“Beautiful, Bountiful Minnesota” by John A. Castor of Crookston, Minnesota. A one-sided acetate; the singer is not identified.
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It’s been several years since Jake Manders released his self-titled album, which quickly became a favorite around here for its rootsy melodies and colloquial themes — each song seems to have a story behind it, but Manders is the sort of storyteller who leaves some details out to tempt your imagination. And that’s what kept us listening.
Just last summer we posted that we’ve been waiting too long for another, and it turns out he was recording his second album up in Northeast with Paul Flynn (the awesome engineer who has been doing some great work at The Space with some of our favorite local groups). Now ready to be released this Friday, Manders’ Acoustic Frequency is similar to his first album but the songs feel fuller, and more confident.
“You Could be the One”
On Acoustic Frequency Manders is joined by Gretta Hunstiger, who has been playing fiddle with him for a while, including here at Hymie’s, as well as percussionist Daryn Christensen. There are otherwise fewer guest appearances than on his first album, but the new songs have a faster feel and bigger sound. On the first track, “You Could be the One,” you’re hearing Liz Draper on the upright bass. On one of Manders’ most ambitious songs yet, “I Am,” Erik Struve plays the bow bass. Other songs on the album feature Flynn and Tim Houlihan on dobro.
Manders’ songs are a little denser and darker on this second album, but still have the quiet backstory that piques our interest. Christensen’s thumping bass drum lends an urgency, especially on our favorite track, “Chance Saturday,” which propels itself with an Old World drive, and in the second verse of “Here Today Gone Tomorrow.” Having played with Manders for so long, Hunstiger’s playing fits into his songs intuitively. Her supporting role is sometimes overshadowed by the harmonica, but is pretty essential to the sound of songs like that second one. She also has some standout solos throughout the album, stealing the show in an instrumental number on the second side and closing “Blind to See” with a memorable rising motif.
That song seems to be at the heart of Acoustic Frequency, in which the theme of finding one’s place in the world is placed against Manders’ background as an artist and an art teacher. He approaches the subject with confidence on some songs (“Worth Fighting For”) and anxiety (“Judgements”), but in both setting seems to struggle with the past. The details of the unspoken backstory aren’t important, because the album is about the day to day experience of accepting the person you are and the life you’ve made. Manders’ efforts to live in the moment reminds us of Charlie Parr’s “Over the Red Cedar.”
“My life is now suddenly complete,” he sings in the last song on the album, shortly after wishing he could disappear. Like several earlier songs, “Phantom” is about making peace with the past and moving forward. The song closes with a lovely ensemble arrangement. It’s a great piece of music and a moving conclusion. In “Phantom” Manders sings about walking in his neighborhood, which is also our neighborhood, and even says he’ll “shake it off,” which is awesome. That’s a great idea.
The record release show for Acoustic Frequency is this Friday evening at Patrick’s Cabaret. Baaron (featuring Ben Lubeck and Aaron Markson of Farewell Milwaukee) will open. $10 cover and free cd for the first fifty visitors (the album is also available on LP). Details on the Patrick’s calendar here, and on Facebook here.
“Spock’s Theme,” as heard in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Leonard Nimoy, the actor who indeed wrote books titled I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock, was much more than the pointy-eared green-blooded science officer aboard the USS Enterprise. In an artistic career of more than seventy years he was an actor of surprising range (given the demeanor of his famous character), a poet, a photographer, a philosopher, and a pop singer.
Maybe it’s for the best Nimoy’s legacy won’t be defined by record collectors like us, because his five albums paint a peculiar portrait of the actor, who passed away yesterday at the age of 83.
Nimoy had been ailing from obstructive pulmonary disease, which he attributed to his smoking habit, although he had not lit up since around the time he was directing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Maybe some of the young smokers we know will find a lesson in this and quit, maybe especially those who work here at Hymie’s and just had a baby.
Nimoy’s five goofy albums were all released by Dot Records, which had recently been purchased by the giant corporate conglomeration, Gulf Western, who also swallowed up Lucille Ball’s Desilu Productions, which owned the Star Trek series. His albums were just one of many tie-ins to the series, overseen by a corporation which had previously bought zinc and aluminum importers, the largest cane sugar refinery in the world, and arcade game manufacturer Sega. It’s hard to say how seriously the records were taken.
If there was any doubt, consider the 1967 video of Nimoy singing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” while surrounded by hobbit/Vulcan pixies.
“You Are Not Alone”
The first two present Nimoy in his Spock persona, and the rest stretch towards the easy listening/country sound of the re-branded label. Although Nimoy was a prolific poet, he wrote very few original songs on the albums, which consist mostly of pop and folk standards like “If I Had a Hammer” and John Hartford’s ubiquitous “Gentle on my Mind.” One song from the TV series appears, the one which those crummy Platonians forced him to sing.
The only time Leonard Nimoy had a hit, so to speak, was when Information Society sampled Spock’s voice on “What’s on your Mind (Pure Energy),” which reached #3 in the US in 1988. We’re guessing since this predates the 1992 US Federal Court ruling which established that sampling can constitute copyright infringement (The Biz Markie/Gilbert O’Sullivan case), Nimoy probably wasn’t paid for the use of his voice.
Let’s remember Nimoy as an inspiring artist, poet and actor, and not as a singer — though we’re sure people will be calling the shop looking for his albums this weekend.Just a couple days Nimoy posted a brief poem on his twitter page: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.”
Clark Terry isn’t the only musician associated with Quincy Jones who passed away this month — the other was singer and actress Lesley Gore, whose #1 hit single “It’s my Party” was produced by Jones. It was the first of several hits the two had together.
While also releasing his own big band albums, Jones wrote arrangements for a variety of jazz and pop singers including Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Williams, Billy Eckstine, and Peggy Lee. That’s a pretty impressive resume!
Two of our favorite Peggy Lee albums were arranged by Jones. Blues Cross Country is a fun concept album recorded in 1962, which has Lee and Jones interpreting blues standards set in cities around the country — songs like W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and “Going to Chicago,” which was a Jimmy Rushing tune first recorded with Count Basie’s Orchestra.
“Going to Chicago”
The same year Jones released his only album for Impulse Records, Quintessence, which is one of our favorites. He based his song dedicated to Lena Horne and Lennie Hayton, “For Lena and Lenny,” on “Going to Chicago.” The two sound similar, which led us to wonder whether they were recorded by the same band. Quintessence features an awesome group of soloists, including Phil Woods, trombonist Billy Byers (who we think is especially awesome for having played on this TV theme) and, of course, Clark Terry.
“For Lena and Lenny”
“Good Morning Miss Brown”
Sometimes on a Monday morning we feel just like Taj Mahal at the beginning of The Natch’l Blues. The only cure is, of course, to listen to the rest of the album. Each of the following eight songs is just as good as “Good Morning Miss Brown” — the record is a perfect Monday morning reminder that its a big, beautiful world out there and the only thing between you and a good day is your attitude.
First Rays is a 1978 album by Ray Harlowe and Gyp Fox, independently released on Waterwheel Records. It’s popular with psych rock collectors and has even been reissued a couple times. It’s a treat for fans of Terrapin Station-era Dead, and Bobby Weir in general. You can find the whole album pretty easily on Youtube if that’s a description which fits your taste. The last track, “Gettin’ Keyed,” was featured on the bonus CD inside Enjoy the Experience: Homemade Records 1958-1992, a well-produced book which collects privately-pressed LP jackets of varying quality.
Our favorite is “Go Ahead and Dance,” which sort of reminds us of those underrated post-Morrison Doors albums. The whole album is uptempo, spacey and fun.
“Go Ahead and Dance”
Some people are surprised when they discover Minnesota was sort of the private-pressing capital of the country for much of the period covered in Enjoy the Experience. There’s an independent attitude to Minnesota music in nearly every genre. Some of our independent music became famous, like “Surfin’ Bird,” but most of it is the sort of obscure stuff record collectors love. If you dig through the archives of the Hymie’s blog you’ll find lots of unusual and rare local records, from Music is a Bunch of Notes to a variety of free jazz and fusion.
This is all, of course, a dream to record collectors here in the Twin Cities — at least to the collectors who are interested in hearing new, original music, instead of just looking for a cleaner copy of some boring Led Zeppelin album. This next record is probably even more obscure than First Rays, and so far as we can tell its never been reissued.
What little we’ve found written about these records describes Ghostdance as an inferior followup to First Rays, but we don’t agree. They’re very different albums, and this second seems influenced by the Lou Reed records of the period. Ghostdance came out in 1980, the same year Reed recorded Growing up in Public. The songs are more hippy-themed than First Rays but the production is slicker. There is a quote from the Paiute prophet, Wovoka, whose visions led to the revival of the Ghost Dance in 1890: “You must not fight. Do no harm to anyone. Do right always.”
gyp fox, whose name is uncapitalized on this second album, shreds a little more on Ghostdance, which features some of the same band. He and co-leader James Dean trade off on lead vocals and guitar. We wonder if drummer Eric Berg is related to Bill Berg, who played drums with jazz fusion band Natural Life around the same time and was a regular at sessions at the Sound 80 studio in the seventies. That would be cool if they were drummin’ brothers.
“Like a Vision”
“Think About the Future”
We found this comment thread where Ray Harlowe said he had more music to release, but so far as we can tell there isn’t another album out there. Still Looking Records reissued First Rays in 2009. It was the first of about a dozen archival releases they put out, one of which was another rare Minnesota record, McDonald and Sherby. We posted about that one when a copy came through the shop a couple years ago. It looks like the label produced its reissues in fairly limited quantities, so they might be as rare as the originals.
As for James Dean and gyp fox, we can’t find them on another record anywhere. We’d love to hear more songs from any of the three, if there are any. gyp fox is sometimes mis-credited as the backing band (he does have a fairly unusual name), and obviously its kind of hard to search for a guy named James Dean and not find the other guy with that name.