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We love to follow up on past posts, and today’s is a sequel to this one about albums by little brothers. We found a few more — the first of which is by Mick Jagger’s younger brother Chris. He made three albums in the early 70s, and again returned to recording with a new album in 1994 and several since. In the interim, Jagger was an investor in the Staccato Guitar Company.
This Frank Stallone album was such an awesome find we had to share two songs. We had no idea he made music until we came across this copy. According to the hype sticker on the jacket, “Far From Over” was a hit. We thought this was hype sticker hyperbole until we looked it up: “Far From Over,” from the soundtrack to Staying Alive, reached Billboard’s top ten in 1983. The version heard here was re-mixed for Stallone’s self-titled debut album, which also produced a second song to reach the Hot 100 chart.
Frank Stallone starred in a short-lived sitcom with fellow celebrity siblings Don Swayze and Joey Travolta, but he’s actually done a lot more than just be Sly’s little brother. Frank Stallone has an official website that you know you want to see, and on it we learned that he will send you an autograph if you send him a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Louise Goffin is the daughter of songwriting team Carole King and Jerry Goffin, born in 1960 when they were still married. She made her debut performance opening for Jackson Browne after having sung backing vocals on several of her mother’s albums. Not long after her first album, Kid Blue, was released. The record was produced by Danny Kortchmar, Carole King’s guitarist and onetime bandmate in her first group, the City.
For today we have the music of a composer who was largely unknown until late in his life. Conlon Nancarrow was born in Texarkana, Arkansas but spent most of his life living in Mexico. His early musical education included a stint as a trumpeter in a jazz band and studies with eminent American composers Roger Sessions, Walter Piston and others. He left Boston at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War to join the XV International Brigade (the famed “Abraham Lincoln brigade”) in fighting the fascist Francisco Franco. Uncomfortable in the United States after his release from the Gurs internment camp in France, Nancarrow fled to Mexico City where he made his home and returned to his study of music.
Having found performances of his complex compositions unreliable and inspired by Henry Cowell’s polyrhythmic theory in the book New Musical Resources, Nancarrow took an interest in composing for the player piano. With an inheritance he returned to New York City in 1947 to acquire a custom piano roll punching machine and began to produce by hand rolls which carried his compositions. The work was so slow that some of his Studies for Player Piano which last only a few minutes took more than a year to program.
The player piano can “perform” at speeds far beyond human ability, allowing Nancarrow to create previously unimaginable polyrhythmic structures in his Studies. At the same time, player pianos are unable to produce tones with the delicacy of human fingers, and pound out the notes in a furious fortissimo. Nancarrow accommodated for this challenge by adapting his two Ampico player pianos — covering the hammers of one with metal and in the other with leather in a manner familiar to followers of Henry Cowell of John Cage.
Nancarrow’s work with the player piano presages much of the early explorations into electronic composition (such as the music in this post from May). He would later admit that if he had waited a little longer to begin his work he would have taken an interest in electronics. His Studies for Player Piano evolve over the years from the first several which bear the mark of Art Tatum’s advanced stride piano technique to complex canons with entirely idiosyncratic rhythmic ratios.
The release of an album of his Studies in 1969 brought some attention, but he continued to work in isolation into the 1970s. He was not even known to Mexican musicians and composers. The work of two American avant garde composers began to bring about Nancarrow’s rise to recognition. The first was minimalist composer Peter Garland, who started publishing Nancarrow’s scores in 1976, and the second was Charles Amirkhanian, then the musical director of a listener-funded Berkeley, California radio station one might compare to Minneapolis’ own KFAI. Amirkhanian recorded the complete Studies for Player Piano on Nancarrow’s player pianos under the composer’s supervision and released them on four volumes on his record label, 1750 Arch.
The first of these volumes is presented here today. These records are out of print, but there is a CD box set which collects them all. A couple later CD sets collect the late Studies composed after the recording of the 1740 Arch albums. Amirkhanian’s extensive notes contain enticing details about Nancarrow’s works, as well as a photograph of an unfinished pneumatic percussion machine which was to perform the work of an ensemble from programmed rolls.
One of the most enthusiastic acolytes of Nancarrow’s music was György Ligeti, the Hungarian composer best known to American audiences through the frequent use of his music in Stanley Kubrick’s films. Legeti discovered these albums in a record shop while, according to one story, looking for albums of his own, and they were an inspiration for his own landmark Etudes. In a television documentary, Ligeti said of Nancarrow, “His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed, but at the same time emotional … for me it’s the best music of any composer living today.”
We wonder when the “just say no” songs will shift their focus from crack to opioids. Then again, there was this album of celebrity PSAs way back in the day.
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’re pretty excited to see the Yawpers at 7th Street Entry on Friday. Their 2015 album American Man didn’t live up to the praise we’d heard poured on the trio, but this year’s Boy in a Well has become the subject of fascination around here. Why do we love this album so much? The record ostensibly tells the story of an unwanted boy abandoned in a well and is set in France during the first World War, but its not the rock opera aspirations with which we have fallen in love. In fact, we haven’t really figured out the story — but then again can you really explain the plot of Tommy without sounding dumb (bam, pun intended) or do you just like what you hear?
Boy in a Well is an absolutely magical amalgam of Americana. Rockabilly roots run alongside all the things we secretly love about hair metal. Some of the songs start or end in standard American folk music but take surprising turns along the journey. One of the things that really knocks us out about Boy in a Well is the incredibly inventive performance of drummer Noah Shomberg, who shifts genres with grace and really drives the connections which establish the album’s concept. He’s so damn good you can almost forgive them for being one of those bands without a bass. Lead singer Nathanial Cook, who turns from Jimmie Rodgers to Axl Rose as a born storyteller, couldn’t have realized his vision without Shomberg and second guitarist Jesse Parmat.
Bloodshot is releasing a 7-inch single of “Mon Dieu” from the album backed with a live recording of the band covering “Ace of Spades” next month. There will also be a comic book adaptation of the album which was previewed by Paste Magazine here. Truthfully, the ten page sample reminded us that even though we have listened to this album fifty times, we have no idea what the plot of the story is — it looks like the love child of R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural and Joe Sacco’s comic journalism and we love it.
The album was recorded by Alex Hall at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders. In the same studio Hall also captured what we think could justifiably be called one of the most beloved Minnesota records of the decade, the Cactus Blossoms’ You’re Dreaming. In addition, local legend Tommy Stinson served as producer and also contributed a “piano freakout” to the recording. The point is that these guys aren’t from here, but they should be welcomed with open arms.
Boy in a Well is maybe about a half hour long but it moves with an epic sweep in spite of Shomberg’s barrelhouse performance. Cook’s performance is so extraordinary that it is hard to believe there are not a half dozen or more vocalists on this album, and Parmat captures a true sense of everything Americana from Scotty Moore to Poison Ivy. Memorable riffs and motifs blur pass like power poles through the window of a train, and we have been entranced by the album’s epic tour of everything we love about rock and roll and all its bastard cousins.
The song we’ve sampled here is “Mon Nom,” from the second side. We couldn’t pick a favorite song from this album — in fact it was the focus of debate around here. The achingly beautiful “A Visitor is Welcomed” just wasn’t representative, nor was the mad and driven “A Decision is Made,” which precedes it. It’s just a damn good record from beginning to end, which is surprisingly rare these days. You can also hear the sweeping closer “Reunion” in its official music video here. Presumably the Yawpers will be playing many of these songs on Friday night at the 7th Street Entry. Locals the Person and the People will open. Details on the First Avenue website here.
One of our customers is a fan of John Prine, and came into the shop last week to report on his recent performance at Northrop Auditorium. Aside from the constant requests shouted by the audience, it was a great evening. She said she was happy with his setlist. We expected he would perform “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone,” but apparently he did’t.
We mistakenly thought he had never released a live album, but in fact there are two. The first, thirty years ago, included “Sabu” and also a number of his most well-known hits. The second, twenty years ago, had fewer of his early classics (though it did include “Illegal Smile”) and presumably was a CD only release. And forty-four years ago (!) Prine included one live song on his third album, Sweet Revenge. “Dear Abby” has always been a favorite of ours.