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The first pressing of Stevie Wonder’s classic album Talking Book include braille text embossed on the jacket beside his name and the title. Whether you find one of these copies or a reissue without the braille text, we think its one of the best albums you could possibly add to your collection.

Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, Wonder’s album of seven years later, is much less of a fan favorite, although it merits an emphatic endorsement in Questlove’s book, Mo’ Meta Blues. This album also contained braille text on the jacket. This time there was a complete message, which reads:

Here is my music. It is all I have to tell you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong.

— Stevie

 

talking book

secret life of plants

Collections with braille labels added to jackets are not uncommon. We added a couple hundred such albums to the shop just last week, including this copy of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. While it had the cool labels, it was unfortunately missing the bonus 45, just like most copies these days!

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We chose a different kind of song to post this year on Father’s Day, because Grandpas are father’s, too. John Prine first wrote “Grandpa Was a Carpenter” for his 1973 album Sweet Revenge, which is probably our favorite of his records. It’s a little less cynical than most of his records, and even (as on this song) downright sentimental.

ngdb circle volume 2He’s performing the song here some years later with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, from Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume II.

The series of three albums by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were all about connecting generations through music, probably inspiring Prine to chose this particular song, a loving portrait of his Grandpa.

Wishing you a happy Father’s Day with your family on this beautiful sunny day here in Minneapolis!

We’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden, and not so much time indoors, which doesn’t leave much time for posting on the ol’ record shop blog. Here’s a favorite post from the past…

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Steve Allen facts:

  • He was the original host of the Tonight Show. Many television talk show mainstays were originated by Allen, such as the “man in the street” interview and an early “answer man” bit that presaged Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent.
  • He had one of the funniest on-air “crack up”s (for you serious folks, a “crack up” is when you can’t stop laughing). It happened on the Steve Allen Show on March 16, 1958. He is supposed to be playing sportscaster Bill Allen, and he later said it was the sight of his hair in the monitor that started the now legendary laughing fit.

  • He played the title role in the 1955 film The Benny Goodman Story.

  • He wrote the music and lyrics for Sophie, an unsuccessful Broadway musical based on the life of Sophie Tucker. We have looked and looked, but it appears this went entirely un-recorded. It closed after eight performances.
  • He wrote more than 50 books. He poked fun at himself in a 1995 appearance on the Simpsons, hawking several books including The Joy of Cooking Steve Allen. Many of his books were very serious, touching on subjects of family and theology as often as comedy. In About a Son Allen writes about his own son, Brian, joining a religious cult called (we’re not making this up) The Love Family, and he efforts to reconcile this with his own beliefs. Brian remains an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon in Seattle, one of about 300 members. His name is Logic Israel. Steve Allen’s book is out of print, but you can buy it pretty cheap on Amazon.
  • He booked Elvis Presley before Ed Sullivan, averting any controversy from the singer’s suggestive performance by having him sing “Hound Dog” to a hound dog.

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  • He wrote more than 8,500 songs, according to his official website. His compositions were recorded by everyone from Aretha Franklin to Louis Armstrong to Count Basie. He used one song, “This Could be the Start of Something Big,” as the opening to the Tonight Show. It became a theme song that followed him for the rest of his life.

  • He was married to actress Jayne Meadows for nearly a half century. She recorded one of our favorite 45s of all time.

hunger

  • And here’s what we love about him best: Steve Allen himself made a ton of records. Some of them are pretty weird and fun.

socrates

romantic rendezvous

electrified favorites

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Shoot. Somebody bought this album right away, so we didn’t record a track for you. The people who bought it looked like this.

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And we saved the best for last. We’ve also recorded the entire album for you…

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Bonus: Another post from the Hymies blog archive about television personality, author, all around extraordinary American Steve Allen

When last we posted some records by author, composer, television personality, and bon vivant Steve Allen (here) our selection presented only a fraction of his enormous catalog. Allen’s discography of more than sixty LPs runs the range from beat poetry and electronic experiments to what old folks would call cocktail piano and riotous novelty records. All of these are largely ignored by collectors — it’s telling that our most recent edition of Jerry Osbourne’s Price Guide to Records omits Allen entirely.

One thing they’re missing is Allen’s late sixties collaborations with jazz musicians associated with legendary jazz producer Bob Thiele. These included a series of albums with arranger Oliver Nelson and this record, which features Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo.

gentle people

Songs for Gentle People was recorded after Szabo had begun his series of great albums for Thiele’s Impulse! Records, incorporating Gypsy and Eastern European folk music into his interpretations of pop hits (check out his take on “The Beat Goes On”). Also contributing to this album is Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine — it’s just one of the thirty-five thousand or so pieces of music he has worked on in his amazing, and ongoing, career. When this album was released in 1967, Blaine was just beginning his streak of playing on six consecutive “Record of the Year” Grammy winners.

On this album Allen is credited as playing “an ALLEN ELECTRONIC HARPSICHORD.”

yvonne

We never get tired of this song.

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We’re pretty excited to be releasing the second album by Corpse Reviver next week. The folk trio has long been one of our favorites in town — we love them so much we hired them to play our 10th anniversary party a couple years ago, and promised them we’d release their second album on vinyl.

If you have never heard them before, you may still be familiar with some of their songs. That’s because Corpse Reviver’s repertoire is drawn from the Anthology of American Folk Music, the enormously influential compilation first released in 1952 by Folkways Records. Harry Smith collected traditional music on 78s and with the six-album series revived music which was largely being swept into the dustbin.

Adam

Adam modeling the new Lp

When Corpse Reviver released the first volume of their interpretation of the anthology (titled I’ll be Rested When the Roll is Called), we posted the original songs (here). On that disc, and on their new Lp, they’ve chosen songs which have been widely performed over the years, but its especially interesting to go back and hear those original 78 transfers from Harry Smith’s collection. Some are songs which had a long life before they were recorded in the late 20s or early 30s, and others have taken on new significance as songs associated with the mid-century folk boom or the more recent alt-country revival.

The new album opens with Adam Kiesling’s familiar fretless banjo and a confident take on “I Wish I Were a Mole in the Ground,” a song first recorded in 1928 by Bascom Lunsford. The song has been widely recorded by folk musicians, notably here in Minnesota by Charlie Parr about ten years ago, but Corpse Reviver turn the song’s perceived resignation on its ear. The same is true for “The Butcher’s Boy,” the second Buell Kazee ballad they have recorded with Jillian Rae singing. Mikkel Beckmen adds a funeral march rhythm to her reading of with his djembe, making this suicide ballad dark and dramatic.

In all, we count at least a half dozen deaths in the songs on Dry Bones. Corpse Reviver’s compartmentalization of the Anthology songs is as idiosyncratic as were the choices made by Harry Smith himself, but its clear they’ve chosen this second volume to collect some of the darker sides of the so-called “old weird America.” The result is an album much weightier than the first volume, but also a great collection of stories.

The original twelve songs, all found on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, are collected below. Corpse Reviver will be performing these and other favorites at the album release show next week. It’s possible opening performer Spider John Koerner will bring out one of them old numbers as well.

Corpse Reviver will be releasing their second album, Dry Bones, next Wednesday night at the Cedar Cultural Center (details here). Minnesota folk legend Spider John Koerner will perform an opening set, and local choir Mpls imPulse will perform with the trio during their set.

IMG_8768Irene had her annual visit to the vet this past week, and she walked away with a clean bill of health. Also a pretty small bill compared to any time either of us has been to the doctor. It’s funny how much easier Irene’s annual visits are compared to our own — she is hardly left waiting at all, and when seeing her doctor not rushed along in the least. Even after every last concern has been covered, her doctor follows up and checks on her after the appointment.

Irene is getting better health care than either of us.

doctor song

 

There’s so much bad news in the paper these days, sometimes we just leave it on the kitchen table and take the dogs for a longer walk instead. This election cycle has been particularly disenfranchising, but then again maybe not much more than any other year.

We thought of this after hearing this Lou Rawls album from 1972. A Man of Value was his first record for a new label after the series of hits which made him a star at Capitol, all produced by David Axelrod. His MGM albums are a bridge between those jazzy albums and the Philadelphia soul sides he’d record with producers like Gamble & Huff at the end of the decade. This one didn’t sell as well, so you don’t come across copies as often these days, which is a shame.

lou rawls a man of value

The title track was a minor hit, and it mirrors Rawl’s earlier cover of John D. Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road” in its message of empowerment through self-reliance. Its sets the stage for an encouraging, positive cycle of songs. But 1972 was an election year, and Rawls remarks on the times in “The Politician,” a song which isn’t so irrelevant today.

“The Politician” was written by Mac Davis, then on his own streak of hit albums as a country singer (Davis had earlier written “In the Ghetto” for Elvis, which has a similar theme). The song doesn’t really offer any solutions, but just expresses why so many are feel frustrated with the political process.

So as to not make today’s post a big bummer, here’s that first song on the album, “A Man of Value.”

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