Delgado, who has appeared on the program as Luis since 1971.

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Luis runs the Fix It shop on Sesame Street with his wife Maria, and we love him because he’s a family man and small business owner. He seems to love his work even when he’s surrounded by broken toasters. He is also remarkable as certainly the longest-appearing Mexican American on television. Surprisingly, Luis hardly ever appears on the more than sixty albums in the classic Sesame Street catalog of the seventies and eighties. He makes up for it with this positive song written by Sesame Street’s musical genius, Joe Raposo.

 

Duke Ellington conducted a septet drawn from his famous orchestra through “Pigeons and Peppers” in 1938 and the tune was released on a 78rpm single by Okeh Records. It’s been anthologized on a couple large collections of his late 30s small group recordings but hardly saw release on LP (you’ll have to find a Swedish compilation of Cootie Williams tracks to hear it at 33⅓). It’s hardly the only recording by the prolific bandleader to slip into relative obscurity, but this one is of particular interest.

“Pigeons and Peppers” is the first song written by his son, Mercer Kennedy Ellington, to be recorded. He was eighteen at the time. A year later Mercer launched the first of several big bands he’d lead over the years. At one time or another many great musicians played in the Mercer Ellington orchestra: Dizzy, Mingus, Chico Hamilton, Carmen McRae, trumpeter Idrees Sulieman.

Mercer often returned to work for his father’s orchestra, writing songs in the early 40s (including orchestra favorites “Jumpin’ Pumpkin” and “Things Ain’t What the Used to Be”), managing the operation in the 50s and at various times performing on alto sax and trumpet. In 1975 he kept the late Duke’s memory alive with the first of two European tours by the orchestra.

We regard Mercer Ellington’s 1975 album Continuum as the final document of the legendary Ellington Orchestra — the record is, notably, the last recording of Harry Carney, the baritone saxophonist who’s distinctive character is entirely inseparable from the Orchestra’s legacy. When Ellington had passed away in May 1974, Carney lamented: “This is the worst day of my life. Without Duke I have nothing to live for.” Four months later he was reunited with his lifelong friend and we can only imagine the beautiful music they’ve made together lazily driving around together up their in heaven.

Mercer Ellington lived until 1996. He conducted his father’s music on Broadway (in Sophisticated Ladies) and his mid-80s effort, Digital Duke, won a large jazz ensemble Grammy. Mercer also produced the debut of Queenie Pie, Ellington’s street opera left unfinished in 1974 and seen by many as the greatest of his “lost” works. As the Duke was dying, he and Mercer worked together on another unfinished project, Les Trois Rois Noir (“The Three Black Kings”) first written around 1971 when the Orchestra was in the spiritual throes of its Sacred Concerts.

The first of Ellington’s three kings represented his interest in the traditional representation of Balthazar, the youngest of the Magi who has been depicted as an African King for centuries. Ellington noted his appearance in a stained glass representation of the nativity in Barcelona’s Cathedral Del Mar when his Orchestra performed a Sacred Concert there. The second King is Solomon. Notably, months after Ellington strove to complete Les Trois Rois Noir before he left us, the heir to the Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia, Haille Selassie was deposed by the Derg, a military council. Whether or not he was assassinated while interred is still undetermined.

The third is Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who the Duke had already celebrated in life in My People, a sweeping work which celebrated racial unity in 1963. One tune was “King Fit the Battle of Bama.” When Ellington later met the Reverend (a moving account of this momentous meeting can be seen and heard here) he had the Orchestra perform that piece.

ellington three black kingsMercer Ellington completed Les Trois Rois Noir from his father’s notes. He along with the Ellington Orchestra performed it with the Yale Symphony Orchestra, and later made this recording with the Warsaw Symphony. Mercer wrote of that performance, that “we could feel [the audience’s] participation increasing until the audience and the musicians seemed to be of one spirit. This unity began to accelerate and grow and continued in its momentum until we reached the climactic ending that resulted in one of the most spectacular experiences that had ever taken place in that hall.”

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There are so many songs about rainstorms big and small, it is probably one of the most common themes in pop music. Often times it’s used to set a sad mood, as in this playlist of tunes we posted in 2011. This morning’s gentle drizzle is just what our garden needed, so we’re thankful for it even if it’s going to keep us inside for much of a Saturday.

de ole folks at home

There are, in fact, many happy songs about rain — a favorite of everyone’s is the singin’ in the rain scene in Singin’ in the Rain.

Another, for anyone who has heard the album, is “Light Rain Blues.” It’s on De Ole Folks at Home, the second half of Taj Mahal’s 1971 electric/acoustic double LP.

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“Light Rain Blues” by Taj Mahal

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